Marcia Wethli




Marcia Wethli




Marcia Wethli


Le Rowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Chatauqua, New York


Tina Gordon


Le Rowell (LR): Okay. This is Le Rowell and today's date is October 9th, and I'm conducting an interview with Marcia Wethli for the Alliance for American Quilts project, Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. And Marcia and I are at the Brasted House Bed and Breakfast at Chautauqua, New York, and we are in one of the lovely bedrooms in this B&B.; So, Marcia, thank you for coming and being part of this interview. Tell me about the quilt that you selected to bring today.

Marcia Wethli (MW): The title of the quilt in the book that I saw it was “Oriental Star.” It was on the cover of the quilt book--my original intent was to use oriental fabrics. That didn't work out. So, as I remember, there are like 276 different fabrics in the quilt. There is something in the back of my mind that tells me the more different fabrics and colors that you use; the less careful you have to be about where you put them. So, when I was putting it together, it was just a matter of using the colors that the original maker had suggested and there was yellows and oranges and grays and greens and blues and purples. And using the sequence they used and just bought a lot of fabrics until I had enough to make a lot of different stars and put it together. There are two different sequences. All of the star middles are the same. They're just oriented different and then the outsides are different so that it does give you every other block appears different. There are really no two blocks in the quilt that are identical. There are two stars using the same fabric, but one is oriented one way and one is oriented the other way. But other than that, that’s the only two things that are identical and it is two stars for each set of fabrics.

LR: And over what period of time did you collect these fabrics?

MW: Oh, I wanted to have it done for the 2004 quilt show, so the most probably was a couple of years and I have a good stash too to put into it, but now I have a bigger stash because of all that I had to buy to do a quilt.

LR: What was the 2004 quilt show?

MW: The Westfield Quilters' Guild quilt show. We put on a quilt show every two years, every even year.

LR: And how long did it take you to put this quilt together?

MW: As long as I had a deadline, I kept working at it, and it was interesting to see how each star came together and what it looked like with the colors that you were using and the materials that you were using. We have a Thursday sew group and I would spend my Thursdays there doing it, either that or else cutting out. I did template it and there are set in seams, but it's all done on machine. So, the original pattern that I saw gave credit to Judy Martin and I did get Judy Martin's scrap quilt book and she has the same quilt in there. Her templates had a little more detail than the one that I used. They gave straight of grain, which was really a big help in cutting them so that you didn't have a lot of bias pieces to work when you set in the pieces.

LR: And the backing fabric?

MW: The backing fabric came from North Carolina. I got the quilt altogether and then had gone down to visit my daughter who now lives there, and we just trashed the quilt store until we found the backing that we thought went with it.

LR: Can you describe it a little bit?

MW: It's a batik with a number of different colors. It looks like it's got ferns or leaves. But I've used it for other things too because I bought more than I needed, so it's borders of other things and bindings of things. It really worked out for a lot of projects.

LR: So what is your plan for this quilt? You showed it, but what do you plan to do with it now?

MW: This is my quilt. This is on my bed. There's too much work in it. I'm keeping it. [both laugh.]

LR: This is not a gift?

MW: This will not be a gift. [both laugh.] Over my dead body it will not be a gift.

LR: But you make quilts as gifts?

MW: Oh, yes.

LR: Can you talk about some of those? What kinds and to whom do you give them?

MW: Before this one, I made one for my youngest daughter and it was squares. It started with a middle square and then you quilt different size strips around it, so you got up to I think they were 6 or 9 inches. And that also has a lot of fabrics in it, some of which are also used in this quilt. And then my older daughter was looking through a book and she said, ‘Oh that matches the wallpaper in my guest bedroom.’ So that's the quilt I made for her and in shopping one day for the borders, we found the material that is basically her wallpaper. And that one has appliqué flowers in the middle, which are the flowers that are in the border, so that one went to her.

LR: And how do you appliqué? Do you do hand or machine?

MW: That one I really intended to hand appliqué the whole thing. It's only half that because I ran out of time, and I wanted it to be a Christmas present. I really would like to get in to hand appliqué more, but the teachers that the quilt guild has had recently have all done machine appliqué. So, in the past three teachers, I've got three different ways to machine appliqué.
[LR laughs.] And I've kind of used some of each one.

LR: What is your first memory of a quilt?

MW: I guess growing up I never really knew about quilts. My grandmother crocheted, so we had afghans, which my grandfather called holey blankets. He didn't see how those things could keep you warm, but there was one on his bed [laughs.] When my parents died and we closed up the house, in one of my grandmother's drawers I found a quilt top. I had no idea who made it. It was all hand done, but I never remember anybody doing anything like that.

