Judith Robinette




Judith Robinette




Judith Robinette


Carol Klopfenstein

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Winfield, Iowa


Judith Robinette


Note: Judith Robinette is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Carol Klopfenstein (CK): This is Carol Klopfenstein. It is January 17th, 2009, at 1:35 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Judith Robinette in my home in Winfield, Iowa, for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Iowa State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Judith lives here in Winfield, Iowa. Judith, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Judith Robinette (JR): It's an historic railroad quilt of days gone by.

CK: Does your quilt have a name?

JR: Yes, "Tribute to Abraham."

CK: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

JR: It's the only quilt I've ever made.

CK: Tell me about your quilt.

JR: I've always thought of my quilt in five sections. The first section is the pillow area. It's the full width across the top with an allowance for tuck-under. The next section is the bed top. Then, there's the left skirt, right skirt, and bottom skirt.

Prominent on the pillow area are zephyrs. On the side overhangs are leading C. B. & Q. [Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad.] depots: Chicago [Illinois.], Burlington [Iowa.], Quincy [Illinois.], Rock Island [Illinois.], and Aurora [Illinois.], which has the largest railroad shops in the nation, the second largest being the West Burlington [Iowa.] Shops. Also on the left overhang is a photo of my grandparents boarding a train in Burlington [Iowa.] for Denver [Colorado.]. There are a couple posters regarding train travel. On the right overhang, I didn't want to overlook the railroad workers, so I included photos of a fireman, a welder, and a signalman, and a photo of a couple yardmen synchronizing their watches.

On the bed-top, below the pillow area, I created a C. B. & Q. sign. [Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad.] Beneath it are photos of the West Burlington Shops. They include photos of my grandfather, Abraham Winkler, fellow workers, and the Aeolus, which was the world's first stainless steel steam locomotive. It was built at the shops [West Burlington C. B. & Q. Shops] and presented to the world in 1937. Also displayed in this area are menus from the dining cars, a land sale bill, and two railroad crossing signs, also my grandfather's 55 years of service pin.

On the lower half of the bed top, I created a Burlington Route sign and surrounded it with bridges familiar to Midwesterners, especially southeast Iowans, and I surrounded the bridges with vintage postcards of trains.

Around this top section is a 2-inch red border.

The skirts around the red border are all vintage postcards of depots, 90% of them Iowa depots. Four rows of colored depots, bottomed by two rows of sepia depots, form the skirts.

Then the whole quilt is generously sprinkled with railroad memorabilia.

I surrounded three sides of my quilt with a railroad track. I had a tough time with the two bottom corners until I realized I was going to have to round them. I used a dinner plate, thanks to a hint from my friend, Rose Custer, I rounded a vintage depot on each bottom corner. Of course, rounding these corners meant I would have to create my binding on the bias. Oh, well.

CK: Why did you decide to make this particular quilt?

JR: It's been a couple years ago a member of a Winfield [Iowa.] quilt club called and asked if they could copy a few of my vintage Winfield [Iowa.] postcards to put on a quilt they were going to auction off Crooked Creek Days 2007. In the end, I printed twelve postcards on Printed Treasures, which is a technology I had never heard of. Later, I thought of the folder on my computer where I file postcards of the C. B. & Q. [Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.] Railroad and depots and it occurred to me they would make an interesting and colorful quilt. The next thought that popped into my head was I would make a quilt. The architecture of old depots always fascinated me. They were magnificent and highly individualized and many-colored postcards from their hey-day survived. After sorting and culling, a about a hundred and forty colored postcards of depots, eighty depots in sepia, twenty of bridges, and thirty or more of trains made it onto the quilt, plus there were the West Burlington [Iowa.] Shop photos, miscellaneous cards and photos of railroad paraphernalia.

CK: Then, did you machine quilt?

JR: Yes, I used my Singer sewing machine to create the top. The long arm quilting was done by Cathy Hopkins, owner of Quilters Paradise [Mt Pleasant, Iowa.]. I took it to her in five sections. On the skirts, she straight stitched in the center of the strips that connected the depots, then she stitched around the photos on the bed-top and stippled the pillow area and tuck under. I embroidered around the shop photos, the animals and some of the memorabilia. I did a lot by hand on the back and on the railroad track.

