ID number: TQ.2015.027
Name of interviewee: Ann Long
Name of interviewer: Avril Clark
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Ann’s home
Date: 25 May 2015
Length of interview: 0:46:50
Ann based her quilt on an antique quilt she saw at the Houston quilt show, which had been made in the Shenandoah Valley in the 1860s. She talks about making the quilt and how it differs from the original. Later Ann reminisces about her first experiences with quilt making and her involvement with quilt groups in Aberdeenshire, particularly Sew and Sews. She also talks about two other quilt projects; a group quilt and a two person quilt.
Avril Clark [AC]: ID number TQ 2015 027. Interviewee, Ann Long. Interviewer Avril Clark. Location, at Ann’s home in Aberdeen. Today’s date, 25th May 2015. Ann, could you tell me about the quilt that you’ve got displayed, here today?
Ann Long [AL]: The quilt is my Shenandoah quilt which I made, um, between 2000 and 2004. It has 64 blocks in it. Er, these are called hole in the barn door. It is based on a, an antique quilt that I er saw, and I was allowed to photograph it, um, knowing that I had a lot of blue fabric back at home, and all I had to do was to find some red fabric to go with it. Er the red fabric was a challenge because it… you needed just the right shade of red. And um [coughs] finally I found what I was looking for, and started to make the blocks. Er, it’s a mix of blue fabric because the original quilt that I saw in fact had got a range of blue fabrics in it. I chose to sprinkle them, so to speak, over the surface of the quilt. Once I had made all the 64 blocks and stitched them altogether, the big question after that was how was I going to quilt this? Um [coughs]. I decided that I would do in-the-ditch quilting around the blocks. And, er, after I’d done that I realised there were little squares all over the quilt that were popping up, um, so I knotted the centre of those little square blocks. Er, when it came to the border, um, I decided this needed to be hand quilted, and I chose to have a blue quilting thread that would close up show the hand quilting. It is my favourite quilt of all the quilts I’ve made. Um, I love it to bits and sitting here looking at it now on the stand um I, I love it. Er, I think that’s the best way of describing it.
AC: In the original quilt you saw, was it tied in sections?
AL: It wasn’t. Um I think the original quilt which was made in 1860, as far as I know, um the quilter had… I think probably joined the blocks up as she went. And she clearly ran out of fabric at one point, so there’s lots of different blue fabrics, er, on one side of the quilt, which probably was the top end of the quilt if I’m honest, but it certainly wasn’t knotted. Um, it er… As I… I cannot really recall the quilting that was done on the original quilt. Um, the original quilt was displayed at the quilt show in Houston, which I visited in 2000, and the owner of the quilt stall very kindly allowed me to photograph it. The friend I was with was quite anxious for me to buy it, but at well over $1,000 I wasn’t tempted. Um but I knew I had a lot of blue fabric at home, er, that I could use and I just went from there. I have no recollection right now of how the quilt was actually quilted.
AC: Um, what size is this quilt?
AL: It’s, er, 75 inches by 75 inches. It’s a complete square.
AC: Ah. So it would have been the same size as the one you saw?
AL: Yes. Yes, yeah.
AC: Now, you mentioned that um you visited Houston. Er, do you travel to many other quilt shows?
AL: M-maybe not so much now but I used to go to quilt shows. I think Houston was… the… the gem. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I know people go every year, um I’ve only been once, and I cherish that, er, I cherish that visit. The quality of the quilts that were on display was amazing. But apart from that there was, um, a whole section where people were selling, um, antique quilts which they had bought from yard sales, which is in fact where this… the original to this had come from, and they were being sold for a considerable sum of money, and some of them were really very nice. Er so, no, I don’t go to many. I don’t go to international quilt shows. Houston was the only one I have ever been to. But I’m a regular going to Birmingham and Malvern and the Scottish Quilt Championships. Um I like to see what, what’s going on and er draw some inspiration from it.
AC: Thank you. Er how, how do, how do you use this quilt and what plans do you have for it?
AL: [Laughs] Um I wrap myself up in if I happen to be unwell.
AL: If I’m feeling in need of a little comfort um then it comes out. I don’t have it on a bed; it is actually folded up normally. Um, I know that both of my daughters would like it, at some point in the future, um, so I’ve yet to decide who I’m going to leave it to. But yes it’s my comfort quilt.
