Sheilana Massey




Sheilana Massey




Sheilana Massey


Joanne Gasperik

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Bokeelia, Florida


Joanne Gasperik


Joanne Gasperik (JG): This is Joanne Gasperik. Today's date is April 23rd, 2006 and it is 1:24 in the afternoon. I'm conducting an interview with Sheilana Massey for Quilters' S.O.S - Save Our Stories. We are in her home in Pineland, Florida. Thank you very much, Sheilana for taking the time to be interviewed today.

Sheilana Massey (SM): Thank you, Joanne.

JG: Tell me about the quilt. It's your touchstone here. When was it made and what was its purpose?

SM: This one is the second quilt I ever did. The first one, I'll go back and share a little bit about the first one, was started when I was 14 years-old, when I was visiting a girl friend in the summer. Someone was there and showed us how to begin a Trip Around The World, which was the pattern. I started it then and added to, and added to and finally got it to full-size about the time we bought a queen-sized bed. And I was in my early thirties then, and I finally got it finished in my early forties. So that's been quite a while ago. [JG exclaims.] That's one, I had made one, I have two sons, so I needed to make a second one. And this is the second one, which is a king-size. And by the time I made this one I had learned to do fabric painting and this is done with fiber-reactive dyes and all hand-painted and then quilted. This was done in the early eighties. I worked on it; I was working during the winter. I was working away from home and during the summer I would do the painting. And then I quilted it in blocks, so that each square is quilted separately and then it's put together when I was at home at a later time. So this one belongs to also one of the sons; however he doesn't have a place for it right now, so I have it in my home.

JG: Yeah. But painting on fabric in 1980, you were way ahead of time.

SM: [laughs.] Well I was fortunate enough to attend Penland Craft School in the mountains of North Carolina and studied from two wonderful fiber artists, who taught painting there. I cannot remember the name of the first one, but the other one was Jason Poland, who as far as I know is still the assistant curator of the Museum of Art in Kansas City. I studied with him through the years. So I learned a lot about fabric painting.

JG: You say you studied with him. Was that your profession? Were you--

SM: No, this was just a hobby I did. He taught either a two or three-week session at Penland every summer, for a while and so I attended a couple of years. I think [inaudible.] years, attended his classes. He taught all sorts of painting, of course if you had been there before then you got to do the more advanced things.

JG: Yeah, yeah. The shells - are they Carolina shells or are they Florida shells?

SH: They're basically East Coast shells. I did use a book to sort of help with the actual design and detail, but most of them at that time I had the actual shell as well.

JG: [nods.] Taken from your own collection. And it is machine quilted?

SM: No, this is hand quilted.

JG: It is hand quilted.

SM: It's all hand quilted.

JG: I should have gone closer to take a better look.

SM: That's all right, that's all right.

JG: It's huge. It's absolutely huge.

SM: [laughs.] Well I really didn't know anything, much about quilting at that time. The only quilting I had ever done prior to this was when I got married, my mother-in-law made quilts. She was a southern farm woman and she had to make quilts to cover the beds. They lived in unheated houses. She also did them for recreation and relaxation. She was a wonderful farm mother and we would quilt in the basement. She had huge quilting frames and that's where she taught me the basics of quilting.

JG: When was this?

SM: This was in the late 50's and 60's. She did primarily scrap quilts. Some of them were wool, some of them were velvet. It was whatever she could do. A lot of it was garments that were no longer, that had a hole here, so we made quilts out of the rest of it. And she just loved to do it. There were some designs, but very few.

JG: So she was your first quilt teacher?

SM: Yeah. Because my mother sewed, but she didn't quilt.

JG: Were there in your family, were there quilters?

SM: No.

JG: So just on your husband's side. His mother was a quilter.

SM: His mother was the only one. Nobody else did.

JG: Is that right.

SM: When the quilts were in the frames, six or seven of us would come in and be there and we'd all just sit and quilt. So I guess you would call it a farm quilting bee, but that wasn't what it was called.

JG: What did they call it?

SM: They just said ducking over the quilt. [both laugh.]

JG: Was there dessert at all or tea?

SM: No, no, nothing. It wasn't anything fancy, in fact. The basement that we did most of it in had a dirt floor. It was underneath the house. It was where they stored the vegetables and stuff, but it was a dirt floor. And she had a frame that hung from the joists [JG: Okay.] the floor joists of the first floor. And it hung there. And we just sat around and quilted.

