Tommie Freeman


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Tommie Freeman  2.jpg


Tommie Freeman




The West Georgia Quilt Guild QSOS


Tommie Freeman


Violette Denney

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Carrollton, Georgia


Sheleigh Hight


Note: Sounds of the microphone being passed can be heard throughout the interview.

Violette Denney (VD): Hi, I’m Violette Denney and its August 29th, 2008, 12:45 pm and I am interviewing Tommie Freeman in her home for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Thank you for allowing us to come into your home for this interview. Could we please start with the name and a description of this quilt that you’re standing in front of right now?

Tommie Freeman (TF): The quilt that I’ve chosen to tell you about is called “The Men in My Life.” A number of years before I made this quilt, I made one about the ladies in my life, “The Women in My Life.” I had saved [neck.] ties, over a long period of time, and had bought a book to learn [how.] to do a Crazy Quilt, but just couldn’t make myself start.

So, during the 1996 Olympics, the Georgia quilters gave quilts to the athletes, and then in 1998, the Japanese quilters asked Anita Winerob and Holly Anderson to come to Japan and organize them so that they could do the same thing and continue the tradition. [2 second pause.] Holly asked us to make small token quilts or little wall hangings, squares to send. I made a Japanese Fan and a lot of people in our Guild sent things too. In return they sent these beautiful pieces of silk, and there must have been 8 or 10, and I was so excited when I got those that I got on board and decided I would make this quilt.

In the quilt I have ties that belong to the people in my life. I had been widowed twice. My first husband was Bob Garrett, and he farmed and was a really great athlete and there is a block that tells about his life. My second husband was a Presbyterian Minister and a cross designates his tie. My three sons, my two sons and Scott Freeman, my stepson; Lyle sang in Europe in the “Phantom of the Opera” and did musical theatre in New York, and his has a mask, his tie has a mask on it for the “Phantom.” Bill is a country musician, and it has a guitar for him. And Scott is a writer, so I have the ink and quill for him. You’ll see a white glove on this quilt and that’s so that the ladies don’t feel left out, I remember them. [I had help from.] my daughter Vesta, who’s an artist and teaches art. She did some of the designs for me. My daughter, Mimi, had been to Japan working and she gave me an antique kimono, so that’s part of what’s in it. [2 second pause.] So, this quilt reminds me of home, and then it reminds me of the outreach that we as quilters have.

VD: What do you think someone viewing this quilt might conclude about you?

TF: I think they would think I like Story Quilts and I like Crazy Quilts.

VD: How do you use the quilt?

TF: I never use it. I displayed it in our quilt show, but if I’m having company I’ll spread it on the bed, otherwise we’ve never used it.

VD: What are your plans for the quilt? What will ultimately happen to it?

TF: It will go to my family.

VD: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. At what age did you start quilting?

TF: I was 24 years old before I actually quilted, but when I was a child my Grandmother Bandy, Laura Bandy, her friends called her Bertie, the family called her Bertie, and her daughter Aurora taught my mom to make Dutch Doll and Butterfly quilts and they had black outline stitches around each of the dolls and the butterflies. So, even though I didn’t actually learn to quilt from them, I saw my mother quilting after that and that’s where I first became interested. But my Grandmother Bandy gave me a top, and it was a Dutch Doll, and we were living here on the farm at the time. We had moved back to the farm, and I asked neighbors to come in and quilt and show me how to quilt. I don’t even know where we got the frames, but we put a quilt in the frame, and they quilted all day and I fixed lunch and that was my first quilting experience.

VD: About when was this and how old were you?

TF: I was 24 and I was born in 1931, so you do the math.

VD: How many hours a week do you spend quilting?

TF: During the summer I spend, probably, 7 hours quilting because I like gardening and growing flowers, and using them for church arrangements and other things, almost as much as I like quilting. And so, in the wintertime, I probably quilt 25 hours.

VD: Are the other quiltmakers among your friends and family? Tell us about them.

TF: My daughter, I’m really happy to say my daughter, Celia, is the one who’s interested in quilting from my children, and she would quilt a lot more if she had time, and I think she will eventually. I have a lot of friends who quilt, and they all quilt really well. Some of them are just perfect quilters and do such a great job. I don’t feel the pressure to compete with them. The process is the fun. Is so much fun for me, I just love it. There’s just a bond between quilters.

