Nettie Smith




Nettie Smith




Nettie Smith


Helen Aponte

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Loveland, Colorado


Helen Aponte


Note: Nettie Smith is not a member of the DAR. And while this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required.

Helen Aponte (HA): This is Helen Aponte and today's date is February 1, 2008, and this is at 2:15 in the afternoon. I am conducting an interview with Nettie Smith in my home in Loveland, Colorado for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Colorado State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Nellie is a quilter and is not a member of the DAR.

We've covered a little of this, but do you want to tell me a little about the quilt, actually the one that's going to be in the photographs. So, tell me a little about the quilt that you brought today.

Nettie Smith (NS): This quilt is paper pieced and then appliqu├ęd on to a background.

HA: It's just beautiful. Now you made this primarily for what purpose?

NS: I made this for the lady who designed each of the flowers and the butterflies on the quilt. She writes books and designs all her own patterns for sale. She has me do the patterns--

HA: Why don't you use her name too?

NS: Okay. Her name is Linda Hibbert who also lives here in Loveland. I do the patterns to give a second idea for her as to how to put them together as she teaches her classes, so they can have my idea of putting it together and her idea of putting it together. And yet we both work with the same fabric, it's how we put it together that makes it a little bit different for each of us.

HA: Actually, it's probably quite a bit different.

NS: Yes, it is.

HA: What made you choose this quilt to bring in?

NS: Mainly because I had won at the fair this year with it, the Grand Champion--

HA: And that's at the Larimer County Fair?

NS: Correct. So, I had decided that that would be a good one to bring in.

HA: What do you think that somebody might conclude about you from looking at the quilt if they didn't know you?

NS: Oh gees, [laughs.] Just by looking at the quilt, I think they would notice my love of quilting. I've been quilting for many years. Actually since 1978, I did my first quilt. I've just steadily been doing more and more.

HA: Do you use this quilt?

NS: Oh, I use all my quilts. [laughs.]

HA: You do?

NS: And I love showing my quilts to guests in my home. I've given lots of quilts away to family members.

HA: How did you get started in making quilts?

NS: Well, actually my very first quilt that I did, I had done the flowers of the United States in their original colors. I had researched all the colors and I did it in a needle punch. And then I set them into a quilt. It was so funny because at the same time I did day care in my home and the person that I was doing day care for said 'Well, what would you sell that for?' I said, 'Oh I don't know,' and I gave her a quote which I thought was very high and she says to me 'sold.' I had no idea, no plan of selling this quilt. So, I sold it to her for a mere $125.00. [laughs.] I was just blown away that somebody would want to buy my work.

HA: Very good.

NS: I turned around and made a second quilt and I said, 'this is for my husband' and I could never sell it. [HA laughs.] And I used it on my bed for many years and still have it.

HA: Uh huh.

NS: But it was his quilt. It was a larger quilt that I had the United States map in there as well as the state--the U.S. flower, the rose, and all 50 states and their flowers. It was quite a neat quilt. It was hand tied. That's before I knew of machine quilting. [laughs.]

HA: Yes.

NS: It was hand tied so it didn't quite hold up the way quilts that I do today will hold up.

HA: Right. What made you want to start quilting? How did you get interested?

NS: I had sewn all my life. I had started in high school, sewing. And I made lots of clothes and I sewed for people, their wardrobes, teachers. I would make a whole new wardrobe for every school year for two teachers. They were sisters. And I did all my own clothing and my mother's. My sister and I and my mother were all into square dancing. So, I designed and made lots of square dance clothing. I had sewn all my life and then I just decided I was going to experiment making a quilt. So that's how I got my start and I've just--

HA: So, did you take a class or how did you learn to do it?

NS: No, I just didn't take classes I just sat down with my sewing machine and I would have my pattern but--my first quilts were very, very simple. I would do my needle punch embroidery block and then I just would make another plain block to go next to it so that there wouldn't be two blocks together. And I say it was hand tied and I used a sheet for the back [laughs.] because it was the least expensive way--

HA: That's the way I did with the first ones too. [laughs.]

