Signe Millard




Signe Millard




Signe Millard


Tomme Fent

Interview sponsor

Karen Alexander


Sioux City, Iowa


Tomme Fent


Tomme Fent (TF): This is Tomme Fent, and I'm interviewing Signe Millard for the Quilters' S.O.S - Save Our Stories project. It's Sunday, October 10th, 2009--

Signe Millard (SM): It's the 11th.

TF: Oh, is it the 11th? Sunday, October 11th, 2009, at approximately 3:10 p.m. So, Signe, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed today. Why don't you tell me about this quilt you brought?

SM: This quilt was really the last quilt I entered in a quilt show because I've just been kind of busy doing other things, and that was in 2003, and it was actually the first blue ribbon I ever got in a quilt show so it's kind of special to me because it's the first and last one I ever got, actually, except on a group quilt.

TF: What's the name of the quilt?

SM: I think "American Dream" is the name of it. And it's not my pattern. I'm trying to remember what pattern it is. Something with Pickle in the name. What's the name of a company with Pickle in it? [Pickled Pieces.]

TF: I don't remember, but we can look it up and insert it later in the transcript if you want to have that in there. So how did you come to pick this pattern to make?

SM: Well, that's an interesting story, actually, because when my friend and I went to the quilt shop and we were looking at patterns and we saw this quilt was made up and we said, 'Well, isn't that cute?' And we looked at the pattern, and the pattern was like $50 for the pattern, because it's got several sections and I think at one point maybe they had published it as a block-of-the-month type thing or something, is all I can figure. So they put them all together and it was like $50. So I said, 'Well, that's cute but I'll never buy that pattern.' And my friend said, 'Well, I'll buy it and we'll share.' So my friend bought it and we both made it out of that $50 pattern, and I guess it was worth it for the quilt I got out of it.

TF: It's really beautiful. Where did you get the fabrics?

SM: I actually used just about everything from my stash that I've been collecting for years. I think I bought maybe three fabrics for that whole quilt.

TF: And I see it has appliqué and piecing in it. Is the appliqué done by hand or by machine?

SM: It's all machine. I fused it and then just did--I think I stitched around it with a machine after fusing it.

TF: How do you use this quilt?

SM: This quilt hangs in my office at work. I'm a massage therapist, and that hangs in the office. It's supposed to be my July quilt, but as of yet I have not made quilts for every month to switch out. And I have a couple that I switch out with it but I have many patterns to make still to put up there. So many times it hangs half a year or a year, sometimes, if I don't get around to changing it.

TF: Do you have any particular plans for this quilt in the future?

SM: Probably, unlike most of my quilts, I will keep it. I don't think I'll ever give it away. I give away a lot of quilts, but I don't think I'll ever give this one away. So I think I'll just keep putting it in my office and after that, I'll probably hang it somewhere in my house.

TF: You do give most of your quilts away?

SM: I think I do, yes, or donate them to charity. I really don't have that many quilts hanging around. I have a few hanging in my house and a few in my office and a few in a stash that I rotate some of them, but I really don't keep a lot of them.

TF: But you have made a lot of quilts?

SM: Oh, yes, I've made a lot of quilts. I used to photograph them all and I think I even got lazy on that and I don't even have them all photographed anymore. I've probably--I don't even know how many I've made. I'm sure I've made over a hundred, I'm sure, because I have probably that many pictures and I didn't photograph them all.

TF: What's your favorite type of quilt to make?

SM: Well, it might be this very kind of quilt, actually. I like making little--a quilt with lots of little, different sections, and making like one at a time. I have several patterns like that to be made and I've made several like this, most of them smaller, but I've made several. And when I designed quilts, I designed several like that too, actually, I think. I like that kind of design, piecing. Not a big appliqué, except for fusible, person.

TF: When you make them in small sections like that then do you basically lap quilt them? Do you quilt it in small sections or do you quilt the whole thing together?

SM: No, no, I have not done that, although the very first quilt I made was done that way because I had a Georgia--

TF: Bonesteel?

