Irene Fee




Irene Fee




Irene Fee


Theresa Boock

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Eugene, Oregon


Theresa Boock


Dee Paul (DP): Hello I'm Dee Paul Treasurer of Yaquina Chapter DAR of Oregon [American Heritage Committee of the Oregon State Society Daughters of the American Revolution.]. This is Thursday, November the 29th, 2:55 p.m. I'm at the home of my sister Donna Allen Townsley Maui Meadows, Kihei, Maui, Hawaii. Hi Donna, I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask you about the quilt you brought today.

Donna Allen Townsley (DAT): I made it about between 1999 and 2000. It takes about 2 years for me to make these Hawaiian quilts about this size. [inaudible.] The Hawaiian soft shadows of their plants on their laundry hanging out and this is thought to have caused the look for the appliqué patterns on the quilts. They are very abstract and stylized the colorful part of them. At the time cotton was the available fabric and it is what the missionaries brought in or had shipped from New England, and they were usually white backgrounds the larger portion of the quilt, then the pattern of the quilt was done in another color. This was typical in the earlier quilts. The missionaries taught them how to do their patterns and the quilting by creativity and there was no pattern stamping like you might see today. The Hawaiian quilt tells a story always and usually when you see a Hawaiian quilt you should look at the back to see the story name of the quilt, the quiltmaker's name and usually the years that it was done.

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

DAT: Well, my sister Dee Paul saw it.

DP: How do you use this quilt?

DAT: I am not using it. I am just storing it.

DP: What are your plans for this quilt?

DAT: I have no plans for this quilt. [dogs bark.] Could I add something here? This is my first Hawaiian quilt, and it is there are four patterns, design patterns, on this and the blue hibiscus pattern was a gift to me from Elinore Fitzpatrick who was a master quiltmaker in Hawaii.

DP: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

DAT: I just enjoy doing hand work of many kinds and I enjoy the creativity and execution of whatever I’m making at the time. It's a great way [dogs bark.] for me for relaxing [dogs bark.]

DP: At what age did at what age did you start quiltmaking?

DAT: I was 22 years old 1962.

DP: From whom did you learn to quilt?

DAT: Basically, I'm self-taught except for the Hawaiian style of quilting. My mother sewed and I also took home economics in school.

DP: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DAT: Well right now I'm not working on a quilt. When I was doing quilts, it would usually be every evening except for Sunday a couple of hours. I'm looking for a new project right now.

DP: What is your first quilt memory?

DAT: I have two, one is that my aunt in Kentucky made tie quilts and also, we had Sunday school teachers that taught us how to make patchwork quilts for our dolls.

DP: What is your first quilt memory? Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends? Please tell me about them.

DAT: Well both my sisters Margaret and Dolores who's doing the interview, do quilts and sewing and they also I have several acquaintances here on Maui that do them.

DP: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

DAT: Well, it seems that we all love it.

DP: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through difficult time.

DAT: Actually, I used I started doing quilts because of that reason.

DP: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

DAT: I enjoy all of it.

DP: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

DAT: There's nothing about quiltmaking that I don't enjoy.

DP: What do you think makes a quilt a great quilt?

DAT: I feel what makes a good quilt is the reason someone makes it, the emotions and feelings behind it of that person as well as the design and execution and the selection of colors and the pattern.

DP: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DAT: Well to me, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, so something that would be powerful to me, artistically, might not be to you, so each one of us, as I said, the beauty is in our own eye.

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

DAT: I believe the unique qualities of the quilt, like the Hawaiian quilt.

DP: What makes a great quiltmaker?

DAT: I think what makes a good quiltmaker is that it takes time to do these quilts and patience is needed to complete what you start.

DP: How do great quiltmakers learn the art of quilting especially how to design a pattern or choose fabric and colors?

DAT: Well first of all I'll say that there are some people who probably can do it without education, but for me, I was an interior designer for over 20 years. I'm inactive now and I was trained by an ASID for 5 years. I also had art classes in school and had architectural training and education at Maui Community College. I was the best thing for me to refine my quilting was I was taught to do Hawaiian quilting by a master quiltmaker Elinore Fitzpatrick.

DP: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? What about long arm quilting?

DAT: I have to say I live on an island in the Pacific, and I do not, am not familiar with the machine quilting and the long arm quilting. I may have seen them completed but wasn't told, but I do know that I prefer hand quilting because of the--that's how it began.

DP: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

DAT: Quilt making as well as other hand sewing has helped me keep focus on what really matters in life.

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

DAT: Well, I'm from Ohio so in Ohio I did embroidered quilts. When I first moved to Hawaii, I made a patchwork quilt of Hawaiian prints. I also made pre-quilted stamped pattern baby quilts and then I started the Hawaiian quilts.

DP: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American Life?

DAT: I feel the quilt preserves our early American history in the use of textiles, home decoration, ways of life and creative ideas of the times.

