ID number: TQ.2015.007
Name of interviewee: Suleika Malcolm
Name of interviewer: Alice Sage
Name of transcriber: Take 1
Location: Suleika’s home
Address: Lewisham, London
Date: 6 March 2015
Length of interview: 1:02:12
Suleika’s quilt was inspired by a quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she works. She started the quilt as a ‘homely’ quilt for herself, but it ultimately became a wedding present for her daughter. Suleika talks about discovering how she could use different techniques to include words and pictures in her quiltmaking. Later in the interview she refers to learning her sewing skills during her childhood in Holland and how her skills developed through her life. Suleika talks about why creativity is important for adults and her excitement in exploring new ideas.
Alice Sage [AS]: Okay, this is Talking Quilts interview TQ.2015.007 between Alice Sage and Suleika Malcolm on Friday 6th March, 2015. So, Suleika, would… do you want to start by describing the quilt that you’ve chosen?
Suleika Malcolm [SM]: Yes. I started with the centre of my quilt, and I started it in a very traditional way, and also using the hexagonal shapes which I had used many times before for baby quilts. But then, because I’d been to the exhibition, the quilt exhibition at the V&A [AS: Hmm] and I went … I think three times, ’cause I really loved it there was so much to take in, I realised that nowadays you can take it a lot further instead of just using… the geometrical shapes and… making a quilt just out of those shapes; you can also combine different techniques and use words as well. So I thought I can use also my embroidery skills and perhaps do appliqué and… I have to find some words to go with this quilt. And… the colours I started with, with were all… different shades of green and pink and… sort of warm reds. So it was quite traditional, really, the beginning of it, and quite old-fashioned as well, the colours were quite old-fashioned, the prints were quite old-fashioned, so I wanted to give it a different twist. And I thought, ‘okay, this is what you use at night, so you want to feel safe underneath this, you want to feel warm, you want to feel cosy, it’s got to be homely,’ ’cause that’s what a quilt represents for me. And … [sighs] I couldn’t come up with good words myself, so I thought, ‘What about Celtic blessings?’ So I went onto the computer and I was searching and searching anything, any Celtic blessing that would go with my quilt, and then slowly it started to take shape. So I found these words, ‘may you have warm words on a cold evening,’ which is great for the quilt. And … I used for the appliqué, the two birds, which are like two lovebirds, practically kissing each other, yeah? Because they are talking together, they’re having this conversation. Maybe just a couple, the two of you, underneath the quilt, so ‘warm words’, it means you’re loving to each other. But on a cold evening, so you really need this quilt to go under and to feel really, sort of, cosy and snuggly under. And then I came across ‘a full moon… on a dark night’, and this is what’s so beautiful about the, the Celtic blessings, because … they’re very evocative. And a full moon is quite special. And of course, when it’s a dark night, you get a full moon, you can see where you’re going so you can get somewhere safely, and it’s all to do with feeling safe. So I used that for my second panel, and I made an appliqué full moon, and then I thought, ‘Mm, needs something else. What about an owl?’ Because he’s a night bird. And… he’s very wise as well, and it’s quite good to have this, oh, this wise old owl looking… at you while you’re walking on your way home, and the full moon will guide you, will give you enough light. And then I found the ro… ‘and the road downhill all the way to your door’, which again was very poetic. So I thought, ‘That can be my third panel. How do I … show the road going downhill? Well, I have to get some hills or mountains first, put a full moon above there again and then embroider this path going downhill.’ And I thought, ‘Let’s have a lovely little cottage.’ So this is like my dream cottage, the sort of dream cottage that’s always been in my life from when I was a little child already; the, the dream cottage somewhere [cough] out in nature, you know. So it’s got a chimney, there’s smoke coming out of the chimney, it’s got a door with a heart-shape window. Um… little window next to it with shutters and a room … o-obviously in the loft, so with a window in the roof as well. So that’s going down the hill all the way… to your door.
But of course I had a fourth panel. Well, you can see it better here. And… there were no more words. So I thought, ‘Okay, the fourth panel has got to be … once you’ve come home and it’s gonna be the cat sitting on the rug in front of the fireplace, ’cause that will be… the proper ending to it, in a way for me.’ I always liked cats; they belong to this home-y feeling as well, having this cat. The cat likes to be in a warm place as well. The cat will always find the warmest place in the house, so that’s the cat sitting in front of the fireplace. So there I had my four panels. And then it wasn’t big enough, ’cause I wanted it to be for a double bed, so I had to get extra material that would go with the colours I already had. And I just somehow worked it out; it just grew. It wasn’t a clear idea that was there right from the beginning. It literally started off with, ‘Okay, let’s make a quilt, hexagonal shapes,’ and then, ‘I want it to be more interesting. Let’s do four panels using different techniques – the appliqué and the embroidery.’ And then I went back to the shapes again, the sort of geometric shape, with stars in the four corners and, sort of, squares in between. And I somehow worked it out that it was gonna be balanced with the colours.
I managed to find some nice fabric – white with sort of green sprigs on it – for the whole panel to go onto, and this fabric was also going to make the border for the quilt. And then to bring it all together, because it was quite light, I needed to somehow do something with the four corners again, and the hearts… of dark red seemed the right sort of answer to that. Now, originally it was going to be for me… and my partner, but in the meantime, while I was working on this quilt [laughs] oh! I left my partner, didn’t I? So then… I left the quilt for a long time as well. Because when you start it for a particular person… and then that relationship is finished, you don’t really want to go back to it, somehow. And then when Catherine got married, I thought, ‘Really she would like this because these are traditional colours.’ She is religious as well, so the Celtic blessings would really means something to her, and it would be such a lovely… thing to finish and then to give to her in a way, you know. So then, of course, I decided I needed to have her and Neil’s name on it with the date and a little heart, which you can’t see very well on this picture but… here it is. Yeah. So that’s when they got married – Catherine and Neil, the heart and the date. And, yeah … I never told Catherine that I meant it to be for myself first of all, but… um… it’s really their quilt. It’s, it’s perfect for them. So that’s all, how it all came about.
