Rebecca Yoder




Rebecca Yoder




Rebecca Yoder


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Chicago, Illinois


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave, and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Rebecca Yoder. We are at the American Indian Center in Chicago, Illinois. Today's date is December 10, 2008. It is now 1:40 in the afternoon. Rebecca, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your block that you selected today "Corn."

Rebecca Yoder (RY): I did this block for one of the three quilts that we are working on, "Herbs and Things." This quilt will feature plants and corn is the native plant and I'm very familiar with corn because I grew up in a rural part of Iowa where there are cornfields all around and my father also grew sweet corn in his garden so I'm very familiar with corn as a plant. Corn is a staple plant in food and native culture and in fact there is a native story of the three sisters and the three sisters represent the plant corn, squash, and beans. So, this is one of the three sisters' plants.

KM: Tell me about how you decided to put it together? What the materials are and how you put this together?

RY: There are pieces of felt. The stems are some kind of velour here [pointing to the stalks.] and then I did little tassels on the corn made of embroidery clothe that separated this and the rest, there is some embroidery floss detailing, another ridgey fabric edges the texture of the corn kernels. The background is denim cotton.

KM: Talk a little bit more about the Ancestor Quilt Project. You talked about the panels and that there are three different quilts.

RY: Right, so this project [started in June 2007.] I joined because of Diane Green, and it focused on connecting with the native ancestry of this country and including people and animals and plants. I myself do not know of any native ancestry that I have but I feel that this is the place that I live, and I was born in and there is a history here that I don't know about, and I would like to know more about this place, this land. We have three large categories of ancestors, animal spirits, and herbs and things, which is kind of becoming herbs and plants and vegetables. So, these three categories will be made into three large pieces or quilts. I think they are going to be three panels by three panels. Three panels across, will have nine [blocks.] in each quilt.

KM: In between is hand dyed fabric.

RY: Yes, these fabrics in between have been hand dyed with all natural dyes, plant-based dyes and I've done some of this. Diane is the major creator of these fabrics and I think she did this one here [pointing to the fabric.], but yeah everything is natural. Not all the fabrics in our quilt are natural based, in fact this felt has some kind of plastic chemical or was created synthetically but these in-between fabrics are natural. This is wool I believe, and the dyes are all natural and these fabrics are natural.

KM: There is a plan for the panels once they are all together. Once the quilts are all together.

RY: Well, I don't know if that has been entirely decided. I know Diane would like to send them around the country to galleries, museums. It would be good to be a traveling exhibit, and I think Diane is hoping that it will create discussion. She herself will tell you that she has recently discovered that she has native ancestry, and she talks about how a lot of people are in a similar position to her that are just finding this out about themselves, and she is hoping that it could be a way to connect with those people.

KM: How long have you been with the group?

RY: I think I am getting close to a year. Not quite.

KM: You are working on your second piece?

RY: Yeah, I think this is my second. I started out just helping. I did some finishing on another piece and helped with the dyeing and connecting, but these are just my two pieces right here.

KM: So, tell me about your interests in quilt making.

RY: Well, I have done sewing in my life. I have done a fair amount of sewing. I learned that from my mother. My mother does not make quilts although my grandmother did. In fact, it was a passion of hers. I did not know my grandmother very well. She is no longer able to communicate well, and I was never close to her, but I always admired her quilts. I suppose it is something that I now understand about her that I didn't, but I like making the quilts a lot. I really like the community, just getting together and sewing with other people. I like the process. You can see your progress in something material and it becomes beautiful if you spend more time with it and it teaches me that not everything needs to be done very quickly, and it is okay to take my time. The process becomes valuable in itself, and you discover things while you are working.

KM: Did you sketch this out ahead of time? Did you--

RY: This one I found a picture in a book, and I tried to mimic it heavily, but I did style it to go with the materials I wanted, but it is pretty realistic and very similar to the picture. This one I did find an actual picture, the condor, can I talk about that?

KM: Yes of course.

RY: The condor I found a real picture of a condor and blew it up and traced it, so this is a very similar, very similar to the picture.

KM: Very nice.

RY: Thank you. Should I talk about [the condor]?

KM: Sure, go ahead.

