Terri Ellis




Terri Ellis




Terri Ellis


Jane Kucko

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Sondra Williams


Jane Kucko (JK): This is Jane Kucko. Today's date is May 20, 2001, and I am conducting an interview with Terri Ellis for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Fort Worth, Texas. Our interview begins about 4:20 p.m. And I'd like to start off by just thanking you for being a part of our project this afternoon. I see that you brought a really pretty quilt with you. And will you tell us about it?

Terri Ellis (TE): Well, this is the first quilt I ever made. I was always interested in quilts and decided about 1980--to make one. So, I took a class at Janet Mullins's quilt shop. And it's entirely hand pieced, and hand quilted. It's not the best quilt I've ever made. And it's even almost worn out but it the first of any kind I ever made, so I kind of grabbed it this morning.

JK: Tell me about the colors that you selected and the pattern, why you--

TE: The colors are typically 19--early 1980s, late 1970s colors. I like brown and I think I had brown carpeting in my house at that time. It's a large quilt. We have a queen-sized bed. I didn't know enough to keep my animals and my children off my beds, so it got dirty, it got washed. It's almost worn out just even though it's not twenty years old yet. And so, I don't use it anymore because I didn't want it to be worn out. But I learned a lot on this quilt. I learned I never hand pieced another quilt.

JK: Okay.

TE: I learned that I don't like to hand piece that much. I learned a lot of things. You know. It was a good learning experience.

JK: Is that why you chose to bring it today?

TE: Well, to tell you the truth, I kind of ran out of time. And I ran up to the attic. I was going to bring one of my grandmother's but then I saw this one, and I thought well that's the first, my first quilt. I'll just bring that one. It's not even my favorite quilt obviously anymore, but it's the first one I ever made, so--

JK: Like you said you learned a lot from that one.

TE: I learned a lot. Yes, I did.

JK: You mentioned a grandmother's quilt. Tell me about your family history. Is there a lot of quilters?

TE: My grandmother lived in Kansas, and she was a quilter. And my aunt, my mother was one of eight children, so probably all the girls made quilts or at least pieced quilts. And my grandmother taught me to sew. But my mother doesn't--my mother has made a couple of quilts, but doesn't like to quilt, so I'm a through back to my grandmother. But I have two or three that she made. And like I said she had eight children and twenty-six grandchildren--so--there weren't even very many available when she died. But I do have two and I treasure those.

JK: What is your first quilt memory?

TE: Oh, my goodness. I don't know that I have a first quilt memory. Probably always had quilts. I don't remember ever really--I always thought when I was younger--I suppose when I first got married because I've always sewed. I sewed my clothes and everything. And I always thought, well, I'll make one of those when I'm old, you know. And so, when I had small children, I decided I don't have to wait until I'm old, I can make one now. So [laughs.] I didn't wait 'til I was old. [laughs.] I don't think you have to be old to quilt. You know, you don't.

JK: How did you learn to quilt?

TE: I took a class at Janet Mullins' quilt shop here in Fort Worth, and she was big believer in hand piecing and hand everything, and hand cutting, no strip piecing, and I mean you know, this was probably back in '79 or '80 and no one was doing the quick techniques, so I cut every piece out by hand. And I sewed them all together by hand. And I still like to hand quilt, but I don't like to hand piece.

JK: So, you machine piece mainly?

TE: Machine piece. I do a lot of strip piecing. Yes. I strip piece now because it's faster. And I don't like to sit at the machine that much, so I--But I do hand quilt because I like to hand quilt. I don't make as many quilts as I would like to. But I still do make them.

JK: What's keeping you from making as many as you like?

TE: I'm busy doing other things

JK: Doing other things?

TE: Yes, I got into quilt history, quilt appraising. So, I do a lot of that. I'm a certified appraiser, and I'm also a personal property appraiser. So, I do a lot of things, so I'm busy. I've got my own business.

JK: Very busy, I would say.

TE: Yes, very busy. So, I don't quilt as much. But I do still make a few quilts.

JK: What is the next quilt you want to make?

TE: Well, my son has just gotten engaged. So, that will obviously be the next project, to make them a quilt. She gets to pick out the pattern.

JK: That's nice.

TE: And so, I'll start on it then. I've made two for my daughter and one for my son and a couple for us. But this will be for my son, assuming of course that they get married.

JK: Exactly, exactly

JK: Does your daughter have an interest?

TE: She loves quilts. She does not sew. She's of my mother's generation. I think it skips. In my family it seems to. I tried to teach her how to sew, and she says she tried to learn, but she doesn't sew. It's not her thing--not her thing.

JK: You talked about how busy you are with other things: quilt appraising and all of that. About how many hours a week do you quilt?

TE: I probably don't even quilt every week.

JK: Okay.

