ID number: TQ.2014.014
Name of Interviewee: Stuart Hillard
Name of Interviewer: Dorothy Baird
Name of Transcriber: Michele Webster
Location: Stuart’s studio
Address: Goole, East Yorkshire
Date: 10 July 2014
Length of interview: 0:52:56
In this interview Stuart talks about his ‘Birds in the Cornfield’ quilt that he used in his audition for the TV programme ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’. He discusses learning knitting and sewing as a child, then learning how to make quilts. The interview explores how Stuart designs his quilts, seeing quilts made abroad and how he sees quilting as a type of therapy. In the second half of the interview he talks about a recent renaissance in quiltmaking, sewing at school, his experiences on ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ and his book ‘Sew Fabulous’.
Dorothy Baird [DB]: My name is Dorothy Baird and I’m sitting in the studio of Stuart Hillard in Goole in East Yorkshire. Today is Thursday, 10th July 2014 and the time is 10.40 in the morning. Stuart, hello!
Stuart Hillard [SH]: Hi Dorothy.
DB: Thank you for talking to us for Talking Quilts.
SH: My pleasure.
DB: Now then we’ve just photographed your beautiful quilt down in the car park for want of a bit of space. Can you just tell me the title of the quilt and why you chose that particular one for this conversation?
SH: Absolutely. The quilt that you photographed is called ‘Birds in the Cornfield’ and it’s a quilt I made a couple of years ago. It was, the reason why I chose the quilt was, it’s one of my favourites. It’s a quilt I love and it has everything in it that I love about quilting. It has appliqué, it has lots of piecing, traditional piecing, the colours are very me, and lots and lots of quilting as well. But also the quilt is very significant for me because it was one of the pieces that I used for my audition for the Great British Sewing Bee. I was allowed to take one thing that wasn’t a garment and that had actually just been on the front cover of Popular Patchwork magazine. It was my first cover quilt so I was incredibly proud of, you know the fact, and so I took it down to my audition and I was determined that, you know, that was going to be my, that was the bit that they were going to see [short laugh] and they weren’t interested at all! [laughing]
DB: Ah, these dressmakers
SH: I know, they were really only interested in the garments and the quilt barely got out of the bag. But it’s something that I was very proud of because, as I say, it was the first of my designs to ever make the front cover of a magazine. So it has a significance there.
DB: You’ve come a long, long way in quilting and in stitching, haven’t you? [SH mm].
When did you first start? Was it quilting first or sewing, dressmaking or tailoring or what brought you to it first?
SH: I mean really the very first thing that started me crafting and I think that’s important that that initial interest, it was actually knitting, I started as a knitter. My mum taught me to knit when I was three. She shoved a pair of big spiky metal rods in my hands and I couldn’t hold a pencil but I learned to knit. And that was where I started. Now I didn’t start sewing really properly until I left university when I was twenty-one. And the very first things I made were curtains, cushions, that sort of home furnishings, tablecloths, and I was left with lots of bits of fabric. And of course we all know what you do if we’ve got scraps of fabric, you make a quilt. So when I was twenty-one I made my first quilt and I had absolutely no idea how you made a quilt or what equipment you needed but I had a pair of dirty, rusty blunt kitchen scissors. I think I’d been using them to de-rind some bacon and then I cut a shape out of a cereal box and you know with not a great deal of accuracy I have to admit. Then started cutting fabric until I’d got blisters on my fingers. And again, you know, paying no attention to a quarter of an inch seam, I had absolutely no idea what the seam allowance was meant to be I’d just finished making curtains and it was five eighths of an inch for them so half an inch or so roughly, very vague seam allowance.
