Spirit of the Celts

The Spirit of the Celts was the name chosen for a quilt collection inspired by the myths, legends and cultural history of the three Celtic nations of the United Kingdom, collaboratively put together by quilters from those nations. The germ of the idea emerged from the Birmingham Festival of Quilts in 2007, when quilters from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland won first, second and third places respectively in the Group competition, but it was not until the Festival of Quilts 2011 that the collection was ready to be exhibited. Two pre-existing groups, Loose Threads from Northern Ireland and Turning Point Quilts from Scotland joined with a specially-created group from Wales, Cwilt Cymru, giving themselves the overarching name of The Celtic Fringe. Because of geography and distance, most of the communication between the groups (as well as some within groups) was conducted by email and many of the quilters first met their fellow contributors face-to-face when the exhibition opened.

The collaboration was well received, and after Birmingham went on to be exhibited in Scotland, France, Northern Ireland and Wales over the next two years. The collection, like The Celtic Fringe itself, is no more but the constituent quilts have an afterlife; those contributed by current members of Turning Point Quilts are included here.

Joyce Watson

Beware the Kelpie

Folklore describes a Kelpie as a powerful water-horse haunting rivers and rocky pools. It attempts to lure female children on to its back then charges with them into the depths, where all magically vanish. Was this perhaps the Loch Ness Monster?

Wanting to use Celtic interlacing, I designed this rearing horse rising from a pool using highlights of red metallic foil and rings of sheers. The rocks are commercial fabrics overprinted and covered with areas of sheers before being stitched to emphasise the strata. The sky is melded commercial fabrics with a full moon of stitched iris film. Foreground flowers are cut into stylised Celtic designs with sparkles to suggest water droplets, and the area is then embellished with free machine embroidery. Variations of machine quilting are chosen to compliment each area.

Pat Archibald

Simmer Dim

The Shetland Islands are steeped in folklore and legend. In days gone by when fishermen rowed their sixareens far out to sea to cast their nets, folklore had it that a large sea monster called The Finn lay in wait for them at the bottom of the ocean. To appease the monster the fishermen threw silver coins into the water in the hope that he would swim away and they would be able to return home with a good haul.
Simmer Dim means midsummer, when Shetland fishermen can fish all night in daylight.

In my work I often use thirds and quarters to divide the space visually, and the Fibonacci mathematical sequence to create the illusion of perspective, seen here in the spacing of the silver coins. In this piece the beautiful curves of the hull and sail of the sixareen are echoed in the shape of the net and the interlaced quilting pattern around the sun. The piece is shaded towards the bottom to indicate the mystery and danger of the ocean depths.

I have used simple piecing techniques for the fabric background. The sixareen and fishing net are constructed using my ‘ghost imaging’ technique (working with nets to create shadows and depth but keeping the translucency of the images). The coins and fish are painted using stencils and acrylic paints. The main quilting lines have been couched using a heavy glitter thread, and iron-on gold bias has been used for the anchor chain. Fabrics were commercially available, and wadding 100% cotton.

Margaret O’Gorman

A Gift for the Earth

Many buried hoards of Celtic gold have been discovered, increasingly so since metal detectors have been in common use. The coins in some deposits are all of similar date and design, suggesting that they were buried together at the same time. Other hoards, however, contain coins from different tribes and of differing dates. These are more likely to relate to local deities, religious practices and myths; just as nowadays people frequently feel impelled to throw coins into fountains or pools of water, so in the past they buried them. In this quilt it is postulated that coins were buried in the ground as a prayer for a good harvest.

The background patterns were taken from Waldestein swords. They have been painted, embellished with threads and sequins and appliquéd, The coins were appliquéd by hand, and the piece quilted by machine.

Margaret Morrow


The inspiration for this piece was that the women were the warriors, and the gold torque was a symbol of their power and leadership. Scathatch was a Celtic warrior queen from the Western Isles of Scotland, and the writing on the quilt describes her qualities.

I used a fabric called Osnaburg, a slightly rough cotton that gave me the texture I wanted, and painted it with silk paints to represent a misty morning. The face is that of my daughter, who has both Scottish and Irish heritage. I machine-stitched leaf shapes onto the background, then hand-stitched using a perle thread to give me more texture. The torque is made from plaited and beaded cord, hand-stitched to the background.

Jan Watson

Ninian’s Treasure

The quilt recalls the St. Ninian’s Isle Treasure, unearthed in Shetland in 1958 and currently in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The hoard consists of 28 silver and silver-gilt objects made in the second half of the 8th century, including 12 penannular brooches which were the inspiration for this quilt. In early historic Scotland such brooches did more than hold clothing together; their size and the quality of the decoration signified the wearer’s status and position in society. The number and quality of the brooches in this hoard suggest that the treasure came from an aristocratic Shetland family, at a time when the islands were subject to Viking raids.

Alison Drayson

Eilean Fhionnain

This embellished wholecloth quilt was inspired by the tiny St. Finnan’s Isle in Loch Shiel, the base for a 6-7th century Celtic monk from Iona who brought Christianity to the area. The island has been used since then as a burial place for the surrounding area and continues in occasional use to this day. The island is dominated by a large 19th century Celtic cross, but there are are many ancient and weathered stone crosses, some dating from medieval times, interspersed with more modern memorials. In the ruins of a 15th century chapel (believed to have replaced an earlier building on the site of the saint’s cell) a stone altar slab displays a weathered seamless bronze bell of early christian design.

After various attempts to dye and paint a background, I found a Heide Stoll-Weber hand-dyed fabric which offered exactly the colours I required. The ancient stones are depicted in felted wool (made using an embellisher) and the more modern Celtic cross and motifs are stencilled with oil paintsticks and enhanced with foil. Foil and metallic thread embroidery are used over hand-dyed fabric to depict the bronze bell. The Gaelic name of the island is in Celtic lettering enhanced by machine-trapunto. The background is free machine-quilted to reflect the landscape.