Doris Thackrah



Doris Thackrah




Doris Thackrah


Linda Brammer

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Newark, Delaware


Elaine Johnson


Linda Brammer (LB): This is Linda Brammer. Today's date is November 10, 2003, at 5:35 p.m. I'm conducting an interview with Doris Thackrah for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, in Newark, Delaware. Doris tells us where you're from.

Doris Thackrah (DT): Originally, I was from the Philadelphia area. I grew up in the Lansdale area and moved to Philadelphia when I was about 12 and went to school there. After I married, I moved all over the place. I've been in south Jersey, north Jersey, Atlanta, Georgia, and back to Wilmington and now I live in Cecil County, Maryland.

LB: Tell me about the quilt you brought today.

DT: This quilt is a quilt I did with a friend, her name is Philippa Lammey and what we did was each week we would make two blocks exactly alike, we would meet for lunch on Friday and exchange the blocks. So, we each had the same blocks when we finished with this project, but we set our quilts in two different ways and we didn't tell each other how we had set them until after we were done and then we quilted them together and put them in the same quilt show, which was the 1991 Delaware Valley Quilt Show which was held in Northeast, Maryland. And we both won honorable mentions for our quilts.

LB: Wonderful. So that was 1991. When did you start it and when did you finish it?

DT: It took about 18 months to get it done. The quilt has also been published. It was published in Quilting Today magazine in August of 1994. It was also in the Timeless Treasures 10th Anniversary limited edition. The quilt was also used in an advertisement for a Great American Doll; it was used as a background for the Great American Doll.

LB: That's very exciting. How did you get publishing world.

DT: Well, what I did was I sent my photos to the Quilting Today magazine and that started it. They published it first of all and they asked for the quilt and used their own photographers for the quilt and then it was picked up by Timeless Treasures patterns and they asked if they could print the pattern in their magazine, which they did. When it was in that magazine apparently a gentleman for these Great American Dolls saw it and wanted to use it as a background for their advertisement and he asked if he could borrow the quilt and use it for that background.

LB: So, it took on a life all on its own.

DT: Yes, it did.

LB: Did you get any feedback over the years about it?

DT: There was one woman, and I didn't bring the letter with me. But there was one woman at the show who was impressed with the quilt, and she wanted me to tell her where the pattern was from, which I did. It is a commercial pattern, a classic pattern.

LB: What pattern or block design is it?

DT: Isn't it Jewel Box?

LB: Jewel Box?

DT: Yes, it is Jewel Box, a classic pattern.

LB: So, did you and your friend decide on any particular colors or anything?

DT: No. It's all scraps. We didn't know what the other one was doing until Friday when we exchanged our blocks. It was great fun.

LB: How do you use this quilt now?

DT: I use it on my bed, every day. Almost every day, I alternate that with another quilt that I have.

LB: It's lovely.

DT: Yes, it's one of my favorites.

LB: Do you have plans for it? Are you going to leave it in your will to somebody?

DT: Not yet, but I guess I should do something with it.

LB: I think it is actually a fairly important quilt in your quilting history.

DT: Yes, it is.

LB: Tell me about your interest in quilting, when did you first get interested?

DT: Well, I quit my career job in 1978, primarily to take care of my father and my husband's parents because they were getting on in years and were in ill health. They died within about eighteen months of each other and there I was without a career, and I had to do something. So, I took a quilt class with Sally Matthews in Newark, Delaware. And of course, I met a lot of friends that eventually ended up in Ladybugs with me. And then I started to work in a quilt shop Patch of Country, up in Chadds Ford and then I taught there and while I was working there, I also went and got my NQA certified teaching certificate, and I am a NQA certified teacher. And then somehow things just kind of mushroomed. It became more of an avocation rather than just a hobby.

LB: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DT: Oh, I quilt some every day. At least two hours every day. Sometimes I spend six hours quilting a day.

LB: What is your first quilt memory?

