Janet Lehman




Janet Lehman




Janet Lehman


Dorothy Crooks

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Boone, Iowa


Dorothy Crooks


Note: Janet Lehman is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required.

Dorothy Crooks (DC): My name is Dorothy [interference on tape.] Crooks and today's date is August 13th, 2008, at 10:00 o'clock a.m. I am conducting an interview with Janet Lehman at the library [Ericson Public.] in Boone, Iowa for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Iowa State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Janet is a quilter and lives in Boone, Iowa. Janet, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Janet Lehman (JL): The name of it is Cheese and Crackers and the quilt designer is Terri Atkinson. It's a 1930s reproduction fabric. Those are my favorites. I like Terri Atkinson's designs because they're simple; they're kind of repetitive. Most of the blocks are the same within her quilts and then you have pieced or fancy boarders on them.

DC: Does this quilt have a special meaning to you?

JL: Oh, probably just the fact that it's 30s fabrics and several of my friends have done them. We did them at a retreat one time. A friend of mine had a church bazaar and as part of the décor they hung all of our Cheese and Crackers quilts. It was kind of fun to see all the different fabrics.

DC: How do you plan to use this quilt?

JL: I use most of my quilts on my bed. I don't make many wall quilts because I don't have places to hang them. I rarely use blankets and I don't own any bedspreads, so all my quilts I use on my bed.

DC: What do you think that someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

JL: That I like simplicity, and I like the 30s fabrics.

DC: Well, this is certainly a good example of both of those. Tell me about your interest in quilt making. How did it begin?

JL: Back in the early 70s, I made an embroidered quilt and then my sister quilted it for me. It didn't turn out very well. Thinking back, I know part of the reason is the fabric we used on the back was a sheet. They recommend not to use sheets for backing because the fabric weave is so dense that it is hard to hand stitch through as well as machine stitch through.

DC: So, you learned something about quilting at that first experience. About how old were you?

JL: Oh, early twenties.

DC: Then when did you start quilt making in earnest?

JL: Well, not too long after that I took a quilt class through Adult Ed. [education.] in Ames [Iowa.], and it was a traditional hand piecing and appliqué class. Had a real good time with that. I do like to hand piece. It just takes a lot longer than machine piecing, but it's something you can so in front of the TV.

DC: From whom did you learn to quilt, then?

JL: Shirley Wilkens Hartman is the teacher I took from, and I have taken other classes from her since then, and I'm in a quilt group with her as well.

DC: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JL: Well, I figured up about 15 on the average. Sometimes it's a lot more if I can get a whole Saturday in.

DC: How many quilts have you made?

JL: I tried counting them up this morning, and I couldn't come up with an exact number, because I have kind of cross referenced some of them, but over a hundred.

DC: Over a hundred. Where do you store those?

JL: Oh, in piles. [laughs.] I have some folded up in the closet and some stacked in my bedroom and a lot are stacked waiting to be quilted. I have the backings and the tops together, so I don't lose track of them.

DC: Well, tell me about the process. What do you do when you are going to make a quilt?

JL: First thing is shopping, and that part I really like. Well, I guess you should say the first thing is pick a design, and then the shopping. And I usually don't have too much trouble picking a design that I like. I have lots of books and patterns. I'm kind of a book-a-holic that way. I can't pass up a neat pattern book. You get your fabric and then there's the cutting. I don't pre-wash. Some people think you should, but I don't. I do the cutting and then you start, well most of mine are strip pieced, so you would sew strip components and then sub-cut those and re-sew into blocks and then assemble the blocks into rows and then sometimes there's a pieced boarder and sometimes not. But the boarder is the last part. And then you sandwich the three layers, the quilt, the backing and the batting together and either hand quilt, machine quilt or tie. The word quilt just means to fasten the layers together. And then you put a binding on it to finish the edge. And last would be the label, documenting who made it, why, and who you made it for, what the design was, the date, maybe anything else historical you'd want to put on there.

DC: That's a very good thing. I have quilts that don't have that [a label.] on them and I don't have any idea of who made them, so the history of it is lost. Tell me about your first quilt memory.

JL: I think it'd be the doll quilt that my grandma made for me. It had a lot of red in it. I remember that, and I don't remember much else. I don't have it anymore. It fit a doll bed that my dad had built for me, and at the time I was small enough I could lay on the bed. It wasn't a cradle type or a crib type. It was like a little twin bed, only really small.

DC: You must have been small too. [laughs.]

JL: That's right, I was. I was less than 5 and that's all I can remember.

DC: Are there other quiltmakers in your family, or friends?

