Flavin Glover




Flavin Glover




Flavin Glover


Patricia Crews

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


Marietta Womack


Patricia Crews (PC): Good morning Flavin. How are you?

Flavin Glover (FG): Fine, thank you.

PC: Would you tell me about the quilt that you brought in (FG: Yes) today?

FG: This is a quilt that I made specifically as a gift for my husband for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. And it's entitled "Keep the Home Fires Burning". It's a wall quilt, about 64 inches square, and it has a house in the middle, and then just several of the different log cabin blocks that I use, as well as other types of patchwork that has been integrated in with the log cabin. So, when I make a quilt, especially one like this, I have to have more than one motive behind it, of course as a gift, was the main reason. The other reason very simply is anything that I make now I use as a sample in one workshop or the other. I no longer have the luxury of just making a quilt for the heck of making a quilt anymore.

PC: And so, this was used in one of the workshops you--[FG: Yes.] were--[FG: Yes.] teaching.

FG: I use it in integrating log cabin in with other patchwork, and so, from time to time I have to borrow it from him, but otherwise he has a favorite place on the wall where this quilt hangs. And I did something that I won't ever do again. In making this quilt I decided to do it and give it to him as a surprise. Well that, I worked on it for a year and a half, and it seemed like every time I got it out to work on it, he would show up from nowhere. [laughter.] So, the next time I'll just let him know right up front, 'I'm making this for you' and I will not get into that challenge of trying to keep it hidden. But he loves the colors and he likes the quilt, so it turned out to be a good gift for our twenty-fifth anniversary.

PC: Why did you choose to bring this one to this interview?

FG: I think one of the reasons that I brought it--well, I have two quilts that are here in the show and this is one of the more recent ones. And it's a fun quilt to talk about in terms of color and it has a lot that's involved with it. There's plenty of activity in all of it. [background noise and break in interview.]

PC: What are your ultimate plans for this quilt, or it's in the hands of your husband, right?

FG: That's right. It will be starting in I think December or the January issue of Quilter's Newsletter [Magazine. ]. They will be running a six-month series where they talk about, for instance, one month; they'll describe how to make the house. The next month, it might be this border here, and then another border. And it's in their quilting in a series. So, it has not been published yet, but it will be in that, starting in a couple of months. That will be a way of where it's out and seen. But it has been here at the Houston show, I think two years ago, when I was a teacher; it was in the teacher's showcase. But the quilt hasn't been seen that much and so it hasn't gotten any exposure yet.

PC: I'm delighted to have a chance to see it--[FG: Yeah. ] today. Tell me how you became interested in quilting.

FG: My background is clothing and textiles and related arts. And at the time that I was in college I began to teach arts and crafts therapy at our community mental health center. And right after I finished college I realized that patchwork could be something, if I could learn, I could include with my sewing classes that I was teaching, in a day hospital setting. And so I learned patchwork in order to enhance the sewing classes. And little did I know that it would become such an obsession, a compulsion, a hobby--everything all rolled into one. So I gave up weaving and ceramics and all of my study work in the clothing and textiles had been primarily--my projects had been geared around creative ceramics and weaving work. But once I got into quilting, then I saw that was history for me. And so actually my day job is what got me into this. Now when I first began to quilt, I had no clue that anyone other than family members would ever see my quilts. I did not pursue or want to go in to this extent. But in 1980 I was given the opportunity to teach at a national conference. And I had never taught other than at the day hospital. But I had nine months to prepare for it; it's a conference in Miami. And it was just one of those things where the opportunity fell in my lap, and I've had steady work ever since then.

PC: Did someone see your quilts--[FG: Yes. ] and ask you to teach?

FG: That's right. Two of my early log cabin landscapes were in the NQA show in Indiana that year; I think it was 1979. Then I happened to win in the Bakeoff, the Pillsbury Bakeoff. At two different times I was in the Bakeoff and some women who knew that I quilted also knew that I was going to the Bakeoff. It was in Miami, and when my husband and I were there for the Pillsbury Bakeoff they invited me over to their house to see their quilts. Well, little did I know that the home where I visited was actually where the steering committee for this national conference was meeting. Talk about things falling into place. Here I was in the middle of the Bakeoff, the five days that we were there for the Bakeoff, I actually agreed to come to Miami and teach that October. [laughter. ] Just one of those things that happened and that's what opened the door for this type of work. The challenge was keeping quilting and full time work all balanced.

