Shelly Burge




Shelly Burge




Shelly Burge


Rebecca Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics/ United Notions


International Quilt Festival
Houston, TX USA


Megan Dwyre


Rebecca Salinger (RS): November 1, 2002 this is Rebecca Salinger interviewing Shelly Burge of Lincoln, Nebraska at the Houston International Quilt Association Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project. Why don't we get the quilt out here? Would you like us to wear gloves when we do this?

Shelly Burge (SB): No, this is fine.

RS: It is now 3:55 p.m. We have a quilt here that is. It looks like a wall quilt and can you tell me something about it? What its name is?

SB: The name is "Remember the One Room Schoolhouse" and I attended a one room school on the West, outside the outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska, from second grade through eighth grade.

RS: I didn't know they still had those.

SB: Well, they don't. [laughs.] That's what inspired the quilt. In 1987, I heard that it was closing, like many of the one room schools were closing, and I had such memories of my education there and growing up in that school that I kind of wanted to something to preserve those memories, so I decided to make a quilt, so I started it and completed it in 1988. The name of the school was Lone Pine which the pine trees on the quilt and I remember reading how some of the early studies in country schools were cross-stitch or other types of needle work so the alphabet on the quilt is designed to look a little bit like cross-stitch and then the borders are designed to look kind of like a cross stitch pattern.

RS: The school house in the middle--is that the actual--is this what it looks like?

SB: No actually the school house I went to is white, but a red school house fit well with the quilt.

RS: Is this a bell up here?

SB: It's supposed to be a bell, and a flag. This block of the school house I had entered it into the Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, they had a contest for making a block for each state, and my block was the winner for the state of Nebraska.

RS: When was that?

SB: Must have been '87 or '88, maybe '89 somewhere in there, I don't remember for sure. They published a book of all the fifty winners.

RS: I remember that.

SB: I also entered this quilt in the Great American Childhood's contest in '88 and it was the runner-up for the state of Nebraska.

RS: Well this quilt has been out there before.

SB: Yes.

RS: You've already told me why you've chosen to bring this quilt to the interview, is there anything else you want to add to that? Did anybody else ever see it other than the quilt community?

SB: Well, it's kind of a family quilt because it has personal memories for me, it's hand quilted and in the quilt there's an apple quilted into it, so there's kind of a little mystery to find it somewhere. [inaudible.] I often ask my husband's advice when I'm working on a quilt, to get his opinion, and I had finished piecing the top and I had him look at it. I was getting ready to put it in a frame to do the quilting and I asked him what he thought and he said, well he didn't like the flag, he didn't think that was very good, he wasn't happy with that, but I liked it and I was on a deadline because I had to get it done for the contest. So I went ahead and quilted it and sent it off to the contest and when it came back as the runner up with the judges comment sheet, they said 'Love the flag' so I had to be sure to show my husband that, to tell him his opinion wasn't worth very much this time. [laughs.]

RS: Well, what are your plans for this quilt in the future? Are you going to do anything to it? It sounds like it has historical significance.

SB: Well, to me.

RS: To you.

SB: To my family. I haven't really decided what's going to happen to my quilts, I haven't set down in my will. There's one or two I would like to donate to the International Quilt Studies Center [in Lincoln, Nebraska.], the others I would like to stay in my family. My daughter's not that much of a quilter yet; she's done a little bit of quilting, but I know she appreciates my quilts, so I think she'll appreciate them if I hand them down to her.

RS: That's great. Tell me a little bit about your interest in quilting, how did you get started?

SB: Well there were no quilters in my family. I do remember just one quilt when we were growing up and I don't remember anything about it or where it came from or what happened to it, it was made of wools and probably suiting fabric.

RS: So you don't still have it?

SB: No, I have no idea what happened to it.

RS: So how did you get into quilting?

SB: After I was married, my husband's grandmother was a very avid quiltmaker, she had an old Singer sewing machine that converted to electricity years and years ago, and so the first Christmas we were married she gave us two quilts for Christmas. I had grown up sewing, I learned to sew on a machine when I was four, so I made clothing and all kinds of things for the house, curtains and things like that, but I don't even know if I knew what a quilt really was until then, so I thought, well I've got all these fabrics left from making clothing and things I'll make a quilt or two and I'll use up all those scraps, get them out of the house. That was the early seventies, about '73, '72, and I went to the library and there was one or two books in the library on quilting, I just started.

RS: So are you just self taught then? Initially?

SB: Initially. I just cut out a bunch of squares and sewed them together, then started taking some classes at the local community college, and then eventually some quilt shops and conventions.

