Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today’s December 5, 2007. Margaret Brescia is the interviewee and her number is NM87111.003 and we’re at her home on Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hi, Margarete.
Margarete Brescia (MB): Hi, there.
ES: It’s nice to have you do our interview today and I’d like to discuss your quilt that you have chosen to talk about.
ES: Would you like to tell us what the pattern is and what you used in it?
MB: It’s a Log Cabin, but it’s an unconventional Log Cabin, in a way. It’s about 90 [inches.] by 100 [inches.] I think. And, well the fabric is always a problem to choose that but I think we did pretty good. A friend of mine and I did the same one. Ann did the same one, too, so we picked the fabric. The both of us went and picked hers and mine.
ES: And you bought it here locally in Albuquerque?
MB: Yeah. And some of it we buy at Southwest Fabrics and the rest you go to Hobby Lobby.
ES: Would you describe the colors?
MB: It’s in red and gray, different reds and gray.
ES: And your quilting of it is unusual.
MB: That’s what makes it different. A regular Log Cabin you have a certain way you quilt it. And this one I just did the way I thought I would like it. So I started with the center and come out. And then all the squares are surrounded by little stars. Eight on one square and the other side is only six. I came up with the star because it is on the outside border. It’s kind of vines and star and vines and star. You see when you quilt, then all of a sudden I sat there and I knew there was something missing but I couldn’t figure out. I didn’t want to make any more square lines in it because it just didn’t fit, so I figured out the star and a friend of mine even helped me with it.
ES: Did she have a template that you could trace?
MB: I got it from Carole [Bonda.] and she got the template for the star. And when she came she said, ‘Why don’t you use the star and put it around in those little holes?’ And that’s what I did. So it turned out very nice, I think.
ES: Good. And what do you have on the back?
MB: On the back is just muslin. I always put bleached or unbleached muslin on the back because nobody sees the back. And on the back, I think, even if you would like to turn it over, you just have plain white or cream color and you see all the quilting. And to me that is very nice. But that is what I always use.
ES: And for whom is this quilt?
MB: That’s for my grandson.
ES: And how old is he now?
MB: He’s about twenty-six. And he lives still with another young man and he won’t take it until he is really on his on, or maybe has his own apartment, which is not very good, because he tried that and that did not work out because of his diabetes. Sometimes, you don’t hear from him and all of a sudden, you think, ‘Oh, my God.’ And so somebody else moved in with him, so now we don’t have to worry about him.
ES: When did you finish that quilt?
MB: Oh, just a month ago, maybe.
ES: I’d like to ask you about your earliest contact with quilters.
MB: With quilters, I had a dear friend living behind me and in turn she had an old lady living across the street and she took me once to look at her finished quilts. She had closets full of finished quilts. And one was more beautiful than the other. I said, ‘Well, I’d like to learn that.’ So that friend of mine and I, we head out and we just got our fabric. That time it was less expensive than it is now–and so we head out and started and I made five Grandma’s Flower Gardens. Every little two inch squares–hexagons–I quilted in each one. I didn’t know any better, so the outside is zigzagged and I didn’t know what to do, and she didn’t either. So what I did was a teeny-weeny blanket stitch all around the edge–to get around those zigzags. All five of them.
ES: You made five, why? One for each of your kids and one for yourself? Are these still around?
MB: They’re still around.
ES: When was that would you say?
MB: Oh, that was in ’65.
ES: And that was where?
MB: In Fort Collins, Colorado.
ES: So once you got started, where did you do some quilting?
MB: Once I got started there, I got involved with the church. They always had about seven quilts in the frame, maybe eight. It all depended. So I went there every day and quilted and that’s how I really got to learn the right way. There’s a right and a wrong way in everything you do. And I had a dear friend. She was twenty years older. And she was an excellent quilter and she showed me the ins and outs of what you should and shouldn’t do. And so, even now when I think of Pearl, I think, ‘Oo oo. She wouldn’t like that big stitch,’ and I take it out again. It sticks with you.
ES: Is she the same lady that had the closets full of quilts?
MB: No, that’s a different lady. She just was in church. She was there already when I got there. But she quilted until–Good heavens–she died when she maybe was ten days before a hundred and she quilted until the month before. You don’t see so good any more then, but she was not as excellent then as she was when she taught me, but she still did it. And she still enjoyed it and came every day. That was nice.
