Thomas Martinez




Thomas Martinez




Thomas Robert Martinez


Marlene McDerment

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Federal Heights, Colorado


Marlene McDerment


Note: Thomas Robert Martinez 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 7, 2008, at 12:20 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Thomas Martinez at his home in Federal Heights, Colorado. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Colorado State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Thomas, tell me about the quilt that we photographed for this project.

Thomas Robert Martinez (TRM): We had to go and chase it, first of all. We went from one town to another trying to chase it because the quilt that I made was made for a lodge that I belong to called the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs. It was a special quilt that was made to float from one lodge to another. It was made that way so that it could be raffle ticketed off and make money for our lodge. It's been doing very well I should say. It's been doing that for the last year and a half. It goes from one lodge to another.

We had to chase it down [laughs.]. It was a long ride to chase it down to get a picture of it, but we did finally get it. It is a beautiful quilt.

MM: It is a beautiful quilt.

TRM: It took me eighteen months to make it. I took my time and one that one especially because it was one that was being made to make money for the lodge itself.

MM: You said the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. Is that the International Order of Odd Fellows?

TRM: Yes, it is. Now that I have donated it to the lodge, it actually belongs to the Grand Lodge. Every year as it gets raffle ticked off, at the end of the year, after the Grand Master goes to all of the lodges, then it gets given to another Grand Master. And then it goes around for another year. It keeps on earning money for the lodge itself.

MM: For your own lodge or for the lodge it is residing at, at the time?

TRM: Yes, for the lodge it is residing at, at the time. That money is given to that lodge. It just floats from one to the other. It stays at whatever lodge that won it with that raffle. And then it goes from one to the other from year to year.

MM: When you said Grand Master, this is the person who is in charge of Odd Fellows throughout the state of Colorado?

TRM: Yes, it is the Grand Master who is in charge of that lodge.

MM: I see.

TRM: Each lodge is visited by Grand Master. They take it from one lodge to another and sell the raffle tickets in each town.

MM: Oh.

TRM: That's why we had to chase it. Because he was going from one town to another, to sell raffle tickets for it.

I've gotten so many compliments on it. I don't know what else to say about it. When I saw it again, it looks just as beautiful as it did when I made it because, I made it to give that way, and it was donated.

MM: Tell me a little about the work that went into it. The Odd Fellows, the I.O.O.F., across the center of the quilt, how did you structure that part?

TRM: The chain and the top of it, which means that the chain never quits. So, it stays together and that's what the Odd Fellows are for. They stay together through a lot of things. Like, when you are in trouble you can go to the Odd Fellows, and they will help. That's what that chain on the top, and the red, white, and blue, of course, on the back of that chain, of course stands for our country. That was one of the hardest things to make, and to get it to stay on that blanket. I couldn't sew it on. I tried to sew it on, but it wouldn't stay. So, I had to compromise with that and get something else. I had to get fabric glue, and get it to stay on that way, because no way we tried we couldn't get it to stay on by sewing it. Of course, we couldn't use a sewing machine to do it.

MM: Is that because of the size of the quilt?

TRM: No, it's the size of the rope that I used to make the chain. It was just too big to go through a sewing machine. I think we broke three needles trying to get it to go through the sewing machine. Every time we tried to sew it through it would break a needle every time. [MM laughs.] I even sat down, by hand, and tried to sew it in and no matter how hard I tried I could not shove that needle in and get it through there to hold that chain. So I had to go get fabric glue.

MM: It is perfectly logical, and certainly okay in this case, because this is not intended to be a bed quilt.

TRM: No.

MM: This is a historic quilt at this point. It will become historic.

TRM: It was actually made to hang on a wall, and actually just stand for the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs. It was never made to go on a bed.

At first, we just thought it was just going to go to the main office of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs in Canon City, [Colorado.] But, when they finally got it, they decided to make it a floating quilt. They were so happy about it that I was put in the newsletter and a story was written and there was a picture of the quilt. I think that quilt has been in the newsletter about six times now.

MM: And, when we took our pictures, this time, we were asked again for a copy of the photographs [TRM yes.] so it won't be a surprise if it goes in again.

TRM: Yes. Because of this interview, and everything else, it more than likely will end up in there again. [MM laughs.] I couldn't be more proud of that blanket than anything else.

MM: You should be proud Thomas. It's a beautiful, beautiful quilt.

TRM: Now the lettering in it, now that was just a little bit harder. Because that was made out of plastic grill, and I had to sew yarn through it­­­­­­­, and that took a lot longer to do. And when I tried to sew that into the fabric that wouldn't stay either. So luckily, we got the blanket to--my roommate helped me get the needle set on the sewing machine, so we could use it to help sew it in, once I got all the letters done.