DB: It’s very heartening for quilters everywhere
SH: Yeah [laughing] well, it gets better because I’d seen a quilt actually in Laura Ashley and they were selling quilts, mass produced in China I’m sure, and they were ‘Trip Around the World’ quilts and I thought this was lovely. Start with a little square in the centre and a row of new fabric around that and another row around that and of course being a bear of very little brain that’s how I made the quilt. I started with the centre square and I added four square patches to the four sides which was easy, of course the first row is, and thereafter I had to do set in seams at every single corner for every finishing row. It didn’t cross my mind for a moment that you do it in strips and then sew the strips together so I really, you know, for anybody out there who ever thinks ‘oh gosh I’ve made some terrible mistakes’ well so have I! [DB laughing] So have I! But I actually, that was my first quilting frenzy because once I started cutting the fabric I just couldn’t stop and I started sewing and I sewed through the night and I actually stopped sewing when the milkman delivered the milk. This was in the days when you still got the milk float coming round and the milkman delivered my milk and I figured it was maybe time to stop and go to bed [laughing] about seven o’clock in the morning! But yeah, and I mean the quilt was barely square, well it wasn’t square actually at all, especially by the time I’d finished quilting it. It was lumpy and misshapen and twisted and, you know, and I thought it was wonderful! I thought it was wonderful and that was the most of it, I was so proud of it and I thought it was such a thing of beauty and really on reflection it was, you know it really should have been in a dog’s bed, but that’s not the point is it, you know, it was the first one. And unfortunately I don’t have it any more and I’ve no idea what happened to it. It just got lost in a move or over the years. I can’t say where it went, but it’s probably a good thing really [both laughing].
DB: I don’t know, it’s good to hang on to those early things, reflect back, but you’ve obviously moved on very rapidly. You’ve quilts all around the walls here. I mean, what drove you on, what made you think ‘oh, next I want to do or now I want to try’. Did you do workshops and things?
SH: Well I think anybody, pretty much anybody who has ever had a go at quilting will not stop at one thing. I’ve never met anyone who tried quilting who just made the one. There are so many different ways to sew bits of fabric together. It’s infinite and it’s so inspiring and so, you know, I, once I‘d made that first quilt I couldn’t wait to make another. And of course then I went out and bought a rotary cutter and a ruler and a mat, although the ruler I bought was only three inches wide so I was restricted to only cutting things three inches wide because I didn’t think I could turn the ruler and cut anything else [both laughing] and I had a tiny little mat as well, but you know, and I bought a book and I read about rotary cutting and of course that opened up the possibilities hugely. So for a few years then, probably four or five years, I was very much sort of, you know, reading books and practising and trying things out and learning by trial and error really. I didn’t go on any classes or workshops, I wasn’t a member of a guild, I didn’t really know any of those things existed. I was in a little bit of a bubble if you like and I had moved to Norfolk at that point and was living in a little one of the Broad’s villages in Norfolk and so I was very much in my own little quilty bubble and then I moved back to Birmingham and when I moved back to Birmingham a friend of mine was doing a pottery course at an Arts Centre and she said ‘oo, there’s a quilting group that have classes there every week, I chat to them at lunch-time, you should come along and try the class.’ So, I was a primary school teacher but I was doing supply teaching so sometimes I was free, sometimes I wasn’t so I didn’t make a lot of the classes but I made some, and I learned an awful lot from that teacher. She got me thinking a lot more about accuracy, in fact I remember once saying to, showing her some of my work and saying ‘the piecing’s not as good as it could be Liz’ and she said ‘why not?’ [laughs] and now when I’m ever tempted to do less than the best I can, I remember her saying to me ‘why isn’t it the best it can be?’ you know ‘what’s stopping you doing better?’ So now I always try and do the best work that I can.
DB: Are there any other individuals that have influenced you or kind of helped you down the quilting road, or are you primarily self-taught?
