Shirley Cherneski




Shirley Cherneski




Shirley Cherneski


Lori Miller

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Marie Bostwick


Milford, Delaware


Rachel Grove


Lori Miller (LM): Okay. [tape recorder shut off.] Okay. Good afternoon. It's Sunday, October 19, 2003. The time is 12:50. My name is Lori Miller, and I'm here in Milford, Delaware at the senior center with Nancy. Nancy?

Shirley Cherneski (SC): Shirley.

LM: I'm sorry. [laughs.] Shirley Cherneski for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project. Welcome, Shirley.

SC: Thank you.

LM: And thank you for allowing us to interview you today.

SC: You're welcome.

LM: Okay. To begin we're going to talk about the quilt that you brought in today, and we're going to talk about who made it, how old it is, and if you could begin my just describing it for us.

SC: Alright. This is a [4 second pause.] Log Cabin School House quilt, and I started it in 2000 and finished it 2001. It's a scrappy quilt, and what I mean by scrappy--all the pieces that you see in the quilt are from my stash. The reason I used this particular pattern--it combines two antique patterns in one quilt. It also is a description of what I had in my stash, so I can have an immediate reference to what I have already purchased and what I do not want to duplicate. The top is machine quilted, and the sandwich equals three layers--the bottom, and the batting, and the top are hand quilted. Now that's one stitch at a time --a quilt cannot be hurried, so therefore that's why the long span of time between the beginning and the end. The love of fabric is what drives a quilter into quilting, and I also when I retired from Baltimore wanted to have a record for my family of some of the skills that I had acquired. The lead fabric in a quilt generally takes the leading role in the cast of colors and patterns, and finding the supporting color ways is done to keep your eye moving through the quilt and so that it doesn't read flat. Sometimes when you add a border the quilt dies. It's dead on delivery. A low intensity border can kill a group of intense blocks, and at other times the border overwhelms the blocks. The border is meant to complete the quilt and not to compete with them. Since I've begun quilting I've become addicted to the process, because it's a very soothing and time consuming but joyful part of my life.

LM: Okay. Alright does this--what special meaning does this quilt have for you?

SC: It reflects two antique patterns that I dearly love, which the School House and the [4 second pause.] log cabin. Combining the two was significant to me because at a glance I see two antique patterns. At another glance I see all the pattern, the material in my stash. It's also a comfort zone. You can throw this over your bed, and--a quilt loves you back with its softness, and the amount of the quilter that goes into the quilt is significant for future generations – stitches should be straight and look good on both sides of the quilt.

LM: Why did you choose--this is sort of the same question--why did you choose this quilt out of all that you've done to bring today?

SC: Because of the two antique patterns and the stash of material I had in my house.

LM: Okay. And how do you use this quilt?

SC: I use it as a reference point before I go shopping to see what I already have, because I have a large stash of fabric.

LM: Okay.

SC: I also use it for reference for dimension and color placement and design.

LM: And what are your plans for this quilt?

SC: I will hand it down to my family, and I make quilts only for my family because if you start selling your quilts, you lose the reason why you quilt, which is to restore history for family to look back on.

LM: Okay.

SC: Some of these materials are house dresses I've made a visual reminder of me.

LM: Okay. Tell me about your interest in quilting. What age did you start?

SC: After I retired from Baltimore and I came to Delaware I recognized that I wanted to preserve memories for my family, and this seemed to be the avenue to use in doing that. The love of fabric propels the engine to quilt, and once you start collecting fabric it becomes an addiction. So it propels me to restore history for my family.

LM: Okay. And from whom did you learn how to quilt?

SC: I'm self taught.

LM: Self taught?

SC: I use books, and I belong to a guild, and we have in house teaching at the guild.

LM: And how many hours a week do you quilt?

SC: That's hard to say, because I don't do it steadily. I have a large quilting frame in my living room. I have a work room in my house. I would say at least three hours a day, but not consistently because that is not good for your back sitting in one position at the quilt frame..

LM: Okay. What is your first quilt memory?

SC: I had a leave of absence from work for a health problem, and I ordered a quilt frame from Sears Roebuck. This was forty years ago, and I started a quilt, and I used it for many years as a teaching tool for people that I was teaching, 'This is not what to do with a quilt.' I had some machine quilting, some hand quilting. My colors were chaotic, and I used that quilt for many years to show students what not to do, and I was right on with visible hands errors. That's my first quilting experience.

LM: Okay. Are there other quilters among your family or friends?

SC: No. I have a niece that I'm currently teaching, but she's not up to speed yet. [laughs.] She will be.

LM: How does quilting impact your family?

SC: Well, I think they admire it, and they understand that Grandma and Ma is more than just a good cook. They understand creativity is somewhere lurking inside of me, and I think that they admire that.

LM: Okay. Tell me if you have ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life.

