Judy Whitson




Judy Whitson




Judy Whitson


Betty Jean Weaver

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


Tuscaloosa, Alabama


Kim Greene


Note: Judy Whitson of Chief Tuscaloosa Chapter NSDAR entered her quilt, "Welcome to Alabama" in the 117th Continental Congress, 2008 American Heritage Committee's fiber arts quilt contest. The contest theme was, "Hospitality Through the Ages." Judy's quilt received Honorable Mention.

Judy Whitson (JW): This is Judy Whitson, I am a member of the DAR, Chief Tuscaloosa [chapter.] in Tuscaloosa County and we are at [address.] on Thursday, August 14, 2008 and Betty Jean Weaver, who is a member of the Chief Tuscaloosa DAR is interviewing me for the [Quilters' S.O.S.- Save Our Stories.] Save Our Quilts Stories.

Betty Jean Weaver (BJW): Good morning Judy. What I would like to do first is to ask you to tell me about the quilt you brought today.

JW: This is a quilt that I designed and used patriotic themes and the contest part was "Hospitality," so I did a three-dimensional appliqué with the pineapple denoting the hospitality, and then I did an outline of the state with the bias that I had made from patriotic fabrics, and then I put the state flower in three-dimensional appliqué at the bottom of the state. I quilted it with stars all inside the state and had the three-dimensional stars on top because of the song that is real old and popular here in Alabama called "Stars Fell on Alabama." Then around the quilt I quilted it with little pineapples and the white on white fabric and then I had a welcome going down the side of the state in patriotic bias tape. Around it in 3 by 2 feet is patriotic fabrics and a Rail Fence type around the top, bottoms and sides of the quilt.

BJW: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

JW: It was to show the hospitality that our state is famous for. We are southern ladies and have been raised by our grandmothers and mothers to always have hospitality with our friends, guests, and that is what I was trying to show.

BJW: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

JW: I thought it would be real colorful and it won first in state, tied first in South Eastern Division and it won Honorable Mention at the Nationals. I was asked to bring it, and I thought that was very, very nice.

BJW: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you.

JW: I'm different. [laughs.] I like to use different things. I learned this three-dimensional appliqué at Paducah, Kentucky with Eleanor Burns in a workshop. She did it a little different, and I just designed in my way. [laughs.]

BJW: How do you use this quilt?

JW: Right now it is being displayed at various places to show that it won and what all happened to it and everything. Later I guess it will be displayed in my home.

BJW: What are your plans for this quilt? Oh, you just answered it. You are going to display it in your home. Do you make wearable art?

JW: Oh yes, I make purses and vests and redo sweatshirts, just anything. [laughs.]

BJW: Do you sleep under a quilt?

JW: Oh, yes. So do my children and my grandchildren and my nieces and nephews. [laughs.] It is usually quilts I made too. [laughs.]

BJW: Another question is how have you given quilts as gifts?

JW: Oh yes, I love to give. It is a sign that you really care for somebody when you give them a handmade item like a little baby quilt or a quilt for their bed or something, and it is more or less a memory quilt. I always put a signature block on there saying who it is for, the date, and who designed it and who made it, quilted.

BJW: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

JW: Oh, it started about 1990 when I was, I always did a lot of handwork. I did doll clothes, sewed clothes for my children and sewed clothes for the children's home and did counted cross stitch, knitting, just anything to work with my hands and my husband said, 'Why don't you do something that will make money?' [laughs.] Little did he know that that wasn't it. [laughs.] Quilters get these big stashes and love to do more projects.

BJW: You are self-taught then?

JW: Yes, yes, I started out with a book by Georgia Bonesteel and then went into traditional quilting patterns, the 1930's and '40's and then I started with the Orientals, with [Kumido.] Sudo and doing various things like that and batiks and Fossil Ferns [a line of fabric.] , and I love fabric with character.

BJW: What age did you start quilting? I think you just talked about it.

JW: Good heavens, I think I was forty-seven since that was 1990. [laughs.]

