Lisa Ponder




Lisa Ponder




Lisa Ponder


Theresa Boock

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Eugene, Oregon


Theresa Boock


Theresa Boock (TB) [tape begins mid-sentence and should say My name is Theresa Boock and today's date is February.] ...15th, 2005, at 2:15 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Lisa Ponder at my home in Eugene, Oregon for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-.] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this though the American Heritage Committee of the Oregon State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Lisa is a quilter and is a member of Oregon Lewis and Clark Chapter [NSDAR.] National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
Lisa, tell me about the quilt you brought in today. Who made it?

Lisa Ponder (LP): The quilt I brought in today was made by my grandmother, father's mother. Her name is Fern Thelma Martin Johnson. She was born in Clarksville, Arkansas. Where there were, like, five generations of her family before that. She moved to Oklahoma. By the time she made this and gave it to me, when I was eight, she was in Inola, Oklahoma on a farm after having moved to the farm after living in Tulsa for a while--a few decades.

TB: So how old is the quilt?

LP: 1963 it was made, or '64. Yeah, '64 probably.

TB: Can you describe it for us?

LP: The sashing is a light gray, sort of like a dove gray. And the blocks are about nine-inch blocks. And it's a very simple pattern. In the four corners is a one-inch square all of each of the same fabric. And in the middle is an eight-sided unit, made of four triangles, as the four sides, and then in between it there is a star shape out of four triangles around a square. So, at the very center of the square, four triangles coming off it like points of a star. And in between those stars, you have these diamond shapes, did I say triangle? They are diamond shapes, filling in between the star points, so the entire thing makes an octagonal, eight-sided ball shape with a star in the middle of it.

TB: So, do you know that name of that pattern?

LP: Never seen it ever in any book, I have no name.

TB: I might have a book upstairs that has the name.

LP: Oh.

TB: So, what is it made of; do you think?

LP: The fabric most likely is all shirts and dresses of clothing that my grandmother made for people. Meaning her kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews. And fabric that her daughters-in-law would pass to her for using for quilts.

TB: Do you think it's made of cotton?

LP: Oh, yes, yeah, I think it's all almost all cotton. I don't know if anything is not cotton, I'm not sure of it. Because this was '64 everything people were wearing mostly cotton still on the farm. It wasn't much polyester, yet.

TB: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

LP: I slept under it every night for a decade, at least, from when my grandmother gave it to me at Christmas in 1964 when I was eight. And so this quilt was like my best friend, companion. I didn't have any dolls or puppy dog, Teddy bear; I didn't have a Teddy bear or anything like that that was close to me it was this quilt. If I ever had to save anything in a flood or fire, it would have been this one quilt. This one thing. So it was like my friend, I would talk to it and lie under it at night and be able to look though, though the quilt up toward the light like a stained-glass window. And when I was sick, back then, I had to stay home and in bed, home from school, we didn't go watch T.V. We'd be in bed and get to eat tomato soup and crackers or toast. But we'd basically sit in bed, and so this quilt would be over me, I wasn't' sick very often, but anyway, I'd just always sit on the quilt to read, and I read a whole lot, book worm, and the sunlight would come across it [static noise on tape makes the following words inaudible and make all the colors just come alive, so I thought about.] art, and color and light, and I don't know, it just, my magical I never thought of it as magic but just like, it was my best friend.

TB: That's great.

LP: I never had a crib quilt blankie, or anything. But this was the closest thing. I don't know,

TB: That's so precious.

LP: It was like my best friend.

TB: What are your plans for this quilt?

LP: I don't' know. I just hope my one of my children will care about quilts one day. Or a grandchild will because it needs to be saved and treated carefully. Kept in the family.

TB: [coughing heard in background.] Tell me about your interest in quilting.

LP: Well, it came from this quilt. I mean, this, this is hand quilted by my grandmother, Grandma Fern, and she used in this quilt a light gray thread which I think was pretty darn unusual. And in this quilt she just follows the quilting pattern of the pieces itself and then in the sashing does a lattice kind of simple cross I don't know what you call it and it's a simple binding of just taking the backing fabric and folding it around to the front and the backing fabric is also that light dove gray cotton, and I love this quilt and I loved watching my grandmother quilt. This is an unusual quilt because she pieced it also. But after a few years, my grandfather did the piecing, and she did the quilting because she really liked the quilting most of all. That was the main furniture in the living room of the farmhouse was the quilt frame, and she'd sit there and quilt whenever she was off and had a few minutes off from cooking and cleaning and taking care of lots of people.

