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The homespun beauty of Welsh quilts

Surviving examples of this once thriving craft have unique charm

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The homespun beauty of Welsh quilts

December 22 2011
Lucia van der Post

I’ve always had a soft spot for patchwork quilts – those homespun bedcovers that were initially inspired by thrift but were then stitched together with so much skill and care that they became works of art. The most famous are probably the great American quilts put together by women who joined the women’s sewing circles during the great depression. Many of them are now serious collectors’ pieces, worth very large sums of money.

However, in Wales between 1840 and 1940 there was also a flourishing tradition of quilt-making, for much the same reason that the practice grew in America – it was a way of taking old scraps of fabric and transforming them into something useful and beautiful. During the second world war, some Welsh quilts were commissioned for Claridge’s hotel in London and these have become sought-after pieces. Even though it soon began to die out as a craft industry, many Welsh quilts survive and can now be seen on display or bought from shops and websites.

A leading expert on old Welsh quilts is Jen Jones; she has written two books on quilts, and also lectures on the subject (last November she was lecturing in London at the V&A and at The Livingstone Studio in Hampstead). And in 2009 she opened the Jen Jones Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter Town Hall in Wales, to celebrate this traditional cottage industry. For those who love these old quilts, The Livingstone Studio currently has a selection at prices ranging from £400 to £1,000 (second picture), while Jen Jones herself sells them online and through her shop in Llanybydder, Wales. She has around 450 quilts and the same number of blankets in stock at any one time. (First and third pictures: quilt and blankets from Jen Jones.)

The quilts vary enormously from plain or single-patterned fabrics with intricate stitching designs to a variety of patchworks, some relatively simple, others extremely elaborate. Almost all have a very special charm. Every one is antique and unique, each was made by somebody who cared deeply about the beauty of the product and didn’t simply content herself with making something that merely kept the bed warm at night. Prices for Welsh quilts start at about £250, there’s a big selection of lovely ones at about £350, while the rarest of pieces can go up to £1,000). She also sells Welsh blankets (from £65), English quilts (£100) and single floral fabric quilts, called wholecloth quilts (from £250).