PC: And initially you were juggling both.

FG: Yes, and then when I finished completion of twenty-five years at work, then I retired from that job.

PC: When was that?

FG: That was in the fall of 1997. And I'm finding that it's as big a challenge now as it was then. People tried to tell me about retirement, but I had real delusions of grandeur in terms of what I'd be able to get done. So I'm finding that I have to really watch my time and I'm enjoying doing other things now. But now I have a chance to do volunteer work that I never had a chance to do when I was working full-time. But my weeks get gobbled up just as fast as ever and I'm really having to watch and save time for quilting, because when you're at home all day, there's all these other distractions. But it's quite enjoyable and it was nice that around the age of 46 to be able to quit one job and basically move on to another career.

PC: Which you had already established.

FG: That's right, so my foot was in the door and the good thing with already having contracts signed and work to do, then I could say yes to some volunteer work and things that I wanted to do there in the community. It wasn't like starting from ground zero with a new job.

PC: And so you had continued to work as an art therapist--[FG: Yes. ] with your hospital all those years.

FG: Yes. Well actually, for thirteen years I was in that area and then I became the program director there, so I got into the administration, but all the while I had each week at least some time set aside to be in the classroom. And that one-to-one contact with the clients is extremely important, especially in a day hospital setting. It was a really good career for me because working with people and interacting with people was good skills to learn. But I was ready to move on when the twenty-five years--that was the magic number for me. Because then I could be on the state retirement system and enjoy the benefits of having been there twenty-five years.

PC: Sure. What do you find especially pleasing about quilting?

FG: I think for me, the thing that I love is, I'm a real scrapper. I love cutting up the fabric and sewing it back together and using quite a multitude of different fabrics in any given project. What I like about it beyond that is the dynamics of bringing people together and interacting with other people. I think that's one of the reasons that I like to teach. Many times people have their stories to tell and you may find out, for instance, in the middle of a workshop that someone's husband died four months ago or six months ago, or they may be telling you about something else that's going on in their lives. Many many times as we are quilting, people come to quilting with--there's other aspects of their lives that often times they need confirmation or they need reassurance or encouragement. And sometimes it may be dealing specifically with the fabrics that they're trying to put together in a quilt. Otherwise it may be them having the confidence or the reassurance to say what they need to say to somebody in their family, a family member. So I'm constantly looking way beyond what a person's doing in class but how are they doing just being there. And I want hopefully for everybody to leave the workshop feeling good about who they are. And sometimes we tend to judge our work very harshly and we oftentimes are the harshest judge of anyone. So helping people feel comfortable with what they're doing and where they're at because especially in a show environment like we're in today, there is so much here that you see that other people have done that's finer than what we can do. And if you leave here totally discouraged, then that's not the whole mission of the plan here. And for that reason I think that there's a lot with quilting that we as people teaching or interacting and getting to know other quilters can do to help them feel comfortable with what they're doing.

PC: Are there any aspects of quilting that you don't enjoy?

FG: Actually, I like the process, and I'm a hand quilter. I think if someone told me that I had to machine quilt a quilt, I probably wouldn't enjoy that right now. I do a little bit of machine quilting, where its really heavy fabrics like denims and things like that. But for sure, the part that I like is the sitting down and having the quilt in my lap, and that type of thing. Machine work, I do it, I do machine piecing, but that's not the enjoyable part. The cutting up of fabric and the quilting it is probably the most enjoyable area. I love to get fabric out and cut it up, that's very therapeutic for me. I think all the years of working when I was quilting, at least that meant I was sitting down and had something that I was working on. Rather than dreading quilting, I'm all the time looking for something to quilt, a small piece to take with me or whatever.

PC: You mentioned all the great quilts that are around us here in Houston and how that sometimes can be intimidating to people. What do you think makes a great quilt?

