ID Number: TQ.2015.030
Name of interviewee: Carol Lenagan
Name of interviewer: Jane Rae
Name of transcriber: Katherine James
Location: Carol’s home
Date: 14 July 2015
Length of interview: 0:53:23
Carol’s quilt was a decoy, to disguise the fact she was secretly making a quilt for her daughter and son-in-law. She used a mixture of fabrics from her stash, as well as fabrics from clothes that had personal significance, to make a colour spectrum on the quilt. Carol learnt to quilt while living in America, but has been able to embrace quilting in her retirement in Edinburgh. She talks about her involvement with Thistle Quilters, her stash and the people who have inspired her.
Jane Rae [JR]: Carol has picked a quilt which is called her decoy quilt. So can you tell us a bit more about why you picked that quilt?
Carol Lenagan [CL]: Well, this I think is one of my all-time favourite quilts. It’s one that’s in use practically every day. We live in a house with big airy rooms and invariably in the evening it’s a bit draughty so and this is the quilt, my quilt, that I always grab to just sort of snuggle under. And it’s called the decoy quilt because I wanted to make a quilt for my son-in-law and daughter and I knew that inevitably there would be threads and bits of fabric all over the show so I thought well, I’ll make another quilt at the same time and they can, you know, it won’t be obvious. So that’s how this came into being, the very beginning of it.
JR: Can you tell me how big the quilt is, and some of the blocks you’ve used and the fabrics that you’ve used?
CL: Erm. The dimensions I wrote in my, on the back of the envelope that I sent you and I can’t remember offhand, but it’s a lap quilt. It’s not particularly huge, it’s a lap size, lap quilt. The fabric I used is all from my fabric resources and my stash and a lot of it is from, I’ve used in other quilts. Some of it has been from friends so I could almost go block by block and tell you where the fabric came from. So there’s a, this yellow and orange stripe here is a piece of fabric that my daughter used when she made one of these V-shaped pillows for her husband. This fabric here and I’ve got another bit that I noticed up here almost looks like a marijuana leaf on it, this was a blouse that I bought at a charity shop in Wigan, this is for another quilt that I wanted this turquoise colour for another quilt. I have a friend Maureen whose daughter used to work for, in a dress shop in Brighton and got a lot of offcuts of Alexander Henry fabric. So this is a bit of an Alexander Henry offcut – there are one or two bits of that throughout. This orange bit here with the little tiny scraps on, I used to have an old shirt, second-hand old shirt, that I used to wear with a pink pair of bright pink dungarees, so that’s a bit of orange. From there, green: this is a bit of my pyjamas from when I was a girl. Now this green, the fabric here, and I have a bit of brown, a particular bit of brown if I can find it – I can’t at the moment… who knows where it’s gone to – this I used in a quilt for a friend Bob who was diagnosed with throat cancer.
What else have we got in here? A bit of my husband’s shirt, a bit of a blouse I used to wear. This is a bit of an old Margaret Donaldson blouse I used to wear again Thomas’s shirt again. This fabric here I made a quilt for my younger daughter and this is a piece of the fabric I used in that, this is one of her dress, bits of dresses; another bit of fabric from the quilt I used for my daughter… This piece of fabric was given to me by friends in Seattle. They sent me a bundle of fabric and this is one of those fabrics. This is a bought fabric, not this quilt, but a real, bought from a real quilting place as opposed to a, you know, whatever. This piece, this blue, with the little white dots on it was special to me because it was one of my mum’s dresses and I think it was quite possibly a Horrocks dress, Horrocks cotton. This is a little bit of her blouse, a bit of Liberty blouse. Again, a bit of one of Fiona’s dresses, or maybe Libby wore that one, I can’t remember exactly, but there’s lots and lots of memories, so this green piece here, I bought that in Italy. We had, at one point when we had no money, we took paying guests and I went to visit my friend in Italy and I bought that bit when I was there. There’s another bit too I bought at the same time. So I have odd bits of this in other quilts. Bit of Christmas green quilts there… This piece here I had to, I loved the fabric, I only had a small bit so I just joined it together to make a bigger bit. I was going to say, would you like to know about the construction?
JR: Love to.
CL: I’d seen, I’d liked the idea of… I always like to make a quilt that doesn’t look boring. So it’s rare for me, very rare for me, to make a quilt with a very limited palette of fabrics and the fabrics in the same position within each block. It is really rare, so, and this is probably the very first, the first time I made a quilt with a vast selection of fabrics. And the way I did it was I made a block of colour, so I started off, probably green, and then went from green to yellow to sort of to orange to red, so went through the spectrum. And using different scraps and bits and just joining up bits and pieces. So I’ve got darker blues and lighter blues and I’ve got some like brownie-oranges, purple-y bits, all sorts of different colours. And I had all the strips of fabric on the dining table, and my son-in-law came in and he said, ‘Ooh, I like that bit’, and that bit happened to be the blues bit, so that gave me the colours for their quilt, for which this is the decoy.
