Fran Snay




Fran Snay




Fran Snay


Sharon Joy Frear

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Houston, Texas


Alana Zaskowski


Sharon Joy Frear (SJF): This is Sharon Joy Frear. Today's date is November the sixth, 2011. It is 9:01 A.M. and I'm conducting an interview with Fran Snay for Quilters' S.O.S. Save our Stories a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Fran and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Fran, will you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Fran Snay (FS): Yes, I'd be happy to. I'm very much a traditional quilter but I like to tweak the patterns and make them more interesting. My use of color is very important to me and the placements of colors and using a little bit of the different techniques such as appliqué in this one as well as the piecing and of course being the Dresden plate, all of the plates are appliquéd down as well as the little touches of appliqué. When this quilt was done, I had been shopping for a little something extra to highlight this, the Dresden plate, and I found a Michael Miller fabric, which was the eyeballs that you see in the center of the plate, henceforth became, the name became Eye See What's on Your Plate. This quilt was mostly designed as much as I design a quilt, which using the kaleidoscope as the center of the quilt to start it with and then the plates in many colors to highlight, I think they kind of go hand in hand with the kaleidoscope.

SJF: How do you use this quilt?

FS: This quilt has been used mostly for display as I've traveled for many years in doing trunk shows and teaching and lecturing. I don't use it on a bed that used; I do use it as a top on a guest bed that's used in the bedroom, guest bedroom. It's, this quilt was sent to Quilters' Newsletter Magazine and they had it for three months, but they've not used it yet, so I don't know if they ever will but it was quite a treat to know that they asked for it and it could someday be used in the magazine.

SJF: What age did you start quilting?

FS: Oh my. I, probably in my early fifties because I worked and raised a family and it became a part of my life because when I was young, I grew up with my aunts quilting, played under the old roll down quilting frames, put a few stitches in the quilts that I know my aunt took out of course after that was done. I was influenced by those early years in the forties and fifties. It became really important to me in the back of my mind and when I retired in 1993 it became my full-time passion.

SJF: How did you learn to quilt? Did you teach yourself?

FS: I'm self-taught. Using patterns that, simple patterns to begin with, and as I said, being very traditional and just tweaking with colors and layout and maybe even changing the pattern a little bit.

SJF: You mentioned your aunt, is that part of your first quilt memories?

FS: Yes. Very much a part of my quilt memories because I was, my aunt lived on the farm, I was raised on the farm, and when we would go visit, this particular aunt, which was I guess my favorite of three or four, and we covered with the quilts that she made and once you were under those old quilts, it was hard to move. They also made a good pallet when there was a lot of family in that aunt's home for a weekend, we slept on pallets. I have two sisters and we slept on pallets and they were pretty well padded because my aunt made her filling, or what we call batting now, out of combing the cotton from the cotton field, and I saw her do that for hours on hours. It made a really heavy warm quilt.

SJF: How many hours a week do you spend quilting?

FS: Many. I would say most of my day, even though it may be coming and going to my sewing machine off and on, I probably spend a good part of six hours a day at least cutting and sewing because I also teach two classes a week and I longarm quilt for the public, so my days are spent quilting most of the day.

SJF: Do you have a studio or a workshop?

FS: I have my own, I would like it to call it a studio, but it's actually now a bedroom because we downsized our home six years ago, so I had a wonderful studio, but now I'm just in the bedroom that most of us start in.

SJF: Where do you teach?

FS: I teach a class at my church and I teach a class that was, that was formed in community education with one of our local schools and the community education closed down in our town, so I had to take it to the local quilt shop.

SJF: Good. Have you ever used quilts or made quilts through a difficult time in your life? Have they helped you in that way?

FS: Yes I think so. I think any time there are reasons for us to be depressed in some way, no matter how little or how big, that depression could be from a loss of a family member or a child or whatever. I think we can turn to working on a quilt, be it sewing or bonding or appliqué, that sooths the mind very much.

SJF: Do you belong to any quilt groups?

FS: Yes. I in 1998 I founded the Johnson County Quilt Guild [Kansas.] This year I am president again. I've been chairman on, program and workshop chairman, for many guilds in the area over the many years that I've been involved in all of this. So that was an important part of my life over the past few years.

SJF: How do you balance you time between quilting and the rest of your family?

FS: Well family first, but every second or minute in between taking care of them, comes quilting.

