Dianne Higley




Dianne Higley




Dianne Higley


Carolyn Kolzow

Interview Date



Salem, Oregon


Kim Greene


Carolyn Kolzow (CK): This is Carolyn Kolzow and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Dianne Higley. Dianne is west of Salem, Oregon and I'm in Beaverton, Oregon, so we're conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is September 20, 2009. It is now 7:30 in the evening. We are doing this interview through the American Heritage Committee for the Oregon State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Dianne is a member of the Yamhill Chapter. Dianne, thank you so much for taking time this evening to speak with me. Tell me about your quilt that you chose for the interview.

Dianne Higley (DH): I made this quilt several years ago. When I started it, it was supposed to be white and blue. I decided it needed something a little more, so I made it red, white, and blue because those are my favorite colors. It's in a Fence Rail pattern. It was kind of fun to make. I went to a class that they called "Mystery Quilt," and you didn't know what you were going to do when you got there. They handed you the fabrics and said this is the pattern, so this is what I did. Like I said, I added red to it, made it red, white, and blue because those are my favorite colors. On the back I used the navy blue with little white stars. It was quilted by Patti Adams. [a professional quilter.] I did the hand piecing and everything else, but I had it quilted by Patti Adams. I think red, white, and blue are my favorite colors. It reminds me of our American flag and this great country of ours. I spent probably two weeks making it. I pieced it by machine. The binding is by hand because it makes a nicer binding. I've learned though if I'm making quilts for teenagers to machine sew the binding on otherwise it doesn't last. They are pretty rough on quilts. I found this out with the first one I made for my son. He had it three months and he says, 'Mom, would you mind sewing it on again?' I used my machine. [CK laughs.]

CK: This was a class you say that you went to?

DH: I started quilting about ten years ago. I've always liked to sew. I started sewing when I was a child making doll clothes and then as I got into junior high I started to make my own clothes because I could get more clothes for my money and everybody else wasn't wearing the same thing I was wearing. Then I continued making. I had two daughters and I made clothes for them. My son wasn't much into what I could make. Then I had granddaughters. But when the granddaughters became teenagers they didn't like anything grandma made anymore. I still love to sew. I find it's relaxing, so I started making quilts and now I'm a fabric-aholic as they call it. [CK laughs.] I have more fabric than you can shake a stick at. I store it in Rubbermaid tubs. When I want something particular I go looking for it and I usually have it. If not I can always go to the local fabric store and find something else.

CK: Well that's good. Would you say this quilt is typical of your style?

DH: Yes. Like I said, most of my stuff that I do is in blue. Blue and white although I've made a few what they call scrap quilts. I started sewing before I got into quilts. We were into Civil War reenacting so I made Civil War reproduction clothing. Pretty soon I had so many scraps I didn't know what to do with them so I started making quilts out of them. Just six inch squares and selling them to my fellow re-enactors. You can only do so much of that, sewing shirts and dresses and all that. It is painstaking for Civil War reenacting because so much of it is done by hand, but I find making quilts is a lot more fun. I can use my creativity. There is a wide range of fabrics. You have batiks. You have fancies. You have the plain old calicos. Flannel quilts are always nice. I like to put flannel backs on my quilts. In addition to making them warm and cozy, it keeps them from sliding off the bed so easily.

CK: Good idea.

DH: The majority of the quilts I make have the flannel back. Right now I'm making one for my daughter's Girl Scout troop to raffle, and it's an Irish Chain so it's in green and white. I put flannel on the back of it and it has little lip marks and shamrocks and it says, "Kiss Me I'm Irish." I thought that would be pretty good for the Girl Scouts and they are going to raffle, this is a fundraiser.

CK: They will love that.

DH: I made a red, white, and blue one with Snoopy and the Red Baron and sent it to my son in Kosovo when he was there with the service last year. I told him when he was finished with it to donate it to a child somewhere. I'm sure there are plenty of children in orphanages and needy children there in Kosovo, so I told him go ahead and donate when he was done with it. A little bit of America stayed over there.

CK: That is good. What are your plans for this quilt?