I got the wadding really nice. Um… It was 100% cotton as well. I wanted it to be good, good quality, you know. All the fabric was 100% cotton, and the wadding as well in between there. Yeah, that’s it. And they’ve got it on their bed. I’ve been to visit them and it’s there all the time, they’re using it, which is really nice. So that’s the story of my quilt.
AS: That’s really interesting. So what, at what p- … So did you completely finish it?
AS: And… um…
SM: I… I did not manage to do all the hand quilting in time for the wedding, so I gave it to them, said, ‘This is your present, but I need to finish it off.’ I mean, it was practically finished. I mean, it looked like it was finished but… when you, um … have the wadding in between the fabrics, you need to anchor it by stitching, er… It did say for that wadding, I think the distance had to be something like 8 inches between the stitches, otherwise when you would wash it, it would… pulverise and it wouldn’t stay together properly. So… I had to make sure that I did enough stitching and… and that’s why you see these little red flowers. I remember again now; that’s why I anchored it, I went right through.
SM: And the middle panel, I did a stitching around the… um… geometric shapes. [Talking over each other] But I couldn’t do that…
SM: … with the panels with the, with the blessings and the appliqué, so that’s why I put in the little red stars.
AS: Yes. So were you backing it and wadding it as you went, or did you do that after you’d made the whole quilt top?
SM: That’s after I made the whole quilt top, yeah. And I got that fabric as well.
AS: And when did you [interruption] stop making it… for yourself and start making it for Catherine?
SM: Probably about… one and half to two years before I made it for Catherine I stopped, yeah.
AS: [talking over each other] At what point was that?
SM: [talking over each other] And then about … two, three months before the wedding I decided, ‘I’m gonna make thi…, finish this for her,’ so then I really blitzed on it and just… you know, I did it quite quickly, finished it off quite quickly. Yeah.
AS: How did that feel, giving something that… you know, changing the meaning of it?
SM: Um… Well, the meaning was still the same in that it was supposed to m… be a lovely thing to have on your bed and to feel really happy under. And they were going to be happy under it, you see? It was for two people and… So I never did say to her though that I’m… originally made it for myself, because it’s not necessary, you know. She might as well… Well, it’s not, it’s not important, yeah [chatter].
AS: And what was her reaction when she received it?
SM: I didn’t see them opening it because they got so many presents at the wedding, so they must have opened it either the next day or that evening. But she did tell me straight away that they really loved it. And I know they love it, so … yeah. And it’s the nicest give you can … give, actually, something you’ve actually made yourself, because you put a lot of… sort of creative love into it, you know. A lot of time. I mean, if you would … and I didn’t keep track of the hours I put into it but it was probably hundreds of hours, so it … In money it would be … a very expensive present. But that’s not really important, but it, it makes it more meaningful in a way, as well.
AS: Because of the time?
SM: Yeah. Uh-huh. Mm… [pause]I don’t really think I could say anything else about this in particular. I mean, I started off doing lots of baby quilts. ’cause when I came to England, I saw a book. I’ve still got this book. It was in the … late ’70s. It was about patchwork and quilting, and I’d only sort of heard about patchwork, I think through ‘Little House on the Prairie or one of those books. It was a very American thing in my eyes; it wasn’t a Dutch thing at all. And then when I saw this book with all these lovely sort of flowery, Liberty-like fabrics, it was so quintessential English, in my eyes, coming here to England, that… it was something I wanted to… to try my hand it, because I’ve always liked different forms of needlework, but… it just seemed… So, I came to England, so now I wanted to do English things, so that was one of the things I wanted to do. It was quite complicated, but by looking at the book, reading the book, looking at the photographs, I got an idea. And then one day I was in Liberty’s and… their haberdashery, in their haberdashery department, on that floor, and they were selling little… hexagonal paper Liberty templates for patchwork. Because I always thought, ‘How can I get enough… templates that are… really exactly the right… size and shape?’ you know, it’s very difficult to make them yourself, to be really precise about it. That’s why I hadn’t sort of got on with it. But then once I saw these templates for sale – they were very cheap – I thought, ‘okay, now I can start. Now I can have a go at this.’ So that’s how I started doing my very first… patchwork quilt. And I bought some… Liberty’s fabrics, I think about six or seven – Tana Lawn, it was – and… um… one of my best friends, she was just expecting her first baby so I thought, ‘I’ll make this for Rosemary’s baby,’ and while I was making it I was working at, in English National Opera, in the wardrobe department at the time. So in the evening while the… chorus ladies went on stage to do their scenes, I would do a bit of my sewing. And so they saw me working on it, and one of them said, ‘Oh! I’m gonna be a grandmother; can you do one for my first grandchild?’ So I got a commission. I did one… another one, practically straight away, and then I didn’t do any patchwork for a long time and… Unfortunately I never made any for my own babies. I did a lot of knitting but I sort of forgot a bit about patchwork. And then years later I was in a group of singers and one of the girls was expecting her first child, so I thought, “OK, I’ll make another… patchwork baby blanket.” Um. So I’d done about three baby blankets before I did this, really. This was the first big project. And since then I’ve done another… another baby blanket and another… quilt as a wedding present for Fenella, another colleague, because I thought, [laughs] ‘I made one for Catherine, now I’ve got another colleague getting married I better do one for her as well!’ [Laughs] You know. So … But that was not my own design. I asked her … which fabrics they wanted, they chose their fabrics and they even came up with the design, so I don’t want to give that as an example. I mean, it was lovely but it … wasn’t really created by me. Well, I made it but, you know… wasn’t my brainchild, if you see what I mean.
AS: What do you think the link is with babies and quilts?
SM: Um… not necessarily, it’s just it’s so much quicker to it for a baby [laughs]. It’s smaller. So that’s why it’s good to start as well, so you’re not gonna be put off and, and be discouraged straight away. [AS: mmm] Because I do… most of it by hand. This was practically all done by hand. All the… patchwork was done by hand. You can do patchwork on the machine… but I like… doing it by hand, because… I don’t know. It’s just, it’s a sl…, much slower process, but… it’s very precise, and it’s traditional. And… And I enjoy sewing by hand as well. I have done a baby one, a square one, on the machine really quickly, and that was… that was nice but it wasn’t… as meaningful somehow.