CK: Well, how did you learn to quilt?

JR: I got my first sewing machine when I was five years old. It was in a small, black case. The top lifted off and exposed a little, hand crank Singer sewing machine. It looked a lot like the machines women had back then; it was black with gold decorations. I was really impressed! I sewed doll clothes, using scraps I begged from all the old ladies around me, especially denim, as my dolls were boys. I made them overalls and jackets. Of course, I had no patterns, so I'd just drape a scrap around the doll and cut away with my little scissors.

In middle school I had the usual Home Economics, and Sewing I & II, then Tailoring and Advanced Tailoring. In my teen years, it became a necessity to sew for myself due to my height. I couldn't buy off the rack. All my teachers were from the old school, they were in their eighties, so I was made to study fabric in a little more depth than I cared to at the time. I survived, but it left me with champagne taste for fabric. For years, if I happened to see a dress made of great fabric, size didn't matter. I'd buy it and cut it down. The largest dress I ever bought and cut down was a Size 40, or maybe it was a Size 24. Anyway, it had a 4 in it, and it wasn't a 4 or a 14. So, how did I learn to quilt? I learned to quilt making this quilt. Ah, I'm sixty-eight years old. My interest in vintage postcards, computer experience and having the equipment and software to scan and doctor the photos, then learning of Printed Treasure technology, along with my Singer sewing machine - it all came together, melded, into this project.

CK: How wonderful. How did you choose the colors for the quilt?

JR: The postcards cued me. Those old postcards had the most beautiful skies and coloring. Some of the cards had those floating, white clouds, and they were all shades of blue. From the first, I wanted the postcards to appear as though they were on album pages. Album pages back then were black or dark brown. Some were cream, but that was just too tame. I didn't like the thought of black; so, I decided on chocolate brown. The most dramatic contrast I could think of, to go with the blues skies of the postcards, was a turquoise or aqua blue. So, my two dominant colors became brown and aqua blue. I knew exactly what kind of fabric and what blue I wanted, which made finding the aqua fabric really difficult. But I won't go into that, or our forty-five minutes will be gone. Let me just say, I found the blue in Phoenix. It was a bolt end of five yards and the total cost was $2.00.

CK: Wow, that was a deal. How did you decide how you would arrange so many postcards?

JR: I printed some grid papers and taped them together, so they were large enough for, oh, like 120 inches by 120 inches. We're talking inches. I knew on the pillow area I wanted to feature the zephyrs of the C. B. & Q. [Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.] Also important, I wanted a generous tuck under. No shams. I wanted it all in one piece. I created a C. B. & Q. sign and centered it at the top of the bed-top area. And I did this all on my grid paper. Below it I placed my Tribute to Abraham photos, there nineteen shop photos, plus some railroad memorabilia. These photos were all different sizes; so, I couldn't assemble them in rows. I finally realized I would have to appliqué them on. In the end, I sewed frames on each of the photos and embroidered them on with the blanket stitch. The 4 inches by 6 inches postcards, I scanned, cropped, sized, and cleaned on my Dell XPS 400 and printed everything on my fancy Dell AIO 964 printer. I used three color and two black printer cartridges. I did my best to keep the photos the same resolution. If the card wasn't sharp and clear, I rejected it. And it broke my heart to dump a depot. So, I drew 4 x 6 blocks on my grid in rows, with an inch between, so the skirts were real simple to design.

CK: Please tell me more about the zephyr trains.

[19 second pause, JR takes a long drink of water.]

JR: Back in 1933 there was a gathering of top officers of the C. B. & Q. [Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.] Railroad, and they were discussing the new revolutionary train that they had under construction. As this gathering was breaking up, one of the officers remarked that the new train should have a good name because of the publicity it would undoubtedly receive. Another officer asked whether he had any suggestions and he replied that nothing suitable had occurred to him yet, but that he had been meaning to look up the last word in the dictionary because without any question this would certainly be the last word in passenger trains. Mr. Budd reached for his dictionary and soon began to laugh. The last word was zymurgy. Z-y-m-u-r-g-y. The definition was: the practice or art of fermentation, as in winemaking, brewing, distilling, etc. Looking in another dictionary didn't produce any better result: zyzzle. Z-y-z-z-l-e, definition: to stutter, which if anything was less appropriate than zymurgy. But the man's suggestion set Mr. Budd to thinking. It so happened he had recently been rereading Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" in which the god of the west wind, Zephyrus, simplifies, excuse me, [laughs.] typifies renaissance. That was it. He reached for the phone, he called. He had a name to suggest which commenced with the last letter of the alphabet even if it wasn't exactly the final word in the dictionary. His suggestion: Zephyr. Thus, a name was born, and the new train still in the early stages of construction became known as the Burlington Zephyr.

