ID number: TQ.2015.052
Name of interviewee: Audrey MacDougall
Name of interviewer: Jane Rae
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Audrey’s home
Address: Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland
Date: 7 October 2015
Length of interview: 0:58:02
Audrey’s Christmas red and green quilt is ‘Simply Delicious’; with apple core shaped pieces, along with applique apples, slugs and worms. Her interest in quiltmaking was inspired by the local American Naval wives living in Dunoon in the 1970s and she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to explore teaching of needlework in America. Audrey talks about being an early member of the Scottish Quilters’ Guild, running her own shop (including sourcing fabric and notions) and her involvement in local quilting groups.
Jane Rae [JR]: This is Talking Quilts interview TQ.2015.052 and today I am talking to Audrey MacDougall and we’re in Audrey’s home in Dunoon and it’s just about 12 o’clock. So thank you Audrey for taking part in Talking Quilts.
Audrey MacDougall [AM]: You’re welcome.
JR: And the quilt that you’ve chosen to talk about is called Simply Delicious.
JR: Can you tell us why you chose that quilt?
AM: Well, I suppose that it began with the American wives that used to live here who organized the Christmas Fairs that we had and always at the doors as you entered were dishes of huge red shiny apples and we always loved these apples and we’d never ever seen the size of these apples before and um, eventually, of course, the American did go, but I decided [clears throat] and I think that that would be about ’92, 1992, I decided that I had to make an apple quilt and so when I was in the States, in America, I found a, a template which was of the apple core and that’s how I started with it. Uh, it was the Apple Core Quilt to start with. And then, of course, because I love apples [laughs] I called it Simply Delicious and I had a lot of, a lot of red fabric. I had green fabric as well. So the whole centre part of the um, quilt, the main part of the quilt, [clears throat] is made up from the apple core design. Uh, the outer edges are, are applied. It’s all applied work with larger apples and stalks and stems and, of course, it’s all quilted, machine quilted. It was hand put together, but machine quilted. They um… one thing that we did find with the American apples, we’ll call them that, uh, were [clears throat] that once you disintegrated the pile of apples there were little bugs inside and they made lovely little holes inside the apples at the bottom. The ones at the top, of course, were all lovely and red and shiny. But the ones at the bottom, of course it’s a wee bit like life, isn’t it? [Laughs].
AM: So I had to put worms and slugs and different things all kind of elevated, we’ll put it that way, on the quilt too and this is quite nice when showing the quilt in exhibitions, art exhibitions, that children always point to these and I always ask them to find out how many. There’s a kind of a competition with children as to see how many, if they can find how many slugs and worms there are on the quilt. So, I think that that’s more or less it.
JR: And what did you make the worms out of?
AM: Oh, right. That was the wee Suffolk puffs. The majority of them were made out of wee Suffolk puffs as well. I like doing wee miniaturey things as well as large things. So um, the Suffolk puffs and lots and lots and lots of them together, of course, and all pushed and sewn together and they do look like worms, I think [chuckles].
AM: And I put some eyes on them too [laughs] so they looked a little bit um, different.
JR: And have you put applique on the border of the quilt?
AM: Yes, I, I… yes, I think it’s all on the borders. Large apples and the stalks from the apple trees and leaves, lots of leaves. So it’s all red and green and, of course, there are apples that have been eaten. The apple, of course it had been eaten, so they are white and they are all round, all over the quilt too.
JR: So your quilts have got quite a story to them by the sounds of it. You like to add something…
JR: … a little quirky?
0:04:03 AM: Yes, I like a quilt to have, not particularly a story, but a meaning behind it or something that’s maybe agitated me, I’ll put it that way. Agitated me into making a quilt. Um, I did a lot of quilts um, when teaching and so I have had quite a lot of block quilts and I did get a bit fed up of making blocks…
AM: … so I wanted to make then one large quilt, so this is my large quilt.
JR: And did you put that on a bed, Audrey, or…
AM: No, I don’t. I’m sorry. No, I butted in there. I’m sorry. Uh, no, I don’t put it on the bed at all, other than at Christmas it comes out and it usually sits on the back of a settee.
AM: Because they’re Christmassy colours… reds, greens and whites.
JR: And I’m just going… it’s 90 inches by 70 inches, so it’s quite a large quilt.
AM: It is, yes.
JR: And how long did it take you to make that?
AM: Well, off and on, because I didn’t make it all in the one go. Um, I would start it probably about ’95, 1995, something like that. But I don’t think I finished it… uh, that would be machine quilting. There’s a lot of machine quilting on it, because it’s done in wormy holes all over [laughs].
JR: Of course.
AM: Yes. And um, um, I really got a very, very sore back by doing it [laughs] because I didn’t sit properly, correctly at my machine. So I don’t think I completed it until about 2002. So over seven years but, of course, I still had my business then so uh, and I didn’t close my business until 2001.
