Frances McCannon




Frances McCannon




Frances McCannon


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Washington, D.C.


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): This is October 11th, 2005. We are interviewing Frances O. McCannon during the Daughters of Dorcas meeting, in Washington, D.C. Her number is 20002-019. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger.

Hello, Frances.

Frances McCannon (FM): Hi, Evelyn.

ES: How are you doing today?

FM: Great.

ES: It's a beautiful rainy day.

FM: Right. Liquid sunshine, I call it.

ES: Oh, good. That's what we needed. I'd like to discuss first of all, let's dive right into the quilt you brought us today. Is this a full-size quilt? Or queen?

FM: It is a full-size quilt. Dragon Fly is the pattern. How I did this--When I first started quilting, I was afraid to even use the rotary cutter to cut the patterns, the pieces. I was looking in the Washington Post one Saturday morning and I saw that a lady had quilt pieces to give away. So, I called her, and I was the first one to call. Later on, I found out another lady from our quilting guild called, but I was the first and I went over and got them and put them together. I like the colors and also the pattern.

ES: Uh-hum. Let's see, is there a square that you piece together? Or just rectangles? Or is it all separate parts?

FM: Squares, in here it's like the four squares and then there are larger squares, and these are rectangles sewn together, two different colors.

ES: Okay.

FM: And then this is a larger square here.

ES: I see. It is really a large piece when you put together this whole--When you put it together it's really a huge Nine Patch with the triangles in the middle section.

FM: Right.

ES: The colors you are using are--?

FM: There is a light purple, a dark purple, I guess this is rust, a green with some print in it and then there's a green with yellow flowers.

ES: Yes.

FM: And then the solid medium blue, I guess you would call that.

ES: Which you use also in the border.

FM: In the border, right. Two borders.

ES: Yeah. One with the purple edge. It's very colorful. Very nice. And who uses this?

FM: No one right now. I have not used it on the bed. I did have this displayed at Sumner School Museum and Archives last year, 2004. It was on display there.

ES: And when did you finish the quilt?

FM: Last year. But I had the top finished, oh, months, months before I actually did the quilting.

ES: Now the quilting is done by--

FM: Hand. It is hand pieced and hand quilted.

ES: Very nice.

FM: Thank you.

ES: Was this your first finished quilt, then?

FM: Well, my second largest quilt that I finished. The very first one I did was a Nine Patch, and someone also gave me those squares and I did not have to cut them either. But after these two I did do some smaller ones, that I did my own rotary cutting.

ES: Good. Where did you learn your sewing skills?

FM: When I was very small, I guess about eleven or twelve, my mother would let me pedal. You know, she had one of those old machines and I would do the pedaling and she would guide the fabric. So, I tried making doll clothes, although they were not very good, but I tried doing that. And once I came to Washington, D.C., I did take a couple of sewing classes for garments, but I was not particularly interested in that. I went to the class, and once I finished the class, that was the end of my sewing [laughs.] for making clothing. So, I knew how to sew by hand and a little by machine, but somehow, I prefer to do my quilts by hand. Some of the smaller pieces I have done some by machine, but the majority of them are by hand--hand pieced and hand quilted.

ES: What was your first experience with people who were quilters or quilting? Did you grow up with that in your background?

FM: My mother quilted, not often. She did it out of necessity. We needed a quilt for the bed. She quilted. And again, she would allow me to do the pedaling on the machine and then sometimes a lady in the neighborhood may have a quilt and they would have a quilting bee with the large frame that you hang from the ceiling. But they had a special building that was used for something else, but they would put it there and let it stay up until they finished it.

ES: Was this a project of a church group of people or just friends?

FM: Just friends, neighbors.

ES: Where was this?

FM: This was in North Carolina.

ES: And that's where you grew up?

FM: Right. Uh-hum. In North Carolina. A small place a lot of people have not heard of, I am sure. Yanceyville, North Carolina.

ES: And what brought you to Washington area?

FM: I just wanted to leave. [laughs.] I came here and stayed with an aunt for a while until I got my own apartment and that was back in 1961.

ES: You came after high school?

FM: Yeah, after high school.

ES: Did you find a job here to keep yourself going?

FM: Yes. I found a job. I had a few jobs. And then my last job was with the federal government and that's where I retired from the government, with the Department of Health and Human Services. I worked as a program analyst. I enjoyed that job helping people and branched off to doing something else, also helping people if they had problems receiving their checks or was not the correct amount, or they did not get the money for their promotion or for quality increase or whatever, have benefits problems, life insurance problems, those type of things. We got involved and helped them get it resolved.

