ID number: TQ.2015.023
Name of interviewee: Elspeth Russell
Name of interviewer: Zoe Aiano
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Elspeth’s home
Address: Hamilton, Lanarkshire
Date: 12 May 2015
Length of interview: 1:09:47
Elspeth introduces her first quilt, a log cabin quilt, made from a pattern in the first quilt book she bought in the early 1980s. She talks about the beginnings of The Quilters’ Guild and refers back to Guild history throughout the interview. Elspeth had a sewing shop for about 10 years and talks about this and the classes that took place there. She is involved with Project Linus and a number of sewing groups.
Zoe Aiano [ZA]: All right, this is Zoe Aiano here with Elspeth Russell. We’re in Hamilton on 12th May 2015 and the number of TQ.2015.023. Okay, so could you start by telling me a bit about this quilt, if you could start by describing it and maybe telling a bit about its history.
Elspeth Russell [ER]: It’s officially a Log Cabin although at the time I didn’t know anything about Log Cabin, and I started in the corner and worked my way out instead of starting in the middle of the block but… I was living in Billericay in Essex at that time and this was my first quilt. It was very difficult in the early 80s to get fabrics so some of them were Laura Ashley, some of them were just remnants from Remnant Kings in Hamilton and, they have faded badly but not worn which is good because the quilt’s still in use. At the time I was living in Billericay. I worked for a company in London and we drove round… I drove round looking after plants in various places and one of the jobs I had to go to was near Wembley Stadium, and I used to go over in my lunch and I found a shop and I found my very first ever quilt book which I still have, and this quilt was made from instructions in that book. And they called it Log Cabin. I didn’t know any better. But, I still love it. I’ve used it and used it and used it both as a bed cover and as a door curtain in one of the houses I lived in. And I still show it as my first quilt when I do talks to many guilds and rurals and places like that.
ZA: Lovely. So you said it was your first quilt so what was it that decided you to start quilting and how did you end up with this one as your first one?
ER: In… in… we moved to Billericay because my husband got a job in Billericay, in, near… outside London, and at the time my children were very young and I didn’t know anyone and I’ve always been interested in sewing. I had tried a number of years before when my elder daughter was just three. I had started doing hexagons from a book I got in the library in Hamilton and thoroughly bored with it because I love hand sewing but I found that very boring. So I’d given up but I always had a notion that I would like to do a patchwork quilt and in Billericay I suddenly saw as I passed the village hall it said, ‘Tonight Talk on Patchwork and Quilting’, and I went along to that talk and it literally changed my life because there was a woman there who eventually became the treasurer, the first ever treasurer of The Guild [The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles] as I recall, and she just bought out bin bag after bin bag full of these amazing quilts. And I found out about American patchwork. No… no hexagons, no papers, no… no nonsense like that. And she had a lovely appliqué ones and it was just… it just opened a door to me so I found I could combine my love of patterns and colour and design rather than mess about with hexagons. So that’s really how I started. And then not longer after that we moved back up to Lanarkshire and I carried on and finished my quilt and there it is.
ZA: How long did it take you in total?
ER: Well, all the quilts we did then were all hand done and so it probably took a coupla years. A year and a half to two years, but it was completely hand done.
ZA: So, given that it was your first quilt did you find yourself change? Was there kind of a development in the process of quilt making as you were doing it or did you kind of stay with the same method [talking over each other]… the whole way?
ER: No, no I stayed with the same method because at that time there were no tools, there were no rulers, there was no rotary cutters. So everything that I did there was done just with an inch tape and scissors and pencil drawing the lines and cutting and stitching. So, yes it was a slow process but I actually liked it because it was something that I could sit with and… and just do. So it was quite therapeutic. But then when we moved… when I moved back to Hamilton I had a lot of… a group of friends that were all good… very, very good sewers. One lady was the wardrobe mistress in my operatic society. Another lady who was the head of home economics at the… one of the local high schools and two of the other people that were members of Embroiderers’ Guild. And we all got together and met in my house every Friday for years and, although we… we made all the mistakes as far as patchwork and quilting were concerned, we were all good sewers and we taught each other a lot of stuff and, it grew from there. And then as so many more people wanted to join, it was too big for my house so we started up a monthly meeting called County Quilters which met once a month in Hamilton and we invited teachers from all over the place, both national and international, and it became quite a thing. It… it kind of faded away because a committee took over the running of it eventually and, they… it wasn’t so successful then. But it was the… it was the first of that kind of group because one of the girls who was involved in it went on to found the Glasgow Gathering which is a similar thing now in Glasgow.
ZA: Fabulous. [indecipherable] But you have a name for this quilt right?
ER: Yes. Yes. It’s called Candy’s Corner because… because we’re working by hand, you have quite a lot of fabric in your hand as you’re working and as it got bigger she used to let… my first ever dog used to… she used to… that’s her picture on the wall. She used to lie in the corner and just wouldn’t move because she just loved it. Dogs love when you’re hand quilting because they can cuddle up on it, but she would never move so that was her quilt really. I actually have a picture somewhere of her lying on it.
ZA: So, how did your quiltmaking techniques then kind of progress from learning by hand out of a book to…
ER: Well, they didn’t really for a long time until all the new tools came in. I think the fact that the rotary cutters and rulers and mats revolutionised it. But at the time for years we taught by hand really apart from maybe sewing seams with the machine. We didn’t really progress to the more mathematical way we work now. But, I think the… the fun came in trying different things with appliqué, with folded patchwork, with all sorts of stuff. Different stuff. But not basically changing too much from the old template method to the non template method that we do now really, which is much speedier.
ZA: So could you describe for me as a… as a non quilter kind of the… very briefly the ways that you used to do it versus the kind of more mathematical ways that you said now.
