LaNelle Herron




LaNelle Herron




LaNelle Herron


Jane Kucko

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Julie Henderson


**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.**
Jane Kucko (JK): This is Jane Kucko. Today's date is May 20th, 2001. [tape suddenly begins to record on high speed.] I am conducting an interview with LaNelle Herron. [pause for about 5 seconds.] Start over. This is Jane Kucko. Today's date is May 20th, 2001. It's about 1:33 in the afternoon and I am conducting an interview with LaNelle Herron here in Fort Worth, Texas as a part of our Save Our Stories project. I would just like to open up by thanking you for being here with us this afternoon.

LaNelle Herron (LH): Thank you. You're welcome.

JK: I see you've brought a really pretty quilt with you today. Can you tell me about it?

LH: This is a [red work.] quilt that I entered in last year's show. It's cats--I have a fondness for cats. When I was recovering from cancer seven years ago, I embroidered these cats along with enough cats to make a queen-size bedspread for my daughter. These I had kept for myself and we needed a project for a donation to a family reunion fundraiser and so I put this quilt together and put on a price on it--a minimum bid. People were going to buy my quilt and I didn't want to let it go so I bought it myself, I bought it back.

JK: Good for you, good for you. Well this quilt must have particular meaning for you then, for you to have bought it back.

LH: It does. I think when I look at this it helps me think of having the nine lives of the cat, being a cancer survivor is real special. I think cats are real unique and special so I like to maybe think I'm going to be special also someday.

JK: Absolutely, absolutely. Tell me about why you chose the reds and the plaid and the black.

LH: When I put this together I was traveling with my husband, and we were spending a lot of time in California. I went looking for something--red is probably my favorite color, I use a lot of reds in my home. I wanted a throw or something--I guess I just like red. When I started looking and I found this--it's kind of a novelty red and it works well with black. I like a touch of black on everything. The plaid just happened to work. I worked really hard getting this plaid cut so that it's straight. [laughter.] I don't like things like that that are not straight. But I worked a lot on this in California in my lap. It means something to me so I'm glad I got it back.

JK: Absolutely, absolutely. What are your plans for this quilt, then?

LH: Well, right now we're just using it as a throw on the sofa. I have other cat quilts hanging in my home so at some point I may hang it. But my grandchildren all love to cuddle under it. I have four that come at once, so we have to have a lot of cuddle quilts.

JK: Oh, you sure do, four grandchildren! Wonderful. Now tell me about your interest in quilting: when did this all start?

LH: Probably when I was about eight years old. My grandmother was a quilter and my parents died when I was an infant. My grandmother raised me, so I was exposed to quilting and sewing really early. We were very poor and I didn't realize this. My grandmother had to stretch fabrics and she was very frugal. She would get really mad at me when I would cut doll clothes out of the middle of a piece of fabric. She would scold me for that. But I remember making a little quilt. That was simply putting two pieces of fabric together with some cotton that she just stretched out. Then I don't remember putting the cotton on it but I do remember her making me practice stitching. I was probably no more than eight.

JK: Do you still have that quilt?

LH: No I don't. Somewhere I've lost it. I wish I did. But I started making doll clothes about then. I've been sewing I guess forever.

JK: It's really wonderful. Was it your grandmother then that taught you to quilt, primarily, or how did you learn?

LH: No, probably she did initially. I saw this quilting in the big frames, you know the old-fashioned frames--she and her friends would quilt. Of course I was always under the frames and being told to get out and that sort of thing. But I think it gave me an awareness and appreciation of quilting. Then I really didn't have time as I got to be an adult and had children, until my boys were teenagers and I decided I wanted to make a quilt for them. I made the log cabin twin-size. It was one of those where you have the batting in the two pieces of fabric and as you sew the log cabin on it stitches through the back and then you do the squares and you put them together. Believe it or not, I picked some really ugly fabric but they were reds, navys and golds. They were bright. But those quilts held together. They were completely done on the machine except where I stitched it together on the back. I used some poly-cotton for the backing and that was kind of tough to sew through, but those quilts stayed together; my boys used them. I don't know what happened to them in our moving over the years, but they've disappeared. They served their purpose. So that was when I got started again. Then I had another lull, and then I took a class through our church a few years ago. It got me started. I made a sampler quilt and that got my interest. Then I joined a guild and so I've been doing something ever since.

