Irene Fankhauser




Irene Fankhauser




Irene Fankhauser


SharonAnn Louden

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Tecumseh, Nebraska


SharonAnn Louden


SharonAnn Louden (SL): My name is SharonAnn Louden, and today's date is December 1, 2009, at 1:25 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Irene Fankhauser in Tecumseh, Nebraska for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Nebraska State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Irene Fankhauser is a quilter and a member of St. Leger Cowley Chapter. Irene, would you please tell us about the quilt that you brought in today?

Irene Fankhauser (IF): Yes, it is a king size Grandmother's Flower Garden pattern that was about ten years in the making and its fabric from clothing that my grandmother, and my aunt, and myself and my three daughters and four granddaughters had from clothing that we made. I helped them sew when they were young, and they made quite a few of their own so I thought this was a good way to utilize it. I didn't have any idea what to do with it for all these years and one day I got an ad in the mail that had a pattern for this flower garden quilt, and I thought that's it that's what I'm going to use.

SL: What special meaning does this quilt have for you then?

IF: Well, it is because it has all this fabric in it from five generations of the women in our family. Some of them are long gone so I saved all that I guess you could call me a saver. I just felt this was a good way to use it and make it more meaningful for our family.

SL: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

IF: Well, like I said I'm a saver [laughs.] and probably that I have a lot of patience because it does take a long time to sew all the little hexagons together and it's all hand stitched and hand quilted although I didn't do the quilting.

SL: You said ten years what was going on during those ten years the stops and the starts?

IF: A lot of things and I have a lot of interests and I crochet and I go in phases. I'd start a phase of needle of different kinds of needle work. I like crochet and so I made table center pieces and afghans and when I got tired of that I went and did some kind of [counted.] cross stitch and in between I had church work and DAR and oh, just general keeping things going.

SL: What were some of the awards that you won with this quilt?

IF: I won a certificate at the Johnson County Fair from a quilt shop in Pawnee City [Nebraska.] It was for the best hand stitched and hand quilted quilt for which I was very proud of. It was a $10.00 certificate. [laughs.] I didn't get around to using it until this past year.

SL: When did you get the award?

IF: What did get when [both speak at the same time.] it's been two or three years ago.

SL: And you've had some publication because of that?

IF: I don't believe so except the local newspaper and items about the fair.

SL: How do you use this quilt?

IF: Just for display I don't get it out unless I am taking it somewhere or showing it to someone. I lay it on the bed in the guest bedroom, so it isn't folded up and it doesn't get creased.

SL: And what are your long-term plans for this quilt?

IF: As of now I don't really know but I don't want it to be used as a bedspread or anyone particular person. I want it to be saved as an heirloom. Maybe my daughters can pass it around among themselves and if the granddaughters like it someday maybe they'll make use of it in that manner.

SL: Have you given quilts as gifts?

IF: Yes, I made crib quilts for granddaughters and I gave those away gave those to little ones when they were about two or three years old because I didn't get them made when they were born. [laughs.]

SL: How did you begin your quilt interest?

IF: Probably when I was about four years old. My aunt and my grandmother did sew and quilting and well, first I should say that my mother's died when I was two weeks old, and I was taken to live with my grandparents and my mother's sister and two brothers in their farm home, so I lived with them from then on. My father remarried several years later and moved away so my grandmother and my aunt eventually raised me. I was there all the time and just picked it up. Course they helped me. I think I made a doll quilt about when I was five, I got a really nice doll bed for Christmas a big bed it had a drop downside, and it was on wheels. I know one of our neighbors came over with their three-month-old baby and laid him in the crib, so it was that large, but he was too heavy and one of the slats broke. When my girls were old enough to use the bed, my husband had to get a much stronger slat before they could play.

SL: You began quilting when you were young how many hours did you spend learning?

IF: Probably quite a few because I lived on a farm and didn't have anyone to play with in the wintertime and after school, I just did my chores and I had the time and nothing much else to do.

