ID Number: TQ.2014.42
Name of Interviewee: George Boyce
Name of Interviewer: Christabel Gilbert
Name of Transcriber: Christabel Gilbert
Location: George’s home
Address: Monmouth, South Wales
Date: 27 October 2014
Length of interview: 0:29:03
George introduces his first quilt, made in the 1990s, a wholecloth quilt which incorporates his interest in heraldic designs. He talks in detail about how he designed the quilt using Photoshop and accidentally damaged the table when transferring his design to the fabric. In the second half of the interview George talks about getting advice from his quilter wife, being a member of a local quilt group and what influences his designs.
Christabel Gilbert [CG]: My name is Christabel Gilbert. I’ve come to Monmouth to talk to George Boyce about his quilt. Tell me George, can you describe the quilt please?
George Boyce [GB]: Yes, Christabel. Um, it’s a wholecloth quilt and this actually was the first quilt that I’d ever made. Um, over the years I’ve done quite a lot with my hands, I quite like doing things with my hands and my wife Carol had been quilting for many, many years and is very expert at it, and I thought well… and she got a great deal of pleasure from it and I thought, well, if she can enjoy it, why don’t I have a go? And so this, as I said, was the first quilt that I made and she very kindly [laughs slightly] advised me at various stages, she didn’t actually do any of the sewing or anything like that but she, er, told me what I should do and when, and perhaps more importantly, what I shouldn’t do. Um, as I say it’s a wholecloth quilt, all hand embroidered, um, quilted, I’m not, I wasn’t then and I’m not now into machine quilting, so all done by hand to my own design.
GB: Um, at that time I was very much taken with heraldry, heraldic devises, coats of arms and things like that and I thought, well let’s combine the two. Let’s, er, come up with a design. I was most interested at that time of doing my own design rather than copying another design, so I put together various pictures, etc of roses, er, the Tudor rose, particularly, and the Fleur de Lys. The way I designed it was to use Photoshop. I’m a great believer in Photoshop, totally converted and in fact it’s the way I do all of my work now, whether it be quilting or needlepoint or whatever. And so, yes, I took pictures of the various elements, put them together, printed out the pattern and then basically worked from that. The full sized pattern was done on, I believe on, er it wasn’t tissue paper, but I think it was done on greaseproof paper and er, as I said, done full size. And then, once I’d finished that, I put it on the table, took it off the, it was done incidentally on a frame. Took it off the frame, put it on a table, overlaid the paper pattern, secured it, and then proceeded to mark out the design with a tooth wheel and therein lay the first problem, er, to wit, I spent very, many very careful hours tracing out with this tooth wheel, and the day came when I could take it off, finished it, thank goodness for that, and after, when I took it off I was absolutely horrified because the design had come right through and imprinted itself on the table, and it’s there to this day. [CG laughs] So there we have a little bit of a story to tell.
CG: So what did Carol say about that?
GB: Um, She was remarkably, um, well I suppose she didn’t, she didn’t knock me about, let’s put it that way. Very understanding I think is the word, mind you it was her that taught me the technique in the first place so, y’know she does bear some responsibility for it. No, in actual fact having done that I was very, very pleased with the result, I must admit.
CG: I bet.
GB: And at the time there was a… there was one of the national championships. Now we’ve tried to find exactly when that was, and where it was, to no avail unfortunately. All I can say is that it was put in, um, put in the exhibition and I think it must have been beginner’s luck because I managed to get third prize.
CG: Oh, well done!
GB: And the rosette is here somewhere.
CG: [Laughs] Ah, proof.
GB: It is proof, yes.
CG: It’s beautifully done. How do you manage to get it, it looks machine done almost, I know it isn’t but it looks so meticulous.
GB: I don’t know, I mean I honestly do not know, I mean I was, I… basically a small needle, a very small needle, a very thin needle, um and very carefully, y’know, sort of up and down, and up and down and out, and um, my fingers are evidence of… because the technique I used to use, rightly or wrongly, was to push the needle in until it stuck in my finger and then pull it out again. So I do about four stitches and then pull it through, [CG: It works beautifully.] then another four stitches and pull it through again. I’ve come over the years, as I’ve mentioned to you, I’m sort of not only interested in quilting but more, more so I think in embroidery and tapestry and things like that. Um, this really is, to my mind a quilt, er, the work that I’m doing now tends to be more art, textile art rather than quilting as such. Um, so it’s been, y’know, a gradual change over the years. It was done back in, oh, twenty years ago.
GB: Yes, so round about the mid-nineties.
CG: And this is the first thing you did?
