Sue Engelman




Sue Engelman




Sue Carol Butler Engelman


Linda Hardin Sehrt

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Independence, Missouri


Linda Hardin Sehrt


Linda Hardin Sehrt (LS): My name is Linda Hardin Sehrt and today is November 24, 2009, and it is 1:50 p.m. in the afternoon. I am conducting an interview with Sue Carol Butler Engelman in Independence, Missouri for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Missouri State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Sue Carol Butler Engelman is a quilter and is a member of the Independence Pioneers Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Sue, will you tell me today about this quilt that you brought?

Sue Carol Butler Engelman (SE): The quilt is titled "Dear Jane." It was a book by the author, Brenda Papadakis. The quilt is an 1860's quilt. It's a reproduction.

LS: It's just beautiful. Can you tell me how many different blocks you have in this quilt?

SE: There are a total of 281 blocks, each one being different from the other.

LS: Some of the designs seem a little more integrate. Is there special meanings to those designs?

SE: No, I think it was just the complication. The further she worked with it, the more complicated she got with it.

LS: It seems like you have chosen the colors that match this exact Dear Jane quilt. [looking at picture on cover of book.]

SE: Yes, I did. And that took a little shopping to do. I worked on the quilt for a total of three years. And in that three-year period I was constantly shopping for fabrics.

LS: What type of fabrics are in this quilt?

SE: 100% cotton.

LS: What is the backing on this quilt?

SE: The backing is cotton also. And it is an 1860's era reproduction copy.
LS: What are the dimensions of the quilt?

SE: The quilt is 81 [inches.] by 81 [inches.].

LS: Does this quilt have special meaning to you?

SE: Yes, it does. First of all, I looked at the book several times before I purchased it. It kept calling my name. I finally went back and said, 'Okay, I'll buy the book.' And I had the book probably six months before I ever started cutting and sewing. It's a treasure to me. I have a grandmother [Sarah Bacon.] that was born in 1816 in Sutherland, Vermont. And she was born the very same time frame as Jane A. Blakely [Stickle.] the original quilter of this quilt. My grandmother was one year younger. And the county was Bennington [Vermont.].

LS: Did your grandmother quilt?

SE: My grandmother [Pearl Raveil.] was an avid quilter. I can remember mother [Elizabeth Raveil Butler.] saying that for her wedding, she [refers to grandmother.] had made her a wedding ring quilt, Mother being the first daughter.

LS: How are you, what are your plans for this particular quilt?

SE: My plans, at the time being, are a few blocks still remain unhand quilted. The top is complete, and the borders and binding are on. But I plan to use it as a friendship quilt. When friends come and need to visit, need to share their burdens, I hand them a needle with some thread and a copy of the book and say, 'This is what this block is to look like. Help yourself.' For the finish hand quilting on it.

LS: Well, it sounds impressive. When were you first interested in quilting?

SE: As a child, when I was five. I would go to the five and ten store with my friends, the little neighborhood store, and the first thing I would buy would be fabric. And I would go home and cut up fabric, as all quilters do.

LS: When did you complete your first quilt?

SE: Around 1998.

LS: So as a child you didn't remain quilting, you kind of played at quilting?

SE: I played at quilting. I played at fabric and collected fabrics all my life. But with no one to teach me how to quilt and there was such a lack of quilting instructions, it was just one of those things one day I would do.

LS: So, you are a self-taught quilter?

SE: I am a self-taught quilter.

LS: And you did it by reading books?

SE: By reading books. My daughter [Michelle Engelman Simpson.] quilts and the two of us would sit and figure out patterns and instructions. And then we would set those aside and stay with the main rules and make up our own patterns.

LS: What do you consider the main rules of quilting?

SE: One-quarter inch seam allowance.

LS: [both speak at the same time.] One-quarter inch.

SE: Yes. That's the rule. If you can hold to that, you can do anything.

LS: How do you create your pattern? Is the pattern already created for you? You said you kind of.

SE: I prefer to do quilt reproductions. I might find a quilt that I just dearly love and know that I can make it and then set out to do that. I love to make miniature quilts, thinking that, in doing that, I don't have to make a large one. I can make a small one and enjoy it and hang it on my wall.

LS: How many quilts have you made in your lifetime?

SE: Oh, fifteen to twenty.

LS: Do you have favorites of those fifteen to twenty?

SE: I do. Dear Jane, is my most favorite and Shiloh being the second.

LS: Shiloh, what type of pattern is that?

