Eleanor Goldsmith




Eleanor Goldsmith




Eleanor Goldsmith


Heather Gibson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Lewes, Delaware


Shira Walny


Heather Gibson (HG): Today is Monday, March 3rd, 2003, my name is Heather Gibson, I'm sitting here today interviewing Eleanor B. Goldsmith for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project in Lewes, Delaware and also sitting with us is Emily Burkoff. Eleanor let's start by. Oh, I'm sorry, I'm going to note the time, it's 12:05 p.m. Eleanor, let's start about talking about the quilt that sitting here with us today, what's the title of this quilt?

Eleanor B. Goldsmith (EG): [laughs.] I'm not sure I gave it a title, I just call it a Crazy Quilt but it is all made with cotton fabrics because I was going to teach a class at Mare's Bears in Lewes and I wanted the girls to know that they didn't have to have a big supply of fancy fabrics and velvets. They could make something nice and crazy with just cottons and then embellish it. I had to have a sample ready for the class.

HG: Okay, tell me about that class.

EG: It was very nice. There was a nice group of girls there. They also used some men's ties. I had a lot of fun with it. Of course, that's my passion. I've taught Crazy Quilt Christmas Stockings in all the guilds I've belonged to. I have a picture of about four or five girls standing up holding them. They could finish then in one class and then they branched off to teach it later.

HG: Where did you purchase the fabrics in this quilt?

EG: Mare's Bears Quilt shop in Lewes, Delaware.

HG: How do you choose your fabrics?

EG: Color [laughs.] that's a lot more important to me than whether it's cotton or polyester. Of course if I'm making one to pass down to my children, I'll try to stick with all cottons. I took up crazy quilting about 10 years ago and I'll put everything in that. This one was made with all cottons because I was getting ready to teach a class. I use a lot of embellishments that I find in the antique stores and junk trash and treasures shops--

HG: And you're pointing to some appliqué flowers right now?

EG: Yes, that was a dark blue guest towel with flowers on it so I didn't have to do the flowers, I just cut out the part that I wanted to use. Then also I bought a number of these decals that you can just sew on to add something different to it.

HG: And you're pointing to a little poodle on the quilt.

EG: Right, decal of a little white poodle dog. I use a lot of laces, they could be old. You don't know when you get them. If I want to use them, sometimes I tea dye them to make them antique looking. Most of the time, I know if they're handmade laces because I crocheted before I discovered quilts.

HG: So you made the laces on this quilt?

EG: No, no.

HG: No, okay.

EG: But I can do it if I wanted to but--

HG: Alright.

EG: This is a piece of rose motif with the green leaves around it that's made out of the regular small bedspread cotton. I crocheted a bedspread for my daughter's twin size canopy bed when she was little. Occasionally I'll put one of these crocheted leftover somewhere in my work. I use a lot of books and I pick up techniques for spider webs and spiders and beautiful appliqué embroidery. This is a Jewish Menorah I found at a junk store that sells trinkets and I sewed that on. This is crocheted. I don't know where I got that. I use a lot of little pearls and beads. There's a lot of stitching in here. You don't realize it until you look at it a little closer. This is the same stitch you would use for bouillon flowers.

HG: How did you learn the techniques that you used in this quilt?

EG: I've always sewn with a needle in my hand. When I was a little girl, Mother taught us to embroider and when I was really little, Mother let us work on a Dutch Doll, Sunbonnet Sue quilt. She taught us to do the blanket stitch. I wanted to do more and she wouldn't let us. I've got a picture of that quilt .I said, 'Before I die, I'm going to copy it.' I finished the copy exactly using the same colors and it's now out for hand quilting. I've stopped doing the hand quilting now because I like the tops where you can be creative to put colors together. I don't have time to do the actual quilting anymore. I have a cherry quilt frame that my husband made for me. We picked out the retirement the house because the quilt frame would fit in it. I took it down and it's in the loft of the garage right now. My youngest daughter, who is an avid quilter, will use it someday. When first started, I did most of my own hand quilting. Then I decided there were other things that were more fun. . I've always loved quilts but back when I first started, patterns were rare. All the supplies we use now like the rotary cutter and the long rulers and real wonderful patterns and magazines, just weren't available when I started about 20 years ago. The first class I took, the instructor told us for the template material to use the plastic that comes in the bacon packages. Wash it off, dry it, and draw on it with whatever you've got and cut it out with scissors. The first Log Cabin that I made, I had to cut with scissors. We didn't have the rotary cutter and the rulers. I used real narrow strips but it's still the prettiest one I've ever made. My daughter has that. So I was very happy when all these tools started coming out. I think it was 1976 when a revival of the quilting started. It wasn't very long before all the fabrics and the tools started coming out at the same time during the country's bicentennial.