ER: We used to use templates, and the templates would be cut out of plastic and… and in the early days we were advised to cut them out of milk bottles. You know, things like that. The big cartons and stuff like that. So that you could see through and you could place your template on whatever bit of the fabric you wanted to, if that was important to the design. With the strip patchwork we tended just to draw lines with a ruler and pencil and cut them out, which took a long time, whereas now we just use a ruler and zip it down. But, templates were really the… the … for every kind of… of geometric shape we used a template and drew round it and then added on quarter inch seam allowance which we don’t do now because we cut the shapes bigger and our machines will stitch the quarter inch seam.
ZA: And has that kind of development in technique changed the styles that you use or kind of the aesthetics of the [talking over each other]…
ER: I think it… well, it has with some people. I think it depends what the quilter, the individual quilter, wants to do. For traditional work yes it probably has and a lot of people follow slavishly the designs in magazines and things but that time there were no magazines or anything like that or hardly any books either. But, I’m sorry I’ve forgotten what you asked me… [laughing]
ZA: Whether the difference in techniques between when you started out and now whether it’s affects the kind of quilt that you produce.
ER: Well, not necessarily… I tend not to do much actual patchwork now. It’s more quilting that I do because I’m so involved with… with Project Linus to make children’s quilts and my driving force is to get as many as I can done rather than take a long time and produce a masterpiece. I’ve tended not to go down the route of developing other things rather than just… I’m more a journeyman quilter now. I chose not to really go down the fancy route. I chose that.
ZA: So now you make… [phone ringing] Do you want to get that?
ZA: So you’re saying that now you mainly make quilts for kids?
ZA: And is this part of your… your other work or is this…
ER: No that’s all… [laughing] that’s all really, yeah I mean, occasionally I’ll do something for myself but I’m not so competitive in the quilt world. I’m not competitive at all. I’m competitive locally because I’m a member of the Bothwell Horticulture Society and they have a big annual show and I always like to put something in and beat certain people. But, yes everything I do now is… is for the children’s quilts as you can probably see from that there. That heap of stuff is washed now and ready to be made up and these rolls over there are quilts that are to be quilted still just like this. That’s it. But I don’t do anything… I don’t do anything fancy as such now. Except very occasionally I’ll do something for myself.
ZA: What kind of thing do you do when you do it for yourself?
ER: Well just for the horti shows really I’ll show you… that’s what I do for myself.
ER: So I’ve nearly finished and I’ve just to put the button on.
ZA: Should you describe it for me…
ER: The jacket… well this is officially a non patchwork jacket but it turned out patchwork. It’s a Vogue pattern. It’s quite a simple thing but these layers are all individually made and it was really to use up bits of fabric because that is actually the reverse of this and it was things that I had made and I had bits left so I used them up for that. But that was good fun apart from having to turn these inside out. But, I don’t do that very often ’cause I never have much time to… this is what I do for myself,
nothing terribly complicated, but I like the colours and the patterns that these… that’s batik that fabric. I got most of that in Australia when we were visiting there. Go to this shop in Australia. It’s a chain in Australia called Limelight and we get … I get bargains. Quite often
ER: It’s just children’s… I always just look for children’s fabrics but I can’t resist the batik. I buy bits and pieces everywhere I go so that’s that one.
ZA: So do you tend to get fabrics kind of as you find them?
ER: Nowadays not so much because I find the fabrics are far too expensive now. Really, really expensive. Ridiculously expensive for people that are starting so I tend to buy my fabrics direct from America. I’ve found this online retailer who has a clearance house in Arkansas. And I buy them in bulk, like five to eight yards at a time and they send them across to me very quickly and it works out very cheaply. I tend not to pay more than £3 a yard for them which is a lot cheaper. When you’re churning out lots it’s important and I’ve got a lot of people in my local Linus group who are not able to buy much themselves. A lot of older people.
ZA: So can you tell me then about these quilts for kids… who the kids are and…
ER: I’m the… the local coordinator for Lanarkshire and Glasgow East for Project Linus UK which is a national organisation that exists to give quilts to vulnerable children whether they’re ill, whether they’re bereaved or traumatised in any way. In this area we give them to Wishaw General Hospital and I give them to the neonatal department in Princess Royal which is in the east end of Glasgow, also give them to Women’s Aid branches. We happen to have five different Women’s Aid branches in Lanarkshire and one in East End of Glasgow so, there’s a lot of poor souls. Social work, I’m getting a lot of requests from social work now. Different charities. There’s a charity called Circle that I give to which helps prisoners’ families. Just every coordinator has their different outlets but obviously this is not a hugely wealthy area so there’s a lot of health visitors too. I didn’t quite know what the remit of a health visitor was but I’ve discovered it’s to help poor families. I didn’t know that at all. They don’t help… they don’t do older people, it’s just families they help so… so that’s… that’s it. But we give… every month in this area we give between 80 and 100 quilts out to…
ZA: Wow, and how many people is that then making those quilts?
ER: Well, it’s difficult. I mean I have probably between 200… 150 and 200 people that have given me a quilt at some time or a knitted blanket. They make… a lot of knitters make little ones for the hospital. But, my core of people in my group there’s maybe about 12 of us and they provide the bulk of… every month.
ZA: And so do you do it all individually or is it a social activity in any way?
ER: No, we… we tend to do it all individually and it’s great because housebound people can do it and older folk can do it that maybe can’t do much else. You know you can sit at home and do that. We meet up once a month and we sew on the labels. We have labels that we sew on all these quilts and we show, you know, have a wee Show and Tell and show each other what we’ve got and then I bring them all back home and divvy them up as to where they’re going. So that’s… the bags behind you there’s ten cot quilts and ten larger quilts in these bags. And then behind you there there’s 20 neonatal quilts and 20 knitted blankets for Wishaw and 20 quilts for Princess Royal. They’re just about ready to go so it’s always a great relief to get these bags out [laughing]. But yes, that’s what I concentrate on because I feel very strongly that it’s… well, we don’t do money but it’s something a lot better than money I think as well.
