ID Number: TQ.2014.052
Name of interviewee: Ann Hill
Name of interviewer: Jane Rae
Name of transcriber: Naomi Clarke
Location: Ann’s home
Address: Mouswald in Dumfries, Galloway
Date: 23 March 2015
Length of interview: 0:58:50
Ann quilt ‘Changing Minds’ marks a turning point in her understanding of what dementia is. Each block on the quilt represents someone’s memories and can be used by care workers and families to unlock memories and reminiscence with dementia sufferers. She has worked hard to raise awareness of dementia and Alzheimer’s in Scotland since 2010 including a project to cover the pitch at Hampden Park with over 5000 quilts, which raised £50000 for Alzheimer’s Scotland. In the interview she talks about her work with people with dementia, the Hampden Park project and her background in sewing; from learning to sew sitting on her Grandmothers knee in the Orkneys to her current quilt projects.
Jane Rae [JR]: Well good morning, um this is Talking Quilts interview TQ2014052. The name of the interviewee is Ann Hill, and the name of the interviewer is Jane Rae. We are at location at Ann’s House. We’re in Mouswald in Dumfries and Galloway and it’s the 23rd of March. So thank you Ann for coming and taking part in Talking Quilts. The quilt that you’ve chosen as your touchstone object is called Changing Minds and I know it’s a really special quilt so I wondered if you could tell me why you chose that and what it means to you as a quilt?
Ann Hill [AH]: Well this is the second of the last quilt in a series on a project called ‘yes we can together’ which is all about raising awareness of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The first quilt was called ‘forgetting piece by piece’ and that was all about how people forget, but how they’re still loved and I thought that’s what dementia just was that was end, end of story, you lost your memory, nothing else. Five, four five years on, I had completely changed my mind which is why the quilt is called Changing Minds and it was through meeting and talking with people who were living with dementia that all the different stories came out and it didnae [sic didn’t] seem to be quite so desperate as what I thought it was. There was a lota fun there, there was a lota life there, there was an awful lota stories there. Erm, and really that’s how it, that’s how it started and it’s a nine patch quilt and every single patch has a different story behind it.
JR: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the patches that you’ve chosen for the quilt?
AH: Right, well they’re all… the whole point of memory quilts is that I, sit down and I talk to people, erm, with dementia or that those that are living with dementia and I listen to what they’re most prevalent memories are or what might trigger their memory. I then make them a quilt with those memories on it and it’s left with them so that they can then use it as a memory trigger, erm for use with their family, with their activities officers or just anybody that comes in. So instead of, simply having… you know, going along, sitting down, looking at your mother and thinking ‘what am I gonna talk about today?’, you’ve actually got something to start talking about. Erm and each of the nine blocks tells that story, an individual story. Now the first one is all about football, and I’m very involved with the football memories project and this is usu…this is very good for, for men in particular because they don’t have the same home baking, they don’t have the knitting, the sewing, but football seems to trigger a lot of memories and there are now… oh, well over 40 football memory groups around the to… around the country, erm and it just gives people an opportunity to come in and talk about football and we had one lady in particular that come in wi’her [sic with her] husband in a wheelchair, and she said ‘I bring a stranger to this club every week… and I take home my husband’ because the minute he starts going, talking about football he just keeps talking and she brings him home and he’s talking again and she says before… when he was, before he got dementia, she said I, I couldnae ge’him [sic couldn’t get him] to talk or then if he talked he wouldnae [sic wouldn’t] shut up. She said now I’m just so grateful that he talks. It only lasts until you know the next morning and then he goes back to being quiet again. So football memories are very important and obviously because we had the, the Hampden Park wi’the, wi’the [sic with the] quilts on the pitch.
The next one is…the lady liked to draw and talk about flowers. So she drew the daisies on this quilt, and everytime I met her and we talked about flowers and we did drawing because she could, there was no way most of them could sew. Erm, she would draw the daisies but, every single time didnae [ sic didn’t] matter what she was wearing, she always had a red crystal butterfly brooch. So when I did her big quilt I made sure that, the butt…the red butterflies were there for her.
Erm, the next one is…a wee guy who, who’s a farmer. Now when he was a wee boy he was eight and his wee brother was six and his job, or their job, was to feed the orphan lambs. And in those days it was any old milk bottle and a great big rubber teat that they’d put on, erm, and he said he was the laziest of the two [JR laughs] and on this particular day his wee brother erm… it was his birthday, so he said to his wee brother ‘as a very special treat to you I’m going to let you feed the white lambs today and I’ll take the dirty black lambs’ and he thought he was doing som… you know the wee brother thought I’m gettin’ a real treat here, but of course there were six white lambs and one black lamb so he wasnnae [sic wasn’t] getting, so when I made him his quilt he, I made him one with three white sheep and a black one on it and it triggers his memory, not always to the story of, the, you know, the feeding of the caddy lambs, but to the fact that he grew up on a farm and he, he remembers so many things about the farm. Erm, but the first girl he ever took in the hayloft and I said I cannae [sic can’t] put that in a quilt [JR and AH laugh], erm, about, you know driving the tractor into the barn when he wasn’t supposed to be driving, erm, so it triggers a lota memories.
Er, the vegetarian chicken is a similar story because it’s a wee lady who fed the chickens every morning and collected the eggs and on one day, there was only nine chickens insteada ten, and she came in to tell her mother and her mother and her mother was sitting plucking this chicken at the table and she said I never ate chicken again [JR laughs] erm until several weeks later when her mother said to her ‘don’t be stupid you’ve been eating chicken all this time’ and she said her mother mashed her tattys [sic potatoes] put her peas in cut her chicken up into tiny little bits covered it all in gravy she said ‘I just thought me mothers tattys [sic potatoes] were lumpy’[JR and AH laugh]. So when we made her quilt erm, we made it and every chicken is made out of vegetable fabric so it’s called the vegetarian chicken.
Erm, the middle one is the Alzheimer’s logo which is three people encompassing each other, you know, there’s so that you never, you never go through… [JR: mmm] dementia on your own. The next one is all about the wee lady who loved balloons. And this is actually a replica of her birthday cake, and the four balloons at the bottom represent her two sons and her two daughters. Two, the two girls are good bakers so they’re made outta cake fabric and baking fabric, and the two boys are famers so it’s made outta sheep fabric and then the one at the, the, the last one is actually made outta New Zealand fabric because that son is oot [sic out] in New Zealand and leading from those four balloons are her seven grandchildren… that are out wherever they are. And she was always um, she was also a master baker, but she also erm… washed tea pots… [JR: laughs] everytime I saw her I washed tea pots…everytime.