ES: And your children were in school at that time, so that you were free in the morning.
MB: Yeah. So I was free. Every morning I just went from eight to noon, or thereabouts. The kids did not come home for lunch, so I was there then in the afternoon.
ES: And for whom were all those quilts that you all were working on?
MB: We actually had a system, like if anyone had a quilt, any quilt top. Some of them were very old and we actually had to put little tulle, like wedding veil, and you had to put that on top because you could not repair it because it was so very old. And so we put the tulle over and then quilted it. The way it went, people brought it in and then someone was there figuring out how much is the cost and what the backing and the batting. And they figured all that out and then the people were told that’s what it costs. And if they agreed, they left it there and it was put in a frame and it was quilted. And if it was finished, then the people paid and the church or our group got the money and we bought new batting and backing and things like that. So it was self sustaining, the whole business. Or we bought new, or we made pajamas or things like this for the children’s home in Denver. And that money went towards all those things because we had to buy stuff. A pretty good system. And there was always people coming.
Most of the time on Thursdays was quilting day, so to say. Or if you couldn’t quilt, you could do other things. But I got there every day because I enjoyed doing it. There was someone else there doing something else, maybe.
ES: And on the quilting day, that was more of a general meeting when more people came?
MB: On Thursday then everybody came and the quilt frames were full of people.
ES: Very nice. How did you learn to sew, to begin with?
MB: Oh. When I was about fourteen, at the time I wanted to be a seamstress, hum? But it would have cost three marks, which say was three dollars a month, and there was no money in my family. We could not come up with the three marks a month. So, I just gave up that idea and went into a little factory which made down comforters, pillows, or comforters with wool batting inside. And I was at first taking care of the books like you make samples. And they were sent out to people and you had to take care of how much you used and what it cost, what number it was, and all that. And then later on I was taught all the steps in the whole little factory. And there was mattress making and there was, as I say, down comforters, and the other comforters and each one was a different way of doing it. And I learned all those things. And I was there for three years, was employed there.
ES: Starting from when again?
MB: When I was fourteen. And I worked there for three years, and then I went to a different work.
ES: This was some good practice for you for later on.
MB: Yeah. And it really came in handy later on. I had a friend and her mother was a quilting partner also, and she knew what I was capable of. And that friend of mine had a business making drapes. So sometimes I helped her out, but she also had to–with the drapes came the bedspread. And she had to go to Denver to have it done. And then it was done–sometimes it wasn’t the right size and it was very bad because she had to eat it. You know if the customer says, ‘It’s too big or too little.’ So her mother said, ‘Well, why don’t Margarete do it?’
And so I got me a big machine, one of those free arms with no feed dog in, and I opened up a business. I made it very simple, just the top was always supplied by the decorators. They were the best decorators in town. And so they supplied the top fabric and I supplied the rest. You couldn’t make a mistake, because the decorator materials, you needed about twelve yards and one yard was anywhere from sixty dollars up. So, you couldn’t afford to make a mistake because then I would have to pay. So any way, [laughs.] I never made one, luckily. But you really have to check and recheck before you do, especially as you start out.
ES: So this was a huge project.
MB: Yeah. I had a great big table about 140-145 by 110 and I prepared it on the table and then I put pins all over the place. So if you have a big bubble and sometimes with big batting, not skinny batting, the thicker batting. If you had that on your lap with all the needles sticking in you, wee it was a pain sometimes. But later on, I figured for eleven years, and then I couldn’t do it any more, it was just too heavy for me, and I didn’t want to employ anybody because what you do is not what the employees do. I didn’t want to do that, so I just gave up on it.
ES: You are really adept at machine work, but now which do you prefer–the hand work or the machine work?
MB: That was a different item what you made, I mean, bedspreads, they are made, just for that purpose. You buy the fabric with the flowers in it and it’s just one big sheet. But quilting is an entirely different thing and I would never, ever have one of my quilts machine quilted. Never. Because it is silly, first of all you snip them all to pieces and then you put them back together and it is so much work in it. Why should you machine quilt it? And the old quilts can’t even, if you have to quilt them, they can’t stand machine quilting any more because the material is too brittle. I would never advise and I’m doing it for people, and there’s no one that I know that’s doing hand quilting for other people, for money.
