Gail van Horsen (GvH): Okay Bernie, we’re going to go through some questions here. One of the first ones is ‘Do you make quilts?’ and–
Bernadine Singer (BS): Obviously, yes I do—
GvH: [laughs] yes you do. Do you ever make wearable art?
BS: No, I make wearable clothes, but I don’t make wearable art.
GvH: Okay, do you make most of your clothing, or—
BS: No not anymore there was a time when I did sew for my girls.
GvH: So did you learn to sew at a young age or?
BS: I was about six or seven when my mother taught me how to sew on a treadle sewing machine.
GvH: And you’ve done it your entire life, then?
BS: Yes. But not with a treadle.
GvH: No [laughs.] Okay. Do you sleep under a quilt at night?
BS: Oh yes. One my mother made.
GvH: Did you sleep under quilts when you were a child as well?
BS: Oh yes. Um hmm. My mother didn’t hand quilt or even machine quilt, but she did machine piece and she made squares in her time. So we always had quilts.
GvH: So do you consider yourself a self-taught quilter?
BS: Probably. I have taken three classes but most of the time when where I lived there hasn’t been anyone to teach it so I taught myself.
GvH: How far is Crown King away from a town or a community of any size?
BS: Sixty some miles.
GvH: Sixty miles?
BS: Umm hmm.
GvH: And how many years have you lived there?
BS: Permanently, twenty five years but we built a cabin forty years ago and we’ve been going up there every weekend since.
GvH: [laughs] That’s a good deal of time then.
GvH: So you said that you had a mother that made quilts when you were a child. Did her mother or did any of your grandmothers quilt?
BS: My dad’s mother did quilt. I have, my daughter has it now, but she made two baby quilts, they probably were all hand done.
GvH: So did they do it just occasionally like when a baby was born or did they quilt continually throughout—
BS: Oh, I think just occasionally.
GvH: When you started quilting did you start in occasionally too just as gifts or things or did you start in and go hog wild?
BS: When I started quilting, I worked at a school and an art teacher came into the cafeteria and she was hanging up quilts in the back as a backdrop for a play that was happening. And I went up and admired her quilts and I said, ‘Now when I retire, I’m going to learn how to quilt.’ And she said ‘Don’t wait until you retire. If you really like to quilt, you’ll find the time to quilt while you’re working.’ So that was a year before I retired and I signed up for a class at Quilted Apple and then I took – we made one block. Then I signed up for the second class and we made six blocks. And then I started up with the advanced class with Lorene Sinema and I haven’t stopped since.
GvH: So those were the three lessons you took.
BS: Yes, at the Quilted Apple–
GvH: Wow. It’s funny when you say that Quilted Apple and Lorene Sinema because so many people I talk to here in Arizona learned to quilt from her. I mean she has quite a story in this state, it’s amazing.
BS: Yes, uh huh. She could motivate you into – like that advanced class we made like six blocks every week we had to finish and bring back in. And I don’t seem to do that with any of my girls that I’ve been teaching [both laugh.]
GvH: Now were those applique classes or just a variety?
BS: They were pieced or applique.
BS: But all by hand.
GvH: Um hmm. So it was a sampler that you were making?
BS: Yes, uh huh, yes.
GvH: And about what year was that, do you think?
BS: What would twenty-six years ago be?
GvH: ’75-ish? ‘74. [laughs.]
BS: Yes, ’74.
GvH: Okay, 1974. So you were pretty much in there in the new quilt revival. That was right at that time frame. Yeah. Do you belong to a sewing group?
BS: We have a small group in Crown King. There’s only about six of us right now. They come and go. But we still meet once a week. Now it’s on Monday nights. We mostly do our own thing unless they have something that they want. Sometimes we’ve done a Christmas party or something.
GvH: That’s a good idea.
BS: Usually we do our own thing.
GvH: And so do you bring your sewing machines or do you do hand work?
BS: Mostly we do hand work, but we do have a machine there. We meet at the school and we do have a machine there at the school.
BS: There are several girls who don’t have machines at home.
GvH: Do you have a collection of quilts?
BS: I have quite a few.
GvH: Your own quilts?
BS: My own.
