Sally Schneider




Sally Schneider




Sally Schneider


Joyce Starr Johnson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Rachel Grove


Joyce Starr Johnson (JSJ): This is Joyce Starr Johnson. Today's date is November 3, 2001, and it is 9:54 a.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Sally Schneider for Quilters' S.O.S-Save Our Stories project in Houston, Texas, at the International Quilt Festival. Good morning.

Sally Schneider (SS): Good morning.

JSJ: How are you today?

SS: I'm great.

JSJ: We have in front of us a quilt that Sally has made, and I want to start by just asking you to describe this in some kind of words so we could imagine it if you were just reading it.

SS: It's a star block. It's--the name of it is Wyoming Valley Star. It is actually three stars, one superimposed on the other. There's a vertical and horizontal star that is quite large, and on the inside, there is a smaller star, and then there's a diagonal star that goes through the whole, the entire block.

JSJ: And the fabrics are--

SS: The fabrics are all--They're scraps. It's a scrap quilt. Multi-fabric type scrap quilt with I don't know how many fabrics in it, lots and lots. [laughter.]

JSJ: Okay.

SS: All colors. All, you know, lots of different things.

JSJ: And it's a fairly large, bed size quilt?

SS: Yes, it's a bed size quilt.

JSJ: Okay. Right. Tell me how it was that you came to make this quilt.

SS: I was writing my third book called "Scrap Mania" and was looking for patterns to put in it, and as I was looking through the Barbara Brackman Encyclopedia, I found this title of this block called Wyoming Valley Star. I grew up in Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley so it was a natural and the fun thing about this particular quilt is that as I started making it instead of choosing fabrics--the night I started I intended to start choosing fabrics instead I started remembering thing that had happened when I grew up and I sat down and started writing those down and then as I chose fabrics for each block, I chose fabrics to match a story. So, this quilt, these twelve blocks tell the story of--tell many of the stories of of growing up in Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley. So, it's a very personal quilt to me.

JSJ: Is there one or two special stories--

SS: Oh.

JSJ: I thought there was a block you'd want to share?

SS: Yes, yes, and the one we've got here is the most fun. [laughter.]

JSJ: Okay.

SS: This is the cow block that we're looking at. The fabric, there are cows on the fabric. They're weathervanes.

JSJ: I see [inaudible.] cows.

SS: Yes, and then there are little black and white that sort of look like cows, and this is because when we were growing up, we always took Sunday drives. This was our entertainment, and my--I had two sisters, and we hated Sunday drives. We just didn't like them at all, so my father started playing the cow game with us. He introduced us to the cow game where you divide the car up into two sides, one on each side, and each side counts their cows, and the person who has the most at the end wins. My father decided that every time we passed a cemetery--that side would have to bury their cows and start all over again, and one Sunday, we were doing this, and my father was ahead, and we were passing a cemetery on his side of the road, and he didn't want to lose. So, he stopped the car, turned it around, and backed up past the cemetery, and the other side lost their cows, and we never played the cow game after that. [laughter.]

JSJ: Decided the rules weren't quite fair?

SS: The rules were not quite fair, no. If we were going to have to play by his rules, we didn't want to play. [laughter.]

JSJ: So, there are certainly some happy memories--associated with those.

SS: Yes, they're very happy memories.

JSJ: Are there sad memories at all?

SS: No, no. There are no sad memories here. My childhood and everything I thought of in this quilt was very happy.

JSJ: Great. And so, was that part of why you decided to bring this for this particular interview?

SS: Yes, that's one of the very good reasons, and the other reason is that of all the quilts that I teach, this is the one that people ask for most. This is the one that I am most known by.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: So, I thought would be most representative of what I do.

JSJ: And how old is this quilt?

SS: 1993 I think is when I made it. Yeah, 1993, so it's eight years old.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: Yes, eight years old.

JSJ: So, you use it for teaching? Do you use it in your own home for pleasure at all?

SS: This particular quilt belongs to my parents.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I gave it to my parents for their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and shared all those memories with them--

JSJ: Oh.

SS: At the same time, so it was a very personal thing. I have since made another one from the same pattern using many of the same fabrics that I use as a teaching sample.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: But this very, this particular quilt belongs to my parents.

JSJ: Okay. So, this will be returned to them?

SS: It will be returned to them when I go home.

JSJ: Tell me where your interest in quilts started.

SS: Oh well, I've been sewing all my life and was living in Germany in the mid-seventies and didn't have a whole lot to do. So, I did a lot of crafts, lot of different crafts, macramé, needlepoint, crewel embroidery, but one day I went to the bookstore and there was a magazine about quilting. It was Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilt issue number four, and I bought it and I took it home and thought, 'I can do this.' And this fits right in with sewing which I've been doing. Besides which I had boxes and boxes of fabric left over from clothes. So, I started making quilts based on that magazine.

