Barbara Stewart




Barbara Stewart




Barbara Stewart


Georgeann Wrinkle

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The National Quilting Association


Houston, Texas


Elaine Johnson


Georgeann Wrinkle (GW): My name is Georgeann Wrinkle, and this is November the 3rd 2000 and it is 11:30 in the morning, and I am conducting an interview with Barbara Stewart, for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Houston, Texas. So tell me Barbara where are you from?

Barbara Stewart (BS): Originally from Cleveland, Ohio.

GW: And where are you living now?

BS: In Jupiter, Florida.

GW: Oh you are a Florida lady.

BS: Yes, I was a California lady for 30 years, but I'm now in Florida.

GW: Oh okay, okay. Tell me about the quilts--this quilt that won an award here at this festival this year.

BS: Mostly I'm doing art quilts lately and that's what I consider this quilt to be. I entered the Millennium contest and saw the 50 finalist names on the internet and I thought what an honor. I thought well that's as far as I will ever get and then they called me up and said I had won one of the categories.

GW: How marvelous. It must have been such a wonderful surprise, wonderful surprise.

BS: Yes, I entered the category called Dreams of Yesterday, and my quilt is taken from a photograph I took of my sister when we were in Egypt, and it's in the grand entrance way of the temple of Karnak, where those huge, huge pillars are. It's really awesome it's just, and I have always liked the photograph so I made a quilt of it, I do have that with me today, the picture of it.

GW: What materials are in that quilt?

BS: I used a lot of upholstery type materials because of the colors of the quilt. They're beiges and tans and browns. I wanted some of those for texture so there is a lot of upholstery type fabrics in that quilt.

GW: And how is it quilted and by what method is it quilted?

BS: I quilted it by machine. I paint on my quilts. I either air brush paint backgrounds or as in the case of this one, I hand painted shadows and things like that, and then I machine stitched over them. I actually pieced it together by hand, and then hand-painted it, and machined it.

GW: And what kind of batting is in it?

BS: I use Quilter's Dream Cotton [a batting manufacture.].

GW: And the backing then?

BS: It's an upholstery fabric that has a matching tan background and animals on it.

GW: Is it all one piece?

BS: Its all one piece, yes, it's got lions, and tigers and animals on it. [laughs.]

GW: And goes with the motif of the area. This quilt has such special meaning for you I can tell because--

BS: Of the big win. [laughs.]

GW: Of the big win and because it sounds like its something from your family, so tell me how you got inspired to do it and what was the occasion that led you to do this?

BS: To make this quilt?

GW: Yes.

BS: No special occasion, I just happened to run across the photograph. I work a lot with photographs. I do a lot of animal type scenes and this is a departure somewhat because it doesn't have any. It does have a picture of a person.

GW: And when did you and your sister take that trip?

BS: When did I take the trip? I think it was 1988, it was quite some time ago.

GW: Why some time ago? And you were out I bet you wore your cartouche everyday?

BS: Not everyday, [laughs] I put it on for good luck on this trip. [laughs.]

GW: Well, didn't you? [laughs.] It was a good omen?

BS: Aren't you clever? [laughs.]

GW: What did you? Let me see, what kind of plans do you have for this quilt? And what will you do?

BS: After this I think they're going to keep it for a sometime so I haven't made any plans really. Its funny my hometown newspaper column wanted to have a picture of me with the quilt and I said, 'Well, I think it might be like about two years.'

GW: Oh I don't know I think we could probably accommodate that today so--

BS: They wanted slides, and I did bring my little camera that has slides for them and took a couple pictures yesterday. I don't know how they are going to turn out.

GW: No.

BS: But if it is good enough they'll take that.

GW: They'll take that okay.

BS: That's what they're going to get. [laughter.]

GW: That's it, that's it, I know, I know. And your other quilts that that you've done what--what do you do with those quilts?

