ID number: TQ.2014.043
Name of Interviewee: Jan Price
Name of Interviewer: Binkie Thomas
Name of transcriber: Gwen Jones
Location: Jan’s home
Address: Abercynon, Rhonda Cynon Taff
Date of interview: 30 August 2014
Length of interview: 0:26:55
Jan’s quilt was a recent return to hand piecing, that she originally started doing in the 1970’s. Her mum was influential in getting her started in quilting buying Laura Ashley scrap bags and later with the pleasure she got from the Malvern Show. Jan discusses where she learns new techniques, how it fits into her life and how important colour and design are in her quiltmaking. Later she mentions the quilt groups she attends including a Welsh Quilting group, and several other quilts projects that she is working on.
Binkie Thomas [BT]: Right Jan. Could you please tell me about the quilt that you’ve chosen?
Jan Price [JP]: Right. This quilt is one that I made quite recently. I’ve chosen it because it. I reintroduced myself to hand piecing which is how I started quilting many, many, many years ago. And I love the fabrics in it, but, those really are the main reasons.
BT: So can you describe the quilt, Jan?
JP: Right This quilt is made from Japanese fabrics, mostly indigos and the highlights are red and creams. It’s all hand-pieced over paper, with hexagons and triangles. The indigos are… I’m just looking at the quilt now to make sure I’m saying this correctly, yes, most of the indigos are the hexagons, and the red and the creams are triangle shapes and the triangles form star shapes.
BT: How big is the quilt Jan?
JP: It’s about 60 by 66 inches, so not quite a single bed size but not far off. It’s got flannel on the back, so it’s really lovely and cosy.
BT: A lovely quilt. So how do you use the quilt and what plans do you have for it?
JP: Well, erm, I’ve only just had it back because it’s been to Canada for a quilt exhibition which is something I never thought would ever happen but I got volunteered and my quilt was accepted, so that was lovely.
BT: And what exhibition was that?
JP: It was the Ailsa Craig exhibition which they have every year, apparently. I didn’t know anything about it until recently. Erm, so, yes, this quilt has just come back to me and once I reintroduced myself to it I decided how much I love it and I am going to keep it in the car for long journeys when I get a bit cold, which happens to me quite a lot, erm, because basically I don’t want to let it out of my sight at the moment [laughs].
BT: Well, I can understand that, that is beautiful. So when did you first start making quilts?
JP: Oh, back in the 70’s when Laura Ashley started with her scrap bags, erm, I can remember being out with Mum, I can’t remember if we were in Cardiff, I think we must have been in Cardiff, because Newport at the time didn’t have anywhere lovely like that and we picked up a couple of bags, came home. It took us ages to work out how to draw a hexagon, but once we’d worked that out we were away, and I can remember that first year when I was quilting making knitting bags with the traditional hexagon flower shapes that we all made [laughing as she speaks] so that’s what my aunties had that Christmas.
BT: Gosh that’s industrious. You’ve mentioned your Mum as a quiltmaker, is there anyone else in your family that makes quilts or sews.
JP: Erm… Well my grandmother was a tailoress and I’ve recently found out that my Aunty Phyllis was as well, but I don’t, erm, I’ve not got any memories of any quilts being in the family at all. But quite recently at a quilt show I bumped into my niece, which was quite a shock, and she had taken up sewing, I won’t say she was going to be quilting but she was certainly taking up sewing. So I shall be keeping my eye on her encouraging her gently in the right direction.
BT: And when did you actually start making quilts.
JP: Erm. Yaayee… when did I do that? Well, it was when my boys were both in school, so I expect the eldest would have been about 11 when I really got back into it because my Mum… erm… well it was after my Dad died, I think really, because Mum was at a loose end and she re-joined a quilt group because she had moved to a smaller house and there was a quilt group going in the church round the corner. And she started again and I was sort of watching her carrying on and thinking, ‘Oh that’s nice’, and ‘oh yes, I like the shape of that’ and one thing and another and then she went to her first Malvern [Quilt Show] and she came up then the following week and she was telling me about this wonderful quilt show and I’ve never forgotten because she said the minute she walked in a wave of goodness, just good wishes, good will and I suppose sort of like-minded people, it just hit her in a wave and I thought, ‘ooh, sounds great, I think I’ll have a go at that’. So I went with her the next year and [laughs] huh! I haven’t looked back since. It was fantastic. It’s a sensory overload for a beginner when you go to Malvern.