TB: So, what age did you start quilting?

LP: I started quilting, me? When I was thirty-four. Thirty-three, thirty-three. Yeah, I didn't start before that.

TB: So, did you learn to quilt from your grandmother?

LP: I learned in the sense that I watched her as a child and talked to her and of course there was a huge ritual at the farmhouse I'll tell you about later. I grew up learning about it but didn't do much at all until I was pregnant with my last baby, that's when I started quilting. Do you want me to tell you about that?

TB: Yes, please do.

LP: Well, I was at a kid's swim lesson, I was about, I was pregnant, and the woman next to me watching her child, also at the swim lesson was doing some hand quilting, and we got to talking, and I told her I just I couldn't quilt as well at my grandmother, and so I just never started. And of course, that sounded like a very silly thing, to say, because how could I ever quilt as well as my grandmother, if I never started. So, I just, I was just in awe of all my great great grandmothers and great grandmothers who had quilted and all these quilts in the family, dozens and dozens and dozens worn to the point where they become picnic blankets and then eventually mattress pads and then eventually became batting for another quilt. And it was just such an incredible tradition that I never felt worthy to start it because I didn't actually live near my grandmother. We lived in a whole different city and whole different state.

TB: So how did you learn to quilt?

LP: This friend, this person at the kid's swim class turned out to be willing to teach me about quilting, and then she did it by introducing me to her quilting friends and inviting me to join her quilting group that went home to home every week.

TB: Where was this?

LP: In Eugene, Oregon and the group was called the Loose Threads,

TB: Was this at Easter Seals pool that you met her?

LP: Yes, it was.

TB: [laughing.] That was a great clearinghouse. The networking.

LP: Oh, did that work for you, too?

TB: Yes, oh yes, [laughs.]

LP: Yeah, so I was in this weekly quilting group called Loose Threads, and we did hand piecing, and we did birthday blocks for each other. Where we'd, on our birthday, we'd pass out a quilt pattern to each and the other people would make that block for us and give it back to us a year later.

TB: So, do you have quilts that you've made of those blocks?

LP: No, but I have a lot of tops. [laughs.]

TB: [laughs.] You're ready to quilt one though.

LP: It was actually, but I didn't actually quilt until I joined the Pioneer Quilters, which was three years ago. And that's when I started quilting at the frame and I find I'm much like my grandmother. Prefer the quilting to the piecing. The piecing I like if I'm making up a new design. So, I actually don't have many quilts I've made, but what I've done is pieced tops that are intended for particular people, and as my life work situation changes in the next half year, I'll finally be able to get a frame up and start quilting those things. So, so far, my quilting has been on other people's quilts. And not finishing my own pieced tops.

TB: Would you tell me about the quilt ritual you said you would mention later?

LP: Oh, okay, at the farm house, whenever anybody was having a gathering, okay so we lived in Chicago cause my dad got a job there or we lived in other states where he was a professor, Missouri or Ohio, or Illinois, and we'd drive to Oklahoma to the farm for important family gatherings or visits certainly holidays like Easter, and Christmas and Thanksgiving, and Memorial day, that was a big one. And when we got together then all these other relatives would come. The aunts, and the cousins, the great aunts and the great uncles and the second cousins and we'd have at least forty people there for Thanksgiving dinner all around. The great, great grizzly old great uncles giving the blessing and razzing the little kids and all these rituals and things people did. We didn't call them rituals; they were just the customs that people did. But when people walked in the front, the very first that that happened, they walked in past the kitchen and of course they'd check to see what's cooking, but the first thing they really did was walked into my grandmother's bedroom and laid out what ever quilts they had just made, and they'd want to come see what Grandma Fern had just made. So, the very first thing that all the women did was gathered in her bedroom to share all the quilting stuff. And they'd share what pattern had just made and share the fabric they'd brought to give to each other for making quilts. Mostly at that point was looking at Grandma Fern's quilts, what she'd just made; and she'd spread it out on her bed and discuss, 'Oh this is Rocky Road to Kansas,' and she'd show them all the new patterns she was doing. So, anyways, the first half hour or 45 minutes was always just checking out the new quilt information. And I should say they're not the fancy quilts you see in books, they're all the simple patterns all made from clothing fabric, so people would sit there and look over the fabric and say, 'Oh there's Kyle's shirt, I remember when he was wearing that.' 'Oh look, there's Pamela's Easter dress.' And they'd say, 'Oh well do you have a piece of Theata's prom dress to put in there? Oh, that would be the right color.' And people would talk about the stories of what happened with each of the people when they looked at the fabric.

