Felicetta Ryan



Felicetta Ryan




Felicetta Ryan


Rachel Grove

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Milford, Delaware


Shira Walny


Rachel Grove (RG): My name is Rachel Grove and I'm here with Fil Ryan at--what's the name of the quilt show we're at here today?

Felicetta Ryan (FR): The Kent Sussex County Quilt Show.

RG: Okay, I'm going to stop the tape right now just to make sure it's recording. [tape stops and starts.] Okay, starting back up here with Fil Ryan. Today's date is October 19, 2003, and this is for the Q.S.O.S. - Quilters' Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S.- Save Our Stories.] project and I'd like to start off by asking you about the quilt that you made that we're sitting right in front of here. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

FR: Well, this is my first large quilt that I've done entirely by myself. I've just always liked these colors blue, yellow, and white. I had bought the fabric and I had another pattern picked out, but one evening I was reading a book about Log Cabin Quilts and--

RG: Hold on a second, we're going to stop the tape. [tape stops and starts.] Okay, starting back up again, Fil Ryan, after a brief intercom announcement, so you were talking about reading about Log Cabin Quilts.

FR: In fact, it was a book that I had bought at a yard sale and it gave the history of Log Cabin quilts and it went on to explain that most Log Cabin quilts have a center that is red which signifies the hearth or the heart of the family or of the home but what the other traditional center color block is to use yellow which signifies a lantern in the window or a waiting for someone to come home. At that time, my son had just been deployed, it was right in the middle of the Gulf War, and he was deployed on an aircraft carrier and of course we were all anxiously waiting for him to come home, so it's just as if the book spoke to me that Lincoln Logs was the pattern that I should use, so that's what I used for this quilt.

RG: That's so great.

FR: It will go to him as soon as I make a replacement. [laughs.]

RG: A replacement?

FR: I use this quilt in my guest room and as soon as I make another to put in there, I'll ship this off to my son.

RG: Where does he live?

FR: Right now, he's in Montgomery, Alabama. He's going to the Air Force War College down there.

RG: Oh, okay. How many years ago was it when you made this?

FR: This year, this April.

RG: When, oh, you made this this April? Oh, the current Gulf War.

FR: That's right.

RG: Oh, I was thinking of the first Gulf War.

FR: No, this is--

RG: This is a very recent quilt then.

FR: Yes, it's very recent.

RG: So, he got home safe then?

FR: Yes, he got home safe.

RG: Can you tell me a little bit about the fabrics that are in the quilt?

FR: The fabrics were some that I had been collecting for a while. One of the main fabrics, this blue, when I saw it, I immediately liked it and knew that I wanted to use it in that room, and I actually found the other ones that coordinated.

RG: So, to match your living room?

FR: No, The guest room.

RG: The guest room. Where did you buy the fabrics? Acquire them?

FR: Oh, various places, I couldn't even tell you. I know one of them I picked up at Wal-Mart, that one.

RG: With some flowers?

FR: Yes, but I'm always looking for fabric that I like and enjoy.

RG: Do you have a pretty big scrap bag?

FR: Yes, a stash, yes, I do.

RG: Yes, a stash. Is there any other special meaning? I guess you already sort of touched on that with for your son and just that book that you read.

FR: Yes.

RG: And why did you choose this quilt to show to me or to be in this show?

FR: Well, it's really the only large quilt that I've made entirely by myself.

RG: Oh, okay.

FR: So, I was anxious to exhibit it.

RG: Have you done small quilts or hanging?

FR: Yes, I've done wall hangings and a lot of baby quilts that I've done for gifts and of course you make those, and they immediately get sent out to someone and I've made lap quilts for older people as gifts, but this is one that I kept for myself until I ship it off. [laughs.]

RG: Okay, yeah. What are your plans for this quilt? Just to send it to your son?

FR: Yes, to send it to my son.

RG: Do you have any expectations for how he's going to take care of it?

FR: Oh, he's very meticulous I'm sure he'll take good care of it, I'm sure of that.

RG: Really, okay, very good. Can you tell me about your interest in quilting in general?

