ID number: TQ.2016.013
Name of interviewee: Denise Smith
Name of interviewer: Kathy Hunt
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Denise’s home
Address: Snareshill, Staffordshire
Date: 23 March 2016
Length of interview: 0:38:59
Denise made ‘House on the Hill’ from a pattern bought at Malvern Quilt Show, she was drawn to the pattern and the colours, so tracked down the fabrics to match. The quilt is machine pieced and longarm quilted, and Denise talks in detail about the design of the quilt and how it was made. Later she talks about some of the other quilt she has made, her favourite technique (applique) and the pleasure she got from completing a City and Guilds in Patchwork and Quilting.
Kathy Hunt [KH]: This is an interview with Denise Smith. ID number TQ.2016.013. We’re talking at Denise’s home in Shareshill, south Staffordshire on Wednesday 23rd March 2016 at 1.30pm and I’m Kathy Hunt. Denise has a quilt in front of me, which she is going to try to describe to us.
Denise Smith [DS]: Thank you Kathy. My quilt that we’ve got in front of us today is called House on a Hill. That was my own name I made up for it, but the quilt itself was made from a pattern which was designed by Annie Dunn, she’s an Australian designer. The pattern I purchased at the Malvern Quilt Show in about 2010 if I remember rightly and, I, I, bought it from the Hatched and Patched stand which I think was at Malvern that year and then I had to find the fabrics for it, because she hadn’t actually got the, the fabrics on the stall that went with the pattern. So, my challenge that day was to, to find the, the fabrics that would go with the quilt.
KH: What sort of fabrics have you bought?
DS: I think they were Moda fabrics if I remember rightly, because the stall I had them from, I can’t remember the name of that stall, but it was just around the corner from the, the lady I bought the, the pattern from and she’d got them all in a basket and they were, I think £1 or £1.50 a fat quarter, which was a bargain that day, because everything was so expensive, the fabrics were at the show and so I spent a good, I think I must have been there nearly an hour just sorting through all of these fabrics for the quilt, cause there’s quite a few fabrics used in the quilt itself. So I think I had about, it must have been getting on for 20 fat quarters, if not more that day. And when I took them all to her, I think she was quite pleased with herself, the fact that she’d managed to sell a lot of these fat quarters, cause they were in a bargain basket, so she hadn’t got to take them home with her that day.
KH: And what, what colour would you say was the predominant colour in the quilt?
DS: I think it’s more like a raspberry pink, I’d say, that pops out at me. There are some blues in there as well, some, um, what’s… not royal blue, perhaps between a royal blue and a dark blue and then we’ve got a lighter, lighter blues in it. But there’s lots of pinks and reds in there, we’ve also got some dark browns and beiges and lots of different colours, mute… muted colours I think we’d call them. Yeah, it’s about 70 inches long, by 60 inches wide and it’s made up from essential block, which is about two foot, by 18 inches and that’s appliqued with a house on a hill and it’s quite a whimsical pattern I think or design. And, it’s almost a childlike design, with flowers on the hill, which… two inches high each of them and then these two tall trees each side of the tr… each side of the house, which reach up to the top of the house and then they’ve got a huge lollipopped tree top, with a heart design within that treetop.
Yeah, we’ve also got a veranda on the front, which is blue and the veranda spreads out across the front of the house and goes out either side of the house and then the rooftop as well, is blue and two tall chimney tops on the top of it. And four, four windows, very childlike design, a child would draw at school of its own house, that’s what it reminded me of with four windows and a door, but it’s got the added veranda across the front and then lots of flowers on the hill in front of it, which are like upturned umbrellas I think. Yeah, it really did appeal to me that day.
And outside of the actual central applique block, we’ve got the two sashing borders and it’s four corner stones, which have got circles of brown fabric in… within them. And then coming… another row outside of those sashing blocks we’ve got about six inches square running around the outside of it, of different coloured fabrics I used, from those fat quarters I bought. And another cornerstone, when I say a cornerstone I mean a block at the corner… at the corner of that square. A cornerstone at each corner [laughter].
