Helen Bliss




Helen Bliss




Helen Bliss


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Fort Worth, Texas


Jennifer Priddy


Kay Jones (KJ): Today is May 19th. We're at the 2001 Quilt Fest. This is Kay Jones. Today's date is May 19, 2001, and it is 1:20 p.m. I'm conducting an interview--2:20 p.m., correction. I'm conducting an interview with Helen Bliss for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories in Fort Worth, Texas. Helen, you've brought a quilt with you today. Would you tell us about it?

Helen Bliss (HB): Yes. This is a quilt that my grandmother made before I was born, and of course having been born during the Depression I know that it was a bit of an expense for her because it's all new materials in this. It's not scraps like so many of her quilts were. My grandmother lived with us, before I was born, she lived with my parents, so she got to see everything first-hand. And it is a--I call it a "Star with a Tail" and it almost looks like a Sunburst pattern around it but there's some little triangles and there is a lot of piecing in this as well as quilting. And I treasure it because it was made by my grandmother, my maternal grandmother. And I named it "Star with a Tail" because I never could find any pattern like it and I'm sure she had a pattern, so if you're doing research, maybe someone will find the actual name of this quilt as the result of this.

KJ: Tell us about the pattern in the middle.

HB: In the middle it's like a star except one place where it comes on down an extra set of triangles, and so it looks like it's a star with a tail and it's very different in that respect.

KJ: A smaller star and a larger star. The colors, Helen?

HB: The central part of it is a gold-white, and out from that is just a pale yellow-white, and the yellow border around the quilt itself is just plain muslin. And she's mitered the borders and she's done her work well, I think. I'm very proud of this quilt that my grandmother made.

KJ: How was this quilt used?

HB: Well, it was used on my bed as a baby quilt and I used it then some with my children when they were babies, so it's been a [inaudible.]. I thought of hanging it but yet I haven't. I have concern as to what the elements will do to it being out, but one day I will pass it on to my daughter to give to her daughters, when I think they're all mature enough to know how to take care of it [laughter.] and not wash it to death.

KJ: Now I know that this has special meaning. Your grandmother made it. Do you remember your grandmother?

HB: Very well, very well. My grandmother used to live with my parents before I was born and continued living with them until I was about seventeen, so I knew my grandmother quite well and enjoyed her very much. She taught me to knit and crochet and taught me a lot about [inaudible.] so she was a very special person.

KJ: Did your mother quilt?

HB: No, I don't ever remember my mother quilting. My grandmother used to [inaudible due to background noise and announcements.] [pause due to background noise.]

HB: My mother did not quilt but my grandmother did, and her friends came over and would quilt. And I don't remember who those quilts were for, but I think perhaps they were probably going to church for people in need. I don't think they were personal – some of them may have been personal, I just don't remember those. We moved to a different home when I was about six and after that time, I don't remember my grandmother quilting much. I don't even remember her piecing but she may have done some piecing and quilted with a group, but we didn't have frames in the house.

KJ: Now is this quilt that you brought today your first quilt memory? Is that the first quilt you ever remember?

HB: No, probably not. My grandmother made several quilts for me before I was born. They apparently were quite sure that I was going to be a boy because instead of Sunbonnet Sue, I got Overall Sam. [laughter.] I always wondered when I was little, 'Why do I have boys on my quilt?' and I later found out that they thought I was going to be a boy. But then I have one of my Grandmother's [Flower.] Gardens that I love very much.

KJ: You still have that one?

HB: I still have that one. It's under repair right now. The binding's coming off and I'm repairing that and then I had another one that I loved that [inaudible.] So those are the ones that I really remember. I think she must have done about four or five quilts, special quilts for me, and I'm an only child so I know they were all made for me. They've really become so much more dear to me since I've learned to quilt, and I appreciate her efforts. In fact, before our first child was born, I bought a little kit and made a little appliqué quilt and I brought it to my grandmother to quilt it for me and she said, 'Well, Honey, I don't have any frames,' and I said, 'Grandmother, that's okay. It doesn't matter. If you can--I'll get flannel instead of cotton to make it [inaudible.] for you and however you can do, I mean, just bind it for me. I just want to know that I have one more quilt.'

