Cathy Eckbreth




Cathy Eckbreth




Cathy Eckbreth


Cathy Ball

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Arlington, Virginia


Carolyn A. Kolzow


Note: Catherine Eckbreth entered her quilt in the 116th Continental Congress, 2007 American Heritage Committee's fiber arts - quilt contest. The contest theme was, "A Heritage Remembered." Catherine tied for second place with this quilt.

Cathy Ball (CB): [tape begins mid-sentence and should say 'My name is Cathy Ball and today's date is August 19,'] ...2007, and it's twenty-five minutes past two. I am conducting an interview with Cathy Eckbreth in her home in Arlington, Virginia for the Quilters' [S.O.S.] - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the District of Columbia State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Cathy Eckbreth is quilter and is a member of Judge Lynn Chapter [NSDAR.] National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Well Cathy, tell me about how you became interested in quiltmaking.

Cathy Eckbreth (CE): Well, I had begun sewing; I think when I was about 4th grade. My mother had made clothes for me from probably day one, and they always looked like hand-me-downs or handmade clothes. And sometime in the mid-sixties my sister and her family went to New England for a trip, went to Cape Cod, [Massachusetts.] and they stayed at the home of Marguerite Ickis. And Marguerite Ickis, I learned later was the author of one of the first books on quilting called, "The Standard Book of Quilt Making and Quilting." And my sister, Martha came home and told me all about the quilts in the house, and I became interested. And then at Christmas time she gave me a copy of the book. And, my sister was older, and I always tried to please her by doing what I thought she wanted. So, I thought that she wanted me to start making quilts. [CB laughs.] So, I think that was kind of the beginning of my interest in quilts.

CB: Tell me about any quiltmakers or quilts in your family's history.

CE: I had gotten a quilt from my paternal grandmother from her house when it was being cleared out, and she moved to a nursing home. It was not made by her, but I still have it and have put a new border on it. They had taken the quilting off. I don't know of anyone else in my family that actually was a quiltmaker, but I do have a quilt now that was in my mother's family that's an 1840. I have had it appraised, and it was appraised for more value than I would have thought it would be. It was made in 1840.

CB: Cathy, how old were you went you made your first quilted item?

CE: I think that I was probably about 35. Something of that sort. The first item I made was a pillow from the pattern that was in Marguerite Ickis' book, and I gave it to my mother-in-law for Christmas. And I think that I was much more pleased with it than she was.

CB: [laughs.] What were some of your other early quilted projects?

CE: Well, I went out to a mall near us, and they had a quilt show. They had a Cathedral Window quilt, and I thought that looked interesting; and it used lots of little scraps of fabric, and so I ordered a kit from a magazine for a pillow. And you were supposed to make both sides the same Cathedral Window, but thrifty me, I decided that I could make two pillows from that kit. So, I made one and gave that to my mother and dad, and I kept the other one. I don't think that either one of those still exists. And I also made one year for, I think it was my father-in-law's birthday. He had retired and had taken up golf in somewhat of a pastime way. So, I made a little wall hanging, with a green and a flag pole, and no people in it at all. Now when I look at it, it looks like something that was made by somebody perhaps in kindergarten with paper.

CB: [laughs.] How many hours a week do you quilt?

CE: Well, it varies. Some weeks I probably only maybe do it 14, 15 hours which would be like two hours in the evening. Other weeks if I am really on a project, it could be up to about 30 hours.
It is never is exactly quite a full time job though.

CB: [laughs.] Tell me about the kinds of quilts that you most enjoy making.

CE: I am definitely a traditional quiltmaker. I like traditional blocks. I like traditional settings, meaning I especially like symmetry, and I like scap quilts; quilts that have as many fabrics that I can come upon. Kind of perhaps now that I think about it, similar to what would have been done in Colonial times when ladies were cutting pieces from clothing that was left over. Good pieces from scraps pieces, the underarms of a sleeve and things like that. More fabric designs in a quilt pleases me better than just two colors.

CB: And how did your family react when you first began to make quilts?

CE: Well, when I first began they sort of said, 'Well, that is nice, that's nice.' As time has gone on, my son is married, and my daughter-in-law and son both like quilts so now I have somebody to make quilts for. My husband is very appreciative of quilts even though he wants me to make quilts that are just are not to my liking. So I tell him. 'You do what you want, and I will do what I want.'