ES: But you will do hand quilting for other people.
MB: And I still do it. But, you know, sometimes they come and then well they don’t realize how much it will cost, which is not outrageous because I’m charging the same thing as the church up North charged. So, it’s a very reasonable price and well, then all I have to say is, if it was my quilt, and especially an old one, it’s some grandmother that handed it down to you, you wouldn’t want that machine quilted. I say, ‘Well, it’s up to you,’ but I rather would hang it just like this on the wall.’
I think in any business, you run into all sorts of different people and they kind of–I’ve had them come back and say, ‘Yeah, I can do the binding.’ After fourteen days, they come back and say, ‘Can you still do the binding for me?’ To save a few dollars, but then if I can’t do it, I can’t do it.
If a plumber come and charge you whatever, you can’t say, ‘Oh, I do it myself.’ If you don’t know how, you can’t. Different people.
ES: Nowadays, there’re a lot of people doing machine quilting.
MB: Nowadays. Oh, my gosh. Almost everything, wherever you go outside class [Bear Canyon Quilters.], there is nothing hand quilted in the whole shop. And there are walls and walls of quilts.
ES: They look so beautiful.
MB: They look very beautiful, yes, but it defies the purpose of doing something what has been done a long, long time ago. Even then they didn’t do it for show. They did it because they needed something warm and they had something made it out of. But now, well, different people.
ES: What is your favorite part of the quilting process?
MB: [laughs.] Quilting. I don’t like to fit them together. I used to do so many fit them together. I don’t like that anymore. Oh, boy, I just did one–actually, I did three of them.
ES: The garden one?
MB: Two of the them, the beige one and the flower garden and the one in green. But, [Laughs.]
I don’t like to do it anymore.
ES: They are appliquéd.
MB: Two of them are appliquéd. I like the appliqué. But you still have to fit them together because you have small pieces when you appliqué them and you still have to fit them together but quilting, any old time.
ES: When you do your quilts, do you use your own patterns mostly?
MB: No. If somebody says, ‘Look, this is a nice one,’ I don’t want to make another one, but most of the time it’s because somebody made it and you thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ I like to do that. And for the quilting, you find out, even if somebody brings you a quilt, and they don’t know what they want done on it, you find out while you are sitting there quilting, you have a little bit done, they you think, ‘Oh. There’s something missing still.’ And then you go back and do that over, to fill it in, so it really is the way I would like it and I am sure the other person would like it, too.
ES: Who have been the recipients of your quilts?
MB: My kids. Almost all of them. Some of them don’t have it hanging on the wall any more but one of my daughters, she has one. She has a great big house. One is just a window wall and the other walls are big walls, high walls. So there’s three big ones hanging up: a real old one and a Dresden Plate, and an embroidered one is hanging down. In the hallway upstairs, she has the whole hallway full of Southwestern.
ES: Are the Southwestern ones mostly wall hangings?
MB: Yes. All sorts of different kinds. And then she got those racks, you know. She has two racks full of them and she has a big tub where she has the folded up ones in there. She’s got lots of them. She has the most of them, the other ones have some, but not as much as she does. And she enjoys it.
ES: How much time do you spend with your quilting, would you say?
MB: Well, a quilt may be 90 by 100. It takes me maybe five-six weeks to quilt, just the quilting, not what you do before.
ES: That seems very fast.
MB: Yeah, I’m still pretty fast at it.
ES: How many hours a day do you spend?
MB: Sometimes, now it’s up a little bit. My eyes do not want to do it in the night anymore. But it used to be, I always sat there eight to ten hours. And if I couldn’t sleep, I got up again and I did another few hours. So, lots of times, long hours. And it didn’t bother me, but now my eyes just don’t want to–
ES: It would take some of us a year, when it takes you six weeks.
MB: Yes. But if you sit there every day, mostly every day, I do. Sometimes you go some place. But if you keep on doing it, then you can get it done better. And if you just sit there talking with somebody, [laughs.] then you get nothing done.
ES: That’s true. Do you quilt on hoops or frames?
MB: I used to quilt on hoops. Up North we had every year a quilt show. And there was one quilt what a whole group made for raffling off later on. So it went to each one’s house. And then you did whatever you wanted to do on it. I had a big hoop, one of those oval ones, and I quilted on that. I didn’t like that.