NS: And from there, you know, I had four children at home so--and I was a stay-at-home mom--

HA: Uh huh.

NS: So, I had something else to do and my husband was in the military, so I needed to keep myself busy and that was a way for me to do it.

HA: Uh huh.

NS: I've put some of my counted cross stitches into patterns, into quilts, wall hanging type things. Actually, but it wasn't until oh probably 83/84 before I actually had friends that did quilting, and we quilted as a group at that time. I met other people who did quilting and got a little more into it probably a little bit more professional type [laughs.] quilting instead of just the basic simple things. Then when we moved to Loveland, Colorado in '87 I started doing a lot more quilting. I've just steadily stuck with it. I no longer make clothing. I would rather do [laughs.] quilts.

HA: How many hours a day do you think you spend quilting?

NS: Oh, I don't quilt every day but I've--even today I--any time I have time I just sit down at my machine, it may be 30 minutes, it may be 2 hours and I'll sit there and just quilt or sew my blocks together and have ideas. I almost always have at least one--I'm a finisher so I don't have a lot of quilts in the works at one time.

HA: I was curious about that, yes.

NS: I buy for the project. I buy quality fabric and I don't get a lot of quilts going at one time or have fabric even to do more projects that the one I'm working on. I like to have that one finished before I start my next one. Here recently I had taken several classes and I had like 10 different classes going throughout the year and I wasn't getting anything done so I took a year off from any classes and finished all ten quilts in one year.

HA: Oh, wow.

NS: And had them all finished, and I don't necessarily have people to give them to at the time. I just have a whole stack of quilts. [laughs.]

HA: What do you do with your quilts?

NS: There on a bed, [both laugh.] stacked up. I have some in a cedar chest. And I've given a lot of quilts away to all family members. They can usually just pay me my costs and that allows me to make my next quilt.

HA: Right.

NS: So I do just give to my family with them just paying for the cost of the quilt. All my children have quilts that I have done for gifts although my children don't always appreciate what has gone into quilts. It's kind of sad in a way that they don't. And I have one son that loves anything that I do and has quite a few of my quilts. And he displays them proudly on his walls.

HA: Have you taught quilt making?

NS: I have not taught per se. I have assisted with other people teaching and assisted them but actually as my own, I have not.

HA: Yes. What do you remember real early in your life about quilting?

NS: Well, I don't remember ever having quilts in my home because it wasn't something that my family did. I do have a quilt that my grandmother had done many years ago in the blazing star pattern, and all in solid colors. I was given that quilt, but I never seen her sewing or working on a quilt, but I do know that it was one that she had made.

HA: Yes. Did she tie it or did she quilt it?

NS: I believe it was all hand quilted. And it was probably all hand stitched together, but I'm not quite sure. I would have to get it out and look. I've never really had it appraised.

HA: What do you like about quilt making?

NS: Oh, there's so many different aspects to it. I'm more of a traditional quilter.

HA Um hum.

NS: I just love the patterns and just sewing, putting things together. To me, sewing, at my sewing machine, is a relaxing time for me, and a stress reliever. And so, at times I spend a lot of time at my machine. When my husband worked nights, then I would be usually sewing until bedtime every night. It was just something that kind of relieved [laughs.] a lot of stress for me. [laughs.]

HA: Have you used quilting to get through difficult times?

NS: Oh yes, yes, I have. I have a quilt that my mother did that is hand tied. She had made it for one of my sons and when he died then she gave it to me. It was to be his wedding quilt.

HA: Oh.

NS: So, I treasure that one. It is everything. And it's just-- it's a way to pass on part of me to my children and family members. I have a sister that would take everything that I have. [both laugh.] She just loves everything that I do. She has actually purchased several quilts from me so that she has it to pass on to her children.

HA: But she doesn't make quilts herself?

