ID Number: TQ.2014.038
Name of Interviewee: Bethan Roper
Name of Interviewer: Joy Morgan
Name of Transcriber: Joy Morgan
Location: Bethan’s home
Address: Port Talbot, S Wales
Date: 22 October 2014
Length of interview: 0:11:59
Bethan’s quilt was made for her granddaughter and based on a children’s book by Kate Toms. Bethan talks about how she chose the fabric and the adaptations she made in representing the book in her quilt. After five minutes Bethan explains how she first got into quilting when she retired and particularly about the surprise of seeing a relative at a quilt group. Later she talks about her preference for applique and struggle to hand quilt and work with small blocks.
Joy Morgan [JM]: So Bethan, can you tell me about the quilt you have brought today please.
Bethan Roper [BR]: Yes, certainly. I went shopping with my granddaughter and bought a book, and it was called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. I was going through the book and I thought ooo… this book is gorgeous, and as I opened it was as if somebody had been making a quilt but it was put on a book. So I thought ooo that would make a very interesting quilt for my granddaughter, so I proceeded to do it page by page. It’s turned out really well. The material I had a lot was from friends which I obtained as you do as a quilter and the rest came from a charity shop. It took quite a while, it took about a year to make because it was a bit fiddly, but it tells the story of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ but the chap is a mouse. It’s illustrated, it’s got writing on it which I’ve put on with a pen which was ironed on, but it’s exactly as the book that I purchased. The book was by Kate Thomas, and everybody that sees it goes hysterical because it’s so funny.
JM: It is funny. So you’ve replicated the pages…
BR: Of the book, yeah [JM: Yeah.] And it’s appliqued on.
JM: And can you tell me what size the quilt is?
BR: It’s 79 inches by 49 inches and it justabouts it’s on the top of a single bed, but it’s really, really pretty and I have altered a few things on it. It has flags in one part of it so I put the Welsh flag in instead of a foreign flag, and that sort of ties it in with the Welsh theme. The best one I like is the one where it says, ‘I brush my teeth and climb. [JM: Say my prayers.] Say my prayers. He’s got a huge tooth brush in his hand and he’s got huge teeth the mouse and he’s really funny and that’s my favourite square. There is also the one in the beginning with the mice are sitting on a branch looking up at the sky and I’ve put a light bulb into the sky which made it look even more humorous.
JM: And the colours in the quilt?
BR: The colours are navy stars for the dark sky, pale blue and red and multi-coloured, it’s really, really bright. I’m trying to think now. It’s got a map of the world on it, it’s got a rocket, it’s got cheese, it’s got the spoon and the dish that run away with the spoon. [Interview goes quieter] It’s really, really funny, and it’s like a poem, it reads as a poem. I’ve kept the quilt at home because I didn’t want my daughter to wash it, because it took such a long time to make if it would have gone in the washing machine with her it could come out as a rag, so it’s still in pristine order here. It’s too nice to be messed about with, so they’ll have it when they are a bit older.
JM: But do they use it when they come to your house?
BR: Yes… yes they do, but they have to look after it because there was a lot of work in it, and it’s so funny it’s a shame if they start just pulling it about.
JM: Um… can you explain what different types of fabrics you have used in this quilt?
BR: Yes, cotton mostly and then the mice are in corduroy it was a trousers I bought in Oxfam, man’s trousers and the mouse is made out of corduroy. The writing is put on and then ironed on so it doesn’t come off… mostly cotton. [JM: Mmm…] Yeah.
JM: Ok, and how do you feel about the quilt?
BR: I love it [both laugh]. I love it it’s absolutely so funny and everybody that’s seen it they think it’s so funny as well, so it gives you a bit of a boost. I don’t think I’m going to make another one though.
JM: No… so if we can move on to your quilting life now? When did you first start making quilts?
BR: 25 years ago. I joined in Port Talbot which was run with by Silvia Fletcher then and Jane, and it was up in the hairdresser shop up in Port Talbot upstairs in the market. A tiny shop with all sinks around, that’s where I started because I’d finished work, wanted something to do, and just called in and here I am still doing it.
JM: So I was going to say, how did you find out about that quilting class?
BR: I think somebody in work said to me, ‘I think there is a quilting class in Port Talbot’ and the funniest part was that I walked into the quilting class and my cousin, who I hadn’t seen for years and years, was sitting there. And Wyn is now 90. I couldn’t believe it and from there on it was just go, go, go. Absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done, I have wonderful friends, I’ve had many a trip and a lot of fun.