JSJ: And your first ones were wonderful?

SS: Oh, heaven's no. [laughter.] Oh, Lord no. No, the first one I made--I had made some appliqué quilts before that using coloring book patterns and gave them to friends. Used all kinds of fabrics, denim and double knit, poly cottons, and all that kind of stuff, but the [inaudible.] quilt that I made from that magazine was the first pieced quilt that I'd ever made.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And no, it was not a wonderful quilt, but it kept people warm, and that was what it was all about.

JSJ: It was a bed quilt?

SS: Yes, it was.

JSJ: Was it a big quilt to start with?

SS: It was twin size.

JSJ: And so from there it just--you were just hooked or--

SS: I was pretty well hooked.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And moved back to the states, started taking classes, and then I learned a lot. Then I started teaching classes in 1980--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And I've been absolutely hooked since then.

JSJ: Okay and so your involvement with quilting at this point is as a hobby, something you like to do, but also as a means of living--

SS: It's a profession. Yes.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: Absolutely.

JSJ: And what part of it appeals to you the most?

SS: The people, the people. Quilters are the most wonderful people in the world. I love the people, and I like sharing ideas with them. I like coming up with new techniques and sharing those, and I like to see their faces when they--'Oh, I can do that.' It's the best feeling in the world.

JSJ: Tell me about your teaching schedule. I mean is this fairly much all the time.

SS: Yes. This is a full-time job for me.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I do writing. I do some freelance editing and other sewing projects, but teaching is my basic--my basic life, and I'm on the road usually one week a month, sometimes two weeks a month.

JSJ: How does quilting impact your family life?

SS: It is my life. I'm single. I live alone, and I do this 24/7. [laughter.]

JSJ: Okay. You mention that you had given this quilt in particular--

SS: Yes.

JSJ: To your parents, so do quilts become something that your family associates with you?

SS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Each of my children gets a quilt when they graduate from high school, another one when they graduate from college, and another one when they get married. Babies get at least two quilts, sometimes three--[laughter.]

JSJ: Okay.

SS: Grandbabies.

JSJ: Okay

SS: And yes, everybody has lots of quilts. Okay. Nobody in my family will ever go cold. [laughter.]

JSJ: And so, when you give those quilts, is there any expectation on your part about how they would be used or cared for?

SS: I try to share with the recipient how to take care of it, how to wash it. I will often take that quilt back home with me after it's been in their family for a little while. I'll take it back home with me and wash it then send it back, because they don't understand how to do it, but as far as them taking care of it and keeping it as an heirloom, no, I don't have any expectations. I expect it to be used and used often.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And when it gets used up, I'll make them another one.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: My grandbabies all get a hand quilted special quilt that I would like for them to keep as an heirloom--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: To pass down, but other than that I expect them to be used.

JSJ: Okay. On the other hand, what kind of quilts do you think belong in museums?

SS: Oh, museum quilts I think should be the extra special ones. You know the more complex piecing. I mean that's what I go to a museum to see. I go to see things people have used incredible creativity on, good sewing skills, and just a lot of imagination.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I want to be inspired by the ones in museums.

JSJ: And there was a tone talking about more contemporary quilts, maybe, in your voice? You were talking about inspiration and things like that. What about historic quilts?

SS: Well, I love looking at those too. I love looking at the colors, at the patterns, at the quilting. I particularly love looking at Amish quilts. I find those absolutely mind boggling, to see the work that they did on those.

JSJ: Okay. In your own work, do you do work like what you see, other things?

SS: I do not.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I make quilts for people to use, and that's my goal. I let other people do those wonderful--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: Incredible, pieced quilts. Someday I would like to do one like that but not right now. Not right now.

JSJ: And you mentioned, and I see in this that this is a machine quilted, and you mentioned that you make a special hand quilted for your grandchildren--

SS: Yes.

JSJ: For their special.

SS: I do.

JSJ: And so, you have different times that you use different techniques.

SS: Yes, oh yes. Very much so.

JSJ: And how do you make those decisions?

SS: Oh, how do I make those decisions? Well, it's getting harder and harder. [laughter.] Because I love to hand quilt, and I would love to hand quilt everything I do, but it's to the point I can't. I don't have time. There's not enough hours in the day to do that. I always have a hand quilted project going, and I hand quilt at least one quilt a year. Sometimes two. But the rest of them I send out. I have a person whose machine quilting I admire, and she machine quilts all my quilts, all the quilts that I have machine quilted.

JSJ: Okay. So you have chosen that person specially from your guilds?

SS: I have. Yes, I have.

JSJ: What do you think constitutes greatness in a quilt?

SS: Greatness?