JR: And it’s an interesting choice of quilt because it leads me to one of the questions about your link with America and maybe you could tell us how you started quilting and what led you to the States.
AM: Oh, right. Well [clears throat] I think I have mentioned that we had American wives living here. Of course, they were living with their husbands and that was the US Naval officers that were here. Not just the officers, but the enlisted men also in Holy Loch which is where I live. Just outside it the Navy had their submarine base there. They left um, in ’92, so they came about ’62. So they were here for 30 years, but the American Navy wives, the wives were very, very much a part of our, our whole existence almost here. I belonged to a club which was the Scottish American Wives Club. There were 25 Scottish American… Scottish wives and Scot… uh, 25 American wives and we used to meet every month for lunch and one of these wives I found out [clears throat] was an embroideress and also a quilter. I didn’t know anything about the quilting at that particular time, so this was way in the, probably the early ’70s. The middle ’70s it was. Mid ’70s. And um, [clears throat] I was always a very crafty type of craft worker, but never knew anything at all about quilting and then I found out that this lady, Diane Wilson by name, was quilting in what was known as the enlisted men’s rooms down on the shore, and my friend and I called Kay [Crewdon], we decided to go and have a wee look at this, at what they were doing. So, we went up one afternoon and here was Diane teaching about six or seven ladies how to quilt. Now this definitely was after 1976, because it was the bi-centennial in 1976, you see? 200 years. [Clears throat] And, they were into all colonial works. They were into the old cross stitch and um, the, as I said, patchwork and quilting, and they didn’t do it in the English method of papering, and this was something completely different to me. [Clears throat] I knew a little bit about patchwork, but I’d never ever seen it being taught before and she was absolutely amazing was this lady. She really got me enthused about it and eventually after a number of months of going up and she allowed us to sit in on the teaching that she was having. We persuaded her to put a, an advert in the local paper to see if local people would be interested in it, in just any of the colonial work that she was teaching. Excuse me, I’ve got to cough [coughs]. And she said, ‘Oh well, you know, there might be a few people uh, maybe ten or 12.’ So anyhow, we set out some chairs and tables. I think we set out four or five, which we’d have four people round about them and this particular evening came along and 7.30 they were supposed to gather. So we weren’t expecting any more than 15 or 16 people. Well I think roughly about 120 women arrived at that place.
AM: Yes. And this was… it was called the YMCA and the Americans actually built this YMCA on the front at Dunoon. It’s now the Baptist Church [laughs] and it’s also a coffee shop too. But um, that was the start of my enthusiasm, love of quilting and, and, of course, when the American wives were here, they only came for two or three years. They were never here for any longer, because that was the time that their men were here and so they all went back to the States and then another lot would come in, another lot of Naval wives along with their husbands and they would be into something completely different to needlework. Um, they would be into drama or reading poetry to one another or anything which wasn’t quilting [laughs].
AM: So I could not find anyone that could teach me how to go that step further on than what I’d already been taught and I asked around and asked around and um, I even went to the Open University people and they couldn’t tell me about anything either. But we met, the Open University lecturer and myself, we met in the local library and she picked up a leaflet from the table in the library and it said, ‘Apply here for a Churchill Fellowship.’ So she said to me, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ So I said, ‘Well, I have no idea what it’s all about.’ And I didn’t at that particular time. But that year, and I think I’m talking about 1980… ’79 or 1980 now. That year they put out a list of different categories that one could apply for a Churchill Fellowship and low and behold, one of the categories was something like dressmaking and haberdashery or something like that. So she said, ‘Now we could cobble something together here.’ So we did cobble something together. I applied for the Churchill Fellowship by saying that I would like to know more about the teaching of colonial needlework.
AM: Well, it must have been, because I got a letter back saying, ex… you know, making more… please make more explanation. Give me more, give us more explanation, which I did and um, and so it went on from there and I felt as if I was having to work a university course, all the letters that I was sending and, of course, they, they really went into my background, very much so and uh, the depth of learning that I already had, and what I actually wanted to learn about, where I wanted to go. I had to find out all these things and, of course, it took time. There was no such thing as computers in those days.
JR: And were you writing to people in America to find out where you could train and beavering away doing all of that in the background?
AM: Yes. What I particularly wanted was to see groups of… go to groups and find out how the teachers taught the groups. My, my thoughts were that I had learned so much from this American teacher, Diane Wilson, and I had seen the way that they taught other things as well, the Americans, and I felt that they had such a way with them that I could learn, the other ladies well here in the Dunoon area could also learn, from the Americans. I didn’t know of any other quilting groups in Scotland or Britain. I did not know, and we are talking ’79, ’80, and I think that was possibly roughly around about when our Quilters’ Guild started.
JR: Yes. And had you any quilters in your family?
