ID Number: TQ.2014.036
Name of Interviewee: Chris Evans
Name of Interviewer: Joy Morgan
Name of Transcriber: Joy Morgan
Location: Joy’s home
Address:Port Talbot, S. Wales
Date: 15 September 2014
Length of interview: 0:26:55
Chris made her quilt from upholstery samples, given to her, that dated back to the 1930s. She also talks about the ex-stock or recycled fabric she sourced for the sashing, wadding and backing. In the second half of the interview Chris talks about researching her family history to find a link with her love of sewing, fabric and threads. She also explains how she gets idea’s, learning the quilting ‘rules’ and how she converted an image on a coaster into a wall hanging.
Joy Morgan [JM]: So Chris, would you like to tell me a little bit about the quilt that you have brought along today?
Chris Evans [CE]: Well, this has got called the Harrods Recycled Quilt, and it has a long story, it goes back I suppose about seven years ago, six, seven years ago when I was at the quilting group on a Thursday night up at Michnia Street with Port Talbot Quilters, and one of the ladies came in and she often used to give me little bits of material, but this particular time she gave me a carrier bag, and said ‘I think this may be of use to you, I had it from the old lady next door, who’s clearing out her cupboards, and I thought oh well, possibly Chris will make use of this’. So quite interested I opened up the carrier bag to see what it was, and what I actually found were what appeared to be fabric samples of upholstery, curtain samples really, you know. However they were a fair age, because the price on the little ticket, on the little ticket at the back was 1/3p and 1/6p a yard. [JM: Right] So it took us back at least before 1970 didn’t it? You know… [JM: Yeah.] with decimalisation really, and what also was interesting was the label was Harrods.
So I went through them, they were quite interesting, some looked 1930’s sort of artdecoey sort of design. So the carrier bag got taken home, and it got put into the studio and at some point I think it must have fallen onto the floor and it got kicked about the floor I don’t know for how long. And then one particular day I was trying to have a tidy up in the studio and I came across this bag again, and opened it up and said I really must do something with these. So I laid them all out onto the floor and had a little look. There were big samples sort of 12 inch square and there were other samples that were about seven, eight inches, sort of square, so I thought the only thing I could do, really do with this is make it into a quilt.
CE: But there’s such an array of colours, you know, some colours wouldn’t necessarily go… [JM: Right] with each other, you know. So the, I decided that we needed to have a set square to start with, so I went to the smallest of the bigger squares, and got the measurement, and that was determined what size the block was actually going to be. And from there on in if I had a big enough piece it got cut to that size. Then we went to the little ones and the easiest thing of all was to make a four block, a four patch block… [JM: Yeah.] really, to make it up to the same size, which I did, and I had all these blocks, quite a pile of them, which I thought were quite nice and I tried to colour coordinate with each other, rather than with the whole thing. I tried to do each block, [JM: Right.] to colour coordinate, you know, especially when I was putting fours in. Unfortunately, they then stayed again in their blocks (we both laugh) at this point, because I couldn’t really decide on how to put them together, because being putting them together, side by side as you would normally with a block, oh it just didn’t work. [JM: Yeah] It was too mish mash really. So it needed some sort of sashing in between, but then it was a case of what colour?
JM: Can you explain what sashing is?
CE: Oh, the sashing would be the strip that went round this block really, to sort of give it a border. [JM: Right] You know, so around each block, to join it together, I’ve put a border [JM: Right] and then these borders have been sewn together to form lines. Then a line has been sewn to the next line and so on, until a rectangle has been sewn up together. But it was trying to find a right colour that was going to go with everything really, so it got left.
And then a shop down at Stockhams Corner, it had a funny name Titsue or something it was called.
JM: I…don’t know…
CE: It was a funny named shop, but anyway, what she actually was was an interior design sort of shop really and she made curtains and things like that. And she did sell a little bit of fabric which I didn’t realise that she did until I actually went in there really, and it was next door to my chemist and there was a sale notice on, s o I popped my head in just to have a look and I was quite surprised there was patchwork fabric in there. And some lovely fabric and she had it reduced to £2. So being a patchworker you’re not going to throw that away are you. [JM: No] You know, s o I bought quite a lot of this fabric £2. And I explained to her that I was ‘A’, a member of Port Talbot Quilters and ‘B’, was that I actually taught, I had a class running a textile group up at Cwrt Sart School as an evening class. And that I also worked with Cwrt Sart children with the school, [JM: Right] as well sort of thing you know. Being as one of my students was head of art. [JM: Right] So we sort of joined forces now again with the children, and I went in and did little projects with the children you know. So I said they would be very grateful of any surplus fabric that came out way you know.
