ID number: TQ.2014.044
Name of interviewee: Kath McMahon
Name of interviewer: Fran Katkar
Name of transcriber: Michele Webster
Location: Kath’s home
Address: Watford, London
Date: 16 December 2014
Length of interview: 0:57:02
Kath begins by talking about when she started patchwork and quilting in the early 1980s. After 10 minutes, Kath talks about her touchstone object, a boy/girl Japanese Quilt, made to explore her love of Japanese colours, fabrics and patchwork styles. Later she reveals a wide knowledge of techniques and patterns gained over 35 years as a teacher and member of the London Quilt Group. Topics also covered include her particular interest in miniature quilts and several successful fundraising charity quilts made by her group.
Fran Katkar [FK]: So this is Fran [noise of microphone being set up] Is that balanced now? Yes, Oh well done! So this is Fran Katkar interviewing Kath McMahon at Kath’s home in Watford and it’s Tuesday 16th December 2014 and our reference number is TQ.2014.044. So Kath, we’ve belonged to the same group, London Quilters, for a while and I knew of you before that and I must say I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the work that you regularly show after our meetings and at our exhibitions. So to start with can I ask you how did you get into quilting?
Kath McMahon [KM]: Oh well, a long time ago like 1979 I went to an embroidery course at the local college and during that we did a little bit of quilting. And we started with some Log Cabin and I really enjoyed it. Met a lady who hated it so I did her homework as well as my own and eventually a big quilt was made and I went on to make my own Log Cabin quilt and cushions and I was hooked.
FK: Ah [laughs] yeah that’s a lovely account and I think you said that was an embroidery course [KM: yes] so were you just on your own to sort of investigate quilting after that?
KM: Yes, well this friend who didn’t like doing Log Cabin said ‘oh you could have classes at your house’ and I thought that’s ridiculous because I knew so little about patchwork and quilting but she insisted, she said ‘I’ll bring all my neighbours’ they all came. We started Wednesday morning classes and then somebody else who worked at the hospital in the morning said ‘oh I wish you’d do classes in the afternoon’. I think at that time everybody was terribly keen. They were interested in patchwork, nobody knew how to go about it so really I was half a step ahead of everybody else.
FK: So when would you say that this was, when you were…
KM: This was [FK: starting] about 1980. [FK: Right, yes] A long time ago. [FK: yes] and at that time there were no books with colour pictures, there were about three books that you could put your hands on. Then the BBC came out with a little square soft-back book with several designs in it and it was lovely. It was easy to follow and I think we did a Jacobs Ladder and one or two more things. And then of course, now you can, the books are so fabulous, there are almost too many to choose.
FK: So really you just got started [KM: yes] and then you found you were having a morning class, [KM: yes] each week.
KM: Yes. So we had great fun and we stumbled along and I think I’ve always enjoyed teaching beginners and that’s carried on so, I would call myself ‘Jack of all trades’ you know I haven’t got a particular pattern that I do a lot. I just like a big variety.
FK: That’s really interesting, ‘cos I know you still have classes at your own home now, so [KM: I do] you’ve gone right through thirty-five years [laughs].
KM: I’ve some people who were working, and then they’ve retired and they dropped out for a while and they’ve come back, so I still have some original people who still come. Truly it’s more like a club I suppose. But I, this last year I have had a few beginners again, new people to it and everybody helps everybody else, it’s great.
FK: That’s lovely, to create that atmosphere and I can appreciate that your classes would be like that.
KM: They come in and there are so many of us, and I say to them ‘why do you come to be in this great big squash?’ but they keep on coming! [FK laughs]. We can’t use machines very much ‘cos we haven’t got the space but you know people can learn the technique, go home and do it.
FK: So where, how, where do you actually have the class, in your home?
KM: I have them in my dining room.
FK: Right, so everybody round the table?
KM: Round the table and we spread out, we usually have a demonstration or something, they spread out and
FK: So if you’re teaching a machine technique, ‘cos I know you do everything so if you’re teaching a machine technique would you have your machine at the table?
KM: Yeah, yes, I have my machine out and people do use it, and obviously people go home and try the technique themselves.
FK: And that’s a formula that’s worked really well [KM: yes, it’s worked really well] excellent!
KM: And when I look back on my patterns now and the things I’ve taught, we’ve covered a huge amount of ground. And, ah, starting second or third time round [laughs] now!
FK: You must be! [KM yes, I think so] And you were saying at lunch time that you’d started with one class and then you very soon found you were presented with a second class.
KM: Yes, the friends who worked at the hospital couldn’t come in the mornings so persuaded me to have a class in the afternoons so I got all these hospital workers came. One of whom, two, three of whom still come now. You know they had a break but they’ve come back again. Started their own classes actually with U3A and things. [FK: Isn’t that lovely] I think I like to spread the word, I have no problem in sharing anything.
FK: And here in Watford [KM: yes] this small town where you live, so you’ve always had people who’ve been interested to come to the classes.
