Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schultz. It’s Tuesday, May 24 [2011.] at two o’clock. I’m interviewing Cindy Mumford at the Art Center in Battle Creek. [Michigan.] This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan Quilters’ Save Our Stories Project of The Alliance for American Quilts. How are you today?
Cynthia Mumford (CM): I’m good. Good. Good.
PS: Tell me about the quilt that you brought in today.
CM: I brought in a quilt that I made several years ago–I think it was 2007–that was a project between a friend and I, who shall not be named, no, who’s here today with me. We decided to challenge ourselves to make this beautiful New York Beauty style quilt. And I never would have made it without that challenge because it was, at the time, probably the most difficult quilt I’ve ever made.
PS: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?
CM: Oh, lots of special meanings, mostly special memories, because my friend and I, can I say Pam Schultz, and I spent many, many hours shopping. It has a tremendous amount of fabric in it, in that there are a lot of different fabrics. We used mostly batiks, but a lot of other fabrics, too. I can’t even tell you how many different fabrics. I don’t know whether you could count them. But we did a lot of shopping to get all those different fabrics and we traded fabrics and we experimented with fabrics. If you know anything about New York Beauty block, it can have many different fabrics in one block, which all of these do. So, that part was a lot of fun. We also did some making together. Pam made up the patterns for the Beauty blocks, which we got out of Valerie Wells’ Book? No.
PS: Karen Stone.
CM: Karen Stone’s book, called New York Beauty Block, I think. [New York Beauty; Paper Foundation and Freezer Paper Templates to Complete 30 Blocks, Karen K. Stone.] So we used her patterns, made them up on copy paper so we could paper-piece these blocks. They were, for me, quite a challenge at the time. I had never done a New York Beauty block or anything quite like it before. There’s lots of little pieces and lots of points and so it was a big learning experience for me.
PS: Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview?
CM: I still think it’s one of my best quilts and I’m not sure I’ll ever make one this complicated again. [laughs.] I’m most proud of this quilt, I think, of all the quilts I’ve made.
PS: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?
CM: I don’t know. It’s colorful so maybe they would think that I liked color. It’s intricate. I don’t know.
PS: How do you use this quilt?
CM: It hangs on the wall in my studio and I look at it every day. It still inspires me.
PS: That kind of goes with the next one. What are your plans for this quilt.
CM: It’s going to keep hanging on my wall. [laughs.] It’s probably the only quilt of mine that I never get tired of looking at.
PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.
CM: When I started?
PS: Yeah, and now.
CM: I’ve always been a sewer and probably since seventh grade or so when I learned how to, actually my mother taught me how to sew on the sewing machine. Before that my grandmother was teaching me to hand sew. My great-grandmother was a quilter but she was long gone before I was of an age to quilt and didn’t live near me so she didn’t teach me to quilt. But my grandmother did, even though she didn’t really like quilting like her mother did. So I’ve been sewing a long time and when I had children I never was a quilter until my grandmother gave me the quilt that her mother had started for me. It was all in pieces. Some of it was put together but mostly it was pieces. It was one and a half inch squares and it was called a Postage Stamp quilt, I was told. On my eighteenth birthday my grandmother gave it, unfinished, to me. She was supposed to finish it for her mother, but not being that much into quilting, she never did. So she gave it to me and said if I would put it together she would take it to a quilt guild, I think it was a church group that did quilting, and have it quilted for me. As I said, at the time I knew nothing about quilting itself. I just knew how to sew. So I sewed the pieces together as best I could and she had it quilted for me as promised and that was my first quilt. I did not really get into quilting seriously. I made quilts for my kids and things around the house, but I didn’t really know anything about formal quiltmaking. I’d never had a class or anything like that. I just knew how to sew. And so when I retired I had some friends who had started quilting before me and I was always too busy with my kids growing up to take classes and things. They had started taking classes and one of our friends belonged to a guild. Anyway I didn’t do all of that until my kids were older and then when I retired I joined the guild and I started quilting seriously, which is about ten years ago.
PS: What age did you start quiltmaking?
CM: When I was eighteen, but I didn’t know what I was doing so when I started seriously quiltmaking I took a class when I retired. I was fifty, maybe I was fifty-one or so. The first thing I did was sign up for a quilting class, took a class and found out what I didn’t know about quilting. And went from there. Just kept taking classes and joined the guild. [Cal-Co Quilters’ Guild of Battle Creek, Michigan.] And made more quilts, practice, practice.
