Jan Wildman




Jan Wildman




Jan Wildman


Jana Hawley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Joanne Gasperik


Jana Hawley (JH): Okay, today is 11-4 of 2000. This is the interview with Jan Wildman. This is the Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Houston, Texas. We will be recording this and it's going to be for posterity. Okay?

Jan Wildman (JW): Fine.

JH: Jan, would you tell us about the quilt that you brought today?

JW: I've brought this quilt, because it's kind of special to me, even though I don't consider it my best quilt. It's special to me, because I made this quilt instead of making New Year's resolutions in 1995. I had decided that every year I was making the same resolutions and then breaking them by, probably the end of January. So, I saw this flying pig's fabric, and it reminded me of the expression 'when pigs fly.' So, these are all things in my life that I figured would happen when pigs fly. So, I have about nine different centers of blocks, that have different sayings of things that I would like to have happen in my life, but probably aren't very likely.

JH: So, you want to go over each block with us?

JW: Well, we could do that. In the top block it says, 'Enjoy exercising.' The next one is 'Keep the house clean' and then the next one is 'Finish more quilts.' And those are all kind of self-explanatory. Then in the next row I have 'Lose weight' and above it in little letters it says, 'If only it were as easy to lose, as my mind.' I guess that's rather self-explanatory. In the middle of the quilt there's a block that says, 'Cherish the miracles,' and it has sea turtles on it. There's a story behind that that I can tell a little later. And then there is 'Remember birthdays and anniversaries' which I am absolutely horrible about, still. And then on the bottom row there is 'Use more fabric than I buy,' another when pigs fly pipe dream there. [chuckles.] '"Cook nutritious meals for my family,' and then the final one is 'Have more time to rest, relax, think and dream.' And of all of the nine, that's the one that I've gotten closest to doing. [laughs.]

JH: Very good, very good. Can you tell us, describe for the record, the process of the quilt and the designs that are being used here?

JW: Okay, Okay. In the center of each star there are designs that I drew or constructed on the computer, and then I printed the images out onto T-shirt transfer paper in reverse, and then I ironed those images to the fabric so that it transferred all of those images. And then I selected fabrics and pieced together a star and then selected fabrics for sashing to set apart the block. I also have places, where I've done the T-shirt transfer paper where it says, 'I will, I will, I will.' After I got the top completed, I surrounded it with the flying pig's fabric, and then I sandwiched it with a cotton batting and a cotton back, and I've machine quilted it using a jigsaw puzzle design, where the rows of quilting go both horizontally and vertically across the quilt and resemble a jigsaw puzzle.

JH: Can you explain the process of your machine quilting a little bit?

JW: I do a free motion machine quilting where I drop the feed dogs, and I move the fabric from the top as my machine is running. So, I'm controlling it as I push the fabrics through the machine.

JH: Do you use a frame?

JW: No. I have the quilt over my left shoulder and then running through the machine and coming out behind my sewing machine.

JH: And you have a really nice label here on your quilt on the backside. Do you want to tell us what it says?

JW: The label says, 'When pigs fly' and then it has my name and address, phone number and the year that I finished quilt. I did that, the label, the writing part on the computer and it looks like one of the pigs is saying it because I appliqu├ęd the pigs on to the back.

JH: So, it was completed in what year?

JW: '95.

JH: Okay.

JW: 1995

JH: Is the quilt 100% cotton?

JW: Yes.

JH: Everything about it is 100% cotton? What special meaning, you've shared about your New Year's Eve resolutions, but as you've gone through the process? How has it--how has that meaning actually come to fruition on it?

