ID Number: TQ.2015.035
Name of interviewee: Susan Ide
Name of interviewer: Elizabeth Betts
Name of transcriber: Katherine James
Location: Susan’s home
Address: Portslade, East Sussex
Date: 29 September 2015
Length of interview: 0:20:54
Susan talks about a paper pieced hexagon quilt that she made for her granddaughter. She talks about her introduction to quiltmaking despite a lack of sewing in her background; through attending a course with her daughter and how her interest grew from there. Susan also describes her quilting likes and dislikes, buying her first sewing machine and her process for making a quilt.
Elizabeth Betts [EB]: [Interview introduction] Hello Susan.
Susan Ide [SI]: Hello.
EB: So can we start by talking about your, your touchstone object, your particular quilt that we’re going to start looking at today. First of all could you describe the quilt?
SI: It’s a quilt that I made for my grand-daughter. It’s pink, orange. It’s from a… a certain range that everything matches. It’s… sort of… patterned and there’s little girls on it, some flowers, and… it’s very pretty.
EB: And what, so you said it’s yellows and pinks and white…
SI: And orange.
EB: And orange. What attracted you to those colours?
SI: I think I went with the little girl first, just the white background with little girls, with little girls on bikes. And they look like my grand-daughter. And then the others just sort of merged in with it.
EB: And what design is the patchwork?
SI: It’s hexagons, large hexagons.
EB: And then how have you quilted it?
SI: It’s hand quilting. And I chose a green, a bright green, so it shows up against the orange and the pinks. And it’s just plain, just hand quilted. Just as I call rough hand quilted.
EB: And how did you bind your quilt?
0:01:43 SI: Binding is the back to the front. The back is… what’s on the back is yellow, and there’s yell… some of the same fabric on the quilt and it was just brought over to the front.
EB: And when did you make the quilt?
SI: 18 months ago, two years ago? Something like that. Maybe longer – time passes! [laugh]
EB: And you’ve made lots of quilts in this style?
SI: Yes. I love hexagons.
EB: And you always hand sew?
SI: Yes. I like hand sewing. I’ve never machine, machined a hexagons. I’ve done other ones but I’m not very confident on the machine. I like, I like to do this sitting watching television, stuff like that.
EB: And have you made many quilts of this type?
SI: Yes. Yes, well, I’ve started loads [laugh].
EB: Does that mean you’ve got lots of tops?
SI: I’ve got lots of tops waiting to be done, waiting to be finished.
EB: And this particular quilt – what’s it used for now?
SI: My grand-daughter has it on her bed.
EB: And how do you feel about it?
SI: Oh, I’m really pleased with it. The first, first hexagons I made, and I really liked, I really like it.
EB: And the hexagons you’ve used are larger than you would normally see…
EB: … was there a reason for that?
SI: [Pause] I made it on a workshop, and that’s what we did on a workshop. And it, it was really good because for a first hexagon quilt it sewed up really big and quickly, so it, it was good – a fast project.
EB: And did you do this course in the evening or was it a daytime course?
SI: It was an evening course.
EB: And was it in Brighton?
EB: And how many people were on the course?
SI: I think about six, five or six. It was over, I think was it four evenings? The four evenings was just, just the right amount of time to, to actually finish it.
EB: And did everyone make the same quilt?
EB: And when did you first start making quilts?
SI: About 12 years ago. At an evening class. I went with my daughter to an evening class and you made, well you started a sampler quilt. And… and it just went on from there really.
EB: And the sampler quilt you made, do you still use it?
SI: It’s in pieces, I never actually got to finish it, but it’s in pieces but it actually tricked in other bits of sewing and I’ve made different quilts I’ve realised, and I’ve realised that what I like is simple stuff, it’s nothing, I don’t like a challenge.
EB: Do you come from a family of stitchers or quiltmakers?
SI: My, my mum was a sewer, but it bypassed me. I came to it very late.
EB: And did you, what made you want to do a patchwork class if you weren’t a sewer?
SI: Because my daughter wanted to do one [laughs]. So we went along because it was something to do together. And it, it was nice, I enjoyed it. And we did two or three of these evening classes, courses. It led on to doing one-day courses, you know, short courses, and different, different aspects of quilting and patchwork.