LR: What pattern was it?

MW: It's almost like Grandmother's Garden or something, Flower Garden. And I've taken it various places and we almost think it was one of the kits that you bought back then because the colors and the patterns that were in it. I'd really like to know who did it. She ended up with it, but by the time she died, her sisters had all died, so it's possible that one of them did make it. One of her sisters was a seamstress, but I never remember her quilting at all.

LR: Was she also from this area?

MW: Yes. They were from Cassadaga, New York.

LR: So how did you start quilting?

MW: My friend, Barbara McIlvain who has now moved to Australia got me started really with garments back probably 1995-96. There was a Judy Murrah M-U-R-R-A-H, and she started out with "Jacket Jazz" and so we started doing these jackets. And one night Barb took me to the quilt guild and there was a lady there and her presentation was colors and how blue put on red and blue put on white are going to look totally different. This really intrigued me. So, from the garments, I did go into doing more of your quilts, your wall hangings, and I've really enjoyed it. I don't really do that many garments anymore. I buy the patterns.

LR: What kind of garments did you do?

MW: Jackets.

LR: Just jackets? [MW agrees.] And you still have them?

MW: Yes. It's hard to part with those.

LR: Do you wear them?

MW: Sometimes. Sometimes.

LR: So, do you have other quiltmakers in your family?

MW: No.

LR: How does your quiltmaking impact your family?

MW: One year I made flannel quilts for the son-in-laws and I guess they thought ahh, you know, Christmas gift. While one of them had knee surgery and so he was laid up for a while and at the same time he took a course at one of the colleges in Fayetteville and it must have had the history of arts and crafts or something where he found out there was more to quilting than just sewing pieces of material together. So, he got to where he really appreciated that. He thought that was pretty great. And the other son-in-law broke his elbow, so he kind of laid under the quilt, too. So, they are both kind of rehabilitation articles. My youngest daughter--the first quilt that I ever made was a "Quilt in a Day Log Cabin" and I didn't know anything about it, so there were polyesters and anything you could imagine in there. We just wanted the colors. Well, it got to the point where it was kind of pulling apart, so I did make her a new one. The only thing I insisted was she throw the old thing away. She was going to keep it. It was cuddly.

LR: So, this was Fayetteville, North Carolina?

MW: Yes. Fayetteville, North Carolina. Yes.

LR: But in your home now, your quiltmaking is just part of your--

MW: It's just what I do. I no longer work. I've been retired for 5 years, so I just go upstairs in my studio, which is also my computer room and whatever else is in there and sew. My husband will look at things and say, ‘Well, what's that gonna be.’ He just doesn't quite understand.

LR: Does he go with you on your trips if you are visiting quilt shops or--

MW: Oh, yes. We just got back from North Carolina, and he spent many hours in parking lots. One of them was like two hours and he said he was gonna come in and ask me if I knew how long I'd been in there. Well, I was watching, you know. But it was his excuse why we didn't get too far that night on our way home.

LR: [laughs.] Talk a minute about--I know you're involved with the Westfield Quilt Guild and some of your activities with the guild and sewing bees.

MW: Over the years I have been co-chair of the quilt show for two or three times. I have been local program chair, been [inaudible.], been treasurer. Right now, I'm president. I belong to a Thursday sew group that meets every Thursday in the participant's homes. Sometimes we go to a local bank when we need to spread out a quilt and pin it or to one of the churches. Every once in a while, we go to one of the quilt shops. It helps her and it helps us too because, of course, we always need to buy something.

LR: Have you used your quiltmaking to get through difficult times?

MW: Actually, I use knitting more. My husband had colon cancer and had operations and chemo and radiation. Knitting is more portable, so I did more knitting than I did quilting. If I was more into appliqué so that you could take small things along, then I probably would have done that. The people who hand piece can take things like that. I don't. I have a machine. I use it.

LR: Do you take classes? Do you consider yourself self-taught? How did you learn quiltmaking?

MW: I've taken the classes that the quilters' guild has offered. I was trying to think if I had been other places than just to Westfield. I don't think so. I've gone to some of the quilt shops when they've had things offered.

LR: What do you find most pleasing about quiltmaking?

MW: I really enjoy buying the fabric. I enjoy putting a top together, and then the enjoyment ceases. I do finish them, but I just--that's not the part that I enjoy.

LR: What's the part you don't enjoy?