AC: One point I was wanting to ask er, you have got the hand quilting ’round the border, how did you transfer the design on ’cause it’s quite intricate um?
AL: I had a plastic pattern, er, which I traced onto the border in fairly short areas um because the chalk um actually wears off quite quickly, and then I just, um, stitched along the lines that I had, that I’d created.
AC: Okay. Okay. [Microphone noise] Ann, you mentioned the name of the quilt was er Shenandoah. Could you tell me how you arrived at the title for your quilt?
AL: Yes. The original quilt that I saw had been… made in the Shenandoah Valley in the US in around about 1860. Clearly the lady who was selling it had quite a lot of experience with… dating quilts, and so I have gone along with the, um, idea that this came from the Shenandoah Valley and that is why it’s called my Shenandoah quilt [coughs].
AC: I see. [Microphone noise].
AC: Could you tell me when you first started making quilts?
AL: Around about 35 years ago I made my first quilt, with the help of a BBC booklet. Um I made a qu… er, a cot quilt for my eldest daughter. It was called Tumbling Blocks, and I had no idea when I’d finished it that I was supposed to um quilt it by hand or any other, er using any other method. The only method I could find in the book was to knot, er, these tumbling blocks which I duly did. But it became my daughter’s cuddly, and, er, it was quite a large cuddly, but because it wasn’t quilted properly, um, it really didn’t last very long. We still have it, it’s not renovatable, but it would have benefited greatly if it had been machine quilted at the time, so that goes back, um, you know 35 years, 36 years.
AC: Mmm. Are there any other quiltmakers in your family?
AL: One other that… a cousin that I influenced I think um, and she got involved in quilt making. My mother was a, a very good dressmaker, um. Not, not professionally, but most of my clothes as a child were made for me. Um. And I have always enjoyed sewing and knitting, and general craft things, so yeah, I suppose my mother is… was the main influence.
AC: Yeah. And um so you mentioned your first quilt was for your daughter. Um when did you start really getting into quilt making would you say?
AL: Probably just over 20 years ago when I, I moved to Aberdeen and I found out that there was a, a Dutch lady in Aberdeen who was running quilt classes, so I signed up. And, as with most first-time quilters, er, we were going to make a single bed quilt with all different patches, all different designs of patches in it, er, so that we could learn all the various techniques there were um to, to quiltmaking. And I think my first love is really the, the patching, making the patches for a quilt. And so I made this single bed quilt and was um quite anxious once I’d made all the blocks, because I didn’t know where I was going after that. But fortunately, er Marlize was very helpful, and we managed to get the quilt completely together, and then I hand quilted it. But going back 20-odd years, we didn’t have the batting, the quality of the batting, that we now have and sadly the original batting in the quilt has bearded through to the front. Two things… are important here: the quality of the fabrics we’re using nowadays are much better than they were 20-odd years ago, and certainly the quality of the batting. But also the quality of my patchwork and quilting [laughs] is better… [AC: Mmm.] um so you know it’s improved over the years. But er that is basically where I started quilting.
AC: Um so at the time when you started, were there any fabric shops around at the time or?
AL: No [laughs].
AC: Ah. So what, what did you have to do?
AL: Well Marlize had a selection of fabric, and I sourced, I sourced the fabric from her collection; it was a limited collection. One of the ladies that was also teaching in Marlize’s home eventually opened a quilt shop in Aberdeen, and, er, then things really took off because she was able to, um, she was able to stock a great deal more fabric than Marlize was. But yes in-initially it was purchased from Marlize and you worked with what sh… with the, with the selection that she had.
AC: Yeah. Um at that time er did you get involved in any groups? Er, was there anything running at that time?
