Zora Selliken




Zora Selliken




Zora Selliken


Genevieve Hassan

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Torrance, California


Genvieve Hassan


Genevieve Hassan (GH): My name is Genevieve Hassan and today's date is August 12, 2008 at 10:50. I am conducting an interview with Zora Selliken in Torrance, California for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the California State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Zora Selliken is a quilter and is a member of El Redondo Chapter, California. Zora, will you tell me about the quilt you brought in today?

Zora Selliken (ZS): It represents four generations starting with my great-grandmother. She passed away in 1916. It must have been before the turn of the century that she made this quilt. The material is in good condition, except the colors have faded. The green has faded because they didn't have very good dyes in those days. It is in good condition with no break in the threads and material at all. I am very proud of it. My grandmother lived in North Dakota. She took care of me when I was twelve in the eighth grade and last two years of high school.

GH: I have another question. How do you use that quilt?

ZS: Mostly, I store it and look at it. I hope my son will value it.

GH: What plans do you have for that quilt?

ZS: I only have one descendant to pass all of these quilts to. My mother was a really great quiltmaker. I have two of her quilts here, plus she did the handwork with the very fine stitches on my quilt that I did the first year of teaching school in a Kansas high school. She quilted many quilts and she even took some projects where she would charge according to the number of spools of thread she used doing the fine quilting. She once took 2nd prize in the State Fair.

GH: Is that the one here?

ZS: No.

GH: At what age did you start quilting?

ZS: The first quilt top I assembled and sewed was done in summer of 1932 after the first year of teaching in a Kansas high school.

GH: From whom did you learn to quilt?

ZS: I never did any of the fine stitching. I learned from my mother.

GH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

ZS: At present I do 8 -10 hours a week. I work with my church with a Mission project and some I do myself.

GH: What is your first quilt memory?

ZS: I don't have anything in particular.

GH: Are there other quiltmakers in your family and friends. Please tell me about them?

ZS: Particularly, at the present my church every Thursday morning at the church. When we bring the work we have done at home and do the final work of putting in the batting, the cover, the tying and the sewing around the edges. And we give them away to battered women groups, some of course to Veterans, and some are sent to Mexico. Our church goes down once a year to build about four houses for the people in the Tijuana area.

GH: Are there other quilters in your family? You have mentioned a few of them.

ZS: My sister in Portland, Oregon. She is two years younger than I and she is very active and makes lots of quilts that she gives to local missions. She lives in a place where you have to 55 to live there. She takes part in their activities and every Thursday afternoon. She goes to a hospital as a volunteer and the hospital is close enough so she can often walk to it. She once said, 'We were so busy today that I didn't sit down for four hours.'

GH: When did you first notice there was a beautiful quilt in the house?

ZS: Nothing like that.

GH: You mentioned your mother and great-grandmother.

ZS: Now I have my son interested in quilting. He lays out the pattern that is sewn together. That is mostly for the lap robes.

GH: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through difficult times.

ZS: It keeps me interested in getting up each morning.

GH: You enjoy it a lot. So it is something you look forward to.

ZS: I enjoy it a lot.

GH: What aspect of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

ZS: I wouldn't be interested in the fine needle quilting that my mother used to do. Not with my eyesight.

GH: What guild or quilt group do you belong to? You described the group you belong to now.

ZS: No. I've been with church group since the 1970's.

GH: How has technology influence your work?

ZS: Some people have provided the self threading machine, so you don't have to thread the needle on the sewing machine. I haven't come to that yet. I can with a little struggle thread the machine.

GH: Well probably one of the new things is making quilts by machine. That one was all done by hand [pointing to her great-grandmother's quilt.]

ZS: I'm pretty sure they had a sewing machine back at that time because my grandmother told me she and her mother made all the clothes for the family, even underwear for the men. So I don't think they did that all by hand. But I'm not positive. I don't know when the sewing machine was invented.

GH: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

ZS: Well I think cotton material is best. Some people use polyether for the tops, but we're not in the habit of doing that. We used to tie the quilts with yarn, but in the last few years we have gotten down to using embroidery thread for the tying in the corners.

GH: Why did you start to use the embroidery thread?

ZS: I guess it was more economical and they got the notion that it would be easier to tie with embroidery thread. I think it will be o.k.

GH: It doesn't look as old fashioned. It is more about practicality than art. Describe your studio or place where you create?

