Deborah Harrison




Deborah Harrison




Deborah Harrison


Theresa Boock

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Bend, Oregon


Cindy Phillips


Theresa Boock (TB): My name is Theresa Boock and today's date is July 7, 2005, at 9:50 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Debby Harrison at Dawn Crisp's home in Bend, Oregon, for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this for the American Heritage Committee of the Oregon State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Deborah is a quilter and a member of the Bend Chapter. Please tell me about the quilt you brought in today. Who made it, origin, age, describe it?

Deborah Dodd Harrison (DDH): This is a real special quilt to me. I have a lot of Oregon heritage and I had a family who came to Oregon on the Oregon Trail in 1850. When I was at the Baker City Museum over there at the Oregon Trail one, they had a book there called Pioneer Quilts from the Oregon Trail and I thought "Ahah!" Because I wanted to do this so, each one of these squares represented something about their journey across the United States to get to Oregon. And I took some from the book and some I sort of made up. But that's why it is just very special to me. So, actually, I am trying to even remember what they are now. There's took the line tree. This Flying Geese which represents movement. Irish Chain which is down here because the father of the family came from Ireland. Some of them, I think one of the weird ones here, even was Boise Idaho because that's where they ended up. But anyhow, each one of these is representative of movement or something associated with coming to Oregon on a wagon train. I can't remember why I did the pink and green, maybe because I just liked the colors. That doesn't have any significance. But I sort of made this because I wanted to do it on my own and then when they had the quilt contest through the DAR through the Love administration, that's when I appliquéd these on each one of the things. And it did win some prize. I can't remember what it was.

TB: You appliquéd hearts on the corners to represent the Love Administration?

DDH: Yes. My little tag--it was first place?

TB: What is it made of?

DDH: Basically, cotton, or maybe polyester and cotton. And then it is real thin batting, as you can tell that made it easier to hand quilt rather than having thick batting.

TB: Is it a poly batting?

DDH: Probably, rather than the 100% cotton.

TB: Poly is so much easier to needle, isn't it?

DDH: Yes.

TB: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

DDH: It just means the most to me and our house, we have, in fact all the carpeting going up the stairs, that's why I picked it. It is called Quaker Rose. And it is dark green with roses patterned in it as, so I have this hanging in the huge hallway. We have two flights of stairs to get upstairs and that's where it hung there. And I didn't want to damage the quilt so what we did was just sewed these on and then my husband put like a drapery rod up and it is out of the sun. It has been up there for several years, and it has never been faded. But my family history is very, very important to me. I especially like this guy. He got married.

TB: Who is this guy?

DDH: Okay, this is John McClellan, the one that was born in Ireland, and he came over and then married Amanda. I think he must have been in his 50's and she was 20. But anyhow, they did get married and lived in Ohio and Indiana and then they decided to come out with her brother, out to Oregon. And I think John was in his 70's when he did that.

TB: What year?

DDH: 1850. They were in the 1850 census.

TB: They were pioneers.

DDH: Yeah, and he, then he also was in the census in Dayton, and I think he was 89 and he was thrown from a wagon and then he died. But I did all of the Oregon Pacific Coast trail. I did it in day hikes, I did it backpacking. And I would hike like 16 miles in a day and especially the section from the California border right up across Mount Ashland where you could see Mount Shasta. I just felt I had his genes, and you know, because I had that stamina and that desire to do all that walking. So, he has always been one of my very favorite ones.

TB: He inspired the quilt?

DDH: Uh Huh. The whole family. They are just. My mother really taught me to be--she always told me stories about - this was her side of the family.

TB: Oh, so the blocks that you made represent--

DDH: The travel across the United States. Or from him starting in Ireland, too.

TB: What are your plans for this quilt?

DDH: To keep it. And probably give it to my daughter. I have two sons and a daughter, and the daughter is the only one who would probably really care about this.

TB: At what age did you start quilting?

