Friday, 14 October 2011

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens - Part I

Vivien and I had a day out this summer in Sunderland.  This was slightly adventurous in that Newcastle and Sunderland are arch rivals at football (think Texas-OU or OU-Nebraska).  Except that Sunderland is all of about 14 miles away.  I don't think it's just about red & white vs black & white stripes on the football uniforms.  I think it really goes back a few centuries to when King Charles I granted the East of England coal trading rights to Newcastle.  Sunderland is on the River Wear and coal mining and ship building have been big there just as they were on the Tyne.  But that is by-the-by.  If you are interested in this Geordie vs Mackem history, read more here and follow the links.  (I will say that in spite of being very close by - in American terms - the Sunderland accent is distinct enough even for me to identify it; the minute they say 'cook' or 'book', I'm onto them!).

You can see what a great summer we had...

 Anyhow, we visited the Winter Gardens and Museum (that lovely building pictured above) because (a) Vivien hadn't been before and (b) I knew they had loads of exhibits about textiles and history.  I remembered this when I was writing this post about quilting and was frustrated at not having photos.  Well, I have some now; they aren't brilliant, but we'll see what we can do.

First of all, they have some wonderful examples of quilting, which started out as just a way of providing insulation against the cold and even as a form of armour. 

In the 1500s, luxurious quilted fabrics were made into fashionable skirts and jackets and very wealthy families paid embroiderers to make quilts and curtains. 

Quilted garments fell out of fashion in the 1700s, but ordinary people continued using them because of their practicality. 

By the 1800s certain quilting designs were associated with folk tradition both in the US and in Britain.  If you are interested in Northumberland Quilting, there is a great book available on line, pictures and all - for free! right here. I've bookmarked it here for my own benefit, of course.

I got excited about this patchwork because that hexagonal flower design is on
a 19th century quilt in Stanley Falconer's Gloucester cottage bedroom -
I saw it in a book, which I'll tell you about one day.

Then we came to traditional knitting. 

This is a 'gansey' - which apparently also dates back to Charles I - a pullover sweater (Brits call them 'jumpers') knitted for fishermen by their wives.  According to the display, men usually had four at any time:  winter, summer, evenings and 'best'.   Being largely a maritime tradition, knitted designs included hearts, waves, flags and anchors, etc.  Each fishing village had it's own traditional pattern and, according to this BBC video, this was in order to identify bodies of the men who died at sea when they washed up, unrecognisable; the gansey told where to send the body.  Grim, eh?

I've noticed that the sewing ladies - who knit a lot - tend to tuck the left needle under their arm to save energy and knit faster; I've fallen into the habit myself.  Many of the long fine needles that belonged to Bill's mother are curved from this.  Back before the days of long needles, knitting sheaths were carved by fishermen for their wives to hold  and lengthen the knitting needle for this purpose. 

Then we came to the rugs. 

I can't say I'm a big fan of these, though they are quite frugal and they are very much a part of the tradition here even up to relatively recent time.  I think of them as a variation on the braided rugs made in America, but in truth they are probably closer to what my Mom and Grandmother made:  latch-hook rugs from kits, only without the kit and with different tools.  If this is an interest of yours, look up 'hooky mat' or 'proggy' / 'proddy' mats.

I hope you like this sort of thing, because I love household decorative arts (hence the V&A in London) and I'm going to talk about what we saw in Sunderland for a few days...

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