ID number: TQ.2015.017
Name of interviewee: Gilly Thomson
Name of interviewer: Avril Clark
Name of transcriber: Take1
Location: Gilly’s home
Date: 17 April 2015
Length of interview: 0:17:24
In discussing her Tangram Tango quilt Gilly describes how her fascination with Chinese tangram puzzles led her to produce a quilt of nine pieced and appliqué squares. She added embroidered snatches of tango music and hand quilted the piece. Gilly goes on to speak of her liking of Hungarian blue and white fabric, her admiration of the work of Japanese quilt makers and of the small scale work of Janet Bolton.
Avril Clark [AC]: Right, the ID number TQ.2015.017. Interviewee Gilly Thomson. Interviewer Avril Clark. And it’s at Gilly’s home Inverness and today’s date is 17th April 2015. The quote you’ve brought along today is called Tangram Tango. Perhaps you could tell me a bit about it?
Gilly Thomson [GT]: Certainly. The title Tangram Tango relates to a Chinese puzzle called Tangrams which is a square that has been cut into seven different pieces. And, you can arrange them in to make different patterns. And, I have nine squares, er, of, um, blocks with two figures on each block which have been made. Each figure has been made using the seven pieces of a Tangram Square. And the figures are in black fabric which has been appliqued onto a square of, um, basically white fabrics that each piece is a piece of the Tangram. Could we stop there.
The size of the quilt is a little over a metre high and just under a metre wide. And the nine blocks have been divided into sets of three and under each row of three I have the embroidered music which literally is Tango music. Um, a colleague of my husband’s lent me a sheet of music which I copied for that. And, er, it’s all black and white. And I’ve, the white fabrics are different patterned white fabrics. And the black are different patterned and round the edge I have triangles, sixty degree triangles half black and half white and these are all different patterns, some of which have got music on them just to keep the theme of music in the quilt.
AC: Did you make this quilt, er for for anyone or anything in particular?
GT: I originally made it, er, hoping it would be exhibited at the European exhibition in Val d’Argent in September 2005 it would have been. But, it wasn’t selected, so I did, er, enter it in the exhibition at the Loch Lomond Quilt Show which the theme of which was related to music.
AC: How, how, do you feel about, er, this quilt. What is its special meaning for you?
GT: I enjoyed making it because I’ve always been fascinated by Tangrams. And I had fun putting it together and, er, it still pleases me, I have it hanging on the stairs on the wall up, up the stairs so I’m, I’m passing it regularly and I still enjoy looking at it. Um, it’s hand quilted although it was machine pieced and the Tangrams are hand appliqued, and it is hand quilted.
AC: Right. Um, you mentioned that you’re, er exhibited at Loch Lomond. Um, how did you sort of get involved, um, with the er, Loch Lomond Quilt Show?
GT: That’s er, a long story, but I… the year before the Quilt Show started which was 2004, I had just established a website selling Hungarian blue and white cotton which I had discovered the year before in Hungary. I had been persuaded to make a quilt for an international exhibition held in Hungary in 2003 using the traditional blue and white fabric. And, when I took my quilt over for the exhibition, er, I was quite overwhelmed because there were quilters from over thirty different countries but I was the only one there from the UK. And the purpose of the exhibition has been to get the fabric better known outside of the country. So, I had the idea of setting up the business. Er, the website business selling the fabric and the three ladies who started the Loch Lomond quilt show were in Inverness promoting the Quilt Show the following year. And, I was persuaded to go along as a trader to sell the fabric. And, I did that every year for the ten years of the, the Loch Lomond Quilt Show. So, it was a way of supporting them.
AC: Er, the quilts, um, that you make now, um, um, do you use, er, a lot of the fabric from the Hungarian or do you find you mix and match or?
GT: If I’m using the Hungarian fabric I tend just to use white. Occasionally a wee bit of red maybe in with it, but, um, I use a lot of other fabrics for other quilts that, um, a lot of the quilts I make are presents. I do a lot of double bed size quilts as wedding gifts for young relatives or friends.
AC: So, so how did you get started in quilt making, er?
GT: I originally started as so many people do over forty years ago. I had gathered a lot of the Laura Ashley scraps and I was English piecing as you’d call it. Um, over paper templates and hand sewing. But, I never finished the quilt that I’d started, er, then until in 1988 my mother died and she had done a little bit of patchwork using large hexagons and I thought it would be nice to actually the quilt that she had started. Er, which my daughter now has. And it prompted me to finish the quilt that I had started using Laura Ashley fabrics, er which was all hand stitched and hand quilted. And having finished that I carried on quilting. I always dabbled in a lot of, um, hand crafts like spinning and weaving and crochet and knitting, but it was about that time I decided it was time to focus on quilting cause it’s something I enjoy and I have a lot of fabric to use.
