ID Number: TQ.2014.028
Name of Interviewee: Mandy Craven
Name of Interviewer: Liz Savage
Name of Transcriber: Liz Savage
Location: Mandy’s home
Address: Neath, Port Talbot
Date: 28 August 2014
Length of interview: 0:17:22
Mandy’s quilt, ‘Button Town’, is adapted from a pattern she bought in America. The pattern appealed to her because of the folk art style, and she made it using favourite fabrics on a new sewing machine and even had a go at making her own bias binding. Later she talks about how her interest in sewing led to a quilting course at Neath College, her love for both hand and machine sewing and the reaction of her friend to a special quilt Christmas present.
Liz Savage [LS]: Hello Mandy
Mandy [MC]: Hello Liz.
LS: It’s nice to see you. Can you tell me about the quilt we’re talking about today, please?
MC: Certainly. This quilt is called ‘Buttontown’ and I saw the pattern when I went to Salem, Massachusetts in 2009 and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s primarily squares sewn together in the centre with a very folk art style housing scene at the top and the bottom on a sort of simulated sky background. I immediately… anything I see that has houses, particularly in a folk art style, I absolutely light up, and I had to have the pattern. Having said that it took me another two years to make it and I altered it slightly. There were five houses on the pattern and, I don’t even know why, I made it with seven houses. I can’t [LS: I can see, yes] even remember why I did it looking back but there you are I did it and I’m quite pleased with the result. It’s by far from being a perfect quilt but I love it.
LS: Can you tell me something about the fabrics you used because they are of a certain sort.
MC: Yes, the fabrics are all earthy in tones, sort of ranging from creams and taupe’s right the way to almost blacks. Very American, I would say, in style, and I think quite a lot of them are reproduction civil war fabrics which is a real favourite of mine, I love anything to do with reproduction civil war fabrics, and that’s what I’ve used. There is a bias seam going across to sort of simulate a garden and I had to make the bias myself, it was the first time I ever made bias binding, which is bias binding is when you cut the fabric at a right angle so it sort of ebbs and flows on the fabric. It would not stand up to scrutiny, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was pleased with it having never done it before.
LS: There are lots of buttons on this quilt.
MC: Yes, hence the name ‘Buttontown’. All of the houses, there are 14 houses in all and all of the windows, if you like, are buttons. All, again, in earthy tones. Different sizes, some have got textures on them, some have got four points to be stitched on, some have only got two. They are nearly all from Liberty’s which is the famous store in London and when I bought them my daughter was in her first year in the Conservatoire in London studying music. So this makes me think of her as well because she was with me when I bought quite a lot of them.
LS: And your quilt is hanging on the wall and it’s going to stay on the wall.
MC: It’s staying on the wall and I altered the size of it from the actual pattern because I wanted it to fit on the wall that it’s hanging on. The wall that it’s hanging on has got wooden panelling going all the way round. So, it was a specific size that I cut it and made it and adjusted it and a lot of maths was involved and I’m quite pleased that it all worked out really well.
LS: So, what are the measurements of the quilt now?
MC: Crikey! The measurements of the quilt are, the actual width of the quilt is 42 inches and the height of the quilt is 58 inches.
LS: What’s on the backing, Mandy?
MC: The backing is the same, it’s got little stars all over it. I’ve got to confess. I’d completely forgotten what I put on the backing, because it certainly is not civil war fabric, and probably if I was to do it all again, I would have chosen a different fabric.
LS: You can’t see it anyway.
MC: Yes. And I think it was probably what I had to hand, in tone and sort of quantity. Me being me I couldn’t wait to finish it, in terms of that I didn’t want to go shopping for anything else. So I just used what was to hand but it’s fine.
LS: When exactly did you make it?
MC: I bought a new sewing machine in October 2011 and this was the first thing I made on my new sewing machine with all the fancy stitches. Because the houses are all appliqued onto the quilt, using a fusible webbing which is like an interfacing. It’s just something that you iron on to the back of the pieces for the houses, you peel it away, it’s got a tacky surface and then you carefully iron it on into place and then basically, I, with the machine, with the sewing machine, I used varying stitches then to actually make it permanently then and attach it to the quilt itself.
LS: How do you feel about this quilt? Do you think it’s been a great success?
MC: Yes, in as much as it suits the room, it suits my house and it gives me a nice warm feeling. That sounds cheesy but that’s exactly what it gives me.
LS: Let’s think about your career in quilting, if you like. When did you first start making quilts?
MC: Right, I‘ve always sewn so I’ve always loved anything to do with textures, textiles. I love tapestry, dressmaking, curtains. But I have always had a thing about quilting. But because my children were little and because I always worked full time, I could never afford the time to get into it because I knew it was an art in itself. But in 2004 I noticed that there was a quilt class in Neath College, being taught by a lady called Ellen and I signed up and I did two years under her tutelage until Ellen herself retired and loved every minute of it. Wonderful teacher.
