Phyllis Jordan (PJ): This is Phyllis Jordan. Today’s date is September 27, 2012. It is 12:50 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Rouye Rush for Quilter’s S.O.S. Save Our Stories project in the Sophien [Sophienburg.] Museum New Braunfels, Texas. Rouye, tell me about the quilt you made today, or you brought today.
Rouye Rush (RR): Well I, my sister drove from Houston [Texas.] to spend the night with me in San Marcos [Texas.] and we drove to Austin [Texas.] once a month, for 12 months, and took a class from Beth Kennedy, on appliquéing, and I made the Baltimore Album quilt I brought today. And that was in ’93 or ’94, I can’t remember which year. And we didn’t, of course there are more than 12 blocks, so we had to do some at home, and that did not include the border. I waited three years before I decided what kind of border I wanted on it and I finally finished it in ’97 and hand quilted it myself in ’98. And I believe it was in the New Braunfels [Texas.] Quilt Show either in ’98 or ’99, I can’t remember.
PJ: I know this has special meaning for you. Tell me about why this is so meaningful.
RR: Well, maybe because my sister and I took the classes together and she’s gone now; but, it has special meaning, but I have several quilts that have special meanings and it was hard to pick out a quilt to bring today, but I finally decided to bring this one.
PJ: Well, we thank you.
RR: I have already given it to one of my children, so, I don’t even own the quilt anymore, but she lives in the same town so.
PJ: Does she put it on a bed?
RR: Yes. It’s on her bed in her guestroom and has been for several years.
PJ: Good. What do you think, if someone saw your quilt. reviewed your quilt, what do you think they might conclude about you?
RR: I have no idea.
PJ: And you use this quilt, your daughter has it in her guestroom. Is that correct?
RR: Uh huh.
PJ: Good. Tell me about the, your interest in quilt making.
RR: Well, it started early in the ’60’s and ’70’s. I have a friend who told me that she started quilting about the same time and she said I was a closet quilter. I’d never heard that phrase before; and, she said there weren’t any quilt guilds. There weren’t any quilt shops and I didn’t have any quilting friends, so I did quilt. My mother quilted, but, she didn’t teach me to quilt. I’d see her quilting and my grandmother quilted, but I didn’t live close to my grandmother and she made ugly quilts, I thought, cause she made, you know, quilts out of old suits and heavy things, so they used them. They were not pretty quilts. And I always looked at the magazines. I ordered patterns out of the Fort Worth Star Telegram [ Fort Worth, Texas newspaper.] and the newspapers would have a little pattern for maybe 25 or 50 cents and I would order that and start quilting. And I didn’t have a lot of time cause I was raising a family at the same time.
PJ: Do you remember how old you were when you started?
RR: Well, let’s see. How old I would have been? I was born in ’22, I’m about to be 90, and so in the ’60’s I was probably 30 years old or 35. But, I started with kit quilts and after Christmas the big department stores would have their needlework sale and I’d always go to Houston [Texas.] to the big department stores and buy a kit quilt. And that is a quilt where they have the material and all the fabric in there. You had to cut it out, but it was kind of like ‘Paint by the Number’ [a painting kit that included numbered paints and a canvas/drawing with areas numbered corresponding to the paints.] It had a number on the backing and you’d put that number on that number and then appliquéd around it. They were mostly, I always bought appliqué quilts and then I’ve made two cross-stitch quilts that way. I bought kits and they were already marked and I cross-stitched them. So, I made four or five kit quilts in the ’60’s and ’70’s before I ever branched out and–
PJ: Came out of the closet–
RR: Came out of the closet and bought fabric, and of course there weren’t any quilt shops; but, there were fabric stores that mostly sold fabric for dresses and things like that, but they had a few cottons, and so I would always, and a lot of my [inaudible. ] quilts were polyester cause that was what was available.
PJ: From whom did you learn to quilt, or did you teach yourself?
RR: Well, I took a lot of classes, after they’d begin to give classes, but I just kind of taught myself.
PJ: Had you been a sewer before that?
RR: Yeah, I had sewn. I had four girls and so I had made a lot of their clothes and I had saved their scraps cause I had planned to make a “Dutch Doll” quilt for each one of them, out of the fabrics that were theirs, but, by the time they all grew up I couldn’t remember which fabric was which child, cause a lot of them wore their hand-me-downs. So, anyway, I did make a “Dutch Doll” quilt; but, it has all kinds of fabrics in it.
