Janice Juchems




Janice Juchems




Janice Juchems


Dorothy Crooks

Interview Date



Conrad, Iowa


Dorothy Crooks


Dorothy Crooks (DC): My name is Dorothy Crooks and today's date is September 30, 2009, at 10:20 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Janice Juchems at Conrad General Store in Conrad, Iowa. We are doing this 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. Janice is a quilter and is a member of the Spinning Wheel Chapter NSDAR. Janice, tell me about the quilt that you are going to talk about today.

Janice Juchems (JJ): Well, I made this quilt to honor the fact that I was accepted into the DAR. Quite often, when you are a quilter, there is a reason to make a quilt. In the years back, of course, it was just to have a nice warm blanket but to use up what you had and in order to have that. Today we do it as more of a decorative thing, and quite often quilters will make a quilt for a wedding, or a baby is born or any special event in their life and joining the DAR was very special event in my life. So, I set out to make a quilt that would depict that. And I decided I would make a block, an embroidered block, showing the husband and wife and all of the children of each of my generations. And also, I included an eagle at the top, which of course is for our lovely, wonderful country, and at the right at the top of the quilt I have a block which is just like the battle flag at Bunker Hill. The reason I put that block there was because I have a member of the Elias Van Winkle, of my family that fought in that battle. And I also have at the other corner the 13-star American Flag that everyone would recognize from that era. [recorder stopped and started again.] The setting blocks that set apart the lineage blocks is the Martha Washington Star. I thought that was appropriate for a DAR quilt.

DC: It would be.

JJ: Then at the bottom, right in the center, there is a red and white striped flag, and that is the Sons of Liberty flag. Then on either side, on the right side there is a Civil War cap. [doorbell sounds.] There is a Civil War cap. That is for Chauncey Hawley, who died in the Civil War. He was my great-great grandfather. And then there's a cannon on the other side, and of course you know, it was a war and there were many cannons and that played a big part in the Revolutionary War, so I have a cannon. All the appliqués I drew myself and everything is totally original. Of course, it's done in the red, white and blue colors. Kind of a little bit on the old looking side, a little bit to the grayed and yellowed look. I also have a block that includes my [membership.] certificate that I received from the DAR. On the back of the quilt, I have a typing sheet size label, and this tells you everything you would ever want to know about my three patriots that are depicted on the quilt and then a little bit about why I made the quilt and what's on the front of the quilt. I think that is real important on a quilt that's a label because someday someone will look at the quilt and want to know, 'Why?'

DC: That is true. We wish that everyone, every quilt, had its story on the back. We are fortunate that today you can tell the story of this quilt. What else is on the quilt that you brought?

JJ: It's set in a lattes work, and if you quilt you would know that the lattes is the little strips of fabric in between the main blocks. I did this in a way using several pieces from my lattes and then corner stones and so they look like they kind of float and the fabric, of course I tried to pick things from the Civil War selection that we have here in the store and so it would look relative to that era.

DC: You're very knowledgeable about fabrics having a store, that you do have fabrics for quilters and that, you can tell your choices were very good for this type of quilt. What special meaning does this quilt have for you as you think about it in the future?

JJ: I am hoping that it will be passed down in my family. And if there's ever any question as to who our ancestors were or what they did in their lives it's recorded here for posterity. My daughter appreciates my quilting, and I know that she will have it and she will pass it on. That's my hope that it will be passed on from generation to generation.

DC: It's a real family heirloom and it should certainly help people keep track of your genealogy in the future. Why did you choose this quilt of all that you have made, to bring for our interview here today?

JJ: Well, I thought it was relevant to the subject. It definitely tells about the DAR and what it means to me and my family. That was the reason the quilt was made, because I joined the DAR, and so I thought this one would be very appropriate. It also shows everything that I do. It has piecing. It has appliqué, but it's all done on the sewing machine because I'm in business, I don't have the time for so much handwork as I used to so most everything that I make is done by machine. The appliqué was done by machine and the quilting as well. I think it represents what I do. I mean, I really, really admire hand quilted quilts, and I have done some, but this shows what I do.

