Ann Miller




Ann Miller




Ann Miller


Kathy Hall

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Lexington, Kentucky


Kathy Hall


Kathy Hall (KH): My name is Kathy Hall and today's date is March 4, 2009, at 10 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Ann Miller in Lexington, 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. Ann is a quilter and is a member of the John McKinley Chapter here in Lexington. Ann, tell me about the quilt you have showed me today.

Ann Miller (AM): First, Kathy I want to thank you for being interested in quilts. The quilt I have showed you today is one that I've made to be given to a veteran. I was thinking of a veteran when I made it. It doesn't have red, white and blue colors which most veterans' quilts do have but it's a quilt that I hope will bring comfort to a veteran. We take them to the VA [veterans.] hospital here in Lexington and a nice man who is in charge of volunteers decides how to distribute them. He likes our quilts very much and we're trying to find more quilters to help us make more for veterans. This ministry, the Cross Quilt Ministry, serves several agencies in town such as Hospice, Hope Center, Center for Women, Children and Families, Chrysalis House, a drug and alcohol treatment center for women, Shepherd's House, a drug and alcohol treatment center for men, Canaan House, a home for chronically mentally ill adults and St. Agnes House. We have about 6 to 10 women who work with me every Tuesday and we make quilts to be given to these agencies.

KH: What special meaning does this particular quilt have for you? Is there anything really special about this one?

AM: This particular quilt is made of fabric with leaves on every piece. There are about--I'm not sure 6 to 8 different pieces of fabric in it. The fabric came to me in about one quarter yard pieces each piece is the size in which it was given. I didn't cut them smaller because that takes more time and I think quilts are just as pretty when the pieces are put together in large pieces.

KH: Why did you choose this quilt for the interview?

AM: Because this is the only one that I have in the house at the moment that I have made 100% by myself. The rest of them have been given away. We take the quilts each week to church and put them on the altar for a blessing and then we bring them back here and divide up and deliver them to the different agencies.

KH: Then what are your plans then for this particular quilt that you have made 100% by yourself?

AM: I will take this particular quilt to the veterans' hospital here in Lexington and give it to the volunteer coordinator who will decide which veteran will get it.

KH: At what age did you start quilting?

AM: I was 50 years old, and it was 1982. I was feeling very grateful that I have had such a richly blessed life and very frustrated that I don't seem to be able to give back enough. We had had a man who was sleeping--he had spent the night in a dumpster here in Lexington. In the morning, he was dumped, and he died on being dumped. I decided this is my answer - this is what I am to do, make quilts for the homeless. I had not made a quilt previously, but I had lots of sewing experience having had four children. My mother made quilts and both my grandmothers had quilted. My grandmother's sister quilted a great deal. So, I decided just to start and the first quilts I made were pretty rough, but I invited women from my church and friends. Just anybody who wanted to come. We had three women who came in the beginning. Most of them didn't stay long, but we started by cutting up our old clothes and putting them back together as quilt tops. Then as the word spread people began to donate fabric. I have a room full of donated fabric. When the women come on Tuesdays, they choose whatever fabric inspires them and they begin making the quilt. There are all different kinds of quilts, but on every quilt, we put the cross and a prayer. The cross is our signature. We don't say what church or even Cross Quilt Ministry. The cross is the signature of this ministry. We have made almost 2,500 quilts since 1982. That year was for my husband's business--he's an architect--a very depressed year. A depressed state much as we are in today only today it's a general depression. I think there will be more and more quilts needed and I hope more ladies will come to quilt with us as the economy worsens.

KH: From whom did you learn to quilt?

AM: My mother.

KH: Tell us about your mother and her quilts.

AM: She made strictly utilitarian quilts for us to sleep under. I remember in the winter when we would leave for school--while we were gone, she would unroll the quilt frame from the ceiling. My father had put screws in the ceiling and when we were home, she would roll the quilt up so that it wouldn't bump anybody in the head. Then when we left for school, she would roll it down and quilt some more. Later in her life she pieced them and had other ladies quilt them for her. But she made many quilts in her lifetime. She was very industrious.