EB: So had you sewn before doing your sampler course 12 years ago, or not?
SI: No, no, to my shame I say my son walked round with his scout’s badges in his pocket [laugh] cos I never sewed them on.
EB: Did you expect to like the course?
SI: No, I didn’t… I went with an open mind, I think. I was terrified.
EB: And what are your preferred styles or techniques?
SI: I like hand sewing. I don’t like anything with points. I don’t like triangles and stuff like that. I made my new grandson a large hexagon quilt and I’ve made other ones, but … but I… I don’t like points, I’m not very good with points and stars and stuff like that. I’m much better with squares.
EB: Are there any types of patchwork you’ve done that you really didn’t enjoy?
SI: Stained glass. I detested it. It was awful, I couldn’t get it right.
EB: And, why particularly? You say you couldn’t get it right.
SI: I’m not very precise, a neat worker. I’m not a precise finisher. So anything that needs neatness or precision I find very difficult.
EB: So what quilts are you working on at the moment?
SI: I’ve got a small hexagon quilt, it’s got small hexagons, I’ve just got that into blocks, ready to be put together. I’ve been working on that now, must be for nine months, just sittin’ there in the evenings doing the hexagons. I’m on a course doing another quilt, top, it’s got points, so I’m struggling with that a bit. I’ve got another three sessions of that so hopefully that will finish that. That’s about it at the moment.
EB: Do you tend to make quilts for yourself or for other people?
SI: Both. I made one for my sister and one for my brother, my son and daughter-in-law, and my grandson, my grand-daughter, yeah, I suppose, yeah… and we’ve got all round the house.
EB: Where and when do you quilt?
SI: The hand quilt is watching TV. Television bores me to tears, unless it’s something really interesting so to sit and sew of an evening is, is quite therapeutic, it’s nice. I struggle with machines, though, so I reluctantly get my machine out every now and again and have a good go but it’s not set up permanently, I wish it was, it might make it easier.
EB: Would you like to have a sewing room?
SI: Yeah, I would actually. I would. I’d like to have a room where everything could be, instead of which it’s in corners and boxes and you have to get everything out and you can’t leave a project you’re working on out. It would be much easier if you could just leave something out.
EB: Do you think that’s why, that’s why you’re attracted to the hand sewing?
SI: Yes, cos I can have it down the side of the sofa and just pick it up and do it and put it back again. It’s all the laying out and that, you know, I find that tricky.
EB: So was your quilt that we… that we call the touchstone object, the first hexagon quilt you made?
EB: And how many others like this have you made since then? Could you talk us through them?
SI: I’ve made three or, no, the hexagon I made for my grandson, he’s a year old, I made him a hexagon quilt. We knew it was a boy so it’s in blues and I, I made another three or four, I think, but I haven’t actually, I’ve sandwiched a couple together, but I haven’t actually got around to finishing them yet.
EB: Do you prefer the patchwork to the quilting?
SI: Yes. It would be nice if somebody could fix it all together for me and just give it to me and I could just sit there and hand quilt it.
EB: So it’s the layering?
SI: It is, yeah, yes.
EB: When you want to make a quilt, how would you go about it? Do you, do you just pick up fabric or do you think about who you’re making it for or for a course…?
SI: It… it depends. If it’s for a course I give some thought to… to what’s there but the hexagon, the hexagons that I’ve been working on it’s just odd bits I’ve got lying around, I just used whatever was around. Yeah.
EB: Do you ever use clothing, or do you buy fabric?
SI: I usually buy fabric, or find it somewhere.
EB: How much money do you think you spend on fabric?
SI: [Long gasp] Aaagh, I dread to think, I dread to think! I don’t know, I dread to think. I, you know, you can’t pass a shop, or a… and quilt shows are just terrible, you walk out with stuff you don’t really need. You’ve got loads of it at home but you buy more.
EB: So you mentioned quilt shows. Do you, have you been to lots of quilt shows?
SI: Quite a few, yeah.
EB: What sort of shows have you been to?
SI: Ardingly, Alexandra Palace, Birmingham, went to Birmingham for quite a few years, and small quilt shows as well, the um, little um, sort of um, the little country ones.