BT: I agree with that.
JP: There is fabric everywhere, there are quilts and you think… ‘ahhh how do they do it?’ It’s just fabulous. In fact, I still get like that most years.
BT: Don’t we all [both laugh]. So what are your preferred styles or techniques in quilting?
JP: Erm, I like doing things by hand, I like hand quilting, I like hand piecing, I like applique, I like needle turning, I like a bit of redwork, erm, I’m not… I will piece on the machine but I haven’t used a sewing machine for any length of time and I’m only getting to what I would call proficient now. Erm, but yes it’s the hand, all hand work, is what really excites me.
BT: And what do you enjoy about quiltmaking? And is there anything you don’t enjoy?
JP: Cutting out and a boring part of it that is. And it’s difficult and it makes your back ache, because you’ve got to stand up to do it because I can’t cut out accurately sitting down, don’t know if anybody else finds that but I certainly do. Erm so yes, it’s the preparation, It’s always the same though isn’t it, you’ve got to get the boring bits out and then you can start putting your colours together and start sewing and you start… what I really like is when you’re doing things by hand and you start off and you’ve got a little piece and then you’ve got a piece that covers, sort of, from your shoulders to your knees and then a bit longer and then all of a sudden you’re working under a complete blanket and you’re falling asleep when you’re stitching [both laughing] which is a joke but it’s lovely!
BT: So, Jan, what technology do you use when quilt making and I suppose YouTube and things like could come into that.
JP: Well funny you should mention that, there’s a lovely lady on Missouri, is it Missouri Quilt Company?
BT: Missouri Star Quilt Company?
JP: Jenny Doan, she’s precious, she’s brilliant and I use her ‘How to bind a Quilt’ tutorial every time I’m binding a quilt. That is as far as modern technology goes is absolutely fab. Looking up how to do things on YouTube, and things, yes. I would use it for that. When it comes to sort of computer-aided programmes for your sewing machine and things, totally not my cup of tea. So no I… yes, looking for inspiration on line definitely, looking for books, oh, very definitely but actually practical usage in what I do, not so much.
BT: So where and when do you quilt.
JP: Anywhere, everywhere, anytime, erm, it depends because I do a lot by hand most of my work is very portable, which is lovely. So it means I don’t have to have an electricity supply to keep sewing ‘cos I can just take it anywhere. Erm I put… do you know what, I found quite recently, on a drive up to London that I can actually sew in the back of the car, which really surprised me. It was brilliant because my husband and son were in the front and so I think from Aberdare to Newport they argued about speed cameras, then the next section they were just talking about how unfair the police restrictions on various things are and I was so relieved that I was sitting quietly in the back on my own stitching because I would have been bored to tears otherwise [chuckles].
BT: So how do you go about making a quilt Jan?
JP: Erm….well… yes… how do I go about it. Well I look for colours as a starting point I think really, or is it… well I don’t know… do I look for colours or a design first? Erm… I just see things I fancy and decide to have a go at it, Erm… one of the most unusual things, well I think it’s unusual, I made a sort of, it’s like a fantasy tree wall-hanging… Which I did because it was hand needle turn which I had never tried before and it is in a colour palette which is just not me because I Iike pushing myself every now and then to do something a bit unusual, and because I live in a bungalow I have absolutely no use for this piece of, this finished wall quilt, but it is very pretty. I don’t what I’ll do with it. I’ll keep it in a bag get it out for shows from time to time [chuckles] but, yes, I just like having a go at anything and everything.
BT: So when you are going to make a quilt do you have someone in mind or do you just make the quilt because you love it.
JP: Do I have… nine times out of ten it’s just because I like the design or I want to… I love the fabric and I want to use the fabric… no, I can’t… I’m not a person that makes a quilt for a show, erm… because I belong to a couple of groups if we had an exhibition coming up I would make an attempt to get something finished, but it’s just because I enjoy doing it and I like to have a go at different things. And I… there seem to be trends in quilting and I try stand stay clear of those and just do my own thing because that’s what I’m like.
