Deborah Repass




Deborah Repass




Deborah Repass


Cathy Eckbreth

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Falls Church, Virginia


Carolyn Kolzow


Note: Deborah Repass entered her quilt in the 117th Continental Congress, 2008 American Heritage Committee's fiber arts - quilt contest. The contest theme was, "Hospitality Through the Ages." Deborah's quilt received second place.

Cathy Eckbreth (CE): My name is Cathy Eckbreth and today's date is August 18, 2008. The time is 12:25 p.m. I'm interviewing Debbie Repass in Falls Church, Virginia for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this interview through the American Heritage Committee of the District of Columbia State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Debbie Repass is a quilter and a member of Emily Nelson Chapter.
Debbie, tell me about the quilt that you brought with you today.

Deborah Repass (DR): The quilt that I brought with me today is a quilt that I entered in the Daughters of the American Revolution American Heritage Committee contest that they sponsored this past year. It was a contest that was entitled, "Hospitality Through the Ages." The quilt that I made is called "Azariah Cooley, Jr. Patriot Through the Ages." It is a Revolutionary War quilt that is made with theme postcards, and it's done in a Revolutionary War theme.

CE: Have you made other quilts that have won prizes?

DR: Actually, this is the first time that I ever entered one of my quilts in a juried contest.

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

DR: The special meaning is that I got involved in research on my ancestry because of a dying aunt. Her last wish was to find an ancestor that she had been trying to figure out for a long time and couldn't find this person. So, I started doing some research for her, and as I did the research to find out who her great-great-grandfather was, it led to my Revolutionary War patriot, and then I decided to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. So, this quilt is special because I made it in her honor because she is the one that got me involved in finding my Revolutionary War patriot.

CE: Thank you. Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

DR: Well, my interest is that I have always done some kind of sewing or needlework for many years. But, after I made clothing, I got tired of that and when you start doing needlework, it's kind of like, 'How many needlework projects can you put up in your house or give to people?' I decided that I wanted to start to make something that was lasting; that people could use, and that's how I got started in quilting -- was making quilts for people to give as gifts.

CE: When did your first learn, or how did you learn to quilt?

DR: I first learned to quilt from a lady by the name of Eleanor Graham. I first took a class from her back in 1975. That was my very beginning. It was all hand pieced and hand quilted.

CE: How has your quilt making grown from this early start?

DR: When I look at one of the first products that I have, I kind of have to laugh at it [laughs.] because you can tell back then that the cutting, the putting of the pieces together, the quilting, it's a lot of fond memories, and I still have the original piece, nobody sees it but me. It's grown incredibly. Anything you do, the more you do it, the better you get at it. So, it definitely has grown considerably.

CE: About how much time now do you spend on your quilting each week?

DR: I would say never enough, and it varies greatly. Sometimes I only get to spend about an hour, and other times I can spend four to six hours, but that is probably about the most I ever get to spend in a week is about six hours.

CE: Tell me about your first quilt memory.

DR: My first quilt memory. Well, quilting was nothing that was in my home. My mother never made quilts. Neither of my grandmothers made quilts, so it was not an environment that I grew up in. But I guess my first memory was--I actually went to a show with a friend of mine. It was a local show in the area. It was actually the Annapolis Quilt Guild. I just went and I walked around, and I saw all the quilts, and I was just in awe of all the quilts and everything that everybody had done, and I just felt that this was something that I really would love to do. That is truly the first memory I have of ever really seeing quilts.

CE: How have your friends influenced your quilt making?

DR: Well, it's interesting because my friends are really very varied. I have one that is a very contemporary quilter. I have one that does art quilting, and I have one that does traditional quilting like myself. They try and get me to quilt outside of my box so to speak, which is very hard because I am a traditional quilter, and I just don't like to move outside of my box. You get very comfortable. I do try new things, but I always tend to come back to traditional quilting.

CE: How has quilt making impacted your family?

DR: My family seems to know that when either I've got something that is really bothering me, or I just need some down time from everything that is going on, they can always find me quilting, because that seems to be for me the time that I call my time. I don't share it with anybody else, if I am down there quilting, leave me alone time, just be by myself time.

CE: What do you find most pleasurable about quilt making?

DR: I actually like putting the pieces together. I know that a lot of people like the actual physical quilting, but I like the piecing once it has gotten cut out. I don't like to cut the pieces, but I like to assemble the pieces.

CE: Are there some aspects of quilt making that you really don't enjoy as much?

