ID Number: TQ. 2015.046
Name of interviewee: Jacquie Barwell
Name of interviewer: Ana Tims
Name of transcriber: Jacquie Barwell
Location: Jacquie’s home
Address: Copthorne, West Sussex
Date: 24 August 2015
Length of interview: 0:25:02
Jacquie’s chosen touchstone is her first story quilt, made for a challenge on the theme ‘Across the Ocean’. Her mixed media quilt features the story of St Brendan and his journey across the sea, and includes Fimo clay items, a Celtic cross and embroider. Jacquie started quilting at nineteen and has been supported along her journey by a quilting health visitor and The Quilters’ Guild, as well as other craft groups.
Ana Tims [AT]: [Interview introductions] Good afternoon, Jacquie. Thank you for agreeing for this interview. And we have your quilt in front of us. I would like you to start by describing the quilt.
Jacquie Barwell [JB]: This is a small wall-hanging rather than a proper quilt, but it is a quilt because it’s got three layers and it has quilting on it. It is my very first story quilt and it is called ‘Brendan the Navigator’ and it tells the story the Irish saint, St. Brendan, who was born around 486 AD. It was made in response to the challenge for Quilts UK at Malvern in 1997 and when the theme was ‘Across the Atlantic’ and St Brendan allegedly set sail and went to all sorts of adventurous places, possibly including America. Which in the story of St Brendan is ‘The Land promised to the Saints’’.
AT: And could you describe your quilt, the size, the colours, the patterns or fabrics you used.
JB: Right… I think they… all the fabrics, let’s start with fabrics, they are pretty much all commercial fabrics with one or two little hand-dyed pieces included. The quilt is about 29 inches long and 20 inches wide, approximately. The shape and the design; because it has a sort of framework to it. And I was inspired by the Celtic art drawings of Courtney Davies and he, a lot of his illustrations of Celtic stories are within frames and borders. So we have a main part of it, a lower area and a roundel at the top which is the destination for the journey.
AT: At the top of the quilt there is this beautiful, well. You have stitches all over, but at the top in the circular area, could you tell me about the inspiration for that.
JB: Well, that part is possibly, the destination of the journey. It is the land to which they travelled and in the spiritual as well as the physical sense. And I have made, it had a river in it which I have made out of netting and machine stitching. It had trees with oranges on and I have made, the main stem of the tree is applique and then I have made little embroidered woven picots for the leaves and those are oranges on there which are made out of Fimo modelling clay, with a little hole down so they are handmade beads. And there’s a little Celtic style cross which I found somewhere.
AT: And around the first border you got the name of the saint and the Celtic…
JB: … the Celtic twisted…
AT: … twisted…
JB: … twisted plaits. Um. It’s quite a simple design using what we call the patchwork, Celtic patchwork made out of bias strips of fabric which interweave on each other. In Celtic design terms I think it’s probably quite simple, but I thought it could work. And I have put some embroidery on it which represents a tree and flowers and birds. Some of the special places they travelled to. In the main part of the quilt we’ve got a boat, with St Brendan and some of the monks that he travelled with. The design of the boat is taken from the medieval woodcut drawings, because I did a lot of research for this quilt which I loved. I read about it and I got a copy, a modern day copy of the Navigato which was the book that was written about his journeys. I think he actually set off with fourteen monks but I couldn’t fit all of them in the boat [laughter]. And they’re made from applique, machined with a little bit of padding, stuffing. I would have loved to have done hand applique so I could turn out and have nice hidden edges but I’m not good enough at that to do it so I had to settle for machine. So that’s in the centre and there’s various and, [Ana points] oh, yes, they are landed on a whale. It looks possibly a bit more like a shark in this picture but they thought they’d made landfall and they started lighting their fire to cook their food and then they realised they were actually on a living creature which was a whale. They was followed through the seas by friendly fish which I put there [points]. There’s, they apparently went to a place with the land of fire, which in modern days has been interpreted as being possibly Iceland with volcanoes. Lower down we have a little picture of, of a devil tormenting somebody and that is… who is sitting on a rock and that is Judas Iscariot who was banished for ever to sit on the rock and be tormented by the devil. Er, further down we have a little pair of sheep because St Brendan and his monks travelled to an Island which they called the Land of Sheep or Island of Sheep and this is possibly somewhere like St Kilda. You could go on. Oh, fishes in the sea. I found some lovely beads to put on. We have a grape vine with, again, with beads made out of purple Fimo modelling clay. And I chose this quilt to talk about because for me it represents the first story quilt that I made and I love the idea of using my quilts to tell a story. And that comes down to being a librarian, loving books, enjoying communicating with other people through my craft.
AT: Now I know you’re, did this quilt for Malvern. And, what, plans do you have for it now? Do you display in your house?
JB: This one. Yes, I always have it hanging up in the house. It actually hangs in the utility room so I can see it every day as I walk past. I, I do have a few quilts hanging about the house, but I think this is probably the one that is always on permanent display. And, no, I wouldn’t give it to anybody.