DH: This one, like I said, I'm going to donate to the Girl Scouts for a raffle, but I've got two others I'm making out of scrapes, you know just little bits and pieces of this, that, and the other thing. I will probably give my teenage grandchildren for Christmas. They are getting ready to go off to college; several of them are already off to college, and they all like quilts. That is something that they think is special from grandma.

CK: How many hours a week would you say that you quilt?

DH: It depends on the week. I'm caregiver for my elderly mother and like I said I find sewing is a great stress relief, so I sew probably at least a couple of hours a day. Just after lunch when she is in there quietly reading or whatever and I have time to myself I find it a great stress reliever to sit down and just sew. I like it. I like the fabric. I like just the motion of it, just the machine. I have this lovely little 1953 Singer Featherweight sewing machine that does the niftiest job. I also have the big fancy Viking sewing machine and a quilting machine, but I love this little 1953. It is a solid metal, it weighs about 15 pounds and it does the neatest job on quilts. I have it set up in front of the TV so if I want to watch a movie I could sew and listen to the movie.

CK: Perfect. Otherwise do you have a studio or certain room in your home where you have all these things?

DH: I have it kind of spread all over the house. I have my Viking sewing machine set up; we have what we call a family room, it is a large room, we have TVs and CDs and stuff like that at one end and then all my sewing stuff is at the far end and my genealogy things. I have that set up and I have the quilting machine out there too, but I have this little one on just a little table in front of the TV that I can sit, like I said if I want to watch TV or listen to it. If not I will go and use the other sewing machine in the other room. I've started quilting my own. It's not fancy. I would like one of the big fancy ones but it's not in my budget. It is just a freehand, free motion and I'm learning to use it and hopefully I'll get good enough that I can make designs other than just swirls and circles and simple things like that.

CK: What you've done on this one is attractive.

DH: The one that I'm working on now, the Irish one? I just did kind of circles and loops and swirls.

CK: Do you have several projects going at the same time usually?

DH: Oh yes, I have numerous. I like to piece them better than I like to quilt them. I probably have three or four tops that I've already pieced that haven't been quilted yet. I keep saying tomorrow, I will put it on the frame tomorrow. The Scout one was six months before I got it on the frame and got it quilted. That is not as much fun as piecing them.

CK: That is your least favorite activity is it then?

DH: Yes. My least favorite activity is putting them on the quilting frame and quilting them. It is kind of tedious. I have to stand and if I stand too long my back starts hurting. I will do two or three rows or four rows, whatever my back can stand and then I'll go sit down and do something else. Sometimes it takes me three or four days to get one quilted.

CK: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

DH: Not really. I can't ever remember seeing my grandmother make a quilt.

CK: That was going to be my next question. Do you have an early quilt memory?

DH: No. I really can't remember. My grandparents were missionaries to China in the twenties, so I think my grandmother was more involved in sewing clothing and things like that, making clothes rather than quilting. She was trying to do good in that way I think, but I can't ever remember seeing anyone in my family quilt, but we all sew.

CK: Have you done any teaching of quilting?

DH: No, none at all. I'm not to that stage yet that I feel confident enough to teach.

CK: What advice would you give to somebody who was just getting ready to start?

DH: Just jump right in and do it. Go to classes. I find when I go to classes or some of these weekend quilt classes that we go in on Friday night, sew Saturday and Sunday that they have a pattern pre-picked, pre-selected and I find by looking at it, it is something that is so intimidating looking at it, I wouldn't try it, but you get in there with all these other people and you start enjoying yourself and there are people there to help you and all of a sudden you've got this lovely quilt top that you would never do, or at least I would not do if I hadn't been there with other people and support. I think that's what I've enjoyed most about going to the classes and things, even as a beginner, because there are others there with you and you would do something more complicated than what you would pick by yourself.

CK: Have you had anything amusing happen while you've been quilt making? Any amusing experience?

DH: Other than I keep breaking the thread on my quilting machine until I learned how to use it. That was another thing going to classes. 'Okay, I'm having this problem, what are you doing about it?' And another one would say, 'Okay, you loosen the tension.' Comparing notes like that. That helps a lot too. I don't know. I just like doing it.

CK: That is what you find pleasing is the actual process?

DH: Yes, yes, like I say, I find it relaxing. During tax season I do income taxes and it is not unusual that I'll come home at 7:00 at night and instead of eating; my husband will feed my mother. Instead of eating I'll sit down at the sewing machine and sew for an hour to unwind. Like I say, it is just a great relaxation, a great stress buster for me.