BS: I show, I show them, I show a lot of quilts I have gotten some minor awards I just like showing them. I just like making myself reach a plateau of being able to have a top quilt to make it into a show, and I give some away. I've sold a couple. I've had a show my being the only quilter, yes, stuff like that.

GW: And do you have a workroom in your apartment? Is it that you live in an apartment?

BS: A duplex.

GW: A duplex, okay.

BS: It's a two bedroom, one bathroom, small place. I only have one bedroom the other room is a workroom.

GW: Is a workroom?

BS: Nobody visits it me. [laughs.]

GW: Tell me--just explain--talk me through your workroom, tell me about it.

BS: It's probably size wise maybe 12x15. It's not a very large room but it's totally devoted to my work. If you come in on one wall to the right it's covered with plastic, and down on the end coming from the next wall I have two dressers. They're long dressers. I have put them back to back and its holds a big cutting mat, those drawers contain my fabric and by color, and on the third wall my sewing machine sits, and on the fourth wall this closet where it had all the ugly things. [laughs.] So I have three bookcases in that room that hold books, I have a lot of books, and a lot of music, they hold books and music 'cause I'm a musician too.

GW: In my experience, I have found that quilters use a lot of tools.

BS: Oh, yes.

GW: How do you organize your tools? To keep them.

BS: I buy these plastic shelves affairs or drawer affairs. They have four drawers in them about a foot and a half high and the narrow shallow drawers I keep thread in, I have them stacked up higher than my head to my right by the sewing machine and I have them on the bookcase shelves with tools in them. And I have under my sewing table, I have an air tank, I used to air brush with, my friends say I'm the only lady they know that has that stuff in her sewing room. Most people know guys that have them in their garage but I don't paint in there and I have sheets of plastic that I put all over everything when I paint 'cause the spray gets around.

GW: Did it belong to a guild? And what are your activities in with the guild?

BS: Well, right now I have a job that I'm trying to get rid of. I've had it [the guild.] several years we in conjunction with our county fair of the year we hold a contest with a different theme, and then when the contest is over we really quick put the blocks together whoever I can grab and we get it ready for quilting and take it out to the fair and during the two weeks at the fair we actually quilt this thing and people come by and see us quilting, but what they allow us to do there is sale our raffle tickets to our raffle quilt so we make about 4 or 5,000 dollars at this event just by working for them. Everybody has to work that's our main money for the year.

GW: Well, what does your guild spend their money on?

BS: Oh Lord, lots of things. The $5,000 dollars is--we send the newsletter out to everybody every month.

GW: Okay.

BS: And we have meetings and we have refreshments at meetings and all those ordinary things that people do. The main money we make is from our quilt show every other year we've made as much as $10,000 dollars and we give it to different charities. One of the things we did this year, there's a quilt show going on up in Ohio and the whole thing is being sponsored by American Cancer Society even when you get the dollar brochure the Society you write it out to American Cancer Society. I thought that was kind of good so when it came up where is the money going this year? I suggested that, and we sent them over a thousand dollars, I'm so excited. [laughs.]

GW: Yes, as I'm sure.

BS: But I--we all thought it was such a good thing because the way the checks are made out directly to American Cancer.

GW: So this quilt that is at the fair that your working on that all the squares have come from, from this challenge I bet you've made. Is it being hand quilted out at the fair?

BS: Yes, its hand quilted.

GW: You put it in a frame and have people stand around it?

BS: That's right, we say oh come and join us you may quilt with us, come and watch us if you what to learn how, if the questions they ask are well, where can I get started? So we have brochures from all the local quilt shops there and pass those out and we try to be as informative as possible because that's part of our creed.

GW: That's true, that's true. For your own quilts do you, how do you quilt those?

BS: I usually have several projects going at one time but as a time limit I sneered at machine made quilts but then I realized, 'Good grief I'll never get anything done.' It takes me about a year to do a handmade quilt 'cause I do work and I'll sit in the evenings when I watch TV and hand quilt but I also make machine made quilts. My main times for sewing are in evening and in the morning from about 5 to 7. That's when I do the machine work.