AS: So you use papers and… fold over papers?
AS: Could you tell me a bit more about that process? About how you… um… how you design what it’s gonna look like?
AS: [talking over each other] Maybe for the one…
SM: [talking over each other] I’m…
AS: … that you’re working on now.
SM: Yeah, okay. Because I’ve started now planning more … in my head exactly what I want to do. In the past it’s been very slapdash. My projects have… I’ve started and then I’ve somehow worked out how it was going to develop and how I was going to finish things. Um… I’ve done that with everything, with story writing and now I’m bec… I’m getting better at… planning the whole thing in advance. So… With my latest project I decided… ’cause I saw so many lovely fabrics with birds on them, and there’s something about birds. I really like birds, and they’re feather light, and they’re very delicate, um… Most birds are not threateni… threatening. The ones that… I’ve used, the, the, the… er, the pictures of birds I’ve got on the fabrics I’ve chosen are not birds of prey, they’re not scary birds, so they’re just sweet little birds, yeah? And… quite often in a duvet you’ve got feathers, bird feathers as well, so it is very light and it’s very warm and it’s… very comforting as well, but there is something about falling asleep… and dreaming… being transported to somewhere else. Um… we can’t fly by ourselves as human beings, but I’ve always been able to fly in my dreams. When I was a child I could always fly, um… often to get away out of sticky situations [laughs]. But I do connect it with sleeping somehow, the flying, and getting into another dream world through flying away. So I just thought it would be nice, since I saw so many nice fabric with birds as well, to use bird fabrics for my… my new quilt. And then I was thinking, ‘Which shape am I going to use?’ because these fabrics are so nice the shapes have to be quite… big, otherwise you lose the… the beauty fo the fabrics. And then I found, in a book I’ve got, a design whereby you use two squares and two… these are kites – aren’t they called kites, these are what they… what, er, do you call these shapes? Um… they’re like lozenges, they are, yeah. And when you put them together like I’ve done here, they actually make a bit of a bird shape as well. This can be… [noise] the sort of beak of the bird, the two wings, and that can be the tail. A bird in flight. So I have the bird fabrics, I’ve got the shape of a bird in flight, [noise] and these will interlink [noise].
SM: So I’ve got about 12 different fabrics, but I’m not just going to put these next to each other.
SM: If you think of … the whole quilt for a bit, in one corner I’m going to have these shapes in green, like the trees. And then in these trees are some birds already taking off [noise] in flight, yeah? And then slowly on we’re gonna have more birds together, and less green, and the green is gonna get… lighter as well. So I will do… [noise] one shape of just dark green, but the next one might be dark green and some lighter green in it, and then a bird in between, and then another one with some dark green and some lighter green, and then a bird. So these birds are flying out of the trees, but then for most of the quilt the background of the birds is gonna be sky blue, ’cause they’re already flying in the sky. And I’m going to space it out so that … [background noise] these will look good, these shapes, and they will still look as birds as well. So I’m not even sure if they’re all going to be touching. I need to make enough of these shapes and then… put ’em on the floor and see… how much greenery and how much sky they have to have in between them, because that I can’t visualise until I… try it out. And then I’ve got some [microphone noise] words as well somewhere. Where did I put my words? ’cause again, I want to put some words in it too. And I was looking, but there are not blessings with birds that are any good, so… in the end I came up with [paper rustling] something which I think I’ve written down [rustling noise] somewhere. Hm. Where did I [rustling noise] write it down? This is me not being organised. This is… [NOISE] Maybe you should stop the tape and I can look for the word [chatter and microphone noise].
SM: Yeah, so this is the blue for the sky. Then I’ve got different greens, I’ve got a slightly darker green somewhere as well.
AS: Where do you get your fabrics from?
SM: Ah! Fabric Rehab, which is a really nice website. And then I’ve got… these blue and the green ones which are similar [microphone noise]. And these multi-coloured… um… This one. And then I’ve got… Oh, I know, the peacocks are lovely as well. And then this is… [microphone noise] [inaudible] blue, and little green ones, and this is very beautiful too. [AS: mmm] It’s really lovely. I mean, they are just so nice. When you see them you want to make things with them, that’s what’s so nice about them. See, all these different ones. I will probably do some sort of a border as well with them, eventually I know, [AS: Lovely] the toucan birds, too. Yeah. It’s just… I can’t find the wording right now. Maybe I can add that a later time.
AS: Yeah. So, but you were saying in the end…
SM: But it’s something about … ‘little bird, little bird… take me under your wings’, or, ‘so fly away… to the land of dreams’. Something like that.
AS: And you wrote that?
SM: And I’m going to … embroider that somehow onto the quilt. In the sky, I think, at the… that corner.
SM: Yeah. That’s the whole idea. So… again, it’s a [AS: mmm] it’s one to feel… safe under. There’s a bit of escapism here as well. It’s a diff… it’s a different slant to it, isn’t it?
SM: Yeah. But…
AS: Does it feel different planning a quilt… you did plan the other one for yourself but it… it didn’t… you didn’t end up keeping it. Does it feel different to plan one that’s just for you?
SM: Yes [interruption]. And I’m definitely [background noise] gonna keep this one. I’ve really decided, you know, it’s… [laughs].
SM: Yeah. Um … and a modern, more modern fabrics as well. I’ve gone away from the really traditional. But that’s quite nice because it’s evolving. It’s not just doing what I’ve seen in the books, you know, it’s … I want to try and come up with something that’s … totally my own idea now.
SM: And I haven’t see anything like this anywhere else. I’ve looked at l… at lots of quilts [noise]… on the internet and I get things sent to me from, via Facebook as well, somehow they now know that I’m into quilting and it’s lovely and it’s really inspiring but… I’ve not seen anybody doing this. This has just come up out of my own head, which is nice. That’s really what I wanted to get at. I wanted to get to the stage that I could really come up with something unique in a way [interruption]. Yeah. And it’s all going to be … pure cotton again [noise]. Um… so a really good quality, and it will … the idea is that it’s an heirloom as well – that’s the nice thing about these things. They are … not just to use for a few years, they’re to pass on as well. Um… [interruption] Yeah. I…
AS: Do you have things like that that were passed on to you?