SM: Bonesteel book and that was the very first quilt I made was done that way, with the lap quilting. But this one, I did not. And I haven't made any since. And this one, I actually didn't even quilt but the gal that did it, Jan Korytkowski, who was a member of our guild, did a beautiful job on it. The quilting is fabulous.

TF: You mentioned designing quilts, and I know that at one point in time you actually had a pattern company. Tell me about that?

SM: Well, let's see, I'd say it was probably--I started a little pattern company not too long after I started getting into quilts, which was probably about eighteen years ago. After a couple of years, I think, I started a little company designing patterns, and I did that for about three years. Again, I'm not very good at remembering numbers, but certainly several dozen patterns, I think. And I had them in catalogues, Keepsake Quilting and a couple of other catalogues, Checkers and I forget what the other one was. And then I also had one of them published in Fons and Porter, and they sold kits to that pattern for a long time. I don't know if they still are or not, but it was in their kit collection for a long time. And I just did it for about three years. I got kind of tired of writing the patterns. I liked making the quilts, but then when it came time to write the pattern, I found that I did not enjoy that part so much, nor did I really enjoy the marketing part very much. So I just thought, 'Well, I'll just enjoy quilting for fun.'

TF: What was the name of the company?

SM: Signature Quilts.

TF: Cute. What's your earliest memory of a quilt?

SM: I don't have a lot of memories of quilts as a child, although I guess you would call what my mom used to make, I guess you could call that a quilt. I really didn't think of it as a quilt. We were pretty poor and she used to save like old blankets and then she'd--you know, when they'd have holes and stuff in them, and then she'd stack them together and she would get usually sheets or inexpensive fabric, and a lot of times it would just be one piece for the front and the back, but then she'd tie it by hand so I guess that would be a quilt. Or she would actually sometimes piece together old clothing, if they were in pretty good shape, she'd take them apart and take big pieces out. So I guess those were quilts but they were really very practical. I really didn't even think much about this kind of a quilt or making a quilt from scratch type of thing until I moved to Iowa, twenty years ago. I always sewed clothes. I was a big clothing sewer. And then my neighbor across the street, Barb Karr, said, 'I've been waiting for somebody to go to quilt meeting with me. Do you want to come with me?' And I kind of thought, 'Oh, I don't know if I really want to make quilts.' But I liked her, so I thought, 'But I'll go with you.' And we ended up both getting pretty hooked on quilting for quite a while.

TF: So, are there other quilters in your family besides what--those utility-type quilts that your mom made?

SM: I don't think so. I've since learned that my husband's grandmother was--she was quite the seamstress, but she also did some quilting, and my husband's mom has some of those old quilts and they're pretty cool to look at. I really like them. There are some that were made from kits in the '30s, and so we pull them out every now and then and look at them, and I hope someday I'll get to have one maybe. But I think my mother-in-law has them all now. So there was some quilting in that family.

TF: How did you learn to quilt?

SM: Just we went to quilt guild; we started doing it. I knew how to sew, so we just got patterns and started making them, and then we went to one of the first OlfaFests. I think it was maybe the second one we went to, second one. We went to the second, third, fourth, and we went to them several years together, Barb and I did, and we took classes. But mostly, we just tried it, got patterns and sewed them. And then the quilting part, well, I think I did actually take one class from Lerlene [Nevaril.] on hand quilting but I don't do a lot of hand quilting. I did a little bit in the beginning. I've done a little here and there. But mostly I do machine quilting, and I think I've taken a class or two on machine quilting.

TF: So how did--did the patterns tell you like to use a quarter-inch seam? Did you start out that way?

SM: Yes, yes, by the time I started quilting, the patterns told you, 'Rotary cut,' and all that, so I didn't get in on the era where we didn't have rotary cutters, and I knew about 100% cotton and all of that. So really, yes, just by reading the patterns is how we learned.

TF: You mentioned OlfaFest.

SM: Oh, yes, which is now--

TF: What is that?

SM: It's a retreat that our Siouxland Samplers Quilt Guild puts on. Now we've changed the name to October Quilt Fest, I think, haven't we?

TF: Or Fall Fest. I think it changes every year.

SM: It's not OlfaFest anymore, but that's what I remember it as because I went to some of the first ones and it's like a weekend retreat with classes, and it's fun.

