The project to unearth the quilts of Fogo and Change Islands
by Yvonne Mullock

The quest to furnish the Fogo Island Inn with locally made quilts began before the Inn’s construction, prior to rocks bring ‘turned’ and foundations laid. What started out in 2010 with a workshop between local artisans and designers (instigated by Ilse Crawford of Studio Ilse and Shorefast) grew and became a collaborative project between resident quilt makers and Shorefast. The project, gently led by myself in close alliance with Fogo Islander Sheila Payne (a master quilt maker and enthusiast of all crafts), took form with a goal to reinterpret the traditional quilt patterns of the region.

Before quilt production started, we began by knocking on doors on Fogo Island and neighbouring Change Islands, starting an unofficial survey and conversation about quilt making. Looking inside closets, attics and under piles of quilts on beds - we touched and discussed quilts made generations ago from salvaged materials. This research and photographic archive of local textiles not only guided how the quilts for the Fogo Island Inn would be made and look like, but gave us the opportunity to reinforce a quilt tradition, breathing new life into this domestic craft.

The Quilts of Change and Fogo Islands from Shorefast on Vimeo.

What we found 

Looking back at the history of quilt making on Fogo Island and Change Islands by seeing old examples from 1930’s to 1980’s revealed a quilt aesthetic familiar to these islands. The way that these quilts look was informed by a number of factors; remoteness, socio-economics, resourcefulness, time available and space available to the quilter.

These play a role in the composition and beautiful simplicity found within these quilts. Each unique textile demonstrates the skill and creativity of the quilter by utilising scrap materials sourced from old bed linens, shirts, curtains and threadbare dresses. This thoughtful transformation of recycled materials results in an eye dazzling useful and beautiful object that speaks to the makers ingenuity and craftsmanship.

These insights into quilt style, form and function informed how to go about making quilts for the Fogo Island Inn in both process and design. The quilts made for the Fogo Island Inn have a local familiarity to them; their character is exuberant in use of colour and texture and they’re unapologetic for taking centre stage in the room.

Locally made by skilled crafts people, quilts adorning beds in the Fogo Island Inn champion the skill of each of local quilter; every quilt differs in use of colour, texture and arrangement. These authentic locally made textiles boast a craft tradition that is an intrinsic way of life to this region of Newfoundland, they are made to last, to be enjoyed, used and passed down through generations. They represent a timely tradition that speaks to the islanders’ resilience and creativity.

Calling all Quilters - A Quilt Parade

At the beginning of the process, before any quilts were made for the Inn, we looked across Fogo Island and Change Island inside linen cupboards, cabins (even dog beds) for family quilts. We were interested in all quilts, not just the more celebrated ones given at weddings or births but the utilitarian ones; the ones made in a rush that would serve as the base layer of warmth on the bed, made of necessity but not necessarily seen. What we discovered when we looked at ALL kinds of quilts was a breath-taking array of skills, approaches, and originality and this was worthy of a celebration of its own.

The seed of an idea of a quilt parade was sown; an event that would show the community it’s beautiful and complex tradition of quilt making and champion the difference found in these quilts.

A Quilt Parade was put together at the Orange Lodge in Joe Batt’s arm in collaboration with the Winds and Waves Guild. Dozens of quilts were submitted for the exhibition, displayed on washing lines strung in the rafters, similar to how quilts are dried when laundered across the island. Along with each displayed quilt details of the maker, year of it’s making (if known), materials used and pattern type were attributed.

Four exhibiting quilts were particularly special in their unique interpretation of traditional patterns. In tribute to the quilt makers before and gesture of continuing the local vernacular of quilt traditions, we lovingly reproduced these four quilts for the Fogo Island Inn. Called the Heritage Collection, each of these heritage quilt examples is made with one-of-a-kind vintage fabrics, making each and everyone unique.

Quilting - A Slow Process

Making a quilt is a slow process. Traditionally scraps would be saved and salvaged from domestic household supplies; worn out clothing; curtains, table cloths, flour sacks - materials that had reached their end of their life and become unserviceable would be set aside for quilt making.

The size of the scrap would dictate the pattern it would be transformed into; smaller pieces would be cut into delicate shapes and appliquéd into motifs. Larger pieces would be saved for crazy quilts. The biggest fabric pieces would be used for bolder geometric quilts or perhaps form the back of the quilt.

This process of slow accumulation of materials and sorting-for-use is still adopted today and was championed when quilt production began for the Fogo Island Inn. Acquiring fabrics that were new, recycled and vintage across Canada in preparation for quilt production began; making alliances with thrift stores, vintage fabric dealers, upholstery fabric depots, tailors shops selling scraps, fabric stores and fabric wholesalers locally, provincially and nationally.

Salvaged curtains, dress shirts and thrift store finds were sought and bought. Bright and delicately patterned prom and summer dresses were washed, unpicked and prepared. Rare fabrics and colourful bed linens were laundered and pressed for a mass stockpile of organised colourful prints, plaids and florals. Fabrics that reflected colours found in the local landscape, colourful pastels, moody palettes and bright seasonal shades, were arranged and folded into rainbow piles in preparation for quilters to select and make quilts for the Fogo Island Inn.

