ID Number: TQ.2014.011
Name of Interviewee: Denise Barden
Name of Interviewer: Julie Hollings
Name of Transcriber: Julie Hollings
Location: Julie’s home
Address: Featherstone, West Yorkshire
Date: 11 June 2014
Length of interview: 0:53:09
Denise talks about the first and only quilt she has made, the result of a series of beginners quilt workshops, and her plans for making more quilts in the future. She talks about some of the tips she has picked up from other quilters, what she enjoys and what she struggles with in quiltmaking. In the second half of the interview Denise talks about the people who have inspired her, and the fabrics and styles of quiltmaking that she is drawn to. There is also discussion about the uses of quilts today and how modern society views quiltmaking.
Julie Hollings [JH]: So tell me about the quilt you’ve brought with you for me today.
Denise Barden [DB]: Right, the quilt I’ve brought is the only quilt, the first quilt I’ve ever made and I’ve always had an interest in quiltmaking and the sewing class where I go had a beginners’ quilt workshop so I joined December. It was three monthly classes and I’ve made that quilt. It’s not perfect, there is lots of mistakes in it, however it’s my first quilt and I’m really quite proud of it.
JH: Yes, and what special meaning does it have for you, any?
DB: The meaning, not meaning as such but the meaning because it’s the first quilt, because one of the grandchildren wanted it and I’ve kept it because it’s my first quilt.
JH: And does your grandchild like it?
DB: Yes, very much, so I’m making hopefully three quilts for Christmas this year for presents for them.
JH: Exciting, you going to be busy at sewing classes.
DB: Very, yes, absolutely, yes.
JH: And you chose that quilt for the interview because it’s your first one. Have you done any more since then? Or is it your only one.
DB: It’s the only quilt I’ve got, the only quilt, yes so I didn’t have an option really I didn’t have a choice of which quilt. But actually I think even if I’d had a choice I maybe would have still brought the first one because it’s your first quilt isn’t it? Yes so it’s like, really, yes I was quite proud when I’d made it I must say.
JH: Yes an achievement. And if somebody was looking at that quilt what would they think it would say about you?
DB: About me? Oh dear, you’ve got me on that one! Oh I would have to come back to that one Julie.
JH: Yes, think about it. Think about it. How do you use that quilt?
DB: At the moment it is used when the grandchildren are sleeping over. One in particular likes to use it as a snuggle, a snuggle quilt or like a blanket. She’s the person, she’s the one that’s asked me for it. I cannot put it on a bed at the moment because it doesn’t, the colours I’ve chosen don’t go with any of the bedroom colours, as such, but I chose those colours because I saw them in the fabric shop at the sewing class and thought they just all went together. But as far as in the house, it doesn’t go with anything in the house.
JH: No. And the person that it was for didn’t influence the material?
DB: No, it wasn’t, I’ve never made it for anybody. I just, I saw the material, I saw the fabrics and the different colours and I thought “Oh, they could work well together”, and I picked them. There was nothing, no theme or anything like that, where the next ones I am going to make will have a theme. One in particular is going to be on, we’ve just had a weekend in London with the oldest grandchild, so the quilt is themed around London and what she saw and things like that, fingers crossed.
JH: A proper memory quilt.
DB: Yes that is going to be memory quilt I suppose, yes.
JH: And one thing I noticed on your photographs you’ve got on the back you’ve got a patch written about what your quilt is.
DB: It is. Sarah, the teacher at the quiltmaking class has said to every one of us, and she does it to even those that continue on whether it’s the first quilt or not, a name badge and there’s different things and we’ve wrote on the date we made the quilt, because what she says is, as time has gone through history a lot of quilts, they’ve got the quilt but they haven’t got any background information. Not that I can see in 100 years time my quilt being talked about in history lessons or history quilt lessons, Julie, but, you know, it’s actually its nice for as a reminder for us. And I suppose as time goes on you think “Oh well, yes I made that in April 2014.”
JH: It’s provenance. They ask for that on…
DB: It is, yes, and I think it’s quite a good idea actually. You need to start doing that on yours.
JH: Yes, and did you say she provided those? That’s just a routine thing she does?
DB: It’s a routine thing she does and then she give us pens. There was obviously special pens, different sort of things which we practised first, you know, however you want to write it. But there was, mine’s like an oblong isn’t it? Like a sort of envelope thing but there was all different shapes, sizes and what have you within them. I suppose you could, well I don’t know whether you could make your own because they’re obviously a special like washable, and the pen and if you did wash your quilt then it would remain intact. And it’s only tacked on.
0:05:53JH: Oh right.
DB: It’s not stitched on. She us it at the very end. Well nearly at the end before the binding round the end. When there was only a bit left she gave us that so we had to sew it in to that binding.
JH: Yes, but there’s only really the binding that’s firmly catching it on, the rest of it’s just tacked in place.
DB: The rest of it’s just sort of like blind stitch, or it’s meant to be blind stitch. I’ve not looked that closely at that actually.
JH: Maybe that’s why it’s called blind stitch! [Both laughing]
DB: I bet you can see mine!
JH: What are your plans for it in the future, your quilt?
