Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories (QSOS) is the largest oral history collection about quiltmakers in the world. Our archive for the original audio recordings and photographs is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The project was co-founded in 1999 by a dedicated group of Quilt Alliance board members and volunteers who identified an extraordinary gap in the quilt world: no one had ever created an oral-history project to capture the history, craft tradition, and personal experiences of America’s quiltmakers. They envisioned QSOS as a grassroots effort and designed the interview process in ways that would make it accessible to interviewers and quiltmakers at all skill levels and backgrounds, allowing them to explore the central question: “if this quilt could talk,” what would it say? Now, almost twenty years later, the collection includes over 1,200 recorded interviews with quiltmakers from novices to professionals.

The Quilt Alliance celebrates the twentieth anniversary of QSOS in 2019 with a whole new way to share our archive online. When the project is complete, you will be able to listen to the audio recording, read the summary and transcript and view the photos for each interview, and search or browse the entire collection.

Listen to Running Stitch, a QSOS Podcast

Running Stitch, A QSOS Podcast, is hosted by Janneken Smucker, Professor of History at West Chester University. Join us as we explore quilt stories, revealing the inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations of contemporary quiltmakers by drawing from the Quilters S.O.S. — Save Our Stories oral history project. We’ll dig into the QSOS archive to listen to excerpts from past interviews, and bring back interviewees to ask them about what they are working on and thinking about presently. Season one episodes will be released in June and July 2020.

Visit the new QSOS website

Here you can browse a sample set of 20 QSOS interviews that demonstrate the collection’s new features, such as original interview audio recordings and enhanced descriptions. Subscribe to the Quilt Alliance eNewsletter to receive updates as interviews are added to the new site.

SELECTIONS FROM QUILTERS’ S.O.S. – SAVE OUR STORIES

Read some featured interviews below. You can also search or browse the full archive of QSOS transcripts. 

