Alice Sommerville




Alice Sommerville




Alice Sommerville


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Glen Ellyn, Illinois


Karen Musgrave


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. Today is April 16th, 2003. It is 10:12 in the morning and I'm conducting an interview with Alice Sommerville for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I am doing this as a demonstration interview with the Glen Ellyn History Society Quilters Guild. So Alice, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Alice Sommerville (AS): Well I made this quilt for my parents' 70th wedding anniversary in 1998. My mother at the time was in a nursing home at Windsor Park. It was sort of on again off again whether she was going to live or not make it to the 70th so it sort of got started and stopped. Finally I thought no matter what happens I'll continue making it and two days before their 70th anniversary that we were having this party at Windsor Park, she perked up and enjoyed every minute of it. My mother was a person that no matter what I did and I don't do anything very great but my mother was my cheering section with everything I ever made she always said, 'Your grandmother would be so proud of you.' [laughs.] She had Alzheimer's but when I finished this and brought it to her room that was her remark. 'Your grandmother would be so proud of you.' So that's what I did. I made it on the computer using freezer paper with material--the muslin to it [coughing in the background.] and ran it through the printer so the pictures are printed right on the cloth itself; [coughing in the background.] it wasn't ironed on. Actually the material I got at JoAnn's Fabric, it was a panel that I cut out and embellished a little bit. So it starts with my parents when they were teenagers. This was just a little photograph. It was like 2 by 2 that we blew up on the scanner and their wedding picture which my mother always hated because the clothes got longer and she was always embarrassed to show it because it was a short dress but style came back. I wanted to tell young people that are in the audience to make sure you take pictures of your whole family. I went through everything and there is only one picture of my mom and dad, my brother and my sister and myself. My sister is just about cut off on the picture. And I couldn't find any other picture of the five of us at a young age. It goes on to their 20th anniversary, their 25th anniversary, their 40th and their 50th and this was their 65th and that was a miracle too because they were in a terrible automobile accident and for five months we did not know whether she was going to live or die. And so that was a special time for us to celebrate that and their 70th. And this picture is of my mother's brother and my dad's sister which were at their 50th. And so it's some memories that I made into a quilt. It hung in my mother's room at the nursing home until she passed away that following February. Then my dad had it in his apartment at Windsor Park and then he had to go into the nursing home so the first thing he did when he got into his room he said, 'You have to hang that picture on my wall.' So it hung there. Now I'm sorry to say that it sits in the closet. That's about it. It's just memories of my parents' life. It was fun.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quilting.

AS: I got interested in quilting because Peg Sepanski from our church decided to start a group in 1987 or 1988 around there and asked a group of us ladies if we would like to start it. So we came and the first one was a sampler quilt which is sitting in one of my UFOs. It's not all quilted. It's all finished but it's not completely quilted and after I did it I thought, 'Why in the world did I pick those colors? They are not my colors. They were browns and--that's another reason I've never finished it. We get together once a week on Thursday morning and do different projects and a quilts--a signature quilt where everybody made a block for everybody else and signed it and gave it to them. We've just done a lot of projects and it's been a lot of fun. We call it our therapy group because [laughs.] we need each other and it's a great group. And the Glen Ellyn Historical Society started and somebody invited me to it and I've been coming here ever since so not quite from the beginning but almost from the beginning.

KM: So when did you start quilting?

AS: 1987. I hadn't done anything before that. My grandmother use to do quilting--not make quilts but she did crocheted a lot of things and she did the cross stitch. That was before counted cross stitch. She made quilt tops that way. And I'm sorry to say that I do not have any of them. Any of her work. I have no idea where all of it went. She did it and she showed me how to sew. I use to sew doll clothes and things like that.

KM: So what do you find pleasing about quilting?

AS: I think it is relaxing. It's fun to see something accomplished, to finish, that other people enjoy. I just enjoy it. It's a relaxing thing to do.

KM: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

AS: I don't know. I think I like it all. I like the piecing. [someone in the audience clears her throat.] I don't mind doing appliqué. I think appliqué is pretty. When we started our quilting group with our church group, we were purists. We did everything by hand. We sewed all our blocks by hand but we gradually started to use a machine to quilt so I like that but there are certain things that I'm not satisfied when you quilt it on the machine then when you quilt it by hand. It gives it a different look. I think I like all aspects of quilting.

KM: Me too. What do you think makes a great quilt?

AS: I don't know. I think the color. The personality of the person comes out in the quilts. I just enjoy them all. I enjoy the appliqué but I don't think I will ever make a Baltimore Album quilt. I think those are beautiful but I don't think I will ever have the patience. I think the personality of the person comes out in the quilts and we just finished a flannel quilt in our group. Although it was all the same pattern, they are all so different and I think your personality comes out.