TB: What a marvelous story.

LP: We didn't have a photo album. We looked at the quilt.

TB: So, it was really, so quilting was really integrated into your family and your community and your holidays.

LP: Yeah, it was the photograph album equivalent, to look at the quilts. And remember all the stories. Who did what when they were wearing that or--

TB: That's marvelous. Well, have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

LP: I think I have. Yeah, I would go to the quilting bees when, Pioneer Quilters, when things were upsetting and be able to calm myself by just sitting there quilting and being with the other people and listening to their life stories it was very centering, calming, helped broaden my perspective on my own troubles, gave me something to do that was very Zen like, very tangible and helped my breathing be regular and thoughts slow down to a manageable pace.

TB: It grounded you again, huh?

LP: Yeah

TB: So, well, so what aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

LP: The ones I don't enjoy, I don't do. What I would not enjoy, is doing someone else's pattern with somebody else's choice of color, fabric or limited fabric. I really like inventing new patterns and pushing the design to figure out how many more complications I could work into it and still make it feel simple and unified.

TB: So, what do you think makes a great quilt?

LP: Color and pattern that keep a viewer looking at it. Where eyes find interesting focal points and our eyes keep circling in a restful way without leaving the quilt. It's sort of like a graphic design thing where you don't want people's eyes to leave the area.

TB: [visually.] Involved? So, what makes a quilt artistically powerful? Is that redundant?

LP: It's it would be following graphic design principals with strong shapes and colors that are unified over the whole area. It doesn't have to be a particular set of colors or limits of colors or design. It's a matter of balance, a matter of colors that are going to work together in terms of value, so you have differences if it's not all of the same hue, I mean, not all medium tones, you need lights, darks, mediums to have a balance, for instance.

TB: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

LP: If it has a special design or a special history. My collections, my collection of quilts are special because of the stories. One of them was pieced by my grandfather when I was a rebellious, teenage hippy in the Viet Nam War era, when all my other cousins were very conservative, and I was the one that wasn't, so at Christmas, when everybody got their quilt top presents, and that was the other thing, at Christmas every, all the grandkids got quilts tops as presents, and then over the year we would turn them back in to our grandma for her to quilt, that one Christmas when I was a teenager, all these other cousins got these beautiful, traditional patterns of Rocky Road or Jacobs ladder or whatever and mine that year was wild colors like oranges, neon greens and yellows, and--

TB: Psychedelic, huh?

LP: Psychedelic, and it was not a real traditional, old timey pattern, and my grandfather had pieced my initials into it in bright, orange, neon fabric, and I looked and I thought this was ugliest thing I'd ever seen [laughs.] and I was so jealous of my cousins that wanted, had the beautiful traditional looking ones, and but over time it became very precious, because I realized it was my grandfather's way of affirming that he loved me, no matter how different this little grandchild was, and so it's very precious because of the story. Or this quilt that I brought today is precious because of the stories of whose shirt fabric it is, and what were they doing at that time and all the family stories in it. And, unfortunately, I don't know which fabrics meant what in this particular quilt, but there are other quilts I have that I do know some of the stories of some of the clothing in there, who was doing what when they wore that particular thing. For me I collect what means something which a story, and in museums things that catch my eye are things that have special classic designs that people should know exist and be able to see good examples of, but also, quilts that have a story, either about their maker, the community it was in or the role it played in history or someone's personal life. That makes it special.

TB: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? [coughing heard on tape.]