SH: Really I am self-taught. I’ve always been a great reader and I love to learn but I … no I’ve done very few actually, surprisingly few workshops and classes and I was a member of a Guild group for a few years in Redditch which was fab, I loved it, but you know I’ve just not gone that route I suppose. I’ve always sort of worked on my own really. I mean other people are influential on me and the people that are most influential on me are my students really because, you know, I think lots of us, when we learn to do something we want to share [laughing] our passion don’t we and we want to communicate our enthusiasm to other people and you know I’ve been a teacher for over twenty years. I trained as a teacher and I worked in education, but I also taught in adult education right from leaving university, so I’ve been in education of one sort or another for twenty-two years and so for me to teach quilting, teach what I was learning, was important to me to pass that on and my students and my class members had been very, very influential to me. Their needs and what they want to learn or the problems that they encounter have really sort of tailored how I design and what I design. Because you know I came, I feel like I came to sewing very late at twenty-one [laugh] and I know lots of people take hobbies up much, much later, but often the people that I talk to taken up quilting maybe when they retired still have a very, very sound grounding in sewing. They were brought up sewing right from an early age and I really wasn’t [cough]. So for me to kind of be able to pass that on is very, yeah very important.
DB: You’ve brought up the issue of your designing. Now you do a lot of designing, don’t you? You’ve just done your first book (SH yes). Tell us a little bit about the design route you took. Where do you get your ideas from? What triggers a notion for a new design for a quilt?
SH: Mmm. Well, I do a lot of designs for quilts. You know I write for Popular Patchwork magazine every month. I have a column every month and I also do projects, probably about eight projects a year on top of the monthly column. And then I do other things for other magazines as well throughout the year. And often my starting point is the fabric. It’s slightly different for me in what I do because one of the roles of the magazine is to show people what new fabrics are available and of course fabric manufacturers want quilters and crafters to know about their products and we as crafters want to know what’s out there too. So a lot of the time when I’m designing projects for the magazines I’m actually using a range of fabric, a new range of fabric that isn’t available in the shops at the moment, so I have no-one else’s designs to, um, confuse me I think is probably the best way of saying it. So I can look at it with fresh eyes and generally speaking a range of fabric will kind of talk to me and tell me what it wants [laughing]. You know I can usually look at a range of fabrics and know almost straight away what I want to do with it, how I want to piece it, whether I want to appliqué with it, what it needs to show it off at its best.
DB: So you need a very flexible, open-minded approach to it then, don’t you?
DB: You can’t have a narrow style if you’ve all this [SH: No, I think that’s a really] material coming at you.
SH: Absolutely, I think that’s a really, really good point. I mean I have my own personal style of quilting, things I make for me, but when I’m designing projects for the magazines, yes you’re right I have to be much more flexible and I suppose in a way that draws on all those years when I was trying out every different technique available. I mean when I was teaching myself to quilt I would buy any and every book. I mean I have a library of quilting books, probably over two hundred books that I’ve bought over the last twenty years of every imaginable variety of quiltmaking, different styles and different techniques and methods. And I’ve tried them all and people always say to me ‘oh you’re so good at finishing things’ believe me I have got many, many UFOs, but one of the things I’m often asked now, you know, what’s your advice for new sewers, new quilters and one of the things I say to people is ‘you do not have to finish everything’ [both laugh]. You know, you can just enjoy the process, you can make a block, or a few, or a top it never has to be finished if you don’t want to, if you’re ready to move on, move on. At some point you may go back, you may finish it, you may not and it really doesn’t matter. So I have tried out lots of techniques so I can draw on these things when I come to design. And also I do have a very open mind about what makes a beautiful quilt you know. I can look at art quilts, modern quilts, very traditional quilts, modern traditional, country, you know, all these different styles and I see the beauty and the merit in all of them. You know.