GB: This is the very first quilt I ever did. I had had some practise at needlepoint, because again this thing with the heraldry, um, my fist needlepoint was of the coat of arms of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. I was… I’m a chemist by profession, and I thought, well, let’s, again, combine the technique you know, and so I, I did this and finished it. Learnt a lesson on that. It was done with cotton, stranded cotton. The lesson I learnt was buy all of your threads in one batch, before you start.
CG: Ahh, really?
GB: Because what happened was I put it down, worked it, put it down, came back to it, bought some new threads and the blue, it was, I remember to this day, it was a dark blue and the ones that I bought, to carry on wasn’t quite the same shade. So it had this horrible, to my mind anyway, horrible pale blue patch on the dark blue.
GB: So I threw it in the drawer and I haven’t seen it since [both laugh].
CG: [Pointing at quilt] This is a beautiful red colour. Why did you choose, a reason?
GB: The colour appealed to me.
CG: Just liked it?
GB: I have certain likes and dislikes with colour, as far as colour is concerned. Oranges I love, oranges, greens, various greens, browns, um, pink I don’t like. [CG: No.] As my wife will verify. I’m always on to her, oh I don’t like pink! But this particularly appealed to me, and it appealed to me so much that I did a second quilt, fairly shortly after that. Again, a heraldic design, but not my own design this time. This was the Coat of Arms of the Heraldry Society, um, and that one turned out quite well and, I think, when that was done I’d had enough of quilting!
CG: I bet [both laugh]. Yeah, I can understand.
GB: And moved on to something else, well as I say, moved on really to the needlepoint and various other things. But that was a very interesting experience. What I’m trying to do now is to get to grips with the use of the machine. Both machine embroidery, which I have used a little bit, but I haven’t done any machine quilting as such, and that’s an area where I’d like to develop, you know.
CG: Yes. You er, you joined Gwent Quilters, I understand, with Carol.
GB: Yes, that’s right.
CG: When did you join?
GB: Ah, about three years ago. Again there’s a story behind that because I used to act as her chauffeur and take her to the, the um, the meetings and, um, then I used to have to kill time in Newport for the day and I got to the point where I was fed up with that and I asked Carol, ‘I wonder would, because of my interest in sewing and what have you, what would the ladies think if I offered, if I er, asked them whether I could join?’ And then I think you, she sounded them out and the answer was, ‘Yes, all right, come along, as long as he keeps quiet in the corner!’ And so I joined.
CG: And how did you feel about being surrounded by all these ladies, sewing away?
GB: I’m not a ‘man’s man’ in the sense that I’m not into football or sport or anything like that, and I’ve always been able to get on… and I don’t mean this in any sort of funny way but I’ve always been able to get on with the opposite sex, um, in all sorts of situations. And it wasn’t a problem for me at all. And they must have taken to me because, low and behold, they made me treasurer [both laugh]. Not long after I’d joined. So there we go. And they’re continuing now.
CG: You had some work in their exhibition, I believe?
GB: Yes I did, er, now that was not this quilted piece. It was my more recent pieces. The one was the, er, Nymphs at the Pool, as I called it. And if anybody is interested in that you can actually see what I did and how I did it on the Gwent Quilters website. So I had that one plus a few smaller pieces, plus my most recent piece which was the Monmouth Bridge. And the object of the exercise with that one was I wanted to try and simulate an old master. Not a photograph as it is now but sort of aged and what have you. More difficult than I’d anticipated.
GB: Yes, but it all comes down obviously to the choice of threads, choice of colours, what, what stitches you use, etc. etc. And um again, that one does not contain, well, it doesn’t contain any quilting as such. I’m not really what you would call a traditional quilter, and um, maybe it will be an area where, you know, where I develop but really sort of geometric designs don’t really grab me.
GB: No, it’s more scenes from nature, landscapes, that sort of thing.
CG: You live in a beautiful part of the world here. D’you think that any of this surrounding influences your work?
GB: Possibly, In order to answer that I think I’d have to move away, live in the city and then realise how much I’d missed it. This happened when I went to university incidentally. I was brought up in Chepstow and after I er, I went to Larkfield Grammar School, I went… did me A-levels there etc, went to university in London and that was in Surrey for three years and it was awful! I mean people say Surrey is a beautiful county, well, you know there’s parts of it are but it doesn’t have a river, didn’t have the river, it didn’t have the forests, the trees and I think, deep down you know, yes, that does affect the way I work.
CG: Is there anything, I mean, you work with Carol obviously? Does her work influence you or are there any other textile people…?
