Lana Downing

Photos

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Title

Lana Downing

Identifier

LA70538-DAR001

Interviewee

Lana Laws Downing

Interviewer

Margie Laws Luke

Interview Date

2/23/09

Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics

Location

Franklin, Louisiana

Transcriber

Margie Laws Luke

Transcription

Margie Luke (ML): My name is Margie Laws Luke and today's date is February 23, 2009. It is now 2:30 in the afternoon. I am conducting an interview with Lana Laws Downing at my home outside of Franklin, Louisiana for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Louisiana State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Lana Downing is a quilter and is a member of Attakapas Chapter.

When did you first become interested in quilts and quilting?

Lana Downing (LD): When I was a bride living on a farm far out in the country in the Texas Panhandle in the early 1960's, I did a lot of sewing. My next-door neighbor made crazy quilts from scraps using a simple sewing machine method for piecing the blocks, and then sewing them together.

ML: Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

LD: I made this quilt in the early 1970's, after our second daughter was born. I had made a quilt for our oldest daughter, all by hand. She used it as a bedspread, and she nearly wore through some of the blocks. I decided to make one for our second daughter, and this is the result. It took me about two years. I did not let her use it so much, but only displayed it on her bed on special occasions, so it has remained in good shape.

ML: How did you choose the pattern?

LD: I had seen pictures of Victorian crazy quilts, and I wanted to copy that idea. I had also seen quilts with birthdays and other important dates embroidered, and I wanted to do that as well. I made the individual blocks and then I parceled some of them out to family members to do the embroidery, but most of the blocks I did myself.

ML: Who taught you to quilt?

LD: I learned to quilt from my neighbor on the farm in Texas. She was an excellent quilter, but she made only very utilitarian quilts. She used scraps and made quilts for bedcovers that they needed. She owned a quilt from the depression era made entirely from cotton tobacco sacks that had been taken apart and sewn into a quilt top then beautifully hand quilted. I believe it was made by her mother in Oklahoma during the dust bowl days. I thought it was just the most wonderful treasure, and so inventive to take something that was ordinarily thrown away and make it into such a beautiful and useful object.

ML: Is there anything else about this quilt that makes it special?

LD: It was made for my middle daughter. It is especially meaningful to me now, because that daughter, Amy, was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1996 and died at Christmas time of the year 2000. As I said before, it was her bedspread for special occasions, because I realized it would not stand up to the hard use a child gives to bedcovers, so I used it mostly for display. That first embroidered quilt that I made for our oldest child is really worn from hard use, and I don't really know what to do to fix it without totally destroying it, so I have it at home wrapped in acid-free tissue and stored in an old cotton pillowcase.

ML: How did you choose the colors?

LD: Amy was a happy, active child, so I wanted bright primary colors that reminded me of her personality.

ML: Where did you do the actual quilting?

LD: I made my own quilt frame out of one by four lumber, and I set the thing up on sawhorses in our living room in the house we had out in the country in the Texas Panhandle where we lived at that time. It took several weeks to quilt, but I truly enjoy the repetition of quilting. It is very peaceful work.

ML: Where did you learn the embroidery stitches you included?

LD: Some I learned from my mother and some I learned from library books. We are a big family, as you well know, six girls and one boy. All of the girls learned to sew and embroider, some better than others. We learned from our mother, and we learned from membership in the local 4-H Club. Sewing is a skill that has served me well all my life. I have made clothing, upholstery, curtains, draperies, quilts, you name it.

ML: What about the actual quilt stitching? What is the pattern?

LD: It is a very simple pattern, taught to me by that same neighbor. It is especially good for one quilter working on a large quilt by herself. You simply take a piece of dressmaker's chalk and attach a string to it, about a foot or so in length. You pick a starting point in a corner, hold the end of the string down, and begin to draw arcs with the chalk, moving the string out as you go along marking out a series of arcs as far apart as you want to quilt them, something like a rainbow. Then you start another series of arcs at the base of the top line of the previous arc. This allows that all the stitches will run in the same direction, and it is a very pleasing pattern that allows the work of the quilt top to show up. It is good on something like a crazy quilt, where you are not trying to outline a design on the actual quilt top.