ZS: My kitchen table. I sit by my little portable which I bought at the very end of Second World War. It is a Singer Feather Weight. I can just lift it from the chair to the table and it in use almost daily.

GH: So it is very convenient.

ZS: That's my home sewing area. But of course at church we spread out a number of long tables and lay the quilts on the tables for assembling the parts and tying. We do a number of these every Thursday when we are together. Our group is growing and we love to have donations [of materials.].

GH: [laughs.] You are publizing your quilters group here. How do you balance your time? I was amazed when I heard how busy you are nearly every day.

ZS: I don't have anything scheduled on Monday, Friday or Saturday. The other days I go to church on Sunday, to the church's group on Tuesday afternoon for fun, for Thursday for our quilting, and I do go to a book club once a month.

GH: Do you use a design wall and how does that enhance your work? What is a design wall?

ZS: Well a lady did put up a board that we could use to put our blocks on, but we don't. Sometimes we even put them on a bed or the floor.

GH: So you just don't do that.

ZS: No we don't.

GH: How do you go about designing your quilts?

ZS: For lap robe size we take eight inch size squares that are cut by our leader because she has the equipment. These squares are laid out with seven in one direction and five in the other direction. So we can start on the outside bottom and we can fill in the design as we go or we might start in the middle and work to the outside.

GH: How did you design quilts before you got into this group?

ZS: Before I came to California back in Kansas, some friends of mine gave me the pattern. So I just followed the pattern. [points to the quilt she talking about.] We called it the Bow Tie pattern with the little tricky parts to put together, but it was mostly done by machine anyway. I did the full top for that in one summer. Then it took a while, for my mother to do the fine stitching.

GH: What was the date of that?

ZS: I put the top together in 1932. Later my mother stitched it for me and I'm not sure when she finished it.

GH: I will take a picture of that quilt later. You were talking about the quilt you made out of your husband's pants. You want to tell me about that.

ZS: I had saved the pieces from the bottoms of trousers that I had shortened for my husband and eventually I thought I would make a quilt out of them. There are a few pieces in there from the shortening of a bathrobe for my self to brighten it up a little. I made that quilt from beginning to end. Some of the other quilts were assembled in a group.

GH: What makes a great quilt? [pause for few seconds.] This about the designing and craftmanship and looks of things.

ZS: Each part of the process is important to turn out a good product.

GH: The size of the stitches, color, design?

ZS: What thing that is important is to see that the corners match, not just put together haphazardly.

GH: What makes a quilt artistically powerful? [pause for couple of seconds.]

ZS: How's that?

GH: Makes an impression when some one sees it.

ZS: The color and selection of prints and plain colors and so forth.

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

ZS: Well, I've never strived for that; only practical purposes.

GH: I think, I'm putting in my own ideas- that age, the circumstances that it was made. Some very old ones are interesting because they are so old and where they were made. Do you agree with that about the history behind the quilt?

ZS: The history is the fact that these ladies lived long and had lots of time to be doing this work.

GH: So that there aren't as many quilters because they might not have as much time? What works are you drawn to and why? [pause a couple of seconds.] When you are designing quilt do you look back and want to make something like that?

ZS: I just make use of what I get. The leaders bring them [materials for us.] to look at and she expects we will come up with the product.

GH: What about when you are making quilts for gifts? What about the ones you are doing for yourself? How do you decide about those designs and materials?

ZS: It depends on the size. Just lately I have made one that went to a little girl, who was only two years old. It had a little animal and cute designs in some of the squares. Then others have been bigger for the girls to use when they go away from home for a dormitory at school. So the design depends on the age of the person to be receiving it.

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

ZS: I certainly wouldn't go back to doing it all by hand. Things are here for purpose and we better make use of them.

GH: What about longarm quilting? I don't know what long arm quilting is.

ZS: I don't know either.

GH: Why is quilting important in your life?

ZS: Because the quilts are going for a good project. It is interesting for me to do and it keeps me going to my age of 98.

GH: In what way do your quilts reflect your community or region?

ZS: Well when we make the quilts for the battered women, we make some for children. We understand these children are taken from their homes without any of their own possessions. They are not even allowed to take a Teddy Bear with them. So we like to have them have something that they can claim as their own when they are in this suffering position.

GH: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? [pause a couple of seconds.] The historical aspect of quilts.

ZS: We never cease to need something to cover us up.

GH: They are a record of the time they were made. Some even have dates on them.

