Dee Richardson




Dee Richardson




Dee Richardson


Linda Baker

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Elkton, Maryland


Megan Dwyre


Linda Baker (LB): This is Linda Baker. Today's date is February 6, 2003. It is 3:30 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Dee Richardson for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Elkton, Maryland. Dee, tell me where you are from.

Dee Richardson (DR): I live in Wilmington, Delaware, but I'm originally from New England.

LB: Tell me about the quilt that you brought today.

DR: There are lots of things to tell you about it. I made it because I wanted to use this technique which is called- it's a Bargello style, which means that it's a lot of tiny little squares that vary, the colors in the quilt vary by where you place the squares in relation to each other. As I said, I wanted to learn this technique and my friend who had been living on her own for the past fifteen years just paid off her mortgage, and she was to have a mortgage burning party and I wanted to honor that hard work that she had put into the project of paying of her mortgage. So, I made it for her without telling her that I was going to which was sort of neat because she was totally surprised.

LB: So you made it, and you used a pattern that any of us could buy?

DR: Yes, I found it in a book, in a store. Actually, it was a quilter's magazine from Australia, but it was being sold in a store near where I live.

LB: And you have dated your quilt?

DR: Yes.

LB: Aren't we proud that some people do. [laughs.]

DR: Right.

LB: And the materials you have used are they cotton?

DR: Yes, they're all cotton. I prefer to use all cotton.

LB: Besides having this quilt mean a lot to your friend, what does it particularly mean to you to present this to her?

DR: Well, I will always be in her life, through this quilt if no other way. And not only that, it's got a nice label on the back of it that means that her other friends will know that I made it for her. I guess that's it.

LB: I see you have picked blue as your basic background and edge--the border print. Is that something that is being used in her home, or--

DR: Yes, yes. I picked up the colors that she uses to decorate her home. As a matter of fact she was with me on several of my shopping trips when I--actually she and I picked these colors out, but she did not know what I was doing with them.

LB: At what age did you start quilting?

DR: I would say I was 45. Although I must say that I have been involved in textiles all my life. I am a knitter, crocheter. I've never done any weaving, but I've been involved in textiles all my life.

LB: How did you learn to quilt? Did you take lessons?

DR: No, I saw an article in a magazine that was a quilt as you go Log Cabin design, and I had a granddaughter coming to visit and so I quickly made a Log Cabin quilt in about 30 hours from when I started it to when she arrived at my home. And, it was so neat--actually in retrospect, the colors were absolutely awful, they did not go together at all, but it was neat to learn that I could do something that quickly and have it look halfway decent.

LB: Do you quilt every week?

DR: I quilt whenever I can.

LB: How many quilters are in your family, or your friends?

DR: Well I've developed friendships with a lot of quilters since I've joined the guild that I'm in but other than that nobody else that I know quilts; we don't have any quilters in my family.

LB: What is your first quilt memory?

DR: The first quilt memory is that one that I made for my granddaughter. I think the next thing that I made was a king-size quilt that was totally of my own invention that was multicolored four-inch squares, no pattern to it- a totally random pattern, that I made shortly after I made the one that I made for my granddaughter.

LB: Do you always use cotton fabrics if you can?

DR: Yes.

LB: Has quilting impacted your family since your first quilt?

DR: For sure, it has. For instance the second quilt that I made, the king-size bed one, I sleep under it every night with my husband, so yes. [LB laughs.] On that one I used a particularly heavy batting because I wanted it to be really warm.

LB: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time? To take up time for illness or something?

DR: Yes, not quilting, but certainly hand work. Quilting I've found is something that, for me, is not transportable, it doesn't go with me easily. I have a place at home where I quilt and I like to go there and quilt, but I don't usually go there because I'm stressed or anything, I just go there because I want to quilt.

LB: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

DR: The designs, the colors. There's one other thing, that I don't know that everybody knows about quilting, which is that when you make it, although the squares have to fit together and everything, it doesn't have to fit a human body and that's one of the problems I always had when I was sewing clothing. I don't like sewing clothing. It never seems to work right.

LB: Is there any aspect of quilting that you do not enjoy?

DR: The only aspect I could say that I don't particularly enjoy is having to quilt it by machine. It actually becomes sort of an athletic event trying to get the quilting under the machine. I wish somebody would invent, at a reasonable price, a longarm machine that was just the same as my regular machine a longer space in there to fit the rolled up quilt so that I could do the quilting, and I must just say in here that I really don't do much if any hand quilting. I would like to do more hand quilting, but if I did hand quilting my projects would never get finished.

