Carol Elmore




Carol Elmore




Carol Elmore


Susan Metzger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Manhattan, Kansas


Susan Metzger


Susan Metzger (SM): My name is Susan Metzger and today's date is July 23, 2009, at 7:25 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Carol Elmore in Manhattan, Kansas for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Kansas State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Carol Elmore is a quilter and a member of the Polly Ogden Chapter. Carol thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for the S.O.S. [Quilters' S.O.S. – Save Our Stories.] project today.

Carol Elmore (CE): Oh well, my pleasure.

SM: Very good. And thanks for bringing the quilt. It is beautiful. So, tell me a little about why you chose this quilt.

CE: I chose this quilt because it was made for my mother's [Goldie Hesser.] 90th birthday. I asked her what kind of quilt she was interested in and she didn't know so I have a lot of patterns in magazines, and she went through all of them and looked at them. Now she decided that this she really liked, and she liked the colors the way it was done in the magazine, so I tried to do it pretty much the way that it was printed although I did make my own quilting pattern. I didn't follow the patterns the way they were in the magazine. I gave it to her. She was very proud of it. She moved here to Manhattan with us in 1990. I made it in 1993 and that's when her 90th birthday was. And the sad part was that she died in 1994 right after I made it. She got to enjoy it for little while, but she was very proud of it and so it's special to me because she said it would always be mine even after she passed on. I got it back and I was very happy with it.

The other interesting thing about this was that maybe six months ago a friend of mine was writing a little book on desserts, so she wanted an example of a recipe of a dessert that I liked and a quilt that I really treasure. I gave her my dessert and gave her the picture of the quilt. She said, 'Well, we have to get permission from the creator of the pattern.' So that was kind of interesting because I had gotten the pattern from a magazine and so I got a little experience in how to get a copyright permission. So, I called the magazine and they said, 'Oh, this is made with a Piece 'O Cake company [pattern.],' that was the company that the woman worked for [Sylvia Johnson.] and so now I cannot even remember her name but they gave me the designer's name and so I called her and so we chatted for a while, and she gave me permission. She had made it for her parents for an anniversary for them. [both speak at the same time.] So, it was kind of a little tie in. I like to do hand quilting, so I did hand quilting on that.

SM: Excellent. I like it. So, the Log Cabin is that pretty common theme is it, or is it?

CE: The house quilt probably would be probably the general overall pattern name for this. They've been around since the mid 1800s. So, this is just a little bit different version of it. Sometimes they are called schoolhouse. And the Log Cabin pattern is related but it is a little bit different. This is a Log Cabin. [points to different quilt on table.] On the house quilt, the chimneys are very prominent, and you know they are chimneys. In the Log Cabin, the center block is portrayed as the chimney and in a lot of Log Cabin quilts this will be red or yellow to signify fire.

SM: Oh cute. Obviously, you display this quilt but are some of your other quilts used for different purposes or are all of them mostly hangings.

CE: Well, this Log Cabin that I mentioned, that I'm looking at right now, was made for my son and it kind of has an interesting story. I purchased the fabrics for this before he was born in Columbia, Missouri. Bettina Havig is a well know quiltmaker designer and she used to have a quilt shop in Columbia, so I bought the fabric in 1979, and I was going to make mine and my mom bought a similar set of fabrics in 1979, but she got hers finished long before I did. I carried these fabrics from Columbia, Missouri to College Station, Texas when we moved and worked on it a little bit but never finished it very much. In fact, I even bought the backing in College Station. It's actually kind of an interesting backing. It is a map of the Caribbean. Kind of funny why would I put a Caribbean backing on a traditional looking quilt, but Ron, my husband, had gone on a trip to St. Kitts for a teaching thing for a couple of weeks so there is a map of St. Kitts over here too. Andrew saw this fabric in the store, and he liked it and so I bought it and of course I did not buy enough [laughs.] so I had to piece the back. I finished this quilt. Well, I bought that fabric then I carried that fabric from Texas to Kansas. And I didn't finish this quilt until Andrew was 10 years old. [laughs.] So, he says that the quilt took 25 years to make but I think he's exaggerating [laughs.]. But it was really the first whole quilt from start to finish that I did. You know it took me a long time. I had made other quilt with my mother, but this was the first quilt I made totally from scratch. So, he's loaning it to us right now. He says it's his and he'll get it, but he lets us enjoy it still.

SM: So, was your mother the one who taught you to quilt?

