The EPP Coverlet, 1718. Making a Replica

Hi Everyone,

Imagine someone sitting with a needle and threads and an idea for a quilt, wrapping papers with fabric and sewing 182 blocks together, hour upon hour, until the quilt was complete. Imagine that this was long ago, before the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, before there was electricity, when travel was arduous and shopping for fabric was difficult. Imagine the quilt was made mainly in silk and the maker added a block just above centre, initialed and dated, E H 1718. Imagine if you were this person. Could you conceive for one moment that your quilt would survive, albeit a little frail, to appear at auction over 300 years later and be revealed to the world as the oldest known, dated, piece of patchwork in Britain?

Sadly, despite extensive research, it has not been possible to discover who EH was but what a wonderful gift it is for us to see today, with its mixture of sixty nine geometric and figurative patterns; a man and a woman, a variety of animals, some heraldic designs, hearts and flowers – and all the papers still left in it!

The coverlet was bought in early 2000 by the Quilters Guild of the British Isles, who proceeded to conserve the quilt as best they could. However, because its delicate condition meant it had to be kept in the dark, in humidity controlled storage, and could not withstand being on display, the conservation process gave rise to the making of a full size replica of the original quilt. It was completed in 2004.

The replica project also inspired a book, released in 2014, which allows people like us to replicate the quilt ourselves if we choose to do so, or even just part of it – our favourite blocks – via the original hand stitched method or by machine, using modern fabrics of our choice.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the the maker’s original technique, now often referred to as English Paper Piecing, used to be called Mosaic Patchwork. It only became known as English Paper Piecing once the technique became popular in America very much later. Also it should be noted that the ‘quilt’ is referred to here as a coverlet because it doesn’t have any wadding between the decorated front and the backing fabric.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s mainly because I noticed this book on Amazon a while ago and thought it was just about the history of an old quilt, followed by instructions on how to copy it. And of course it is, but when I eventually bought it, I discovered there is so much more of interest between its covers and it’s not just for lovers of Mosaic Patchwork and EPP

There are chapters of a few pages at the beginning outlining the history of the coverlet; the conservation process; the means used to replicate the quilt; a layout and numbering system for each block; the fabrics and materials originally used and what you would need to consider if you wanted to use the closest equivalents available.

Later chapters cover a variety of techniques in detail, both original and modern (so you can use your rotary cutter and sewing machine if you prefer) and the adding of the usual backing, borders, label and so on that might be needed. Then there is a numbered directory of every block accompanied by a coloured picture, followed by a separate page of instructions for every single block showing both the original and modern methods of completing it. All the block diagrams are given in their actual size.

The points I think are important to take away from this blog post are:

  1. You don’t have to be an English Paper Piecer to learn from this book. There is a huge amount of guidance here for making a various types blocks by hand or machine.
  2. You can choose any number of blocks to make your own quilt or wall hanging. Look at the banner below! This banner, inspired by the coverlet is called ‘Cantata’ and was made by Maureen Poole.
  3. I am not sure there are any EPP books that tackle figurative work as comprehensively as this one. Books on EPP generally cover only geometric patterns.
  4. I had previously only seen people or animal blocks for quilts made out of geometric shapes but this book shows you how to tackle unusual shapes, curves and points and incorporate them into a block in a way that I would previously have thought too difficult to piece. I think it could teach experienced English Paper Piecers a thing or two.

Just to clarify what I mean by this last point, here is a page from one of Gwen Marston’s early books, ‘Twenty Little Patchwork Quilts’ featuring four ‘girls’ alongside the ‘Woman’ featured on the coverlet. I love how much more realistic and natural looking the second pieced block is.

I will back soon with more of my quilts in progress. I just felt that this book needed to be celebrated for the less obvious and special information that it contains.

So, until next time…

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