FR: Well, quilting is something that I've always wanted to do. No one in my family quilted although my mother was very creative and did a lot of knitting and crocheting and always made our clothes and I grew up doing a lot of sewing and making my own clothes, but I've always admired quilts and thinking someday I'm going to learn to quilt. [laughs.] Fortunately, I had that opportunity when we moved to Delaware.

RG: Where did you move from?

FR: From Silver Spring, Maryland and when we moved to Delaware there was an ad in the local paper that they were giving quilting lessons down at the senior center. So, I thought, again something talking to me, so I went down there and learned to quilt. We worked on a large quilt together with the other students in the class.

RG: How many years ago was that?

FR: About three years ago, I haven't been quilting very long.

RG: Oh no, I guess not. From whom did you learn how to quilt? Just these ladies and that?

FR: A very gracious lady that lives in Ocean Pines, her name is [laughs.] a senior moment, uh Peggy Everett. She was just a very patient teacher, in fact today she's a good friend and we get together often but she really taught us a great deal. She has a very good eye for color and taught us a lot about fabric selection and just everything.

RG: How many hours a week do you quilt?

FR: I try to quilt one or two days a week but that doesn't always happen. This summer we had a lot of visitors and all but I'm looking forward to more quilting time this winter.

RG: Okay, what is your first quilting memory? It doesn't even have to be of you quilting but just a quilt memory.

FR: I can remember seeing them and always admiring them. About 15 years ago I actually won a quilt at a raffle. It was rather a surprise. It was a raffle sponsored by the Homemakers in the state of Maryland. What they do every year is that each county makes a block in cross stitch of the outline of the county and they put this all together and then someone makes an outline of the state of Maryland with all of the different points of interest and they put it together as a quilt and then they have it quilted by the Amish and that's their raffle quilt to raise money for 4-H. I've always taken raffle tickets. I was very involved in 4H for a number of years.

RG: You're my second interview that was with an Amish person.

FR: Oh really?

RG: So I'm pretty used to working with Amish people.

FR: So I couldn't believe it when I won that quilt and I treasured it, I just really love it.

RG: Oh, that's a really special quilt to have.

FR: Yes, it really is.

RG: They do that every year now?

FR: Yes, they have.

RG: Okay. Are there any other quilters in your family or close friends?

FR: No, I've made some wonderful friends quilting.

RG: Right.

FR: And just watching this whole show go up. We were here on Friday night putting the whole thing together and just a wonderful exhibition of cooperation and good will with everyone.

RG: Do you have--oh, go ahead.

FR: It's been quite an experience and I'm here today to take this show apart and deliver all the quilts.

RG: Do you have any other children besides your son?

FR: Yes, I have two other sons and a daughter, and they're all grown and away from home.

RG: Do you anticipate any of them learning how to quilt?

FR: I doubt that.

RG: Really?

FR: No, my daughter just doesn't care for quilting. She's a CPA and her interests don't go with sewing. She's a wonderful cook.

RG: How does quilting impact your family?

FR: Oh, everyone certainly seems to enjoy it. My husband enjoys seeing me do it and in fact he was here helping set up the show and certainly enjoyed the experience and it's just been a good experience of meeting a lot of nice people. That you enjoy associating with.

RG: Tell me about the quilts that you've given as gifts.

FR: Oh well, this spring my niece in West Virginia had twin boys and I thought that really called for quilts, so I had made them each a quilt with their name in huge block letters, that was Nathan and Nicholas and let's see, I guess I've made two others for new babies.

RG: Any particular patterns you like for babies?

FR: No, actually I'm usually rushing and it's something that has large blocks and sewn together very well, something in bright colors. I usually use the primary colors.

RG: Do you anticipate the babies actually using them or do you want them to sort of--

FR: Oh, no I want them to use them, in fact the first one that I gave was to my daughter's friend that had her first baby, and she says, 'Oh, I'm going to hang it on the wall.' And I said, 'Don't hang it on the wall, please don't.' [laughs.] I said, 'Let Andrew use it,' and she said, 'Oh no, it's too pretty.' I said, 'No, it's sewn together very sturdily; let him drag it around with him.' So, I'm not sure. I hope it's not on the wall.

