Pauline Wolff




Pauline Wolff




Pauline Wolff


Debbie Ballard

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


East Lansing, Michigan


Francie Freese


Note: Michigan State University Museum also has a copy of this interview. The identification number there is 06.2001.170.20.

Debbie Ballard (DB): I'm Debbie Ballard, and I'm going to be interviewing Pauline Wolff. It's August 11th, about 3:20 in the afternoon, and we're at the National Folk Festival. Hi, Pauline.

Pauline Wolff (PW): Hi.

DB: We're both members of the same guild, though we haven't really been acquainted. I have some questions and just to get to know you a little bit.

PW: Okay.

DB: Do you want to tell me where do you live and--

PW: I live in St. Charles, Michigan.

DB: Okay.

PW: Which is west of Saginaw. Been there for three years and before that I lived in Flint, Michigan, for almost 40 years.

DB: Okay. And what about your family?

PW: My children are all over the state. I have five. I have two sons and three daughters. No quilters, but I have a granddaughter that quilts and my husband is deceased. I live with my dog, Maggie.

DB: Oh, I have a daughter, Maggie. [ both laugh.] So why do you quilt? Are you giving them away to your children?

PW: I always sewed. I started quilting in 1983. I made a lot of baby quilts and that kind of thing. I didn't keep track of those. When I really got into quilting after I retired, then I started keeping track. I've made about 100. I love it. I always sewed and I just love making quilts. And that's all I do now. I don't even cook.

DB: [laughs.] What gives you the greatest satisfaction?

PW: I like the quilting.

DB: The quilting stitch--

PW: Yes.

DB: Itself.

PW: Yes. And I like appliqué, but I love the quilting.

DB: Do you design your own?

PW: I have. I designed this one. This was a competition for the 200 years of the Coast Guard. And it's documented, it's all right. I did all my research, it's all accurate. I thought that was a good one to bring today.

DB: Oh yes. Now when did you make this?

PW: About 1991.

DB: Okay. And this belongs to which daughter?

PW: It belongs to my daughter Laura, who lives in Fenton. And I filled out some paperwork that I'm going to give the gals because I just wanted it documented.

DB: Right. So, if we could just briefly describe this quilt.

PW: It's all the Coast Guard emblems from the beginning, the very beginning in 1790. It has the first Coast Guard ship. It has the Coast Guard insignia. It has four lighthouses. Grand Haven, that's the Coast Guard station. The first lighthouse on the Great Lakes is in upper left.

DB: Fort Niagara.

PW: And the one down in right corner is Ludington, and that's where I went to high school, and the other one on left is the most northern.

DB: Do you belong to a guild?

PW: I belong to the Saginaw Piecemakers Guild. And I have a bee we call it Charlie's Bee. And I have for about seven, eight years.

DB: Now what do you do in both your guild and your bee? What is the difference?

PW: In the guild, we have speakers once a month and we do a quilt show once a year and we do a raffle quilt once a year and we have workshops and do fundraising with our raffle quilts to do our workshops. In the bee, we just quilt.

DB: Do you quilt on a group quilt or your own?

PW: Right now, we're doing Baltimore Album and we've picked out our patterns and we're all doing our own. It it's all the same pattern but they don't look alike because we all do it different.

DB: Oh, okay.

PW: So, it's fun. We have three blocks. We just started on it, and we've got three blocks done. We do one a month.

DB: Which blocks have you done?

PW: They're from the Little Brown Bird book. Have you ever seen the Little Brown Bird book?

DB: Um hum.

PW: Well, we took them out of there and we're going to do 12. And don't ask me the names of them because I don't remember. [DB laughs.] But they all have birds in them. [DB laughs.] Birds and flowers.

DB: How did you learn to quilt?

PW: I taught myself.

DB: Have you taken any classes?

PW: Yes, a lot of classes on quilt restoration and conservation of quilts, and a few classes on appliqué but not very many. I just taught myself.

DB: Now you mentioned a granddaughter.

