ID number: TQ.2015.029
Name of interviewee: Joyce Watson
Name of interviewer: Karen Philpott
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Joyce’s home
Address: Dunblane, Scotland
Date: 11 June 2015
Length of interview: 0:32:20
Joyce talks through her art quilt, made as part of a group challenge for a Rainbow Collection. She was given the colour red and used this to tell the story of her journey through breast cancer, which she was undergoing treatment for at the time. Later in the interview Joyce talks about the difference between art and traditional quilting, how she designs and makes her art quilts; as well as her beloved Bernina sewing machine and how she experiments with fabric including burning and slashing.
Karen Philpott [KP]: This is Karen Philpott, um, interviewing Joyce Watson in Dunblane, Scotland. Joyce’s number is TQ.2015.029. Morning, Joyce.
Joyce Watson [JW]: Good morning.
KP: Would you like to tell me a bit about your quilt?
JW: Right, well this was a hanging that was made to be part of the Rainbow Collection for the, the, er, quilting group, the exhibiting group that I’m in, called Turning Point, which is a group of us from central Scotland. Um, the story behind it, do you want? Yes.
KP: This, well actually, tell me about the quilt.
JW: Well I’ve worked my way down. Yes. Well, um, I had, er, breast cancer and then I had, er, in the middle of that, septicaemia, and while I was in isolation with septicaemia I got a note from my Turning Point friends to say that I had drawn the colour red, er, in the, to make for the rainbow, and I don’t work in red very often. So it gave me something to think about when I was doing precious little else at the time, trying to recover. So, er, when I eventually got out and got a bit better, this was the, the piece that I did and it was to, I don’t often do story quilts, I do Celtic type work a lot. So it was the story and at the beginning there’s this velvet which is in smooth straight lines so everything’s calm, and there’s a sort of a little me, er, with, er, curly hair and Celticy looking things because that’s what I was happy doing. And then I was diagnosed, so things went a bit dark. So… gradually things looked a bit black and, um, not looking good.
KP: And how did you do this?
JW: Well, this is a, velvet that I dyed, the dark colour, and, um, it was woven so it’s under and over, [KP: Is this silk] yes, er, no that’s cotton and this is silk velvet. It’s sort of shines a bit, the dark colour.
KP: And on the picture of you, you’ve got two breasts on there, two nipples on there?
JW: Yes, yes, yes. I landed up still with two, so that’s a plus [laughs] So I’ll come to the hearts later, cause there’s quite a few of them, and I’ll come to this funny looking tube a bit later as well. Um, after diagnosis I had to, er, have an operation, so this symbolises the operation with the, the breast and the cut and the, the stitches.
KP: What technique do you call this?
JW: Well that was, that is a stuffed bit with again with velvet and, er, the white cells were all peculiar so there’s little dots of white cells too, it’s very symbolic sort of thing really, this one.
KP: And is that a particular technique?
JW: Um, no, well, yes, slashing I suppose you would call it, yes, yes.
KP: Telling the story… so we’ve still got the woven and the dark.
JW: Yes, so we’re still getting the dark, and I was getting, um, cannulas in my arms with drips of antibiotics and all sorts and I thought maybe I could use this tube that they’re putting this stuff in with. Cut it into sections, and sort of stuff it, make it into beads perhaps? So one day I said to the, the nurse who was changing the drip, can I have that when you’re finished? And I think she thought I’d gone a bit doolalley you know? ‘What do you want that for?’ ‘I’m going to sew with it’. ‘Oh’. ‘I’m going to make beads with it’. So then I mean she really thought I was crackers so she said, ‘I’ll not give you this one but I’ll give you a new one’. Um, and then I decide, when I came to make it I decided to leave it as it was with the, the gubbins here that, um, you know, goes into your arm, so the whole thing. So I interwove that around. And the hearts go all the way down.
KP: And how have you attached the hearts?
JW: Um, I’ve just simply put, er, little black stitching round the outside of them. They’re velvet as well.
KP: So that’s applique?
JW: Yes, it’s applique. Um, the hearts were important because at the time all this happened I was teaching, um, sometimes up in, in the Aberdeen, in Inverness area, sometimes in Galloway, and I had classes planned, and of course all that had to be cancelled. Um, and I got such a lot of cards, letters, some from people who had signed up to do the classes that I didn’t even know. Um, so this was the love, I’m sorry, I kind of well up [laughs].
