Marge Gordon




Marge Gordon




Marge Gordon


Heather Gibson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The National Quilting Association


Lewes, Delaware


Heather Gibson


Heather Gibson (HG): Today is Monday, July 31. [2000.] This is Heather Gibson and I'm sitting here with Marge Gordon in her home in Lewes, Delaware. I guess first, Marge, just tell me a little about the quilt you have out in front of us today.

Marge Gordon (MG): Well, this quilt to me is kind of what quilting's all about. This quilt is made from all kinds of fabrics. If I imagine myself as a poor pioneer woman I wouldn't have gone to the quilt shop and bought fabric. I would've used bits and pieces of clothing, and just used what's available. And that's exactly what this quilt is. The entire quilt is made of donated fabric, or fabric that was given to me. It was actually given to me for another project. My home-makers group was making toiletry bags for the homeless, and we were given this bag of scraps. And what it was everything this lady ever had that she didn't know what to do with. Unfortunately, the scraps weren't big enough to make any toiletry bags from. But I couldn't throw them away. So they kind of sat around for a while. And then one day I started rummaging through them and decided they were worth while. I threw them all in the washer and dryer. And then I started separating them, lights and darks. And it just came to me- this is a quilt waiting to be made. So I made diagonal half-squares. They are light and dark. And I kept it totally scrappy. Some fabrics, you'll look at it and it might be light in one block and it might be a dark in another block. But there's all kinds of stuff in here. There's pajamas. There's flannel. There's men's shirting. There's boxer shorts in there. There's pieces of dresses. One of them was a- I don't know if I can find it--one of these pieces was an apron. This one here. [pointing to block.] This was an apron with frilly lace around the neck and everything. It was, to me, what an old quilt would be, or would've been. I used--everything in the quilt came out of her bag of scraps. Everything including this long border. The backing was purchased because there wasn't a big enough piece to have on the back. And that's what made it special. It was just scraps. And it did- it came together. It's one of my favorite quilts. It's not the most beautiful one I've ever made. It's the cheapest one I ever made. But to me it's traditional. It's what quilting's all about.

HG: Do you have any idea how many different fabrics are in this?

MG: No, I really don't because I never really sat down and counted how many I was putting in. All I did was separate them. I had three grocery bags, and I had a light, a medium and a dark. And when I was putting the triangles together, I decided I would just pick randomly. And the mediums, like this red here, when I put it with a dark like this, it says it's dark. With a navy blue that red looks dark. But with a light green that looks--

I mean, with a navy blue the dark looks light, but with the light green that red looks dark. So it covered both angles. I just had fun with it, and it's really one of my favorite quilts.

HG: How did you learn to choose the colors like that?

MG: Picking colors is something that a lot of quilters have a hard time with. Even myself- I'll say I've made some blocks that I've never used because there wasn't enough contrast. Usually you want to have contrast. You want to have a light and a dark. Or you want to have a pink and a blue. I mean, you don't want to put a block together and have it...blah. You need color contrast. This particular quilt, like I said, it was just choosing the lights and the darks. Some quilts I'll make just for the color. I'm working on one now and it's all dark purple and dark green. And even though they're both dark, they contrast. And it has sort of a jewelry effect to it.

HG: How much of this was done by hand and how much by machine?

MG: I don't do any handwork.

HG: All by machine.

MG: I am completely by machine. I have arthritis and I can do very little needlework.

HG: Did you learn on the machine?

MG: Yes. Yes, when I started quilting in 1975, nobody did anything by machine. But I couldn't do it by hand even then. Besides I was in a hurry. I wanted a project done fast. And I started working on the machine. I did a lot of reading of books, trying to figure out how you do it on the machine. There was nothing. And gradually over the years machine-piecing and now machine-quilting have become acceptable. But, everything I do is done by machine with the exception of the binding. I sew the binding on by machine, and then turn it over and I attach it by hand to give it a smooth finished look.

HG: Is there any kind of machine that you prefer to use?

MG: Well, I'm kind of stuck on Singer sewing machines. I have seven of them now.

HG: Wow.

