Mary Stewart




Mary Stewart




Mary Stewart


Karen Stewart

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Peoria, Illinois


Karen Stewart


Note: Karen Stewart has the quilt that was used for the interview. Since the quilt was large and Karen traveled on an airplane to visit and do the interview with her mother, the interview was not done with the quilt present during the interview.

Karen Stewart (KS): My name is Karen Stewart and today's date is December 27, 2008. I'm conducting an interview with Mary Stewart in Peoria, Illinois for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We're doing this for the American Heritage Committee of the New York State Society Daughters [where KS is a member.] of the American Revolution. Mary Stewart is a quilter and is a member of the Peoria Chapter [in Peoria, Illinois.] of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she's also my mom. So, thank you Mom for doing this interview.

Mary Stewart (MS): You're welcome, Karen, [KS laughs.] I'm very honored.

KS: Good. Mom makes lots of quilts and she's, the quilter in our family and so, I wanted to do this quilt to honor her work and to preserve it for future people to see and admire. So, let's start. The first question is tell me about the quilt that we're discussing today. [KS hands MS a picture of the quilt to refer to.]

MS: Well, this quilt was made for Karen and her husband, Steven, as a wedding gift. It is called the Double Wedding Ring. It has royal blue diamond centers and a floral on the rings with a white background. Karen loves the bluish, purplish, color and so that was picked for her choice and then the flowered print--I actually did a table runner that had that in it, and she admired it so much that even though it was two years later from the initial fabric picking, I was still able to get some more of the fabric. And indeed, I bought the rest of the bolt [KS laughs.] I was afraid she'd want more [MS laughs.] table runners. So, this is dear to my heart. She is my oldest daughter and her dad, and I wanted something very special just for her and the double ring, wedding ring was a challenge. I had never done one and who better to have it than our daughter.

KS: It's very special to us too. Where did you find the material that you bought the whole bolt? Where did you get it?

MS: Well, I actually didn't buy it at a "quilt" quote [makes a gesture to indicate quotation marks.] store and I bought it at JoAnn's Fabrics. Now a lot of people are very controversy about JoAnn's fabric, but when you look at it and the weave in it you know it's still 100% cotton and very good quality and being the colors that she wanted, we said, 'Go for it!'

KS: Why do some people have a problem with JoAnn's fabric?

MS: They just feel that because it's a little bit cheaper in price that it's not as good a quality, that fabric stores, per say, are better quality.

KS: I didn't know that. So, what do you think someone might think about you after they saw this quilt?

MS: Well, on this quilt you really have to be somewhat organized. Not having made one before I investigated the techniques that some of my friends and indeed my sister, who lives in Sarasota, Florida, who is also a quilter, she had made one, to see what different techniques were used. She actually made the ring part and the diamonds and mounted them on a white sheet rather than to try to do all of the arches that are in the rings, she felt that was easier.

I had never heard of anybody doing that technique, so hers was kind of a sewing/appliqué type, maybe you'd say? I don't know. The arches themselves have a fusible underneath it to give it strength and more wear ability and that way I didn't have to do the piecing part of the rings. Piecing I'm meaning the arches where the floral is actually in. I think, the original Double Wedding Rings are little squares all sewed together. So, this is not, this is a different technique this is, but they also use this technique where you have a solid piece. Generally, in the older days, way back in the early years of quilt making, you will find the double wedding ring made, the arch part, made with small pieces of different colors some pattern, some plain, so it's in what technique you feel you want to try.

KS: So, Aunt Margaret's advice was very valuable then?

