Vivian Hoban




Vivian Hoban




Vivian Hoban


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Frances Dowell


Washington, D.C.


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today is Tuesday, October 5th, 2004. Our interviewee is Vivian Hoban, Number [D.C.] 20002-002. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger. We are at the Calvary Episcopal Church at I and 6th Streets in Washington, D.C. during a Daughters of Dorcas and Sons meeting. Hi,Vivian.

Vivian Hoban (VH): Hi, Evelyn.

ES: Nice of you to come prepared today ready for an interview.

VH: All right.

ES: I see some very beautiful quilts in front of me. Two quilts which you have brought. Let's talk about those first.

ES: First this one on the top has lots of different colored patches, the shape of the pieces—is there a particular shape that you would call these?

VH: Oh, this is really a Mock Crazy Quilt. The reason I did this quilt is that my mother used to do quilt tops--crazy quilt tops. If you really look at it, you can see a pattern in it but Mock Crazy Quilts do not have a pattern, and she didn't have any design in hers, just put pieces together and put the embroidery work over top of it. I didn't bring one of hers. But I thought about making one similar to hers. When I thought about it I said, well, I will do this one, because a friend of mine had a Mock Crazy Quilt pattern, and there is a pattern to it.

ES: So each of the shapes seems to be asymmetrical--four different sides to each one. Then you connected it with a blue feather stitching?

VH: Then I had to learn to do [feather stitches.]. When she did it I did not know how to do any embroidery stitches. So I had to practice as to how to make the stitches. This was the only stitch that I could do when I made the quilt.

ES: Do you know when this quilt was done? Is there a date on it?

VH: Yes, a date is in one of these corners. There's the date, 1992.

ES: And where did you make this?

VH: I made it since I have been in this group.

ES: Oh, very nice, 60 inches by 80 inches. It's lovely, all different colors--lovely. Do you use this, or is it packed away?

VH: It's just packed away. That's why I kind of stopped making quilts, 'cause I have so many. I have some that I use. Others, I just don't use them. And I don't have enough wall space to hang them in my house. That's why I just haven't made too many quilts, lately.

ES: Well, this is very colorful. Could we look at the other one that you brought? Now, what is this one?

VH: This fabric that you see here is feed sacks. I was [born and.] raised in North Carolina. And during the time when we lived in North Carolina, the different companies sold grain and feed in sacks. Some of it were solid colors and some were prints. And our family, my mother especially, used to buy the feed sacks--go to the mills and get the feed sacks and wash them and make our clothing--my sister and I. They made pretty dresses, and the solid ones she would make slips and underwear for us to wear. So when I got in this group, and found a place that sold the feed sacks which you can purchase at any of the quilt shows, I bought some feed sack fabric, and I made this quilt. I think it is called the Double Eight. That reminded me of the fabric that we used to use when I was small.

ES: Again, it's very colorful and there are all triangles put together with a large white square that's quilted in the middle. Are these replicas of the feed sack from years ago?

VH: This is actual feed sacks.

ES: And that comes from what year?

VH: Well, that would come from back in the late 20's or 30's.

ES: It is remarkable how many different ones you have in here.

VH: Yeah.

VH: They come in all kinds. When they were sending them from the grain factories and different places, they just used pretty colors. I don't know why. At that time, we never thought about [quilt.] making, but people did make their children's clothing, because we didn't have a lot of money during the depression time. We could get these sacks and wash them and bleach them out. Some of the white ones you had to bleach.

ES: Yes. What are some of your earliest memories of quilts or quilters?

VH: We didn't quilt at home. That's what surprises me a lot. The people around there sewed, and they would give us scraps, my sister and I, give us scraps. And my mother always sewed. She made our clothing, but we never quilted. And I learned to just make doll clothes by watching her sew. Everything she did I wanted to do. She crocheted, I crocheted. She sewed. I learned to make little dresses for myself as I [became a.] teenager. But quilting, I didn't learn to quilt until after I came to Washington. And it was after I worked and retired, a friend of mine who belonged to this group at the time, told me about Mrs. Canady and that she was doing Stained Glass. I said, 'Well, I am doing stained glass,' because I was in a real stained glass class at that time. So she said, 'No, it's not glass it's fabric.' And that really interested--you know, triggered my interest. So I came, and I saw the work that she was doing--Mrs. Canady's--and I started with the Stained Glass and the Cathedral Windows 'cause I had done a Cathedral Window quilt. A lady had shown me, but that was not piecing and putting together, that's mostly folding [fabric for.] the Cathedral Windows. And, so I got interested and I have been here since 1987--in this group. [Daughters of Dorcas.] That's when I really started to quilt, but before that I had never quilted.

ES: Will you give us a little of your background? You said you came from North Carolina and moved to Washington. Can you tell us where you went to school?

