Gail Woodruff




Gail Woodruff




Gail Woodruff


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Bedford, Indiana


Karen Musgrave


Note: This interview was done as part of a program on Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories and The Alliance for American Quilts for the Quarry Quilters Guild in Bedford, Indiana. The interview was a demonstration on how a Q.S.O.S. interview is done.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. It's November 20th, ninety?--2003. [crowd laughs.] I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Bedford, Indiana with Gail Woodruff. Gail, thank you.

Gail Woodruff (GW): My pleasure.

KM: So, Gail tell me about your quilt.

GW: Well, I was always a traditional quilter and sewing machine piecing and I thought I could never do the curves but I liked the pattern so well that I determined that I would try it and I liked it so well I have done it several times. I like this pattern.

KM: And why do you like this pattern?

GW: I like the illusion you get with the circles interlocking and going on and on and on. I like optical illusion in quilts.

KM: How did you pick the colors?

GW: Just scrappy blue. Just out of my stash.

KM: Is blue your favorite color?

GW: No, I have no favorite color. I love them all. [crowd laughs.] Don't ever ask me my favorite color.

KM: I don't have one either. So how do you use this quilt?

GW: It's on my bed. I use it. [murmuring in background. loud thud noise.] It's the only one I had to bring you because most of my quilts are given away.

KM: Who do you give your quilts to?

GW: Oh, my sons, my grandchildren and my nieces.

KM: How many quilts have you made?

GW: I was afraid you would ask that. I do not know. I looked at my list that I quit keeping in 1991 and at that time it was 28 bed quilts and 35 baby quilts, and I don't know how many pillows and whatnots and this and that and the other but that was 12 years ago. And ask my guild they will tell you that I haven't stopped.

KM: How long have you been quilting?

GW: I think I started in 1969. I wish I had my first quilt to show you, but I forgot to get it from my son. It was a preprinted pinwheel and I cut the pinwheels apart and pieced them into nine patches with muslin. My mother was a quilter, so quilting was my blood. It's just that was when I was ready to start doing it myself.

KM: What's the first memory you have of quilts? [loud metallic bang noise in the background.]

GW: Dim, dark recesses of memory. Always slept under quilts. Mother was always--she would sit and cut the pieces in her lap and drop them in a basket. She'd just sit there and cut triangles. She loved to piece triangles. I hated them [crowd laughs.] until I learned half square triangle method. Now I don't mind but no, she was always cutting quilt pieces. She was as addicted as I am, or I am as addicted as she was. I don't know which way to put it. She was still making when she was 90. She wasn't still quilting them, but she was still using that sewing machine and piecing the quilts which she gave away. There were hardly any quilts to divide among the rest of us when she died. There were two or three. We all had been given quilts already. And that's what I'm doing.

KM: Do you still have her quilt?

GW: I have one she pieced. My dad was a rural letter carrier when he died in March of '49 so in the winter of '49-'50 she pieced a post stamp medallion. Little itty-bitty pieces--blocks. Started with a red center and went out to a navy border. An interesting thing about it her border was--remember when you use to buy pillowcase material that was preprinted with border fabric? It looked like rickrack material. She bordered it with that. I've got that quilt but the rest of the quilts of hers that I had well I've given away to other members of the family. My kids and so on. I think I still have two.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

GW: It's mine. [crowd laughs.] I pieced a Seven Sisters because of a challenge that I challenged this guild to do the 60-degree angle. I don't like the 60-degree angle that is why I challenged them because I needed the challenge, so I pieced Seven Sisters. I kept it for a while, but I finally gave it to a daughter-in-law who had seven sisters. Was one of seven sisters. I thought it was appropriate to give her that. I had three sisters and four married brothers, so I figured I had seven sisters too.

KM: How has quilt making impacted on your family?

GW: [laughs.] My younger son came to me once and says, 'Mom do you have any quilts I can buy from you? I hate blankets.' [crowd laughs.] So there went a couple of my quilts for the cost of the quilting, batting, whatever. He wanted to pay for them so for $50 he got a couple. [laughs.] They weren't especially pretty quilts, but he wanted a quilt to sleep under. More quilts to sleep under. My kids use quilts because they were brought up to use quilts. And when I gave the first grandchild an appliquéd wall quilt--Chris Wolf Edmonds, remember her [KM hums agreement.] animal babies--farm animal babies so I bought that pattern, and I made that quilt for my first grandchild, and she was crawling by the time I got it done to give to her. She crawled over and she sat right down in the middle of it. She claimed it. [crowd laughs.] My son and daughter-in-law says, 'Oh that will go on the wall.' I said, 'No it won't. You put that on that baby and let her be warmed by it and let her touch it and feel it. You want to put it on the wall in the summertime, okay but you let her sleep under that quilt.' So, they did. [10 second pause.]