MS: Yes, it was. You know, that was her technique. I found my technique and like I say there's a lot of different techniques out there. And you have to investigate different ways of doing. Some patterns have a lot of different ways of doing them and it might have less cutting, or it might have less sewing. It might have a faster way of making the piece that makes the quilt go faster. So, there's a lot of techniques in quilting it's not just carved in stone that you have to do it a certain way. And you learn by mistakes. When they say an accurate quarter inch seam, they mean an accurate quarter inch seam. You don't just eyeball it and say yeah, I think that will work. [KS laughs.] You generally, if you don't have a quarter inch foot for your sewing machine, then you take the technique of actually measuring from your needle out to the right and then put some tape down and have your fabric snug to the tape so that you know you have a quarter inch seam. And even that technique of the tape some people can't keep the fabric snug to the tape without it moving over so some women actually take this foam board that you buy for crafting and build up a little piece. Like maybe get two pieces of craft foam and staple them together and then tape that in place and that gives your fabric a sturdy edge rather than just a piece of tape.

KS: So, do you feel that it was a really difficult quilt to make?

MS: The only difficult part is to make sure that your diamonds in the middle match up because you go from one diamond to the next and if they don't connect then your circles won't look right. So, the difficulty was just making sure that you're matching up your seams and your pattern, which is true with any quilt. You can be an eighth of inch off on some quilts and you won't see it. But on some quilts, I mean, it would just stand out the minute you see it.

KS: Would you make one of these again?

MS: Well, that's a funny question. I don't know [laughs.] I seem to be right now in the mode of make it once and go on. Everything that I've made, I generally have made it once and, passed it on. I don't know if in my mind's eye I'm thinking this is a one of a kind.

KS: That's kind of neat though. So, tell me about your interest in quilt making. How did it begin?

MS: Well, I always liked to do hand sewing. I used to embroidery. I used to do knitting and crocheting. I started, really the first time I even did hand sewing was, I was in sixth grade, and I embroidered a tablecloth. Well, you know you do a certain technique for a while, and you think well I ought to try something else. So later on, as I got married and had both you and your sister, Lynn, I got interested in doing something different and a friend of mine owned a drapery house and they used to give me the samples of the curtains. And so, I took them apart one time, and I cut two-inch squares and sewed them all back together. And I was in Iowa at the time, I took it with me, and you and your sister, and I visited my Aunt Adrienne, who was quite a seamstress at the time, and so I sewed all of those little squares together and she said, 'Well you know you're making a quilt.' And I said, 'Well I didn't know what it was going to be but okay.'[KS laughs.]

MS: So, I counted those little silly squares and there was over 1000 of them! [both laugh.]
And I didn't know what to do with them after that, so she showed me how in the old days they used to tie quilt. Well, I wasn't even really sure what that was, but she showed me, and she took different colored scraps of knitting yarn, and she took an old cotton blanket, which back in the old days, they didn't have batting, and they used these cotton blankets for the batting. Like now days in the modern days, quilters would not think of using a sheet! [both laugh.] But you know now, modern times, you can buy extra wide and extra-long fabric and have a one piece. If not, you have to piece materials to fit your backing. But back in those days they used to use sheets. And so, she had a brand-new yellow sheet that she said, 'We'll fix this, we'll do it.' And she had an old-fashioned frame that her husband had made her, and she turned the dining room chairs around and fit this frame on the chairs. And she said, 'This is how we used to quilt.' And she says, 'Well I won't teach you how to actually quilt but we'll tie quilt.' So, she showed me how to do that. We put the sheet down first and you pinned it to the frame at one end and you pulled it as taut as you could and pinned it at the other frame. And then, she laid this cotton blanket down. I remember it was pink and white. They only came in pink and white and blue and white. [KS laughs.] She had a pink and white one. And then we put the square pieces that I had put together on top. And she showed me how to tie that. So that was my first experience in really knowing, you know, what to do with it after I had it put together. And it was quite heavy. We put it on the bed, and you couldn't get out of the bed because of the weight of the fabric!

KS: [laughs.] I remember that.

MS: And we had that for many years, and we used to laugh about it because my husband said, 'Well that's one way of keeping a person in bed.' [KS laughs.] And then if I remember, you took it to Chicago when you first moved out of the house.

KS: Yeah, I had it for a while.

MS: And you put rings on the back of it and used it as a wall hanging, which was quite complimentary because it had so many colors in it, and so many designs. And to this day--well, let's see, when did you go away to Chicago? Oh, around, like in the eighties?

