ID number: TQ.2016.003
Name of interviewee: Sarah Wright
Name of interviewer: Liz Cowley
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Sarah’s home
Address: Perranporth, Cornwall
Date: 18 January 2016
Length of interview: 0:52:55
Sarah’s scrapbook quilt was made by a group; each member takes it a turn at choosing a design they like and the group makes it together. Sarah loves old household textiles such as tray clothes, so used these in her design. Later in the interview she talks about how the group was formed and some of the other projects they’ve worked on together. Sarah covers a wide variety of topics including her family’s link to quilting and sewing, the Women’s Hour quilt, using recycled material in her quilts and the role quiltmaking plays in her life.
Liz Cowley [LC]: [chatter] I’m just gonna start the recording by saying this is interview ID number TQ.2016.003 and the name of the interviewee is Sarah Wright. Name of the interviewer, Liz Cowley. The location is in Region Four. The address in Perranporth, Cornwall and the date is the 18th January 2016 [chatter].
Sarah Wright [SW]: Yes, bring the quilt. It’s very heavy as you will see. [Chatter as they continue to get the quilt ready for the interview and long pause]
LC: First of all, do you wanna tell me about this quilt?
SW: Yes. I suppose it’s kind of [laughs] difficult to tell you about this quilt ’cause it’s… a bit different. But basically, it’s lots of appliquéd bits on top of a white, a vintage white sheet. And, so it’s all little bits that I had picked up over the years, you pick them up in charity shops. I love these little bits of embroidered tray cloths and things like that that are all, mm nobody wants them anymore so what do you do with them? So, they’re bits like that on there, there’s buttons, there’s bits of fabric that mean something to me. There’s just everything and anything, almost like, um… I suppose a collection of things, you know, like you’re doing a scrapbook almost. You could call it a scrapbook quilt ’cause it’s just lots of scraps that we found, between us all ’cause it is a group quilt and we’ve appliquéd on.
LC: So, tell me about the group quilt. Whose idea was it and…?
SW: So each… there are five of us in the group, well, five or six, it varies and this is my quilt, so we take it in turns to make a quilt for different people in the group and each one can take quite a long time, so this was my idea for a quilt. And I don’t really know where the idea came from other than that I had all these bits and what do you do with them, so I thought it would be quite nice to put them on a quilt, and I think the previous quilt we done had had a lot of piecing. We were cutting up tiny little bits and, and then joining them all back together again and it was very fiddly and I think everyone had had enough of piecing [laughs] bits together and I also wanted to do it, so this was actually made in six pieces and then joined together, so that each of us could actually have a piece, take it away and be working on it. ‘Cause to be absolutely honest with you, when we’re all together, meeting, we don’t do a lot of sewing, we’re mostly [laughs] drinking the tea and coffee and eating the cake. And we all like vintage china and vintage cake stands, so we’ve got the vintage china out, we’ve got the cake stands, we’re doing a lot more of that. We’re talking about sewing but we’re not actually [chuckles] sewing that much. So I suppose that’s partly where the, the sort of vintage idea, ’cause we had all these vintage tablecloths and vintage tray cloths and just… vintage lace on here, so I suppose it is a bit connected with that. And so, you know, it was sort of my idea and I’d collected most of the bits, but then my friends also had bits that they’ve put on.
LC: Yeah. That’s fantastic. And so you’re, you’re part of this, this group in Perranporth. Can you tell me a bit more about how you got involved in that to begin with and how long you’ve been there?
SW: Well, it’s slightly unusual [laughs] I suppose because we were Perranporth & St. Agnes Friends of the Earth, so we’ve been campaigning for a long time on environmental issues. And then the others have sorted drifted a bit away from that. I was more involved and I was involved with Cornwall Friends of the Earth and doing more on transport issues, but we were still, wanted to meet up, so we had the idea of making, using recycled materials, that was part of our philosophy. We’d been running things in Perranporth for like, in those days believe it or not, collecting paper for a paper mountain and bottles and things because there weren’t bottle banks and there weren’t paper banks and the council certainly didn’t collect. So we had that sort of recycling idea, but I think the real reason behind it was one of the members was getting married, so it’s… some of us thought, let’s make a quilt. So we did have to exclude her which was a little bit awkward because I think she kind of thought, well, why don’t they ask me, you know? So it was, it was [laughs] difficult. And I think that was probably my idea actually to make a quilt ’cause I had made a couple of quilts before, and we had to get to her house and sneak into her bedroom to see what colours were in her bedroom before we started making the quilt, so it was, it was [laughs] all, you know, quite… had to be carefully organised and and instigated and it was yellow and green. And, we used all [laughs] scraps and the green in it, and we still laugh about it, the green is theatre, dark green theatre drapes that they use in theatre that, I did used to be a nurse and, but I didn’t, you know, bring it home from work or anything, I found that somewhere in a charity shop or someone gave it to me but we knew it was theatre drapes, so it’s partly [laughs] theatre drapes and yellow. And so we made her a quilt and from that we’d all enjoyed it so much we decided to carry on but very informal, you know, nothing, no membership or anything like that, just a group of friends really getting together.