ES: So, were you able to do quilting during that time?

FM: No. Not then. Quilting was not on my mind at that time, no. [laughs.] And then one other reason that I enjoyed the job--I did some traveling. I got into training when the personnel offices started using computers to process their actions. The office that I was working in, we went to a lot of the field offices and did training on the computer and had an input. And I went places that I probably would not have gone myself.

ES: Around the country?

FM: Yes. All in the states. I went to Alaska, Window Rock, Arizona, California, a few times, San Francisco. Went to New Orleans because that's when they had the public service hospitals, too. You know, they eventually closed them. And I enjoyed that.

ES: And did you raise a family during all this time as well?

FM: Uh-hum. I have one son who is now grown, married and has three children of his own.

ES: So, when did you get started with quilting?

FM: I joined Daughters of Dorcas in '96 or early part of '97. I'm not sure exactly, but I do know that in 1998, Daughters of Dorcas had a display at Sumner School Museum and Archives, and I participated in that. That was the first one. And I had received a Christmas card maybe the year before, because when I get my Christmas cards, I save them and later on I will go through them and look at them and reread them. And I saw this Christmas card that had five red candles on it, and I said, 'Oh. That would be so nice to do on a wall hanging.' And that's what I did, with the help of people here in the guild. I had to go and get a copy made of that enlarged. So, it turned out really nice, very nice.

ES: So, you learned your quilting skills from people here at the Daughters of Dorcas as you went along?

FM: Yeah, as I went along, plus I did take some classes at Quilt'n'Stuff in Virginia. I've gone there and taken a few classes. And then, when people are working, plus with the quilt each year that we do, the Raffle quilt, I always participated in that, did a block and learned something new.

ES: Each one has a different skill.

FM: Right.

ES: What are your favorite parts of quilting?

FM: Right now, it's doing the top. 'Cause I have several tops home, but I need to put together and quilt. I guess that is because I don't think my quilting stitches are that good, but I have decided that I am going to work on them. I'm going to get my tops out, put them together and quilt them. And I noticed that the very last thing I quilted, my stitching is better. It has improved. So, I know the more I do it, the better they get.

ES: Good. [laughs.] How did you find out about the Daughters of Dorcas?

FM: There are two people that are members of the same church that I attend, and they told me about Daughters of Dorcas.

ES: You have been an active member since then.

FM: Since then.

ES: It seems like you do something with the photographs? Something more recent.

FM: Oh, yes. My granddaughter was attending a private school. She went there for about four years, started in nursery, there. So, when my son and wife were moving from the district, and she was no longer going to attend the school, so I decided to cut out hearts using muslin fabric and gave the heart to each staff member that knew my granddaughter and they wrote something on there for her. So, I appliqu├ęd the hearts to a background fabric and then I also did a Schoolhouse block. And then I also had pictures of her that I transferred to fabric, while she was attending the school and then plus a picture of the school. So that is one of the tops that I have to put together and quilt. So, it turned out very, very well.

ES: That's a nice memory quilt for her as she grows older.

FM: Yeah. And I told her, once I finished it--I was hoping to get it quilted this year, but I am going to start working on it that next year, one day when she does not have to go to school, we can go to Nannie Helen Burroughs, that's the private school she was attending, and let the staff there see it.

ES: That would be nice.

FM: And then plus I have a smaller version of that which just has the picture of the school and her pictures on display at Sumner School Museum now. It's a wall hanging. Because the one that had the hearts on it, I wanted to put that on display, but it was too large. They had a certain size it could not be larger than, and that one would be larger. So, I just did a smaller one. No hearts, just a block of the schoolhouse and her photos transferred to fabric. I am going to give that to her at the end of the display at Sumner School. She has already asked for it. Even before I quite finished it, she wants it. [laughs.]

ES: Very nice. One of the questions I always ask is how has quilting impacted your family? Now that is something that she has enjoyed. Is there anybody else in your family that has expressed an interest in what you are doing?

FM: I have made a quilt and gave it to my son and his wife. I am going to do a quilt for my other two grandkids, one granddaughter and one grandson. I have not given anyone else in my family a quilt, yet. One of the tops that I have to be quilted is for one of my brothers, but I have not finished and given it to them yet. But I plan to give each one of my brothers a quilt and do one for my grandchildren. I was trying to wait until the two youngest grandchildren get a little older and maybe they can pick out a pattern or find out their favorite color. It seems as though each year their favorite color changes. So, I say, 'Well, if I wait until you get older, maybe you will have settled on the color that you like.'

