Debra R. Sieling




Debra R. Sieling




Debra R. Sieling


Sally A. Wasson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Chandler, Arizona


Sally A. Wasson


Note: Debbie Sieling not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required.

[noises throughout the interview are two babies playing.]

Sally Wasson (SW): This is Sally Wasson. It's February 13, 2007. The time is 10:15 a.m. and I'm with Debbie Sieling in Chandler, Arizona, and we're going to talk about her quilts. Okay Debbie, to start out I'd like you to tell me about the quilt you brought with you today that we're talking about, "Sailboats."

Debbie Sieling (DS): The sailboat is an easy child quilt that I put together for my son and for my foster kids. It's a real simple quilt that's fun for kids. On the backside I always put materials that have little towns so they can drive their little cars or whatever, real basic hand stitching around the sailboats and fun bright colors.

SW: And about how old is this quilt?

DS: About four years old.

SW: You did describe it, is there a particular pattern other than the sailboats?

DS: No.

SW: And what materials do you use?

DS: I use all cotton material. All cotton.

SW: And what special meaning does this quilt have for you?

DS: For each of my foster children that I send a quilt home with, it's just nice to know they have a warm blanket they can maybe remember us by a little bit.

SW: That's good. Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview today?

DS: Just because it's one of my fun child quilts.

SW: You said this was for a foster child so you don't use it yourself but you have a foster child who does, well that would be you too.

DS: Right, yes.

SW: And what are your plans for this quilt? You said you send them.

DS: Right, right, it goes home with one of the foster boys, and it will be his forever.

SW: And tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

DS: I just learned how to quilt back in the late 80's. We lived in Minnesota. And I just love doing it. It's fun to put together different quilts; it's the only art form I guess that I like to do. One time that I can express myself with art.

SW: What age were you when you started quiltmaking? Were you a child?

DS: No, I was an adult mom, I was probably, let me think, thirty.

SW: And where did you learn to quilt, who did you learn it from?

DS: Roberta Osse was her name, she taught quilting in a little town in Minnesota called Rothsay, and she was just an expert quilter and she gave classes year round and I learned how to do all my quilting from her

SW: And about how many hours a week do you quilt?

DS: Right now I probably only get about three or four a week in because I have too many foster kids. I shouldn't say too many, but I'm busy with them. When I don't have three kids at a time, if I only have one or two, then I try to quilt eight to ten hours a week.

SW: What is your first quilt memory?

DS: My first quilt memory was when my pastor's wife asked me to take the classes with her because she didn't know anyone there. They were new in our town. So we went and we had to make a table runner and I told her I didn't want to go cause I didn't like hand stitching and I loved quilting and she never finished the project and I've been quilting for thirty years. [both laugh.] So that was first memory of quilting.

SW: Are there any other quiltmakers in your family or among your friends? Can you tell me about them?

DS: No, no quilt makers in my family. I shouldn't say that, I do have a niece, Tonya, who just started quilting in the last ten years, but we live miles apart, so not because of me. All the friends that I have that quilt, that's where I've gotten to know them, at quilting classes or quilting projects, church quilters, that kind of thing. Something that I personally have enjoyed doing.

SW: You've picked it up yourself?

DS: Yes.

SW: How does quilt making impact your family?

DS: Oh, I think everyone loves getting a quilt that you've made because they know how many hours you've put into it.

SW: Have you made quilts for everybody in your family?

DS: Not yet.

SW: Not counting your foster children.

DS: Yes my own children. When my daughter got married I made a quilt for them for their wedding. My parents got a quilt, my nieces and nephews when they were born got handmade quilts, so I think they all love knowing you spent so many hours hand stitching them.

SW: Right, that's a lot of work.

DS: They like that, yeah.

SW: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

DS: Yes, during the first Iraq war, remember, they showed it all on TV.

SW: Yes, we fought the war on TV.

DS: Yes we did. And I made a Log Cabin quilt while I was watching that awful war.
That was my Iraq quilt.

SW: Oh really, how interesting.

DS: Yes, it reminded me of the Log Cabin that I made.

SW: So it is kind of soothing?

DS: Yes, that's what I do to relax after I get all my foster babies to bed at night.

SW: That's good. It's good to have something like that. And what do you find most pleasing about quiltmaking?