CE: Well, she did. She was not formally trained in quilting, but her family had done quilting. Her grandmother and her mother had done quilting for years and years and she had not done anything for a long, long time. But she had kept some blocks that had been given to her by my grandmother and so we put together a couple of quilts using some of these old blocks. This is an example of one. [points to quilt on table.] It's just a little simple Nine Patch.

SM: Oh cute.

CE: And I would probably do it different now than I did. It's just really simply done. I'd probably done more complex piecing and quilting but it was special because we set up quilting frames that my father had made for my mother in our living room. It took us a long time to do it. It's not real closely quilted but we had a good time doing it. That kind of got her back into quilting. We did that when we lived in Missouri. And then she found another set of blocks that--this pattern is called Double T and so we had worked this one together also so that kind of got her back into quilting. She hadn't done it for years and years. I probably started first doing first doing quilting in the mid '70s with these and then I started that one [points to quilts on table.] in 1979.

SM: So, did you pick up some formal training?

CE: Well, when I lived in Texas, I worked full time and so I didn't really have time to do anything and when we moved back to Kansas from Texas. I had a friend, Barb Eikmeier, who taught quilting classes and so I was a student of hers. She's the one who got me back into the modern techniques of doing all kinds of things appliqués, piecing, and that kind of stuff. She's the person that got me into quilt appraising.

SM: Tell me about that.

CE: Well, as I said when we moved to Kansas from Texas and my mother moved with us, I couldn't really do work full time so I decided I wanted to start to do something, so I started doing quilting and taking classes. My friend Barb had taken some courses in quilt appraising, and she said, 'I don't think I really want to do that, but Carol, I think you'd really be interested in that.' I took various skills classes, history classes, all kinds of things like that and the American Quilter's Society has a program on becoming a certified appraiser. So, I took their classes and then you have to do some appraising on your own before you're certified. It doesn't make a lot of sense. It sounds like goofy like you should take the class and then become certified, but they want to know that you are skilled in appraising before you actually become certified. It's sort of a stamp of approval that you're doing things the right way. I finally applied to take the test for certification. It's a written and oral test and I took that in 1995 and passed it and so I have been appraising quilts ever since.

SM: So, what goes into appraising a quilt?

CE: Basically, an appraisal is a description of a quilt as it would be any art object. A physical description and then a description as to workmanship whether it is excellent or good or fair or primitive. You're describing both the physical object and the skill level of the maker. And then after all of those examinations we measure, we describe and we do all those kinds of things, then it boils down to a price as to what the quilt is worth. We base value on various things. Sometimes it's cost to reconstruct. If it is a new quilt you take into account all of the materials and the cost of labor and all of those kinds of things would be similar to when you get an appraisal on your house you know how they do appraisals a couple of ways, they do cost to construct and they do it based on comparable sales. So, with a quilt, new ones are usually cost to reconstruct. With antiques because you could never reconstruct an antique quilt that's based on comparable sales, so I have to do research, search auction sites, price guides, various things to come up with values. And it's kind of a fluid thing because as you know the economy is depressed right now so quilt prices are depressed right now as all antiques are. But surprisingly cost to reconstruct, those prices are still up because materials have not gone down much, they go up every year, and labor costs really haven't gone down for determining what it would cost to have something quilted.

SM: What is one of the most interesting quilts you've ever come across?

CE: Well one that I appraised at a quilt show. I think it was two years ago. A family, a husband and wife brought it and it was a beautiful album quilt, meaning each block was done different. Well friends had done these blocks in their own style and then signed them as a gift to their departing minister. That was in the 1840s. It was really interesting to hear their information about the quilt and then to see it all laid out there and it was in pristine, gorgeous, beautiful condition. And you just don't see quilts like that very often. So that was a real treat. I have appraised some new quilts that are phenomenal that have been done by art quilters that are just gorgeous and beautiful. Surprisingly very valuable or not surprisingly very valuable.

SM: If you were to pick out one that just appeals to you, what sort of things do you really like?