TF: So tell me about your involvement with your guild?

SM: I joined right away when Barb and I went, I don't know, eighteen years ago. We joined right away, signed up like that night, I think, to join. And within a short time, I don't know, maybe the first or the second year, I actually was the president for a while. And I've been on the Board I think a couple other times since then and done a lot of the quilt challenges and our quilt projects, gone on a lot of the field trips, gone to a lot of the retreats, the fall retreats, and really enjoyed it.

TF: And I know that you've participated in helping to put on the quilt show many times.

SM: I have, yes, done that. We have a really good quilt show and it's quite a production, takes a lot of work as you know, and yes, I've done that.

TF: Do you have a fabric stash?

SM: Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. Yes. And I decided that I'm not going to sew clothes anymore, so I got rid of all of my non-cotton fabric and I just now have really just quilting stuff, pretty much cotton. I used to have both and I had all my patterns for making clothes and I got rid of all those. So now I pretty much am down to just quilt stuff, so that's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I'm not going to do anymore clothes unless I make a jacket or something like that out of quilting stuff.

TF: Or unless you knit them.

SM: Yes, well, knitting, yes. I like knitting, too, but I'm not going to do anymore of the regular clothes.

TF: How do you organize your fabrics?

SM: I have them organized by color now, and they're unfortunately not real organized at the moment. But I have a cupboard where--row of cupboards where I put them in colors, but then I also have some that have not been put away because I used to wash them all when I got home from the fabric store and put them right in my cupboards by color. And then I debated, 'Well, should I wash them or not?' So, for a while, I just kept keeping them in boxes and bags thinking, 'Should I wash them?" And now I've decided I'm not going to prewash mostly, but I still have a lot that have been, so I have half and half. So, my new stuff, 'new' meaning stuff that hasn't been prewashed, is not in with the ones that have been washed, I don't think. I think that's how I've kind of kept them separated. But the other ones aren't really organized at all. Someday I need to get those organized.

TF: Tell me about the area where you quilt in your house?

SM: Well, that, too, has changed a lot. I've been just about everywhere in my house. I think I've sewn in the kitchen, the dining room. I've sewn in the basement for the last many years, and then recently, my son moved into an apartment so I have an extra bedroom, so I now have moved everything upstairs. Well, not all my stash, but I was able to move my cutting table and my ironing board and my sewing machine to another room upstairs. So I'm kind of looking forward to sewing up there.

TF: How many sewing machines do you have?

SM: I'm down to just two now.

TF: Just two? [laughs.]

SM: Just two. Oh, I've had times--well, and a serger, but I've had times when I've had, gosh, probably five machines or six, I'm thinking. When I sewed clothing, I think I had more machines. Quilting is a little easier, I think. So I just have a Viking and a Bernina.

TF: Do you use them for different things or interchangeably?

SM: I think I probably like the Bernina. I'm pretty partial to it. But for quilting and it does a really nice job of doing the quilting itself. I like it much better than my Viking for doing the quilting, the machine quilting. They both work pretty good for piecing. I'm probably partial to the Bernina there, too, but anything, clothing, which I don't do much, but even like hemming pants and things like that, I tend to do that on the Viking, I think just because that's what I always used for so long. And I embroider on it because it has an embroidery attachment. I don't do much of that anymore.

TF: What's your favorite thing about quilting, your favorite part of the quilting process?

SM: My favorite part is probably picking out the fabric and cutting it and piecing it, all those parts. I don't like basting. I don't really like quilting that much, the actual quilting of it, and I certainly don't like basting. And I'm not real thrilled about binding, either. All those parts I don't like. It's really the first parts of it that I like. And designing, I like to design them when I have time. I like to design quilts, too.

TF: So what percentage of your quilts would you say you quilt yourself versus having a longarm quilter quilt them?