EB: And what do you like about going to quilt shows?
SI: The big ones you see the variety of quilts, there’s loads of stalls on offer, you chat with other people, you sit down and have a cup of tea and you automatically chat to whoever’s opposite you and they’re sometimes quite interesting. The small shows are usually for some sort of charity which is nice, and they’re usually small and they usually have one or two traders and they’re local to where I live so you quite often bump into people you know.
EB: When you go to shows, what kind of quilts attract you?
SI: I, I love hexagon quilts. I don’t like a quilt that looks like a picture. I don’t like it to, to be a picture. I like a design and… I don’t like pictures, I hate faces on quilts, I think they’re eerie.
EB: Would you say you prefer traditional quilts or art quilts?
SI: I don’t really have a preference. I just look at something and think oh I like it or I don’t.
EB: Any colours that attract you?
SI: I realise I, I’ve been, done lots of browns. I’ve gone off brown. But, no, you know, I’m quite sort of open to colours. I don’t, I tend not to use mauve or yellow, [inaudible] yellow on here but I don’t tend to use mauve very much, purple.
EB: Where do you get your inspiration for making a quilt? Do you ever go to a show and think ‘I have to make that’?
SI: No [laugh]. Good grief, no! No. Some things you look at and you think that’s really nice and you think I could really make that… so I think you do pick up little ideas, you know thoughts in different places.
EB: Do you ever design your own quilts or do you tend to from workshops or magazines or books?
SI: Both, I suppose. Both. I can’t follow patterns, I’ve tried and it’s hopeless, so it would be a workshop.
EB: And if you design your own quilt, do you ever design it on paper, or…
EB: … computer?
SI: No. I just go with the flow.
EB: What do you think makes a good quilt?
SI: Good quilt is colours that go together well, or sometimes colours that you don’t think will go, I mean like I think brown, some browns and blues go together really well but it isn’t something you think I’ll put them together. Something that looks quite solid, cos some quilts you look at and you wonder they’re not going to last the years, and something that you can see has got some quality fabric in it cos cheap fabric doesn’t last.
EB: We’ve spoken a little bit about hand and machine quilting. If we start with machine quilting: do you ever actually machine quilt these days, or…
SI: No. I’ve done machine quilting courses but I’m not… don’t have a lot of confidence on the machine, they tend to run away with me. I need to dominate the machine a lot more than I do, so I’ve never actually had the confidence to machine quilt. I’ve practised a lot, got lots of scraps of around with my practising on it but I’ve never actually machine quilted a whole quilt.
EB: And hand quilting. Do you use a frame? What style of hand quilting do you do?
SI: I just normally just use a Perlé thread, particularly on my hexagons, and I like, I like the stitches to show, so stitches are quite large, I like a thick, thick thread, and just, I just try to make a pattern or just go round you know…
EB: Have you ever tried traditional hand quilting?
SI: Ah, yes, yes, it’s not for me. I did a workshop and it is not for me. And I think what really put me off is that a lot of the ladies take it so seriously as if it’s a matter of life and death it… it’s a hobby, enjoy it you know, but they’re all beating themselves up and I think, not for me.
EB: So how do you feel like your quiltmaking’s changed over the 12 years that you’ve been quilting?
SI: I found what I like to do. I found what I, what I get out of quilting is I like to enjoy something, I like to do a workshop and come away and think I enjoyed that or I didn’t enjoy it and if I haven’t enjoyed it I just… don’t have to do it again.
EB: And how do you think quiltmaking as a whole has changed in 12 years? [Phone ringing in background]
SI: How has it changed? I think it’s mushroomed, I think it’s grown. I think it’s got younger, it’s not so much an older lady’s sort of thing these days. I think it’s got a lot younger, I think it’s opened up quite a bit. I mean you still get the older ladies, particularly at Birmingham, going round with their backpacks with their samples and that and their stuff, but there’s a lot of younger people around and I think you can buy anything now in the quilting world. How they think of things I don’t know, that you need. You don’t realise you go to a quilt show quite what you need cos there’s so much stuff.
