Ruth Morris




Ruth Morris




Ruth Morris


Heather Gibson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Milton, Delaware


Heather Gibson


Heather Gibson (HG): Today is Tuesday, August 1, 2000. I'm sitting here with Ruth Morris in her home in Milton, Delaware. Is this technically Milton?

Ruth Morris (RM): It's really the Angola area.

HG: The Angola area in Delaware. And in front of us is an exquisite quilt that Ruth has made. So I guess for starters, do you want to tell me a little bit about this quilt?

RM: Well, I took a class with Elly Sienkiewicz probably ten years ago over in St. Michaels. And she taught us the basics of appliquéing with freezer paper on top of the pattern. And we learned some various stitches, and then from that time on we were on our own because we only had that one class, which lasted two-and-a-half days. Then I worked on it as much as I could. I think it was probably six years from the time I started it to the time I finished it.

HG: Wow. What type of quilt is this? Does it have a name?

RM: It's a Baltimore Album quilt.

HG: And is that what you've named it- does it have a specific name?

RM: Yes.

HG: Baltimore Album. It's beautiful. Can you tell me a little bit about that particular style? I've heard about it but I don't know too much.

RM: Well the Baltimore Album quilts were started in Baltimore around 1850 because Baltimore was a seaport when the big ships came in bringing beautiful fabrics from overseas. So the ladies had a real good choice of fine fabrics and they did work like this.

HG: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the images that you have on here. Because I see there's a sailing ship--

RM: The sailing ship represents Baltimore.

HG: Okay.

RM: There's a hunter's scene. There is a farm scene. There's one with the Christmas Cactus. [pointing to different blocks.]

HG: There's a fruit basket over there with a blue bird.

RM: Well this is really, there's some of the fruit over here. And we learned to do ruching, that step there.

HG: Okay, we're pointing to a block with flowers in it.

RM: And there's ruching there. I had never done that before.

HG: And what does that involve?

RM: It's just a little bit tedious. [laughter.] Just a little bit tedious. And we learned to do folded roses, which you'll see in that block.

HG: And I see them right here, also. Is that correct?

RM: Well, yes. That's a folded rose but that's a little different. That's a little more hard to do. And this is a block with reverse appliqué.

HG: Okay, we're looking at a block with some [two.] doves in it and it looks almost like a stenciled design of a heart.

RM: But that's reverse appliqué.

HG: Okay.

RM: These were patterns that were taken from old, old quilts.

HG: How did you choose you're colors in this quilt? I see your main colors are red and green.

RM: Yes. Most Baltimore Album quilts were red and green.

HG: Oh, they are. Okay.

RM: And when I did the center block, which was the wreath of grapes--that was really a good relief because it was different colors I was working with. [the center wreath block is mainly a light purple.] Got away from the red and green for a while.

HG: And this is entirely appliqué. Is that correct?

RM: All appliqué.

HG: And that's traditionally Baltimore Album quilt style is appliqué?

RM: Yes.

HG: And what quilting designs did you use to quilt it?

RM: They're just cross-hatching.

HG: Cross-hatching. Was it done by hand or machine?

RM: It was all hand quilted.

HG: Wow. And is this a king-size? What size is this?

RM: I think it's about 95 by 95. Yes, it could be used as a king-size.

HG: But earlier you said that you do not use this on a bed?

RM: No. Well, I don't have an extra bed for the guest room right now. So it stays in the pillow case. [Ruth stores the quilt in a pillow case.]

HG: And you said also that it travels around quite a bit. Is that correct?

RM: Different organizations like to have it to show. And I entered it in a quilt show several years ago--a show up in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. That's outside of Philly. And I got third prize in the category of appliqué.

HG: Have you ever made any other of these Baltimore Album quilts?

RM: Not anymore Baltimore Albums, but I've done other appliqué quilts.

HG: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about you're other quilts that you've made?

RM: Well, up on the wall there is a little bit of appliqué. That was my first appliqué. So I thought if I got around that I would go on to a bigger one. Now my quilts are all here in this trunk if you want to see them I'll get one of them out.