KH: Right, continuing with Denise Smith, can you talk a bit more about the design of the quilt?
DS: Yes, I can. Going from the… like I said, like a central panel or block and then we’ve got the two sashing borders with the cornerstones and then on the outside of that we have the six inch blocks which surround the panel, the applique panel block and they’re made up of, two, three, four, five, about six or seven different fabrics and they’re six inch blocks. Inter… interfaced with other piece blocks which are a square within a square, with an applique design in the centre of that. And we have, a dragonfly, there’s a bird at the top and then a flower, a watering can, a heart and then another small tree. So that’s that outer block and then on the outer part of that we have another sashing block of like a spotty beige fabric which has small pink roses scattered all over it and that surrounds the, the six inch blocks. On the outer part of that, there are another, more six inch blocks which are a machine piece, the whole quilt itself is machine pieced, there’s no hand stitching on it at all. The… then this outer six inch block is made up of star blocks and like a railroad pattern I think, that was, it’s just three, three pieces of fabric pieced together. And then on the outer part of that we’ve got a border, a six inch border which runs all the way around which is a beige fabric again, with big red roses all over it. And then it’s actually bound with a dotty fabric which is also used for the backing. So the actual panel in… going back to the panel in the centre, that was machine appliqued. I used bond a web which is a fusible webbing, which you can stick fabrics to other fabrics with and then that was, that was machine appliqued all the way around it, each piece of fabric using a blanket stitch on my sewing machine.
KH: Can you talk a little bit about the quilting?
DS: Yes, I didn’t quilt this, this quilt at the time. I’d got a really bad back injury, so spending time at my sewing machine was limited. I do like to try and machine quilt my quilts but, on this occasion this one went off to Quilters’ Trading Post in Cheshire and that’s a shop run by a mum and daughter and they’ve got long arm quilting machines there which are computerized and the quilt’s laid out and the, the sewing machine which is hooked up to the computer and is set up and it just does is automatically, and she’s done it really well. The quilt in itself is a huge daisy, flowers and there are butterflies and leaves and like, berry shapes in it and it’s a nice big open pattern, which doesn’t detract from the actual quilt itself. But when you turn the quilt over, you can actually see the quilting a lot better, so yeah I was really please with it. It does, it is quite expensive to have done, but I’m sure the actual finish to it is lovely and it lies nice and flat and looks lovely whether it’s hanging or whether it’s on a bed.
KH: Would you say this is a bed quilt? Do you use it for that purpose?
DS: Yes, all my quilts go on the bed. This one is a single bed size, like I said it was 70 by 60 inches wide, but, they do fit nicely on top of a double bed, it just fits on the top, rather than hanging down the sides, as it would on a, a single bed. So you actually get to see the whole of the quilt, rather than having to look round the edges of the bed to see the other… the design.
KH: Did you have a particular purpose or room that you were planning this for? Or did you choose the fabrics to suit the patt… because of the pattern?
DS: Yeah, the fabrics were chosen to, to, fit, to match the pattern as closely as I could, cause that’s what drew my attention to, to the actual pattern itself. I like these colours, I like these… they’re soft tones, they’re not acid tones at all, they’re quite soft and calming tones and that’s, that’s the type of fabrics I tend to use in my work. But no, this, this quilt, it has got a hanging sleeve on the back of it, but, usually it’s on my, on a bed or it goes over… I’ve got some z-beds that I cover over ‘cause they’re quite unsightly, and they do make excellent covers for them, so yeah, it’s always out on show this one, this is one of my favourites.
KH: I can see why. When you, when you were making this, were you having any help from anyone else or, where… maybe I should ask… go back and ask you where this came in your sort of history as a quilter?