DT: My first quilt memory was my grandmother. My maternal grandmother was a quilter. She was a Mennonite lady from Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania. When I was five, I was quite ill with pneumonia, and she brought this quilt that she was making for me and it was a plain nine patch quilt and it was a very crude made quilt, but it was the only quilt I have of hers and I loved it and I still have it today and I treasure it. One of the interesting things about that quilt is they used embroidery thread for the quilting, and I learned later that this was not unusual for the Mennonites to use in their quilts.

LB: Are there any others in your family who have the quilting bug?

DT: No.

LB: So, you are carrying on the tradition alone.

DT: I guess so.

LB: How does quilting impact your family?

DT: [laughs.] Well, I think they are all very interested in what I do and are very supportive. I still go to a lot of shows and take a lot of classes and lectures and things like that. And they support me in that. My grandsons are starting to appreciate my quilts a bit and the things that I'm doing. I find it interesting that the boys are taking an interest, but they are.

LB: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

DT: Oh, good grief, I think quilting is a wonderful therapy. I think it's a wonderful therapy especially when you're quilting a quilt rather than designing a quilt. When you are just hand quilting a quilt that is such therapy and such a stress reducer. You can quilt without thinking about what you're doing, and you can just think your thoughts and work everything out. For me quilting is wonderful.

LB: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

DT: I think, well right now I'm quilting on an appliqué quilt, but I'm finding that my interests are going more toward piece quilts, because I can use color more. I seem to like the color that comes out in piece work and I'm leaning more toward that right now.

LB: Are there any aspects of quilting that you don't particularly like, or your least favorite?

DT: I don't think that it would be my least favorite, I think that another thing that I'm starting to get involved in is that I've always been a hand quilter and I'm starting to get into machine work, I'm not doing it as well as I would like, but I think I'm gaining on it and it's something I want to develop more and more.

LB: Still more to learn.

DT: Oh yes, there is so much to learn.

LB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

DT: Color. And also, the quilting design not necessarily the block design but what you do with that quilt when you're quilting it. Whether it's machine quilting or hand quilting, I think that enhances it so much.

LB: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DT: I think again I have to say color.

LB: Something that when you walk in a room you notice right away.

DT: Right. The color pops out at you.

LB: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a collection?

DT: I think good technique, also I think maybe a different use of a particular pattern or design.

LB: What makes a great quilter?

DT: Someone who enjoys it and pursues every aspect of it.

LB: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern, choose fabrics and colors?

DT: That's hard. That's the hard part and I think that it's something that you have to develop as you go along with quilting. I find that now, the fabrics that I'm picking out are so different from the ones I picked out ten years ago, and of course, there's more on the market. And so, I find that my tastes are changing in fabrics and also in design work.

LB: What do you think has influenced your development as a quilter?

DT: I think a lot of the shows that I go to. I'm finding that when I go to these shows, especially the one I went to this past year in Nashville, I took a lecture, and they were bringing out so much of the fabric design and the color and this sort of stuff and I think just by seeing what other people do and develop I think it shapes your own style.

LB: They inspire you, become an inspiration. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting, longarm quilting, how do you feel on that?

DT: I feel they're all great. I think they all have a place. I think hand quilting for me is very relaxing and is something I have to do; I have to have a hand quilting project going all the time.

LB: Up to recently you have only hand quilted.

DT: Yes, but I have to say I'm enjoying the new machine quilting techniques. And when I go to the shows, I see that these women are really becoming artists with the machine, and I think the longarm quilters are too. Not all of them, but some of them are really, really wonderful and I think there is a whole aspect there for development too.

LB: Why is quilting important to your life?

DT: It's what I do.

LB: In what ways do your quilts your community or region?

DT: I think that's a good point. I think when I lived primarily up here, I did a lot of traditional patterns. I also did a lot of darker fabrics. I'm living part time in Florida now and I'm finding that I'm into some very bright things and palm trees and flamingos and all this sort of thing and beach houses in my designs and I've made several wall hangings like that and so just by the area I'm living in. And just the quilt shops in various areas have different types of fabric which are what they do in that particular region. I think that's one of the reasons it's so much fun to travel to other areas of the country is that you see different fabrics in different areas.