So, I joined all my bits up and then I cut six inch squares and I set them out on the floor, the way you do, and thought ‘It’s not going to be a very big quilt,’ so then I got some plain fabric, and every other square I did a plain fabric but within the same colour tone. So if you hold it up you can see the sort of the colour shading going across the quilt. However, as in all good quilts there is a deliberate mistake where instead of doing a plain and, oops there it is, so it goes, it goes, single piece, multiple pieces, single piece, multiple pieces, whoops, multiple pieces, multiple pieces, single piece – but it’s not a big issue because you know I love the fabrics within it. This is a bit of shoebag that I made for my elder daughter, this was a bit of a dress of mine, this little tiny bit is an old apron from my parents’ house and I have, the apron came with this white on red and it’s also a bit of red on white as well, so there are lots of things like this, bit of old Laura Ashley, a bit of a pink blouse that I got from a Pink Panther blouse, the blouse I got from a charity shop. And this here, I think this might be a bit of black and red I bought for another quilt. This reddish, oh I know what I bought this for, this one, these three red pieces in fact, I made a top with some multiply coloured red baskets, red baskets, lots of little coloured red baskets. It’s an unfinished top because the people I was going to give it to got divorced! So they didn’t get the quilt. So…
JR: What sashing did you use? Is that batik?
CL: It’s a piece of, it’s just a piece of batik. It’s the same on the back, and I think, I think this is, I bought this from John Lewis at the same time as I bought the backing for my younger daughter’s quilt; I think it’s of that vintage. So and I’ve just used, I’ve just used the strips of backing and just across. And the other thing about this quilt I’m concerned about: I wanted it to be heavily quilted because I really like the look of quilts, old quilts when they’re heavily quilted when they go in, so there’s a cotton wadding and then it’s heavily hand quilted on the top.
JR: And is that hand quilted in rows? Or have you done a more complex pattern?
CL: It’s in… it depends.
JR: It depends.
CL: It depends. So this one, this block is in rows, this one goes plain block goes round in squares, almost like a, you know, a spiral square. You know what I mean, it goes round in a spiral, with angles, an angular spiral.
JR: So how long did it take you to make?
CL: I have no idea! Not that long. I mean we’re talking more than a week, and more than a month, just a, few months. You know, whatever. Couple of months, three months? I don’t remember.
JR: So when the real quilt came out, you would work on that for your son-in-law…
CL: I would work on that for my son-in-law and daughter …
JR: … and then as soon as they showed up they would hide it …
CL: Well, I would hide it and the decoy would be re… the one that they saw being worked on was the decoy.
JR: And can you tell us about the one that you made for them, cos that sounds interesting?
CL: It was, that was a … blue quilt, shades of blue quilt with half-square triangles put into a particular … into a non-standard pattern. It almost, it almost had a huge star shape in the middle and then it was almost barn-raising, just by rotating the triangles in the shape. And I hand quilted that one as well. Never again, cos that was a big, a big quilt, huge quilt, big double. A large double-bed size quilt. And I’m never hand quilting a large double size quilt again!
JR: So would you say that you like scrappy quilts? Would this be a typical quilt…?
CL: Yes, I love quilts that… the more fabric I can put in a quilt the better. For me it adds richness to the quilt and I really like this rich surface and I have got a horror, an absolute horror, of making a boring quilt.
JR: I don’t think there’s any danger of that, Carol. [CL laughs] But you’ve also got all these memories in the quilt…
CL: That, that’s it exactly, and I think one of the reasons that I think… as you know, I’ve interviewed two people, and the two people, by chance the two people I interviewed both chose first quilts. And I think it’s the emotional attachment you have, whether or not… Both of them bought fabrics for their quilts, I don’t think they had any personal memories, but it’s, it’s, the quilt being greater than the sum of its parts. And it’s interesting you should say that because when my daughter’s friend looked at the quilt – the daughter’s friend’s a sociologist – and she said, ‘Oh, that’s a piece of fabric from us. Ooh, I recognise that, that was my mum’s dot dot dot’, and she said, and I pointed out some of the other fabrics because, of course, there are some blue fabrics in that quilt that they’ve got and I think that’s it as well. She realised how, well, sort of the deeper meaning of quilts. And my son-in-law, who is a very sort of you know he’s a scientist, very matter of fact, I made another, I made a different quilt, and he was looking at it and quite interested, and I just talk about it, joke about it and I said, ‘That’s a bit I bought when I was in Ottawa, oh and that bit too, and this bit was your dad’s shirt’, and he went, ‘Ooh,’ and I think, yeah, I mean there’s a real emotional attachment which is sometimes it’s quite surprising I think, that you have this attachment, and for most people, when you give their quilt to someone, they are completely overwhelmed by it, and particularly if you point out the interest, you know, the different bits.