RS: So you didn't really start quilting until you were in your adult life.

SB: Well I was nineteen. I married young.

RS: Well you were grown up.

SB: '73 I was 19.

RS: So right now, how many hours a week do you think you quilt?

SB: Actual quilting or does that include computer and paperwork related to quilting?

RS: Oh, I should say quiltmaking process.

SB: Quiltmaking process, because some of that's designing, some of that's writing, how much a week?

RS: Well, where does it fit in your life now because you've just sort of got into it because of the quilts you got from your grandmother?

SB: Well I consider it my profession because I teach quilting and I write patterns and I write books so it's kind of a hobby that's gotten out of control [laughs.], but I guess it's a good thing that you can work at what you like to do, so probably a minimum two hours a day doing something related to quilting. If I'm working on a quilt and there's a deadline that might go to twelve or fifteen, eighteen hours a day.

RS: You said you do it professionally now, would you tell me, you said designing, sewing patterns?

SB: I've written two books. I have a small line of patterns. I do commission work quilts and there's a shop or a restaurant that displays my quilts. They asked me to do a commission quilt, the quilt is 26.5 feet by 6.3 feet tall, it hangs as the back drop as a restaurant, so they needed some other art work to hang in the restaurant and they said would I like to display some small quilts, and they would sell them for me, so they've been doing that for about five years now and they don't charge me any commissions.

RS: Oh, my gosh.

SB: The waitresses sell the quilts and they mail me the checks.

RS: What were the names of those two books?

SB: The first book is "Terrific Triangles," that was in 1995 and the second quilt is "Small Quilts Made Easy" and that came out in 1998.

RS: So when do you think you crossed over from the hobby to the professional?

SB: I started teaching classes in about 1984, just little demonstrations for my local guild and then just kind of word of mouth, the other guilds in the other small towns around the state, and then I graduated to guilds out of state, and I was entering my quilts into some of the national competitions around the country and that got my name known in other parts of the country and then those guilds would ask about teaching so, it was just very gradual, I just kind of happened into it. I don't know when I could really say, an exact date, that I became professional. The first year I taught in Houston I believe was 1990.

RS: That's been twelve years.

SB: Twelve years, yes.

RS: So how many weeks do you spend away? Say per month? Traveling and to teach or to lecture or whatever?

SB: Probably averages about twelve to fifteen trips a year. It's not a real fulltime profession for me, I don't really want to travel that much, but it's enough to keep me busy and to be inspired and I love to travel and to get to meet new people, and visit new quilt shops. So some years it's been more and some years it's been less.

RS: Does that impact your family at all?

SB: It did when my children were younger, my children are grown now, my daughter's 30 and my son's 25. When they were younger, I couldn't have done it without a lot of support from my husband and from my mother-in-law. We built our house on an acreage, which is part of my husband's family's farm, so we lived about an eighth of a mile from my in-laws and she was always very willing to help with my children especially when they were young and so I couldn't have done it without my husband's and my mother-in-law's support.

RS: That's great you had that. What do you find pleasing about quilting? What's your favorite thing about it?

SB: That's really hard. I love creating original things. A lot of my things are based on traditional blocks and I like taking something that's traditional and twisting it or giving it a little something different, that you don't think of it as maybe traditional but there's something that is- I guess being able to create something that I imagined, having it turn out, whether it's exactly how I imagined it in my mind.

RS: Is there anything about the quilting process you don't like?

SB: My fingers get real sore when I hand quilt. [laughs.] I've tried all the different tools to put over your fingers underneath and none of those I can use. I just switch from finger to finger [laughs.] and they all get raw. I never liked marking quilts, I try not to do that, and basting gets really tedious.

RS: Do you hand quilt almost everything?

SB: No, I like to hand quilt, that's my favorite thing, but I really love to piece and create, and I'm a machine piecer so I can piece very quickly so I have lots of tops that I've finished, so I am getting more into machine quilting. I would prefer to do it all by hand, but you can't get things done that way very quickly.

RS: This one is hand quilted.

SB: This one is.

RS: Did you mark this one?

SB: No.

RS: It's got this lovely fan, little fans.

SB: I use masking tape or I use contact paper, cutting concentric rings out of contact paper and then they have the peel off back which you stick on and quilt around it, put the next one on and quilt around it.

RS: Is that how you marked this quilt?

SB: Yes.

RS: Switch to something else, just in general, what do you think makes a really great quilt? A memorable quilt?