DS: It's a satisfying art. It's always fun to see your finished product. You know, you may doubt your colors or whatever, but when it's done, it's always beautiful.

SW: Are there any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

DS: No.

SW: None at all?

DS: No, none at all. I wish I could afford to make more.

SW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

DS: Oh, my. I think they're all great just because each one is made with the person's intention to make something special for someone else.

SW: Personal?

DS: Yes, it's real personal. I believe so.

SW: And what makes a quilt artistically colorful or is that even important?

DS: I don't know that it's important. I don't know how to make patterns, but the women who make the patterns give us girls that don't make the patterns the ability to take those patterns and move them a little bit, add all our own colors and our own techniques to them, that makes them powerful.

SW: So you use patterns?

DS: I always use patterns.

SW: Okay. Even in the ones that you do for your foster children to personalize them?

DS: Well not necessarily, not necessarily those because they're usually just, they may just be squares or rectangles or circles or something like that. I may not use a pattern. I may just put it together myself, but normally I would use a pattern. I like to use patterns, yes.

SW: And what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection do you think?

DS: Well, I just think the heritage behind each quilt. I don't know necessarily what would make one more appropriate than another.

SW: Just kind of the story behind it.

DS: Yeah.

SW: And what makes a great quilter?

DS: Oh my. I don't know. I think it's like any form of art. A person who loves it and enjoys it and can share it with other people, that makes them good, it makes a good quilter.

SW: I guess you have to really love doing it.

DS: Yeah.

SW: I don't do quilts, but I do paint and I kind of feel that way about that so I guess that's kind of the same thing.

DS: Right. Any kind of crafts that you do, I think it's good for the person, it makes it, it usually is a relaxing thing that you do to calm you from the rest of your busy life, so any art that you do.

SW: How do great quiltmakers learn the art of quilting especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors. You said [that.] you use other people's patterns, but how do you choose your fabrics and colors?

DS: I think that comes with time. It takes a while to get used to knowing how to pick out the colors, but it's amazing how you can put just about any colors together and you get a fabulous quilt. It's like any art, it takes time, you know, it comes with time and you get better at it the more you do, or maybe you evolve in different directions with it.

SW: Do you kind of change your methods as you go along or do you pretty much use the
same thing?

DS: I think you change what you enjoy, what you like to see and do. But the actual quilting methods I don't change. No, huh-uh.

SW: Now how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

DS: Well, there again it depends on the quilt. I personally like hand quilting because that's what I learned. But machine quilting is very beautiful, and it's become very, very popular. It depends; there are many modern quilts that look fabulous machine quilted, but the blocking and the old fashioned way of putting the squares together and then hand stitching them is my preference. I prefer a hand stitched quilt, but I've seen and loved many machine quilted ones, too. I just wouldn't do then myself, but I do love them, they're beautiful, absolutely beautiful. And some just look more appropriate machine stitched.

SW: Oh, really. And why would that be?

DS: Oh, just the style of the quilt, if it's not an old fashioned type piece, but they do look real pretty.

SW: I've got a question here; I don't know what this is but what about long arm quilting. What is that, and how do you feel about it?

DS: That's the machine quilting.

SW: Oh, that is machine quilting. Okay.

DS: And there's different kinds of machine quilting, you know, the long arm is just--it's just that, much bigger, but I don't use any of those. I don't do any machine stitching so I couldn't answer you anything about that.

SW: Why is quilt making important to your life?

DS: Well, I think it's kind of my legacy; it's part of what I do in my life. I mean I was blessed to be a care giver for all of these children, but the quilts are just part of that, part of what I do, part of my life, part of my legacy.

SW: And in what ways to your quilts reflect your community or region, or do they reflect that?

DS: Well, I would suppose in that since we started foster care, that because they go out the door with so many children, they reflect our area. And because of the different cultures, like I've made quilts for the Hopi, my Hopi little Indian boy. So, hopefully they enjoy that and now that he's back on the reservation they see that someone else did something like that, so I think in a lot of ways it will reflect the area.

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

DS: Well, I think they are a part of home and a part of your comfort because they are something that when get home and you're under your quilt, that's a comfort zone.

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

DS: Oh, boy, I think it really shows the artistic abilities of women, because quilting has been fabulous for years.

SW: Yes, this is a very, very old art.

