Raola Giles




Raola Giles




Raola Giles


Debbie Strickland

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Nevada, Iowa


Debbie Strickland


Debbie Strickland (DS): I'm Debbie Strickland. It is my pleasure to be interviewing Raola Giles today in Nevada, Iowa. It is January 30th, 2008, and Raola's identification number is IA5020-DAR001. Thank you so much, Raola, for agreeing to let me interview you and see your quilt. What quilt did you decide to show me?

Raola Giles (RG): The friendship quilt. It was started when I was probably 13 years old. The neighborhood [coughs.], excuse me, the neighborhood ladies had a club and they decided that the neighborhood girls should have a club. So, we formed a club and we named ourselves the Busy Bees. Every girl in the club was supposed to make a quilt block for every other girl in the club. I have several from that era, but not enough for a quilt.

DS: How many squares did you get?

RG: We'll have to look. I'll have to look. I can't remember exactly. [pause for 2 seconds.] This block is my own. That's mine and this is my sister's. This is my sister just younger, and this is my sister just older. And this is a neighbor girl. And this is a neighbor. And that's a neighbor. So that's six. There's six there. Then, this is a schoolteacher. So, I had seven. At that time, at the time I got married, my mother-in-law was a quilter and the whole family quilted. And so, she insisted that we get some more blocks. So, I had my own mother, my husband's mother, three sisters-in-laws and well, my husband's aunt and two of his cousins. I'm sure the aunt embroidered all the names because they are all perfectly, beautifully done. Look at this.

DS: Oh my.

RG: So then, I had that many blocks. I put them in a drawer. Put them in a suitcase, put them in a trunk, carried them from one farm to another. Wherever we moved, I took them with me. And then, I think it was in the 1990s, I decided that I'd just take what I had, put it together and whatever size it was. I wasn't going to make it for any particular bed or anything. So, that's what I did, I went, and I bought sheets that was the color that I wanted. I looked for material and I ended up buying sheets. So, I have a sheet on the back and then I cut out the blocks that go in between the friendship blocks from the sheet.

DS: How did you decide on the color? It's beautiful.

RG: Oh, pink is my favorite color. Or one of my favorite colors and this is kind of a dusty rose pink. I wanted something that was different, but I didn't want, I couldn't match any of the prints. The prints are all different colors and all different. That was, that was my choice. And then, I put it together and quilted it.

DS: I notice it says Busy Bees up here.

RG: Yes, this block should have been this color. [points to patterned quilt fabric.] But I gave it to my mother one time because she wanted the pattern, and she never got it given back to me. So, rather than put some other color or some other material, I decided to just put the name of the club.

DS: So how long did that club stay in existence?

RG: Probably one year. Probably one summer. You know, it was not long. And not everybody got their blocks done. I was surprised when I had a letter from this girl [touches quilt.], this lady. That she said she remembered when we made the quilts and I thought, I don't think I have a block from her. So, I went and looked, and I did. [laughs.] She was in my class at school. But most of the girls didn't get their blocks done. [inaudible.]

DS: So, do you know if you got your blocks done and gave to everyone?

RG: Well, I assume that I did. I have the one that was mine and whether my sisters ever did anything with theirs, I haven't a clue. Whether they did anything [inaudible.]

DS: And so, you must have liked quilting even that summer when you were thirteen you said.

RG: Yah, well I think that's about the time I made the first quilt I ever made was the Bowtie and I think.

DS: A Bowtie.

RG: Yes.

DS: Is that a quilt pattern?

RG: Yes, it's a pattern and it just has blocks, squares, and triangles that look like a man's bowtie. And it was all different colors. The one that we're doing at, that we're quilting at the church now the person made it all purple and white which will be beautiful on the bed. But my preference is for the variety.

DS: And why? Tell me why.