LC: So a group, a group of women as well and…
SW: A group of women.
SW: Well, a group of women but my husband is quite involved because I’ve got a spinal condition that makes it quite difficult sometimes, I am actually machining again because I’ve got a fabulous machine that instead of pressing the foot it’s got a button on it to press it on and off, so I can now use it lying down, so I’m now machining lying down. But there was a time when my back was so bad I couldn’t really sit and machine, so my husband has done and helped me out with quite a bit of the machining and he also cuts all my bits out for me. So, he’s a sort of honorary member of the group actually because he puts quite a lot into the quilts. And a lot of the time he is actually there joining us for the gossip as well, not all the time, sometimes we just get rid of him and make him go and do something else, you know, so some of the time he’s there.
LC: Wow. That’s fantastic. So, so what, what is your plan for this quilt now? Is this kind of at home with you and… what do the other ladies do with their quilts?
SW: Yes, so once we’ve finished a quilt, this one is my quilt and it’s on my bed in the winter. It weighs an absolute ton, it’s huge. It’s one of the biggest quilts we’ve made and I think because it’s got you know, a proper cotton, old fashioned sheet, and then inside is cotton wadding and then the back is another sheet, it’s just really heavy. So it’s on my bed and it is there to keep me warm. But in the summer it’s folded up and I’ve got a, a glass fronted cupboard and all my quilts are in there, so it’s in my bedroom and I can look at it. But sometimes we make quilts, so one we’ve made recently, someone’s daughter was getting married, so we made the quilt for her. In fact, we’ve done a lot of wedding quilts, for our various offspring when they’ve got married so it’s not always for the individual but normally it’s for, you know, whoever, whosever turn it is. They just have that quilt at home or, you know, their daughter’s got it.
LC: That’s fantastic. So, ah, when did you first starting making quilts?
SW: I started making quilts, when I was nineteen so that is forty one years ago. And I was training to be a nurse and I’d done a lot of sewing. I’d done sewing at school so I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. I was talking to another woman in the group who also made a quilt when she was younger, the others hadn’t done any before, and she said the same because we, in those days, [laughs] showing our age, but we did proper sewing at school, so you actually learnt to make things, it wasn’t sort of technology, you know, it wasn’t about selling things, it was about making things and following patterns. So I had the skills I suppose and my mother was very good at sewing. She used to she used to take in sewing actually, to earn money so that she would take in alterations for people and make clothes for people, so I think partly I started doing the same. So I used to make a lot of my own clothes, even when I was a, a teenager. And then when I was training to be a nurse up in London, of course, I just had a tiny room and I couldn’t have a sewing machine there and anyway I didn’t have my own sewing machine, so I think I just thought it’s something I could sew, it’s something I could be doing and I think I’ve just got this desire to be doing something creative to… nursing was very… it’s not really creative and I think I just needed colour and fabric and something and there was a lovely shop near… I trained at the Middlesex Hospital… there’s a lovely shop called Bourne & Hollingsworth which has long gone, and it was one of those shops that just had a whole floor that was full of rolls and rolls of fabric. So I just used to go there and wander round as a, a leisure activity but, you know, I didn’t have anything to make. So I did actually buy some fabric to make this first quilt and it was just squares joined together. It’s painstaking if I look at it now. Each square was joined to paper and then I had done tiny little overstitches joining each one together and then I took the paper out at the back, which I think is called, the English method. Why I did it like that I don’t know ’cause it would have been much easier to just do a running stitch, but I guess I got a book and that’s how it said you made quilts but I really can’t remember. So I made this quilt with this lovely fabric from Bourne & Hollingsworth and I even used to sneak it onto night duty and in those days if you were on night duty you were not meant to be doing anything, you sat at the desk and if there was nothing needed doing, if no patients required your attention, you were studying, you had your books and you were studying for your exams or you know, you could be writing up notes but whatever you certainly weren’t meant to be doing anything else. But I used to have this under sort of slightly under the table and I would be sewing and then if Matron came round and she came round in, you know, we had a sort of Night Matron who came round in the night, I’d have to quickly shove it under the table, although I do remember one time the cotton reel rolling off the quilt and landing in a metal wastepaper [laughs] basket and this loud clang and just sort of looking at her but she, she heard the noise but she didn’t realise what it was I don’t think. ‘Cause I, I literally would have been in, in trouble, you know, that was a really… seriously bad thing to be doing, sewing at work, can you imagine? Mind you having said that we did a lot worse things at night. I remember I was on the children’s ward and we were really bored because the children were all asleep and they were all all right and we actually went on… I suppose it was probably Capital Radio, we went on one of the talk radio shows and we’re chatting away on this radio show saying, ‘Oh, we’re nurses on night duty and… you know, blah, blah, blah’ and then again, had to quickly put the phone down when, I think it was the Sister that came round. So we did used to get up to, you know, you get bored at night. But anyway, that was the first quilt and I had it on my bed in the nurses home and I think it just made the room a bit more like my room because they were very impersonal. And then I did make a big floor cushion, ’cause they were very much in vogue, ’cause we’re talking about the 70s now, and I made a hexagonal, big floor cushion, I’ve still got it, and it was done in the same way with paper, stitched the fabric to the paper and then these tiny little stitches which I don’t even think I could do now, but that was all my mother’s scraps of fabric and things she’d used in the past and I love it now because it’s her old skirts and her old dresses and it’s not a cushion anymore, it’s just a piece of fabric but I absolutely love it. So that’s, that’s how I started.
