ID Number: TQ.2015.016
Name of interviewee: Alison Buckle
Name of interviewer: Carol Lenagan
Name of transcriber: Margaret Ferguson
Location: Alison’s home/ shop
Date: 7 May 2015
Length of interview: 0:27:55
Alison talks about her first quilt, made in 1991 on her mum’s old hand turn, Singer sewing machine. The design was her own and she talks about learning about wadding and finishing the quilt as she went along. Alison’s interest in quilting continued and she now owns a quilt shop in Edinburgh; she describes the warmth of the quilting community and the pleasure she gets from supporting new quilters and nurturing quilt groups.
0:00:00 Carol Lenagan [CL]: This is a Talking Quilts interview with Alison Buckle. The interviewer is Carol Lenagan. The quilt number is TQ.2015.016. The date is the 7th May and the time is 2.41. Alison, can you tell me about your beautiful quilt, please?
0:00:26 Alison Buckle [AB]: Well, I made this quilt about twenty years ago and it was the very first quilt I ever made. I’d seen patchwork quilts and I decided to buy a book and make one. I think, as quite a lot of people that I’ve come across do, I started off with a double bed quilt and I made it using my mum’s old metal Singer with a turn handle and I’d never done any sewing before, I’d never used a sewing machine before and I didn’t even know how to thread it so it was a bit challenging.
0:01:01 CL: So how, where did you find the pattern?
0:01:04 AB: I made it up
0:01:06 CL: And can you describe it for us, please?
0:01:09 AB: Well, it was, it’s a mixture of nine patch blocks and square blocks. The nine patch blocks are on point and there’s a sort of, yeah, there’s a sort of centre panel which is made up of the nine patch and the squares on point and then there are, there’s sort of square borders and plain borders round it. I had wanted a kind of autumnal colour scheme but when I went to John Lewis I could only – these were the four fabrics that I found that went together and so it’s quite Christmassy cos it’s red and green.
0:01:53 CL: Do you know how big it is?
0:01:55 AB: I can’t remember. I know that at the time, oh yeah, thank you, ninety-six by seventy-two inches.
0:02:03 CL: Thank you
0:02:04 AB: At the time the book I had described how to work out how big to make your quilt so that it tucked over the pillow, you know over the pillow and hung down all three sides and so I followed that formula.
0:02:20 CL: Thar’s great
0:02:21 AB: Tried to
0:02:23 CL: Have you given your pattern, the pattern that you’ve made, have you given it a name?
0:02:27 AB: No, no.
0:02:32 CL: And I was wondering what this quilt means to you.
0:02:35 AB: Well, I think it’s partly that it’s the first quilt that I made and I was instantly hooked and have loved making quilts ever since. And then I suppose it’s, I think it’s the only quilt I made with that dratted machine where I had to turn the handle and guide the fabric with one hand only. And I just have very fond memories of sitting in my tiny flat in Dundee trying to manoeuvre this enormous quilt around with my cat sitting on it, being shuffled about on top and you know it’s just been around so long that it’s been in lots of different homes that I’ve lived in and it’s, I’ve snuggled in it so many nights that it’s just a part of, a part of my life really.
0:03:24 CL: Thank you. You used your sewing machine to put all the patchwork pieces together. What have you got for the wadding?
0:03:38 AB: It’s some, it was very, very puffy polyester stuff. I didn’t know anything at all about wadding and so again I just went to John Lewis and it used to be really fat wadding. It’s gotten thinner with age.
0:03:52 CL: And how did you join the layers of the quilt together?
0:03:57 AB: I think I just safety-pinned them together
0:04:00 CL: And then?
0:04:01AB: And then quilted them
0:04:03CL: Yes. Can you talk a little bit about how you bound the quilt?
0:04:09 AB: Yes, I didn’t [laughter]. I didn’t know about binding then. So I just this was the sort of final, but I suppose this is binding it really was just a border and then I’ve just curled it round the edges of the wadding and whip-stitched the backing to it.
0:04:30 CL: And the backing is?
0:04:31 AB: It was brushed cotton but it’s lost much of its fluffiness. It was flannel.
