Pat Henry




Pat Henry




Pat Henry


Lori Miller

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Lewes, Delaware


Rachel Grove


Lori Miller (LM): I have to do a beginning. My name is Lori Miller. The time is 12:02. It is March 3, 2003. We are here today with the Ocean Waves quilt guild in Lewes, Delaware with the quilter Pat Henry. To start if you would tell me about the object that you brought with you today, who made it, [inaudible.], describe it for me.

Pat Henry: Well, what I brought was a box that contains several pieces of fabric. The fabric is bundled, all cut into two-inch squares, and some of the squares appear as if they were cut mechanically. They don't look as if they've been cut with scissors or even rotary cutters. They're just bundles of fabric.

LM: Does this object or set of objects have any special meaning for you?

PH: Well, they were given to me by a woman who closed an antique store. Actually, she gave them to my husband when she heard him say that I was always sewing, and so she thought that these pieces of fabric might be used to repair an old quilt or, you know, something like that. I don't know. I certainly am not going to sew together two-inch pieces of fabric. I'm too old to start that. [laughter.]

LM: Is there any particular reason you chose to bring this today?

PH: Yes, because I'd like to know what they are and how they have come down through history. There must be something that connects these to the history of quilting.

LM: You've said you're not going to sew them all together, but what are your plans for these objects besides research or just interest?

PH: If I found something that might be of benefit to the quilt world in general, I might just donate them to the group. I really don't want them myself as they are. I have, you know, enough stuff around the house that I don't need to collect more, but I just don't see any future for them with me, and maybe someone else might have something they could do with them.

LM: Tell me about your quilting. How did you get started?

PH: It started a long time ago and then lay dormant as it were for quite a while. When I was a child, my grandma used to make quilts from fabric probably she had left over from dresses she made, and she would cut that fabric into squares and of course I noticed what she was doing. One day gave me a whole pile of these squares and told me to stitch them together. Well, I didn't know anything about stitching fabric together, but she showed me the way she was doing it was a backstitch all by hand, and so I did that and gave them back to her. Later I found that my grandmother gave our family a quilt that was made from these squares. What she did was use old blankets instead of batting. What she did was cover things that were no longer of use, and what we had was this quilt, that kept us warm and yet was a new way to use the old blanket, I didn't think too much about it until the time when my children were going away to college. After I was married, I learned to sew out of necessity, I thought they needed more clothes than I could afford to buy in the store, especially things, you know, to wear to church. In those days you had different church outfits. I started making clothes and then had lots of fabric left over. When the children went away to college, I made them quilts doing the same thing my grandmother had done, that is cutting up this fabric left over into squares, but this time I sewed them together by machine into strips and then, made a quilt from them. But there was no rhyme nor reason as far as pattern is concerned or anything like that, but when the young people went away to college, they could look at these and could remember, some of the fabrics they saw as garments that they had worn and that maybe their sister had worn or their other brothers. So that--it brought a lot of memories--they brought memories with them to college that helped kind of stave of the lonesomeness that is involved with separation. They really cherished them. That was something I never expected, but they did, and they even talked about them after they had graduated from college. I always had in mind that I wanted to really get to know something about making quilts. A friend was talking about strip quilting which sounded like an intriguing proposition. I've been trying to learn more about it all the time.

LM: So, you learned to quilt from your grandmother?

PH: Well, I don't know that you'd say that, because all she taught me was how to put the squares together by backstitching which is not anything like I would think of doing now, and we did no quilting. The three layers were tied together rather than anything else, although I guess that's a legitimate way of quilting, not one that I use anymore.

LM: Was there a particular person who taught you how to quilt then or are you self-taught?

PH: Well, I took classes.

LM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

PH: Well, if it's snowing outside, I sat--[laughs.] I quilt a lot. I like to quilt, and I do it as much as I can without being divorced or have my family think that I am no longer part of it, but I really enjoy it. Yes, I can't tell you the number of hours. It varies.

LM: What is your first quilt memory?

PH: That one that I mentioned with the pieces of my grandmother's clothing.

LM: Are there any other quiltmakers in your family? You mentioned your grandmother--

PH: My sister quilts. I think she may have given it up, but she was very interested in making Log Cabin quilts for a period.

LM: And you're in the guild too.

PH: Yes.