PS: From whom did you learn?
CM: My first quilting class was from Lyn [Evans.] at The Quiltery, a little shop in town that was a quilt shop, was where I took my first formal quilting class, and learned how to quilt as opposed to learning how to sew.
PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?
CM: I usually do a little bit every day, almost. Maybe ten to twenty hours a week, sometimes more, sometimes less.
PS: What is your first quilt memory?
CM: My first quilt memory is the quilt my grandma gave me that my great-grandmother started for me. I remember other quilts that she had made. She made all the family quilts to use as bed covers. When we would visit my great-grandmother, she lived on a farm, all the beds were covered with quilts. They were just everywhere and she made–my brother was her oldest great-grandchild and she made his quilt and his quilt was on his bed his whole growing up and I have that quilt now. I’m not sure why I have it. My brother doesn’t, but I have it. So I grew up, sort of, seeing quilts around and just always liked them.
PS: This one’s a little bit of a duplicate. Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?
CM: Lots of quiltmakers among my friends now, because I joined a guild and they all quilt. [laughs.] So that’s really nice. And I really like my quilting friends. I don’t think anybody else in my family is quilting, that I know of. I have a cousin who did some quilting for a while and actually she did a fairly good job but she didn’t really know much about quilting either. She just did it and she was making picture quilts, which I also liked to do. And she made some very nice little appliqué quilts but she doesn’t consider herself a quilter. She’s the only one in our family that I know of that’s done anything with quilting, so far.
PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?
CM: My family? Well, all my nieces and nephews all got nice quilts now. [both laugh.] My family now consists of me and my husband. I’ve made quilts for my two boys. Several of my nieces and nephews. I usually try to make quilts for my nieces and nephews when they get married. I’ve made lots of baby quilts for the babies in the family. It’s affected my husband in that I’m always down in the basement sewing. He has to come down and drag me out sometimes. But he likes my quilting, too. He likes the products that come out of it.
PS: Have you made any quilts for the grandbaby?
CM: Oh, yes. Several, more than several, probably. In fact I have another one waiting for when he gets a little older, to give him.
PS: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?
CM: Well, yes, and yes. I think I have. Sewing has always been kind of a soothing escape for me. I can sew and let my mind wander and that’s good for me. I can sort of resolve things that might be going on in my life while I’m sewing. It’s an activity that I can do like gardening that I can kind of wander off in my head and think about things while I’m still sewing. It just allows me that time in my head. My husband was sick a couple of years ago and I think quilting and my quilting friends and my quilting guild really helped me get through that period. It gave me something else outside of my own life and problems to think about and be with people that I have something in common with and that I like and shared. So, yeah, I think it helps me a lot.
PS: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking.
CM: Amusing. Hmmm. I don’t know. I can’t think of anything. I don’t know. Let’s come back to that.
PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?
CM: Oh, everything is pleasing about it. I just like to sew. I like the creative part of it. In more recent years I’ve gotten into the more creative part of it and joined a little art quilt circle that we can explore different techniques and try new things and I do like that. I’ve never thought of myself as being an artist, per se, but I’ve always wanted to be. I’m an artist wannabe. I admit it. And I think I’m probably more artistic than I give myself credit for maybe, but I hear people say, ‘I can’t draw. I can’t draw. I can’t do this and I can’t do that.’ And I’m one of those people, but I really can do a little bit if I just put my mind to it and try it. And this art group gets me to do that more. So I like the sewing. I like the creativity. I love fabric. I love just touching fabric, looking and fabric, buying fabric, feeling fabric. I like wool. I like thread. I like everything about it, really.
PS: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?
CM: There really isn’t anything I don’t enjoy. I have changed my focus, I think from making big bed quilts to making smaller, more artistic kinds of projects that aren’t necessarily utilitarian, but just to look at, just to look pretty. I do get bored; I think is more the word. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I get bored if I’m just making a large pieced quilt, like repeating a block, making the same block over and over again, twenty-five times or whatever. I did enjoy that for a while, but I’m not enjoying that as much now as doing things that are a little more creative and different.
PS: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?