DB: At the moment I haven’t got any, just keep it. But I think maybe, I don’t know, I might, I might give it away. But then again I might not because I’ve just made some bunting for somebody at work. Her daughter. And that quilt I know would go in her bedroom because it’s similar colours to the bunting, so, but I don’t know at the moment I haven’t got any plans other than it’s staying in my house.
JH: Jolly good. Well that’s the finish of the first set of questions, which was all about your quilt, your touchstone piece.
JH: The second section is about your involvement in quiltmaking and because you’ve told me your very new some of these questions might not be relevant to you so don’t be nervous about saying so if it doesn’t apply to you that’s just fine. So first of all tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.
DB: In quiltmaking… I would say it’s previously been in quilts rather than in quiltmaking. It’s only a thing since I started to go to the sewing class last year. Yes, I’ve had passing thoughts about “God I’d love to make a quilt”. We bought a really heavy quilt in southern Ireland, I don’t know, maybe about eight year ago, a really, really full sized quilt for the bed, and things like that. I’ve always liked patchworky things and that type of thing rather than modern quilt covers and what have you so I think it’s more been the interest in, or that I like that type of thing, rather than making it. Until I went to the sewing class last year and thought “Oh I’d really like to make a quilt”. I think I’d got a sewing, a quilting book just before I started going to sewing class and I thought “Oh it would be lovely to make one of them”. So I suppose it came from then, from that really, so quite new-ish.
JH: Right, and what age did you start making quilts, only last year, not anything before then in your other sewing?
DB: No, just last year when I was 23….! [both laughing]
JH: Moving on! From whom did you learn to quilt? You’ve mentioned Sarah?
DB: Sarah. The quilting instructor. I think her name is Sarah Eliza but I don’t know if that’s her middle name or her surname. But, yes, absolutely from her.
JH: And she, does she just teach at Rivers Meet or does she teach at other places do you know?
DB: I don’t know, I think she’s got young children so I don’t know if she just does like one weekend every month at Rivers Meet, but she is very, very much into quilting and I think with her it’s come from her grandmother used to make quilts by hand. Her mum’s into quilting, her sister’s into quilting and they really go into the history and everything of quilting. And she has a website with lots of different quilts on that she’s made which is really good for inspiration.
JH: Yes, definitely. How many hours a week do you quilt generally?
DB: Oh, it’s not really applicable that, at the minute. I mean I suppose that’s going to come more, I’ve got me, because from the beginners quilting class I’m now going on a permanent quilting group once a month and that’s this Saturday.
JH: And will that be a full day?
DB: It’s half, it’s three hours but between so between 14th June and whatever date it is in July that I go, 13th of July, then I’ll have homework to do, so I don’t really know because it’s going to be a bigger quilt than the one I’ve just made. Plus, that was all new to us, totally new so I cannot really say…
JH: At the moment it’s not like a regular weekly thing…
DB: At the moment, no, it will be a regular weekly thing.
JH: But it will be, yes.
DB: It’ll have to be, I’ve got three quilts to make for Christmas Julie.
JH: Yes, cracking on. They might not all be big ones though. And what is your first quilt memory? You mentioned something about when you were on holiday in Ireland; have you any memories about quilts before then?
DB: Yeah, I think my nanna had one actually so whether it stemmed from that. I mean I’m going back years and years…
JH: 23! [both laughing]
DB: 23-ish, yes! So it might be me nanna that told me… no. But I think my nanna had one, well she did, on her bed and it was, I’m not sure if it was a handmade one or what have you and I think her mum had made it actually. God my memory of things like that now! But I think my nanna’s mum, mother had made the quilt or certainly part of it, or one of them sitting round the table, I don’t know, but yes I vaguely remember my nanna having one on her bed. [JH: Right] And you know as a kid when you go in your nanna’s bedroom and that and you think “God, yeah”, but a really heavy one, as it was in them days, even 23 year ago! [both laughing]
JH: Are there other quiltmakers amongst your family or friends?
JH: In what ways, if any does your quiltmaking impact on your family?
DB: It doesn’t, doesn’t have any impact on the family other than… I mean it may do time-wise now but impacting on the family only in the respect that, having seen that first one, they’ve said they wanted one so it’s that kind of impact.
JH: A positive impact?
DB: Yes, a positive impact, “Oh granny Den, can I have one of them?”
JH: Oh well that’s good then?
DB: Yes, yes it is actually, that the kids…
JH: And they’re appreciating it?
DB: Yes, yes.
JH: Do you talk about your quilting with other people?
DB: Oh, yes at work! At work. In fact I just said to somebody today because I’m going to York races on 12th of July and she wants me to sleep over at her house and I says “I can’t because I’ve got my quilting class on the Sunday, half nine”. “I can’t believe you’re doing that da, da, da, da, da” and I says “Well, it’s important”. So I’m driving on the 12th of July to the races to go to my quilting class so, but yes, but no. A couple of people are quite interested in them and I have taken the quilt in to show them actually. You just reminded us. But just general chit-chat at work, nobody in my… one of my sisters is into dressmaking and curtains and things like that but not quilting.
DB: No she’s got a really bad back so she’s had to give up her sewing unfortunately.
