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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Perfection? I don't think so!

A you know, I have a large collection of Welsh and Durham quilts, all made between 1880 and 1950. The earlier ones are more attractive and lively - the later ones seem a bit dull and "samey". Why is this? It took me  a while to discover....

 I have traced quite a few of my quilts, by laying polythene sheeting over the quilting, and then carefully tracing the quilting designs with a permanent pen. It became obvious that while the larger motifs were traced, most of the other quilting had been sewn in freehand. Why is this?
The quilts were largely made by professional quilters who were working as quickly as they could, across the frame (they aimed to make a quilt in a week, possibly two weeks). They couldn't agonise over mistakes, nor could they unroll the quilt to see what they had sewn on the rolled up bit. The result is a lively creativity and sometimes quirkiness - and lovely even stitches. The stitches are not small - they are fairly large (but even) and create a good texture!

 Although the designs look complex, the quilter alters them as she sees fit - and changes are made if necessary. Running out of space - use half a motif. Extra space - add something to fill the space. Grids - often very wonky - but our brain doesn't seem to notice too much. Instead, a lively surface texture is created.

These lively and varied early designs were eventually replaced by the standardised designs of the Rural Industries Board in the 1930's - and then the more simplified patterns of the 40's and 50's - and later commercial patterns - most drawn as paper patterns and very "perfect".

I think it is the individuality and creativity of the quilter that makes these earlier quilts so appealling - no two are ever the same - and while the workmanship and stitching are good, the quilter didn't get bogged down in the detail - after all, these quilts were made to be used!

I have heard it said that the old time quilters didn't like stitches to be too small - too "bitty" for their taste - and I can see that very small quilting stitches lack the textural appeal of larger ones. So - don't worry too much about the quilting stitch - just enjoy the process!! Pippa Moss


  1. Thank you for the information. I am so interested in this sort of history!

  2. so true!
    If I wanted "perfect" stitches I would use a machine and a computer program.....
    perfection is not nearly as exciting as individuality!!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your quilts

  3. sometimes my quilting is quite uneven - I think I am doing a straight line and stand back and look and find it isn't -- I rarely unpick!

  4. i adore this post! "these lively and varied designs" totally made my day! thanks for your excellent input.:)

  5. I tend to be one to do things as well as I can, and decided with hand work you can never accomplish perfection and the imperfections are actually what we love about old quilts.

  6. Pippa--I love your posting and love your blog. I check it daily! Welsh quilts and also durham quilts are stunning and I try to read everything I can on these. I sure wish you'd publish a book on the subject and your collection! This year, I plan on making a welsh quilt!

  7. Because of that special liveliness I love to do a lot of freehand quilting in my quilts....
    Thank you for that post, Pippa!


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