A letter around July 11th, 1933, to directors summarized developments. An order had been placed for a diesel driven stainless steel train capable of traveling at a speed of 120 miles per hour. The train would be comprised of three cars, isn't that short, three cars?

CK: Mercy.

JR: Built as an articulated unit along aerodynamic lines, it would weigh about 169,000 pounds, and have a total seating capacity of 70. The first car would contain the motor, baggage and mail compartment; the second car, baggage and express, with a buffet and smoking compartment in the rear to seat 19 passengers. The third car would be entirely devoted to seating space with a capacity of 51, which includes 12 parlor chairs. The overall length of the train would be approximately 196 feet, and the estimated cost was $200,000.

On April 7, 1934, The Burlington Zephyr rolled out of the E. G. Budd shops and on April 17, the spanking-new train was turned over to the C. B. & Q. It was christened the following day before a galaxy of industrialists with a bottle of champagne on the head end in traditional style. The Burlington Zephyr was a fact as well as a name.

After the ceremony, the little train was exhibited across the country. It toured thirty eastern cities, covered 3,000 miles, and attracted 380,000 people. Then it visited sixteen cities in Burlington territory to 105,000 enthusiastic people. Budd was so confident he arranged with Century of Progress officials to have the Zephyr leave Denver at dawn and arrive on the stage of the World's Fair on the shore of Lake Michigan at dusk, as the grand climax of the transportation pageant, "Wings of Century." The regular Denver-Chicago run at that time took twenty-six hours.

At 5:05 a.m., on May 26th, 1934, the Zephyr rolled out of Denver on its way east to the World's Fair in Chicago. As the little train roared through villages and towns, and even out in the open country, it seemed as though the entire population had turned out to watch it glide by. On that ride, May 26, 1934, the non-stop run from Denver to Chicago (1,015 miles) was made in 785 minutes. They quickly ordered a pair of similar trains.

In October 1935, a fourth train was added and christened the Mark Twain Zephyr. In November 1935, the original Zephyr was officially renamed the Pioneer Zephyr to distinguish it from the two new Twin City zephyrs. Later in 1934, the Pioneer Zephyr went to Hollywood to star in the film Silver Streak.

The largest photo on my quilt is in the center of the pillow area. The retired Pioneer Zephyr sits on a temporary pad outside Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. This magnificent structure was originally constructed as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 Colombian Exposition. In the early 1900s, it housed the Field Museum. It opened in 1933 as the Museum of Science and Industry. Years went by, after a lot of planning and funding, a monstrous pit was prepared, and hundreds of Chicagoans gathered to watch huge cranes lower the fully restored Pioneer Zephyr down into its final resting place as a permanent exhibit. Today you can go on-line at www.msi.com and take a Virtual Tour of the Pioneer Zephyr. To the left of this center photo, the Pioneer Zephyr sits at the Burlington, Iowa platform. The red neon sign atop the Hotel Burlington can be seen in the distance. To the right of center, on my quilt, the Mark Twain Zephyr streaks in from the west. The Mark Twain has not been restored. For a while the Mark Twain sat at Old Threshers in Mt Pleasant, Iowa, but for some reason, probably financial, it did not get restored and was moved to Granite City, Illinois, in a downtown redevelopment effort.

CK: Well, thank you, Judith, for sharing all that wonderful historical information. I'm wondering, how you chose the border for your quilt?

