ID Number: TQ.2014.048
Name of Interviewee: Carole Cross
Name of interviewer: Jennifer Wemborn
Name of transcriber: Christabel Gilbert
Location: ‘Just Between Friends’ shop
Date: 5 December 2014
Length of interview: 0:41:32
Carole talks about the first quilt top she finished, from Laura Ashley squares, about thirty years ago. She talks about returned to quilting after a trip to Amish country in the US, the difficulties of finding fabric shops and teaching her granddaughter to quilt. Carole owns a quilt shop, where she has hosted groups and workshops for over 15 years. She explains how they often make quilts for charities or people in need and her involvement in the quilt community especially helping to start a quilt group and organising their biennial quilt festival.
Jennifer Wemborn [JW]: Afternoon Carole, and thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Talking Quilts Project. This interview is with Carole Cross, Friday 5th December 2014 at ‘Just Between Friends’ [address] Buckhurst Hill, Essex [address], ID number TQ.2014.049. So Carol you’ve got this lovely green and white quilt here, perhaps you could tell me a little about that, perhaps when you started to make it?
Carole Cross [CC]: Yes, it’s a Laura Ashley squares this was made, but it’s actually not finished, but I did this about 30 years ago when I really didn’t know anything about quilting but I did love patchwork quilts and Laura Ashley was selling bundle packs of squares ready cut, so I bought them, laid them all out on my bed into some sort of design and sewed them together. But as you can see I’ve never quilted it, it just went in the drawer. I think, I had young children and I really didn’t know what to do with it once I’d made the top, because I hadn’t had any lessons and there it stayed. But I thought it might be a good one to show you because it is my very first quilt top.
JW: And you said you made that thirty years ago?
CC: Yes, well approximately thirty years ago, and as I say, not knowing the first thing about quilting. Just thought it was squares sewn together, and that was what I did. But they no longer sell these squares.
JW: And what made you choose that green and white colour scheme?
CC: It was probably the only one in the shop [laughs]. I don’t know, I’m kind of asking myself that as well now because, I really don’t know. I would imagine there wasn’t a lot of choice of the colours and I would think there’s quite a few packs of them here as well, because it’s quite a big quilt. But whether it will ever, one day, maybe, I’ll quilt it.
JW: That was going to be my next question. Was that just one pack or? Because we haven’t unfolded it yet, it looks really very big.
CC: It is big, I’ve never measured it but I’m sure it’s probably more than one pack, they probably did packs of dark colours and packs of light colours, I would have thought. But I really couldn’t tell you how many were in a pack I obviously bought up several and just made it up with them.
JW: And it’s machined stitched.
CC: Badly machined stitched [laughter]. There aren’t any quarter inch seams because I didn’t know about quarter inch seems at the time. I’ve always had a sewing machine, so I just sewed them together and actually, looking at it, it’s not too bad, y’know I’m not too far out on my seams with the squares, seems matching. But I really didn’t know anything about it apart from just sewing a load of squares together.
JW: But you’d done other sewing, had you, before that? You said you already had a sewing machine.
CC: Yes, I’ve always sewn, I think, since I was a tiny child. My Mum taught me. I would make clothes, and she’d help me make them, and all kinds of crafty things really. I used to do quite a lot of dressmaking, so yes, I’ve always sewn, I think from as far back as I can ever remember.
JW: So, this was your very first quilting experience, so how long was it before you started on another one?
CC: It was probably about another ten years, ‘cos I think, y’know, family life gets in the way. And then I went to the Amish country. I still really liked it, y’know, it was always in my mind, but we went to America and we went to the Amish country and that’s where I got hooked then, I just looked at their quilts and thought, I’ve got to make one. And I bought fabric there, no I didn’t buy fabric there I don’t think, I bought books and I came home again and still didn’t really know much about quilting. These were books just giving you patterns and I remember buying, it said muslin, and I actually went out and bought muslin not knowing they really meant calico. So that was a very small quilt I was making. And then I attempted an applique one, which was very ambitious. And then I had a little break for a little while and then I just, then we had a local shop that opened up and they sold quilting fabric or cotton, they sold all fabrics but cottons and they did a couple of classes there and I thought, I’ll join the classes, and it just went on from there really.
