Ellie Guest




Ellie Guest




Ellie Guest


Megan Dwyre

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Milford, Delaware


Rachel Grove


Megan Dwyre (MG): Good afternoon. This is Megan Dwyre. It is October 19, 2003 at 3:50 in the afternoon, and I'm interviewing Ellie Guest for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. [4 second pause.] We're sitting here in front of her quilt which was in the quilt show today. Did you want to describe it first?

Ellie Guest (EG): Well, the quilt it titled "Shore Birds," and I did this quilt for the challenge--the quilt show. The theme is Seasons of the Quilt, and I felt that this fit the criteria in that I said, 'My season for quilting was when I retired.' The season of my youth was spent near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, where I enjoyed the beach and watched many shore birds. Therefore, the seasons of our lives are stitched and appliquéd in many quilts. So that's how I felt this met the criteria for the Seasons of the Quilt, and it's a big curlew with four sandpipers--on the beach.

MG: Okay. What special meaning does it have for you?

EG: Well, to me it's--I think it's a reminiscence of youth, times on the beach, and I've always said to my husband the beach and beach scenes always restore my soul, so I go back to the beach when I want to be refreshed, and this is my thoughts of the beach, thoughts of times on the beach when I was younger.

MG: Did you want to talk about the material or techniques that you used?

EG: Well, this is an appliqué quilt, wall hanging. All the pieces are appliquéd together. The only machine stitching is the border and the binding attached to the border. It's, like I said, appliquéd, and it's quilted in a wave pattern. I also put French knots in to--

MG: Yes.

EG: Represent the foam of the wave, if you--

MG: Spray.

EG: The spray. And the birds of course I tried to find fabrics that would replicate what I felt looked like feathers of the birds, and I also used different fabrics for the sand, but it was a pleasure to do and one that I enjoyed every stitch that I put in. [laughs.] I quilted the rays of the sun and then a couple of other quilt patterns in the corner of the quilt, but basically the water I quilted in a wave pattern and the swirls of the pools of water at the bottom of the quilt, but again it was a pleasure to do.

MG: How do you use this quilt?

EG: Well, I have a place in my house where I hang different quilts in different seasons. Our retirement home is a smaller home, and like most houses, we have one of those spots that has the electrical box, if you know what I mean.

MG: Uh huh.

EG: So this quilt will hang there as one place, and another place I'll probably use it will be on our enclosed porch, which will be very appropriate, because we live on a lake, and our view outside the porch is the lake.

MG: At what age did you start quilting?

EG: Hmm, at what age? Let's see. I'm going to be sixty-five this year, and I've been quilting since '98. About five years. About age sixty. Take a while to do the math. [laughs.]

MG: What sparked your interest in it?

EG: I've always loved quilting. I had a dear Aunt Cloetta who was a quilter. I've always loved quilting, but when I worked I was very busy. I sold real estate, and I had no time for quilting. All I did was work and take care of a home. [laughs.] So in retirement I now have time for fun things.

MG: What's your first quilt memory?

EG: My first quilt memory is sleeping under quilts at my grandmother's house when I was a little girl.

MG: Did it have anything to do with why you might have started to get into quilting?

EG: Perhaps because I've always loved fabrics and quilts and like I said I have a particular aunt who did a lot of quilting, so at her home we always had quilts. You know there were always quilts around, so I've been exposed to many quilts, although I myself was not a quilter until recently.

MG: Are there any other quilters among your family or friends?

EG: Among my friends, yes, there are many, because I've met many friends through quilting, but family members I would have to say not that I know of at the moment.

MG: Just your aunt?

EG: Well, and my Aunt Cloetta passed away in last November, so--

MG: Were there any other members of your family that quilted that maybe are passed away now?

EG: My grandmother on my father's side was a quilter, and Aunt Cloetta was on my mother's side of the family. Interestingly enough, when she passed away in November of last year, she had a wonderful quilt frame that was made for her by my cousin, her son, and there were no other quilters. She has two sons and two daughters, and the daughters-in-law nor the daughters, neither of them quilt, so I was the recipient of the quilt frame, and up to this point, I have not quilted on a frame, but that's my goal in life now [laughs.] is to learn to quilt on the frame, because I've done one king size quilt, but I quilted it on a twenty-four inch hoop. That was quite a challenge in itself, but now I'm working on a Double Wedding Ring design, which I will put on the quilt frame probably within the next month.

MG: How did you learn how to quilt? Did she teach you at all, or were you self-taught?

EG: I have always sewed ever since I was a teenager, but didn't do quilting. I did other types of sewing, so quilting was somewhat easy in that I was familiar with how to use a machine and had used needle and thread and fabric before, you know, and other--

MG: So it was just a matter of learning different techniques?

