Last Saturday was the Quilters’ Guild Regional Day for my region (15E, the North-East of England). Ours is a particularly active region and the twice-a-year Regional Days are excellent.
Region 15 includes Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and County Durham, an area which has a long tradition of quilting. ‘Durham’ quilting or more correctly ‘North-country quilting’ is part of our inheritance: there are many historic whole-cloth quilts in existence in a single colour or strippy quilts (of two colours) where the design element is primarily provided by the patterns formed by the quilting stitches. I wrote about some of these quilts here. In local quilt shows, beautifully hand-quilted traditional whole-cloth quilts have been in evidence, proving that this tradition of slow quilt-making is alive and well and indeed a stunning, small hand-quilted cream on cream quilted hanging by Aidan Nichol was shown at the Regional Day.
Another traditional fabric craft in the North-East is the making of Miners’ banners, such as the South Hetton Lodge banner pictured below.
In the early 20th century, there were 300 coal mines in County Durham alone. The miners’ union (or ‘lodge’) in each colliery had their own banner – each a hand-painted piece, often made with silk, which could be carried [link 1 below at the end of this post]. In County Durham, the Miners’ Gala (also known as ‘The Big Meeting’) was held each year in July – and it continues to this day. In 2019, The Big Meeting is on Saturday 13 July [link 2 below]. Banners are carried through the streets of Durham, accompanied by numerous brass bands, to the meeting held by the River Wear. Many historic banners have been preserved, others have been reproduced and some entirely new banners have been made. Durham Bannermakers [link 3], based in Durham City, works with various organisations to produce hand-painted banners, like the one below.
At the Quilters’ Guild Regional Meeting on Saturday, the morning speaker was Mary Turner (a member of Coxhoe Quilters) who told us about her involvement in the construction of a modern banner, made in this tradition of banner-making and intended specifically to be carried at The Big Meeting. It was to be a ‘Community Banner for the Miners’ Gala’ and was to be made entirely by women. We heard the story of how an idea which began with a group of about nine people (including Emma Shankland of Durham Bannermakers) and which grew into a group of over 100 women in twelve groups! The groups included for example ‘Alington House Women’s Group’, ‘Witton Women’s Group’, a group celebrating women’s inclusion in education, one concentrating on ‘old and new fuel technology’ (coal, plus solar, wind and geothermal energy from abandoned mines). The Women’s Banner Group was officially accepted by the Durham Miners’ Association and the completed banner was was unveiled at Redhills, the Durham Miners’ Association in Durham in the Miners’ Parliament Chamber. This is the banner, as shown at the Regional Day:
A film has been made, by Amber Films, about the creation of the banner and we were able to see the entire film at the Regional Day. You can get a flavour of the film from the short preview [link 4 below]. There were many moving moments in the film, but one part that particularly struck me was the conversation between the makers of this portion:
This was made by women from different nations and cultures who have made the North-East their home. They spoke of the strength of sharing their common experience (in spite of their original diversity) whilst making their piece.
It was clear from the film that when all the groups had finished their work and then came together for the piecing of the banner that the whole project became very sociable. There was real strength is doing a project where women supported each other.
The Community Banner was made as a two-layer piece (not a three-layer piece, like a quilt), because it was made in the tradition of banner-making. However, it uses the technique of appliqué throughout and you can see from the photo above that it has been tied to hold the two layers together in use. You can gauge the size of the banner when you see it being carried in the film clip and from the photo below. The banner was later carried in to Durham Cathedral to be blessed, which according to the film was was a most moving and memorable moment in the whole process for many of the women.
The group now has its own website [link 5 below].
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This is my fabric design ‘Flowers from Kirkcudbright – coral, mint, white’. You can find it here.
Here are the links mentioned in the post above.
Link 1 – Further information about miners’ banners: http://www.eastdurhamheritagegroup.co.uk/15.html
Link 2 – The Big Meeting: https://www.durhamminers.org/gala
Link 3 – Durham Banner Makers: https://www.durhambannermakers.co.uk/about
Link 4 – preview of the film about the making of the Women’s Banner: https://womensbannergroup.org.uk/2019/02/12/of-whole-heart-cometh-hope-trailer/