JSJ: When you see a quilt that you really--

SS: Yes.

JSJ: Are struck by--what is it that makes that quilt great?

SS: Design. I'm always struck by design, good design. Good use of color. Complex, complexity amazes me, you know, complex piecing, because I don't do it. I do fairly simple piecing. So, anything that's got complex piecing really, really attracts me.

JSJ: Okay. On the other hand, what makes a bad quilt?

SS: What makes a bad quilt? Poor workmanship. Yes, yes. I think poor workmanship is the worst thing about a quilt, about some quilts.

JSJ: Okay. How do you think most people learn about quilting or come into the quilt world?

SS: Today--well, I think it used to be handed down, but today I think so many people see quilts in magazines, see them in shops. I think a lot of people see the Chinese quilts in the stores, and they want a quilt, and they are inspired to maybe go to a fabric store, and of course a lot of the fabric stores, even the chain fabric stores, have quilting, and I think that's kind of how they get into it. I think they see it or hear about it, and then get into it--

JSJ: And then take classes?

SS: And then take classes. [laughter.] Oh, boy.

JSJ: So, do lots of people that you see in your classes have a little bit of knowledge coming in and just want to expand?

SS: Yes, that's what I find most of the time. I very seldom get a rank beginner. Usually I teach through guilds, so those people are certainly interested in quilts, and have had at least a little bit of experience.

JSJ: Okay. Do your quilts in particular reflect anything special about you? Where you were at a certain time or where you grew up or where you live or your region at all?

SS: Some do. Now there's a pattern in a new book that I wrote called "Scrap Frenzy" and the book--that's the book and the quilt is called "Perkiomen Valley Nine Patch" and--

JSJ: Say that again.

SS: "Perkiomen Valley Nine Patch."

JSJ: I think we should spell that for our transcriber.

SS: P-E-R-K-I-O-M-E-N, Perkiomen Valley--

JSJ: Valley.

SS: Nine Patch.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: The Perkiomen Valley is a small valley in Pennsylvania and there is a pattern that is very specific to that region of Pennsylvania. It's a Split Nine Patch block, half dark, half light, and although many people have done those Split Nine Patch blocks the arrangement from this one is very, very specific to that region of the country. As far as regionality that's the main one. I found that--I saw that pattern. I included it in my newest book.

JSJ: And as you think back about your own evolution of quilting, this one came from a valley.

SS: Yes.

JSJ: The other one came from a valley. Have you seen changes in your own quilting over the years, based upon your own history with quilting?

SS: Absolutely. I've seen major changes in my quilting. I started with three color quilts or four-color quilts, and in the--Let's see when was it--about the late eighties I started making scrap quilts, and I find it very difficult to make a three color, a four-color quilt anymore. I have found my niche in scrap quilts.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: Love them. I love the color. I love the fabric. I love the textures. Love the whole thing.

JSJ: Okay. Does that make the process more difficult for you?

SS: No.

JSJ: Easier?

SS: Much easier.

JSJ: Because?

SS: I find it much easier to put a scrap quilt together, because I don't have to worry about coordinating colors.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I just--I use value, dark and light. Dark, medium, and light, and that's all I need to worry about when I do a scrap quilt. I don't need to worry about where the colors go, because they all go when you make a scrap quilt.

JSJ: So, do I hear you saying that you want the freedom to just put together the overall pattern without a conscious decision about--

SS: Exactly.

JSJ: Color.

SS: About choosing a few colors that go together--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: To make a dynamite quilt. I think it's very hard to do that, and I admire the people who can. I can't. [laughter.]

JSJ: So, is the enjoyment for you in quilting just putting it together?

SS: The biggest enjoyment for me is in designing it. You know coming up with a pattern and coming up with a new twist on a pattern. I like putting them together, but that's harder for me. I like the design part, and once I know the design, and I've got to put it together, I can put a few blocks together and see how it's going to go, and then I have to force myself to do the rest. [laughter.]

JSJ: Okay. Do you start more projects than you finish?

SS: Oh yes. [laughter.] Lots and lots and lots.

JSJ: Okay. Do you carry guilt around with you?

SS: Not a bit.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: Not a bit.

JSJ: How come?

SS: Because I've learned what I needed to learn, or I've down what I needed to do on that quilt. A lot of them are class samples that I don't finish. Some of them I put on the backs of other quilts. Seems to be a good way to use up tops I know I'm never going to use.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I decided that that wasn't worth feeling guilty about. There are enough other things in the world. [laughter.]

JSJ: So, it's almost more of a process than a product?

SS: Uh huh, yes, exactly.

JSJ: When we started, we talked about this quilt, and you talked about the happy times that are reflected. Do you also sometimes in other quilts use sad times?