LB: It's interesting that the environment can influence color choices.

DT: Yes, it is.

LB: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

DT: Well, I think that we have a tremendous history of quilts from way, way back.
It's just part of our history. Women did this as a way of expressing themselves and still are today and I think that it's a really important part of U.S. history.

LB: In what ways do think quilts have special meaning to women's history and experience.

DT: Well again, I think that it's a way for women to express themselves and that again is an area thing. The quilts that were originally made in New England are certainly far different from the quilts that were made in Baltimore and Philadelphia. And the Amish influence up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area.

LB: We wouldn't have these wonderful quilts if not for the women.

DT: That's right.

LB: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

DT: I think there's a lot more being done for documenting quilts. I think a lot of the historical societies around are doing that. I think it's exciting that we have these quilt museums like the one in Paducah, and the one in Lowell, Massachusetts, and there is also a small one that's started up in Harrisonburg, Virginia and these places are getting quilts from the local areas and buying them up and documenting them and I think that's wonderful. Winterthur Museum [Wilmington, Delaware.] also has a nice collection of quilts and it's nice to see that various types of museums are springing up and doing this type thing.

LB: What has happened to the quilts you've made? Have you given any to friends or family?

DT: I've only given to family. My daughter has one and my son has one. Most of them I've kept, and they are on beds in my house in Maryland. My house in Florida they are on the walls there. I have quite a few of them on the walls there.

LB: Tell me about the classes you've taught?

DT: I've taught basic quilting. I did that for many, many years. I then went on to teach a lot of piecing classes. I taught a Woven Hearts class. I taught Pineapple placemat classes. Oh goodness, I can't think of all of them right now.

LB: I took a class from you up at Patch of Country and I was trying to remember what class that was.

DT: I've taught a lot. There were a lot of Christmas type classes that I taught. There was a pine tree table runner that I taught. There was also a Christmas tree skirt that I taught up there.

LB: Did you teach strip piecing up there?

DT: Yes, yes, I did.

LB: How long have you belonged to a guild?

DT: I've belonged to Ladybugs, and we were talking about that at one of the last meetings and the Ladybugs were not quite a year old when I started with them, and I've been in it ever since.

LB: You were in the guild then early on. Almost as long as you've been quilting.

DT: Yes. In fact, it was in Sally Matthews' class that, in fact she was instrumental in starting Ladybugs, and she encouraged us to come and that's when we were meeting over in the school and were just a small group.

LB: Where was it that Sally taught that class?

DT: It was in her home. And she had a quilt shop in the basement of her home.

LB: How many awards have you won? You mentioned about the honorable mention.

DT: I've won quite a few awards. I had some of my things, my ribbons hanging on my studio wall. I have won first place and I have quite a few third-place ribbons for both wall hangings as well as bed size quilts.

LB: And this is primarily in the Delaware Valley?

DT: Yes, and there was one up in Lancaster that I won. And there is one I won in Undercover Quilters. My Bambi quilt, it was an appliqué Bambi quilt that I had made for my granddaughter that was down in Woodlawn, in Washington, DC. I won second place there and I won a viewer's choice one year in the Ladybugs show too. I have quite a few ribbons.

LB: Tell me a little bit about the other quilt you brought today?

DT: It's a plain nine patch. This is the same design that my grandmother made me when I was five and it was getting kind of worn and I decided that I had to make a replica of the quilt. And of course, this quilt is much bigger than the one she made because that one was more of a youth size, and this is a full size and so I did it and I quilted it to death and it's one of my favorite quilts.

LB: I love the hand quilting on it.

DT: Yes, I really quilted it to death.

LB: Is the quilting design on it mirror your grandmother's quilt?

DT: No, the design is totally different than what was on her quilt.

LB: Quite a tribute to her though.

DT: Yes.

LB: Is there anything else that you would like to tell me about your life in quilting?

DT: No, I don't think so.

LB: Okay, well I'd like to thank Doris Thackrah for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 6:15 p.m. on November 10, 2003.

[tape ends.]



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