Marsha Pearson




Marsha Pearson




Marsha Pearson


Susan Russ

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


O'Fallon, Missouri


Susan Russ


Susan Russ (SR): My name is Susan Russ. Today's date is September 5, 2007. It is 3:30pm. I am conducting an interview with Marsha Pearson for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in O'Fallon, Missouri at my home, the home of Susan Russ. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of Mo State Society, Daughters of the American Revolution. Marsha Pearson is a quilter and is a member of the O'Fallon Chapter, NSDAR. Marsha, tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Marsha Pearson (MP): The quilt I brought in today is called "Stars and Stripes" and it is made with yoyos. Yoyos are round circles. I used a peanut butter jar lid to trace the circles and there are 793 pieces in the major star. I started it when I was a senior in high school. That would have been in 1973 and I worked on it during lunch breaks and I kept a lot of it in a zip lock bag because I could just carry the circles around and all you do to make the yoyo is to put a little hem in it and then a running stitch and then tie a knot and then you sew the pieces together and I decided to sew the pieces together and I decided to sew them together in a flower garden pattern. I continued on with it when I started college and it was all over the house and I pretty much quit when we got some cats because the cats kept taking the yoyos and carrying them around the house in their mouths or batting them around the floor so I had yoyos all over the place for a while. My grandmother made--it was my Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt with yoyos and that was kind of the inspiration but she didn't use the same--I mean it was all flower garden, it wasn't stars.

SR: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

MP: Why I thought about it for the 1776 200 year celebration. I mean it's red, white and blue and it got stars and I thought I'd finish it in 1976 but here it is 2007 and I'm still not done.

SR: Why did you choose this quilt to bring for your interview?

MP: I've only done a couple quilts. There weren't too many choices so this was the best one I think.

SR: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

MP: [pause.]

SR: Details?

MP: I guess that I am fairly patriotic. I like red, white and blue. Stars are pretty.

SR: Did you enjoy making all these 770 little pieces?

MP: [smile.] It was 793 and I was doing a math problem where I needed geometric progression and I tried out the formula on my quilt and I was able to figure out how many pieces were in the star by using a geometric progression.

SR: So the math helped, it helped you in your math also?

MP: Yes, for advanced trigonometry we had geometric progression.

SR: Was this still in high school?

MP: Yes, I was still in high school then.

SR: And how do you use this particular quilt?

MP: This quilt is fairly fragile because there are so many pieces connecting each other. It can only be used as decoration on top of a bed. Moving it a lot isn't good for it.

SR: And what are your plans for this quilt?

MP: To leave it on the guest bed when I have a guest room.

SR: Tell me about your interest in quilting.

MP: I've been interested in quilts a long time. I almost have to tell you my history to tell you of my interest in it. When I was about 8th grade my Girl Scout troop decided to make a quilt for a raffle. And we had quilt blocks to embroider and everyone had to take one home and embroider the block. It was aqua and there were prairie points and I think we had to bring some of the prairie points home and I think my mom did a lot of the prairie points and then the Girl Scout leader had it quilted probably by one of her church groups or, it's been a long time and I don't remember the whole thing but I was a Cadette in Girls Scouts then and we raffled it off and I don't remember how much we made or anything like that and then I know my grandmother was a quilter and my mother was but neither one of them were working on quilts when I was growing up and when my sister decided she wanted to go to Australia my mom decided that was a good thing to do so we made her a quilt before she left and she would have been leaving about 1973 and we used all sorts of fabric. My mom made all our clothes until I was in high school so she had a lot of fabric scraps and she made sure that she used scraps from clothes that we wore a lot like favorite dresses so this quilt had a lot of history in it before it was ever made and we all had to help with it. She had it set up in the living room to do the actual quilting and even when the boyfriends came over they had to put in a few stitches because you couldn't just sit in the living room and not do any quilting. If you wanted to watch TV you had to quilt. [laughs.]

SR: And what did the boyfriends think about this?

MP: They all giggled a little bit but they put a few stitches in and then I decided that I might as well start making a quilt for myself because some day I was going to get married. So I made this pink quilt. It's got pink, 12 embroidered blocks. Everything is in pink and green. I have matching pillow cases except for the crocheted edging I never learned how to make and got the blocks all embroidered within year and with my mom, we quilted it according to the pattern on the embroidery blocks and I set it together with the pink sheet. We bought a queen sized sheet and made it, that was the back and we bought another one to set in between the blocks. [clarification: we bought two queen sized sheets- one was for the back and one was used to set in between the blocks and the border.]