AM: No, none at all. My mother did dressmaking. She made me clothes, but that was it. I did not know anything whatsoever about quilts.
JR: And where we were you sourcing fabric when the American ladies were here in Dunoon?
AM: Ah, that’s another one [laughs]. Yes. [Clears throat] Well, we relied… excuse me, I’m gonna cough again [coughs]. We relied quite a lot on, Remnant Kings believe it or not…
JR: And it’s still on the go.
AM: And still, yes uh huh. But, I didn’t know anything about just using pure cotton. It was polycotton or sheeting that we used and especially for backing. My very, very first quilt is all polycotton. It’s a Star of Bethlehem and it’s absolutely horrible [laughs] now I go back to it. I remember looking for wadding at Remnant Kings and the only wadding they had was six inches thick [laughs].
JR: Quite a loft on it.
AM: Six inches thick and, of course, it had a, a binding on it, which you had to get your needle through. And, of course, the thing was in the early ’80s and late ’70s you did not machine quilt, you hand quilted everything, absolutely everything. It was definitely a no-no this machine quilting. So, you see, times change. So I did go to America eventually.
JR: Yes, and so you got awarded a fellowship?
AM: I did. Out of 3,000 people that applied, there were uh, I think it was 99 people, not from my category. I think there were only six people from my category that got the award. I remember one person, the name of Diane Cabe, who was a smocker and she got one as well the same year as I did. That was ’84, 1984. It took me all that time actually from 1980/1981 to get the fellowship. I think, I do believe it’s a little bit easier these days, but um, it wasn’t so in those days. As I said, it was like a university course um, because they would not accept you unless you were quite sure that you wanted to go to the country. It didn’t matter which country that you went… that you wanted to go to. They were quite happy as long as you knew what you were doing. That’s the Churchill Fellowship people.
JR: And did they encourage you to go overseas?
AM: Yes. This was part…
JR: That was part of the fellowship award?
AM: Yes, uh huh, this was what Winston Churchill apparently said that you get your education by travelling and so it was a travelling fellowship, yes.
JR: And do you think you, you would be the first, one of the very few people then to have an award in connection with needlework? Have you done any research into that Audrey?
AM: I haven’t. No, I haven’t, Jane. I haven’t done any research into that area whatsoever. Whether there were other people… I’m quite sure that there would have been, because the travelling fellowships had been awarded for a number of years, I think, prior to my getting mine. But I’m quite sure that there have been others since I got mine whether it was on quilting or not, I have never, ever learned that.
JR: Well, I certainly think you were pioneering…
JR: … in, in applying and pushing through with it, because it sounds like quite a, a…
AM: Yes, I did go to a group called the Pioneer Quilters actually [laughs].
JR: Well it was appropriately named.
AM: Yes. Some lovely, lovely groups. I think I did about… um, we tried to calculate it down in London when I went for interviews and they thought that I had done well over 5,000 miles and most of that, by the way, was done by Greyhound Bus, because you are given a limited amount of money, you see, to spend on the fellowship. It was £3,000, but I was there in America for almost eight weeks. So it was quite a good study, a very good study. I think I went to 10 or 12 different groups from the east coast, the middle, mid-west, west, and also into Oregon which, of course, is, is north. Oregon was wonderful. That was a lovely, lovely group of women that I saw there in Oregon. There were well over 30 quilters there and the majority of them were well known authors of books. Absolutely wonderful people and very, very good hostesses too, yes.
JR: And how did you find out about those groups then, to organize a training.
AM: Well, it was just a matter of digging, digging deep. I first of all, of course, , wrote to my friend Diane Wilson, who was my first quilt teacher and told her my problem as it was at that time, trying to get a fellowship. And she put me onto someone, someone else who put me onto someone else who put me onto someone else. Um, I did go to two other teachers as well. Well, I went to several teachers too, but these were on different… other than quilting. One was for cross stitch and that was a lady called Ginnie Thompson and she was in Pawley’s Island, which is really South, South Carolina. That was quite a wonderful experience too and the other place was for candlewicking. Um, I did a large quilt on, on, on candlewicking as well later on once I came back. I think that was well into the ’90s and it was in Winston Salem, a museum there and they had wonderful, wonderful things on candlewicking quilts.
JR: Did you travel on your own or…?
AM: Yes I did.
JR: And so you took eight weeks…
JR: And off you went…
JR: With your suitcase…
JR: And your notebook.
AM: And a rucksack. Yes.
JR: And so, tell us about the different techniques that you learned um, in your travels?