LM: How does quilting impact your family? Or how has it impacted your family?

PH: [laughs.] The first thing I guess is the quilts they took away to college with them, and since that time, as the grandchildren were born, they all got a quilt, like it or not, and then the children kind of compete for who's going to get the next quilt, and so it's set up--another reason for competing. My children are all very competitive, and so if any kind of event is happening in the family there's a competition made of it, and so this is yet another competition, [laughs.] who's going to get Grandma's quilt.

LM: So, your quilts become rewards--

PH: [laughs.]

LM: Winning them.

[recording interrupted.]

PH: Even now when I think there are stressful times, either in the family or in the nation or wherever, you can lose yourself in the quilting process and at least for a brief period of time think of quilting rather than whatever the event is. Yes.

LM: What do you find pleasing about quilts?

PH: I guess--usually, what turns out to look like in the end--the you know you're kind of surprised sometimes that it's good--that it is something that is pleasing to look at, and as it's put together in the pieces you don't always think that that's going to happen.

LM: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

PH: Well, I guess it's--the most difficult thing choosing the colors that go together. It's not that I don't enjoy it, but I don't feel confident at all. People say that that's the most fun part. It's not for me, only because I stress over it, and that doesn't make any sense when you're doing this for a recreation, but I do. I have trouble with that.

LM: Let's get back to the pieces you brought.

PH: Yes.

LM: You said that you'd like to research these pieces and see if they're of any value.

PH: They might be of value to someone that is interested in restoring old quilts, and there is a society that does that. Let's see, Alex Anderson interviewed a woman named Nancy Kirk who's part of the Quilt Rescue Squad, or she chairs that or something, and there's a quilt heritage foundation that is said to be, a group, that is interested in this kind of thing, and I have a feeling that they would know exactly what to do with these and if they could use them or could tell me about them, I think that would be kind of fun.

LM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

PH: Mostly it's the story with the quilt. I think a lot of quilts are great because they are beautiful, you know, all go together perfectly and all of that kind of thing, but the biggest pleasure I think comes from why the person did it, how they went about it, and you know, reaction to it. It's like the story of it. Yes.

LM: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

PH: Well, I guess to me I would love to know how to do those art quilts where the colors kind of fade into each other. It's not geometric designs, pieces that are squares and triangles that are put together, but I have no idea how they get these things that you see pictured in quilt magazines. I have no idea, and they're very beautiful. They're like paintings, and I think that's a beautiful work of art, but I have no notion how to even start.

LM: Where do you find inspiration for your quilts?

PH: I don't think I'm really so inspired. I don't have any creative talent. I follow a pattern rather than being creative.

LM: Do you develop your own techniques or--

PH: Well, sometimes it's a 'make it work' technique. [laughter.] But I can't say the best way of doing anything by way of quilting, because I don't know enough about it I guess, it's like cooking, you know. I can follow the recipe in a book then after a while you get to get to put a handful in instead of a half a cup, but I'm not at that stage in quilting.

[recording interrupted.]

PH: I like the idea of ending a certain time period with something I can hold on to. I could read for the same amount of time, and I love to read, but my life of reading has gone down the drain, because I just can't quilt and read. I can quilt and listen to a tape, and I do that a lot of time. Where if I quilt, at the end of the given period, I can show something for the time that I've put in. and I guess I don't know what that comes from, but I think it goes back to something you're taught as a child or even that you're not taught necessarily but you pick up. [laughter.]

LM: What makes a great quilter?

PH: I think a great quilter is somebody who has the imagination to see colors that go together well and to be able to choose a pattern for all of the different kinds of fabrics. It ends up to be something that's really worthwhile.

LM: You said that you stick to patterns--How do you find those?

PH: Well, often times it's from the quilt guild and from classes that I've taken and conversation with other people that make quilts or even magazines. That's another place, yes. I subscribe to a couple of magazines, and that involves reading. You see we get back to the reading. Yes. [laughter.] I've got a pile of those I haven't quite gotten to yet, but I did get to read an article in the Quilter's Newsletter about your organization, yes.

LM: How do you think--

[recording interrupted.]