JG: And then it was lowered.

SM: It was rolled, rolled if we needed to, so we could into the center. Her husband had made the quilt frame.

JG: Was it C-clamps and two-by-fours?

SM: It was, it probably wasn't even a two-by-four, because he was a furniture builder. So it could have been walnut for all I remember. I don't know [laughs.] It was just sticks [JG: Yes.], four sticks that we put together and it had pegs on it so we put it together. And I'm sure it was some kind of clamp. I really don't remember it.

JG: [agrees.] Well if there were pegs, though, then you didn't need the C-clamps. [SM: Yes.] Because the pegs would keep it from rolling and there would be a wheel.

SM: When we need to roll it, we just took it by hand, just took it off the pegs, and then we'd roll it and stick it back on the pegs.

JG: Did you help her sandwich the quilts as well?

SM: Sometimes--but most of the time, I didn't live there, so most of the time I would get there and it would already be in the frame. I did help her put some in the frame.

JG: [nods.] Was it straight quilting?

SM: Yes.

JG: Mostly straight quilting.

SM: Sometimes they were tied. I didn't help tie them, but there were some tied quilts. I think when she died in the--I don't exactly remember when this was, some time in the late seventies, because I was no longer a part of the family then. But there were probably 13 or 14 tops that had never been quilted. I know that my ex-husband's sister would see that they got quilted. But I don't know what happened to them.

JG: So, then was there a lull in your quilting life?

SM: Yes, because I was a seamstress. I also taught needle arts, primarily needlepoint. I had done that for years and years and then various things happened. The next thing I started doing was--I wanted to do quilted pillows and quilted wall hangings, because of the fabric painting, so I would paint things and then I would quilt them and make either pillows or wall hangings. [JG nods.] And then my son suggested one time, he says. "Mother, why don't you make a vest out of something like that?" So then I started making vests and jackets. And I did those actually on commission. For a while I had, at the time I was living out West, I had the vests in the gallery in Santa Fe and the gallery in Las Vegas and the gallery in Santa Monica. So most of them sold.

JG: That's a business that you got into [SM: Right.] and you had to find galleries, and you had to--that was salesmanship.

SM: I decided that was not what I wanted to do. So several things happened. When I moved back East, I had done some other quilts along in those lines. There was one I did called "Corporate," which has ladders in it and twisted ladders and circular ladders and things that I did when I was actually working for a Fortune 500 company. And watching the hooks and ladders [someone coughs.] as they go to the great hook up in the sky. [both laugh.]

JG: So you always had tendencies in the direction of art as opposed to utility in the quilting world, for sure.

SM: Well in the quilting world, but also in sewing and the needle arts, yes. That was already there. I had done some painting, but not a lot.

JG: When art quilting came into focus, into strong focus, you felt--

SM: I was already doing it. [laughs.]

JG: Very comfortable. And you were way ahead of that. [SM: yeah.] Were you comfortable being a teacher at that point, for art quilts?

SM: I had taught several classes on the technique of doing the vest, because it does take painting. The vests actually are not pieced, per se. It's one piece of fabric, laid out for the vest. Then the designs are painted on with fiber-reactive dyes, and then they're stitched, so it looks like they're quilted. I mean it looks like they're pieced. They are quilted. [[JG: Yes, yes.] And they are embellished with numerous types of different stitches and yarns and all types of embellishments. [JG exclaims.] So those are a lot of fun.

JG: Was your quilt at the Naples show [2006.] was that in that technique as well?

SM: Yes. Yes. That was one of the quilts.

JG: Well, you don't use this quilt, because it's your son's quilt. Is it always on display?

SM: Well, I have had it hanging here for quite a while, yes. It's been down a couple of times. And one of the things that it finally had to be washed, that was an emotional chore. How do I do this? The guild members were just simply wonderful, because a couple of them gave me ideas about how to wash it. So I did hand wash it. The thing that surprised me the most was that a couple of people told me and one in particular, said the best way to dry it is if you've got a concrete driveway, wash it on a sunny day. [JG nods.] And then get it rinsed and everything, so it's ready to put out to dry about one o'clock. So I spread sheets on the concrete, put the quilt on it and put another sheet on top [JG says simultaneously: and another sheet on top. Oh, yes.] I didn't know; that was new to me. I never thought about that.

