Roberta Korona




Roberta Korona




Roberta Korona


Megan Dwyre

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Milford, Delaware


Rachel Grove


Megan Dwyre (MD): [tape begins mid-sentence.] October, Sunday, October 19, 2003, at 12:45 p.m., and I'm in Milford interviewing Roberta Korona for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories Oral History Project. Why don't you start by just talking about the quilt that you brought in today with a description? Start out with a description.

Roberta Korona (RK): Well, I bought this [inaudible.] piece of material to be embroidered and quilted in 1987 for my granddaughter who at that time was two years old from Danneman's Store that is now out of business, and I--this particular quilt has a hundred fourteen thousand French knots, and it's taken me sixteen years to get it this far. [laughs.]

MD: Wow.

RK: But I have worked on it faithfully. It's been to Alaska in 1992. It went back to Alaska in 1995 to my niece's graduation in Anchorage or Chuqiak I should say, and it's been to Georgia several times. Its final resting place will be in Georgia. Probably Athens Georgia, in that area, for my granddaughter, who is now eighteen, so this is the story of this little piece of quilt. [laughter.] It travels. I put it one the frame, and it goes with me to my sister's home or to my home, so I can work on it.

MD: And it's mostly blues and greens?

RK: It's blues and green. It's like an ivy with flowers and little birds on it, and then the flower heads in between the vines.

MD: And what part of the process are you at right now?

RK: Right now I'm on the last third I would say of quilting the entire thing, but you had to do all of the French knots first.

MD: So that was probably the most lengthy--

RK: Right, and there're eighty-four flowerets with over thirteen hundred French knots in each floweret, so it's just taken a long time to get it French knotted, and then you take it with you, and you get tired of working on it, so you put it down.

MD: [laughs.]

RK: And then you go back to it later.

MD: And it's pretty big. It's seventy-eight inches.

RK: Yes.

MD: Seventy-eight.

RK: Seventy-five, seventy-eight, so it'll be with the border on it about--four, six inch border--it'll be--just sort of lay on top of the bed. More for looks, but you can still use it.

MD: Now you've also been working on other projects--

RK: Oh, yes.

MD: Like throughout the time? [laughs.]

RK: I work on other projects at home. I make other quilts.

MD: Right. We have another quilt here actually.

RK: I have two. I made two.

MD: Two.

RK: Yes.

MD: So why did you choose to use this quilt to bring today?

RK: Well, because of all that has had to be done to it, the French knots and the length of time it's taken me to do this. It just seems forever, and it's like the more you do on it the bigger it gets. [laughter.] So the more I'm quilting it, it seems like it--there's always--I find more to be done, but it's been a pleasure to work on this, and it's therapeutic to work on this.

MD: And does it have a special meaning for you besides that?

RK: Well--

MD: I mean you said you were working on it for you granddaughter.

RK: This is going to be for my granddaughter. Now this--the colors in here are blue and green with a white background, and she's gone through her young stages of everything is pink--

MD: [laughs.]

RK: Then everything was purple. Now then I find when I go to Georgia that her colors are blue and green, so this is going to work in her time schedule as well as mine. [laughs.]

MD: So that's covered your plans for the quilt.

RK: Yes.

MD: At what age did you start quilting?

RK: Oh, lordy. I was in my early thirties before I ever had--my husband was military, and he was stationed--went to Guam and left me home for a whole year before we got [inaudible.] out and with three children, so by daytime I was very busy, but nighttime when they went to bed I needed something to do with my hands, so I just started cutting out two-inch squares and sewing them together, and that was basically a mishmash of colors and everything together, but it got me started, and I did it all machine not knowing then how enjoyable it was to do it everything by hand, so I did it just to keep my hands busy. That's why I started.

MD: So you just--you're self taught?

RK: I'm self taught, yes. I just--my mother was a sewer, but she didn't do quilts, and therefore didn't have time to teach us because she was a schoolteacher with three children, so her time was always busy too.

MD: So why don't you talk maybe a little bit about hand quilting since you seem--

RK: Well, hand quilting you can sit there and work your fingers and your mouth at the same time, [laughter.] and your mind just sort of flows and you can solve your problems if you have any, and your hands are still busy, so it's just more enjoyable to me to see a finished product, all by hand, than putting it on the machine. I just--because usually a machine doesn't always sew true, because one part of it might feed out under the bottom anyway, so I just like to do it by hand, and if I'm traveling, like I get a nice big shoe box with a flexible lid, and I can cut my pieces and keep them in there, and I can travel with my show box, so I have something with me at all times. [laughs.]

MD: So what made you decide to start hand quilting? You said--because you said when you first started you machine quilted.

RK: Yes. Well, like I said if I go visit my sister or if I went to Alaska or Georgia--can't take your machine with you. Kind of hard to carry.

MD: [laughs.] That's true.

RK: [laughs.] So I learned to get everything in preparation: the pattern, the material, the needles, the thread, the scissors, thimble, everything--in the shoe box, and then you just cut it and start sewing. The only thing then you need is an iron to press the seams. [laughs.]