KS: Oh, yeah, like eighty-four, eighty-five?

MS: And I actually did this when you were in, before you were even in kindergarten. So, this piece has been around a long time.

KS: Yeah, it really has.

MS: And it's been through the washing machines and everything and I still have it to this day. So, that's probably the one that didn't get away. [both laugh.] We still have that one.

KS: How old were you when you made that quilt? Do you remember?

MS: Oh boy let's see. I probably was in my very late twenties.

KS: Yeah, I would guess so. Because if I wasn't, you're twenty-one years older than I am, and if I wasn't even in kindergarten yet.

MS: You were about five.

KS: So, you were about twenty-five, twenty-six. [clock chimes.]

MS: Mid to late twenties at the time.

KS: Wow.

MS: She was quite a character your Aunt Adrienne. She'd be your great aunt, but she had lots of lessons to give lots of people.

KS: I remember her. She was great. Are there other quiltmakers in the family? Or friends?

MS: Yes, your aunt Adrienne's sister, Bernice, was the oldest of four girls, of which your grandmother was one of, and Bernice quilted, and your grandmother quilted. And I can remember that Bernice belonged to a church group and told your grandmother that her quilting wasn't good enough to join the group. [KS laughs.] But in later life, your grandmother became honored at our guild and was honored as Quilter of the Year.

KS: Oh!

MS: So, her sister Bernice was long gone but she looked at the heavens and said, 'I've made it!' [KS laughs.] So, now I've been honored a few times and I've made it, too. [KS laughs.] So yes, and then my sister in Sarasota she hand quilts. Most of them--your grandmother and your Aunt Bernice and your Aunt Margaret, they all hand quilt. I have hand quilted. I enjoy it. It's soothing and relaxing. I'm mastering--trying to quilt on the machine, just a regular, standard machine. And it's getting there.

KS: How does quilt making impact your family?

MS: Well, that's kind of funny we've, your dad and I, have talked about that many times. He loves to brag about my quilting when I'm not around because I didn't think he was happy about some of it, but it comes back to me [that.] he brags. But the funny thing is he also goes without dinner! [both laugh.] So, he likes to go with me to pick out material, and he's interested in quilting. I'm going to try to get him quilting yet one of these years. [KS laughs.] But we're going to start designing some patterns of our own, through EQ5 [Electric Quilt.].

KS: What's EQ5?

MS: EQ5, and now they've come out with 6, is quilting program software. And you can pick over 3000 patterns, or you can design your own and we're thinking of making a team so we can have a big chance at Paducah, [Kentucky.] which is a big, quilt show.

KS: That's the one in Kentucky?

MS: That's in Kentucky, and I've won some ribbons locally, but I might have ambition someday to get to Paducah.

KS: Oh! Well, that would be neat! Do you have any amusing experiences that have occurred through your quilt making? Anything funny happen?

MS: No, I can't think of anything right off hand.

KS: Did you ever make some mistakes that had to turn into something creative? [laughs.]

MS: Oh, well, we all make mistakes and generally, it's really funny, when you make a mistake, especially, well, here recently I took a class--I think I bit off more than I needed to, it was paper piecing, which is a technique, and I hate it! I've tried it twice--

KS: [interrupts.] Don't hold back Mom! [laughs.]

MS: Actually, three times. I took one from one of our guild members, and actually she got me to like it for a while, and I tried it, and she was a very good teacher. And then we had a renowned teacher come and teach and it wasn't that she wasn't a good teacher, it was just a very difficult pattern, it's supposed to be like a spinning and, I have to take more paper piecing classes before I go back to the project because right now it's sitting in a bag unfinished.

KS: You mentioned a guild, so you belong to a guild or a group?

MS: Yes, actually, I belong to two. I belong to Gems of the Prairie Guild, here in Peoria. We're about 285 strong and we average 130 at a meeting.

KS: That's good!

