Pauline Shaw




Pauline Shaw




Pauline Shaw


Mary Jane Springman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Frances Dowell


Simsbury, CT


Karen Musgrave


Note: Pauline Shaw entered her quilt in the 116th Continental Congress, 2007 American Heritage Committee's fiber arts - quilt contest. The contest theme was, "A Heritage Remembered." Pauline placed third with this quilt.

Mary Jane Springman (MJS): My name is Mary Jane Springman and today's date is September 17, 2007 at 11:20 in the morning. I'm conducting an interview with Pauline Shaw in the beautiful Abigail Phelps Chapter room in Eno Hall [Enos Memorial Hall.] in Simsbury, Connecticut. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Connecticut State Society of the American Revolution [National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.] Pauline is a quilter and a member of the Abigail Phelps Chapter, NSDAR. Pauline tell me about the quilt you brought in today?

Pauline Shaw (PS): Thank you Mary Jane and all the other committee members of the DAR. It is a real honor for me to have been chosen for this interview. I started this quilt in 2005 and finished it 1 ½ years later in 2006. It's what you would call a "story book" or Album quilt. I think it might also be called an art quilt with a New England flavor. I tried many different quilting techniques. It has 17 blocks each showing a linkage to the Bible. I designed the quilt myself. I first thought of the idea and then the blocks just seemed to evolve. It is all hand appliquéd and hand quilted. I did include a few traditional quilt blocks and added lots of embellishments. Embellishments I called my 'frosting' for that's what I enjoy the most. I call the assembly the "cake" for that's more structured and not nearly as enjoyable to me.

MJS: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

PS: I plan on leaving the quilt to someone in my family. I guess it's a reflection of my personality and maybe it's a desire to have life go back to a more simpler times. I'd like to quote a country verse that I found in Ruth Finley's book that was published in 1929; the year I was born. 'Grandpa's money is soon spent but Grandma's quilts are passed down hand to hand.'

MJS: A lovely thought.

PS: People just don't change so it's an incentive for me to leave some remembrance of myself.

MJS: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

PS: I heard about the National Heritage Contest during our DAR meetings. It wasn't until February 2007 that I mentioned I had made a quilt but it wasn't patriotic. Actually I had been working on a red, white and blue traditional quilt but it was nowhere near finished. I described my Bible quilt and both Jennifer Vasquez, our Regent, and Joyce Cahill, the past Regent, ever hurried to meet the deadlines for the contest. It seems I just barely met the deadlines every time. The quilt was awarded first place in Connecticut and first place in Northeast Regional and third in the National.

MJS: It is really wonderful to look at but what do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

PS: I really don't know. Whenever I've seen people looking at the Bible quilt they seem a little surprised or puzzled. The most asked questions are 'Did you make it for a church and what are you going to do with it?' My answers are 'No, I didn't make it for a church and I just made the quilt to be different and I enjoy it in my house right now.' I have it on a spare room bed and I like to look at it. I hope that someone in my family will appreciate it later on. I imagine people viewing this quilt for its originality, bright colors and needlework.

MJS: So it's different because it's very original.

PS: I think so. As I say, most people say 'did you make it for church?' [both laugh.]

MJS: It's not traditional patterns.

PS: There are a few traditional patterns in there. It's original.

MJS: Yes. Tell me about your interest in quilting. How did it begin?

PS: I guess I first became interested in quilting around the time of the Bicentennial when there was a resurgence in quiltmaking. My mother-in-law, Iva Shaw, had seven children and 18 grandchildren. She gave each one a hand embroidered tablecloth. That gave me the idea to give hand made quilts to each of my five children and as of now, six grandchildren. I have tried many different crafts so this was a new venture. Later on in the 1980's I signed up for classes with Mickey Lawler who had opened a fabric store in Simsbury. Also in the 1980's the director of our local historical society asked me if I would finish a project that she had started for the Bicentennial but for some reason it never got 'off the ground. [MJS: Oh, my.] It was different. The original plan was for a large quilt with 48 appliquéd scenes depicting life and times of Simsbury. After a delay of at least 8 years perhaps as many as 10 years or more the original blocks had been lost, or the women had moved away or died. About 10 or 12 women in town got together and we finished and completed the historic quilt in 1988 with 20 blocks. It's now being preserved in our local historical society.

