Katy and her family track down patchwork opportunities in the North East.
I've been on holiday with my family in Northumberland this summer. Before I left home, I searched the internet for quilt shops in the North East, as you do, just in case I found myself in a town with a good fabric shop. I had a mental list of places to hit if the opportunity arose, and kept my eyes out for any hint of patchwork cotton. I wasn't disappointed, on my first day, I happened upon the "Quilters' Yard" in Durham Market, which was conveniently situated next to a pie stall, which pleased the rest of my family too!
Later in the week, I found a lovely little shop in Alnwick, "Sew Much", which had some great bargain fat quarters. I've actually used those since I got home, which must be a record for me. I normally end up buying fat quarters, 'just in case', or 'because they're there', and don't use them for months, so "Sew Much" scores well with me!
I valiantly trekked around castles and cathedrals, keeping my eyes open for inspiration. Northumberland is packed with lovely stonework, beautiful coastal landscapes, strange iron age hill forts with spiral motifs, and of course Celtic imagery from priories and monasteries. We visited Cragside, where I spotted a gorgeous coverlet, and a pretty scrap quilt. All these things were wonderful, but after a hard days holidaying I really hankered after a a quick fix in the form of a small kit to sew in the evenings. I had thought that one of the millions of gift shops might have something which wouldn't stretch my brain, but didn't have much success. I was forced to spend my evenings on the wholecloth I had brought with me instead, which was more sensible really, and much cheaper!
The greatest treat was to come on my last day, and I nearly missed it completely! I wanted to go to Morpeth to visit Calico Barn, one of the shops on my internet search list. Further investigation led to the discovery that Calico Barn was actually closer to our holiday cottage and nearer the coast than I had imagined, it's actually near Widdrington, by the sea at Druridge Bay. We set off, and almost reached our destination, only to be confronted by an enormous puddle, and an abandoned car. There had been a horrendous storm in the night, so we should have expected it really. Rather miffed, we turned around and I cursed myself for not having visited earlier in the week. A lady, who I am sure was a quilter, stopped and explained that "the other road is usually worse!". My husband wasn't convinced, so we tried the other road, against her advice. She was right, it was worse, so we went to Morpeth for the day instead. They must all be very determined fabric shopaholics in the North East!
Obviously, I was a bit sulky, as any right minded fabric obsessive would be! Luckily, the weather improved and puddles started to dry out, so later that afternoon, we made a third attempt at visiting the shop. I'm so glad that we made the effort, Calico Barn was fantastic. The shop is large and spacious, and stocks a great range of fabric. There were lots of beautifully put together packages of coordinating batiks, which I loved, and a really good range of hoops, frames, and other accessories, which often seem to be stocked as an afterthought in some shops. There was a lovely area to relax and have a cup of tea, and best of all, a great and unexpected exhibition of work! Sandra Bell opened Calico Barn seven and a half years ago and this was the 4th bi-annual exhibition. All the items exhibited were made in workshops at Calico Barn. There must be some very talented quilters in the towns and villages of Northumbria, there were some lovely items on show. Despite the floods, the visitors came and raised nearly £600 for the NSPCC. I have since heard that we missed another Calico Barn tradition due to the puddles. Sandra told me that whenever they have an event at the shop, one of the ladies dresses like Sunbonnet Sue, complete with bonnet and demonstrates a technique, this time would have been hand quilting. Sunbonnet Sue has set many a non-quilter on the road to "addiction". However that day she couldn't get through the water.
Calico Barn was remarkable in one further respect. My husband claims to have no opinion about any form of patchwork or quilting, even when I'm trying to force a comment out of him. However, my daughter was showing him the photographs we'd taken of the items in the exhibition, and he was overheard exclaiming, "That's brilliant, that's the best quilt I've ever seen, why can't you make one of those!!". He meant wall hanging, but I'll forgive him. Can you guess which one he meant. I''ll give you a clue - he's a bit of a magpie!
We visited Kielder on the way home, to have a look at the Skyspace and Minotaur in the Kielder Art and Architecture project. I was very sorry to see that we had driven past Falstone Stell by Colin Wilbourn without knowing it was there. This piece is a dry stone sheepfold with stone sofas and steel sofa throws and rugs, representing the drowned villages lost from the valley when the Kielder Dam was commissioned. I do love the combination of textile and architecture, even in extreme forms such as this one. I would have loved to have seen this piece, if any of you have visited it, I'd love to know what you thought of it.
We had a great time in Northumberland, everyone was so friendly and helpful. If you're in the area, I'd recommend all the shops I visited, they were all great in their own way. The workshop programme for Calico Barn will be available from September, and judging from the work displayed in the exhibition, it will be well worth investigating. Sandra told me that there is usually a varied list from beginner to advanced with different tutors. There are also two long established self help groups every week. Check the events list later in the year for more details.
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