The next one is no, it’s made a, it’s three cups and there, there’s usually a teapot somewhere around as well because it didnae [sic didn’t] matter where I went I got a cuppa tea. It’s a great healer a cuppa tea. The very first time I ever did a talk on dementia I went into this hall, met this group it was an afternoon group, and the wee lady came up to me and she said ‘you’re new here, dear’ and I said ‘Yes I am’, um I said ‘I’m Ann Hill, I’m the quilter, I’ve come to talk to you about quilting’ and she said ‘oh where d’you come from?’ and I said ‘I come from Mouswald just outside Dumfries’ and I said ‘I can see by your name badge that you’re Kate, where do you… are you local?’ and she just dissolved in tears, and got so upset and then of course I realised that she wasnae [sic wasn’t] one of the carers she was actually somebody that had dementia… and I thought, I’ve upset her, so they took her away to calm her down and they took me into the office for a cuppa tea [JR and AH laugh]. And by the time I’d come out she forgotten she’d ever seen me and she come up and said ‘hello dear are you new here? What’s your name?’
The next one is the one that I think probably had the most effect on me and that was a session that we were doing with flowers. And, this wee lady said ‘I love daffodils but I don’t like them being yellow, but I don’t understand why we can have all different colours of roses and all different colours of carnations but they can never be yellow or white and I didnae [sic don’t] like them yellow and white’, and at the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘I’ve got lilac daffodil fabric’ so I went away home and I made her a big quilt for her bed, and I went back six weeks later with this lilac daffodil star quilt, and er… and I put a ribbon border around the edges and I, I was very proud of myself and you know and I thought I’ve done well here and she’s going to love it and I went in and I said to her…‘I’ve got something to show you’ so I showed her this quilt, I said ‘I’ve made this specially for you’, I said, ‘You remember we had a chat about flowers?’. ‘Nah’, she says ‘I’ve never seen you before in me life… who are you?’ and I thought ‘oh right, ok’, and I said ‘well we’, I said ‘we did, we spoke about that’, I said ‘you remember you don’t like daffodils because they’re yellow?’ well I tell you that she says ‘I love daffodils’, and I said to her ‘but’, I said to her ‘but you don’t like them being yellow isn’t that right?’ ‘not at all’, she says, ‘I love yellow daffodils’, and I said ‘oh’, I said, ‘well I’ve made you a quilt with daffodils on it’, she said ‘but they’re lilac? who’ey [sic whoever] heard of that, that’s just stupid’ and she threw the quilt on the floor and walked away. and to say that I was disappointed, I felt rejected, I felt as if I’d been putting on and then I’d took a step back from meself and thought ‘wait a minute Ann, I’m a complete stranger to this woman, I really don’t know her, and if I feel all these things what does her family feel when they come in to tell her something?’ because they all know her, she knows them, and if one of them had come in and said to her umm you know ‘it’s Jenny’s birthday today she’s five’ how do they feel if she turns around and says ‘whas Jenny?’ and that was at the point where, at that point I was only working with people that had dementia and I went back to NHS Dumfries and Galloway and Alzheimer’s Scotland and Hampden Park and said to them ‘right, I want to broaden this, I want to work with people living with Alzheimer’s’, and that’s when I started working with the families because they had so much to contribute because there’s nay point in handing on a memory quilt if they know nothing about it?
JR: Am I right in thinking Ann you were a quilter in residence?
AH: Quilter in residence [AH laughs].
JR: For, for dementia Scotland or Alzheimer’s Scotland?
AH: Alzheimer’s Scotland. It was er…
JR: So how did that come about?
AH: Well, we were, I was asked if I would be artist in residence for NHS Dumfries and Galloway because of the quilts that I made and I said to them well I’m not an artist and you know, I don’t mind being quilter in residence but I also don’t want paid for it coz I don’t know if can do it, never done anything like that before, but I was a chief executive in previous life, you know, in education, [inaudible] but I said to them I’ll come and do it but a) I don’t want paid, b) I do it in my own time to me own, my own way, and the second reason was because I’m also a consultant’s wife at the hospital um, and I didnae [sic didn’t] want it to look as if there was a job being made for another consultant’s wife. [JR: mm.] Um, and that’s really how it started and then it was when I went to Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s Scotland and Hampden Park really because of the football memories. Um, and that was the link between the three of them, um so there was a four way partnership um and I said to them at the time look um I wanna [sic want to] be a volunteer here because I may not like it, it may not suit me, what I do may not suit you, I might stand on somebody’s toes, you know, I’m a fairly vocal [AH and JR laugh] woman. I’m not like to stand any nonsense and I like me own way [AH laughs]. But it worked out fine, it worked out fine, and that’s how, you know, quilter in residence started, and I’m still quilter in residence at Alzheimer’s Scotland.
JR: And when did that start?
AH: Fi…it’s five years ago which would be 2010, I actually think we started in 2009.
JR: And what does that involve you doing on a weekly bas… or a monthly basis?
AH: I. Well during that time I’ve, I, I, do a lot of talks. I’ve try, I’m trying to quit doing all the talks at the moment because it’s just kinda taking over, but I also work in care homes, um, and at the moment what we’re, I mean it’s, it, at the beginning it was a case of going into care homes, listening to stories and making quilts and in the first year I made 75 quilts which were then went on exhibition at Hampden for a year. Um, and the purpose behind all of that was to try and raise interest in the same as we make Linus Quilts was to try and get people to make quilts for dementia, but not just any quilt, it was a case of, and um we’re still, we’re not quite at that stage yet where I can persuade people to sort of adopt a care home and go in and just listen to somebody’s memories and put those memories onto a quilt. Now again, quilters are brilliant at just needing an excuse to make a quilt, but a lot of them um, just think they cannae [sic can’t] do it, oh I couldna [sic couldn’t] draw a cup and saucer like that. Well I’ll send you one, you know, look on the internet, they’re all there. Um. And basically it’s, you know, it’s, it’s trying to persuade people that a) it’s worthwhile and b) yes they can do it. Um and there’s been a very positive response so far. Um but the job’s not finished yet because I still need to go out and persuade everybody.
