Ellaree Pray




Ellaree Pray




Ellaree Pray


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date



Piscataway, New Jersey


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Ellaree Pray. Ellaree is in Piscataway, New Jersey and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is March 11, 2009. It is now 8:09 in the evening. Ellaree, thank you so much for taking time out of your evening to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Change of Allegiance."

Ellaree Pray (EP): This piece started out as a scroll. That is where my mind was at the time. I wanted it to be like an introduction of Obama [Barack.] to the world. As I started creating it, it just didn't look like the scroll I envisioned. When I get to a point like that I just stop and I walk away from it. Then I can't sleep at night because I'm constantly thinking - trying to figure out what I want to do. I thought of the flag when I was in bed. I jumped out of bed and ran upstairs to I write down my thoughts. Now I had to decide how I wanted to create it. I normally use fabric but I just couldn't figure out what I wanted to do, I wanted it to be different. Then, I got an idea to use the newspaper headlines when Obama won to make the white part of the flag, a red print for the obligatory red stripes and a blue print for the corner.' My next dilemma was what to do with the blue corner. As a matter of fact, the photo that I sent to you is my second version of the flag. The first version was interpreted has having Islamic overtones by the group that I showed it to. My husband suggested that I make some minor adjustments because my intention was not to use the flag as a symbol that would associate Obama with any religion. He said, 'what about doves?' I put doves in the corner and I said this is perfect.

KM: For the first one, how did people react to it?

EP: I belong to an organization, The Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). We had an inauguration party to celebrate the election of President Obama and I brought several of my pieces to decorate the ballroom. Prior to the event, the president of our chapter wanted to see the items for decoration. I sent him a few pictures along with a copy of the first version of the flag, which had a crescent moon and a star in the blue corner.

EP: Of course, I thought of it in the middle of the night like I always do [KM laughs.] when I can't go to sleep. The next day I started to create it. It is actually the same flag but for the star and moon, I used fabric with an all over repeat of the words democrat and republic.

KM: How did people respond when the dove was put on there?

EP: It was overwhelming but everyone didn't see the original version so they didn't have anything to compare. It was just maybe four or five people who saw the original version. The only person who had a problem with it was the organization president because he was concerned with the event. When everyone saw the dove version, it was received very well.

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

EP: I actually made three of the version with the crescent moon and star and I sold two of them.

KM: Oh wow.

EP: Yes I sold two of them. I've only made one with the doves. I do have people asking about it, but I have not sold it yet. My son keeps asking me to give him pictures so he can put it on eBay. I said, 'I don't know if I'm ready to do that.' [laughs.] After Obama was elected president, almost immediately one of the first things he did was to reach out to Muslim countries. Although the flag had nothing to do with religion, I thought it was interesting how timely it was that Obama reached out to the Muslim world.

KM: Do you plan to make more quilts inspired by Barack Obama?

EP: Yes, I actually made several wall hangings. The flags were made after Obama was elected. I made a quilt and a wall hanging, which I've now sold. My very first was finished just three days before the election. I was away on vacation the night of the election and carried it with me to have during the election. After the election I made about five or six more wall hangings. I've been quite inspired to just keep creating.

KM: I can't remember in my lifetime a president inspiring so many art quilts. Why do you think Barack Obama has inspired so much art work?

EP: It just seems as though the word Change represented so many different things among people. People wanted change. Everyone was just so uptight at what was happening in the world today and this man seemed to embrace what everyone was feeling. I think he just conjured up a swell of emotions in many people. People exhibited their emotions through whatever means that motivated them, especially artists.

KM: Is "Change of Allegiance" typical of your style?

EP: I wouldn't say it is typical of my style, I would say it's more inspiration from the piece that I am working on. I want it to be something different. I look for that pop feature. You look for those two pieces of fabric or that one piece of fabric that is going to make the piece pop. I look for that as my projects are evolving. If I don't feel the pop then I can't do it. I didn't name this quilt until after I was completely done. I just kept looking at it, thinking. I thought about the word Change and I thought about, 'Pledge of Allegiance,' and I said, 'That's it, "Change of Allegiance."'

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

EP: I would say my interest in quiltmaking may have started when I was about five years old. My grandmother made hand quilts. I don't recall seeing her make them. I just recall the quilt on my bed. I'll always remember looking at the stitches in the quilt and feeling its warmth. I just loved the way the quilt was made, all the different fabrics--the colors didn't even go together, it was stripes and plaids and polka dots and denim and sack material, it was just a little of everything. I was very intrigued as a child about this quilt. I always sewed after that. I started sewing in my grade school home economics class. I sewed my clothes; I made curtains; I made my children's Halloween outfits. You name it. I was always sewing. From, I would say--my first sewing machine, I might have been about 12 years old, I was always sewing. But, always in the back of my mind, I wanted to quilt, but had this vision of little old ladies sitting around tables sewing and I was like, 'That is not me.' But I still had this yearning to quilt. About two years ago, the home section of our newspaper featured a group named Nubian Heritage Quilters Guild. I said 'Oh my God, these ladies look to be my age, were having a quilting show.' I said to my husband, 'Please drive with me to the show. I went to the show and I was just so filled with emotion. The energy of the women and the people was overwhelming. I participated in a few demonstrations and asked many questions and joined the group.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

EP: On weekends, I might get four hours sleep. On weeknights, I will try to get in two to three hours.