FG: One of the things I think is when the person who makes the quilt is feeling comfortable working from within. That's where we're doing our own design work and we're letting the things that either speak to us or inspire us to come into play. Many times what makes a good quilt is its uniqueness, but it's also the harmony and the unity that comes from someone's ability to work with color and to execute the design where it's pleasing to look at. Oh, there's quilts all around us where you can see that. For my own self, I found that when I started working on my own--what I wanted to do, rather making quilts to please other people, that made a real difference in terms of my quilts having not only their own identity, but being something that I enjoyed working on. We're all different - our color preferences and our color sense are different. We have to get over that hurdle, I think, of really realizing that 'I can do something that's me', rather than what we think other people, particularly like a judge, might want to see.

PC: That's sort of a related question to what makes a great quilt, is what makes a great quilter.

FG: Yeah, and I think all the things that I mentioned would definitely come into play. One thing probably, and I'm sure other people have told you this, that once they became a quilter; they had a passion for it. I think that the one thing that quilts give a quilter the opportunity to do is to be extremely creative. And to do something that literally can last your lifetime. That's basically the way I view quilting as something that I want to continue to do. Some years I can be more productive than other years depending on what else is going on in our lives. But I think that a person who can take a lot of fabric, cut it up, and sew it back together, and then turn it into a composition that's either given, or sold, or remains in that person's home, that's kind of the essence of where quilting is at. It's in an environment like we're in here where we see quilts that were made a hundred years ago or a hundred and fifty years ago that we really see that they're not only statements about that quilter's life, but statements about the time which they were made, and all political and the religious influences that the person may have had. To me, the best, most successful quilt that I've eve made is one that's chosen by a little child to be dragged around and the mother has to wait for the child to go to sleep at night in order to take the quilt to wash it. Now that to me is a successful quilt made by someone who somehow found the right handle to come up with a quilt that that child would latch on to. Because all in all when it's all said and done, if quilts are out in happy homes, and the people who own the quilts appreciate the, then I think then that is reinforcement for the quilter.

PC: You touched upon this once, but tell me a little more about how you learned to quilt.

FG: Right. I wanted to learn to quilt to work at the day hospital. But the person who actually taught me to quilt was my mother. She had quilted when I was a child, and then there was a period of time when she didn't quilt at all. When she retired, during the years that I was in college, she began to quilt again. I would go home from college and be interested but she didn't have any time for me because - one time I had sat down at the frame and instead of quilting either crosswise or toward me, for some reason I had taken the needle and tried to go out into the quilt. Well, with that she just said 'this is hopeless', and what she did, I think, was use reverse psychology, because I'm the ninth child in the family, so she had taught many daughters ahead of me how to quilt. But she waited until I was so hungry to learn, that I would do most anything to learn. My husband I came home from Auburn--we were at the university, he was working on his master's degree. We came home early for Christmas one year. The other family members, some of them would be coming in, so she had a quilt frame set up in the dining room, and of course that needed to come down before the family got there. So what she said to me to was, 'Flavin, I have a quilt in the frame, I don't care very much about, so I'm going to let you learn to quilt on it'. And I said, 'Gee, thanks Mom, for all of the encouragement.' [laughter. ] But I sat down with my needle and I would have done anything to quilt. If she had said we've got to stay up all night, I would have done that. What she gave me by permission to work on one of her quilt was the chance to see that I could do this on my own. Quickly I saw that, man, if I have a quilt frame; I know how to do all the other things. One of the advantages with being in clothing and textiles in college, I had to go through all those other courses, too. The related arts classes were only a small part of my professional electives. I had flat pattern design, tailoring, all those other classes that at the time I didn't appreciate them or even textile testing. But once I became a quilt maker, all of that gave me confidence to do whatever I wanted to do with the fabrics and play around with them. So, underneath everything, the course work in clothing and textiles as well as having seen my mom quilt and then being in 4-H club as a kid learning to sew, that helped me. So I came to quilting already knowing garment construction and tailoring and the aspects like that.