QSOS with Anita Murphy

Jannell Epp (JE): Now, Anita, welcome.Anita Murphy (AM): Thank you. E: I’d like to ask you a few questions today and I see a couple of wonderful quilts that you’ve brought with you– AM: Thank you. JE: I myself am very interested in historical quilts, so I’d like to start with this green one if it’s all right with you. AM: Alright. Doctor Ruth Hartgraves was a young girl in Hamilton County. That’s where her grandmother lived. Ruth grew up in Brownwood, Texas and she and her sister, Lucy, went to what was known as the Villa, which was a Catholic boarding area. And my two aunts went there also and they were lifelong friends. Both were born in about 1901 and remained friends until my aunt passed away in 1988 and so she was honored, Doctor Ruth Hartgraves. She never married. Her sister, Lucy, became an Episcopal nun and was also an eye doctor. And her brother was an attorney, as was her father and her mother. And they went to the Villa as a private school although they were not Catholic. But they boarded there and it was a marvelous basic education. But they did keep in touch all those years. Doctor Hartgraves has been highly honored by the University of Texas and she said, ‘They weren’t smart enough to ask me for my quilts, Anita.’ And after I had won the Statue of Liberty Contest, she said, ‘I would like for the quilts to live with you.’ And I told her we were hoping someday to have a quilt museum and she said, ‘Well, let me know. I always have a few dollars to spend here and there.’ And so her parents were killed when she and her sister and brother, well the brother had become an attorney. And they were killed outright in an auto accident. So the brother settled the estate and Ruth was just right at becoming her last medical time. And so he divided up hundreds and hundreds of acres and of course Ruth was trying to get her medical practice started. And everybody thought she would want cash and she said no, and she divided it all up. She said, ‘I want this much cash once a year in the spring. I want to see the world.’ And sure enough, for many years, she’d get this large cash amount and she’d take off. She had the same nurse secretary for fifty-four years. And she said, ‘I was good to her’, she said, to keep her employed that many years. But she had quite a sense of humor. So, she sent me both of these quilts and she said, maybe we shouldn’t quote this. She said, ‘The University wanted everything, including my bloomers, but,’ she said, ‘they weren’t smart enough to ask about quilts.’ So she said, ‘Anita, you’re to have them.’ So one time, she and Sister Lucy, my two aunts who were called ‘the girls;’ one of them is the one who taught me how to quilt. And then their older sister was a Dominican nun and my husband took them all out to some fancy restaurant they wanted to go to. He didn’t stay and eat with them. He said, ‘You know, driving around Houston you couldn’t even say a bad word when you got two nuns, two old ladies, and a doctor in the back seat of the car,’ he said, ‘How do you arrange these things for me?’ And I said, ‘Honey, that’s all right, because you’ll pick them up at four.’ He was a saint. He had to be. But anyway, she would visit her granny on the farm and she putts this down in 1906 I mean, 1907, and she was six. So she was born in 1901, same as one of my aunts. And the grandmother never took her stitches out. And she said that was even more reason to love her. She spent a lot of summers with her grandmother and she said, ‘You know, if they had seen those, they probably never would have let me become a surgeon,’ she said, ‘I do better now on my stitches.’ She said her mother was a gracious, gracious southern lady. And the fashion was to learn to quilt, so she pieced this quilt, but she soon discovered she would rather go to luncheons and to bridge club three times a week than stay home and quilt. So she hired a very lovely lady to quilt it. And it is all sasheen, typical of that era and that day, she put a chin guard on it, or you know whisker guard. And so that could be washed and it didn’t wear any of this fabric out. I have one quilt that the man’s whiskers just slathered one side. You could tell which side the woman slept on and which side the man slept on. Sad to say, I travel and teach a great deal, and somebody loved the quilt as much as I and they took it home with them. So I no longer have that quilt. JE: We’re talking about the gold quilt. I just want to identify which one we’re talking about. The gold one with the sasheen. AM: And a lot of women put this on to keep the soil from showing on one side of the quilt. And it’s easy to take off and wash and then you put it back on the quilt. JE: Oh, I see. AM: But a lot of, I know my mother did on several of her quilts. And that was a wonderful protective measure for that. I have here, I don’t know if you all want it, a picture of Doctor Ruth with her grandmother. I mean, yeah with her grandmother. JE: And this is her at the age AM: Of probably four or five. JE: Four or five years old. And this is her grandmother– AM: Her grandmother. JE: –that made this green quilt. AM: Yes, made. She lived on a farm and of course this was one of the quilts that she made for the hired hands for their cabins to have– JE: This one? AM: The utilitarian quilt. JE: All right. Do you know what size this–okay, this is the– AM: No, you all would have to, I don’t. JE: They’ll measure it later that’s fine. AM: And this was Doctor Ruth’s mother. Very stylish woman. JE: And did she quilt? AM: She pieced the gold one. JE: She made the gold one. AM: And this is Doctor Ruth. JE: Okay. AM: And you all might like to, this is a proclamation for Doctor Ruth Hartgraves M.D. And it was honored as Houston Day, the day was entitled For Dr. Ruth Hartgraves, whereas Dr. Ruth Hartgraves was born in North, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas medical branch at Galveston where she earned her M.D. degree. She served her internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Massachusetts and her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Whereas Doctor Hartgraves who had practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Houston for fifty years. Now this was in ’85. And she kept on practicing a little longer. Has held appointments at Baylor College of Medicine, Methodist Hospital, Jefferson Davis Charity Hospital, Hermon Hospital, which is here in Houston, Memorial Hospital system and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. Whereas Dr. Hartgraves encouraged and supported women who chose medicine as a career by sponsoring female students at Baylor and by organizing the Eastern branch of the American Medical Women’s Association as well as serving on the Commission of the Status of Women under President John F. Kennedy. And whereas Clinical Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Dr. Hartgraves is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Elizabeth Blackwell Award of the Year, Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, the recipient of Honorary Doctor of Science Degree form Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas and the Students Association of the University of Texas at Austin Distinguished Alumnus Award. And whereas Dr. Hartgraves a charter member of St. Luke’s Methodist Church is also an active supporter of numerous cultural organizations including the Houston Grand Opera Society, the Houston Symphony Society, and the Friends of Bijou Bend. That is the home of the Emma Hogg and quite an outstanding woman herself. Whereas on the occasion of the luncheon benefiting the Women’s Fund, the City of Houston joins in recognizing Dr. Ruth Hartgraves for her outstanding contribution to her patients and her community. Now, therefore, I, Katherine J. Whitmeyer, Mayor of the City of Houston, so hereby proclaim Wednesday, October 16th, 1985 as Dr. Ruth Hartgraves’ M.D. Day. And she signed it and all and somebody said, ‘Well, that was certainly nice, had you met Kathy Whitmeyer before?’ She said, ‘Met her? I delivered her.’ JE: Oh. [laughs.] She was right there at the beginning. AM: Yes. She had a marvelous quick wit and as she traveled, she went around the world actually three times. She climbed the Matterhorn and just did everything, and her last two trips she said that they offered her a wheelchair, but she thought a cane would do. And she had collected over the many years a small scarf of handkerchief or something easy to pack, and she sent me a soup box full of silk scarves from all around the world and handkerchiefs. And I just felt so humble when she did, but she was very proud when I became the Statue of Liberty winner for Texas and of course several articles. And my Aunt Helen Burt that taught me how to quilt and they kept in touch all these years was able to see an article in one of the magazines stating that she had taught me how to quilt at the age of seven. So I’ve been at it a long time. But she is a very charming woman. And I think these quilts need recognition and to be recorded and I think we should save our stories and I hope you’ve enjoyed this one. JE: Oh, this is wonderful. AM: And if you have anything else to ask, because who knows, I could forget something. JE: Oh, I have a lot of questions. AM: Good. JE: What year did you start quilting? AM: Well, 1934. JE: ’34. AM: I was seven years old. My grandmother passed away in Brownwood, Texas and the aunts, well, “the girls,” they had no age, they were always called ‘the girls.’ They begged my mother to let me stay with Grandfather Burt and them. And so I stayed almost a year and Aunt Helen taught me to quilt. And of course in that day we didn’t have good quilting thread. Mine was quilted with six-strand embroidery floss. Yes. [laughs.] So I go a little ways back. JE: Oh that’s wonderful. Now how old was your aunt at the time that she was teaching you to quilt? AM: Well, 1901 from 1934, she was thirty-three. JE: Thirty-three? AM: Yes. JE: Wonderful. So she had been quilting for several years. AM: Well, she had a Home Ec. Degree from the University of Texas. Helen and Alice all went to the University if Texas. One Sister Anita did, too, and then later got her other degrees here in Houston through the Sacred Heart Dominican College. And she got her Doctorate degree form the University of Texas. Driving up on the Greyhound bus and she said, ‘Oh, you always want to give me something,’ she said, ‘I want you to make me a book cover for pocket books,’ because she said, ‘If you want to clear your mind, read a murder mystery.’ But she said, ‘Here I sit in this white habit with this blood and guts novel shocking everybody.’ So I made her this fancy book cover. But the nuns weren’t allowed to drive in her order at that time. And so she commuted on the Greyhound bus and she was the second highest in the class. The highest in the class was Dr. Billy Watson who was her godchild. She said, ‘He shouldn’t have beaten me’. So Brownwood was a small town and everybody knew everyone. And that’s Howard Paine University is now and a branch of, oh, the general that said, ‘I will return’? MacArthur. They have very beautifully added on to that university and that wing is in honor of MacArthur. JE: So do you feel that this history that your family has had with quilts and the inspiring people in their lives, this is why you’re so involved in the history of quilts? AM: Yes. Nine of us were in the Sesquicentennial [150 years.] started Texas Quilts, Texas Treasures. And we documented right at three thousand quilts. And American Quilt Society in Paducah published our book [the second book that they published.]