Margarete Heinisch




Margarete Heinisch




Margarete Heinisch


Janelle Archer

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Houston, Texas


Elaine Johnson


Janelle Archer (JA): Hello Margarete, my name is Janelle Archer and we are conducting this interview for stories about our quilts for The Alliance for the Preservation of Quilting. It is Friday afternoon at about 3:15 on November the third of 2000. And how are you doing today? And this quilt that I'm standing in front of is the most magnificent thing I have ever seen in my life. First of all how long did it take you to do this?

Margarete Heinisch (MH): I worked two and a half years of appliquéing and piecing it together and almost 4 months on quilting.

JA: What--tell us about it--how--why did you do it and what started it?

MH: Yes, the idea to do this piece was to celebrate the year 2000 and my upcoming U.S. citizenship and I wanted to use mainly the colors of red and blue. And while we were sitting in a mini-group, people would ask the question about what other people think that the future would bring in the year 2000. Everybody was worried about the computer bugs and I said that I was sure that will be solved--actually nothing much will change, life will go on. And that gave me the idea for the life cycle in this quilt. I will have children, young people, adulthood and old age that was and always will be in the future. And thinking further I think if we have in the year 2000 what we really like. Freedom and peace is on everybody's mind, no one should go hungry on earth. When we celebrate the year 2000 it is not a national celebration, it's a world wide celebration. The four compasses in this quilt indicate the whole world. My wish was to become a citizen in the year 2000. I did send my application went in 1998 and it could take three months to three years to become a citizen, as it will be picked by computers so I thought I wish it would be the year 2000 that I get it. And my wish did come true but my friends teased me and said, 'Do you refuse it when it comes today or next week,' and I said, 'Of course, not because I would have it nicely wrapped up in the year 2000.' And my wish did come true to become an American citizen. I will actually be the citizen of fifty states and so I thought I'd do the border around the quilt with the pictures of all fifty State Capitols. They are in order by year of their admittance into the union. The two in the middle in the top row are The White House and the State Capitol in Washington D.C. and then the fifty states go clockwise. There are all together fifty-two circles, because only the fifty did not work on the square. I laid out the quilt, starting from the center, with the 2000 easy to see. I have not done anything particularly from my family in the life circle but there are some scenes where they can identify their life. I am very realistic and I try to make people as naturally looking as possible. The story of the life starts in the center on the tip and also goes clockwise. My mom used to say, "A child looks like a fresh rose bud." That's why I put a baby in the rose then two children are watching a little American Indian girl and other children are playing ring around the rose. There is a little Amish boy, a little Chinese boy, and an Asian looking girl, a Dutch girl, a little American boy in blue jeans and in the back is a girl who can be whatever we want her to be. I did different ethnic groups because we all grow up together here in the United States of America. then I modeled one girl as my youngest granddaughter and one as my older granddaughter. She has a balloon because those were her first words before she could say 'mom' or 'dad.' She definitely said, 'Balloon,' first. And there is my grandson in the tree that's where he wanted to be after we told him that he could be in the quilt. And here is a young boy jumping over the fence into "Youth." In one of the girls, I am portraying myself in an outfit I would wear in Austria. On the lower part of the quilt, there is a little girl on her knees smelling the flowers and a little courting scene with the apple of temptation for him to bite into. The next scene shows the wedding and then the husband points out to his new wife their new home. Then the first child is born. I took an image of my mother when she was holding her first child, a boy, my brother. And there is a picnic scene with the whole family. I portrayed my husband here as he is looking back over the fence. He has a family now. Then the scene changes over to the older generation; the grandparents and the grandkids around them. One picture shows a girl gets pecked by a goose as I was once when I went for milk to the next farmer. The marble statue of a mourning lady leaning over a graveyard stone and new roses grow out of the grave indicating new life and again the start of a new life cycle. I used some of my memories and stories from other people to create this picture of life.

JA: I see you have the pledge to the flag in the center.

MH: Yes, I have the Pledge of Allegiance cut out from a printed fabric. I did not draw this myself. My friend gave me a lot of fabric with patriotic designs when I got the citizenship. They gave me a big party and I also used this for the back of the quilt. The leaves of the wreath have different shades of green and various patterns as peace has different meaning for some people. Around the center are fifty-two stars representing the States and two Territories.

JA: I will say this that you have done your homework well on the United States and how we've become a nation and this is just incredible. The picture of all the States' Capitols, were those photographs?

MH: I have an encyclopedia at home in which I found the images of the buildings. I enlarged them to that size that was comfortable for me to draw with ink pens.

JA: What kind of ink pens?

MH: A brown permanent ink pen, pen #1, #3, and #5 and with black #00, the finest point, I usually outline the drawing to get more detail.

