ID Number: TQ.2015.005
Name of interviewee: Fran Katkar
Name of interviewer: Linda Seward
Name of transcriber: Margaret Ferguson
Location: Linda’s home
Date: 6 January 2015
Length of interview: 1:06:48
Fran’s quilt, about the Minack Outdoor Theatre in Cornwall, represents her exploration of new techniques to represent landscapes in fabric. The quilt also represents the personal challenge it was for her to make such a large and complex project while facing health problems. Fran has been quilting for over 20 years, later in her interview she talks about inspirational quilt teachers, and how the quilting community and industry have changed.
Linda Seward [LS]: This is Linda Seward. I’m at [address] London, on the 6th January 2015. I’m here with Fran Katkar ID number 2015.005 and we are going to talk about her touchstone object which is a beautiful quilt. Tell me about it, Fran.
Fran Katkar [FK]: Well, I think this quilt was rather special to me because it was the kind of quilt I’d been working towards and wanting to make and it really all fell into place. We’d been on holiday down in Cornwall, exploring a new area and on a perfect summer’s day we discovered the Minack Outdoor Theatre which is built into the cliff, incredibly all built by one lady and her gardener, gradually over a period of many years. And we arrived at the visitors’ centre which is at the top of the cliff and this had been in her family’s garden, in the grounds of a large house which terminated at this cliff dropping down to the sea, quite a dramatic setting and apparently her family had always been involved in amateur dramatics. They were all very good at it and had staged many productions in their house but something had given her the idea of using this dramatic setting to carve out this theatre. So I believe she created the first row of seats quite low down on the cliff with a natural platform in front where she created the stage. And the local girls’ grammar school had come and performed there and it had been very successful and she had then continued year by year to add more seats, gradually climbing up the cliff, sort of dug into the slope. And wherever there was an outcrop of rock and boulders she had just worked her way round it, so now there is really a full size theatre there and there are productions there every summer. So, as I said we discovered this on a perfect summer’s day and having enjoyed a simple lunch at the visitors’ centre at the top of the cliff, we then stepped over the edge and made our way down a series of paths and staircases, all built into the rock and the whole place just unfolded before us and went down in a series of levels and was absolutely stunning. And we found ourselves looking out beyond the stone terraces to a very deep blue sea on that particular day and a glorious sky-blue sky overhead so it couldn’t have been better really. And we were so entranced with the whole place we actually just sat and basked in the sun for half the afternoon, just sat on one of the levels and just, just drank in the view.
LS: Well this quilt is a beautiful celebration of that place. Can you describe it to me?
FK: Yes, it’s quite a large wall hanging, about four and a half feet wide and best part of six feet long so quite a large scale and that allowed me to create a series of panels with the idea of replicating the feel of the place and I incorporated some of the many photos I’d taken because I wanted to print onto fabric but I also wanted a way of successfully blending the photos in with the other fabrics and colours and textures. I didn’t sort of want the photograph album effect and, of course, wanted the natural landscape elements to come out very strongly so that was the challenge I set myself. So the top photo in the top level is of the Visitors’ Centre and the staircase and path just beginning to descend below it and then you come to the next level down and on the left there’s a photo of some of the steps looking back up several levels on a suitably sort of stoney granite-y type of hand-dyed fabric.
LS: Did you dye the fabric?
FK: At the time I hadn’t done enough dyeing. What was an absolute joy was that I actually had all of these fabrics in my collection and I just had a lovely rummage in my collection and found exactly the right fabrics that I wanted. But of course, I had been collecting them with this kind of quilt in mind. And so then yes, we went one level down, the first, the second photo with the stone steps and different levels, then across to the right and then down, back across to the left, really moving across the body of the theatre cos it does get quite wide in the middle. So I’ve got the left edge with the seats coming to the edge of the cliff and one staircase there and handrails, a central area between some boulders. Coming right down to the edge of the stage area with some steps and a platform built-in.
LS: And you’re describing photos that are printed on the fabric, that are incorporated in the quilt?
FK: Yes, which were my own photos and then I enjoyed doing the printing myself. And moving across to the right she’s created, like a little area of balcony seating against part of the natural stone and sort of coming down and across there’s the, looking down to the stage area and on the left there’s a small detail of some of the seating where, into the back of each individual seat she has actually carved or made an impression of a particular performance and given the date of the year [LS: amazing] so there’s many, many well-known plays, a lot of Shakespeare and other very well-known ones. And the last photo in the bottom right corner, sort of last view down to the stage from not far away with a lighting platform built into the rock on the left and there’s the stage and there’s a rocky outcrop down in the sea, that lovely deep blue sea crashing up against it and I found a suitably dark blue and green [LS: beautiful] piece of fabric
LS: Just like the sea.
FK: Thank you. And they were exactly the colours on that day we were there.
LS: So, how do you feel about this quilt and what are you planning to do with it?