TE: It's just when I'm working on one that I do more. You know. I don't really quilt. I probably deal with quilts every single day. Either looking at them--sometimes I repair old ones--either appraising them, or do something with quilts almost every day, but I don't do the sewing, the actual quilting.

JK: It sounds to me like it's a passion with you.

TE: Yes, it is.

JK: So, where did that come from, do you think?

TE: Probably just starting to make them. Starting to look at old ones. I heard about the quilt appraising. And I took a class from AQS [American Quilters Society.] and went through that process and got my certification in 1995 and so that just all follows along. The history and everything--then I got into antiques and started learning about antiques and that sort of thing too. Besides it all started with quilts.

JK: Do you collect quilts?

TE: Yes. Oh yes. Definitely.

JK: Can you tell me a little bit about your collection? Or one or two special quilts?

TE: Well, I--I just buy--it's--I buy what I like. And obviously what I think is a good price. I probably don't, I don't go out and buy the most expensive of the kind, but I'm looking at a lot of quilts a lot of times. So, if I find one that is really well made or particularly a time period. I'm trying to get a collection of one from every ten years. Not every ten years, but sort of from every decade from the 1800s on. So, I have a good selection. I don't have wonderful quilts because I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a lot of them, but I do have a lot of them from a lot of different time periods.

JK: Do you have a few, one or two, that you want to tell about that are particularly special to you?

TE: Oh well. I don't know. I have like I say--I just have a lot of old ones. I have some that are--the ones from the 1800s are the ones I really like. And so, I've gotten very interested in old fabrics and I also have a small collection of early fabrics and try to keep those. Not only just for helping me date quilts, but just as a collection of fabrics too. My fabric museum, as I call it.

JK: There you go. That was going to be my next question. What do you believe is the role of museums? And--

TE: Well, unfortunately I don't think museums are as oriented toward textiles as maybe they should be. They don't always know what they have or how to take care of them or display them properly or that sort of thing. I think that quilters, the world of quilters, have helped a lot in that. Because we have that quilt museum and I think that a lot of people now have become aware of what our early fabric is and textiles. And maybe we should take care of it. Maybe they should give it a little more respect and of course prices have gone up and that sort of thing too. And I think quilts are going up in value right now. They weren't for a long time. They were pretty, pretty dead two or three years ago, but they've started going back up again. That's good now. That's good for all of us, I think.

JK: What's your opinion of the reproduction fabrics?

TE: I think they're good. I think it's great. I think it also increases the interest in the old fabrics. I think it may be a little harder twenty or thirty years from now for us appraisers you know, when we start looking at quilts made with them. It's going to be interesting to see if they, because an old fabric has an old look, you know. And you can tell. There's a lot of different clues you can look for to find out whether or not it's an old quilt. But it is still going to be interesting because there is a lot of quilts being made now to replicate the old quilts with a lot of the books and the makers and the teachers that are out there. So that's really going to be interesting to watch. But I love the reproduction fabrics. I think they're good. I think most of them are pretty well done.

JK: Yes, I'm kind of curious, too.

TE: Un-huh.

JK: What do you find most pleasing about quilting? Or you can take it from the perspective of the work you do with quilts.

TE: Well, I like the hand quilting myself. I think it's good therapy. I like to sit and quilt. I really do. I'm not as crazy about piecing. Although I do like to piece too. I like to see it go together but I do like the actual quilting process.

JK: That's your favorite part, the actual movement of the quilting

TE: Yes, it really is.

JK: You've already answered my last question, or my next question, which is the piecing, is the least favorite? Is that what you told me?

TE: Yes, well--I like--I don't really like to sit at the sewing machine, and yet I don't want to do it by hand either, so I'll do it. You know. I'll do the machine piecing to get it done. You know and then quilt.

JK: Then move on to quilting.

TE: Right. Exactly.

JK: How do you go about buying your fabrics? Or do you buy fabrics?

TE: I haven't bought fabrics for a while because I have a large amount of fabric still put away.

JK: Can you describe what large is?

TE: I don't know. I don't know that I could describe it. I try to hide it as much as I can, so my husband doesn't know how much I really have. You know. But I still do buy fabric. I'll buy reproduction fabrics. I'll buy a collection. You know, just to have. When they sell a piece of everyone so I do buy some, but I don't buy a lot of fabric anymore. I just don't have the room for it. And I'm not actively making a lot of quilts.

JK: So, these are for future use?

TE: Well, yes.

JK: What about your library collection? Do you--

TE: I have a very large library. I have a library of books about quilts, quilt making books, books about history of quilts, books about fabric. And then that spins off to books about sewing tools, and books on buttons, and you know, all of that. I have a lot of books. Because I do--That's all led into that from my appraising aspect. Plus, I'm just interested in history of it. That's part of it too.