SR: Was your sister happy with the quilt?

MP: My sister loved the quilt.

SR: Does she still have it?

MP: Yes

SR: And how does she use it?

MP: I don't know. I haven't been to my sister's house in a long time.

SR: And at what age did you start quilting?

MP: About 8th grade.

SR: And from whom did you learn to quilt?

MP: Actual quilting probably my mother and not until we made my sister's quilt. To put them together; it was probably about 8th grade.

SR: And how many hours a week do you quilt?

MP: Not very many right now. I've got too many things going. I am very active in DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution.], Genealogical Societies, Rock and Mineral Groups. I work full time.

SR: Don't you sing a lot too?

MP: [smile.] Yes, I'm also in the Welsh Choir and Star Spangled Daughters and right now I am Director of Missouri State Chorus.

SR: Very busy lady. What is your first quilt memory?

MP: My grandmother made a School House quilt and we used to play on the quilt. The quilt was on my bed when I was growing up. I had a lot of sisters and I shared a double bed with one of my other sisters and it was double bed sized and we used to you know look at all the different school houses and the block was a school house block. I don't know exactly what it was called but we would say, ‘I like this one best,' ‘no I like this one best' [smile.] and we would kind of play and pretend we were going in and out of the schools and so forth.

SR: And this was on your bed?

MP: Yes

SR: Did you have a favorite school? A favorite place?

MP: Yeh, but I don't remember which one?

SR: Were they all different colors?

MP: Yes, there were all different colors and different, different kinds of material.

SR: Are there any other quilt makers among your family or friends? Please tell me about them.

MP: Yes, my mom, my mother is in a quilt guild; she's in two quilt guilds right now- one in Indiana where my older sister lives and one where she's involved locally. She just finished making the prize ribbons for the quilts in her quilt guild. They are about to have a show. They have a show every other year and this is the year. She's got five quilts that she is exhibiting and she also goes to sit'n sew a lot. She has that every Tuesday afternoon that they don't have a meeting and my youngest sister belongs to the same and she teaches some embroidery techniques once in a while. I've been embroidering for a long time too. My oldest sister belongs to a quilt guild in Indiana and I don't think she's an officer but she makes at least one quilt every year. My mom probably makes at least that many and my youngest sister is more of a dabbler. I don't think she's finished much of anything in the last five years but she goes to the meetings and she does blocks and helps out on their big projects. They have the "Linus Project" [Project Linus is a nonprofit organization that provides quilts and blankets to seriously ill or traumatized children.] with the little quilts. And let's see other people involved would be my grandmother made a few quilts. I don't think she made that many but besides the school house one she had a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt and she had a few tops that my mom's got and she may eventually finish them off but I don't know when or-- [laughs.]

SR: What about quilting among your friends or your organizations?

MP: I don't know too many people, no friends that I know of quilt but not too many people in my organizations, well, maybe in the Genealogical Society but mostly we don't talk about it at the meetings.

SR: I understand your DAR Chapter is doing a quilt.

MP: Yes, our DAR Chapter is making a quilt. We had quilt blocks to embroider. The colors are mostly purples and greens and Sue Russ has put it together [smile.], yes she has. We had different members embroider the names of the Chapter Regents and,

SR: And is there a theme for that quilt?

MP: The theme is the lilacs that were at our first meeting when our Chapter was formed and the title is "Weaving Threads of History."

SR: How many quilt makers, or how does quilt making impact your family?

MP: We have fabric all over the place. [laughs.] No, we've all become great collectors of fabric even my sisters that haven't made a quilt. I've got four sisters and all of them collect fabric. Some of them work on quilts, I've got two others that don't belong to quilt groups right now but they still collect fabric. They still, if they haven't finished a quilt, they've come close to it. My next younger sister Laura embroidered enough to finish a quilt. I don't know if it is quilted or not yet but mom's trying to get her to get it to a PSOP which older persons is in the title and they do a lot of quilting then and Barbara has made some baby quilts for her son.

SR: So the family is still working on it many times, many quilts for many reasons.

MP: Yes, and we're all very slow about this. Laura's wedding quilt was finished in the last three years and she's been married about 26 years now.

SR: [laughs.] Tell me if you've ever used quilts to get through difficult times.

