Joan Fincher-Bevan




Joan Fincher-Bevan




Joan Fincher-Bevan


Lynn Kinsell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Fallon, Nevada


Lynn Kinsell


Note: Joan Finch-Bevan is not a member of the DAR. However, while this is a quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Lynn Kinsell (LK): This is Lynn Kinsell [with the Washoe Zephyr Chapter of the.] Daughters of the American Revolution, interviewing Joan Fincher-Bevan, on September 17, 2007 for the oral history project [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] of The Alliance for the American Quilt. Joan that is a handsome quilt that you brought with you. Tell me a little bit about it. Who made it? What its origins were? How old it is?

Joan Fincher-Bevan (JF): I'd be happy to. This quilt is the result of a project I began in 1994 when I arrived in Fernley and met some people who were quilters. Through that experience I started interviewing them and taking their photographs. This quilt is a result of that project which actually took about four years to work with and then ongoing for a total of about ten years to get everything collated and get it all organized. This quilt has several parts to it. The main thing is that it is a signature quilt of all of the participants of the project I was studying and along with the signature is a brief description of one of their quilts. Some of the ladies that I interviewed had maybe just one quilt and others had up to ten and so I photographed all of them. But I picked one, or they picked one, which they thought was their favorite. I used that then as the story behind the little square that had their name and along with the name and their little story, I drew a little block of their quilt, a little square of their quilt. [pause.] I was looking at the label on the back so I didn't miss anything. Around each of the squares that has their block, that has their signature, which is on muslin, I put fabric that was used from a previous quilt, which was actually my first quilt made and taught to me by a lady in Fernley, who is also one of the participants in this project. The backing material is muslin and the border is purchased fabric, the border and the trim, the fabric around each of the signatures.

That quilt was a paper piecing quilt taught to me by a lady named Ruth Pitts, and she was a lady that lived a very frugal life. She used scraps of clothing that were given to her or people gave her fabric or whatever. She told me to just cut some little strips of what fabric I had, or she had fabric for me to start out--was the start of this paper piecing quilt. We put our sewing machines side by side in her little home and she taught me to how to make that little quilt. She used--actually paper piecing uses paper as heavy as copy paper but she was very frugal like I said, and she used telephone book paper which I would not recommend because it's very difficult to tear it off. Anyway I wanted to learn her method and her way of doing that and it was a very good experience.

I enjoyed listening to the lady talk about her experiences and so forth while we were doing the quilt. So that fabric had meaning to me, the scraps of that project had meaning to me to also put into this quilt. So, basically, it's a traditional signature quilt using scrap fabrics from other quilts which, in turn, were scraps from clothing turned into quilt fabrics. So that was kind of a description of the front of the quilt.

LK: Tell us about all the work you've done on the back of the quilt. You feature a lot of items back there.

JF: I believe in making a label for every quilt. One of the things I learned when I was studying these people and their quilts was the majority of them, I think it was more than half--when I went back and made a list more than half of the people had put no signatures, no information, on any of their quilts and the majority of the quilts were family quilts and they had to rely on what they remember someone told them about it, or guessed. Some of the quilts had an embroidered name or date on it but that was it. I understand even now that the value of the quilt is enhanced a great deal by having a label with the history of it on it.

I use the Pigma-Micron pens which come in many colors and then I take my photograph of the quilt and put it on muslin. I started off going to Kinko's and doing the work there to have the photographs taken so they could be run on cloth and now I've learned to do it with my own printer. I could have photographed the quilt and generally the person who made the quilt, and then I would start out by the title of the quilt, the name that they give it, and then I put also underneath other names for that pattern. It could be Grandma's flower quilt that they have, but the design may be Dresden plate or maybe something else so I try to include on the back other names, or if it's a variation of that quilt. Then I put the size down, the length and the width, the year that it was started and the year it was completed, where the work was done, the city and the state, and who the person was who put it together. In this case it was myself who did the sewing; the quilting. Some of it was done by me but the majority of it was done by each of the participants. I took the quilt to the Senior Center and had the ladies come there and quilt their own little section with their signature. That was fun to have pictures taken of that. And then I describe in its entirety, as much as I can, and I have had labels that have ended up being almost two feet long on the back of a quilt. Specifically, one that I did as a consignment for a lady who made the blocks back when she was interned with the Japanese Relocation Camp in Poston, Arizona and I put those blocks together for her around 2000 when I did that. So that quilt--I wanted her whole story and her family was excited about that. It gave more meaning to that quilt.

