JoAnn Sadler




JoAnn Sadler




JoAnn Sadler


Pam Clark

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Moville, Iowa


Tomme Fent


Pam Clark (PC): This is Pam Clark. Today's date is Tuesday, October 27th [2009.]. It is 5:05 p.m., and I'm conducting an interview with JoAnn Sadler for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in JoAnn's workplace, the American National Bank, here in Moville [Iowa.]. JoAnn, tell me about this quilt that you brought out for the interview today?

JoAnn Sadler (JS): This quilt is on my son's bed, and I made it for his fifth birthday, and he is now sixteen, so it's eleven years old. I made this from a class I took with Liz Porter, and so you had to buy fabrics that were from the Civil War period. And in the class, we made the main blocks, the star blocks, and she kind of taught us a little bit about using the lights and darks and medium shades. And that's about all I can say about it.

PC: What influence has Liz Porter had on your quiltmaking ever since you took that class?

JS: I get their magazine, so I don't know how much influence it had. I've never done anything else with these types of fabrics particularly.

PC: Did she teach you anything new that you had never learned before? Did you get something from the class that--

JS: Well, she taught more about just putting things together that in those times they were using scraps and a lot of shirtings, so it was just more of a value, how you place a value. Like in one block, what might be a medium value might be a dark in another block. And just if like these blocks are darker than in this [indicates.], how in this one the star stands out more or in this one it becomes more of a cross. So that was kind of what the emphasis was on more, and just throwing it together, just picking a medium and a whatever, not looking at what goes together. And that's what your natural instinct is, to put the colors together that you like, and not just put it together the way it would have been done as a scrap quilt. And then we were to not really use so much of these colors in the offsetting blocks, in the--what do you call this block? The featured block so that these colors [indicates.] would stand out against the other colors.

PC: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

JS: I made it for my son. I guess I was making it, and so I made it to give to my son, so he has used it on his bed for eleven years.

PC: And how does he like it?

JS: He likes it just fine.

PC: You've never heard him complain.

JS: No, it's something that is not really like a little kid, so it's worked well through his whole childhood.

PC: Right, so he can use it longer than just as a little boy. Why did you choose to bring this particular quilt to the interview?

JS: Most of the quilts I've made, I've given away, so I had to pick something that I had at home.

PC: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you and your personality?

JS: I guess I'm more traditional, like the traditional blocks.

PC: Do these colors kind of say something about you and your choices?

JS: No, not really, because we were forced to buy blacks and browns and darks and shirtings, and that was kind of what we were told to do, so those really aren't what I would pick if I was just free to pick whatever you like.

PC: You were more constricted in what you had to pick?

JS: Right.

PC: How do you--well, you already told us how your son uses the quilt, and he still uses it to this day, right, on his bed?

JS: Yes.

PC: Does he have future plans for the quilt? Will he, as he goes to college or leaves your home, will he take the quilt with him?

JS: At some point, probably.

PC: Do you feel that he has kind of a bond to that quilt? Do you think it means anything to him emotionally?

JS: I don't know, it's hard to say about a sixteen-year-old boy. [laughs.]

PC: True, true.

JS: Maybe someday.

PC: I know my son still has a quilt that he sleeps with. You wouldn't think they would, but sometimes they do have quite attachments. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking?

JS: I took my first class--do you have questions about that, or do I just start wherever? I took my first class in 1981, and I was working at a Northwest Fabrics store and so we sold quilting material as a department. And so, I took the class more just because I needed to know about quilting. I didn't know anything about. Since it involved my job, I needed to understand it.

PC: So, did they make you take that class?

JS: Pretty much, yes, they pretty much made me take the class, because I didn't think I would like it. I was young, straight out of college, but then I liked it and I've liked it ever since.

PC: And so, you've been quilting ever since then?

JS: Yes.

PC: From whom did you learn to quilt? Well, that was really your first time that you ever had quilted, and so that's where it all started for you?

JS: Yes.

PC: Now, in the present time, how many hours a week do you think you quilt?

JS: Well, that would vary because I may not work on something, I may not work on things for months and then be motivated and have a project I want to finish and work on it a lot. So, it depends on the time of the year, too. I like to do it more in the winter than in the summer because you can be outside when the weather's nice, and it's a nice project to have in the wintertime.

PC: If you have a project going, how much time do you usually spend on quilts then?