MS: And we have our quilt show every year and bring in people from all around. I mean they come down from Chicago. They come from Iowa, and one family was interesting, they came through this year. Their daughter had gone to Bradley University, here in Peoria, and just her freshman year, they'd heard about this show, and they came, and they loved it. And so, the four years that the daughter was here, they came every year to the show and now the daughter's graduated. They're from down in Kentucky or Tennessee, one of the southern states, and they can't wait to get back every year to see it anyway even though she doesn't go to school any more. So, we're pretty well known for our quilt show in this area and beyond. And then the other group I belong to is in a little town across the river here, and it's called the Washington Quilt Squares. It's a smaller group, there's probably fifty or less, but we have a great time. Our big group, we're able to bring in national, known, people and we bring in at least two, sometimes three, a year. We've had Carol Doak and some of the other big-name people in and they give wonderful classes.

KS: Hmm, that's impressive. Have you ever been a board member or chair of a committee in either of these groups?

MS: Well, yes, the quilt show as I say is a big one. It takes many, many hands to put it up. We put it up in East Peoria's Civic Center, and we rent space and it's huge. We volunteer on committees there. We have different committees to handle volunteers, vendors, whatever, and I've worked with that. Our guild used to have snacks at the meeting I used to be in charge of getting people to do that. We also do quilts for St. Jude, and I've helped with cutting the stuff, the different patterns out and we bag them up and then at our meeting ask people to pick them up and volunteer putting them together. So, we do that, we also have them for child abuse center and for the ICU [intensive care unit.] units at our local hospital, St. Francis. So, we do a lot of charitable work.

KS: Tell me more, a little bit more [clears throat.] excuse me, about making the quilts for St. Jude, and ICU and the hospitals. I mean, somebody who's listening to this interview might not know, what that is, or what that entails.

MS: Well, the ICU units are for the infant babies that are prematurely born, and we have two sizes of quilts that we make for them. A 36-inch square is used as a tenting device over the isolet so that they don't get a lot of bright lights. And there again you're supposed to use not purples or blues, something about making the babies look jaundiced or something, I'm not quite sure on that. And then the smaller units they actually lay on. We thought they gave them to the parents and they got to take them home, but they don't. They say they rewash them and of course in their hot boiling system that they wash them, the quilts disintegrate after a while so we generally give at least 100 to 150 a couple times a year to replenish what they destroy in their washing. It has to be 100% cotton not only in outer fabric but batting and the threads, because of the sensitivity to the babies.

KS: Sure. And so you personally make some of those too?

MS: Oh, yeah. Even your grandma at her ripe old age of 105, she would make one a month--

KS: Wow! [laughs.]

MS: And the St. Jude quilts, like I say, we make them all sizes. Unfortunately, there's teenagers that also get cancer. So we don't make them just for the toddlers, or just the preteens, but we make them bigger, at least twin bed size [coughs.] excuse me, but, the St. Jude affiliate here was founded by Danny Thomas and our former mayor, Jim Maloof. He still carries on with it. He comes and does a live auction at our quilt show and the money is given to St. Jude, and so we have donate wall hangings of certain sizes and then that's what they have a silent auction on, plus a live auction with Mr. Maloof and the money and proceeds go to St. Jude. And like I say they make at least 200 - 280 [MS is referring the number of quilts rather than a dollar amount.] a year for that.

KS: Wow, that's a large number.

MS: And the child abuse and women abuse centers. We've just taken them on the last two years and they try to get, you know, several of those, too, made at least close to 100. So, there's a lot of charity work and donated fabric. Everybody cleans out their stash and donates the material to the chapter and then the committee of that group cuts it up in various simple patterns that even beginners can use.

KS: Wow, that's quite an undertaking. Well, have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time that you were having? You're doing all of these charitable quilts for others. What about for yourself?

MS: Yes, I've had some down times. I lost my mother here a couple years ago and before that in '95 I lost a brother that I was very, very close to and it seems like even if you have an argument with your husband, you go off to your sewing room and sew. [both laugh.] so I think sewing quilts is used for a lot of remedies. It's better than eating candy and getting heavy! [both laugh.] So, no, I love to just, I have a sewing room now in our newer home, it's all mine, I can close the door and leave a mess, or I can go in and sew for hours and never bother anybody.