The other labels that I put on the back were--I felt that the quilt needed to be shown to advertise the project and in some cases. I think it was the Nevada State Fair, in which I also showed the book that I put together with the photographs and the stories of the people so I could give people knowledge that there are others in the community that have quilts. I have a third place Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa, California with a picture of the quilt, folded this time, at that show.

LK: What year was that?

JF: That was in 1999. The Nevada State Fair was 1998. The Truckee Meadows Quilt Fair, which is the biggest little quilt show in the West, September 13-14, 1997. Then I had Lyon County Quilt Fair and that was also 1997.

LK: That's a Blue Ribbon, isn't it?

JF: Yes. I took it to San Pedro in California, Los Premares Auxiliary of Assistance League of San Pedro and that was just for exhibit. They always give magnificent, huge, rosette ribbons. That was also 1997. That was fun because that was in a beach community and this was a story about country quilts in Fernley, Nevada which is actually the title of my exhibit, the quilt is called Country Quilts in Fernley, Nevada. They were interested and I had my book there also with the people, they were really interested to see what country people did and what [quilts.] they owned. So that's kind of what's on the back of the quilt.

The center portion of the front of this quilt has a story of its own. These blocks--let me see if I can remember how many there are, but in the center--this is why they are so wild. I like bright colors and I like confusion in a quilt. The blocks are probably--let me see, how many squares? I think it's a Nine Patch but because of the triangles it can be interpreted as a Flying Geese. These blocks were made by a lady named, Margaret Turley, who's long time family has lived in Fernley but when she lived in West Virginia in the 1950s. She didn't have a lot of money she said and she had several children. For her pleasure, because there was no TV or radio, she made these quilt blocks out of scraps of clothing that she had--another frugal lady. She left the squares, never finished it [as a quilt.], and put them [in storage.] when she moved to Fernley, Nevada with her family and her husband. She put these blocks in a barrel. She also put other items that were family items in a metal barrel with a metal lid in a shed that obviously had not been gone into for some time because it was full of spider webs and I am terrified of spiders. So she said that there were several blocks. This particular quilt--and there were blocks for another quilt. She said that if I would go in there and get them [the quilt blocks.] I could have these blocks, the flying geese. She would have me make a quilt for her out of the other ones and she would give them to me. So I was real excited about that. I went, as I remember rereading my work, it said that I found them. They were almost on top when I took the lid off. She was laughing because I was wearing rubber gloves and a hat and everything to prevent me from getting the spiders on me.

LK: You're smart, there're poisonous spiders here. At least you knew there weren't mice in there.

JF: Well they couldn't get into the metal can which is wonderful. So I found the blocks and they were sitting, like they had been just ironed and they were all flat and in perfect condition. I put those in the center of the quilt. That was another one of the first experiences I had and I wanted to treasure that moment.

LK: Where do you think these fabrics came from? Are they clothing or rice sacks?

JF: She said that they came from shirts and dresses from her husband and herself and children. You could tell by some of the flowered ones, and the polka dots. They're definitely from the 1940s and 1950s. When a person says that this quilt was made in the 1950s you can't always say that the fabric is from the 1950s because a lot of people like my mother put clothing in rag bags and kept them for rags. So these are a lot of fabrics that are possibly from the 1940s.

LK: What gave you the idea for this quilt when you started?

JF: I knew I wanted to make a quilt around the project because I have an interest in making quilts that have a meaning for the person I am giving it to or for myself. I found out that I was interested in doing a quilt because it reflected something in history and this quilt then reflected this ongoing project.

LK: And when the ladies had to pick one quilt for you to photograph, how did you and they pick that one quilt?