MD: About how many hours a week do you quilt?

RK: Oh, lordy. [inaudible.] Oh, golly. Well, I quilt down here at the senior center on Monday and Wednesday morning, nine to twelve, so that's three hours on Monday and three hours on Wednesday, and then I'm at home quilting a couple hours a day.

MD: So everyday?

RK: Everyday I try to do something even if it's for a very short period of time--just something.

MD: And about how long would you say it takes you to make a quilt? Because you do all hand quilting would you call it longer?

RK: Well, I can, depending on how steady I am with working on it--I could take a couple months for me to assemble one anyway. At least that long.

MD: Wow, that's not that long.

RK: That's not that long, but yet again it's pretty good working steady. [laughs.]

MD: And then there's other ones like this one that you're working on forever. [laughs.]

RK: [speaking at the same time as Megan.] And then [inaudible.] that one that you have to come back to. Right.

MD: Are there other quilters among your family and friends?

RK: My sister quilts, and my friends here from the center, you know, they quilt too, so--

MD: So do you feel like quilting has helped you--

RK: Oh, yes.

MD: Make friends, meet people?

RK: Oh, yes. You meet so many nice people. I mean there's a different breed of people when you meet quilters.

MD: [laughs.]

RK: It's just like campers or something like that. They're a different breed of people. [laughs.]

MD: What's your first quilt memory?

RK: 'Well, that was fun.' [laughs.] 'I'll make another one,' so then you start seeing patterns even in the floor. You look at the floor or some design somewhere, and you say, 'Oh, that would make a nice quilt pattern.'

MD: And how many quilts have you made?

RK: Oh, my golly.

MD: And do you know what has happened to all of them? Do you usually give them away? Do you keep them?

RK: Oh, I have [3 second pause.] one, two--I have four, five--I have made, I guess, about eight or ten quilts. I haven't made as many as some people, but I have four children, so I'm try to make one for each child and a stepson and then ten grandchildren, so if they all get taken care of then that'll be fine plus two great-grandchildren.

MD: [laughs.] Will they all?

RK: I can't make them for sale. I have to make them for the family first.

MD: How does quilting impact your family?

RK: Well, [laughs.] it keeps us busy, keeps us talking about the ideas and the colors that we see and how to blend. You know blending and balance--blending of the colors and balancing of the pattern is what the quilt is.

MD: Well, that kind of relates to a question that we ask almost every [inaudible.]. What do you think makes a great quilt? Like what distinguishes a great quilt [inaudible.]?

RK: My lordy. [laughter.] Probably the colors and the pattern and the time you put into it. I think that all just makes a quilt there.

MD: What do you think makes a great quilter?

RK: Patience. [laughter.] Patience.

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

RK: Say that again.

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

RK: Well, I would say by repetition and just the enjoyment of doing it and just seeing something that catches their eye and saying, 'I can do that.' You know? [laughs.] That's what I would say to that.

MD: Yes, we talking too about how you kind of share.

RK: Oh, yes, we share by [inaudible because Megan is speaking at the same time.].

MD: Suggestions, techniques, stuff like that?

RK: Yes, we have had one lady come in. One of our regulars was putting on a binding and didn't know how to make the mitered corner, but if you just look at it, and you stop one quarter inch before you get to the end of the material then you can turn your corner, and she says, 'Oh, for heaven's sake,' [laughter.] because she knew exactly soon as you said, 'Well, stop.' You know and she knew what she had done.

MD: Excuse me sorry. [5 second pause.] Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

RK: Yes, definitely. Keeps your hands busy and your thoughts can flow while you're quilting, keeping your hands busy.

MD: What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

RK: The finished product. The beauty to me is just to think, 'Oh, I did that.' You know and you take more care the next time you do your next one. You try a little harder to make it a little better every time.

MD: So--

RK: I think it's the self satisfaction--is what makes it.

MD: Are there any things about quilting that you don't enjoy?

RK: Machine quilting. I do not like machine quilting.

MD: [6 second pause.] Let's see. [5 second pause.] What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

RK: What would make a what?

MD: A quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

RK: Oh, golly. [4 second pause.] Well, I can't really answer that. I don't know. I really don't know what would make a--it's just all in the eye of the beholder really. If you like what you're doing and you blended your colors and you balanced the pattern, then to me almost every piece would be museum appropriate. [laughs.]

MD: And do you belong to a guild?

RK: No, I do not.

MD: I asked that before. I'm sorry.

RK: That's okay.

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

RK: Importance of quilts? Well, it brings people together, and it's a warmth when you do these quilts. It just brings people together, and it's a different breed of people. That's it. I guess that would be it. [inaudible.] doing it.

MD: And in what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

RK: Well, I think quilts can be done not just by women but by men too, so I don't know if it would just be important for the women. Is that answering your question?

MD: Oh, yes. I just think a lot of people associate quilts like historically with women.

