Marilyn Woodin




Marilyn Woodin




Marilyn Woodin


Sylvia Burke

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Rockford, Illinois


Sally Ambrose


Sylvia Burke (SB): Testing, testing. This is Sylvia Burke. Today is October 4, 2002, it is 2:45 excuse me it is 1:45 [unintelligible.] I am conducting an interview with Marilyn Woodin for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Marilyn, can you tell me anything about the quilt that you brought today?

Marilyn Woodin (MW): I brought one that is newer than most of my collection. I have a quilt collection that dates from about 1820 to about 1940. This one is a special little quilt because I live in an Amish community. It is actually the largest Amish community west of the Mississippi. This is a copy of an antique Amish quilt that is pictured in Robert Bishops book A Gallery of Amish Quilts. The title of it is "Botch Handle". This one is a small piece. It has 3200 pieces in it. It was quilted by a Cynthia Derbyshure [phonetic spelling.] in New York. I was privileged to take a trip in 1988 to New York to a place that was auctioning quilts for a benefit and this quilt was there I immediately fell in love with it and bid on it and was lucky because I got it. It was interesting that Cynthia had attached a note to it saying that she copied this quilt it from the picture and did it in miniature and she thought of changing its name from "Botch Handle" to "Cynthia's Folly." [laughter.] It was so much work. I really treasure the little thing. I thought it was just special and if Cynthia Derbyshure is alive, I hope she knows that someone loves her quilt.

SB: Now that's great. It is beautiful red and black quilt very graphic.

MW: Many times, the Amish did not use red. In that particular quilt they did use red. I know we live in an Amish community where red was not allowed until probably 1950. Some of the women that came from Indiana where red was permitted came into Kalona [Iowa] and would make their quilts and they would use red in them. In fact, we have one in the Kalona Quilt and Textile Museum that was made in Kalona [Iowa.] by one who came from Indiana and even though the bishop said she could not use red she was from Indiana she was going to use red, and she did.

SB: So how long have you lived in Kalona [Iowa.]? Did you grow up there?

MW: No, I did not. My husband is a minister, and he accepted a call to the United Christian Baptist Church in Kalona and we moved there about 38 years ago. He has since retired after serving the church for 28 years. I have had a shop for about 31 years, and I have been kind of instrumental for preserving quilts in our area. We had our own private quilt collection of about 200 quilts, and we gave 32 of those quilts to the Kalona Historical Village which my husband and I helped start way back 30 years ago and we told them we wanted them to have a new look for the century and if they would build a building to house the quilts, we would donate 32 of our quilts. So, we did, and I get to curate those shows which is more fun than anything and we have we change our show about every 3 months. We have had since that time about 27 quilts given to us with our early quilts being from 1820 to about oh probably 1910. So that's kind of a rewarding feeling. We sell new Amish quilts in our store, and we also sell antique quilts, and we have some really great collectors. They have loaned us quilts back for different shows. That has meant a lot to the museum. I have enjoyed knowing quilters. Knowing about quilters. I think I actually enjoy looking back at all those women who worked so hard with their hands to keep their families warm. And who learned to treasure the cloth. They really felt that it was important that all of these things be for their families but also for people to see beauty. And it always whenever I see red, white and green quilts and they're sparkling and beautiful I have had people say to me, 'Well, how can they be so bright and so pretty if they are that old?' And of course, the answer to that as every history person knows is they were packed away from light. I have always had the feeling that it wasn't really as important but not as important, to control humidity as it was light. And I guess maybe I got that feeling from having gone up into Iowa attics where sometimes it reached 110 degrees and there in a box was a pristine quilt coming out of there and the humidity was very high and in that same attic during the winter it would go down to 10 to 15 to 20 below and yet that quilt was sustained. I have a marvelous quilt in my collection that I call "Baby." It's pictured in Barbara Brackman's book as one of the frontice pieces of her "Clues in the Calico" and it's a Feathered Star with a chintz border. It dates 1820. It was brought to Iowa by the maker Mrs. Snouffer [phonetic spelling.] in about 1840. When she came up to Iowa to care for a gentleman and she packed it away in a trunk. That trunk was found some 30 years ago, and a lady brought it to me at the quilt show that I have managed for what 30 years? [laugh.] It was absolutely phenomenal that it could be back out in an Iowa shed, packed in a trunk, not looked at for all those years and come out as beautiful as it did. But it had a secondary quilt there that the same lady had made, and it took the hit for water and things like that. But "Baby" has always been one of my favorite things in a collection. And, although I gave 32 to the museum "Baby" did not go with them. [chuckle.] I plan on keeping her for the rest of my life if I can. People have said to me, 'Well, how can you collect quilts when you don't quilt?' And my answer to that is, 'You know you have to have appreciators of art so that the artists will continue to paint, and you have to have appreciators of quilts so quilters will still make.' I was talking to someone today that I said. 'The reverse is true also you have to have the quilters that make so that is there for art people to really appreciate.' I guess I come at this from an art history background. I have taught different collectors throughout the United States how to see things with their eyes and really appreciate the beauty that's in the graphics particularly of the Amish quilts. And, into the beautiful quilting and all of the things that go into quilt making. I guess that's what I like about it. It was interesting I don't know if we have time, but it was interesting how someone asked me, 'How did you start collecting quilts?' I had a little tiny shop when we started out it was one room. We were very close to the University of Iowa and students would come down. A lady brought me in two Amish quilts, and she told me what she wanted for them, and I think it was something like seventy five dollars which now would be even a pittance for those quilts. I added twenty five dollars on it and the kids came in and they started to teach me about the graphics and the lights and darks the Amish had done and how beautiful this was and how expressive that was for people who didn't have a real formal education and I began to like them and I began to buy them myself and I have enjoyed them all these years and I loved them and tried to take good care of them and its come to the place now where Amish quilts demand high prices as much as art sometimes. I'm sure to the Amish women that would be unbelievable. I do think that they have understood in the last maybe ten years that this was happening and so consequently they have gotten into selling their quilts and things. Not that they didn't do that before they did. But they probably didn't realize what the price could be in. I just have so much fun with all the different things. I mean, I was a fortunate person to touch base with Jean Martin who was the niece of Doctor Jeanette Throckmorton who was one of the great quilters of the time and I was given the opportunity to purchase some of Dr. Throckmorton's quilts and given the thrill of seeing one of hers in the top 100 quilts of the century. That was a thrill because I think it, honors Jeanette. I think that Dr. Jeanette was probably one of the most ah I don't know how to say she was a great woman doctor, and she was one of the first doctors in Iowa that was a woman. She wrote medical papers. She grew flowers. She did all sorts of stuff and she made, and she made quilts and she made quilts well. And I fell in love with that. I thought that was great. And there've been others you know that you find you, well once you collect if you have to get rid of any of your quilts it is almost like getting rid of a child because you really become fascinated with them and you take care of them just like you do children.