DC: That's one of the reasons that this exists today because quilters wouldn't be doing a lot of quilting, like you, if there wasn't that option to do it by machine, and we are thankful that we have that today. How long ago was it that you joined the DAR?

JJ: Oh! Gosh! I don't have my certificate in front of me to get my date, but it was in July of 2008, I think.

DC: Oh, not long ago then.

JJ: It has been very recent. It is very new.

DC: What amount of time did it take, to do this quilt for you?

JJ: It's hard to document how much time you spend on a quilt, because it's never just sit down and make a quilt. It's if I have an hour here and an hour there and being in business some of this I did while I was here, if I didn't have something else to do, so it's really hard to say. It took me,
I was commissioned to make another quilt for a girlfriend in the similar fashion after she saw mine, and it took me approximately a month to make it, of course I wasn't working steady. [background voices.]

DC: I think other DAR ladies may see this and say, 'Oh! I'd sure like one like it,' and so you might be very busy. Tell me about your interest in quilting. How did it begin? How does it continue?

JJ: I come from a family of sewers, needlework and that sort of thing. My grandmother made crazy quilts. I can remember as a child, even after we moved from Iowa to Texas, sending boxes of scraps back to grandma for her quilts, and she traditionally made crazy quilts. I do have one quilt of hers that was a pattern that she made, and of course everything was done by hand then. Grandma sewed her crazy quilts on the treadle, I do remember that. I remember her quilting frame setting up in the dining room and playing underneath it. My mother was a sewer. I sewed ever since ever since I was old enough to be trusted with a needle and thread. I had made maybe one or two quilts but was not an avid quilter until I bought into the Conrad General Store and that was in 1992.

DC: So, this gave you an opportunity to really express your interest in quilting.

JJ: Yes, this is a great; it's a great job. [DC laughs.] I'm never sad. I want to come to work. Every day is a fun day.

DC: Then if I would ask you when did you start quilting, what would you say your beginning was?

JJ: Well, probably in the '80s. I made a quilt for a wedding. My daughter got married, and I made a quilt for her. I used the lap quilt method, which was kind of popular at that time. Georgia Bonesteel was telling that, and so I did it in that method, and I gave it to her for a wedding gift and that was in the '80s. [background voices.]

DC: Who would you say, then, that you learned you quilting techniques from?

JJ: Well, just basic sewing is what I--

DC: Self-taught.

JJ: Definitely self-taught, because, well my mother was a seamstress, excellent seamstress. She died young. I inherited her sewing machine. She was only 46 when she died, and I was 24 so then I was on my own. I have never been an affluent person; therefore, if I want something I usually make it. And so, if I wanted something, I would make it. I really started quilting all the time when I joined in the store here in Conrad. In '92 is when I really started making quilts, and then I've read lots of books and anything here in the store. I have learned from other quilters and to the fact where now I am the teacher.

DC: Can you tell me a person, then, that you have sort of admired their work, that you have read them, or you use their patterns? Do you have a certain person in mind that has been sort your mentor or interesting, that you really like, that you do their work?

JJ: Well, I like Thimbleberries patterns. If you are in the quilting world, you know that they have a line of fabrics. It looks a little old fashioned a little bit worn, a little bit on the antiquey side [background voices.] and I also collect antiques and that sort of thing. I like her patterns. They're easy, and I have taught her classes before, in the store.

DC: You've taught her classes here? What does that involve?

JJ: We had Thimbleberries Club. Every year they come out with a line of fabric, and with that they come out with patterns, and there would be something to make every month. We had, oh at one time we had around 30 ladies that came every month. We taught her methods and sold her fabric. It's just my style. My business partner, on the other hand, does really bright, solid colors and bright things, but I tend towards the more antiquey look. Now, I am kind of shifting more towards the Civil War fabrics and some of them actually can even go back father than that the reproduction fabrics.