PH: That you don't learn it so much. Great quilters don't learn it. It's like how would you learn to paint a picture? I think it's a gift. I think to become a great quilter I think is a gift, to be able to put all those different aspects together to come up with the great quilt, but utilitarian quilts, the kind of quilts that I'm going to make in my lifetime, it's just a mechanical thing. A great quilter would have to have the skills that are inborn, I guess. It's, you know, just like a painter. My son can paint, and he knows different things that I have no knowledge of at all. It's the same. It's true with the great quilters. I think they have something that I would never be able to learn.

LM: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

PH: Well, I can't hand quilt so I--but I've signed up for classes several times, and I don't know whether it's a sign or something, but every time I'm supposed to go to it the class is cancelled. [laughs.] So, I'm still trying though, because I think there will come a time when I'll be very happy to sit in front of the TV and let it blare at me and just quilt, whatever, but I don't do that now, because I machine quilt, and I haven't managed to be able to do that, run the machine and look at the TV. There's not anything worth looking at, on TV.

LM: You said that your quilts tend to be more utilitarian in nature? They're made to be used?

PH: Yes, definitely.

LM: Have you ever made pieces that are just for display?

PH: I have, let's see 1, 2, 3 pieces that I've made. One is an Advent calendar, and another one is like that heart quilt that was shown today. I guess I imposed it on my son and new daughter-in-law to be, because I had asked son's fiancée if she would like me to make them a quilt as a gift, she said, 'Oh no, I have a quilt,' so I knew that was not the gift for me to make, and so but I was chomping at the bit to give them something like that, the wall hanging made of hearts--I thought well I'll get it out of my system, and it's not anything that they really have to worry about, you know having on the bed. [laughter.] It can be done. The other one was a class that I took that was a mystery class, and I usually have that hanging--but so I say three. To my mind, quilts are to put on beds.

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

PH: Well, I've learned today that they're very important evidently from the numbers of people that do quilt. I think it's at least as important as a social function as it is of the art of quilting. You know it's a chance for people to get together, to share memories of things that have happened, [cough.] of other things like that, at least as important as the actual squares and triangles.

LM: Do you think quilts have special meaning for women--

[recording interrupted.]

PH: I've been told that's true because most of the quilters are women, but actually what they're doing I guess is relating--many times is relating whatever's happening in history, but once again, it's being filtered through the woman. So, I suppose that would have to be taken into account.

LM: How do--

[recording interrupted.]

PH: [inaudible.] to keep people warm, to pass on to someone that you think enough of to quilt something for them. On the other hand, there are many, many, many people who have no idea of what it means to make a quilt. I made a quilt for the little boy that was born recently who lives across the street, and when I brought him the quilt--It was not a very elaborate quilt, you know. It was for a baby, and it had a dog like his dog on it, and I brought it over, and his father looked at it, and of course he was very gracious in taking it, and he turned it to the wrong side, in other words the backing, which had pictures of a dog and bones on it. It was a kind of cute fabric, and he said, 'Oh, this is so nice.' Well, he didn't see the quilt! I wasn't about to correct him and say, 'No, it's the other side.' [laughter.] 'I'm glad you like it.' [laughter.]

LM: Do you primarily give your quilts away, or do you keep them or--

PH: About half and half, I guess. I have enough to cover all my beds now, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to stop because, you know, you can't stop.

LM: What has happened to those quilts you've made?

PH: Well, as far as I know [laughs.] they're being used, but one thing you have to do when you give a quilt away is to--I will say it's like cutting the umbilical cord. It's gone. Whatever happens to it after it leaves your house is up to the person who accepts it, and you can't worry about them not washing it correctly, so it'd not going to do any of the things that the fabric's not supposed to do or that you think maybe they're mistreating it or whatever, because then you get into an antisocial situation [laughs.]. So just remember it's gone once you give it away.

LM: Do you provide them with instructions or advice on how to care for the quilt?

PH: Absolutely not. [laughter.]

[recording interrupted.]

PH: I guess I would say that if you're young and you're reading it, then start quilting, and if you're old and you're reading it, it's never to late to start.

LM: So, quilting is really an equal opportunity activity?

PH: Absolutely.

LM: Are there any other questions--

[recording interrupted.]

PH: [laughs.] I think you've covered everything. Thank you.

LM: With that we'd like to thank Pat Henry for allowing us to interview her today for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project here in Lewes, Delaware. Time is 12:26 on March 3, 2003. Thank you, Pat, very much.

PH: All right, you're welcome. Thank you.



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