CB: [laughs.] How has their reaction changed over time?

CE: Well, over time it has become much more appreciative, and I think that they realize that okay I am going to have something left behind when I die besides the remote control with the dead batteries, as I tell my husband.

CB: [laughs.] Tell me about the quilting groups to which you belong.

CE: Well, in 1980 I joined the first group. It is Quilters Unlimited Guild. Quilters Unlimited is a group of about 1250 quilters in the Northern Virginia area. It is made up of chapters. More than ten chapters. So, I joined the Falls Church Quilters Unlimited group. Even though I live in Arlington, it was the nearest one. That group was quite small. All the groups were small at that time. And I have stayed a member of that. That is still my favorite group. Then when I retired in 1996, then I joined a group that met during the daytime which is the McLean [Virginia.] Quilters Unlimited. A completely different type of group in the fact that they are very, very well organized, and they have a lot more kind of non-traditional quilters in the group. They also get a lot of internationals who live in the McLean [Virginia.] area to come and be members while they are in the area. For about the past eight years I have been a member of a new group called the­­­­­­­ Old Dominion Appliqué Society. It is fashioned after the Baltimore Appliqué Society, and it was started by members who had been going to the Baltimore Appliqué Society which met at night and meant going over to Maryland at night and coming back after a 10 o'clock meeting to Virginia perhaps 30 or 40, 50 miles. The Old Dominion Appliqué Society is one of my favorite groups now too.

CB: What activities do these groups sponsor that you enjoy most?

CE: They sponsor. One of the groups, the McLean [Virginia.] group sponsors and annual bus trip to Lancaster [Pennsylvania.] in April for a quilt show. It is a national quilt show, and also lots of vendors and quilters like to buy things. So vendors are a pleasure. We sponsor. Quilters' Unlimited sponsors an annual quilt show that is held. Most recently it has had upwards of 600 quilts. It is non-juried, and it is probably the largest quilt show on the East Coast. We also participate in making quilts for groups. Every group out there wants to have a quilt made for them, whether it be needy babies, veterans having returned from the Iraq war, battered mothers, all kinds of people. Everybody wants a quilt, and so there are lots of quilts there. We also participate in making items for our own auction that we sell to ourselves. That is a big money raiser to pay for programs. We do Block of the Month which someone designs a pattern or comes up with a pattern and either gives fabric or something of that sort for the number of blocks you made you get your name put in, and you become the winner if your name is chosen. For awhile I was on a real good streak of winning, and I guess I won most recently won Block of the Month from last December, and I have those blocks put together. But I think actually all of the activities that we participate in, some of them are service projects. We participate in providing quilts for families that are involved with just beginning to learn how to become a family. Each new baby in the family gets a quilt.

CB: Oh, my. What do you find most pleasing about quiltmaking?

CE: I think probably the most pleasing thing about quiltmaking is the friends that I have developed through that. I think that selecting fabrics for quilts, there is a story that is a bumper sticker, 'The person with the most fabric when they die wins.' I don't plan on being that with the most, but I am going to have enough left over. And I enjoy just kind of coming up with designs, and using fabrics, and trying things out and participating in that. The friendships, I think that I developed; these are some of my dearest friends.

CB: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy as much?

CE: Probably the least enjoyable would be when you win a set of blocks, in Block of the Month, and they were all to be let's say twelve inches square, and you get ten blocks and only two of them are twelve inches square. Some maybe 12 ½ [inches.] Some may be 11 ½, [inches.] and it is that deciding, the unsewing part perhaps remaking it, or do I give it to somebody else and let that be their problem. I also don't necessarily like to baste quilts, but as I hand quilt I do realize that I do need to baste closely. It is one of those you get through that step, so that you can get to the fun part that you really enjoy.

CB: Tell me about advances in quiltmaking that have occurred since you first began.

