Candace Carmichael




Candace Carmichael




Candace Carmichael


Amy Henderson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Grinnell, Iowa


Julie Henderson


Amy Henderson [AH]: Hello, my name is Amy Henderson. It is 4:35. Today's date is November 4th, 2002. I'm conducting an interview with Candace Carmichael for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Grinnell, Iowa. Thank you, Candace for meeting me today. Why don't we begin by you just telling me about the quilt you brought today?

Candace Carmichael [CC]: This is a quilt that I made in 1999 for my grandmother. The title of the quilt is Sew; will you be my Valentine? I had photo transfers made of my grandmother's Valentines that she received as a child and used those as the inspiration for the quilt. My grandmother is 98 years old. She was born in 1904, and most of the Valentines were postcards. They had been dated from about 1908 to 1911 or 12. I transferred the images and then appliquéd around them and put them together into the quilt. It was a gift for my grandmother.

AH: A big Valentine's Day card.

CC: A big Valentine's Day card--actually, she got it for Christmas, but yes, a big Valentine's Day card. My grandmother has been quilting since she was five years old, so most of the Valentine's are from the time when she started quilting. She had taken very good care of her Valentines and other postcards from that time, so it was kind of fun to use them in another way as a present for her because she'd forgotten about them.

AH: What inspired you to make the Valentine's Day?

CC: I make quilts all the time. I'm always looking for ideas for quilts. I had found the Valentines when we were cleaning out the home farm where everyone in the family had kept things. We found an old trunk--I don't think it had been open since the 1930's. The lining papers were all dated in the 1930's. There were treasures inside. One of the treasures was a Valentine album that my grandmother had kept as a child. So that's where I found it, that's where I took off for the quilt.

AH: So, it was a treasure for you--you hadn't grown up seeing these.

CC: No, I had never seen them before. Grandma had forgotten about them, but they were there all the time.

AH: And did she recall them when you opened the--

CC: She remembered the Valentines and all of the other postcards. There were actually many, many postcards. I did do another quilt – for my sister that has Valentines and different holidays. Same kind of idea but with Christmas, Valentine's, Thanksgiving. Those kinds of things.

AH: How did your grandmother react?

CC: She loved it. She's in a nursing home right now and it hangs above her bed in the nursing home. It makes it very colorful in there.

AH: Did you use all of the Valentines that you found in the collection?

CC: I think I did. I'm not quite sure, but I think it was all of the Valentines.

AH: Did you or she have a particular favorite?

CC: I love them all. They're just beautiful. One thing they don't--one thing that they don't show in the photo transfers is that some of them had glitter on them. And the glitter doesn't transfer. I think this one of the rose has some little specks on it and I think that was the glitter. You don't really see the whole--you know, exactly as the Valentine was but they were in such perfect condition. Some of them had notes written on the back and some of them were just the blank Valentines. But they really are gorgeous.

AH: Tell me how you picked all the other fabrics.

CC: All the other fabrics were just ones I had on hand. Just reds and pinks. The big piece on the back is a sarong fabric that I brought back from Indonesia. But it's not particularly special, it just happened to be the right colors.

AH: And what about the photograph that's on the back?

CC: On the back are photographs of my grandmother as a child. There's one in the center where she is probably about four or five and then on either side there are ones where she's about twelve. The photo on the right is my grandmother and her cousin, my aunt Hattie, who was my grandmother's second cousin and third cousin. They were very competitive in their quilt making. They were good friends but also very competitive. They both quilted together at the church in Grinnell until my Aunt Hattie died. My grandmother continued quilting there and my grandmother has had a few comments about my Aunt Hattie's quilts. She didn't think it was quite up to snuff sometimes. But we all knew she was a great quilter.

AH: [laughs.] That's great. What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

CC: Memories of my grandmother, who is just a wonderful person and all the wonderful times we've had together. And how she, through her quilting and everything that she does, she not only quilts but she does many, many other things and it just reminds me of her.

AH: What special things remind you?

CC: What special other things remind me?

AH: Wait, let me rephrase that: What are the special memories that you have of your grandmother that the quilt brings to mind?

CC: Her sewing machine was a treadle sewing machine; she never had an electric one. She sewed in the basement. She made quilts all her life, from age five until now--I mean, she did stop around 1995 or so because she can't see very well. She was very busy quilting or knitting or crocheting; always had something in her hands. So, she's just that kind of person.

AH: Tell me about your interest in quilting.

