Linda Cantrell




Linda Cantrell




Linda Cantrell


Diana Ramsay

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Asheville, NC


Diana Ramsay


Diana Ramsay (DR): We're at the home of Linda Cantrell in Fletcher, North Carolina. It's Monday, January 26th [2009.] at 1:28 p.m. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today--are showing me today. Here are the questions: Who made it? The origin of it? The age of it? And describe it? Was it a particular pattern or materials?

Linda Cantrell (LC): Right. Actually, when I first made that quilt, I was quilting totally on my own, not in a guild. It was just to make something for me. So I designed it myself. It's totally an original design and, oh, it depicts my version of the poem, "'Twas the Night before Christmas."

DR: So it wasn't a particular pattern.

LC: No. It was an original design.

DR: And the materials you used?

LC: The materials were probably at the time all one hundred percent cotton because back then the rule was you must use one hundred percent cotton. But, personally, if I'm making a wall hanging now, I would use whatever fabric appeals to me. Because the rule [at the time was.] 'It had to be one hundred percent cotton.' I can assure you everything in that quilt is one hundred percent cotton because I did not break the rules in 1986 when I made that quilt. I think I finished it in '86. It might have been '85. I'm not real sure. It's either '85 or '86.

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

LC: Really, it's the first quilt that brought any national recognition. It was accepted into A.Q.S. [American Quilter's Society.] All my friends said, 'Enter A.Q.S.,' and I didn't even know what A.Q.S. was, the AQS Quilt Show. So I said, 'Okay. I'll do that.' So, I entered it in the show and it got accepted, which everybody is telling me, 'Oh. That's wonderful. It's amazing to get into that show.' So my head was really, really big when I had gotten into the show. Now I want a ribbon. I don't want to just get in. I want to win. [laughs.] Then they called me and wanted to put it in the calendar. Then they called me and said I had a choice, 'I could do the cover of their magazine or the calendar.' After much thought, I decided on the cover of the magazine so it was on the winter edition of the A.Q.S. magazine 1987. That was the quilt that really got my teaching career started I think. That's why I picked that quilt. It's not necessarily my favorite quilt, but it's probably one of the quilts that early on that I was best known for if you want to say I'm known for anything.

DR: Was the magazine called American Quilter at the time?

LC: Yes, the American Quilter.

DR: Is there anything else you'd like to say about why you chose that quilt?

LC: No, other than that. That's the reason I picked that one. I have so many quilts that I think it's kind of like, "Sophie's Choice." [laughs.] Oh. I like this one. No, I'll take this one. So it's really hard to pick. And I think that one may have had the most significance to it. Some of the others are just because I like them for no real reason.

DR: Is there a particular way you use this quilt?

LC: Not at all. [laughs.] Well, there is. I use it with my teaching. It's in my lecture. It's part of body of work. When I lecture at guilds, it's always in the program.

DR: Do you have any other plans for that quilt?

LC: No. That's it. When I quit teaching it will be stored flat on the bed. It's what happens with all my retired quilts. I don't fold them.

DR: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking, and at what age did you start quiltmaking?

LC: Oh gosh, I hardly know how old I am now. I can tell you the year. The year was 1977. And I'm 64 now so you can figure that out. But I was living in New Orleans. And, actually, I had been a painter. Actually, I had tried every craft know to man, but mostly painting. And I decided I needed a blanket and went to the store and, being the frugal cheap person that I am, I said, 'I'm not paying that for a blanket, I'll make a quilt.' I had never seen one or touched one. Didn't know a thing about quilting, but I didn't let that stop me and didn't buy a book either. I just did it then made that gosh awful first quilt that I still have. But it's pretty atrocious, so no, but I'll keep it. I love having that quilt because it's a beginning [that shows how far I've come since I started quilting.] and where I ended up. I think I'm ending up where I started. [laughs.] At this point, I'm getting worse instead of better. My eyes are getting worse. My hands are getting worse, so maybe pretty soon that first one is going to start looking really good compared to the last ones.

DR: So that first quilt was all your own effort and--

LC: Oh, every bit. Yes.

DR: Was there a point where you started learning about quilting from other people?

