By Jody Harrison

IT is a craft which has made work for idle hands for generations, whose threads stretch back to the Middle Ages and across continents.

Scotland's quilters will gather next month to share tips on how to pick a patch, sew a blanket and create a cosy comforter out of anything ranging from scraps of cloth to high-quality artistic designs.

The Scottish Quilting Show returns to the SEC in Glasgow next week as the Creative Craft Show gets under way, offering devotees of the hobby their chance to share their passion with like-minded souls.

Quilting – the simple creating of a quilted blanket by sewing two cloths together around padding or stuffing – has a long tradition in Scotland, with skills handed down from mother to daughter, tailor to tailor, and seamstress to seamstress.

Examples range from simple patchworks to quilts of astoundingly intricacy, and some which can be judged works of art.

And while once a quilt was a necessity to keep the cold Scottish winters at bay, quilting has now become a hobby enjoyed by thousands.

Historian Janet Rae has stitched together the story behind quilting through her book Warm Covers: A Scottish Textile Story. A member of the Quilters Guild herself, she said that while styles have changed, the skills required have not.

She said: "In a general way it goes back to Mary Queen of Scots, who made quilts as a pastime. Some of her needlework still survives. And in Scotland, quilting goes hand-in-hand with the traditions of the textile industry which grew up in the west coast around Glasgow and Paisley.

"There are still a lot of quilts produced after the invention of Turkey Red dye, a non-bleeding dye which was hugely popular in the 18th century and the Victorian era, which was used extensively in Scotland. It was embraced by quiltmakers who were able to create brightly-coloured bedcovers that did not lose their colour, and caused a surge of interest in the craft.

"Quilting has always been a popular craft in America, one that has never really waned. That influence spread back over here, and in the modern age the craft was really resurrected in the 1970s."

Despite their purpose primarily to bring warmth, quilts can have a surprisingly radical edge.

The Museum of London has a one in its collection made by Ann Macbeth, head of the embroidery department at the Glasgow School of Art, which is composed of 80 pieces of linen embroidered in purple cotton with the signatures of suffragette hunger-strikers, all said to have faced death "without flinching".

On its completion, Macbeth gave the quilt to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) Scottish Exhibition and Bazaar held in Glasgow in April 1910 to raise funds for the suffragette campaign. It was thereafter used as a banner at the movement's rallies.

Quilting has a caring side too, with some groups producing "Linus quilts", which take their name from the character in the Peanuts comic strip featuring Snoopy and Charlie Brown, who carried his blanket with him as a comforter. The quilts are made especially for children's hospitals and given to young patients in need of a warm blanket.

Ms Rae believes that quilts can often carry special meaning, both for the maker and the recipient – to mark a birth or a special family occasion. The author recently made a quilt for a friend to remind them of home.

However, whatever the reason for getting out the needle and thread, the benefits to mental health are universal. "It's a very soothing activity," Rae says, "and it's one of the best things you can do, psychologically. It's repetitive and calming and very creative."

The Scottish Quilting Show will feature a quilting exhibition, demonstrations, stalls and workshops, as well as appearances by some textile artists considered among the very best in their craft.

Scottish artist Pat Archibald, an internationally renowned textile worker who travels extensively worldwide to teach the art of quilting, will be one of those to appear.

One of the most talented people working in the craft today, Mrs Archibald exhibits all over the world and has created artworks based on her travels in Africa, the Middle East, the Scottish islands and beyond.

She said: "I took up quilting a long, long time ago. When I was a child my mother was a seamstress and there was always scraps of cloth lying around, and I learned to stitch and sew from here.

"I ran a specialist sewing shop and then sold that, and for the last 15 years I've been freelance. It's taken me all over the world.

"I do a lot of travelling and have adventures – some my family aren't quite keen on – and go to these places and come back with the stories the people have to tell. It's these stories which go into my quilts."

The seamstress agreed that quilting is a remarkably beneficial craft, which helps the mind as much as training the fingers. She said: "The bit of the work which takes the most amount of time is researching a piece and preparing the fabric, drawing it out and cutting out the cloth.

"When it actually comes to stitching I get in the zone and you don't really notice time passing. I do not have to think about it and it all comes naturally."

Mrs Archibald also runs classes from her Edinburgh studio, and has noticed a steady surge in interest in the hobby in recent years. Most of her students are women in the 50s, but younger women are coming too. "I'm delighted to say that some are very talented quilters," she added.