KH: That was a good quilt memory. What was your first memory of a quilt that your mother made?

AM: Mother had made a Dutch Girl quilt. There were lots of Dutch Girl quilts from the '20s and '30s. I think they must have been all from a printed pattern and I remember pouring over the different fabrics and colors and enjoying the beauty of them. I've always enjoyed different colors and went to college to be an art major. And I want the quilts to be beautiful works of art. Could I share another story?

KH: Absolutely.

AM: When we first started this ministry, we had been working for about 2 weeks--no, we had been working for almost 4 months and it was 2 weeks before Christmas. I hadn't made any cookies or decorated or done anything for Christmas at that point because I had been quilting. Mother was here and the phone rang. I answered and it was the director of the Family Care Center. The director had started this agency in town to serve several families. She said, 'Santa came to the center and each child asked Santa for a gift. We try to fill that need or request. We have one little boy who asked Santa for a warm blanket for his mother. Do you think you could make a quilt for this boy?' So, Mother said, 'Ann, you make cookies. I'll make this quilt.' She went upstairs and chose pastel colored fabric from Wolf Wiles Department store here in town. There were long curved strips of fabric. Mother put them together - pale pink, yellow and blue strips of that beautiful fabric and made a quilt which Santa gave to the little boy for his mother. That was the first story we had that pulled at our heartstrings. The little boy got his warm blanket for his mother. That was a sign for me that I needed to continue this Cross Quilt Ministry.

KH: Are there other quilt memories that you have?

AM: Oh my. Well, we had a show in quilt as art at the University of Kentucky several years ago. It was called "Century of Progress Quilts." The city of Chicago had a World's Fair in 1933 and Sears Roebuck conducted a quilt contest throughout the nation, and it was very popular because there were cash prizes and a chance to have your quilt exhibited at the world's fair. The girls who created this quilt show, the curators, collected as many quilts as they could from the contest, and they found about 16 quilts. There were 16 quilts in the show actually.

KH: This is at the University of Kentucky?

AM: Yes.

KH: Okay.

AM: These quilts were precious to the families who owned them. These quilts were real works of art. There were three categories. One of the most memorable quilts in the history category for me was a quilt with prominent American faces on it. We could recognize easily Abraham Lincoln, Cyrus McCormick, George Washington and so forth. The faces were all created in the fabric. There was a century of progress category, and a quilt was found in Western Kentucky that the American Quilt Museum in Paducah owned. It had the symbols of the World's Fair and one of the buildings of the fair on it. The museum in Paducah did not know that it had been one of the contest quilts. All quilts were supposed to have been made by one person. There were also quilts made by men. We found through our show at the University of Kentucky that many had been made by groups. One of the most beautiful quilts in the show was made by an engineer without work. He was the husband of the girl who supposedly designed and made the quilt. That was a husband-and-wife team. After this show left the University [of Kentucky.] Art Museum, it went to Knoxville [Tennessee.] for a last exhibit and then it was disbanded, and the quilts sent back to the families who owned them. The winner of this contest in 1933 was a woman from Kentucky. Seven of the top 30 winners were from Kentucky. That's how I suppose Kentucky and Kentuckians have a reputation for being fine quilters. Well, we did find out that the number one winning quilt was given to Eleanor Roosevelt and has since been lost. A copy was made and there were pictures of it in the show too. A woman from here who had a linen shop in town [Lexington.] who sold quilts all over the nation made the first prize quilt. And she used 6 or 7 different women to quilt it. Remember these "Century of Progress" quilts were all to have been made by one woman. [laughs.]

KH: But so you helped put together that show at the University of Kentucky Museum?

AM: No, I didn't help put it together, but I did conduct several tours through the show, and I gave a lunch for the curators, and we had a woman from Paris, Kentucky who gave a beautiful reading at the lunch about quilts. The reading was from the book "Aunt Jane of Kentucky" [by Eliza Calvert Hall, Boston: Little Brown 1907.] stories. It's an old book published first in the 1800s. Those quilts in that show were fine works of art. They just were beautiful and all of the stories that were told with them were wonderful too.

