ID number: TQ.2014.018
Name of Interviewee: Molly Blomeley
Name of Interviewer: Nicky Ryden
Name of Transcriber: Nicky Ryden
Location: Molly’s home
Address: Skelmanthorpe, Huddersfield
Date: 9 July 2014
Length of interview: 0:54:45
Molly’s quilt ‘Japanese Folded Patchwork’ was made to help fundraising for a local church. She then talks about how she got into quiltmaking and the quilts she has made, including buying remnants of fabric from the ‘Fent man’. Molly talks about her learning to sew as a child living in South Africa and her family still there, and their common interest in crafts. In the second half of the interview Molly discusses her experience of doing appliqué, sending quilts to be longarm quilted, design walls, being studio assistant to an Embriodery Lecturer and her knowledge of the cotton/ weaving industry in Manchester.
Nicky Ryden [NR]: Okay, it’s Wednesday, 9th July and we are in Skelmanthorpe, in the home of Molly Blomley [not Blomfield as stated on the tape] who has agreed to talk to me, Nicky Ryden for Talking Quilts. Thank you very much Molly for agreeing to do this, and I can see the quilt that you have chosen to talk about, so would you like to tell me a little bit about it, and about why you chose this one to talk about today.
Molly Blomley [MB]: I chose this particular quilt because it is the first quilt that I ever had for myself. I’ve made loads of quilts and given them away and never got round to doing one [for] myself. I was working from Bolton Infirmary at the time, and I went to see a patient in Horwich who had broken her wrist and wasn’t fit to travel into the hospital every day for physiotherapy. She then also said that she really wanted to know would she be able to sew again, and I said I was sure she would be able to and asked her what she did. The story came out how the vicar of the Methodist church in Horwich had got them all making quilts for church funds. The funds probably went to something specific but I can’t remember that now, and [NR: Right, yes] what they did was simple Japanese folded patchwork, hence this quilt. The green background… and quite a number of ladies participated, some only felt up to cutting out or some only felt up to drawing and then others who were more proficient with the needle [NR: Right, yes, yes] would do the sewing, so that it got shuttled between them and they all felt very useful because they were doing something that was bringing something in for the church. So the standard of the sewing varies tremendously, but I think that is part of the charm of it. The background, the green that was used to fold over was theirs and they had masses of it, but I didn’t particularly like… a lot of the squares were pink and I don’t really do a lot of pink, so I raided my stash and anything that is orange or very obviously ‘patchworky’ or an awful lot of checks and stripes are all mine. Or bits of Liberty [looking at and pointing out the different fabrics]. So an awful lot of the fabric was from my stash anyway.
NR: Right, yes. So although it was being made for you, there is lots of you in there!
MB: Yes, so it’s always been on the single bed, if anybody came to stay, as an extra quilt for them to have. And I just love it. I don’t have a single bed anymore because it’s my sewing room now, but I still have the quilt and it’s wonderful. And it’s one the dog’s not allowed to sleep on.
NR: So do you have any plans for it? I mean any… do you see a future for this quilt? In any particular way? Will it at some point in the future have a single bed to cover or…?
MB: Possibly, I don’t really know. I just like having it around, and I fold it and refold it so it’s not always got the same fabric showing. It’s just my nice special quilt.
NR: I think there is something really appealing about quilts that have that kind of uniform background with contrasting patterns on it, because you can spend a lot of time looking at it and seeing different things.
MB: Because it’s almost what people would call a scrap quilt, apart from the one colour that unifies it all, because there are no two squares the same. Every single infill is different, [looking at the quilt]. There is one the same…
NR: One or two of the checks look similar…
MB: Yes, I must have given two of everything. Long time since I looked at it in such detail [laughter].
NR: That is actually part of the fun of it, isn’t it? In a sense you commissioned these ladies to do this for you?
MB: What they normally made was double bed quilts and I didn’t want a double bed quilt, so I just asked them if they could modify it to a single bed quilt. Which they quite happily did, they also had very much bigger blocks when they made it and I don’t like very big blocks so I asked them to make the blocks smaller, which they quite happily did and I think I paid, what then seemed like a phenomenal price, I think I paid about £40.00 pounds for it [laughter] which now seems like nothing.
