Mary V. Washington




Mary V. Washington




Mary V. Washington


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Washington, D.C.


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today, September 27th, 2005, we are interviewing Mary V. Washington, number 20002.017, during a Daughters of Dorcas meeting. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger.

Hello, Mary.

Mary Washington (MW): Hi, Evelyn.

ES: Nice of you to agree to be interviewed today.

MW: Thank you.

ES: I'd like to start out with a description of the two quilts that you brought for us, two wall hangings that you brought today. The first one here, would you describe this for us?

MV: That's called "African-American Beauty." That was made for my daughter, Carolyn Jacobs. She has a little reading room that she recently redecorated, and she needed something to go on the wall, so she asked me if I would make her a wall hanging. So, the border fabric colors are the colors that she has in the room. I bought this piece of fabric and then I selected the others from scraps that I already had.

ES: Now this piece on the border, it almost looks like an upholstery fabric.

MW: It's drapery fabric.

ES: And then you matched the colors in the rest of the quilt.

MW: Yes.

ES: So, you have inner borders and then you have the center section. Does this have a particular meaning here, with the woman rising out of the flower?

MW: Well, just a symbol of my daughter.

ES: That's very nice. I did not know whether it had some literary meaning as well.

MW: No, it doesn't.

ES: Then you have chosen all these colors. Would you name the colors for those who don't see it?

MW: Burgundy, green--two colors of green--and this is a darker burgundy, and a medium green and gold. And this is muslin. It's off-white. The leaves are made of silk, green and gold. And this is another heavier fabric--

ES: For the body.

MW: And in here I just have part of this fabric inside with the lace that was sewn in.

ES: Really lovely. And then you have around the bonnet, or around the hair, sorry--

MW: Beads. The [facial.] features are penciled in with fabric paint.

ES: Is this all hand done? Or part machine?

MW: It is hand quilted, but the binding and the borders are machine quilted. [bell ringing.] The center is hand quilted.

ES: It is interesting, the three-dimensional aspect of these leaves from which she is rising.

MW: Uh-hum.

ES: That is just lovely. And when did you make this--let's see if we can find it, the name on the back.

MW: Two thousand and three, October.

ES: [reading.] 'Oxon Hill, Maryland. African-American Beauty.' That is really very nice. And does she have it hanging in her room now?

MW: Yes, she does.

ES: You borrowed it today?

MW: I had to borrow it. [laughs.]

ES: Oh, that's very nice. We have another item here. And this is--

MW: My first attempt at doing the Bargello. I had help with this. I wanted the yellow and the blue, but sometimes I have difficulty with, I guess, the gradation of the colors, selecting colors, so I had help with that.

ES: It looks very nice because most of the fabrics are textured except the yellow, which is plain.

MW: Yeah, uh-hum.

ES: It's very effective.

MW: Thank you.

ES: And you said somebody helped you with that?

MW: Christine [Bradford.] helped me with that. That was my first try at the Bargello and that's the only one I've made.

ES: Uh-hum. And that was all done by machine, I think?

MW: Yes. It's all done by machine, but the quilting, the 'stitch in the ditch' is done by hand.

ES: Uh-hum. It's very nice. For whom is this quilt?

MW: Oh, that's my quilt. [laughter.]

ES: And you made it, what year would that be?

MW: That's 2005. Well, I started in 2004 and finished it in January 2005.

ES: And you call this?

MW: Summer Garden.

ES: Very colorful and bright. When did you first come in contact with quilters or quilts?

MW: It was in 1995, when I took classes at the Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington. [Maryland.] My first quilt was a Log Cabin and I think I made three after I did my first one, just to get to know my machine and how to quilt and how to put the pieces together.

ES: And had you any experience--Did you know anybody who did quilting before that, though?

MW: No.

ES: You did not grow up with quilts?

MW: No, I did not. My mother said that her mother-in-law made quilts, but they were from used clothes, coats and things, for beds for warming during the winter.

ES: From where did you come?

MW: I was born in Prince George's County. [The area.] Was called Selesia, Maryland then, but now it's Fort Washington. It's near the old fort in that area.

ES: And so, people did not do so much quilting in that area that you know of?

MW: Not that I know of.

ES: And how did you get into the Washington area here? Or are you still there?

MW: I'm still in the Oxon Hill, Fort Washington area.

ES: But you come into Daughters of Dorcas, that's a bit of a trip.

MW: It's not too bad. [laughs.]

ES: So, you went to school here in the area, too?

MW: I went to school in elementary school in what would be called Chapel Hill, which is also part of Fort Washington, now. Junior high, I went to school in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and then went to high school in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and Fairmont Heights, Maryland, which were quite a distance from where I lived. But in those days, we had to travel that far to go to school.

ES: Yeah. Did you have to go by foot? Or did you get bused?

MW: No, we got bused. Well, elementary school, we walked to school. And junior high and high school we rode the bus because the schools were quite a distance from where we lived.