LC: That’s fantastic. And that’s kind of sentimental value of fabric and how that’s kind of, um, the tactility of a fabric, it can bring back so many memories and especially when you know people who have done sewing and things like that before, it’s so lovely to have that connection with them.
SW: It’s a huge sentimental value with the fabric. It’s absolutely huge. And there’s bit on this quilt that we’re sort of talking about. I’ve got a lovely bit that is, it was a nightie that I had which has got bluebells on it and it came, I must have had it in the nineteen seventies and it’s got delicate bluebell flowers on it and it just, it virtually rotted away because I liked it so much and that’s made its way as a little square onto this quilt and then it’s been sort of blanket stitched round the edge and there’s lots of other bits like that on here. There’s one bit that used to be, it’s Laura Ashley and it was a skirt ’cause in the, in the seventies Laura Ashley was cheap, it wasn’t expensive, it was a cheap place to get clothes, so I’ve got a bit of that skirt on here. I’ve got another bit that’s a very pretty blue fabric and that was my mother’s that was a skirt that she had. So I’ve got all sorts of bits on here amongst the sort of vintage bits, I’ve got bits that have memories for me as, as to what they were and where they came from and it’s just, when I look at them, you know, it brings back those memories and it brings back memories of those people and I think that’s the nice thing about using old bits of fabric and not making things out of new fabric all the time because it, it just means so much more. And we share our fabric, when we make quilts we kind of share bits. So someone says, ‘Oh, I’m doing, you know, blues and turquoises’ so we all look through and see. So now when I look at their quilts, you know, I can see bits of my fabric on there and that’s really nice. There’s another bit here I’m looking at which is Laura Ashley, I used to love Laura Ashley, and that used to be my curtains. So that’s a little sprig of flower, that’s made it on there. So, you know, it’s got huge sentimental value this quilt but… it’s not just the bits on it I don’t think that give it the sentimental value. I think it’s the fact that my friends have helped make it and then it’s all hand quilted. So you can see if you look at it, not all the quilt stitches are the same size because we all quilt differently. So I think just looking at it I can see that the work that went into it and around a lot of the pieces because we were appliquéing the pieces and they might fray, they been em… embroidered around the edge or they’ve got, um, they… quite a few of them have got ric rac around the edge and that’s all ric rac from my mother’s old cupboard that she gave me that was full of all her sewing things and I’ve been using up all the old ric rac and its of lace. Um, so it’s got hand embroidery on it as well as, um, hand quilting and it’s just you know that someone has sat there and put that, you know, work into it and that attention into it and it’s just a really nice feeling.
LC: Oh, I agree. Yes, it’s lovely to have that kind of community aspect…
LC: … into a, into a quilt. And you, and you say you, you went from… so you used to, ah, buy fabric and now you use a lot of recycled fabric. Do you want to talk to me a bit about, about kind of the importance of that and the, the recycled element ’cause you, that’s how you all got together in the first place.