JW: The Amish quilts, they’re the ones, very plain colours, just blocks of colours aren’t they?
CC: They are, they, everything is plain with them, it’s all, they have lots of things saying plain and fancy but… Yes, they usually use quite dark colours… it wasn’t so much, although I did like the colours. It wasn’t so much the colours they were using, [mobile phone pings] it was more the patterns and, er, things like that and just the look of the quilts. We actually did buy one from there but unfortunately it faded very badly, but I had that to sort of look at and copy, and I just went on from there really and it was the classes that really spurred me on, I got to realise about the, well actually I don’t think they even told me about a quarter inch seam in the class, because we really did it all by hand, we didn’t have machines in the class, we were doing it by hand, so, erm, not that that makes any difference but I don’t remember them ever saying to me, ‘you have to use a quarter inch seam’.
JW: So can you, er, you made this one, then the Amish one, then you said you made an applique quilt?
CC: Yes, that had all birds over it but I don’t know what happened to that, that was a long time ago and, again, I don’t think I ever finished it. It was just one of those things you do, at the time you really like it and I think I’d gone off it and I’d gone on to other things by then. After the classes, I… my daughter wanted a quilt so we went down to the shops and chose the fabrics, and that’s when I would say I probably made my first quilt, then, really finished it. I made hers, and then my son wanted one, then it just went on and on. You know, people were asking for them. So that was really the start of it then. I just kept making, I never stopped after that.
JW: And when you say there was a local shop, was that this shop?
CC: No, it wasn’t this shop, [mobile phone pings] it was a shop in Loughton and she sold all kinds of fabrics and, as I say, she had these cotton fabrics which were for quilting, and then I went down there one morning to buy some more fabric and the shop had gone. I went on the Monday morning, there were other people standing there and we were just looking at an empty shop, it disappeared over night. So then it got a bit difficult because it was finding the fabrics ‘cos I didn’t really have the internet to go on…. and I can’t remember where I got them from then, I just sort of, I don’t know. And then I think I just went to exhibitions after that and I just stocked up on fabrics from exhibitions, and did it that way. I think I did used to er, I had magazines and I think I would ring shops up and order fabrics from them and er, ‘cos I probably just got… most of my first quilts, I think, were quite plain fabrics. I didn’t go into the designs, I didn’t really know a lot about the designs, patterns on fabrics, so that’s probably where I got most of my fabric from… either exhibitions or reading through magazines and just ringing shops up and asking, I’d got in my head, you know, I wanted a red striped, ‘do you have that?’ And I’d buy it, like that. So, yes, that was it really.
JW: And what would you say that you most enjoy about making quilts?
CC: I enjoy everything about it. Probably the bit I don’t like so much is the cutting out, but I don’t mind that, but I like, I just love everything about it. I love putting it together, love seeing the end, to see how it’s all transforming, and I don’t mind, and I do like the hand quilting. I like doing that, but I have to say I’ve got piles of them to do, ‘cos I think, like most quilters, we start one then we see another one, and we’re on to the next one before the first one’s finished.
JW: I was going to ask you, How do go about making a quilt?
CC: Well, there’s all different ways really, what, you mean how do I think up what I want to do? Or you know, sometimes the fabric speaks to you, you look at it and you think ‘I’ve just gotta make something with that’ and you get it in your head straight away. Sometimes you can have a fabric for years and years and years and not know what to do with it and all of a sudden, one day, it comes into your head, yes often… most times you’re making it for someone and that sort of, you know if it’s for a baby and you know the sex of the baby it’s more or less, it’s telling you what colours and things, so yes, if you’re making it for someone they give you a rough idea what they want. I go through endless books and magazines to get ideas. Sometimes an idea pops into your head and these days you’ve got the internet, so there’s just hundreds on there to browse through.
JW: Have you got any idea how many quilts you’ve made, over the years?
CC: Oh God, no, no I haven’t. I have got loads and loads. I would think I make about, at least, well, more than ten a year, [JW: Wow] so I must have a lot. Yes, so sometimes you can run a quilt up in a couple of days, which I did the other day, making a small Christmas one and that was just with a charm pack, so that wasn’t any cutting. So, but then others take you, it can take you a year to finish it. But I have got loads and loads of quilts [laughs].
JW: So, where and when do you quilt?