CM: I belong to my Cal-Co Quilters’ Guild in Battle Creek, Michigan. I belong to a circle called Syncopated Threads Art Quilters which is the little art group I was talking about. And I belong to another circle called Sew & Sews and we just get together and do little projects sometimes. Sometimes we teach each other things. Sometimes we just work on our own sewing and then we do several charitable-type projects like sewing quilts for the veterans. There is a little organization in our guild called Quilts for Kids that we make children’s quilts to be donated to various agencies in our community. That’s about it.
PS: Have advances in technology influenced your work? And how?
CM: Oh, yes. When I first started seriously quilting when I retired, I had an old sewing machine that I’d had for years, twenty years probably, and prior to that I’d had a sewing machine for the previous twenty or thirty years and it wasn’t anything fancy. It was just plain, straight-up sewing machine and after I’d been quilting for a while I decided to take a plunge and buy a really nice sewing machine that was kind of designed to do quilting-type sewing. It really made all the difference in the world. It just made sewing so much easier. I had no idea that it was going to make such a big difference, but it did. I’m really glad I finally bought myself a nice machine. So the machine alone was a nice improvement and I’m sure that I could get a new one. That one is now, maybe, ten years old. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but I think it has and I could probably get another new one and be even more satisfied with that, but so far I’m still using that one. I love it. It made such a big difference, going from what I had to that one. The other things, of course, there’s all kinds of products out now for doing all kinds of different things, fusing and all the new threads and just all kinds of things that are wonderful for sewing and quilting in general.
PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials?
CM: I love wool but don’t do a lot with wool, but I love wool. It’s really easy to work with. But I also just love the plain cotton. Hundred percent cotton is the best thing there is and that’s usually what most quilters use and what I use for my quilts is just a hundred percent, a nice cotton. What else did you say? What else?
PS: Techniques and materials.
CM: When I first started quilting I did a lot of piecing and, as I said, I got eventually tired of or bored with doing multiple piecing blocks and things like that. I really got into machine appliqué. I just really like machine appliqué. I don’t know why. I have no idea why, but I love doing what I call making little pictures. I use a lot of patterns or sometimes I draw my own little pictures and turn them into appliqué patterns and I really enjoy that part of it. I love seeing the little picture take shape and turn into something and every block is different. I don’t ever repeat the same, well, I shouldn’t say that. I have repeated my machine appliqué as well, but I like it best when every picture is different, when every little appliqué piece is different. I really like doing that.
PS: Describe your studio or the place that you create.
CM: I’m lucky to have a nice big space. When I first was sewing, as a young married person, I sewed wherever I could, at the kitchen table, the dining room table. Then eventually I had a little space in the basement where the washer and dryer was where I sewed, [laughs.] which was small and dark, but I could go down there whenever I wanted to, when the kids were finally in bed and blah, blah, blah and I could sew and not bother anybody watching TV upstairs and be by myself to my heart’s content. Now I have a nice big room in my basement, again, but it’s a walk-out basement so I have windows now and it’s a nice big, huge room. There’s a TV and I can stay down there all day and watch TV and sew. I’ve got plenty of room to lay stuff out on the floor. I’ve never made myself a design wall or anything like that but I use the floor a lot to lay things out. Or a table. I bought myself some big plastic fold-up tables. I often lay stuff out on the tables now because I’m older and crawling around on the floor is a little harder. So I use the tables more now than I used to. I have a really nice big space, which makes it a lot easier and I like it. I used to have to pack everything up and put it all away and get it all out again and make a mess and put it away and now I can just leave everything where it’s at and that makes it a lot nicer.
PS: Tell me how you balance your time.
CM: Well, I’m retired so I have a lot of time. [laughs.] And I don’t know if I balance it very well but I try to. I operate on guilt a lot, because if I’m downstairs sewing too long I start to feel a little bit guilty and I have to go upstairs to pay attention to my husband. But I just basically do what I want and I–wow. [vibration outside, roadwork, jackhammer.] If I have a deadline for a project then I work on that, but otherwise I pretty much work on what I want to work on and try not to give myself too much over structure, you know, my sewing, because I want to enjoy it. I don’t want it to be too structured. I just want to have fun with it. [conversation between CM and PS about the noise outside.]
PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?
