Marlena Dupre




Marlena Dupre




Marlena Dupre


Sandy Mehall

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


Rachel Grove


Sandy Mehall (SM): [tape begins mid-sentence.] ...two, Friday, and I am interviewing Marlena Dupré. Marlena used to live for many, many years in San Antonio, Texas and has recently moved to Grapevine, Texas, and I happen to be Marlena's friend. My name is Sandy Mehall, and I want to talk to Marlena about a specific quilt she has which is a fan quilt with antique laces and buttons on it. You want to tell me a little bit about that?

Marlena Dupré (MD): The quilt is a Grandmother's Fan and I use all of my grandmother and my great-grandmothers' laces and buttons to embellish it with and I entered it in the quilt show, but it didn't win a prize.

SM: Did you have to destroy some things to make a new thing?

MD: No, I didn't. All of the lace was leftover lace that my grandmother and great-grandmothers had collected, and all the buttons were in their button jar, and I just took the buttons out of the button jar and used them.

SM: And you use this quilt? Do you not?

MD: Yes, we do. It's on bedroom that my little granddaughter sleeps in on a canopy bed, so it looks very appropriate in that room.

SM: Right and the actual fabrics were they old as well?

MD: Some of the fabrics were fabrics that I had used in sewing projects. Some of it were fabrics that came from my mother-in-law and grandmother. It was on muslin, and I purchased the fabric for the border.

SM: And where was that in your quilt evolution? Like your tenth, your twentieth, your you know, how many roughly like would you say?

MD: I would say it's probably about my twentieth quilt. It was--It evolved because I became very sentimental and wanted to keep these things and use them and put it in a way that would be appealing to other people.

SM: And do you think you made it probably five, six years ago?

MD: I probably made it '97 or ‘98.

SM: Okay and how did you get into quilting?

MD: My grandmother on my father's side quilted and I can remember playing underneath her quilt frame that came down from the ceiling and didn't do anything about it until all of my children went away to school, and I decided that now is the time for me to start.

SM: And was your grandmother from Louisiana if I remember freshly--

MD: No, the grandmother that was east Texas, outside of Texarkana, Texas.

SM: Okay.

MD: Yes.

SM: Okay, and then you didn't learn to quilt then until late adulthood after your kids were grown?

MD: Right, but I sewed from the time I was in the third grade, and I of had a special thing, because one of my grandmothers lived in Hollywood and sewed for movie stars, and my country grandmother lived on the farm and made quilts and clothes for me out of flour sacks and things like that but my city grandmother made fancy clothes so I had the best of both worlds. [laughs.]

SM: That is pretty interesting to have both like that. And then did you learn to quilt from a class or yourself?

MD: I taught myself, and then I took a small class just to perfect the techniques but just learned on my own, because I knew how to sew it was easy to learn.

SM: It was a big start in the right direction. Yes, and how many hours a week do you work on quilts do you think?

MD: It's diminished, but at least eight to ten hours a week doing some kind of sewing project, quilting--

SM: And you have such a beautiful studio.

MD: Yes, I now have my own little world. [laughs.]

SM: In her--she has a new house with a gorgeous place to work, and it's sunny and cheerful. It's great. And so the first quilt memory you have is hiding under the grandmother's--

MD: Yes.

SM: Quilt frame.

MD: Right, and then my great-grandmother on my mother's side made a quilt, and it was the last quilt she made before she died, and I was the recipient of it, and it's made out of pastels, and I used to sleep under it as a child, and then my grandmother who made all the quilts out of flour sacks would take my old clothes and make quilts out of those too, so I've always had an appreciation for them, and as a child, quilts were just something you slept under. You didn't display them. You just used them, and we use them at our house. We have quilts on all the beds, and that's what you sleep under.

SM: So, was this grandmother the only real quilter in your whole family? You had sewers, but she was the only quilter?

MD: Right. My father's mother, her name was Mama Jonsy, she was the country grandmother, and she was the--

SM: The quilter.

MD: Right.

SM: Your daughter quilts?

MD: No, but my little five-year-old granddaughter has taken an interest in it, and I've let her pick out fabrics, and we sewed them together like she wanted, and she has tied two quilts herself.

SM: Wow, that's great.

MD: With embroidery thread.

SM: That's great.

MD: Maybe she'll be my sewer/quilter.