SW: Yeah. So, virtually all of this is, is recycled fabric and we tend to do that with most of our quilts. Not all of us, I must say, sometimes someone’ll, will go off message and buy loads of Kaffe Fassett pieces ’cause they’ve been a quilt that they really, really want, so that they, they buy the pieces and actually, I’ll be honest it’s great fun when you’ve got all the pieces and all the colours that you actually want. But, partly for environmental reasons I guess, we like to use recycled fabric rather than buying new. But also that’s what to us, the old quilts were. You know, if you look at the old American quilts they were using the, the colourful feed sacks to make quilts, so the feed sacks are the, when the farmers brought in their grain, it must have been… it’s, it’s a funny marketing thing but they used to make the sacks out of pretty fabrics to encourage them to buy their brand so that, you know, the women could cut them up and make them into quilts. And then a lot of them are made from old shirts and nightshirts and things like that and the same, you know, of quilts that were made in this country, they were just made out… that was the whole point. You couldn’t have the fabric to, to make a whole quilt so you made them out of leftover bits of fabric that you couldn’t mend or do anything else with. So I think having recycled fabric is, is just really lovely. And I’ve also collect old quilts and looking at my old quilts it’s the fabric, it’s looking at those old fabrics and the designs of the fabric and touching those fabrics. So I think it helps connect us, you know, to that [tradition] having, having the old fabrics, it really helps, you know, connect you to, to that [tradition]. And often they’re softer fabrics, they’re slightly worn and they’ve got a nice feel about them. Having said that I’m making a quilt at the moment that a lot of it is new fabric because I’ve just had my sixtieth birthday and I said to everyone instead of presents could you all bring me a bit of fabric and I was hoping to get recycled, you know, bits of fabric but, of course, most people if you don’t sew, maybe they haven’t got them or they didn’t think to bring me their old shirt which I could have cut up which I should have… I think I did say, preferably, you know, recycled but a lot of it was new. So I’m actually making a quilt, which is also a challenge because although I told them some, some colourways they all interpreted that differently, so you know, it’s been quite hard to get that to go together and it’s been a few bits that are just as much as I’d love to put them in there, because they all remind me of the people who gave to me, they just don’t go and I just… I think they’re going on the back. I think they’re going somewhere but on the back. So, yeah, it is all about the fabric but if you’re using recycled fabric you can’t… you can’t be following some design in a book that says to you, you know, buy four yards of this and three yards of this and two yards of that. So I think you’ve got to be a lot more inventive and I think as a group of quilters we’re really inventive with what we make. We’ve made all sorts of… unusual shaped quilts, patterns, I don’t know where… I think we’ve all just got very good imagination. One particular I can remember was, was a wedding quilt and, um, it was Jane, who wanted that one and it was her idea for her daughter, Daisy and she said, ‘I want a fish, swimming up through water.’ So we said, ‘Fine. Fish swimming up through water.’ And as you can probably tell, I quite like appliqué ’cause my whole quilt’s appliqué, so I said, ‘We’ll appliqué a fish, you know, we’ll do graduated colours, we’ll appliqué a fish.’ ‘No. I don’t like appliqué.’ She said, ‘I don’t want appliqué.’ She’s anti-appliqué. No, she wanted us to get the ripple effect so that we had pieces of strips of fabric and somehow set in the fish into that so it looked like it was rippling up through the water and it was incredibly difficult to do and she bought some, some shiny fabrics as well to go in. But it looks fantastic now and when we finished it and her, you know, her daughter has that on her bed, but it was really difficult and, you know, really difficult to imagine. We did one quilt that was all white, so it was completely white, all the bits we joined together were white apart from little bits of silver… and that was really unusual. So it just had these little jewels of silver that kind of jumped out at you. So yeah, we… anything or whatever, whatever comes, whatever fabric we’ve got, you know, that might inspire it, we make a quilt.
LC: And, and for, for all of you, I know you can mostly just speak for yourself but, is this kind of your main creative outlet or do you have other ones as well or…? The, the, yeah. Talk to me a bit about the creative…
SW: I think we all tend to have other [laughs] creative outlets as well. I certainly do, other things and I do textile art and making pictures using textiles, using a bit of appliqué, the good old appliqué, but also inks and things with fabric. Another woman in the group, she’s very, very creative and she does a lot of craft stalls and she makes all sorts of things and at the moment she’s got into making using needle felting, she makes lovely animals, so hares and birds and, oh, all sorts of animals, little dogs that they’re really sweet and teddy bears and she’s just taught herself to do that. Before that she was making aprons and tea-cosies and, and all sorts of things and actually, I do a bit of that. You know, I do a bit of kind of sewing and printing a bit onto my own fabric and making tea-cosies and coffee-cosies and things so we tend to have different things. Another person in the group she uses ceramic. She’s very good with ceramics and she’s done a lot of ceramic work and that’s, that’s very lovely. So I think we are all quite creative in our, our different ways actually.
LC: And doing things that are smaller as well, just to counteract with the quilting I…
LC: …should imagine.
SW: Yeah. Sometimes doing smaller things because when you’ve [laughs] got a big quilt, you know, this is why we did this one in six pieces, it’s really difficult to manipulate it, you know. I’m always cold because I have back problems and lie around a lot so I don’t mind having a quilt on top of me and actually sewing it, but most people that’s kind of a bit too hot. But having smaller crafts to do is, is really quite nice [laughs] sometimes.
LC: Oh, er… what other things can I ask you? You’ve kind of inadvertently answered the majority of the questions without my having to ask them.
SW: Yes. Yes, I know. I do that.
LC: This is fantastic.