JK: What's one of your first quilt memories?

LH: Probably--I guess just playing under the quilt frames. Going and having lunch--we would go to someone's house and everybody brought food. I like that, because I got a variety of foods and things. But I think I just liked going with my grandmother to her quilting bees.

JK: Where was this? Where did you grow up?

LH: In Texas, East Texas.

JK: East Texas. When did you move to Fort Worth, then?

LH: Back in eighty-two, 1982.

JK: OK, that was the year the guild was founded, I believe, Trinity Valley Quilters?

LH: Well I didn't get involved then.

JK: OK. When did you join the guild, do you remember?

LH: I think about six years ago.

JK: Oh, ok. Now you're saying that you may be an officer here in the near future. Have you been in other roles?

LH: I have been. I've worked in property two years.

JK: Ok. You mentioned your grandmother, I believe, was a quilter. Were there other members of you family who quilted.

LH: You know I didn't know anything about my mother's family until I got to be an adult. Now I've met two of her sisters and they are both quilters. They are up in their eighties but they both do beautiful work. It's interesting to me--I think some of this interest may be genetic or hereditary because they tell me that my mother was a fine seamstress, made beautiful clothes and things. She had made some quilts. My brother has a top that she made. I don't know if she made more than that or not, but he lived with her parents, so he inherited most everything from that side. I don't have anything like that.

JK: It's very interesting. I'm sure that was exciting to hear of that connection.

LH: It was.

JK: You mentioned the story of your being a cancer survivor and working on this quilt through that. Have you used quilts to get through difficult times?

LH: Yes, very much. I find--I've made a lot of baby quilts. The white on white, where you just draw a design and stitch. That is very, very soothing to me. When I travel I always take some type of handwork with me, embroidery or a small quilting project or something like that.

JK: What do you most benefit from quilting? What pleases you most about it?

LH: Trying to make small stitches--it's a challenge. [laughter.] Trying to get my stitches like some I see here at the quilt show.

JK: I think you're right. Sometimes you're proud of what you've done and then you come to a show and you see someone's stitches tinier or something like that. It gives us something to strive for.

LH: And I look at some of the old quilts. I really have an appreciation for the art over the years. I was just looking at a quilt. It has the tiniest, tiniest little stitches and it make me wonder what type of batting they used because that makes a big difference in how small you can make your stitches. Of course I have my preference on certain types of batting. It varies on the type of project you're doing. Many years ago I just don't know what people used, I wish I did.

JK: …cotton and things--I've heard of some quilters where they actually made their own batting. I wonder--I don't know very much about that either.

LH: Right, right. I don't either.

JK: Is there any aspect about quilting that you don't enjoy? Any part of the process?

LH: I guess I would have to say, when you're trying to put the binding on and get even the top and bottom. [laughter.] Figure out exactly how to make that work. Sometimes it's a challenge. I'm fairly accurate. Rotary cutting has made a big difference. I really enjoy being able to do that. It makes things so much more accurate and I don't think I stretch the fabric like I used to. It handles so much and scissor cut and everything. So I enjoy doing things I can do that way.

JK: Now I think you mentioned machine piecing--what you did with the log cabin stripe. Is this quilt you brought with you today, this is hand stitched?

LH: Right.

JK: Do you have a preference?

LH: I prefer hand quilting, but I don't mind piecing on a machine.

JK: Is that the technique that you typically use, the machine pieced and hand quilt?

LH: I have found I have a tendency to do a background quilting on things to make them-- give them a three dimensional effect. I did that on this year's entry too. I don't know-- it's just evidently something I prefer. When I look at something it just needs that extra little, you know.

JK: What did you enter in the show?

LH: I have a red work.

JK: Oh a red work, also. How many red works have you done?

