Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A visit to St Fagans: National History Museum of Wales - part 1

Last Sunday, we joined Dyffryn Clwyd Quilters from Ruthin on the second day of their south Wales trip when we went to the National History Museum at St Fagans.  Although I lived in north and mid Wales for over twenty five years, road links between the north and south aren't great (no motorways), so I've only been to the south around a dozen times and I'd never been to St Fagans. There is an amazing collection of historic buildings that have been rebuilt from different parts of Wales, which can lead to some interesting juxtapositions, like Kennixton, a farmhouse from the Gower, behind a typically Snowdonian slate fence (above). It is a place I wanted to visit, so when the quilt group announced that they would be having a behind the scenes tour of some of the quilts with textile curator Elen Philips, we decided it would be worth the long drive back to Perthshire on Sunday (over 400 miles) to be able to join the trip.  Elen will be one of the speakers at the Region 13 regional day for the Quilters' Guild this autumn, and also does talks for quilt groups.

After exploring some of the buildings on the site, we regrouped at 11.45 for the English language talk (there was also the same talk in Welsh).  I've split this blog post into two parts, as it would otherwise be very long!  So the details of the quilts we saw are not running in the same sequence as Elin's talk, but I've linked in photos Glyn took of carved details on furnishings in the farmhouses.  There are a lot of similarities between Welsh carving designs of the 17th and 18th centuries and the pattern vocabulary of the nineteenth and twentieth century quiltmakers, so there are a lot of photos in both blog posts.  The second part will look at the patchwork quilts we saw.

I'll start with the carvings and farmhouses, with links to the main museum website for more details - I won't add info here re where each house is from, date etc. as it is all on the museum site.  This is Abernodwydd farmhouse.  The low doorway with the high cill step is typical of the timber frame buildings on site, with the cills forming a continuation of the timber base plate.

Bed end details from bedrooms at each end of the house - these are both four poster beds.


Table edges -

Edge of a chest -


Llainfaydin Cottage and chest detail - 


 Under the thatched roof at Kennixton farmhouse, with the thatch fastened to woven straw.

The tiny windows in this farmhouse made the upstairs rooms exceptionally dark.  It was impossible to make out any detail of this quilt as it lay on the bed - it looked completely black!

The simne fawr ('great chimney' or inglenook).  All these old houses have massive fireplaces.  I used to live in an old farmhouse in Nercwys, Mold, which was built c.1690, and this is how the fireplace there could once have looked - this part of the Kennixton house was built in 1680.

The remaining details are from Garreg Fawr farmhouse and are all C17th pieces, with several including dates.  Note the tuilip patterns and the leaves on the court cupboard, dated 1605, in the first photo. It is a three tiered piece, with an extra shelf above the main two cupboard tiers, and apparently was a design unique to north Wales.  It's called a tridarn.  There's more info about the history of this kind of Welsh cupboard here


 The carved initials and date on this table reminds me of the 1718 coverlet at the Quilt Museum.


Now for the quilts.  The first was is one of the Rural Industries Board quilts made in the 1930s, i.e. not made for local use, but for sale in London.  The standard of workmanship is very high and the pattern is perfectly placed, without any of the fudging that appears on many Welsh quilts (which I think is part of their charm).  Elin mentioned that the central design was typical of a particular quilt teacher, but alas I can't remember her name.  Can anyone fill me in on that detail? I didn't have my hands free to take notes - they were on the camera the whole time!

UPDATE - Val Shields (who was also on trip) e mailed with the following info -
The design on the small gold cot quilt is the Abertridwr Star and the designer was one Katy Lewis.  She was an elderly lady when I met her at an early AGM.  It might have been Cardiff in the 80s.  It appears in Dorothy Osler's "Quilting Design Sourcebook"  of which you probably have a copy somewhere!
Thanks very much :-)


Red and white pieced quilt, with lots of beech leaves in the quilting (one of my favourite patterns).  Although I like the quirkiness of older quilts, where parts of the patterns don't always match up and the quilts are therefore very lively, I just can't put myself into that mindset when I design my quilting patterns - I always want to use the patchwork to 'set' the patterns too. 


The same quilt from the back -


A badly worn patchwork quilt, where the iron mordants have caused the brown prints to rot away -

- but the quilting is fantastic.  Here it is from the back.  Those spirals in the corners are wonderful.
The tulip motifs are so similar to the carved tulips on the tridarn court cupboard.


If I were making a quilt like the one below, I would have to quilt it from the back.  The hexagon patchwork in the centre is just TOO busy to mark and be able to follow the lines for quilting.  I am pretty sure this is how the maker created this quilt too, as the stitches on the patchwork front look like the back of a quilt, not the front i.e. the gap between the stitches is longer than on the front and the stitches are smaller too.  I'll put a photo of the half inch hexagon centre in my next post. Just trying to quilt through all those fabric allowances in the centre is quite a feat.


This is the back -


More tulips on this quilt, plus fans and spirals.


The final quilt in this post was made c1910 and Elin thinks that the central Prince of Wales feathers and crowns probably refer to the 1911 coronation and the investiture of the Prince of Wales (in the same year?)  Beautiful design and quilting.  I like the unusual scalloped border too.

 I'll write up the second part soon - patchwork (including a rather special inlaid patchwork).

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