Mabeth Oxenreider




Mabeth Oxenreider




Mabeth Oxenreider


Jana Hawley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Houston, Texas


Karen Musgrave


Jana Hawley (JH): We are interviewing number 96, Mabeth Oxenreider from Carlisle, Iowa. How are you today?

Mabeth Oxenreider (MO): I'm fine.

JH: Good. Good. Can you tell us about the quilt that you have here today?

MO: A friend and I like to get together and draw and what we like to draw from is architecture because that is public domain. And so we take shapes that may be from architecture and we take a lot of different shapes and put them together and then draw fantasy flowers that might be--you know these don't look like flowers in another quilt they really looked like flowers. This one is just pretty shapes. Pretty shapes.

JH: Okay. And who made this quilt?

MO: I did.

JH: You did?

MO: Oh, yes.

JH: When did you make it?

MO: I finished it in January.

JH: Okay.

MO: I finished it in January. I've been work on it for about nine months but I work on a lot of quilts at the same time.

JH: Okay. Are you a professional quilter?

MO: Yes.

JH: Do you work full time at quilting then?

MO: Pretty much so, yes.

JH: Okay. [MO laughs.] Now can you give us verbal description of your quilt for the record, please?

MO: Verbal description. The center has always looked like a shield to me. And from day one I said it's a shield and so it had to have something to do with--so Camelot just came--I thought that was the perfect name for it.

JH: And that's the title of your quilt?

MO: Yes.

JH: Tell about the fabrics and the colors that you used.

MO: I had to use some new colors that I hadn't used before together like cinnamon and mulberry. We like to put--we like to call it cinnamon. It sounds better than rust. [JH and MO laugh.] So cinnamon and mulberry and all the values. Lots of golds--clear to plum with an accent of royal blue.

JH: Okay.

MO: And lots of greens. I like to use lots and lots of fabrics. You never run out that way. And you know you can always substitute something. And--a problem areas that had as piecing the quilt. When we--when I took this line clear on out with just regular fabric it didn't look very nice but we found out if we broke it up with just this little subtle band that that worked well and so that worked well again on the outside border. So it was very subtle.

JH: So you carried the yellow band from the inner shield out to here…out to the square border.

MO: Yes.

JH: Okay. And it is the processes that you used here?

MO: The process is machine appliqué. The Deb Wagner method where it is fused along the edge and cut away in the big areas so a lot of these don't have real big areas so they aren't donutted. And--

JH: And that's what she calls her method "donutted?"

MO: Yes.

JH: Okay.

MO: Paper piecing. You know, with a circle like that if you paper piece it you know that it is going to be round when you get done.

JH: Okay.

MO: And then this little piping that I used. Piping is a great way to apply something down because it's not pieced in. It's just put on top and appliquéd on.

JH: Adds a little bit of dimension to it.

MO: Cause of a little stitching right in there so that's the way you can apply it down.

JH: Okay. And is it hand quilted? Or machine quilted?

MO: Good heavens, it's machine. [MO laughs.] I'm proud to say all of my work is machine done because I love my sewing machine.

JH: Okay.

MO: My sewing machine and I are very, very friendly.

JH: That's good. You have to be put up--to have a quilt like this. [MO laughs.]

MO: A good relationship.

JH: Exactly. So this, other than Camelot this is a medallion style quilt.

MO: Yes.

JH: That pretty much describes that. What kind of special meaning does this quilt have for you?

MO: Special meaning? Special meaning in--what do I want to say? Special meaning. Just working with something that I haven't worked with before. I've done circle things before and I love doing circle things because they--the visual impact of a circle is good.

JH: Okay. You mentioned that somebody, right at the beginning you mentioned somebody did architectural take offs with you.

MO: No, we draw.

JH: Who's we?

MO: Julie Hart.

JH: Okay.

MO: A friend and I like to draw together.

JH: Okay.

MO: And we like to pull fabrics.

JH: Okay.

MO: We use each other's fabric stash just like her's is mine and mine's her's. You know.

JH: Okay.

MO: And pull fabrics.

JH: Do you have an art background?

MO: No.

JH: What is your background?

MO: Just a quilter.

JH: Okay.

MO: Just a quilter.

JH: Okay. Now this has been an award-winning quilt. Can you tell us about the award that you won today?

MO: The award I won today was first place in innovative appliqué large. And this is the first time it has been entered.

JH: Okay. And how will you see this quilt used?

MO: I will see this quilt used as a teaching tool.

JH: Really? Are you a teacher?

MO: Yes.

JH: You do teach?

MO: Yes.

JH: What's your main teaching?

MO: Techniques. I like to teach techniques. I like to teach the appliqué technique. I love teaching that. And any part of quilting. I teach--I also teach beginners. I like the whole--I like teaching people. It's rewarding to see people grow especially beginners.

JH: It is, isn't it?

