Popular Patchwork has a chat with the kind-hearted and generous quilter, (or sewer!) Irene Heathcote.
Tell us a little about yourself? I live in Hemel Hempstead, only 10 miles from where I was born, so havent travelled too far! My husband is a railway modeller so understands my compulsion to make things. I have a son and a daughter, both married, plus two grandchildren. I see myself not so much as a quilter, but rather a sewer who makes patchwork. I work 30 hours a week as a Learning Support Assistant in the art department of a school for children with moderate learning difficulties, and spend several hours a week on Project Linus UK.
What gives you the most satisfaction in life? Being involved in Project Linus UK has brought me so many friends around the country and abroad. It has been enlightening to see how many children need the hug our quilts and blankets provide, and fascinating to realise the generosity of so many quilters. It is something I am very proud to be a part of.
What are you working on just now? A T-Shirt quilt for a teenager.
When did you start quilting? I started quilting sometime in the mid 80s. A neighbour mentioned that she did patchwork and brought over some fabric for me to try. I drew around templates in pencil, cut out with scissors and it was all hand sewn.
Where did you learn? Rita Hodge, who is a member of The Pear Tree Quilters, ran the first classes I went to.
Favourite colours you enjoy working with? At the moment its very bright and bold fabrics. I like to work with blues but find browns a little more difficult.
How big is your stash and where do you keep it? Very large; I have progressively moved rooms until both children left home and now have a double bedroom as my sewing domain.
Hand or machine sewing? Machine most of the time, but I do have one hand project on the go.
What sewing machine do you use? I have a Bernina, a Singer featherweight and my daughters Singer Hand machine which I take to exhibitions its great for quilting and gets people to stop and talk.
Favourite technique? At the moment its free cutting, thanks to a workshop with Janice Gunner at my quilting group, and Stack and Slash quilts.
Top tip? Always use a good quality thread and clean the bobbin case out every time you change it. Cotton wool buds are ideal.
Most influential exhibition? Kaffe Fassets Knitting and needlepoint work at the V&A many years ago, for the vibrancy of the colours. Also the Festival of Quilts first ever exhibition at the NEC. It was so stunning and the FOQ has just got better each year.
Are you a member of any groups/guilds? Yes, the Quilters Guild (region 7), Hemel Hempstead Quilters, BQL an internet quilting group, and I also visit Mead Quilters when I can.
Best piece of advice for beginners? Dont be in too much of a hurry to read too many pattern quilting books, I think it stunts your creativity.
Most admired living quilters? Mary Mayne and Janice Gunner.
How many hours a day or week do you sew? It varies according to whether its school holiday time or not, I usually get more done in the holidays!
Proudest quilting moment? Standing behind two ladies at the Malvern show they were looking at my Friendly Forest quilt and both decided they could do just as well as I had. As I was not really a quilter then, and my piece definitely needed a lot more quilting, I was happy to think they had been inspired to make something. I think this is important as, at the big shows there are always going to be stunning quilts but ordinary quilters work should be appreciated too.
Best museum for textiles/inspiration? V&A.
Are you interested in other textile crafts? Yes, I knit and do silk painting too.
Which quilt would you like to have made? The winner of the Blue and White challenge at the Festival of Quilts this year, the detail was fantastic.
Nearest quilt shop? Patchwork Corner in Hemel Hempstead, Jenny is always helpful and her husband Doug makes a smashing cream tea!
Is there anyone else in your family that wants to quilt? No one else has done any patchwork, but my grandmother was a tailoress and my Mum made all my dresses. In turn, I started off making clothes for my dolls at a young age and having been sewing ever since.
What happened to your first quilt or piece of patchwork? The blocks are still in my room, one day I will use them.
What are your quilting goals? To make a dent in my stash!
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