Quilt Patterns

Quilt made to adorn the beds in the Fogo Island Inn are found in a range of patterns: Crazy, Strip, Heritage Patterns of Rob Peter to Pay Paul, Nose Gay/Compass Point, Four-Pointed Star and Tea Leaf. These patterns represent a timely-craft tradition of making and repurposing household fabrics; heirlooms to be used and treasured. The namesake of each of these patterns possess a rich history that symbolise cultural customs, trades and descriptive ways of life.

Both Crazy and Strip quilt patterns you would find in every household on the island. Their popularity is reinforced by a colourful boldness and careful use of fabric. Both can be made with minimal fabric wastage - maximising fabric scraps to their full potential. Halve of our crazy quilts are embellished with the traditional herringbone stitch; using a variety of coloured embroidery floss, the edges of carefully arranged fabric patches are both secured and featured in this traditional manner. Our take on these bold and charming quilts champions the colour palate of each of our quilt makers; no two quilts are the same, each varies with their composition and construction to reveal an eye-dazzling textile treasure.

The Heritage collection boasts four quilt patterns that having carefully reproduced from old quilts found on Fogo Island. These a more detailed and elaborate designs that have been masterfully pieced together to recreate a piece of quilt-history.

Rob Peter to Pay Paul is a century old saying that describes the action to take from one merely to give to another; to discharge one debut by incurring another. This idiom is transcribed into quilt form whereby square blocks have been cut with a curve into two then reassembled with their opposing counterparts. The pattern presents a beautiful puzzle of pattern-parts, beautifully disseminated within the quilt

Nose Gay/Compass Point is a hybrid quilt made from two patterns. The Nose Gay pattern is a graphic reference to floral bouquets given as tokens of affection. The origins of the Compass Point pattern are lost; however it is known that the points represent navigational points found on sailing charts. This quilt hybrid fuses elements of both traditional patterns to create a unique and bold design.

The Four-Pointed Star quilt is a variant of this traditional and old pattern, otherwise known as Blazing Star. Pared down into its simple elements, this miniature star motif is repeated to create a spellbinding one-of-a-kind quilt. Carefully pieced together using our finest vintage fabrics, this show stopping quilt is made to be admired and treasured.

The Tea Leaf quilt pattern is a variation of the Orange Peel pattern which dates back to the 1800’s. The seemingly simple motif is repeated to create complex grid formation. Each leaf is hand-stitched in place onto a white background, showcasing the beautiful patterns of each piece. Utilising the smallest of scraps, this quilt has been made from our very best high-quality vintage fabrics and has been masterfully crafted.

Seasonal Quilts

With the change of the seasons, households across Fogo Island would embrace the change of summer and winter months by changing over curtains and bedspreads. Similarly, for the Fogo Island Inn we have embraced this custom too, changing our quilts over to match the season. Summer quilts are lighter in weight to chill the chill off; winter quilts are heavier made with insulating cotton batting and cozy backings.

Using the Fogo Island landscape and flora and fauna as inspiration, summer colours in our quilts represent the annual show of colour found in summer berries such as bakeapples, lichen and mosses, icebergs and flowering wildflowers like goldenrod. Winter colours reflect the annual dark nights, winter berries such as partridge berries, seaweed and brooding stormy seas.

Our Quilters - twenty-three individuals, two church groups and an artisans craft guild

Each quilt featured in the bedrooms in the Fogo Island Inn has been locally made by individual crafts people and collective craft groups.
The methodology of construction is the same, however the individual approach to quilting varies widely. Each quilter brings their own sensibilities in colour and texture which is demonstrated by their choice of fabrics selected from our specially sourced and wide-ranging fabrics.

This, along with a lifetime of quilting skills passed on by generations of women, creates a story of craft that is intrinsic to this region of Newfoundland. These quilts are a quiet but powerful representation of the resilience and material-ingenuity of local quilt making history.

On the back of each quilt bears a label, boasting a hand embroidered signature of the maker(s). This small gesture reminds us that time, thoughtfulness, and skill has been dedicated to each and every quilt; signed like a love letter for future generations to enjoy and sleep under.

All the names listed below contributed to the production of countless quilts made specially for the Fogo Island Inn. Their collective artistry and skill is showcased on every single bed. Their embroidered signature that adorns the back of every quilt made authenticates their lifelong learned and practiced craft for others to remember and enjoy.

Anglican Church Women, Fogo, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Brenda Brown, Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Mary Brown, Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Mona Brown, Joe Batt’s Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Alma Budden Seldom, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Doris Budden, Seldom Fogo Island Newfoundland
Jacqueline Coish. Stag Harbour, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Phyllis Combden Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Violet Combden Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Millicent Dwyer, Tilting, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Lillian Dwyer, Tilting, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Sadie Edwards, Change Islands Newfoundland
Margaret Freake Shoal Bay, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Carolynn Harnett, Seldom, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Eileen McGrath, Tilting, Fogo Island Newfoundland
AnnMarie Newman, Joe Batt’s Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Iris Newman, Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Linda Osmond, Shoal Bay, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Dale Payne, Fogo, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Sheila Payne, Fogo, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Rita Penton, Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Judy Snow, Fogo, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Donna Rowe, Seldom, Fogo Island Newfoundland
Lisa Snow, Fogo, Fogo Island Newfoundland
The Winds and Waves Artisans' Guild, Barr’d Islands Newfoundland
Heather White, Change Islands Newfoundland
United Church Women (Joe Batt's Arm & Barr'd Islands, led by Ellen Keats)


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