ID Number: TQ.2015.040
Name of interviewee: Caryl Nunn
Name of interviewer: Jan Clifton
Name of transcriber: Katherine James
Address: Hextable, Kent
Date: 10 September 2015
Length of interview: 0:23:17
Caryl introduces her ‘apprentice quilt’, it is the first quilt that she has made mainly while attending classes. She talks about how she made the quilt, what changes she made to patterns to ‘balance’ the quilt and what the quilt is used for now. Later she talks about her mother’s sewing skills and her early attempts at dressmaking, as well as her participation in an upcoming quilt exhibition for her sewing group.
Jan Clifton [JC]: [Interview introductions] Thank you very much, Caryl, for letting me interview you about your quilt today. First of all, why did you make this quilt?
Caryl Nunn [CN]: I always liked tapestry and seeing really ancient things that have been made when you go to museums and various places and I’ve always been quite intrigued, thought how clever the designs were, and how clever the ladies were that were making these wonderful things.
JC: OK, can you describe your quilt for me, please?
CN: Well, I call it my apprentice quilt because really every section of my quilt, every square if you like, it’s got a sort of different design on it, obviously keeping the same colourways throughout but really, because this was my very first attempt, I wanted to gain as much knowledge as I could as I went along. So I think my design – and also sort of bearing in mind that obviously when you put your pieces together you do want some sort of cohesion between them so I repeated a couple of the designs, slightly altering them, just to sort of balance, help what I thought would balance the quilt up.
JC: Okay. What influenced the design and colour of your quilt?
CN: Oh well, it started out with in mind I had a, a grand-daughter and so I thought perhaps I could make a cot quilt for her but before I really and truly got under way a grandson arrived [laugh] so therefore my thinking and my colourways I thought well do I try and make something that will be suitable for both of them [laugh], so that kind of influenced the colours and things that I chose but gradually as I went on I thought well, maybe this isn’t quite babyish enough or you know maybe I’d need to have a second thought about where this is going to end up and obviously that, that kind of changed what I was doing slightly.
JC: So who did you make the quilt for?
CN: In the end, me! [Laugh]
JC: And do you use it, as a… you know a quilt, or is it just on show?
CN: No, it’s more or less on show. I have it as a throw across the back of my sofa so yes it’s more, more of a just something there that brightens the room and…
JC: Where did you buy your material from?
CN: Well because I did a course, the shop where I did it had all the fabrics, so that was Puddleducks at Sevenoaks, so that is where all these fabrics came from.
JC: And when you made your quilt, did you cut it by hand, or by rotary cutter, or templates – how did you do it?
CN: Templates, made templates up first, and then cut it by hand.
JC: How difficult did you find it?
CN: You had to think, when I first started doing it, I had to think a lot about… and, and I wrote it down, the design, how many pieces I would need in that particular pattern, fabric, and then, when you start to sort of look at the overall design you could then see where pieces went. But I think the most difficult part I found was really perhaps lining up the corners when you’re starting to assemble, getting it so that, I mean if you look very closely it’s not quite precise but I felt that you know for a first attempt maybe it wasn’t too bad.
JC: So you were very organised in your method of designing it and getting it together?
CN: Yes, and I suppose a lot of that was with the guidance of the course that I was doing.
JC: Did you have any help with it? You mentioned you went to a course.
CN: Yes, oh yes. You know anything that we felt or I wasn’t quite sure about then obviously there was somebody there that I could ask and so yes you could get guidance.
JC: So did you make it all on the course, or did you do some at home?
CN: No, no I, I brought it home quite often and would have to, in a way, get one block, one square, completed before I went back the following week obviously because it’s nice to move on to the, to the next thing, so a lot of the sewing was done at home.
JC: How long did it take you to make it?
CN: Ooh, good question… I suppose… if I’m not going to include the amount of time that it actually went, was put to one side, after I’d finished the course, then I suppose it was about [pause] twelve… about three, four months, say?
JC: What experience did you have of sewing before you made this quilt?
CN: I was very lucky. My mum was a very good seamstress and so from a very young age she encouraged me, you know, with my sewing and so I had made, I’d dressmaking and you know I’d used a sewing machine and everything before.
JC: Was she a professional seamstress?
CN: No, no, no, just purely a mum but she was just extremely good at it.
JC: Out of necessity?
CN: I think so, because you’re talking about back when the war hadn’t long ended and everything was in short supply and what have you so she was amazing at adapting things from one thing to something else, so yeah [laugh] …
JC: What other crafts do you do?
CN: Well, I’ve tried my hand at a few. I have done pottery, jewellery making, art – drawing and painting, so mmm I, I really quite enjoy craft work.