MG: And there's a reason I have more than one. I have- my newest machine is...I bought it in 1974. That's my newest machine. Well no, that's my youngest machine I guess you'd say. It's not my newest because I've bought most of my other machines since then. And I keep going older and older and older. I like old Singers because they're workhorses. They're very dependable. And right now I'm into, not really collecting but purchasing a lot of old Singers. I host a quilter's retreat every year. And a lot of the ladies fly into the retreat from all over the world. But they don't want to lug their sewing machine with them on the airplane. So I provide sewing machines for them. So I go through this thing every year, about this time of year I start looking for good, used sewing machines. And I'll have five or six by the retreat. And then sometimes I'll sell them and sometimes they work so beautifully I can't get rid of them. So I have a collection of sewing machines in my sewing room.

HG: Can you talk a little bit about your retreat?

MG: Oh the retreat is a very modern kind of thing, really. When we hooked up to the internet I started chatting with quilters in a chat-room. And it is a chat-room just for- this particular one was just for quilters. And we always talked about meeting each other, and we said we didn't want to do that. We might be ax-murderers and all that. But one time there was a lady from Wilmington, two ladies from just across the Chesapeake- one from north of Baltimore, one was from south of Baltimore- there was a lady from Salisbury. And we all chatted on the internet and we decided it was time to meet. So I said, 'Well why don't you all come over here?' And I knew better than inviting strangers into my house. So I invited--and we met at the Roadhouse Restaurant. And we met for lunch, and I think we were in the Roadhouse three hours. And after I met them and I realized that they were okay, I invited them back here to the house. And we did show-and-tell. We showed our projects and all that. But then we went back home, and of course we went back on the internet and we talked about what a wonderful time we had. And one of the gals said, 'We should do this with a bigger group of ladies.' And because we live in this resort and we have lots of hotels and stuff, I decided that I would host the first annual quilter's retreat. Well, the first quilters retreat. And we had it in November of 1997. And we actually had it at the Beacon Motel, which I know you'll know where that is.

HG: Yes. [Beacon Motel in Lewes.]

MG: And we had it on the weekend of a nor'easter. So we were literally--I mean we were flooded in. We could not get out. Well some ladies got out and went to the outlets. But the majority of us, especially Saturday, it was awful. It just poured. The water was up to the front door. So we were stuck in this hotel. But we quilted, we talked, we did show-and-tell, we cut out fabric. I mean, there were ladies that started and finished quilts in that weekend because we were stuck. We couldn't do anything. But we just had a wonderful time. And I have done it every year since. This will be the fourth year. I moved from Lewes up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania because there are more quilt shops up in Lancaster. And there's more to do. It's also more accessible to airports. You know, being here we're probably the same distance. But it's a lot easier to get to Lancaster from Philadelphia or Baltimore than to get over here. So I've had- well the first year there were 35 ladies, and it's been around that number every year. And it's always the weekend of Veteran's Day. A lot of the ladies have a three-day weekend that week, and that makes it a good weekend to do it. I had a lady come from Spain. There was a lady from Canada. We had ladies from the West Coast. Last year I had four ladies drive up from Texas and two ladies fly in from Oregon. Two from California. One from Nevada. You know, so it's not just local. It's real- a lot of different ladies. And most of us talk on the internet, so when we meet we do know a little about each other. We have no physical knowledge. We don't know if we're tall or short or fat or skinny, but we know what kind of personality we have. And most people have been exactly what you'd imagine them to be. But they all have that common goal, or that common thread of quilting, which is a lot of fun. And we compare techniques, and you know we have classes. We share each other's knowledge. And it's really a lot of fun.

HG: That's amazing. I had no idea you did that when I called you. That's great.

MG: It's a lot of fun. It really is.

HG: How is it--I guess quilting is your common bond, so it makes it easier for it to relate to these women who are from totally different cultures.

