Have you ever seen a wholecloth quilt? A surprising number of “quilters” today don’t know what this is, and even fewer have made one.

The UK has a wonderful tradition of quilts which contain no patchwork at all, but just rely on the texture created on a single fabric by hand quilting the entire design.

Blue paisley Welsh wholecloth

I have been collecting these lovely wholecloth quilts for a number of years, and want to share their lovely designs with you.

There are more pictures available on my website – if you click on the links, you can see more photos and information about them.

The Blue Paisley wholecloth quilt shown above is plain petrol blue on this side, with a blue paisley fabric on the other. It.was made in Wales probably in the 1930s.

Welsh quilts can easily be recognised from the motifs and by the layout. If you can see spirals, then it’s definitely from Wales; paisleys, fans, hearts and leaves are also common.

The layout usually has a large circular central motif, and two or three borders, with the different areas separated by double straight lines as seen on this Pink & Gold Welsh wholecloth:

Welsh wholecloth quilt made for a wedding about 1910

I’ll talk about the borders another time, but want to help you take a closer look at the centres today.

The circular motif at the centre of a Welsh quilt is sometimes known as a “coin”

The designs vary considerably, but they usually have several rings (again separated by double or triple lines) – and often contain spirals:

The centre of an early twentieth century wholecloth quilt from Gorseinnon

This one has four beech leaves at the centre, with smaller spirals and then the same simple twist around the outer ring:

The reverse side of a late nineteenth century Welsh patchwork quilt

This one has lovely hearts and a simpler wavy line for the outer ring:

The centre of a pink cotton sateen quilt from the Amman valley

This one (which has an unusual fabric with a central border), made by Q. L Jones is quite elaborate, with three different motifs in the widest ring. Look at the sequence carefully – do you spot something odd?

Pembrokeshire quilt dating from the late nineteenth century

North Country quilts (mainly from Durham & Northumberland) don’t usually have the lines dividing the centre from the borders, and the designs are more free-flowing. Typical designs include roses, feathers, swags and flat-irons. This Yellow Lovers Knot wholecloth shows a typical layout and design:

This 1930s quilt has a Lover’s Knot at the centre surrounded by scrolls and flowers

This type of design was popularised by George Gardiner, a draper in Allendale, who became well known for designing quilt tops. He had a number of apprentices, most notably Elizabeth Sanderson, who would mark out a design in blue pencil onto fabric sent out to them by quilters. This business of “quilt stamping” thrived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as many quilters wanted to make these elaborate designs, but didn’t feel confident enough to draw them out themselves.

Traces of blue pencil can sometimes still be seen on some North Country quilts

The central area of this pink quilt of a similar date has the common arrangement of a number of “flat-iron” shapes filled with scrolls and flowers.Leaves, flowers, scrolls and feathers surround them.

This North Country quilt was probably made in the 1920s or 30s

Here are the flat irons again on a quilt made for a wedding present in 1902. This time, they are filled with a leaf spray, and edged with feather petals. The whole quilt may be seen on the Wholecloth quilt page of my website.

Beautiful centre of a quilt made for a Northumberland wedding in 1902

This example, bought in Corbridge has feather scrolls enclosed within an eight pointed star:

I hope that this has opened your eyes to the fact that “Quilting” (the decorative stitching which holds the top, wadding and backing layers together) has long been a craft in it’s own right, as well as one which can be combined with patchwork.

Nowadays it is the neglected part of our craft – so many people make lovely patchwork tops which then languish in a drawer and never get finished. Classes and guidance about quilting are relatively thin on the ground compared to patchwork, and I often meet people who are much less confident about which quilting design to use, and how to mark and stitch it. Fortunately nowadays, we do have the option to pay someone else to complete our projects on a long-arm machine – and that can be a great way to get a speedy result.

However, the traditional way is to hand quilt – it may be slower, but once mastered, it is relaxing and creative, with beautiful results which have a quality not obtainable on a sewing machine. I’ll be writing more about how you could start in another blog – but you could take a look at this video of me hand-quilting using the rocking stitch in the Hints & Tips section.

And if you can’t wait to try it out on a project, have a look at this Amish Squares pattern in the Shop. The blocks are quilted simply with a waving line grid, which is a good way to practice – and then you can move onto the lovely swirling design of paisley shells in the border.


    1. Carolyn Gibbs Post author

      Was it the red, white and blue wholecloth quilts on the BQSG stand? They were fabulous, weren’t they? Yes, do try making a wholecloth yourself – it’s such a lovely thing to do (but perhaps start on something smaller than a quilt though!)

    1. Carolyn Gibbs Post author

      Fantastic, aren’t they? If you are coming to the Festival of Quilts in August, then come to the British Quilt Study Group exhibition to see some wholecloth quilts – I am doing a Quilt Academy workshop on the Friday, too, for anyone who would like a really close-up look.

  1. Susan Kingswell

    Thank you for bringing these wholecloth quilts to life.I hadn’t realised the traditions behind them, but they always take my breath away. I mainly hand stitch and quilt, so perhaps I need to put one of these on the ‘to do’ list. Thanks again