NR: Are you still in touch with any of those ladies?
MB: No, because it was a commission and you know… that was it. The lady recovered her movement in her hand quite nicely
NR: … and was happy she could carry on sewing. That was great. What about your interest in quilting Molly? You said that this was the first one you actually had for you, because you have made lots of other quilts and they have all gone to other people. So what started you off on quilting?
MB: I’d always had… I had seen somebody at work doing it, about 30 odd years ago, 35 years ago and it looked amazing and it seemed like something incredibly difficult and I couldn’t get my head round it at all. And then a group started up where I lived and we were all beginners as it were, and it really took off amazingly.
NR: Yes, for all of you?
MB: At the time three of ladies decided that they wanted to make a business of it, so they started up a limited company as it were. They were quite happy if you made anything, they would sell it for you. And in Monton at the time, which is a suburb of Manchester where I lived then, there was a shop that sold foam, you know you could have it cut to any size and that sort of thing, they did a deal with the shop, so in return for showing their wares in the window they would take it in turns to go and man the shop. So your work would get known, so I did all sorts of things. I used to do lots of cushion covers, I used to do funny bunnies with pockets underneath, just anything and everything really. Cot quilts… and then started getting commissions. People started to asking me to do something. I have been paid for the odd one, but you know it’s been nominally, it was just to cover the cost of the fabric. My daughter’s got the next biggest collection, she’s got three, the first one being made for when she went, when she went to school. I did her bedroom in Laura Ashley Sweet Pea fabric, which was all blue and yellow on a white background, she had curtains and duvet cover and pillow cases and a quilt. That was the first one. Then when she went to University she had the second one, which was rectangles of indigo blue prints. Mainly African ShweeShwee, but also a few blue and white ones that people along the line gave to me. In fact the postmistress in Horwich, when I ordered some wadding through the post for it, that parcel popped open and she said ‘Oh I know what you do!’ [laughs] We got talking and she was doing a City and Guilds in Embroidery at the time. We got talking, I’d recently had a gift of a load of embroidery threads and all sorts because a friends mum had passed away, I’d been given these and I knew I wouldn’t use a lot of them, so I gave them to her and in return she gave me some blue and white fabric. So it’s amazing how the good world that quilters have, this pops up all sorts of times. That was the indigo quilt, each block was separated by white sashing and it was just tied because it had to be finished quickly and it was tied with bright pink cotton. And the third one, was about 18 months ago when I asked her what she would like me to make her for Christmas and she wanted a quilt. So we had a look and I happened to have exactly the fabric in, and made her, what she calls, a retro quilt. In thirties reproduction fabrics.
NR: And she’s really pleased with that?
MB: She’s very pleased with that.
NR: That’s lovely, and does she use all three of her quilts?
MB: Well one is up in my loft, that’s the school one, because she no longer has the things for that, so I look after it. The indigo pattern one gets used a lot, it gets used as a picnic blanket all over the place. Where she lives in Didsbury, people come to visit and if it’s a nice day they go out to the park and they take the picnic and picnic blanket with them. It’s really useful. The third one unfortunately was never put on her bed because we hadn’t measured it with the duvet in place, [laughs], which of course I will now do, and so it didn’t cover the duvet fully! But she loves it as an extra blanket on her spare bed when visitors come. So it does get used.
NR: In terms of your history [as a quilter] when did you start making quilts? How old were you? What stage of your life were you?
MB: I was in my thirties, about 34, I think, no, I might have been 33, I know I’d had Sarah and I was still at home, yeah about 33.
NR: So what set you off?
MB: Well, I became a single parent, I used to go to lots and lots of toddler groups and that’s how I got to hear about this quilting group. They had a babysitting group, and I was able to look after children during the day in return for someone coming to look after Sarah at nights. So I could go and attend it. So it seemed to meet every need.
NR: Part of the networking that women are very good at.
MB: And the nice thing was that Monton where we lived most of the people, in fact all of them coming to the quilting group were not locally to begin with, so they’d all come in from somewhere else.
NR: Yes, so it was a great way to make friends and develop a sense of community. And that refers to one of the questions later on, which is about the role of quilt making in British life. I think that is a really good example of how that interest in a particular activity creates a community.
