ID Number: TQ.2014.016
Name of Interviewee: Judy Wilkinson
Name of Interviewer: Jackie Norris
Name of Transcriber: Jackie Norris
Location: Judy’s home
Address: Picton, Yarm
Date: 8 July 2014
Length of interview: 0:27:18
Judy talks about her ‘Bearly Amish’ quilt for the Great North Quilt Show and how the fabric came from a trip to visit family in America. She talks about looking at quilts in exhibitions and making quilts for family members. Later she talks about her unfinished projects and the quilt group she attends.
Jackie Norris [JN]: Do you make quilts?
Judy Wilkinson [JW]: I do, yes.
JN: Do you sleep under a quilt?
JW: A lot of the time, yes depends on the weather.
JN: Do you belong to a Guild?
JW: I belong to The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles and a group.
JN: … and the group?
JW: Called ‘Pieceful Days Quilters’.
JN: In all of the quilts that you have made do you have a particular quilt that you have in your home, that you use. Can you tell me about this, we call them Touchstones, can you tell me about this quilt, what can you say about it. You’re more than welcome to pick it up and hold it
JW: Well I made this a few years ago because I wanted to copy an earlier quilt I’d made that had been promised away. So I made this in the year that the theme at the Great North Quilt Show, Great Northern Quilt Show in Harrogate, was Amish. And it’s called ‘Bearly Amish’ because it has Winnie the Pooh in the centre [opens out the quilt] and then ‘Trip Around the World’ design around him. [Pause] I got the fabric for Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, in the corners, in New England. My mother was American and I lost contact after her death with my family there, and the internet is a wonderful thing. My son found my cousins based on the information I was able to give him and Bill and I, my husband, went to visit them in 2002 and one of them, Noreen, took me to Jo-Ann’s, which I gather is a big chain of barns full of fabrics where I bought Winnie the Pooh.
JN: And you came back with a suitcase full of fabrics.
JW: I didn’t, Oh no, no [laughs].
JN: You came back with some specific fabrics
JW: I came back with just one specific fabric, yes. My intention was to make a pillow case for my Grand-daughter because she was rather fond of Winnie the Pooh at that stage and I did but there were bits left over.
JN: So how, when did you start this quilt?
JW: I’m not sure, [laughs] it’s going to be 8 years ago or somewhere around that, I can’t remember when that was the theme of the Harrogate exhibition.
JN: And it’s taken you how long to do, to complete?
JW: I don’t know, you, you can see it’s been around for a long time, it’s faded, it’s worn, it’s been well used, it won’t have, it will have taken me a matter of months. I had horses in those days so there was a lot to do. So it took, not too long and it was reasonably planned for me, I don’t plan very well on quilts.
JN: Do you tend to start a quilt and it happens?
JW: Yes it evolves a bit.
JN: Is that because you start with a colour scheme or because you start with an idea, do you design them?
JW: It must be something like that.
JN: Did you design this one?
JW: In a way, Trip around the World is a well-known block and I had decided I wanted to do, when I made the first one, I wanted to make something reasonably simple and quick, and as I say this is a copy of it, and the size of the rectangles was determined by the size of Winnie the Pooh on his bit of fabric, and it was planned to the extent that the colours of the trip are the colours that are behind him or they were when they started, they’ve faded as I say now. And then, what I’m going to do with quilting when I’ve made a quilt is usually a complete mystery until the patchwork is finished.
JN: It’s much loved by yourself for the journey that you’ve made in connecting with members of your family overseas after some years.
JW: Yes, I suppose so.
JN: And also because it’s well used and you have, you have children of your own and grand children who come and they love this, they use it, they snuggle up?
JW: I wouldn’t say that to be honest [laughs].
JN: They’re not snuggling under quilt people but they…
JW: Well, I’ve made, I’ve made them other things.
JN: Do they appreciate what you do with your sewing time?
JW: I think so, yes.
JN: Do they understand it?
JW: Probably, we haven’t talked about it a lot, I just do it.
JN: And it’s just something Mum does.
JW: Yes. They were adults before I started.
JN: So you didn’t come to quilting through school or anything, what got you into quilting then?
JW: I’d had an idea of doing it for a long time and back in the mid-nineties I mentioned it to a friend and she said I teach quilting, that was May McQuillen, who may well be known to people. So I went there.
JN: You had one of the best teachers didn’t you?
JN: Definitely. So you’ve never owned or worked in a quilt shop in your lifetime?
JN: Would you like to, would you have liked to?