KM: Yes. And we had the very first quilt show in Watford, 1980-something and people were absolutely wowed. And they came and they’d no idea what they were coming to and they loved it. [FK: How lovely] yes, it was, it was great. We earned money for the hospice and that was good.
FK: Is that, yes that’s a big part of the life of Watford, yes, [KM: a bit of sharing] it gets good local support. So you were saying that your journey began with Log Cabin which we know is a wonderful pattern. And how did you then progress? How did you find out about the rest of patchwork and quilting?
KM: I don’t honestly know, I think just one thing leads to another. You see something that takes your eye and you think ‘oh I’ll find out how to do that’ and it just sort of happens naturally. I’ve always liked fabrics and colour and design I suppose. So it all fits in.
FK: And in those days where were you buying your fabrics?
KM: Ah, Quilt Shows, the Patchwork Dog and the Calico Cat in Chalk Farm in London, used to have the odd day out there, go down there and browse around. That was exciting. It’s hard to know now.
FK: It just developed quite steadily
KM: Yes, whenever you heard of a quilt shop you went to find it [laughs]. It was good.
FK: And was that really your motivation? The exploring and trying new things and just getting excited about possibilities?
KM: Yes, I think so and there’s a great pleasure in sharing these things with people and showing them how to do it. I don’t know, it’s a whole world.
FK: Yeah, definitely. As we know, more recently that quilting world has expanded enormously. [KM: Absolutely, mm] Has that been interesting as a teacher? To have a wider range of options?
KM: Yes, I think. Yes I mean I’ve joined lots of quilt groups and yes, it’s a great sharing thing. And even if you don’t like the peoples’ quilts you can see the energy and all the expertise that’s gone into them and you can appreciate them for different reasons.
FK: Mm, and there’s been so many new techniques and new products to help us so I suppose you’ve had to get to grips with them to then share with your students.
KM: Yes. We tend to do more traditional things, not against modern things, but I think in the main I like quilts for beds or traditional things.
FK: Things that can be used in the home?
KM: Yes, really yes. And I think having the classes I have to rack my brains to think of new things and that’s a very good exercise for me. It keeps me ticking over, I’m getting to this great age!
FK: Well I must say, having just walked through your home to come and do the interview, every room I’ve walked through there’s been great evidence of all your work. [KM: yes] in the form of many cushions [KM: yes] a great variety of patterns.
KM: Yes, I was telling you earlier my husband paints and draws and we fight for space on the walls a little bit. But please don’t think it’s horribly crammed, it isn’t [laughs].
FK: No, no. There’s a lot of evidence of both your work. It’s all very, very interesting. Yeah. So maybe this is a good time to move to the quilt that you’ve chosen particularly to talk about [KM: yes, my chosen] although there are many but if we look at that now. When was it that you made this piece?
KM: Oh, I must have made that about twelve years ago, something like that. My daughter studied Japanese and so I got a little bit interested in things Japanese. I like their predominance of blue and white very often and I like the fabrics and there’s a certain orderliness about things Japanese patchwork which pleases me. And in this quilt I’ve used two traditional patterns of a boy and a girl. And my daughter made me stencils of boy and girl so that I could put those on. Everything in the quilt is either old Japanese kimono fabric or its modern Japanese fabric that I buy, and all the quilting patterns are traditional Japanese quilting patterns. And I’ve hung it up on a bamboo pole and I’ve got little tassels which are Japanese.
FK: So just can, can you just briefly describe the quilt?
KM: Yes, it’s two panels, oblong panels but almost square and there’s a girl patchwork in the middle of one and a boy in the middle of the other [coughs] surrounded by the quilting and Japanese fabrics.
FK: And when was it you made this?
KM: It’s about twelve years ago I should think. I can look on the back and find out the date if you like.
FK: Yes, yes if it’s handy, yes [pause].
KM: It doesn’t have the date [indistinct then pause]. It’s the only thing that I’ve ever put into the Festival of Quilts because I really liked it [KM: lovely] and it was quite nice to see it hanging there, they hung it very nicely with a big lot of space round it and I got some very nice comments about it.
FK: Good. Yeah there certainly has been a lot of interest in Japanese things and the Japanese fabrics but I think you were probably in quite early on with this quilt and [KM: yes, perhaps] it probably fascinated a lot of people [KM: yes] because it’s quite striking. The navy blue overall colour and then the two little figures standing out [KM: mm] [indistinct] And lovely to challenge yourself to go into a specific area [KM: yes] and try and give a specific look.
KM: Yes, I think I achieved with that what I wanted to, what I set out to do. Not always the case [laughs] with anything is it?
FK: No, but then that’s part of the experimenting isn’t it? [KM: yes] But no definitely a lovely result there.
KM: It is all hand quilted which I like. I do do machine quilting but for look I prefer hand quilting.
FK: And I can see a variety of quilting patterns. [KM: yes] So, did you say that they are the traditional Japanese?
KM: They’re all traditional Japanese patterns, yes, yes.
FK: Yes and that’s also the Japanese character isn’t it, to have different areas, different patterns
KM: To be precise, yes.
FK: To combine them.
