ID Number: TQ.2014.026
Name of interviewee: Linda Hencher
Name of interviewer: Dorothy Baird
Name of transcriber: Margaret Ferguson
Location: Linda Hencher’s home
Address: Wath, North Yorkshire
Date: 17 September 2014
Length of interview: 0:21:28
Linda is a storyteller who uses quilting terms in her stories, she brings to her interview a set of quilted items including two crazy patchwork bags, a quilted cushion and quilted pennant. In the interview Linda talks broadly about her interest in crafts and what attracted her to patchwork. About halfway through the interview she describes some of the stories she has based on quilting blocks and how she goes about writing and illustrating them, as well as explaining her role as a storyteller.
Dorothy Baird [DB]: My name is Dorothy Baird and I’m meeting with storyteller and quilter Linda Hencher in the beautiful village of Wath in North Yorkshire. Today is Wednesday 17th September 2014 and the time now is just about 10.45 in the morning. Good morning, Linda.
Linda Hencher [LH]: Good morning, Dorothy.
DB: Thank you for talking to us. Now then you have beside us, not a quilt, but you have some crazy patchwork items you’ve made and also a log cabin cushion. So just begin by telling me something of these crazy patchwork pieces you have.
LH: Well, one of them is made from fabrics that I dyed on a course down at Great Missenden Abbey and it had sat in a cupboard for a long time and I fished it out and thought ‘It is really rather nice. I’ll try and make a crazy patchwork bag’ and so that was the start of that and then I had the other fabrics, the red and the gold fabrics and I thought they would also make quite a nice bag. Maybe one day they’ll get used but… and I enjoyed doing them. I like the design of crazy patchwork and the putting them together with sewing machine and trying out different embroidery stitches to put them together so, yes, those are the patchwork bags I’ve made.
DB: Now you’re not strictly speaking a quilter in your eyes, are you?
LH: No, I’m not, no.
DB: Even though you’re making quilted items, patchwork items. Tell me a little bit about how you came to an interest in quilting.
LH: Well, I’ve always been interested in sewing. I think my mother taught me to sew and I’ve always had a sewing machine and I really enjoy making things. I remember going round the American Museum in Bath looking at the beautiful quilts there because I lived down there at one point and so patchwork… there’s always been an interest in patchwork and I like the patterns of it. But I’m a person who likes the sewing machine and doesn’t have a lot of time, fiddling really, so hand embroidery, for example, isn’t really my thing. And, but, yes, there’s something very attractive about patchwork quilts and I’ve been to the Quilt Museum in York and admired all of those and thought, ‘mmm maybe, maybe one day’. Yes.
DB: Have you a kind of history of sewing in the family?
LH: My mother was a very practical woman and she used to make all my own, my clothes as a child so she taught me a lot more about sewing than I ever learned at school. Yes, she taught me how to put patterns together and how to construct things and so, yes, I’ve always known how to make things out of fabric and I’ve made things for pantos. There’s a unicorn on top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom and a flying pig and so… things like that get made, yes.
DB: But you are a very creative person, I mean, just looking around your home even your kitchen floor, I take it you painted it?
LH: Yes we did it between us, yes, the ceramics are mine.
DB: Right, so you like to dabble in a range of media.
LH: Yes, I’m a dabbler, yes rather than expert at anything really.
DB: You said you’d recently been in Italy on a…
LH: On a painting course, yes, watercolour painting. Yes we’re gradually getting a bit better, but, yes, I wouldn’t claim that I was a painter either, no.
DB: Now did you say to me you’d dyed some of the fabric?
LH: These fabrics, yes, it was a particular course which involved some printing, I mean the flower on there was a print and to be honest it’s so long ago now I can remember very little about how we did it, but it was a very interesting course and I spent, I think, a week, working with this teacher on this course for printing fabrics and, yeah, I enjoyed that a lot. Starting with white cotton and… mmm and so I have done batik in the past as well.
DB: So are both these pieces your…?
LH: No, those were pieces of fabric that have been given to me by somebody and were sitting in a box.
DB: This is the red and gold…
LH: The red and gold one, yes, they were sitting in a box and I thought they would make quite a nice patchwork, small patchwork like a bag, yeah.
DB: But you’ve got a bit of a history because you said going back a while you made this log cabin ..
LH: Yes the log cabin, it has been around a long, long time so obviously at some point I was really taken with patchwork and patterns and piecing them together. I remember cutting out the strips for the log pattern, for the log cabin pattern, putting them together and working on it with old Laura Ashley fabrics so, yes, it’s something that was there obviously that I enjoyed doing.
DB: In going back a little, I mean I’m trying to think when we all loved our Laura Ashley fabrics, it would be eighties, seventies?
LH: It probably would have been, yeah, yes.
DB: We had access to a lot of these lovely fabrics.
LH: We did, yes we did. And you could buy them as just bits and pieces, couldn’t you, you know? I’ve still got a drawer with all sorts of bits in that I get out if I want to make anything now and look at them., yeah.
