Pam Clark




Pam Clark




Pam Clark


Tomme Fent

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Moville, Iowa


Tomme Fent


Tomme Fent (TF): This is Tomme Fent, and I'm interviewing Pam Clark for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Today is Sunday, October 25th, 2009, and it's 3:00 p.m., and we are in Pam's lovely home in Moville, Iowa. So, Pam, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed for our project.

Pam Clark (PC): It's going to be fun; I think.

TF: Tell me about this beautiful quilt that you've brought.

PC: I made this quilt to be used as a raffle quilt for my Legion Auxiliary when I was Ninth District Legion Auxiliary President.

TF: Excuse me, what legion is that?

PC: American Legion Auxiliary. And when I was Ninth District President, which covers the thirteen counties in northwest Iowa, I had as my project--we always have to have a project, and my project was to raise $5,000 for the two V.A. [Veteran's Affairs.] hospitals, one that's in Sioux Falls [South Dakota.], and one that's in Omaha [Nebraska.]. And each place, I had a different project in mind that I wanted to fund. In Omaha, we were hoping to get a sports channel for the patients in their rooms because prior to my project, they had just a very minimal number of channels and for some of the men veterans who were being injured in the war in Iraq, they would come back, and they didn't have any sports channels and they were quite upset. So I thought that that would be a good project for them. And then the V.A. hospital in Sioux Falls has a pastoral care program where they do memorial services for soldiers who have died or who have died in action or veterans who could have been from any of the wars, but they have, every quarter, a memorial service and they give the families roses, each a rose and some memorabilia about the soldier and they do a lot of ministering to the patients in their rooms and things like that, and it's totally--have to be funded from without the--outside the V.A. system. And so, I chose to support that project with them, as well.

And so, I thought the best way I knew how to raise money was to make a quilt and to sell raffle tickets to all the functions that we had around the Ninth District, but also at the State of Iowa Department [of Veterans Affairs.] level, as well. So, I started this quilt, and I finished it in two months. I set out and I had a goal that I would make at least two blocks every night when I got home from work, and I didn't make it always, but I at least got usually one done, on the nights that I didn't have meetings or anything else, but some nights I would have to stay up till midnight to get them finished. And I did get it done in two months because I had to go on the road and go to all of these--I had to make visitations to as many of the different counties in my area as I could, and I wanted to take my quilt with me, so that's why I had the goal to get it done in that short a time. And then I had Robyn Wright--once I had it finished, Robyn Wright from Le Mars [Iowa.], I had her quilt it for me. And I was really pleased with how it turned out. And I did reach my goal; I did get $5,000 worth of money raised, and I made those donations to the V.A. hospitals.

And the interesting thing was, when we did the drawing at the very end of my term as Ninth District President, one of the American Legion members from Moville, who was a World War II veteran, won the quilt. And he was a widower and so I presented it to him in church one Sunday, and he was really thrilled and everything about it, but--and he had it like for maybe, I want to say, six months or so, and then he came to me one Sunday and he said, 'You know,' he said, 'I'm getting on in years and I've asked all my daughters and daughter-in-laws if they would want this quilt, because I don't have a wife.' And none of them really showed an interest that they wanted it. None of them quilt. None of them really had a place for it in their home. And so, he said, 'I'm going to give it back to you.' And so, he gave it back to me and two weeks later, he passed away, and so I just feel bad that he died but I'm glad to have my quilt back.

TF: That was just a really special gesture on his part.

PC: It was, yes.

TF: So, this quilt must really have a lot of meaning for you, then?

PC: It does. It traveled with me all around northwest Iowa, and down to the [Iowa.] Department [of Veterans Affairs.], and I'm very strong into Americanism and working for our Legion Auxiliary and our veterans and I just feel like this is in honor of them. My father-in-law is a World War II veteran, and my daughter is in the Navy, and it's just kind of my tribute to them, I guess.

TF: What are your plans for this quilt?

PC: Well, for right now, I just have it displayed on my quilt rack. If there comes an opportunity where I could use it as a fundraiser again and sell raffle tickets on it again, I might do that, because Art [Ralston.] had told me that when he gave me the quilt back. He said, 'You know, if you want to use it for another fundraiser,' he said, 'I'm giving it back to you. You can do whatever you want to with it.' But right now, I'm just enjoying having it back.

