Lydia Cantrell-Smurthwaite




Lydia Cantrell-Smurthwaite




Lydia Cantrell-Smurthwaite


Janet L. McManus

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Salem, Oregon


Janet L. McManus


Janet McManus (JM): My name is Janet McManus and today's date is February 1, 2005, and it is 10:50 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Lydia S. Hutchison Cantrell-Smurthwaite, in her home in Salem, Oregon, for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Oregon State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Lydia is a quilter and is a member of Beaver Chapter.

JM: All right, Lydia, tell me about the quilt that you have today. Who made the quilt?

Lydia Cantrell-Smurthwaite (LCS): Well, I made the quilt myself, but I bought the a--at the top and did the embroidering and the quilting on my own and made a quilt out of it. I was on my way southern Utah to my nephew's wedding and we stopped at a store and spotted this a top--quilt top. We decided it was too expensive to buy so we left it, the area where the quilt top was, and went down to go out the door and I turned to my daughter and said, 'Shall we buy it?' And she, 'Yes.' So, we went back and bought it. And so, I proceeded to--a.--be able to make a quilt out of it, because this was a top that was stamped, and it had to be embroidered and so that took a lot of time to do that before it could be made into a quilt. And so--a--I began to do this work on it. I worked on it--I was working--a--outside of my home for a living but I would work on it sometimes during my noon hour but--a--in the evenings or on my days off and--a--so I finally got it finished, embroidered. But when I would go on a trip, I would take it with me because that would give me time to work on it and then I..after I had that done, I decided to try to quilt it. I put it up on frames and quilted it and it took me a long time. By the time I was finished with it, a year had gone by. And so--a--that's kind of the history of the way the quilt was made. I have shown it in several places--a--like the--a--fair in some of the cities and--a--and have shown it to different people in different meetings where they do fancy work, and everyone has been amazed at the beauty of it.

JM: Now it looks like it's more than just a regular ordinary quilt. Is it for a specific thing? The quilt?

LCS: Well, it could be used as a bedspread because it's, it's pretty enough and it's large enough to be a bedspread on a queen-sized bed.

JM: Oh, that, that's great. And so, what year was that, then you started the quilt and finished it?

LCS: 1981 about 1981.

JM: Okay. Now, I noticed that the pattern on it is a cross-stitch pattern for the embroidery, but the embroidery floss seems a little different. What kind of embroidery floss is that on there?

It's not the regular cotton, it's--it's a different--

LCS: Yes. It's a--

JM: It looks like, it looks like it might be rayon.

LCS: Yes, it it is a rayon thread. And it's very hard to find in the small town where I lived and a to--and very hard to be able to get the amount that I needed in the same shade, so I had to do some shopping looking for thread to sometimes finish what I was doing.

JM: Well, it's truly beautiful the way that it shines--the light [pause.] and then the quilting itself [pause.] and a the very tiny stitches on it and a--it certainly is beautiful. Does the quilt have any really special meaning for you?

LCS: Well, yes, it does because it's the first time I had ever tried to do a quilt with that much work on it. And a...and the quilting was a--lots of quilting on it also so it was a kind of a joy for me to do this to learn how to do some of these things.

JS: Have you made other quilts?

LCS: Yes.

JM: Besides this one?

LCS: Yes, I have made several quilts and a some of them have been tied but most of them have been quilted.

JM: Do you sleep under a quilt, yourself?

LCM: Yes, I do. [laughter.]

JM: More than one?

LCS: Two!

JM: Two. Oh.

LCS: Two, but they are very thin quilts, so--

JM: Have you given any quilts as gifts to anyone?

LCS: Yes, I have given them to my daughters, but I think that's all.

JM: Who taught you to quilt?

LCS: I learned on my own.

JM: Oh, self-taught quilter then. Do you have other quilters in your family?

LCS: Yes, my mother was a wonderful quilter. And she made a lot of quilts and give 'em to her daughters and some of 'em to the grandchildren, so she was very busy in her late years..a.. making a lot of quilts.

JM: Sounds like quilting was fun for your family then.

LCS: Well, it was, and we liked to see the beauty of them when they were finished.

JM: Well, what do you plan to do with this quilt today? What is the--

LCS: Well, I gave it to my daughter so that it will be preserved and passed on down as the generations go. And another one can have it. And where it ends up, I do not know.

[both Lydia and Janet laugh.]

JM: Well, tell me what the, do you remember what age you started quilting?

LCS: Oh, I--probably fifty.

JM: You were fifty before you even started?

LCS: Well, I might have done some--a little bit, but I did mostly crocheting before that time.

JM: So, when you were fifty, you did maybe your first quilt on your own?

LCS: Yes.

JM: Okay, all right then and a--tell me now, you said that you used to take the quilt with you on trips to finish the embroidery and then you set it up and quilted it in your home, in your own home. Did you ever use that quilt to get you through some difficult times in your life?