MM: You said earlier ‘we broke needles.' Was that a combined effort with your roommate?

TRM: Yea, he helped me a lot because at that point I didn't know how to use the sewing machine, well enough, to get a lot of fabric sewn together without breaking a needle. At that point I was still being taught how to use the sewing machine, and to get the settings on it and everything. I made the blanket myself, but he helped me with learning how to sew with the sewing machine.

MM: And that's what we do as crafts people. What is your roommate's name?

TRM: His name is Brad Domben. I wanted to learn how to quilt ever since I was eleven years old. I started trying to sew one together, when I was eleven, by hand. I couldn't sew one together, by hand, because when I tried to it didn't come out straight. So, I sort of pushed it aside for a while. But, once I met Brad, he saw that I made afghans as well, that's when he taught me how to use the sewing machine to make quilts. Ever since then he hasn't gotten the sewing machine back. [MM laughs.] Now I make all kinds of quilts, and I donate them to charities, so they give back.

MM: When you say blankets, do you include the afghans you make as well as quilts?

TRM: Yes.

MM: It's interesting that one of the terms I've heard you use, repeatedly, is blankets. That refers to everything that covers a bed is a blanket.

TRM: Yea, I've made, I think, about seventeen quilts.

MM: Have you done others, similar to this, for other organizations?

TRM: Yes, I have. I donated one to the Colorado Shares, Cares and Shares, last year. That one was a [inaudible.]. We've also made them and sold them at the craft fairs.

Each one, I sit down, and I draw it out in a book, and I pick out the material, and I make the blanket how I want to make it. Each one of my blankets has a name to it. I took the time and effort because, well art, just like when you look at a painting, and that painting has a name, so do my blankets. I have always put time and effort, and I've always got a design to it, and no matter how I put it together, they always come out. Everybody is always asking.

MM: You did show me your notebook the last time I was here.

TRM: Yes

MM: With a photograph, is that every quilt that you have ever made?

TRM: Yes

MM: That's wonderful. How many are in that notebook? Do you have a rough count?

TRM: Altogether, with the quilts and afghans, there's got to be about twenty-seven blankets.

MM: That's a lot of years of work. When did you really start quilting then? Because, I know you said you were interested at the age of eleven. I started quilting about three years ago. I've been making afghans longer than that. Quilting I started when I first met Brad because he taught me how to use the sewing machine.

MM: Did he make quilts up to that time?

TRM: He actually made them before that and was selling them to people that he worked with. He had so much material, since I don't work, I have time to put the material together and stuff, sometimes on a weekend we'll sit down and put material together. And during the week, when I'm at home, I can put the fronts together, of the blanket, and tie the blanket together, and start packing them up so we can go to the craft fairs. They sell fast.

MM: I bet they do.

TRM: They're more of a Granny's Quilt blanket. They're not sewn by hand or anything, but people just like how they're made.

MM: Most of the quilts that you make, and I'm trying to remember from the pictures, are they the tied quilts?

TRM: Yes, they're tied with yarn and everything, so that they stay together, and of course, they've got cushion in the middle of them and a blanket on the back of them. They're heavy blankets, they're not light. They're something that will keep you warm.

MM: So, you actually use a blanket, rather than a fabric backing?

TRM: Right. Just a normal blanket that you'd put on a bed, and I use that for the backing.

MM: There's something delightful about a heavy quilt on our bodies when we're sleeping, and that certainly would make a nice warm, heavy quilt.

TRM: In fact, we just made one, and we did this together. I sewed the front of it together, and I got all of it put together, and then he, Brad, put the edging on it. And then we put a shirt on it. I think you remember us showing it to you. [MM Uh hah.] For his Aunt Margie. It was made out of his grandmother's clothes, because they were twins.

MM: Margie and her sister?

TRM: Margie and her sister, yes. And since his grandmother passed away, they all decided to just put clothes together and get squares made out of them make a quilt. A couple of them were made. One for his mother, one for him, a couple of them for a couple of different family members, but the special one was made for her sister. And then the shirt, a cushion was put inside the shirt so it poofed up a little bit, and then a little handkerchief, that she carried around. So, it's something for a memory.

MM: It's a wonderful memory for each of the family members that received one.

TRM: Yes. It was something to remember her by. I can tell you she was a wonderful woman. She would never let anybody go by without giving you something, by saying something. She was a sweet woman.

