From my sketchbook: Mr McGregor's Garden...

February 1, 2017

 

I suspect you may not be all that familiar with early landscape drawings, but I love them: the plans and elevations are often eccentrically combined together, without any regard to proportion or perspective. The example below, by Robert Skyring (c.1750), is of the magical garden at Levens Hall in the Lake District. The formal vistas, hedges and parterres were laid out at the end of the C17th and preserved by the happy accident of being passed down through less wealthy branches of the family, thus ensuring they survived the C18th mania for 'natural' landscapes. There's a wonderful article about it, with lots of photos, here...

 

 

It's thrifty owners also carefully preserved England's oldest pieced patchwork quilt (dated to c.1708) which is believed to have been made by Lady Elizabeth Grahme and her stepdaughters. The beautiful piecing suggests that it wasn't the first they'd made and it was hand quilted in crimson thread, which seems so wonderfully contemporary. 

 

A few favourites from my bookshelves showing, clockwise from above left, the Levens Hall quilt in Celia Eddy's Quilted Planet, survey drawings from Chris Crowder's The Garden at Levens and Sara Midda's In and Out of the Garden (which I never tire of)

 

 

But I digress...Ladies at the time may also have spent many hours embroidering samplers, which also have a whimsical disregard for proportion and are just as inspiring.

 

The example, right,  was made by Sarah Wilson in 1835

 

Quilters, too, have always incorporated houses and flower gardens into their work.

 

The Red Manor House Applique Coverlet, below, from the Quilters Guild collection is dated 1840-60, but the maker is unknown

 

 

 

 

My quilt started with the cottage. It had a handsome, steeply gabled porch - wreathed in flowers, of course  - just like countless Shropshire farmhouses. The cottage garden came next, with its neat rows of vegetables and some lovely topiary in pots. The topiary may seem a little fanciful, but my Grandad - who trained as a gardener - clipped a topiary chicken into his privet hedge. Most houses had a privet hedge back then and how pretty they looked stretching along each side of the street (now replaced by brick walls or, worse still, parking spaces). How sad we all were when he disappeared after some over-zealous clipping (the chicken, that is, not Grandad). 

 

 

My post on choosing fabric, here, describes how the colour scheme for the quilt evolved, but as you can see from my initial sketch, there was a late addition.

 

Once I'd made the quilt there seemed to be a gaping hole at the centre, where the garden paths crossed. But what to put there? A watering can? A wheelbarrow? I'm not really sure where the radish came from, but it was the perfect size, added a splash of colour and reminded me of Peter Rabbit...which lead me to the name of the quilt, because there are few more famous (or infamous) gardeners in English Literature than Mr McGregor.

 

 

 

I had a lot of fun taking photographs of this quilt. We have some beautiful espalier apples in the garden - some 70 years old, I think - which provided the perfect backdrop.

 

I gifted this very English quilt to my Goddaughter, Charlotte, when she moved to Shanghai with her family: a fabric hug to remind her of friends back in dear old Blighty.

 

 

{U P D A T E ...and then of course I needed another sample, this version - I like to think of it as Mrs McGregor's Garden - is made in my favourite fresh spring-sky blues and blossom pink prints from Ambleside & Windermere by Brenda Riddle for Moda and machine quilted by Maureen Shenton...}

 

 

I should confess, at this point, that I got carried away with the possibilities of combining cottages and gardens and have several versions tucked away in my sketchbook, including one with a maze - that will be a fun pattern to write - and a French garden, which I'm working on right now and I really must get back to it, so 'au revoir'...

 

Nicola xx

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