Diana Ramsay




Diana Ramsay




Diana Ramsay


Alice Helms

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Asheville, NC


Alice Helms


Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. Today is March 11, 2008. I'm conducting an interview with Diana Ramsay for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We're at Diana's home in Asheville, North Carolina and it is 10:15 a.m. Diana, tell me about the quilt we have here today.

Diana Ramsay (DR): Well, I chose this quilt because it has such sentimental value to me. My parents, in the early 1930's, made a quilt. It was during the depression, or maybe it was later than early thirties. Anyway, it was during the depression and my father was out of work and so they made this quilt. Now I suspect, although I don't know, that my mother did the appliqué and my father helped with the quilting part. And it was a regular bed-sized quilt and it was on my mother's bed all the years that I grew up and I always loved it. It was pretty and it was neat and it just fell nicely on the bed and it was comfortable to sleep under and I just loved it. So then, many, many, many years later, seventy years later, I made this quilt. And it was through a quilt bee friend that saw my mom and dad's quilt, and she noticed the patterns for these blocks in a magazine and told me about it and I ended up getting the pattern and they're printed in a Kansas City Star book with patterns and I made this quilt. So this one is smaller and the way I did the corners in the blocks, and the shape of the corners of the quilt, and the colors, are different from my parents' quilt, but it has the same overall feeling. Also I enjoyed making the quilt because I had these hand-dyed fabrics that each color group had eight shades of the color in it and so I played with those colors to try to give dimension and depth to the look of the flowers and the pots. So I went ahead and made this quilt without having my parents' quilt with me so it was just my interpretation of the design. So anyway, I love this quilt. It's hand appliqué, [and embroidery.] and it's hand quilting with a little half-inch grid behind the flowers and the pots and this is my personal favorite to put over me when I take a nap.

AH: What happened to your parents' quilt?

DR: My sister has it.

AH: So it's still available to you.

DR: Yeah. And I did a tiny bit of restoration on it because some places were breaking down. And I found some green fabric that matched their green fabric and that helped with the restoration. [Some of the quilting threads had broken. I re-stitched them trying to go in and out of the same holes my parents had made.]

AH: And do you know where they got the pattern for it?

DH: I don't know as a fact but I think that those patterns were published in the Detroit News. They lived in Detroit at the time and I think that was pretty common for newspapers to put patterns in, like one a week, in the newspaper. And I believe those were printed in the Detroit News.

AH: Does this quilt pattern have a name?

DR: Yes, it's called Memory Bouquet.

AH: And you've named your version of it--

DR: "I Remember Mama's Memory Bouquet."

AH: Diana, can you just describe what it looks like?

DR: Well, the blocks are rectangular. There are four across and five down. It has a green sashing and I've got pieces in the corners that make an X. The outside border is a multi-colored print with kind of a pinkish background that complements the colors of the flowers. It's difficult to see but I've developed some quilting designs that I've put in the borders. The corners are angled.

AH: They're all different flowers, right?

DR: All different flowers, different colors are repeated here and there in other blocks but each block could stand on its own.

AH: What are your plans for this quilt?

DR: [laughs.] I'm keeping it. This is my favorite.

AH: Diana, let's talk about how you got started in quiltmaking. Were you self-taught? Did you take a class?

DR: I started out self-taught. Back when I was about 15 years old, I saw a quilt that my grandmother had made and this grandmother died in 1906. So this was probably late in her life. She died young, in her early forties I believe so this would have been [made.] in the late 1800's or right around 1900. One of those white quilts with red flowers, green leaves and a vine around the outside. Four big blocks in the middle. From Ohio. I had gone to my family farm with my parents for years and we slept in one bedroom with two beds and each bed had quilts on them and we just took that for granted, that was the way things were. We slept under quilts at home too. And all those years went by and I never saw this quilt until I was about 15 and my aunt brought it out and showed it to me and [fighting back tears.] it was just gorgeous and I was awestruck and even then, not knowing a thing about quilting or quilts or how they're done, I thought, 'Well this is just magnificent and it should be in a museum.' Very close intricate quilting. So I said to myself, 'I wonder how a person does this and I would like to learn to do this some day.' So all these years go by and I might have been in my fifties (I'm 69 right now) and I was wandering around a craft store one day and they had a book, "Teach Yourself to Quilt." A little booklet. And I bought it and I took it home and I stuck it in a drawer and years went by and then in late 1994, my husband and I started making a transition from Michigan to Asheville, from Detroit, Michigan to Asheville [North Carolina.] and on one of my trips back and forth I took that book out of the drawer and brought it to Asheville with me because I was here by myself while my husband was working up there and I had time on my hands. I was looking for work and the rest of the time was free so I thought, "Well, I'll make a quilt." So I went to Foam and Fabric in Asheville and bought fabrics and I had certain color ideas in mind but they didn't have all the colors I wanted so I bought what they had and I made my first quilt. I didn't have a sewing machine here so I just made it all by hand and I'd never used a rotary cutter and a mat and I just followed the instructions in the book and I made that first quilt. So that was completely hand done. And I had somehow heard of the Asheville Quilt Guild and joined it in I believe 1995, and I entered it in the [Asheville.] Quilt Show and that quilt won Best First Quilt for that year. So that was heady stuff. [laughs.] And I thought, "Oh boy, I like this." So I kept on making quilts. That was very, very encouraging. Since then, I've taken many workshops, both through the Asheville Quilt Guild and North Carolina [Quilt] Symposium and I went to [American Quilter's Society Quilt Show and Contest in] Paducah once and took classes, and other big events. What was the one I just went to? Oh, the Mancuso show in Hampton, Virginia. So, now I can say that I've been taught by a lot of people, but I started out teaching myself.