GB: No. I accept that what she does is her style. She is a traditional quilter in the true sense of the word and loves traditional quilts. I, as I said already, am not and there have been times when I will do a particular thing, I mean she has been very, very good with her advising me what to do, etc. but much to her annoyance I don’t always take her advice! And so I tend to do things, you know, in the way I feel I could do them. You see, over the years I’ve done a lot with my hands, I mean I stared off as a boy with the usual things; balsa wood aeroplanes, Meccano sets etc., etc. and then that sort of stopped, really when I, when I started work, and really had not developed over that time. And I was in a technical and sort of scientific role and I tended to feel that my, er, artistic side then, for want of a better word, had been somewhat neglected. So when I retired, which is when I really started to do this I, you know, wanted to learn as much as I could and Carol, as I say taught me as much as, she knew and as much as I wanted her to tell me. As I said there are times when I’ll do something that she doesn’t agree with the method but my philosophy was, ‘well if it produces the result that you want then to hell with how it… how you arrived at it’ [both laugh].
CG: So you plan your work from the outset, so you know how it’s going to end up or is there any sort of developing…
GB: Oh no, no. It develops. To a great extent it develops as you go along. My approach usually is to decide what sort of subject I want. Now, in this case it wasn’t a problem because I was into heraldry. In the case of The Nymphs at the Pool, that was inspired by a drawing that I’d seen in one of the Dover books, I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the Dover books, but they produce them on all sorts of subjects and they’re wonderful source material. And I’d seen this picture which was, it was a line drawing by a guy called John Austin, and he did it in the 1930’s and it was, it was called ‘The Death of Ophelia. And what it was, was a picture of these two ladies, standing in the stream and Ophelia floating by, you know, under the water, with her head up just above the water. And I thought, something about it and again, not in any sort of sexual way or whatever. Something about it I thought, ‘I would like to do that’. Right, how do I go about doing it? Right, I can’t take, I can’t do it exactly as it is because there’s lots and lots of leaves and flowers and very, very fine detail. But, I can take the concept, namely the ladies, standing in the water, in a forest or whatever and develop it from there. So what I did was to basically put it all down in Photoshop. Um, I took the two figures, decided right, I’d have the, er, the pool with maybe ripples and what have you. I’d have a bank, trees behind and okay, let’s have it at night and we’ll have the moon out. And then again, what I did, as I said, was to obtain pictures via the internet or books or whatever, put them onto the computer and assemble them in Photoshop. The beauty of it is you can move them around, position them. Is that moon too big, is it too small, etc.? You know, modify what you’ve got, change the colour of it, you know. Do I want a silver moon, an orange moon, etc. etc.? You get the idea. And I came, I did it, and I came up to a design which I was pleased with and then went ahead and executed it. And that’s really the way I’ve done all my work since.
Yeah, I mean my wife likes to do her drawings, I mean obviously a lot of drawing is, you’re involved with a lot of drawing in all of this stuff. She likes to draw hers by hand on paper. I’m not that good at drawing, well I don’t have a lot of experience at drawing the sorts of things that I want to do, and so I would far prefer to use the computer as a technique to produce the paper. So I produce my design, print it out on A3 paper. Several sheets, obviously, because of the size of the thing. Put them together, and you can do multiple print-outs so all you need to do, you know, if you take all the different elements; the moon, the frog, etc. you cut them out and you can actually cut your fabric out then, to that shape. So it’s a wonder… I can’t stress too highly, you know, how useful Photoshop is to me.
CG: In something like those quilts you described, the appliqué ones. When you go for your fabrics do you have something in mind? Do you go for specific fabric? Or do you have a selection and think, ‘right, I’ll have that and I’ll have that?’ Where do you select them from?
GB: I think it’s the latter really. I may have a general idea of the sort of thing. For example, if I’m doing… in fact the piece that I’m doing now, it involves a building. So maybe I will look for fabric which suggests that its brick or stone or whatever. Not, you know, you can get these very stark pictures of brick walls. I don’t, that’s not me, that’s not me. Um, so it’s basically go along to the shows, see what they’ve got, ‘Oh, that might come in useful’, you know. In fact I’ve got this from my, from my wife. She’s built up a stash over many, many years. And is very generous with it I would say! You know, if she has a piece, some fabric that I think, or indeed that she thinks would fit into my work, then fine she, she, we have it. So I don’t have a fixed way. Having said that, there are certain ranges of fabrics that I like. There’s a particular range called Stonehenge. I can’t remember the name of the manufacturer, I think they’re American. But there’s a whole range of them and they simulate rocks and rocks with minerals in and cracks and all this sort of stuff. And they are superb. I mean I bought quite a few of those in order to, you know, to maybe incorporate them. As I said the piece that I’m doing now, there are mountains and these are absolutely ideal. So, yeah.
