Christine Bradford




Christine Bradford




Christine Bradford


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Washington, D.C.


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today, March 8, 2005, we are interviewing Christine Bradford. Her number is 20002.010. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger. Hi, Christine.

Christine Bradford (CB): Hello.

ES: It's nice of you to come on another snowy day, this March 8th. First, I would like to talk about the quilt that you brought in. Will you discuss that with us?

CB: The quilt that I brought in today is titled "Caramel Machiato." And it was completed January 2003. And it's in shades of browns and creams. I think a year before, 2002, I discovered Starbucks. And fell in love with a drink they have called Caramel Machiato. So, I decided I would do a quilt using the colors in that drink there.

ES: In the coffee?

CB: In the coffee. So it's very dear to me.

ES: Do you display it at home?

CB: Actually, I keep it at the foot of my bed so if I want to just curl up in it, I do. And I made that one especially for me. It has the double Warm and Natural inside. It's kind of heavy so--

ES: Is this entirely machine pieced?

CB: Machine pieced and machine quilted by myself.

ES: And I see it has an interesting backing to it.

CB: Yes, Kokopelli. I thought that was interesting because after drinking a Carmel Machiato you want to get up and dance around a bit.

ES: What's in this Caramel Machiato? Is it a sweet drink?

CB: It has caramel on top and you have the foam milk under that, and then you have three shots of espresso. [laughs.]

ES: Oh, my.

CB: And you have the scalded milk.

ES: It must be delicious. But what time of day can you drink that?

CB: [laughs.] Believe it or not, I have one at least four times a week.

ES: Oh. But you don't do it at night, do you?

CB: No, in the morning before noon.

ES: OK. That's nice. Is it Bargello?

CB: It's a Bargello pattern using--I believe this one called for eight different shades of creams to browns.

ES: Very, very pretty. It's a subdued quilt that certainly does quench your appetite for a nice coffee. What is your earliest contact with quilters? Or what are your earliest memories of quilters or quilts?

CB: Quilts. I remember my grandmother who had a quilt that was passed down from her grandmother who was a Cherokee. And then, also on my father's side, I remember him, my dad, making a quilt out of his old ties as a young child, maybe six or seven. And he used the kitchen curtains as the backing for this, so it almost encompassed the whole house. My dad pieced the whole thing by hand and he quilted it by hand. I have no clue where the quilt is now, but I would love to get my hands on it. I'm not quite sure which one of the relatives has it but I would like to own the quilt. [laughs.]

ES: Oh, definitely.

CB: Yeah.

ES: Did your father do more quilts through his lifetime?

CB: He did several other quilts using, kind of the Gee's Bend style—using the denim, flannel, I don't recall any corduroy. But using large chunks and before--which is very popular today--the frame of the denim. So I recall those quilts.

ES: And did you all sleep under those quilts?

CB: No, they were more or less--my father was a craftsman. He did a lot of woodworking, so he had them with him in the basement. They were not revered then as they are now.

ES: So have others survived, do you think?

CB: I'm quite sure there's some around, but where to begin looking for them? I don't know.

ES: Where did your relatives come from?

CB: Philadelphia. My dad is half Irish and American. His mom is from Ireland and his dad, my grandfather, is from Georgia. And on my mother's side the relatives are from Philadelphia.

ES: Where does the Cherokee come from, I always think of North Carolina?

CB: North Carolina, yes. My mother's grandparents were from North Carolina.

ES: When did your interest in quilting begin?

CB: I've always adored quilts, but it never interested me until later on in life and until I was in maybe my twenties. So I would say maybe about twenty five years I've had an interest.

ES: And did you start sewing in your mid-twenties?

CB: I started sewing when I was in third grade. My brother went off to Viet Nam and he said, 'What do you want me to bring you back?' And my sister and I said, 'A sewing machine.' So he shipped over a sewing machine for us and we sewed. We sewed plaids to stripes, stripes to polka dots, whatever we could find. We made doll clothes. We just loved that machine. And I still have it. That's one machine I'll never let go.