RG: So, you believe quilts are made to be used?

FR: Oh, absolutely. They have to be used.

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

FR: Not really. Since I've--I've heard stories from my friends that have used it as a source of relaxation for that, but I've been fortunate and haven't had any difficult times.

RG: Good. What do you find pleasing about quilting?

FR: Oh, just the relaxation of it. You know, once you look at your finished product and you think, gee, I actually put that together, you know, because very often it's too easy to stop in the middle of the project and put it aside and think, well, I'll do it tomorrow and we all have these, what we call UFOs, unfinished objects, so that when we actually get something finished we're able to exhibit it and really it's a lot more fun.

RG: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

FR: I don't think there are any that I don't enjoy. I actually like to do the whole process.

RG: Yeah?

FR: Now, I know some people just like to do the tops and then have someone else quilt them, but I enjoy the hand quilting. This one is machine quilted because I was anxious to get it done so I machine quilted it. It's not a very good job but nevertheless I feel better about me doing it then having someone else finish it. For me, that's important to do the whole project.

RG: And it's completely your--

FR: Yes, but I've heard others say that no, they just don't want to ruin once the top is done that, they would rather have someone else quilt it or if it's hand quilting, send it off to the Amish.

RG: What do you think makes a great quilt?

FR: Oh my. Well, I think the colors really--I mean the colors, if they're pleasing to the person that's going to use the quilt. You know, using their favorite colors, I can just think of so many things. Just as an example, there are so many quilts at this show that I look at, I never would have thought to do it myself and their completely different, one from another but I can almost enjoy any quilt. I don't particularly enjoy the very modern ones.

RG: Right, the art quilts.

FR: Yes, the art quilts. I really liked the old-fashioned quilts and the old patterns.

RG: Me too. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum?

FR: Well, I guess it just depends on the exhibition, like sometimes you know, if I like seeing the tea quilts and seeing what was done during the Civil War and before that but a lot of those were very utilitarian quilts and aren't really well put together but the fact that they were able to do what they did, I often think of this when I'm stitching at night and here I have my fancy Ott light that projects great light. And I think how I could do this by candlelight because I can hardly see what I'm doing, especially if you're working on dark colors with all of the good lighting that we have nowadays, and I just think I don't know how they did such beautiful examples.

RG: We were just talking about that on the car ride here and we think maybe they were working during the day or something.

FR: I guess so but when you think in the winter is when they weren't working on the farm which was the time--

RG: That they had to quilt.

FR: That they had to quilt. The days were so short.

RG: Yes, it's amazing.

FR: Yes, I just find it amazing.

RG: What makes a great quilter?

FR: Probably patience [laughs.] and willing to try in different ways. Just staying with it. People that don't have the patience to deal with it and try different things.

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

FR: I don't really know.

RG: You don't know? [laughs.] A mystery.

FR: I think it's a matter of progression, I mean some people just have a really good eye for color, I think that's a matter of being an artist and it's amazing how some people can just put colors together and it's the same thing whether they're painting the inside of their house or decorating the inside of the house. They have a good eye for that then they have a good eye for the different fabrics and for some of us, it just takes a longer time to put these colors together.

RG: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting or even longarm quilting?

FR: Oh, I prefer the hand quilting but when you're ready to make a very sturdy quilt that you're going to give to children, of course the machine quilting is a lot faster but for exhibition and for really fine example of a quilt, I like it to be hand quilted.

RG: Why is quilting important to your life?

FR: Well, it's a source of relaxation and it's a feeling of accomplishment.

RG: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, if any?

FR: Well, I haven't made that many quilts yet, but my plans are of making, I'd like to make a landscape quilt of the area in which I live. I live on the water and it's a lot of wetlands and it's just a beautiful area and my plan is to make a wall hanging.