CE: Well, I'm a traditionalist. I like traditional patterns. Star patterns are my favorite. I like to reproduce antique quilts and sometimes I even like to use antique fabrics. Like this one [points to a quilt on table.] isn't finished, this is a top, but this one is done with vintage or 1930's fabrics and it's a little miniature. This is a star one that I did that's not really a reproduction or it's not antique fabrics but it's a reproduction, so they are supposed to look like old ones. Oh, I don't know, I just like to do traditional patterns that have been done for years and years and years. I'm not real innovative. Some people are very innovative with their quilt making. I did a little bit of that, but I really haven't gotten way off into the art world. I'm still a traditional quiltmaker. My friend, Barb Eikmeier, taught me how to do machine appliqué and this is one, of course, I have not finished. [points to quilt on table.] Lots of us quilters do not finish our things. We'll get around to it someday. But this one is a red and green appliqué with the traditional pattern probably 1840s, 1850s. So someday I'll finish that one. I don't do a lot of appliqués. I like it. It's just real time consuming. And I haven't really made a lot of things in the last few years. Most of the things I made were in the 1980s and 1990s. I am working on a quilt right now for our granddaughter so I will get that one finished eventually. My husband and I got interested in quilt history and so one of the things that we did was we researched the quilts of Ida Stone Eisenhower, President Eisenhower's mother. And so, I got so involved in that that I reproduced two of her quilts in these miniature reproductions. And this is one of them [points to quilt on table and page in book.] and it really looks very similar to the quilt that Ida made. And this is another one that's a reproduction of one of hers.

SM: So, you reproduce the color and the pattern?

CE: Yeah. You see this is the journal article that we wrote in Uncovering's in 1998 and I think I can show you a picture here of the original one. [shows picture in book.] This is the original one and so Ron did the calculations to get the size scale done exactly right so the proportions were right. And then her other one that I reproduced; I don't know if there is a picture. [searches in book for photo.] No, there isn't a picture of it, but Ron's picture of one of her quilts was chosen as the cover of the journal for that year so we're pretty proud of that.

SM: So, is that common to reproduce a historical pattern?

CE: No, well.

SM: Or a famous quilt?

CE: I wouldn't say totally common, but a lot of people--in fact a lot of my appraisal clients will bring me quilts in very bad condition. They always want to know if they can be restored. Made to look the like they were new. It's very expensive to do restoration work. So, I always tell them, 'Well, you can do two things. You can do a reproduction of it as a full quilt, or you can do a reproduction as a miniature.' And I have had several clients that had done miniature recreations of their quilt. It kind of puts you in the spirit of when you're working through that pattern, I think it's kind of spooky. It's like you're doing the steps that that person did. You're doing the same things and so you start, it's just a feeling that you get that you're one with the quilter, I think. It sounds kind of silly, but you feel like you're going through the motions that the original quiltmaker did so that's kind of neat. This is [points to quilt on table.] another one that I did with reproduction fabrics, and they're called indigo blues because they used indigo dye originally to do those and double pinks because they printed on the fabric with these red, actually when you look at it it's really red over printed on other fabrics, so they're called bubble gum pinks or double pinks. Ron took this to Rotary [points to another quilt on table.] and had Governor Graves sign it. It's not very valuable right now, but we're hoping [laughs.]. Another thing that I like to do, is I like to take old blocks or old fabrics and make quilts out of those and that's kind of a little subbranch for traditional quilters, reclaiming blocks. And a lot of people do that. These butterfly blocks were from an old quilt top [points to another quilt on table.] that I bought in Abilene, Kansas, probably in the early '70s. And it was a whole big top and all of them were in such bad repair that all I was able to salvage were only 9 blocks and I made the reproduction from that. So, it felt like I accomplished something, and I felt that the original maker would probably be proud that I got something from it. My favorite part of the whole process is doing the quilting. I don't like to piece or appliqué as well as I like to quilt. The quilting part to me is very relaxing. So, this is another one [points to another quilt on table.] that was just an old, kind of homey kind of top and I put together and quilted it. It's quilted very simply but I feel like I rescued something out of it. So, as I say I like to use old fabrics, I like to use reproduction fabric. This quilt is kind of special to me. [points to another quilt on table.] The patterns called Windy City. It is a Sally Schneider design. And the reason it's special is because after my mom died, we found a lot of fabric that she had collected over the years. And this is kind of fabric from the '70s not top of the line fabric, but she collected pieces of fabric and so I put it together and that's kind of special to me.

SM: And somehow it all works.

CE: Yeah, I got to use all the fabric. And if you hold it up you can see the design and the pattern. [holds up quilt.]

SM: Kind of like a basket weave. Is there a name for it?

CE: It's Windy City. Windy City. I'm not sure how that name came about, but that's the name that Sally Schneider, the designer, gave it. So that's special because that's from stuff that my mom had. She would have liked that I used that. I don't normally enter competitions or anything, but this is one quilt that I did enter [points to another quilt on table.] into a quilt challenge. The People's Museum of Intercourse, Pennsylvania had a Christmas challenge and so I entered this, and I was a finalist. I didn't win a prize, but it got to hang in the People's Quilt Museum in Intercourse, Pennsylvania for about two months and pineapples are kind of a symbol of hospitality [points to another quilt on table.] so I call this one “Christmas Hospitality.”