ZA: So if you tell me a bit about how you progressed from this quite casual seeming sewing circle to something much more organised and how it came about and…
ER: Well we… it’s a long time ago. When we had our wee group we did quite a lot, in fact I can show you this… this was my original group. The [unsure of word] quilters. And we did a big scenes of the local district and we gave that to the… that was the then Provost and we gave… we did all… all of us did different blocks of scenes of Hamilton and different things so
and that… that now hangs in the old parish church in Hamilton. It hangs in there with a note of all our names and I think they’ve got a photo as well. So after that, I had been working all over the place and every time I would maybe go to Edinburgh, there was a quilt shop in Edinburgh then up, I think it was near Gladstone Land and, they would say, ‘If you’re in Edinburgh would you get me a quilting book.’ Or, ‘Will you do… ‘, and I was running all over the place looking for stuff. “This is silly.” So we explored the thought of opening a shop and I did that about 1985 it would be roundabout we opened a shop but, you’re working 20 hours out of 24. I did it for about ten years, but… had a marvellous time. Lots… we run lots of classes. Every Saturday we had a different workshop from a visiting tutor. We had quite a lot of the well known international, American tutors because at that time there was a couple in Arran who used to run a holiday business and they had quilting holidays where they would invite… they had a source in America and contacts all over America and they would get a lot of the well known American tutors to come and teach there for a week. So what would happen was they would fly into Glasgow Airport. I would pick them up. I would bring them here. They would stay in my house and we would go out on the Friday night and they would give a talk to our county quilters and then I would take them on the Saturday morning to Ardrossan for the ferry across to Arran and they would have their week in… sorry, on the Saturday the… they had a Friday night talk then and Saturday had a workshop at my shop and then on Sunday morning I would take them across to the ferry to Arran and they had their week in Arran so, that was quite… quite… really quite good. And I ran up to four classes a week myself. I had two beginners’ class, an afternoon and an evening class and then two follow-on classes for quilters that had completed the beginners’ class so that was really good and we had a lot of quilters. We had a lot of Guild members at that time because actually it was… as far as The Guild was concerned I had been involved right from the beginning because when I was done in London… in Billericay just before we moved back up I… I hadnay heard about The Guild although I’d gone to these classes in Billericay nobody had mentioned it and they were having their… they’d only been going about a year and they were having their first ever exhibition in London which I didn’t know anything about and I happened to… before we were moving back up home, I thought I would go into London for a day’s shopping and I did something I never do. I bought a woman’s magazine, which I never buy, in Billericay station and I read it on the way into London and I thought, “Oh.” There was a thing in about an exhibition of somebody called The Quilters’ Guild in London so I went there. And I was just gobsmacked at all these amazing things that I’d never seen. Just fantastic. So I asked about… I got a form to fill in and when I came home I joined and I said, ‘Can you put me in touch with any members in this area?’ And they said, ‘There’s none.’ That was the west of Scotland. There was none. There was one woman and I discovered she’d moved to Crieff. I since got to know her very well after that but that was how I joined The Guild. Then we had been asked to… those of us that were members were asked to, I think it was either Stirling… I think it was Stirling or… Stirling or Perth and we all met quite a lot of us. And from that day they picked the ones that were probably talked the most and we had a committee, our first ever Scottish committee, and I was on it for 15 years. They don’t allow them to do… to stay on as long as that but I was on it for 15 years representing Lanarkshire. There was nobody doing Ayrshire or anything like that. So I used to travel all round and we set up wee groups all over the place in both Lanarkshire and Ayrshire so there was a lot of members got started then, and sort of Glasgow area too. So that was how I got started with The Guild and I’ve been a member of The Guild right from… almost the first year so.
ZA: Wow, so it sounds like quilting very rapidly became quite a big part of your life.
ER: It changed my life a lot, yes, because, as I say, I did do it for fun and I really loved it because I’ve always loved hand sewing. I’d done most embroidery with my gran when I was a wee girl and I did… I do like hand sewing although I don’t do much now. But yes it… it kind of took over [chuckling].
ZA: What was it about it? Was it kind of the creative aspect or the social aspect or…
ER: No, it was creative more. Oh yes. I could happily and do happily just do it myself. Yeah. I… I mean, the social was fine yeah. But, I just love doing it. It’s… it’s… if you love working with your hands it’s… and it’s quick and you get a great result. Well, it wasn’t quick when we started certainly but, it is now and I get great satisfaction from completing these things very quickly and getting them off to social work or whoever’s asking for them. Yeah. But a lot of the ones I do for social work now… when we give them to… I’m jumping about here, sorry… when we give them to the hospital
obviously we give a selection that’ll suit different… the two genders or age groups. Obviously we give them just a selection. But when you give to Women’s Aid or charities or social work they have to phone me and tell me what they want because it’s… we don’t give them just en masse because they could lie in a cupboard and have nobody suitable for that particular one. A 17 year old boy won’t want teddies for example so what I ask them to do here is would they phone me and tell me what they need. I don’t need to know any personal details although sometimes you do get personal details. I don’t need anything. All I need is name and gender and if they’ve any particular interests, like Minions. I had never heard of Minions. I’d never heard. And I’ve got six grandchildren. Five boys and a girl. And the youngest now is just nine and I think I’m getting outta the loop now with the kiddies things but I’d never heard of Minions so I managed to get some Minion fabric which is this one. Isn’t that great? So I’m just sticking that in so they’ll get that… that’ll be finished tonight and so get that one… but, yes we try to… even if they’ve got a favourite colour or something it helps to provide something so there’s no point in giving them something they’re not interested in… so that’s when… when we give them to other organisations we don’t give them… we don’t meet the children. We don’t… aw, look at that dust… we don’t see them. Occasionally I have done and I prefer not to. I’m better at organising and the sewing. I don’t really like meeting the very ill child or something like that. I have done and I found it quite upsetting. But we don’t hear anything about it. Occasionally you get letters or emails or something. But you don’t do it for that. You don’t do it for that. You get… I’ve got a big scrapbook with, you know, the letters that I do get and some photos. People sometimes email you a photo of their wee one with the quilt which is nice. If I get… when we hand the quilt over we say where it’s from and, ostensibly it’s a care leaflet telling them how to wash it and things, but to say where it’s from and if they want to acknowledge it they can. And I ask them if they could describe it so if they do do that I can identify who gave me it and I just copy the letter or the photo or whatever and give it to the person that made it and that that really… they love that. Yes that’s… that’s good.