JR: I wanted to create the look of railroad tracks around three sides. A year or so ago a friend of mine, Orin "Bub" Kepper, who has since passed away, spoke at Winfield's annual Railroad Day of his boyhood days with the railroad bisecting the family farm. He told how their turkeys would fly over the fence and get on the tracks. How, when the engines stopped and the men would climb down and shoo the turkeys off the track, a few turkeys would fly up on the cars and ride away to Washington [Iowa]. He said the railroad always claimed they returned all the birds on the return trip, but he just knew they enjoyed free turkeys for Sunday dinners. He also told how he and every other kid would place pennies on the tracks to be flattened by the next passing train. So, I decided to place a turkey and a penny on the tracks in Bub's memory. I scanned a new penny and changed the date on it to 1919, the year my mother was born. That got me started. I was off and running on the internet. I wanted to memorialize the animals hauled by train to market. I had to find photos of a turkey, cow, pig, sheep, goat, and chicken and they had to be looking straight at the camera, without too many legs and tails to appliqué. Well, it was just so much fun, I decided to include the small wild animals that haunted the tracks for spilled grain and warmth: the skunk, raccoon, and fox. I blanket stitched all of them on the tracks, here and there, around the bottom of the quilt. With the quilt this close to done, I let visitors see it. The Werner's, Raymond and Ruthe, stopped in when the goat was just pinned on. I hadn't embroidered him on yet. Raymond looked at it and started to recite a vintage poem about Old Bill Grogen's Goat but couldn't remember all the words. As soon as they left, I flew to my computer and found the poem on-line. I created a special tag with the goat and the poem on it. I embroidered it on the quilt then made it look like the goat's leg was tied to the railroad track with a braided rope of embroidery thread.

CK: That's so interesting how you chose the animals and placed them on the tracks. I wonder also how you created the look of the mounting corners on each of the postcards. I noticed each postcard has that mounting corner on it, so please tell me how you did that.

JR: I hate to sound repetitive, but I wanted to have a look of vintage postcards on album pages, and I remembered the mounting corners that were pasted on, how you had to paste them on back then. With my Corel Photo software, I created a photo transparency, a little jpeg, of a little mounting corner, I sized it, and tested it out on one of the postcards and, hey, it looked really cool. Until I realized I was going to have to a rotate it four times on every postcard. Whew, time consuming, but all the while I kept reminding myself at least I didn't have to use messy glue. Most of the corners matched up, but some are a bit off. But anyway, it does give the appearance of vintage postcards in an album.

CK: Oh, yes, it looks great. What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

JR: I wouldn't want to know. [laughs.] That I had a lot of time on my hands? Or maybe they look at it and saw I must have had a great love for my grandfather. And I do.

CK: Well, I certainly agree with that. It's a very nice tribute to your grandfather. Now, what are your plans for this quilt?

JR: I created it more or less as an heirloom. And I do hope that it lasts a long time.

CK: I'm wondering just what size is your quilt? It seems quite large.

JR: Yeah, [laughs.], I was wondering, too. Size wise, never having made a quilt before, I didn't have a clue. You know, I worried I was exceeding a limit or something, so I went on eBay and looked for the measurements of the quilts that they were auctioning off. After a bit, I found a king-size quilt listed that measured 126 inches by 126 inches. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief, because my quilt came in at 120 inches by 120 inches. So, I guess it is a king-size. [laughs.]

CK: Yes, I guess that's pretty close. Are, are there other quilt makers among your family or your friends? If so, please tell me about them.

JR: None in my family, but I have neighbors and other women around Winfield, Iowa, my town, and there are a couple of quilt clubs in town. I have one, well one or two, neighbors who belong to one or the other of these clubs. One neighbor, when she finishes a quilt, she makes a special point to bring it over to show me. She's a perfectionist. She makes beautiful, beautiful quilts and everything lines up perfectly on her quilts and that would be Verna Quinlin.

CK: Tell me, did you have any amusing experience that might have occurred while you were doing the quilt?