RG: Well, I think that was because you had to buy the material if you wanted it to be certain colors. And we didn't, we didn't spend our money that way. We spent our money wisely. And we used whatever was. Whatever you had, you used, like sugar sacks, flour sacks. We washed them and ironed them and did them up to make to make the white parts and if you bought material, you bought. If you wanted it for a good quilt, you bought the best material you could buy. [inaudible.] Cost an immense amount of money; thirty-nine cents a yard. So now, I'm just amazed at what people pay for their material. I just, you know, it just blows me away because I grew up in a time when 25-cent material was what you made most quilts out of, if you bought anything and most people didn't buy only just if they needed.

My mother-in-law made so many quilts that had a plain color. It would be a blueprint with a plain blue part. Or it would be a pink print with a plain pink part. So, she would go to town to buy these little scraps of plain colors to go with her prints. So, that's what she liked.

DS: So where would she get the print fabric?

RG: From her aprons, her dresses, anything, and from and from neighbors. People shared their material. A relative has a whole quilt that is made out of pieces from my family's; from my dresses, my sister's, and all of our clothes because my mother shared pieces with her.

DS: And so, what do know, do you remember where this lovely orange and brown kind of plaid

RG: It was a dress. I don't remember much about the style. I just remember it being a dress.

DS: It was one of your dresses?

RG: I think I made it. I think it was a dress I made.

DS: So, you were sewing well before you were thirteen.

RG: I was sewing before I was in high school, before we had Home Ec. And I was always disgusted with the teacher telling us how to do things.

DS: Because who were already an accomplished seamstress?

RG: I wasn't doing it like, maybe like the book. I did it like my mother. Or [laughs.] like myself, I had a mind of my own. [laughs.]

DS: So, did you make all of your own clothes?

RG: Mother made a lot of them. And us girls made our own too: pajamas, everything, aprons, and dresses, and blouses, and skirts, and everything. It was part of life.

DS: Do you know if you used that same dress material for all of your friends?

RG: I would think I did if there was enough. I would have done them all just alike.

DS: And your mother. You said your mother needed a square of this fabric for something else.

RG: She just wanted it for a pattern.

DS: For a pattern.

RG: She was going to make a friendship block.

DS: Yes.

RG: And you see it. All of this, all of it's this size. Everything goes from this square. The triangles are half a square. And she just, we just ripped it out. We just took it apart.

DS: It was already sewn together?

RG: It was sewn together, yes. And that's another interesting thing. Although we had the same pattern, all the blocks didn't turn out the same size. Some of it was done by hand. Some of it was done on a machine. Some blocks were done part on a machine and part by hand. And also, that some people allowed selvage or edge for the seam and other people didn't. So, I had fun putting it together. And I--you have to really look, but you can find places where one block is too big for the area. It gets cut off. It gets cut off at the edge, but nobody is going to point that out to you.

DS: Well, no, and it doesn't really matter.

RG: It's more important that I have everybody's block than that they fit perfectly.

DS: Because what does it make. Now, you told me previously that friendship quilts were very common or popular.

RG: Yes.

DS: When and where?

RG: Well, I would say '20's and '30's. Probably up into the '40's, because it was in the '40's when we were married. I finished getting all these from the family it was in the '40's. But it was in the '30's when we started it. But it was a club. Neighborhood ladies would meet like every other two weeks or once a month and they would do something. Maybe they'd quilt, maybe they'd embroider, or maybe they'd tear rags for rag rugs. They were supposed to do something for the lady whose house they went to. If she didn't have anything, they took their own, their own, work, you know, like embroidery.

DS: So, say, it was at your house and ladies were coming. What would you think of? Like, 'Oh, I would like a rug for my kitchen sink?'

RG: Well, usually, you'd be thinking of this: 'If I don't have a quilt to put in, for them to quilt, then, I will have them do the rags for the rug or I'll have them do something.'

DS: And so, it would be an afternoon, probably.

RG: Well, sometimes it was all day. Sometimes they would take lunch or take a covered dish or something. Sometimes it was just an afternoon. And especially if it was quilting, it might be all day. If you had a quilt in, the neighborhood club would all come and sit around the quilt. And then after they'd go home, why, like myself and my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law, we would work where people had worked and get it all done up to a certain--as far as we could. And then, two weeks later, all the family would come, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and a--maybe a neighbor or two. But they would come and do some more. Sometimes you could get a quilt done in a couple of days like that.