CM: For me a lot of it is the color, I think. I like really colorful quilts. I’m sure I have particular colors that I lean toward. I couldn’t tell you exactly what they are. I think it’s more the combination of colors that draws me to a particular quilt, to make me look at it closer. Sometimes it’s the mood of the quilt, if the quilt evokes some mood in me that, whether it’s real whimsical or to the other extreme of being very somber and serious or mysterious or something. There’s always something that draws me to a particular quilt and it’s no one thing. It’s just that combination of those things, whatever the fabrics, the subject matter, the colors, maybe the quilting itself, the design work in the quilting. It excites me, I guess. I’ll say, ‘Boy, I like that one.’ But it’s not just one thing. It’s that whole combination of how the quilt goes together.
PS: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special exhibit?
CM: Again, for me, it would be a combination of all those things I’ve just talked about, but in addition to that, I suppose, would be the level of skill, the skill of the quilter, the skill the quilter has exhibited in putting the quilt together or the construction of the quilt or the quilting itself. Obviously some quilters are just talented and put together the most beautiful things and I don’t know how to describe that but some people are just more gifted quilters just like gifted artists are, I guess, and they can put things together in a more beautiful way. And there is a certain amount of precision that goes with the art of quilting, depending on the style of quilting, probably. For traditional quilting there is a required amount of attention to technique that is looked for when choosing a quilt to be exhibited in a special way or in a museum or a winning quilt show or something like that. Did that answer?
PS: What makes a great quiltmaker?
CM: A great quiltmaker. I don’t know too many great quiltmakers [laughs.] other than myself, of course. [PS laughs.] The great quiltmakers of today that are considered the great quiltmakers, is that what you mean?
PS: Well, what do you think? Who do you think?
CM: What I think makes a great quiltmaker, I guess, would be a combination of artistry and passion for quilting itself and knowledge of the techniques used to make a quilt. A lot of people can make a quilt but it wouldn’t be a great quilt. [chuckles.] I think the effort and the talent put into the construction of the quilt itself is a big part of whether the quilt is successful or not, as an excellent piece of work or as a piece of art. But the quilters themselves have to not only have the ability to do the techniques well, be a great seamstress, but also be very knowledgeable about color and combinations, fabrics and threads and all those things to be able to make a really great quilt.
PS: Whose works are you drawn to, and why?
CM: I like Caryl Bryer Fallert. She’s the one that lives in Paducah, [Kentucky.] right? She’s a great technician, number one. [phone rings.] Her quilts are immaculately produced and stitched. But I like her use of color. I like the colors she uses. She uses very bright, intense, bold colors and to me they’re beautiful. She dyes her own fabric. She’s done some designs of her own but mostly I like her use of color. Her technique, as I said, is really immaculate.
PS: Which artists have influenced you?
CM: A lot of them. I particularly like Paul Cezanne. I like all the impressionist artists like Monet, Manet, and Seurat. I can’t say that they influence my quilting but I do like them. Somebody like Cezanne would be more of an influence on my quilting because of his use of color. In my high school we had an English Humanities program which was copied after Michigan State’s [Michigan State University, Lansing, Michigan.] Humanities program. So we had three days of English, a day of Art and a day of Music every week. We had to take it all the way through high school. I loved it because I enjoyed the art part. I enjoyed the music part, too, but I really enjoyed the art part. It gave us the background in Art History that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise, in high school or college, unless I took that as a college major. So I think just that background, just having that much background in Art really helped me all through my creative endeavors throughout my life time. I’ve been more of a crafter than an artist and I’ve always been a crafter but I think my background in that art education really helped me.
PS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?
CM: When I first started quilting I hand quilted. I have quite a few quilts that I hand quilted and I do still enjoy hand quilting, but my hands don’t like it so well any more. My fingers get sore and I’ve got a little arthritis now so I don’t enjoy the hand quilting as much as I used to. Initially that’s all I did. Machine quilting intimidated me but I finally just dove in and started doing it and I do enjoy it. I’ve gotten better at it and I like it for small pieces but I still don’t enjoy doing it myself for a large piece. It’s just too difficult. In fact I would rather still hand quilt a really large piece if I’m going to do it myself. Otherwise I’ll send it to a longarm quilter. [PS coughs.]
PS: So how do you feel about longarm quilting?
CM: I love them. [laughs.] I haven’t tried it myself. I’ve thought about trying it. I’m never going to buy a longarm machine but I know we have someone in town, now, who is going to be renting out hours on a longarm. I have not done that yet, but I may. I do like the machine quilting for small pieces but a longarm quilter, I admire the heck out of those gals because they do a great job and I’m perfectly willing to have them do my large quilts. [PS coughs.]
PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?
CM: I think now, for me, especially since I’m retired and I have a lot of time, it’s very fulfilling to me. I have always had a creative side to me that I didn’t have a lot of outlets for and quilting has given me an outlet for that. I really enjoy that.
PS: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?
CM: I don’t know. I’m sure there is some influence there but I don’t know if I know what that is. I think being mid-western has its influences in making kind of conservative, in a way. [clears throat.] I don’t mean that in a political way. I was talking about being a little more reserved. And I, like many other people, have tried hard to kind of get outside my box a little bit and do things that aren’t so, are less conservative and a little more daring, a little more bold and therefore, to me, a little more artistic. [laughs.]
PS: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?
CM: Well, they’ve been around a long time. I think they are very important and I think they will continue to be important even though their main purpose has gone from primarily utilitarian to more an artistic endeavor. I think that’s equally as important to have, and maybe that’s their utilitarian use, now it’s something for people to pursue as an art form of its own and it’s being more and more considered as kind of an art form of its own rather than just a utilitarian effort to make a cover for a bed. I think having the creative outlet is just as important as making something useful for the household.
PS: In what ways do you think that quilts have special meanings for women’s history in America?
CM: Even though women were making quilts to be used and often made them out of worn-out clothing or whatever little bits and scraps of fabrics they could find, even then they were using their creative abilities, some more than others, but even then they were creating something that pleased them or that they knew would please someone else, whether they were making it for their daughter’s bed, their daughter’s room or giving it away as a wedding present or making it for their own bed or whatever they were doing, it was still for most women a creative outlet for them. You can look back through history and see some wonderful examples of beautiful, beautiful quilts, back then and today, too.
PS: How do you think quilts can be used?
CM: Pretty much for anything you want. [laughs.] I think they can be used in the traditional way as a bed cover. They can be used as wall art. They can be used on your dining room table. They can be used as small quilts that are placemats, or table runners, all kinds of things around the house. Pillow covers. People are using them in all kinds of ways now.
PS: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?
CM: Like technically, preserved?
PS: Just preserved I don’t–
CM: I just hope that they are preserved. I know there are organizations around now that are collecting quilts and making efforts to preserve examples of quilting. I think our own Michigan State has a collection of quilts and I think there are several universities now that have quilt collections around the country, and private museums and what-not that have quilt collections. I think, hopefully, that they will continue to be passed down among family members and find their way to museums or universities that keep them. I think there are efforts being made to preserve some of them. Hopefully that will continue.
PS: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?
CM: I have at home, maybe twenty or so, quilts that I haven’t given away to anybody, and I sort of rotate. I have this one I brought today, I hang on the wall in my studio and I have several that I rotate on beds in the house. I have some that are seasonal, several that I get out at Christmas, during the holidays and what-not. The rest I’ve given away. I’ve given away as gifts or I’ve made countless numbers for charitable donations.
PS: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?
CM: For some it would be money. I know in some countries fabric is very expensive. Hundred percent cotton is expensive. [phone rings.] The cost of cotton is going up in our country, we’re told. So I think for a lot of women, the older quilters, one of their biggest obstacles is the expense of buying the fabric itself to work with. It’s not just the fabric. It’s the thread and the batting and the backing takes a fairly large chunk of fabric. The sewing machine itself. Granted you can sew on any machine but even any machine costs money. So I think one of the biggest road blocks is being able to afford to quilt. Simple as that. Otherwise it’s just having the time to do it.
PS: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
CM: I don’t think so.
PS: Thank you, Cindy.
CM: Welcome.[interview ended at 2:43 p.m.]
Cynthia Mumford, Interviewee
Pam Schultz, Interviewer
Eleanor Wilkinson, Transcriber
The South Central Michigan QSOS
Battle Creek, Michigan
May 24, 2011
Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories (QSOS) creates, through recorded interviews, a broadly accessible body of information concerning quiltmaking, both present-day and in living memory. Our downloadable QSOS Guidebook has everything you need to conduct your own QSOS interviews. Our archive for the original audio recordings and photographs is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
QSOS volunteers from across the country conduct and transcribe these interviews. We appreciate their generosity of time and dedication to the project. We are always looking for guilds, organizations and individuals to undertake their own QSOS projects and join us. Find out how you can get involved with QSOS.