Arlene Brown




Arlene Brown




Arlene Brown


Frieda Hardee

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Leland, Mississippi


Frieda Hardee


Note: Arlene Brown is not a member of the DAR. And while this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required for participation.

Kathy Eubank (KE): What was your grandmother's name?

Arlene Brown (AB): My grandmother's name was Mrs. Henry Isham, Etta. They called her Etta. Her name was Henrietta.

KE: The quilt that you are showing to us was made by--

AB: It was made by Aunt Lige. She was a black lady that had been a slave and had moved to Oklahoma during the land rush. And she made this for my grandmother.

Frieda Hardee (FH): Do you know Henrietta's maiden name?

AB: Wilson and they were from Iowa.

FH: And so, Aunt Lige lived near Henrietta?

AB: Right, they lived out in the country outside Perry, Oklahoma. It's on I-35 between Oklahoma City and Kansas.

FH: Do you know the county?

AB: Noble County.

FH: Do you know where Aunt Lige was a slave? What state she came from?

AB: No, I have no idea. I am sure my mom told me. But I don't, those were just things that went over my head. I did not record them in my memory bank.

FH: Do you have any idea how old Aunt Lige was when she made the quilt?

AB: She had to have been older because the Civil War was in the 1960s--1860s, ended in 1865. My grandparents moved to Oklahoma in 1904 and she would probably have been in her sixties; something like that maybe.

FH: Okay.

KE: And you said that Lige stood for--

AB: Elisha E-L-I-S-H-A, I guess. Mom said that they all called her Aunt Lige. And her husband was a farmer.

Kathy: And do you know his name?

AB: No, I'm sorry. Mom told me, but I just didn't--I'm sorry.

FH: And your mother replaced the binding prior to her death in what year?

AB: 2001.

FH: What pattern do you call that? Is that not the 9 patch?

AB: I thought that at first, but Kathy thinks it's an Irish Chain and I think she might be right. I have a quilt book and we could look it up.

FH: We can look it up.

KE: There are lots of variations of the Irish Chain and you can make a 9 patch look like an Irish Chain.

FH: Do you think she would have bought the materials for the quilt around Perry, Oklahoma?

AB: Yes, I think she would have. I think--my grandparents were from Iowa, so who knows? She may have brought them with her.

KE: Now, Aunt Lige made the quilt and gave it to your grandmother, or your grandmother supplied the supplies--

AB: She supplied the supplies and Aunt Lige made the quilt for her. And grandmother paid her some for it.

FH: Wouldn't it be wonderful if we knew how much. [laughs.]

AB: I'm sure my mom didn't even know that.

KE: Okay, so your mother was 101 when she died.

AB: Yes, and my grandmother was 98 when she died.

KE: When did she die, do you know?

AB: I have it in my mom's bible, 1957--no, it was later than that.

KE: Now, let me be sure. It was your grandmother.

AB: Yes, Henrietta, and they called her Etta.

FH: Okay, and your mother's name, just in case we need it was?

AB: Esther Isham, she married her second marriage was Clark, so she was Esther Isham Curtis Clark.

FH: Okay.

AB: Because I was a Curtis. Okay. She married when she was about 70.

FH: E, S, T, H, E, R?

AB: Yes, just like in the Bible.

FH: Okay.

KE: I don't know if this question is on there, but this is a question I am asking do you a--with this quilt, the history of the quilt--so it was made in Oklahoma, and then your grandmother had it, did she live out her life in Oklahoma?

AB: Yes, she did.

KE: And then she gave it to your mother, and where did your mother live?

AB: My mom moved up to Pennsylvania when she and my father married and she had gone to school in Iowa and she met my father there and moved to Pennsylvania and then after my dad died, she moved back to Oklahoma to care for my grandmother, and she died in Oklahoma.

KE: And so, then your mother gave you the quilt about how long ago was that?

AB: Well, I would say, Mom's been dead since 2001- 6 years ago. I said 10 years, but it's been more than ten years, probably 15 years ago, maybe.

FH: Okay.

AB: Those are estimates now.

FH: That's fine. Were you living in Leland when you got it?

AB: Yes.

KE: Okay. And how is the quilt used today?

AB: It is on the guest bed.

KE: Okay. As far as you know, was the quilt used throughout its history?

AB: Yes, it was used.

FH: Was it ever put away?

AB: No, it was not.

FH: Do you remember sleeping under it?

AB: No, I don't remember sleeping under it. I guess, when I got it, my girls had been away from home since they got out of the house, once they went to college. And so, I just had it on the guest bed, so it is just used occasionally when they come home.

FH: Okay, I'm trying to see what else we need to cover here. Oh, it's got questions like, 'How have advances in technology influenced your work?' We know they have if you have a Bernina. [laughs.]

AB: That's right, it's like a computer.

FH: Yes. We all love that don't we?

AB: You know, I don't own a computer so when they started talking about these computerized Berninas, I thought, 'I can't do it,' and they said, 'Yes, you can.' And now I just push those little buttons--

FH: I know, it's cool, isn't it?

