Evelyn Knowles




Evelyn Knowles




Evelyn Knowles


Frances L. Carlton

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Wilson, North Carolina


Anna Gatling Harmon


Frances Carlton (FC): This is Frances Carlton. Today's date is January 26, 2005. We are meeting in the home of Evelyn Knowles, one of the informants and it is 2:30 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Evelyn Knowles and Lizzie Cobb for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project and the Quilt Oral History Project for American Heritage NSDAR. The scribe who will tape the interview is Anna Harmon. I would like to thank you folks for coming and letting us talk to you about your quilts. Evelyn, tell me about the quilt you brought in today. The quilt square.

Evelyn Knowles (EK): This is the remnants of a quilt that my grandmother made. The entire quilt disintegrated, more or less when it was washed, but I have saved some of the squares and hope maybe someday to frame them. The squares were made by my grandmother, Mary Jacob Wells Williams. She was born April the first, 1865 and she told me that she made this quilt when she was thirteen years old so that would make the date of the quilt 1878. This was, she is having been born right at the end of the War Between the States, this was probably some of the first printed fabrics they had gotten since the embargo because the south has nothing but home spun and home dyed fabrics during the war and for several years after the war so I am sure she was proud of every little scrap she could find. She was the youngest of six daughters and she said that she had to use the scraps that her older sisters didn't want. So really that made a prettier quilt because she had time to plan. I don't know the exact name of the pattern. I am assuming--I am calling it Star Burst. But I think probably it is a pattern that she made herself or had seen somewhere because I cannot--I have looked at several books and can't find the origin of this pattern. However, lots of the patterns that the women had at that time came from peddlers that went around selling cloth, trying to sell cloth and when the women would say, 'Oh, I don't need to make quilt. I don't have a pattern.' He would say, 'Oh yes, I have patterns I got from so and so,' and that is probably the reason we get patterns like the Ohio Star and things like that in North Carolina because not many of these women ever went to Ohio. So, this is the story of this quilt and probably these remnants that were left, the quilting on here they are clusters of grapes in most of the squares in the corners and my grandmother told me that the way they made the grapes, the different ladies quilting all the quilts would take their thimble off and trace around the symbols to make the circle of the grapes.

FC: Okay. Now tell me about your other quilt.

EK: The other quilt that I have is one that I made myself from memory in honor of my mother. The name of the quilt is "Miss Nellie's Cats", and I wrote on this label 'Miss Nellie's Cats in memory of my mother by Evelyn Knowles 1903, 2003. This is by my hand made with little pieces from my heart and. She lived at the very end of the road.' My mother said people will sometimes, in fact real often, took their cats that they didn't want and put them out the road and they would migrate to her house and, of course she would feed them. They never they never were house cats there, they were outside cats and I have seen as many as fifteen cats at one time and we said, 'Mama, get rid of these cats.' Oh, but she threatened down around the barn and so the cats came and had kittens, kittens had kittens, so the kittens of the kittens had kittens. So that prompted me to make the cat quilt and there is one very special square in this quilt of many cats that has a heart around a heart necklace, around the neck and that was the square of the last dress that my mother made. And since 1905 was when she was born, so this would be the year of her 100th birthday.

FC: Okay. Tell me about your interest in quilts and when did you first start get interested in quilting?

EK: Well, I have always been interested but I seem to never have time to quilt until I retired. I saw my mother quilt, like everybody back long time ago when the mothers quilted, and the children played under the quilting frames. Quilting as I thought to myself, I would never, never ever do this. I can't do this, and I can't quilt on a frame, but I do lap quilting. I have made a lot of quilts since I retired eighteen years ago, and we made miniatures. We make four or five quilts, all types of quilts and that is really when I got interested and when I joined the guild in Wilson and we really--

FC: Quilt guild.

EK: Quilt guild we are called Peace by Piecing- p-e-a-c-e by p-i-e- c-i-n-g Quilters. And we learn from each other in the guild more or less, I think. You see somebody doing something and we want to do and something like it or we see something that gives us an idea and we go from there.

FC: Are there other quilters in your family?

EK: None that are living. We've had quilters in the past but as far as I know I am the only one that quilts at this point in time.

FC: Do you ever use quilting to go through a difficult time? Is it a comfort for you?

EK: My husband says I hide behind a quilt all the time. [FC laughs.] I just can't sit down without picking something up to do and this is what I do.

FC: What do you think makes a great quilt?

EK: The story. The reason you made it. Then of course if you follow basic principle of art, color, balance, center of interest, whatever, I can't think of all of them now, but you know it when you see it. You know what looks good and what doesn't. Choice of fabrics we cannot quilt, that our guild does without cotton. We would not ever consider putting a piece of polyester or any percentage of polyester in our quilt squares. We use 100% cotton, and we quilt with 100% cotton. However, we do have polyester because of our batting. It is much easier to quilt with the polyester batting than it is with the cotton batting.

