Irma Gail Hatcher




Irma Gail Hatcher




Irma Gail Hatcher


Phyllis J. Harris

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Schiffer Publishing


Houston, Texas


Karen Musgrave


Phyllis Harris (PH): My name is Phyllis Harris. Today is October 23, 1999, and I'm conducting an interview with Irma Gail Hatcher for the quilt oral history project in Houston, Texas. Irma, tell me where you're from and how many years you've been coming to the Quilt Festival.

Irma Gail Hatcher (IGH): I'm from Conway, Arkansas and I think I have been coming here since 1983. I may have missed one year but I've been here all the other years.

PH: So, your involvement in the Festival this year, tell us a little bit about that.

IGH: I am here for several reasons. I have taught four classes; one of my quilts, "Conway Album (I'm Not From Baltimore)" [Collection of the Museum of American Quilter's Society, 1992.] is in the special exhibit called "The Twentieth Century's Best American Quilts-Celebrating 100 Years of the Art of Quiltmaking," which is a very special thing so me; and then I have a quilt in the teachers' exhibit.

PH: The piece that you have on exhibit now, is that one of your first pieces? Or that you--

IGH: The "Conway Album (I'm Not From Baltimore)" I made in 1992 and it won the Founders' Award here and the blue ribbon. It went on to win the Best of Show at Quilt America in 1993; Best Workmanship Award from American Quilter's Society in 1994, the Masterpiece Award from the NQA [National Quilting Association, Inc.] And now this 100 Best Quilts of the Century thing. I think--it's amazing.

PH: That's wonderful. [IGH laughs.] That's wonderful. Now you've brought several quilts with you today and if you could give us a bit of information about the quilts.

IGH: Well in 1994 we had twin granddaughters. And I wanted to make something special for them. However, I didn't know what I wanted to make. I was teaching a Baltimore Album class at the time, and I had six blocks from the class and when the blocks that I thought could be used in a quilt for one of the twins, Larkin. I would use the same flowers found in Larkin's blocks in baskets for Haley, the other twin. The quilts were to have the same center block and borders, making the quilts similar, yet different for each twin.

PH: So--

IGH: And believe me the little girls are prettier than the quilts. [PH laughs.] People tell me all the time that they're pretty, but they don't compare to the little girls.

PH: So, the style--the technique that you used in creating your quilts.

IGH: These are Baltimore Album style blocks. In the 1840 to 60's they made blocks that meant things to different people. In fact, Elly Sienkiewicz has written a book called "Spoken Without a Word" which gives information about the symbols used in the Baltimore Album blocks. My quilts have peacocks the symbol for immortality and roses the symbol for love. Since I teach three-dimensional appliqué, I put a lot of three-dimensional appliqué in them.

PH: The--a--your stitching--tell us a little bit about the stitching--your patterns--your style that you used.

IGH: Okay. My style of appliqué is very simple--the leaves are a simple leaf shape with no shading of colors within the leaf. I used all printed fabric except for the plain muslin background fabric. The blocks are set on a diagonal because diagonals are more interesting than anything set squarely. The appliquéd dogtooth borders emphasize the diagonal set of the blocks. When it came to the quilting designs, I decided to use straight lines in and around the curvy appliqué designs. Around the five center blocks, stipple quilting was used to make the appliqué designs appear more three-dimensional. Trapunto hearts complete the quilting design. Within one heart on each quilt, a trapunto "L" and "H" were added to make sure that each twin knows which quilt is her's. The twins are now six, and they haven't gotten the quilts yet. [IGH laughs.]

PH: Okay. That's great. So, tell me, how long have you been quilting?

IGH: I started quilting in 1980. And I belong to a craft group every month we would learn a new craft. That September one of the members taught us how to make a quilted potholder. I thought, 'This is easy, I can do this.' In October, I went to a quilt shop to pick out a pattern and fabrics to make my mother and my sister quilts for Christmas. I had two months to make two quilts about 50 inches square. [laughs.] When my mother opened her Christmas present, she gasped and said, 'Oh, your stitches are so big.' And so, I thought, 'Well I never want to do this again. If I can't do it right the first time, I won't even try.' Then we moved to Arkansas, and I had a chance to go to my first quilt show and fell in love with the quilts, the show, and everything. I have been doing it really since 1982. So, I guess that's almost 18 years.

PH: So how did you learn to quilt?

IGH: At first, I thought in order to belong to a guild you had to know how to quilt. I stayed at home for two years making two quilts by myself, trying to figure out to solve the problems. After joining a guild, I found everyone was so helpful and willing to answer my questions, making the whole quilt process much easier. I took classes from teachers who came from the guild. Before long, I was teaching others.

PH: So how long have you been teaching as well?

IGH: I think I may have started in 1987--well maybe 1988, 1989.

PH: If you had one of the favorite classes that you were involved with in teaching, what would it be? What would it be?

IGH: I enjoy hand quilting class because everybody improves, and they can see it in three hours. [PH says, "Yeah."] That is lots of fun. In my appliqué classes, students are taught a lot of different techniques, but appliqué takes so long so that at the end of 6 hours there is little to show for their hard work. They learn a lot, but they don't have as much to show for it like they have in the hand quilting class.