SM: Yeah, lots of things were passed on to me and, and there is a good chance that my children won’t like this at all, that it won’t be very meaningful to them, because a lot of things that were passed on to me were not necessarily what I wanted. Which sounds not every, um… grateful, does it? But, um… Far too much was passed on to me, so it became a burden. So maybe that’s not something we should talk about! [Laughs]
AS: Yours is gonna be light.
SM: Yes, exactly.
AS: It’s gonna be a light burden.
SM: Yeah, yeah. Mm.
AS: So how did you… so you said before you started quilting when you came to Britain [interruption] you were already accomplished with needlework.
AS: How did… what… tell me about that.
SM: That all started at primary school, and that’s where I learned all my skills, funnily enough [noise]. It’s one of the best things I learned at primary school, apart from reading and writing. I had a really good, um… needlework classes and it started off with… like a sample… with wool, doing different stitches… in the first year. I can still remember everything. The second year we made a bookmark, out of different embroidery stitches, and we had to knit… a little teddy bear out of cotton. And I finished that in time, so then I did some crochet; I made a little net for… juggling balls. That was my second year. The third year I had to knit… baby bootees. Pink wool, I can still remember. Um… probably some other things as well, but that was the most important thing I made in the third year. The fourth year we had to knit… baby mittens with four needles. Yeah, I really learned a lot. And then… I learned to make things… like a baby bib with bias tape around it, and to do part of it on the sewing machine and then the rest by hand, where you turn the bias tape round. You stitch the, the other end. One side you do on the machine, you turn it over and then at the back you do it by hand, and very neat sort of… slip stitches. I think they’re called slip stitches. I don’t quite know the English terms always, ’cause I learned it in Holland. Um… and we also had to… um… We made a lot with felt. That’s probably why I still like working with felt as well. Like, a picture with a girl – she was watering the garden with a watering can, and everything was out of felt. She had little clogs on as well. Um… a made a… picture of a black cat out of felt. And then I had to design, in the last year… something, anything… but using felt. So I thought, ‘Mm, most thing will look too…
SM: … amateuristic. I need to do something with easy shapes that can look really good.” So then I came up with this idea of a fruit bowl with fruit in it – banana, apple, a pear probably, and I also put a tomato in the corner. And I was allowed to take it home to work on it, and I came back after I had had it at home over the weekend, and I’d embroidered a little stalk and the little crinkled leaves of the tomato in green, and the teacher looked at it and she said, ‘That wasn’t you who did it, that was your mother.’ And I was so upset because I knew my mother could not have done it [laughs]. That was the funny thing about it. And I think she then saw because I was… I have a very honest expression that no, I must have done it myself, so she gave me nine out of ten that year for, for needlework [laughs]. And then secondary school that was it, it was all academic, so… But I kept doing things, and when I was really little I would make things for my Barbie dolls, I would sew clothes for them, I would knit jumpers for them, little hats with a… bobble and whatever, you know. I can still remember bits of it. So I was always making things, and I would have, um… when we were on holiday I would have needlework… er, packs whereby you did, um… a little tapestry picture with wool or with… um… with cotton. And it was already printed on to the canvas and just sew. But I did lots of things like that, and even later on after I went to Norway when I was sort of 18, 19 and I did my ballet, I… in the evenings I would still do some needlework, but I always bought kits for many years. I bought things that had been designed by other… men or women, and then would… execute ’em really meticulously until I ac… I think it was really when I started to work at the museum that I realised… I’m creative enough to come up with my own designs. So it’s really been late in my life that I started to… come up with things myself. And it’s having the confidence. I had the skills but I didn’t… realise I had the skills. It’s very much, I think, through artsmask, coming up with ideas for, for the children, you know, and then realising… ‘Hang on, I am creative. I can do these things.’ Yeah. So it’s sort of…
AS: [talking over each other] And so how long ago was that you… started at the museum?
SM: Um … eight and a half years ago. So, yeah. Mm. And that’s also why now I want to be more… creative and not just do something exactly in the traditional way. It’s nice to use… traditional techniques. But it’s more interesting if you give it a… another sort of slant, you know. Yeah. So it’s all evolving, which is nice. Bit later on in my life but… better late than never [laughs].
AS: Did you keep doing, um… needlework when your children were born and were growing up?
SM: Yes, I did, um… I did a lot of knitting. I made lots of little baby clothes and jumpers when they were little, and so on. And… I worked on these really… big, Danish… scenes. I did one of Norway, of Oslo. It was a… I had to read… it was cross stitch. I had to read from a chart. Very complicated, but I left that behind in the house of my previous partner. Unfortunately I just couldn’t take everything. Um… and I’m still working on… well, I have one of Amsterdam which I haven’t finished yet, and I should really finish it because I’ve done probably four fifths of it, and it’s a real shame that I haven’t finished it, but it’s not so interesting to me now because it’s just… reading from the chart, and I just want to create things… myself now. So I have really changed. A lot. And I worked a lot on that. I did a lot of, um … Like, I’ve got some tapestry cushions here as well, especially Kaffe Fassett. I really like Kaffe Fassett’s designs ’cause they’re so colourful. They really speak to me. He uses a lot of plants and vegetables and… you know… I, I see them and I want to make them. But now I know I should not just copy him; I should come up with my own designs.
AS: Why ‘should’?
SM: Because I can do it. And it will be so much more fulfilling then. [AS: mmm]. But it’s a big step… to know that I can actually do it and I just have to… A… and now I don’t have to push myself so much. I, I, I’ve, I’ve gained in confidence, but it’s been very much the last couple of years, actually; it’s quite interesting. Yeah. I did a…
AS: Do you do sketches or anything or does it… sort of come?