NS: Oh no. [both laugh.] None of my sisters are sewers. [laughs.] Nor do they quilt. But they all love what I do. None of them appreciate them like I do but, other than my one sister, but they do like them. You know, when you, I've grown up with sewing all my life I feel like. And yet none of my family members sew except for my mother. They just didn't have that interest. And it really appealed to me. Any kind of sewing and even to this day I do sewing for a lot of people. Whether its alterations or what, I do almost any kind of sewing that other people need done, as well as their mending. [laughs.]

HA: How interesting. I don't like mending, but I've done some. [laughs.]

How have advances in technology influenced your work?

NS: Well, I think our machines have become so much more advanced now than they used to be. Because when I started out, I started out in high school sewing on just a very basic sewing machine. Now my machine is a computerized machine. [laughs.] It's a much nicer machine. I know my grandmother used to use a treadle machine and she sewed a little bit. My mother sewed and I just seemed like that's what I needed to do. But I think we have so many more things to help us with sewing today. Our guides and--you know, you used to have to cut everything with scissors and we no longer do that. So, today's supplies that you can get for sewing are so much more advanced.

HA: It makes a lot of difference doesn't it.

NS: It certainly does.

HA: What is your quilting space like? What's the room or space that you use to quilt?

NS: I have the second largest bedroom in our house [laughs.] for my sewing room. That's all that's in there. I have bins of fabric. And I love doing things with scraps. Scrap quilting is one of my favorite things to do. I have a Bernina sewing machine and I have a big table and a really big ironing board that sits right next to me. I never have to get up out of my chair. I just rotate. [laughs.] I have all kinds of fabric just in bins. Scrap quilting is actually one of my favorite things to do.

HA: And you must have a lot of scraps by now.

NS: I do. In fact, I had a bin, quite large, that was filled with scraps that I recently just cut every scrap up and ended up with just a small bag of little, tiny pieces that I really had no use for. But everything else was either cut into 2-, 3-, 4- and 6-inch blocks that now I'm sewing all that together. It will be truly a quilt of many colors. [both laugh.]

HA: And how do you balance your time with quilting and the rest of your life?

NS: Well, it's only my husband and myself at home so when he's doing something else, I can just go in and sew. And he doesn't ever object to my sewing so I can balance it very easily. I'm not a group quilter. I don't particularly care to sew away from my home. I love being around other people but to me, I would rather just do my quilting on my own at home than to be with other people.

HA: Do you use a design wall?

NS: You know I never have until today. [laughs.] My friend loaned me hers because I actually need it for a class that I have taken. You have to have a design wall to put this particular quilt together, so she loaned it. So today I got it out and was playing with the scrap quilt blocks that I was working with. I just kind of put it up there and was experimenting a little bit with it. But I've never really been--I'm more the same type of block throughout a quilt. And these--I've put them together in several different ways, so I was just kind of playing with it. But actually, that's the only time I've ever used a design wall.

HA: That's interesting.

What do you think makes a great quilt?

NS: Oh, you know there can be something that I like in a quilt that can make it great but yet it might not appeal to somebody else. If there are mistakes in the quilt, that's fine. Nothing's ever perfect. And I don't think a quilt has to be exactly perfect. I think you can see a lot of things in a person that quilts. It takes lots of patience. It can take a lot of time to put them together. I've had quilts that have taken me two years to put together. I've had quilts that take me 80 hours and I can have a quilt done depending on my motivation [laughs.] to do a particular quilt cause you may like one quilt more than another.

HA: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

NS: Oh, any more I think a lot of art quilts become museum pieces. [coughs.] Excuse me. I don't look at my work as being artistic but in its own way it is. So, it depends on what a person is looking for in a quilt to be a museum piece. It can be old; it can be new. There's just many different facets to being a museum piece.

