Ipsden altar frontal ready for quilting

My husband has been asked to take a wedding at Ipsden at the end of July. Now the mother of the bride is the person who had the idea for an Ipsden altar frontal after seeing a wonderful patchwork version on the main altar in York Minster, so … how could I not I have my own fires even more furiously stoked to get ours finished in time for the wedding ? (If things get desperate, I shall quilt all three visible sides and leave the back to be whipped off after the wedding and finished later. Always have a plan B!!)

Ipsden altar frontal: wadding and lining tacked up

Phew, I have tacked up the three layers of the altar frontal and the quilting has begun. Not doing this on the floor has saved my knees though at the end of each day my shoulders ache, there’s definitely a hint of tennis elbow (in both elbows) and unthought of stomach muscles have received a work out. Apart from that I feel exuberant at getting something done which I was rather dreading.

Ipsden altar frontal showing lines of tacking about 4 ” / 10 cm apart

Skip the next paragraph which describes how I went about tacking together such a Leviathan (8+ ft  by 11 + ft and much bigger than a standard double bed.) It’s more an aide memoire to me as, should I do another quilt, I will definitely do it this way.

After much thought and not a little research online, I came to the conclusion that the best way of assembling the quilt would be to use the two craft tables we had in storage. Each was 4 ft by 2ft and put together lengthwise they were just a few inches short of the quilt’s width. Most quilters suggest putting the wadding on the lining and then adding the patchwork on top. But, as the lining looked a bit off grain, even after a bit of structural tugging to try and straighten things, I chose to first tack the wadding to the patchwork, beginning with aligning the selvedge of the wadding to the central line of the patchwork. Once this was secured I lined this edge up with the edge of the table and carefully let drop the half of the quilt not currently to receive the wadding over the far side  and folded it up neatly on the floor. It was then surprisingly easy to make smooth the wadding over the patchwork and to pin pearl headed pins in lines equidistant from the first line of tacking. ( I began pinning in the middle – where the two tables met and worked outwards to first one side of the tables and then the other.)  I did four lines of pins at a time and then with four separate needles loaded up I tacked as far as I could reach without moving – in this way I managed a third of the  width from each position. As I completed each set of four rows of tacking, I pulled the completed part over the table to concertina on to the as yet undone other half of the quilt. With a whole half done, I picked the quilt up and swung it round so the finished half lay loosely folded on the floor and the rest lay on the table (with just a small amount on the floor). Should I have had enough room, I would have just moved round to the other side of the table. I then tacked the wadding’s selvedge alongside the already secured selvedge, went back and joined both together with a loose herringbone stitch and continued with this half as before.  The lining’s centre seam I joined by machine and I then matched  this join with the joined wadding. I then repeated what I’d done with the wadding. Great was my joy when with all the layers joined I discovered the grain of the lining matched up with edge of the patchwork.

Now, the quilt stitching begins. Just a simple echoing of the diamonds, I think. The stars with embroidered flowers I won’t divide up but just outline the whole star. I might outline the flower itself in a fine cotton thread – I’ll see.

Ipsden altar frontal : a quilted star


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Whitework embroidered alphabet: letter E


A whitework alphabet: letter E (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Oh yes, I thought, this week’s E embroidery can be a nice little pomegranate in the embroidery style of Elizabeth I.

When I was young, pomegranates were very special. They seemed to be available in about October round about the time of  Nottingham’s Goose Fair. They looked rather gorgeously exotic, promised much but were somewhat disappointing – probably because we tended to eat them by laboriously picking out the jewelled seeds one by one with a safety pin! Full Middle East cuisine was yet to penetrate Nottinghamshire coal towns – we’d just about met pink grapefruit, avocados and french dressing (from the new big Sainsbury’s in Nottingham) but sprinkling salads with pomegranate seeds or using pomegranate molasses were decades away. Mind you I’m not passionate about the seeds even now and find them more gravelly than tasty, though the syrup Grenadine can be a fun addition to a cool drink on a hot day..

Sketches for E with pomegranate

The most common pomegranate’s binomial name is Punica granatum – Punica in reference to the scarlet colour of flowers and seeds, though Punica could equally refer to the plant’s Carthaginian origin, punic being the latin adjective for Carthaginian (think Punic Wars) and an early name for the pomegranate was indeed Malum punicum (cathaginian apple).  Granatum refers only too accurately to the gritty quality of the seeds. It is of course the eating of six pomegranate seeds that got Proserpina (Gk: Persephone) into trouble in the underworld and landed her with her very own Brexit dilemma – the solution, 6 months in Hades and 6 months on earth,  is  fortunately not available to politicians in the real world!

A whitework alphabet: letter E (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The pomegranate spread via the Romans throughout southern Europe, rising to such importance in Spain that the city of Grenada was named for it with the fruit prominent on its coat of arms, just to underline the connection. Though not from Grenada, Catherine of Aragon adopted the pomegranate as her own device – its association  with fertility and fruitfulness being just the thing for a young queen hoping to continue her husband’s royal line.  I wrote about the pomegranate when I embroidered my own Elizabethan jacket and I quote from that blog post here, because I’d completely forgotten what I’d written there.

“Katherine and Henry’s marital difficulties are succinctly described in a small embroidery of 1529 by Anne Boleyn’s mother in which Anne’s symbol, the falcon, is depicted picking at Katherine of Aragon’s split pomegranate. Ouch, this is embroidery with the cut and thrust of a Private Eye cartoon and somehow more wounding for being made in a less transient medium than paper.

Katherine’s daughter, Mary I, then took over the symbol in memory of her mother. You might expect Elizabeth to have had enough of the pomegranate by the time she came to the throne. Indeed there is triumphalism in Elizabeth’s Armada portrait of 1588 where what looks like a pomegranate sits in front of an open window through which you can clearly see the Spanish fleet routed and in disarray. But by 1599, the  ‘Hardwick’ portrait from Nicholas Hilliard’s workshop  shows a couple of plump pomegranate fruits among all the other painted motifs clearly visible on the lower right of her dress.”

Hmm.  Maybe by 1599 the queen’s eyesight was failing (she died in 1603, aged 70) – I’m not sure she would have madly embraced the image of the pomegranate with all that symbolic fruitfulness and fertility, both qualities which seemed to have missed being bestowed on the queen the day they were handed out … but as Nicholas Hilliard lived for 16 years after the queen died, it obviously didn’t amount to treason.

Es – some sketches of images found online

I now realise I’ve spent too much time looking at embroidered pomegranates and not enough at pictures of the real thing. The leaves are quite wrong. Mine are lobed when they should be lanceolate or spear shaped. I’ve also got the orientation completely wrong. The little coronet or calyx – the remains of the flower – should be at the opposite end to the stalk. Both of these things I did get right on one of my drawings but then I seem to have got carried away and did my own thing. It’s a good thing I’m no royal emblem maker as in one small embroidery I’ve not only insulted the queen but got the botany wrong too!!


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