JR: And what about Hampden Park? You covered the football pitch?
AH: We did. The exhibition, we had a, I had an exhibition there of the 75 quilts and it was on for a year, and six months through it they asked if I could come up and change the exhibition around, stop it getting stale, so I ‘no problem at all’ he said ‘we’re having a meeting about it on Wednesday’ and I thought a meeting, why do we need a meeting? But I went and there was a group of men and me, and this, erm, there was a young man there that half way through the meeting he said ‘sorry er’, very brought, well brought up, he said ‘Mr Chairman, Mrs Hill, you’ll have to excuse me I’ve gotta go because we’re going to practise on the pitch’ and er, and it was absolutely pouring wi’ [sic with] rain and I said to him ‘you’re gonna get awfully wet out there today dear’ [JR laughs] and he said ‘oh well we play football in the rain every Saturday in Scotland, it’s nothing new’ and I said ‘oh you’re not like the cricketers then’ cos [sic because] I’d been watching the cricket with me husband the day before you know forced I think is the word here. but I watched the cricket wi’ [sic with] my husband the day before and if it rains at the cricket pitch they cover it up and go in and have a cuppa tea so I jokingly said to this young man ‘you’ll have er, you’re no’ [sic not] like the cricket then, you cover up the pitch and go in and get a cuppa tea?’ and he sat and went ‘nah Mrs Hill, there’s no cover big enough for Hampden Park’. Now, throughout this meeting, there had been a man sitting at me side, and we’ve all met this man you know there’s, his type are everywhere and halfway thr…you know, at several points during the meeting he said to me ‘have you not got an opinion on this?’ and I said to him ‘no, I have no opinion on this, this is about football.’ So eventually he sorta [sic sort of] said to me um ‘what is it you’re doing here? Are you supposed to be taking notes?’ and I said to him ‘no I’m not, I’ve got an exhibition on’. ‘Oh, what is it?’ and I said ‘it’s a quilting exhibition’. ‘Quilts? What on earth can that have to do with football?’ he said and I said ‘well it’s all about football memories’ and he sorta [sic sort of] was very dismissive of the whole thing and me. And he just kept nipping at me the whole meeting [AH laughs] and eventually it just got up m’nose [sic my nose]. So when the man, when the young boy said no there’s no quilt big enough for Hampden Park this man went ‘ah well, Mrs Hill could probably make a cover for Hampden Park. She seems to have an opinion on quilts and nothing else. Ha ha ha.’ and I went ‘Aye you’re right, I could’ [AH laughs] and that’s where it [inaudible] that’s where it came from, just some man getting up me nose and I determined, I just thought yep, we could cover Hampden Park and the press guy and the PR guy was there and they said ‘do you really think you could?’ and I went ‘yeah, course we could, we’re quilters! Quilters around this world would come and help’.
JR: So what was the timescale when you made that commitment?
AH: It was two years from the day we did it for the day, coz I said to them it’s gonna take us a coupla [sic couple of] years to gather the quilts and two years on, um, it was the…cannae [sic cannot] remember, 6th or the 8th of June 2013 we laid 5,012 quilts on Hampden Park.
JR: Now most quilters would think that would be a logistical nightmare.
AH: It was [laughs].
AH: It was a nightmare.
JR: It would be interesting to know how you managed to process 5000 quilts
AH: Well, you don’t, you really donnae [sic don’t] think, you don’t think that’s the trouble, you just do not think and when I left Hampden park that day I phoned my son and I said to him ‘how big is Hampden Park?’ coz I still hadnae [sic hadn’t] seen it, I’d been in an office, I’d never even looked at the pitch and he said to me it’s 5,000 square metres and I went, how big is that compared to Mouswould school football pitch? And he went, he said ‘one tiny little corner’ and I went ‘really?’ and I thought, so I worked it out that, if I, if every quilt was one metre squared [JR laughs] I needed 5,000 quilts and I thought, I’m sure that’s do-able. And I thought well how many could I make in a week? [JR laughs] and then I thought, oh my, so I started to get in a panic, um, but I mean we wrote to the, we wrote to the newspapers, we wrote t’one [sic to one] of the quilt magazines rather, erm, Quilters’ Guild were brilliant, eh, you know we asked everybody, um, and basically I just put out an appeal and my own quilt group got together and they made about a coupla [sic couple of] hundred and it just snowballed everybody started…
JR: Was it worldwide Ann?
AH: Worldwide. Worldwide. We went Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada. I was across in America um, and I had met this woman online who had said ‘I’m making you a quilt. I live in’ um, oh what’s the name ‘Annapolis, and I would like to send you a quilt but I don’t know how to get it to you’ she said ‘the whole quilt group would like to send you quilts’ and I said to her ‘well actually I’m coming across to America and you’re only an hour and a half from where my daughter stays’ so I got in touch with Annapolis and for those that don’t know it, Annapolis is actually the twin city for Dumfries because of John Paul Jones who was er, a pirate and a no good-er in Dumfries and Galloway, but he’s also the man that started the American Navy. So he’s a hero across there, so by working with their group and involving their dementia people across there, I was eventually awarded the freedom of the city of Annapolis [JR and AH laugh].
JR: You are a global celebrity then [laughs].
AH: Of all the stupid things to get [laughs]. So it came from everywhere. We got ones from Japan, Europe, obviously most of them came from the UK. But they just came in and then of course by the time I’d got to the stage I could get 20 in a big IKEA bag and by the time I’d got about 10 bags in my conservatory I thought ‘what am I gonna do with the rest?’
JR: Did you have a requirements list that you sent out to groups in terms of…
AH: Yes. Yes.
JR: …the size?
AH: I put it online. Put it online and the general feeling was that because the first quilt I ever made was nine-patch I thought nine-patch was easy, nine-patch of ten inches, a two and a half inch border, and a five inch border. And making it one metre squared meant that you had one metre of fabric on the back, so there was no joining on the back that wasnae [sic wasn’t] too expensive, you could either make it fabric or fleece, didnae [sic didn’t] matter as long as it was quilted. Um, and that was the only requirement, I put patterns on my own website online, you know giving them ideas of how to do it, and some of them come back that did nothing to do, nothing like the nine-patch but it didnae [sic didn’t] matter as long as it were a metre square it was fine. If it came back as a double bed size that was the equivalent of four quilts, single bed size was equivalent of two quilts, and it soon mounted up. But we were also lucky in having Hampden Park because they gave me a store room which meant we could store them and as they came in we numbered them and me son, god love him, set me up a database so that it was numbered, it was photographed, the size it was whether it was single, double, lap single or double, and who made it. So it didnae [sic didn’t] matter where it was, and eventually all that went online erm so that everybody could see them, people could see their own quilts until we got to about 3,000 and then that was the sorta last two months and we just couldnae [sic couldn’t] keep up with it so I said after 3,000 your quilts are here they’re just not being photographed because I don’t have the time to do it anymore. Because I was doing all of that on me own.