[Noise of washing machine]
MB: Yes. It was very nice, once people knew I was doing it my mother-in-law would sort of [say] ‘Oh I just happened to see this on the market’ and bring me some fabric. And my mother came to visit and she brought fabric from South Africa that had been imported from America. I can remember we had an amazing chap on the market in Eccles called Harry, Harry the Fent man and we all used to go down on a Tuesday when he was there and for a pound you would come away with bundles of fabric.
MB: Bundles of fabric under your arm.
[End of first audio recording as Molly answers the door.]
NR: So you were saying about going to the market and…
MB: Yes, we all use to go and then at the weekly meeting it would be ooh I’ve got the most fantastic this that or the next thing from Harry the Fent man. I don’t think there is any of those fabrics in here unless it’s possibly that one.
MB: But I still have fabric up in my loft…
NR: That you bought from that time?
NR: Were they cotton fabric?
MB: Yes they were and a lot of them were fent ends of what had been used for Marks and Spencer’s items, you know.
MB: Home items, you know, curtains and things like that.
NR: Yes. What a fabulous resource.
MB: Yes, it was and then, I think it was a time when not many people, you know that sort of faded out and at the time I also used to go up to Swinton to a sewing shop, to buy threads and things and got talking to the owner and after a while I used to go in my car up to Middleton to a cotton mill and I would buy a massive great big bag, I can’t remember how much it was, it wasn’t very much. It was all like fent ends and those sort of things and much more suitable for patchwork, it was like a builder’s bag full. I would bring it back and after I had taken out what I wanted, then I’d try and sell the rest.
NR: And there’s something really exciting about getting new fabric like that isn’t there.
MB and NR: Because you never know what you are going to get!
NR: You find real gems as well as the stuff that you think ‘Oh my goodness’
MB: Absolutely, that was one [pointing to fabric in quilt].
NR: Yes [laughter].
MB: Aren’t I sad, I can remember where all the fabric came from,
NR: Oh no, isn’t that what quiltmakers do? It’s wonderful [both laugh].
MB: I think that is the only one I can remember… oh I think that one was as well.
NR: Yes, lovely. How many hours a week do you think you spend quilting.
MB: It comes and goes really, since I had my sewing room and got down to certain projects I’ve spent a lot more time. Before I went away and I was doing sort of four or five hours in the day upstairs…
MB: … at the sewing machine because I was doing some appliqué, machine appliqué, so…
NR: So you really got into the swing of it?
MB: Yes, yes, but I mean when I first started off I was doing that much in the day, well in the evening anyway, as well. [NR Mmm] I can remember always walking round with the hexagons stuck on the needle and Sarah my daughter she was thoroughly… she wanted to sew as well [laughs].
NR: So does she sew now?
MB: She doesn’t have the time now, but she has done,
NR: That’s nice as well.
MB: I brought a sewing machine for her, for her 21st birthday, which is what my parents did for me. So she’s got the means and eventually, hopefully, when she’s stopped doing lots of exams she will have the time.
NR: She will have the time, yes, that will be great won’t it?
MB: Yes, because she is very creative.
NR: Have you got a first quilt memory?
MB: No not really nothing… no.
NR: One or two people have mentioned cowboy films, seeing quilts in westerns and thing like that.
MB: If I had it doesn’t…
NR: It’s not something that…
MB: No, the first thing was seeing somebody at work doing it, doing it all by hand and thinking that looks interesting. Feeling as if I would never be able to do it. Then again I felt that about learning to drive as well [laughs].
NR: So which appeals to you most Molly, hand quilting or machine quilting?
MB: Oh both, machine quilting is lovely for when you want to make something big, but because of going to groups where you can’t always spread out and take your sewing machine, I will have hand work on the go as well. And I find hand work very soothing, but there’s nothing to beat running up something with the machine quickly, relatively.
NR: Yes, I think that thing about hand sewing, the rhythmic sort of process, working very closely…
MB: It’s giving attention…
NR: It’s very soothing…
MB: Yes, yes.
NR: Do you think your quilt making has any impact on your family? Or did it have? I mean you have said already that your daughter has seen you going around with your hexagons ready to stitch and it encouraged her to say at quite a young age that she wanted to sew.
