Elaine Evans




Elaine Evans




Elaine Evans


Nola Forbes

Interview sponsor

Karen Alexander


Saint Johnsbury, Vermont


Nola Forbes


Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is June 16, 2010, at 4:42 PM. I am conducting an interview with Elaine Evans in her home in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont for the Quilters' S.O.S.- Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Vermont State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Elaine is a quilter. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

EE: It's a Butterfly appliqué quilt. I call it "Free Spirit."

NF: What prompted you to start that quilt?

EE: I love butterflies. I have a garden filled with butterflies all the time. They just seem so free, so that's why I decided I was going to do one.

NF: I see you wore a beautiful butterfly pin today.

EE: I wear a butterfly pin every day. I have one that matches my clothes for every color clothes I have.

NF: So that's one of your favorite themes.

EE: It sure is.

NF: Is there other special meaning this quilt has for you?

EE: I'm a free spirit and I think that's probably why I like butterflies.

NF: That's part of why you chose this quilt over others for the interview?

EE: Yes. Definitely.

NF: What do you think someone viewing this quilt might conclude about you? Besides the free spirit?

EE: That's just it.

NF: How do you use this quilt?

EE: Actually, I just use it for show more than anything. I have people who come to the house during the summer months for the AP Institute. [Advanced Placement Institute for teachers at St. Johnsbury Academy.] They love to see all the quilts that I've made.

NF: I understand they enjoy seeing the flower gardens.

EE: Oh, they do. They enjoy the flower garden also, which is huge.

NF: How did you decide on the fabrics for this quilt?

EE: I figured since it was butterflies, I wanted all butterfly fabric. It took me probably about five years to collect all the different butterfly fabrics that I could find. Then after that, it's like I finally managed to get enough so that I could make the quilt. I started cutting butterfly wings out and appliquéing them onto muslin.

NF: So, the actual sewing took less time than the searching for fabric?

EE: Yes, it sure did.

NF: Tell about the quilting design that's on the black sashing.

EE: The sashing has pink roses hand quilted into it along a green stem quilted into it.

NF: Then you used borders with more butterflies?

EE: More butterfly fabric. Right. The eyes on the butterflies are actually little glass beads. It's all, what do you call it? I can't think of what it's called.

NF: The embroidering?

EE: The embroidering around them is the buttonhole stitch. That's what it is.

NF: Where did you find the pattern that you used?

EE: I think it was out of one of my quilting books. I don't remember which one because I have a ton of them.

NF: What are your future plans for this quilt?

EE: Eventually it will go to my granddaughter because she's the only one that I have. She loves butterflies, too. We went to the place down in Massachusetts called Wings. It's nothing but butterflies. It's a whole butterfly conservatory. The Butterflies flying all around us. Butterflies were landing on us. She just thought it was totally amazing. We ended up buying a Monarch chrysalis and brought it home and put it in a box. We watched it hatch and turn into a butterfly. She was so tickled when we let it go outside. She said, 'Grammy that's the best experience ever!'

NF: Did it head for one of your flowers?

EE: Oh, yes, definitely. It landed right on one of the Cosmos that I had out there.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. How did you get started?

EE: How did I get started? When I was about five years old, my mom had a sewing machine that just intrigued me. My mom sewed a lot. She made all us kids clothes. She made just about everything. Curtains and stuff for the house. It just intrigued me to see the sewing machine. I wanted to learn how to use it. One day she went down cellar to put some wood in the fire. And I said, 'I'm going over.' I snuck over and I started using the sewing machine. Well, the needle went through my thumb. I screamed bloody murder. My mom came running up. 'What did you do? What did you do?' She saw my thumb stuck in the needle of the sewing machine. 'Why are you on the sewing machine?' I said, 'I want to learn to sew.' After that she taught me. She started me on squares. Sewing squares together to make a quilt.

NF: So that was a very memorable moment.

EE: Yes, it was, definitely. It will be stuck in my brain forever.

NF: Did she teach you to make different kinds of quilts?

