Janie York




Janie York




Janie York


Dixie Webb

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The National Quilting Association


Rockford, Illinois


Joanne Gasperik


Dixie Webb (DW): Today it is October 4th, 2002. It is 1:45 p.m. in the afternoon. This is Friday and I'm conducting an interview with Janie York for Quilters' [S.O.S.] - Save Our Stories in Rockford [Illinois.]. Janie I want to start with some discussion of your quilt and I'd like you to tell me about the quilt that you brought in today. Who made it? What's its origin? Age? Just give me a general description.

Janie York (JY): All right. This is a quilt that I made in memory of my dad and my grandfather. I've made, I'm in the process of making my fifth one. I made one for my mother and one for each of my 3 brothers. It was made with my dad's shirts and my grandpa's ties. And the border around the panel with the pieced tie blocks is my dad's work pants. And then the binding around the outside edge of the quilt is also from his work pants. And I cut it so that the oil stains and paint stains would show, because that was part of what he did. The blocks are hand appliquéd and machine pieced. It was a very therapeutic experience to make this quilt. I received the ties that belonged to my grandfather shortly after he passed away and I just put them away. I really didn't do much with them. And then a year later my dad passed away. And I had, shortly after he passed away I found this pattern, but for some reason it didn't occur to me at that point to use my dad's shirts. And when I was telling my mom that I was picking up shirts at the Goodwill to use with grampa's ties to make this, she said 'Well you know I still have all of your dad's shirts.' So that sealed it and she gave me all of his shirts and his work clothes and all of those things. And so I started making this quilt. He died very suddenly. And so it was a very healing thing for me [voice quivers with emotion.], to make this quilt. I'm sorry; I still water them every time I get them out [laughs.] It was an easy project to take with me, so I just carried it with me all the time when I worked--

DW: So you felt like you had your dad and your grandfather with you.

JY: Yeah, yeah. The blocks are so small that they fit into those little half-sized Zip-lock baggies. So I could just carry that in my purse--

DW: And how many of those blocks with the shirt and tie do you have?

JY: There's, let's see 12 in each quilt. So, and I've made, I'm on my fifth quilt. I'm making mine now. I'm quilting it. It's all pieced.

DW: So you have four across and 3 rows down.

JY: And 3 rows down. [spoken simultaneously with DW.]

DW: What would you say the overall size of the--

JY: The overall size of the entire quilt is about 29 inches square. And the one thing I have not done yet is to create the label that goes on the back. For some reason I have just been having trouble writing that story. [sighs.] But it was a very, I'd say it was a very therapeutic experience. It helped me come to terms with his death, kind of. [voice cracks as she laughs.] I guess you never really do. But it is to date, it's my favorite project that I've ever worked on.

DW: So how do you display that?

JY: I display it on the wall. It goes with me a lot. Rather I should say my mother displays it on the wall. This is my mother's. I have borrowed it back from her to bring, which I do frequently. I'm anxious to get mine finished. I take it when I do lectures and show my quilts and talk about them. And this is always one of the favorite ones.

DW: And did you state the years that your father, that your grandfather and your father passed away?

JY: Yes, within a year of each other.

DW: What year was that?

JY: My dad passed away in '93 and my grandfather in '92.

DW: What's on the back of that?

JY: On the back it's just muslin.

DW: Okay.

JY: And it is hand quilted. [tape crackles and goes off for two seconds.] The blocks are hand appliquéd and then the whole thing is machine pieced and then hand quilted.

DW: Did you do the machine quilting as well?

JY: It's not machine quilted at all.

DW: Oh, Okay

JY: No. It's all hand quilted.

DW: Okay. How did you happen to choose to bring that today?

JY: Well I just wanted something that meant a lot to me that had a story, easy to pack, of course. It's small. But it does have a lot of meaning for me. And I thought if I brought a quilt to talk about I wanted it to be something that was very special and had a real important story.

DW: And when you finish your quilt, how do you plan to display it?

JY: I plan to display that on the wall, but I will also display it with a picture of dad and grampa on either side of it.

DW: Tell me about interest in quilting. At what age did you start quilting?