SE: That's a pineapple. A pineapple quilt and that's in the Smithsonian. And it is a reproduction quilt from that.

LS: Do you go by the, do you try to match the colors to the type of quilt you're recreating?

SE: Yes. Plus, the pattern on the fabric must match.

LS: You are into an accurate reproduction?

SE: Yes. Yes, even to the type of fabric, whether it is a coarse fabric or a very delicate fabric. I have done crazy quilting also, which takes the most delicate of fabrics.

LS: And can you describe crazy quilting to me?

SE: Artistic quilting: random, nothing precise; embroidery; ribbon; beads; lace; very decorative, very fancy work.

LS: You mentioned your daughter quilts. Does she still quilt today?

SE: Yes, she does. I have a quilt that's ready to be quilted, hand quilted, and she finished that about two weeks ago.

LS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

SE: Probably now, maybe three, because of the time limitations.

LS: At what time did you quilt the most?

SE: As my grandchildren were growing up. I have one granddaughter that's eighteen and another one that's eight. And from about 2000 to about 2007, I quilted the most then. This quilt took three years, and so it was night and day, for three years.

LS: When you were quilting this quilt, this particular quilt, how many hours of day did you quilt?

SE: Sometimes it would be until two o'clock in the morning, but I might not start it until I'd get home from work and with dinner over with around seven and go until two.

LS: That was a terrific time commitment. Does quilting relax you?

SE: Yes, tremendously. You can work through a lot of issues, broken hearts and the happiest of times, with your hands busy.

LS: How does quilt making impact your family? Are they behind you? Do they enjoy your quilts?

SE: They do enjoy my quilts. My husband, [James Engelman.] because of the dedication to this quilt, told me that he was going to build an airplane and he knew that he could complete it because he saw the dedication to this complicated quilt, he knew he could complete his task. I thought that was a great honor.

LS: Have you ever given quilts away as gifts?

SE: Yes. We've given them to auctions. We have given them as wedding gifts, as new baby gifts to the family.

LS: So, do you ever use your quilts? Do you sleep under them, or do you keep them safe and not used?

SE: I use them mainly just to cover up in the evening when relaxing with family. We don't sleep under them.

LS: Can you tell me of a special time, is there any stories when you have been quilting with friends over, you said you like to give them a needle, are there any amusing stories when you've have been quilting?

SE: Mainly the look of fright on their face when I hand them a needle and say, 'I need this hand quilted just like this block.' And, from that point on they relax because they forget their problems. They forget their troubles. And they start focusing on one little square, 4½ by 4½ [inches.] and reproducing what Jane had done a hundred years ago.

LS: Do you ever find someone that cannot quilt?

SE: No, never have. [laughs.] Some just take a little longer to learn.

LS: [laughs.] Are there any aspects of quilt making that you do not enjoy?

SE: No, I love to do it all. I like to put the binding on as the very last thing that you do. And it, for me, is saying good-bye to the quilt. No matter how it will be used, it is free to go.

LS: Do you put your name and date your quilts when you complete them?

SE: I try to remember to do that. But usually, I am off on another quilt.

LS: Do you use any particular color type thread when you quilt?

SE: I like to use the ecru, the natural colors. Since most of my quilts are on the brown tones. I'll stay with the browner threads. I think it's more impressive.

LS: Did you belong to any quilt groups?

SE: Yes, several- Crazy Quilting Society out of Omaha, Nebraska, also the Omaha Quilt Guild, also the Crazy Quilt Guild in Independence [Missouri.]. For a short time, the Blue Springs [Missouri.] Quilt Guild, but currently I am not affiliated with any.

LS: What type of things, activities does a guild provide?

SE: Instructions. Guest speakers will come in. Authors of books will come in and talk about their books and give tips and show the quilts that they have made.

LS: Are there any particular authors of quilt books that you are especially fond of?

SE: I love the "Kansas City Star" books and I really prefer the books from this area. From the Kansas City [Missouri.] area. We have so many very good, creative women in the quilting field: Alma Allen and Barbara Brackman.

LS: What strikes you the most, I mean, what is the most pleasing to you? Is it the designs they do, the colors they do? The story behind the quilt?

SE: Being an artist, I choose color first. If it's not pleasing to the eye, no matter how complicated the pattern is, I can walk away right then. But if the colors are right, it doesn't matter if it's a very complicated quilt, I'll do it because I like it.

LS: What are your favorite colors?

SE: Blues to browns.