So I then went on holiday the following day and we came back about a fortnight or so later… telephone call from this lady in the shop saying she had to get out by mid-day the following day, she still had fabric there which she hadn’t been able to sell and she’d like to donate it.
JM: Oh right.
CE: … to the school and wherever else that I sort of thought fit that it could go to. So I went down with the car and I had quite a lot of rolls of fabric and amongst it was this burgundy sort of plummy coloured chintz. And when I held it up against the blocks that I had made for this quilt, I thought it really goes quite well, they all seem to sort of blend in with it. So I thought, well then, ‘that’s going to be the sashing’ that set the colour. So that was set and also there was enough fabric there to put it as the backing. Right, so that’s that bit done, oh, and the rest of the fabric actually went to the Port Talbot Quilters on a Thursday night and everybody had great fun taking of what they wanted. And some of it actually was sold in the exhibition.
JM: Oh right
CE: We packed some of it up and it went into the exhibition, so everybody had a bit of this fabric, but quite a few ladies had gone over to have the bargain £2 a metre fabric, mind. So that was it. So I had the blocks, I then started to cut the strips for the sashing, and the top was then sewn of the quilt. So I had the top and I had the back, well the bit that I didn’t have was the wadding in the middle. Port Talbot Quilters were doing a trip to Malvern, so I decided I would wait until I went with the girls to Malvern to have a look at the waddings and decide then as to what wadding to use you know. And when I got there I came across, oh I can’t… is it Crafter something, no Cotton Patch.
JM: Cotton Patch, that’s one.
CE: Cotton Patch, when you walk in through the door their on the usually on the right hand side, they have quite a big stall there.
CE: I think it’s called Cotton Patch.
JM: I think it is.
CE: Yeah, well, they had big packs of wadding, but what they did have was a recycled wadding which was made out of bottle tops, etc… and it was green. So I thought well really that’s the best thing to used because everything else had all been recycled. It had all been salvaged from somewhere or other. [JM: Yeah]. So that’s what wadding that went into this quilt.
So it all got made up together, and we created a quilt. My husband was really very, very keen on it, which surprised me because he’s not really… doesn’t usually show great interest in what I’m doing or what I’m making you know, but he really was quite taken with this. So he suggested that I wrote off to Harrods and explained to Harrods what I’ve just explained to you virtually. And they came back and asked for photographs of the quilt. So I sent them photographs. And they then replied back to say that they had identified some of these patterns and they were actually from their 1930’s catalogues. So that was quite nice. They didn’t like the title of the quilt though.
JM: Which was?
CE: Which is ‘The Harrods Recycled Quilt’.
CE: They didn’t like the word Harrods to be used because it would give an impression
CE: That Harrods had actually made it. However, I’ve still stuck to that name I’m afraid, because I think it fits it. I’m never ever going to sell it off as being something that Harrods has made.
CE: I wouldn’t be able to, do you know what I mean, but I think it suits, it suits the quilt really. So that’s how it really…
JM: Came about.
CE: … came into beginning.
JM: Okay, so can you describe something about the patterns that are in the quilt, the fabric?
CE: We’ve got all sorts of patterns really. The fabric is definitely curtain weight, it’s definitely curtain upholstery weight, if you have a little feel…
CE: It does, it’s cotton but it’s not…
JM: A fine cotton
CE: A fine cotton… craft cotton then as they say, you know. We have got all sorts of different patterns, this one here we have got like a deer! Which apparently in the ’30’s was quite a popular thing, even though that’s coming back now. [JM: Oh right.] I noticed deer and hare are quite popular on fabrics now… they say everything comes around in circles don’t they you know. We’ve got some others which are geometrical, which is very telling… there… there’s some there’s a couple of geometrics. [JM: Oh yes.] There, there is one like a geometric feather…. that that looks like corn doesn’t it really. [Chris is moving the quilt pointing out different patterns on the fabrics]. [JM: Yes]… wreaths of corn but it’s quite stylistic in its method. We have got a bird. Birds were very, very popular… again they are today. There’s a bird there… Obviously with these little squares I’ve tried to fussy cut them to sort of get the best pattern… [JM: Right.] out of them.
JM: What is fussy cutting?
