Phyllis Jordan (PJ): Evelyn, tell me about the quilt you brought in today.
Evelyn Meehan (EM): I decided I wanted a Round Robin quilt. And I didn’t want anybody else to use material colors that I didn’t have in it; so I made the Round Robin quilt by myself. Its has a big star with borders around it. Kind of a chocolate color or red reddish chocolate I think you’d call it the colors in it.
PJ: Are those favorite colors of yours?
EM: No; not necessarily. They just go good.
PJ: Does this have a special meaning for you?
EM: I have made a lot of quilts but this one I like. And I have given away, sold them but this one I have named this one is mine.
PJ: Okay. Why did you choose this quilt to bring today?
EM: I think it’s pretty. Beautiful.
PJ: I think you’re right. What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?
EM: They might I’m picky and maybe I am but I love those colors. I hope they like it as well as I do.
PJ: Do you use this quilt every day?
EM: No but when I need an extra cover on my bed I pull it out.
PJ: Do you have plans for this quilt?
EM: I’m going to keep it as long as I live and what my son does with it, I don’t know.
PJ: Let’s talk about your interest in quilt making. At what age did you start making quilts?
EM: I guess I was about 16 maybe 17. I had finished high school and I wanted to make quilts because we didn’t have any.
PJ: Who taught you? How did you learn?
EM: I taught myself. I saw patterns that came out in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. And that’s the only pattern I had. I didn’t have anybody to teach me so I had to do it all by myself.
PJ: That was very interesting. How many hours a week do you quilt now?
EM: I would say [pause.] when I’m quilting I’ll quilt piece a quilt all day long and I’ll work on it sometimes ‘till nine o’clock at night. Then there will be days I don’t touch it at all. [pause.] But I have a rotary cutter and a mat and I cut ‘em up real fast.
PJ: Well, can you kind of estimate how many hours a week you might quilt?
EM: [pause.] I would say an average of about 24.
PJ: Do you have a first quilt memory?
EM: I have my first quilt. It was made from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Chief. That’s an Indian name. I made it for my son. And I gave it to him [pause.] I made it when I was 16 [pause] 17 and I didn’t give it to him until just before he married. So he had a quilt made by his mother that wasn’t community property. [pause.] The other quilt that I made at that time was an Indian design. [pause.] I ordered I didn’t have scraps. I didn’t we didn’t have money to buy material but the Sears Robuck catalogue showed a scrap collection you could buy for two dollars and ninety-seven cents. So that’s what I used to make my first quilt with.
PJ: And was that the one for your son? Or was that the one [pause.]?
EM: That’s the one that I kept.
PJ: That’s the one that you kept. Okay. Are there any other quilt makers in your family?
EM: No. My mother died when I was very young and I had no sisters. [paused reflectively.] [voice tone changed.] I remember seven brothers though.
PJ: Seven brothers. Wow.
EM: But I was the only quilter.
PJ: How about your friends?
EM: I have lots of friends now who are quilters. I belong to the New Braunfels Quilt Guild and we have a Bee in San Marcos that I attend. And my cousins quilted. I had aunts that quilted but they didn’t help me.
PJ: [Tape turned off for a quick break.] Evelyn, tell me, have you everd use quilts to get through a difficult time?
EM: No they’re a hobby for me and when I’m tired or thirsty or [slight pause.] upset about yes, I use quilts [pause.] that really relaxes me and it makes me happy [pause.] [voice quickens.] to make a quilt [slight pause.] to work on a quilt [slight pause.] to look at them [slight pause.] to take them out of the drawer and pat them.
PJ: Tell me about perhaps an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making or teaching?
EM: I taught a class in making jackets one time [pause.] And the ladies didn’t know how [pause.] I says whatever you want to make whatever you want to put on it is alright. We’ll make it. And you should have seen some of the jackets or vests that came out of that. They were pretty. They were different.
PJ: And where was that?
EM: That was in New Braunfels.
PJ: At the [pause.] Was that in your Bee at that time?
EM: That was in the Quilt Guild. We had lessons. We taught lessons. Taught you how to do things.
PJ: And, do you remember basically about what year that might have been?
EM: No I don’t. In the 80’s [pause.] maybe 90’s.
PJ: Well you’ve talked about that you find things pleasing about quilt making. What’s your favorite thing to do with quilt making?