JR: And where you driving back and forward to…?
AH: To Hampden.
JR: … to Glasgow?
AH: Yeah, with quilts.
JR: All the time?
AH: Yeah. But I mean, other people would do it as well, anybody that was going to the airport could you take some quilts and drop them off at Hampden Park please? [AH laughs]. You know. And er, the local, me local plumber if he was going to collect stuff from Glasgow he would go and dump some in and, you know, or if any of them were coming down for the day they would take some back, so every time I got a conservatory full then we’d, we’d off we’d go to Hampden Park and deliver them and but then again it was a nightmare there as well because you had to have them. When we put them on the park, we’d, we’d, we’d divided the park into nine blocks and we knew that number one to number 450 so they had to be stored in numerical order, and they had to be laid in numerical order um, and it worked really, really well because we knew that for number one-450 was in square one so when the boys were taking them and laying them out on the pitch ready for the volunteers to lay them on the pitch, and the bags were all numbered, so they all got laid in numerical orders so that if anybody said ‘where’s my quilt?’ we could tell them.
JR: So the big question is, when did you decide on the big reveal? What, how did you decide on the day that you were gonna lay them all out?
AH: We just decided, the 8th, well the 8th, the 8th of June because it was after the football season and before the, they started working on it for the Commonwealth Games so that was the only day that we could have.
JR: … and did you pay your subscription for sunshine and good weather? [JR and AH laugh]
AH: Somebody said to me what we gonna do if it rains? I said it’s not gonna rain. I never ever doubted that the sun would shine because if I’d doubted it, I wouldnae [sic would not] have done it.
JR: …and you had a glorious day.
AH: We had a fantastic day the weather had never been better for the three days before and you know including that day, those three days, it was perfect. [JR: And…] Absolutely perfect.
JR: How long did it take to lay out over 5,000 quilts?
AH: We started, we started at half past nine, there was 150 volunteers. We’d the scouts, we’d the fire brigade, we’d the police, we’d quilters from all over the UK. Erm, some from abroad, we had 150, somewhere between 150 and then 50 were organisers you know and er it took them, we started laying at half past nine and they were all laid on the pitch by eleven o’clock. Because you just had your square to do.
JR: And did you have, did you invite the chap who was at the meeting to come along for the big reveal?
AH: Ah no. I didn’t. I just, I wasnae that petty [AH laughs].
JR: But you had a big turn out?
AH: We had a huge turnout, it was lovely and Craig Brown was there, you know? the manager for, was the manager of Scotland is now I think in Aberdeen, or I dunno where he is now but he came along and officially opened it along with er head of NHS Dumfries and Galloway… Alzheimer’s Scotland, erm, and myself, and Hampden Park.
JR: You must have felt a huge sense of achievement?
AH: Fantastic it was lovely. Absolutely brilliant and it was more the fact that we could raise awareness of Alzheimer’s.
JR: And so, the, at the end of the day… [AH: mhm] they were all put back into the store?
AH: Put back in the same bags and numerical order [AH laughs]
JR: And what happened after that?
AH: Then we started selling them. We took, what we did was we divided them in half and I gave half of them to Alzheimer’s Scotland to sell on the web, and the other half we took and gave to quilters and we, it’s taken us a good coupla [sic couple of] years but so far we’ve raised just over £50,000 by selling the quilts both online and at coffee mornings, in the Alzheimer’s offices, at the quilt shows, where we’ve been doing the quilt, coz I run two exhibitions a year here at Clarencefield, we sell them there and other people have taken them to sell them at their own airshow, you know, Dumfries and Galloway show, we’ll sell them anywhere [AH laughs].
JR: So, what’s next? Is, you’re obviously going to carry on selling the quilts?
AH: We will.
JR: Quilter in residence is ongoing [AH: mhm.] and you you’re passionate about helping to raise awareness?
AH: Oh I am, I am, and I mean I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s before because I didn’t have anybody with Alzheimer’s. I, I’d never come across them um, but it is just when I go into the care homes and into the resource centres to meet people um, it’s just such a sad experience and we really have to try and find a cure for it um but it’s all, it’s not all doom and gloom it is… there are so many stories because they may not remember what happened today or yesterday but you just have to try and find what triggers that memory and then you cannae [ sic can’t] stop them and it is fantast… it’s fascinating, the memories that they have. The, the, lady that um, that interpreted Morse code during the war, she can hardly read but she can tell you what Morse code says, so when I did her one she was captain in the Girl Guides, she told me in no uncertain terms I would not be allowed to get in because I was nothing but a, what did she call me, a whippetygibbet. She said to me you wouldn’t be allowed in my guide core and I thought ‘right that’s me told’ [AH laughs]. But so when we made her a quilt we made it with a guide badge on it and then we made her another wee one that said um er Girl Guides in Morse code and then prayed that we’d got it right [AH and JR laughs] and again it was just, it was just squares appliqued onto this quilt.
JR: Now, am I right in thinking that a prime minister might have given you an award for all of this work? [AH gasps]
AH: He did! He did!
JR: And did you have any, did you know that this was gonna happen?
