Kathy Stewart




Kathy Stewart




Kathy Stewart


Ronda Coleman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Elkhorn City, Kentucky


Ronda Coleman


NOTE: This interview was done during a quilt class so background conversations can be heard throughout the interview.

Ronda Coleman (RC): This is an interview for The Alliance for American Quilts', Quilters' [S.O.S-] Save Our Stories, identification number KY41522-010. The interviewee is Mrs. Kathy Stewart. The interviewer is Ronda Coleman and Ronda Coleman is the transcriber. The place of interview is Elkhorn City Public Library at Elkhorn City, Kentucky. Today's date is March 13, 2008, at about 11:55 am. Thank you Mrs. Kathy for allowing me to interview you today. Tell me a little bit about the quilt you brought in for the interview.

Kathy Stewart (KS): Well, this is my first quilt doing Chicken Scratch. I think you can tell. An experienced eye I think could tell that it's my first one because of my stitches. I can tell the difference in this quilt and the one I'm working on now. The stitches are tight and they're looser on my first one and the lines aren't as straight. You know a person's their own worst critic, aren't they. But I can see the lines aren't as straight and my stars are not as compact as I'd like them to be. But all in all, I'm pretty well satisfied with my first try at Chicken Scratch.

RC: But you can see some progress in the next quilt that you're doing.

KS: Yes, definitely. I can see quite a bit of improvement. Of course, this quilt, Roberta machine quilted for me. It's not hand quilted. I don't like hand quilting. I've tried hand quilting, so I thought I'll have all these machine quilted because it takes so long to hand quilt.

RC: But how many quilts have you hand quilted? You have done some?

KS: Yes, the one I showed you. I started quilting when I was seventeen. My children were at home. I guess it took me close to a year to get that quilt done, that Santa Claus quilt I call it. I was bored that winter. I had those children at home, it was a bad winter, and I was stuck inside all the time and my mother-in-law was putting her up a quilt. My mother, she did what you call tacking quilts. The first time I can remember that our house, we lived in the camps [town owned by coal company.] and we used coal, and the downstairs now was warm but when you went to bed at night you stoked that fire and covered it and went to bed and the house got cold. And we used those, they were real thick heavy quilts cause I can remember laying under those quilts, and they'd be so heavy I didn't think I could turn over. [laughs.] But the house was cold but man they kept us warm. Me and my sister slept together. They kept us toasty warm, those old, tacked quilts did. And then when that one winter it was so cold and bad, and my mother-in-law was putting in her a quilt and I decided that I'd try my hand at it. So, she showed me how to embroider one stitch. I don't even know what the stitch is called. I just called it an embroidery stitch and I made that. I didn't know you could go buy patterns, so I went and got me some carbon paper and I traced me off some coloring book. I went to the coloring books that my children had, and it was Christmas time and they had Christmas coloring books. So, I made them a Christmas quilt and I put Santa Claus on it. Of course, I put Jesus in it and a Christmas tree. You know just things about Christmas. And my mother-in-law, she set the quilt up for me and then she showed me how to hand quilt. Well, let me tell you, at eighteen I thought that was the awfulest. I didn't think it took long to embroider, but I thought it took forever to quilt that quilt because we quilted all around everything that I had embroidered. So, I made that quilt and then I started school and went to work. So there went the quilting once I started working. But then once I quit work, again once I got up now in my older years, I don't work and I was down here at the library one day and Sue said why don't you come to our Chicken Scratch class because she had her Chicken Scratch out and I was looking at it, how pretty it was. I thought, oh I am too old to start something new. I don't know if I could pick it up, but I picked it right up and took right off with it. I really enjoy it.

RC: And you have your--the Chicken Scratch quilts you've made; you have them machine quilted?

KS: Yes. [laughs.] I have the patience to do the Chicken Scratch itself, but I don't believe I've got the patience to do that hand quilting anymore.

RC: When you hand quilted your first quilt, did you have a frame to put it on?

KS: Uh huh and I've still got that frame. I'll tell you, back then we were young marrieds, and we didn't have a lot of money so what we went and did was we took a two by four, we sawed it down, we drilled holes in it so I could move it, you see, and then we hung it from ropes, and I quilted that way. But later on, my husband bought me some quilting frames when we got a little better off in money. I haven't used them because I don't like hand quilting.