CK: You belong to any art or quilt groups?

DH: No, I live to far out. I live 30 miles out of town and it is just difficult. Most quilt groups meet in the morning or at night. I don't seem to drive well at night so no, I've not joined any quilting groups. I would like to, but at this time I've got my hands full and like I say I don't like to go out at night.

CK: What advances in technology would you say have influenced your work?

DH: I first started quilting ten years ago. I had a friend. I didn't know anything about quilting machines or anything at that time. I had a friend that gave me her grandmother's, or was it her great-grandmother's quilting frame. It was on wooden sawhorses with just four pieces of wood and then you stretch the whole quilt out on it and you sat down and you sewed like you see in the movies where the old time ladies all sit around a frame. I've got one quilt about half way quilted like that but it just took up too much room so I put it away. Unfortunately that quilt still sits in my linen closet unfinished. Then I found out about these lovely quilt machines and drooled over them and then my husband took me in one day and he said, 'Buy it.' So, I bought it. There have been a lot of things. We used to cut with scissors. Now they have the rotary cutters and mats that you just take a straight edge; since most of the quilt pieces cut with a straight edge you just take a ruler with a straight edge and you just run your little roller along it and it cuts them all uniformly and quickly.

CK: That's easy.

DH: Yes, it is so much easier than using scissors and it is so much more accurate. If you measure accurately. This one I'm doing now, I'm sitting there and I'm supposed to be doing five inch pieces and I come along and I look, wait a minute, I cut this one a half inch too short. Well put those four pieces away for another one. [CK laughs.] Once in a while I cut pieces wrong and then I have to go buy more fabric and if you're lucky they still have the same fabric. If you're unlucky you have to improvise some way, figure out some other way to make it look right. That's where my whole tons and tons of fabric come in handy. I probably have ten of these 18 gallon Rubbermaid tubs full of fabric.

CK: Oh my goodness, that is terrific. [both laugh.]

DH: And I go buy more because I can't find just the piece I want, or I just don't quite have enough. Any excuse is a good excuse to go fabric, or just go in the fabric store and wander around and look and just touch and feel.

CK: How do you balance your time? You mentioned that you work as well.

DH: I only work during tax season, so from about January 15 to April 15. I don't work every day because of the care giving of my mother. I have one period of what they call really busy time peak the last week of January and the first of February where I work probably five days a week for twelve hours a day, but that is where my husband comes in taking care of my mother, but the rest of the season I only work two or three days a week, which leaves me time for sewing.

CK: That is perfect.

DH: Right, that is what I need, time for sewing. The money I make during tax season finances my habit.

CK: There you go. [CK laughs.]

DH: One reason to work.

CK: That is for sure. Love it.

DH: I can write off this quilt as a tax write-off because it will be a donation to the Girl Scouts.

CK: I never thought of that. That is a good idea.

DH: Or to DAR. I did a quilt for the Home of the Brave project too that the DAR did or is doing. I did one for them. I hand quilted that one because they were talking about Civil War period and in the Civil War period they wouldn't have had a machine to quilt it. I know they quilted some of them, but because I've been in the Civil War I've kind of hardnosed about that they wouldn't have done it that way during the Civil War so I hand quilted mine. I don't know who it went to; I never did see it come up on the web page.

CK: That was DAR you say?

DH: I think it was maybe last year or the year before they did that project, the Home of the Brave. They asked each of the chapters to donate quilt squares or quilts and they would go to the families of the young men and women killed in Iraq, as a memory quilt. They used what is called an Album pattern where they had a little white square in the middle where the people could sign their names and the ladies in our chapter put their names in those little squares before we sent it in. Back during the Civil War where this pattern came from, they would have the family members sign their names and then they would send the quilt off to war with their soldier and a lot of these soldiers carried those quilts all the way through the war, but not many of them survived. When a soldier was killed, he would be buried in his quilt. Quilts have come a long way. Back then they were made out of scrap fabric what was left out of clothing that could no longer be worn, but now we go to the store and we buy fabrics and make them. I don't use one on my bed because I have two dogs, and it would break my heart if they got up there and put their little claws or their big claws because they are big dogs, if they tore them, so I don't use them on the bed. I use one on the bed in the guest room because the door is kept shut and the dogs aren't allowed in there.