JG: I've gone that route. [laughs.]

SM: I'm sure a lot of people have. [both laugh.] But see, I hadn't had the instructions. In the last couple of years I've got more quilt instructions and techniques.

JG: So you still continue to take classes?

SM: Oh, absolutely.

JG: Every chance you get?

SM: Always. Things to learn. Always to learn.

JG: Yes. You can't stagnate. How many hours a week do you quilt?

SM: Well, if I had my way I would probably quilt eight hours a day. However there are a lot of other things going on in my life. I don't get that much done.

JG: But you try to do a steady number of hours in a week?

SM: I don't count the hours. It's just that when I have an opportunity I'm at the sewing machine.
I get other things done, so I can go in there and not be interrupted.

JG: Is your preference to hand or to machine work?

SM: I do a little bit of both. I don't think I've ever done anything in the last 5 years that has been all of one or the other. [JG nods.] Embellishment takes a lot of hand work.

JG: Yes, it does.

SM: So there is a lot of that. I'm working on one right now that's a combination. I'm doing that.

JG: Will you ever turn back to traditional quilting patterns, or are you really in the art quilt world now?

SM: Well, I said that I didn't want to follow somebody else's pattern, however after the class that I witnessed this last week with Judy Niemeyer, I discovered that maybe it would be fun to follow other people, and follow one of her patterns. They certainly are outstanding. And I think they are a combination between the two. I am a very precision seamstress. And I have done that since I was-- my mother was a seamstress. I laugh about it, but if the bust dart did not exactly end in the very proper place it had to be redone over and over and over, until it did. Every seam had to fall exactly straight, down the sleeve, down the back, down the side, everywhere. They couldn't go forward or backward. I learned very distinct tailoring and sewing techniques, which I also taught for years. I don't like to do that any more. Now if I have to match up corners, I just really don't want to do that. [JG laughs.]

JG: And you don't have to if it's an art quilt. [SM laughs.]

SM: No. Except you do on borders. You still--I mean there are times. And I am precise when it's necessary when I want to be.

JG: So where do you get your inspiration for your quilts?

SM: Most of them just come out of my head. I do have one that I'm working on right now. I saw a photograph and I thought 'ah, that would make a wonderful quilt.' Some other ones I've used photographs as ideas. I never copied the photograph. It's usually, no one would ever know that that was the photograph that inspired it.

JG: But somewhere in there is the kernel of truth that sparked that--

SM: Yes, yeah, that I could this in fabric.

JG: Aha. [coughs.] Excuse me. Do you work with a design wall? Or do you have the concept in your head so well?

SM: Well I do either. There are times when I do, but most of the time I just go for it. I just run.

JG: It flows.

SM: This has to go here. The one I'm working on now, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew the inspiration. I thought I knew what I was going to do. I have all the fabric. Then some things that happened over the last eight weeks, when I had almost no time – really no time to quilt, and I did have to travel for 10 days and all the time I was thinking, 'Well I could do it this way. Or maybe I could do this, or maybe I could do that.' So I had all these ideas, but when I actually sit down to do it, it's as if the piece tells me what it wants. [JG agrees.] There comes that place of being in attunement so much that you just pick up this and put it there, and it works. And if it doesn't work, you don't do that, but you go on with something else.

JG: The quilt talks to you. Your thoughts before that, really, it's gelled in your mind. If you have a good concept of seeing it in your head, then there is much less--

SM: Well there is that, but rarely does it come out like that picture.

JG: Really.

SM: [laughs.] Yeah. Because I love to buy fabrics and paint on them. So I do a lot of that.

JG: Is there any aspect of quilting you don't enjoy as much as others?

SM: Matching corners.

JG: [laughs.] Other than that?

SM: Not really, no.

JG: You enjoy every aspect? Including the binding.

SM: Bindings are interesting in that I'm not learning new techniques of doing bindings. This particular one with the shell on it, the top is just simply folded over to the back. That is the binding. Other ones I've put mitered corners. If it's relevant, and I have a binding I do like mitered corners. There are several that have got real weird bindings because of the art quilt--

JG: Irregular edges.

SM: Yes. They're not all square. In fact very few of them are straight-sided, all four straight sides. [inaudible.]

JG: What's your favorite tool?

SM: Sewing machine.

JG: Sewing machine. [SM laughs.] Do you have more than one?

SM: My hands.

JG: Ah. Yes. 'Manual.'