MM: Ooh, so what a lovely memory. [TRM yes.] Let's go back to the Odd Fellows quilt, which is so interesting to me, having just joined the Odd Fellows myself, and Rebekahs. What motivated you to do that? What was the inspiration?

TRM: Well, since I'm a person that makes blankets and donated them to different charities all the time. We sat down, in a meeting.

MM: The Odd Fellow group, or the lodge?

TRM: Yes, and they wanted something for their charity, and so I said, 'You know what. I'm going to make a blanket and donate it. And then you guys can do with it what you like.' Like I told you before, it took me eighteen months to make it, but once it got made, now it's doing what it's suppose to be doing. It's floating and making money for the Odd Fellows. And I couldn't be more happier about it.

MM: Um, huh. I was looking, of course to take the photograph, when were at the Odd Fellows Hall in LaSalle, Colorado, [TRM Greeley.] near Greeley, yeah. It was amazing, to me, the reaction of the people that were there. They were so delighted to see the quilt, and so impressed with its beauty, and the workmanship.

TRM: And they couldn't believe that a person of my age could have made it.

MM: How old are you, Thomas?

TRM: I'm only thirty-one years old.

MM: Can you give the listener a little background about yourself, and how it happened that you are at home, and doing this craft work?

TRM: Yes, I'm only thirty-one years old, and I'm disabled. I don't work, due to that. And since I have all the time on my hands, I decided to start making blankets. I've donated to different charities for years. My blankets have been auctioned off for different charities for years. With my epilepsy, and brain surgery, and stuff like that, as time has gone on, making blankets keeps me calm, and that keeps my seizures down. So, that keeps my health better.

MM: Wonderful.

TRM: And my doctor even tells me that is the best thing to do.

MM: It's so interesting that there's a health benefit to the quilt making you're doing. That's incredible.

TRM: Because it keeps me calm.

MM: Do you notice working with different colors that your reaction is different while you're working on the quilts.

TRM: Yes, certain colors make me calmer than others. I find that the reds and the blues, especially the yellows, make me calmer. They're other designs that I just cannot handle. I talked to my doctor about that one time, and she told me it's probably because of the design and the color.

MM: By design you mean the print.

TRM: That's on the fabric. Just due to the way that the design is in the fabric. I can look at something and two seconds when I look back at it I will have a seizure. So, milder things are better for me. That's why I always sit down and draw out what I'm going to make first.

Since I helped Brad sit down and cut out all the squares first, I know pretty much what kind of material we already have. I made one that was called the flower garden. That was right after the one for the Odd Fellows. That was sold in a garage sale. I sold that for one hundred and seventy-five dollars.

MM: At a garage sale.

TRM: At a garage sale. Because it was brand new, and a lady saw that, and she asked me if it was used. I said, “no, that's brand new, I just made it”. She gave me every penny I asked for it. I get compliments everywhere. There are a lot of people who live here in the community that pat me on the back all the time. I'm well known for my art here. It makes me feel good because I feel that one thing that I love to do is that I do things for charities. And for the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs, the blanket that I made for them, that was for them, like a charity. It's making them money. Me making other blankets for other things, I like to help people that way.

MM: I think it's interesting how you've taken a handicap and turned it around and made it a useful tool to help other people. That's commendable.

TRM: You know, somebody actually told me that you should make yourself the Thomas foundation. [MM laughs.]

MM: [MM laughing.] Thomas' foundation for the other foundations.

TRM: Because I donate. Every year I donate a blanket to the Odd Fellows. They get raffle ticketed off.

MM: They don't always have the Odd Fellow design in them?

TRM: No, they're others. I also given afghans, of course, but they usually want the quilts The quilts they like better and they do better.

MM: Do you sleep under a quilt yourself?

TRM: Yes, I love quilts.

MM: Do you? What's on your bed now?

TRM: A quilt.

MM: What's it look like?

TRM: It's got the flag in it, red, white and blue on it. And it's got stars and everything on it. And I've got another one that's my favorite. It's blue. It's got stars, in fact it's sitting right there.

MM: Too bad we're not on film.

TRM: Yes. I didn't make that one. That one I bought at the ARC. [inaudible.] Quilts, I think, keep you warm, when you want to be kept warm.

I honestly don't know why I got into the activity of making blankets and making quilts. At the age of eleven, I don't know why that popped into my head.

MM: Do you think you saw one some place and was intrigued by it? Do you have any recollection?

TRM: Well, I have one hanging on my wall over here that is from the nineteen hundreds. I look at that and that's where I get all my ideas for designs, from that.

Like I told you before, once I broke my arm I couldn't go back to the sewing machine. But now that my arm's better, I don't think you'll get me away from it.

