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  • Nicola

From my Sketchbook: Pennine Star...

My most recent finish, Pennine Star, has an interesting history. The design was created a century ago by Northumberland quilter Elizabeth Sanderson (1861-1934). It was extremely popular and examples can be found in the Quilters' Guild Collection, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the collection of the Beamish Museum in County Durham.

A 'Sanderson Star' quilt, in the most delicious shade of primrose yellow, was included in 'Quilts 1700-2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories', the excellent book - edited by Sue Pritchard - that accompanied the V&A exhibition of the same name.

Miss Sanderson was a professional quilt-stamper, an occupation which seems to have been unique to a tiny corner of the North Pennine Dales at the end of the 19th Century. The trade was started by a Northumberland draper called George Gardiner, who operated a mail order service to mark quilt tops - either supplied by the customer or provided by Mr Gardiner - which were then parcelled up and returned for quilting. The term 'quilt-stamper' is a little misleading: although stencils may have been used, most of the designs were drawn freehand with a blue pencil, in Mr Gardiner's trademark style, combining sections of cross-hatching with contrasting areas of fluid feathers, cables and stylised flowers.

It's interesting to speculate that the innovations of the Victorian age - the arrival of the railways and a reliable postal service - enabled the enterprising Mr Gardiner to succeed. At around the same time Welsh entrepreneur, Pryce Pryce-Jones, established Britain's first large scale mail-order business, selling woollen flannel to the remotest parts of the country and, eventually, the world. What would they have both made of the internet?

Elizabeth Sanderson was apprenticed to Mr Gardiner at the age of 14 and was, undoubtedly, his most talented pupil. She went on to establish her own workroom - training her own apprentices - and was capable of marking one or two quilts a day, for a shilling and sixpence each. Many remaining examples still bear traces of the famous blue pencil.

The 'Sanderson Star' was often made at the end of a girl's apprenticeship as, in it's original form, it's a challenging top to piece. There are 24 y-seams to construct and 32 bias edges promising to stretch before you've stitched them into place. Even though I've been quilting for nearly seven years, I'm not confident I could manage it. But I really wanted to make that I cheated slightly, heaven only knows what Miss Sanderson would say.

I simplified the geometry of the star slightly - there were no right angles in the original design - and broke the rays of the star into three sections, which could be easily pieced. My aim being to retain the verve of Miss Sanderson's design.

It was just as well that my quilt was so speedy to piece, because it took a long time to quilt. Not that that's a bad thing. We spend a lot of time learning nifty quilting short-cuts, in order to spend more time on the tasks we enjoy the most, soaking up the slow PROCESS of quilt making.

Unfortunately I have not had a year's apprenticeship in quilt-stamping, so I relied pretty heavily on quilting stencils. I bought my stencils a long time ago and I'm ashamed to say I can't remember where from. But a quick google search for 'quilting stencils UK' - or where-ever you live - should bring up lots of sources. I used a water soluble pen with my stencils and to mark the cross-hatching.

I made the quilt in a printed aqua solid from the cupboard of loveliness and a tiny star print from my local fabric shop and I used what is possibly my favourite Bonnie & Camille print (well, you know, until I see the next collection) for the backing. And a B&C aqua scallop for the binding.

The only places I had to free-hand were the tips of the rays. I'm not sure Miss Sanderson would have been very impressed. But it all came out in the wash. Literally. There's nothing quite like the vintage-style crinkle that a quilt gets after washing and drying.

It's sitting on my bed at the moment and I think it might stay, because it's my favourite... shhh...don't tell the others...

Nicola xx

PS: I've been sharing my progress with this quilt on my Instagram account and I had a lovely comment from a lady who recognised the design from a quilt her grandmother made. The wonders of the internet... N xx


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