MB: Well yes, when she was in the junior school, she sort of volunteered me when they were doing patchwork as their sewing project one term and I had to go up every week and do patchwork with the girls. Which was quite surprising because there were so many of them that had never threaded a needle before, that had got to the age of 9 or 10 that was quite amazing.
NR: Mmm, Yes… and I think you said about family members bringing you fabric that they thought you might like.
MB: Yes Absolutely they were all very happy to do that and every time I’ve gone to South Africa, I’ve always made quilts while I was there.
MB: For the family there.
NR: And how do they respond to that?
MB: Well they seem to like it, my sister and my sister-in-law in particular, my sister has always done amazing work, not sewing, but she can crotchet absolutely beautifully. She used to do a lot of white knots, candle wicking, she did a lot of that and she could do the most beautiful embroidery, she was really fabulous at that. And my sister-in-law has always done a lot of embroidery and she thought anything that had the attention and the love going into was wonderful. It’s absolutely amazing to be appreciated.
NR: Yes, often family member do appreciate what goes into a quilt because they see it in the process of making, sometimes it can be a little bit.
MB: I just have to tell them how to wash it and how not to wash it, because years ago, Sarah and I went to stay with my mother for three months, when she was having her second year in the nursery class in school, and I made my mum a beautiful log cabin quilt and that quilt has disappeared because it was washed to shreds and so faded from being pegged out in the sun to dry.
NR: But used and loved I guess.
MB: Yes, very much so, when she didn’t use it any more she gave it to my niece, who used it for her children. I made a baby quilt for each of the grandchildren.
NR: So there’s bits of Aunty Molly all over the place
MB: Yes, it works both ways because my sister in law, has done beautiful embroideries for me as well. She did a beautiful sampler for Sarah’s birth, which Sarah now has. It goes round.
NR: There’s something, I mean I don’t know about you, but I don’t often think about this, but there is something around that kind of creativity and the giving of it which feels very important in holding family relationships.
MB: Yes, yes. Part of it I think in South Africa, people learn to do something simply because we grew up without television. In fact television didn’t get there until after I left to come over here in 1973. So as a child, you know you would play outside, you would do sport and go swimming and things like that, but in the evenings you either read or you did some kind of work. My mum was an incredible knitter and she made blankets for everybody that was again a very valued gift, kept and used. So mum taught me to knit, she’d had a very bad experience with sewing, as a small child…
NR: … so she didn’t do that?
MB: … at boarding school, so she didn’t do sewing, because she had had to darn her socks, her stockings as a six year old, and if she didn’t do it well enough, the nun cut out the darn making a bigger hole and then made you do it again. It sort of put her off sewing but she managed not to put us off and tried to encourage us all along.
NR: Which is really nice, so, have quilts ever got you through a difficult time?
MB: No, I can’t really say that they do or they don’t. I just quilt because I like it.
NR: Yes, and that’s as good a reason as any.
MB: Yes, I just love playing with colour.
NR: Yes, that kind of leads into the next question, which was about what you find most pleasing about quilt making.
MB: Oh, playing with colour and I just adore bits of fabric, you know the more scrappy the better. And I like very simple shapes, so hexagons, triangles, squares and rectangles, I could make quilts from those until the cows come home, because there is something very satisfying about very basic shapes and you know the number of designs that you can get from them. It has been described by another member of my family, who says oh it all those bits of fabric sewn together, and she’s a hotel interior designer so I dare say she wouldn’t have the same view of it [laughter]. But I quite unashamedly, I’m very happy to do that. And doing some appliqué by machine is a recent sort of [NR: development?] development, I’ve done a bit of appliqué where you iron the pieces on with Bondaweb, and then hand stitch round them just for the effect not to hold them on. That’s not something I’ve been drawn to in the past, it seemed like a lot of hard work.
NR: But that’s the other thing about quilt making isn’t it, there’s always something new that you can explore and develop in different ways.