CE: I think probably there are a couple of advances. The rotary cutter which is like a very sharp pizza cutter that has made for precision cutting. There are rulers that are made for that - acrylic rulers that don't cut. And so it has really speeded up the process of cutting out shapes to sew together. I think also the additional notions that we have. For instance sewing machines now come with a presser foot that sews. You line your fabric up along the right edge of the presser foot, and it sews an exact ¼ inch seam. And so there is less chance of having things out of shape although sometimes you can sometime use a ¼ inch foot and not make it to fit. I think I enjoy doing appliqué, and there is a product that is a heat resistant template plastic that I can cut a shape larger and then using spray sizing and a little iron bring that around and shape it around that heat resistant plastic and then when it dries, you pull that plastic out and you have that shape and you can sew it down. Originally, people used to use freezer paper which when you get it wet, it gets limp and your shape is less exacting. Those are some of the changes. The computer has also changed some people's quilting. There are computer programs. There's Electric Quilt probably up to number six now. I consider myself lucky, in that I have a Macintosh computer and they don't make Electric Quilt for the Macintosh. [CB laughs.] That is my excuse. I probably wouldn't use it any way but--

CB: What are your favorite techniques in quilting?

CE: I think probably I enjoy doing things with rotary cutting because it is exacting; and it is fast, and you can cut out more shapes and more triangles. I also enjoy doing the techniques that are described in books and magazines in which you will have a square and you will draw a line down the center diagonally and stitch down on both sides of the line and you will open it up and have two pieces of fabric and you have a square with one side one color and one side the other color, and you can cut it in half, and you can cut it up again. I also enjoy using the Templor, it's the heat resistant for appliqué.

CB: Describe for me the place where you do most of your creating.

CE: It was my son's bedroom, and the weekend after he got married it became my sewing room. It 's a small room. The closet has a mixture of quilt fabric stored in it as well as next season's clothing and things like that. My son made me a cabinet that goes along the whole wall with shelves and there is a counter top which actually is usually piled with fabric. I try to keep things like sorted out. My sewing machine fits into that cabinet. My ironing board is up all the time in there. I don't have to put it down because pressing is an important part of quiltmaking. I also have a desk in there that serves for working on whatever else I might be doing as well as sitting and designing. And it is just kind of my room. My husband occasionally says, 'You know you ought to clean up your room.' [CB laughs.] Well, they say a messy desk shows that you are being productive. Well, a messy room shows that I am being productive in my quilting.

CB: What kind of fabrics do you like to purchase?

CE: I like fabric. There is a line that has been coming along over the past fifteen years called Reproduction fabrics. They can be reproduction of the eighteen--of the Victorian Period, they can be pre-Civil War, they can be Civil War, they can be 1930's, and I like those fabrics that are reproduction fabrics. And for appliqué I like batiks and batiks are--the quantities of fabric that is available any day in the market place at least in the Washington, DC - Northern Virginia area is just incredible. Those fabrics just kind of call to me. I like pastel colors. My friends kind of tease me about my pastels. At one point I was kind of in a peach and green phase, and now I am in kind of a pink and green phase. I just like soft colors in fabrics. Those are the ones that I buy most.

CB: What kind of fabric would you be not inclined to purchase?

CE: Well, until just recently I have been kind of priding myself in not owning a piece of orange at all, but I needed to make something that had a pumpkin in it; and so I bought a packet of six inch squares with lots of oranges for my pumpkin. Very bright patterns are okay for children's quilts, and I buy some of those just to make kid's quilts. Abstract patterns in oranges, and purples, and kelly greens and all, I don't find them soothing; and that is what I kind of want a quilt to be. Something that is soothing and restful. So you will find me in the more traditional quilt fabric.

CB: Tell me how you store your fabric, your fabric collection?

CE: I try to store it--some of it is stored by color. I find that easiest now that I have gotten a rather large collection. I will have a box of, a plastic box of neutral colors for backgrounds. I have a shelf in my cabinet, two shelves actually for blues, another shelf for greens. I have all the Christmas fabric in one place. I have a box with some reproduction 1800's vintage, 1850's and on.
All of that goes together regardless of the color. The 30's are all stacked, stored together. So it depends on whether I want 30's, I go to one section. If I want yellows, I used to not have any yellow at all, and yellow actually was very difficult to find in the mid 80's. And then all of a sudden fabric makers realized that people wanted to use yellow and gold. So, I have a whole box. And the boxes are probably about 15 to 18 inches, kind a cube shape with ventilation. Some are stored in my closet. Some are in a new rolling cart that I bought and assembled myself. Kind of like the ones the chefs use. It is Murphy's Law, you know. I try to keep it somewhat orderly because if it is not where it should be, that is when you really want it, and you waste a lot of time looking for it.

