Elke Mayer




Elke Mayer




Elke Mayer


Sondra Williams

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Fort Worth, Texas


Shira Walny


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Kay Jones (KJ): This is Kay Jones. Today's date is May the 18th, 2001. It is 4:05 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Sondra Williams for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories in Fort Worth, Texas. Sondra you don't have your quilt with you but, you do have a quilt out on the floor in the show here at the Trinity Valley Quilter's Guild Quilt Fest 2001, is that right?

Sondra Williams (SW): That's right.

KJ: Would you tell us about that quilt?

SW: Well, that quilt is made up of four different fabrics with a lot of gold in it and sort of a paisley color. It's a drunkard's pattern but not spaced very close together and I call it "The Rocky Road to Japan." And I started it at a quilt retreat about three years ago with all the little drunkard's path pieces and then we went to live in Japan for a year. So I finished the piecing and I started the quilting there and finished quilting it when I came home. And also some friends helped me quilt it--I just get tired of a long, long project. And I like the way it turned out. It turned out real pretty.

KJ: You said it had four colors is that right?

SW: the colors are all the same but they're in different patterns, so there are really four different fabrics of print in the same color family that are similar. Some are small and some are large of the same design. It's pretty subtle, but I know it's there.

KJ: You mentioned being in Japan. Has that influenced your quilting at all, having lived in Japan?

SW: The Japanese quilters influenced me some but, I think I influenced them more, because I was teaching them how to do it American style with the strip piecing. I was only there a year and I had about four different classes with the ladies. It was mixed international classes- Japanese, Swedish, Turkish, various countries and Americans, showing them how to do a log cabin with the strip method and then the Radiant Star which are my two favorite patterns.

KJ: What took you to Japan?

SW: My husband's work. He works for Lockheed-Martin. He's retired and he was offered this job as a contract. He's done the same type of work in other places. We lived in Taiwan, China for six and a half years and that's where I learned to quilt.

KJ: Tell us about that.

SW: Well, I'm a schoolteacher by profession. I retired. My husband was working in Taiwan and we had--I had more time on my hands to do what I wanted to do. A neighbor showed me how to rotary cut. I had sewn forever, but I had never made a quilt. Another gal showed me how to do A Trip around the World and from there I learned a lot from Eleanor Burn's quilt books. So, I'm basically self-taught. There was one other girl from our group in our compound--there were two hundred Americans on our compound and so Barbara and I decided we could teach because everybody wanted to know what we were doing. So, we started quilting school and had as many as twelve to twenty-four people in our classes two days a week because we had to play and shop the rest of the time. We would learn how to do something and then we would teach them. So we had little quilters all over the compound. We started a quilt guild and had twenty-five people coming to our guild. Then I came home in 1995 and joined Trinity Valley and found that it was really a lot of fun to be a part of a guild and part of group. Then we went to Japan in 1998 to 1999.

KJ: I'm interested in the difference in fabrics. You said you wanted to have time to play and shop in Taiwan. Talk about fabrics in Taiwan and Japan and in the United States, and maybe the differences.

SW: There are American fabrics in all three countries and American fabrics are highly prized. When I first was in Taiwan in 1989, there were very few cottons because they wear a lot of wash and wear, because they wash everything by hand and they hang it to dry unless you are very affluent. And even then they like wash and wear because it is so hot and sticky there all the time. They just like it. So my first quilt I called "The Ugly Quilt" because I couldn't find very many cotton fabrics even though I was trying to. It was this pink and blue bed size quilt with a yellow back and I don't show it to anybody unless they are sworn to secrecy. And then by the time I left in 1995 there were cotton shops coming up. They were copying American fabrics so it was pretty much American fabrics and they still have all other kinds of fabrics in dress shops. But a few quilt shops were coming up. In Japan, I was lucky to live in the City of Nagoya which is a very large city you might not have heard of and they have a wonderful quilt shop that's known to be a discount shop everywhere else. They had Ginny Beyer's fabrics at about the same price as a really nice quilt shop here. But they also had local fabrics that were just beautiful. And there was a four-story building, full of cotton fabrics. Next door was a three story building full of dress goods and household fabrics. And I had a ball. I'm going back to visit my husband in a month and I'm bringing suitcases home full of fabric. [KJ: Of course you are.] And I found if you sniff around long enough and hard enough you can find fabric everywhere. It just takes some looking.

