Cathey Spies (CS): My name is Cathey Spies (CS), today’s date is July 23rd, 2015, it’s 10:05 in the morning and I’m conducting an interview with Barbara Thieme for Quilters’ Save Our Stories project. We’re at Barbara’s lovely home in Cypress, Texas, and I’d like to thank Barbara for allowing us to come and interview her today as part Quilters’ Save Our Stories Project.
Barbara Thieme (BT): You’re welcome.
CS: So, first of all, let’s talk about the quilt you’re sharing with us today.
BT: All right.
CS: Tell me a little bit about it. I understand it was your first quilt.
BT: Yes. I taught myself to sew and I was, I guess what you would call, a garment maker. I made all my clothes as a teenager and early marriage and it was a way of saving money. We had no money [both laugh.] but finally got tired of sewing clothes and found a picture in a magazine actually of a quilt and thought, ‘that looks pretty,’ and this was way before your fast speed cutting [laughter.], and of course I took the pattern and cut the pattern from a piece of cardboard and, you know, drew the lines and cut out each piece. I maybe did two at a time, I don’t know that I did one at a time, but it was the Six or Eight-Point Star. I have to count the points now, it’s been a while since I looked at it, but chose the colors, and it really was advertised in a woman’s magazine; not really advertised, it was shown as a table topper. So it’s not a large quilt and it had pointed edges, which I didn’t know how I was going to do but I figured I can follow directions, I sewed for years, and I loved the colors. And I got my fabric, started out, put it together but the point, the center, and as any quilter knows on a star that is the most critical area to get to lay flat. When you put all of these points together, or all the centers together after you’ve made your point, anyway, with a lot of extra manipulation I did get it to lay flat. Hand quilted the whole thing. At that time I did not know anything about machine quilting, but the edges–on each one of the edges I had to make a mitered point on the binding. Oh my Lord. Oh my goodness. It took a lot of effort. I finished it and I was proud of that quilt; hung over my fireplace for a long time. And recently, when I changed the décor in my living room I removed it and that was actually the first time I think it was gently washed. We never used the fireplace much, so I wasn’t afraid of the smoke or anything, but it was very dusty so it’s now lovingly held in my quilt chest [laughs.], and I should really put it out and display it but the colors, you know, they change, fabrics go in and out of vogue, and pinks and blues are just not used so much anymore, so anyway, that’s kind of the background. I don’t know that I can tell you too much more. That’s about it as far as the background of the quilt, of that quilt. I mean I’ve done many more.
CS: Are there any other quilt makers in your family?
BT: No. My mother did years ago, and I was actually going to ask my daughter, because she [BT’s mother.] didn’t label her quilts, but one year she gave each of her three children large bed-size quilts and each of the grandchildren, which were maybe seven or eight of them, lap quilts. And they were hand done. I think they were machine pieced, but they were hand quilted. But that’s the only things I know that she did. Well, I take it back, when I went through her stuff, in her cedar chest I found about twenty-plus, maybe thirty, and I didn’t even know the name of it at the time, but there were thirty squares of your—what is that thirties fabric; I can’t think of the name of it—and I looked at those and I thought, wow. And they were machine pieced, but it was actually called a Caesar’s Crown, I believe is the name of it. I was amazed when I saw that, and so I took those because at the time I was not a quilter that enjoyed scrappy quilts, mine had to be all [laughter.]—I thought—matched and purchased fabric from a quilt store or something. But I took those, divided them up and made two full bed-size quilts. I had two children. I made one for each of them, and I framed an extra one. There must have been twenty-five because I had one extra and I quilted it and framed it for my daughter. Other than that, it wasn’t something she spoke of. I never saw her quilting. But I guess my background—I love fabrics. Both of my parents worked—what is the mill; they don’t make fabric there anymore I don’t believe in New Braunfels–the Brentex? Maybe they still do. But at the time it was the Comal County Mill right by the river. My grandparents lived within walking distance of it and both of my parents worked there. My dad was actually a weaver. And he took us in there years after he moved to Houston and we went back. My uncles worked there, and he showed us what he used to do and they made at the time: the gingham check. All sizes. And he showed us how to run the weave and the warp and my mother was actually I guess now what they would call it is quality control. She flipped the sheets of the fabric. Other than the gingham check they made fabric for sheets and pillow cases and they would literally have ladies running, looking at the fabrics as it came across. I don’t know. I didn’t go in and see that part. And then they had a large fabric store there. Needless to say, I had a lot of gingham check clothes as a child [laughter.] but maybe it was just ingrained in my DNA that I loved fabric. And to this day I just love it.
CS: I think it’s in there, yeah [both laugh.].
CS: I see that you do teach. Have you had a chance to teach your children how to quilt?
BT: Well, my daughter has picked it up. She, at this point, is still too busy raising grandchildren and still working, but she knows how to sew. She’s not interested at this point in quilting. She does knitting and crochet. And she’s very good it. I have the one granddaughter who’s, right now, quite busy being a teenager, and I’m just working on binding a quilt that she actually pieced the strips. We were making a jelly roll. She didn’t buy it, though. She didn’t like the fabrics or the colors, so she went and purchased her own and literally cut 3-1/2” wide strips by hand and then sewed them together, but we never got the time. I offered to put it together for her because she’s now into cheerleading and going to mission camps and she has no time. So I’m trying, and she’s interested, but with the time aspect maybe I’ve planted the seed.
