Shirley Skov




Shirley Skov




Shirley Skov


Ellen Hopkins

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


The Dalles, Oregon


Ellen Hopkins


Ellen Hopkins (EH): My name is Ellen Hopkins and today's date is February 13, 2008, at 1:30 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Shirley Skov at her home in The Dalles, 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 of Daughters of the American Revolution. Shirley is a quilter and a member of the Celilo Chapter, NSDAR.

EH: Tell me about the quilt you have today, Shirley.

SS: The quilt that I am talking about today is called an I Spy napping quilt made for children. It has large squares with big pictures for children to identify. Has writing around the border. It says, 'I spy a sailboat,' for instance, and they find it. And this goes on all around the border of the quilt.

EH: Okay, approximately how many squares then are in this quilt?

SS: One hundred twenty squares are in the quilt. Plus, half squares down each side and across the top.

EH: Wow! That certainly would keep a child interested in it.

SS: I hope so.

EH: Yes, and enjoying it. [stops and restarts recorder.] What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

SS: One of the first things I think of when I look at this quilt is a good friend of mine who was making a quilt like this for her grandchild about six years ago. We shared material so that we could get enough large blocks. The pictures must be large in this quilt. I was expecting my first great grandchild. So, I thought this is what I'll do. It would be very different. And Jean and I talked about the quilt, and she went off for the winter. And I got my quilt done and couldn't wait for her to come back and show it to her and unfortunately, she died. And the other thing special meaning is it was for a great grandchild. And the mother, my granddaughter, was really pleased with this quilt. She thought it was quite unique. And I think it is quite unique. It may not be the largest quilt I have ever made, but it's very special.

EH: So, you had a special interest in the people and the fact that your friend had shared her pattern and fabrics with you.

SS: Right, we had enjoyed that together.

EH: You mentioned that her name is Jean, what is her full name?

SS: Jean Robinson, from The Dalles. And she was quite a quilter, very talented quilter.

EH: What a special thing then to have. I can understand then why you chose this one today. So, what are your plans now for this quilt?

SS: This quilt is the second one and it is intended for a great grandchild that I hope will materialize in the future.

EH: In the future?

SS: Being the original child that it was to be for was unfortunately a miscarriage.

EH: So, it's on hold in grandma's [laughs.] or great grandma's actually, Hope Chest? [laughter.]

SS: Yes, in great grandmas. Right.

EH: Shirley, what's your interest in quilt making?

SS: My interest in quilt making was piqued about 20 years ago or so. [clears throat.] A large group friends of decided that we should do quilts. And so we went to the high school and took a class from Marge Smith, who was the Home Ec. teacher at the time at The Dalles High School. And at that time, we were all either going to hand quilt, which I attempted and decided was not for me, or we tied them. There was not the talent that's out there now to do this. You can hire people who will hand quilt for you.

EH: At what age did you start quilting?

SS: Well, I was 55.

EH: So, it was a midlife thing?

SS: It was.

EH: I see. [laughs.] So that's where you learned to quilt then was in this special class.

SS: It was. I learned to quilt from Marge, and I also went to a few classes that they held at the Civic. There's a large group of quilting women who get together and teach special techniques.

EH: Are they from a Guild?

SS: It's just an informal group that I know.

EH: That's here in The Dalles?

SS: Yes.

EH: What's your first quilt memory?

SS: The first quilt memory I would have to say was my husband's grandmother's quilt that she made during the Depression from old pants, wool pants; cut them out in squares, sewed them together, tied them. It's still in existence. Our youngest son has it. Very interesting quilt, I thought.

EH: Un-huh.

SS: Simple but made use of fabric that possibly would have been discarded otherwise. She was very frugal [pause.] woman. That has just always stuck in my memory. I have two other quilts that were made, one by her sister and one by an in law that are very, very old that I am currently trying to rehabilitate.

EH: Okay, they needed some refurbishing?

SS: Right.

EH: So, then you have mentioned that there are other quilters or quiltmakers in your family?

SS: A daughter in law in particular does beautiful quilts. She sells quilts. And she is very talented at doing original type quilts. And my daughter does quilt but mostly small projects; never has done a really large bed quilt. I take that back. She did make one for herself.

EH: A bed quilt?

SS: Yes.

EH: Is this your daughter that is a teacher?

SS: Yes.

EH: And so, she probably is still working and perhaps--

SS: Yes, she is still teaching.

EH: And perhaps when she retires, she will have time to do--

SS: Big quilts.

EH: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

SS: Oh, I think quilting is very soothing. Would that be the word for it? And I find a great deal of self-satisfaction with it is done. And I am just pleased that I was able to do something that I feel was fairly complicated. And it exhibits some kind of your own personal feelings in a way.

EH: It's kind of a self-expression?

SS: Right, it is. You get more daring as you do more things.

EH: [laughs.] What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

SS: Cutting out the quilts to be sure that they are strictly accurate in order to make the corners fit with each other is very time consuming and aggravating. But it has to be done.