LB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

DR: I think that the design that the quilter selected and the way it's displayed. I don't particularly think that you have to use cotton if you're making an artistic effort. You can use all different kinds of fabrics to get the effect that you want, but I tend to lean towards utilitarian quilts so that they're designed to be mostly used to keep people warm and usually not displayed, although this particular one is more suitable for display.

LB: What makes a quilt artistically powerful? Do you think it's the colors?

DR: I don't think you can single out one thing, I think it's a combination of the colors and how they're used in the design because you could use really neat colors and have a design that ended up not really showing off the colors, and color is one of the real learning things that I have had a bit of trouble with. I'm getting better at it and I'm reading everything I can about using colors and how colors affect each other in the same piece. Color is probably more important in design, but they're both very important.

LB: When you go to a museum and look at some quilts, what do you think makes that quilt appropriate for a museum?

DR: I have to tell you I don't think I've ever gone to a museum to look at a quilt. I go to quilt shows. One time a couple years ago, my sister and I went to visit a town that we lived in in Virginia back in the late 50s, I think, and the town had just celebrated it's centennial and the women in the town had made a quilt that was on display in the town hall which was very appropriately displayed. It showed all the buildings in the town and it was beautifully done, but I don't think that I've gone to a museum to see quilts.

LB: What about special collections? Have you gone in, say, to one of the quilter's homes to see her collection?

DR: I've only seen the collection of one quilter in her home, but I would assume that these are quilts that the quilter had made, and I don't really see the point of collecting them after you make them. I would just use them or give them away so that they can be used.

LB: What do you think makes a good quilter?

DR: [10 second pause.] A person who's motivated; a person who wants to make a good quilt is a good quilter. [10 second pause.] If you want me to grade a quilter on if their stitches are the right size or if they used what, in my opinion, are the right colors or the right design or something like that, I couldn't do that because I think that a quilter is going to do his or her own creative thing.

LB: How did you learn to design your second quilt?

DR: I just said, 'That's what I wanted to do.' You know what? I saw one in a comic strip, on a bed in "Peanuts." Obviously when you see just this pencil drawing of a puffy bunch of squares on a quilt on a bed, you know that that's a nice, warm, loving bed, and I just loved it.

LB: So that inspired you?

DR: Right.

LB: Yes. That's good. Is there a particular color that you like to go with, or is it for the room?

DR: I would try to integrate it into the room that it's going to be used in, either integrate it or make it the focal point. Now this one happens to have a lot of blue in it, but I don't usually blue because I don't decorate with blue in my own home. But what I would do if I were starting to decorate a room, I don't think the quilt would be the absolute focal point, but I would find something in the room that really was significant, for instance a painting or something like that if it was a good painting, and try to make a quilt that complemented that.

LB: So for a child, say a baby gift.

DR: That's interesting. For baby gifts I usually get one of those quilts, what are they called? It's just something that you put together.

LB: A cheater's quilt?

DR: A cheater's quilt, just three layers and you quilt it.

LB: It's going to be--

DR: It's going to be mishandled and everything and I would prefer to make a really nice quilt for the child when the child could see what I do with quilts and see the time that I spend on quilts and could appreciate it. I certainly wouldn't want to spend hours and hours and hours making a gorgeous quilt that would be gone in 18 months.

LB: And washed and washed and washed, right?

DR: Right, and spit up on and everything. [laughs.]

LB: How do you feel about going to a quilt show and seeing machine quilting versus hand quilting?

DR: As a machine quilter I don't see a problem with it, but I know that there are purists who do. I can only say that for myself that if I didn't machine quilt, my stuff would never get done and I imagine that there are a lot of people in that same boat. I don't think it takes away from it, but there are also machine techniques that can be done poorly and done well. There are people who do hand quilting that don't do a good job so it's just the way the whole thing looks, the appearance of the whole quilt.

LB: You and I both belong to the guild and we see embellishments, have you used that technique in some of yours.

DR: I haven't. I tend to be a very practical person and I just don't see the point for me, in putting extra stuff on it.

LB: Do you make any wearable art at all?

DR: I have. I've made a quilted jacket. I would like to make another one because I'm not happy with the colors I made the first one of.

LB: Would you embellish it or not? Did you embellish the first one?

DR: I didn't and it wouldn't have been appropriate to embellish this one, but I could see embellishing clothing, yes. But again it's back to the practical and the utilitarian and if a quilt is going to be used in place of a blanket--and there's another aspect to that too, which is that if you're in a family that has a lot of allergies a quilt is really a good choice because it's not wool, and yet it has almost the warmth of wool. Also, it doesn't get all static-y like the synthetic ones do.