DS: Oh my.

RG: Couple of big days you could do a lot with people sitting all the way around.

DS: Did everybody have a big frame?

RG: I don't think so. I think they borrowed. It's not much of a job to have a frame. You just go to the hardware, or hardware, or the lumber yard and buy the boards you want and then you tack like pillowcase material, ticking on there and then, you have clamps that go at the corners. Some people had stands, quilt stands that they fit into, which was very nice. Some people just put them on chairs. When I do it here in my house, here at home, I do it on the davenport. I put the frame just right out over the davenport right out in the middle of the room and then I put TV trays or something out on that end. And as it gets smaller you can, you get your room back. [laughs.]

DS: Well, how does the frame shrink?

RG: With the, with the clamps. You have the frame crossed at the corners. And then you have, I don't know if you call them 'U' clamps?

DS: Yea, I know what you mean.

RG: And you tighten those and then, you roll the quilt. You quilt out from the edge of the frame. I only quilt so far because there's no point in reaching out and then the next time you have to reach out again. So, I just quilt out about, you know, like I'm doing a block or whatever. And, and then, roll it up. I prefer doing it on a large frame.

DS: Did you quilt this on a large frame?

RG: Yes, yes. You can quilt with a little frame, you know, on your lap, or some people even have a small stand that they can use. But if you put it in a big frame and you stretch the back, you can make it smooth. Make it really smooth. Then you lay the filling on there, just not tight. Just lay it on and the same way with the top. You don't stretch the top. You just put it on normally. So, when you take that out of the frame, then all of these stand up. All your squares or all your designs and everything just pop up because the back has been stretched and you let it go and it gives it a really, really nice, really nice puff to all your quilting. So, I prefer the large frame. But I have done baby quilts, pillow tops, and stuff on small frames. And they look fine. They don't look bad. [pause for 3 seconds.]

DS: So, when you see all of these different squares from childhood friends and family members, what does it mean to you?

RG: It means a lot. It's just. You remember people for different reasons. And like this little girl had dark black hair. She was just adorable. And when she came to school, she always smelled like she had just been washed with soap. Her clothes were always clean. Sometimes she wore a little white apron over her dress to school. She smelled like Ivory Soap. I know she got scrubbed. [laughs.]

DS: Do you think you remember her better because there's a square of hers in your quilt?

RG: Well, it does remind me of her, you know. And I thought it was interesting that her stitching is done in a little different style. See it's not--I don't know what you'd call it.

DS: That's a running stitch, isn't it?

RG: Yes, more than the other,

DS: Satin stitch.

RG: Over, over, over and over. [inaudible.] [pause for 2 seconds.] And this is my mother-in-law's. I think of her aprons and dresses. She always had an apron on. When she washed, there were seven aprons on the clothesline. She put a clean apron on every morning. No, I take that back. She put a clean apron on at noon. When she got dinner ready and the men were coming in for lunch, she put on a clean apron. The next morning, she put that apron on wrong side out and she'd wear it to do the dishes and wash the separator and pick the chickens. Do the dirty work, pick the strawberries or whatever. [inaudible.] And so, I think of her and the clothes, the patterns that she liked. That was in a dress. Aprons had small prints. Dresses had large prints.

DS: What do you think the rationale of that was? Small prints for the aprons I suppose to hide the stains?

RG: I think it was just. [pause for 2 seconds.]

DS: And then, you started to say something about this quilt block here.

RG: That was my teacher. That was my teacher.

DS: How did you happen to have a quilt block from your teacher?

RG: Well, I'm sure I asked her if she would make one. She may have made one for all the ones in the neighborhood because we went to school with her. She was my eighth-grade teacher, I think. She wasn't much older than me. She is still a very nice lady. I see her occasionally. [inaudible.]