. And it is a fabulous volume. And in our particular guild that I founded in Beaumont, Texas, I had made a reversible quilt with, the members had made it and I taught it and designed it, and we raised $1500 that year. Of course we’re talking way back in 86. And so with that money we voted. The book was $26.95, I think. We have members in twenty-three cities in Texas. And so every city that we had a member in we donated a book to the library. So there are a lot of books in the library. And we had some beautiful stories. We just wish we’d had three pages for every quilt because the stories were so unique and so very nice. But we had quilt search days scattered around the state. And that’s how we were able to attract a lot of our quilts. And we gave a $100 prize for the oldest. And some of the cities where we had our quilt search days would furnish the $100 because we did all of this out of our hip pocket. I mean, we didn’t earn or keep a penny. We just all supported it and did beautifully with it. But no, these stories should be kept. Our second quilt search day was up at Jasper, Texas which, I don’t know, probably a hundred and eighty miles from here. And the bank gave us their lobby and they furnished us food and drink and coffee which was nice because we were there eight to ten hours to do all of this. And it was Jasper Days where they had the street markets and all of the festivities of the city. And this young man dropped his grandmother off and he took off. He wanted to go to the booths and stuff. And so we had a dickens of a time convincing her to eat. ‘I don’t have any money.’ I said, ‘They are giving us the food. We don’t want you to pay.’ ‘Oh, I just couldn’t do that.’ ‘Well, I’ll just have to sit on you and feed you,’ she says. [laughs.] And so we got to interviewing her and she said, ‘The men had their money for their tobacco but we had to struggle to get money for our quilts.’ And she said, ‘And them little sacks, when you open them up, are four and a half inches by seven and three fourths inches high and them holes never come out. And if you got a bunch of them you just cut the holes out and dye them.’ And she had a quilt there that was muslin and pink. And she dyed that with those big berries that come in the fall of the year and soaked them in that. And she fixed it, as we would call it, the rail fence nowadays. And she said, ‘When my kids were home sick, they’d say, we want the road quilt.’ And they’d make a little car out of a stick and go up and down the pink roads of this thing. And she had quilted it in the scallop design, and some of it was in the circles. And so our leader, she said, ‘Well, I’ll take the microphone and I’ll interview.’ And I said, ‘Fine.’ Because I had done quite a few things. And so she was being nice to this little lady and she said, ‘Well, now when you do this clam shell, how do you do it?’ She said, ‘Well, you put a thumbtack here and you tie a piece of string to your pencil and then you just mark it off.’ And Kay said, ‘Well, how do you know to get your lines?’ And she said, ‘Dummy, you just shorten the string.’ [laughs.] Kay handed the microphone back to me real quick but some of their stories were just priceless. JE: You drew these people from their homes from all over the state so you go to see quilts that– AM: Oh yes. JE: Hadn’t been in shows. AM: And we were so good and pure which we regretted since because we didn’t want to steal quilts from people or have them think we were doing wrong by them. And we found a way out in the west Texas place that–I wish I had brought that book with me. I’m sorry I didn’t. They had had a shipment or a trial of some sort from the Aunt Jemima pancake flour and we found two quilts where they had bought enough pancake flour to make a quilt. And I mean they were double size. And went back, we decided we’d made a little money on the book, we would cleanse ourselves from this purity and go back and buy this quilt. Well, the little darling house had burnt down and the quilt with it. And she was in a nursing home. So we have kicked ourselves several times, you know, not trying to keep them for, well, we’d love to have a museum here, but who knows. But some of the things we really regret that we didn’t go ahead and do and we have one picture in there of a man that went to the Chicago exposition in 1933. And we have a picture of him showing one of our members how he appliquéd. Most men don’t appliqué, John William can tell you that. And we have a darling picture of him. And he went to Chicago and loves it so and came back and raved so about it that he bought a used model T Ford for $15 and took his whole family back to Chicago. And it was their first car and the first time to see Chicago and anything as big as the fair and the City of Chicago. So some of the stories just tear at your heartstrings. And yet there are stories now, I judged Oklahoma City last month and they give the ribbons to the members to go put on their own quilt. Well, that’s delightful. And I had to stroll around, you know, meet them all. So this man came up to me and he said, ‘You have no idea what giving my wife’s quilt a ribbon means to me.’ And it was a wall quilt and it was nice. It wasn’t charity; I didn’t know anything about it. He said ‘Our house was demolished in the hurricane.’ He said, ‘And I found that quilt four blocks from where our house used to stand in the mud.’ And he said, ‘We worked and worked to clean it up.’ And, well, I just said, ‘I think God guided me,’ you know, because it just was spectacular. And he said ‘She was going to enter seven quilts. Two we found near the house. The other four we have never located. And of course the guild has given all the ladies new fabrics and new supplies.’ But he said, ‘To just think that that one was saved and you recognized the quality of her workmanship.’ And he said they were living in a trailer. [announcement over the intercom.] The other interesting thing, I’ve had something interesting everywhere I’ve judged, but Oklahoma City was most recent. But this other quilt that I really loved was a log cabin but she kept half of the blocks to form a diamond, white background diamond and appliquéd a gorgeous trellis of roses and stems and leaves. And all four edges, she had four inch red Cluny [a soft English lace.] lace. It was just precious. So I said, ‘Well, I want to meet this little lady, whoever did this quilt.’ And they said, ‘Oh, she won’t come out at night, but we’ll bring her tomorrow.’ And come to find out she’s ninety-five years old and makes a quilt about every two months. All hand cut and pieced. And so I got to meet her and she’s ninety-five. And she told me that, she said, ‘I saw that lace and I knew I’d put it somewhere,’ she said, ‘I liked it.’ So she said, ‘Honey, if you’d been here three years ago my stitches would have been better,’ because she said, ‘It’s getting hard to make those tiny stitches.’ [laughs.] So you just have to love the stories that come with all of these happenings. And there are some wonderful heart touching stories, I find, that are just super. JE: Now, history of quilts has inspired you with almost every step of the way? AM: I believe so. I have three daughters and a son and then I have an adopted son. I used to make the girls dresses. I even learned how to make straw hats. And two of my daughters sew quite successfully. The other one can but doesn’t want to. And they’ve all made one quilt to satisfy me, you know, so they haven’t been bit by the bug yet like I have. But being a widow it’s been the greatest thing. God opened another door to me to let me travel and be with people. And my husband and I owned our own business for twenty-five years. So it was a real switch in lifestyle. So I figure that God wanted me to do this. And I regret my husband was after me for years to write a book because I have a couple of unusual techniques and after he passed way I wrote it. I could feel his presence. But I regret he wasn’t here to see the final thing, but maybe that was the way God wanted it. I’m giving a lecture next Tuesday to nine hundred senior citizens for the Chamber of Commerce in Beaumont and I think I’ll probably write my speech Monday night because I’ve been too busy doing this. But really, I taught around twenty-two to twenty-five senior citizens at a Junior Forum Center for eight years. And it’s been one of the most gratifying events because most of them weren’t well off. And they had small room or apartments. And at first people would say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that quilting. It has to be stretched. You have to do it.’ And all of them lap quilted. They didn’t have room to do otherwise and we finally–we ran out of money. So I furnished money and I taught them how to cut paper cut their own designs. And then I made them sign their blocks. And fifteen of them are quilting with the angles now. About every year I get the word that another little doll has passed on. But so many of them had wanted to learn to quilt. And I had the most charming black woman come to the center. If you were fifty-five years or older you could come. And I taught for nothing, I mean, it was fun for me. She was so gracious, Louella, and so you learn a few tricks. I would put the name of the block in a hat on paper and let them draw. Because, ‘You gave her an easier block than I got,’ [laughs.] ‘Her’s has less work on it.’ So you learn a few little asides. So Louella asked me if she could copy the pattern that she had drawn. And I said, ‘Yes. Take it home, it’s your to keep or I’ll get you a copy.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘all my life I’ve wanted to quilt,’ and she said, ‘I want to make something that I have quilted and done.’ So of course she came and she said, ‘I’ve got all my children with a quilted pillow.’ And I said, ‘Well, how nice.’ And she said, ‘Well that was a pretty good effort because I have twelve children.’ JE: Wow. AM: We never knew that. And her husband was bedfast. She was a LBN and so the mother could come with a different child set at home. And she was walking twenty blocks until we found that out and had a shuttle that would pick them up and take them home. And so I was so proud that she felt she had accomplished something that her children would have. And she never told us. They called me January 3rd that she had passed away and she was fighting cancer all this time and never–so you know there are certain times that God puts you in the right place to help other people. You don’t do it for them, but you guide them. And so I’ve had some wonderful women. One said, ‘I’ve made a quilt for each of my grandchildren,’ and that was ten of them, she said, ‘all my life I wanted to quilt and my mother and aunt said, ‘You will never learn to quilt.” So for our first show, her mother was ninety and the aunt was ninety-two and she got them to Beaumont and she said ‘This is my teacher,’ and the mother said, ‘I bet you did a lot of her stitches.’ I said, ‘No. This is not the way I teach. You’re a big girl you can do it on your own.’ But I’ve had some very rewarding things through quilting and wonderful friends. Just couldn’t be better. And I founded our guild in 81 and we now have two hundred ninety members. And we have about eight women who come from Louisiana. Beaumont’s about thirty miles from the Louisiana border. So we have good members from everywhere. Which makes it super nice, but I feel sorry for anyone who can’t sit down and keep busy. Whether it’s crochet, needlepoint, lace making, whatever you want to do. The greatest thing you can do is to create something. Because usually your heart’s in it while you’re creating it. And I think it makes it super special. JE: So the teaching part of this is possibly more important to you than even the quilting? Or how do you feel? AM: Well, I have been an honorary member of the Junior Forum [volunteer organization.] for many years and after we sold our business, I felt I ought to give something back. And I had said I would teach for one month how to make the stitch and flip potholders. So, well, I was there a second month. And so we made pillows. And then the third month we made baby quilts. So then we were up to Christmas. And Christmas Eve the phone rang, we were all leaving for midnight mass. And all of the family and my husband’s sisters were there. And I thought, ‘It’s go to be a wrong number because you know we’re all here, who could be calling us?’ So this young man said that he owned Cudahay Ham here in Houston. And he said, ‘If you ever come to Houston I want to give you the biggest ham that you can have because,’ he said, ‘I think you should know that you’re teaching my aunt to quilt and to calm her down with quilting has kept her off of the fourth floor which was the mental floor at the Baptist Hospital. She’s been in their every Christmas for seven years.’ And he said, ‘She is selling the potholders. She’s selling the baby quilts for three dollars and the pillows for five and she is so proud of herself.’ And he said, ‘You just don’t know how grateful our family is to not have her sick at Christmas.’ So my husband said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’re going to quit doing it?’ he said, ‘Do you feel as tall as a penny or a dime?’ So I went back for eight more years. So I do think teaching, and it’s a creative thing and it comes from within. And I wrote an article got published that years ago we were raised to think you can’t do two things well at once. Well I dispute that. I can sit and quilt and iron out my worries and I can pray and just become so calm. And I do think you can so two things at once because something can be bothering you beyond your grip and you can just quilt it out. Because you can sit there and you can entertain yourself literally. And when women say, ‘Oh I just don’t feel like it,’ I say, ‘You’ll feel like it after you do twenty minutes of it. You’ll start to flow again.’ So I am kind of bossy. [laughs.] I try to encourage them to do it. But I think any age should learn and can learn. We had, our museum, got up a grant. And they wanted all the sixth grade students in six schools to let the children learn a little history and so that didn’t go over and so they said, ‘Alright. We wanted family life.’ Well you would be surprised what some of these families do. They had one, this little boy had drawn a TV and here were sever little heads sitting there watching it. And he had the Houston Oilers and the score up there. So they gave me fifteen-inch blocks and just anything the teachers could find. Buttons, doodles, one little girl drew herself and appliquéd and she had cut a big curl off of her head and glued that and stitched that on to represent her. And I do think our children are terribly neglected because we’ve only had three snows in the forty-four years that I’ve been here. And they got cotton balls snow. Have you tried sewing over a cotton ball? [laughs.] It’s not easy, believe me but over half of them and of course the girls at the museum are wonderful. And they said, ‘Well now we want these blocks at least nine feet tall.’ And I got thinking and I couldn’t keep my mouth closed and she said ‘They’re all going back to the school. And I said, ‘Yes, well, where are they going to hang them if they’re nine feet tall?’ She said, ‘Well I hadn’t thought much about that, but they could hang them in the gym.’ I said, ‘That’s the best basket ball practice I can see. There’s a yellow block; there’s a red block.’ [laughs.] Well, we had to do some free thinking. But another thing that I’m proud of that I did. Three of our schools, high schools, were chosen to go to Russia. And I called the head man and I introduced myself, ‘With your permission, I would like to come out and make banners.’ They had to do something to take with them. Music or dance or something to entertain the Russian students because they were at these, had come to learn different things. And I said, ‘I would like all of the students to draw their handprint and put their name inside and what year they’re going to graduate.’ And almost too late I thought, ‘Well why not have them bring Russian handprints here?’ So I guess I quilted eight or nine banners. And they said when they showed them in Washington, D.C., everyone was furious that they hadn’t thought of that, too. But that is one of the neatest things. I know from my husband’s sister’s ninety-third birthday. Everybody that came to her party signed their hand and the men, of all things, started putting their rings in there. And then one of them started putting their little cuticle or the shape of the fingernail. And they wrote a message and dated it. And then I did it for my son-in-law’s great-grandmother. And her son I thought was going to explode. She took ill in the middle of the night, they rushed her to the hospital, and he went out there, someone had stolen her quilt. And it had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren on it and one of the great-grandchildren, who is my grandchild, took her shoe off and she drew her foot at three years old. You know, and that was just awful [to have the quilt stolen.] . That broke all of our hearts because our minister’s name was on there, the hospital chaplain, so you have some sadnesses, you really do. But it was so great at the time and it was a lap quilt for the wheelchair. JE: It meant so much. AM: Yeah. We have had nice things that our members have thought up and done. One year at our show we decorated the hall with a hundred and ten AIDS baby quilts. And a lot of the guilds are doing that. And then we have a boy’s haven somewhat similar to Boy’s Town. And I think we’ve given them eighty-seven quilts. And if they stay and graduate they get to keep their quilt. If they run off or go home or something, the quilt stays, we think, the quilt stays there. JE: Unless they run off with the quilt. AM: Yeah. [laughs.] So we don’t look too close. Let the directors discover that. But we’re doing a lot of quilts for the Seamen’s Mission right now. You know, people don’t realize that quilters don’t just do for themselves. They are very giving and I have a lady that came to me at the Piccadilly cafeteria. And she said, ‘My husband’s about to kill me for coming over here and bothering you.’ I was eating alone. ‘But,’ she said, ‘I know you’re Anita Murphy. And I said, ‘Well, yes I am.’ She said, ‘I have seen you on different things. I have every article on you. I have your books.’ And she manages a daycare center for Alzheimer’s patients. They come at six in the morning, have breakfast, and then they have lunch, and then the families pick them up and take them home at five or six at night. And she doesn’t let them sit and stare. So this has been a blessing for me. She takes the tiniest bit of fabric that most of us toss and I take, you know, tons of it out there. And she lets them glue it on paper and then they take a magic marker and draw a circle or a star. And she hangs it all up. And I taught them how to make rag belts. When I was a child they were macaroni belts. You put the string down through them and then you wove over the little straws. It’s a little handy loom and the variegated yarn. Well, I’m making them now out of selvages and using plastic soda straws. So I was at a scout thing and they were wanting new ideas so I told them about my belts and this little girl said, ‘Well why didn’t you use plastic straws when you were a girl?’ And I said, ‘Well, honey, they hadn’t invented it yet.’ ‘You’re older than plastic?’ [laughs.] I’ve heard of being older than dirt, but I never really put myself in that category. So I think quilters have a language of their own and we do kind of have to watch it sometimes. But they’re doing the string belts and they’re doing string around coat hangers. And they are so happy touching all these textiles. And they love it. Of course they don’t have, well I guess a couple of them have the dull scissors. But they just love to draw and do all these things. So if you have a place in your hometown, take them your fabrics. But I took them a couple of old Life magazines. And Sarah told me, she said, ‘I held this one up and they said that’s Roosevelt.’ See their brain was retaining what they’d learned first. And they say the brain trellises off until it gets to the core. And so what they remembered as a child or a young person. And she said it taught her a whole new thing that she’s doing with them now, is taking old magazines and letting them review and remember the people that were important when they were young. So there’s so many places to put our little fabrics and our yarns and things but she’s a remarkable woman. She has several mates there that help feed those that need it or do this or that. But she’s fun to work with. She’s taught me some humility and patience, too. But I just think that fabrics helping others, giving them something to do is something God wants us to do, really. JE: Well, it is now, AM: Oh, I’ve probably overdone my stay. JE: No. You’re just fine. I just wanted to give you a little bit of the notice here. It’s 10:54 and we’re about to conclude. So if there’s anything that you wish to say about what quilting means to you or where you feel you’ll go with quilting from here. You’ve touched so many lives. I can’t imagine–I mean–but there’s a whole world out there. AM: Well, I have been blessed. I taught in Denmark and I’ve taught in Mexico and I’ve taught in probably thirty-eight of the states in the United States. And of course I’m sad at heart because I taught with Doreen Speckman on her cruise ships and she’s been at our guild and ‘oh, I have a house full of clutter.’ But I have one cast-iron bed that I painted red. And it’s a big old high thing, and Doreen says, ‘I know where the red bed is. You don’t have to show me the way to my room.’ And she was accompanied by us in, well, 2000. But she touched lives. And there was one quality that she had that I would like to have. She made everyone feel as if they were her best and closest friend. And I think that’s a wonderful gift. But we have our sad times. But think of the times we’ve had that have been so good with them. But I think young girls; of course I’m a certified teacher with the NQA [National Quilt Association.] and have been fifteen years, but I think to figure out a way to make them feel comfortable. And I know precision is wonderful but letting them do it from the heart is even greater and when you think of the ones that have been allowed to do it, I think that that to me would be the greatest way for people to go about sharing and learning and loving because they teach me things. I learn something new every time I take a class or sit and listen to different people. So I hope these stories help. Are you all planning on a book? Or what are your archives? Or your? E: We have archives right now. We’re orally recording. They’ll type this up and make it accessible to everyone. AM: Now, where are your archives kept? JE: This will be in the museum. University of Delaware is where this will go. AM: Now, let me ask you this. And I’m asking sensibly. We have all of the pictures and the slides. And we haven’t put them anywhere. We have been trying to figure out where our archives could go. JE: Okay. AM: We have them in different members’ homes. I’m sorry. JE: Okay, so I’ll conclude this tape, and then we’ll discuss this a little bit further if that’s all right. AM: Oh, thank you. JE: Okay. It is now 10:57. I’m concluding my interview with Anita…