SB: The quilts that are memorable that I make are ones that have something personal that I want to share with family or friends or they have some memory connection, something like that, that makes them special to me. If I'm seeing someone else's work, what probably impresses me is design, workmanship, color of the quilt, first things that I notice.

RS: It sounds like you answered my next question; I was going to ask you what makes a quilt artistically powerful to you?

SB: If it makes a connection with the person that's looking at the quilt. The quilt draws them in, that they can't just walk past it, they have to stop, they have to take a closer look at it.

RS: Do you aim for that when you make your quilts now?

SB: Not all of them, but some if I'm really trying to convey an emotion or trying to tell a story in my quilt. I always try to do something that will catch the viewer's eye, maybe make them stop and want to come and take a closer look.

RS: Would you say your quilts now look a lot like this because this is a 15 year old quilt, is that right?

SB: Right [inaudible.] It's funny that you say that because the quilt that's in the teachers, that's in the faculty show here, I was just walking through the vendors booth and a friend stopped me and she said, 'I saw your quilt and it doesn't look like you.' because it's much more contemporary, it's batiks and it's bright orange and it's purples and it's stars that are tessellated and so, I wasn't surprised that she said that because a lot of my things are more old-fashioned looking, using the tone on tones.

RS: Do you still make quilts like this? These are muted colors and so you still make quilts like that?

SB: I still do, I think it's hard to fit me in one category of just being very traditional or being contemporary because I kind of go back depending on what sparks my interest at the time and usually I've got five or six projects at least going at one time.

RS: That's great. Do your quilts in any way reflect anything that has to do with your community? I know this one is historically significant, but I meant in general.

SB: There are several of my quilts that were inspired living in Nebraska, the Plain State, because I love the plains and the colors and the vistas that you can just see from one horizon to the other, so there are several of my quilts that have been inspired by just the view or by the history Nebraska offers, my quilts have been inspired by the looks (and feelings inspired by the state). I think it reflects that, that I live in a plain state, and that I'm proud of living in that state.

RS: And if someone saw your quilt you'd be saying Nebraska with it?

SB: Well I don't know Nebraska, but maybe the plains.

RS: Do you have any plans, I know you said you're not sure what you're going to be doing with your quilts.

SB: No, I haven't set down in writing and put it in my will yet.

RS: Do you think that this is going to end up in a museum some day?

SB: I don't know about that. There are several of my quilts that I would like to donate to either the state historical society or to the James collection, the university's collection. Whether they decide they want them or not, I don't know, but it would be nice to think that maybe one or two of my quilts might be in a museum collection somewhere.

RS: That's great. There's one thing I wanted to go back to, we had talked about you don't have time to hand quilt, so have you learned machine quilting at this point?

SB: I feel like I've learned more, I feel like I'm good enough at it that I can do a fairly good job, I've entered some of my quilts in competitions and they've done well, but I don't feel that I'm an expert at it.

RS: When you machine quilt is it on a regular sewing machine?

SB: A Bernina.

RS: A Bernina, have you tried longarm?

SB: I have.

RS: Do you send any of your quilts out to be professionally quilted by someone else?

SB: I've had a few longarm quilted, ones that I was giving as gifts and I was under a deadline, they had to be done for a wedding, or--so I've done that a few times.

RS: Do you feel comfortable with that?

SB: It depends on the quality of the longarm quilting. Some of them have come back and I've been happy with them, and some of them have come back and I've been not happy with them, but I know I could have done a better job with my Bernina if I'd had time to get it done by the deadline.

RS: Is there anything else you want to add about how you feel about quilting or anything? Do you think it's got a future?

SB: Oh, certainly. You meet new quilters all the time that are just coming into it, excited about it and want to do something to work with their hands and be creative and use it to express their opinions and their feelings and do something that their family will cherish for future generations. I think it's a good future for quilting.

RS: Sometimes you want to do something that just has to do with museums.

SB: Well, I've worked on the Nebraska State History Project where we went and documented the quilts and I go in and I volunteer at the Quilt Studies Center so the quilt history and preserving quilt history is important to me.

RS: Is there anything else you want to add about that or anything we haven't touched on that you'd like to stay for posterity? [laughs.]

SB: No, just I guess that I really enjoy it and I'm very lucky to have a family that's been understanding and supports my love of it and I hope maybe my daughter will carry on the tradition in the family, someone's got to get that stash. [laughs.]

RS: This concludes the interview with Shelly Burge of Lincoln, Nebraska at the IQA festival in Houston, Texas, November 1, 2002. This is Rebecca Salinger and that's it.


“Shelly Burge,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,