Shirley Roubinek




Shirley Roubinek




Shirley Roubinek


Suzanne Sanger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Naples, Florida


Suzanne Sanger


Suzanne Sanger (SS): This is Suzanne Sanger. Today's date is May 8th, and it is 3:45 p.m. I'm conducting an interview with Shirley Roubinek for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project, and the Naples Quilters Guild at Shirley's home in Naples, Florida. Shirley, would you tell me about the quilt you are sharing with us today?

Shirley Roubinek (SR): The quilt that I've selected to talk about today is one that I made for my mother's 80th birthday present in June of 1999. We were going to have a large family gathering birthday party so the idea really grew out of family, and looking back, it's fun for me to think about how the idea for the quilt evolved. I have a wonderful photograph of my mother taken when she was one year old, in 1920. This became the focal point of what I wanted to do for this quilt. She and my step-dad were busy getting ready to move to a new home- new wallpaper, new furniture, new colors, and so I went to the fabric store with wallpaper swatches for their bedroom and picked out some beautiful fabrics in soft blues and creams that I thought would look nice in their new bedroom. Along with her baby photograph, I decided to use photographs of all the family members in this quilt. I took 15 photographs and had them transferred to fabric. It was a challenge getting the sizes all right so I could use each photograph fabric as a 6x6" square. The pictures that I chose were of my husband and myself, my sisters and their families, my adult married children and one grandchild. I put Mom's one-year-old photograph in the center of the quilt. In the top center, I had a photograph of her wedding picture with my father from 1940 so the top half of the quilt is our family. My father had passed away in 1976. Mom later married a wonderful man with a large family. The lower half of the quilt has their wedding picture in it from 1980, and around that wedding picture are Stan's adult children and grandchildren. So in all, mom had 5 grandchildren, one great grandchild on our side of the family and with her marriage to Stan, added his four adult children, with 11 grandchildren. This made for many wonderful family gatherings and lots of good times. The quilt has 3 rows across of photographs and 5 rows down. I set each picture into a star pattern and then put sashing between them. The quilt is really a sum of family life for my mother, who was an only child. She was always very proud and happy of all the family members in her life. The quilt was put on their bed and she delighted in showing it to everyone who came over. We agreed that it would be fun to enter this quilt in the Naples Quilt Guild show the next February, which we did do, and I was quite pleased and happy that it received a third place ribbon. On the back of the quilt, because family ancestry is becoming more important, I decided to make a label with all of our names on it and then noting each family tie so that in generations to come, these pictures will have names that go with them. My daughter has said that someday she would like to have this quilt in her home. And I know that she will get her wish. My mother, Thelma Ferguson Hughey, passed away in June of 2001. I am comforted now to have this quilt on a bed in my home, as my step-dad says that's where it should be.

SS: How long have you lived in Naples.

SR: Year round? Two years, but we've been coming down for about 30.

SS: [laughs.] That's a long time.

SR: My folks retired here 30 years ago and we would visit, then we purchased our place about 12 years ago. At that point we were seasonal, but that has changed, and we enjoy being here.

SS: And we're glad you're here. Were you living in Naples, or were you in Naples when you started becoming interested in quilting or were you living some place else at that time?

SR: I joined the Naples Quilters Guild 6 or 7 years ago. But I have been sewing for a long time.

SS: Did you learn on your own, or did you take classes? Who did you learn to quilt from?

SR: I think I've always been sewing. In junior high I took a home ec sewing class, and my mother always sewed. I remember her sewing prom dresses for my sisters and myself. I don't remember sewing too much in high school for any reason, but when my kids were born then I started making things for them. You know, with the house, you start decorating and accessorizing. You do craft things. It just sort of evolved from there.

SS: And then, specifically quilting, did you have a relative who quilted, or a neighbor?

SR: No, Mom never quilted and neighbors, no. I had a lot of friends who were into needlework and I did a lot of needlework early on in our marriage. With our move to the Columbus, Ohio, area, I started quilting and I did take a class. My first quilt was a log cabin, made in the early 80's, oranges and browns. The log cabin strips, they had to have been 2 ½ inches wide, so that when it was finished, today, by my standards, it was really an ugly quilt. [laughter.] It was not a nice log cabin, but it served its purpose. It's still around and I still feel fondly for it.

SS: It's still around where?

SR: It's in our home in Connecticut.

SS: Oh it's in Connecticut. Is it being used?

SR: It's hanging over a railing. We've got a balcony type effect with a staircase and so it hangs there for all to see. [laughter.]

SS: No secrets!

SR: No, no! Probably getting a little sun faded, but that's okay.

SS: That might be a good thing.

SR: It will tone down the orange. [laughter.] I laugh about picking those colors then, but they sure were popular.