SB: Are there particular qualities you look for?

MW: Yes.

SB: Not only the Amish ones but any quilt.

MW: Yes. Make them special to you.

SB: Yes.

MW: Really, I suppose everyone has their--their likes. My first likes were red, white and greens and Crazy Quilts and I collected many of those. I had the Amish quilts too, but they weren't my first likes. I like, I love the feel of the cotton--it's there--it's just different from the feel of the cotton of today. How? I don't know. [slight laugh.] I'm not sure of that. I love the looks of the Crazy quilts. I have a Crazy quilt that is a death quilt which makes you feel terrible when you spread it out and so I don't spread it out very often. But I have other Crazy quilts that are happy and wonderful, and you had to know that the lady had to sure go to a lot of trouble to collect all of those things and yet you read in the books where they could send away for most silks, or you read in the books where they were hat makers and that's perhaps true. But my primary thing is they did this stitching like nobody else could and I was very interested in the Amish Crazy quilts and the Crazy Crazy quilts of the non-Amish which by the way are called English by the Amish. [slight laugh.] So, if you see that in print that's what it is. If you are not Amish, you are English. At any rate, on the Crazies, the Amish replicated those seeing the English women do this, but they never replicated fine feather stitching or the beautiful things that were there. The embroidery theirs were very plain and that's because it was just considered too worldly. We have just beautiful quilting of the depression quilts. I have some of those that are family too, but my family quilts came out of Nebraska, you used all those quilts for warmth and by golly you didn't just hang them on a wall or lay them on a bed you--you were warm under those quilts. The surprising thing has been to me how many even of the depression quilts have been preserved so well and I always wonder why because I know that a lot of the ones that came out of Nebraska were used, and they were used and beaten to death and the feed sacks then were used gave up and so consequently it is always a surprise to me to find a feed sack quilt that's great. I think my biggest concern about being a collector and it might not appear to anyone else are the reproduction fabrics. And while I am very pleased that people can reproduce those and they can restore quilts, I am very concerned that there won't be enough people out there to teach people the difference between the feel of the restoration fabric and the feel of the old fabric. And the knowledge of the polyester thread, the cotton thread. I've read all the quilt books I can possibly get my hands on, and I have written some stuff but that hands on experience is something that you just don't develop overnight. You develop that over a process of years.

SB: Have you thought of teaching that to others?

MW: I have taught that to others.

SB: You have. Okay good.

MW: I think that my excellent collectors that deal with my store, I think that they have earned it. We just know pretty much the difference. We also have a line strung up that we can hang our quilts on and the light shines through and we can see a lot that way. And we appreciate that so.

SB: One other thing before we finish. I'm curious if you have found the Amish life having impacted more then your quilt collecting having been close to it for more than 38 years? Has it made an impression on you otherwise?

MW: Probably in some ways but some ways I've been--[long pause.] Oh probably surprised at the Amish way of life. They are very hard working people. I think they are experiencing something where they are walking a fine line between the worldly ways and things that might look a little bit enticing to them and so I think it is going to be hard for them to hold on to their level of life.

SB: Yes.

MW: And I am not sure that I would want that level of life because I enjoy my heated car and my air conditioning. [little chuckle.]

SB: [soft laugh.] True.

MW: And I look at the ladies and see them riding in buggies and I I'm not sure I'd want that life but that's okay as long as they're happy.

SB: That's right.

SB: So [long pause.] do you believe that the current generation of young women I mean there has been all of this there has been a tremendous boom in quilting?

MW: Yes. [softly.]

SB: And quilt related professions do you see it maintaining itself just because of the passage of time?

MW: I hope that it does, and I also hope that hand quilting is sustained. It's gotten to the place where we have shops in our area even that are going for the machine quilting. Which you know there is nothing wrong with that. But what it is, is a rush to get my top done have my top done have my thing quilted and I've always contended and maybe this isn't true, but I think that anybody can learn to use a machine not everyone can learn to hand quilt and do it well. The Amish women or the women that I know and there are a lot of women that quilt that I know that are not Amish are usually very proficient quilters. They have quilted for a long time, and I hope that that hand quilting feeling doesn't go away. I hope the women care enough about the pieces that they have created as tops to not to not really want them to be machine done. They want them to be hand done. I think that's something we can lose.

SB: Thank you Marilyn so much.

MW: You're welcome.

SB: This has been an interview with Marilyn Woodin at Rockford, Illinois, October 4th, 2002, for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project.


“Marilyn Woodin,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,