Leslie Walker




Leslie Walker




Leslie Walker


Tomme Fent

Interview sponsor

Karen Alexander


Sioux City, Iowa


Tomme Fent


Tomme Fent (TF): This is Tomme Fent, and I'm interviewing Leslie Walker for the Quilters' S.O.S - Save Our Stories project. Today is Monday, October 19th, 2009, and it's about 2:00 p.m., and Leslie and I are in the office where we both work at the United States Courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa. So Leslie thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for our project.

Leslie Walker (LW): You bet.

TF: So tell me a little bit about this quilt that you've brought today?

LW: Well, it's the first quilt that I made after I learned how to quilt. It's called "Lucky Stars" [and the pattern is.] by Terri Atkinson, and it's a queen size and I remember thinking that I had to always make a big queen-sized quilt. I could never make small quilts, which was weird. I don't know why and also I remember telling my friend that I would have to finish this quilt before I could start another one and I would always finish a project before I started another one. However, that logic has changed a lot in the past few years. I really like stars and I like the colors and it was a fun quilt to make and it was easy. Terri Atkinson Designs are very easy. Good for beginner quilters.

TF: Where did you get the fabrics?

LW: At My Quilt Shop in Sergeant Bluff [Iowa.]. I had taken my beginning quilt class from Kim [Gray.] and that's kind of where I started, in her shop.

TF: Are these the types of colors that you normally like to work with?

LW: Well, generally I like blue and yellow, but I do like these colors. This just really was attractive to me for some reason at that start, and I just really liked it.

TF: It has a really fun binding.

LW: That was a mistake but it worked out really well. [laughs.] I had no idea how to do binding and it's a little wave and it worked out really good, but I didn't create it like that. I didn't try to do that; it just worked out.

TF: Well, that's fun. So how much time do you think you spend quilting like, say, every week?

LW: Well, this past weekend, I spent the whole weekend, which was unusual. I don't have a lot of time anymore to quilt. I'd like to spend more time, but in the last couple of years I've just gotten real busy with other things. So, I don't know, on a normal basis, zero time, zero minutes per week, but I'm going to start doing more of it, though. I'm going to make time for myself because that's just too much fun.

TF: How many quilts do you think you've made?

LW: I don't know, quite a few. Probably a dozen big quilts and lots of little quilts and table runners and quilting projects. I've made stockings and origami bags and aprons and pillowcases, things like that, quilt-related things.

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

LW: The piecing.

TF: And what's your least favorite part?

LW: The cutting out.

TF: Oh, really?

LW: I don't like the cutting out.

TF: Now what about the quilting on this quilt? It has really pretty quilting.

LW: This was done by Bonnie Lohry, and I didn't know who to take it to and my friend Tomme showed me who to take it to and helped me with that. And she did a really great job, I think.

TF: It's really pretty. Have you quilted any of your quilts yourself?

LW: Just small ones, nothing big.

TF: And do you do those by hand or machine?

LW: Machine.

TF: Do you have any favorite quilting techniques?

LW: I can't say that I do, no. I just like the whole process, except for cutting out.

TF: Okay and you said that this was the first quilt you made after you took a beginning quilting class. When was that class?

LW: In 2002, I looked back in my records, I always loved quilts forever and ever and when I started working here, I talked to Tomme about quilting and she encouraged me to take--she more than encouraged me; she kind of like drug me down there. [laughs.] But she did encourage me to take the class and I was really glad she did because mostly, I was just afraid to quilt. And there's nothing to be afraid of; you can do it. Anyone can.

TF: Had you done sewing growing up?

LW: Yes, I did all kinds of crafty things. I always did counted cross stitch, did tons of that. Sewed little doll clothes. Always something crafty. Crocheted. Tried to knit a little. But never could quite get to quilting. I was afraid I could never do that.

TF: But then the sewing itself and using a machine weren't foreign to you?

LW: No, my mom and I sewed together.