MM: How long have you been out of commission with your arm?

TRM: Almost three months.

MM: That's a lifetime when you're a quilter.

TRM: Yeah, because I've just been sittin' around with my arm sittin' up, and I haven't been able to do nothin' because my arms' been hurt. My therapist has gotten it back together and everything.

MM: You're back on board. You mentioned that you have fabric. Are you a fabric collector like so many quilters are?

TRM: When I go to the thrift stores, or even to the Wal-Mart, you'll see me in the fabric area, and when you see big bags of fabric, and stuff, I'll grab them. I love to look at the fabrics and pick out fabrics, because that means beautiful new blankets, beautiful new designs, different kinds of blankets to make. It gives me new ideas.

Blankets are my life. Quilts are the thing. I look at it this way now, and that is that is making blankets for people, helping people, because people help me.

MM: It's your way of paying back.

TRM: It's putting back into the community. I can only do so much, but you know, I do what I can.

MM: Well, I think you do a lot Thomas. As I mentioned before, I've seen your notebook, you told me about the project you're working on now, for an example, and I've seen your afghans. You are definitely giving back to the community.

The quilt you're working on now, you're working on an afghan now, for a neighbor.

TRM: I'm working on a quilt, and an afghan, which will be raffled ticketed off for a family member who has cancer. Because I've had family members who have had cancer, this isn't something that they came and asked me to do. I just did it on my own. Of course, I talked to the family first, and they told me that it really wasn't needed but if I wanted to do it, to go ahead and do it.

I raffle ticketed a blanket off for another charity last year and it made three hundred and eighteen dollars. And that was just for one blanket.

MM: Wow. Do you keep any of that money for yourself, or do you donate it all?

TRM: Last year, when I did that one, I gave it all to that charity. Now, making this one, and making two blankets, using the material, I've already told them I'm going to have to take out for the cost of everything. Everybody agrees to that. The rest of it will go to them. I'm not taking out anything too big. The profit on it, it's nonprofit.

MM: But certainly, you're on a limited income with your handicapped--

TRM: Yeah.

MM: With your handicap, so there are limitations to how much money you can spend.

TRM: Right, so I have to make sure that whatever I spend on the material, or yarn, or whatever the cost to make the blankets, to get them raffle ticketed off, I've got to take that back so that I can keep making blankets.

MM: Tell me about your workroom. Where do you do all your quilting work?

TRM: We have a craft room.

MM: Oh.

TRM: It's a craft room that's got all kinds of craft stuff in it. In fact, I've got ideas for new quilts already. One is called a button quilt. What it's going to be, it's going to have material that looks like buttons, and then I'm going to sew buttons on it.

MM: So, where you do the tying, will you have a button at those locations?

TRM: Um huh.

MM: That sound interesting.

TRM: So, it's going to be called the button quilt. And then the other quilt that I have in mind is called the rose garden. That's going to be made with rose material.

MM: Rose print?

TRM: Yeah, flowers on it, of course. I'm going and try to get a lot of different kinds of roses, not just red, so that it can look like it. I'm going to try, the best that I can to make it look like a flower garden. But of course, if I can't get enough material to do that, then I will find another way to make it. I've always sat down and drawn out what I'm going to do first, to make sure that I make the blanket the right way.

What I don't like about making quilts is having to go back to take apart what I've done wrong. [MM laughs.] Of course, nobody likes to go and have to take apart the material that you've already sewn together.

MM: Your seam ripper is not your best friend?

TRM: No. Especially when you can't find it. That's the one thing I don't like. The seam ripper and me don't agree. In fact, I usually hand it over to Brad. [MM laughs.] That's his chore.

MM: Oh, and he doesn't mind? He has the patience to do it.

TRM: He's got the eyes to do it.

MM: Ahh, there's the secret.

TRM: I just tell him, here's your chores.

I was also thinking, since they have the quilt made for the AIDS Society, I was thinking about talking to the Epilepsy Foundation and seeing. Why not make one for the Epilepsy Foundation? From what I've heard they have a quilt that is big enough for a whole park for the Cancer Society. So, why not make one for the Epilepsy Foundation?

MM: So that might be your next big, big project, right?

TRM: Well, something I can begin with. I won't be the one to make the whole blanket. But get a bunch of people in with it, and put these blankets all together, and make a big quilt for the Epilepsy Foundation. I know there's other people out there that would be willing to do that. There's more people out there that would be willing to do that. There's more people out there in the world, besides me, that want to help other people.

MM: Oh, absolutely.