I was in Norway teaching very recently and I went to the Stavanger Museum in Norway and quite by chance I have this reputation for being able to sniff out things that are quilt related even when they are not advertised and Stavanger Museum just so happened to have two quilts from an organisation called Quilts of Hope. And they, a team had gone out to, erm, I think it was India or Bangladesh and had worked with children who really were being sort of [short pause] helped out of child labour by being schooled and shown a sort of viable alternative and one of the things, sort of forced labour really, I suppose. One of the things they did with them was to make quilts, they made two quilts and these two quilts were in Stavanger Museum just as it happened, just on loan for a couple of weeks. And you know they were, they were done by children who had, some of them had never picked up a crayon or a pencil, they’d never done any drawing at all and they had drawn a panel and they had, you know, put it together into, in a local tailor had put it together into a quilt and it was very crudely made and there was no sophistication in it, but it was such a beautiful thing because you could really see the maker in every block. And there was also a video running of the children creating the block, so you could actually watch the child drawing their block and talking and then you could see it in the quilt and, you know, so I think you know I think I have a very open mind about what makes a beautiful quilt. That, to me, was every bit as incredible and beautiful as something I might have seen at the Houston Quilt Festival. You know, [DB yes] that quilt’s never going to get to the Houston Quilt Festival but it had just as much merit for me.
DB: Yes there’s a lot of research these days into crafting and quilting as one of those crafts related to wellbeing. You’ve had a lot of contact with students, you’ve brought up the quilts there with the Indian children, have you seen instances where you can say quilting has been a part of somebody’s, not therapy exactly, but a sense of finding themselves and being a beneficial activity to follow?
SH: Yeah, I can, I really can. I mean I can relate to that from a personal point of view. You know, quilting is my therapy you know and I’m sure it’s you know in some way everyone who picks up a needle and thread it’s a therapy of sorts. It’s such an absorbing thing to do. You cannot think of anything else. I can’t think about anything else when I’m sewing, I’m completely absorbed by it, completely drawn in and it doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life, that really does absorb me. I made a quilt, it’s probably ten, eleven years ago, sort of 1930s style appliqué tulips all hand appliqué, big quilt and it’s all hand appliqué and I was having a tough time, in a school that I was teaching at, with a very abusive parent and, who I was having some difficulties with and you know making that quilt was what I was doing at three o’clock in the morning when I couldn’t sleep. I would pick up that block and I would work on that quilt block and, you know, out of that very difficult time came something really beautiful, something that I really cherish. And so for me personally that was a way of looking back on that time now and I see something lovely, I’ve forgotten about the difficulties really at the time and all I’ve got is this beautiful thing that I treasure. And that always makes me feel very happy. But yeah, I mean I met a lady last year at one of the shows I was talking at and she’s a nurse from Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, something like that, somewhere vaguely on the coast! And she works in mental health and she runs sewing, primarily quilting classes for people with mental health issues, and she uses sewing as distraction therapy. So a lot of the people who are in her groups have problems with obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, negative thinking, and this sort of thing and she said ‘you know, even if it’s just for half an hour while they’re sewing they do not think about what troubles them, you know they are just completely absorbed’. And I totally understand that, I see that every day. I experience it every day, because even if it’s down to something like, you know a deadline that I’ve got, what I’m sewing, all I can think about is the sewing.
DB: Yes [both laugh].Do you think we’re swinging back toward more of these crafted activities? That we’ve missed out somewhere along the line? There’s a sudden rise in interest in things like quilting?
SH: Undoubtedly there is a, I think it’s fair to say a renaissance going on right now where a whole generation was just disconnected with how things were made. They were from a generation where everything they ate, everything they used, everything they wore had been made by someone else outside of their home which is very much at odds with the generation before them where almost everything they ate, wore and used in some way had been made by somebody they knew and usually a family member. So my generation had lost this connection, but it’s deeper than you know a choice we make, I think, there’s actually a need, a human need to make things, to create things and so I think it was inevitable that people would need to find a way to be creative again and inevitable that we would, most of us would turn our back in some way on the sort of mass produced, mass market things so that we, you know we all want to have a little something that’s unique. So my way of it, doing it, is to sew. I love to cook as well and garden, but I really love to sew. And I see that with the market generally. People want to do things, make things, be able to look at something, however simple, you know it doesn’t necessarily have to be anything complicated. And often the things that people are enjoying making now aren’t complicated, they’re very simple but they get such joy out of making them it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful.