SL: How did you acquire fabric then?

IF: Well, my grandmother and my aunt made dresses for me and they made quilting for themselves, so it was all scraps from that.

SL: And it was different types of fabric?

IF: It was mostly cotton, cotton back then.

SL: Would that be one of your fondest memories of quilting?

IF: Yes, probably when I was about eight my aunt bought me some Sun Bonnet Sue quilt blocks. Twelve crib blocks, I think. They were actually meant to be for a crib quilt. I embroidered those. I eventually got them done but I didn't get them put together until a few years ago and quilted so that's another heirloom [laughs.] the girls will have to share.

SL: Are there other quilters in the family then?

IF: There was my dad's mother who did quilts, and I know lots of friends and relatives that are distant relatives and are gone now did quilting. I just picked it up and liked it. My husband's 95-year-old cousin down in Missouri makes fabulous quilts. She is an inspiration to me. Every time we go to visit her, I get all inspired and I'm going to do something like that to but hers are made of satin and lace, but I don't believe I would make them that difficult.

SL: What was the last visit inspiration that you had with her?

IF: We visited her this fall and she was making a purple and white quilt with a Victorian lady blocks and the Victorian ladies had ruffles for the bustles and pretty bonnets and appliquéd and another one that she had started was with the Victorian ladies and the big hats and each hat was different and back then they were very elaborate so she was putting in lace and breads and braids on them and that is going to be a great quilt with those blocks.

SL: And how would you translate that into what you would do for an inspiration?

IF: Well probably just get busy on my own quilts [laughs.] Keep going.

SL: Do you have favorite colors that you decide that you like to work with?

IF: No, my interests are mostly in the 1930's quilts because I think those are the kinds of quilts that my mother would have made. I think the quilts today they are making now are beautiful, but they don't appeal to me or are something that I would want to make. Of course, the 1930's style quilts are all hand quilted and there was no machine quilting back then. I have friends who make a lot of quilts, but they are machine quilting, so they are made in a short time.

SL: How do you begin a project?

IF: Oh, I take a lot of quilt magazines and I look through them and find something that will fit the scrapes that I have and then I usually just start cutting out some blocks and if I like it then I'll keep going.

SL: And what happens if you don't like it?

IF: [laughs.] Probably I'll put it away [laughs.] Probably I made that floral quilt embroidery flowers with the big blocks and put it together with some blue fabric that I had bought for another 1930's quilt, and I didn't like it. I didn't like it for the 1930's quilts, so I put it with the floral blocks, and it made I thought quite outstanding.

SL: Where do you shop for your fabric?

IF: Quilt shops or wherever they have fabric that I think that I might like.

SL: Do you use mostly plain, or do you use floral or how does that work?

IF: I don't use a lot of fabric from the stores because I have so much of my own and I picked up at antique shops and different bags of old scrapes that someone left and I've inherited some from a few people, so I really haven't had to go buy anything except the sashing and the backing and the batting.

SL: Are you the local quilt lady here that is known far and wide?

IF: No, no, I am not. [laughs.] No.

SL: Has you daughter taken up this quilting?

IF: My oldest daughter has taken up some of her fabric. I have saved fabric from each one of the girls so that they could have their own some day. My oldest daughter made a pioneer dug out with the fabric from her clothing. What she bought was a solid fabric on the outside and the inside was what would have been a curtain for the dugout and that was made with her scraps from her clothing, and she took it to the fair this year. She wanted to make something that was completely hand stitched and hand quilted.

SL: How has quilting impacted your family then?

IF: Oh, they like it they always admire what I'm making otherwise I hope that they will do it some day because they are all busy working now.

SL: Can you tell us some amusing experience because of the quilting that is something you would like to share?