KM: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

GW: The colors of the fabric. I react to fabric. I don't go into a fabric store with a pattern in my mind and look for something specific. I have a friend who does. She's never happy because she can never find what's in her head. I go in the fabric store. Yum, yum, yum. Don't I Susie? [crowd laughs and GW joins in.] I see fabrics. What goes with that? I got to have the collection right then and there. I'll take it home and put it on the shelf. And I've got shelves to the ceiling. [crowd laughs.] Five feet long, you know. And someday these three will go together in a quilt because I usually buy three colors to go together [someone in the crowd coughs loudly.] And I didn't appreciate scrap quilts when Mother was making them but I'm learning to. I like planned quilts, you know. Everything colorfully coordinated but there is such beauty in scrap quilts. It just takes more time to plan them.

KM: I like scrap quilts. Is there any aspect of quilt making that you don't enjoy?

GW: I don't enjoy paper piecing. I don't particularly enjoy appliqué. I avoid it at all costs. [crowd laughs.] I have done some I'll admit. There are times when I need to, but piecing and generally traditional piecing is what I like but I will try new things every once in a while. I enjoyed Bargello style. I don't know. I like the geometry of piecing.

KM: Now do you hand piece?

GW: No.

KM: You machine piece.

GW: My mother did. What's good enough for my mother is good enough for me. [crowd laughs.]

KM: Do you hand quilt?

GW: Yes. Sometimes. I don't do all of them. I let other people hand quilt for me and I let other people machine quilt for me depending on the purpose of the quilt. If it is going to my kids and grandkids, it better be machine quilted. Although I have hand quilted some for them. Don't know how often I will do that. I did hand quilt this one.

KM: Why do you machine quilt theirs?

GW: Because they use them, and they use them hard. They wash them frequently. They have worn out quilts that are newer than the quilts I have that are still good. They just use them. Launder them frequently. Maybe the dogs get on the bed and scratch at them. I don't know what tears them up. My daughter-in-law brought me a quilt that my mother had made, and I had given to her. It had big holes in it. She said, 'Can you fix this?' I said, 'I'd rather make you a new one.' [laughs.] So, I've got that in my stash, and I made her a new one. [someone coughs.] How do you mend a quilt that has a BIG hole in it? [laughs.] Of course, Mother used scraps and they did wear out.

KM: So why is quilting important to you?

GW: I don't know but it speaks to me. I'm addicted. I think it's the colors that I react to. The patterns, the design, I can't do what you've done. I've never designed one totally original, but I love to go through a traditional pattern and do my thing with it in my colors and I'm very happy with traditional quilt patterns.

KM: What makes a quilt artistically powerful in your mind?

GW: Well, the graphic design first and then if I have to stop and wonder what the story behind it is and study it that's engaging to try to decide what the quilter had in mind. [12 second pause.]

KM: Did you learn quilting from your mother?

GW: I don't think I did. I think I resisted quilting when I was at home or in school or in home ec or anything but when I was out on my own and needed things, I began to want a sewing machine and I began to want to make things for my house and clothing for us and then there came a time where there was time. Well like that pinwheel fabric I told you about. I bought that to use at a sorority party and we were having a hobo party and I thought that looked like a hobo bag when you tied it up in a kerchief, but I had the ulterior motive. I'll take that home and cut it up and make a quilt out of it because quilting was part of my heritage so that's basically when I started. That was 1969, I think.

KM: Do any of your children quilt?

GW: No. My children don't but my nieces do. My sisters' children do, and I've got them as addicted as I am. They expect me to teach them what they didn't learn from their mothers who are gone now. And even a great niece has picked it up and she is a civil engineer. And so she is perfection. She gets it done. Her mother wants to be a perfectionist, but she can't suit herself so sometimes she doesn't finish a project. I mean she doesn't get it done quickly. She agonizes. The other niece she gets it done. It may not be perfect but by golly she gets it done. [laughs.]

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

GW: Well, there are two things. They deserved to be used but not misused like you don't put it in the dog's bed. You don't use it for padding for the broken seat cover on the pickup truck with the springs are punching through. [crowd laughs.] My son--[someone in the background says something inaudible and GW responds.] I know it's been done. My friend in Scottsburg found an antique quilt that was made of thousands of little triangles that was the six-pointed star--maybe it was six diamonds. They were about three quarters of an inch all over that quilt. Thousands of pieces. She found it in her son's pickup truck over the broken spring in the seat. She just quietly picked it up and took it home with her. [crowd laughs.] Good for her, right? It had been given to her by an old lady who is long gone. So how should they be preserved? What good does it do to lay them away in a chest and never see them? I don't know, you tell me. Do we put them in museums?

KM: Do you think they should go in museums?

GW: Some. I mean the museums should be a repository, but they aren't all artworks. There are utility quilts. The first show I went to at the Speed Museum in Louisville [Kentucky.], they were utility quilts, and I was so, 'Duh. That's the kind of quilts I grew up with. They are in a museum?' [crowd laughs.] I didn't appreciate a utility quilt as a museum piece not realizing it was a record and of course there aren't too many utility quilts around because they do get used up. The heirlooms are still there. [10 second pause.]

KM: Well, I would like to thank you and I'm going to conclude my interview at 7:26. And thank you very much.

GW: You're most welcome.

[tape ends.]



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