ID Number: TQ.2015.015
Name of interviewee: Margaret Boe
Name of interviewer: Carole Lenagan
Name of transcriber: Michele Webster
Location: Margaret’s home
Date: 5 May 2015
Length of interview: 0:29:25
Margaret talks about her first quilt, a traditional four-patch sampler quilt. It was initially made as a cushion, then remade as a quilt and re-quilted on the advice of a quilt teacher. Margaret later discusses the experiences of making quilts for family, her eclectic mix of quilt-making styles and modestly describes why she was made an honorary member of The Quilters’ Guild through her involvement with the Young Quilters fundraising.
Carol Lenagan [CL]: This is Carole Lenagan interviewing Margaret Boe TQ.2015.015 at Margaret’s house in Edinburgh and the date is the 5th May 2015. Margaret, can you tell me about your lovely quilt please?
Margaret Boe [MB]: Well it’s my first big quilt that I made. I couldn’t remember when I made it but actually when I got it out the cupboard I discovered that it was made in 1997 and it’s a very traditional quilt, just blocks, mostly four-patch but some various ones. And I don’t know, would you like to know how it got started as a quilt?
CL: I would love to know that.
MB: Well I learned patchwork with Joyce Murray at a Council day class and I made this panel here which is a Martha Washington Star and I loved it and I was terribly proud ‘cos it was in the class exhibition and I thought that was wonderful but when I went to see the exhibition and I saw it sitting there I thought ‘that would look lovely on a quilt’ so I unpicked the cushion and made all the other blocks to go with it. Further to that I had this hand-quilted and I think actually its hand-pieced as well, hand quilted and round every single shape ¼ inch in was my hand quilting. I had just one more block to make and there was an exhibition in the Fruit Gallery in Edinburgh, not the Fruit [CL: Fruit Market?] City Gallery, City Market, [CL: City Art Centre?] City Art Centre, that’s the one! And I had volunteered to be on duty, still very much a beginner quilter, and I sat beside somebody and I cannot remember who it was but somebody well known in the Edinburgh quilting field and a teacher and we were chatting and she said to me and, you know, ‘what quilts do you make?’ and I proudly said I was on my first quilt and we talked about it and I said I had all this quilting on it and everything and she said, ‘oh dear I wouldn’t have let you do it that way’ [both laugh] and I said ‘oh’ she said. Excuse me, I’m sorry I didn’t have any quilting on it [CL: so it was before you quilted?] No, no I’m right, sorry, I had the quilting on it and she said ‘I wouldn’t have done it that way because you’ve got the difficulty of joining all the blocks and getting the sashing right and the wadding right between the blocks and such like’.
CL: May I just ask you were you quilting it block by block?
MB: Block by block, yes. [CL: You were quilting it as you go?] She said ‘I would have just joined all the blocks and then quilted it and you wouldn’t have had the bother of getting the sashing and everything.’ So, like a dumb idiot I went home and thought ‘that teacher knows best’ so I took out all the hand quilting on all the blocks, made the extra block, put it together and I can assure you it is hand quilted, but it is not hand quilted round every single shape ¼ inch in [laughs] that was just a step too far!
CL: Margaret it’s a lovely quilt, and a lovely story, but your blocks are all different. You start off with your Martha Washington Star in the centre and then you have other blocks on this quilt.
MB: Mm. There’s Ohio Star, there’s Trip Around the World, there’s Drunkard’s Path, there’s Grandmother’s Fan, there’s Dresden Plate, all the traditional blocks which really at that time I thought that was what patchwork was.
CL: So it’s a Sampler Quilt.
MB: It’s a Sampler Quilt, yes.
CL: And it’s really great. How did you choose the colours?
MB: I like pink and green. So it really wasn’t hard to choose the colours [laughs] and it was for our bed and at that time I must have had something that went with it! And it was used for many years but of course the main problem with it and why I really stopped using it regularly was [I] used polyester wadding as one did and the polyester wadding beards as you can see all the wee tufts coming through so after many years I got another quilt for my main bed and this is my, slightly crushed because it is kept in a cupboard but I couldn’t possibly throw it out! [Laughs].