JS: Maybe a few hours, but I have a full-time job and a lot of other constraints so I can do more on the weekends.

PC: What is your first quilt memory?

JS: I really don't have any memories of it other than the one I made. I don't remember having a quilt as a child.

PC: So, your grandmas or mom or any significant family members didn't have, that you can ever remember, didn't have any?

JS: I can't remember any. I don't ever think prior to--that was in the eighties, when I first took that class. I don't think it was nearly as popular as it is today.

PC: When you started that class in the eighties, did you know there was such a thing as quilting?

JS: I must have known it because I spent a lot of time in fabric stores, but it really wasn't an interest of mine.

PC: You didn't do it and so it didn't mean a lot to you at that point, until you took the class?

JS: Right.

PC: At this time, are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

JS: No, just the friends I have through the quilters' guild.

PC: So, you don't really have any close friends that you get together with or any quilt groups that you are a member of that you work with or that give you support?

JS: No.

PC: How does quiltmaking impact your family life?

JS: I give a lot of gifts as quilts and as for significant events, graduations or, years ago, births, or weddings or whatever. So, my extended family has received many gifts.

PC: And how do you perceive them as receiving these quilts? Does it bring a smile to their face or what are their reactions when they receive such a wonderful gift? Do you feel they have the appreciation for it?

JS: I hope they do. I remember before I had kids, I gave one to my niece and she was pretty little. She was probably two or three. And she got it for Christmas, and she cried because she got a blankie and she wanted toys. She was really little. So, she did not appreciate it then but I'm sure she appreciates it now.

PC: Yes, at that age they just don't realize what all it means and what all you've put into it. How does your husband react to your quilting?

JS: I don't know.

PC: It doesn't bother him?

JS: No.

PC: He gets all of his meals, gets his clothes washed, gets his house cleaned, and you still have time to quilt, so it doesn't bother him?

JS: Right. No, it doesn't bother him.

PC: Tell me if you've ever used quilts to get through a difficult time in your life?

JS: I can't think of any situation like that, no.

PC: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking?

JS: That time when I made that quilt for my niece that was kind of amusing that she cried.

PC: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

JS: It's a creative outlet.

PC: And which part of it do you--what is your most favorite part of quilting?

JS: Probably the choosing fabrics and the pattern, and the dreaming part of what would be fun to do.

PC: And what's your least favorite part of quiltmaking?

JS: Correcting mistakes. [laughs.]

PC: Ripping out?

JS: Yes, I think something not being quite perfect, the way we want it to be.

PC: That's frustrating, isn't it? What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

JS: Just the Siouxland Samplers [Quilt Guild.] in Sioux City.

PC: And what do you feel that that group contributes to your knowledge and appreciation of quilting?

JS: There's a lot of talented people so it's inspiring to see what other people do and then there's classes.

PC: And do you take advantage of the classes?

JS: I have. I've only been--I rejoined about a year ago and I was an original member of the Siouxland Samplers when it was formed. And it was always hard for me to come and then when my kids were little, it just was too hard, so for a long time I just paid my membership but never went and I eventually withdrew, and then I rejoined.

PC: I'm glad you're back. Have advances in technology influenced your work in quilting and if so, how?

JS: Not really. I learned so long ago that I haven't really advanced that much.

PC: So, you haven't really gotten into the new technologies that--there's a lot of change going on right now, especially in art quilting. Do you do any art quilting at all?

JS: No, not really.

PC: You do more traditional quilting, then?

JS: Yes.

PC: So not so influenced by technology then. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JS: Just basic, I don't know. I usually hand quilt because that's what I learned to do.

PC: Are you fast? Does that go pretty fast for you?

JS: I wouldn't know how to gauge how fast.

PC: Do you have a quilt frame that you put it on or do you--

JS: I just have a hoop.

PC: So, you more or less hold it on your lap and do it that way?

JS: I have, with groups years ago or church or whatever, I have quilted on a hoop -- or I mean on a frame, but I don't have one.

PC: Can you take the hoop with you when you travel? Can you quilt when you travel?

JS: I have done that sometimes if I am on like a business trip, I'm by myself, I can throw it in the car and work on it in the motel, yes.

PC: Describe your studio or place that you create quilts?

JS: It's in a spare bedroom in our basement.

PC: Are you satisfied with it? Does it meet all your needs?