JF: I photographed all the quilts; if they had ten I photographed ten. Then, for the project, just to have a brief book for people to look at, I picked out a couple. Otherwise it would just be massive. I counted. I had 112 people that I interviewed and there were 378 quilts that I wrote about. I thought, when I said originally that I had over 200, it seemed like that.

LK: And in a way, it was.

JF: It was.

LK: What's your plan for this quilt?

JF: I show it whenever I can. When people are interested in the quilts in Fernley or they ask me about the project and when I began it. The people who were involved in it keep saying to me, 'When are we going to see that again?' So, if there's an event at the Senior Center that's coming up or if there's an event in the city, I'll bring it out and show and retell the story, and then the people like to look at it again.

LK: When the ladies came in to quilt on their square, did they tell you what they thought of the little rendition of the blocks from their quilts? What was their reaction to those because you did a magnificent job of reproducing those?

JF: Some of the people, I was able to return to and to their home, and have them sign. In the beginning, I hadn't planned this, but as I went along in my project--when I had them sign a permission, I also had them sign a piece of muslin. So I learned as I went along. So then, the early people, if they were deceased, I went to their permission slip and made a copy of it on the fabric, so that everyone was involved in it. So there's 112 people listed on this, and of course people have come back to me, who see me. They say, 'I have another quilt,' and do I want to put that in the project? At some point you have to stop because--

LK: Sounds like you have a 'living project.'

JF: I do, I really do. This quilt could get bigger I'm sure.

LK: How did you get interested in quiltmaking in the beginning?

JF: I have always enjoyed quilts, and I had family quilts. My mother didn't sew but her mother made a quilt. My father's mother, I have a quilt from her. Her family was country people and they sewed a lot and they made quilts and I was very lucky to get one of them from one of my second cousins. So I have one of my great-grandmother's quilts on my father's side of the family. On my first husband's side of the family they were from Texas and they were country people and they had a lot of family quilts. When I say country people and quilts I mean quilts that were made because they were needed. They were made from scraps because that was available. Sometimes they made pretty quilts from new fabric but it wasn't likely that they had the advantage of purchased fabric.

The first quilt that I ever made was the one that Ruth Pitts taught to me. That was the paper piecing quilt. Then, after that, I saw a picture in a Country Women magazine here in Nevada and it [the quilt.] was draped over a balcony in someone's home. There were a lot of pretty pictures in that magazine. It was entitled Wedding Ring, but it was not the traditional Wedding Ring. It was a different one. It caught my eye so I didn't have a pattern but I copied, or drew my own design from it. Trying to copy it the best I could just from the picture. I made my son a black and white quilt because his wedding was going to be a black and white wedding and it [the quilt.] was very crudely done. I cut each triangle out by itself using a cardboard template and I learned that. After that of course the rotary cutter came on and the ways to do things in mass rather than one at a time. That quilt took a long time, but I learned from it.

LK: Was that your first quilt?

JF: Actually, no, my first quilt was the paper piecing quilt that I made with this lady. That was my second one.

LK: How old were you when you started quilting?

JF: Well, when I came to Fernley I was sixty-one and so I guess my first quilt was made in my early sixties.

LK: This one looks so professional. When you say your black and white one was crudely made, that's hard to imagine.

JF: No, it wasn't crudely made, because I tried to get all points to meet and have it look professional as you would enjoy a nice quilt to look But what I meant was I had a cardboard template that I cut out that I was taking each triangle that I needed and it was all triangles, I cut each one by itself. Now there are rotary cutters and ways to do that in stacking and measuring and so forth. I didn't have any tools like that, I just had rulers and learn as you go along.

LK: How many hours do you spend designing, sewing, quilting now? How many hours a week, do you suppose?