JR: Well at first glance, you might think, ‘Oh that fabric might not go with that fabric, but you’ve just thrown them all together – but you have got an order in it.
CL: Thrown them? [Laughter].
JR: I don’t mean you’ve thrown them all together but then you’ve put them into an order and you’ve given them a bit of unity by using the sashing and hand stitching and they somehow they look like they’re all meant to be.
CL: Well they are. They are all meant to be, because it, it’s the colour spectrum, and I am careful, or I try to be careful, about the way I arrange colours and the look of things is important to me, the way I fit things together and you know this, this for me this quilt worked. And it’s got a lovely drape to it, and although I don’t necessarily look at all the fabrics, you know, each night and every night whatever, there are so many bits in it that I you know, that have meaning for me for one reason or another, that I just love. You know, it’s just one of those quilts that’s just, just right.
JR: So have you been collecting fabric for a long time?
CL: Yes [laugh], in a word.
JR: Before you started to quilt?
CL: No, I think that’s fair to say, no. I started… the very first quilt I made I actually bought the fabric for and I used a pattern called Trip Around the World which starts off with a, with a small square in the middle and then you have squares around it and gradually the pattern goes out in a, sort of, vague diamond shape. And I just used a few fabrics in that. And I did that in Seattle. And then the next quilt I made, I was also in Seattle. The quilt, I started making the quilt for the friend who had the throat cancer. And from there on, you know, you look at books pre internet or pre big internet, you know or whatever, you look at books and then I think my younger daughter was seven when she wanted a quilt and my older daughter wasn’t well and I’d hunted around and I can’t remember… some of the fabrics will be from their dresses. I’m a hoarder anyway so having the fabric stash just feeds into the hoard you know. But then once you start realising, yes you want to make quilts, I think you look out for more fabrics and although these, some of these are now charity shop fabrics, I don’t know if I’d necessarily use… if I’m wanting a quilt to last I don’t think I would buy charity shop fabrics cos you don’t know how many times they’ve been washed. Unless I thought they were pretty crisp, you know if I thought the fabric was pretty crisp I would get it then, but as a general rule, for something that’s going to be washed, I would just use, I would buy the fabric.
JR: You’ve obviously kept all these clothes that have meant so much to you – your mother’s blouse, shirt from your husband …
CL: Yes, well it’s twenty-odd years, remember, so nearly thirty years, so yes, that’s true and I think you know if it’s … yeah, there are some things you know like this, this blue, the blue dress is one that had, you know I can remember her wearing it, it had sort of tiers. I only have, I still have some fabric left, not huge amounts but some. Of course I kept the blouse fabric, it was Liberty [laughs]! And this kind of thing. But yes. That’s another bit, another of her dresses, this turquoise-y bit actually, a bit of her dresses.
JR: So was it twenty years ago then that you started to quilt?
CL: So about twenty-eight was my first experience when I was in Seattle.
JR: Can you tell us about that?
CL: Well, my husband is… well he’s a mathematician and we, he got a position at the University of Washington for a year, academic visitor on an exchange scheme and the girls and I got to go and I am wife of academic visitor on an exchange scheme with special visa. And my elder daughter went to the ordinary – she went to a school that was called K12, so from kindergarten to grade 12. So she went off in the bus, in a yellow school bus, used to walk along to the end of the road with her. And the house that we lived in, by chance, it was in the suburbs of Seattle, opposite was a lady who ran something called ‘Musical Kindergarten’. I think, if I remember correctly, the lady who owned the house we were in must have told us about it or told this lady. Her name was Pat Hitchcock and she ran ‘Musical Kindergarten’; she was also a quilter and she invited me to go round and I thought I’d have a go. And the very first quilt I made – I have it here if you wanted to see it – the Trip Around the World, I got some plastic for the template and I drew in pencil around the squares individually. I pieced it by hand, matching front back with my line and doing a bit of backstitch and the way I did, I made the quilt, I started in one corner and I joined the next colour of the piece to one side of the corner and then the next colour of piece to the other side of the corner and then I inset the next colour. Nowadays I would make this in squares. And in fact, funnily enough, having said I don’t like to work with just the same fabrics, that’s exactly what I’m doing just now. I’m making a Trip Around the World baby quilt for the latest, for my father-in-law’s great-granddaughter; Trip Around the World using it in squares with the wee squares but making the big squares before joining it together, making four big squares before joining them together.
JR: And you’ve chosen it in one colour because it works better for that design?