KM: Was that because of the color selection?

AS: Yes.

KM: So what does this quilt say about your personality?

AS: Oh, my goodness.

KM: You opened the door.

AS: [laughs.] I don't know what it says about my personality. I would like to do more of this kind of quilt for my children.

KM: Photo transfer quilt?

AS: Yeah. I would like to make more. I don't know what it says about my personality. I just like to do fun things.

KM: Tell me more about the method you used to transfer them on--the pictures on. Did you treat the fabric? Did you buy treated fabric?

AS: No. This was--I didn't know too much about it when I did it.

KM: Okay.

AS: And I tried the different transfer paper but for some reason it wasn't coming out right and I didn't like the way came out and so my husband scanned on his scanner. And then we just decided to print it out on the printer straight on the fabric. I didn't do anything special to the fabric. I just--

KM: What kind of printer do you have?

AS: This was done on a--I have a different printer now. This one was done on an Epson--I guess an ink jet. We have a more sophisticated one now which we probably--I don't think with the printer we had that this could be washed. I don't know what washing would do to it. And I've since learned a lot about treating the fabric so that it stays more permanent. Back then I didn't--I just did it. I didn't think too much about it.

KM: And you machine quilted this?

AS: Yes. I just put little--it's yes, it's all machine quilted.

KM: And these are embroidered?

AS: Just with my machine. Everything is done on the machine. Their anniversary was coming up and most of the time I spent at the nursing home and it was sort of done fast.

KM: It's very nice.

AS: It was done sort of as an after thought after the party was planned. It was fun.

KM: Why is quilting important to your life?

AS: Why is quilting--it was very important with our group at church. Like I say it is our therapy group because of circumstances that happened at home. My mother-in-law had to move in with us and she wasn't well and of course moved in and it was an escape--the quilting and be with the ladies. It's just--I don't know, it's a relaxing thing to do with the quilting and our group as been very helpful to me and to many of the others in group when things come up. We come every week and forget about the world and we just for those few hours it's talking about quilting. And I've turned into a fabricaholic. [laughs and audience joins her.] I could open a store. [more laughing.] Everywhere I go I have to buy fabric. I can tell you all the quilt stores from here to Oklahoma City and back. [more laughing.] Wichita, Kansas. There are some neat shops out in the middle of the country. It's really fascinating to go to. These quilt shops when you go to them they are so nice. They are interested in what you are doing and helpful and I don't think I have ever been in a quilt shop that people haven't been helpful and willing to give of their knowledge. There's a quilt shop in Overbrook, Kansas. It sits out in the farm field. It's between Kansas City and Wichita but you have to go out of your way to it but it's the loveliest shop and it sits out in the middle of nowhere. And they let you take pictures of other quilts. They say, 'Bring your camera and take pictures.' So I have a stack full of things I want to make someday in my someday pile of pictures I've taken. I just enjoy. [coughing in the background.]

KM: So what are you working on right now?

AS: Right now I'm working on a wall hanging for my granddaughters that has to be done before Easter. We just finished the one quilt at church and we're getting started on making one for our pastor. We're just starting to make six inch blocks for that quilt. That's our next big project.

KM: Do you do a lot of big projects? Group projects?

AS: We have made quilts for all our pastors and associate pastors. We've made the signature quilts. I think that's all the big quilts. Most of them have been throws and things like that. Oh, we made a crazy quilt. I didn't finish mine. I have too many things in progress. The ladies that did finish them, it was beautiful. They turned out beautiful. That's what we are doing right now.

KM: Do you make quilts for family members?

AS: I haven't. I've started some and haven't finished them but little things. Wall hangings and things like that I've given and our group has done. We've done dolls and I've given that away. And this group we've done sweatshirts. Catherine [Ryehtarik.] showed us how to do a snowman last year so I made all of those for the girls in the family. Girls meaning my daughters-in-law and granddaughters. And this year it was bunnies and so that was a cute project.

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

AS: Probably what you're doing. I have a quilt at home that I know nothing about other than I was able to ask my mother before her Alzheimer's got too bad where the quilt came from and she said that a neighbor had made it for my great-grandmother. But other than that I know nothing about it and so I think it is great to put labels on it.

KM: I noticed you had a label on this one, right?

AS: Yes.

KM: Do you label all your quilts?

AS: Yes.

KM: Good.

AS: Yes. The wall hangings and everything I do that- what they are and the names.

KM: Good.

AS: That's the only way that they can be handed down in the family. I don't know if they will be but at least they know when they were made and title.

KM: What information do you put on your label?