SM: Yes.

JG: Manual. Ah. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

SM: I don't know that I have done it consciously and yet when I look back sewing has always been a relaxation. It's that place of creativity and creativity is so healing that I know that art work for any of us, if we don't push ourselves to do it, is very healing, whether it's by a bad time or whether it's just the fun of creating, it just brings out the joy in everybody, when it isn't a 'have to'. I know even the consignment ones I did, too just gave me ideas. That one that I did for a girl that was a musician, she was a singer and musician, played an instrument. And she said, 'I just want it to relate to music.' And I just had more fun designing that one. So it had a treble and a base cleft and it had a keyboard and all those were fun, were part of the design that I did for them.

JG: I know that you belong to at least one guild. Do you belong to more than one?

SM: I belong to three right now.

JG: Okay.

SM: There is the Southwest Florida Quilters Guild, the Art Quilters, which is also in Lee County and the Naples Guild.

JG: [nods.] And you just became president of the Southwest Florida Guild.

SM: Yes [both laugh.] Oh, that's the other side.

JG: You'll be our fearless leader.

SM: Right. [laughs.]

JG: Well, I was going to go somewhere. Do you document your quilts? Do you document them as you're progressing?

SM: All the documentation is in the label. I really don't do anything else.

JG: Do you make a lot of quilts as gifts or have you kept them?

SM: I haven't. I do have several around that I have given my mother and my mother is still living. And she is in assisted living, so one of her things is to give back to whoever gave her things, give the gifts back. So I have now acquired some that I made years and years ago. As far as pillows go, back when I was doing that. I have given the two to my two sons. Some of the other ones are available to be given to people however I hesitate just to give somebody something that they may not appreciate or may not want. So I do usually consult with people before I give them something.

JG: Which leads us of course in the direction of quilt preservation. And can all quilts be preserved or should they be used? How do you feel?

SM: I love the fact that they're used and of course this probably also stems from my mother-in-law in that quilts we made were used. They were on the bed. I would go to her home or as a family we'd go to her home in the middle of the winter and we'd sleep under two or three of them, because it was like I said it was unheated and this was North Carolina. When I was training for needlepoint instruction, I trained at the Ballentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia, and we learned the preservation of fabrics and the preservation of threads and what would preserve and what wouldn't. So I know all the basic techniques, but I really think you have to use them. I don't want things stuck in a drawer.

JG: [agrees.] Are there some quilts that should be preserved? I mean we do have MAQS [Museum of American Quilt Society in Paducah, Kentucky.]. we have the Museum for the American Quilt Society, do you feel that's appropriate?

SM: Well I think it would be appropriate, very appropriate for people who want to, to donate a quilt to that type of place, so that they would be preserved.

JG: But most quilts really are made to be used.

SM: Yes. [laughs.]

JG: Baby quilts, wedding quilts, [SM: Right.] bed quilts, certainly yes.

SM: And if something was chosen to be preserved like that I think it would be a great honor for the quilter herself or himself.

JG: Yes. Do you feel that your quilts somehow reflect the region where you live?

SM: I don't necessarily think they reflect the region. I think there is always an emotional, well the creativity aspect of it, but it's also an emotional thing, like the one that I did that's called 'Corporate' with the ladders. Well I just couldn't figure out and I couldn't understand why in the world these engineers that I worked with were beating one another up to try to get ahead. And always looking for something better. So that one was done for that. This Shell quilt here my whole family is very interested. we're all water people and at the time I made it, my son was actually living in the Bahamas. Of course he still lives where there is water. I lived there also for several years.

JG: So how does quilting meld in with your family life? How do they appreciate it?

SM: Oh, my sons just absolutely love it. My daughter-in-law that this quilt belongs to [laughs.] she said, if I'd ever seen that before I married him, I would have married him anyway, whether I loved him or not. [JG laughs. SM laughs.]

JG: Other than the guilds that you belong to is there another quilt related background that interests you? Anything?

SM: Not at this time, because I've just got so many interests, and I'm so busy. I am a minister. And I also teach in an energy healing school. So there are activities going on with those several times a year and that keeps me traveling. Not as much as in the past 20, 15 years, but it's still--or some still, and then I love to garden. I love the outdoors and I can go out there and pull weeds in the grass and be perfectly content. [laughs.]