JK: Have you traveled to--

TE: Yes, I go to Paducah every year. I go to Houston every year. I--because I'm a member of an appraisers organization, we meet at Paducah. We have our annual meeting at Paducah, so I go to that. I go to about two other quilt shows usually a year either to go to the show or to meet with somebody or to do appraising or to do speak at guilds sometimes, and that sort of thing.

JK: How interesting.

TE: Yes.

JK: What kind of differences do you notice between--

TE: Other regions?

JK: Guilds.

JK: Well, you can take it from that perspective if you want to: guilds or regions.

TE: I think quilters are basically pretty much the same all over. I don't know that there are too many.

regional differences anymore because everything is national now. The books are all national. The teachers are traveling around doing all over, so you are getting the same trends everywhere. So, like when Redwork starts it just sweeps across the country. Or, when flannel--you know sweeps across-- whenever one particular trend. I think you see a lot of that. I really do. I don't know that there are terrible regional differences. Guilds are different. Our guild is different from a lot of other guilds. We don't--we have a more traditional. We don't have very many art quilts; we don't have a lot of-- the ladies don't want a judged show--you know. I don't know. I don't want to say set in our ways, but anyway.

JK: Yes.

TE: Yes, but a great group of ladies.

JK: Yes, absolutely, we sure do. Okay. Wonderful. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life? Do you find it--

TE: No, probably not. No, I don't think so.

JK: I'm just looking down at my questions I've asked to be sure…

TE: Okay, sure.

JK: What do you think makes a great quilt?

TE: I think a great quilt is put together well, has a good sense of color, and has a lot of quilting. To me, and I have judged a few shows, I'm not a trained judge or a certified judge, but I have judged a few shows, and I am much more drawn to quilts that have a lot of quilting. It doesn't even have to be hand quilting. It can be good machine quilting. But I think the more, and that's one thing about this quilt that I would have done differently, I would have put a lot more quilting in it. There's not enough quilting on a lot of the quilts we make because they want to save the time, and I understand that. But to me it looks so much better if it has a lot of quilting. And obviously good everything else too, you know color, planning, that sort of thing. But that's what makes a quilt for me: small pieces and a lot of quilting. [laughter.]

JK: Small pieces and a lot of quilting.

TE: The harder the better.

JK: The harder the better. That kind of leads into my next question is what makes a great quilter?

TE: Somebody who does good, even stitching, and puts a lot into it.

JK: Smaller pieces and smaller stitches.

TE: Small stitches are important but even is more important than small, actually. Small and even is.

the best. Yes, and a lot of it.

JK: Are there any trends in quilting that you see that you may be concerned about in terms of the future of quilt making? Or do you see it as not plain--to be a loss. [inaudible.]

TE: There aren't any downward trends that I see. I've been waiting for the last ten years to watch for downward trends, and I don't think any are happening. I think it's still going on just as well as ever. I'm been surprised because you know things to tend to cycle in and out. And I really kind of thought that perhaps people wouldn't be as involved. And they still are as involved. And we still have a good turn out and all the major shows still have big turnouts. And all the vendors, they come and go, I mean they change, as people get in and out of the business, but I think they do pretty well. I think it's still very strong. I don't know if it'll stay that way for the next ten years or not, but I don't see any change right now.

JK: That's interesting. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you think people see something in quilting that they're searching for?

TE: I don't know. I don't know whether it's because they are so satisfied when they finish one or when they actually produce something like that or they just like the sewing or the handwork or whatever it is. It's a very satisfying process, so maybe that's why people like it so much.

JK: What do you hope happens to your quilts?

TE: Oh, goodness. I hope they get taken care of by my children. And I have threatened to come back and haunt them if they don't, and they're threatened with death if they sell one at a garage sale. So, I'd just like for them to be passed down, taken care of and kept in the family and used. They should be used.

JK: Versus?

TE: Versus being put away or kept just right or whatever.

JK: Is there a particular quilt you have in your mind that you want to make, you know, when the time comes?

TE: Oh, I don't know, all of them. I mean that's another one of those things. You never make as many quilts as you'd like to. I'm very traditional quilt maker. I don't do art quilts myself. I admire people who do. I don't design my own quilts. I usually make a pattern that I've found somewhere, so--I--but I-- no. There's two or three that I've always maybe even more, that I've always thought, I'll make one of those someday, and I just never have. I don't do appliqué so I probably won't ever do a Baltimore Album. [laughter.]

JK: It just doesn't interest you.

TE: I don't like it. I just don't like it. I've done a few little appliqué pieces, but it's not my favorite thing. And it is handwork, but I don't like to sit and appliqué. It's frustrating to me. I'd rather quilt.

JK: Why is quilting important to your life? You can take it from the perspective of doing it or your work.

TE: Probably because that's what got me started in my business. You know. It's a passion. I just, you know, keep doing it, and without it I wouldn't be doing any of my business that I'm do now. Although, I could; I mean I could still do appraising without doing quilts.