SM: [Talking over each other] Sometimes. Like, I did a sketch for this, um… for this doll – which I probably can’t find now – what the boy should look like [paper rustling]. Have we got that in here? Because that helped me a little bit. Um… Yeah, sometimes I just have things in my head. Sometimes I do sketches. Er… I do small projects. Like, I made a quilted cover for my iPad, ’cause I was going to go on holiday and I thought, ‘It needs to be protected.’ That’s probably in my bedroom; I’ll go and get that. Oh, I made this as well. This was one of the things, my little sewing… um… It’s like a travel… sort of… What would you call it? A folder for my sewing things? But it’s made out of fabric. It’s not a folder, is it? It’s like a…
SM: Kit. [Talking over each other] A travel kit for my scissors, needles, pins, and then I… there’s enough room to put some, some, um… some cotton in as well, some bobbins but not too many because I can just put in there what I need for my… project at the time, or what I need for the day, really.
AS: So tell me about… ’cause I wanted to ask you about where and when you did quilting. So this is…
SM: This is quilted as well. This is quilted and appliqué, and I did this probably just over a year ago. So, I made one for myself… Because I had these lovely fabrics and little bits of fabric which were so small, left over from the cushions and the… curtains, but I didn’t want to throw them away because they’re so sweet, so I thought, ‘Well… this is a tiny, wee strip, but it looks quite nice [microphone noise] if I put it on here, just add it on to this.’ And the nice button just added on. Er…
AS: So how h… What, what does this mean for you, quilting? What does it…
SM: [Sighs] Oh, it’s so hard to say but it’s a real feeling of… It’s got an incredible goodness factor about it – I don’t know why. It’s really weird. Um… But the inspiration comes from the fabrics as well. And… [sighs] And maybe if I would live my life all over again I would actually want to become a fabric designer… and learn to print fabrics too. But… you can’t do everything and, oh, you know, I’m busy enough as it is but… That would, might have been a direction I w… might have liked to have gone into. But I think because I did not have the opportunity to do art and textiles at secondary school I forgot about that a bit. I think if that would have been encouraged I might well have… ended up as some sort of textile artist, I think now… really. Um… But then if I would have had music at secondary school maybe [laughs] I would have ended up as a musician as well because I’ve got great passions for both… art, textile art, and music. Um… And, as I said, it was… But then my academic subjects were very interesting too, so… Can’t do everything. But it’s just a shame that there was no, um… Oh! Yeah, if there would have been a outlet for it at school, I think I would’ve been encouraged more, and I might have… discovered that I can do these things at a much earlier age. It’s happened a bit late now in a way, yeah [chatter].
AS: Do you think it’s late? And …
SM: No, it’s not, but… I could maybe have made a career out of it more in a way and … but that’s quite hard to do that now. Mm. [Noise of cup being put down]
AS: So where do you do most of your… work?
SM: A lot of my work I do here… at a table. The dining table. And a lot of work I do at the information desk at work [laughs]. I get away with it somehow. But I find it really hard to sit still and not to do anything. I mean, I can do nothing at home, but at work I find… it’s… it’s incredibly boring to have to stand on the door. And… if I have to sit at a desk and not do anything as well, I would go absolutely crazy. ’cause I didn’t work that out, that if you are creative and you’re good as an activity assistant you’re not gonna be good at the security bit; that’s not… [Laughs] to be combined. So… I survive by… thinking of my projects when I’m on the door. I think about which fabrics I want to buy next and what I want to make next and… how I can combine things and… Sometimes it’s just something that always will stay in my head, but it’s just… it keeps, it gets me through those hours on the door. And then when I sit at a desk and when it’s not busy… I do my sewing. And people are very interested in it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. A lot of women come up to me and ask what I’m doing. You know, it’s quite a nice thing to be able to talk about with visitors. So, so … so far nobody has stopped me from doing it yet. Which is pretty good, yeah. But I need good light for it, so it needs to be somewhere where I have good light. So normally I have another lamp here. That’s really important. Yeah. But I like to… I get bored if I do the same thing all the time. This is also why I like to … combine different techniques, and now I have different things on the go. I have… I’m knitting socks as well you know. I have something else on the go. I’m making… a bag there with appliqué… which I’ve drawn, ’cause my friend… Tracy is into fishing and, um… sustainable fishing, so I thought it would be nice to make her… a bag with fish on top. Er, yeah. So, yeah, I won’t just do quilting and patchwork all the time; that would… I would get bored with it then. That’s why I need to combine it with other techniques as well, and have other projects too. I can’t just do one thing.
AS: I think there must be… I mean, there must be a connection between what you were saying about… having those hours of standing, thinking, [SM: Yes] and then also now you feel like… y-y-… more creative.
AS: You know, and maybe those boring hours are what’s feeding into that… [Talking over each other] you being able to have that time to think about stuff.
SM: Yes. It gives me time to think, but it also makes me realise that I don’t want to waste other time… [IAS: mmm] you know. OK. I’m… I’m not really wasting it, because I’m getting paid, but at the same time I’m wasting a lot of hours when I could have done other things. You can look at it in so many different ways. [AS: mmm] So maybe I need to be very creative as well as, to cope with the boring… bits too. It’s possible it’s brought something out as well, yeah. And of course, I mean, that lovely space where I always see Theresa’s exhibitions, and they are inspiring too. They give me ideas as well. I think it is all connected somehow. And maybe, um… the subconscious is connected too. It’s quite difficult to work out, really, ’cause you don’t always analyse everything, but… Yeah, there must be connections there, definitely.
AS: And maybe f… I don’t know. Maybe feeling more independent in your life as well, that you can… do things just for yourself.
SM: Yes. And I’ve got… enough money to buy these nice fabrics, and to… indulge in my hobbies, yeah. And I’ve got more time as well, to indulge, even though I work very hard. When I’m not at work I don’t have to look after anybody else, so my time is mine which is a… it’s amazing. [AS: mmm] That’s a real luxury. [AS: mmm] And while I can still do it, ’cause I don’t know if I’ll get arthritis in my hands, and I don’t know how my eyes are going to be when I get older, I really feel I want to do as much as possible at the moment, ’cause… I’ve come to a point in my life, I’m now nearly 57, so… I… don’t have much time left as I already lived, you know? And… it… time becomes more… precious. [AS: mmm] Yeah. I don’t want, don’t want to waste it. [AS: mmm] If I’m wasting it it’s because I’m really enjoying wasting it but not… you know, I don’t want to f-fritter it just away. It’s… I’ve become very conscious of that as well. [AS: mmm] Yeah.