PJ: About how many hours a week do you quilt?
RR: Well, I don’t quilt that much. I’d like to quilt more than I do, and I don’t quilt as much as I used to, cause I used to hand quilt and I have stopped that; but, I try to quilt two or three hours a day if I can; but, I’m very busy.
PJ: I know you are.
RR: I belong to a lot of organizations and do a lot for other people, so, I don’t have very many free days at home all day long.
PJ: Let’s pause. [ recording paused: new track begun]
PJ: Rouye, what’s your first quilt memory? Do you have any memory–
RR: Well, we used to take a vacation every summer and go see my grandmother, my mother’s parents; but, on the way we stopped at one of my daddy’s aunts, because when his mother died, when he was about 12 or 13 and this sister of his mother raised him; so, we always stopped in Sweetwater, Texas to see her. And she was a quilter. And I never saw her quilt, but, when we’d go there she’d say ‘Would ya’ll like to see what I’ve done?’ And she had a cedar chest full of quilts and they were beautiful quilts and I was maybe 12, 13. I can’t remember how old, because we stopped a lot of summers there and visited, but I can remember her quilts and I’ve wondered what happened to them, but, they were beautiful. And as I said, my mother made prettier quilts than my grandmother but, she never really, she just sort of make up her own patterns and she used what she had on hand. She never really bought fabric to make a quilt–
PJ: This is your grandmother never bought fabric?
RR: My mother–
PJ: Your mother never bought fabric–
RR: Oh yeah, my mother would buy fabric; but, not planned and never had a pretty pattern. She’d just make quilts mostly.
PJ: So you, did you learn how to sew from her also?
RR: No, I guess I taught myself. Well, of course she helped me with some of my sewing when she lived close to me later in my life; but, early on I didn’t live close to Mother, so she couldn’t help me much.
PJ: Well, I know you have a lot of friends that are quilters. You belong to a Bee, is that correct?
PJ: And you also belong to a guild.
RR: Um-huh. I used to belong to three guilds. I belonged to the San Antonio [Texas.] Guild, and the Austin [Texas.] Guild, and the New Braunfels [Texas.] Guild all at the same time. But, San Antonio just got too far to go and it lasted too long and I got discouraged and quit. I still belong to Austin [Texas.] and San Marcos [Texas.], I mean New Braunfels [Texas]; but, I don’t go to Austin [Texas.] much, because they have a night meeting, so, I don’t drive at night in Austin, but, occasionally they have, every quarter, they have a day meeting and I go to those sometimes.
PJ: How many people are in your Bee?
RR: About 15 to 20.
PJ: Did any of your girls become quilters?
PJ: They didn’t have to, because you were giving them– [both PJ and RR laugh.]
RR: I had one daughter who’s sort of interested in it, but, she’s still working, and she’s beginning to get arthritis in her hands and her therapist told that her quilting was bad for her, that she should knit, and we both used to knit. I mean all of my girls knitted and I did too. I knitted before I ever started quilting, but, anyway, she decided she’d take up knitting again. So she’s knitting; but, I always thought that when she retired she may quilt. But, she’s the only one. The other two are not interested in it at all.
PJ: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?
RR: Um-huh. I have. I started to bring that quilt. I made a butterfly quilt when my youngest daughter; they just diagnosed her with kidney failure and she had to go on dialysis when she was just graduating from college and that was a very difficult time for her and for me, because, she was very mad at the world because it was ‘Why me?’ and she was so young and everybody at dialysis was old. So I took this quilt and I started. It was funny because I’d get home and I’d have to rip out half of what I did while I sat there while she was on dialysis. But, she had to go three times a week and be there four or five hours at a time and–
RR: So, I nearly named that my dialysis quilt; but, I didn’t, because I put aside and finished it later.
PJ: Do you have any amusing experience that’s occurred from your quilt making?
RR: What kind of experience?
PJ: Amusing. Has anything funny ever happened?
RR: Oh, there’s a story by every quilt I made; you know, some of them terrible, some of them funny. I can’t remember anything particular, but, I have such a habit of starting the quilt and I get bored with it and put it in a box and put it up for awhile and finish it maybe years later.
PJ: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?
RR: Oh, everything. I like picking out the fabric. I like cutting the fabric. Maybe I like that best of all, because I don’t finish them very well, sure takes me a long time.