ES: Then you will make a bed size quilt for them.

FM: Right, yeah.

ES: Very nice. Now, you have worked on other quilt projects since you have been in the Daughters of Dorcas. Would you like to describe some of those that you contributed to?

FM: I have done baby quilts for St. Anne's Infant Home and Maternity. I have also done baby quilts for Hospital for Sick Children, and lap quilts for some of the residents in the Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home. I also did a quilt for when they had the flood in Princeville, North Carolina. We did quilts for those people, too. And then, I just remembered, we did a Quillow for some of the Katrina people that were here at the Armory in D.C. just recently. Last month, we did the Quillows for them.

ES: Right. You like this as something you can do as a contribution to other people.

FM: Right, yeah. And then there was one other thing. It wasn't a quilt, but it was a block that was done that was for the Amistad project that the Art Department at the Montgomery College, which was at the Tacoma Park campus. They were doing this. They had groups and individuals from all around the world that were doing blocks for the Amistad. They put them into quilts. I think they had nearly fifty quilts and they were giving them to the students, because they were using this ship for training purposes. And the students and the crew got their quilts that we made. They had them on display at the Tacoma Park campus.

ES: Unfortunately, I never saw that.

FM: Yes, and it was really nice. And the write-up that was about that, the history and the ship would be used to teach the history about the Amistad ship that had the incident in 1839.

ES: It had a rebellion, didn't it?

FM: Uh-hum. So that was one thing that I did. That was the first time I had done a block and put it together. You had the top, the batting and the backing so when they get it, all they had to do was just put it with the others. They had a lot of pretty quilts. Lovely blocks, too.

ES: That was very meaningful.

FM: Yeah.

ES: Have you done any teaching at all?

FM: Not by myself. I have assisted in some of the workshops that someone who is much more experienced than I am, they have done. And I have assisted. And last year as a matter of fact, we were at the Peppermill Community Center in Capital Heights, Maryland. And they had our picture in the Gazette which is a community paper. We were in there. And I also will be assisting doing a workshop at the Calvary Women's Shelter.

ES: Is that connected with the church here, the Calvary Episcopal Church, or is it entirely different?

FM: Different one. This is located down in Northeast, I believe it's on Fifth Street NE, I am not sure of the address, but it is not too far from Union Station. So, I will be assisting. I do not think I am quite qualified to do any teaching myself.

ES: That's very helpful to have assistants.

FM: Yeah, and then I learn something new each time I do a workshop or either participate in any of the projects that we have here at the Daughters of Dorcas and Sons quilting guild. I learn something new. I'm always looking to learn something new.

ES: You say that you participate in the Raffle quilts that are done each year.

FM: Yeah.

ES: And each one requires different skills.

FM: Different skills, right.

ES: A learning process, too.

FM: And then what you have taught, too, the Stack and Whack. That was so exciting.

ES: That caught our fancy, didn't it?

FM: Yes.

ES: Finally, we're getting tired of it.

FM: I have not finished mine, but I am going to do it.

ES: It came out in many lovely quilts.

FM: It sure did. I just want to get started on mine and finish it.

ES: I wanted to know your thoughts on machine work versus hand work, not only for yourself but in general, for quilts.

FM: Some machine work looks really nice, and I know you can get something finished and made by using machine, but I just like doing it by hand. It's just something about doing it by hand--doing the piecing and the quilting by hand. I'd say, 'Oh, I did that with my hands.' But I personally prefer doing it by hand. I have not tried doing any quilting on machine. Now, I have done some piecing by machine. Sometimes if you have something large to work on, machine is okay, I think, but I just prefer doing it by hand. It seems that if I have seams to match or corners, I can do it better by hand than I can by machine. But I guess if I started using the machine, I could probably learn how to match it up, but for some reason, I just prefer doing it by hand.

ES: Do you do any other crafts?

FM: The quilting is about it. I may do something with my grandchildren. I bought plain aprons and just let them paint them at one time because sometimes when they come over to my house for dinner, they will come from church and they will have their church clothes on, so with the aprons they can use that without having to change clothes for dinner. But quilting is about it.

ES: Good. Are there any stories or experiences along the time that you have been quilting that you'd like to share?

FM: The thing which happens most times, with most of the tops I make, I am not forever, but often will take something apart because it just didn't turn out right. And that's one reason I like doing it by hand, also, because I can do it a little bit better. I guess I am getting to be a perfectionist with my quilting, because I want it to look right. I want it to look really good. So, one day I may be really good and may enter something into a show, and win a blue ribbon, who knows? [laughs.] That's a goal. Something to aim for.