MG: It really is. You find that quilting is pretty much the same everywhere. There are a few things that are different here and there, but we also, although we all have the same hobby, we find we have the same kind of family. It doesn't matter if we're in California or Texas or upstate New York. We all are mothers who our lives rotate around our families and our quilting. And some of these ladies came to the first retreat and it was the first time they'd gone on a vacation without their family. And I have to admit it was for me, too, even though I was right here in Lewes. I didn't see my family for the weekend, and it was an escape for me and for most of the other ladies. And some of these ladies, a couple of them, it's a real financial--you know, they save all year for it. But it's their vacation and it's really worth it. And to sit down with someone who's become your friend, who you have things in common with as well as quilting--it's very rewarding and it's a lot of fun. It's amazing. We have a good time. We stay up all night talking, not necessarily all quilting. I have to admit last year we were up 'til three, four o'clock in the morning, and I mean you had to have been there, but we were talking about Saturday Night Live. And we were hysterical rolling on the floor laughing, and there was one or two ladies who were trying to quilt with all these shenanigans going on. But we are all different ages, and there were a few of us there who watched a few of the original Saturday Night Live and then went on and had a different life. And some of these ladies had watched all the Saturday Night Live, and one lady says as long as she remembers Saturday Night Live's been on TV. And I think she knew all the episodes, all the skits and all that. No quilting in there, but you know, just the generations connected. They thought it was hysterical that we didn't know who the samurai warrior was, but it was fun. It was fun. It really is, and I look forward to it every year. We have it up at Bird-in-Hand, which is just the perfect surrounding. There's a lot of Amish quilt shops up there, and there's a lot of crafts up there. Plus if the ladies do get bored with quilting, there's so much culture up there to go and visit and stuff like that. It's really rewarding. I've got the hotel booked for the next two year, so I know it'll go on at least another two years. And, you know, we just play it by ear. When everybody gets bored with it then we'll stop having it. But the way it's going I don't think people'll get bored.

HG: That sounds wonderful.

MG: It's fun. It really is.

HG: You were talking a little bit about your family. Can you tell me were there quilts in your family growing up?

MG: Not in my family. I was- my parents were divorced when I was young, and I didn't know my mother until later in life. I don't remember quilts ever. I started sewing when I was a senior in high school. I have a class that was held in the home-economics room because of space. That was an available classroom at the time. And the home ec. teacher allowed--I want to say it was a history class. We were a small group but they let us meet in the home ec room and--you be quiet, fat cat [response to cat meowing.] The home ec. teacher allowed some of the home-ec. students to come in and work quietly while we were having our history class. And I watched a girl come in and lay out a pattern and pin it and cut it and make this skirt over a couple days. And I thought, 'I can do that.' So I went home and I bought some material and I did it. And I just became hooked to sewing. And I started sewing right out of high school and I made all my clothes for years. And because of my interest in fabric for garments and sewing notions, stuff like that I was-- well when we were first married--a couple years into marriage, I worked at a Minnesota Fabrics. I was actually a notions buyer for five stores. And I worked out of one store, and the store that we worked out of had a home economist who did sewing demonstrations and things to draw customers into the store. And at one time she was asked to give a quilting demonstration. And she said, 'Well I don't know anything about quilting at all.' And they gave her this list of samples they wanted her to make and she came around to the different ladies in the store and said, 'I need help.' Well, nobody quilted. I said, 'I can try it.' And she gave me a Lone Star pattern. She said, 'Try to make this.' So the deal was I made it and it hung in the store for a while and then I got to keep it. So why not? This is a free project. So I took all the fabric home and everything and started working on it, and it was much more involved than I could handle. And I went back and I said, 'I'm never going to get this done in time for your demonstration.' She said, 'Well, here. Try this one.' And she gave me a pattern for a Log Cabin. So I took that material, went home and I made that up. And it was easy. I loved it. And I took it back and then she gave me another one. And I did a Sophie's Choice block and made a pillow out of it. And to say the least, I got hooked. Well by time the demonstration finally rolled around, she and I had enough samples done that we didn't look totally ignorant. But we both decided that we kind of liked this, and we went searching for someplace to learn more. And at that time the only person we could find that was teaching quilting was this little old lady in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.

HG: Okay.

