ID number: TQ.2014.033
Name of Interviewee: Elizabeth Davis
Name of Interviewer: Liz Savage
Name of Transcriber: Liz Savage
Location: Elizabeth’s home
Address: Neath, Port Talbot
Date: 1 September 2014
Length of interview: 0:17:00
Elizabeth’s ‘Windmills’ quilt started as a single block made at her local quilt group, that she decided to make into a full bed quilt. It also holds memories of her sister, a trip to Lampeter and visiting family in Suffolk. Later she talks about how she designs her quilts, how she goes about making a quilt and her views other people’s quilts.
Liz Savage [LS]: Hello Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Davis [ED]: Hello Liz. Thank you very much for coming round, it’s nice to see you.
LS: Thank you. Can you tell me about the quilt we’re discussing today, now then?
ED: Well this quilt is roughly 60 by 62 inches square. It began life as a single block in our Wednesday Stitchers group. One of the group offered to teach us the design which is, I believe, ‘Pinwheel’ and I liked it so much that I made a quilt of it. It’s mainly in blues with yellow.
LS: And those are colours you obviously like and they go with whatever you have in the room.
ED: In the bedroom, yes.
LS: Right. Can you tell me how you quilted it? Is it quilt-as-you-go so you quilted each square, each block, if you like or did you quilt it after you’d put it all together.
ED: No, I quilted each block separately. Then put it together using sashing as well. The main reason for that was I didn’t have any more fabric to make any more blocks and I wanted to make it a bit bigger so the sashing spaced it out a bit.
LS: Is there anything about… is there a particular meaning to this quilt, for you?
ED: Well, the backing particularly, and I didn’t set out to do this, I was looking for something in my store because I rarely go out and buy new specially, I will but if I can find something to go then I’ll use it. And it was from curtains and a bedspread that I made for my sister when she came to live with us and I’ve had it for some time, no longer in use as bedspread and curtains. She has passed away and I wanted to carry on remembering her.
LS: Marvellous, thank you. Right. So it’s a Pinwheel pattern and you weren’t quite sure whether it was Pinwheel or Square Dance. Can you tell us how you construct the block because it’s a bit like a windmill and the quilt is called ‘Windmills’ isn’t it?
ED: It is, yes.
LS: So, it’s triangles really.
ED: Well it is triangles but they’re not complete true triangles because they’re slightly, oh dear I’m not on geometry but slightly off shape for a regular.
LS: Are there five sides to them then, it’s a pentagon rather than a triangle, it looks as if it’s a pentagon, there’s one, two, three… Oh no, a quadrilateral, there are four sides.
ED: There are four sides. But they come out looking a bit triangular.
LS: They do, yes. And all the fabrics are different aren’t they? Each block has different fabrics, different blues, different yellows.
ED: Well, I haven’t done it as a regular pattern, but I’ve got Spraytime here in various shades of blue which I actually bought for something else. But we were on a trip to Lampeter and I saw some blues and yellows and I bought some of those in the shop there and then when we were going to make the block in the group I thought I would like to do something with them. So everything came out, got put together and this is the result. But I haven’t done it as a symmetric thing, I’ve varied the way it appears.
LS: Can you tell me something about the ‘big stitch’ quilting, I call it ‘big stitch’ quilting, that you’ve done on the blocks. And the buttons in the middle.
ED: Right, well I’ll start with the buttons. That was the idea of the girl who sits next to me in the group who’s very fond of putting buttons on things, Lorna, and then sort of going round the centre of each section of windmill, so to speak, I’ve done a square, about two inches square of big stitch hand quilting. So I was just aiming to do enough to hold it together rather than doing huge amounts of quilting.
LS: Because there’s quite a lot of pattern in the fabric already.
ED: That’s right, yes.
LS: You didn’t want to spoil it.
LS: No, lovely. Is there anything… What do you feel about this quilt? Do you feel that it’s been a success for a start?
ED: It’s given me a lot of pleasure making it. I’ve made it both here, at home, in the class as I said. Took it on holiday with me, because I was making up the blocks rather than a huge quilt, it was manageable to take away. Over visiting family in Suffolk, which is another reason for calling it Windmills, we tend to get windmills over on that side of the country. It just fits very nicely on top of our bed so it’s useful to have as an extra rather than being up all the time.
LS: And you use it all through the year? It’s not that recent is yet, that you haven’t had a winter with it?
ED: Yes, we use it in the winter on top of a summer or even a winter duvet because I never go very thick with my duvets. But in the summer when things were really hot and we just had the sheet and this was smaller, it was much better to pull up if you got cold in the middle of the night, rather than a duvet.
LS: Is that how you feel about quilts generally, that they’re meant to be used?
ED: Oh yes. I don’t mind having a throw on the back of a settee at all but I would expect to use it if I got chilly of an evening.
LS: So when you design a quilt, when you start making a quilt, you would be thinking about its utility, about what you’re going to do with it.
ED: Yes, my first ever quilt was a seaside one for my granddaughter. I wish I had it here now, but she is in Germany, so this is my next best thing. But I like to be very individual, there are times when I like to be very symmetrical and the evenness of the pattern satisfies me and there are other times when I like to have a mixture and find myself seeing all different things in it.
LS: Yes, yes. Marvellous. Can we talk a little bit about your experience of quiltmaking then, from the start. When did you first start making quilts?
ED: Just about three years ago, I’d been interested for a while, heard that Liz was in the Wednesday Stitchers, asked if I could join, went along, started with hexagons which was the only form of patchwork I’d seen close to before. Made my pincushion and moved on! [Both laugh].