QSOS with Betty Lacy

QSOS with Betty Lacy

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Betty Lacy. It is March 9, 2007. I am in Ukiah, California and it is 1:38 in the afternoon. Betty, thank you for agreeing to let me interview you. Tell me about this quilt that you selected for this interview. Betty Lacy (BL): This is the “Vegetable Garden Goddess” quilt and the idea for this came up, originally it started as a group project that actually never fully got completed. [laughs.] Maybe I shouldn’t say that on tape. KM: I didn’t know that. BL: But a number of us did complete the project, and we started with the idea of just vegetables because we live in a rural area of northern California. Many of us love to garden and so Laura [Fogg.] and Deanna [Apfel.] came up with this idea to do quilts with a vegetable theme. In our group we usually start with a theme and process if this is something the group want to do. Then we essentially go off into our individual design realms and come up with our own ideas on the theme. For me, my process is kind of first putting them to paper and then going from there. I have to say that actually this quilt for me was kind of big, because for one it is a big quilt and two it emanated from a dream. It was a dream of this sensual woman who is naked in a garden surrounded by a cornucopia of vegetables and fruits. I think a lot of times; particularly in our culture nakedness is viewed as something dirty or inappropriate and should be hidden. So I felt like I really wanted to portray her in all of her nakedness, because to me her nakedness is really about showing her vulnerability. Where can we go and be naked to the world. Where can we show our true selves, our hidden selves? Where is it safe especially for women to do this? I want to say historically this quilt emerged right after our vagina quilt series project. That was just a great project because we got to interface with Eve Enster who wrote the “Vagina Monologues”. Our group went on to be part of the film “Until the Violence Stops” with our vagina quilt project that Laura and I introduced. This was a huge boost for us as artists and as women and for Mendocino Quilt Artists (MQA) so it was almost a natural progression to do a vagina quilts and then do this quilt of a naked woman in a garden. So anyway what was fun was I had various people pose for this and then drew the parts of their bodies. So a number of the people in our quilt group, who might want to go unnamed, but I will say that part of the upper part was Ann’s and part of the lower part was Joyce [Paterson.], and I think Laura would be okay with me saying that it was her waist. Laura has this very defined kind of waist. The feet are actually my husband’s, who posed for several drawings. KM: I was going to ask you about the feet. BL: My husband has these great feet. They are just like silky white; it’s like, because he wears boots and shoes a lot. I guess they never get that, you know how our feet get a little worn and torn. KM: I go barefoot. I like to go barefoot. BL: Me too, me too. Of course she has a juicy tomato, better than an apple, which you know you would think, ‘This is Eve in the garden,’ right? It is not Eve. It is actually, I call her Elvira by the way. KM: She has a name? BL: Elvira. She is holding a tomato and it is a very juicy tomato because I am celebrating our juiciness as women. The real juice that we get to be who we are, so there is of course a real sensuality displayed here. You can see the cornucopia coming with all of these vegetables just kind of pouring out from the garden. And she is kind of pouring out in all of her voluptuousness. She has these cucumber leaves in various strategic places. This quilt was hung in our downtown area when we had our vagina quilts there and later she was also hung at our library. People just loved her. She also has–I wanted her to have some pears because Ukiah in this area of northern California is famous for growing pears. There is something about pears and their sensual juiciness as well. KM: They are wonderful. BL: They are wonderful pears. Thank you. You can tell they are pears? KM: Yes I could tell they were pears. I just like the way they glisten. Is that paint that you used on them? BL: No actually I think that is a toile with an embedded. KM: Very cool. A lot of raw edge? BL: A lot of raw edge. KM: Is that typical of your work? BL: I go back and forth. I experiment a lot. You know Laura, one of my mentors of raw edge; she is the raw edge queen. She is amazing. So she kind of got me started in raw edge, and so I did raw edge. Not everybody did raw edge for this project though. It has, some of Laura’s raw edge, one of the cool things is that she uses that raw edge and then you put tulle over it. KM: Is she silk? BL: Actually this is kind of tricky because she is–this old fabric that was brought to our group one time. It was white, it was like old curtains. So her skin is some kind of blend of polyester made from old curtains. This was my first time I was doing much dyeing of fabric. So I literally took this fabric that was white put it in a bucket, and I put everything in my kitchen in it. I put chocolate and I put ketchup, I put tomato juice, and boiled red onionskins. I let it set in there for a couple of days, because I wanted this kind of pinky toned skin color. Oh, and a little bit of tea. KM: It is perfect. BL: Voila. It is perfect, and so she is really perfect for me. I’m really happy with her. KM: How long did it take you to make this quilt? BL: Gosh, well for me, since I work, I happen to be one of those working women who quilt. KM: What is you other occupation? BL: I’m a psychiatrist. I like to reframe this, I work as a psychiatrist. I am not a psychiatrist. Got that. KM: Yes. BL: Good. I would like to retire, but I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon. You know. KM: Exactly. BL: Got to do something to support your art, you know. So, what else can I say about her. KM: She is like fifty-one by seventy-four, so she is a very large quilt. Do you usually work big? Is this typical size or do you? BL: I like to work kind of big, but lately I have been working a little smaller. I am doing some altar quilts that I’m starting to do now that I really like because they are simple, and quick and easy. They bring me joy. I get angsty over my quilts, especially if they are bigger and take longer. I fuss over them a bit too much. It is kind of like birth to me. My quilt sister Leila [Kazimi.] once said, ‘Quilting is like giving birth in a way, you have to make time for your creativity, you have to labor about the process as well.’ I know you know what I’m talking about. So, she took, I want to say she could have taken six or eight months. When I work, I will also be simultaneously working on other projects too. So that way I don’t get too bored and too obsessed about various details. KM: About how many hours a week do you work on quilts? BL: Well that is also very. KM: An average. BL: It, what I would say is that it varies a lot. I would say some weeks I might do like ten or twelve hours and other weeks I might do one or two. I always have a sketch pad by my bed. I will cut stuff out and keep a notebook of things, of patterns and images that interest me, even colors in the newspaper or magazines. I am not a formerly trained artist. A number of people in our group have formal training in art. I have formal training in science. I was a nurse, and then I became a physician, so I have very little training in art. But I love it. It is my new affair. I tell my friends, ‘I am having an affair with art.’ KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or as a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction? BL: I would say, I, it depends on who I am talking to you know. [laughs.]. It is probably easiest to say I’m a quilter, and that is generally what comes out. But if there is somebody a little bit more learned in quilts, then I would say I’m an art quiltmaker with interest in surface design, texture and color. KM: Do you do a lot of dyeing? BL: I do not do a lot of dyeing. I will do like tea dye and add paint and other textures. KM: Have advances in technology influenced your work? BL: Tremendously. KM: How has it? BL: When I first started I sewed on my mother’s Singer from the 1950’s. She used to make dresses for me and clothes for herself. Very quickly, I think within a year or two in the group, everybody told me, that you are going to need a new machine. I resisted because of my attachment to the Singer, but eventually I realized that this modern computerized machine is something you that would really improve my quilting, quilts and speed with which I could produce. KM: Do you use the computer at all? BL: I use computer with images. Now I’m doing more digital photography and transferring onto cloth. I’m doing right now a sticks and stones study. I go walking around Lake Mendocino every weekend taking digitals of various textures and putting stones and sticks together. Then I take them into Photoshop and tweak them. This has been the biggest change for me this year. I am not big on technological things, but do see their value. Even though, I’m from a science background, I like the science, but I don’t like the numbers. I was never good at math. So that is why with color or dyeing or when they say so much of this and that, forget it. KM: That is interesting. BL. Are you that way too? KM: Yeah. BL: Good, we do have a lot in common. KM: What are your favorite techniques? BL: Simplest the better. The funniest and most enjoyable. I think I struggle probably more so than people in the group. Not only do I not have an art background, I characterize myself as the only one in our group who can’t really sew a straight line. I’m just not an exact person. Matter of fact, the way that I come to joining our group is an example of this. It was 1995 or 6, they did a play called “Quilters,” at our local community theatre. The quilt group was already formed at that point. My neighbor Joyce approached me about doing a quilt for the show. Of course I said yes. But I have never been great about, as I said math or directions. The quilt I did was the “Tree of Life” quilt, which is the last featured in the show. Well it was too small. Lucky for me there were two “Tree of Life” quilts needed because one has to be in the big quilt sampler for the last scene. Since mine was too small to fit in the last scene it was brought out to introduce the scene. Surprisingly Joyce and the others still invited me to join the group. But that is how I would characterize my work. I don’t always fit you know with a prescribed way of doing things. Henceforth the techniques that I use would be anything that entices me. I might look in a magazine and see something that is worth trying. I like to try new things. I am enjoying hand stitching or beading or doing a little extra something to give the quilt a little piazza. That is something that interests me. KM: Let’s talk a little bit more about the quilt group. How many women are there? BL: Eleven right now. KM: How has the group evolved? BL: Well, you know it has changed a lot. The last five years one of the things that we did was give more structure to the group. Originally the group was very loose. I think we would meet once a month and people would just come together and bring their projects and every now and then we would have group projects or kind of challenges or things like that. But over the last five years the group has really condensed its energy and you can see it in our work. I mean I take a lot of solace and inspiration from our group and we have all grown really close together. So I would say that one of the things that started happening was that requirements started to be made. It became more of a closed group than an open group. Before that, four or five years ago, people could come and go in the group, they didn’t have to participate that much Then we started to have more perimeters, boundaries with the group. We generally now get together two times a month, one morning and one evening a month. KM: My group is eighteen. BL: Oh my gosh, yeah and you have to clean the house. KM: Before and after. BL: Before and after, that is right, exactly. [laughs.] The after is the one you really hate, right. But I think again getting clearer boundaries and parameters and really asking ourselves what is it that we really want as a group was monumental. Then we had Joyce’s husband come in at one point and lead us all in a meeting where each one of us was responsible for stating what we wanted and expected from the group and what we as individuals were willing to contribute.. It was a very important turn in our group process. This was actually probably within a year or two ago. We really had to dig into ourselves and ask what each of us wanted as artists. We cleared the air and opened things up. Since that time many of us have been showing our work more as individuals at various shows. Things just really began to bloom for all of us. KM: Where are the pieces that you have shown? BL: Right now I have a piece that I’m really proud of called “Break on Through” at Carnegie Institute, which was very big, very gutsy. I applied to Quilt National. It was not accepted. I think I’m the first one in the group to have applied to Quilt National. So everybody was routing for me. It was hard to get that letter of rejection, but then this quilt was accepted to the Carnegie Institute. Now that quilt is actually going to Sacred Threads. It got accepted there too. Every year or so, you know, usually I will have a quilt in PIQF [Pacific International Quilt Festival.]