[Tapping and digital interruption during talking]
MB: Well I think the thing came about because I was asked to do a quilt for a lady’s great granddaughter, and she wanted mainly pink and I knew I was going away last year and in the event it was a good job that I did it this way. I bought a kit when I went to the Festival of Quilts and when I opened the kit up in about April, I thought what on earth possessed me, this is all appliqué! But I’ve also, two years ago when I retired, spoilt myself by buying a Janome sewing machine, which has the facility for going so slowly and doing a stitch that looks like blanket stitch that I defy anybody not to be able to do it. You know, a piece of cake! [laughs].
MB: Not quite as long as doing needle turn, a bit time consuming but very, very satisfying.
NR: Do you have any, I mean you have talked about geometric shapes and this new exploration of appliqué but do you have a particular technique or range of fabrics that you return to over and over again.
MB: No, I’m usually inspired by seeing a picture in book and thinking, oh I like that I’ll do that, I thought the advent of jelly rolls was wonderful, because it saves on an awful lot of the cutting out.
NR: Yes [laughter].
MB: Which is rather nice, it surprises me that it took me so long to make big quilts because I was a bit sort of wary of them, I never… until Sarah’s school quilt when she was about 15 or 16 and then much later when she went to university, I hadn’t made any big quilts. A cot quilt was the biggest quilt I had made. I was so busy because I was working full time that occasionally they’ll appear to finish as well. My daughter says she’s never known me finish so many things as I have done recently.
NR: Being a free woman…
MB: Yes, yes, the next challenge is learning how to hand quilt big items and doing, you know nice quilting patterns. Because it’s expensive sending them away to be machine quilted, on a longarm quilting machine, relatively speaking.
NR: That was something I was going to ask you about, whether you had a preference for hand or machine quilting and what you felt about longarm machine quilting.
MB: Well, its lovely to go and deliver it and then it comes back when it’s all done and you know it amazing where it’s an adjunct but not the main part of the thing, if you have done a scrap quilt, you don’t really mind what it looks like so to speak, you just want it nicely quilted. I have never had the facility, through lack of practice of doing amazing sort of machine quilting so if I have done machine quilting on smaller cot quilts it’s all just been very straight lines, nothing exciting at all.
[Still tapping and digital interference noise in background]
NR: Although that can be quite pleasing can’t it? The regularity of the lines adding another dimension to the pattern.
MB: Yes, yes, if I won the Lottery, I’d put up a shed in the garden and get a long arm, computerised longarm quilter and do them all the time [laughter]. It’s very nice when you see it being done.
MB: But I would definitely have to win the Lottery.
NR: Any thoughts about technology and how advances in technology have influenced your work? I think you have mentioned about your sewing machine and you have mentioned longarm quilting, but are there other things.
MB: I am going to get myself a rolling, a Robert’s rolling quilt wall.
NR: Right, what’s that Molly?
MB: It’s a particular kind of fabric which apparently is manufactured in China and then comes back, when you get it, it looks like a roller blind, and you can get one that is up to one and a half metres wide, and it’s going to go on the front of the cupboard in my sewing room… [NR: Ohh!] and then when you are making blocks and things or you are planning it you just put them up.
NR: So it will be like a design wall! [MB: Yes.] Oh right, that sounds very interesting I haven’t hear or read anything about that before.
MB: It was in the Christmas edition of The Quilter.
NR: I obviously don’t read it with enough attention
MB: You don’t look at the adverts, you obviously look at the articles, I look at the adverts.
NR: That’s really interesting though isn’t it, because a design wall is really helpful if you are designing your own quilts but it isn’t easy to arrange.
MB: It’s not even so much helpful for design as when you are sewing it’s quite nice to put them somewhere where you can even roll them up and put them away.
NR: Right, so will it do that as well.
MB: They’re on the wall and they are stuck there, and if you want to do anything you have to take them down. It’s a way of saving a bit of space as well.
NR: So when you have got your Robert’s Rolling Wall we will be seeing all sorts of wonderful new designs.
MB: Oh, I don’t know about that, it will just be jolly useful.
NR: Fantastic. You have said that the amount of time you spend on quilting varies, that sometimes you will do five hours at a time or whatever. Do you have any kind of strategy for balancing your time with your quilting and the other things that you need to do.
MB: Well it depends on how much I want to get something finished, so for example with Sarah’s last quilt I was just sewing it all the time.
NR: Because her birthday was the deadline?