LH: Oh, maybe six.

JK: Oh. That's something you must really--

LH: I do. In fact I bought a little ornament kit here yesterday, and went home and did it last night. [laughter.]

JK: My goodness, that is, that is. That is wonderful. So, tell me about the kinds of projects that you have going.

LH: I have a lot of UFO's. [UFO is an "unfinished object", i.e. an unfinished quilt.]

JK: Talk to us a little bit about that.

LH: Well, my husband and I have a combined family so I have seven children. They're all adults. So I try to give each family something hand made each year. So I have quite a few Christmas things going, which I will get finished before Christmas. A couple of years ago I made cuddle quilts for all my grandchildren. I've already had to extend one of them--the child has grown enough that she's come and asked for an extender on her quilt. So I did that. It makes me feel really good that that's something that's special to them. They each have their own in the car or wherever and they all seem to really enjoy them, so that made me feel really special to be able to provide that for them.

JK: Do you give most of your quilts away?

LH: I do.

JK: Well you are a member of the guild, obviously.

LH: Right.

JK: What do you enjoy most about that?

LH: Well, I enjoy the programs. I always feel that I go away with something. It probably gets me into trouble, because they bring in things that I have no business trying something else to give me another UFO, but I go home and I'll try it anyway. I usually go to the workshops. It's just really interesting to me to see the things that people bring to show and tell. We have so much talent in the guild--the imagination, just the work that people put into things - I'm constantly amazed. So, I really enjoy that.

JK: How do you go about buying your fabrics? Do you--

LH: I usually get the basic piece of something I like and then I just go from that. I like things to have a--well let's see, what would you call it--not a disjointed look, I like for them to be planned. I usually start with a piece of fabric and just go from that, with something I like.

JK: Do you shop when you travel? You mentioned that you--

LH: I do. I go to quilt shops everywhere. I do buy fabric if it's something unusual that I've not seen elsewhere, something that I think that I will use. A lot of reds I buy, because that's my favorite color.

JK: Like your red work. Do you notice--well before I ask you that--if some quilters are willing to describe how much scraps they have at home, and what their fabric stash looks like.

LH: I have bags. When I started back in quilting I was just going to do scrappy stuff, I wasn't going to buy any fabric. That was to use up all those scraps. Well the first thing I did was an album quilt. It required each piece to use the same fabrics. So I bought fabric. I'm just like every other quilter now. I buy fabric all the time. But I enjoy having those stashes because even though I buy fabric, you can do anything scrappy all or you always have something to fall back on. I have my fabrics color categorized, so I can--

JK: Oh, you do.

LH: Yes. I have a bag--it's a clear plastic bag. I can just look and kind of pick and choose. But it's nice to have fabrics on hand.

JK: Do you have a sewing room then, a pretty nice set up?

LH: I did have and I had to give it up for a grandchild to move in with us, but I'll get it back one of these days. Right now I sew in a spare room. That's not great, but--

JK: We do what we have to do.

LH: Right. Exactly.

JK: What's your next quilt that you want to make? Is there one that you have thought about or have in your mind?

LH: No, I really haven't. I have two quilts that people have brought to me and asked me to--they're just tops and they've asked me to put them together. They're things their grandparents made or someone in their family. I have to look at them for a little while, because some of them are a real challenge. So I have those to finish and then I have another quilt for an older relative that I've taken. She had pieced the top and so I'm putting it together now. I had hoped to have it ready by Mother's Day but I didn't get it, so now her birthday is in December. I'm hoping by December I have it finished and quilted. It's all together and I'm quilting on it. It's a dogwood pattern. So it is pretty, and it doesn't have a lot of quilting but it has [high light] quilting, so I'm working on that.

JK: Now do you do mostly the red work embroidery and then piece or do you enjoy appliqué, or--

LH: I have not done any appliqué at all. I--just generally embroidery and just work it into my quilts somewhere.

JK: How many hours a week do you quilt?