JC: And do you still do any of those crafts as well?
CN: Yes, I’m still doing art and I’m still doing sewing and knitting.
JC: When you’d finished it, were you pleased with it?
CN: Yes, yes I was. I think because when I, when I actually finished the course I still had quite a lot to do on it but the basic top layer of the quilt was done but I had to do the wadding and the bindings and everything myself at home because I couldn’t go back for yet another course, it just didn’t fit in with other things that had come up. So I had to do that at home myself.
JC: Did you teach yourself that, or did the teacher help you?
CN: I think, sort of watching other people at various, everybody on this course was at different levels, even though I went in as a complete beginner, there were ladies there who had obviously been quilting for some time and so, watching them, and yes I did have guidance and I was sort of told, don’t forget to spread things out, flatten it, pin and tack and that sort of thing so yes, definitely had help and guidance with that.
JC: Did you hand quilt it or did you machine it, or was it both?
CN: I have got a little bit of both, I think, on mine. Some of them are all perhaps machine stitched, and some are hand… once again I tried to balance that up if I’d done this square with some hand quilting on it then I tried to balance it up on the opposite side with hand quilting there.
JC: Do you prefer hand quilting or machine stitching?
CN: I quite prefer, I think I prefer hand but I did find it strange that when I was doing sort of a running stitch if you like, when I turned it over and looked on the back I thought, ooh, why aren’t my running stitches nice and neat on the back as they are on the front, which I thought was a bit strange but you know, it’s fine, it’s not likely to be turned over and the back used [laugh].
JC: If you were making it again, would you do anything differently, do you look at it and think I’d, is there anything you would change?
CN: I think I would not particularly change anything but I think I would want to be a lot more precise with my corners, matching, you know everything, but no in general I’m pleased with it and I wouldn’t really change anything. Maybe make it a bit larger [laugh].
JC: Do you intend to make another quilt? Has it given you inspiration to move on and do something else?
CN: Yes, definitely. I’d definitely like to make another quilt. I don’t think I’d be wanting to do the same sort of design as this one but I’d definitely want to have a good look and a good think and I definitely want to do a quilt.
JC: And have you got anything in mind for any particular person or design or colour?
CN: Colourways not particularly at the moment. I want time to sort of think about that and I think maybe more blocks rather than what I’ve got here which consists of blocks of triangles and squares and … I think I’d quite like to do more strip blocks.
JC: Something a bit more simpler…?
CN: Yes, I think, because I tend to like simple things, not too fussy where even though this is probably not ultra-fussy, there is a lot going on so I think I would like to do something slightly …
JC: And would you design it yourself or would you follow a sort of a pattern or …?
CN: I think probably at this stage I would be probably more a bit guided by a pattern but that doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t be prepared if I had a thought of something to either include that or to change the design from one that I actually was following.
JC: So you’d like to put your own sort of individual stamp on it?
CN: Yeah, I think so, I think so.
JC: What sort of quilts do you like? Have you looked round at exhibitions and things and books and seen other quilts and you, what sort of particular things do you like? You said you quite like simple things.
CN: Yeah, design-wise and I suppose I tend to be a person as well that probably would go for more muted and subtle colours, so maybe somebody’s got to throw a lot of colours at me and say ‘Do something with this!’ So… yes, I, I’m not a hundred percent sure at this moment but I’m going to investigate.
JC: Do you prefer to sew on your own or in groups? I know you mentioned a class…
CN: Well even though I was in a class, really you were sewing on your own though I suppose it’s nice to you have somebody there that you could refer to if you weren’t quite sure about something but I think generally speaking when you’re, when you’re sewing you really are sewing on your own anyway. You’re there with your work, piece of work in front of you and you’re, you’re just getting on with it.
JC: Do you think quilts, hand quilting or quilt, quiltmaking will continue in the future to the next generation? I mean you mentioned grandchildren and that, have they shown any interest in…?
CN: Well they’re rather young at the moment – four and coming up five and 2½ so it’s hard to say really. My daughter’s very craft-orientated but doesn’t have a lot of time, so, and, but she loves and admires things that mum’s doing or done so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she didn’t at some point in time decide to have a go…
JC: Did you label your quilt, with your name, and date etc. on it?
CN: No, I haven’t done that, I know I should do and I will but at this moment in time, no, it doesn’t have any information on it!
JC: I want to go back to describing your quilt because you didn’t give me very much detail. Can you tell me what size it is?
CN: I’m not sure. I think it’s 100, [background noise] I think it’s 103 centimetres by about 138. It, it’s approximately say three 12 inches in old money across and four in length.
JC: So you’re saying it’s 12 blocks.