CK: Would you give most of yours away do you think?

DH: Yes, I do. My children, my grandchildren. I've donated some to a library down in Nevada where my other daughter works because they were having a raffle. They are a nice fundraiser for the kids and like I said, I enjoy doing them.

CK: That's good.

DH: I have a trunk full of my own so I have to give them away, but I do so enjoy doing them. I hope the grandchildren and children enjoy getting them every year. [laughs.]

CK: I'm sure they must. Do you give them any special instructions about how to take care of them?

DH: No, I make them specifically so they are machine washable, particularly for the teenagers that are off to college, that they can just toss them in the washer. Old quilts should not go in the washer. Old quilts should be hand washed if even washed at all. For the most part they shouldn't even be washed, but the ones that I make these days are machine washable. The batting is machine washable. I used what is called Warm and Natural. It is like a lightweight blanket. Many times, you see that big puffy stuff, but I don't like that. It doesn't wear as well. These are nice and warm, and they wear well.

CK: That is good. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DH: The love put in it by the maker.

CK: There you go.

DH: Because there is a lot of love that goes into these quilts.

CK: I know I appreciate handmade things.

DH: Not many people hand makes things anymore. Like I said, the reason I started is because the grandkids no longer liked clothing. They request pajamas every year, Grandma Pajamas, but I couldn't make anything else they would wear.

CK: You found a good alternative. [both laugh.] What would you say makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DH: The right combination of color and design. There are so many fabrics to pick from that you can get almost any effect that you want. You can get 1930's patterns and make; get patterns for old quilts from back in the 20's and 30's and make them, or you can make these new modern quilts. I think the colors probably make it. Just the right combination of colors.

CK: What would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

DH: We are talking about a modern quilt or an antique quilt?

CK: I would say probably an older quilt.

DH: An older quilt. Probably something that demonstrates the fabrics, an example of the fabric and the sewing methods of the day. The type of fabric they used, the colors. In so many of them, like the old Crazy quilts that they had going around the Turn of the Century, they would make them out of satins and taffetas, and they would put these beautiful embroidery patterns on them to put the pieces together, but so many of those, now if they haven't been taken care of the fabric is rotted and they are falling to pieces, but every once in a while they run across one that has been well preserved and those are the ones that are worthy of going to the museum. I know the museums take the others, sometimes that is all that they can get. An example of a certain pattern, a Shaker quilt or what was it, the Red Cross pattern that was popular back during World War I. So many of those were used and well worn. Like Civil War quilts, like I said, the men that didn't come home didn't bring them home. Very few quilts survived the Civil War because of that. Old quilts, it would be up to the individual museum. The condition, what else they have. I don't know.

CK: The modern-day quilt that you made for the Civil War actually were Civil War prints?

DH: Yes. It was a typical pattern, a typical pattern of the Civil War. It was on a bright yellow, what they call a mustard yellow part that I used, yellow, red, and black.

CK: That would be attractive.

DH: I thought it was, yes. Like I said, because I'd done the Civil War clothing I probably better than most people I knew what the patterns and what fabrics to pick that was typical of the era. They had a lot of homespun too.

CK: Interesting.

DH: Homespuns make up into good Civil War quilts, but they don't make good modern quilts. The weave is too loose in them.

CK: Whose works are you drawn too? Anyone in particular?

DH: No, I don't know that much about other quilt artists. I've really not gone to a lot of quilt shows. Like I say, we live so far out it is just hard to get anywhere.

CK: That is understandable. Why would you say quilt making is important to your life?

DH: I'm sorry, say again.

CK: Why would you say quilt making is important to your life?

DH: Because it keeps me sane. [both laugh.] Because of my love of fabric, my love of sewing. It's just something that I enjoy doing. I've always got one doing and then everyone has their own particular hobby and sewing is mine. I think I would be lost without it.

CK: What do you have in mind to do after the Irish Chain?