HG: What tool was most helpful in making this quilt?

EG: What?

HG: What quilting tool?

EG: Was most helpful? I don't know [laughs.].

HG: It looks very complex.

EG: Yes, Crazy Quilts can look very complicated. The one she shown today was so beautiful. I made a number of them that size. I put one in the Delaware State Fair. They have a Needlework Department where everything is shown with the aprons and knitted afghans, etc. I received the highest award for the Needlework Department. The governor [of Delaware.] presented awards to the winners in each department. That was a thrill. My grandsons were there and they had Miss Delaware with all her court. My grandsons were so thrilled to get to meet all these pretty girls. [laughs.] I had a hard time learning the Crazy Quilt technique. I used Judith Montano's books to get started is to have to start a Crazy Quilt. You sew and flip and sew another piece and flip. I couldn't quite understand it in the beginning. I sort of copied her pattern in the book and then after a while I realized that you can just go nuts with it. If you'll notice, these are in blocks. Four big blocks are embellished and then sewn together. I have a lot of the hand stitching with the embroidery threads because that's what I learned as a little girl. One of the silk ribbon embroidery classes I taught the students were beginners and had a hard time. Threading the needle and putting the knots in. With twelve students, that was a little frustrating so I think that's probably the last class I taught. I'm more into the arty part of quilting and care more about the visual impact. In fact that's what got me started in Crazy Quilting. I had been doing the Baltimore Album and pieced quilts and all of that precision drove me nuts. Early in my quilting career, I was in a group doing a block of the month I would try to copy it and turn it in. One time I took the threads out and redid the block three times and still couldn't get that exact quarter of an inch for the measurement. I couldn't get it and I figured well, you know, I'm not having fun. I'm not going to do this piecing anymore. [laughs.] So then I started doing the appliqué work for a Baltimore Album with a little group in Milfred, Delaware.

HG: Is that the Piece Makers?

EG: Yes, they branched off with about maybe a dozen quilters and started doing a Baltimore Album quilt, one block at a time. We all did the same block and it was a learning experience. I f I have a book that explains something, I can do it and I think that I took very few classes because I was able to try with the books, especially Elly's [Sienkiewicz.].

HG: Well, tell me, how does working in this Crazy Quilt manner change the way that you create a quilt? How does working in this style change the way that you work?

EG: Well, this is free and loose and very, very creative. Using a pattern is so specific. I took a class with Anita Shackelford to do these different flowers and pinecones that had to be just right, just so. And now that I've been through all these different stages of quilting, I'm just taking fabrics and sewing them together crazy quilt style, I have to have handwork at night that's quick and easy. I'm very fast so that's what I'm working on now, easing down, finishing up with the quilt stuff [laughs.] unless they come out with something very new. I started out painting. I did oils and watercolors and I took classes for that. What I've done is not related to quilting so much, but I took pictures of all my painting. I would make copies of them and put them on blank cards and send them as greeting cards. I haven't painted in a long time. When my mother passed away, she left a box full of squares. Nobody else wanted them so I took them, and it must have been years before I did anything with them. I'd lay them on the guest bedroom and they'd stay there a week or two and finally I'd fold them back up in the box again. One day, I decided to finish it because mother left it and I feel she's up there saying 'Go girl.' [laughs.] I did get it put together. Before quilting even meant a word to me, I crocheted bedspreads and a red dress. I still have the red dress, but I don't think it will fit any of us now. [laughs.] Another thing that was real exciting was designing and learning to do stained glass. Our rabbi came by the house one time for the first time and saw my paintings and quilts on the wall. He was very impressed with them so when they began to look into doing the stained-glass windows in our synagogue, he suggested they, 'Check with Eleanor, I think she'll be able to help you.' So I designed one huge window and three smaller ones. The designs were approved. Finally, I was taught every step in making stained glass. I was also asked to do the 10 Commandments in Hebrew. I had to go into the Internet to get the copies of the alphabet. I don't read Hebrew so I had to draw and enlarge the letters and spacing life size so the engravers could carve them into stone. I also designed a tree of life for the doors where the torah is kept. I was very proud. They are finished and now beautiful. It was thrilling to have my name on these windows that I designed and helped build.