DDH: Probably in my 20's. I started sewing when I was about 13, I think. And in fact, we used the one where you push the pedal across. I'm trying to think. It is not a treadle machine but you would use your knee to do it and it was my grandmother's and who died when I was quite young and so when we--my mother still had it so when we had to liquidate their house (my mother is now in an assisted living place) that's the one thing my sister and I fought over, was who was going to get that sewing machine.

TB: Did you learn to quilt from your grandma?

DDH: No,

TB: So, when did you begin to quilt? How did you get interested in quilting?

DDH: I always have, I just was thinking about it today. Growing up, there were always quilts on the bed. I mean, no matter if it was at my house or my grandparents' house or my great grandparents' house, there were always quilts on the bed and they were always-- I just sort of grew up with it. And my sister and I had a little bit of a traumatic childhood because our dad deserted us and my mother still tells the story--the story that he--we were going to Boise to visit her family and he was drunk, and it was at Christmas and the car went in the ditch in the snow. And I can still remember the people coming down with flashlights and I have these memories of my sister and I being in beds with quilts on.

TB: So that was comfy so that was comforting.

DDH: Yeah, it was very comforting and so I started doing it I don't know, just a couple of years after I was married, I think, and I have been doing it ever since.

TB: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DDH: A lot. What I mainly do now, I have actually a quilt is on both sides of the family and I have so many I finally decided that I just didn't know if I was going to keep making them, so I found out about this organization called ABC Quilts and they started making quilts for babies with AIDS. And so, they made little, small quilts to comfort them and then even to bury them with it. And then so after the AIDS epidemic went down, now they have broadened it to any child who is at risk. And so, I mainly make small baby quilts that go to kids that are either sexually abused or meth users. That's why Bob Smith who lives next door, he is the head of the kid's center where I take the quilts to and then I also take them to COBRA which is Central Oregon Battery and Rape. But they are little, small quilts that I sew all the time and last year I donated 160 of them. So., and I love doing it and I would rather do that than make great big quilts right now. I have enough of them.

TB: How has the quilting affected your family?

DDH: Well, it is just my husband and I now so.

TB: He doesn't mind?

DDH: Oh no, uh. And it is nice because people have given me material too, that, I mean I do get a deduction for the value of the quilt rather than what I spend on material, but I mean no one in their right mind would make that many quilts to get an income tax deduction. And at the kids' center, everybody that goes there, they are going there because they suspect sexual abuse. And so, they go through interviewing and a physical examination and so thy get to come out and choose either a quilt or a teddy bear. So, I just try to do--put something in there that makes a child feel better.

TB: Have you ever quilted to get yourself through a difficult time?

DDH: I am trying to think. I have had breast cancer. But I think I was making the baby quilts then because I have been doing that for a long time. I find it very calming and there is just nothing like putting the colors and the things together and have them come out, you know, and it is so satisfying. Like I was at the Humane Society thrift store, and they had this panels of African Animals and it was like 50 cents, so I bought that and I did the big African thing and then I put borders around and I put little blocks with all the colors that were in the thing together and I used up scraps of material that I had had for a long time. So, I had that very strong thing of--I just don't care anymore about going out and buying really expensive materials and I just--it is in me to be very thrifty, too. So, I just try to use whatever I can. I find it just extremely satisfying.

TB: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

DDH: I'm probably a little bit like Dawn [Crisp.]. I have gone to the quilt show several times and you know when they all had the real pointed ones. I mean, they are really more almost into mechanical and having them professionally done. And there were some really interesting Civil War quilts and family story quilts and I really enjoyed that. But I don't enjoy--that is why I have never really been in guild because what I am doing is mainly on my own.

TB: Do you do appliqué?

DDH: A little bit.

TB: And do you like to machine piece?

DDH: Right. What I mainly do with the baby quilt is machine piece them and then tie them. And they are just real simple like Trip Around the World but with different colors that usually have cartoon characters or one time it was the Princess ones. I just think of those little girls, you know, and I'm a nurse. So that's part of it. I just think, if I was being abused and I came out and said, 'Oh, there's Belle,' and you know. So, I'm really doing it for a little different reason.

TB: So, you like to hand quilt but not machine quilt?

