ID Number: TQ.2015.038 Kirk
Name of interviewee: Judi Kirk
Name of interviewer: Pam Harrison
Name of transcriber: Chris Marchant
Location: Judi’s home
Address: Canterbury, Kent
Date: 27 July 2015
Length of interview: 0:41:51
Judi introduces her first quilt, a quillow made for her mother. It has been and continues to be well loved, now in Judi’s home as a lap quilt. She talks about how quilting influences her holidays, how her house becomes her sewing room on occasion and technology including her favourite sewing machine and pressure sensitive rotary cutters. Judi also discusses Oast Quilters and Linus quilts, particularly how they struggle for certain types of quilts.
Pam Harrison [PH]: [Interview introductions] Judi can you tell me about the quilt that you’ve chosen to talk about first.
Judi Kirk [JK]: Yes, I’ve chosen in fact the very first quilt I ever made. Erm, many years ago before I quilted for myself I was a purchaser of other people’s quilts because I admired quilts long before I made them and I bought a quillow, a log cabin quillow, at erm Faversham Library, there was a quilt exhibition there by Quay Quilters a group that are based in Faversham and the quilt I bought was a blue log cabin quilt and it was made by Ruby Poppy who I’m sad to say very, very recently passed away a very influential quilter locally and my mother saw it and admired it and I had always done handicrafts of various kinds so I looked at the quilt and thought well how hard can this be. It’s only straight lines after all so I bought some fabric, at least I knew enough to buy cotton fabric but I didn’t know enough to buy fabric designed for patchwork or quilting so it’s probably cotton dress fabric from C&H Fabrics because I didn’t know anywhere else to buy that sort of thing and I set to making it, erm the making went just fine because I had Ruby’s quilt to show me the way except strangely when it came to the quilting when there are just tiny little diamonds in the middle of the log cabin blocks and that it the only quilting on the whole quilt. What has kept it together all these years I have absolutely no idea but my mother loved it. I called it ‘Sunshine And Roses’ and very cheerfully gave it to her and she used it as a lap quilt in her later years when her feet were cold in bed, she had it on the bottom of her bed, and when she died both my brother and my sister begged to have the quilt and I refused to part with it and brought it home and it’s my go to quilt when I’m not feeling well.
PH: Right, right, so you still use it now?
JK: I still use it now. [PH: Yeah, yeah.] And it was made in 1989 I believe.
PH: Yeah, and can you just for the listener describe size and the colours of the fabrics?
0:03:32 JK: It is, I’m trying to remember the size, I think it’s about 50 inches by 60 inches. Oh it’s 49 inches by 39 inches and it’s a log cabin in a barn raising design with plain yellow fabrics on one side and a pink and yellow roses print on a white background on the other side of the log cabins. It’s backed with pink and bound with the same pink.
PH: Yes, lovely. And have you, did you ever exhibit it?
PH: No it was just
JK: No it was just for my mother.
PH: Yeah, yeah. So it was the first one you made?
PH: Yeah Right, yeah.
JK: It wasn’t ‘til some years later that I joined a quilt group and began making more quilts. So this was nearly the first quilt and last quilt I ever made [laughter]. I’m glad to say that didn’t happen.
PH: So are there any quilt makers in your family, other quilt makers?
JK: No, no.
PH: So you were first drawn into it because you’d seen this exhibition?
JK: I was first drawn in because I knew about quilts, I’d read about quilts. Erm, my mother came from the Durham area and so I had heard about Durham quilts and seen a few. [PH: Yeah.] And I think that was probably what sparked my interest in quilts. [PH: Yeah.] And so if I saw a quilt for sale I found it very hard to walk away. I have always, and still do, buy quilts from time to time.
PH: Yeah, yeah, Okay. And I think you said you originally learned to hand piece.
JK: I think like most people I learned to sew at school and therefore learned to sew by hand as well as by machine. I am an impatient quilter and I think if you’ve paid thousands of pounds for a sewing machine you should be using it not hand sewing and I know I can machine sew faster and better than I can hand sew. Lots of my friends tease me because they are hand sewers, but that’s not really for me.
PH: No. And this was machine made?
JK: That was machine made except that tiny little bit of I use the term loosely quilting which was hand stitched.
PH: Yeah, yeah and that’s in the middle.
JK: Yes, literally that is the only quilting on there and it’s machine washed and I really don’t know what’s holding that together. Certainly not the quilting.