The frame, the one I have now, it’s pretty easy for me because I have cogs on it, one on each end. All I do is put it in, tighten it up, and then put the next layer on, roll it again, and so forth until I have all three layers there and they are all attached. And then I start quilting from the beginning, at one end, and then I just move it along until I come to the other end. I really like that frame. I used to have it just on quilt stands, and they were clamped with four beams. You have to have a big room and that I don’t have any more. But then I could do it because I had the big room downstairs. Now, if there’s no quilt on the frame, then I use it as a work table. I put a sheet or thin stuff up there and then it’s a work table. That’s nice. But that frame is really nice.
ES: Would you tell us about the Bear Canyon [Senior Center.] Quilters and how you got started with them?
MB: Well, I moved here about nine years ago and I went down to the Center and what I thought I wanted to do was learn Spanish. Since I’m living here now, I thought I would learn Spanish. And I came down there and it was a big sign that you had to have prior knowledge of the language, which I didn’t. So there was something in session and it was a French session. So I thought, well, and so I went in and I listened to it and I could understand everything, but then came the part they had to write things down. I never wrote, I was able to speak it, but I could never write things down because that’s not what I learned. So I just went and then I saw the quilting room so I thought that would be a good idea, since I know how to sew, I know how to do things like this. And so I started there and I have been there nearly every time–I can count on one hand what days I missed.
ES: Like when you travel.
MB: Whenever I’m gone, then that’s the only time I miss, otherwise I haven’t missed any days. And on Saturdays, we go and do the Ronald MacDonald quilts and I haven’t missed one of those either–maybe one or two. And I enjoy doing it and it’s a real nice group. They’re all really nice people and each one has her own qualities. Each one is different. And it’s amazing how twenty-five different people can get along well.
ES: And there you have the format again of working several quilts at the same time.
MB: You can work on whatever you choose. And some of them are in [the frame.] a long time.
ES: When you only have three or four hours maximum once a week, you can’t get very far and fast.
MB: I used to go there, at eight o’clock. I was there. But now I don’t do that any more because most people don’t even come in ’til nine thirty, sometimes, well, then you don’t get nothing done.
ES: You don’t usually put your quilts in there, because you do yours at home.
MB: No, I have always just worked for everybody else. I have never put a quilt in and I will never do one either.
ES: Do you have advice for new quilters?
MB: Well, the only thing I can say is, whatever you do, it you do it from the beginning, if you start a quilt and you be precise with your first step on the quilt and you are precise throughout what you are doing, you don’t wrong. It has to be exact, otherwise the next step–ach–this is big and this is small and it doesn’t match up. And if you know that and you ought to know that if you are a quilter, then you can’t go wrong.
It’s nice for being there, for companionship and it’s nice. You do have to be exact and you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise there’s no sense to it. If somebody says, well you have to sit down and quilt, uh-uh, it has to be something what you enjoy doing, then you will get better and better at it. It’s not naturally given to you. You have to work at it.
ES: This has certainly been a big part of your life.
MB: Yeah, it has. And it always has been and I think I couldn’t even imagine just sitting down doing nothing. [laughs.] It just isn’t possible. You are so used to doing something all the time, that you can’t do without it. Whatever it is, but you got to do something. And I’m not a big fan of reading, especially with the eyes, you know, so you don’t like to do that any more. It’s got to be a very interesting book if I’m going to read it.
ES: I’d like to know if you have any quilt stories to share.
MB: Well, the only one I think would be worthwhile telling. [laughs.] My son lives down in Florida in the panhandle, Pensacola, and the last hurricane was Ivan and we just got finished moving into the house, and I went back home. I think a month later the hurricane came. And it took the whole house, everything. And my son called after he quieted down, and he said, ‘Well, yeah, the house is gone. The furniture is gone. Eeverything is gone. I can buy all those things again, but I can’t find and what is gone also, are the two quilts you made for us. Those I can’t replace.’
So my daughter in Washington, she called me, and she said, ‘Whatcha doing?’ I am doing nothing right now. I have no quilt in the frame. And she said, ‘Get busy and make another quilt for Augie, because they can’t find theirs.’ So I went with my daughter-in-law what lives here and we got the fabric and started on it and made another Hawaiian. The one what was lost was a Hawaiian quilt and I made him another one and I gave it to him at Christmas.
