Woodland Quilt Artwork- Featured in Land and Lore

Artist Blog Ireland Irish Folklore Irish History Irish Linen Art Irish Linen Artwork Northern Ireland art Northern Irish Art Ruth Osborne Art Textile Art ireland Woodlands

In my second blog post connected to the Land and Lore exhibition, I will be exploring a little more about the textile installation piece- Woodland Quilt (A Quilt for Suibne mac Colmáin)

woodland Quilt

The Woodland Quilt takes its inspiration from the tradition of patchwork quilts in Ulster. Materials chosen for quilts were often remnants of old clothes (no longer fit for use) and off-cuts gathered from local textile factories, for example in Derry/Londonderry where local women made the quilts with the material off-cuts from the local shirt factories, which were a major industry in the area. As such these quilts told the stories of families and communities through cloth. They offered comfort, protection and familiarity in a way that was unique to families and communities. They were both functional and artistic.

Detail of woodland quilt

Featuring predominantly the leaves of native species of plant and trees, Woodland Quilt tells the story of our native woodlands. It features 102 hand-printed Irish Linen squares featuring a variety of leaves gathered from trees that are (in the majority) native to Ireland and that feature in the Old Irish Tree List; Ash, Oak, Elder, Holly, Ivy, Bracken, Hazel, Apple amongst others. Beech, although non-native, has been included due to its prominence in Irish Woodlands since its introduction in the 16th Century. The Old Irish Tree List categorised trees in a hierarchy based on their economic value, use and folklore. A number of laws were attached to each tree and bush in the list, with punishments exacted for damaging, cutting or failing to adhere to the laws.

Each square in the Quilt has been hand-printed in black ink and then loosely stitched to a reclaimed Irish Linen sheet. The looseness and fragility of their attachment evoking the movement of leaves on branches; hanging delicately before the seasons determine their fall. In terms of quilting technique, the Woodland Quilt is deconstructed. Its layers of linen fabric, a reclaimed linen sheet and felted wool blanket exposed. Each layer referencing the traditions of quilting as they would have once been practiced. 

The Woodland Quilt is also connected to the medieval Irish story of Suibhne mac Colmáin (Buile Suibhne/Mad Sweeney), who spent much of his life roaming the woods of Ireland and beyond. The woodland became his home, refuge and inspiration. This Quilt imagines a woodland bed for Suibhne, providing comfort for a tortured soul. I couldn't help but think of the parallels between Suibhne who took such comfort from the woods he made his home and how, today, we too look to nature and the peace and comfort of woodlands to support our mental wellbeing. 

The simple, monochrome print draws our attention to the unique forms and patterns of each leaf, giving these natural forms a decorative quality to be celebrated, as in the writing of Buile Suibhne. 

You can read the poem, Sweeney's Lay, that inspired this piece below

Sweeney’s Lay, Translated by J.G. O’Keefe, from ‘Ireland’s Trees’, Niall Mac Coitir, 2015

Thou oak, busy, leafy

Thou art high beyond trees,

O hazlet, little branching one,

O fragrance of hazel nuts.


O alder, thou art not hostile,

Delightful is thy hue,

Thou art not rending and prickling

In the gap wherein thou art.


O little blackthorn, thy thorny one,

O little black sloe tree.

O watercress, little green topped one,

From the brink of the ousel’s spring.


O minen of the pathway,

Thou art sweet beyond herbs,

O little green one, very green one,

O herb which grows the strawberry.


O apple tree, little apple tree,

Much art thou shaken,

O quicken, little berried one,

Delightful is thy bloom


O briar, little arched one,

Thou grantest no fair terms,

Thou ceasest not to tear me,

Till thou hast thy fill of blood.


O yew tree, little yew tree

In churchyards you are conspicuous

O ivy, little ivy,

Thou art familiar in the dusky wood.


O holly, little sheltering one,

Thou door against the wind,

O ash tree, thou baleful one,

Hand weapon of a warrior.


O birch, smooth and blessed,

Thou melodious, proud one,

Delightful each entwining branch,

In the top of thy crown.


The aspen a-trembling,

By turns I hear,

Its leaves a-racing

Meseems ‘tis the foray!


My aversion in woods -

I conceal it not from anyone –

Is the leafy stirk of an oak

Swaying evermore



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