VD: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

TF: Years ago, my daughter, Vesta, was working on her master's degree, and my daughter, Celia, was forced to work full time, where she’d been working part time, so I’d kept my grandkids and my mom was still living. She loved to quilt, and I loved to quilt, so I started this little quilt business. And I started it in my home. And so, at Christmas when the kids came home, that were living out of town, they said, ‘Mama, you’ve got to stop this, you can’t just keep bringing quilts into the house.’ So, then I built a little quilt house, that was somewhere in the 80’s. And so, I’m called the “Quilt Lady,” that’s my new identity. [4 second pause.] My kids all have quilts. I’ve given them quilts over the years and it brings me a lot of joy to give my great grandkids quilts and hope that I’ll be here to give them quilts when they graduate.

VD: Tell me have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

TF: Quilts have helped me get through a lot of difficult times. Even at Christmas Holidays when the kids would all be home, I could hardly wait to get to my quilting frame and do some stitching, and it just took care of the anxiety and stress. But the real way I learned to--felt that quilting helped me, was (first time when I thought about that) my mom broke her hip, and I think it was 1995, and about that time Gladys Akin had pieced a quilt for me, a top that was called “Cabin in the North Woods.” So, about the time I picked it up I realized that my mom loved to quilt and this therapy and all this getting over this breaking her leg, her hip was going to be hard for her. So, I asked Gladys if she could make 6 more of those quilt tops, and she did. Mother and I quilted and quilted until we got quilts for everybody for Christmas. S o that kept her fingers busy and made that time better for her. And then later she broke her hip again--but it was probably 5 years later, and her quality of health had really deteriorated. Mother had what you call Sundowners Syndrome, and she didn’t know us. She was confused, just horribly confused. I remembered that I had a Ziploc bag with a lot of 6 inch quilt squares, so I took them to the Hospital, and I would give them to her, and she would go through them and look at every single one, smooth them out, stack the next one. So, it really helped her, and we did that a lot of times.

Then when she died in 2001, a lady called me and said she had an old quilt she wanted me to come look at. I explained that I just couldn’t come right now, but as soon as I could, I would go. And so, I went to see her, and she had this quilt that was made in mid 1800’s and it was a beautiful appliqué, and it was on a homespun. It was just a treasure. On my way back, I realized that this quilt was giving me some joy, but it also was the first time that I had done anything without my mom, because she always rode with me. And then one other thing, one other story I think about, we had a tornado in, I can’t remember, in 1980 sometime, and it moved my little quilt house, it took down acres of trees on the farm, so I decided to deal with that I would make a “Tornado” quilt. So, I designed it with a tornado in the middle, it had things like broken dishes, and storms at sea, a streak of lightening, all the things that would say to me that it was this storm, this tornado. A lot of good came out of that because West Georgia College bought it and has it in their permanent art collection.

VD: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking.

TF: One that most people can’t believe, several years ago, I liked making story quilts for my husband. So, I was going to do this Red Work quilt for him, and I worked diligently to get together different squares, and I probably had, I don’t remember if it was 24 or 30, but I had pretty much ‘this is your life’ and I was just enjoying it. He would sit across the room in his chair, and he would say to me, ‘What are you working on now?’ And I would say, ‘It’s that order.’ And then weeks later he’d say, ‘What are you working on now?’ And I would tell him again, ‘I’m still working on that order.’ He never looked at it and he never knew until Christmas morning, when I gave it to him, that it was a story about his life. [laughs softly.]

VD: What do you find real pleasing about quiltmaking?

TF: It makes me happy. [laughs.] And I love fabrics, and the colors, and choosing patterns, and giving them to kids or grandkids. We had, this past year, ladies in our little first Friday group did a quilt. I had a friend who was having just terrible health issues, I mean I don’t know how she survived it, but I told my friends about it, and they wanted to do a heart. So, we each did a heart and we put our favorite scripture and her favorite scripture in the center, and we quilted it and gave it to her and she was just crying. She was so pleased, and excited, and couldn’t believe we’d done that for her.

VD: Okay, this is very interesting. What aspect of quilting do you not enjoy?

TF: I don’t enjoy it when I get in a big hurry, and I mess up and have to start all over or take it out. I think it’s important to have patience, but I’m afraid I don’t.

