Marlene Feldt




Marlene Feldt




Marlene Feldt


Marlene McDerment

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Lakewood, Colorado


Marlene McDerment


Note: Marlene Feldt is not a member of the DAR. And while this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required for participation.

Marlene McDerment (MM): My name is Marlene McDerment, and today's date is March 31st, 2008, at 2:00 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Marlene Feldt in Lakewood, 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. Marlene is a quilter who belongs to the Lakewood Heritage Quilters. Marlene, will you start telling us about the quilt you brought in today?

Marlene Feldt (MF): The quilt is Turkey Tracks. It's a very popular, common pattern, except that it's usually done in reds and yellows. I think basically reds. I've done it in browns. Turkey Tracks wasn't the original name. It has sort of an interesting story. The original name was Wandering Foot. Apparently, nobody wanted their kids to have wandering feet, or their husbands to have wandering feet, or what have you. So, the name was changed to Turkey Tracks somewhere along the line and that's how I know it by of course.

It was suppose to be done, as I said, in reds. I don't like red, so I picked brown. I picked the pattern, I picked the colors, but not the fabric. My mother-in-law, this was back in around the nineteen seventies, and my mother-in-law was probably about seventy at that time, decided she wanted to make a quilt for each of her grandchildren. Since she knew that I, at that point, was in a quilting group in New Jersey, she asked me if I would quilt them if she made them. And, I said yes, of course, providing she started with my son [laughs.], which she did, and this quilt was for
David. [inaudible.] Anyway, she made it, and when she was done, she had sent me a piece of the fabric. When she was done, she sent the whole thing up to New Jersey and I finished the quilt. That was in seventy-three. I liked the quilt so much that I entered in the New Jersey State Fair, in 1974, where I won first place and best of show.

MM: Wow.

MF: It was sort of funny, because there wasn't much competition then, not like the competition is today. I'm still proud of it, and I got a whole twenty-seven dollars. So, I figured seven dollars must have been for the first place and twenty dollars for the best of show. Which was good for the two of us. So, I sent it back to Illinois, and that was my one claim to fame. So that's the story of the quilt.

MM: That's wonderful.

MF: It's on my bed, my guest bedroom, the kid slept under it for years, and it's now on the guest bed. When I'm ready to part with it, David will get this quilt. He hasn't gotten it yet. [laughs.]
[MM laughs.] It's still on my bed.

MM: Do you change off the quilts on your bed? Or do you leave this one on most of the time?

MF: Oh, no. I don't change them. I don't even change the furniture in my house. I've got everything the way I like it, and it stays. So, this has been used ever since I made it, this quilt. The other quilts, basically all my beds have quilts on them. I have one that my mother made on another quest bed, and I have one that I just finished making that's on my bed. There's a story about that one too, but we're talking about Turkey Tracks.

MM: If you would like to share a little bit about that you certainly can. It is your story and it's a quilt that you've made.

MF: It's a Hawaiian Quilt. Hawaiian quilts, I think, were popular back in the eighties, probably. The group I was in back then got interested in Hawaiian quilts. And that's when I thought about it and I found this pattern that was a Mountain Mist pattern, and the label on the fabric, the label on the batting, excuse me, the label on the batting had the pattern on it. This was called croton, C-r-o-t-o-n. It took a lot of work. So, I started it somewhere in the eighties. I don't know when.

It's native Hawaiian. You start making a snowflake, then you fold the fabric three times, so you end up with. The whole pattern is one piece of fabric, so the whole quilt top is one piece. Hawaiian quilts are made so they are basically square for the top of the bed. I wanted design around the bottom too. So, I designed, stealing pieces from this top part, designed something that would run around the whole bottom. I made extra room to put under the pillow and had it going across the pillow at the top.

Of course, it's all appliqué. I hadn't done much appliqué. I never worry about whether I've done it or not. I just see something I want, and I do it, and I sort of learn as I go. It was quite a job because a lot of these had points where you had to put the appliqué in, and it was all just leaves going every which way out of this basic stem that came out of the middle. This was suppose to be for our bedroom.