AS: I put the name of the pattern, the date I made it and if it is to somebody, I say who it is to and my name.

KM: Good. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

AS: Oh, yeah, as I said with our group I look forward to that Thursday morning every week. Yes.

KM: So how many people are in your group?

AS: I think there is 10 of us right now. A couple have moved away. A few have gotten ill and not be able to come for a while so I think we are down to 10. A lot of us have been together from the beginning some have come in and out and in between. Some have moved on. It's a very nice group.

KM: How many hours a week do you think you quilt?

AS: Not as much as I would like to. The last couple of weeks as I'm trying to get Easter projects done, I've been quilting a lot everyday to get it done but basically only a few hours every week. Life gets very busy. I'd like to sit and just cut the world out and quilt but I can't do that.

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

AS: Oh, I think it tells us a lot. We were at the Smithsonian several years ago and the quilt display that they had just like you showed on the slides today that these types of quilts that people were making in the 1880's was just and the colors it's just so interesting in the different parts of the country. The difference in the quilts and how pioneer ladies did their quilting. I love stories about quilts and going through the country and how they did it. There is a series of books, I can't think of the name of them for children, I bought them for my granddaughter and I bought a set for myself. So last summer we read through the series of books and it's all about quilts and Illinois. And she just told me yesterday when I talked to her that she was starting to reread the books.

KM: How old is she?

AS: Well now she's 14 but she likes reading those quilt stories ["American Quilts" by Susan E. Kirby-4 book series.]. I told her, 'Well they are a story but they are still true because they are about Illinois [coughing in the background.] and Lincoln's time.' I told her we were on trip and we passed Funks Grove in Illinois just outside of Springfield and she was excited that it was a real place. She said, 'Oh, so this is real.' And I said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'There's truth to it and fiction at the same time.' If she lived closer I'd get her interested in quilts but she lives too far away.

KM: Is there anybody in your family that also quilts?

AS: No. Nobody else quilts. Maybe someday I'll get my four year old granddaughter I'll get her to start it. [laughs.] I don't know. No, nobody else quilted. I do have--I guess at one time. I don't know if my mother-in-law ever made a quilt. She never said that she did but going through her things I came across a shoe box and in it are quilt squares that she had obviously started and some paper patterns [someone in the audience clears her throat.] and things like that. I hope someday to make a collage or something. Do something with them. She's gone now so I don't know any history of it at all. I've never seen the box until after she passed away so I couldn't have asked her anything. So obviously she dabbled in it. Well she did. She made quilts for all the babies, for all the grandchildren. They all have their quilts from grandma. I know she did that much.

KM: What is your earliest memory of a quilt?

AS: Of a quilt? I went to a friend's house and it was winter. It was cold and we slept out on an enclosed porch and I remember her mother coming out and putting all these quilts over us to keep warm. I don't know how old I was. Maybe nine or something like that. When you start to sleepover. That's my earliest memory. That was great. I wished that we had them at home but we didn't. [laughs.]

KM: How do you think your quilts reflect your region of the country?

AS: Oh, my. [man clears throat in the audience.] I don't know. I know when I see some material here and when I travel some of the material you see other places but some you don't. Some when I ask about a certain material, they will say that they haven't seen it. I don't know how it reflects. It's just what Midwesterners do. Whatever happens to come up at the quilt shops that's what we do.

KM: Do you take a lot of classes?

AS: No, I've taken a few at the Cotton Cottage and I've taken one at Stitches n Stuffing. That's all. Not too many. When I wanted to learn how to machine quilt, it's a crazy story. When Sew Fro was in business, I took a machine quilting course and I wanted to learn how to machine quilt not how to do patchwork which is what we did. We got all these patches together and then she said, 'Now you can quilt it however you want.' So I paid $60 for this course that I wanted to learn how to machine quilt which I didn't learn how to do. Then I was going through a book that I had. A Singer sewing machine book that I had and I had had it for several years and flipping through it there was a quilting thing in it and this lady had taken this word for word out of that book. If you take her papers that and she put her name them it and so I paid $60 for a course that was sitting on my shelf. [laughs and so does the audience.] So that was funny.

KM: So where do you sew?

AS: Where do I sew? Oh I either sew in upstairs which turned into a computer/sewing room. Mostly computers right now. And the family room. I put my sewing machine up on the dining room table. I cut out the things on the kitchen counter because they are high. It doesn't break your back. So sort of all over the house. [laughs.]

KM: I want to thank you very much for sharing your quilt and yourself with me today.

AS: You're welcome.

KM: This is Karen Musgrave. I'm going to conclude my interview now. It is 10:37 on April 16th.

[tape ends.]



“Alice Sommerville,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,