FH: It's asking how many hours a week do you quilt and what is your first quilt memory?

AB: Memory of my first quilt? It was my mom quilting when I was a child. I can remember that she had those long A frames, and she would roll and quilt, and then roll it a little more and quilt, and then she also quilted with the Ladies Aid Society, and I can remember her meeting with the ladies' aid once a month or something like that and quilting.

FH: I never knew about the ladies' aid society; I've read about it, but I didn't really know much. I was never around anybody that was a member so that is kind of something I'd like to learn about.

AB: They were very active, these ladies, and committed to doing things like quilting.

FH: Did they contribute them to a particular cause?

AB: Well, a lot of times, well, like when my mom belonged out in Oklahoma, they would make quilts and sell them like at bazaars or else like what they did with mom, mom had some quilts made. Well, she would make the tops, and then she would consign the ladies and pay the ladies and pay them about a penny an inch or something like that so she would pay for the church and that's how they would do things for the church. [FH hums agreement.] Like building funds and things of that sort.

FH: I think they also used to pay by the spool of thread like so much per spool of thread that they used for quilting.

AB: I can remember my mom when she was probably in her 80s, she was still quilting and for her birthday, I can remember it very vividly, she was back at my brother's in Cleveland, Ohio, and I went up to, we were going to have a reunion, and one of the birthday presents I gave her was a case of white thread, uh huh. And you would have thought I had given her the world. And a roll of stamps and she said, 'Oh, I am always running out of stamps!'

FH: That's a good idea. Well, that's a wonderful memory that you gave her a case of white thread. I should have put that on my Christmas list 'cause I could have used that.

AB: Mom said that she used so much thread that I thought, 'Why don't you do this?' I got it at Bev-Mar (local sewing shop), remember when Bev-Mar was here?

FH and KE: Yes, yes.

KE: Well, I was thinking that we don't have on the recording about the quilt that you are working on now. I'd like to go back and talk a little bit about that.

AB: I saved all the materials of dresses, bubbles, and everything that I made for my granddaughter Emily, and I put them all together and I thought, 'someday I'm going to make her a quilt'. Well, with her graduating from high school this year, I thought what better time to give that to her than for graduation, so I've taken all these pieces and I've tried to count how many different pieces, different pieces, are in the quilt, of course I've used a lot of them over and over, but there are at least 40 different outfits that I have made that are on that quilt.

KE: Now tell about the memory when she was helping you with it.

AB: Robin told me this--Robin is my daughter, Emily's mother, said that she wanted to help me do some or part of the quilt because she remembered that I had helped my mother cutting out and sewing some of the pieces for Robin's quilt, and she said she just wanted to have a hand in this quilt, so she could tell Emily that I helped make that. And I thought that was really nice.

FH: It is a wonderful memory.

KE: What was the part about the bubble being upside down? [laughs.]

AB: One of the pieces is this royal blue background material with balloons, and I made this bubble for her [Emily.] when she was probably 2 yrs. old, and I was so excited because it was a darling little outfit, and I showed it to Robin, and Robin started laughing. And I said, 'What in the world is so funny?' And she said, 'Mom, you made this upside down.' The tail was going up instead of going down.

FH: But otherwise, she might not have remembered it.

AB: That's true. [laughs.]

FH: We always remember our mistakes better than things we do right.

KE: What is the pattern of the quilt you are working on now (Emily's quilt)?

AB: It's the Rail Fence quilt.

FH: Does she know that you're making her this quilt?

AB: Robin knows it, but Emily does not. Okay, I've also kept a scrapbook for Emily of all the little thank you notes and things she's sent to me and I'm going to give that to her for graduation, too.

KE: Now what is Robin's full name?

AB: Robin Brown Pace. And Emily Lauren Pace.

FH: And where do they live.

AB: Sikeston, Missouri.

FH: You'll have to forgive me if I ask you the same questions more than once. That's okay.

AB: [to dog who had entered the room.] Well, you're sitting up.

FH: One thing that's on here is what do you find pleasing about quilt making?

AB: I think it is just a rewarding thing to know that you are using maybe materials that have been used and that it's sort of recycling.

FH and KE: Yeah, recycling.

FH: What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy? I think it is going to be pulling that quilt thru the sewing machine, moving it thru your machine. [laughs.]

AB: I think you're probably right.

FH: Describe your studio, the place where you create. Where you actually do your sewing.

AB: My great room. Unfortunately, I have to put it out here. After you said that you use one of your bedrooms, I thought that is what I should do. I should just take one of those beds out.

FH: But I've sort of regretted that at times when I have company and I don't have a place to put them.

AB: Sure.

FH: It's kind of a toss-up, but mine's such a mess, I can't go back. [laughs.]

AB: [dog enters the room.] Do you want on my lap?

FH: Okay, what do you think makes a great quilt? And the next question, which, you might put them together, what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

AB: Hum.

