Durham Quilting? North Country Quilting?

My quilt group is called ‘Durham Quilters’, so-called because we all quilt and we also all live in or near Durham in the North-East of England.  Every now and again, we do something extra, like this week when seven of us booked our usual room, but on a Saturday in the day-time (instead of our usual weekday evening), in order to get to grips with designing a whole-cloth quilt.  By ‘whole-cloth’ I mean a quilt made from a single fabric in which all the design element is provided by hand-quilting (or in the case of ‘strippy quilts’, the background fabrics are two alternating wide bands of coloured cloth). There is a long and strong tradition of this kind of quilting in our area and it is often referred to as ‘Durham Quilting’. However, this is perhaps somewhat inaccurate and a truer description would be ‘North Country Quilting’ as the quilting patterns typically seen in County Durham are also found all the way across to the North-West of England. Other areas have their own distinctive patterns, for example those found in Welsh quilts.

For many people, Amy Emms was the archetype of the North Country Quilter. I am happy to have on my shelves this book (which I highly recommend) about her life and her craft. She was not only a practitioner, but also a teacher who passed on her skill to many in this area. You can see her photograph on the cover of the book and examples of her beautiful work, featuring several different quilting motifs round the outside of the photo.

Amy Emms.JPG

So on Saturday, we seven armed ourselves with tracing paper, squared paper, set squares, compasses, ruler, pencil, rubber and waterproof pen and gave ourselves six hours to make a start on our quilt design. We  also took along resources to show and share, including two wonderful vintage North Country Quilts and numerous books, magazines and templates. This was a self-help session but we did have Gillian with us (click here to see a photo of Gillian) and she showed us how to draw round a coin to make the traditional feather pattern which is seen so often in North Country Quilts. In the old days before the introduction of decimal coinage, it would have been a six-penny piece for the smaller circles and a half-penny piece for the larger ones.  I settled on a penny and a ten-pence piece and this is my feather shape, drawn on tracing paper with pencil first (to allow for rubbing out of less than curvy curves!) and then inked in with waterproof pen. I drew the feather to fit neatly into a 6″ by 3″ rectangle (approximately 15cm by 7.5cm), to help with the planning of my quilt.

North Country Quilts feather.JPG

The fan, which also measures just under 6″ along the two straight sides, would look rather good in some corners…

North Country quilts fan.JPG

Several of my fellow North-Country Quilt designers are aiming for double and king-size quilts. My more modest goal is a cot quilt size. I have come across all manner of different sizes for ‘cot quilt’ and have plumped in the end for a convenient 36 x 48″. Convenient for me, that is, so I can count in sixes and twelves when designing! I shall be using inches throughout. I used some squared paper to help me, drawing up a scale version of my quilt as I went. I use squared paper a good deal when I design quilts. Although I use computer software for other purposes (like designing fabric – click here to see some designs) I am wedded to pencil, squared paper and a rubber for working out what my quilts will be like. This squared paper is ruled in 5mm squares as it happens, but that was irrelevant as I simply allowed one square to represent one inch. So the rectangle representing my quilt was 36 squares by 48 squares. This meant that I could sketch out the rough design of the quilting motifs as I selected and traced them. Here is a glimpse of part of it, in which you can see the drawing-in and rubbing-out, as I changed my mind.


In the centre, there will be a traditional wreath shape – I love this shape!

North Country Quilts wreath.JPG

I want to have a scallop-shell pattern for which I just need a semi-circle. There is a beautiful altar cloth with a large scallop-shape design in Durham Cathedral, so that seems an appropriate one to include.

North Country Quilts scallop.JPG

There will also be plain 2″ radius circles. Maybe just circles in a row, or possibly circles which overlap (a ‘wineglass’ pattern), but there’s no final decision on that yet.

