The North Country Quilts exhibition at the Bowes Museum on until January 2022 contains some wonderful examples of typical British styles.

In the last post, I wrote about the Strippy Quilts. Today the topic is the Patchwork Quilts.

I’m going to start with a coverlet made by a 14 year old girl, Isabella Peacock in 1855.

We know exactly who made it and when because she stitched the information into the embroidery in the central panel – its in the centre at the bottom. I couldn’t reach up high enough to take a close-up of the name for you, but there is one in the exhibition catalogue available from the Bowes

Here is a close-up of the patchwork, showing the cheerful red and white fabrics

This patchwork design made up of squares forming a diagonal grid, is usually known now by its American Name, Irish Chain. I own a similar one, which you can see in the Antique quilts section of my own website.

There was a second Irish Chain patchwork in the Bowes exhibition – but for this one, the maker, Phoebe Jane English set the blocks “on-point” which makes the chains of squares run horizontally & vertically.

Unlike Isabella, Phoebe Jane put wadding in her quilt, and used the large white squares for some elaborate quilting with hearts, stars and diamonds.

A striking quilt which shows both American and English influences is a Lone Star by an unknown maker.

I find the colours rather startling, but there is also a feature of the quilting that I find rather bizarre.

It is obvious that there is a running feather design quilted around the border, but if you look closely at the quilting designs on the Lone Star, they have no connection to the structure of the patchwork at all.

They are in fact strip quilting designs – can you see three different designs running from left to right across the section shown? We don’t know why – in the accompanying catalogue, Dorothy Osler gives some  suggestions about the possible transatlantic links.

Of entirely North Country design however, are the two stunning Sanderson Star quilts included.

This large-scale graphic design of a pieced star set within several borders, takes its name from the designer, Elizabeth Sanderson. She lived, worked and trained apprentices in the village of Allenheads in Northumberland, drawing out elaborate quilting designs for others to stitch, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was also possible to order from her, a ready pieced quilt top in this striking Star design in the two colours of your choosing for 7/6d (the equivalent of about £50 today)

This pink and white one was quilted beautifully by an unknown maker sometime between 1920 and 1935. The motifs include Roses in the corners, Square diamond infill, Cable and Weardale Chain borders and plenty of the feathers and curlicues which typify the North Country style of quilting design.

The final patchwork style on display at the Bowes are two Frame quilts. This was a style which was particularly popular in the first half of the nineteenth century, where a central section is surrounded by a succession of pieced frames or borders. You can see some more frame quilts from my own collection on this page of my own website.

There are photos showing the whole quilts in the catalogue, so I am just going to show you a few close-ups showing some of the many different printed fabrics the Bowes quilts include:

The older quilt has dress fabrics which date mainly from 1830s.

The other is slightly later, with fabrics dating from late 1820s to early 1860s.

This distinctive bright blue is known as Prussian Blue, and was one of the “mineral colours” which were developed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It became very popular in combination with “iron buff”  as shown here in 1840s – 1850s, because this was a particularly easy and economical pairing to print together as the Chemistry is related.

If you would like to learn more about some of these printing and dyeing techniques, I have recorded a half hour video about an antique four-poster quilt in my Collection. More details here.

Most of the fabrics on the later Bowes frame quilt date from 1840s and 1850s.

Lavender prints – of which you can see three here, were particularly popular from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. The cheaper ones, dyed with logwood had a tendency to fade to brown – can you see that this is happening to the print with a wide, fancy stripe on a white background?

Do go to see the exhibition yourself if you can. Barnard Castle is in a beautiful part of the country, so why not do as we did, and make it the base for a short break?