CB: Where do you get your inspirations for quiltmaking?

CE: I enjoy looking at books. I also get inspiration from nature, in looking at television programs. There have been some TV programs about quilting. Quilt shows. I take lots of pictures at quilt shows of quilts I like. No way I ever will be able to make all of them, but I may get an idea for a border from one. In fact just this past weekend I was putting together some blocks, and I had taken a picture at our quilt show probably two or three years ago of just the setting, and I used that with my own fabric as kind of a jumping off , 'Okay this is what I can do instead of just a plain block', and then from magazines that I get.

CE: As a quilter, what current publications do you find to be most interesting?

There are a number of quilting magazines in the marketplace. Quilter's Newsletter Magazine is probably the oldest in publication, and I am still getting that. I enjoy the articles in there, I enjoy the inspiration, and the ads. I also enjoy the American Patchwork put out by Better Homes and Gardens. There are two ladies, Fons and Porter put out a magazine called The Love of Quilting, I get that. There are several other magazines. Some I have gotten I buy on the newsstand. I want color pictures, if there are going to be pictures in it. I want patterns and I like to read about what quilters are doing. There is a magazine comes out from one of the publications. I think it comes out semi-annually. It is called Quilt Sampler, and they visit about ten shops nation wide. They'll photograph a shop, tell what they have, what the people do there, and then the shop will have selected a pattern that they want to offer to make. I am always disappointed that there are not nearly as many shops, in fact never as many shops in the eastern half of the United States as in the western half, but that is just the way it is.

CB: As a quilter, what do you think is the most important tool that you use for quiltmaking?

CE: I think that my most important tool is my Bernina sewing machine. I remember that one year when I got it for Christmas back in probably about 1990. I said, how come, how did you pick that I asked my husband, and he said well I asked my daughter, our daughter, Debbie, what Mom would want for Christmas and she said, 'Mom really wants a Bernina.' It does precision piecing. It has a quarter inch foot, and I think probably my other favorite tools are my Gingher scissors. This sounds like an ad, but they are very sharp, they are knife sharp, and when you cut through fabric you cut through fabric. It is not like chewing through and tearing and that kind of thing. And the rotary cutter is good, is my favorite tool as long as it has a sharp blade in it. And those blades are replaceable.

CB: [laughs.] Tell me about the quilt that you have here today.

CE: Well, the quilt that I have today is called the Tree of Life quilt. I first saw a picture of the Tree of Life quilt in a magazine, a quilt magazine; and it was advertising in a fabric line. And so I went to my favorite fabric store, G Street Fabrics, [in Falls Church, Virginia.] and found the fabric, and I thought, 'Oh, I have it made.' And so they had this little flyer with a picture of
the quilt looking like a pattern. And I asked the lady, I said, 'Do you have a pattern for this? And, she said well that is the only one there, you can go get the pattern from the web site. So, I went to the web site and the web site said it was under construction. So, I went back to the store perhaps the next week and told her, and the lady said, 'Oh, I will call the lady at the main store, and she will order some for it. So, I waited. I had already bought some of the fabric. I just couldn't wait. I didn't want it to disappear. So, when I went back the next week or so, and I said, 'Did you find out anything?' So, she called the lady and the lady wasn't there. And she said, 'Oh, here take this pattern. You are the only one who has been asking about it.' And I think maybe she said that I was the only one who was bugging her, and I should get it. And, I said can we get a Xerox? She said, 'Oh, no we can't do that'--the copyright ruling and so she gave me the pattern for the whole quilt. When I got the pattern home, and began working on it, I realized I really only wanted to do the Tree of Life center from the pattern, and I wanted to make the rest on my own. But, that is how I ended up with this particular pattern.

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

CE: First of all, it is traditional. The Tree of Life is a pattern that has come down probably through Colonial times. It can be a genealogical tree, and so I just like the fact that was a design with triangles and rectangles and squares and things of that sort. And, I also really did like the fabric that they had as the background fabric. I waited after I did the center portion. I waited for probably more than a year, and I took it to a quilt retreat with some friends, some quilting friends. And I was kind of stymied on how to do the border, what to do there. And they helped me through in deciding to do the swag. That meaning to me is that my friends helped me solve a problem as many times my friends do help me solve problems.

CB: Why did you choose this quilt for our interview?