CL: I’ve chosen… yes. But I’ve also used, I’ve made a tea cosy with a random Trip Around the World. Bonnie… I think it’s Bonnie Hunter who does Quiltville’s ‘Quips & Snips’ – I think that’s right, I can check that for you – has a pattern where you use… it’s a random Trip Around the World and you can see if you’re making a big quilt, you can see how the patterns go across the quilt but it’s a brilliant way of using up your fat quarters and it works jolly well. You still have to do your best to match the corners, and match your lines, but I think it’s probably more forgiving than a very regularly patterned and pieced quilt.
JR: So you started with the Trip Around the World quilt…
CL: Yes, and when I was in Seattle – I think this is a very interesting bit, for me, anyway – one of the other people who was at the kindergarten was a lady called Mayan who was alternative – best, kindest way to put it – and she had a daughter who was more or less my younger daughter’s age. She invited me back to her house and we got friendly. Mayan thought she’d start a women’s group, ‘would you like to come?’ so in for a penny, in for a pound, ‘yes I’ll come’. So for the first meeting we had to take something that represented us. So I took my quilt. My quilt was in bits and pieces and I’d come from Edinburgh to Seattle and it was… it represented me because I’d started off with perfectly good pieces of fabric, I’d cut it all up into little bits and now I was re-assembling it. So I’d started off absolutely fine in Edinburgh, I’d come to Seattle, and in fact it was actually the second house we were staying in because the first house was riddled with fleas and cat droppings which was horrendous but that’s another story… and then I was sewing it back together again and making the new life, making a new quilt, a new pattern. And I think that’s actually quite a good simile or metaphor or whatever. That quilts, I don’t know they, I mean this quilt contains my life, doesn’t it, with all the bits and pieces on it? So that’s how I started. Right back there and then but in between those quilts I just made a few quilts, very few quilts until I retired. And since retiring, I’ve been able to use… I’ve always been quite creative and enjoyed being creative, but since retiring it’s been superduper – I’ve been able to make even more.
JR: So I must have met you when you started quilting after you retired? You met at Thistle Quilters…
CL: That’s right.
JR: So were you a member of any groups before that?
CL: Yes, I used to be a member of Edinburgh Quilters together with a friend who gave me the Alexander Henry fabric and I think we’d been to America and stayed in America three times and I think it might, I think one of the times I must have stopped going and didn’t go back or something. But yes I was a member of Edinburgh Quilters.
JR: And you like being part of a group? Get together and sew, do you?
CL: Very much so. I think, you know there is good camaraderie and there’s great care for each other and as well as the sort of, you know, the emotional side of whatever, there’s also the highly practical side of ‘How on earth do I manage to do this?’ or ‘Anyone got any ideas about what I can do?’ because there’s a wealth of knowledge that you can draw on. So yeah, it’s great. And then you can also learn new things, it’s a very good access to many new techniques or techniques that you want to improve and things of that nature.
JR: Yes, because when you were at pre-interview questioning you said you were constantly learning and going to workshops and going online…
JR: So you do a lot of self-teaching, really.
CL: I’m an entirely self-, well, a practically entirely self-taught quilter, yes.
JR: And what would you say are the things that you really love to do, the techniques that give you the most pleasure?
CL: What do I love most? That’s very hard.
JR: Oh just a couple of things.
CL: I like, I like assembling bits of fabric together into a whole. So one of things I think for me that works jolly well is making the sort of random Rail Fence pattern, you know the Rail Fence pattern when you have strips, horizontal strips next to vertical strips. And I quite like making random Rail Fence so some strips will be thicker, some strips will be thinner, sometimes you’ll have horizontal next to a bit more horizontal, sometimes there’ll be you know a wide bit of vertical or a very narrow bit of horizontal or a wide horizontal, a narrow vertical bit but using that and then very often using that idea in a particular colour so if I wanted a blue patch I would use that technique to make the blue. One of the things I’m getting a lot of pleasure from at the moment actually is using batik fabrics. The last time I was in Seattle, I went to Bainbridge Island, and on Bainbridge Island there’s a particular shop where a lady does, makes quilt kits and I think she designs for Hoffmann, designs batiks for Hoffmann. And she had scraps, and you could fill a bag with scraps. Well, by the time I’d filled my bag of scraps I had about two metres of fabric for the price of less than one metre and I loved being able to use those little tiny scraps, well some scraps were bigger than others but I loved being able to use them because they give tremendous richness I think to a quilt. So I like doing, I really love I mean that’s I think using multiple fabrics, multiple scraps, whatever, is probably what gives me most pleasure. The other thing that gives me pleasure is – excuse me – you start off making the quilt and you think, ‘oh I’m not sure about this, don’t know if this is going to work or not’, and then you lay it out on the floor and you think – I always lay it on the floor, I don’t have a design wall – lay it on the floor and you think, ‘mmm, it’s not bad, I quite like that’, and then you put a bit of sashing in or you join something together, and you think, ‘that’s not bad at all, in fact I quite like that. Yep, it’s going to work’. And I love it when you get this ‘Yes’, you know the… this is right, this is going to work.