DS: Yes I’ve been… I started quilting as a proper hobby in 2005, 2006, but I’ve always sewn, even as a child, it was my auntie who started me sewing, she let me play on her, her sewing machine. And I did… when, when she passed away, I did, I did have her sewing machine passed down to me, it was a huge, heavy, I think it was an Elnor, if I remember rightly, Elnor or Alpha. But it was… it weighed a tonne, it was cast iron, I’m sure it was cast iron, but I had that, that was an electric one and then I moved onto a, a Janome sewing machine and now I’ve got a Bernina, which is more of course. So, yeah, that’s when I… 2005 I properly started quilting after my mum died. We’d, we’d been living in Germany. I was a practising nurse before I went to Germany. So I went on what you would call a sabbatical. They gave me three years and then I could decide whether I went back or not, and I decided not to go back. So I was a stay at home mum, but, yeah I came home and really was looking for something to do. I didn’t wanna go back into nursing, I think I’d lost a bit of confidence to be honest with that, but I was looking for something else. So I decided to take myself to Adult Education and I went to Wolverhampton Adult Education, which at the time was in Oldhall Street in Wolverhampton. I had no idea what I was gonna do and I went in and picked up a prospectus in the reception area and sat down and had a look through that and I came over the patchwork and quilting course and I thought, well I can sew, but I don’t know what patchwork and quilting is. So I went and had a chat with the tutor and we’d just moved to this house, which is in Staffordshire, and she said to me, ‘Well, you can either come along and pay weekly as… and just come along and do odd projects or’, she said, ‘because you’re in Staffordshire you could come along and do the City & Guilds at a reduced rate.’ I don’t know why it worked out that way, but I went and did the City & Guilds Patchwork and Quilting Level 2 and it was the best thing I ever did. Because it took me from very basics of quil… er, patchwork and quilting and it took me through every different type, machine piecing, hand piecing, applique, what else? We’ve got, mm … there are lots of different types of patch working. It also takes you off in other dimensions as well, into dyeing fabrics and I did an art part to the course as well, which taught me how to actually designing projects myself, which I hadn’t really kept up with to be honest. I prefer to work from a pattern. But yeah, that was my start of my patchwork and quilting.
KH: Could you tell me what City & Guilds actually is?
DS: City & Guilds is a course which is run… I don’t think they actually run them very often. I know the colleges don’t run City & Guilds now, but it’s, it’s a qualification. You’ve got Level I, Level II, Level III which is, I think, a diploma level and, and then you go on to doing a degree after that, but it is a proper qualification. I think with Level III you can actually teach.
KH: Would you say it focuses quite a lot on design?
DS: There is some design element to it. Part of the course is design, but, there’s was… we did… older… and we did all different types of, of samples of quilting. Different types of blocks were shown and then you had to do a project, two projects we did. I did a cushion and a wall hanging and it ran over 12 months course and it was my opener to patchwork and quilting, I’ve never looked back since.
KH: Did, did you have a favourite, style of patchwork or quilting that you liked? Or have you tended to do… lots of different things?
DS: I’ve done lots of different types of quilts but I have, sort of, focused on the applique. I do love the applique, you see something almost instantly, once you’ve laid the fabrics down, your pattern is there in front of you, rather than doing the same block systematically that… over and over again and then having to piece them all together. But, I like the fact that, you get… with applique, you get the whole picture almost instantly. It is one of my favourite types of patch work and quilting.
KH: In your pre-interview questionnaire, you mentioned that it helps you with your tinnitus, do you want to talk about that at all? What tinnitus is?
DS: Yes. Well, tinnitus is a ringing in the ear. Mine’s in my left ear and it came on, again, after my mum passed away and it’s… I think we’ve all got some level of tinnitus, but we don’t hear it. But when your stress levels or we get very upset, that, that’s when it becomes more of a problem and that’s when it became a problem to me. And, I found that by concentrating on something else, it took my mind away from my tinnitus and I’ve learnt to live with it. It’s part of me, it’ll never go away, it’s… it will always be there. Sometimes it gets a little bit worse, if you get cold or something, but, yeah it’s, it lives with me, lives within me, if you like. But yeah, it, it did help me a lot, it did help me an awful lot actually, cause it just took my mind away from it and it can get to… it can be a big problem for some people, can be very distressing at times.
