Sally Ambrose



Sally Ambrose


Sally Ambrose started quilting in 1984 when she moved to Washington. Her grandmother was a quilter and she believes the story makes the quilt. In this interview she describes an unfinished quilt with a long history that she acquired and completed.




Melanie Grear


Sally Ambrose


Paulette Lancaster

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nine Patch Fabrics


Rockford, Illinois


Julie Henderson


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Paulette Lancaster (PL): Today is October the 4th, 2002. It is 1:37 p.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Sally Ambrose for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in the AQSG seminar, Rockford Illinois. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today, Sally.

Sally Ambrose (SA): Well this quilt was started by my husband's grandmother [Elizabeth Scadden.]. She made this quilt for her oldest son [John Scadden.] that was going to be married. He was eighteen years old and he was killed and she never finished the quilt. When she older and blind, she moved in with her youngest son and his wife put on this border which is nineteen sixties. And then after that, my mother-in-law gave me the top and she wanted me to finish this quilt. And I of course was very delighted to do so because she told me the story about John. I finished the quilt using polyester batting. Also, my Aunt Mary, who put this border on, she marked the quilt with a ballpoint pen. And when I saw that, I thought, how am I going to quilt this? After I looked at it for a while and worked with it, I used silk thread and quilted it in black, which pretty well covered the ballpoint pen. You can still see some, such as right in there, but that's how I finished it. And John was killed, actually, I'll tell you a little bit about young John, because he was to have been married within the month when he was killed. And how he was killed is: they were standing outside doing work on their Maryland farm and the sheriff came along with somebody he was taking to jail and he was drunk--and was drunk at the time. This was a horse and buggy, it wasn't a car, it was a horse and buggy. The prisoner was in the back and when they stopped to talk to John and his mother, the prisoner grabbed the shotgun and in the struggle, the gun went off and killed John. So that's the reason I wanted to finish this.

[Silence for ten seconds.]

PL: Do you plan to keep this as a family heirloom and pass it down?

SA: Oh, yes, yes. This goes to my son.

PL: Do you intend to write down the information pertaining to the quilt and keep it with the quilt?

SA: Yes, I made this label to put on the back. And I thought one of these days I might put it on computer so it looks pretty. But I don't care, I kind of like the way it is.

PL: Tell me about your interest in quilting. When did you start quilting?

SA: Probably just about the time I finished that--probably a little before. I think that was in 1986, so I started probably around 1984. It was after I moved to Washington. I finally had time to do quilting, so I started out just like everyone else with the basic class. I moved from there. It wasn't long before I wanted to go beyond the basic class and I started to design my own ideas. Other things evolved and that was really how I started.

PL: Were there quilters in your family?

SA: Yes, I had a grandmother who was a quilter and I had my mother's mother quilted only one quilt in her life, and that was a grandmother's flower garden. And I do have that quilt but she said she would never do it again [laughs.] and she didn't either.

PL: How do you--do you display this quilt or do you keep it packed away?

SA: A little of both. I display it quite frequently, actually. More frequently than I think grandma would have done because I like people to see this quilt. It means a great deal to me and it does to my husband as well.

PL: Tell me what you find pleasing about quilting.

SA: Oh, everything. I think I like the design part, right now, the best. I used to like quilting the best until the arthritis has made it almost impossible for me to quilt for any length of time. And of course the stitches really look bad now, so I don't do much quilting.

PL: What do you think about this quilt makes is a great quilt?

SA: Well for me it's the story and it's the story that it is a family piece. The pieces of fabric that she used were right out of that 1900 era. Some of them are pieces from her daughter's dresses and her children's shirts. These are her son's shirts, these shirting fabrics. She had eight children and it was a scrub farm that they ran so there wasn't much to work with. But it's very obvious to her daughter and to me that she went out and bought this fabric just for this quilt. When I quilted it, it was very also obvious that this was not a good piece of fabric because you would hit the nubs as you would quilt it. This was not an easy quilt to quilt, and I found that out. But you know I just struggled right along. And I like the graphics of this one, too. It was just fun to work on. I found myself getting in touch with Elizabeth when I worked on this quilt. And you know I'm not somebody that is terribly into outer experiences, out-of-body experiences, but I felt her pain.

PL: Are you a hand quilter or are you a machine quilter?

SA: When I quilt, I try to do it by hand. Little projects that I do, I do of more of those than anything, I'll quilt by machine.

PL: What part of quiltmaking aspect do you enjoy the most?