LB: What about wall hangings, display items? Have you made any of those or--

DR: Well this one is a display item. No, I haven't, you mean like a picture size one?

LB: Yes.

DR: I haven't. I have very little interest doing that.

LB: Or any portraits or anything like that?

DR: Portraits? In quilting?

LB: Yes.

DR: Never thought of it.

LB: Weren't you there when the lady from Africa--

DR: Oh, I missed that. I missed that guild meeting.

LB: She did the faces. She painted and then used the quilting to embellish. She would quilt the wrinkles in and things like that and--

DR: Now see there's a real needle woman.

LB: I think if we don't try it, we don't know what we can do.

DR: This is true, this is true. I think you're right and I think that there's a lot more creativity that is never expressed because people don't either have the motivation or the time to play with stuff.

LB: Have you taken classes?

DR: No.

LB: None at all?

DR: I've taken one two-hour class in color, how to use color.

LB: Is quilting at this point, very important or just practical--important to you?

DR: Well, if you were to ask my husband right now, he would think that it's very important and I would agree with him because I'm in the process of having a special room built in my basement, in which I will have my quilting stuff. So, yes it's quite important to me.

LB: So, you're designing your room to go with your work.

DR: Right, exactly.

LB: Or your play.

DR: It's eighty-percent built.

LB: Do you consider it a play area or something you really like to do?

DR: It's both. This room is pretty big and so it's going to be just an area of serenity. Nobody else's clutter is going to be in there but mine. It's going to be Dee's room, this is it.

LB: This is it.

DR: Yes. Actually, it's in the basement which is a little bit of a problem because I really like to see the outdoors, so one thing that I'm going to do is, there's a window to a crawlspace and I will have a light behind that window and put a transparent film behind the window and it has a sky and clouds on it so it'll feel like I'm looking outside. It's going to be very nice.

LB: Have you designed it yourself?

DR: Yes.

LB: The whole thing?

DR: Yes.

LB: Lots of closet space I hope.

DR: It has a pretty good sized closet.

LB: What do you think about a felt board or display board? Do you like that idea?

DR: Yes I do, and I haven't figured out what to do about that. It won't be built into the wall, but I'll get some way so that I can put squares up and look at them, and stand back from them and get an idea of--

LB: Do you make a quilt from a quick idea, or do you study it out and alter the design or follow a set pattern?

DR: Most everything that I do, I have to have all my ducks in a row before I start it. So, I would say that I get it all organized and then dive in, and then if I run into trouble that's when I work to modify it.

LB: I'm glad you can go without a pattern. Some people are so set on using a pattern and going by it.

DR: Right. Well, sometimes you need it. For instance with this Bargello design, I followed the pattern to a tee because I really never made one before and I want to make one of my own design. I wanted to first see how the things work together and see what I can do with the one that I have in the back of my mind. My father was in the Merchant Marine, and he used to always use that old seamen's maxim that said 'Red sky at night sailor's delight,' and I have all the colors waiting for me to make a red sky quilt, and it's going to be a Bargello design.

LB: Well, we'll wait to see that one. That would be interesting. Do you have children that you have made quilts for?

DR: I have stepchildren, and I haven't made them quilts because they were all older when I became their stepmother, but I've made their children quilts. Every one of those grandchildren has a quilt.

LB: And you have machine quilted all of them.

DR: Yes. [laughs.] As I said, if I didn't they wouldn't be done.

LB: Out of necessity right? Out of necessity. What do you think, in the past, made quilters in America become quilters?

DR: I think necessity. I'm a real strong believer in putting fabric to use. You know little scraps of fabric that might be left over from family sewing. In just about everything I've ever made, I have a piece of something of clothing that I've had or made. I actually don't see anything in this one, but I've even bought used clothing at Salvation Army or something. If there's a big piece of fabric in something, I will buy that and use it, but in the four-by-four square one that I made I have a dress that my first husband bought me when we were in the islands on our honeymoon. It never did fit me, but it was a wonderful fabric, so it's in my quilt and so I'm reminded of that a lot. I'm the only one alive who knows that.

LB: That's interesting. So you think that quilts should be used on a daily basis or in our daily lives rather than keep them and stack them up and--

DR: Oh, yes. I have a friend who had a really old crazy quilt and she would bring it out of the closet every time she had visitors, but it always stayed in the closet, folded up in it's little box. She didn't enjoy it unless she had company maybe that made the difference.