JG: So there are a lot of interests that tug at you, [SM: Yes, yes.] not just the quilting. So they don't interfere with your quilting because there is a deep passion and love.

SM: Oh, yes, I'm going to do the quilting, but it can be done in thought.

JG: Day-time chores during the day, night-time chores at night.

SM: Yes. I do a lot of it after dark.

JG: I ascribe to that. I do. How do feel about hand quilting versus machine quilting and longarm quilting?

SM: I love the hand quilting and I really admire it. I enjoy doing it. I don't know whether I would be up to doing what I did on this one over here or not any more. But I guess the one place that I would like to see a distinction is in shows. I would like to see hand quilting separate from machine and I'm using that term for any type of machine at this time. However, those of us who sit at the machine and quilt with a regular sewing machine it's certainly different than doing it with long-arms. I understand that we need the long-arms. I agree with that they're there and it is very beautiful, however the work that's done, and I know that it does take some work although with the computer driven ones, it really doesn't take any work, except just sitting and setting it up. It's a little bit different and sort of similar, I guess, to baking a cake from scratch and out of the box. [laughs. JG nods.] And I'm not sure that they need to be judged together, and I don't know where that's going to go.

JG: Yes. Well with a lot of long-arms the other factor is it's quilted by another person.

SM: Right. And in that case there is a different category.

JG: What would you like your quilting legacy to be? What do you think? Is there a quilting legacy?

SM: Oh, my legacy is that she enjoyed life, no matter what it was. That really is my philosophy.
I use a term, 'if it's not fun, let's don't do it any more.'

JG: Ah. Yes. That's good. Do you have a big stash?

SM: Not very big. I used to. I closed a house in 1992 and I had two storage buildings that were full of stuff. I called an auctioneer and I took out the things I really had to have, felt like I had to have. The things I really wanted to pass on to my children, put it all in storage, gave them a key and called an auctioneer and said: come and sell it. I didn't stay there for the sale. I didn't want to be there.

JG: Hmm. Yeah. For a second you gave me a fright that you didn't have a big stash. I was thinking: 'she used up her whole stash in quilting?'

SM: [laughs.] No! [both laugh.]

JG: You know we need our palette.

SM: Well living in central North Carolina, which I lived most of my life there, and of course it was the home of fabric mills. People now-a-days do not understand the fanny boxes, which every mill had an outlet. They weren't on the highway, in an outlet mall. You had to go down the back streets into the mill and go into the room and it usually was dark and dingy and high ceilings with spider webs everywhere. They would have boxes that probably at the bottom were three-foot cubed and they might be four feet high, or they may be a little bit less and they would be full of fabric of all sorts. Yeah. Therefore a fanny box. Because you walked in and all you saw were fannies. [JG laughs.]

JG: I got you now. [both laugh.] Got it. I understand. [laughs.]

SM: And it was left over.

JG: A free-for-all.

SM: A free-for-all. It had buttons, belting, anything, anything that was left over from their manufacturing process was in that store for so long, and then they would dump it. But you could always get all the fabric you wanted. There is one place left in North Carolina that I know of, although it doesn't have fanny boxes, but you have warehouses full. The last time I was there about four years ago, they assured me that their sons were taking it over. So that it would be there after he was gone. [JG nods.] But that man that started that one back then, probably back in the forties, I sat and talked to him one day and he was in his eighties at that time. He told me, he says anybody that has any fabric or any buttons for sale, anywhere in the country, I'll probably buy it, and sell it. So, if I really needed something and couldn't find it around here, on one of my visits to North Carolina I'd go there.

JG: Okay. If you were to recruit a new quilter, how would you convince them that quilting is where it's at? What is important to you? What is the essence? What do people find in quilting?

SM: I think creativity. The satisfaction of doing something and like I said earlier my walls got full of stuff that I can hang them on walls and so I actually started quilting garments because I could wear them. And I have several dresses that I had done that have insets of patterns, although there is one in there, I didn't know I was doing a log cabin at the time, but now I know that it's a log cabin. And I did vests that were just strip vests, different kinds. I did the first vests before I started painting, and I did those before I ever even learned to paint on fabric. So I think creativity is the number one thing. And everybody is [stresses the word is.] creative, no matter how they say they're not. It just takes finding the niche that a person wants to use, whether it's oil paints or water colors or quilting or gardening, all of it, and cooking. It's all viewed as creative. I don't know of very many. I don't know that I know of any creative endeavor that I haven't tried.

