Helen Young Frost




Helen Young Frost




Helen Young Frost


Christy Johnson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Houston, Texas


Christy Johnston


Christy Johnson (CJ): Just to get started, why don't you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Helen Young Frost (HYF): This is a Sunshine and Shadow variation. I'm endlessly working through Sunshine and Shadow; I'm never tired of the design. And I call it "Shadows in the Garden" because all of the prints are floral.

CJ: So, it being an Amish background quilt, do you work mostly with the Amish style?

HYF: No. It's just the pattern. It's so symmetrical and balanced. And the reason why I think it turned out to be a better quilt, because I didn't have enough of the border fabric. I based the whole quilt and the fabric on this print. With the border print where you only got one stripe on the width of the yardage, and I originally planned the sunshine and shadow with this as the border. But because it wasn't big enough, I had to work with it and I came up with the idea of continuing the border, the patchwork beyond the border and using this triangle to accentuate the diamond in the square part of the design. In 1980 my mother Blanche Young and I wrote a book on this method, doing it in strips, which was quite state of the art at the time, because that's when people were still using square by square.

CJ: So, you and your mother wrote the book. So, did she teach you to quilt?

HYF: No. [laughter.]

CJ: Okay. Does she quilt herself?

HYF: Yes. She's a very famous quilter. And most people assume that I learned quilting at her knee, and it isn't true. I learned on my own in the 70's. Now she was doing her own kind of quilts, I was doing my first quilts with appliqué; I went in a completely different direction. We've collaborated on several books together and they were the earliest books in this new--some of the earliest books, I should say. Our Lone Star Quilt Handbook came out in 1979. In fact, I taught Lone Star here at the Quilt Festival twenty years ago and I'm still here teaching it. And they were real revolutionary books that was just the start of the quicker methods, it was before rotary cutters. So even though they were strip pieced, we were cutting with scissors. And so, we've just come such a long way. Making quilts then, it took so much more work because we just didn't have the supplies. We needed a plastic template, we used the plastic from bacon, you know, washed it off. I mean the new quilters today are so lucky because there are so many quality products and books and instruction. Where back then, you would see a picture of a quilt and you would just have to draft the pattern, make do, there was very little written instruction except reprints of books from the thirties.

CJ: Wow. So, what's special about this particular quilt that you brought today?

HYF: Oh, it's one of my favorites because I made it for me, well, I made it for a teacher exhibit some years ago, but it wasn't one that I was necessarily going to teach or anything, I could just do what I wanted. As I said, I learned from having to cope with not enough fabric and the last fabric I added was this lightest aqua and it makes the quilt. Had I not put in this aqua, it would just really have been a dull quilt. This is an approach I like to use, blending fabric, having a gradation, almost kind of a watercolor look. But it was fifteen years before watercolor. It's just one of my favorite pieces.

CJ: It sounds, then, that you develop your design as you go along. Talk a little about your design process and how you pick your fabrics.

HYF: Well, I mainly work with traditional patterns. I have no desire to invent and design new patterns. There's plenty of old patterns left yet to be explored. And I've made several, several Sunshine and Shadows just changing the colors, learning from how they interact with each other, how the dark makes the light look lighter, and light makes the dark look darker. I do the same thing with Lone Stars. I'm still exploring Lone Star quilts. I think it's, as a quilter, I mean, I do lots of different types of quilts, and I do appliqué quilts, too. But there're certain patterns that you have to make more than once to really explore it.

CJ: What is it about the Sunshine and Shadow or the Lone Star, because they are similar in that respect that appeals to you?

HYF: I think because they're symmetrical, they're balanced, maybe I seek order [laughter.] in my life, you know. I have four children, I have a busy life, I work, I have a business and if I'm going to make a quilt, I want it to be harmonious and soothing. You know, obviously I'm seeking order. [laughter.]

CJ: Your children and family. Do they support your quilting?

HYF: Yes. Now I was an established quilter before I ever met my husband and so he knew what he was getting into when he married me. I mean, he's never ever said anything about my fabric or my messes because that's part of who I am. It wasn't something that I developed after we got married, so as much fabric as I have, he's never ever said a word.

CJ: That's lucky. How do you balance your family life and your quilting?