JF: It's really hard. Many people ask me, 'How long did it take you to make that quilt?' But the quilts that I have made, since being in Fernley or in Nevada, have been like a family reunion quilt, a quilt that--it had to be for a purpose. A necktie quilt that I made which I still have but it's dedicated to my son. The 4-H quilt of ribbons that my daughter had when she was in 4-H. If I attempt a project on a quilt, I pretty much try to work some each day, but there's no way I can tell you how many hours, how many days because each quilt was different. This one, once I got the idea of what I was going to do, it didn't take that long. It was sewn together. It was pieced together by sewing machine and then the label part that has their name and their story was hand sewn to that piece of fabric. I put all the squares together, the rectangles actually, I put those together first, then I appliquéd the signature part afterwards. So I had basically the top. I did the center blocks with the triangles, the flying geese part first and then worked out from that. I used my colorful rectangles last. After that, then I appliquéd last. So the top was pretty much together when I appliquéd so it did take a long time.

LK: What's your design process Joan? Graph paper? Or a sketch pad or computer?

JF: I didn't have a computer when I did this project. Everything was done by hand, pen writing and then a typewriter. I bought a typewriter that had a spell check on it but not like a computer so I didn't have a computer to work with. Your question was how do I design a quilt? If I'm going to make a quilt now, I generally have the idea of what its going to be first, then I'll get graph paper or just a piece of paper and draw on the piece of paper about how many squares I think it will take. I just have a very rough idea from that but I've never used a computer to design a quilt. I know you can and I've gone to those sites where you can do it but I like to work quickly. If I have an idea, I want to get it right down on paper. Then, from that, I'm pretty much a fast-working person with a quilt. If I get an idea, I want to get it done. I don't want to take years.

LK: Do you start with the fabric and make a quilt with that? Or do you have a motif and go out and buy or rummage around and find the fabric for that?

JF: Well, in the case of the necktie quilt, I gathered neckties from all the male relatives on my husband's side and my side of the family, going back as far as I could, and so I had that fabric. Then once I had the design pattern, then I went to a store and matched fabric and in that case I was in California and went to Piecemakers in Costa Mesa. The wonderful store there and those ladies who are teachers, they helped me choose because I didn't have an idea. I had an idea I wanted to use silk, and I found a Peau de Soie that they suggested and they had in their store so they helped with the colors on that. Generally, on the other quilts, I have an idea of what I want the quilt to be because I'm doing it for a history project. Like the quilt that I made for our reunion, which was a reunion of all the cousins on my side of the family. We met at Lake Tahoe [Nevada.], so I knew that I wanted them to sign an existing quilt top. I prepared the blocks for that with the colors I knew I wanted and then they worked on it while we were at the reunion. They signed their name and put other important information on their particular square. It depends upon the quilt that I'm working on, but generally I don't look at a pattern in a quilt book although I have many books and many magazines. I don't look through a book and say 'Oh, I want to make that.' It has to have a purpose of historical nature, whether it be in the future, history, like a baby quilt, with some items that I want of the family to go into that baby quilt.

LK: You bring people together with your quilts; you gather, and combine, unify.

JF: I do. I want it to be a significant. I think it's a piece of history that you're working on because when I interviewed these people, I could spend an hour talking about one quilt. I never knew when I went to someone's home how much time I'm going to spend with them. Sometimes it would be several hours, and they'd bring out homemade bread and jam, because they were farm people, ranch people, and they did canning and they did their bread baking. This sort of thing is opposite to my upbringing and the way I lived in the city, so it was fascinating to me on that account.

Yes, to me, the quilt that they were telling me about had a history behind it and I wanted to get that history. There were a few quilts that were made just because they wanted to make a pretty quilt. But half of the quilts of the people I interviewed, like I said, were given to them or were ones that were in their family.

LK -These quilts you've mentioned, do they have a way of bringing people together, their dreams, future, their family?

JF: That seems to be so. The latest quilt I made, the very last one now that I think about it is the watercolor quilt with the 2 inch squares with a heart in the center of it where I put their wedding label. When someone saw that one at a wedding, since then I have made two or three of them for people who wanted to have it for an anniversary or wedding.

LK: Before I forget to ask you, I'm sure that everyone who reads your interview is going to be interested in buying a copy of your work on the country quilts you have been discussing. What is the title going to be of your final project?