DS: Have you told her that you have her square in your quilt?

RG: I don't think so. But we named our daughter after her. So, I told her. She knows that. [laughs.]

DS: Oh, my.

RG: When I had my eightieth birthday party, the kids made scrapbooks for me. And they wrote to people and asked them to write letters. And she wrote the sweetest letter. And then one time the Sunday School was supposed to write somebody that had affected our lives. So, I wrote about her. And then I sat and told her that I'd wrote about her. [pause for 4 seconds.]

DS: And then, this block here was your mother's?

RG: It was not made until a lot later. I think you can almost tell. See how much brighter the print is? These aren't faded that's just the colors that people were using a lot of, you know, at that time. But this one was. I didn't have one of hers. And so, when I decided to put it together why I got one. [pause for 2 seconds.] I had enough to make it come out square.

DS: Yes.

RG: And I didn't have hers, so. And the pattern - what I chose for the quilting; I just went to a quilt store and bought a template. It's a lot easier than trying to do the pattern by yourself.

DS: And so, how did you mark the template on the

RG: Well, it's a little plastic thing. It has little holes, grooves. So, you just mark it through.

DS: With?

RG: With a pencil. I always use a pencil. I know there are other things, but you can't see the pencil marks.

DS: No. Does it wash out?

RG: It has never been washed.

DS: It's never been washed.

RG: No. Except I washed it before I put it together. I washed the blocks so that if there was any shrinkage or any problem with them I would find it out. And I do think one of them has a brown spot from being stored, but I really don't think anyone is going to look for it. [laughs.] It might be right here. [touches quilt.] Sometimes when you store them in the trunks or a box or something and some of the closets or dressers and stuff have been oiled and you get spots. I think after all these years it's stood up pretty well.

DS: I think so. Now, it was a long spate of time between the '40's and then, you didn't really decide to finish it until the '90's. What prompted you to finish it? Or had you always planned to finish it?

RG: Oh, yeah. I always thought I would do something with it, but I didn't think I had enough blocks. You know, I didn't have enough blocks to make a full-size quilt or to make anything. I didn't want it just for a wall hanging. I'm not opposed to wall-- [laughs.] to quilts hanging on the wall but it just wasn't what I wanted.

DS: Do you have any quilts--wall hanging quilts?

RG: No.

DS: Do you like them for the bed?

RG: Yes, put them on the bed; or throw them over the chair, or whatever. I have a quilt rack, but it's got afghans on it. [laughs.] It had this on it, too.

DS: Do you like the quilts more for the practical?

RG: Yah, I don't mind them if somebody else has them. That's fine. I think all my kids have, probably, maybe all of them have a quilt hanging; either on the wall or in the hall or on a quilt rack or something. [inaudible.]

DS: Do they use them for warmth, also?

RG: No, I don't think so. No, I don't think they ever use them on a bed. My third son has one that was made at a baby shower. I had never had a baby shower. It was just something that people were doing, but not everybody. And when he was coming, when we were expecting him, why they said, 'You've never had a baby shower, have you?'

And I said, 'No.'

'Well, you're going to have one this time.' And they handed out blocks with teddy bears and everybody had to take one home and embroider it. So, he has a baby quilt. It's not a baby quilt. It's a full-size quilt with blocks from all my friends and neighbors. And he has a book that has everybody's name, so he knows if he looks at the initials who made that, but he slept with that quilt for many years because it was big enough for a bed. [inaudible.]

DS: So, how long did it take you to quilt this?

RG: I don't know. Just like one winter, just like one winter I started probably after Christmas. [inaudible.] I don't know. It's not a lot of quilting. I tried to go around every block, so that there would be no pull on the stitches if it were those that were done by hand or by little girls that didn't know how to sew and some of them the stitches are very loose and so I tried to go around every block so there would be no pull on the blocks or the material. That's how I chose the pattern. Some people would have cross-stitched it, diagonal across the squares. But I decided in order to preserve the material it would be good to stitch, strengthen the [inaudible.].

DS: Do you use this quilt?

