Janice Maddox




Janice Maddox




Janice Maddox


Diana Ramsay

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Asheville, NC


Diana Ramsay


Diana Ramsay (DR): [recording begins mid-sentence.]…interview being done with Janice Maddox on January 31st, 2008, and it's 11 a.m. The interview is being done by Diana Ramsay. So, we were beginning to talk about any collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia that you have, and would you like to tell me about that?

Janice Maddox (JM): Well, I was telling you about this book that I have that's called "A Romance of the Patchwork Quilt" or "Romance of the Quilt" that was published, I think, in 1940. But I mainly have a lot of old quilts. And I have some found quilts and I have some of my mother's quilts.

DR: Were your old quilts mainly from your family or you purchased them somewhere?

JM: Both.
DR: Very nice. Let's see. I think we can move into our general questions and that they'll probably cover what's on the short form quite well. What is your first memory of quiltmaking?

JM: Quiltmaking?

DR: Well no, first quilt memory.

JM: I slept under quilts. They were made by my mother and grandmother out of whole cloth. I remember a blue one and a burgundy one. And my mother told me when I was old enough to be interested that they had purchased the fabric from a Sears catalog. Fabric at 39 cents a yard and it was filled with cotton that my grandfather grew. He took it to the local gin and had it cleaned. They quilted in the traditional southern form, the Baptist fan, with concentric circles. I was looking for that quilt before you came. It's somewhere in the house, but I couldn't find it.

DR: Oh. It's so nice that you have it.

JM: Yeah. Yeah. But I remember always sleeping under those. They would be folded at the foot of the bed every morning, every day when the bed was made, and unfolded at night for cover.

DR: Did they live in this area?

JM: My mother grew up in South Georgia.

DR: And then when you were born and slept under those quilts, where did you live?

JM: In Macon, Georgia.

DR: And just tell me about your interest in quiltmaking and where that came from.

JM: Well, I've always enjoyed sewing. I learned to sew from my mother when I was young. She said she'd give me buttons to sew on to keep me out of trouble so she could get stuff done. So I always loved to sew. And as an adult after I married, I got a form in the mail to order a book about lap quilting and I thought, well I would like to do that someday. So I ordered the book and I did not do anything with that book for many years. Meanwhile we moved up here. And I had a haircut appointment. The woman was running late. And I said, 'I will just run to this fabric store while I'm waiting on her.' There was a sign that said, 'Lap Quilting Classes.' I had just started a new job. I had two young children. And I thought, 'This is the last thing I need to do,' as I'm signing the check--

DR: Oh, really?

JM: To sign up for the class. So that was 1987 maybe. And I just loved it. I was just hooked.

DR: Was that with Georgia Bonesteel?

JM: No. No. It was with Penny Wortman. And in the class she gave out a book about lap quilting. And after I got the book I saw that the book she gave was from Georgia Bonesteel. And I looked up the book I had ordered many years ago and it was by Georgia Bonesteel. But that didn't mean anything to me at the time.

DR: And now you're in the same quilt guild. [both JM and Georgia Bonesteel are members of the Asheville Quilt Guild.]

JM: Yeah. And eventually I began to teach for her (at her quilt shop). So that was sort of a full circle. But anyway I took the quilting class. But I was working and I had young children so I really didn't pursue it seriously until the early '90's and then I started teaching in '91. And by that time I was not working anymore so I started in the profession as a quilt teacher.

DR: Very nice. You weren't working outside the home. [laughs.]

JM: No. No.

DR: Right. And so you started out in that class so that would answer the question 'from whom did you learn to quilt?' Do you have any more you'd like to say about from whom you learned to quilt?

JM: Well, Penny Wortman was a wonderful influence, I mean she was my first teacher and she got me going. And she encouraged all of us in the class to take from different teachers, to learn different techniques. We would learn something special from every teacher. So I always felt like that was good advice.

DR: And how many hours now do you spend on quiltmaking in a week?
JM: I used to spend 20/25 hours, and a little less recently. But if I can do 15, that's good.
DR: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends? You told me a little bit about family but maybe you have more that you'd like to say.

JM: Well, my mother's had a strong influence. She's the one. She was always sewing, making clothes and curtains for the house; but she never considered herself a quiltmaker. She would help her mother make quilts as a little girl. She can remember picking up walnuts to boil them to dye the fabric. And she can remember women coming in to help quilt, but I never remember her making quilts. And that's not just part of her sewing image that she has of herself although she can tell me all these stories. The quilts she made with her mother were very utilitarian. And I think my interest in quilts is because I grew up sleeping under them. And then I loved the patchwork idea. And I think my interest has made my mother feel very proud of this part of her heritage that she just took for granted, 'This is what you do to keep warm.' I think she can appreciate from the artsy view I have of it.