CS: Do you nowadays do any quilting, other than maybe pieces, by machine, like the long arm and such?
BT: I don’t do the long arm. Up until about two years ago when I entered a piece in our quilt show, the Tri-County Quilt Show, we’ve had two of them, we’re having our third one in February of 2016, but I’ve had two pieces of hand quilted, machine pieced. But this year I think I’ve about given up hand quilting because of my arthritis. [phone ringing in background.] Excuse me a minute if you don’t mind. [pause recording for phone.] I’m debating even to enter a quilt for this next one, but I really have to just go to machine quilting now. My arthritis is really [inaudible], and really that is sometimes bad.
CS: Yeah, yeah. You are a member, as you’ve mentioned, a member of the Tri-County Guild. Are there any other groups that you’re involved with?
BT: Well, our Stitch and Pray at church meets once a month on Wednesday, on the third Wednesday of the month and we do, I sort of call them, comfort quilts. They’re lap size quilts that we hand out for any hospital stay visit or in the home. And we also this past year started making about thirty-four to thirty inch square receiving blankets for the babies that are being baptized in our church. So, other than that, I don’t. I just do my thing here. Well, I do help out at the Tri-County Guild. There is what we call a charity bee up here at Cypress Crossing Church. I haven’t been there in a while, but they meet once a month. They bring the tops that are pieced that people maybe don’t want to quilt or don’t want to finish binding, and when we have our meetings they are bundled up from the meetings once a month and brought to the stage and anyone can come up and pick up a particular bundle and finish it. We all have different things we enjoy doing. Some of them like to just piece. They don’t want to quilt. Some of them don’t want to put it together in the quilting process. Some of them don’t want to bind it, so God has given us all different, you know, things that we can enjoy doing. Just recently I have two to return that I picked up and don’t mind finishing. I sit there in the evening and do my hand work or put the binding on by hand. Some people don’t even want to put the binding on by hand. We have techniques now that we can put it on with a machine. I mean, do both with a machine. But other than that, I just do my thing, I guess. I have taught several. There’s a lady at our church that has asked me and she has come to my home a couple of times. Now she’s babysitting this summer so she’ll be back in the fall, but other than our church group which last year Stitch and Pray offered, and we did, a Christmas quilt; a lap size. I mean they’re about 40 inches square, to those who wanted to learn to quilt and our Missions group graciously donated eight Janome machines, small machines that will do free motion and also has the walking foot. And so last year we had eight ladies that came and took about six weeks and taught them. We’re hoping to offer it again this fall.
CS: Very nice. You use a design wall. Is that just to organize your thoughts?
BT: It is a piece of cloth I have hanging in the room. I have the piece of flannel. Mine is quite large and I think it could be redesigned [laughter.] because when I make my large quilts they don’t all hang up very well. So, I have found it not as useful as just laying it on the floor sometimes, but I do have one. If that is one of your main questions, I do have one [laughter.].
CS: So you get an idea about a quilt, or you come across a pattern that you like in a magazine and you think to yourself what? This would look good in these colors, or that you have some fabric that would work here? How do you decide what kind of color scheme you want to do, or how do you want this to look, or does the quilt just take on a life of its own as you go?
BT: No, people say that I’m creative, but it’s not as much as depending on people who really have the knowledge [both laugh.]. I do, if something catches my eye, yes, usually in a magazine or something that I have seen I will sometimes change the colors of the fabric and I do want to try a pattern. I’m sort of willing, ‘oh well, you know, that’s new. I haven’t done that. Let me see if I can do that’ effort, but I usually find a pattern that I like and go from there. But I kind of, most people do sort of self-teach themselves when they’re free motion quilting and I don’t do a really great job of it, but I’m learning. But the thing that I did, I found some of these whole cloth fabrics and it was a design of a city with roads and houses and a police station, hospital, a boatyard and all the things you might see. At the time my grandson was young and I thought, ‘oh, I can make him a quilt.’ I put it all together and I thought, ‘oh, I don’t do free motion very well.’ But I got the clear thread—monofilament—and just started following the roads and following the outlines of the buildings and the trees and it really worked out very well. And so I had a second one because had bought two of them. After I gave it to my grandson, he was very delighted at the time, he was into the Matchbox cars; perfectly fit the little road. Okay, so I had this other piece and thought well, how nice would that be to make another one and donate it? Some child would enjoy it. So I made a second one and on the back I made a little pocket with a Velcro and I took it over and was talking with my grandson about it and I said, ‘Do you like playing with your quilt?’
‘Oh, yes ma’am.’
And I said, ‘You know, Grandma made a second one.’
And I maybe burst his bubble a little bit, and I said, ‘But you know what I thought would be nice? I thought I would give it to some little boy that would like it as much as you like your own.’ They go to church they’re into mission, and at the time of course, he was just five or six years old, but he was already going to Sunday School. And I said, ‘Don’t you think another little boy would enjoy it?’
