Saturday, May 14, 2011

France In Vermont

lunch under the kiwi arbor




Zoe examining the glazing

measuring a fold

Kate determining ends per inch

Welsh quilts

a finer English quilt with silk backing - notice the line marking!

the glazing readily apparent on this very fine wool singles top

a few corner finishing details

the fine & the rough

three different examples of ground stitch patterns

the red one - my favorite example of Welsh quilting

a very fine wool backing for a top-glazed quilt

a fine linsey-woolsey backing for this pink wool top

a corner detail from the red quilt

On Friday, Kate, Zoe, & I went to visit Kate's friend Richard in the Upper Valley, to take a good long look at his collection of antique wholecloth quilts. We really lucked was a gorgeous sunny day...and we set up an al fresco luncheon under the kiwi arbor in the garden. For the next two hours we enjoyed the day & the company, lots of wine-enriched conversation, and a delightful springtime meal of mango rosemary chicken, watercress salad, crusty bread & cheese, & strawberry rhubarb pie. I really felt like I was spending the afternoon in France. It was a beautifully elongated & relaxing moment, that lunch.

Finally we adjourned indoors to view the quilts, which was totally tremendous because we could touch them, photograph them, examine them under a glass, measure all the details. If any of you have ever been to view textile collections by appointment at major museums you'll know how impossible most of that is...they have white-gloved handlers, you can't touch anything, & you may or may not be able to photograph anything.

So we spent a few hours looking carefully at everything; Zoe & Kate, because they are trying to get a real sense of how the glazing was done in a calendar wide the fabric sections were on the average, the dimensions of the pleated folds in a pressed stack, whether the yarns were singles or plied, how many threads per inch, & perhaps most importantly, to fix their impressions of the glazing with visual & tactile senses firsthand, so that they would have a strong feeling for how close to the real thing their experiments with glazing materials & methods are getting.

And I went, to take the photographs, but also because I've been planning a wholecloth quilt project for over a year now, and needed to see some good examples of Welsh quilts to understand more about traditional design & construction, & about the quality of the top, the batting, the backing, the stitching, & the thread. All I can say is that it blew my doors off, seeing these pieces. I love hand stitching as much as I love dyeing & weaving...& I was fairly giddy with delight at getting to examine the real thing to my heart's content.

The Welsh quilts are my favorite because they are often smaller, made of rather coarser wool for the top & backing, they're filled with wool batting, & they are not so fussy or complicated with regard to their stitch designs. They have an air of rustic handmade charm that embraces the imperfection of a not quite straight line of stitching, or a panel of fabric cut to fit because they are not wasting one precious bit of it. Their texture is very tactile, & the relief in the stitch patterns seems very apparent because of the relative "roughness" of the fabric.

There were also several very good examples of much finer work; fancier wholecloth quilts made with much finer wool singles tops, with silk, wool, or linen backings. The glazing was all on the finer pieces, & their stitch patterns were very complex, similar in appearance to matelassé, as the batting was very thin, and the whole piece would often present a much more uniform, flatter surface. The glazed quilts were larger, & often with cutouts to accommodate bed posts, so in general, their whole style was much more refined and less obviously made by those who intended to use them as bed coverings.

After a few hours with Richard & the quilts we departed for home. Now there will be more work, more experiments made, as we go into this summer. I will be posting more about the glazing, & more about the step-by-step details of constructing a wholecloth quilt from beginning to end, so stay tuned. If you have any questions about this, don't hesitate to make a comment. I'll be answering in the comments section.


  1. I'm excited to hear more about whole cloth quilts - Kate has encourged me to think about doing one and it has been on my back burner for some time. This posting has renewed my interest! Perhaps this is where I should go for a project with our trip up this October! I look forward to my weekly weaving trip each fall and this web site has been an inspirtation to me to helo me get through the time between trips to Vermont! Thank you! Patricia

  2. could you weave twelve yards of fabric in a week, patricia? that's approximately how much camlet you'd need to weave for the face of a queen-sized wholecloth quilt...the back could be something else. i know we set up your loom for your autumn week of weaving, so it is possible to consider doing this then. we look forward to having you back!