Judy Shapiro




Judy Shapiro




Judy Shapiro


Le Rowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Bethesda, Maryland


Le Rowell


Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell and today's date is February 23, 2003, and I'm conducting an interview with Judy Shapiro for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories which is a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. It is 4:46 p.m. in the afternoon and we are in the home, in my home, here in Bethesda, Maryland. Judy, tell me about this glorious quilt that you brought with you.

Judy Shapiro (JS): I chose out of all of my quilts to bring my unfinished Baltimore Album quilt soon to be finished, the borders are being worked on as we speak. This is a quilt that I really feel describes me. Quilters talk about 'spoken without a word'. This quilt to me speaks of who I am and even though there are some inscriptions on it which tell a little bit about me, it's truly the story of my journey from 1996 until the present.

LR: Nineteen ninety-six, explain that. What happened in 1996?

JS: In 1996 I was teaching a clothing course at a quilt shop locally and a woman came to take my class and I was warned that she was a very important person and to treat her very well. And it turned out to be Anne Connery who is our appliqué maven for this area, and we had such a wonderful time that we talked in the parking lot outside for about two hours after class and graciously the owner of the shop stayed. We didn't know that he had stayed, just to make sure that we were fine; and she said, 'Well, Judy, I've taken your class and we had such a good time, now you have to come and take my class.' So I went home and said to my husband, 'You wouldn't believe this woman that I met; she was just wonderful, and I can't think about taking her class, I could never do this'. But, lo and behold, my husband went to G Street [G Street Fabrics, a shop in Rockville, Maryland.] and for my birthday that year 1996 he signed me up for this Baltimore Album appliqué class. So that was the best gift that he could have given me, probably ever has given me.

LR: So, talk about the results.

JS: Okay, first of all I should say that the Baltimore Album movement started in 1840 in the Methodist Church in Baltimore [Maryland.] at the Lovely Lane Methodist Church which is actually what we consider to be the seat of Methodism, or the mother church of the Methodists. The patterns were distributed by the women as kits actually. There was one woman, Mary Evans, who would draw the pictures and she would kit them up in the fabrics and being a community of merchants, Baltimore, of course, had easy access to the wonderful piece goods that were available. So, Mary made quite an enterprise of this, and she would take her needlework to church, and the women would, instead of listening to the Sunday School lessons [laugh.], would be looking at her quilting. So, it really, really evolved--only for a short time, I believe nine years the Baltimore Album quilt movement went on. It was not until 1981 when Elly Sienkiewicz, who is a Washingtonian [Washington, D.C.] and very well-known, went to an exhibition of the Baltimore Album quilts, and she was so taken with the Baltimore Albums that she wanted to do one but there were no patterns available. So, she went about going to the DAR and to Lovely Lane [Methodist Church.] and anywhere where they had a Baltimore Album quilt, and she began to do the scholarship that we know today on Baltimore Album quilts. And she began to draft the patterns of the traditional quilts. I have a block on my quilt for Elly and is a bouquet of flowers in an urn. All the flowers on this quilt are representative, both in color and form, they're represented by a lexicon of symbols. It's called the language of the flowers. So that one Baltimore Album quilter would be able to understand--this is called Melodies of Love, that the instruments, and particularly the harp, mean all music in honor of God. There is a letter form on the quilt and, of course, that is a message of love. The little tulips are messages of sweetness. The blue bird is one of happiness. The heart is self-explanatory, and as you go through the Baltimore Album quilts one Baltimore Album quilter can almost read what another one is feeling, or what is seeing, just through this lexicon of symbols. So, to me this has become an extremely rich experience in that groups of women after the revival in 1981 have gathered together and started guilds. I personally belong to a small guild, every Thursday morning five of us do this together and we share stories, and we support each other. It really is a sisterhood that comes from talking about the blocks. You'll notice this block particularly is a flower basket [Judy is pointing to the block on her quilt.] and these are all the women that I quilt with every Thursday morning. Each one of these blocks represents someone or something which has been very important to me, and the symbolism matches up with the event or the people. Flowers--the blue morning glory in the basket of flowers is Anne Connery who tells a story of her grandmother's garden and how the morning glories would take over her garden. The black wicker is for my friend Eleanor [Balladan.], who is a local real estate agent, who only quilts on black backgrounds, drinks beer when she quilts, and has a toothpick to turn corners. [laughs.] To me this is very important symbolism and just a little bit of perkiness for every one of these things, every one of the symbols that goes into the quilts.