RC: [laughs.] What are your plans for this quilt?

KS: Well, originally, I thought I'll take this quilt because my bedroom is almost this color walls. It's a real pretty lavender. I thought I'll take this lavender quilt and I'll use it to put on my bed. But then my middle granddaughters, she [saw] it and her walls, she had just painted hers a purple and she wanted that quilt. I said, ‘Wouldn't you rather wait till you get one of Mamaw's better quilts cause this is the beginner quilt, and this is where you make most of your mistakes.' She said, ‘No, mamaw.' She just loves this one. She's seven. So, I said then this can be your quilt. So, she, it's really her quilt, it's not mine. So, now I have to make all my others. I've got four grandchildren now I have to make my others. I've got one made for my other granddaughter and now my grandson.

RC: Do you plan to do them all in Chicken Scratch?

KS: All of them, Chicken Scratch. I've just got four so I'm on my third quilt. I started about a year ago. My grandson cannot wait until I get his done. Even my oldest granddaughter has asked me to teach her how to Chicken Scratch and I've tried to teach her the stitch but she's not yet old enough to get that repetitive

RC: How old is she?

KS: Eight. I told her to give her two more years and me and her will sit down and I believe by then she'll be old enough to pick it right up.

RC: About how many hours a week do you get to quilt?

KS: Well, it varies. I think it goes by the season, really. Of course, in the wintertime I sew more because I can't get out more. Last year when I started my quilt, I started in January. I started out like fighting fire. I had several squares done by March but now when March came and it started getting warm and it started getting gardening season, see I cut way back because I wanted to plant my garden and get out. Then when summertime come, my grandchildren came so that even cut it down even more. I worked on it then that fall and finished it up. And now I've finished one quilt and working this fall to this winter, and I've got another one ready to be set up and I've started my third one so summer time's not a good time for me, spring and summer. But winter and fall are good quilting times. And it varies. Sometimes I don't work on it at all. I'll go all week and not work on it and then sometimes I just don't put it down. But on the average, I work on it a couple times a week in the spring and summer.

RC: You mentioned before that your mom made tacked quilts.

KS: Uh huh.

RC: Do you have any of those?

KS: No, I don't have any. But I do have my great grandmother, I have two she quilted. She pieced and pieced hers. One of hers, I call it a crazy quilt. It's just different materials. I think some of her dresses are in it. I've got one of hers and then I've got one that she made of a star. It's all yellow and white. It's a really old quilt. It's heavier than these quilts. I don't know what they put in. We put batting in ours. I don't know what she's got in the middle of hers. But they're real heavy quilts. They're heavy on top of you. So, I've got those two quilts and then I have a Lone Star quilt that my mother-in-law made me and my husband for Christmas one year. I've still got it and then there was a raffle at work one time, and I bought a raffle ticket and won a UK [University of Kentucky.] quilt. So, I have several quilts, not that I made them, but I've had them passed down through my family.

RC: Have you ever used quilting or quilt making to get through a difficult time?

KS: Well, I was bored that time, [laughs.] that winter. I used that--but no, not really. I'll tell you what though, quilting is comforting and it's relaxing. I don't know if it's the repetition of it but it's kind of a soothing thing.

RC: What aspects about quilting do you enjoy most?

KS: I like picking out the colors and I like figuring out the patterns, what I'm going to do that way. Then I actually like the sewing itself, the Chicken Scratch itself.

RC: Is there any part of you that you don't like?

KS: Hand quilting. I don't like hand quilting at all.

RC: [laughs.] Have advances in technology influenced the way you quilt?

KS: Not yet. [laughs.] I'm not that into it enough but I've often thought about getting on the internet and seeing what other things besides Chicken Scratch and these women here, they appliqué and I thought maybe there might be even more for embroidery than that one little embroidery stitch that I do. You know there has to be because I've looked on TV since I've picked up the Chicken Scratch. I've watched some of those quilting programs on TV. Man, those women can really put out the quilts and do such a, they can make up such beautiful quilts. I would love to be able to do like that. If I could wrap my mind around it, you know, settle my mind down to do that.

RC: Do you use anything like a design wall? How do you design your quilts, decide how they are going to be put together?

