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.


Quilting in the news

DSC_0724[1].JPGIt isn’t every day that quilting gets onto the front page, but recently in the Durham Advertiser (our local free newspaper) there it was: ‘Quilters raise tidy sum for cause’. It appeared beneath a photograph taken by Tom Banks, a professional freelance photographer and son of the person pictured. The piece reported on the recent Durham Quilters’ three-day quilt show.  All twenty members of Durham Quilters pitched in with the organisation of the show, which was coordinated by Ann Diggory and Maggie Taylor.

In the picture is Gillian Banks showing her own ‘Challenge’ Quilt to her grand-daughter Georgia. Fifteen of the group members each made a single block 15 times and gave one of these blocks to each of the others. Each quilter then used the collection of blocks in the way they chose. Gillian’s version included borders and panels of stems and leaves.

Gillian’s professional training was in Primary Education, specialising in Embroidery and she became interested in North Country Quilting when she lived in Durham in 1982. From 1985 to 2000 Gillian taught Patchwork and Quilting at various locations in the Durham area. She taught no less than eight members of the current Durham Quilters group and both of the two honorary lifetime members also.

It has made me think (again!) about the influence a teacher can have: many people now living in the Durham area are quilting because Gillian taught them. I am currently teaching a ‘My First Quilt’ course at the moment, which I enjoy very much. You never do know what someone will do with what you teach them…