0:04:35 CL: Thank you. Is this a one piece at the back of the quilt or did you have to piece the backing?
40 AB: I can’t remember. I can’t remember. No, I pieced it. There you go, there’s the seam.
0:04:46 CL: Thank you. So this was your first quilt. How did you learn about making quilts then, from then onwards?
0:04:56 AB: Well, that was, I think, this must, I made this in the early nineties and then I went off and lived abroad and it wasn’t really until internet, you know, appeared that I started to learn more about quilting. Before then I just had that one book and I eventually got another book about Amish quilts and that was it really. That was all I knew about quilting, was just from those couple of books.
0:05:24 CL: Do you remember the name of the first book?
0:05:27 AB: I don’t and I’ve lost it.
0:05:29 CL: Oh, frustrating.
0:05:31 AB: Yeah. It was just one of those general, you know, how to make a quilt and it had the different sorts. I remember looking at the [inaudible] applique and thinking that looked really exotic and it had stained glass window quilts and just all the traditional blocks as well.
0:05:46 CL: Thank you. What inspires you to make a quilt now?
0:05:52 AB: There are, I find that for me there are certain moments during the process of making a quilt that are particularly inspiring. I love choosing the colours, that is the first part that I find really exciting is putting colours together and seeing what comes from that and then there’s that moment when you press your first block and put it out in front of you and you can see how the block looks with those colours sewn together. Then when you layer a quilt suddenly it starts to look like a quilt, even before you start quilting it. Suddenly it changes from being just, you know, pieces of fabrics sewn together. So there’s sort of various stages and then there’s the last bit where you’re just doing the binding and it’s all ready to go. I think every part of the process I enjoy and there’s those little moments that are particularly satisfying.
0:06:51 CL: And do you tend to still machine quilt and do machine piecing?
0:06:57 AB: Yes, I do some paper piecing and increasingly I’ve been hand quilting my quilts rather than machine quilting them, but I do tend to machine piece them still.
0:07:12 CL: You mentioned paper piecing, could you explain what you mean by paper piecing, please?
0:07:17 AB: So, English paper piecing where you cut out a shape like a hexagon or a honeycomb or a clamshell from a piece of paper and then you can either glue or tack or paperclip your fabric round the piece of paper. Tack it in place and then stitch each piece to the other and eventually take out the card and you’ve got a pieced top.
0:07:45 CL: Why would you rather paper piece than use a sewing machine to piece the quilt together?
0:07:50 AB: Because the process of hand-sewing is enjoyable in itself and so it’s nice, it’s really, yeah it’s very satisfying to sit and hand sew something.
0:08:02 CL: You mentioned that you’re enjoying hand quilting. And how do you hand quilt? What do you use for hand quilting?
0:08:10 AB: It depends on the quilt. So some quilts suit quilting that has a big presence, where, so I might use a thicker thread like a Perle 8 often and other quilts suit a more subtle quilting and so I might use a thinner thread like a 50 weight general purpose thread.
0:08:36 CL: And would you quilt on a frame or in a hoop?
0:08:38 AB: In a hoop.
0:08:39 CL: How big is your hoop?
0:08:40 AB: I think my hoop is eighteen inches wide.
0:08:44 CL: And nowadays would you use polyester wadding?
0:08:49 AB: Actually I wouldn’t. I try now, wherever possible, to use 100% cotton or bamboo, just because natural fibres breathe better and feel nicer.
0:09:02 CL: And if you were making a quilt as a gift or even for your own use, would you wash it before giving the quilt?
0:09:10 AB: Yes, I would. Yes, I actually try to wash my fabric before I use it, where possible, but that’s not always possible, especially if I’m using pre-cuts. But I would always wash the quilt before I gave it to somebody, partly to pre-shrink it, partly to take away all the nasty chemicals that are in the fabric and then also to make sure that it’s not going to run. So I wash it first and I can hand it on knowing that they can wash it safely without it running.
0:09:35 CL: Why would you want to pre-wash your fabrics before you started cutting them up into bits?
0:09:42 AB: Well, apparently it’s a bit healthier to wash them before you use them cos as you’re cutting them the lint that’s produced has those chemicals in it and you’re breathing them in.