KJ: That is fascinating. I think we covered when you learned to quilt, so it wasn't from a family member. Were there quilters in your family?

SW: I recently learned that my grandmother quilted. By the time I knew my grandmother she was more of a business lady, a town lady. She grew up on a ranch, she married a grocery store owner who went broke in the Depression. And then eventually she inherited the ranch and ran the ranch for several years. That was more her role when I knew her. I do have several quilts I inherited from her, that I thought were given to her that I finally found out that, no she made those and was a member of a quilting group in Wichita Falls, Burkburnett-Thrift that's all one big area of North Texas and this was during the Depression days, probably between 1930 to 1937 when she inherited the ranch. So I have several wonderful quilts that are old that my grandmother made that were never attributed to her. I enjoy those a lot.

KJ: Talk about those a little bit. What patterns?

SW: Well, when I inherited them I wasn't into quilting. She died before I started. What I have now is a Dresden Plate, that's on a pink background that was attached as an appliqué, but the kind you don't turn under so the stitching's come loose and it's not in good shape. I can't remember the other patterns right now. I hadn't thought about it in a while. But I have several and I have a quilt that I acquired when I graduated from high school from an older lady that made it for me, that I took off to college and rolled up in all through my college years. But it's a very complicated pattern--I think it's called Star of Bethlehem. But, it is so scrappy that you can't see the pattern, and I thought that was interesting. I have another quilt that my mother's best friend made for her wedding--she married in 1937--that's Hawaiian. It's an appliqué pink and lime green. And one that my father won that's an autograph quilt from the 1935 era. So some of them belong to my brothers' but they might not get some of them back.

KJ: So you collect quilts?

SW: I collect family quilts. I bought one quilt top, I think. I have these quilts because they're family treasures and family memories. That's my collecting of quilts.

KJ: The quilt that you have in the show that you talked about earlier what are your plans for that quilt? Will you sleep under it?

SW: We'll probably sleep under it. It's a bed sized quilt and I sleep under nearly all my bed-sized quilts I may give them away later but, I have to have them and play with them for a while. And I just like them. I have a Radiant Star on my bed at home right now in these bright blues and turquoise and I switch it out with another Radiant Star that's blues.

Sometimes we have green and I like to change. Sometimes if it's cold I put several on the bed. I grew up with quilts on the bed. I'm not sure exactly who made them all. Some of them I have at my house and I'm not sure who made them. Probably my grandmother or some of my mother's friends. I just like quilts on the bed and look at them. I have very few of them on the wall most of them are on the bed.

KJ: Does anyone else in your family now quilt?

SW: No. I'm the only one. I give a lot of them away. A lot of my family has quilts because I made them and they have them.

KJ: About how many hours a day do you devote to your quilting, Sondra?

SW: I don't devote as many now because I'm involved in the organization of the quilt guild. Before that in Taiwan I quilted a lot every day, because I had more free time and now I don't quilt--I quilt once a week all day with a group, where we do hand quilting for each other on our own quilts. We don't quilt for the public or anything. I'd like to sew one day a week at the sewing machine to do piecing or sometimes I'll do hand work in the evening. So, I really can't say. I'm not consistent with it.

KJ: How do you choose what you're going to make? What attracts you to a pattern?

SW: I like patterns and I like to see how they're going to end up. And I have a list of things mostly mental lists and someone says, 'You need to do this.' And I say, 'Yes that can be number 89 on my list.' I have several unfinished projects that I drag out and work on and then something comes up and I have to do something else. Like my girlfriend wanted me to make a wall hanging to cover a big breaker box in her law office--she's a lawyer so I stopped what I was doing and put it aside and made her a wall hanging to cover the ugly breaker box. And it's so pretty now I don't want to give it to her, but I will. Maybe I'll make another one for myself. And then, I like to go on quilt retreats and take the unfinished ones and work on them at the retreats.

KJ: You talked a bit about the guild and the responsibilities and things associated with that, tell us a bit more about how you've been involved in the Trinity Valley Quilters' Guild?