MO: Yeah.

JH: Tell me the first memory you have of a quilt.

MO: Oh, you ask tough questions. My mother's quilt. She made a pineapple quilt. It's pink and white. Just pink and white. And that quilt I remember a lot.

JH: How many years ago was that? Any idea?

MO: Well, seventy years ago, sixty. No not seventy, fifty years ago.

JH: Fifty years ago.

MO: Yeah, fifty years ago.

JH: At what age did you start quilting?

MO: I started quilting in 1980.

JH: Twenty years ago.

MO: I would have been forty.

JH: Did your mother quilt?

MO: Yes, she quilted early in life. And then I had never seen her quilted a quilt until I took a quilting class then it got her going so she started quilting again.

JH: So in 1980 when you started quilting, was it a class that got you going?

MO: Yes. I had done something on my own before class but decided that needed to take a class and do it--learn the right way.

JH: Okay.

MO: That was before the rotary cutter. [laughs.]

JH: From whom did you learn to quilt?

MO: Mike Whigg in Des Moines, Iowa.

JH: A man?

MO: No.

JH: Oh, Mike is a woman.

MO: Yes, Mike is a woman.

JH: How many hours a week do you normally quilt?

MO: Oh, I quilt a lot of hours. [laughs.] I definitely quilt eight hours a day. Sometimes more.

JH: Okay. Are there other quilters among your family?

MO: No. My daughter will never be a quilter. [laughs.]

JH: You don't think so?

MO: No.

JH: Okay. How has quilting impact your family?

MO: Oh, my family is just thrilled to death with it. Just thrilled to death.

JH: How? The men in the family?

MO: Yes. My husband is one of my biggest supporters of liking what I do and maybe...his comment when maybe he doesn't like it too well is, 'Oh, that's interesting.' [laughs.]

JH: Does he support your processes at all?

MO: Oh, yeah, yeah. And when--

JH: Emotional support or is there some kind of other support?

MO: Emotional. He doesn't help in any way. He does the laundry. He does help. [JH laughs then MO laughs.] He does laundry.

JH: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

MO: No. I haven't had difficult times but--

JH: You're blessed.

MO: Yes. It's just a joy.

JH: What do you find most pleasing about the quilting process?

MO: I like every process except marking. Marking is not a delight for me.

JH: So when you sit down to do your machine quilting, it's premarked?

MO: I like to not mark if I can possibly help it but if it's a very formal quilt, you know, it has to be marked ahead of time.

JH: So back to this one, was it marked?

MO: No.

JH: This one is a free style quilting.

MO: Yes. Well, there was some marks in this area.

JH: When you had to have parallel lines.

MO: When I had to have parallel lines I did have to mark that and this little motif I had to mark that but anything else and those straight lines I did mark but you know there's not much in you could eyeball that. I just went up and around and made a duel line so I didn't have to mark that.

JH: Okay.

MO: Whenever possible to not mark.

JH: What's your favorite part about a quilt? The quilting process?

MO: Oh, the favorite part is probably as I pull fabrics and it starts to develop it gets so exciting. You know, the drawing is fun too. I just finished drawing something before I came here. And the drawing part is fun too. Each process is good.

JH: When you draw do you sit down with pencil and paper?

MO: Yeah, yeah.

JH: You don't do it on computer or anything?

MO: No.

JH: Okay.

MO: No.

JH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MO: Number one it has to have visual impact.

JH: Okay. What gives it to you?

MO: You have to be able to get someone's eye. And the longer you can keep someone's eye on your quilt the better it is so the more techniques you have in it the better it is.

JH: Okay. Okay. And what would make one artistically powerful? Well, first of all let me ask is quilting a craft or an art?

MO: An art.

JH: Okay. Is it to every quilter do you think?

MO: No.

JH: Okay. But for you it is an art.

MO: Yes.

JH: So now what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

MO: Visual impact.

JH: Okay. Okay. What would make it appropriate for a museum or special collection? What kind of qualities are needed for that?

MO: Workmanship.

JH: Okay.

MO: Workmanship.

JH: Okay. What makes a great quilter?

MO: Someone who is willing to share.

JH: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? Especially how do they design a pattern, choose fabrics and colors?

MO: By doing it.

JH: Doing it. Okay.

MO: You don't get any better by thinking about it.

JH: Okay. And can everyone do that? Can it be learned?

MO: Yes. Certainly if I can than anybody can. [JH laughs.]

JH: No, come on; now look at this beautiful quilt. You have to see real talent. [laughs.]

MO: You know, anybody can, they just think they can't. And some people get so hung up in thinking they can't do it and I get really, really upset with those people. You know, come on, you're not going to do it all at once. It's a learning process. I didn't start off making this quilt. I started off with the nine patch and you know, anything else.

JH: This one is absolutely beautiful. How do you feel about hand quilting verse--you've already told us about how you feel about your personal quilts machine quilted?