KP: No, that’s fine.
JW: This was the, the… [pauses] symbolising the love and the good wishes that I was getting. Um, and my quilting friends became very important. Some people, um, I found didn’t know what, you know, locally, didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t, um, I wasn’t afraid of telling people, it wasn’t a secret and I tried to afterwards if I was speaking at any meetings or, or just to my friends, to say ‘go and get the, the mobile unit, breast unit, when you’re due’. Um, go to that, because that’s how mine was found.
KP: Just an ordinary test?
JW: Yes, yes. And I wouldn’t have found it, I couldn’t find it, a lump, it was quite deep, um, so that’s why I’ve got all the hearts on. And we’re still in quite a dark place here, so it was, it’s still quite dark coloured, apart from the hearts.
KP: And we’ve still got the interwoven… and the hearts interwoven with your cannula. Yeah.
JW: And then I got over the, um, septicaemia and the, the chemo was just, it was the chemo that, er, dragged me down really when I got the septicaemia. Chemo was awful. Um, so…
KP: Did you carry on sewing while you were having chemo?
JW: Not really, no. I was very nauseous, and when I started to get better I did cause it was very cathartic to, to do something. And we have a, this is what I like about the exhibiting group, we try to do two quilts a year, and there’s a deadline. And you’re given a, err, we chose a subject and we choose, er, a size, so that they hang together as a collection and the collections have gone all over. They’ve gone to Prague and, and, Denmark and France and so on. Each different times. And… I found that having the deadline to do this was good because it kept me going. And when you’re doing something that you enjoy, you kind of forget your troubles a wee bit. So then I had, um, now how many weeks? Ten weeks of radiotherapy. Going from here to Glasgow every day, and it was a case of going down to Glasgow, getting the treatment, which is very quick, the, the radiotherapy; getting back here and as time went on you get more and more tired… The, the radiotherapy’s easy it… actually getting it there’s no problem but, but it makes you very tired. So that was a long trek and, um, I, there is a, um, a patient bus that takes you cause how far would it be from here to Glasgow? About 30, 30 odd miles? And, er, but the, the bus goes to all the villages. If we had got to have drop off people and you’ve got to wait, for everybody to be finished and so on, so Paul, my husband said, ‘no I’ll take you’. So it was both of us were involved for all these trips to Glasgow. So this is symbolising the, the breast shape and the darts going in with the radiotherapy, going there [laughs]
KP: And how have you done these?
JW: So this is appliqué as well, and, um, I’ve stitched over this just to not… a zigzag stitch. And then the dark bit at the end was just a little white piece of fabric. And this is appliqued and these are, the quilted lines are all sort of radiating into the…
KP: And have you done the machine quilt, or…
JW: Yeah, it’s all machine, er, I would say nearly all machined. Un, I had a hand operation years and years ago, which inhibited me slightly in hand-stitching and I have a love affair with my sewing machine. It’s a Bernina and it’s… Getting old now like me, but, er, I love it. Wouldn’t change it. So gradually things got lighter. All bit of…
KP: And you’ve got hearts.
JW: I’ve still got the hearts going down.
KP: And are they padded?
JW: Yes. Slightly padded, just raised up from the surface a wee bit.
KP: Did you pad those before you stitched them on, or, so you didn’t go in…
JW: No, I didn’t go through to the back, no, no. So things get a bit lighter, still with the [laughs]… bits of thread… still with the interwoven, er, bits here.
KP: And this fabric, did you dye this yourself?
JW: Er, no, that’s commercially, some of it’s, um, commercial fabric which I over-dye if I can’t get the right colour. But otherwise, er,
KP: And how do you do that?
JW: I, er, either paint it or, um, use the, um, Dylon type dyes just to colour it.
KP: In the microwave or in your top, or…
JW: No, just, um, by hand really.
KP: Cold water?
JW: Yes. Yeah. So that I can control it a wee bit.
JW: Er, things get a bit lighter, I’m back on an even keel where, if you remember way back up at the top here I had the…
KP: And what’s this stitching through the top?