JF: It's called "Country Quilts in Fernley, Nevada." I don't know if I mentioned the first person I interviewed Leslie Olds Zurfluh. She is a pioneer woman from a pioneer family in northern Nevada. The Olds family settled in the Pyramid Lake area and Leslie's mother [Sara.] wrote a book called "Twenty Miles From a Match" which is still in publication. The first time--what sparked this whole thing is meeting Leslie, because she needed something fixed in her house. I think it was her roof. My husband, Bill, went up on her roof and was working on her roof and I went inside and she was working on a quilt in her lap, which was velvet squares, a Crazy Quilt. She was doing the topstitching and it was so pretty and I said, 'Oh, can I take a picture of it?' Because I take my camera with me wherever we go. I had not anticipated getting involved in quilts in any way until I saw this quilt. She said, 'Let's go outside,' so Bill got some ladders and we put a sheet between the ladders, and put her quilt on top of it and she stood there while I took a picture of it. She told me the story of the quilt and said she'd like to have a copy of the picture. Once I wrote it all down it gave me the idea of doing this [project.] so she told me of someone who then told me of someone and I never really had to knock on any doors except for the one woman who had eggs for sale and I went to her place and did not know that she had quilts but she did magnificent quilting and I spent hours there. Besides purchasing her eggs, I got pictures and her story. So it just evolved and it only necessitated the calling of the next person for an appointment.

I didn't know about country people and how they lived and they welcomed me and told me their stories, stories beyond the quilt. Some stories I wouldn't print, but I would like to at some point, as they have asked me, 'Where is your book?' and I said, 'Well.'

I worked with a lady at University of Nevada - Reno and she told me to keep doing it for years, get as many quilts as I can, just keep on doing it. After I was, I think, at the place where I thought I could stop, temporarily anyway, and collate all this. It's very expensive to put a book together in all color and you can't have books of quilting in black and white. Doing it with the University is very difficult because they're basically black and white books with a colorful cover. But I'm learning all of this. They said that it's a very good project and I should keep on with it. Forever I guess [laughs.] so I have. Enjoying people and asking them when I meet them, 'Do you have any quilts?'

LK: Is there any aspect of quilt making that you don't enjoy?

JF: Well, no, I've learned a lot. In that I try to go to quilt shows and I see those wonderful venders and I would purchase things that I thought I would use but never did. I have learned from that to wait until I have a project before I see what I need, especially fabric.

There are people who I have seen that have a whole room dedicated to just quilting. I think it is just magnificent. They have walls and walls [of cabinets.] covered with material that they may use at some time. It's like being in a store. It's wonderful to see. Then I see other people who have, like myself, have a corner of a room and a sewing machine because there's no other place for them but I'm getting away from the question you asked me.

LK: I am interested in you as a quiltmaker. What do you think makes a quilt aesthetically pleasing?

JF: I have been to some national quilt shows, one in particular that I went to in Williamsburg when I was visiting my sister. Those are where you see the art quilts. I tend to walk very fast through a quilt show. I don't stop and read every single one at a quilt show; there's hundreds at a quilt show. I don't stop and study every single one. I walk quickly until I see one that catches my eye, maybe has a history and I study that one. I started out because I thought you were supposed to do this. When I went to my first quilt show, I spent hours and I was exhausted from the reading, from the not being able to touch, but finding someone who would look at the back or I'd sneak around and try to look between the quilts that were on the frames, and I'd look at the back and watch the construction.

I tend to move quickly through and the first thing that catches my eye is the colors of the quilt. The ones I admire a great deal are ones made by people who are artists and in the field of graphic design, like the ones that are on the covers of the major magazines. Their quilts are like photographs and are outstanding because those people have art behind them. I admire that. The quilts that I am interested in are the ones that are put together for use. To me those are the ones that catch my eye. The story comes to mind of one quilt I took a picture of it, it was very small. It had been a large quilt but it was worn out and it had been cut up, it was all wool, and it was made out of men's pants and women's skirts and things like that which were no longer being used. It had been cut up and it was being used as a horse blanket, as a lap quilt, and as a baby's blanket. They kept on using this quilt; that was a functional quilt to begin with and was worn out. That is what appeals to me, the history behind and the usefulness. So that's what I drift toward, the old fashioned designs that are made modern as well as looking at a quilt that is so magnificent because of the artwork that is in it.