JS: I'm sure that I could have better, more, but I'm satisfied.

PC: It works for you?

JS: Yes.

PC: Tell me how you balance your time between doing quilting, working a full-time job, doing your family obligations, things like that. How do you find time to fit in quilting with your other obligations?

JS: I guess I'm usually making it for a person or for an event, so I try to schedule it far enough out to get it started. And with any other deadline, you're working at it right at the last minute to get it finished.

PC: Does it help you to have goals? Is that kind of what allows you to really work towards something, if you have something to work toward?

JS: Yes, that definitely helps because otherwise, if it's just something for myself, sometimes it can go unfinished for a long time.

PC: If you have a deadline, then that kind of gets you busy?

JS: It gets you busy. Yes, it does.

PC: Do you use a design wall?

JS: No, I don't.

PC: Do you wish that you had a design wall? Do you think that would be helpful for you?

JS: I don't know, I have a spare bed and I just put things on the bed. And a lot of the things I do are for beds so you can lay it out on the bed and look at it.

PC: And then you can tell how it's going to look on the bed when you get it finished?

JS: Right.

PC: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JS: Choice of colors and fabric and techniques.

PC: What colors do you like to see? What are you drawn to when you go to select fabrics for quilts? Do you have one that always seems to show up in your quilts some way or other, some color or some type of fabric? Or do you do it more--are you more designing for family members, since you give most of your quilts away?

JS: Yes, I think [that.] I think more of the person or the event or the situation and take it from there, or if I know it's going to be in a specific room, using the colors that are there.

PC: Of your quilts that you have created, do you have a favorite?

JS: Well, there's one I made a long time ago for one of my nieces and I do really like that one and I think it's one of the more--was something I spent more time and is more detailed.

PC: So, it's more the pattern that you like rather than the colors?

JS: The patterns and the colors and the quilting work in it.

PC: And what color was it?

JS: It was kind of a tulip or flower shape. It had three flowers. They were yellow, pink, and lavender, and it had green stems.

PC So rather light, bright colors, would you say?

JS: No, they were more pastel type colors. She was a little girl when I made it for her so that's what seemed appropriate.

PC: But you liked it?

JS: Yes.

PC: What makes a quilt artistically powerful to you? And not necessarily just your quilts but maybe the quilts you've seen in quilt shows or whatever? Have you seen one that you thought was really artistically done and if so, what was it about that quilt that was -- that made it really pop or stand out?

JS: Just usually different types of embellishments or intricate quilting.

PC: Complicated, sometimes complicated patterns too?

JS: Or just something that someone created their own way.

PC: Themselves.

JS: Right.

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

JS: I suppose the quality of the work and how well it's been preserved and its age.

PC: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

JS: I think anyone that makes them [is.] great, I guess. Anyone that takes the time to make one is great to me.

PC: What particular personality characteristics do you think that quilters have to have to make them a great quilter or a good quilter?

JS: I guess you have to be somewhat precision-oriented a little bit, be able to spend some time on a project and finish it. The starting part's always more fun than getting it all the way through. [laughs.]

PC: Yes, you're always excited when you start. Whose works are you drawn to and why? Could be from quilt guild or maybe a quilt show that you've been to or a magazine, maybe you've seen somebody's work in magazines. Do you have any person that you think their quilts are just really out of this world?

JS: I think there's a lot of talented people in the quilt guild.

PC: You don't have a particular one that you think just stands out above all the rest?

JS: Like from the time I first started, I remember we had a quilt show and to compare that, because I've kind of been away, and then to see what talent and quality there is now, it's just grown tremendously.

PC: From those first days?

JS: Right, right.

PC: So, you definitely can see that the people--

JS: The quality and the skill level.

PC: Are there some of the same people still in quilt guild that were in it when you were a member way back when?

JS: Yes, Sue Herbst and Mary Anne Nooney and Helen--

PC: Lacey?

JS: Yes. Those are the only three that I can really think that are there consistently. There may be others on the roll that I recognize their names.

PC: And you think that their work has definitely come a long way?

JS: Yes, and then just collectively, just everybody, like the whole quality of quilting.

PC: And what do you attribute that to?

JS: Probably just classes and improved techniques and the whole, I don't know if you want to call it hobby or whatever you want to call it, I think it's just grown a lot since that time.