FK: Making it was a great pleasure because, as I say, I’d been working towards this for some time and I’d been looking at work in magazines and exhibitions where I’d seen people exploring all these techniques and wanted to do something similar myself. So when I finally got the chance and it all came together it was quite exhilarating really. I’ve always loved the landscape, that was definitely going to be one of my main subjects and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the machine stitching with the different pieces of fabric, getting the effects of the rock or the sea or the planting, because on the upper levels of the site there is quite a bit of planting and at the top there is a beautiful garden area of all the plants that like the hot climate and that will tolerate the coastal conditions. Yes, so for instance, one piece of fabric we’re looking at, I bought shaded in from green through to mustard and then I’ve, with another piece above it with a dark background and little rows of sort of orange dots against the green, dark greenish background and juxtaposed those two fabrics with a photograph overlaid of the red hot pokers and some other orange flowers near the top of the site and then used my stitching on those two fabrics to refer to the red hot poker flowers which fortunately were in flower on the day we were there and similar things on other pieces of fabric. So it gave me a lot of scope for expression because with the rock and the planting and the seating and the sea and the sky that’s, yeah, say five different areas to work on and get my imagination going on. And then, so it was a real pleasure to finally be able to produce a large piece of work and have… I think that’s really why it’s the size it is, because each photo needed a surrounding area and then on each area I wanted to do something different so yes it all came together in this quilt.
LS: Well, it’s a very professional looking quilt so obviously it’s not your first one. How did you start making quilts?
FK: Well, I suppose this quilt I made, say four years ago. I actually started about twenty years ago. Yes, I developed a long-term illness which then suddenly found me at home unable to go to work or to do very much at all. So I needed some way of passing the time when I wasn’t too tired and had enough energy to do anything and fortunately I found some classes locally with an excellent local teacher, this was in the Barnet area. So I signed up for the creative embroidery course which was much more what I was interested in, mainly because the embroidery had gone in the creative direction and that really appealed to me and I liked the idea of being able to combine different textures and techniques and not just having to choose one and then just work through a whole piece just using that one kind of stitch. So I started on that and I just added the patchwork and quilting course, thinking I needed a bit more and I had always enjoyed working with fabrics when I was younger. But in my mind I thought the patchwork and making patterns with squares and triangles I didn’t think that was going to interest me as much. But because I was quite ill, I didn’t have huge amounts of concentration so I had to recognise that actually the creative embroidery needed more concentration really than I had at the time. But, to my surprise, erm the patchwork and quilting had started to come alive for me. I think partly because we had such a good teacher and each week she made very good use of the two hour class and divided up the time but always introduced us to a new method. So this was really beginners, year one of patchwork for people who’d never really done any. But I think we were all familiar with sewing and working with fabric. So each week I would, I think it was a Monday morning, I would come home Monday lunchtime and I would have a couple of samples started at the class. And in the afternoon I would be there sitting on my sofa and I’d just start to, well be finishing off my samples to get them completed, something similar to what she’d shown us and then of course while I was working on them I was getting ideas about ‘Oh well if you can do this, then you could do that or what if you did it like that? Or…’ of course with patchwork you can always change the contrast or the balance and you get very different effects depending on where you place the fabrics. So I began to see lots of possibilities in that. I’ve always enjoyed colour but I think the geometry appealed to me.
LS: And did you start out sewing by hand or have you always worked on a machine?
FK: Er yeah, recently it’s pretty much all been on the machine and I have invested in several new machines because obviously there are a lot more possibilities with the current machines that have been on the market. But to start with, because I was so fatigued and just needed to sit on the settee and have everything around me, then hand sewing was ideal and for learning basic techniques and doing a little bit of exploring, and making blocks so that size is very suitable to sitting and working by hand.
LS: And did you…? You learned from this teacher in Barnet. Is there any history of quilting in your family at all or are you the first one?
FK: Well, there are no quilters that I know of but, yeah, my mum did a lot of practical sewing and I grew up enjoying making a lot of my own clothes which quite a lot of us did as teenagers in the Seventies. But both my grandmothers were wonderful sewers and embroiderers and they both belonged to quite a well-known class in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with quite a well-known teacher. And I have just about all of their work now in my possession, some pictures on the wall and then other items stored. And one grandmother had particularly chosen to do a tailoring course because that was another interest, so I had some of the best dressed dolls in the area. I had a doll with a tailored coat and hat which had me a bit nonplussed at the age of seven or eight but looking back I can see she must have enjoyed doing it. So, but, yeah, being from the Northumberland, County Durham area and then some of the family having had origins across near Carlisle, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there had been quilters in the family but I didn’t know any of them.
LS: And so you started out sewing by hand and then developed into machine work. Are there any other kinds of tools or techniques that you like to use now, in your work? For instance, do you use a rotary cutter?
