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The Twelve Days of Christmas Sampler: part two

Welcome to part two of my introduction to all of the wonderful characters in the Twelve Days of Christmas sampler quilt. In my last post we met the fantastical flock of birds at the centre of the quilt. This time we'll take a turn around the quilt's border with the galivanting lords and ladies and I'll be sharing a quick tailoring tutorial with you at the end of the post.

The border was inspired by a beautiful Australian coverlet in the collection at Ayers House Museum in Adelaide. A medallion design featuring paper pieced hexagon flowers and appliqued stars, it's know as the 'dancing dollies' quilt because of its unexpectedly whimsical border of appliqued ladies all holding hands around the edge.

reproduction coverlet photographed by Audrey at Weekend Notes

I decided to have my lords join their ladies in the dancing, along with the odd milkmaid enjoying a night off. Read on to find out why...


On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight Maids a-milking...

In days of old cows were milked by hand in the field. The pails of milk were then carried to the farm dairy by the milkmaid using a wooden yoke - fully laden they could weigh more that fifty kilos - where the cream was skimmed and butter was made. Twelfth Day festivities would require plenty of both, so a team of milkmaids would be rather useful.

As well as being valued for their hard work, milkmaids were also admired for their beauty and good health. Qualities that were based on one fascinating fact: exposure to cowpox from their bovine charges gave them immunity to the devastating ravages of smallpox which, if it didn't kill it's victims, left them badly scarred. A fact that inspired 18th century Gloucestershire doctor, Edward Jenner, to use a cowpox lesion from the hand of a local milkmaid to develop the first reliable smallpox vaccine. Definitely worth singing about!

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine Ladies dancing...

If you've read any Jane Austen, you'll know that a ball was the highlight of any young lady's social calendar, mainly because she hoped to meet her future husband at one. Dancing was, if you'll forgive me, the first step to romance. The favourite dance of the day was the Cotillion, an energetic series of formal, interlacing steps between four couples. It remained popular for decades (still surviving in our country dances and Scottish reels ) until the introduction of the Waltz at the beginning of the nineteenth century. With it's daring close hold, the Waltz caused a scandal: even Lord Byron (no stranger to scandal himself) thought it a bit racy.

Balls required not only a lovely gown and a working knowledge of complicated dance steps, but stamina: they started at nine in the evening, supper was served at one o'clock in the morning and the dancing went on all night, with breakfast served at seven before the weary guests headed home.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten Lords a-leaping...

The majority of Lords in merry olde England derived their wealth from vast agricultural estates. As winter weather slowed the pace of farming life, their hardworking tenants were granted time off over Christmas - the whole twelve days in fact - although there was no such luck for the servants, who would be busier than ever preparing for the many parties he gave to impress his friends and neighbours. But even they were given the day after Christmas off, indeed their Lords would gift them all a 'box' of money and food, which is why we call it... Boxing Day.

All very expensive, no wonder they were hopping mad. But onwards to our final blocks:

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, twelve Drummers drumming, eleven Pipers piping...

The last two blocks are, rather fittingly, musical, because it's time to gather all of our blocks and celebrate Twelfth Night.

Up until the 18th century, Twelfth Night revels featured riotous games, lashings of punch and sumptuous food. A special Twelfth Cake - the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake - was the centrepiece of the party, adorned with almond paste figures and a gilded crown. The earliest printed recipe for Twelfth Cake was published in John Mollard's 1803 The Art of Cookery: Made Easy and Refined, when they were at the height of their popularity.

A dried bean and a dried pea were baked into the cake and a slice was served to everyone in the household. The man receiving the slice with the bean was named King for the night, whilst his Queen received the pea. Even a servant, like our humble milkmaid, would then be acknowledged by all - including the Lords and Ladies - as their Twelvetide sovereign.

By the Regency period, every guest played their part, quite literally: a variety of popular characters were written on slips of paper and put into a hat for guests to pick at random. Then King, Queen and guests stayed in character until the stroke of midnight when the merriment ended and the world returned to normal (and milkmaids returned to the dairy).


If you're inspired to create a Twelve Days of Christmas quilt of your own, you can find a copy of the pattern book here.

For those of you who snapped up a preview copy from the Festival of Quilts or from the shop, I promised to share a photo tutorial (click to access all of the photos) to help you tailor the perfect pair of trousers for your leaping lords. Check your seam allowance, have a practise, take your time and save the dancing until you've finished ;-)

Nicola xx

PS: I know I'll said there'd be two posts, but I have one extra tutorial to share with you, so look out for part three...


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