Norma Wetzell




Norma Wetzell




Norma Wetzell


Carolyn Kolzow

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy Bavor


Beaverton, Oregon


Perri Parker


Carolyn Kolzow (CK): My name is Carolyn Kolzow and today's date is June 8, 2006, at 3:30 PM. I am conducting an interview with Norma Wetzell in my home in Beaverton, 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. Norma is a quilter and is a member of Beaver Chapter, [NSDAR.] National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

CK: Norma, tell me about the Quilt that you brought today.

Norma Wetzell (NW): Well, it's called--I named it Oregon Lighthouses and Ships that have visited Oregon because that was the theme that I used to make it, design it, and it's a bed quilt that I made for my daughter and her husband. It's hand--everything's hand done. With hand pieced, and hand quilted.

CK: About how long ago did you do it?

NW: 2002. About four years.

CK: Now you mentioned it has lighthouses, and can you describe it some more?

NW: [pause while thinking.]

CK: Is it a particular pattern?

NW: OK, no the lighthouses and the ships are appliquéd and with a little embroidery for detail on some items, and there are some other little blocks that are just printed sea scenes or salmon blocks and water. I put the ship and lighthouse ones on blue background, and then it's surrounded by sashing that has lighthouses on the sashing.

CK: Now, those look like little lighthouses. Are they?

NW: Yes.

CK: Ah.

NW: And the names are embroidered underneath.

CK: Oh, they are? That's fine. What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

NW: Well, just that I wanted to do something special to show my love for my family and my daughter loves the lighthouses, so it was her idea to do the lighthouses, but there weren't enough Oregon lighthouses to make the big quilt. So, I put in the ships in there visiting Oregon too. From the very first one, to some more recent ones like the coast guard ships, training ships.

CK: Now you say these are appliquéd?

NW: Yes.

CK: And so, you created the pattern and everything?

NW: Yes.

CK: My goodness. I'm impressed.

NW: Photographs, and then I--

CK: What does that have to do with it? How do you use it?

NW: How do I use it? I don't use it. My daughter leaves it on her bed.

CK: You gave it away.

NW: Yes, I gave it away.

CK: And have they said what their plans are for that quilt for the future? Are they going to wear it out?

NW: They are going to wear it to death with love. They even let the cat on it.

CK: It looks like it might be good enough to be a coverlet for a bed.

NW: It is king sized. Well, you know, I forgot the exact size. Judi says it is something by 102.

CK: 84 x 102?

NW: Yes, it is.

CK: Then you can use it for a bed spread then?

NW: Yes

CK: Oh. Tell me about your interest in quilting. At what age did you start quilting?

NW: I don't remember the age that I started exactly quilting, but I have experiences that influenced me from very young. I think the first quilt I made was for my children when they were little. A shaped quilted quilt. I remember making for one daughter, one was shaped like an elephant and one a lion, and I'd seen those patterns in magazines, and then later one of my girls was in Rainbow group, I made her a Rainbow one with the clouds. But when I was little, I grew up in a family that quilted, and I had a lot of wonderful experiences playing underneath the big quilting frame and getting a thumped with a needle, I mean a thimble, every time I made someone jab their finger, which I didn't mean to do, but--

CK: Oh,

NW: My grandmother had quilting bees and people would come and help each other quilt, so I remember those and being very young.

CK: And so then was it from your grandmother that you remember quilts?

NW: Oh yeah and sew. It was - I have one of hers hanging on my wall right now. She pieced the top and died before she got it quilted for me, it was especially made for me, and about two years back my aunt, my mother and myself, one of my daughters and her husband all quilted on it!

CK: Oh my. And so, do you take after her, then, in that did she create her own patterns?

NW: She did not. She used patterns that were very classic. A lot of hers were double wedding rings and Dresden Plate was another favorite of hers, the Dutch Girl and Boy Those were the ones I remember, in fact, I have all of those except the Dresden Plate.

CK: Ah, how nice. How many hours a week do you quilt?

NW: That's an interesting question. Every evening I quilt for at least two hours, sometimes it's three hours, and when I'm in a rush on this wedding one I want to do another hour in the day, so I really get it done, so about 18 to 21, I guess.