SM: Oh, that's perfect.

CE: And this quilt is one that I made [points to another quilt.], I collect dog things. Dog fabrics and dog quilt patterns. I have a big collection of antique dog quilts and dog fabrics and so this was one that I made because I like dog patterns and it fit in with my dog collection. The Beach Museum [Kansas.] had a quilt exhibit in the early '90s, '92 so we all got to, in our quilt guild, we got to choose a quilt that we would want to display and then the curator of the exhibit got to have the final say about whether they would except it. So, it got to hang at the Beach Museum for a couple of months, so I was very proud of that.

SM: Tell me a little bit about the guild. How that works.

CE: I am a member of actually a couple of guilds. I am a member of the Konza Prairie Quilt Guild, and we meet once a month. We have programs once a month. The guild's been going since the late 1980s. I didn't join. Well maybe the mid-1980s and it may be started a little before that. I joined in 1990. It is a group of like-minded people, who like to do quilting, who like to hear educational programs and speeches. Some of the people belong to smaller little stitch groups where they go and do stitching. When we have our guild meetings, we usually have a formal speaker or a workshop. We don't actually do the stitching. Sometimes there will be a workshop where you do actually make, but it's more an educational kind of thing. We have about 130 members, I think. I am also a member of KQO, Kansas Quilters Organization, which is the state guild that's been going since, oh I guess, the late 1970s. In 1976, for the country's bicentennial, that's kind of when the guilds movement got started and lots of people formed these guilds and the state guilds formed at that time. I don't think our actual local guild started right then, it was a few years after that, but it was kind of the momentum. There were some quilt contests where people entered Bicentennial quilt contests and won prizes and that kind of thing. Kind of a revival of quilt making. We have all kind of members, we have young people and we have currently we don't have any men, but a lot of guilds across Kansas have men, but around here it is primarily a female kind of organization. Kind of cuts all sorts of socioeconomic lines. It is a common interest in quilt making not based on where you live or where you work. It's people who like quilting. So, we get lots of different people joining.

SM: You say you don't do much quilting now, but how many hours a week do you think you just spend on quilts in general, research.

CE: Oh, well research for my appraisal business and my things that I do, I probably spend 10-15 hours a week reading. I just got back from France actually. I have a good friend who does textile tours so she asked about 10 of us if we would be interested in going and helping in a museum in France so we went to Mulhouse, France for a week and we helped her do inventory.

SM: Oh, how fun.

CE: And that sounds like, 'how dull,' [laughs.] but we got to touch and look at fabrics from the early 1800s through probably the 1920s.We got to go to the storage facility for this museum. It's the Musee de l'Impression sur Etoffes, the Museum of Printed Textiles in Mulhouse, France. So, we got to talk to the curator. We got to talk to the conservator. We got to talk to other people. We got to go in the back room. We got to touch all the things. We got to see everything. That was a lot of fun.

SM: Is there a big difference between European quilts and American quilts?

CE: For a long time, Europeans didn't admit that they did quilting, and people thought erroneously that that's an American tradition. Well, it turns out that especially in Great Britain, in France, Sweden, they have quilts that go back to--really farther back than the 1600s. I mean they really have been doing it. They just didn't promote it as an art like we did. Probably in the European countries they did more whole cloth quilts and large patterns concentrating more on the quilting. Although they did some blocks style with smaller blocks, Americans kind of went with that pattern. So, a lot of the early colonial quilts in our country are large scale too, they're whole cloth, there aren't there isn't any piecing in them they're just quilted. Or they're large patterns like they'll have a medallion, a great big center piece with frames around it. Very similar to some of the European kinds of things, but you can see a lot of similarities between the European things and the American things. You can tell that it was brought over here it didn't just spring up out of the soil. There was that tradition. I have been to this museum in France previously a few years ago. It's such a fabulous museum because they have quilts, but they have other textiles. And their primary purpose is to collect a sample of every printed textile. They have hankies, they have aprons. They have just pieces of fabric. They have upholstery fabric. They have quilting fabric, but that's kind of where my appraisal business has gotten me into things, I never would have thought I could get to do.

SM: Sure. Now you have a granddaughter.

CE: Yes.

SM: Do you think she will become a quilter? Are you going to teach her?

