ID number: TQ.2016.007
Name of interviewee: Jeanne Stetson
Name of interviewer: Barbara Janssen
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Jeanne’s home
Address: Torquay, Devon
Date: 22 January 2016
Length of interview: 0:28:13
Jeanne’s sampler quilt ‘Primary Pioneer’ was made thirty years ago and represents her entry into the world of patchwork and quilting. She talks about making the quilt as well as her early days of quilting, including a trip to The Patchwork Dog and Calico Cat, local quilt exhibitions and joining groups. Later Jeanne talks about favourite techniques (particularly applique), the influence of various quilt teachers and workshops, being a quilt teacher and the awards she has received for services to quilting.
Barbara Janssen [BJ]: ID number TQ.2016.007. Name of interviewee, Jeanne Stetson. Name of interviewer, Barbara Janssen. Location, Jeanne’s home. Address, Torquay, Devon. Date, 22nd January 2016. Many thanks, Jeanne, for offering to talk about your chosen quilt. For the benefit of our listeners, who may not always be quilters, would you first like to describe your quilt, talking about the size, shape, principle colours and the techniques? Thank you.
Jeanne Stetson [JS]: Well, I’m going to talk today about my beloved quilt, to me anyway, primary pioneer. Measurement is 86 inches by 101, and I think it’s probably the largest quilt I’ve ever made. And the colours are red, yellow, blue and green, and it forms a sa… type of a sampler. And for those that you might be new to quilting, a sampler is really trying to sew – show you different types of methods of patchwork, setting in corners, maybe, and points, the dreaded points. And you use different blocks throughout the quilt. In this way I used Dresden Plate in the four corners, just because I had those already in my stash. Then in the first row I used Ruffle Tulips, which is an example of hand applique, and a patchwork block of World’s Fayre. The second row, Turkey Tracks, Stars and Squares, and a circular one, named Queen of the May. And then a regular favourite, Drunkard’s Path. The third row, Card Trick, Modern Star, Garden Maze and Twisting Star. And the fourth row was Doe and Darts, showing a cross in the centre, entwined hearts, another applique block, Mexican Star and Stars and Squares. And for the fifth row, once again the Dresden Plate in the corners and Jacob’s Ladder and Bear’s Paw. And the border of Flying Geese, which really stretched my mathematical abilities to the limit. To say a little bit more about the quilt, its great importance to me is it represents a great… a real entry into the world of quilt making and patchwork. The art of joining little pieces together. The bug started in a small way. On a visit to Canada in 1982, I purchased a strip pieced jacket which fascinated me as I had no idea how it had been made. Returned to England and I joined The Quilters’ Guild, and the offshoot, South West Quilters, and a visit to London took me to the special shop run by an American lady, the Patchwork Dog & Calico Cat, which happened to be close to the London Zoo, so the Hamley family were well kept happy. [Pause] The local paper told me of an exhibition to be held in the church at Ipplepen, which is near Newton Abbott in Devon, with quilts by a group… group called Moor to Shore Quilters. There was a quilt there which interested me. It was made in primary colours. ‘Maybe I could manage that’, as a… was the initial thought, as I knew nothing of colour, light and dark. Different hues were all a mystery to me. I’d always stitched, embroidery as a young girl and homemade dresses in my teenage years and early family life. So the fabric collecting began with mainly visits to charity shops and the new Laura Ashley shop, which opened in Exeter. Can you imagine the excitement of a coach trip to Exeter, mainly to go to Laura Ashley for the scrap bundle bags? Living in Plymouth in this time, the only patchwork teacher I knew taught designs with hexagons over papers, not a method I wanted to do. Memories of school and sewing with Sister Eudora in the garden were not to my… be my new beginning. Then a visit to a quilt show in Launceston, I think the first one by the Flower Patch Quilters, gave me information that a class was to be held in Saltash, which was a short drive from my home. Surprisingly, my hairdresser friend said she would like to come with me, and so we enrolled for a term of eight weeks. Graphic paper, graph paper, drawing a design, way out of our comfort zone. We were using Laura Ashley scrap fabrics, and one lady looked down her nose and told us that she bought her fabrics from Strawberry Fayre, another new place to contact on the fabric trail and one which is still a blessing to quilters everywhere. In eight weeks I made eight cushions, patchwork without any quilting, as that was not taught to us. Another trip to Westgate Patchworks in Launceston and a chance to enrol in a weekly course with Daphne Turner. We are now in May-time 1987, and with the help of designs from one of the few books available, Primary Patchwork by Marjory Pluckett, was made about eight more blocks… no, that’s not very good. Yeah, the book, Patchwork Possibilities by Marjory Pluckett. We made about eight more blocks, but end of the course we had no idea how to join them into a quilt or how to quilt. So back on the back burner again. After 18 years in Plymouth, we moved to Torquay in September 1987, and this proved to be the beginning of my passion for quilts big time. A