Nancy King Hovis




Nancy King Hovis




Nancy King Hovis


Nikki Greene

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Lewes, Delaware


Elaine Johnson


Nikki Green (NG): To start off Nancy why don't you tell me about the quilt that you have here?

Nancy King Hovis (NKH): Okay, you just want me to tell you about this quilt, not how I got started?

NG: Let's just start with this quilt.

NKH: Well, I guess I'll have to tell you about how I got started in order to tell you about this quilt.

NG: That's fine.

NKH: This is the first quilt I ever made. It's called a sampler quilt. In case you don't know this, a sampler quilt is worth more than a quilt where all the blocks are the same, because each block you have to figure out that it is an individual block and it takes more time to do a sampler quilt. I moved down here, it will be four years ago next July, or no five years ago next July so I've been quilting for four and a half years. When we moved down here it turned out to be a lot different than I thought it would be. My husband and I always loved the beach, but when we got here he hated it and he was very depressed and wouldn't even go to the beach with me. I had always been a counted-cross stitcher and I had my own shop and I had taken many lessons from famous teachers, but I was tired of it. When we moved down here I knew there was a quilt shop and I went and took quilting lessons from this woman named Joyce Barone and the first class I took was a sampler quilt class because she teaches you everything you need to know to quilt. And if you ever want to quilt I would recommend that you do that because she teaches you to rotary cut, how to measure correctly, everything you need to know to quilt, binding, sashing and gives you all the patterns, and teaches you to do triangles. It literally saved my husband's life, because if I hadn't learned to quilt and been busy doing this quilt, I probably would have killed him. [laughter.] That's how I came to make this quilt.

NG: And where did you move from?

NKH: We moved from a place called Aston, Pennsylvania, which is outside Philadelphia and my husband was a Philadelphia schoolteacher for 36 ½ years. He cured his problem by going to work for Cape High School in Lewes and he is very happy. He is not teaching, but he is a hall monitor and he loves the kids. He plants grass on the beach and hangs out with the science teacher--today he's judging a science fair. So, he is very happy and because he is happy, I'm happy.

NG: That makes sense. How did you come to choose the material you chose?

NKH: Well, when I first started to quilt I was very conservative and when I had to pick the fabric for this I never would have, in my past life, picked a plaid to go with a flower, with a print. I really had a hard time and I had a commercial art background. I went to commercial art school at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and so I'm usually pretty good at color, but I really had a hard time mixing all these patterns. I picked out some stuff, but she kept encouraging me to pick out the things like plaid and stars and all these things to go together. My teacher felt that I did not have enough contrast in some of my blocks. She took me out into the shop and she picked this green. This is the only color in the quilt that I don't like.

NG: You still don't like it?

NKH: No. I wouldn't have picked this green. But, you know I was new and it does add a contrast whenever I look at this quilt. I mean other people who look at the quilt don't say anything. But when I look at this quilt my eye goes right to this green. If you hold it up and look at it. But, it's all a learning experience. That's how I did it. The teacher I had was excellent and had a lot of patience. I would recommend always taking a beginning quilting class.

NG: That's great. Why did you choose this particular quilt, as I assume you have done many quilts since? Or just because this was your first?

NKH: Because this is what she taught. She taught a sampler quilt class, because a sampler covers a lot of things in quilting like how to do triangles, squares, and it covers a lot of areas in quilting that you need to know how to do. And that is why she teaches the sampler rather than a quilt that has the same block repeated in the quilt.

NG: And how do you use this quilt now?

NKH: I had it on my guest room bed for the first couple of years after I made it, but then I took it off because I had finished another quilt that I wanted to use on my guest room bed. This one now hangs on a quilt rack that I have in my room. The other thing that I will tell you about this is, when I was in the quilt shop picking out the fabric for this quilt everybody was saying they had all this fabric and they had all these UFO's which are unfinished projects, and I said, 'Oh,' and everybody laughed uproariously when I said this, I said, 'I'm never going to be in that position. I'm only going to work on one project at a time.' [laughter.] And everybody laughed because they knew that it would not be like that. So, I have lots of unfinished projects. I probably have five quilts going. I took two years of Baltimore Album lessons, appliqué lessons and I'm making a Baltimore Album appliqué quilt, and I'm making a Double Wedding Ring, and I'm making a lot of different quilts. I've made all my granddaughters' quilts. I have four granddaughters and I've made all of them quilts. I made my youngest son a quilt, since he's not married, and he has no children, so I made him a quilt. The other three adults have not gotten quilts yet, but I intend to make them one. Quilting is pretty much my life now, and I'm teaching quilting at Mares Bears in Lewes.