SA: The design.

PL: Why is quilting important to your life?

SA: The people, number one the people. The places I go, the different people I meet – they all share the same joy. I wanted to tell you something, when you brought that up, let me tell you this. When I first started to go around to shows and just doing the things we do, people would ask me to come stay with them and I was a little hesitant about doing this. I wasn't raised to just go stay with people. So I agreed to do that and my husband said, 'You are what? You are going to stay with somebody you don't know?' And I said, 'Yes and we've become very close friends.' I think this is true with quilters. We have such a commonality that we're strangers.

PL: Why do you think quilts are so important in American life?

SA: Oh, why it's important in American life. I think it's the same thing we've been saying, it's a thread. It takes us from our beginnings, our roots and it gives us pleasure. It's an outreach to all of us. It's an understanding.

PL: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SA: The graphics, the color. Sometimes the technique.

PL: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

SA: For a museum, it's part of that is--does it fall into the category of the prime mission? And if it doesn't, the museum may not be interested in it. The museum quality quilts that we hear about are not necessarily wonderfully made quilts, but they are part of their mission, so they want them.

PL: How do you think quilts can be used?

SA: Well they can be used as a metaphor; they can be used to express our love. Or--are you sure you want to ask that question? [laughter.] That's a hard question. Just to use it as a bedcovering or a wall hanging, because they give us pleasure. And yet we use them for picnic covers, the dogs love them, the cats love them. When you hear of people from other countries becoming involved in quilting, I think it's the same thing that we experience. They can be used to cross borders.

PL: What do you think makes a great quilter?

SA: Their love.

PL: So you tend to think of it more as them putting themselves into than the mechanics of it?

SA: Oh, I think we put ourselves into it first and the mechanics come later. The mechanics come when we think we can improve someplace. We can reach out and improve in the artistic quality, the technical quality, but first of all, it's what we put in of our love.

PL: Have you yourself ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

SA: Yes, I have.

PL: Would you care to expand?

SA: No I wouldn't.

PL: Okay. How do you think quilters learn the art of quilting?

SA: Oh I think we learn from others. When I was growing up--I mentioned that my grandmother quilted, this was my father's mother--we lived in Michigan and they lived in Ohio so once a year in the summer we'd visit. When she knew I was coming she'd put everything away because I was a tomboy and quilting was the furthest thing from my mind. I much preferred to be out in the fields. But now and then she'd get it out and work on it while I was there and I was sort of fascinated by it. But she was not the one that got me quilting. It was a quilt that she gave to my mother for me that got me interested in quilts in the first place and that was quite a long time ago.

PL: What's your first quilting memory?

SA: My first quilting memory. [laughing.] I made a baby quilt for my youngest niece and this was in the 1970's. Quilting wasn't important then, but I knew that this baby had to have a quilt so I decided that I'd make her a quilt. I got one of those tri-fold things from Mountain Mist that told you how to make a quilt, and I looked at it and I thought, oh, this is simple. I'll just whip this thing together. I don't know how long it took me, but I pieced it by machine, did all those things. And I had a needle that probably was used to make horse blankets and that's what I used--I used that to do whatever. That Mountain Mist little people, I think it's called, or wee ones--the butterflies and the little Sunbonnet Sue, although I don't think it looked like that. I can't remember--that's the one I made, that's the pattern. And I appliquéd with the horse blanket needle and I quilted with the horse blanket needle--started to hand quilt it. She was born when I was almost finished hand quilting and I thought you know she really does have to have this quilt before she leaves the hospital so I finished the rest by machine. [laughs.] Later on I asked my sister, when I started getting interested in quilting more seriously, I asked her what happened to it. And she sort of gulped and she said, 'Well, Beverly really loved that quilt so eventually we had to get rid of it.' And I thought later on that's probably not the reason they got rid of it. [laughter.] It really looked pretty bad, you can believe me, it looked bad.

PL: What are your plans for this particular quilt?

SA: To go to my son.

PL: And he knows the history of the quilt?

SA: Oh yes, well, he better. [laughs.] No, he knows the history of this one. This means probably not as much to him as it does to my husband and myself. He never knew her so it doesn't mean quite as much but he knows it's important.

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

SA: Well, they can be taken care of. I mean by proper storage, by proper cleaning when necessary. They can also be preserved by giving whoever you're going to give them to if that's the result--giving them the story and an appreciation of that piece. If they don't have an appreciation of them they won't want them a long a time.