MW: Putting it together and quilting it.

LR: But you do the quilting yourself or you--

MW: No. I've done all the quilting myself. I also have things that haven't been put together because I went on to something else.

LR: You indicated here though that you have won an award.

MW: That was way back. I think it was 1996 and it was a jacket and I got second place. And I still have the ribbon. It's still on my refrigerator. I don't know whether I will get any--no, I did. I got second place in the wall hanging division of the last quilt show we had. I had made that wall hanging for my husband’s brother and his wife, and it was black and white with hand embroidery and beading. I really liked that and maybe will even make another one for myself. Right now, what I'm doing is doing the “Civil War Diary” quilt.

LR: Talk about that.

MW: There's 121 blocks in the quilt if you do all of the blocks. I am paper piecing them all. They give you full size blocks. I put them into EQ5, which is a quilt program.

LR: What's the program?

MW: EQ5.

LR: EQ5.

MW: I put them all in and printed them all out. I have probably almost half of them done. That one I will hand quilt because I think that each block needs to be quilted separately. I do hand quilt. I have a quilt right now that I'm hand quilting. Hopefully, it will be done for the 2008 quilt show. That's my goal, so it will get done. And I go at it sporadically. I'll do it for two or three weeks and then put it aside and then do something else. That one was out of the Thimbleberry's book, but I didn't use Thimbleberry's fabrics for.

LR: That you did use?

MW: Did not use.

LR: Oh, you did not use.

MW: Did not use Thimbleberry. It's burgundies and greens, which I find that I use a lot. That's why this quilt was I guess more fun because I could put a lot of different colors in.

LR: Yes. Tell me again the title of this one that you brought today.

MW: I called it "One Star Makes a Statement.” They called it "Oriental Star," but I knew that there was one block that I had put two different greens in, and they were supposed to be the same, so that was why I said one made a statement and the subtitle was "I'm Different Than the Rest of You." However, when it hung in the quilt show, I caught one of the people looking at it and she had spent I don't know how long trying to find out this mistake. She didn't find my mistake. She found one that I didn't know about but was a bigger mistake than the one I knew. In one of the blocks, I put the sequence of the way the colors go wrong, so it doesn't make the star look like all the rest of them.

LR: [laughs.] If we do detailed photograph of the quilt, we won't do that block.

MW: [laughs.] Oh, you could. It’s awful.

LR: Let's talk a minute about the meaning of quilts and quiltmaking in American life. Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

MW: I think that it exemplifies what our ancestors did more. A lot of the patterns are real old. A lot of the patterns are variations of them that we are using now and thinking that we've reinvented something. It's a way of using natural products versus buying your polyester blankets. Because when I make a full-size quilt and even my wall hangings now, I use 100% cotton. I feel that you just get a better result. I think it's something that a lot of people, not me particularly, grew up with, with aunts and grandmothers and mothers. I didn't have that privilege. I guess I gained a lot from my great-aunt with her dressmaking. I had feed sack dresses, which I thought were great. I really wish that I had kept one just to have it. I hope that my children will keep some of the quilts that I've given them. The grandchildren have their own quilts. I think it's something that in future generations it's going to be passed on more than it has in the past.

LR: The tradition of quiltmaking?

MW: Yeah.

LR: So, in what way then do quilts have special meaning in women's history in America?

MW: I think that down through history different generations of women have done different quilts, which exemplifies what they were going through at that time. You had them way back where they were silks and velvets and crazy quilts, and then you had the direct opposite of it where they were homespun, but that was what the people of each class were doing. And I think that even now you see that. You've got your different segments. You've got your art quilts and you've got your traditional and you've got some nontraditional that are still probably as time goes by going to be more traditional. History maybe even repeating itself because I think we're going back to what they had done three or four generations ago and I think that your Civil War quilts, your revival of that, “Your Dear Jane.” I also bought the "Civil War Men's Letters" and it's another quilt with 121 blocks that are a lot of them are same as in the lady's one. You know they've got different names for them.

LR: So, if you were looking at say the future of quiltmaking in America, this is what you see?

MW: I think that you are going to see probably more of your art quilts. I look at the winners in Paducah and most of them are Oriental, and they just do fantastic work.

LR: The quiltmaker?

MW: The quiltmaker. I mean they are just gorgeous. And you just marvel at how they do it, but they are I think a cross between the traditional and the art quilts. I think there's that middle line that's where they're at and it’s just gorgeous. I think in looking at some of the patterns that are in the quilt stores that we're going to see maybe a lot more appliqué than we have in the past. I think you're going to see a combination of your pieced and your appliquéd borders. Even our quilt guild for our raffle quilt they have had both, the piecing and the quilting. The last one was. This year's is totally different. There will be no appliqué in it. But it's going to be a beautiful quilt.