MG: So she and I went to Harper's Ferry and at that time and at that time I think we paid the exorbitant fee of thirty dollars or something to go to this lady's house and sit and watch her quilt. And she talked about quilting but she didn't demonstrate anything. She just was quilting a quilt, you know. And she talked about how she pieced it but she didn't show us. She talked about how she put the blocks together, but she didn't show us. It was all just yackity-yackity-yackity. And we went home, and we felt like we had learned so much but we really hadn't. But I just kept it up. At that time I had nieces and nephews being born. I started making baby blankets. And I never stopped. I still haven't stopped.

HG: How do you teach someone to quilt?

MG: I find the best way to teach them is to show them. You show them how to do it. The--you work with them as they do it, and then step-by-step just like you're teaching a little kid how to walk. You know, you show them how to walk, and you hold them up and you help them take those first couple steps. You know, you teach them the guidelines. You teach them to be careful. And there's nothing more rewarding than getting somebody hooked on quilting. Sometime people get real discouraged with their first projects, and I tell them, 'Don't give up. It takes time to learn.' I always like to show people my first projects. I still have my Lone Star that I made that very first project. I did finish it.

HG: That's a difficult pattern from what I understand, isn't it?

MG: Yes. It's very hard. I don't think I would do it now. As an experienced quilter. I mean, I'm experienced. I don't consider myself a first-class quilter. I'm just very simple, basic. I wouldn't do a Lone Star now. But my very project was a Lone Star. It wasn't the first one I finished.

HG: Right.

MG: But I did finish it and I do still have it. And I always take it to classed and show people, because you can see the improvement. One side of it's quite lopsided. And the points don't match at all. By the time I got around to the fifth point, it was coming together. And I don't know how I did it, but it's there. And you can see progress in the quilt, in the piece. And that's what I tell people. It takes practice.

HG: I think I kind of skipped over this. Can you tell me a little about the way you quilted this particular quilting pattern on this quilt?

MG: Actually, this particular quilt I had machine-quilted. As I told you before, I don't do any handwork. A big quilt like this, now this is a queen-topper. This will fit on the top of a queen-size bed and hang down just a little tiny bit. But this would be a little hard for me to quilt by machine on my old, trusty Singer.

HG: Is that because it's so intricate?

MG: No, not because it's so intricate because it's so big.

HG: Oh, okay.

MG: I mean the space is a foot square maybe. And to roll this up and put it in there, it would be near impossible. So I send my bigger projects away to be quilted. Anything from a twin-size down I do quilt myself on the machine. And I just roll it up and stick it in there and quilt it. Now this particular pattern is a fleur-de-lis. I could do that on my machine but I probably wouldn't because I'd probably break my back doing it.

HG: It's lovely.

MG: I like this. This is one of my favorite quilting patterns. The lady that I send stuff to is up in Central Pennsylvania. She does beautiful work.

HG: Does she do it by machine or by hand?

MG: She has a long-arm machine which is a professional quilting machine. So she does machine quilting. That is what she does for a business. Any hand-quilting that I want done--and I do have stuff hand quilted--I take it up to School House Quilts in Dover. It's run by--she's either Amish or Mennonite and she has ladies who do quilting for her. And they do beautiful work and if I have projects to be hand quilted. My machine quilts I stick 'em in a box and send 'em UPS to Pennsylvania to be done. Now I have seven quilt being quilted up there. I've had a very busy year. I had a lot of classes this year. So I have seven quilts being quilted, and I have another one to mail to her now.

HG: So from what I understand that's fairly common to send your quilts away to be quilted.

MG: It is now. I mean, in the old days you wouldn't do that. You would have a quilting bee, and all your friends would come and sit around and quilt it. And there are quilting bees now, but a lot less common than they used to be. It is more common for people to send their quilts out, or to do it all by themselves. Some ladies will- I don't know of very many ladies, but some ladies will begin a quilt and finish it from beginning to quilted end. Other ladies, like me, have lots of projects in all different stages. Of course, I have a lot of different projects because I teach. And even though I've made a quilt before, I've made it fifty times, if I'm teaching a class I like to make a quilt with the class. That way I can show them how to do it. If they have any questions, I always feel bad if somebody messes up their material. I don't want anybody to come up short on material because they messed it up. We practice with my material. So every time I teach a class, I make a quilt. Or I make a project. Whatever the project is I'm teaching, I make one as well. So that's why I have so many quilts.