TRM: I can't stop and think, when I started making blankets and donating them, especially the one for the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, because of the time and effort that I put into that one. I had to make sure that each seam was in the right place, because, when you look at the picture of that blanket, you'll see that the squares on that one are exact. And it looks just like the brick wall, and everything. I can't say that it is absolutely perfect, but it looks just like a brick wall, just like the Odd Fellows are suppose to be.

MM: I talked to another quilter a couple of weeks ago, and perfection is not your goal. Part of your personality is in the imperfections. It's you that is sewn into that quilt.

TRM: Everybody has told me that they can see me inside that quilt, because of all the work that I did to make sure that it got done, so that they could have something.

MM: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker? You've certainly become one.

TRM: I think what makes a good quiltmaker is the time and the effort that they sit and think of how they're going to make it. What are they going to do with it? The mission is to make the quilt. Even if they are going to make it from a pattern what colors are they going to use? What time and effort are they going to put into it?

MM: So, it's the artistic part of it, as well as the construction.

TRM: Yes. What are you going to do to that blanket? You've got to think, on any kind of artistic thing you do, what are you going to put into that to make it look artistic. And that's what I put into my blankets, because I want to show my artistic talent. I just apply all the time and effort and when I'm finished with my blankets, that's why when I'm finished with my blanket, that's why before my blankets go out to anybody, they get a picture taken of it and they get put in my book.

MM: I see the enthusiasm in your face as you are talking about the design of the quilt. What you just discussed. Would you say that's one of your favorite parts of the quilt making, is the design effort?

TRM: Yes, because I get to sit down and I get to, like you say, put part of me in that quilt. That's making it how you want it to be.

MM: The Odd Fellow quilt that's a moneymaker, do you have any guess at all as to how much money it might have been making up to this point?

TRM: I'm not exactly sure because they've never told me. From what I've understood it has done very well because it has gone for the last year to two years, going from one lodge to another, floating.

MM: Have you ever heard how much money it's made at any one lodge?

TRM: No, [MM Ooh.] But I'm pretty sure that it's done very well. When people buy tickets for that quilt, they don't buy just one or two, they buy twenty. I even bought tickets for it [MM laughs.] and I made it. I couldn't say, I would have to say in the thousands by now.

MM: Good, very good.

TRM: I'm very proud of that blanket.

MM: Tell me a little bit about what the Odd Fellows do. What would they be using that money for? I don't think most people are familiar with the International Order of Odd Fellows.

TRM: Well, the Odd Fellows do a lot with charities as well. So, they donate to all kinds of different things. They donate to the Epilepsy Foundation, they donate to the MS, and they do a lot of things. I haven't done a lot with the Odd Fellows in the last year between health and everything, but from what I have understood they've have been there when a family member passes away. They go and help that family, and they help take care of. Like on Valentine's Day they get boxes of chocolate and take it to widows. That's what I've been told.

MM: Now my understanding is that they are a benevolent society, [TRM Yes.] and that their original structure was to help widows and orphans. I had a conversation with a member, not too long ago, who said that because of the laws and the changes in our society, they don't do much now with the orphans, but they certainly still do continue to work with the widows.

TRM: And they also are building little towns, I guess they call them, for the orphans, not in our state, but in other countries.

MM: In other countries.

TRM: To help the orphans, to teach them, to let them go to school, so that they can see doctors, and stuff like that. That's where a lot of that money goes to.

MM: Umm.

TRM: And that's what that quilt earns that money for.

MM: It's really, really helping worldwide, not just nationally, not just state level, but certainly worldwide.

TRM: I have also thought of making another one, for that, so that they can have two of them because I understand where some of those kids are. I remember where I was at when I was young. I may not have been in the same place that a lot of those kids are, but I know what I went through, and I understand that I wouldn't want any kid. I have three nephews, [inaudible.] and I wouldn't want any kid to [inaudible.]. I love kids.

MM: I would say you're very compassionate. And probably so much of the work you do comes from your true heartfelt compassion.

TRM: Yes.

MM: Thomas, is there anything you'd like to add to the interview?

TRM: One thing I would like to add to the interview is that when I make blankets, my blankets, like you just said, are made with passion, and they are made to go out and help other people.

MM: Wonderful. It's such a wonderful thing that you are doing. I'm so pleased to be able to have the opportunity to interview you, because I think this interview is extremely special.

TRM: Thank you.

MM: Thank you.

I'd like to thank Thomas Martinez for allowing me to interview him today as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 1:00 p.m. on March 7, 2008.

[interview concludes.]


“Thomas Martinez,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,