Well, the quilts, later on when they sifted through everything, and they found all sorts of things, uprooted. They found the quilts, both of them, with the stick still attached. You know, where you attach it to the wall? The stick was still attached in the top end and it was found wrapped around a tree. Both of them. Now they were so dirty and, uh, it was terrible, so they took a power sprayer and they attacked it with all sorts of things and they got them all nice and cleaned up. I have the pictures to show, where half of it is done and the other half not clean. So they’re hanging up again now.
ES: Good. What kind of quilts were those?
MB: One was a Hawaiian quilt and the other one was embroidered quilt. The Hawaiian one I actually bought the center. It was just small, maybe a yard by a yard. We found it in Hawaii, in Honolulu and my son saw it and he liked it, so he asked me, ‘Could you make that into a big quilt?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I guess I can.’ So I worked around that. The pattern what was in there was dolphins, and crabs and all sorts of things, and I worked around that part and made the whole outside. The outside has waves and dolphins swimming.
ES: Are they embroidered on it or quilted in?
MB: No, they’re appliqué. It’s all appliquéd. And it’s quilted around half an inch apart. You know, Hawaiian quilts, you don’t stretch them like we stretch ours. They actually have them laying on the table. They would quilt on that. But it turned out very nice.
ES: What colors did you have?
MB: The waves were light blue and then the dolphins were grayish blue. And the next one, I had different colors, but I had to do the whole thing, so in the center, which was what we bought, I put just a circle of dolphins.
ES: What color was the center?
MB: The background was off white, I think. The dolphins, again, they were different colors and the waves were different fabric and different colors, too. But in the center, I made a big circle, about a yard, and big dolphins swimming around.
ES: That’s wonderful that they found that.
MB: Yeah. He was very happy. He didn’t know, they didn’t know, that I had made another one. So on Christmas, we were up in Washington, there was a big package there and they opened it and they were really surprised. Although they found the other ones, but it didn’t matter. [laughs.]
ES: Now you have pictures of that. Do you keep pictures of your other quilts along the way?
MB: I have books of pictures, but lately, the last few years, I don’t have a camera myself and it was always a bother to ask somebody to take a picture, so I didn’t take pictures any more from a few years back.
But I used to make so many of them for people. I had a friend, I made, twelve of them.
ES: Twelve of them!
MB: Her first one was a Wedding Ring. And I said, ‘Pauline, how can you pick a Wedding Ring.’ ‘Well, it looked so good.’ And she was a very precise person, so it was just perfect. The next one, she said, ‘Guess what?’ She had another Wedding Ring because one daughter-in-law wanted one like that. And then she had old ones from her mother and her mother was actually just as precise as she was. Her quilts were laying down flat, the tops. Beautiful, she did beautiful work. So all together I did twelve, and the number thirteen was when she came and she brought me a little one and then I said, ‘Don’t forget your quilt.’ She said, ‘Oh, no, no, you’re supposed to quilt that.’ I quilted and I sent it to her. She used to live here and now she lives in Washington State.
And there were quite a few people what had old quilts and sometimes I made eight or ten of them for people that dug them our or found them at garage sales. I made lots of them, I still have the pictures, but most of them the past few years I haven’t been doing too many of them. Even if I do, I don’t take pictures any more, because later on, who wants to look at the pictures?
ES: You have certainly been a prolific quilter.
MB: And I, again, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise there is no sense in punishing yourself. And it would be a punishment if you consider doing something what you really don’t want to do.
ES: You certainly do a beautiful job, you have a good sense of color and your quilting is exquisite.
MB: Thank you.
ES: And you are so fast, as well.
MB: If you do it a long time–I feel sorry sometimes because if I look at what someone does, then I think, um, it would be a whole lot easier if–you know. A grown-up person does not want to be told what they’re supposed to do, even if it would be a whole lot easier for them. It’s a big advantage if you know what I learned through forty years and why not pass on some of that knowledge if it helps someone else. But most people do not want to know.
ES: Thank you very much for doing this interview today. It is very interesting.
MB: Thank you.
[interview concluded around noon.]