NG: That's great. Now do you make quilts always with the intentions to give them away?

NKH: Pretty much, yes. Of course, I think, probably most people keep their first quilt. But I was going to say, about this first quilt, that I had this machine quilted by my teacher, because my teacher has one of these big long-arm quilting machines and she machine quilts a lot of my quilts for me. I feel like she's my mentor. We've become friends. But I had it machine quilted instead of hand quilting it because I heard all these people say that they never finished their first quilt. And I wanted to be able to say that I finished my first quilt, so I had it machine quilted.

NG: What is your first memory of quilts? Even though this is your first quilt, have there been people in your family or friends that quilted as well?

NKH: My husband had a step-grandmother that had a quilting circle in a church in Pennsylvania, up around Franklin, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, it was just a little country church. She was in a sewing circle and she made each one of my children a quilt. I have four children. The boys she made the Boy's Overall quilt or Farmer Overall Quilt, for my daughter she made the Sunbonnet Sue quilt in her quilting circle. I have probably five or six quilts that she and her quilting circle have made. And I would say that's my first introduction to homemade quilts and my interest in quilting. I'm sure that I was many, many places where they were, but I just never noticed them so much.

NG: Had you intended from that time when you were given the quilts to one day do it yourself or it just so happened?

NKH: We had a quilt shop in Media, Pennsylvania and I was interested, but because I was so involved in counted cross-stitch and had such a big investment in it that I really didn't seriously think about it until we moved down here. And I had to get rid of a lot of my counted cross-stitch stuff that I had in my shop and everything, so I was ready to start something new. I knew that when I came down here I was going to take lessons, but it was that I was really pushed because of my husband's depression and I needed to get out of the house and away from him.

NG: I was going to ask, what is it about the quilting process itself that allowed you to get through that tough point?

NKH: Well, I've always found working with my hands to be very relaxing and brings me peace and inner serenity. And I know some people say, 'Oh, sewing it just makes me crazy.' But anything working with my hands gives me a lot of inner satisfaction and inner peace and really settles my nerves.

NG: Are there any aspects of quilting you don't enjoy?

NKH: Yes, there probably are some things that I would not choose to do. People ask me what is my favorite and I really don't have a favorite. I like piecing. I like appliqué. I like new treatments of fabrics, if somebody comes along with a new way to do something or a new treatment. I'm really just a new quilter. Some of these women have been quilting for fifty years, so I just feel like I have learned so much. The other thing about quilting is the women in the groups, they are wonderful. This is not the first time in my life that women have helped save my life in a crisis situation. And I just think the women in these groups are so wonderful, you don't find any cattiness or the gossip, or that meanness that you find in a lot of other groups.

NG: In the process of making this quilt did the women in the groups know you were going through a tough transition at the time?

NKH: Yes, because when women work on quilts together they also talk about their personal life and tell about husbands and children and their problems. We had a woman in our group when we were making this quilt whose husband had Alzheimer's and they had just been married fifty years and she had just had to put him in a home and it was very difficult for her. We had a young woman who had little children and it was hard for her to get away. We had a real interesting mixed group and by the time we left that group we felt that we were sisters and we had talked about everything in our lives.

NG: Do you stay in touch with them?

NKH: Yes, in fact most of them are in this guild that I belong to, Ocean Waves, Pat Henry is the President and she was in my beginners group and several others that were in my class are in this group. And I brought a guest today who is taking a beginner's quilting class from the same teacher that I had, and she just joined the group.

NG: Wonderful. What do you think makes a great quilt?