AC: And at the time you mentioned you started with Laura Ashley fabrics. Um, was there other, er, fabrics, er, sourced locally or?
GT: I had a lot of scraps left over from dressmaking, both from my mother and from myself from, from sewing over the years. And, it’s still nice to use some of those fabrics, um in quilts.
AC: So um, when you start off, once you got going with your quilting, um, what sort of influences er attracted you, er, you know, like designs or, um?
GT: Er, it’s difficult. I, I like traditional quilts and I like the traditional blocks. Um, I enjoy looking at more modern art quilts, er, but making I prefer to stick to traditional techniques on the whole.
AC: Um, did you exhibit any quilts round about that time once you were getting going?
GT: No, er, the, the exhibition in Hungary was the first time I really thought about exhibiting at all. I have exhibited a few times since then. But I make quilts more for enjoyment and as presents for family and friends than for exhibitions as such. Though I am a member of the traditional group within the Highland, um, not Highland Quilters The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. And, er, I do get involved in making things for that.
AC: Um, when did you join the Quilt Group, was it early on which, er, British Quilters…
GT: The Quilters’ Guild. It’s hard to remember now. Um, must be about fifteen years ago I think.
AC: And were you involved with any groups locally, like house groups or…?
GT: I had been involved, involved in the Highland Textile Guild which was formed back in the late 70s. And, er, because of the population up here at the time there weren’t enough people to form individual, um, groups which has now happened. But I was actively involved in the Highland Textile Guild for some years.
AC: What kind of work are you doing at present and how, how, do you sort of go about, er, er, working on a quote?
GT: Right, er, at the moment I’m making a double bed quilt for a young couple in Australia who have specified Autumn colours. And, er, they’re not colours I would normally choose so it’s been quite challenging. Er, but I’m quite pleased with the result. I’ve finished the top and I’m piecing the back from bits I have left over. And it’s all bright oranges and rusty browns combining er a lot of Aboriginal design of fabrics which I bought in Australia last year.
GT: Is it, is it a traditional block type of quilt?
GT: It is a traditional block which is, I don’t know the name of it. It’s a central square and it’s just got four pieces round it, log cabin style.
AC: Right. Er, what, what sort of wadding and that would you use in this kind of quilt?
GT: I’ve got a large piece of dark cotton wadding which I’m gonna use for this quilt because it is a fairly dark quilt anyway. But, I always use, um, a cotton wadding, um, or a cotton, cotton mix because I generally do hand quilting, but I do sometimes er machine quilt and I have used a long arm quilting machine once. And, er, I might use that again.
AC: Right. [talking in background] What do you look for, or notice on other quilts, um…?
GT: Um, what do I look for in other quilts? I, like traditional quilts and one thing I look for, apart from the good design, is actually workmanship, cause you can see some beautiful designs which haven’t really been, um, well stitched and I think even if a quilt is to be hung on a wall it should be a quilt that could be used as such and should be strong enough to be used. But, I really admire Japanese quilt makers cause their workmanship is phenomenal and, er, they always use, almost always use their own fabrics as well which are very special designs which I, I, like and admire. But, I also like the work of Janet Bolton who does very small picture pieces, but again her workmanship is very special. [talking in background].
AC: What’s the biggest challenge you face as quilter today would you say?
GT: The biggest challenge today really is finding time to, to make quilts. I have too many ideas and not enough time to make them.
AC: How, how, much time do you spend on a quilt actually making it would you say?
GT: I’m often asked that question and I generally say it takes about six months to make a quilt. But that’s not working on it full time, it’s just as and when I have time. I used to work as a care attendant with the charity Crossroads where we go into people’s homes to offer respite care and I would sit and do my hand quilting while I was sitting with elderly, mainly elderly or disabled people. And it was always an interest for them as well as a way of passing the time for me. And, er a good place to do my hand quilting.
AC: About, um, how, how, much money would you spend on a quilt when you’re sourcing fabric, um?
GT: That’s a difficult one because I have got a huge stock of fabric like so many quilters and as far as possible I try and use what I have in stock, but there are times when I just need an extra one or two pieces. For example the black and white quilt, the Tangram Tango, when I made that I had quite a collection of the white on white patterns, but I didn’t have similar of the black, so I had to seek out suitable fabrics, er, to buy for the, the white on black patterns for that and that’s an example. So, generally I don’t spend an awful lot because I have a lot in stock.
AC: Were you able to buy locally or did you have to send off for fabric?
GT: I went to quilt shows which I go to fairly regularly where you do get a good selection of fabrics from different traders.
AC: Er, and why is quilt making important in your life would you say?
GT: I enjoy sewing. I enjoy making quilts. It’s something that is useful if it’s a quilt to be used on a bed or a wall hanging is something nice to give to people.
AC: Okay. Thanks.