DB: Can you see yourself as part of that renaissance through for example your participation in the Great British Sewing Bee? That brought a lot of people to sewing who hadn’t used it before.
SH: Well, I mean, I’d love to think that, you know, taking part in that show was one of the things which reminded, I think it reminded a lot of people who’d sewn in previous years how much fun it is, how creative it is, you know. I’ve a lovely friend, who is in her seventies, and I’ve know her for twenty years and never seen her pick up a needle and thread, and she has always told me that she cannot sew. And she has always looked at the things I make and said ‘oh I don’t know how you do that’. After the Sewing Bee came out it was only then that she told me that she had made her wedding dress, and all her bridesmaids’ dresses and all her children’s clothes up until they went to school. Like none of that really counted
SH: You know, it wasn’t proper sewing [both laugh]. And now she has bought a sewing machine again, and has started to quilt. Hurrah! [laughs] You know, and I think that just watching the show reminded her, and I don’t know why it needed that, but it did. That is fine. And yeah, I’ve met many hundreds of people who have said ‘I have started sewing again’ or ‘I have started sewing for the first time’. Young people, people my age, children, who just saw ‘gosh, doesn’t that look fun!’, ‘Isn’t that creative?’ You know I did sewing at school, just for the first couple of years of secondary school. We all did. And I, like many other people, had a rather scary, intimidating sewing teacher. And, I understand actually on reflection why she was a bit scary and intimidating because when you’ve got thirty lairy thirteen year olds with electric sewing machines, needles, scissors, you’ve got to be in control of that group. You cannot afford to be, you know, a soft touch, so I get it! You know I understand why she was the way she was. But of course it didn’t make sewing particularly fun or enjoyable or spontaneous or creative, it all seemed a bit regimented. And I had wanted to do sewing O-Level and I went to see her and asked her what we would make if I did the course, if I took it as an option. And she said to me ‘on the course you will make an A-line skirt and half a bra’ and I said to her ‘well I know that’s what the girls make, but what will I make?’ She peered over her glasses and said ‘an A-line skirt and half a bra’! Of course!
DB: How irrelevant! [SH laughing]
SH: So of course I didn’t do sewing at school, why would I? I had absolutely no interest in making either of those two things and what a co-incidence then that the very first thing I should have to make on the Sewing Bee was an A-line skirt! [DB laughs] so, you know.
DB: It’s dogging your life is the A-line skirt!
SH: It is, this A-line skirt is going to follow me to my grave! [Both laughing] But you know, so but nowadays I was at Alexandra Palace last year, at the Knitting and Stitching Show and the place was crammed and it was on the first couple of days, the Thursday and Friday it was absolutely giddy with students doing GCSE and A-level Textiles, really vibrant, fun, excited people who just couldn’t believe all the stuff [laughs] that they could see and touch and learn about and buy. That wasn’t just the students actually, that was everybody! [both laugh]. But it was so wonderful. Particularly as an educator myself, somebody who has taught lots of children, to see children that excited about sewing and being creative. Yes, we have a future I think it’s fair to say [DB laughs] we have a future.
DB: You seem to exude joy when you talk about it, you use the word fun a lot, and pleasure, you know, and I think this is something new in relation to quilting, what do you think? It’s not a vocabulary we normally associate with quilting
SH: Isn’t that a shame! Gosh, yeah, well you know, as I say, I wasn’t brought up in a sewing household. My mum had a gold and black Singer hand-cranked sewing machine and my mum would make curtains and cushions and she would make them with gritted teeth and, you know, it’s fair to say that she hated the process and for her sewing was nothing pleasurable. You know mum would turn up trousers, she would make, mend and repair, but it was a chore it certainly wasn’t something you did for fun and as soon as, you know, she didn’t have to do those things any more my mum got rid of her sewing machine and she will never pick a needle and thread up ever again, I’m quite confident of that.