AM: Right. Well, it wasn’t really the techniques that I was into then. [Clears throat] I didn’t go into techniques until much later on in my life um, but it was the way that they quilted… they, I’m sorry not just quilted. The way that they taught. Um, they do have a, a different way of teaching. I felt it was a different way anyhow. We teach here in a very schoolmarmish way. At least I always felt so. And I was never ever able to take everything in as much as I could from the American teachers. They have a way with them. They’re kind of gregarious, you know and uh, I love, I love the way that they teach, and I do get more out of an American teacher than I do from any others and uh, and that was really what I was trying to do was to pick up some tips. The techniques, that was another. I had never ever done applique. I’d never ever seen bias work done before. Now that was something that I did bring back here and that was taken up very much so. I was in Washington and I went to an exhibition. This was, this was the very first exhibition I went to in the States and I met a lady called Philomena Wiechec who had a stand there. And when I saw her quilt I, I nearly collapsed on the spot. I had never ever seen anything like it. Uh, all Celtic design, of course, and I’m quite sure that everyone in this country know all about Philomena Wiechec now, who is known now as Philomena Durcan.
AM: Yeah. Aha. But uh, she’s written so many books now on her bias work and it’s absolutely wonderful. I have brought her over here several times and she has been down in the south of England too. I think, other groups have brought her over and uh, she’d done some very good work here.
JR: Fantastic. And that all started with that trip?
AM: Yes, it did. Yes.
JR: So, you went round for eight weeks and did you stay with quilters when you were travelling?
AM: I did, yes.
JR: And so your whole world would be quilting, sewing…
AM: Wonderful [laughs].
JR: And did you visit quilt shops in America?
AM: I did [laughs].
JR: Can you tell us more about that experience?
AM: Well, I suppose it was like everyone else that goes to the States, especially for the first time. [Clears throat] You open the door and then you just about drop, because you’ve never ever seen anything like it. It’s like everything else in the States. It’s ten times bigger than anything else and um, oh, what do they call the shop? Mary Jo, Joanne’s. You name it. Oh, some absolutely delightful… PJ’s, that was another one. Um, absolutely wonderful, wonderful places. Uh, Pensacola, I think had fantastic quilt shops, but that was probably because the American navy and the wives were down there too and they were desperate, you see, for shops of any kind that had needlework, yes.
JR: And did you bring things back with you to Scotland?
AM: I didn’t bring an awful lot back. I possibly… I brought back threads that I have never ever seen before. I certainly brought fabric. I brought fabric. Yes I did, I did, I did. I certainly brought fabric. I brought back a few books. Not many, because books are heavy to carry and, of course, I was carrying from one place to the other. One of the most wonderful places that I’ve ever, ever been to was Salt Lake City. The Mormons uh, the Mormon style of teaching was family sized. It was within their families. Uh, mothers to daughters, aunts to nieces and they all taught within the family. Like we now have groups in houses, house groups, and then meet them in a main group once a month, that’s exactly how they do in Salt Lake City, or when I was there anyhow. Things could have changed, but I loved the way that they did teach. It was a loving way of teaching. There was no way that they… that you would get the back of your hand slapped for doing something wrong. It was really loving. And if you did do something wrong, they would quietly take the piece of work from you and show you what you should do and then give it back and stay with you until you had done it the correct way. There was so many different ways and different methods that they had and they were just lovely people and I just loved being there.
JR: And how do they find having a visitor from Scotland coming over, because that would be a unique experience for them to have someone learning to tutor. Did they… I would imagine they would be really welcoming and…
AM: Yes they were. They were in their homes and [clears throat] I did feel that if I had stayed much longer, I would probably have become a Mormon [laughs]. My family were terrified [laughs].
JR: So you did come back after your eight weeks?
JR: Which must have been incredible uh, memories and experiences that you brought back with you.
JR: And did you… so, what… did you have to report back to the Churchill Foundation to tell them?
AM: Yes I did and that took me about three months to do. I came back in the November. I went in the September, I came back in the November and they wanted me to have my, it was like a thesis, they wanted it… they called it a report/thesis… the wanted it by the end of January and I found that very, very difficult. Although I had made copious notes, obviously copious notes I found it very, very difficult putting it then into a language which ‘they’, the fellowship people, would understand because of course, it was all about quilting [laughs] and having Christmas, you know, Christmas and New Year as well in the middle of that era. But I managed it. My daughter very kindly typed it up for me, for which I was very grateful and so off it got sent. And, of course, I didn’t get the award until after they had been through my thesis and then, of course, they um… I got presented with my medallion then in the May of that, of 1985.
JR: And did you have to go down to London for that?
AM: I did, I did.
JR: So, quite a special event.
AM: It was.
JR: A very special event.
AM: It was a very, very special event, yes, yes, uh huh. I have two American friends that were living down in London and uh, uh, I could take two guests with me, so my husband being of a retiring type [laughs] he, he wouldn’t come with me, or didn’t want to come with me. He hated going out of Scotland, period. So, I asked my two American friends down in London if they would come with me and we went to the Imperial College and I got presented with my badge, medallion by James Callaghan.
JR: And I imagine your thesis then will be in the library at the Foundation and for anyone who may want to read about that.
