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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.

Monday 23 January 2012

The Difference Between Welsh and Durham Quilts

Welsh and Durham quilts are very different in many respects -I hope to take you through some of these differences. However, bear in mind that these are only generalisations, and of course there are always exceptions.

Firstly, the quilts were made in different geographical areas.

"Durham " quilts should more properly be termed North Country quilts, as they were made in the counties of Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. This is an area of Carboniferous Coal Measures, and there were numerous mining communities in this area, along with other industries fuelled by the coal. There was also farming taking place in the countryside.

Welsh quilts were of course made in Wales, especially in South Wales. Again, coal measures are to be found here and there were many mining communities here as well, together with many other mining, chemical and industrial works. Wool and sheep rearing was another major source of income as much of the land is too mountanous for arable farming.

Due to the cultural differences and the geographical separation, each area had its own styles of quilting. Patchwork, applique and wool quilts were made, but I shall be illustrating the differences with the wholecloth quilts which the areas became famous for.

Durham quilts became well known for their impressive quilting designs - usually a large and elaborate centre design with flat irons, roses, feathers, leaves, ferns and much curlicue infill. This was surrounded by an area of infill and then an outer border.

Another example of a Durham quilt with a large centre motif of feathers.

This Weardale quilt has a feather wreath and a central rose.

Feathers were common in Durham quilts and running feather motifs were very common. Wadding in these quilts is usually of cotton.

By contrast, Welsh quilts usually had a central motif, either a circular "coin" or a diamond. This central area was enclosed by double or triple lines to form a "field". Fans or other motifs echoed the centre coin, and spirals were used as filling devices.

A further one, two or three borders, also enclosed by double or triple lines, surrounded the central field. Common border motifs include leaves, spirals, church windows, tulips and many geometrical designs. But feathers were not to be found on these quilts.

Leaves and spirals were very common motifs on Welsh quilts. The wool wadding made the designs stand out well in relief.

Chevrons, fans and twists were well liked...the fields were marked in chalk when the quilt was in the frame, then templates were used for the major motifs, with the rest being marked in freehand.

Strippy quilts were found in both areas but can easily be told apart. Durham strippies had quilting designs which followed the strips, with border motifs being used up each strip. These strippy quilts were economical to make in fabric, easy to seam together and also easy to mark in the frame. These were the everyday quilts, although this example is especially finely worked and was a wedding gift. Seen here are a running feather pattern and a scroll and daisy pattern. Strips were generally narrower than the Welsh strippies.

This Welsh strippy has wider strips than its Durham counterpart, and it is fillled with wool rather than cotton. More importantly, the quilting does not follow the strips, rather the top is treated as a wholecloth and the usual format of central field and surrounding borders is followed. Here we can see a central field of heart motifs surrounded by tulips, pennies and leaves.

Durham and Welsh quilts usually were finished with a butt or knife edge, where the edges are simply turned in and and sewn down. With Durham quilts, this was sometimes done by hand but more often it was sewn down with one or two lines of machine stitching. This gave a firm and durable edge, although it was not always carefully done!

Welsh quilts usually have a handsewn edge, and one or two lines of running stitch secure the edge.

Bindings are not the norm for antique British quilts, unless the edge had suffered wear and a binding had been applied to effect a repair.


  1. They are vastly different in design aren't they, although both are very dramatic and show great dimension. A very interesting post, thank you Pippa.

    Best Wishes
    Kay in Scotland

  2. Great Information...Thanks!

  3. I enjoyed reading this information, I'm not sure if I have a favourite of the two, as both are very unique. As usual your pics really capture the quilting beautifully. Thankyou for posting this wonderful information. (I now find I'm looking for books relating to Welsh quilts). You've piqued my interest!!!

  4. Beautiful post, really enjoyed it!

  5. Pippa, you made my day with this wonderful post! Thank you so much. I hope you don't mind when I put a link to your blog in a German Patchwork Forum - I think it is so important to find good information about the European quilting traditions. Again I feel encouraged to keep on wholecloth quilting!

  6. Hi, Pippa. Always enjoy stopping by your blog. The historical aspect is fascinating and this post shows such amazing quilting that I want to pick up hand quilting again (I will resist that urge--life is short). Thanks for an interesting post and Bravo!
    best, nadia

  7. That was really interesting, in fact fascinating. Thank you so much for the explanation and illustrations from your gorgeous collection too. Have you (or anyone) ever looked at how Welsh and Amish quilting designs compare?

  8. Tessa, Please see my post of Feb 12 in which I will review Dorothy Oslers new book, in which she compares the Welsh and Amish quilts. Pippa

  9. Thank you so much for this interesting post. It makes me want to find out more about Durham and Welsh quilts.

  10. Thank you for this information. I have a few reference books and am preparing to start a strippy. Lovely photos.

  11. So interesting, thanks for sharing

  12. Thank you for sharing this information and the beautiful quilts!

  13. Just found and read this; brilliant, very visual explanation. Thank you

  14. Pippa, I was looking for information on Durham quilts and found your site, thank you for sure a great explanation and your use of photos.

  15. Thank you! I think Im starting to see the differences and why quilters in the U.S love Welsh quilts so much! The knife edge is really cool! Do quilters over there still do a knife edge or is that a technique just done in the early days?