LH: Probably six or eight. That's if a get on a roll and I do six hours straight if my husband's out of town or something. Then I might have another day, but if I have a project going and I sit down I night, I quilt a little bit each night since I do things by hand. [JK: Sure.] Believe it or not, I can watch TV and quilt.

JK: There you go. You hear that a lot, that people like the handwork because they can do other things or they can take--

LH: Yes, and it's just a way of unwinding and relaxing. I'm really concentrating on what I'm doing and the TV is basically noise. We joke about that, because it's basically noise. I don't always--I'm not even paying attention, I'm really watching what I'm doing. Now and then I get an uneven line--I rip and then I know it's time to quit and start another day.

JK: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LH: Well, I'd say one that has a lot of appeal--that does something to your heart. That talks to you, speaks to you and--just one that you can really admire the workmanship, the choice of colors, the pattern and everything.

JK: What do you think makes a great quilter?

LH: I guess a person who has the diligence to see a quilt from start to finish. [laughter.] No, if you enjoy quilting, I think that makes you a great quilter, regardless of the end product. The joy you get from it.

JK: The relaxation you mentioned.

LH: Right.

JK: Do you usually work from patterns, or do you design your own quilts?

LH: I like scrappy hodge-podge things, so sometimes I do that. I didn't have a pattern for this quilt. I had patterns for the cats that I found in an old, old magazine. I have a lot of really old craft magazines. I found this in an old Better Homes and Gardens book. But I really didn't--other than that; I didn't know where I was going with it when I did the blocks. I have a lot of blocks, but I'll just one day sit down and start putting together some sort of sampler or something like that. I like the challenge of making things fit, except at the bottom and the top.

JK: [laughs.] That's very interesting. Why is quilting important to your life?

LH: I'm hoping that it's something that my granddaughters will appreciate. I'm teaching them to sew right now. They make little doll quilts and things like that. I think by doing that they will have an appreciation and probably remember that it was Nanny, as they call me, who taught them to sew. I think quilting is an art, a true art. Some of us are better than others, naturally. I will never be a great artist at quilting, but I enjoy what I do, and if I can just pass that on to my grandchildren, then--

JK: It seems like they're interested, that they enjoy the quilting.

LH: They are. They had each asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. [JK: Oh!] They got one machine for the three of them.

JK: Now how many grandchildren do you have?

LH: I have ten, total.

JK: Ten! That's wonderful. Have you made them all quilts? Have you had-- [LH: Yes.] That's really amazing. You mentioned that you travel. Just through what you've observed, do you notice differences in quilts from places you've traveled as compared to Texas or the Fort Worth area?

LH: Mostly my travel is to California, where my husband works a lot. We sometimes go to antiques shows and things like that and I see some quilts. It seems as though the designs are not the traditional things that I see here. They are more contemporary designs or-- [JK: Interesting.] It probably comes from the difference in the people, the cultures and the--[talks very quietly.]

JK: Right. Is there any particular way that you think quilts have special meaning for women's history? Any particular way that hits women's lives?

LH: I think so. I think the colors we choose show our moods. I think the patterns you show, or that you work with probably show a lot about your personality. I think these are pretty good times. I think the quilts now show that we have good lives.

JK: Very interesting. So the economy and the function might have been more dominant in earlier times. Well you mentioned that, didn't you, with your grandmother really--versus running around purchasing.

LH: Right. Most of my clothes were made from feed sacks. She used feed sacks for everything, dishtowels, whatever. I'm sure that the grain or feed was bought in mind with having the fabric. [JK: Interesting.] And I remember feed sacks.

JK: That's fascinating. So you think they picked out according to the pattern of that sack. [LH: Right.] That is just incredible. Do you remember her piecing pieces to get pieces large enough to fit within a triangle?

LH: Right. We never threw anything away. She just always--she would turn things and get it as close to the edge of her fabric to save this much for later.

JK: Do you remember the batting for those? [LH: I don't.] That's what you were saying earlier. Did she use newspaper for patterns? [LH: She did.] She did those kinds. You remember all of that.