HG: These window designs are absolutely stunning. Tell me about your process of working on them being a quilter.

EG: I think that my background in drawing, painting, quilting and my love of colors. You draw or copy a design, enlarge it, cut it out using either scissors or glass cutters and put the design back together by either sewing the seams or leading. This is a similar process but a different medium.

HG: We're looking at a photograph of stockings made of Crazy quilting.

EG: I think when I got into things. I would go wild and make a series of 12 or 24. I made little white pendants all white and lace and each one different. When my daughter got married, she used them as favors. I've decorated 12 to 24 men's vests with Crazy quilting. I left one in Alabama at an upscale store, and it was sold for over $50. I've never really sold any of my work. I usually give it away.

HG: Tell me about quilts in your family.

EG: Well, my grandmother and my aunt worked in a textile mill sewing ladies' lingerie. They had lot of scrapes left over at the factory and took them home. My grandmother sewed the quilts together and they were really wild colors. I can't believe the women wore some of the colors. [laughs.] This was back 40 years ago. She gave me one and I asked her if I could buy one identical because my daughters had bunk beds. Now I have many of them. I have four sisters and they said, 'They don't match my décor. You can take all of them.' [laughs.] When I was in my 20s, I've started a Wedding Ring Quilt and a Dutch Doll quilt. I made just the tops and when my daughter saw them, she wanted to take them home and quilt them. I caught her taking them all apart to redo the piecing. I was thrilled to see her finishing them. I made broomstick skirts and had the fabric left over. My sister made her own clothes. I'd take her scraps. Those were the only two quilts I was involved with growing up. [laughs.] I collected quilt tops and sent them out to for hand quilting.

HG: Now are these antique quilts that you purchase?

EG: Yes, some of them are. Here's a Bowtie quilt sewn together with red embroidery thread and long basting stitches. I can't send it out for quilting, and I can't put a border on it. I just keep it and enjoy the old fabrics. The first quilt guild I joined was in Oxon Hill, Maryland. That's when I fell in love with all kinds of quilts, especially Crazy quilts.

HG: Okay.

EG: At the first quilt show after I joined, I saw a Crazy quilt won by a previous a member of the guild. I said when I am president, that's one of the quilts we're going to do. That's when I started pouring through Judith Montano's books. The members were fairly new to Crazy quilting. One by one I went to each member's house and helped her do her block. [laughs.] I think most Crazy quilts look antique.

HG: This brings me to a question I'm interested in, what makes a great quilt?

EG: To me or for judging?

HG: In your opinion.

EG: Well, I go by the color. If the colors catch my eye and I like them, I'm drawn in. If they're dull and the colors don't go together, I'm probably not interested enough to look at the seams or wonder about the pattern. So, I guess I'd have to say color.

HG: What makes a great quilter?

EG: [laughs.] Gee, I don't know.

HG: What's important to you?