GW: So you--you do have a job outside, outside of quilting? Good gracious what do you do?

BS: I work for my brother's company. I'm in charge of all the bookkeeping and payroll and I have my daughter working for me and another girl so they do that kind of thing and I can go into my office and I am also a graphic artist and I make all the posters for the company. I make all the posters for the band I play in, and I make all the posters for the guild.

GW: What kind of music do you do?

BS: I play the flute, the piccolo, in a big concert band. [laughs.]

GW: You are a wonder. You are a wonder, that's great. What got you interested in quilting?

BS: My grandmother. She one day, back in the 50's she came up to me with a huge box looked like it had a fur coat in it or something got all excited and she opened it up and there were all these patches. [laughs.] Enough for six quilts, six different quilts and I said, 'Grandma what do you do, how do you do these things?' Back then there were no books to speak of. 'Oh,' she said, 'it's just like basting only smaller stitches.' That was my introduction to quilting. It took me ten years to do that first quilt. [laughter.] It was a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt and the pieces in it are from my mother and her two sisters. All of their dresses.

GW: Do you still own that quilt?

BS: Yes.

GW: And what do you do with that quilt?

BS: Oh, I show it off every now and then.

GW: Yes.

BS: I would have brought that but it was too much to go from Florida. The second one I made of the batch was a star quilt and the fabric was white and a print pink with little chickies and ducks belonged to my sister and I when we were babies. My daughter got that one.

GW: Oh okay, and what, this year referring to your daughter whose here with us, sitting right here, I have to say that for the recorder, what do you do with that quilt? That she gave you.

Linda: Take it out and fondle it occasionally. [laughs then inaudible.]

GW: And just yes, just play with it and look at it.

BS: Yes don't we all fondle a lot? [laughs.]

GW: Yes.

BS: I just feel lucky to have a daughter who likes to quilt.

GW: That's right, that's right.

BS: Anyway--

GW: Daughters are the best.

BS: I have done four of the six of those quilts I did a Dresden plate a couple of years ago and last year I finished a four patch. I had it hanging in our show and the appraiser came by and appraised it and I thought oh so I was pretty tickled, it turned out to be real.

GW: So you feel like your, your art, that the satisfaction you get from your art quilts tell me about that, between tell me about the, the difference in the satisfaction of the art quilts and the satisfaction of your, your traditional quilting.

BS: I don't think there's a difference. I don't do much of that any more mostly what I do with the traditional ones is I'll--I'll work on the two more that are left 'cause I know grandma's up there watching. [laughs.] but I make a lot of miniatures I do all those by hand a great many of those I make and I get--I'm satisfied when I get any quilt done, but I think I like the ones where I think up things such as the art quilts. I think there is a lot more of me in them and the satisfaction I get is a lot of the time, just because I figured out a way to do what I had in my head. I have no rules for a lot of this stuff. So it's tricky and it's very satisfying to finish something that I've thought of.

GW: When you began to get real interested in quilting did you ever take classes or what was your influence? In, in--

BS: In recent years I've taken classes just because I wanted to meet some of the teachers and because hadn't done a lot of machine quilting. I took a lot of classes Libby Leaman, Carol Bryer Fallert, some of the names like that, that came around to our neighborhood and, yes it was, they influenced me to the point where hey I think I can really do this stuff. [laughs.]

GW: And tell me how you learned about the airbrushing fabric now how did that get started?

BS: I did airbrushing probably back in the 70's when people did cars remember that? I didn't do a whole lot of as I didn't have an compressor and an air tank and it wasn't real satisfactory to me but I always wanted to do it and about maybe about eight or nine years ago my nephew talked me into going to the Fort Lauderdale Institute of Art for a class. The teacher said if you get enough people in here we'll all give you a class so I went and they introduced me to double action airbrushing rather than single action and a compressor. [laughs.] At the class you just had to plug your thing in and they had air tanks probably bigger than this booth down in the basement they had. That's what I didn't have before so I wasn't really airbrushing in a sense, so I have two airbrushes, [loudspeaker announcement.] and my own compressor. [tape recorder turned off.]

