Sara Hill




Sara Hill




Sara Hill


Alice Helms

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Black Mountain, NC


Alice Helms


Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. Today is March 19, 2008. I'm conducting an interview with Sara Hill for the Quilters' S.O.S. -Save Our Stories project. We're at Sara's home in Black Mountain, North Carolina and it is 1:50 p.m. Sara, tell me about the quilt you chose today.

Sara Hill (SH): That is a round robin quilt that was started in Topeka, Kansas and I made the center block and a friend of mine made the borders around the outside and this was started in a group called the Quilt Buddies in Topeka, and I was leaving town and so we decided to go ahead and keep doing it and mailing the quilts back and forth to each other, and so we did that and then we met at Paducah that first year, which was '94, and swapped our quilts and we had not seen our own quilts for all that time. So it was a real memory quilt and all those friends were really my close friends. And I also entered it in the North Carolina [Quilt.] Symposium one year and it's the only quilt I've ever made and entered anywhere that won me any money. So. [laughs.] And it won it for the best use of color. So I chose it partly because of the sentimental attachment to it and partly because it's one of the better quilts that isn't a pattern by somebody. It's a created quilt that good friends made.

AH: Why don't you describe the colors.

SH: They're really something. I started out, and for the life of me I can't remember the name of the fairly famous appliquér that I made that block with in a class. It has oranges and blues and greens in it and then my friend sewed mostly greens with a lot of oranges and blues for the borders. I had left a little of the appliqué flower fabric in the box and so there are more of those appliquéd around and it's just a very bright colorful quilt that fits beautifully in that spot.

AH: Why don't you describe where it is hanging.

SH: It's hanging in my sewing room which is my guest room and it is the master bedroom but I don't sleep here. And it just fits that space nicely.

AH: And what are your plans for the quilt?

SH: It will stay right there until I have to move. [laughs.]

AH: Sara, tell me about your interest in quilting. At what age did you start quilting?

SH: I was trying to figure that out today. I started in the late seventies I think and I was probably in my forties and it was when the revival of quilting came about and I started doing a little bit of classes with Virginia Robertson who had a shop in Oskaloosa, Kansas and took classes at a community college and then more with her later but then about in the mid-eighties, I took a very difficult job and quilting was very, very helpful to me to get away from that difficult job both at night and then when I would go away for weekends and symposiums and various places and I went all over the country taking classes from various people and it was a very great help in that stressful job. And I didn't start teaching until I retired which was 15 years ago. And I just went in the shop in South Asheville and told the shop teacher that if she ever had any need for somebody to teach, I would be happy to and one of our guild members had just left town and so I got to teach appliqué down there. And I've been teaching ever since.

AH: So teaching wasn't your first career?

SH: No. I was a clinical social worker and worked at a psychiatric hospital and I was the director of the children's outpatient department for awhile and that was what was so difficult. But I did some teaching in that of course, but nothing big.

AH: Sara, what is your first quilt memory?

SH: I have a hard time thinking about that but nobody in my family has ever quilted, that I know of, and even in the broad range of the family. I think the first memory I have of it is probably as a young adult. I went to Williamsburg at the public center there where you go in and buy books and so forth, like at the Folk Art Center here, and they had a book about quilts, all different kinds and they had the names of them. It wasn't Barbara Brackman, this was before Barbara Brackman got into this I'm sure. And I just was riding in the car and looking at that book and I just loved it and I thought it might be a hobby some day and then of course I went to graduate school, and I starting working and I didn't get into it until later but I think that was the first thing I remember. I don't remember even seeing one before that, anywhere.

AH: Not in your home, not in your grandmothers' homes?

SH: Nobody ever had any. My mother made one eventually but I had to teach her how and she did not enjoy it. She really did not want to finish it. I pushed her and made her finish it. She was the only one in my family who ever made a quilt.

AH: Did she have an interest in learning how to quilt?

SH: Well, she wanted something to take along with her when she and my father were going to Europe for three months and she wanted something small to take along. She was a knitter and a crocheter but that's bulky, so she saw me appliquéing and she thought appliquéing would be a good thing to do so she appliquéd those blocks while she was on that trip and I think she kind of wanted to give them to me to make the quilt for her but I wouldn't do it. [laughs.] So she finished making it. And she quilted it too but she put a sheet on the back and I didn't know that until after she'd already started it and she found that very hard to do. But she finished it and it's in our house in Montreat. [North Carolina.]