SM: Well, I usually--usually, I have been doing them myself and, of course, I've had a HandiQuilter, which I'm in the process of giving away. So I've really done a lot more of my own quilting since I got that. I don't know when that was, maybe ten years ago. I don't know when the first Handi--it was one of the first; it wasn't the very first. So I did quite a bit on the HandiQuilter and what I would do is just if something was going to be in a show, generally I would have it quilted by a professional. A few exceptions I put in the show, knowing that they would be judged harshly on the quilting, and they were. [laughs.] But if I think something is going to be in a show, I try to get it machine quilted. I also had a book I did of quilts. I didn't do the book, actually, but I made enough quilts to go in a book and I sent it off to be submitted, but I got a couple of rejections and just gave up on it. But those quilts I had all done professionally, also, but in general, I do most of mine if they're small. Now a big one, I probably wouldn't want to do, a bed-size quilt, but the small ones I still kind of plan on doing unless I'm going to put them in the show, just on my Bernina.

TF: Is there a particular size of quilt that you prefer to make, or do you make all sizes?

SM: No, I prefer--like this one here is, I think, 62 inches wide by, I don't know, 90 or something long, maybe a little shorter than that. [the quilt is 54½ inches wide and 69" long.] And I don't like to make them much bigger than that, in general. That's about as big as I like, which works out good because I have several patterns that will fit in my space in my room at work that I've got to get done still. But it's a nice hanging size. I have made bed quilts for all the beds in the house, my kids and several--two for my bed and then the kids each got at least one if not two, and so I'm not really into making bed quilts. And I like wall hangings, small ones, I like miniatures, but not real big anymore.

TF: Have you ever used quilts or quilting to help you get through a difficult time in your life?

SM: Oh, I think so. Yes, I think so because for years that's what I did in my spare time. Right now, I'm knitting more, so I don't do it as much, but I think I'm kind of using knitting for that, but I think so, yes. It's always been a relief for me, tension reliever, although sometimes you get a little tense about the quilt and you want to throw it out the window, but most of the time, it's relaxing for me.

TF: Do you use a design wall?

SM: Yes. I've done that for years.

TF: Tell me about that. Is it a permanent thing?

SM: It's just a big piece of flannel that I hung up on the wall. I tack it just with thumbtacks hanging on the wall. I had one even in the basement, and I've got one, a really big one in my new room which I really like. It's the whole wall. It's very nice.

TF: How have advances in technology influenced your quiltmaking?

SM: I don't know if it has so much, other than--I don't think technology so much has affected it.

TF: Like do you use a computer for designing at all?

SM: Not really. I tried that when the first programs came out and they were not good and I just got frustrated and I really didn't get a really good version ever. I think I might have tried two programs, but they were not good in the beginning and I got frustrated with it and I'm not great with the computer so I really don't do that.

TF: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SM: Well, now, my idea of that has changed, probably a lot, because of seeing more and more art quilts, which I really like a lot and appreciate the techniques that they use on them. It used to be I thought a quilt like this one here, which has lots of piecing and if the piecing is good and the colors are nice and the appliqué is good, I'd think, 'Oh, well, that's nice.' But now it just seems like seeing so many really cool quilts in the quilt shows and stuff that you need--my idea of a really good quilt would probably have a little more pizzazz than a quilt like that, which is more traditional. More artsy, maybe some painting, some beading, those kinds of things I find really attractive and just three-dimensional things.

TF: So what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SM: I guess I would say it's that person's--the artist's ability to put all those things together, all those mediums together, and come up with something that you can relate to or speaks to you or just is so much an impression of something, such a good impression of something, that you're impressed with it. The last quilt I'm thinking of is Jan Johnson's quilt that won the quilt show, that homeless man, his jacket, his beard, it was just so realistic, and yet she used--I know she uses paints and all kinds of fancy quilting techniques and stuff, so I was so impressed with that one.

TF: Are there any quilters who have influenced you?

SM: Oh, certainly, there are. Gosh, I met [Marianne.] Fons and [Liz.] Porter years ago and took some of their classes, and I've always liked their stuff, and even though I'm not really a country quilter usually--I think of them as country, although they're not so much that anymore. But I watch their show on TV. Gosh, I should have thought of other people, all the quilters. There's lots of them. I like different kinds of quilts, too, so that--she does those Island Quilts. What's the name?

TF: Maple Island?

SM: Maple Island Quilts, what's her name?