DB: So can you just remind me of how we met, the circumstances under which we met in the first place.
LH: It was at a traditional Crafts Day at Ryedale Folk Museum where I was doing some storytelling and my husband was making musical instruments and I saw your stall about quilting and came to have a chat because I’d done some writing about patchwork patterns and because I was generally interested in quilting anyway, yes, so that was how we met.
DB: Dare you tell me a little bit about the patchwork stories? Or are you giving too much away?
LH: Oh no, no. I did some creative writing on a course in Ripon, run by the University of Leeds School of Continuing Education with a very good teacher and they would set a theme for each semester and one term they came up with the theme of patchwork, which we could interpret any way we chose and it’s a very wide topic and with a bit of thought, a bit of research I realised that what I really liked were all these names of all these patchwork patterns, you know, ‘delectable mountain’, ‘sunbeam’ ‘garden maze’ ‘railroad crossing’. They go on and on and looking on the internet there are all the pictures and you can see them. So I decided I’d, I would do that and so I put together quite a long list and would pick out a title and really I would just sit with the title and not consciously write, but just do a stream of consciousness writing just to see what came out, inspired by the title and produced these short stories which, most of them, have just a little quirk at the end in some way and so, yes, I had a set of stories. The first set that they were given in for assessment were illustrated and looking at the patterns on the internet I… then using, I think I was using PaintShop Pro as a computer program, working out how you would draw a square of the block of the pattern and then drawing it and colouring it in with different patterns that are available on the computer program. So I could illustrate them with that kind of patchwork block to show what the pattern itself would be.
DB: How many of these stories have you written so far?
LH: I think there must have been about, I think there must be about twenty or so now, yes, yes. I mean I think I originally did about eight for the assessment, but then I got into it and I kept going and doing it in that way you never quite know what’s going to come up, you know. It’s not like you’re plotting a novel and sitting thinking ‘these are my characters’, you just sit and write and see what happens, which is quite exciting.
DB: Do you have a favourite one, a favourite block story?
LH: I think my favourite is and probably one of the better ones is ‘Kaleidoscope’ and that I think was probably my favourite story and, yes, I quite liked the block and the story was about a little boy who had a present from his mother who’d left, a kaleidoscope and how magical it was and this was his connection with his mother and then in the end his friend took the kaleidoscope apart and it fell into bits and he realised, y’know this was life really. So… yeah, I enjoyed that and, yes, so there are a lot of them that I liked and, yeah.
DB: This was a good title for you, a good theme, wasn’t it?
LH: It was a very good theme, yes it was, because it suited my brain and yeah we did a lot on life story which is totally different, but this was a good project and it suited me. Yes, so I enjoyed doing them. [DB: Yes.] And they’re sitting here waiting for something to happen to them and every now and again I think ‘well, I’ll put a book together called A Quilter’s Coffee Break’ because they could be read in a coffee break. I did actually contact a lady and I meant to look up her name, who lives over in Maryport, who has written quite a few quilting books and we went over and spent a day with her and chatted about the possibility of doing a book which incorporated material on quilting that might match these stories and my fiction, but in fact publishing a book of fiction and non-fiction together seems something that just doesn’t work for publishers so that didn’t come to anything.
DB: There’s a whole wide world of quilters out there [laughter] clamouring ….
LH: Yes, that’s right so yes we might have a look at it.
DB: But you are a professional storyteller, aren’t you?
LH: Professional in that I occasionally get paid, [laughter] yes. We, my husband and I both do storytelling, in fact we run a storytelling circle which was here last night. There were six storytellers last night, sometimes we have visitors, occasionally one or two other tellers come and we spend a couple of hours telling stories to each other. One of them would like to be a professional and earn some, make more money at it and he’s very good. Two young women who come are both very good but have other jobs, you know. Yes, so I really enjoy storytelling and actually as a profession, it is really growing in England, there are a lot of professional storytellers who are very good around the country.
DB: It’s almost inbuilt in us, isn’t it?
LH: It is, it is…
DB: The need to relate and pass things on…
LH: Yes it is
DB: … and tell stories
0:11:34 LH: It is and it’s interesting because it seems like the pattern of the thought always goes ‘we’ve got children, we need storytellers’ but in fact adults enjoy stories just as much as children and so yes, I like telling stories to adults. I’m quite happy working with schools, telling children stories, but adults are just as good to work with. Yeah they do enjoy storytelling.
DB: Going back to the patchwork theme, because you’ve spent time looking online, looking at books, images of blocks and patches, yet as a creative writer you’ve gone off in one direction, but do you think it’s nudged you in the direction of further sewing or investigating it as an art form really, like your painting?
LH: It could well do, yes, I mean, it just depends how life takes you, but as I say, I do enjoy creating things and I have… I made a patchwork case for a friend for her mobile phone because her mother had died and left these lovely pieces of fabric, ideal for patchwork and she gave me these because she thought I would use them more than she would and so I thought it would be really nice to make her something that came from her mother and so, yes, when that idea comes up then I can feel inspired to have a go at things and it just depends on the time really.