AL: Yes, there was the Aberdeen Patchwork and Quilting Group which I joined, enthusiastically joined, and I belonged to it for a number of years. It’s only recently that er, er… other things have come into my life so I now don’t belong to it. Um we also had a little house group. I also belonged to the American Women’s Association in Aberdeen and they had a quilt group which I joined. After… 9/11, um there’s there was a general hunkering down I think of the Americans and the quilt group rather suffered as a result of that. Er there were five of us, um one Canadian and the rest of us were Brits, that belonged to this group, and because the group was struggling we decided that we were going to er set up our own group. So about 12 or 13 years ago, um, the five of us, the five founding members, set up a group called Sew and Sews which meets weekly at the scout headquarters, in West Hill which is just outside Aberdeen. And it’s very much, um… It was very much set up along the lines of the American group. I think the only thing that differed was that there used to be an enormous amount of food available at the American group and we decided, um, that we didn’t think this was a good idea [laughter]. We think that just coffee and, and a few biscuits were probably um the better idea. But we do have a couple of pot luck lunches every year, one at Christmas and one in the summer, so that we can display our culinary skills but we don’t have to do that every week. And people go along and they do their own thing, they have their own projects, but probably o… once or twice a year we have um… a pretty well-known tutor come to us, and generally they give us a two-day workshop, um so… and generally every one participates in this. So it’s a small group, there’s a total of 20 people in the group at any one time, and er, we find it a good way of exchanging ideas. We have some extremely talented quilters in within the group. The group also made the banner for er the regional, for the… for Region 17 of The Quilters’ Guild. Er we have one lady in the group who’s a particularly good artist, and she got us organised, and we tried to involve every single member of the quilting group making this banner. And er we had a design that we worked to, it was double-sided, and we tried to reflect all the things that we associate with Scotland. I have seen some of the other banners that have been produced and I mean some of them are absolutely stunning, but ours stands up very well in comparison to the others. And on a rare visit to York to the museum, I was lucky enough to see the, the banner hanging in the hallway so it was, um, a nice experience.
AC: Um what are your preferred styles or techniques er with patchwork and quilting?
AL: I think I’m a very ti… I’m a very… committed patch-worker. I love the idea of random quilts, where you’re not bothering about whether colours go together or not. Er these quilts are basically scrap quilts. I don’t always make scrap quilts but I do love them because I think that is the th… that really was the source of quilting to start off with er many decades ago. So I am… I really… a dedicated patcher. I like clean, clear designs, and um… I’m not, I’m not a committed quilter. I like to see the um the patches clear and simple in front of me. I have, however, through making the banner and also another project called the Button Up quilt, have been encouraged to get, er, to become more inventive, which I’ve enjoyed. Um. I think one of my disappointments is that I have never done the City and Guilds course [coughs]. Could you turn it off?
AC: You mentioned there um when we were talking about your styles and technics… techniques you mentioned about the Button Up quilt. Could you tell me a bit more about er how that was? How…
AL: The Button Up quilt again was inspired by our artist within the group, er, who came up with a design, and er… five of us were … asked if we would each make a section of it. Gladys produced um detailed drawings and we worked together on the various colours. The theme of our Button Up quilt was to do with Scottish life, the Northern Lights, the, er… the join up between Earth and sky. It was sort of quite ethereal in a way, um. But we always worked together deciding what colour fabrics we were going to use, and what we were going to do with the design, and during the course of the… of the project we used to meet once a month um to discuss how we were progressing. And we were very proud of what we had produced at the end of the day. Oh there was quite a number of different techniques in it. And um it was duly sent off to The Quilters’ Guild and it was duly joined up with the other Button Up quilts. Um when it was returned to us we didn’t know what to do with it, um. We thought about raffling it. But the danger with raffling it is that you never know… you may never know who has won it, and they may not like what they’ve won and they may not treasure it as we would as quilters [coughs]. So um we then decided to restrict the raffle, and um we would only raffle it amongst the Sew and Sews quilting group on a Wednesday morning. And we still didn’t like this idea, so eventually we decided that we would each put a sum of money into a pot, and we would draw out one name from the group of people who had actually made the Button Up quilt. We had a new American lady join the group, and we asked her if she would draw the winning ticket. And I, amazingly, won the draw, so I now have this quilt, or small Button Up quilt, hanging up in my hallway and it’s immediately visible whenever my front door is opened and I’m immensely proud of it and I feel immensely lucky that I was the one to actually win it.
AC: That’s really nice, a nice story. Um you mentioned to me when we were talking that um you’ve experimented a wee bit with contemporary work. Can you…?