CL: Quite right and the backing?
MB: The backing is just a nice piece of green and floral fabric again with pink flowers on it and it must have just been from the patchwork shop, not that there were many of them around!
CL: I was going to ask you where you managed to find your fabrics.
MB: I wonder if, Purely Patchwork in Linlithgow was maybe open by then because after I had been to the class with Joyce Murray, I and Pat Archibald started Purely Patchwork in Linlithgow, that’s where I went regularly for my classes. That was really where I learned to quilt [laughs].
CL: So which courses did you find most useful? Or maybe you can talk about some of the courses you took.
MB: Just whatever she sort of, a technique she was showing us how to do, you know. We did make a Christmas Sampler, which I have to say I never did finish, because it was sort of in the drawer to be finished and then by the time I got to be finished I’d actually improved a bit and thought I’m not going to finish that [laughs]. And we made one with 3-D, where you’ve got the impression of 3-D and that might be the only one that my kids will ever keep because it never hung properly so it’s got pound coins sewn in the bottom [laughs] to make, I believe you can get curtain rods or something suitable for that [CL: weights] but I have never come across them, so it’s got pound coins in the bottom. Golly, what else did I make? I made a waistcoat… really testing my memory, I can’t…
CL: Just a selection. Can I go back to this quilt? How, how did you, where did you find the quilt patterns? Did you use templates?
MB: I would use templates, not special plastic ones, they would be drawn out on a piece of card and used and I was trying to think today what book I used and I used a book called ‘Templates for 171 Four-patch Quilt Blocks’.
CL: ‘Templates for 171 Four-Patch Quilt Blocks’. [MB: yes] Goodness! Who was the author?
MB: Rita Weiss.
CL: Rita Weiss.
MB: Rita Weiss, ah ha. American School of Needlework.
CL: Thank you. So you describe yourself as an eclectic quilt maker in style [MB: absolutely] can you tell me about your style and how it evolved.
MB: I don’t know, I suppose I was traditional for a while and then I, when I became involved with The Quilters’ Guild and started meeting tutors from abroad and such like and then started going to workshops with them, and, still liking traditional, and I suppose it just crept up, side by side really, because I still like traditional and yet I do arty as well nowadays, you know. And then I did City and Guilds for four years in 19, ah 1999 I started City and Guilds.
CL: What do you think influenced your style most? The courses or the City and Guilds?
MB: The courses.
CL: The courses.
CL: And when you go and do a course, would you, what would happen to the projects you were doing on the course? You would do on the course. What then?
MB: Well sometimes it was finished in a few weeks. Sometimes it was finished five years later. Sometimes it’s still in the drawer! [Laughs].
CL: And would you follow the instructor’s design exactly?
MB: I prefer not to. You know you often look at quilts and that and say ‘oh that, they’ve been to a so-and-so’s workshop’ and I would rather change it ‘til, yes it’s from their workshop but it’s my, sometimes it’s just the fabric you can change. Other times add something to it to make it your own or change something to make it your own, you know?
CL: Where do you get your inspiration from? For making quilts?
