Thursday 12 June 2014

Thursday Inspiration: Alison from Little Island Quilting

Today Alison from Little Island Quilting is joining me (figuratively speaking) for an interview.  Alison lives on a little island near the UK, and is an incredibly talented quilter with a very distinctive and unique style (even if she denies it!).  It is hard to describe her quilting style, but my best attempt would be ALL THE FABRICS, amazing precise piecing, careful use of values, and a large pinch of insanity (I think Alison knows me well enough now to know that I mean that in the nicest possible way).

As well as admiring Alison's quilts from a purely aesthetic stand point, I really admire the way that she makes quilts she likes, the way she wants to, and doesn't worry too much about what other people think.  She's quite forthright and her blog posts are often funny.  She's also incredibly generous, having made 36 quilts so far this year for the Soy Amado project (more on that below) and sharing her knowledge in a series of tutorials (her hand piecing tutorial is particularly interesting, although I have to confess it still hasn't tempted me away from my sewing machine!).

This is how the quilt Alison was working on in her hand piecing tutorial turned out.

So, here's Alison.  As usual, my questions are in bold and her answers are in normal text:

Does your family have a quilting or sewing history, or are you a first generation quilter? 
I learnt to knit, crochet and do tapestry from my mum and I continued knitting well into my 20s. She did buy some Laura Ashley precut hexagons in the 1970s and made a rather lurid (sorry mum) hexagon bed quilt but I think that actually put me off quilting at the time because I thought it was frumpy and old fashioned.

How did you start quilting, and how long have you been quilting for? 
I was just married and living in the Netherlands and in a nearby village was a quilt shop (it's still there) with the most inviting window displays. I went in one day, got talking in Dutch to one of the sales assistants, discovered she was English (!) so we switched to our mother tongue and she said her mum gave quilt lessons and they had a space in a course coming up and I should join. So I did. I think that was 20 years ago now - yikes!

How would you describe your quilting style? 
All over the place! Not sure really. Isn't it for others to describe your style?!

Where do you find inspiration for your quilts?
Everywhere. Literally.

Do you like to follow patterns or create your own designs (or a bit of both)?
Bit of both. For something like the Camelot quilt I bought the pattern because all the complicated maths is done for you. A lot of times I look at a quilt I like and I can usually work out how the blocks are constructed so I don't buy the pattern, I just get cutting. Is that bad?!

Alison's Camelot quilt

Do you think living where you do influences the way you quilt?
Absolutely. It's a small island (population 62,000) with no quilt shop and no opportunity to get in the car and drive off up the road to meet another quilter. I buy all my quilting needs off the Internet. We are lucky in that there are no import taxes here so I buy my fabric from the US, as even with the postage factored in, it is much cheaper than the UK.

Are you a member of a local guild? 
There is no local guild. I know of a group of women who meet once a month in the evening but I am too busy providing a taxi service to our daughters so can't go. I also have a quilting friend who makes art quilts and she's in a small art quilt group which meets during the day.

Have you ever met any of your online sewing friends in real life? 
I met my first online sewing friend for the first time last year. Leila (needleanddime on Flickr) was in a swap with me and we met in New York City and spent a day quilt shopping and chatting. She was even lovelier in person. I also met Leanne (SheCanQuilt) for a meal in London last summer when I was over with our younger daughter for the weekend. That same weekend I accidentally met Hadley/Flying Blind On A Rocket Cycle in a fabric shop. I was in there with our daughter and she walked in with a bunch of other quilt bloggers. It was very surreal because right from the beginning of starting my blog I had made a conscious decision no personal pictures. Other people have posted their pictures on their blogs so I knew it was her when she walked in. We'd struck up an Internet friendship so I thought it would be rude not to say something but I didn't want to gate crash her group. So I had a little five minute internal struggle with myself and when I spotted her looking at fabric on her own, I sidled up and said a few words! So 2 1/2 people is the sum total of my having met Internet quilting friends. Bit pathetic really!

I have to show this cushion that Alison made because it lives with meeee!

How did you decide to start your blog? 
Because I wanted to enter Amy's Blogger's Quilt Festival. I took THE most awful photo of a fairly basic quilt in terrible lighting and within an hour people had left comments. The computer was talking back to me!

What is your favourite thing about the online quilting community? And what is one thing that you would change, if you could? 
Definitely the 'meeting' of people who get your hobby that people in real life don't get.

If I could change one thing it would be banning quilting book blog tours! I completely get that a quilt author needs to get their book out there but I'm afraid if someone's done a quilt book review and it's on a long journey with a bunch of other quilters I zone out. You know you're going to be told the same thing, that the book really is very wonderful and you really need to buy it. And the nail in the coffin for me is asking people to leave reviews on Amazon etc. I hugely admire people who are constructively honest with their opinions and don't get completely sucked into the vortex that is the well-oiled quilt marketing machine. While I appreciate some quilt bloggers are looking to make a business out of their blogging, I would like to see more transparency in their tie ups with companies.