AL: Just a wee bit [laughter]. It’s not my natural habitat [laughs] I have to say. Um. I… We, we, we had Gloria Loughman come to give us a workshop at least two years ago, and she’s coming again in the end of August this year to do another two-day workshop for us, and I think that was when I really broke away from sort of traditional blocks and, er, became more [bell/alarm noise] innovative.
AC: Right. Right.
AL: So we were very lucky to have had Gloria Loughman for a workshop, a two-day workshop, and that was probably, um, the first time I’d really got involved in doing anything other than very traditional stuff. She’s a, a fabulous teacher, and er… we are looking forward to her coming again at the end of August this year. Er. And again we’ll be we’ll be exploring colour this time, and using colour in various ways, but she is a very innovative teacher and writes the most amazing books, and er, yes, I feel comfortable um going along a more contemporary pathway now, possibly.
AC: Um is there anything you don’t enjoy, would you say?
AL: [Pauses] That’s a difficult question [laughter] to answer! You can, you can hear my hesitancy.
AC: Er, yeah.
AL: Um. I suppose if I’m really honest about it I struggle with the machine quilting. In a way it’s unfortunate we have some excellent machine quilters in Aberdeen, and… actually trying to be as good as they are is er is quite difficult for me. The machine quilting does not come naturally to me. However, I’m sure if I spent a bit more time practising, er, I would definitely get better. But I… it is the one thing that I am not as comfortable with as… you know creating the design, making the patches. [AC:Mmm hmm.] Um I love the accuracy that you’re always looking for um when you’re creating a, a traditional patchwork quilt, and when the um the brakes are off and you’re doing the quilting um it tends to run away with me so um I suppose that’s the area that I struggle with most.
AC: Mmm. Um do you use any technology in your quiltmaking?
AL: Not a lot. Um I use… I print on my printer, I print labels, um and I do print images from time to time. But because I’m not really into the er… into this very modern, artistic approach, I, I don’t, I don’t have a lot of use for it. I do happen to have one of the EQ, er, computer programs, but I’ve never really got my head around it.
AC: Mmm. Where and when do you quilt would you say?
AL: I like to have a whole day set aside in my mind to just get stuck in and quilt. I do… quite a lot of quilting I suppose in the evening. Um [coughs]. But I find now, with other calls on my time, that it’s better to say to myself, ‘Right, okay, next week, on Monday I’m going to be in my sewing room and I am going to sew or create patches or whatever I’m going to do, whatever project I’m working on’, and to have a good run of a… number of hours at it is, is actually very satisfying. But I do find if I’m particularly stressed about something or worried about something, um, I do find that it’s very therapeutic to just go and stitch, and it takes whatever is bothering me at the time, er, takes my mind off of it completely.
AC: Um do you have a, a room? Er are you able to leave your sewing machine set up or?
AL: Thankfully, these days yes [laughs]. Yes, it’s a… that’s a luxury actually, not to have to put your machine away um after you’ve finished every time. Now I’m, I have a small room. Um I think the family would think it probably looks like a, a tip most of the time, but then I think people who do things like this, um, are entitled to have slightly untidy appearance to their workplace [laughs].
AC: Um, now how do you go about making a quilt? What sets you going would you say?
AL: Seeing something that I really, really like. Coming back to this Shenandoah quilt, I just fell in love with this quilt when I first saw it, and I just could not wait to come back and find all my blue fabric, search for the red. I couldn’t wait to get going with it, it really caught my imagination, basically because it’s very what I called clean, it’s got a clean design to it, very regular, and I think I’m quite attracted to very regular things rather than, er, what I would call airy-fairy things. Um. This is something I like about patching and quilting because you know you’re looking for accuracy. But there was just something that… I loved it so much that I just wanted to make it then and there [laughter].
AC: Um, what do you spend money on for your quiltmaking?
AL: Fabric [laughter], fabric.
AL: Batting. Um.