VH: All of my schooling was in North Carolina, and when I came here I [did domestic work.] And then I went into the government.

ES: And what did you do there? What did you do in the government?

VH: I always worked for the Department of Defense. I started in Washington in the different building and I worked at the Pentagon for a while. I received an appointment for the duration of the war plus six months. At the end of the six-months I was terminated. So I didn't work for three years. I sent my son to school and stayed home with him. Then I started to work in the government again. So I started at the Navy Annex over in Arlington, and I worked, I think, 7 ½ years. My last job was at the National Security Agency, in Fort Mead, Maryland. I worked 20 years there. I retired in 1977. I had 32 ½ years of service.

ES: Very good. And what did you do--what was your capacity there?

VH: Well, when I was at the Navy Annex, we were working with the [World War II military.] records. I could see the 201 folders of all the military. I kept up with my husband because he was in the service and I could see his file and see everything that he was doing. We were really filing and putting all the records together in a 201 folder. And then when I went to the National Security, that was classified. I had a Top Secret clearance and we do not talk about that.

ES: Excellent. You certainly gave us your service for a third of a century. [laughter.] Good. Would you talk some about quilting? What part of the quilting process you like the most?

VH: I like the quilting. I don't like piecing. I hate piecing, putting all these little blocks together. But I like to make all the little, small stitches. I guess in most of my work you will see a lot of little stitches. I just love hand quilting. I do not like machine quilting.

ES: How many hours a week do you work at quilting?

VH: I really couldn't tell you about the hours because if I am interested in something I will stay up until one or two o'clock in the morning working on it. Then I just have no idea of the time. I don't consider the time when it really comes to quilting. But I do at certain times. I really have to feel like quilting, and when I get started I just continue.

ES: Would you tell us what you did in one week with the raffle quilt last [May.]? I asked you to keep track of it.

VH: I don't remember.

ES: I remember. Twenty-seven hours you put in.

VH: Did I put in 27 hours? I have forgotten already.

ES: Those tiny stitches that you did on the borders.

VH: Well, but I usually don't keep up with the time.

ES: Do you consider yourself self-taught?

VH: I think mostly. Because like I say, when I left home and came here, I could do everything that my mother could do. But when I saw patterns in crocheting and different patterns of sewing, I couldn't do it, so I just started buying books. I can usually teach myself anything that I really want to do. So I taught myself to crochet clothing and afghans and anything with a pattern to it and I can knit. I taught myself to knit. She didn't knit, but I taught myself to knit. Viola [Canady.] gave me a little start in quilting, but I never had any one-on-one instructions. You can show me something and I [will eventually do it.]. My first quilt that Mrs. Canady taught me was the Scrap Star quilt. When I saw all the blocks that I had made I didn't know how to make the sharp points in those stars. So I have a lot of blocks that I call rejects. [laughs.] I had to teach myself, really with her help, how to make a sharp point to the different little stars and things like that. And from there on I just get a book, read it, and I can do it. If it is

something I really want to do.

ES: And now you pass along some of your knowledge to other members of the Daughters of Dorcas.

VH: Yeah, well I have been working with different ones in the group. I like to help people. I don't mind helping anybody. If I see that they need some help, I am willing to do it. Ever since I have been here, I have been working with somebody that comes in and is new and needs some help. I am glad to do it.

ES: For whom do you make quilts for most of the time?

VH: When my family was large--I only have one sister left--it was about 10 or 12 of us in the family. I was the youngest one. So I have made quilts for my family, my sister, my nieces and nephews, and some friends that I feel will appreciate the work that's put in it. I have given away about 8 or 9 quilts to different people, but I don't sell. I make them and I give them away rather than sell them. [My son will inherit the rest of them.]

ES: Have you put your quilts into shows?

VH: Oh, yeah. We've had quite a few shows [with.] Mrs. Canady when I first got into the group. Well, we always have a show at the Sumner Museum. I have always had something there. And we used to be with the [National Council of Negro Women.] We did it with them. We demonstrated at their Black Family Reunions on the Mall and we have been all over at different schools. We've worked with school children and helped them to make quilts. And they've been on display. So we've been around quite a lot.

ES: Do you do a lot of charity quilts?

VH: Yeah. We did for the flood people last year--I think it was the year before last-- down South. And we did baby quilts. We did blocks for the AIDS [Quilt.] and cancer society. We've done quite a bit of charity work. We always do charity work. That's part of this group that we do some charity work.

ES: That's very good. How has quilting impacted your family?

VS: Well, like I say, my family, the sister that I gave the quilt to, she does not do any crafts. So she loves the quilt, but she won't learn to quilt. So it has not had any impact on my family--the ones that I have given them to. They just thank me for the quilt, but they never wanted to learn to do it.

ES: But they enjoy it.

VH: Oh, yeah. They really enjoy it.

