Dixie Webb




Dixie Webb




Dixie Webb


Janie York

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Rockford, Illinois


Joanne Gasperik


Janie York (JY): [tape starts mid-sentence.] …York. Today is October 4, 2002, and I'm conducting an interview with Dixie Webb for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project in Rockford Illinois. Dixie, can you tell me about the quilt you brought in today? Who made it? The origin.

Dixie Webb (DW): It's a quilt I call "Women's Work, Redwork" and it has several what there are 8, nine blocks that have redwork embroidery in them and then they're set with alternate blocks of red and white fabric. It's a quilt I made because I really like to do embroidery work and I really like that phenomenon of the redwork in quilt history and we thought that was interesting. And I guess I made this quilt for a lot of reasons. One of them was that our guild in Clarksville Tennessee-The Country Quilters Guild had started a project of starting a block of the month. If you made that block, then you got a chance to win all the blocks. One month what we tried to do with that is learn different techniques and learn different kinds of methods of quilt making and block piecing techniques. One month we did redwork and we all had a pattern of a colonial lady doing some kind of housework, which seemed really odd to me. [laughs.] There was this colonial lady in her big bonnet and big hoop skirt which I guess is maybe a colonial, I don't know, but mine was a woman at an ironing board. She has on these tiny little shoes. I don't think of ironing and being in that kind of costume, it seemed like a kind of conflict. I got to thinking about the kinds of images of women that even show up in quilt making that woman produced about themselves and started thinking about that. I also had my first and only child not too long before that and had really struggled with being a mother and taking it on as a really huge responsibility. I kind of overblew [laughs.] the responsibility of that. So, I tried to think of all the things that women do or are supposed to do, the kind of work they do, like ironing. I started thinking of the symbols of women that we have. Women are supposed to be pure and innocent but also there are the Eves that kind of changed, created the original sin and changed our [inaudible.] of man's knowledge. So, I tried to bring all those components together in this quilt. I also had been traveling a lot that summer. I made this in the fall of 2000, I guess. I had been traveling a lot and kept seeing those, I learned they had a name, Mud Flap Girls on trucks, the mirror images of that pin-up girl, sitting with her back arched, her breasts silhouetted [laughs.] and thought of that as this role women are supposed to play, and felt kind of offended by that, but I also know there are women who feel very comfortable playing that role and work very hard to maintain their figure or their youthful looks or whatever, so I kind of started putting all of these together, as a kind of image of women, the different roles we play I guess.

JY: Very effective. How do you use this quilt?

DW: Actually I made it first , I had this idea and I felt a need to, before this I'd always be very traditional quilts and I felt a need to do something that wasn't, hadn't already been done, because I teach art history in an art department in a [inaudible.] college in Tennessee, Austin Peay State University, and I had realized that because I'm the only art historian in this university, being in an Art Department I could start using my quilt making as part of my research and creative work. So, I didn't want to make a traditional quilt. I wanted to make, oh I don't know that I'd call this an art quilt and I don't know that it's a quilt that is aesthetically successful, but it certainly has a message. I think that center border, that's way too wide [laughs.], but I couldn't figure out the geometry is. So, I made it for a faculty art show. Every other year the art department faculty show their latest work. This was the first time I showed anything. I used it to exhibit and suggest to my students that I wasn't just a stodgy art historian but that I also fit other things and I then displayed it in my home some. But I also live in an old house with two big dogs, and it's got a lot of white on it, and I put it way, because I don't want it to get [laughs.] too filthy. So, I take it out occasionally.

JY: Do you think you'll continue to make quilts that portray the different roles of women and maybe how those roles have changed over time?

DW: I've made another quilt that is embroidered. It's not a quilt actually it's a tablecloth, a reproduction of this old fifty's tablecloth with all the fruit, flowers and bright colors on it. I embroidered some women's motifs on that. Yeah, I think I will. I think there are things to be said. I don't want to say something feeling negative. I want this to be a positive thing. I don't want it to say, 'women have something to say too,' I don't want to be shaking a finger, but try to suggest. Oh, I don't know, I guess it's a struggle--

JY: Yeah, it's hard to decide.