VD: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

TF: I’ve made reference to the West Georgia Quilt Guild. In 1987, when I was still selling quilts from my house, two ladies came to my door and told me that they were from Colorado, and that they loved quilting and that they’d had--Carol Kelly started telling me all the people she’d studied under. And I said, ‘You just have so much to share, we need to get together some quilters in this area and you tell us what you know. And so, she was excited about it. Shortly thereafter, she asked, there were either 4 or 5 of us, to come to her house. We met at her kitchen table and right then and there we decided that we would have a quilt guild. And we named it there. We got our purpose together there and talked about by-laws, but we didn’t actually do that. So, they asked me if I would go by the rec. department and find out if we could meet there. Well, they were delighted, and they said we could, and we told them we’d meet every month. And so, that’s that experience.

VD: Have the advances in technology influenced your work? And if so, how?

TF: The advances in technology have not influenced my work that much. I don’t get patterns from the computer. I have a Plain Jane sewing machine, and I’ve always had one. It’s [laughs.] nothing fancy. I must admit that I am drawn to traditional quilting, and the quilts that warm my heart are old quilts that quilters used what was at hand to make. And I have, over the years, in my shop I’ve had a lot of quilts made from chicken feed sacks and fertilizer sacks and flour sacks. My mom told me many, many years ago that her daddy died when she was 8 years old and she would take the backs of the legs, behind the knees--the fabric from her brother’s pants. And also, from the bends of their arm and she would make her skirts, it would be like a quilted [patchwork.] skirt with all these different [fabrics.], and she would make quilts. And this kept the family warm. And that’s what warms my heart. I mean, I really admire my friends who do all these things and use all the latest technology, but that’s just not me.

VD: Do you have a favorite pattern or a favorite technique that you enjoy more that others, and if so, what?

TF: I probably enjoy appliqué more than pieced quilts; but I also like pieced quilts, and many of my quilts have appliqué and piecing. I lean towards story quilts, quilts that have stories about what’s going on, and that’s my favorite.

VD: You didn’t tell me about the material. Do you have a favorite material you like to work with?

TF: I like cotton. I avoid anything that’s slippery and not as easy to sew.

VD: Do you have a studio where you create your quilts?

TF: I don’t have a studio. I have a tall bed and I lay out my quilts, when I do my squares; lay it and get ready for my placement I lay it on this bed. It’s tall and I can also baste a quilt up there. [5 second pause.] When I make a square, or several squares, and want to see maybe what kind of sashing to put in it, I’ll put it in the chair [lay it over the Queen Anne.] across from me where I work in the den and that’s sufficient for me. And I did have my quilting upstairs, but I missed being a part of the family, so I moved that back downstairs. So, I do it all, mostly, in my den.

VD: It sounds like you’re quite a busy lady. Tell me how you balance your time.

TF: The way I balance my time, I have to have some quilting going on in my life, so I rush around and do all my things that I need to do, either in the house--and I have some health problems. I have arthritis and I have a back problem, so I sit down and quilt and then I get up and do things and I come back and sit down, so, and it’s the same with my outside projects.

VD: What do you think makes a great quilt?

TF: I’m not sure, but in my opinion, probably a balance of colors, fabrics and good workmanship. And as I said, I like the story quilts. One that has a story behind it, or the quilter has some neat story about why she made it.

VD: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

TF: I would say pretty much the same thing.

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

TF: Well, before Gee’s Bends Quilts came out, I would probably say well made and well planned in the design. But after seeing that collection, I think, there again, stories are really important. So, each quilt has its own character and its own story. And maybe old quilts; well made old quilts.

VD: Let’s focus a little bit on the quiltmaker. What makes a great quiltmaker?

TF: A great quiltmaker has to care enough about the process to learn, and you can’t be impatient; [coughing in the background.] you have to take it a step at a time. My mom always tried to get me to piece quilts, ‘cause she did, and I always said, ‘Well I couldn’t make it fit.’ And it was not until I went to the continuing education course out at West Georgia College that I learned how to make the quilt pieces fit. And I found great joy in that.

VD: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

TF: I’m really drawn to all the peoples work in our guild and I find a lot of pleasure in seeing what everybody brings to show and tell. Jane Brownlow is probably my favorite, as far as her workmanship, and I especially like her little Lady quilts. And her colors just really are so special to me. Sue Hardin, I admire her work. Sue is such a great teacher and a number of people in our guild have learned from her. So, I think, I really appreciate her work. Violette Denney has these wonderful tiny stitches, but the thing I like most about Violette was that she made pictures and organized her work, has all these records and I do that too. Not as much as Violette but I really respect her for that.

VD: Do you have a favorite artist that has influenced your life and your quiltmaking?

TF: Not really. Sorry.

VD: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? You answered that a little bit but elaborate a little bit more. And what do you think about the longarm machines?