SJF: Do you use a design wall?

FS: Yes I do. I have one full wall, quite large, that is my design wall and a very important part of quilting.

SJF: What do you think makes a great quilt?

FS: Well I think first of all you start with a pattern that you really like, and from that I try to see how many ways I might be able to renew that pattern because as I said I work with tradition, traditional patterns. I like to pull my fabrics when I look at that pattern first of all, and then I begin that way in cutting. I may cut the pattern several times with several different colors and fabrics before I get the technique where I want it to be and what I want to see in color and most of all I like the fabric to have movement in it. I'm not too much on using solids, I like texture to my work and so it kind of begins there and that's where my wall board comes in very handy because I can have all of these different colors and textures on the wall to get a good look at it before I start. Then all those changes come in between just playing with it until it's where it needs to be.

SJF: Do you design any of your own patterns?

FS: Not really. I would like to pattern the piece that you're looking at but I just have not done that and even though it is a traditional pattern, there are the design of the quilt itself, I would like to do, but I've just never taken the time to go that far with it.

SJF: Are there any particular quilters, artists who've influenced your work?

FS: There are many, there are many. Nancy Crow with her fabrics, Jenny Beyer with her wonderful techniques and her love for still hand piecing and hand quilting, I've admired her for so many years. Mostly the designers of fabrics have been my influence I think because I have tendency to stick with those fabrics that I know the designers of and the ones that seem to always have what I like.

SJF: How do you feel about hand piecing, hand quilting, as opposed to machine techniques?

FS: Well, I would have to say I would prefer hand piecing and hand quilting however, our busy lives today just don't permit it and so machine quilting, as they say is, "Checkbook quilting," and that's what we seem to stick to otherwise I would probably never get as many done as I have in the past.

SJF: Do you machine quilt your own or do you have someone who does that for you?

FS: I machine quilt my own unless it's a show quilt and then I have it done. Linda Taylor quilted the quilt that's in the Lone Star's 3 book, and Sue Champion quilted this one for me, which was taught by Linda Taylor. I think our choices just don't keep up with our, the time element in this busy life we have.

SJF: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

FS: It's very important because it was such a part of my life as I was growing up and I, even at a young age, I can remember thinking as I watched my aunt sit at the quilt frame and hand stitch that those quilts were precious, I don't have any that she done and I sure wish I did, but it is important because I think it's such, gives you such a happy feeling and a feeling of accomplishment when it's done. Out of all the many, many quilts I've made, I've given away most of them and that's soothing to the heart.

SJF: Do you give them to your family or friends?

FS: Everyone. Yes family, friends, it just goes on and on and on and that's why I make them. I think they're made to give away because you can just keep so many.

SJF: How does your family receive these quilts?

FS: Wonderfully, yes. I have four boys and they all want quilts and my oldest grandson, "Meemaw I'll talk all you can give me," and I said, "You're getting greedy, so you're going to have to share."

SJF: So they have a lot of respect for your work?

FS: A lot of respect for it, yes.

SJF: That's good. In what ways do you think your quilts reflect your community or region? Or do they?

FS: Well the only way I guess I could say that they reflect the community is that so many have a part of it. It's either by teaching, or by the quilting that I do for them and that covers a lot of people because I teach in that local area and so it's, they have given so many small pieces away as well as large that it seems everybody has a little piece of quilting that comes my way.

SJF: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history in America?

FS: Oh I just think that it would be sad for this part of the women at love it at least, that it would be sad that they would lose that because it has been history from as far back as we can remember quilts have been a part of history. I don't think we can, I can't think of any time that it hasn't been a part of my memories and my history in the seventy-five years I've been around.

SJF: Are you teaching more and more younger girls and women?

FS: Yes, yes. I think, and I try to really cater to the younger ones because that, those are the ones that are going to carry this art on and it would just be sad not to have the younger ladies in classes learning this, the quilting because it will be a part of history as long as we survive I think.

SJF: It'll be a lost art if we don't get––

FS: Oh yeah, absolutely. I would hate to think of it being a lost art. I know it was for several years, I think it was the mid 80s when it began to come back, and it came back strong so I hope it continues on. It's up to us to do that, it's up to our older generation to keep it going.

SJF: What do you think is the best way to preserve quilts for the future?