JW: [Laughs] You’re saying looking at my age, I haven’t thought of it.
JN: You’re a busy lady living on a piece of land that most people would die for [laughter], do you enter your quilts into anything?
JW: My quilt group has exhibitions and as I say this was entered for the Great North Quilt Show at Harrogate and I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve entered anything else. That’s lack of organisation actually.
JN: Not lack of wanting, just being in the right place.
JW: It’s lack of finding, getting the forms and putting them in at the right time
0JN: So in years to come, you will still have this here, it stays at the house, at the home, the family home.
JW: Oh yes.
JN: Does it travel with you when you go away in the caravan
JW: No, no it doesn’t. Now it’s become too heavy because I recently backed it with fleece to make it a bit warmer, it’s a lap quilt really for when we’re sitting watching television in the evenings.
JN: You obviously like Winnie the Pooh
JW: [Laughs] Yes, I never knew those stories as a child, I only discovered them when I had my own children and I think they’re wonderful.
JN: They have so much to say don’t they, yes. So when did you actually start, you started late in life you say, was that before or after you retired, did you work?
JW: It was after, I retired from teaching early and started about 3 years later when I had this conversation with May.
JN: So are there any quilts out there that you have seen that you would like to make?
JW: Oh any Baltimore you can name, yes for a start.
JN: You go into a quilt show and you walk down and look at the exhibits what is it on one of those quilts, or any or all of those quilts that actually says to you ‘wow!’
JW: Isn’t that difficult [laughs] because you go to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC and there isn’t time to look at every quilt and there isn’t brainpower to look at every quilt, so you do walk along the rows and wait for something to jump out at you and it’s very often colour but it can be the design; it’ll be the workmanship as well, the little things, the important like does it hang straight? Are the points good? Is it flat? All the things the top quilters do.
JN: Has there ever been one which you would have liked to put in your pocket and brought home?
JW: Yes, that’s a game I play with myself at any exhibition, any art gallery, if money were no object what is the thing here today that you’d bring home with you, but I… there was one a few years ago, I think at the NEC, that was based on the Cadbury’s advert, ‘The Lady Loves Milk Tray’, or something, I can’t remember what it was but it had an optical illusion, what do you call the man who does optical illusions, no it may come or it may not, but it had an optical illusion about whether you were looking down into a recess, a sort of a pit or up at something and it was just fantastically well done. I think the quilter in question had been a draftswoman, so she knew how to create illusions.
JN: Have you ever come home from a quilt show and immediately wanted to take a quilt that you’d seen and turn it into your own interpretation, make your own, has it inspired you?
JW: No, no that doesn’t happen. I look at techniques I haven’t done yet and think about those rather than wanting to work on something I’ve just seen.
JN: Are you an impulse buyer of fabric? Do you have your stash?
JW: Am I an impulse buyer? Whenever I go away I have a nose for where the quilt shop is and I think it’s our duty as quilters to buy something to keep these shops going, so yes I buy something in every shop [laughs].
JN: So it’s not an impulse it’s a dedication to community support [laughter].
JW: That’s one way to put it, it’s an impulse buy in that I didn’t go in planning to get it although I might be thinking, that Double Irish Chain I’m going to make, perhaps I need a little bit more…
JN: When you’re making your quilts do you have design wall
JW: No, no
JN: Is it something that bothers you to not have or do you find that you have a table and you put things together?
JW: I think about it but I haven’t set it up in my sewing room so that I can have a design wall, that’s what it boils down to.
JN: You have a sewing room?
JW: I do, I’m very lucky. No you may not see it [laughter] that’s not in the contract!
JN: If your family can’t find you do they always know where you will be if you’re not in earshot of the door?
JW: Yes, pretty well, yes.
JN: Are they allowed in?
JW: Yes, there is an extra chair or two.
JN: But not long term?
JW: No, it’s just for a chat.
JN: If there was any quilt that you’ve ever made that you would like to go back and make again, do you have one or have you given someone one.
JW: Well, this, this was one, well only, we did a Sew-A-Row quilt with another local teacher and I did it badly and I’d quite like to do that again.
JN: Do you know how long in each week that you might spend in your sewing room, have you ever estimated, has anybody ever said.
JW: It’s not, it’s not eight hours I don’t suppose, it would be less than that.
JN: You get in, you get done and then you go off and you have something to do and you do it, you go back and you do another bit more.
JN: You don’t go in and shut the door for a day
JN: Would you be missed if you did?
JW: Oh yes, well I’d be accused of neglect if I did.