PH: No, no, yeah. And erm so what do you enjoy about quilt making yourself when you’re
JK: Well so many things. I, erm, on a private level it’s probably my therapy. It’s the way I relax. Err it’s an outlet for creativity since I can’t sing, don’t draw, can’t paint, don’t dance. Erm, on a more outwards way, erm, a great many of my friends, my closest friends are quilters, err, not just in this country but in the United States too. Err, Quilting has offered my incredible opportunities to travel. Erm I can’t remember a holiday we’ve taken that wasn’t quilt related in some way for year and years and years. Even our regular family holiday which we tend to take annually in Pennsylvania came about because originally I made friends with some Pennsylvanian quilters. PH: Oh.] Visited them. Realised how beautiful the area was and subsequently took my family there.
PH: Right. Yeah.
JK: We’re off to Houston for the quilt show in October. I’m just back from Sisters going with friends another quilt show so the opportunities to travel are really quite extraordinary.
PH: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing. And are there any things about it that you don’t enjoy. About quilting. Quilt making.
JK: Probably hand sewing the binding. No surprise there.
PH: No, no.
JK: But I think I have tried at various times all sorts of handicrafts from knitting and crochet to tatting and cross stitch and embroidery of various kinds and mostly they are quite solitary things to do whereas quilting tends to be a very social activity. I think it’s quite unusual from that point of view for a handicraft. And I’m very well aware that if I chose to I could be out at quilt groups every day of the week and probably twice on Sunday’s, if I chose to. [PH: Gosh, yeah.] And that’s a nice thing to know.
PH: And is area particularly active in that way?
JK: I don’t really know. I suspect it may be but I’m sure there are other areas that are equally active. There may be areas like London perhaps where there aren’t so many groups erm but I suspect most areas are as active as they are here.
PH: Yeah, yeah. So you belong to erm several local groups or was it…
JK: I belong to a little house group, and I belong to Castle Wall which meets in Aylesford and has about sixty members I think and then Oast has about 330 members, I think possibly they are the biggest group in the country.
PH: And they operate, they include
JK: They work as an umbrella group for local groups. That’s their principle function but they have many independent members as well. It’s not always possible for local quilters to get to groups, or groups are full or if they’re working, erm, it’s that much harder even if there are groups in the evening if you work you’ve still got domestic duties as well and women don’t always have the time for those things. Often you see them counting down to retirement so they can get out there and join those groups.
PH: Yes, yes. And how, if you, when you are planning a quilt, how, what, how do you start? What gives you the inspiration and….
JK: It can be anything, erm, it may be a pattern or design I’ve seen somewhere. It may be a fabric that inspires me. In fact the quilt I’m making at the moment it was a ruler that inspired me, so I think they come from lots of different places.
PH: Right, yes, yes. And where do you quilt obviously…?
JK: Technically I have a sewing room but it’s actually a fabric storage room and there’s not any more room to quilt in it and I’m not sure I would particularly want to. It’s upstairs away from everything else and I think that’s fine if you are setting aside an afternoon to sew. If you’re snatching a quarter of an hour here and half an hour there then I think it’s nicer to feel that you’re in the centre of the household and that you’ve not shut yourself away from others.
PH: So you have your machine in your dining room?
JK: I do.
PH: Yeah Right, I notice you have other cutting out equipment?
JK: My husband has been away for the weekend and that’s normally a signal to start a new quilt and spread myself around the whole of the ground floor. Usually I will have a Sew Ezi table which I would set up in front of the TV in the sitting room, I cut out fabric and press my fabric in the kitchen and sew in the dining room and up until Saturday night this quilt which is coming together was all over the living room floor because I can! [Laughter] [PH: Yes, yes] So I make the most of the time if he’s away.
PH: So you have to pick it up.
JK: Absolutely, before he walks all over it.
PH: Yeah, yeah. And the colours of that one, did you choose them?
JK: It was what I had. I wanted to make a quilt using this ruler and the quilt has a slightly odd layout in that it’s ovals but the oval is wider one side and narrow the other side and if you then cut that out using prints you are forced to use them you are constricted in the placement, whereas if you use batiks which are these because you can use either side. [PH: Yes.] You could flip it over. [PH: Yes.] So that was the reason for using batiks. I have a lot of batiks. These were what I had.
PH: Yes, Yes, yeah. And when you are, erm, I was going to ask how much time you think you spend.