CC: I quilt virtually all day because, as you know, I’ve got the shop, so I’m quilting in the shop. I’m mainly piecing in the shop, I do all the machining in the shop and I’ll take it home and quilt at night. So it is, more or less a 24 hour thing with me. So there’s not much break in between it, if you ask the family. So yes, I’m quilting all the time.
JW: And has you enthusiasm rubbed off on anybody else in the family? Anybody else in the family quilt?
CC: Only my little granddaughter, who is seven and she absolutely loves it, she can’t wait for her first sewing machine. She’s making her first quilt at the moment and, yes, she loves it. So I think she’s going to be the next quilter in the family.
JW: So you’re teaching her, are you?
CC: Yes, I’m teaching her. She doesn’t need a lot of teaching, she’s very good herself but she actually started her first quilt on her own, although I’ve made her loads of quilts and she absolutely loves them. And she saw a friend of hers whose grandmother had helped her make a quilt so she, because I hadn’t seen her for a little while, I didn’t think she wanted to wait long, so she started it herself and she’d only sewn six squares together and they were by hand, so when she came to the shop at half term she brought them with her and we went over it all with the machine and I cut lots more squares out for her. She’s got about, I think she’s done about five rows with seven squares across now, so she probably won’t do any more until she comes here again because of, you know, the sewing machine. But she loves it, loves sewing, does lots of hand sewing but it’s obviously not that strong enough for a quilt.
JW: Oh wow. What d’you think it is that you so enjoy about quilt making?
CC: I think it’s having, seeing something that you’ve made and it’s finished and it’s something that will always be there. It’s a craft, it’s, other people, most people like them. Obviously there are people that don’t like them but… it’s something that you’ve finished and it’s part of you and that’s it, isn’t it? It’s just there and can’t explain really. Yes it’s just part of you and you’ve put all your work into it. And you look at it at the end and think ‘I made that’ and other people admire them.
JW: Bit of a legacy?
CC: Yes. Yes, hopefully they won’t all get dumped in the bin, afterwards, when I’m long and gone [laughs]. No, there was, there is a saying I’ve got, it’s quite a long saying. A lady that says er, you know. ‘Nobody will remember all the sweeping of the floor she did and the washing up and the ironing but when they look at her quilts they’ll remember her from that, so look at the quilt, they’ll remember her but they won’t remember the other things, so that’s quite nice.
JW: That’s lovely I haven’t heard that before.
CC: I must show it to you, I’ve got it. It’s much longer than that, but it is lovely.
JW: Yes, that is nice. Now you mentioned the shop?
JW: So at what point did this hobby of yours then turn into being a business?
CC: Yes, right, well I started to teach a friend how to quilt because she wanted to make a quilt and I’d been to these classes… but as I said, I didn’t really learn a lot at the classes but I am more self-taught than anything, and she wanted to make a quilt and she made a couple and we were having trouble finding fabric, cos this shop had closed down. We had trouble finding fabric and we sort of got talking and we said, ‘Well why don’t we open a shop?’ And I thought, ‘well I haven’t worked for many, many years, since the children were born. Would I be able to run a shop? I don’t know. I’m not really a business woman, and one thing and another’. But I just thought ‘well, what could be the worst thing that would happen? If it didn’t take off we’d be a little bit in debt and that’s it. So, give it a go’.
And I managed to find a shop, so close to home that was lovely, and er, we just rented the shop, turned it… we had a trouble getting it. At first the landlord wouldn’t give it to us. He kept saying ‘no, someone else has got it’. It took us about a year to persuade him to let us have the shop and it turned out he didn’t think we could make a go of it. But, anyway he’s the best landlord ever, I have to say, now. And we started the shop and I’m here fifteen years later. My partner, she left after six years, it just wasn’t for her, and erm, but I didn’t want to give it up, so I’m still here. And that’s really, it was the fact that we couldn’t get fabric anywhere, thought, ‘Well, let’s sell it’.
JW: You thought, you could do as well yourself really? And help other people out, buying fabric?
CC: Well, I thought, ‘I can give it a try’ nobody knows if it’s going to work. But, it has worked and I’ve got wonderful customers, everyone’s very friendly. It’s a, I thinks quilting is such a nice community. People are all, you know, they’ve all got the same interest, so everyone gets on with everyone and the customers don’t just come in here and buy fabric they stay and have coffee and tea and they come and sit and work in here if they want to come out of their houses. ‘Can we come up over for the day and just sew?’ And that’s what it’s like. And you hear all their troubles and you can tell them all your troubles and it’s just fun.