EG: Passion. I think you have to enjoy it and sometimes I feel it has to be a priority with you, at least for your spare time. There was a time when I said that I'd never have enough time to do things and to work on my hobbies because I worked and had a long career in the government. And now, that I'm getting older and retired. I'm saying I have the time but not the energy. What makes a great quilter varies in different people's minds. I think everybody is affected differently by each quilt, but I get excited when I see all the colors and I think that's a great quilter. That's my personal opinion but I'm not a great person for the details. I learned early that I wasn't a good technical or crafts person. I go real fast and I don't ever want you to look behind my work. I took a class with some other girls to learn the stitches of bouillon embroidery. I finished four napkins and I thought they were beautiful. It was shiny fabric and shiny thread. So, I thought, I'll put them in the Delaware State Fair. I got a note back, 'The front is exquisite. It's wonderful but you need to concentrate more on the back, hide the threads and finish them off.' I didn't get an award because of the back, so I figured well I'll put backing on things now. [laughs.] The bottom line is that I don't care about the technical part of quilting that much, just so I get it together and it's straight, and hangs fairly nice. I just want to do the front of it and I want to decorate it and have it turn out pretty. So, technical knowledge and precision do count.

HG: Why is quilting important to your life?

EG: Why is it? Because it's creative. I've done blocks where you just put them together. I always wanted to do an Irish Chain quilt and I finally did one in a class with Trudy Hughes. That is the one quilt I made where the seams were perfect, everything in it was what it should be but I wouldn't do that again. It's my favorite, I love it. You know when you're young you say, 'I'm going to make a Dutch Doll quilt.' Well, I did, I copied Mother's then made another one totally different. I put many embellishments and flowers on it. My daughter said to me a few years ago, 'Mother, you need to identify all these things that you've made. I don't know what you've hand quilted and what you've sent out for someone else to do it. You've got to write it all down for me.' So, I have a total of 93 items cataloged, described, and with a picture. I also have a chart listing the children and grandchildren who have already gotten one or who I want it to quilts to go to. [flipping pages in book - sound carries through most of talking.] For instance, this is the brown one I did using the bacon plastic [laughs.] I made this in 1985 and I tell a little bit of the history about the quilt. This is my first Log Cabin. When I first started quilting, I think I must have made 20 Log Cabin quilts. I gave them to everybody to use on the bed because I didn't consider them heirloom quality, but I was producing. I was a factory back then. [laughs.] I was really pleased with this brown and tan quilt. In order to make it sparkle, I used some blue and green. A touch of it in there just dressed it up. Here's the little Dutch Doll one I was telling you about I even had some men's [background noise.] underwear in it back when men wore those flowery shorts. I used all kinds of fabric; none of it was purchased for it. I was talked into going to a class to make a purse. [background noise.] We were supposed to do a folded star and I made Crazy quilt motif instead. I made a Crazy quilt pattern for everything. [laughs.] I did some silk ribbon embroidery around a t-shirt and taught some girls from the synagogue. They had never sewn before. One of them had a black one and the needlework on the black t-shirt was beautiful. We sat together at my dining room table, and they walked away with a finished t-shirt. They'd never done anything like that and probably will never do it again. I made a vest, but I didn't make very many of these from a pattern with lining and having it fit. I started embellishing men's vests but only if they fit me.

HG: Now you've shown us a picture of a vest, a t-shirt, a bag, a quilt on a bed, and a quilt on a wall. I have a question. How do you feel that quilts should be seen?

EG: At guild meetings and quilt shows. You have to close the drapes if you're going to hang them on walls. I try to be careful, so the light doesn't come in and I change mine around often. I hang them in bedrooms, den and hallway depending on how much space I've have. So, I think that if you can show them, it's nice. It tells you, 'Look what I did.' Folded up in boxes and bags isn't sharing.

HG: Tell me about how you feel quilts should be preserved for the future.