few months setting into a new abode and a new area, and then after Christmas a phone call from Jane Syers to say that Celia had dropped out of her patchwork class, and as we were halfway through the year, she felt I would fit in, as I did have some experience with patchwork, even though it was not much. To say I was pleased was an understatement. I was thrilled. So I tipped up on the Tuesday class in January with my blocks in primary coloured fabrics and made more blocks, now 20 in total. The plan was to join the quilts, the blocks, by… to make a quilt-as-you-go method, but I was not too keen. I did not want to have two strips, called sashings, side by side, so I joined row by row and quilted them together and joined the rows. My background was white, quite difficult to work with, I discovered when I was alone. As I was alone one lady asked me why the white fabric was whiter than hers. Mine was cotton fabric from a 1960s, used for a bassinet. Other ladies were busy quilting borders. Help. The plan was for the borders, narrow and wide, to be green, but I ran out of fabric. Flying Geese seemed to be a good option, and I pieced it all on the machine, and working out the measurements was a challenge. The quilting design for the border was based on the Flying Geese, and I used Fablon and tape to put the design on the fabric because I did not want to mark it with pencil. This was I could change my mind. At the end of a spring term, Jane announced that we would meet at a school in Exeter on June 9th, a date very special in my life since 1965. I was a new girl on the block, and I thought she expected everyone to finish their quilts. I still had all the borders to stitch, patchwork and quilting. I knew I was not going to be the only one with an unfinished quilt. So soup and sandwiches and salads for the next three months, and my husband stayed with me. The quilt was finished at 2pm on June 6th 1988, and I felt as if I had climbed my first patchwork mountain, Everest to me. The icing on the cake was a rosette at the first exhibition, held by Tower Quilters in a church in Newton Abbott later that year. The quilt is special to me as it shows patchwork in the traditional methods, no fast piecing, all templates made of cardboard, no blocks shown in colour in any other book, and the original quilting designs. I loved every stitch, and I still do.
BJ: Thank you, Jeanne, for taking me on that journey. I think you learnt a lot in that process… Can I just go back to talking about the quilt for a minute? Was it primarily done by hand or machine, or a mixture of the two?
JS: Well, I think we can honestly say a mixture of the two. I did machine piece all the patchwork blocks, but of course the applique blocks were hand stitched, and all the quilting was done by hand, with my own design worked out for the border.
BJ: Okay. It’s interesting that you mentioned Strawberry Fayre, ’cause I share your excitement as it was the first outlet in this country where we could buy American fabrics. And as we know, the lady who started it, Jenny Hutchison, was the first President of The Guild.
JS: And just to add that, Jenny, always a lady with a smile on her face, and she is always a joy to speak to and buy fabrics from.
BJ: So Jeanne, this was your first quilt. What did you learn from it in terms of what to do and maybe what not to do?
JS: Well, you can always learn with every quilt. I think the first thing is to… to make sure you have enough fabric, because I did panic a little bit and preferred green to red, but I did learn that, it takes a long time, but every stitch is enjoyable. And I did learn about colour, light and dark, and I felt I could go forward and think about shading colours and not have to have everything quite so bright.
BJ: I noticed when we were talking through this quilt, there was one block called Modern Star, but when I saw it, I saw four ice cream cones. It was really hard to see… see the… the star pattern. It’s actually in the third row down, the second one in from the left. I think it’s quite interesting, the way that one block, by the placement of different colours, you can get totally different effects. It, it is amazing. I know that you’ve made many, many quilts since this one, many of them rosette winners. Have you got any idea how many you have made?
JS: I would think full size quilts, albeit not as large as this one, would be in the region of num… of about 25.
BJ: Okay. Roughly how long does each one take to make? Maybe that’s an impossible question, I don’t know.
JS: Well, I think overall you… I don’t work towards a deadline, but working with samples for the classes, I think maybe 9 months to a year.
BJ: And, and I know that most of them are all handmade these days, is that right?
JS: Well, especially as I seem to have specialised in hand applique, and that is definitely handmade and hand quilted. I cannot machine quilt but I’ve no desire to learn how to do it.
BJ: What do you do with your quilts?
JS: Well, firstly I try and pile them on a spare bed, which is a bit of a pain when the family come, and I tend to find homes for them, and I prefer to give them away. I have not sold anything and I don’t really put a price on any of them.
BJ: What are your preferred styles and techniques?
JS: Well, under the influence of Patricia Cox that comes over from America each year, she really has been my mentor for many years, and my style is really related to flowers. I love trees and anything to do with nature. I would say that’s probably my favourite.