IF: Not really of quilting but I learned to sew quite young and I made a bird and a leaf on a piece of fabric and embroidered it and a year before that when I was about three and I can remember that far back my grandmother took me to visit with her mother my great grandmother and one afternoon and had a hired girl and she was doing some embroidery work and she laid it down to go do something and I picked it up and I sewed and I sewed and I sewed and when she came back she was pretty upset. My grandmother [laughs.] picked out all the knots and all of the stitches and the crooked work that I had done so it was okay again. I think that was probably the first time I handled a needle as far as I can remember.

SL: What is your favorite part of the quilt making process?

IF: Putting it together and seeing it how it becomes a bigger project than just the few blocks that I'm cutting out. I don't care for cutting the blocks because I do it the old fashion way because I have scraps, I just draw around the pattern and cut them out and I don't us a rotary cutter. That's the only thing I don't like about the rotary cutter. That I just don't I just haven't used it enough.

SL: Is there any advanced technology that you have decided to use?

IF: No, I have my mat and my scissors and patterns and cut oh I have a couple of plastic rulers but that's just about all.

SL: Do you have some favorite techniques that you really spend time working with?

IF: No, I don't.

SL: Describe your studio where you do your quilting?

IF: My studio is the basement it just evolved it wasn't meant to be a studio it was where the girls would have their Girl Scout meetings and 4H club meetings and eventually my husband put a pool table down there and then a ping pong table. On top of that the pool table didn't get used much and the ping pong table later on didn't either, but it is a wonderful place to spread out fabric to cut and my sewing machine is down there, and I work so that's just about it.

SL: How do you balance your time when you are downstairs, and you have things to do?

IF: Well, that is difficult to leave it and come back up and start getting supper or putting a meal on the table and doing other things that I have to do. Once I get started, I really don't like to quit but in the evenings I'm usually too tired and I've been on my feet all day and I don't do it because for me it is all moving around, and I just as soon sit and crochet because that doesn't take much effort. [laughs.]

SL: What is the best time of day that you like to quilt?

IF: Any time that I have the time that I can find an extra hour or two and if I'm not tired then I would quilt in the evening otherwise it is just whenever I can find an extra hour.

SL: What do you think makes a great quit?

IF: Really the work the hand work workmanship in other words and the design and the color but I think workmanship is what's really important.

SL: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

IF: The colors the design how it's meant to be used. I really never thought too much about that. I like the looks and that's what appeals to me.

SL: How do you determine a pattern?

IF: I look in the quilt magazines and find something that I like. I either copy a pattern or make it up myself. I have a lot of plain colors that I can incorporate with the printed fabric. I had a babysitter years ago that did quilting for a nursing home and I would help her put the quilts in [the frames.] Sometimes I would help her quilt and when she died her sister gave me most of her quilting material so that is how I acquired a lot of those plain fabrics.

SL: How do you categorize your fabric?

IF: I just keep the printed scraps together and the plain and the white. That's it.

SL: What do you think would be the appropriate criteria for a museum quilt?

IF: Well, I would think it would have to be an old quilt that had some family history behind it and maybe this quilt someday would be a museum quilt with history of our family I have kept a record of all the fabric in it and who it belonged to.

SL: Will you tell us about some of the squares?

IF: I have one that was made of fabric that was my grandmother's dress and it was an old dress and it dated back to the 1920's and then one pattern light blue pattern was from the 1930's as far as I can remember but I can remember her wearing those dresses.

SL: What is the placement of that square on this quilt?

IF: It is up in the left-hand corner.

SL: And the colors?

IF: They are brown and blue and the outside of the plain brown the one next to the yellow center is a sort of an aqua blue floral pattern. Those were very popular back in the l930's and 1920's.

SL: And another pattern piece?

IF: This was made of a fabric that relatives gave me who worked in a garment factory and he had access to the ends of bolts and pieces that were irregular and had flaws in them, so he gave me quite a few and I made dresses for the girls out of them. There was one plaid pattern that was yellow and another one of the same patterns that was green, so I made these two girls dresses one green and one yellow. Then the checked pattern with the grey and the white was difficult to lay out because there was a lot of flaws to it a lot of flaws in that fabric, so it was very difficult to lay the pattern out to avoid those, but it made a cute little dress. And then he gave me fabric for suits and coats, and I made a little suit for my oldest daughter when she was five out of that. The same fabric was in the red, so I made a jumper, so I used a lot of fabric like that.