SW: One thing I like about this guild is you don't have to be a member forever to take an office. And I came to the guild in 1995 and was only here for a short time and they asked me to be Librarian, Sandra McCartney asked me to be. And that was so much fun that I was Librarian a couple years. And then I was asked if I would be a co-chair of the quilt show which is a vice-president office. And my friend Judy Kirk and I were doing the library and we decided to take on the quilt show and we did that last year and this year I've been President of the guild and I enjoy that. I've been called a bit bossy from time to time so I don't mind delegating or bossing or assigning tasks to other people and this next year I'll take a break and be Parliamentarian, that comes with being past president and hopefully I'll slack off on the business end of it and do more of the fun part, which is playing with fabrics and quilting. I have a new quilting room in my house and a 15 X 5 something foot closet full of fabric that's saying, 'Come and play with me,' and I've been missing my fabric friends I've got to get back to it.

KJ: Well, that brings up two questions. What I wanted to ask about quilt shows, putting one together that's quite an undertaking, could you sort of lead us through that?

SW: Judy and I live close together and we found that we compliment each other as a team very well. And we started meeting in August after we had our members all selected and started putting together a time line. We met a minimum of one day a month all day long, making plans and decisions. I'm going to sound like I'm bragging and I probably am, but the show group doubled its size last year. We had twice as many quilts; we had to move to a space that was twice as large as we had ever had before. And we were both very excited and thrilled about this, we did not anticipate this. We were just doing this because we had a good time. We were having fun. We kept telling everybody the quilt show is fun, let's put on a good show. And it happened. And this year, my friend again is a co-chair and the show is a little larger than last year which is a surprise again.

We were wondering if it were a one-shot deal or a fluke but it's growing, it's turned out to be beautiful. We have 430 quilts shown by our members. Forty-nine vendors--I'm doing the merchant mall this year. We have a full slate. And we're just having a good time with it. If you have a good time and fun with what you're doing other people will join in and do it with you.

KJ: So, you'd recommend it to others in the guild to get involved.

SW: Absolutely. It's a lot of fun and you meet a lot of people. You have a good time and play around and get to see them often and go out to lunch. What more could you want?

KJ: The other question that I thought of, something you said earlier made me think of it. You mentioned a space for your fabric collection. Talk a little more about that.

SW: I have fabric from every state we've been in when we traveled. I still have some from Taiwan that I'm about to use up. I've not been in Taiwan since 1995. I have fabric from Japan. I have vendors. I like fabric on sale most of all. And I like a variety of kinds of fabric. I like fondling fabric and I'm a fabriholic. I have to go play with it, pet it, take it out refold it and put it back up from time to time. I enjoy the colors. I love the texture. I like the feel. I like the patterns. I like all of it.

KJ: What else is in your sewing room? Is this new that you have a room?

SW: It's an extension. We doubled the size. I've had a sewing room for a long time but it was small and crowded and my old closet was the size of a standard house closet with shelves in it. And my new one is a walk-in with shelves on both sides. And I have fabrics and tools. I call all the stencils and rulers tools--I collect those also unfortunately. My husband is quite indulgent. The room is about 15 X 21, so it's a large room, we have two desks with computers, a sewing machine, ironing board, cutting board, a little refrigerator, and room enough for my group to meet and put up the old-fashioned quilting frame with c-clamps and boards and then we take it down and roll it up and put it away. Then the next week we take it out and unroll it and we sit around the frame and quilt the old-fashioned quilting bee style.

KJ: Now do they meet at your house every week?

SW: Yes, yes. They used to meet at my friend's house, but my friend passed away. So her quilt shop--quilting room is no longer available so we moved to my house.

KJ: Sounds like a lucky group.

SW: Oh, we have a good time. We catch up on everything and try things out. We have so much fun we can't do it just once a week, we have quilt camp. There are six of us and we go off to a retreat two times a year and quilt some more.

KJ: Quilt some more. What's the best part about quilting? What do you enjoy the most?

SW: I enjoy piecing. I enjoy quilting with a group. I don't enjoy doing all hand quilting. I don't like it as much by myself. To me it's a social activity. But, I like piecing and I like to see the pattern come together. I like to put the colors down and make at least one or two or three blocks and see how the pattern's going to work and then it goes back in the box to come out later. So I like to see how the colors are going to work together.

KJ: Do you have a favorite designer or do you design your own quilts?

SW: I'm too lazy to draft a pattern. I don't like to do that. I like somebody to say, 'It's this big or that big.' And I like to rearrange it and I like to take all those pieces and rearrange them to suit myself. So I kind of redesign somebody else's pattern and I enjoy the traditional patterns.