TF: So your mom was a seamstress?

LW: No. [laughs.] It's kind of funny that you would even say that. When my mom and I would sew together, we would always end up in a big fight and my dad and brother would leave the house. [both laugh.] But we always tried to sew together. I don't know what the deal was; we just didn't click. I don't know what the deal was. But she always tried to help me and we always ended up in a big fight.

TF: What kinds of things would you sew together?

LW: We tried to sew clothes. I tried to make summer clothes and doll clothes and things like that. She wasn't really a great seamstress, and actually I was probably better than she was, but we just didn't click. And we loved each other, we did great things together, but sewing, we could not do together.

TF: Were there any quilters in your family?

LW: I have an aunt, my dad's sister. She lives in California, and she's in her nineties now but she has always quilted and loves the fact that I quilt. And in fact, I think she's giving me a bunch of antique sewing machines, but I'm not sure how she's getting them to me because she lives in California. I suppose she's going to ship them but I don't know. She asked if I wanted them.

TF: Have you ever seen any of the quilts that she's made?

LW: Yes, she's made lots of them for our family.

TF: So you have some of them yourself?

LW: Yes, but she makes them out of old clothes and polyester. She doesn't go to a quilt shop; she just uses what she has.

TF: Are they patterned quilts like this one or are they more like utility-type quilts?

LW: More utility, really. She doesn't do real fancy -- she probably did when she was younger, but she doesn't see very well anymore.

TF: Are you involved in a quilt guild?

LW: Yes, the Siouxland Samplers. I've been on the Board. I've kind of taken a back seat to a little of that just because I've gotten busy with other things but it's really an enjoyable guild. Lot of nice people, great quilters.

TF: What kind of things have you done with the guild?

LW: I've done what do we call Sunshine Quilts. I've been on the Board as the Vice President, which is the person that gets the speakers, so that was pretty interesting the year I did that. I've helped make President's Quilts, when we give the President who's outgoing a quilt. I participated in the quilt show by working the show and also having quilts in the show.

TF: And I know that you've handled the raffle tickets several times.

LW: Yes, that's true.

TF: How do you use this quilt?

LW: I have a ladder in my living room and it hangs, because I really like this one so I don't want to mess it up. So it's just a display quilt. It's hanging on one of the rungs of the ladder.

TF: And what are your plans for this quilt?

LW: Probably it will stay on the ladder. I just like it sitting there with the other quilts, just decorative.

TF: Why did you, of all the quilts you've made, why did you choose this particular quilt to bring to your interview?

LW: Because it was my first one and I was pretty proud of myself for finishing it, for even trying it. And I think it came out pretty good for a first quilt and I just have always liked it a lot.

TF: Have you ever taken any classes besides that first class?

LW: Yes, I've taken lots and lots of classes. I haven't in the last year or so just because I've been busy. I do some things at the Y [MCA.], so I'm very busy with that, but in the years from when I started, from 2002 to probably about 2007, I took tons of classes. I really like classes. I like learning new techniques. I love just the camaraderie of sewing together with people. But I just haven't gotten back to do that yet.

TF: Have there been any quilters in particular who have influenced you or your style of quilting?

LW: Well, I would say, I'm in a small group called the Material Girls, and I think all of those ladies influence me. They all have special talents, different talents. They're all very supportive. I would say there's eight besides myself and they all bring something to the table for me. Sometimes I have a question on something and I get eight answers. [laughs.] It's good. I really like all of them.

TF: Have you ever taught any quilting classes?

LW: Yes, for the last about two years now, I've been teaching a quilting class at my church. We call ourselves the Biblical Quilters. Pretty original idea. [laughs.] We did a block a month for that, what is it called, "More Biblical Quilts" ["More Biblical Quilt Blocks: New Inspirational Designs" by Rosemary Makhan.] I put a little blurb out there to see if anybody wanted to learn to quilt and I had seventeen yeses--

TF: Wow.