SS: They were. Now, you took that in the class, so the class was about making a log cabin quilt?

SR: Mm-hmm.

SS: Then did you take another class?

SR: No, no, I didn't. My sister and I have been spending a lot of time together recently at the quilt show in Chicago and then in Paducah. She brought to Paducah a vest that I made for her as a birthday present, and she would have been in her 20's at that time. And lo and behold, these orange and beige fabrics are in that vest. Well the vest looks very charming. And of course the strips and patches are all thin strips so it's not as glaring. That must have been my second endeavor because it's the same fabrics. After that, I started to pick and choose what I wanted to do and used books and magazines to learn from.

SS: How many hours a week to you quilt now?

SR: That's a hard question because it varies. In fact my husband asked me the other day, he said, 'You haven't been sewing lately.' And I said, 'I wonder what I've been doing.' I think I'm trying to organize my sewing room right now. That's a project in itself. I would love to be able to sew one or two hours a day, but I don't.

SS: So you don't.

SR: I'm more project oriented. If I get into a project, then it's a lot of wonderful hours at the machine at one time. I can't put a weekly total on this.

SS: So you do mostly machine work?

SR: I do all machine work. All machine piecing, and then machine quilting.

SS: Very good.

SR: My goal right now is to improve my machine quilting. I have graduated from stitching in the ditch and have many practice samples of machine quilting techniques.

SS: What are you doing to work toward your goal?

SR: I've got several projects that are in process and I thought if I break them down to small components I can tackle them that way. It's time at the machine – and breathing! I enjoy the rhythm of free motion quilting when I'm in the "groove" it's relaxing.

SS: What's your first quilt memory, Shirley, the very first quilt you remember?

SR: Probably thinking back to when my oldest son was born. My mother didn't quilt but she did make a baby blanket out of a soft wool plaid on which she appliquéd a little boy and girl. That is my first adult memory of a quilt. I don't have any as a child.

SS: OK. Now you said earlier that you didn't really have quilters in your family, but don't you have a quilt from a grandparent?

SR: I do, I do. I've got a crazy quilt that my mother said was made by her great grandmother, and so that's two greats for me. Other than that, I don't know anything about the quilt. I did have it appraised, mainly to establish an approximate date that it would have been made. It was made in the late 1800's, early 1900's. It's got a lot of wonderful appliqué and stitching on it, surface stitching. There's a little owl embroidered on it, there's a little butterfly, lots of wonderful colors. It's got a little bit of wear on some of the silk pieces but it's not bad. And right now it's protected in a box. [laughter.] But I do enjoy getting it out and looking at it and trying to decide what to do with it.

SS: And who to leave it to in time?

SR: Yes, that will become a problem. I suspect though, that it will go to my daughter, because she will greatly appreciate it. Not that my 2 sons wouldn't. But keeping it on the female side of the family seems like a good idea.

SS: Yes, that's probably an easier way to make that decision. [laughter.] Is your daughter a quilter?

SR: She is. I taught her, I've taught my sister, and one of my daughters in law, so this accomplishment is really one of my greatest joys, because it's been more fun for me, watching what they do and the fun that we've had together. We've traveled to some quilting retreats--the 4 of us together--and it's just a grand time – like holidays, birthday parties and slumber parties all rolled into one!.

SS: It must be. I'm really very envious of that. So is that the primary way that quilting impacts your family, or are there others?

SR: I think of quilts as warmth and caring and love—that sort of thing. And sharing. Sharing the ability to create something for someone else. The fact that Stacy, Ginny, Tina and I enjoy this common interest in quilting is a true bonus.

SS: Have you ever used quilting to get thru a difficult time?

SR: Um as a matter of fact I have. [laughter.] I have to chuckle about it at the same time. I had spent a day with Mom and her cancer had been particularly aggravating and difficult that day so when I left her, it wasn't a chocolate fix that I was looking for. I went to the fabric store with the intent of buying the brightest most colorful fabric that they had. When I hit the door, I saw a beautiful Tiffany type stained glass fabric in wonderful blues and yellows and some whites and greens. I bought quite a bit of that and some coordinating fabric. Today I call it my happy quilt. It's on a guest bed in my home. It is very bright, very cheerful. So that was my quilt fix to lift my spirits.

SS: Shirley, what do you find most pleasing about quilting?

SR: I think the appreciation of the work that the quilters do. I love to go to quilt shows. I just enjoy seeing what other women--and men--do. Their use of color, the patterns, the quilting, and I take great joy in reading their descriptions about the quilt. Maybe the creative process they went through in making it, their thoughts at the time, which gives you more insight into the person. [clock chimes in background.]

SS: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy? Is there anything?