AT: That is very beautiful. Now, if we can talk a bit about the quilting pattern, because there’s all different hand stitching there.
JB: The quilting pattern itself is quite, quite random actually. I was just trying to represent the way the waves and the water swirled around. A couple of, a few little fish quilted, but mostly it was just swirls and it was just doing random and just letting it flow.
AT: Now I wonder if I could talk a bit about your involvement in quiltmaking. When did you first start making quilts?
JB: I first started making quilts, um, I can’t remember the date, but I was probably about nineteen and at the time I had recently left home and I was living in London at a Guiding house called Our Ark in, just off Earls Court, in London. And it was an International Guide house and there were always people coming and going. I was there for a year because they would have a few permanent residents as well as all the visitors. And I was introduced to quilting there by the lady who was the cook and she showed us how to do hexagons over paper. And I then spent a long time making little hexagon rosettes out of all sorts of fabric and not just cotton because I didn’t know any better. And I put all these rosettes together big enough to make a cover for a bed, single bed, and I didn’t know about wadding, about things you’re supposed to have in the middle to make a quilt a quilt. So I just stitched it to a candlewick bedspread, so it was a two layer coverlet rather than a quilt. And, I didn’t like it. Having finished it I hated it. And so I sent it back home to my Mum, who put it on my old bedroom at home, in the way that mums do. And it stayed there for a while until one of her friends admired it and said how lovely it was. And so Mum said ‘Here, have it, take it’. And she confessed to me afterwards that she didn’t like it either. So, but it went to a good home.
AT: And are there any quilt makers in your family?
JB: No, not prior to me, that I know of, but my eldest daughter has now completed her first quilt.
AT: That is very good. And from when you start quilting to now you have done a lot of different techniques because I’ve seen your quilts. And at the moment what is your favourite technique? Do you have one?
JB: Um… my least favourite is piecing [laughter] because I’m not accurate enough to do that. I’ve sort of always liked applique. Um, as I’ve said before I would dearly love to do it by hand but I’m not neat enough so I accept my limitations and machine stitch. So I guess that’s probably my favourite but I do like experimenting with different techniques, and I do quite a lot of mixed media stuff now.
AT: And in terms of technology, what do you use when you’re quiltmaking?
JB: Technology, mostly my sewing machine and I use the computer a lot, for research, for ideas for designs. But mostly I’m fairly well attached to my sewing machine.
AT: And when and where do you quilt?
JB I’ve always done most of my quilting, anything that needs sitting and sewing by machine, I tend to do fairly early in the morning. I’ve always got, been inclined to get up early, have a cup of tea and some quiet time and I sit and sew by machine then. Hand sewing I would do in the evenings. And I still, even now I’m retired and I have any day and every day when I could sit and sew, I still tend to work first thing in the morning in small short snatches. I still have something of a guilty feeling about sitting down sewing during the daytime.
AT: And how much time do you spend quiltmaking? Do you work every day? Once awhile?
JB: I will probably do something every day. Yes, even take stuff on holiday. And I have been known to take my sewing machine away on holiday.
AT: And how do you go about, um. There’s a question you want to spend money on for your quilting. What do you tend to spend your money on when you buying things for quilts?
JB: Um… probably, like everybody else, I’m a bit of a sucker for fabrics, although I have a pretty good collection now. I don’t buy sets of fabric like jelly rolls or anything. I buy things if I like them when I see them.
AT: And what quantity do you buy them?
JB: Very small quantities. Usually fat quarters no more than that because everything I make is small. I mean if I’m making a larger quilt I like having an eclectic mix of fabrics rather than things that are planned to go together.
AT: Yes. Now, when you see a quilt from somebody else, what do you look for in their quilts, what sort of grabs your attention when you look at quilts?
JB: Probably colour. I love the interplay of colours in quilts. If I’m looking for design I’m probably also most drawn to things where I feel there is a story connected. Again so that, if I, when I go to an exhibition or I will look for things, quite often pictorial or things that I can pick up from the catalogue where people have made something for a reason. Which is probably why I really wanted to get involved with Talking Quilts, I guess, because it’s stories of people’s lives.
AT: And what do you think makes a good quilt?
JB: Sometimes I think it’s technique, sometimes I think it can just be a name or something that actually sparks, something that sparks the imagination, I suppose.
AT: And when you design your own quilts, I know you do the story, but what inspire you, where do you get your inspiration to start something?
JB: Uh, sometimes from looking at other people’s work because I think actually that is quite a good source. That comes from exhibitions, books, I have a huge collection of books, magazines. And I particularly, oh for quite a long time now, I’ve bought the American Quilting Arts magazine and I think that’s probably the one that inspires me the most.
AT: And do you use both hand and machine quilting? And how do you feel about both those techniques?
JB: I like the machine work because I like playing with the machine. Hand stitching has a sort of calmness and a sort of rhythm to it which I think is nice. I don’t claim to be good technically at either, but I li…. I do things that I enjoy.
AT: And when you make quilts. What you do with them?