JM: Are there any other quiltmakers in your family?
JM: No, only Wyn.
BR: Oh yes, Wyn, I forgot poor auntie Wyn [laugh]. And auntie Wyn is better than me she’s absolutely brilliant.
JM: So can you tell me when and where… I know you go to the class, but when and where do you actually do your quilting?
BR: In the house. I do a small bit of hand work in class, but we’ve also opened a class of our own now on a Saturday morning, up in Pontrhydyfen in the Community Centre, which we just run as you come along and do what you like, and it’s surprising what we make there. And we’re, on average there’s about ten people every week there if not more, it’s really flown.
JM: So how much time do you think you spend every week quilt making?
BR: Well, every evening I go upstairs to my little cwtch, the sewing room, and for about an hour, an hour and a half sometimes longer, the times goes really quickly if you are engrossed in it.
JM: Can you tell us, for the people who are not Welsh, what a cwtch is please?
BR: Oh, a cwtch is a little place that you go to on your own and it’s all comfortable.
JM: Right, thank you.
BR: It does mean something else as well, a cwtch, [JM: Yes] which is a hug.
JM: Mmm… Thank you. Ok, so where do you get your ideas and your inspiration from Bethan?
BR: Well, it’s surprising there is so many talented people in class that you know, we s hare things, this is the best thing about quilting. Everybody helps everybody else, and some have got ideas, some have got different ideas, and if you mix them all up they come out really well. But this quilt it was because I saw the book and it was as simple as that. But we adapt, we adapt things as we go along, and somebody’ll say I don’t like that and you thing oh… alright I’ll change that and it goes from there.
JM: OK, so how to you feel about hand machining, hand or machine quilting, do you have a preference, or….
BR: I prefer machine because I’ve just made a quilt by hand which it came out absolutely beautiful for a friend and I didn’t really want to give it away then… [both giggle] it was gorgeous, but it hasn’t half made a mess out of my hands so I don’t think I’ll be hand quilting again.
JM: Right, so you prefer machine…
BR: Machine now, yes, because my hands are too s ore.
JM: OK. And what do you do with the quilts and things that you make?
BR: Mostly give them away. I like to give and people do appreciate them and they can’t believe that you can make things out of scraps basically. And they get, well, great pleasure out of them.
JM: Can you tell me why quiltmaking is important in your life?
BR: Yes, because it’s more important now because when you retire you don’t want to be sitting in the house mopping, it gets you out, it gets you involved with people, you make friends and those friends are with you all your life, they just don’t drop you. And I think it’s a social thing as well as quilting and it does, well, it expands your knowledge as well of different areas, not only quilting but everything else, books, there are a lot of people that are extremely intelligent. And it’s an eye opener what comes out in class. It’s a mix of things.
JM: Right, can you tell me what are your preferred styles or techniques you really like to use when you are quilting?
BR: My favourite is applique, I think it’s like playing. You cut out the material, first of all you trace what you want to put onto your quilt, you stick it onto a heat ‘n bond usually, and then cut it out and then put it onto the material and sew it on. You can have many different patterns, this quilt is mostly applique, and I love applique because it’s easy to do, and it’s enjoyable. It’s like a jigsaw.
JM: So it’s applique… applique is your favourite
BR: My favourite yes.
JM: What about piecing?
BR: Oh no, don’t like piecing at all.
JM: And can you just explain to people what you mean by piecing?
BR: I’m not very keen on piecing because I find it very difficult to put small pieces together, such as bears claw, Ohio star, log cabin, if I’ve got to deal with small pieces I find it extremely difficult because my hands are really sore, and I never seem to get it right, so I like large pieces, large blocks.
JM: OK. And what in your opinion makes a good quilt?
BR: The finishing.
JM: By finishing…?
BR: By finishing it off properly, getting it flat and [JM: Right] the edging on properly, and make it look as professional as you can with what you’ve got, because you know a lot of us haven’t got quilting machines to pull together and mostly you’ll get somebody in class helping you pulling it and getting it as flat as possible, and I think the finishing bit is the most important.
JM: Right. Well, thank you very much for that Bethan, I’ve really enjoyed looking at your quilt today.
BR: That’s fine