MB: Lots of times it’s been challenges. You know, whether it’s been for The Quilters’ Guild or, you know, we’ve been lucky with the Loch Lomond Quilt Show for ten years, and knowing the girls who ran it then I supported them and I would try desperately to put at least two pieces in each year to Loch Lomond. Sometimes there’s just something that’s daft and comes across my mind. Or it might just be a Quilters’ Guild Regional Day when they have a challenge, you know for a just a small quilt. I have to say none of my children have quilts and none of my grand-children have quilts [laughs] except for the first one when she was two, my daughter phoned me one day and said ‘mum, I really could do maybe with a quilt, cos blankets are too heavy for this weather.’ You know I took a piece of fleece and a bit of cotton and I had lovely starry things on the fabric and I literally put them together and sewed squares round it. And I’m told that that night when it went on the wee one’s bed her daddy said to her ‘look what granny has made’ and she said ‘oh, wow!’ [both laugh]. And that’s about as far as I’ve got in giving the family quilts. I did make one for my father-in-law when he was 90 and traditionally he never… my mother-in-law and father-in-law, lovely people but they, if you gave them a gift it always went away in a drawer or cupboard, you never saw it again. So when somebody’s 90, had a stroke, in a nursing home and what am I going to do? So I made a little lap quilt, very basic, with that sort of flanelette-type fabric that, does it have a special name? I’m not sure [CL: I don’t know] no [CL: Brushed cotton?] brushed cotton, yes. And I made this very basic quilt. Well, this quilt was either on his lap or on his bed every single day and he’d proudly tell folk that his daughter-in-law had made it! His daughter-in-law was so ashamed of it ‘cos it was so basic [both laugh]. On the other hand my mother always sewed and knitted and everything so for her 90th I made a quilt, a Log Cabin quilt, hand quilted and I appliqued hearts and things on the corners with little messages. I knew that my mum would use it and everything. My mum put it in a bag behind her dressing table because it was far too good to go on a bed [both laugh]. But apart from that I have made two, one that’s sort of mock tartan to cousins who’s in South Africa, but I haven’t really made them for other people. Just, you know, people say to you ‘what are you going to do with them?’ and most of them I just keep! [Laughs].
CL: And do you have any quilts, any quilt challenges you’re thinking about just now?
MB: Yes, I’m in the middle of making one which is not to be entered into a contemporary challenge but inspired by a contemporary challenge and it’s a bit different, it’s based on a healthy heart and healthy eating and such like, so it has some fabric that’s been printed on my computer and it’s got some hand embroidery which I don’t normally do, and it will have some machine appliqué and machine quilting by the time it’s finished.
CL: Very nice. You mentioned that you entered quilts into the Loch Lomond, did you ever win?
MB: I have one or two rosettes or whatever, no they didn’t do rosettes did they, its certificates they did. And I won one year the hand quilting bowl, the Louise Mundie, Marie-Louise Mundie award for hand quilting, on a white, creamy-white background with blue stars made up of, they were all irregular and made up of scraps from the scrap basket.
CL: Do you prefer to buy fabric specifically for quilts or do you prefer to use scraps?
MB: I think, probably prefer, I think I’ve bought fabric mostly, you know specifically. But I’m trying very hard right now to use it all up [laughs] or open my own fabric shop, one or other! [Laughs].
CL: We just spoke very briefly about the fact you’d won the rosettes at Loch Lomond, but you also are an honorary member of The Quilters’ Guild which is a very prestigious thing. Why were you awarded honorary membership of the Quilters’ Guild?
MB: Well I think for services rendered, definitely not for quilting [laughs]. I’ve been an area rep, a YQ rep, Chair of British Quilt Study Group, Conference Officer for the Guild, a Trustee for The Guild, and then, I think the thing that maybe set them off was that I started the ‘wee bag’ fundraising in aid of the YQs which of course has raised actually over £10,000.
CL: I’m going to ask you to explain what a YQ is and perhaps explain a bit more about the ‘wee bag’.
MB: Right well, the young, YQ is short for Young Quilter and we’re trying to encourage young quilters because really there’s a whole generation who have not had stitching, you know. And nowadays the curriculum doesn’t seem to give them much scope for it in school and so we’re trying to encourage young quilters. Now I have never actually ran a YQ group, but when The Guild was their 25th anniversary I think it was, or silver anniversary and along with Hilary, whose second name escapes me right now, we organised a competition, a Scottish schools competition to be shown in an exhibition and it was interesting, ‘cos we wrote to all the schools in Scotland [laughs] and the one place that we didn’t get a response from was Edinburgh. You know you had to write to the Director of Education and then it would go out in the mailbag to all the schools and we had schools from all over the country and none from Edinburgh [CL: a pity] which was rather sad. And apart from that you know I have just been there to support the Young Quilters. I’m, I do sew with my own grand-daughters and I have actually sewn with my grandsons, I remember once one of them was off school and I think he was maybe about four or something and I was trying to do something and he said to me `you know, this is a granny job, mummy’s don’t sew’ and I think that just sums up the situation nowadays, you know, that trying to encourage them. One of my grand-daughters particularly loves doing it, they both enjoy working, and on the machine, you know I let them use my good machine.