KS: What is it that you find pleasing about the quilt making?

MS: Well, it's just the advancement, as you keep putting a pattern together to see how it's going to come out and how the colors are going to blend. Are they going to blend the way you wanted them to or are you going to say, oh, I'll have to get rid of this piece and start another? Just like the one I just did for your dad for Christmas this year, the Twisted Bargello. I had no idea how it was going to look and I'm very pleased with it. The color combinations and everything came out just exactly the way I hoped they would be.

KS: No, it looks great!

MS: You know when you're working with twenty fabrics, and then you make sets out of them and then you're instructed to chop them up into anywhere from an inch, to inch a quarter to an inch and a half, to two inches and then you get a grid, and you're trying to follow it, it gets a little confusing as to how is this going to work out. So that's probably the most satisfying part [KS coughs.] is to see the pattern that you picked out and the fabric you picked to do it to come out the way you want it.

KS: You mentioned earlier that you don't like paper piecing, but are there other aspects of quilt making that you don't enjoy?

MS: I would say probably I get frustrated with having to sandwich it and make it stay smooth while you're quilting it. It gets frustrating sometimes if you get a little tuck underneath and you don't find it until you're down the road a little bit. Or I did have one aspect that I made a wall hanging last year and I was in the midst of quilting it on the sewing machine when I noticed, and I had showed this to eight other people including myself [KS laughs.] and nobody saw that two corner blocks got twisted! And already was into the quilting. So, I had to stop quilting, tear those blocks out, take them apart, sew them back together, turn them around and then continue. Now everybody else said, 'oh I wouldn't have done that, I don't think it made that much difference.' But it did to me. So, that's frustration!

KS: Yeah! [MS coughs.] Do you have any favorite techniques or materials, things that you really enjoy using or doing?

MS: I do like to hand buttonhole stitch around appliquéd work. I've done that on most of my wall hangings I have done the machine. My new machine does have a buttonhole stitch, my other one didn't and that's why I started doing it by hand. But, if I'm doing a wall hanging and I want it to really stand out I just use black embroidery thread and I hand button stitch all the way around the pieces, I just think it makes it stand out more, at least in my eyes.

KS: You mentioned earlier your sewing room and how much you enjoy it. Can you tell me more about it?

MS: I've outgrown it! [both laugh.] It's just a small bedroom and your dad and I keep coming up with ideas of how to put my fabric stashes. I've got them in plastic bins now and that's not the best for them.

KS: Why?

MS: Well they say plastic and cedar and anything with wood keeps the fabric from breathing. So I need to find a way of storing them, and I have decided to maybe, somebody told me they hang them on hangers. Well I'll have to get a smaller stash because my stash is too big. I wouldn't have enough hangers. [KS laughs.] But, I have put peg-board on the back of the closet door to hang a lot of my rulers and things that I need but they don't have to be in sight because they're on the inside of the closet. And if I invite somebody over to sew with me, it would be a challenge for room [both laugh.] because I have a big cutting table in there also.

KS: Yeah, tell me about that table, I like the look of that.

MS: Isn't that cool? It actually collapses on both sides so that it's just a narrow piece. But, otherwise, you can open up either end. One end stays open so that it gives me more cutting room and the other end I can actually close it down. But when it's fully opened, it's six foot.

KS: Where did you get that?

MS: Well, I bought that at JoAnn's!

KS: Well there you go.

MS: Yeah!

KS: They know you there don't they?

MS: Yes, well I imagine some of them do.

KS: [laughs.] How many hours a week do you devote to your quilting?

MS: Oh that's kind of difficult to really narrow down. But I generally try to go in at least every other day. And I'm a fussy person. I think my laundry has to be done, and my beds made, my garbage stuck out and everything dusted and in place before I can sew, but I'm curing that naughty habit. I'm actually making myself, if I've got a project going, I will get the bed made, in case somebody drops in, and pick up, but that's it! If I haven't got it done by noon it's not going to get done because I want to get at my sewing. So I generally sew every day a little bit.