FH: That's kind of deep. What draws your eye to a quilt, that's an easier way to put it?

AB: Well, the quilting first. Really and truly. I just love the small stitches and admire that. And also, the designs.

FH: What makes a great quiltmaker?

AB: I think it's just someone who loves to sew.

FH: That qualifies me. [laughs.] It asks if any particular artist (quiltmaker) has influenced you. Mainly your mother?

AB: And my grandmother.

KE: Did your mother have a particular pattern, a favorite that she liked to do?

AB: My mom loved the patchwork quilt. She loved color and she put some of the worse colors together, and that was just part of her, and Robin's quilt that she made for her was patchwork and she insisted--actually I would much rather have had a quilt like this [antique quilt.] with just the two colors. And I'd say, 'Oh, Mom, that would be fine,' and I treasure it because she was in her 90s when she finished it.

FH: And I was thinking, when you remember in your youngest times when she would quilt, was she able to go and buy her fabrics or did she have to use like feed sack fabrics that she had gotten feed in, or--

AB: She usually bought her material. I have a quilt that is pretty well worn that my great grandmother sent me when I was 9 years. Old, and it was not finished, and it was probably in the form that this one is in now, and I wasn't very impressed. It was two colors, blue and white, and it was a postage stamp quilt, and it was well worn. I used it on my bed for ages and my mom had it quilted.

KE: Was this great grandmother the mother of the grandmother we've been talking about?

AB: Right.

FH: Oh. And what was her name?

AB: Her name was Wilson, oh gosh, Grandma Wilson--it's hard to recall it when you have to.

KE: And where was she--did she live?

AB: In Iowa.

KE: Iowa.

FH: If it comes to you later--

AB: It is probably written in the family Bible or some of my mom's--

FH: So, you have some family Bible records.

AB: Um, hum.

FH: Do you know how far back they go?

AB: Well, on my husband's side, I have one back in the 1800s. And my grandmother--I gave most of those to my brother, he's into gen--

FH: Genealogy?

AB: He could probably tell me. If I find it, I will call you. I just can't remember her name off hand. I remember my grandmother had a sister who died, and her name was Ellen and my middle name, I was named after her, but I don't remember her another name.

FH: We can submit Bible records to be put on file for people who are doing research, so that is why I was asking about them.

AB: Well, I have some of the papers, but I'd have to hunt them up.

KE: Where does your brother live?

AB: In Cleveland, Ohio.

KE: Okay.

FH: All right, let me see if there are any more questions.

AB: You have made me remember things that I had forgotten for years.

FH: Isn't that fun, though?

AB: As the old black lady that came to our doctor's office said, 'It done slipped my members.'

FH: This is kind of interesting. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or your region? Do you think the quilts particularly reflect anything you remember say about Oklahoma, or that would be remembered in your family about Iowa or Pennsylvania or any of the places where they lived?

AB: Well, the last thing I can say is that we still own the family farm in Iowa. It is near Blairstown Iowa, and we just sold the property in Perry, Oklahoma, in Noble County. And it was really funny, my grandfather participated in the Land Rush and his land abutted up to the Indian Reservation (Wow!). And then the Indian's were allowed to sell their land, so my grandfather bought some land that he used as pastureland. It was a little way away from the original farm, but we sold all of that just recently.

FH: So y'all had it that a long time.

AB: But it was--we leased it out to my stepbrother, and then he got to where he could not farm, so he leased it out, and you know it was just there. The oil leases had long since run out and that sort of thing.

KE: Do you see any more questions on there?

FH: Not that are real pertinent. I'm more concerned with making sure that we have the trail of the quilt.

KE: Right.

FH: So, the quilt started out.

AB: The Trail of Tears went right thru the area where--

FH: My great grandmother supposedly was on that. Well, you have on here that Aunt Lige helped support the family with sewing and quilting, so what other things did she sew.

AB: If she made other things for grandma, I don't know about them. All I know is about the quilt. And I do know that she did do that and perhaps she sold to other people. I would imagine so.

FH: Do you think she made clothes too?

AB: I think so, if not for outsiders, for her own family.

KE: So, there might be some more Aunt Lige quilts floating around.

AB: There sure might be. I sure would hate to say, I would hate to say. I don't want to misrepresent anything, but I may have, but you know how word of mouth gets twisted.

FH: Yes, and there's always room for mistakes on what somebody told you that they thought was correct.

AB: True, but mom's memory was great until the last month or two of her life. I mean, her mind was better than mine.

KE: Now was your mother born in Oklahoma?

AB: Yes. Wait a minute.

KE: They did not go to Oklahoma until 1904.

AB: That's right, she was born in Iowa, but I think my grandfather was already out there [in Oklahoma.] and maybe he sent for my grandmother, so she (my mother) was 4 years old.

KE: So, if we were looking on a census, we would have to look at the 1910 census.

AB: Right.

FH: I bet we can find her that will be fun to look for. Okay, I can't think of anything else, and I don't see anything else, but I probably will when I get home.


“Arlene Brown,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,