AH: What does that quilt look like? What was the pattern? The first quilt.

DR: It was a sampler. It had a house and a log cabin and a Dresden Plate and a Star, you know, your basic--I think it had nine blocks.

AH: Do you still have it?

DR: Yeah.

AH: What do you use it for?

DR: I'll always have that one [laughs.] I'll toss that over my lap sometimes when I want to be warm or if my feet are cold in bed and I just enjoy having it.

AH: And what are the colors?

DR: Oh, blue and pink and just a hint of a little gold accent. I was wanting to include greens in it when I bought the fabric and they didn't have any that went with what I was buying, and of course at that point I didn't even think of the fact that you could go to another store and buy more fabric [laughs.] Now I know better.

AH: Diana, tell me about some of the awards you've won and what they've meant to you.

DR: Well, that first ribbon was very exciting and I'd say that the other one that is the most gratifying was that I won Best of Show in Hendersonville [North Carolina.] in 2006 with a quilt called "Earth Cycles" and I consider that quilt, so far in my life, my masterpiece. And it hangs in our living room stairwell. So that was very, very nice to do that. And I've won a number of other ribbons that are not as high a level but it really is encouraging to receive ribbons.

AH: Now, you mentioned the Asheville Quilt Guild, that you're a member, what other groups do you belong to and how does that fit into your quilting life?

DR: Well I've been in a quilt bee, almost from the beginning. It started out with one group of people and as years have gone by, it's changed, who's in the bee has changed. We're at the point where just two of us are original bee members. But, that means a lot to me, because the quilt guild is very big, it's been two to three hundred people and more during the time I've been in it and the bee gives me a chance to know people much more intimately, personally, and you really become friends of the people in your bee. And you share ideas, and you inspire one another and you kind of prod each other along and we just have fun times together, so that's very satisfying. I guess that's the only meaningful membership, I'm a member of the American Quilter's Society but there's nothing active that I need to do to be a member of that. [I am also a member of The Alliance for American Quilts. I try to help them out by entering their quilt challenges/auctions and now by doing Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interviews.]

AH: I'm curious Diana, I know you said your parents were quilters, do you have any other family members who quilt?

DR: As far as my parents go, as far as I know, that involvement in quilting [making the Memory Bouquet quilt.] was my dad's only involvement and all my mother's quilting took place before I was born, so I never saw her make a quilt. And I never knew either of my grandmothers so I didn't see them make quilts. I feel sure that my aunts made quilts, but that was before I was born too and didn't get to see them do it. I think at that time (I was born in '38) that people's ideas had changed from the homemade, handmade things to the industrialized products and so that it seemed like the thing to do, to buy blankets and buy bedspreads and get away from the quilting so I'm very, very glad that there's been the revival of quilting in more recent years.

AH: You mentioned your sister, is she a quilter?

DR: Yeah. She's my older sister, and it's kind of amusing because in our lives I've been the little sister, tagging along and learning from her and when it comes to quilting, I learned first. [laughs.] So that's kind of nice. And, she's taken it up since and she's gotten very involved in it. She lives in Raleigh [North Carolina.] and so it gives us a nice interest in common. We've gone to a lot of the North Carolina Quilt Symposia together. It's a real bonding kind of thing.

AH: How about your children?

DR: No interest. [laughs.]

AH: No quilters?

DR: My daughter just has no interest in sewing whatsoever and my other two children are sons and it's probably the last thing they'd ever think to do.

AH: Have you made them quilts?

DR: Yes. My first thing once I got into quilting was to make quilts for all the grandchildren which I accomplished. Some were bed quilts, some were wall hangings and I've given my children wall hangings. So they all have something that I've made.