LR: How did you select the symbols?

JS: How did I select the symbols? Well, some of these are actually classic patterns. I would say that I have started some of these blocks out of just pure love and being drawn to the artistry. And sometimes I have found that as I work the block it becomes a very meditative experience and that in that meditation I begin to think of certain people, and ultimately that block may be designated for a person after maybe after twenty hours of work on it, sometimes forty hours. It's just a very meditative process, and I guess this block, which for the interview I will tell you, is a woven basket and each of those flowers are ones that I designed because each of them are flowers that are contained in my husband's garden. My husband's quite a gardener and he is also Jewish and when I showed him the block he said, 'Oh, there's a menorah.' Well, I never thought of that [laugh.] He saw it and other people see it, but I didn't. But again, it's just how we see things and what our knowledge base is. So, he chose to see that menorah which is fine. The base of that block is actually fabric that he back from Portugal on a trip to Portugal. So, there are little bits and pieces, a lot of the fabric comes from other people. I give fabric to other people, so we have little bits in each other's quilts. So many of the fabrics are just incredible gifts from people. Sometimes we'll be sitting around the table and maybe agonizing that we don't have the right color for this, and somebody'll go, 'I have it down in the basement. I'll be right back.' [laughs.] So, it's a very sharing, cooperative process. So, there are lots of people involved in this quilt.

LR: Are any of the fabrics dyed or are they purchased fabrics that you exchange?

JS: Most of them are purchased fabric and believe me I've put a lot of money into this quilt [laugh.] However, I have hand dyed some of them and they're apparent throughout the quilt, particularly the oranges I've done. Some of the fabric, I used to work for a decorator, so a lot of the silks that are used in it come from little shards of fabric. You only need just a little tiny bit of fabric for each of these pieces, so I tend to keep lots of little scraps around [laughs.].

LR: So, when you begin with a pattern, for example, in this particular square [Le points to the square with the flower bowl.], is that--that design was in your mind or that evolve as you worked on it?

JS: The bowl itself, or the epergne, was actually designed, as I worked through--since this is a block that I actually, I actually built the epergne myself--I had to construct flowers from my visual memory of those flowers and draw them out and then sew them on. There is a bird and I think the bird is very important in that block. Birds with upturned wings represent the resurrection, and although my husband is an agnostic Jew, that's my hope for his resurrection [laughs.].

LR: Talk a minute about the appliqué process.

JS: I am very surprised at how simple it is. It looks very daunting, but I certainly have the right teacher and I do teach appliqué now. I have been just very surprised that for me there was such a lust to learn to do this that I went from the simplest block, which is not in this quilt, my second block is in this quilt, and that's the heart over here [Judy is pointing.], to the top left block which is a dove. I just learned the process very, very quickly. I had to figure it out for myself because I had to get to that block. So, for me to be able to do just a simple needle turn, which is taught in the very first lesson, was quite enough for me to just go ahead and figure out the rest. And figuring out the rest was not without its problems. I now have methods that have overcome the problems that an unlearned appliquér would encounter. So, therefore, I suggest lessons [laugh.].

LR: But these techniques that you learned by yourself, are they different from the techniques that you would learn if you took a class? Have you learned any special tricks?

JS: I tend to work independently. I'm not particularly a reader. I'm a visual learner. I tend not to follow directions, so I tend to do many things my way. But I think after about six lessons one should be able to do almost anything in this quilt. It is a lot of trial and error. I think groups are very helpful in learning to appliqué. We do spend a lot of time studying. For instance, I'm known as the berry queen.

LR: What is the berry queen?