EB: Talking about what you need, have you – I know you said you don’t use your sewing machine that much now, but – do you use the same sewing machine as you did when you started?
SI: No, no. I bought a … I upgraded slightly, I bought one, the one above it.
EB: Why did you do that?
SI: Because the one I had, the one I bought, because I wasn’t sure whether I could get on with it, was a very basic one, and I just traded it in and bought the next one up. It’s fairly simple to use, it’s not complicated.
EB: And do you use any special feet with it?
SI: Yes, I’ve a walking foot, quarter-inch foot, that sort of thing, yeah.
EB: Any other gadgets that you really like?
SI: Gadgets. I love my unpicker [laugh] – it’s very, very useful [laugh]. No, no, I’m not really a gadget-y person. For the simple stuff I do I don’t really need a gadget.
EB: So the touchstone object, the hexagon quilt…
EB: When you make that, can you talk us through the process of making the patchwork. You say you don’t use gadgets. Do you use a traditional method?
SI: Yes, your hexagons you make a template, you cut out your, your hexagons, onto fabric, pin it, cut it round, sew, sew your individual hexagons to… and then you work out your pattern, which is the most difficult part, I find. Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I just make a pile and just go with it and if you have two or three, if it’s a large one you get two or three together it doesn’t matter that this one, if there’s a pattern to it. And it takes ages to get the pattern quite – I know it sounds a bit silly on a large hexagon quilt – but it takes ages to get the pattern quite right, and then you do it in strips and you put your fillers in down the side and then you have to decide what you want for the backing, how you want to do your sides. But on the workshop I was on, this was the… this procedure that I was shown is that you bring the back to the front. I hadn’t done that before and it’s really easy and then when you’ve done your top you sandwich your, you do your sandwich and then you decide how you’re going to quilt it, whether hand quilting, machine quilting, and there you go.
EB: Are you a member of any quilt groups at all?
SI: No. I belong to The Quilters’ Guild.
EB: And do you go to any of their events?
SI: Not very often, no. No. But I went to the Quilt Museum, which was good, and I usually have a chat on the stand at different venues. Yeah, I’ve been to a few, a couple of local things, but not an awful lot, no.
EB: What would you say is the biggest challenge you face as a quilter today? So it could be time, ideas…
SI: Inclination, I think. Quilting is something that you don’t, I don’t touch it for a little while and then you pick it up and you can’t, you can’t stop. You just every spare moment you’re just sitting there doing a bit of sewing but then the momentum goes and something else takes over and you have family things and then… but the once you get back to it you realise, you realise you really enjoy it.
EB: And have you got any ambitions as a quilter? Is there any particular quilt that you wish you could make, or…
SI: Ambitions. No, I don’t think so. I’d like to make a big double quilt but I think it’s a little bit beyond me. It’s too big, I think. But no.
EB: And, and… why would you say you quilt? What’s your motivation for quilting?
SI: Motivation: it’s enjoyable, it’s an achievement when you’ve done something, and if you do something and it’s right, it’s an achievement, and you, if you like something you can do, you can do your quilt and you can think ‘Oh I don’t like that’ but that doesn’t happen often. If you look at something and you get a real sense of achievement that you’ve finished something. It’s a hobby, you know, it’s just something that you enjoy.
EB: And have you made friends through quiltmaking?
SI: A few yeah, yeah, yeah. Puts me quite a few people, yeah.
EB: So it’s quite a sociable…
SI: Yeah, it can be, yeah. I, I… Quilt groups vary quite a bit, so I haven’t really met an awful lot of people through quilt groups. But yeah, yeah, yeah it’s surprising who quilts and who doesn’t. It’s like a secret hobby with people cos people don’t want to be seen as this old lady sitting there quilting. It’s surprising you know when you meet a young person and they just let slip that they like quilting, you think ‘Oh my gosh’ [laugh].
EB: And you mentioned you find quilting relaxing and you do hand sewing.
EB: Is it, do, do you do it to relax and unwind?
SI: Yes, I do, I do. Cos television drives me up the wall and you … I can’t read and watch television so to do this you’ve got something in your hand. Even if you just pick it up and you know I’ve tried to pick it up most evenings and it’s quite enjoyable.
EB: Thank you. That’s it!