AS: There’s something about time in quilt-making that’s interesting… to me, because it’s a very time-consuming… thing.
SM: Yes. I’ve always been good at very time-consuming things with my needlework. Because if you see the Amsterdam picture… [AS: mmm] that is just… unbelievable, all the little stitches. You want me to show it to you? [AS: mmm] Yeah?
0:38:48 AS: Have you got it here? [Talking over each other] Yeah, I’d love to see [chatter and microphone noise].
AS: Oh wow!
SM: I mean, there’s so many… [talking over each other]
AS: Oh, it’s lovely!
SM: … tiny stitches. It’s cross stitches and other stitches… on top of the cross stitch again. To … because it’s a city… scene of 1650 [AS: mmm], isn’t it? The Amsterdam of 1650. So it’s all the important buildings, the ships in the harbour. So yeah, actually I’ve come a very long way.
AS: Mm. The colours are lovely. [SM: Yeah] They’re very light aren’t they?
SM: Mm. So really I should finish this.
AS: What … but you don’t want … you’re not sure you want to?
SM: I will finish it. I will have to finish it. But first one, I wanna finish my quilt [laughs].
AS: So, what would you do with this when it’s finished? Frame it?
SM: It has to be framed, yeah. The walls are gonna be absolutely full of stuff.
AS: So, w… do you think of quilts as quite functional objects?
SM: Yes. But I like … functional objects to be beautiful as well, and I think it’s the textiles… and probably the pictures on the walls that really make, um… that create an atmosphere in a house. And… the textiles can make it very homely – the curtains, the cushions – my mum was always into having nice cushions and… and I do like cushions as well. And I don’t really like them to be squashed. They’re more an ornamental thing [laughter]. So yeah. Mm… Yes, that’s… one of the first thing you make to make it feel really homely – a nice tablecloth, a nice sort of runner on the table perhaps and … some nice pictures. And you don’t need to have a lot of other things.
AS: So, you said that your mum couldn’t have… embroidered that tomato… stalk. Was she… needlework and…?
SM: She tried very hard, but it was like she w… I found out late on that she actually should’ve … she was left-handed but she was never allowed to use her left hand, and I think that’s why… whatever she did always seemed a bit awkward. She’d peel an orange and it would end up as this sort of juice thing, dripping with juice, and you wouldn’t want to eat it any longer, um… She’d cut the cheese and it would end up in a boat shape, and we always took the mickey out her, but… I now realise, because she was doing it with her right hand and… she should just have been allowed to use her left hand. And she did do sewing, and she tried very hard but, I mean, I was, even as a child, quite early on… but never really… learned to unleash it all. That, I’m not sure about. I mean, she’s different generation and everything. [AS: mmm] She’s got a very modern… style for a lady of… 88. Um… But, yeah. I don’t re… I don’t think she’s created a lot of things from, from scratch, not really. [AS: mmm] But she has got passion for textiles and things like that, very much. Well, I didn’t really… I knew her when I was very small, and then I didn’t see her for… about 40 years, so she was not really a… an influence on, on my… textile… skills. I learned to knit when I was five from… my granddad’s housekeeper – I was living in the same house as my aunt; that’s quite interesting – and then I learned it again at school but… it was already in my head [AS: mmm]. I picked it up really quickly then, quicker than the others because she’d already spent some hours… teaching me to do it, and it all came back very quickly. [AS: mmm] So that helped. But I’ve just got, um… Yeah. I, I pick things up quickly, you know, and I’m… I’m very… good with my hands, I think, yeah.
AS: Have you ever done courses, or anything like that as an adult?
SM: I’ve done… I’ve done a course, yes, as, as an adult, in Norway in weaving. I got a little loom for a while, and I did some weaving. But that never gave me the same… satisfaction. I don’t know. Not quite, no. Um… Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure why I didn’t… feel the same passion for weaving as I do perhaps for knitting or… or sewing. I’m not that into sewing clothes. I h-, I have tried and I’ve made some clothes but I don’t feel the same way. I want to… not create clothes that I can wear myself; I want to create, create beautiful objects you can have around you and look at. [AS: mmm] Yeah. So the quilt is … I know it will be on my bed, but it’s not supposed to get dirty. That’s very … even though I want to use it, I … [sighs] It’s … it’s gonna have that ornament aspect to it, I’m very aware of that.
SM: Don’t ask me why, but…
AS: Would you want … would you… ’cause you said before about the one you gave to Catherine that if you put it… if you washed it…
SM: Yeah, you can wash it. That’s fine. You should be able to wash it; that’s important.
AS: So will … you would be able to wash your [talking over each other] quilt?
SM: Yes, definitely, but I wouldn’t want to wash it too often [AS: mmm] because … well, the colours will fade. It won’t be as nice, [AS: mmm] you know.
AS: Do you pre-wash your fabrics?
SM: No, because they’re from a really good, um… shop, online [AS: mmm] shop, so they should be alright, yeah. [AS: mmm] I know you’re supposed to do it all. If it would be a batik sh… um… fabric or so, you’d have to wash it because it could really run otherwise. [AS: mmm] Um…
SM: But, I mean, I’ve been fine with what I’ve bought so far, yeah.
AS: So what d… In your head, well, how does that… You say you’re really aware that it’s an ornamental thing; [talking over each other] how does that…
SM: That’s to create this beautiful home.
AS: … influence you?
SM: That’s what I… I want to create this… picture home.
AS: Which you can do with your needle.
SM: Yeah, I suppose so [giggles]. This is also the first time that I’ve got a place, that… I can decide exactly … what’s going to go where, and what I’m gonna have in it. That’s nev… never happened before. I’ve always had to compromise. [AS: mmm] Now my son doesn’t mind what I put in here. He thinks it’s all very lovely, so… [Laughs] it’s really up to me, which is a luxury as well. I’ve had to compromise very much in the past, either because… I’ve been with a partner who had slightly different taste, or because… things have been given to me which I then had to use, but they were not necessarily what I would have chosen for myself. So I’ve always had dreams about getting a place and being able to … furnish it and … decide everything myself, and it’s finally happened [laughs]. Silly. Yeah.