KM: Yes. We had a, not really patchworky but we had a good Japanese friend who we made and she used to come to me for advice and she would ask me ‘how do you do this in England?’ and like, ‘do you kiss when you meet on one cheek or two cheeks?’ And it’s the same with patchwork and things. There tends to be a set pattern for everything. And, um, makes life easier. If somebody dies you go and you say the right words, you know. So it’s a form of making life easy. Easier.
FK: Very true.
KM: We’re digressing [laughs].
FK: But that’s, then it’s part of the culture and the background, isn’t it? The fabric [indistinct]
KM: And when you see Japanese quilts made by Japanese people they tend to be very intricate, very precise, [FK: yes] small things beautifully done.
FK: Yes, that’s my impression too.
KM: Certainly of the old traditional quilting. There are some wonderful Japanese modern artists doing wonderful work.
FK: And that’s something I’ve certainly noticed about your work, that you regularly show work after our meetings, our monthly meetings at London Quilters and also in the workshops that we attend. And would you say that’s one of your particular interests? Pattern?
KM: Yeah, yes. Can I talk about this quilt here?
FK: Oh yes please, yes, yes.
KM: This is a little bit on the Baby Jane lines [FK: oh, definitely] all made out of
FK: Sorry can I just interrupt you, just for the recording, could you just comment on what the Baby Jane, Lady Jane…
KM: Baby Jane, yes. It was made by somebody called Jane Stickle in the States during the time of the American Civil War and she quilted her way through the war with all her menfolk away and lost some of them and it’s become a bit of a cult fashion in the States that you make a Baby Jane quilt. You can follow the instructions from the book that’s been produced. Every block, small block is different and I think Jane Stickle must have made the patterns up as she went along because they are not really traditional patterns. So I used reproduction Civil War fabrics which I bought here and I made my own sort of small Baby Jane, it’s six by six, five inch blocks and just enjoyed putting different colours together, different patterns
FK: Yes, you have some lovely colour combinations there.
KM: It took a long time. I hand quilted it all but really enjoyed making it. I’ve used five inch blocks, five and six inch blocks for a lot of my teaching. I started off and I made baskets with pockets, five inch pockets all the way round so that people could learn different techniques and it wouldn’t take them very long to do a small block. And I’ve also made little sort of pochette things using the blocks and little hangings with five inch blocks and it’s a good easy way of people learning quite a lot [FK: yes] in a relatively short time.
FK: Yes, because as beginners there is a lot to learn. So you found they could make quicker progress [KM: yes, yes] with a smaller block.
KM: And find out which blocks they liked, and what techniques they liked [FK: yes, yes] and [FK: what a good idea] yes it’s worked very well for me.
FK: But just looking at this quilt on the floor. It’s, I mean the colourings are beautiful and subtle and an absolute, yeah absolute variety of block patterns. Quite unusual ones.
KM: With the, doing the pockets on the baskets, I’ve been to workshops and people have come in carrying a basket and I’ve said ‘oh, there’s my design of basket!’ [both laugh] ‘That’s where it came from’ they say! [FK: How satisfying] Yes very satisfying, yes. And ah [FK: but what a good idea] yes it worked very well.
FK: I can imagine, just teaching regularly, you would really get a feel for what helps students and what students can manage.
KM: Well I find, I always say that people come to my classes, some come to learn the patchwork, some come for the company, older people come to be with younger people and get the slant on life I think [FK laughs] so and some come for the cake! It varies but I suppose that applies to all walks of life doesn’t it? [FK: mm. Yes, achieving a number of things with the one purpose!] We all have our different reasons, we don’t always know what they are but, yes we do.
FK: That is lovely, yes, and there are so many pieces of your work around us in this room. I wonder, does this lead onto any of the other pieces or techniques you’ve explored?
KM: Well on the settee over there there’s techniques using circles, half circles and quarter circles. There’s a butterfly from an old American quilt which is in the New England Quilt Museum. There’s an…
FK: We can pause the tape a minute if you want to bring one over.
KM: I’m trying to think of the name of that one [FK laughs]. One with tessellations [FK: yes, yes] tessellations [FK: Pinwheel?] there’s Snails Trail. Well it is a sort of Pinwheel, yes. So…
FK: Pinwheel in three colours which is effective because the way they merge from the solid to the in-between one that gives an extra layer to the pattern. And the circles are in the beautiful batiks which again makes the circle pattern effective. And are these cushions on your sofa, are they hand quilted?
KM: Yes they are. I think the circle one is machine quilted but the rest are.
FK: Do you tend to prefer hand quilting?
KM: I prefer it but my wrists and thumbs don’t like it much [KM: Oh] got a bit of arthritic.
FK: Is that because it’s something that you can sit and do in the evening when you are sitting with your husband?
KM: Yes I can do it for short times but having spent a career of catering and chopping and using my hands all the time, and quilting and sewing using my hands all the time, it’s taken its toll but I keep going.
FK: So does that mean, are you having to switch to some machine quilting? Or, not just yet?
KM: For anything big, but if it’s anything precious I would do it by hand.