LC: Well actually I gave up on quilting because living in New Orleans [in 1977.] I had nobody to go to for advice I couldn't figure out how to finish that quilt because I thought you put the back on after you make the quilt. I had no idea what a binding was, so I didn't know what to do. We moved to North Carolina in '81. And then I'm sitting there watching T.V. Oh, actually, I think I was watching Georgia Bonesteel in New Orleans. But when we moved to North Carolina I found out that Georgia Bonesteel lived here. And then I found out she had a shop just down the street from our business. And I went down to her shop and thought, 'Okay, it's time to take a lesson in finishing,' because I had given up on quilting until we moved back to North Carolina. And then I started again with cardboard templates that I was making myself. I bought a quilt magazine on the newsstand, had no idea that you used a quarter inch seam allowance. I used the side of my presser foot as my stitch guide. So my twelve inch blocks, depending on how many pieces they had in them, didn't necessarily turn out to be twelve inch blocks. But somehow I managed to finish that quilt. And then I realized, 'Well, you know, it wouldn't hurt to get some real lessons.' So I took my first lessons to learn the basics and to understand why, because it didn't make any sense to me that if twelve inch [block.] seam allowance was bigger that they wouldn't all turn out the same. I mean, my math is not that good anyway. But anyway, I took a class with Georgia and now she is a good friend of mine. It's kind of ironic that I watched her in New Orleans.

DR: How many hours a week do you quilt now?

LC: Not as much as I'd like because of teaching. I have to travel so much. And it's been nice the last two months. I haven't had to do any teaching, so I've been quite busy with my own quilting. Before I started teaching, I think I probably put in eight to twelve hours a day. I mean, really and truly, I got up in the morning and just go to it and stay at it all day long. And thankfully, I've got a husband who is, bless his soul, he doesn't call and say, 'What are we having for dinner?' He calls and says, 'Are we going to have any dinner?' And I say, 'No. You can eat on the way home.' And he's willing to do that. And he's proud of what I do, so he's never put any pressures on me about the time I spend. So I'm lucky in that aspect.

DR: And what is your first quilt memory?

LC: Every quilt, of any quilt?

DR: Yes.

LC: Because I actually do have a memory. It's [very.] vague. And I don't even know why or where I was, but I'm thinking that my mother was probably in the hospital having a baby. She lost a baby, a sister that I would have had that was born premature. I remember spending the night at somebody's house [while my mother was having the baby.] and they had a quilt. And I probably couldn't have been over three. But I remember feeling of the quilt and it had a hole in it, and I was thinking, 'These people are poor because their quilt has a hole in it.' But I remember feeling of that quilt and I've thought about that a lot. It's funny you asked that. I don't know what color it was. I don't remember anything except the texture of the quilt as I spent the night and then my mother not coming home with the baby that I thought I was going to have. But that's my first memory of a quilt.

DR: Have there been quiltmakers among your family or friends?

LC: My grandmother did some but her [house burned and all her early good quilts were lost in the.] fire. Then as she got older she was like me, she had arthritis really bad. That was in the '70's so she was using a lot of really nice polyester. [laughs.] Her stitches were horrible at that time. They were big and crooked. But she was really quite a good seamstress before. Her early quilts, I'm sure, were very nice. She got to the point that she could barely see, but she didn't let that stop her. She kept hand piecing and I have some of them, but they're just folded and put away for sentimental reasons because they're not anything that I would even think were good enough to finish. They're just, 'Grandma made them, so I'll keep them,' even though they're polyester and awful looking, pretty bad.

DR: Has quiltmaking impacted your family in any way?

LC: John's starving to death [laughs.] He used to have food. Well, actually, John is very proud of [my quilting.] I don't think there is any major impact, especially with us having no children. There is just the two of us. So, except for John not getting anything to eat since I decided to be a quilter, I guess that's [the only real impact.]