JN: Wouldn’t we all? [Laughter] With the technology that there is out there now for quilters, such as the laser cutting and of course the rotary cutters and the EQ Quilt for people who like designing, does any of that interest you? Have you looked at any of that?
JW: Well, obviously I have a rotary cutter, but I don’t trust myself to master the other things and so I haven’t really bothered about them.
JN: Do you have any specific purpose in mind on a quilt that you make, do you go and find a pattern, put a design together, go and buy fabric, does it have an end meaning?
JW: And end meaning?
JN: So would you say I am putting this together for someone’s wedding, you’re going off for a Diamond Wedding.
JW: Oh. Yes, I make quilts for people for a specific reason. I made a quilt for my daughter at that time she was living in an old cottage and had a four-poster bed, so I made a big star quilt for her, she lives in a modern house now but never mind. And I made one for my son because I felt he needed to have something and he said ‘Don’t make me a quilt I don’t make the bed anyway’. I made a wall hanging and his interests are astronomy and science fiction and, well anyhow, astronomy and science fiction and I used, I made a sampler quilt and called the blocks by names other than their real names to make them fit the theme.
JN: Was he pleased?
JW: I think he was, yes. And in his case I had to be very careful because he’s red-green colour-blind so I made it in black, red, gold and silver so that there was nothing to confuse him, so he could see it all, see the blocks.
JN: Is there any quilt that you’ve made that’s actually, that you’ve had a troubled time, or sad time or difficult time. Is there any quilt, you know that saying ‘Gets you through’.
JW: No, I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t had to try that.
JN: So it’s more enjoyment than therapeutic and always has been.
JW: The trouble comes in making it you know, when you can’t get it to do what you want to [laughter].
0:16:16 JN: When you think about patchwork and quilting these days what is it do you think that the young quilters now, the challenges they face, do you see some of those challenges, do you see them struggling or do you think they get a better deal than we do with patchwork and fabric
JW: Do you? I have no opinion I’m sorry.
JN: It’s okay, it’s just, it’s just sometimes you go to a group and you have some youngsters come to join and they’re there with their rotary cutters and things cutting up stuff and you are thinking… but they turn out some amazing stuff and yet some of them are very challenged because they love the fabric but they can’t do the cut and piecing; and you don’t notice that? So you must enjoy the machining, obviously. How do you balance that with hand sewing? Does hand stitching have the same calming effect or is it something you do because it needs it.
JW: I used to hate hand sewing, most of us started of dress making and I hated the hand finishing, so when I started quilting and it seemed to be largely hand sewing I thought I’m not going to go on doing this. But no, I just accept that some things have to be done by hand and plod on till the end, but I do mostly machine sew because I’ve got a bit of arthritis in my hands.
JN: And you have a sewing machine that you do it all on, have you ever thought that one is not enough?
JW: Well, Bill bought me a small machine to take to classes and it’s extremely useful if you do log cabin, you’ve got one threaded with dark thread and one threaded with light and you have an office chair and you swivel between the two [laughs].
JN: You’re a methodical stitcher would you say?
JW: Am I? I’m not really methodical about anything, no.
JN: You have a sewing room which, obviously, is your private space is it organised, are you an organised person with your fabric and threads and things?
JW: I file a lot of things on the floor. There are some things that are organised, but as soon as you start making something, or thinking about making something, you have to bring out the fabrics and tidying them away again doesn’t happen quickly.
JN: Where, what sort of distances have you, do you travel to quilt shows, you obviously go to Birmingham.
JW: I go to Birmingham every other year and Harrogate, and I’ve been to a few local groups exhibitions, I feel that we owe it to them, they come to ours sometimes, we owe it to them to visit them.
JN: You ever travelled abroad to quilt shows?
JW: Not yet, no.
JN: When you’ve been overseas have you come across a show, a patchwork show or a patchwork shop that’s interested you?
JW: Sadly, no shows. I’ve probably seen the art in the shop, I also collect magazines in foreign languages because I speak German and French and I don’t really speak other ones, but I collect the magazines anyway if I’m abroad
JN: Do you go to the quilt museum in York
JW: Yes, two or three times a year perhaps.
JN: You’re a museum friend?
JN: Or just a go as a guild member?
JW: As a guild member, yes.
JN: Are there any of those quilts in there that you would like to have?
JW: Oh well, in every exhibition I see something that I really would like, yes and it may not be anything very complicated, it’s just pleasing.
JN: Anything there that you think bluech, no I don’t like that, styles, colours?
