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I am a quilter living in Woodbridge, Suffolk who has made quilts since I was a teenager. I also ring bells! Both are great British traditions....I will try to feature some of my antique Welsh and Durham quilts, the quilts I make myself, my quilting activities and also some of my bellringing achievements. Plus as many photos as I can manage. NB: Double click on the photos to see greater detail, then use back button to return to the main page.

Friday 30 April 2010

Quilting samples

I recently bought a sample of quilting. The seller was a woman from Bideford, Devon, who was selling off bits and pieces of her late mother’s estate. Her mother had been interested in sewing, and had been given some samples of quilting by a neighbour. I bid on the one that looked welsh - it was orange with beech leaves, and a neatly piped edge. There were no other bids so I got it at a very reasonable price. The other samples were quilted with more conventional north country motifs.

When the sample arrived in the post, it had a name and address attached to the reverse - a Mrs Harrhy of 23 Thornwood, Treharris, South Wales. The seller surmised that all the samples had been made by the same quilter -this may or may not be the case- anyhow I was kicking myself for not taking more notice of the other samples.

I later bought two more of the samples - no name attached - one of a welsh looking sample in pink with welsh looking pots of flowers neatly finished- and one a more usual grey pillow top of a feathered wreath (unfinished).

In the Autumn 2009 issue of Culcita, Clare Claridge describes a quilt at St Fagans, where nine quilting samples were joined together to make a quilt - quilt-as-you-go of the 1950’s? She surmised that the samples might have been apprentice samples or RIB samples. One of the motifs was recognised as being designed by Jessie Edwards - and the samples had been set together by Phylis Margaret Jeffries of Merthyr Tydful, one of Jessie’s students. A full copy of this article can be found on the BQSG website, under “articles“.

This posed the question, whether these samples found in Devon could be similar Rural Industries Bureau or quilting class samples? The connection is tenuous and there is no explanation as to how the samples from Wales (and elsewhere?) ended up in Devon. The only possible link was a local Chapel. Suffice it to say, Mrs Harrhy for some reason felt that it was important that her work be identified as hers, so it must have been either a contest or a working sample, or something that was to be returned to her. The postal address with street number is clearly a way to contact the quilter.

It would be interesting to know more about this quilter. I do not know much about genealogical research but at some point will be doing further research to see if anything can be found. Clare is doing research on other quilters of South Wales and I look forward to her findings.

Thursday 29 April 2010


Another great British tradition is bell ringing. All Church of England churches have at least one bell - to announce services - and many have rings of bells hung for bell ringing. This is also called Change ringing as the bells do not play tunes but complex patterns called changes. There are many different methods to ring. The bells are rung for services, weddings, funerals, practice nights and also special occasions.

When I was at Smith, I planned to go to England for my “junior year abroad”. I was excited to get into Collingwood College at the University of Durham as an occasional student for a year, 1976-1977.

Knowing that I was going to England, I decided to learn Bellringing over January interterm . Smith had an empty tower in its new theatre complex, which had a ring of eight English bells installed by Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Smith not being short of money). I had no idea if there were bells in Durham and no real idea of what was involved or how long it took to learn. The dreadful crashing noise coming out of the bell tower didn’t dissuade me either.

It was one of my better ideas - there was a strong bell ringing society at Durham and it was rounds and call changes for Pippa that year. There were weekly practices, weekends away, a summer ball and a summer tour. All good fun. I met my best friend, Val and many others. I was able to get into British college life and avoid those Americans who seemed to stick together.

Over thirty years later I’m still learning and enjoying bell ringing. I’ve gotten further than I ever thought I would do. Mike is a very gifted bell ringer and does lots of conducting - he is the Pettistree ringing master. Of course there’s always more to learn and you get to see some very pretty parts of the country side. If you’re on holiday, you can go to local service ringing or practices with friendly sorts (mostly!) And bell ringing is like a little community, there is a great camaraderie and also a fantastically rich history. The bells themselves are expensive and historic instruments and its like making music with a team of people. All in Mediaeval buildings.

What does the ringing sound like?

You can listen to Pettistree bells in rounds here:

For more complex touches there is a program called Bells on Sunday and you can hear repeats at this BBC Radio 4 site:

Oh and by the way - don’t ever call it campanology - its just not done.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Tracing Quilts

It is useful to trace quilt motifs and quilting layouts. Accurate full size tracings are more useful than sketches and here is the way I have traced many of my antique quilts. It does help you to really look at the patterns - and can also make the patterns more apparent - they are sometimes hard to see, especially in a very old or worn quilt, one with heavy quilting or a patchwork quilt.