JR: So do you like to follow a pattern or do you prefer to let it just happen with the idea that you have designed in your head?
CL: As a general rule I have … it’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction to not following somebody else’s pattern. I have to put in my own twist to it. But that’s, having said that, that Trip Around the World is an absolute classic pattern that you, I don’t know, you can mess with that at your peril, wouldn’t be Trip Around the World, the one I, the quilt I’m doing now is not going to be messed with. I might decide to have a go at spirally quilting it but I might not. But I think I prefer on the whole not following somebody else’s pattern. I prefer to, to choose, do my own thing but I don’t, I think, before I start doing things I have an idea of where I’m going. So for example with this particular quilt that we have here I started off with a spectrum of colours and so that was, that’s going to be where I was going and then the plain fabrics fitted in within the spectrum, they’re not just, and they’re placed carefully within the spectrum on the whole quilt. So it’s not a fling-it-all-in and hope for the best.
JR: So it’s quite scrappy but I get the sense that it’s all quite ordered. It’s very ordered but the chaotic feel is the lovely element of it because it’s like a pot-pourri of colours and fabrics. You’ve actually given it a structure and I think that’s probably the Carol factor.
CL: It is, because I love the patterned element that you can get in. One of the things I want to make – I don’t know when it’ll be, it’ll be when I’ve finished everything else – I want to do, I want to make a kaleidoscope quilt using lots of different fabrics and I want to be able to, I want to do it so I can see the shapes and the circular motifs that you can get to go across the quilt. I mean a pieced kaleidoscope not a one-block wonder type.
JR: So you don’t use a design wall. Do you have any other…?
CL: I use the carpet! [laughter] I’m very fortunate, I have a large sitting-room, I use the carpet. I use the kitchen floor when I’m layering my quilt sandwich but if I’m going to put my, cut my quilt out to have a look at it and see if I think it’s the right way or whatever then I would usually use the carpet in the sitting-room.
JR: And do you do any sketches or do you take lots of photographs…?
CL: I do both. I will often… I have a small sketchbook and I will often put my ideas in there, the way I think I’m going to go. And then I’ll later think about them, think about what I’m planning to do. This one there was no sketching, no sketching or anything this one. It was organic! But mostly nowadays I would do a quick sketch and think about it and then maybe later I’d have another think, often in bed when you can’t go to sleep, when you’re thinking about the quilt you’re in the middle of doing or thinking about how you’re going to do it and I do a quick, a quick motif. Sometimes as things are going on I’ll take a photograph or if I’m wanting to set out the fabrics and have a look, how they work together, then I’ll take a photograph so I can see it better. Before I had an iPad, which is really easy to take photos on, I had, I have a minimiser glass that’s really quite helpful for looking at the overall view of a quilt.
JR: And do you think the process for you of making the quilt is as enjoyable as using the quilt? [CL: Erm.] You seem to thrive on the selection of fabrics.
CL: I love the selection of fabrics. I think it depends on the quilt and why I’m making it and who I’m making it for and you know the fabrics involved and if I’m finding the fabrics not necessarily … I have the fabrics because that’s the choice of the person I’m making it for, not necessarily my choice. I’ve learned my lesson, don’t ask ’em, just make it [laughs].
JR: Do you make a lot for other people?
CL: Not a lot. I don’t make lots for other people. I’m more likely to make a surprise quilt for another person. I might say to somebody ‘would you like me to make…’ these friends in Seattle, ‘Would you like me to make you something?’ ‘Yes, I’d like a mat for the table so we can put hot things on.’ ‘What colours would you like?’ So she sent me some examples and I couldn’t find any fabric here in the same colour, it was a sort of dirty blue, it was not my… it was not, it wasn’t a clear blue like that it was more sort of, had a bit more grey in it and, but I managed to find some fabrics, and I managed to make a… this mat. Again actually using Rail Fence but quite regularly Rail Fence except I had little lines in to disrupt the Rail Fence, the way you do. And then I made her a second mat, much more freely, fabrics joined together more freely, and she actually said she likes that better. And I thought she would prefer the sort of what I would call the posh one as opposed to the everyday one, but there you go. Yes, no, yeah, I enjoy making, and I, yeah, I… I enjoy all of it actually. And I quite like, and it’s always quite fraught when you give it to somebody. Oh that’s a bit from my daughter’s quilt, she chose the planets and stars, those I got from charity shops [background chatter]. Sorry, got that waylaid…
JR: No, I think it’s amazing. And it’s a lovely quilt, makes me want to do lots of hand quilting. It’s got that lovely texture.