HYF: I usually, unless I have a deadline, it's something I do in my leisure time. I honestly can't sit without doing something with my hands. Luckily, I am a hand quilter and a hand appliquér, and that's when I do my handwork. We were talking about this in class the other day. Why as women we don't give ourselves permission to sit down in the middle of a day and do handwork. We'll sit down in the middle of the day and do machine work, but not handwork. We wait until all our chores are done and we're watching TV where our time would be wasted otherwise. Yet men have no problem sitting down in the middle of the day and watching a ballgame. You know? It's something we need to work on. This is important especially if, you know, in our case it is part of a career. In the, well, late 80's, 88, we moved from California to Arizona, and I immediately got involved with the Arizona Quilt Project. And I'm co-author of the book with Pam Stevenson called "Grand Endeavors" which was the state project book. And that I worked full-time on for about two years. And it was without pay, it was a labor of love, but my husband knew the importance of that project to me. Because although I was known as primarily a quick quilter, you know, strip piecer, that gave me some legitimacy in the quilt world. I'm not a trained historian or anything; I'm just a student of old quilts. I love to study old quilts. And right now, I'm trying to do a survey of the characteristics of 19th century appliqué quilts. I've just been noting certain characteristics, I want to try to get it near the more organized form and really make a serious survey of some of the similar characteristics.

CJ: What does quilting mean to you?

HYF: I don't know, I should have thought about that. [laughter.] Well, it always bothered me when people would say, 'Oh, what a nice hobby', because it's not a hobby. Now it is a profession with me because I do get paid to teach, and I do publish quilt books, but even if I wasn't doing that, I would still be doing quilting and not on a hobby level. It's like that's my real life and everything else I do supports it. I mean except for my family. [laughter.] I guess that's my real, real life.

CJ: What has it done for you as a woman? What do you think quilting has done for women as a whole?

HYF: Well, I think it's a means of expression. I mean, I think even if you didn't know me you could learn something about me from my quilts. I think women, especially guild presidents, the president of the guild could probably run a multinational corporation in their spare time. We have these talents and energies and a lot of the time they're not utilized especially women older than, say, my mother's generation. And it's a way of using our talents and our energies and our abilities, even if you're not that talented as a stitcher, you may be a talented organizer, you may be able to put on fabulous quilt shows. And so, it's an outlet. Same with the 19th century quilt makers, I'm sure it was more of a creative outlet, but now I think it's more of an outlet for our true potential.

CJ: Do you see quilting as an art or a craft?

HYF: Both. Well, it's because some quilts are art quilts and some quilts are, you know, just utility quilts. I make baby quilts and I usually just tie them. But it's such a warm gift; it means I've made something just for you. I think it's an art, even if the finished product wouldn't necessarily be called an art quilt.

CJ: Tell me how you feel when you're working on a project. How does that make you feel?

HYF: Well, I like the challenges of it. Most of the quilts I do you really can't tell what it's going to look like until it's done. Especially a quilt like this that's done in strips, you don't really get the impact until it's actually sewn together. And I like that surprise. You know, I try not to really plan everything out to leave myself the option to do other things. I don't think I could ever really do the type of quilts where you color everything in or paste everything because why bother making it? Because you would know what it would look like. I like it kind of as a design practice. I don't consciously use color theory or anything, it's more just an instinctive thing, what goes with this, do I like this. So, it's not a real studied process or anything, it's more of a kind of instinctive.

CJ: Does the fabric inspire you?

HYF: Oh yes. I like to use pretty fabrics. I know there are fabulous quilts where the quilters have used their fabrics like paint. Even if by itself it's a homely little fabric, it has the right effect in the finished quilt. I am not that way. I want to like each fabric individually before I put it together. Or I'm not going to buy it. [laughter.]

CJ: How big is your stash?

HYF: Pretty big. [laughter.] Well, this last summer, I live in Arizona; we have such nice insects. We have, you know, scorpions, and tarantulas, and big wolf spiders and they were getting into my fabric closet. I found a wolf spider in my closet. So, after that I picked fabric very carefully, meaning I would pick it up and shake it. And so, I decided to put all my fabric in the big plastic fourteen-gallon plastic boxes, and so now I know how many gallons of fabric I have, and it's a whole lot. [laughter.]