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

JS: I think there's a lot of beautiful machine quilts and hand quilts. I just mostly hand quilt because that's what I've learned and that's what I know how to do and I just never really--my daughter made a quilt for 4-H and we had that machine quilted, so it seemed like kind of a hassle to me to find somebody and take it and go pick it up.

PC: Have you ever tried machine quilting on your own sewing machine?

JS: No, I haven't. I don't think my machine--I have a very old machine. I would probably have to update my sewing machine.

PC: Before you'd try that. Do you have any interest in learning to do that type of quilting?

JS: Yes, I have an interest, but I'd probably have to buy a new machine so that could be years. Maybe someday.

PC: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

JS: I think it makes a very significant gift if you give someone a quilt, and you hope it's something they keep forever and pass down. A little bit more meaningful than anything else I think you could give someone.

PC: Yes, a lot more goes into it than just going to the store and buying something. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region that you live in?

JS: I suppose being in the Midwest maybe traditional seems comfortable.

PC: And your quilts are more traditional?

JS: Yes.

PC: Do you usually use a pattern that you found? Where do you find your patterns?

JS: I've done quite a few things out of the Fons and Porter magazine, so that's probably quite a few of the things I've done recently are just out of the magazine.

PC: Have you ever designed any original designs?

JS: I'm going to say no.

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

JS: I guess it's a significant thing in American history. It's been going on for a long time, significant in pioneer settling and so forth.

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

JS: I suppose there used to be quilting bees, so it was always a way for women to get together and socialize yet they were doing something constructive.

PC: And functional.

JS: Yes, right.

PC: How do you think quilts can be used other than just putting them on a bed?

JS: Hang them on the wall or on tabletops.

PC: In your décor, do you use quilts in your décor in your home?

PC: I have several on the wall and some tabletop runners.

PC: Do you have quilts on your beds?

JS: Yes, every bed except my own bed. [laughs.] I guess I'm always thinking of someone else first.

PC: So, you don't sleep with a quilt on your bed?

JS: Not right now, I don't.

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

JS: I suppose museums and that type of thing.

PC: Do you think that your family will preserve your quilts--

JS: I think so.

PC: After you're gone? And how many children do you have?

JS: Two.

PC: A boy and a girl?

JS: Yes.

PC: And do you think that they have an appreciation of your skill as a quilter?

JS: I think so. My daughter's made several things, so I think she probably appreciates it since she's done it.

PC: And you said she made a quilt, too, so she at least knows what goes into it.

JS: Yes.

PC: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for your friends and family? Have you been to their homes to see if they use them on beds or in their home décor or do you, once you give it to them, do you just--

JS: Well, that one that I mentioned earlier, I know that [she.] may have used it when she was little, but they have it out again and it's still in really good shape. It was not over-used or anything. But most of them, I have no idea how they're being used or if they're being used.

PC: So, you haven't seen them again?

JS: A lot of them, no.

PC: You don't know what happens to them?

JS: Yes.

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

JS: I suppose time, having time to do it.

PC: Have you got any techniques that you would like to learn that you haven't had time to try yet? What are your plans for the future when it comes to quilting?

JS: I suppose the machine quilting would be something I would like to learn.

PC: Do you have plans in the future to get a new sewing machine?

JS: No, not at this time.

PC: Not right now? What kind of machine do you have right now?

JS: I have a Singer that I got when I was in high school.

PC: They usually have nice stitching, good tension. Does yours? Are you happy with how yours works?

JS: Yes.

PC: And how did you learn to hand quilt?

JS: Let me see. I took that class. I got transferred before we finished. I don't think we ever got to the quilting part of the class, but when I got transferred, there were several people that I worked with that were good quilters so they must have told me how to do it or I kind of figured it out and then asked a lot of questions of the people that I worked with at the fabric store.

PC: Since you worked in that fabric store, did you ever have to teach any classes, because I know some of those stores had different classes?

JS: No, I never taught any classes. I can't remember that we ever had any classes in quiltmaking, but we did have a small group of some of our employees that met there once a week or once a month or something, so I was exposed to what they were doing.

PC: Were you in that group then?

JS: No, I was not, no.

PS: But you saw some of the things--

JS: I think they met during the daytime. They were there, they would come, and I think they met in the daytime when I was working.

PS: But you'd see some of the things that they would create and make? So, what did you think about the work that they were doing at that time?