JK: I think it varies hugely. I sewed most of Thursday afternoon and Friday because my husband was away, erm and that’s nice to do rather than sitting feeling lonely or pining that he’s not here, but then had a busy also slightly quilty weekend because it was an Oast meeting. And I’m there workshop organizer so I did their workshop yesterday. [PH: Right] So it was a quilty weekend but in a slightly different way. And I may sew today, I may not but it’s all here ready to go when I’m ready.
PH: So whenever you have a space.
JK: That’s right. And also I think you need to be in the right mental place to sew and enjoy your sewing. [PH: Yes.] And I know some quilters who because their families are younger have to snatch five minutes here and ten minutes there and so that’s what they do because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sew at all. Erm I have more time and choose to wait until I can set aside suitable blocks of time and settle into my sewing and enjoy it.
PH: Yes. Yeah. And thinking about other quilts. What do you look for yourself or notice in other people’s quilts and in other quilts that you admire?
JK: Well that’s a difficult one and actually it’s changing. I’m currently embarked on The Quilters’ Guild Quilt Judging course so as I’m learning more on that course perhaps my view of quilts is changing and I think the course has taught me. I’ve done the first two modules which are actually nothing to do with quilts. They are to do with art and design. [PH: Right.] Very much focused on art and design and specifically avoiding quilts. [PH: Right.] And I think the first two modules have taught me to look at art in a slightly different way and to try and understand what the artist has been trying to achieve and so I find perhaps work that doesn’t instantly appeal to me and I might once have walked past I now look at and try and see behind the art. [PH: Yeah.] The people behind the art interest me enormously and I think that’s been encouraged by the judging course.
PH: Yes, perhaps we should explain what the judging course is.
JK: It’s a two year, erm, six module course at the end of which assuming I successfully complete all the modules at the end of which I’ll be qualified to judge quilts at shows.
PH: Um sounds quite vigorous a two year course.
JK: It is and it’s doing what I hoped it would do it’s I think making me think more about design and hopefully improving my own quilts and also making me look at quilts in a different way, erm, I tend to focus on the more contemporary quilting styles, but I suspect that now going to quilt shows I look at the traditional quilts more than I once would have.
PH: That’s interesting
JK: That again is what I hoped it would do. That It would expand my appreciation of other people’s quilts.
PH: Yes, yes. And with the quilts you’ve made, do you have any idea of how many you’ve made over the years?
JK: I have absolutely no idea.
JK: Gosh I wouldn’t even like to hazard a guess. [PH: No, no.] I probably started an awful lot more than I’ve finished. I don’t, a bit like novels, I don’t feel obliged to finish if it’s done what it needed to for me then I’m happy, erm, The Linus Project are usually very, very happy to complete a project that you’ve started.
PH: Can we explain the Linus Project?
JK: Yes. The Linus Project make quilts for children who are having problems of one sort or another. They may be themselves ill or they may have been involved in an accident or perhaps there’s been a fire at their house or something like that but they’ve gone through some kind of trauma and it’s just a way of giving them a security blanket I suppose and a message that basically says that somebody cared enough a stranger cared enough to make this for you. [PH: Yes, yes.] And I’m very well aware that the ladies, they’re usually ladies, who make quilts for Linus and I think we all do from time to time, but there are many who, err, make a lot of quilts for Linus. They have worked through their own fabric stashes and they have the time and they have the skills but not always the fabric available to them to make other quilts and I think a lot of the fabric that’s donated to them is a bit like the flowery fabrics that I made for my mother and not necessarily ideal for teenagers. I know they’re always desperate for quilts for teenage boys in particular because so many fabrics have flowers and things on them. Teenage boys tend not to want those, erm, but for example this may end up being a Linus quilt. It’s much more contemporary and probably more acceptable to a teenager than perhaps one like my mother’s quilt would have been.
PH: Yes, yes, as you say they will finish something if you haven’t finished yourself.
JK: They will indeed and, erm, obviously quilt fabric is very expensive these days and, erm, so it’s a welcome opportunity to them to have perhaps a more complex quilt than people tend to make for Linus, erm, without them having to pay for the fabric so everybody wins.
PH: Yes, yes. And on the whole do you always make quilts to give away apart from to Linus?
JK: I do, my own group Castle Wall have a charity selling day once a year and they choose a generally a local recipient for the quilts and we make possibly fifty quilts erm so that’s our contribution. This year they went to erm a local women’s refuge where they have, obviously, the women tend to arrive with nothing and, again, perhaps the message is more important than the quilt because the message is that again a stranger cared enough to make this for you.
