Jacque Hensell




Jacque Hensell




Jacque Hensell


Jennifer Priddy

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Shira Walny


Jennifer Pretty (JP): This is Jennifer Pretty. Today's date is May 20th, 2001, it is 3:09 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Jacque Hensell for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Fort Worth, Texas. Welcome Jacque.

Jacque Hensell (JH): Thank you.

JP: We're very glad to have you here, so can you tell me a little bit about the story behind the quilt that you--that is hanging up in our show? [inaudible due to tape speed.]

JH: Well, the "Let It Snow" quilt is very special to me because there came a time when I had many demands on me. My youngest grandchild was diagnosed with a terminal illness. My family was committed to taking care of him at home. I totally lost interest in quilting. I was very sad because I had lost my interest in quilting. I tried to get the interest back by going out and buying fabrics or buying new patterns. I'd go home and there would just be no spark at all. I would then just give the things I had bought away. I teach quilting and many times students come to class and they don't have their block completed. They usually say, 'I was just too busy to do my block,' or 'I didn't get to it because I have a lot going on.' I couldn't image why someone couldn't get a block done. Since I began quilting, I would get up in the morning thinking about quilting and go to bed thinking about quilting. Then that period of time came for me when I couldn't work on a block. Actually, I didn't pick up a needle for 9 months. This quilt was the turning point in my quilting life. It was the reason I got back into quilting. I know there was definitely divine intervention in the series of events that restored my quilting interest.

JP: Oh, well that's great. So, is this--did you make this quilt for someone special in your life?

JH: Because of the things in my personal life, I had cut back in the number of classes I was teaching. I had one class that I'd been with for 5 years. They met in a church and the group was called Quilts and Other Comforts. They had a devotional and refreshments before class. They were a wonderful group and really my favorite class. They knew I had other demands in my life and that I was cutting back on my quilting classes, but they just insisted that our group continue. I tried to tell them I didn't have time to work up a new project for them, but I had one quilt project we could do. The quilt class I offered them was named "Snowbound." I had taught this class many times and the preparation work was done. The group all said they wanted to do this project even though two of the girls had taken this class from me before. The girls that had taken it before said it would give them an opportunity to finish their project. In the "Snowbound" quilt, there is one block that is a nativity scene. The class had recently done a nativity scene, so one of the girls in the class asked if I could come up with a substitute for the nativity scene. I said, 'Well that really won't be a problem,' and I didn't really think it would be. I just thought, 'Well, I'd just get to that when I have to. I was just kind of managing my life on a crisis basis. I'll come up with something for that, you know, I just said, 'Okay.' Also at that time, my daughter was having major surgery. I was going to be with her during this time in the hospital and I knew that I needed something to bring to work on. I didn't even have a yo-yo to bring. This was so unlike me. I had always been, prior to this 9 months, an over producer, you know, I always had something to show and tell and multiple projects going on. I thought, 'Well I know what I need to do, replace that naivety scene with another so I could prepare for the Quilts and other Comforts class.' The new class project was starting in January, and it was already December. I thought, 'Well, I'd take the class lesson plans and make sure that they're okay.' So, we're in the hospital and I had these class lessons and the first thing I realized was that her nurse was one of my ex-students.

JP: Oh, wow.

JH: Every time she'd come in the room, she would say, 'Quilting this, quilting that. What are you working on?' I said, 'Well, I'm just not working on anything right now.' And she'd say, 'Oh, that doesn't sound like you.' And I didn't really want to go into, you know, my grandchild and so I just said, 'Well, I've just had other things that are keeping me really busy right now, I have other obligations that need to be met, so I haven't really had a chance, but I'm planning to.' You know, I didn't want to get into any details about it.

JP: Right.

JH: So, the very next morning, I came into my daughter's hospital room and on her breakfast, tray is a skating scene placemat. I instantly saw my replacement for the nativity scene. At that point, I was kind of like my old self, I was going, 'Oh Heather, just a minute, don't spill any food on this, just a minute, let me--,' I got really excited. So, then I began sketching a skating scene from her placemat that had been on her tray.

JP: Her placemat?