JH: Right. Have you ever used quilts to get you through a difficult time? Not yet?
JH: Have you got any amusing experiences that have occurred from your quiltmaking? Anything amusing happened when you were making it at class? [Pause]
DB: Other than stitching, there’s I suppose a lot I’ve maybe done the wrong side round and things like that. No nothing that’s sort of amusing. Annoying! Frustrating should I say, maybe you know how you do all your squares and then you have it all carrying on together, well I couldn’t, I didn’t, I forgot how to do it so I ended up having to cut everyone off and things like that on my first length, but then after that Sarah re-showed me how to do it and it’s a lot easier that way isn’t it? [JH: Absolutely] But, no, I cannot think of any Julie, unless I think of one during the night tonight.
JH: It will all come back to you. What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?
DB: I think just the satisfaction of making something, seeing something grow from nothing, because when you first do it you’re literally starting with, I don’t know, four little squares, aren’t you? Because when I first did it I thought “God I bet this is going to be really, really difficult.” So I think it’s that knowledge finding that its quite simple in some ways, it’s not as difficult as you’d think it’s going to be in your head, because you look at something and you think “How on earth am I going to do that?” or I do. But I think the end result, seeing it, is that achievement, it’s like “God, yes I can. Yes there’s lots of mistakes in it but hopefully improve on that, but yes I can make something like this.” But I obviously couldn’t do it without the help of Sarah. But I think the people in the class are quite good as well.
JH: Yes, you help each other on.
DB: That is really good, yes, because some, well a lot of people who have started on the beginners then continue on to do the regular monthly quilting classes.
JH: Yes, and its things like it looks really, really complicated and when somebody who’s a gifted teacher breaks it down for you, and they say “Right and you’ve done that bit now iron it.” And you think “Oh, just ironing it everywhere you go along that makes it so much easier!”
DB: Doesn’t it just!
JH: But until you’ve had somebody explain that to you, you get to the end and you think “Oh my seams are all split and all that.”
DB: Yes, Sarah’s really strict on ironing, and ironing your seams the right way. It’s like a light-bulb moment really isn’t it? You think “God, how on earth am I going to do that?” and she’s explaining it and you’re thinking “Ooh, God” and then you do it and you think “Oh right!”
JH: And iron everything to the dark side so it doesn’t show through the light and you think “Yes that’s amazing. That makes it look so much better”!
DB: It does, it does. And I see some of the quilts in the class and I think “God they’re absolutely fantastic, them. How are we ever going to do it?” Because this next one, I wish I’d brought my form with me because it’s doing different things that, what she wants to incorporate in the next quilt is, so like that one is just four little squares sewn together and then a bigger square, its different sort of things like the swans or something like that…
JH: … flying geese?
DB: Flying geese, that’s it, so different things like that she wants me to incorporate into this next quilt so that’ll be fun.
JH: Yes, that’ll be a funny moment for you then to talk about. So what aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?
DB: There’s none that I don’t enjoy.
JH: Right! Oh very good. What are your…
DB: Do you know what I do find difficult though? You know how some people will see colours, I mean I picked the colours for them [the touchstone quilt] but it’s that vision of what a quilt can look like. This one was quite easy so I suppose it’s that vision side I probably find difficult.
JH: The design side of it?
DB: Yes, you know, like, you and Kath are really good, you’ve got the vision and things like that and I think ‘God, what can I do? How am I going to…?’ But it’s through looking at books I suppose and things like that. But I suppose for me if there was ‘a difficult bit’ (in inverted commas) it’s that thinking of that vision, that plan, that design. Something like that, yes.
JH: But again having somebody like your teacher to say ‘Look, that family of things all go together, you can’t go wrong.’ Then you kind of know you’re in safe hands don’t you then?
DB: Yes, and she wants to incorporate bold with, but also being careful, and I think that, I’m thinking ‘God how can I find like fussy, bold colour’ but anyway…
JH: But you trust her?
DB: Yes I mean I’ve picked some, I’ve got some material and that so, we’ll have to wait and see if it’s the right bits.
DB: But if not then… I mean the London quilt should be… because it’s a mixture of London themes and obviously just ordinary fabric isn’t it?
JH: Sounds interesting
DB: So that’s the one I’m going to go with this weekend.
JH: What art or quilt groups do you belong to? You’ve told me that you belong to a monthly quilt group.
DB: That’s the only one. I’m not in any guild or anything like that.
JH: What are your favourite techniques or materials, and you’ve not got a lot of experience yet but…
DB: No I haven’t.
JH: …you’ve worked so far in cotton.
DB: That’s all I’ve worked on.
JH: And having done that, would you be happy to do the same again?
DB: I would, yes, however some of the fabric I’ve picked for the London quilt, the memory quilt, the quilt is a Cath Kidston fabric and that’s slightly thicker than that one there, because that’s like thin cotton isn’t it?
JH: Yes. She has a ‘duck’… that she sometimes has a fabric she calls ‘duck’
DB: Who, Cath Kidston?
JH: In her books she’ll say have 1 square metre of ‘duck’
DB: Yes, well this just London themed. It’s got The Eye on, the Houses of Parliament and it’s all the places that we visited with Eva. But equally I’m also wanting in this quilt, Julie, to get some, a couple of photographs onto some fabric.