LB: What about preserving the quilts? I know you feel strongly that they should be used.

DR: Yes, that's a real issue that I have to deal with pretty soon because the king-size quilt that I made is showing signs of wear and I want to still use it. There's a certain point beyond which you don't really want to preserve it because it doesn't look that good. But if you preserve it in pictures, maybe not in real life. I don't know what to do about that. I want to continue using it, so I guess I'll just use it until it dies. [pause]. Or I do. [laughts.].

LB: Or make something from it?

DR: Linda that's a great idea, I never thought of that. I could make a smaller one out of it, out of the good parts of it.

LB: That's what I have seen. Say people fifty, sixty years ago have done with theirs. They make pillows or whatever out of them. Or add embellishments to a pillow top.

DR: I have to tell you about a friend of mine who bought a quilt at an antique store and she thought it was kind of lumpy so she started looking into it and what it turned out is that there was a quilt in the quilt. So, I guess people have been doing that for years.

LB: Yes, yes they have. I have quilts dated myself like that, that they recovered them before--

DR: So you are a quilt collector.

LB: Partly.

DR: [laughs.] Caught you.

LB: I hate to see them go at auction for almost nothing because I know what was put in it. What has happened to the quilts, say the ones that you have given to the grandchildren? How do they use them?

DR: They're babies. Their mothers wash them and let them use them. I'm sure some of them are probably pretty tattered by now.

LB: What would you say to a person who would think maybe of going into quilting? Would you encourage that? Would you encourage say the grandchildren after they get older?

DR: I have one granddaughter who did make a quilt with me one time and she really wants to be able to quilt but she has a hard time finding the time to do it and that's a real problem I'm sure with everybody.

LB: What is her age?

DR: She's twenty-two.

LB: Twenty-two, that is a busy time in our lives.

DR: Well she's also a single parent. She works and it's just, I hate to say kids these days, but she's got a full plate, I don't know how she can find time to quilt although I have a sewing machine waiting for her if she ever wants to get into it.

LB: When you machine quilt, you had mentioned earlier that you would like to have a bigger longarm on the machines. Without saying the brand, is there one that you like better than the other, or have you always stuck to the same old machine?

DR: When I joined the guild I asked some of my friends who were in it what kind of machine I should get and they told me what kind they had and they told me what features I should look for and I found a used one that had those features and I love it, so I'm glad I spoke to them about it.

LB: And how old is the machine that you use?

DR: I've had it for about two or three years and it was probably five years old when we bought it.

LB: So as long as you can sew with it--

DR: Yes, it doesn't have any wonderful embroidery features or anything, it has a couple, but it sews and it's fine. The machine that I had before this, when I went in to buy this, I said that I want one that when I press down with the presser foot it goes, and when I lift up it stops, but not one that sort of gets into it and then sews a bit after I take my foot off it. This one is very responsive.

LB: What about the fabrics that are on the market now compared to say, ten years ago?

DR: I think that people have discovered quilting that manufacturers have discovered quilting and they're catering to the quilters. There's a tremendous selection of fabrics available; it's infinite, and that's what makes it so hard to pick the ones that you're going to use in a pattern.

LB: Do you like geometric, or what style--

DR: No. [laughs.]

LB: What style do you really like? You brought the Bargello today.

DR: What style of quilt or fabric?

LB: Fabric.

DR: I'm always drawn to floral. I really don't like geometric patterns in anything. There'll be an image of some sort in the fabric that I like.

LB: And what about the quilt patterns? Will you buy quilt patterns? You got one from a book, but the other ones you have designed?

DR: I bought one last week. Yes, I would buy them, but I like to kind of wing it. I would do a test one to make sure that it works before I dig in too deeply. Also, I'm in a couple of 'quilt in a box' groups and I really enjoy them.

LB: I do too, I'm in one too. You really learn from the quilt in a box the different fabrics that people put in there and you wonder why in the world they picked these colors, but at the end it seems to go.

DR: That's right. You really shouldn't be judging it too carefully.

LB: Because they have picked the fabrics and we do the best we can with it. Are there any other things that you would like to tell us?

DR: I haven't talked about quilting for so long ever before, and I don't know what I've missed. I really enjoy it and--

LB: About the 'quilt in a box,' can you explain to me? I know I have done it, but for those who will be reading this.