SL: Tell us about your quilt memorabilia pieces that you have collected.

IF: Well, I didn't really collect them they just came from my grandmother old patterns very old patterns. My aunt took me to Denver to visit a relative back in the 30's and she was a quilter and had all the patterns. She was the one who had the floral blocks that I made into the quilt with the blue sashing. We copied those blocks off onto a long sheet of white wrapping paper and I wrote the instructions for the colors underneath and we brought that home. We also bought a pattern of butterfly blocks and my aunt, and I both worked on them, but they were very time consuming, and the appliqué was done in blanket stitch, and we were particular, and we didn't want the stitches to be uneven, so all the stitches were the same. She died three years later and as a teenager I didn't do much then with the quilt blocks and it was quite a few years later that I finished those and I made twin bed quilts for our daughter's beds.

SL: What were those colors?

IF: I had put them together with green and I also had bed ruffles skirt ruffles made from the green and they had curtains Pricilla curtains I matched. That is the way the room is still decorated.

SL: How has quilt making changed your life?

IF: I don't know that it has changed my life, but it has added to it is something that I can do when I don't have anything else to do. [laughs.] I have never been bored I'm never bored I've never been bored unless I'm trapped somewhere I can't do something that I like.

SL: How has quilt making affected maybe your community and how you perceive it?

IF: I don't know that it has affected the community except when I take my quilts to quilt shows and it adds to the entertainment. People like to come in and see and I get lots of compliments on the quilts.

SL: And friendships because of quilting?

IF: Somewhat yes, I'm not joiner so I don't belong to in any quilt clubs and sewing bees. I like to do it when I want to do it. I don't like to be obligated and then I don't enjoy it.

SL: How do you think quilts are important for American life?

IF: I think that quilts are [clears throat.] important to the history of America because the early settlers had to use pieces of material, they had in order to make quilts they were utility quilts they had to make them to keep warm. My grandmother my dad's mother made a quilt for her mother when their home was destroyed by a tornado and that was about in the late 1890's or early 1900's. Evidently the quilt passed on to another daughter who was a sister of my grandmother and a few years ago when she passed away her son gave it to me because she had put a note on there saying what had happened and that the quilt was made by my grandmother and so I got it kind of around the bush so I have that now too.

[pause 10 seconds.]

SL: How else do you think quilts can be used?

IF: Well besides for display and I would think they could be hung on the wall used as table runners, but I would never use them for a tablecloth I've seen them, but I would never do that. Our church makes quilts for nursing homes and hospitals they can help people who don't really have much, to give them a sense of belonging I believe.

SL: Can you tell us a way maybe you would suggest for people could clean or take care of a quilt?

IF: Well I have laundered a couple of quilts, but I used regular quilt soap and I did it in the summertime when it was warm and put sheets down in the grass and laid them down on the grass I did it on a windy day so I didn't want to hang them on the line it would have been too much stress on the stitching and they dried. But otherwise, I don't know how else I would clean a quilt unless I took it to a professional cleaner.

SL: About how may quilts do you have?

IF: All together probably about a dozen including my grandmothers. The old ones that she had are kind of ragged now. When I was quite small, I remember they had sheep on the farm, and they sheared the sheep and took the wool somewhere and had it cleaned and processed. My grandmother and my aunt made a wool comforter that I still have.

SL: What would be the date?

IF: Probably about 1935 1930.

SL: Colored white?

IF: The old fabric was sort of a brown, lots of browns and blues besides the white.

SL: How do you think is the best way to preserve these quilts?

IF: [pause 5 seconds.] Just by taking care of them I don't know what else I would do except put them in an acid free box or in a closet that was climate controlled.

IF: Where do you store your quilts?

IF: I have them upstairs I have some in acid free boxes and others I have laying on the bed.
[noise due to paper moving.]