CL: It’s the texture that makes a huge difference to it. And it’s the heavily hand quilting. You know, lots of people maybe just do, I dunno, a cross and a triangle, you know go from corner to corner in the square and then maybe again in the triangle but it’s the heavily hand quilting which is what I wanted to do with this quilt that I think makes the difference.
JR: So getting back to talking about taking up quilting when you retired. Is it something that you do… re-taking it up? Do you say you would quilt every day?
CL: No, not at all.
JR: You do quite a lot …
CL: I do, I mean I have phases, I mean there are some times when you do it once a week. Other times there are other things that are taking their toll, so for example you’ll notice that the garden needs a jolly, needs a lot of attention, it’s because of not having time, I’ve been doing sewing. So it varies tremendously.
JR: Cos I know you’re the President of Thistle Quilters.
CL: I’m the Chair of Thistle Quilters.
JR: And that’s a great role, and it’s great for us who are in the group but you’ve got a lot of activities and events and that must take up quite a lot of time.
CL: It takes up some time. I don’t think it takes up lots of time. It takes up some time, it goes in phases. It takes energy, I think as much as time, particularly during a meeting, you know it takes energy to run the meeting and keep it going and keep it, keep it positive I think.
JR: And can you tell us a bit more about what it means to be the Chair of the group?
CL: It’s absolutely terrifying! It’s… I thought you’d ask me this question… it’s actually a huge honour to be asked because I don’t really feel I’m a Thistle, more like a Seedling cos I’ve not been long in Thistle Quilters. I’m very aware that Thistles has a long and really prestigious tradition and we’re very fortunate that on the committee that we certainly have at least one member who understands Thistle traditions and I think that’s really, well, in fact we have at least two people, who understand Thistle’s traditions and I think that’s really helpful for me. It’s a very, it’s a really good group to belong to. There are some really, there are some outstanding quilters, I think I’d say world-class, actually, and very not only world-class quilters but also eminent quilt historians as well, quilters whose quilts have been I’m not sure part of The Quilters’ Guild’s Collection but have certainly been displayed in the Quilt Museum in York. It’s, as I say, it’s a bit terrifying, you know, because of the august nature of some of the members. It’s good fun, I have to say its good fun and I’ve had really kind very positive feedback from members, so that’s been quite a relief for me. I’m sure they wouldn’t have given it if they thought I was doing a rubbish job, so…
JR: And has it enhanced your enjoyment of quilting? Doing that role?
CL: I think so, because I’m naturally a sort of optimistic, positive and enthusiastic person and it’s given me full rein, it’s just, to go for it and hope that other people will feel as enthusiastic about the things I feel enthusiastic about. And I think some people do and some people don’t. Some people, I think you know, some people are very traditional – I know we have members who are very traditional and I think it’s really important to try and cater for everybody and everybody’s interests whether it’s you know contemporary quilting or it’s on the more traditional side, or the art quilting. I think it’s really important that we try and have something for everybody, so that everybody gets something from it.
JR: That sort of leads me to … I was going to ask you what type of quilter you would describe yourself as?
CL: I think probably a contemporary quilter. I joined the… you know I said I’m a member of The Quilters’ Guild and they have Specialist Groups within The Quilters’ Guild. Well I’ve joined the Contemporary Quilt Group, just this past time, and I’ve also paid my £10 to the Modern Quilt Group, but I don’t, and I’m going to go to the Quilt Retreat that Jo Avery is running, which again is a Modern Quilt thing. I’m going to, I’ve said I’ll make somebody’s name label, and I’ll make her a wee gift or whatever, and we’ve got to make our little word on a piece of fabric which I shall do, and I’ve chosen my word. But I don’t think, at heart, I’m a Modern Quilter, I think I’m a Contemporary Quilter – Contemporary moving towards the Art Quilter, but certainly Contemporary Quilter.
JR: And I think you have, you obviously like the traditional element, you know the Trip Around the World, the Rail Fence, some of those blocks that you mentioned. So you’re anchored in tradition.
CL: Yes, anchored in tradition, but moving on to modern, yes.
JR: So if I was to look in your stash cupboard, what, would I find a whole, varying selection of fabrics, would they be quilting fabrics that you buy from the quilt shop?
