Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Designs of Another Time

Has anyone else have preconceived notions about antique Irish quilts?

Much as quilting's history in Ireland has been distinctly without a business angle (as in America's patchwork growth and background), my intrepretation was narrowly constructed of quilts that were created out of need and necessity. Some years ago I viewed quilts made of wools and heavy textiles--100 years old stitching recorded the worn remnants of soldiers' uniforms.

Completely sterotyping a persona without more consideration or creativity, I pictured patchworkers of the Irish 1700s and 1800s with little or no design zest, piecing together remnants for warmth and practicality. Fabulous Ulster quilts with red applique dabbled in creativity but without presence, my mind files the olden Irish quilts as ultimately, a utiltarian need.

Last Monday, a viewing of quilts greatly broadened my notion of long ago Irish quilts and their creators. With special permission and guidance, four 1700-1800's quilts of Dublin's Collin Barrack's Museum lie before us. (Unfortunately there was no photography allowed.)

Two quilts were of hexagon piecing. Among six smaller hexagons circling one, great care and design was obvious as it was a multitude of design within designs. This hexagon piecing was clearly a product of fussy cutting, a kalidescope design. In a conceited effort to validate my earlier intrepretations, I do think the size of hexagons, ie., 2" shapes, were inherently scrap fabric in a time when quilting fabric was indeed remnants. However, the creators of these intricate designs and thoughtful coordination of prints and patterns certainly elevated their 'scraps' into contention with any of today's designers' work.

I had the pleasure of viewing these antique quilts with Cathy from City Quilter and we both were really impressed as several prints within the fabrics stood out with familarity. It was amazing to see how perfectly matched are today's designers' reproduction fabrics. Several prints, I felt, were dead ringers for Jo Morton's designs--or at very most, a great-great-great aunt of Jo's!

The shaped edges of the quilts were tidy hexagons kept together with aged, yet still invisible, whipped stitches. In continuing awe we also saw several 'bed covers' covered in colourful embroidery.
Imagine how this impeccible stitching was done in a time without electric lighting!
Honestly seeing these quilts really changed how I visualised quilters in 1700 Ireland. Really, once upon a time they were doing a necessary task--now I can very nearly hear design details shared among these creative ancestors.
Just imagine a time with no rotary cutters, no fusible web, no lamps. These quilters were amazing, nothing short of magicians!


Stacey said...

I wish I had an antique quilt, hopefully someday!!

Sarah said...

There is a fab quilt top on display at the Famine exhibition in Johnstown Castle in Wexford - paper pieced hexagons, it's amazing! I have some pics here: http://fairyfacedesigns.blogspot.com/2011/06/im-back.html