RK: [speaking at the same time as Megan.] With the woman.

MD: And [4 second pause.] I guess basically just how you feel about that--

RK: [laughs.]

MD: So you don't really see like by the--

RK: No.

MD: There's a gender distinction?

RK: No, I don't, because I think even men need to relax just as much as women, so and if they have the knack for it, go for it, but--

MD: Do you know many men quilters?

RK: No, I don't, but I taught my one son to crochet, so--

MD: [laughs.]

RK: And he did beautiful work, so I don't see why he couldn't quilt.

MD: So there should be more? [laughter.] Have you ever taken any classes?

RK: No.

MD: That's a [inaudible.]. [laughter.]

RK: No, really if you read your instructions, like on the French knots, if you pay attention to what you're doing, you can get it done. You don't have to have someone come--

MD: So this is the first French knot quilt--

RK: This is the first French knot--

MD: Because it looks really like, you know, wonderful. [laughs.]

RK: But as you go along you get better. You learn the tricks of French knotting, because it's really putting tension on the thread as you're making the knots. You really have to work both hands together, so as you go along you get a little better with each one.

MD: So can you see like one and like another one and be like, 'Oh, that's one I did later?'

RK: [speaking at the same time as Megan.] Well, I can look at one and say, 'Oh well, I forgot to do that one,' you know. [laughter.] Go back and catch it.

MD: How do you think quilts can be used?

RK: Used everyday. Do not put them away. Don't put them up so that nobody can touch them. Use them. They are made to be used, and they make you feel good when you sleep under them. [laughs.] Not only warm, but I did that, you know. That's the way I feel.

MD: So do you think that since you make your quilts to be used a lot does that affect how you make them at all? I mean do you try to use like soft materials?

RK: Well, you make them more sturdy. You might put a little more quilting to it, and then you have to be careful about what colors might fade. You find out what might fade if they're in the sun like this burgundy on this one. That might fade in time, because I had something else made with this particular color, but if it's out in the sun or in the light, it might fade a little bit, but that would make it okay.

MD: So how do you decide which pattern you're going to do next? Like we have three quilts here, and they all look like they're pretty different.

RK: [speaking at the same time as Megan.] And they're all different. Well, that's a Fan quilt. This was an embroidered block, and this was embroidered, stamped, whole piece, but whatever catches your eye, whatever seems like, 'I can do that.' That's what you pick out, and you do it. Sometimes you challenge yourself with a little more difficult one, but if you think you can do it then that's what makes you do it.

MD: Have you--did you have any embroidery experience before you started quilting?

RK: Not really. Just by reading the instructions, and if you have any sense of sewing--now I had sewing in school, so if you have any sense of sewing then you can figure it out yourself.

MD: Do you have a favorite technique or a favorite quilt that you've done?

RK: My technique for sewing is what they call the punch. It's one stitch at a time. Most everyone does a running stitch.

MD: Oh, right.

RK: But I do one stitch at a time, up and down. My right arm is like a windmill. [laughter.] But a--that's about that.

MD: Is that uncommon?

RK: Well, there's not too many people that do it. Not too many people do just the one stitch at a time that I know of. I haven't seen any other quilter. I know of one, but I haven't seen her do it, and you can usually tell the difference when you look at like the quilt shows. You can tell the difference.

MD: Why is quilting important to your life?

RK: Because I'm making something pretty, and I'm sharing it with other people, so that's what I like about it.

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

RK: Well, the way they make the materials now, I think they're more sturdy, and the colors maybe won't bleed like they might have in the old times, and they're brighter, so the quilts will just be made more beautiful every time. [laughs.] I just think they're beautiful.

MD: So you think it would be easier to preserve a quilt made today then maybe fifty years ago, a hundred years ago?

RK: Yes, yes, the batting inside won't come apart like it used to with the regular cotton batting, and we have acid free paper to store our quilts in or maybe softer sheets or something. We can store them that way.

MD: Have you noticed any other changes in [inaudible because of loud background noise.] anything about quilting since you'd started to now?

RK: No--well, I just don't really realize the difference. I just go out there and pick out something I like, and then--[laughs.]

MD: Then do you like maybe--different materials that have come available, anything like that?

RK: Well, yes, the color wash materials and with patterns on them like fish or birds or animals of some kind. You know that you can accent that particular design in the block of some kind and bring note to it by quilting around it, so--

MD: Let me see if there's anything. [6 second pause.] Well, that pretty much covers everything that we have here. Is there anything else that you wanted to add or anything that we haven't covered?

RK: I just hope I never get arthritis in the hands [laughter.] so I have to stop.

MD: Oh, do you have any quilts here today in the show?

RK: In the show? No. Those out there were for the guilds, and I don't belong to a guild, so that's okay. [laughter.]

MD: Okay. Well, I just want to thank you--

RK: Well, thank you.

MD: For letting me do this, and we're concluding this interview at 1:06.

RK: Okay.

[tape recorder shut off.]



“Roberta Korona,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,