Pam Neil




Pam Neil




Pam Neil


Kathy Hall

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Louisville, Kentucky


Kathy Hall


Note: Pam Neil is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Kathy Hall (KH): My name is Kathy Hall and today's date is Monday June the 15th, 2009 at 2:00 o'clock p.m. I am conducting an interview with Pam Neil in Louisville, Kentucky, for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Kentucky State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Pam is a quilter who has a quilt shop named Sew Vintage here in Louisville. Pam, first tell me about your shop? How did it come about?

Pam Neil (PN): My husband Dave and I wanted to combine the antiques that we love with the vintage linens that I'm particularly interested and fascinated in. We decided to add the quilt shop retail to complement the vintage linens because quilts are also vintage linens.

KH: Tell me about your classes, Pam? Who are your students?

PN: The classes in our shop tend to be more traditional in nature and we try to teach the good basic skills mostly geared toward beginning and intermediate quilters. We do quite a few private lessons here, one on one type sessions. We teach the latest quick cutting and quick piecing techniques, but we do not try to teach every new fad that comes out. We really would like to concentrate on the basic general skills. We teach traditional hand piecing and hand quilting too when there's interest, but I have to say that many of the ladies really do not think they have the time to do hand piecing and hand quilting these days. So most of them are interested in machine techniques and they are certainly valid too. Even in vintage times the ladies used their machines to piece their quilts and to quilt their quilts.

KH: I'd like to ask you how many students you usually have in a session at a time or a class?

PN: Our classes are limited by the size of our room so we seldom have more than maybe 6 sometimes 8 but I really feel that smaller groups are even better and most of what I do here in the shop are private lessons.

KH: Is there an age variance in the people who take quilting classes from you?

PN: I would have guessed that students might be younger than I am finding. There are many teens who want to learn to quilt and many teens who already know how to quilt and there are plenty of ladies in their 30s and 40s. But actually I do have quite a few students here who are in their 60s and 70s as well. I think at this age they finally have time to add a hobby to their lives and in some cases I have actually had the privilege of teaching quilting to former home ec teachers. And I found that extraordinary. I really would not have thought that would be the case. They've done sewing all their lives but they had not had the opportunity to quilt so I find it especially pleasing to help add that to their lives.

KH: That's really interesting.

KH: Pam, at what age did you start quilting?

PN: The first quilt I made was when I was in my early 20s. I made a doll quilt for my little daughter from a vintage top that had been given to me by my grandmother. It really wasn't "all that"as far as the quilt goes but it was just a simple little piece but I'd say that was my first quilt.

KH: From whom did you learn to quilt?

PN: The real introduction to quilting for me was by my mother-in-law, Lucille. We soon found that quilting was something that we both loved. I had always loved to sew and when she found that out she was very anxious to share her love of quilting and her passion for quilting with me. And I have to say it really became a great common ground for the beginning of our friendship.

KH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

PN: During the shop hours I do occasionally have time for cutting and piecing sample quilt tops for here in the shop and to show for classes but in my personal time after hours, I mostly enjoy hand work projects, the ones I can work on while relaxing in front of the TV. But probably the most fun I have with quilting at home would be when I have a marathon session where I might stay in my jammies half the weekend and just sew all night, all day, all night. Mostly those types of projects would just be one single project and I can pretty much complete it start to finish.

KH: What was your first quilt memory?

PN: My sister and I shared a room during grade school, my grade school years and we had a really gorgeous double wedding ring quilt. I actually believe it was vintage even then and it was made in the traditional scrappy version with the pink and green intersecting pieces. Many of the ones you run into today are scrappy and made with those colors--real traditional, from the 1930s. When I asked my mom about this quilt years later when I became more interested in quilts, she said that the quilt became extremely worn and shabby and she finally did give it up but it had definitely been well loved during its lifetime.

KH: Then how does quiltmaking impact your family?