JG: What do you think makes a great quilter?

SM: Patience. [laughs.] We all have good ideas and we all see things that we really would like to do, and it does take patience and perseverance to go through and really stay with it until it's finished.

JG: Yes. And finish that one before you can start the next one. But patience, you know, at the three hundred and thirty-fifth project [SM:Yes.] to get to that one, too.

SM: Yes. And I don't always finish everything before I start another one. It sort of depends. I am a finisher. I don't have very many projects around that haven't been completed, as far as they can go at the time, whether it's quilting or something else. I have interrupted one in my sewing room that I haven't finished because I want to enter this challenge, and there is a deadline for that. I've got to get that done.

JG: The "water challenge."

SM: Yes, the "water challenge."

JG: Ah, yes, the famous--well from Isis and from Carol [Marshall.] I knew about the "water challenge."

SM: Yeah. Yeah. So I'm getting mine done. [laughs.]

JG: So these are--that's very good. It's a very good distinction. I have heard 'works-in-progress', and I've heard of U.F.O.'s, but 'interrupted project,' that's a wonderful way of expressing it, too.

SM: Yes.

JG: Because the intention is to finish it, to get back to it.

SM: And I have one picture, it's a fractal that I took off the web, I want to do an interpretation of that. I have actually had my son blow it up, so I have it the full-size, the size I want it to be. Yeah, I've had that photograph now for a year. And I'm thinking, you know about the balance, so it's still just in that emerging state but that one is going to be a combination--

JG: It's percolating though.

SM: Yeah. I know exactly where I'm going to start. I've got to get the dyes out and the paint out for everything. Mix them up for paint and paint the background.

JG: What quilts are you drawn to when you go to a quilt show or quilt museum. What draws you, what makes you run toward that quilt?

SM: I love, I totally, wonderfully admire traditional quilting. I don't want to do it, but I really admire it. I admire the dedication it takes to do appliqué quilts, particularly when they do the flowers and the vines and all the little details with it. I really admire that. I admire anybody that will sit there and do all those stars, where everything, every point comes out exactly. And I pay more attention to the detail in art quilts. I want to know how you did this. How was this done? And try to figure it out. I'm one of those, even when I was doing dressmaking and teaching, I taught people to see what you want in the end. How do you want it to look? And then take it apart, backwards, and realize the details.

JG: Analyze. Analyze how the construction.

SM: I had one lady I sewed for quite a bit that would bring me pictures of movie star's gowns or
movie star's dresses or this dress or that. And she wanted one like it. So I'd find the basic pattern then we'd figure out, go backwards and start thinking how do we make it.

JG: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SM: A lot has to do with color and design and I don't know that's not explainable. Someone told me one time that I have a wonderful design capability and I don't know what they're talking about. I just do what I do. And somebody gives it that label, well that's their idea of what it is. I just do what I do.

JG: Is there a voice inside of you? Do you feel that sometimes you are guided from the inside?

SM: Oh, I know I am. There is no question about it. To me that's what life is, when we listen to that small voice. But I know that small voice isn't very small.

JG: It's noisy at times. [SM laughs.] When you learn to pay attention to it.

SM: Oh, it's powerful.

JG: Yeah.

SM: Very powerful. No matter what we're doing. I did a class for one of the groups here locally about getting in touch with the creative muse. We all have that [JG: Yes.] everybody discovered their creative muse and were surprised at it's instruction. That was a lot of fun.

JG: Yes, it would be fun to see their eyes light up when they discover 'I'm not a creative klutz after all.'

SM: Right. And I don't have to make the decisions of what I'm going to do ten steps down, before I get to that tenth step. I take them one at a time. Because we are guided.

JG: Yes, and allow it to speak to you, and listen, listen. Have you--well you said you teach quilting. Have you written any quilt books?

SM: No.

JG: But I know you have been published in another realm.

SM: Yes. I have two books that have been written about personal growth and spiritual development.

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

SM: I think it's part of our history, a big part of the history, because people have used them over and over and over, until they're worn out. I remember mending quite a few of my mother-in-law's. But it's also been a visual interpretation of everyone's lives. People in the plains are going to do a different color combination than people in Florida, for instance. They have used some of the quilts that I have seen use things in their creation as their interpretation from the blocks.
Some of the memory quilts that people do are just astounding to me and I can imagine what each block represents, even though it might tell you, but it's still only my interpretation of it. But the maker's interpretation of it, it would be so real to be in the core of their creation. To those of us, the rest of us, we're standing outside. [clock strikes twice.]