AH: Is there anyone else in your family you've taught to quilt?

SH: Well, I've taught great-nephews. We have a summer house in Montreat and the boys come up for a couple weeks in the summer, several of them do, and well, they started about age seven and they'd sit on my lap and I'd run the machine with my foot and they'd maybe push things through. We drew lines on for them to follow. So I taught them. Every year when they come we make another quilt, or pillow, or something.

AH: How old are they now?

SH: One's twelve, eight and nine. The nine-year-old knows how to work my computer quilt machine better than I do. So we have a good time together doing that. [15 second pause.] I've taught cousins too. I have cousins in Montreat as well and I do teach classes over there in the craft area but all the people I seem to get in the classes are my cousins. I have lots and lots of cousins. So they're often over there.

AH: Have you made a lot of quilts for members of your family?

SH: I've made more than they care to have, I guess. And that's how I got into making all these community quilts and all these charity quilts. That's something I really had thought I wanted to talk about a little bit on this because I think making those community quilts is helpful to everybody. I'm living in a retirement community and I have lots of friends over here who have joined me in wanting to make quilts. They've made them in the past. I have one friend who said she would just stare out the window with nothing to do until I taught her how to quilt and she's been retired for a long time and now she makes four or five community quilts a month. I think that's tremendous and of course it's wonderful for the people on the other side who are getting these and of course most of them come through the Linus Project that we make here and they're small and kid-sized quilts and kid-sized fabrics and so forth, that these older people really like to make. I do too. My favorite thing is to make quilts for kids. I'm just so pleased with how good it is for the older folks and the little ones too. I will continue to do that and my family probably won't get very many new quilts because they've got more than they need.

AH: Tell me more about the groups you belong to that make quilts for the community.

SH: Well I started a small group in Black Mountain, we started calling it Learn, Sew and Give and it was to teach people in Black Mountain how to quilt, and then they could sew the quilts and then give them away. And I had liked the Linus Project at that point. I assume people know what the Linus Project is. It's for traumatized and hospitalized kids and giving to kids all over this area. It's a national organization. The kids in the hospital, kids from the police department and so forth, when they're removed from their homes. Anyway, we make really nice quilts for them. We don't try to hurry, we have a shop here that gives us lots of fabric and most people will come and get the fabric. I fill up my car so it looks like a traveling shop and back it up to the senior center and they go out there and they pick the fabric and many of them take it home and sew them at home or sometimes they'll cut them there at the senior center and they bring them back as tops and we find backs for them. We have lots of batting too, the Linus Project, which is donated batting. Last year we made over 200 quilts out of that little group. And then of course, the Asheville Quilt Guild makes lots of quilts that way. This year I'm the Community Quilts person which I have been several times in the past. We made what, about 300 quilts last year given to various places, both nursing homes and for kids. And for Habitat for Humanity and the Presbyterian Home for Children. [in Black Mountain, North Carolina.]

AH: What's that like when you actually give the quilts to the children or to the adults, the recipients?

SH: Well you know I've never done that. I give it to the Linus Project contact person and they give them out. I go to their tea and I go to the Make a Blanket Day that they have and they read letters and I sometimes get letters back from people but I've never been the giver, directly to the person and that part. I just know they like them. I don't need to have that kind of feedback. That may come from being a social worker where you don't get that kind of feedback very much. I haven't done that. I'll have to try that this year. [laughs.]

AH: Why don't you talk a little more about your involvement with the Asheville Quilt Guild?

SH: Well I had been a member of the Asheville guild even before I even moved to Asheville. Because I knew I was going to be moving here some time so I wanted know what was going on there. And, I don't think I'd been to a meeting though. I had seen the Asheville Quilt Show though from almost the very start because I used to come here in the summer for vacation. But since I joined in '93, I've been an active member. I've been the President and I've been the Community Quilts person several times but I think those are the only official roles I've had. I work on the quilt show. I guess I was the Vice President once. And I belong to three bees. One of my bees is interested in miniatures and we make blocks for each other and we also swap fabrics so now we're using our swapped fabrics for the community quilts. I belong to another one that's just a regular bee and then I belong to a third one that I think is going to not exist, just join another one so we've had a hard time getting that one going. I really like that part.