JS: Because the berry queen has done so many little berries and cherries in various quilts that I've done that when people want to learn to do berries or cherries or small round little things, I'm the person they come to because I have my own method, and the method seems to have worked and I've documented it. So that's one of the things I teach, and people just know that I have this method. [laughs.]

LR: What are your plans for this quilt?

JS: It is called "Legacy of Love". It is my personal journey. My daughter is now twenty-four years old, is just learning to love quilts. She hated quilts because they were all over the house and when she went away to college and I made her a quilt, she wanted no part of the quilt. She went to Ohio and all the girls' mothers had made them very simple quilts and she wanted no part of being in Ohio and in effect left Ohio [laugh.] and went to the University of Delaware. The plan for this obviously is to be left to my daughter who understands the importance of the legacy. It documents her family as well as my family. And in fact, in the making of this quilt there's a very simple block on it, probably one of the simplest ones, and when she said to me, 'Mom, this is going to be my quilt someday. Dad has to be on the quilt.' Well, Dad and I have been divorced for many years, but she was right. This is her dad's block [Judy points to the block.], it's a very simple pink flower block, and even though it was difficult for me, and I wouldn't have included him, she understood that someday this would be her quilt and that he needed to be represented. So, there we are.

LR: Let's talk a minute about your history with quilting. When were you first introduced to quilt making?

JS: I met a woman at a party, and she was fascinating. She was in the catering business, and I was in the catering business at the time, and she asked me if I would join her in sharing some business opportunities which I did and she said, 'And by the way, I have a little quilt group on Tuesday nights, meets every other week. Why don't you come, you're a creative person, you might enjoy it.' And I've always done kind of hand minded things, so I showed up, and the next night she took me to G Street, and we picked out some fabric for my first quilt and it was at a point when I was being divorced and I took two weeks off from work. I don't think I slept. I completed a quilt top in two weeks--

LR: By yourself?

JS: By myself, by hand, and I was hooked. So, I think that the quilt actually got me through the divorce. I really do because I had something to focus on that was meaningful. It was soft and tactile, and I could just see progress, really see progress. So that was quite wonderful for me. I've always loved color. I'm very much my own person where color is concerned. I work kind of intuitively with color. That fascinated me. It was an opportunity for me to really express myself when I needed to. Very shortly thereafter I went to work for the Chief Justice of the United States, and it was a very pressured job. So, I used to put my quilting in my lap on my way driving down to work and I would stop in traffic jams or lights, and I would be quilting away or piecing away, and I would quilt on my lunch hours, and I would be piecing away on my way home in the traffic jams. So, it really got me through some amazing times.

LR: So, you did not grow up with quilts?

JS: No, I didn't. I did not. My mother had some pieces, some quilt blocks from the 1930's I believe my cousin had done. And I think probably when I was in high school, she sent it off to Minnesota and had it quilted, but I was never allowed to use it because everything had to be absolutely pristine [laughs.]. And it still is, it's never been used, it's never been slept under. [laugh.] So, I did not grow up with quilts. My grandmother, however, my paternal grandmother, was a doll historian for the Smithsonian and she had the Chevy Chase [Maryland.] Doll Hospital. So, I grew up around fabrics and I grew up not only around the woman who sewed but who was a pianist, and I was a pianist at age 5 also. That was my major in college. So, there was a connection between my grandmother and myself, and even though she was a sewer, and I became a quilter I have very often thought how very much I would love to show my quilt [this was an emotional moment for Judy.], show my grandmother what I do today.

LR: She would be very proud of you, very proud of you. Talk a minute then, when did you start teaching?

JS: My goodness--not more than about two years after I began quilting. I very quickly went into quilted garments, and I was at a point when Capital Quilts was just opening in Gaithersburg [Maryland.]--

LR: When was that?

JS: Gosh, I think it's been ten years maybe. I walked in with a garment, and she said, 'You have to teach this.' And I certainly didn't go looking for a job, but it was a wonderful opportunity and sort of developed a group of groupies who really loved doing clothing. I actually did some clothing until I really got into this work, the appliqué work, and then everything else fell by the wayside. But that's changed because I've branched off into other things now.