TF: Debbie Bowles?

SM: Yes, I like her original stuff. I've done several of her quilts. I like even some of the--I'm thinking like Art to Heart, those kinds of quilts I like. Cute, whimsical quilts, I like. Who else do I like, Tomme? [TF laughs.] I can't think of who I like. There's so many of them. I was really into watercolor for a while. I don't know. I guess a lot of them. I'm really bad at names, so I'm probably just not remembering the names, but sure.

TF: Have you taken very many classes?

SM: Well, I guess for a long time, I went to the fall quilt retreat every year and I decided that I would treat myself and take two day classes every time that came around, so we used to do it every year, full-day classes. I haven't taken a lot of classes at quilt shops and things like that, but a few here and there. Not so much anymore.

TF: Have you ever taught any classes?

SM: I have, I have. I taught, when I had my pattern-making company, I was asked to teach in Omaha a couple of times at a sewing machine store, well a fabric and sewing machine shop. And I did that, and I've taught for the--I taught one class at the fall quilt retreat, and that was actually on making a quilting doll, a little doll that holds fabric and quilting notions and stuff. And I taught at a fabric shop in town my friend Dawn owned. So, yes, I've taught a few classes here and there.

TF: How do you feel about--you mentioned that you do have some of your quilts longarm quilted, and you quilt some of them yourself. I assume that's on the machine?

SM: Yes.

TF: How do you feel about hand quilting versus machine quilting?

SM: I feel, with hand quilting, that I just--for me, it's difficult to do. I just haven't really gotten quick enough at it for me. It was like a chore almost. It was hard for me to do, the coordination or whatever. I like hand quilting a lot. I appreciate it a lot. I really do, when I see people who've done hand quilting, I think it's great, but I also think it's sort of one-dimensional in a way. Like when you see the stuff that people are doing with machine quilting now at quilt shows, it is just fabulous, and it sort of makes the other look a little plain. But I appreciate it, I really do, the people that can do it and still do it and that can do it fast, too, I like that. That's amazing. They are really good at it, which I've never gotten good at it. So I like them both, but I think probably the way machine quilting is done now is pretty amazing. So I might prefer it in some ways.

TF: What role do you think quilting plays in your life and your family's life?

SM: Well, it's pretty special for my daughter and me because when she was--she was pretty young when she would come to the quilt guild with me occasionally, and she did some quilting, too. She was like eleven, and she really did pretty good. And she even--I even have some of her quilts I was going through the other day that she designed herself and made when she was like eleven, twelve, and thirteen. And then boys came along and that was the end of quilting. But I think she, for about three or four years in there, she really made several quilts, some of them original. I still have them. And she was really quite good. She made that Square Dance pattern in miniature one time and I thought, 'Well, that's pretty good.' I've been looking at her stuff lately. I'm holding onto them for her. I have to give them to her one of these days but she doesn't really have--she wants me to hold onto them and keep them nice. And my family, they like the quilts. I made one, a snake quilt for my son when he was a kid and I think he still has it but it really needs to be thrown away. It has been loved to death. It's just really kind of sad looking now. But I designed that and made that for him because I couldn't find any snake quilt patterns back then. And we took photographs of real snakes and used those for the appliqué, so that was kind of fun. My husband helped me with that. So, yes, I think the family likes the quilts, too.

TF: So how about for you? What role does quilting play in your life, for you?

SM: For me, it's just using my hands, because I always have to be using my hands for a hobby. If I'm not sewing or quilting, then I'm knitting. I have to always have some project going and it's my artistic outlet, I think is what it does for me. And I like using the quilts, too; it's nice to have them and hang them up and see them and enjoy them.

TF: Do you use quilts to decorate your home?

SM: I do a little bit. My house is kind of--I don't know, a lot of the quilts I make wouldn't go in my house, and it's kind of strange. I don't understand that. But I tend to make quilts that wouldn't go with my décor. It's kind of a disconnect there. I'm not sure what that's about, but part of it is that my husband and I have kind of different tastes. Some of the things I make, he just would not like them on the wall. So that's probably part of that. I think that is a big part of it. I don't design my house around my quilts like some people do, and I don't have really a traditional house, not that all my quilts are traditional, but I don't know, they just don't go well. That's why I kind of like my office because it's kind of a blank wall for me to put stuff in. I can put whatever I want up there, so I do.