JB: A few get given away because they will be baby quilts or they will be quilts for special friends. Quite a few of them are stashed away under the bed and a few of them are displayed and there are a few quilts which are sort of snuggle quilts. The sort that are everyday things that you curl up under in front of the television on a cold evening.
AT: And, er, what’s the biggest challenge you face as a quilter today?
JB: Er…um… I really don’t know what to say there. I think possibly the biggest challenge is to have faith in what you’re doing, for yourself. You can go into exhibitions and you can see what other people are doing and you get blown away by how clever some people are and knowing that in fact, actually you can’t compete with these people but you can do things that please yourself.
AT: Now, I want to go back a bit because you talked a bit about using mixed media. Could you explain mixed media a bit?
JB: I think in the terms I’m looking at here it’s not what you would call mixed media in terms of art, because that’s more to do with using different types of paint and whether you’re using gouache or watercolours or so on and mixing those together, but I think in terms of this it’s mixing things that I’ve learnt through paper crafting and printing onto paper, printing onto fabric, transferring things between one and another adding embellishments, using fabrics that might not necessarily go together in a conventional quilt.
AT: And another thing I want to go back to is about for you to talk about your quilting background. If you did courses or how you went about learning to quilt. I know you started being nineteen, being taught…
JB: Yes, by somebody. Interestingly I didn’t really start doing any classes or anything but one of those really unusual influences was just after my second daughter was born in 1980 and I had a health visitor who came and saw me after the birth and she walked into the bathroom where I’d made a baby changing mat out of some squares of fabric and she said ‘ooh, you do patchwork I’ll lend you some books’ and she lent me some books which were sort of midnight reading, the early hours of the morning when you’re sitting feeding this baby. And in my rather bemused state with a new baby I had no idea who she was, what her name was and it was only quite a few years later that I put two and two together talking to somebody in our quilt group and she said ‘ooh when I was doing this job I used to go out and see the new mums and I sometimes lent them my books’ and I realised that I’d known her for a long time without quite realising. So that was, that was quite a big influence in a way.
I’ve done, over the years I’ve done a number of one day classes. Um, with mixed success. I have to say I don’t get on very well in classes and workshops because I always feel, oh I haven’t got the right fabrics or I don’t know what I’m doing and I will probably fiddle around and end up with not a lot. But I will go home and then I take stuff away and absorb it. I also did the City & Guilds course. I did an Embroidery course, City & Guilds course, I did just a Part 1, in about 1983, I guess and I enjoyed it and I learnt it, learnt quite a lot from it but I didn’t pursue embroidery at that point because I had actually got involved with quilting and I ended up with City & Guilds quilting course in the late 1990’s roughly when, and mostly because I was working full time at that stage and I thought ‘I actually need something to make me do things’ So it covered quite a lot of things I knew, techniques and so on I really enjoyed the course. And I went to Dorking and did it with a lady called Janet Twinn.
AT: And I know you’ve mentioned that you’ve done a few courses with different people, is there anybody today, you have a favourite teacher or somebody that you really enjoy?
JB: I haven’t been to any classes much in recent times, so I keep saying I ought to and I will but I don’t know, I’m not getting round to it at the moment.
AT: And, finally, two more questions. Were you, are you member of any groups that are related to sewing or quilting.
JB: Um… I belong to three groups, I think it’s three currently. I belong to the quilt group in East Grinstead. And I’ve been a member there for many years. The group was founded in 1982, called the Greenstede Quilters, and I have known a lot of the members for a very, very long time and they are very good friends and even if my quiltmaking interests and the interests of the majority of the group are currently the same perhaps, I am still, I still carry on because really value the friendships that I’ve made there. I belong to a mixed media textile group called Moving On which meet in Shirley, just on the edges of Croydon, and we have quilters, we have embroiderers and it’s a pretty, very, very social but everybody wants to play, whether it’s with dyes or paints, crayons, paper whatever anybody wants to do and it’s really a very supportive, lovely group. And the other group I belong to is called Thread and Shutter and that is an exhibiting group. Three of us work in embroidery, quilting, textiles and the shutter bit comes from the fourth member of the group who is a photographer. And we sometimes challenge ourselves to take his pictures as a source for inspiration.
AT: And are you a member of the Quilters’ Guild?
JB: I am a member of The Quilters’ Guild. And I have been, not a founder member, but since the early 1980’s. And I have always valued and enjoyed being part of The Quilters’ Guild. The connection that you get to the outside world, and I think that was particularly valuable in the early days, when we didn’t have the internet as a resource. Then there certainly weren’t as many quilt shops or quilting groups as there are now so that was really important. And, again, I think it was important because of the friendships. And I am very keen to support The Quilters’ Guild because it is a charity and it is part of a hobby which has been so influential in my life.
AT: And finally, last questions… why is quiltmaking important in your life?
JB: Uh… it’s the social, it is being creative. I like making things.
AT: Well, thank you very much for talking to me and I wish you very good luck in your future quilting.
JB: Thank you.