LCS: Well, yes, lots of times when I would come home from work, I would be very tired and I would sit down and quilt for a little while to calm my nerves and to be able to cope with the rest of the evening and it was a joy to me, to work on it.

JM: That's wonderful. Lydia, what do you think makes a great quilt?

LCS: Well, I think it takes a lot of time and studying and a measuring and having the amount...a... of the right thread to quilt with and not use too heavy of a thread because it's harder to quilt with heavy thread. But to use--a--smaller size thread. And. Be interested in what you're doing.

JM: What makes a great quilter? I mean there's all kinds of quilters, but what makes a great quilter?

LCS: Well, they have to love what they're doing, and they have to have a goal in mind that they are going to finish it when they've started it. And they have to have good patterns to quilt by...a... to make the quilt look like the quilting goes with the pattern of the embroidery or whatever you're doing.

JM: Now you said that this quilt had a stamped pattern on it already. Have you made other quilts that that you pieced together or...?

LCS: Yes, I made several pieced quilts.

JM: And then so you sewed the pieces together, then made the quilt, and then did the quilting?

LCS: Yeah, made the top, and put a bottom on them which was usually just a yardage material to make the bottom with.

JM: Since you've done all your quilting by hand, how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

LCS: Well, I don't know that much about machine quilting, so I couldn't really give a true answer on that I've always just done--a--hand, and I've only just seen one of the regular of the--a--quilters work, and I don't quite understand how they do, so I prefer the hand quilting.

JM: Ah, what do you think about the importance of quilts in America's history and American life?

LCS: Well, I think that there a something you can hand down from generation and can show what a quilting was like when they didn't have these machine quilts and a give people an idea of how much work it really is to quilt by hand.

JM: How do you think quilts can be used? We know that we put them on the beds, but are there any other uses for quilts?

LCS: Well, I've seen them hung up on the walls as a material--

JM: Like a wall hanging?

LCS: A wall hanging to hide a big bad spot on the wall or something. I've seen 'em. They look very nice. They've also been displayed at different shows and things, quilt shows and things like that--fairs and such.

JM: What do you think some of the ways are that quilts have special meaning for women in history of America?

LCS: Well, it was, quilting was a way to make your beds and keep yourself warm. And years ago, they probably didn't have blankets as such and so a quilt was made to keep a person warm at night, usually for sleeping.

JM: Where do you think they got those materials that they made their quilts from and where did you get your material from that you made your quilts from when you pieced them?

LCS: Well, they were just scrap pieces of material that I had when I made my daughters little dresses when they were little, I saved all those scraps and used them and sometimes you could even borrow or trade scraps with somebody else to get the colors and things that you want.

JM: How do you think the women from, oh say a hundred years ago, how did they get their scraps of materials to a make their quilts?

LCS: Well, they wove material for one thing, and their quilts were not as dainty and decorated as much as they are now since they were just pieces of old wool and such that a, most of them, I think, in the old days, were wool because that was about the only material they had until cotton came in.

JM: Well, Lydia, how do you think quilts can be preserved for our future? What's the process of doing that?

LCS: Well, keep 'em covered so they don't get dirty and have to be washed. And keep 'em where they're not handled a lot with other people and be careful who ya let handle 'em. Take good care of 'em.

JM: What do you think about...a... putting quilts in museums for people to view?

LCS: Well, that's all right if that's what they want to do with their quilts, you know. But I prefer to keep mine at home where I can keep my eyes on 'em.

[both Lydia and Janet laugh.]

JM: Okay. Have you ever sold any of your quilts?

LCS: No, I don't think so.

JS: Have you ever worked in a quilt shop?

LCS: No.

JM: So, your quilting has been done mostly just at home? And do you still have quilting frames to this day?

LCS: Well, I don't have them myself, but some of the family have them.

JM: So, is quilting still going on in your family?

LCS: Ah, I guess that some of them are still doing quilting. One thing you need to be careful who you let quilt on your quilt because people quilt different. Some people quilt too big, and you need to have the quilting to be all the same. So be careful who you ask to come and help you quilt.

JM: Okay. Have you ever belonged to a group of people who quilt together or a quilting bee or anything like that?

LCS: No, I haven't.

JM: Before we finish this up, a Lydia, you've done some quilts in just the last few years as well as this one you did several years ago. Do you think you'll do anymore quilting?

LCS: No, I don't think that I'm...almost eighty-eight years old and I think my quilting days are over. I...a... just don't have the energy to do it anymore and I can't sew the pieces together and, so I think I've made my last quilt.

JM: Well, you've certainly done a good job on this one. We're so happy that you'd share it with us. I'd like to thank Lydia S. Hutchison Cantrell-Smurthwaite for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 11:05 on a. February 1, 2005. Thank you, Lydia, it's been a pleasure working with you on this project.

Note from JM: I did look at my watch wrong and it was 11:08 when we concluded this.


“Lydia Cantrell-Smurthwaite,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,