JR: Well, it wasn't really amusing at the time. But, in the shop photos, there's a vintage map of the railroads. Late one evening, I placed it on and blanket stitched it. The next morning, I was just studying my quilt and I couldn't find Winfield [Iowa.] on the map, where it was supposed to be. I stared and I stared. Finally, it sunk in I had embroidered the map on upside down. [laughs.] So, I had to take it all off and redo it. Another thing that comes to mind, that I found amusing. My light fixture in the dining room is an old vintage chandelier and it doesn't give off a lot of light. Evenings bugged me because the light grew worse with each passing hour, and I was on a roll. Finally, I complained to my husband. He said, 'Hey, I have those lights out in the garage,' so he brought in two big tripods that had a bar across the top with three big lights on each of them. I think he said he increased my wattage by a thousand. It was almost too much; they practically blinded me and did nothing for my décor. Big, old, yellow-orange bars. [laughs.] But the bars across the top made fantastic hangers for all my rows of depots. I was drowning in depots, eighteen long rows, so I draped them all over the bars. I tried to keep what went where together, left, right and bottom. From the beginning, I hadn't told anyone I was making a quilt, because I didn't want any input. I kept a king-size sheet handy in case someone stopped by. I would cover the whole thing, the whole dining room table with the sheet, including the sewing machine. It got more difficult with time. Finally, with depots hanging all over the room, the jig was up. I had a couple drop-ins. Just the look on their face, them gaping at all these strips of depots, hanging here and there around the room, it was amusing. My husband always says I have a sadistic sense of humor. [laughs.] I knew they didn't have a clue how all this was going to go together [laughs.] and I didn't either.

CK: How long did it take you to complete such a large project?

JR: I probably spent a year working on the vintage postcards on my computer. Some old postcards had a space at one end where people could start their message, and of course, this made the photo smaller. I didn't want a bunch of blank spots. I needed to keep the size and resolution as close as possible. If resizing blurred a photo, then they didn't make it onto the quilt. I worked with the cards, enhanced what I could, cleaned up all the dirt, scratches, cracks and tear marks, some cards had black ink from postal cancellations, some had corners gone, this and that and the other. So, I probably spent a good year working on the photos. I was always looking for more. There were always more towns I didn't have, that I was on the hunt for.

CK: Oh, sure.

JR: And when I was coming down to the wire, I put out the word. There are a few depots that came to me after everything was laid out and it was impossible to make adjustments, and I considered them important enough to add to the back of the quilt, for instance, Bill [Klopfensteins.] brought me Crawfordsville.

CK: Yes, well, that was nice you could add it on the quilt.

JR: And then a classmate of mine, LaVerne Sandberg, sent me a good one of his aunts on the platform at the West Burlington [Iowas.] Depot.

And then of course I put my signature card, which was an old Winfield card, I can't remember the date on it. It was like1901 or 11 or something like that. I cleaned it all off and put a brief synopsis of my grandfather's fifty-five-year career at the C. B. & Q. Shops. So that was the way I signed it.

CK: Oh, that was a very good idea. So, then you say the total time of you planning and then quilting, to complete it was probably a couple years?

JR: When we took the AMTRAK to Arizona in October, I was still looking for the aqua material. That means I hadn't started assembling. When we left home, all the photos were printed, including most of the animals. After we came back, I probably started again in mid-November. I wanted to finish the quilt so I could display it Railroad Day. Winfield [Iowa.] holds their annual Railroad Day on President's Day, in February. As President's Day drew near, I knew there was no way was I going to have the quilt done in time. And then the day before President's Day there was an ice storm. Lo and behold, Railroad Day was cancelled. That was the end of that deadline. I got the quilt done, to my satisfaction, in time for the State Fair, which was in August of 2008.

CK: What did you find pleasing about quilt making?

JR: Well, what did I find pleasing? The thing that pleased me most was to see these colorful vintage postcards spit out of my printer. Actually, by printing the postcards, I created my own fabric, because there was more fabric in the postcards than in the strips, I used to join them. Of course, I used a lot of the aqua fabric on the bed top. But, no, what pleased me most was creating my own fabric.

CK: What aspect of quilt making did you not enjoy?

JR: [laughs.] I didn't enjoy it when the mounting corners wouldn't line up perfectly. [laughs.] And, I hadn't ironed so much in years. [laughs.]

CK: Well, it's obvious that the advances in technology certainly influenced your work and I guess you have mentioned your computer. Is there anything else you want to say about it?