ZA: Do you… have you passed on your love of quilting to any of your family or…
ER: [section of text removed for data protection] but my younger daughter, yes, she can do it, but she teaches full-time. She’s teaches in a special needs school now. And she has got me involved with them doing things, like last year I took five autistic boys, 12 year olds, I went in once a week and they made a wee quilt each to give to the hospital and they have given it to the hospital so that was lovely. Really nice. So yes, so she is… she is… she has done… I mean, she was 16 when had the shop and of course children assume they can just get everything for nothing so she went in and picked what she wanted and she’s made… she made at that time two or three different quilts which she still has and, she gave one… made one for a friend when her friend got married but she hasn’t continued it although she can. And my wee granddaughter’s quite keen but she’s doing so many other things, music and dancing and Guides and, you know, but when she comes in she’ll sit and we do something. I’ve got folders for all… even the boys do… got folders that you know, I’ve got a book, you know, I teach kids to sew so they progress through these books and do all the exercises and there’s word searches and all kinda thing and they like to… they love this machine because they can play about and obviously it’s computerised isn’t it, and they can play about and do different things so… but the eldest is 16 now and so he’s not really interested. But, yes, they… none of them are hand less. They can work the machine kinda thing but at the moment there’s nobody totally engrossed with it. But everyone’s busy that’s the problem. Yep.
ZA: So do you still teach it as well?
ER: Not really. No. When I stopped… when I gave up the shop I was burned out really. it was… it was hard going and I said I wasn’t going to teach again but obviously since I started with Linus and the Linus group and the group new people who come along who haven’t a clue, you know, we give them some fabric and we show them and things like that but it’s quite difficult and the hall we use there’s only two power points so we can’t bring machines and things like that so it is… it is difficult. So I tend to just give them the stuff and show them kinda thing and let them get on with it. So sink or swim really. But I… you know, I can’t divide myself up any more and I won’t do it anymore because I know what happened the last time. It was just too much. Yeah.
ZA: So is that why you gave up the shop in the end? Just…
ER: It wasn’t really making money. I mean, we were getting, my husband said it was a social centre. It wasn’t a business. You know… you’re working six days a week and then the Sunday you were doing VAT so that wasn’t good and of course at that time we really weren’t into … so much into computers. I had a catalogue and things that I did and my PC but it’s… You know, now I know I would do lots of things a lot better, but I wouldn’t do it now because there’s too many people doing it now and there’s too easily available online.
ZA: What kinds of people did you used to get coming into the classes and coming into the shop?
ER: Every kind… every kind… every… every… Yes. The people in the afternoon tended to be pensioners more, and the people in the evening obviously were the ones that were working, but all human life was there really. Yes, it was quite a huge spectrum. Yeah. And there are still two groups in Uddingston I had the shop in… still two groups in Uddingston an afternoon group and an evening group that were the core of the people that went to that. Yeah. They still work away at… yeah.
ZA: So what’s its legacy?
ER: Well, it has its legacy, yes. Although funnily enough they don’t contribute much to Linus. I don’t know why but I think they do… I think lots of people like to… I don’t know the word, show off, but you know what I mean, they like to do their own thing and they don’t really like to give. That’s my opinion. I shouldn’t say that really but sometimes you get a wee bit discouraged because you know there’s people that are able to do lovely stuff and you have never… or hardly ever get anything from them but I suspect that one or two are actually selling their work so why would you give them away if you’re selling them. But as a whole the people that are I’m with now in my own wee Linus group they’re lovely. And they’re all there because they want to be there which is the main thing. Yeah.
ZA: Do you have any support from the Linus group at all or is it all completely voluntary and do you…
ER: Oh, it’s all completely voluntary. No, we’ve never sought… well I… well I personally have never sought grants or anything like that. Some of… I know some coordinators do because they tell me that but I’ve never sought any council grants or anything like that. I don’t know how I would get on. I possibly might get on all right but the thing with this cutback era it gets more difficult, but I may well go down that route. When I tend to do is when I buy the fabric from America I’ll go to… if I’m invited I’ll go to quilt groups or the regional days for The Guild and… and I have sold them in the past and I make about a pound a yard profit which goes back in. But obviously I’m in the red after doing it for 11 years you’re in the red but I’m able to do that so that’s fine. That’s my way of charity. I’m able to do that at the moment so I’ll do it as long as I can but, and I… I’m a fabricaholic of course and that’s the problem [laughing]. That’s parta the problem. Yep.
ZA: I suppose it’s a way of being a virtuous fabricaholic. You know you can indulge in your…
ER: That’s right, absolutely right. When you get a parcel from America ooh, it’s wonderful, yep, even though you’ve seen it on screen it’s really nice to see it in the flesh as it were.