CJ: Do any of your children quilt?

HYF: They stitch. My oldest two girls are fifteen and thirteen and they do. They sew on the sewing machine, and they do cross-stitch. I've tried to teach them patchwork and they don't like it. But as long as they do some sewing, I'm happy. They can learn patchwork later. Now they'll do kind of freeform appliqué where they cut out appliqué and put it on fabric. They don't turn under the edges or anything. But sewing the squares together didn't interest them. But making things, like making clothes for their dolls, I let them use my little featherweight, you know, because that's almost indestructible. But I want them to sew. My mother didn't teach me to sew because it was easier for her to do it. She was so quick and so fast and so good at it that she would just do it for us, where I try to just let my daughters do it. You know, let them learn from their mistakes. It doesn't have to be right. It's more fun for them to just do it. Hopefully they'll be quilters.

CJ: You said earlier that you were still exploring the Sunshine and Shadow and Lone Star.

What are you trying to accomplish? What are you searching for?

HYF: Oh, just trying new things that I'm working on right now with the Lone Star is a scrap Lone Star with different fabrics for every placement. But with all the big floral prints to see if I can get a watercolor look to it. The watercolor quilts are so popular, and I just thought, 'oh, well, I'll do a watercolor quilt'. I wanted to do a scrappy Lone Star, but since so many of my prints that I buy are florals anyway, it's kind of a natural progression for me to have a watercolor look.

CJ: I had a question, and it went out of my head just now. [laughter.] Let me refer to my list here.

HYF: Okay.

CJ: How do you balance your family life, friends, and quilting?

HYF: Well, not very well. [laughter.] I don't do a lot of traveling. I do three or four trips a year, enough that my family, you know, misses me and are excited when I come back, when I bring presents. But not so much that it would become a hardship to them. When my kids were little, I didn't travel, it was just too disruptive for them to be gone. When my kids were tiny, I took them with me. But there was just that in between period where they were just too little to leave alone. And so, I teach classes, I don't teach at night locally because then I would be gone, and you know homework and that kind of thing. So, I only teach in the mornings. So, I kind of have the best of both worlds. I can do my teaching and that, but on my terms.

CJ: What's your first memory of a quilt?

HYF: I grew up with quilts. My mother had made quilts very early; she made her first quilt at thirteen. And it was a Sunbonnet Sue and I remember that on our beds when I was little. So, I remember quilts. Neither one of my grandmothers were quilters, they were lace makers and we do have some needlework, but not quilts. So, I've always known quilts. Now my children only know quilts. They don't have any blankets. They're all quilts. [laughter.] And last year for Christmas my mother made each one a quilt. Now any other kid in the world would have been so thrilled. And instead, they opened them up and they went, 'Grandma gave us quilts?' And it just seemed it would be like Grandma giving them towels. You know, it was just no big deal. I mean, they do love them, and she made them in their favorite colors, but it was just she was trying to use up her scraps. You can always use more quilts. But they're kind of ordinary blankets.

CJ: Do they accompany you now to any of the shows?

HYF: No. I would like to bring my oldest next year. She'll be sixteen. I don't think they can--particularly if I have a booth, you know, if I'm an exhibitor. I think they have to be over fifteen or sixteen. I'd like them to know what this is like. I'd like my husband to come to this. He has no clue. And I try to tell him how big it is and he just--I think until you see it, I don't think you can really put it into--you know, I tell him how many square feet it is, but he's not impressed. He'd have to see it.

CJ: How long have you been coming to the Houston Festival?

HYF: Twenty years.

CJ: Wow.

HYF: I didn't come every year; I think I've come sixteen out of the twenty.

CJ: Can you describe the first one you came to?

HYF: Well, the first one was when it was still at Saint Luke's Church. The classes were at the River Oaks Garden Club. It's really come a long way. It was, oh, just a handful of vendors. And it was exciting. I had met Karey Bresnahan in the summer of that year, and I told her we were having a new book come out and she said, 'You've got to come to Houston because that's the only way you can market it'. And she was right. You know, instead of us trying to go to all the shop owners, they came here. So, a long time. And I was thrilled to read Karey's reminiscences in the front of this year's program because I think sometimes, she doesn't talk about the past enough. I don't think most people realize how this has grown. And everyone has such fond memories of the old Shamrock. The Shamrock Hotel, when it was all in one building, it was so wonderful. It was small enough that you really knew people and now it's bigger and not necessarily better. I don't know. [laughter.]