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

LC: Probably every day of my life. [laughs.] Not really. I really don't think I've had many truly difficult times. But I do find quilting very calming. I'm a hyper person. (You might not have noticed that.) I don't know how to shut up, ever, so I do find, that if you put a needle in my hand that there is a calming that comes over me, and that's one way you can get me to be quiet. If I'm quilting, I will sit, not talk, and will sew. Sometimes I need that for me because I talk so much. I get on my own nerves. I really honestly do. I think, 'Linda, just sit down and just be calm. Behave yourself.' But I can't. I have dyslexia, and that's part of it. Hyperactivity goes along with the problem. So being a dyslexic person I find quilting very calming. Yes. I guess in some ways it has gotten me through a lot of difficult times.

DR: So that's one way quiltmaking is pleasing to you. Are there other ways?

LC: No. I don't mean to be a brag, but I think we all sometimes find it's hard to say that we like the recognition. I really and truly think, if I made these things and put them in a closet somewhere, I wouldn't be making them to be honest with you. You make it for the recognition that you get. I don't care whether my quilts win a ribbon. That means nothing. But it does mean a lot to me that somebody walks up to my quilts (because most of them are humorous) and if they laugh, that makes me feel good. I guess I'm just a showoff. If people just pass them by and nobody ever says anything and there was no recognition, I probably would not be doing it. I'll find some other way to get some attention.

DR: Are there aspects of quiltmaking that you do not enjoy?

LC: I guess, basting. Pin basting is not too bad. I love the designing part. That's my favorite part, picking [out the.] fabric and making the top, that's what I really like to do. Sometimes the rest of it [can be.] a little bit of drudgery. Even though I do enjoy the soothing part of sewing, but the real pleasure for me is, [interrupting self.] I force myself to finish. That's probably not always good but I made a rule a long time ago, 'If you start it, you finish it because you are not going to have a lot of unfinished projects.' I have no unfinished projects. I force myself to finish them sometime [some may take a little longer but they all get done.].

DR: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LC: Oh gosh. There are so many different things that make a great quilt. There really are, some of the traditional quilts are absolutely fantastic. And then there's also what people want to classify as an art quilt that might be made out of a shower curtain and done badly but something about it makes it good. That's a really hard question. I don't think I really have the answer to that, so many different things and so many different quilts. It's not one thing or even several things. So I don't know the answer to that.

DR: What would you say makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LC: Well, artistically I guess color and composition would be very important, even more so if you're going to go artistically, more so than for workmanship. But I still think, workmanship is very important, but still composition and color are just as important. Design [in general.] would make a quilt stand out. You might walk past a very technically well made quilt that didn't have that pop, that another [that was not as well made. You would stop for that one.]

DR: How about, what you think would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

LC: I think well-known quilters should definitely have some of their quilts in a museum.
Because I don't think they necessarily have to be an older quilt, just a good quilt. I don't think I really know that either, probably a lot of reasons. That's something I probably need to think longer about.

DR: What would you say makes a great quilter?

LC: Again, I sometimes think they're born, not made. I really do. I think it's like any artist. I think you can take lessons and lessons and lessons. You either have it in you to do this or you don't. It's like I say, 'You can't teach color. I think you either have it or you don't.' You can study and study and study and you can try to learn color and you might get the basics down but I think that's born, not made. But you still have to strive at it and work at it [even if you are a born artist.]

DR: How do you think great quiltmakers learn the art of quilting and especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

LC: I think it's all trial and error, and a lot of error [for me anyway.]. [laughs]. I think most of the really well know quilters probably are self taught. They sit down and they just do it not being afraid to say, 'What if? What if I try?' Because I teach quilting I know that, I have people come to me all of the time and they'll say, 'If I put this yellow and this red together, will that work?' I always tell them, 'Try it. What have you lost? You've lost two pieces of fabric. If it doesn't work, throw it away. Then that just gives you another reason to buy another fat quarter.' Don't worry about it. Just try. It's trial and error, and just not being afraid to go ahead and do things and see what happens. I love the challenge of trying to figure something out. Not that that made me a great quilter, but I absolutely love figuring out how you're going to get this little tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny piece. How can I do that? Okay. And then I make 1500 errors until I get there. I eventually figure it out.

DR: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting vs. long arm quilting?

LC: I think they're all totally separate things. And I truly, truly, this is getting back to quilt shows. But I honestly, I think they should not even be judged in the same categories with each other. I judge a lot now. It's like judging apples with oranges. And you can have a beautifully made machine quilt and a beautifully made hand quilt and it's so unfair as a judge to try to say which one of those quilts are the best.