PH: Yes, yeah. And do you make them also for family and…?
JK: I do. In fact I’m about to make my mid-thirties son a quilt that we chose together when we were in Pennsylvania. He picked out the fabrics and that’s the next one on the list.
PH: So that’s your next project? Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah. Can I ask you when you made this?
JK: Er 1989.
PH: Yeah. Had your Mum known you were making it? Did she or was it a surprise?
JK: No. It was a surprise.
PH: Yeah, so what was her reaction?
JK: She was absolutely thrilled. She had a lot of my needlework in her house anyway because she admired it and in particular she had a lot of my crocheting in her house because she liked it, erm but I think the quilt was a much more practical and useful for her than the crocheting had ever been.
PH: Yeah, yeah, lovely idea, you say she used it as a comfortant.
JK: She did. It’s a lap size quilt. We keep lap sized quilts in our living room and people fight over whose going to have a lap quilt and if you’ve never experienced the comfort of a lap quilt sitting watching TV on a winter’s afternoon with a quilt draped round you then I don’t think you’ve lived [laughter].
PH: And if you’re looking ahead and now actually what do you think the biggest challenge is you face as a quilter.
JK: I see other quilters as they get older their skills diminish and I suppose that’s something that’s coming for all of us and in some ways I fear it in other ways I know many quilters who are now quite elderly who are very happy indeed buying a charm pack of five inch squares and stitching them together into nine packs into nine patches to make quilts with because that’s what they can do so they’re still sewing and they’re still active in their groups and they still have so much knowledge to be passed on to other people so I’m not sure there’s anything really to fear.
PH: No, no, ok. And the other thing was about technology? [JK: Mmm?] Can you explain what technology you use in quiltmaking?
JK: Er, I have a, what I refer to as a sewing machine. The manufacturers refer to as a sewing computer. [PH: Oh?] Em, and I use I suppose I’m as big a sucker for a gadget as the next quilter and I go to a lot of shows so tend to buy rulers and erm I’m a big fan of a pressure sensitive rotary cutter, which are fairly unusual in this country.
PH: Oh, how does that work?
JK: Erm I will show you and you can describe it. [pause as Judi fetches rotary cutter] This is a pretty standard rotary cutter where you expose the blade to cut but if you drop it the blade is still exposed. [PH: Yes.] And you have to actively close the blade before you put the rotary cutter down. This is a pressure sensitive cutter the blade is covered but if you press down the blade is exposed so if you drop it the blade is immediately covered again and if you put it down the blade is covered so you don’t have to keep remembering to cover the blade.
PH: So it’s much safer.
JK: I think it’s safer and I, I like the fact you can just pick it up and it’s ready to go.
PH: And that allows you to cut through several layers?
JK: It does indeed, yes.
PH: And you described the machine as a well the manufacturers describe it as a ….
JK: Sewing computer, yes.
PH: Has that made a big difference to you from earlier machines.
JK: Erm I like this particular machine. In fact I have bought in the last few years 2 machines that I thought would be an upgrade to this machine. The first one was another Bernina when their much bigger machines first came out and at that time I was working very long hours and the machine was so different and I had so little time to sew that I found I was spending all my time reading the instruction books so I remembered how to thread it and not actually sewing anything. And I went to a class at the Festival of Quilts where they were using Bernina 440s and it was like coming home and I didn’t want to part with it at the end of the day. And I thought you know actually this a bit crazy, I’ve spent all this money on this all singing all dancing machine… [PH: Yeah] But you know what, I’m working, it’s my money, I’m going to do it. And so I said to the dealer I’d like to swap this for a new 440 please, which was crazy because the machine was worth far more than a 440 was worth, but actually that’s what I wanted so we negotiated a little bit and I had the 440 back and because I’d had one before I knew exactly what I was doing it was really like coming home. And about two years ago now, it was my 60th birthday my husband wanted to buy me something, we decided I would have a new Janome. Erm, again it was a new model out, it sewed particularly fast, it had a lot more throat space than the Bernina and it was a very, very nice machine, but it wasn’t the Bernina and, erm, I had to send the Bernina away for repair and it was away for about a week and I thought ‘right this is the moment for the Janome, when the Bernina’s not here I’m going to have to fall in love with machine’ and actually I didn’t. When the Bernina came back it was welcome home Bernina and so I sold the Janome because there was no point in keeping it. I think sewing machines are a bit like cars. You know, there’s not one machine that is the right machine for everybody and I think the 440 is actually the right machine for me, so I’ve stopped trying to upgrade it now.