KH: What quilt groups do you belong to? Tell me about them.

AM: Just this Cross Quilt Ministry. It's the only one, Kathy. It's a lot of work. It keeps me busy. Every Tuesday the ladies come at 9:00 in the morning and we work from 9:00 to about noon when we have lunch. I work here all week and on weekends. Some women take work home also. We have a nice group of ladies who make about 120 quilts a year. We'd like to do more. I have more workstations so we're always welcome to newcomers.

KH: Well then what aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

AM: You know the only thing that I do not enjoy is if I have to wash the fabric to shrink it and then iron it dry. But I do that also sometimes. Quilting is very gratifying for me because I have not had a career except for a short time, two years that I served as educational assistant at a local church. The rest of the time I've been a housewife and so much of housework has to be done over every week. If I make a quilt, I have a product that is finished. It doesn't have to be redone.

KH: And you can make a different one the next time.

AM: That's right and the most enjoyable part--my very favorite part is taking the fabric and putting it together in a new way every time. I really enjoy working with fabric. As I said, I went to college to be an art major, and I gave up painting for quilt making.

KH: Do you use mostly cotton fabric or do you use several types of fabrics?

AM: It's mostly cotton and that's what I prefer but we do have double-knit and we make the double-knit for Hope Center which services people on the street. We said when we started this ministry that if the quilts end up on the curb in the mud the next day that's ok. It's our responsibility to make them and what happens to them is someone else's responsibility. Double-knit is very washable, and it makes nice quilts, but double-knit is not a high-status fabric these days. So, we do get quite a bit of it donated. We have lots of upholstery fabric also. That makes nice quilts.

KH: Ann, what are your favorite techniques and materials? Although I think we just covered that with the cotton fabrics being your favorite.

AM: We did cover the fabrics but the technique I prefer is putting the cross on the quilt. We do satin stitch around the cross. I have a template that my husband made that I draw and stitch and that's in the center of the quilt and then I make four rays out from the cross. That stabilizes the quilt four different ways so I have four different sections that I can work on. I don't always do the rays. Sometimes the fabric has lines on it then I follow the lines, but mostly when I quilt my own quilts, I use the cross with the rays coming out from it.

KH: So, what do you think makes a great quilt?

AM: Oh, the quilt that's warm and feels good looks good.

KH: And in this case has a purpose?

AM: Yes.

KH: Then why is quilt making important in your life?

AM: Well quilt making is essential in cold climates or some kind of warm covering is. We all need something to stay warm with. Quilts went out of fashion I think in the 1950s and '60s because we have such an abundance of blankets produced in this country so quilt making has not been as essential as it had been earlier, but what we discovered is that quilt making is a wonderful, calming hobby. There are thousands and thousands of women quilting in this country today. Many are quilts made just for hanging on walls. Others are to be used for sleeping. Just this year we started making baby quilts to be given to each baby baptized in our church. We've been making quilts for veterans for three years now, but we use lots of children's quilts, and we find that the children's size is also good for Hospice patients because they can use an extra small blanket. In fact, one, of the quilters made a beautiful quilt for my mother when she was with me before she died. It was such a useful quilt. It was small and it kept her feet and legs warm. People who are at the end of their lives often sleep in a curled up small position as Mother did.

KH: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or your region?
AM: Well, we have fabric that comes from our fabric stores, but we also have fabric that comes from across the nation. We have quilters in this ministry who travel all over the country and know where all the good quilt fabric stores are. We have one woman who quilts with us who sells her quilts for $900 or $1000. The fabric in the quilt that you photographed this morning was given to us by her. She buys wonderful fabrics - fabrics by famous designers. They are the nicest fabrics to use because they sew together so nicely.

KH: How many ways do you think quilts can be used?