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

DAT: I think quilts can show that women were strong, creative, patient, willing to learn, willing to teach.

DP: How do you think quilts can be used?

DAT: Well, I feel there are many ways. You can use them as bed covers, wall hangings, tablecloths, placemats, then you can use them as therapy, things for the community and family and sharing, many things.

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

DAT: Well, I think this project is one of the ways. You're keeping the message before people, telling the stories, keep teaching, making, and doing what you're doing now, preserving them.

DP: Then we'll play it back. What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

DAT: I can only address the ones that I have made and remember the first two embroidery quilts were made for my mother and father in 1962. I have them now. The patchwork quilt that I made I still have, and I bring it out during the Christmas holidays. The baby quilts for the family I don't really know. I made one for the Skin's game in Wailea [Maui, Hawaii.] for their silent auction 2004. Jack Nicholas won the Skin’s game, and he also got the quilt in the silent auction and then the one I have now which I call the "Elements of Hawaii" I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, probably give it to a family member or put it another silent auction for charity. [whispering.] I think you should do that; Skin’s game auction is for.

Now Dolores I want to thank you for inviting me to participate in this program. I think it's a great idea and I’m enjoying doing it. Thank you.

DP: I it was a pleasure Donna and I've enjoyed my stay in Hawaii. Thank you. Don, you know we're finished with this, but I have a couple of questions that I would like to have clarified. Your quilt that you are displaying or entering, could you tell me about the other 3 patterns on this quilt and what they signify?

DAT: Yes, this quilt is named "Hawaiian Elements"; the elements of Hawaii and the 4 patterns that I created, 3 of the 4 I created, one is a pineapple, that’s in the yellow; the one that is brown is a wood rose and the third one is a papaya, a presensa papaya.

DP: That sounds very interesting.

DAT: I while we are talking about this, I would like to say that also on this quilt, it represents these elements and these patterns represent the earth, the brown, the sky, the blue, the turquoise, the sea and the yellow, the sun; the beautiful things in Hawaii.

DP: That’s very beautiful. Now, the next question I'd like you to elaborate on is- the quilt you made that Mr. Nicholas won in the silent auction, tell me more about that quilt.

DAT: Well, the Skin's game, the golf Skin's game, had been coming here for quite a few years and I decided I wanted to contribute to their charities because it the Skin's game brings a lot of money to ho to Maui and so this was my way of saying thank you to them. The quilt itself was also about Hawaii it was very interesting quilt. I went to see the Skin’s game, in 2002 I believe it was, and I we took like tourists the bus ride to the hotels and I saw one of the Koa seed plants, Koa tree plants which is a hybrid outside of one of the hotels and we went back later and because when you’re doing your own design, you need to have to actual materials and in this it was the flowers, and the seed pods and the leaves from this particular Koa seed tree and they were beautiful and so I took those elements and I put them on paper and then I made the design for the quilt. The background of the quilt as I re as I remember was a light cream color trying to stay in keeping with the white look and then the pattern itself was done in a print that had little brown like seeds all over it on an orange tangerine colored background. Very unique looking and the pattern itself when it was finished and the complete the quilting completed it the appliqué and then the quilting completed the Hawaiian quilt I should explain, you follow the pattern of the appliqué, and you follow that all around the quilt and that’s what makes them so unique and so beautiful. In this particular quilt, I was amazed that not only did the fabrics tell a story, but the quilting itself told a story. Unfortunately, I did not keep the flyer that I made for the winner of this or the one person who actually bought it in the silent auction. Jack Nicholas got it, as we said earlier in the interview, and he has not only the description of the quilt and the things that you can find in the quilt, but also, I had a framed picture of the flowers and the seed pods and leaves that I had used to make the pattern. So, he has all of that and that tells you a little bit more about the quilting. And I thank you for that; I enjoyed doing that for the golfers.

DP: Well, I think that is a very beautiful thing and I have seen the quilt as she was working on it and it was a very beautiful quilt and very inspiring and a lot of hard work. Thank you, Donna.

DAT: Thank you.

DP: Op, oh wrong one, stop recording, wait a minute, hold on.

Hugh Arthur Townsley (HAT): Okay, okay, wait, hello, testing, testing, yeah, it's working.

DP: This is Dolores Allen Paul. It is November, Monday--

DAT: December.

DP: December the 4th, 2007. I am at the home of my sister Donna Allen Townsley. We are making a correction to the original interview regarding the quilt "Elements of Hawaii." Donna, what is the correction you would like to make?

DAT: The one pattern on the quilt I said was a papaya, but in fact, it is a more important design. It is a breadfruit which was a food staple of the early Hawaiian people and Dolores, I apologize for this inconvenience. Thank you.

DP: And thank you Donna for taking time to do these corrections.

HAT: That will do it [clapping.] Yeah.


“Irene Fee,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,