0:09:51 CL: You said you sometimes use pre-cuts, can you describe what you mean by pre-cuts, please?
0:09:59 AB: They’re fabric that has already been cut to a certain extent. Different manufacturers have different, different pre-cuts that they make. Moda do the most extensive ranges and they have things like jelly rolls, which are two and a half inch strips across the width of the bolt, charm packs which are five inch squares, layer cakes which are ten inch squares. And they all lend themselves to different things, they’re good fun because it means that you get a piece of fabric from each, from each design in the range, each colour in the range. So you get a lot of variety and some of the cutting work’s already done.
0:10:42 CL: Thank you. Do you have a preferred style or technique of quilting?
0:10:52 AB: I think I’m still finding my style. I tend to call myself a lazy quilter [laughter]. I do like doing things quite quickly. But, no, I still feel I’m trying to find my style. Until now I haven’t had the time to do enough quilting to, for that to happen. So now that I’ve got more time to do lots of sewing I’m starting to find what I like. I’ve been accused of using a lot of muddy colours so perhaps that’s part of my style.
0:11:29 CL: What are you working on just now?
0:11:32 AB: I’ve got about eight projects on the go at the moment and they’re all quite different. I’ve got a Zen quilt which I’m finishing hand-quilting, about halfway finished with the quilting.
0:11:47 CL: Can you describe that one?
0:11:49 AB: It’s an inset square and each inset block is about six inches completed. It, the colours are, they’re quite sort of sherbety colours, green and orangey-red and orange and yellow and black. And then every so often there’s a circle, a Buddha, it’s an Alexander Henry fabric that’s got different Buddha’s and I’ve cut them into circles and appliqued them onto occasional squares within that.
0:12:25 CL: Do you have a plan for your Zen quilt?
0:12:27 AB: I’m still trying to find a really good home for it. I’m not sure yet.
0:12:32 CL: How big will it be?
0:12:34 AB: It’s, it’s about seventy inches’ square. That’s it.
0:12:41 CL: So, it’s a bed quilt?
0:12:43 AB: Yes, like a really big lap quilt, yeah it just fits just fits over the top of a double bed.
0:12:48 CL: Your other projects, are they bed quilts or would they be wall quilts?
0:12:54 AB: Most of them are lap quilts. I’ve got a couple of jelly roll quilts on the go and I’m making, a friend of mine’s just bought a small cottage on an island and so I’m quite happily making a few quilts for her on sea themes.
0:13:11 CL: How are you interpreting the sea themes?
0:13:14 AB: Well, one of them is an Ocean Waves quilt which has a muddy background, the colour of wet sand and then the little triangles that make up the Ocean Waves block are… they shift from brown through green to turquoise to blue as they ripple through the block. And, but on the other hand, I’m also making her a quite a fun simple quilt which is, I used a charm pack from the Hearty Good Wishes, More Hearty Good Wishes range by Janet Clare, which have little whales and fish and lighthouses and boats on. So I’ve just zoomed those up into a little checkerboard with a dark blue border which I will then hand embroider with fish, seaweed and things onto.
0:14:09 CL: And will you hand quilt these two quilts or will you machine quilt them?
0:14:14 AB: I’m going to hand quilt both of those two.
0:14:18 CL: Your Ocean Waves quilt, can you describe the Ocean Waves block, please?
0:14:23 AB: Not very easily! [Laughter] Every time I have to refer to the book to find out how to orientate it because I just can’t hold it in my head. So, it’s a block where you have a central square, I think, something like this, a central square with a couple of triangles on one end and one triangle on the other, something like that and then around about it it’s got alternating triangles, half-square triangles which are the background plus something else. So you get a sort of ring of triangles around a sort of central bit. I don’t know if that explains it very well. And then you alternate how you place them, so they’re not all, they’re not all aligned in the same direction.
0:15:19 CL: And when you’re making, certainly a quilt like the Ocean Waves quilt you’ve spoken about using different colours, do you think about the values of the colours?
0:15:31 AB: Yeah, mm, yeah, and I think a quilt like this one I’m making where I want the colours, like in a rock pool to shift from light to dark and have the different colours in and out, then the value of the colours become quite important for that overall visual effect.