EG: There are many techniques for appliqué and I enjoy different techniques, and you continue to learn. The technique that I used for this is called template free, where you mark the pattern on the back of your fabric, and then you stitch [clears throat.] excuse me--you stitch your pieces down one at a time, and then clip--throat's dry--you clip--

MG: If you want to take a break or anything, just let me know.

EG: Anyway you stitch it down with a strong quilting thread and a large needle on the line that you've drawn on the back, and then you clip your threads about every three or four stitches, and then as you trim that to about an eighth of an inch, then you needle turn it under and do each piece like that as you go along. It's a very easy method for me opposed to other methods that I've been exposed to.

MG: [laughs.] Sounds complicated. [laughs.]

EG: If I showed you would be easier than to talk about.

MG: Is this the first time you have used that technique or is it something that you have used on other quilts?

EG: It's one of the first times. I have just been exposed to that technique, I would say, in the last year, to that technique.

MG: [5 second pause.] I lost my place. How many hours a week do you quilt?

EG: Probably at least ten--maybe more. You know it's hard to really say.

MG: Do you usually work on it every day?

EG: Oh, I do something every day with hand work to do--you know pertaining to quilting.

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

EG: It's interesting, because when I first started quilting, just a few years ago, I thought that machine quilting would be the thing, because when I heard the word appliqué, I wanted to run and hide, [laughs.] because it looked so difficult; however, as I've learned some techniques of appliqué, I find that's really my preference, because it is hand work, and you're not tied to a machine, and it's portable. You can take it wherever you go.

MG: [6 second pause.] Oh, how many quilts have you made about?

EG: I have made one bed size quilt, which is a king size, which was a sampler quilt, and I've made-- I'm going to say as many as ten or fifteen table runners and probably thirty or more wall hanging sized quilts.

MG: So this--do you usually go by like an established pattern or do you like make your own pattern like in--?

EG: I've done some of both, but in most cases I use a pattern that I've seen or a picture that I'd seen that I can enlarge and adapt.

MG: How does quilting impact your family?

EG: I would say very positively, because my daughters of course like the quilting, and both have, you know, received gifts from me of quilted items. They both have Christmas tree skirts that I made. [clears throat.]

MG: Do they quilt at all?

EG: It's interesting because my oldest daughter has just gotten into some quilting, and she's interested in the watercolor quilts, and she has a very busy life and a very high pressure job, so she has little time for it, but she enjoys what little bit she does. The--[clears throat.] my younger daughter has four children, so she at this point is not quilting, but she has gotten back into some sewing.

MG: Maybe later? Later in life?

EG: I think my daughter will enjoy quilting more when she has more time – yes, maybe later in her life. [coughs.]

MG: Have you--

EG: My throat.

MG: Do you want to get some water or anything?

EG: I think I would get a drink.

MG: Okay

[tape recorder shut off.]

MG: Okay, we're back from a really quick break to get some water. We were talking about quilting in your family.

EG: Uh huh.

MG: Did you have anything more you wanted to add about that?

EG: Not in particular. I mean it would be nice someday to make quilts for my children and grandchildren, but I haven't reached that point yet. [laughs.]

MG: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

EG: It's very relaxing. Not that I have a stressful life, but it's very relaxing. It's tactile. It gives you something to touch. The feel of the fabric is nice. It's a warm cozy feeling aside from the fact that you're creating something, and you can feel a sense of accomplishment as you see your pieces take shape.

MG: Do you have a particularity like favorite part of the process?

EG: I can't say there's one particular part. In some ways, as you're working on a piece, it becomes a part of you, and you almost regret to finish it, you know, [laughs.] because you've gotten so into it, but it's just nice to watch it take shape as you move along. You know?

MG: Is there--

EG: And from the fabric selection right through the whole process I think it's a fun thing, and you can get really excited about it. At least I can. [laughs.]

MG: So where--where do you usually begin? Like I know that somebody said that they had a top, like a challenge.

EG: This was a challenge, but it wasn't a fabric challenge. Sometimes we have a fabric where we're given--I mean a challenge where we're given say two pieces of fabric, and you can do anything you want as long as you use those two pieces of fabric. This particular challenge was a theme challenge in that it had to meet the theme Seasons of the Quilt. I've done both, and I've enjoyed both, but anytime there's a challenge I think it just brings out your best efforts maybe, you know, to try to do something really unique or something that will appeal not only to yourself but maybe to others.