JH: Right, you’ve not done that before?
DB: Never done that before. Don’t know how I’m going to do it. And we went to see Matilda [West End musical show], so I want a picture of her and her granddad with Matilda behind onto some material, and I don’t know how I’m going to do that.
JH: What… have advances in technology influenced your work and if so, how?
DB: That wouldn’t really be applicable to me at the moment would it?
JH: It depends really on how did you do your cutting out? Did you do it out the same as you would for dressmaking?
DB: Advances in technology as far as I’m concerned was the cutting board and the ruler and the cutter, absolutely fabulous pieces of equipment. Absolutely… God they were great!
JH: I bought a 6” quarter, it’s called a quarter inch ruler and it’s got a little raised bit and you shove it right up against your stitches. It’s just enough to just rest against your stitches then you cut on the edge and all your seams are ¼”. It’s just phenomenal, this 6” pink girly ruler and I just love it. And that to me is technology. Really simple stuff isn’t it that makes your life easier. [Talking over each other a little]
DB: Right, oh I’ll have to have a look at that. Well I bought, I don’t know what size it is, a thinner ruler, the quilting ruler. But then the next, following week I went to buy the thicker one, and I need a bigger cutting board. I didn’t buy the small one, I didn’t buy the big one but, God, three absolutely essential pieces of equipment there.
JH: Brilliant, so you’re very new but you’ve got technology on your side straight away.
DB: God, isn’t it great when you do things with the right tools?
JH: Absolutely – well a poor workman always praises good tools.
DB: Absolutely. [Mobile phone tinkles in the background and pen clicks?]
JH: Describe the space where you work to do your quilting.
DB: At home or at the group?
DB: At home I have a sewing room which has been there about two years and had only started to be used in the last few months so that’s pleased my partner. At the quilting class it can depend. It depends if we are upstairs or downstairs. Downstairs is in the sewing room where we would have our weekly sewing classes so you’ve got the long tables. Upstairs, again you’ve got the long tables however the lighting isn’t too good and I started in December and at sort of quarter to three it was starting to get dark on an afternoon and I think we noticed it more then, where now it’s summer so you’ve got…. There’s no big lights in the upstairs room it’s just lamps.
JH: And one thing I find in the downstairs room in summer, depending what seat you sit on, you’ll notice I’m at the back, I can’t work in all that light. It’s just too much for me in there but natural light is best isn’t it if you can get it?
DB: It is yes. It is. I mean I, as you know, normally sit at the side and I can work there fine, but upstairs particularly the December, January classes, well quarter to three, three o’clock was quite dark and on the afternoon it goes on till half four.
JH: And your room at home, is it light?
DB: Very light. Plus I also have, what do they call those lights? You know what you’d have on the computer, the bendy…
JH: Like an angle poise thing?
DB: Yes, yes, I have that, but the light in the room is quite good and it’s next to the window.
JH: Just thinking back to technology, you didn’t, you haven’t bought a new machine just to do your quilting with?
DB: No. Oh, I forgot about my walking foot, my quilting foot, yes. Actually talking about funny moments, Julie, yes. I put that on and you know how you’ve got that bit [telephone pings in the background] you sort of hang it on, put it on and then you’ve got that bit that should go…
JH: …you have to pull it down
DB: … and I thought “That cannot work that way.” So I had it above, which is not really funny but I was sewing along and I was thinking “Well this is still not right”. And then I went to the next quilting class and I had it on and Sarah says “Oh you’ve got your quilting foot on the wrong way” and I says “Have I?” So that longer arm, there’s a longer arm on it and it needs to go underneath your screw, [JH: yeah] I had it above, because I thought “Well how is this going to work here?” But, yeah.
JH: That’s how you learn.
DB: But yes, a quilting foot makes such a difference. And actually the wadding, instead of using the normal wadding Sarah’s got some really thin, felty wadding. I don’t know what they call it, I need to ask her on Saturday, but I think that makes a big difference to the quilting rather than the, you know, the normal [JH: yeah] sort of wadding type thing [JH: yeah]. You know the one I mean, the thick…?
JH: Your grandma’s quilt might have had newspaper in.
DB: It was really heavy.
JH: They used to use old blankets and all sorts. [talking over each other]
DB: Really? God, yeah.
JH: So that’s technology isn’t it? All these lightweight fabrics, but they still do the warm, cuddly thing don’t they?
DB: Well, I mean the technology, like Sarah says, sitting round a table all these women in the olden days or whatever…
JH: in the dark…
DB: … sewing by hand in the dark, I mean fabulous quiltmakers then weren’t they? This quilt we’ve got from Ireland is machine made, but it is really, really heavy. It’s an extremely heavy quilt. Great in the winter, but very, very heavy.
JH: Not so good in the summer. I’m going to ask if you use a design wall. I would guess not.
DB: No. What is a design wall? Is it like a mood board? [Talking over each other]
JH: Well, I believe, yes, like a mood board where you would get your inspirations and put them all together and then use that to decide what fabrics you will use…
DB: Quite a good idea that actually…
JH: … and what shapes you will use, and as time goes on. Like your London one it sounds like you’ve got a design wall in your head already haven’t you?