AH: No, no. The day before I got the phone call I had been [AH laughs] at a kitchen showroom with my daughter who’s getting a new kitchen putting in. And [AH laughs] and after, I mean she’d already chosen it we were just there to pay for it and do the last bits and the woman had said to me um ‘you never thought about having a new kitchen?’ and Katrina, my daughter said ‘she needs a new kitchen, she needs new units’ and I was sorta [sic sort of] coerced into having this woman come around and look at it. So that was fine so, the next day the phone rings and this woman says ‘hello is that Mrs Hill the quilter?’, ‘yes’, ‘This is Emma er from the cabinet office’ and I’m thinking ‘right aha thank you’, I said ‘I’ve no made up my mind yet’ cos [sic because] I thought kitchen cabinets. She went ‘pardon’ and I said ‘I havenae [sic haven’t] made up my mind yet’ and er she said ‘oh, erm, [JR laughs], this is Emma from the cabinet office at Westminster’ and I went [pauses] ‘…yes?’ and she said ‘yes’ she said ‘er the prime minister has asked me to ring you’ and I’m thinking somebody’s having me on here [AH laughs] and I went ‘right aye’ and I thought this is Katrina and me getting this kitchen, and I said to her ‘aye right, that’ll be right’ and she said ‘no, seriously this is Emma from the prime minister’s office, he’s asked me to ring you’, she said ‘have you ever heard of erm Point of Light Awards?’ and I went ‘no I haven’t’ and I was sitting at the computer and I thought right, whilst she’s telling me, you know, all about me, and I thought she knows an awful lot about me, she knew I was a chief executive, she knew my mother was erm involved in Save the Children when she was alive, she knew all about me growing up in Shetland, she knew all about the groups that I tell nobody about, about the group, you know, the quilt groups that we started around Scotland and I’ve said nothing about, she knew all about the, the, 240 squares and a pair of curtains that were hanging in the Alzheimer’s office and, so I kinda quickly looking up this Point of Light Award and I thought here she’s for real here and I went ‘well why me?’ and she said ‘well it’s because of all the work you do for this and raising awareness, it’s all about Alzheimer’s’, she said ‘people think you have done such a lot’ and I went, ‘…I didn’t think about that at all’, and I said to her ‘well I didnae [sic didn’t] do it for any kind of award’, I said ‘and I still enjoy doing it’ oh no well, and it was the 16th December erm was my day, so could I come to London and I said to them ‘that’s er’ and I said to them ‘I cannae [sic can’t] come this week’ because I was doing something and it was too short notice and she said ‘well he’s got a space two days before Christmas, 23rd of December could you come then’ and I went ‘no! I’m not coming to London two days before Christmas!’ and oh, well it was important I got this award so I said to her ‘look I’ll tell you what’ I said ‘as luck would have it we have, for you, as luck would have it we have a Tory MP in the region, we’re the only one and I said and in fact David and I are good friends so, why don’t you just get him to give it to me?’ ‘well would I mind?’ and I went ‘no, no that’ll be fine’ I thought ‘I’m not going all the way to London for this!’ um, so David phoned me up and he said er ‘we could do this, we want to make an occasion of it’, and I said to him ‘well that’s fine’ and as it happened on a Fr, on that same Friday eh, I was I had been invited for lunch by my resource quilt group and this er this is erm a voluntary group that that we run that’s for people that are looking for friendship, for rehabilitating, for you know, they’re no’ [sic not] quilters but I’m teaching them to quilt and they were having their Christmas dinner and they’d invited me along, you know, guest of honour so I phoned the woman that, the, the staff member that organises and told her about it and I said ‘please don’t tell them, I want it to be a surprise for them cos I want to share it with them’, I coulda [sic could have] gone to Solway Quilters but I wanted to share it with my group that would appreciate it. and there wo…nothing like this would ever happen to them, erm so they were mightily surprised at the dinner when the television cameras turned up and the reporters turned up and they were absolutely chuffed to bits and it was just worth it to see their faces, it really was, it was nice to share it with them.
JR: And have you, have you been down and had your award given to you in London?
AH: No, not yet, not yet.
JR: But it’s in the pipe…?
AH: But they tell me, they tell me I have to go before May [AH laughs] because there’s an election coming up [AH and JR laugh].
JR: Quite right!
AH: so I thought oh yes, well maybe one day I will go. but to me I, I’ve already had an exhibition in Scottish Parliament and to me that’s more important you know I, I don’t I’m not fussed about going to London to get an award I mean I, I really, I don’t feel the need to go. [JR: No.] I’ve got it. I’m happy.
JR: So, if we rewind. So you’ve come so far and done so much for quilting so, going to your roots back in Shetland, you were 8 years old when you started?
AH: I was.
JR: Who would’ve thought you would be at this…
AH: I know!
JR: …part of the journey now.
AH: I know. I know.
JR: So, what, can you tell us more, me more about the quilting as a child?
AH: Well, I mean I learned from my grandmother, and my grandmother, I used to sit and watch my grandmother and the woman next door, me auntie Ka… Auntie Kitty everybody that lived next door was an auntie, you know, Auntie Kitty and she had a, Auntie Kitty had a treadle machine and er and I used to sit on both their knees cos I couldnae [sic couldn’t] reach the peddles when I was eight years old. um, and they used to let me sew and it was a case of usually dishcloths or you know an old sheet had got a rip in it, and in Shetland, you know I remember it well because if the, if the sheet got worn in the middle you tore it down the middle, joined the two ends together and hemmed, hemmed the middles and it became a narrower sheet [AH laughs]. Um, but it was the same wi’ [sic with] old flour sacks, they were made into you know either floor cloths or if the boys went fishing then it was fish cloths or whatever and I would hem the fishing cloths or the floor cloths and, and then eventually I got a doll one Christmas and a pram and er so with the bits of cloth that were left we sewed four bits together and that became the blanket and then the old, an old towel became, I mean I remember it well because none o’it [sic of it] matched [JR laughs] um and there was nae [sic no] binding in those days so it was just a case a you know it had raggy edges but I can remember that as being me first quilt, those four pieces of fabric sewn onto a piece of towel.
JR: So it really was make, do and mend?
AH: Yeah very much, very much and I mean you you kept, I mean you very quickly got…and it was hexagons, I hate hexagons, I will never sew another hexagon [JR laughs]. It’s like well I, I shouldnae [sic shouldn’t] say that because I’m doing one for my daughter at the moment.
JR: They’re back in.
AH: But they’re, they’re appliqued, they’re appliqued hexagons I can assure you. Erm, eh, and it it it sorta [sic sort of ] evolved fa [sic from] there that I was and then of course when you’re in Shetland you’re also taught to knit, because you didnae [sic didn’t] get any pocket money unless you made it yourself so you learnt how to make fairisle mittens because gloves were too hard because of too many fingers in them. Um, or you knitted lace scarves um and that paid erm that kept you in pocket money but also helped your your mum out. Um because I was raised in a, as a wi’ [sic with] a single parent so I mean we didn’t have extra money to throw around um.
JR: But you were…
AH: So I’ve always quilted.