BT: And you’ve mentioned a couple of groups, shall we talk about those now
JP: Right I belong to Cynon Stitchers which is a little group that meets on a Monday afternoon and it’s led by a lady called Chris Williams who has a really great way of starting off new quilters. She has a few little projects and I’ve seen her start off lots of quilters who have gone on to bigger and better things. You know, once they’ve made a start, they erm… a bag normally. Chris gets them do to a little bag and then they go on to a rail fence quilt. Most of them seem to love it and continue as quilters for years to come. And the other group that I’m with is Cibi Quilters and they meet in Abergavenny once a month. They are a bigger group and more ambitious group, they have professional quilt teachers in three or four times a year and do various workshops. I have recently signed up to do one… I think it’s called Log Cabin with Flying Geese. I’m slightly nervous about it because I don’t use my sewing machine a hell of a lot, I’m not very good at it, but I think this one is going to, erm, challenge me which is a good thing because one of my ambitions is to actually [Jan laughs] piece a top on the machine that I’m actually proud of. I can do basics but I would like to get more proficient and I am going to have a go at curved piecing. This year’s on the back burner idea, but one of these days I’m going to get round to it.
BT: And what do you spend money on for your quilting.
JP: Fabric, threads, books erm what else oh and this year I have treated myself to a lovely sewing table which is fab. They’re designed so that your sewing machine actually fits flush with the top of the table so you get a massive sewing area. And I did treat myself to that in Birmingham this year, which of course was the erm end of August, was it this year? Something like that. And I have put a little quilt top together since, using my new sewing table. That I made for my son who lives in London and he happened to mention to me that he’d like a quilt, so like a fool I thought ‘Oh, I’ll make you one’. So I bought Oakshott fabric for it. And that… I bought him Oakshott fabric because [laughs] he rents a room off erm a university friend of his erm and, well he, Mahesh is the boy that Arran rents with, and his Mum and Dad have a penthouse apartment which is really swish a couple of streets over and they’re from Sri Lanka and recently, Arran had been doing a bit of work for them as a caretaker looking after the two flats whilst they had been in Sri Lanka for the summer and they brought him back some pyjamas which look like Oakshott fabric. So I bought a selection of Oakshott fabric to do this quilt top in, really inspired by his pyjama bottoms which he showed me and which are gorgeous and I really wanted to cut them up there and then, but he wouldn’t let me.
BT: Gosh fancy having pyjama bottoms matching your quilt top [laughter from both]. Can you just tell us what Oakshott fabrics are?
JP: Right, Well, they’re, the ones that I’ve used for Arran’s quilt were hand woven in India and they have a different thread on the weft, is it the weft? The warp? Warf? Something like that, so they’re all two toned and they have an iridescence about them. Very, very nice.
BT: So what do you actually look for or notice in other people’s quilts?
JP: Erm colour really, colour is something I’m not very keen on, erm… well, my quilts can be subtle or absolutely smack you straight in the face, but I like to look at a good strong design. I don’t like quilts which are heavily machine quilted which cos they go to look hard which is something I don’t like. Erm, and it… but one thing that does irritate me about the quilt shows is when people, or a group, have done a workshop and you see the same design over and over again in different colours. They’re all lovely, but I like to see a variety more than just one design repeated, but what do I look for in the quilt, it’s just something that hits me in the eye and that’s what makes… you know I want, I think ‘Oh I love that, I’d love to take that idea home’ or ‘Oh I think I could as good a job as that’. You know, it’s just… nothing really, you know nothing particular but it’s just, mind you having said that I went to a quilt show last week-end and there was an absolutely gorgeous… erm… Christmas cushion there which had like a little cabin in a snow scene and that I’d like to, you know , steal the ideas from that and make for myself. So it’s just, you know strong elements of design, I think I look for more than anything else.
BT: And what do you think makes a good quilt?