JH: Yes. And so, as I sketched, I started thinking, 'Well, you know, I've always wanted to redo that "Snow Bound" quilt, I might just make that quilt again as well, and I might just do that, I think I'll make all their clothes in flannel.' And I just start thinking and my mind just starts thinking about what I'm going to do. I was very enthusiastic about the project. I could hardly wait for us to get home and start working on it. The following Monday, I needed to go and be with my son's family to help them and care for my grandson. One thing I always did when I was at his house was read a story to the two middle grandchildren before they took their naps. I always read them one small book or one chapter of a chapter book. That particular day, one of them said they wanted two books. I just said, 'No, it's going to be one book.' Well, to make a long story short, he insisted it was going to be two books and I was just too tired to argue with him. I said, 'Okay, today it is going to be two books but from now on you understand that it is going to be one book.'

JP: Let's hold on until the announcements are done. [tape stops and starts.] Okay, once again, we're talking to Jacque and she's telling us the last bit of significance.

JH: So, the second book that was chosen for me to read was a new book that they had just gotten, and it was called "Let It Be Snow." It was a story about children playing in the snow. I was so excited. As I was reading, I keep seeing the children in the book as figures on my new quilt. I actually used almost all the figures that were in that book on this quilt. I just converted them to appliqué patterns. They were so easy to convert to appliqué patterns. Up to this point, I had thought that all the event were just a coincidence, taking the lesson plans to the hospital, my daughter's nurse being my former quilting student, her placemat being a skating scene. But then when, the following Monday, when my grandson insisted on me reading two books and the second book being the snow book, I knew that somebody was helping me get back into quilting.

JP: That's great. We're really glad you're back into quilting, I think you're just incredible.

JH: I'm glad I'm back into quilting as well.

JP: Alrighty then. So, what special meaning do quilts have for you?

JH: Well, I am a first-generation quilter and I've never had quilts in my family. I've always loved quilts. And I think more than the quilt, quilting has played a significant role in my life.

JP: And when did you start quilting?

JH: 1989. 1992 is when I took an early retirement from Southwestern Bell. I had always loved working and when I retired, I just thought, what in the world am I going to do? I have no life. After all the closets were cleaned, 3 months into my retirement, I just thought, 'Listen, I've got to get a life and I've got to make some friends.' So, I just went out and started taking some quilting classes.

JP: Oh okay.

JH: It was through quilting classes I made many friends and I still interact with some of them. I learned so many avenues of quilting that I hadn't known before. I had been an instructor at Southwestern Bell, and I had written training material. I had always loved being an instructor so I just thought, 'Okay, I can take what I liked best at Southwestern Bell and incorporate it with quilting and teach quilting classes.' So that's how I made a life outside of the corporate world.

JP: That's great. That's pretty neat. So how many hours a week do you quilt?

JH: How many hours a week do I quilt? Well, I'm going to consider the embroidery as quilting and I quilt every evening and some during the day, so about 4 hours a day, 3 or 4 hours a day.

JP: I wish I could get to that point. [laughs.]

JH: You will. [laughs.] You have two little children, you will.

JP: So, it sounds like you've had some difficult times in your life, have you used quilting in other different, to help you get through other difficult times in your life?

JH: Well, yes, I have. I think I have in my transition from retirement to an active life, especially joining the guild. I won't say that joining the guild was really difficult, but it was during a transition time,

JP: So, what roles have you played in the guild? What offices have you held?

JH: I've been president, first vice-president; I loved that, TWU liaison--

JP: You've enjoyed doing all of those things?

JH: Yes.

JP: That's great. What do you find pleasing about quilting?

JH: I love the creativity and selecting and working with color. I think I am just the perfect person to help my students develop their skill at picking fabrics because I went four years never picking my fabrics. [laughs.] I've bought only kits, the first 4 years of quilting I never picked out the fabrics for my projects, I had help every time. And then, in the first 3 months of my retirement when at that point I had only done speed-pieced quilts. I did 4 years of speed piecing because I thought you had to be fast. It was in the third month of my retirement I turned my ankle really bad. Actually, it had to be put in a cast even though it didn't have a break and I had to elevate it.

I couldn't figure out how to operate my sewing machine with an elevated foot, so that's when I got into appliqué. I was working on a Sunbonnet Sue quilt, actually a wall hanging, and I had my box of fabrics. My stash consisted of one little plastic box of fabrics. The person who got me interested in quilting, my mentor who had quilted all her life and was about 20 years older than I was, she had decided that I was going to do a charm quilt and so she had given me 6-inch squares of all her fabrics. I was stuck with a propped-up leg and my box of scraps to make this quilt. During that week, another change happened in my quilting life. I learned that I loved to appliqué. It's slow, which I realized was okay, and I learned that I could put colors together by myself. Now, that's one of the things I enjoy most, and I also love to do handwork.