DH: I don't know. I've been looking around and I'm not sure. I would like to do something in batiks. These fabrics that come from India that are individually dyed. They have beautiful colors. Now that would be something that wouldn't be an everyday quilt that would be a special quilt because of the fabric. It is a really fine, lightweight fabric but they are gorgeous, and they have such pretty jewel tones. They are made in India, but they have such beautiful jewel tones to them. I like the blues and the pinks and greens.

CK: Do you have a favorite shop that sells that or where do you buy it?

DH: I do most of my shopping at Joann Fabrics. We have two local quilt stores. I go to Grandma's Attic in Dallas for a lot of my classes, and she has a good collection. She's got what they call heirloom quality fabric. They are really fine fabrics, but they are not something I would use for the teenagers. I get the everyday fabrics, the ones that are a little more sturdy for my teenage, my grandchildren's quilts. They wear better and are not quite as fancy and not as expensive either, it is about half the price. I would hate to spend that money on it and then one would say 'The dog chewed it up.' Although I have had a couple of those. One of my granddaughters said, 'He chewed a hole in it.' I just happened to still have the fabric I made it out of though, so I patched it up and sent it back to her.

CK: How lucky you were.

DH: How lucky it was that I still had the fabric. Another one returned one that the dog had gotten also. I didn't have the fabric for that one anymore so I just patched it with something similar as best I could, but it still keeps her nice and warm.

CK: That is good. They will put in an order for a replacement one of these days.

DH: I think I've probably given them each another one since then. Keep that dog away from those quilts.

CK: Do you try to give them one for say their graduation or certain events?

DH: Christmas. Daniel asked for one for graduation last year, but I made it and gave it to him at Christmas because I had in mind for graduation something else that I wanted to give him, so he got his for Christmas. I guess that was the year before, all three of the children in that family got them last Christmas. I had all these big ambitions last year of making a quilt for everyone for Christmas. Well, four quilts later that was about it. [both laugh.]

CK: I can see that would be.

DH: I had illusions of grandeur, but I just couldn't work as fast as I thought. I worked for a while and then I would go do something else and then I come back and sew for a while. Today I've got two going. I'm sewing the binding on my Girl Scout quilt, and I'm kind of trying to piece another one.

CK: You are busy.

DH: It keeps going. A little bit here and there, and a little bit there. It keeps me busy and out of mischief.

CK: It sure does. Have you gotten into making any wall hangings or are these strictly for beds?

DH: Strictly for beds. I don't know, I don't have any room for wall hangings, and they just never appealed to me. I've thought about trying and making some for my daughter, she may like them, but I don't know. So far, I just like making bed quilts, big ones. Nothing better than a big quilt to wrap up in on a cold night.

CK: How specific is your family? When Daniel asked for a quilt, did he tell you the colors or what he wanted?

DH: It has always been a joke with him, wolves. He likes wolves. I had found some wolf fabric in the store. I specifically cut out the wolves and incorporated them into a quilt for him. I've had the grandchildren request specific things, specific colors. I took one granddaughter and let her pick out what she wanted. She came out with purple and blue and turquoise, and I thought, 'How in the world can I put those together for a quilt?' I looked around, looked around and finally found a pattern and I think I added a fourth color to it. It turned out very nice. She was very pleased with it. When she picked the colors, at the time she picked the colors I thought, 'Oh heaven, I don't know how that is going to work,' but that is what she wanted so that is what she got. I know pretty much what their interests are, what they are like. They all live in Nevada. None of them live up here. They are all in Nevada. I keep in touch with them. We see them once a year or so. What their interests are and if not, I ask their mothers on the sly. I supposed my next project come to think of is going to be a baby quilt because I'm going to be a great-grandmother in November.

CK: How exciting. Do you have plans for the quilt yet?

DH: Whether it is a boy or a girl and then make it accordingly.

CK: That is true; you don't have to make it yellow anymore.

DH: I could, but I think I would like to wait and find out whether it is a boy or a girl. It doesn't take long to make a baby quilt, says I. Famous last words, right?

CK: That is right. [both laugh.] Baby quilt is a good one to put in the machine too.

DH: My quilting machine will take anything from a crib quilt to a king size. That puppy is 12' long. When we bought it, I had no idea how long it was. The room we've got it in is 24' long, so it is a good thing because when we looked at it in the store, they just had half of it up, just 6' and it didn't look all that large. Then of course when we got home and put the whole thing together, I don't think I've ever used the full length of it.