AH: Are your grandchildren interested in quilting?

DR: I have one granddaughter that I only see her occasionally because they live in Detroit but she is trying to learn but we only get little fits and starts because it only happens when I'm there or she's here. Hopefully someday she'll want to stick with it and learn more.

AH: Do you feel that quilting has had an impact on your family in some way?

DR: Yeah, I think just because they all have that symbol of my affection for them in the form of quilts and so it's a tangible thing that they have that connects us. With my husband, when I first started making quilts, I think he thought well once I get that quilt done that's going to be the end of it and then there'd be another quilt and then he'd think when that's done that's going to be the end of it. So for a long time now he's realized that this is something that I want to keep doing and that I can pick it up when I have time and I can set it down when we want to do something together. So I try to keep a balance of the time that I spend doing the quilting and the time we have together in our other interests.

AH: How much time would you say you spend, how many hours a week do you quilt?

DR: Oh, let's see, it's probably 15 to 20 hours. Quite a bit. And being that we're here and our families are in other places, I have more time to put into that than probably a lot of other people do.

AH: And where do you quilt? Talk about your quilting room.

DR: My space. [laughs.] Well we have what I would call a third bedroom that's a combination second-level guest room with a sofa bed, and it's a computer room with a computer table and it's my sewing room because my sewing table is there and my ironing board and I've taken over that closet that my husband has fixed up so that I can keep my quilting supplies in there. And he also built the quilting table, the sewing table for me.

AH: Do you have a design wall?

DR: So I use that space and I run back and forth to the dining room table and the kitchen table cutting and planning and then I have a four by eight foam board covered with flannel type fabric that I use as a design wall when I need to and then when the piece gets too big I lay it out on the floor, if it's that big. I'm doing a queen size quilt right now and that's what I've had to do, lay it down on the floor.

AH: So do you use the design wall when you design quilts, when you're working out how to put it together?

DR: Usually. It kind of depends on what the project is. Sometimes I just have an overall plan right off the bat and carry it out; other quilts require a lot of design. The "Earth Cycles" quilt required a great deal of design, putting it up, taking pieces down, moving it around until I got the right combination and balance of all the elements that I wanted in the design itself.

AH: Do you have favorite techniques or favorite materials?

DR: Well, I almost exclusively use 100 percent cotton fabrics, I try to buy good quality fabrics because I feel if you're going to put all that time and effort into it you want to use good material. What was--

AH: Techniques?

DR: The techniques. I like it all. I like the hand work and I like the machine work. I like traditional and I like contemporary and I find that I flip back and forth between all of those elements. I just like all of it. I can't say that I'm crazy about layering but that's rather a chore but as far as probably my favorite part of the process is picking out fabrics and design, getting things arranged to where they're pleasing to the eye and there's a good balance.

AH: Is there something you like least about making a quilt?

DR: Well, the layering. It's just always a pain to have to find a big enough flat surface and tape the fabrics down and if it's a big piece, how to accomplish that on the floor and crawling around on the floor and that sort of thing.

AH: Diana, have advances in technology influenced the way you quilt?

DR: Probably. What comes to mind about that is the free motion quilting and it's not that that's such a recent technology feat, but I think it's that people are using machines and free motion quilting more these days more than they used to. I understand that way back, in the early days of sewing machines some people did free motion work but I just think that it's a lot more prevalent now and that's such a different skill from hand quilting. Very different. They both take time and effort and talent.

AH: Have you ever used a quilt to get through a difficult time?

DR: That first one. Because my husband was in Michigan and I was here and trying to make the transition, looking for work and I would be emotionally up and ready to tackle going out job hunting one day and I'd be feeling discouraged another day and lonely and it helped me get through that time. It was difficult and it went on from September to February, so it was quite a stretch of time. It really helped.

AH: Okay Diana. Now, what do you think makes a great quilt?

DR: Well I think first of all, it's got to have a real impact when you first look at it. There's going to be a wow factor. And that could come in a lot of forms. It could come because it's just beautiful, intensive, lavish flowers or colors or lots of stuff to look at or it could be beautiful and striking because it's graphic and it could be because of the message that the quilt conveys. Something about it is going to really have an impact. That's first. And then I would say when you look at that quilt more closely, it's going to draw you in, it's going to be interesting, you come in closer and you say, 'Oh, look at that, and look at that and look at that. Isn't that neat?' And then you get even closer and you say, 'Look at those stitches, look at those designs. Isn't that wonderful?' And it's so precise or it's just so beautiful. So, at all those levels, it's going to be excellent and that's a great quilt.

AH: What would you say makes a great quiltmaker?