KM: Good for you.

EP: Some days I may not get any time in, but I will stay in the house for an entire weekend. Especially if I have nothing to do, no errands to run, or quilt shows to attend, I stay in and sew, sew, sew and I'm just as happy as I can be. While sewing I listen to books on tape, maybe have a CD going or have the TV on with the volume on mute.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

EP: They are just taken away. They just tell me it is what they expect because I've always sewed. I've always done something with my hands. I was either sewing, drawing, knitting, crocheting or creating puzzles. Everything including cutting my own hair, no one can believe that I even do that. When I was a little girl, about nine or ten years old, I had a line of kids coming to me to do their hair. Now that I've started quilting, my family is waiting in line to have one of their own.

KM: Is there any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

EP: Trying to put the colors together. I can be intense, trying to blend the colors perfectly. It has to pop. It has to have its color. It just has to have that, 'Oh and ah.' If it doesn't have that oh and ah flavor, I have to walk away and try later.

KM: Do you work on one thing at a time or do you have multiple projects going at a time?

EP: With the Obama quilts I did work on more than one at a time. I would do the main features, then stop and decide what colors to put in the borders. Everything else I do is one at a time. I will not start on anything else until I finish my current project. I can't stand to have an unfinished product. I will not have any UFOs [unfinished objects.], I don't want to start that. I have to finish it and move on.

KM: Describe your studio.

EP: When my son turned eighteen and left home, my studio was born. I told him I was going to miss him but that I wanted his room' [laughs.] As soon as he was gone a foldaway picnic table-that I've added wood to the bottom of it to give it height, replaced his bed. I kept the chest of drawers that are now filled with fabric, and I have three rollaway plastic drawers on top of which are an old sliding door that extends from the sewing machine cabinet. The ironing board located on one wall connects both sides perfectly. I have open-faced bins loaded with my two year accumulated stash. On top of one bin I have a little TV. Next to the TV, I must have maybe 16 to 20 colors of fleece, maybe three yards of each, used for assorted fleece projects. My books, serger and sewing machine that I take to class, completes my sanctuary. That is what I call it, "my sanctuary."

KM: Sounds wonderful.

EP: Yes, my sanctuary. I just tune everything out.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

EP: My favorite techniques, let's see. Being that I'm new, I only know how to stipple and now I'm getting where I can make the stippling a little fancy by playing and testing. I like that technique because of the textured-look of the fabric. I also like appliqué. I choose a picture, maybe something small, and enlarge it to my desired size. Making the fabrics pop and getting the design out of my head onto fabric is the hardest part.

KM: What kind of appliqué do you like?

EP: I like the appliqué method using freezer paper or Wonder Under and attach it to the fabric with a small zigzag stitch. I have used the needle turn method and that is okay. The techniques that I know are basically the same. Those are the only appliqué techniques that I really, really know right now. Like I said it has only been two years.

KM: I think you are doing pretty well though.

EP: Yes it has only been two years, but I'm going to tell you a funny story from when I first joined the guild two years ago. We meet the second Saturday of every month and after three months I attended my first class. We often have instructors provide workshops to teach special techniques or patterns. Our meetings are held from 1:00 to 4:00 PM and I thought the workshop was to start at 12:00. Well, the workshop started at 9:00 a.m. and I was very late. We were learning the Lone Star. My guild members are already three hours ahead of me and I'm like, 'Oh my God!' After I hook up my sewing machine, our instructor comes over to me and she says, 'Okay, I've got to give you a quick one on one'. We were using the, I can't think of the name of it, but the fabric that has the grids and adhesive on it. [KM hums.], but I was told to cut off a little piece of each of the seven preselected fabrics I bought with me and put them in color order. Another member came over to me and she was helping me. She was so nice. She was helping me put the fabrics in order and I was adamant about how I wanted the colors to flow. The instructor demonstrated how to cut, fold and iron the strips. I said, 'Okay, I've got it.' She walked away and I would say, before the meeting was called to order, I had caught up to the members that were three hours ahead of me. They were like, 'You quilted before,' and I said, 'Never. Honest to God, I have never quilted in my life.' I picked right up on the Lone Star and I was one of the first members to actually finish the quilt. The star and background was from a pattern and the balance I made up myself. It is absolutely beautiful. It is so funny. Everyone said, 'She said she never quilted before? Did you see what she did with that Lone Star? Did you see what she did?' A couple of members were having problems with their Lone Star and came to me to ask me how I did it. That was amazing and they still tease me today about that Lone Star and that was two years ago. My tag that I put on the back of the Lone Star reads "My First Quilt."