AL: I really like to… I made, I made a mistake a long while ago of treating the quilt shop like a… a sweet shop, and you know, ‘Oh I’ll have some of this and I’ll have some of that and have something else,’ and… I now try to discipline myself that I will buy fabric for specific projects. But having adopted the sweetie shop approach I have now got a lot of, of fabric that, if I’m really honest about it, I don’t quite know what [laughs] to do with. Um we do make Linus quilts from time to time and this is um a good way of, of using fabric that, um, has become quite dated um, and you know that I don’t know what to do with. I also seem to inherit fabric from other people which I must stop accepting. Um. Generally speaking I use that for Linus projects, and generally speaking I try and find um Linus projects that are quick and easy to produce, um, so that we can turn them out because there’s an ever-increasing demand for them. But um [clears throat] I did spend a lot of money on a sewing machine. Um, my original sewing machine that I bought when my children were babies, [clears throat] I’d saved money um, and I was going to buy a greenhouse and I decided that a greenhouse with young children around really wasn’t a very good idea. So I had an old Jones sewing machine and I thought, ‘I’m going to have a decent sewing machine,’ so I bought myself what was then a top of the range Bernina with about 20 embroidery stitches on. The machine’s still in use and my eldest daughter actually uses it these days, occasionally. Um, so I had that for a number of years and then I did actually er buy a new machine, a new Bernina, um probably about 15 years ago. And I traded it in when they brought out their quilting edition and I’ve had that for ten years now, so I spent quite a lot of money on a Bernina sewing machine.
AC: What do you look for or notice in other quilts?
AL: Workmanship. Er. Design. But I think whether I like a quilt or not, I generally judge it on the workmanship that I can see in front of me. Um it’s not about liking the quilt as such, it is about the quality of the workmanship. I collaborated with Linzi Upton to do a two-person quilt a couple of years ago and Linzi is a superb machine quilter and I could never even come close to what she achieves. Er. So it was quite a surprise that she wanted to collaborate with me [laughs], um but I knew almost instantly that my role was to produce a canvas for Linzi’s quilting. There’s really no competition between us so it it’s an amicable arrangement. And we discussed what we were going to do, [clears throat] and um after all our decisions were made Linzi bought the fabric and I created a very simple um quilt top for her to basically quilt and embellish. The simplicity of it was that the blocks on this quilt were… about four inch… were, were four inches square. Um we used a range of very neutral colours in beiges and yellows and a little bit of aqua, and we called this quilt Dune Duet. It very much reminded us of, of the seaside which is what we wanted to achieve. We used cherry wood fabrics, and the… squares were all placed, um, on point. Because I knew this was going to be in an exhibition, if at any time a scene didn’t match then it was taken out and repositioned. And I finished off the quilt with a very narrow border and then a much wider border and handed it over to Linzi so effectively what Lindsey had was a very simple, you could call it a scrap quilt. Um. It was… the colours were all randomly put down and they were only moved if there happened to be too many of one colour in a certain place, and I then left it to her to um to quilt it! And because it was very geometric, um she decided that she was going to use some circular patterns, and she filled in the circular patterns on the surface with, um, some very intricate quilting. And the circles had an inner and an outer rim, which was probably around about half a centre, one centimetre wide, which she embellished with gold pla… gold paint. And, um, it finally came back to me with um… interspersed circles, some of which, um, tipped out very subtly into the borders, and, um, I then finished it off by putting the final binding on. Er, the quilt actually won a two-person award at Birmingham, which… having never ever entered a quilt into an exhibition in my life before, um and to have won the first prize, um was quite amazing as far as I was concerned but I was immensely proud of it. It’s a very nice quilt. We don’t quite know what to do with it now, so Linzi has it in with her collection. Um, but I really enjoyed doing it and I enjoyed working with Linzi. [Microphone noise].
AC: We discussed earlier er groups that you were involved in with quilting. Is there any other areas you were involved with?