AM: Well, many, many - as comfort, as warmth, as art. There's something about the emotional quality of quilts. People are very attached to their family quilts. One year the city of Louisville had a tribute to quilts and quiltmakers. About six different locations in the city of Louisville featured a different kind of quilting. In the history museum there were quilts from African American women. There was one top that had never been backed nor had batting put in it. It had been sewn together so loosely, so roughly and it obviously was primitive, but some family had cherished that quilt for such a long time that it was an inspiration to me. I knew I had no quilt making training, but I thought if somebody can treasure that roughly made quilt to that degree, then I surely can make quilts that will be acceptable to somebody.

KH: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

AM: Well, I think probably the constraints on their time. We have such an affluent society, but we have the whole world's problems and the whole world's information on our doorsteps. We just have so many demands on our time. We have to have music lessons and other endeavors for our children, so time is really valuable. With quilting one can withdraw and concentrate solely on the quilt and have a nice, finished product created in a stress-free block of time.

KH: Speaking of time, tell me how you balance your time. You must surely have other things that you do besides quilt making. So how do you balance all those things in your life?

AM: Well, I have reared four children and that is a great experience in management. I learned to manage my time then. They were all gone from home when I started quilt making. I have continued quilt making for 27 years now. I have just resigned after 21 years as chairman of food ministry at my church, and I have been a docent at the UK [University of Kentucky.] Art Museum for 20 years. I have taught a lot of Sunday school and done a lot of other volunteer work. I have just concentrated on quilt making for the most part. I get up early in the morning and do quilting to treat myself. I do at least 2 hours of quilting in the mornings.

KH: Every day?

AM: Well almost every day and then throughout the day sometimes I can quilt for a few minutes. I quilt compulsively all winter and I garden compulsively all summer. I really spend a lot of time gardening. All these activities seem to keep me happy and healthy.

KH: In that case what do you think someone viewing your quilts might conclude about you? What would they think about you?

AM: Well, I've called myself a "slap-dash" quilter. Speed is very important to me, but we have this little saying--the quilters' group, 'first warmth, then speed, then if it's pretty we're happy.' So, I kind of feel that way. I'm not as careful as some of the other ladies. We have one lady who makes absolutely perfect quilts. If there are lines to be matched, there's never a line out of order, but I still call myself "slap-dash." I have no idea what someone else might think upon viewing my quilts.

KH: You are thinking about the comfort factor, and I think in this case that's most important.

AM: Well, there are so many people who are in need of warmth, and I think I told you earlier that I started this because I have never been cold. I've always had enough shelter and food and clothing. Good things provided for me by good parents and then a good husband. So that really is important. I'm glad I can give some warmth to people who might be cold otherwise. We all have something we can share.

KH: That's right. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

AM: I think families have done a very good job of preserving their quilts, but we could probably use museums with controlled climates more. We need to preserve more than just Amish quilts. Quilts reflect our culture. In museums across the world people have valued African art and collected it. That is the art of the culture. I am so glad we are having this on-going quilt preservation. Quilts are part of the art of our culture.

KH: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

AM: A person who loves quilt making. Art is an expression for artists, what they know, what they feel. Quilt making is the same way. Basket weaving, pottery, all of the things we do with our hands to make life more pleasant and more beautiful, makes great cultural artifacts.

KH: Ann, is there anything that you would like to add that we haven't covered with the questions?

AM: Oh, I'd like to add gratitude to the women who come and quilt each week and also bring goodies for lunch. The group has changed through the years. They come and go. They retire. We have a variety of people who like to quilt, and we had a new girl just yesterday. She lived in China for two years and she's a retired attorney. Another girl has asked us to send quilts to Guatemala for a mission which she started there. So we're making seven quilts for them this spring. We had fabric from four or five states other than Kentucky because our quilters or their families were from those states. Everybody who sews has a closet full of fabric. We all like to shop in fabric stores. So, when somebody dies, the family goes through the closet and finds fabric which they donate to us. I think the fabric designers are the true artists.

KH: I'd like to thank Ann Miller for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 10:40 on March 4, 2009.


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