FC: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

EK: Oh well, we have many old folds in our guild, the older ones in our guild sort of frown upon it because we think it is not really a quilt unless you put hand work on it and that is that is going by the wayside, so we try to keep it alive.

FC: I know that from your past history that you make all kinds of quilts for how about your--what you do for have you made one for each one of your children and so forth?

EK: Oh yes, I have made many for my children. I am not sure they appreciate them, but I have made them, and I got some of their names on some stacked in my closet right now. So, I made one for my granddaughter and grandson, and I told them they could have it when they got married or when I died whichever comes first. I hope they get married soon.

FC: And I believe you make a quilt for don't you make a quilt for each one of your nieces whenever they have babies and so forth?

EK: I have a lots of baby quilts.

FC: Do you figure out your own patterns or?

EK: Sometimes I do, but most of the time it's the traditional quilt patterns but you put your own little twist on those to make a difference.

FC: Okay Lizzie, I am going to ask you a few questions now about your quilt. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today?

Lizzie Cobb (LC): Well, tell you the truth about the quilt I brought in today. I do not know a lot about the quilt. I know it came to me, it migrated to me on the top of a trash truck and me being the lover of a quilt and I am I saw the truck because the truck was parked near my yard, and I could not bare to see that quilt being carried to the land fill. As the boy, the man, a black man, knew that I loved quilts, and he knew where the quilt came from because he drove the truck to the house. They loaded the stuff out of the attic of that house, and he is being the only person that could drive that truck, he went and got the truck and brought it to the parking area before he would carry it to the landfill. And he let me know that the truck was out there and if I wanted to go look at it. Well, when I saw that quilt up there top of that truck, I knew that quilt would not go any farther. [FC laughs.] And so, I, me and my daughter went out there and looked at it, and we just could not believe that anybody would let a quilt go like that. And we figured that it had been in their family a long, long time.

FC: Do you have any idea how old it is?

LC: Well, the best that I have a lady at when we were at the farm show this year, in nineteen--in 2004, she looked at it and she figured it was in the 1800's. And so, I really believe that myself. And so, we figured maybe it was and we cannot find a name for the pattern. Really, I have looked and searched, and I cannot find a real name, but I am giving it a name the best that I can of Roman Cross. And so really that is about all that I know except I just know that I could not bare to let that quilt go to the landfill.

FC: [inaudible.]

LC: I cherish it. I really cherish it and I believe I know who made the quilt, but I cannot say so. I cannot give the maker a name. The house that it came from, I notified the people, and they didn't they did not seem to know anything about the quilt. Which they did not clean out the attic themselves. I'm quite sure they had someone else cleaning it out for them and the stuff was just dumped on the truck. And so, I have the quilt and I'll probably will keep the quilt right on and on. I ask the lady to come and look at it, she said she would, but she has not, and I've had it a couple of years now. It's been entered in quilt shows. I have several pictures. I've told her about the pictures that I have, and I have used it in quilt shows and people have admired it everywhere I went with it, and she doesn't seem to have any interest in it, so I think I am just going to let it drop as that.

FC: Okay.

LC: She knows I have it and if she ever wants it, see it or anything you know, we'll go from there. But right now, it is still mine.

FC: So, tell me about your interest in quilting. When did you get started in quilting?

LC: Well, I think all my life I've had an interest in quilting. My grandmother--I was the oldest of five girls and my grandmother and granddaddy and a little boy, a little cousin 2 years old came to live with us when-- and I think that must have been in [inaudible.] it was probably in 1928-29. They came to live with us because my granddaddy had severe stroke and was paralyzed. So, they all came to live with us, and my grandmother was sewing some. Of course, mama being not having much time for sewing because she was busy having children and helping Dad on the farm. We were sharecroppers. Dad was and so anyway, I just picked up the love of sewing with needles and threads and cloth from my grandmother. And we just kept on and she would let me help her cut out little squares and sew with our fingers cause we didn't even have a sewing machine at that time. But later on, she bought a sewing machine and I remember she paid $15.00 for it. And she would let me sit on her knee and sew at that machine because she was afraid, I'd get my fingers under it.

FC: Needles.

LC: Needles. And so, she would do the peddling and I would push the material under the needle with her help. So, it went from there and with her teaching and with her patience and with my love for cloth and sewing, it went from there and we just with her help like I said we just went on and we make quilts and sewing, and I just fell in love with anything concerning cloth. And today I am a clothaholic.

FC: [laughs.] Are there other quilters among your family now who do quilting?

LC: No, except my oldest daughter, Betty Batchelor, which was a home economics teacher, she has retired from teaching now. She does make some quilts and she probably will now more so since she is retired. But other than that, there's no other quilters in my family.

FC: Are you like Evelyn? You just can't sit down without having a quilt?

LC: Absolutely, absolutely.

FC: You and you do the quilt squares?

LC: I do it all. I do some of it all. Appliqué, piecing, I do some of all.

FC: Is there any part of quilting you don't enjoy?

LC: No.

FC: [laughs.] Okay. What do you think makes a great quilt?

