When we think of quilts we generally think of cotton cloth and cotton filling, so why am I making this quilt from linen cloth with a wool filling?
Cotton is the most common fibre used for contemporary quilt making and it is also the fibre that many surviving antique quilts are made from. There are, however, some beautiful surviving examples of linen quilts and woolen quilts in the collections of The Bowes Museum and Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum, the materials having been home spun and mill woven and finished before being hand quilted. Linen and wool areboth key indigenous fibres of the British Isles and both were produced for domestic and commercial use for centuries before cotton began to be imported into the United Kingdom. Linen and wool quilts belonged to everyday people and were used until they were worn out, so, as with so many everyday textile items made and used before the nineteenth century, few examples remain.
I like to work with local indigenous fibres, they are another link, alongside tools and techniques, to the textile workers of the past and the future. The South Cumbria region in which I live is well known for wool production, indeed the Kendal motto is: ‘wool is my bread’ and I will come back to consider wool again later in this blog. Less well known is the importance of linen production and use in the area, however, John Sommervell (2) writes of several flax mills sited on the River Bela, the river that flows through Milnthorpe, the village in which I currently live, and many more flax mills sited on the other local rivers. Linen must, therefore, have been produced locally in sufficient quantities to keep all of those flax mills in business. Research undertaken by Margaret Robinson (3) found that between 1750 and 1830 there were commercial flax dressers and weavers working in Milnthorpe, Kendal and many other south Cumbria villages and towns as well as the many other domestic dressers, spinners and weavers of linen. As I weave my long linen cloths for this quilt it is good to feel part of the local textile heritage.
The heritage of linen is, therefore, the reason that this quilt will be made from hand woven linen cloth. Unfortunately it is now impossible to find locally grown and dressed linen fibre or yarn and I have to source my linen from Ireland or even further afield. I still find the natural strength and sheen of bleached linen fibre and yarn, one of the indigenous British fibres, perfect for my purpose and a line of continuous thread linking the textiles of past, present and future.