MG: And this actually won second--This won an award. Do you want to talk about--

EG: It won an award. It won second place in the appliqué division; however, I think it could be a little tricky, this award, because there were only two quilts in the appliqué division [laughs.] of the challenge, so I don't know if that's a big accolade. [laughs.]

MG: Have you won any other awards, or I mean do you enter--

EG: I have a--[4 second pause.] I have an appliqué piece that I did, in fact was my first appliqué other than a couple of appliqué squares in the sampler quilt that I made, that won best in show at the Wicomico Farm and Home Show down in Salisbury, Maryland, so that was quite a surprise [laughs], and I was delighted. That too was a wall hanging of nine squares, but it's all different flowers somewhat of the Baltimore Album style, although it was done from a book called Baltimore Bouquets, which was published by Mimi Dietrich, who is well known in quilting.

MG: Do you want to talk a little about the guild at all and your involvement in it maybe?

EG: Well, I belong to two guilds. I belong to Delmarvelous guild and also to Seaside Appliqué guild, and I was privileged to be asked to join the appliqué guild when it was first being formed. Although at that point, I'm thinking 'why?' [laughs.] You know I don't even like appliqué, but since then I have found that appliqué is my favorite part of quilting, and it's a lot of fun. Both guilds are very nice. You meet only very nice ladies, and you're challenged by the creativity of others.

MG: What do you think makes a great quilt?

EG: A great quilt? [4 second pause.] For me it has to be visually pleasing. There are some quilts that I find more appealing to me personally than others. I find I'm drawn to those that have a lot of appliqué on them, and yet the quilt I'm working now is a Double Wedding Ring, which is a very old pattern, but one that I've loved since I was a little girl. I've always loved that pattern.

MG: Even though it's an established pattern it means something to you for its personal meaning?

EG: It has a personal meaning. Right.

MG: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

EG: [4 second pause.] Artistically powerful? That's a good hard question for me, because I'm not artistic at all. [laughs.] I would say it would still have to be--if it has impact visually when one looks at it, which would probably depend on the colors you use and fabrics. You know? That would be my guess. I mean like I said I personally am not artistic, so tough question.

MG: [laughs.] Well, just looking at this quilt I would say you're artistic. [4 second pause.] What makes a great quilter?

EG: One who has patience. [laughs.] You have to have a lot of patience, because it takes time to learn the techniques. I mean I have a long way to go. I look at some of the masterpieces that are turned out by other quilters, and I'm just amazed at the time spent and the energy spent and the little even stitches. [MG laughs.] Mine are improving, but they're not there yet. [laughs.]

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

EG: I think it has to come with experience. Fortunately for me we have great quilt shops in the area, and the ladies are very willing to help you. When I was choosing the fabrics for this, and I went to the quilt shop, they were helping me by pulling out bolts and bolts and bolts of flat fabric, and I was saying, 'Well, I know what I want,' but I didn't know where to start, so they helped me greatly, but very quickly I could tell them what I didn't like, you know, and that narrowed it down to them what I did like, so that was my process in choosing for this one.

MG: So it comes out of sharing--?

EG: Sharing.

MG: Ideas, experience.

EG: But that's the beauty of quilting, because most people that you meet in quilting are willing to share either techniques or knowledge or what have you.

MG: And you mentioned that taking classes also--

EG: I have taken several classes. The quilt that I made, the first quilt that I made, which was the king size quilt, I think I had twenty blocks, so it was--each block was different. It's a sampler quilt, so that was a class, and then the other class I took was an appliqué class, and that was the class that led to my winning the award for best in show. [4 second pause.] Each of those quilts of course took months to complete.

MG: In what--This will obviously in--goes along with the question that how do you think your quilt reflect your community or region?

EG: Well, I would say this reflects the region that we are in, the Delmarva Peninsula, and where I grew up was at the southern end of the peninsula. [laughs.] I would say this reflects the region in that sense. Different regions I know have different impact in the quilting like the Amish or out west or somewhere where they have different themes, predominant themes.

MG: Do you feel that that's the case here or--

EG: I don't know, because I think we have so much variety that we're exposed to that we can really choose anything that appeals to us.

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

EG: I think they're very important, because they're part of our heritage, and it's a part that should go forward. You know as we have so many things today that are disposable. We live in a disposable society, and the quilts are part of the heritage and part of the future. They're the thread that holds it all together to me.

MG: So how do you think that quilts can be preserved for the future?

EG: By the way we take care of them, and that's a whole other subject I'm sure, because there's so much to learn about proper care of quilts. You know from just the way we fold them to the way we store them, and that's not an area that I'm particularly knowledgeable about being a novice quilter. [laughs.]

MG: But do you think that it's something that would be good to learn if you have historic quilts?