BJ: What’s the best bit of quilting and the… and the hardest or the least favourite?
JS: I think the best bit is when you start and the excitement and the colour, and especially if it’s, a nature scene, all the lovely greens, or if it’s an autumn scene. I do think all that. But then putting it together and the quilting, it comes to life and I just love every piece – bit of it.
BJ: And the worst or the hardest?
JS: Threading the needle.
BJ: [Laughs] is that just a recent thing or has it always been difficult, threading the needle?
JS: Well, it hasn’t been always a problem, but, it is a great problem now.
BJ: Have you got a, a, a special or a favourite needle threader that might help?
JS: Oh, yes. We have to thank the Japanese for that. I have a favourite needle threader, but I have been known to sit by my friend Barbara and she’d thread it for me.
BJ: Okay. You mentioned just now, a lady called Pat Cox and Alston Hall. Would you like to say a little bit more about the influence on… of her on, on, on your quilting story?
JS: Yes, I think everything has a story, and in about 1997 I used to buy the Work Box magazine, and I had always kept a file about this Patricia Cox, and I used to tear out all the things in the magazines, because she seemed to be such an expert in applique and handwork. And I bought the magazine and there it advertised in the back this course, this Baltimore, week of Baltimore quiltmaking in Alston Hall in Lancashire. And fortunately for me, not so much for the other lady because she had a heart attack, but she couldn’t go and I had her place. And I went to that course every year for about 10 or 12 years, and I learnt so much from Pat Cox.
BJ: Where did Pat come from in America?
BJ: Okay. And did you just go that once to Alston Hall?
BJ: Or did you go again?
JS: No, I used to book every year, the 1st January we used to get the brochure and book right away. And I think I went for about 11 or 12 years.
BJ: And do those courses still run in Alston Hall?
JS: No, no, the other tutor, Betty Mansfield, had health problems, so sadly it had to, stop. But now fortunately Pat still comes to Exeter and we meet at Barbara’s house, and we, we are running workshops there, which are enjoyed for a whole week.
BJ: Okay. I’m gonna stop it there. Jeanne, you’ve mentioned this influence of Pat Cox and you’ve made reference to Daphne Turner and Jane Syers early on. Are there any other workshops or teachers who’ve been particularly influential in your quilting life?
JS: Well, I think I have to thank South West Quilters for a lot of the workshops that I used to go on, and I’d specifically like to say Jan Hassard. I’ve been all over the county chasing her, Barnstaple, Exeter, maybe, I don’t think Plymouth, but Exeter, yes. And, Jenny Dove, who was a specialist in hand applique. Jane Walmsley, who came down from the North Country. She was also a wonderful needle woman. Jenny Dobson was very good on piecing and quick piecing, and of course a residential, a couple of residential courses at Cowslip with Susan Denton really based on landscapes, and I learnt a lot from all of those.
BJ: Thank you. One of the hallmarks, I think, of your quilts, and also your students’ quilts, is with the quilting. Have you had any particular sessions with well-known quilters or did you develop your own style and method of, of doing it?
JS: Well, one person that really helped me with hand quilting was a person called Anne Edwards from Barnstaple, and I went to a workshop, or an evening, with Goosey Quilters in Tavistock when I lived in Plymouth. And I’d been reading all this about tying a knot and pulling it into the quilt sandwich, and that didn’t make sense to me. She showed me the Quilter’s Knot and really that was a great help. She showed me how to really work with a hoop, and I did benefit from that.
BJ: What’s meant by a Quilter’s Knot? What’s special about it?
JS: Well, the special thing is that you can do it without licking your fingers. You just twist it one way and the other, and then it does, with one wrap around the needle, it will slip into your quilt sandwich. If you were using it for some other kind of stitching then you would do three wraps around the needle and that would, you know, be larger, but of course wouldn’t slip through the fabric into the middle of the sandwich.
BJ: Okay. Thank you for that. I know that you’ve been teaching patchwork quilting successfully in the South West yourself for many years. How did this come about?
JS: Well, when I moved to Torquay, I had a very elderly lady as a neighbour, and she was psychic. She told me many things that nobody would have known about me, and I certainly hadn’t told her, and after seeing a quilt of mine, she said, ‘You are going to teach.’ And I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not.’ She said, ‘Oh yes, it’s part of the plan, plan for your life. You will be in teaching.’ And my husband was made redundant and a year or so after that, and I thought, ‘Well, I am going to give this a go.’ And right away I was offered three courses in Kingsbridge and Torquay and Brixham. I didn’t want them to be sewing groups. I needed to lead from the front. So I took a year – three year correspondence course with the National Quilting Association in America with assessment in Syracuse, New York State. I had to go with all my samples and things in 1998, and they gave me the certificate as a certified teacher. And they were so impressed with the papers and everything, they really wanted me to be their representative in this country, but distance is difficult. But that helped me to be able to structure my classes, and I went on to have up to eight classes a week for a great number of years. And one thing leads on to another, invitation to stage a six week exhibition at the National Trust property of Coleton Fishacre near Kingswear in Devon, helped to gain interest in my classes, which number as I’ve said, numbered about eight each week. And I gained some more students that way.