SW: I’m trying to think if there’s anything else about the quilt but I don’t know…
LC: Oh, what other things? [chatter]
LC: So, where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
SW: We do look at books, so we like looking at quilting books and things. But I don’t know is the, is the simple answer. You know, there isn’t a specific way, they just come to you really, often from you don’t know where. I do… I must be honest, I like looking on the internet. I look on eBay and look at old quilts, that’s what kind of inspires me sometimes, just the colours of the old quilts. But I think our inspiration is the fabrics because we’ve got these bits of fabrics that we’ve just collected, I’ve got shelves of bits of fabric, so I think our inspiration tends to come from the fabrics. We do argue a bit, we do argue a bit because we’ve sort of got the same taste but not exactly. So, we, we argue as to, ‘No, you can’t possibly put that colour in there. That’s awful.’ And it’s usually me that is kind of saving people from their worst excesses as I would like to put it. One of our quilt members, Jane [Squirrell?] who actually very sadly has just died, so we finished making a quilt for her just before she died, but she always wanted to put orange in the quilt and I absolutely hate orange and she’d always want to put orange in when it was, there were reds and pinks in there and things that just didn’t go. And the last one we were making for her she said, ‘Well’… it, that was an unusual one actually, it was circles, so sort of plate-sized circles that were all made up of strips of fabric, so they were pieced to make a circle and, um, we actually put them on a green background but at one point she said, ‘Well, let’s put them on a black background.’ And I’m like, ‘No. You can’t have a black quilt. That’ll be awful.’ You know, so luckily she, she did listen to me and it, it looks lovely on, on the [laughs] green background but, you know, we’d have arguments like that and sometimes people wouldn’t, you know, they’d do their own thing and that’s hard when you’re making a quilt that you don’t [laughs] actually like the fabric and you’re having to work with it. So mostly, we do sort of… yeah, tend to, tend to come to an agreement on how it’s gonna be and I have liked all the quilts in the end when they’ve been made even if I didn’t like them to begin with so that’s quite good. But no, I can’t really say where our, that our inspiration comes from one, one place or the other.
LC: Yes, you know, that’s fantastic. So I’ll tick that one off. Ah, so, you do a lot of hand quilting and you just talked about using machine quilting as well. Can you tell me about the differences between the two… like the, like the technical restrictions and things.
SW: Yes. So I really… we all really like to do hand quilting, so we’ve always done hand quilting. We don’t really like machine quilting. I think that’s partly because if you haven’t done it, it’s not that easy machine quilting, but also I think we just like the fact that old quilts were hand quilted and we want a hand quilt and you’ve got your, you know, you’re with the fabric, you’re touching it, you’re, you’re sewing it. But I’m having some difficulties with my, my wrists and hands now and finding the hand quilting quite difficult, so I’ve got a new machine that’s got a quilting foot and things and I have done, I’m finishing off a quilt for someone and I’ve done some machine quilting on it and it, you know, I quite like it but I don’t like it as much, I’ll be honest with you, but I may be doing more machine quilting than I used to and I have seen some quilts, especially the ones that are randomly machine quilted that are really nice and technically it’s really difficult to do. It looks easy but, but it isn’t, so I’m gonna have to practice that but I think I will just have to face facts and do more machine quilting. Sometimes if I’m making a quilt for myself rather than as the group the others will help me quilt it ’cause they know it’s very difficult for me and it makes my arms hurt. I do a lot of things lying down and you’re sort of lifting your arms up, that really sort of like repetitive strain injury. But, but one of our members, Jeanette she quilts all the time. She can quilt in the evenings and she’s always making quilts and she never seems to get any, you know, pain in her arms and wrists and things, so it does just vary doesn’t it? So we’ll see, but I think as a group it will always be hand quilting, I think that’s what we like, we like doing really.
LC: So how much time to you spend quilting?
SW: It’s a difficult one to say how much time we actually spend quilting ’cause it varies. We don’t, I think we don’t do so much in the summer, it’s more of a winter thing. I would probably do some sewing every day, personally. It might not be quilting, it might be making a cushion or doing something else. But, um, I have to make a lot of costumes now [laughs] for my grandchildren which takes up a bit of time like my, my little granddaughter who’s four, she wanted, she saw me the other day, she said, ‘Granny, can you make a mermaid costume?’ So I’m like, ‘Sure, I’ll make a mermaid costume’ you know, so that took up a bit of time. I think all of us probably sew every day, a little bit. We might then have, you know, odd weeks when we just don’t wanna sew for a bit and we have a rest from it.
LC: Okay. And what other things have I got here?
SW: I could talk about… we did this is the Woman’s Hour quilt and we did make a square that got put in the Woman’s Hour quilt, so would that be quite interesting?