PC: So, piecing and that sort of thing were a natural to you already, the quilting was the one--

FG: That's right. And I had never actually put, for instance, a log cabin block together, or I had never studied the real patchwork patterns and known how to use them. My mother was--she made utilitarian quilts. She made covers. So if a pattern had a lot of detail in it, she wanted to get rid of that one, because she would do quilt tops that were easy to piece so that she could quilt them fairly quickly. But our neighbors were the ones that would make log cabin quilts. So I learned from them the actual first blocks, seeing how they were done. At that time, it was around 1974, 1975; quilting was showing up in a lot of the magazines. So I had my mom as a resource to show me the techniques, but then I had many women's magazine picked up at that time that would have patchwork pillows or something like that in it. And for the first two or three years, every quilt that I made was one where someone else had made one just like it. And then I thought well, hey, I can do my own thing here. Then when I started that, that's when I began to make quilts that other people said to me, 'you really need to show these to someone'. The Southern Quilt Symposium in Chattanooga, Tennessee was in 1979 that was the first year that I went. It had maybe been there a few years prior. At show and tell time I started digging out of my bag these log cabin quilts that I made. They were pictorial landscapes, and little did I know that no one else was doing anything quite like that at the time. So Bes Ramsey and some of the women at the Southern Quilt Symposium said, 'You ought to enter these in a show'. And that's what got my quilts to Indiana and then got me the teaching job. It was through encouragement of others. So I learned from a lot of people. I'm still learning particularly in the classroom setting. I think one of the best ways to keep learning is to teach. Now I find what the students do--it's fantastic to walk in to a show and see a students' work hanging with ribbons all over it.

PC: I'm a little puzzled by one thing you said. You mentioned that your mother made utilitarian quilts primarily and didn't take a lot of the time in the piecing, and yet she was reluctant to let you quilt on this quilt.

FG: Exactly. She took great pride in her quilt stitches. Matter of fact, she was one of those women that when they did projects in the community, like for the PTA, was what it was called, the Parent Teachers Association. If some people quilted on a quilt there that didn't meet her specifications, she was a threat to pick the stitches out. Because she felt like it didn't matter what type of cover it was, if it was pieces of fabric joined together, they should be joined together very adequately and they should be quilted extremely adequately. And for her, since she could do a small stitch, she wanted all the stitches in there to be representative of that. No knots showing on top or bottom, things like that. So she had her standards. Just like she did in all other areas of our lives, when she taught you how to clean the windows or do something, she wanted a top-notch job. It was good to have to meet her standards because what she did was forced me to learn the way that she was doing it, to get a good stitch in, and that type of thing. But anything like this--she loved seeing my work, but she didn't want to fool with this kind of stuff. No way; too much time involved. She had eighteen grandchildren and it as during her years of retirement one of her goals was to make a quilt for each of the eighteen grandchildren. She did very pretty work all in all and got away from some of the functional, utilitarian quilts that she was making. She actually started purchasing fabric for quilts, and when I first began to quilt we worked strictly with scraps. Leftover snips and strings from garment construction and things like that. I remember to this day the time I went out in 1979 and bought fabric specifically to make a quilt; that was a real turning point for me. Prior to then, I had worked just with scraps, and the women at the day hospital, we all worked with scraps because of the types of things that were donated there. Once they were not on the psychiatric wing of the hospital, and they were back home, the likelihood that they could get scraps to work with was still ok. The only thing we purchased was the lining or the backing fabrics for the projects.

PC: Not even sashing?

FG: No. Usually someone would donate something, so it was all donated. Back in the 70's, any of those programs like that, the budgets--there was plenty of money for staffing, but very little for the actual purchase of the items needed. So my campaign early on was 'we can do a lot, but we've got to have supplies to work with'. Got to have clay, for instance, if you're going to teach ceramics. I wanted them to have the best thread and that type of thing that we could get. And soon, the other staff realized that it was worth setting aside money in the budgets for crafts and arts because those were the classes that the men and women enjoyed going to. They looked forward to that. You can only do "x" amount of group therapy each day, and then they need to be occupied in ways so my classes were always poplar. Men and women in the classes. Oftentimes, some very creative things were produced in those classes. Even though they were there for a short time, still they could do quite a lot, and that was an exciting thing to see.