CE: Well, fuss y cut really is to cut to try to get a set pattern, a set design into the centre. So you cut away anything else but you have just got the pattern centred. [JM: Right.] Which is what I’ve tried to do here, so that this bird is actually centred into the block, like the flowers, it can’t always be done because of the size of it like I’ve missed a bit of a bird there… [Chris shows an example on the quilt of a fussy cut square where she has been unable to fussy cut a whole bird pattern] his beak of it there, but that was the only piece I think I had that I was able to cut to fit in you know. We’ve got some lovely wisteria… [Chris is showing me the block] [JM: Right, yes.]… in a big block, and we’ve got some stylistic tulips, they look a bit Jacobian really.
JM: Yes, yes.
CE: That sort of design, don’t they, they look quite of that era. Then we go back to the shapes… we’ve got like balloons, a bit of Japanese sort of style there. [JM: Um.] It really is quite an eclectic mix of patterns really.
JM: So how do you feel about the quilt?
CE: Well, I quite like the quilt actually. I am quite pleased with how it’s come out. I think it’s got an interesting story really. And it certainly saved a bit of history of the fabrics from going in the bin, which is where it would have been destined for really.
JM: Yes… have you put a label on the quilt?
CE: I have, yes, we have put a label on.
JM: And can you read what it says?
CE: The label says, Chris Evans, Harrods 1930’s patterned samples, June 2011.
JM: Very nice. OK, so if we can go on to your own quilting experiences now, when did you first start making quilts?
CE: Mmm… mmm about the same time really, a bit before, possibly a few months before, I would say this was only about… well this could well be the second quilt… [JM: Right] that I made. The first complete quilt that I did was at Port Talbot Quilters workshop day. Because I joined the quilting group in the September after the summer holidays and this was your first workshop which I think happened in sort of like towards the end of September where you were doing log cabin quilting… [JM: Right.] down in Michna Street with Jane and a few of the others, er, so my log cabin really was the very first one that I made. I had done other little bits of um… quilting I suppose but not again as a whole quilt…
JM: No, no.
CE: …you know I’ve always sewn… [JM: Right] my history of sewing goes back till I was about ten… [JM: Right.] I’ve always done sewing of some description, but not necessarily quilting, or patchwork quilting.
JM: Right, and within your family are there other quilters or…?
CE: No, I’m the only one who actually quilts. My stepmother used to be a dressmaker, she used to do… um… hobby dressmaking, for necessity really, because I’ve always been a biggish girl… um and going back to late 1960’s if you were anything bigger than a size fourteen you could try to forget anything that was in fashion because it didn’t exist, you know. So it was a case of well if you wanted something fashionable you’re going to have to make it yourself, and um… mum used to say, I don’t mind making it, but you can help. [JM giggles] So I had to do all the tailors tacks and darts and zips and… [JM: Yeah, right.] so dressmaking really I suppose was my start of it, but about two years ago… I decided that I would do my family history.
CE: … and I knew my father’s side of the family because I lived with my father, my parents separated when I was what… three but I didn’t know anything about my birth mothers side. I hadn’t seen my birth mother for twenty seven years, so I knew nothing of her side of the family at all. So I decided that I would have a look into their side of it. And I was really astounded actually, and it made me realise where my love of the needle came from, was because my great grandfather was a needle maker…
JM: Oh, right…
CE: … and he put the… he was a surgical needle maker, in Redditch of course which is the main industry for needles… and he put the tips onto surgical needles… and then when I started to look at the rest of the family, nearly every member of the family was involved in needles in some way or other.
CE: Well, some went into dressmaking or tailoressing, others actually worked for Morel who did all the knitting needles. [JM: Right.] Some of them packed needles, Florence Macdonald which is if you go to antique fairs, etc. and you buy old packets of needles, inevitably these needles are going to be from Redditch and very often they are Florence Macdonald, is the make that you will see on these little packets you know. My own birth mother actually in the school holidays did outwork at home, and she was a knobber…
JM: And a knobber is? [Laughs]
CE: A knobber is a very interesting job… so boring I would think, but she put the knobs on the end of your knitting needles to stop your knitting from sliding off.
CE: So it seemed as though the whole family had been involved some way with needles, which was really quite nice because I understood a little bit then, as to where my love… [JM: of the needle…] of the needle had come from really, because from my father’s side they were mainly… my grandmother did do a little bit of embroidery, and she did a lot of knitting, but she had carpal tunnel syndrome in her hands which stopped her really from doing a lot, so I was never taught by my grandmother how to do needlecraft as such… [JM: No] but there was such a big love there I wanted to know really where it came from and it’s obviously from my birth mother’s side.