DR: The cutting out. The original cutting out of all the pieces. It's so time consuming and tedious to cut strips or squares or triangles and the multiple numbers that you have to cut.

CE: Debbie, I know that you belong to several quilt groups. What meaning do these groups have for you, and you might tell us about the groups.

DR: Well, I actually belong to three groups. I belong to two chapters of Quilter's Unlimited.
The Burke Chapter, and in the Burke Chapter, I am a charter member and past president. And that is a group that meets in the evening. When I worked full-time during the day that was the only time that I could attend the group. That group tends to be very, just kind of lighthearted and not really project based. They just come and gather and just enjoy each other's company. The second group that I belong to is the Fairfax Chapter of Quilter's Unlimited, and it's a daytime group. That group is much more structured. They are very project oriented, and they like to do specific things. And more recently, I joined the Old Dominion Appliqué Society, and that is a really great group, and actually I am having the most fun with them because I think that it goes back to sort of a traditional and working with my hands, because I find that doing the appliqué is the most enjoyable. Both the Burke and the Fairfax group do a lot of charity functions. They do Quilts of Valor and Project Linus. I enjoy doing that as well. Probably the most valuable point of all the groups is friendship because you make a lot of lifelong friendships in the group.

CE: Could you tell me a little about the Quilts of Valor? I know you've participated in that.

DR: The Quilts of Valor are quilts that we make for soldiers who are returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are coming back after being injured in combat. We collect--we make the quilts for them, and then we are in contact with a group that distributes the quilts, and we have sent them to Iraq, we sent them to Kansas, we sent them to Texas, we sent them to North Carolina, and also locally here to Walter Reed and the DC Veteran's Hospital. Probably to date about one hundred and eighty quilts have been made and sent out.

CE: Can you tell us a little bit about Project Linus?

DR: Project Linus is a group where they supply quilts to children who are in situations like homeless shelters or have been placed with foster home care, and we just make quilts. It kind of gives them something that belongs to them, and it helps them. That is a good project too because it is just something they can cling to that is their own, it can go with them wherever they go.

CE: What are your favorite techniques and materials in quilt making?

DR: My favorite technique is probably just straight piecing. That is just cutting out the pieces and putting it together. I don't particularly like paper piecing because I don't like to tear out all the paper afterwards. I don't like something that needs an extra step. Probably my best favorite tool in quilting is a rotary cutter. That certainly has cut down on time of cutting pieces. It is a tool like a pizza cutter, and you just lay the fabric down, and it just slices through it. That is the best way I can explain it. Other than that, it is the foot on my Bernina that has a ¼ inch mark because before that sewing to get the 1/4-inch accuracy was very hard, but that has just turned my life around with accuracy on my machine.

CE: Can you describe for me your quilting studio or the place where you create your quilts?

DR: I used to have it in the bedroom upstairs in my house, but my husband kept taking over my space. So, I eventually just moved myself downstairs to the basement, and now I have what would be a full bedroom if it were completely finished off down there where I can keep my sewing machine set up, my ironing board set up, my cutting table set up and all my fabric and everything just piled up. Anytime you walk down there it probably looks like a disaster area because I have several projects going on, but it is nice because I can just leave everything set so if I walk down and only have ten minutes I can walk down and just do something for ten minutes and come back upstairs.

CE: Do you--when you are not working on projects, do you have a special way of organizing your fabrics?

DR: Yes. They are organized either by colors or by periods, and by periods, I mean I have reproduction fabrics from the Civil War, the 1840's, the '30's, there are also themes. Like if there is Christmas fabric, Halloween fabric, Valentine's fabric.

CE: How do you balance your time in today's busy world of work and of other activities besides quilting?

DR: It is hard. I think the thing is that I schedule time that I quilt, just like I schedule everything in my life. When I put it on my calendar, I make sure that I schedule time to go down and quilt. Like I say, even sometimes it is only for ten minutes or so, but it is amazing what you do if you plan that ten minutes, you must take it out and go do it and it really helps.

CE: Back to thinking about your studio. Do you have a design wall?

DR: Yes, I do. I have one whole wall that is about ten feet across by nine feet down, and it has felt that is hung up over the wall, and I can just design a quilt, be in the process of designing it, and it stays up on the wall.

CE: How does this help your quilting, quilt making?

DR: It is great because before you would have to do pieces at a time and try to imagine in your mind, lay it out on the floor and when you are done with it you have to pick it up off the floor because company was coming over or somebody was coming around, and now I can just leave it up there and look at it as I'm going up and down stairs and sometimes you can look at it and go, 'Oh, I really need to change that.' It doesn't quite work the way it is.' You can play with it.