Now this was in, probably sometime in nineteen eighties. Life got more complicated, I had to go back to work, all sorts of things happened. The kids grew up and that, and the quilt was still on the frame in the basement. Eventually it got to the frame, it probably didn't even start there right away. After the frame had gotten the other ones off that I was working on. All of a sudden, we were moving to Colorado, and I still had the quilt on the frame. My son, my older son, laughs about it because it's the only twenty-eight-year-old quilt in history [laughs.]. Made, quilted, by the same person and it's probably twenty-eight years. I just got it finished. I got it off the quilt frame about two weeks ago. And it's now on my bed. So, I finally have a quilt for my own bed.

MM: Wow.

MF: After waiting all this time just to get a blue quilt for my bed. Most of my quilts are browns or yellows. I like those colors.

MM: You mentioned earlier that you keep track of the hours that you put in on a quilt, which is probably a good idea because you spend years making them [laughs.].

MF: Yea, it's easy to do. I was always interested in how much time I actually spent quilting. Not in the preparation, it's too hard to do that. The appliqué, you lay it down, you pick it up, you lay it down, you pick it up. In my house, my quilt frame is different than most. My quilt frame, my husband made for me according to the way all the quilt frames I used in my other groups quilting. They are full boards with sawhorses and C-clamps to hold them together. It's probably about seventeen feet long and about eight to ten, twelve, feet wide. So, it will take up to bigger than a king size quilt.

MM: Ahh.

MF: But it takes a lot of space to set it up. So, it's set up in the basement and you have to make a special effort to go there, and do it, and come back up again. So, when you go there, you sit down, you can look at your watch, oh, it's ten o'clock, ok, ok, it's eleven-thirty, you've got an hour and a half in., I have one of those daily calendars and I can each day mark how much I quilt so I know.

[workers from the Heritage Center entered the room and disrupted the recording.]

MF: On the Turkey Tracks quilt one we talked about first, the one we took a picture of, the quilting was one hundred and seventy-seven (177) hours. And on the Hawaiian one that I just finished, I had two hundred and thirty (230) hours of just quilting on that one.

MM: Wow, wow. That is just, first of all its tremendous that you keep track of the time, and when you look at it in the time, the hours, that way, that is a lot of hours.

MF: When you talk about why you got into quilting, or why you do quilting, my mother and my grandmother both quilted. I never saw my grandma much, and my mother was not a teacher. She didn't really care to show me, so she never did. It was just because they were farm people and they did this, and I guess maybe it's sort of in the genes. You've been exposed to it, but not really. And I guess it was probably my fault too. I probably would have rather read a book than doing the work when I was a kid.

When I got out of college, I got out of grad school, and eventually ended up in New Jersey, and I got involved with the quilting group there, it was neat. They advertised in the paper that they wanted quilters, they needed quilters. It was at a Reformed Church, and we were members of the Reformed Church, so that was very good. I could go over there and do my thing. I was looking for something to do. I was newly married, as I was saying, out of grad school, didn't have a lot of money. Everything that seemed, in the store, the kits that you could do, the embroidery kits, or whatever, was so slap-bang. You could buy the kit, you put it together, and three days later you had a finished product. I wanted something that would take a long time. I wanted something that I could really be proud of when I got done. Maybe that's why I keep track of how many hours I actually put into it. You can look at it and say oh well, it didn't take very long to do that. Well, this did take a long time and I put a lot of me into it. That's why I like quilting projects rather than sewing, or something of that nature.

MM: I heard you say earlier, I believe you mentioned Indiana and New Jersey.

MF: Illinois.

MM: Illinois, next to each other. Where did you start out? Where were you raised?

MF: I was raised in northeast Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre, on a farm in a non-farming area. I went to grad school in Illinois where I met my husband. Then we went back to Delaware for about three years. Then we went up to New Jersey, where we settled until we came here a year and a half ago. So we were about thirty-eight years or so in New Jersey.

That's where my quilting was done, was started.

MM: In New Jersey?

MF: In New Jersey with the Spotswood Reformed Church Quilters.

MM: [laughs.] A little plug.

