A little bird had tipped me off that one of the new offerings from Persephone Books is quite a good read, and so when I heard that Persephone were currently giving away a free copy of one of their Classics (apologies, I think the offer may have ended) with each purchase, my copy of Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon was quickly ordered along with a copy of Saplings by Noel Streatfeild, which I've actually read twice but who can resist a free book?
It'll make a lovely gift for someone someday.
The name Beth Gutcheon is forever associated with my earliest days of patchwork back in the 1970s, when scrap bags of fabric from Laura Ashley inspired us, though with a caveat that none of us knew then but may have since discovered; that if we were planning to make an heirloom from them we might come unstuck. The cotton and the dyes were reputed not to be of the finest quality and unlikely to stand the test of time... though I couldn't possibly comment.
In fact people say the same now about some of the modern and very pricey 'celebrity fabrics' and naming no names I can see which ones they mean...hankie-thin and dyes just waiting to fade.
Packs of pre-cut hexagons quickly followed from Laura Ashley and we all slavishly chopped up our bits of card and stitched English-style over papers little suspecting that there might be this great big universe of American patchwork out there waiting for us.
'We can enjoy tradition without getting downright hokey...People talk a surprising amount of twaddle about the romance of patchwork, especially lately. ( "My don't you wish some fairy would set those patches talkin' - what a tale they could tell!") My foot. They could tell a tale of days and months of mindless, thankless tedium, cooking food of a depressing sameness...'
Meanwhile any early notions I may have been harbouring about perfection were also neatly side-stepped and consigned to history, I have been happy with the odd mis-matched corner ever since
'Neither are we going to have any elitist hokum about its taking 70 years to learn to quilt well, or how you have to have 12 stitches to the inch, absolutely even on both sides of the quilt...the only essential criterion should be what will satisfy you.'
For years this was the only patchwork book I ever owned.
Clear guidance on 'how to', a plentiful supply of patterns and I'm not quite sure why I now have shelves of books on the subject, because on revisiting Beth Gutcheon's Primer this week I can see it's still the only book I would ever have needed...but knowing me and books are you surprised.
I took it with me into the 1980s and those childbearing years and was comforted.
'Working with your hands gives you a chance not only to restore an object, but also to restore and re-create yourself, for when you've finished you are not just the person who endlessly makes the coffee or treks to the laundromat...or buys the baby's shoes - you are also the person who made the thing. You have added something new, something possibly beautiful to the world, and to your life. You are what you do.'
Well yes, of course the babies were little creations of beauty that we had added to the world, but there was some succour to be had from the Dresden Plate quilt I made in those spare, sticky-finger-free moments through their babyhood as we approached our tenth 'tin' wedding anniversary and aptly named Tin Plate.
This one looks a little dated now and has been through the wash that many times its voice perhaps a little rinsed out, but if this quilt could talk it would probably scream shout whisper something highly embarrassing like 'I told you not to do that...now you can all go to your bedrooms and don't come down until you can say sorry to each other.'
Or the Mackenzie Star which never seems to date and is still in constant use, made from fabrics given to me by a visitor from the US in the days when different US fabrics were still quite hard to find over here.
This one likely to say ad nauseum 'You can go out on your bike when you've cleared up your room.'
Strawberry Fayre, the Chagford-based mail order company perhaps the first to bring us the US fabrics here in the UK, and still up there with the best. I have found nothing to surpass their finest US Muslin when a plain cream fabric is required and their sample packs still delight.
Beth Gutcheon meanwhile kept me on song and sewing and I look back fondly on those years when I used to meet weekly with two friends to quilt and chat.
Tuesday nights were sacrosanct.
The chaps took over the babies and we escaped from our nappy buckets and relished the chance of several hours of uninterrupted creating. A lesser known fact that the now very well-known local quilting group, the Goosey Quilters was set up by the three of us on the basis that there might be more people out there who'd enjoy doing this too. I'm no longer a member but the group is still going strong some 25 years later, still has an annual exhibition and a little bit of that is down to Beth Gutcheon's Primer and its influence on me.
And Beth's influence lived on in this wall hanging which I made for Persephone Books on the occasion of their fifth birthday, and which perhaps still hangs in the Lamb's Conduit Street shop somewhere. The names of the 6" quilt blocks all relate to Persephone book titles somehow.
And I think that might bring us full circle and back to where we started.
It's been delightful to touch base with Beth Gutcheon again, I had no idea she'd written novels so I am indebted to 'the little bird' because Still Missing is indeed proving to be an excellent read, much more about it soon.