21 November 2012

Canadian Red Cross quilts

I won't be able to do justice to Maxine March's talk about the Canadian Red Cross quilts, given at London Quilters meeting this week. As part of the Canadian Red Cross Quilt Research Group (whose members met at Beckenham Quilters), Maxine has been researching the history of these quilts, and her talk was a fascinating glimpse into life during the second world war, both of the way these quilts were made and the stories of some of the people who received them. 
As part of "Women's War Work", the Canadian Red Cross coordinated the collection of quilts to be sent to the UK to provide bedding (and comforting) to people who had lost so much through the bombing, and also to "displaced" people like the women in the Land Army. Hundreds of thousands of these quilts were made by a plethora of women's groups in towns large and small, and the exact numbers are impossible to know. In one six-week period in 1944, some 25,000 reached Britain. Yet of those many, so few survive.
Where did all the fabric come from? Close examination reveals that some were dressmaker's scraps, some were floursack prints, many were pyjama fabric. The backing was often cosily-striped flannelette (winceyette). Sometimes the fabrics were strange to modern British eyes -
I remember seeing this type of fabric, a doubleweave brushed cotton  (the flap shows the reverse side, less worn) in inexpensive bathrobes, well after the 1940s. 

The brightly coloured decorative stitch in the photo above is an example of the care that went into making these quilts, the attention to making a pleasing object. Machine pieced, usually in blocks by individuals (at home), they were hand quilted, probably as a group social activity. 

Maxine gave permission to use photos of the quilts in this "educational" blog post, and agreed to be photographed in front of a quilt that was obviously made by a variety of people from a variety of scraps -

The quilts were exhibited at the Quilt Museum in York in 2010, accompanied by a catalogue, which is a bestseller at the Quilt Museum shop. You can hear Maxine talk about the quilts at vimeo.com/13412323
Reproducing the special  label, containing the Red Cross emblem, is tricky - Maxine corresponded with the organisation for eight months to get permission and clarity on how it could be used.

If you have, or suspect you have, a Canadian Red Cross quilt lurking in a cupboard - or a story about a wartime quilt - the research group would love to know about it. In the absence of the group's website, I can pass your contact details on; if you have trouble leaving a comment here, please use the contact form on my website.

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