MF: Why not. I don't know if they even exist anymore.

MM: Are there other quilters in your family? I know you mentioned your mother.

MF: I don't really know of any. I'm an only child so there's no brothers and sisters doing it. I don't think anybody else in our family does it. Some of my cousins on my mother's side may, but I've never heard of it.

MM: So, you've never had that exposure when you were young.

MF: No, it was just my mom making her quilts. We lived on a farm, and she had to work on the farm, or we all did, and she didn't have time to quilt when I was young. A little bit, but not much. It was after they didn't have the farm, after they retired, that she then could sit. You'd go home and she'd be sitting there with the quilting frame making a quilt. But that's about it.

MM: On your questionnaire, it says that you might have an amusing experience while quilting.

MF: I already told. It was that long, long quilt.

MM: Ok. What aspects of quilt making do you enjoy most?

MF: For me, the best is the quilting, the actual quilting. The designing, not just filling up the space. Like on that Hawaiian quilt, I made a mistake and I put a lot of straight lines on that one, and that won't happen again. [MM laughs.] I hate straight lines. Deciding what blends in with the quilt, the effect you want. With me, all my quilts have plain backs which is unusual today, from what I'm seeing now. The modern way is not to have a plain back, instead to have a fabric that is patterned, because you then don't see the quilting on the back. You only have to worry about the front. [MM: Oh.] The quilting group I was in first was very different than most of people today that I've run into. I better clarify that. They were a group of older women. I was in my late twenties, probably, so I was the baby of the group. They taught you how to quilt. It was very small stitches, and if they aren't small, take your needle and take them out. Take them out. Back up. Go back to where you were, go back to there, try again.

My church back in New Jersey, had a quilting group and their attitude was anything goes. Just sew the three layers together, doesn't matter what your stitches look like. Just do it.

I could never get into that. To me it was the back had to be as pretty as the front. That's what I try to do with my quilts.

MM: It sure shows in your turkey trot quilt.

MF: Turkey Tracks.

MM: Turkey Tracks. [laughs.] Sorry. When we were photographing it, the ladies that were holding the quilt admired the back. So, we took a photograph of the back, too, that we are going to submit. The back of that quilt is as gorgeous as the front of the quilt.

MF: And that's what I try to do. I'm finding that I'm a lot older now, so it's harder to do the stitches that I used to do. I've had a long hiatus in between when I haven't done quilting. Maybe it's just that I need more practice, and I get it here once a week, and at home when I'm doing it. That was the idea.

MM: I'm going to ask you some personal questions. You said you went to graduate school. What did you study?

MF: Chemistry.

MM: Are you using that? [both laugh at the same time.]

MF: Not anymore. No. I used to teach college. I've taught all the way from sixth grade all the way up to grad students. I've had the whole gamut. It sort of doesn't go along with quilting at all. [MM laughs.]

MM: That's what we need is contrast in our lives. You also said that your husband built your quilting frame. Does he have a building background?

MF: No, my husband is a chemist too. We met in grad school. He was born on a farm, too. You know how to do things when you're born on farms. He likes to build things. My quilting frame doesn't get much building. If somebody really wanted a quilting frame like mine, they're very old fashioned, but they're lovely because you don't have to roll your quilt all the time. You roll, but you can work around four sides as far as you can reach, and then you start rolling. It holds the quilt much nicer; I think. You don't have to baste it. You can just put the quilt into it. You sew it onto the two ends, and then the sides are thumb-tacked in so they're tight. It's completely different. I would have a terrible time working on one of the frames like we work here if I was doing it at home.

MM: That's nice.

MF: It's pretty nice. The thing is it's big. You've got to have a big space. I'm lucky I've always had that even though it is in a basement. We do sometimes forget to go down there.

MM: You're like most quiltmakers, however, that are married, you somehow or another, get relegated to the basement.

