Cindy Larson




Cindy Larson




Cindy Larson


Ellen Menefee

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Heather Gibson


Ellen Menefee (EM): My name is Ellen Menefee and it is November 4, 2000, at 10:47 a.m. We are at the Houston International Quilt Show. I am interviewing Cindy Larson. Thank you for coming. Where are you from?

Cindy Larson (CL): I'm originally from Casper, Wyoming, but I live here in Houston.

EM: How many times have you come to the festival?

CL: Four.

EM: You've brought us something to look at?

CL: Yes. I brought a quilt. It's an unusual quilt. It's made out of Bull Durham bags.

EM: Oh, tell us about this.

CL: My grandfather's aunt Cissy, her name was Margaret Cordy and she was born, I think, in 1891. She had something wrong with her. She never matured, so she was Little Aunt Cissy. She never married and she smoked and she rolled her own cigarettes. She saved the bags and made a quilt. In her older age, she lived in Casper, where I was from. My grandfather helped take care of her. Her mother's name was Annie Stevens and they were kind of proper little old ladies. Cissy smoked and her mom, Annie, and her like to have a drink once in a while but they couldn't go to the liquor store because ladies didn't do that. So they called a taxi to go buy them a bottle. It wasn't a lot, but every once in a while they called a taxi to go buy them a bottle. When my grandmother, she knew she was going to die, she wanted me to have this quilt. I was about my daughter's age, about six, when she passed away. That's when I got it. It was in much better shape when I got it. It was my doll blanket for a lot of years. It's not very big. One of the things that they would do with the quilt tops in my family is put it over an old blanket. I don't know how big it was to begin with, but they had a hunk of an old blanket and they folded it over and just zigzagged it to the blanket. It was an old flannel sheet, actually, is what it looks like. I liked it because it was white and it had the multi-colored thread in it. It was always my favorite. It stayed on my bed and I put the dolls in it and dressed the dolls up in it. Finally, my mom put it away because it was getting a little in bad shape. When I moved down here I brought it with me, about fifteen years ago.

EM: What year did you get the quilt?

CL: 1968 or 1969.

EM: Do you know what year it was made?

CL: I have no idea. She lived in our hometown in the '50s and '60s, Cissy did. I don't know if she brought it with her or if she made it before or after that. She did not die until 1969. She left the quilt and she went and lived with one of her brothers after '61, before I was born. So I know it was made before 1960. I would guess because of her health that it was probably made in the '50s.

EM: Can you describe it somewhat for the people who will be listening to the tape since they aren't looking at it with us.

CL: It's made out of small white rectangles that are just stitched together. She used different colors of embroidery thread to stitch between the rectangles. You can tell the rectangles used to be bags. When you identify them as a Bull Durham bags then it's obvious that what she'd done is cut the bags into rectangles, just opened them up, and sewed them together, and then put the embroidery thread through it.

EM: How do you use this quilt now?

CL: I don't. I have it put up. Actually, since we moved to Houston it's started to disintegrate. I'm sure it's the humidity. I just put it up because I didn't want it to fall apart. It was on my bed up until I was in my twenties back home before I moved here. It was with my dolls. It's not very big. I have never measured it.

EM: We'll measure it after we're finished talking so we'll know.

CL: It's not a very big quilt. I didn't realize for years…It was just my favorite because of the threads and it was white and it was different than all the other quilts. I didn't realize until I researched this that my grandmother wanted me to have this particular one. I didn't know it was Bull Durham bags until when I was moving down to Houston about fifteen years ago my mom said, 'Well you know Aunt Cissy used to smoke and roll her own cigarettes.'

EM: You're a quilter also? At what age did you start quilting?

CL: I'm more of a sewer. I've only made a couple of quilts in the last couple years.

EM: How did you get into quilting?

CL: Everyone in my family quilts. I have a friend whose mother has breast cancer. I was at the quilt store and I found the quilting for the cure fabric. She's a very religious woman and I'd heard about prayer blankets. I saw the fabric and I was just drawn to it, so I made her a lap quilt out of the breast cancer fabric. I took a fabric marker and we had everyone pray over it and sign it, and I just gave it to her. When I was young I made a doll quilt for my dolls, which is pretty bad. I made it when I was about twelve. Other than that, my mother-in-law is an avid quilter, my sister-in-law and my mom. So I kind of don't need to quilt. If I need anything, I just ask! [laughter.]

EM: Did you learn to quilt from them?

CL: No, I just kind of figured it out. I occasionally watch Kay Woods on t.v. I've seen a few shows. Just looking and figuring it out.

EM: What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

CL: I like the fact that you're making something useable. Most of my sewing, I like to sew clothing for my children. I like being able to have something that is different and unique and at the same time practical, more so than most other crafts, I think. Sewing is something that you can use beyond just the enjoyment of making it. You get the enjoyment every time someone uses it.

EM: What are your plans for this quilt?