MJS: I've seen it. It's a wonderful tribute to the heritage of the town.

PS: Yes.

MJS: From whom did you learn to quilt?

PS: I have had lesson but I consider myself basically a self taught quilter. During the construction of this Bible quilt, I took out books from our beautiful Simsbury Library. I included various techniques and tried to follow the instructions in these books. That made the quilt interesting and fun for me. It was a challenge.

MJS: Now I have to ask you how many hours a week do you quilt?

PS: That varies with the quilt or project that I'm working on. I would guess perhaps at least 20 to 30 hours a week.

MJS: Oh that many. [laughs.]

PS: At least. I like to do it in front of the TV. It's why I like hand quilting.

MJS: Yes.

PS: My husband, Ernie, is supportive of me but really can't understand why I spend so much time sewing. I have busy fingers. [MJS laughs.] He thinks it's work but to me it's a hobby and enjoyment. I feel I'm at least accomplishing something while the TV is going on. He's funny. Sometimes I'll come home from quilting meeting or describe a fabulous quilt that someone has made and he will say to me 'Is she married?' [MJS laughs then PS laughs.] My answer is 'I don't know. I thought it would be inappropriate for me to ask.' [MJS laughs.]

MJS: So what is your first quilt memory?

PS: I think that my first quilt memory was when I was perhaps 6 or 7 years old. I was visiting my aunt in Springfield, Mass. [Massachusetts.] and she showed me a quilt that my Grandmother Ashley had made. It was a beautiful Victorian crazy patch quilt with lovely embroidery. I remember I was so impressed that I said to my aunt, 'Can I have this quilt when you die?' I remember the horrified surprise on her face so I knew it wasn't a good question. I didn't inherit the quilt so maybe that's one reason that I designed a quilt with a black background and lots of embellishments.

MJS: Are there any other quiltmakers in your family?

PS: Not at this time but I have been greatly influenced by my aunts who were all so talented in crafts and my stepmother, Alice McBride, who passed away this year at 96. My own mother died soon after I was born and I was brought up by my aunt and uncle in Billerica, Mass. which is a small--well it's not small anymore but it's a town near Lowell.

MJS: Yes, I know where that is. I've seen the signs on the highway.

PS: It's become quite a quilting center although I have never stopped to see the quilts. My stepmother was very gifted and taught me to sew, embroider, knit, cook and all those things. Thinking back she was left handed and I'm right handed but it never seemed to be difficult for me to learn those things. Also when I was still living in Massachusetts my grandmother McBride visited us for a while. She was a widow. [MJS: Wow.] I can remember my aunt and grandmother making quilts. It was Depression time so they used sugar and flour sacks, cut up outgrown "sister" dresses. I had a cousin, a girl cousin, who was only five months older than myself and she had blonde hair, I had brown eyes so I always got the red dresses and she had the blue ones.

MJS: Oh yes, [laughs.] so you can see your former dresses in the quilt.

PS: The former dresses were cut up and put into the crazy patch quilt made of cotton. The other designs that they made were patterns of the Depression period. I remember Sunbonnet Sue, butterflies, sailboats and as I said the crazy patch quilt which was given to me later on.

MJS: What other aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

PS: In one word basting. [MJS laughs.] It's a real physical thing for me for I spread the quilt out on the living room floor and stitch the "sandwich" together.

MJS: On the other hand, what do you find pleasing about quiltmaking.

PS: I enjoy the challenge and also a commitment and I'm happy with the results usually. Finishing is the most pleasing part of my quiltmaking for usually I've been working on one quilt for so long that I am anxious to create a new one.

MJS: What about giving them to people? Do you ever give quilts to people?

PS: I have given away many quilts but I consider the ones I'm making now that have taken me a year or more to be special so I'm saving them. I'm not using them.

MJS: Yes. What art or quilt group do you belong?

PS: I joined the Farmington Valley Quilters Group about seven years ago. They meet one time a month in Simsbury. It's a very exciting group. A mixed group of over 100 members and it's encouraging to see some young women who are very enthusiastic about quilts and this computer age they have the best equipment, the newest techniques even with computerized sewing machines.

MJS: Have advances in technology influenced your work? If so, how?