First put the quilt on a large flat table with good lighting. A side light or torch helps to pick out t he quilting. Then lay over the quilt a sheet of medium weight polythene sheeting. This is available at DIY shops (plastic dustsheets) or in garden centres (poly tunnel sheeting). Avoid the light weight polythene as it is too flimsy and may puncture. As my quilts are whole cloth, I usually trace one quarter or one half, and include the central motif in full. Lay out the quilt, weighting it in place if necessary so that it does not slip off the table. Then pin the sheeting in place (this probably would not be allowed in museums).The plastic creeps and shifts if not held in place - if you cannot pin, books or other weights may suffice. Now carefully trace the pattern with a CD marker or other instant drying black marker - I found Sharpie brand markers to be excellent.

Trace motifs - backgound infill need not be drawn in full - just include a sample. Mark in the edges and any seams. Mistakes - mark the mistake with small tics and redraw the correct line. Q tips soaked in alcohol can erase the mistake later. This process is a bit tedious - so take your time. I leave the quilt out and have several sessions over subsequent evenings. Cats must be kept away from nice quilted area!!

With my Welsh quilts - it is fairly obvious from the tracing process that the quilters marked in the major fields and then the large motifs were marked in chalk - then the outlining and scrolling were done freehand. Often motifs on one end are different to those on the other end - the quilter was working fast and did not inspect the rolled up end as she worked from one end to the other on the frame. In Welsh quilts, grids are often wonky, straight lines are not really straight and the quilter often improvises if she runs out of room.

By contrast - the stamped (marked) Durham quilts have infill that is expertly drawn on, the motifs are clearly marked on, although done fairly freely. The whole is very symmetrical as the top was marked on large worktops.

Take care with these tracings - the plastic does “frizzle” if placed next to radiators or hot water pipes. And the ink can rub off onto cloth, so if tracing onto cloth, make sure that the inked side is face downwards. The tracings can be used as templates, but must be redrawn as age does tend to pucker and distort the quilts.

Label your tracing carefully with date, provenance, colour, size and any useful information. Store carefully in a folder or a mailing tube.

I include a photo of the Margaret Williams quilt with its tracing overlain.

Pettistree Ringing Outing to NE Suffolk

Mike and I had been planning this outing for quite some time, so it was great that the weather cooperated - it was a beautiful sunny, warm day - if only it could stay like this all year! And no airplane noise or con trails - due to volcanic ash, nothing but light aircraft around (we are under the Stanstead flight path here in Suffolk). Our outing was to three churches in northeast Suffolk.

We arrived in Stradbroke a few minutes early, but others had arrived in their shared cars before us - we numbered over twenty. Stradbroke is a large church and has a ring of ten bells. Trevor Bailey and his wife Julie let us in and also had a ring with us . Lots of rounds and call changes as we are a six bell tower - but we did ring two lots of Grandsire Caters. Bell here very old fashioned and the ringing chamber a time capsule. The war memorial outside the church heaped with flowers - a full military funeral held in the village on Thursday for a local boy killed in Afghanistan - so sad.

On to Fressingfield with eight bells- we attempted Fressingfield Surprise Major but not very well. More ringing to suit all, especially our learner from Ipswich and New York State, Shaun, on his first ringing outing. It was a short walk from the church to the Fressingfield Swan where we had our lunch. It is a feature in England that most churches have a pub next to the church.

After lunch, most left their cars behind and walked the short two miles to the next church, Wingfield (six bells). A pleasant walk along country roads and then alongside a stream. Wingfield is a rather grand little church as it is linked to the de la Pole family, later the Dukes of Suffolk; some rather impressive stone monuments here. Two year old Mason enjoyed the model of the local castle in the play corner. After the ringing, some discovered the tea shop and art gallery at Wingfield College (rather a surprise in the middle of nowhere) while others enjoyed another beer on the terrace of the De la Pole Arms. Everyone seemed to enjoy the combination of walking and ringing, so we will have to put on our thinking caps about another outing.