EM: My very favorite is quilting but my hands are so bad now that I can’t do that so I have to sew on the sewing machine.
PJ: Do you do; do you like to do piecing?
EM: I like to do piecing, but I can’t applique.
PJ: Because of the [pause.] your hands and?
EM: No because I just can’t turn them.
PJ: How interesting. Is there any aspect of quilt making that you do not enjoy?
EM: I do not enjoy applique.
PJ: Okay. [pause.] Do you belong to any other area quilt group other than the New Braunfels Area Quilt Guild?
EM: Yes the San Marcos Quilt Bee. We [pause.] we work [pause.] we call ourselves Bee Friends and we meet two times a month. And they’re good.
PJ: And what do you take when you go to Bee? Do you take anything to work on?
EM: Usually I take trimming. When I make a block I have to trim it because it isn’t quite the right size; trim the edges. Usually, that’s what I take.
PJ: Because you don’t carry your sewing machine.
EM: No. I can’t. I’m getting too old for that.
PJ: Do you want to tell us how old you are?
EM: I’m 95.
PJ: Have there been any advances in technology that has influenced your work?
EM: Yes. When rotary cutting came out. I saw it in a magazine and I ordered it. I think I’m the first one in this area that had a rotary cutter and a mat. I didn’t order a ruler to go with it though. I had to find out about the ruler later.
PJ: So what did you do with that before you got the ruler? Did you just cut with it?
EM: No. I just looked at it because I didn’t know how to use it.
EM: And didn’t have anybody to teach me how.
PJ: What are some of your favorite techniques or materials to use?
EM: I love all kinds of material. I try to get cotton material; 100 % cotton. To put a quilt because it all goes together good. But I have used a lot of different things in making some quilt blocks.
PJ: Like what?
EM: Well, I used a little fur on one. It didn’t turn out good. So I didn’t use it anymore. And I used a crooked star. And the crooked star all kinds of different shapes of greys for the star. I liked that. And I have the block that I made. I still have it and look at it every once in a while. But I haven’t used it. I don’t know how to use it.
PJ: And is it just one block or lots of blocks?
EM: It’s just one block. I like it.
PJ: Can you describe your studio or the place where you create?
EM: I think so. Let’s see. I have one door; a big arch; and one window. I put the design wall up, a sheet that I tacked on the wall. But I put a bunch of drawers, shelves in front of that. I have a rack in the corner with all kinds of books in it. And a table that has the wing out that puts your wing out that enlarges the table. And I have a cabinet in there that has shelves and drawers. A sewing machine over on the side. I have a Pfaff sewing machine and I have an old Jerome. No, that isn’t quite right.
PJ: Janome? Janome?
EM: Jaome serger four spools. I don’t like to use that serger because I can’t thread it and I can’t keep it threaded, but I use it some. My quilting frame, I have the rack for the frame in that room but I have the sticks that go on that rack out in my service room. I don’t use it anymore. One of theses days I’ll sell it or give it away.
PJ: Is that a great big?
EM: It’s a great big one for. Oh I have shorter sticks too that I can put a smaller quilt on it.
PJ: Will you do or you did a lot of hand quilting? Is that correct?
EM: Yes I did. But when my hands got bad and my stitches got uneven I had to find somebody one of those long arm quilters to do it with. I still quilt some on my sewing machine. My Pfaff has a feeder, a walking foot that will walk the quilt through. And I like that but I can only quilt straight lines on that. But I do quilt some of my quilts on that.
PJ: How do you balance your time for quilting?
EM: I don’t have to balance it. That’s the only thing I have that I really want to do.
PJ: Well, I thought you had some other things in your life that you really like to do.
EM: Oh I do. I sing with the Steel Magnolias or I play my harmonica with them and we perform all over the country.
PJ: You said you did have a design wall. If so, in what way does that design wall enhance your creative process?
EM: Well, before I put the shelves in front of it I could put the blocks up on the wall and look at them rearrange them that way. But it doesn’t serve any purpose it’s covered up almost.
PJ: [Tape turned off for a break.] What do you think makes a great quilt?
EM: Color; arrangement; [reflective pause.] points meeting; quilted evenly; not tiny stitches but even stiches; bounded where it does not ripple. I guess that’s a pretty good description.