PS: Yes, I still enjoy the hand work but I have learned a few new techniques such as strip piecing, rotary cutting, paper piecing, foundation piecing and this year I took a short course on machine quilting. I have made baby quilts for the hospitals just to practice the machine quilting and I hope to machine quilt my patriotic quilt. We'll see, it may be too difficult for me. I'll go back to the hand quilting.

MJS: What are your favorite techniques and material?

PS: I would have to say appliqué and needlework techniques. It gives me the freedom to create and also to include my embroidery skills. The traditional quilts take a lot more discipline and precision, [short pause.] for me at least they do.

MJS: You called it frosting before and I can see by your quilt that it really adds a lot--your original thinking and design.

PS: All these quilts have a little needlework in them.

MJS: Yes.

PS: Even this red, white and blue quilt. I just finished basting together this summer. I figure at that stage if something happens to me [laughs.] someone else can finish it. [MJS laughs.] But that sampler that I made in 1981 I included it and the sampler is patriotic. It's called "America." That's a little banner on the top of it. It has ABC. A is for--I forgot what A was for. America the beautiful, I think. B is for the Liberty Bell. C is for the Capitol and so forth.

MJS: Yes, so are we fated to see that one? [laughs then PS laughs.]

PS: I've got to finish it. [laughs.] So I created that in this red, white and blue one.

MJS: All together what do you think makes a great quilt?

PS: Every quilt is great but also subjective. It's like an art piece. You might like it or you might not. You might like the colors, you might not. But anyway I appreciate them because it's a window of the quiltmaker's personality.

MJS: Yes and there are so many different designs.

PS: I just love to look at them.

MJS: So what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

PS: I think probably color, design, creativity, skill and techniques.

MJS: So what makes a great quiltmaker?

PS: I have certainly thought of a category. Someone who practices what I call the four P's- patience, perseverance, precision and perspiration.

MJS: Perspiration too.

PS: When it's summer when you work on a quilt, you perspire.

MJS: Oh, yes.

PS: It's a winter project. I think.

MJS: So patience, perseverance, precision and perspiration. What quiltmakers are you drawn to?

PS: The Farmington Valley Quilters' has many speakers come at their monthly meetings. And two years ago, Christine Fries Unreel came down from Vermont. And her quilts are like master painters, unbelievably beautiful and she did them in fabric. Also had a speaker Paula Nadelstern from New York. I believe and her skill is unbelievable. She creates mosaics [PS actually meant to say Kaleidoscope quilts but couldn't think of it at the time.] that you would find in museums. They are like paintings also and she achieves them all by cutting up fabric in little pieces. It's unbelievable.

MJS: So you get a great deal of enjoyment out of other people's quilts as well as doing your own.

PS: I do. Everyone is so lovely.

MJS: In what way do your quilts reflect your community and region?

PS: I'm a New Englander and I think that has come through in my quilts. My Bible quilt shows basic Sunday School type stories and figures. My other quilts also have traditional values. I've made Tree of Life, Nine Patch, Grandmother's Flower Garden that I made five or six years ago that took forever. That has would you believe 2700 yo-yo's [laughs.] which I did in front of the TV. And like I've said most of these quilts have taken over a year to make. It's like loosing a friend when they are finished.

MJS: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

PS: Looking at the quilt you can judge the period of a quilt by the fabric, design, technique and also certain religious and political issues. It's an expression of the quiltmaker's personality. Actually Betsy Ross was chosen to make the American flag because she was a quiltmaker. And if you look at the flag, it's not that difficult. [MJS laughs.]

MJS: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

PS: I would say time. Everyone is so busy and it is a time consuming art.

MJS: Yet it seems to be a peaceful past time. You know in this crazy rushing world.

PS: I think it does give some relaxation. It does for me.

MJS: Could you tell us about the stories in the Bible quilt that we're looking at today?

PS: First I'll start at the left--the Cross which is paper-pieced. I'd like to say it was a Carol Doak pattern but I'm not sure. The pattern came from a book out of our library which is being renovated right now. The art books are in storage. The second one is Noah's Ark. It's appliquéd with counted cross stitch and some bead work. My grandfather's name is Noah Ashley and I traced my DAR heritage through my mother's side. [MJS: Yes.] My grandfather on her side.

MJS: So Noah for Noah Ashley.

PS: There are quite a few Noahs I discovered in tracing my heritage.

