I first met Carol Goddu when we were teaching and judging at World Quilt & Textile in North Carolina. Amused by her dry humour and her personal style of work I asked her about her quilting background.
Moulin Rouge, 1993 72 x 58in;
Carol does not come from a long line of quilters and did not grow up sitting at her mother’s knee, learning to thread needles. In fact she doesn’t recall ever seeing a quilt. Her mother was instead involved in music, choral singing and playing the piano. For five years Carol endured piano lessons, mangling the Mozart and bungling the Beethoven. Somehow her mother had failed to notice Carol’s lack of musical talent and for those five years everyone in the house suffered right along with her. She feels that she could forgive her mother if she had thought that there had been a mix up at birth and that Carol was not a blood relative of hers! However, her mother did own a sewing machine, but it was used purely to help speed mending and for making household basics.
After achieving her BA and Masters in History of Art, Carol worked as a computer programmer until she married. About eighteen months after her son was born the family moved to Geneva, Switzerland where they lived for some years. On leaving Canada, included in the luggage was the portable Singer sewing machine, taken along to be used as an aid to household mending. But as her toddler son began to grow, Carol started making children’s clothes. Clothes for herself followed, until she gradually fell in love with her sewing machine and developed a real need to sew every day.
Quilting for beginners
Blue tango 1989 49 x 58in
In the early 1970’s the family returned and settled in Montreal. Carol continued to sew on a daily basis and when she became pregnant with her daughter, wanted to make a crib quilt. This first quilt was made from blue and lavender gingham squares, combined with sashing of a printed ribbon and Broderie Anglaise trim. For Carol, it was a great personal success. Basically, she said that if she ended up with the wadding and the seam allowances on the inside and the print fabric on the outside, that was a successful quilt. Grain lines, perfect points and mitred corners were not considered at the time. Fired with enthusiasm Carol went on to make a king sized quilt, followed by quilts for every bedroom in the house. When she had run out of bedrooms, more quilts were made for friends and family as gifts. All were machine sewn and quilted, which in those early days, put her outside the mainstream of the quilt world.
Anything Goes, 1991 47 x 82in
Carol did not own a 35mm camera until 1981, so these early 1970’s quilts are not recorded. They were given away and not being made as heirloom quilts, they have been through life’s shredder and many have gone to quilt heaven. In some ways she says she is quite relieved that these quilts have passed on because her skills are much improved and she would not want to meet some of these early efforts face to face.
One such early piece was an Ocean Waves quilt for her son. Carol recalls 3,500 triangles - that is around 10,000 seams, which on the bed of a growing boy could come apart. And they did, aided by two 80lb English Sheepdogs. At times the quilt was dragged into the garden to make a tent, became the landscape for trucks and cars and was also transformed into the force field which certainly, single handedly, defended the planet earth against alien forces. Carol adds that perhaps a simpler quilt pattern might have been more appropriate and planet earth would still have been saved.
Tapping in the Attic, 1992 68 x 80in
In the late 1970’s Carol began working part time for her husband and, short of time, put patchwork on one side. This was at the time of the start of the modern quilt movement with exhibitions being held, Guilds being formed and magazines and books appearing. Carol felt she was missing out on all the excitement.
However, she fantasised about the wonderful things she would make one day. Her grand plan was a series of appliquéd wall hangings featuring Henry Vlll and his wives. Carol had already realised that she loved the creative process of designing on graph paper, choosing and buying fabric, more than repetitive block piecing. She was moving on. Creative appliqué beckoned with its appeal of never having to make two pieces exactly alike.
Her collection of fabrics for the Henry project grew until it was a mountain. It was one of life’s mysteries that she did not have time to sew but she certainly found time to shop. In 1981 she finally began and despite many technical problems she forged ahead, eventually producing six hangings 20x24in and a life-size 54in Henry Vlll. Carol says that technically the work is not a success, but she says she had a lot of fun making it, even though it took over her life (and obsession is not too strong a word here). A whole series of historical portraits followed this initial series. One breakthrough was letting the satin fabric behave naturally with folds and gathers, rather than bonding it flat to a back-ground. Now the only satin stitch in her work is on the faces and hair of the figures.
Roll over Beethoven, 2001 78 x 52in
Carol first exhibited her work in 1983 and since then she has shown and won awards in many local guild shows, in America and at the annual Canadian National exhibition in Toronto. Her first major award was in Paducah in 1985, where she won first prize in the wall quilt section. Deciding she wanted to spend the prize money on something special she attended the quilt conference, Continental Quilt Congress, where she saw the Fairfield Fashion Show. Consequently Carol was the first, new garment designer from Canada to have her work selected for Fairfield.