LW: Which pretty much blew me away. One man. And we finished, it took us eighteen months, but we finished the quilt, everybody finished their quilt. And then we were an exhibit in the recent quilt show, which was very exciting and they just did a wonderful job.

TF: That's great. And now the group is still continuing to meet?

LW: Yes, and we've added a couple of people; we've lost a couple of people. It just happens; people get busy or whatever. But we're making smaller projects now until after the first of the year, and then we'll make a big quilt again.

TF: How often do you meet?

LW: Once a month.

TF: What's your very first memory of a quilt?

LW: Probably just a little girl, I just always loved them. In fact, I have lots of books and pattern books from when I was a little kid, just reading them. I can't really tell you exactly; it's always been a part of my life, not always making them but always reading about them and touching of them, being around them.

TF: So you were attracted to them even then?

LW: As a little kid, yes.

TF: How does your quiltmaking impact your family?

LW: Well, they all are much warmer now. [laughs.] They all have their own quilts. I've made quilts for extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law. Everyone gets a quilt. Everyone talks to me about their next quilt, so I guess that's the big hint they want another one. They all get a lot out of it. We fight over certain quilts for laying and watching TV, there are certain favorite ones.

TF: What makes a quilt one of the favorite ones?

LW: Well, one of them is the rag quilt, and it's just soft. And the other one that they really like is like a Stack-n-Whack with wool batting and it's very soft, too. The rag quilt is just about worn out. I took it to a football game this weekend and I was looking at it thinking, ‘Boy, this poor thing has just been loved to death.' I need to make another one of those.

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

LW: I have a quilting room in the basement that my husband made for me, which was really great. However, it is very messed up right now. It just needs cleaning out. And so recently, I've been quilting in the kitchen, which isn't the greatest thing because you can't just leave it up. You have to tear everything down. I just need to get down into my quilt room and reorganize it and get back in there.

TF: Do you have a fabric stash?

LW: A huge one, yes.

TF: How do you organize your fabrics?

LW: Right now, it's not very organized. It's pretty much organized by project.

TF: Oh, by project?

LW: And then I have a stash, too, and it's just in stacks in a big drawer thing that I have, a chest of drawers.

TF: It's not by theme or color or anything?

LW: No, unless it's for a project.

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

LW: Oh, yes, definitely. Quilting saved me, I believe. We had a really difficult time with one of our sons who is now a recovered alcoholic, recovering alcoholic, however you say that. At the time when he was still struggling, I quilted my brains out. It just saved me. It relaxed me. It gave me something to do. It saved me.

TF: Have you ever used quilts or quilting to commemorate a special event in your life?

LW: Yes, recently. I have two sons. They've both recently gotten married and I'm working on their wedding quilts. One's a year-and-a-half old now. I need to get busy on that one and one just got married last month so two wedding quilts will be coming, hopefully soon.

TF: Tell me how you balance your time? How do you find time to quilt with everything you do?

LW: It's kind of a problem because I am very busy. This weekend when I just really got the bug to quilt, I just told my family, ‘I'm quilting,' and I just did. I didn't go out and help with the leaves. I didn't do anything else. I just quilted. It is hard to find time to do it and hard to find time for yourself, but I think we need to do that more.

TF: Do you use a design wall?

LW: Yes, I have one in my quilt room which I really can't reach right now but it is in there, yes.

TF: And do you design your own quilts?

LW: I've started that a little bit. With the quilt show, I was going to do the challenge, and I used that design wall for my challenge. But my son was getting married right at the same time as this quilt show, and I wasn't able to finish that quilt. It's hard for me to step out of the comfort zone and do my own thing but I'm trying.

TF: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LW: Well, I think just heart, people loving their quilt, loving that they made it, what they put into it. I don't think it necessarily has to be a perfect quilt. I think it's if you're excited about it and you love what you did, like my little Biblical Quilters. Some of them, most of them were not perfect, but they were so excited and so happy, and I think that's what quilting's about to me. It's just the feeling you get.