SW: A while ago, Woman’s Hour decided to, to make a quilt and you were invited to enter a piece for that quilt. And I think it was to celebrate the Woman’s Movement and the contribution women make to society. So at that time I think we were still very much doing Friends of the Earth work, so we made a square that had the world in the middle and said, Perranporth & St. Agnes Friends of the Earth and then we had various environmental things around the edge. We had a wind turbine and a field and a gate and, and just, I think we had a toucan to represent the rainforest. I sort of designed the idea and ended up not doing much of the sewing ’cause that’s just the way it worked out. I, I was quite good at organising the others to actually get it done. And then we sent it off and it got accepted into the Woman’s Hour quilt which we were really pleased about ’cause we were trying to show women’s involvement in the environmental movement was our idea. And this was then all put together by women and quilted and was on display in the Victorian Albert Museum for quite a long time and then it did a tour of the country and we actually managed to see it in Bristol, so we all went up to a quilt exhibition in Bristol and saw the quilt with our piece in it. I don’t know where it is now, so maybe it’s back in, in, in the V&A but it would be nice to know. So that was a really nice thing that we did.
LC: And how, how big was the square that you did?
SW: The square we made was I suppose about fourteen inches square. We were given a size, but there’s not a huge number of squares in it and I don’t know how many were submitted so we were quite, you know, pleased that we did actually, you know, get in there. And there’s a picture that, a sort of postcard they did of the whole quilt which I’ve got. At the moment as I’m talking I’m actually looking at a book that I put together for all my friends which is all the quilts we’ve made over the years which I’ve kind of done pictures and, and stuck them all into a book so we’ve got a record. And I’m looking at another one we made which we raffled for Friends of the Earth, so we, we made a quilt to try and raise money and, I’m smiling because it’s, it’s all greens and browns and we were kind of saying, ‘Well, it’s earthy colours. You know, it’s Friends of the Earth, it’s earthy colours, it’s greens, it’s browns, it’s those sort of autumn-style quilt.’ But the truth, the absolute truth is, these were all the colours and bits of fabric that we didn’t actually want, so if we were gonna [laughs] make a raffle quilt we thought, ‘Well, we’ll use those.’ So we just hope the person who won it hopefully, did like it. And I’m just going to find my glasses so that I can actually see a bit better.
LC: Oh, not to worry.
SW: I’ll show you that one.
LC: Yeah, that sounds great.
SW: ‘Cause that’s, yeah.
LC: Oh, that’s beautiful. So this, so this quilt’s got a lot of different patches on it?
LC: And is… are those all using the same techniques?
SW: Yes, so they’re [interruption] all just ones we’ve, you know, everyone’s made a different square.
LC: That’s beautiful.
SW: And then, see? This is from my [interruption] husband sewing. And the Woman’s Hour quilt…
SW: This was the first quilt we made, the wedding quilt, with the green and yellow in it.
LC: Oh wow.
SW: This is the Woman’s Hour quilt and there’s our piece.
LC: Oh, fantastic.
SW: Which I’m sure I’ve got a bigger picture of somewhere. But anyway, yeah. And then this is the one we made as a raffle.
LC: So how, how long has the group been going on for then?
SW: So the groups been going on since we started in 1995. It’s quite a long time, isn’t it? And then these are… this is the fish I was describing, coming up through the fabric, so.
LC: I can see what you mean by complicated.
SW: Yeah. And then, the book’s also got some quilts that I’ve made myself like, this was a copy of bow tie quilt which is a copy of an old quilt and then the best thing is making quilts for babies ’cause they’re small. And then I’ve got a quilt that I made for my mother which I have now but it… she ended up in a care home and they must have boiled it every week, so it’s very faded and it looks like an old quilt but it, it’s quite nice. This is my first quilt and then these are the hexagon one. And then this is one I made for my daughter who likes elephants. This is the one I was going to talk to you about which is the quilt I made for my other daughter and these are all aspects of her life. So, this is campaigning for Friends of the Earth, you know, this is our house. This is her old school tie. [laughs] You know, these are whatever she, ah, trained in acting so I’ve got acting things there, circus skills and going to Glastonbury. You know, so it literally is representing bits of her life.
LC: And she’d still have that one then? She… that’s the one she has on…
SW: Do you know it’s in my house because [interruption] she hasn’t, ah, yeah… there’s the Millennium Dome on it even, you see? So those are all the bits.
LC: Oh, that’s beautiful.
SW: I could talk about the cats. We’ve all got, well, a lot of us have got cats. [laughs] They end up on our quilts. Yeah, I’ll talk about cats.
LC: They’re, they’re the biggest, they’re the biggest appreciators is the…
SW: I’ve got some funny stories about the cats. Yeah.
LC: And one of the…oh, functions and meanings of quilts. What’s the big… oh, that’s, I don’t know if that’s… I’ll ask it ’cause you might have an interesting… so what is the biggest challenge you face as a quilter today as opposed to any other time?