EE: No, she didn't. Actually, that was just about all she did, showing me to sew squares together. We made a quilt. Basically, I didn't do anything more until I actually joined a Home Dem group. [University of Vermont Extension Service Home Demonstration group.] I made baby quilts for my own kids, and I sewed for my own kids. Other than that, I didn't really get into quilting things until Beth did. [her elder daughter.] When she went with you and learned how to quilt. Then after that, I just got hooked.

NF: So, who were some of your quilt making teachers or instructors over the years?

EE: Well.

NF: Did Beth give you some lessons?

EE: Beth gave me a few. Yes. Then the ladies in the Home Dem group that I joined. It was probably when I was in my early thirties.

NF: Was that here in St. Johnsbury?

EE: Yes. They really showed me how to quilt. How to go about quilting by hand. Doing all kinds of fantastic things. That's how I got hooked.

NF: Can you tell some of their names?

EE: Iva Woods. Gabrielle McCorkill. I'm trying to think of who else was in the group. Willie Grady. There were maybe seven of us.

NF: These days, about how many hours a week do you quilt?

EE: During the winter months it's a lot more. It's like every evening for about five or six hours. I'll just sit here and quilt like crazy. Even if it's just appliquéing something on. Like a baby quilt or what I'm working on now.

NF: That looks like it's got reproduction prints?

EE: Yes, from the 1930's. It's one of my favorite periods. That and the Civil War.

NF: Would you describe what that pattern looks like?

EE: Which, this one? It's got daisies. The petals are all appliquéd on stems. There's also kind of a block pattern with little squares. The squares are about one inch by one inch. It's been actually fun to do. I've got all the pieces all set to go to just put together, but I haven't gotten it all sewn together yet.

NF: What size are the appliqué blocks?

EE: Twenty-five by twenty-five.

NF: That will be a full-sized quilt?

EE: Actually, by the time I get done, it's going to be more of a queen-sized quilt.

NF: On a grand scale.

EE: Oh, yes. I agree. I make big.

NF: You have another quilt over here nearby?

EE: I do.

NF: Would you want to talk about that one a little?

EE: Yes. [goes over and unfolds another quilt. Pause for five seconds.]

NF: I can see some beautiful hand quilting on the back showing through. [pause for six seconds.] Tell what we have.

EE: It's called Colonial Ladies quilt. It was actually first made by my grandmother for me when I was three years old. My mom had it on my bed so much that it ended up full of holes. Some of the Ladies actually got destroyed. My mom tried to sew it on the sewing machine and go down through it. All the different Ladies and everything. When she found out that I was quilting she gave it to me out of the clear blue sky. She said, 'Here. This is what your grandmother made for you when you were three. I put it away because it was getting so rattered and tattered.' She said, 'I knew that you would want it later.' [Elaine took it apart and resewed the salvageable Ladies onto new background and quilted it.]

NF: What was that grandmother's name?

EE: Anna Descoteaux.

NF: Did you know her growing up?

EE: Yes, I did. She lived to be eighty-two years old. She's the one who taught me how to embroider, more than quilting. She did a lot of quilting, also.

NF: Do you remember any other quilts that she made? Or patterns that she might have used?

EE: No. No. But she made this one for me. That was way back in the nineteen forties.

NF: It looks like she used some of the same fabric for the umbrellas and the edge of the bonnets and then changed what colors the decorative bands were.

EE: Right. [Elaine used a quilting design along the border as a continuous lower case "e e" as her signature on this and many of her quilts.]

NF: Do you have other family members that are quiltmakers?

EE: My daughter Beth and Brianna, my granddaughter. I taught her how to quilt.

NF: What are some of the patterns that they have done, that you can recall?

EE: Beth has done so many that I can't even tell you. Her very first quilt was Birds and Hearts. It was all appliquéd birds and hearts on the quilt. It was red and white. She actually won a prize through the Kirby Quilters [in Kirby, Vermont.] for it.

NF: At the Kirby Quilt Show?

EE: Yes. She has also done a black and white and red quilt. I think it was like a Sawtooth. She also won prizes for that one.

NF: Do you have other friends that are quiltmakers?

EE: Oh, yes. Nola, for one. [both laugh.] Sue Stevens down the street. Gabrielle McCorkill, when she lived next door to us. Let's see, who else quilts? [pause for five seconds.] Trying to think of how many people I've taught at school.