TF: For me, we went to Knoxville to the national quilt show one time and I took a course on quilting by machine. And that’s the only time I ever tried it. But I like to quilt by hand. I find it very satisfying and comforting for me. [2 second pause.] All the little ladies that have always quilted for me have either died or their health is really bad, so recently I’ve made two quilts for my son, Bill Gentry. They were about his life. T-Shirt quilts, so I had those quilted by a longarm machine and I was well pleased.

VD: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

TF: Well, like my primitive furniture, my quilts comfort me. I’m really comfortable in among my quilts. And I have quilts in each of my rooms, in every room in my house, and I also have a large collection.

VD: With all the collections and all the displays you did, at Christmas time, when it comes around, do you display Christmas stuff? [laughs.] Or how do you handle that?

TF: When my kids all left home, I had always had a Christmas tree, but I never really enjoyed putting up a Christmas tree. So, when Mimi would come, she would put the tree up and when Lyle would come, he’d put [take.] it down. I just thought, ‘Well, why?’ So, I had already started making Christmas quilts, loved them and loved the fabrics and everything. So, I decorate my house with quilts all over the house. I don’t have a Christmas tree.

VD: In what way do your quilts reflect the community or region?

TF: That really does interest me. I have in my collection quilts that were made by pieces from the men’s pants, Sewell’s wool and a lot of those are either made into blocks quilts or sometimes Crazy Quilts. I have one quilt that’s made totally out of sock tops, and it was dyed red and black and that’s for the time we had sock factories in Carrollton. There are others, I can’t think. Oh, one that not many people would treasure but me. This lady from Buchanan called and said that she that her mother had died, and she wanted to sell some quilts. Would I come and look at them? So, she had just ordinary quilts, until she brought out these made from men’s work clothes. And they were her daddy’s clothes. And this was before Gee’s Bend, and not many people appreciated that, but I did. And I said, ‘Do you really want to sell these? They’re your Daddy’s’ and I think there were three of them. She wanted $25.00 or $35.00, something like that. And she didn’t want to keep them, so I bought all three. I have one in my collection. I think I sold one and I have one left that I can sell.

VD: In what way do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

TF: Well, a lot of people don’t know anything about quilting and quilts. So, I consider those of us who quilt, and have quilting, that we are really fortunate. And I remember reading from some book about how the Underground Railroad used quilts to display on their porches and the people seeking safety knew that that was a safe place to stay. [not historically supported.]

VD: You have described several ways of using quilts. Is there another way that you haven’t mentioned that you would like to mention about how quilts can be used?

TF: You mean in my house or [VD speaking in background saying ‘children, quilts, comfort.’] Oh yeah, well as I said, I give my children and grandchildren quilts and I hope that my great grandkids. I’ve made four of those recently, and I hope that they’re gonna know when they’re older, ‘cause their Mommies hang them in the room and take real good care of them. And I hope that when I’m no longer here to tell them how much I love them. I’m hoping that they’re going to look at those stitches and know Granny loved them.

VD: You’ve mentioned that it was important to preserve quilts, do you have any secrets on how we can preserve our quilts?

TF: Love them. Treat them with tender care. Don’t wash them unless it’s absolutely necessary. Quilters used to put them out on a windy day and air them and I remember a project that we took on as quilters. A little lady in her 90’s had all these beautiful quilts packed down, and her name was Thelma Jordan. Violette, Ollie and I don’t remember who else, Ollie Wright, went to her house and helped her document what she had and told her the names of them and so forth, and we hung them on the clothesline to air and then we made pictures. We suggested to her, if she would like us to, [that.] we’d be happy to take those quilts to the library and we’d display them, let people see them and people could talk to her. So, we did that, and it was really neat.

VD: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

TF: Probably getting other people to enjoy the process and to know that you don’t just learn to quilt period, you’ve got to practice and be willing to learn. And I think we just need to pass on the love of quilting, and particularly with younger people and help them to realize that they can tell a lot of stories and there’d be a lot of their work left when they’re gone.

VD: Have you participated in teaching any of the school children about quilts and how quilts are actually made?

TF: Yes. We, several members of our Guild, most particularly Ollie Wright, Violette [Denney.] and I would go to schools, and other people as they could, and we would take our work and particularly things that the children would enjoy. I remember the last time I went; I took a rooster and they liked that. But we would tell them how the quilt is like a sandwich - the top and the batting, the middle, and the back. The first time I ever did this, my husband was principal up at Union [Elementary School.] and one of his Kindergarten teachers contacted me and asked me to bring quilts. They were talking about [the letter.] “Q.” So, I took several quilts that I thought they would enjoy and went up there. I talked to them, and they were real interested and real sweet. And later when my husband saw one of the little boys in the hall he said, ‘You and Mrs. Freeman must stay warm with all those quilts.’ [laughs.]