0:15:54 CL: I’m now going to ask you a little bit about half-square triangles. Can you explain what you mean by a half-square triangle? Perhaps describe how you make them.
0:16:03 AB: Okay, a half-square triangle, from my understanding which might be completely wrong, is where you cut a square diagonally from point to point to make two triangles. So you basically cut a square in half to make your two triangles, so that the long axis, the long, the long, do they make equilateral triangles, I think they probably do, don’t they? So you’ve got two bias edges, no, one bias edge as opposed to a quarter-square triangle where you’ve got two bias edges.
0:16:32 CL: Right. Thank you. So how much time are you able to spend with quilt making just now?
0:16:43 AB: Quite a fair bit. I’m quite lucky at the moment because I run a quilt shop and so I can spend quite a bit of my day sewing or talking about sewing or thinking about sewing.
0:17:00 CL: Which brings me very nicely onto a question about your shop. You opened Edinburgh Patchwork last year. Can you tell me how it all started, please?
0:17:12 AB: I think I got the idea years ago when Purely Patchwork in Linlithgow was first put up for sale, when Pat Archibald was selling it on and I wished I could take it over but there was no chance of doing it then. But the idea just stuck in there and so a couple of years ago, I was having a change of career and thinking about what I could do and what would be a suitable business venture and started thinking seriously about opening a quilt shop in Edinburgh because there still wasn’t really a proper dedicated quilt shop and it seemed a gap that needed filled. And that’s where it came from.
0:18:04 CL: Thank you. How do you choose your fabrics and your stock to go in the shop?
0:18:11 AB: It’s really difficult. I just choose what I like. I try to think what’s useful. It’s really helpful that I, that I, that I like quilts myself because I am able to think about it in terms of what’s a useful fabric and what do people need for backgrounds and what goes with lots of things, you know. But, you know, I’m not at all sure I’m getting it right. You know, you’ve just got to… Once we’ve done the year, we’ll be able to see what does well and what doesn’t do well and be able to learn from that.
0:18:49 CL: How are you able to help beginning quilters?
0:18:54 AB: Well, this is a great fun thing. It’s one of the real pleasures of having a quilt shop. We’ve got a couple of quilt clubs and we run classes, which are really nice because you know, people’ll come along and they’ve not really done any patchwork before and it’s quite good fun trying to get them, they get inspired very quickly. It’s fairly addictive so they tend to really feel a lot of satisfaction when they’ve made their first thing and get a lot of pleasure out of that. And I’m setting up a paper piecing club as well and that’s been surprisingly popular. A lot of people have come forwards to ask about that and a lot of younger people and I think that’s particularly good fun because it allows people to sew by hand which is, you know, that’s a really soothing and enjoyable pastime. It’s portable, you know, you can do it on the train, you can do it on the bus and it’s, you know, you can have quite small manageable projects for people who are just beginning. I think the satisfaction that people get, the first time they make something with their own hands is really a delight to see.
0:20:07 CL: You mentioned, before we started to record, something about someone in your shop who’d just finished their first quilt.
0:20:15 AB: Yes, an amazing beautiful quilt, A young woman called Lindsay and she has made this first quilt from all different bright colours of batik, so it’s got this real carnival feel and she’s done a really lovely job. She made the pattern up herself and it’s just lovely. And she just finished it the other day. It’s a good one.
0:20:41 CL: Thinking about patterns, you made up, this was your own pattern on this quilt. Ocean Waves is a very traditional pattern. What do you usually do? Do you usually follow your own sort of theme? Or would you prefer to follow someone else’s pattern?
0:21:01 AB: I like doing both and it tends to be whatever goes, whatever I think goes with the fabric. So I think the fabrics, you know, I get the, I usually start with the fabric and the inspiration from the fabric and then, and then work out what it is I want to do. Sometimes it’s a traditional block that works for me and other times it needs something else.
0:21:26 CL: And when you are starting on a new quilt do you have a recipient in mind or an end use in mind? Or are you just making it?