KM: How do you use your Lone Star?

EP: It is hanging over my banister right now. [laughs.] I don't want it on a bed, I like the way it looks hanging over my banister. I was told that quilters' should not sell their very first quilt, so I've never priced it. I definitely have been asked about it; it is absolutely gorgeous. Every time I look at it I can not believe that I made it, having never looked at a quilting pattern ever. I'm really proud of myself.

KM: What advice would you offer somebody starting out?

EP: If you know how to sew, I would think you would fall right into quilting easily. If you are a totally beginner sewer you would really just have to take your time. Many quilters talk about motivation. I would just tell them to just follow your gut feeling. Do what you feel. Let it come through your hands and onto the fabric. I really get intense sometimes. I don't know, sometimes my husband tells me I'm anal. I said, 'Okay, I think that is a good word.' [laughs.]

KM: Especially in quiltmaking.

EP: Yes, I think it's a good word, I do.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

EP: I can't say that I'm drawn to anyone in particular, only quilting for two years. I am moved toward quilters who use primarily ethnic concepts. It's just so amazing what quilters do with fabric. I really get loads of inspiration from attending shows and I'm often left feeling somewhat overwhelmed. You see so much fantastic work. I do favor the artistic quilts more than the traditional squares, octagons and triangle patterns. Those really don't intrigue me as much. The second quilt I made is a log cabin design. That was fun, but I had to add a little twist to the traditional pattern. I don't want the traditional. I want something different with a little flare to it.

KM: What do you like about belonging to the Nubian Heritage Quilters Guild?

EP: I just love the fellowship. I love how everyone shares their skills, how thrilled we are when learning new techniques, going out to the shows, and going to the shop hops. It is just really fulfilling to have a group of women that share the same desires that you do. That is just so overwhelming, it really, really is. I love that.

KM: How big is the group?

EP: We have about 50 members. It is really, really beautiful. I really love that group of women. We do have past and current members who are doing quite well. Mark Lipinski and Lisa Shepard are past members, who were both off on their own well before I joined.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

EP: Quilting feeds my soul. My mind speaks through creativity. Because it keeps the artistic juices flowing through me and that seems to feed me. Thoughts flow from my mind onto the fabric. This is probably my way of reliving my childhood memories of my grandmother's quilts. If I can't in my room I actually get, I would say like a little slight attitude. [laughs.] I try to plan my time accordingly so I can get to my room. I do what I have to do, but I try to give an equal amount of time to my husband. It is just that I love to do this too.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

EP: No. Actually I do not. I just have a down comforter. My only large quilts are the Lone Star and the Log Cabin, and I haven't decided to use them yet. When I did the Lone Star I actually paid someone to quilt it for me because I had no clue about stippling. A few of the members told me who they use and I met her at a fabric shop. I asked her to please be easy on me as I wasn't used to the quilting fees.' [KM laughs.] She says to me, 'Oh no, I will work with you. I won't hurt you because I want you to come back. When I finally finished it, it was size 84 [inches.] by 75 [inches.]. I took it over to her and we talked about the different techniques because it was too nice to just do an all over pantograph and of course that would have been the cheapest. The quilt was custom quilted with several designs all over. It is just beautiful. I think I paid about $160.00 to have it quilted and I was told that was a good price for this size and the custom work that she did. I won't sleep under it just yet.

KM: I think so too.

EP: Yes, it is absolutely gorgeous. I did go back with my Log Cabin for an all over pantograph. I keep in touch with her and will definitely go back when I create another large quilt.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

EP: I want to be remembered as being a healthy artistic person who just wants to show my inner happiness through my sewing.

KM: I would definitely say you come off as being happy.

EP: I am.

KM: A happy quilter.

EP: I am a happy quilter. I am. This definitely feeds my soul.

KM: I think that is wonderful.

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

EP: My husband and I are going to Mexico this Friday and I really wish I could take my sewing machine, but I can't. [KM and EP laughs.] I wish I had some hand work or something to do on the plane, but I'm going to leave it behind for a week, starting this Friday and devote my time to my husband. I already know when I come back the following Saturday I'm going to be sewing all day. I already know that.

KM: Does he know that too?

EP: Yes, he knows that, too. [laughs.]

KM: I think that is wonderful and I think that is a great way for us to conclude. I want to thank you for taking time out of your evening, Ellaree, and spending it with me.

EP: You are welcome.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview at 8:53.


“Ellaree Pray,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1497.