GW: Okay.

BS: Got it started?

GW: Yes, I got it started again. I'm looking at some pictures that--that you have taken that was a photograph of your sister in Egypt. I am also looking at a photograph of the quilt that you've done, and [laughter.] yes I got to go see this quilt you can see I'm kind of overwhelmed by it. It show a very small little lady standing in among pillars and tell me about the colors in this tell me how you--how you--how did you get this to color this-- [inaudible.]

BS: I know it's not exact. It was hard to use all the tans and browns. What I was trying most to get was the depth and the sun behind the pillars in the shadows.

GW: Right.

BS: And that's what I was working. This one with two fabrics because the figure was there.

GW: Okay.

BS: [inaudible.] same this was two fabrics because I could put a seam there. This one I painted I tried to match it, it was not real pleasant, this is painted all these little things all around.

GW: Now what I'm seeing here is all of this Egyptian writing on these pillars.

BS: I painted it then thread stitched over it.

GW: I see, okay. And how did you get this little lady.

BS: Just appliquéd her on.

GW: You just appliquéd her on [laughs.] well she's standing there perfectly appliquéd I can tell you that for sure. This is an outstanding quilt and one that we're going to be very proud to have in our S.O.S [laughs.] bunch of stuff here. What aspect of the quilting do you like best right now in your quilting?

BS: Oh I think all of it. I've got so many ideas in my head I can't get them all done fast enough, and when I do start working on them I usually make small sketch or I work right from my head, I enjoy that part. I enjoy the painting. I enjoy sitting at the machine and sewing. I like to hand quilt. I like it all. I think we're fabricholics.

GW: It's the whole process.

BS: Yes, we like to handle the stuff and feel it, very tactile.

GW: What makes a great quilt?

BS: What makes a great quilt? I think attention to detail, working on it, working hard on it, working hard at picking out your colors and your fabrics and spending a lot of time trying to do the work really good.

GW: What, what amount of personal involvement in the subject do you think is important to our quilting today?

BS: Oh, you have to be personally involved.

GW: But this one [announcement over the loudspeaker.] is such a personal statement.
tape recorder turned off.]

GW: So we were talking about what makes a great quilt and you were, you were explaining that but do you have anything else to say for the message?

BS: Well, I think even somebody that doesn't, that isn't artistically inclined and who just sits and does kit quilts I think is still a great quilter if they allow attention to detail and try to do it really good.

GW: Okay. What do you think makes a, let, especially when we, when we look at this what, what makes this so artistically powerful this is a definitely I would never say anything that, that, that this is, is other then artistically very power piece and so what makes that? What, what does that?

BS: I think because I work very hard and I did achieve what I was after. The grandeur of the location and the depth of, of the field.

GW: The depth of that field.

BS: That was the two main things I was after.

GW: When you took this picture were you surprised at the outcome of the picture? Or did you artistically know you were taking a fabulous photograph?

BS: Oh I didn't, I had no idea how the photograph was going to come out but I just thought what a neat picture. [laughs.]

GW: It did come out.

BS: Yes.

GW: Well, do you have any kind of special photography? Equipment or was this a point and shoot thing?

BS: Point and shoot.

GW: Point and shoot, oh great I love it when it just happens. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum? Or let's say just a special collection of quilts?

BS: Well, I suppose like any collector they're after a certain style so if they were after [inaudible.] quilts it would be that and if they found nice examples of them they request them or if they wanted art quilts, I think it just depends on what the collector is after.

GW: What's going on with the museum, their focus?

BS: Yes.

GW: You're talking about their focus. In view of that what do you think makes a great quilter? [laughs.]