NKH: Well I think that what makes a great quilt is probably the love and devotion that you put in when you make it, and who you have in mind that you're making it for. Like I will see something and think that I just have to make that quilt for that person. And I have made a quilt for my youngest brother who is single and does not have children or anything. I made him a quilt last year and gave it to him for Christmas. I made my other brother a quilt, because I didn't want any sibling rivalry because I had made the other one a quilt. But as far as appearance goes there are just so many gorgeous quilts that I don't know how you could ever pick one over being better than another one. I think that is why competition among quilters is not like it would be if you were playing a game or something because everybody does such different things that there's really no comparison and jealousy because they are all so different and the methods are all so different.

NG: I've heard you mention your family members a few times, your brothers, your children, grandchildren, what impact do you think your quilting has had on your family?

NKH: I think they realize how much I love them to go to put all the effort that I do into making a quilt for them, and my one son said one time, 'I don't know how mother makes all these things. It's like there must be four or five little Nancies running around the house sewing all these things.' But my daughter-in-law who is Norwegian and she had a Norwegian grandmother who did a lot of the handwork and linens and threads and cool threads and stuff and she really appreciates handmade things and I have made her a lot of things for her house. She just moved into a new, gorgeous house and she brings all her friends and neighbors in and shows them through her house and they all just, because she is so proud of all the things I have made her, that makes me feel really good. I think it has brought me closer to all of them, because they know I have to love them a lot to put all this effort into things that I'm making for them.

NG: So, is your daughter-in-law's mother in Norway?

NKH: Actually it was her grandmother and her grandmother just passed away, but she was in America. And she has a lot of her things that she shows very proudly, too. Sometimes people who have never things done like this don't appreciate the full amount of hours and time and expense that you go through to make this stuff, Karen has never made these things, but her grandmother instilled in her the appreciation of them. And my daughter also really appreciates them. And my little granddaughters, the baby quilts I made them, they still carry them around with them and they still bring them to my house when they come to visit and my oldest granddaughter is eight. Sometimes I make them other little things.

NG: Like what?

NKH: Stuffed dolls and sometimes I make them a dress. One year I made them all black velvet jumpers. The little girls will say to me, 'This is special grandma because you made it for me.' And that always makes me want to cry. [laughter.]

NG: What would you say, getting back to quilt making in general, makes a quilt artistically powerful or as Dr. Herman mentioned the "Wow factor"?

NKH: Contrasting colors, I would say. You cannot be a good technical quilter, but you can make a spectacular quilt just by your choice of fabrics.

NG: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

NKH: That's a hard question. I guess it would have to have some special meaning to it, like a Dear Jane. Have you heard of a Dear Jane quilt?

NG: No.

NKH: They made them up at Helping Hands and it was a quilt that had tiny little squares on it that were like 6 inches, miniature squares, and some lady back in the Revolutionary War had made it and it was in a museum and another woman came along and loved it so she copied it and got permission and figured out all the patterns and it became a rage across the country. She came to speak at Helping Hands in Dover, at their quilting guild, and a lot of the women made copies of that quilt. So, I guess it has to have some, oh, like the Baltimore Album quilts that are in the Baltimore Album Museum, I mean they are--have you seen them?

NG: No, I haven't.

NHK: They are absolutely gorgeous and they're unique and they're old too. And to think that, you know, the Baltimore Album quilts one of the reasons they were so beautiful was because a lot were made in Baltimore and it was a seaport and they brought in all the fabrics from overseas, so they had availability to fabric that a lot of other colonists didn't have. That is one of the reasons they were so gorgeous and all the symbolism and the Oddfellows, there's a lot of Odd Fellows symbols on them, it's things like that I think make a quilt museum quality.

NG: Okay. Do you have aspirations of having your own quilts in a collection in a museum, or do you not?

NHK: I would love to. I would love to but, I really don't think I have the patience to develop a new technique or something like that to get it into a collection like that. I know women who design fabric and put out books and the unfortunate part of that is they work really hard, like 24 hours a day and nobody ever gets rich off of quilting, even designers and people like that. They probably make some money, but they never get rich.