CJ: And the Shamrock Hotel doesn't exist anymore.

HYF: No?

CJ: Sorry. [laughter.] What do you think makes a great quilt?

HYF: I was going to say color, but I know I just think a combination, just the impact, the interest. I'm not as fond of album or sampler quilts because they're all different. Different blocks, I tend to like repeat patterns. So, to me it's the overall design rather than the individual stitches or needlework. And the antique quilts I buy I tend to buy only ones that are used. I at one point had a couple of perfect antique quilts and they were so cold to me that I traded them. I tend to buy scrappy quilts that are worn and used. I think it's the Japanese that say an object that's old and worn is more valuable because it means that many hands have touched it and I think I'm that way with quilts. That if it's been used that it to me has more soul than a perfectly brand-new pristine old quilt that has come out of a trunk.

CJ: Do you think about the people that maybe owned it before?

HYF: Well, I don't think about them as much as I wonder how they did it. I'm kind of obsessed with how did they do this. Because, you know, there are no marks on old appliqué quilts. How did they transfer the pattern? Whereas a lot of quilters are just interested in the patterns themselves, I want to know how they got the pattern on there. I always try to find--if I see an unfinished anything, I buy the unfinished block because I can learn more about the maker from having it unfinished than finished.

CJ: Where do you shop for your antique quilts?

HYF: Here. [laughter.] Now you don't find too many in Tucson and all the antique dealers in town have-if a wonderful quilt comes in they call one of their dealer friends. You can't just walk into an antique store, but some of the nicest pieces that I own I bought at quilt shows, especially here. And I don't have that many quilts. I have some nice ones.

CJ: How do you use this particular quilt?

HYF: It lives in a closet. [laughter.] It comes out for when I teach or something like this. We don't have a real big house. Someday I know I'll have bigger house and I'll have room to display more quilts. I don't have a sewing room. I sew on the dining room table. My fabric's stored in the laundry room. I iron on a tabletop ironing board over the washer. You know, I don't have an ideal setup. But someday I will, so I'm patient. And I used to. When I was single, I had this wonderful apartment with a whole dining room as my sewing room and so someday. You know ten more years I can hold out.

CJ: That's what's nice about being single; you don't have to worry about anybody else. [laughter.] Does this quilt have company in the closet?

HYF: Oh yeah. When I did that reorganization of my fabric and I got all my fabric into plastic containers into the laundry room, the closet that had been my fabric closet became my quilt closet. And I did it the right way, I got large shelves and I lined them, and I put them in acid-free tissue. Finally, I did the right thing. I know better that I shouldn't have quilts crammed in cubbies. And they don't have to be folded that much. They're being taken care of better now than they used to be.

CJ: Do you document them thoroughly?

HYF: I don't, and I really should. I mean, this has a little label, but my quilts that aren't labeled; I have to really think to know how old they are. So, I need to do that, I need to go through and label them and any of us can die tomorrow, you know, so I really should. At least for my children so they would know who--did I make this or did I buy it or whatever.

CJ: For your mom. Why is quilting important to your life?

HYF: Well, not so much quilting, I just think anything creative is important, whether you

paint or write or compose music. I think we just have to have some kind of creative outlet. That's what makes us humans' people, you know. If you can't express yourself in ways other than words, well, I mean, of course writing is a creative outlet, but I think people just need to express how they feel whether it's through fabric or words or music.

CJ: Do you have any other art forms that you practice? You mentioned writing, I know you've written some books, but do you--

HYF: No. Well, I do write, you know I've written the how-to books and I did write the one, the Arizona book. I don't paint. [laughter.] I do some embroidery. That's it. I don't. I'm not musical. I used to tap dance. [laughter.] That's about it.

CJ: Okay, well.

Male Voice: The stuff you mentioned about dating your quilts, and is there a progression to your quilts over time?