DDH: Like, no, I stitch the things together. I tie them. It just depends. The African Animal ones, I actually stitched on the bodies to outline them and then stitched on the edges. This one I did by hand. I don't really think I have done a hand one since then. But I just sort of enjoy, currently, the way I am doing it.

TB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

DDH: I think it is all in the eye of the person who makes it, not of the beholder. I mean, I do it because I enjoy doing it and it gives me pleasure. So that's what makes it important to me.

TB: When you go to a show and you see a quilt, what do you think a great quilt or what makes something artistically palatable?

DDH: Well, like I said, the Civil War quilts, I thought, and someone had their family history--yeah, but the year they had all those little pointed, folded paper things, I just had no interest in that.

TB: Like paper piecing?

DDH: MM hmm.

TB: You don't like paper piecing?

DDH: No.

TB: What

DDH: Actually one quilt I found that was sort of fun to use up scraps was a sailboat and then the sail was made of all these you know the squares that you do through the middle so that they come out in triangles, so that the whole sail went up that had all the things in it and I used different things to make the sea and the sky and that was fun to do that.

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

DDH: If it fits in with what that museum is about. I mean if it is a Civil War display and the Civil War quilts were really pretty and I think that anything that involved history and tells a story that's what I like, compared to. That's why I am fascinated, too, how the underground railway, I guess they have a lot of quilts now that are based on the underground railroad and I know it was a Log Cabin with a black instead of a red in the fireplace, I think.

TB: How well do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? Have you thought about that?

DDH: I don't know better ways of storage?

TB: Let me ask you this, what has happened to the quilts you have made for friends and family?

DDH: Friends and family--

TB: Have you had a chance to do that?

DDH: Practically never!

TB: Your family--your friends and family is the community; you're doing so much for the community.

DDH: Yeah, that's true. I'm trying to think if I have made one for my daughter. I have made casual quilts for them. I was going to mention that my sister also quilts, too, so we are both – she does different things. In fact, we went on a quilt cruise one time, down in Florida. She is the same way as I, she is just constantly--she does a lot of crocheting and knitting and, but we are both really glad to do those kinds of things together., But, again,

TB: Do you make wearable quilts?

DDH: I have made vests, where I have like pieced things together. That's sort of the main thing. I used to knit but it's become harder and harder for me now, so I have thought, well, I'll just stick to sewing.

TB: So, do you have a collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia?

DDH: No. Except for like cherishing my grandmother's sewing machine and the sewing machine I use is a Viking that I got in 1970.

TB: You are very fond of it.

DDH: Yes. Well, it just still sews beautifully, and you know I think that I should be going and getting some real fancy one, but I just like what I have.

TB: Have you ever won an award?

DDH: The DAR prize for this.

TB: Tell me about that.

DDH: Well, I guess it was first in the State? Okay. And then it was, I can't remember at National if it was third or honorable mention or--I can't remember.

TB: So, it went to National from State. Very good.

DDH: Well, you know how the DAR, it has to fit in with a theme.

TB: Right.

DDH: So, I can't--I think it was celebrating our family history or something. Whatever it was that it fit in. And that's why--it was the Love Administration, so that's why, and then, again, the thing I wrote up is how much I loved this particular family, especially, because they are left so many stories about them that I really feel a part of them. In fact, I just went to Scotland a month ago and we went to--we went way out of our way to this little town called Kirkcudbright and that is where they had McClellan Castle.

TB: That's where some of my family is from, too.

DDH: Where? Kirkcudbright? You're kidding? What's their last name?

TB: Martin.

DDH: Martin?

TB: And MGhie.

DDH: Oh, really. It's funny because I went into their shop and I said, 'And the castle is in beautiful shape.' Beautiful grounds like Scotland has, and I went in, and I said, 'Oh, I'm from the United States,' and the lady said, 'Well, I'm not surprised because everybody migrated of the McClellans.' There is a very small clan in Scotland.

TB: Well, I would like to thank Deborah Dodd Harrison for allowing me to interview her today as a part of the Quilters' S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 10:10 on July 7, 2005.


“Deborah Harrison,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,