SW: What’s the biggest challenge that you face? That’s a difficult one to answer. Um… I don’t think there’s any bigger challenges that we face than, than women faced in the past. You could say time but they didn’t have much time, did they? You know, women used to work very hard, they didn’t have labour-saving devices or anything, so I can’t believe they really had any more time. Perhaps for some it was a necessity that they needed a cover for the bed and they needed to… they could make it out of scraps of fabric, but I don’t think so. I think they could have got some old blankets from somewhere. I think it’s, it’s the same as it’s always been, it’s a desire to… you know, I think of it as art, as to put something together, to put colours together and actually make something so I don’t think it’s any different to how it was and I mean if you, you can buy, you know, the most wonderful fabrics to make quilts, they are quite expensive, but you can equally, there’s no problem finding scraps of fabric to make quilts so you can just do it in the same way that they used to.
LC: Yeah, I agree with that. Why is quilting important in your life?
SW: I think quilting’s important partly because it’s a social thing that I do it with my friends and we get together and we talk about quilts and we, we make the quilts together, but also because I feel I just need to do something creative in my life, if I’m not doing anything else creative I’m lacking something and I need to, using the colours, it’s like being an artist, putting the colours together, thinking how they’ll go together and then actually doing it, it fulfils that creative side somehow and that I need to be doing something, I need to be doing something with my hands and, it didn’t really rub off on my daughters I must say because neither of them really, really sew much but I’ve got a granddaughter who is, she’s five now and she already has this feeling, I know she does, and she said to me, she said, ‘I have to do something creative every day or I feel funny.’ And the best outing, the best day of her life was when I took her through a fabric shop and she’d never been to a fabric shop and just walking around this fabric shop, and she just couldn’t believe the fabrics, the buttons, the trimmings, and she’s already quite good at sewing and she wants to come up here and sew with me all the time, so I have hope that I might have another little quilter on her way and I shall do my best where I’ve failed with my daughters. I have got three grandsons and I will try exactly the same with them but I will be honest with you, they’re not, they like doing a bit of sewing, I’ve got them sewing, but they’re not so into the colours but then I have discov… discovered that two of them are quite like my husband, are very severely colour-blind so maybe it doesn’t [laughs] quite say the same thing to them, I don’t know but I’m gonna try with them because there’s no reason why they can’t be making quilts as well.
LC: And, that whole passing it on thing, so your, your mother did it and I sometimes find it does skip a generation ’cause children like to be quite rebellious.
SW: [Laughs] Yes. Yes.
LC: It actually skipped a generation with me and my grandmother, does a lot of knitting and things like that and mother hasn’t but she’s left-handed, so I don’t know, she found it always very hard to [talking over each other] teach to like…
SW: Well, my granddaughter’s left-handed so we’ll see. Yes.
LC: Yeah. So yeah, the passing on, do you, ah… that kind of connection to like, um, to generations, do you find that important to [talking over each other] carry on?
SW: I think, I think passing on the tradition, yes, I would love to be able to do that. I think that’s really nice and I’m hoping my granddaughter will take up quilting eventually and she certainly sees me making quilts and is very interested. And, she knows I’m going to be making a quilt for her and it’s going to be made out of all her dress fabrics, so as she grows out of a dress, you know I, I’m getting the dress, so that we’re just waiting so that it will actually sort of be a memory of, of all the dresses that have meant something to her hopefully, you know, in her life, so I’m looking forward to making that. I’ve made her a couple of sort of quilted pictures. I’ve done her one with houses, and people so I’ve made her various smaller things but I’m waiting to do this, this dress quilt because I think that’s a really lovely idea and then it can have some of my dresses in it as well and some of her mums but, you know, it, it, it will be a real memory quilt. And I can still remember… I think why I like, I mentioned earlier that I like to piece a fabric that is in this quilt that’s got a bluebell on it that used to be in a nightdress, when I was very, very young I had a skirt with bluebells on and I called it my bluebell skirt, and I think it’s that piece of fabric from the nightdress reminds me of that skirt really, that’s the piece of fabric I wish my mother had kept. And so, you know, it’s interesting that… you know, from a young age that made an impression on me, that piece of fabric because I can remember it, and I can remember other occasions like my grannie buying me a pink gingham dress and, you know, I must have been five. I can remember it very clearly and the feel of the fabric and the crisp newness and smell of this fabric, so I think it, maybe it is something that’s just there in you, you know, from a young age and you carry that through and it’s, it’s kind of what you do with that love of fabric, you know, perhaps some people it’s buying clothes, you know, that, that can fulfil it but in my case it’s making, creating something [interruption] from the fabric.