DB: Yes I have, I know what I want.
JH: And you’ve got an image of what you want your finished one to look like. The colours of the images, the London images, what colour are they?
DB: The background’s white because I wanted the white in there and it’s a mixture of red, black and I think there might be some blue on it, I’m not…
JH: So are you already picturing in your mind what colour you’ll use for your plain colours and your borders?
DB: Ish. I don’t want it just to be white black and a red sort of quilt because she’s very much a girly girl, she’s nine. She’s very much a girly girl, but I don’t want to make it too ‘childish’ for want of a better word, either because I would like it… you know, it’s going to be a memory of the first, her very first trip to London with me and her granddad [phone pings in the background] and all the things we did that weekend. So I would like it to carry on for her to sort of keep the quilt. I need to have a look at that, and that’s something I‘ll probably discuss with Sarah on Saturday.
JH: So your design wall would come in then to try different sort of fabrics [talking over each other] and then looking at the flying geese, or the squares, and you might start thinking ‘Actually that might look nice in amongst the squares’ or whatever, and that’s where your design board would come in.
DB: That’ll probably then evolve as I’m going along, and it may change on Saturday to what I’ve got in my mind. Once I’ve had a chat with Sarah to see what she thinks. Yes. But I was equally going to go on to Pinterest, which is where people have like a board and they’ve got designs and things like that up, and there’s something on there for quilting. So I was going to have a look on there to see any ides…
DB: …yes. The wonders of the internet.
JH: Absolutely, yes. I guess at the moment, I was going to ask you how you balance your time but at the moment that it’s not a conflict for you is it?
JH: And again, because this is very new for you in your experience, how much do you think you spend on quilting in a year?
DB: I couldn’t really. I don’t suppose I could give an answer to that, as such. However [big sigh] the materials I have just bought may be for the quilt or may be used… I don’t know. I probably spent 40-odd in one shop, 30-odd in another and 30-odd in IKEA, so probably about 130 quid I spent a couple of weeks ago on fabric. Which is dead easy to do isn’t it?
JH: Absolutely. [Mobile phone pings]
DB: Now whether I need to buy some others, which I think I will, yet not all of that material I have bought will be used on the quilt, so it’s a difficult answer to gauge.
JH: But then you pay for your classes.
DB: The classes are £65 for three, something like that.
JH: And then do you have magazines and things like that?
DB: No, but I have bought books off Amazon. I’ve bought a couple of quilting books and then I’ve also been given a set of books [coughs], one of which is a quilting, as a present, part of Christmas present.
JH: And the downside of that, or the upside should I say, is the money that you’re spending on quilting, or the money that you spent on that quilt, it then was a gift in a way so it balances out almost doesn’t it when you are making things for somebody. It’s not just like your money’s running away with you?
DB: It’s not, no, and to be fair, whether rightly or wrongly, I haven’t put a cost on. Maybe this time I need to, well, write what that’s cost me. Not that it would make any difference but I suppose cost-wise I have bought the quilting foot. I’m going to buy a bigger cutting board. So if you taking into account all of those I don’t know, I still couldn’t give you a definite figure but I suppose, how much is the bigger cutting board? I can’t remember what I paid for the cutting board to be fair.
JH: Maybe about £20 or something like that. They aren’t cheap are they?
DB: The quilting foot is about £26, £28 something like that. And then as I say there’s your threads, then there’s your wadding. The wadding for that quilt, four by three, was £5 which Sarah supplied us with. I would imagine she buys in bulk, bulk so it works out a lot cheaper. How much it would be for us to buy that in less quantities, I don’t know.
JH: Yes, okey dokey. So that’s the second batch. That’s the biggest batch done. Are you OK to carry on? You don’t want a break?
DB: I’m fine, yes.
JH: How are you for time?
DB: I’m OK for time, it’s just after 7 isn’t it?
JH: So, we’re talking now about aesthetics, craftsmanship and design in quiltmaking, and as a ‘newbie’ some of this might not be relevant so don’t…
DB: You may get through this pretty quickly, this one Julie.
JH: What do you think makes a great quilt?
DB: When I look at a quilt, for me it’s just the fabric, the designs on it. That’s what I would look at so in my head a great quilt would be, “I like that fabric or I like the materials that they’ve used, or I like the design that they’ve used.” In my head that’s what I think would be a great quilt.
JH: OK. What makes a quilt artistically powerful, and you might have just answered that, that might have just answered this question, it’s the design of it…
DB: The design. I suppose, you know if you look through books or internet or things like that you see some on there and you see some fabulous ones that people have designed and you think ‘Oh God, that’s absolutely gorgeous.’ I don’t think I’d ever be making quilts like that, but if I did it would be copying somebody. But, like I said earlier the difficult bit for me in inverted commas is that ‘vision’ that ‘design’ so that’s where I… you know thinking of something like that. I think… I don’t know. I think it’s more I just look at the pattern or fabric and think “Oh I like that.”