TF: What do you think is the next thing for you in quilting?

SM: Finish up all the quilts that I have. I want to get the quilts done for my office. I have, of this size here, I have several really nice patterns I want to make, and I have the fabric for them, too, so that, and finish UFOs [unfinished objects.]. I have a ton of UFOs. I'm really trying now not to buy any more stuff. I kind of want to get stuff done and get these done for my office so I can switch them. I'd like to switch them every month or so if I have enough to do it. Right now, I've just got a few done.

TF: What do you think about the role of quilts in the role of American women's lives?

SM: I think that's been real important through history, and I think it was fun for me because I'd always read about that and talked to people about it, but I didn't have any personal experience of that until I went through the quilts with my husband's mom, and it was kind of fun to hear her talking about them. And she even had one from my husband's dad's mom, so a real old one, one of those embroidered ones, redwork ones, or actually it was blues, but the little boy quilts that they used to make with embroidery. So it was kind of fun to hear her talk about those and showing those and just seeing this part of the family history. It was kind of cool.

TF: What do you think we can do to keep quiltmaking alive and thriving?

SM: Well, we've got to keep--get the young ones interested in it, really. That's really what we have to do. I think my daughter got enough interest in it that I think someday she might quilt again. She does have her--she did ask for her machine. I had that for her after she left home to go to college and she did ask for it a few years back, and I think at some point she might get back into it. And I think that's what we need to do is get kids interested in it, but they kind of reach a point where they're not interested in anything else but dating. But if you can catch them, I think, a little before that time, which was lucky with me that I joined the quilt guild about--when she was still preteen kind of thing that worked out good. So I think those are the kids we have to get.

TF: Getting back to you giving a lot of quilts away, do you know what has happened to the quilts that you've given away?

SM: Well, certainly not all of them, because my family lives pretty far away. They all live on the West Coast and I don't see them very much, so I don't really know what's happened to all of them. I'm assuming they have them but I'm not sure. And I've donated a lot to auctions and silent auctions and things like that, and the Human Society had one awhile back. I've donated a lot of quilts, too. So I don't really know what happens to them and if I happen upon my little picture book of quilts that I have, I'll be just amazed at how many I made. I just can't believe it. Because you forget about them until you look through the book, and so I kind of wished I would have photographed them all but I'm sure I have not. That's the way it goes.

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

SM: Well, I guess it depends what your goal is in quiltmaking. If you want to put shows in a quilt--quilts in a show and win ribbons, which a lot of quilters like to do, boy, then you really have to keep up with all the latest new quilting stuff and make quilts, sort of, that will fit into a show, for the show. Now, I don't do that myself; I just make things I like. I don't worry so much about what's in and what's not. So for me, it's not really that big of a problem finding things to make and enjoying it because I just make things I like and it's pretty simple, really. It's not much of a challenge, per se; just finding the time, for me, I guess would be the biggest challenge because even though--and then, too, as you get older, you have a little more time but you don't get as much done. And that's been a disappointment to me. I'm like, 'Well, now my kids are gone.' I have more time, but it just takes me longer to do things. So I think time is just really the biggest thing. I wish I had more time to do it, and I don't think there's a quilter in the world that wouldn't say that.

TF: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

SM: Probably someone that just really loves it and is dedicated to it and just really enjoys it, is probably what makes a great quiltmaker, I think. Enjoy it, have fun doing it, and usually good things come out of that.

TF: Is there anything about quiltmaking that we haven't talked about that you would like to talk about?

SM: Gosh, we've talked about a lot of things. Some of the things I'd forgotten. I forgot about a lot of things. I don't think so.

TF: Well, I want to thank you for letting me interview you for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, and I forgot to mention at the beginning of the interview that we are in Sioux City, Iowa, at my home in Sioux City, Iowa. And I'm just going to look at the time. Our interview concluded at 3:44 p.m. So, thank you very much.

SM: You're welcome.


“Signe Millard,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,