AL: I think really from the earliest time with me getting into patchwork and quilting I did belong to The Quilters’ Guild and still do belong to The Quilters’ Guild. Um at one stage I was the Area Rep for Aberdeenshire. Um I organised area days twice a year, and thoroughly enjoyed um, thoroughly enjoyed meeting other quilters and organising workshops that they enjoyed doing. Um. I was a regular committee member, albeit it involved quite a lot of, of travel. Er Aberdeen is a rather long way from the central belt where, um, most people in Scotland tend to congregate. Er, however, um I was, I was really quite involved on that committee, as a straightforward committee member but also one year was asked to join two other people to organise the biannual weekend at Stirling University, and it was, it was really lovely working with the other two people um. We gelled together beautifully, and um I like to think that we actually produced a really good Stirling weekend for all the delegates. Stirling is very special, and if we have any spaces we do actually open, er, it up, er, to people who don’t live in Scotland, and on several occasions I have been told, ‘Oh, I wish we had something like this in England.’ Um. I’m sure they do have, er, things that would… would compare very favourably, but er I think the fact that it’s residential, in a lovely… Stirling University has a lovely campus, we are all very comfortable there, and we always have um a good range of different teachers so that we can take our pick on what interests us the most. I’m going again this year. I’ve only missed one year um since it’s been running and I think that was two years ago. Um but I’m going this year and I’ve decided I’m going to do a miniature of er a miniature project which I… I’ve always loved the miniatures that I’ve seen at the exhibition in Birmingham, I’ve always been in awe of the detail and the accuracy, and I think this sort of links back to um my love of seeing these geometric figures and the accuracy that you can achieve with them. So I’m going to take the plunge this year and I’m going to do a miniature and we will just have to see how it turns out [laughs].
AC: What do you do with the quilts you have made um?
AL: I rarely give them away. Um. I will only give a quilt away to someone who I believe will respect it, and will look after it. Er, my daughters both have quilts. Um I think one of them is perhaps more keen on them than the other one is. Um, but generally speaking I have only ever given away one big quilt which was as a wedding present to a young couple, and I, I knew er in my heart of hearts that they would look after it and they would er they would treasure it and I’m confident that that’s what’s happening. Um, I do make something called I Spy quilts for, um, people who have babies, and er these are very simple quilts. They are four inch blocks, all different, um, all different fabrics, and um it is meant to engage the eye of young babies, and it can be used as an I Spy quilt when they get a bit older. Er, you can put it on the floor, it’s not to be treasured, it is to be used, and so far I’ve made seven of these quilts. But here again I will only give them to people who I feel will appreciate them and, to a certain extent, will look after them. I mean they are meant to be a utility product. They, they are meant to be used, they’re meant to be washed, they’re meant to be thrown in the washing machine, um and hopefully the young people that I give them to, um, you know will treat them in that way. One young lady who I gave a quilt to, a friend of my daughter, one of my daughter’s, er she takes it out on picnics with some of her friends, and they live in the South of England now and her friends want to know where they can get a quilt just like the one that she’s using. But I, I don’t, I don’t accept commissions, um, I only do what I like doing and I feel that if I get a commission I’m, I’m then going to be boxed in, um, as to what I’m making and I have to like what I’m making. I’m going to cough [coughs].
AL: And… er well I…
AL: …I some… One of the quilts that I made for one of my daughters, um, she got too involved with it and what colours she wanted, and I couldn’t cope with that. I had to, I had to… just agree the design, but I then had to be left to run with the colours myself. And it’s no good boxing me in. I, I can’t, I can’t work like that.
AC: Mmm hmm. Er what is the biggest challenge you face as a quilter today?
AL: What I’m [laughs] going to do with all the quilts that I’ve got stashed away. Um. If I come back to the Button Up quilt, um, I’ve decided that if anything should happen to me the quilt is actually going to go back into the group that I worked with, um, so that someone else can enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed it. But it does bother me, um, I’m not getting any younger, and I do have quite a lot of quilts around the place, and it bothers me as to what’s gonna happen to them. But what I’ve actually had to tell myself, I won’t know what’s [laughs] going to happen to them, and I shouldn’t worry about it; I should just continue to make the quilts that I want to make, and um and just leave it at that. [Clears throat] But I think, if I’m… if I’m honest, I’ve only got one more large quilt that I am going to make, and I’m not making any more large quilts after that. Whatever I make after that has to be er small, er manageable, um stretching me, um you know maybe doing some things that I wouldn’t have traditionally got involved in. Er but I think really and truthfully my days of making large quilts are… I’m coming to the end of it to making large quilts.
AC: Um just to sum up, er, er why, why is quiltmaking important in your life, would you say?
AL: I love colour. I’ve always loved living in a fairly neutral environment, and introducing colour into the soft furnishings, or the vibrant quilt on a bed, um, and it gives me great satisfaction to actually er make something that can go into this neutral environment and that I appreciate every time I see it.
AC: That’s super. Thank you very much Ann.