LC: Well, tell you the truth, I think workmanship, color coordination, that that's mostly what it is and the love that goes into it.

FC: Love. That's what I wanted to hear.

LC: And if you see a quilt that very well made, very well color coordinated, you know some love has gone into it because it takes all of that, combination to make a good quilt a great quilt.

FC: Why is quilting important to your life?

LC: Well to me it's better than a nerve tablet.

FC: [laughs.] You really enjoy them?

LC: Yes mam. 100%.

FC: Now, you and Evelyn I know have won lots of ribbons and things in your guild quilt guild, haven't you? And have you taught classes?

LC: Not really classes. I never have. I have taught a few. I have taught some at well some church groups. I have taught a few classes like that but not on platform work. I have never done that.

FC: Well now, you'll meet together every week?

LC: We meet every Wednesday morning at Agriculture Department in Wilson. Yes, we do. We meet every Wednesday morning from nine to about eleven thirty.

FC: Well, do you teach there?

LC: Sometimes we have workshops. We have we have some great teachers within our guild. So, we don't go out and have other teachers coming in a lot. Sometimes we do, but we have some great teachers right there in our workshops. Evelyn is one of them. And we hold we have workshops right there a lot and like she said a while ago we learn from each other. We learn a lot from each other and we're always listening and watching for good patterns and good information and good tips wherever we go whatever we're doing. We are looking and listening and ready to catch on to anything that we can. What word to use? Grasp.

FC: Uh huh.

LC: To get it. Just wonderful.

FC: In ways do you think your quilts reflect your community or region?

LC: Well, I know people are. We can't talk to anybody but a few minutes before they are saying 'Are you still making those beautiful quilts? Are you still quilting?' So, they know we are associated with them through quilting.

EK: Miss Lizzie has reflected this area in some quilts that she has made because she has made several tobacco leaf quilts.

FC: That's what I wanted to know.

EK: [inaudible.] Yes, I've not made one, but she has made several.

FC: You have done the Log Cabins [inaudible.].

EK: I have done the Log Cabins and I've. I prefer appliqué to tell you the truth. I like to appliqué. A lot of mine are flowers that I have appliquéd.

LC: I like appliqué but--

FC: What have you two done with all of these quilts that you have made?

LC: Well to tell you the truth, mine I have made a lot for my family. My--I have--I have four grandsons. I've made they all a quilt a piece and have started around. And I have made raffle quilts for the church. They were sold at auction for the church and my own children, my two daughters I made them quilts. Several. I don't know how many they've got. And like I said the four grandsons. I have started over with them and right now my next to the oldest one, Will, he's getting married in July and I have just started him a wedding quilt which will be the Bible Ring. I've just started on that. I will not have it finished by July sixteenth, but he said, 'That's all-right grandmamma, as long as it's in progress.' So that's it [inaudible.].

EK: We have made, the group has made quilts for the Ronald McDonald House. Give them baby quilts every year. We do as much as 20-25 quilts at one time for children. Each child that leaves. The family leaves the Ronald McDonald House gets a quilt for the child to take home with them. We have also made some quilts for Wesley Shelter to give to the people that are in need. I've made five for Wesley Shelter.

FC: This year?

EK: This past year and one project that I've been involved in, had some help with the piecing and the quilting. They asked me to head a project several years ago at the church to do banners for our church fellowship hall and I thought, well you know what, how can I make banners and I have seen the felt banners and all those but we decided, well we have several quilters why not quilt some banners so the fellowship hall at the church was a five year project which started about ten years ago and it is now complete. I think we could put 2 or 3 more in but

FC: They're beautiful.

EK: As Far as I'm concerned, it's completed. With the and on the back of each one of those banners we put the name of the person that made certain squares that go in them, and I was noticing the other night. I was looking at the banners as I was sitting there and several of them have squares made by people that are no longer living. And this was just five years ago that about five years ago that we completed the project.

FC: So, you ladies are history in the making through stitching and sewing quilts. I would like to. Do any of you want to add anything else to this before we sign off?

LC: Well, the only thing I would like to say I just love it so much and it's brought me so much joy in my life that I want to do anything that I possibly can to keep the art of quilting alive and particular hand quilting. I do not. I know machine quilting is pretty. It's fast. Faster and I know women are particular these younger women do not have much time now to quilt and takes a long time to hand quilt a quilt. I know because I do it all the time and I know they don't have that much time and it's faster to take a quilt to someone that got a long arm quilting machine and let them quilt it. It's probably cheaper for them to do it. So, I understand all of that, but I don't want the art of hand quilting to die.

FC: Evelyn.

EK: Well, I've just one little remark that I have thought of a lot. It's not original but I've read it somewhere that 'a quilt without a story is a quilt without a heart'. Yep. Yep.

(FC): That's wonderful. Well, I'd like to thank Evelyn Knowles and Lizzie Cobb for allowing us to interview them today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview was concluded at three o'clock p.m. January 26, 2005.


“Evelyn Knowles,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1846.