AH: Sara, how many hours a week do you spend on quilting or quilt-related activities?

SH: I really don't know because if I'm going anyplace, I'm usually going to a guild activity, to a bee or to teach. And when I'm here, I love to read. So I do read a lot. If it isn't quilting, I'm reading. But if I'm not doing those things, chances are I'm making a quilt. So it's a big part of my life.

AH: What's your favorite thing about quilting? What aspect of quilting or what technique or what activity do you like the best?

SH: Well I was trying to remember that and it's like F-T-C is what I was remembering, Friends-- Technique or Teaching for the T, and C is for Community quilts and giving them away. All those things. I don't feel myself to be an art quilter at all. I like quick techniques where you can put things together fast and they come out looking pretty and they come out looking like they were hard but they weren't. I like to teach those quickie kinds of ways to do, either in class or to friends. I like Quilters Newsletter magazine but I like the one Quick Quilts better because that's more my interest. I used to love to appliqué and I thought I might answer you that question, that I love appliqué best, but the older I get, the less I like appliqué [laughs.] I like doing more production now than I do the really careful stuff.

AH: What do you like least about making a quilt?

SH: Probably the quilting of it. I do most of it myself but it's not my favorite thing to do. That's why there's a big pile of tops over there that need to be quilted. And I don't give them out much, unless I've made a real huge one that's too big for me to do. I do a lot of the quilting for the Linus Project people too so I do a lot of quilting but it's my least favorite thing.

AH: Do you do hand quilting?

SH: No. I used to. I had made a whole cloth hand quilted quilt for my niece and that was the end of my wrists and my fingers for hand quilting. And I learned machine quilting to go faster and I'll do anything to go faster. So I like that. I don't do anything fancy with machine quilting. I like to learn a new technique too. I go to a lot of classes. I take a lot of the guild classes and go to the symposiums and different places and will take a class just because I'm interested in it and have a closet full of things that I have started and then didn't finish but I just loved learning the technique.

AH: Do you have a favorite technique or a favorite tool?

SH: Well, like I say, the appliqué probably is my favorite technique but now I would guess more the quickie things that you can turn out in a hurry. Tools, no. I certainly have a lot of tools. Somehow I seem to have collected them over the years. I teach at AB Tech [Asheville-Buncombe Technical] Community College and fortunately when you collect tools and teach you can have them there available for people to use in class and so I do that a lot with my older tools and it works out real nicely because a lot of people taking classes really can't afford all the expense of starting out. All the equipment and the fabrics. It's really quite a layout of money to start with. So what I do is I let them use my tools until they collect enough coupons from the various craft stores to get the different parts that they need. So that's the way I value tools.

AH: Okay, let's talk about teaching. How long have you been teaching quilting?

SH: Fifteen years now.

AH: And you teach beginning quilting?

SH: Mostly. And at shops I teach various projects, a whole lot of projects but I like to try to concentrate on a technique when I teach in a shop so it would be appliqué or machine quilting for beginners or right now on Saturday I'm doing Mary's Triangles for a class. I taught Carol Britt's quickest quick quilts last Saturday. At AB Tech it's the beginners. And I have an intermediate class there too where we do the harder things. What I really love is teaching those beginners though. We have a good time together.

AH: What kind of person is a beginner quilter? Who are they and why are they wanting to learn how to quilt?

SH: Well, I would say maybe the most of them are in their forties, some in their fifties and AB Tech allows people over 65 to take the class for free so there's some of them too. The women have either school-aged or sometimes even younger children and it's their night out and they want to learn something interesting while they're doing that. Sometimes they come in groups of two or three, with their buddies and want to learn something together. The older ones, I had a few whose husbands had just retired and they may never have been employed but the husbands are home all the time and they want to get away and this time I've got a Russian gal in my class and she's over here with her husband with nothing to do particularly and she thought that would be a good idea. I have a few men. I have a hard time with the men because if they've come with their wives, they want to make a quilt together. That does not work. So I have started recommending that when they do that they both need to make a quilt. And that's been much more successful. A few single men come in. I've had some students come but they usually find themselves too busy after they get started and don't last. But there are 16 in each of two classes so it's quite a variety.