Many newbie quilters starting out now are getting their information from the Internet. Is it fair the information they read is biased because of commercial link-ups to blogs? And what happened to constructive opinions? It seems because of these commercial tie-ins we are afraid to share our real thoughts. I don't mean being unnecessarily unkind, I mean having a different point of view to the norm and not being afraid to give or air that point of view. Surely we'll all learn something from expressing our differing views rather than all politely agreeing with each other or not saying anything at all? (Well you did ask!)

I'm pretty sure Alison was working on this quilt when I started reading her blog.  I thought omg, this lady is insane and I love it!

Your Soy Amado project is amazing - could you tell me a little bit about how you got started (and what it involves, for my readers' benefit).
We were in Mexico City over the Christmas period and to cut a long story short we visited a home for former street children to help hand out Christmas presents. You have no idea how something is going to affect you. I had given a small baby quilt but the reaction to it was so lovely. They couldn't believe someone had made something especially for them. That made me feel even more guilty because I hadn't made something especially for them: I'd taken one of my quilts that I thought was 'OK' and thought 'that will do - I've done my bit'.

But that was what we were all doing: a football team had donated some of their old football shirts (as in old design) and another company had donated some cheap clothes and toys and I just stood there and thought we were all passing on stuff we didn't really want any more - they deserved more than OK or another company's cast offs. No one had given them the best, something special just for them.

Afterwards, I talked with one of the ladies involved with supporting the home and asked her about quilts. She thought it was a good idea so I resolved to try and get a quilt on every bed.

Soy Amado No. 31 - my personal favourite, so far.

I knew I couldn't expect people to make whole quilts ( which would have been a whole lot less work for me) and it was Nicolette (Dutchcomfort) who suggested quilt blocks to me. And then the idea of quilted blocks came to me as I thought I could construct the quilts far more quickly this way.

I put a request on my blog for quilted 12 1/2" blocks and although it started quite slowly, the appeal has slowly gained momentum. I even joined Instagram so I could reach more people, having told myself a blog was enough of a time-sucker and to stay clear of IG!

I am aware though that not everyone shares my zealous enthusiasm for this project. If you're interested, since posting about the quilts, comments have dropped off from their normal levels and quite a few people who used to comment quite regularly on my blog have stopped altogether. I'm not sure if it's because they feel awkward about commenting because they haven't sent me anything or that I'm boring the pants off them. Either way, if you do something like this, don't automatically expect everyone who comments on your blog to stick their hand up and help you.

That said, I have been hugely touched by the generosity of everyone who has and am completely aware that I could not have produced the amount of quilts I have done without the support I have had. There is another delivery going in June when I should find out how many more quilts I still need to make.

A lovely pile of quilts Alison has put together for the Soy Amado project.

Confession time - how many quilts do you have in your house right now? 
Not that many actually - maybe around 15. I give most of them away. I love giving away what I know the other person can't buy. It's a priceless, personal gift.

Do you do any crafts other than quilting? 
Nope - in between work, family life and quilting there isn't really much left over for anything else! 

Where do you see your quilting going - is it a career or a hobby for you and would you like to change that?
I'm going nowhere fast! It will always be a hobby. I love my day job (most of the time) with quilting as my creative release. If I think of quilting as more than a hobby then that means sewing things I don't want to with fabric I don't particularly like and that's not fun for me. There are more than enough people out there wanting to change their quilting from a hobby into a business without me joining the ever-growing queue!

Do you have any tips or tricks or things that have changed your quilting life that you'd like to share? 
Do what you want to do the way you want to do it. Don't follow the crowd as ultimately your creative journey will be more rewarding.

Another hand pieced beauty.

What is your favourite part of the quilting process (and what's your least favourite part)? 
Everything and nothing! Possibly choosing the fabrics (the more the better) has a slight edge.

Are there any quilting techniques you haven't tried yet but that you'd like to? 
Can't think of any.

What's something about you that people might be surprised to know? 
I don't know?! What would people like to know? First person to leave a question in the comments section, I promise to give an honest answer to. How does that sound?!

Thank you so much to Alison for participating in this series, and for her full and frank answers!  I think her advice about doing what you want to do, the way you want to do it, is really great and applies whether you're just starting out or are an experienced quilter.  Pop over to Alison's blog, Little Island Quilting, and check out all the other lovely things she's made.

Follow on Bloglovin


Alyce @ Blossom Heart Quilts said...

Uhoh, first commenter but with no question to ask!! Sorry, maybe #2 will have one! I just wanted to say that I really agree with you about the book blog tours! I think blog hops are a little tiring these days, especially when they go for a whole month or more! But at the same time, I understand the advertising side of things. Such a fine line!