LK: What is the difference between a great quilter and a great artist? Does someone have to be a great artist to be a great quilter?

JF: You're asking me about two different kinds of quilts.

LK: What makes someone a great quilter?

JF: The great quilter makes the artistic ones that go from national show to show; they mail their quilts off to these national shows to be accepted and to be exhibited. That's a perfect. That's a woman who is seeking perfection in her quilt in everything, from the design to the stitching, because those judges who are familiarly called the quilt police, they want to see that every stitch is perfect. That would frustrate me to make that kind of quilt.

Then there's the other group of quilters who put together a quilt by hand. They may be older ladies. They're still doing quilting but their hands don't work as well and you can see it in their stitches. To me that's a great quilt because it was done by hand. It has a story. There's a book called "A People and Their Quilts." Have to give you the author's name. [John Rice Irwin, photographed at the Museum of Appalachia, in Norris, Tennessee.] It was back in the east where they took quilts from a lot of these ranches and homes and they had the people come to a living quilt history museum in the out of doors and they were beautifully photographed and that, to me, is the type of quilt that I am drawn to. To me that is a magnificent quilt in its own right. And then the quilt that is done to perfection, that you see in the national quilt show that you just go 'Ah, I can't believe this is actually done in fabric.' Those are two different things.

LK: Do you do hand quilting or machine quilting?

JF: I do both. I have learned machine quilting within the last year and I have an old Pfaff [brand.] machine. It has a walking foot. It was one of the first computerized machines, from the early '80s or late '70's. It's a good machine and I have learned to do my own quilting. I did a wedding quilt for my nephew and because their home was on the beach in California I made a pattern for beach houses, that's another paper piecing. I like paper piecing. I took each one of those little beach houses and I call it quilt sculpturing. I took my machine and I did funny little things on each block. Nothing consistent throughout the whole block for me, I like that. Scribbling, really, on fabric and it's a way of hiding imperfections. [laughs.] That people have with these large quilt machines that you do all over designs and patterns that are beautiful and precise. And I have had some of my quilts done that way and I've paid $200 when I send a quilt off.

LK: How many quilts have you done now?

JF: Let's see, of my own, I did a bedspread quilt made of blocks I bought from a lady in the project. She decided that she didn't want them so I bought them and took apart the basket from the muslin because the muslin was spotted and put my own muslin on it and remade that, but kept her original baskets, and that I made a bedspread. So I've made a reunion quilt, a bedspread. I've made a necktie quilt. I made the family 4-H quilt. I've made a Christmas quilt. I made some baby quilts. Oh gosh I don't know how many I've made now. I really couldn't count them because I've given most of them away. I made a Hawaiian quilt that I did all by hand for my daughter, and that won a lot of ribbons. She keeps it on her bed which pleases me for I will not stand for a quilt being unused. If I give a person a quilt, they have to display it or use it and not put it away and hide it because they want to save it. I don't like that.

LK: Do you put a sleeve on the back so that they can hang it on the wall?

JF: I do that if I'm going to show it. Generally if I've made a quilt I will put it in the county fair or whatever and show it. Then they can have it with the sleeve on it. The wall hangings I've made--in fact, I've got a brother I need to ask him 'What did you do with it? Because I don't see it on the wall.' I hesitate to go in and say [that.] looking throughout the house to find out where they put the quilt.

LK: Do they know that you want to take it back if they are not using it?

JF: If they are misusing it I will take it back. If they have animals, if the children--if I give a child a quilt and he lays on it on the floor and eats on it, that's different. But if they have it on a bed and they have cats and dogs. In fact I've written on the back of quilts that I've given, 'Not for Dogs and Cats.' I learn as I go along.

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

JF: That's the history of the family. That's how I learn, by listening to people talking about their quilt. I learned about country living. I learned to appreciate what they do, how they live, and I don't negate anything a person does because they're poor. But if they do a craft like this I think it's a treasure. It's their history and it appeals to me to learn; I want to learn.

LK: Did you meet men quilters when you were interviewing?