PW: I have a granddaughter that goes to Michigan State who likes quilting and has done a little bit. She's in her senior year this year so she won't do much, but she's very interested in it so hopefully she's going to carry on. I have no quilters in my family except my great grandmother and I have nothing from her. I have a 1930s quilt that my mother and her sister made that is strange. The stitches on it are big. I think my mother was 13 and my aunt was like 16, and it's a Grandmother's Flower Garden. The lining is a blanket, and they brought the blanket around and that's the border. And my mother was always mad because I wouldn't quilt it, but I don't want to do anything with it, I want to leave it like it is, but that's all I have.

DB: Do your children appreciate your quilts?

PW: Oh yes. Oh yes.

DB: Have you made one

PW: I've made one for everyone and I have ten grandchildren, five children, they all have a quilt. And they used to tease me because I don't have any quilts in my house because they go. They're gone. But I have one now. I have a Log Cabin quilt on my bed.

DB: Do you make any wall hangings?

PW: Yes, yes.

DB: What about people that you've met quilting?

PW: Oh, it's a support system. I'm a widow and I've been a widow for five years and I couldn't get along without the quilters. You can walk into any guild, or any quilt bee and you just fit right in. It doesn't make any difference if you never saw them before, you just fit right in. [DB hums approval.] It's great. It's a great support system.

DB: How many hours a day do you think you quilt?

PW: Probably six most of the time. [DB hums approval.] I do my own lawn work. I don't cook. I dust my stove. [DB laughs.] I do. [laughs.] I did that for 40 years; I don't cook anymore. [DB laughs.] But I do quilt all the time, all the time.

DB: Where do you come up with ideas for your quilts?

PW: Mostly from patterns and from books. I'm not an artist, I can't create. My husband drew all of this, and I made the patterns from what he drew. I can't design them. I can copy. I'm a very good copier but I can't create my own like you can.

DB: [laughs.] Thank you. What self-satisfaction do you get out of quilting?

PW: I love doing charity quilts and I love doing the raffle quilt. I love talking to people about their old quilts and how to fix them. It's just tremendous satisfaction. And I love the hand quilting. I never sit without doing something with my hands and it's usually quilting.

DB: What quilt do you sleep under?

PW: A Log Cabin quilt that I made for my husband.

DB: And you said you've given so many quilts away.

PW: I handmade Double Wedding Ring quilts for my children when they got married, all by hand, the whole thing, and hand quilted. And then my oldest daughter is a schoolteacher, and her husband is a schoolteacher, so they have a Schoolhouse quilt instead of a Double Wedding Ring because that's what they wanted. And the daughter that lives in Fenton on the lake and so she has this one.

DB: Nice. What would be your favorite older quilt you've seen? Do you have a favorite?

PW: Baltimore Album by far. In fact, I'm going out west in September and if I wasn't I'd be in Maryland this weekend where they're hanging, in the museum. What is it, 40 of them hanging there? That's where I'd be. [laughs.]

DB: The date's closing on that. [laughs.]

PW: Oh yeah, yeah.

DB: Why do you like those so much?

PW: I don't know. I just love hand quilting and I love the appliqué and I just love the Baltimore Album quilts. I have seen the James Collection that's in Lincoln, Nebraska. I saw their Baltimore Albums. I helped fold them. I touched them. They're just gorgeous. They're just gorgeous.

DB: Do you do a lot of research then for history of quilts?

PW: I try to be authentic, yes, very much.

DB: Do you--

PW: I'm not an artsy person. I like to do what's real.

DB: What about learning the history of quilts?

PW: Oh yes, I do a lot of that. I did a history report for our guild a year ago and I have a lot of information on my computer about the history of quilts, a lot of books on the history of quilts.
It's real addiction. [both laugh.]

DB: You brought up the computer. Do you do belong to any internet guilds?

PW: No, no. I don't. I do a lot of e-mail but no, I don't belong.

DB: What is your philosophy about quilting?

PW: I just think it's therapeutic, it's satisfying. It doesn't hurt anybody. Hurts your pocketbook. But it's just real satisfying to me. It's just what I love to do.

DB: You mentioned that you sleep under a Log Cabin--

PW: Yes.