JW: I think one thing about doing this for me, when I made it, it was kind of nice to get rid of the guilt of making new year's resolutions each year, and I'm pleased that I no longer do that, because I did always feel guilt over them and now, I kind of, when everybody else is saying they're making them, I just kind of laugh about that. I think you can make resolutions any time during the year, you don't have to wait till New Year's, and maybe if you just make one at a time you have a better chance of accomplishing them, than making an entire list. I think that's what it's done for me. But also, I'd like to tell you about the center square here, that has sea turtles on it, because when it says, 'Cherish the miracles' and you see sea turtles, it looks pretty strange. But that's because, when my father was sick, he had cancer and he passed away, and he lived in Florida on the beach with my mother. After he passed away, he was cremated and he had asked that his ashes be sprinkled on the beach, which is technically illegal in Florida. We went to pick up the ashes, and it was a very small box. We looked at them, and it's not like they were going to pollute the beach, or anything. So, we decided we would honor his wishes and sprinkle his ashes. So, he passed away at the end of March, but my mother kept him in the box, until all of our family could get together, which turned out to be in about late in July or early August. So, she had had him for quite a while, and we really hadn't had a good closure. So, one night we were all together, and we cooked a very nice meal, and then we went out to the beach in front of their condominium. And mother had gotten a basket of rose petals and flower petals and we sprinkled them in the ocean, and we had little flashlights, so we could read some passages and some poetry that he'd especially liked, so we had a very nice ceremony. But it was sad, because we all loved him very much, and to say goodbye. And as we were walking back up the beach, at first, we looked up and we thought it was like a black trash bag that was blowing. When we got up closer, we found that it was a nest of baby sea turtles. There were so many of them, that they had hatched all at once, it just made the sand look black. So anyway, after going through a death ceremony, to see birth in that abundance, we were all just down on our knees crying. The turtles, a lot of them usually don't make it to the ocean, because some of them get confused by the lights and things and go the wrong way. So, if one would be going the wrong way, my mother would run over and stand behind it, go, "turnaround, turnaround, turnaround ". So, they all made it into the ocean. Some of them might have had heart attacks when they got there, because my mother was scaring them to death. But there were just hundreds of turtles and we had never seen, even though they lived in an area where they laid, we had never seen so many at once. And we felt it was somewhat of a miracle to see all of these turtles. So, it was very special to us. And it was also special, because they had lived there for about 10 years, and for my mother's birthdays and anniversary and Christmas my father had gotten her lots of sea turtle jewelry. So, she had a sea turtle necklace, sea turtle earrings, a sea turtle bracelet, on her coffee table she had all different kinds of sea turtles, so it made it even more special, when we were saying goodbye to him, to see the sea turtles. So that's why it says, 'Cherish the miracles,' and there are sea turtles. It kind of reminds me, that I think there are miracles all around, that sometimes we just don't take the time to see them and realize them. So that's what that's about.

JH: It's a beautiful story, thank you. So how do you use this quilt now?

JW: I have it hanging on the wall in my guest room, sometimes. But I also teach a lot of quilting classes and it's an example of my machine quilting jigsaw puzzle pattern. So, I take it around when I teach the class and show people. I'm always pleased when it brings a smile to someone's face, even if they don't know the story, most people can relate to one of the nine [chuckles.] things on here.

JH: So, do you cherish this quilt personally more because of the New Year's resolutions or more because of the blocks the center block or is it a combination?

JW: That's like asking me which child do I like better, I don't know, [laughter.] I don't know that I could separate those things.

JH: Tell me about your life as a quilter.

JW: Wow.

JH: Okay, I'll hone that a bit, tell me about your interest in quilting.

JW: I started quilting because I have quilts from two of my great grandmothers. One of them was a German immigrant. She made quite a few quilts. She worked in a garment factory by day and would make quilts at night. My grandmother felt that that was lowly work, so my grandmother actually never quilted, but she had this stack of quilts from my great-grandmother. When I turned about 12, I got Trip Around the World from my great grandmother's collection, although I had never met her, she had been dead when I was around, but my grandmother gave me Trip Around the World from--

JH: Was it a finished quilt?

JW: Yes. It was a finished, double sized quilt in pastel colors that my great-grandmother had made in the '30's.

JH: Could you tell whether or not it was purchased from new fabrics or was it used flour sacks--

JW: It was stuff she brought home from the garment factory, and they were tons of different fabrics in it. When would go to visit my grandmother, I have a younger sister and my grandmother would bring out Double Wedding Ring and tell us who ever gets married first, gets Double Wedding Ring. And I got it [laughter.] and my sister is still giving me a hard time about that. But then on my other grandmother's side, her mother also was a quilter, and so I have quilts from that great-grandmother as well. And that great-grandmother, well she had four daughters, and so I only have one quilt from that great-grandmother, even though she made tons of them because, as my grandmother would say, the older sisters took most of them [laughter.]. My grandmother actually on that side, my mother's mother, was not a quilter but she always did knitted objects and things like that, and in fact my grandfather took her to the 1933 Century of Progress in Chicago, and they saw the Singer Featherweight, and they ordered one. And it came in 1935 and she had a party, and she invited her older sisters and her mother to kind of show off. [both laugh.] So, I guess the fact that I've always enjoyed fabric, I've always enjoyed quilts, when I first moved to Florida, is when I started quilting. That was in about 1980, I was a new bride. I had a new job; I really didn't know anyone at my office. I worked with all men. I was the only woman on my floor. I came home and expected my husband and I to always do things together. He finally told me, for our marriage to survive I needed a hobby. [laughter.] Because he wanted his own time and space to go and play in the garage, or sit on the sofa and change channels, you know. I had made a couple things, quilted things, when I was in high school, and when I was in college, but then I went and took a class. I already had a bag of scraps from things I had made, so I went and started taking a class. Then I started going to the library and reading books and got into it.

