Shirley Karr




Shirley Karr




Shirley Karr


Mary Ellen Hopkins

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Hood River, Oregon


Mary Ellen Hopkins


Mary Ellen Hopkins (MEH): I am conducting an interview with Shirley Karr in my home in Hood River, 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. Shirley is a quilter and is a member of the Celilo Chapter and the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Tell me Shirley do you make quilts?

Shirley Karr (SK): Yes, I do.

MEH: And do you sleep under a quilt?

SK: Yes, I sleep under a quilt that the top was made by my great grandmother. And my grandmother gave it to me and with the idea was that I would quilt it and give it back to her to use until she no longer needed it. And now I have it and use it on the bed all of the time.

MEH: Wow. Have you given quilts as gifts?

SK: Yes, to family members mostly.

MEH: Are you self-taught?

SK: Yes.

MEH: Do you have quilters in your family?

SK: My great grandmother quilted, and two grandmothers did. One grandmother just, she did mostly jeans quilts, that type of thing, utility quilts. She was not into fancy work.

MEH: Do you belong to a sewing group?

SK: I have belonged to two. I started out with a Sew and Tell Country Stitchers in a little town of Parkdale, Oregon. And now I go, belong to the Dog River Quilters, which meets in Hood River.

MEH: Oregon?

SK: Uh huh.

MEH: Do you have a collection of quilting or sewing memoir, memorabilia?

SK: I have several quilt frames. One is just a handheld one that has my grandfather's initials on it. So, Grandma used it. [laughter.] And quilting needles, ah, old thimbles, that type of thing.

MEH: And were these your grandmothers' too?

SK: Not, I don't have anything from grandmothers. I just have my mom's and ones that I have collected.

MEH: Have you ever won an award?

SK: I have won several awards. One was our award; my first was an award with Daisy Kingdom in Portland, OR. And it was a third prize in a traditional show section. And then I have had county fair awards.

MEH: Mostly in Oregon, or in Idaho too? Or?

SK: Not Idaho. Just Oregon.

MEH: In Oregon, OK.

MEH: Do you teach quilting?

SK: I have in the past. I do, I haven't done any lately.

MEH: Have you ever participated in quilt history preservation?

SK: I did a project last, last winter where I redid their tubes that they use for storing the quilts in at our Hood River County Museum and things. So, get them all up to date.

MEH: Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

SK: The quilt that I brought in today was started by my mom in probably--when she was ten years old. And uses, she had a lady who lived in, I think an apartment where they were that gave her fabric samples. She sold material so she gave them to mom. It took her 70 years to complete her top.

And so, she has a combination of hand sewing and machine sewing. And then she gave it, I went [pause; laughter.] I appliquéd it to a border and then I quilted it for her and gave it back to her on her 84th birthday.

MEH: Could you describe it?

SK: It's a Grandmother's Flower Garden pattern. And I think they're inch pieces, [laughter.] Tiny.

MEH: And what fabric is it mostly?

SK: Well mostly, it's cotton and fabric and some that is old, some back to the 1920's, that she got and there is some probably up into, she had some 50's and probably into 70's that we went through and got.

MEH: Wow. What special meaning then does this quilt have for you?

SK: Well, it is the only quilt that my mom, nice quilt, that my mom worked on. And every once in a while, she would bring it out and work on it and things and so that is why it is special.

MEH: How do you use this quilt?

SK: I display it on one of the upstairs beds because of the cats. So, nobody can shed on it. [laughter.]

MEH: What are you going to do with this quilt then and [overlap.].

SK: I will probably pass it onto my daughter who quilts.

MEH: Oh, that's a great tradition. At what age did you start quilting?

SK: I started probably working with fabric probably 17, 18 I made a quilt and things. Before that why I had a, we had a project we had to do in Geometry, and I chose quilt patterns. Because we had to use different things and that's how I got, and I think that just started it and I just never lost it.

MEH: Was that in high school or college?

SK: It was high school.

MEH: Okay and was that a special project that you had to do?

SK: Yes. It was a special one.

MEH: And whose patterns did you choose?

SK: My grandmothers.

MEH: Is that your first quilt memory?

SK: First quilt memory was probably a quilt that was on my grandmother's, Grandmother Town's bed. And she had a tiny, even smaller Grandmothers Flower Garden quilt than my mom's and things.

And that was my first really [inaudible.]

MEH: So, who do think you would say you learned to quilt from?

SK: [laughter.] Me. Nobody showed me. I just started.

MEH: Are there other quilters among your family and friends?

SK: Yes, my daughter quilts and my grandmothers did some too.

MEH: How about friends?

SK: Yes.

MEH: Can you tell me about them?

SK: Well, we actually with our quilting group we do quilts for our community. So, we plan, decide what kind of pattern we want and then we do it.

MEH: Do you have any special friend that quilts? [Showing SK note asking if the owner of local quilt shop quilts with her quilting group. SK: indicates that this person does not quilt.]