MP: I think when we made Janice's quilt it was going to be a difficult time. Well, it was starting to get difficult. My dad had just lost his job. There wasn't much money and the teaching jobs were drying up all over the place which is why she went to Australia. She had a two year contract to stay in Australia to teach and then the teaching positions started opening up about the time she came back.

SR: So that is your sister that you made the quilt for that you spoke about at the beginning.

MP: Right.

SR: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred with your quilt making or your teaching.

MP: I haven't taught anybody about quilting [laughs.] unless they were just watching me. I can't think of too many, oh here's one with the yoyo quilt. With the yoyo quilt when I was making it during my lunch periods one of the guys said, ‘Oh Marsha when you get done could you make me a car.' [smile.] [SR laughs.]
And my cats would also run off with the yoyo's and it was kind of interesting when you would find a yoyo in a room you haven't even been in. [smile.]

SR: The cats were making a larger quilt for you, spreading it out. What do you find pleasing about quilting?

MP: It's something you can do by yourself, and I spend a lot of time by myself or you can do it in a group if you are doing the actual quilting that's best done in the group and it's very social then, so you can have it both ways then. [smile.]

SR: That would be comforting.

MP: Right.

SR: Sharing time as well.

MP: Also, when you are sewing on it and you are just cold you can be under your quilt while you are putting it together or well, embroidering it especially for me, but--

SR: Comforts you at the same time, keeps you warm. [MP laughs.] What about quilt making do you not enjoy?

MP: Having a deadline [smile.]. Sometimes I have not been happy about cutting out the blocks into the shapes but I think at the time I wasn't able to use my arm as well as I wanted to and I'm going to try it again and if I feel like I really got to get it done I don't enjoy the quilting as much.

SR: The deadline is what holds you back.

MP: Right

SR: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

MP: None

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

MP: It hasn't influenced what I have done so far, but it has influenced some of my ideas because there are always techniques coming out that are new to me and probably new to a lot of people. I do subscribe to some quilt magazines and some online newsletters and every once in a while you get a new pattern and you go, ‘Oh wow I've got to try that.'

SR: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

MP: I like to work in cottons mostly. My techniques. I don't think I have that much information to decide that.

SR: Why do you like cottons?

MP: It's a feel thing.

SR: Is it? Do you choose bright colors over soft colors? Does it matter?

MP: I'm probably, well I probably do choose more bright colors except if I am working on "Crazy Quilts" I tend to go for the darker colors and I think that's because velvets lend themselves more to the darker jewel tones.

SR: What is a crazy quilt?

MP: A Crazy Quilt is, you take pieces and you put them together any old way. I've got most of the Crazy Quilt done and I've done it in velour because I couldn't afford velvets. But I've got more Crazy Quilts in my head. [laughs.] I've been collecting fabrics, satins and silk and velvets because I want to really do one up really well and I embroider so, and I've been collecting bits of lace. There is some premade embroidered, they are appliquéd, or would need to appliqué them on to the quilt but they are machine made like pansies or something and some of the stitches are really nice.

SR: Sounds lovely. Describe your studio or the place that you create.

MP: That's most of the problem why I don't do too much. My house has been kind of, when we redid the living room when we put everything in the basement and that's my work space and we need to empty it back out and get more stuff done. The basement has, I've got three chests of drawers with sewing, not fabric but lace and ribbon and patterns. All sorts of things that could be used toward quilting and then I have several containers of fabric and I also have a bead cabinet. [laughs.]

SR: You collect buttons also. Do you use buttons on the Crazy Quilt?

MP: I haven't, but that's the intention.

SR: What is it about the buttons that would be a highlight on the quilt? What do you plan to do with the buttons?

MP: Like, some of them would be nice if you could make them look like part of a snowflake or somehow an embellishment that would make the total picture, well, like you had a whole bunch of snowflakes if you had little white buttons. I've lots of pearl buttons, lots of glass buttons. I'm not too crazy about plastic.

SR: You like Czech buttons.

MP: Yes

SR: Tell us about your Czech buttons. Do they go on your quilt?

MP: Yes. Czech buttons are, as in Czechoslovakia [now the Czech Republic.], not checkerboard. [laughs.]. They are glass buttons and they are very tiny but I think they would look very nice on a Crazy Quilt. I will make some Christmas stockings too, Crazy Quilt Christmas stockings with all sorts of buttons, beads and embroidery and velvets and silks.