‘Oh, yes, Grandma.’
And I said, ‘Would you be willing to give one of your cars, or maybe two,’ because he had a lot of these little cars, ‘So that I could put some in this back pocket, so when I donate it they will already have something to play with?’
He was willing. He said yes. So I said, ‘Can we go look at your cars and you could pick out some, maybe that was your favorite or that you thought maybe you thought you had more of than you needed?’ He said okay and we went and sat down and we picked out some cars and he lovingly put them in the back pocket and Velcroed it closed. I thanked him and that was how I sort of how I started doing the free motion. I’ve grown a little bit, or a lot, I think, from there, but back to your question, I enjoy trying a new technique or a new pattern that maybe I haven’t tried before. I have sort of branched out and I do like scrappy quilts now, so we do tend to evolve and grow, I think. I hope.
CS: What is the one thing you enjoy most about quilting? The actual [gestures encompassing space with hands.] quilting?
BT: Gee. What I enjoy the most is actually working with the fabric. But also, as I’m quilting, especially when I’m sitting there at the machine, I am trying to envision the person I’m going to give it to. Because to me, when you work on something, I love any time type of item that is hand made. I love pottery. I don’t do pottery but because I know the effort that goes into any handwork, I lovingly look at the crocheted doilies that are sitting in a basket in an antique store that’s selling for fifty cents and I think someone spent hours on these doilies and no one appreciates them. I can’t do anything with them anymore, but anything that someone sits and spends hours, I mean if it’s any item that people spend their precious time on, and I think when I’m giving a quilt I’m giving it from my heart I think, and I don’t mean to be blasé about it, but I mean, I do think about that if it’s going to be donated to our church or if it’s going to be donated by the Tri-County to the DePelchen Home. We donate to the Boys and Girls Country, I believe. I think that’s a new one. We kind of keep growing. There’s a home over on K-Z [CS interjects: The Lutheran Home?]. Yes, and I think these are on the list. If not they have been thought of, but we can only give so much but we have quit a large group, I think we have over 300 in our guild, but they’re not all part of the charity group. But when you get a group of ladies together that are dedicated they can really put out some quilts. But that’s basically why. Why do I enjoy it? I love fabric, I love to go purchase it, that’s part of it. I love to cut it out. I just love fabric and it’s something I can do with the fabric that I purchase possibly. That would be the answer. I don’t know. It’s just kind of a tri-fold.
CS: That’s a good answer.
BT: It’s a lot of answers.
CS: It’s a very good answer. Yeah. Yeah [nodding.]. Let’s talk a minute about design aspects and craftsmanship and that sort of thing. What do you think makes a good quilt? Have you looked at quilts and gone, ‘I like the colors, but, oh noooo.’ Or ‘That’s a lovely design, but those colors make me a little twitchy’. What do you think would make a successful quilt? Not any right or wrong answer.
BT: For me? You’re talking about, for me? Because there are some quilts I look at and I think why would anyone spend the time making that? But for me, like you said, there’s maybe not one answer. It is just that like that table runner right there [points to table runner on display stand nearby.]. I wanted to learn how to do it. I have not gone beyond that. I would love to. It’s learning the new techniques and just enjoying what I’m doing. If I’m not enjoying it, I’ll just take it and fold it up and put away. So it brings me great joy and pleasure to do these things. Maybe because I know most of them are not going to sit very long, I’m going to give them away. I give 90% of them away to somebody, even if they don’t want them [both laugh.].
CS: Which brings me to another question. What do you think, because you’re so in tune with quiltmakers and you give yours away and they are given for charitable reasons, what part do you think this plays in American life; a quilt, in today’s life, as opposed to way back before electric blankets and central heat and stuff? People relied on quilts to be functional and keep them warm.
BT: I realize that and I think sometimes that my quilts that I give might not be used. But it gives me pleasure in giving them and so I’m hoping that the people that receive them will use them and I stress please use them; please. They grow in the way they feel even. You can pick up a quilt that has been lovingly used and folded and it just gets softer and cuddly. Is that a word? I don’t know. I believe people like to use them, even as decorative pieces, to put them on the back of a chair or drape them over the edge of a bed. At least that’s what they’ve told me. My husband’s not comfortable using them on the bed. He says they’re heavier. He likes a lighter weight; just a little bit of a cover to keep out the chill or something. But we don’t sleep under them and I’ve often wondered why I’m making these things. But people seem to want to buy them. At our church they’re auctioned and there’s always people willing to bid on them. People have never turned them down that I know of. Maybe like I’ve said they’re being kind, but I believe too people appreciate the handwork that’s gone into them, the hours and the efforts and know that it’s coming from someone that enjoys that enjoys their craft.
CS: I totally agree.
Well, I would like to thank Barbara Thieme for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters’ Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 10:36 in the morning. And thank you again.
BT: You’re more than welcome. It was really a joy. It didn’t hurt a bit [both laugh.].
Interviewee: Barbara Thieme
Interviewer: Cathey Spies
Transcriber: Cathey Spies
Project Name: The Texas QSOS
Location: Cypress, TX
Time: 10:00 a.m.
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