MO: I think hand quilting is wonderful.

JH: Okay.

MO: And I respect anyone that does wonderful hand quilting or even hand quilting even if it is not so wonderful as long as they are happy within themselves. That's the way it has to be.

JH: Okay. Good. Why is quilting important to your life?

MO: I get to create something. Being able to create something. It's just a wonderful feeling.

JH: How many quilts do you think you do a year on the average?

MO: Oh, my, does that include wall quilts?

JH: Yes.

MO: Probably twenty some.

JH: Okay. You are busy.

MO: I have a lot of projects going at once but they all get done.

JH: You don't have any unfinished quilts?

MO: No, I always finish my projects because you learn by finishing.

JH: Good. Want to come finish mine? [JH and MO laugh.] I've got several. [More laughter.] Do you think your quilt reflects your community or the region where you are from?

MO: No.

JH: Okay. Why does it not?

MO: I come from the Midwest but a lot of creative quilts come out of the Midwest but I don't feel that this type really comes--I don't--Somehow it's not Midwest. You know. You think of more traditional in the Midwest.

JH: Okay. What do you think--How do you think quilts have contributed to the American life?

MO: Well I think that it has really changed.

JH: Want to talk about that? Historically? And contemporary?

MO: I think that contemporary quilts, you know are really moving ahead [Children in the background laughing.] and people seeing that although a lot of people don't understand them. And I don't either some of them but you know, it's an art.

JH: Okay. How about historically?

MO: I don't know historically. I really--they'll be there. They have to be there.

JH: Okay. Okay. While we're talking about historic, have you labeled your quilt with your maker?

MO: Yes.

JH: How did you do that?

MO: It's here in this corner. Just a label.

JH: Okay. It's with a Sharpie pen?

MO: Yeah.

JH: And you have the quilts name on there.

MO: Yes.

JH: "Camelot."

MO: Yes.

JH: And the rest of it says.

MO: Mabeth Oxenreider, 1944 Main Street, Carlisle, Iowa 50457 and my telephone number.

JH: An for the record would you please spell your last name.

MO: O-x-e-n-r-e-i-d-e-r.

JH: Okay.

MO: How about my first name?

JH: Okay. Yes, you know what I think I put an "e" in it. [MO laughs.] Would you spell your first name? MO: M-a-b-e-t-h.

JH: Okay.

MO: All one word.

JH: 'Cause I think I spelled it wrong when I wrote it down. We'll have to correct that.

MO: It doesn't bother me. [JH laughs.]

JH: What role has quilts played in women's lives over the years?

MO: Oh, I think the getting together. The small groups, the bees that have developed and I have belonged to a couple of them. It's just great. Women getting together like they use to and the guilds now are just getting enormous. Our guild the five hundredth member joined the other day and that's a big guild.

JH: It's about time to split off, isn't it? I'm just kidding.

MO: Well, we have day and night. JH: Do you?

MO: Yeah.

JH: How should quilts be used?

MO: Enjoy them.

JH: So do they have different quilts for different uses or are they--

MO: Yeah, wall quilts are wall quilts. Bed quilts are bed quilts. But you should enjoy them. If you make them, you need to enjoy them.

JH: Okay. And how should they preserved for the future?

MO: Take the greatest care. If you give a quilt away, give all the information on how they need to take care of it and if you have an heirloom piece instruct them on that.

JH: If you have made twenty quilts a year, where are they? I mean, what kind of lives are they living?

MO: Well the trunk of my car is full.

JH: Okay. [laughs.] Are those teaching tools?

MO: Yes, they are teaching tools.

JH: But have you given them away as gifts?

MO: Yes. Some. I have.

JH: Have they stayed in the family as gifts or outside the family?

MO: Yes. In the family.

JH: And do you know how they are being use?

MO: They are not using them. They are being used.

JH: Okay.

MO: I mean, not used. They are taking good care of them.

JH: Okay. Okay. So they are not being used on beds or--

MO: I think the one but only on special occasions when it's brought out.

JH: Okay. Now I want you to think about any stories you have about your life as a quilter or in the quilting process that would be a great story to share. Can you think of any?

MO: No, it's just being with other quilters and working with other quilters what a delight it is.

JH: Okay.

MO: Nothing real exciting I guess.

JH: That's pretty exciting I think.

MO: It is.

JH: That's the joy about being at this; it's the friendliest bunch of people.

MO: Yeah, they are the friendliest bunch of people.

JH: It's just wonderful. Okay. Anything else?

MO: I think that--

JH: Well, I want to congratulate you on your award-winning quilt. It's an absolute beauty and this concludes our interview with Mabeth Oxenreider [laughs.] Today is eleven four, two thousand and this is the Quilters' Save Our Stories Project.



“Mabeth Oxenreider,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 12, 2024,