PJ: Is there any aspect that you don’t enjoy?
RR: I don’t like finishing them up.
PJ: Now, what are you saying? Putting on the binding–
RR: Putting on the boarders and the binding and of course I liked it when I quilted them, but, now I get them ready and send them to somebody else to quilt.
PJ: Have there been advances in technology in quilting that have influenced your work?
RR: Oh, yes. As I said, when I first started you had cardboard, you cut cardboard patterns out of cardboard, and traced each piece. I’m binding a quilt now that I made back in the ’60’s and the blocks are about three-fourths of an inch or an inch big and I traced around each one with a pencil and hand did all those pieces, and there’s probably a thousand pieces in that quilt. And now there’s rotary cutters and plastic and a lot of things that make it easier.
PJ: Can you tell us about your studio, or the place that you create?
RR: Well, I have a guest bedroom and all it has in it is the couch and everything else is quilting. I have an ironing board and a sewing machine and a cutting table. So when I’m having company, I really have to get in there and clean up so they can get to the couch.
PJ: Do you have a design wall?
RR: A small one.
PJ: How do you go about designing quilts, or do you usually use patterns?
RR: I don’t ever design one. I just use patterns.
PJ: OK. Let’s pause. [ recording paused: new track begun.]
PJ: Rouye, what do you think makes a great quilt?
RR: Oh, I guess the colors and the pattern.
RR: It depends, and it depends on what you like.
PJ: Do you feel that some quilts are artistically powerful?
RR: No, I don’t think so.
RR: I guess some of the art quilts are, and, I don’t particularly like art quilts. I like the more contemporary quilts.
PJ: And traditional.
RR: Traditional, yeah.
PJ: OK. In your opinion, what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?
RR: Well, different types; some applique, some pieced, and of course, some art quilts. I think variety makes better museums.
PJ: OK. What makes a great quilt maker?
RR: I don’t know what does that. Practice, I guess. [laughs.]
PJ: If you, like go to Houston [Texas.] at the quilt show [yearly, Houston International Quilt Festival.], when you see the works of other people, what are you drawn to? Which ones catch your eye?
RR: Well, I love applique best; but, I’m so intimidated by Houston [International Quilt Festival.] because they have so many wonderful quilts. I can’t believe some of the women who’ve made those quilts.
PJ: And men.
RR: And men, right.
PJ: Which artists have influenced you? Or which quilt makers or teachers if you choose a pattern?
RR: I don’t think I have a special.
PJ: Why is quilt making important to your life?
RR: Oh, I can be just working away in my house and I will drop anything to go in my sewing room and work a little while, cause I just love it; and, I’d rather be doing that than housework. [both PJ and RR laugh.]
PJ: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect the community or the region.
RR: I don’t think they do.
RR: I just make a quilt because I see a picture or like the pattern.
PJ: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?
RR: Well, I think it’s wonderful and of course it’s grown so in the last 20 to 50 years. you know. It’s a big industry now. Lots of people making quilts and I’m so encouraged about the young people who are making quilts who have families and a lot of the ladies work. I do not know how they make quilts, and work, and have a family, and do all that. I didn’t work outside the home very much. I did a little bit, but not much, and I didn’t have that much time to quilt.
PJ: Yeah. How old was your youngest, when you started? Do you remember?
RR: Oh, I don’t remember, let’s see. Probably 10 maybe.
PJ: So you were juggling things, also.
RR: Yeah, I used to do it mostly at night after, and my husband was gone a lot. He was in the Air Force some, and then he was in business and traveled some, so, when he was gone, I’d quilt at night when the kids had all gone to bed already.
PJ: Do you find it relaxing?
RR: Yes, very. However, I get tired now and I have to quit that too and go do something else.
PJ: Are there any ways that you think quilts have special meaning for women’s history in America?
RR: Well, yeah, it’s come a long ways; but, long ago there were beautiful quilts just like there are today. I go to museums and see quilts made in the– I just went to England this summer and saw quilts that were made in the 1800’s that were beautiful.
PJ: And you went to the U.K. [United Kingdom.] Quilt Show; is that where you went?
RR: Um-huh. And also went to two museums where they had old quilts, cause the lady I went with was very interested in old quilts, antique quilts. I’m not particularly interested in them. I like to see them, but I don’t care about owning them or, and I’ve never bought an antique quilt.
