Edith Casey




Edith Casey




Edith Lee Casey


Julee Casey Johnson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Clayton, North Carolina


Julee Casey Johnson


Julee Johnson (JJ): My name is Julee Casey Johnson and today's date is October 11, 2008. The time is 9:08 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Edith Lee Casey in Clayton, North Carolina for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the North Carolina State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Edith Lee Casey is a quilter and is a member of the Smith Bryan Chapter DAR. [pause for 10 seconds; a little equipment difficulty.] Good evening, mother.

Edith Casey (EC): Good evening, daughter.

JJ: Let's see. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

EC: This quilt depicts my family. Four squares represent each of my four children: the others, holidays and trips. The stripping and backing of each square is unique to the subject.

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

EC: It represents a special time in my life, the time, life of my children, their ages and my grandchildren and my life at that time.

JJ: And when did you make it?

EC: This was made in 1998.

JJ: What do you think someone looking at your quilt might conclude about you?

EC: That I appreciate my heritage. I love my family. I like originality. My quilt tells a story of that time in our life.

JJ: Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

EC: I like my quilts to tell a story- by the pattern, fabric, color combination and the quilting. The quilt defines the quilter by her creativity. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment to complete a quilt. The gift of a quilt brings joy to the recipient and joy to me.

JJ: At what age did you start quilting?

EC: As a new bride at age nineteen in 1953, living on a farm, quilt making was part of being a homemaker and I was suddenly a homemaker. I ordered a package of cotton short end fabric from Sears and Roebuck in 1953. That was the start of my scrap bag.

JJ: From whom did you learn to quilt?

EC: I learned a lot by trial and error. I watched my mother and grandmother. Also, the neighborhood ladies who came to the quiltings. A quilt pattern was clear, and direction was essential for a beginner. I did not have that.

JJ: And where did you grow up?

EC: I grew up on this same road that I live on now in Clayton, North Carolina.

JJ: What is your earliest quilt memory?

EC: My earliest quilt memory is Mama and Granny sitting by the wood heater in the wintertime cutting squares of fabric, colorful flowers, plaids, solids, checks with a template cut from the newspaper. It was an art the way they matched the printed and solid fabrics. When Aunt Maggie visited from Raleigh for a week, she brought her bag of scraps. When she finished a square, she took the cushion from the big rocker, put the square on the seat, replaced the cushion and sat down and rocked awhile. This was the way she pressed the square.

They did not buy fabric for quilt tops. Occasionally they bought muslin and inexpensive cotton for backing. Bleaching white feed sacks and dyeing them was a full day's work. I did that; used green and purple. Those quilts are valuable now; they are collectibles. Sometimes Mama would put in two quilts, one in the dining room and one in the living room. I really looked forward to the next day. My friend got off the bus with me. We had good refreshments, played under the quilt and listened to the ladies talk. If they finished the quilting, they took it out of the frame, put it across their laps and hemmed it. We all wanted to be the first to sleep under the new quilt. It was said the man you dream of is the man you will marry. My sister could describe the most handsome man that she saw in her dream.

JJ: Are there other any quiltmakers in your family, among your family and friends?

EC: I do not remember my sisters' making quilts, but I have many friends that are quiltmakers. The accomplishment of completing a quilt is so exciting. We enjoy sharing our handiwork with each other; also passing the pattern and quilt books among us.

JJ: How does quilt making impact your family?

EC: My children enjoyed playing under the quilt just as I did at their age. They saw scraps of fabric become a thing of beauty. In the 1950's my husband worked in a men's clothing store. The store received wool samples of fabric for suits and coats. He brought them home and I sewed them together. I remember going to Efird's Department Store in Smithfield [North Carolina.] to buy flannel for the backing. The manager asked what I was going to use it for. I told him and he told the clerk to let me have it for 19 cents a yard. I used cotton batting. We used colorful yarn to tack it. Tacking is a heritage skill. There is one of the quilts on a shelf in my bedroom still and that's been a long time, probably 55 or 60 years now.

JJ: Wow. Tell me if you've ever used these quilts to get through a difficult time.

EC: Well, quilts kept us warm, and their beauty brought us pleasure. We'd pick out the squares and the quilt that we had dresses made like. We did live through some difficult times, raising four children, paying for a home and farm. And maybe quilts did help us through the hard times. They were part of our lives. They were constant and comforting.
JJ: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making.

