Skill and patience of patchwork quilting

One of the quilts in the Ryedale Folk Museum patchwork quilt exhibition.
One of the quilts in the Ryedale Folk Museum patchwork quilt exhibition.

Ryedale Folk Museum has a wonderful display of patchwork quilts showing a wide variety of designs and textiles.

We have chosen to show this fine example of early 20th Century patchwork quilting. The quilt was made by the grandmother of Rose Farrow, who lived in Hutton-le-Hole, all her life. Rose Farrow (1911-2008) lived at Rose Cottage which was the family home for several generations. She was famous in the area as a shepherdess and was an expert breeder of Scottish Blackface Sheep. She tended her flock on a pony and worked until in her 80s.

This patchwork quilt is hand-sewn in cotton fabrics using a pattern of pentagons, octagons and squares. Some patches are of woven material whilst others are printed fabrics. The reverse is in a large printed cotton sateen fabric with a turkey red cotton border. The quilt measures 210cm x 260cm. Interestingly, some of the patches portray a golf motif which may suggest later dating but it would seem that according to Dr Sykas’ book, ‘The Secret Life of Textiles’ that “Men’s shirting fabrics printed with small emblems or figures became increasingly popular in the 1840s...military and sports imagery formed first subjects for printing shirting”.

Patchwork and quilting have a history going back centuries as both practical and decorative crafts. The practice of piecing together small pieces of fabric to create a larger piece may even date back to ancient China and Egypt.

Small fragments were discovered in an Egyptian tomb. In Medieval Europe, clothes worn under armour would appear to have been made of quilted leather. During the Renaissance more decorative pieces of clothing and bedcovers were produced.

In 18th century Britain patchwork quilting was seen as a leisure activity where ladies would sit together working on items in fine silks. The Quilters’ Guild Collection contains one of the earliest known dated patchworks, the 1718 Silk Patchwork Coverlet. As a more practical craft in many households, fabrics from scraps of worn clothing and remnants from dressmaking were used to make much needed quilts for use as bedding.

This concept of ‘make-do-and-mend’ is also evident with the making of rag rugs from worn-out clothing.

The early European settlers to USA took with them the traditions and patterns resulting in a very active participation in patchwork quilt making to this day. In particular, the Amish Sect quilts have specific designs and are known for the solid colours and clear geometric design. The traditional Lancaster quilts have a central medallion design with sombre colours being preferred.

Nowadays, there are many patchwork quilting groups who meet socially to take part in the craft and often produce beautiful quilts which are then used to raise money for charity. Packs of co-ordinated patterns and colours are readily available on-line and through various craft suppliers.

Patchwork Quilters may use the traditional paper templates to use as patterns for the patches. Some of the traditional designs include double wedding ring, log cabin, cathedral window and appliqued work. Now patchwork design has moved into a new era with modern quilting and pieces are made as art forms for display in homes and galleries.

Fashions come and go but Patchwork quilting endures. Everything from tea-cosies, cushions , cot and pram quilts as well as smart evening jackets are to be found in many High Street shops . So not only is this a hobby for some but also a fashion statement and there is no sign of this craft dying out.

This month there is plenty to see at the museum. The Patchwork Quilt Exhibition in the Costume Gallery runs until September and is free of charge. The Museum is open from 10am-5.30pm whilst the exhibition is open.