Saturday, 2 November 2013

Seeing red at the Quilt Museum, York

I spent a fabulous day last Saturday at the Quilt Museum in York  for a one day workshop designed as an introduction to quilt based research. The session was led by Isabel Dibden Wright and curator, Heather Audin. I went along because I have always enjoyed reading and learning about textile history through books and museum visits and this was an opportunity to find out how to go about studying quilts in a bit more detail. 

There are many reasons to do this - out of personal interest, to inform your own quilt making, an interest in women's and social history, and perhaps to share your findings in a magazine or journal article.  Quilt history in Britain is a far less explored area than in the USA, so there is lot of scope to find out more. Isabel took us through how to approach the study of quilts, the available resources and information and Heather explained the etiquette in approaching museums and galleries where quilt collections are held.

Then on to the practical side: we were able to choose to examine close up and handle some items from the Guild's collection or to look more closely, without touching, one of the quilts in the current exhibition, "It's All in the Making - patchwork and quilting unpicked" by the British Quilt Study Group.

I chose to look at this quilt on display as part of the exhibition, for two reasons: I am always very attracted to this 'frame' style of quilt,  and would love to reproduce one, and the central square and border are Turkey Red fabric, in which I have developed a personal interest following an interesting family history connection. 

 'Copyright of The Quilters' Guild of the British

Turkey Red is a particular process for dyeing cloth and yarn and one of the main industries 

for producing Turkey Red fabric was based in the Vale of Leven, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, where my mother came from. When I went up to Scotland this May to see the Loch Lomond Quilt Show, we took the opportunity to do some family history research and discovered that my grandparents and other family members worked in the dye works in the Vale of Leven. Further research has led me to a wonderful project Colouring the Nation - Turkey Red and other Decorative Textiles in Scotland's Culture, by National Museums Scotland: the project's blog has links to a whole host of related resources.

The purpose of examining the quilt closely was to highlight what can be learned by careful observation. The information board told me that this Frame Quilt, maker unknown, dated from 1865 - 1875. It measures is 68" x 55", is cotton hand pieced and quilted with a chevron or zig zag design commonly found in NW England, S. Scotland  and Northern Ireland.

I then made some sketches and notes: the Turkey Red centre was a beautiful large paisley design, and is framed by nine borders. I won't go into detail here, but it was interesting that the more I looked at the quilt! the more I saw. Even some of the small squares on point and half square triangles had themselves been pieced together, in one case, from six separate little pieces of fabric. The colour scheme and matching of pieces was clearly thought out, but the maker had to make do in some areas with mis-matching border fabric, no doubt because this was meant to be a quilt for everyday use and she had to use up all her scraps.

All in all, a fascinating introduction in how to study and enjoy quilts. The Guild run these workshops every so often so do keep an eye out on their website if you are interested.


  1. What a lovely post - so interesting to read about your family connections with the dye works. That quilt looks quite contemporary when you compare it to some of the medallion quilts which are popular at the moment.

  2. Thank you for a really interesting post, I would have liked to have gone to this but I had been to York a couple of weeks previously for the BQSG Seminar. I will certainly look out for another one as you've made it sound such a lovely day.

  3. Lovely post, Rose, and I agree with you about that medallion quilt it is beautiful! And thank you for popping across to my blog - Liz's exhibition was fabulous!

  4. What an interesting post. It always adds to the interest when there is a family connection. Wish I lived nearer, I'd love to visit the museum.