The Cottage Orné Quilt

The Cottage Orné Quilt
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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Royal Wedding Fever?

Well Royal Wedding fever hasn't reached this part of Wales yet!   It is very different to 1981 when we were all so excited about the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer.  Everyone now seems rather disinterested.  I live in a road that enjoys a party but nothing has yet been planned, but perhaps nearer the time?

This week Kate Middleton (or Catherine as she prefers to be called, though the press have decided that she is to be called Kate) has been fulfilling engagements as a future Princess of Wales.  Her first was launching a lifeboat in Anglsey, where William is working as a helicopter pilot.  Click on the link below -

Regarding commemorating the wedding, if we don't want to commit to making something specific, maybe we should record the event on what we are making at the time.

When Princess Charlotte died in childbirth in 1817 it was an earth shattering event, similar to the death of Diana.  If you click and zoom in on the above picture you will see the mention clearly.  Obviously Ann Wood who was sewing this sampler, simply added an extra line and this was done on very many samplers.  Now I know that this a wedding and not a death but it could be recorded by adding it to the label on a quilt?

It was actually very significant death because Princess Charlotte was the heir to the throne and it  led to her cousin Victoria becoming Queen. So it would have been the Charlottian (not sure if that would have been the correct spelling) instead of the Victorian age!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Darowen Coverlet

One of my friends was intrigued by a postcard of a patchwork coverlet which was in the collection at St. Fagans: National History Museum, near Cardiff.  I wasn't similarly smitten as I thought it looked rather chaotic and badly designed.  Nevertheless I asked Elen Phillips, the Keeper of the quilts at the museum, if we could see it if an opportunity arose.

One day I received the call!   Sue Prichard from the Victoria & Albert Museum was visiting St. Fagan's to choose suitable items for last year's Quilts 1700 - 2010.  She was looking for quilts with provenance and the Darowen Coverlet had been taken out of storage for her consideration.

Sadly it didn't make the cut, which I think was a great shame because it certainly has provenance.  I was totally captivated and decided to do some research which is now filed at the museum and was subsequently published in "The Quilter" (the magazine of the Quilters' Guild of the British Isles).

It was made by three sisters, the unmarried daughters of the Vicar of Darowen, a village in what was then Montgomery in Mid Wales.  I believe it was made over a long period as it seems to chart the family's history in the village  Their arrival in Darowen in 1801 (which is the first date on the coverlet) to the death in 1877 of Mary Richards, the eldest daughter and as both grandchildren had died young, the last survivor of a family of eight children.  This unique unquilted coverlet then passed to distant relations before being given to the museum.

Surrounding the squares in the centre of the coverlet are church images and I believe these commemorate the demolition of a medieval church and the building of a new church in 1863.  Perhaps this momentous occasion was the inspiration for the coverlet and the sisters then decided to add dates, initials and other images that were significant to their family?

What a good idea that is!   Would it inspire you to begin a family record quilt?

The photographs are published with the kind permission of St Fagans: National History Museum.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


I was reading another blog on the subject of red and thinking that it would be a good subject for a post, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement in the garden - my neighbour's ginger cat called "Red" jumped over my garden wall!  Who am I to overlook an omen!  Neither am I averse to pinching a good idea - we bloggers are always on the look out for something new to blog about!

I love the colour red, together with purple it's probably my favourite, but then I do like pale turquoise and I'm very fond of blue ----- well it's impossible because they all have their place, but red is definitely up there.

Of course red is a very Welsh colour, especially in our quilts.  Our Rugby and other national teams play in red and the Red Dragon is our national emblem.  However I feel that generally we are fairly timid using it in our homes.

This of course isn't confined to Wales - how many houses do you visit where rooms are mainly beige with shades of brown and maybe some black?  Red is rarely used, yet it works so well, goes with so many other colours and certainly lifts a room!

When in doubt - add some red I say!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The comfort of squares

I am fascinated by the "Dear Jane" phenomenon.  If you are unaware of it, quilters all over the world are making their own version of a quilt made by Jane A Stickle which is now in the Bennington Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont.  These newer versions are known as "Baby Janes" and there are other sampler quilts such as "Nearly Insane" and "Sylvia's Bridal Quilt" which are also very popular.

I completely understand this.  Just looking at a photograph of this marvellous sampler quilt, made during the American Civil War, makes me itch to piece some small squares of patchwork and begin a long and absorbing journey.  It would be a long journey indeed because there are 225 blocks in this quilt!

I have always thought that there is something comforting about working with squares  They are such non threatening shapes, perhaps it is this that makes us feel safe and happy with them? 

After writing the above I thought that I had better check out this vague and entirely un-researched opinion with Google.  This is what I found - apparently square shapes suggest conformity, peacefulness, solidity, security and equality.  Wow, no wonder we enjoy making square blocks!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Emma Biggs Mosiac- The Made in England Project

I'm going off piste a little here, but not too much because mosaics are really patchwork in a different form.  Even so, I have never really liked them until I saw one by mosaic artist Emma Biggs in the Museum in Stoke on Trent.

As you will have gathered from previous posts, I love my china and in recent years have become addicted to spongeware which means of course collecting Emma Bridgewater. So a visit to her factory in Stoke on Trent became my ambition as I could browse the factory shop and visit the museum which I had always meant to do but never managed.