PN: I can recount numerous times when quilts have been a catalyst to express emotions in our family and I'm sure that's true in most families. Quilts are a great way to celebrate happy events like babies and weddings and graduations, and other kinds of gifts. I can remember specific instances where quilts in my family were made to say thank you to someone and as I mentioned, with Lucille, it was a way to bridge a gap of friendship. In my Mom's case I think that quiltmaking was a way to say I love you and a way to connect with someone in her past and to honor someone. In most families it's the mother who passes quilting down to her daughters and in our family I actually taught my mom to quilt. She began quilting and she actually now is a quilting fool. You can't get her to stop. But a few years after she started quilting she came across among her things a quilt top that had been pieced by her mother back in 1944 and that was the year her mother died. She had hung onto this quilt top for years and years never really knowing what she was gonna do with it. It just meant so much to her because it belonged to her mother. The quilt top has fabrics in it that she remembers her mother wearing and there were fabrics in it that she had as dresses when she was a little girl. But after she learned to quilt she finally was able to finish her mother's quilt and from what I understand she cried while sewing nearly every block. It was a way for her to honor her mother I suppose. Another way that quilting has impacted our family, I think, is by using it as a way to cope when our son Scott went to Afghanistan shortly after September 11. We made a quilt that was actually very therapeutic for us.

KH: Well, then that brings me to the quilt we have photographed today. Tell me about it and its special meaning.

PN: Well, the name of this quilt is "Scott's Victory Quilt"and he named it sort of tongue in cheek. When the events of September 11, 2001 occurred, Scott was in the Army Special Forces and he was a first responder to Afghanistan after those attacks in New York. I told him that it was more danger than we knew he had ever been in before knowing that he was going to Afghanistan. I think the country in general was in shock during that time and we just didn't know what to expect with his going over there. But because of that I said, ‘Scott, I really don't know what to do to help you, but I'm going to make a quilt while you're gone. We'll put a block in it for every day you're gone so that you will know without a doubt that we thought about you every single day and that we did not just become complacent about your being over there.' We chose to do this quilt as a memory quilt and we used Pigma markers to actually write messages on the blocks each day. The pattern is a half square triangle, a very simple quiltmaking pattern. The construction method or technique is called quilt-as-you-go [all three layers are sewn at once.] and while I developed the specific construction plan for this quilt, I'm pretty sure I was influenced at the time by a book written by Georgia Bonesteel. And I forget the name of her book, but it was a book about quilt-as-you-go methods. The blocks I did by machine and we wrote messages on the blocks and then all the quilting was done by hand and then each block was added day by day and row by row. We chose to start the blocks in the center of the quilt and then we added the rows in a clockwise fashion around to build out from the center and the reason we did that was because we didn't know how long Scott was going to be deployed. He could have been deployed 2 years. He could have been deployed 2 months or God forbid, he could have been gone 2 weeks and come home in a box. We just really did not know how big this quilt was gonna be so we started in the center. The quilt is almost a play by play of the war and in many cases it documents things that were going on in the family like his dad's 60th birthday, his brother being deployed in the Navy reserves and there was even a proposal of marriage documented in this quilt. It was signed by his children, his siblings, his cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and a couple of strangers that he didn't even know that were friends of the family. There are even some secret messages in this quilt that some people wrote on the seams of the quilt and I've never told Scott where they are or what they say. I only told him that someday I might tell him. It just really documents a whole lot that was going on in our lives. That first deployment Scott was only gone 6½ months and he's fine. I should say that he did come home and he was gone about 6½ months for that deployment but a couple of weeks before he was due to come home, he was able to let us know that and so we planned the edges of the quilt. The borders we actually sent out to California to his grandmother, who is Lucille, my mother-in-law. She quilted those and sent them back and they became part of the quilt too and then the top and bottom borders that you'll see were actually signed by people who came to his coming home party when he got home. And because we had done it in a quilt as you go fashion, the quilt was done just a couple of weeks after he came home even though it was all hand quilted. If I had made the quilt top and then quilted it after the fact, he would have had to wait for it probably 6 months or more.

KH: Pam, what are your plans for this quilt in the future?

PN: Well, this is obviously Scott's quilt, not ours, but he recently loaned it to us because he thought the ladies here at the shop might be interested in seeing it and many, many of the ladies are. There aren't many families in America who have not been touched in some way by the attacks of September 11 and you know many of them have sent young men over to the Middle East, so they know how this quilt became a therapy quilt for Dave and me. And that said, 'I guess Scott plans to keep this quilt as part of his "war room,"' as he calls it with all of his sentimental artifacts, you might say, from his Army career.

KH: Then tell me about restoring old quilts like the one you have restored for me.