JW: I think inevitably there be things that you don’t like or think much of in any exhibition. In fact there was a winning quilt at the NEC a few years ago thought I thought was revolting but I won’t name it.
JN: When it comes down to quilting, we have traditional, miniature, etc. and now the new Modern Quilt group which is going to start in August officially at Birmingham. What sort of grouping would you consider yourself, traditional or just a quilter?
JW: I suppose definitely leaning towards the traditional, yes.
JN: And you obviously have a love of Baltimore.
JW: I haven’t started making one yet.
JN: It’s something in your bucket list.
JW: Yes, there’s plenty more in the list though.
JN: That are easier to do or…
JW: I haven’t on a, no I didn’t… I went to an exhibition at York racecourse a few years ago and saw a raffle quilt, Storm at Sea, which I thought was wonderful because it looks like curves but it is only straight lines so that’s one, but then there’s the Double Irish Chain that I mentioned and probably small things before I get round to a Baltimore, it’ll end up as a wall hanging not a whole big quilt.
JN: You like to start and finish
JW Yes that would be the idea.
JN: You don’t have a pile of unfinisheds?
JW: Well I’m working on a wholecloth at the moment, so it’s unfinished and I’m frightened to start on the sewing, I’ve done the marking out.
JN: Do you open a cupboard or a drawer and find some items and think I must finish those.
JW: I don’t think I have because last year my group had an exhibition and we had a sort of Bring and Buy, a sales table and I gave away that sort of thing to the sales table.
JN: There was a question I had in my head just then and it’s completely and utterly gone. When you go to your group, you belong to a local group do you have specific projects that you take or do you go with your current project. You’re doing a wholecloth, would you take that one with you.
JW: I might, it’s quite big but I might, well yes.
JN: You have a small project, [JW: Yes] a portable project [JW: Mmm] It’s a good group, obviously very well, a good community, as a group
JW: It is.
JN: And you have new members coming in
JW: Yes we do
JN: You have a village hall and you can all take sewing machines.
JN: You’re very fortunate in having a member still of you who was at one time National Chairman.
JW: Margaret Hughes, yes.
JN: Does Margaret come regularly?
JN: And she’s now just an ordinary, everyday quilter as she’s always been.
JN: Do you find people in your group influence your quilting?
JW: They make me feel better about it sometimes [laughs], you know you go along with something and you say I’m not happy about this, and they’ll say it looks good, so yes. And when we have ‘Show and Tell’ at our group, you’re not allowed to point out the failings in your quilt. If anybody else can see them that’s up to them, but it’s one of our few rules, a late rule.
JN: It’s a good rule do you think?
JW: Oh, yes, because people are too modest, they hold up a quilt and everybody goes ‘Oh that’s beautiful, I love your colours, how did you do this’ and they say yes but not mmm and complaining about it, so we thought this was a rule that needed to be brought in.
JN: Nothing negative.
JW: Not about your own, well you wouldn’t say anything negative about anybody else’s but you’re not allowed to self-deprecate about yours.
JN: I’m just going to ask about your family, in your own family, obviously not with your children, but other branches do you have any other quilters, did anybody influence your sewing?
JW: My mother sewed, she did the dressmaking, the curtains and all that sort of thing and that’s where I learnt it initially. One of the… the American cousin who took me to Jo-Ann’s for this, sews a bit, and she has a couple of things made by our Grandmother and a quilt that she doesn’t know the provenance of. So she’s interested in what I do.
JN: You’re obviously very interested in your hobby and it is classed as a hobby. Is there anything, if you weren’t quilting that you would spend your time doing? If you couldn’t quilt or just lost the will to quilt.
JW: Yes, that’s a difficult question, it’s a difficult answer. It’s hard to imagine that there would be anything that would capture my interest and give me the satisfaction, now. No, it would be difficult, I can’t imagine myself painting, I’m not terribly interested in gardening. No.
JN: Quilting is definitely the thing
JW: Making things, handling textiles, most of us like actually handling fabric, stroking it [laughs].
JN: I think, Margaret that we have, sorry Judy, I’m sorry, you’ve never taught, you’ve not exhibited, you’re a prolific sewer, would you ever consider that at some point you are going to get a quilt in that show or…
JW: Oh yes.
JN: So we can look forward to seeing your name somewhere on a quilt?
JW: It could happen.
JN: Judy, I’d like to say thank you very much for letting me come here and talk to you about this wonderful quilt with Winnie the Pooh and I hope now we can take some photographs to go with this interview.
JW: Thank you for coming, it’s been a pleasure.
JN: Thank you.