JH: Are you a full-time, professional quilter now?

JW: Now I am. But that's only been for the last six years.

JH: So, tell me about your professional career as a quilter.

JW: Okay, I started teaching quilting probably about 12 or so years ago, just like after work and on weekends and things, because people had seen my quilts and wanted to know how I was doing different things. And then, about six years ago my what life was such that I was working full-time as an engineer, I have a son, who was requiring to have some mothering [chuckles.] and of course I had my husband, and I was a quilter and I felt there was just too much in my life. So, as I like to say, I gave up the job that paid, [both laugh.] and I stopped being an engineer and I started being a quilter. And then as I got into it more, I was able to finish more quilts because I had more time and I was able to do more teaching and so that has expanded, every year from five years ago till now.

JH: And for the record you are from?

JW: Orlando, Florida.

JH: Have you always been from there?

JW: No. My first 17 years of life I lived in Logansport, Indiana, well, lots of places in Indiana, but primarily there. And then I went to college, and I went to graduate school, and I traveled around little bit and got married and moved back. I'm 43 now so [laughs.] that gives you some idea of the ages there.

JH: What's your earliest memory of a quilt?

JW: Probably when I was 12 and got Trip Around the World, I mean I may have earlier memories of visiting Grandma and having some displayed for me. I may have those. But we really didn't have quilts in our house, till I got the Trip Around the World.

JH: Are there other quilters in your family?

JW: I'm working on that. [laughter.]

J H: How? How are you working on that?

JW: My sister and my mother, I think both have the potential. But they really haven't. They will come over and do small things with me but they haven't really taken to it yet, they're not purchasing fabric yet. [laughter.]

JH: And what role do the men in your family play in quilts?

JW: My husband it takes the slides of my quilts. [laughter.] That's about it.

JH: Are they supportive?

JW: They're supportive in the fact that they think it's a wonderful thing to do, but they're not, they're not as supportive as my quilt friends who understand it a little bit more. However, my 14-year-old son, I made him a Christmas quilt and I only let him use it on December 24th, one night, so I think in that way it might last till I have grandchildren or something. Whenever people come to my house to look at my quilts, he always comes out and he'll say, 'Well you should have her show you the quilt she made for me, it's her best,' and he goes on and on about it. So, he considers them his heirlooms, he tells people, 'Yeah, someday all this will be mine.' [laughter.] And things like that. So, I think he appreciates them.

JH: I many quilts have you made?

JW: I have no idea. [laughs.]

J H: Lost count long time ago.

JW: Well, I do know, let's see, after I quit work, I increased my production substantially. I forget how many I finished in 96, but in 97 I think I finished 17 and in 98 I finished 15, but last year I only finished seven, because I was teaching so much that year.

JH: So, are most of them this size or you do bed size?

JW: I do a lot of bed size. Have two bed sized in the show, one in the teacher's exhibit and one in the judged show.

JH: And how did you do this year in the judged show?

JW: I didn't win anything. [laughs.] It's still a nice quilt. [laughter.]

JH: I'm sure is.

JW: It is.

J H: Tell me what your favorite thing is about quilting.

JW: I don't know. I really liked everything about quilting.

JH: There is nothing that you don't like? Is there anything that you don't like?

JW: Ironing [laughs.]

JH: What do you think makes a great quilt? You mentioned that yours is a great quilt that's hanging up there, what makes a great quilt?

JW: I like the quilts that visually attract me, that mean something to me that I can relate to. Of course, I say it's a great quilt, but I haven't really met that many bad quilts, so I don't know.

JH: Is quilting craft or art?

JW: [laughs.] I'm not qualified to answer that. I could say it can be both, I don't think--

JH: So, what would make a quilt artistically powerful?

JW: [sighs.] Gosh, these are questions that are too hard for me, I'm not very good at quantifying or categorizing, and that's why I would never judge a quilt show because I'm not good at picking one thing over the other.

J H: So, what would make a quilt appropriate for a museum collection or a special exhibit?

JW: Well, I guess uniqueness, would be something I would look for, as well as dynamic and graphic and well-constructed, would-be things I would look for, if I were selecting for an exhibit work with them.

JH: What makes a great quilter?

JW: I don't know, I guess [laughs.] I think one thing a great quilter has to do is have the perseverance to finish some quilts. [laughter.] And I guess I think that anyone can do it, but like anything a lot of it has to be, that you put the effort in to make some mistakes and move on. I think very few quilters are born that every quilt that they make is a fantastic work of art, and so I think that for most people the more you make the better you get. And that probably time and effort make a good, or a great quilter.