NG: What do you think makes a great quilter, in your opinion?

NHK: A great quilter. Well, I would have to say people who do everything by hand. Like I don't think it's fair anymore in quilt shows where they group the hand done things with the machine done things, I think they should have separate categories for each of those skills, because machine things are gorgeous, but I don't think there is any comparison with hand, because that is really a work of love when you do it all by hand. Did I answer your question?

NG: Yes, you did. How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

NKH: From other quilters.

NG: So, it's not as simple as they have the exception of the woman they mentioned who took out a book?

NKH: There's a million ways. You could read books about it and some people have a natural talent with colors and design and some people don't. But you learn a huge amount from other quilters and taking lessons and all that stuff. I always feel that if I take a class and learn one little thing in that class that's going to stay with me through all the other things that I make. Like when I learned how to make a quilter's knot, I thought that was fantastic, it was so easy. If you just learn one thing in any class that you can take with you through everything else that you make, then I consider it a worthwhile class.

NG: Why is quilting important to your life, you sort of answered that for me, but is there anything you'd like to add?

NKH: It's sort of taken over my life. I'll tell you, because of my commercial art background. I went to commercial art school and then I got married right out of school and I worked some free-lance jobs. I worked for Norcross Greeting Cards for a few years. But I never got to follow through and have a career in it. So, this quilting fulfills my creative needs and when I'm done making something, it's something that someone can use and enjoy. So, I feel that it's a worthwhile thing, it's a very expensive hobby and I feel that if somebody can use something when I'm done with it then it makes it worth it.

NG: How has your commercial art background influenced how you make your quilts?

NKH: That's a good question. In the beginning, I would not deviate from the pattern. If that was supposed to be a green triangle, I would make it a green triangle no matter what, and a certain size or whatever. But now, after four and a half years I have finally just gotten up my nerve to change things and I think that gives me a lot of satisfaction. Like I'm doing a Robin Pandolph "Father of Lights" appliquéd wall hanging and I didn't want it to be specifically for one holiday, which it was going to be for Christmas, so I took some things out and added some things so that it wouldn't be just for Christmas. And I think that my commercial art background helped a lot with that and with the colors and with the design factor. And now I'm getting so I am not afraid to change something and put my own ideas in. Eventually I would like to design my own patterns, but who knows.

NG: So, without the commercial art background would you have instead said, 'Well I've decided to make this and it's a Christmas quilt, so a Christmas quilt it is.' Is that what the difference would have been?

NKH: Yes, probably, because I'm very anal and if I was going to make a Christmas quilt, I would have a pattern and I would stick to it and that would be it.

NG: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, or does it?

NKH: Well, the Baltimore Album quilts are only really well known and popular in this area, although women come from all over to learn how to do them then the seashore things because we live near the beach. And I've found that whenever I go on a trip or anything like that, I find I run to the nearest quilt shop, because you can always get some kind of different pattern there that is locale. We used to go to Cape May to get counted cross-stitch patterns of the old Victorian homes and I used to do those when I did counted cross-stitch. So, I'm sure that where you live influences what you make. I have a friend who I graduated from high school with who has a quilt shop in Victoria, Texas and another good friend who is her sister-in-law and there were four of us who ran around together in high school and three of us quilt. And I didn't know they were involved in quilting when I started and they didn't know I was, but she says that the interest in appliqué and in Baltimore Album appliqué is not there in Texas. She said that they don't have any interest, that when they offer a class in appliqué, they can't get anyone to come. And I'm sure there are fabrics in Texas that reflect more of a western motif than ours.

NG: Have you traveled to many quilt shows?

NKH: I've been to local quilt shows. I've been to Lancaster and Williamsburg. But I could go to Houston to help a friend with hers if I want to. But whenever I do travel, I try to visit a quilt shop and I was really sorry that about fifteen years ago when my husband and I went to Australia that I wasn't into quilting yet, because they have gorgeous fabrics and wonderful patterns, and I missed all that.