EH: Is that like in making a clothing garment where cutting out probably consumes about one third of your time?

SS: Oh at least. Probably more than a regular sewing project where you'd make a dress and cut out from a pattern. This is just, you are told dimensions to cut. You do certain things like start with a square and then fold it or you cut it in half and do different things with it to start your design.

EH: So, your dimensions have to be exact, whereas when you are making a clothing garment, for example, you can kinda stretch--

SS: You can kinda fudge and stretch your fabric or whatever.

EH: Right.

SS: But quilting is fairly [inaudible.]

EH: It is more like an exact science.

SS: It is just like cutting glass.


SS: Like glass work.

EH: I see. Have advances in technology influenced your work?

SS: Absolutely. In the beginning, as I said, we tied our quilts which I never was as pleased with. But in the meantime, people have developed the long arm quilt and they stretched their quilt onto it, and I presume a computer cam of some sort is put in and they can do a design and they can also do custom quilting, different designs in different parts of the quilt. Because, as I have told Ellen, if pioneer women had sewing machines, I don't think anyone would have ever hand quilted. [both laugh.] Maybe some people would have, but it is not for me. I've tried it and it's difficult and time-consuming.

EH: So, you are saying that if that if women in olden days or even in medieval times had had access to sewing machines, they would have used them too?

SS: I think they would have. [laughter.]

EH: Women have been smart all through the years, of course.

SS: And willing to be modern.

EH: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

SS: I like piecing better than I do appliqué. But I do some patterns that require some appliqué. And I think that selecting a design that is of personal interest to whomever you are making the quilt for. For instance, there is a pattern that you just take and cut out a theme. For instance, I did all light houses for a cousin in Denmark that loves lighthouses. And then you put that together in a special way and then you have a terrific quilt. And I like that.

EH: Being able to personalize to the identity of the person, is that what you mean?

SS: Right. And I like my wall hanging quilts that are in seasonal themes.

EH: Oh. Yes.

SS: Or personal interest themes. And I have made many of those before. And I enjoy making them more than just making a quilt.

EH: How do you balance your time then when you do your quilt making?

SS: Well, I don't do anything else at the time. [laughs.] Usually, I am pretty occupied. But I do stop and cook dinner. Otherwise, everything else sort of goes by the wayside.

EH: Do you have a certain place where you do your quilting work?

SS: I do have half of my bedroom. My husband's arranged for me a quilting table that's close to the sewing machine and the ironing board. They are all in one area. It is perfect. I used to have them on the dining room table which is rather difficult because you had to move them.

EH: So now you can set up things there and leave them as you have time to work.

SS: Yes, that's the best way.

EH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SS: I think that hand quilting makes a great quilt. Unfortunately, I don't do hand quilting. But they are beautiful. They are more beautiful to me. And I think that another thing that makes a great quilt is if it's an apropos, to me like I said if it's a theme quilt, it is appropriate to the person who is going to get this quilt makes a great difference.

EH: So you seem to really enjoy making quilts specifically for different family and friends?

SS: I do. I don't make them to sell or at all for personal use. I have made too many quilts.

EH: Wow. What tremendously, wonderful gifts too.

SS: I think so. [laughs.] I hope so.

EH: A labor of your heart. [laughs.] What do you think makes a great quiltmaker? [coffee maker beeps and husband enters room setting down plate.]

SS: The ability to change a pattern, [plate being set on countertop.] personalize it. [pause.] And to pick the colors. And pick a design that suits the fabric. That makes a great quilt.

EH: Those choices?

SS: Right. Would this be a time to talk about doing over old quilts?

EH: Sure.

SS: And I think that is an important thing that has gotten to be popular with people. And you don't start a value in a quilt that's beyond help to keep intact. You can take it apart and make something else out of it. And a quilt that I did, actually it is a wall hanging, was a quilt that was made in the 1930's by my daughter's former mother-in-law when she was twelve. She was in a nursing home when I took it out to her, and she remembered it. What the fabrics were made from. And I took it apart and was able to make a wall hanging [husband drops jar lid.] for a granddaughter so she has a memory of this grandmother. And I thought that was real special. It turned out really nice.

EH: I am sure they both were very pleased.

SS: They both were.

EH: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

SS: I think the hand quilting is more beautiful for someone who is so inclined and wants to do it.
But the machine quilting also lends itself to a lot of patterns because they can make it, like a baby quilt they can do a teddy bear design, or they can do just about anything to enhance the areas of the quilt that you want to stand out.

EH: Oh, I see.

SS: For instance, the quilt that I just made for a grandson that is crazy about eagles. It has an eagle in a piece. And she was able to quilt the sky part, so they look like clouds. And I think that is one of the advantages to the long arm quilting; especially if you have a woman that really knows how to use her long arm. It really enhances the quilt to me. [inaudible noise.]

EH: Yes.

SS: No one in our family does hand quilting at all. We all use long arm.

EH: I think I understand, but could you tell me why quilt making is important in your life?