SR: Sounds beautiful. How do you balance your time?

MP: What's that? [both laugh.] I don't know how to tell you that. There are things with deadlines and you have to do the things with deadlines first so that you meet your deadlines and when you have the time, I guess that would be part of the problem, when you have time left over then you can work on hobby things.

SR: Does it relax you when you work on it if you are tense?

MP: Definitely. There have been some rough spots in my career when working on something was the only way I could get through.

SR: Do you use a design wall and if so, in what way and how does that enhance your creative process?

MP: No, I don't use a design wall.

SR: If not, how do you go about designing your quilts?

MP: On the yoyo quilt I used graph paper. On the Crazy quilt I basically laid it out on the floor and I did 12 inch blocks so I would just make it so it would end up to be a 12-inch block.

SR: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MP: All sorts of things need to go together. The colors you use can make a great quilt. The combinations of the different colors and you can even use ugly fabric and come up with a great quilt. If you have small enough pieces or can arrange them so that the parts that don't go together-go together. My sister, my oldest sister just made a challenge quilt. It was all flowered materials and none of them matched. I don't know how she got it to look good, but it did, but part of it was balance, you know like the browns separate--not separated but the browns were scattered evenly throughout the quilt, the blues were scattered evenly and it just made it really nice. A nice looking quilt, but if you looked really close and you saw each individual fabric you would go, ‘Some of that fabric is really ugly,' [laughs.] but she made it work and, and I hope I can do that when I really get into it. I plan to do more when I retire and that won't be for several years yet. [laughs.] Let's see that was color, a composition, a nice pattern helps. That's all I can think of.

SR: What makes a quilt artistically palatable?

MP: When the viewer just stands there and says ‘Wow!' I do go to Paducah fairly often to see the quilt show, it's in the spring of every year, and the ones that you really like if you can just stand there and say, ‘Wow, I want to make quilts like that some time.'

SR: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

MP: For a museum it would probably depend on historical, well, historical patterns, when it was made, who made it, it depends on what the collection is based on too. If you are doing all Baltimore Albums you wouldn't want a Crazy Quilt in there.

SR: And that would be the special collection. It would be appropriate for that.

MP: Right

SR: What makes a great quiltmaker?

MP: A great quilt maker would be one that would be willing to try new techniques or makes--I think if you can match your seams you are doing pretty well, and the use of color, and well and the use of techniques. I've seen some great looking quilts but the seams didn't match and if you've got a star that the center is off it may ruin the look of it.

SR: Whose works are you drawn to in your life? Do you see any particular quilts that you really like at Paducah?

MP: Oh yes, lots of them.

SR: Is there something that draws you to that particular quilt?

MP: Each quilt is so individual. There are all sorts of reasons why I am drawn to a quilt. One quilt I saw once was fish made of Japanese material. The fish were all, it was mostly Japanese flowers like carnations but it was just so intriguing the way they used the fabric too to, it was a Japanese picture and they used Japanese fabric but they used them in a totally different way than you would expect and there were lots of them but I would have to look at the individual quilts to come up with [laughs].

SR: Which artists have influenced you? Do you know quilters by name?

MP: I'm not very good at that, sorry.

SR: And how do you feel about machine quilting verses hand quilting?

MP: There are good aspects on both machine quilting; in my case I may actually get done. Hand quilting I think is great because then you can show off your stitches if you are really good, really good with the even stitches. You can do it, well you can do them both by yourself, but the machine quilter would be able to do it by themselves much easier.

SR: What about long arm quilting?

MP: I don't have a machine to do that with ease, but yes I am favor of anything. [laughs.]

SR: Tell me a little bit about long arm quilting. How is that different? Is it an apparatus for your sewing machine?

MP: Right, well it's able to handle the bigger pieces of fabric.

SR: Why is quilt making important to your life?

MP: It's something that's been in my life for a while. It's sort of like something that you just do. When I go to a fabric store I can't help but find fabric and it doesn't mean that I'm going to sew it up necessarily but I guess my mom from an early age my mom was buying fabric all the time because some colors aren't in style all the time and you can't get them when you want them all the time so she would buy some and it just seemed like that's what you should be doing. [laughs.]

SR: Do you spend a lot of time in quilt stores just looking at fabric?

MP: Oh yes, I called my mom up on Labor Day and I said, ‘Do you know Jackmans is having a fabric sale?' and she said, ‘No, but if everybody is coming we can all go,' so we all went to the fabric store and all bought some material.