LR: What other things? Quilt related?

JS: Well, yes, definitely, quilt related. I guess if I were to classify myself today, I would say I'm a liturgical quilt artist. And by liturgical quilt artist I mean that I do things that enhance the worship space. I like to provide the worship service with visual appeal, to excite the senses, to excite the right side of the brain, not only the left side. I think they need to work hand in hand. So, what I actually do, actively as a business, is I make a lot of stoles, a lot of chasubles. I've done the hundredth anniversary processional banners for the National Cathedral [in Washington, D.C.] which are in their permanent collection and are on permanent display there. More banners coming for them because the St. Alban's School [boys' school on the grounds of the National Cathedral.] is celebrating their hundredth anniversary. I love the Episcopalians because they just love high drama in their services, and when I worked for the Episcopalians, I know there's an Episcopalian screaming to get out of me [laughs.] So, I do a lot of frontals, a lot of liturgical quilts with symbolism. I just spent a year as artist-in-residence at Wesley Theological Seminary [located on the grounds of The American University in Washington, D.C.] which was a wonderful opportunity for me as a quilter because I had sixty students over the course of a year which is a fairly heavy load. It is a credit course, and I found the students to be very prolific, very insightful, really helped me to develop my sense of spirituality through them, and I've just left in January and I'm missing them terribly already. So, I suppose I would have to say that my present quilting is really very liturgically based, some of it biblically based, tending to be very contemporary. I'm doing a lot of stars, mariners' compasses, vine piecing, crazy piecing, lots of color. Some very large pieces and I have a one man show in the Seattle area on my fifty-fifth birthday for three months, and the curator there keeps saying, 'Your pieces are so big. We don't have enough walls. [laughs.] So, I think I'm going to have to tone it down for that quilt show.

LR: When is that going to be?

JS: It starts in July at the La Conner Quilt Museum which is halfway in between Seattle [Washington.] and Vancouver [Washington.]. It is one of ten quilt museums in the United States. And actually, it was sort of interesting, it was this quilt that sort of put them on notice that they might want a one-man show for me. I was visiting the museum and it's in an old mansion. And I was looking around downstairs, and it was kind of uneventful, you know, typical sort of 1880, 1890 mansion, and the docent said to me, 'Well, would you like to see the quilt show upstairs?' And I thought, 'Well, I don't want to see a bunch of local quilters.' And she said, 'Well, let me go and see, it's a one-person show.' She came down and she said, 'It's some woman named Ruth McDowell.' [loud laughs.] So, I had a black coat on, and I think I actually had the vest on that I have on now, and it must have been peeking out from the coat; and one of the docents said, 'What's under your coat?' I said, 'It's a vest,' and she said, 'Well, let me see it.' And I showed it to her, and she said, 'I have to go get the curator. She's got to see this.' Meanwhile, my Aunt Faye is saying to my daughter, 'Heather, go get your Mommie's quilt out of the car,' and I was going like this--[Judy is motioning 'no' and laughs.]. So, the curator had been apparently trying to get hold of Elly Sienkiewicz and hadn't been able to catch up with her and when she saw my quilt she said, 'How would you like to do a one man show here?' So, you know, funny how we land these opportunities. So needless to say, I'm working fast and furiously to get this quilt done. [laughs.]

LR: How many pieces will be in the show?

JS: I would say twenty-five pieces.

LR: That's a lot.

JS: Yes, and it will be clothing. There will be liturgical clothing, some kind of high-end chasubles and stole sets that I've done for my wonderful friend Kim who just says, 'Keep it coming.' And she's the kind of client who says, 'I need an installation garment. Could you just do it?' And then I go crazy and bring it to her and she says, 'Exactly what I had in mind.' [laugh.]

LR: And Kim is where?

JS: She's an Episcopalian priest. She is a fortyish year-old black woman, and this is a second career for her, and she is just--she's on fire, absolutely on fire; and the two of us really understand the need for visuals in the worship service. So, it's a very good collaboration and she's been very supportive, and I think through Kim and through other people that I work for I haven't had to advertise. It's kind of word of mouth and it's been very, very fulfilling for me. The only problem is that I don't get to keep my work.

