Sara Reed




Sara Reed




Sara Reed


Roberta Mills

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Del Thomas


Portland, Oregon


Roberta Mills


Roberta Mills (RM): My name is Roberta Mills, and today's date is March 18, 2008, and the time is 2:26 p.m. I'm conducting an interview with Sara Reed in her home in Portland, 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. Sara is a quilter and is a member of Portland Chapter, [NSDAR.] National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Tell me about the quilt you chose to show me today.

Sara Reed (SR): This is one that I made for my mother.

RM: And what was your mother's name?

SR: Margaret Hays Reed.

RM: How would you describe your relationship with her?

SR: We were very close; especially at the end of her life. When I think of her, she still fills my heart.

RM: And what special meaning does this quilt have for you?

SR: The making of it was a very healing experience for me, and later on, the quilt hung in mother's sick room where she died. She liked to look at it and point at all the different parts of it as she was lying there.

RM: And how long ago was that?

SR: She died in May of 2006.

RM: Not that long ago then?

SR: No, it wasn't long ago.

RM: Why did you choose this quilt to have for the interview?

SR: Well, it was the third quilt that had I ever made. It's very simple, in the block pattern, something any beginning quilter could do, but it's complex in the color pattern, and in the meaning that I put into it.

RM: What would you describe as the complexity in color pattern and what the meaning is?

SR: Well, I call the quilt "Star Glory" because the pattern of color radiates out in a rainbow. A glory is a circular rainbow that is only seen when flying. My father was an Air Force pilot and aviation was very much a part of our family life, so the glory reference in the color pattern is related to that. The meaning: there are fabrics in the quilt that represent places that mother lived, things that we did, things from her past and present, you know, in her life, and also celebrations throughout the year; the seasons of the year.

RM: When the quilt was completely finished, what size did it turn out to be?

SR: It's about ninety inches square. It's ten blocks by ten blocks. [actually, the quilt is twenty by twenty blocks.]

RM: Really large. [laughs.]

SR: Yes.

RM: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

SR: That I love color.

RM: [laughs.] And how do you use this quilt?

SR: Well, these days, it's put on the bed in our guest bedroom when we have overnight visitors.

RM: What comments have you received from your guests when they first see it?

SR: I can't say that I remember any comments, per se; just 'oohing' and 'ahing' noises. The quilt has a nice feel to it, too.

RM: And what are your plans for this quilt?

SR: I hope to include it in a book I am planning about uses for novelty fabrics in quilts.

RM: Well, I'm curious; what do you mean by 'novelty' fabrics?

SR: Novelty fabrics typically have pictures printed on them. For instance, in this quilt there's a picture of a military woman which reminded me of mother in her uniform when she served in the Army, there's pictures of Air Force planes, there's pictures of moose and lobster because we lived in Newfoundland, there's pictures of a woman reading a book as mother loved books. Anyway, it's, yeah, it's fabrics that have pictures. There's a new series of fabric out there that I am lusting for. It has photos from the 1930's film "The Wizard of Oz" on the fabric. One fabric in that particular series has little ruby slippers printed all over it.

RM: We all remember those ruby slippers.

SR: [laughs.] Those were great!

RM: Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

SR: Well, I caught the bug when Ann and I visited a quilt store in Maine.

RM: That must have been quite a store! What was so special about it?

SR: As I recall, it was called Knight's Quilt Shop. It was in South Neddick, Maine, and it was in this beautiful, old, kind of Arts and Crafts looking house. It was absolutely filled with beautiful fabric, and it had a marvelous selection of tools and books. And in the upstairs, there was a space for classes and quilt making, and they had lots of finished quilts hung over the banisters and hung on the walls to see. You know how sometimes you enter a place, and you get a hit of the smell of baking cake or roasting meat or something? Well, entering this place gave a hit of creativity. It was absolutely contagious.

RM: At what age did you start quilt making?

SR: I was in my mid-forties, although I did try my hand at quilting in college, but I didn't know what I was doing at the time, and I gave it up. [laughs.]

RM: From whom did you learn to quilt?

SR: I'm self-taught.

RM: About how many hours a week do you quilt?