CL: There would be an eclectic selection, I think is the word… You would find fabrics I bought from a quilt shop, fabrics that have been given to me, quilting fabrics that have been given to me, fabrics that have been given to me by friends that are not necessarily quilting fabrics as I may never use but on the other hand I may, fabrics I bought from charity shops. Within those fabrics I sort my fabrics by colour. I’m absolutely… I love colour and I love having them sorted by colour. So I have, I sort my, my large pieces of fabric I fold them and I wrap them over comic boards, comic boards are the things that comic collectors shove in their polybags to keep their comics flat. They are perfect for storing your fabric. And I also have boxes of fabric scraps colour-coded. I have a box specifically for batiks, and a box specifically for Liberty plus fabrics I have no idea what I’m going to do with or if I’m ever going to use them fabrics.
JR: It’s very important, the box?
CL: Yes, so I have, I have a wide variety. And the other thing I suddenly thought I should tell you about. Well, I’m, I’m really aware of colour, very aware of colour. And since retiring I’ve been able to do some painting courses at the National Gallery of Scotland. And that has reinforced and underlined my thoughts about colour and also the value that you put in, you know colour, sort of tone value that you put into quilts. A while ago when I was a member of Edinburgh Quilters I did a workshop; Jinnie Beyer came to Edinburgh and I did a workshop with her and that was looking at colour and arranging fabrics that she brought a selection of fabrics – arranging fabrics into spectral colours – and then she suggested that we pulled out from our own fabrics and made a line of fabrics you might use in a quilt. And one of the things, comments she made was – and it’s always stuck in and I think it’s absolutely true is – you always need dark dark fabrics, and you always need light light fabrics in order to get you know to get the pops and the interest bits of colour. Within the National Gallery of Scotland what I’ve been aware of much more than previously is complementary colours. So if you’re making a quilt with blues – and I didn’t do it with my daughter and son-in-law’s quilt – is if you put some yellow in it gives it a bit of pop, because I know that my son-in-law would have found that disturbing cos he’s quite conservative when it comes to colours. But, for me, I like to have a bit of, you know, the unexpected.
JR: That’s a good label for something that cuts across all the other colours.
CL: It’s complementary, a bit of the unexpected isn’t it…
JR: Yes, it’s the unexpected…
CL: Yes, but it’s very much the complementary colour so if you are doing a quilt with reds, I mean I have a quilt with reds, I made for the ruby wedding and also for a quilt exhibition but I’ve got little green geckos on it specifically because green is a complementary part of the red.
JR: So, interesting that you’ve been doing painting classes but it’s all feeding in and helping each interest you have, complementary to each other…
CL: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. Interesting you should say that, cos the most recent course that I did was just last week and it was make, doing some woodblock printing inspired by Escher and my… it was incredibly difficult to cut the blocks but the print which I, it’s based on a hexagon but the, and it’s, sort of his buildings look very much like the Baby Blocks pattern but I wanted to get steps in and you can, by the way you have your shading, you can get things to recede or go back. And I did printing on different-coloured inks and different papers but the most successful were black and white. And I have four black and white and we put them together and it’s a really interesting pattern. I don’t know if that will get translated into a quilt. I would need to plan it really carefully, and think about the colours really carefully. But that’s something that I might do. I might develop it that way.
JR: Cos I know you recently showed me some bits of fabric that you painted and dyed using shaving foam and different paint effects…
CL: Also inktense sticks and pencils, yes.
JR: Is that something you’re getting more into, creating your own fabrics?
CL: I don’t know if I’ve got there yet. I think it’s something… if I didn’t have other things, you know, I don’t have a dedicated studio, the dining-room is my studio, it’s not a dining-room any more, it’s Carol’s studio that happens to have a dining-table in it. I loved doing those, I think it’s, I think it’s the creative process, I’m not always looking for a product, end product. I love the creative process and I think that’s probably what I like about quilting, it, it’s enjoyment of the creative process and the … I’ve done marbling on paper many, many moons ago, nearly 50 years ago [laughs], which is ridiculous, and, so that gave me a bit of memory about marbling, but the marbling on the fabric was actually great, and I have four pieces of marbled fabric that I could put together almost like the Andy Warhol idea, and similarly the four pieces of Escher print, again thinking about Andy Warhol with his four bits… One of the interesting things about going to do the art classes was that you look at things differently. You look at, if you think about the way someone is doing a picture, and it does translate into the way I might think about a quilt, particularly if I’m making a quilt that’s not meant as a bed quilt, maybe a wallhanging quilt, so that translates differently there.
JR: And do you have, do you buy lots of books?
CL: I don’t buy, I buy some books. I don’t buy a huge number of books actually. I have some because, one of the people I really like Amanda Jean Nyberg writes a blog called Crazy Mom Quilts and I got her book Sunday Morning Quilts. I’ve got a very good book called Threadwork Unravelled, again by an American. I tend to look at the pictures in books rather than work through them – it’s a bit like the Craftsy classes. I noticed today there’s a Craftsy class, free block of the month about stars, and I think I might sign up for that. I don’t know if I’ll get on doing it but it’ll give me inspiration and, you know, and give me thinks and thoughts for doing other things.