NF: Do you have other family members besides your daughter and granddaughter who make quilts?

EE: No, not really. Oh, yes, I do. Diane. My sister-in-law. Diane Lamothe. She took a class from me and I showed her how. [Her husband's grandmother also made quilted quilts.]

NF: How does quilt making impact your family?

EE: Everybody wants them. The whole family. Not just my own family. The whole family. My brothers, my sisters, they all want one. They've seen all the quilts I have. They all want them, if anything happens to me.

NF: Have you made a list of who gets which one?

EE: I've started a list. Yes.

NF: Now I understand you started your own tradition, some years ago, of making a gift for each employee at St. Johnsbury Academy when they have a newborn. Would you talk about that?

EE: I think over the last twenty-five years, because I've worked there for twenty-five years, I've made probably 175 quilts because the baby population has just expanded at the Academy.

NF: Are there certain patterns that you like best that you choose?

EE: No, I just go by whether it's a boy or a girl. I just finished a very cute little green Turtle baby quilt for one of the gals who had a baby in April. At the beginning of April. In fact, I got a thank-you note from her today.

NF: They'll cherish those.

EE: Oh, yes. Her other children have already gotten one, too, because she's been there for a while.

NF: What prompted you to start that tradition?

EE: I don't know. The first year that I started working at the Academy I met up with a very nice family that kind of took me under their wing and helped me through. You know, getting through the stages of changing jobs from daycare and babysitting kids, instead I'm working for department chairs. It seemed like that young family really needed a baby quilt when the second baby was born. Then they had four other children after that. It was Tom Lovett. John, of course, was already born. He was there but Mary wasn't. Mary was the first one that I made a baby quilt for. So, when John graduated from high school, I made him a twin-sized quilt. That quilt went to college with him. It was actually the college colors, but I had no clue that those were the college colors he was going to.

NF: Better late than never with his quilt.

EE: He got his quilt, too. So, all six children ended up with a quilt.

NF: Marvelous. Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

EE: Yes, definitely. When my brother died, I sat and quilted all the time we were in mourning and before the funeral. Then again when my sister was murdered, I took to quilting a quilt again because I had to do something just to escape.

NF: Did you start a new quilt at that time or were you working [both speak at same time.] on an existing quilt?

EE: Yes. An existing quilt both times. It seemed like that was a good thing to do.

NF: You had miles of stitching that went into them.

EE: Yes.

NF: Do you prefer to do most of your work by hand instead of by machine?

EE: I don't mind sewing some of the pieces together. But I do love appliquéing. If I can appliqué something and then sew it together on the sewing machine. That's basically how I'll do it. But I won't quilt on the sewing machine. I hand quilt. Hand quilting is it.

NF: Do you have a preference on binding the edge of your quilts? What do you tend to do?

EE: If I use a sheet or something, I tend to bring the sheet over. But occasionally, if I don't feel like I want to do that, I will do a binding edge.

NF: So, it just depends on the quilt?

EE: It depends on the quilt.

NF: Do you have an amusing experience that you could share about any of your quilt making or maybe from teaching classes?

EE: [pause for ten seconds.] Okay. When I had an ESL [English as a Second Language.] student stay with me one summer, she came into the house, and I took her into the bedroom. I said, 'Well, this is your bedroom. There's a hand-made quilt on your bed. I'd rather you didn't eat on it or drink on it or anything like that, to mess it up and make it look terrible.' She said, 'Okay.' She was a very nice young girl. She just loved the quilt. Of course, she said, 'Do you have other quilts?' I said, 'Yes. Do you want to see them?' She said, 'Yes! They're so pretty.' She said, 'Can we make one?' I said, 'Yeah, I think we can do that. What do you want to do?' She said, 'The maple leaves are so pretty, can we make a Maple Leaf?' So, we made a Maple Leaf that year. I showed her how to cut it. I showed her how to sew it. She sewed almost all of it. I did a few leaves for her. We got the squares all sewed together and we made a twin-sized quilt. She said, 'Okay, do you want to tie it, or do you want to quilt it?' She said, 'Your quilting is so pretty. Can we quilt it?' [both laugh.] I said, 'Yeah,' but I said, 'you're going to have to quilt it, too. I'm not going to do it myself. You're going to help.' So, she did and she sat there, and she learned to quilt. She finished the quilt before she left, at the end of the six-weeks that she was here. She took it back home. Her mom was just flabbergasted. She said, 'You taught my daughter how to quilt! That was just fantastic.' A couple of weeks later, I got a package in the mail. It was all Japanese fabric. She had sent it to me because I had taught her daughter [Akiko.] how to quilt.