ZA: And so that’s you’re only quilting plans for the time being? Just continue with [talking over each other]…
ER: Oh yes… yes. Och aye, you get to a stage that it… you know, I’m old enough I know what… I know that’s what I want to do now and I know how important it is to these kids, especially the children that are in care because they have nothing and I keep saying to people… people used to think that Linus was just for terminally ill babies and we do from birth right up to age 18 and if you… the social workers sometimes tell you about the reactions that they get from the children and I say to people, ‘Most of the children that are in hospital are going home to a happy home but the children that are in care are in refuges and… and… and I would have thought that most of them need the… need these things because what they do is it’s not for their beds. It’s for around their heads.’ Psychologists… I organise a trip every year to Birmingham to the Festival of Quilts. I’ve done it since it started. This is the… this is the 13th year I think, maybe longer, but anyway, and I was on the bus. One of the Dumfries ladies, we pick up ladies at Gretna, and one of the ladies from Dumfries I was sitting next to her and she turned out to be a psychologist at Dumfries Royal Infirmary and we were talking about this and I was saying, you know, the effects that the quilts have on the children and she said, ‘Well you know why that is don’t you?’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Children… some of these children their lives are totally out of control and they don’t feel they have any control over anything’ and she said, ‘Anything that goes round their head they feel in control of that wee space there.’ So… so…
[interruption by husband offering a drink]
ER: That’s what happens this lady phones you and she has some things for you. Phone first. She’s… I don’t know what age June is, she must be in her late 80s now and she stays up in Carluke and she can’t get down to the group now but she collects things from the folk round about her she knows, the quilters and knitters. Beautiful knitter up there and, when she’s got some stuff she phones me and I go and collect it, so that’s… that’s what happens. That’s opportune. That showed you. But, you know, you get folk coming to the door with parcels and things. It’s nice. Yeah but that’s nearly 11… it’ll be 11 years in August I’ve been doing that so I feel very strongly it’s important ’cause you can give folk money and things. It’s not the same. And the one thing that they… I’m told which I never knew anything about was we put all these wee labels… have you see these? No. Wee labels that we put on all the quilts. The Linus quilts and I… we stitch one on every quilt that gets handed over right, and I have been told from different people that when the children in care read that they’re quite affected by it because sometimes they think that nobody cares about them at all. I had never really thought much about the labels, but there you go.
ZA: I suppose… do you think there’s any value to it being hand, you know, hand… handmade?
ER: I don’t know. I don’t know. Well, maybe I say that. But we had one… I had one instance that a wee girl social worker said to me, ‘There’s a wee girl… they don’t call it in a home, they don’t call it in care, they call it accommodated which I think is a horrible word. But she said ‘One wee girl that’s accommodated’ and she said, ‘She’s got nobody. She’s got nobody at all and she’s always wanting a hug.’ She said, ‘Could you… could you put anything about hugs on your… on the quilt?’ So I can’t remember what the fabric was that I used but I took a piece of fleece and fleece is great for appliquéing because you don’t have to turn any seams in or anything ’cause it doesn’t fray, so you just cut… so I cut out… I’ve got lettering shapes and I just cut out my hugs and I stitched it on and I got a… I got it here somewhere. I got an email to say… Kylie, that was her name, she told me her name in the… Kylie… ‘I gave Kylie your quilt and explained that you had made it especially for her and there was no other one like it.’ So I think that… when they’re told it’s made specially for them she put it round her and twirled and twirled and twirled round the room. Then everybody in the home was shown in and then she came back into her room, folded it up carefully with my hugs on the top and laid it on her pillow. So I was nearly in tears at that one but, it… when you hear something like that you think yeah… yeah.
ZA: We’ve definitely covered all of the ground. Why is quiltmaking important in your life? I feel…
ER: Because it’s all consuming. That’s really… it’s all consuming. Yeah, [name of husband] is very understanding. He just lets me do this. He likes to watch football and golf and I don’t like to watch football and golf and so he’s quite happy doing that and he does… he paints a bit so he does that so we meet up occasionally for meals [laughing].
0:39:47 ZA: Sounds like a good arrangement. What was it that you did before you opened the shop?
ER: I was, well I done various things. When the children were small I didn’t work and then when we… the reason we moved to England was ’cause… we had just moved to this beautiful big house up in Lanark with lovely grounds and everything, and quite unexpectedly my husband was made redundant ’cause they were shutting the factory completely [sighing]. We had just committed ourselves to this big thing so we couldn’t get it sold because it was a big house and we were travelling up and down every six weeks to Essex ‘til the house was sold and, um, sorry what was the… what was the actual question again?
ZA: What you did before… life before quilting.
ER: Yes. Yes. When he was made redundant I got a job locally in Lanark with a company in Lanark that… well it’s still going but it’s slightly different now. James Gilchrest and Son. They had a huge big garden centre and they grew a lot of stuff and supplied a lot of wholesale places with plants and they also had started, which was quite new then, a system where they supplied plants to offices and things and they had people round maintaining them. So I got a job doing that. Not that it paid very much but it made me feel better. And my main thing every Friday I used to go through to Edinburgh to a big insurance company and the Gas Board. The Gas Board was down at Leith. Not Leith, well on the coast anyway and it took you three weeks to get, three Fridays, to get round the whole of this Gas Board. It was an enormous place. So I did that and then when we moved down to England, of course the children were still in primary school I… I went out and I did people’s gardens. They thought it was very funny ’cause I arrived in a big BMW doing somebody’s garden but I did quite a few gardens for people and then I got a job. Out the blue there was a bit in the paper about looking for somebody to do plants like I had done up here so I applied for that and I got it. I used to drive round London looking after plants in London and that was where I went to the place near Wembley ’cause I was out doing plants in Harrow and I found that book. Still got that book, with Log Cabin and then what did I do when we came back. I set up my own business doing… I decided because I’d been introduced in London to the idea of artificial plants which had been horrible before but were getting really good now, I started up just doing… I mean, I would have done real plants if people had wanted it but my emphasis was on artificial plants. So I did that for quite a while. And that was about it. But after I gave up the shop I was the… the first coordinator of Lanarkshire Cancer Care Trust which is a volunteer driver service. The only service of its kind in Scotland. So I did that for about five years until I retired. So… very varied… very varied. But, I didn’t… I didn’t do a career.
ZA: So it wasn’t such a crazy thing for you to open a shop since you’d already started your own business before.
ER: Yeah, well at that time I had quite a supportive husband. He thought… we thought… we thought we would make a lot of money but we didn’t [laughing] so… anyway.