AM: Yes, it probably is. It probably is.
JR: So, remind me, so when was the date that you were awarded that?
AM: That would be May 1985. You are given the fellowship obviously the year before, because otherwise if you… you couldn’t go to the States unless you had been given the fellowship then. Um, but it’s not complete until you get your medallion. That, I must tell you, that uh, I went down to London for two interviews prior to being given the fellowship, of course, and on the, the committee that interviewed me… There were probably six or seven people… was Mary Soames, who was Winston Churchill’s daughter, of course.
JR: Oh, this is…
AM: Lady Soames, yes. I, I nearly dropped when I saw who it was and she spoke to me and I have still since been down there a couple of times for different things and she had… She died the beginning of was it last year, I think it was.
AM: Um, but um, she always remembered, always remembered me and always came up to me and said, ‘And how’s the quilting going Mrs. MacDougall?’
JR: Well that’s a special thing when you think of how… of all the people that they must award the fellowship.
AM: It was, yes. Yes. She was a, she was a lovely, lovely person. The other person as well that I had an interview with was an Ann and I can’t remember her surname. I think it was Sewell. Ann Sewell, who had been Winston Churchill’s secretary, which was quite something.
JR: So, the next, the next phase then, which is exciting. You came back with all that knowledge. What was next for you?
AM: Well [clears throat] I had been… in 1984 I had been to a Quilters’ Guild. I had found out that there was a Quilters’ Guild, at last. I become a member and I had been to the Art Museum in Edinburgh for the Thistle Quilters’ Exhibition and there I met some of the Thistle Quilters and also Kathleen, I think it was Kathleen Hogg. I’m not terrible sure of her name. But she spoke to me and she said, ‘I think I would like to have you on the committee for the Scottish Quilters’ Guild.’ So I said, ‘Well, I didn’t know there was going to be a Scottish Quilters’ Guild.’ So she said, ‘Well, I think there are, are a few of us that would like that.’ So, I saw all these quilts on show at uh, in Edinburgh and I had a friend with me, Kay [Crewdon] who I think I’ve mentioned before, and she was very interested also. So, we were both then members of The Quilters’ Guild and um, I can’t remember now what was the next part of your question?
JR: What? When you came back from America you needed, you felt, you had all that knowledge…
AM: Yeah, that’s right. I remember now. So [clears throat] they… it was a weekend of quilting, that weekend in Edinburgh, and the second day, I think it was on, it must have been the Sunday we went to another place, like a hotel. I can’t even remember where it was. But there were several stands there and they had fabric, fat quarters. ‘Good gracious me’, said I, you know? [Laughs] All, and all these people with, with stands. Well, there weren’t all that many, but there were probably three or four. But uh, they called, they did have different names on their stand but they weren’t really selling all that much really and I thought why on earth have these got just these fat quarters. Why don’t they have bales of fabric? But, of course, they would have to cart it out of their cars, you see, and put it onto the stands and up umpteen staircases and so I suppose that fat quarters were the easiest option. I met several of them and asked them about starting a shop. ‘Why don’t you start a shop?’ They said. ‘Oh, just couldn’t afford to start a shop, you see. But this is the best option here.’ So I went, I went home and I thought, ‘No, I’m not going to have a stand at any show. No matter what it’s going to be, it’s got to be a shop or nothing at all.’
AM: [laughs] Ambitious.
AM: It just so happened that I live in a kind of a totty wee suburb of Dunoon called Kirn and on the shore down in Kirn was a remnant shop with a little old lady in it and I used to haunt this shop looking for pure cotton, because obviously being in the States then, I had been in the States then I was looking for pure cotton, not polycotton. So she actually spoke to me and she said, ‘I am thinking of giving up this shop, Audrey.’ So I said, ‘Well, what do you know?’
JR: It was meant to be.
AM: Mm. I said, ‘Do you rent it?’ She said, ‘No, I own it.’ And, of course, she wanted me to buy all the fabric that she had in the shop, which was mainly curtaining fabric, lining for skirts and threads. So, eventually I, I went to the bank and I didn’t have a great deal of money of my own. My husband was still working then, although I think he was in the last years of his time in the police force. Anyhow, that’s, that’s how it all started. I did manage to buy this shop and we did several things to it. We couldn’t afford… after buying the shop I couldn’t afford to, to do anything with it. I had to sell all the fabric off in the shop. So, I eventually sold as much as I possibly could and gave an awful lot of it away and then I had to try and find out where I was going to get the fabric. I hadn’t a, I hadn’t an inkling of that.
JR: What was the date that you opened, that you bought, took over the shop?
AM: It was in the June of 1985.
JR: And did you have a name? Did you change the name of the shop…
AM: Oh yes.
JR: … as soon as you took it over?