JA: I see that. This quilt, will it go in a museum?

MH: People have asked me this. I don't know if it is true but I heard that sometimes if the museums are filled up with artifacts they sell them to private parties and I do not think that I would like this. I like it to remain public all the time.

JA: So this quilt, will you be able to keep this?

MH: I keep it. Even if a museum will take it, it will still be mine. I made it for the people to see. I would only loan it.

JA: You made it for the people, so you really would like to see it go to a museum for display or a public place for people to see all the time?

MH: Yes, in a museum or maybe in a library; many people go there. This would be a nice place to display the quilt for the public and I would feel comfortable about it.

JA: I agree with that. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you get interested in quilting?

MH: One day I went to a shopping mall with my daughter and there was an exhibit of what looked like pictures hanging on the wall. I got interested and found out that it was a quilt exhibit. After reading all the information what quilts are, how to make them and the purpose they served, I got really excited about that kind of work. From various sewing projects I had lots of scrap and this would be ideal to do a quilt of my own. Somehow I managed to produce a log cabin quilt. My belief at that time was that the maker of the quilts I have seen the exhibition and I were about the only one doing that kind of work because I had never heard about quilts before. On one of my visits to a fabric store I got some information about quilts, quilt guilds and shows and special tools needed for quilting. Immediately, that was 1990, I enrolled in a guild and I am a member of three mini groups and guilds since then. And I am very happy with what I am doing.

JA: And what city was this in?

MH: It was in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley. [California.]

JA: That's where you live. And how many years have you been in the United States?

MH: It is now 29 years. I came in 1971.

JA: Are there any other quilters among--in your family?

MH: No, I am the only one.

JA: Do you make quilts for other members of your family? Do you make them to give away to your friends?

MH: Yes, I do. My son and daughter, my three grandchildren and some of my friends have quilts I made for them but all are in a smaller size.

JA: Not as big as this one we're standing in front of here then?

MH: No, not that big, a lot smaller.

JA: How has quilting impacted your family and your life since you got started?

MH: How has it affected my life? I spent a lot of time researching, designing and sewing together quilts I see already finished in my mind. I cannot spend the time anymore for my household and garden I used to, but I still can manage and I do not hear any complaints from my family. They know I love making quilts.

JA: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MH: A great quilt is a good design and choice of colors, exact sewing and even stitches in quilting. This attracts the people, they spend time to look it over and when they walk away, they still talk about it.

JA: What makes a great quilter?

MH: I am not sure how to answer this question. For me, every person who makes quilts and spends countless hours with design, sewing, quilting and also finishes the project is a great quilter. But on the end the judges in shows and the judgment of the people decide who is a great quilter. Of course, if the quilt is a prize winner and maybe is pictured in magazines, that helps to be recognized.

JA: You know, what makes you--maybe the quilt wasn't in the show but you had seen it?

MH: Oh, if something draws you to the quilt and you have interest in it and you walk closer to look at it?

JA: Yes MH: I look at every quilt.

JA: In what ways do your quilts reflect the community because you've done this quilt which reflects the world really, not only the United States, but the world?

MH: The way my quilts reflect the community? This quilt "And Crown Thy Goods with Brotherhood" reflects the people's portrait in the life circle, symbols of freedom, peace and hospitality and my recent ceremony becoming a citizen of the fifty States of the U.S.A. The outer border points that out.

JA: So, how many quilts do you make a year?

MH: This quilt took me almost three years. It would be a lot faster with the machine.

JA: A quilt goes faster with a machine. Do you use a machine or do you do everything by hand?

MH: So far I did everything by hand but I will use a machine in the future. Machine quilting interests me.

JA: But you quilted this by hand?

MH: Yes, I quilted this by hand.

JA: It's just beautiful. I know you haven't been in America--the United States but about twenty-nine years, you said. How do you think quilts reflect our life here? Do you think that it has any meaning for us here in America? Do you think quilts do?

MH: Yes, I do. When I first was exposed to quilts, I saw the useful part, like a bedcover or a little quilt for a baby but you can make also very expressive quilts by using a theme or a story. There are also many occasions like friendship, marriage, birth, and scenes of the country with flowers and people; they give a lot of choices for a quilter to make a memorable quilt. In my designs I can express what I feel. I don't have to write it down, you can see it. In the United States, we have a big selection of quilts more than anywhere in the world.

JA: So you never published a book then or any patterns you've had published?

MH: No, not at this time.

JA: Where did you learn to draw?

MH: I have an easy hand for drawing. I was trained as a porcelain painter in Europe. I went to school for four years and did my apprenticeship.

JA: So you were trained as an artist, a painter, in Austria?

MH: Yes, I worked in a factory in Vienna, painting porcelain figures. I liked what I was doing.