LS: Is there any color you would not prefer, which you would not like in a quilt?

SE: Probably purple.

LS: And why not purple?

SE: [laughs.] As much as I've tried, as many times as I have tried, I will buy purple and then just set it aside and give it away. So, I have learned my lesson, stop buying purple. [LS laughs.]
I give it to Sharron. [Gregg.]

LS: Do you have a favorite place in your house that you prefer to quilt or is there a special room you quilt in?

SE: I have a quilting room that my husband built for me.

LS: A quilting room?

SE: A quilting room.

LS: Can you describe it?

SE: It's probably 15 by 15 [feet.] and it was originally designed to be a studio that has now been turned into a second bedroom, a guest bedroom. But I have my antique sewing table set up in there and I have my sewing machine and the quilt that I am working on presently is a Log Cabin and the five little blocks are 4 ½ x 4 ½ [inches.] and there are 350 blocks to that one. So, I can run away and maybe quilt three hours a week and accomplish a lot.

LS: With having a private place?

SE: Yes.

LS: Do you usually quilt to music or watch television?

SE: No television. It would be to music or to story tapes. I listened with the Dear Jane quilt. I listened to "Jane Austin." I've listened to "Little Women," "Little Men." Stories like that. Things that would remind me of the time frame because it seemed like the work went a lot faster.

LS: What makes this quilt, this Dear Jane quilt, a great quilt in your opinion?

SE: Because it's very complicated. It draws your eye, not to one block but each block. The triangles around the edge are complicated and they draw your eye directly to that.

LS: You talk about this book, this Dear Jane quilt, back in the 1800's, what would you say makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

SE: All quilts are appropriate. Each one is made by a woman, or a man, that has spent their time choosing the fabrics. Many, many hours of labor and many stories have gone into the quilts. Each has their own personal story.

LS: You mentioned, "a woman, or a man" quilted. Do you know of men quilters?

SE: Yes, I do. When I was up in Omaha [Nebraska.] at the Crazy Quilt Society, Nancy had a quilt that was quilted by a sailor from the 1700's and she let us touch and feel the fabrics. And I was just so taken back. It was a whole cloth quilt, meaning that it was one piece of fabric and he had sandwiched it with a backing and hand quilted it. It was beautiful.

LS: Whose works are you especially drawn to and why?

SE: I think any quilter from the 1860s. I love those quilts. They're first out--they're first quilts. I am not so fond of Baltimore Album because, I think for me personally, they're too busy.

LS: Baltimore Album, I am not familiar with that. Is that an era of quilting?

SE: No, because it's carried on even now. I believe it is Baltimore, Maryland.

LS: Oh, Baltimore, Maryland. I'm sorry.

SE: I did take a seminar in September. It was called "Baltimore on the Prairie" and that was interesting. You have to expand your mind. You have to learn new techniques.

LS: So, you find history in the quilts.

SE: Yes. I am.

LS: And you are attracted to the history.

SE: I am, yes.

LS: So, the quilts are telling us stories. Or do they tell us stories of a lifestyle during that period?

SE: Yes, because of the fabrics used. The availability of the fabrics. On the Dear Jane there were many, many, many shades and colors used. And on Jane's fabric it was possibly duplicated once or twice, but she had a wide range of fabrics.

LS: And earlier than this time frame the fabrics were not available?

SE: Well, they were cotton and during the Civil War, cottons weren't readily available up north. They were mainly in the south where the cotton was grown and so during this time frame, they were mostly woolens, but this had many cottons from I assume the mills over along the eastern shore.

LS: And were colors the same way, only certain colors during certain time frames?

SE: Pretty, bright colors during this time frame. There were peppermint pinks, bubblegum pink is what we call them now. There was madder red that was used that are a little more difficult to find right now. So, there was a variety from dresses from the mills. I don't know where they received them. The dyes were amazing.

LS: Feed sacks were popular material.

SE: Yes, in the '30's.

LS: In the 1930's?

SE: In the 1930's.

LS: And through the depression?

SE: Yes.

LS: Have you ever worked with feed sack material?

SE: It's a little more coarse. I have worked with feed sack reproduction. I am currently working on a quilt now that is all hand quilted because of the integrity of the quilt. It has to be hand quilted. Hand stitched plus quilted.

LS: Have you ever machine quilted?

SE: Yes. Jane is machine quilted, but Jane is the quilting on it--the finished quilting is hand quilted.