No one in particular then. You just have a group within your sewing group.

How does quilting impact your family?

SK: When I am in the process of making the quilt, they get the experience of 'Do you like this? Does this look ok? Is the color fine?' [laughter.] That's how they are in finishing up things. It helps to have that second opinion.

MEH: Do they mind having you spend the hours that you do quilting or?

SK: No. No. And actually, I don't spend that many hours. I go through streaks of quilting and sewing and things.

MEH: And I bet they do appreciate the product, the finished products.

SK: Yes, yes.

MEH: And what do you find pleasing about quilting?

SK: The idea of using the colors. The pattern is first, is important and trying new things. And so, and then construction.

MEH: Do you ever use quilting to get through difficult times?

SK: No.

MEH: Are there any aspects about quilting that you don't enjoy?

SK: Probably my least favorite is appliquéing. I mean I can do it and I have done it but it is not one I really enjoy.

MEH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SK: Choice of patterns first of all and then the fabric is things and that's the things that stand out in my mind.

MEH: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SK: Color and choice of pattern.

MEH: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

SK: One that's well constructed then in good shape. That makes the best type or the pattern.

MEH: In your opinion, what makes a great quilter?

SK: One that's really takes the time to do a good construction.

MEH: So, you feel that construction is really ultimate in quilting.

SK: Yes, yes, yes. Yes.

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

SK: Just by experience. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

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

SK: Well, I prefer hand quilting. But I also like to tie. And that's important too because they are more of a utility quilts and things. Machine quilting, if you're not, a person's not able to do the hand quilting, it is perfectly fine. And if they enjoy doing the construction, that's what you want to see.

MEH: What about long arm quilting?

SK: That's a good choice for people that want to do that and things.

MEH: And for what reasons do you think they could, it would be permissible?

SK: If a person isn't able to do it. Especially for some older people or something, maybe they have arthritis or something like that, and I think that is a good time to do it, eyesight, they can't quilt anymore. That would be a perfectly good way to do it.

MEH: To complete projects?

SK: Yes, to complete projects.

MEH: Why is quilting important in your life?

SK: It's well, it's my hobby. It's the thing I, ah, I spend the time, I enjoy that and that's what I do.

MEH: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

SK: [pause.] That's a tough one. [laugh.] I don't know that they particularly do. My quilts don't.

Or anything, it's just the idea that. That one, I hate to say too much on that one.

MEH: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

SK: Well, it is a good example of what the women did, what the women did, and things. And traveling across the country, the things they picked up using the out, either their clothing and that type of thing, that was no longer of use. But they needed it for utility [inaudible.] and things. So that is why is important.

MEH: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

SK: Pretty much the same way, same thing. The idea that we get to see their old patterns and we can renew it and carry on the tradition.

MEH: A lot to do with tradition then?

SK: Yes, right.

MEH: So, you feel that some of the old patterns are, are continuously used through?

SK: Oh, yes! Oh definitely.

MEH: Which ones do you think, Shirley?

SK: Well of course the Grandmother's Flower Garden is one that does. And then there's just some very simple ones. An Album--an Album pattern is one where groups got together, and they signed them and everything.

MEH: Oh, okay.

SK: So yes, you can have history that way.

MEH: That's really interesting. Ah, how do you think quilts can be used?

SK: Quilts can be, well, on your beds for one thing. Some people will use them to hang. I've had several that are made into Roman shades. So, you never know how they will be used. [laughter.]

MEH: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? [tape was stopped for a break, mechanical noise on restart.]

SK: You can, preserving quilts for the future, ah, careful use of them during their lifetime that you use them. Also, if you are going to be storing them, store them in a proper manner. Do not use plastic containers. That type of thing. If a person doesn't have a way to do it, just even putting them in a pillowcase is one way to store them. Also, the other way is to roll them. And that's my favorite way.

And to do it, is to have them on a tube and roll up cause you don't have holes. The other thing is then is after you've, they're stored, is to bring them out occasionally and lay them out so they have a chance to breath and get creases out. And when you get ready to restore them, fold them a different way so that you don't have crease marks.

MEH: Okay. Do you ever use acid paper with them?

SK: I haven't but that is one-way museums will do that, that type of thing too.

MEH: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or to those of friends and family?

SK: Well, some of them, they have just worn out. Or others they come back to and say, 'Grandma, I need to have this mended.' And so, Grandma mends them. And of course, my favorite thing is one grandson, I gave him a new quilt and he got a new pair of scissors for Christmas. And he made a quilt for his kitty. He cut off the corner of it. And so, Mom felt really bad and so when she told me about it, I was able to take it home, repair it, get it back to its original things. And then I made him a quilt for his kitty.

MEH: [laughter.] How old was he then?

SK: About three.

MEH: [more laughter.] And he loved his quilt enough to share with his new kitty then.

SK: Oh yes!

MEH: And I can understand his mother's being very upset. [laughter.] 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 10:50 a.m. PST on January 6, 2006.


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