SR: Lots. [laughs.]

RM: Can you be a little more specific?

SR: Will, I spend at least a couple of hours a day working on quilt projects of one sort or another.

RM: What's your first quilt memory?

SR: Looking at Dover books on quilting in the early 1970's. There was so little information about the craft that was freely available at that time. It's not like it is today.

RM: What are some of the expanded resources available today?

SR: Oh, goodness. There are many, many books out on the market now on every aspect of quilting. You name it; design, the quilting design, appliqué, blocks, everything. There are websites galore devoted to the subject, and to shopping resources as well. And there are guilds which have monthly lectures by quilt artists, and workshops as well.

RM: Are there other quilt makers among your family or friends? Please, tell me about them.

SR: Well, my sister, Ann Reed, quilts. And I understand that our great aunt Ruth made a redwork quilt featuring biblical themes that won prizes and traveled, but we never knew her or saw the quilt in question.

RM: Can you explain what a redwork quilt is?

SR: Well, redwork is embroidery, usually done in red floss on white fabric. Redwork quilts incorporate embroidered line drawings on the quilt blocks. I do have some friends who quilt, also. One of my great quilting buddies is a friend I met online. She lives in Manitoba. And I have a new quilting friend in our DAR chapter, Lorna Bates.

RM: What has drawn you to these two particular friends?

SR: Well, my friend in Manitoba is an historian; her subject is pioneer women in the Arctic and in the West; who sees quilting in a very serious light. We share a view of the power of quilting to bring people together and have done a couple of projects together for a blog community we belong to. I've benefited greatly from her experience, and I really enjoy her sense of humor. Lorna I've not known as long, but I see her as a woman of great wisdom and heart.

RM: How does quilt making impact your family?

SR: Well, my sister and I have devoted our entire basement to the practice of quilting. [laughs.]

RM: Tell me if you've ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

SR: Well, yes. After mother died, I made two quilt tops when I was grieving. I used citrus colors and it really helped. It helped me.

RM: Do you make wearable art?

SR: Once. Probably will again.

RM: Please, describe your wearable piece for me.

SR: Well, thinking about it, there were two. Ann and I made a vest for our mother. I crazy-pieced the fabric for the front, and also for a decorative lozenge, a diamond shape that we made on the back of the vest, and Ann constructed the garment. It was called "Into the Wild Blue" and it had an aviation theme all in blues. In fact, a lot of the fabric in it was also used in this quilt that we're looking at today. After Mother's death, we gave the vest to her younger sister. The other piece was a vest. Ann drew the pattern for it, and I quilted it and embellished it with silk ribbon. It belongs to a friend in Southern California.

RM: Have you given quilts as gifts? Obviously so!

SR: Oh, yes.

RM: Tell me about those, please.

SR: My aunt in Minnesota has a twin-size quilt made in bright colors, quilted with flower shapes. My brother has a twin-size quilt I made in a bow-tie pattern, very colorful. Actually, I am working on a quilt for all of my close relatives.

I made an autograph quilt for a dear friend on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, and it was signed by his family and a lot of friends.

There have been others. Most recently, my sister, Ann, and I made a wheelchair quilt for our Chapter's, our DAR Chapter's Chaplain who has been battling cancer. It's signed by members of the DAR locally and from across the State of Oregon.

RM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

SR: Yes, but its store bought. We have cats, and [laughs.] I'm a little bit afraid of the damage that might be done to something that's more precious.

RM: Do you belong to any guilds?

SR: Yes

RM: Which ones?

SR: My first guild, in Southern California, was the Orange Grove Quilters Guild. Then, when we moved up here to Portland, Oregon, I joined the Northwest Quilters.

RM: Do you belong to a sewing group or sewing bee group?

SR: Yes, we just started one. It's our DAR group.

RM: I hear they're very active.

SR: Yes, it's a lot of fun. Ladies: even ladies who don't particularly know much about sewing have come because it's a pleasure to be together.

RM: How often do they meet?

SR: Well, right now, we're planning on twice a month.

RM: And I know you mentioned a bit about the activities at those DAR sewing bee meetings. Do people bring other projects to work on or do you work on something mostly together?