DW: --to work with some of those questions and I don't want to be anti male or women, only women have things to say, I want there to be awareness of what women say.

JY: How did you get started with quilting?

DW: Well, I remember, I must have been in middle school, my mother always sewed. She sewed all of our clothes, everything but the boy's jeans, tailored a suit for my father for church. She was a very expert seamstress. She had taught me a little bit about sewing. I don't remember, maybe it was around the time of the Bicentennial, but I remember wanting to make a quilt, a star patterned quilt out of the scraps of my clothes. So, I started cutting out [inaudible.] cardboard template and started drawing around that. I got away on it and I got bored with it, put it away [laughs.] and I never went back to it. Then in the, I guess it was the mid-eighties I was in graduate school at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas, struggling, it was challenging work. My mother had purchased a, paid for a quilt class for me, so I could, maybe, divert and have something else, besides just books and schoolwork. Luckily, I was in Lawrence Kansas, and the quilt teacher was Barbara Brackman. I would think my mother also felt like if she couldn't be there and take a class with Barbara Brackman, then her daughter was going to be there [laughs.]. I got real interested in quilting then but put it off because I didn't feel like I had time to devote to it. I really should be doing my schoolwork. Really not until I got tenured as a faculty member that I decided 'OK, I deserve this time to devote to quilting'. A lot of it I've learned from my mother, who is an avid quilter and would come to visit the summer and for a week and a half we'd quilt together. She'd teach me different techniques and since then I've taken some classes. I don't [inaudible.] things. [laughs.]

JY: I want to ask you how quilting impacts your family. I see you've already said it gives you time with your mother. Are there any other ways that quilting impacts your family?

DW: My four year old sometimes says, 'No quilting, momma' [laughs.] 'I don't like that quilt,' and it's been one time that he coaxed me into going into the other room with him. 'You can bring your quilt and work on it.' [laughs.] So, I guess he's certainly aware of how important it is to me. My husband has been smart enough to realize that one room I our pretty small house has to be devoted to quilting and fabrics and sewing machine and those things. I think it has provided a lot of ties between my mother and I.

JY: And it sounds like it may even teach the rest of your family who you are and what you're about.

DW: I think it helps teach my son that I don't just my life, that my purpose here on earth isn't just to take care of him, that I have interests and needs and creative outlets.

JY: Have you ever used quilting to help you get through some difficult time in your life?

DW: Well, I think in graduate school that class was a nice diversion. I don't know that I've consciously done it. I know that-- 'There's someone at the door.'

JY: I'm stopping the tape a moment.

I'm restarting the tape; it is ten minutes till three.

You were talking about your son realizing that there is more to you than just taking care of him.

DW: That's something my mother had always said, was be sure to take time to quilt. I think she innately understands that it's a good release and relief. I have to say I enjoy more the hand work, that that's much more relaxing, though I do most of my piecing on the machine, often the hand work is the relaxing part.

JY: Do you mainly quilt by hand, or do you quilt by machine?

DW: I do some of both. This quilt, I couldn't get done in time, so I tied it. That works for this quilt. I've done some hand quilting, I really enjoyed that. My mother and I made a quilt together for, she has made or is making a quilt for each of us, her four children. She and I worked together on the one for me. She machine quilted the on grids, and then I went in and did hand work inside the blocks and that was really enjoyable--

JY: I'll bet that was fun doing that together-- [both were talking at the same time.]

JY: Well, what do you think makes a great quilt?

DW: Oh, I don't know. I think there are two different things. I think there is the visual impact that some quilts are just stunning to look at, and visually interesting. You don't have to know anything more about it. And then there are other quilts that may even be kind of ugly [laughs.], but the story about them and the history related to it can make it important and interesting. I'm not sure that I always get the story that someone might want to tell through their quilt, so I guess I often rely on the visual impact of the quilt.

JY: And with that visual impact what do you think makes the quilt artistically powerful?