PL: With the techniques of quiltmaking growing and expanding so much in the last twenty-thirty years, how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

SA: I think a good machine quilted quilt is beautiful and I think it compares very favorably. I will still, I will probably always prefer hand quilting but that's a personal judgment. I think you put them side by side. They each have their own uniqueness.

PL: Well, you talked a little bit about the quilt that you made for your niece.

SA: Mmhm.

PL: What happened to other quilts that you've made, or those that you know of made by friends or family?

SA: They like them and they hang them and they use them, because that's what they're for. I sort of suspect when my sister received that quilt for her daughter, that she was really being very polite when she thanked me. [laughs.]

PL: Are there other quilters in your family, or close friends?

SA: Not now, no. Oh, a lot of close friends. Most of my close friends are quilters.

PL: Tell me a little bit about them.

SA: Hmm, which one?

PL: You pick 'em.

SA: Well, let me tell you about a group of friends that I have. It's not just the usual quilting bee-type friends. I'm also a certified appraiser. My friends that I've made through the certified appraiser group and through my other appraisal associations have become very close friends. It started with our interest in quilts, and it just expanded. So not only do we appreciate quilts, we have learned to respect and appreciate ourselves.

PL: How are quilts reflected in your community or your region, the area you live in?

SA: I'm not quite sure what you mean by that

PL: Some areas are very active in quilting, for example, the Midwest has a very I think rich quilting history. The east coast has some in certain areas. You know, different parts of the country reflect different styles or methods. What reflects you community?

SA: Well, most of the people I know in the quilt guild are very new quilters, started maybe ten years ago. They're not quite into art quilts yet. Most of them are traditional quilters. I can see several of them that are stepping into the art quilt area. Not very many are doing wearable art either, but I think they're emerging, would be the best explanation.

PL: In your group.

SA: Mmhm.

PL: How many hours a week do you quilt?

SA: I don't quilt at all.

PL: So you're not doing quilting now?

SA: No, not now, and not because I don't want to. It's painful.

PL: So you have physical limitations.

SA: Physical limitations, definitely.

PL: And how do you keep your interest in quilting?

SA: Through the appraising. And just because I love it.

PL: Do you belong to a sewing group or a bee or a guild?

SA: Yes, I do. I was a charter member of a guild in Wenatchee, Washington.

PL: Is there a particular goal your group has?

SA: I don't think so. I think we just get together and enjoy the show and tell and enjoy seeing each other.

PL: have you ever used your quilting as part of a way to help others, such as fundraisers?

SA: Yes. I will make small baby quilts. We also have a group in our area that are for--they call it alternate schooling. They've been taken from their homes and it's a boys' ranch. We make quilts for the boys' ranch. I haven't been involved in that for a couple of years, only because of time, mostly.

PL: Have you ever been involved in the commercial side of quilting? Have you ever owned or worked in a quilt shop?

SA: No.

PL: Do you teach quilting?

SA: I used to.

PL: Since you did not do it in a business, did you just do it to a friend?

SA: Yes. And I taught classes for a while, beginning quiltmaking.

PL: Have you ever won an award?

SA: No, except maybe for the worst. [laughs.]

PL: In your quiltmaking experience, does it take you out of your hometown?

SA: Oh, yes.

PL: What do you do?

SA: Well, this would be the appraising also of the quilts. I recently, let's see I was in Stevenson, Washington. I go all over. I'm going up to Alaska on a job in a couple of weeks, so I go all over and I absolutely love it. If you ever have to have a career late in life, this is the kind of career to have.

PL: Do you have a collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia?

SA: I do. It's very small. If it's three or more in a collection, then I have a lot of three or more. I really think I'm a fabric collector.

PL: Have you ever been a board member or on a committee that deals with quilting?

SA: Mmhm.

PL: What were your areas that you worked?

SA: Well, I was charter member of our quilt guild, president, secretary, treasurer. Of the Professional Association of Quilters, I've been president, secretary, education chair, and I'm on the board of directors at AQSG.

PL: Do you sleep under a quilt?

SA: Only occasionally. It's kind of hot in Washington most of the time. [laughs.] You wouldn't believe it gets hot in Washington when it gets twenty below and it's snowing, but the quilts are hot.

[silent pause for ten seconds.]

PL: I'd like to thank Sally Ambrose for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories and our interview is concluded at 1:58 [p.m.] on October the 4th, 2002.

SA: Thank you, Paulette.


“Sally Ambrose,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,