LP: I have a fondness for the hand quilting because of it's a different experience doing it. A different goal perhaps, also. Machine quilting is a fine thing, and I'm glad that it exists as an option. And you end up with a quilt sooner and it's a different kind of a quilt. It's sort of like comparing apples and oranges or comparing which color in the paint box is better, orange or red or green. Or comparing what painting medium is preferable, watercolor or gauche or oil. They are all special and they all have their own place. Personally, I wouldn't do any machine quilting because I make so few quilts that, and, they have special meaning when I'm making the top, that I want to be able to put the hand quilting into it because it's a special gift for one of my children, their fabrics in it, or something. And so, I want to go that extra step, hand quilting. But if it's something that needs to be made quickly and it's not particularly emotionally meaningful to me to be doing this quilt, if it's a gift, a lap quilt or something as a gift for somebody who doesn't really care about quilting, I don't mind doing machine quilting on that, knowing it will be sturdier. For them it's just the gesture, not the actual artwork that matters.

TB: [agrees.] Absolutely.

LP: But I've seen machine quilting that is incredibly beautiful. It just has a different feel to it, because it's a solid line, visually, it has a different texture. When there is hand quilting, I think the pattern of the piecing shows more clearly and a lot of machine quilting is done poorly, so that it obliterates the pattern of the piecing rather than working with the piecing to be a unified piece of functional art.

TB: Makes sense. Why is quilting important to your life?

LP: Women's history. Women's skill. It's one way that women have passed a heritage on to each other and expressed their values and heritage to the men in their life, as well as the women in their life. And women's history is very important to me. I used to teach women's history and my mother was adamant about women's history, and genealogy. Women's textile history all over the world is very important to preserve.

TB: How do you think quilts can be preserved? Speaking of preservation.

LP: Preservation. Well, for starters, teaching each generation the importance of it, like, even reluctant sons who are teenagers and off busy wanting to go to punk rock concerts instead of quilting.

Even they can learn the special ness of the heritage they have, because people coming along, the generations are the ones who will have to decide to keep care of some quilt or know enough to care enough to pass it to someone who will care for it, and keep the provenance, the history of the quilt with the quilt. And there are too many people who don't know how precious it can be, and then all those quilts that end up in the Goodwill bag. Or the, you're groaning.

TB: Oh, I've seen it happen.

LP: Or out in the trash, because the knowledge hadn't been passed on. So, I think that is the first step, awareness and education of the family members around the quilts. And of school kids in general.

TB: I think this project is a good way of preserving it, too.

LP: Yeah

TB: [coughing heard on tape.] What has happened to the quilts you've made for your friends and family?

LP: Most of mine are still pieced tops.

TB: Oh, right.

LP: But there, in particular boxes, each of my children has a quilt that I started when they were babies, with patterns I either made up or used from my grandmother. Her patterns were on paper glued to cardboard cereal boxes cut out and then on the backside of the cereal box was a piece of sandpaper glued on, so you had this little cardboard with sandpaper on one side. Anyway, that's the piecing pieces I used for my kid's baby quilts. And then, as they got older, I was choosing piecing tops that reflected their interests, like one of my sons has the back of that quilt, when I do quilt it, is all Elvis fabric. And the other one has a fabric for the backing of his that is going to be, I mean that is of his that is hot air balloons. It's sort of like a snapshot of what was meaningful to them at the time I made it.

I mean, pieced it all together. When I do end up quilting it, and giving it to them, it's like a time capsule, even though they've changed in their lives, it's like a time capsule of what they were like at that time in their life. So, the tops and all the parts of it are each in their own boxes, waiting for being hand quilted. I suppose if I'd found out, I'd would not have time to hand quilt them all, I'd get someone to machine quilt them beautifully, but I don't know. So, they are waiting.

TB: Yeah

LP: One of them has been given away, a lap quilt, and I don't know what happened to that. That was my sister-in-law.

TB: Yeah. Do you collect or sell quilts?

LP: I don't sell quilts, I have just collected the family quilts so whenever a relative dies, I ask for the quilts to come to me. And that's how I've become the collector of the family quilts. I did start buying some quilts that were old and special to someone, and I just didn't want to see them turned into cut pieces of something or thrown out into the trash. So, I did it just as a rescue thing. And now, I'm realizing I don't want them in my home because my children might get confused and think that I had, had made them or some relative had made them. So, I've decided that the only quilts that I'm going to collect are the family ones.