AH: And they end up with a quilt at the end of, what is it, eight weeks?

SH: Eight weeks. Or at least they get the top done. Most of them. A few years ago, they had to take it two or three times to get the top done. And I don't know whether it was something I did or whether people are just different but one thing I did do was start taking pictures. On the eighth class I take a picture of what they've done no matter what it is and somebody gets on the table and looks down on it if it's just blocks. Most of them have the top made and we go out in the hall and we take a picture and I have a couple of albums there now of their pictures and I think maybe that inspires them to know that they can make a top during the eight weeks. Because most of them don't even know how to rotary cut when they come, and are scared to death of color. So they really learn quite a lot over that eight weeks. I think this time maybe all but one or two are going to have their quilts to take pictures of next week.

AH: Do they all make the same quilt?

SH: Well I have a packet of stuff that I give them that has patterns in it and now with the Internet so available, they can get patterns off the Internet and they get twelve-inch blocks and I didn't want them to have the same quilt, to have forty-some of the same quilt all over Asheville every quarter and I thought that would be pretty awful. [laughs.] So they're making a sampler quilt but they have all these options and with the Internet now, none of them really look alike anymore. But they're all twelve-inch blocks and they all have either squares and rectangles, is our first start, then we do half-square triangles, then we do quarter-square triangles. And it could be anything of those styles and I teach them templates too so they can make those too. And the colors are so different so that you really don't see the same quilt all over the place. I am very proud that I've had a few of them win the prize for their first quilt at the Asheville Quilt Show. I've had three of them who have been able to do that. And they love that of course and I love it too. Several of them had entered their sampler quilts.

AH: Are there students you've kept in touch with?

SH: Oh yeah. Of course the guild has lots of my students in it from long ago and they've kept up and so forth and some of my better friends are people who started out in class and I got to know them and all over the place I run into people who know who I am and I can't remember their names which always embarrasses me a little.

AH: I wonder how many students you've taught in your career.

SH: I was awarded the Teacher of the Year at AB Tech in '06 and the director there thought I had taught, what did she say? Not 1,000 surely, well I'm not going to be able to remember how many but it had been three quarters for twelve years that I had taught there. So there were a lot of students. Some of them were repeats but there's been a lot. And some of them don't stick to it, you can tell that. Some of them bring their tools back and want me to sell them to the next class. [laughs.] But most of them I think stick at it one way or another.

AH: What's the hardest thing to teach a beginning quilter?

SH: Enough confidence to feel like they can make a quilt. It's hard for me to teach rotary cutting to 16 people who don't know how when I'm the only one in the room who does. So if you ask what's hard to teach, that's hard to teach because of the number of people there. But most of them come in and [say.] 'I don't know if I can do this,' and 'Did they really do this in class?' when they see those pictures. And I promise them they're going to like their quilt and I haven't had anybody yet who says they haven't liked their quilt when they get to the end. So, it's really that confidence that they can really make it and they're going to like it and they don't have to give it to the cat when they finish, that they can actually use it and give it if they want.

AH: So it's all machine quilting in the class.

SH: Right.

AH: And machine piecing.

SH: Well, some people want to hand piece. They'll do that for about three sessions. And then the newspaper or the shops find them shopping for a machine of that kind. Very few of them have stuck out the hand piecing all the way through. They just can't go fast enough and they get frustrated with it. They find it relaxing and they certainly have anybody's permission to do both hand and machine but it's just a little too slow for most people. I think I have one now that's doing all hand quilting. And she's kept up. She must have a lot of time.

AH: Have you had any students who have inspired you or changed the way you quilt?

SH: Well, I've had some students who kind of do it with me, they ended up being my friends and giving me ideas for quick quilts and find it for me. I have one friend who kind of ended up being an assistant in class, she took it so many times. She repeated it so many times just for the fun of it. That was nice. But we don't do art type things where we inspire one another.

AH: Sara, tell me about awards you've won for quilts. You mentioned that one.