BJW: You do a lot of quilting, so do you have quilters in your family?
JW: Oh yes, my, both my grandmothers were quilters. I have several quilts from them. My great-grandmother did a memory quilt when her husband passed away. She did a quilt of all of his clothes and that is the way she grieved.

BJW: From whom did you learn to quilt?

JW: I guess you say my mother-in-law because she got me into the quilt guild and started if you want to quilt come with me. [laughs.]

BJW: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JW: Sometimes I forego dusting and vacuuming. [laughs.] You don't come to a quilter's house with white gloves. [laughs.] I think I sort of figured it up, it might be about eighty hours, it is worse than if you go to work. [laughs.]

BJW: What is your first quilt memory?

JW: I did a quilt for Coach Stallings and his wife for their first grandchild. It was the Marching Baby Elephant in red and white and the little boy was named after John Mark, their son that just passed away. I did that and then I did a quilt for my daughter for her graduation [mantle clock heard chiming.] and everybody quilted on it. My son, my husband, her grandparents, and everybody, so it was just a nice, and I used all the wrong fabrics and did everything wrong, [laughs.], but it was fun.

BJW: A lot of memories.

JW: Um, hum.

BJW: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends and would you please tell me about them?

JW: have friends that can't do a thing. She can't cook, she calls me all the time for hints and if she tried to do something than she would call me, and then I have a lot of friends that quilt and they are just as gung-ho as I am.

BJW: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

JW: Are you going to cook supper mother? [laughs.] Oh, I've got to finish this row. [laughs.] They've gotten really used to it. I made a quilt for my new grandson, who is sixteen months old and my best friend in California sent me some squares, some nursery squares to paint and draw on, and make into a quilt, and she painted one of the blocks. My son-in-law is German and has a family in Germany, and so I painted one block. The mother, Jamie my daughter, painted one block, and I sent three blocks to Germany with all the fabric pins and crayons and everything, and his mother painted a block, and his great-grandmother painted a block, and his sister painted a block, and then we put their names and the date on there, and they sent everything back to me. I put that quilt together for my grandson.

BJW: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

JW: I know what you are talking about. Right now I'm helping a girl make a memory quilt. Her husband passed away when he just laid down for a nap, and she brought me all of his clothes. She was finally able to bring me some of his clothes and I cut them up, and I've started helping her grieve by making this memory quilt, and we are going to put pictures on it and things.

BJW: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking or teaching.

JW: Oh, I've taught people how to Crazy Quilt. I've taught them how to embellish Crazy Quilts, I've taught people about Nine Blocks and Log Cabins and doing pictures on quilts, and I don't know if it is amusing or not, it is just fun. It is just fun helping people get started.

BJW: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

JW: It is relaxing. I love doing something with my hands. You can watch TV or listen to a book on tape or anything doing quiltmaking.

BJW: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

JW: Oh, [laughs.] putting it all together and making sure it is all tight and ironing the blocks. I am the worst ironer. [laughs.]

BJW: What quilt groups do you belong to?

JW: I belong to the West Alabama Quilters Guild here in Tuscaloosa County. I've been a member there since 1990, so I guess that is eighteen years. We are a nonprofit, charitable organization, and we do quilts for the schools, and we teach children in the schools to quilt and we do projects and we do quilts for the Diabetes Society, and we do quilts for the abused children, and we do quilts for Turning Point, which is a thing for abused women and children.

BJW: Have you been a board member or chair of a committee?

JW: Oh yes, I've been a co-chair for a quilt show which we have every other year, and I've been a co-chair for the Opportunity Quilts which we do every year, which helps us get money for our projects. And then I've also been the publicity chair for one of the quilt shows.

BJW: Have advances in technology influenced your work and if so how?

JW: The computer. [laughs.] The computer. You can get patterns online. You can converse with people all over the United States including famous artists in quilting to help you with various quilts. When my sister's daughter was killed in a car accident, I did a memory quilt for her and Anna Jane Hatcher, I think is her name, helped me with doing the borders.

BJW: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JW: I talked about before, I love Fossil Ferns and batiks and Orientals, anything with character, what I call fabrics with character. I use the plain fabrics, but I love anything that has got a little character that you can use in the quilt that helps it. I like the traditional, the 1930's and '40's and more than anything I love to design and appliqué. That is my best thing.