DB: That you made for your husband.

PW: Yes.

DB: What about healing quilts?

PW: Oh yes, yes. My husband was very ill. He had pancreatic cancer and I worked on a quilt while he was ill. Yes, very definitely. I've not made one for him since he's been gone. [DB hums approval.] I donate to do that I know people that have and it's very, very good.

DB: Did you work on this quilt then throughout his illness?

PW: No, I worked on a Crazy Quilt vest that has embroidery on it and all the time he was ill and that's kind of precious to me, yeah.

DB: Close memories.

PW: Yes. Yes.

DB: So, what about rituals when you quilt?

PW: I don't have any rituals. I do quilt in the evening usually for about five to six hours. I'm a widow so I'm by myself so I quilt and that's about as much of a ritual as you can get, I guess.

DB: Do you quilt on a frame or a hoop?

PW: No, I quilt on a hoop in my lap.

DB: How big is this?

PW: It's about 24 inches probably.

DB: Twenty-four? Do you baste before?

PW: I am a baster and I baste my appliqué. However, I'm learning to use the little brass pins and it does work pretty well. They don't catch I'm getting so I can do that without bothering to baste, yes.

DB: Where do you come up with your fabrics? Where would you purchase those?

PW: I shop quilt shops. I don't very often go to JoAnn Fabric but I do sometimes when I'm looking for something in particular. [DB hum approval.] But I do kind of honor the quilt shops.

DB: Do you have a local quilt shop or do--

PW: We have a local, The Fabric Stash.

DB: You go out of state?

PW: I also am only 45 minutes from Country Stitches. [laughs.]

DB: Now that's too bad.

PW: Yes, it's too bad for my pocketbook.

DB: [laughs.] What outside factors have influenced you?

PW: I don't know except the history of quilts has always influenced me. I've always loved old things, antiques. I love the history of my family and the history our country and all that, so it just kind of all falls into place. Quilts just fit right into the Civil War. [DB hums approval.] I mean it's--[DB hums approval.] part of it.

DB: What about a favorite tool? Quilting tool.

PW: My thimble.

DB: Is it a special one?

PW: No. It's a cheap, stainless steel one that I like and works and if I lose it I'm dead.

DB: [laughs.] What would distinguish a Michigan quilt to you?

PW: Do you want me to be honest?

DB: Yeah.

PW: The lower price. There's not the market, I don't think, in Michigan for the art quilts or for the quilting talents that there is in some other states. [DB hums approval.] I hand quilted for oh about ten years to support my habit and nowhere near can you get the money in Michigan that you can get outside of Michigan for hand quilting.

DB: Do you still--

PW: No.

DB: Hand quilt for others?

PW: I do hand quilt, but I don't do it for money, no.

DB: Did you find that satisfying?

PW: Oh yes.

DB: Doing that?

PW: It paid for my conferences and my classes and my fabric and--[DB hums approval.] yeah.

DB: Did you have a hard time finding customers?

PW: No. I could do it right today. I get asked every day. And I'm not probably the best quilter in the world, but I quilt seven stitches to the inch very regularly. I just won a ribbon hand quilting for our quilt guild this last year. I hand quilted the quilt for Michigan Quilt Network.

DB: Oh, that'd make you proud.

PW: Yes.

DB: Very satisfying.

PW: So that was nice. That's my daughter who owns this quilt. I'm looking up and there she is. [laughs.]

DB: Have you won any other awards then with your quilts?

PW: No, I don't compete. I did compete with this. I didn't win anything. But it, the one that won was a beautiful quilt and I'm not unhappy about that. I don't like competition. It's not my thing.

DB: What is the, a challenge for you in quilting?

PW: Well, the Dear Jane quilt was a challenge. Have you done a block from that? [DB hums approval.] It's terrible. That was a challenge. But most of it is. I think it all, all of it, every quilt you start is a challenge because you've got a picture in your head but then when you get ready to do it, it doesn't come out like the picture you had.

DB: So, you have to be--

PW: So, it's a challenge.

DB: Flexible, huh?