CK: You are lucky you had a big room.

DH: Yes, I am. I was joking with my husband, I said, 'You need to build me a shop out, out away from the house that I can put all of this equipment in and just go out and be by myself and sew.' We both laughed. [both laugh.] Yet it is nicer being in the house with other people coming and going and being around. I don't think I would like it out there by myself.

CK: Your family puts up with your quilt making very easily?

DH: Yes, they tolerate my quilt making. The other ladies involved in this project, are there a lot?

CK: Yes, this is a project that was started about ten years ago by the Alliance of American Quilts. They are about to reach their 1,000th interview.

DH: Is this Oregon alone or is this the whole United States?

CK: This is all of the United States. I will send you the URL so that you can go read some of the interviews that are online, you will enjoy it. Then they are filed at the Library of Congress. That is where they are archived.

DH: I have something in the Library of Congress. That makes me special.

CK: That is right.

DH: With the other ladies.

CK: Right, you will have to tell your grandkids guess what.

DH: My great-grandchildren, you can go and listen to me in the Library of Congress. [CK laughs.] I will tell my daughter; she is a librarian.

CK: Oh, is she, okay.

DH: I didn't know so many people were involved in this project.

CK: The DAR participates in this. It is not our project; we are just doing it, joining in with them.

DH: Our members that quilt? Are there a lot of ladies here in Oregon that quilt?

CK: There are. I mean an amazing number. We have found quite a few.

DH: That is great.

CK: What would you say is the biggest challenge that confronts a quiltmaker today?

DH: The decision of picking out the fabric and the pattern for me. Sometimes I just agonize over it. What can I do, what can I get. It is delightful doing it though.

CK: If you are out of town, you really need to think about it before you make that trip in.

DH: Yes, that was the hardest thing I learned when we moved here was learning to shop, get all my shopping done at once. We came here from Las Vegas where everything is open 24 hours. It was extremely difficult to learn to shop. Yes, when I go, I buy several packs of needles and lots of thread, so I don't have to run back in and get anything. I do enjoy my quilting; I enjoy the sewing.

CK: That is good. How do you want to be remembered?

DH: Oh, that is a difficult one. That I love to sew. Compare notes with the other ladies in my chapter. We've got several as you know that are other quilters.

CK: You do, I was amazed at how many you have.

DH: I think most of us are retired and we have the time to do it, where some of the younger ladies don't. It is time consuming. If you have a young family, I don't think you always have the time. There are things you would like to do, but the family comes first.

CK: Right and you seem to work the two in together.

DH: I'm sorry, I didn't quite hear.

CK: You seemed to have been able to do both, take care of your mother and keep on with your quilting.

DH: She has lived alone for so long. She lived alone for 40 years, so I won't say she is self-sufficient because I have to feed her, excuse me, get her meals and all that stuff, but she entertains herself, she doesn't have to be constantly entertained. She is nearly blind, and she is deaf, so she has her music and her books that she likes anyhow. I wouldn't say that she is a problem. Heaven knows that she is not. She took care of me for so long it is my turn.

CK: That is right. It comes back around.

DH: Besides that, I tell my kids now I know what to do. When I come live with you, I know how to hassle you. [both laugh.]

CK: Is there anything you would like to share that we haven't touched up?

DH: I don't think so. I just love sewing and quilting and my country. That is why I like that red, white, and blue quilt.

CK: That is my favorite.

DH: That's my favorite.

CK: My favorite colors.

DH: My son is in the service. He is in Kosovo now. I believe in this country. What else can I say?

CK: Is he over there now did you say? Did you say he is overseas now?

DH: Yes, he has been in Kosovo for a year and a half now. He was there for the Air Force first, but now he works for NATO. He is Air Force reserve. This year he did his Air Force reserve. He went down to Macedonia and worked at the American Embassy. He is still proud of his country, and he is willing to stand up and protect it and that's why he enlisted.

CK: That is terrific. I want to thank you for taking time this evening to talk with me. We are going to conclude our Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview. It is 8:10 and I believe it was about 7:30 when we began. Thank you so much, it has been nice chatting.

DH: You are most welcome.

CK: Goodbye.


“Dianne Higley,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1955.