BJW: Have pictures of you, your quilts, and other patterns been published?

JW: Yes, I was published in Quilter's World. My sister's memory quilt that I did when she lost her daughter. It is in Quilter's World. I think 1997 edition might be the April edition, plus my son-in-law gave us a website and I have quilts online. Pictures of my quilts.

BJW: What are you favorite techniques and materials?

JW: I like the Fossil Ferns and the batiks and the Orientals and the three-dimensional and fabric folding and appliqué. That is one of my favorites.

BJW: Can you describe your studio or the place that you create?

JW: [laughs.] I cut on top of a chest freezer. [laughs.] I can lay the mat down and the rotary cutter. I have insulation construction boards that I put flannel on that I use to pin patterns and designs on so I can get things done, and then they are scattered all over. [laughs.]

BJW: Like genealogy. Do you sell quilts or collect quilts?

JW: Yes, I've sold. I've sold--I did one vest for a quilt show and sold it for $125.00 because the people liked it better than any of the others. It had three-dimensional appliqué with the Oriental [Kumiko.] Sudo on it.

BJW: Do you have a collection of quilts, or sewing memorabilia?

JW: I have quilts from my great-grandmothers and my grandmother. Anything I might find and pick up like feed sacks or that type of thing to keep in the little collection. [laughs.]

BJW: Tell me how you balance your time.

JW: [laughs.] I usually get up in the morning and fix a cup of tea and then do what I've got to do around the house to get out of it. [laughs.] Then I go, if I don't have to go to appointments or things like that, I will start quilting, or I will be designing or working on things.

BJW: Have you owned or worked in a quilt shop?

JW: No, I've never done that. I would be horrible in a quilt shop. I would want everything. [laughs.]

BJW: Do you teach quilting?

JW: I have taught quilting. I've taught Crazy Quilting and embellishing. I learned it from my best friend in California, Sarah Zander who's a professional Crazy quilter and beader. I've taught traditional quilting like Nine Patches for beginning quilters.

BJW: With teaching quilting, have you ever traveled outside of your hometown and have you won an award?

JW: Last year my quilt for the DAR won first in State and first in Southeastern Division, but it didn't win anything at National. There is a quilt show in East Jefferson that I've won several ribbons for things.

BJW: Do you use a design wall? If so, what way and how does that enhance your creative process? If not, how do you go about designing your quilts?

JW: I do use what you might call a design wall. It is 8 feet by I think it is 8 feet by 6 feet or 12 feet or something. It is the installation board that they use in houses, you can pin things on it and if it gets real big. I have a small one that is cut that I pin things on and can use it.

BJW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JW: I've thought about this question and it may not win awards, the quilt may not win awards and may not get a lot of attention and ribbons or anything, but I think a great quilt is when the quilters is happy with her design, and loves what she has done, and is very pleased with it herself.

BJW: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JW: That again is, the eye of the judges is a lot different than the eye of the quilter. Sometimes it is just what is popular or what is different at the time. I know that there have been a lot of Baltimore Albums that they see that they judged First in Place and those are real intense and beautiful. It just depends. I think that a lot of people don't get ribbons for things they do that is just wonderful.

BJW: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JW: I think if it is different and shows talent and the stitches are great and not out of black or something. I've seen, I've seen the quilters museum in Paducah, Kentucky and they had a kaleidoscope quilts up there and they were absolutely out of this world and they used all kinds of fabrics and things. It was just marvelous.

BJW: Being a quilter, what makes a great quiltmaker?

JW: Oh, the fact that she loves to do it and can't do things around the house because she loves to do it. [laughs.]

BJW: Something that is in the blood. Whose works are you drawn to and why?

JW: It depends. Like now I've enjoyed Eleanor Burns and I can't pronounce one of his girls but her last name is [Kumiko.] Sudo. She is Japanese and she does fabric folding, and I love that and the way she uses her oriental fabrics and things like that. I guess I'm drawn to the three-dimensional appliqués.

BJW: Which artists have influenced you?