GvH: And then you said you had some from your mother.
BS: I have a couple that I bought at garage sales or somewhere. Antique shops. Mostly, I just make my own.
GvH: Are your quilts that you’ve collected, are they mostly from the 20th century or are they into the 1800’s?
GvH: 20th century.
BS: I think so.
GvH: Do you also collect sewing memorabilia?
BS: Yes, I have a few things. Like darning eggs, I have about half a dozen of those. [laughs.]
GvH: [laughs.] That’s funny. I do too. Have you ever worked in a quilt shop?
BS: No. I’d love to.
GvH: Now this next question: “Do you teach quilting?” I know you do, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about your quilting experience as teaching.
BS: As teaching? Well, when I moved to Crown King 25 years ago nobody taught quilting there and there were a few ladies who were interested in doing some quilting so I started the classes and mostly we did hand piecing and I just started with the basic Hole in the Barn Door. They learned how to do it and then they worked on their own projects after that. But when new girls come in then they mostly just do a square to begin with until they decide what they want to do. Now I have a new student who doesn’t want to do that kind of thing but she wants to do applique. So I got her started, she’s making a Christmas tablecloth and she’s learning how to applique.
GvH: So you just kind of have an ongoing class—
GvH: –for the last twenty-five years. What! That’s really neat. Have you ever won any awards with your quilting?
BS: No, [pause] because I quilt for my own enjoyment. I don’t really make them for show or anything. I just enjoy especially the 30’s fabrics and everything of that era.
GvH: Yes, this quilt you’ve brought in, this Nine Patch with the flowers from the ‘30, in the ‘30’s fabric is beautiful.
BS: I’m sitting here looking, just look at those two [inaudible] yellow and green blocks, I’ve never noticed that before. They’re both the same.
GvH: No they’re not.
BS: No, the green isn’t—
GvH: –the designs are different, yeah.
BS: but they’re still yellow [laughs.] All these years I’ve had this, well, several years I guess, I’ve never noticed it before.
GvH: That’s because it’s upside down. See, those would have been at the bottom.
BS: Well it hangs over the railing at home so I maybe don’t see that. [laughs.]
GvH: And do you have a studio or a sewing room in your home?
BS: I have a sewing room, upstairs. But I do like to sew downstairs too on the kitchen table or the dining room table.
GvH: Then you’re kind of in the center of things.
BS: Yes, that’s my biggest thing. You know, I’m upstairs and then I don’t hear what’s going on downstairs or whatever so I move my stuff downstairs, but all my fabrics or most of them are upstairs.
GvH: Now does this quilt you’ve brought in today have any special meaning for you?
BS: Oh yes. Certainly. Can I tell my story?
BS: Okay. About 3 years ago the sewing group had a booth at our Apple Fest, and I took a quilt down there to hang in the back of the booth just for color. And during the day a lady that I had just met, Teresa, she came down and she had a booth a little ways away and she admired the quilt and she asked if it was for sale. And I said, ‘No, I don’t ever sell any of my quilts.” And later on in the afternoon she came back down again and she said, ‘If you ever sell that quilt, I want first chance at it.’
So I had just met her and her son who was 18 years old at the time. And he was in a wheelchair. He can’t speak. He can only blink his eyes and raise one arm. But he’s with her all the time, no matter where she goes she has him in his wheelchair and she’s so good with him. And I just decided if anybody deserved a quilt it would be Teresa. So at the end of the day, I folded it up and I took it down and gave it to her. And she was just thrilled with the quilt.
So then the next year, two years ago, we had the Lane Fire in Crown King. The night before I had put all my quilts in tubs. And my husband and some friends took them all down that morning before we had to evacuate and they put them in this mine tunnel that we have on our property. And then we had to evacuate and by the grace of God or somebody we definitely saved our house. Everything was covered with slurry but the house was still there twelve days later when they let us back in.
And a reporter from the Prescott paper called and asked if she could come out and do a story on us because the Forest Service and the Fire Department had saved our cabin. So when I told her the story about our quilts and the mine shaft, mine tunnel, so she said, ‘Well, grab a quilt and come down and I’ll take a picture of you in the tunnel.’ So I grabbed this one because it’s fairly small and won’t drag on the ground. So she took my picture holding this quilt up. And it was in the Prescott paper and the Phoenix paper and several papers all around.