FK: So you do sometimes make larger quilts as sort of family presents?
KM: I’ve made presents, quilts for all the grandchildren. I make them one to start with and one when they leave home and go to college [FK: Ah] or whatever. [FK: That’s a very good tradition to have] And my grandson said ‘Oh’ I said, ‘Is that quilt still going?’ He’s twenty-five now and he said ‘Oh I’ll never throw that one away!’ so good! [FK: That’s good to hear] Yes. And his sister who’s twenty two, she had one and he said ‘oh she’s the same, she’ll always keep hers’.
FK: Well that’s lovely if they’re well loved and they know how to look after them.
KM: Yes. Some have suffered the fates but we won’t go into that [laughing].
FK: Oh no, that’s got to be the worst thing as a quilter [KM: Oh yes] [both laugh] When the quilt doesn’t end up in a good home
KM: My worst disaster was when the twins, who are now ten, when they were babies I made a quilt and one of them was put in the washing machine and it had a wool batting in it and it came out literally half the size. It still looked nice but it was half the size [laughs] it was like a doll quilt [laughter] but these things happen.
FK: That’s a good link to another subject. ‘Cos I know that one of your interests has been miniature quilts [KM: yes] and miniature patchwork [KM: yes] and again I’ve seen one or two lovely examples of that that you’ve put into our exhibitions. How did that develop?
KM: Well I think I wanted to make quilts but couldn’t make great big ones so I was able to make smaller ones. And I got friendly with an American quilter who was a miniaturist and that sort of whetted my appetite to do more. And I used to go and quilt on the Isle of Aran for a lady called Judy McAlister. I went for eleven years until she died. I went for a week, went with my sister and we had an old piggery to work in. And I went, I wasn’t, I was given free board and lodging for myself and my sister and they had six guests and I just had six pupils and we covered all sorts of ground from Amish quilts to oh, all sorts of things, and on the island I went to see a woodworker who happened to come from Watford, of all places, which is where we live now, and he made the most beautiful, beautiful little beds, all beautifully turned and so I started making quilts for that bed. I have one bed and I call it the princess quilt and it’s all in silks, beautiful shades of silk in little elongated hexagons and it shines in the light. And I’ve got about ten or twelve little quilts that fit on the bed. Quite nice. The children play with them but they’re they were really made more for my use [laughs] than the children.
FK: So they’re certainly smaller in size than a normal full-size item but isn’t it a different technique? Because everything is so much smaller? [KM: mm] Did that take a while to get the hang of?
KM: I didn’t. Quite a few are done over papers [FK: ah] all different techniques really. I’ve got a woolly one and that is made out of, you know, boiled wool.
FK: The whole one, the actual fabric for the miniature quilt?
FK: Is boiled wool fabric?
KM: Yes. I went on a workshop and so I acquired lots of different colours and things so I didn’t boil up twenty jumpers myself! But I used somebody else’s.
FK: It was the one layer of fabric [KM: yes] Oh, that sounds like a challenge.
KM: Mm. It was quite nice, a different technique again. Yes and I say I’m a Jack of all trades!
FK: But with the geometric patterns, that’s the challenge isn’t it to get the junctions and the points very sharp [KM: yes] so is that not much more of a challenge.
KM: This was done in squares so it wasn’t that difficult, no.
FK: And was the miniature quilt, is that a greater challenge or does it just work?
KM: No, I don’t think so. At least it’s all neat and compact and you know I often work using a little cork mat if I’m doing small miniature work. Pin it out on there as you finish each hexagon or each shape. Just pin it on. At the moment I’m making this weeny, weeny little pincushions that are quarter inch hexagons. I’ve made two now and I’ve got another on the way but I shan’t be doing a lot of it but it’s nice to challenge yourself to something small.
FK: We’re looking at one of these tiny pincushions across the room and I will take a photo of it afterwards [laughing]. The hexagons are tiny! [Laughing]
KM: Tiny, yes, they take quite a long time to do for something so small, and I’m not the most patient of people.
FK: But you always get a beautiful finish and a good result.
KM: I get enthusiasms and I carry them out and then I might move on to something else.
FK: I think you, having watched you at our workshops I think you are just naturally a quick worker.
KM: I do work quickly but I say I’m not terribly patient. I like to get something finished.
FK: Yes. And have the satisfaction of the result. And you certainly have been very productive. We had a glimpse of some of your work before we came up to the living room and I will enjoy having a proper look at it afterwards and taking photos of many pieces, not just your touchstone object that you’ve chosen. But you did start to tell me about one or two of the pieces downstairs. Would you like to add a few comments now about some of them while we are discussing? There was the beautiful sunflower quilt
KM: Oh the sunflower quilt. This, we made several quilts for charity over the years [FK: yes]. I made a very nice blue and white house quilt which we had at the National Patchwork Championship when it was held at Hatfield. The charity was MacMillan nurses and…
FK: When would that be? I don’t remember hearing about it being at Hatfield [KM: Oh] which is not far from here.