JK: Do you have any future plans for your business, other areas you want to get into relating to quilting, or

TE: No, not really, I'd like to keep on doing what I'm doing now. I also do estate sales and I do personal property appraising, so I do a lot of that, which is not related to quilting at all. But I do my quilt appraising and keep up with that. So, I'll always probably do both, and keep up with that part of it.

JK: In your work is there any one particular quilt or story that comes to mind? Maybe something you discovered.

TE: Oh, I did get to appraise the Last Supper Quilt. Did you get to see that last year?

JK: Oh, yes.

TE: And he's become a good friend. He's really a dear man. And that one, when he first brought it to me, I said, 'This is going to be a phenomenon in the quilt world.' And it has been. So, that was a really big plus. I really enjoyed that. And like I say, I've gotten to become good friends with them. And watched them go all over the country with their quilt. And get famous with their quilt. It has changed their lives. I told them it would. I told them this will change your lives.

JK: In terms of the travel opportunity and the notoriety?

TE: Yes, exactly, all of that. The quilt just sort of took over their lives, because they go a lot of places with it, and they love it; they enjoy it. If they didn't, they wouldn't be doing it.

JK: I got to see it at first at the University Christian Church at TCU where I work.

TE: Do you work there?

JK: Yes

TE: Yes, that's one of the first places they went. It's been several it's been all over.

JK: It's one of those you have to see. You just can't. [both have murmurs of agreement.]

JK: Also do you work? This is very interesting to me. This is the first appraiser that we've had.

TE: Yes, I'm the only one in Fort Worth.

JK: Okay, okay.

TE: I was the only one in North Texas until, I think, it was two years ago.

JK: So, how many are there in the country? Is this relatively rare?

TE: Yes. There's about fifty--maybe fifty-five in the country. Not every state has one. It's a pretty difficult process to get through and pass the test and all that.

JK: What did you do to prepare for that?

TE: Well, I took the first class. They have a series of classes that you take. And then they want you to do appraising. I had a friend here in town, Vivian Parker, the lady who the award is named after. We did it together. We did a lot of appraising together. I would travel and go to shows and help others. Like, I would be a scribe for certified appraisers and help them. Then you have to go to Paducah and take oral and written tests to be certified. So, I went through all that process.

JK: Very interesting.

TE: It's pretty strenuous. Like this year, eleven people took the test and five passed, so it's not automatic that you pass. And they try to make it hard enough so that everybody doesn't get in.

JK: I was going to say it sounds like they are trying to preserve the seriousness of it.

TE: Yes, that's right.

JK: How do you feel quilts have had helped a special need of women, especially through history?

TE: I think that without quilts a lot of women wouldn't have probably have done any, a lot of things. I think it was a big influence. I think it was an important part of a lot of women's lives. And that's all been pretty well documented with the books and history and that sort of thing. I think it's been very important for an artistic outlet or an emotional outlet or do something. Or to have something to make that you hand down. Quilting has been very important and still is.

JK: What do you think the show today?

TE: I think it's a great show. I think it's a good show this year. I'm really happy with it. I think we have more hand quilted quilts here than they did in the Dallas show. I really think so, I really do. There's a lot of machine quilting going on. I was surprised to see as many hand quilted quilts as I did here.

JK: Do you think machine quilting might take over?

TE: It has a lot to a certain extent. I don't really worry about it. There's nothing wrong with it, and it can be done very well. And it obviously is a fast way to finish a quilt where you might not finish it otherwise. I still think a lot of women get a lot of satisfaction out of hand quilting. And I like the fact that we give an award for the hand quilting here so that maybe encourages more people to do it too because it's important to preserve it.

JK: Preserves it. Right.

TE: I think that--I'm trying to remember if the winning quilt at Paducah was hand quilted this year. I don't think it was. I think the last few years they've been machine quilted but it might have been a hand quilted quilt this year. I know the last several years was Caryl Bryer Fallert. Anyway, she always has hers machine quilted. I know she's won the last three or four years.

[a lot of noise from the quilt show. the tape was turned off and on.]

JK: So, you were saying.

TE: I see nothing wrong with machine quilting at all. As I said, it's a good way to finish a quilt. And if you're going to make a quilt for someone to use strenuously then it's going to last longer if it is machine quilted too. So, I have no problems with it.

JK: I really want to thank you for being a participant. Do you have anything you'd like to add or say?

TE: No, I think it's great that you're doing this. I think it's wonderful. I'm delighted with it.

JK: Well, thank you for taking the time to be with us. It's interesting to hear the perspective of your work as well.

TE: Yes, thank you.

JK: Again, I'd like to thank Terri Ellis for being a part of Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 4:45 p.m. on May 20th. Thank you.

TE: You're welcome.


“Terri Ellis,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1977.