MB: No it was a Christmas present, I wanted to finish it off before I went away last year. And once I had pieced the top it had to go up to the lady in Bradford to be longarm quilted and she has a sort of two month waiting list [laughs]. But I handed it over the day I went to the airport.
NR: Are there any aspects of quilt making that you don’t enjoy.
MB: Not really, I just think it is wonderful. I’m less drawn to appliqué, as I said needle turn appliqué. And I’m not into art quilts, I enjoy looking at them but I wouldn’t want to do any myself. I class myself as a utility quilter.
NR: A practical quilter?
MB: A practical quilter, yes.
NR What about quilt groups? You belong to a couple of quilt groups don’t you? [MB Yes… ] Can you say a bit about that?
[Continuing noises of digital interference]
MB: I belong to them, not necessarily because I now need to learn to do other things, because I’m pretty good at picking things up as I go along now from books, but just really because I enjoy the company of quilters and the sort of nattering, and it doesn’t seem to matter where you are in the world because I have, last year when I was in South Africa for a time I went to the quilt group locally there. Quilters seem to have the same ethos about them, they are all very generous, they all like a natter, they all like a good knees up at Christmas, [laugher]. In fact it was a jolly good knees up at Christmas, in South Africa, with all kinds of little party games and things like that, including turn up your chair and if you have got a sticker underneath you can come and choose a free gift and they were all beautiful little pin cushions. Tiny minute hexagons on a pin cushion that had been made by the chair person, she used to hand sew these things for hours.
NR: How fantastic. Have you any idea how much you spend on quilting in a year?
MB: I wouldn’t like to find out! [Laughs] put it that way. Because I love books and I discovered that you can, if you spend £30.00 at [indecipherable] Books you get free postage. If I’m feeling down in the dumps I’ll buy a book! And going to quilt shows, you know, I try and limit myself to one a year now because I tend to spend an awful lot on fabric and I’ve more fabric than I can possible sew for the rest of my life, so in theory I shouldn’t buy another scrap.
NR: There’s always that precious piece though and you just think
MB: Oh, what has need got to do with it? [Laughter]
NR: I like it! The next section, Molly, is about craftsmanship and design in quilt making, the aesthetics of it. So changing the focus slightly from you and your quiltmaking to your sort of thinking about other aspects of quilt making. What would you think makes a great quilt?
MB: Something that you look at and you think ‘Wow!’ It can vary from quilt to quilt, sometimes it the choice of fabrics, as well as the design. Some quilts just have something about them that you think ‘wow’, that is just amazing and it’s not necessarily at a quilt show, the ones that have won prizes. Although they often are pretty amazing too, but sometimes a lot of them you think ‘Gosh, isn’t that beautiful.’ It’s as if the love that has gone into them is manifest.
NR: Yes, yes… and what about, you mentioned Art Quilts, what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?
MB: It’s hard to put a finger on it really cos, some you look at and you think gosh that’s amazing, I like that. Colour plays a lot, a big part in that, and then just naturally I’m attracted to more autumny colours. So something that’s very black and white or very pink I would admire it, but I wouldn’t necessarily think it was wonderful for me. That’s just a matter of taste really.
NR: Yes, the appreciation of art often is related to taste isn’t it?
MB: I mean, the judging at quilt shows, obviously you can see the criteria people are judging by, the judges. Obviously the standard of sewing and use of colour and things like that must obviously come into it. And I have to give credit for that.
NR: So thinking about museums and special collections what would make a quilt appropriate for those sorts of places?
MB: I should imagine if they are very old quilts, if the stories are known, and certainly The Quilters’ Guild documentation project of a couple of decades ago, was really interesting for that, yes, just knowing more about them. How they came about and knowing more about the people’s lives when they made them. The Americans and also The Quilters’ Guild have been very good at publishing books about [NR: the history], books that show pictures of quilts made by soldiers when they were recuperating after the First World War. War seems to play quite a big part in it when you think about it, because the Civil War in America, there was a Civil War quilt, around that era.
NR: Yes, and then there is the Red Cross quilts made in the Second World War.
MB: Yes, the Canadian ones, yes. Oh loads, more of a different kind, ones made for AIDs…
NR: Yes, that’s quite an interesting notion, quiltmaking as a response to some kind of natural or manmade calamity.