HG: Where do they all live?

MG: I teach locally. I teach for the Ocean Waves quilt guild, which is here in Rehoboth. I've taught at adult education. I've taught at a church in Laurel. A group of ladies over there wanted to learn to quilt so they could make quilts for charity, and they were given my name by another quilter. And I've been going over there for about two years now. I have taught outside of Havre-de-Grace, over in Maryland. And there's another place in Maryland, I can't think of the name of the town now. Over past Easton. They call me up, and usually what I'll do is I'll send them my list of classes. If they want to see my work I'll take them a couple quilts to show them. We agree on what we're going to do. Now I have this group of ladies that watches "Simply Quilts" on TV which is- I think it's on right now--but it's Alex Anderson has a quilting show. And she always has these famous people come in and talk about--

HG: So it's instructional?

MG: Yes, it is instructional. These ladies watch this show. They record it, and then they get together and they watch it. And if they like the project, they send me the tape. And they say, 'Okay, this is what you're teaching us next.' And they have never asked me do anything I couldn't do. Fortunately they're very basic quilters and they like the simple things. They like the old-fashioned things. And we've had some really good times, and made some gorgeous quilts. One Saturday last winter we got together and we made 36 quilts to be given to the children in some of the homeless shelters over on that side of the state.

HG: Oh my goodness.

MG: So, I mean, we have wonderful times. It's a lot of fun.

HG: That's wonderful. What do you think it is about the nature of quilts that makes them so appropriate or so meaningful for charity work?

MG: I think anything that is homey. I mean, when I think of quilts, of course or home cooking meals. Like Meals-on-Wheels. They bring such good, nourishing meals and the meals warm the body and the soul. And the quilts do, too. The guild that I belong to tries to have quilts--if we hear of a need. Last winter one of the ladies down in Oceanview-- somebody asked if anybody had old blankets that they could donate because they heard of children who were sleeping in cars. And of course everybody has adult-size blankets, but when you're living in a car, to have that many big blankets it takes up a lot of room. And they just wanted little blankets for kids. We happened to have some, so I think we donated all we had finished at the time. Quilts are warm. I think it doesn't matter if it's fancy quilt or a scrap quilt like this one. It's homey feeling, and I think that's why it's good to give a quilt to a charity. I just found out today- We had always thought we would give quilts to Habitat for Humanity. So when people build a house and they move in, a lot of times these people--I mean they get the house, but there's nothing else. And we did once. I had a double-bed quilt and we made little café curtains to go with the quilt, and we donated them to a lady who was moving into a house--her very first house. And that was real rewarding.

HG: That's great.

MG: Yeah, and that makes you feel good. And she loved it. But we're going to start giving quilts to Habitat again. So we're excited about that. You know, I can only make so many quilts and keep them. I have two boys and they both have two quilts. I have two quilts for my bed. So with each class I make a quilt and occasionally I sell them. If I hear of somebody that needs a quilt I'll grab one out of my pile and give it to 'em. Last year--I can't even think of the name of the group--somebody called me and they wanted to raffle a quilt. And they came and looked at my quilts and they bought one. And then they took it and raised money for--I believe the money went for a college scholarship for somebody. And I have it all written down. I just can't think of it off the top of my head. I gave another quilt that was raffled off. This year the kids in the music program at school, they participated in the Relay for Life, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and we decided to raffle off a wall hanging. And in three weeks we made over three hundred dollars on this little wall hanging.

HG: Amazing.

MG: And the money all went to cancer research. You know, so it was good. It was really good. And it makes me feel good. And the wall hanging's in a good home now, so it's fun.

HG: Well for someone who's been quilting for so long, what do you think makes a great quilt, or an artistically powerful quilt?