SM: That's right, and you have a lot of friends that quilt though?

MD: Yes, I do. Yes, I have a very big circle of friends who quilt.

SM: Can you tell me about some of them?

MD: Well, I have one friend who loves to appliqué, and that's her passion. They kid me, because I'm the one that likes to embroider, and then I have another friend that like to piece and does like to do nature scenes, so I have a lot of friends that do a lot of different kind of quilting, and it's easy to appreciate each person's abilities and their interests, and you can tell a person's personality by what they quilt.

SM: I think that's probably right.

MD: Right.

SM: How do you use quilting? Have you used it as a passing to occupy your time, to help you through a difficult time? How has it fit into your life?

MD: I used to say that when--it still is--Quilting is my tranquilizer. When you've had a really bad day there's just something about sitting down with a hoop and a needle and thread and being able to stitch and have it something beautiful. It stays done. Out of all your everyday chores and the things you do around the house, sewing and quilting are things that stay there, and they give your family a part of you?

SM: Do you like the hand part the best then, the handwork?

MD: I like hand quilting better than--and I like to piece things, not necessarily by hand. I've done both, but hand quilting to me is more pure than machine quilting. I machine quilt table runners and things like that, and I have machine quilted things that I'm going to use on top of the table, but I don't think I've ever machine quilted a quilt that I sleep under.

SM: Oh, and is there any part of the whole process that you don't like?

MD: Don't like? No, not really. I find selecting the fabrics and the pattern rather challenging. That's my creative outlet. That's the way I can show my feelings, and I have a passion for houses, and so I have a great many quilts that have house on them that--

SM: Birdhouses and regular houses.

MD: [laughs.] Places that people live, and I like old things, so I have done quilt with antique fabrics, and I did a Hawaiian quilt and things like that.

SM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MD: What do I think makes--I think a great quilt is something that you put your heart into, and it's a part of you, and it shows your love for whatever you're involved in like your children, or like the person who likes to do appliquéing, and she has a passion for that intricate work, that precise work.

SM: Yes.

MD: And I just think that whatever that person puts into the quilt makes it a great quilt.

SM: And is there any particular thing that makes it more or less artistically powerful?

MD: I guess I am more into--I'm not an artsy quilt person. I don't like quilts that are scenes and things like that. I can appreciate them, but to me a quilt that you cuddle up into is much more appealing than--so I have them hanging on my walls, but I don't have any art quilts on my walls.

SM: But artistry in any of these quilts to you is from the fabric and colors and patterns [inaudible.]

MD: And what the person--I think that if you look at a quilt, and you can tell that person's personality, you can tell a lot about that person--

SM: I got you.

MD: By the style of quilting that they enjoy doing.

SM: And how do you think that people learn the art? Do you think it's something that develops from within, or it's totally learned, or that--do you understand what I'm asking you?

MD: Well, I think that a person who wants to make a quilt--It has to be something that--A lot of times people appreciate quilts and seeing them, and then that will spur them on to maybe someday making a quilt. Just like my little granddaughter sees quilts, and she appreciates them--

SM: Right.

MD: And now she wants to make them, so I think it's something that you have to appreciate the final project before you're interested in doing it.

SM: So, you definitely have a preference for hand quilting over machine quilting?

MD: Yes.

SM: And how about longarm quilting?

MD: I would never pay somebody to longarm quilt one of my quilts even though I have five quilts that need to be quilted, and one of these days I'll get them done, but if I'm going to sleep under it, I have to have it hand quilted.

SM: So [inaudible.] how would you say it's important in your life?

MD: It is an artistic outlet.

SM: Yes.

MD: It's a peaceful thing. It's a way of meeting other people, friends. I think that quilting has brought me together with several of the people that I know, and so I think it's a binder of community.

SM: Yes. Is there any way that your work reflects your region like Texas or San Antonio?

MD: I don't think so. I think mine are pretty old-fashioned and more traditional quilts than artsy quilts. I don't think any of mine would be considered artsy.

SM: So, the quilt in American life to you is the same as it was to a pioneer woman?

MD: Yes.

SM: Would you think that's a true statement?

MD: I think so, because I can look at the things my grandmother did, and to me maybe that's my connection to the past.

SM: So, it's utility with artistic application as opposed to artistry with very utility?

MD: Right.

SM: That true?