VD: Have you ever actually made a quilt from a kit that someone else had put together?

TF: I have. Actually, when I first started quilting, back in, after I’d learned, but during the 1960’s, my husband was a Minister and one of the ladies whose husband was on the session gave me a kit. And it was a cross stitch quilt kit. So, I did that one, then I bought two kits that were Dogwood, and I did those. Then two [more.], one was an Ohio Star and then another Cross Stitch. Those were my heirloom quilts for each of my kids and I was going to quit [stop quilting.]. You know I didn’t think I was going to keep quilting. I just thought, ‘Now I’ve got those put back.’ But I got interested and kept on going.

VD: About how many quilts do you have in your collection and are there any really outstanding quilts that you have not talked about that you would like to tell us about?

TF: I probably have about a hundred in my collection. I have a lot more than that in my little quilt house, but two quilts that I don’t think I’ve told you about, and it’s real important to me to preserve a quilt, too. If I get one and it just doesn’t have major problems, I’ll repair it. So, I was going into town, and I passed an upholstery shop and I saw this beautiful Carolina Lily. [A.] Carolina Lily basket wrapped around a chair. So, I turned around and went back and I asked the man if I could trade him an old, tattered quilt for that. And he said, ‘Come back tomorrow and bring me three tattered quilts and you can have it.’ So, I took it, and I spent a lot of time. It was well made. It was homespun back and I restored it, had it appraised, and it was worth $785.00.

And then another one that I have three red and green quilts. One of those was when I bought it all the squares were coming loose so I bought new red fabric and tried my best to make it Turkey Red. I did a little dyeing to try to make it a Turkey Red and I repaired those. When I had it appraised, it was worth as much or more as when I had the Carolina Lily appraised. I just encourage people to treasure them and to not use them and abuse them. Use them but take good care of them.

VD: Have you ever experienced any of your quilts being misused?

TF: I’ve been very fortunate ‘cause it would hurt my feelings if [laughs.] my kids didn’t treasure the quilts that I give to them. But my grandson was a senior in High School, and I made his quilt, and it was a Georgia Pines quilt. It was beautiful. He took his girlfriend on a picnic, and they spilled Coke on it and his mom had no idea that he had brought it home wet and just tucked it aside and so it was messed up pretty bad when she found it. She worked on it and worked on it and restored it as best she could, but I just look at it like that quilt has its history too.

VD: I’m not sure we have missed anything, but are there any other quilting experiences or special people that you’ve met through quilting that you would like to tell us about? Can you think of any other stories that you would like to share with us?

TF: [4 second pause.] Not really. When our Guild talked about doing this I remembered, and we all did, that we had a lot of quilt members, and we weren’t able to save their stories. So, I’m real grateful that I had an opportunity to be a part of this.

VD: Okay, we have approached our 45 minute limit. [6 second pause.] [inaudible.]

Kimber Pepper (KP): Tommie, tell me more about the quilt house and how it came to be and what you keep all in it.

TF: I told you that when I started selling quilts, I was selling them out of my house. And so, the kids were pretty horrified that I had filled up two bedrooms with quilts, and there was not much place for people to sleep. We enjoyed going down the road [Georgia Highway.] 166 to this antique place and they had all these little houses. So, I stopped and asked the man if he would build me a house. I had old wood and had collected a lot of old things to go in it, but the outside was not anything special. He built it and I told him I didn’t want anything to show. I wanted it to blend in with the background.

My quilts have gone to Japan and Australia. I’ve just had them go in a lot of different places, Germany. Somebody, a friend of mine in Sunday school, was in Germany visiting a couple. On the bed--there was a label on a quilt that had come from me. That was pretty exciting. I’ve just always tried to find good homes for my quilts. I hand out the same information that we handed out when I was a part of the Georgia Quilt Documentation [Project.]. They gave us information about how to take care of old quilts. I make copies of that and when I sell a quilt, I give it to people and try to explain to them, just don’t wash them a lot and don’t abuse them.

VD: Thank you Tommie for letting us interview you and I feel sure that we have saved some precious stories through your interview. So, we are closing off the interview at 1:30 p.m. Thank you.


“Tommie Freeman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,