TF: And with your daughter being a veteran--

PC: Right, maybe it will go to her someday, too. I don't know. I've kind of got quilts in mind for all three of my children and I think this one would be a fitting one to give to her.

TF: Do any of the blocks have particular meanings?

PC: Not so much particular meanings. I made this quilt from--it was a pattern that Fons and Porter had created, and I pretty much followed her pattern. I think that one of my favorite blocks is probably the appliqué with all the stars in it and kind of the vines coming out.

TF: The block that we used in the detail photograph?

PC: Right, the detail photograph. I like the eagle block, too, and I think probably the hardest block in the whole thing was the one in the corner over there that, I'm not sure what you call that pattern, but it's got stars in it, too, and--well, there are just stars all over it.

TF: The lower left-hand corner?

PC: Right.

TF: Where did you get the fabrics for this quilt?

PC: Well, a lot of them came from my stash, but I happened to be over at, is it Joann's Fabrics that was in the Marketplace Mall that sold out?

TF: Hancock's.

PC: Hancock's. I was over there for their big closeout sale where they had all these fabrics that they had them just slashed and fifty percent off, seventy-five percent off, and so some of the pieces I got there, and they were really low-cost. It didn't cost me a lot. But I figure I probably have had $500 into the quilt by the time I paid Robyn $240, I think it was, to quilt it. Probably another $250 into the fabric and the bats and the backing.

TF: You mentioned your stash. Tell me about your fabric stash?

PC: Oh, I have a lot of fabrics. I feel like I have enough fabric to do a lifetime, maybe ten lifetimes of quilts, if I ever get around to all of them. I love fabric and when I go to quilt shops, I just love to buy fabrics because I always think, 'Oh, this would be so neat to go home and make this.' And then sometimes I get to it and get it done, and other times it gets put away and then it's on to the next quilt shop and then I find some more that I love. So, I have a whole room full of fabric that I know I'll never get to all of it but it's there.

TF: It's your collection.

PC: Yes, yes. My children, my oldest son told me, they said, 'Mom, when you die, we're going to burn your house down because we don't want to have to distribute all that fabric.' And I said, 'No, you can't do that. You have to go to my quilt guild and let them have my fabric because,' I said, 'there's too much invested in that to just have you just throw it away.'

TF: I've talked to other people who say their husbands say the same thing. 'No, just call somebody from the quilt guild. They'll come and get it.'

PC: [laughs.] There are so many people that don't have the appreciation of quilt fabrics and quilting that we do.

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

PC: The quilt that's over there on the quilt rack [indicating.], it's the Harrison quilt. I don't know if you can see it or not but it has H's on it, and that quilt was made by my great-grandmother in 1917, and it was handed down to my father, who was the oldest son in my grandpa's family, and then my dad told me that he wanted me to have it because I was the oldest grandchild in our side of the family. So, he passed it on to me now and said, 'I want you to have it now before I'm gone, just to make sure that it goes to someone that has an interest in quilts.' And I have kind of a quilt collection anyway, and so I've always been around and seen that quilt. And it's amazing how pristine it still is because it's not stained, it's not worn, it doesn't have any fraying of any kind on it, and it's just amazing that it survived from 1917 to today, in the shape that it's in.

TF: So, you had quilts around you as you were growing up?

PC: Yes, and my grandma, she didn't do artistic quilts or anything; she did functional quilts, where she would just take what scraps she had on hand, and she would make--she made us bed quilts that were just squares sewn together. And she made us doll quilts and things like that. She was always into sewing. My mom never did quilt, but both my grandmas did.

TF: Tell me more about your quilt collection that you mentioned?