CL: How old would a Young Quilter have to be?
MB: Up to 16, and then there’s another age group 16 to 25. That’s for competition entries you know. And I think they have to be over seven [CL: right] to actually be in the group, health and safety and such like.
CL: You mentioned something about £10,000 and bags, can you talk a little bit about that?
MB: Well, the Young Quilters nationally had been given a grant from Coates, the thread folk, and it was to be matched by our fundraising. And years ago I had used this principle of the wee bag and worked to raise money for, I worked with stroke patients and it was to raise money for that. So I just made a hundred little bags, just a bit of cotton folded over and a ribbon round the top and you’re always asking folk for money, whatever the charity, whatever you’re involved with, and some folk just don’t have it. They would like to help but they don’t have it. Well this was just to request to save twenty pence a week. And if we save twenty pence a week we would have ten pounds each inside. So I gave out a hundred bags. One of the other trustees and her husband thought this was a great idea so they, bless them, made hundreds of them [laughing] and it spread round the country and our total is now over £10,000, which has just been wonderful you know.
CL: That’s stunning. And do you teach Young Quilters’ groups?
CL: Just your own grandchildren [MB: laughing, just my own!] But what I know you do is you give talks to quilting groups. [MB: I do] What kind of talks do you give? What do you talk about?
MB: Well, I mix the quilts and the stories that go with them but I like to add a bit of humour and a bit of fun. You know it’s lovely, especially if you’re an interested quilter, to go and just watch folks holding up their quilts and saying ‘wow’ you know but I just, I’m a people-person and I’ve been used to talking. I’ve talked all my life! [laughs] Although I was slow to start, my brothers tell me, I haven’t stopped! And so I just enjoy taking my quilts, telling the stories, adding little funny stories that have nothing to do with quilting. I’ve got a cousin who’s very good at giving me little stories and then I can adapt them, I can take the characters and make them quilters or something. And just, I just do it for fun! Just for fun.
CL: That’s great. And I was going to say what so you do with the quilts that you’ve made? [MB: well] The one’s your family are not getting? [Both laugh].
MB: All my beds have quilts on them. And, as you can see, lots of things on the wall. And other things are just piled on top of the spare bed or if they’re small enough under the bed. And then I just use them for my talks.
CL: And this first quilt, is it your favourite bed quilt?
MB: I don’t think I have a favourite. ‘Cos I, of the quilts that are on the beds, there are reasons for liking them all, if you see what I mean [laughing]! The one that’s on my bed just now, I love it. But then I can’t claim it’s my own because I made it with my Tuesday group. There were four of us, a quadranium at the time we’re now six, we’ve had to change our name but… and we made it in secret for me to give to my husband for our ruby wedding. I think every quilter in Scotland knew about it but he didn’t and I made it at home, you know, as one does, you can’t just do it for two hours on a Tuesday. And we’ve made quilts together before and raffled them or given them away as prizes and ‘what are you going to do with that quilt?’ and I said ‘oh, a friend wants it’, ‘oh, I hope she’s paying for it’ he said [laughs] I said ‘she’s paid for the material’. ’ My goodness if she’s only paying for the material, she’s got a bargain!’ [both laugh] And so he was thrilled to bits when he got it. And now when I have to ask permission to take it to talks ‘It’s my quilt, you have to ask permission’ says he [laughs]. But it, and it did actually win the first prize at Loch Lomond for the group quilt, it is a lovely quilt.
CL: Thank you. And of your smaller, eclectic quilts, do you have a favourite of those? Do you have one that’s particularly dear to your heart?