Now I think that for a lot of people sewing has been a chore and something they had to do but it’s very different now for a lot of people who are taking up sewing. They are doing so because they want to, because they can, because it’s fun and enjoyable. I mean, methods have moved on. The products we use have moved on and made it so much easier to get good results. I think methods, you know the way we do things in many ways has changed and there isn’t such an ‘old school’ attitude. I never really learned ‘the right way’ of doing things, I didn’t have that formal teaching so a lot of what I’ve done and do now is my own way of doing it. But it’s a way that gives me the results that I want, and the accuracy, and the results please me and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t have to be the ‘right way’ because to me if it pleases one, the maker, then it’s the right way. And this is what I always tell my students. I will certainly, you know, I am a stickler in my classes for accuracy, if accuracy is what we are going for, you know, then of course there are ways to achieve that, there are ‘right ways’ there are better ways of doing things, but you know I’m never ever going to sit there unpicking and unpicking and unpicking until I unpick the joy and the fun and the life [DB exactly] out of what I am doing [DB yeah]. You know, for me life is hard and sewing should be a joy, sewing should be fun you know, so yeah, it’s always fun, it’s always fun [DB laugh] and actually, you know one of the most common questions I’m asked about doing the Sewing Bee was ‘was it terribly stressful, was it awful?’ and the honest, honest answer is ‘of course it wasn’t it was wonderful!’. It was a joy, it was delightful. I mean, I, it ended up being all about dressmaking which I had virtually no experience of whatsoever…
DB: I can’t think of anything more stressful…
SH: No, no but…
DB: …than working on something you’ve no real experience of.
SH: But I thought I know how to read, I can read a pattern, I can use a sewing machine, I know how to do those things and of course, you know, the most important thing probably with dressmaking is the fit and that’s something I had no idea about and I didn’t even try I think it’s fair to say, but you can use patterns that don’t fit particularly that are very forgiving in the fit and have impact in other ways and, you know, that was sort of the route I took but for me I was there with fabric and thread and colour and [DB yes] I was sewing. Of course I was happy! Of course I wasn’t stressed! [DB laughs] I’m never stressed when I sew. And the fact that there was a camera crew there and judges didn’t really make it stressful for me.
DB: The Christmas programme seemed very chilled…
SH yes [laughs]
DB: …and chummy [laughing] and laid back didn’t it? [laughing]
SH: Yes, it was. I mean the Christmas Special was an absolute delight for me because there was no dressmaking [laughing] first and foremost. I got to do quilting, and appliqué [DB: yes] and you know crafting, I made a bag. We did a table runner, we did Christmas decorations. All these lovely things and of course I was just in my absolute element. And there was no competition, we knew that we were having a couple of days together, no-one was ‘going home’ no-one was being sent out the door, we would all leave together and it was just wonderful. And I was very pleased that we were able to show, that I was able to show another side of sewing.
DB: Yes. Do you think we’re ripe for some programmes about quilting on television? In America they have channels don’t they? I mean I’ve never seen them in the full but they have so much television exposure for quilting. What do you think?