PC: I just, as I run across quilts, I don't actively go out and seek them so much as if an opportunity comes along that someone says, 'Here's a quilt. Anybody want it in the family?' And I'll just say, 'Well, if nobody else wants it, I'll take it.' I have quilts from my great-great-grandmother Ford, who lived in Moville [Iowa.]. I have two of her quilts. I have a quilt that was my great-great-grandmother Harrison, that's on the rack over here. And I have a quilt that my two grandmas made, actually, and then I've just made a lot of quilts, too, and I give away a lot, but I like to have them. They're like my children; I hate to give them away once I've put all that time and effort into them. I just hate to give them away, so I have them as a collection and I have been asked by groups to come and do a little trunk show for them, like our women's club has asked me to come and show my quilts to them sometimes, and there was another organization, I can't remember which one, asked me to come and show my quilts to them, too. So, I just like to have them.

TF: How old were you when you started quilting?

PC: I really didn't start quilting myself until I had been teaching about two years at Galva [Iowa.], and I started teaching in 1971, so I think the first quilt I ever made was about--I started it in '72 or '73. And a lot of the students were making sewing projects and then when they'd have leftover fabric, they didn't want that fabric, and so they would just leave it in the Home Ec [economics.] room, and so I ended up taking a lot of those pieces and it was like, what's the name of it, Monkey Wrench quilt. And I just took all these weird samples and tried to coordinate them together, and each block was color-coordinated and then the overall quilt turned out pretty--it looked pretty good together. And I did a white background with lattice strips on it, and then I had a lady that was a good friend of mine hand quilt it for me. And so that was my first effort at ever doing that and at that time, I was, let's see, I was born in '49, so twenty-four, twenty-five, maybe, when I started quilting.

TF: And you were teaching Home Ec [economics.]?

PC: Yes.

TF: Did you teach any quilting at all as part of that?

PC: We did make one quilt. The kids, I'd brought my quilt that I had made and showed them at school, and they were like, 'Oh, we want to make one.' So that one class did do just a Nine Patch quilt, and I taught them how to sew the blocks together and how to cut them out and everything. And then I don't remember what we ended up doing with that quilt when we got done with it, but it was more just the experience of teaching the girls how to do it so that they could go on and learn the skill. And amazingly, at this quilt show [the Siouxland Samplers quilt show in September 2009.], Donelle [Olsen.] had one of the winning quilts in one of the classes, and she was one of my students that I taught to quilt way back down in Galva.

TF: That's great. So, you say you were teaching them how to cut them out and piece and everything. How did you learn that?

PC: I just figured it--I don't know. I just figured it out on my own. I read some books and Better Homes and Gardens [Magazine.], there was a quilt in there that I made one time in a blizzard that you used. It was that little jungle quilt that I let you take to one of the schools that you asked us if we could bring some quilts to take to show children. It had a monkey on it and a snake and a giraffe, and that was another one of my first efforts and that was in Better Homes and Gardens, that pattern. And I was snowed in in a blizzard and I just had some fabric laying around, because I used to sew my own clothes and so I had all these scraps, and so I just used what scraps I had on hand from sewing clothing and made this jungle quilt.

TF: Did you use quarter-inch seam allowances when you made those first quilts?

PC: Yes.

TF: So, you must have learned that from one of the books you read?

PC: Yes.

TF: Have you taken any classes since that time?

PC: Oh, lots of classes. I take classes every chance I get, and I always learn something from every class. I'm so glad our Guild does all the classes that they do because I've learned so much about quilting just since I became a Guild member. But I did teach a class myself for Western Iowa Tech. It was an adult ed [education.] class. And that was probably in the late seventies, early eighties, probably more in the eighties, I think. They needed someone to teach quilting for a bunch of ladies that just wanted to learn how to do it, and so I did a lot of studying then and made a lot of handouts, and I always think that when you teach a skill or a class, the teacher learns way more than the students do, and I learned a lot about different techniques in quilting. It was just very basic techniques, but I just wanted to show them how to do like a Nine Patch, how to do appliqué, just some different things like that so that they'd have a little bit of a mixture of different skills when they got done. And I thought everybody got a lot out of it but I just did that one year, and I think that's about the only time that I've ever taught a class.

TF: Have there been any quilters who have been of particular influence to your quilting?

PC: No, not any particular one. I've taken like Peg Pennell's class and the one, Ruth Powers, I've taken hers, and I'm just one of these people that I get really bored with doing one repetitive block, and so I like to do samplers just because I'm just always so excited to see what the finished block is going to look like when I get it done. I always like to try new techniques and do different things because in the world of quilting, there are so many opportunities to try out so many different techniques and I just enjoy the challenge of learning new things.