BS: I think someone who works really hard to achieve what they want to achieve and not afraid to tear out and do that somebody that cares but I think that's, that's true in anything

You do, I mean like what makes a great musician? But 'cause I happen to be one it's a lot of practice lots of practice--I--that's probably it I tell everybody that, if you don't practice your machine work your never going to get it, you've got to practice all of it.

GW: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? How?

BS: How? Oh every which way, mine was my grandmother telling to me take little stitches that's it [laughs.] and I just, I worked at it. I read a lot. I have a pretty large library with that stuff. I read a lot and I listen to people. All those things.

GW: Why is quilting so important in your life? Why is this medium what you have chosen?

BS: This is, I've tried a lot of things like I've told you painting, embroidery, crochet I've tried them all, this particular field of quilting satisfies all the different things I feel I need to do or want to do especially since I've gotten into these art quilts.

GW: Why do you think it appeals to women so much? I mean everywhere you look here there's women.

BS: Women have always sewed. It's always been a woman's thing I think it's because of being a women's thing we're not seeing that many men get involved.

GW: So fabric is in our genes?

BS: Yes I like that. [laughs.] It really is. We need to touch, we need to feel, we need to hug each other all that kind of stuff.

GW: Well, well the quilt you've showed us here certainly shows a--an occasion in your life, how do your other quilts kind of reflect your community or reflect the world around you?

BS: I don't do, well the ones I do with animals are from pictures I have taken where I live and on our property we have raccoons and possums and all kinds of birds and I do quilts that reflect that, because I like that. I did a quilt that's lost I know I'm in the middle of waiting for it, it took me all summer to make it. I sent it up to Jacksonville, and it never came back, but the quilt is about it's a large wall quilt say 45x50 I airbrushed painted the background in shades of corals from light to very dark going up this way with a wispy smoke and I have a little island and I had about a dozen animals sitting on this island all looking sad. I did them all in thread painting so its my way of saying watch out for those cigarettes don't throw them out the window. I mean Jacksonville has to be an area where there's a lot of forest fires and I used all local animals. So I do, do things like that and the other quilt I have here is my beautiful reef. I want people to remember also that we have to take care of our reefs and that was the other so I do try to do statements from time to time.

GW: Those two were conversion type statements?

BS: Yes.

GW: What do you think is important about quilting in American life today?

BS: I think it brings a lot of people together. I belong to a bee, I belong to several guilds, my local guild, my state guild, my international guild as a national it does bring people together women mostly and I think women need that to get enough, some of that strength, and a reason, this gives us a reason to do it. I think that's really neat.

GW: In your bee what do you do in your bee?

BS: Sit around and talk [laughs.] and eat.

GW: And eat.

BS: Everybody brings their sewing and their showing offs but we're planning things. My daughter has just recently moved here from Hawaii and she has a class she's been teaching on painting small things, we're going to have her teach.

GW: Now Barbara is showing me a little quilted pin she has just absolutely adorable lil' tiny little buttons on it and a little dog in the middle of it.

BS: That's my dog.

GW: That is your dog see it's a personal--

BS: I have a golden retriever.

GW: Oh golden--

BS: She does custom dogs.

GW: Yes, okay.

BS: So we're going to teach this class to make, how to make these how to paint them this whole thing is painted. She paints the dogs and the background and then matches the fabric and brings it over, so we're going to have a class, so yes we'll be doing things.

GW: So your bee does do little projects and they also do their individual things?

BS: They might go to a show together maybe once year we have like a Christmas program that maybe we can bring the husbands, but it's ladies night out on Mondays.

GW: Is mainly yes. In what way do you think quilting has affected American history especially women's history?

BS: Well, just by virtue of this continuing and it's become so popular and I don't think its ever really going to die out again. And I think there's a lot of history look at the names of the quilts and we're still bringing those old quilts. In just my old quilt my aunts and my mother can sit there and pick out dress fabrics and talk about old times and I think it bring us a lot closer together.

GW: Within the family, within the community, within right. How do you think--how do you think quilts can be used in?