ML: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

LD: Well, it was between this quilt and one other one. This one, though, took the most work, the most thought, and the most time, and I love the bright colors, so I chose it.

ML: What are your plans for this quilt?

LD: I will probably give it to one of my two granddaughters when they are old enough to enjoy and appreciate it. I will have one special quilt for each.

ML: Tell about the any other quiltmakers in the family.

LD: We now have a standing tradition. There are several schoolteachers in our family, and when we get together in the summertime, when everyone is on summer vacation, we love to quilt. Generally, someone will have a baby quilt they are working on for a new baby in the family or for a friend. We have had lots of fun making baby quilts. Everyone has to put in at least one stitch in order to be able to say it was quilted by all of us. We have a great time quilting. The quilt frames today made of the plastic pipes are so easy to haul around and put up and take down. When I made the quilt I brought today, it was a major project that took up a good section of our living room for many weeks. This summer we are getting together at a state park in a couple of cabins. We really want to celebrate our sister who is finishing up her chemo for colon cancer. She has had a rough time. We will probably have a quilt to do together at that time.

ML: What do you see as the value of quilting?

LD: It is an American tradition, stemming from the need for frugality and the need to use everything possible and not throw useful things away. Early American housewives used scraps of worn-out clothing to make useful objects that were also beautiful. I think this is a wonderful philosophy to pass on through the generations.

ML: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LD: I think the colors you choose tell the most about you. I think you have to start with beautiful colors and sturdy fabric of good quality. That quilt I mentioned earlier was made from fabric I had bought on sale. I think it had sat in that little store in Dimmitt, Texas for a long time, probably in the window in the Texas sun. I think that deterioration of the fabric is part of what caused the quilt to wear through. Now I really believe in getting good quality fabric to begin with. Then the design is also important. You have to have a purpose in mind for the quilt. Will it be used? Will it be displayed? Who is it being made for? I once attended a quilt show in Oklahoma where all of the quilts were done as art. They looked like beautiful paintings. I have never been so amazed. They were mostly Native American in theme, with mountains and buffalo grazing and warriors on horseback riding after the buffalo herds, other subjects along those lines. Using fabric only, the quilters had produced these amazing works of art that made me realize the possibilities of fabric art and quilting. That was at least 25 years ago. From a distance, you thought you were looking at a huge unframed canvas. This was in the Indian Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma.

ML: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LD: I think an artistically powerful quilt would have the qualities I described about those quilts in Oklahoma at that quilt show- the ones that I said looked like paintings. They had all been well thought out, they had a central theme and a unified design, I guess you would say. They were made with impeccable craftsmanship. Of course, these were display quilts, but the same could be said for any quilted object. The colors were beautiful, the design was amazing, and they were just perfect.

ML: Have advances in technology influenced your work? If so, how?

LD: No, I still sew on the same Bernina I have had for many years. A friend of ours, our former foster daughter, in fact, is a wonderful quilter. She does her quilting all by machine. She has special quilting machines and a huge quilting room upstairs in her home in Memphis. Her work is incredible, both the quilt designs and the machine quilting. But that doesn't interest me. I prefer the old hand quilting. I don't quilt as much as I once did, but I like to do it when we all get together.

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

LD: They definitely need to be well taken care of over the years. They need to be kept out of direct sunlight, they need to be carefully laundered if they happen to get dirty, and they need to be folded along different lines every so often. Keeping them padded with acid-free tissue along the fold lines helps and wrapping them in old soft cotton sheets also helps. Getting them out and letting them be seen is a good thing. I keep a few beautiful quilts out on quilt frames and folded at the foot of beds so people can see and appreciate them.

ML: Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?

LD: I can't think of anything else except that I am glad to see the resurgence of quilt shops and interest in quilting today, especially among younger people. It is a wonderful art to learn and to pass along through the generations.

ML: I'd like to thank Lana Downing for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 3:00 p.m. on February 23, 2009.



Citation

“Lana Downing,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1787.