ZA: What was it… what was it that really decided you to go for the shop in the end? Was it a kind of passion or…
ER: Well just… Ah ha. I’ve always fancied it. I thought this is silly, you know, must be able to, you know, have to go all over the place looking for stuff ‘cos at that time it just wasn’t available. You know, it really, really wasn’t and there were no shows. They started up… there was a show in… in Harrogate and we used to go down there. But I mean there was two or three of us in my wee group, that wee group, we went different places ourselves. Went down to… there was a quilt show at Audley End and then there was… and one of the girls her sister lived down there so we all went and stayed with her and things like that. We went on adventures and we went to… I know it was just myself. I went down. Not long after we started this Scottish committee. The Quilters’ Guild AGM was being… one of the early ones was being held in Milton Keynes and Jean Roberts who was the head of The Guild in Scotland at that time said to me would I go and I said, “Why me?” and she said, ‘Well, you think like me.’ She couldn’t go. ‘You think like me.’ So off I went to Milton Keynes and I’ll never forget it. It seems strange now, but there were… I was the only person from Scotland and there was a girl from Belfast there and in this big AGM we had to stand up and people clapped [laughing]. It was… it was so embarrassing. I’ll never forget that. It was… it was… you’d think we’d come from outer space the pair of us. Ireland and Scotland. Imagine coming all that way. But yes, that was… it was… it was great. The Guild in the beginning was marvellous because it was growing and growing and growing and growing and everyone was young. I mean, I was only mid 30s. And even in our group at that time probably the oldest was in her mid 40s. Whereas now we’re all ancient and they’re not getting the young ones in because they’re all too busy. But, which is sad but, that’s the way it goes isn’t it? The younger people just aren’t getting involved in anything. I mean, I go and do lots of talks to women’s organisations, church guilds and things like that and they’re all old. I mean, the youngest maybe 60 ish. Its… it’s… I mean, there’s… a lot of them have stopped. A lot of them have just given up because although they’ve got some members none of them are willing or able to take on the roles of committee, secretary, treasurer stuff, which is sad. But they’re just… the young… the young ones aren’t getting involved in anything at all which… I don’t know why that… what’ll happen to all these organisations that rely on volunteers, but even things like Scouts and Guides and stuff…
ZA: Do you think there are young quilters out there? It’s just that they’re not…
ER: I think the kids are… the kids enjoy it. But I don’t think The Guild is seen as really relevant anymore. Even there’s lots of people that were Guild members that have given up. I mean, I’ve nearly given up once or twice and then I thought, ‘No, it’s important we keep this going.’ But there’s nobody volunteered for Lanarkshire for over 20 years. Nobody. And there’s nothing has happened locally and all the regional events are held in Perth. Now that lady that phoned there has been a Guild member forever. As I say she’s in her late 80s. She’s been since the beginning and she can’t get to Perth. She can’t even get to Hamilton for ten o’clock in the morning because there’s no buses so how can you all get to… they keep saying it’s… it’s feasible public transport but if you have to get public transport ten o’clock in the morning to be there, how do you get there. Even from Glasgow, how do you get there for ten o’clock in the morning? So anyway at the moment the people at The Guild in Scotland are nice. They’re good. There’s been some horrors, you know. Oh I shouldn’t be saying all this but, yeah… I just concentrate making my quilts and doing the best I can and don’t worry about the… the… The Guild stuff. I’ll go along if there’s something happening and smile sweetly.
ZA: Why is it you think The Guild’s important that it should be kept going?
ER: I think it’s important that anything that’s craft based skills should be passed on. I think that’s so important. I mean, I used to have people come to the shop on a Saturday and they weren’t all stitch related topics. We had a chap that made these Faberge egg type things. I thought they were horrible but very intricate and people wanted to learn how to do it. We had a calligraphy teacher, you know different things like that. I think it is important and I think people really would like to do it. I say for a while I always had the notion that I would like to make a quilt when I was young but my gran who taught me to embroider I mean her whole house was… when I was brought up our whole house was… my mother made… it was just after the war wasn’t it, and my mother made all our clothes often from other things and my gran knitted… and she was the most beautiful crocheter. All that fine stuff with patterns and beautiful things. And she made wax flowers. Sometimes when you talk to the old folk they say, ‘I remember them.’ Smell them they were wonderful. And she did stuff called pen painting. And she did this beautiful embroidery. Every night I used to come in from primary school, do my homework, go out to play and then at five o’clock there was a programme on the radio called Children’s Hour and I sat with my gran at Children’s Hour and we… we embroidered. So that was how I learned. But, my mother died. We were left… we were orphaned when I was… my mother died when I was 12. My dad died the next year. So we kinda brought ourselves up and the reason I think probably I… it’s not… it’s not conscious, it was a subconscious, really the reason I think I’m really into giving the children these things is that the first Christmas after my dad died somebody sent my sister and I, she was a year younger, my sister and I through the post a make-up bag. Never discovered to this day who did it and we were so chuffed at getting these things. I thought it meant so much to me at that [time], you know, these… this… these… these matter. These really matter. It’s not just a question of… see a lot of people do them and even make Linus quilts to show off. And I don’t like that. They think about making a quilt not giving a quilt. That’s not everybody. Lots of people do but some people like to… and they make a big thing of it and I don’t think it’s a big thing. You just do it, give it and don’t… for example, the coordinators don’t know how many quilts the other coordinators handle. We don’t compare each area ‘cos that isn’t fair. It’s not… you would think that in Glasgow there’s lots and lots of quilters do it. There’s not. In Aberdeen there’s lots and knitters. Edinburgh does quite well. The average of each area probably every month is between 30 and 40 but there’s some do far less and there’s some do more. But people… you can only ask people to do what they feel able to do or want to do and if somebody only gives me a quilt once a year that’s fine. If they give me it once a month that’s fine. You know, we say, ‘Thank you very much.’ And we’re very grateful but I’m so much more grateful for the people that give me lots every month. I’ve got two people that churn them out and the rest of the group do very well as well but there’s two people outstanding. We were invited to the Scottish Parliament. I don’t know if you knew that. It was a big article in the… The Quilter’s Guild the big… the big national magazine [The Quilter]. One of the ladies that went… there’s the photo there. There’s a lady in [indecipherable] which is the next village who is… she’s actually a Conservative MSP, you know, how they’ve proportional representation and she’s one for… one of the list MPs for central Scotland. That’s her there. Margaret Mitchell. And this lady here golfs with her. This was one of my group. She golfed with her and was telling her all about Linus and so Alison said to me, ‘Would you like to have a presentation in the Scottish Parliament?’ ‘What?’ I was a bit wary of that. Don’t want to be involved with any particular party. That was my worry because round about here they used to put that monkey up for Labour and it won so I didn’t want to be involved with any party so I kinda hung back and eventually she came back to me and she said, ‘Margaret would like to talk to you about this.’ So I went to see her… or she came here actually I think. And she explained that they do present… what they call presentation but it’s promotion really of charities and… and work that people are doing and they… you… you… they take it to the Parliament… like the day we were there there was… can’t remember what charity it was and they just had a table in the hallway, but we were given a committee room and I had asked the… we have 16 areas that are active at the moment from Shetland right down to the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway but I had said to everybody, ‘If you can make it.’ So there were actually eight… eight of us managed to make it on the day and we were given an area of this committee room each and we hung quilts. You can actually see the Lanarkshire ones are just on a board behind… you can see behind us there’s different things just hanging. We were there all day and various MSPs came in to look at them and wander round and one man expressed his disappointment there was nobody there from Argyle and I said, “I can’t get a volunteer for Argyle and so, if we get one, we’ll come.” But it was… it was a lovely day. There was lots of… obviously the majority of them that came in were Conservatives because Margaret had… but, you know, Margo McDonald… Margo was an independent MSP in Edinburgh, the one that wrote in all the papers and things like that. Well, she was at school with me and I hadn’t seen her for a while so I said to Margaret, ‘Would you ask Margo to come and have a look at it.’ She was a really ill that day. She could hardly walk. But she came round. And it was… it was a smashing day. But… and we, you know, we… we… we did a… there was a bit in News Patch and then one of the girls that was there, the girl from West Lothian, the Linus lady from West Lothian, she said, ‘Do you mind if I send this into The Guild?’ So we opened the big Guild magazine and here we were that ‘Linus goes to Scottish Parliament’ which we were really pleased about. But, yes, my biggest thing is trying to get awareness of Linus. You know, when I do these talks that’s why I do them but I think I’ve only had maybe one person actually come along to my group as a result of the talks but at least you’re letting folk know they’re there. But sometimes you look around and you see all these old folk they keep their hats on some of them, you know what I mean, and they’re… and in the afternoon if they’ve had their lunch you see their eyes going. But, you know, I keep trying because it’s pensioner power mainly. It is. Because we’re the ones with the time to do it. So probably I’m more… I’m more enthusiastic about Linus than I am about The Guild now but it was The Guild that got me started so I can’t…
ZA: Did you get any results… did anyone join up following all of the press with the … with the parliamentary presentation?
ER: No, no that was… it was… that was just in The Guild publications. It wasn’t in the national press. I don’t think we did anything… maybe just… you see local papers are… are very… they like the bad news to sell papers and, you know, they’ll maybe put a wee note in if I send anything in but unless it’s something, you know, worries, they tend not to do it but… but that’s fine.
ZA: So I have a really stupid question the name Linus I’m guessing it’s a Peanuts reference…
ER: Yes, yes… it’s the wee one that had the blankie.
ZA: Is it a particular kind of blanket style or blanket or way of making it or just even you named it as…
ER: It was… it was started in America in 1995 I think. It was a wee girl in America… there was a lady in Denver was reading one of these big glossy magazines you get at Christmastime and there was an article in it and there was a wee girl that had leukaemia and she was saying in this article that she couldn’t have got through her chemotherapy for… without her wee huggy blanket and the lady in Denver thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if all the children that were undergoing chemotherapy could get a huggy blanket and she put a… a thing out on Denver local radio and it sorta took off all over the States and initially it was for children with cancer and then it just grew to be any vulnerable child now. But there was this… it was a lady from England that had been out there at the time and brought it back to England about 2000 and I started when I retired in 2004 so, I started here but I’d heard about it through The Guild. But at that time there was really only somebody in the east and somebody in the west doing it and with great reluctance or they didn’t agree, they got very miffed, that we would split it into areas to be… the more people doing it, the more people covering an area, you know, it… it works better. So, we set up all the areas and most of the areas are anchored by a hospital but obviously in Caithness and Sutherland there isn’t a hospital or children’s wards, they go to Aberdeen or Inverness and Shetland and Orkney they don’t, again, have a children’s ward or any children and out in Argyle they come to the sick… to York Hill and Glasgow or sometimes sick kids in Edinburgh. Depends where they all go so there are a few areas that don’t have an actual children’s ward but there’s plenty of other children in the area. And we have a few gaps which haven’t been filled for a while but we keep trying.
Because if there’s no one in the area, if there’s not Linus coordinator in the area, while maybe a group will give to a local children’s project there’s not a regular supply of quilts going to children in that particular area if there isn’t a Linus coordinator, but every coordinator has their own outlets. Away up in Caithness what they do is they send them to A&E. Sometimes they went out with fire engines which isn’t ideal because the idea is that the children are given them as a gift so unless they get a child involved in a fire or an accident it’ll sit in the back, you know, but I mean that’s… but it’s funny some of the women that take on the job they don’t really… what’s the word, like the lady that does it in Dumfries and Galloway she’s in her 80s now and she’s marvellous. She goes everywhere. Drives about all the… broke her hip and went back in a few months. It was great. But she… I said to her, “Have you tried Women’s Aid?” ‘Oh, there’s nothing like that here’, she said [laughing]. I said, “I think you’ll find there is Joan.” And she had one… she drives one… it’s a hundred mile round trip. She drives 50 miles to Dumfries and 50 miles back every month to give them to Dumfries Infirmary. But she said I … I parked… she speaks… she’s very [undecipherable]. I parked… I parked at a different parking space and I got out the quilts to take them to the hospital and I just noticed a sign on the wall, Dumfries Women’s Aid so I just went in. So yes now she… she delivers to both Stranraer and Dumfries Women’s Aid but I think sometimes people have it in their head, you know, poor wee babies, you know, and that’s not… maybe there are some poor wee babies and we deliver 20, 40 I deliver to the… the neonatal ward in Wishaw and 20 to Princess Royal there’s lots of poor wee babies, but there’s an awful lot of poor big kids too. It’s… it’s not so easy making a quilt for a 16 year old boy as is it for a six year old boy. But you have to think about that sometimes.