CC: I've always sewn a lot. I went to Iowa State University, and I majored in art education. At first, I wanted to be a fabric designer, and then I decided I really wanted to be a teacher, so I could play with the kids and make lots of kinds of art. But I've always been interested more in sewing and textiles. Quilting just kind of pulls all of that together. I made my first quilt when I was in high school, and I didn't know what I was doing. I made it out of a fabric that was very popular at the time but was not very tightly woven. So, the quilt kind of was in shreds. But that was my first real quilt. Then I moved to Kentucky after I had graduated from college and I taught there for a while, while my husband was in graduate school. When we moved back to Iowa, I just met some people who were quilters and discovered that I really enjoyed it and kind of took from there. I've been quilting ever since. I do other things too, but mostly quilting.

AH: So, your grandmother, did she teach you how to quilt?

CC: No, she didn't. I taught myself. I always saw her working on things, but she never really sat down and taught me how to quilt.

AH: Why was that?

CC: I don't know. She didn't really teach me many of those things. We were just expected to do them. I started sewing on the machine when I was maybe in second grade, so I didn't really need to learn how to sew. If I had a question, I could always ask her, but I'm kind of one of those people who just figures it out and does it myself, so I didn't really ask her too many questions.

AH: Did you show her that first quilt?

CC: Oh, I did. I did show her the first quilt and she didn't say anything bad about it. [laughs.] She was very accepting of it. I used to hand quilt everything myself, or have grandma quilt them. She got to a time when she no longer liked to piece things, but she like to quilt. So, she would call me up and say, I don't have anything to quilt, can you send me something? So, I would send her a top and she would quilt it. She did that for many years and then eventually her eyesight started to fail. Then I started hand quilting my own. But it takes a very long time to quilt, obviously. So lately, I have been having them machine quilted just because I really like to play with the fabrics.

AH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CC: Oh, probably twenty. Probably at least that many. I teach full time, but my children are in high school and in college and they don't take up as much of my time anymore. So, in the evenings I quilt anywhere from two to four hours and then on the weekends a lot more.

AH: How does quilting impact your family?

CC: They like the quilts. My husband is very proud of them. My children, when they were little, would always want their name on the back, you know that that's my quilt because they really liked a particular one so most of my quilts have that they're made for either my son or my daughter on the back. As far as impacting them, I'm kind of like my grandmother: usually I have something in my hands and I'm busy. I don't sit down without quilting or something in my hands, so they see me do that. Hopefully it doesn't interrupt the time I have with them. When I'd go to a soccer game I'd quilt while I was watching or in the car or whatever. So, it impacted them in that way. And also, they visited a lot of fabric stores. Children of quiltmakers spend a lot of time in fabric stores. I can remember my son going around when he was three going, 'Mommy, this would be good fabric for quilting.' He would feel it. You know how we feel the fabric. He knew you were supposed to do that, so he would go around and feel them. So, they were very comfortable in fabric stores, both of them. I think they each made a quilt in junior high. They were briefly inspired when they first learned to use the sewing machine and they appreciate quilts and hopefully they'll take good care of the ones that they inherit someday.

AH: How many quilts do you make each year?

CC: Oh, well, now that I'm having them machine quilted, probably ten to twelve. Most of them at least single bed sized. I make quite a few.

AH: What do you do with these quilts?

CC: They go in the closet.

AH: How many quilts do you have in your closet?

CC: I don't have any idea. I have some on the beds, but most of them really are in the closet. We collect a lot of art. I'm an art teacher and my husband is a chemical engineering professor but he travels all over the world and we have been lucky enough to live many places in the world and we collect folk art. So that's on the walls and we don't have any quilts on the walls. Just a couple [inaudible.] one on each bed and that's it so the quilts go right into the closet when they're done. Or they're given away. I give a lot of them away.

AH: What is your first quilt memory?

CC: My first quilt memory is the quilt that was on my bed when I was growing up. It was a Dresden plate that my grandmother had made probably in the thirties for my Uncle Roger. It was yellow and blue, and it was a scrap quilt made from all the old clothes and things that they had. It was on my bed I think from, I don't know, maybe age eight or so. I just remember lying on the bed and looking at the beautiful fabrics and thinking, this must have been Aunt Nora's dress or whatever. And that's my first quilt memory.

AH: Did you remember the aunt and uncle?

CC: Oh yes, I remember. I think I probably wore out that quilt; it's probably not in very good shape anymore.

AH: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

CC: Yes, I think so. I'm blessed, I haven't had too many difficult times, but you know everybody has small misfortunes. The quilting is really relaxing and soothing and if I've had a hectic day, I can go home and quilt. It calms me down.