LS: And were there any quiltmakers in your family before you?
ED: No, not quiltmakers.
LS: Sewing people then.
ED: Sewing people. I had an aunt who taught me how to cut out for dressmaking many years ago, to do it properly. Got me launched on that. When I was a child my mother made my dresses very often, we did in those days.
LS: So, what do you prefer in style and technique of quiltmaking? We’ve talked about you prefer doing things that are going to be used for a start but as far as the style of the quilt is concerned, what do you like doing? Are you traditional in style or contemporary or do you just like… you’re fairly eclectic, you just like doing anything?
ED: I think more traditional. I haven’t yet mastered triangles, I’ve had a go at diamonds, I’m exploring possibilities.
LS: I think that’s something that’s true of most quilters. They’re explorers. What do you particularly enjoy about quiltmaking?
ED: I just find it very relaxing particularly when it goes well. It’s that… the effect that it has on me. And satisfying. And it’s good to be creative.
LS: And you’ve got something that you can use at the end of the process.
ED: Indeed, yes.
LS: Is there anything you don’t enjoy?
ED: Unpicking it when it’s gone wrong!
LS: Yeah, that’s fairly common as well. We’ve talked a little bit about the techniques you use but do you use any technology or any particular book when you start making a quilt?
ED: My technology is very simple. Just a cutting board, blade and a ruler and I use a sewing machine for stitching, piecing them together. And I have a book which explains processes and encourages how to make my own designs. So I do that.
LS: So you don’t follow the book to the letter, you like to go off on your own. The book encourages you to do this.
ED: The book encourages you to do that, yes. It’s not a book of quilt designs, it’s a book of ‘how to…’
LS: Where and when do you quilt?
ED: I quilt in the kitchen for the machine and cutting out. Hand quilting I can do in my sitting room. My husband bought me a light so that I can see better. I do find that if I sit down to watch the television with nothing in my hands I fall asleep [laughs] so it is very nice to have it there. I try and keep it as handwork that I can take to the group so that we can talk and do things. I can sit at home and stitch on the machine, I don’t particularly aim to do that down there, I go for the social as much as anything else.
LS: And also the room where we meet has got facilities for layering on tables rather than crawling around on the floor.
ED: That’s true.
LS: Which I’ve seen you do, more than once.
ED: Yes. And what’s so nice about that, everybody walks past and says, ‘oh that’s lovely, look at this… look at that… let me help you’ or if you need to ask for help, they’re so willing to come.
LS: How much time do you spend quiltmaking, do you think, in a week? Because I know you’re a busy person.
ED: I find that very hard to quantify. Because part of quiltmaking is thinking about it and I can do that as I’m going around. But some weeks I’ll do a lot of stitching and other weeks much less.
LS: It depends. What about the time of year? If its winter time, I know you like gardening as well so maybe in the summer, less quilting.
ED: Probably in the summer less. If it’s fine I would prefer to be out in the garden.
LS: Can we think about other people’s quilts now? What do you notice about other… what pleases you, what are you amazed by in other people’s quilts if you see quilts with other people in the groups that you belong to or in shows?
ED: Colour combinations, the way a design is executed, the way a design is put together.
LS: Are there any kinds of quilts that you don’t like?
ED: I like things that I can use, I don’t like wallhangings because I don’t like things that will attract dust [laughs]. I think they’re very beautiful, I like looking at them but I don’t want them here.
LS: This is a difficult question. What do you think makes a good quilt?
ED: Oh, I think you have to use good materials, it’s no good skimping on them, if you want a good quilt it’s got to be good quality. And good quality filling. Everything has got to be done properly, the cutting has got to be right, the pressing has got to be right, the stitching has got to be right and then it’s got to be even and pleasing to the eye in the end.
LS: And do you get any of your ideas from other people’s quilts? Or do you prefer to have a look at books and then think about what you would like to make yourself?
ED: Well I do get ideas from other people with the blocks that we’ve made. This… if it is Pinwheel or Square Dance, whatever it is. We did Exploding Pineapples and that was one block but I made a big quilt out of it.
LS: How do you feel about hand and machine quilting?
ED: I haven’t yet mastered machine quilting so I don’t feel very strong about it. I’m very happy hand quilting but I’m going to buy myself a ring, a frame, because I could get it more even. We had a workshop the other week to do fine hand quilting. I’m thinking about the very fine threads, I like the thicker threads and the bigger needles actually.
LS: So, last few questions now. What do you do with the quilts you have made? I think you have answered this already but perhaps you’d just like to reiterate this. Do you keep them all?
ED: I don’t keep them all. I made one for my granddaughter and then three more for children, three more seaside ones. I made one for a friend’s new baby in America and sent it. One single quilt, weighed one kilo and it was there in three days. I’ve made cushions as gifts for people. I have made for charity auctions. We’re doing Linus quilts at the moment and I have one ready to go for that. So, various and I do keep some for myself.
LS: Is there anything else you’d like to say, Elizabeth, before we discuss how important quiltmaking is in your life?
ED: No, I can’t think of anything.
LS: So, is quiltmaking important in your life?
ED: It’s important because I enjoy the process of sewing, handling the fabric. I enjoy the trips out either on my own or in groups to shows and to places where I will always buy something. I enjoy the social contact. It’s just nice to have the memories, look back at the quilt and say, ‘Oh yes that represents that and that represents something else and that’s something useful.’
LS: Yes, it sounds as if it’s important to you.
LS: Well, thank you very much for sharing your story about quiltmaking. Is there something you want to say?
ED: I was just going to say, that’s my pleasure. Thank you very much for asking!
LS: Thank you.