EG: Well, I think that if you've done something creative, no matter what it is, it deserves to be passed down to children and grandchildren. And I'm fortunate I have four children and seven grandchildren. I just feel they get them, and they shouldn't be put out in a yard sale or taken to the beach. I get very upset on the beach when I see quilts and want to go up and offer to buy them. [laughs.] I also think you should keep a history of quilts. It's very important to identify what you've done for the kids. They didn't appreciate it maybe when you were doing them but when you're gone and some of your work still exists, it's nice for them to know a little bit about it. This was a class with Joe Diggs. I understand she uses design in her teaching to show an unfinished project and she doesn't know who did it and one of the girls knew me and knew I had done it and said that it was mine. [laughs.] That was a cute story for her to come back and tell me that that the teacher's using it as a demo. We were supposed to be doing a landscape with mountains which was no fun. So, I did flowers. [laughs.] When I started my Baltimore Album quilt, this was my first block. I said, 'This is too pale. I've got to get more color.' I ended up using it in a round robin where you pass it around and everybody does a row.

HG: Now what is your current project with quilting?

EG: A group of 15 of these little lap quilts for my children, grandchildren and sisters. They're always saying, 'When are you going to make me a quilt?' So, I'm planning to do them and present them all at the same time.

HG: And when do you think that will be?

EG: Oh, a year from now maybe, I'm starting them.

HG: And how will these quilts be used?

EG: I don't care, they're pretty enough to go on a wall, they're pretty enough to just use as a lap quilt. They're not large enough for bed quilts except maybe for the kids in college. When my grandchildren were born, I made all kinds of baby quilts for them. This is my latest Crazy Quilt. It's not finished yet and I have to figure out how to finish the borders. It's a twin to the first one I made using a different layout. A lot of work is in them with all men's ties and each seam is embellished very heavily. I went through a spell when I used only men's ties. I belonged to an embroidery guild, and I made all these little squares of different flowers and found hand painted frames. They were perfect to use for my little embroidered flowers.

HG: What was the name of that guild?

EG: The guild?

HG: Yes.

EG: The Embroiders Guild of America, it was the Sussex County Group. I also made these little dolls, and I must have made 25 or more. You can wear them on your lapel, they're fun. People would say, 'I want a redhead.' [laughs.] I'd make a redhead.

HG: You've had such a prolific career.

EG: Well, 20 years, and it's what I've wanted to do all my life. I finally learned how.

HG: Where do you envision your collection going in the future? Where are all these over 100 quilts going to go?

EG: You want to know the truth? They all go to my daughter who's a quilter. She will not give them away until she feels they will be treasured. I've designed a Sesame quilt for my oldest grandson. When I went to visit a year later, it was a rag. I put a lot of work in it. It was hand and machine made and was gorgeous with a pillow sham. It had blood on it and it had been washed every other week or so. I asked daughter, 'Why did you let this happen?' and she says, 'Well, mother, would you rather have him take it out of a trunk every five or 10 years to look at it or would you rather him remember it as having been used?' Did I answer that question?

HG: Yes, absolutely. [laughs.]

EG: But what's going to happen to them when I'm gone. I'm hoping that my youngest daughter will give them to the family with a page about how to take care of it. I'm going to have to research and make up a page for how they should clean it or wash it and keep it out of the sun and bring it out once a year to look at. [laughs.]

HG: We're almost out of time. Emily, is there anything that you would like Eleanor?

Emily Burkoff (EB): Where did you get the ties? Were they your husband's or the ties that you made like that?

EG: Oh, the ties. All you have to do is tell the men when they finish using that tie you want it. [laughs.] When it's worn out, I'd like it. I went to a lot of thrift shops and Salvation Army. Sometimes I could get them for a quarter and then they realized what was happening and they went up to a dollar or more. That was right before the beautiful ties came out with florals and geometrics. A lot of people gave them to me, they knew what I was using them for. And I was finished with that. [laughs.]

HG: Well, is there anything that you would like to add, a question that I didn't ask you?

EG: Can't think of anything. I probably said everything without you asking. [laughs.]

HG: Well, I'm going to conclude the interview. It is 12:45.

EG: It's been fun.

HG: Wonderful, I'm so glad Eleanor.

EG: I love it.

HG: March 3rd 2003. This is Heather Gibson signing out from the Q.S.O.S. interview with Eleanor Goldsmith. Thank you.



“Eleanor Goldsmith,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1618.