SH: They do, they do. I mean, I… Well, I think the thing is in America the channels, the quilt shows are, they have PBS. So they have a law that they have to have air time for Public Broadcasting, so the public can make shows and that’s in law so, and they have a much, much bigger population, so the minorities and the minority interests of course are bigger than our majorities in this country. So, you know. But I mean, even in America things like Alex Anderson’s quilt show you know got axed, I think, after about twelve seasons and then she teamed up with Ricky Tims to do the Quilt Show which is now on the internet so that’s not actually on the television. So I think you know, even in America sometimes they struggle but the Internet has certainly opened things up more [DB: yes]. I think it’s a shame in this country that if you want to see sewing, crafting, knitting, whatever, most of the time the only thing you can watch is a shopping channel to see a sewing machine or someone crafting. [DB: yes] I think it would be wonderful, I think the fact that the Great British Sewing Bee, the first series that I was doing, was the most watched show on BBC2 [DB yes it was] the weeks it ran. We outperformed University Challenge [both laugh], I’m very proud of that! [Both laugh] But you know I think would [pause] a show that was more instructional work? Would it get the same viewing figures? No, it wouldn’t. You know the fact that the Sewing Bee is a competition that it is about jeopardy and drama and the personalities of the people taking part even more than the sewing is the reason for its success. If it was just people making things very beautifully and telling everyone how to make them in a very nice calm way people wouldn’t watch unfortunately [DB: yes]. Not in the numbers that they would need to. But I still think that there should be shows on the TV that are about our hobbies and our passions, you know, there are plenty of programmes about cookery and gardening and dare I say it football! You know, so yeah, I don’t see why we shouldn’t. I’ll see what I can do Dorothy!
DB: Thank you
SH: I’m trying! I am trying!
DB: Work at it…
SH: I am, I am. My publisher and my agent are doing their very best [laughs] but you know it’s really hard to get people interested in TV shows now. You know if we look at what’s on television they’re all tried and true formats. You know one thing works so next thing you know there are looky-likeys and copycats and other versions. I mean don’t forget the Sewing Bee is another version of the ‘Bake Off’ [DB yes] you know, it was a format that they knew worked and they altered the, what people were making, but they knew that format worked. A programme that was about quilt making, well I’d watch it! [laughs]
DB: Well that’s two of us!
SH: Two of us!
DB: Two in the ratings! [laughs]Tell me a little about your book. That’s a very recent…
SB: My book!
DB: And I’m looking at the book as we sit here.
SH: The book’s here! Yeah, I mean I got two copies of the book just a couple of days ago. It’s not in the shops yet. So these were just two books for me to look at and I mean it’s just, yeah. It’s called ‘Sew Fabulous’ and it’s really a book actually about home decor. Not solely about quilt making because you know actually the thing that started me sewing was making curtains, and cushions, and table cloths and then I made some quilts. And of course the quilting was the thing that really took hold, but I have never stopped making curtains, blinds, chair covers and so on.
And to me you know it’s actually much more relevant for the majority of us to be able to sew for our home than to sew for ourselves. I think probably nine out of ten people who sew things would not wear them and have no interest in making clothes for themselves. And actually a lot of people who have done lots of sewing in the past will say that they made clothes for their children and when their children were very young. Well you can put young children in anything [both laughing] and they don’t complain until they’re about two and then they start pulling things off! But you know, I mean it’s really hard to make garments that fit and look really good, I think. And you need a really high level of skill whereas you know anyone, a total beginner, could make cushions or a curtain or a tablecloth, napkins, things like this, bunting for their home and be really proud of it and get real success. So for me, when I wrote the book I wanted to write a book that would inspire people to do just that. You know. I think we went through a phase where everyone was almost bleaching out their homes and everything was cream and white and all the colour went and it drained from our lives [DB: that’s right] and we all became a bit of a beige society. And now we’re all staying in our homes because we’re not selling them and moving on any more. You know we’re staying put and we’re making the most of our homes and making them beautiful. And we want our homes to reflect who we are, not trying to bleach out all the personality so they appeal to someone else.