BS: All the ways that I do it, we show them, we use them use them on our beds. We hang them on our walls. A lot of mine now are meant to be hung. I talk about quilts I take them places. I teach. I use my quilts to teach. The recent--the most recent classes I'm doing are thread painting.

GW: Do you make any clothing?

BS: Some, some, not so much anymore, but I do sew. I was taught to sew when I was very young.

GW: So you're incorporating quilting in all of your life you have it, in little art pins, you have it in clothing, and in quilts. [laughs.] We're seeing it pop up everywhere.

BS: Yes we use it a lot.

GW: How do you think quilts could be preserved in the future? Quilt and quilting can be as you say we were talking.

BS: What we're doing my first quilt because I didn't know any better and I think yours too we used them, and we started to wear them out, now we don't use them anymore. I bought a barrister's bookcase which I have in my living room I think its five shelves high and I keep my quilts in there behind the glass and I can then open the door or I can just look and pull the quilt out and show somebody and I think a lot of us are doing that now, for preservation and mine do get hang on the wall or they might get folded at the end of the bed but we're all taking better care of them these days because so many of these early quilts were lost, and fabric does get lost.

GW: Can you tell me something about this quilt? There's a picture of a quilt here that we've brought that has, it's is a sea scene an underwater scene and a wonderful, wonderful fish all over it and coral and tell me about this quilt.

BS: I got the idea because there's been so many articles very recently about losing our reef system that goes all up and down our state in Florida, and the reefs that are other places too and I thought oh losing all these beautiful fish and I scuba dive too and no place else to go to scuba dive. Running out of places and I hand painted the larger fish are hand painted and every thing else is appliquéd.

GW: When you hand painted this fish in there did you directly put it on the quilt? Or did you hand painted another piece of fabric?

BS: And then hand appliquéd them on.

GW: I see, and so you did not just hand, so you just did not airbrush a piece of fabric that looked that you could cut out then?

BS: No I did it with a brush.

GW: You actually knew the form that you were doing well it's just fabulous. What kind of fabrics did you use?

BS: Cotton, all cotton.

GW: All cotton what about the back? How does the back look on this?

BS: I think it's just a--it's a water scene type of fabric that I try to match the rest.

GW: But you did, you did try to match something that--

BS: Yes.

GW: A commercial piece of fabric.

BS: A commercial piece.

GW: That spoke to you.

BS: That's watery. [laughs.]

GW: Yes, that was watery that spoke to you oh it is, it is just a lovely thing. And what kind of batting do you use then in this?

BS: Again the quilters dream cotton.

GW: Quilter's Dream Cotton is your favorite? That's neat to know, and does it have a binding all around the outsides?

BS: This is the quilt here.

GW: Oh, oh this is the quilt?

BS: Yes.

GW: Okay, I'm seeing the back wall.

BS: It's sort of a turquoise binding.

GW: Right a turquoise binding, so it does not have a frame at all?

BS: No, no, no it just has a hanging sleeve.

GW: And this is the same I was thinking this was, this was

BS: No this is the quilt here and it has a hanging sleeve.

GW: So there's no frame on these, on either one of these quilts you've showed us today they are framed by a very thin fabric

BS: Like a binding.

GW: Binding right that goes around very, very a

BS: Some of the quilts that I've sold have been framed my brother has a quilt that's a gold dragon I made for him, he framed it he put it under glass. I don't do it with mine personally.

GW: Can you tell me any--is there any other thing that you would like to add? That you would like to tell us about that, that I haven't asked you today or that

BS: No, no you've covered completely [laughs.] you've covered the works I think.

GW: Well it's been such a pleasure it really has been a pleasure seeing you Barbara and getting to meet you.

BS: I've enjoyed it.

GW: And everything and I liked to thank Barbara Stewart for allowing me to interview her today as part of our 2000 Quilters' S.O.S - Save Our Stories project our interview has now concluded at 12:03pm.



“Barbara Stewart,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,