CE: Well, this quilt is really my lucky quilt for this year. I entered it in the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution American Heritage contest for 2006-2007. The entries were to be something reflecting quote, 'The theme: A Heritage Remembered.' And to me, as soon as I saw 'A Heritage Remembered' I thought, Tree of Life - DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution.] How else do you get into DAR except through your Tree of Life, the roots of your family, your ancestors? So, it kind of was for me was a no-brainer sort of. So, I entered it in the contest and didn't really know very much about the process other than mailing it off to Pennsylvania. Then I knew that okay if it got to Pennsylvania, it had to be there by April 1. Then that meant May 1 it had to be some place else, or come back to me. And by early May it had not yet come back home, so I thought well, then it had gone on somewhere else. It was not actually until late May that I received a letter from Jacksonville, Florida along with my quilt which was kind of a clue. Okay, my quilt went on to the next level of competition in this contest, and the letter said that I was tied for 2nd place nationally in the quilt category. I told my husband, and he just jokingly said, 'Cathy, you don't know how many entries there were. There could have only been four entries.' To this day I really don't know how many entries there were, but if I came in of the top three, in the top three, that is pleasure enough for me. So, it is my lucky quilt, and it's a lucky quilt for DAR.

CB: What does this quilt tell us about you?

CE: Well, I think it shows my traditional quiltmaking love. It also is hand quilted. The National winner this particular year in 2007 was machine quilted, and I must say when I looked at it I kind of thought, 'Gee, mine was hand quilted', but her work was beautiful also. It tells that things like family and ancestors and traditions are important in my life. This Tree of Life is important.

CB: What plans do you have for the quilt?

CE: Well, before I entered in the contest, it was hanging on the wall in my living room. I took it down and put up another quilt, a New York Beauty quilt. It probably will go back up on the wall from time to time. And eventually probably my son and daughter-in-law will want it. My daughter is less traditional, and I have actually made her a couple of quilts just to sort of please her. She is much more abstract, much more artsy. She is a graphic designer, and my son and daughter-in-law are probably more traditional. Their taste and my taste agree much more.

CB: Tell me about other competitions in which you have entered quilts.

CE: I've said that our Quilters Unlimited group in Northern Virginia has a quilt show every year but that is non-juried and so there is no competition. Somewhere in, oh, maybe in the late 1990's several people said, 'Cathy, you should enter a quilt in the Arlington County Fair.' I said to myself, 'Oh, why?' Then I thought, 'Okay, I will give it a try.' So, the first year I entered a quilt in the Arlington County Fair, it was a quilt that that I made from a pattern that appeared in a series of magazines from Mc Call's Quilting, and I got this call suggesting that I might want to be there on Sunday when they gave the awards. Actually, I was out of town. I got the call on the answering machine, and I got back in time to pick up my quilt and found out that I had won the Grand Reserve Champion in the Quilts for this particular quilt. And, I won the grand prize of $35.[both laugh.]

So, I was on a roll. I thought, 'Okay, Arlington County Fair is just right for me.' So, the next year I entered two quilts. Actually, I entered one quilt. I went to help take quilts in that evening, and I thought, 'Okay, there is no quilt in this category. I will go home and the next morning, I'll dash down there and enter another quilt.' And both of those won awards. So, I then I decided that I have proven to myself and to my family that I can win quilts in the Arlington County Fair, [dog heard barking in the distance.] so I don't need to enter them again. But, I have persuaded friends to enter and they too have been successful. So, it was interesting that just this past week a friend called me and she said, 'Cathy, are you going to be entering a quilt in the County Fair which is this weekend, and I said, 'No. Gail.' 'And, she said, 'Okay, then I'll enter the one that I made for my son and daughter-in-law.' I said, 'I was hoping that you would.' [CB laughs.]

CE: Thinking about all the quilts that you have seen, what do you think makes a great quilt?

CB: First of all, it is the color that kind of talks to me at first. So, probably as I said earlier a lot of orange would never end up in my great quilt category, [loud barking.] [tape stopped and restarted.]

CB: Thinking about all the quilts that you have seen, what do you think makes a great quilt?