DR: The next category is the function and meaning of quilts in American life. And, why would you say is quiltmaking important to your life?

LC: Function now [days.], I think it's very limited. It's more an art than a function now. I don't think many people actually use these quilts on their beds, or at least I don't. Oh, I don't have a single quilt on a bed. And we use down blankets. What was the other question?

DR: About how quiltmaking is important to your life.

LC: A part of it's income, but I'm ready to give up that income a little bit. [I need more time to be creative for myself.] I have a need to create and so the quilting fills that void. If I had to just sit down and watch T.V., I don't know how people sit down and just fold their arms in front of them and sit and stare at a T.V. [I don't think I could.] because I have to be sewing or doing something else with my hands. So the quilting has to be there even if I were not teaching or drawing an income from my quilts. I would still be sewing just to have something to do because I can't sit still.

DR: In what ways do quilts reflect your community or region?

LC: I don't know the answer. Georgia [Bonesteel.]. Georgia, I think, makes North Carolina known for quilting because when I travel around, [to other parts of the country, they always say.] 'Well, you must have huge guilds in North Carolina cause of quilting is so big there.' Actually, it's not any more so [here.] than some other areas. I think some of the colder climates I go to have more guilds than we do. But I really don't think I know the answer to that either except I think Georgia has put us on the map here, at least in our part of the country. Georgia Bonesteel is, in my travels everywhere I go, Georgia Bonesteel is known. They may not know who another well known quilter is, but they know who Georgia Bonesteel is. It amazes me that so many people say she got them started quilting.

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

LC: Well, that's a hard question too because, honestly, now, today, I don't think they are very important now. At one time [quilts were a way a woman could do something artistic, and they were also functional, used to keep the family warm.] I think now it's more of a huge hobby industry, if anything else. I mean it's, maybe it's a nice calming, soothing recreation for everybody else. Because I don't know people who use bed quilts. Because I make wall quilts, maybe I'm the wrong person to ask that question because, as you can see, I don't hang my quilts on my walls. I don't have any that work well in my house. But, I'm not sure I know the answer to that either.

DR: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history in America?

LC: Oh. I think at one time way back. It was the only way we could express ourselves [artistically]. Women were not respected as a painter or a writer. I mean, it was all men. Woman could at least make quilts. And maybe quilts were not regarded as art back then, but it was an artistic outlet for women early on. But I do think that was an important outlet for women at one time. Now, it's wide open. Women can do anything a man can do just about.

DR: How do you think quilts can be used? Any thoughts on that beyond what you've talked about?

LC: Not really. I don't think I have anything on that either. I'm really a blank slate.

DR: And do you have any thoughts on how quilts can be preserved for the future?

LC: This is a great way to do it. I probably am so sacrilegious with my quilts, but one thing I tell the ladies in my workshop, especially, 'Not every quilt can survive. So use them.' Save the really truly great ones so that they survive because if we protect every one of them, they're not going to be worth anything if the market is glutted with them in fifty years. But I just think they ought to be used and loved and used. And, if you make that baby a baby quilt, that baby ought to use it every day, drag it around, do whatever. Because I've heard people say, 'I made a baby quilt for my daughter in law and she just let him drag it around and wear it out.' Well, great. If I had grandchildren, I would want them to use them. And I probably got off the deep end. That's probably not the question you asked of me.

DR: What has happened to quilts that you've made for family or friends?

LC: I've made very few because I don't make bed quilts, I haven't given many away. My best friend in New Orleans, I made her a quilt. She had a house fire, but she saved the quilt. She had to wash it and wash it [to get the smell of smoke out.] and it's quite faded because of the smoke damage. And I made one for a sister in law when she got married and my brother when he got married and as far as I know they still have them but I don't ask because it's better not to know because I'd be really disappointed if they said, 'Oh. We gave it to the dog,' or something. That would really not make me happy.

DR: You don't sleep under a quilt yourself.

LC: No. We don't. We have a down blanket. I love my down blanket, and actually to make my own bedspreads out of upholstery fabric rather than my own quilts.

DR: Do you belong to a guild?