I am including photos of wingfield church and also one of the ringing chamber at Wingfield.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Margaret Williams Quilt

Welsh quilt types

Pepper wondered if there was a definite Rural Industries type Welsh quilt. Here I attach a photo of the RIB quilt (30's-ended 1939)that was shown to us at the Quilt Study day. Welsh quilts had previously been made, of course, according to how much the person wanted to spend - there were the common quilts and also the "better" quilts. But becauseof the prevailing poverty, prices were very low in Wales, hence standards were generally low. The RIB were marketing to wealthy people, especially in London via The Little Gallery and others, so the fabrics had to be of the highest quality and also the workmanship had to be very good. Some of the young girls had no previous experience but were trained in quilting. Other quilters submitted samples and were accepted into the scheme. So the designs were perfectly drawn on (no freehanding like in country quilts) and the quilts very symmetrical and rather formulaic.No individuality. One comment was that they were "souless" although I thought it rather lovely. A point made was, that the quilts were bought for good prices, but in an act of charity, these quilts were considered rather rustic and often, once bought, were not used but put away. Hence come to us in good condition. The quilt in the foreground in brown is the RIB quilt, I think the one in the back is the "Country" style quilt. I also attach a photo of a real country quilt which I love. Also a quilt of the same era (1930's) which Clare C. has identified as being by Margaret Williams or one of her students, it is in her characteristic style.


Hawaiian Quilts

Here is my current project which I am hoping to have completed in time for the Festival of Quilts in August. It is a red and white floral design called Kaui o Na Molokama. The size is 108 x 108 so it is a large quilt. I am also including a photo of last years entry,Lei Neriali or Silversword. And I have a third design cut out,Pua Pake or Chrysanthemum, which is waiting to be basted to the background fabric.

These large quilts do take a lot of work to prepare. First I sent for the designs from Poakalani of Honolulu. The required fabric is 9 yards each of applique and background colour - and it is sometimes hard to find a good quality fabric! If the fabric is not extra wide, it has to be cut into lengths and resewn into one larger piece. Next you have to carefully iron the fabric into eighths (thinking carefully about wrong and right side). It is a long job to cut the design out with sharp scissors - then an even longer job to unfold and position the design and attach it to the background. First you pin the applique down with straight pins, then you have to baste it into place. Traditionally the basting was done by hand a set distance in from the edge, but I free machine basted the applique to speed up the process and "nail it down".

But finally you can enjoy doing the applique. This takes some time! I must admit to using a tiny whipstitch rather than "invisible" applique. Part of it is that this is the really traditional method, seen in the antique quilts. But part of it is that I really like the appearance of the closely spaced little "teeth" stitches. Very attractive.

Once the top is appliqued its time to quilt. I have gone over to using wool batting as it really shows off the quilting stitches so much better than cotton wadding which just looks a bit flat. Last year's quilt was echo quilted by "eyeballing" at about 3/8" spacing - but this year I am sticking to a 1/2" spacing. I am not marking but using the old-fashioned trick of using stick pins to measure the half inch distance - no markings to remove so all very fresh looking when the pins are taken out as you quilt.

I have discovered that Luixan Newman (the Thimble Lady) is now into applique so I am planning to send off for her new book. I like the fact that she really does her own thinking and experimentation rather than simply pass on received information. Even if I don't choose to use her techiniques, its an interesting read - which is becoming increasingly difficult to find these days! I'm also planning to try the silk thread that she seems to like on a sample piece.

My next project will be a welsh quilt with hand prepared wadding and a vintage paisley backing. I've got the welsh fleeces, the yellow top fabric and the salvaged paisley reverse. And, I've traced a lot of my Welsh quilts so will have fun designing the top. More later.

Monday 12 April 2010

Quilt Study Day in Essex

Here is a report that I am sending to the Region 8 Newsletter:

Region 8 Quilt Study Day - February 28th 2010 in Rochford, Essex

The day that we had planned for so long finally arrived - and it proved a full and interesting day. We all arrived on time, despite the heavy rain and malfunctioning traffic lights. There were 14 attendees - from Chelmsford, Southend, and Suffolk and also Kent and Oxford. The two textile experts, Pauline Adams and Bridget Long, came from Hertfordshire.

First Pauline showed us a range of quilts to highlight regional patterns and styles. North Country quilts included a club quilt, two stamped quilts and a strippy. Then Welsh quilts: a country quilt, a beautiful Rural Industries quilt and a Welsh strippy. We then saw Mary’s Hawick quilt, ending with Pauline’s Red Cross quilt and Bundles for Britain quilt.

Bridget then had the task of explaining about printed fabric dating and dyes, bringing a range of quilts and quilt tops. Pauline brought some family quilts as well. Some of these quilts had been featured in Quilt Treasures. Lots of questions here and close examination of individual fabrics.

After a delicious lunch prepared by Alex, we examined our own quilts brought in to show the group. Even a large hexagon top from the 50’s and rescued from a house clearance was of interest - Bridget warned us that we mustn’t be dismissive of recent history - this quilt was a showcase of 50’s fabric and the papers were social history. Many of the quilts were late 19th and early 20th century but several proved to be older than thought with the oldest c 1800.