MG: Well see there's different kinds of quilts. My quilts are basically all patchwork. And I think any patchwork that is put together well, that the points match, that the colors blend together. Not necessarily this one. I mean, my points all match, but the colors are...scrappy quilts are pretty wild. But, if the points match and the colors co-ordinate and there's nice contrast, then it's pleasing to look at. But then there's quilts like Baltimore Album Quilts that are truly masterpieces. It's like comparing peaches and plums. They're both good. They just have different flavors to them. And that's what quilts are like. When we go to quilt shows I find myself just as drawn to the simple, old-fashioned patchwork quilts as I am to the Baltimore Albums. I'm not real into these quilts me a quilt is something you lay on a bed. And I know that there are wall quilts, but there are quilts that are simply art with a lot of thread-play and, you know, pieces of fabric sticking off of them. They're gorgeous sometimes, and sometimes they're not. But to me that's a different kind of art. I wouldn't call it a quilt just because it's three pieces of fabric sewn together. That's art. That's a piece of art, whereas a quilt is something you would lay on your bed, or something you would snuggle under.

HG: So you would say a quilt is more of a craft as well as an art?

MG: Yeah. Oh yeah, quilting is an art. Have you ever been to a quilt show?

HG: No, I haven't.

MG: You should go, because it is really amazing...the artistic. It's like walking through an art gallery with hundreds and hundreds of quilts, and they're all so different. Just like going through an art gallery, all the paintings are different. And they're all made--a painting is made on canvas or wood. It's paint. It's watercolor. Well, quilts are made with cotton or silk and they are artistic. And a quilt show is like going to an art gallery.

HG: That's a good way to put it. I'm trying to think of a way to phrase this--now things I've been reading about lately--you know the new quilts that are being made specifically just as wall art, it takes away the whole utilitarian aspect, you know, that quilts were originally made for--their usefulness. Do you think that--basically what I've been reading about is that usefulness doesn't necessarily detract from something's ability to be seen as art?

MG: No, I think you can have a quilt that's laying on a bed that is useful but just as artistic. Or you can have a wall-hanging that is made in very traditional quilting way, simple appliqué that you would never put on your bed, but it's just as gorgeous as a wall quilt as it would've been if it was larger and you could snuggle under it. I think quilting is both. It is a craft. It is a useful craft to make blankets. Or it is an artistic craft to make works of art.

HG: Would you characterize yourself as a traditional quilter?

MG: Definitely. Extremely traditional. I prefer calicos and cottons. This is the only quilt I've ever made that has other kind of fabric in it--

HG: Than cotton?

MG: Than cotton. There is polyester in here. There is--and I can't find it--but there is silk in it. I fused it so it wouldn't shred on me. There's silky pajamas in there. I can't see them either. There's men's boxer shorts which are not all cotton. They are cotton-polyester. There's men's shirting, right there by you there's that striped piece. Yeah, that's a piece of a man's shirt. This is the only quilt I've ever made that has different kinds of fabric in it. I'm very strict about using 100 percent cotton. I pre-wash. When I bring fabric into the house it goes into the washing machine and into the dryer before it goes in the sewing room.

HG: To make them last longer?

MG: Well, I like to pre-wash to get all the sizing out and to get all the chemical out that it goes through when it's manufactured. I also like to make sure that the color's fast. I wouldn't like to make a red-and-white quilt and have it turn pink. I'm very religious about pre-washing to get all the loose color out and to shrink. Cottons shrink. Even the modern cottons shrink. So it gets washed in hot water to get the color out and everything else, and then it gets dried in the dryer. Just like when my quilt is finished, it's going to get washed and dried. So, I want to make sure if the fabric's going to live through washing and drying. The fabrics for this--the little pieces I put in a laundry bad and zipped it shut and threw them in the washer. So everything was washed. These reds--[pointing to red pieces in quilt.] if this red has bled, I mean this would all be a pink block here. And it really would've distracted from the quilt. So I'm very religious about washing and drying. And I also always wash my quilt before I give them away because I don't want people to get this nice, smooth quilt and then feel like they've ruined it when they wash and dry it and it gets all wrinkled. To me, a wrinkled quilt--that's what they're going to look like forever, so I always wash and dry a quilt. If I give it as a give I always wash and dry it.

