Marion Hiller




Marion Hiller




Marion Hiller


Le Rowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Westfield, New York


Evelyn Naranjo


Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell and today's date is May 18, 2006. It is 4:23 p.m. in the afternoon and I'm conducting an interview with Marion Hiller for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for the American Quilts, and we are in Marion's living room at her home in Westfield, New York. So, Marion, thank you for consenting to do this interview and for inviting me into your home to do it.

Marion Hiller (MH): Well, you're welcome.

LR: So, tell me about the quilt that you selected as your touchstone piece. Why did you select this quilt?

MH: Well, I couldn't think of any quilt that I had that I thought was—would make me want to show it, but my son said, 'Well, you've got to have my quilt.' And it's a quilt that I made for him, and it also won a blue ribbon at the Chautauqua County Fair and the New York State Fair and so to him it's very special. And after I make a quilt and give it away, it's not mine anymore. So, I just took him at his word, and he thought that this is the quilt I should have so this is the quilt I brought.

LR: But you are the maker.

MH: I am the maker [laughs.] It's not my quilt anymore. They never are.

LR: But what inspired this particular quilt?

MH: I liked scrap quilts, and this is a scrappy quilt. I saw a picture of it in a quilt magazine; in fact, I think it was on the cover of a quilt magazine, and I just loved it. And so, when I was wanting to start another quilt, this is the one I started. And when I started making it, I did not have in mind that it was going to be a gift for anybody. I just made it.

LR: And talk about the fabrics in the quilt.

MH: There are hundreds. [laugh.] I think once you start making scrap quilts you have to make them forever because you have boxes of little pieces of fabric left over. So, most of my quilts are scrap quilts.

LR: Where do the scraps come from?

MH: Oh, when I first got started in quilting, I got interested in buying fabric, I guess [laugh.] We had a quilt store here in Westfield and it was just real easy to get in the car on Saturday morning and drive down to her quilt shop. And I would see something I liked, and I would buy maybe a fat quarter or half a yard and put it away and that's where they all came from, every one of them.

LR: When did you start quilting?

MH: About twenty years ago.

LR: Why? How did you get into quilting?

MH: I had a friend who was going to teach a class in quilting at the YWCA and I thought it would be fun to take it. I've always liked to sew, I used to make my own clothes and I made all my girls' clothes. So, I took her class. And that started me. I was still working. So, I just took the class and made the quilt that we were going to make and really didn't get into it too much because it took too much time. I just didn't have it. I had three children. Well, they weren't home, one was home. And with my job, and my husband and the house you just couldn't do everything. So, until I retired, I did not do too much and then after I retired, I went gung-ho [laughs.]

LR: Let's go back just a minute about this particular quilt. Talk about the pattern. What is the pattern? Why do you select it?

MH: The pattern is called Drunkard's Path. And it is just arranged differently. I liked it because it was softer. I really never cared for the Drunkard's Path, or Patch, but I like the way this went together.

LR: And the technique. How did you make it? Hand, machine?

MH: These were all cut out with a template and scissors. You draw around each one and it is hand pieced and hand quilted.

LR: Did you use the paper piecing method to--

MH: No, I didn't know that then. I'm not sure with the curves whether you could use the paper piecing. I never have. I've paper pieced with straight and that was all.

LR: And then you have the borders?

MH: And the borders.

LR: [Le and Marion are looking at the back of the quilt.] And the back, your backing?

MH: The back is just unbleached muslin. Almost all of my quilts end up with unbleached muslin on the back.

LR: Do you sign your quilts?

MH: I put a label on everyone.

LR: And this one?

MH: This one is signed. It says, 'Made for Marty' that's my son. My name is here and Westfield, NY is here [Marion is pointing to her signature label.].

LR: How did you put this on?

MH: I embroidered it [Marion pointing again.]. And the date is here.

LR: June 1997.

MH: The first two or three quilts that I made I signed this way. And then I started making labels and putting them on.

LR: So, all of these are purchased fabrics, there aren't any scraps from clothes or--

MH: They're not any scraps because when I was making clothes most of the fabrics that I used were a blend of polyester and cotton and these are all cotton. The very first quilt I made I did use some fabric that I had at home, and I can tell which ones were the blends. They haven't faded like the cotton did So there are these pieces that are real bright standing out in the quilt.