The day was rounded off by tea and homemade cakes before everyone departed. All in all a very enjoyable day in which we all learned a lot and also consolidated what we already knew. Many thanks to Pauline Warwick for organising this and for Alex Rankin for hosting this day in her lovely sewing room.

Pippa Moss

Walk to Witnesham

On Sundays, Mike and I ususally try to take a walk, combined with a meal at a pub. Usually we follow one from a series in the East Anglian News - but having done these for some years, we find that either we've done them before, or that they are very far away, in deepest Essex or West Suffolk. Not possible with the present price of petrol!

Yesterday we decided to do our own walk from Mike's house in Clopton to Witnesham via Newton Hall usinsg the OS map. It worked after a fashion, and we didn't often go wrong - but the map was too large a scale to be entirely reliable. But the signs of spring were there, and the sun was shining so it was a good walk. And lunch at the Barley Mow was a good halfway break.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Ringing for Weddings

Yesterday Mike and I went to help out at Rushmere St Andrew. Of course the bellringing community is getting smaller, and we help out when for some reason there arent enough ringers for a special occasion. We rang for two weddings - and helped local ringer Liz McLeod ring her first quarter peal of Plain Bob Doubles inside!! It was warm weather and during the services we were able to sit outside in the churchyard. We do get a small payment - and this was spent almost immediately for the ingredients for the evening meal = cous cous with watercress and prawns. The prawns, by the way, were from Vietnam and I thought about that for a while. Easy to make but the verdict was..."subtle".

Friday 9 April 2010

Good News

Good news - my quilt history article has been accepted for the summer issue of The Quilter. Also, I have been promised exhibition space at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC this August to display my new and old quilts - all I have to do is sit by the two quilts for four days and talk to quilters - how difficult is that??

I bought an old "cutter" quilt for £30 last spring - very tatty and dirty - the first action was to give it a wash. It was still very faded and stained, but the quilting was very fine - it was obvious that it was a "stamped" (marked) Allendale quilt. I used my polythene sheeting and Sharpie marker to trace the quilting designs. I also found a very similar, almost identical quilt in the Beamish book, Quilts and Coverlets, which had a date of 1900.

I decided to recreate the quilt with a new top - whereas the old quilt was a very faded blue, I used a pink polished cotton for the new top. I used a very fine mechanical pencil and my light table to mark the quilting patterns; the finished top was 80 x 100 inches. I did have to rearrange the elements slightly: after 110 years the old quilt was no longer truly rectangular!!

The new quilt is now finished and as you can see contrasts well with the old quilt. I am hoping to promote the Quilt Study Group and quilt history in general. Next project -to sew a Welsh quilt, using vintage red paisley fabric for the backing and carded welsh wool for the wadding. I am also working on a red and white Hawaiian quilt which will be entered into the FOQ - but more of that later.

Quality Control

Here are my two cats, Monkey and Snowy, who carefully check all quilts and textiles in the house for quality and comfort. Our previous cat, Cloud, was a handsome and very exotic stray who had been left behind when neighbors moved away. After much research, I discovered that he was a Siamese-Bengal cross. Hence the choice of breeds for kittens - Oriental and Bengal. But its impossible to replace a pet and these two are very different. Mostly they are well behaved but a major defurring operation does have to occur before any quilt show, to ready entries and get rid of dark and light hairs.

Thursday 8 April 2010

First Post

I'm sure that I will soon get the hang of this!! My intention is to share my collection of Welsh and Durham quilts. I have a large collection; many are "study items" and are not of museum quality. But, perhaps due to my American upbringing, I just love quilts, especially the quilting patterns. Hence my interest in Welsh quilts - the patterns are superb and no two seem to be exactly alike. Most of my quilts are wholecloths, including some strippy quilts, but I do have a few patchwork quilts.

My twin sister Carol Palmer died of breast cancer in 1989 at the age of 33 - she did not have an estate of any size being so young, but I did inherit a small sum of money. After several years of watching the sum yo-yo in value, I decided to invest in some quilts. Carol was a quilter too and would have been interested in them, I'm sure. So I've had great fun buying the quilts from Ebayers and dealers. I value the quilts, which were made by women who are often anonymous. The stock of old quilts is not getting any bigger, and I worry that, being taken for granted, they will just be used up as old blankets or designer items. My quilts are functional but will no longer be used - instead, I will store them carefully and do as much research as possible. I will look at the sewing techniques, the thread, the fabrics and the history of the maker if possible. As a scientist, the research will necessarily be of a different type to that which I'm used to - but no less the valuable I hope.