TF: Have you ever traveled outside the local area in connection with quilting?

LW: Yes, I've gone on some bus trips. We've gone to Rochester for the Minnesota for the Minnesota state quilt show. We've been to the Nebraska state quilt show. In a couple of weeks, I'll be going down to Des Moines [Iowa.] for the AQS quilt show. I'd love to go to Sisters, Oregon, someday. I don't know if I'll ever get there. And my husband and I ride motorcycles and go from quilt shop to quilt shop all the time. We've done our own little shop hops on the motorcycle.

TF: I know you took a really interesting trip a couple of years ago where you stopped at quilt shops. Tell me about that.

LW: That, I think, was a Terri Atkinson book, I'm thinking it was. I'm not sure, I think it was one of her quilt books where she had a shop hop in the book. And I said to my husband, ‘What do you think about doing this on the motorcycle?' thinking, looking at the map, that it was just a little weekend thing. Well, the map wasn't to scale, and it was all over the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and it ended up being like a thousand-mile trip. But we did it, we had a great time, we added some extra quilt shops, and we also have to go to Harley Davidson shops. That's his part of it. But we had a great time doing that, going from shop to shop. I'd UPS stuff home, which was exciting when I got home, I had all these packages waiting for me.

TF: Did he go in the quilt shops with you?

LW: At first, he didn't. At first he was too shy. About the third or fourth quilt shop, he kind of ventured in and about by the sixth, seventh, eighth, he was in telling the quilt shop owners what we were doing and he kind of took over. It was just kind of cute. He really evolved from the first one to the end. He likes to do it. He probably would never admit it, but he does. [laughs.]

TF: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LW: I suppose the colors that are chosen. It's all in the eye of the beholder, too, so what pleases me may not please others. For me, I guess it would be the colors.

TF: The colors are the first thing that grab your attention?

LW: Yes, especially if they're blue and yellow. That always grabs my attention right away.

TF: Are you drawn more toward traditional designs or the art quilt type thing?

LW: Definitely more towards traditional, but I do like the art quilts. And I'm a little bit afraid of that, but like I said I'm trying to step out of that comfort zone to attempt to do some of that on my own. I like looking at the art quilts; I just haven't really done any myself.

TF: How do you feel about hand quilting versus quilting on a home machine versus longarm quilting?

LW: As far as do I think one's better than the other?

TF: Do you prefer one to another?

LW: I've only ever really had someone quilt for me. I'd like to learn to do it on my own. I know a lot of people, or some people, think the hand quilting makes it better. I don't know, I think the machine quilting is beautiful. I probably would never take the time to hand-quilt a quilt. It just takes too long. But I would like to learn to quilt my own things. I'm a machine quilter.

TF: Why is quilting important to you?

LW: Well, like I said earlier, it saved my life, I think. It kept me from going crazy. It's something that's beautiful. It's relaxing. I just love creating things out of pieces of fabric. Quilting is just a really great thing. Keeps you warm.

TF: What do you think about the importance of quilting in American life, and specifically in American women's lives?

LW: I definitely think it's something we want to keep teaching our younger women. It's a tradition that cannot die because it's just important in so many reasons, not just for the utility of using it for warmth but also just for the creativity and the beauty and the self-fulfillment and accomplishment. I just think it's something we cannot ever -- and I don't think it will ever die. There are so many people that are quilting now; it's really a big thing.

TF: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum collection?

LW: I suppose, I don't know, maybe age, first of all, something that's survived the years. Again, I think a lot of that is in the eye of the beholder, again. I can't really answer that other than probably age.

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

LW: Paying for it. The fabric is expensive, if you get good fabric, and you want to get good fabric because you want it to last. It is getting more expensive. It costs a lot to make a nice, big quilt, and then to have it quilted. A lot of young quilters can't afford all that. I just think that's probably the biggest thing that I can think of.