ES: Where did you learn your sewing skills? At home or at school?

MW: At home. I'm a self-taught sewer. [laughs.]

ES: You didn't learn from your mother?

MW: No. My mother does not sew, she does not quilt. In fact, my daughter, some years ago, taught her how to crochet. But she was never interested in things like that. [crafting or sewing.]

ES: So, what got you interested in this work?

MW: Well, she says that I take after my grandmother, her mother-in-law.

ES: What sort of things did you make as a child?

MW: I made clothes for dolls, mostly. And I started making clothes for myself and my daughter until she got to be a teenager and you know teenagers don't like that. They want to go to the store and buy the latest fashion.

ES: Right. So, you actually did clothing first, and then with those skills you were able to start in with the quilting easily?

MW: Uh-hum.

ES: What are your favorite aspects of quilting process?

MW: I like putting pieces together, something like a jigsaw puzzle. I like piecing the fabrics together to get a bigger picture of what I am doing. And I like hand quilting.

ES: Does appliqué appeal to you or patchwork, or both?

MW: Both.

ES: Is there any aspect you do not like?

MW: No, not really.

ES: You like it all.

MW: I do.

ES: How long have you been in the Daughters of Dorcas or have you been in other groups as well?

MW: I was in Uhuru for a couple of years, and I joined the Daughters of Dorcas, I guess about two years ago. And then I belong to a mini group, to two mini groups in fact: Sewful Sisters and the Sew-ciables. The Sew-ciables meet at the Wellness Center in the Southeast. [D.C.]

ES: It seems that you have most of the days covered in a week if you go to each one of these.

MW: [laughs.] Well, then the Sewful Sisters meet once a month at the Kendall Baptist Church in the Southeast.

ES: Have you enjoyed the sociability of the various groups?

MW: Yes, very much.

ES: Your output is certainly very beautiful and--Are you inspired by others' work?

MW: Oh, yes.

ES: Have you taken courses beyond the first one that you took?

MW: In fact, I took four classes. I made the Log Cabin at the beginning. Then we had to do a wall hanging completely by hand. And then we did appliqué, the Baltimore Album. I did six blocks, I believe. And the last class I took was paper piecing.

ES: And where do you take these classes?

MW: I took them at the Harmony Hall Regional Center. They were taught by Jennifer Morris. I believe she's a member of the Daughters of Dorcas?

ES: I don't know her.

MW: Yes, she comes in once in a while.

ES: That's real nice. Do you have a preference of the traditional or contemporary as you are going along?

MW: I really like the old craft quilts. I have a lot of old books that have those patterns, but once in a while I kind of venture off, [laughs.] sometimes combining three or four quilt patterns into one quilt.

ES: You have designed some of your own things, then?

MW: Yes, I have designed two quilts, three wall hangings and a tote bag.

ES: Do you keep track of what you have done in photo album?

MW: Yes, I do.

ES: What sort of thing?

MW: I take pictures of all of my quilts, and I have an album that I have them in.

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

MW: For my daughter, mostly. She's always asking me for a quilt. Or if I'm just making a quilt, I love to quilt or to sew, and she will come by and she says, 'Oh, who are you making that for?' [laughs.] And I said, 'Well, I'm making this.' She said, 'Well, that would look good in my house.' So, [laughs.] there we are. But I've made quilts for St. Anne's and ladies at the [Sacred Heart.] Nursing Home and for friends, I've given away several medium sized quilts. A couple I've sold.

ES: I just was going to ask you if anybody has commissioned you to do something.

MW: I've done three pieces. One was kind of a large Underground Railroad [Quilt.] but not like the blocks that [our group has.] been making, it was just the Underground Railroad tracks with an insert of different pictures. I made it for a baby. It was in primary colors.

ES: And the other two?

MW: The other two—One was a wall hanging. It was just blocks, geometric figures. One was, you might have seen it, it's two faces. Black and white faces.

ES: No.

MW: [laughs.] The name of it, I believe, is Yackety Yack.

ES: Have you shown your quilts in any quilt shows?

MW: Only through Daughters of Dorcas [Sumner School.] and at the retreat in 2002.

ES: Where was this retreat?

MW: It was in Virginia. It was given by the Sewful Sisters with [Dr.] Joan [Redfearn.] Thompson. She's a member of Dorcas.

ES: And you went away for the weekend?

MW: Yes.

ES: And did you spend the time learning or did you just work on your own things?

MW: We worked on our own things, and I took two classes. I took the quillow class and the Convergence class--Ricky Tims. Christine [Bradford.] taught that class. And a woman from New York did the quillow class.

ES: Oh, that's very nice. I've never been to a retreat.

MW: Oh. [laughs.]

ES: It sounds like fun.

MW: It was fun.

ES: How does quilting impact your family? You already mentioned your daughter. But how does it affect your family?

MW: My mother, who is 90 years old, thinks that I spend too much time quilting. I guess, not enough time with her, visiting her.