LR: What makes a great quilt for you?

MW: I think the colors. The blocks and how they're put together and most definitely the quilting because I think that you can ruin a quilt with the quilting if you don't do what should be done for that particular quilt.

LR: How would you describe that in the way of quilting?

MW: How the quilting ruins?

LR: Yes.

MW: Well, you can have a real nice block, or a number of blocks put together that show something, and somebody will take the quilting and just obliterate it--just mess it all up. But quilted in a different pattern, they could have accentuated what the blocks were.

LR: How do you feel about the long-arm quilting?

MW: I think some of it is very good. Some of it is not so good. I have seen some beautiful things done. I have seen even individuals do something really, really nice on one quilt, but it's not what should have been put on the second quilt. I think that they have to really get into customizing their quilting that they can't just do border to border and make it suffice for every quilt that they do.

LR: Would you ever want to learn long-arm quilting?

MW: I don't think so. I just don't need another toy. And a lot of the quilt shops now they're renting them out. They buy them and show you how to use them and you can go in and do them. No. I don't think so.

LR: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

MW: That's a hard question. We just had Shirley Kelly, at our quilt guild, who does fantastic hand appliqué. She does the pandas. She did the "Four Minutes in May," which was Kentucky Derby winners. Of course, I know that hers are museum pieces, but they’re just beautiful. They're just intricate. Everything is as it should be. You can't find anything that is out of order with it. They're perfect, very precise. I think that the points have to match. You can't cut the points off. I know that from a distance you can't see it, but I can close up, so I try to be particular about keeping the points. I mean sometimes you can't. And what I've found is that if you don't like it the first time and you take it out, three times later it probably isn't going to get any better, so you might as well let it. No, I think to be museum quality it's got to be--everything has got to be perfect. Somebody standing there isn't going to be able to find a flaw.

LR: How do you learn the art of quilting, you know, how to design a pattern or choose the fabrics and color? How does that happen?

MW: I find that I want to use somebody else's patterns. I may change them a little and I have my own color preferences, so I probably will use that over what they have used in the color picture. Sometimes I really like the colors that they’ve used, and you try to duplicate it. Sometimes even in your stash have some of this fabric. I really don't care to design. I just don't want to take the time to do that. That's why there's other people out there making a living on.

LR: And what makes a great quiltmaker?

MW: I think a great quiltmaker goes for detail and color combinations that maybe are not only pleasing to them but to other people who look at them. I think you also have to choose a pattern that's going to be universal. Otherwise, people aren't going to really be drawn to it and seek it out.

LR: And how do we preserve these quilts for the future?

MW: You use your acid-free paper if you’re going to store them. We were told by a lady in Erie that you don't fold them lengthwise. You fold them corner to corner, opposite corners, and then fold the two sides in, so that you're folding them on the bias rather than the straight and that they won't have the creases so much, so that once you make your first, fold turn them in and then you can just keep folding them and it will always be on the bias.

LR: And where is the top of the quilt when you're folding?

MW: Inside. It's kind of neat. I saw somebody just recently do that. I had done that when I brought this one over. I don't know whether it would hold up, you know, over years to fold it like that. I know my husband does not like it over him, he thinks it's too heavy, so I have it doubled. And I will change the way the fold is like once a month or something. Just change the fold so it doesn't have that permanent crease.

LR: That's an interesting approach.

MW: This one has wool batting in it, so maybe it is a little bit heavier then. And there's quite a bit of quilting on it.

LR: And what do you call the kind of quilting that you did on this, your touchstone piece?

MW: That one was just all quilted in the ditch. I had really wanted to the center of each star to put a star. There was a lot of margin for error, so I decided not to start that. The one I gave my daughter I did. In each one of the little squares there was a free-motion star, but I didn't do it on this one. I decided there was enough quilting already.

LR: How do we encourage quilting in young people?