JR: Surrounded by needlework of some sort?
AH: Absolutely, my, my mother was an embroiderer, she embroidered um, she also knitted whereas my grandmother was the one that quilted.
JR: But it was very…
AH: She sewed yeah, I mean it was, and it was a case as soon as I could I mean I made clothes for my dolls, I very quickly got onto making clothes for myself and I don’t ever remember really buying a lot of clothes in Shetland, I made most of them erm, and there was I mean in later years I I also sang wi’ [sic with] a dance band and the one thing you found out in Shetland was if you didnae [sic didn’t] make your own clothes you met somebody else wearing the same thing because there was only two dress shops in Shetland there was Anderson and Company, and JR White and if they bought them in they bought four, one in each size sorta [sic sort of] thing. and I remember um buying a dress, you know, the one and only time I ever bought an evening dress without making it was that we were going to Norway to do a tour erm and eh I had bought this really nice flimsy sorta [sic sort of] lovely chiffrony dress and I, I wore it that night, so that I could show the boys what it looked like and it matched their new jackets so we were all fine, luckily I was sitting outside we were having a dinner before we went in to start while the while the waiting party were doing all their bits and as luck would have it I still had me jacket on I’d just come in and across the dancefloor walked this woman wearing the same dress and she was the mother of the bride. And I had to very quickly go home and change [AH laughs] because she couldn’t have the singer standing on the stage with the same dress on that the mother of the bride was wearing [AH laughs]. So I mean I learnt, I learnt to sew and then the kids I made clothes for the kids as they were growing up and quilting took a back seat for a while erm but there was always something on the go quilt wise… [JR: mm] if it wasn’t a big, big quilt it was a quilted handbag, I don’t remember the last time I ever bought a handbag, I mean I’ve always made my handbags
JR: Do you remember buying books or seeing it erm publicised or? [AH: No.] Sort of in the 70’s or?
AH: Not really no, I, I you know that’s a funny that’s a really good question because I don’t remember when I ever saw…
JR: We’ll just stop and we’ll do a sound check. So just restarting the interview with Ann Hill and TQ.2014.052, Ann and I were talking about whether or not she was aware of any books or publications coming out maybe the late 70’s early 80’s?
AH: Well, no because I, I don’t remember ever seeing a book about quilts at all I mean it was all a case of you sewed squares together or hexagons together I don’t remember ever seeing anything that was appliqued, erm, and I certainly don’t remember seeing anything in magazines and I certainly never saw a quilting magazine erm I would imagine it must be maybe 10, 15 years…certainly the turn of the century [AH laughs] that sounds a long time ago doesn’t it.
JR: So was it intuitive in Shetland the fact that you would just make your dishcloths with scraps and selvedge, so you were actually patchwork and quilting…?
AH: Yeah, well yeah
JR: Because it was a necessity really?
AH: Well I dunno whether it was a necessity or not but I mean it was a case of you never threw anything away and if I was making a dress or making a blouse the bits that were left got cut into squares um and it was not always dish cloths we were making I mean you would make a quilt for the bed or you would make a tray cloth was one of my favourite things, because my mother was always embroidering tray cloths, um, and it was anything to avoid me having to do any embroidery because I hated hand sewing and I have not changed [AH laughs].
JR: I was going to say was it predominantly hand quilted if you were layering, would you layer up with a blanket or you wouldn’t have?
AH: No, you would, you would hand sew the quilting part of it but my, my quilting stitches, not the piecing part of it coz the piecing part of it was all done on this machine you know went from having a treadle machine to having what was known as a car handle machine you know the ones an old singer that you would car handle? Um, eh, but any quilting that was actually done to you know for layering up and things was done wi’ [sic with] stitches that were about an inch long [AH laughs] coz my, I, I absolutely hate hand stitching. I do it if I have to but not through choice.
JH: So you’re a machine quilter?
AH: I am a machine quilter at every choice.
JR: [phone vibrates] I’m just gonna have to stop that again Ann to turn my phone off. Just restarting the interview with Ann again, we’re talking about machine quilting and that’s very much what Ann enjoys doing.
AH: It is very much sew, I mean I hand sew, I hand sew during the bindings because you have to um but believe me if I could find a way of doing it that’s er acceptable but I just, I find, I just don’t find it acceptable to do it by machine.
JR: So erm, you left Shetland and you were dress making for your family and started doing a bit of quilting when they started to get older or? When did you pick it up again?
AH: Yeah, well I mean I went back I’ve always quilted because it it’s never been very productive I suppose through my working years, because as a chief executive I never really had an awful lot of time, but I also travelled a lot and there was always some kinda [sic kind of] sewing in my bag um I mean being in Shetland it was either knitting or sewing um and I think I had such a… knitting always sorta [sic sort of ]stuck in my mind as I had to do it because I needed the money it wasnae [sic wasn’t] a pleasure, if I hadnae [sic hadn’t] had do it to get pocket money and things I might’ve enjoyed it more [JR laughs]. Um, but wi’ [sic with] sewing it was always a pleasure um so I’ve all, I’ve always done it but never on the scale that I do it now and it was only after I took early retirement when I was 54, which is now ten years ago, that I suddenly discovered that actually I quite enjoyed it um. And I joined the local craft group here in the village er and took my, my quilting with me and suddenly everybody else, and it was never, you just took what you did some of them I mean I, I painted as well so I used to take my painting but when I was quilting everybody would say ‘how are you doing that? What you doing that for? can you show me how to do that?’ um and suddenly I discovered I could actually teach quilting, um, and people seemed to enjoy it and um but then we also had the problem that there’s no shops here in Dumfries that sell fabric, um, and then of course when I started making it for, doing them for dementia a) I never I’ve never charged them for anything I’ve made for them um but I also knew that I couldnae [sic couldn’t] afford to do that at £16 a metre so I decided I would open a little resource centre in one of the bedrooms because all four children had left home by then and I thought what am I gonna do with this house [AH laughs] so there’s about 4 or 500 bolts of fabric up the stairs in this bedroom nowadays and people know that if you’re a quilter it’s not the kind of place you drop in to, you need to know I’m here um but it allows me to buy erm in bulk from the suppliers at cost price and that way I can afford to do it. Um, so there’s always fabric here and I still hang onto every tiny little bit that falls off [AH laughs].
JR: And do your group then drop in to… [AH: Yes.] buy for?