ES: Can you take handwork and do that while you are visiting?

MW: I could, but that takes the attention away from her, so--I did that at one time, but then I stopped. Now I just spend the time with her.

ES: Is she in a nursing home?

MW: Oh, no. She lives by herself, but she's very independent. In fact, she's still driving--just around the neighborhood to the Safeway or CVS or whatever.

ES: Good that she's independent.

MW: Uh-hum. My brother lives close by.

ES: Have other people benefited from your quilting besides your daughter? Any relatives?

MW: Well, I haven't given them to relatives. But I've sold them some things. You know Christmas tree skirts and things like that.

ES: It sounds like you have made a lot of things--for the ten years that you've been quilting.

MW: [laughs.] I have. I try to keep most of my things, especially if the first time I've made something, I like to keep my first quilt. Sometimes it is hard to do.

ES: How is quilting important to your life? You do spend a lot of time you say.

MW: I do, and it keeps me busy, but I like the busyness of it. I have met a lot of people through quilting.

ES: Do you have other hobbies as well, other crafts?

MW: Well, I crochet, and I knit, and I meet with another group every other Thursday. That group is formed by the ladies of the church that I go to. And we do crafts every other Thursday.

ES: Are these for sale at a--

MW: No, we make [different items.] for Sacred Heart Nursing Home, [St. Anne's and other community organizations.] They have a soup kitchen that we do knitted stuff for, for the homeless in the winter.

ES: Good. What are your thoughts on machine work versus hand work? Now I know you do both. Do you have any feelings about that?

MW: Well, right now, I just use the machine for borders and piecing, but the quilting is done by hand. I would like to learn how to do machine quilting. But I really like the old-fashioned hand quilting. [bell ringing.]

ES: Do you have it set up at your house, do you have a hoop, or how do you quilt?

MW: Oh, I have a [handheld.] hoop and I have a hoop that stands on the floor.

ES: That's good. I always ask, how has quilting had meaning for the American woman?

MW: It gives them a way to show some of their skills in doing the different work and it gives them a chance to form friendships.

ES: Do you have any advice to new quilters?

MW: Yes, I do. [laughs.] Just have fun. Start with something easy. I've met some people who want to quilt, but they want to start off with complicated things they see in magazines or books. You tell them that they can't do that, and they want to know why. You have to start off with something simple like sewing squares together or doing something like the Log Cabin, which was my first quilt. You can't start off with something that has eight points that meet in the middle. [laughs.] Just start off with something simple and maybe make two or three wall hangings, too. Just get your bearings and then venture off into something that is more complicated.

ES: Are there any experiences with quilts or quilting that you would like to share?

MW: Well, no. [hearty laughter.] Any terrible mistakes I've made. On my first quilt, well it was not a mistake, but I--like I say--I was having trouble with colors and the instructor was saying, 'Light, medium and dark.' So, with the Log Cabin, the terrible mistake was I have my cornerstone is off-white, so my first strip I put on was also off-white, so the cornerstone was kind of long.

ES: A rectangle rather than a square.

MW: It's square, but it's kind of lost, the colors are so similar. It's kind of lost in the middle.

ES: I think that most of us find that we have many steps backward as well as forward in any project. Would you estimate how many hours you spend in a day or a week on quilting?

MW: Oh, dear. Some days I don't do any quilting at all. Maybe sixteen, maybe twenty hours a week.

ES: You seem to have a very good output in that amount of time. Going to meetings, are you able to work at all the meetings or do you lose some time at meetings?

MW: I lose a lot of time at meetings, talking, socializing, instead of getting on with my work. [laughs.] I am most productive at home.

ES: Right. Have you done any teaching?

MW: I'm teaching my daughter how to quilt and that's my only experience with teaching. And I help out some of the ladies who ask questions. But as for teaching groups, no.

ES: Anything else on your list?

MW: No, that's it. My first quilt, second quilt, third quilt--[laughs.]

ES: You have quite an output for ten years. Did you ever count how much you've done? I see you have numbers there. Do you have about one a year, or two a year?

MW: Maybe two, maybe three.

ES: And you have had all the sizes from the wall hanging to the large quilt?

MW: Yeah, I did a mini quilt.

ES: Have you done a large bed quilt?

MW: Yes, two of those.

ES: And do you find that you are a collector of fabrics?

MW: Oh, yes. [laughs.] I have more fabric than I will use in my lifetime. My sister-in-law called me last night and said that one of her sisters is moving to Texas and she was trying to get rid of some fabric and asked me if I wanted it. I told her I really couldn't use any more.

ES: But you can always share with other people, and bring it in.

MW: That's true. I didn't even think about that. But I'm just so overwhelmed with the amount that I have, I just couldn't take any more.

ES: I understand that. You seem like a very enthusiastic quilter.

MW: I am. [laughs.]

ES: That's great. Well, thank you for committing to this interview today.

MW: Oh, you're welcome.

ES: We'll enjoy your story.


“Mary V. Washington,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,