SS: To me it's leaving a legacy. I think, I am hoping that in fifty or sixty years down the line, I‘ve signed all the quilts and dated them. That they will look back and remember that grandma or great grandma made this. And it's just something that is egotistical in me.

EH: [laughs.] I think it is a gift that you are giving more than a self-interest. [both laugh.] I think in time they will remember that you took your time and your effort to make something very special for them.

SS: And they have asked, the grandchildren in particular, have often asked me for a special themed wall hanging. One that I told Ellen about earlier is hot air balloons. And both this granddaughter and her husband went to Oregon State, and I was able to incorporate an Oregon State logo into one of the balloons. Part of the balloon has caftan buttons that I got in Morocco. So, there are little things in that quilt that make it different and special.

EH: Um huh.

SS: And those are fun to do. They don't quit asking me, so I guess they are happy.

EH: I think that is a good sign. [both laugh.] So how do you think that quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

SS: Well, I think you look back on what women did with their scraps, made use of everything. And it just shows the industry of women to me.

EH: You mentioned earlier your mother-in-law, wasn't it, or grandmother?

SS: No, my husband's grandmother.

EH: Okay, had saved the wool from different fabrics to incorporate that into a quilt.

SS: She called it a "Pants Quilt."

EH: A pants quilt. [husband opens soda and pours.]

SS: From old pants that her husband had worn that were worn out but was able to retain enough to make a quilt out of the pants.

EH: I think women did that a lot.

SS: Women did.

EH: How do you think quilts can be used?

SS: Oh, I think quilts should be used to cuddle up in. I think they should be used for wall hangings to enhance the looks of your home, seasonal. I think there are some beautiful quilts that should be in museums. There are some talented people who make up their own designs. These landscape quilts are especially beautiful. There's a landscape quilt that is in my dentist's office that a woman made of the Gorge.

EH: The Columbia Gorge?

SS: Yes.

EH: I bet it is beautiful.

SS: She designed it herself.

EH: Is that one of his patient's or someone at his work?

SS: I don't think so. I think he bought it from a doctor's wife who does beautiful work.

EH: I see.

SS: It is kind of like a painting, in a way. Quilts are, even if it is from a pattern, still, because you pick your material, your color. You pick your theme. In a way like a painting. You are like a man who creates something out of stained glass to me. Certainly.

EH: Okay, so what has happened to the quilts that you have made?

SS: Well, they are all in use.

EH: Okay.

SS: Either on their beds or their grandchildren's beds. Some of them are hanging on their walls. Or some of them are put away because I made them for them when they were twelve and now, they are thirty. So, they are saving them for later; for another child to grow up and use. So, I know they are all in use.

EH: Okay, that's wonderful.

SS: I made a quilt for a granddaughter out of all of her sorority tee shirts from every event they went to. My husband made a template for me, and I cut them; backed them with iron-on strengthening, because they would stretch, otherwise. And made the quilt and I used the sorority logo in this quilt and the sorority colors. And she loves it.

EH: Oh, I can imagine.

SS: It turned out really well. And the pants quilt that I made for a grandson when he was six out of old jeans is put away for him too. You cut out the squares out of old jeans that you pick up at Salvation Army or Goodwill. Use the pockets, put a flashlight in the pocket and so forth. And then on the back of his was dinosaurs because that was his big thing at the time, typical boy. And I had to redo it because it almost wore out. But it is put away now if he ever has a son.

EH: I see.

SS: He'll have it. He wanted it kept.

EH: So, by redoing it, you mean you just redid the backing?

SS: I took the back off and I had to replace the batting inside because it had been washed so many times it was worn out.

EH: Then he certainly enjoyed his quilt.

SS: He enjoyed his quilt. [both laugh.]

EH: Probably his nappy, his little nappy quilt.

SS: Right.

EH: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

SS: Oh my. They've got to be handled carefully. They say to wrap them in special paper. Is it acid free paper?

EH: Probably so.

SS: And some quilts they mount under glass with the glass raised away from them. And I am not sure what some of the techniques are. I know that there are people that know how to preserve fabric [clears throat.] in museums and so forth.

EH: Right.

SS: I'm certain that there a million quilts that should be preserved in museums.

EH: Because of the things that you have told me about today I think that your quilts are being used and enjoyed. And so preservation isn't necessarily something that you are concerned about.

SS: No, they all get washed. Because all your fabric and even my batting is washed before I put it in the quilts.

EH: Oh.

SS: And they can be washed.

EH: Oh, okay, very good. Shirley, is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?

SS: Well, I have a little theme that I made up maybe. And I call quilting a conglomeration equals gallons of water, which is steam, because you press every piece as you cut it, as you put it together, so you use gallons of water and miles of thread.

EH: [laughs.]

SS: That's my little personal [pause.]

EH: That's what it takes to make a good quilt interesting.

SS: Yes, it does. Yes.

EH: [laughs.] That's interesting. I would like to thank Shirley for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories Project. Our interview concluded at 1:53 p.m. on February 13, 2008. Thank you, Shirley.


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