HG: As a traditional quilter, how do you feel about the meaning of quilting in women's history?

MG: I think socially. Quilting, of course, was very functional. But I think socially, quilting was very functional as well. It was an excuse for women to get together. And I know we do it now on the internet. We get together and we start off talking about quilting, and then we go off on all other things. And I can imagine in the old days, when there wasn't the internet or telephone, to get together and to sit around a quilt for hours. It must've been an blessing, you know, to be with other women especially if you lived out on a farm and it was just you and your husband and the kids. And to get together with another woman, I mean, that had to be the most blessed thing around. So I think that quilting as well as being functional to the family, was functional in keeping the woman sane. I don't think I could've lived in those days and been cut off from the world like that. 'Course, I wouldn't have know better. But, I mean, I can imagine having been to a quilting bee and then never being able to go away, I would be deprived. And I think probably as well as educational in the quilting sense, it was educational. I mean, I know they talked about recipes. They talked about canning. They talked about disease. I think it was important. It was an important part of the women's getting together. I mean, in church you're getting together, but you're not going to sit and talk. Where at a quilting bee you can really just let it go. [laughter.]

HG: And you really kept up that tradition in your retreats.

MG: Yeah, in a sense we have. And I don't belong to any bees because of my teaching, and I'm so busy with teaching. But I have a lot of friends that belong to quilt-bees, and they meet once a week or twice a month. So they do that. They're not necessarily all working on the same project. But they are keeping each other abreast of what's going on in the world. And I think that's important even in these modern day--to get together with other females. I think it's important. [pause. The cat meows.] I told you she'd lay on it. [referring to the cat sprawled out on the quilt]

HG: She's so cute. She loves it.

MG: Yeah, they do. Whenever I'm quilting if I have a big project if any of it's on the floor it becomes cat space. I always--every quilt I've ever given has had cat hairs attached to it.

HG: Does anyone in your family now quilt?

MG: No, I'm the only one that quilts. I have two boys that don't quilt.

HG: They haven't--

MG: No, they haven't dabbled in it. When they were little they tried cross-stitch but you know now there's better things in life. To my knowledge, I don't know of any relatives that quilt. I said earlier I didn't know my mother as a child. I met her when I was thirty-three. I finally met my mother. And her mother may have quilted. I don't know for sure. But different things my mother said about her makes me believe that maybe she...She sewed clothes, maybe she sewed quilts. I don't really know. I don't know of anyone in my family that does any kind of quilting. My family is artistic in other ways. I'm the only one that's got the quilting bug.

HG: So you're really passing it down to your students?

MG: Yes. Yes, I don't have any daughters to pass it down to. Maybe someday there'll be granddaughters that I can teach to quilt. But I do like teaching other people how to quilt. And I have taught children. I did a project, an especially rewarding project with Mrs. Calloway at Lewes Middle School--.

HG: I know her.

MG: She had the kids make paper quilts. And I said, "Why don't you make real quilts?" And we talked about it and we decided we would do it. And we had... I got together with the students and the first time we met I just told them about quilts, and about quilting. And they were each given paper and they got to draw out their quilt. And we did nine-patch quilts. But they could make their nine-patches. They could be a solid block, a half-square, a half-square triangle. So they had shape to play with and of course, they had color to play with. And of course, actually I think the boys enjoyed it more than the girls did.

HG: Did they?