JP: That's a very liberating thing.

JH: It is. Of course, then after you do learn what you like, when you're able to pick out your fabrics on your own, then everything that you make does look alike because you're picking out the same thing that you like over and over again.

JP: So, you found that you preferred appliquéing over piecing, is that now your favorite kind of quilt to do?

JH: I prefer any quilt project that does not require a quarter-inch seam. If that means that its paper pieced, I love that, and I love appliqué and now I love thread work - embroidery but I just will pull my hair out if I have to have a precision pieced quilt with a quarter-inch seam. That's the only part of quilting that I really just do not enjoy. And in turn, that's why you'll see so many of my quilts will have a random set.

JP: Oh yeah?

JH: Because if it doesn't fit then you make it.

JP: That's good to know. That makes for more interesting quilts too, I bet. So how--what colors do you prefer?

JH: What colors do I prefer? Well, my colors are getting clearer, and I would say that I would like medium value colors. They were very muted, now they're getting clearer. I can say that I'm not a jewel tone person and I'm not a pastel person. Anything else in between and I like it. And I do a lot of scrap quilts, so I use a lot of different fabrics. I have a lot of fabric but I don't have large yardages of anything so I just will have quarter yards or thirds of a yard of fabric.

JP: So, you said whenever you started out you had a small box that was your stash, about how big is your stash now?

JH: I have a lawyer's bookcase that's full and I have a closet, one half of fabric in boxes.

JP: Do you have a separate studio or sewing area in your house?

JH: I do.

JP: Does your husband step on pins? I have to ask that question.

JH: Yes, he does, and he never complains. He'll find a pin and go, 'Oh! I found one of your pins.' He never complains.

JP: Okay, let's stop for a minute. [tape stops and starts.] Great. We're back again after the announcements, now you just talked to me about how you go and lecture at guilds in the, what was the title of your talks again?

JH: "If Quilts Could Talk."

JP: Okay, and what--

JH: Because every quilt, every quilt has a story. Every single quilt has a story.

JP: Alrighty.

JH: You either ran out of fabric or something special is happening to you, but every quilt has a story.

JP: We're going to jump down to quadrant 4 then and we'll talk about, how do you think that quilts can be used?

JH: Well, of course they can be used, I'm just thinking, they can be used to decorate your home and they can be used to keep you warm at night. They can be used as your gift of love, the work that you put in it.

JP: Alrighty. So, we talked a little bit about why quilting was important in your life, did you have anything you need to add about that?

JH: Well, I would just say the importance of it at this point is that most of my activities and my friends evolve around quilting.

JP: So, it's very central in your life.

JH: It's very central in my life.

JP: How do you think that your quilts reflect our community or this geographical region? Do you think that they reflect any of the characteristics?

JH: I don't really think they do. If they do, I'm not aware of it.

JP: Oh, okay. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? In the lives of the general population?

JH: Well, since it's the number one hobby of women, I would think it plays a role.

JP: Do you think it's--on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest, where do you think that they rank? Or is that a fair question?

JH: I don't know that I know the answer to that.

JP: Well, okay. So, in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

JH: I don't know that I have an opinion about that; I mean I feel like that it played an important role. I think that the role early on were more utilitarian and then I think they took on an avenue of creativity for women.

JP: Well, that's the kind of stuff we're looking for.

JH: Okay.

JP: You're doing great. How do you think that quilts can be preserved for the future, for our future generations?

JH: Well, first and foremost, they have to be. The people that have a love and an interest for them have to take the responsibility. My quilt classes have women of all ages, some with young children. I have a class now that has 3 generations in it. These are the people that will preserve quilts for the future.

JP: I have to ask this question too; how many quilts do you think you have made? Just kind of a rough estimate.

JH: Oh, my goodness. I don't know, maybe 30.

JP: Okay, and that leads us into the next question which is--

JH: How many do I have? [laughs.]

JP: Well, kind of, how have they been--where have they gone to? Kind of in general?

JH: I give a lot of my things away and a lot of them go to my grandsons. I've made numerous quilts for them and my daughter. My daughter takes any quilt. She wants all the quilts, and it works out really good because my daughter-in-law is not really interested in quilts and my daughter is very interested in quilts, so she gets a lot of them.

JP: And does she have an interest in making any of them?

JH: She cannot sew on a button.

JP: [laughs.] Oh no! Okay, well there you go. Have you ever won an award?