LC: I do. Yes. Asheville [Quilt.] Guild and Southern Highlands [Craft Guild.]. That's the only two. And our little group, our little P.T.A. [inaudible.] We're Piecers, Talkers, and Appliquérs. It just sounded better to call ourselves something important like P.T.A.

DR: Weren't you involved in the start up of the Asheville Quilt Guild?

LC: Yes. Actually, I was the one that said, 'Let's do a guild.' Because I kept telling Barbara, she was teaching, Barbara Swinea, was teaching a class. I went with her for some reason [one night.]. I wasn't taking her class. [We were talking about starting a guild. We kept saying.], 'We need our own guild,' because we'd been going to Hendersonville [North Carolina.] and their meetings were dragging on and by the time we got home [it would be very late. So that night at her class.], I just said, 'Let's do it.' Barbara and I started calling around and we started the Asheville Guild. She has all the statistics. All that goes out of my head because I don't remember how many came to the first meeting, things like that.

DR: Do you remember about when that was?

LC: '88? Somewhere around '88? Didn't we just have our 25th anniversary? I think at the Christmas luncheon was our 25th, this year I think. I think it was this year. So it's been 25 years or so ago.

DR: And have pictures of your quilts or patterns been published? I know you said that you had-- a cover picture.

LC: Right. My quilts have been in lots of magazines. I think I've been in probably just about every quilt magazine available. And this has nothing to do with magazines, but I just got asked to be on the Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims' internet program. I turned them down though. It would be very expensive to do because they don't pay their guests. You have to fly out to Colorado Springs and then you have to pay for a motel for week and feed yourself for a week. [it could get very costly.] I'm not looking for publicity. If I were just starting out, it would be a real boost to. But yes, my quilts have been in lots of magazines, almost all of the magazines, have had some articles.

DR: Have you ever worked, or owned a quilt shop, worked in or owned a quilt shop?

LC: No. I helped [inaudible.] one time as a vendor. She never asked again. Could have been a reason. Maybe her money didn't come up right. I don't count money real well. Change is hard. [laughs.]

DR: And you said you teach quilting. Is there anything you'd like to say about that?

LC: Well, I travel all over the United States, coast to coast and just got back from teaching quilting in South Africa in September for three weeks, which that was quite an honor to be asked to go over there and quite an eye opener too. I came home with a deep appreciation for the United States.

DR: And that answers the question, 'Have you traveled outside your hometown?' You mentioned that quite a few times.

LC: I've been coast to coast. New York to California to Cleveland, I'm trying to think of, to Miami. I mean I've been almost everywhere. I said one time I was trying to keep up with how many states I've taught in, I think about the only states that I've not taught in at this point, I can't seem to get out to Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. I would love to go to those places. [I've never been there, to those states that is.]

DR: Have you been other places outside the U.S.?

LC: No.

DR: Tell me about the awards that you've won kind of what is most outstanding in your mind about those?

LC: Oh gosh. I've won a lot, a lot. One time I counted them a long, long time ago. It's ridiculous. I mean I really have won a lot. People will say, 'Did that quilt win a ribbon?' Almost all of them been accepted into A.Q.S. except two, and I'm not holding a grudge [laughs.] on those two. I do know which would be the most outstanding ribbon would be to me. A quilt that I made two years ago, "Pat Reaches Nirvana," won People's Choice at the A.Q.S. Quilt Show. For that quilt to win People's Choice, even though there was no money involved, this award and ribbon means more to me than any ribbon that I've ever won. To think that at this A.Q.S. Quilt Show where you've got 30,000 people or 40,000 people going through and they picked my quilt, and these are quilters, my peers, that they picked, "Pat Reaches Nirvana," to be People's Choice. That means more to me than any ribbon I've ever won.

DR: Well. We're about to wrap up. Is there anything else you'd like to say?

LC: Probably dozens of things. Is there any way you can shut me up? But, really, I don't think so. That should cover it.

DR: Okay. I thank you very much.

LC: You're welcome.

DR: Again, this is Diana Ramsay interviewing Linda Cantrell at her home in Fletcher, North Carolina, on January 26, 2009, and it is now 2:05 p.m.


“Linda Cantrell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,