FK: Oh yes, I think the rotary cutter has been one of the greatest inventions really. Because however careful you are with scissors you always get that slight little bump but a rotary cutter, yeah, as we all know, it’s absolutely great. You get a lovely smooth line and you can use it freeform as well. You don’t have to use it with a cutting edge. I think for me, for me the greatest help was… I’d always had a sewing machine but the particular machine I had you couldn’t release the feed dogs and I took, I think from having started my first year patchwork and quilting, our teacher showed us some of the quilt magazines on the market. Well, the British magazines, I think there were two at the time, they didn’t seem to cover a lot, mainly simple projects but she showed us Quilters Newsletter from America and that really caught my imagination because it has a much wider range of projects and pieces of work that people had sent photos in and interviews with quilters and quilt artists. So I think a lot of my education came from that really. And I was absorbing and feeding my imagination and developing ideas as to what I would like to make and what skills I would like to develop. So I think what I really wanted fairly quickly was to get the right kind of machine where I could release the feed dogs and do the free motion quilting, because that’s clearly a great way of adding a lot of texture and interest to whatever kind of work you’re doing. And then I think probably from then on, I probably went more in the art quilt direction. I think probably, probably that is mainly where my interest lies. But I think also perhaps my experience of having limited energy… we all have limited time but if your energy and concentration are limited, that really makes you think very hard about what you’re going to work on or not work on, so for a long time I did a lot of exploring and I really didn’t have the energy to embark on a full-size piece of work, say, anything sort of like three feet square or larger, to work through it and to finish it. So then when I did get to that point I had to think very carefully about what exactly I wanted to make. So I think that’s… I haven’t produced half as much finished work as many quilters or given pieces as gifts to friends and family but… And I’ve just produced a number of quite large wall hangings, a similar size to this one and yeah they’ve all been pieces I really wanted to make and perhaps a step forward, not necessarily in the sense of progress, just having the opportunity to move into another area that I haven’t been able to look at yet.
LS: So how much time are you able to spend quilting each week?
FK: Well the time has gradually increased from the small beginnings and I think for several years I’ve had a pattern of usually taking the dogs out for a walk around about midday either before or after lunch and then after lunch, as dog owners know, once the dogs have had their walk, and had their food they go off to sleep for about three hours or so. So that was a lovely quiet time and I needed to sit down because I’d used energy being out on the walk and getting everybody organised after getting back home, changing out of muddy clothes etc. So by the time you’ve done all that you’re definitely ready to sit down so I’ve always had my lightweight machine on my large kitchen table and that’s the room that’s absolutely glorious in the afternoon. It faces south and I’ve got a lovely view of the garden, the sun comes in and one or two sleeping dogs in the corner so that really has been my main time to get on with the current project. Fortunately I have a very supportive husband who thinks it’s wonderful, wonderful if anyone has the ability to make something by hand from scratch. So he was quite happy to have a kitchen table covered with fabric and pins and things. And I think we probably were in the habit of eating the evening meal quite often in front of the television so that wasn’t such a problem.
LS: So you don’t have a dedicated workroom, then? You use the, whatever is available in the house.
FK: Well , about seven years ago we made some alterations upstairs in the house which meant that our front bedroom could then become our home office, because my husband does work at home each week. But one end of the room could become my sewing studio and from having had my collection of fabrics and equipment spread around several wardrobes in several different rooms, I then had the chance to amalgamate it and had this wonderful space for sewing but I think the problem is it’s at the front of the house which is the cold side and if the sun is streaming in the kitchen window in the afternoon that really is the logical place to sit. But my heavy machine, the more expensive one which is quite heavy to pick up and move, that is always set up on the table up there. And when I’ve been getting ready for one of our London Quilters’ exhibitions I’ve usually had two quilts on the go, perhaps one larger wall-hanging and one smaller one and as we know these projects go through different stages, so I might be working on one of them downstairs on the kitchen table at a certain stage, but then perhaps for more of the machining I would then go off up upstairs and sit at the more complicated machine and be doing another stage and have that machine threaded up for that quilt at that stage. So that has worked very well when I’ve been trying to get two pieces ready for one of our exhibitions.
LS: Sounds ideal. So how do you go about starting a quilt? What is your process?
FK: Just maybe on, just on that thought at the moment, before I forget it. [LS: Okay, sorry]. Yeah, that’s also another important lesson I’ve learned about energy. You may not generally have great energy because of a health problem and that would also apply to people who are very busy with a full-time job or family commitments but because the process of making a quilt or piece of textile art, as we know, there are many stages in each piece of work so I’ve found that, in a way, that can be helpful because being very conscious of what energy I have I would always intuitively have a feel for what kind of work I could do and that is definitely a benefit of having more than one piece of work on the go at the same time. But if we are just working on one project we’re forced to just go on with the next stage. But really that’s a shame if your concentration’s not so good on a particular day, that’s not really the time you want to be moving onto the next stage, especially if it is, if it involves more decisions or it’s more creative. Whereas if we have several pieces on the go at the same time, we might have the time to work one day but we might not be feeling as sharp as on other days. So that’s definitely a time to make some progress but just do something that’s a bit more repetitive or where you’ve already worked it out. And if there is a real important decision to be made, especially an artistic one, yeah, keep that for another day when you’ve got better energy and so that, yeah…
LS: That’s a really good point. Thank you for that.