JW: I started out with Georgia Bonesteel. She was doing lap quilting and I didn't exactly do the block by block method, but I did pick up on her and did a Dresden Plate and that is what started more or less and then I started designing and I just--I've got about six or seven patterns that I've designed myself and I use.

BJW: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting, and what about long arm quilting?

JW: I've had a quilt done by a lady in Birmingham that does long arm quilting, and I was-- it was real intense and real pretty and it was a lot of stitching all over it, but I think it lost the quality of the quilt when you slept under it, or when you felt it and I'm a hand [clears throat.] excuse me, and I'm a hand piecer and a hand quilter. [mantle clock heard chiming in the background.] I love to do that. Some of my friends, a lot of my friends are machine quilters and machine piecers and that is fine for them.

BJW: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

JW: I love the Bible and reading the Bible and doing things in the Bible and there is one in the New Testament that talks about a lady that died named Dorcas and Peter came in and the people were saying, 'Please, please help her. Look what she did for us,' and then they showed all these clothes and all of these things that she had made for them and Peter raised her from the dead and I've always thought how wonderful that she had all those people there that said look what she has done for me and that's what. You know when I'm gone I want these quilts left and everybody saying, momma made this for me, grandma made this for me, or my friend made this for me.

BJW: What ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

JW: We do a lot of charity work for the community and when I see a grandmother having a first grandbaby I will stick around and make a quilt for her. [laughs.] A baby quilt and then give it to her out of the blue because I love the fact that she is getting her first experience as the grandmother and she ought to have something at that house to wrap that baby in. [laughs.]

BJW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JW: We had a quilt come in that was, a soldier carried during the Civil War. It was almost in tatters, but he carried that quilt all during the Civil War to keep himself warm and it was passed down through his family and friends and it's just--it is amazing what quilts will do to a family and how they will pass it down. Of course some people look at quilts and say, 'Oh, I don't want that,' but a lot of people know their values.

BJW: Have you ever participated in quilt history preservation?

JW: Yes, our guild sponsored them here in town, and I was at the registry desk and checked all
the quilts in and got to see some amazing, wonderful old quilts.

BJW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in the American life?

JW: It is a form of history. A lot of people do genealogy and it's in there, its genealogy part. It brings down grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. My daddy, he quilted on quilts and my aunt, and I've got those quilts that my grandmother left me.

BJW: What ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

JW: It shows how we progressed and how we still do the same patterns and how we look back to our family and our ancestry and still value what they left us.

BJW: How do you think quilts can be used?

JW: Everywhere. [laughs.] A soldier can take it to war, a child can take it in a car, a child can sleep. I made a quiller one time, which is a quilt that you can fold up into a pillow and this child would take it with her in the car, and then she would have it on her bed, unfolded and be on her bed. You can take it on trips, you can spread them out in the yard for the children to lie on and play on until they get where they are too far gone. [laughs.]

BJW: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JW: Keeping the patterns and in the families. My son values his quilts. I made an Alabama quilt for my nephew and when he went to boot camp that quilt went with him. It went everywhere he went the quilt went in the car with him. Everything else was packed up in the van or something, but the quilt was in his car.

BJW: What has happened to quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

JW: Everybody still has them. They still have the quilt. There is one though that I don't know about. I made it for RISE and sold, took tickets for it and a couple sold the tickets at the Alabama Museum, the "Bear" Bryant Museum, and a couple from Tennessee won it, and I got $1,800.00 for RISE. I never have known what happened to that quilt.

BJW: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

JW: Finding enough place to put fabric. [laughs.] [recorder turned off and then on.]

JW: Our interview is over, and I've answered all the questions on the forms for the value of the quilt and experience. This is a wonderful experience and I really appreciate being asked to put my quilt in this [Quilters' S.O.S.] Save Our Stories, and I want to thank everybody for participating in it. Please excuse all of my giggling. When I get nervous I giggle. This was really touched some things inside me that I haven't thought about and the questions were really good and brought out some things that I wouldn't never thought that so thank you. That is all.

[interview concludes.]


“Judy Whitson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1393.