DR: Well I think that person would be very dedicated to the art of quilting. They would really care about what they're doing and would really be striving to do an excellent job. That dedication and constant learning and trying [plus their own creativity, talents and taste.] I think that's the kind of thing that would get you to where you could make great quilts and I think the people that rise to the very top are very rare [laughs.]and that most of us would never get that far and yet I appreciate the wonderfulness of all quilts. All kinds. They can be very rustic and unfinished, not great finishes to them or whatever and I can appreciate the effort that has gone into them and the creativity, the desire to make something look good. The heart that goes into it because it was made for a certain person at a certain time. So I appreciate all of that and all different levels of quiltmaking ability.

AH: Diana, are there certain quilters whose work you're particularly drawn to?

DR: Yes. In our own community, I love the work that Janice Maddox does. It has stood out to me ever since I got acquainted with it. She consistently comes up with lovely design, very pleasing colors and fabric combinations and her workmanship is so precise, it always has a very neat, clean look to it and so much so that it's recognizable and it's hard to put your finger on it but it's just the accuracy and the beautiful workmanship. Also, I admire the work of Theresa Reilly. She was a [Asheville Quilt.] Guild member who made the quilt that hangs in the North Carolina Arboretum and that quilt is just outstanding and she did beautiful, beautiful hand quilting and it's been my goal, when I grow up I want to hand quilt like Theresa Reilly. [laughs.] Her stitches were so beautiful and even. That was very inspiring. So, those two in particular, as far as people around here. I guess the professionals that I would most like to take classes from that I haven't taken classes from would be Ruth McDowell and Nancy Crow. If I could get a chance to take from them, that would be great.

AH: Who were some of your best teachers, speaking of teachers?

DR: Elly Sienkiewicz, she was delightful. She's the Baltimore Album hand appliqué expert, probably [the best known.]in the world. I took a class from her at one of the [North Carolina Quilt.] Symposia and she was so skilled and knowledgeable, just totally skilled and knowledgeable, and such a dear person. She could criticize you and you wouldn't know you'd been criticized. [laughs.] She was so encouraging and it's sort of like your favorite kindergarten teacher but at an adult level on the subject of appliqué. She was wonderful. She'd be at the top of my list. Gosh, I can't just think offhand, maybe I'll come up with something later to add to that.

AH: I think we touched on this a little bit, but maybe you can just talk about all the ways quiltmaking is important in your life.

DR: Well, if I didn't have quiltmaking, I'd have to have something because I think I have too much time and energy and creative spirit to not be doing something creative. So if it weren't quilting, I'd probably be into photography, or weaving or woodworking or something. [laughs.] I just need to do it. I never understood before what a calling is but now I understand because my--now I'm choked up again.

AH: Do you want to stop?

DR: No, that's okay. Whatever my projects are that I have going or I want to do, are just kind of always there saying, 'Come do me. [laughs.] Come do me.' And that's a calling. It's calling to me. And it's just a great outlet for the creative part of my being. There are various artists in my family. I would say my parents had some artistic talent, my sister, her children, all had artistic talent coming out in the way of drawing and painting and that kind of thing and I never felt like I had that but when it got to fabric, that's my medium. So it's nice to see that I've got some of that too.

AH: Do you think that your quilts reflect where you live?

DR: Oh yes. They can't not. [laughs.]Even as simple as the fact that to get the supplies, they have to be available in your area, so that influences what you use in your quilts. What you're exposed to in the way of inspiration has to do with things that I see in our own quilt show and the work of people in my own guild and my own bee and anybody else who brings work to this area. Patterns that are available, of course with today's technology we can get inspiration from international sources which years ago wasn't available so that's an influence too. I've got a book for instance by a Japanese author and I enjoy the Australian magazines on quilting so all of those things play into my awareness of what's out there, what's available, what ideas I can draw on.

AH: Diana, in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

DR: Well, you can tell the story of the history of our country using quilts as a focal unifying element. They've been with us all along, they're an expression of women's abilities and talent and creativity, even in the simplest forms. I just think they're part and parcel of women's history in our country.

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

DR: For me personally, time, energy and space. [laughs.]

AH: That's all? [laughs.]

DR: [laughs.] I think in our part of the world, we're so fortunate. We live a lifestyle generally where so many resources available to us, so much inspiration, so much talent around us, the ability to buy wonderful fabrics and threads, great machines and all that. We're just so fortunate that I don't see big barriers. I think it's just open to our creativity to do what each of us wants to do and can do with it.

AH: We're close to the end of our time. Is there anything you'd like to add to interview?

DR: I can't think of anything offhand.

AH: Okay. Well you've done a great job. Thank you very much.

DR: Thank you.

AH: This concludes our interview. It is now 10:55 a.m.


“Diana Ramsay,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1850.