JA: So why did you come to the United States?

MH: I came to the United States because I wanted a better life for my two children, for our family. Our financial situation was not too good and as a young couple with two children we did not get any help from the government to find affordable housing. So my brother, who was already living in California, thought we would have a better chance in the States.

JA: Was your husband from Austria?

MH: No, Czechoslovakia, but he grew up in Austria.

JA: Czechoslovakia--so both of you came--was he already here or did you come after you were married?

MH: I dragged him.

JA: You dragged him. [both laugh.]

MH: I had to talk to him about it because he really did not want to leave because of his mother but I told him that his mother has to understand and so we came.

JA: How does your family feel about quilting?

MH: My family is German-Austrian. We are very content in giving compliments. They think it's very nice but here they think it is just wonderful. I have to grow into that, getting compliments. I have changed. Now I am much more free and open and cheerful.

JA: Has that come about because of your being involved with quilting and in a guild?

MH: No, I think Americans are cheerful, happy and very polite and make friends very easy. They say, 'Excuse me,' if they bump into each other. In Europe, they would say, 'What are you doing? Watch out where you go.' So wouldn't you like to be in an environment that is nice instead of some other places?

JA: Oh, I am a true American. I think we have a wonderful country. How did you feel getting the award?

MH: I got the Founder's Award.

JA: Yes, but how did you feel about getting that award?

MH: I felt wonderful.

JA: This is I understand your second award. Have you won an award before here?

MH: I have won a Viewer's Choice here. I got a technical award once and an Honorable Mention in another show and I won the European Championship in England with a quilt I made with an Austrian theme.

JA: Then everyone who comes to this show knows you then?

MH: Some people did recognize the method and style. They thought it was a little similar to the Austrian quilt and asked me about that.

JA: Did you take classes in doing appliqué work or did you just figure that out on your own or--

MH: I did appliqué before, just to enhance a little sleeve on a dress and other things, but when I started to quilt I took a class.

JA: You did take a class.

MH: I took a class from Ellen Heck, a teacher and a good friend of mine. It was an advanced appliqué class because I was not sure whether I would do well in this class. I made first a small sample which Ellen approved. I took four sessions with her. She is an excellent teacher. What I learned from her was very helpful to me and got me off to a good start.

JA: Do you friends and family that you've made quilts for, do they show them off?

MH: Yes, yes they do. My granddaughter, for example, did a speech in school. Once a month they have one hour of 'telling and sharing.' She told the class that her grandmother makes quilts and she showed a picture of that quilt I made with scenes from Austria. She explained that this was a quilt for Austria, a country her grandmother was born. She loves to tell that she has a famous grandmother.

JA: Oh, that's wonderful. Has anyone in your family, your daughter or your granddaughter shown any interest in doing quilting and taking this up?

MH: No, my daughter sews well but she has three children and so they all wait for the next quilt that is all the interest they have.

JA: Waiting for grandmother to make the next quilt?

MH: My grandson has three quilts. My granddaughter, the older one, has two and the younger got a very fast one and one that I still have to finish.

JA: What is your next project?

MH: My next project is to finish two quilts I started months ago.

JA: So we look forward to seeing that on display here maybe next year or the year after next?

MH: No, not next year.

JA: Year after next, maybe?

MH: Maybe, yes hopefully.

JA: Are there any questions that we haven't asked you here today that you would like to or anything you'd like to discuss that we haven't discussed so far that you think would be important?

MH: It is great that quilters can expose their work in such a big show. I have never seen so much comradeship among people like I have seen it with quilters. Thanks to all who make the show such a success.

JA: Helen, [actually Ellen Menefee.] is there anything you'd like to ask?

Ellen Menefee (EM): No, I don't think so because of the time.

JA: No, go ahead ask anything you want.

EM: This is such a beautiful display quilt, do you have quilts at home like this one on the wall or beds?

MH: Yes, on the wall and one on a guest bed.

JA: The ones you have made fore your children and grandchildren, do they use them or display them?

MH: My daughter has one of my first quilts on the wall and my grandson has a story quilt left, he trashed two others I made for him. My older granddaughter takes good care of her quilts. She has one on the wall and one on her bed. The youngest does not use her quilt but she knows it is hers.

JA: How do you feel about the trashed ones?

MH: It is fine. I made those quilts for him to use and he loved them.

JA: So, that is okay with you because they're being used right?

MH: I think that is perfect. I mean some people wouldn't feel that way but I do.

JA: Do you have anything else?

MH: No, no.

JA: Well, this concludes this portion of the interview. It is now 3:40 on Friday afternoon and we have thoroughly enjoyed it, Margarete and this is the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen in my life.

MH: Thank you, thank you very much.

JA: Thank you.



“Margarete Heinisch,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,