JR: Do you like to have deadlines for projects or does that sound too much like work for you?
CL: I think having a deadline is a good thing if it makes sure you get on with it and do it. If I don’t have a deadline then it can linger longer, a bit like the baby quilt, and I’ve noticed that the baby and the grand-daughter, great-grand-daughter and its parents are actually going off on holiday, probably on Saturday, so it means I’ve got a bit longer to finish it. There’s no deadline there.
JR: So what are you working on at the moment?
CL: I have got, I’ve got the baby quilt that I’m actually been doing work on. I have a quilt, well I’ve got the blocks for a quilt, that was part of a workshop I went to, a jellyroll amnesty when I cut up the blocks for the quilt but I’ve not done anything yet with them but I want to add more colour cos I’ve just used one particular jellyroll and I decided I need, I want to make it mine as opposed to the jellyroll and I haven’t worked out how to quite, how I quite want to set the blocks together yet. I’m thinking a lot about a quilt I’m going to make for an exhibition. Thistle Quilters have been invited to exhibit at the SECC in the beginning of March 2016 and I’ve issued a challenge to members of Thistle Quilters to make a quilt based on Auld Reekie, Auld Reekie being the name that Edinburgh used to be known by. And I’m, so I’m thinking quite a lot about my quilt for that. I also have to do the work for the Quilt Gathering so that at least three, that’ll be three pieces of work for that.
JR: Will you go down to Birmingham for The Festival of Quilts this year?
CL: No I won’t do, I haven’t done. Partly I’m doing an awful lot of stuff in the Festival, in the Edinburgh Festival and the Book Festival, and I haven’t even looked at the Fringe Festival programme, so I’ve probably got enough on. One day I think I will do. My father-in-law still lives in Wigan, which is quite easy to get to on the train – I need to get to Birmingham on the train from Wigan. I suppose I can stay in Wigan overnight and travel down but no, I think I’d probably want to stay and go for a few days. That’s, you know that’s, that…
JR: … to be enjoyed in the future?
CL: Absolutely, absolutely.
JR: So I think one of the last things I wanted to ask you was, are there any quilters that you really admire. I think you mentioned classes you’ve been to, books that you like… or even artists that give you inspiration that feeds directly into your quilting.
CL: The artist who’s probably influenced my quilting most is a man called David Forster who actually does landscapes. But it’s his courses, and looking at paintings and thinking about colour that’s probably influenced a lot about the way I think about colour. I really like, I like the way that Frieda Oxenham’s quilts can be so different, so she’s a member of Thistle. And another member of Thistle whose quilts I really like are Georgina Chapman’s. Margaret Boe, another member of Thistle and also a trustee or an ex-trustee of The Quilters’ Guild also makes really interesting quilts. Who else do I particularly like? I think different people influence you at different times so at one point Deirdre, I was fascinated with Deirdre Amsden’s colourwash quilts. I’m collecting fabrics for a colourwash quilt, by the way. So that’s another work in progress, down the field, you know eventually. So and that’s again thinking about colours. Oh yes, I tell you who else: I look at two blogs daily. One of them is Frieda Oxenham’s and the other one is a woman called, well the blog is called Exuberant Colour, she’s an American woman and her first name is Wanda and I’ve forgotten her last name. But she is an absolute inspiration to me because she does quilts, more, probably more so than anybody because she quilts almost every day, she almost, and she always shows you her work in progress so her blog is essentially her diary. And she does quite a lot of colourwash quilts and it’s, I have a very small almost colourwash hanging but it’s inspired by her work. I have a small cushion I made inspired by a quilt of Amanda Jean Nyberg’s which I’m, I wrote to her to say you know did you mind that I did it and she was really pleased and I think that’s actually really important if you, if you do something that’s derivative from another person’s work that you should, you know, well not just credit them but ask their permission it’s all right for you to you know to do this. This is because I read on one of the other blogs I read, this Bonnie Hunter, she’d been, she’d made a quilt and somebody, another quilter, had made a quilt, practically a direct copy of her quilt and would not acknowledge that it was a direct copy and, you know, there’ve been various bits of correspondence and threats you know to get lawyers involved and you just think it’s, it’s unfair and I certainly don’t want to be in this position. But it was the unfairness that really, I didn’t like. But there you go.
JR: Well I think your quilt, your decoy quilt, is lovely and it has inspired me to go and have a go with that colourwash because I know that when I look at this again I’m going to see that whole spectrum of colour that you’ve cleverly put together. So thank you Carol so much for taking part…
CL: You’re very welcome, I’ve enjoyed it.
JR: I look forward to seeing you at Thistle, at the next meeting. And that is the conclusion of our interview.