AM: Oh yes. Ah ha. Oh yes. Ah ha. The lady that had the shop, it was called JPB. Don’t ask me why JPB. I have no idea. But, my husband and I sat down and we started thinking about names of the, for a shop. So, we had all kinds of names and I think I’ve still got a list somewhere. I think there was about 50 or 60 different names and I couldn’t, I just could not put my finger on any name. So, I went to bed one night and I woke up in the middle of the night and I said, ‘Well, it’s mainly all calico, isn’t it? So it’s going to be Calico Threads. It’s gonna be threads as well.’ So, that was it. Calico Threads.
AM: That was it. That was what we called the shop. Calico Threads. I say we, because my husband did an awful lot of work in the shop, painting, decorating, taking walls down and we had a toilet put in the shop and oh, it was an awful lot of work.
JR: And would that be the first patchwork, specialist patchwork shop in Scotland?
AM: It was, because everyone, well everyone else, I don’t know how many other people, um, I do know that [Pansy Pins] had a stand and also another girl in Perth she also had a stand. I can’t remember anyone else in particular that um, had a, a stand, but none of them, none of them were, thinking of getting a shop at that particular time. I, I was then asked by The Quilters’ Guild to go through to give a talk at Haddington… I’m going on…
JR: That’s… no, it’s interesting.
AM: … um, about my travelling fellowship. And it was a very, very hot day. I think it was June. I had just bought the shop and was ready to open, but this was slap bang in the middle and so okay, I went to Haddington along with my slides. I was so… oh, when I come to think of it, I didn’t have a quilt to show them, I had nothing, absolutely nothing other than slides of which, of course, I was so proud… not just particularly proud of, but I was so enthusiastic about these slides and particularly because I had got lovely, lovely slides of Philomena Durcan and her Celtic designs.
JR: And they would love it.
AM: And no-one had ever seen these Celtic designs before and the Thistle Quilters were absolutely thrilled to bits with these, all these designs. The only thing was, of course, that you had to do it all by hand, making the bias. It was a completely different technique this [claps hands]. Completely different. Anyhow, this was the one thing that they all latched onto in Haddington, other than nearly passing out because of the heat in the room. It was dreadful. The heat was absolutely awful and I think, because I was so enthusiastic about my slides, they were more or less saying, ‘Please Audrey will you finish.’ They wanted a breath of air, you know?
JR: Did you bring anything to sell from the shop?
AM: No, no. I hadn’t got to that stage. It was in, it was coming. It was actually coming um, and I couldn’t get 100% cottons. I could get… that was in Britain, of course, I could not get 100% cottons in all the different colours that I wanted. I wanted white to black, all in the different shades. Yellows, greens, reds, browns, everything.
JR: And that’s printed cottons or solid, plain?
AM: No, I’m talking about plain cottons. I could only get polycottons and so I… my first big buy was of polycottons and because they were arrayed quite beautifully rainbow, rainbow-wise. Well, that’s how they were and they sold. But I must, I must tell you this particular part of my history story.
AM: I had never ever seen a patchwork quilting shop before. The first time I ever went down to London I had bought craft magazines and I knew that there was a place called Strawberry Fayre that sold patchwork and quilting fabrics.
AM: And I had got patchwork and quilting fabrics from them. But I knew that there was one shop down in London that I had to go to and I knew that I only had two days… one day for the interview and one day travelling… and it was called The Patchwork Dog and the Calico Cat.
JR: Calico Cat [laughs].
AM: Yes. And I went there and I met the owner, the American owner, and I could have spent a week, two weeks, a month there. It was absolutely amazing. It was upstairs and downstairs.
AM: Yes, it was absolutely wonderful.
JR: So, you… so, when you opened you got the polycottons in and when did you start to import printed fabric? Did you bring in printed fabrics from America?
AM: Right. I had to, yes. Yes, I had to. One part of the story that I didn’t tell you was before I went to the States I contacted Coats [sewing thread company].
JR: Yes. Coats.
AM: Yes, but US, USA and I asked if I… if they would allow me to go around their factory and, of course, they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t allow me to go around their factory for which I was quite disappointed. But they did give me several intros into companies, different companies, so I knew that it was going to cost me to import fabrics from the States and what they were paying in the States, of course, I would have… it would be doubled the, the cost over here. So what I could get for $2.50 over there, it was going to be £5 here and uh, that was a lot of money for a yard of fabric. Of course, everything was yards then.
AM: So it was going to be a lot of money. But I eventually did. I got a, a company that that would… and it’s, it was, it… I hadn’t realised what a secret society business was, because when you got information you kept it to yourself. You didn’t pass it on to anybody else. It had… you had to keep it. No-one told anyone where they were getting their goodies from. It was really quite secret [laughs]. So I, I got two companies that, said that they would send from the States and eventually they came over here too. They realised that there was quite a big um, what’s the word?
AM: Market, thank you.