HA: Okay. What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

NS: Well, just somebody who loves to sew would, you know, be a good quilt maker. I've known many people. I have a friend that I sew for, and she says she's not a quilter, yet she puts quilts together. I may make the block for her [laughs.] but she puts them together. I consider her as a quilter, but she doesn't consider herself a quilter. It can be many different things.

HA: Do you have a quilt maker that you prefer or admire?

NS: Oh yes. I love the quilts that Linda Hibbert makes because they are truly artwork. I sew for her, but she does other types of quilts. I don't think we used to think of it as being quilts, but they are quilts, and they are pieces of artwork. Yet it's not a degree of quilting that I would really enjoy doing.

HA: Are they like scenes?

NS: Actually, she's done many different mediums of quilting. She does quilt with silk; she does quilt--she dyes her own fabric. She paints on the fabrics, and she just does so many different things, but it's not a form of quilt making that I might like. I love it when it's done, it's gorgeous but it's not something that I myself could do. I don't consider myself as being artistic because I usually work with patterns. But to somebody else, I would be an artistic person. So, you know, it just depends on the individual as to what makes a good quilter.

HA: Do you have a feeling any way about hand quilting versus machine quilting?

NS: Well, I think hand quilting is more of the traditional quilting. In the beginning I experimented with some hand quilting. I just didn't particularly care for it as my way of quilting things, but I never had a big quilt frame either, to put things on. So, it was usually just small items that I did. I love to see the hand quilting but most of what I do is all machine quilted now. [NS has her quilts machine quilted by Linda Hibbert.]

HA: Have you done some quilting on your own on the sewing machine?

NS: I do small items on my machine but it's basically just a quarter inch away from the seam, or a stitch in the ditch type quilt.

HA: Right. So, you're doing straight lines?

NS: Straight lines, yes.

HA: So, you're not doing the free motion quilting?

NS: No and I do small items. I can do up to a baby quilt size on my machine. Comfortably. But anything more than that actually is just too big for me to deal with. I prefer to do almost everything at least a queen size, that it's usable on a bed.

HA: I know the feeling.

NS: I do some works that is wall hangings, but in my home, I have no wall space to hang quilts so I like things that can be used. It just is my preference to do the larger quilts. I am working on table runners for all my family members for the next reunion. They'll be small enough that I'll do all the work on those, the machine part of it. And I love doing bindings. I know my first one, I turned it in-side-out [laughs.] and didn't actually put a binding on it, did it pillowcase style. I love doing the hand work. Yet I don't particularly care to do the quilting part of it.

HA: Why would you say quilt making is important to your life?

NS: I think it's just part of our heritage and we need to keep it alive. It's important to me to do that. We need to keep the interest with our younger people to carry it on. I see more and more [younger quilters.] in the classes that I go to occasionally. I don't do a lot of classes but there's a lot of younger people now doing quilting. I think quilting has become more of a past time for us because it's not feasible to doing clothing and so we can do this and have a beautiful piece of work. I love sleeping under my quilts because there just, to me they're very important.

HA: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life, other than preserving the heritage?

NS: Well, I know the importance was, sometimes that was the only way people had of having blankets for their beds. I have several quilts made by my husband's grandmother. They were just quilt tops, but she had old flannel to go in between the pieces. They used old blankets. They utilized everything and that was important. I think that's why I like scrap quilting. It's because I'm so frugal. [laughs.] I waste nothing. [laughs.]

HA: That makes a quilter.

NS: I have people say to me, boy, you don't waste any fabric. [laughs.] With all my paper piecing I can use the tiniest piece and I literally waste nothing. And that was how our parents and our grandparents had to look at things because they couldn't waste. They had to just keep reusing. When my mother was a child, her grandmother, on her sixth birthday, started giving her quilt blocks every year for her birthday. Nothing was ever done with them and here a few years ago my mother gave those blocks to me. I made several different things from them so that we could all have a piece. And when I took them to a family get together, my mother and her sisters sat around, that was so wonderful to listen to them, because 'Oh that was my dress! And I got this when?' And they, neither one, still had their blocks but my mother had saved hers. One was an older sister, and one was a younger sister. It was just wonderful to sit and listen to them talk about all the fabric because they cut up all their old clothing after they had been passed down from one to the next. [HA laughs.] And when they were finally wore out they made quilts. That was just wonderful sitting and listening to them talk about these quilts. So, I gave my older sister a wall hanging. The one I had for myself I gave to my son. It was just wonderful to see it.