PJ: I think you’re right. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?
EM: Color. I like lots of color. I usually make a scrap quilt. I have some that are not scrap quilts. But I like scrap quilts because I can use all of my little lefts overs from something else. I can put that in it and I can use lots of color.
PJ: So you don’t have to buy scraps anymore?
EM: I have more scraps than I do material.
PJ: What would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?
EM: I think the beauty of it. The beauty of it would be the design. A scrap quilt I don’t think would be very good in a museum. I think it needs to be uniform.
PJ: What makes a great quilter?
EM: Somebody that loves it. Somebody that loves quilting loves quilts.
PJ: Do you consider yourself to be a great quilt maker?
EM: I’m a busy quilt maker. I makes lots of quilts. I’m trying to make all my material up before I die. But I never get I never finish a quilt but what I had to buy something to go in it.
PJ: Okay. Do you have like a favorite batting or anything that?
EM: I like So Soft batting. Those fluffy batting. The quilters now the machine quilters now like those stable battings those. They’re almost stiff. But I don’t like those. I like them to be soft and fluffy.
PJ: Are you drawn to any particular art quilter or works?
EM: I don’t like art quilts. I like contemp [pause.] What is it? Old fashioned quilts.
EM: Traditional is the word for it. I couldn’t think of that word.
PJ: Have you tried to do an art quilt?
EM: No. I don’t intend to either.
PJ: Have any artists influenced you?
EM: I tried one time to make a Baltimore Album. I took a class from Pat Clark. No that does not seem like her name. Early in 1970 1980 sometime in there. I wanted to do a Baltimore Album with butterflies, flowers and baskets all over it. I did make a Baltimore Album one time but it wasn’t good. Traditional quilts are better. They’re easier to make. No they’re not easier to make. You have to be make your points match and that. [pause.] No. I can’t think of a quilter that has influenced me.
PJ: Do you read quilt magazines and books?
EM: I used to but I don’t have time anymore.
PJ: How do you feel about machine quilting verses hand quilting?
EM: There’s nothing like a hand quilted quilt. I don’t like machine quilting but I can’t do the hand quilting anymore. So I do the machine quilting.
PJ: And you said you do use long arm quilters now?
EM: I use long arm quilters now for most of my big quilts.
PJ: Do you sleep under a quilt at night?
EM: Oh yes. I wouldn’t sleep under a blanket. Unless it was an electric blanket.
PJ: If we went to your house today, what quilt do you have on your bed today?
EM: I have a Hawaiian applique on my bed today. It’s background is khaki colored and the top of it is a flame color. It’s called the Picocki and Tube Rose. And that is an appliqued quilt. One piece is the top. I did a green and white one for my granddaughter one time. It’s was a Bread Fruit. And I have another one that’s pink and brown. That is Hawaiian appliqued. The Hallow Tree. So I do do some applique. I did some applique when my hands were better.
PJ: Why do you think quilt making is important to your life?
EM: It’s beauty. And I like beauty. It’s time consuming. That’s alright. I have nothing to do except what I want to do.
EM: And I want to quilt.
PJ: Do you have you published anything pictures of your quilts in magazines or books?
EM: No. I haven’t.
PJ: Okay. [Tape turned off for a break.] Evelyn, I’d like to ask you, how do you get your points to match?
EM: In the middle of the quilt or on the edge of the quilt?
PJ: Well, give me both answers please.
EM: In the middle of the quilt. Let’s see I’ve got two squares and one square is sewed to the other square and I’m going to sew another piece of material on top of it that has a point in the same place. If they’re not. You can scooch a little bit. Hold one down and pull the other one. Hold one side of the quilt down and pull the other side of the quilt down or hold the top down and scooch the other one underneath it. Now that will get one in the middle but if you’re on the edge of the quilt and you’re sewing your binding on you’ve got to have left that ¼ inch hem and there’s no way to make that one match except to cut it off. That doesn’t give you a very good answer. Does it.
PJ: Well it’s your answer and that’s good enough.
PJ: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect our community or our region?
EM: Well I never thought about them connecting that. But I did make a small quilt one time that was based on the Battle of the Alamo block.
PJ: Appliqued or pieced?
EM: Pieced. In the midde of it though I had a one big open block that I outlined in quilting the front of the Alamo. And I put the Battle of the Alamo blocks around it. It’s done in browns.