JS: I can't really remember. But then when I moved here, I guess that was why I was interested in being in the quilt guild here and I asked about it at the quilt shop, that was the Strawberry Patch, and there was no quilt guild, but they put my name on a list. And so, then when Lerlene [Nevaril.] worked there --

PC: Lerlene Nevaril?

JS: Yes, she worked there some, filling in or whatever, and so I got to know her a little bit, and so the first meeting was at her house.

PC: And so, who--so some of the people that pushed to get the quilt guild started were you instrumental in getting our quilt guild started, do you think?

JS: No, not really, but I had met her and talked to her and said, ‘If there is ever one started, let me know.' And I got invited to the first meeting and that was about all I did. It was so--just starting a club from the very beginning. We didn't have a name, we didn't have a place to meet, we had to just start. There was just so many things, what are we going to do with the meetings, it was pretty rustic in the beginning.

PC: And what was their purpose back then as compared to today? How has that group evolved?

JS: I think it would be just such a much smaller group of maybe fifteen people or something, and I can't remember that much about--we may have occasionally had someone come in but maybe just someone in the group talk, a technique or something. I don't remember.

PC: Did they have quilt shows back then?

JS: Well, that one I talked about, I don't know how many years it took before we got a quilt show organized.

PC: And did you have more members then, so you'd have more quilts to draw on?

JS: It was a much smaller quilt show than what we have today.

PC: Where did you have it?

JS: That first one that I remember was at--where TJ Max used to be, in that building, when that building was first built and there was a couple of empty storefronts so that's as big as the show was.

PC: Did you have dues that you paid?

JS: I think there were always dues.

PC: And at that time, did you--

JS: There was a newsletter and I think there was always a newsletter sent out so that you knew when the meetings were. And they've moved the meetings to various places but originally, the first place was at what was the old art center on Nebraska Street.

PC: So, it's come a long way then. How long ago was that, that it was first organized?

JS: It was in the mid-eighties. I can't remember exactly the year, maybe '84, '85.

PC: So, twenty-some years ago?

JS: Right.

PC: What effect do you think that that group has had in quiltmaking in our area, in northwest Iowa here? What contributions do you think that group has made to the craft of quilting in this area?

JS: Just having that organization, it may draw people who aren't even quilters to it that may learn to quilt or people that if all they have is a book or magazine, they'll come and see what other people are doing and take a class and learn something new. So, I think it's really expanded.

PC: Expanded knowledge of the craft?

JS: Expanded knowledge, expanded in the number of people that are involved in it.

PC: And maybe expanded the knowledge--

JS: Skill level.

PC: And skill levels?

JS: Right.

PC: They know more what the capabilities are?

JS: Right, because I really think when I first started, most people were pretty beginner stage, not like the levels there are today.

PC: They have evolved a lot. Have you ever had any part in the quilt shows, like have you worked on committees with the quilt show?

JS: I just helped with the judging, but I've never been on a committee.

PC: You helped with the judging?

JS: Yes.

PC: How did that help you understand what judges look for?

JS: I thought it was really interesting what comments he had. You saw how he looked at it and how he felt it or what things he was looking at, the binding, the machine quilting, and it was just pretty amazing what knowledge people have.

PC: So, will his comments that he made that day will that maybe improve your skills in quilting going forward?

JS: Probably, yes. To me, many people are much more talented than I am and there's just something you didn't do quite right or whatever, but it's pretty interesting.

PC: Did you have any quilts in the quilt show, this last quilt show that we had?

JS: I just had one, but it wasn't judged. I just took it for exhibit.

PC: That's good. It's always good to have those all-different kinds of people bring things. It makes for a better show. Do you have plans to show quilts more as you hope to have your skill improve?

JS: Yes, except for most of the things I'm going to probably make are probably going to be given away so that limits you as to what you can take.

PC: Right. If you give all your quilts away, you don't have anything to show. You could ask them to bring them back. [laughs.] Is there anything else that you would like to say about quilting?

JS: I think it's a really nice hobby and makes nice gifts, memorable gifts and can be passed down. I enjoy it.

PC: Do you feel that your quilts will be a legacy, your legacy when something happens to you?

JS: I suppose.

PC: It will be a way that you will live on through your quilts? Well, I want to thank JoAnn Sadler for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, here in Moville at the American National Bank. Our interview has concluded at--

JS: 5:44.

PC: 5:44 p.m., October 27th, 2009.


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