North Country Quilts circle.JPG

I naively thought that armed with my scale diagram and my full-sized motifs, I could just go ahead and mark the design out onto my fabric, but my expert friend explained that if you have made a mistake in your calculations, it is then very difficult to correct it. Ah, yes. Thus the next step is to draw up all the motifs, full-size, in the correct place, on a large piece of tracing paper which has the dimensions of just a quarter of the quilt, so in my case 18″ across by 24″ high. This quarter can be flipped horizontally and vertically to provide a tracing for each of the four quarters of the quilt. I am using this small light-box, which is proving extremely useful for the tracing of motifs at this paper stage and will come in handy again when it comes to tracing onto cloth.

small light box.JPG

The hand-quilting expert who I met last year (click here to see that post) marked her fabric out with pencil, so I plan to do the same. I’m excited…

I have already sent a February 2017 calendar page (featuring one of my fabric designs) to those who have asked for one. ‘It’s cute!’ is how one of the recipients responded – well I did go for a Valentine’s theme.  For your free calendar page, fill in the reply form below and I will send you a PDF of the February sheet and add you to the list for the upcoming months.


Tantalising Quilt Link at Beamish

Last week, on a cold day, with snow still on the ground, a group of quilters gathered at Beamish Open Air Museum (www.beamish.org.uk) at Beamish, County Durham, DH9 0RG, to view some of the historic quilts in their collection. I’d been quite unwell with one of those winter viruses that makes you feel you have been hit with a baseball bat, but I really wanted to take advantage of this special opportunity, which had been arranged by my friend Pat, so I went along too.

All the quilts are old ones (readers of this blog will know how much I love these – see ‘Fabric Auction and Fig-tree week’), so this was a rare treat. A number of the pieces were ‘whole-cloth’ quilts, so all of the top is covered with patterns produced  by the quilting stitches, as you can see here:


We were reliably informed that the exotic-looking pattern was actually inspired by a hay-spade – hence the shapes!

Some quilts (like this green and white one from 1880) demonstrated the same lovely stitching over a patchwork pieced top (where different shaped material pieces are stitched together in patterns, before the quilting stitches are done).


A 1922 ‘crazy’ patchwork quilt (where pieces appear to be randomly joined, and are embellished with embroidery stitches, ribbons and sometimes beads) made its appearance, too:


However, the quilt that really caught my attention was this one from 1890:


For this pink, blue and white quilt, there was some information about the origins of the piece: it had come from the ‘Thompson family’ in ‘Weardale’ and was dated 1890.

Now, I am a genuine Geordie. My birth certificate and passport have ‘Newcastle-upon-Tyne’ on them, even if my southern upbringing has not furnished me with a Tyneside accent. I definitely had the impression that my ancestral roots were firmly planted north of the river Tyne. However, I am in possession of a monumental family bible (this is just one of the two volumes).WP_20150126_009

This volume (along with its pair) narrowly missed being sold at a car-boot sale one time. Fortunately, I realised my mistake and when I got it back home and opened it up, I found several pages of handwritten script (like the one below) about my ancestors:


In this list, Gradon is the surname and Thompson appears (twice) as a first name. It was also my uncle’s first name, but I remember being told as a child that Thompson had also been a family surname in the past.

There was also a very touching poem,  inserted between the pages of the bible, written by a Catherine Gradon in memory of her son (called John Gradon), who died in 1852 and was buried in Stanhope in Weardale.


Now, Weardale is very much south of the Tyne, so I have had to revise my ideas about where my forebears lived, whilst marvelling that having lived in a number of different locations in the UK, I’ve now settled in Durham.

And here’s another little clue: a sampler from a relative’s house (a second cousin). This sampler is dated 1829 and the maker (aged 14, this time) is a ‘C.Thompson’. Her name is stitched in pale blue and is partly obscured by the frame at the bottom.WP_20150209_004

Sadly, I have nothing tangible to link me to the ‘Thompson family quilt’ at Beamish. (Do please get in touch if you have any additional information!) I will probably never know whether one of the Gradon/Thompson branches of my family made it, but here I am in 2015, one hundred and twenty five years later, working at designing quilts, including – as it happens – a pair of quilts in pink, white and blue…

I’m so glad I went on the trip.