Quilting has surely been made for millennia, but it’s never really possible to be precise with textiles, as a) they are well used within their own lifetimes and b) the degrading rate is quick. What we do know a bit about is the work of communities that built up around quilting and sewing in general over the last few centuries. One such community started around the mining areas of the north-west of England, when wives met in groups and formed quilting clubs. Ladies and ‘teenage’ girls came to these groups to make their family bed quilts and wedding trousseau, alongside other works that were sold as welcome contributions to the family income.
As with all quilting, the materials, the designs and the patterns used were varied, and often personal. In Northumberland however, quilting became a proper business. The fabric for the top covers was made especially and very often stamped with a pattern for others, perhaps less skilled needlewomen, to quilt along the given lines. Many of these were simple two-toned colourings –say pink and white in wide stripes–or with a central medallion such as an eight pointed star, or saw-tooth edges, lovers’ knots, continuous cabling, twists or latticed borders.
Each of these motifs carries meaning and resonance for the community and the person who stitched them, much of which we know from research – memories, letters and other documentation.
The Beamish museum holds an annual quilt exhibition, and the Friends of.. have carefully documented the history and the surviving works of quilting in Northumberland and the north-east of England.