In the early 1980’s Carol made a quilt showing two waltzing figures surrounded by a gilt frame - this proved to be the first quilt in a series on various dance types. ‘Blue Tango’ was her third dance quilt, with five appliqué blocks, combine with silhouettes cut from ultrasuede. In 1991, ‘Anything Goes’ gave us the Charleston, danced in a nightclub setting, followed in 1992 with tap dancers on Broadway strutting their stuff in an attic window setting. Again appliqué ghost silhouettes combine with appliqué figures.
Stepping back in time the next quilt ‘Tafelmusic’ featured a renaissance medieval banquet scene with forty figures in various poses. This was a particular challenge because of the number and size of the figures, only 30cm (12in) tall. (She finds that figures are much easier to handle if they are around 38-50cm (15in- 20in). This was followed by ‘Moulin Rouge’ sewn in 1993, evoking the bawdiness and glamour of its French nightclub setting.
The latest in the dance series is a Rock’n’Roll piece, showing swing dance in a Juke box setting entitled ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ from the Chuck Berry/Beatles anthem. This entertaining series will continue until Carol runs out of dances.
Carol is not a dancer herself, so she researches at the library for a lot of photographic material. She needs to get the exact position of the hands, arms and legs. This research gives her a full file and notebooks to draw on. It would have produced burn out to work exclusively on the dance quilts, so Carol has another series on the go. It is one she teaches and is based on reversible log cabin. Carol’s classes are popular and she has been teaching, judging and lecturing since the late 1980’s mainly in the United States but also in Europe and locally. Not one to waste time she also knits in the evenings, or perhaps finishes a quilt. Carol prefers quiltmaking to weaving (another skill she has) as she find quilting projects have a greater immediacy - the loom takes too long to prepare before any weaving can start.
Fabric indulgence and making faces
One of the more delicious aspects of her type of appliqué is that she can indulge in a great variety of fabrics - almost any fabric she sees will be of use to her at some point. Her quilting friends all give her the cast off remnants not suitable for conventional patchwork. The hair for the figures is a velour from the upholstery department. Quite heavy, it comes in a wide range of naturalistic hair shades, allowing her to have a variety of colours.
The faces are made from three layers of bonded fabrics, prepared in large sheets. Brushed nylon lingerie fabric, with the brushed side inside, is bonded to red cotton. Carol uses really sleazy nylon (you should be able to see your hand through it) which would normally make X-rated lingerie! The red fabric then gives a warm feeling to the faces. These are embroidered by hand with the face design marked on the back so no traces show on the skin side of the fabric.
Carol says she does a little drawing, but emphasises that you do not need to draw well to make successful appliqué, as there is so much material available to use and adapt for your own work. She says “there are copyright free designs, but the more you are willing to draw, the closer you will come to achieve what is in your mind’s eye. It is a matter of practice and hand eye co-ordination. If you are willing to spend half an hour a day working from a drawing instruction book you will find you can make enormous improvements over a week or months.”
The studio system
For many years Carol has sewn in the smallest bedroom in the house. When her son left home she spread into his room (nominally the guest room) using it for storage space and continued to sew in the small room. Guests really taxed her spirit of hospitality as she had to spend days clearing the room just in order to find if the bed was still there! When her daughter left, her floor was used for laying out quilts. Carol now has her own custom built studio over the garage, with a hanging cupboard for her quilts, and space to view her work. With her studio established she has now reinstated the guest room plus the loom and knitting wool have moved to the small room.
She belongs to four local guilds including a stitchery group which covers all aspects of stitch. When asked how the majority of Canadian quilters would define their style, Carol said that most would describe themselves as traditional. Perhaps as many as 80% traditional and 20% art quilters. The most adventurous appear to come from a background that is not specifically quilt orientated. She has observed that in European countries without a heritage of quilting, the makers are much freer in their approach. In North America, it is popular for beginners to work their way through an apprenticeship of traditional quilting and it takes them perhaps ten years to get beyond that. She feels that while it is a wonderful tradition, it cuts both ways as people can spend their whole lives within its boundaries and never move outside, so limiting people’s creativity.
Carol’s quilts are well researched and observed, full of her quirky humour. She tries to keep big blocks of time free to make her own work and finds that she gets really cranky if she does not have enough time to spend at her beloved sewing machine. She is aware that precision is not her middle name and realises that there are others who are more competent, but she is comfortable with her abilities. Carol sums up by saying: “there are many ways to make creative quilts and there really is no right or wrong way, as long as in the end you can achieve a believable pose with the impression that the figures are moving in space.” Comforting words for us all.