CE: There is a controversy perhaps going on about machine quilting versus hand quilting. Tell me how you feel about it.

DR: I prefer hand quilting; however, it depends on what I'm doing the quilt for. If I'm making it for a project to just give away to somebody that I know they are going to use it for everyday use, I only machine quilt it because I just don't think hand quilting holds up to today's cleaning. They are going to throw it in the washing machine, they are going to throw it in the dryer. I machine quilt it. But if it is being given as an heirloom for somebody to keep, like when my granddaughters were born; I made each of them a special quilt that was all done by hand. That is different. They are not really going to use it. It is for them to just enjoy and to be passed on, that is when it is hand quilted. Because to me, that's truly the way to do it. Quilting is not quilting unless it is hand done.

CE: Do you do machine quilting yourself with any of the pieces?

DR: I do, the smaller pieces. The larger quilts I don't because I would never get it done. There is just not enough time or anything else. If it is larger than a twin size, I don't do it myself.

CE: Why is quilt making important in your life today?

DR: It is important in my life because for me it takes all my stress out of my life. When I go down to quilt, I just take everything else that is on my mind bothering me and I just put it aside, and I just sit there and concentrate on my quilting, and everything goes away.

CE: What is your opinion of the importance of quilts in American life today?

DR: I think they are very important because I think that women through quilting express what they are feeling. It also gets them through good times, gets them through bad times, and celebrates life events.

CE: Tell me about some people, other than your family, or even including your family for whom you have made quilts.

DR: I have made them for a lot of people. As a matter of fact, I recently realized that of all the quilts I made I only have two that I've kept for myself, the rest I have all given away. Most of them that I gave away, like I said, they are machine quilting because you can't have an expectation of what a person is going to do with a quilt or how they are going to value them. A lot of them look at them and they think they are spectacular, and they want to keep them as something nice, but others kind of look at them and go, it is just a quilt. They don't understand the time you put into it, the effort you put in to it and it is hard sometimes when you give it to someone and you go over the next time and see that it is laying on the ground or it is just thrown over something and you are kind of going like why did I do all this work for that to happen to it. So, it just depends, you have to be willing to let it go when you give it away, you can't hold on to it and sometimes you kind of think of them as your children when you put that kind of work into a quilt.

CE: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing quiltmakers today?

DR: The time you get to make the quilt. I think with the stuff that I have in my quilt area right now, my quilt studio, I won't live enough lifetimes to finish it all and I still see stuff every day that I want to pick up and start doing and I think that is the biggest, time. You just don't have enough time to get everything you want to do, to get it done.

CE: If you had one wish relating to your interest in quilting what would that wish be?

DR: The wish would be to have more time to just go spend in my studio quilting and be left alone with all the other things I need to do.

CE: Debbie I know this summer you participated in an exciting experience with some young people. Would you tell us about that?

DR: Yes. This summer I participated in the Daughters of the American Revolution's Museum Quilt Camp, and it is a camp that teaches children, and it is boys and girls. This year we only had girls that are ages ten to seventeen to quilt. They come and they spend two weeks at camp full time for the two weeks learning how to quilt. They made a beautiful appliquéd quilt block and then once they made the quilt block, they put the pieces together and they quilted the block. It was incredible, it was incredible to see children of today who are technology oriented, you know hooked up to cell phones and computers, to sit there and actually do something with their hands and enjoy the process. The picking out of the fabrics. They did them all on their own, sewing the pieces down, putting it together, they really enjoyed it. First, they were grumbling. They kind of went, 'This is too much work. I don't want to do this.' But in the end, they were all just overwhelmed and enjoyed it and their faces just lit up when they finished the project. So, it was definitely rewarding.

CE: What was the most challenging aspect of this activity?

DR: The most challenging was getting them to complete ninety-seven pieces on a quilt block in two weeks' time that were very small pieces and teaching them to stitch the tiny pieces in that amount of time. I think the children today might have great dexterity to be able to run a computer, but the hand eye coordination for finite things like quilting, they don't have.

CE: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?

DR: I can't think of anything else. I think we covered about everything I can except that I encourage people to learn how to quilt. I think it is a lifelong thing that just takes you forever.

CE: I would like to thank Debbie Repass for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. [- Save Our Stories.] Our interviewed concluded at 12:40 on August 18, 2008.


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