. KM: When you are collaborating. BL: I really love the collaboration. It is a challenge, but I just love it. The people that I work with are such great artists and it has just been a hoot. It has really been fun. So I was going to say that the quilt that I did with Laura called the “Quilt of Compassion” has gone all over the world and been photographed and been in a number of journals. Quilting Newsletter [Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine.], Quilting Arts and a few journals in Japan. Now we are looking forward to having it rest in a permanent home in New York at either the Police Commission or something headquarters that the Mancuso Brothers are kind of orchestrating. KM: Very cool. Do you collect anybody’s work? BL: I have. I have purchased one of Laura’s quilts and have other artwork around our home that is purchased. KM: I guess I should go back and tell people where you hang your quilt. BL: Elvira. Elvira is hanging in my dinning room, so as you walk in my front door you can’t miss her. You are sitting at the table, which is so perfect to me. And she is sitting or I should say laying right with you behind the table in my dining room on the navy blue wall. KM: Did you know this is where she was going? BL: Yeah. KM: When you finished it. BL: When we finished our kind of remodel, it is like I knew. I have had quilts hanging here, but she just, everybody just loves her. How could you not love her, she is a beauty. KM: You signed it? BL: Yeah. KM: Why did you sign your quilt? BL: Well, you know, I think it is really important as artists that we do sign our quilts. Painters and other artists sign their work so why not quilt artists. I find that I sign most of my quilts as Bettina, a kind of nom de plum. KM: Describe your studio. BL: There are many cards and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I’ve always been drawn to the different images of the Virgin. It reminds me of Judy Chicago’s work a little bit. For the longest time I didn’t have a studio. I quilted on our dinning room table after everyone was asleep, late into the night. That was when our son was young. Back then I was stacking fabric in the bedroom in boxes and orange crates and anywhere it could be put. Now I have a wonderful studio in our old master bedroom. As group artists, we won a lot of national shows. I have our published pictures of some of these quilts framed and on the wall in my studio. I have my tribute to Georgia O’Keefe over my main cutting table. What I love most about my studio is its design wall. KM: You chose gray flannel? BL: Yeah it is gray flannel. What do you have? KM: I have white right now. BL: I was debating about gray. KM: I went back and forth. I thought it was interesting that you selected gray. Does it influence your work at all? BL: It doesn’t. There is something about it not being white that appealed to me, I don’t know it just kind of made the piece a little calmer or something, where I wasn’t so focused on that background. I don’t know, I think I would still go with gray, I’m happy with that. KM: I am getting ready to redo mine so that is why I’m. BL: I would go with gray. KM: There is a lot of color in your home. BL: Yes. KM: We are doing the interview in your home, but your studio is white. BL: Definitely, I don’t think I will change that. KM: It is calmer? BL: Yes definitely. KM: Less stimulation? BL: I need less stimulation more and more in my life. That is something I would say that has grown out of being an artist. Something just about, maybe needing more quiet time. KM: I think also it simplifies. BL: Yes simplify, simplify. I would agree. KM: I think at this point in my life I just need to simplify. BL: Not so much stuff. Get rid of the stuff. KM: At least the stuff that has no intense value. BL: Right, that was actually what we did when we remodeled our home. KM: Do you think it is an aging process? BL: I think for me it is related to age and change and awareness of what is really important. KM: Thank god. BL: It would be like never change right, you don’t want to do that. KM: Do you think that has influenced your work? BL: The simplification, absolutely. I am definitely one who likes more abstract work. I like taking original quilt patterns like Log Cabin or Flying Geese and tweaking it in such a way that you are liberating it, simplifying it. Then I equally enjoy running the machine all over it, or cutting stuff in a certain way, slash and burn it, stretch it, color it, manipulate it, just getting down to basics here. Of course doing this in a way that is inviting to the eye with design sense of mind is very important. KM: This is a good time to ask you what you think makes a great quilt? BL: Well I think whenever I approach a quilt; I kind of look at the whole thing and just let it wash over me, kind of like a baptism. Even if it is a small piece, you know, I think I go first to the feeling, what is the feeling that I get? I’m a very feeling oriented person, although I’m trying to develop more of my impersonal side, but I really, I have a lot of feeling and passion in the world and so I want to, I want to be able to feel the quilt. If it is too representational for me, or if it is too like I know exactly where things are, that does not appeal to me at all. I like to have it spark something. Like if you go to a foreign country or you are traveling or something, you want to see something different, so I want to see something different in a quilt, even if it is a Log Cabin. It is something that just has ownership with that artist; it is not just recreated like a Thomas Kincaid or something like that. Does that answer your question? KM: Yes it did. What does your family think about your quiltmaking? BL: I think they are pretty happy with it. I again was more science person so I never thought of myself too much as an artist. I remember when I was growing up, my sister who is six years younger, I’m going to go see her this next week, she lives in San Diego. When she was in kindergarten she won the art award. I still remember the big bunny rabbit on newsprint that she did. Anyway, she won this award and I remember feeling so incredibly jealous an envious of her. I might have even said to myself, well you could never do anything like this so you might as well stick with the tangible world. Art is different; you never know what is going to happen. I think that art and specifically quilting as an art, has led me to a place of mystery and unknowingness like the project we talked about today. I really see art as a journey of trusting more of what is unfolding. That is really powerful. It is really significant being in that science model and having art in my life. It really helps me balance out, because you know for me, as a physician “knowing” is so very important. If you don’t “know” that could be kind of dangerous, and people trust you, they want you to “know”, they expect you to “know”. So I think again art is the great balancer for me. To answer your question about family, I think my family really appreciates that. I think that they see that I have more balance in my life. KM: Do you work a lot on balance? BL: I am always working on balance. Balance in my art, balance in my life, balance. I’m very fascinated right now between light and dark and opposites, paradoxes. For instance, if I am drawn in one way say to speed up and get too speedy, and when I catch myself I try to bring in the opposite energy for instance more calming or doing less. This of course takes awareness and practice and I am not always successful, but I am getting better at it. KM: What do you think about the importance of quilts in the world? BL: Don’t get me started on that, I will just take up, how much time do we have? When we did the vagina quilt project, one of the things that we included next to each quilt was a statement about quilts and their utilitarian nature and concomitant expression of women’s art. So now of course we have men doing quilts, and that is obviously important and fine and wonderful. It is also important to understand quilting history that coincides with women in the arts and in our culture. There is a tradition of quilting that was matrilineal. In my family my great grandmother quilted, my grandmother quilted, my mother didn’t quilt. When I began quilting it felt like this important ancestral connection like something that had been lost and rediscovered. I still feel this way. I think my grandmother’s are so happy knowing I am quilting. KM: I think it is an approachable art. BL: It is approachable art. That is absolutely right. It is not flat, it is not just–it is not hard, it is textural, it changes a lot with light, with your ability to weave it or add an extra stitch or something, it is just so manipulative. There is something again about the feeling; there is this feeling quality of quilts that I have always appreciated. KM: Tell me a little bit more about your vagina quilt? BL: Oh. KM: You keep bringing it up, so I want to hear more about it. BL: I came up with the idea and since I was a little nervous about presenting to the group, I asked Laura, my fellow quilt sister extraordinaire to help. The vagina quilts followed our “Mask” group quilt series. The “mask” quilt series was led by Joyce and Ann [Horton.], who often put together most of our projects. These quilts germinated from the questions what masks we wear as women. Sometimes we do these intensive projects on retreat that will be centered on a question or theme. During that retreat we started to share a little more deeply about ourselves. As it turns out the stories we shared began to address sexual inappropriate behavior. Each of my quilt sisters, including myself, had experienced some form of inappropriate sexual behavior at some point in their life- from indecent exposure to the boss trying to put the moves on you, to rape. So that was pretty remarkable. Shortly after that retreat, Eve Ensler in San Francisco was performing the “Vagina Monologues.” When I came back from that I knew we had to bring this to Ukiah. The nice thing about living in a small rural area is that you get an idea and you get a few people to join you, you have a movement, you really do. So a few friends and theater people started meeting together and we brought the “Vagina Monologues” play here. While the play was happening I decided that okay I’m going to really stretch myself and bring this idea to the quilt group and see if they would consider doing vagina quilts. Then what was fun about that whole project is that, ah, somehow I think the director of our Player’s Theater, Kate Macgruder, wrote to V-Day headquarters and said, ‘There have been these vagina quilts in our little town. So V-day in New York sent a film crew out to film our group and the quilts and the up roar that was happening when they were hanging downtown. We actually had a Vagina Quilt tour. I think it is the only one in the world. KM: Was it positive? BL: Yes. It was an incredible experience that educated people about sexual abuse and really had the town talking. My quilt which some say resembled the Virgin de Guadalupe was auctioned off to benefit Project Sanctuary, a local women’s shelter. The thing that was most exciting for me is that Eve really wanted it. She sent her assistant and essentially had a blank check for the quilt. After discussion we all decided it was best for the quilt to remain in the community. That was really great because the woman, Lisa, who bought the quilt has allowed it to travel to other community events around the US where the film is showed. The vagina quilts have traveled quite a bit over the past 5 years. KM: Have you sold any of your other work? BL: I have sold a few pieces yes. That is probably the biggest one. I do have trouble letting go of my quilts. They all represent something about my life or me at the time I do them. They really do tell a story about my life. KM: It is hard to let them go? BL: It is so hard to let them go. I did do a Katrina quilt this year, a number of us did in the group and those were really fun to do. They were quick, kind of fun quilts. I did this large great African quilt that I really liked. It was a utilitarian quilt. I did let that go. I think it was easier to let that go because there was a purpose to it. But yeah I have a really hard time letting them go. Being raised in my crazy home during the 1950’s, I always felt like I could be forgotten. Quilting has lent a sense to me that I could leave these quilt as my legacy, so I can’t be totally forgotten. I can’t leave my therapy that I do with people. The quilts are something tangible. KM: Do you give quilts as gifts? BL: I do. It is hard; it is still hard to do. But I think I told you I just recently had a friend whose cousin was killed in Gaza in the conflict there, and his name is Mahmoud. He was seventeen years old. My friend Ahmed is an exchange student. I made him a little altar quilt with Mahmoud’s name on it. It was really powerful for me to make. I actually put his name in letters on the front of the quilt. It is in alphabet beads. I put red thread through the beads and cut it short of the edge. This reflected how his life had been taken too early. That quilt was easy to give because it felt like it was part of my grief I was sharing. I know Ahmed appreciated it. KM: Is there anything else that you would like to share before this tape runs out, a couple of minutes? BL: Yes I would say quilting is, as you can tell, kind of a spiritual experience for me. KM: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. BL: Thank you Karen. KM: We are now going to conclude our interview at…