DW: I've been looking at a lot of historic quilts recently in museums in Tennessee. Again, I think there are different levels. There are some that have these meticulous tiny pieces and just the time used to put these together, some of them are just crafted so incredibly, such tiny stitches, quilted every eighth inch, just [laughs.] that they're kind of overwhelming in that way and that can make a great quilt. I guess those are probably the ones for me that, the craftsmanship in it that really, I know, that that's important to that person, because they devoted so much time to it and energy. But artistically important or beautiful, was that the question? Artistically--

JY: Artistically powerful.

DW: Powerful. I guess in other quilts that I like to see, new quilts, really, it's the color and the fabric they use that makes the biggest impact, not so much the quilting.

JY: How do you think these great quilters that make these wonderfully crafted quilts, how do you think they learned that art?

DW: I think it's partly due to personality and persistence, and sticking with the practicing, it's something you--I teach with a drawing professor, who swears he can teach anyone to draw. It doesn't matter; you say you have no talent. Talent is part of it, and it might put you over the top, but a lot of it is just learned, and working with it, wanting to do it. I think that has to be a lot of it, wanting. I don't want to learn to machine quilt. I'd rather do other things-- [both talking at the same time.] I've had a quilt machine quilted that I was so pleased with it. It's really beautiful.

JY: Why is quilting important to your life? What does it do for you?

DW: It's like a breather. It allows me to relax. Even if there is a time pressure or a deadline, it allows me to get away from other demands in life and leave that behind. Sometimes hand quilting, it allows me to think about those things and work through them while I'm working on something, not exactly mindless, but repetitious, and that can be a good thing. It's a good feeling to have produced something, to have an end-product to share with friends. So, I think it helps me in that way.

JY: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

DW: I don't know that they do. I'm originally from Kansas, and I think they relate more to my upbringing in Kansas. I moved to Tennessee when I was thirty, I think, thirty-one. I don't know that they express a lot of Tennessee, and I don't know what they say about Kansas. [laughs.] I guess I don't know what my community is. [laughs.]

JY: Now you brought a quilt talking about women's work. In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

DW: We have traditionally read history through events that men have achieved or created, but there is this whole current of all the things that women were doing at the same time that are significant, I don't know that we always have to look toward women commenting on political issues of the day or the men's issues of the day. There is still this essential part of life, no matter what time-frame you live in that is being expressed by women through quilts, about family, about nurture, about shelter that goes beyond a time period to a certain extent. So, what was the question again?

JY: In what ways to you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

DW: Well women make quilts generally and sometimes women are using them for political commentary or to make an impact on their community, raise funds for a certain cause, document their relationships, their friendships, when some one moves away or passes away.

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

DW: I have real mixed feelings about that, because I certainly think quilts should be used. Sometimes that uses them up, but we don't have them for a nice museum piece. So how can they be preserved? I suppose projects like this help document what women are thinking and doing. And I guess we keep encouraging quilters to label their quilts and get that information.

JY: How do you think quilts can [coughing.] be used?

DW: I think different quilts have different purposes. I know that even in the early eighteen hundreds there were quilts that were made not to be just bed covers, they were made as special works. So, I don't think that has changed any today. There are some that we make that are very utilitarian, some that we make that we mean to act in other ways. I think they offer a wide range of possibilities.

JY: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for those who are friends and family?

DW: The one that my mother and I made together I use all the time. I don't have any others from the family, my mother won't let go of them [laughs.] just yet. I've made some bedcovers. A lot of them are small quilts. In our guild, again, we have every couple of years we make miniature quilts and exchange those. So, I use those as decoration. Again, it's a wide variety of uses.

JY: We're coming close to the end, is there anything that we haven't covered about your quilt or your quilting experiences that you would like to add?

DW: I don't think so.

JY: I would like to thank you, Dixie Web. We have concluded this interview at three o'clock on October 4th, in Rockford, Illinois for Quilters' Save Our Stories project. Thank you very much.

DW: You're welcome.


“Dixie Webb,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1433.