ES: But you have participated in the Sumner School ones several years now.

FM: Yes. Each one.

ES: It is a good outlet for us.

FM: Yes, it is. Each year, when I was here, I participated in that.

ES: How has quilting had meaning for the American woman?

FM: When I look at quilting now, when my mother, years back, I think women did quilting out of necessity. They needed to quilt, and they used whatever was available, an old dress or men's shirts, or whatever. They needed to quilt. And they used their quilts, too, on the bed. Nowadays, it seems as though quilting is becoming more something of an art. You know how they just embellish their quilts. I would not want to put a quilt like that on my bed. So far, the quilts that I have made, I can use on the bed. I would not hesitate using them on the bed. But I think it has just changed in that way. And some of them are so beautiful. I really love the quilts. So, I think that is one way that they have changed.

ES: Uh-hum. Do you have a preference for using traditional patterns or going into contemporary type things?

FM: Right now, I think I am an intermediate learner. And when I see pattern, I don't care if they are contemporary or what, if I think I can do it and I will try doing that. So right now, I don't have a preference. Most of the times when I am picking out, I'll look at it and say, 'Now, have I done that? Or can I do that? What will I learn from that?' But one thing I have situation with is choosing colors. I have a pattern that I want to make, but I said, 'Now what colors--,' you know, choosing the fabrics for. I have a problem doing that. It takes me quite a while to do that. I would get fabric and I would put it there and get another piece and put there to see if it goes together. And sometimes when I go to a fabric store, it takes me quite a while because I'll just look and put the bolts of fabric together. That's one of the areas that I hopefully I will be able to take a class that will help me in that area, matching my colors better.

ES: Good. Do you have any advice to new quilters?

FM: Be patient. And don't rush to get something done. Because to me it would be rather discouraging if I rushed to finish something and once, I finished it, it didn't look good. I would not want to put it on display. I think that would be discouraging. And don't hesitate to take it apart and do it again. If you have a seam that's not right, or a block that doesn't look completely right, just take it apart and do it over. And I think they would like it and be pleased with their finished product if they just take their time, because you are learning. And as you learn, you get better, and you will be able to do it faster. That would be my suggestion for beginners.

ES: Sounds good. Do you keep track of what you have done so far with photos?

FM: Yes. I have a photo album home and it has a memory strip underneath the pocket, where you put the picture in the pocket and underneath there is a memory strip. And on there I usually say the name, why I made it, or if I gave it to one of the projects that were participating in. Yeah, I keep pictures of all of my quilts that I did.

ES: Good. I was thinking before about the photos of the various members that you have been doing. Haven't you been taking the photos of the members of the Daughters of Dorcas?

FM: Oh, yes.

ES: What was the reason for that?

FM: Because we have so many members, and we don't wear our nametags, which I wish we would. And me trying to remember their names and when someone is sick or someone dies, and you hear people asking, 'Who was that?' And with this photo album, by taking the pictures of all of our members, we will be able to go there and see this. And it has happened. And people have said to show them the picture. 'Oh, yes, I remember her.' But they did not know the person by name. That was really why I started doing that.

ES: Have you gotten almost everybody now on the list?

FM: Yes.

ES: How many members do we have?

FM: Oh, wow, I don't know. You know we have a lot of members who they have paid their dues, but they don't come to the meetings. Some of them are not able to, but the ones who are fairly active, I have their pictures.

ES: Do you usually take the picture with something they've made with them or just the person?

FM: Just the person themselves, because sometimes people come and they don't have anything with them that they've made or that they are working on, so I get their picture.

[interruption with tape ending.]

ES: How much time to you put in quilting in a week, for example?

FM: You know--it varies. I tell myself sometimes that I am going to work on a quilt every day of the week, but I don't get to do that. And then when I do start quilting or piecing, I have to stop to prepare a meal for my husband or a telephone interruption. Sometimes people will call wanting information or call wanting me to carry them somewhere. So, it's hard for me to really to be able to sit down and work on a quilt, say, even two or three hours at one time, because of the interruption. But I am going to try to do better [laughs.] and spend more time per day working on my quilt. At least, I would really love to at least put in three hours. If I did three hours a day working on a quilt, I would soon finish quilting my tops that I have got to do, to put together. But I am going to work on that.

ES: There's always hope, isn't there? [laughs.]

FM: There's hope.

ES: Well, thank you very much for the interview, today.

FM: Thank you.

ES: You're welcome.


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