TF: And in the last couple of years, you've really been doing some beautiful and interesting art quilts. Tell me a little about that?

PC: I think that as I get into that. I'm liking that area of quilting more and more all the time. I've never really had any formal art training. I wish I did have a little bit more artistic background because for me to do the actual creating part of it, the designing, is hard. I think that's probably why I joined the Fast Friday Fabric Challenge, because they do a lot of--like they will give you a challenge on a Friday and in a week, you have to have the theme, a quilt done with the theme, and they want you to try a lot of different techniques and a lot of different embellishments and things like that. And so, I'm kind of into that learning mode right now from them, and then they post all their different quilts online so that you can go and see what's been done in that week, and it's just amazing what people come up with in just such a short time. Last week, or last month they had one where you had to do something on space, anything that had to do with space, and you had to use at least one new technique that you've never used before and they encourage you to try paints or glittery fabrics or just any new techniques that you didn't know, hadn't done before. And now this week, it just came out last Friday, and they want you to do anything with an animal, any kind of animal, but they want you to especially try reverse appliqué and trapunto. And I've done a little bit with trapunto when I sold Creative Circle kits. I did that for a couple of years, and I would go around and teach these different crafts, like crewel embroidery and they have a lot of trapunto-type panels. And they would have the panels already designed and then you would just stuff certain areas of them to bring them out, and so I did a lot of teaching of that when I was selling those kits and things. But the art medium, the art quilts now, are just really fun for me and I'm really learning a lot of different techniques from doing that type of quilting.

TF: Is the challenge group that you mentioned an online group that you joined?

PC: Yes.

TF: So how does technology impact your quilting?

PC: I think it gives me a whole new world of access because it's such a medium to share ideas and to see other people, what they're doing, and it gives you ideas yourself of, 'Oh, well, yes, I could do that. I never thought of doing that.' It's just such a wonderful thing because in that group, there are people from New Zealand and just all over the world, and they all are sharing. They go in and they critique the quilts, and they talk about maybe what you could have done better, and I think it gives you a sounding board for your own quilts, but it also allows you to see what other people are doing and to hear what other people think about what's being done.

TF: You also mentioned your guild. Tell me about your involvement with your quilt guild?

PC: I love to go to Guild because I like to see the show-and-tells every month and I also like to have our--the programs that we have each month are really enlightening because it's usually something different every time and we get to see a lot of trunk shows and a lot of what other people are doing. And we're just so fortunate because if you don't belong to something like that, you don't have any way to see these things unless you really search it out and go to quilt shows. It's just such a wonderful opportunity, even if you didn't quilt, it's just a great opportunity to see what other people are doing and to just see how creative people are. I try to help, when I belong to an organization, I feel that as a member I have a responsibility to help that group in whatever way I can. And I can't do everything, but I certainly can do something. And I've tried to help them out by--I did the newsletter for a while and I also did some chairs of like the advertising and marketing for one of the quilt shows, and also this last one I did the banquet for our Guild quilt show.

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

PC: It's a bedroom, a spare bedroom, and I should get a smaller bed because the bed takes up most of the room, but I use it as my design wall. I don't have an actual design wall and so a lot when I'm designing quilts or when I'm sewing them, I usually am laying them out on the bed and that way, even though it's not straight up and down for me to stand back and look at, it still does give me a good idea of what a quilt is going to look like laying on the bed, so it has function even though the bed's in the way. It still functions for me as a place that I can try my designs out and see how I think they're going to look when they're done. I have a Pfaff sewing machine and I have just a little kind of a desk that it sits on, and then I have my stash in the closets and in the room next to it, so I'm running back and forth getting fabric to try out.

TF: So, when you design quilts yourself, do you use graph paper or a computer program or do you just start throwing things up on the bed to see how they look together? What do you do?

PC: First of all, I usually get the design and I've done the electronic--I have--what is it? The electronic version of designing quilts?

TF: EQ [Electric Quilt.]?