FK: So you just asked me…
LS: I wanted to know your process. So do you get an idea? How do you start making a quilt? You’ve got nothing and you want to make something, what do you do?
FK: Well I do come from a creative background professionally so I suppose that’s always been part of my makeup and going back to being a child I suppose that at a young age you begin to become aware that some of your thought processes and decision-making processes are slightly different from your parents or other people you know. So I’ve really never been short of ideas for quilts and subjects, but yeah it has to be something I feel quite strongly about, I’m quite interested in and motivated to make. It’s not just, I never really regard it as just a piece I’m going to make and produce. To me it’s more important than that. If I’m going to make it and complete it then actually it’s taking time when I could be making other things. So if I’m going to make this particular piece, yeah I do have to be really quite keen on making it. I will always have an idea in my mind but, although I’m from a trained design background, I must say I tend not to draw things out first. I know our own teachers, our teachers encourage us to do that but I usually find I have the idea fairly clearly in my mind and actually I wouldn’t want to iron it out down to the last stitching line or… I think for me I like to have a general idea where I’m going and what piece of work I want to produce but then along the way, I want to have room for spontaneity, discovering things or changing a decision. I don’t want to just have it all worked out in advance and then be more or less assembling it like a kit so, I think quite a lot before I start. I’ve noticed at workshops a lot of people get off to a much quicker start than me. I’m quite happy to play around with my fabrics and look at the placement, to think about the colour values or just the arrangement and the structure. Because if that’s right to start with then, it makes the next stages much easier. So I’ll never jump in quickly, yeah, I take more time at the beginning. And then at each stage really just to make sure it’s really right and it’s what I want. I won’t move on until I’m happy with that stage.
LS: So it sounds like fabrics are the basis of your design inspiration?
FK: [Pause] Yes, because I think really, so up to now all the pieces that I have made and completed I think they have pretty much all had a connection with the natural environment so… and I have been collecting fabrics as I’ve seen different fabrics that would be useful for, say, rock or fields or woodland and especially sky and water. I have been buying them and collecting them so yeah, in a way the fabrics are a bit like your artist’s palette, I suppose and then you are gonna add to them and enhance them and build on that. So yeah, I think start with the fabric and yeah, how to put across the idea that you have or how to get the feel of it. I think in many ways I think of a textile wall hanging as being quite like a painting or a picture. It’s just that instead of using watercolours or oils I enjoy using the fabric and the threads. I think because I can achieve what I want to achieve with that. I can get the variation in the colour, the light and the shade and the texture which artists are getting with their paints.
LS: So are you inspired… you’re inspired by nature. What do you look for when you’re looking at quilts in a show, for instance? What attracts you? Your favourite kind of quilt?
FK: [Clears throat] Just another thought about the last question. As I was making some notes yesterday about the quilts that I’ve finished and that I’ve shown in our exhibitions, it seems that most of my ideas have come from walks that we’ve done, cos… well maybe not so much Minack except that we spent the whole afternoon walking around it because it’s quite a large area but, yeah, other pieces I’ve made. There was a smaller piece called [inaudible] which was a view along a historic footpath where we walk most weeks and I’d taken photographs of it because there was a historic fence and it was a beautiful lime green because it had been there for about a hundred and fifty years and there was a gorgeous curve on the path and I think it was winter and the trees were bare on each side and so that, yeah, I just knew I was going to make at least one piece on that and I have had ideas for more pieces. They just haven’t been made yet. I think that’s very true as well, once you make one piece as you’re working through it, because of the time it takes, that’s usually over a number of months, I think for most large pieces, you certainly have time to think of other ideas that, if you had the time, you would then make the next one and the next one and the next one. Because if it’s taking place over a number of months by the time you can actually get it completed you’re so familiar with the piece you’re working on and then you do come to know what you’re going to do and where everything’s going to go that in a way your creative thinking process on that piece of work has stopped and your mind is naturally moving on to related subjects or what if you took a different, another photo with a different view of the same place or the same place but a different time of year. So our minds naturally do begin to think about these other possibilities. I suppose in an ideal world we would be making a series and we would produce the other pieces as well. So… yeah, but the walking theme I think the smaller piece called [inaudible] that was the walk along the coastal footpath near Falmouth and a couple of other pieces as well so I think yes just walking we’re naturally looking at the natural world and after all that’s what the teachers are recommending us to do. But they say take a sketchbook and always make a small sketch but I think the reality is that most of us are walking and talking with other people either at home or on holiday and there isn’t the time to stop and take enough time to make a sketch that would actually be useful to us. So instead of doing that we look with our eyes and by doing that regularly we’re training our eyes and also take pictures with a camera or a mobile phone and I think pretty much every quilt I’ve made I have worked from my own photos. So yeah, that’s a sequence and a technique that works very well for me.