CK: Are you able to listen to music or watch television at the same time?

NW: I listen. I don't really --you mentioned quilting and to me, and that's the act of putting all the layers together, but right now I'm piecing not quilting and that includes that--

CK: Beside your grandmother and your mother, do you have family and other friends that quilt as well?

NW: Um, not really, no.

CK: OK. Would you say that your quilting impacts your family? Does it get in the way of anything?

NW: Oh, no, no. Maybe if I were a young mother, it might, but I'm not.

CK: Can you tell me if you've ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

NW: I'm finding it very relaxing, and that is why I like to hand quilt, and I kind of use my lap, and I do not like using a frame, I like using a frame, I find using it cumbersome and it's more relaxing to me without, just have it on my lap and a needle a thread and myself and I'd I do not use a thimble. Tough calluses.

CK: I guess! Now, I don't do needles so I'm curious to know if I wanted to do this without a plan what would you suggest I do? Do you baste the--

NW: Yes, I baste it very carefully, and that is the one part of the whole quilt process I do not like, but it is so essential to a good quilter.

CK: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

NW: Well, I've always loved the feel of fabrics, uh, the design, the colors, I like colors, contrast. And all those kinds of designs going in and out with a needle, but it gets the job done. And sometimes quilting the design and the quilt that I was talking about today the light houses and the ships they all have to do with the sea and so the quilt, though out the quilt, And the quilting itself seashells, water, waves, that type of thing.

CK: Oh, okay. Would you say there's any aspect of quilting you don't enjoy?

NW: Yes. The layering and basting. [chuckles.]

CK: All right. What would you say makes a great quilt?

NW: I think that a great quilt needs to have everything put together in a way that where you have good contrast and colors that complement each other and designs that are not all muddied up too much. I've seen that in lots of quilts that are not great because they are too complex. And so [both talk at the same time.]

CK: What would you say a quilt that is artistically powerful is one that isn't real complex?

NW: No--

CK: What did you say?

NW: No, simple is better.

CK: Simple is better,

NW: Yes.

CK: OK. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

NW: I think it must be neat. Because there is an abundance of them today, People were very, very old of course and that should make them effective, lasting, and if there was something special, hand crafting done in it needles you used the things that are not used- machine done because they're mostly computer controlled, they're not, they're not--I don't know--

CK: Machine does them.

NW: Well, there are some done by machine and doesn't have it all dialed, and well maybe my grandmother might have done that, she didn't, she always quilted by hand but if she had a--she would have taken her old treadle machine and gone at it.

CK: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? Especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

NW: I think they have some people can learn though reading and looking at quilts that are already done, but I think a person has a little bit of innate talent in them in order to be able to quilt those designs on quilts.

CK: Then you've spoken about machine quilting. What about long arm quilting? Do you know anything about it?

NW: I've just seen them in a few shops and had – said, 'Oh, you should take a class,' but I'm not going to. I don't want to. I don't want to do it that way. But I do make quilts that are machine done. I've done them with my old, old machine, I just sew a little and I go. And those are mainly ones that I make for the children's hospital [Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, OR] where they have to be laundered, or for children that have to be laundered often.

CK: Do you belong to a sewing group, or--

NW: I do. I belong to Northwest Quilting Guild.

CK: Now, do you get together and quilt at the same time?

NW: No. No, we have meetings where we talk, and we learn about a new technique or a new - somebody came, and they'll come and show what they have to show us so it's more like a class and some camaraderie. Then a couple of times a month we can go and sew on projects for a charity I don't do much of that. When I do that, I do it at home.

CK: Now I see that you have served as a board member on a committee on the guild. What job did you have?

NW: It was to - the educational portion of it, and that was to take care of the quilts that we own and take them to the schools, people that request them to look at them. They own quite a number of quilts.

CK: Oh, that's interesting. Have you ever won an award for your quilting?

NW: Yes, but not a big one. I won one in Lane County in the Lane County Fair, but mine was the only hand quilted one, it really didn't fit with the category very well, so it was they were all machine done.

CK: They were all machine done?

NW: Um hm.

CK: That's interesting. I wouldn't think it would be that popular to machine--

NW: Well, it is, because it's so fast, everybody's got to do it fast.