PJ: Do you find that there are any patterns that call to you of those antique quilts necessarily?
RR: No, but some of the patterns are still good that were good back then.
PJ: How do you think quilts can be used other than putting them on a bed?
RR: Well, a lot of people are making smaller quilts now and hanging them on the wall. Using wall quilts, using them as table cloths on the end table or dining table. And of course, I’ve seen in magazines some of the quilt teachers have quilts all over their house, hanging from the stairway and different places. So, they use them for all kinds of decorations.
PJ: Well, you’ve used them in the community, right? I mean, you’ve made some for charity, is that correct?
RR: Oh, yes.
PJ: Do you have any idea how many total quilts you’ve made over your lifetime?
RR: No, I probably have 35 quilts at home, right now, and I have five children and I’ve given all of them three quilts. And then, I’ve helped make a lot of quilts that I’ve given away. I’ve worked on two or three projects for wounded soldiers and we take quilts to the hospital in San Antonio [Texas.] and then I’m in the Austin [Texas.] guild and I’ve forgotten where they take them, but they have a, where they go to Fort Hood [US Army Post, at Killeen, Texas.] or to one of the hospitals in San Antonio [Texas.]. And then, we’ve made quilts for the Women’s Shelter [San Marcos, Texas.]; our Bee made 12 quilts last year for the Women’s Shelter cause they had added on to it and they wanted twin beds size quilts. So, we made 12 quilts for those beds.
PJ: And where is that shelter located?
RR: San Marcos [Texas.]
PJ: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?
RR: I really don’t know, just be careful with them. Don’t put them down and let the dogs sleep on them. [both PJ and RR laugh.] I just put mine, I mean I’m not particularly–
PJ: Has that happened to you, that somebody’s let a dog be on one of your quilts?
RR: No. I decided that I was going to give my grandsons all a quilt when they married and I made a quilt and hand quilted it when my oldest grandson got married. And some of my friends in the Bee said, ‘I would not give a hand made quilt to a girl you didn’t even know.’ Because I didn’t know the girl, they lived, my grandson lived in San Francisco [California.] at the time and she had lived in Chicago [Illinois.] and she moved to San Francisco when they got engaged and married. And I had met her and that’s all. I didn’t know one thing about her. And they said ‘What if she doesn’t take care of it?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to give it to them, I don’t, you know, what they do with it.’ And I just thought ‘Surely, she won’t.’ And they didn’t have a dog at the time but of course everybody said ‘They may put it on the floor or take it to the park and use it as a picnic quilt.’
PJ: And did they?
RR: I don’t think so. I don’t know; but, I gave it to them. [RR laughs.]
PJ: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today? Or are there any challenges?
RR: I don’t know. I think everybody makes a quilt that they like and what they’re capable of doing.
PJ: OK. Let’s pause. [ recording paused: new track begun.]
PJ: Rouye, how do you make selections for your quilts? Do you do fabric first or pattern first or both at the same time?
RR: Sometimes both at the same time; but, that’s interesting, because one year the San Antonio [Texas.] quilt show had for their donation quilt, and it was made by Ethel Howie, who was, I think, a Hawaiian or Eastern, she had married a service man overseas and come to the States [United States.] but, she was a wonderful quilter and she had made the donation quilt that year and I loved it, mainly because of the colors and the pattern. And I asked her about the pattern and where she got it. She told me what magazine. I said, ‘I take that magazine; I don’t think I noticed it.’ And I went home and looked in my magazine and there it was; but, it was a different color and I did not even, never had, I turned the page, didn’t even look at it good. So, color I think catches my eye more than anything else.
PJ: Do you ever buy fabric without an intention of making it into a quilt?
RR: Oh, yes. I have a drawers full of it, that I bought 10 years ago, and now I go back and think ‘Why did I buy this?’ Now I don’t like it particularly and I try to use it up. If I find a pattern I could use it, I don’t have quite enough, so, I’ve got a big stash, which I’ve got to get rid of, so my kids won’t have a garage sale and have to sell it for a, ten cents.
PJ: Well, Rouye, we thank you very much for allowing us to tape you today. The time is 22 minutes and 48 seconds. Thank you.
Interviewee: Rouye Rush
Interviewer: Phyllis Jordan
Transcriber: Michelle Glenn
Project Name: The Texas QSOS
Location: New Braunfels, Texas
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