Quilters’ craft remains woven into history

WITH a history stretching back to at least medieval times, quilting is all too often associated with make do and mend and bed covers rather than an ancient craft involving considerable skill and artistic ability.

Yet, probably linked to the Latin word culcita, meaning a bolster or cushion, it has been woven into English culture through a variety of techniques and forms.

And, yes, that includes bed covers – many made out of necessity for warmth and protection, as opposed to reflecting special occasions such as a birth or a wedding, or by enthusiasts such as Jane Austen. A patchwork coverlet made by Jane, her mother and sister Cassandra can be seen at the Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton, Hampshire (www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk)

The craze for quilting reached its peak in the 17th century with quilts being produced professionally in major towns and cities, of which Canterbury was one. And while they may not be producing silk doublets, petticoats and waistcoats for the wealthy, the Oast Quilters, an umbrella group founded in 1986 following a high successful exhibition at the Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral, now number around 300 members of varying ability, including beginners. Some are well known for being winners at major shows and through their work with the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. Many belong to at least one of 35 local groups.

If the enthusiasm of their chairman Liz Coleman is anything to go by, their current Oast Sewing Bee campaign should attract new sewing and stitchers.The aim is ‘ to reach out to young people, including children, who would like to sew, but may never have held a needle – and certainly not had the privilege of sewing lessons either at their mother’s knee or at school. This will help establish small groups around East Kent led by experienced quilters.’ Oast Quilters boasts an extensive library, which is brought along in specially quilted bags to most meetings, which include mini workshops.

All in all, proof that quilting will help bolster British creativity for some while to come.