Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ysbrydolwyd Gan Y Cwiltian Traddodiadol Cymreig

"Ysbrydolwyd gan y cwiltian traddodiadol Cymreig" or as we say in the English speaking world, "Inspired by the tradditional Welsh quilts".  This Welsh phrase was translated for me years ago in a very around about way.  I had mentioned to Chris, an English quilt friend, that I'd like to have a couple phrases transalated into Welsh to print on my patterns but the phrases I was interested in didn't exactly show up in Welsh language dictionaries for tourists.  After a short time, a package arrived in the mail, in it was a sheet of paper with several Welsh quilt related phrases written out and a cassette tape.  When I popped the tape in a player, out came a short tutorial on how to pronounce the phrases done by a woman who worked at the University of Wales.  Chris had lived in Wales for a time and had called on this old friend for this favor.  Awesome.

I love this phrase and I can pronounce it in a mangled sort of way.  Welsh is an interesting language with some real challenges for an American.  The double 'dd' is pronounced like 'th' but that's the easy part of the challenge for an English speaker who never hears Welsh spoken.  As I said, I mangle the phrase in Welsh but I like what it says because it really describes the effect that the study of the Welsh quilts and culture has had on my life and especially my quiltmaking. 

Welsh quilts captured my imagination from the very first time I saw a photo of them.  I love all the lines, the leaves, hearts, spirals and the linear patterns.  I love the way every little open space was quilted with a motifs such as spirals or 'snails' which can come in all shapes including some with flat sides to make them fit into the space they're meant to fill. One of my favorite features of older Welsh quilts is how there is a sort of organic movement of the quilt patterns as they come together into a design.  If you were to lay a quilt out and measure how the patterns fit together in one quarter of the quilt design compared to the same patterns in another quarter of the quilt, you'd probably find that while they appear the same, the spacing and arrangement of patterns varies gently from section to section.  In a computerized world, I find this evidence for a human touch a bit refreshing. 

A favorite feature of Welsh quilting on pieced quilts is how the quilting design flows across the patchwork with no regard for 'staying inside the lines'.  There is a quilt in a museum in Wales which is a red and white strippy on one side, a red on white tree of life on the other side and the quilting design is a classic Welsh medallion design.  This quilt is amazing.  I love this way of quilting across patchwork and enouraged it with my students with a warning that if they put their quilt in for judging, this approach to quilting 'outside the box' might not be appreciated by judges and sure enough, one of my students got marked down on her quilt because the quilting crossed the pieced line.  That was over ten years and fortunately, there is a much broader appreciation for variations in quilting now.  I still love the quilting across the patchwork and plan to stitch Welsh designs onto the free-form scrap quilts I'm in the process of making now. 

The study of Welsh quiltmaking took on a life of it's own as it spread across the British Isles.  I joined the British Quilt Guild (as it was called then) and followed leads related to both traditional and current quiltmaking all over the U.K. and anywhere else it led.  As a result, I can no longer spell.  Color became colour, favorite became favourite and so on.  I've confused a few American quilters with the British terminology as  quilt batting became wadding and muslin became calico and so on.  On the plus side, I like the way the British broke down the quiltmaking process in defining themselves as patchworkers if they pieced quilt tops and quilters if they quilted them.  At the time I was doing my study, a quiltmaker or patchwork quilter was the person who both pieced the top and quilted it. If they referred to quilting, they were talking about the stitches of the actual quilting, not the entire quiltmaking process as the word 'quilting' is used in the States.  I like the more defined terms.  Years ago, I taught a beginning patchwork class (piecing only) but the shop listed it as a beginning quilting class.  One of the students was a bit confused that we never got around to quilting the project but only talked about options and then steered the students to the hand or machine quilting classes to continue the process.  Now, I think that American quilt influence in the U.K. is erasing the subtle little cultural differences that made us unique and I find that a bit sad.  I like the little things that set the Brits apart from American tradition.

These days, I do a bit of everything.  I teach needleturn applique, free-form piecing, machine quilting in addition to other things I do and I can see the influence of the old Welsh quilts.  It might not stand out to the casual observer but I see it.  I think they've made me a better teacher and quiltmaker.  So, there's no arguing that I'm definately inspired by tradditional Welsh quilting.  So, when I look back to the day when my English friend Chris offered to get some phrases translated for me, I should have added another phrase, 'consumed by tradditional Welsh quilts' as well as my favorite phrase.  Life would have been different if I hadn't had this experience with Welsh quilts and the other people I've met because of it.  I'm glad for the experience.  My Welsh great granny would have been pleased also.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Marjorie,
    thank you for writing this blog! I am very interested in the British quilting tradition and your book has always been very helpful for me when I am doing my wholecloths. Please keep up posting!
    All the best, Andrea from Germany