QSOS with Donna Sue Groves

QSOS with Donna Sue Groves

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave, and I’m doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Donna Sue Groves. Today’s date is June 18th, 2008. We are in Columbus, Ohio, at the National Quilting Association’s quilt show. Donna Sue, thank you for doing this interview with me. Donna Sue Groves (DG): Thank you, Karen, for asking me. KM: And tell me about your Tree of Life quilt. DG: My Tree of Life quilt. Well, my father died in 1976 and my mother had returned to quilting. I was imprinted early with my paternal and maternal grandmothers as quilters, as well as mother. I did not learn to quilt nor did I have any desire to learn quilting. I saw a class advertised in the Xenia, Ohio newspaper and since mother was quilting again, I thought I would surprise her and take this class and learn to quilt instantaneously. I signed up for the intermediate class because I was Miss Know-It-All since my grandmothers and aunts and my mother were quilters, I figured I could just skip the beginner’s class and go into the second one. Our project was to make a Tree of Life with points; I mean lots and lots of points. Uh-huh, right?! Wrong! So, I created the Tree of Life, and I did pretty well on my points. I received high praise from my classmates, my instructor and everyone was proud of me. I think they were glad the class ended; they didn’t have to listen to my mouth anymore about how much work it was. When we got to the point that we were going to make it into a quilt with binding and such we then had the lesson on quilting and the use of templates. Well, I got excited about templates, I just couldn’t believe that I could just place templates on the white background beside the tree and draw around them and then I could quilt over them. Perfect. So easy. I got carried away and picked a template of a biplane which was half as big as the tree, and put it up in the right corner of the quilt, in the sky area. I carefully quilted over it. I was mortified; it looked ugly, childish and horrible almost bigger than the tree itself. I was so upset with myself and disappointed. I ruined it. Then the class was over and I was very ashamed. I took the quilt to mother and threw it in the living room, and said, ‘Here, you finish it.’ And she finished hand quitting it, and then she hung it on a refrigerator. No, that’s a joke; she hung it on the wall. So that’s my experience with my quilt. KM: And you never made another one? DG: No! No, never. But I love quilts. I love fabric. I love the stories. I love the patterns. I loved being around my grandmothers when they were quilting. My father’s mother, LaDona Groves, did mostly appliqué than she did traditional triangles and squares. My mother’s mother, Mamie Myrtle Green, did more geometric designs. I don’t remember her doing appliqué. I remember my grandmother Groves one autumn, when I was out staying with her, sent me out to the yard and told me to go out and pick up three maple leaves that I liked. My favorite ones. I studied and looked and I did as she told and brought them back to her and said, ‘What are you going to do with them?’ And she said, ‘You’ll see.’ Every time I visited her, I’d say, ‘What did you do with my maple leaves, Grandma?’ and she’d say, ‘You’ll see.’ About eight, nine months later, in the spring or early summer, she pulled out a quilt that was for me and it had appliquéd maple leaves in orange and brown colors. It was magic. In it were the very outlines of the leaves that I picked up off the ground that she had used as templates. KM: So why isn’t quiltmaking your thing since you love them so much? DG: Because I can’t sit still long enough. [laughs.] I’m on to the next story, the next pattern, and the next piece of fabric. I’m just fascinated with mourning prints or the shirting and prints died with madder, m-a-d-d-e-r. I got so excited in the early nineties that I decided I was going to invest in madder and plant it out behind the barn and someday somebody would want the madder so they could dye fabric. Mother has protected my madder bed for years. The roots must be as big as our wrists by now. In case anybody is interested in madder, you can find it in Adams County, Ohio. I think probably the biggest factor for me not quilting and cutting the pieces out has to do with either a learning disability or the fact that I did not grasp math and the concepts of math early on. Plus, I was so afraid of making mistakes. It’s the fear factor, and I didn’t allow myself to try for fear of failure. But, I’m always on the watch for the stories and the fabrics and the patterns. That’s what makes me happy. KM: So tell me about the quilt barn project. DG: The quilt barn project is a project, or it was an idea, a concept, that probably was birthed about the same time that I watched my grandmother’s quilt and when we would go visit them in the Roane County, West Virginia. During road trips with Mother and Dad, my mother created a car game to keep my brother and I quiet. Since we grew up in West Virginia you can’t play the typical license plate car game when you’re traveling on the back roads of West Virginia, because all you saw was West Virginia license plates. So Mother created a car game and we counted barns. If it was a certain kind of barn, you got two points; if it was another kind of barn, you got three points; if it had outdoor advertising on it, you got a bonus of ten points if you could read it. Barns like “Chew Mail Pouch” or “See Rock City” or “RC Cola,” all kinds of outdoor advertisements. Red barns were higher points. The game led to discussions and questions about the barns, “Were they an English barn, were they Welsh, German and what the purpose of the barns was?” It became a history and cultural opportunity for my mother to engage my brother and I, and my father too, in conversational teaching moments, whether I knew it or not, and they were exciting. I looked forward to seeing barns. And then as a teenager, we traveled through Pennsylvania, where I was first introduced to the German, Pennsylvania Dutch barns with their hex signs which had the most colorful, wonderful, geometric designs on them, and they were worth fifty points in our car game and that was pretty exciting. So, as you can see, I was imprinted with the love of barns, as I said, and then imprinted early with quilting and the designs. Both were a major part of my childhood and represented my culture and heritage and my love of home and family. In 1968 we moved away from West Virginia, and moved to the flatland of Ohio, and then eventually the path took my mother and me to southern Ohio, to Adams County where we bought a farm that had a barn on it. So, I finally had a barn that actually belonged to us. One day as mother and I stood looking at our barn in 1989, it was a tobacco barn, and I, not knowing that people actually grew tobacco and dried it in barns was surprised to see how it differed from the barns of my childhood. I didn’t understand about tobacco barns because we didn’t see those in West Virginia or in our travels. I said to Mother, ‘This is the ugliest looking barn I’ve ever seen in my life! It needs some color, and I think I’ll paint you a quilt square on it someday.’ Well, that promise or that outburst became a continuous promise from 1989 through the years, until the year 2000. Friends of mine, Pete Whan with the Nature Conservancy and Elaine Collins, the Economic Development Director in Adams County approached me and said, ‘Donna, your mom’s getting older, and that’s really a great idea, you wanting to create a quilt square for her and paint it on the barn. Pete and I will volunteer to help you.’ And I said, ‘Great. I think that if we’re going to do one, we should consider doing a bunch of quilt squares, because I think we can create a driving trail and people will come to Adams County to drive a trail, to see our barns with quilt squares on them, and ultimately that will create economic opportunity. Our quilters can sell wall hangings and quilts based on these quilt squares, and our artists and photographers can make note cards, and we can have t-shirts, and our potters will make coffee mugs, and we can raise money which will help everybody locally.’ And they said, ‘Oh, how can we do that?’ And I said, ‘Well, we need to form a committee and create a plan of action.’ So we did, and our first committee meeting was in January of 2001, in Adams County. My mother was part of that committee. Several business owners, a couple of barn owners, someone from the Chamber of Commerce and the Travel and Tourism Bureau, there were about ten, twelve of us, sat down together and created this model on how we would create a driving trail. Our goal was to hang or to paint three quilt squares on barns in 2001. We applied to the Ohio Arts Council and received funding for our first three quilt squares, and someone on our committee, Judy Lewis who owns Lewis Mountain Herb Farm, volunteered that she wanted to have the first quilt square and she wanted it dedicated at her festival in October 2001. We all agreed that that would be fine. Mother had researched traditional old quilt square patterns, we tried to be very conscientious about copyright with the concern that we did not infringe on artists or designers of any quilt patterns. So Mother came up with about thirty-five squares, and we voted on twenty, the committee, that we wanted to do. The reason we chose twenty quilt squares to develop a quilt trail, a driving loop, was because mother said that twenty quilt squares make up an average size bed quilt. We felt that the trail needed a beginning or it might go on forever. So the end of the beginning of the story, or the end of that story for the moment, is we hung our first quilt square October 2001, at the Lewis Mountain Herb Fair, with an attendance of about 10,000 to 15,000 people. Then the story was out. The press picked it up. An adjoining county, Brown County, Ohio, called and said, ‘We love it. How do we do it?’ Tennessee read an article in a local magazine. They called and wanted to know how to do the project. Iowa wanted to duplicate the project. I spoke at a conference in Nebraska. Pat Gorman from Iowa was there and heard me talk about the trail. When I got back home, Pat called me and said, ‘Donna Sue, Grundy County may not have all of the bridges as Madison County but we have the barns. How do we do the project?’ So Pat and I collaborated. I went out two or three different times to work with Grundy County and help them to get a good start. And the rest is history. Now we’re up to about twenty-two states, and twenty counties in Ohio. I’m very proud. KM: What do you think the future of it will be? DG: I don’t know what the future holds. I see the project continuing to grow. I believe that right now, it needs leadership. Nationally we need to come together for people to have an opportunity to meet one another, to share their stories, to talk. The project, even though it’s about quilting and barns it is also about celebrating our rural heritage and building on our own unique assets. I guess I didn’t even explain what the project was, did I? The Quilt Barn Trail is hanging–painting a quilt square on plywood or MDO board or some type of sign board and then attaching it on a barn, farm out-building and then creating a driving tour. I guess that gives you a general idea of what this quilt square idea is and what its purpose. I lost my train of thought. Where does it go from here? I’m hopeful that now that I am no longer working for the Ohio Arts Council full time that I’ll have more time to devote to the trail development and can pull together a national coalition for conversation with the states on how they might like to come together in a collaborative fashion to share their stories and to plan on how we all might get together. The beauty of this project, the Quilt Trail and the quilt barn project, for me, is not so much as the creation of the quilt squares that are hung or painted on the barns, but it’s about the community process and grassroots folks coming together, using what they believe are their best assets, and building on and celebrating their heritage. There’s a lot of joy and laughter that’s created through the process of creating these trails. People really have fun with it. It’s a low-cost, inexpensive project and it’s changed my whole life. KM: So what pattern did you pick for your barn, your mother’s barn? DG: Well, I asked Mother because which one she wanted out of those twenty that we voted on, and Mother said that she wanted the Ohio Star. But the gal that was on the committee that wanted one for her barn to be dedicated in October wanted the Ohio Star, and since there’s a zillion patterns, Mother graciously said that that was fine. And as the patterns were chosen, we let people choose what they wanted. The barn owners chose which pattern they wanted and the colors. And as time went by, Mother still hadn’t chosen her pattern. We talked about it, we talked about it, and finally, she said Snail’s Trail. KM: What color is it? DG: It’s Martha Stewart colors, because I didn’t know what colors to pick and Mother didn’t tell me what colors to pick, so it was painted by an artist, Jeff Schenkel, from Marietta, Ohio, and we left the color choice up to Jeff. And it’s green and– Maxine Groves (MG): [DG’s mother.] Grey. DG: Gray? Green and gray? MG: Uh-huh. DG: And a mauve-y color. Martha Stewart colors. It was started in 2001, so Martha Stewart colors about 2003. Mom didn’t get her quilt square till about two-and-a-half years into the project. KM: How big are they? DG: Ours is an eight-by-eight. They vary from ten-by-ten or eight-by-eight or four-by-four or two-by-two. It just depends on where the barn is located. If the barn is sitting right on the side of the road, you don’t want a ten-by-ten quilt square right in your face, or if it’s way off in the field, it’s really hard to see an eight-by-eight. We started out painting–thought we would paint quilt squares on barns and that it would be a job creation for local artists, but we didn’t factor in the fact that these old barns, whether they’re out of chestnut wood or oak, those that are over a hundred years old, the veins in the barn, the wood, are so wide and the wood is so old, it just sucks up coat after coat after coat of paint. So we learned very quickly that painting directly on them wasn’t the best way, plus I had a panic attack thinking that we had just destroyed an opportunity for property owners, barn owners, making this a national heritage site of a two-hundred-year-old barn, farm barn or something. So we chose to stop painting them. Plus the cost to paint them on this MDO or pine board is so much less, to paint them flat on the ground or on sawhorses, because anyone can get into the process. Most of the quilters do their thing with marking the actual quilt square by drawing it, the design, and then working with the artists or the painters. Anyone can paint one. Children can paint it. Elders can paint it. As long as they can paint between two lines, and even if they can’t, it can be touched up, so the whole community can participate in this painting process of quilt squares. KM: Very cool. Did you ever think it would be as big as it is? DG: I had a sneaking suspicion that if it were good enough for Chew Mail Pouch in 1880, whenever they started using outdoor barns for advertising, and if the entire East Coast and Appalachian Mountain Range had “See Rock City” or what was the other one? ‘See Rock City’ and ‘R C Coca’ was another one and ‘Natural Bridge.’ You used to see those, too. And also those little Burma Shave signs that we might be onto something, if it worked for them. My greatest fear with the project is that some entrepreneur, that maybe big business, corporate business, will see the same thing, an opportunity, in a different way than I see it. I see combining our barns and our quilting heritage and holding or using that to celebrate who we are, the best of who we are. I’m so afraid that corporate America will come in and use the side of our barns now for advertisement, and that worries me. Hopefully, hopefully, our farmers and property owners and communities will be very mindful and thoughtful about change and how we use those barns, but when times are bad and money is short, money often speaks, and if it means putting food on the table versus getting $150 a month or $250 a quarter from a simple sign on the side of your barn, those are tough decisions to make. I hope we don’t start to see commercial ads along our rural roads and highways! But that, I do worry about that. I thought that it would grow, it would probably grow out throughout the Appalachian region, the thirteen states. Really never thought so much about the United States in 2001, and it growing that big, but what’s interesting is now that for the last seven years, and I’ve watched it go into Iowa and Missouri and Kansas and Indiana and Illinois and Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia. As I’ve watched it grow and participated in that growth, I’ve come to realize that what I didn’t realize before, that rural people, in our rural lands, the places that people settled with their families and on small farms, are truly the backbone of America, and that we’re not so different from one another. I never thought about Iowa up until 2002. I never really gave a lot of thought about Illinois or Indiana. Now, when I hear the news of the great flooding that’s happening in Iowa or along the Mississippi, now I reflect and think about those folks. My life always has been, tied to other states, counties, but now I think about how really really flat we are and how we’re intertwined and connected together. You can take one project, Adams County, Ohio for example; you could take our project in 2001, teleport it to Mason County, West Virginia, right now. They’re planning theirs. They have their first quilt square up. You couldn’t tell the difference except the names have changed and maybe the shapes of the barns. We’re all one family, in a sense. We all have similar dreams, hopes, and aspirations. KM: There’s power in quilting. I believe that. DG: There is power in quilts. Everybody has a quilt story. Everybody remembers a quilt. People run to their closets or pull out from under the beds or in the basement or wherever they have them hidden. This project, the Quilt Trail development, I believe, has really brought more focus on quilts and barns, too, just equally. Barns are, hopefully, the barns will be preserved. They’re in more danger than the quilts are of disappearing, I think, because the quilts have a little more protection. But from the beginning, part of my dream for this whole project was that not only would we use quilt squares in a public venue on our barns to celebrate who we are and to create economic opportunity, but also I had hoped that we would be able to preserve those stories, about those that built the barns and the family farm stories and the quilts. Of equal importance are the quilts in those families and the stories that go along with them. Because preserving those stories and hearing and listening to them, will help us to know where we came from and who we came from. We can reflect on the strength that it took to–and energy and focus and dedication and hardship, all of those things that our foremothers and forefathers did so we could be where we are today. And we need to remember those stories. We need to celebrate who they were because that’s our DNA, maybe our larger community DNA connects us all together just like a quilt. KM: Is there anything else you want to share? DG: I don’t think so. KM: You did great. All right, we’re going to conclude our interview at 4:55…