FS: Well, the thing that I tried to tell my family when I give them a quilt is how to preserve it, how to take care of it, how to wash it, how to protect it from creases and these sorts of things because if you don't take care of it, it won't be around. Even though our ancestors, as my aunt I can remember her not more than once a year washing those quilts in an old pot on an outside fire and just really hot water and lye soap and that sort of thing, which was not good for them, but they used it for utilitarian purposes then only. It didn't matter what it looked like as long as it kept them warm. Even though they were so careful with putting stitches in it, most of the time to make sure it would stay together and hold up for them, the care they gave it was not good.

SJF: Thinking about your aunt's quilts, were most of hers made from family clothing or did she actually go fabric shopping?

FS: No my aunt as I said was on the farm and buying a piece of material was just almost out of reach I'm sure, maybe the muslins then for a backing or something like that, but it was always old clothing from anywhere she could get it from in the family. If they were going to dispose or an old shirt or a dress or something, it came her way if she could get to them before their disposal happened. I think all of it was made from what she had, not from what she could go to the store and buy.

SJF: What do you thinks the biggest challenge facing quiltmakers today?

FS: Well I can see the challenge of being able to, with the economy such as it is, being able to purchase fabrics as much as we did just fifteen years ago, ten years ago. It continues to go up and perhaps the time that a working mother would have to spend at a sewing machine making it. I don't know if the interest, the interest has to start somewhere and it has to start with us. The more we can put out there for them to see, such as this quilt show for example, it doesn't have to be an expensive piece of fabric, it doesn't have to be, it needs to be a good fabric but it doesn't have to be their best as long as they are still creating and wanting to grow to keep quiltmaking going.

SJF: Where do you find most of your fabric?

FS: Well I'm real picky with my fabric generally. I have my special designers that I'm always checking to see if they have what I want and I try to stick to those that I know and I definitely am concerned with the quality of the fabric. I don't know how many years the quality we can depend on, but I think that that is important for colors that don't fade, making sure we buy things that are not going to bleed and make sure we wash fabrics. I still think that this is a problem I have teaching, is that I teach them to wash fabrics before they're used, every piece of it, every piece of the backing they want to put into the quilt. Those are the things that's going to make the quilt last. The way they use it, the way they take care of it, and the fabrics that they use, the quality of it.

SJF: Are there other quiltmakers amongst your family and friends?

FS: My, I have a lot of friends of course that are in, that do quilting and that's what quilting's all about, is making friends and working with friends and family. Yes my sister and my nieces, all from me, got into quiltmaking because I made it a point to make sure they had fabric and patterns, something to start with. They're not, they don't make as many as I do, and they're not as busy at it every day as I am, but at least my sisters are teaching their daughters to continue the art when they're gone.

SJF: What about the boys in the family?

FS: The boys, I have all the boys are interested in quilts, I have one that about two months ago sat down and in two days made a scrap quilt from my scrap tub. I showed him how to sew the pieces together, trim it, get it to a nine and one half inch block and he made it all and it just is beautiful.

SJF: Was this one of your sons?

FS: One of my sons, yes. The number three son.

SJF: Very good.

FS: I also have a grandson that is working on an appliqué piece that, and he only works on it when he can come to Meemaw's house and do it, so just last weekend we worked on his quilt. It's, he's very interested in it, very interested in quilting.

SJF: What are your favorite techniques? Do you have one really favorite?

FS: You know really I love them all. I love appliqué, I've got many appliqué pieces that I've done and I just love the appliqué technique. I love embroidery even though I don't do that much of it on a quilt, it still is a part of my quilting at times. The piecing, I don't think there's any part of it that I don't like. I may go, "Ugh these triangle squares are going to be a real chore because I've got to make two hundred and fifty of them," or something, but I don't think there's any part of it I don't like.

SJF: Is there any part of the entire quiltmaking that you don't like? Like the binding or––

FS: No. I love doing the bindings because that's the finished result.

SJF: That's the end of the quilt [laughs.]

FS: That's the end of the quilt.

SJF: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

FS: Oh wow. I would like to think that they would do the same thing most looking at it would say is just, "Wow she must have put a lot of time into that and a lot of care with the technique of it and the fabrics as well." That's the first, that's where you start with the fabrics so, I would hope that they would like, just like the overall impact of it.

SJF: And your quilts, are they all as colorful as this one?

FS: I am referred to with all of the ladies that I teach is, as the color queen of the group. I just heard them last week saying, I was at the quilt show, and I saw these fabrics and I said, "Oh that's a Fran fabric there for sure," and it's all about color. I do look at color very seriously when I start a quilt.