HYF: Oh yes, yes. Better fabrics for one thing, you know, just when we were having to deal with so few cottons and the browns and stuff from the 70's. Once more colors became available in cottons, I was able to use the colors I liked rather than the colors that were available. My quilting has gotten more, I quilt more. I like the cotton batting now instead of the polyester, so my quilts have maybe gotten more traditional looking if anything, now that the products are available.

CJ: Do you like to look at art quilts?

HYF: I like them, yes, I like them. But I don't want to make them. [laughter.]

CJ: Let's see. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

HYF: You know because they are not uniquely American but very definitely American, especially the patchwork quilt, I think it says something about us as Americans that we can take lots of different elements and incorporate it into one. I don't think America as a nation is a melting pot, I think the different cultures should keep their own identities, but they should be able to get along. We live in the northeast side of Tucson, which is kind of becoming a more affluent area because they're building a resort and a golf course. And Tucson is a very Hispanic town and yet we live in an artificially white area. And so, we sent our oldest two daughters to a magnet middle school, to a bilingual magnet middle school, down by the University of Arizona because we wanted a more culturally diverse school for them. Plus, we wanted them to know what it felt like to be a minority, you know, for one. But there wasn't the competition as far as status brand clothing or shoes because they were in a poorer area. And they have made friends that are a mix. Also, because it's near the University, it draws from, I don't know, kids go there because their parents have something to do with the University. My daughter's real good friend is from Pakistan, you know, so they learn more about the world by going to this more culturally diverse middle school. Plus, they're becoming bilingual. And my oldest daughter wanted to be a teacher and we knew that if she was bilingual, she could really teach anywhere. Of course, now she wants to be a chef. Oh well. [laughter.]

CJ: You said earlier also your mom did not teach you to quilt. How did you learn?

HYF: Just by doing it, just by copying pictures of old quilts that were in magazines. One of my first quilts was a machine appliquéd crib quilt for my nephew and I cut out shapes and fused them. Of course, we didn't have any of the products now. We used freezer bags. Not freezer bags, dry cleaner bags. Dry cleaner bags would melt between layers of fabric, you know, we just made do. And I zigzagged around, you know, little nursery type pictures. And so, I kind of just did what I wanted to do, where my mother was doing a completely different direction. We both taught quilt making in adult education in Orange County, California during the 70's and 80's when it was just really booming. I mean, we would have classes of forty-five women. And I was young, I was in my twenties, I once had a student, I was telling her how to do something, and she looked at me and said, 'Girl, I've been living longer than you've been quilting'. [laughter.] 'Well, I'm sorry; we'll do it your way'. It was kind of, we learned we just had to keep one step ahead of our students and come up with new patterns. A lot of the quilts we taught were just tied and stuff so we kind of evolved with our students, but a step ahead maybe.

CJ: It's interesting to hear you talk about the different methods you had to do things before the rotary cutters and the Wonder Under and all that stuff. Can you talk a little bit about that? About your methods of quilt making when you started.

HYF: Because we were doing strips, but before rotary cutters, we would take poster board and cut a piece of poster board and then cut little notches in the poster board to define where the square was. And we would lay it on the fabric, and we would draw in the notch and then after you cut the strip you would cut in these little spots so you would know where your square was when you would sew it together. And then when you cut in the other direction to do the rearranging, you could cut from notch to notch. Still people come up to me and say, 'I have my cardboard template from my Trip Around the World'. [laughter.] Luckily Gingher scissors came out and that you could at least cut layers. And when the rotary cutter came out, I really resisted it for a long time. I'm a scissors person, I didn't see any need for it, and now, of course, I use it for everything. I wouldn't imagine cutting stuff with scissors, except appliqué.

CJ: How did you get the accuracy without the tools?

HYF: Oh, there wasn't. What did we do? We just used like a wooden ruler to draw. Yeah, it was hard without the good rulers. And even when the rulers first came out, they weren't very big, they were like eighteen inches by three or something. But even when the rotary cutter came out the mats weren't big enough. They had these little six by eight mats and yet you were somehow supposed to cut strips on it. I know of quilters that used paper cutters to cut strips. You know, we figured out something.

CJ: And what kinds of battings did you use?