So then a couple of weeks later, they were going to have a benefit for the Fire Department and somebody suggested that we think of something for a money raiser for the Fire Department. And I thought well everybody had seen this quilt in the newspapers. And I thought maybe that would draw some interest. So I donated it to the Fire Department to sell chances on. And it was probably at the store maybe three to four weeks at the most. And in those four weeks it brought in almost two thousand dollars in raffle tickets.
BS: –from chances. But I said a good share of it came from our family because they were so glad that our house hadn’t burned so that we didn’t have to move in with them.
BS: And anyway, then they sold the chances and then in September they had the benefit for the Fire Department and they had the banquet first and then they drew the name for the winner for the quilt. And Teresa who I had given the quilt to the year before, she won the quilt. So she called me up to the stage and she presented me with my quilt again.
GvH: How neat.
BS: Wasn’t that nice?
BS: She told me she said she just prayed all morning that she could win that quilt so she could give it back to me [laughs.]
GvH: What a wonderful story.
BS: Everybody cheered and there was hardly a dry eye among the volunteers. But you know, well it almost seemed like it was meant to be, you know that I–
GvH: Yes, did you put other things of value in the mine shaft when a fire comes?
BS: Well all my quilts or projects I’m working on. And fabric I’ve gotten for a new project or something like that. But other than that, I don’t.
BS: Well, pictures.
GvH: That’s a good idea.
BS: We have two tubs for family pictures we put ‘em into. I guess I don’t have anything else that can’t be replaced. [laughs.]
GvH: That’s true.
BS: But I did have. I think I decided this last time to put in all my hand made quilts.
GvH: Oh wow. So you do have quite a few quilts.
BS: Yes I do.
GvH: So do you think someone looking at this quilt would get any idea of your personality?
BS: They’d probably know that I was born in the Thirties. [both laugh.] I like Thirties’ fabric.
GvH: It’s so bright and cheery. [6 sec. pause.] How many hours a week do you think you quilt?
BS: [7 sec. pause] I should say at least twenty hours. Some weeks vary. Some years vary, I should say too, because when we have a good baseball team I always watch the ballgames and then I quilt the whole time. This year I haven’t been quilting as much. [both laugh.]
GvH: So you learned to quilt from The Quilted Apples and as a child did you ever make a quilt at all?
BS: No, I never did. I did make a quilt when my first child was born. I did make a Nine Patch that Spring, I don’t know whatever happened to that one.
GvH: And did you tie that?
BS: No–Yes, I did. Yes, I tied that. And then my first quilt I quilted was a Grandmother’s Flower Garden that I bought already pieced, a full size quilt and it was at a Goodwill antique store. Paid $8.50 for it. And it was all done by hand.
GvH: Oh my gosh. Was it a 1930’s top?
BS: Yes. Yes.
GvH: Grandmother’s top. And did you know how to hand quilt?
BS: No, but you just did it.
GvH: You just did it.
BS: I just did it, but you can see when I started I used double thread, and my knots were on the back when I started. I didn’t have any idea how to quilt. My mother never hand quilted.
GvH: I think that’s fun when people just start. You think, ‘Well, I can do that!’
BS: I always had an interest in it. Because I had an interest in sewing. I always sewed.
GvH: What is your first quilt memory, do you think?
BS: Probably that Grandmother’s Flower Garden. Because that took me all summer to quilt. And that’s the last time I have quilted with a frame, a big frame.
GvH: Oh, okay. You actually put it on a frame.
BS: Uh huh. In my living room. And it took all summer.
GvH: Do you still have that frame?
BS: Yes, I do have it. I can’t quilt. I’m so short waisted that by the time I got done with that quilt my ribs hurt so bad, it just, there’s no space in here and it’s just leaning over. I don’t know. The angle was not right. The height, rather. Or whether it was too low. But it’s not comfortable. Now I quilt with a hoop on my lap.
