(This article first appeared in 1975 in Volume 3 of The Glynns. It is presented here with additional photographs and hyperlinks; also offered is the poem“The Quilting” by native Glens Poet Siobhan ni Luain)
Glens Feis, Waterfoot, Glenariffe.
My mind goes back seventy years to 1904 and the first Feis in the Glens.One wonders about all the craftsmen and women whose work filled Holden’s big hall at Waterfoot.
Holden’s Hall, Waterfoot, 1904 Feis Na nGleann
Everything from a set of horseshoes to a watch chain made from horse hair and from a pin-cushion to a pair of home-spun blankets could be found. And the quilts,they were surely things of beauty, of every colour and many beautiful patterns.
I wonder if there is a quilting frame left in the Glens ? The homemade wooden frame was like a bedstead without ends, with down each side laths perforated at equal lengths . Through these perforations the quilt would be fastened after being well stretched. This kept the quilt taut and easy for the needle-woman to ply her needle to and fro. The frame itself rested on four legs at a comfortable height for the women to sit at their work.Usually four, but sometimes six or more women would work at one frame.
Large Quilting frame
Skeins of linen thread, perhaps bought from a travelling pack-woman needles and a piece of chalk to mark the half-diamond shaped sewing patterns were also provided. A young girl would be busily employed keeping the needles threaded, for all good needlewomen sewed with a short thread. As the women worked through the quilt it could be loosened from the laths and rolled up, thus keeping their work close to them.
The women of the house always made the quilting materials ready for the frame. These consisted of a lining, an interlining and a cover. The interlining gave “body’ and warmth to the quilt, but the cover was always of greatest importance and could consist of stripes, waves or patchwork patterns. The final operation was binding the rough edges of the quilt with strips of matching material.
When Lady Longfield resided in Glenville she made visits to all the schools in the parish and left bundles of patchwork materials for the children to cut into squares which, when sewn together, made a cover for a quilt, as well as helping to make the children proficient in needlework. I believe you could find remnants of these patchwork quilts through the country yet; they were made to last.
In the old days a quilting was second only in popularity to a lint – pulling as a social occasion. It was preceded by great activity and preparations in the house — oven hot loaves, slim cake and griddle bread of various kinds and, of course a fresh churning to ensure plenty of butter. When the quilting was finished and everything was shipshape again it was usual to have a Ceilidh and a dance. Occasionally the night would end with the prospect of another quilting in the near future as two lucky people decided to “go in double harness.”
There were many traditions attached to quiltings, The one I liked best was where, if the quilts were for a bride, those who took part in making them embroidered their names on a corner of the lining. Then there was the custom of “tossing in the quilt”. The boys after many attempts would “capture” a girl, roll her in the quilt and toss her to each other. It was always said that the girl thus tossed would be the next bride !
by Siobhan Ni Luain
I hold the quilt in my hands.
The blue and white squares fall
Over my feet and out and over the floor.
The blue is twilight now and the white is white no more.
Fifty years ago,
Six girls came into the kitchen,
Light-frocked, laughing and happily bundled together,
Over the cool worn tiles, and out of the hot June weather.
Not quite out of the sun
That followed them into the kitchen;
Sun on the scrubbed deal dresser; sun on the coloured delph;
Shadow on open hearth, on hanging brown book-shelf.
There was the quilting frame
With the quilt set in awaiting
Flurry of silver needle, white thread and golden thimble;
Wise fingers, golden helmed, for the helm is Minerva’s symbol.
Sweet silence! All brows bent
On the work that lay before them.
From opposite sides of the frame went the fingers fleeting,
Till they laughed again at the golden thimbles meeting.
What do their likes do now
In the glen where I was born?
Are there young girls there at all?
Are they gone across the water
Taking on alien roads their small skills and their laughter?
I left the glen long ago
And I never once went back.
I don’t know what became of the heads of brown and gold.
Their quilt if faded now, but their quilting stitches hold.
(So many readers of Volume III expressed appreciation of Mrs. Emerson’s article on Quilting that the above poem from “The Sally Patch” is presented as an enlargement of the subject. The writer was a native of Glenravel. It is printed here by the kind permission of Mr. J. D. Murphy.)
*As presented in Volume IV of ‘The Glynns’- issued in 1976