HYF: Then we always used polyester. In fact, the bonded polyester which comes on big rolls, which I really think is upholstery batting, I don't think it's even really for quilts. And we used to go to a factory in Los Angeles and buy these big rolls of batting and take it back and sell it to our students because you couldn't find batting anywhere. And the only cotton battings available then were the old ones that you had to quilt every half-inch or fall apart. And so, it's really nice, that's the one innovation I'm really glad has happened is the better quality of cotton batting.

CJ: How did your mom start quilting? You said you did not have a grandmother or--

HYF: Well, she made her first quilt so young and yet my grandmother didn't even sew. So, I'm really not sure who taught her how to quilt. She sewed clothing very early and was making all her own clothes and in fact her mother's clothes by the time she was in high school. So she had more of a sewing background. She started working for Singer sewing machines right out of high school. She knows a lot about featherweights because she used to sell them. This is 1937. [laughter.]

CJ: Wow.

HYF: So, she used to sell them. So, she had more of a sewing background. And so, she was into sewing and then got back into quilts in the 70's, the same time I did, when everyone was getting back into quilts because of the bicentennial. Any time a quilt would be on the cover of like Better Homes Magazine, the enrollment would spike in adult ed. because people would see a quilt and go, 'oh that's right I want to make a quilt' because of the bicentennial. And I'm wondering if the millennium is going to have the same effect. It seems like it takes some big anniversary to get people back into quilts. It's the bicentennial and, I don't know, people have been predicting for years that quilting has peaked. And I don't think it's peaked yet. So, we'll see.

CJ: Where do you see it going in the future?

HYF: I don't know. I think as our world around us gets more technical I think people want the more traditional things. The fact that in the 20's and 30's colonial furniture came back in style and then in the late 20th century, who would have dreamed that we would be decorating our houses with antiques. You would have predicted something like the Jetsons and all space age and all stuff like that. And I think, as things become more technical, I think in people's homes anyway, they want the more traditional; the things that remind them of the past. So, it will be interesting to see what happens at the beginning of the 21st century, whether that continues. Wood stoves again or whatever. [laughter.] [CJ: Okay.] I don't think it's any accident that as sewing machines become more technical and computerized and everything, more and more quilters are using Featherweights that simply do a straight stitch. But for quilting you don't need all those fancy things. The featherweights, I have a friend who has the side winder featherweight. And it's so peaceful to watch her sew. She just winds it up and then, you know. So, it can't be a hurried process with that. And I think the featherweight slows us down a little, too. Of course, I am not a machine quilter. [announcement over the loudspeaker.]

CJ: What drew you to the Lone Star quilt?

HYF: One of my mother's students in adult ed. at that time was a Seminole Indian. And she showed my mother the basics of Seminole Indian patchwork. And one of the wonderful quilt books at the time, and I think it was Robert Bishop's book and it had pictures of Amish quilts. It had the Sunshine and Shadow and Trip Around the World. And by looking at the pictures of finished quilts, my mother and I were able to realize that there was a pattern to it. There was one square in the middle and then three and then five and then seven and that you wouldn't have to cut seven squares. Maybe you could cut a strip of fabric that was seven squares long. You know, next to a five, next to a three. And so, we experimented with doing these stripped pieces. So, we actually did the Sunshine and Shadow first. And we were teaching it and then a student said, 'Could you do the Lone Star this way?' And so, we did the same thing, and the original method was, it was done in rows, but they were diamond shaped rows. You know rows of diamonds. So, it was really just doing the Lone Star you realized the potential. We did the first, we did raffle quilts in '80, '81, and '82, I think. And the Lone Star one year, a Broken Star another year, and then a kind of medallion Lone Star. And Lone Star's always make the most money as a raffle quilt. Because they're so graphic, men like them, you know, women will buy one ticket, men will buy twenty. But no, just actually making them and seeing them and just learning by doing them. You get such unusual effects with the rings of diamonds. I think you can do kind of more optical things with the Lone Star than you can with the Sunshine and Shadow.

CJ: Do any other relatives quilt?

HYF: My sister, Dalene Thomas Stone, lives in Missouri and she has co-authored a book with my mother, too. So, she's a quilter. She's strictly machine, machine pieced, machine quilted. And another sister makes quilts, but isn't real serious about it, doesn't do a lot of handwork. And another sister, I have four sisters, she doesn't quilt. So, she's the black sheep in the family just because she doesn't quilt.