MD: I think so, yes. I can appreciate the very modernistic, artsy quilts. I can appreciate them. I think they're lovely, but I would have a hard time making one of those.

SM: So, you not only use quilts for your beds, you use them for display and artistry also.

MD: Yes, yes. We hang them. I have a special wall that all of my quilts hang on.

SM: Yes, will you tell us a little bit about that wall? It's pretty interesting.

MD: I stenciled my wall with ivy and hung birdhouses and I hang different quilts for different seasons on them, so I have a variety of quilts that go up there.

SM: So, they wall has a bookshelf down low, and the vines go up and--

MD: Over the windows.

SM: Over the windows and around the corner, and it's--

MD: Right. It's like two--almost the whole kitchen is of vines that I've painted and then the quilts hang on them. It looks like the birdhouses are holding the quilts up.

SM: Yes. Have you made a lot of quilts for other people?

MD: Yes. I've made quilts as gifts. I've made three or four quilts for church groups to use in their raffles. When my mother was alive the senior citizens needed a raffle prize, I would make a quilt for them, so they could sell raffle tickets and make money for the senior citizens.

SM: That's nice. So really quilting has been a very big part of your life.

MD: Yes, it has.

SM: And continues to be.

MD: It is. My daughter had me make a scrapbook of the quilts that I have made and take pictures of them and write what they were, because I never stopped to think about them, and we were able to document all eight, but five quilts that I had no pictures of, and there were eighty quilts in this scrapbook.

SM: That's amazing.

MD: And they're not all big quilts. You know there are some that are wall hangings. Some that are baby bed quilts.

SM: Yes. Well, is there anything else you would like to add to this oral history before we conclude it that enters your mind like quilts you have or anything you want--some relatives or anything you would like to add?

MD: No, I don't think so. I think I've--

SM: Covered it.

MD: Covered it. [laughs.]

SM: Well, it's 2:30 p.m., and I thank Marlena for agreeing to be interviewed, and we learned a lot.

[tape turned off and then on again.]

SM: Okay we have a couple extra questions to the interview with Marlena Dupré, on November 1, 2002, at 2:30 p.m. Our scriber Rebecca Salinger would like to ask a couple additional questions.

Rebecca Salinger (RS): Tell me about your daughter's project to put together the scrapbook of all the quilts you made and how many you made.

MD: She was curious as to how many I had made, and I told her I didn't know, and she say, ‘Well, start writing them down.' So, I started writing them down, and then she said, ‘Now go take pictures of them,' and that was the difficult part. It took me about six months to collect the pictures, and I found all but five. Two of them went to Saint Matthew's Catholic Church, and two of them had gone to Saint Luke's Catholic Church, and the five one was a wall hanging I did for Saint Mary's University, so those were the only five that I was unable to document, and I knew them names of them. I even had scraps cut from the fabric that I had written down, so on the back of the scrapbook I made a list of the ones I hadn't been able to find, so then we started going through the old quilts that were in my house that were my grandmother's and my great-grandmother's and my husband's mother's, and we started taking pictures of all of those and documenting who made them, approximately what year they were made, and how did I get them, and then we found afghans, and then we found old tablecloths and things that my daughter was curious about. She wanted to know where they came from, and so this scrapbook now is about that deep.

RS: Oh, about--What is it six?

MD: Four inches.

RS: Four inches thick?

MD: Yes, because I've made around eighty quilts.

RS: That's a great legacy to pass on.

MD: I think so. I think so.

RS: And maybe continue the tradition--

MD: Right.

RS: If the granddaughter picks up quilting.

MD: Right. I hope so. So, it's kind of fun. It was a nice project, because it made me realize that maybe she was interested in what I did, and that always makes you feel good when your children want to know about your past. [laughs.]

RS: Do you want to add anything else?

MD: No, I didn't. You know just that I had the wall that I display my quilts on, and they bring a great deal of pleasure to me. When you put them up there, there's some quilts that my friend has made for me, and when I left San Antonio my quilt bee made me a quilt of birdhouses, and they all signed it, and that hangs up there, and I just rotate them in and out. It's been fun. Enjoy it.

RS: Well, thank you very much.

MD: Okay.

RS: We conclude a second time the interview with Marlena Dupré, on November 1, 2002 at the IQA [International Quilt Association.] Quilt Festival. Thank you. Turn this off.


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