PC: You mentioned that you had a background in clothing, textiles, and related arts.

FG: Yes.

PC: Can you tell me a little bit about how that influenced your future work? Or do you think that it did?

FG: I know that it did.

PC: The art side in particular.

FG: Sure. One of the ways I think, when I was in school in the early 70's, there was at that time in the tailoring classes-things were fairly rigid. We had to buy fabric to please our professor. That was number one. And then our pattern had to be very specific. It was kind of boot camp in that sense. Then when I was able to start putting together stripes and plaids and polka-dots, the first few times I was back on campus, my professors would just shake their heads, and they would say, 'Flavin, you're finally getting to do what you've always wanted to do'. And that's to break out of the mold a little bit so I appreciate the rigidness and the teachings within the coursework, but I love the freedom of getting out to do my own thing. I remember in particular having had experience with working with a variety of textiles, I didn't think one minute about taking things like lightweight denims, some cotton-poly blends, various corduroys, and using them all in the same quilt. And I do that still. Now, this one here is primarily all 100% cottons. But particularly with my garment work as well as with some of my wall pieces I'll combine a multitude of different fabrics all in the same quilt, and don' have any apologies to make for doing it. As long as I'm willing to accept the responsibility for, 'Okay, this may not have been good choice, putting this fabric in there'. As long as it's something that I'm willing to try, then sometimes it's learning by doing. And particularly in garment work, using a variety of fabrics can be helpful because I wear my clothes, so therefore, they're getting an accelerated use I'm washing them fairly often, so things like--I just completely quit using today's rayons. The various rayon fabrics, I was getting too much bearding on the surface of them. Even though I love the colors, I love the designs, I know better. But some of the old rayons from the early 20's, some of those vintage fabrics have quite a different hand and a different feel than the fabrics today. So that has helped me a lot, and then, very likely, the related arts classes gave me the confidence to combine color, not be afraid to try to work the color of the fabric.

PC: And you certainly do. It's clear from looking at this quilt here that you are unafraid of working with color.

FG: Right. And in this case in particular I wanted fabrics that I thought my husband would enjoy, some that were cool; some that were warm and mellow, and let the theme of the quilt then help me in selecting variety of fabrics that I used. Many times with wall quilts, particularly the large pieces, the tops are heavy, so therefore I'll use--and the reason they're heavy is because a log cabin in particular can have a lot of seams in it. If it's a very heavy top, then I'll probably use a decorator fabric in the border work to help stabilize it. A lot of times I've just set myself up for a bigger challenge with quilting because of the types of fabrics that I will use, knowing how I want that quilt to hang. Working with the fabrics, I feel sure that my degree influences my work even today.

PC: Where did you complete your degree?

FG: Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. And it so happens that's where we're living now. My husband's in research in forestry there. He did some graduate work at Utah State and also at Virginia Tech. Matter-of-fact, his Ph.D. was from Blacksburg at Virginia Tech.

PC: What way do you think your quilts reflect your community or where you live, or do you think that they do?

FG: Very likely. Some of my quilts do, particularly the heritage of the string quilts and the scrap quilts. I'm still sure even though today I'm purchasing fabric to put in these, that that background of having areas where you pull as many fabrics in as you possibly can into an area definitely influenced me.

PC: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of your friends and family? Do you have any idea what has happened to most of them?

FG: Well, a lot of the quilts that I have made are in our collection. But a few quilts, particularly when Glenn was in graduate school, I sold some quilts. One of the quilts, that quilt that I had at Quilt National, sold while it was at Quilt National. I did learn of the collector that has that quilt. We built a house in 1985, and since that time, I've kept all the large pieces, because we literally have a gallery within our house, where 18 quilts hang. I like to rotate them and then I need them either for shows or for teaching. The house is so empty if the quilts aren't hanging, so in the last several years, anything that I've made that's what I consider a serious piece we have kept for our own collection, so that I can rotate them. Then, the ones that I've sold, I've never regretted the fact that I've sold. I think the main thing was I asked a price that I felt good enough about, I was pleased with it. From time to time I make small pieces that I donate like to the American Quilt Study Group or to some other auction. Every year I try to make at least one or two small pieces for that reason. There's collectors out there that are wishing to buy new work.