CG: Let’s go back to your technique again, particularly looking at this lovely quilt. You must have been the sort of man who was able to sew his own buttons on and do running repairs [both laugh]. Because it doesn’t look to me as if a needle is totally foreign to you when you started.
GB: Well it was originally, yes, I mean, as a boy I wasn’t sewing.
GB: My, my Mother used to knit, as did my Aunt, but oh, and sew a few buttons on. It wasn’t something that I’d really, y’know, taken to until, as I say, until I’d retired. Now, having, having been introduced to them I pretty soon learned the difference between the needles that you can get, to such an extent now that I will only use. For embroidery anyway I know, I know you have to suit if you’re using needlepoint for example then you need a rounded end, that goes without saying. But the sharps which I’m usually talking about, I have a specific um, preference shall we say, for short needles and they were done with one inch needles, um yes and very, very sharp needles. And I’ve found two, er, I’d better not get into the advertising…
CG: I think that’s all right [laughing].
GB: There are two that I particularly like. One is a Clover needle, and they are, they are, got a gold shank and a black end… or it’s the other way round perhaps. Black and gold anyway. But the more recent one that I found, that I prefer is made by a company, a French company, called Bohine, [spells Bohine], something like that and they are superb needles and I, er, recommended them to quite a few people [both laugh].
CG: Well if they get a result like that…
GB: Well, like I say, that was done twenty years ago, I don’t know that I could do that now. The old eye sight is going and, um, the manual dexterity is going. But however, I do have a magnifying glass, as you can see there, and that is a particularly fine one. It’s um, it has, it’s a large magnification but it has LEDs instead of florescent tube. [CG: Oh, right.] ‘Cos I was forever burning my hand, the back of my hand on the florescent tube when I was using the magnifying glass. So that one which we got from Harrogate, we go to Harrogate every year, that one is absolutely superb and they’re completely cold, you can put your hand right up against them and you don’t, can’t even feel it. So that’s something, so it’s quite important I think to have the right equipment, you know. As I say, both needles, things like magnifying glasses and also the threads of course, which we’ve mentioned before.
CG: How much time do you spend on ‘stitching’ nowadays?
GB: Very difficult to say. I, I mean I will stitch while I’m watching the television. I’m not a, there are certain programmes which I like but I’m not a great television fan. And I will sit there and do them there. How many hours? [George looks at Carol and laughs] Well a lot. Yeah, it is of great interest to me, that along with computers, the use of computers. So, I would say I sew most days and usually… I mean I can sit there, where, I usually sit where you are, um, and find hours will go by and I don’t even know it’s gone. So, yes I do spend a lot of time, really. Gosh [both laugh].
CG: What about this lovely quilt? Where does it normally hang or what do you do with it?
GB: It’s been up in the airing cupboard, folded up for at least, I don’t know fifteen years?
CG: Oh really?
GB: Yes, that’s why it looks so creased. You have the vertical creases there and, I mean I hesitated to iron it but I was advised to try it and it has improved it a little bit but obviously it does tend to flatten the quilting out. So, but now, I mean we’re, not really, not yet anyway, into hanging quilts. My wife has got dozens of quilts, just sort of dotted around. They’re not hung, or anything like that. They’re sort of folded up. We tend not to display our work.
CG: Oh really?
GB: Yes, No, no, no, I mean if you look around you won’t see any of my pieces. Up there, there’s that, there’s a little bit of needlepoint there but, no. That might hang up when I’ve finished that, but… No, I did have, actually have my, some of my needlepoints framed. The ones, the Coats of Arms that I did, but again, ok they were framed but now they’re in a bag [both laughing] in a drawer!
CG: It seems a pity because that’s so lovely… it’s erm… a family heirloom I suppose?
GB: Well, I would like to think so but I, I’m not so sure, I’m not so sure. It’s nice though, with someone of my background, like I say, in science and what have you, to see something that you, know that you have produced. So often people sit in an office all day and whatever and then when they come home they’re too tired to do anything, they just sit down in front of the television. But that isn’t really me. I would rather… if I’m not, if I’m not sewing or using the computer or doing something with my hands then I’m wasting time as far as I’m concerned. [Pause] So, there we go.
CG: Well, thanks you very much for sharing this with us.
GB: Thank you Christabel.
CG: And um, it’s lovely to see your work, even more work here than I ever imagined there would be.
GB: Ah yes, I wondered if perhaps.
CG: A big surprise, really, really lovely.
GB: Well that’s very kind of you to say so, and the pleasure really has been mine. I hope I haven’t rambled on too much?
CG: Not at all. Thank you very much George.
GB: Thank you.