JW: That’s on velvet. That’s just various types of stitching that, er, my machine will do, some zigzag and some straight lines. And it’s a shaded fabric. So by the time we get down to the bottom, I’m on an even keel again. Slipping down. [KP: And there’s you again?] And there’s me again. I lost my hair, so this is the head, instead of the curly hair that I’ve got at the top, this is the hair coming back, and I’ve still got the two boobs, [laughs] and I’m saying ‘Yes!’ And that’s the story.
KP: Lovely. Lovely.
JW: Did that make sense to you?
KP: It made sense to me and it’s also, cause one of my questions was why did you choose this particular quilt, well it’s obvious.
JW: Yes, that’s the…
KP: A turning point in your life, and cathartic. And helpful to your recovery.
JW: And it was quite interesting that the group that we had just formed a year before, this, I’m going back ten years. We’ve… the group’s been going about 11 years, and we decided to name it Turning Point because it was a turning point in quite a few people’s lives but I didn’t realise it would be as much [interruption].
KP: And this is still, um, machine quilted, machine decorated?
JW: Yes, and the, the background…
KP: What do you call that stitch there?
JW: Um, it’s just a very tight vermicelli, yes, and it’s, this is cut back applique where it’s a, you can’t really see, it’s a shiny fabric that I dyed, a satin, a viscose satin, and it’s behind the main part.
KP: So it’s like a reverse applique?
JW: Yes, yes, and then I machined round it from the back where I’ve got my design. Turn it over and then cut away the top layer to reveal what’s underneath and hope that it’s, looks alright [laughs].
KP: And you’ve got some black dots on, by your left breast and under your arm.
KP: Were those painted on or…
JW: No, that’s tiny, just a wee bit of tiny stitching. Yes. It’s hardly noticeable but it was noticeable obviously to you and it is to me as well [laughs]
KP: We’re sitting quite close [laughs]
KP: Now you’re an art quilter. How is that different from traditional quilts?
JW: Well, traditional quilts tend to be piecing. They tend to be, um, patterns that have been used over the years, maybe with a modern twist, but the piecing, where you’ve got a lot of points coming together and so on, that doesn’t appeal to me. Um, I do it, and sometimes when you’ve got maybe if you’re do, working with diamond shapes that are coming to a point in the middle where they all meet, um, I cheat and put a covered button or something over the meeting point because it’s not as exact as it should be.
KP: Is that what everybody does?
JW: Um, no, the, [laughs] the, um, perfectionists would work at it until it was right. But to me life’s too short to do that. And I don’t care what, the, the back of the quilt or underneath, I don’t care what that’s like. Um, the WRI do wonderful sewing work and it’s perfect on the back, but I don’t care what the back looks like. It’s reasonable, but it’s not perfect. One of the things I do like is mitred corners. I’ve got a thing about mitred corners.
KP: So how do you start? What are the techniques that you start with, with your art quilts, cause you get, um, various inspirations and then what do you do next?
JW: A lot of thinking. Er, photo, take photographs or look through the photographs that I already have. Um, look through my books, look through a collection of the things that I’ve done previously, um, I never make two pieces the same. That doesn’t interest me. It’s the, [sighs] the interest of doing something new. And finding problems and saying, right, how can I get round this or how can I get over this? Er, my tutor, City and Guilds tutor years ago, I did embroidery City and Guilds, not quilting, cause it, there wasn’t a quilting one, so I did the embroidery, um, and design, and my tutor there used to say, don’t unpick it, do something on the top of it, alter it or cut it up or something, but don’t unpick it. So, um, I, used to stick in your mind.
KP: Do you do that?
JW: I tend to, yes, yes. Unpicking’s such a bore anyway [laughs]. Only if it’s drastic do I unpick it.
KP: So you have a design in mind and you draw it?
JW: Yes. Um, I do a bit of drawing, just on an A4 book or paper, and then I, because quilts or our particular quilts are bigger, they’re usually about either something like, um, 30 inches square, or that shape long and narrow, two feet wide by four feet, something like that is the, the given shape, so I like to do, um, a cartoon on a big piece of paper to that size, because if you’re working on A4, then it’s small, obviously, and you want to make things bigger, and sometimes when you make things bigger you realise that what you’ve done doesn’t fit the space properly or there’s big blank areas and you need a, um, a point of interest, er, to stand out and to, to look good [KP: Yep]. So then I… usually kind of source fabric and I have what quilters call a stash, which is too much fabric, I’m not going to live long enough to use it, but then I go to shows and so on and say, ‘oh that’s a lovely piece, I must have that’. Um, so I’ve got quite a lot of, of bits of fabric and work out then, sometimes like in that one we were given the colour red, but in, er, other ones then it’s my colour scheme, I’ve just got the theme and work from there.