MB: Yes, there seems something about, certainly with the Red Cross quilts, which is the giving of comfort, to people who were suffering great loss, who were having a very bad time of it.
NR: People who had lost everything because their houses had been bombed. Do you think there are any particular characteristics that make a great quilt maker?
MB: Gosh that’s a hard one! [Laughs].
NR: Or perhaps it’s better phrased as what makes a great quiltmaker?
MB: If by great quiltmaker, because you take into account people whose names are well known, because they are professions as well, it’s obviously a lot of design skill, and use of colour and their particular interpretation of things goes into it. They can be quite amazing. But I think everybody is a good quilter, who can make a quilt and finish it, probably comes under the same category even if they are not getting remuneration for it. I don’t know, what do you think?
NR: I think it’s the passion that people put into it, the love that people put into it that makes a great quilt maker. I think you said already that is what often speaks to you when you see a quilt that really evokes a response.
MB: Yes, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s made in the most expensive silks and taffetas and velvets like a lot of the Victorian crazy quilts were, or it’s just something that has come from India or China. You know the hand sewn artefacts from there are just amazing as well.
NR: Is there any particular quiltmaker whose work you are drawn too and why would that be?
MB: I don’t know because I am fairly eclectic in my tastes in [quilt] books, so there is nothing in particular. [Pauses] No can’t think of anything
NR: And there is nobody who you think has particularly influenced you in the work that you do?
MB: Deidre Amsden’s colour wash quilts I always thought were quite amazing and I’ve a friend who taught embroidery at the University of Manchester, who used to make quite amazing quilts as well. I don’t think she is probably very well known except by her students, Isabelle [inaudible] and she does beautiful things. They are not necessarily quilt making in the strictest sense, but beautiful things, wonderful colours and textures.
NR: So using that kind of creativity with fabric to produce something that just gives really beautiful…
MB: Yes and all sorts of fabric, organza and organdie, and goodness knows what.
NR: Things that perhaps wouldn’t normally be considered quilting fabrics
NR: But it can produce something quite remarkable.
MB: But she has made very beautiful quilts as well. In fact I was her studio assistant for six months once.
NR: Were you?
NR: How wonderful. What sort of things did you do?
MB: Well at the time she was making log cabin quilts in sort of shades of greys and blacks and creams, it was doing that, and at that stage… she would sort of go like that with the rotary cutter [indicates slicing motion] and do them by eye.
NR: So there was no meticulous measurement!
MB: No, no, and she made me do hand quilting, and I can remember saying ‘I can’t do hand quilting’. ‘Of course you can, get on with it!’ [Laughs]
NR: So you did!
MB: So I did, yes. And after the quilt had been in exhibitions and things it now hangs in her home, so I see it every time I go. Which is nice.
NR: That’s lovely.
MB: I had a little hand in that.
NR: Yes, that’s really nice isn’t it? [MB: Yes.] So if we think about the function and meaning of quilts, why is quilt making important to your life?
MB: Having grown up making things it’s a continuation of that and it just happened to be the particular thing… you know, the thing that I enjoy making most. I did do other things as you know I do a lot of knitting and crochet, but quilting is always the biggest love. I couldn’t imagine not doing it, life would be very empty without it.
NR: Do you think your quilts reflect your community, the region where you live at all?
MB: I’ve no idea, in a word, I don’t know. This one certainly did because it was something the ladies there were doing and that was a reflection, but there was also a very thriving quilting group in Bolton as well and they did all sorts. Yes, I suppose it does really, I’ve never really given it much thought…
NR: But it’s an interesting one to ponder on isn’t it?
MB: Yes, because generally I would make what I enjoy doing or I would like to do.
NR: Do you ever think about the textile tradition locally, those sorts of things?