DB: Because of course you do travel a lot, don’t you?
LH: Well, we’re travelling a bit this year but I think soon the travelling will be ended for a lot of time, yes, for lengthy periods.
DB: Has it led you to think any more about quilting as an art form? You go to the Quilt Museum in Bath.
LH: Yes, I’ve been to the Quilt Museum a few times because I really do enjoy looking at it. We did think of doing a wall-hanging for the village hall but in the end that never got off the ground and that would have probably included appliqué and maybe some patchwork, maybe quilting because we could do with a bit more soundproofing in the village hall really. So yes, I suppose I enjoy sewing and therefore I enjoy making things and designing things, so yes I could see that I may well move that way eventually.
DB: So when the travelling stops. [LH: Yes] And you’re a little bit more stationary.
LH: Yes, that’s right we might… I might be moving towards… I mean I’m sure I would never be without my sewing machine but, yes, I do enjoy designing and sewing things. I did a lot of batik at one point.
DB: Yes, you were saying. How did you get into that?
LH: Again I went and did a weekend course, living in the south that was at West Dean College and in fact I went back for two or three weekends there and I still have quite a few of the bits of batik that I used and some have been turned into handkerchiefs for my husband and a scarf, here and there. I even started wearing one or two of the scarves I did so, yes, it’s another hobby that’s sort of… I don’t think I would ever take it up again. I still have the tjanting, the wax and some of the dyes, but I don’t have the frames anymore.
DB: Good. Do you think that if there were for example a group of quilters, you know you talk about quilt groups quilting, quilting bees, people who get together and meet would you ever consider storytelling in that situation? Do think your story’s worth transferring to that sort of setting?
LH: Yes, it possibly would, yes. Yes, it’s not something I’d ever thought of really, but yes they may well do and you can find stories to match most circumstances in fact. You really can and so, yes, that would be another possibility.
DB: You could open up a whole new world here, couldn’t you?
LH: I could, couldn’t I? Yes [laughter].
DB: You could have the amazing… how many stories did you say you’d written? Twenty?
LH: The quilting stories? Yes, I mean none of them are actually directly about quilts, they’re just stories inspired by quilts…
DB: … inspired by the quilts…
LH: … but I think there are about twenty there, yes.
DB: You could create a marvellous wall hanging for your village hall [laughter] based on all your quilt blocks.
LH: Yes, I could, yes.
DB: And how do you see your role as storyteller developing? Do you see it changing again if you slow down on the travelling, how do you see that going?
LH: I think probably now at my age I would see it just jogging along really. We keep the storytelling circle going once a month, we enjoy it, we have run storytelling workshops, we do hope to do another one. Ryedale gave us some funding to run workshops and we do still have a sum of money left in the account to employ professional storytellers to do a workshop in the afternoon and then to do an evening performance with a professional doing one story and sort of interleaving the professional with us. And so that is on… in our plans for next year, hopefully. And then doing the occasional event like the Ryedale Folk Museum one, where people phone up and say ‘can you come and do some stories for us?’ and we did some at the school in Ampleforth, the prep school in Ampleforth this year. So we’ve got a range of stories that will meet sort of any event, any eventuality really and we’ve done some really strange ones. I was Dorothy Wordsworth, I made a Dorothy Wordsworth costume and was Dorothy Wordsworth at the top of Sutton Bank because she walked from Thirsk, she walked from Thirsk to Helmsley one day up Sutton Bank and this was the finish of a project in the North York Moors called the Leader Project and they were having a day there. There were five storytellers up there and so I told the story of Dorothy walking up the bank and getting to Helmsley and there’s a witch… I told a bit of a witch story on the way across, you know and so, yes, that kind of story.
DB: Yes, I know you make pantomime costumes and props and you said you made your Dorothy Wordsworth costume. Does your storytelling generally involve costume and costume making?
LH: It can do. I also have a Tudor dress, and I have used that for storytelling, which I made and I made my husband his hose and so, yes, he can go out there in his red and black hose for storytelling too. So we have done some in costume and I have a medieval grey wool dress for being a peasant, yes, so sometimes it does involve costume.
DB: So I assume there the sewing machine comes in a lot? [LH: Oh yes.] I was wondering where does the sewing machine fit into all this, but clearly you do sew.
DB: Quite a lot.
LH: Quite a lot, yes certainly we’ve done nine pantos in the village and so I have a wardrobe of costumes there of all kinds really and the thing about panto costumes is they don’t have to be finished off perfectly. They need to look good on the stage and so yes, I’ve enjoyed that and so come January, February, when we’re doing the panto, out comes the machine and I’ve actually branched off into making shirts this year, having found some nice fabrics. Yes.
DB: Excellent. Well thank you, Linda, very much indeed. That’s absolutely fascinating and we as quilters will all look out for your book, compilation or whatever you decide to do with your stories because it’s absolutely fascinating, it really is. Thank you for talking to me.
LH: Well, thank you for interviewing me.