KM: It started off at Alderley Edge, no not Alderley Edge, um, I’ve forgotten the name of the place and then it moved on to Hatfield and… before it became the Festival of Quilts at Birmingham. So, many years ago.
FK: Yes, when it was run by the other
KM: We made thousands of pounds on that quilt, it was popular as a quilt and popular as a charity. People came up in those days and said ‘I’ll have ten pounds worth of tickets’ and it was really, hit the spot. And we’ve done things for the local hospice.
FK: It’s a wholecloth quilt? The sunflower quilt?
KM: Yes it was a stencilled quilt. No! It was made in sections so that people could take a section home to quilt.
FK: But the sunflowers you said are all stencilled on.
KM: They’re all stencilled
FK: And the leaves
KM: Yes. And we stencilled leaves all round the edge. And as a charity thing we left veins and people paid a pound to write their name in one of the veins. We couldn’t believe it how people queued up for ages to sign their name and pay their pound. It was a very good fundraiser. I’d be happy for anyone to copy it! [Laughs]
FK: And you, yes I could see there were many signatures. And you had one, special signature in the corner?
KM: Yes. We had Princess Michael of Kent who is the patron of our local hospice and her lady-in-waiting is a quilter so she was interested. And so her name’s on the corner.
FK: So that’s a little bit of quilting history, because twenty years ago, that’s before the recent revival of interest.
KM: Yes, yes it was. [FK: So…] It coincided with our first quilt show in Watford, in the early 80s.
FK: And you said that one’d been shown many times [KM: mm] and you’ve been involved with quite a number of charity quilts.
KM: Yes, what else have we done? Um. We did another one for the hospice. I copied, I have a Portuguese plate with a rather pale grey blue background and lots of flowers on it and I enlarged that, cut it into wedges, gave everybody a wedge and people did the flower that was on their wedge and then we put it all together again. And following on from the leaf theme, we put leaves for people to sign and then we sewed them on round the edge.
FK: What a great way to do it!
KM: Well, that worked
FK: And it all joined together beautifully?
KM: It did.
FK: I haven’t seen that one yet.
KM: Yes. [FK: Lovely.] No that’s still at the hospice so you won’t see that one.
FK: And recently you organised our group quilt for London Quilters. [KM: I did, yes.] We usually have one a year [KM: yes] and what was the subject you chose?
KM: I chose blue and white houses, positive and negative, so some of the houses are in a blue shade and the background is white and half the blocks are the other way round, white house and blue background. So I…
FK: And you had to organise
KM: Made little packets for each of the houses and people made them up with their own choice of blue fabric and then I put it together with the, what was the edging?
FK: Oh, yes, did you find most of the members actually made up a house or two?
KM: Quite a lot, what was it, there were twenty four I think, something like that. I had to make the odd one to fill in.
FK: We’re quite a big group, we’re close on a hundred members [KM: Yes] although not all of them actually are in London and we do include a number of beginners as well as some very experienced people, so did you find that was a block that most members
KM: Most were fine, most people managed it fine. Yes. [FK: lovely] they were nearly all the same size! We managed to make them the same size.
FK: And then [laughs] what about the putting together etcetera?
KM: Well I put it together because it seemed easier. I had all the things here and then it went to Marie Mathews who quilts on a longarm machine. She kindly does it. She’s done two quilts for us now which she does free of charge because they are for charity [FK: oh] and she quilts beautifully.
FK: And the end result was quite a stunning [KM: Yes it looks quite good] quilt with a lot of contrast. [KM: yes] And then this went on to be shown at the Festival of Quilts?
KM: No, this is the one for the London Quilters, the London Quilters show.
FK: Ah. Right, yes, sorry, ah, when they’ve been done earlier in the year I think they’ve often gone on to the Festival of Quilts
KM: That’s right.
FK: Now we have our exhibition now in December and early January (KM: yup) so it’s on display in our exhibition [KM: now, yes] and um.
KM: And it’s been a very good design for the magazine’s have taken it up and put pictures of it in their magazines ‘cos it’s quite, because it’s blue and white it’s quite striking so it’s been good from that point of view.
FK: Yes, ‘cos we had several magazines covering our preview evening, didn’t we so that’s lovely, yes.
KM: Yes that’s good.
FK: Great project to organise, the group quilt. It has its challenges [laughs], as you said! [KM: it does, yes] [laughs] [KM: yes] Lovely. And do you have any work in our current exhibition at the moment?
KM: I do. I have a blue and white pinwheel quilt with buttons in the middle of each pinwheel, and I’ve got…
FK: What sort of size is that?
KM: That’s a single bed size. And I’ve got a cot quilt which is kaleidoscope pattern which is a pattern that I really like, it’s all made in straight lines but the illusion is big circles [FK: yes] and its [FK: very effective] always pleased me has that pattern. And it’s relatively…
FK: What colours is that then?
KM: It’s yellow and white with touches of green [FK: mm] which is quite nice.
FK: Lovely. Well I look forward to seeing them tomorrow when I [both speaking – indistinct] I always enjoy seeing everybody’s work. Yeah. Were they made for members of your family this time?