PW: Yes.

DB: Do you keep a file--

PW: I have--

DB: Of ideas?

PW: A notebook [dog yelps.] I have them all documented.

DB: What do you hope happens to your quilts?

PW: I just hope they get used. I like to make quilts that they use. I don't want them put away in a cedar chest, that's not what I'm after. And I'd like for people to enjoy them.

DB: What do you think about machine quilting?

PW: I can take it or leave it. I don't like the big arm machine quilting. I think it makes a quilt hard and I like the soft. Some of the ladies do it on their own machine and it's better. I like it better. I'm old fashioned but I like the hand quilted, which takes a lot of time--[DB hums approval.] and nobody wants to do it anymore, but I like to do it.

DB: What kind of a batt would be your favorite?

PW: I use Hobbs Heirloom, which is 20/80. Twenty percent polyester and 80 cotton, most of the time. It's very soft, it's easy to needle and it works real nice.

DB: What kind of needles do you like?

PW: One inch, number 10.

DB: The betweens?

PW: Yes, and I don't use the one with the gold eye. I don't like that; I can't see it. It's got to be a stainless steel. I prefer English.

DB: What about your quilting thread?

PW: I use 100 percent cotton. I use 100 percent cotton across the board, for everything.

DB: What would be your favorite quilt book?

PW: Probably Barbara Brackman's quilt book on all the patterns. I have hordes of them but I probably, for all over, that's probably the best book--

DB: Her index--

PW: I've got.

DB: Then?

PW: Yeah, the one with all the patterns in it, yes.

DB: Okay, what would be your favorite history book of quilts?

PW: I just read "The Legacy," which is about Talula Bottoms who made quilts in--now I can't remember, Tennessee I think, but she made over 300 quilts they think. And I discovered in the process of reading the book and her history, which follows right along the Civil War, the, one of the gals in my Charlie Bee, her name is Skip Wilson, is her great-great-granddaughter. So, this just turned out marvelous. And she has some of the quilts. And so, I not only got to read the book and enjoy all of that, but I know a relative. [DB laughs.] It was fantastic.

DB: Now you have a program for the guild. [laughs.]

PW: Yeah, and I told her, I said ‘You've got to bring them to Guild.' She's new and she's got to bring the quilts and we've got to do a Talula Bottoms lecture.

DB: Oh yeah.

DB: Yeah. You put down that you, it says, ‘do you teach quilting' and you checked no.

PW: I don't teach for money.

DB: How do you teach?

PW: I will show anybody anything, but I don't do it for money.

DB: Have you been working along with your granddaughter that--

PW: Yes, and I always help people. I don't mind helping people, but I don't--I don't teach classes. I worked in the high school for 30 years and I didn't want to. I don't like doing it.

DB: [laughs.] What kind of sewing memorabilia do you have?

PW: Oh, I have some of my mothers, I have old pamphlets and patterns and scissors and thimbles, and I have my aunt did a lot of crocheting and a lot of lace making and embroidery and I have a basket full of that. It's just anything that has to do with sewing, I've probably got it. [DB hums approval.]I have my Featherweight. I only have seven machines. [both laugh.]
I think that's pretty good.

DB: I do too. [both laugh.] In your guild, what positions have you held?

PW: I'm kind of the go-for, the guy behind the lines a bit. I was secretary for about five years. I resigned from that and let somebody else take it. This year I'm publicist, publicity. I'm always doing something, and I always work on the quilt show. And I always work on the raffle quilt too.

DB: And you like working with the guild?

PW: Oh yes, very much.

DB: Why is that?

PW: Because it's my social life.

DB: Is there any other information you'd want to share with us that, something I haven't asked you?