MF: Well, that's where the space was. [both laugh at the same time.] My husband is really cool about it. He is very supportive. Of course, I'm not doing it every day, and I'm not doing it while watching television or something. I'm down there by myself, and he likes to help me roll. He thinks that's really cool. You work across the thing. It's to the point, when I was finished with the whole length of the quilt, he would come down the stairs, and peek around the corner, and say 'Are we ready to roll?' I'd say 'no.' [MM laughs.] Ten minutes later 'Are we ready to roll?' 'No.' Finally, I said, 'One more time and we're going to get divorced.' [laughs.] [MM laughs.] 'No more asking if we're ready to roll until I tell you.'

MM: Next time he asks that, maybe you better teach him how to sew it.

MF: No, that would be a catastrophe. He has his thing. This is mine. That's one thing I like about my quilts is that every stitch in it is something I've done. I don't want anybody else stitching with me. It's just me. All the stitches are where I want them to be. I'm the only one I can blame for bad stitching. [MM laughs.]

MM: It's definitely your love that's sewn into the quilt.

MF: Yes. We were talking about what I like, before. I said I do like that. I also like the designing. I've just come to this conclusion. I didn't use to do that. I would take a pattern, I would change it a little bit, make it what I wanted, but basically it would be the pattern. I have one in my mind now. I find that's the fun of it. The planning, the changing, trying to solve the problem. I'm going to do an embroidered quilt which I've never done before. It's like how do I make an embroidered quilt that somebody's not going to catch their fingers in? How do you make a design on the back look good behind the embroidered part that you have on the top? Because if you've got an embroidered flower, you've got a very large space with nothing on the back showing, and you can't really go around it to make it look good. You can, but it's not going to be meaningful on the back. So, how do I make it meaningful on the back? That's the sort of things that I enjoy trying to solve. As I was saying, I needed a border, how can I make the border get on, so it didn't look like it was just patched on, but that it was really part of the quilt? Those are the things I like. I like that, I love the other. I hate binding the quilts at the end. Putting it together in the middle, stuffing, that's okay, but that's not my thing. My big thing is planning and designing and then actually quilting.

That's why I like being with a group like this. They let me mark their quilts usually. I can mark on the design for the quilting, and just sitting and quilting, rather than having to worry about piecing, appliquéing, whatever. I do that, but I don't like it as much.

MM: How long have you been with the group here?

MF: Only about a year and a half. When we came to Colorado, I didn't know anybody quilted in Colorado. I didn't think about it. I just assumed I was done. Then I found out through a friend about this group here and joined them. I've been with them since that time.

MM: Good. And they call themselves a bee.

The group you were with in New Jersey, were they also call themselves a bee?

MF: Oh, sure. There was nothing else. In those days there wasn't much quilting. Everybody wasn't doing it like it's the thing to do today. We were just a quilting group that met every week. We met longer than this group. We probably met for about six hours. At that point, my husband and I had only one car. So, we would drive to work, and he would go to work, and I would go on down about a half an hour more to Spotsville, and quilt for the day. Then I'd come back and pick him up and go home. [MM laughs.] It was every Tuesday. [MM laughs] It worked out very nicely.

MM: You've actually gone from the traditional quilter to the modern quilter because this group is doing a lot of machine quilting. Not here, for the project they do here, but personally. What do you think the biggest challenge is confronting quiltmakers today are?

MF: First I'll say that I don't do machine quilting. You can guess that. If I'm counting my hours, how many hours it takes to do hand quilting, I'm not going to put it into a machine.

I came across an article recently, where the gal who was writing the column in a quilt magazine, actually referred to herself as a closet traditionalist. I guess that's what I am. I like the tradition.

I think the biggest challenge today is that quilting has been taken out of the hands of the individual person, or the bee, if you will. I think it's been taken over by the manufacturers, and the store people. I've been thinking about this for a long time. I can't quite solidify all my thoughts. By chance I got to go through a lot of quilt magazines. It was the Quilter's Newsletter, which I used to get back in the nineteen-seventies, nineteen-eighties. It was a very thin magazine, almost no advertising. When I looked at the column of shows and that, it was miniscule. Now, when you look at the list from today, there's pages of shows. There's pages and pages of ads, it's become a business, which it wasn't back when we started.