RY: Let's see, how did I figure this one out? This is a very symbolic meaning to me, this condor. I was reading a book called, "Grandmothers Counsel the World." I want to say the author is Carol Schaefer. It talked about a legend of an eagle and a condor, and these two birds represent different paradigms or ways of being in the world. The eagle represents a world of technology and materialism and commercialism, and the condor represents more earth centered wisdom. Yeah, timeless and more within the body and the earth. Right now, it seems that the two paradigms are out of balance. The eagle is dominating all of our culture. The ideal would be the two forces are kept in balance. However, right now the eagle forces of materialism and technology are so preeminent that we have forgotten about just the earth and the wisdom of indigenous people around us, forgotten respect for a more wise way of being. I'm very involved with technology. I spend a lot of time doing things online and sitting at a computer and I'm very aware that our, for all of our advances in technology we need to balance it with humanity and a sense of wisdom. I was very touched by this story and thought that I wanted to make the condor image to honor the sense of wisdom.

KM: How much more work do you have to do on it?

RY: Well, I'm never quite sure when I'm done, if I'm done, but I need to fill in some more details here on the wings. This is a California condor which is actually highly endangered. There are only about 200 left in the world and most are now in captivity. There is one other species, an Andean condor, also endangered, but not as endangered. This is the California condor. It has some white underneath here and I need to make it look more like feathers, but otherwise I think it will be about done. Oh, there is another legend that the condor brings in the sun in the morning, so that is why there is the sun here. Its wing is kind of flying across the sky. I think I will just also add the word condor.

KM: You plan to do more blocks?

RY: Oh yes.

KM: What are you plans? Do you have any ideas?

RY: I'm not sure what the next one will be. I like the idea of animal spirits now, maybe. Diane is going to do owl. If she doesn't do owl maybe I will. [laughs.]

KM: What is your favorite part of doing it?

RY: I don't know if I have a particular favorite thing I do. Just the sensory experience of working with different fabrics and the different colors and how they interact with each other, picking the placement, making the shapes go together, feeling the fabric, and seeing something take shape out of all these materials.

KM: Do you think you will ever make something just for you?

RY: I would like to. I think, but right now this seems more important.

KM: What advice would you offer somebody wanting to begin?

RY: To quilt?

KM: What advice would you give someone?

RY: You really would be surprised at what you can do and how nice it will look if you just pick a design and put thought into it and planning and your own ideas and don't judge your work as you are going. Mine, I often think it looks bad at first, but it takes shape, and I'm surprised it all comes together.

KM: Do you have a favorite block that has been done so far?

RY: I do like my corn block. Of others, I like the block [done by Irene Bigeagle.] where there is the lady standing on the turtle and words "love" and "harmony" in the background. I think it is on the home page of our website.

KM: What is the webpage?

RY: That is

KM: This is all done by hand, so you don't use a machine at all?

RY: You don't use any machine stitching. One very solid rule.

KM: So, you have one rule, is that the only rule?

RY: Well, we have guidelines for the size of these panels [blocks are 12 inches wide by 16 inches tall.]. Yeah, I think that is about it. Then we always put the borders, a solid-colored inch wide border first and then another inch or so of patterned fabric.

KM: Did you get to choose these two fabrics?

RY: Yes. In choosing the colors and patterns from these fabrics is kind of a community decision. I pick the ones I like, but I always make sure that I ask what the others think.

KM: Do you always do embroidery around them?

RY: Yes. Sometimes embellishments, like this one I did the finishing on this medicine wheel, and I did these little flowers.

KM: You like embroidery?

RY: Yes, it is fun.

KM: You did these and these? [pointing to the embroidery work in the corners.]

RY: Um, hum. French Knots are fun.

KM: I like French Knots too. I have to admit that French Knots are one of my favorites. I like your tassels on your corn. I think that is very, very cool. Let's talk about the women in the group. How many women are in the group? You talked about community and why community was important to you.

RY: Usually we have only had another two people actually quilting although we often have at least another couple visiting. We try to tempt them to do it, but so far, no luck with, usually. Yeah, it is very good to sit around with people. I'm thirty-one. Diana and Irene are both a fair bit older than me I don't really interact with a lot of older women in the rest of my life, and I think that is too bad. [laughs.] And I like coming here and hearing some their perspectives of older women and they have a lot of wisdom and stories, and it is very enriching.

KM: You meet twice a week?

RY: Um, hum.

KM: Do you come twice a week?

RY: Um, hum.

KM: So, it is important to you.

RY: Yes.

KM: Do you consider yourself an artist?

RY: I suppose so. Diane often says, 'Everyone is an artist.' I think I'm starting to believe that. But I don't know. I don't know if I totally believe it. [laughs.]

KM: How many hours a week do you work on this outside of the group?

RY: I usually just work on it during group.

KM: Twice a week is a lot.

RY: We usually start about 1:00 or 1:30 and wrap up about 3:30 or 4:00. A couple of hours.

KM: Good. Is there anything else that you would like to like to add?

RY: No. I don't think so.

KM: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this.

RY: Thank you.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview at 2:00.


“Rebecca Yoder,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,