DC: That's quite a contrast, then, that you have to offer in your shop, that you have a person with different interests-- [both speak at the same time.]

JJ: It works well. It works well because you need to have that, because not everyone is like you and so they have to have choices. It helps to have a diversification in what you offer.

DC: As far as your memory of quilting, what's your earliest memory of quilting as something you were interested in?

JJ: Well, when my grandma, when I was little, I probably was 7 or 8, and I remember the quilting frame and the, and trying to run the treadle sewing machine. Grandma showing me how to get that thing going. Of course, I never really got to sew on it, but I used to get try to get it to work.

DC: Do you use a quilting frame now? You spoke about playing under the quilting frame. Is that an old-fashioned piece of equipment, or is it still in use?

JJ: Some people and some churches still have the old-fashioned quilting frames; they even come with stands. Those are quite collectable. If you can find stands, quilting stands, and yes,
it can still be done. It's rolled as it's finished. I do know of one church that still does that in our area. I quilt, of course, by machine. I have a longarm quilting machine. [pointing.] Right over there.

DC: That is one question I have, and let's go to that topic about what you think about the longarm quilting machine?

JJ: Well, I have one of the first ones that was made. I don't have the ones with all the computerized abilities and everything. Mine is just strictly manual. I guide it with my hands. It's loaded into the framework that is similar to the big frames that they used to have only it's more like a rolled frame. Then you just move the machine across the quilt. It's an expression; I just do a very simple meandering stitch overall stitch, that's what I offer here in the store. I have done some more intricate things. I didn't happen to do that on this quilt because I thought the just plain vanilla was more what it required.

DC: The backing of your quilt, I took a picture of it, and that shows. Was that longarm stitching?

JJ: That's longarm stitching on the back of the quilt. That is on muslin, I used just plain muslin, Of course, you can buy muslin now in extra wide widths and then you don't have to seam the back. People no longer use sheeting on the back of quilts. Muslin is much better. Sheets have too close of a thread count. It's too hard to hand needle, if you're going to hand quilt. On the quilting machine, even that is just hard on the machine, it is just too densely woven.

DC: The muslin is a nice fabric for your interest too. Isn't it usually--can you get it in colors?

JJ: We sell muslin in either bleached or unbleached, and of course, bleached is a snowy white piece of fabric, and unbleached of course is just a kind of beige color. We use a lot of that on the back of quilts. If you are going to make a bed quilt, you might as well use muslin on the back, because it's not going to matter. Sometimes show quilts they use the same fabric as you'd use on the top for a backing. And then sometimes it has to be pieced. We do have some prints now that are wide, like the muslin, that you don't have to piece, but the cost, muslin is a lot more inexpensive than the fabric that you would put on the front of a quilt. Fabric's gotten to where it's really expensive. It is not a cheap hobby anymore. And rarely would anybody use scraps from old clothing or anything to make a quilt. That would be very rare.

DC: Do you wash the fabric before you make it into a quilt?

JJ: I do.

DC: You do?

JJ: I do. And there is a reason for that. Because, being here in the store, there was an occasion when I had some scraps and I was bored so I just kind of whipped together a little square that you could just throw on the table, or whatever. It had some red fabric in it and of course, being in the store, it wasn't washed ahead of time. And I sent it to my daughter. It was just a nothing thing. But she prized it. She had it on a coffee table. On Christmas Eve, one Christmas, a glass of wine got spilled. Of course, mother-in-law thinking she really was going to do the right thing, grabbed it up right away ran to the sink and started running water through it. Well, of course, the red ran all over the little quilting piece. Christmas Eve was not good that Christmas. It was all my fault because I didn't prewash my fabric. [both laugh.]

DC: Well, you learned a lesson, all of you. That was a lesson. The hard way.