BS: I do have a round hoop on a stand sometimes I quilted on but if it’s straight lines that’s fine but if I have to move it around all the time like with echo quilting, it’s too hard to keep stationary.
GvH: Oh, right, yes. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?
BS: I like quilt making because it’s so relaxing. And it’s something I can do by myself. I don’t depend on somebody else to entertain me. I can, you know, spend hours and I never get bored quilting. I can spend hours working on it all by myself.
GvH: Do you like making the top or the quilting part the best, do you think?
BS: Probably making the top.
GvH: Do you have top-tops already made up that are in a line to be quilted?
BS: Oh yes, [laughs.]
GvH: Oh okay. You’re normal. [BS laughs.]
BS: Some lady asked me one time in a quilt shop in Minnesota, she was doing machine quilting, she was sitting at a machine doing quilting. And she said, ‘What are you working on now?’ And I said, well, ‘something or other I had at home and then I said, the one in the car that I’m working on.’ And she looked and said, ‘Oh yes. You’re a quilter.’ [laughs.]
GvH: Do you have any favorite techniques?
BS: I like applique. I enjoy applique. But I don’t enjoy needleturn applique.
GvH: Okay, how do you do applique?
BS: I use freezer paper underneath and turn the edges under and then do stitching.
GvH: Oh, okay. Do you think that the advances in quilting tools have helped your quilting?
BS: Oh yes, yes. My sister had a fabric shop and when she went out of business making wedding clothes she sold me a mat and a cutter and she said, ‘Oh you’ll really like it.’ I probably had that three years and I hadn’t used it. And she kept saying, ‘Why don’t you try that mat?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, my scissors work fine.’ Until I started with the mat and then I cut everything with it. [both laugh.]
GvH: It speeds things right up.
BS: Oh it sure does. And so much better, straighter, it’s easier. And the rulers that they have now too are so much nicer. You can go to 6 o’clock and square your block up where you don’t have to struggle with a big ruler and it’s so much nicer. [chime or clock chime.]
GvH: There’s an interesting question. Tell me how you balance your time.
BS: Well, I don’t usually quilt during the day. Unless it’s maybe a rainy day and I don’t feel guilty sitting here piecing all day or quilting all day. But otherwise, I usually do most of my quilting in the evening.
GvH: Now, what should you be doing during the day? I mean, you’re retired and –
BS: I was always cooking and cleaning and washing and all that! [laughs.]
GvH: Do you design your own quilt patterns or do you usually use a commercial pattern?
BS: I use a commercial pattern because I like the old patterns, and I don’t really have the imagination to do those. I can appreciate that in other people but I don’t possess that ability.
GvH: You seem to have a wonderful color sense. Is that–
BS: It’s just what I like.
GvH: Okay. Very pleasing, I think. And do you have a design wall in your quilt room?
BS: Yes, I have a– not too huge but sufficient.
GvH: And do you use it a lot or do you–
BS: Well, I’m making a lavender sampler right now and I’ve got probably 8 blocks up on it for about a year or so.
GvH: Oh, I know other people who do that. And leave them up because they just can’t—
BS: When I finish them I put them up there and so I get them out of the way. And that’s a project that I can take in the car to work on.
GvH: Is it applique? The sampler?
BS: Some of them are appliqued and some of them are pieced.
GvH: Now do you normally make quilts for other people or for yourself?
BS: Well, I make them for my sisters. Three sisters, each have a half a dozen, so I make four of each for wall hangings or that sort of thing.
GvH: Wow. You normally make four of the same, same fabric and everything or?
GvH: My gosh!
BS: Yes. Now those girls’ feedsack dresses, the little girls’ dresses–some of those are different, but most of the time they’re pretty much the same.
GvH: Wow. I’ve never done that. So that doesn’t get old or anything?
BS: No, well they’re not a full size quilt. Some of them are just one square or one block. I made a couple of Christmas blocks [inaudible.]
GvH: Do you usually make quilts every year for Christmas?
BS: I have for a while, but I didn’t last year. I guess I did make one. But you use them for such a short time and I’ve got so many of them out that I can’t use any more.
GvH: What time of the year would you start if you wanted one done for Christmas do you think?
BS: Oh, probably about October.