CL: I bought a cedar chest, so I'm probably going to put it in there wrapped in tissue paper as my mother-in-law taught me. I don't know if I'm going to try to restore it a little bit, but I'll definitely hand it down to either my daughter or my son. It is the Potter's side of the family, my maiden side of the family. It's going to stay in the family. It's kind of neat since Cissy didn't have any kids, this is a nice way for her to live on. We don't have much of her in the family.

EM: Are you teaching Judy to quilt?

CL: She's never acted interested, but when we were walking in one of the ladies asked her if she wanted to learn how and she said 'yes.' So we're going to go back to the booth. I am teaching her how to sew no matter what. I know her grandmother would like to sit with her and show her quilting, with one of them.

EM: As a relatively new quilter, what do you think makes a great quilt?

CL: I think more why it's made, not just the combinations of colors and fabrics, but is it being made for a reason and is it being made for someone. There are lots of pretty quilts, but I think the ones that are neat are the ones that are made out of love for someone else.

EM: Do you collect other quilts?

CL: No. If I keep begging those quilters, [laughing.] but no I don't.

EM: Do you machine quilt or do you hand quilt?

CL: I machine quilt.

EM: Traditional or contemporary quilting?

CL: Well, I've only made two. I guess they were both traditional. I guess this was machine quilted too, when I look at it.

EM: Can I ask you what brought you to the festival itself?

CL: I'm a fabric nut. I like to sew but I like to own fabric more. The first time I came, I just kind of heard it. I was in a quilt store that day and I came down Thursday morning and there was no one here. You were in a stroller [speaking to daughter.] so you were under a year old. We were bored so I said, 'We'll just drive down to George R. Brown and check it out.' I've tried to come back every year since then if I could. I finally talked my mother-in-law into flying down. It's hard for her to come to this festival because it's the same week as opening hunting season. [laughter.] My father-in-law always wants to hunt this weekend. Last year she finally got to actually see the festival. We got to enjoy the fireworks and everything with grandma.

EM: What is your first quilting memory?

CL: It would have to be another quilt like this. When we got these out after my grandmother died, I remember a bunch of my aunts and my mother going through a stack of quilt tops and finding some old blankets and sewing them together and divvying them up. I was talking to my mom about it the other night. I had a white and pink wedding ring quilt on my bed. My mom vaguely remembers that and she thinks that it got loved to death. It was in shreds when she last saw it. That was one of them. I thought that's what you did with quilts. You found an old ugly blanket and prettied it up with a pretty quilt top. Then I learned about batting years later! [laughter.]

EM: Did your family get together and quilt together?

CL: No, never did that. Not that I know of. Just after my grandmother's death and they found a bunch of quilt tops. That was sort of a one-time thing. My mother is in a quilting group in her church, and that's how she's always quilted. She goes to church and they hand-quilt a couple quilts every year. She didn't do that so much when I was little as she has since I've grown up. We weren't a quilting family.

EM: Do the quilts that you have made, do they reflect your background or your beliefs in any way? Do you put that into your quilts?

CL: Yes, I do.

EM: Tell us how you do that.

CL: Like the breast cancer quilt that I made for my friend, I happened to find some fabric that had the Beatitudes on it. I was able to quilt into it some religious things in the actual quilting. That's an idea I wouldn't have gotten if I hadn't visited the quilt festival so many times. I figured out, 'Oh, you don't just sew it down!' I should comment my mom has made coverlets for us. I never have considered them quilts, but they are. She does the tying. Every baby gets a tied baby blanket that's just forty-five inches by forty-five with flannel on one side and pretty fabric on the other. I can remember tying knots with her for the yarn when I was little. I have a comforter, too, that she made me out of a beautiful sheet and a flannel sheet that we tied when I was in high school. It was kind of fun, too. Our neighbor across the street was a member of the Mormon Church and they had a beautiful quilt frame. She borrowed their frame; put it in her living room for us. We went over there during a blizzard. It was Wyoming! [laughter.] We tied that quilt for my bed. I still have that one. It's still in really good shape.

EM: How do your use the quilts in your home? Are they on the beds?

CL: Yes, they are when it's not ninety-five degrees out.

EM: The person that made this quilt, did she make others?

CL: Yes.

EM: Can you tell us some more about her and her quilting?

CL: Nobody knows that much about her. Unfortunately, everyone's passed away. My grandfather died three years ago. They just know she had a stock of quilts. She was a depression-era quilter, grew up in poor times, and you didn't throw anything away. So most of hers were scrap quilts, pieces of shirts and whatever was available to make the most of what you had. That's kind of the way I always looked at quilts. That's what you did with the loose ends; you made something beautiful and made use of them.

EM: The quilts that you make, do you make them out of scraps?

CL: Oh, no, I'm the fabric nut. I buy pretty fabric and have my stash. I have a stack of scraps that I really should do something with.

EM: Do you have any quilts in the works right now?

CL: I don't. I bought some stuff for a wall hanging yesterday afternoon.