JF: I met men who had quilts. One touching--one was a man, a huge farmer who was a good full 6 feet 5 inches in overalls and a hat and the whole thing. I was interviewing his wife, who someone told me had some quilts, and he came in and said 'Well I have a quilt.' So he went back and he was gone for a long time. When he came back he had this quilt and he had it clutched to his chest and he was crying. I thought, 'How am I going to deal with this.' He opened it up and he said, 'This is a quilt my mother made.' And it was one of the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen. Hand dyed muslin in a persimmon color. The quilt pattern itself, that looked 3-D, three patterns together- diamonds one way, circles another way. It was like a kaleidoscope. I told him how impressed I was; he could see how overwhelmed I was by it. So we took it outside (for a picture) and draped it across his tractor with him standing by it. That was one of the exciting things, to have a man be involved. I'm trying to remember if there were other men. There were many men who came in and sat down and listened to their wife share the quilt because it had been part of their family. I didn't meet any men who made a quilt. There was a man who is in charge of the Veterans Cemetery, a young man, and he brought out his quilt and shared it with me, wanting to be a part of this project. But no, I haven't met anyone yet, I'd like to.

LK: In what ways do you think quilts are a part of a woman's life in America?

JF: Because she can look at the fabric and tell a story about a square in that maybe it was from her childhood or a dress or her children's pajamas And I've had the women tell me that story and then that story goes on and on and on because that evokes their history and then they have to get back to the quilt just like you and I are doing.

LK: Are there any other ways that quilts can be used, that you haven't mentioned yet, that you'd like to share?

JF: They can be used in the home, or for display. I'm always surprised when I see a quilt for sale at a yard sale and I'm lucky if I'm the first one there and I can get it, and I'm shocked when someone wants to sell a quilt. Generally it's a young person who says it's old and they just don't want it. The question again was?

LK: Are there any other ways that quilts can be used, that you haven't mentioned yet, that you'd like to share?

JF: I have seen, of course, bedspreads on the bed, folded over the bed, displayed on the wall. I've seen parts of quilts made into clothing; I have lots of vests myself that were quilts. You go to antique stores and you... I was shocked to see quilts cut up and made into small objects that, if they tried to sell the quilt itself they couldn't make as much money as if they cut up the quilt. In fact I was at a store once and they had a quilt spread out on the sidewalk in front and they were cutting it up and I was horrified but that was what they were going to do. They were going to make potholders and Christmas tree ornaments and vests and make more money. There are so many ways a quilt can be displayed but basically, in my mind, a quilt is the story of that family.

LK: What are your ideas about preserving quilts for the future?

JF: A family should identify a quilt, and it doesn't matter if it's done when the quilt was made. It could be fifty years later. A label should be sewn to it with information on it. I've said this to people but they don't know what information should be put down. You should put everything about the quilt: everything about the quilt, who gave it to you, even if it is "lore" and you don't know but you "think." That's the most important thing to label a quilt. They should be passed within the family to a willing person who is going to treasure that quilt for what it is, even if it doesn't look like much. It's worn, it's torn. Like one expression, a man said to me, the man with the quilt hugged to his chest and crying. He remembers his childhood. He was crying again--a man in his 60's, said that his childhood had nothing but quilts and feather beds, which we go out and buy, because they're treasures to us. He would stand at the end of the bed and fall backwards onto the bed into the quilts as a child. And these are meaningful and they are treasures that need to be passed on, these stories, need to go on the quilt. Also who the quilt is made for and why you are making it, and why these colors were chosen and everything about the quilt. Because in generations to come, it's been my experience, they think it was made by Aunt so-and-so in what city they're not sure. They don't know how the person lived and I try to get them thinking 'Who told them this?' It's like having a will in the family to pass that quilt on to the next person. Writing it down is so important - and doing what we're doing. I think it's fabulous what we're doing; to have it be in a university for people to come and get the ideas from and the quilt study to be finally in the Library of Congress. It's wonderful now that we have quilts on the computer that we can go to.

LK: Joan, I can't thank you enough for letting me interview you for The Alliance for the American Quilt [Quilters' S.O.S. - Stories.] project.


“Joan Fincher-Bevan,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,