TB: You might consider putting labels with those that explain what they are.

LP: Yah, one of them I put into a bag, for instance that says, 'This is not a family quilt' I bought it just for using for a prop in cemetery reenactments. You know, something like that.

TB: So, do you have special quilting or sewing memorabilia that you have collected?

LP: Sure, I have all my grandmother's quilting materials, and sewing materials and equipment, and my

TB: Thimbles?

LP: Thimbles, sewing machines. Sometimes, we counted. I have twelve, ten, twelve sewing machines. Or something like that [laughs.] but, and all the different spool racks [coughing heard on tape.] and different kinds of scissors, and different eras of buttonholers and pincushions from my great grandmothers that they made. Yeah, I do.

TB: You're so lucky.

LP: I do have those things.

TB: So, have you taught quilting?

LP: No, I have not taught quilting, except, that my sons have been able to put a needle though quilts on occasions, and I've told them about it. And I've taught my husband to quilt, and he is quilting. So, what do you call that? A one-on-one lesson for three years. And now he has actually finished a pieced top and it's on the frame. When we'd got an empty room upstairs from children leaving to go to college, I suppose I could have said, 'Hey I've been waiting longer, it's my turn to have a room and to put a quilt up', but he had a top ready and it was, he was ready to hand quilt it instead of machine quilting it. So, we put that on a frame, and it's all four sided, it's all stretched out flat and it's not rolled up on big flat frame. So, he's quilting that and as it gets smaller, we'll put up a frame for me. He's been using me as his teacher for quilting.

TB: Have you ever won an award?

LP: I have. I created a wall quilt small circle that hangs on a wall. In 1993, and put it in a competition in Bend, Oregon, and it won second place. And it's a quilt that shows the Pine Mountain Observatory at night, with a starry sky and a nebula overhead and then a dark pine trees on this rocky mountain, a rocky hilltop. And that's actually where I met my husband.

TB: At Pine Mountain Observatory?

LP: Yeah, and I made--

TB: In the dark?

LP: Yeah. [laughter.]

TB: [laughs.] I've been to those star parties. [laughs.] I know what they're like.

LP: [laughs.] Yeah

TB: [laughs.] Did you stumble over him on the way?

LP: No, it seems we'd both been working, running telescopes there for years but never on the same weekend. But I was actually making this wall quilt, just a month or two after I met him.

TB: Wonderful history. Is there anything else you would like to say about quilting?

LP: Well, label. Backs of your quilts, everybody. My mother died quicker and sooner than she ever expected. She was busy trying to get all of that history labed for her grandmother and her mother, and all of a sudden, she died, so, at age 43, I became the eldest in the family tree, and we hadn't gotten all the quilts labeled by that point. And my mother could have told me, if she came back for three minutes, she'd immediately be able to tell me, 'Oh that's Eolia's quilts, that's Cassie's quilt, that's so and so's quilt" and all that knowledge is only guess work on my part, now. There's even a baby quilt that was made for me. A beautiful little pink stars, the Seven Sisters,

TB: Yes

LP: Is that what they call it?

TB: Yes

LP: Those little six-pointed stars that are about four inches across. And it's a pink, and the background is white, and it's a baby crib quilt and it is beautiful. It even still has some basting in it. And it was made for me, when I was a baby, and I don't know which great grandmother made it for me.

TB: So, do you think people should take old quilts and label them at this point?

LP: Absolutely. They should be labeled, even if it's to take a post-It piece of paper and pin it on or take a fabric marker and actually mark on the quilt, or something. But I have six, seven boxes of family quilts from my great great grandmothers and grandmother that don't have labels. And so I have that challenge for myself, to, to label them. And not be afraid to start quilting, so that the tradition and skill gets passed on. Even if you can't do it right.

TB: Everyone has to start somewhere.

LP: Everyone has to start at the beginning, and that's what took me so long to do. Just to start, cause all those, actually great grandmothers had to start.

TB: I'd like to thank Lisa Ponder for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. -Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 2:50 on February 15th, 2005.

LP: Yay.

[tape ends.]


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