AH: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

CC: I love the whole process. I love shopping for fabric. Like I said, we get to travel a lot and wherever I go, I am on the hunt for fabrics. That's fun. It always gives me a purpose. When other people travel, I don't know what they do but I always have to get to fabric stores or flea markets or whatever to find fabric. I like that part of it; I like coming up with the ideas. I love playing with the colors and the fabrics as I'm putting the quilt together. I do love hand quilting, it's just--it's very time consuming so I don't tend to do that much of that, but I like the whole process.

AH: Is there anything you don't like?

CC: Oh, sewing on the binding. [laughs.] I think it's just boring. It doesn't do much to the quilt; it doesn't change the quilt very much. You have a sense of accomplishment when you're finished; but other than that, the binding's pretty boring.

AH: What do you think makes a great quilt great?

CC: Well, I think they're all great. I just think that the time and the effort and the feelings and the love that go into it makes a great quilt no matter what it ends up looking like. I think they're all great. But I'm an elementary art teacher; it's all good.

AH: [laughs.] That's kind of a trick question.

[both laugh and talk at once.]

CC: It's all good.

AH: Well, makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CC: I'm probably more drawn to colors than to anything else. I think that's the part that really captures my attention is a powerful use of color, real strong colors. I'm fascinated by some people's techniques. I'm not as good at technique as some people are. But the first attention grabbing device is the color, I think.

AH: Is this quilt similar to the others you make, or is this one more unique, because of the Valentines?

CC: The Valentine part is unique, but I think it's in many ways similar to the others. I know when I was making tops for my grandmother to quilt her comment would usually be, well, it's bright. She didn't really say there was anything wrong; she just always thought the colors were a little bit too bright. I think that's something that tends to be true of my quilts. So, I don't think that this one is that unique, except for the photo transfers. But I do that occasionally. I'm working on one right now that has photo transfers in it. So that's something I do occasionally in quilts.

AH: Are you drawn more to certain colors than others?

CC: No, I like them all. I've made orange quilts and yellow quilts and hot pink quilts and anything that you can make. When I first started doing quilt making, I used only solid colors. I was kind of intimidated by patterns. I couldn't quite figure out how to get it to all to hang together. I looked at the Amish quilts. We lived near Kalona which has a large Amish population. And their quilts always look good no matter what they do. So, I kind of stuck with solid colors for the first few years just thinking it's enough to have to deal with the colors and the patterns, let alone having patterns on the cloth. But know you can see I really like the patterns on the fabric as well.

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

CC: Oh. I don't know. I think most collections or most museum exhibits have some sort of a theme, I guess. I think it needs to be well made. I think that quilting is a craft and there has to be an element of good craftsmanship. It needs to be something that is unique-- I mean it can maybe use traditional pattern, but it needs to have some element of uniqueness in it.

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

CC: Well, I think that they've kind of been in vogue and out of vogue, but they've always been a part of American life. I mean obviously many of the early quilts were done out of necessity, but I think there must have been just a feeling of creation, creating something beautiful that is always with the quiltmaker no matter what raw materials they're given. And I think, as you said working through hard times or really being stressed--it's important that the act of creating something; just, I made it--those are really important. I know that's always going to be there whether you're making them to put on the bed to keep your children warm or whether you're making them to put in a museum or put in a closet. It's always got, I made it.

AH: In what way do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

CC: Well, I think because it's basically a woman's art form I think that it probably portrays women's history more so than painting or drawing or many other media just because women have been involved in quilts and they weren't always privileged enough to do the other art forms. So, I think it shows more of women's history and what they were interested in than some of the other art forms.

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

CC: Well, I think documenting them and interviewing is a great idea. But I really think quilts--I mean I think we do need to preserve some quilts for the future, but I also think they should be used, and I guess I'm not concerned about saving all of them. I think that the best quilts, you know the hundred best quilts of the century, let's please preserve those but I really think most other quilts should be used and loved. If mine don't last a hundred years, it really doesn't matter.

AH: Do you think that quilts tell stories?

CC: Oh, I think they do. I think they tell you something about the maker in the choice of pattern and colors and how things are put together. Many quilts are made for someone. Like this one was made for my grandmother, and I think that tells a story.

AH: What story do you want this quilt to tell about you?

CC: Just my love for my grandmother.

AH: Is there anything else I haven't asked you today that you would want future readers of this interview, future quilters, to know?

CC: Just to know this is a whole lot of fun and that everybody should try it. I'm always shocked when somebody says that they don't like to quilt or do things with their hands because I think that I get such joy from it that I think other people should try it. They should not be intimidated by it. They don't have to make it perfect. They just have to enjoy making and using it.

AH: Good. Well, if there's nothing else, I'd like to thank Candace for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Grinnell, Iowa. Our interview concluded at 4:57 pm on November 4th, 2002. Thank you very much Candace.

CC: Thank you.



“Candace Carmichael,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,