JJ: And that is the reason you wash fabric ahead of time, to make sure it's done all its bleeding and the other thing is shrinkage. Different fabrics shrink at different rates, and if you don't wash it all ahead of time; you can end up with a puckered quilt.

DC: My next question is, how does quiltmaking impact your family?

JJ: Well, of course, it's my work. My family is pretty small right now; it's just my husband and myself. Our children are raised, and of course we're having grandchildren, and they come and go. My daughter was very excited when I did this lineage quilt. My daughter-in-law came up. She was decorating and she wanted to know if she could have some little quilts to hang on the wall, so I shared with her, let her pick what she wanted. I have a closet full. My sister recently had a family incident, a divorce, and she was sad, so I sent her a quilt and wrote a little note to wrap herself in that and sent it to her. She lives in North Carolina. I said, 'I can't hug you, but my quilt can,' and sent that to her. So, I share. I don't keep them all for myself, and I suppose that's how it impacts my family. It's just me. It's what they know I do.

DC: Well, sharing it with a person who was dealing with sadness is a very thoughtful thing on your part. I am sure it was something she appreciated and helped her get through that difficult time. That was my next question. Tell me if you have every used quilts to get through a difficult time yourself.

JJ: I have been widowed. And so, I turned to sewing in general at that time. It's also a peaceful thing for me. It's enjoyable, if I'm having a tough day. I mean, I may have sewed all day here at work, and still go home and sit at the sewing machine if I just need to be by myself. And I usually always have scraps. I can just whip out a few blocks and throw something together, and it also can cheer you up, because your house is looking dowdy and you're thinking, 'Oh, I just never get anything new,' you can go and make a little something and put a new little table runner on the kitchen table or the dining room table, and it just brightens you, brightens things up.

DC: So, they are a comforting product, as well as the actual doing of it is satisfying to you. For me it is very frustrating. [both laugh.]

JJ: And if it frustrates you, then that is not a good reason [both laugh.] to do it.

DC: Right.

JJ: I have a sister-in-law that is an excellent good seamstress, but she does not enjoy it so she does very little of it. Just what she needs to.

DC: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred either with your quiltmaking or your teaching of quilting. You told me about the bleeding red being a frustrating experience, have you ever had an amusing experience?

JJ: That's hard. That's hard. We did have a very amusing, I do not know how acceptable it is to share, but we did have a little amusing thing happen here in the store. We were giving quilt classes, and we usually have five or six in the class, and it's a very laid-back thing. But we have a certain structure that we go through, and we had a lady that signed up for one of these classes. And she said, 'Well, my boyfriend has to bring me, so can he come?' We said, 'Well, he can come, but he can't really join in the class, unless you do a second enrollment,' and he came. We were astounded. They sat on each other's laps. They couldn't keep their hands off each other. [both laugh.] Everybody else in the class was rolling their eyes. And I have never experienced anything like it in my life. They could not be two inches from each other the whole. And he would be helping her and trying to tell her what to do. It could be a little frustrating too, when you're trying to teach a class. But I'll have to admit that was the most hilarious thing I have ever seen in my life. [both laugh.]

DC: Well, it sounds like there is more to that story, but it was an unusual thing that happened.
[both laugh.]

JJ: I never had it happen before, or since, so thank you.

DC: Is there an aspect of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

JJ: I'm not real patient with the cutting out process. That's not the part I enjoy. You really have to be accurate in your cutting, so you have to pay attention. There was a time that I was having problems with my eyes, and I wasn't cutting very accurately, and things didn't go very well, [siren from a passing fire truck.] and that's a real important part. So, if I can talk my partner into cutting something out and letting me sew it together, I do but usually you do your own project from beginning to end.

DC: So, cutting out is a basic beginning, that's for sure. It makes the whole project go well or not. Have advances in technology influenced your work?

