Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Graham quilt

Chances are, you won't have heard of the Graham quilt.  It now belongs to Killhope Lead Mining Museum (have I mentioned them before?!), but its story starts about 150 years ago in nearby Allendale.  And in between Allendale and Killhope, which are about a mile apart up at the tippety-top of the North Pennines, there's a journey to New York state and back.

Made by Hannah Peart in the early 19th century, the quilt is a traditional design known as a strippy quilt - literally meaning it's made of strips of fabric. This method of quilt-making is very much associated with this area, the North Country (really County Durham and Northumberland). 

The quilt top is made of three or four different prints, in seven strips running the entire length of the quilt.  Some of the fabrics are pretty faded now, which isn't surprising given the age of this quilt, and it's hard to know what the original colours would have looked like - I suspect there may have been quite a lot more red in the stripes that are now orange.

The back is a fairly coarse, creamy colour cotton.  All of the piecing and quilting has been done by hand on this double size  quilt, and the edges are finished by folding them over to the back and stitching down.

In 1854, Hannah emigrated from her home in the North Pennines to join her sweetheart Joseph Graham in New York state, taking the quilt with her.  He had travelled there a few years earlier to seek a better life in farming than he could make in mining in Weardale.  Hannah and Joseph married and spent the rest of their lives in America, writing home regularly to their family still in the North Pennines.  Joseph died in 1905, and Hannah in 1911.

Here's a picture of the quilt back, showing some of the quilting, which includes patterns in parallel lines, scallops and four-petalled flowers (you can see one petal in the picture above, enclosed in a diamond shape).  There are a few holes in the quilt back, but they don't look like moth holes.  In the photo below you can see quilting in scallops following the printed pattern on the fabric.

Amazingly, although Hannah didn't return to the UK, her quilt did.  In the 1980s, her great-grand-daughter brought the quilt, and letters sent to Hannah in America, back to the UK and presented them to the museum.  So this quilt, over 150 years old, is now back where it started and soon it will be on display to the public alongside the letters that Hannah and her family sent back and forth to each other across the sea. It's an amazing story!

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