ZA: Do you vary the styles of the quilts at all or are they always more or less the same?
ER: I tend to just not… not so much with… it’s mainly quilting because I tend to try and find suitable fabrics but yes we’ll… we’ll maybe have a smaller bit of fabric with a big border or something like that but they tend to be simple and quick. It’s quick. I don’t compromise on quality. The stitching has to be good but I don’t do intricacy so much now.
ZA: How long does it take you roughly to do one?
ER: Oh you might… people get cross when I say this. I can do the wee neonatal ones in two hours and I can do the big ones in four hours. But that’s simple stuff and I do it so quickly now. But people take weeks and months to make one quilt. That’s fine. If that’s what they’re comfortable with but I don’t like them to be taking, you know, not… I’d rather they did more simple ones than spend months but… I’ve had arguments with people about that, but somebody accused me that they weren’t good enough and I said, “Oh yes, they’re good enough. They’re quality but they’re not intricate. I’ll admit to that.” But you try and get, I mean, with having six grandchildren especially five boys, you try and get something that you know they’ll like. What do wee boys like? Wee girls like princesses, Disney, pink they’re quite easy. Babies, you know, you really, really small babies young toddlers like teddies and things like that, but the other children they’re looking at cartoon on the TV and specially children in care sometimes other kids you’ll get they’re interested in music, they’re interested in football, and that’s easy too. But a lotta these kids in care that’s what they do. They watching TV and hats all they’re… I mean this Minions thing I thought Minions, so obviously they’re into Minions. Robots. All that kinda stuff. Trains. Cars. Wee boys about certainly like cars, diggers, tractors. There’s a map there… I managed to get a map. That blue fabric. I managed to get a map so a social worker was here and she saw it and she said, ‘Oh that would be great for…’, and she’d given me a wee 12 year old boy and she said, ‘That’ll be great.’ And I said, “Right, I’ll do that for him.” But, even the social workers don’t have much… you know, they say I’ll ask what colour they like. I say if they don’t express an interest it doesn’t, you know, well surprise them ’cause I get one from… I get one from… I’ll read it out to you hang on… what I do is when I get requests from people I don’t prioritise. We don’t prioritise. I just take… write down the date of the… the date I get it, who it’s for, and then I just file it and then just work my way through because you can’t prioritise, unless a kid’s dying, which I was asked for… for one five year old boy that was dying for Bob the Builder once and he only had so many weeks to live. So I did that first. But normally what I do is, somebody wants My Little Pony. Here’s a… this is a new social worker I hadn’t heard from before. Three sisters. She said they were very particular what they wanted. Eight, four and two. One wants pink with purple roses and diamonds. The smaller sister wanted… she obviously thought that was a good idea. [Reading] She wants pink diamonds and purple flowers. And the wee one wants pink with stars. So you’ve got to… so I said I don’t know about the purple flowers and the diamonds but I said we might manage the stars so I’ve got one with stars for them. This is one… one that my ladies gave me at the last… at the last… this one. I think this is it. Yes. Butterflies… I put some stars on them. See you put the fleece on them so it’s like really quick. So she’s getting butterflies as well as her stars [laughing]. So I’ll tell the lady that made this, I’ll put added some stars to her quilt. But I’m not into pink meself but that’s that one.
ZA: You said you were into black right?
ER: Oh, I am yes I don’t do black for the children though. I don’t do that.
ZA: But for your own stuff?
ER: Well I did do… I don’t… I don’t do much for myself other than… I do for my own grandchildren. I’ll do something. But I don’t… I don’t do black much but I used to say that… sorry… I used to say that… when I was teaching I said, “Always have black, navy or bottle green in your quilt. Just even a wee bit because it brings up the colours.” But I never did pastels. I’m not a pastel person. I’m not a pink person. I’m not a pastel person. But, yes I just do… I enjoy… I enjoy sourcing the fabrics. I enjoy finding things that I know that kids will like. That’s the way I buy my fabric now. I just bought Disney cars and Dora the Explorer and it hasn’t come yet but things like that because that’s what they like.
ZA: And do you, provide fabrics to the other people making the quilts?
ER: I do… yes
ZA: … or do they get their own?
ER: Yes. That’s what I do with my own group, yes. When… if I sell stuff to quilt groups that money is put back into the fund to buy more fabric and I just give them out so much. Same with that fleece there. You maybe notice… you’ll see as you go out there’s… I buy fleece from the wholesale place. I have nowhere to put it really now. It’s supposed to stay in the shed but I don’t put it out in the shed in this kinda weather so it sits in the hall and I cut it up as quickly as possible and I give it out to my group as well as the… the fabric, yep. But as I say at the moment I can do that. If I… if I couldn’t I would just have to stop doing that but a lot of them. I know there’s at least two ladies that aren’t… there’s one girl her… she’s got her relations, every time they go abroad they look in fabric places and she came in last month with something from Ecuador and something from France, you know that her sister had bought for her so the… the… people are always looking out for stuff for us. But, I just… I just like finding things that I know kids will like and quite often I’ll addition the, you know, I’ll get one of the kids that’s maybe the same age as [undecipherable] you think… and they’ll say well yes a boy might… would like that but not as old as me. Maybe someone younger. You know. That kinda stuff. But, so you’ve got to transcribe all this have you…
ZA: I’m not going to be doing the transcribing… [laughing]
ZA: I’ve done my time transcribing. I declined. But somebody else will and now they’re going to listen to this and curse me [laughing] All right we’ll probably wrap up there but thank you that was wonderful.