JG: Right. Yeah. Yeah. And particularly powerful in women's lives. [SM agrees.] Their voices.

SM: And in many places it was the only way to have something to cover up on a cold night. That's the necessity of them. Well, I know that in the Valentine Museum in Richmond [Virginia.] there was, because I haven't been there in over 20 years, but there was whole room with quilts and historical quilts and they were quite interesting. It wasn't something I wanted to do at that time. But I still am not afraid about doing big quilts.

JG: Where do you think a quilter can go to learn about the art of quilting and the creativity? Are there outlets that she should pursue?

SM: Well, guilds are a wonderful place and all the different classes. There are so many teachers now, I mean national teachers just traveling around. So there are many, many opportunities. I also think that a lot of it is learned from experience. Just sit down and start making something and find out what each individual wants to do. What makes them feel good? How did it come out? Of course they're going to try and rip out, add pieces and play with them, but which one is it that really grabs me? And right now, it may not be the same thing. It isn't the same thing that it was ten years ago. And it's not going to be the same thing five years from now. No, it's not because what is there. What is it that really wants to come out? Because it's an expression.

JG: What also you're saying in a round about way is, don't listen to what others like. If it feels good to you, you're not making it for a judge, even though you may enjoy displaying it at a quilt show. But you're not making it for a judge.

SM: I think that is one of the things that keeps people back, is thinking 'oh, it's gong to be judged.' And I would like to suggest that, don't ever make one just to be judged. Do it because it feels good and you want to. And if you get, if the judges give critiques, the critiques that I have gotten on things I have entered, which I have never entered with the idea of winning something. It would be nice if I do, but 'okay' if I don't. But the critiques that I have gotten back have given me such powerful suggestions about things that 'Oh, I didn't pay attention to that detail.' And so far I haven't gone back and corrected them, but I'm not saying I won't.

JG: What have I not touched on that you would like to convey to our readers and listeners regarding quilting?

SM: It's such a--I've already said it. It's the creativity. It's an expression of creativity, of individualism. And, yes there are wonderful patterns out there to help you to get started. Take a pattern, I think most people who have ever been to a show know, people can take the very same pattern and then get a totally different quilt because of the colors they choose. And it is a learning process on how to put colors together. For me it was trial and error. And however it comes out. I have ripped things out because I didn't like that color in that place.

JG: That's a discipline though. I don't think initially a quilter will do that, because it such an effort to get the quilt. You know. But later on you have standards for yourself.

SM: Yeah. Well in teaching needlepoint and in teaching sewing for as many years as I did, I used to tell my students two things. I said, you're going to learn something in here. It may be that you only learn that you know more than I do. And the other thing is that if you don't like to rip out, you're going to learn to like to rip out, because you're going to have to rip out, in order to really get something done properly. The way it looks right. So ripping is just as much a part of any type of sewing or needlework as you put in the original stitching.

JG: We use an eraser for a pencil.

SM: That's exactly right. Yeah. So to me it's okay. If it doesn't look right, let's take it out and do it again.

JG: Improve it.

SM: Yeah. You're not going to use a rotten egg in a cake just because you've got an egg.

JG: That is a good comparison. That is a very good comparison. Have I not asked something that you thought I would?

SM: Well, because I had no idea what you were going to ask. [both laugh.] The other part is the camaraderie between quilters. So far I haven't run into a selfish one.

JG: Quilters, we are kind of generous.

SM: That's right, very generous and very friendly, And I think when I see people that appear to be a little bit shy, it's only because people haven't come up to them. That is one of the things that I learned a long time ago, was pay attention to people. People are always wanting for others to get to know them in some form or another. And quilters just really want to talk about their quilting. They want it to be admired. I think that's a part of all of us. It is our creativity and it is a part of who we are. Not all of who we are, but a part of it.

JG: A part of it, yes. Well we have just about come to the end of our tape and the end of our time. I know we could go on. We could visit for hours more, but I do thank you very much for your time, Sheilana. It was very enjoyable. Thank you so much.

SM: I have enjoyed it also.

JG: Good. Well I am ending this interview at 2:10 in the afternoon. Thank you.

[tape ends.]



“Sheilana Massey,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,