KJ: Is there someone's patterns you like in particular, a particular book or selection?

SW: I have over 150 books. No, I don't have a favorite. My favorite right now is Sharyn Craig because she showed me some really neat shortcuts. And I like--I can't think of the name of the person, the gal that's coming that's so energetic, that's coming in June [inaudible.] Anyway, I can't remember her name but I love her energetic approach and her name will come to me in a minute. I have these senior moments. Not that I'm that old mind you I just have these moments.

KJ: Is there anything about quilting you don't enjoy?

SW: I don't like to embroider at all. And I will appliqué but I will gripe while I do it. [laughter.]

KJ: At the show here there are some spectacular quilts.

SW: Yes, there are.

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SW: The design and the color use and the color play, the innovative of old patterns and new colors, old styles look new again. To me it's like you're bringing new life to old patterns. Some of them are very striking. There are no ugly quilts. They're all nice. They may not be exceedingly beautiful but they are interesting and fun to look at.

KJ: And they're an expression of someone's creativity--

SW: Yes, somebody put these together so somebody liked it.

KJ: What makes a great quilter?

SW: Somebody who does it. A great quilter is made by doing, not just talking about it and looking at it but putting a needle and thread together, the sewing machine together and doing it.

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

SW: I think they both have a place. Machine quilting is nothing new. It started a long time ago when treadle machines were in vogue, machine quilting started. So, I think each person should decide what they like to do. When I first started quilting I learned to machine quilt, on my sewing machine. The thought of putting needle and thread together and quilting a whole quilt was like, 'You've got to be kidding'. But I was turning out a quilt every other week or a quilt a month because I had the time and the inclination and you can whip those things out and I was having fun doing it. And then when I came to Texas, my friend I spoke of Minnie Reeves--I went out to her little country shop, she had a shop outside her house in the country and about thirty bolts of fabric in a big room. And I took a class because I wanted to learn who the local quilters were. I live in a small town. And she said, 'If you're going to quilt with us, you're going to have to quilt by hand.' Well, I liked this lady and I liked her style. She was eighty years old at the time and invited me to come to her quilting bee that met every week. And she taught me how to hand quilt. And I found that I loved to do it in a group. I love the social aspect of it. And so I think everyone should do what they think best. Whether it's by machine or by hand do what you enjoy doing. It should be fun. Do what you think is fun.

KJ: Talk a little more about this lady. Her name--

SW: Her name is Minnie Reeves and she started quilting when she was fifteen years old. She passed away about two weeks ago. And she was never a rich woman her husband was a welder and she would say, 'I may be poor but I can do what I want to do.' And she was not poor by the time I knew her, but she was not wealthy. She had a place in the country and she started buying fabric for herself and her friends and she started her shop when she was sixty years old. She had been quilting for about 70 years. And she was a fun, cantankerous, feisty woman. She wasn't cantankerous in a mean spirited way, but she didn't put up with a lot of nonsense. In fact, our quilting group got so large there were two frames up in her shop every Wednesday and two sets of people sitting around the frames quilting for each other with two schools of thought and we got to be a little contentious so she fired us. She fired the whole group of us.

KJ: How did she do that?

SW: She said we weren't going to meet any more. So we used the term 'we got fired.' But, it's because there was a little bickering going on and she was getting tired. She was eighty-four and she was tired and we were wearing her out from--some people wanted to quilt as much as you could, as fast as you could and maybe sell them at the Senior Citizens fair. And other people were quilting for fun and coming in later than on time and leaving a little early. So it was not good, it was the best thing for her to do. So the nice group meets at my house now.

KJ: The nice group? [laughs.] It sounds as if quilting is a big part of your social outlet. Has quilting ever helped you get through a hard time?

SW: Yes, it has actually. Seven years ago, my son passed away in an accident and it's very hard for me to talk about--but I think about it. And people who are quilters--I was living overseas, in Taiwan and people who are quilter's were also my friends and they helped me get over a very hard time.

KJ: I think quilters are pretty much the same world over, aren't they?

SW: I think so. I've known quilter's of many nationalities and in Taiwan we had quilters from South Africa and from New Zealand and the United States, from Taiwan. One woman spoke no English and made beautiful quilts. We had mixed language class. In Japan I taught these classes and we had another international group. The love of fabrics and colors and making something pretty brought us all together and I still correspond with these ladies all over the world.