KJ: Did she quilt it?

HB: She did.

KJ: And do you still have it?

HB: I still have it. I guess I'm saving it for our oldest son and one of these days I'll break down and give it to him. I'm a little bit selfish when it comes to my quilts, I'm sorry to say.

KJ: Well, I was going to ask when you started quilting. Who taught you to quilt?

HB: Janet Mullins. I was in a group that was in her back room that started Trinity Valley Quilters.

KJ: So, you were one of the first members of the Trinity Valley group?

HB: Yes.

KJ: Talk a little bit about that, about those early days.

HB: Those were fun, they really were, and I don't recall how many of us there were. We decided we were going to have a quilt show at the recreation center and we were just totally amazed at the number of people who came. We just, we didn't have any idea that that many people were interested and would come in and see what we had. And so, the guild began to grow from that and kept growing and growing and growing and finally outgrew the recreation center and they then moved to the Christian Church [inaudible.] So, it's been a growing situation from the very beginning, but it was a very close-knit group because we were so small in that beginning group. We had a lot of fun.

KJ: Do you remember how many there were in the beginning?

HB: I'm trying to remember. There probably were twelve of us maybe, Barbara Rothacker. Of course, Janet Mullins and I can't remember, I think [inaudible.] and I'm just blank right now, sorry, I'm totally blank.

KJ: I wouldn't expect you to remember them all, but I wondered about the number, and it has grown now, I think we just heard, to over 400?

HB: About 400.

KJ: Then you said the first show was held at the recreation center. Is it the one there on Lackland Road?

HB: It's now Green Oaks Road and they had a room where we were allowed to have it and that later became the room where we met. That was the [unintelligible.] that's where we met. And they may have had one in the gymnasium at one time there too [inaudible.] but the first one was mainly just quilts that we had been working on, small pieces we had been working on. I don't recall that there was clothing. There may have been, but I don't recall it. But it was not a very big show.

KJ: Do you remember how many quilts?

HB: No, I don't, no. Because we had been meeting for probably a year or two before we attempted to do that, and the number had grown. I just don't remember, maybe thirty or forty quilts [inaudible.].

KJ: Do you recall the quilt you had in the show?

HB: No.

KJ: It's been a while.

HB: It was probably one of these because I really don't have much full-sized quilts that I've made. I have about four started, but I've gotten off onto other things and they're still sitting there and they're going to get finished one of these days, I just don't know when. But they will be.

KJ: Are there other quilters in your family now?

HB: No. I'm hoping that my granddaughter will and maybe my daughter because I didn't start quilting until my children were grown.

KJ: I think you said that you don't quilt a lot anymore?

HB: No, I haven't been. I have been in a group at our church that we make quilts for missionaries from our church, and I have been in that group, and I had to drop out for a while. I was going to take some school, some computer courses and things, and my days were pretty jammed up, so I had to drop something and unfortunately, I had to drop my quilting, but I am going to start back this summer [inaudible.]

KJ: So, you do still quilt at the church?

HB: Yes.

KJ: And what happens to those quilts?

HB: Well, we have -- I forget how many, but we have a large number of missionaries that our church helps to support, and we started with our first missionary and just coming on down the row, we make a quilt for them, and we try to find if they have a favorite pattern, the colors that they desire, this sort of thing. And we try to have a quilt that's really personal to them that they can use and enjoy. The last one they did was for a couple that are in France, and it was beautiful, just a gorgeous quilt. I didn't do any work on that particular one.

KJ: Now who decides what pattern?

HB: The person that's going to receive it.

KJ: Oh, they get to choose?

HB: They get to choose, uh-huh, they choose the pattern they want, they choose the colors they want. So, it's really doing it personally for each missionary.

KJ: That must be very satisfying.

HB: It's really nice because you think sometimes, 'Oh, this is going to look' [laughter.] but then when it all seems to fall together it works.

KJ: Is there any part of quilting that you don't like?

HB: Probably quilting itself. I really probably prefer piecing to quilting.