BJ: Jeanne, I know you go to a, a lot of quilt shows both in this country, local, and you’ve also been abroad. What do you look for or notice in other quilts? In particular, what do you admire or hate?
JS: Well, when I first go to a quilt show, the first thing, when I’m looking at a quilt, is to make sure it’s hanging straight, because if the border isn’t attached properly [noise] it’s going to have a wobbly border. And my students tease me about that. They go looking round for wobbly borders. I do like nice hand quilting, and I love… like a good balance of colour throughout the quilt, whether it be large or small. I just enjoy looking at the colour and the overall effect, and a really well stitched binding. I’ve been, as Barbara says, to many, many countries, and I think the best quilts for everybody are in Japan. Absolutely beautiful, beautiful work and all hand stitched. Quilting has changed over the 25 years that I’ve been doing it, and now it’s another skill, machine quilting, very, very clever, and beautifully executed in a lot of cases. But I’m afraid it is of no interest to me. I do like a traditional quilt.
BJ: Is there anything in particular that you hate to see in, in a quilt?
JS: Well, I’m not very keen on contemporary quilts that have got loads of stuff hanging from them and they need a page of explanation telling you what’s inspired it, and you just wonder if the maker or the quilter has had, you know, a nightmare or inspiration before she started this work.
BJ: [Laughs] thank you. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
JS: Well, I’m… my quilts are really original, but I do like using Japanese fabrics, and that… quilts usually just evolve. And I like the use of leaves and trees, and I do like quilting designs to really enhance a quilt.
BJ: Okay. What has been the act of quilt… what has the act of quiltmaking meant to you in your life?
JS: Well, I think the quiltmaking has really been so important. I was a full time mother, having been a secretary, and when they all fled the nest and we did lose one of our children, so I needed something to fill me that I didn’t have to think about the things around me. So as I love sewing, a needle passing through the… at… with the threads, colour and bright, and apart from everything, with the quilt making, is the friendship and all the friends I’ve made and that are a true blessing.
BJ: What about groups that you’ve joined?
JS: Well, I’ve been a member of The Quilters’ Guild since 1981, and the South West Quilters around about the same time. And I was made a life member in 2007, which I was very pleased to receive that honour. A life member of Court Quilters in Torquay, and a life member of Key Quilters in Kingsbridge, Devon. A member of War Quilters, Newton Abbott, and other groups in Christow, and a group called the Friday Girls and also the Quorum. The Quorum is made up of six students that were my first students when I started that very first evening, Monday evening in Brixham, in 1991.
BJ: It sounds to me as if you must be busy every day of the week, going to one group or another. Is that so?
JS: Well, sewing is the main thing. I don’t wake up in the morning and think I’m going to clean the dining room. I wake up and think, well, I’ve just got time to sort out the leaves for the next project.
BJ: What do you think has been the biggest achievement in your quilting journey?
JS: Well, I think the thing that I was so thrilled about… erm, two things, really, but the most important thing was in 2009. I was awarded the [Amiens] award for services to quilting at the Malvern Show. It was such a surprise, and it was the one year that I didn’t go to the show because I had visitors. And I had this phone call from Di Hook at five o’clock in the afternoon, and I thought, who’s phoning me when there’s a tennis match on? But… so I missed having the presentation, but it really meant a lot. And a student had put my name forward, so that was very nice. And prior to that, South West Quilters has always been very special to me, and in one of their shows I had judges’ choice, first and second. So I was really pleased with that. So it’s very nice to be recognised in a little way.
BJ: What’s the biggest challenge you face as a quilter today?
JS: My biggest challenge as a quilter today is to start the next quilt [laughs].
BJ: What, what do you think is the obstacle to that?
JS: Mainly time, I think.
JS: Time and just having space. My… and another challenge is to rid myself of a lot of paperwork and books that I’ve collected over the years, As I’ve announced I’m going to stop teaching this year, mainly because of age, so I need to move forward and maybe have a challenge of doing some more written work besides the sewing.
BJ: Thank you, Jeanne, for giving up your time to take part in this project today.
JS: Well, thank you very much, Barbara, for asking me. It was a pleasure.