It might be this picture of Green Knowe author Lucy Boston's home at Hemingford Grey, that has started me on the path of a crime so heinous that those of you who feel that old quilts should be folded neatly and stored in acid-free tissue paper in a darkened room and kept at a specific humidity might just want to look away in a while ...I'll confess eventually.
The Patchworks of Lucy Boston is a book I have wanted for ages, and when I eventually splashed out £15.99 on it I felt a bit reckless because I don't buy many patchwork books these days.
Back in the late 1980s when I ran my little quilt shop it was a different matter. We could import books for The Quilt Loft direct from the US at very competitive rates, when the pound was strong against the dollar, and great big sacks full of boxes of delights would arrive, and it's safe to say I was in quilting nirvana. I am also eternally grateful to Bookhound who saw into the future and 'made' me keep one of every book I stocked in the shop for my own patchwork and quilting shelf, which is why, twenty-five years on, a corner of the kitchen looks like this...
and contains some of those precious treasures from back then...
To see them is to recall so many happy quilting moments, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends but always with that sense of enthusiasm,and I felt that same sense of the patchwork of someone's quilting life as I read Diana Boston's book about her mother-in-law, Lucy.
At a first glance it might be tempting for quilt afficionados to dismiss Lucy Boston's patchwork quilts as a bit old-fashioned, very much of their time, dated and not yet old enough to be heirlooms perhaps, and especially in the face of all that is avant garde in the quilt world these days, but that would be an enormous mistake...a crime almost as heinous as mine... still to come. The quilts are true works of art; treasures, meticulously hand pieced over papers, genuine English patchwork and reading like a history of the textiles of the time. A lesson to us all, Lucy was very particular about the quality of the fabrics she used, and, 'an artist in all she did,' the designs appeared increasingly breathtaking the longer I looked at them.
Now me, I'd grab a handful of papers, some offcuts and just start joining hexagons at will. Not Lucy, each quilt is meticulously planned to offer a perfect design, not only the shapes but also the pattern on the fabrics. The more I study Kaleidoscope for example the more I feel as if I am looking directly into one..
The shapes shift before my eyes and little wonder that Lucy said its construction required the brains of a 'crystallographer and a contrapuntalist,' and that the fabric selection was so hard. Almost twenty yards bought that wouldn't work, but the addiction to its making had Lucy up and stitching at 5am on a winter's morning. I know that feeling... though maybe not at 5am.
I read the book, cover to cover and then some, and have been browsing it, and pondering and planning ever since, and if you have coveted it as long as I have, and perhaps balked at the price, I can confidently say that it is worth every penny and you won't be disappointed...add it to the Ch******s list now. Detailed accounts of each beautifully photographed quilt, twenty-two in all, are interspersed with quotes from Lucy's letters to friends and fabric suppliers. There would seem to have been a very reliable one down in Cornwall, and this would have been in the 1970s when the patchwork fabric and notions trade as we know it today was non-existent. Supplying expensive designer fabrics in colour-co-ordinated ranges that are specifically patterned to be cut up into small pieces, and joined together to make something else, is very big business these days, and I too have been a sucker for it all as well as a provider in my time I must admit. Lucy had to do all that design work herself, spot the potential in each fabric and maximise it in her designs.
Lucy stitched right through to her final days in her nineties, even when her eyesight was failing and I am sure many of you can identify, as can I on a regular basis, with her buzz of enthusiasm for the work in progress...
'...my patchwork leaps along and to me is very exciting...no patchwork and what am I to do with myself ?'
And as to my crime, well I am quite sure by now that you have guessed it. I have had a bout of Hemingford Grey-itis over the French windows, full and frank confession with pictures tomorrow, and my thanks to Diana Boston for permission to use pictures of Lucy's quilts here today.