KJ: Do you have any thoughts about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

HB: I've done some--I'm doing some machine quilting on some of these I'm working on and some are going to be hand quilted. But if it's something I'm really wanting to get done and get moving on, I have. At first, I didn't. I had many reservations about machine quilting. And then I thought, 'Well if you want to get this thing made and to someone, then you need to do it the quickest way possible and do the best you can.' I think it's all the heart, how we do it that matters.

KJ: What's the best part of quilting?

HB: The fellowship, working in a group, I love quilting in a group because I get a lot of good fellowship being involved in a bee or a quilting group of some kind.

KJ: And you don't still belong to a bee?

HB: No, I'm not in a bee.

KJ: But your church group?

HB: I belong to that.

KJ: I'm sure that you walked through the show here?

HB: Not yet.

KJ: When you do, what will you be looking for? What makes a great quilt?

HB: Of course, workmanship, one thing that I will stop to look at is workmanship. And then color combinations, the way it lays out for the whole quilt. I don't like anything that's too busy, but this has a lot in it.

KJ: Your baby quilt?

HB: Yes, it's sort of almost monochromatic type thing and it's not going to give that effect of being real busy like it would have been if there were many colors involved in this. I love a Grandmother's Quilt because it does have a lot of colors in it and it's still--or Garden, Grandmother's [Flower.] Garden, and those are very appealing.

KJ: What makes a great quilter?

HB: Oh, patience, I think, which I am very shy on but I'm learning to do better. But I do think it takes a lot of patience to quilt, to get it just like you want it to be, to persevere.

KJ: How long do you usually spend on a quilt? How long does it take to make one for you?

HB: Well, if I'm making one where I'm piecing by hand and quilting by hand, forever. [laughter.] It'll take a long, long time for me. But I'm not consistent in my quilting. I quilt awhile and it may be a long time before I get back to quilting again but it is a very long, drawn out procedure so that's one reason I moved on to machine quilting. I felt like maybe it was a more expedient way of getting things done.

KJ: Is there someone, Helen, in your time of quilting that's been a real influence for you?

HB: Oh, yeah, some of the older women that came into the guild after the guild had been going for a while just did some beautiful things. It was encouraging to me that now that I'm getting close to the age that they were when they came to the guild, there's still hope for me to get things done, to accomplish things. But there were several older ladies that were in the guild early on that have now passed on.

KJ: Several people have mentioned Vivian Parker.

HB: Oh, Vivian Parker was just something else, she just really was. And she had a friend, and I'm sorry that I can't remember her friend's name now, and she had a wonderful eye for color and between the two of them they just came up with the most gorgeous ideas for quilts. One was a butterfly that they did, and it was just wonderful. And [inaudible.] was another one and she was quite [inaudible.] to the guild.

KJ: I think you've indicated to us that quilting has had an important part to play in your life. What – how would you describe that?

HB: I don't know, I think probably it was a comfort thing to me when I was a child. We'd play underneath the quilt frame and the ladies would talk to me and I always enjoyed [inaudible.] and then it was one of those things that I always wanted to learn to do but decided that I probably wouldn't do as good a job on my own so it would be nice if I had some quilt instruction. And I started taking classes from Janet Mullins and staying at home and she is an excellent quilter. I was so new, and I was looking around and I hadn't even started classes yet and I was looking at one of her quilts on the wall and I said, 'Did you do this on the machine?' 'No, this is all hand quilted.' And I said, 'Oh, dear.' I was pretty [inaudible.] because there were such tiny stitches [inaudible.]

KJ: Most of us quilters have a stash somewhere. Would you tell us about yours?

HB: I still have a stash. It's not being used but I still have a stash. And my stashes are generally for a particular quilt that I'm going to make and a pattern and all there to make it. So someday I'll be having grandchildren and great grandchildren and I'll be trying to make something for them too.

KJ: You said 'too;' have you already made something for each grandchild?

HB: No, I have not. That's something I have thought I would do, and I got away from quilting, and I have patterns, I may still get them done and they may use them for their children. Their grandmother will have made it for them anyway. And probably if I made them a full-size quilt, they probably would use them even though they're fourteen or sixteen, they probably would still use them. I need to get busy doing them.

KJ: When you think about quilting, not just in this area but in America, what influence do you think quilting has had on American women and American life?