JP: Well for me, erm, it’s got to be something that I think would look nice on a bed. I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I’m not so much into wall-hangings even though I do make them. There are so many art quilts now, which are fab, they really are brilliant but for me a quilt has to be something that people throw across your knees when you’re chilly or snuggle under on a winter’s night or just, you know, throw round your shoulders for a bit of comfort, you know, that’s what it has to be for me. Give someone a hug [chuckles].
BT: And where do you get your ideas and your inspiration from, Jan?
JP: Oh, all over the place. Erm I have a project on the back burner in the garage, it’s in a John Lewis bag, of course you don’t them free in Wales any more. And it’s in a lovely, oh, what I call a ‘baggie’ cos it’s a lovely bag. It’s good strong heavy paper with cord handles, it’s a lovely bag, it’s got nice fabric in it cut up ready to have a go at something I’m going to call Minton Beach [laughs] because when I was on holiday I saw a lovely beach towel and I thought ‘Oh that would make a lovely design for a quilt’ It was made up of squares and triangles, but it was sort of put together in stripes, so like the colours of the rainbow then, from one side to the other. But when watching Bargain Hunt one day I had cut all the squares of fabric out to do this quilt and erm they were showing a Minton Coffee Set which had squares with circles on and I thought ‘Ooh, I’m going to do my quilt like that now’, so that’s something on the back burner. So I’m, going to call it Minton Beach to run the two ideas together. It’s been in the garage for the best part of the year, all cut out, so maybe this year I’ll get it back out and play with it again and actually put it together [laughing].
BT: And what is Bargain Hunt, Jan?
JP: It’s a programme on BBC1 lunchtimes and it’s about two teams who are given £300 to spend on three items in an Antiques Fair, to see if they can make any profit, which they rarely do but its good fun to watch.
BT: You’ve touched on hand and machine quilting what do you prefer.
JP: Oh, I love hand quilting. I don’t do machine quilting although I did a beginner’s class once, hated it, it just wasn’t for me, but it did give me a better understanding of machine quilting and the skill behind it, but it’s just not something I enjoy. I love hand quilting. I love the feel of the fabric, I love wearing my thimble. I have a special thimble which I’ve bought now, it has an open back so that your nail actually fits through the thimble, so it’s really, really comfortable. It’s made such a difference to my stitching.
BT: What sort of thimble is it?
JP: It’s called a Roxanne thimble, they’re from America, by all accounts. They are quite hard to get hold of and I had a lovely day out in Birmingham and I went to a quilt shop called The Cotton Patch and bought one there. It was really lovely. Erm, but yes, hand stitching, I love it. I find it relaxing. If I have problems they get solved because you’re spending time, the rhythm of the stitching just helps, so it soothes you, calms you down it’s great I recommend it for anybody. It’s good for my husband too, cos I don’t get so ratty [both laugh].
BT: And what do you do with the quilts you’ve made Jan?
JP: I’ve given a lot away. I’ve got two big quilts that I tend to use on the bed in the summer when the weather is really warm and it’s too hot for a duvet. We sleep under one of my quilts. Erm, other than that they stay in bags, especially ones you know that sort of, erm… if I make wall-hangings which I do occasionally because we live in a bungalow there is nowhere to really put wall-hangings, so they tend to stay in bags. Erm and I do tend to think ‘Oh it would be lovely to make so and so a quilt for Christmas’, which is what I end up doing. I’ve recently made an Ohio Star quilt, I’ve made the top and I’ve put the three layers together, tacked them. I’m going to do big stitching quilting on that now and that will be sent off to my sister-in-law for her Christmas present.
BT: Oh that’s lovely. I think that was a Challenge wasn’t it?
JP: Yes from a group I belong to which isn’t affiliated to the Guild or anything, it’s just a small group of about eight of us who meet every quarter and we have a day in each other’s houses where we sit sew and chat. It’s really lovely. It just makes me appreciate what lovely friends I’ve made through quilting, because, you know, we’re all like-minded and get on like a house on fire. And it’s a lovely day when we meet.
BT: And I think you were talking earlier about erm a Welsh quilting group that you belonged to.