SR: Well I have to say hand quilting, but it's not something that I've ever really tried. I just, in my mind, I think that it's tedious. In fact, I did make a small quilt for a friend; put it all together by machine, stitched in the ditch. But it had parts of it that really were calling for little hearts, and I was going to hand quilt these little hearts. Now this was not a big deal. But it frustrated me before I even sat down to do it, so I put the quilt away probably for 6 months. Then when I pulled it out and put the hearts on it, by hand, I thought, you know, this is really relaxing! And how foolish of me to have anguished over something that I wasn't sure I could do well and just didn't forge ahead and do it at the time. But I did enjoy it.

SS: But you haven't done it since.

SR: No, I haven't done it since. And that was a small quilt that probably involved about 12 little hearts in 4x4 squares, something like that.

SS: Well maybe someday.

SR: Someday I'll have to try it.

SS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SR: Color, design, I think part of the thought process that would go into making the quilt itself. Not particularly something that would be thrown together. I like dynamics of color.

SS: So color is probably the strongest thing that you react to in a quilt?

SR: That would be a starting point. And good execution, good workmanship.

SS: What is it that makes a quilt artistically powerful to you?

SR: Graphics, graphics and color.

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

SR: I think all of the above. And superior workmanship. Probably superior workmanship first.

SS: And what makes a great quilter?

SR: I think anybody who sits down and picks up a needle and thread [Laughter] and enjoys the process of quilting.

SS: Are there particular skills or traits that you look for in, or you see in people you consider great quilters or in their work?

SR: Women enjoying what they do would have to be the first and foremost quality. Their work will show the depth of their knowledge in superior workmanship and techniques.

SS: How do you think great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern?

SR: By doing. By reading, by studying and learning from others.

SS: And the same way, choosing fabrics and colors?

SR: I think some people are gifted with the ability to see how things will go together and coordinate and how the end product will come out. Some people have that gift. They just seem to know. Other people will struggle with it through trial and error.

SS: Do you think it's a learnable skill?

SR: If the desire is there, yes, it is learnable. I think just like anything else in life.

SS: Were some parts of that easy for you?

SR: The mechanical part of doing it, I thoroughly enjoy. That's easy for me.

SS: How about fabric and colors?

SR: I struggle a little bit with that. I think I'm getting better. I'm picking colors and fabric that I like and that's half of the challenge and battle right there. It's easy to win if you like it. [laughter.] And with my little granddaughters right now I'm doing a lot of quilts in the primary bright colors, which are fun.

SS: For your personal use, would you choose those same colors?

SR: Happy colors, yes.

SS: I remember a while ago you had ordered a little purse from someone and you asked her to make it in 'happy colors.'

SR: Uh huh, uh huh. And she did. And I was just really pleased with it.

SS: So are there colors and things that you would avoid?

SR: Well I made a Thimbleberries, sort of a north woods homey type quilt, using all darker shades of Thimbleberries fabrics a couple of years ago. Since then, I told my family that I will never make another quilt in those shades and tones of colors because I like the brighter lighter lifting colors. I think that being in Florida, too, where the sun shines all the time, your color sense is different.

SS: I think so too.

SR: From say up in the north woods, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

SS: I've noticed in my own that my color sense has changed radically.

SR: You choose differently.

SS: If you were making a quilt for your one of your children or grandchildren who lives up north and they didn't want bright colors--

SR: Well then I would have to change how I feel about that and I would adjust.

SS: Would it be hard?

SR: No, it wouldn't be hard because it would be something that they would request and want, but for myself, I'm not interested in using dark earth tone colors right now. I can be flexible for what they want. I do take requests.

SS: Oh that's good. That's good. So I guess that's another way that quilting impacts your family is that you take requests.

SR: I take requests. A funny story. I was making a quilt for my one-year-old granddaughter, using primary bright plaids and solids with big hearts on it. When it was finished, I laid it on the floor, and I looked at it, and I thought, now this looks like her 4 ½ year old sister. This does not look like her--the granddaughter who was one. So the next morning, I had to go the fabric store to get fabric to make a new quilt for this one year old that fit her personality more than the bright loud colors.

SS: What a lucky child to have a grandmother who knows these things.

SR: Well, she is just very quiet and shy and sweet, so she did get one immediately made that was in soft chiffon whipped creamy pinks and blues and purples.

SS: Ooh, pretty!

SR: And that suited her. It wasn't the overpowering loud bright colors of the first one that I thought was going to be hers.

SS: What happened to that quilt?

SR: Well, her 4-½ year old, very vivacious, outgoing sister got that one.

SS: Ah hah! [laughter.] That IS a funny story. Why is quilting important in your life?

SR: Oh, because it is something I enjoy doing.