LR: Talk a minute about some of your other exhibitions and maybe shows that you have been in.

JS: Okay. Obviously local shows. I haven't really exhibited very much. I tend to be fairly private, but I would say by nature of my business my work is sort of on exhibit permanently in many, many places--the Cathedral, the Metropolitan Church [Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.], where I saw you actually, is going to do an exhibit of my quilts at some point in the very near future. Hopefully that will actually turn into a workshop slash conference on sort of beyond Baltimore techniques. I'm really hoping to interest people in coming and exhibiting their absolutely wonderful new Baltimore Album quilts that have been done and having some teachers, such as Elly and Anne and Jane Townswick, if that's possible, come and give workshops and really sort of give people more of an opportunity to see what this is all about and to describe the fulfillment that we've all had through the process.

LR: Have you worked in a quilt shop or been associated with a quilt shop?

JS: Sure.

LR: Tell me about it [laughs.]

JS: Actually, when I left the Supreme Court, I was burned out and when I left there, I cleared out my desk, I got in my car, I went to G Street. I didn't even go home, and I applied for a job at G Street. I was so burned out I needed to do what I needed to do. And so, I went from the Supreme Court to making seven dollars an hour at G Street in their quilt department.

LR: Was that downtown— [the original G Street Fabric store was located on G Street in Washington, D.C.]

JS: No, no

LR: In Rockville [Maryland where the store eventually moved.]

JS: From there my only affiliation with a quilt shop is simply that I taught at Capital Quilts. I taught at Seminole Sampler in Catonsville [Maryland.]. I am now teaching a Baltimore appliqué class that's a full year's commitment class at Cotton Seed Glory in Annapolis [Maryland.]. And that's really my only teaching gig right now. I'm finding that I want to put more time really into my work and not so much into teaching. Teaching is very fulfilling. The preparation time is really tremendous, and I don't make really enough money. It's really sort of a gift of interaction and sharing of techniques. So, I've limited myself to one Baltimore Album class. And then I will be teaching next summer. I'm going to Guilford Cathedral in England, and I'll be doing a week-long workshop in creative vestments. So, I hope that will be a great success. I've been all over the United States teaching. It's just a wonderful, wonderful experience, meeting really different people. I speak to a lot of guilds, and I find that very fulfilling and I also do one-day workshops which precede the talk at the end. The talk is usually on the second day. I like to have the workshop first and people come and they're very excited about their projects, whatever they've done. I find guild work very, very exciting.

LR: So then you work with guilds?

JS: Right.

LR: How have you balanced your quilting with your family and friends?

JS: Well, I would have to say most of my friends are quilters. I have an absolutely wonderful husband who not only loves quilt shows but he loves to go to quilt shops. We are both very independent. He's a wonderful cook and he loves to have more time to cook! He was the sole cook in his former marriage, and he misses the creativity of the kitchen. So, he really encourages me to quilt while he cooks and it's a very good tradeoff actually [laugh.] My daughter is very supportive. She's doing an event planning masters degree at George Washington University [Washington, D.C.] and we are actively involved in talking about coordinating some conferences. So, she's very involved and she's my only child. She has really grown to love quilting and now that she's old enough and meeting my quilting friends they're not so funny anymore [laugh.], they're just regular people. So, it works very well within my family. And the cat loves anything that's cotton so she appreciates my quilting [laughs.]

LR: So, you've been associated then with guilds and sewing bees?

JS: Right.

LR: Do you have any comments about that association?

JS: Comments about the association? Guilds are certainly different.

LR: In what way?