EC: When I married, Mama had made two quilt tops for us. One was a Dutch doll stripped in dark blue. It was well used and is still in the attic. The other one was squares and stripped in red. We put them in frames the day before the quilting. Being a married woman now and not having quilted before, I took my seat and tried to follow the lady beside me. They teased me by saying, 'You'll get your toenails caught in those stitches.' I told Harvey what they said, and he said, 'Well, you tell them, that's why you put sheets on the bed.' I have resorted to embroidering a moon or star on a small place that I accidentally snipped with the scissors. When I started making quilts for competition, I felt I should do the quilting, which I explained to my friends. A couple of ladies seemed sort of offended that I didn't want them to help me quilt.

JJ: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

EC: I love poring over the quilt patterns, and I love ordering fabric, touching it when it comes. The completion of the project is so rewarding. I always wanted for quilts to be different.

JJ: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

EC: Well, probably having the frame up so long, it can become inconvenient, but that's something to live with. It's not really that bad.

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

EC: I was a charter member of the Johnston County Arts and Craft Association. I served as president and advisor. I was approved to sell knitting, quilting, macramé, corn shuck dolls and flowers and colonial knotting. The Association is no longer active.

JJ: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

EC: It has influenced my work. Contemporary quilting is pretty and fast. The stack, slash, slip, and sew is a fun quilt. I prefer the hand quilting.

JJ: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

EC: Well, like I said, I prefer the hand quilting. I love unbleached muslin and beautiful cotton fabric and patterns handed down from our ancestors.

JJ: Describe the studio and the place you create.

EC: I have an old handmade kitchen table for cutting, a sewing machine, loom, spinning wheel, iron and ironing board, baskets of wool, yarns, stacks of fabric and other supplies. Enough of everything to keep me busy a long time.

JJ: Can you describe a typical day, balancing quilting and your other duties when you were quilting a lot?

EC: Well, when I was quilting a lot and you children were small, it was not--I just didn't sit down and work all day. It was whenever I could. But at this time in my life, the pace has slowed along with my energy. But I do enjoy the heritage skills, especially doing special gifts for my family and friends.

JJ: Did you use a design wall for your quilts?

EC: No.

JJ: Well then, how do you go about designing your quilts?

EC: I guess I just picture it in my mind. Sketch it on paper or I start with a large center square and add to it as I am inspired to do. I also combine several patterns in one quilt, changing as I go along.

JJ: How many quilts do you think you've made in your life?

EC: Probably at least sixty, I would think.

JJ: Wow. And what do you think makes a great quilt?

EC: A great quilt, let's see. I let my quilt be an expression of myself. I like an artist painting a picture with a brush and paints. I am painting my picture with a fabric, of fabric, needle, and thread. I like to create my own work of art by the combination of patterns and fabrics. And I enjoy every facet in the creation of a quilt.

JJ: What makes a quilt appropriate for museum or a special collection do you think?

EC: The quilts in the Museum of History are so perfect in design and workmanship. Every stitch by hand, pleasing color, intricate design, a true work of art. When I think of that lady prior to 1900 that made that quilt and it's still in such good condition and I just think, 'Well, I'd like to know that lady.'

JJ: What makes a great quiltmaker?

EC: The spirit and soul of a quiltmaker is reflected in her work. Love of beautiful fabric, design, and color. I learn something new with each quilt.

JJ: Whose work are you drawn to?

EC: I really admire the work of the Amish ladies in Pennsylvania. Their colors and workmanship is outstanding.

JJ: Are they a lot different from what you would make?

EC: Not really.

JJ: Because they're telling their own story?

EC: That's--absolutely.

JJ: Which artists have influenced you?

EC: I admire Georgia O'Keeffe and R.C. Gorman. The southwest colors of serenity are so impressive.

JJ: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

EC: Machine quilting and long arm quilting is beautiful if done well. And I'm glad to see more ladies becoming interested in making quilts. But I prefer hand quilting. Machine quilting and hand quilting should be in two separate categories in competition.

JJ: But it's not?

EC: I don't know, it depends on the organization now, but when it first started, they were not, and it was just hard to judge.

JJ: Why is quilt making important to your life?

EC: Quilt making was essential in our lives and our ancestors' lives. It is a heritage skill and I'm so glad to see it being preserved. It was early recycling. But to me I just enjoy the creation of a beautiful quilt.

JJ: In what way do your quilts reflect your community or our region?

EC: I feel like my quilts are made just like my ancestors did when they settled in Johnston and Sampson counties [North Carolina.]. It was what they knew and passed it from generation to generation. This was the only way they could learn. There was so little printed material, but I don't know how we could really improve on the basics of what I learned.