NF: What a nice story.

EE: From that fabric, I made a Japanese Fan quilt.

NF: Beautiful.

EE: So, that's my amusing story.

NF: It's a very nice one. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

EE: It is very relaxing. You don't have to use a whole lot of imagination. You can just picture things and put it together. Oh, I don't know. I just like all the technical parts of it, about trying to develop a quilt that makes it look good.

NF: Do you have any favorite colors that you lean towards?

EE: I do a lot of blue and green. But I have done a lot of other colors, too.

NF: What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

EE: When you have to rip something out. That's about the only think I can think of.

NF: That doesn't happen too much, I hope.

EE: No.

NF: Are there any quilt groups that you belong to?

EE: I only belonged to the Home Dem group. That was years ago and then it broke up because everybody was getting too old. Except me. I was the youngest one.

NF: What about attending quilt shows? Are there some that you enjoy attending?

EE: I go to just about every quilt show I can possibly make it to.

NF: Any favorites among those?

EE: Yeah, the Kirby one. The VQF.

NF: Vermont Quilt Festival?

EE: Yes, I love that one.

NF: And years ago, the Kirby Quilters' Show?

EE: The Kirby Quilter's Show. Yeah. I've taken in the Bethlehem one a couple of times. [Bethlehem, New Hampshire.] I really like that. Let's see. I've been to quite a few, all over the place.

NF: Are there some in Massachusetts you go to with your daughter?

EE: No.

NF: What advances in technology have influenced your work?

EE: I love the on-line patterns and things that you can get off from the Internet and stuff. Being able to order on-line through all the different quilt shops and fabric shops and things like that. That's great.

NF: Do you check into those things all night long?

EE: Not all night long.

NF: But you don't have to worry about the hours of operation.

EE: Right. Yes.

NF: What are your favorite materials? You've talked some about the techniques.

EE: Cottons. I love cottons. I love to work with the cottons more than anything.

NF: What about the batting?

EE: The batting? Fiberfil. If I want to make a real poufy quilt, I'll use the extra, extra loft. But most of the time I'll just get a simple batting that is Fiberfil and the regular loft.

NF: Do you ever use the 100% cotton batting?

EE: Only in something that I want to really lay flat and then I'll use the thin one. Like wall hangings or something along that line.

NF: Now would you describe the place where you sew and create your quilts?

EE: It's actually a sewing room and spare bedroom. But I usually use the kitchen table the most. Because it seems like it's bigger and I've got more space to spread out on.

NF: So that would be where you cut your fabrics?

EE: Yes. The kitchen table.

NF: Here in the living room is where you do your [both speak at same time.] hand sewing?

EE: All my quilting. Yes.

NF: How about your fabric stash?

EE: Oh, that's upstairs. It has to be because my husband won't allow it down here. It's too big. That and all the books that I've got. The quilting books and everything. No. We keep that upstairs. Eventually I want to turn that bedroom [points to room.] into a sewing room. He turned one of the rooms that we have in the back of the house, there, into a den for himself. With the computer and all his stuff and everything else. And I said, 'Okay, you've got a room. I'm going to have a room. And I'm going to bring it all down here. '

NF: So, part of the future plans.

EE: Plans. Yes.

NF: Tell me how you balance your time.

EE: How do I balance my time? Right now, I'm still working full-time.

NF: You're a secretary.