CN: It is, yeah.
JC: And can you describe it to me, because it looks to me like each block is different? Can you describe it to me in more details – the colours, design, blocks …?
CN: Right. Colourwise it is, I would say, it’s a lightish green but not very pale. It has yellow which is a slightly if you like mottled pattern on the fabric. It has a white background with coloured spots on it which pick up the greens and yellows and it has a, a green and white stripe and that is basically more or less what I’ve stuck to throughout the quilt. As for the designs, I think this is called a Dresden Plate and of those I have done two, and I have various other designs like flying geese, I can’t remember all the names of the designs but they all vary. They’re triangular in shape lots of them and also when the triangles are joined together to make squares there are also square shapes as well without being, having the triangular parts through it.
JC: And what about the sashing and the binding in between?
CN: Yes, I, I stayed with the green for that and it had a very pale yellow spot on it and I think that kind of has picked up the colours that run throughout the whole of the quilt.
JC: What did you know about the blocks and their names before you did your quilt? Were you familiar with any that they were named or did you know them?
CN: No, nothing at all before I started and it was only going on the course that gradually week on week other things would come up and it would say it was Flying Geese or Dresden Plate or Windmill or whatever the design. And usually there was a choice you would have, and probably all made up from similar-size pieces but the layouts could be different. So I would think well I like, I like that one whatever it might be called, Windmill, I think I’ll, I’m going to do that. So you know it kind of gave you choices, which I quite liked.
JC: What about the backing? What backing material is it? Can you describe that?
CN: Once again it is a cotton and it is the same one that’s used throughout for the sashing. The whole of the back is the green with the very pale lemon spot on it.
JC: Is there anything else you want to tell me about your quilting or sewing experience?
CN: I find it very relaxing and very rewarding when things come together. I just feel less space, I’d love to be able to spread out and, and do more. So I just find it a really rewarding hobby.
JC: And what else have you made in the sewing line? I know you mentioned you’ve done pottery and knitting but have you made anything you know with needle and cotton material at all?
CN: Over the years yes many things on the go. I think I made, very first thing I ever made my sister who was nearly ten years younger than me and when I started senior school in those days we actually did have a, a sewing lesson once a week and I, cos my mum was always sewing and making things I decided I wanted to make my little sister a dress which I think she probably thought was very ambitious [laugh] but I’d take it home and show my mum how I was getting on. I think that was my, that was my first if you like main project I suppose I was about 12, 13 when I did that and I just went on from there really. You grow up and you know you want to start going out and enjoying yourself, oh I think I might just make myself a top before I go out this evening or [laugh] as I think a lot of young ladies did way back then [laugh].
JC: Did your much help you with this dress for your sister?
CN: She never did anything but she would say to me you could, if you did that then that would be much easier to do it that way, but she never ever you know said come here I’ll do it for you.
JC: And did your sister wear the dress?
CN: Yes, she did, and she looked lovely! [Laugh]
JC: How old was she then?
CN: She would have been about three.
JC: And what sort of sewing machine have you got now and what you had in the past?
CN: I’ve got electric sewing machine. It’s not an all-singing and dancing machine, it’s just a basic. It just does a few fancy stitches, but not many of those, not, nothing special.
JC: And what did you have when you first started? Was that a hand machine or electric?
CN: Mum had a hand machine and then a treadle machine and then eventually she got an electric one and so gradually obviously I got to use those sewing machines.
JC: Is there anything else you want to tell me that I haven’t asked?
CN: I don’t think so, I think we’ve covered most things. I could tell you how much I’m enjoying the class that I’m doing now.
JC: What class are you doing at the moment?
CN: I’m doing a stitch and sew group. All the ladies there do different things. Somebody might come in one week and they’re doing a quilt, starting on a quilt, somebody else might be doing a patchwork needlecase, somebody else might be knitting, somebody else embroidering … and so we get the chance to see what each other are doing, talk to each other about you know what they’re doing, so the variety and everything is very good.
JC: Do you get inspiration into what you might want to do, you know in relation to that?
CN: Yes, absolutely. You know, you see somebody produce something and you think gosh I’d love to have a go at that and we’re very, everybody’s very nice and prepared to swap patterns and ideas and we’re actually going to do an exhibition of our work.
JC: Oh right, well tell me about that.
CN: Well, it’s all arranged for the end of this month, September, and we are bringing along all different things that we’ve made over a period of time and it promises to be excellent. I just hope we get a lot of good support, people coming in to see what we’re doing.
JC: That sounds good. Thank you very much Caryl for letting me interview you today and showing me your lovely quilt.
CN: You’re very welcome.
JC: This is the end of the interview.