JW: Well I can vouch for that, being one of your customers, and having attended the workshops and it’s how I got into quilting in the first instance because somebody bought me a voucher to come here and do a class. So yes, so you’ve been here fifteen years, um, do you want to stop briefly?
JW: So this is [TQ.2014.] 049 continued. So we were just talking about the shop. You’ve been here for fifteen years. Perhaps you could say a little bit more about the classes that are run here?
CC: Well we have workshops virtually every Saturday and they’re usually very well attended. I’ve got a nice group of tutors that come that are all very well liked and, yes, we tried to do a few other things rather than quilts all the time. Maybe bags or making dolls. A few craft bits because I think if you’re making a new quilt every week it would put people off because, you know, they’ve got to have time to finish in between, so we try to vary the classes. We do ask for ideas of what they would like. But they all seem to, as I say, are well attended and they’re enjoyable. I’ve not had any complaints so far, so it must all be going okay.
JW: Well you’re a very lovely host when we come for the days [laughs] and I’m conscious, so what you’ve just been talking about is really what happens on a Saturday, isn’t it? I know you have some other informal groups, I think, that happen during the week?
CC: Yes, I have a Wednesday morning sewing morning, where they just come along, don’t have to book, they just turn up and they just bring along what they’re working on. Sometimes we’ll have a project and we’ll all be making the same thing but most of the time everyone’s making something different and it’s quite nice ‘cos we’re all happy to share our ideas and we’re all learning from each other. The Wednesday night group, I have a Wednesday night group, every Wednesday. There’s, I think there’s twelve of us and that started when I first opened. I had people saying, ‘Please could you do some evening classes?’ because they were at work. And we managed to find a tutor that said yes, she’ll come to teach in the evening, so we said, ‘Well, we’ll do a six week course, and see how it goes’. Well fifteen years later we’re still doing it, but we don’t have a tutor here, on a Wednesday evening now. I think most of them have moved on from that. Sadly the tutor’s passed away, anyway, and we’ve found that she’s such a good tutor that they more or less knew most of the things and they could get on with patterns themselves. So they’re still coming here, and I have people waiting to come, if anyone… I can only seat, well really I can only seat ten, but because it’s quite informal we can fit another two, couple of chairs in, Obviously not everyone comes, every week, usually maybe one or two can’t make it so there’s probably ten of the people here most Wednesdays but some Wednesdays… we have had times when we haven’t had enough chairs, everyone’s turned up at once and that was when we had more than twelve coming, but that’s a nice group and they come every Wednesday, weather permitting.
JW: And I know that you also belong to Roding Quilters and in fact you were one of the founders, I think, of Roding Quilters. Could you tell us a little bit about how that came about? I think you belonged to another group originally, haven’t you?
CC: Yes, I belong to. Just before I opened the shop there was I, I think we, I wasn’t very good at computers but I managed to find something on there to say that a quilting group had opened. I couldn’t believe it, and just locally and in the local cricket club. So I quickly joined that, with the friend that I was opening the shop with, which was ok but we went there for probably about a year or so, but eventually the people who were running didn’t want to run it any more. They said they were going to close it down, but there was a little group of us who’d got friendly and we felt we still wanted to carry on. We didn’t really want to carry it on in the same place because we had to go upstairs, parking was difficult, and you couldn’t expect people to carry sewing machines up the stairs, so we looked around for somewhere else and we managed to find, the, a Church Hall in Chigwell. It was one of the ladies that came to the shop. She goes to the church, and she asked for us and she kindly got the hall for us and we rent that out on a yearly basis. And we started a group up there, we changed the name because we felt a new group needed a new name, and we started that and it’s called the Roding Quilters. We did find, about a year ago, membership was falling a bit but a lot of that was due to people moving away and, people have stopped, you know, people felt they didn’t want to come out in the evenings, so…. but it’s now picking up again. We’ve got quite a few new members and we’ve got some new members joining in the New Year. So that’s really good, and that’s just once a month and we do have speakers, we try to put together a good programme and we’re just doing that at the moment for the following year. Next Tuesday is our last one of the year, when we have a Christmas meeting. There will be Show & Tell and we’ll just have a few quizzes and 28.00 things like that. So, that’s turned out really well, and again we go every month, weather permitting, sometimes we’ve had to cancel early in the year, due to snow and ice on the road, but otherwise it’s a good group.