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

EC: Well, quilts were essential for comfort and survival. The love that went into making a quilt was comforting and uplifting.

JJ: In what way do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

EC: The woman created her quilt exactly as she wanted with what she had to work with. This may have been one of the few ways to demonstrate her creativity. Her contributions to the building of this country should be recognized and appreciated. And we could see it in her handwork and in her quilts that have survived.

JJ: So, how do you think quilts can be used?

EC: On the bed for warmth, beauty, on the back of a chair for display, a wall hanging, and a pallet on the floor, I think most children love it. And what baby didn't want its own little quilt?

JJ: And also, you made a quilt, I mean, you made a teddy bear out of an old quilt.

EC: Oh, yeah. One of Mama's quilts that was really worn and I took the best parts of it and made a big teddy bear and put a bowtie on it and I have to say he's been sitting in the kitchen on a highchair for twenty years and we do not tire of him. He's a part of the family.

JJ: That's right. How do you think quilts can be preserved?

EC: Well, first of all a person has got to appreciate that quilt and use it and enjoy using it and love sleeping under it but treat it with care, not just throw it in the washing machine and just give good maintenance for that quilt.

JJ: Have you ever saved a quilt that was in danger?

EC: Oh, yes, I did. After my sister died fifteen years before her husband and then after he died, we went in the house and there was a quilt top that Mama had given her and it had to come from the early 1950's, and so I brought it home, washed it and pressed it and had it quilted, and it is a treasure.

JJ: And their family, they didn't care about it?

EC: Well, there were just three boys, and their mother didn't come about it and too, she didn't really know anything about making quilts, and so I just feel so blessed to have been able to take it out of all the junk that was laying around.

JJ: What has happened to the quilts that you've made for friends and family members?

EC: The heritage quilt I made for you when you got married in 1988 looks the same now as it did when I gave it to you. It is on the bed in your guest room. And I'm sure you still delight in showing it to your friends. And well, I'm not sure my sons' quilts have fared that well.

JJ: Oh.

EC: But they liked them.

JJ: Yes well, my quilt's beautiful and when people come over, I always have to take them through the house and show them the quilt and explain the different squares, how it represents a different part of my life- hobbies, school, events. It's beautiful embroidery and beautiful quilting. It's just beautiful. I love it.

JJ: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

EC: Well, preserving the art of hand quilting and the early patterns of our ancestors. Those patterns are so valuable now not only as museums to be placed there but to be used and to carry on the tradition of quilting.

JJ: Well, I meant to ask you this while ago. You've won awards for your quilts, I know.

EC: Yeah.

JJ: Can you tell about the first one or some of the most meaningful to you?

EC: Yeah, my first blue ribbon on a quilt. Well, I spent two years embroidering twelve squares, each with the month, name, and flowers of the year, January through December. It was quilted in 1964. The Johnston County Agricultural Fair was held in the fall. My husband was there working on a booth for the Production Credit Association. He called me and said that I should bring a quilt to enter in the competition. I took it and it won first place. Sarah Ann Sasser, the Johnston County Extension Agent, said she did not know anyone in Johnston County did that kind of work. Sarah hung it up and hung a big piece of plastic over it to keep it clean. She entered it in the North Carolina State Fair Competition. Needless to say, it did not place. But I was thrilled to get that blue ribbon. I am grateful to Sarah for caring for it. There's been many blue ribbons since but that one is very, very special, and it just started me on the road wanting to create a quilt that would be a winner.

JJ: And so, you participated in the DAR competitions, as well.

EC: Yeah, and I've entered quilts. They did not get to, well they were not a national winner, but I did win first at State and then Southeast Regional.

JJ: Yes, and still in the--you've done weaving and knitting.

EC: Yes, my weaving did win first place at National about three years ago, which I was real happy about.

JJ: Well, we've got a little bit of time left if we could go quickly back to the quilt that you brought in today. Can we take just a minute and let me get the quilt? [pause 2 seconds.] So, can we just maybe go by the different squares, go through the different squares and tell a little about each one?

EC: The square in the upper left corner shows a stork delivering a baby in a blanket. That is Harvey, his birth date and full name. It also shows in embroidery the places he worked in his youth, Hudson Belk and Hugh Austin's. On the same square is embroidered a precious blond baby girl lying on a colorful quilt with my name and birth date and the places I worked, First Citizens Bank and Rose's Dime Store. It also has our address--RFD Clayton, North Carolina. Everybody had the same address. The mail carrier knew where every family--every family's name. Also, the name of the school we attended for twelve years, Wilson's Mills.