CE: Probably from what I said earlier an all orange quilt would not end up in my great quilt category, but I think that color is very important. The colors have to be pleasing to the eye. They have to coordinate with each other. And secondly, it's workmanship. Really that I think makes a great quilt. If points are to match, they're to match. If it is appliqué is to be done, the stitching is not to be shown. If hand quilting is done, regardless of the length of the stitch, they're all uniform pretty much throughout the quilt. And, if it is machine quilted, the stitching there needs to be pretty much uniform too in the length of the stitching. You don't want to go back over a bunch of lines again. And, I think that just something that I could say, 'Okay, I could hang that in my living room, and I could enjoy looking at it.'

CE: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

I think that artistically powerful would be design. Designs that are done in a variety of different fabrics are much more powerful than the same design or the same pattern that is done using the same fabric over and over again. I think that's probably one of the things that I think. There are designs that are done, the Baltimore Album designs that were made in the 1830's, 1840's in Baltimore, Maryland. Those are really very strong designs. They are bright colors. Kind of primary colors for the most part. True blues, true reds, true yellows and they are done on a white background or a cream background, and that certainly is very striking.

CB: What contemporary quiltmakers do you admire today?

CE: I have several. I think one of the ones that I most enjoy her quilts is Karen K. Buckley. She lives in Pennsylvania, and she does a mixture of pieced quilts and appliqué quilts. I have taken a couple of workshops from her. Her designs are just very comfortable. She has done designs of an old mill in which the bricks and stones look like real bricks and real stones. In appliqué Nancy Pearson is an appliquér who does beautiful bouquets of flowers. The petals of the roses are gradated, and they look just like you could go out and pick them from the garden and stick your nose in and smell them. There are two other contemporary quilters that are kind of fun. Maryann Fons and Liz Porter live in Winterset, Iowa. They have a television program. They have a magazine. I think that before they came out with a magazine, I was aware in other magazines of their work. They are once again, pretty much traditional quilters. And Jinny Beyer, of course, even though I don't care for her dark colors. Jinny Beyer certainly brought quilting to the forefront in her geometric designs. And she is locally, within our area.

CB: What are your thoughts about the importance of quilts in American life?

CE: I think quilts in American life really go back to our Colonial times. It was a way for women in the family to make comfortable bedding for the family from what was available. And so this is sort of an example that sort of goes throughout history. Women can make do with what they have. However, today we go out and we buy brand new fabric, and if it is not the right color we buy anther color and save the other fabric. So, it shows that women can also be extravagant. As long as there are financial resources to support it--

CB: What do you think is the future of quilting?

CE: I think that the future for quilting is very, very strong. The numbers of pattern designers, the number of fabric designers, the amount of different fabric that is coming out into the market place is just almost mind boggling. There are a lot of--the computer itself on-line patterns available, chat rooms. There is Quilt University. The idea that anybody can kind of get started in quilting, I think is strong. And the fact that there are a lot of groups in America that want to have quilts. So, I think that as long as veterans want quilts, babies want quilts, people in senior citizen homes want quilts. Unwed mothers want quilts for their babies. It is just very, I think that it's rather than dying out at the Bicentennial which was the thought, at one point, it is growing by leaps and bounds.

CB: How have friends and family used the quits that you have made for them?

CE: For the most part my friends, I have made baby quilts and those baby quilts have ended up hanging on the wall, rather than being used for the baby. So, I have kind of had the feeling that it is not so much for the baby, but for the mother that they use the quilts. My family, once again, my son and daughter-in-law have my quilts hung on the wall. They have one on the bed in their spare bedroom. My daughter has one hanging on the wall. It seems like more of my quilts end of hanging on the wall. But, I do generally make now, I make smaller pieces that are more adaptable to hanging on the wall as pieces of art rather than bed size quilts that the dog can jump up on, although my dog can jump up on my quilt. These have been the recipients of my quilts.

CB: Other than friends and family, who else have been recipients of you quilts?

CE: I have made quilts for ABC Quilts. These are for babies of substance abuse parents, mothers. And there is a National project for that. In the Northern Virginia area there is a group that is under Northern Virginia Family Services that's a government group, called Healthy Families. They train new mothers, how to care for their babies, and we make quilts, and they accept our quilts graciously. I also have participated in quilting a quilt that was made by the members of the ship, the Navy Hospital ship, the USS Comfort that was in Operation Iraqi Freedom. And, that quilt hung in the Women's Military Memorial Military Museum in Arlington Cemetery. It was dedicated on a Veteran's Day, and that quilt is now part of the history of this Comfort Ship. I have made quilts for, there is a quilt upstairs that I just finished the top for. It is called Quilts of Valor for families, veterans of the Iraq War. And, it is a National project again.