JY: I actually started quilting in about [someone coughing in the background.] 1982, which would have made me thirty. So I've been quilting for twenty years. I have been interested in quilting most of my life. My grandmother was a quilter, my dad's mother. And I would sit next to her, by her quilt frame and watch her quilt. She had a bay window and always had her quilt frame set up in that. And I remember sitting next to her watching her quilt and I asked her to teach me how to quilt. And she told me that that was something I could do when I was an old lady. And she would never teach me. She taught me how to crochet a chain, but not how to put it together. I think she saw quilting as something that you had to do. She liked it, but she also quilted for other people. And I think she saw that as a job rather than something to do for enjoyment. So she didn't want to pull me into that.

DW: How many hours a week would you say that you quilt?

JY: Well now quilting is part of my business. So I quilt probably 40 to 50 hours a week.

DW: Do you quilt every day?

JY: Oh, yeah. In some form. I'm either piecing or I'm doing more machine quilting now because I can't hand quilt everything I do for my business.

DW: What is your first quilt memory?

JY: My first quilt memory as far as making a quilt is a quilt that I made with my sister-in-law in '82, that first quilt. It was a quilt for my parents for Christmas. The children, between us we have five children and they each made four crayon blocks. And then we put all those blocks together into a large quilt. My part at home, other than overseeing my children's blocks, was to make the back. And I remember how trying to work out how this back needed to be pieced. And I wanted it to be pretty too. And I really had no idea what I was doing. [laughs.] But it turned out well and then she taught me how to hand quilt it. We went out for a weekend and sat and did most of the quilting and then she taught me how to do the binding. So my sister-in-law was--my brother's wife was the one who really taught me how to start quilting. And from there I just took classes and joined a guild and read a lot and just trial and error.

DW: So it's pretty much it's self-taught.

JY: Oh yeah, self-taught.

DW: A hobby. You've pretty much covered how quilting impacts your family. Have you taught your children, all of your children to quilt?

JY: Well, I've taught, I have two children. My son is twenty five and my daughter is twenty eight. I remember when my son was in grade school he had to write autobiographies for different members of the family and on mine he said, 'The only thing my mom does for entertainment is quilt. [both laugh.] I thought that was pretty close. I'm not quite that single minded. But he thought as that. They both did just -, he did a little bit of quilting. My daughter really was not and to this day is not interested in the quilting. Although she wants quilts, she doesn't want to-- [both speak inaudible.]

DW: The practical side--

JY: Right. She doesn't want to do them. She, as far as her sewing is concerned is more into costume making. She's a hairdresser and is very involved in those professional organizations. And she's made costumes for shows and that sort of thing. So that's the direction her sewing has taken her. But I did make them both sit down and learn basic sewing, mending, buttons, those kinds of things. And they have both been glad, they--

DW: But for your son you've probably developed an appreciation for quilting--

JY: He did. For quilting and for fabrics in general. He helped his new wife when they were planning their wedding; he helped pick out the material for the bride's maids dresses. And they were all very surprised that he knew anything about fabric. [laughs.]

DW: One of the questions in this interview process is 'has quilting helped you get through a difficult time?' And you covered that.

JY: Quilting continues to help me through difficult times. It's just, it's the one thing in my life [Janie's voice quivers, holding back her tears.] that always remains constant. It evolved but it never goes away.

DW: It's very satisfying and rewarding.

JY: Yeah, oh, yeah. [emotion in her voice.] Through my divorce recently, the quilting was always there. I can always go to that. And now I'm with someone who understands how important that is. And that makes a big difference. But quilting is always serving me in a therapeutic way.

DW: Do you think about the feeling or the handling of the fabric? Is that--

JY: The handling of the fabric, choosing the fabric, rearranging it. I recently cleaned again my very small area that I have to sew in right now, sorting everything into clear plastic boxes by color. Just every time I do anything with fabrics, or threads or embellishments, it speaks to me in different ways that day. It just depends on what, what I need. You know some times I'm already so far up that it keeps me there. And if I'm down it always brings me up.

DW: What aspects of the quilting do you enjoy most?

JY: That's a hard question, because I can't think of any of it that I don't enjoy. I really enjoy the design process, trying to think of what I want to do, especially now that I'm moving in – I'm in a business where I'm quilting all the time. I'm learning that I really like machine quilting. I didn't think that I liked that. But I really like machine quilting. But I would say the designing and the assembly process I like the most. For some reason I sometimes slow down when I get close to the finish. And maybe it's just because I'm finishing--

DW: You're not ready to let go of that project.