LR: So, when you made your first quilt, how did you learn?

MH: I learned at the class that I took. It was a sampler quilt, so we did all kinds of things. And that was where I learned.

LR: Did you have quiltmakers in your family?

MH: My grandmother made quilts. I can remember her quilting frame sitting up in her living room. But I was never too interested in them. I was a kid. And I can remember one winter she made, I think she made, a dozen quilts, one winter and they weren't anything except just pieces of fabric. They weren't pieced at all, and they were to keep us warm in the wintertime. And there was some fabric that was purple, and I thought that was wonderful, and she gave me that purple quilt. It was nothing but just a great big piece of purple fabric you know, but I thought it was very pretty.

LR: So, you still have that quilt?

MH: No.

LR: Do you have any of her quilts?

MH: No, no.

LR: So was this passed down from generation--

MH: Now wait a minute. I do have one. She made a quilt for my brother that was an overall boy. I have it, but the fabric has faded so you can't tell the pattern hardly. And it was a twin-size quilt. And so, my sister and I, we slept in a double bed, and she made a Sunbonnet Sue for us. My sister had that quilt and she used it on her daughter's beds until it wore out.

LR: So, your grandmother quilted. But the next generation, were there quilters or did it skip to you?

MH: Skipped to me. My grandmother only had a son and so I don't think she had nieces that quilted either. It just skipped generations.

LR: Have you ever made a quilt or used quiltmaking to get you through a difficult time?

MH: Oh, heavens yes.

LR: Like what?

MH: When my husband died five years ago, I just started quilting. I spent a lot of time quilting. I could relax and I told everyone that it was my anti-depressant. And I think it was. I think it was.

LR: So, what are the most pleasing aspects of quiltmaking for you?

MH: When I am piecing, and I do my piecing on the machine now. I like that process of putting the quilt together. But, when I'm quilting, that's the part that I like. There's just nothing about it that I don't like.

LR: There isn't one aspect that you don't like.

MH: I don't think so. I can even have to rip out and that doesn't bother me. I sit there and relax and rip out [laugh.]

LR: [laugh.] Do you have any other quilt related activities? Do you do any writing or teaching?

MH: No.

LR: Do you belong to guilds?

MH: I belong to the quilt guild [Westfield Quilt Guild, Westfield, New York.] and I belong to a sew group. There are ten of us and not all of us have been together since we started, but we have been quilting together every Thursday for fifteen years, anyway, at least that long. And when we started out there were just, I think there were eight of us and we met in each other's homes. Then gradually we added people and it got so that we were meeting--we meet at the Baptist church quite often. Some of my friend's homes are still large enough so that we can meet there, but there are some that were just too small.

LR: What kind of projects do you do?

MH: We all do our own.

LR: Just your own.

MH: We are all quiltmakers. And when we have a quilt to layer and sandwich we usually go down to the Baptist Church where they have big tables, and we all help each other do that.

LR: And do you have any particular activities in the Westfield Quilt Guild--it's the Westfield Quilt Guild that you belong to?

MH: Yes.

LR: Are there any special activities that you're involved in with that group?

MH: Not really. When it started, I was the treasurer. But I don't do that kind of thing anymore. I'm just sitting back and letting some of the younger ones do it. [laughs.]

LR: When did that guild start? The Westfield? Do you remember?

MH: Ten years ago, maybe longer, I can't remember. I think we had an anniversary last year that we celebrated, and I can't remember what it was. It must have been the tenth.

LR: It is quite a large guild I understand.

MH: Oh, yes. I think they have over a hundred members.

LR: Quilting is alive and well in Westfield.

MH: Oh, yes. I think so. And in the area. We have members in our quilt guild that come from down around Buffalo, Jamestown, [both in New York.] Erie [Pennsylvania.]. A lot of them belong to more than one quilt guild.

LR: Quite exciting [laughs.] So, you've exhibited your quilts.

MH: I did for a while.

LR: But this is the prize.

MH: This is the prize. Yes.

LR: It belongs to son Marty. [laugh.]

MH: Yes. [laugh.]

LR: What do you think makes a great quilt, from your viewpoint?