CK: Do you sleep under a quilt?

NW: Yes, I do, and have almost my whole life.

CK: Your whole life? I suppose you have memories of your grandmothers.

NW: Oh yeah, and I remember my quilt- that my crib had a quilt that I remember one of my aunts made.

CK: Wow. Why would you say quilting is important to your life?

NW: Well, again, it's relaxing for me, and I lead a kind of fast paced life, so that's very important, and on top of that it's a way - most of the quilts I make I give to my family or to the children's hospital, [Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, OR] so for me it's a way of showing that I care.

CK: Is there one that you've kept for yourself, or have you given them all away?

NW: I've given them all away.

CK: You've given them all away?

NW: But I have a few in my house, but it's not because they're mine, I mean Judi my daughter has them in the basement, the one I brought today is theirs so it's on their bed in the basement. My great grandson has a little room it's actually my sewing room, but he calls it his room. He has a bed in there for when he comes to spend the night, and I have one that I made him on the wall in there, so I look at that one too, and I have a sack of baby quilts that need to go bye bye to charity, but I haven't done it yet.

CK: Well, I would say that this Lighthouse and Ship one certainly reflects the community and region that we live in. Have you made others that reflect where we live?

NW: Um, I designed one. I'm thinking of making it for my granddaughter who's being married in October and they like to hike in the mountains, so I designed it with some of our familiar mountains and the drawings are all done and I started to buy the fabric and then she had a brain tumor so I don't if it'll upset her or make her feel good, and I'm going to wait and see how things turn out before I make that one. As for others, -I made one of my other daughters a bed quilt that reflected a classic, very old pattern and was a sampler of them, but it represented the Oregon State Fair, so it's got all of the things we find in the fair, from the Ferris Wheel to the vegetables to the fruit to the pumpkins.

CK: That sounds terrific. In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

NW: Well, special meaning for women... for us we can learn about how they lived, how they took time to do their task, and the time when lighting wasn't good, getting fabric was difficult and time was also a great premium, and I think it's wonderful that we find these things. I think we learn about how the women cared for things. A lot of the examples that I've seen, from the past are special ones that are put out when company comes because the everyday ones wouldn't last. But we find bits of fabrics so we can find out about dyes people used and what patterns were important to them. A lot of them were when there were times of turmoil, such as war, I've studied that a little bit. Who planned specific patterns that helped them remember things that were in their past.

CK: Do you think quilts are important in American life?

NW: My goodness, yes, yes, I do think that.

CK: How do you think they should be preserved for the future?

NW: Well I think that museums, for those unique ones, are important, again many everyday ones, many of the ones that people turn out today to occupy their time are all totally machine done and they're going to be a dime a dozen, and I'm, but there are some people who make the unique design, or might do something with colors that nobody else would think of, few people have done, and I think those are exciting.

CK: When you say you've given yours away as gifts have you followed with those families what people have done with those quilts?

NW: Yes. Sometimes I've been rather disappointed with all the work I've done and other times, well sometimes they're treasured. I have one, one I gave to my granddaughters. and she said she lost it when they moved.

CK: Oh, my.

NW: And another one I made for a great grandson, and I found that she was washing it a couple of times a week in the washing machine and dryer and so I had to educate her about how take care of a quilt.

CK: I'll bet you did.

NW: The rest knew how to take care of them. Now they're covers, you know, now.

CK: That'll wear it out real fast. Is there anything you'd like to add to our interview?

NW: No. For me it's fine.

CK: Well, you know, I didn't ask this question per se, 'What is your first quilt memory?' but you did cover that because you said that remember that your grandmother sitting under the frame and getting thumped on the head.

NW: That is really my first memory, and that happened over and over, not just once. But she died when I was five so it's a very young memory. I was very tiny.

CK: So, then your mom--

NW: My mother did not quilt, does not quilt. She ties quilts, and I don't like them tied.

CK: Oh, okay.

NW: No, she was one of those who kind of rebelled about it. My aunt did quilt, one of my aunts.

CK: So, you kind of took after your grandmother then.

NW: Yes.

CK: Well, that's interesting. Thank you for the interview. This concludes our interview, and it is 5 minutes until 4:00 p.m.



“Norma Wetzell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024,