ES: So, you learned your sewing there. Did you taking any courses in high school?

CB: I didn't have any formal introduction to reading a pattern, or cutting fabric, cross-grain, or any of that until I took Home Ec in junior high school. So that's when I learned the fine points. And after that I was well on my way to being the seamstress that I am.

ES: And did you sew clothing for yourself?

CB: I didn't start sewing for myself until maybe in my twenties. And I used that machine that my brother had given me to make some of my first garments.

ES: Do you call yourself a seamstress?

CB: Seamstress, quilter.

ES: Do you do a lot of hours in a day?

CB: I have a teenager. She likes to keep up with the latest fashions. But she doesn't like to pick out the fabric. So we'll look through catalogs and all and I'll say, 'Okay, this is close to that.' So, I'm always sewing something at least every day. Every day I--if I'm not making a complete garment, [banging noise.] I am in the process. I'm sewing something every day.

ES: Oh, my. You seem to have a lot of output of quilts. When did you actually do your first quilt?

CB: My first quilt is actually in a bag. I didn't complete it. It had to be about eleven years ago that I actually did my first quilt. I didn't take a class or learn from anyone, but I made pajamas for my whole family and it was polyester, eyelet fabric, and I just cut those scraps that I had left into I think maybe four-inch squares. And I put them all together. It was a crude Trip Around the World. And I pull it out and say, 'Wow, look how far I've come.' [laughs.]

ES: Yes, you have.

CB: But I have not completed that one and my husband's like, 'You really need to complete that one.'

ES: It doesn't grab you. You don't want to waste the time.

CB: Right.

ES: At the moment you belong to at least two quilting groups, maybe more. Will you describe—when you started the quilting groups that you belong to?

CB: A friend of mine, I met her while I was purchasing--I was doing research on a sewing machine, and I wanted to buy. I did the research and tried them all out and I came up with Bernina. This lady was there. She says, 'Oh, you sew beautifully. Why don't you think about joining a quilt guild?' I said, 'Well, that's not a bad idea.' And she kind of beat me over the head with it for about a year and then I said, 'I'll go.' And I haven't stopped going since. So that group is called Uhuru. And they're in College Park, Maryland. And then I joined a bee. Then I help out at the Wellness Center in my neighborhood and just giving out pointers.

ES: Tell me about the Wellness Center. I hear people talking about that.

CB: OK. After coming to the Daughters of Dorcas, here, I met a few ladies. And they said, 'We belong to the Wellness Center.' And I didn't pay much attention or anything. The ladies were really nice. And then I was in G Street [fabric store.] looking at fabric and that time my mother-in-law was here. And I met two ladies there, Camille [Gorham.] and Alyce [Foster.] And they said, 'What do you think?' I had never met them before. And they asked me, 'What do you think about such and such?' And I said, 'Well, I think if you choose this, this would look better than that.' 'Oh, you're right. Where do you live?' I said, 'I live in Washington.' And they said, 'So do we.' So we found out we lived less than half a mile from one another. And they said, 'I want you to come and talk to the ladies at the Wellness Center.' And I said, 'Okay.' I came and showed some of my quilts and I've been almost like an honorary member ever since, because it's for senior citizens. They allow me to come and quilt with them. And the other group is called Sewful Sisters and they meet in Maryland, right on the Maryland/DC line, Kendall Baptist Church. And it's a group of ladies who just love quilts. Some of the ladies in the church wanted to learn how to quilt. No one knew how. It was kind of like a co-op. 'You can use our space and teach us to quilt and we'll have lots of fun and you can quilt and stay as long as you like.' There's no fees involved or anything. And so they have been very nice about letting us use their space and teaching them to quilt the articles they want.

ES: So you are doing the teaching, actually?

CB: If they need help, we'll provide one on one. Right now they were making quilts to go to the Ukraine. This year they were supposed to take them in October, but they had some kind of upheavals over there and they were not able to get the quilts there but each lady of the Sewful Sisters made a quilt to donate for their charity, a nice queen-size quilt. And just donated it for their cause.