LS: Great, well, Ok can you answer my other question about when you go to a quilt show? What do you… what are you attracted to? What draws you in?
FK: Oh, that’s an interesting question.
LS: Which actually leads on to another question which might help you, which is ‘what do you think makes a good quilt?’
FK: All right, well the first one. I do enjoy going to the quilt shows and try to get to Festival of Quilts, not every year but definitely from time to time and to start with the smaller show at Chilford was accessible for me and that was, yeah, that was useful just to see what people were doing and the different directions that were emerging in quilting. Because when I started 20 years ago that was quite an interesting time really because I think there were quite a number of quilt groups that had really been kept going with very faithful regular members, many of whom were sort of in the older age group when I started and I think they’d done a very good job in keeping things going. And a lot of areas had weekly classes but then my weekly class came to an abrupt end when the teacher suddenly retired and they didn’t replace her and I think in other places the weekly classes came to an end for a variety of reasons to do with funding. So then that left people really to see how they could continue themselves, but then it seemed to coincide with this growth of interest and the emergence of new techniques. I think there were a number of prize-winning quilts that I remember from my early years where a wonderful quilter had won a first prize and made quite a name for herself because she’d got into a new area of technique or used some of the new products that were available which other people hadn’t developed and so it was really a very exciting time. So during this 20 years there has been a lot to follow up and as we know the number of quilters has really increased. I think many people had been looking for an area like this in their lives, perhaps they’ve got well on with their career and their family life, but then they’ve just had a great need for something involving colour and pattern and fabric. So the quilt shows have then got bigger and bigger and so many more people have been encouraged to put their work in and then also there’s been a great increase in the number of teachers and speakers and workshops, so I think to a large extent the workshops have probably replaced a lot of the weekly classes that people had.
LS: Do you take a lot of workshops yourself?
FK: Maybe they suit people’s lifestyle better as well. I’ve enjoyed, yes, I’ve enjoyed doing quite a few… discovered …I had a bit of a gap where there were no local classes and I just had to make my own progress and actually I was developing a lot of ideas I’d had just doing that first year with basic methods. And then at one of the Chilford shows there was a small stand with a brochure for Bramble Patch shop in Northampton which is not near where I live and I just dismissed it and thought ‘Oh with my energy problems and having no need I thought no, travelling up to Northampton, that’s way beyond me’. But when I sat and read through that brochure in the evening and saw the selection of workshops and the teachers they had I said to my husband, ‘I have to be able to get to Northampton somehow’ because I just could see that some of those workshops I really would like to do and they were going to help my growth and development. So the only way we could it was we had to go the day before and we had to stay overnight. Then there was obviously the extra cost but then, yes, it was worth it because Bramble Patch is very well-placed, fairly central in England, the south of England and so it has a huge catchment area so the classes are well supported and whichever one day workshop you find yourself in, you can pretty much guarantee that the other members in the class will all be at the right level for that class and so you get a good working atmosphere. And at the end of the day, as always, seeing what everyone else has made is just fantastic.
LS: So what kinds of things did you do? What did you learn?
FK: Ooh, I think one of the first ones I took was with Katharine Guerrier and that was based on her prize-winning quilt with two or three different star patterns and she’d made great use of contrast between light, medium and dark fabrics. I think perhaps it was more the light and dark so yeah, that was interesting. Mary Mayne with her rainforest prize-winning quilt and I think Katherine’s had been as well. Yeah the rainforest pattern was lovely because it was a couple of large tropical moons against a pieced background and the workshop piece was actually a small version of her much larger wall hanging. But when my husband saw what I was doing he agreed with me that really I’d need to make a larger version. We didn’t want the small version, and yeah that was a pleasure, it was a lovely, a lovely range of colours as well. Yeah I think what was really noticeable was how generous a lot of those teachers were, you know providing patterns from their own work and really explaining the techniques they’d used to create a prize-winning quilt but something which was achievable for people at a workshop to make a smaller piece. I think there was a lot of generosity really and that must have contributed to other people being enthusiastic and feeling that they could do it. And that’s one of the things I do remember about my first teacher, Pauline, that she was well aware of how daunting and even frightening most people in a class would find it to embark on anything they thought was creative or to be asked to produce their own design for anything. And she had tried to work around this and find ways of encouraging her students and I remember one of the things she said to try and free people up and just help people just to have a go and not be hesitating and holding back, she said ‘always remember that whatever you make, it will not be the same as anything anybody else has made before.’ And I thought that’s so true and yes, we’re all at different kinds of ability and different levels of ability and some of us have strengths that others don’t have but in a way that doesn’t matter because if we start patchwork and quilting it’s usually largely for our own enjoyment and it’s a shame if people get too worried about aspects of it. But just try and do something and I think these days there are so many different areas that I think anyone could really find the area that they enjoy and just be in that area, be very happy with it and just enjoy it. Shall I come back to your question about the exhibitions?