GvH: Wow. [6 sec. pause.] What do you think makes a great quilt?
BS: Well, I think it depends on who’s making it and what they like and if they’re making it for somebody else or if they’re making it for their own use. I think if it turns out the way that they want it I think that’s a great quilt.
GvH: That’s a good answer. I agree with you. Do you, I don’t think you do art quilts, but do you enjoy looking at art quilts?
BS: Oh yes I do. Yes I do. A friend, one of the quilters, went to the MN quilt show a couple of weeks ago and she came back with a bunch of pictures that she’d taken. It was one of the girls who does art quilts who was looking at this little album, and I was looking at it. It just struck me funny because she would page through all the ones like I like and then she got to the art quilts and she was just so intent looking at those—
GvH: [laughs] –every little detail—
BS: yeah, right, it’s just the difference in people and the difference between them.
GvH: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum do you think or a special collection?
BS: Well, I think a Baltimore Album Quilt is just fabulous. And you know the ones that Laurene Sinema did, they were just so special.
GvH: She was known for those.
BS: Umm hmm.
GvH: What do you think makes a great quilt maker?
BS: Someone who enjoys what they’re doing.
BS: And if you don’t enjoy it, I don’t think you’ll ever be a good quilter.
GvH: That’s probably true. I know you’re a hand quilter. Do you have an opinion about long-arm quilting or machine quilting or—
BS: No, I don’t. This girl who I said does the pictures and things, she showed me the other night, Friday night she brought a quilt over that she was machine quilting, and it was just beautiful and I think it’s wonderful. And she’s making these for charity and I think there’s nothing better than the machine-done especially when they’re given to children who are just—
GvH: –going to use them—
BS: Use them, yes, I just think it’s wonderful and her quilting is beautiful. I just enjoy the hand quilting part of it.
GvH: [5 sec. pause.] Why is quilt making important to your life?
BS: Because I spend so much time at it and enjoy every minute of it. [laughs.] And it’s a good pastime living where I do.
BS: There is no movie theater to go to. There’s a library – I do that, too, all the time, but other than that there really isn’t that much. It’s a wonderful pastime.
GvH: [6 sec. pause.] Do you think that quilts have a special place in women’s history in America?
BS: Well, I’ve enjoyed reading all about the different quilts from the Civil War and certainly there’s a place in history there. And I enjoyed looking at [inaudible] some of the first presidents and quilts that they had, their families made beautiful work.
GvH: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?
BS: Well, probably in museums under the right conditions they can be, but if they’re going to be used in the home they’re subject to light and dust and things like that. But they’ll soon be destroyed especially if they’re used.
GvH: Yeah, do you use your quilts?
BS: Some of them. Right now I have one on my bed that I’m using. I’m hesitant about putting them on the guest bed because [inaudible] [laughs] I shouldn’t be that way–
GvH: [laughs.] I’ve heard that before. [laughs.]
BS: Most people don’t know what goes into a quilt.
GvH: Oh isn’t that the truth.
BS: Especially the grandkids. [laughs.]
GvH: What do you think’s happened to the quilts that you’ve made and given to people?
BS: Well, one that I brought down to Tucson I made for the graduation of my granddaughter, she’s never used it. It’s in a box up in her closet. Maybe someday she’ll use it when she has a daughter, but–
GvH: Do you think she’s saving it first because she’s—
GvH: –afraid she’s going to hurt it?
BS: I think so. I think so. Yes.
GvH: Do you include washing instructions and things when you give quilts to people?
BS: I think that’s a wonderful idea. It really is.
GvH: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?
BS: Finding enough time—
BS: –to quilt. Now that I’m retired that’s not a problem but it certainly would if I had a job. You’re not feeling guilty sitting there when you should be doing something else. [laughs.]
GvH: I know, women have the tendency to feel guilty when they’re enjoying themselves. [laughs.]
BS: Right, right. [laughs.]
GvH: Yeah. Okay, you were in the second class of quilters inducted into the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame last year. Was that a surprising experience to you?
BS: Oh yes. [laughs.] Yes, it certainly was. And a very humbling experience.
GvH: It was a wonderful group of gals last year. Some beautiful quilts.