AH: Yes very often I mean they know that I’m here as I said to them I’m, it’s no’ taking over me life, I’m here on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, that’s me normal days, I’m here on a Tuesday and a Wednesday um and people tend to drop in on a Tuesday or a Wednesday or then they phone me and say um ‘I’m just going to pass by the house this afternoon, are you in?’ and then invariably I’m in and it’s… they come for one piece of material and they’re here for about an hour because we’ll sit around and have a cup of tea and [inaudible] I, and they all bring their quilts with them and show me what they’re doing and it’s fascinating and it’s good fun and it’s a way of making friends and… [JR: Yeah.] you know and just sharing, sharing something I love with them. I always say me first love is me family, me second love is me quilting.
JR: I noticed in the pre-interview questionnaire you talked about quilting was a great thing to do if you wanted to calm down or relax or…
JR: …almost meditate a little.
AH: Aha, calms me down, you’ve no idea [AH laughs] David’ll t…I often say, David’ll say oh I see we’ve had a problem day have we and I say to him what do you mean and he saids because the hand’s going ten to the dozen, the machine’s going you know 50 miles an hour instead of 10 miles an hour [AH laughs] and it’s usually because I’ve been frustrated about something or something’s happened or when my mother died last year I was I was actually, I went on holiday the week after she died and I took me quilting with me and whereas everybody else sat on the beach, I sat with me quilting on the porch and I just sewed you know, there’s a lot of tears in that quilt but it was just a way of, I couldnae [sic couldn’t] sit on the beach and do nothing, just couldnae [sic couldn’t] do it, I needed a purpose. So I took a quilt and I took all the blocks and I had them all cut out and for the first time in years I sewed blocks by hand [AH laughs] and I did a lot of applique while I was on that holiday.
JR: So that was therapy?
AH: It is, it’s very much therapy, I find it very therapeutic. Um, and I’m never far away from a piece of paper and a pencil and doodling because I, I don’t like to use other people’s patterns, I like to make up my own. I’m also very, very determined that we will never copy patterns because that really annoys me. Um, they, when I, when I am using somebody else’s pattern in class everybody buys the book or everybody buys the pattern um and I, it just annoys me, I remember going to a quilt show and buying a handbag pattern and the lady and I got talking, you know, the lady that was, the designer, and there were two, two of my friends standing next to me discussing which pattern they would buy and one of them actually said in front of both me and her ‘I’ll buy this one, and you buy that one and then we’ll copy it for each other’ and I, and the look passed between me and her and she said nothing but sold the both of them the pattern and I said to her ‘how can you stand there and say nothing?’ she said ‘well’ she said ‘there’s not an awful lot I can do about it, they might’ve walked away without buying a pattern’ and I went ‘that is so unfair’ so when I went back to the class I said to them ‘right you pair, you cannot do that’ um. So now if I’m anywhere near they don’t do it within my hearing but I know they still do it.
JR: And that quite neatly takes, I was gonna [sic going to] ask you about your book Ann coz you’ve actually published your own book?
AH: I have! I have [laughs]
JR: Which is fantastic!
AH: It took me two and a half years at least and it happened because of um again the Alzheimer’s things because no matter how many quilts I showed they love anything Scottish and when I was trying to find things I could do that were Scottish there was nothing, there was no Scottish quilt patterns anywhere and I thought ‘right, the things that I’ve made I’ve written the patterns, I’ve taught them in class so come on I will write the book’, but I never realised how much there was involved in writing a book, because it’s okay me writing a pattern because I’ve, I’ll make something then I’ll write the pattern, I don’t have a problem writing patterns it comes fairly easily I don’t know whether that’s because I’ve got a mathematical brain or what but it comes fairly easily but I would make something, I would write the pattern then I’d do it in a class they would point to all the mistakes that I’d made [AH laughs] and then I’d rewrite the pattern, but then you have to give it to somebody else to make it, they come back with more, then you get it into the book and then you have to proof read it seven million times and you become so complacent with the pattern that you forget that you don’t read it, wi’, wi’, wi’, [sic with] clean eyes as I would call it so having done this I’m no’ [sic not] sure I would do it again. But I enjoyed, I enjoyed the process I enjoyed everybody else trying the patterns, I’m enjoying the fact that the book is now out there and when I when it got to the stage of paying for the printing, um, I actually sold two of my own quilts to people that were willing to pay the money for them because you know yourself they never ever pay their money for them. [JR: mm] Err, but I made almost £2,000 for the two quilts erm rather as a donation I said to them I will make you quilts and you can pay for them and er that paid for the printing of the book and then £10 per book and every single penny for that book will go towards Alzheimer’s Scotland so it’s another way of fundraising, but it’s also another way of raising awareness and the book is selling well, we’ve, we’ve printed 500 copies and we’ve sold almost 200 already so.
JR: That’s fantastic.
AH: It’s coming on, it’s coming on.
JR: So, as a, just with your quilting hat rather than your fundraising, I know it’s all merged into one, what sorta [sic sort of] quilts do you like to make if you were just sitting down today to design a new quilt?
AH: Aha. I like a mixture of traditional and applique. But I also like them to mean something, I could never take a pattern outta [sic out of] a book and just simply make it, I would have to change it.
JR: When you say mean something, do you mean there’s a story or you’ve got you want to add a message?
AH: Yeah probably. [JR: Some embroidery?] Probably, it’s like when I was doing the one, we did a quilt last year which I called um it was a block quilt but it also had applique on it but it also had there’s a block there with my name and the date on it, on the front rather than on the back it’s actually there um, and at that point in time I was going you know through my mother being ill, so love was there, and friendship’s there, and welcome because I thought I’m gonna [sic going to] put it on me settee and I want everybody to feel welcome when they come in and it depends what phase I’m going through. It’s um, the one that we’re doing this year is funnily enough it’s one that I made, oh must be 15-20 years ago, um but I really wasnae [sic wasn’t] a good quilter, I was a functional quilter and I didnae realise that um sashing had to go in a line between blocks you know, some of mine were an inch off, um, but I became particular about it and I thought I really need to do that quilt again and do it properly, um, and of course when I did it I hadnea [sic hadn’t] meant to write a pattern for it but you know it’s one of those things that I hung it up in an exhibition and the girls all said ‘oh can we make one of them?’ so then I had to write a pattern so it just so it depends I’m, I’m I’m neither traditional nor, I’m not really an arty quilter.