Also representing our marriage is a boy and girl with a happy sun face and a star above them with two bluebirds. Under the couple is a red rose and two entwined hearts. Also, a teddy bear and a hobby horse representing the State Fair. This square is stripped in tan with blue stars and dark red hearts.

JJ: And the next one?

EC: The next square is stripped in nautical fabric- lighthouses, ships, seabirds, and waves. Julee, my daughter, is seated on a rope swing, hair in a pig tail, barefoot and a dress of several colors. A smiling quarter moon, three stars, and two bluebirds and red hearts surround her. Her interests through the years are depicted by a sewing machine, bicycle, piano, decorated cake, a Mary Englebright book, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly and a slice of bread, a Snicker bar, knitting needles, and ball of yarn. Gordon is running with a football with a full sun face with blue eyes above him. Some of his activities are depicted by a harmonica, guitar, tennis racket and ball, basketball, soccer ball, ping pong, baseball and bat, bowling ball and pins and golf clubs. His healthy eating habits show turnips, fish cabbage, mushrooms, peppers, blueberries, an apple. Also, a Cat in the Hat since he's an amateur magician. [laughs.]

JJ: And each of squares is embroidered like you just thought of all the things you wanted to put on there and then you started arranging them?

EC: Yeah, just what I decided I wanted at the time.

JJ: Let's look at the next one.

EC: The next square depicts Christopher, my oldest son and his family. Christopher is represented by being on skis, which he loves. All of his family are sports enthusiasts. Wendy is jumping rope, Parker is the baseball player, Number 1 shirt and a bat in his hand. Daniel is on a float on the water and Andrew is surfing. Their hobbies are depicted by the running shoes, basketball, soccer ball, roller skates, football, bowling. Did I leave out anything there?

JJ: No.

EC: Christopher is a minister, hence the Bible. The Eagle Scout and Civil War buff. The embroidered snake is more colorful than the moccasin that bit him on the finger when he was cropping tobacco, when he was, I think he was 14 and he stayed in the hospital three days. The John Deere patch is a reminder of the long hours on the tractor. It is stripped by red fabric with black and white cows, representing the farm.

JJ: Yeah, the farm.

EC: The next square is my third son, Timothy and his family as they were at that time. Timothy is represented by a Boy Scout patch, a John Deere patch for using John Deere tractors on the farm. An Airborne patch denotes his service with the 82nd Airborne. Running shoes, baseball bat and ball mitt, wheelies on a bicycle, tennis racket, guitar, his dog Sparkle, and his favorite book, "Old Yeller." Mary was a wife and homemaker. LeeAnn was an acrobat as she is standing on her head. Joshua was a John Deere fan, and they enjoyed the wildlife, especially the rabbit and deer. This square was stripped with fabric depicting gardening, a favorite hobby.

JJ: Yep, and the next one?

EC: The next square depicts the holidays. Valentine's Day is represented by Cupid and his bow and arrow. St. Patrick's Day by an elf and four-leaf clover. Easter by a big basket of candy eggs. Fourth of July by a young boy in overalls carrying a pretty flag, a bugle and a firecracker. Father's Day is a fancy necktie. Halloween, a mask, a little girl in a colorful witch's costume. Thanksgiving, the Indian and the Pilgrims, and the pumpkin. Christmas, by the shepherd, sheep and stars, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, carolers, holly, and poinsettia. Did I leave out anything that y'all liked at Christmas?

JJ: No, not much. But and you can tell by the holidays, that we always did observe the holidays.

EC: Absolutely.

JJ: And decorated and celebrated.

EC: Yeah, that was the happiest of times. This square is stripped in ivory with black musical instruments and sheet music. This is my second son's family, Matthew. Matthew is embroidered in a chef's outfit holding a dish from the oven. At this time in his life, he enjoyed cooking. He was a Mason, artist, Civil War buff. He was musically inclined, collected knives and was a student of the Bible, as is depicted. Ann was a homemaker and mother. And their sons were Adam, Jonathan, and Aaron. They enjoyed school, music, baseball, soccer ball, basketball, tennis and Scouts. They liked their John Deere tractor and John Deere toys and played endless hours in the sand pile.

JJ: And you can tell that we all grew up in the country. [laughs.]

EC: Absolutely, they loved it here. This square is stripped with fabric depicting states in America. These are special things, people from the states we visited.