CJ: Any brothers?

HYF: Three brothers.

CJ: And do they quilt?

HYF: No. [laughter.]

CJ: Do they like them at least?

HYF: And sister-in-law doesn't either.

CJ: Okay.

HYF: In fact, my brother, who grew up in a house where a mother could make him a shirt faster than she could wash one in he didn't have clean one handy, married a girl who had never sewn. If his pants need hemming up, she tapes it, you know tapes his hems, I mean how he could marry a girl that was so different from his mother. But that shouldn't surprise me, because my husband did the same thing. His mother didn't sew, didn't anything. I mean, my husband thinks putting in a zipper is like a miracle. [laughter.] So, anything I do he's really impressed by, because he grew up in a family where no one did any handwork.

Bernard Herman (BH): Is he supportive of your--

HYF: Oh yes, yes. His mother was a wonderful woman but her only pastime was playing bridge. And so, he sees me work, but he sees finished product from it, too. Oh yes, he is. And he's not real curious with what I'm doing until it's about done. It's not, 'what are you working on, what are you working on', but when it's done, he wants to see it. I have a friend that was so angry at her husband because she had been hand quilting a quilt for months and months and months right in front of him, enters it in the local quilt show. They go to see the quilt show, and he said, 'Okay, show me which one's yours'. And she was so hurt by that because it meant that he hadn't paid any attention at all while she was working on it. Where my husband's aware of what I'm doing, but he's not real curious. I work on so many different things at once, too, how could he keep up?

CJ: How many projects do you work on at a time?

HYF: Oh, lots. I usually have always a couple appliqué projects, there's always something that needs quilting or needs more quilting, several at once. Sometimes you don't feel like working on one thing. The one thing I have learned is if I can do all my preparation at once, during the day or whatever, if I can cut out all my blocks or place all my pieces for appliqué, get them all ready, I'm more likely to pick it up. You know I have to do the preparation first. If it means that I have to go find a pattern and figure out what I'm doing, I'll be too tired to do it. But I have learned to kind of do the Swiss cheese approach. That is, you do all these little parts of a project then the whole project goes faster. So, I try to do all my cutting and get it all set up so if I have a few minutes, I can sit down and sew.

CJ: How do you keep everything organized?

HYF: In Ziploc bags. [laughter.] And so, I do a lot of pressing because they get wrinkled and stuff. I have a friend who puts everything in empty pizza boxes. And it keeps them nice and flat. I really need to go to my local pizza parlor and buy some boxes. But no, I don' think I've ever used Ziploc bags for food. I only use them for quilts. And I was so excited when they came out with the two-gallon size because you can put fabric for a whole quilt in a two-gallon Ziploc bag.

CJ: Do you have any other comments you'd like to make, any other stories you'd like to tell?

HYF: No, but I think this is wonderful what you're doing because working with the Arizona Quilt Project, trying to find out information about dead quilters was so hard. What we did on the Arizona project was a little bit different. We had the documentation sheets from the days, but then we sent out researchers to the family to do further interviews before we ever tried to write it up. So, we weren't trying to write it just from the quilt days because they didn't bring the right stuff. They didn't know when their grandmother died or anything like that. How much information within families is lost? I mean, this fabulous quilt and all they knew it was their mother-in-law's stepmother. I mean, maybe a last name. But nothing about her, you know, there's too many anonymous quilts already. And the ones that it was a family member, and they didn't know their name just shocked me. A lot of the genealogy has been done in my family and so maybe that's why it was shocking to me. But it's so sad because a lot of the quilts documented were just utility quilts. They weren't special quilts; they weren't made for the ages or anything but so many of them really were special quilts. And you know that it was that quilter's best quilt and yet no documentation, even when it stayed in the family. It's heartbreaking. So at least what you're doing, I mean, you're doing the next century's quilt project while we're still alive.

CJ: Do we still have time, or--?

BH: Actually, we're just about ready to wrap up.

CJ: Okay.

HYF: Okay.

CJ: Then I thank you very much--

HYF: Oh, it was fun.

CJ: Helen Young Frost, for participating. And this concludes the interview on October 22 at 10:40.



“Helen Young Frost,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1204.