PH: Yes, yes [laughter], just enjoy it.
JK: Absolutely and I think, a little bit like driving a car, you get very familiar with your own machine and you’ve stopped thinking about how you’re operating the machinery and it’s freeing your mind to think about what you should be thinking about, which is how you’re going to put these things together and, erm, that you can you will know exactly where you’re going to stop, and you will know if your machine when you switch it to reverse you will know whether your machine will go immediately into reverse or it takes one stitch forward before going into reverse and you get to know all those little things about your machine and that’s a good place to be.
PH: Yeah, yeah, so you’re comfortable with it.
JK: Yes. Also I sew often very small things so I need full control over the speed and starting and stopping and often my fingers are very, very close to the needle and so again you need to know exactly how your machine is going to perform.
PH: And these small things are they related to quilting?
JK: Absolutely they’re related to quilting – is there anything else? [Laughter]
JK: So I’ve done all sorts of things over the years from sort of small wall-hangings. I tend to make them for when I go to Houston the Texas Quilt Museum accept small quilts that they sell as a fundraiser so I tend to take small wall-hangings and things for them and I make fabric postcards and that developed into, erm, the still smaller ones the two and half by three and half inch called ATCs, Artist Trading Cards. One spectacular occasion I took on the challenge of making inchies which, yes, they are an inch by an inch. [PH: Gosh.] Proudly took them over to show my Pennsylvania friends who are immensely practical people and almost to a woman they said what are they for? [Laughter]
PH: And are the postcards you describe, are they for writing on?
JK: Absolutely, in fact there’s some here, I’m sure there’s some here. So yes they go through the post in exactly the same way any other postcard would. You write on the back put a stamp on and send them through the post.
PH: Do they arrive safely?
JK: They arrive very safely. [PH: Gosh.] I erm tend to take them to my local post office who drop them in the bag with the parcel post rather than with the letter post so they don’t go through the machines and sometimes they arrive, erm, in a sort of clear plastic envelope from the Post Office because someone at the Post Office was scared they wouldn’t get through and has rescued them. [PH: Yeah.] But the challenge is actually to see what you can get through the post.
PH: Yes because they’ve got quite interesting bindings all the way round which must be the bit that must be vulnerable.
JK: Yes, I tend to use edgings that have loose threads and fluffy edges and things. And erm but the post office tend to hand cancel them as they do parcels. [PH: Right] And then they are delivered just fine.
PH: And this is a drawing of yours on fabric?
JK: It is then coloured in with wax crayons which you can then just put a piece of kitchen paper over and a hot iron.
PH: And that fixes it?
JK: And that fixes it. [PH: Right, gosh.] Always something new with quilting.
PH: Yes there’s a huge range of…
JK: I think actually that’s the draw. I am an absolute workshop junky and it’s the new techniques and the new ideas and the new projects that really appeals to me. It’s the continuing learning and there’s always something new and there are always new products and always something else to learn. If you thought you knew it all, nobody does.
PH: No, no, Ok. Well thank you very much Julie. It’s been really, really helpful.
JK: You’re very welcome. Good
PH: Thank you.
PH: Okay Julie, what we realised that I hadn’t asked you about to explain what a quillow is which you referred to early on. Erm and the quilt you have chosen is also a quillow so perhaps you could explain.
JK: I think the word must be American in origin because it’s a combination of a quilt and a pillow and Americans refer to cushions generally as pillows but it’s basically a lap quilt that’s designed to fold back into itself to form a cushion so it can sit on your couch as a cushion and if you’re feeling chilly you can unravel it and tah-dah you have a lap quilt.
PH: Yes, yes. And on the one you made for your mother you’ve actually decorated that.
JK: Yes, it has perhaps a fraction more quilting than the quilt itself mainly because I could do it on a sewing machine, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get that even a lap top a lap quilt under a sewing machine probably at the time I would have had a very small sewing machine… [PH: Yeah] That I would have used for household sewing I guess.
PH: And you also have a label on the quilt with the title.
JK: I do, I knew enough because I had bought quilts to know that quilts should have labels on them so I included a label, but I didn’t know enough to know what sort of pen I should use for the label that would survive washing so it’s looking a bit um a little bit faded now but it’s still readable.
PH: Yeah, yeah, certainly is, yeah. Okay I think we’re done. Right thank you.