PC: Yes, EQ5, I have. I haven't gotten the new one, the EQ6, yet. And I've tried that, and I have designed some blocks, but I've never actually sewn them. I've just kind of played with them. Then I've also taken a class online with RaNae Merrill on spirals, and that was really a good class, and she had some things online, some patterns and things like that, that I used. And then she showed us how to draw our own shapes and then to draw the spirals inside the different shapes, the pentagons, the octagons, whatever number of sides you want to start with and how to make spirals in all those different numbers of sides of objects. Let's see, so I get the design usually, sometimes it's a pattern, sometimes I change it a little bit or tweak it a little bit, and then once I've got the design, then I start going through my stash and trying to pull fabrics together. And I'll just have like a pile of fabrics on the bed, and I'll just be pulling different ones out and laying them beside each other to see if I like how that goes. And that's basically how. I think getting the right fabrics that go together, for me, is really what makes a good quilt because I think the colors should blend with each other and I think they should go with each other without fighting each other, and then also that they shouldn't be--the designs that are in there shouldn't be fighting with other designs in there, either. They should blend and somehow be pleasing to the eye overall. So that's kind of how I do that.

TF: What's your favorite part of quilt making?

PC: I think color selection, fabric selection is probably my favorite part. I love working with the different fabric designs or fabric colors and pulling them all together and coming up with something that's pleasing to the eye. I especially like my coneflower quilt that I did [indicating.], because I like how it just blends together.

TF: It really sparkles. What's your least favorite part of quilt making?

PC: My least favorite part is the doing the actual quilting, I think. That's the thing that I feel I'm the worst at. I quilted a whole quilt, lap quilted it, and I do have a big frame but I've never put it together because I'm just like, 'Oh, if I put it up, I need to--' I hate to put up a big frame and then have it standing there and me not working on it because I'm just gone all the time, going to my meetings and stuff, and so that quilt, I did as a lap quilt, but it took me twenty years to finish it. [TF laughs] It's all hand quilted. Once I got that done, I just said, 'Never again. I'm not going to do a big quilt like that and hand quilt it.' But someday if I have time, maybe I will. I wish I could be better at machine quilting. A lot of my quilts, the big ones, I take them to people and have them quilt my quilts because I just don't have the facilities to do a big quilt on my sewing machine. I like the smaller quilts anymore; I like doing just the smaller size quilts because I can handle those on my sewing machine. And I'm getting better all the time. I learned a lot from helping with the judging at the quilt show this year, from Scott Murkin, because he really, I think, does beautiful quilting and he really stressed that you need to have the quilting equally distributed over the surface of the quilt. And I guess I never really realized that it needed to be quilted as much as he really recommends that it be quilted, but he really likes to see the whole quilt covered somehow with quilting.

TF: You are, I know, really busy in your community and with your family and then also you manage to make a staggering number of quilts. How do you manage your time?

PC: Well, I take one day at a time. I have my calendar and every day I have the meetings that I know I have to go to, and I work my eight hours every day and then I have my Legion Auxiliary, and that's a county meeting and local meeting. I have women's club and my MCDA meetings. That's Moville Community Development Association, which we've been working this past eighteen months to bring a grocery store back to Moville, and that has meant meetings every single Tuesday night plus working in the store, trying to do things to get the store ready. And when I have a commitment, I go do my commitment, and then when I get home, if I'm not too exhausted, then I go and quilt, or on the weekends when I have time, I'll maybe just set aside one whole day or one whole weekend and just quilt.

TF: About how much time do you think you spend every week quilting?

PC: Some weeks, none. Some weeks, maybe a couple of hours. And then it just depends on how much free time I have. Then other times, maybe I would get in--when I was working on this quilt, I was working like four hours a day through the week, and then on the weekends if I could. But it just depends on if I have a goal. If I have a goal and I know I have to get it done, then I know that I have to stay up late or I have to spend more time working on the weekends and maybe my house is not going to get cleaned as good as it should or maybe I'm not going to have so many baked things for Sunday dinner when my family comes for dinner. Things suffer a little bit when I'm doing quilting, and my husband always tells me that he's so neglected when I'm quilting because he doesn't eat very well. [laughs.] But I don't see him losing that much weight. [TF laughs.] I don't know, I just try to compartmentalize and just try to work toward goals that I have and try to finish them. And I try to set goals for myself in quilting, too, because when we have a quilt show coming up or when we have a project that we need to get done, I try to say, 'Okay, by two months from today, I'm going to have this quilt finished.' And then if I have that to work towards, I can usually make myself do it.