MH: You know, I've been thinking about that because I have a list. Color maybe. If it pleases me, I think it's great [laugh.] I really don't know. I don't think I am an expert at quilting, and I just don't know what makes a great quilt.

LR: Well, you have your viewpoint which is important, and you said color.

MH: Yes. And difficulty. Sometimes, some of those quilts, are just, I am awestruck when I look at them. They are very complicated and a lot of the older quilts too. I am not an antiquer. I have never been too interested in antique quilts, but some of them are, I think, outstanding.

LR: How do you feel about the difference between hand quilting, machine quilting, and long arm quilting?

MH: Okay [laughs.] Machine quilting is OK as long as it isn't made to be the focus of the quilt and I think, I feel, that a lot of the machine quilters today that are using the embroidery thread for quilting they're more interested in that then trying to enhance what's there. Hand quilting you're just kind of bringing out what you've put together. And I don't feel that that is always what a machine quilter is doing. So, I much prefer hand quilting. If it's going to be a quilt that is going to get a lot of wear, I think it's good to machine quilt it, it'll last longer. But just enough to hold it together. Not a lot of flowers and extra stuff. I have had several quilts quilted long-arm quilting. Simply because I couldn't get them all done myself. It would take so long, and I have one hanging upstairs now that's been hanging up there for a couple of years that's been ready to be machine quilted, but I just haven't taken it. I knew it's queen size and I knew that I couldn't get it done.

LR: You mentioned the quilt hanging upstairs. Do you sleep under a quilt?

MH: Oh sure. I sleep under the quilt that has the blended fabric [laugh.]

LR: [laugh.] Oh, okay.

MH: It's on the bed and so it does get exposed to sunlight some and the cotton fades.

LR: How else do you use quilts?

MH: Well, you can see.

LR: Well, tell me so that people who are reading your interview will be able to share.

MH: I have them hanging almost any place that I can find to hang them [laugh.]. And I have piles of them that are just in a box, or I don't have room to hang them. I have a lot of Christmas ones and at Christmas time I try to get them out and put some of them up. And then I tell my kids that if they want any, if they want to hang up any of them, they're welcome to them. So, I have no idea how many quilts I have.

LR: You have one over the sofa where we are sitting [laugh.]

MH: I have there, and I have one here.

KLR: Oh, my goodness more, I couldn't see them.

MH: I have one there.

LR: On the winged chair. Yes, you do have quite a few just in this room. What do you plan to do with them?

MH: I have no idea.

LR: Use them for a while anyway.

MH: Yes. I think everyone that I've made I've had hanging or on a bed or given it as a gift. I've made a lot of what they call Comfort Quilts. They're a size that I can manage. A couch quilt size.

LR: Do you give them as gifts?

MH: Our guild has a project of Comfort Quilts that we give to the Salvation Army, the hospital, a lot of places and I give them several every year that I have made. I have made them for Project Linus and—

LR: Talk a minute about that project.

MH: I don't really know too much about it except one of my quilt magazines every year has a pattern in it and they're fun to make and there was a quilt shop in a neighboring town that collected them for Project Linus. And I believe that they made them too in her shop. But I never got into that, I would take down my completed quilt.

LR: What size quilts are those? They're for children?

MH: Yes, around 45 x 60 [inches.]. I think they have to be at last 36 x 45 [inches.]. And they're fun, they're fun to make.

LR: How do you think quiltmakers learn the art of quilting, especially how to design, how to put colors together?

MH: I don't know [laugh.] I can't design a quilt. I have to have a pattern and when I pick out fabric for a quilt, I never know in my being that it's going to look right until I get it done. Sometimes it can look just fine, and I've made one or two that I didn't think were very pretty [laughs.]. It's always a kind of a surprise to me.

LR: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning in women's history in our country?

MH: [ten second pause.] I don't know. [ten second pause.] I really don't know. They made them out of necessity, especially the people that were going out west and that did not live in the cities. Now the Baltimore Album quilts are different. They're kind of show offy and I think that those, the women who made those quilts, probably were well-to-do. They didn't make them because they had to. I'm not a very historic person. It wasn't one of my favorite courses at school [laughs.]

LR: But you certainly have a feel for quiltmaking [laugh.] and that's important. How can we preserve quilts for the future?