Wendy @ Wendysquiltsandmore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy @ Wendysquiltsandmore said...

Yay! I'm second and get to ask the question. (thanks Alyce) Please will you put up a photo of yourself on your blog?
It makes it easier for us to picture who we are talking to when we comment, and easier for us to spot you when we are also lurking in quilt shops. (if we should ever be in the same quilt shop, which is very unlikely given that I also live in Wellington, New Zealand)
Great interview thank you.

Maryse said...

Really enjoyed this interview.:) I truly admire Alison's direct and unreserved speech, How refreshing? I wish there was more of that in the quilting world./:)

Annabella said...

I don't need a photo - I always picture Alison as a brunette with shoulder length I right?;) Good to get to know more about her. Agree on so many things and we definitely have to make what we love and not follow every trend going.

Liz said...

Well welcome to nz Alison! I see no one has been too crazy so far! I have to confess I am dying to know what you do in your day job if you are prepared to share?

pennydog said...

Love Alison, plus she's totally right about blog hops, most of them annoy me if I am honest, unless it's a block pattern one or something where I can follow it to build up a quilt design.

pennydog said...

Love Alison, plus she's totally right about blog hops, most of them annoy me if I am honest, unless it's a block pattern one or something where I can follow it to build up a quilt design.

Jo Jo said...

Aside from Alison's obvious talent, I mostly enjoy her humour; she always makes me laugh. And if I did bump into her in a quilt shop, I reckon I'd know her by her footwear ;)

Charlotte said...

Hahaha - I'm totally with Annabella! Brunette with shoulder length hair (and a fringe). I bet you're blonde or something ;-)

Little Island Quilting said...

Now on my blog you can reply to comments made within the person's comment which is what I popped in here to do but as that's not possible I guess I can't answer the questions posed ;-)

Jolene said...

I'm loving this series, getting to know quilters better! And Alison, I love your responses. Nodding my head vigorously to all your answers!

Karee said...

Love your creations.
I would like to say something you brought up in the Q&A: honest reviews... I have recently been told by a famous store in KY to remove my negative review regarding their incredibly sloooow cut, ship, & deliver time. Last wk, I rec'd a letter from an attny office saying if I did not remove my Yelp! post about a store's poor customer service they would sue me. I clearly stated that the only reason I was sharing my negative service experience was to prevent someone else from having my experience. Is there free speech anymore on blogs or review sites? I would say no. And just because there are no negative reviews for an item/store/etc just means the negative ones were bullied until they were removed.
Anyone else have this experience?

Anita said...

Thank you for this very intersting interview. I enjoyed reading it. I agree, I like meeting people on line who "get" quilting. I feel that people I know in person don't understand that it is more than just a hobby to a lot of us. It is a passion. And I agree about the book review tours too. I like to know about a new book but not 20 times! :)

liz said...

What a delightful interview! Thank you Adrianne and Alison!

As an American quilter who has plunged joyfully into creating blocks for Alison's Soy Amado project, I can honestly say that it is very gratifying, and for me, addictive.

It IS expensive to mail a block or three, but if you can get a group of friends to make a LOT of blocks, the shipping price goes way down. (I spent $75 to send 81 blocks - a virtual bargain.) Some of my tiny local guild's members donated some batting to my efforts. I am currently working on a batch of about 30 more.

And every time I see Alison post another finished quilt, I get a really warm fuzzy feeling inside. This is social media at its best.. when someone like Alison can see a need far from home, figure out a way to help and then invite others to join her. It's been a pure delight! Bravo Alison!!!!

Little Island Quilting said...

The answer is 'noooooo'. It's much more fun sneaking into quilt shops incognito ;-)

Little Island Quilting said...

Oh what a shame Liz...I said I'd answer the first person to leave a question. Bad luck ;-)

Little Island Quilting said...

You only think I'm blonde because of our email convo about my driving ;-)

Little Island Quilting said...

I believe up until recently Craftsy did the same - only published the positive reviews.
There are several instances on Amazon where 5 star book reviews have been left by friends or quilt businesses who advertise on the quilter's blog with no declaration of their association. I think the whole area of online reviews is muddy.

Canadian Abroad said...

I'm with Annabella too! Alison is one of the best and her forthright attitude is one f the things I love about her.

liz said...

Alison, i'm not sure what you're trying to say here...

Little Island Quilting said...

Heart emoticons which obviously didn't work!!

Nicky said...

Oh yes Alison is forthright all right but I appreciate it! No idea what she looks like maybe I'll meet her in a quilt shop someday?

Archie The Wonder Dog said...

What a great interview - it's so lovely to learn more about Alison, her quilting and her views about quilting/blog tours for books!