AS: But it’s the right time for you to be able to… make it how you want.
SM: Mm-hm. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There’s something about quilts, I think, that they can be… really stunning.
AS: What do you think makes a… a good quilt, a stunning quilt?
SM: It’s very much to do with the colours. How you… place the… which colour you place next to which other colour, and how they… somehow contrast or… complement each other, or flow into each other. [AS: mmm] It’s to get the balance right there. And that’s… That’s sometimes quite hard to… visualise. That’s why with this one I’m making a lot of the shapes, and then I need to put it on the floor and it will be a bit of trial and error. That’s so hard to plan in your head. For me it is, anyway [chatter]. And even with knitting, sometimes I’ve bought… wool and I’ve knitted a garment, and then I’ve not really been happy with it.
AS: Because the real… because the colour or the texture or…? [Talking over each other]
SM: Yeah. Yeah. The colour has just not quite… combined the way I had it in my head. [AS: mmm] Don’t know.
AS: Yeah. I’m gonna take you all the way back to the beginning. You, you said about, um … the V&A quilts exhibition, because I found… that exhibition really transformative, for me…
SM: Yeah. Ah!
AS: I wondered what it was about, about it that you … that captured you and your interest.
SM: I found it quite… astonishing that… in the early section there were things, quilts which were so old and they… had survived. [AS: mmm] People had obviously kept them, you know, and looked after them and… And I always find with old things that… I-it’s something that was… it’s our link with the past… old objects are. Because the people have died; they’re no longer around us. What they have written or said, we might still know about but, I mean, we can’t sort of touch them anymore, but these objects were touched by them, and we can still touch them, and I find that really fascinating about history, and… objects in museums as well. So, for me, that’s a very tangible link with the past. And these quilts were all made by… well, they were not all made by women, because soldiers made quilts as well.
But I liked how… the… what… I can still remember some of the templates were still inside, the paper templates. And of course paper was a lot more… expensive then, so they had to really… use whatever they could find. And they were like shopping lists sometimes and… so there was all this extra information you got through the quilt as well, so in a way I want to… put secret messages. It’d be a nice thing to somehow put secret messages in the quilt as well, [laughs] you know. And this is probably what I’m trying to do a little bit by using words as well. I want to… make more links with the future as well. [AS: mmm] You know… [AS: mmm] ’cause the way I’ve seen these old quilts in the exhibition, and that’s a link, for me, with the past. The quilt I now make can be a link with the future. [AS: mmm] ’cause the quilt is, is still going to be there, hopefully, when I’m no longer here, you know. So that’s in my mind. That is actually in my mind, is making something that’s gonna last… longer. Um… and in the exhibition I could see that quilts can last for… quite a few centuries, even. And what I like as well… with, often with the American quilts, is that… people can re… who’ve made them, or who’ve lived with a family at the time when they were made, they can recognise… bits of, ‘Oh, that was dad’s shirt, and that was my brother’s… bit from my brother’s, um… nightshirt, or whatever.’ You know, so they can actually … see where all these fabrics come from. [AS: mmm] That’s, that’s very interesting as well, that extra connection which… won’t be in my quilts but, um… Yeah. I found that fascinating. And then… I liked also the ones that were made in prison. And how… they can be therapy for people as well; how they can really pour all kinds of things into… this quilt as well. [AS: mmm] Er… Yeah that was very fascinating. And I did like the combination of using words… with it. I don’t quite know why, but that somehow seems really important to me now, ’cause I’ve done it with the quilt for Catherine and Neil, and I want to use words again. But I like to combine… different art forms together. This is also why I like opera so much, because you get the music, the words, the acting, sometimes dancing as well. It’s… To me, it’s a more whole experience [AS: mmm] when you put different art forms together. So that’s nice to do that with textiles as well. [Talking over each other] And it’s a little…
AS: So the thing w…
AS: With quilts you’re bringing… that’s what they do, is bring things together, isn’t it? And that you… take and re-work, and make something…
SM: Yes. And it’s slightly more three-dimensional as well, isn’t it? [AS: mmm] It’s not just like a picture on a wall, [AS: mmm] especially when you use appliqué as well. Um… I could maybe even with, with my … birds make the bird shapes stand out a bit more by putting a bit more wadding underneath or so, or putting a bit more stuffing underneath so that they stand out from the sky and the… the wood. It’s just an idea I’m getting now I’m talking to you, so… Yeah, this is how it’s a growing process, you see? Um… But that’s interesting as well, to have… to have the different… levels. Hm… Yeah, going back to the exhibition. So, I liked that, I liked the modern quilts…
AS: You said…
SM: It gave me the idea how you don’t just have to do patchwork and quilting, how you can use embroidery as well, how you can use printing as well. [AS: mmm] That would be interesting too perhaps, to combine it with printing. Yeah.
AS: You said about, um… the prison quilts being a type of therapy; have you ever used… needlework and quilting as a therapeutic… Do you feel that benefit from it?
SM: I think it is. I think the needlework is like therapy for me. Definitely. Um… I’ve always been… used to expressing myself somehow, um… and feelings are very hard to express. And I did it through my dancing and improvisation. It was really important, improvisation. I would put music on and I would just sort of… when I was a teenager I did every day; I was always dancing. And that was to express all my… joy, sadness, frustration – everything went into that… big way. And I think a lot of it is going into my needlework as well, but I’m just not so aware of it. [AS: mmm] But I’m pretty sure it’s going into it, otherwise I wouldn’t feel so good about it. Yeah. It’s interesting. Talking about it, you get new ideas and… more understanding… of it. Mm. Yeah. Anything else you want to… ask, pull out of me, or…? I don’t know.
AS: No. The, I mean, the last question w…, was gonna be com… you know, what, what … what’s the significance of quilts in your life? Whether you think that we’ve covered that or… you know, why, why is quilting… in your life?