ZS: Some you see in museums represent times they were made. I wouldn't say these do,

GH: Except the ones that are completely hand quilted, since the sewing machine wasn't used that much.

ZS: I mentioned that one. [points to quilt.] I was so lazy that I had the pieces before 1983, but it wasn't until about a year ago when I finished it. Then I had a lady sew it together.

GH: You had the pieces for a long time. Some of the pieces went way back before that time. That is a interesting thing about quilts that some of the materials they are made with are very old pieces of material.

ZS: The materials in this quilt are mostly wool. That makes me wonder how I am supposed to keep them clean. I expect to hand down this one [points to the 1932 quilt.] to my mother's oldest great-granddaughter.

GH: So you have plans for that quilt.

ZS: My son says you don't need to give it away just yet.

GH: [laughs.] He wants you to keep it for a while. Don't give it up it away just yet.

ZS: She is ready to go away to college now. But she is still only 16 years old.

GH: How do you think quilts can be used? There are lots of ways. You have described lots of ways.

ZS: I've already said they can be given to organizations, that are helping individuals, and as gifts.

GH: On peoples' beds? Your son, does he have quilts?

ZS: The one over on that bed just happens to be here because it needed a little repair. He has been using it as a bedspread for number of years and he has been married for over 30 years.

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

ZS: Keep them in a safe place. Keep them clean. Anything that is kept clean will last longer.
And not let them get too dirty.

GH: I am worried about your favorite quilt that goes back so far. Are you going to give it somewhere special where they might preserve it?

ZS: Well, I'm not sure it comes up those standards.

GH: We're not talking about a museum someplace, but a place where they have a collection of older quilts. [pause of about 10 seconds.]

ZS: I haven't thought of it.

GH: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?
What happened to your son's quilt?

ZS: Well, one of the pieces wore out and I was able to replace it. He had it in Indiana and brought it here and now I have it done. But every time he has so many things to carry that he hasn't been able to get it back. It really looks very nice on his bed as a bedspread and it's just the right weight. Nothing is necessary besides the sheet most of the year.

GH: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilters today?

ZS: [laughs.] Just taking time to do it.

GH: Because people are so much busier?

ZS: There are too many other things to do. Computers that take up so much time.

GH: You have e-mail. Are you always answering your e-mail?

ZS: I have gotten into that in the last couple of years. Really amuses me that there are so many things that I haven't figured out yet.

GH: Well, we are going to conclude this soon but do you have any more thing you would like to say about quilts and what you would like people to know?

ZS: I think they get the general idea of my activity with them at least.

GH: Maybe you could say a little bit about your mother's quilting. You don't remember your great-grandmother. She died when you were only six.

ZS: I was only six. I never met her. The reason I know that I was six because I was staying going to school and she was traveling on a train and she just had time to stop off at the depot. She was going to her mother's funeral and I know I was in the first grade. I wasn't seven yet.

GH: So that's your memory of your great-grandmother who made this quilt. This quilt over here is your quilt. [points at quilt.] Do you have a quilt of your mother's?

ZS: May mother made this one and the one on the bottom here and she did the fine stitching on this one.

GH: When do you think she started to quilt?

ZS: I don't know. She was a busy farm woman in North Dakota until her fifties and then she moved to Oregon and she lived to be 97. All these years she had no family at home with plenty of time. She bought a house and she had roomers upstairs as long as she stayed in the house until she was 95. She was taking care of their rooms like doing the laundry, beds, towels they used. She carried her vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs.

GH: [laughs.] She was very much like you. My question is did she make quilts in her later years?

ZS: I'm sure she didn't give it up much before that. But her eyesight was getting poor. After 95 she moved to assisted living place. Well, it wasn't exactly that either, except her meals were furnished but she got so she couldn't read or write. So she wouldn't be doing any quilts.

GH: She couldn't see that well.

ZS: She was younger than I am now when she stopped quilting.

GH: Your eyesight is allowing you to do what you do. We haven't mentioned your age much. Do you want tell us again?

ZS: I was 98 in May this year and I just passed my driver's license test so I can drive until age 103. That's amazing.

GH: The fact that you are doing all these things is amazing in itself.

ZS: The people who see me every day said your 94. No I'm 98. I was born in 1910. Figure it out for yourselves.

GH: Okay, we're coming to the close of this interview and I want to thank you Zora for allowing me to interview you for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview is concluded at 11:30 on August 12, 2008.


“Zora Selliken,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1502.