0:21:36 AB: Most of the time, it has a recipient or some end use in mind, but increasingly now I’m finding that because I’ve got more time to sew I’m making things just because I want to try something out.
0:21:51 CL: I see. Thank you. Do you have a vision for your shop for the future?
0:21:57 AB: Yeah, I think, apart from just, you know, just trying to make it viable, one of the things that I particularly like about the shop is that it becomes a meeting place for people and the quilt clubs are my favourite part of it and it’s just lovely to have a room full of women chatting and sewing and having a nice time. And I think that that’s where, I think that’s where the real value lies in the shop, just in terms of, of what it means to people as part of their social life and as part of just having somewhere to go where they can just have that thing where they meet up with other people and have a nice time. So that aspect of it I do want to just try to facilitate really.
0:22:57 CL: Thank you. I was going to…I think. Why is quiltmaking important in your life?
0:23:10 AB: I know why it’s important in lots of other people’s lives. I’ve heard lots of women in the shop saying, telling me stories about how when their mother was ill and they had to sit by her bedside in the hospital, for months on end, it kept them sane because it gave them something to do with their hands and if they hadn’t had something to sew they would have really struggled. Lots of variations on that story. Why is quilting important to me? I think, I mean, partly the process of sewing is soothing. I find that enjoyable. I, it’s somehow restorative but also ending up with something that’s warm and comforting and snuggly, it’s comforting. That’s important to me as well, to create these things that I can wrap around me and feel comforted by.
0:24:14 CL: Thank you. And your family, do they feel the same way about your quilts?
0:24:17 AB: Yes, yes. My son is a really big fan. He loves requesting quilts and he’s always very appreciative of them.
0:24:26 CL: And are you, do you get commissions to make quilts?
0:24:31 AB] No, I’ve got this one friend who’s asked me to make quilts for her cottage on this island but no.
0:24:39 CL: Is there anything that you would like to say about quiltmaking, or quilting? Anything that you’d like to comment on that we haven’t touched on?
0:24:53 AB: I think in this past year I’ve become much more aware of what a massive community of lovely women are out there, all quilting and sharing this thing that’s a pleasure and an obsession. And they’re all willing to share their tips and share their stories and help, you know. There’s this wonderful feeling of, of what women should be doing, which is getting together and passing on what they know and what they love. And that’s really impressed me.
0:25:34 CL: There’s, there are various movements within quiltmaking, so traditionalists and contemporary quiltmakers and modern quiltmakers. Would you describe yourself in any of these little holes?
0:25:53 AB: I don’t think so. I did wonder if I might be a modern quilter but I’m really not [laughter] and no, I don’t think so but perhaps I just haven’t come across the right group.
0:26:08 CL: Okay, thank you. This is your first quilt, this lovely one here. Do you remember, and this was about twenty years ago when you made it, do you remember how long was it between your first and your second one or your sort of like your next flowering of quiltmaking?
0:26:25 AB: About a year.
0:26:28 CL: And did you make an Amish quilt because you spoke about an Amish book?
0:26:32 AB: No, well I’ve made one that’s a little bit Amish-like. It’s dark blue and black with an Irish chain. I suppose that one is quite Amish-like. But I remember going through this book and thinking and loving these amazing beautiful like floating, you know, floating diamonds with gorgeous jewel-like colours and getting my stash out and trying to find colours that I could put together that would look like that and never being able to come up with anything that looked quite so amazing and so not really ever, you know, starting off.
0:27:07 CL: And is there anything you find that you don’t like about quilting?
0:277:14 AB: Actually I don’t really like machine quilting very much [laughter] and I’ve just recently realised, cos I’ve just finished a quilt for a friend, and I machine quilted it cos I, she wanted it quickly and I wouldn’t have been able to hand quilt it quickly enough and I felt sad the whole way because I felt that it would have been nicer hand quilted. And then I realised afterwards that I hadn’t done it any justice at all with my machine quilting and actually the real problem is I need more skills. So that’s the next step. I just have to bite the bullet and learn how to machine quilt better.
0:27:50 CL: Well, thank you very much.
0:27:52 AB: You’re welcome.
0:27:53 CL: I think that’s fine.