JJ: From your travels.

EC: Oh yeah. The embroidered Amish couple and Hex sign depicts Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Indian--Cherokee and the Southwest are depicted by the Indian, which we really love the Southwest. The guitar, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Memphis, Branson, Dollywood, and Wheeling, West Virginia. The mask is for New Orleans. And the cherry blossom represents Washington, D.C. The playing cards--Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and Reno. The star on the mountain is Roanoke, Virginia. The palm tree and flamingo is Florida. The rifle is for Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Guilford, Fort Caswell, Valley Forge, Bentonville. We really enjoyed visiting these places.

JJ: And did you visit those while you were doing your research in DAR or you've always just been interested in history? [JJ and EC speak at same time.]

EC: Well, I've always been interested in it, but it made it really come alive, visiting these. The military hat is for Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, Seymour Johnson. The Spanish man and basket is Mexico. The hat with the fishing hooks is Atlantic Beaches, all up and down the coast of North Carolina, which is so beautiful. The anchor is Maine. The grist mills is the Mabrey Mill, Pigeon Forge. Covered bridges, like Vermont, Virginia, Iowa, also Pennsylvania. The peaches--Georgia, that's the peaches. The bottle of milk and cow represent New York State. And the baseball glove and hat- Atlanta, Georgia.

JJ: So you got to go on a lot of your trips through Daddy's work.

EC: Absolutely. We were well blessed to be able to take those trips. This next one is the southwest square and it's stripped with fabric that has southwest colors. The embroidered Indian boy, with the feather in his hair, sitting on a colorful blanket with three pretty pieces of pottery. And then there's the road runner, which I think are they're the cutest things. And the most beautiful, brilliant rainbow we saw. The cow beside the road, happily grazing and livestock has free range in New Mexico. And the cross, the beautiful, old quaint churches that are just, just breathtaking. The moon and stars. The cactus is so gorgeous. The wolves howling at the moon, the beautiful sunset, real cowboys herding cattle, and the chili peppers hanging from the eaves of the houses. And the giant spiders. I didn't see one, but I heard about them. And Kokopelli, the God of fertility. I love Kokopelli, he's a happy man.

JJ: And yes, he's all over the house, it looks like.

EC: This square depicts our life in 1998 and the past. It is stripped in red and black with white cows. The mailbox with the Swift Creek Farm sign is there. The U.S. flag, the support and love of our country is represented by that and the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Civil War Patch is my love of history and two ancestors that fought in the war. Farm Credit Service and Production Credit Association is where my husband, Harvey worked twenty-six and a half years. The John Deere patch, that's the equipment used on the farm and the sons' and grandsons' toys. Four Oaks Primitive Baptist Church, where I am a member. The cow, pig, goat, cat, honeybee, bird, butterfly, these were on the farm, a part of our daily life.

JJ: And your love of nature, you're very much a nature girl.

EC: Absolutely. Nothing like the smell of fresh turned soil and the cows with grass up to their bellies, munching, well yes. Well, the carrots, turnips, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, watermelons, grapes, pears, apples, cherry, cherries, corn. These things were used in our home that came off the farm. It was canned, frozen, made into jelly and preserves. We really lived on the farm.

JJ: Yep.

EC: The embroidered quilt represents my love of quilting, and the spool of thread, knitting needles and yarn, thimble, a mixing bowl and spoon, the flowers, birds, the birdhouse are what my life was all about at that time and precious was my time then. A rich, full productive life with memories recorded on fabric with needle and thread.

JJ: That's gorgeous. It really is like a snapshot. Well, not a just a snapshot, the whole picture of your lives, our lives, at that time.

EC: Yes, and at that particular time the children were all represented and me too, by what was in my life at that time.

JJ: Well, is there anything else you'd like to add to this interview?

EC: Well, I just appreciate you doing this. I love history and I do want to see it preserved and I do love the heritage skills. I feel like I am doing the work that my ancestors did. The women that stayed home during the Revolutionary War and made everything for their family and that's been my life, being a homemaker and providing for my family.

JJ: Absolutely. You certainly made all my clothes when I was growing up. [both speak at same time.]

EC: And you had the prettiest clothes, too.

JJ: Yes, I did. And, well, how long have you been a member of DAR?

EC: Twenty-five years in December.

JJ: Wow. Well, I'd like to thank Edith Lee Casey for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 9:48 on October 11, 2008. Thank you.

EC: Thank you.


“Edith Casey,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1838.