LC: And I can completely see that. I think that might be all the questions I’ve noted down. Um…
SW: I’ll tell you about the cats because, , most of us have got cats and we all love cats and there is something about quilts and cats. So if you make a quilt and leave it over a chair half-made or made or whatever, a cat is gonna come and sit on it. There’d be plenty of other places they can sit but they will sit on that quilt, they will sit on that quilt when you’re trying to make it, when you’re round the edge trying to cut it, they’ll walk across it, there will always be one of our cats. And I mentioned earlier a white, we made this beautiful white quilt, so it was all white plus these little silver bits on it, and one of our members, Jane had taken it home to do a bit of quilting on because when it’s all in one piece we can, we sort of move it round and she got up one morning and one of her cats had been sick on the quilt which is just a classic cat thing and she absolutely panicked ’cause she thought I’ll never get it out and she had to sort of wash this piece of quilt and, you know, she just felt awful but luckily, virtually all of it came out but, of course, we just found it the funniest thing ever and now we don’t really think a quilt is finished until one of cats has been sick on it quite frankly, so you know, it’s like, ‘Oh, has the cat not been sick yet?’ or something happens to it, you know, we spill something on it but we’re not too precious about it because that kind of is the life of that quilt, you know, where her quilt is just slightly yellow-tinged, [laughs] you know, it sounds awful but it is, it makes her smile because that’s where, you know, she knows Jane’s cat had a little accident, [laughs] so, you know, if you like cats that’s all part of the picture. The other funny thing that happened was, ah, the first quilt we made, one of the group, Jane hadn’t done a lot of sewing and we just said to everybody to make a square, you know, you can do it anyhow you like, you know, whatever shape you like, and hers came back and well, it was exactly like a swastika, there is absolutely no other way you could describe it, it was a swastika. How it ended up like that we don’t know but we put it in the quilt, obviously, as you would and, you know, Jane has had that talking point with that quilt on her [noise] bed, you know, with this swastika in the corner. I believe swastikas were actually a very old image and were used long before the Nazis ever got hold of it but nevertheless it does just look like there’s a swastika in the [laughs] middle of this quilt but.
LC: It’s a very simple geometric…
SW: [Laughs] Yeah, it is.
LC: … it’s very easy to get…
SW: [Laughs] So, you know, I think it just ended up like that. I don’t even know if you can see it on here but, ah, I wonder? [talking over each other] No. It’s so funny and it’s…
LC: [talking over each other] That’s, that’s something I’d end up doing I think, kind of an x. And just with the tone, you just have to get the tone of the fabric [talking over each other] just wrong in certain places.
SW: [talking over each other] Yeah. Yeah, and it was… well, it was a swastika… [laughs] but, you know. Oh, there’s the white one with the little bits of silver. It is unusual, isn’t it?
LC: And, but, so, so the detail in the quilt comes from the stitching. Can you just talk a little bit about that?
SW: Yeah. So sometimes the detail isn’t so much from the colour, I’ve talked a lot about, you know, colour and putting colours together, but actually, when we did one that was all white it’s in the quilting. So it was part, well, piecing, we did piece the pieces together but it was the quilting that made the patterns on it. So sometimes we use the quilting to make a sort of different pattern to the piecing underneath and that one in particular, it’s more like the traditional Durham quilt where you have a whole piece quilt and you, you quilt the patterns all over it. So all the pattern and texture is really coming from, from the quilting, so sometimes that’s quite a nice thing to do as well. See if anything else inspires me. That’s some of… there, oh, there it is.
LC: Oh yeah.
SW: We’ll we had a bicycle. We had all sorts.
LC: The tea can’s beau… is that embroidered on?
SW: I think it, yeah, I think it was. One of us is very good embroidery. But it’s quite good, isn’t it? That’s in Thomas Hardy’s house.
LC: And what, where do you meet up for your…
SW: Here. Yeah, we meet here. Er, there’s one, we were making a quilt for my daughter’s wedding.
0:50:56 SW: [noise of traffic] So this is Jeanette, this is some of the things… she makes these beautiful dolls, she’s made these, you know, she just makes all sort of things. She now makes the felt animals, but she’s, she did do an art degree, she’s very artistic. There they all with the white quilt, you see? It’s hard keeping that clean.
LC: Lots of smiley faces in the book.
SW: This is the one that I made for my, my daughter, I think and everyone is… this is my, er… my husband’s mother, my daughter, you know, everyone sewed a… we, we taught them how to quilt a heart, so other people like my nieces, everyone is quilting a heart. We’re obviously, recreating… we thought we’d better do a calendar, you know, ‘The Naked Quilters.’ We never got that far, that was the only picture.
LC: Oh, a sewing group with the…
SW: Yeah, sometimes we’re quilting there at someone else’s house but mostly we quilt here. Yeah.
SW: This is ’cause it was a bit behind. I told them all to bring their sewing machines, so it says, ‘Sarah’s opened a sweat shop’ because we were actually, I’m trying to get them all to get it done. So yeah.
LC: Oh, that’s great.
SW: Yeah, so.
LC: Such a good little memory book as well.
SW: Yeah. I need to update it.
LC: You got no more room in it, I should imagine.
SW: I’ve left four pages in the back.
LC: Oh fantastic.
0:52:28 SW: There’s a bit of room. Another cat on a quilt.
LC: That’s fantastic. I’ll think I’ll stop the recording there just to make sure that I have it [chatter].