KH: You, you also talked about the fact that you, sometimes go to workshops. Would you like to describe any of the ones, or any particular tutors that you’ve worked with… not so much the tutors, but what you’ve learned from them?
DS: Yeah, I’ve done lots and lots of workshops, they’re mini holidays, if you like. Sometimes they’re two day courses, sometimes it’s just the one day. My first workshops were in Wolverhampton and they were run by the quilt group that I attend now, which is Wombourne Quilters. And my very, very first workshop was a trapunto workshop, which trapunto, where a design is stitched on a piece of fabric. You have your piece of fabric, you have your wadding… let’s get this right, no, you don’t have wadding, I think it’s three layers of fabric you have, you stich a design and you, like, make channels and then from the back… through the back of the fabric, you thread wool through the channels, which raises the design from the fabric. So that was my very first workshop which was a challenge that day. I’ve done lots of different ones. I’ve visited The Bramble Patch, down in Northampton and done workshops with Christine Travis down there, I did a workshop with Laura Kemshall as well and I’ve done several workshops with Wombourne Quilters. I think the Quilt Groups are the best places to attend your workshops from because you get them at a reduced rate, you’re also doing it within a group of people that you know, rather than just going along on the day and… there’s lots of people there, but because you’re concentrating so much on what you’re doing, you don’t really get a chance to get to know those people, unless it’s a regular workshop. So yeah, yeah the workshops did help me a lot, I learnt a lot from them and that carried on from my City & Guilds course.
KH: Is there any particular technique that you enjoy more than anything else?
DS: Yeah, I enjoy the applique.
KH: Yeah, besides that?
DS: I love applique. It’s not for everybody, some people find it tedious, the fact that, you know, cause I use a bonded applique usually, there are several different types of applique. You’ve got the bonded, which I use, and then you’ve got hand turned applique, which is done by hand and then you’re turning the edges of the fabric as you go along to leave a neat seam. And then you’ve got reverse applique where you’re actually cutting the design out from the top of the fabric, if I remember rightly and then having to turn the fabrics in. Lots and lots of different ways of doing it. You just have to find your, your own way really, which is best for you. But like I say, people find it a bit tedious if they’ve got to use the Wonderweb, because you have to trace the design onto the Wonderweb, then iron that onto your fabric. Then you have to cut it out and then you have iron that onto your panel, that you’re using, fabric and then it’s got to be stitched again. So it is, it’s quite time consuming, but I always think it’s worth it in the end.
KH: Have you ever made any howling errors with your applique?
DS: Several times I’ve stuck it onto the wrong side of the fabric or not reversed the pattern before I’ve drawn it, or, yeah lots of them, but you learn quickly from your mistakes.
KH: Yes. You have to reverse the pattern left to right, don’t you?
DS: Yeah, that’s right. Usually they say on the pattern, but I mean, even if you don’t reverse it, you just… it just turns your pattern…it will be the reverse of what you see on your pattern. But I’ve used patterns from children’s drawing books and colouring books as well in the past, you don’t have to go out and buy a specific pattern, you can make up your own design. You take the pattern and trace that with your bonded web, from a book and use that, it’s quite simple really.
KH: And I presume you do that quite often, do you?
DS: Yeah, I did that for a quillow for my grandson actually, it was a clown, a clown design and it was… that was for a competition at the, the local WI [Women’s Institute] I was in. The Staffordshire WI were having their country show and one of the competitions was to make a clown, they didn’t specify what it had to be, just a clown. So I decided to make a quillow and a quillow is a quilt you can turn into a pillow, then you get quillow. So the front panel, which is the pillow part was a, a clown design and we’ve still got that here today, he uses it whenever he comes to see us, he cuddles up under it.
KH: Have you made, have you made a number of quilts for your grandchildren or for members of the family that you’d like to talk about?