It was all very enjoyable but Stoke is rather a sad place.  It was once where most of the china and pottery of the world was made but now the wonderful Victorian buildings are quite decrepit and because of the credit crunch, the promised re-generation has stopped.  Nevertheless it is a Mecca for lovers of Staffordshire as there is so much to see there, too much for one visit.  I do wish I lived a bit nearer because I would love to go again and really explore.

Just after my visit to Stoke a wonderful new book was published, written and illustrated by Matthew Rice, which will give you a good idea of what is going on in Stoke and the variety of buildings there.
Here is the link -

This mosaic panel is in the entrance of the Museum and it draws you to it even though the colours are so subtle.  This is because it is made of many thousands of pieces of broken china, not the pretty bits but the back stamps - (click the pictures and zoom in for more detail)

Isn't it a wonderful idea?  I do love lettering!  It makes you want to go out and smash your china!  Well almost - but you know what to do with the broken bits now!

If you would to read more - here is the link -

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Welsh quilts - A Royal Visit

In one of my early posts I mentioned that the Prince of Wales admires Welsh quilts and has a collection of both quilts and blankets at his Welsh residence.  So it is entirely in keeping that he and the Duchess of Cornwall have paid a visit to the Jen Jones Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter, which isn't very far away from their farmhouse.

Could this be the first quilt related Royal Visit?  I think it probably is, in this country at least, though I know that a member of the Japanese Royal Family usually opens the Tokyo Quilt Show.

I thought you might like to see some of the photographs because, apart from the novelty of seeing the Royals amongst quilts, there are some lovely examples hanging on the walls which you can zoom in on!

I have had a bit of difficulty with spacing in this post so these pictures are clustered together.  However they show their Royal Highnesses enjoying the exhibition and talking to Jen Jones and her husband Roger Clive Powell.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

More about Laura

Laura Ashley is one of my heroines. The fabrics produced by her company has had an profound effect on my work and I still collect them. I have seen her collection of old Welsh quilts and was aware that they had a strong influence on her designs but I didn't realise how big a part patchwork had played in the formation of the business.

This bedroom, decorated with Laura Ashley wallpaper,
has on the bed the type of quilt that Laura
collected and which I love because they are so unpretentious.

Last week BBC Wales TV ran a documentary about her in their series "Welsh Greats".  In it was an old interview given by Laura and more recent ones with her son Nick and some of her former employees from the factory in Mid Wales.  In her interview Laura said that it was seeing an exhibition of patchwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum that began it all.

Laura had worked for the W.I., as well as taking some of their classes.  She was familiar with patchwork and quilting as her grandmother and aunts in Wales were quilters.  So in 1952 when the W.I. put on an exhibition of handicrafts at the V&A, seeing the patchwork there brought it all back and she decided that she wanted to do some herself.

However, in the early 50s suitable fabric was impossible to buy as there was still war rationing, so she thought that she would print her own.  Laura laughed at this point and said that when she mentioned making a screen print, her husband, Bernard decided to take over as he thought that he could do a better job!  This, literally was the beginning of their global business.

 This is part of a quilt that inspired
Laura's designs. If you look closely
  you might recognise some patterns!

In the excellent biography written by Ann Sebba, the story is told that when the business was booming and there was so much surplus fabric from clothes manufacturing, Laura decided that it should be bagged and sold very cheaply as " Patchwork Pieces".  This was not popular within the company, as it was so uneconomic and Bernard wanted to drop it or at least raise the price. However, Laura would not be moved and said that as it was patchwork that started their business this was the least they could do.

I immediately picked up on something her  former pattern engraver said in his interview;  Mrs. Ashley, he said, really didn't like her designs to be perfect.  She liked to see flaws in them and sometimes she would add a flaw because she wanted her fabrics to look as if they had been hand printed.

I was delighted to hear this, because as you may have gathered, I am not keen on perfection in the textile world at least!  I am so glad that Laura Ashley felt the same way!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Welsh quilting - it's certainly not boring!

The old Welsh quilts that I most admire are those made in the country areas of South Wales in the 19th century, usually in the counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceridigion (which used to be known then as Cardiganshire) and my home territory Pembrokeshire. The ones that survive were usually professionally quilted and have probably lasted because one normally tends to respect something one has paid good money for!

Professional quilters didn't hang about trying to decide what to mark, they didn't have the time, so they usually stuck to their favourite format and quilting motifs and probably didn't change the way they worked much.  Even so, no two quilts would have been the same because they only marked out the major areas of the pattern.  All the subsidiary patterning would have been made up as they worked.

When studying old quilts what has struck me most is that they were not in the least timid but were usually bold in their approach.  They made sweeping statments with their marking and didn't worry about getting everything even and exact.  They just went for it and that is what I most admire and try to emulate.

Why aim for perfect quilting?  We should try to do the best we can and not to be sloppy, but quilting is a creative process to be enjoyed.  It makes the patchwork come alive so it shouldn't be thought of as the long boring slog at the end of the exciting bit! 

Sadly, all this does take time and we live in a world of instant gratification, when doing something quickly and moving on is what everyone seems to want to do.  Books and magazines encourage this simply because they have to fill their pages with something, so a quick project is ideal.  However, when studying masterpiece quilts I can't think of one that has been done quickly? 

Now I can hear you say - I'm not interested in making a masterpiece, I just love making different things!  Well up to a point I agree with you, but I think everyone owes it to themselves and the craft to make at least one really good piece in their lifetime and this need not interfere with quick projects - they can be picked up and put down as time allows.