HG: Okay, well it's probably better to talk about them. I would like to see them though, later. That'd be great. They're amazing. So did you work with piecing before appliqué?

RM: Oh, yes.

HG: So you didn't learn with that.

RM: Yes, I learned with piecing and I thought, 'I'll never appliqué.'

HG: Well why don't we go back to where did you learn to quilt and when?

RM: Okay. I always wanted a quilt that I thought was pretty. And when I grew up those were the hard times, and any quilts that my mother had in that home were quilts to keep us warm. They were mostly old quilts that she would recover. And then she would tie them. So as for fine stitches, she didn't do that. She made quilts to keep us warm. So the first top that I ever made I still have never finished it. I don't know why I don't throw it away, because I didn't want anybody to know that that was my work. [laughter.] Because the blocks got bigger and bigger and you couldn't piece it together. We lived in El Paso, Texas a long time ago. And there was an article in the newspaper that the church would like to have anybody to come and quilt. That they needed workers because when the church finished the quilting, then that was earning money. And I thought, well that's the way to learn and see different quilts. And that's what I did, and the church would have about three or four quilts in the frames all at the same time. So I worked there two or three years, and then I thought, well it's time to venture out and do one for myself. And I just began to piece and venture on from that.

HG: So you learned kind of in a group environment, then?

RM: Yes. And then after my husband retired and we moved back here to Delaware, then I joined the Delmarvelous Quilt Guild. And they taught me so much through their various teachers that they bring in from the outside, the national teachers.

HG: Now you said before that you worked with Elly Sienkiewicz. That wasn't with the Delaware guild was it?

RM: She now comes. Well she has a home in Lewes. And she was the one that got me into the Baltimore album. And you know she has an appliqué academy in Lewes that meets there every three years. And the ladies come from all over the country to take her classes.

HG: Okay, I didn't know that.

RM: So she's quite an artist and has written several books on quilting. She's just my idol. [laughing.]

HG: What was it like working with her?

RM: What was it like? Oh, she's very patient. She's just a lovely, lovely person. Being you're a Lewes girl I hope you get to meet her sometime.

HG: I hope so, too. Well, how would you compare doing piecing to appliqué?

RM: Oh, piecing is much easier.

HG: Is it?

RM: Much easier. Although some piecing can be a little tricky. But with the appliqué I think it might be more restful because you're not bending over a sewing machine. You're over a table or your lap.

HG: Well, you said your mother made utilitarian quilts when you were younger. Can you talk about any quilts in your family that you might know of in other generations?

RM: Well, there are none of those left. There were some. There were some old ones and I gave them to a group, an organization that needed quilts for the poor. But her quilts, I know, that was in the area of feed sacks. She would dye them, and she made her own dye out of the hulls of walnuts. She would gather the walnut hulls and boil them. And that would bring out a--oh I don't know what the color would be--a greenish brown. And she'd piece these feed sacks together.

HG: Where do you think she learned that? Is it passed down?

RM: I think a lot of people knew that because I have read it in books. So her quilts were tied and they kept us warm. Let me see. I did make some notes this morning.

HG: Oh, great.

RM: I think I've probably gone over them. [she reads through her notes.] Oh, I've had that quilt appraised. I don't like to say how much it was appraised for. Then I did another appliqué which was called "Vases of Flowers."

HG: After this one?

RM: I did it before that one.

HG: Before.

RM: And I took it down to the American Quilters Society in Paducah, Kentucky and had it appraised. And that quilt, too, was shown at the state fair, the Delaware State Fair. And it won first place. And Lands End was getting a quilt from a state fair for every state and mine won first and represented the state of Delaware. And they were sent out to Lands End. And then she sent all these state quilts to the Houston quilt show. And they hung there one year, and they also hung there the second year.

HG: So your quilt was hung at the Houston Festival?

RM: It was there two years. And in the mean time, I was making my own quilt, and I was always working on a raffle quilt for the church. You know, the more you do the more experience you get. And that's about it leading up to Baltimore Album.