CB: Cathy, have you ever done any teaching related to quilting?

CE: A couple of times I have done a little workshop with my, with one of my groups. I made a quilt one year from a magazine, and when I showed it was like, 'Oh, we want, we want to learn how to do that.' So, I gave a workshop with that. I have taught some specific types of appliqué. One is called Template Free appliqué in which you draw on the back of the fabric and do some stitching. I have also taught how to make ruched flowers. It is spelled r-u-c-h-e-d flowers, and they are gathered flowers that make it a dimensional flower. That was kind of fun. For about four years some friends of mine from Falls Church Quilters Unlimited we went on a weekly basis to a home in the area where teenage girls who had been involved with the law whether it be not attending school or something more serious were housed, they were not independent. They were there with the House Mothers. We taught them how to sew seams, and we made some baby quilts. They made some pillows. They made pillow cases so a lot of it was not just quilting but sewing. At Christmas we went and made some pretty easy Christmas decorations that they could take home. There were no more than a dozen girls living in the house at any one time, but the group changed, and so that was an interesting experience that we had.

CB: What goal in quiltmaking would you still like to achieve?

CE: Well, I still would like to make my own Baltimore Album style quilt. I have I think it is four blocks that are patterns that were designed by a lady who specializes in this, Elly Sienkiewicz. These are very easy blocks that I have done. And, I have another block that I have started of a cornucopia that is to be filled with, I guess fruits and vegetables. I've not even begun the basket. But these designs I would like to make one traditionally, I am thinking that these quilts are probably twenty-five blocks. Mine might be a little less than twenty-five blocks. They are all appliqué. I would like to have that be my legacy. [both laugh.]

CB: What advise would you give someone just starting to become interested in quilting?

CE: Well, my first advice would be to buy good quality fabric. Buy fabric that is sturdy and is going to hold up. Don't necessarily look for the cheapest fabric because if you are going to put in all that workmanship, you do not want it to fall apart in the washing machine after a few washings. My second would be to begin with a small project. Don't decide that you want to make a queen sized bedspread, and I would also suggest if you already have a sewing machine take it someplace and get--have a tune-up so that it is running well. It is like you would not go on a cross-country trip in a car that you are not really sure that it is going to make it. So, you don't want to get started sewing something with your good fabric, and your scarce time and end up being frustrated because your sewing machine was playing tricks on you. It you are going to be buying a new machine, buy a machine that has a ¼ inch piecing foot because that is so helpful. And then if you go in fabric stores, look for fabric that you really do like and buy maybe a half a yard of it. Because you may say, 'Oh, I like that I will come back when I have the opportunity to need it.' Well, when you come back to have the opportunity to need it, it is not going to be there. It may not even be there tomorrow. And, with so many fabrics being produced, I think lesser quantities of each fabric is being produced. Maybe one store will get only one bolt which could be somewhere between 12 and 15 yards, and if you need two yards, and ten other people need two yards. You had better buy your two yards before, they come. And, start your fabric collection.

CB: Cathy, is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?

CE: I think that as women's lives have become much more complicated, I know that when I first thought about quilting, I was teaching full time. Teaching public school full time, and I thought, 'Oh, I don't have time to do this. I will wait until I retire.' And then I realized that I didn't want to wait that long. That was probably twenty more years. I think that as our time becomes more complicated, more demands for our time, regardless of the age of the women or men, you really need to, if you really enjoy doing something like quilting or if you enjoy painting, you owe it to yourself to squeeze a few hours a week for that. It will make you feel so much [side of tape ends.]

CE: As I was saying, you really owe it to yourself to treat yourself to something you enjoy doing because it will make your life so much more enjoyable with what you have to do if it is carpooling with children or dealing with aging parents or doing things like cleaning the house, and washing the windows, and taking the dog for a walk. Things like that. I think that if you have some kind of a creative activity that you enjoy, don't wait until you are too old to enjoy that.

CB: I would like to thank Cathy Eckbreth for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview was concluded at 3:15 p.m. on
August 19, 2007.

CE: Thank you, Cathy.

CB: Thank you, Cathy.


“Cathy Eckbreth,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,