MJS: And the third?

PS: Butterflies. I just enjoy butterflies. They are bright and beautiful. Also with the connection with the Bible, they think of it as Transfiguration.

MJS: Yes and the technique?

PS: There are different techniques. I tried reverse appliqué which is putting the fabric underneath another fabric and cutting out the top layer so the underneath shows. Then the needle work around the edges. Then the fourth is Dove in the Window.

MJS: Dove in the Window.

PS: I found that pattern in a regular traditional pattern book and it's all diamonds. Very difficult to put together. I tried one first and it ended up on the back of the quilt. And I think this possibly is put together by hand because putting diamonds together was very difficult for me. To fit them together.

MJS: Right. And the fifth panel?

PS: I call it "Tiffany Iris." It's appliqué. Our church has three beautiful Tiffany windows. And there is a beautiful window behind the alter and on the lower left is a blue iris which is sort of a trademark [MJS: Yes.] so I wanted to include that.

MJS: The name of your church?

PS: Simsbury United Methodist Church.

MJS: Right. And the sixth panel here?

PS: Moses. I appliquéd most of it. His face is fabric painted and I put a little beard of yarn on it. The sky is made from a scrap material left over from this jacket that I'm wearing. The jacket is about 20 years old. I bought the fabric--

MJS: It looks brand new to me.

PS: I know. And I just love this fabric and I thought that's great for Moses being in the mountain with all this excitement when he was receiving the Ten Commandments [MJS: Yes, it's very exciting.] from God. I usually call this jacket my Jacob's coat, I mean Joseph's coat; of [MJS: Of many colors.] many colors. I think for Joseph it would be a little busy for all his brothers.

MJS: So panel number seven.

PS: Adam and Eve. I think everybody recognizes that it's sort of a universal story. I brought a piece from the Hartford Courant [newspaper.]. A man named Atif Quraishi wrote a little article in this Sunday August 26, 2007--

MJS: Our local Harford Courant newspaper-- [MJS and PS both talking at the same time.]

PS: Yes. He quoted the prophet Muhammad reminded us that all of mankind is from Adam and Eve and that acts of kindness, peace and love have great reward. He said that the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr. These words were uttered more than 1400 years ago. And those are from Muhammad. [MJS: Yes.] I didn't realize before that they knew the story of Adam and Eve so I was sort of excited that I had not included it.

MJS: Yes, it's not only Christians.

PS: Jewish.

MJS: Jewish. And, and--

PS: I don't know how many others. [MJS: Muslims.] Yes, the Muslims.

MJS: Let's move on to--I don't remember. Number eight.

PS: Ruth and Naomi. I wanted to include two women in the Bible because we don't usually hear that much about women in the Bible. And then I discovered that I actually have a DAR connection. My grandfather's name--his sister's name was Ruth Ashley. She was a DAR member. When I started tracing my heritage back, they just connected me with her. It saved a lot of paperwork. [MJS: laughs.]

MJS: Let's see panel number nine here is--

PS: Good Samaritan.

MJS: Good Samaritan.

PS: That's appliqué and needlework. I found the design on a church bulletin about 20 years ago

[MJS: Oh.] when I was teaching Sunday school I had made a little wall hanging and lo and behold when I started this quilt I found the pattern I had made so I just reproduced it.

MJS: So now we need panel number ten.

PS: Jacob's Dream. That is appliqué needlework. I used scrap pieces of material and included what I call a little whimsy. I cut out some angels from material that I had used for making Christmas presents.

MJS: Oh, I see that.

PS: Yeah, they are a little cutesy. [both laugh.]

MJS: They're sweet.

PS: In fact one of them--two of the angels say something like 'we're all angels together.' Printed on the fabric. That's called Broderie Perse. I'm probably not pronouncing that correctly but it's a French word that means using fabric that has already been printed--

MJS: I see.

PS: That has been appliquéd. That was a different technique.

MJS: Now number eleven I see a very ferocious whale. [MJS laughs then PS laughs.]

PS: Right. That is appliqué and needlework.

MJS: Jonah and the whale.

PS: I looked at the scripture and it said that Jonah was thrown into the water and so that's a little whimsical too because in the appliqué it looks like he's treading water in front of a whale about to swallow him.