DR: Okay, in our guild there's a 'quilt in a box' coordinator and she will collect names of twelve people who are interested in joining this particular group. Everyone buys fabrics for a quilt, for their own quilt in their own colors, and then with their own fabric and their own colors they make a square, and with that square pattern, we switch boxes and everybody makes their own square pattern out of everybody else's fabric. Is that clear? At the end of probably a year, if everybody's diligent and does one a month, at the end of a year we have a group meeting and each participant gets eleven squares in addition to the one that she made herself, made with her own fabric, but made in the square design that each other participant selected. That forms the basis for the quilt. I've seen some really fabulous renditions of these squares that people have put together so beautifully. Most of the ones that I really like are done on point which makes them pretty big and they're really a lot of fun because you don't know what you're going to get until the end of the year and it gives you a whole new thing to start, a whole new project at the end of the year. I'm actually in two groups right now, so every month I have to make two squares for somebody else, but every month somebody else is making squares for me.

LB: So you're excited to see the end.

DR: Oh, yes.

LB: The patches come back to you all done.

DR: That's right.

LB: Did you design the square that you're doing or is it traditional?

DR: The first two groups that I was in, the square I got out of a book, and they were much more difficult than the one that I'm doing right now. I haven't actually started the second group that I'm in now, but the one that I'm doing right now I copied from someone else who was in one of my first groups because it looked so good, the way she used color, and it was very easy to understand how it went together and I'm really happy with it because it's uncomplicated, but it looks fabulous.

LB: And easy and quick to do, I suppose.

DR: It is, and the thing is the way she contrasted the colors. It was very important that she used dark colors where she used the dark, and light where she used the light. So, I can see the difference.

LB: Do you have plans in your head, or in your new room, to make a certain quilt down the road.

DR: I've got probably six or eight in my mind, sure.

LB: Any that you want to tell us about?

DR: Yes. I told you about the "Red Sky at Night" one, and I want to make, my cousins--I don't want to make another king-size one, and they have a king-size bed, so what I'm going to make them is a tablecloth, a quilted table cloth, that I've put some pictures on from my last visit with them, and that's something I've learned is pretty easy to do with your computer. You can just print it right on muslin that you've ironed on to freezer paper and you send it through your printer just like it was a picture. It's really neat. So, I'm going to do it like a family quilt tablecloth, because they always use a tablecloth on their kitchen table.

LB: I know traditions stick with us.

DR: I also have two, now this gets back to the baby ones. I started two quilts that had kites on them. It was a children or baby quilt that had rather involved kites on them. I started two of them because I had two babies, my nephew's baby and my granddaughter's baby were both due at the same time, and then I realized that this is not what I want to do. That's when I went out and got the cheater quilt and made the cheater quilts, and those two kite quilts will be done at a later time, because they were both boys, and they really need to have these cute little kite quilts. Other than that, I have some music fabric stashed away. My husband is a musician and I wanted to make him one. My sister has asked me--that's the quilt in a box I'm doing for her. There are just all kinds of things. I never had much of a stash developed until now I have a room and I can put it someplace so, look out.

LB: Well, after your room's finished you'll have to tell us how your room has turned out and how you feel about having your own room.

DR: I probably won't come out of it very much. [laughs.]

LB: But you do work, don't you?

DR: Yes, I do.

LB: On the average, how many hours can you get away with quilt, or work with your fabric?

DR: The interesting thing is I can time it because I listen to books on CD while I'm quilting, and I can listen to a ten disc book in about a month, or maybe six weeks, so that's ten hours. That's not a lot of time. It's maybe an hour and a half per disc, so let's call it fifteen hours in six weeks, which is maybe two or three hours a week, but that's all the time I can give to it right now and I make the most of it.

LB: And looking forward to having more time.

DR: Oh yes.

LB: If we could just make time.

DR: Well I think actually part of the fun of quilting is what I call stealing the time to do it. I think that if I had all the time in the world I would not get the inspiration or the motivation that I do get, and the desire. I think that I need to have that pressure of not having a lot of time.

LB: If your husband would encourage to make a certain quilt for his boss or something, would you consider researching say what the boss likes, or go with what your husband would suggest to you?

DR: Probably both, probably both. He would have ideas about what should be included and then I would say no. [laughs.] And we would work together on it. It probably never occurred to him to make such a request of me, but I would be happy to work with him on it.

LB: Well, let's take a moment to take a picture of you with the quilt if that's Okay, and we'll document this and I want to thank you Dee Richardson, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 4:10 p.m., February 6, 2003. Thank you, Dee.

DR: Thank you, Linda.



“Dee Richardson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,