So that was really my starting point for the book. So the book’s divided up into chapters according to the different rooms in a home. The hall, the kitchen, the lounge, the bedroom, the garden and so on. And there are all sorts of different projects, some easy, some more challenging. Some that you can do almost instantly, some that will take you days or weeks. Some that don’t even require sewing. I have no problem with using a glue gun, a hammer, nails and a staple gun [laughs] for some of my projects. And some of them use fusibles, some of the fusibles now are fantastic. You don’t even need a sewing machine for some projects. To me it’s not just about sewing, it’s about enjoying fabric and it’s about being creative with fabric. So, it was a joy to write the book, it was an absolute pleasure you know it was hard [laughs] because, because. The hardest thing actually was showing it [DB: yes] when it was done because I had been working for a couple of months on projects and writing and then my editor and the art director from my publisher actually came to see me and they said ‘so let’s see what you done, what you’ve got!’ and I felt a little bit like, you know, I’d got this, I don’t know, maybe it was like having a baby and being afraid that everyone would think it was ugly! [both laughing]. You know I was scared to show it, you know, in case people didn’t like it. But yeah and the whole process of writing the book and creating the projects, doing the photography, the styling. I was very lucky, I had an amazing team to work with, a brilliant photographer, a wonderful stylist, wonderful art directors. And we had these terrific locations, I mean we’ve photographed my quilt in a car park in Goole today but you know [DB: sorry!] I know next time, but you know one of the locations that we did the book in was a sort of four million pound house in London, which doesn’t buy you a lot does it in London? But it was amazing! So we had a lot of fun, we had a lot of fun as well and I’m very excited about…
DB: Will there be a second? Will there be a sequel?
SH: Well there’s certainly going to be a second book. I’m not sure that it will necessarily be a sequel to ‘Sew Fabulous’ because this is about home decor and there are a few quilts, and there are quilted projects in the book, but my second book I very much want to be about quiltmaking. I want to focus in on the thing that really drives me personally and, you know, explore the possibilities there. So I’m working on some projects now for that. So hopefully that should be, that should come together in the not too distant future.
DB: Excellent, watch this space!
SH: Yes. I don’t know if I’ll be able to churn one out every year … maybe every two years! That would be good, wouldn’t it?
DB: Where do you see yourself as a quilt maker, as a crafter, teacher, an author, a designer? Where do you see yourself in a few years time, five ten years time?
SH: I, I hope that I am still enjoying my sewing. I hope, you know the best thing for me will be if I am personally still enjoying what I do and still finding fulfilment. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t. I don’t know whether the big interest in what I do will go on forever more. I think it’s very hard to sustain that sort of interest for a very long time, but some people manage it. But I will always teach, I will always teach because at my heart I am a teacher and I love to do that and I love to support and encourage other people, and get other people excited about what they can do. And I will, I’m sure, always be a designer of one sort or another. I will always design projects for other people. And they are not about sort of showing off what I can do personally. They are about saying ‘you can do this’, ‘you could make this easily’, ‘you could do this in a weekend’, ‘you could do this as your first ever project’. You know for me, when I design things it’s not about my ego or about, you know, as I say, showing off. I want to encourage other people to have a go. I want to show people how easy it is, how approachable. So I hope I’m always doing things like that really. And yes, I’d love to do more books, I’d love to, I would love to do you know more things on TV. I would love to be involved in the programme that’s on, you know, national TV about quilting. I want everyone to know how much fun we have.
And also, one thing that’s very, very close to my heart is British quilting history and our British quilting heritage. I think it’s a bit sad actually that most of us quilters, if we know something about quilt history it’s about American quilt history and I think it’s a shame that we don’t know even that small snippet about British quilting history. So, and we’ve got such a rich heritage and such a lot of history to be proud of, so I would love to do more to get that story or those stories out there so that people know what we’ve got in this country. That heritage we’ve got, you know. I’m meeting up with a group from America next year who are coming over to look at British quilt history, you know, so we’ve got groups from America coming here to study us. You know and lots of us are going to America to look at what they are doing which is great! But I want us all to know as much about British quilt history as we do about everyone else, or more [DB yeah] would be good.
Thank you Stuart. I mean you’ve already taken one little step in recording your story for Talking Quilts in capturing that heritage and that history because that’s exactly what the project is aiming to do. So thank you so much…
SH: It’s been a pleasure
DB: …for recording your interview. It’s been a delight and please continue spreading the joy!
SH: I promise I will!
DB: You’re doing a very good job at it [both laugh].