JL: My sister quilts. She likes to do blanket stitch appliqué. My grandmother took up quilting in her 80s. She didn't like to piece. She had a hard time using a rotary cutter because she was left-handed. She couldn't quite figure out a technique that worked for her. So, she did a lot of embroidered quilts and did the hand quilting. And she quilted with her church. Her church quilted some quilts for me, hand quilted, and I did go stitch with them a few times. It was kind of fun. My mom didn't quilt when I was little because she just didn't have the time. I do have a quilt that she did, but it is pretty much in tatters. But at least I have it.

DC: So, tell me if you have ever used a quilt to get through a difficult time.

JL: I don't know that I've had difficult times, other than it just gives me something to do, so I don't get fidgety. I've got to be doing something all of the time, whether it's quilting or embroidery or knitting or any of those kinds of things I can do in front of the TV as well at my machine. I have given a quilt to a person who had a home fire. It's a little girl that I worked with at school. She really appreciated it. Her grandmother told me many times over how the little girl appreciated it, and she appreciated the fact that I gave her a quilt.

DC: That was a touching thing to do.

JL: It was.

DC: And very meaningful. Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from you quilt making.

JL: One of my quilt groups decided to do a Ricky Tims project called "Convergence," and it is where you take two fabrics that have good contrast and you kind of cut them up and then put them back together in an art quilt. When I went to buy my fabric, the first two pieces I bought I thought had good contrast and they didn't. So, I had to go shopping again. I decided to do it in green and I found a pretty shade of green, and I needed something for contrast. And I found something that I thought would work. It was a softer green and it had just a little bit of shade of black in it and some other kinds of swirly things. I got it home and when I got ready to press it, and start cutting, it turned out that it had been on the bolt inside out. What I was looking at when I bought it was the back side and the front side was great. It was a wonderful surprise. It was more vivid but still had really good contrast.

DC: It turned out okay then.

JL: It turned out great. [laughing.]

DC: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

JL: Oh, the fact that I have something to show for it when I'm done. I have, as I've said before, stacks of quilts and quilts in progress. I love fabric. I think I was doomed to like fabric, when in my baby book for my first birthday it says I received fabric from my great grandma. Which I didn't know that until she was gone, and I couldn't ask her the reason other than probably for my mom to make me a little dress or something. That's kind of fun.

DC: What aspect of quilt making do you not enjoy?

JL: I don't really like hand quilting, myself. It takes a long time. I'm more of a piecer than an actual quilter. I send mine out to a couple of friends to have them machine quilted. I do hand quilt small things, wall hangings or table toppers, and table runners, and things like that. And I do do some machine quilting on my regular machine. I'll do stitch in the ditch and just little simple quilting that way.

DC: What quilt groups do you belong to?

JL: I belong to several small groups. There's a group of us, we call ourselves "Quilting Friends." There used to be nine. Now there's only seven. We get together regularly here at the library on Saturdays through the winter months to quilt all day if we want to. Sometimes there's just me here 'cause I'm the most dedicated and [laughs.] sometimes there'll be seven of us or more. Then I'm in another group of seven and we meet a couple times a month and once in a while we go out to eat, instead of quilting. And the third group I'm in meets at Ames [Iowa.] and we have show and tell. We only meet a couple of hours, so we have show and tell and kind of bounce ideas off of each other for projects, and that's the one I did the Ricky Tims wall hanging.

DC: Describe the place where you do your work at home.

JL: Oh, my place at home is a mess. I have a little room that is supposed to be my quilting and crafting room and it's probably about 8'X10' and it's so full because I have so much fabric. And at other times I've had other interests. I've done rubber stamping and I've done counted cross stitch, and so I have all those kinds of supplies in there too. And so, now I sew on the kitchen table. And so, my kitchen table is always piled high with my projects.

DC: How about your husband? How does he feel about the kitchen table filled with quilting supplies?

JL: In all our years of marriage, we've never eaten at the table. It's just the two of us. We've always eaten in front of the TV. But he hounds about the table. The dining room table is just as bad with other stuff piled on it. And then he says, 'You never clean off the tables.' And I say, 'You won't eat at it anyway, so why bother?' He does quibble about my stacks of totes and my other stuff. He says, 'We live in a house, not a warehouse.' And I stand in the middle of it, and I look at it, and I just can't do anything about it. [laughs.].

DC: It's important to you, and I imagine he appreciates what you---your projects.

JL: He never tells me about the projects, whether he likes them or doesn't like them, but I have heard him brag to friends about things that I've done.

DC: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JL: I like simple quilts. I don't know just---and I like the 30s fabrics. And I think if they are well done and they're well cared for, they're a good quilt.