SS: Yes. Yes, I was divorced a few years ago, and I made some really dull, dreary quilts during that time but then I came out of it and my quilts changed. People noticed--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: When I came out of it and the colors were much, much brighter.

JSJ: Did you do that purposefully?

SS: No, it just happened.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: It just happened that way.

JSJ: And when you look back do you still own those quilts?

SS: I do. I do.

JSJ: And how do you feel when you look at those now?

SS: They're not my favorites. They're kind of folded up in back of the cupboard, and I don't ever get them out?

JSJ: Do you feel that working on those at that time helped you get through those, through those tough times?

SS: Some, yes, some.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: I did find during that time that there was a period of almost five years when I found it very difficult to hand quilt. I couldn't.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: So, there was a long time when I just did tops and sent them out--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And didn't hand quilt.

JSJ: Was the hand quilting just too isolating?

SS: It was--I don't know what it was. It gave me too much time to think.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And I didn't want to think at that point. I wanted to go off and do something else.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: So--

JSJ: In this last six weeks since the tragedies here in America, a lot of women have talked about how quilting has helped them get through those times. Have you found that to be true?

SS: Somewhat yes, but I moved two months ago, so I've been really busy--

JSJ: Okay.

SS: On packing boxes, and I've had some time to quilt and thinking about quilts and working on them has, yes, has helped me deal a lot with it.

JSJ: Okay. When we think of quilts in American history and you're familiar with your own history, how do you think women in other times and places in American history have used quilts?

SS: Well, as necessity number one. They were absolutely essential to keep you warm. As socialization. As some small outlet for creativity. Some of those early quilts are so incredibly beautiful that I can just see that that person had to get something out, had something they had to get out, so I think they served a lot of purposes.

JSJ: You mention socialization.

SS: Yes.

JSJ: What do you mean by that?

SS: Quilting bees.

JSJ: Quilting bees.

SS: And just something to discuss with other women.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: But, you know, I imagine being a part of some of those quilting bees and how that must have been?

JSJ: Are you in any quilting bees?

SS: I am.

JSJ: Tell me about your quilting bee.

SS: I have a group--there are six of us. We have been friends for thirteen years. We go out--Well, I no longer live in the area. They're all in Seattle, Washington. I'm now in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and so I've been away for about five years, but we have remained very close friends. They all go out to lunch once a month. They e-mail me beforehand and afterwards and I always e-mail a letter so I that I can have my little part in it.

JSJ: [laughter.]

SS: And every January, for the last ten years, we've been going away for a week to the beach in Washington State, and we sew.

JSJ: I missed that. You went to a beach--

SS: To the beach.

[Joyce and Sally said the following at the same time.]

JSJ: In Washington State.

SS: In Washington State.

JSJ: In January.

SS: In January.

JSJ: Do you know that beaches are supposed to go warm places in January?

SS: But they are also beautiful in the winter.

JSJ: Okay. [laughter.]

SS: And then the housing is cheap.

JSJ: Okay.

SS: And it's available, and we can go, and we can just have all kinds of fun. We go to Pacific Beach, Washington. We rent this house. This year, this coming January, will be our tenth year, and we're going for ten days.

JSJ: And you're all quilters?

SS: We're all quilters. We take--There are six of us. We take eight sewing machines because two of them have Decos. They do the embroidery machines. We run them all at the same time. Everybody cooks dinner and in turn, and we rent this house. We move all the furniture out of the living room/dining room and move in tables and we just sew for ten days and it's what we live for. [laughter.]

JSJ: Did you know these women before you became a quilter?

SS: No.

JSJ: So, you wouldn't know them if you weren't a quilter?

SS: No, I wouldn't know them if I was a quilter, if I was not a quilter.

JSJ: And if something happened if one or the other of you could not quilt any longer, whether it was hands or arthritis or eyesight, what would that do to that relationship?

SS: We'd find a way to keep that relationship going. Like I said, that week is so important to all of us that we have decided no matter what happens even if we have to hire someone to drive us down there and to cook for us, we're going to do that because this week is so important to all six of us that we're not going to let it happen and we range in age from well early fifties to almost seventy and the older ones are finding it more difficult and the younger ones just help load, help unload, do whatever we can.

JSJ: That's wonderful.

SS: It is. It is.

JSJ: Sounds kind of like a movie plot.

SS: [laughter.]

[inaudible because Joyce and Sally are speaking at the same time.]

JSJ: Have to write a novel about it. Wonderful. Is there anything I haven't asked you about that you want to share about your quilts, your history, your love of quilting?

SS: No, you've pretty well covered it. I just love scrap quilts and I love to develop new techniques and that's about what I'm about.

JSJ: Wonderful. Let me turn this off and give it a couple minutes--I don't cut off anything.

[tape ends.]


“Sally Schneider,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,