LS: Yeah I think we’ve gone all the way around the world with that. But yeah what I wanted to know was what do you notice in quilts, what draws you in when you go to exhibitions of quilts?
FK: I think first of all, whether it’s a large exhibition or a small one, I’m just really, really moved to see all the work that people have done and especially given that these are generally women with busy lives, with jobs and families and all those responsibilities and concerns and yet they have thought of making something and they’ve managed to follow it through and finish it and it’s able to be displayed in an exhibition for other people to enjoy. And just to see the different ideas people have had. Whether it’s one of the well-known geometric patterns and somebody’s done it very, very well in a traditional way or a contemporary way or whether it’s something using some of the more recent techniques but yeah I just love getting that glimpse of the exhibition and just seeing all the work displayed. What attracts me? I think generally it’s work that’s been well carried out and has a good finish but not necessarily, not necessarily the ten absolutely best pieces in the whole exhibition but just, yeah, just work that’s been finished out to a good level and with a good idea to start with as well, because that usually comes through. But I do like quite a variety of styles, as in other areas of life, for instance music, I can enjoy music right across the whole board, not just one area and I think with the patchwork and quilting, I think I’m a bit like that as well. At the Festival of Quilts I probably have one or two pieces I really love from the traditional bed quilt category and one or two from the pictorial category and one or two from the art category so yeah. But it would be the design, the colour that would appeal to me, as well as the workmanship.
LS: So what do you think you’re going to do with all the quilts you’ve made so far? What is your plan?
FK: Well, as we’ve gradually had time to do more in our home and get things more finished than they were. We’ve actually got to a point of putting up curtain rails so that some of my pieces of work can be on display. I don’t, I don’t particularly want to have them all round the whole house but yeah we now have one of my large wall hangings hanging in the living room and we will change that from time to time as I have several others of a similar size and one of my recent ones is going to be hung in our bedroom because it’s, colour wise it will fit very well and it’s actually a wide large wall hanging rather than a… rather than long from top to bottom. But others, yeah, others do just stay in the cupboard and I don’t mind that too much because I think that with your home, I think there’s a limit to how much you can actually have on display. Because I’ve not made so many, because of limitations of time and energy, up to now they’re all far too precious to give away or even to sell. So at the moment I’m quite happy to keep them but I’m aware that there are limitations to storage and when you feel your house is starting to fill up with too many books or whatever you do have to reach a point where you have to make some tough decisions.
LS: Do you sleep under any of them? Or are they all pretty arty?
FK: The answer to that should be ‘yes’ because I did start a number of bed sized quilts and I did have visions of some of them being on the bed, but actually those are the ones that I still haven’t made, still incomplete but yeah a couple of them would be ideal in our room. Again because the colours are right but yeah, I do think about that from time to time, all those lovely quilt tops in the cupboard that are not far from being completed actually and when, yeah when that might happen…
LS: Is it because you’ve lost interest in them or what happened [inaudible] completed, do you think?
FK: I think in a way that’s true. I think from the, I think the way I work, the creative side of me wants to keep moving on and I do bits, yes it’s something that feeds me and that I need to express so once I’ve given something a lot of thought and worked through it up to a point, in my mind it’s as good as finished. And if it then does get finished, if you can get straight through on something and finish it, I think that’s the ideal. But if you get interrupted, inevitably I find that my creative thoughts have moved on and they’re going in different directions and it’s actually the current thing or the latest thing that I want to be getting on with. So yeah, maybe one day there might be a bit of a lull or a little bit of time. Actually a couple of times we’ve had, well, say when we’ve had holidays up in Scotland or down in Cornwall and staying in a cottage yeah, there’s been two or three holidays where I have put my lightweight machine in the car and I have done some straightforward machining when we’ve been away. So, yeah so that could be one of the, that could be the ideal time for one of these to really take a leap forward.
LS: Would you consider hand quilting any of them or is it always machine for you now?
FK: Yeah, I think it would be machine really because and mainly because I just enjoy the feeling of finishing quilting so much. Although initially that, yeah, that was my first reason but I’m… the first new machine… it was that concern about getting a large quilt all bundled up and under [LS: the arm?], yeah the arm of the machine and then how to control that as a beginner, the first time you tackle your large, say, bed quilt where you’re going to be doing the more traditional quilting patterns. Yeah, how you control that and manage it well enough so that you can get a good finish. So that was my first investment, a new machine with a wider arm cos that seemed logical rather than just trying to manage with one of the traditional smaller machines. Yes, smaller pieces, I’ve done a smaller, a couple of smaller pieces which started in workshops with well-known people and then finished at home. I really enjoyed that, in a way that was then getting to the embroidery aspect of putting in a few hand-stitches and then they become more like highlights because you’re using the thicker thread or doing some knots perhaps as well as the large running stitches. So I think, yes, on the smaller pieces you can add a lot of interest in texture but I tend not to work so small. It’s sort have worked out but something around the size of a metre seems to suit me very well for developing an idea and having enough room to express it through a combination of the fabric, the stitching for the highlights and the definition.