AM: There was quite a, a, a big market or could be a big market and, and they went in um… shall I mention one particular company?
JR: Yeah, that would be fine.
AM: Well, not from the States… well I, I became quite friendly with a company in Yorkshire, called. Ebor Fabrics.
AM: And, they just did dress fabrics. That was nothing else. Just dress fabrics. They actually sold dresses in those days as well um, but I, I think that they realised just exactly how big it was going to become, patchwork and quilting, and eventually they started importing themselves cotton, pure cotton fabrics and they’ve done very, very well, very, very well since then, yes.
JR: And did you sell um, rulers? When did rotary cutters and things like that come on the scene?
AM: Oh, my. Right. Rotary cutters? Heavens above. Yes, the first rotary cutters I saw was in Washington. Yes, it was in Washington and it was um, it was the rotary Olfa.
JR: Olfa, yes.
AM: Olfa has a stand there and that was at the same exhibition that Philomena Durcan, Wiechec as she was then, had her stand and so I, I saw these rotary cutters and was highly amused by the clicking on and clicking off of the blade, and I felt this will never catch on, never catch on. And at that particular time they just had two sizes. A 45 degree one and a smaller one. 25 I think it was. I think it was, the smaller one was a 25. So, I spoke to the, the person who had the stand and believe it or not, I was given a 45 degree one. Given. I didn’t have to buy it. They… I… given.
JR: They were smart.
AM: Yeah, well they were kind of smart, I suppose. I brought it and I showed it to quite a lot of my customers when I started the shop. Um, can I go back to Haddington, by the way?
AM: I, I was able to tell the Haddington girls, The Quilters’ Guild, after I’d finished my, my spiel, that I had now bought a show and I was opening it, I think it was going to be the following week I was going to be opening it. And then, after the, the talk two ladies came up to me and said, ‘We’re so thrilled that you’re starting up a shop. We’re starting up one as well but up in Perth, but it’s not until September’ [laughs]. So, you see…
JR: You were all thinking along the same lines.
AM: Yes all… yes, exactly. Yes, uh huh.
JR: And it was going to happen. If you hadn’t done it, Audrey, it was going to happen.
AM: Well, it was going to happen. Uh, it had to, yes.
JR: But you’d seen, you saw the opportunity.
AM: Well, it, it was just that I wanted it, so I was sure that other people would want it, you see?
JR: So you said you bought the shop in Kirn and did you spend, did you work there yourself every day?
JR: Oh yes, yes.
JR: And did you build up a good local customer group and did people buy things by mail order or…?
AM: I didn’t start mail order until later, but realised that it was, it was going to be quite a big thing, so I did start mail order, but I think that that was maybe four or five years after I had opened the shop. Probably ’89 I think, because the main thing was to get a computer [laughs] and learning how to, how to use a computer. So that was quite a big thing. And then, of course, learning how to lay out a, a booklet, you know, with everything put in. It was so difficult, so very, very… at least I found it very, very difficult anyhow. That was just not my thing. I would prefer to be with people.
JR: And what… where… did you have an area in the shop that you could teach?
JR: And that would be a very important aspect for you.
AM: Yes. But, of course, it, it eventually got taken over with fabric didn’t it? [Laughs] So, there was an old couple that lived up the stairs in a flat and unfortunately the old lady died, but he stayed on and it was in quite some state. I used to go up and take soup up for him or a hot sausage roll if I got a hot sausage roll for my lunch and by that time I had, I had one part time helper for me in the shop. At least I, I managed sometimes to get home for lunch. But anyhow, I eventually bought the flat from the old man up the stairs and I converted it into… it was one large room, a bedroom, a hallway which was a lovely hallway and we made a bathroom out of a, out of part of the kitchen. The kitchen was quite a nice size too, but we had to have a bathroom. And that’s where I started to teach and I then had, of course had to get a full time person down the stairs, but I only taught maybe three afternoons a week to start with, because it’s quite a small place isn’t it? And you can’t keep on teaching the same people and, and charging them as well [laughs]. But then, of course, this is where the mail order came in, because I used to have… uh, put attachments onto the mail order saying we’re having, a day, doing this particular type of quilting, maybe um, bias work, Celtic design, which I had really got into, applique or doing certain types of blocks, maybe Dresden plate or… which really wasn’t my thing. My thing was more um, um, windows. I liked windows. I like the Lynne Edwards windows.
JR: Oh, the cathedral windows?
AM: Yes, yes. Yes, uh huh. So uh, it was uh, it was really through the mail order that I got people then coming from across the water. Because, you see, we have a river to cross, the River Clyde, which cuts us off from the mainland and um, but other groups started. They got to know about the shop and, in time we used to open on a Sunday because there was a busload coming up from Ayr or the busload coming from Perth or, or even Dundee or they came from everywhere and we were able to supply them with tea and coffee in the flat upstairs and I would give them a wee workshop as well, because if they were coming some distance, of course, they would be very, very tired, you know? So that’s how, you know, our news spread [laughs].