RG: I don't think this one's ever been used. It may have been. I've told people when they sleep in that room, I say, 'If you need it, throw it over you. If you need more covers, use the afghans and the quilt or whatever. I've got more quilts.' But I don't think anybody's ever used it.

DS: You're saving it for something?

RG: Not really. Oh yeah, I'm saving it for when I go to the nursing home. [laughs.] Oh yes, that too. It's just like they would love to have it. [laughs.]

DS: What?

RG: They would love to have that to worry about [laughs.]. The quilt's going to get dirty. Or it's going to get something on it.

DS: But it's special to you.

RG: Yes. [pause for 5 seconds.] I thought about giving it away. Somebody will say, 'If nobody wants it, I'll take it.' [laughs.] They'll probably fight over it.

DS: Because you've given a lot of quilts away.

RG: Yes. And worn out some that we've just made and used. You know, lots of quilts that were just used on the bed when they got worn and torn at the edges or began to come apart, we used them between the mattress and the springs on the bed to protect the mattress and I think about those quilts. [laughs.]

DS: So, were you quilting your entire life? I mean, I heard about in the 40s and in the 90s. What about the ensuing years?

RG: I just didn't do much of that.

DS: You were busy with other things?

RG: Yes, I think I just wasn't quilting. Things like this quilt: it's something that you think you're going to do sometime. Sometime I'm going to get that out and I'm going to do something with it. And all of a sudden you think, 'Well, there's no time like the present.' So, we'll do it. [pause for 5 seconds.]

DS: What about your sisters, have they--

RG: Well, the one sister has passed away. [inaudible.] And I'm sure nothing ever happened to her stuff. And the older one has done a lot of quilting and made quilts and quilted quilts that someone else has made, but whether she ever had enough to make a quilt, I don't know. I don't know. I should ask her.

DS: I bet she'd like to see your quilt.

RG: Yes, [laughs.] she probably would. [pause for 5 seconds.]

DS: So then, this pattern here. So, you bought this template that is sort of a feather pattern.

RG: Yes.

DS: And then, here you just

RG: That was my own idea. I wanted something to fill the corner. But I didn't know exactly how; what I wanted. And I decided that that was the pattern or the design that would fill the corner and give it some oomph. [inaudible.]

DS: I like the contrast of the straight lines.

RG: Yes. Well, all this is straight lines. And I thought, you know, I really want to do one of these. [points to quilting done with template.] And I had done them just on pillows and small things, but I'd never done anything very big. And so, I thought, 'well it's mine I guess I can.' I don't have to have all straight lines. When it comes to quilting, I'm really fond of the geometric blocks: The ones who are squares and diamonds and those. I prefer them to most any other quilt.

DS: Why?

RG: I'm not sure why. I'm not real, not really fond of the embroidered ones. I've done embroidered ones and I've done appliqu├ęd ones. But my preference is the geometric squares or diamonds or those patterns and, of course, I do prefer the ones that are all the mishmash, all the different colors rather than just. Anybody can go to the store and buy material and they can make it all one color, or they can make it every color of the rainbow. It's just my, I think it's because that's we tried to make do with. You use what you had. You make the best out of what you have to work with.

DS: And do you still piece?

RG: No. I have, I have a quilt that's started. I think it's diamonds and they fit together in a star. I've got that out several times and put it away. It almost has to be done--part of it's got to be done by hand, in order for it to lay down in the middle because if you don't get the seams just right, they tend to pucker, and it pulls up in the middle. When I was sitting around, needed handiwork to do, I got it out, but I didn't do it, just one square and put it away. It's just that I prefer to quilt. I prefer to quilt than piece. Some people prefer the piecing, and they hire the quilting done. [pause for 4 seconds.]

DS: So, you don't have anything right now?

RG: No. I don't have anything that's out. I crochet afghans. [laughs.] It's almost done. And I started it a long time ago.