JH: So you’re quite prescriptive? You can follow a prescription that somebody else has done that that’s their guidance to you for what you’re doing, but you wouldn’t say ‘I want to create a piece that’s this big and conveys that message artistically,’ that wouldn’t be for you?
DB: Well, maybe I’m doing that with the London quilt but that’s going to be part of the discussion with Sarah on Saturday, you know because while I’ve got in my head what I’d like, what I want in it, there’s certain things in this, in the quilting class now, like the geese, the flying geese, that I’ve got to do, so there’s going to be all different types of designs of quilting or whatever you call them…
JH: … yes, techniques
DB: … techniques within that quilt.
JH: Yes, and they’ll come to you then. Once you’ve got an idea in your mind and you know what techniques you need to use it will suddenly all become clear for you.
DB: Yes, because the techniques I really do not know other then the flying geese, but that’s only because Sarah mentioned them at the last group.
JH: So what would you think would make a quilt a suitable thing for a collection or a museum or a gallery?
JH: Mmmm. If you went to a quilt collection somewhere, what would you say would be relevant for a quilt exhibition?
DB: Oh I don’t know. I’d struggle to answer that because I don’t know what types of, I’ve not been to a quilting exhibition before.
JH: No. There’s something for you to try because it does open your eyes.
DB: Well I would like to do, to go to…
JH: And the Quilt Museum in York.
DB: Oh I didn’t realise there was one in York! Whereabouts?
JH: Oh, I’ll give you the address for that but that’s open 5 or 6 days a week.
DB: That’s something that would probably be useful for us to go to, a) just to see, but, b) to sort of see other quilts ‘in person’ if you know what I mean, in real life rather than just in a book or on the internet. Feel them if you can because you might not be able to in the museum and just see what designs and that is out there.
JH: Yes. And to see how simple some things are that are in a museum, and that makes you feel then a bit less inexperienced because we tend to think ours are really simple and wouldn’t merit that kind of attention and yet you see some that really are quite simple.
JH: But the way they’ve been done they are powerful enough to make an impression on somebody, and so we can underestimate ourselves when we are new can’t we?
DB: Well I think we do. I think we do underestimate ourselves. Yes, so that would be quite useful for me to do. To go and see. And like you say, a quilting exhibition, so if you know of any that’s coming up Julie, let me know and I’ll have a look and go.
JH: And what would you say makes a great quiltmaker?
DB: [Pause] I think a great quiltmaker would obviously have to have that passion of wanting do, that enthusiasm, wouldn’t it, wouldn’t they? A great quiltmaker if you’re looking at including design and things like that I suppose it would be somebody that’s got that passion, that enthusiasm, that artistic side that can see a design in their head and “Right, how am I going to do this?” and put it down, but then again does a quilt like you’ve just said have to be that complex, for want of a better word. Simple quilts can be just as powerful. But then again are simple quilts powerful because of the fabric that’s used in the simple quilts? So I suppose you need vision…
JH: So, vision and passion and enthusiasm?
DB: I think passion and enthusiasm. If you’re not enthusiastic then you’d hate doing the quilt wouldn’t you?
JH: Yes! [Both laughing]
DB: Patience is a virtue! Yes, yes.
JH: Good eyes for unpicking, or maybe that’s just us!
DB: I don’t know. Maybe I’m struggling on this one, I don’t know.
JH: This might be your teacher, I don’t want to put ideas into your head but whose work are you drawn to and have any artists influenced you with your quilting?
DB: At the minute I would say it would be Sarah. And, in particular, she’s on her website, and she’s brought some in, she’s made some fabulous for her nieces and nephews, Halloween quilts. Really bold black, orange, different designs and they’re absolutely, you’d look at them and you’d think ‘God, absolutely stunning’. If I saw the pile of fabric before it was made I’d think “Oh God, black and orange and all these bits going on?” but she’s got them together and they’ve just worked so well. They’re great. Your kids, your granddaughter, and them would love it, absolutely love it. They’re on her website.
JH: Right, I shall have to look for those.
DB: So Sarah at the minute because I’ve not, as I say, I’ve not been to any quilting exhibitions or other than your normal your general quilting books like your Jelly Beans or Cath Kidston, which she’s not really a quilter, to be fair, they’re not that good in her books. And one in a magazine, I can’t remember the lady’s name, but it was Tilda fabric [craft brand founded by Norwegian designer Tone Finnanger].
JH: But it’s good that you’re new but you’ve already got inspiration. You’ve somebody that’s inspiring you and making you want to do more.
DB: Yes, I think more sort of because Tilda is, is she Swedish or Danish or something like that, and I think a lot of that sort of Nordic type quilt I quite like. I quite like their designs. [Mobile phone pings again]
JH: Yes and they are quite modern, trendy at the moment aren’t they?
DB: They’re modern but they are…
DB: Oldie quilty and that type thing that I like.
JH: Yes, I can see why. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?
DB: I’ve never hand quilted.
JH: That’s how you feel about hand quilting!
DB: I’ve never hand quilted because I’ve just started but I could, you’d need a lot of time. I’d be frightened of hand quilting in case it came apart.
JH: Right. So you feel that machine quilting is more secure for you?