KM: No. Well I made the pinwheel quilt for a grand-daughter and then when she was looking at my quilts she picked out another one that she really, really likes so I thought, right, that one should go to you. So I put this one up for sale, whether it will sell or not, I don’t know, I don’t mind.
FK: We do, yeah, we, members do sell quite a bit at our exhibition which is always very popular with the local people and the library always gives us good feedback on it (KM yes) which is always very satisfying for us [KM: yes]
KM: It’s very nice to have a quilt show where you’re not just sort of making do with a room but there’s a whole exhibition area and Swiss Cottage Library is wonderful
FK: It is a, it’s an iconic building [KM: wonderful] it has a dedicated gallery [KM: yes] with lovely white walls [KM: yes] and our quilts do look, all our work looks excellent displayed there [KM: yes]
KM: They’re hung correctly and it’s a Basil Spence building, isn’t it and it was beautifully designed
FK: Yes, and well lit. We really enjoy…
KM: And we had Tracy Chevalier to open our latest quilt show, didn’t we [FK: yes] and that was very nice and she’s got interested in quilting, which is. This is what is so nice about quilting. You, something happens and you get people hooked and brought into the quilting world. [FK: yes] People who don’t understand patchwork and quilting sort of go blank if you mention it but really it’s a whole lively colourful world there [FK: yes, it can add so much to somebody’s life] yes and I like to think I’ve brought a lot of people to patchwork and quilting because it’s so enjoyable.
FK: I think you have and that’s, that is a lovely memory to have. And we have just enjoyed a visit with one of those people at lunchtime haven’t we?
KM: Yes we have.
FK: A dear old friend who unfortunately hasn’t got the eyesight now to be able to join in but it added a lot to her retirement to be at your weekly classes [KM: yup] and there must be many more like her [laughs].
KM: Yes. I was an infant teacher to start with and I think there’s a certain similarity. You know, helping people along a little bit, you know, getting them going and I think this. Probably what [FM: mm, sure] attracted me to that attracted me to this teaching that I do.
FK: Yes, I’m sure there’s a parallel there as you say, yes. I was just thinking of something a minute ago there, it’s just mm. Just thinking of all the quilts you’ve got stored downstairs in your great bit wooden chest, and the one you have hanging in your room with the, all the Amish girls.
KM: Yes, all the little Amish girls,
FK: Is that an important quilt or…?
KM: I saw that design in an exhibition and I just felt desperate to make it ‘cos I really, really liked it and I tried desperately to get in touch with the maker and I couldn’t but I was going away on a quilting holiday and I thought, well. I’d taken a photograph so I just worked out the pattern and I hope whoever made the original quilt doesn’t mind me copying it, but, um.
FK: And what is the pattern? I will take a picture.
0:39:30 KM: It’s just little Amish ladies and they’re just holding a basket between them. It’s obviously got produce in or something. But they’ve just got little headdresses, little scarves and no face and just [FK: the long dress] dolls – it’s you know, children like dolls and I still like dolls.
FK: …and each one’s in a different fabric?
KM: Yes, nice choosing all the skirts and the dresses and the headdresses. (FK: and the colour scheme?) It doesn’t appeal to a lot of people but I really love it.
FK: The colour scheme was?
KM: It’s a pale background with all these different colours on it.
FK darker colours? [KM: Yes.] Which all work together, yes. Yes. It’s quite effective and striking. Yes. And any other special ones in your collection?
KM: Yes. The Mexican Star which I really like that one.
FK: I’m glad you’ve mentioned that.
KM: I nearly chose that as my favourite one, ‘cos I saw that pattern again in a quilt show and thought ‘I’ve got to make that.’
FK: Can you just remind me what that pattern is? I know I was very struck by it when you first showed it.
KM: It’s just, it’s partly star shapes and it’s partly folded patchwork but I think I’d need a photograph to describe for you to understand. I saw that and I came home and I worked out, I took a photograph and I worked out the pattern which is not terribly complicated but took some working out and then a couple of years later I looked up Mexican Star on the internet and there was all the pattern all worked out for me! [Laughs] But I’d done it and I’d taught it and I’d made miniature ones of it and I was very pleased. I’d made a little miniature one which sold at the last London Quilter’s show. We had Japanese visitors. Somebody said to me ‘just you watch, they will do their shopping and then they will look at the exhibition’ and sure enough they all honed into the shopping, somebody bought my little Mexican Star and then they enjoyed the exhibition so maybe they were sensible, got to the good things first! [Laughs].
FK: So that went to a good home.
KM: I hope so, yes. So it was a really fun day with the Japanese ladies. We none, hardly any of us spoke the same language but, did you go?
FK: Ah no, I wasn’t there.
KM: And we went to Linda Seward’s house ‘cos she was Chairman of London Quilters and it was such fun. I mean, very little language but so much laughing and so much ‘show and tell’ and they were a really lovely bunch of ladies. It’s true about quilting, it doesn’t matter what nation you are, everybody understands.
FK: Yes, It’s a real bond. Yes.
KM: It is.