DS: Yes I think most, most of the family have got one now and if they haven’t got one, they’ve… they’re on the waiting list [laughs]. I’ve got three children and they’ve all got their own quilt. They don’t have any special names, it’s either Nicola’s quilt, Rebecca’s quilt or Matthew’s quilt. Matthew’s quilt was made after he, he finished at university, what’s the word I’m after? [KH: Graduated?] Graduated, that’s the one, sorry. Yes, and, he’s gone… he’s now a solicitor, so he did a law degree. So I wanted a manly quilt for him, so I went out and I bought lots of greys and stripes, so it looks like suits and shirts, so that was a special one for him. And it was, it was lined with a Paul Smith shirt fabric which I bought from on the, I think it was the Festival Quilts event was on. I think it was Mr Rosenberg’s fabric stall and it was ideal, it was beautiful, striped like shirt material, it’s got a lovely shine to it, that backs it. I mean, I love the back as much as the front of that one, but yeah, yeah. They all took them away, but I bought them all back, cause I went… when I went to visit my daughter, hers was in a cupboard and I was horrified, cause it was all folded up and it had got all these lovely lines coming across it and I said, ‘No, it’s gotta go home.’ I said, ‘You can use it when you come to see us, see us… I’ll put it on your bed when you come to see us.’ and she was happy. So one day they’ll have them, they can do what they like with them then.
KH: Do you always label your quilts? And if so, how?
DS: Most of my quilts are labelled. This one, unfortunately, isn’t I noticed this morning, cause I like to exhibit my quilts. I don’t exhibit to enter competitions, I just like to put one into a show, cause I always think if you don’t… if people don’t exhibit there’s no show to go and see and we all love to go and see quilts. And I always encourage other people to, to exhibit as well, because the comments you get back from the judges help, you shouldn’t always be offended by whatever they put and I know some comments can be quite demeaning, but I always try to, to learn from the comments. The first quilt I entered into The Festival of Quilts, which is held at the NEC in Birmingham ever year, was like a trellis design quilt and to me, it was gorgeous, it was really… it went with my bedroom at the time and I was really pleased with it. And I put it into this quilt show and somebody from one… from the quilters said, ‘Just stand and listen to what people say.’ So I stood and I listened, I don’t know whether I did the right thing or not. There was some nice comments, but most of them were saying that I hadn’t used a… the colours in it were too close to each other, so the trellis didn’t stand out. But for my actual bedroom, it looked, it looked lovely, but it was, it was, a good comment to make, because it’s exactly what the judges said on the comments sheet, there wasn’t enough contrast.
KH: Are you talking about the tone and the colour, so there weren’t enough sort of darks and lights contrast?
DS: Exactly, yeah, there wasn’t enough contrast. So the… she said the trellis part of it should have been a little bit darker, so it stood out, yeah, the other fabrics would have stood out better. But you have to, you have to weigh up what you want to use your quilt for. I hadn’t entered it for any… to win a prize, I just entered it to be part of the show.
KH: Indeed. Have you entered other shows then?
DS: Yeah, I’ve entered quite a few… well most years I’ve entered at The Festival of Quilts and I’ve entered at the Uttoxeter the Quilts in the Village, is it? I think it’s Quilts in the Village now they call it, it’s held in Uttoxeter, I’ve entered in that one. And I’ve entered in our Wombourne Quilters as well. I don’t know where else I’ve… that’s about it.
KH: Have you had any accolades that you would like me to tell me about?
DS: No, not as yet, I’m trying. I do get… cross my fingers each year, but I’m just happy. I’ve not had any negative comments back from judges, they’ve all, all come back, quite positive, so I’m happy with that. So you never know, one day… who knows?
KH: I’ll wish you good luck on that. Can you remember the first quilt you ever made?
DS: The first quilt I ever made? First wall hanging I ever made was one that I’d picked up when we were on holiday in Canada and I’d… this was before I started quilting and it just lay in a drawer and then when I, when I started on my quilting hobby, I found it out and it, that was the first thing I did really, besides my cushion that I had made. It was a small wall hanging and it was like a forest setting and I think it was four or five little young deer, roe deer across it with lots of hanging trees and the quilting on it I would never show, never show to anybody, it was horrendous, but it was an attempt, it set me on my way.
