Pamela Prater




Pamela Prater




Pamela Prater


Ronda Coleman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Elkhorn City, Kentucky


Ronda Coleman


NOTE: This interview was done during a quilting class so background conversations.

Ronda Coleman (RC): This is an interview for The Alliance for American Quilts' Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories, identification number KY41522-012. The interviewee is Ms. Pamela Prater. Ronda Coleman is the interviewer and the transcriber. Place of interview is Elkhorn City Public Library at Elkhorn City, Kentucky. Today's date is March 20, 2008, at about 12:05 a.m. [should be p.m.] Thank you Ms. Pamela for allowing me to interview you today. Can you tell me a little bit about the quilt that you brought in for the interview?

Pamela Prater (PP): Well, the quilt is a conglomerate of [several people's work.], a labor of love really. When my boyfriend moved in with me, we found this old black bag in the back of his closet. In that bag were twelve quilt squares and they were all marked and half of them were finished. Apparently, his mother had been making a pair of quilts, one for him and one for his brother before she died and never got to finish them. So, I took the bag, finished the blocks, divided the blocks she had made into two quilts, finished off enough blocks to make two quilts, sent it to his aunt who put the tops together and then we sent them on to his grandmother who quilted them, and we gave them to the boys for Christmas. You have never seen two grown men cry so hard in all their lives.

RC: That's sweet. Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

PP: It's a very special, it's probably more special than any other quilt I'll ever make or have made because of the story behind it. It's a gift that was given to these boys ten years after their mother's death, that was made by her hand, and you just don't find that often.

RC: That is special, you're right. What do you think someone viewing the quilt might think about you?

PP: That I'm a big softy [laughs.] 'cause I am. I love stuff like this.

RC: How do you use this quilt?

PP: I don't use it. I'm not allowed to use it. [laughs.] He brings it out, shows it to everybody who comes through the door of the house and then he puts it back up in its tissue in the closet, real nice and quiet. He's going to save it. He has a six-year-old daughter that he's going to give it to when she grows up a little bit. It will probably be the only thing that she has that has her grandmother's hand on it.

RC: Tell me a little bit about your interest in quilt making.

PP: I love quilt making. It's a good stress reliever. I'm retired. It's a good time killer. I'm a creative person. I like to see a finished product on something I'm spending my time on and with quilting I can do that. Sometimes it takes longer because some quilts are harder to get together. Sometimes it's quick if you only do a table runner or something you can see the finished product in a matter of days and that's why I like to quilt.

RC: We had talked before about your participation in the Quilt Trail in Kentucky. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?

PP: Well, I used to belong to a group called the Mountain Craft Center when I lived in McCreary County [Kentucky.] and the name of the town was originally Honeybee, Kentucky but now it's called Parker's Lake. There's a very interesting story behind the name of the town and I had designed a quilt block, a nine patch with honeybees and a honeybee hive on it. I designed it and transferred it out onto stencils, and we put it on an 8 foot by 8-foot piece of plywood which was no small feat. All the ladies of the Craft center got together and painted it, and it now hangs on the side [of the craft center building.]. It's an effort I believe to get the tourists off the freeways and onto the back roads. I mean, what do you see going down a road with a mountain on one side going 80 miles an hour?

RC: That's true.

PP: You know we need to get more people, tourism into the country parts where they can see what Kentucky's all about. You can gather so much just by riding down a side street in an old town.

RC: At what age did you start quilting?

PP: Oh, okay. I didn't start quilting until about 1990. I'm a retired nurse and I had two children, and I went to school full time and worked full time and raised two kids on my own. I didn't have time to do anything else. But then when I retired from nursing, all of a sudden, my kids were grown, I had no job, I had all kinds of time and I'm an overachiever. I like to get things done. [laughs.] So, I started quilting in 1990. I never started chicken scratching until July of 2007. I was introduced to it by my boyfriend's aunt.

RC: So, from whom did you learn to quilt?

PP: I learned from a friend I had when I lived in Michigan. She was an older lady, and she was disabled. She used to love to go to these quilting groups, but she couldn't get to them, so I used to drive her. When I would get there, I would get so interested in what these women were doing and I said Oh my god, I'd never be able to do that. And they kept telling that it wasn't really all that hard, but you had to have a lot of patience and a good eye for detail, and I've got that. So, there I went. [laughs.]