HG: Okay. Well, you mentioned that you made quilts for raffles. Is that for charities?

RM: Yes. With St. George's and All Saint's who are the same parish. We would meet in the parish hall in Rehoboth. And every October they have a Christmas shop that lasts about three days. And the money made goes for the local charities. This year there is a white-on-white which we hope will bring in quite a bit of money.

HG: And was that made by one woman or by--

RM: By a group. Now I helped to start it, but not anymore because my eyesight won't let me do it.

HG: What do you think it is about quilts and quilting that is so meaningful for charitable purposes? You hear about quilts being raffled off...Why do you think it's so appropriate and meaningful?

RM: I think everybody loves a quilt. And I think men are attracted to color. Most men that I've been associated with whose wives are doing quilts- they get right in there and help. They design and they like color, and, of course, that one is color. I just think everybody loves a quilt. It means home. It means warmth. It means security. And that's what--

HG: That's wonderful. How does your husband react to your quilting?

RM: Oh, he's right in there beside me.

HG: Is he?

RM: Yes, yes. He would go with me wherever we had to go.

HG: Has he ever made a quilt?

RM: He designed one, one time for me.

HG: Did he? That's wonderful. Do you belong to any other guilds?

RM: No, just Delmarvelous.

HG: And how has that shaped your quilting. Through that you learned appliqué. Is that correct?

RM: Yes, yes. Oh, like I said, I was self-taught until I joined the guild. And then you learn so many finer points and short-cuts, and the proper way to make things look better.

HG: This is a question we kind of ask everybody. What do you think makes a great quilt?

RM: What makes a great quilt? Oh goodness, they're all great quilts, I think. I don't think I've ever seen an ugly quilt, or a quilt that I couldn't find something to admire. A quilt that has a balance of color, stitches consistent in size, with no knots showing, being well bound.

HG: Another way to phrase it, maybe, is what makes a great quilter?

RM: What makes a great quilter? Well, there are two--a quilter has to have a lot of patience because quilts are not made overnight. Because she has sometimes to stay up and burn the midnight oil because she had other housework to do during the daytime. I think all quilters are lovely people. They're always willing to share their knowledge with somebody else and will help the beginners.

HG: What's your favorite part about the quilting process? Your favorite step?

RM: Putting the binding on. [laughter.]

HG: That's the last thing you would do, right? That means you're done. Do you have a favorite sewing tool?

RM: Oh, there's many tools that you use in that. Of course, the needle is the most important one of all.

HG: Now do you do machine work? You said this is all by hand.

RM: Oh yes, I do machine. And in my earlier years, see I have five daughters. And I was always making clothes for them, so I could never get around to the quilt end of it until later.

HG: Do your daughters quilt?

RM: No. They all work, probably don't...I think they have an interest in 'em but they know that mother's going to give them a quilt. So they just wait to get one from mother. Now when they retire I know there's a couple of them that like sewing--they'll get into it.

HG: Are there any aspects of quilting that you do not enjoy.

RM: That I do not enjoy. No, it's all fun. It's all relaxing. Once in a while you may get into some little part of it that will vex you, but you get around it. You figure it out.

HG: How do your quilts reflect the community around you?

RM: Well, my quilts I've just used standard, traditional patterns. You can always change the color to them. Now what was your question?

HG: How do your quilts reflect the region around you?

RM: Well, other than in this area it's cold in the winter. And you need a quilt to keep warm.

HG: That's true. Now the quilts you remember that your mother made--did she use a wool batting now that we're talking about--

RM: Some of them did have wool batting. They're using wool a lot anymore because it's so soft and it quilts real nicely.

HG: Since you've been quilting for a while now, can you talk about the changes that you've seen in the practice of quilting?

RM: Oh, the fabrics are so much better! We have wonderful 100 percent cotton fabrics. They used to have some polyester in them. Polyester does not give or fold nicely like cotton does. Oh there's just beautiful fabrics anymore. I just love to go in Mary Anne's Mare's Bears shop in Lewes and just marvel at the fabrics.