SM: Mmm [sighs]. Maybe because… I feel I can combine all the different… textile techniques, in a way, which makes it more interesting. Um… Maybe it’s also because I’m trying to tell some sort of a story… through my textiles. Yeah, probably. I think I am, actually. Yeah. But in a… But not in a very obvious way, more in a subdued way. Yeah. [AS: mmm] ’cause that’s also why the flying somehow has come into this latest one as well. The flying and the dreaming… Yeah. And the carefree-ness… of it all. [Noise] And there’s a bit of dancing it too, [background noise], ’cause it’s movement. Yeah. And there’s some music in it because birds sing, as well. There you go. Got it all! [Laughs] And that’s been in my subconscious somehow, but that’s why I’ve chosen it, yeah. [AS: mmm] ’cause they sing… and then their movement is like… dancing, you know, in a way. [AS: mmm] Yeah. Mm. Yes, there it is [laughs]. And the carefree-ness of it. [AS: mmm] But at the same time you’re all snuggly… [AS: mmm] and safe. Yeah. It’s a nice… combination.
AS: Mm-hm. Is there anything else that you… wanted to say about… that you feel that I haven’t asked you?
SM: No. I know that I want to make more. Er, this is not gonna be my last one, and I think [AS: mmm] I would like to make … probably like to make one for each of my children, actually. Definitely. But it needs to be… Also, it… I need to talk to them about it, because it needs to be something that they will really like so they will want to keep it. [AS: mmm] Yeah. With my son it will be very geometric, ’cause he’s doing all these drawings which are very geometric, which will really lend themselves for quilts, actually. [AS: really?] We’ve talked about that. Yeah, I can show you. He’s already said, ‘Mum, I’ll do a design and then you can … execute it. But it’s gonna be so incredibly complicated as well.’ [Laughter] But, yeah…
AS: [talking over each other] Oh wow!
SM: Yeah, so … I mean, these would make amazing quilts.
AS: Yeah! [Laughs] Yeah.
AS: Can you describe them so that … So, why is he doing these? Is this just because his…
SM: Ah, he started doing them recently, since we’ve moved to this flat as well. I just don’t know. Maybe I… I thought that my creativity has sort of unleashed his creativity again, because he was always creative, but… the problem is when you become an adult a lot of people think that… they can’t… do these… creative things which in their mind w… were something they did as a child. [AS: mmm] So now you’re an adult and you’re busy, you don’t do this any longer. But once you tap back into that you realise it’s something you really need [AS: mmm] and… you’ve missed. So I’m very pleased that he’s actually doing all this [paper moving].
AS: Is this… by hand?
SM: Yeah. So he just… he works out… he does the whole grid by hand.
AS: [gasps] Yeah.
SM: And then… he decides how he’s gonna colour it.
AS: Just… [paper noise] incredibly complex tessellations and… [chatter] And, um… they’re almost like [manyana] type. [SM: Yes, yeah.] Symmetrical cons… er, tessellation patterns coloured in in… different colours. And they look like block… complicated quilt block… designs.
SM: [talking over each other] Yes. But very complicated. [AS: mmm] But it’s all very geometric. And … he’s got these special Japanese pens he buys [AS: right] now. Um … they’ve got two, two ends to them; one is like a brush and the other one is more like a square sort of … f-felt tip end.
AS: And the colour is very flat in each … square.
SM: And that’s not a… geometric one; that’s just a aeroplane. He just… [paper movement noise] He did two other ones, but he’s gone back to doing all the geometric ones. The one he’s working on now it’s on…
AS: This is, this is really beautiful.
AS: Aren’t they?
SM: Yeah. Yeah, that one is… This [paper movement noise] is really lovely.
SM: Yeah. It… th-this… it’s a bit sort of American-Indian in my… eyes, as well. I don’t know why, but… He’s doing a lovely one at the moment which is in his bedroom, which is all different greys and yellows. [AS: mmm] And it’s stunning too. Yeah. So actually we’re, we’re doing a similar thing, but in a different media, medium, isn’t it? Medium, yeah. [Paper rustling] So, yeah… So maybe one day, yeah, he can, he can make his own design, but not too complicated and, er [Iaughter] and then I’ll turn that into his quilt. And then for the girls it’d have to be something else. But yeah. It’s quite nice if it somehow tells … maybe story of your life as well. That might be something… I might work on. Don’t know. Hm.
AS: Nice to do a collaboration.
SM: But it mean… I will also … I will stitch… probably by hand, probably on the inside of the… the bird one, that I made it and when I made it and where I made it, so it will be like a little of a historical record as well, that [talking over each other] I’ll, I’ll do.
AS: What do you mean, on the inside?
SM: Just underneath. It’s not gonna be… you know, at the, at the, at the underneath side, [AS: right] where it’s just gonna be some sort of plain fabric. [AS: mmm] Um… because it’s not gonna be part of the design, but I want to… like how you have a label in your… clothing, [AS: mmm] where it was made, and how to wash it. Well, I, I won’t put on it how to wash it but… yeah, I will put that I made it, and when I made it and where I made it, and… maybe even something else. I, I haven’t quite worked that out yet. [AS: mmm] Need some more hours on the door for that one. [AS: mmm] Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Like as… like a signature?
SM: Yes. Yeah. And also because this is also for the future. I want to get a little bit … so they know a bit about me [laughs]. You know, we all want to leave something, yeah.
SM: I’m not going to write that novel that’s going to be, er, famous… over the whole world, so… yeah. It will just be a couple of quilts, yeah.
AS: You’ve got your story quilts instead.
SM: So… it might take a different… turn again in the future. I’ll probably come up with something totally different, but that’s the exciting bit about it. [AS: mmm] Yeah. I don’t want to just now copy something, and I don’t want to… do something that I’ve already done. It will have to take a different direction again. [AS: mmm] Definitely, yeah.
SM: That’s about as much as I could say about it, really. Yeah.
AS: Well, thank you very much.
SM: Yeah. You’re welcome.
AS: Thank you.
SM: You’re welcome.