ES: Uh-hum. Very nice. That must keep you going every day of the week.

CB: [laughs.] Yeah. That's what my husband says.

ES: What are your favorite aspects of quilting?

CB: The finished product. [laughs.] I like the finished product.

ES: As you are working on it, what part do you enjoy the most?

CB: Piecing. I enjoy the piecing.

ES: Do you do that by hand sometimes, or do you mostly do machine?

CB: Always, machine. I love my machine. [laughs.]

ES: Do you like the quilting part as much?

CB: I like quilting. That I do by machine.

ES: Isn't it difficult, rolling the fabric to fit it under the machine?

CB: It can be a task. But an experienced person can get the job done. I would not recommend it, if it's your first time machine quilting to start on a full size or queen size quilt. That would be very frustrating for the first time. But I would start out with something small, maybe a wall hanging, maybe a 20 by 20 piece so you could at least become one with the machine.

ES: Do make your own designs?

CB: Yes. Yes, I do make my own designs. In fact, the last one that I did do was a quilt--twelve ladies got together and did the Twelve Disciples. So we actually had to come up with a depiction of the Disciples you were assigned. And we had to repeat the same block twelve times, so each lady would have a complete set. And that worked out really well. So you get to design your own block. Even though you do have the same blocks, not every quilt will be the same.

ES: And when you did those, was that appliqué, some of it?

CB: Some of it was appliqué. Some of it was needle turn. Some of it was machine.

ES: So you could do some of that by hand.

CB: Yes, you could do by hand. That project extended itself a year. So you did have a year to complete.

ES: There are other projects you do, like Round Robin? You seem to get involved in those?

CB: Round Robins. Yes. At the Sewful Sisters, we had a Round Robin. Five ladies started out with a center piece, and we kind of sit in a circle and we pass it to the left. [laughs.] And so everyone, by the time you get yours back, you have at least four different borders around your center piece. And some of the ladies at the Wellness Center got wind of it and, 'We want to try that.' And so that's--we're in the progress of doing that, now. We should end up next month, April, with the finished quilt tops.

ES: Oh, my. You have some avid quilting groups, who can do these things on time.

CB: Yes.

ES: [laughs.] Do you have a preference for traditional or contemporary? I know the answer to that.

CB: Traditional designs and blocks are wonderful. I like to add a twist to that. I like to use the fabric that you would not think of using, as a background. For instance, I did a Double Irish Chain. Most Irish Chains are usually a black background or a white background, cream, I chose a turquoise batik and all of the other colors I used in the chain reflected--a very nice match.

ES: I'd like to see that.

CB: So it works out. I can take the traditional and give it a new twist. More or less, I think I'm more contemporary. More outside the box.

ES: Exciting. Do you keep track of what you are doing? Do you have photos, or albums?

CB: I have a photo album that I keep track of, but at the same time as I am doing clothes for members of the family or friends, I am also taking on commissioned pieces. And sometimes I don't get pictures of the commissioned pieces. I've got two commissioned pieces that are coming up due for a couple of schools that they are going to raffle off. And hopefully, I'll get a picture of those before they disappear. But a lot of my pieces, the ones that I have done on commission, I don't take pictures because it's not mine, even though I have done the quilting, or the piecing of the fabrics and all. It's not mine, so I just--

ES: Oh. Too bad. [laughs.] How did you get started on doing the commissioned works?

CB: Actually, the first quilt that I did on commission was a t-shirt quilt. I was working at a JoAnn's [store.] and someone mentioned to the lady that I quilted. And she said, 'I'd like for you to make a quilt for my son. He's graduating high school. He's going off to Northwestern and I've collected all his T-shirts from when he was on Little League Soccer all the way through to high school, and I'd like you to take them and put them in the quilt.' I said, 'But you haven't seen any of my work.' She says, 'You have a good source. I trust this person so I'm trusting you.' And so it's taken off from there. So I've had repeat work from this lady here. She did something I didn't know she had done. She put my name out on the Internet. And it's to say that she's a great quilter. So a lot of people have been contacting me through the Internet. And I just finished pictorial quilts from someone who got my name off the Internet via this lady. And it's been over a year that I've had contact with this individual, but it's really funny that she thought enough of my work to say that it was superb.