JP: Yes, erm, but again that’s… we meet sort of about four times a year and we’re being taught, all about the traditional Welsh quilting patterns which were sort of… basically a traditional welsh quilt will have a central motif and then you build out from that in borders. So we’ve been learning how to, what erm motifs to use on a traditional Welsh quilt and erm I don’t do traditional very well. I want a whole… anyway, it’s to do a wholecloth quilt so that you mark up the whole piece of fabric and quilt it all. But I’m not very good at old fashioned things. I’d love a wholecloth quilt, but I don’t want one that looks old fashioned. So being a little bit, erm, unconventional I suppose, I’ve decided to do a circular quilt, so mine’s going to be made up of spirals and sort of spikes and hearts and I’m…
BT: That sounds fabulous, what colours are you using?
JP: Well, now this is the thing. I did buy two different pieces of fabric and cut into the one, cos that’s typical of me as well. The one I think I’m going to settle on is an orangey colour. It’s like a rusty orange and I’m just thinking it would look like the setting sun. So I think that’s going to work out quite nicely. So it’s going to be about 40 inches in diameter because I don’t want it to be more than the width of the fabric, so for a wholecloth quilt which I’m going to be doing by hand, I don’t think want to start on anything bigger than that.
BT: That sounds ambitious Jan.
JP: No, we’ll see. It will be interesting. I’m enjoying it. It’s a challenge, that’s for sure.
BT: So what is your biggest challenge today as a… that you face as a quilter?
JP: Erm [laughs] using the machine to piece something that I’m really proud of. I can do basics. I can do lovely straight lines now, it’s taken me three or four years to get straight lines but I’m there. Oh, I really want to do curved piecing. I bought a special foot in Birmingham, [chuckles] so I’m going to give that a whirl, but yes that really… if I had an ambition in quilting, that’s it, to machine piece something that I’m really proud of, cos I love my hand quilting, I think I’m reasonably proficient at that and [pause] it’s yes, that’s it really to piece something I can be proud of not just, in a word, that’s okay.. that, you know, I’m always worried that things are just slightly out, but I don’t know, how do you stop things moving under the needle? Everything seems to move a little bit as you’re sew it. I’ve never found anybody else who can tell me how to stop that happening. Spray starch, everybody says use spray starch. Well, I’ve started using spray starch and my machine piecing has got better I suppose, but it is still not as accurate as I would like it to be. Maybe I’m too picky I’m not sure.
BT: And where do you get your fabrics from. Have you ever bought from abroad?
JP: Yes, I have. From Paducah, what’s it called Hancock’s, Hancock’s of Paducah but because you get caught now with VAT excise duty so it’s not cost effective to buy from abroad any more. So where do I buy my fabric from. We have lovely days out. We go here, there. We go to Doughty’s in Hereford. I’m sure lots of quilters will recognise that. Occasionally we will go to Midsomer Quilters which is in Chilcompton, something like that, just outside Radstock, lovely shop. And they’ve got such a lovely workshop on the side there as well. Or I send for it but best of all it’s going to Quilt Shows, Malvern and the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. The fabric you see there is just fantastic and I love it. I love buying fabric, I love the smell of it, I love the feel of it and I love taking it home and stroking it for six months before I decide what to do with it [laughs].
BT: You’re making me laugh now. So Jan tell me why is quiltmaking so important in your life.
JP: Oh, because, if I didn’t quilt I think I would go stir crazy, so it must be good for my husband as well, but I find he doesn’t really realise why. Yes, it keeps me out of trouble, it gives me a creative outlet because I am not a person that can sit and do nothing in the evenings, which is probably why I enjoy the hand piecing and things so much, ‘cos I’ve always got something on the go. Erm, it’s… it’s opened up a whole world of new people to me. I’ve got lovely friends through quilting which I would not have met in any other way. Erm… yes it’s just lovely, it’s just great and my latest fetish is bag making, I’m sure [laughs] lots of people fall into this trap as well. I keep seeing the bag and I think ‘Oh, I’ll buy the pattern and the fabric for that which I do and then do I make the bag? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t [laughs]. Maybe that should be my ambition this year, is to finish all the bag patterns I’ve got.
BT: Well, there we are Jan. Thank you very much for sharing your story for the Talking Quilts project. It’s been great talking to you.
JP: It’s been a pleasure
BT: Thank you.