JW: And on occasions you run Quilt Festivals?
CC: Yes, that’s the other thing we’ve done, just reminded me, I’d forgotten about that. Yes, a few years ago we decided, ‘let’s have an exhibition of all the quilts’. The group that meets in the shop, we thought we’d do it and we had to book a hall and the church a year in advance and for a while we wasn’t getting a lot of feedback from people and we thought ‘Oh dear, have we started something here that’s not going to take off?’ We asked people to donate their quilts for the Show and things like that. And, you know, not many quilts were turning up and we thought, ‘Oh crickey, what we going to do?’ Well, about two weeks before the show the shop was just full of quilts, they were pouring in, we didn’t know what to do with them and we put them, we hung them, and it’s such a lovely backdrop, we hang them in the church, then we have them all over the pews. We had well over a hundred quilts and in the hall we have a stand where children’s workshops, just little items for children to make. And we have trader stalls and tea and coffee and things like that, raffles, a cake stand and we went for it and it was over a bank holiday, the only problem was, on Saturday night we had to take all the quilts off the pews because there’s a service in the church on the Sunday. So we can’t start the show, the exhibition, till about one o’clock on a Sunday and then we had to get all the quilts back onto the… things. But it turned out a great success and everyone was coming into the shop, ‘Are you having another one next year? Are you having another one next year?’ Well we don’t know about that because obviously you need different quilts, so we didn’t do one the next year but we did do it… we’ve been doing it sort of every other year. We did one when it was the Royal Wedding, the weekend of the Royal Wedding, it was kind of themed around the Royal Wedding and that was a great success.
We usually raise money for a charity. All the proceeds go to a charity and we’ve had such excellent feedback on it and people just… ‘Are you having one this year? Are you having one this year?’ We say ‘No, we can’t do it every year’ but we’ve booked the church now for 2016. It’s going to be, I think, the May Bank Holiday. So we’ve got to warn people, we want all the quilts finished, and we do have loads and loads of quilts. It’s absolutely beautiful in the Church and I can remember telling my husband the first one we did. I aid to him, ‘When you come down, take some photos’. And he thought, ‘Oh, yeah, just a few photos of quilts, but when he walked into the Church he couldn’t believe his eyes, and he said to me, ‘Did all your ladies make all these quilts?’ He said, ‘I’ve not seen anything like it’, he said, ‘It’s magnificent’. And I felt good. It opened his eyes to, you know, we’re not just sewing little pieces of fabric together. And it’s been a great success, people look forward to it now. So, we’ve got to work now, hard, to get more quilts made for the new one.
JW: I shall bear that in mind [laughs].
CC: Yes, we want lots of yours, you’ve got lots.
JW: I think that’s all my questions. Is there anything else that you think we should talk about? Aspects that you thought I would ask you about but haven’t?
CC: No, I think we covered most things, haven’t we? No, not really, you know, I just think it would be nice if there was more information about it, out there, I don’t know how. I know we have big exhibitions in Birmingham and places like that, but people, you know… It’s what people want and it brings people together, especially people… I notice that there were people who’d be widowed, their husbands had died, they don’t want to go out on their own, and that’s a really nice thing to do. They come here and they feel they’re in a safe place. With other women they’re not intimidated, so that’s another nice thing and I think things could be probably, I don’t know, there is lots of information, it’s hard to say really, where to go from here.
JW: There’s quite a resurgence at the minute, isn’t there? About craft activities in general, I think, there seems to be on the TV, you know, I think it’s quite trendy at the moment, to sew and knit.