MH: I guess museums are probably the best bet. So many of the next generation--I don't think that they really think they're as wonderful. They'll use them and use them up, I think. There are special boxes you can keep them in that are acid free, I think. There are papers to wrap them in. But a younger person might stuff them in a plastic bag. So, I think if it's one that you want preserved, it really takes some research to find what you want to do with it.

LR: So how do we encourage quilting in young people? How do we keep this tradition?

MH: They love it! They love to make quilts. I taught, I didn't really teach it, I went to school one year to—I think it was my granddaughter's class, and they were studying quilts for history where they made quilts and I went and helped them make a little quilt, each one of them. And they thought it was wonderful. I have a ten-year-old granddaughter who has sewn together some things. She's not very good with her hands, but she sews on a sewing machine, and she made a doll quilt, and she made a pillow top for her mother. But they like it. They like to do it. And not just girls. Boys do it too. One of the best kids in that class that I went down to was a boy. He knew more about how to sew them together than anyone else. So, I think his mother, probably, or grandmother--

LR: What was the project that you taught them?

MH: They were just sewing squares; they were just squares. The teacher had some already cut and we just sewed them together. And then they were to take them home and finish them.

LR: So, what do you see is the future in quilting in America?

MH: Oh, it's growing. It has just bloomed the last 20 years. I think it'll probably keep on. It's satisfying and I think people feel that.

LR: What trends do you see in quiltmaking?

MH: Well, right now there seems to be a lot of machine quilting, embroidery embellishing quilts. I don't do that because so many of my quilts I make are for children and you don't want buttons and beads and things on those quilts. I think they are getting fancier. I like the simple ones [laugh.]

LR: So, are you still collecting fabrics? Buying fabrics?

MH: Oh, sure [laughs.] It's an addiction. I usually buy something every time I go into a quilt shop, and that's one of my favorite places, a quilt shop. But there is so much, so much beautiful fabric now. One thing I have resisted is the flannel, flannel quilts. I didn't want to start collecting flannel because I don't have any room for flannels [laugh.] So, so far, I have resisted.

LR: Have you worked with flannel fabrics?

MH: No. I've just left it alone.

LR: And most of your quilts then are just pieced?

MH: Yes. They're pieced.

LR: What about appliqué?

MH: I made one. I made a Sunbonnet Sue for my granddaughter and that is the only appliqué quilt. I have made some little wall quilts that have been appliquéd. But that was the only one that has been all appliqué.

LR: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about before we finish our interview?

MH: Well, I'd kind of like to talk a little bit about Comfort Quilts.

LR: Please.

MH: When I am making a Comfort Quilt that I know is going to be for a child, very often they are for a child who has been taken from an abusive home. Maybe they are in a shelter, scared. They don't know what's going to happen next. I feel that when I am making the quilt. I can almost see a child, and so I feel there's a lot of love and comfort go along with the quilt that I am going to donate. And I have a feeling that they can feel that, so they're quite important to me. They aren't all children's quilts I make but you can't help thinking about who is going to get it and I think they can feel the love that has been put into a quilt. And I guess that's why I make them. [crying.]

LR: I have tissues [Le offers a tissue.]

MH: [crying.] So do I. [Marion pulls out her tissue.]

LR: Okay we both have tissues. We'll both wipe our eyes [laughs.]

MH: [laugh.] Yes.

LR: It is such an important and lovely thing that you do.

MH: It's important to me.

LR: And to the receiver of the quilt.

MH: I hope so.

LR: Yes

MH: I hope so.

LR: How many approximately do you make a year?

MH: Oh, I don't have any idea.

LR: No.

MH: One year, I think I made a dozen, and I gave them all to the guild to donate. But I don't keep track of how many. I don't think that's important.

LR: No, it is not, you're right.

MH: A lot of people do. But I don't.

LR: Well, it's obvious that you love making quilts.

MH: Oh, I do. [laugh.]

LR: Okay, I think our time is just about up and thank you, Marion, for allowing me to interview you for our Quilter's S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. And it is 5:01 p.m. and it is May 18, 2006. So thank you very, very much.

MH: Well, you are welcome.

LR: It's a pleasure.



“Marion Hiller,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,