JR: Yes, the Printed Treasures by Milliken & Company are amazing. These paper backed sheets, 200 thread-count white cotton, feed through an ink jet printer just like regular printer paper. On the package they come in it states: three easy steps, print, peel and sew. Keeping the postcards their original size, I was able to print two per sheet. Each sheet costs $2.00; therefore, each photo cost me a dollar.

CK: Describe your studio or the place where you create, when you work in your home.

JR: Well, believe it or not, my only workspace was my dining room table. It's a large table. There were different people, when they found out I was getting to the point where I was putting the three layers together, one lady offered me the use of a quilting frame. I thought about it. I went on-line and read how you set it up and how you use it and the whole thing just boggled my mind. So, I ended up doing everything on my tabletop. Of course, this meant we had to eat our meals on the little table in the kitchen.

CK: And that went on for quite a while. [laughs.] I guess you've already covered how you designed your quilt. Is there anything else that you want to say about the grid papers and how you actually planned the quilt?

JR: Well, yeah, my only tools were my Fiskars, a ruler, a little piece of cardboard that turned out to be my favorite measurer, and my Singer sewing machine. No way was I going the rotary route. I probably would have lost a few fingers. [laughs.]

CK: What was most important to you to achieve in your design?

JR: Most important was for it to be colorful. That was number one. And I have a lot of color in the depot cards. As for the design, from the very beginning, I wanted an impressive spread of Zephyrs across the pillow area, and I wanted a generous tuck-under. I think that was it, the color and the Zephyrs, and I wanted it to scream railroads, depots, and C. B. & Q.

CK: Well, I think you certainly accomplished that, you did a good job of designing and including everything you were wishing for. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JR: Originality. I think, yes, just originality.

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

JR: Well it's really nice if there's something of interest for everyone. One woman who saw the quilt said, 'Finally, a quilt men will look at.' I included some cartoon railroad cards, because I knew not everyone was as interested in depots as I was, so I wanted to lighten it up a bit. There's one showing a railroad car packed with people and the conductor is trying to shove another passenger onto the train and it says, 'Always room for one more!' Then I added an exaggeration card. Because, you know, one of the railroads' important duties was to haul things to market. So, I chose one indicative of Iowa. It shows a low railroad car. I don't know what you call those low cars, loaded down with giant ears of corn. They had exaggeration cards of great big giant tomatoes going to market, and onions, etc., just all kinds of funny things like that.

CK: I believe I saw a recipe on your quilt, too, that you had a recipe from the railroad.

JR: Yes, that was the interior of a dining car with a recipe of their [Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.] infamous Thousand Island Dressing. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm going to. It says it will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Also, in that same area on the quilt there is a land sale bill. They used to take these bills around and tack them up on town bulletin boards and at the hotels, etc., around the country and back east. This bill was for the sale of Iowa & Nebraska land. It had everything on there to entice settlers to come, low interest, ten years to pay, free hotel room, just all kinds of things. In those days the railroad was--well, the C. B. & Q. [Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.] always fared pretty well - but the rest of the railroads were pretty much bankrupt. The government had issued them [the railroads.] land grants. That was their only source of money, except for bonds or borrowing, and they were about borrowed out, was to sell some of this land, to keep them going. So, there's a land sale bill on the quilt. That should be of interest to farmers and realtors, don't you think? [laughs.]

CK: Oh, yes. I think that's great. [laughs.]

JR: I know our one local realtor was interested. [laughs.]

CK: Well, that's good that you included all of that. Which artists have influenced you?

JR: I'd have to say the architects. The old depots were so fine, so unique. They didn't use a cookie cutter. Even some of the smaller ones [depots.] would have their gingerbread or this and that to make them unique, too. I also included on the quilt depots of large cities Midwesterners would visit, such as Chicago. I have Union Station and Grand Central. Then there's Washington, D.C., Boston, St Louis, Kansas City, Wichita, Omaha, Denver, sounds like a song, doesn't it, [laughs.] the big depots. I have some interiors. I even have a postcard of the underground tunnel in Detroit. All of these structures were just out of this world. One thing that just cracked me up, years ago, in Union Station in Chicago. We'd [me, my grandmother, and my brother, Nathan.] ride the Pioneer Zephyr to Chicago quite often to shop. I was going into the restroom in Union Station. You had to pay to get into the stalls. A woman with three little kids was putting money in a door and it wasn't a stall door. She put in lots of coins. When she opened the door, I couldn't believe my eyes. There was a bathtub. She was going to bath those kids before they caught the next train. So, those depots were just something else.