KS: It really is your passion.

MS: Oh I love it! I have been known to get up at two in the morning and finish a project. [laughs.]

KS: [laughs.] Oh, my Lord, Mom!

MS: And since I have my own room and I can close the door, your Dad doesn't even know I'm sewing. [laughs.]

KS: Do you use a design wall?

MS: I just recently--because of this project I was working on for your father for Christmas, I had to come up with an idea. I haven't got room for a permanent one obviously. But what we did is we took wire, picture-hanging wire, and came through the holes on the peg board and came over the top of the closet door and I got office clips that you have for papers in offices? And we tied that wire into that clip and then I got poster board and I put poster board on the other end of the clips and that way I can pin through the poster board and design that way. The only other way I was going to do it, if I had a big project, is you take a flannel backed table cloth that's new and pin that up on your wall, and hang, you know, use that. But there again, then you have to figure out some way to unpin it so you're not always covering a whole wall with a sheet, table-cloth.

KS: Well, now that you've done that, do you think you would continue to work with a design wall?

MS: On certain projects. It's more helpful especially like when I did Anna's quilt. When you're doing something that has the same block but a lot of fabric in it, then you don't want to have the same pattern block next to the other one. So you have to view it and see which color's not hitting the other color and making it scream, or whether it's too subtle and it's washed out. So, on certain things, you really do need somewhere, even if it's laying it out on a bed, you need somewhere to design how you're going to put it together.

KS: That makes sense.

MS: Even that black and white one I did for you, I had to do that. I didn't have the design wall then, and I had to lay it on the top of the bed and figure out which black and white and white and black were going with each other but didn't hit with the same pattern touching each other.

KS: So what do you think makes a great quilt?

MS: Well I think that's in the eye of the beholder. Some people will tell you it's the pattern, some people will tell you it's the choice of fabrics and some people will tell you that it's the quilting that makes the whole thing. So, I think that's a personal choice and it's really in the eyes of the beholder, and as far as myself, I don't have a real choice, it just depends on what it is that's made. I mean, I might pick, they might have some ugly fabric but the quilting is so unique, you don't see the ugliness of the fabric [sounds of sirens from street traffic outside.] as much as the beautiful design that the quilter's done. So there's no, in my eyes anyway, any set rule on that.

KS: Do you feel the same way if I ask you what makes a great quiltmaker?

MS: Probably. We have one gal in our group that is the most superb quilter that I've ever met in my life, and she has said she puts things on her design wall (she quilts for other people and she's done it both longarm and standard sewing machine.) and she puts it on the wall and she will look at it, she says, sometimes for two weeks until she's come up with a design that will complement the quilt and not wash out the quilter's pattern. She's very, very meticulous and her work shows it. I've had several different quilters, and she's my favorite and she's a little bit higher than others, but if you want it done with the quilting to really shine, that's the one I'd take.

KS: She's a local person, is there anybody else whose work you are drawn to, and why?

MS: I don't have anybody nationally. I've not really been to any of the big shows to really know all of the big names. Some of, there is one gal, Jean Lohmar, I think is her last name, but there again she's an Illinois person and we just had her at our December party as our program and she brought quilts. And I could not believe, she does what they call a feathering stitch, and she had all of these huge quilts, and she and her partner both showed these quilts and I could not believe when she got done, she said that she did them on a standard machine! And I'm thinking that has to be longarm quilting and it wasn't. How she did it, I don't know. I mean and be quite [inaudible.] like I say, some of the national people, we've had them as guests. They're wonderful teachers and we're very honored to get them. Some of these people are booked two and three years in advance. So it takes a long time to get them on your program list.

KS: When I asked you to fill out the questionnaire for this interview, one of the questions was 'Do you make wearable art?' You answered 'No.' Does that interest you at all, expanding into wearable art?

MS: No!

KS: No? [laughs.]