MG: First they drew their pattern then they cut their pattern out with paper and made it with paper. And then we gave them needles and thread and fabric and scissors. And they did it. And they sewed their blocks together. Then I brought the blocks home and unknowing to the children I took them all apart and sewed them back together on the machine. And then sewed the quilt tops together. And then I took them back in and we tied them. But what was especially rewarding about this is--it was a math class. It was a kind of social studies project. At the time they were reading a book and I can't think of the name of the book but there was a homeless girl in the book. And the children decided that they wanted their quilt to go to a homeless girl. So I made some phone calls and I found a project here in Sussex County. What it is, it's temporary foster care. Like if there's a single parent, and all of a sudden that parent has to go to the hospital or to jail or something. The children are home, maybe they don't where the grandparents are, or they don't know where the other parent is. So they're put in temporary foster care. And we made two quilts, and both quilts were donated to this temporary foster care. The kids each wrote a story about their block. And we made little books that we gave with the quilt. And it was really, for the kids to do this. I mean, those quilts were far from beautiful, but they were very functional. And the heart warmth in them was just, you know, it was just overwhelming. The kids did the project themselves, and the giving came from the kids. I mean, I would've probably said, 'Let's just hang 'em in the school until they fall apart.' But these kids wanted them to go somewhere and it really meant a lot.

HG: I think that really says a lot about the nature of quilts.

MG: Yes, yes. And the kids and they really did a good job. There were a few blocks--like I said, I took most of them apart because they were hand stitched. They weren't all perfect but they were all functional. And I made them all functional so they could go in a quilt. And I set them in sashing so they were all the same size. And we made two quilts and gave them away. It was just fabulous. It was wonderful. I had a class over in Easton that I did. It was mothers and daughters, or grandmothers and daughters. And that was fun. We made nine-patch blocks. But each kid made a quilt for themselves. So I do teach children.

HG: That's great.

MG: It's fun. I enjoy it. Anybody.

HG: That sounds wonderful. Well, I think all my questions have been answered. Do you have anything that you want to add?

MG: Oh, I don't know. I could talk forever about quilting. It's funny. One thing people always ask is: What's your favorite quilting tool?

HG: Okay. I've never asked that question, so tell me.

MG: Right now my favorite quilting tool is my computer.

HG: To design on?

MG: I design on the computer, and it's very rewarding. You know, you go out and you buy this gorgeous fabric, and you have this idea in your head. And if you sat down and made up a quilt and it didn't look right, then you've wasted your time, and you've wasted your money, and you've wasted your fabric. And I've done that. I've done that a lot. And those are quite often, those are quilts that I give to charity. But with the computer program, what I do is put the--like I'll use the color. If it's a red and a blue and I'll make my quilt on the computer and then I can stand back and I can look at it.

HG: Like a preview.

MG: Like a preview, yeah. And I'll think, 'Well, I kind of like that, but what happens if I do this,' and I flip these blocks this way. And I can make quilts and see what they're going to look like before I even touch the material.

HG: Wow.

MG: And it's a great teaching tool because I can show people what they're going to make. I just did a Log Cabin class, and I had each lady come to the house with her fabric and we designed their quilts on the computer. And then we started cutting. Two weeks later we started cutting it and putting our blocks together. But they knew before they even started what the quilt was going to look like. I did a design class where we did diagonal half-squares like this quilt's made of and played with them for hours until we were all satisfied with our quilts. But you can just...I mean, it's so much easier is you have it. I think there's eleven-by-eleven rows here. That's an awful lot of quilt squares to be turning around if you have to turn them. Let's see what happens if we turn them each one-half turn- it would take forever. Whereas on the computer, it's just one click and they're all turned and you go, 'Oh yeah, that's a good idea, too.'

HG: How'd you learn to do that?

MG: It's actually a program. The software's called Electric Quilt. I've had Electric Quilt four or five years now. The first program I had was not real Windows compatible, and it was hard. But I still saw the potential in it and I used it. They upgraded it; I think it was last year or the year before. Now it's completely Windows compatible. It's like paint, you know. It's just click and point. It's that easy and I can't imagine quilting without my computer anymore. Even though I have a twenty-seven year-old sewing machine that goes forwards and backwards, my favorite tool is definitely my computer.

HG: Amazing. I'm glad you told me about that.

MG: It's fun. It really is. When we're done I'll show you.

HG: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for talking to me. I've learned a lot.

MG: Good.

HG: This is Heather Gibson and I'm signing off.

[note: After the interview, Marge noted that the scrap quilt used in the interview took her six days to make.]



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