JS: I belong to two, Nimble Fingers which meets in Potomac [Maryland.]. I have seen that guild change greatly from very serious pursuits to fairly lighthearted pursuits. There was a great change in personalities. I know one organization, sort of infused it at one point, and it really did change the complexion of it. It's a wonderful group but I guess I'm part of the old guard, so I tend not to be as much a part of it. I still love to go to the meetings but they're not quite where I am. I've very active in C & P [Chesapeake & Potomac Appliqué Quilters, Bethesda, Maryland.] where you'll be working with C & P this coming month. That was actually formed, that guild was formed out of members of Anne Connery's classes who had made such wonderful connections that we all said, 'How can we be away from each other? And how can we not see Ann, and why should we have to pay G Street to come and see Anne to take courses?' So, we were very proactive about forming this guild which meets in Bethesda [Maryland.]. And that is a smallish guild, usually twenty-five to fifty members will attend the meeting. They're all people--I find that appliquérs are different people. They're not people who have to have quick success about everything. They tend to be much more into the journey of the project than just getting it out. So, the types of people in an appliqué guild are really sort of more suited to my personality, just because that's what I do, so and I'm not really into quick gratification, trip around the world in a day type quilt. Or little teacup quilts. I think the appliquérs tend to be more serious about their needlework.

LR: You mentioned in your quick question answers that, yes, you had won an award. What was the award?

JS: As I said, I don't show very much but Montgomery County Fair I entered six projects and took six first prizes and won best of show so that was a good thing [laughs.]

LR: That was a grand slam. [more laughs.]

JS: And I think I did best of show with one of my garments in another large quilt show. I think that was Friendship Star [Quilt Guild in Gaithersburg, Maryland.], but I just really like to keep my work for myself so this show in Seattle, it's a departure for me. It's a scary thing for me because it's difficult to put yourself on the line, open yourself up to a place where, for God's sake Alex Anderson comes and tapes these shows.

LR: Who is it?

JS: Alex Simply Quilts [a nationally broadcast television program.].

LR: Okay. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JS: My first response is color.

LR: Good.

JS: To me gut appeal. It just has to be spoken without a word. It has to speak to you. It has to really just hit you and say, 'Yes', and then you analyze.

LR: So, what would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a collection?

JS: A collection for me?

LR: Well, a collection for you.

JS: Total eye appeal. Just total eye appeal. I'm not terribly judgmental about the way things are done. I tend to be kind of a technician myself and I think that one of the things I'm learning from my students at Wesley [Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.] is raw edges are okay. I've become attracted to raw edges believe it or not. That's something that I can't do-- that I find very interesting, and I would like to collect things that were just kind of intuitive and I'm thinking of my friend, Billie, who is just a wonderful quilt artist. She's taught me so much in what I would like to collect in that she's very free. She works big. She works ethnically. She makes her own paper and adds it into her quilts, just an incredible--you know, but I see so much of Billie's spirit and what I've learned is that so many times when you see somebody who's working with raw edges or rough figures or spontaneous things that go into a quilt, you begin to see the personality of that quilter evolve. And I'm really interested in sort of analyzing the personality of the quilter who would be doing something like that.

LR: I think you've touched on why quilting is important in your life. Talk a minute about the importance of quilts in American life in general.

JS: Well, tomorrow night I'm giving a lecture and it's a new lecture for me. About four days ago I was watching Simply Quilts and a black woman was talking about the importance of the Underground Railroad quilts. And what struck me--and I guess I really hadn't spent any time on the Underground Railroad quilts, was first of all that this was an oral history. Well, we're sitting here today documenting an oral history and I thought to myself, and this is why I emailed you and said, 'I've had a revelation', because those slave quilts were being done in 1840 to 1860 which is the same period that this Baltimore Album quilt was being done. And I thought to myself that this was a real parallel in time but what a difference in the culture, and the style really does represent the culture itself. I think that all needlework is so strongly representative of a culture and that the cultures are so diverse, and one culture--and I will be using the slave culture and the Victorian ladies' culture essentially in my lecture tomorrow night--are so antithetical. These are the ladies in the Baltimore Album era who were using the slaves so that they could have the time to sit down and do this kind of work. And the slaves were escaping to freedom with these very simple, but very intuitive, block patterns that they were using. So, Saturday I sat down, and I constructed all of the ten blocks into a quilt which I gonna use for my visual aids purposes to really show the difference in the culture and how needlework manifests the culture itself. So, culture is a very strong interest area for me, and I think the two cultures really, really are such fundamental opposites that how striking it is because it really does show what was going on in those twenty years in that same period of time. And here I never thought slave quilts were done in 1860 to me. Never occurred to me that they were done in 1840 and that they were the precursor to the Civil War, not a part of the Civil War, but certainly the precursor as was the Baltimore Album.