SR: Both. People bring their own things. People have brought beading work, making jewelry, crocheting, that sort of thing. But we've also been tying some wheelchair quilts that will be donated to the VA [Veteran Administration.] hospital here locally. Yeah, and we're planning some things that will be sold at our Ways and Means table at upcoming DAR meetings and, possibly, at some DAR sponsored museums here in the area.

RM: Have pictures of you, your quilts or patterns been published?

SR: Yes.

RM: Please, tell me about those?

SR: Well, I've been leading an effort to raffle autographed quilts for good causes. I have collected signatures of bloggers and political figures at national conferences twice now, and pictures of me and those quilts have been published online at and

RM: How do you spell that 'dailykos' part?

SR: D-A-I-L-Y-K-O-S.

RM: Do you collect or sell quilts?

SR: I sold one once

RM: And, to whom?

SR: To a friend in Southern California.

RM: Could you describe that quilt for me?

SR: It was made with "Birds in the Air" blocks. It's sort of a triangle pattern. I alternated orange and beige/cream-colored blocks with purple and beige/cream-colored blocks, which sounds kind of odd, but it really worked. It sort of came out with a sunset looking color arrangement.

RM: Have you ever won an award?

SR: Yeah.

RM: And what kind of award was that?

SR: Well, last year, I won a blue ribbon in the innovative category for "Storyteller's Quilt." It was a log cabin quilt in the White House Steps variation. It's sort a concentric ring looking block, which I made in rainbow color progression. It had red at the bottom, going up to orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. It showed at the Northwest Quilter's Show at the Bicentennial of the Rose Festival here in Portland, and that's when I won the award.

RM: Have you donated any quilted pieces?

SR: Yes, I donated a throw size quilt in a jewel box pattern for a raffle to raise money for potable water wells in the third world, and I donated a twin-size quilt to a charity for families of returning veterans. Currently, I'm working with our Chapter's friendship group to make wheelchair quilts for the local VA hospital.

RM: Tell me, do you have any amusing experiences that have occurred from your quilt making or teaching?

SR: Well, I made a mistake once in a Rail Fence quilt, and I turned a block. It was one that I was making for a friend. I was going to take it out and fix it, but he asked me to leave it that way.

Actually, there's a tradition in quilting about making mistakes. Sometimes they're called "Amish mistakes" because there's a tradition in the Amish community of putting a mistake into every quilt because only God is perfect and people are not, and the things that people make are therefore, by definition, imperfect. Personally, I don't know if it counts to put a mistake in on purpose, but I'm happy to say that all my mistakes are honest ones. [laughs.] They are the real deal!

RM: What do you find most pleasing about quilt making?

SR: I like the meditative aspect of it, and I think the working with colors can affect mood.

RM: What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

SR: Making up the binding. That's a chore to me. [laughs.]

RM: I notice you have a very tiny binding on this quilt.

SR: Well, so far, I've only used a slender bias binding for all my quilts. I cut it all two inches wide, and then when it's folded on the quilt, it's a little more than a quarter of an inch.

RM: Have advances in technology influenced your work and, if so, how?

SR: Well, I used to have a PC, a personal computer that I ran a quilting design program on EQ5 [Electric Quilt.]. It let me play with the blocks and color patterns. But I use a Macintosh now and that program is not compatible with my computer, so now I just work out my patterns on paper or in my head.

RM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

SR: I like using a mix of contemporary and reproduction fabrics, with a few of those novelties thrown in, in traditional blocks. I treat my patchwork as a type of collage, and I really like the old traditional patterns. There's a geometry to them that is always pleasing. I also hand quilt, and I often draw my own quilting designs, sort of like doodles.

RM: Amazing! Describe your studio; the place that you create.

SR: Well, our basement; our basement overfloweth with fabric right now. [laughs.]

RM: Tell me, how do you balance your time?

SR: I'm still working on the balanced time concept. [laughs.]

RM: Do you use a design wall and, if so, in what way or how does that enhance your creative process?

SR: Yes, I use a design wall to place my blocks and keep them in proper order before assembling them. I also use the floor that way.