LS: What is the difference, so there can be both, you can have it, the blocks hand quilted and the then it put together by machine? Or tell me the difference between hand quilted and machine quilted.

SE: If you would use a sewing machine to assemble the blocks you would use the sewing machine to sew the blocks together. To sew the borders and the bindings would be hand machine, would be sewing machine. If you would have it machine finished quilting, you would use a long arm sewing machine which is about three foot and it can do, as large as, a king size quilt on the machine.

LS: Why is quilt making important to you?

SE: Again, being an artist, I find it is a way of expressing the artistic soul.

LS: The artistic soul. [SE nods yes.] You love quilting.

SE: I do. It's a passion.

LS: Do you currently get together with friends? You said something about having the needle ready and sitting and doing it. Do you still currently meet with friends and sit and quilt together?

SE: We do. We meet three times a month. DAR meetings slow us down. [LS laughs.] We don't meet the week of DAR. [both laugh.] I have two to three groups that I meet with depending on the need.

LS: I understand that at one time you owned a quilting or had a quilting area in a shop.

SE: Yes, it was an antique shop. It was in Cat's Whiskers. We even had our own resident cat. The cat would just mingle his little way through all the fabrics, and everyone loved him.

LS: Cat's Whiskers is the name of an antique store?

SE: Yes.

LS: In what city and state was it in?

SE: Independence, Missouri.

LS: It's no longer?

SE: No. It's no longer there.

LS: And this quilt shop, did you just sell supplies, or did you teach classes?

SE: We taught classes. We sold supplies. We sold Dear Jane fabrics, as well as crazy quilting. We had threads. We had beads. We had ribbons, lace, all the fineries that the women back in the 1880's would have had to do their crazy quilting.

LS: Did you teach people to quilt at your shop?

SE: Yes. I taught Crazy quilt plus I've taught Jane. Plus, I've taught basic quilting. There is always a beginner that needs to learn how to do this.

LS: Is quilting becoming a popular thing today?

SE: I think it's; the tried-and-true quilters are staying with it and always will. It's something that's just inborn within a woman. You may not be a quilter when you're fifteen but by the time you're sixty. You can at least appreciate quilts. Not all are musicians but there are those that enjoy the music.

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

SE: I like to keep the quilts close in the family because that's where the memories are. We know that there are museums and it's nice if the family desires to share them but it's really best o keep them in the family to pass on as a heritage.

LS: Do you recommend that the quilts be used?

SE: Yes. Yes, I do.

LS: Is it hard to restore a quilt if it's been?

SE: If it's been damaged? Depending on the availability of the fabric. We can right now restore quilts from the 1930's to the 1950's because of the reproductions out. And if you go to antique shops, you can find aprons and potholders, things that have been made out of the same fabrics still. You can still find a few feed sacks from that time frame.

LS: So the importance is to repair it as--

SE: With like kind.

LS: Like kind. Does it add or detract from the value of a quilt if more than one quilter has worked on it? That there's different size stitches or you know different people that have actually worked on it?

SE: No.

LS: You don't believe so?

SE: No, I don't.

LS: Have you ever belonged to a quilting bee?

SE: No.

LS: Our church has a quilters group, and they do a lot of quilts. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilter makers today?

SE: Where to put the fabric.

LS: Where to put the fabric?

SE: Where to put the fabric. Our fabric is called stash for a reason. It's where are you going to stash the fabric because we're all collectors. I have heard stories of ovens that the women have placed the extra fabric in the oven. Or sometimes it doesn't even come out of the trunk until they are ready to use it.

LS: So, do you have a lot of stash material?

SE: Absolutely. I had a quilt shop. And I worked at a quilt shop.

LS: Have you ever sold any of your quilts?

SE: No. They're too much of a treasure.

LS: Have you ever entered any of your quilts into a show?

SE: No. I have not. I don't make them to please others. I make them to please myself.

LS: Have you ever, you mentioned that you kind of, have put together some kind of patterns of your own? Is that correct?

SE: Yes. I have. When we had the quilt shop in Independence, I have done several patterns for the Crazy quilting but also when I volunteered at the 1859 jail and museum. I did--made, patterns for them and sold them, donated them and sold them.

LS: Have you ever had any of your patterns printed?

SE: Some printing.

LS: Some printing.

SE: I have not tried to have them redone.

LS: You mentioned the 1859 jail there in Independence, Missouri. They have quilts on display. Is that correct?

SE: Yes, they do.

LS: And I think there was a project there about cataloging the quilts?

