Monday, 28 November 2011
Tribute to Sheila Acton
I was extremely sorry to learn that Sheila Acton died on Monday 21 November. Sheila and I were close quilting friends when I lived in Northamptonshire and we kept in touch by e-mail in more recent years. We met when we were both members of Danetre Quilters.
Like many people, Sheila took up quilting seriously when she retired. Unlike most women of her generation she had a career in a man's field: engineering. She took a degree in engineering and later set up her own PR company, specialising in working with the engineering industry. I seem to remember that she did lots of embroidery and crafts while working and bringing up her children but I did not know her then. She was a real dynamo and when she retired she decided that she needed a new interest so she enrolled on City and Guilds Patchwork and Quiltings.
I met her after that. As you might expect of someone who had run their own business, she had a huge range of skills at everything from business and financial planning to marketing and events management. The Quilters Guild recognised this and after serving on the Regional Committee, Sheila was asked to join the Guild Council as the PR officer. This was in 2001. She was allowed to choose her own committee and she asked me to join it as the person who coordinated links with the quilt show organisers. I had just been made redundant and chosen not to take another full-time job so I welcomed the opportunity to take on something new.
Sheila and I had a great but hectic three years. It was much busier for her than me and sometimes you would have thought she was still working full-time. I learnt a great deal from her, not least in how to organise stands at large events. The Festival of Quilts started during this period and we were in it boots and all. Sheila gave the Guild lots of advice about designing the main Guild stand that faces you as you come into the show. She had very high standards and worked extremely long hours at these events. In addition to the Festival of Quilts we had stands at the Knitting and Stitching Shows and the Grosvenor shows. I will always remember how, when we did not have enough quilts to decorate the walls of the stand at the Knitting and Stitching show, she phoned me the night before and asked me to bring as many of my quilts as I could that might fit in the space available. Her husband Roy was roped in on these occasions and drove up from Northants to Ali Pali at very unsociable hours. Sheila and I also drove to various places for exhibitions and meetings, all of which gave up plenty of opportunity to discuss textiles and put the world to rights.
This was a time when the Guild was undergoing serious review and Sheila had many ideas to contribute to discussions about its restructuring and management. She took on additional tasks in order that things would not collapse. For example, when the Webmaster emigrated to New Zealand at short notice Sheila added that role to what she was already doing so that the website, which was quite new, would not collapse.
Working for the Guild at national level means you make many new friends and both Sheila and I became part of the wider quilting world as a result. She will be missed by quilters up and down the country. When the time came for her to stand down, she was able to get back to actually making quilts. She was extremely creative and I am sure her training in draughtmanship helped her in designing some wonderful hangings. She joined a group called Contemporary Expressions who made art quilts. In the summer she sent me photographs of the items she was putting into an exhibition they were having at the Northampton Shoe Museum. These were wonderful: a large wall hanging of Fred Astaire and a wonderful flapper hat. The exhibition was being taken down on the day that Sheila died so it is good to know that she had had this last opportunity to demonstrate her skills. May her memory live on in the work of quilters in Northamptonshire and in the legacy of the Quilters Guild.