EE: I'm a secretary to two department chairs and the AP Institute. That takes a lot of my time in the summer. I still spend a couple of hours every night trying to quilt. When it's raining, that's the best thing to do in the summer, is to sit down and pick up some handwork. During the winter months I spend a lot more time quilting because I have the weekends and have the evenings. In the winter it gets dark outside so I can't go outside and work in the garden, plus there is snow covering everything. So, I quilt.

NF: In planning your quilts do you use a design wall?

EE: No, I don't have one.

NF: What sort of technique--when you're trying to decide on how to arrange the quilt, do you use graph paper sometimes in designing?

EE: No, I just lay it out on the kitchen table. I open up the kitchen table as big as it will get.

NF: What do you think makes a great quilt? When you go to some of the quilt shows and you see something exciting?

EE: Colors that really go together and flow together. The quilting design in it I think really makes the quilt. Whether it's hand-quilted with a great design in it. I know that machine-quilting is coming right up in the world right now, but I just don't care for machine quilting because it makes things too flat. I don't like the texture of the feel of the quilt when it's too flat because it's almost like cardboard. I prefer hand-quilting over machine quilting. If they could figure out how to do machine quilting without making it flat, leaving some kind of body to it, I'd probably like it a whole lot better.

NF: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

EE: The use of different kinds of threads. Different colors of quilting. Things that make things that actually stand out and look more artistic. I think that really helps.

NF: Some of the three-dimensional work?

EE: Yes, definitely.

NF: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

EE: I would say older quilts. Quilts that have been around for a long time like the 1930's quilts that people used to make. I have a lot of those pieces that people have given me, and I've actually put them together as quilts. I think those are the types of quilts that belong in museums.

NF: So, you have a collection of unfinished quilts?

EE: I do have a few that are unfinished but not very many.

NF: So, collecting. You mentioned having some of these vintage pieces.

EE: Yes. Right.

NF: Do you have a specific goal for some of those?

EE: Yes. I do. Eventually I'll get them done.

NF: No deadlines.

EE: No deadlines. Well, actually I have finished quite a few of them. I had this lady up in Lyndonville [Vermont.] who picked up antiques and stuff with her husband. They would get chests. They'd be filled with different kinds of quilt tops that had been started but never finished. So she would sell them to me for like fifteen dollars. I came home and I finished quite a few of them. Then I had people at work whose aunts, great aunts or whatever, died and they didn't know what to do with the stuff. A lot of it was 1930's fabrics. They gave it to me, and I finished those quilts. Then I had a lady in my Home Dem group. Stella. Oh, I can't think of her last name. Stella something. Morse. Because it's Ronnie Morse's mom. She had a bunch of pieces that were dated back to the Civil War. She gave them to me, and I finished a quilt. I took it down and showed her. Shortly after that she died. But she loved it. She said, 'I never would have finished it.' And she said, 'I'm so glad you did.' So now I have a Civil War quilt, too. I really love that. It's just one of those things. I do things when I get the minutes. Or when I see things that I want to do first, like this Oopsie Daisy quilt which I've been doing that. Besides making baby quilts. I don't know. I enjoy doing it.

NF: Something with your hands.

EE: Yes.

NF: What makes a great quiltmaker?

EE: Somebody who loves doing it.

NF: Whose works are you drawn to? Are there some famous quiltmakers or some other quilters that you always look for their new work?

EE: Not really. I kind of appreciate anybody who is a quilter. I look at the quilt magazines and I see all these quilts that people have designed and put together and everything. Well, geez, if they can do it, I can, too.

NF: Would there be any of those folks that if you had a chance to take a class with, that there's one that you'd love to take a class with?

EE: Oh, I don't know. I would love to take a class with all of them. Some of them are really terrific.

NF: Are there any artists that have influenced you?

EE: I kind of like Monet with all the flowers and everything. I want to do a Watercolor quilt with all the different flowers in it. I've been collecting fabrics with the flowers so I can do one. But I haven't got enough fabric yet, I don't think. [both laugh.]

NF: You've talked a little bit about your preference for hand quilting over machine quilting.

EE: Right.

NF: Have you ever wanted to have one of your quilts machine quilted or longarm machine quilted?

EE: No. Not really.

NF: As a time saving element?

EE: No.

NF: Would you tell why quilt making is important in your life?