TF: Do you have any collections? Do you collect quilts or any type of memorabilia?

LW: Well, I like old quilts, and whenever I go to an auction, I try to find an old quilt. I've found two or three old ones. I don't have a certain pattern that I look for; I just look for something that catches my eye, and I have about three or four antique quilts now. Nothing specific, but I like the antique quilts.

TF: And you plan to keep doing that in the future?

LW: Yes, if I can afford it, yes.

TF: How many sewing machines do you have?

LW: I have three. One doesn't work very well. And I use my Bernina pretty much exclusively. I have a Janome, too, that's a good machine, but I just don't use it that much since I got the Bernina.

TF: What's the next thing for you in quilting?

LW: Well, our little small group is talking about doing a--I think it's called a fractal, is that the right term? I've been thinking a lot about that because that's a little scary for me. It's one of those outside-the-comfort-zone deals, but I want to try it and so that's my next challenge, if our group gets to that.

TF: What will that involve?

LW: From what I understand, we take a big picture and blow it up and cut it apart, and then we make the different sections and trade the sections and put it back together. So everyone will have a quilt, but pieces of other people's quilting.

TF: But all the same picture?

LW: Yes.

TF: Are there any new techniques that you want to learn?

LW: I'd like to learn to appliqué better. I'm not very good. I'm definitely not good at the needle-turn. I don't know if I'm patient enough for appliqué. It seems to take a lot more patience. I did a raw-edge appliqué wall hanging this weekend but that's easy and fun and quick, but it was appliqué.

TF: So you appliqué by machine?

LW: I have. I've never done much by hand, but I have done with the blanket stitch.

TF: And it's the hand appliqué you want to learn?

LW: I'd like to get so that I could do it, yes.

TF: Does technology play a part in your quilting?

LW: As far as like the machine?

TF: Do you design on a computer?

LW: I have. The one wedding quilt, I borrowed a program from my friend and I designed the wedding quilt pattern, but that was just a one-time deal. I don't do very much designing. I pretty much buy a pattern, and go from that pattern.

TF: Do you interact with other quilters on the Internet?

LW: Just my Biblical Quilt ladies and my Material Girls, not in a chat room or anything.

TF: And do you ever search for patterns or materials on the Internet?

LW: Yes, I do that occasionally. I'm always looking for different kinds of motorcycle fabric because we're avid motorcycle riders and I make a lot of motorcycle quilts. I was looking for Harley Davidson fabric, in particular. I haven't found that yet; I don't know if they even make it. And sometimes I'm looking for a pattern that I happen to hear about or see or whatever.

TF: Speaking of those motorcycle quilts that you make, haven't you made some quilts for charitable auctions?

LW: Yes, for the Shriners. I made three quilts, three years in a row, for a raffle. My husband is a Cycle Escort and they used that for their fundraiser. And we haven't done that for awhile. They just wanted to take a break, which was fine because it's a big job for me, but yes, we raised some money for the escorts and helped them keep going for the year, paid their expenses.

TF: I think you might have underestimated the number of large quilts you've made. [laughs.]

LW: [laughs.] I forgot about those, yes.

TF: And you said for friends and family and cousins-in-law.

LW: Yes, it might be probably twenty-five quilts. It is more than I thought of.

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

LW: I don't think so. I just really love it. I'm really glad my friend encouraged me to take a class so that I would be able to do it, and now I've taken the step and taught seventeen other people and now one of those ladies is standing up, she's going to teach the next class. And it's just one of those pay-it-forward things and it's pretty cool. I really like that. It's just a good thing.

TF: It is. There's nothing bad about it.

LW: No, other than it's sort of addictive. [laughs.]

TF: It's a health addiction, though.

LW: Yes.

TF: Well, I'd like to thank you, Leslie, for allowing me to interview you for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project. And our interview concluded at 2:29 p.m.

LW: Thank you.


“Leslie Walker,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1698.