DB: Yes, yes. But that’s because in my head maybe I’m thinking that my hand sewing is not that good. I mean hand sewing, other than when I was at school, the only time I’ve hand sewn is if you were just doing a hem or see I’m not into dressmaking. So all the other crafty, curtain things I’ve done previously have all just been on the machine.
JH: So you’re not necessarily drawn to hand quilting or trying that, that’s not tempting?
DB: I’m not saying I wouldn’t try it. I would try it, but hand quilting versus machine quilting I’ve only ever done machine quilting.
JH: Yes, and you are happy with that already.
DB: Yes. I love it! I’m really looking forward to the group on Saturday.
JH: How about longarm quilting?
DB: Ooh, what’s that?
JH: I’ve not done it, but I believe longarm quilting is where the hole/the aperture that your material goes through is like, way long, like a yard long, so your stitching is like a yard over from where the mechanics of your machine are, so you don’t have to scrunch all your stuff up under the hole going through your… But you are not familiar with it? [Mobile phone pings]
DB: No. But I could see if you were making a quilt for a bed that would be quite useful because imagine turning that over to get through that bit…
JH: How did you manage turning it over and getting though that bit?
DB: It was quite thin and the cotton material is quite thin and the felting is quite thin, so I just rolled it over quite… it’s only four foot by three. I think something bigger than that, and I was thinking it at the time that I did it, I thought “Oh maybe you could struggle.”
JH: Did you know, you probably didn’t know, maybe Sarah’s not mentioned this to you, that sometimes people pay other people to quilt for them. They get a big quilt made but all they do is the top and someone else quilts it for them?
DB: No. The cheats! [Both laughing]
JH: It’s a lot of money. It costs a lot of money, but somebody with a longarm quilter could do that quite easily.
DB: I’ll have to have a look at that on Google. Or You Tube.
JH: I’ve never seen one. I’ve never seen one but they are very expensive.
DB: Talking of technology then, YouTube. Because the instructions on me quilting foot weren’t very clear, so I went on YouTube and that was really good so I suppose… Nicky at the sewing class has gone on YouTube to learn how to quilt hasn’t she?
JH: I’m not sure.
DB: Yes she has. Everything she has learned for quilting…
JH: Little workshops.
DB: … she’s gone on YouTube so they have little video things for different areas I suppose so that would be another useful tool.
JH: That goes back on the technology section then. Last section, the function and meaning of quilts. Why is quiltmaking important to your life?
DB: I enjoy it.
JH: So the pleasure of it?
DB: The pleasure of it and the end result. Yes and I would much rather have quilting on the bed than a plain quilt cover.
JH: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, if any?
DB: I don’t think they do, not my community. Going back to, I can’t remember what the question was, because our house is sort of like cottagey style with pine and that, and I’ve always liked that type of thing, and I think the quilts blend quite well into that sort of decor, and that’s probably why I like quilts because I like that type of decor. Always have done.
JH: Yes, that’s the way your mentality works, the cottagey type of cosy, homely things.
DB: Yes, so I suppose when you said earlier about what would people think of my quilts or what would it say about me it would probably be ‘Denise likes that type of…’ and I do, I like country cottagey type things rather than this new modern type stuff, and decor as well.
JH: Okey dokey.
DB: I don’t know if that’s appropriate?
JH: No, no, that’s fine because you’ve gone back to something that you weren’t sure about before, and it comes to you over time doesn’t it?
DB: Good look subscribing it, subscribing? Scribing it Julie!
JH: What do you think about the importance of quilts in British life?
DB: I think unfortunately as years have gone on a lot of things like quiltmaking, like your dressmaking and things like that what used to be done by generations before have been lost. I remember, I watched a programme on the Quakers last year and that showed the women and the daughters and all them sitting around, even then, even this day and age, but in America obviously they still do that. They don’t have the machines they were sitting doing it all by hand. And I suppose it’s lost that family togetherness. But I think that making things for the home and things like yourself where now it’s: we’ll just go out and we’ll buy it. It might be good for different businesses within Britain or what have you. I wouldn’t know the difference between an American quilt and a British quilt, if there is one.
JH: No, no. Me either.
DB: You know, so on British quiltmaking no.
JH: I wasn’t aware of much history of it. Which the next question has probably answered itself again, in what ways do you think that quilts have a special meaning for women’s history in Britain?
DB: I think it’s quite, it’s more because Sarah talks about this quite a lot as well and this is why she stressed so much about us having the name badges on the back of your quilt because obviously her and her grandmother and her mum they really are into everything quilting, they go to annual guild stuff [JH: Oh, yeah] and whatever and go back to the very early days when people did sit round and do and that. What was the question again, Julie?
JH: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women’s history in Britain?
DB: I think we’ve lost it.
JH: Yes. [alarm rings]
DB: Is that your alarm?
JH: That’s my alarm to say we’ve ten minutes left but we’ve just three or four questions, have you time to finish it?
DB: Yes, fine.
JH: How do you think quilts can be used?
DB: Well they’re not just for beds are they?
JH: Aren’t they? You tell me!