KP: And you said you don’t usually use red. What’s usually your choice?
JW: Oh, er, that’s difficult. I like, um, I like something that zings, something that’s bright, but I find red quite a difficult colour. Maybe I go into more the, um, purples and something rich. Gold. Um… but not usually red.
KP: If you’re not using piecing to do your quilt what techniques are you using?
JW: Mostly applique. That one, um, there’s woven bits and whereas, um, I know an art quilter would probably piece those tiny squares, whereas I did them by weaving, and there are bits, it is pieced in a certain fashion, where one fabric meets another, but I tend to use applique. Sometimes reverse applique, like the wee figures on that one, and, er, other times just applying the fabric to the surface and then machining it on. And I use, um, er, fabric, well it’s not really a fabric, er, a glue like substance, Bondaweb, um, and that seals the edges pretty well so I don’t get frayed bits.
KP: So then you’ve got a choice of what stitch you use for the edges. Yeah.
JW: But my machine does fancy stitches but I don’t really use them. I use free machining a lot, where, er, I do the guiding and just straight stitching and occasional zigzag.
KP: And do you always cut your fabric with scissors or…
JW: No. You, um, if I’m cutting sort of a small bit to apply on, I would use scissors, but if I’m, er, using strips of fabric and so on, it’s a rotary cutter that I use.
KP: And do you, um, ever burn edges? [JW: Yes]How do you do that?
JW: Well, er, I’m very careful, having had health problems I like to do it outside. I’m not awfully keen on doing that in a class because you don’t know, somebody might have asthma or something, you don’t know what the fumes are doing.
KP: And what flame are you using?
JW: I’m using, I use a… soldering iron with a tiny point. And also if I want to melt fabric, I use a heat gun. But again it’s, I would say always outside.
KP: Okay. So why would you want to melt fabric?
JW: To distort it, to make it look, um, old, er, sometimes it goes in nice interesting holes, er, a non-art quilter would look at some of my photographs and say, ‘now why has she taken a photograph of decaying mushrooms or something’, but I like texture. So as well as quilts that are bright, um, I like quilts that have got an interesting texture, because I feel that, if I was doing… fine art, watercolour or painting, you don’t get the texture that I get with fabric, and that’s what I like.
KP: Tell me something about the threads that you might use.
JW: I tend to use anything. I’m not fussy about threads. Um, the Bernina machine’s very good because it will take anything. Er, I’ve been known to sew through balsa wood quite successfully with it. Er, and leather, anything. And the threads are really quite happy, most of the time. If there’s a particular thread that doesn’t work well, I chuck it and use something else. But if it’s the right colour, I like quite sometimes blended threads that go from the dye in them is from one colour to another, and I like using them, but any thread really. And then I sometimes use a thicker thread in, un, in the bobbin of the machine [KP: because?] and, just to give more texture and when work upside down.
KP: And it won’t go through the needle.
JW: Yes. So I have to use it underneath. So you’re then sewing upside down and you don’t know what you’re getting underneath so it can be quite an adventure when you turn it over and say, ‘oh gosh, I’ve got a bird’s nest here’. And that’s when I have to unpick. But, er, using a thicker thread is, is quite interesting as well. And then if I need something, um, like sometimes I use, um, a cord, perhaps a gold cord, but I would put that on with the machine doing a zigzag over it, occasionally by hand, but not very often.
KP: Any disasters of trying to stitch something? You said you’d gone through balsa wood.
JW: A few…
KP: You said you’ve gone through balsa wood?
JW: Yes. Yes. A few, yes. You break a needle occasionally. Um, but not really. I’ve done things which afterwards, I see them on a quilt, er, went wrong, or used the colour of fabric that didn’t look quite right. I like to, er, put it up on the wall. I haven’t got a studio, I’ve got a small bedroom that is cluttered to the, you know, I can find things most of the time, but I have a, a section of the wall there where I put them up and stand as far back as I can [clears throat] Excuse me, I’ll have a drink [long pause].
