The Wells Maltings Quilt and Heritage Banner

Beach Hut Quilt

The writer of this post, Dierdre Amsden is a recognised needlewoman and quilter, whose work has inspired the delightful contributions which comprise the Wells Maltings Quilt, and herald the Maltings Heritage Banner. In doing so, she captures art traditions of the past, which bring history and events alive, and celebrate life, achievements and occasions through stitch craft and embroidery, telling vivid stories through needlework.

Indeed, the art of needlework has been a way of telling stories throughout the ages.  A pair of Sicilian linen quilts, showing scenes from the Legend of Tristram, are dated circa1395 and the Bayeux Tapestry chronicling the Battle of Hastings of 1066 was embroidered in the 1070s. It was sewn by English needle workers,  who perhaps one might suggest stitched some of their bias into the tale.

More up to date are the small arpilleras, appliqued and embroidered panels sewn by Chilean women to tell their stories of the “disappeared ones”, during the Pinochet regime.  Eventually the government outlawed the ownership and display of arpilleras, but not before many of them had been sent overseas by the Catholic Church who supported what the women were doing.

The arpilleras inspired the women of the Zamani Soweto Sisters in South Africa to make similar panels and quilts explaining their culture before being herded into the townships. They were also made to highlight brutalities such as the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, so, powerful was their message, when exhibited in St James’ Church in Piccadilly the South African Embassy were not happy, at all.

Needlework is easily dismissed as women’s art, made from the humblest of materials, it makes the perfect medium to smuggle out subversive messages.  Since the American Bicentennial in 1976 encouraged the revival for making quilts many contemporary quilt artists have written their feminist, political or social ideas in cloth or just told their story, Judy Chicago’s 1979 Dinner Party, being one extraordinary talented example.

The Wells Maltings Heritage Banner will do just that, tell the story of Wells-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast through the ancient art of needlework.  But before that there is a quilt to be made and raffled to raise money towards the making of the banner.

The Wells Beach Hut Quilt will be made in the traditional manner. Traditionally, a quilt is a simple textile concept comprising three layers sandwiched together with stitching, the centre layer is padding and the top and bottom layers are cloth, either patched or whole. Today, quilts are mostly still made of cloth but very often from fabric specially designed for quilt making rather than dressmaking off-cuts. Other materials are often used such as foil, paper or plastics, and techniques such as stencilling, painting, photographic transfers and photocopying, and buttons, beads, and trinkets are used as embellishments. Basically, anything goes if it is pieced and, or layered.

Our Wells Beach Hut Quilt will be made from cloth and constructed from units, each unit is a patchwork block of a beach hut, designed and sewn by local people.

Once the blocks are finished they will be assembled into a design with strips of fabric sashing to separate and frame each block.  These form the quilt top, which will then be put together with a wadding padded layer and a backing.  These layers will then be stitched together, the process of quilting which several people can help with at the at the same time, fondly known as a quilting bee.  The quilt will be tacked into a frame resting on chair backs.  Making a quilt in this fashion makes lighter work of a lengthy process.

The Maltings quilting bee will take place in the Sackhouse over two days, 28-29 May and readers are very welcome to come and try their hand at quilting.

The quilt will be raffled over the summer and the draw will take place in September

Proceeds from the quilt will help to fund the Wells Maltings Heritage Banner which will hang in the Maltings Heritage and Learning Centre. The banner will also be made by local community groups and individuals and unveiled when the Maltings opens its doors again in the Spring of 2018.  Artists and designers will be invited to submit their ideas and designs and the chosen artist will then oversee the making of the banner.

The main themes of the banner are to be ‘People of the Sea, People of the Shore.  The design will portray the stories of fishermen, mariners, shipbuilders, smugglers, pirates, whalers and life boatmen and women as well as the malting industry, the people who worked in the malt houses and the farmers who were at the forefront of the agricultural revolution.

The banner will also capture the wild life of the marshes, the floods and the part played by Norfolk in times of war, and in political and economic life, and in peace time, a wide ranging and on-going story.

Other similar textile stories can be found in The Overlord Embroidery about the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy appliqued by the Royal School of Needlework in 1968, The Great Tapestry of Scotland, a series of embroidered cloths depicting aspects of Scottish history from the end of the most recent ice age 8,500 BC until 2013 with Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey Millennium Tapestry involved the whole community in making ten embroidered canvas work panels each depicting one century of their history and The Prestonpans Tapestry celebrated the journey Bonnie Prince Charlie made from France through the Scottish Highlands to victory at Prestonpans.

More recently, Turner prize winner, Grayson Perry’s 6 amazing tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences, depicts the British fascination with taste and social class embodying how needlework and embroidery play an important part in chronicling ot only the past but our present.

And so, from individual contributions in that ancient art of quilting for a community quilt which celebrates local art, and local artists, echoing a special feature of our coastline, to the creation of the Wells Heritage Banner, a large-scale heritage piece, which will reflect the maturity of Wells and the sea and land surrounding it, and celebrate this lovely town and those who have made it for future generations.

Deirdre Amsden