RM: Uh-huh. Are there other ways you go about designing your quilts; I know you mentioned the floor?

SR: Yeah, I arrange my fabrics on the floor until I get a pleasing combination, and then I go with that. I'll just put little scraps of the fabric next to one another, and I'll see what works, and if it does, fine. I know the block will go in that order, and if it doesn't, I'll fool with it until it is pleasing.

RM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SR: I think a great quilt has a personal effect on the viewers.

RM: What makes a quilt artistically powerful or what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

SR: Well, I think a quilt like that should be original in concept and convey a message; just as with any other art.

RM: What makes a great quiltmaker?

SR: The ability to express the heart through her hands, or his hands. There are male quilters. Not as many, but there are some.

RM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

SR: Well, as I said before, I really like the geometry of traditional blocks. Judy Hopkins' "Around the Block" books have been very helpful to me for that. I get a lot of inspiration from them.

RM: She's one of them. Have any other artists influenced you?

SR: I don't really know how to answer that. I process everything I see. The concept of the Lone Star quilt that I'm working on now was sparked by a photo of a quilt made in Kentucky in the late 1800s, but I can tell you my quilt is quite different in color, feel, and message.

RM: Can you be a bit more descriptive about what's different in "your" concept of the Lone Star?

SR: Well, this quilt that I'm working on is representative of the Big Bang. It depicts a radiation of rainbow energy from nothingness, black, to everything, and it includes a veritable collage of whimsical fabrics. If you look closely at it, you'll see faces and animals, an airplane, a rocket; lots of little things.

RM: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting, and what about long-arm quilting?

SR: Personally, I like to hand quilt. That's just a personal preference. It takes longer, but I think it has more soul in it.

RM: Why is quilt making important to your life?

SR: It is my means of artistic expression.

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

SR: I'm not sure that they do, per se. I think they reflect America because I use traditional blocks.

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

SR: Well, I think that quilts have the potential to bring people together, just as the quilting bees of yore did.

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

SR: Well, they've always been used as mementos, preserving family and social history. Actually, genealogists look at quilts for information sometimes. They can be considered a document. And they have been used politically. Like, the Drunkard's Path pattern for instance was used by women's temperance groups a long time ago.

RM: How do you think quilts can be used?

SR: In any number of ways; for warmth on a bed, as decoration on a wall. They can be draped over a couch for naps, and as excuses for community gathering; [laughs.] think quilting bees, raffles, and signature quilt projects.

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

SR: Well, obviously, they can be preserved in museums, and photographs of them, you know, will be used in books and things like that, but also, if they're used in homes and in stories such as this one with the Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] program.

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

SR: Well, my mother's quilt and the first quilt I made, which was for my father, have come back to me after their deaths. A smaller quilt I made for my dad, and which he died under, I gave to a Veterans of Foreign Wars buddy of his, a Viet Nam vet who admired my father greatly and who suffers terribly from service-related illnesses. Another quilt I gave to a friend who suffers from HIV/AIDS, and he still has it and treasures it. I think it comforts him. My mother's eldest sister has another quilt of mine. She lives in Minnesota, and you can't have too many quilts in Minnesota. There are some that come to mind; those are some that come to mind off the top of my head.

RM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?

SR: Well, I think that would be being paid what the work is worth. There is an expectation that quilts should be given away even when they are serious art works. Even as a craft, a well-made quilt takes time and skill to make, and it would be nice to see that time and skill better valued than it is today.

RM: Well, do you have any final thoughts for us today?

SR: I would just say, to anybody who's contemplating taking up quilting that you'll know if it's for you. If there is a very attractive obsession [laughs.] that occurs when it's the right thing and when it does, it's a great comfort to do. It's a beautiful thing for others who receive your work. And I would say that it is a medium which has tremendous value also for meditation, and even prayer, as you work. The aftereffects from that are subtle, but very profound, and just don't wash out of the blanket.

RM: What a wonderful way to [SR laughs.] to end this interview.

SR: Thank you.

RM: I thank you, so much, for participating today.

SR: My pleasure.

RM: This interview was done as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project.
Our interview concluded at [pause.] 2:52 and thank you so much.

SR: [laughs.]


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