LS: Okay well, that leads me to my penultimate question, which is what is the biggest challenge you face as a quilter today?
FK: [Pause] I think for me it’s the time and energy, again. But twenty years on, it’s a different problem from the original one. I do still have ME, I think I always will do really and so it’s very… and the recovery is very much about managing the time and the energy, so that you build in enough rest periods in order to support the times of activity you have. But then because my ME has responded to the good management and has improved considerably in recent years I now have a lot more energy than I did have. So life has widened out again but now in its turn that brings the problem for the quilting because I’m now dividing my time and energy between a wider range of interests than I was. Whereas 20 years ago the quilting was pretty much the only thing I could actually do because I could do it sitting down and in the house. So, yeah, my quilting has very much been on the back shelf or the back burner this last year because we’ve had a year that became quite busy with other demands and a whole sequence of events that we just had to deal with and I had my eye on some quilting time in the summer and then that came and went on other things. And then I thought ‘oh the autumn will be nice and settled’ and it wasn’t. So now here we are at the end of the year and I’ve actually had a non-quilting year which… [laughter] but what can you do? We know that things happen in life so… but that’s really my next project, to get into my sewing studio and get in with the Hoover, give everything a really good dust and clean because we’ve had builders in this year and there’s a lot of bags of things that have been left in there that are just waiting to find shelves and drawers and of course, my machine is still on the table and there’s various projects that were underway, and also ideas I had that I was hoping to develop so when I get this, this little stretch of quiet time I will be making the best of it. That will be a pleasure to be able to turn my mind to those things so I think all these different areas of life, I think they just feed us in different ways and they are like different aspects of our make-up, the interests and abilities that we have and we do need to, we need to feed them and we need to express them as well. And they can, yeah, if they have to be put aside for a while then they can be and then when you pick them up again you have all the pleasure again. So, I hope that will be ahead of me for part of 2015.
LS: Okay and finally, I’d like to know why quiltmaking is important in your life.
FK: Well, that really follows on very well from the last point about our make-up and how we have different areas of interests, different skills that it’s good if we can feed them and express them. And definitely I… it’s one of the things that I think I’ve inherited through my family. I grew up, I grew up with my mum and grandmothers and others doing lots of great needlework of different kinds and did it at a young age and it is nice to have it as an ongoing interest. And I think also belonging to a quilt group, I think that’s played quite a large part for me because in London Quilters we are I think rather unusual in having an excellent programme of speakers throughout the year. Some of us do work together in smaller local groups but at our main meetings, as you know, we usually have a speaker and for a very modest annual membership fee we have very high quality speakers who are generally well-known and that’s been very stimulating and educational and refreshing. And then when I was on the committee, I had the chance for two or three years to be responsible for the programme, which I very much enjoyed doing and using some of the skills I’d previously used in my job to contact people and arrange for them to come and be on the programme. And the choice of speakers is interesting because we’re quite a wide-ranging group, we have some very experienced quilters, some who are well-known, like yourself, through your own work and the books that you have published on quilting, which have been a great help to so many and especially during that time where quilting took off but we didn’t have many resources for a few years. But we also have newer members, quite a few just retiring or still working but wanting an interest like this and younger mums. So the choice of speakers enabled us also to have several workshops in the year and so we gave thought to that and how we could choose three or four workshops that would reflect the different groups we have within the group, different abilities and during the time I was doing it I realised it’s really a great opportunity to incorporate a lot of the recent members and help them to feel some of the workshops are accessible to them and encourage them to stay with the group and develop their own abilities. So I think, yeah, quilting it’s something we enjoy ourselves, developing our own skills and re-using and practising them but I think we’re also well aware that we can share our skills with others and help others to develop and have the enthusiasm and feel it’s something they can do. So…
LS: So you’ve made some good friendships through quilting?
FK: Yes, mm, yes it all just follows on, doesn’t it? And like any group the more involved you get in it and the more you work with each other, then yeah definitely, that’s the chance to get to know each other and you, yeah, inevitably you do become good friends. It’s a process of trying to help the group stay strong and make different things work.
LS: And do you ever sew with other people on a regular basis? Or is it really more a solitary pursuit for you?
FK: Yes, it has really been a, yeah, it has really just been me, working on my own. I think really because of circumstances that my time was limited and precious. So when I had the chance of making progress with my own work I really needed to take it and for several years I was really carving out the time and the first large pieces I tackled I, it was a bit of an effort to get them completed. I wasn’t really sure that I would be able to do so, so and then subsequent pieces, yeah, it was just the joy of it becoming easier and being able to try new things so… I think, I think the idea of having a group that meets regularly and locally, I think that is great and it does seem to work for many people and I think I would just be a bit, a bit stuck to know what I would take because I don’t have much that’s hand work now so unless I was actually pinning something together or tacking something, yeah probably not much else I could take. On the other hand, it’s always nice to see what other people are doing and the chat, of course [laughter], the cake, the coffee [laughter].