DR: Right. Yeah. That's nice. How does quiltmaking impact your family?
JM: Oh my goodness. Well, we all sleep under quilts. [laughs.] I'm always asking them advice on designs and colors. And I think they like giving that. And I think it's made me look at things more carefully in terms of design and color. The discussion of it has made everybody in my family a little bit more aware of how things are put together and how color works with design.
DR: How much work goes into making a quilt? [laughs.]

JM: Well, I started this when my older children were very little, when I started teaching and exhibiting. And I think my children grew up thinking all mothers made quilts and exhibited and taught.

DR: [laughs.] Have they shown any interest in it too, in quiltmaking?

JM: I have a lot of rules about sewing and I didn't want to turn my children off with all my rules; so, with my daughters, I sent them to another teacher to learn the basics of sewing. My oldest daughter says it's not her interest but she is glad she knows how to sew. And we have made a quilt together. And my son has done a little bit of patchwork. He has done some sewing and made little gifts for his girlfriend. And I've made a quilt with my younger daughter but I don't really think she will ever pursue sewing.

DR: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

JM: Definitely.

DR: And what was that?

JM: Oh my. I had my next door neighbors, went to a trip to the Cayman Islands and they had a wreck and he died immediately. [cleared throat.] He died immediately and she died three months later because of complications anyway. Their children played a lot with my children [inaudible.]. And I kind of quit sewing there for a while. And when I decided I really wanted to get back into it, I wanted to do something that was like a recipe, just to follow the instructions and put colors together. So even though it wasn't an original quilt, it was very, it was very healing. It was a watercolor quilt and I used black as the unifying color. So that was very, very, healing.

DR: Well, these questions kind of are both sides of a coin. The first one is what do you find pleasing about quiltmaking and what aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

JM: I think I love it all. I love picking out the fabrics. I love the design aspect. I love ironing and cutting the fabric. I know for a lot of quilters that's the part they like the least, but I don't know, there's something, I don't know, almost meditative about the mindless activity of cutting and ironing, so I really like that. I love the piecing. And I think that's probably been my favorite part. Probably the quilting, the machine quilting is the most frustrating but when I see the results it is one of the most gratifying because it changes the whole identity of the quilt, putting that additional layer on patchwork.

DR: Let's see. We'll get to your quilt after we have asked these other questions. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JM: Well, I've never met a quilt that I didn't think was great [both laugh]. They're all so wonderful. Even if the colors don't go well together and the piecing is not accurate, there's always so much effort you can see in a quilt. And most quilters, they're just so happy with the work they've done and the results, the finished product. What was the original question?

DR: About what makes a great quilt?

JM: Yeah. I think just to see the effort in the quilts and the personal pride that comes from the work.

DR: Yep. And what would you say makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JM: [five second pause.] Color and design, and good technique.

DR: And, what would you say would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?
JM: [ten second pause.] The history and heritage, and the third is the artistic but I think the history and heritage has to go first.

DR: And, what would you say makes a great quilter?

JM: Someone who's dedicated to the craft. And that means being finicky about the colors and the designs. I think that's what separates the great quilter from the great quilt. And all quilts are great, but to be a great quilter you really have to be prepared to substitute and rip out and fuss and obsess about it. And I think that if you just lay things out and put them together and say 'Okay, this is it.' That's a good start, but it's not what makes you a great quilter. I think it's that pickiness. It's about agonizing over it, 'is this the best way, what will happen if I do this,' pushing to go a little bit further.

DR: Well, let's see. How to great quiltmakers learn the art of quiltmaking, and especially how to design a pattern and choose fabrics and color? How does one go about learning that?

JM: Well, I think you have to start with that first quilt. And one thing that I try to stress as a teacher is, if you're not satisfied with what you've done then learn from it and take that on to your next quilt; because, if you've made the perfect quilt then you haven't learned anything. And that's why I have these quilts right here [indicating quilts on the table.]. It's a process. You can't start off making the perfect quilt because you don't have the skill yet.

DR: And how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting versus longarm machine quilting? What do you think about the quilting methods?

JM: I love the hand quilting. I love the look of it. I don't think I'm very good at hand quilting. This is why I want to do machine quilting, plus it's a time factor. I've seen beautiful longarm quilting and I think it's really extremely good. It's expanded another artistic view of quilts. I guess my biggest objection [five second pause.] is paid quilting, using a quilt service and then claiming that it's your own. You either make a quilt or you have help making a quilt. And I don't like to see quilters claiming the quilt is their own when they didn't do the whole process. If you paid for a piece, it's a paid service and it's not your own.

DR: Right. So, if a person makes a quilt top and they're going to show it that they would need to give credit to the quilter who did the quilting on it.

JM: Yes. Yes. Yes.

DR: Let's see. Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

JM: The creative outlet. I think it's something that has always been in me and I didn't know. And I think for a lot of women, or quilters, it is a creative outlet. I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that when people are, especially women, who are in their mid 40's are searching for a creative outlet, you often see a change in an activity that they do and that's when most men and women find their creativity, is in that mid-40's, early 50's age. And, I think I went along with that. Maybe you're too busy with life beforehand to be creative.