JM: Yeah… that’s very interesting actually. Oh, right, what is it you enjoy particularly about quiltmaking?
CE: Well, it’s a funny thing isn’t it really, my husband says to me ‘I don’t understand you women, you buy a metre of fabric and you spend all afternoon cutting it up into little pieces, and then sewing it all back together again.’ [JM laughs] he said, ‘I don’t really understand what was wrong with it in the first place’. And I think it’s just the love of holding the fabric, having the fabric in your hand. I love the feel of fabric, and I’m very, very into threads. Many a time when we have gone off with the Port Talbot Quilters to shows, I have to buy some threads. On the bus on the way back I’m just sat there with these threads in my hand and I’m sort of just stroking them, it’s a very sad life really isn’t it you know [both laugh]. But fabric is the same isn’t it really, I think the feel of the fabric and just holding it and touching it. [JM: Um… um…] It’s just lovely.
JM: Right, and where do you get your ideas and your inspiration for what you make from?
CE: … um, obviously from books, there is such an array of books out there, I’m not a great lover of traditional, what I would say traditional quilting… where you’ve got like these flying geese and loads of triangles and all that sort of thing. That’s a bit too fussy for me, I… I’m not too keen on that side of it. I like the modern, the contemporary, and I like the, [hiccup] pardon me, the wall art quilts, that really fascinates me. Owing to the fact that I have done City and Guilds in surface design quite a lot of work in that area. So surface pattern, and then going into a wall quilt, they sort of go part and parcel really, and I decided to learn patchwork and quilting so that, I think sometimes you have to learn the rules before you can break them.
CE: So I came along to Port Talbot Quilters to learn the rules really. However, I was quite surprised that some of the rules I quite liked, and I didn’t want to break.
CE: I quite enjoyed the aspect of it you know. I think my favourite really is appliqué. [JM: Right] I really enjoy the applique, however, I only really enjoy it if I can hand appliqué it, because I have a love of embroidery and thread and what knot and I want to sit and hold the thread and hold the fabric in my hand really. I’ve tried it on the machine, it doesn’t give me the same kick.
CE: Quick, yeah, but I haven’t got the same thrill about it really… so, but um no, I do enjoy all aspects. Ideas… I like to take photographs, I took a… we were down in Tenby and I saw a lovely little coaster of a quirky image of Tenby harbour, and Tenby is so recognisable isn’t it. [JM: Yeah] Most Welsh people you show them this little coaster and they will say straight away, ‘oh that’s Tenby’, it hasn’t got to have a name on it, they know you know, and I really liked those little coasters, so I took that as my idea and I actually made a wall-hanging from that idea really. By enlarging it and computering and putting on photocopiers and then reversing it and doing all the plans for it and I rather enjoyed it. I quite enjoyed actually transposing it from a coaster onto a piece of fabric.
JM: Right. Can I ask you why quiltmaking is important in your life?
CE: I’ve met such a lot of lovely people, and I feel that… it’s a necessity really, it’s something I can’t live without… it’s the touch of the fabric… it’s in connection with the people and everybody I seem to have met so far along the journey, and it has been a journey… have been so nice… so open, so sharing with ideas… there is so much to learn, there’s always something new, and that is especially so with textile and with wall art quilts, art quilts. And I often wonder, what made somebody do that?
CE: There is one technique where it was very, very popular, was using nappy liners, ironing them and doing all sorts of things to them and it made me think, why would you think about using a nappy liner?
CE: … you know, and it opens your eyes a little bit, it’s now got to the stage of… well let’s play, let’s see what it does you know. And it’s lovely, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, you know, so, no, it is very important. I like sometimes to be able to… just to follow a pattern. I see a pattern that I quite like, let’s just follow it, I haven’t really got to think about that, you know, just follow what the instructions tell you, but then other times it’s nice to sort of put some doddles down, some drawings down, a bit of design element into it and try to come up with something yourself really. And then once it’s made I don’t think anybody is ever satisfied with it, because you can see, ‘I should have done that’, or ‘really if I had of done that it would have improved it’, so that drives you on to do the next one I think really. It’s a fact of, ‘I didn’t do that quite right I could do that better’. And then the next one you’ve done there’s something else that you have sort of thought that ‘oh I should have done that’, and it sort of drives you on really. I gives you thought.
JM: Yes, well I think, unless there is anything else you wanted to add… [CE: No] I think that’s about it. It was really interesting. Thank you very much Chris.
CE: That’s okay.