PH: So--let me see--make sure I'm not--so what do you think, Irma, makes a great quilt? A great quilt?

IGH: What makes a great quilt? Well let's see. The design and color are very important. Next comes the quilting. Those three elements are basically what a quilt is. If the design and color are great, then you've got a good quilt. Add nice quilting stitches and good workmanship, and you have a great quilt. And this year, this 1999 show we have about five of the best designed, color, quilting quilts we've ever had. They are absolutely astounding. And if there were another 100 best quilts for the next century, I think all of them would already be in it.

PH: So, do you have your favorite in the show? IGH: In the show? PH: Yes, in the show.

IGH: Well, there are two. One is the Best of Show. It's called "A Little Brown Bird" by Margaret Dougherty. I believe is her name. It's just amazing. The appliqué is beautiful. The quilting is beautiful. It's just exquisite. And then the other one is Judy Mathieson's quilt, which is a Mariner's Compass, several Mariner's Compasses, but the piecing is just amazing. You stand there and you just can't believe that anybody could do that much with--within a space that small. And she has a quilt in the "100 Best" ["Nautical Stars," 1986.] When I saw it the first time, I stood there with my mouth open for it just like I stand with my mouth open for this year's show. Judy makes wonderful quilts. The best part of the coming down here is getting to see these people that I've seen for 18 years. They're people who feel about quilts like I do. I mean very few people understand it. [IGH laughs then PH laughs.]

PH: So, let me ask you, what do you find pleasing about quilting?

IGH: Well, I have always been a crafts person. I've made dolls and I've done embroidery and lots of other things, but quilting has in it all of the things I liked about the other crafts. I found that once I got the quilting techniques down, I could use them to create something of my own. I had never been able to do this before with other crafts. Quilting is such that even a non-artist can make a quilt. But, if one is able to create a quilt which speaks to someone else, then that quilt becomes art. I hope that quilts will become recognized as works of art in the future. It hasn't been in this century so hopefully in the next.

PH: Now--with being--participating in the Quilt Festival this year and seeing all the multitudes of people that have come through looking at these quilts, how do you see these quilts making--having an effect in the future--the future years of the quilts?

IGH: Even today if a museum has a quilt show they have more people come to their museum than when they have other kind of shows. This is particularly true in Arkansas. And I think the directors of the museums are amazed and we're thrilled. Our grandmothers made quilts and most people have a special feeling that about quilts their grandmothers made. My brother-in-law came to the quilt show just to see my quilt, and when he saw it, he was ready to go home [PH laughs.] The fact that he came down is amazing. Of course, my sister wants to see more of them, and he is going to walk around with us. I think Quilt Festival just makes quilting more important throughout the world. They have some fifty thousand people come through every year, and those people go back home and then other 50,000 come another time so it's just making quilting more important than it was there for a while.

PH: So, you have an idea what makes a great quilter?

IGH: A great quilter?

PH: A great quilter.

IGH: A great quilter finishes what she starts. [PH laughs then IGH laughs.] There's so many quilts that are in drawers somewhere that are never finished. [PH laughs] I think a great quilter is one who strives to be better with each quilt-better designs, better colors, and better workmanship.

PH: So how many quilts have you made over the years?

IGH: A couple years ago, I showed all of my quilts that I had and was amazed that there was 55 of them. One of them was six inches by seven inches. And a lot of them were 24 inches or less. I'd say probably 18 big quilts and that's usually what I make. They take a long time to make. The twins' quilts took a year and a half to make. The one in the teachers' exhibit that one took two and a half years and "Conway Album" in the "100 Best" took a year.

PH: So, do you pretty much hand stitch all of your quilts or--

IGH: I did machine piece the different sections together, but all of the sections were hand appliquéd before I sew them together. It takes a lot of time to appliqué the blocks, but very little time to sew the blocks together by machine.

PH: That is true. That is true. Well, I think one more question I need to ask you. Your family. How has your family influenced your quilting?

IGH: Well maybe the question ought to be is how have I influenced my family.

PH: Okay. [PH laughs.]

IGH: My husband once said to me, 'Irma Gail, you can't quilt all the time.' But I have shown him. I think they're pleased with what I do. My husband says I don't give any of my quilts to any of the family members. I just keep the quilts, but they'll get them one day. The twins are now six years old; they'll get these quilts but not for a while. My family has been very supportive. I think they're proud of me.

PH: Well, you should be proud. This is a beautiful piece that you've brought in. I want to thank you for the interview. Do you have anything you'd like to add as a footnote?

IGH: No. I just have enough fabric to last until I'm 90 years old. [PH laughs.]

PH: Well, that's wonderful. Well Miss Hatcher I'd like to thank you for the interview--

IGH: Well, it was fun.

PH: This is Phyllis Harris ending the interview with Miss Irma Gail Hatcher at--[Karen Musgrave says, "This one says 2:34."] at 2:34--[PH laughs.] --at 2:34. Thank you Miss Hatcher.

IGH: Okay.

[Tape ends.]



“Irma Gail Hatcher,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,