DC: They are great? [laughs.] And whose work are you drawn to as far as the patterns and designs? That you like to do?

JL: I like the Terri Atkinson patterns. She prints books as well as just individual patterns. There for a while one of her books I carried around like a bible when I'd go quilting because I never knew which one, I wanted to do next, so if on a whim I needed to buy fabric, I at least had a pattern with me to know yardage and things like that. That's a hard thing. Sometimes when I'm shopping, I'll just randomly buy fabric, and then when I try to match up stuff with it later on, sometimes you can't do that.

DC: So, it is a major part of the project, to get the materials correctly matched. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

JL: I used to feel very strongly against the machine quilting. I'd go to the quilt shows and 90% of the quilts would be machine quilted. I always thought that you should be showing your own personal workmanship, but then machine quilting is pretty tricky, not everybody has a feel for it. And the more quilts I've made, I realize there's not time to hand quilt every quilt, and so if it is hand pieced, I think it should be hand quilted. But if it is machine pieced, it could be machine quilted. Even the pioneers, when they finally got sewing machines, machine quilted.

DC: What do you think about the longarm quilting? Have you had any experience with that?

JL: A couple of my friends have longarm machines and they do it as a business. Another friend bought one and welcomed me to try hers out. And I doodled with it a little bit and it would be easy to get hooked on it, but since I don't have room to own one myself, I didn't want to get too involved. They work really slick. They're just like a sewing machine that's turned at a 90-degree angle, but then you have you batting, your backing, and your top on rollers and you move the machine rather than the fabric when you quilt it.

DC: That's interesting. Tell me about the stitches. What story do you have about your quilting stitches?

JL: Well, my stitches. I don't practice enough to get them really fine-tuned, but I'm always happy with what I've done whether the stitches are tiny or long. Usually the backs look better than the fronts. I think it's because I take a big chunk on the front and then get a nice little nip on the back,
so, it looks like my stitches are smaller.

My cousin went to a quilt group one time, and they complimented her on her basting stitch. And she said, 'That's not my basting stitch, it's my quilting stitch!' So, she never went back. [laughs.]

I think it's consistency more than anything even if your stitches are a little long. There are stitches called utility stitches and that's all you need to hold your quilt together.

DC: Why is quilt making important in your life?

JL: I like fabric, and I like sewing. I have kind of given up on the garment sewing. I started sewing when I was eight years old. My first project was a skirt for Camp Fire Girls. They had a Camp Fire Fair and I did almost every possible technique you could think of in the skirt that I made. It had a waste band, a button and buttonhole, a zipper, and a boxed pleat. I got a blue ribbon, and so after that I was hooked on sewing. Now, that the prices of clothes has changed and the notions has gotten more expensive, it's cheaper to buy clothes than make them. So, the quilting and piecing have been an outlet for that for me.

DC: That's a good alternative. [coughs.] [JL coughs.] What has happened to the quilts that you have made? Have you kept them? Given them away? What happens to them?

JL: I keep most of them only because I pay to have them machine quilted. If I made the whole thing myself, I'm a little more willing to give it away. I've given baby quilts. Some of the first ones I gave away were to my twin nieces when they were born. They were embroidered blocks and I just tied 'em. I made a quilt for one niece that was embroidered, and I quilted it. It was for a wedding quilt, and the wedding never happened. So I still have it waiting to give to her at a later time.

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

JL: Well, stored well and kept clean. The best way to store 'em is on a roll, like a drapery fabric roll, or a carpet roll, but most people don't have room to store those, so if you use acid free tissue paper and kind of put that inside the folds of a folded quilt and then refold the quilt periodically so they don't get permanently creased. And maybe keep 'em in a pillowcase or some other fabric bag rather than plastic, they should last a long time.

DC: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?

JL: I guess so many quilts to be made and not enough time. [laughs.] That's my challenge. I have got more fabric than I could ever use in a lifetime and more books and patterns, but I just keep plugging away and I know there's a lot of people out there that keep thinking, 'I'll wait until I retire.' Well, that's not a good excuse if that's something you really want to do, you can find the time, and when you retire, you don't always have the time.

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add to our interview, Janet?

JL: Just that everybody should try quilting at some time. It doesn't have to be a hard project. There's a lot of simple ones out there. Quilt shops give lessons. Quilt groups will help you get started. It's not hard to find a quilt group. Usually, you can find them advertised in the paper or through the libraries.

DC: You mean there's hope for me?

JL: There is. [both laugh.]

DC: I'd like to thank Janet Lehman for allowing me to interview her today as part of our Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 10:25 a.m. on August 13th, 2008.


“Janet Lehman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1678.