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

PP: My motto is quilting forever, housework whenever. [laughs.] So, I quilt a lot. At least five or six hours a day. [laughs.]

RC: What's your first quilt memory?

PP: My mother made a quilt. It's the only quilt I can ever remember my family making. I believe she did it around the time I was born which was in the late forties. My grandmother had told me that my mother made this, when my dad was in service, he used to send her silk stockings and this quilt is made out of little 3-inch squares, sewn together and inside each square is a silk stocking. So, I don't know if those are the silk stockings that he sent her because he could get them and nobody else in the country could and that's the way she decided to keep them or if she just did it for warmth because it is a very warm quilt. I have that quilt. It's up in my closet preserved in a bag for my grandchildren in a pillowcase.

RC: Are there other quiltmakers in your family and friends?

PP: Yeah, I have a lot of friends that are quiltmakers. My daughter has dabbled in it but she has three teenagers, so she doesn't have a lot of time for it. She did make me a really pretty quilt. Her and each one of my granddaughters made a block and my grandson even made a block with a fish on it because he likes fishing. [laughs.]

RC: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

PP: I can't say that I have but I can see where it could be possible. It's good distraction therapy.

RC: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

PP: I like the challenge. I like to look at the different colors and the patterns. You can put ten women making one quilt or each making a quilt with the same pattern and no two will look alike. It's the variation. You personalize it by just one little change in the pattern. That's what I like. You can see people's personality come out. Some people will make it all in blues, in calming colors. The next person will have bright red and yellow and green.

RC: Is there anything about quilting you don't enjoy?

PP: No. [laughs.] [inaudible.]

RC: How do you balance your time?

PP: When I get up in the morning, I do what absolutely has to be done. I check to make sure we've got clean clothes and if we don't I do one load of laundry and then I quilt. [laughs.]

RC: Have advances in technology influenced the way you quilt?

PP: Well, I haven't really been quilting for all that long. I have done a little bit of hand quilting. I'm not real good at it but that probably comes with time. I have machine quilted. I like to do quilts. I like the way the hand quilting looks.

RC: When you hand quilt, how do you attach the layers of the quilt?

PP: I baste them. What I do is I take my backing, attach it to a table with freezer tape. An old quilter taught me this trick. Then you put your batting on top of that. You put your top on top of that and you baste it. I baste it around each square and around the outside. That pretty much holds it in place while you're doing the hand quilting. I put it in a quilting, a lap frame.

RC: How do you do the binding?

PP: The binding, it depends. It depends on the size of the quilt and how big the backing is. If I've got enough room, I roll it over and make the binding out of that. If not, I just make the binding out of something else. [laughs.]

RC: How do you decide the quilting design?

PP: I like to look through quilt books. I look on the internet and eventually I'll find something that just really grabs me. I'm making a quilt right now with my fourteen-year-old granddaughter, teaching her how to Chicken Scratch. She like pink and she likes hearts so we're trying to find twelve different patterns to do twelve different hearts and put them together for a quilt. Hopefully, we'll get it done before the summer's over [laughs.] and she has to go back to school.

RC: What do you think makes a great quilt?

PP: [third second pause.] I think the art in it because it's individual to every person. I like to look at quilts for the color scheme. There's a certain amount of sentiment. A lot of quilts are used like to send a message you know, like my daughter's mother-in-law made a quilt with as many of the victim's faces [from 911.] as she could find on it and sent it to the White House, and they did display it. It's a lot of different things. I don't know if one quilt is any greater than the next. It's people and the message.

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

PP: The unusualness of it [, the history behind the style,] or the design. There's some designs they used to do in olden days that people just don't do anymore. The person. [who made the quilt.] Some little girl might make a quilt today and she might grow up to be president. [laughs.] Or some little boy. [laughs.]

RC: [laughs.] Exactly. What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

PP: The passion. They have to be passionate about what they do. You have to be passionate about anything you do or it's not going to be your best. But someone that has good sense of color and style and proportion but above all they've got to be passionate about what they do and patient. It takes a lot of patience.