To view, so stand back as far as I can to view it from a distance because the work I’m doing is mostly for exhibiting. Um, I do the odd cushion and so on but… when it’s on exhibition the viewer is, is really standing quite far back, so it’s to look good from a distance, and then the viewer will probably go forward to see how did she do that? Which I do at an exhibition. Um, and though, they want to find something interesting at close quarters as well.
KP: So you say you only do, usually do quilts for exhibiting. Do you do quilts for yourself at all?
JW: No. Occasional gifts. Um, and the family have, I find it difficult to, to give to family and friends because… they may not like it. Er… there’s part of me, you know, you put your, your kind of soul into these [laughs] that sounds crazy but you put part of yourself into these things and if somebody, er, doesn’t realise the, the work and the, that you’ve put into it and someone will say, ‘oh yeah, that’s nice, that’s fine’. I would rather somebody said, when they saw something, ‘oh that’s a nice piece, of, oh’ my son said, ‘oh that’s a nice piece’ or something, I said, ‘right, have it’. Er, rather than doing it. I’ve done commissions and I get quite uptight about that because the, er, they usually come to the house to collect it. I like to get as much detail as I can from the client, um, to the colour and the, the mood and so on. I’ve done one or two wedding gifts that way. One comes to mind of a, a Scots lad marrying a Canadian girl, so, um, the border on that was kind of thistles and intertwined thistles and maple leaves. Um, so it’s very much geared to what the client tells me and the colours and so on. And I find that good, cause I like a challenge, so I quite enjoy that, but then when the time comes for them to come and collect it, I get quite worked up in case they don’t like it [laughs].
KP: I should imagine they do, I imagine they do. Do you always finish a quilt once you’ve started?
JW: No [laughs]. Er, perhaps eventually. I have usually one or two things on the go at the same time. But no, I have unfinished symphonies. And I have a lot of pieces, um, upstairs, under the bed and I really should start getting rid of them. I did a, a spell where I did quite a lot of, of talks and I don’t like slides or, or photographs, I like to take the real thing, so the car was loaded with stuff, and I would hold up something and talk about it, and then put it to the side, and then the next one, and then the people could come and ask questions or, and feel them and see them and sew them, so on. I did a talk for a local Rotary not that long ago, and of course as you know, Rotary’s mostly men. And I wondered how this was going to go. But they seemed to enjoy it and they asked sensible questions and they came up afterwards and said, you know, they hadn’t, people who don’t know or have never seen modern art quilt really don’t know what to expect. And if you say ‘quilts’ to somebody who knows nothing about it, they’ll think of what Granny did, and that was the original really. The use of old fabrics and giving them a… recycling, giving them a new lease of life and, and make do and mend.
KP: Have you ever done any quilting like that?
JW: No. I tend to buy nice fabric then cut it up, which is quite sometimes, er, un-understandable by my husband, who says, it’s a lovely piece of fabric and you’re cutting it up. So that’s the way it goes.
KP Is there a quilt that you will… is there an ambition in quilting that you’ve got?
JW: Not now. If I had been younger, I would have done more. But… um, not now, no, no. I just like to do the next quilt and the next challenge. And I feel if I, if it wasn’t for this group that I’m in, um, I think I would do more quilts for, er, shows, I, I’ve had quilts sent to America and various places in competitions where you get a theme and you get a size, and I think I would probably do more of that. I need something to make me do it, make me finish it, you talk about unfinished things, to make me finish it. And then I’m in a lovely group in Alva, along the Hillfoots, um, and we meet there every Monday and we try to do something different. Er, everybody has some kind of talent and sometimes it’s piecing, sometimes it’s burning, sometimes it’s applique, um, and I like to go there because that makes me do other small things and then we have an exhibition in aid of, of, er, charity, usually some, probably for the hospice, er, every couple of years and people come and ooh and ah about what we, we do. And we do small pieces for that sometimes. We had a theme, um, one year we did the seasons, so we had four small, er, pieces, probably about A3 size. And everybody did something like that. We have, had another one, the elements, so we did the, the fire and earth and so on, and that makes you think and keeps you going.
KP: Yeah, good, thank-you very much.
KP: Thank you.
JW: Not think of any more questions. I’ve answered all your questions.
KP: Yeah, probably have.
JW: I’ve probably rabbited on too much.
KP: Oh, no, it’s been lovely, okay. Thank you.