KH: Was that machine quilting?
DS: Yeah, I did machine quilt that one, yeah. It was… I think Edwina McKeenan, she’s quite a well-known quilt artist and she… I went on a workshop with her to learn, I think it was called Machine Quilting for the Terrified, if I can remember rightly. And, she taught me a lot actually, so yeah, and I think I’ve progressed from that, I hope I have anyway [chuckles]. [Pause]
KH: Continuing with the interview with DS. Denise when you talk about quilting, people often travel and go buying fabrics and looking at textiles can you tell me about some of your experiences?
DS: Yes I’ve been, it’s taken me lots of different places in the world. I went… found a quilt shop… a patchwork and quilting shop in Paris, just over from the, the cathedral. [KH whispers Notre Dame?] Can’t remember the name of it, perhaps Kathy can help me? Notre Dame that’s right. And then, a few years ago we travelled over to America and, as a treat my husband said that he’d take me to Paduca, the Paduca show, which is in North America, yeah, in… I thought Paduca was in Pennsylvania but I don’t think it is, it’s further north than that. Anyway Paduca is a small town In North America, where they hold an annual quilt show and, the quilt museum is also there and it’s attached to the museum, a huge show. I think it was on two or three floors and the bottom floor of this show, I’d never seen so many long arm quilting machines in all my life. I thought there were only two different types, but there’s not, there’s a huge amount of them. And then lots of stalls and then there’s also another exhi… exhibition area, very much like the exhibition that they have in the NEC in Birmingham. But yeah, that was a, a special year and I bought lots and lots of fabrics and, I’ve also travelled to Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and I bought fabrics from there and into the Amish area as well which is quite famous for quilting. And they’ve got lots of fabric shops in lots of different towns in, in Pennsylvania. Where else have I have been to? South Africa, we travelled to, I managed to find quilt shops there. My husband says I plan it, but I don’t, we just come across them, I’m really lucky. But last year we travelled to, to Canada and Vancouver Island. I bought fabrics, cause we went on a bear hunt in Vancouver, on Vancouver Island and we went whale watching, so I bought fabrics back from both. The quilts for memories about the whale watching and one for the bears, as we managed to see lots for both bears and whales on that occasion. So yes, it’s taken me lots of different places and wherever there’s a quilt shop you’ll find nice people. You really will, there’s always a smile when you get there and usually a dr… they always offer you a drink as well, which is very hospitable. But yeah we had some… it’s taken us to some lovely places and met some nice people doing it.
KH: Do you have any favourite types of fabric that you like to buy?
DS: I do love Moda fabrics, I think they’re really good quality fabric and easy to use and, you always find if you use a cheaper fabric, it might be cheaper, but it usually frays away in front of your eyes, whereas with the better quality fabrics they are more manageable and take the handling as well.
KH: Would I be right in saying that they tend to be quite floral?
DS: I suppose they are really, Moda, yeah. There’s… you can get plains, plain fabrics in Moda as well, lots of different designs. And there’s lots of different designers now that design for Moda.
KH: Do you buy batik or any other sorts at all?
DS: No, I’m not a lover of batik, because I always find the fabric quite hard to work with, whether that’s the dyeing process. But it always seems quite stiff, whereas I like to… I always find when I… comfort when I’m using fabrics, to be honest. It’s warm to use, the colours are, are nice, I find it very relaxing, whereas batiks are usually quite bright colours. It’s Bali, you batik in Bali don’t you? Dyeing fabrics on the beach I understand, from one workshop I’ve read about. But, yeah, no, I’m not a batik user, I don’t say I don’t dislike them, but they’re lovely in some quilts, but no, I haven’t used them.
KH: Well thank you very much for your conversation with me this afternoon, it’s been very interesting. And…
DS: I enjoyed it.
KH: … I’ve enjoyed it too.