JR: And were you uh, still involved with The Guild?
AM: Oh yes.
JR: Yes. I mean, that would be something that you’ve stayed with ever since.
AM: Yes, uh huh. You mean with the um, with the committee?
AM: I had to give it up because it was a matter of travelling to Dalkeith where the meetings were being held in our President’s or Chairperson’s house, Jean Roberts.
AM: And so I had to give that up and my friend Kay [Crewdon] took over from me.
JR: Very good.
JR: And you’ve, but you’ve remained a member of The Guild?
AM: I have.
JR: So is it 35, 35 years?
AM: Well actually, no because what happened was I lapsed [laughs].
JR: Yeah, I think, I think that’s allowed.
AM: I lapsed, I lapsed a year and, I, I probably was kind of following Sheena Norquay. I think that Sheena’s quite a low number. She’s about number 72 or something like that.
AM: Um, and I can’t remember what number I was, but I think I was below the 100s anyhow, when I first joined because I joined at the time, roughly about the time when I was at The Patchwork Dog and the Calico Cat.
JR: The cat.
AM: Yes. Because she got me involved in becoming a member. I think it was her, anyhow. It’s so long ago now. Um, and so anyhow, I lapsed for a year or something and so then I became a member again and my number I know it off by heart, 2482.
JR: Perfect. Yes, we can stop there Audrey.
JR: I’m just restarting the interview with Audrey MacDougall TQ.2015.052 and it’s ten to one and I wanted to ask you Audrey, you, did you create a local quilting, quilting group in Dunoon?
AM: Well, the local quilting group actually started from this needlework group that I told you about earlier on, that came from Diane Wilson when she put the advert in the local paper and 120 people arrived [laughs]. This became known as the Needlework Group or the Needlework Guild and we met every Tuesday and it was, it was lovely. Uh, I think it was 1979 or 1980 that maybe happened. Something like that. I haven’t got the exact year or date. And so when Diane went back to America then, another lady, another American wife took over from her and we had two Presidents… one Scottish one and one American one… But it involved the whole of the Dunoon area, not just a limited um, part um, and um, but it was… we went from one needlework item, technique to another and it was kind of, it became itty bitty, and they, they actually got to the stage where they were using glue guns and really that did not suit me at all, a glue gun [laughs]. I wanted a needle and a thread and I wanted to be really quilting. So, one evening when all these ladies were there, I just stood up, I said, ‘I’m sorry ladies, but I am not into glue guns, I’m really into sewing and if there’s anyone here that would prefer to be quilting, will they come and see me afterwards and we can maybe do some more quilting rather than glue gunning.’ So, that was maybe me being a little bit forward.
JR: A breakaway group.
AM: Yes, a breakaway group. So, there was quite, quite a group that came to me and they said that they didn’t want to glue gun either, but they wanted to do other things and they would keep on going to needlework guilds as well, but they would like to come with me to get to know how to do more quilting. So that was how the, the quilting group started. I had to find a place to actually meet with this quilting group because where we were having the needlework guild was in this YMCA that I told you about which belonged to the Americans.
AM: So were not allowed to have any meeting there at all. Uh, we were allowed to go with the invitations of Americans but not on our own. So eventually I found the community centre would give us a room… not give, we had to pay for it obviously… um, and um, and so that’s where we went to.
JR: And is, is that called the Dunoon…
AM: Community Quilters.
JR: … Community Quilters. And that’s still thriving today?
AM: It is, yes.
JR: And do you still go along to that?
AM: I do. I didn’t go yesterday, because I had other things to do. I think that’s the first time I’ve missed [laughs].
JR: And so, the thing I like to ask everybody is what your favourite type of quilting or patchworking is and you mentioned Cathedral Window is… are there other things that you love to do?
AM: Yes, yes I do. I love, I love applique and I love a particular Baltimore applique, but of course, that’s an impossibility for me now because it’s so very fine. It’s very, very fine work. Um, but that, I think that that was, that my very last teaching class was Baltimore applique, so that would be two and a half years ago.
JR: So, you’ve really been going… you’ve been… there’s been a whole career for you in terms of a business, teaching and, and also a social uh, element to it and it’s still going strong.
AM: Yes it is, uh huh.
JR: And, you mentioned to me that you’ve got a quilt that you want to get finished and that you were gonna, hoping to get that one done as a gift for someone in the family.
JR: Do you, do you give your, lots of your quilts away?
AM: Oh yes.
JR: And you have ones that are… that you keep don’t you?
JR: Yes. Well, Audrey it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you and discovering so much about your history, because I think it’s a, a special story. So thank you very much for taking part in Talking Quilts.
AM: Thank you for having me and it’s been a pleasure having you too.
JR: Thank you.