HA: Oh yes, that would be. That's quite an experience.

NS: Yes. And to know that her grandmother had made them for her. And my mother is now 89 years old so that was a long time ago. [laughs.]

HA: Yes, that's right.

NS: And flour sacks. I've had people bring quilts that their parents have started and [they] want them to put into, they had blocks and they could have been all different size blocks and I had to cut them down into one size and put them into quilts for people. And 'I'm amazed at what you did with this.' I Love doing stuff like that for people. It just is something I really, really enjoy, but the scrap quilting, you know, I just don't like to waste. That's the hardest part. And getting a pattern that, to me, really wastes [laughs.] the fabric just, oh, is heart sickening to me. [both laugh.] I must have--I have to save every piece and use it somewhere else. I just cannot stand to waste fabric. [HA laughs.]

HA: What do you think is the biggest challenge for quilt makers today?

NS: I think the biggest challenge, from my own experience, is the cost of things today. [laughs.] You know, when I first started out, my first quilt that I was talking about, I paid 20 cents a yard [laughs.] for the fabric. And now I'm paying [laughs.] so much more.

HA: Oh yes, eight or nine dollars.

NS: Yes, a yard. And when an average quilt takes 15 yards of fabric just for the top, because you cut, and you sew, and you cut it again and you sew it. [laughs.] I think that is my biggest challenge, is the cost.

HA: [looking at questions] I notice that you've been a board member of a guild. What position did you hold?

NS: Actually, I just served on a committee for a quilting retreat.

HA: Okay. Have any of your quilts been published or have the patterns been published?

NS: No because I don't design my own patterns. I may put two or three different patterns together to make a quilt, but nothing has ever been published. As I was saying earlier, only last year had I even ever entered any of my work in anything. To have my very first quilt entered in a fair and took Reserve Grand with it--I was just blown away because I never looked at my work as being that good. [laughs.] My second entry as you see in this quilt [she brought two quilts to the interview.] took Grand Champion. That, I said the first two times I ever entered anything and to win. It just blew me away.

HA: What made you decide to enter them?

NS: You know I really--I think probably a friend said, 'You ought to enter it.' So, I did. I actually did it as a last-minute thing. It was funny, what I won was $3.00 but it cost me as a late entry $5.00. [both laugh.] So, it was just kind of comical.

HA: I remember that the winnings were $3.00. I was so amused by that. [laughs.]

NS: It was $3.00, and I was just blown away because you only win for your Champion not for the--[other categories.] as you move up. There are no winnings. It was just amazing to me that I could do that. I have also, since then I have entered one in a show, a juried show.

HA: Oh, you have?

NS: Yes--

HA: Which show is that?

NS: And I took third. The Mancuso show.

HA: Oh. Very good.

NS: It was held, I believe we sent it to Pennsylvania, and it came back to Denver. But I actually had a third place on it.

HA: Very good.

NS: And that was also the one that took the Reserve Grand so that quilt took two awards.

HA: Great.

NS: And I haven't entered anything since but I'm thinking about my next one now. I think I have the bug. [laughs.]

HA: Are you going to put one in the fair this year?

NS: I plan to. I have nothing in the works at this time but I'm thinking about it. I really--that just has given me the bug to want to do that so other people can see my work too.

HA: Is there anything else you'd like to add to this interview?

NS: Well, I probably have said everything. [both laugh.]

HA: Well, I'd like to thank you for allowing me to interview you today and we are ending at 2:55.


“Nettie Smith,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,