PJ: Do you still have that quilt?
EM: It’s hanging on my wall. No it isn’t either. It’s on the quilt rack in my room. I’ve made two or three of those.
PJ: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?
EM: Well they keep you warm in the first place. They’re beautiful in the second place. They’re heirloom in the third place. And I have a quilt that my mother pieced. She didn’t have time to quilt it before she died. My cousin quilted it for me. [soft reflective voice.] It isn’t pretty but it’s my treasure.
PJ: It has a certain pattern to it?
EM: Yes. My first name is Faye and I don’t like it. There’s four F’s in every block. But she made them from scraps from her dresses, from my dresses. She made my Dad’s and brother’s shirts all the time and there’s scraps in there that I remember. I remember one of the dresses that I have scraps and two of my dresses scraps in there. That’s my treasure.
PJ: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women’s history in America?
EM: I never thought of it that way. When you think of it quilts blocks are named a lot of times for things that happened in America’s history. Battle of the Alamo for instance. And then there’s The Anvil. Like the blacksmith’s anvil. Broken Saucers. Cups and Saucers. All things named for all things you see in everyday life. And cups and saucers and broken dishes, pitchers. Things that you remember.
PJ: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?
EM: Don’t use them. But what good is having a quilt if you can’t use it? Don’t let acid paper get on them. Don’t store them in plastic bags. Store them where they are not folded because when you fold the quilt and put them away it breaks the batting inside. If you have to fold them to put them away open them up at least twice a year and spread them on the bed and let them rest awhile. And then when you fold them don’t fold them in the same creases again.
PJ: Do you roll your quilts?
EM: No. I fold mine.
PJ: Okay. What’s happened to the quilts that you have made?
EM: I’m sorry?
PJ: What has happened to the quilts that you have made?
EM: Well. I have given a lot of them away. I gave my nieces and nephews two quilts. I gave my brothers all two quilts. And I’ve sold a few. But you know to get the value out of a quilt when you think how much it costs you to make one especially when you have to have it quilted and they charge so much to have it quilted. Of course that takes your time away from it. You don’t have to spend hours at the quilting frame. But my time is what I want it to be, if I want to hand quilt it I quilt it even if it isn’t pretty anymore. But the machine quilts now are so beautiful. The quilting patterns are so pretty.
PJ: You said you did teach quilting.
EM: I have taught some quilting. Piecing.
PJ: And you said that was back several years ago.
EM: Twenty years ago.
PJ: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?
EM: The biggest challenge would be the cost of material. That first quilt that I bought that I bought the material for that I made for my son I paid twenty-nine cents a yard for that material. A solid color.
PJ: Do you remember what year that was perhaps?
EM: It was about. Let’s see, I was about 18 [years old.] 19 [years old.] when I did that. And that was a [slight pause]
PJ: A year or two ago.
EM: 34 or 35. 1934 or 35 1.
PJ: And you said it was twenty-nine cents a yard?
EM: Twenty-nine cents a yard. Now you can’t buy that material for less than five dollars a yard. And you’d be lucky to find it at that price.
PJ: Do you still buy fabric? You said you had plenty. But do you still continue to buy collect?
EM: I have to buy something every time I make a quilt because I don’t have quite the right lining for it or that touch of red to go there. I always have to buy that one thing.
PJ: Have you ever won an award?
EM: Yes. And I put a quilt in the New Braunfels [pause.] You know the show they have every year down at the Fair Grounds. Comal County Fair. I got a first place award for that one. And I won a third place award for theme quilts with the New Braunfels Guild three to four years ago. But I haven’t won much very many awards. I guess those two awards are all I have ever won. But that doesn’t lessen the pleasure I have in making them.
PJ: You truly love quilt making.
EM: [voice lifts in pitch.] I do. I love quilt making.
PJ: Well, I would to thank Evelyn for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters’ Save Our Stories project in New Braunfels, Texas. Our interview concluded at 1:44 p.m. on
August 16, 2012. Thank you, Evelyn.
Interviewee: Evelyn Meehan
Interviewer: Phyllis Jordan
Transcriber: Ann Felts
Project Name: The Texas QSOS
Location: New Braunfels, TX
Time: 1:05 p.m.
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