LS: So that’s how you started quiltmaking, in the college.
LS: What do you enjoy doing? What are your preferred styles and techniques in quiltmaking?
MC: Well, I’ve always machine quilted because that’s just what I did, but a year ago exactly I was looking for something I could do ‘on the go’ and obviously machine quilting you can’t do ‘on the go’ so I started what is now known as English paper piecing, doing hexagons and I have really [noise of recorder moving] taken to it like a duck to water. I just enjoy the fact that you can throw it in your bag and it is in my bag all the time, no matter where I am, I can sew. I just like the whole portability of the thing and I quilt anywhere and everywhere. So I would say that to date, I probably enjoy hand sewing more than machine quilting because of the fact you can just pick it up, put it down, pick it up, put it down.
LS: Do you use any technology when you’re quiltmaking? Obviously you use a sewing machine?
MC: Yes. I have got quite a nice sewing machine in as much as it is computerised. Having said that I bought it because it’s supposedly got a really good motor with it and it will basically sew through layers and layers. It has got all the bells and whistles on it but I don’t tend to use those an awful lot. I use my laptop for looking on things like YouTube for tutorials and things like that but I know that American quiltmakers, you can buy packages to make your own patterns. I haven’t got anything like that but I’m open-minded, that’s not to say that in years down the road I wouldn’t buy something like that but I know it can be quite expensive so as of now I only use my laptop and my machine.
LS: We’ve spoken about quilting ‘on the go’ if you like, everywhere, so do you quilt all the time, wherever you go?
MC: I would say that it is rare if ever that I don’t sew. I sew daily because even if I’m travelling I take it with me. In fact I can’t imagine a journey without sewing, I just would go crazy.
LS: Can we talk about other people’s quilts? When you look at a quilt, when you go to an exhibition like the Festival of Quilts that we’ve just been to, what do you look for in a quilt or notice in a quilt?
MC: I’ve got quite firm ideas in what I love, because what I love, I absolutely love and go crazy for it and what I hate, I hate. That’s not to say that I can’t appreciate the artistry behind things like art quilts and very modern quilts. Of course I can appreciate how clever people are but art is all about what touches you, whether it’s music, theatre and what touches me is, I suppose, very traditional quilting. I love the Baltimore style of quilting, not that I’ve ever attempted anything like that myself. And the Dear Jane pattern of quiltmaking, that just leaves me in awe of their expertise. So I would say its traditional quilting that I just love.
LS: And following on from that, you get your ideas and inspiration from that kind of quilt then.
MC: Absolutely, yes, I’m an avid reader, full stop. I’m probably ashamed of the amount of quilt books I have. In my defence, I read them from cover to cover and refer back to them, it’s just ridiculous how much I… I just love reading about quilting and, you know, the history of quilts. So, yes, I’m embarrassed about how many quilt books I have.
LS: We’ve talked a bit or you’ve talked a bit about about hand and machine quilting, did you find it difficult to adapt to hand quilting after you’d done machine quilting or did you find it a process that came naturally to you?
MC: I’ve got to say, it did come naturally to me. I liked the rhythmic style of the English paper piecing. You almost go into like a trance, that sounds a bit stupid, I just like the fact that you’re just fitting basically what is a jigsaw puzzle. And no, I had no problems with it and without sounding cocky, I just literally took to it like a duck to water and could not stop doing it.
LS: To finish off then Mandy, unless there’s anything you want to add, why is quiltmaking important in your life?
MC: Sewing has always been a huge part of my life. Even in my teens when it was probably very uncool and I kept it quiet. And in my twenties, in my thirties, in my forties and now in my fifties, I cannot imagine my life without sewing basically. My mind is always teeming with ideas, it just gets me so excited and long may it continue. I just love it, I do it daily. I think it’s just such a creative process and I think it’s so inclusive as well. Even with my family, none of them sew, they’re all so enthusiastic and just generous about what I make. I make a lot of quilts for my family. In particular, my dearest and my best friend who I’ve known since I was four, I made her a bed quilt in an Ohio Star pattern in what I know are her colours. I made it for her for Christmas three or four years ago. I wrapped it up and took it up to her on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas day I had a phone call and all I could hear was just soft crying, she was so overwhelmed that I’d made this for her and of course I’d labelled it and I put on the back of the quilt ‘The road to a friend’s house is never very far’ which is literally, she lives seven houses away, but even if she lived miles away, the road to a friend’s house isn’t very far. She was overwhelmed and I was so pleased to do that.
LS: You were both probably crying on the phone.
MC: Yes we were actually.
LS: Thank you very much Mandy, that was wonderful.