JY: Yeah. Yeah. I think that would probably be it.

DW: Do you have other people do quilting for you?

JY: No. I wish I did. [laughs.] No, right now I'm doing all of that myself. My mom is doing rotary cutting of borders and bindings, but I'm doing the making my small wall hangings I use for my workshop myself. And kind of a daunting project I may have to recruit some help. [laughs.]

DW: As far as the aesthetics and the craftsmanship and design aspects of quilting are concerned what do you think makes a great quilt?

JY: I think a great quilt says something. It has its own voice. It's not just a piece on the wall. I like my quilts to be, to speak to maybe a social issue or a personal issue. I'm planning a quilt right now, maybe I can, if I tell you about that I can illustrate what I mean. I have a t-shirt that says, 'Well behaved women seldom make history', and now they've made fabric that says the same thing. So I'm going to make a quilt with that at the top and then some pictures and biographies of women throughout history who have made a difference. But at the bottom of that quilt there will be a blank space which is what my quilts are becoming and on that blank space then it will invite the viewers to write about a woman in her life--in her, his or her life, who have made history for them. And so I like my quilts to say something and to be interactive in some way.

DW: What do you feel makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JY: [pause.] I think the message in that quilt and the way the artist brings that message to the viewer's eye. And for every viewer you're going to have different messages, I think. But an artistically powerful quilt to me is one who, that portrays a message to me in some way.

DW: What do you believe would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JY: Quilt with historical value of course, or even a quilt with potentially historical value. Our new quilts don't have any history yet, but I think if you look at the workmanship, the reason the quilt was made, how it might impact the quilt world, if it has new techniques, techniques that have not really been used up until that time. Now that would make a newer quilt I think a candidate for a museum.

DW: [coughing in the background.] What do you think it would take to make a great quilter?

JY: Ohh. Desire to learn, desire to experiment. I think you have to a certain amount of patience, but the love of the fabrics. I think nearly anyone can be a great quilter because I think the definition of a great quilter can be many, many things. You know a great quilter can do exquisite hand quilting or they can do wonderfully shabby, ragged looking art pieces that are so interesting, you can't leave it alone. So you know a great quilter can mean many, many things.

DW: How do you believe great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose fabric and colors?

JY: Practice and making lots of mistakes or design changes and not--and I still work on this one, but not letting yourself feel like a failure just because it didn't come out the way you thought it should or the way that the pattern designer thought it should. That's one reason I'm now moving away from patterns and trying to do more of my own designing because I get very caught up in what that designer intended that quilt to look like. And I don't always have the mechanical skills to make it look like that. You know, I aspire to make a mariner's compass. I don't know that I would ever be able to make one. I know that I cannot make one like Judy Mathieson can [laughs.] so, I think just the willingness to experiment.

DW: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

JY: Oh. I think hand quilting is more peaceful. It's quiet; you don't need hardly any equipment, especially if it's something small. I like hand quilting. It's soft. It's malleable; you know I think your quilt has a much different feel when its hand quilted. But machine quilting I have recently learned can really be a lot of fun as long as I don't try to make myself follow some lines that I have drawn for myself or on some kind of a pattern. I think that would make me crazy. But I just recently finished quilting a very large quilt that I made for YWCA in Omaha [Nebraska.]. The blocks were made by children speaking out against domestic violence, and the quilt is nine and a half feet square. So I quilted it in three sections, all free-motion on my machine. And I basically just rambled around. And it's very, very random and I had a real good time doing it. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it's perfect, but its fun. And I think it really reflects the children's attitudes. So at one point in my life I would have said 'Oh, hand quilting is much superior to machine quilting.' Bit I think they both have a place. So now I really place them on an equal ground.

DW: How about long-arm quilting? Are you familiar with that?

JY: I'm familiar with it. I have considered when I have space getting one. But I'm just not sure that I want to go that direction. If I can learn to do quilting within the block, rather than an overall pattern. I do not care for the overall patterns that you see from some long-arm machines. But I've also seen some very beautiful heirloom type quilting done on long-arm machines, but I know that takes years of practice. And I'm really having fun with just quilting on my machine. I would however like to have a larger machine so I have a longer machine bed to work on, because it's really hard to roll your machine up that small.

DW: The function and meaning of quilts in American life, why is quilting important to you in your life?