MJS: Then up on the left corner, panel number twelve we have what?

PS: The Dove of Piece. As I said I took books out of the library and so I thought I would try stained glass because I had never done that before. And so I paper pieced the body of the dove and then put the black binding all around to make it look like stained glass. So I included a dove because I think it relates to the time when we are hoping for peace soon.

MJS: Let's see number thirteen. You'll have to explain that to me.

PS: That is a traditional design. It's called Jacob's Ladder. Sometimes these designs have different names. Speaker Carla Bue who is an associate member of this DAR chapter spoke with us and she called it Underground Railroad.

MJS: Ah, the tracks.

PS: I have also seen it called Road to California, something like that. The Underground Railroad has a story too. During the time of the slaves escaping they would look for quilts on the railings and houses of people and know that they could go there for shelter. [MJS gasps.] That was the code.

MJS: Yes. Oh, that's so interesting.

PS: Yes it is interesting because certain patterns are more popular at certain periods of time, women transported patterns across this country on wagons. During that time, they changed the design a little or changed the color.

MJS: Let's see number fourteen is kind of rose colored and shaded with green.

PS: That's called Rose of Sharon. That again has other names. The book I took the pattern from called it the Rose Cross. I tried a new technique also from a book that I had from the library. It's called scrim and it was kind of fun. You just cut up bits of thread, put them down on material and then take organza and sort of baste through the organza. It keeps the thread in place.

MJS: It's a lovely--

PS: It's sort of interesting.

MJS: The finished product is certainly lovely here.

PS: Thank you.

MJS: You're added beads too.

PS: Yes, I didn't know whether I should or not but oh well. [MJS laughs then PS laughs.] If you're going to make it fancy, go ahead. [laughs.]

MJS: Now number fifteen I can't guess. What is this?

PS: That is called the Lost Coin. As a matter of fact this past Sunday in church that was the Gospel reading. It is the story of the woman who lost the coin and she turned her house upside down looking for it. [MJS laughs.] And she found it and I guess the parable is everyone is important and everyone should be considered someone special. [MJS: Yes.] And that also was a program on the church calendar a couple years ago in black and white so I added my bright colors to it.

MJS: Some of those squares and pieces were multi-colored that you put in there.

PS: I tried make it look like a real stained glass window. [MJS: Yes.] And in fact my jacket fabric is in there also. And other batiks. [MJS: Batik yes.] Which is very popular today.

MJS: So we have two more. Number sixteen.

PS: The Grapes and Wheat. I stuffed the grapes to give them dimension. The wheat design was from a Hawaiian pattern I have made pillows [MJS: Oh, yes.] of different colors lighter Hawaiian type colors- pink, green I used in my pillows. For this I thought I had found fabric that resembled wheat so I used that which would signify Communion.

MJS: And last but certainly not least we have Gabriel there. Right. [laughs.]

PS: After I had spread the quilt out on my living room floor which is my design wall, I thought it needed more zip or something to tie it together so I thought of weather vanes. [MJS: Ah, yes.] And after looking at this quilt, it's really folk art so I took the book out of the library again. And drew a weather vane and reproduced it in fabric. I do counted cross stitch so we--

MJS: I see that.

PS: Directionals are counted cross stitch--

MJS: I didn't notice it when I first looked at the quilt or until now. That is a weather vane that you have done.

PS: Yes.

MJS: North, south, east, west.

MJS: Well, is there anything else that you would like to add about quilts or quilting?

PS: I thought that I would--I'd just say to other people don't be afraid of color. I think that a lot of people are so afraid of--they are tight about using color. But when you think about it nature is full of color and everything is beautiful. Just use color. And also I have brought this little poem which I think is cute because it tells about quilting. It was written by Flo E. Flintger. I found this in some book. 'Oh, don't you remember the babes in the wood. Who were lost and bewildered and crying for food, And the robins who found them thinking them dead, Covered them over with leaves brilliant red, And russet and orange and silver and gilt, Well, that was the very first crazy patch quilt.'

MJS: Oh that's such a lovely thought.

PS: Cute.

MJS: Yes, yes. Well I have enjoyed this and I'd like to thank Pauline Shaw for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview was concluded at 12:04 p.m. on September 17, 2007. Thank you Pauline.

PS: Thank you Mary Jane.


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