DR: And, in what ways do your quilts reflect your community or the region?

JM: I think I'm highly influenced by my southern culture. I like the geometry of quilts [inaudible.] and the utility quilts. There was not time for the appliqué and the bountiful flowers and that's just not my choosing. I really like the strong geometry and I think that lends to piecing, which I love.

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

JM: Well, again, I grew up with quilts of a utility nature. And I think it's wonderful that the medium of fabric is being used artistically and put on walls. And I think it's a great foundation that it started off as something useful.

DR: And you kind of answered the question already, 'How do you think quilts can be used?' Your last answer pretty well covers that.

JM: Yeah. Yeah.

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

JM: Well, I think some quilts need to be used and loved [laughs.] and it's not preserving them. But I, yeah, I love the idea of the museums we have now, and the archives, and saving these stories. I think my mother is just a treasure cove of information. She doesn't know it. But I think just remembering this is part of her heritage, part of southern life. She's just special.

DR: What has happened to quilts that you have made for those of friends or family?

JM: What's happened to them? They've been used. [nine second pause.]. I don't quite understand the question. [seven second pause.]. They've been used. I'm picky about who I give quilts to. I give them to people who I know will appreciate the work.

DR: We're going to talk about the quilt that you chose to have in your photograph. And, would you just tell me about it. The questions here are Who made it? The origin of it? The age of it? Your description of it. Was it a particular pattern or material? [shows JM the questions.]

JM: I have picked out a quilt. But it kind of goes back to what I was saying, 'it's a process to learn to get there.' And to me what is special about this quilt is that when I look at it, I have concrete examples of how I got there. And that's what makes that quilt important to me. Can I just start with the story and then show you the quilt, or shall I show you the quilt?

DR: Just go ahead and tell me the story.

JM: All right. [JM rose to her feet and began to show me quilts that she had stacked on the table as she talked.] Well, I've always loved things that weave in and out of each other. And, as beginning quilter [showing a quilt with five piece Log Cabin like blocks, all logs the same width, with partial seam construction.] I belonged to this group. And we had a challenge where we were given strips. The challenge was to put them together. And I thought, 'well, why don't I just weave them or go with a ribbon pattern. And I really liked the way it came together. And I think the challenge was to put them together without adding other fabrics, so I cheated by adding a background fabric. But it was a wonderful learning experience to me, just take so many different fabrics and put them together. That was a good learning experience. This is the original pattern called Bright Hopes where you use different fabrics and you go around in squares.

See, the difference with this one. [showing a quilt with a similar pattern, this time made with logs of varying widths.] It really came together well even though the widths are different.

And then there came Pointillist Palette fabric which this fabric was actually graded in value [showing me a third quilt with a braided pattern on it and another fabric that was shaded, in four color waves.] So I did the same thing. Just with the print on the fabrics, kind of a totally different look. But I wouldn't have been able to get to this quilt without that quilt [pointing to the earlier quilt.].

And I thought, well, just take that same idea and put it on more of a diagonal. So, I took that idea and I went this way with it [showing me a fourth quilt with still different log widths, with blocks on point and vertical lines weaving through them.] But, again, I couldn't have done this without having done that, that, that and that [pointing to the earlier quilts.].

And so, eventually, took all of those ideas and did this one [showing her focus quilt, "April Snow."] using a hexagon shape. [noise due to moving recorder.] That's the same idea using a hexagon shape and fabrics that portray Pointillist Palette fabrics and value differences.

DR: Why don't we finish up with our questions and then we will do the photography over there. It's interesting to see the progression of the changes in the design over time that you've gone through.

JM: Yeah. And I think what's important here is that it never would have happened without that first quilt and that first challenge. When I think for people who learn, who want to learn to quilt, they want to make this fantastic quilt and what I'm trying to say is it is a process and you have to have a start. And if you can understand the basics then going on that journey is going to be a lot more satisfying. If you have a good basis you can just take it, or it will take you [both laugh.], in so many different directions.

DR: Let's see. In addition to what you've said, does this quilt have any special meaning for you, "April Snow?"

JM: Well, when I was thinking about this quilt, I really had the idea of how the snow that usually comes in late March or early April and the daffodils and crocuses have already bloomed. So that's what I was trying to capture with this quilt is that snow, that early spring snow that comes.

DR: Is there anything you'd like to add about why you chose this quilt for the interview?

JM: Mainly just how important the process is.

DR: How do you use this quilt, and I see it's hanging on the wall. And, that's the only use for it?

JM: Right. I would not put it on a bed.

DR: And do you have any other plans for this quilt?

JM: No.

DR: We have completed the interview with Janice Maddox in [her home.] Asheville, North Carolina, January 31st, [2008.] and it is 11:30 a.m.


“Janice Maddox,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1849.