RG: We're just going to stop a second for an announcement. [tape stops and starts.] Okay we're starting back up again with Fil Ryan, it's 10 of 3 and she was, hold on. [tape stops and starts.] Okay starting up once again with Fil Ryan and you were talking about sort of the landscape right where you live on the water and how you want to make a quilt in that--

FR: Yes, a wall hanging with that scene in it and of course it has to have a, what's the large bird? Not an Egret, a Blue Heron. Because we have a visiting Blue Heron back there that we often see.

RG: Does he have a name?

FR: No, we haven't given him a name but that's an idea, we should give him a name. He sits in the tree back there and then goes into the water and does some fishing and goes back and sits in this tree.

RG: Have you ever done a quilt before with an actual picture of something in it?

FR: No, I haven't. That's what I'm reading up on now and in fact, I just got a book in the mail that covers that so that's one of my next projects.

RG: Are you always trying to learn new things?

FR: Oh yes, I have a lot to learn. I started this very late in life, but I do have a lot to learn.

RG: I'm sure no one knows everything; they're always still learning. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

FR: Oh, I think it's just part of our history and I think it's; you know, it helps America come alive really. Having seen some of the exhibits down at the Smithsonian and I just think, I know that quilts are important in other countries, but I think it's a very important part to American history.

RG: Have you visited a lot of exhibitions like at the Smithsonian and seen quilts?

FR: No, I've seen the Smithsonian one but and some of the shows that I've gone to they have very often some antique quilts with a story. In fact, last weekend, we had a small exhibit up in Bridgeville at the Apple Scrapple Festival and we had a couple antique quilts up there that we displayed along with all of our new quilts.

RG: Do you have any plans to sort of document your own quilts so that they get preserved just like those old quilts so that, so that 100 years from now we'll know Fil Ryan made this Log Cabin?

FR: Well, yes on my labels I explain that, as I told you the story about my son, that's on the back of this quilt.

RG: Oh really? That's great, that's perfect. How do you think quilts can be used?

FR: Well of course, they're very decorative and I've just always admired quilt collectors and in fact I've gone to a couple Bed & Breakfasts where the owners were quilt collectors with stacks of quilts. I think it just presents such a homey look and you know, we can use them for decorating or just on our beds.

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

FR: Well, being very careful with them and not wrapping them in plastic but I think that it's important for them to be used and to be out, to breath rather than on a shelf someplace.

RG: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for family or friends?

FR: Well, there have been very few of them and I think they're still in fairly new condition since I've been into this just a short time.

RG: Can you tell me a little bit about your guild involvement and what you do with that?

FR: Well, our guild is just really a wonderful experience. I've been in it, it's three years and this year I'm Vice President [laughs.] well, I got talked into it, but it's been difficult because it's--

RG: What's the name of your guild?

FR: Delmarvelous.

RG: As it says on your nametag. [laughs.]

FR: I'm responsible for the programs for two years. I also believe that when you join an organization you have to give a lot to it, so when I was approached there was no way that I could refuse, you know, honestly refuse.

RG: I've heard that being Vice President is the hardest job that--

FR: Yes, it is hard to manage but it's also been a learning experience. That's the way you get to meet everyone in the guild, especially when you're working with them rather than just going to a meeting and going home. When you have to call upon people to volunteer at all of these different functions we have.

RG: Can you comment upon quilting as sort of a social activity sort of meeting new people.

FR: Oh yes, it's a wonderful social activity and I've met delightful people and a lot of the people that are in the quilt guild are also active in my church and we've done projects for the church together. It's just been a good experience meeting all of these women. It just gives you another level of meaning and meeting all of these people. I just enjoy working with them.

RG: Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you'd like to talk about?

FR: No, not really. I think we've pretty much covered it.

RG: Very good then, okay. Well about 3:56 and we're here in Milford, Delaware with Fil Ryan for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project and want to thank her for taking the time to sit down and talk.

FR: Thank you.

RG: And for showing us her beautiful quilt.

FR: There are strings that I didn't clip.

RG: [laughs.]

[tape ends.]



“Felicetta Ryan,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1620.