SH: Well, I've won a few. I won in Kansas. It was Viewers' Choice for one. I don't enter very much. [laughs.]The first one I entered in Asheville won first place because there were only three quilts in the show. It was some guild that doesn't exist anymore that had a show at the Civic Center. So that was my highest prize. I've won a few. I entered in the Western North Carolina show but I don't make quilts to enter shows. I'd much rather make them for someone else and give it to them than win contests. Or display them in a show.

AH: But you said that you have had quilts that have been published, pictures of your quilts.

SH: We had some people come up from a magazine, right now I can't remember the name of the magazine, and were taking pictures of various quilts that we had, I think they may have been in the show, probably the first year I was here and I put one in that was not to be judged and about six months to a year later, there it appeared on the cover of the magazine and I hadn't heard anything from anybody and I looked at that quilt and I thought, 'That is very familiar.' [laughs.] And sure enough, that was my quilt. And they did have my name on it but they hadn't asked permission but I didn't care. That's the only one that's been published. [laughs.]

AH: What about technology? Are there some of the advances in technology that have influenced the way you quilt?

SH: Well I like my Bernina sewing machine. And I don't use all the bells and whistles on it but I sure like it being so even, a good stitch and all that. Then I got EQ [Electirc Quilt, a quilt software program.] a few years ago when I had been teaching a year or two and it sure is nice not to have to draw all those patterns and do all that stuff I'd copy for the students at AB Tech and be able to make the templates and that kind of thing off of EQ but I don't design on EQ at all.

AH: Sara do you have favorite quilt teachers, who have taught you?

SH: I started out with Virginia Robertson in Kansas. I loved Mimi Dietrich when she was here and we were doing appliqué. [10 second pause.] I've just had so many of them. I take all kinds of classes when I can, I just can't think of any one particular one that was - well again, I love miniatures, I don't make them much anymore but Sally Collins came and stayed with me when she was here at the guild and I just absolutely love her stuff. I can't emulate it but I love her stuff, which is interesting because I'm not really interested in precision but I do love looking at her precision and she can be so precise. Wonderful.

AH: Sara, do you want to describe your studio, your quilting room?

SH: My quilting room is my guest room and I have a trundle bed in it that is always stacked high with things, quilting projects and so forth. I guess I have this basic theory that if you put it away you're not likely to get it out and do it again right away [laughs.] so I leave it out in hopes that I'm eventually going to do it. I have quilts all over the walls. I have a design board that I use some of the time. I used to put blocks out on the floor and then I discovered it's much better to put them up and it's better on my back also to put them up. I have a nice new sewing machine and a tall table and a fairly large cabinet for the machine and an ironing board right next to it. It's the room I live in all the time and when I have company I have to scrape it out and make room for somebody to come visit me.

AH: Overall, Sara, why would you say quiltmaking is important to your life?

SH: Well, to be in contact with people. It gives me lots of things to do and I'm the kind of person who likes to have something to produce and a project going all the time, now I have about four or five going at a time. I think I like to keep working past 65 and I like to teach. I would not think of continuing in social work that way but quilting has given me satisfaction that way.

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

SH: Well, I hope we can keep focusing on comfort quilts. I think quilting is getting very sophisticated and lots of art quilts coming up which are beautiful and need to be in museums and need to be looked at by people as art, but what I'm interested in is the comfort that they provide to the maker and to the receiver. I don't know that that's a challenge because I think there are people in both categories. I don't see much of any other challenge in it, just keep going if you can, keep it alive. I'm working hard I guess to keep it alive but I'm not doing that on purpose to keep it alive, I'm doing it on purpose because I enjoy it and I think other people enjoy it too. And they do. You know, we have all kinds of crafts, like I started out knitting and crocheting and crewel and cross stitch and all those things, they're not nearly as friendly, they're not nearly as social and people don't seem to stick up for them like they stick up for quilting, there's so much variety in it and so many ways to contact one another. I think it's terrific for people. Let's keep it up.

AH: We're almost at the end of our time, and I was just wondering if there's anything else you wanted to add.

SH: [15 second pause.] I can't think of anything at the moment.

AH: [10 second pause.] Okay then. This concludes our interview. It is now 2:25 p.m. Thank you Sara.


“Sara Hill,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,