LS: Always important. Is there anything that I haven’t covered that you’d like to just mention because twenty years is a long time to be a quilter and you must have other things you might want to bring up?
FK: I was trying to gather my thoughts yesterday before we were discussing today. Let me just have a look. [Pause 28 seconds, papers shuffling and microphone noise, then talking in background]. Yeah, just continuing from one of the previous questions, when we were talking at lunchtime [coughs] I did say that just as my original patchwork and quilting teacher was quite outstanding in the way she tried to overcome people’s natural fear about being creative and working with colour and pattern, [coughs] I would also say that one of the workshops I went on was remarkable in the same way that the teacher was somebody who had changed career, someone probably in her forties, I would imagine, and had chosen to go and take a three or four years’ textile design course which she’d obviously enjoyed and learnt a lot from and then started to work as a teacher and speaker. I attended her workshop on Digital Photography in Textile Art at the Bramble Patch shop and we did learn about transferring our own pictures onto cotton and other fabrics just putting them through a normal printer. This was about ten years ago so this was really just at the beginning of this technique and people were not very sure how to go about it. But of course it is quite straightforward with the prepared fabric it will go through your printer beautifully and you then get an A4 piece or even larger pieces if you need to. So this teacher, Brenda Boardman, she took the workshop on digital photography and transferring onto fabric but in the course of the day, probably in the afternoon when she had discussions in the class I think she shared with us quite a few aspects of her degree course which were to do with our individual directions and not just thinking of ourselves as just as quilters, it’s just an interest that we have but really elevating it a little and thinking more in terms of ‘this interest I have, what direction am I going with it?’ and looking ahead a little bit and thinking well, ‘what would be the next step for me or just more generally what kind of progress did I want to make, what kind of direction’, and that was very motivating the way she discussed it with the group and unusual because at other workshops or also with speakers we’ve had at London Quilters I didn’t remember anyone speaking to us individually in quite this sort of way. So it was the period of time when I was arranging the programme for London Quilters. So I think a year or so later I contacted her and I thought enough of our members would be interested in the digital photography workshop, which turned out to be the case and then we had her as a speaker on the evening before and her talk… I think her talk, I think her talk covered digital photography but I think, I think perhaps the main thrust of her talk was to do with finding our own direction. And we’d never had a speaker who just focussed on that quite so much and yeah, some of the feedback afterwards; it had obviously resonated with quite a few people and had got people thinking about the direction that their work was going in. I think on the day of that workshop at Bramble Patch I had a chat with her and I had started a City and Guilds course some years earlier but because I’d already had such a good grounding with my local teacher I’d decided to abandon the City and Guilds in the spring term because I realised I was just going to be re-hashing everything I’d done with my original teacher and I already had the samples of the methods and a good set of notes and I didn’t really want to spend two years focussing on that and realised it would also be at the cost of developing my own work which I already had quite a number of ideas about. So [coughs] I’m not a person who naturally abandons things so that wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was definitely the right one.
So because of the variety of new methods and products it seemed logical that we needed some way of exploring them regularly like a class but without necessarily working towards a qualification because that automatically takes up a certain amount of time just doing that. So, yeah, discussed that with Brenda and she thought that was interesting, made sense. And couple of years later she started running a class at Bramble Patch which was called ‘develop your own creative potential’ and it was a monthly class and each month on a Saturday looked at a different technique or product for students who already had all the basics. So one month we’d cover dyeing, another month we’d be looking at thermofax screen printing, another month yeah, batik. So it was actually a wonderful year of playing and exploring and we had a good class which was really the right time for everyone in that class to be doing a year like that. And that was great, that enabled a lot of growth, a lot of development and by the end of that year I certainly found I had the extra skills I needed and I’d covered, yeah, the extra areas or just had more time for some areas that I’d already touched on but hadn’t developed so much so, yeah, that was excellent. And she ran that class for a number of years and students went on to do a second year and a third year in many cases and she also set up one or two independent study groups. A lot of her encouragement at that class, yeah, the class wasn’t just about trying new techniques but it really was focussing quite strongly on ‘How are you going to develop? Which direction are you going to in? How artistic are you going to be? Would you like to exhibit your work regularly? Would you like to go professional? Would you like to make it your business? So what, how are you going to take your work forward?’ And I think quite a number of people from all those classes have really found a direction and have, their work has developed because of it. Yes, that’s definitely worth mentioning.
LS: Okay. Well thank you Fran Katkar, that was a very interesting discussion and I very much appreciate you being part of Talking Quilts. Thank you.
FK: Thank you.