SS: Simple as that?

SR: It's as simple as that. I am very relaxed and content when I'm working with my hands.

For me, the rewards are in the process as well as the finished piece

SS: We touched on this a minute ago with the colors, but are there other ways you think your quilts reflect your community or your region?

SR: Being in Florida, with the sun shining, you get a sense of brightness, cheerfulness, lighter brighter colors.

SS: Do you pick up design themes from the environment that you're in, or ---

SR: I do more traditional quilting, so I think that, not leaning more toward art quilting, I would say no. Maybe in the future, if I venture down that road, why I will.

SS: [chuckle.] You're making faces like you don't think you're going down that road.

SR: [laughs.] I'm making a face. Does that answer the question? [laughter.]

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

SR: I think it tells a wonderful history of this country--of the women of this country. How they obviously in the beginning made do with what they had to serve their family needs, being very frugal in their life, and in our ability today to do it as we want to and not particularly because we have to or need to.

SS: And you feel that our quilts look quite different for that reason?

SR: Our choices are so many and quality is greatly improved. Our pioneer sisters would be envious. [laughter.] I think it's a big difference.

SS: How do you think quilts can be used?

SR: They can be used as art, they can be used as garments and accessories. They can be used for pillows and home décor, bed coverings, all those things.

SS: How do you think quilts can or should be preserved for the future?

SR: I think they should be used. So preserving them, I don't know that I would want to make one with the intention that it be preserved. I think it should be used.

SS: Well, let's go back to that quilt of your great-great-grandmother's.

SR: That's in the box.

SS: That's in the box.

SR: I should get it out and hang it in a low light area.

SS: [chuckles.]

SR: I do have a quilt that I purchased a number or years ago at the Vermont Quilt Festival, which I absolutely fell in love with, that I have hanging on a vaulted wall in Connecticut, and every now and then I worry about the light that it gets. Over the years it looks just as great today as it did when I bought it, so use it and enjoy it.

SS: I have to say I agree with you on that one. Do you know anything that's happened to the quilts you have made or those of friends and family?

SR: Everybody has still got them. They use them. I made one for my daughter when she turned 16. She's now 35 and I know that she still wraps herself in it occasionally.

SS: It hasn't worn out?

SR: It has not worn out. She used it all through, well, the rest of high school, all through college. And it was really a high loft batting that I put in it. It's a very puffy--it's a big quilt, and it's still in very good condition for all the years and wear that it's taken.

SS: That amazes me because the first quilts that I made for my daughters, are in rags.

SR: Really!

SS: Actually, one of them has been thrown out, I think.

SR: Well, were they babies?

SS: No. They were grade school though.

SR: Well it will be fun for me to see what happens with my granddaughters, because they have lots of little doll quilts and quilts for their rooms and their beds that they drag around, we'll see what the years bring with those.

SS: And it may be the quality of fabric.

SR: I was going to say that. And superior workmanship, right?

SS: Oh certainly! Of course! Of course! [laughter.]

SS: Now, I know you take classes.

SR: I enjoy taking classes. They provide an opportunity to sharpen old skills and learn new techniques that abound from new ideas and new materials. I always learn something in these classes and from other quilters. I enjoy the learning process and seeing what other quilters do.

SS: Who's your favorite teacher that you've taken a class from?

SR: Golly, there's several. Flavin Glover. I did a class with her years ago. She's a log cabin guru.

SS: She didn't teach your first class, did she?

SR: [laughter.] No, she didn't teach my first class. In fact I learned more from her. She should have taught my first class. I enjoyed that because she just opened up so many different things you can do with a simple log cabin. I loved my class with Ricky Tims because he's very innovative and free. He uses color in wonderful expressions, which is very dynamic. [phone rings. pause to answer.] Another teacher that I enjoyed a class with was Dianne Hire. She's very liberating and free and I'm looking forward to the class with David Walker next week. Maybe I'm moving toward less traditional quilting, a little bit freer, more fun. It will be interesting to see.

SS: Is there anything you want to talk about that I didn't ask you that you really would you like to say about quilting or your involvement with quilting, or what you like or what you want to do with quilting?

SR: Oh, just keep on enjoying it. Buying fabric, making quilts. Suzanne, quilters today are very fortunate with the growing desire to preserve quilt history. My sister and I enjoyed visiting Paducah this spring for the show, and I marveled at going thru the Museum of the American Quilters Society--the care that is given the exhibits and wealth that they have to show and share with people who visit their museum. I think being able to share the gift that each of us has, and our abilities, is very exciting. I really give the Alliance for American Quilts in saving and sharing our stories, thru this tape, transcript and photographs and the others that they are collecting, a resounding standing ovation.

[tape ends.]


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