EG: Oh, definitely. Oh, definitely. Definitely. Even mine that are not historic I try to take the best care of them--

MG: [speaking at the same time as Ellie.] Yes, yes.

EG: That I can.

MG: How do you think quilts can be used?

EG: Well, they can be used in many ways. Like I mentioned, I use them for table runners. I use them to cover a bed. They can be lap quilts. They can be wall hangings. Almost runs the gamut of it anyway, you know, that you want to use them for decorating.

MG: Clothing?

EG: Clothing. This was one of my projects. This was also a class.

MG: I should--you should say for the tape that she's wearing a quilted jacket. Is that what you--?

EG: Flannel quilted jacket with many different designs on it, front and back.

MG: In what way s do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

EG: In what ways? Well, they go back to the pioneer days. [5 second pause.] Well, they bind us together, because there's--you think back for, you know, to frontier days when we had women quilting, and one of the quilts out here, the raffle quilt, was a quilt that was based on a trip along the Oregon Trail, and that was made by my guild. [laughs.] But it's very interesting, and to think how those people traveled, you know, traveling west and sewing as they went, living in a Conestoga wagon. You know it goes back that far until today, now we are sewing with all these fancy machines. It's interesting. It really is, and it does hold us together as a group of women. Of course, women I think initially perhaps quilted for necessity.

MG: Right.

EG: You know necessity of warmth of the family for the beds and what have you. Now we do it for fun.

MG: Do you think it relates at all to the social aspect of it? You've said you've met a lot of people.

EG: It is a social thing, and it's almost like a therapy thing, because we share, and we have problems. We discuss them with each other, so it's kind of a support group--

MG: It's more than just--

EG: Of a different type. It's more than just sewing the fabric.

MG: Do you have any feelings about longarm quilting?

EG: I've seen some of it as beautiful. I'd like to know how to operate a longarm machine. [laughs.] Not been exposed to one. Right now, my focus personally is to try to learn to hand quilt, especially on the frame, which was my aunt's, but that's going to be another process.

MG: What do you thinks like the motivation for that?

EG: I think it ties me to her in a way. I was just overwhelmed when I became the recipient of her quilt frame, but I think to me that's learning the basics of quilting. You know starting at the basics. Not to say that there won't be a time that I'll have something machine quilted with a longarm machine, but I've already done some free motion quilting on my own machine, so it's not that I'm opposed to machine quilting. It's just that for me right now I'm trying the other first.

MG: Do you have any of the quilts that she made?

EG: I don't. I wish I did. [laughs.] No, I wish I did. She has, like I said, four children and many grandchildren, and I think they all took them. [laughs.] I asked, but I didn't get. But I certainly couldn't complain, because I got her quilt frame. [laughs.]

MG: Well, actually we've pretty much gone through all the questions.

EG: Okay.

MG: Do you want to--one that I didn't ask was 'what do you think makes a quilt appropriate for museum or special collection?'

EG: For a museum or special collection? Probably something that is unique. Something that's very old. Something that shows the preservation of our history through time. I think those are the museum pieces.

MG: Do you know what has happened to the quilts that you've made for friends or family, if you have made them?

EG: Mostly what I've made would be like table runners, or like I said for each of my daughters I made a Christmas tree skirt, but they're things that are used. I've also made wall hangings for family and friends, and they use them.

MG: Would you ever consider selling your work?

EG: At this point, no. [laughs.] It's too much. I'm attached to it. If I give it to someone, it's a special gift.

MG: And then you can always find out about it later.

EG: Right, and kind of follow it. [laughs.] Might be like giving away one of your children. [laughs.]

MG: Well, that's pretty much all I have here.

EG: Okay.

MG: Is there anything else that you wanted to add about yourself, your quilts, or just quilting in general?

EG: No, only that I think quilting is a wonderful past time, something that anyone can get into. I myself when I first went to the guild and knew nothing about quilting and saw such beautiful things at show and tell, and I thought, 'Why am here? I'll never do anything.' [laughs.] And now five years later I've taught a couple of classes, and I find that I can do things.

MG: Yes, it seems like you've come really far.

EG: It's a process, but you know I would say to anyone who's interested in quilting, 'Don't be intimidated by the beautiful work that you see but realize that you can also accomplish something.'

MG: Okay. Well, on that note--

EG: Time's up.

MG: [laughs.] We're concluding the interview at 4:15. Again this is Megan Dwyre interviewing Ellie Guest for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project on October 19, 2003, and I just want to thank you so much for doing an interview.

EG: You're welcome.

[tape recorder shut off.]



“Ellie Guest,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1623.