JJ: Oh, definitely. On the quilt that I showed you because I used the computer to print a copy of my DAR certificate on fabric, and then made a block out of that and put it in my quilt. If that technology wasn't available, that wouldn't have been a possibility to reproduce that in any way. It also made the label on the back of my quilt a lot easier, cause I used the same process for that. I went into [Microsoft.] Word and I typed up all the information that I wanted and printed it out on fabric. That's one of the technologies, and of course machine quilting is becoming a lot more acceptable. I recently entered this quilt in the State Fair, Iowa State Fair, and the quilting, hand quilting, in the past was definitely preferable, and I think it still is; if you were going to give me two quilts, and one was machine quilted and the one was hand quilted, I'd take the hand quilted quilt myself, personally. But in interest of time, it has become very acceptable to machine quilt. And you don't have to have a big machine, like I do, a longarm, to do it. You can use a regular machine. You just have to do some very good basting. You can machine quilt on your home sewing machine, if you--[both talk at the same time.]

DC: Basting.

JJ: That's the basic, the basting has to be real good, and so things don't shift.

DC: What is your favorite technique and material?

JJ: I go toward the vintage looking fabrics. I think we've discussed that-- [sounds of paper rattling (for wrapping of purchases).] I like putting everything together. [DC agrees.] And I like it if it is original, something I did. I like to do appliqués, but I don't want to do someone else's appliqués. I want to draw those myself and make it my own. I think I really, really enjoy picking out fabric for a quilt. [paper rattling.] And it really works well with my job because most people that come in here want you to do it for them. I try to get their interests and their taste into it, but I can pick out fabric all day and I'm a happy camper. I think that's a big part of a quilt. That's picking out what kind of fabrics you want in it.

DC: And some people would be frustrated with that, not knowing what would go together and not being able to visualize it.

JJ: A little bit of reassurance here and there helps that.

DC: Yes.

JJ: When I've done commissioned quilts then, I make them come in. I go, 'Hey, now. You need to…' 'You just decide.' 'No, this needs to be your quilt. You need to be happy with these colors. You're going to be looking at them, I'm not. It needs to be colors that you like.' And I involve them in it and make them help me pick colors. [paper rattling.]

DC: You mentioned that you like to make your own appliqués, patterns. Do you have a studio or a place that you create those? Nothing special, techniques, or equipment?

JJ: 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention.' [both laugh.] I'm just here. I just do what needs to be done. If we need a star, I draw a star; or if we need a duck, I draw a duck. That is just here in the store. I will have to admit, I do come down and use the big, long counters and tables [door shuts.] and things when I'm working on a quilt, sometimes even in the evening, I'll come back, believe it or not, and work down here because it's easier.

DC: Everything's right here.

JJ: Yes

DC: The question is, do you use a design wall?

JJ: I have. We have 'em for sale here. Or you can just have a big piece of fabric that's kind of like flannel, or sticky, fabric will stick to it, and yes, I have. My daughter lined her house sewing room in a fabric that her husband came up with. So, her two walls of her sewing room are design walls. And that helps because you just, you lay things up there and you can look and see. Oh, no. I need my borders to be bigger. If I have a one-inch border, that not going to look good. I need a bigger border. And that helps in determining how big a quilt is going to get.

DC: So, it is a very important--

JJ: It keeps things clean.

DC: Yes.

JJ: It's a great tool. Great tool.

DC: So where do you begin when you are going to design a quilt? What do you start out with? The fabrics, or the patterns?

JJ: Well, let's see. I've designed two quilts in the last year and the one I made, that I was commissioned to make that was pretty much on this design, so I would count that as one. We had a block contest, and people brought a block, and we had to provide them with the fabric, and they had to come up with the block. So, then we had to figure out how to put all those blocks together and put them into a quilt, and then we raffled the quilt and supported our local Black Dirt Days. So, I will be doing the one again this year, I did the one last year. So, you kind of had something to start out with. So then, you just had to figure out how that number of blocks could be configured to be in a pleasing size for a bed. And like I said, if it is for an occasion, then that's easy. You've got something to start on there.