CC: It certainly is. Yes, I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that I’m getting a lot, much younger people coming in. Lots of young mums. They’re making all the time. They do make quilts, they tend to have a group of friends and each time one of them has a baby, a new quilt, you know, they get together to make a quilt. Or one of them makes a quilt and the others supply the fabric, and they’re also making dresses for their children, and they’re making toys, fancy dress, it really has picked up. I think more and more people are wanting to make rather than just go and buy. And that applies to knitting as well, but there is certainly a lot more younger people getting into it, and it is very trendy now to have your, to be making your own things, all this vintage, things like that, they want to get in on it. And, yes, there are lots of programmes on television and let’s hope they keep coming because we could do with. Say there’s lots, we could do with a few more. It would be nice to have a channel where they’re teaching quilting and things like that.
JW: Something you said just then, triggered off another question in my mind. I think sometime you’ve done sort of group quilt projects here, have you?
CC: Well, we do make quilts for Linus, so we do that. We’ve only really made joint ones if someone’s moving or leaving. You know, we’ve had some friends go back to New Zealand, so we all got together and made them a quilt. And that’s happened a few times. And, maybe, if someone hasn’t been well and they can’t come any more we’ve made then a quilt. Yes, we will do things like that and I think that’s quite a nice gesture that people do like. And we send quilts to, when they had the floods, we found a way of getting quilts to people there and I had a lovely letter from a lady to say that she’d just moved back into her home, after six months and she didn’t have anything, but she’s got this quilt that we donated and she said it’s on her bed and she absolutely loves it. And it was very nice of her to just write and say that, so, you know, but lots of them go to Linus but it is nice to try to get to other people that want them as well, cos there are lots of people, like people who’ve been flooded or things happen… They could just do with something, new and of their own.
JW: It’s quite nice to feel that you’re doing something good somewhere along the way, as well as enjoying doing it yourself and in company with a like-minded group of people.
CC: Yes, we’re always up for anything, we get people coming in and saying. We had a lady come in that wanted little bags made to put, for children who had leukaemia, to put their um, I forget what it’s called now… but they put into the bag and she said she was making a few, her grandson was in hospital and she was making some and I said, “Well tell me what you want and I’m sure my ladies will…”, and we just churned out loads of them for her, and they were absolutely over the moon with them. So, you know, if people come in and say they need something that is within our, that we can make, then we’re happy to do it. It’s nice to think that you are doing something that is helping, and it doesn’t always have to be a quilt, it can be something smaller and things like that. So, yeah, I think that’s a nice part of it really. Knowing that you’re doing something to help other people.
JW: What do you do with all the quilts that you make?
CC: Well as you can see I’ve got quite a few of them round the shop [both laugh] and I’ve got a shelf full of them up the top, so I alternate what goes in the shop. Lots of them I give away to friends or family, I’ve got lots at home and, you know, we just change what ones we’ve got on the beds. My children have got them, my grandchildren have got them. And, I mean, there’s a couple that are going, in fact she hasn’t been in to pick them up yet. There’s a lady that, she does a lot of work with local disabled charity and they… people that are on their own go there for Christmas and she gets her group to make them all quilts, but she was a few short this year, so she gave me a call, and we’ve got a couple for her that she can take. So, it’s quite a nice present for people in wheelchairs, and that sort of thing. You make some for raffles, you make, I don’t know, you hear things and think, ‘well let’s make a quilt for it’. And some you keep, some you give away and we give some to Help the Aged. It is finding places that you want them to go to, you know, not that we want them to go to, but people that need them. Getting the contacts.
JW: And I guess you sell some? Did you make quilts to order, for the shop?
CC: I don’t make quilts to order, no. I have made baby quilts to order, but I don’t make big quilts to order, I just find that they take too much time. They cost a lot of money and people don’t see what it’s costing and they want them, make you think you’re just sewing some scraps of fabric together. I don’t, not everyone does but, well I just don’t have the time anyway so… but if it’s for friends or family, yes, I’ll make them and they’ll either just pay for the fabric or they won’t pay at all. I just give them to them. I just make loads of little quilts for Christmas for children with the ‘Frozen’ fabric, which is, all the kids seem to love, so it’ quite a few Christmas presents going out in that fabric. But no, I don’t make them to sell.
JW: Anything else we need to cover, in terms of giving a picture of your quilting life?
CC: I don’t know, I think you’ve covered it all. I just think I wish I’d got into it a lot earlier, and, but I’m happy that I’m doing it now. I just love it and as long as I can hold a needle and press the foot on the peddle of the sewing machine, I’ll be doing it.
JW: Thank you Carol. Thank you very much.