HB: I think it has filled many lonely hours for many women and it has brought together many women that would not have been brought together otherwise, you know, especially women in prairie towns or even on farms where they would still get together [inaudible.] and it just – life must have been extremely lonely [inaudible.]. It would have been very lonely so to have been able to be a part of something like that would have been a very happy, exciting thing for me, to be able to know, 'Next Tuesday, I'm going to the quilting bee [inaudible.]' and I think it helped them get through some very difficult times.

KJ: Has quilting helped you get through a difficult time?

HB: No, I've never had a time that I used quilting to get through. I probably should have but I didn't. [inaudible due to background noise.]

KJ: Now you have made quilts for friends and family?

HB: Well, I'm making quilts for friends and family, I'll put it that way. They're not there yet.

KJ: Not there yet? How would you like them to use those quilts?

HB: However, they would like. Once I make it or give it to them then it's theirs. My old quilts, though, that's a different story. But anything that I make and give to them, it's however they want to use it.

KJ: Now, you have--

HB: I said I didn't make a quilt; I did make a quilt for my granddaughters. I don't know what I'm thinking about. I didn't quilt them; I tied them. Yes, I made both of my granddaughters one.

KJ: And what's happened to them?

HB: Well, in fact, they still have them on their beds. It's a crib quilt but they fold it up at the end of their beds.

KJ: Now you have some old quilts?

HB: Yes.

KJ: How are they used? What are your plans for them?

HB: Well, frankly, I use them on our beds, and I use them on beds in the guest room. I will give them to our daughters and our son one day when I'm so old I won't live long enough to see them wash them to death. The reason I say that is our daughter, when she was in high school, I had put a couple of quilts on her bed and she just insisted on washing them and I said, 'You can't do this to them too often,' and sure enough she washed them to death, just ruined a couple of quilts. And so, I became very defensive of my quilts after that because she did all the linens and things in her room, and she put that quilt in the washer as she washed the sheets. And I said, 'You don't wash quilts like you wash sheets.'

KJ: Well, I think that I've about covered the end of my questions. Do you have anything that you would like to talk about that we haven't touched on?

HB: No, but the thing I am the most happy about is all the number of younger women that are interested in quilting today, so that I feel certain that our guild will go on and will grow and that they will pass it on to their children and grandchildren.

KJ: Why do you feel that's important, Helen?

HB: Well, I guess for me, it's a throw-back to my grandmother and her family and back to her [unintelligible.], I know that they made quilts. They had to make quilts. They had no choice if they wanted warm cover, they made quilts. Well, I said my mother didn't quilt – she did quilt. In the late forties, '46 and '47, she learned of some orphanages in Italy that were in need of quilts, so she began [inaudible due to background noise.] and she tied them to expedite getting the quilts to Italy, to the orphanages there. And she did quilt then. I never saw her do the traditional quilting to speak of, but she did make those war quilts and I always admired her very much for it. She would take my dad's old things and cut them up and I guess he wondered what happened to a few things once in a while. [laughs.] And anything she had made for me, she would take those scraps and she'd get her friends to save scraps and I think they did a lot more, maybe, sewing than quilting [unintelligible.]

KJ: So, you think that quilting is a tradition that should be passed on?

HB: I do, I really do, and you may not need that quilt for a cover but you never know when the day may come that you might need that quilt for cover and I just think it's an art form that most anybody can learn to do and there are even men that are quilters too, so I think it's certainly a worthy, worthy [inaudible.] and started back with the Chinese [inaudible.] So, I'm glad and it's nice to know that it's passed on so long.

KJ: Well, I want to thank you for being interviewed today and I want to close by saying that this is part of the 2001 S.O.S. - Quilters' Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project. And our interview concluded at--our interview will conclude right away. What would you like to say?

HB: I would just like to say that I considered it quite an honor and a privilege to be invited to be interviewed. I could not imagine why I was invited but I didn't question it, I just said, 'Yes, I would love to come.' And I do thank you so much for asking me.

KJ: It was an honor to have interviewed you and our interview is concluding at 2:50 [p.m.].


“Helen Bliss,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1966.