BS: Oh yes. This doesn’t really pertain to this, but do you know who made the one quilt that was hanging in the back by the podium? The one that was appliqued. It was just fabulous. I just–
GvH: –We’ll find out.
BS: –I could have stood there all day and looked at it. It was all little appliquéd pieces and just wonderful.
GvH: I don’t remember it, even, but—
BS: I hope it’s there.
GvH: –I couldn’t see very well last year.
BS: Oh. [laughs.]
GvH: Now, I’ve had my eyes fixed. [both laugh.]
BS: It was wonderful, just wonderful.
GvH: I think you were the person inducted last year who had probably done the most teaching because it was said that you taught everyone in Crown King who wanted to learn how to quilt. That’s wonderful.
BS: [laughs.] Well, we only have about 105 or 110 residents so that isn’t too many.
GvH: But you’ve kept this class going for 25 years.
BS: Yes, that’s right.
GvH: I think that’s remarkable. Yeah. Let’s see. Is there anything you can think of that you feel like you should add?
BS: No, but I should say that being in the class with some of these other people it’s a very humbling experience. It’s just never been my experience to win any awards.
GvH: Since you don’t enter your quilts in anything.
BS: No. [laughs.]
GvH: No, so, who in your community nominated you?
BS: The girl who does the, the—
GvH: Art quilts?
BS: –art quilts, yes.
GvH: Oh, neat.
BS: And she’s only there in the summer. Her twin brother owned the cabin and he died and he left the cabin to her so now she’s come back. This is her third summer. And she quilts a lot during the summer. And then she goes to West Virginia, or North Carolina, that’s it.
GvH: So she’s not one of the ones that you taught to quilt.
BS: No, uh uh, no, but she had been to the quilt show, the quilt show, not the craft, the other one that they had.
GvH: At the t—, I don’t–
GvH: Yes, last—
BS: The year before, whenever that was, as far as–
GvH: The University of Arizona west or east or someplace.
BS: Yes, she was there and she saw the booth.
GvH: ASU, that’s where it was.
BS: And she got the information.
GvH: Oh great, so she got it from the booth. Good, good.
GvH: We always wonder if anybody remembers that. [laughs.]
BS: Right, she got it from the booth. Then there was another girl that I was with that day, so she approached her. So those two wrote letters. And then there was two more that had gone to the quilt chair that [inaudible.]
GvH: Wonderful. Okay. Oh, I forgot to ask you about your husband. Now, does he enjoy your quilting?
BS: Oh, I think he does. Especially because like at night he’ll sit and watch TV and I’ll sit with him and I’ll do my work there. It isn’t like I’m upstairs and he’s downstairs.
BS: So he doesn’t mind, no.
GvH: Has he ever asked you to make a quilt?
BS: Yes he has. He thinks I should make a Crown King one and he’ll design the blocks for me. And then I’ll applique like a miner or a pick and shovel with a gold pan or something like that, you know. Maybe someday I will but he keeps saying he will but he hasn’t yet. [laughs.]
GvH: Oh that’s a neat idea. That’s a wonderful idea.
BS: [laughs.] I think so. Um hm.
GvH: So, he knows how to do that kind of thing?
BS: No, he just climbs into his chair.
GvH: Okay, sure. Well that’s a great idea.
BS: So I have to design the blocks into a quilt [inaudible.]
GvH: You can do that. I have confidence in you. [laughs] I know you could. Yeah, that’s a great idea.
BS: That would be a keepsake.
GvH: Yeah, yes. Need to be kept. Do you actually have a fire hall in Crown King?
GvH: Oh yeah, that would be wonderful.
BS: The store has a glass showcase.
GvH: Have him start designing these blocks, you know, one a month or something. You can do them as he designs them.
GvH: Yeah, that would be fun. I’d love to see that.
BS: I’ll check my fabric.
GvH: No you’d have to go shopping.
BS: Yeah, right.
GvH: Well, thank you Bernadine.
BS: Well this will be–
Interviewee: Bernadine Singer
Interviewer: Gail van Horsen
Transcriber: Maureen Craig
Project Name: The Arizona QSOS
Location: Tucson, AZ
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