NG: Now you have an excuse to go back to Australia. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

NKH: I think it is a huge part. Back in the pioneer days they were a huge part of their social life. I mean, first of all if you were a good stitcher, you got invited to more social events than anybody else because the quilting bee was pretty much a main stay of their social life. They would invite 8 or 9 women in the morning to come over and each of them would bring a covered dish and they would come over and they could only fit so many around a frame because they had to put up the fire to keep away the cold and then they would have lunch and then the men would come over at night and have dinner and then they would dance. So, it was really important that you become a good stitcher so that you would be invited to social events, because they didn't have that many.

NG: How do you feel that gets translated to today's life?

NKH: I'll tell you. Quilters are all good quilts. We have a lot of covered dish things, and the food is wonderful. And I was president of this guild for a while and when I was president the officers and their husbands got together, and we did social things together and cookouts and things like that and we had a really good time. But my social life is pretty much centered around quilting. And the best friend I've met down here I met her in the aisle of Ames getting plastic boxes to put our quilts in under the bed. I invited her to Ocean Waves with me and she said that she didn't know. So, I called her the next day and told her I'd pick her up, I picked her up and we became really good friends. Her husband and my husband are really good friends.

NG: That answered my next question, how does that translate to each other's spouses and families.

NKH: We need the husbands to do a lot of things for us. We're going to have a quilt show in October, in Milford, which you girls should come to, and the husbands come in and set up the quilt racks and put up the quilts and then we feed them [laughter.] they get a free dinner and then at the end of three days they come in and take down the quilt racks. My husband helps that day and then I take him out to dinner after the racks are down. But it just all seems to connect.

NG: How do you think quilts can be used?

NKH: Be used?

NG: I should rephrase; what types of stories or things can be told with quilts?

NKH: They can be gifts of love, they can be utilitarian, they can tell stories--the Baltimore Album quilts pretty much all told stories. They can be a way to show your artistic talents and they can be used to soothe your spirits. They've certainly soothed mine.

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

NKH: Never put them in plastic use a pillowcase and exactly what you girls are doing, interviewing people. I've had people emphasize and emphasize for me to put labels on my quilts and I try to do that, but I think hopefully you get your family to appreciate them and then they will take care of them.

NG: Can I ask you to actually read your label. We read it earlier, but we would like it documented as it is your first quilt especially.

NKH: This is my label from my first quilt, it says: Sampler quilt, first quilt made by Nancy Lynn King Hovis, took a beginner's class at Mare's Bears quilt shop in Lewes, Delaware. Joyce Barone was the teacher. I started it October 1998 and finished it February 1999.

NG: That's great. And so all of your quilts have some type of label like that.

NKH: Yes, yes. Every quilt I've given to my granddaughters, I put their full name and what birthday, or Christmas I gave it to them for and I put my full name and where it was made and then I say, 'Made for my beloved granddaughter' such and such and if there is anything else I want to say about the quilt I put that on the label.

NG: Is there anything we haven't had a chance to talk about that you would like to?

NKH: I can't think of anything except to say that quilting is a huge, huge part of my life and I would really miss it if I wasn't able to do it.

NG: Thank you very much. We've ended at 12:30.

NKH: You're welcome.

Lenore Constant (LC): Restarting interview. You said earlier something I wanted to--do you think that you're going to make patterns of your own, completely new ideas?

NKH: I would love to. I have a couple of ideas and I'm not sure that you are leaning in that direction; it's something that you do decide to do and then do it. I've taught a needle punch class and I designed a bag; purse and it had a needle punch pumpkin on it for fall. And that wasn't very hard it was a very easy thing. It's nothing like designing a whole quilt. The hard part about designing for me is that you have to write down every little, tiny thing. I would almost need an assistant who would write it all down for me. I'd be three more steps ahead and realize I had forgotten to write the steps between. Currently I'm teaching two classes where you do a quilt and put it in an old window, and I have some ideas for those too. But that is a problem too because I have to write things down as I go. Because the patterns have to be exact, and you get good patterns, and you get some that are not so good.

NG: Could I have your name please?

LC: Sure, that random question came from Lenore Constant.



“Nancy King Hovis,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,