MW: I thought that I had got my youngest daughter interested in it. She has 3 children and before each child was born, she did make them a quilt. It was no masterpiece; it was not going to be an heirloom, but she did one for each child. The first one got a pieced quilt. The second one got a panel. The third one I think was a panel also that I did because Amanda came a month early than we expected her, so Grandma had to do her quilt. I think maybe Amanda still has hers. The middle child, his went to--he took it to work with his mother one day and somehow it got left and the cleaning personnel thought that it was a rag, so they threw it out. So, she has now made him something else, but I really don't see either one of them doing too much. They both work full time, so their time is limited. Of course, when I started quilting, I was working full time, too. I think that your quilt guilds, if you can get the younger people to come in to see what the people do. We have show and tell at each meeting. What I have found with some of the show and tell in the members that we have is they're doing them for their children, for their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren. And even, you know, the younger girls that are coming in are doing them maybe for their babies. I think maybe that’s one way that we can get them interested. Like you've got to show them somehow what it is and what you can produce from cutting material apart and putting it back together.

LR: In addition to the show and tell that you mentioned in your quilt guild, is there any other way that you could see that the guild could be influential in encouraging quilting in young people?

MW: I don't know whether it would encourage people. We do what we call comfort quilts, a community service.

LR: Comfort?

MW: Comfort quilts. Well, we make quilts for--they go to the home for abused women and children. They go to children's hospital. Now whether some of these people that get these may become interested in doing something themselves, I don't really know. One of the girls that I sew with works for a project in Jamestown [New York.] and the girls have to come in and one of the things that they do-- it's part of the welfare program, they have to make a quilt. And they have to make one for somebody else before they can make one for themselves. So, if they don't do anymore, they've done two at least. And some of the girls have said they have really enjoyed it and they're surprised at what they can do.

LR: That's the exciting part.

MW: [both speak at the same time.] They have no idea even probably what a sewing machine is. They're being shown through this program.

LR: So, your plans for the quilts that you have made. What will you do with them?

MW: This one is mine.

LR: And eventually?

MW: Well, whoever is there I guess will get it. I have one daughter who lives in Westfield [New York.] so she probably will lay onto it. Most of the things that I make, the bigger pieces I give away. I did make a quilt for my husband's Army buddy--Air Force buddy's wife. She had breast cancer. It was to have been done before she died. I missed it by a week. When I saw it in the book, it was called "English Garden." She was from England. So, I thought that I'd make that for her. So, I did that and some of the materials, unbeknownst to me when I bought them, were part of the breast cancer program. So, I did the rest and the name of it became “Shenandoah” because of where she wanted her ashes scattered. I have been told that it is on the bed that she used when she had gotten so sick that she was in a room by herself. So, I guess that will always be in her memory.

LR: What was the pattern that you used? Do you remember? [MW pauses.] You mentioned "English Garden."

MW: “English Garden.”

LR: I thought maybe it was--

MW: It was kind of like a trellis, I think.

LR: Appliquéd or pieced?

MW: It was foundation pieced. I foundation pieced it. [pauses for 5 seconds.] I couldn't tell you. There was some kind of a trellis that when you got it together it looked like a trellis was a cross.

LR: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you would like to share?

MW: I think that the guild is really helpful for me to try to do different things. We have challenges. Right now, we are working on one that you had to bring a fat quarter of ugly--what you call ugly fabric to a meeting and then you drew actually sight unseen a piece of ugly fabric that somebody else had brought in. The other thing that you have to do with this is the ugly fabric has to be made into flying geese. That has to be how it is incorporated in the piece. The first one that I did will not be finished with flying geese because that's all I could see around the outside was these flying geese. I have now done a different one that I'm quilting at the present time, it has to be done for November and I really like how the flying geese went into this with the material. But we've done--one of the quilt shows was heirloom memories and so we did a legacy and so that you did what you felt was going to be your legacy. And I did a piece where I miniaturized the quilts that I made for my daughters and for my grandchildren, which were I Spy quilts.

LR: Were what?

MW: I Spy.

LR: Oh, the I Spy. Okay.

MW: And they were hung on a clothesline. It was kind of fun. And then we did another one. I think it was a nine patch. There had to be yellow in it and a tree. And I did a lot of cross-stitch in that, but then did the nine patches I think were the corners and then they were blue and yellow. So, it's been fun to do some of the challenges and go out of what you might do routinely.

LR: Helps with the creative process.

MW: Oh yes. Those you kind of have to--where I don't know that I've ever done my own pattern for any of it. You've had to adapt a bought pattern to what you want to do with it.

LR: So, your term then as president will--

MW: They're one-year terms, but they hope you do two, so I probably will do two. It's interesting.

LR: Good. Well, our time is just about up so I want to thank you very much for coming and being part of our Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project and thank you Marcia. And it is 12 minutes past 3 o’clock. So, thank you very much.

MW: You’re welcome.



“Marcia Wethli,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,