HG: What about the other materials?

RM: Well, I just work with 100 percent cotton, that's all.

HG: Have you seen any differences in the practices of quilting, with the bees and the organizations? You've quilted with groups and for yourself. Is that correct?

RM: And what was your question, Heather?

HG: I'm kind of interested in the way that quilting has changed over the years, and maybe even the process of quilting.

RM: Well, other than to say we have so much better fabrics and so much better batting, and nice tools to work with. We all have good lighting in our homes to see with. That's a great part. I'm sure they didn't have very good light.

HG: My next question is what do you think the importance of quilts is in American life?

RM: The importance of a quilt in American life... Well, it represents home, and warmth, family, love. 'Cause certainly you're loving your family when you're trying to keep 'em warm and make 'em a quilt. It just reflects, to me, the ideal family setup. Now I'm sure other people can go through life and never have a quilt and they live just fine. But I think a quilt means a lot.

HG: Would you say that quilting has definitely enhanced your life?

RM: Oh yes, yes. You get to meet lots of people. You get to travel to the shows. You get to see the new wares and the new quilting supplies.

HG: What about quilting in women's lives and women's history?

RM: Well, quilting in women's lives has helped to bring them together, to reminisce with each other and to hear the news of the community. Otherwise some of them would probably never get out of their homes, unless to go to a quilting bee.

HG: How do you think that the art of quilting can be preserved for the future? Or, what do you think is going to happen with quilting, now that you've seen it in the past through the present?

RM: I think there will always be quilting. There has been for many, many years and I think it will continue right on.

HG: And does your family have quilts that you've made?

RM: Oh yes, I give them to all of 'em, and the grandchildren.

HG: Did you make them through various stages of their lives?

RM: I started in about 1970, the early seventies to do whatever it was I did.

HG: That's wonderful. Do you think that quilts in the future belong in museums?

RM: I've heard that museums sometimes get so overloaded that sometimes they don't want anything else because they don't have the space for it. And I know down at Paducah, Kentucky--they are preserving quilts there and they're in a controlled temperature environment, and not much light to them. And they collect all of the winning quilts and preserve them there.

HG: Would you characterize yourself as a traditional quilter?

RM: Yes.

HG: In your travels, have you come in contact with many art quilts?

RM: Yes, there's art quilts.

HG: What do you think about that?

RM: I wonder sometimes how some of them are ever made. How did they ever come up with the ideas?

HG: So is quilting an art or a craft?

RM: Quilting is an art.

HG: Can you talk a little bit about that? Maybe the creative process that you go through when you're making a quilt.

RM: Well, I think some of our ideas are formed just before we go to sleep, or when we first wake up, you know. Quilting is the foremost in your mind. I haven't done any art quilts. I don't think I could.

HG: What are the most important elements of a quilt for you, in terms of design?

RM: The fabric and the color.

HG: How do you choose your colors?

RM: That's sometimes a very important and hard part. But if you're in a good quilt shop where they've got experienced ladies working, they'll bring out bolts of material and let you decided which is the most pleasing, which colors will go together. And there are classes on nothing but color, you know, matching colors.

HG: How do you think you teach that sort of thing?

RM: How would I teach it? I don't think I could. I'm not a teacher.

HG: How'd you learn? How'd you get so good at it, because you're obviously an expert from looking at this quilt?

RM: I've lost your question again.

HG: How did you learn to put colors together so well?

RM: Well, by others helping me. And then, if I could see a picture then I would know that I like that or I did not like it.

HG: Well, this quilt before us is amazing. I loved hearing all your stories. Do you have anything that you want to add? [shakes her head no.] Well, I know you were afraid that you didn't have any stories, but you have many. I've learned a lot from talking to you today. Now I'll close this out. This is Heather Gibson on August 1, 2000. Thank you.

[After the interview, Ruth noted that she thinks the block patterns on her quilt were originally the designs of a woman named Mary Evans.]



“Ruth Morris,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,