EM: Is it traditional as well?

CL: No, it's a contemporary wall hanging. It has snowflakes because my husband misses those blizzards in Wyoming. I don't.

EM: How do you see the future of your quilting? What are your looking towards doing with your quilting and with your quilts?

CL: I can see myself after making that prayer blanket, and the lady at the quilt store mentioned the signatures, I can see maybe doing more of that, and maybe even doing a sewing ministry. It affected her much more than I thought it would. There's a local church that does that. They were collecting fabric. They would pray over the quilts and then hand them out. That really touched my heart. I can see more of that, bolstering the spirits. Like I said, I can have such beautiful quilts at my fingertips. My mother-in-law made her [Judy.] a Sunbonnet Sue and my son an Overall Bill quilt since they were born. She's chomping at the bit ready to make them older ones for when they get a little older! [laughter.]

EM: You've talked a lot about the spiritual aspect that you feed into your quilts?

CL: [indecipherable due to background noise.]

EM: Do they have a quilting group here?

CL: No, we're very small. Along with running Christian education and teaching Sunday School. I don't have time. I would love to do that, though. I would love to drop everything and just do a sewing ministry of some kind. God's got me doing something else right now! [laughter.]

EM: I would be interested to know your thoughts on the importance of quilts in women's lives and women's history.

CL: Men carry down the names and you get the family history, but women tend to hand down more practical things. Quilts have stories with them and they are something you can touch and hold and talk about. Just the community aspect of making the quilts and working together. When I have done my quilts I love going to the quilt shop and getting everyone's ideas and looking at the fabric and talking, even though I may do the construction myself. There's a group in there one way or another.

EM: You have two children? How do you balance your sewing and your quilting with your family?

CL: I'll sew for a while and then I'll have to put it down. That's why I make a lot of clothes for the kids, too. They feel like they are involved and they pick out fabric. I'll say, 'That's what we're going to do today. We're going to go find a booth that has something pretty for Judy to make her a dress.'

EM: This is a bit of a unique situation, you bringing in another quilt that belonged to your family. Because of that, I'd like to ask the other ladies if you have any questions that might not be standard? [no response.] Well, is there anything you'd like to tell us about your feelings on quilting or this quilt that we haven't asked?

CL: I appreciate this project because I did not know that my grandmother wanted me to have this quilt. There are twenty-three of us grandkids and I would not have known that. My mom took it for granted that I knew that. Grandma Potter wanted to make sure I got this one.

Observer: Why do you think she wanted you to have this particular quilt?

CL: I think she could tell I was sentimental even when I was six. You know how you can peg kids that are sentimental? She knew my mom would make sure it was taken care of. I don't remember her. I must have been five or six when she died. I remember things about her but I don't remember her.

Observer: Do you remember people talking about her?

CL: Yes, and I remember being at her house and I remember what color her bedroom was painted. I just don't remember her. I don't know why that is. She was a sewer, too. I remember, you know how you can buy the pre-printed fabric for Barbie-doll clothes? I begged my mother to buy some for me to make me these Barbie doll clothes. My mom forgot and left them at Grandma's house. The next time we went back they were all sewn up for me. I remember things like that about her.

EM: The quilts that your family members have made for your children, the Sunbonnet Sue, do they use them? Are they on their beds?

CL: Yes. I'm a believer that they need to have some connection to them, to know Grandma made them. She did a good job. She's a good quilter. She signed them and dated them and it says who they were made for.

Observer: Is there anything on this quilt that identifies the maker?

CL: I don't think so. You can tell I loved it by the shape it's in.

Observer: It's unusual. I haven't seen one like it before. The different colors in it, the blue and pink and yellow and gold and green threads running over a white background…It's very nice, very artistic for what she had to work with.

CL: Yes, that's what I though was interesting. She was number four out of eleven children. Three of them never lived past four. It was 1800 so I guess that was kind of the way it goes. I wish I could date it. Who's to say she hadn't been stashing these for years and years and years and then finally sewed it up one day?

Observer: Do you know when she was born?

CL: It was either 1881 or 1891.

EM: And she died in 1969?

CL: Yes, in North Dakota. I'm not sure where she was born. My grandfather was a railroad man's son, and all the kids were born in different states.

EM: I want to ask you this. It's kind of backtracking a bit, but what's your least favorite part of quilting?

CL: It takes too long. It has to be done now. I get discouraged easily on my projects. If I mess up and it's going to take a long time to fix it, it gets put in a pile for a couple of years until I get around to it and get over being aggravated with it.

EM: Do you have unfinished quilts?

CL: No. I don't do that much quilting? But do I have unfinished projects? Oh, yeah. [laughter.] I guess that's one of the reasons I haven't made a lot of quilts, because it takes so long. I know with my small children and my attention span that they would be unfinished for a long time.

EM: Well, thank you very much. It is 11:18 and we appreciate so much you bringing this in. We're going to go now and photograph you and the quilt.



“Cindy Larson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,