JR: But you like painting?
AH: I like painting. but again it’s America folk art painting I like to do, like…
AH: Um, but I do li…I don’t mind the applique I mean I’m really not into Baltimore, I’ve done it, I enjoyed it I wouldnae [sic wouldn’t] do it again. I mean I might make an odd block but I wouldnae [sic wouldn’t] sit and do a twenty block Baltimore quilt that’d bore me rigid
JR: What block? Have you got any favourite blocks that you like to make?
AH: Not really, I cannae [sic can’t] say there’s anything I don’t like [JR: no] um, I quite like, I quite like log cabin. [JR: yeah] I quite like log cabin, and I like stars, I like Amish. [JR: yes] Amish, but again they’re too plain some of them. [JR: yes.] You know I could do one but I couldnae [sic couldn’t] do anymore than one, um but I do like applique things like I’ve been I enjoy doing the ones where I can get and especially for me grandchildren now, you know, I’ve got ones with cars on it and ones with sheep on it and um the wee one the very first wee grandchild he, he left Scotland and went to America and I there was a book we used to read every night to him it was about the farmyard, so when I when I made him his quilt I took each of the animals off the pages and I put them on a block so that when he went to America he st… I had the book here but he had the quilt there and I could st… I could still tell him the story when I went to America and I enjoyed that because there was a purpose to it. Um when I was doing one for my mother I put the grandchildren on it and it lay on her bed and when she was off [inaudible]… she took the quilt off the bed and said could I make her cushions instead so we made cushions with pictures on them so you just print the photograph onto a piece of so it depends, just depends on the mood that it takes but at the moment.
JR: And do you have any fabric preferences? You like, you like pattern and stories?
AH: No I haven’t, no, no I have no real preference I’ll quilt with anything I’m, I tend to be…I tend to go for the same kinda [sic kind of] fabrics and it’s only recently I suddenly thought I’ve got three quilts that I’ve made recently and every single one of them are what I call wine navy green and gold you know I am as boring as anything [AH laughs] and yet I made another, another quilt that had a white background and it’s got loadsa [sic loads of] different coloured pattern you know flowers and everything else on it and yet I’m not as fond of that one as I am of the other ones so probably I’m traditional more than anything.
JR: So er, we’ll probably wrap the interview up quite soon but I wanted to quickly ask you about the groups that you run and exhibitions cos [sic because] you’re obviously very active in the local area.
AH: I am. Um my own, I have a quilt group that I run every Wednesday night and it’s a teaching group um so that every Wednesday night. I also run a class once a month Friday and Saturday eh I work the resource centres teaching people that, I’m teaching them to quilt people that have never quilted before um so they’re sorta [sic sort of] not sold on the idea but we don’t always make quilts we make handbags, scissor holders um I’m involved, I’m the rep for The Quilters’ Guild in the area, recently you know started again with them so there’s classes coming up for them but for that one I’ve got Dawn Cameron Dick coming up to do a class for them because they got bored with me all the time they need somebody else. I was trying to tell my husband they need somebody different so that they appreciate me a bit more [AH laughs]. Um and it’s nice for them to have other people’s methods of teaching um and it also gives me an opportunity to go to a class coz this time we’re going to do a New York Beauty and I havenae [sic haven’t] done that for years. [JR: mmm.] Um, and I thought yeah let’s, let’s, let’s get Dawn to do that one because she does it well and we’ve had Sheena Norquay down and you know it was nice to have other people coming into the area and teaching here.
JR: And you mention is it Clarencefield you run two exhibitions?
AH: Clarencefield and we run two exhibitions a year one in May and one in November, um, and again it’s an exhibition where I have one quilt up everytime and it’s the one quilt that I’m going to do next term for the class. [JR: mhm] So it’s a case of show… saying to them ‘this is what you’re going to make next year sign up for the class’, I don’t put any of the rest of my quilts in because to me it’s an opportunity for them to show what they’ve been doing and it doesnae [sic doesn’t] matter if the points meet, doesnae [sic doesn’t] matter if the, if the quilts square you know or if there’s an end hanging six inches below the other corner, it really doesnae [sic doesn’t] matter to me because I think there are too many quilt shows that are too perfect it’ll put people off, I think you need to show the quilts that are not perfect encourage people to join in and think ‘I could do that’ because if you always show them perfection you’ll never get them to come.
JR: And I don’t know how you find time to do anything else in your life [JR laughs] outside all of this activity. So I was gonna [sic going to] ask you the final question what have you got on your to-do list in your quilting to-do list for the rest of the year?
AH: Well, I should’ve been making a quilt December and January for Solway Quilters Triennial exhibition in April, but I broke my arm, so it didnae [sic didn’t] get made December and January so I’m trying really hard to make this quilt so I can get it into the exhibition, I’m not sure I’ll make it but I’m not bothered um, I am in the middle of trying to make a bag for me holidays and I need a new handbag [JR laughs] so, and then of course I’ve got to start thinking about what I’m going to do in the Autumn time for classes because me list always goes out in May, so I’ve got a waft of things to keep me going in the quilting line. But I’ve also got a garden that’s two acres but luckily me husband looks after it I do very little, it works well actually since the day I helped him to weed and I pulled out the flowers that he’d just planted I’ve no’ [sic not] really been allowed in the garden [JR laughs] an awful lot and I dunnae [sic don’t] really have a great interest in it, I don’t mind you know putting in the steps and building a hand rail that’s me and my style of things you know gimme a hammer and I’m happy [JR and AH laugh]. Um, and other than that I spend time wi’ me grandchildren which I love doing.
JR: Which is your first love, your family?
AH: My family’s me first love and I’ve got the most fantastic husband in the world because we went on holiday fairly recently to Texas and we went into the first quilt shop and he said to me ‘have you seen this?’ and there was a map of Texas wi’ every quilt shop marked on it and for the next three weeks while he was planning because we never planned when we go on holiday we just hire a car and go and while he planned the trip every night after we’d had dinner not only was the road map out so was the quilt map and he took me to every quilt shop that we were passing, not many husbands would do that.
JR: Sounds like a dream!
AH: Yes a dream [AH laughs]
JR: And I think that’s a lovely point on which to finish this interview. [AH: yeah.] Well thank you very much Ann
AH: You are welcome
JR: It has been lovely talking to you.
AH: You are very welcome.
JR: And that is the end of TQ.2014.052.