CK: Well, you certainly have a wonderful history on your quilt. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting and what about longarm quilting?

JR: Machine quilting? In thinking about my quilt, I was leery of my hand quilting because I wanted it to last a long time. I felt machine quilting would be more secure. The longarm is good for patterns a lot of the women are doing nowadays, but I don't have an interest in a longarm machine myself.

CK: In what way does your quilt reflect your community or the region?

JR: I realize it's a by-gone era. But I live in the Midwest, where the majority of towns were either created or survived due to the railroad. The railroads created lots of jobs. My hometown, West Burlington, had the second largest railroad shop, so it was definitely a railroad town.

CK: Well, it certainly was. Have you or pictures of your quilt been published?

JR: Yes, in a couple local newspapers.

CK: Have you ever won an award?

JR: Yes, I entered my quilt in the Iowa State Fair and received a Judges Choice.

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

JR: I think of quilts as an art form, and art, of course, is very important.

CK: Do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

JR: Well, quilts used to be a necessity. They were family projects. They had to search for the materials. They used clothing that had been outgrown or was outdated, feed sacks, flour sacks, everything imaginable. They really needed quilts, for warmth. There are probably a few still quilting for this reason. But many women today are spending a lot of money-making quilts, buying new fabrics, not for warmth, but for aesthetics. But this makes for a lot of beautiful quilts.

CK: Oh, it certainly does. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JR: Some people don't intend for their quilts to last forever. They use them every day and launder them regularly. Especially, you know, they make a lot of quilts for children, and the children really love them because they know they're their very own special quilt. But if you make a quilt that you want to last as long as possible, it's important to store it correctly. I had a lot of advice on this. I mentioned to someone that I was going to hang it over a rod upstairs and cover it with plastic and they gasped, 'Oh, no. You can't store them in plastic because they have to breathe,' and this and that. So, I went online and asked an expert if I could use my cedar chest. They answered back, 'A cedar chest is a wonderful place to store an heirloom quilt, but make sure you put it in a Tyvek bag. Or wrap it in Tyvek and make sure the print is away from the quilt.' So, I bought me a large piece of Tyvek that has no print on it whatsoever and wrapped it up and I'm going to store it in my cedar chest.

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

JR: Well, [pause.] confronting quiltmakers today? With women working, I imagine the biggest challenge is just finding the time to quilt. And then, too, like I mentioned, quilt making has become a very expensive hobby. So, maybe, it depends upon their budget.

CK: Oh, sure.

JR: But they sure make some beautiful quilts.

CK: Oh, they certainly do. Is there anything else you'd like to add to this interview?

JR: Yes, I'd like to add a short list of important postcards. Let me just look at my notes here. There's one card, dated July 4, 1909, Court House moved by locomotive from Nevada to Ames, Iowa, it shows the court house being taken down the tracks; there's a postcard with a brief synopsis of 15 yr. old Kate Shelley, Moingona, Iowa and the Shelley Bridge that was renamed in her memory, and that's a really important thing if anyone wants to Goggle it – Kate Shelley; Galesburg C. B. & Q. Depot burning to the ground; Clinton, Iowa's. There's a card of the free canteen for servicemen. There's a card of C. B. & Q. Burlington, Iowa, Union Station burned to the ground, and I name the four employees who perished. There's a card of a Human Statue of Liberty formed by 18,000 Officers and Men at Camp Dodge, Des Moines, Iowa and they stand out on this cornfield, and I'm sure a lot of people have seen it with their uniforms it forms the Statue of Liberty.

CK: Awesome.

JR: I'm sure there's other things on there, but I can't think of them. There's china, lanterns, uniform buttons, badges, just all kinds of railroad paraphernalia. I can't think of anything else.

CK: You've been very interesting in your comments and explanation of this most unusual quilt. You certainly created a cloth record of an era, and I want to thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.

JR: I thank you.

CK: I'm going to conclude my interview with Judith Robinette, and it is now 2:16 p.m.


“Judith Robinette,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1707.