PC: How many quilts are in your collection?

FG: I would say probably the large pieces, around thirty. I've done a few--I have little areas of the house where I've made a quilt specifically for one little place, and I don't count those. A quilt has to have some size on it in order for me to consider it to be a piece in the collection.

PC: It seems that quilts are becoming increasingly visible in American life, and important. What importance do you think quilts have in either your life or in American life in general? And how has that changed?

FG: I think for my on self, quilts have been a real outlet for creative expression, particularly during the years that I was working. They were also a means of therapy for me. Quilting has been quite therapeutic. Probably other quilters share this idea that it's through their quilts that they can express themselves. I don't feel comfortable at all when I'm trying to draw something on plain paper; that is not an area that I have tried to develop. But I feel extremely comfortable with some graph paper and sitting down graphing out some of these real simple designs like this. I think the opportunity to create quilts have given us an opportunity to express ourselves where we are at that stage of our lives. I look back on quilts that I made twenty-three years ago and they're different than quilts that I'm making today. Of course our fabrics change, but also our interests have changed. With quilts that I have made and given to other family members, they were truly expressions of love. I think they are appreciated because they are hand made. All of my brothers and sisters are older than I, and they have from the day that I was born, some of them--two of my sisters were already away from home. My oldest sister was twenty-one years old when I was born. So they were already beginning their own lives and their own families. When I became a quilt maker, it was an identity--I feel like they have provided positive feedback to me as well as complimented me on my work all these years.

PC: Is there anything that you would like to add or a story that you would like to share with us today?

FG: I think the main thing, and particularly when we're here, at a show or a conference a in Houston, the main thing that I really love about quilting is the opportunity that we have to meet each other and literally establish friendships and connections and a feeling of sharing that goes far beyond quilts. The networking that takes place with women particularly the ones that come year after year. Some of the women have come here for twenty years. They have gotten to know each other even though they may live in different parts of this country, but they may live in different countries from around the world. I think that bonding is one thing that--it's a lot like patchwork in some ways. It really draws us together and it keeps us together. That's something that I treasure about quilting. The material is one thing, the quilts are another thing. All the other aspects of quilting I love. For myself, I didn't have to lay awake late at night and worry if my quilts were going to help pay the light bill because I worked full time, I had that income. But the supplemental income that I've gotten from quilting either from selling a quilt or from teaching or having work published in magazines and books has really helped me to affirm that this is not just a hobby. That this is something that contributes to a way not only of making money, but just affirming that this is serious business.

PC: You mentioned sharing and the importance of that and that of course I think goes right along with your teaching. Do you have young students in your classes? Could you tell us about the age range of the people in your classes?

FG: Typically, sometimes I'll have a person that's in college in the class. But I have never taught children. Now, some of the teachers are gearing up specifically for that. Last year when I was here teaching I did a professional development course on preparing yourself to teach. But it was on preparing yourself to teach adults. All the years that worked, I worked with adults, and then that's just been a natural area to teach in.

PC: But are they in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's?

FG: I would say more in their--probably 35 on. But I taught in Michigan last month, in Muskegon, Michigan, and the classes were on Saturday and Sunday because the women that worked did not want the classes taught in the week days. And I had young women, schoolteachers, women with young children in the class. So it depends a lot upon how the conference is geared, or how the guild is setting up their class times. I teach some at night when I'm working for a group because the women can come for night classes.

PC: Well, we are reaching the end of our time, so I wanted to let you know that, and then, I guess, give you one more opportunity if there's anything else that has come to mind that you would like to add.

FG: I guess the one thing that I appreciate is the chance for us to not only tell our stories, but to hear other people's stories. The benefit of this, I think, is wonderful, and again, the chance that we have to talk about what we do and why we do it, I think it helps all of us reconfirm our own goals of what we want to do and what we aspire to do.

PC: Well, we certainly appreciate your time that you've taken this afternoon to share your stories.

FG: Well, thanks a lot.

PC: So this concludes the interview with Flavin Glover on October 22nd in Houston.



“Flavin Glover,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1215.