SC: Most of the time it helps you with grieving. It helps you with quieting your spirit. I do a lot of praying while I'm quilting, and I enjoy finishing a project even if it's been a year or two.

LM: Okay. What do you find pleasing about quilting?

SC: The solitude and the quieting of your spirit is the most rewarding, and then when you see what your handwork is producing--a quilt is not a quilt until it's quilted. When you see what it's producing and the secondary designs as they're coming out of there, it just thrills you as an individual, because you have a lot of scraps. You put them together, and you stand back, and you think, 'How did I do that?' But we have many books today that help us.

LM: Okay. And what aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

SC: I have problem with color, but we have people in our guild that understand color better than I do. I've also bought many books concerning this, so to answer your question, having colors that harmonize and don't fight with each other is the plan.

LM: Okay. And what do you think makes a great quilt?

SC: Color coordination, the right border that compliments it and frames it and doesn't compete. Material has to be of quality, because if you're going to put that much time and effort and yourself into a project, you should use the very best material you can afford and the very best backing.

LM: Okay. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SC: The design, the color coordination, whether the quilt speaks to you or lays flat. There's a lot of things to take into consideration.

LM: Okay. And what do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

SC: Would you repeat that?

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

SC: The workmanship and the quilter's knowledge of construction and the way they quilt it.

LM: Okay. Where we are here? What do you think makes a great quilter?

SC: Someone with patience, someone that has a need to express themselves creatively. [4 second pause.] That's it.

LM: Okay. And how do you think that great quilters learn the art of quilt, particularly choosing fabrics or designing a pattern?

SC: My associating with other quilters. For instance in this room, the senior center room, we have different people with different expertise, and we draw from each other. Watching other quilters construct a quilt and what their choices were, so we learn from each other.

LM: Okay. Why is quilting important in your life?

SC: It's an extension of my feelings. Sometimes when you look at a quilt you think, 'What was that quilter thinking about?' or 'Why did she do this?' I worked through grief and loss and many aspects of the human experience through my quilts.

LM: Okay. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or your region, if they do at all?

SC: I think they mostly reflect what the quilter is doing at the time, not especially where she's living or what the environment is.

LM: Okay. And what do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

SC: I think they're a history book, and they reflect different phases of our society dating back to the Civil War and probably even earlier than that. I believe that some of our people came over from different parts of the world with their own design ideas and their own color ways.

LM: Okay. And how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

SC: I would prefer hand quilting, but I only have one lifetime. I do both, especially baby quilts. I do machine baby quilt, because they're abused and used and loved to death, and they're thrown in and out of a washing machine, but for an heirloom type quilt that you are planning to leave for your family I would certainly prefer hand quilting, although it's one stitch at a time, or we use what we call a rocking motion.

LM: Okay. [6 second pause.] In what ways do you think that quilts have special meaning for women's history?

SC: I believe, even though some men do quilt for the same reasons that women do, that for the most part women are into quilting because it is a reflection of their comfort level and their ability to transmit their emotions--the times of their life through their quilts to their families. It's a legacy.

LM: Okay. And how do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

SC: Well, that's a whole subject that is very intense. For instance there's a way to store a quilt and a way not to. They should not be exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time unless you're trying to use reproduction fabrics and make it look antique, so you put it on the dash of your window in your car and let it fade, but normally it should be in acid free boxes if it's stored. It should have tissue paper between the folds, so it doesn't crease. You can damage material washing it too often. So there are many aspects to consider when you're storing a quilt and especially if you're using it. You should alternate the places you put it and keep pets off of your quilts.

LM: Okay. What has happened to the quilts that you've made for your family?

SC: There have been eight-five percent given back to my family or indigent children in hospitals. I quilt--I guess you might say I quilt for other people, but I have saved a few for my family.

LM: You said earlier that you do sleep under a quilt.

SC: Yes.

LM: Did you make that one especially for yourself or--

SC: No, it's really a throw cover on the bed--when you take a nap. At my age you know you have a senior moment, so you take a nap to refresh your mind. A throw cover is what just cuddles in with you for a nap, and I do have one on a guest bed--bedroom.

LM: Okay. Do you display your quilts in your home, those that you have with you?

SC: Yes.

LM: Okay. And you also said earlier that you've taught quilting. What advice would you have for future quilters?

SC: Say that again.

LM: What advice would you give to future quilters?

SC: Go beyond your comfort level. Take a challenge. Pick as many brains as you can in quilting guild. Observe other quilters and you can glean from their demeanor exactly what they're trying to achieve, and then try to copy it with their permission.

LM: Okay. And is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven't addressed today? Anything you'd like to add?

SC: Well, no, really I think we've covered the whole gamut.

LM: Okay. Well then, Shirley, I'd like to thank you for allowing us to interview you today.

SC: You're welcome.

LM: The time is 1:10. It is Sunday, October 19, 2003. Okay. [laughs.]

[tape recorder shut off.]



“Shirley Cherneski,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,