RC: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

PP: Machine quilting is quick. It's easier. I don't think it's as pretty but it's functional. I don't prefer one over the other. If I was going to have a quilt for my own family that was an heirloom, I would prefer it to be hand quilted. But if I'm going to give a quilt away to one of my grandkids and they're going to throw it on their bed in a dorm room and other guys are going to step on it, machine quilting's good enough. [laughs.]

RC: Why is quilt making important to your life?

PP: It gives me a chance to express my individuality, my creativity. Sending a message if I want to. I did make one quilt that was entirely the pink ribbons. I donated it to a cancer group in Michigan because my mother died there from cancer. It's a lot of things.

RC: In what way do you think our quilts here reflect our community or region?

PP: Well, if I understand the history correctly, I believe Chicken Scratch was originated in this area. I'm not sure, I may be wrong but there are so many people around here that do Chicken Scratch. I have not found that in any other part of the country. I have lived in Michigan, Florida, Arizona, Massachusetts. I have not found Chicken Scratch anywhere but Kentucky and not very much in the other parts of Kentucky. I lived in Bowling Green, Somerset but right around here it's real prevalent. I think it's a heritage thing and that's one reason I'm trying to teach my granddaughter who was born and raised here, how to Chicken Scratch because the younger people are going to need to know this if they are to carry it on.

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

PP: Quilts have been used in American life forever. I'm a history buff, a little bit of a history buff and I have discovered in the days of slavery the people that ran the Underground Railway used to hang log cabin quilts made out of black material to signify a safe house for slaves that were going north. And then there's African quilting that's mainly appliqué quilting and then I believe it was around the time of the Civil War when patchwork quilting became popular in the South where they would use old clothes to make blankets for warmth. So, it's a heritage and it's not just this country. I mean it comes from other countries too, but I believe the southern United States is where quilting is most popular. It is also a way for the average American homemaker to express her artistic side.

RC: How do you think quilts can be used?

PP: Quilts can be used a lot of ways. They can be used for decoration in your house, put them on your bed to keep warm. They're great fundraisers for a good cause. You can use them to send a message. Like I said, my daughter's mother-in-law and my girlfriend, when her son joined the Marines, we all got together and made him a Marine Corp quilt. We can tell you we're proud of you, we can tell you we support your cause. We can tell you; you have our sympathy or happy birthday. There's a lot of ways that quilts can be used. Not just to put on your bed or in your closet. They also make beautiful home décor.

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

PP: Well, we have to teach our youngsters. We have to find out which ones are at all interested and then nurture that and make them get more interested. Most teenage girls are excited to get a cell phone. Last weekend I taught my granddaughter how to use a sewing machine. You'd have thought I gave her a hundred bucks. [laughs.] She was tickled to death the whole weekend. She sewed every scrap I had in the house. [laughs.] And if we are lucky enough to have an heirloom quilt in our family, we need to take special steps to preserve it for future generations.

RC: What's happened to most of the quilts that you have made?

PP: I have a few of them at home. My daughter has a few of them at her house. I really haven't made all that many of them. I tend to fuss over them a lot you know. I want to make sure every angle is perfect, all the points meet, corners are right curved, so I don't get a whole bunch of them finished. [laughs.] I do have one called Grandmother's Garden that I've been working on for 12 years. It's about halfway done. [laughs.]

RC: Are you still piecing it?

PP: Yes, I am, by hand. I started it when my granddaughter Jessica was born. I figure I'll have it finished by the time she marries. [laughs.]

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

PP: I think it's getting harder and harder to find supplies. I've heard tell that Wal-Mart is going to quit handling material. In this area that we live in there are very few fabric shops and it's a long drive to Lexington [Kentucky.]. There are I think 25, 30 or 40 miles to the closest fabric shop that I know of and you can't find embroidery thread at a lot of them and that's what you use for Chicken Scratch quilting and I think that's pitiful that they should want to have all this junk stuff and not provide us with the tools that we need to carry on this heritage thing. It's pitiful. [laughs.]

RC: Ms. Pamela, I enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you for the interview time and this is the end of our interview.

PP: You're welcome and thank you for interviewing me.


“Pamela Prater,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 12, 2024,