QSOS with Janet Miller

QSOS with Janet Miller

[addtoany] [space height=”10″] Explore and listen to Janet Miller’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Annmarie Geist in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall…

QSOS with Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett

QSOS with Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett

[addtoany] [space height=”10″] Explore and listen to Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Emily Berk in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall…

QSOS with Janneken Smucker

QSOS with Janneken Smucker

Explore and watch Janneken Smucker’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Project created by Bernie Bronsberg, Liam Cuccia, Chris Mallee, and Andrew Politsky  in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….

QSOS Interview with Jean Champagne

QSOS Interview with Jean Champagne

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][addtoany] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][space height=”10″][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text] Explore and listen to Jean Champagne’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Christine Sparta in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….

QSOS with Beth Johnson

QSOS with Beth Johnson

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][addtoany] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][space height=”10″][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text] Explore and listen to Beth Johnson’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Arianna Denison in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….

QSOS with Marilyn Mowry

QSOS with Marilyn Mowry

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][addtoany] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][space height=”10″][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text] Explore and listen to Marilyn Mowry’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Matt Gilberg in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….

QSOS with Sharon Gaylord Chambers

QSOS with Sharon Gaylord Chambers

Explore and listen to Sharon Gaylord Chamber’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Erinn Brown in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….

QSOS with Barb Forrister

QSOS with Barb Forrister

Explore and listen to Barb Forrister’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Zakkary Zabower in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….

QSOS with Lynda Noll

QSOS with Lynda Noll

Explore and listen to Lynda Noll’s interview by clicking open a segment title and selecting “Play Segment,” or by searching either the index or transcript. Index created by Casey Monaghan in West Chester University’s HIS 480 Digital History course, Fall 2016….