EE: I think it's because I've got something to hand down to my kids and my grandchildren. My granddaughter I should say. I think that's important today. Like my mom put this away for me from my grandmother. [motions to the Colonial Ladies quilt.] It really made a difference in my life when I found it again. I really wanted to save it. So, I ended up redoing it.

NF: That was a good way to help preserve it.

EE: Yes.

NF: Are there ways that your quilts reflect this community or region?

EE: I don't know. Butterflies are all over the place, not just here. Log Cabins. I've done quite a few Log Cabin quilts. I believe Vermont has a lot of log cabins in it. I love wildlife. I like doing wildlife quilts and of course Vermont has a lot of wildlife. I would say that's probably my way of putting Vermont out there.

NF: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? Anywhere in this country.

EE: I think quilts could play a very important part in American life if people wanted to really get ambitious and start making them instead of just the people who want to do quilting. They are such a part of our life. I mean they keep us warm. They're beautiful. They're admired. It's creativity. I think this world needs that.

NF: Can you think of other ways quilts can be used?

EE: Besides just in museums and on beds and keep us warm? To give hope to people. I know that with all the baby quilts that I have made, I feel like I am keeping the babies warm.

NF: And sharing the love?

EE: And sharing love. Yes.

NF: So, it was also a nice bridge between you and the foreign student.

EE: Yes, definitely.

NF: Helping others. Not just in this country.

EE: Helping others in another country altogether. Yes.

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

EE: When I think of the Civil War and the way that the slaves so-called used them to make a trail to get to freedom, I really kind of love the Civil War because of that. I think that the Civil War really played a large part with the slavery and all the rest of that and quilting really helped people get through hard times.

NF: It was one thing women were predominantly occupied with?

EE: Yes.

NF: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

EE: In museums. I think they're the best places. I know that if a child is brought up to respect a quilt and take care of it, I think that they could probably take care for it for life and hand it down through the family. Like a lot of the quilts our family handed down. [she and her husband also have some quilts made by his grandmother.]

NF: Like this part of the one from your grandmother?

EE: Yes. That one will go to Brianna, too. Probably.

NF: Spanning the generations.

EE: Yes.

NF: Where have some of the quilts that you have made ended up? There's the one in Japan.

EE: The one in Japan. I've got some in New York. I've got some in Texas. I've got some in North Carolina. I've got some in Florida. When the AP Institute people come here, they see them, and they want one. So, I make them one. Probably one that they have chosen. Let's see, Texas.

NF: I think Minnesota might have at least two quilts that you've made?

EE: Yes. Minnesota. Yes.

NF: Or maybe three?

EE: Probably two. I think two. Maine. Cora Greer, who came for Vertical Teams in Social Studies for two years in a row, brought me a quilt the first year. It was a quilt top that her grandmother and her aunt had put together. She said she wanted it finished. So, I finished it and sent it back to her. She was so thrilled. She said, 'Well, I have another one.' [both laugh.] So, she sent me that one and I finished that one for her, too. She gave them one each to each of her grandsons and I said, 'Oh, that's fantastic.' Because it's carrying it down.

NF: Right. So, do you sell some of your quilts?

EE: I don't sell the quilts that I make for myself. I'm too stingy about it. But if they want a quilt made, I will make it. Or a wall hanging or something like that. I had one lady who came to the Institute, and she was having a grandson being born. She knew it was a boy. She asked me, she said, 'Can you make a quilt that has every animal on it that starts with G?' I said, 'Yeah, I think I can. I don't know if I can find that many G animals.' By George, I think I found about twenty G animals, and I put them all on that quilt including Garfield. I had to have Garfield on there because I love Garfield. [both laugh.] So, I put Garfield on, too. She loved it.

NF: Good. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

EE: Ooh. Keeping the price down on the fabric. It's so expensive and it's getting worse.

NF: Elaine is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?

EE: Oh, I can't think of anything. I think we've covered everything.

NF: I'd like to thank Elaine Evans for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.

Our interview concluded at 5:24 PM on June 16, 2010.

[interview concludes.]


“Elaine Evans,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed March 2, 2024, http://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2292.