PW: Nothing I can think of. We do a lot of work with children and we're trying to do more. A friend of mine has a daughter-in-law that teaches classes in Dexter, and we went down and taught the 4th grade how to make quilts. And they had the use of the Home Ec class so we had sewing machines. So, there was about 30 kids and they made little Nine Patch nap quilts and just had a ball, and it took about four weeks. It was really a lot of fun. It was easier to teach the boys than it was the girls because the girls were kind of predisposed to what mother told them ought to be done and the boys were wide open, you know. They just do it. Well then at the end of the year, I didn't go down but the gal in our guild that got us to go and do this was her daughter-in-law, they had a quilt show at the school, and they invited her down for the tea and the kids had all made another quilt on their own. And so they had a beautiful little quilt show. That I love. I've done that all my life and I have some quilters in Farwell, in the church, that never sewed, never quilted. Last year they made 164 quilts. Now these are charity quilts. They're just blocks put together like they like them, sewn like a pillowcase, turn them inside out and put filler in them and tie them, but they're making quilts. I don't live up there anymore, but they still are making quilts for charity.

DB: Gosh.

PW: I love that part of it. That's the best part.

DB: Do you make quilts then for charity--

PW: Yes.

DB: Quite often?

PW: Oh yeah. We support the Underground Railroad, and we probably make oh 120, maybe 150 quilts a year, the guild does.

DB: Where do the fabrics come from--

PW: Us.

DB: For those?

PW: We just donate it or people donate it. We have a committee that kind of gathers it up and we just hang onto it and put it together. Even double-knit, sometimes. [DB hums approval.] [both laugh.]
Double-knits are good for something.

DB: Oh yeah. You said you quilt in the evening--

PW: Yes.

DB: Do you quilt in front of the TV--

PW: Yes.

DB: Or music or--

PW: In front of the TV.

DB: Okay. Do you have any quilting rituals--

PW: No.

DB: In the evening?

PW: No, no. I just do it all the time. [both laugh.] That's a ritual.

DB: Yeah. Oh. And how many do you think you've made?

PW: I'm over 100 because I didn't count the first ones. I'm at 92 right now, when I started counting.

DB: Do you keep a scrapbook of them?

PW: I take a picture of all of them. Everyone that I've ever worked on I take a picture of, and I have a notebook where I write all the rest of them down. Yes.

DB: Do you keep a quilt journal as you're working on a particular quilt?

PW: I have done that; I don't do it anymore. I used to keep track of how long it took me to hand quilt and that kind of thing, but I don't do that anymore.

DB: And how long would it normally take you for a double?

PW: A double-size, full-size quilt? About 230 hours.

DB: Of quilting only?

PW: Of quilting.

DB: Okay.

PW: Just quilting.

DB: All right. I ask that because someone thought that would be the total, but that's just quilting.

PW: No, that's just the quilting.

DB: Yeah.

PW: That's after the quilt's done.

DB: You said you always sewed then?

PW: Yes, I've sewed--

DB: Sewed for your children?

PW: Since I was a young woman. Yeah, I've sewed all my life.

DB: What magazines do you subscribe to?

PW: Right now, I just subscribe to AQS [American Quilter's Society.], NQA [National Quilt Association.], Michigan Quilt Network, and the McCall's Traditional Quilter. I've kind of eased off them because they're piling up. [DB laughs.] And I'm not going to live long enough to do all of that.

DB: And do you belong to NQA then and--

PW: National Quilt Association--


PW: and American Quilt [Quilter's.] Society.

DB: Along with your Piecemakers?

PW: And I have for 20 years. And the Michigan Quilt Network too.

DB: Do you go to the Michigan Quilt Network meeting then every year?

PW: Yes.

DB: Their showcase?

PW: I've put on three of them.

DB: Okay. What was gratifying about that?

PW: That it was over! [both laugh.] They're very nice we do a lot of classes and stuff but I've been on the committee to put the showcase on three times, and it's a lot of work but it is a lot of fun. [DB hums approval.] It's great. It's great fun.

DB: Yeah. Do you have--have one little bug. Anything else you think?

PW: Can't think of. [DB laughs.] I have a license plate that says quilter on it.

DB: [laughs.] Number 1 quilter?

PW: It just says "quilter."

DB: Just quilter?

PW: It doesn't say I'm the best, it just says "quilter."

DB: Good, good. Well I appreciate you doing this, Pauline. Thank you for sharing.

PW: Thank you.


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