MS: The big crave right now is purse making and, I have not done it yet, seems like everybody in our chapter has, but I haven't done it as yet. And, I am going to attach that to my things to do some day but and I also want to make a jacket. They take sweatshirts and sew on top of them different patterns and make beautiful jackets and as long as I have the sweatshirt for the base--now, if I have to take a pattern and cut out a jacket, forget it! It's not happening. I had two years of sewing in high school and dress making, and I hated every minute of it.

KS: Sewing is not your thing.

MS: Just sewing wearable things is not my thing. I never quite get it to fit the way I want it to fit and I love to sew so I guess maybe that's why I got drawn into quilting. It's something I can do.

KS: And it doesn't have to fit.

MS: Right! [laughs.] It doesn't have to fit. Well, it does in a way; it has to fit the bed.

KS: Right. [laughs.] Beds are a little more forgiving than bodies.

MS: Beds are more forgiving. You can always put a bed ruffle on it if it isn't long enough.

KS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting and longarm quilting? We spoke about all of those a little bit.

MS: Well, longarm quilting is really I feel for someone that has, number one, a huge space to put it in because they take up a lot of, lot of room. And they're very expensive unless you buy a second hand one. Your aunt just bought one and she's panicking now whether she's done a wrong thing [laughs.] They'll run anywhere from two thousand dollars to over nine thousand. And, so you know that limits between it taking up a lot of room and costing a lot of money. And, they're complicated there's a lot of ins and outs of how to run them. And I really don't have any desire to do that. Your father does and I may, I told him, I said maybe I buy one and he learns how to do it, because men do it. Standard machine, like I say, I'm still perfecting what I want to do with it. And hand quilting, the thing with hand quilting is, it's relaxing, and you can watch TV and stop and do it during the commercials because there's so many commercials.

KS: I want to pause the tape for just a moment. I want to check to make sure how much time we have. [pause for 10 seconds.] We're rejoining the interview now that I've checked the tape and we still have enough tape to continue, so that's good to know. So is that all you want to say about machine and hand quilting and longarm quilting?

MS: Well the hand quilting, of course, anybody can afford to do.

KS: It is the cheapest.

MS: It is the cheapest. It's probably the most relaxing too. Machine quilting, you really have to practice a lot in doing it and it seems like when I practice and then I'm done then I have to practice again before I start because your motion of moving the fabric through and your speed of your pushing on your pedal, there's quite a technique in getting them at the right speed, both of them. Unless you're just quilting in the ditch, as they say. And quilting in the ditch is following the block seams. If you're doing a pattern, or if the pattern, you have to get the right marking utensils and know that you're not ruining all of your hours of work; that the marking pen will come back out. They have new techniques and products out that you can, you know, try. Or when you go to a quilt store ask them, 'What's their favorite?' because everybody that works in a quilt store generally are quiltmakers.

KS: Would you like to work in a quilt store?

MS: I think it would be fun. You meet a lot of interesting people [the wall clock chimes.] and like I say, you really swap techniques and patterns and, 'Gee, what have you done?' 'This is what I've done.' It's almost a learning session when you go to a quilt shop.

KS: There's a lot to look at too. Looking back at these quick questions again, one of the questions is 'Do you have a collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia?' And you said, 'yes.' Can you tell me anything about that?

MS: Well, when I was out East visiting you, we bought an antique quilt.

KS: Oh, that's right.

MS: And I got it quite cheaply--

KS: At that flea market.

MS: Right. It's the only one I've ever bought. I've never really had a big desire in owning somebody I don't know quilt. And I did ask the person when I bought it, you know, did they have any information as to who made it or whatever. Well, he really didn't. But what was fascinating about it is that it was made with, the backing is still newspaper print. Which is how, in the old days, they made patterns and actually sewed them and left them on the fabric. So, it does date back. I would say probably in the thirties, anyway.

KS: Wow.