KM: And the most embarrassing thing was there we had got little rolls of lovely Liberty fabric which we handed out to everybody and then they opened their bags and purses and out came all these gorgeous Japanese fabrics and items which they just spread on the table and said ‘for you’. All the ladies, and ours looked so meagre, imagine we’re entertaining them but they’d come over to see the quilting exhibition at the V&A and came to our exhibition too which coincided very nicely.
FK: It was about four years ago wasn’t it?
KM: It was, yes,
FK: The big exhibition.
KM: Yes. Was it four years ago?
FK: Well, yes, because Lucy’s just been Chair for three and Linda was before Lucy.
KM: Yes, yes, it’s true, but that was a wonderful exhibition, wasn’t it? [FK: Yes] At the V&A. I went five times I think [FK laughs] cos ah…
FK: And it must have brought quilting to the attention [KM: Yes] of many people.
KM: They, I believe it was said that the curator said ‘we haven’t had a quilt exhibition because we don’t think it will be popular’ and they had more people to the quilt exhibition than to any previous exhibition. Amazing!
FK: Well isn’t that great and that speaks for itself [KM: yes it does] Yes, it’s true, although there’s been this resurgence of interest in the last fifteen years or so it’s still been difficult to get exhibitions [KM: yes] but that seems to be coming finally.
KM: Yes, and that was a worthwhile exhibition and the recent exhibition at Danson House was a beautiful exhibition, beautifully curated. I do find the big Birmingham one almost too big. And the same when we went to Houston many years ago. It’s so big, we went for three days and we didn’t see anything like all of it. But, sometimes the small exhibition with choice pieces and good explanations is the best, I think. Then you remember them.
FK: Yes, I made a point of going to that and that’s the first one I’ve been to where there were so few exhibits but…
KM: It was lovely, about, what perhaps thirty exhibits all together, something like that. I’m not quite sure. [FK: Yeah as you say, beautifully] Four rooms with just a few in each and it was lovely. Very interesting. [FK: Yes, yes, well] [pause] Is that it?
KM: Well, we’ve had a lovely chat.
FK: We have had a lovely chat, yes. Heard about a lot and I’m looking forward now to taking photos of your main quilt, the one you’ve chosen [KM: yes] boy/girl but also many of your other pieces of work which are all around the house. [KM: Right] Lovely to get a collection of photos [KM: good] and it’s been really interesting and informative for me because it certainly, thirty-five years, that really has been a life in quilting and all the different experiences you’ve had during that time.
KM: So, it’s brought me a lot of good friends and a lot of interest.
FK: Is that how you would, [KM: Yes] that’s how you would summarise it [KM: Yes], looking back on it? You’ve done a lot of exploring.
KM: A colourful life! [Both laugh] Taken me to different places all over the world, you know, and I’ve looked out for quilt shops and never forget going to America the first time. My neck ached with looking round for quilt shop signs, ‘cos they’re tucked away you know. Not in the middle of towns but just on different roads and I, no…
FK: And you had a, one special trip to America, didn’t you?
KM: Oh yes, we went, I organised a trip for eight of us to go to Huston. We went to Philadelphia and then went into Amish country, to Lancaster County, visited some Amish people.
FK: And this was some time ago?
KM: Yes, this was in the early 80s I think, and oh, we went to quilt shops and we went to quilt barns and then we went to Houston to the big quilt show there. So it was all great fun!
FK: Yes, and really when it wasn’t so well known about over here. [KM: yes] So that must have been quite a pioneering trip.
KM: Yes, and since then I’ve been to Paducah which is a lovely, another big show in the States. So it’s a good excuse to travel.
FK: So, many aspects of the world of quilting, yeah, lovely. Well, I have always enjoyed seeing your work and the variety of it and the beautiful results you get and that’s been a treat to sit and chat this afternoon and hear much more about your life in quilting.
KM: Thank you.
FK: So we can stop there at the moment but if there’s anything we remember we can always add it.
KM: Right. [Microphone noise]
KM: … a quilt that had been handed into the hospice shop and it was just about ages with the house [FK: oh] so [microphone noise]
FK: And somebody rang you up and said
KM: So Chiltern Radio rung me up [microphone noise] and said could they interview me so I sat in that chair feeling really nervous waiting for them, but it was really easy to talk to them.
FK: So you were interviewed by Chiltern Radio because they heard…
KM: I don’t think anybody heard it! [FK laughs] Nobody ever said ‘I heard you on the radio!’ [both laugh] so I think it went out to a probably non-receptive audience as far as quilts were concerned.
FK: Ah. So they’d heard you’d got a quilt the same age as your house!
KM: Well I acquired this quilt and then we bought this house. So the guy said ‘I hear you’ve bought a house to go with the quilt you’ve just been given!’ [laughs] It was a bit of fun!
FK: So that’s a catchy title! Have you still got the quilt?
KM: Yes, I’ve still got the quilt.
FK: I’ll enjoy having a look at that as well. [KM: Right.] Actually I’m looking at the picture above your mantle piece in your room with many cushions that you’ve made and quilted and with your Japanese, your favourite Japanese wall hanging which, that you talked about and above your mantle piece you have an interesting picture. Perhaps you’d like to tell us about that as well?