JY: Quilting is important to me, because I think through history that was one way that women could express themselves when they really couldn't express themselves. I don't think it's in a lot of circles it's still not seen as art, even though I know it is recognized as art. I don't think that's universal yet. So to me quilting is important because it does allow women to tell their stories through their quilt. And that's what I'm trying to do with my business. So that part of it is very. Very important to me. I think the stories of the quilts and the stories that can be told through quilts--

DW: -You feel that's a reflection or a mirror of the quilter's, the quiltmaker's personality--

JY: Right.

DW: And philosophies and outlook.

JY: The quiltmaker and anyone else who can express their memories through that medium.

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

JY: Oh. I can't say that my quilts really speak to anything about the region I live in. Community as I go on in my business I hope to be making more quilts that have been done by groups within the community. Now like this one with the 'Y' [YWCA.] I worked with four large groups of children within the community.

DW: Is that particular quilt on display now?

JY: It will be. It will be on display at the YWCA in Omaha [Nebraska.] after Monday but for me expressing community attitudes and movement through quilting is important.

DW: And would you mind mentioning how you came about being contacted to make that particular quilt?

JY: Well, I have a business called "Janie Lynn Textiles" and I do a workshop where the participants recreate a significant memory of their life on a small quilted wall hanging. And through the marketing of that workshop I met the woman at the YWCA who said, you know we started talking about this candle light vigil coming up to speak out against domestic violence and we just came up with this project. One of the main tenets of my business is that I work with the organization to tailor what I do to what they need.

DW: Quilters have a way of connecting with each other.

JY: Yes. [coughs.]

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

JY: I think women's history is documented on quilts through some of the political quilts we've seen in the past. We can learn about women even if they aren't the prominent women of history through the quilts that they have made, looking at what they are why they made them, and you know every now and then we are lucky enough to get some diaries from these women that talk about their quilts. And I think it just helps us to know where the women before us have been and what they have done and why it's important for us to keep, keep moving forward and keep doing things as women, as quilters and bringing that out into the world. And letting people know that it's important.

DW: and do think we're still doing that, that we're still using that importance in all quilting today?

JY: I think we are. I think we are. Different quilters do different things and I think bringing--bringing people into a quilt awareness, perhaps people who are not quilters, teaching them about the rich history that quilts have and how quilts have helped to tell women's stories over time.

DW: And how do you feel quilts can be used?

JY: As far as telling us stories?

DW: Or just what ways do you think quilts can be used?

JY: Oh, my. I think quilts can be used to make social statements. I think they can be used to make statements for change. They can be used to celebrate growth, as memorials. I think the possibilities are endless in ways quilts can be used.

DW: So we've gotten away from the practical bed covering.

JY: We have. We have. That's still of course a use. I have one in process right now for that. But I think there are many, many other ways that quilts can be used. And I think as quilters we need to think about those things, kind of think outside of our box a little bit, as far as how else can I impact society through my quilting.

DW: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future, for future generations?

JY: Well, I think within a family just making sure your quilts are well labeled and I am guilty of not having all of mine well-labeled.

DW: They're no really finished until they're labeled.

JY: No. No. You're not and I'm not finished. And of course none of my grandmother's quilts were labeled, so I'm trying to go through now and label all of her quilts as well label the ones of mine that aren't quilted, aren't labeled. I think as far as families that's important so as the families know what these quilts are about. And then in communities quilt preservation projects to document the quilts in those communities and learn where they are and encourage those individuals to then, if they don't have family to pass those quilts to pass them on to historical societies or museums so that they can be preserved. So I think educating the public about the importance of the quilts and what they can do to preserve the quilts and their history is important.

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

Have you inherited quilts?

JY: I inherited many of my grandmother's quilts and right now they sit neatly folded up in a closet, because I have no where to display these. I have quilts that I have used for gifts. You know, I've made them and given them away. I have quilts I've made for myself and I just display them in various different ways and I do use a lot of my quilts in one of my lectures that I do.

DW: We're about to finish our interview for today and I would like to thank Janie York for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.] Save Our Stories and at the quilt conclusion today on October, this is Friday October 4th 2002. It's about one, about 2:15. Janie, do you have any closing comments that you'd like to make?

JY: No. I think you've covered just about everything. [laughs.]

DW: Well I guess we'll conclude our interview today then and it is 2:15. [tape ends.]


“Janie York,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1435.