ES: Oh, definitely. That's very good. And you say 'pictorial'—that has to do with photographs?

CB: Yes, photographs. This particular lady, her mother's eightieth birthday was in February, last month. I work fairly quick. And very accurate. She gave it to me on, I think maybe the first. We went and picked out the background fabric. And this quilt was very special to her. The bottom layer quilt was very special to the family because it belonged to her sister who passed when she was sixteen. And she says, 'I don't want you to do anything to the quilt but attach the photographs.' And I said, 'I'll print them off and I want you to come and place them where you want them to be.' She says, 'I also have a dress that belonged to my sister that I want you to use as a border.' And I felt so bad after hearing the story, I said, 'I can't cut this dress.' She said, 'Oh, you're being silly.' I said, 'No, I can't cut the dress.' So we agreed that we would use another fabric and I turned the project around in maybe 10 days, I believe. And it was just like three days before the Mom's birthday. And she was very pleased and very happy with it. And she called me and she says, 'My mom was crying all over the quilt.' [laughs.] She was very happy with the quilt. That kind of means a lot to me.

ES: So nice. Oh, it certainly does. Good for you. That's great. How does quilting impact your family?

CB: My friends, they tell me, 'Your daughter must do all the housework because your house is spotless.' And I said, 'No, that's not true because I quilt and sew every day.' If it's a small project, a large project--I have three sewing machines that are up and threaded, ready to roll. They love it. My husband, he has a friend, or someone from church is having a baby, he says, 'Why don't you make a quilt for someone.' Then I'll go ahead and look through the stash of fabric there and pull together a quilt. My daughter's already pulling her T-shirts together for me to make her a T-shirt quilt when she goes off to college next year. And my husband loves baseball, so I made him a quilt using the baseball theme. They all love the quilts.

ES: And do you have other relations that you've supplied quilts to, as well?

CB: Yes. I have two dear friends that I know for over twenty years. And last Christmas, 2003, I believe, I made those two ladies quilts and they were very, very surprised that it was coming and they're very happy.

ES: Very nice. Have you entered shows?

CB: I've not entered any shows. To me, shows are very critical, not that my work is not up to par, I just feel as though they're just very critical.

ES: Are there any quilt stories or experiences that you would like to share?

CB: Quilt stories--

ES: Well, the one that you just gave about people appreciating what you make certainly is a quilt story. Any other one that stands out?

CB: One quilt that I recently did was a challenge. In the class I was taking, I'm getting more into art quilts. We have one class per month. And the first class, the teacher says, 'I'd like for you to take this fabric, cut it up and do what you like with it and this will be, once you have recreated the fabric, and you've cut it into strips, and you've sewn it together, bring it in to class.' So I walk into the class, with these strips. I'm already thinking we're going to do something with these strips, because she's given us that notion. And so I chose the colors. In each set I had light, medium, dark. So, I had red—light, medium, dark—blues—light, medium, dark, greens—light, medium, dark, creams to just a hint of tan—light, medium, dark. And I said, 'I'm going to make this quilt, and it's going to be some type of flag.' My daughter is dual nationalities, American and Nigerian. The Nigerian flag is green, white, cream, so I chose those colors. Then the American flag is red, white, blue, so I chose those colors. So I merged those colors to make almost like a weaving flag. And I put beads and such on it. She just absolutely loves it. And it hangs in her room.

ES: Your daughter. You made it for her.

CB: Yes. I made that for her.

ES: What did your teacher say as you did this?