DB: No. And I think anybody, if you think, if you say ‘quilt’ people will automatically think ‘beds’ I think, wont they? But like you said with your grandchildren and with the kids, and they use them as a lap quilt or whatever. I’ve seen them in magazines where they’re over the back of the settee, I’ve seen them on walls. I don’t think I would ever have a wall hanging quilt but then again you don’t know. Cushions because last week I’ve started to quilt a cushion cover if you remember at sewing class. I’ve even seen waistcoats, like patchwork quilted waistcoats on people, and that. So I suppose they can be used in a variety of ways, probably far more than what I’ve just said but I can’t think of any more.
JH: Your thought about it is much wider than mine because I just think quilt equals bed, I’m just very logical about quilt equals bed equals warm, but you are much more open to it than me.
DB: Well I think it’s just because of the lap quilt because before this I would have thought quilt equals bed quilt, a bed quilt, and I think that would be most people’s initial thought. But then I’ve made that lap quilt. The kids like it on the settee if they are just if they’re just sitting watching the telly or like to snuggle up in it, and I have seen them, over the back of the settee, and I’m making a patchwork, a quilt cushion cover.
JH: Yes, so lots of ideas then.
DB: So, but is that a patchwork cush…? No it’s a quilted cushion cover actually. I answered my own question there.
JH: Yes. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? [Pause] You’ve gone some way to that I think with the ID badge on the back.
DB: The name… I think that’s really good. Even though I’m not into the history like Sarah is I do think she’s quite right because like the question here was, when did I make the quilt? But yet I’ve gone on there and it’s told us straight away because at the minute I don’t know whether its age or what I have no concept of time… even at 23! [Both laughing]
JH: And when you’ve made a few it will be even more complicated to keep track of.
DB: Yes and I think it will be nice for when you’re giving quilts as gifts as well, at least they know then in years to come it was made by Julie or Denise or whoever, or me Nan, or whatever, so I think that there is more and more people now because of Kirsty [Allsop] on the telly and the upcycling and that, I do think more and more people are getting into sewing and maybe quilting. They are certainly becoming more popular. Sarah has got a waiting list for her classes. So I do think they are becoming more and more popular so that’s helping to preserve them isn’t it?
JH: Yes, preserve that awareness and skills and knowledge.
DB: I think more and more people are coming into it. I think before it was deemed as ‘God only my nanna or old women sew, knit, crochet, quilt.’ Now it think it’s more and more younger people are coming into do it.
JH: It’s a bit more ironic and trendy isn’t it?
DB: It’s turned round hasn’t it? It’s coming back in.
JH: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today? And that’s the last question I’ve got for you. What’s the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?
DB: Oh God I’ve no idea! [6 second pause]. The time to make a quilt?
JH: Because people are time poor?
DB: I suppose depending on the quilt and depending at what stage you are in making it as to how quick you are. I don’t know, that woman you were on about that you interviewed, doing the memory quilt, how long did that take her? So is it time? I don’t know. Is it [5 second pause] cost? Because actually scraps of material or what you could use for little quarters, and they’re quite expensive aren’t? Where before you used to be able to pick them up for nothing. I don’t really know on that one Julie, to be fair.
JH: That’s fine. Is there anything that you want to say about your whole quilting experience so far that I haven’t asked you questions about?
DB: No. I think you’ve asked them all other than you know I’m really, really enjoying it and really enthusiastic and looking forward to making these three.
JH: And that’s why I wanted to interview you really because I think as somebody who’s a novice…
DB: Very much.
JH: … and you’re not a member of the Quilters’ Guild
JH: And I think it’s important that we record people at the start of their interest as well as people who are really, really experienced and they know all sorts about it. And I think it’s really valuable that you have been willing to share that with me because all of these interviews are going to be held in the Quilt Museum as an audio trail and as a paper trail with the photographs that go with them. So there will be people in future perhaps who will use this as a research and might see yours and get an inspiration from that as well. So I’m really grateful that you have taken the time to take part because I know you are busy and I appreciate that so thank you very much.
DB: No I’ve quite enjoyed it but my head, in my head I think to belong to a Quilters’ Guild you’d need to be really good at quilting.
JH: Yes, you would think that, but you don’t.
DB: I don’t know.
JH: You have to be passionate, you have to be enthusiastic…
DB: Because you’re very good at quilting aren’t you?
JH: I don’t think I am you see. I compare myself to other people and I don’t think I am.
DB: Oh God, you’re fabulous at quilting and sewing.
JH: It’s all relative to somebody else that you’ve seen, but equally, because I’ve gone to more and more exhibitions now I can go to an exhibition and see a quilt and think “Do you know, my mitred corners are better than those”, and I would never have put mine in an exhibition. And that’s not because I’m going around being critical but it’s because I can go around and appreciate what’s been done, and see the, it’s not seeing the flaws, it’s not that at all. It’s appreciating what’s gone into it and appreciating that I can be completely blown away by somebody’s design and yet at the same time they haven’t got one skill that I’ve got so it’s about recognising the good and bad in everything, and embracing that as a good quilt because until I started seeing lots of quilts I weren’t doing that. I was just thinking “Oh mine are nothing compared to theirs”. But the more you see of it the more you realise that yours are equally as good.
DB: I need to go to an exhibition don’t I?
JH: Thank you very much.