Lucy Boston's Patchwork of the Crosses blocks have long been delicious inspiration for quilters to try their hands at English Paper Piecing. Here, Lisa Sliva takes a closer look at this incredible woman's life and quilts.
Who was Lucy Boston?
War nurse, single mother, painter, home restorationist, gardener, author, music aficionado, and patchwork enthusiast. Lucy Boston was an artist in everything she did.
She left her English studies at the University of Oxford at the beginning of World War I to become a war nurse. After the war ended, she eventually married (and divorced), traveling Europe to study art with her son, Peter.
In 1939, after falling in love with the Manor at Hemingford Grey years before, she bought it for 2,500 GBP. And, at a time when most of the neighbors were modernizing their homes, Lucy caused quite the neighborhood sensation when she restored the oldest inhabited house in the country back to its original Norman design.
Her Home as Artistic Inspiration
Her home would become the inspiration for the beloved series of Greene Knowe children’s novels, which she began writing in her 60s. Furthermore, it became a refuge for military personnel during the second World War, where twice weekly she held music nights, playing music for the soldiers from a gramophone. Today, her and her son’s artwork adorn the walls of the home, under the care of her daughter-in-law, Diana Boston.
And, it's not surprising that Lucy’s love for patchwork began when she bought two patchwork quilts as curtains for the old house. They required a great deal of mending, which sparked her desire to create her own patchwork. The curtains hang in the Manor to this day.
As integral as patchwork became to Lucy and her home, according to Diana, anyone visiting the Manor would have rarely found Lucy stitching. She would have thought it rude to stitch when entertaining people. But, her patchwork quilts tell the story of a quilter who fell head over heels for English paper piecing, like so many of us have today.
Lucy Boston's Patchwork of the Crosses
Lucy’s most famous patchwork quilt, known as the Patchwork of the Crosses, is one of about 20 patchwork quilts Lucy made. According to her daughter-in-law, Diana, she created all of the stunning fussy cuts and kaleidoscope designs in her mind's eye before cutting each piece out with scissors.
This quilt has been created and recreated by countless quilters throughout the years, and is one of the top 10 most famous patchwork quilts in the world. It uses the lovely 1” honeycomb to create square shaped blocks, beginning with a cross in the middle of each block and radiating out for an additional 3 rounds.
In Lucy’s original quilt, she surrounded each block with cream colored honeycombs before joining the blocks with a “sashing” of squares. It was a formidable undertaking, but the result is stunning, and it draws quilters from around the world to make the pilgrimage to the Manor at Hemingford Grey every year.
Lucy's Terrace Quilt
When a quilt design has become so well loved, it can feel a bit sacrilegious to tamper with tradition. However, Lucy was anything but traditional in her life. As we’ve learned, she was a single mom and independent homeowner in a time when women didn’t do such things. She had the grit to be a war time nurse, and she compassionately cared for not only wounded soldiers as patients but active soldiers, in whatever way she could during each of the World Wars.
And, when it came to patchwork, or English paper piecing, she blazed her own trail of design to the point that we now love and appreciate her ingenuity decades later.
So, when it comes to the Tales of Cloth rendering of this iconic quilt, Lucy’s Terrace honors both the traditional and the modern. It takes Lucy Boston’s block from the Patchwork of the Crosses, increases the size of each shape from 1” to 1 ¼” and sets the blocks on point. Finally, it does away with the large block borders and jumps right to the square sashing. The result is a stunning, timeless quilt that anyone can achieve.
Make your own Lucy Boston inspired quilt!
Whether you have never made a “Lucy Boston” block, or you have a collection of them, this quilt pattern might just inspire you to try out some fussy cutting, finish some blocks, and make an heirloom quilt of your own.
Grab a copy of the Lucy’s Terrace PDF pattern, an EPP quilt kit, and some acrylic templates in the shop to make your own Lucy Boston inspired quilt today!
Hill, Albert, “A Place Like No Other: the 12th-century house that set a writer’s staggering second wind in motion” Inigo Almanac, June 2023, accessed July 24, 2023, https://inigo.com/almanac/a-place-like-no-other-lucy-boston-the-manor-hemingford-grey.
Knapp, Florence. “The Patchworks of Lucy Boston.” Flossie Teacakes’ Guide to English Paper Piecing: Exploring the Fussy-Cut World of Precision Patchwork, The Quilting Company, 2018 , pp. 38-41.
“Patchworks” The Manor, Hemingford Grey, accessed July 24, 2023, https://www.greenknowe.co.uk/patchworks/. Some photos by Julia Hedgecoe, hover for credit.