DS: Yes, a very, very old art and the quilts they used to make years ago, you marvel at them, so I think they are just a really big part of the women's artistic ability and what she can do with what she had to make the needs of her family give them that.

SW: Do you think they tell a story?

DS: Yes.

SW: About that persons life.

DS: Yes.

SW: How do you think quilts can be used other than obviously putting them on the bed?

DS: Well I thing they're great, all the art shows that you see, all the quilt shows. I think I've known different women who it's helped them be able to have another outlet in their life, they maybe go and see some of them and say 'maybe I can do that', so it could be used in that way. And for my children, my foster children, it's something warm and cozy that they use.

SW: It's something to remember you by or whoever is the quilter.

DS: Right.

SW: And what has happened to the quilts you have made or those of your friends and family?

DS: My family, like my Mom, hers has been on her bed for years. You know, they use their quilts. They're all used.

SW: They're all used.

DS: I have a few that are wall hangings, that you look at, but they're still being used, they're part of the art. So I think that would be it.

SW: Okay, I'd like to talk about your foster children, and how you make the quilts for

DS: Okay. It just depends on the child. I try that, if they're babies, you don't always have, their personalities don't always come out as much, so I'll just make whatever I may have scraps for, or I may find some fun material for them. When I got one little girl, I just knew she had to have all these bright pinks and greens. You just knew that was her personality. Every child I try to kind of try to see their personality and make something that goes with them. My little boy loves sports that I have right now, so his is all basketball and soccer and all that kind of thing, so I try to see their personalities. Most of my foster kids are real little, so I don't always get that. [pause for rest.]

SW: Let's continue on about your foster children.

DS: Okay. Do you want to know how we got started?

SW: Yes, how did you get started with that?

DS: I've always taken care of children. I did day care; I've worked in schools with special needs kids, and when we moved here, we talked about doing foster care when our kids were little, and then it was just too busy. We never, our kids were in everything, you know how that is. You don't want to take away from your kids, so when we moved here and our youngest graduated from high school, we started hearing about all the children in the valley. And so we went and got our foster license, and we've been fostering for four years, and we just absolutely love it. We've had fifteen children in those four years. Some of our kids have lived with us for two years, some for two days. And most all of the children that I take in are newborns. I get them right from the hospital, and I get them because they're substance exposed. Their mothers were doing drugs while they were pregnant. A few have been older, but that's my preference, to take the babies. And we just love it. But in the four years since we've started doing foster care, we've gone from 6,000 to 10,000 foster children in Arizona, so it's a real need.

SW: Oh, wow.

DS: Yeah, a real need. Methamphetamine is the biggest drug problem. We just find it very fulfilling. I would say it's my gift and my burden from the Lord. That's kind of how it is. Some days when you're fifty years old, you get tired, but it's all worth it. It's the most enjoyable job I've ever done in my life.

SW: And then you make a quilt for each one.

DS: I try to. A couple of times I haven't had them long enough to get that done. I try to have some on hand, but I had a few that haven't, but most all of my children go home with a quilt, they all go home with a quilt. Not like big full size quilts, they're crib size or just naptime quilts, that kind of thing. And I try to make them special for their personality if I can. So that's just one of the things I like to send with them. It's real important. A lot of kids come with absolutely nothing, a tee shirt and a bottle is what you get. So it's real important to us that when they go they have a suitcase, and they have their own belongings, their own toys and all that kind of stuff. Those that go to be adopted, you know they're going to have a lot. Sometimes if they go back home you worry about that a little bit more, so you like to make sure they're taken care of.

SW: At least have a few things. And a quilt is so personal.

DS: Right, right. It's just one of those things that I can make that I know that they like them. They drag around the house, they learn to walk. We know they enjoy the quilts.

SW: Kind of like Linus.

DS: Exactly. We hope they last because they have to get washed quite often. But it's been a fun journey.

SW: Can you think of anything else about quilting that we haven't talked about that
you'd like to mention?

DS: I really can't. I just think it's one of those wonderful arts that isn't a lost art, thank Goodness. It's kept up I think. You just hear about so many people that quilt and even now I quilt with the women at Mountain View Lutheran and people will bring in, if their mother has passed away, they've cleaned out their house and found portions of quilts made, they bring them, and we can finish them and stitch them and they can still be a viable quilt for someone to use. We've finished putting together quilts that were made back in the twenties and thirties that were started. So that's really been fun.