DS: How long? I mean when you say,

RG: I want to say in the '70's. It's not that long ago. It's Granny Squares. So, every Granny Square has three colors, and all those three colors are used in three squares. First, you put the dark one in the middle and then, you put the lighter one in the middle and then, you put the other one in the middle, so you've got three squares out of three colors. And well, of course, blue has been used with red and white and it's been used with blue and black and all these so the same color may be in there more than three times. But there's no blocks alike.

DS: So, you can use scraps of yarn?

RG: That's all it is. It's just whenever I made hats for the kids, I'd make three or however many blocks and put them away. And when I made mittens, I'd make three or six or nine or whatever it took and put them away. And this winter I got them out and put them all together and now I'm just going around the edge.

DS: It's [inaudible.]

RG: It's heavy. It will be really, really warm. [laughs.]

DS: So, you must sleep with a quilt on your bed.

RG: I sleep with, well, I call it a comforter. I like the fluff. I don't like weight. I like the

DS: So, is it a quilt that you made?

RG: No. I hardly ever sleep under a quilt. I sleep with a blanket or, I call it the bedspread. It's just a comforter. [pause for 4 seconds.]

DS: Do you have a particular square that's your favorite?

RG: No. I do admire the embroidery on the ones that Warren's aunt made. [coughs.] You can't believe.

DS: Those stitches are miniscule.

RG: Can you believe those?

DS: No. It looks like a machine couldn't even make those.

RG: And these are her daughters and I'm sure she did them all. [inaudible.] That's beautiful. I'm glad that they're all different. I mean, different people used different sized thread. They used different. Most of them wrote their name. [pause for 4 seconds.] That was [inaudible.] [pause for 2 seconds.] When I was growing up, we only used two strands to embroider.

DS: To

RG: To save. Yes, saving. Most of the time people used three. But I'm sure that's more than three. That's four or else it's a heavier thread. [inaudible.]

DS: It almost a variegated, isn't it? [inaudible.]

RG: It's kind of shiny. It's got a shimmer to it. [pause for 3 seconds.]

DS: It's just wonderful. So, where do you keep this quilt now, since you don't use it?
Available for your guests.

RG: Yes. Yes. [pause for 2 seconds.]

DS: And it's never been washed.

RG: It's never been washed.

DS: Does washing do something to your quilts?

RG: Not a lot, no. Years and years ago, the quilt batting was all cotton and it tended to lump up if you didn't have it quilted closely enough. But today's quilt battings are fiberfill; polyester-type stuff. There's different kinds. And some I think is better than others, but it doesn't have to be quilted as closely. I think the rule used to be that every three inches that was like for everyday quilts. If you had good quilts, you might have them at one-quarter inch. If you see in antique stores or places like that, you'll see these old quilts and they have this quilting that's as far apart as your little finger or as far apart as a pencil. They're just gorgeous. But those were the good quilts, and the everyday quilts could be quilted farther apart or tied. We didn't tie quilts. We tied comforters. Today they talk about quilts being tied.

DS: Yes, but you didn't call them quilts.

RG: No. And they had a heavy batting. Comforters have a thicker, softer batting. I have one friend who likes her quilts to have high loft. Well, they're almost. They're not easy to quilt. They're hard to quilt. If you have high loft, maybe machine quilting would work, but hand stitching it doesn't really make a very pretty quilt. She thinks it needs to be high loft to stand up and it's not my preference.

DS: I have a feeling you haven't ever quilted a quilt with a machine.

RG: No. No. I have no problem with it, except I think if its hand done or homemade or your grandmother or somebody did it, that it should be hand quilted. That's just the way it should be.

DS: Something about coming from your heart, or?

RG: There's something about the hand work. I know people who have had beautiful quilts done on the machine, but I'm like, 'Oh, why didn't they take it [laughs.] to somebody else.'

DS: It's just not the same.

RG: It's not the same, no. [pause for 5 seconds.]

DS: Raola, thank you so much, for sharing about this quilt.

RG: I enjoyed it and enjoyed sharing it with you. I'm glad I could.

DS: Thank you so much.


“Raola Giles,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1679.