KJ: Do you think making something for someone else is part of it too?

SW: Some people do. Some people keep them. But generally quilters are very generous and they enjoy doing for others. They're not usually a selfish type person and they like to be together and they like to do things for other people.

KJ: You've lived many places. Is Texas your home?

SW: Yes, Texas is my home. I grew up in Texas, born in Texas, lived in South Texas, near Houston until I was grown. I call Fort Worth my home because my husband and I moved here when we were newlyweds and we had been married about 6 months. In January 1963. We moved to Fort Worth and we lived in the same house in Texas since 1972. We'd go off and live somewhere else and then we'd come back home. So this is our home and I feel like I'm a Texan through and through.

KJ: Have you seen differences in quilting styles and quilting tastes and design in different places you've lived?

SW: Yes, in particular Japan. The Taiwan people I knew weren't really into quilting-- they called it patchwork. But, in Japan and Taiwan both make smaller projects because their space is limited. They don't have enough room for big projects. Also their bedding style is different. They have a thick comforter that they sleep under that, quilts are not big enough because they don't have as much heating. In Taiwan it's warmer and they don't need the quilts. In Japan, it's colder but they have these big fat comforter things that they air out all the time. And they don't have the space for storage either so they make a lot of small things. I knew accomplished quilters in Japan. In fact I was invited to a teacher's home and I saw all of her work and that's a big honor there because teachers are so highly revered. And she's now published a book in which I've written a dedication part in it. It's bi-lingual Japanese and English book. And their styles are different. The color usages are different. And there are so many silks that they use, because you can buy old kimonos very cheaply. They don't like old stuff, so old stuff is no good. One of the ladies I know made a small wall hanging for me and she used her mother's old kimono fabric for the borders and the backing. And it was a special thing, because they save the old kimono and they cut them up and use them only for friends in things like that. The color usage in Japan was quite different. American styles are there but the Japanese are also very prevalent and very good. And they do nearly everything by hand. And their appliqué is absolutely gorgeous. They do a lot of appliqué on top of pieced work to give it a whole new and unusual interest.

KJ: Do you think in terms of America, that quilts have had an impact on American life?

What part do you think they play in American life?

SW: Of course the history of quilts we all know, keeping warm, for warmth, for clothing in the pioneer days. But today I don't know that we have to have quilts, we just enjoy them. They're pretty. So many import quilts have come in, foreign made that are not made well and people that don't know the difference want them because they're cheap. But they're pretty. We like the pattern. We like them for decorating. We like the color play.

KJ: Do you think that we ought to preserve quilts for the future? And if so, how should we do that?

SW: Absolutely, I think we should preserve them as best we can. But I'm more of the school that quilts should also be used. Because if you have them stored away and you never show anybody and you never see them, then what good are they? It is nice to have them for future generations, I agree with that, but it's also nice to have them slightly used. My quilts that I have in my collection are used and worn, they're not misused and only one of them is not useable because it needs repaired. I let museums do the special protection and the special keeping. I try to take care of the ones I have. The quilts I make are not award winning, prize winning quilts, they're to be used. And that's what I like. My grandchildren have quilts that are either hand or machine made because I know my daughter washes them two times a week practically. But they are well used and well loved and they like them. And they might not make it to the next generation. But eventually I will make something that will make it to their children.

KJ: So you are more interested in having a quilt that somebody really likes, than a quilt that is going to last into the next generation?

SW: That's right. I grew up with quilts on the bed. I like quilts on the bed. I like to sleep under them. I like to use them to cover up, to pull them off the bed and cover up with them and not feel like, 'Oh no, I can't put it on the chair or whatever.'

KJ: Sondra, we've about come to the end of our interview, is there something you'd like to talk about that we haven't touched upon?

SW: No, I think you've questioned me very well. I just enjoy quilts and fabrics and colors. I guess there is one thing I would like to say. I'm glad that we're doing this project as a guild and I'm glad that guilds are around to keep the growth of it going. I know it's a big industry now but the interest has proven over and over that the interest is still there and people are doing it because they like to and they enjoy it.

KJ: Thank you Sondra. I'm going to close by saying, I do thank you for allowing me to interview you today as part of the 2001 Quilters' Save Our Stories Project. Our interview concluded at 4:38 PM.


“Elke Mayer,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1968.