LR: Fascinating. What do you see as the future of quilting in America?

JS: The future of quilting, I think, is not in bed quilts. I think it's in art quilts. I think I make collage purses for instance from the same collage technique as my vest that I have on today. Quilts are everywhere. The only qualification for a quilt is that it has three layers sewn together, and I think people don't quite realize that they do have quilts all around them. It's integrated into their clothing. I think that some of the art quilts are so fascinating. I was very fortunate to be with David Walker on 9/11 and I really believe God put me in his class. David is a former priest, and he works very abstractly. I don't tend to work very abstractly. I use more form in my quilts. But I did have such a feeling of peace in just being there, being with quilters, being in West Virginia, away from the craziness of Washington. I knew that my family was all right and I just went back to the quilting, and on September 15 we went to a wedding in New York, and it was a little bit scary on the way up, it was--we were going to upstate New York, but of course going through the city was very difficult. And it wasn't until the Tuesday after I got home and that would be the 17th or 18th of September, I believe, that I stayed up for three days and I completed the last block of this quilt and that is the block over here that you see [Judy is pointing to the block.] with the American flag and the two buildings. And again, the lilies are memorial flowers, the pink lilies, and they have little blue forget-me-nots in them, and of course the bird is the dove of resurrection. Sometimes that's interpreted as an eagle, and my husband looked at me and he said, 'What are you gonna put in his beak?' And I said, 'I don't know, a freedom cap, I think.' And he said, 'Judy, why don't you put a fireman's cap in there?' And I thought, 'What a great idea.' And it was my agnostic husband who came up with the biblical verse, 'Peace that passeth understanding.' So that's how that block is inscribed. But that was the conclusion of my twenty-five blocks that I decided to use in this quilt, and I thought it was a very, very good point to stop. It was the end of an era.

LR: I think you touched briefly on encouraging young people to quilt. What other ways can we encourage young people?

JS: I've often said that I wish I had quilted when I was younger because I think the benefits of women getting together are just absolutely tremendous. I think the benefits of women being able to understand that it's okay to be a woman is wonderful, that they can certainly do other things, they can be lawyers, doctors, whatever; in fact, some of my best students are doctors and lawyers. The fact that you sit down with a needle does not preclude being a strong empowered woman. In fact, the fact that women get together is a natural empowering act, I think. And I think that young women tend to get caught up, and I always say that once we're past our reproductive years how much better we are as people [laughs.], at least it's been true for me. But I really think that the wisdom of sometimes being in a situation where you have older women where younger women can come and talk over their problems and have the benefit of older women who've been through it is wonderful; and I think the fact that the act of completion of something that's beautiful and not necessarily to be used for a bed as we think of bed quilts, but to really document our journeys and to grow and to be able to put it down. It's almost like journaling, the Baltimore Album movement. This is really a journal in fact. And sometimes I think when you write down your actions, or when you appliqué your actions, it makes you that much aware of who you are and where you are and where you're going.

LR: We just have a couple of minutes left.

JS: Okay.

LR: Is there anything else you would like to add?

JS: What else would I like to add? I think that this is the most wonderful experience I've had making this Baltimore Album quilt because it is a journal, because it has helped me to identify who I am as a person, and in a very profound way, helped me understand who I am and where I've been and to make peace with so many of the issues in my life.

LR: Our time is just about up, so thank you, Judy, for allowing me--

JS: You're welcome.

LR: to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview was concluded at 5:30 p.m. and it is still February 23, 2003.

JS: Great, thank you. [Le says, 'Thank you' at the same time.]



“Judy Shapiro,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1803.