LH: Now I don't know if she got those patterns from friends or if she got them from a newspaper or what. But I grew up not knowing there was any other way to make patterns other than cut a piece of newspaper. This is how I cut all my doll clothes and everything. Then we went to brown paper bags. So then I learned to use brown paper. So it's nothing to me when I buy a pattern now and you have to trace it off of something.

JK: Right. Do you see any directions that quilt making is taking that might be a concern to you or anything that you see--that the art may be lost?

LH: I hope the hand quilting doesn't get lost. The trend is right now, and it's very accepted, that machine quilting is okay. I certainly think that on some quilts that's fine. There are others that I'd appreciate more if they had handwork. I hope that handwork doesn't get lost.

JK: Are your granddaughters learning that?

LH: They are. One made a picture of her family for Christmas. She embroidered. She drew everybody and then stitched it--two dogs and a cat and her six family members. She's eight years old.

JK: That's amazing.

LH: Her mother cried when she opened it. I framed it.

JK: She'll always have that. [LH: Yes.] That's just marvelous.

LH: In her family--if the person had big hair, they had big hair in the picture. [laughter.] Her dad is very, very tall. He's six-seven. So he had the biggest feet you've ever seen in this picture, it was really hilarious. [laughter.]

JK: Children are very honest, aren't they?

LH: Yes, they are.

JK: That's a wonderful story. Do you keep a journal of these kinds of things? That's part of the oral history, for this project.

LH: I have not, but I've been thinking about that. I'm getting to the point where I don't remember where I've been the day before and I thought, 'I should do this for my own safety, if nothing else'. [laughs.] But I think it would be neat to do. I saw a little journal here; a quilting journal, and I think it would be nice for the girls if I did that, especially. Or even if it's just the projects I do with them that later on they can have some history on.

JK: Yes, so if they're interested in it particularly, that's wonderful. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

LH: Well, I think probably things like the quilt shows where we show people that they really are art and that they are priceless and that they cannot easily be remade--give people an appreciation for them so that they will protect them and take care of them. We pass things down to our families, and I know from my own experience that there were things that were passed to me that I didn't appreciate, I didn't hang on to, now I would give anything if I had. Teaching and appreciation early on, I think, will help people to preserve things and take care of them.

JK: Do you collect a lot or subscribe to a lot of magazines?

LH: Not anymore. I have so many books and so many resources available to me. Many of them are old, old. My brother works for a library in Alabama, and excess books they have he always sends to me. He wrote me an email the other day and said, 'Do you want this book on lap quilts?' I said, 'Yeah, when I get old and slow down I'm probably going to go to that, so save it. You don't have to mail it to me. I'll come get it before then.' [laughter.]

JK: That's great. They're wonderful to have, aren't they? Little treasures. Well are there any questions that you might have for me or anything you want to elaborate on, or--?

LH: What are we going to do with all this information? Is it just going to be put into tapes, or--?

JK: A couple of different things will happen. All of the oral tapes--we will make copies of these. The originals will go to the University of Delaware, where it will be archived for scholars to access. When they're transcribed, the written transcription will be available through the Internet. Then locally, we'll have copies of this tape, so if anyone wanted to come to hear and listen, they have access to them here in Fort Worth. Then I'm also working on a dissertation where I'm going to take this information and write a profile of the Trinity Valley Quilters Guild, so it's kind of in different stages.

LH: Well this must be really interesting for you, then.

JK: It's fascinating, and I think the women we've talked to are just amazing.

LH: I really don't feel that I'm even qualified to be in here because there are people who are so much better quilters than I, have so much more experience and they can tell you many more stories than I, I'm sure. But I'm very honored to have been asked.

JK: Well, it's been a pleasure and actually I think every story is important that talks about the life of that particular person and it will really help us write eventually a whole profile of quilting in America and really start to see where we're similar and where we're different according to where we're from. We really appreciate your time.

LH: Well you're welcome.

JK: So I would like to conclude the interview and again thank LaNelle for her time and for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 Save Our Stories project. Our interview has concluded at 2:00pm in the afternoon. Thank you.

[tape ends.]


“LaNelle Herron,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,