PN: Well, I've always been really fascinated by the vintage quilts. I think textiles develop an old patina just like other antiques do and the old quilts just have a tendency to charm me. It's too bad that most old quilts along with that beautiful patina do develop an age-related issue at some point--maybe loose seams or frayed bindings, maybe missing patches or stains or fading. The quilt that you brought to me was in really great overall condition. There are some stains which I believe will easily soak out and there are a couple dozen patches that have deteriorated. But this is a good example of a quilt that can be repaired. Nearly all the patches that needed to be replaced in your quilt were from the same original fabric and I believe that fabric dated back to about the late 1800s. According to your family history, this quilt was made in the 1930s, but no later than 1941 because that's when your great grandmother who made this quilt died. This is a good example though because those fabrics that are deteriorated came from the late 1800s and it's a good example of really how long some of those fabric scraps are likely to hang out in a woman's scrap basket. This was especially true during the depression. To restore your quilt we needed to remove the deteriorated patches. We started by unstitching the quilting stitches first and then we unstitched the seam stitches where the patch is sewn to the contiguous patches and the batting in many cases has to be replaced also. Then we replace the patch with another piece of fabric from the same time period because we want to make sure that the fabric we're putting into the quilt doesn't stand out as being a non period piece. So we then appliqué a patch back onto the quilt and then re-quilt it. And if we've done a good job, the replaced patches should not even stand out next to the other fabrics that they're next to. The reason that I consider your quilt really worthy of repair is that it is in otherwise really good condition. It's been well cared for. And another reason is that it's a family piece and therefore very valuable to you. This particular quilt also has a really fun, unique design that was really typical of the 1930s. It's just a real sweet scrap quilt and of course I love old quilts anyway. One thing I should say is that museum quality pieces should probably not be restored or repaired. They should be preserved as they are. But for all the reasons I stated, I was really happy to work on your quilt because I think it was very worthy of being restored.

KH: Thank you. I'm happy that you are doing it.

KH: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

PN: I really love all aspects of quiltmaking except there will just never be enough time to try all the patterns I want to try. I do enjoy hand work and I enjoy the precision piece work on the machine. I really love the geometrics involved there. So I really like designing, cutting, sewing, finishing. I really love all of it.

KH: Pam, what aspects then of quiltmaking do you not enjoy, if there are any?

PN: I'm really not so intrigued by all of the newest tools and gadgets and crazy techniques there are these days. I think they're fun and they make quiltmaking go really fast for some people and that's all fine and good because we don't all have a lot of time to quilt but that's not my favorite thing about quiltmaking. I really like traditional piecing and traditional patterns more.

KH: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

PN: I'm especially fond of scrap quilts and I'm especially drawn to vintage fabrics so I love working with them. I would say appliqué is a favorite handwork technique and this was used quite extensively during the 1930s. I think it was popular then because it required very little fabric which was scarce and quite a lot of time, which was plentiful. At any rate, appliqué definitely appeals to me and I enjoy teaching it as a technique.

KH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

PN: I love it when a quilt has a sentiment attached to it in some way. I guess if you put your time into a quilt that's sentiment enough but I think that many of the quilts that I've made have had a reason behind them, a reason for making them. I also think that each quilt should reflect the quiltmaker's personal best when it comes to workmanship and design and I really absolutely, sincerely find all levels of quiltmaking skills admirable. There really is something to admire in every quilt no matter how well done it is if it's that quiltmaker's personal best then it's admirable.

KH: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

PN: Quilting has been a favorite pastime of mine for the past 25 years and it currently figures fairly prominently in my professional life too, with having the shop here. Right now, I'm getting a lot of personal satisfaction out of sharing the skill with students here in the shop and that's pretty rewarding for me right now.

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

PN: I think to truly honor quiltmakers we should take good care of their quilts and one of the ways to do that is by actually using them rather than preserving them on a shelf somewhere. No matter how well we take care of them though, they are textiles and they won't last forever. So I think we can show really great respect for the quiltmakers and honor their quilts by finding something about the quilts to reproduce. I think that by reproducing these and passing our reproductions also on to future generations we're helping to preserve the art of quilts for the future.

KH: Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview that I have not already asked?

PN: Well, I just want to say thank you Kathy for inviting me to participate in this Quilter's S.O.S. - [Save Our Stories.] project. It really is quite an honor for me. Thank you.

KH: My pleasure.

KH: And I'd like to thank Pam Neil for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 2:25 p.m. on Monday, June the 15th, 2009.


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