KM: Yes, it’s a print by Dendy Sadler. It’s a coloured print of two ladies, it’s called ‘Almost Done’ and they’re holding a quilt between them. Obviously it’s supposed to be just finishing it off I think but it’s in a room very similar to the one we’re sitting in, aged, this house is 1859 and the print was much the same, same era, [coughs] and the colour scheme is the same as we’ve got so it’s… my sister found it for me in an auction, couldn’t resist buying it [coughs] and gave me an early Christmas present in November. She couldn’t wait any longer to give it to me.
FK: It’s perfect!
KM: It’s perfect and the ladies are obviously in their long dresses and the older lady’s got a bonnet on and I often think that people dressed like that must have sat in this room. Perhaps done some quilting, perhaps not [laughs].
FK: Such a lovely thought. You have it on a soft pale grey wall and actually the panelled walls in the picture are a very similar…
KM: The same.
FK: Soft pale grey! And the fireplace is quite similar.
KM: Dendy Sadler used to paint people’s hobbies. He paints golfers and he paints maids doing things and [FK: ah] sporting things very often but this I hadn’t seen before.
FK: It’s lovely, I will enjoy having a close look at that.
KM: And when it’s one of the first editions, he puts a little four poster bed on it [FK: I was wondering what that was] on the bottom to indicate it’s one of the first reproductions from it [FK: yes, it’s on the frame] of the print [FK: In the margin] mm [FK: The mount. Yes. Ah. How lovely to have that]. Yes it’s perfect for this house, isn’t it? [FK: Completely] I ought to bring it to London Quilters and show them some time, shouldn’t I? [FK: Yeah] They’d be quite, quite interested.
FK: They’d be interested, yes. Yes. That’s another lovely aspect of our history and as you say, a lovely thought that there could have been someone sitting in your own living room.
KM: Doing the same sort of thing.
FK: Yes, enjoyed the same interest. Well and for practical reasons of course then. That’s definitely a bed-sized quilt in the picture
KM: Definitely. Yes. It’s big blocks. [FK yes. That’s lovely.] [Pause, then microphone noise]
FK: Starting again because I’ve been sitting with a beautiful book on my lap that of course I’d forgotten about while we’ve been talking and Kath had just given me this book before we started and she had this great idea of composing her own book as people have been doing recently with collections of photos from their travels or a special event but Kath’s put this book together based on all her quilting work. So, Kath can you…
KM: Yes, I’ve called it
FK: What would you like to tell us about your beautiful book?
KM: I’ve called it Years of Quilts and at the front I’ve put ‘This collection of photographs brings together some of the quilts that I’ve made over several years’ and I’ve listed things for my grandchildren, traditional designs, Japanese themes, house quilts, charity quilts and challenges and I just thought I’d make a record of all the quilts that I’ve got photographs of and made it on the internet. I put the cover I made with my boy and girl quilt and on the back I’ve got my Princess bed, [FK: the miniature] the miniature one and it’s just a nice record of all I’ve made. I just thought that if I give quilts away then I’ve got a little record of them and maybe my children will like it [laughs] to see what I’ve made over the years.
FK: It looks a reasonably thick book. So, do you know…
KM: I made it with Albelli Books and you can make them any size you like.
FK: Do you know roughly how many pieces of work you have in there?
KM: I’ve got, it’s eighty pages. So, sometimes there’s one or two quilts on one page and sometimes there’s little close ups of some of the quilts. But it’s quite colourful and it’s quite a good record.
FK: That really is a great record of a lot of work. What’s that lovely one that made us both smile that you had in our last exhibition?
KM: Oh, the Swimmers quilt. One of our friends brought back fabric with some 1930s swimmers on and we were asked to make something out of it and we all thought how difficult that would be but I cut out my little swimmers and put them going round in more or less a circle and put lots of sequins in to indicate waves and water, put it on, and I don’t know, It does make you smile, ‘cos the swimmers look so prim! They’ve got little swimming suits that come down their legs a little bit.
FK: And the background is?
KM: It’s all sorts, [FK: it’s curved piecing, isn’t it?] Yes.
FK: So I think you’ve got the idea of movement in the background
KM: Yes. I made the curved thing at a workshop. Learned how to put all these curves together, and it made the perfect back-drop [laughs] for the swimmers.
FK: It absolutely works, yeah. Is there a particular knack of piecing curves?
KM: Mm, mm, no! [both laugh] I’m sure there is but. Yes, you pin the pieces together with several pins and sew over the pins on the machine and it all eases out.
FK: And infallibly you get a beautiful flat, smooth curve [laughs]. [KM: hopefully] A good join KN: hopefully, yes.] That is a lovely memory.
KM: The book was just lovely to do for me on the computer. It’s a very easy system using the Albelli one.
FK: And well worth doing. Such a lovely record of such much beautiful work. Yes a really good idea. And a book for you to treasure. [KM: mm] I’m really glad you showed that to me! [Both laugh].