SW: Well, that would be nice for the families.

DS: Sometimes the families want them back, and sometimes they say do whatever. We raffle them off and make sure the funds go for the children or for schools or whatever, that kind of thing. That's been fun. I work with some very talented women at the church that have done quilting all their lives. And, of course, we helped with the DAR quilt, the "State Quilt."

SW: The "State Quilt," right.

DS: We helped her with that.

SW: That turned out to be a beautiful quilt.

DS: Oh, isn't it gorgeous. Quite a project.

SW: That was before my time, well I did see the finished one, but I wasn't part of that.

DS: It's beautiful.

SW: It really was. [pause.]

SW: That pretty much covers it?

DS: I think we did. [pause.]

SW: What about way back in the old time, the old quilting bees? Do they still have things like that? Do you get together to do that?

DS: I don't know. I don't know if they do it in the same way that they used to, I really don't. I know we've done projects when one of my sisters-in-law, when my husband's parents had their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, we sent out a quilt square to everybody and they could do whatever they wanted with it. Some people embroidered on it. It was all supposed to be a memory of something they had done with his folks some point in their thirty-five years of marriage, or whenever they knew them. And we got back some twenty or thirty quilt squares that were gorgeous. Some people had actually drawn the family farm and embroidered it. Some people colored different things with the fabric ink and stuff. But, it was the most beautiful thing, and we just sewed all the squares together. And we did a quilting bee like, the best we could to teach all the, my husband has ten brothers and sisters, to teach them all how to stitch a little bit so everybody had their hand in stitching, and we had to tie some because none of them were real quilters. So it kind of was a quilting bee. We had the guys there and everybody was there, and we all sat around the quilt one day and put it together. So it was really fun. It's a fun way to do a memory; it was a special presentation for their anniversary.

SW: What's the favorite quilt you've ever made?

DS: Oh my. I think the one that's on my bed right now. It's called "Shades of Fabric Past." I love that one. But I like them all.

SW: It's so hard to pick a favorite when there are so many.

DS: Yeah, it really is. [pause to go into bedroom to see quilt.]

SW: Tell me about this one.

DS: This is one of my favorite quilts. This is called "Shades of Fabric Past." And what you do is you have all these different colors of fabric that you cut into strips, and then you sew them all back together, and so you remake the fabric, basically is what you're doing. So all these strips are sewn into one big long piece. And then you cut that back down into triangles, and then sew your solid triangle and your strip, and then the strips of the triangles all together and that's how you get this design. It's really pretty and you could redesign it in different ways. You wouldn't necessarily have to put all the blocks this way. You could turn it and have a solid square here [shows how.] and then the diamonds around, you know you could rearrange your quilt. So that's what this one is all about. So that was real fun. I got all the fabric somewhere up in northern Minnesota. And then we just sewed together this one, this is called "A Walled Garden" and this is for our pastor at our church just got married, so I sewed it together and the ladies and I all stitched it. It's called "A Walled Garden" because you can see all the brown lines going through. So you have all the wild pinks in the middle and then the walls going over it. That's their wedding gift. He loves quilts, our pastor does, and he happened to walk in on us when we were stitching it one day. He was just ranting and raving about it, so we all got the giggles, 'cause it's like 'Well it's yours, good thing you like it.' [both laugh.] And these are all patterns that I get from quilt magazines. And it's all made out of what they call fat quarters.

SW: Oh, okay.

DS: That's how that works.

SW: Do you buy fabrics yourself? I mean this one you said you bought from a kit.

DS: That one was together. This one I bought the fabrics myself.

SW: Individually.

DS: Uh-huh. So it's more scrappy looking, and that was the purpose. It was supposed to be all these different colors of pinks and browns and greens. That was what was suggested so that it looks real scrappy. Looks like you just found all your leftovers, which I didn't, you know. Now days we don't just dig through our leftovers, we like to buy new. Some of it was leftover stuff I had, but most of was new. That's what I do in my spare time. [pause to return to kitchen.]

DS: I would just take a picture of it and print it for you, but I think I'm out of one of my ink colors in my printer.

SW: I'd like to thank you, Debbie, for doing this interview with us. I enjoyed it. And your quilts are fabulous, and I love your stories about your foster children and the quilts that you make for them. We are going to conclude this and it is five minutes to eleven.


“Debra R. Sieling,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,