SR: Is this you and your sisters?

MP: It was Laura, Barbara, my mom and me.

SR: And do you all buy the same thing, buy different, share? How do you do that as a family?

MP: We all pick out what we like but Laura had picked out some Halloween fabric because she wanted to make some placemats for her Halloween décor and Barbara and I saw that and we each needed a piece too.

SR: [laughs.] And what are you doing with your piece?

MP: It'll be a wall hanging with Halloween fabric. It hasn't been designed yet, but I have the fabric. I just have to do it.

SR: Well, if it hasn't been designed yet do you enjoy thinking about the design? It takes a while to come to it but half of the fun of it is thinking about it?

MP: Right, I dream quilts. You know you pick out, you have certain pieces of material or else you see the finished quilt. One of them I've got in the works is an "Aquarium Quilt" and what I want to make it look like the wall at Wal-Mart with all these different aquariums with fish in it. I have all the fish fabric I just have to cut it out and sew it together.

SR: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

MP: I don't have an answer to that.

SR: Your family, your upbringing. That's your region.

MP: Well I often think quilts partly because I know my husband would like it or my daughter would like it or that's what I want to do. Like I've got a purple one, I just want it to be purple. I haven't decided on a pattern but I've got a lot of purple fabric. I want to do a log cabin in reds, mostly reds in a dark, almost blood red.

SR: Has your daughter shown an interest in quilting?

MP: A little bit, she's got her own fabric collection. She hasn't made anything yet but I think she will eventually.

SR: Thinking about it?

MP: Uhuh.

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

MP: Why I think they were very important when, especially before you could just go out and buy something warm, warm to keep you warm on cold nights. I mean there weren't store bought bed coverings early on, well there were but the really warm ones were quilted though. That's an art that can be passed down so you've got a little family continuity that way. I like quilts because they are warmer I think than say a polyester bedspread or-- [laughs.]

SR: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history?

MP: A lot of quilt patterns were designed by women to commemorate historical events or special occasions. It's a record to history. It's an unwritten record to history.

SR: How do you think quilts can be used?

MP: Well, I was reading one, a story about a very "Happy Quilt" and it said, ‘My maker wasn't very good at it but she enjoyed doing it.' It wasn't the best made quilt in the world but it kept her family warm at night then when it got too worn out to use they packed the furniture in it when they moved. [laughs.]

SR: Used forever.

MP: Yes

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

MP: I've gotten a little bit of quilt preservation. I'm not an expert by any stretch, but you are not supposed to fold them the same way every time you put them away. You shouldn't keep them in wooden chests. You can roll them up between something that wouldn't have an acid base, possibly a sheet you can keep them for a long time. I've kept a quilt in a trunk and it's showing quite a bit of yellow and I've got it out of there. It's doing better now. [laughs.]

SR: Can you get rid of the yellow, is there any way?

MP: There is, but that's not my area.

SR: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

MP: My grandmother's quilt, my mother has all of them. My mother has all of her quilts except for the ones that she gave, she's made quilts for most of her grandchildren and some of her children and if she finished them we have them if she didn't she's still got them.

SR: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

MP: I've got everything I've made still and--

SR: You mentioned a wall hanging for the Halloween one. Have you made wall hangings, smaller pieces, or are they large quilts?

MP: I've just done large quilts but I should be able to finish a wall hanging without too much time.

SR: And what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?

MP: Time, and maybe space because some of us are in smaller houses. The dining room table has disappeared from some houses completely.

SR: Do you have a quilt frame?

MP: No, but my mom does. [smile.]

SR: Have you used hers? Could you if you needed it?

MP: I could if I needed it.

SR: Tell me about the colors and pieces of fabric that you chose for this particular quilt.

MP: It's mostly red, white and blue. I know there's a little pink in it, I don't know why pink keeps creeping up [laughs.] in my things but it's mostly red, white and blue. The white really sets off the reds and the blues. It was a patriotic star quilt.

SR: And what is your plan for this when it is finished?

MP: To grace the bed on my guest room which I don't have. [laughs.]

SR: Marsha is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?

MP: No. [silence.]

SR: I would like to thank Marsha for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in O'Fallon, Missouri. Our interview concluded at 4:15 p.m., September 5, 2007. [note: time incorrectly stated as 3:45 p.m. on tape.]


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