SE: Yes. When I was volunteering there, I had access to the back room and seeing the quilts stored back in the back room. I found that none were hanging and after talking to Steve, the director, a group of us got together on a very cold day when there was no heat in the building. There were four women and one young man carrying the quilts down from upstairs so that we could lay them out and date the fabric and catalog them. And from that point, by May there was a quilt show completely around Kansas City [Missouri.] and we were invited to partake and participate in that quilt show. And the quilt patterns needed to be drawn up for that.

LS: How do you catalog a quilt? How do you find, are you talking about dating the quilt?

SE: Photographing it. Numbering it. Making sure the tag matches the number. And then naming the quilt. What pattern is used in it and dating the fabrics in it.

LS: How do you identify the patterns and the date on a quilt?

SE: From quilt history books. I have several and the other women brought their quilt history books along. The Dear Jane quilt helped in dating the fabrics because they were much easier to recognize the fabrics.

LS: Because of all the different patterns and the blocks?

SE: Different patterns, different colors.

LS: Do you call it the Dear Jane quilt or the Jane quilt?

SE: I call it Dear Jane.

LS: In this project that you did at the 1859 jail, did you come across any exciting, especially exciting quilts?

SE: Well, we had been told that there was an Order Number Eleven quilt in the collection but when we opened all of those, we didn't locate it. We couldn't find it and we were very disappointed. About three months later, as we were dusting as we do in a museum, there was the quilt. It was on a baby's bed in the mother's bedroom.

LS: What is the story of an Order Number Eleven quilt?

SE: The Order Number Eleven quilt was a quilt that was found down south. I am thinking Carolinas, down in the Carolinas, and the fabric in the quilt was not as special as the meaning behind it. When the families were being burned at the time of the Civil War, they gathered what they could gather in their arms and left the area. And the families themselves had named this quilt Order Number Eleven. We had read about it in magazines and in history books but when we were looking for it we couldn't find it.

LS: But you did find it.

SE: But we did find it. We did. We were so excited when we found it. We had an original Order Number Eleven quilt for Independence, Missouri. That was very special. It had found its way home.

LS: Was it in pretty good condition?

SE: The child's quilt was in excellent condition. It is called an Oak Leaf and Reel pattern.

LS: An Oak Leaf and Reel? [SE indicates, yes.] What are your absolute favorite patterns?

SE: I love the LeMoyne Star which is an eight-pointed star. I love Log Cabin between the two.

LS: Can you tell me what dates are on, like on the Log Cabin?

SE: Log Cabin dates back to Abraham Lincoln. And I love the stories about Abraham Lincoln. We've traveled to some of where he was at. And the LeMoyne Star, it just catches my eye. Again, it's the artist in me. It's complicated. It is a very complicated thing to do.

LS: And the LeMoyne Star, when did it date?

SE: Current, it's very current but I am sure it goes back to around the turn of the century. The 1900, not 2000. [both laugh.]

LS: Do you incorporate, I mean part of your vacation time you go to different cities with special quilt shows, or just when you know the history of the quilt you travel to enhance that history?

SE: When girls time out, is kind of what we call it, my niece is a quilter also, and she lives in Massachusetts. So with my dear niece in Massachusetts, it opens up a great many avenues. I've been to the Vermont Quilt Festival. Taken a limousine from Massachusetts to the Vermont Quilt Festival. That was exciting. We've also been to the Bennington Museum and that's where the original Dear Jane is housed.

LS: Well, you've seen the original Dear Jane?

SE: No, they wouldn't bring it out for me. [laughs.] It broke my heart, but I've seen the home of the original. Postcards. They are just very excited to have that quilt be housed in their museum.

LS: Well, this has just been very exciting. I can tell you love the quilt, and I can tell you love the history of the quilt. Sounds like many members in your family are quilters. Is there anything you'd really like to add to this quilt interview?

SE: Yes, I would. I would like to add, as frosting on the cake so to speak, that my grandmother, Sarah Bacon, probably five grandmothers back was born in 1816 in Sutherland, Vermont, the very same county as Jane Stickle, the original quilter. I didn't realize that until the quilt was almost completed and just before we went up to view, hoping to view the quilt. So, it was a double treat. I was not disappointed being in the same county as my grandmother was born.

LS: That is marvelous. Marvelous.

SE: I think that's also what makes it so special

LS: I'd like to thank Sue Carol Butler Engelman for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 2:25 p.m. on November 24, 2009. Thank you, Sue.


“Sue Engelman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024,