MB: I did a year of City and Guilds course in Creative Textiles many, many, many, many years ago and then had to go out to work so I couldn’t complete the second year. And that was very interesting because I was doing that in Manchester which of course was at the heart of the cotton trade, but also weaving. It was said that in lots of places you would always find a pub called the Flemish Weaver and sure enough in Salford there was one. You know they had come over as Huguenots, so you know, you could see a tradition and you could go to Quarry Bank mill at Styal. Where they are still in fact weaving today, basic cotton cloth which then goes away to be processed by printing and things for the National Trust. So yes, I knew a fair bit about it and then of course there’s a great deal of the history with the wool trade which you have got in Yorkshire. It was so powerful that there is a woolsack in the House of Lords, where people sit on as a sign of the power. It was very interesting to see all of the history, the various bits and pieces, they come together. And also the effect on the language, on ‘tenterhooks’ and things like that, being a very obvious one.
NR: Yes, it’s there all the time isn’t and it’s only when you actually begin to think about it that you begin to appreciate all the links and influences that are there.
MB: It’s such a shame that it has shrunk so much as an industry. Hopefully it might make a comeback.
NR: Well, it’s certainly doing that with high quality fabrics, aren’t they?
MB: Yes, there are quite a lot of fabric manufacturers and printer here in England now.
NR: Earlier on you spoke of how when you were beginning to become involved in quilting you became part of a community of like minded people and I guess that is something you are still in touch with because you go to quilt groups
MB: But the like-mindedness doesn’t really just stick to the sewing, the like-mindedness is going and talking, and it’s the chatter and the give and take, in that sense that’s every bit as important as the actual sewing. Because you could actually do all the sewing at home, you wouldn’t need to go and do it elsewhere. It’s going along and having a natter while you do, you can’t fail to have your spirits raised, if you are feeling low, you know, there’s always somebody having a laugh, you sit and sew and there is usually nice cake and tea! [Laughter].
NR: Very important!
MB: Quilters are very good bakers and makers of food. It seem to be something that goes together with nurturing and nourishment and showing off.
NR: And if you think about women’s history it kind of all links in to those aspects of nurturing and nourishing and sharing.
MB: And also keeping families going, if you think back to Durham quilting and how the quilting clubs people kept the family together in fact, if they fall on hard times.
NR: A hard way to earn your living I think.
MB: Yes, particularly if you think they lived in houses like this, with a quilting frame hanging from the ceiling, with a range and six kids and goodness knows what.
NR: Do you have any thoughts about how quilts can be used or how they…
MB: As many ways as people can think of really, I don’t think there is any limit on that. They can look beautiful displayed on walls, they look wonderful on beds, those are the two very obvious ones. I love making small quilts, very tiny quilts as well, partly because at one stage they were the easiest ones to get finished [laughs] I can’t think of any more. Apart from the people who throw them over tractors in sheds or farming things, if the stories you hear are to be believed.
NR: Still useful! [MB: Yes.] They have been use recently in celebrations haven’t they, things like the Olympics and the making of pennants for all of the athletes. Things like that, they can have that sort of celebratory…
MB: Yes and charity quilts like Project Linus, a lot of people make quilts for the Special Care Baby unit in Halifax, ways in which there’s a quilt and you get to take the quilt home.
NR: Yes that must be nice. Thank you. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing quiltmakers today?
MB: I’ve no idea, I don’t think about things like that.
NR: That’s fine [laughs].
MB: Personally, it’s fitting it all in, all the quilts I would like before I pass on [laughter].
NR: All those ideas.
NR: Yes, all that fabric!
MB: So much fabric, so little time.
NR: Thank you Molly that has covered all the points that I had on my little list. Is there anything else, that as we have been talking about quilting, about your quilt and what it means to you. Is there anything else that you would like to say that winds the whole thing up?
MB: I find I’m inclined to when I want to make a special gift for somebody it’s always make a quilt or make a pin cushion. Sometimes people get them whether or not, they want it or like it. Generally I tend to give to people who will appreciate it, not because I want them to appreciate me, but it’s no good give a quilt to somebody who is not going to love it and use it.
NR: So that notion of it being useful sounds as if it is really quite important for you in what you make.
MB: Yes, it seems to me, I would like it if somebody gave me something that was handmade or made by them simply because I think, personally, if I make a quilt and give it that means more than having the same amount in money and going out and spending it on something. It’s nothing to do with the amount of money it’s the fact that you have taken the trouble.
NR: Yes, the time and the effort. That’s quite central to the whole thing really. That’s lovely, thank you very much Molly.
MB: You are very welcome Nicky, very welcome.