ES: If you go to a show or even anywhere when you look at a quilt what do you think makes a quilt great?

VH: The stitching.

ES: You like the stitching.

VH: The quilting. I love the stitching. That's the first think I look at. And if it is a hanging quilt, I make sure it is hanging straight. But I always look at the stitching, and if it is machine stitching, it kind of turns me off.

ES: I was going to ask you whether you ever do machine piecing or machine quilting.

VH: I piece by hand. I don't have any problem with people piecing by machine--but I just don't do it. I have two or three sewing machines and don't even put them up. I can do it quicker, I guess, with my hand. I guess I just got used to [seeing.] my mother always do things by hand. Other than when she made our clothing, she used a sewing machine, but I'd rather do it by hand.

ES: Are you a member of any other craft groups or quilt groups?

VH: No other quilt groups.

ES: And have you been an officer--or would you call it officer of this group?

VH: No.

ES: I feel that you are one of the organizers--

VH: Oh, we worked on the bylaws [for Daughters of Dorcas.]. I was working with that group here but other than that I wouldn't say that I have been an officer.

ES: Are there any stories or experiences with your quilting that you could to share?

VH: Stories, I don't know. After I started quilting--doing quilts--I got into doing characters, like Phyllis Wheatley. I did a [wall hanging.] of her. I didn't bring a picture of it. And there was a studio over in Hechinger Mall that was called 'Graffiti Gems' and I did a show over there, and it was on cable TV.

ES: What was in the show? Several quilts?

VH: All of my quilts, yeah, and this picture of Phyllis Wheatley was in there. And he [the owner.] wanted that so I let him have that. I had it framed because I was going to hang it in my house. And after I had it framed and he wanted it, so I really gave it to him, but I had him pay me for the frame, which was a very expensive frame.

ES: Who is the 'he' you are referring to?

VH: I don't remember his name, but he was the owner of that shop. Other than that, I have not done any other things other than with this group.

ES: In what ways has quilting had meaning for American women?

VH: Well! I think that for a while we didn't hear a lot about quilting. And I think the more we quilt, American or African American, it will never die out. Because one time you didn't hear people talk about quilting and now quilting is the rage, it seems to me, now everybody's quilting. I think that the only way to keep it alive is to continue to quilt, from one generation to the other--hand it down.

ES: Do you keep track of the things that you have made?

VH: I have pictures of them, and I know just about everything that I have made.

ES: Do you have it preserved for other people to see?

VH: No. I only have pictures of them.

ES: Albums?

HV: Well, I have pictures of my quilts. I have three or four big albums of everything that I have made and of other members of this group, I have pictures, also.

ES: Oh, that's very nice. Is there anything else that you would like to advise anybody about your quilting or--

VH: Well, the only thing I could say to the new people, have patience. It takes a lot of patience. Some people think they can quilt right now. And some people do quilt fast, but you can look at the work and tell the time that they put into it. So anybody that wants to become a good quilter--they have to have patience and time. That is the only thing that I can say. And the main thing when you go into quilting, first of all you got to make sure that your fabric is the proper fabric for that particular garment or quilt. We use 100% cotton mostly in this group. And we always have to wash it and make sure it is washed first before it is cut. Then precision cutting is really one of the main things. And if you are going to mark it, it has to be marked usually it's a quarter of an inch [for seam allowance.] unless the pattern says something different. So cutting and marking are the main things when you start doing a quilt. And if you get started like that you probably won't have too many problems because the pieces will go together properly, if they are cut properly in the beginning, and marked properly. If you use a quarter of an inch seam make sure that all pieces are a quarter of an inch seam and if you are sewing by hand--I sew from point-to-point. Books will tell you what I mean by point-to-point. And if you do that you don't have too many problems with your quilting. If you get started right, you end up pretty good.

ES: I do want to ask you, do you use a quilt frame or do you use the hoop?

VH: Oh, yes, I use the hoop. I can't quilt on the table frame--the long frame where they have the quilting bees. I don't know, my stitches just don't look right. But I can use the round hoops. I quilt good on those. That is what I use all the time.

ES: You have very tiny, beautiful stitches.

VH: Yes. You see, I can take that hoop and sit in a chair, sit in the middle of the bed, prop myself up, look at TV and quilt, but if I am at that frame I can't do too much moving around, 'cause I am reaching across. I usually use a 14 inch or no larger than a 16 inch round hoop when I quilt.

ES: Do you have to move it every little while?

VH: Yeah. Well, it depends on the size of the pattern and the quilt, too. If you have a smaller piece, a 14 inch will do. A 16 inch will do this, [referring to the quilt at hand.] but you do have to move it around.

ES: Well, thank you very much for doing this interview. It has been very interesting.

VH: You are welcome. I enjoyed it.

ES: Good.

VH: Thank you.

[tape ends.]


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