My individual thought, I could go and buy my fabric at Newberry's, or Grant's for fifty cents a yard. Or, up on the third floor of Fabric Land in Plainfield, for fifty cents a yard, and I could do it. Today, oh no. No. No. You must buy this fabric especially. It has to be one hundred percent cotton, and you can't have any polyesters in it. Why not? Why can't I? I never had trouble with them. They worked fine. I like my batting. It's polyester. But today, oh, you can't do that because it's flammable. Well, if one lousy quilt is going to burn, there's more problems than that.
[MM laughs.] The whole room is going to be in flames.

MM: [laughs.] Good point. [laughs.]

MF: All of a sudden everything has developed into having rules. Evolved into, now there are rules. We were in there talking today - I forget what it was - but if you wanted to put a quilt in a show you have to make sure that. Why do I? Why can't I still do what I always enjoyed doing? It's for me. It's not for show. Now everything is being produced toward a show. Okay, so I was in a state fair too. I entered only one time, I won, and I never went back to enter again. [laughs.] It was great that I won. But I wasn't producing my product for the show. I was producing it for me, and I just liked it so much, and people recommended that I take it.

It's just changed so much. I think the art quilts today are glorious, most of them. Not all of them. In fact, I don't like some of the old, pieced quilts either. We all have our personal tastes. I think everything is going in that way. Everything is about making a museum piece. I think it's going to scare a lot of young people from ever making quilts. Because 'I don't want to do that,' 'I can't do that,' 'I'm not capable of doing that quality or work.'. No. You don't have to. You can make something that you love yourself.

I can't do art quilting because I because I don't think I could ever match the colors the way they do. I have trouble matching colors. I use one or two colors usually and that's it, or one or two fabrics. I'm not matching plaids and ginghams, and checks, and everything like that. But that's the way it's going. You still see pieced quilts, you still see appliquéd quilts, but it's getting less and less. People just don't do it anymore. And that's what I'm worried about. I'm just afraid, almost like the classic, traditional, you're almost afraid to say that's not what do. That's what they do, yes, beautiful, yes, but it's not my thing.

Quilting is nothing more than putting three layers together. You can do anything you want to with it once you've made it. To me, it's putting three layers together to make a usable product. Not to hang on the wall. To put on my bed to provide warmth, and make my family see what I've done, and enjoy the creativity of it. I like it because I can be an artist in this way, the art guise of the artist, definitely prepare fantastic things. I can't draw worth a hoot, but I can make a quilt that is presentable. Maybe that's my chemistry on one side of the brain, whichever, and quilt making is on the other side and, my artistry can come through. It's just me. That's what I want to do.

MM: The science, the balance.

MF: Yes. I just don't want quilt making to pass this generation because they don't think they can do that sort of thing - where they can just go in their home and do it and sit and enjoy. To me that is what this is. An enjoyable, time-consuming, product that you say, 'I've spent a lot of hours on this, but I'm proud of it. It's not for a show. It's mine.'

MM: Listening to you talk about the modern quilter, and everything is rush, rush, and then, looking back at the quilts that we cherish, the older quilts that have unbelievable value. Will we have quilts with unbelievable value in the future? Because everything is being mass-produced, mass advertised, and the rules are there.

MF: Yes, I think so, but they're gonna be different. It's not going to be like my Turkey Trot or that. It's going to be with the very small pieces of fabric that blend into each other. As we said, sometimes looking at the others, 'Eeeh feed bags. [laughs.] Don't like that.' Or "'that was my dress when I was seven years old,' and this sort of thing. There won't be any of that anymore, because now, they say, 'You've gotta go buy expensive fabric or it just won't work right.'

MM: One hundred percent cotton.

MF: Of course, it will work right. Anything will work if you quilted it, if you think about it. It will work. You don't have to buy. I think there are too many people who don't know what to do so they make up rules. [laughs.] And now they're doing it to quilters.

MM: [laughs.] Marlene, is there anything else you would like to add to the interview?

MF: I don't think so.

MM: I'd like to thank you, Marlene, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 2:35 PM on March 31st, 2008.

Thank you.

[interview concludes.]


“Marlene Feldt,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,