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The South East Northumberland Maritime Heritage Quilt

February 7th 2018 to May 7th 2018 temporary Exhibition

In 2008 Newcastle University Dove Marine Laboratory commissioned artist Allie Walton-Robson of Headway Arts to work with coastal communities to create an artwork mapping, showcasing and sharing maritime heritage and heritage skills. 

“I wanted to include lots of different people and their varied skills so I suggested the ‘quilt’ format which would allow me to patch together a map of skills and include lot of different ideas from participants. The design was created in three waves which button together with seaglass and handmade beads to represent the glass made using local sand.  The sail cloth backing and silk cord loops which hold the pieces together represent the sails, ropes and rigging on wind powered vessels. 

The ‘quilt’ was made by over 150 individuals in a series of workshops held at Fort House, Blyth Beach, within sight of the wild North Sea. Some makers were as young as one year old working with their mothers to make the glittering fish, some were elders who shared their tall ship tales and salty dog wisdom as we all sat together creating. The quilt showcases amazing craft skills happily still alive, such as Blackwork embroidery and Calligraphy and the making process served to share and pass these intricate and wonderful skills on to others in the group. 

Images include the old chain ferry from Cowpen Quay to Cambois, The Blyth Battery and The Bottle works at Seaton Sluice and say something about our ancestors who had tough lives and worked hard to make a living from the ocean.  I aimed to record local distinctiveness such as sayings, dialect and remembered seaside customs like going for a ride on the ‘shuggy’ boats. Also pictured is the ‘Gansey’ jumpers made using a tightly spun 5-ply worsted wool (popularly known as "Seamen's Iron") the intricately patterned Gansey is knitted in one piece on five steel needles, with each village having its own distinctive pattern, which helped to identify those sadly lost at sea.  

I was catalyst and by no means the expert here - it is obvious when you look at the quality of the work the talented people who made each square put their heart into this little piece of history. The needlework was done equally by both men and woman, as it would have been in the past. We were a very eclectic group from lots of different backgrounds but found we all had things in common - a love of the seaside and pride in our local heritage, from which we took our inspiration.” 

 Alison Walton-Robson, Creative Director, Headway Arts 

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