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

PC: No, not really, because I went through a really difficult time in my life when my husband had lost his job. He was president of a bank in Galva, and he had lost his job, and for nine years he didn't have a job and I didn't have a job at that time, either. I was staying at home with our three children. And I discovered that I had to really buck up and I ended up working three jobs to keep food on the table and to just keep us going and so that we didn't lose our house. At that time, we had just bought this house. And we continued to be able to make our payments, I don't know how. But I just did not have time to quilt because I was working every spare moment and when I wasn't working, I was trying to attend my children's sports and functions and things like that, and that was a real dead time in my life for quilting because I just didn't have the time. I have to be in the mood to quilt. I have to be up, and I have to feel happy and contented, and when I'm feeling really down, I'm not very creative and I just, I don't know, I just want to sit on the couch and just do nothing.

TF: What do you think about the importance of quilts in the lives of American women?

PC: I think that it is a tribute to American women that quilt. It's a tribute to their creativity and their productivity that they can live their lives and function in society and still have time to create beautiful things in their lives.

TF: What does quilt making mean for you?

PC: For me, it's a creative outlet. It's a source of joy for me. I love to see the beauty that comes from what people create, and I think that it will be my legacy someday, and I hope that my children will have an appreciation for quilting. I know none of them really do have a whole lot of appreciation for quilting because they don't do it themselves, but I hope that they will realize the importance that quilting had in my life and that they will at least save one each of my quilts as something, a part of me that will go on in the future.

TF: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing today's quiltmakers?

PC: I think the biggest challenge is trying to learn all of--trying to stay up on all of the new innovations in quilting. There are so many things that are coming out that we have at our disposal that our ancestors never had, and it's--I think it's important that we need to try some of those things, if we're interested in them. Some people are very classical quilters, and they don't really care about trying those things; they'd just rather do the old, regular blocks. But I think that it's a challenge for those women that do, that are very creative and that want to be innovative in their quilting, I think that it's a challenge to stay on top of it because there's just new things coming out all the time. And there's not always a lot--like if you buy the packages of some of these different paints and glitters and things like that, they don't have a whole lot of direction on them on how to use them, and so it's a lot of experimentation to just play with things and see what it will do, and then it's up to you to figure out how you're going to incorporate that into your quilting and your designing.

TF: How do you think we can preserve quilt making and keep it going forward?

PC: I think that guilds across the country will have a big effect on keeping people interested in quilting and in keeping quilting going. A lot of people are able to do quilting on their own, and they're just perfectly happy to be creative in their own homes and do quilting, but I really think that the Guild really promotes quilting by having the quilt shows every year. It gets it out there to the public that people are doing this craft and it allows people to see how artistic our members are, and I think it inspires other people that maybe have never tried quilting before to say, 'Oh, wow, I want to try that.' I think that's probably one of the neatest things that our Guild does is have our quilt shows every other year, because it does share what we've been doing throughout the year in making our quilts and hopefully it will inspire other people to join us or to pick up and learn quilting that have never had an interest in it before.

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

PC: I think that I would like to be able to go to Houston or to Paducah or some of the really big quilt shows sometimes. I did get to go to the one in Minneapolis, and that was really amazing to me, and I am planning on going again this year to the one in Des Moines, the quilt show in Des Moines, the AQS [American Quilter's Society.] show. I love going to those because not only do you get to see so many different quilts, but the vendors have such an array of new products and they're demonstrating them at those things. And I think that those big shows are really helpful in furthering quilting, also, to the people who quilt but I'm sure there's people that go to those that maybe haven't quilted very much yet, and I think that those big shows can also do a lot to further quilting in our society.

TF: Anything else?

PC: Not that I can think of.

TF: Well, I want to thank you, Pam, for letting me interview you for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, and we're going to conclude our interview at 3:43 p.m.

PC: That went fast.


“Pam Clark,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,