CE: Well, her other grandmother beat me to the draw. She got her some buttons and some shoestring, so she started threading the shoestring through the buttons. So, I had to get some for her, too. Her mother sews also, so we're hoping that she will get to be quilting and I intend to encourage it if she's interested.

SM: Neat. As I mentioned before, this is part of the American Heritage committee for DAR, so what makes you think that quilts are an important part of our American heritage?

CE: I think quilts are very important because women especially have not been always recognized for their creative arts. Quilting is a perfect example of women's creativity. They didn't take paint and put it on a canvas, but they took needle and thread and took all these wonderful fabrics and made really, really creative things out of them. When I appraise antique quilts, it's just amazing the kinds of patterns and things that I see. So, I think it's just an important part of the world and the United States especially heritage to preserve quilts and to just study them and to learn as much as we can about them because it reveals what women were, their inner thinking. They couldn't vote for long time, but a lot of quilts have political imagery in them. There are patterns that are named for political causes. Whig's Defeat is one that comes to mind. There's Democratic Rose. There's a number of things like that. Women would incorporate political textiles into their quilts. That's why I'm interested in preserving it because it's a unique art. Now men have been doing quilting along with women for a long time, but it's been a primarily a female dominated kind of thing.

SM: Sure. Well, you've kind of touched on it, but what's the most important thing to you about quilting. Why is it important to you?

CE: You mean my actually making a quilt?

SM: Or just it being a part of your life?

CE: Well, I often, my husband and I have talked about this. When I'm gone, nobody's going to say--I'm a librarian, and nobody's going to say, 'Carol catalogued so many books,' or 'Carol talked to so many people.' But they're going to be able to say, 'There are things that Carol made.' These are the physical objects that are that have beauty to them and that can be passed on. That's kind of my feeling about it. It's a way to make your memories live on. And I know the things that my mother made I have those things of hers. There are other needle work things that women do that are equally important, some people do crochet or embroider. It just happens that this is the one that I have chosen, and I just feel like it is a living memorial. Of course, quilts can get damaged and destroyed and they don't live forever but they are a visible link that people can know you by while you are living and after you are gone.

SM: One thing that I think is interesting, especially in your guild, you mentioned that there is a wide variety of age groups there. For a new quilter, for a young quilter, what do you think is the most challenging thing for them to confront right now? Is it different technology, is that a hindrance?

CE: Well new people are much more savvy at using technology with quilting. A lot of the younger quilters are using computer design programs and so they can really come up with unique designs for their quilts because they can use Corel Draw, or they can use some of the programs that have been developed to help you design quilts. You can make a little small design and some of the quilting programs will you can expand that or you can make it into different blocks. I think younger people in a way have advantages over some of us older people who are a little reluctant to try some of the technology. And machine quilting is really, really a big, big area and younger women more and more are doing long arm quilting and it's a means of using technology, but it also uses their artistic skills. And it seems like it's not across the board, but younger women are more willing to go with that and to try some of the new designs. Hand quilting, I wouldn't say it's a dying art, but there aren't as many people doing it. But when I appraise, I see probably much more machine quilting now than I ever did and it's every bit as valuable because it is every bit as artistic. We're talking about machine quilting that's custom quilting, that isn't just an all over pattern. It's a pattern that follows the design or that enhances the design of the quilt. It's very creative. So probably younger quilters have trouble with some of the handwork, although I do teach one class in hand quilting, and I do have some younger women that want to learn how to do it because they're not familiar with that kind of thing and they want to learn how to do it. And my daughter-in-law does some quilt making and she's interesting because she has her own creative ways to do it. She's not really formally trained in some of the ways and she's really artistic and can do some of the things that the rest of us aren't as free to do. Sometimes training inhibits the creative thoughts.

SM: Right. Well, is there anything else you wanted to add to the interview? Things you had thought about.

CE: I am just excited that DAR is interested in preserving quilt history of their members. I know I've been to the DAR Museum, and they have a wonderful quilt collection. I've talked to Alden O'Brien, the curator. With our appraisal group, we've gone behind the scenes, and she's shown us some of the wonderful things that DAR members have donated. I think that's wonderful when people are willing to donate some of their family antiques to a place like the DAR museum that can preserve them and can help others learn about the history of our members. And I love the rooms at the museum, all the different state rooms. It's excited to see that. I want to encourage people to donate quilts to the museum and to perpetuate the memory of people.

SM: Well, I'd like to thank Carol for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quiltmakers' [Quilters'.] S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. And our interview is concluded at 8:05 p.m. on July 23, 2009.


“Carol Elmore,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,