JH: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? Is it learned, is it innate?

JW: For some it can probably be innate, but I think that there is a lot of learning and self-expression, confidence that if you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world; fear to go where no quilter has gone before [chuckling.], you know, that kind of thing.

JH: So why then is quilting important to your life?

JW: Quilting is important to my life, because it's so much a part of my life; it helps me in so many ways.

JH: Like what?

JW: [sighs.] When I've got a problem, quilting can help me work through that, because I can keep my hands busy and know I'm doing something, and my subconscious can work on the problem. When I'm nervous, having time to stitch can seemingly calm me. When I'm trying, to control what I'm eating, having something in my hands can prevent made from inhaling a pound of M&M;'s, so-- [laughs.]

JH: So, when you are in those modes, where you need--

JW: Quilting--

JH: Yes, you need quilting, is it machine work, hand work, which part, which--

JW: I do almost all machine work, but even if you do all machine work, there are a lot of things that aren't machine work. You still have to select fabrics, iron fabrics, cut fabrics. So even though I construct my blocks and quilts by machine, and I quilt them by machine, there still is a lot of non-machine work involved in that.

JH: How does this quilt and other quilts that you do reflect Orlando, Florida, your community or your region?

JW: I don't think my quilts very well reflect my region. Orlando is a city, even though I've been there for 20 years; Orlando is a city of transplants. I'm not down on Orlando when I say this, but it doesn't have as much of a style as many cities because there are such a variety of people from all over. [sighs.] To reflect, I don't know that it does, although some people say that they think that that is why I use brighter colors in my quilts, because I'm in that area. However, I have quilting friends in that area who love the reproductions, and love the antique look, so I think it's just me. [laughs.]

JH: Okay. What roles do you think quilts have played in American history?

JW: Again, that's not a good question for me, but [pause.] I think they've been important there are examples some of political statements that they have made, and I think, that they've been a very good tool for different statements and different activities and certainly, like the signature quilts where they would raise money, the raffle quilts for church and things like that. I think it's another way hat women have contributed to the well-being of the whole country. I think in general women are more active in the volunteering and community participation type things and I think they have had a lot of work in that area.

JH: Which leads to my next question: How have quilts been important to women in their lives? Rather than American history how is it with women's history?

JW: Well, [pause.], again, I think that we've been able to speak out sometimes on things that we might not have been able to speak out on in a different way, and again contributing to the community with areas that are of importance to women. I think even today we see a lot of quilt exhibits that are focusing on problems. A quilt is a much softer presentation then a protest march or some of the other effects, but yet it can be a very powerful movement, because it can bring viewers in that might not necessarily be warm to that idea and make a point without hitting them over the head.

JH: How do you think quilts should be used?

JW: It depends on the quilt. I think some quilts should be cherished, and, like my son's quilt, only on December 24th. [laughs.] Other quilts should be made and put on the bed and washed every two weeks when they get dirty and full of dog hair and dragged across the floor. I there's a place for all of that. Some should be hung on the walls. Some should be hung in museums. It depends on the quilt.

JH: So, then how can we preserve them for the future?

JW: [sighs.] I think that museums are making a step towards preserving them for the future. I think there are going to be families, that when our children have quilts that our special to them that they will be passed down, like I got the quilts from my great-grandmother for special things, for having a significant birthday, or marrying, and I think that those traditions continue to help preserve the quilting. I think greater awareness, which is certainly happened in the last 20 years of quilts and their value; I think all of that will help. With so many people quilting today that has to help because it brings awareness to the general population.

J H: Of the quilts that you have made, what percentage of them are staying in your family?

JW: My immediate family? Or-- [laughs.]

JH: How many of them are still family pieces?

JW: Oh, [laughs.] [pause.] half of them I'd say.

JH: Do you give quilts away or sell them?

JW: I do give some quilts away, I have sold some quilts, and--

JH: Have you made them for charity?

JW: Yes, oh yes. You know that's a hard question too. [laughs.]

JH: So, is there anything else you'd like to tell us about this quilt or about your life as a quilter, do you have any stories?

JW: Haven't I talked enough? [laughs.]

JH: Well maybe, I don't know if there's a question inside you that you just really need to tell us, now is your chance.

JW: I think that's about it, unless you have another question that you want to ask. [laughs.]

JH: No, that's it.

JW: Okay.

JH: This concludes our interview with Jan Wildman from Orlando, Florida its 11-4-2000, at the Quilters' Save Our Stories project.

[Tape ends.]



“Jan Wildman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1274.