SL: What do you think has happened to some of the quilts that you have given as gifts?

IF: Well, they have been kept I've given crib quilts to my granddaughters of course they are grown now they still have them. My daughter brought one home they wanted me to take to a quilt show just last spring.

SL: And how did they do?

IF: It was okay. I didn't get any awards, but it was on display they wanted people to bring quilts that hadn't been shown before and I hadn't made any new ones that I could take so I just took the old ones.

SL: Tell us how she thought it should go to the show that particular one?

IF: Well because I had made it.

SL: And the design?

IF: There were nursery rhyme blocks that I had embroidered. Way back in the early 1940's the Omaha World Herald came out with the quilt pattern embroidery quilt patterns, and I saved them. I was only a teenager, but they appealed to me, so I saved them so when my granddaughters came along, I made quilts with them. One was circus blocks, so I made that. I didn't have quite all the patterns and I had read an action line in the paper a lady from another town nearby was seeking those very same patterns, so I contacted her, and we exchanged patterns and I got all of the blocks for that circus quilt which I thought was rather unusual.

SL: What were some of the nursery rhymes?

IF: They were Jack and Jill and Humpty Dumpy all the standard nursery rhymes that's all I can think of right now.

SL: How old would that quilt be now?

IF: It would be about 27, 28 years old.

SL: And the colors in it?

IF: I put them together with yellow checked material. I'm going to make another one another crib quilt with some patterned fabric some child patterned fabric because I am going to have another new great granddaughter in January.

SL: Congratulations.

IF: Thank you. She has green for her colors in her nursery and so I'm going to put it together with some green fabric with white. I have fabric scraps that have all the children's designs on them, and we thought that would make a cute quilt.

SL: And what shape or pattern format?

IF: I haven't decided it will be a block of some kind of square block sort of random because the patterns in the fabric are all random.

SL: And how do you determine that by the fabric? Does that determine the pattern?

IF: Yes, however much I have left by how much scrapes I have left will determine how big the quilt will be.

SL: How big to you think this new one will be?

IF: I think it will be probably crib size. Yes, I think I'll have enough for crib size.

SL: What will be some of the dating of that fabric she is going to have?

IF: My half-brother was born in 1936 and my aunt bought some child fabric, and she made a little child romper suit for him, and I still have some of that so that is pretty old.

SL: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?

IF: Finding time I didn't work all of those years, but I think women who do work all the time have a difficult time finding time of course with machine quilting so they can make a quilt and have it done in a short time. I really don't care much for machine quilting and as far a long arm quilting is concerned, I don't know anything about it.

SL: Irene is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?

IF: Not really that is about all that I can think of that I have done.

SL: Just one more question. How does your husband help you quilt?

IF: He tolerates it. [laughs.] He thinks there're pretty, but he just does his own thing when I do that he doesn't care and in fact he kind of likes to show them off a little sometimes.

SL: He came that day that we hung the quilt for the pictures, and he was very proud of you. What did you talk about on your way home?

IF: We talked about what I was going to talk about it mostly because I never really discussed quilting with anyone and I didn't know what I was going to say.

SL: Is there one more block you would like to tell us about that is still special in your thoughts?

IF: They are all special really to me and I made clothes from my grandmother's fabric, out of many of them and there was a gray one and I made a maternity outfit [noise due to paper moving.] and I had fabric left from that and I made a sun suit for my daughter [laughs.] After she was born.

SL: Where did you get this resourcefulness?

IF: Well, I depended on myself to entertainment myself because I didn't have any brothers or sisters to play with and living on the farm there is nothing to do except play with the dogs and cats and I just always needed something to do. I remember going to visit with my dad's mother she wanted me, and I wanted her to get something for me to do and she said, 'I never saw a child that always had to be doing something.' [laughs.]

SL: Irene I'd like to thank you for today and I'd like to thank Irene Fankhauser for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 2:10 [p.m.] on December 1, 2009.


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