JH: Yes, I have.

JP: Would you tell us about the awards that you've won?

JH: Well, I won an award at this show.

JP: Tell me about that.

JH: I received a ribbon today on the quilt I have been talking about. I've won at the state fair and at some local shows.

JP: That's great. I have to look at the sheet, I feel so unprepared. This was the--

JH: I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about quilting and although I feel like, in my own way, I've reached a level that satisfies me but from an artist. I mean from an award-winning quilter. I see so many quilts that I think someday, I hope I can do that. Sincerely I mean that.

JP: So, what do you think makes a great quilt?

JH: Color, color is as important to me as workmanship; color and workmanship.

JP: And the placement of it or the use of it?

JH: When you asked me what makes a great quilt, I was thinking in terms of winning an award.

JP: Right.

JH: Placement meaning what?

JP: Meaning, I guess I just wanted to know what you meant by color?

JH: Color? Just the eye appeal of the color. It could be placement. It could be values.

JP: Okay. What makes the quilt artistically powerful do you think?

JH: Color.

JP: Really? You're very color oriented.

JH: I must be. [laughs.] I haven't really thought about some of these questions, Jennifer.

JP: So, what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection, do you think to be preserved for the generations?

JH: Well, I just think that it could be Sunbonnet Sue, or it could be an art quilt, truly, you know an art quilt. An abstract, it could be an abstract; it could be any type of quilt.

JP: So, do you think it's more traditional historical kind of things or what do think is the tying, unifying characteristic? Do you think there is one?

JH: I just think it could be anything. Because I'm finding what I didn't like a few years ago, or wouldn't have even considered a few years ago, might be a passion now. So, I'm going to leave all the doors open.

JP: All right. What makes a great quilter, do you think?

JH: What makes a great quilter, well, they'd have to have a passion and it's not necessarily the amount of time someone has. You could be a great quilter and just have a small amount of time to do it in. I really think that someone has to have a high standard and it certainly helps if you have a mentor. Someone who's willing to share their tips and their secrets and I've pretty much found that most people in quilting want to do that.

JP: Right. So, you think that great quilters learn the art of quilting from a mentor?

JH: I think oftentimes they do have a mentor whether it's a teacher or a friend. It could be you mentoring your daughters, someone encouraging you.

JP: Encouraging you, and do you feel like they would help them in their learning how to select fabrics and colors and use them, that kind of thing?

JH: Yes.

JP: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

JH: Well, I greatly admire people that can do machine quilting. And a minute ago I said that I'm just going to leave all my doors open but I cannot see myself mastering the art of machine quilting. I greatly admire people who can do good machine quilting and I greatly admire people that do nice hand quilting.

JP: And what do you do mostly?

JH: I do mostly hand quilting.

JP: Hand quilting? How do you feel about the long arm machines?

JH: I think that it's just revolutionized quilting and I support them a hundred percent because I wouldn't have 3 quilts in this show today if it had not been for a talented long arm quilter. And yes, I would have preferred that the quilts I put in had my loving stitches on them, but they didn't.

I would rather be doing a quilt top then doing quilting.

JP: So, you prefer the piecing, appliquéing process more than the actual quilting?

JH: A top is a finished product. [laughs.]

JP: [laughs.] So, you have no qualms about having somebody work on your quilts.

JH: None.

JP: None, that's good. Well, I'm going to go over the questions, did you have anything that you wanted to add that we have not, maybe, have not covered?

JH: I don't think so, I think I've just told you A to Z, quilting.

JP: Which bees do you belong to? I see here that you belong to--

JH: I'm in a small bee that has 6 people. We meet once a week. We meet in each other's homes. We take turns and lunch is a very important part of that meeting, but we do stitch. They work as much as a support group in your personal life as much as they work in getting something quilted.

JP: Right.

JH: I think we talked about my students telling their stories with their blocks. Did we do that?

JP: Do you want to talk more about that?

JH: No. I couldn't remember if we talked about that but I think it's real important that the stories of the quilts are being documented. I would have loved to have had a quilt that had been in my family for generations and be able to know its story. I guess it has to start somewhere and since I don't have any quilts in my family the stories will have to start with me.

JP: All right. Are we all right for another 10 minutes or do we have to wrap up? Well, in closing, I'd like to thank you Jacque for allowing me to interview you today as part of the 2001 Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 3:45 pm on May 20th, 2001.


“Jacque Hensell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1974.