MS: We have an appraiser at our quilt show, and anybody for forty dollars can bring something in and have it appraised. I didn't do it this year, but I may down the road. It's not a finished top, and I'm not sure that I am going to finish it, it's just kind of really for looks and to see how they did it, you know. As far as memorabilia, I am making a book with photos of everything that I've ever made. And I have one that we put together when your grandmother passed away of everything she had made and there's a lot of pictures in there that she and I made together. And to me, I hope to pass those on to both of my girls. And I'm always looking out for the newest gadget or something. [KS laughs.] I don't normally buy them all, but some of them make life a little bit easier and quicker in making some of your patterns so I kind of look out for different things.

KS: So, I said earlier that it really seems to be your passion. So, can you tell me why it's important to your life? How is it that this is your passion? What you get out of it? How it makes you feel?

MS: Well, I like to do for other people. I'm not working any more. I retired a couple of years ago, and so to make more ICU quilts for the hospital or to St. Jude and I've made quilts recently for a great niece who's just turned four, Anna, and I always put on the back, which a lot of people don't do, and it's very important, is to put on the back who made it--

KS: Uh-huh, a label--

MS: A label- who made it, when they made it, and who they made it for. And if somebody else quilted it, include that person's name and town. We like to hope they stay in families, but who knows, it might end up in a pawn shop, or a--

KS: Or a flea market.

MS: Or a flea market and it would be nice to buy something and have on the back. Oh, maybe that it made its way out to California. Some member moved out there and then died and it got, like you say, in a flea market, but yet they can look at the label and say, 'Oh this started in Illinois.' I mean these are the things that keep quilting in American going because then you know where they came from. I mean there was one [refers to the sheet of questions.] there about the region and county and stuff. I'm assuming that if I saw quilts from California, not knowing they're from California, just the fabric, techniques, or colors, or designs, would tell me it's from a warmer region. Maybe they'd have more birds or fish or something in the patterns, I don't know, because you don't find a lot of patterns of sea life here in the Midwest.

KS: No, not a lot of seals out here. [laughs.]

MS: No, so I think that probably would be the only way that you could tell it was from a different area.

KS: Well, that kind of, some of the things you were talking about, the labels and preserving the history of it, kind of leads us into what I think is our final question for today. And given that this is done in tandem with the American Heritage Committee for DAR and their goals, the Committee's goals, are to preserve American heritage in fiber arts and, other ways of life. Do you think that quilts have a special meaning for women's history?

MS: Yes, I do. When you stop and think about how they were made in the old days, like I had explained with the one that was made with your Aunt Adrienne and using sheets and cotton blankets. And now that modernization or newer techniques, or new fabrics have come out, this brings on more history and you can tell from the fabrics. Right now, they're doing what they're calling reproduction fabrics. And that's fabrics that were generally made back in the twenties, thirties, and sometimes forties. And it's their designs of the fabrics. And I can show you the difference and you would pick up on it immediately. That, just to look at it, it looks old and it's the fabric design and not always just the technique. Technique would be probably the way they used to sew on newspapers, you know the designs were that way and they sewed the designs right with them. So, it preserves history, it tells you at what point of time in history you were in--

KS: Tells you things about the people who made them, and--

MS: Absolutely! And back in those days they were lucky to have rulers, I guess. [KS laughs.] You know now we've got all kinds of gadgets and rulers and they keep coming out with more! You think, 'Well what more is there to have?' But they do. They just keep coming out with easier ways, and quicker ways of making them and doing them.

KS: Well, is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?

MS: Oh, I hope everybody learns how to quilt. I'm not sure which one of my daughters will take it up?

KS: I don't think it's going to be this one! [laughs.]

MS: I know some of my nieces are now getting interested and learning it and one of them has one of her daughters into quilting so we're already on another third generation.

KS: Oh, that's great.

MS: So, you might find a neighbor child that's got nothing to do and if she looks like she's interested in what you're doing, show her how to do it. The history of quiltmaking will never die. It might slow down, and right now it's in a rebirth so to speak. Everybody says it's become more valuable and more popular and I think that's because of all the new techniques and the teachers. So, my encouragement would be to keep passing it on.

KS: Okay. Well, I'd like to thank Mary Stewart, a.k.a. Mom.

[recording ends.]


“Mary Stewart,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,