CB: She was very--she was in awe. She thought it was very nice. And she says, 'Are you going to enter that in the show?' And I said, 'Well, Judy, you know how I feel about shows.' [laughs.] She says, 'But this is absolutely--' She went on and on and raved about the quilt. At the bottom it has two flags, one red, white and blue and the other, green, white and cream. She [her daughter.] absolutely enjoys that quilt. And I think that's something that won't leave the house until she has her own. [laughs.] And she can hang it in her house.

ES: That's great. How has quilting had meaning for the American woman?

CB: It almost like writing in fabric. It kind of expresses your inner soul, whether you are doing a Shoo-fly pattern, or a Dresden Plate, or a Sailboat. It's a little bit of you that's woven into that fabric. So I think it means something, a lot.

ES: Good thought. Besides what you said before, advice to new quilters, do you have any to share?

CB: Advice to new quilters? If you drive, I know you drive in a straight line so don't be afraid of the machine. I know you can drive and sew in a straight line. Most new quilters are very concerned about two things: sewing in a straight line, whether it be by hand or by machine, and a lot of people don't know the correct etiquette for using a rotary cutter. And they become very afraid of this object which should be an extension of their hand. So, if you can master those two, you've mastered the two major things for quilting.

ES: Good. I meant to ask you before, do you have a sewing room, with all your machines and all your stash--[interview is stopped so tape can be turned over.] [interruption.]

CB: I have a sewing room that I also teach from. I can get eight students there, so I teach a lot of beginning quilting, advanced, and machine quilting.

ES: Through what organization do you teach or do you get these students?

CB: A lot of the ladies say, 'You should have a class.' So, I provide class for them, low cost, I'm not trying to get rich here. They enjoy the camraderie, they enjoy just being together and that kind of thing. But I have a pretty large sewing room. One side has all my garment making fabric on. And then I have a dresser that houses all my patterns, from Butterick to Vogue to Burda and everything in between. And then I have the ironing area and I have a design wall. It's pretty spacious. And a large cutting table my husband built for me. It's ergonomically correct, the right height in that. I do have a few stools for the students who can't reach as high. [laughs.] So, it's comfortable for everyone.

ES: That sounds great.

CB: And the computer is nearby. So in case my machine needs to talk to the computer, it's very close. So I don't have to drag it too far.

ES: Where did you learn computer skills? Did you do that on your own?

CB: In my former life, [laughs.] I was a computer programmer. So now I'm a quilter, Mom, wife, teacher.

ES: Very good. Any other hats that you wear at this point? It sounds like a lot, already. You have a very full life.

CB: [laughs.] Uh-hum.

ES: I had heard that you used to play a musical instrument.

CB: Oh, yes. I do play the cello, which I just have given up three years ago. And I think it's calling me again. My daughter plays the flute, so before [she.] leaves here, I would like for us to do some type of a duet. She loves the Ave Maria and I'm thinking I don't know how that would sound on 'cello, but we'll see.

ES: You are certainly a talented person. You have done a lot in the quilting world. So how many years is it now that you have been quilting?

CB: Seriously, about maybe 10 years.

ES: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

CB: No. I just love quilting and I love buying fabric. [laughs.] I can't walk past a piece of fabric, whether it's a little, teeny piece or large quantities without buying something. I love the quilt shows. They always bring some type of inspiration. You see something new. You might want to incorporate it and give it a new twist.

ES: When we mentioned computer before, do you ever do computer design?

CB: Yes, sometimes I do. I do the computer designs for a quilt, mostly, the EQ-5 thing. You could create your own quilt and it spits out the dimensions. Are you familiar?

ES: I do not know how to do it, personally but I've seen it in the store.

CB: It's pretty neat. You can go in and look through the Hoffmans and the Balis and all the fabric is right there. All you have to do is plug it in, and you can actually see what your quilt would look like.

ES: Oh, my. Very advanced. You've certainly kept up with the latest stuff. That's great.

Well, thank you so much for giving the interview. You are such a talented lady. I really appreciate this very much.

CB: Thank you.


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