SJF: Is there anything else that you'd like to tell us about your quilting life?

FS: My husband has been very supportive of what I do but I can tell you one time, and I have some evidence I brought with me, that I had done a quilt for my youngest son, and I was working very hard to display it so I could take pictures before I shipped it off to him because he lives in California. I noticed my husband sitting back looking at this and suddenly he said, "Who is that quilt for?" and I said, "Jean," and he said, "Our Jean?" I said, "Yes," and there was a little hesitation and then he said, "That is the ugliest quilt I have ever seen." As a result of that, I have a poem that he wrote because he writes poetry very well and it's called The Ugly Quilt. That poem was meant so much to me because he really didn't mean the words, he was putting it in to, but the color struck him as not being what I'm used to doing. So, he wrote that poem, that poem has been used, if you're familiar with the singing quilter Cathy and John Miller, that's on one of their CDs because they took that poem and put it to music. We are published in her book that she just done. I think that was one of the highlights of my quilting career is those words and the poem in wrote in response to that.

SJF: Did you bring a cop of that poem tot include with the packet?

FS: I do have it, yes, I do have a copy.

SJF: Good.

FS: Yes.

SJF: How did the recipient feel about the quilt?

FS: He loved it. It was the youngest son, and he was just starting his new apartment in California and his colors were grays and reds and blacks, very typical of the nineteen, late eighties or early nineties, and so he loved it and quilts were very special to him so it's become a part of his life and it will always be a part of ours as a result of a comment and the poem.

SJF: Do you have any other amusing incidents wrapped around your quilts?

FS: There's always something amusing about them because everybody comments about the colors being very bright and I'm definitely not a Miss Thimbleberry type, so yes, I get a lot of comments and I think that's what wraps up the whole story of my quilting, because it all turns to color.

SJF: Well, we thank you for coming today and for allowing me to interview you.

FS: There are many, many stories I could just go on and on. That's what's so important about quilting, the stories we have to tell and pass on, yes.

SJF: Do you have another story you would like to include with this?

FS: Let's see. I think in my quilting career I never thought that I, and maybe we all do when we start, we never think that we'll have a quilt published or that we, something like what we have here with the Alliance doing this particular program with quilts that we're a part of it. I think those are good stories and I never thought I would have quilts published when I started. I never thought I would be a teacher. So, all of those things wrapped into it, I think we never expected and that's the, that's our reward.

SJF: Who have you been published with?

FS: Quilt Magazine has been a very important part of my life because they've published many of my quilts. Quilters Newsletter published one of my quilts called Just Another Bad Hair Day, I think that was 2005 that, in their publication. Then of course they asked for this quilt, it has not been published yet, maybe someday, but they did have it for several months. Those things just light us up and make us want to keep going and improving on our techniques and our designs.

SJF: How do you feel when one of these publications ask for your quilts?

FS: It's like, I don't know, it's just such a comforting thought and you just you know, I don't know you just feel like you've accomplished the whole world when somebody calls and says, "Fran can you send me your quilt?" Just like with this quilt here, the quilt that's in the book, it was such a surprise that I got an email and not even knowing this was going on and asked me to send my Storm at Sea quilt to them. Then getting the message that it had been accepted for the book, it was like you just want to jump up and down and shout, you know all this hard work has paid off. Not only for me, but many other quilters because we're all in it together, that's what makes it so much fun just the friendships and the love that goes into everything that we do.

SJF: I would imagine being published makes it even that much more exciting.

FS: Yes, very exciting.

SJF: Encourages you.

FS: It encourages you, that's right, encourages you to improve and I've had four or five quilts hanging in this quilters' international show here, so you know, you're not doing it for ribbons, you're not doing it for money, you're sharing your work with everybody that walks by to see the quilt.

SJF: That's a wonderful attitude. I like that.

FS: Yes, that's what's important to me.

SJF: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

FS: I'm sure there is, I'm trying to think. Just happy quilting and everybody keep putting it out there because it's a joy to look at every piece that comes along. I appreciate it all.

SJF: I'd like to thank you Fran for allowing us to interview you for Quilters' S.O.S. [Save Our Stories.] Our interview is concluded at 9:34.

FS: Thank you.


“Fran Snay,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed February 24, 2024,