KS: I don't have a design wall. I'm not that artistic. What I do is I go through my book of patterns, and I just look at them and try to envision them in the colors that I would like to use. I've bought some material that was on sale, so I want to see what would match that color that I've got. For Christmas, one of the ladies here got me some material and I want to use the material that I have. I'm a practical person. So, I try to do with the material that I already have, which would look the best on it and what colors I have. That's how I do. I pick out the pattern and then I pick out the colors by what I've already got. And then when I'm out looking, I buy material that I like. So far, the material that I've bought, this would go with my bedroom. My granddaughter picked out the second quilt. She wanted her quilt done in pink. Of course, my grandson wanted his done in blue so I'm doing his in blue and yellow because I'm doing a wheel. It's called a Carpenter's Wheel. It kind of sounded manly, you know for the little boy. He's just four, but I'm doing that for him. And I haven't yet picked out for the baby.

RC: What do you think makes a good-looking quilt?

KS: What do I think makes a good looking? The pattern, the color. Just the colors I think, the visual is what makes a good-looking quilt to me. How the colors pop out. These colors to me didn't pop out on this one. I like the soothing purple on that, but it doesn't have a contrasting color other than the white. Now on my other quilts, I put different colors. I went from just a purple and a white to a red, a white and a pink on my second one. Even here on my third one, I went to a blue, a yellow and a white and I'm thinking about adding even another color. So, the colors are what makes the visual, colors is what makes a great quilt to me.

RC: What do you think would make a quilt appropriate for a museum?

KS: [three second pause.] Hmm, what would make a quilt appropriate for a museum? I think any quilt would be really appropriate for a museum because all the quilts are different. Any kind of quilt would be appropriate. You know, I've seen these patterns that makes me think of--I've seen patterns of quilts that have like the state flower and state bird, that would be appropriate, for sure. That would be but I think any quilt you could put in a museum.

RC: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

KS: I think soon, quilting will be lost, hand quilting will be gone. So, I think it is important to try to pass it on. You know what, just like with my granddaughter, I'm real excited if she will learn it, I think it would be a good thing and it will stay with her. And you know that one embroidery stitch that my mother-in-law taught me eighteen years ago, I can still do that embroidery stitch. Even though I haven't done it, I know I can still do it. So, if it sticks with me all these years that would stick with my daughter. This will soon be lost, I'm afraid because people are too busy and just like with hand quilting, it takes too long so even I don't want to do hand quilting anymore. Machine quilting is in now. Everybody does that. I might yet hand quilt one more quilt [laughs.] because it is a dying art, hand quilting is.

RC: So, what has happened to the quilts that you have made?

KS: I've still got my Santa Claus quilt. It's old and stained and if any of the kids want it when I die, they can have it. [laughs.] They'll take good care of these I think because I'm older now and they are older. I still have my great grandmother's quilt. I keep them put up. I'm going to pass them down to my children cause they're old quilts too. My great grandmother's been dead thirty years and I bet she made those when she was in her thirties. I know she didn't make them when she was old. She died when she was ninety-seven and I know she hadn't quilted for many years then because she had gotten blind. So those quilts are very old. She's been gone thirty some years. So, I would say those quilts are forty or fifty years old, probably, maybe even older by now. So, by the time my children get them, they'll be a hundred years old. [laughs.] And hers was hand quilted too of course, you know that.

RC: How do you think quilts can be used?

KS: They should be used every day. Really, it's just like a house. [momentary loud conversation in background.] If you don't live in it, it will soon go bad. But then again, look at my old Santa Claus quilt. It's been used every day. It's held up fairly good to be thirty some years old and to have a couple kids on it every year. Now my grandchildren get that quilt out at every Christmas. They cover up with it in front of the fire. They have it on the floor playing Barbie dolls with that quilt because it's the Santa Claus quilt.

RC: So, what do you think is the greatest challenge confronting a quilter today?

KS: Time. I don't think people have the time to quilt like they did. I just don't think they have the time.

RC: Well, Mrs. Kathy this is the end of our interview and I do appreciate you speaking with me. Thank you.

KS: Thank you so much.

[Note: This interview was 20 minutes and 56 seconds.]


“Kathy Stewart,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1778.