MB: I love the one that’s in the lounge which is very modern, is just a splash of paint. ‘Colour run’ I think I called it because I couldn’t think of anything else. And that was made at a week-long workshop with Katie Pasquini Masopust from the States. A very hard-working workshop. Superb tutor. I was completely out of my comfort zone. We were painting, we were painting blind, we were painting to music, we were cutting up photos, we were enlarging, we were doing all sorts of modern techniques and I loved it. And I loved the piece that I ended up with. And I have a, I like my two Japanese ladies, with the mountain in the background. I also [laughs] have [laughs] a Klimt piece, that’s Picasso meets Klimt, and I love the piece, and someday I’ll do something about it because when I made it it was to go in an exhibition and I was going to put it as a picture in a picture frame and discovered, like two days before, that it had to have binding and everything on it so I used the only binding I had in the house that was remotely like it and I’ve hated the binding ever since and one of these days, ten, fifteen years since I started it, I’m going to change the binding and then it might become one of my favourite quilts [laughs]. That is, I like the quilt but not the binding.
CL: Talking about this quilt, you didn’t, can you talk about the binding on this quilt?
MB: How interesting [both laugh]! Oh, isn’t that interesting, I must have just doubled it over like a facing. I always do a, you know a double binding, but that certainly doesn’t have a double binding on it. I never actually…
CL: So how did you do that?
MB: Well it’s just the backing has been cut, the top and the wadding have been trimmed to size and the backing has been folded over like a facing in dressmaking I suppose. I’ve never noticed that [laughs].
CL: So you also put a border, a simple border round your, oh you put two borders round your quilt.
MB: Yes. That would be to make it to the right size for the bed. I would have added the, have the blocks and in between the blocks is probably a 2½ inch sashing and then I’ve got about a 4 inch border round. And it was interesting when I took this out I had forgotten that I had completely hand quilted it. And I ‘m very pleased with it actually! [Laughs].
CL: And nowadays would you hand quilt a big quilt?
MB: Probably not but I am actually sitting there practising my hand quilting because my Tuesday group, there are two ladies there whose hand quilting is absolutely exquisite and I keep thinking ‘I have to learn’ and they keep encouraging me saying ‘it has to be even, it doesn’t have to be minute’ you know but even to get even stitches is not easy.
CL: It’s not indeed. Why is quiltmaking important to you Margaret?
MB: Well, I like patchwork quilts. I went to school in America in 1963-64. I don’t recall being aware of patchwork, you know, because as I found out later it was out of fashion there as well. But I do like patchwork, I just like the look of it. And I like having a hobby. And I enjoy it. But I think the greatest thing has been the friendship that has developed through quilting. It’s a… you know, it doesn’t matter how, if you’re one of the world’s top ones or just a beginner, people will talk to you. It’s a very friendly hobby. I know it’s sort of looked down upon as a woman’s work as opposed to an art form, which is such a shame because the amount of work and creativity that goes into it, perhaps not if you’re just following a straight pattern, but I just. I mean you don’t do something for twenty odd years if you don’t get something out of it and it’s not just the thing that you make, it’s all the friendships and the help and understanding and swapping of ideas and just the camaraderie of it all. It’s just wonderful.
CL: Thank you. Is there anything? We’ve covered quite a lot about quilting. I wondered if there was anything else that you would like to say particularly about quilting and quilts. If there’s anything else you wanted to comment on? Or say about it?
MB: One of the things that is sad in a way that there is so little nowadays opportunity for people to do college courses and such, and I think is a financial thing, the colleges can make more money by doing different courses. But at the same time for a while there was this, not urgency, but to be anybody you had to have done City and Guilds. And I would say that yes, I learned to be more creative, to look at the world. I stop and stare at things and I find myself saying ‘look at that’ or you look at pattern, you don’t walk into a church saying ‘nice building’ you walk in and you look ‘oh look at these tiles’ and therefore that part of City and Guilds really developed for me. But I don’t burn things and use paper and melt this and do that, all the very arty techniques that they did in City and Guilds. And I do dye fabric occasionally and… but there was this pressure that you couldn’t be anybody unless you did City and Guilds and I hope that has passed because I’d say to folk ‘if you’re interested in doing it and developing your techniques and everything then there’s a wonderful opportunity but don’t feel that you’re not going to be wonderful just because you’ve not done City and Guilds.
CL: Thank you.
MB: Perhaps not a very good advert for City and Guilds [both laugh].
CL: I think you’re a wonderful advert [both laugh]! Thank you very much.
MB: Thank you.