DC: Speaking of the craft of designing and putting things together, what do think makes a great quilt, or one that should be preserved in a museum?

JJ: Attention to detail. I think it needs to be well made. It needs to be made of quality fabrics. Buy the best you can afford when you make a quilt. It needs to be, the colors need to be chosen well. You need contrast. You don't want everything to melt together. You want contrast between the colors. Workmanship. How well you make it would be very important. [pause for 4 seconds.]

DC: All right. I think you mentioned an award. Tell me about any awards that you have won.

JJ: The only award I ever won was this year at the Iowa State Fair, and I got a white ribbon on my quilt. That's a third place. My husband said, 'Ah! You should have gotten a blue ribbon.' 'Dick, do you know how many quilts there were down there?' And when I made it I didn't make it with the intention of taking it to be judged by a quilt judge. I made it as a memory, and that's the division I entered it in was a memory quilt. I was not able to determine from the people down there how many I was judged against, though I did see a couple that I thought maybe would have been in my category that got the blue and red ribbons, and they were hand appliquéd.

DC: The DAR has decided to divide that in our contest in the American Heritage Committee, so they aren't competing against each other. Maybe the Iowa State Fair needs to do the same.

JJ: You'd be amazed at how many divisions there are already. And machine quilting has been accepted, but mine is just a traditional, you know, meandering stitch. It wasn't anything exceptional, I didn't think, held it together and it looked right. And my purpose was not that.

DC: And your genealogy was more important to you than to them.

JJ: And that is not what I was judged on down there. The content was not the big deal.

DC: What do you think is important about quilts in our American Life?

JJ: I think it brings people back to their roots. It makes them feel talented. It makes them feel good about themselves because they're doing something that other people admire. That's what I notice in the quilters. I'm always very complimentary to anyone who comes in the store, not just because it's my business, but because that adds to their confidence. Most people quilt because it's a joy, something they enjoy doing, and they get an award from family members that they make for. The award is in the admiration that people have for their talent.

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

JJ: I think we are doing a lot better. A lot of the quilt shows that I have been to don't allow you to take pictures. You'd be surprised how flash bulbs are detrimental to fabric. I had in my custody at one time, a quilt made, that was for the state of Iowa. They asked someone from every county to make a block. My previous business partner was asked to make a block. Then we had it at a quilt show. We were to handle them with white gloves. Just the oil from your hands was bad for them. If you do share them in quilt shows you need to make sure the security is good and that 10,000 people don't pick up your quilt and touch it. Then just treating them with respect. You store them; you don't store them in plastic. A pillowcase is a good thing. Refold them periodically so they don't stay folded in the same place for a long time.

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

JJ: It's getting a lot more expensive. My advice in my beginning quilt class usually is buy the best you can afford. If you can't afford the best, get the best you can. But the cost is rising, as everything is, and there are people that I'm sure that would not have the money to do that. I'd say that would be the only thing that's keeping it down in any way. We find it to be alive and well, and doing well, and our quilt shop is one of the few that has survived over the years. We've been here since actually since '83, this store has been here in this premise.

DC: Well, Janice, it sounds like you have a wonderful business as well as your enjoyment of quilting and you've produced a beautiful quilt showing your DAR heritage. I wanted to ask if there's anything else you'd like to add to your interview.

JJ: Well, I've been pretty talkative. I think I've shared just about all my thoughts on most things. I just hope quilting does endure, and I do think that there will be a lot more quilts survive because people do have more respect for them now than maybe in the past when they were just made as something that you used in your household. So, I think more will survive, and it has expanded into an art form. It's an expression of people's hearts and thoughts and talents and feelings. I think for that reason it'll survive.

DC: I'd like to thank you Janice--

JJ: Juchems.

DC: [laughs.] Juchems. [both laugh.] I'm having trouble with that name for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Our interview is now concluding at 11 o'clock a.m. on September 30, 2009. Thank you.


“Janice Juchems,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1689.