Dolores Lyles




Dolores Lyles




Dolores Lyles


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Pam Luke


Kay Jones (KJ): This is Kay Jones. Today's date is May 18th, 2002. It is 10:08 and I'm conducting an interview with Dolores Lyles for [Quilters' S.O.S. - ] Save Our Stories project in Fort Worth, Texas. Dolores let's start by having you tell us about the quilt you brought today.

Dolores Lyles (DL): Well, it is an antique quilt and I had it appraised in 1996 by Terri Ellis, a certified appraiser and she's a member of our guild and she said it was made around 1840 or 1850 and it has disintegrated quite a bit. She says that that comes from dyes, and it was probably brown. And some of it is made with homespun fabric and on the back, there is some brown and she said that might have been cut on the bedsprings which discolored it some. But I bought it at a garage sale, and it was all folded up and I could see it had real pretty quilting on the top and I didn't even open it because it was $2 and I thought well, for $2 I could get some pillows or something like that. But then when I opened it up, it's beautiful. It's a New York Beauty and the triangles are some of the smallest ones I had ever seen made with a New York Beauty and Terri Ellis said it was also the smallest that she had ever seen and some of them are in really good condition and some of them are not. But it's seen a lot of wear but so have all of us. [laughs.]

KJ: You said that it's very old and that you acquired it and purchased it, what makes it so special to you?

DL: Well, I can just imagine what it looked like when it was new, the colors you know, some of them are gone, but the colors are so beautiful, and somebody has put in a lot of work quilting. The quilting is beautiful that you can still see and it's just thinking about the history of it and where it's been.

KJ: Where was the garage sale?

DL: It was here in Fort Worth.

KJ: And you don't know anything about the people?

DL: No. I don't know anything about them. I didn't even open it when I bought it. It was folded. But when I got home and opened it, it's just a work of art even though some of it is gone.

KJ: How do you use the quilt?

DL: I hang it over a folded screen in our living room. I just have to move it every once in a while, to keep the folds from getting set. I just use it as a work of art to look at. I look at it just about every day. [laughs.]

KJ: And what are your plans for the quilt?

DL: Well, I have two daughters that quilt and a granddaughter that quilt's so I'm sure that one of them will get it. And I'm already having the one I'm piecing now is going to have to be cut in fours I guess you could say because they all want it. [laughs.] But I don't think I'll have any problems passing it down to someone.

KJ: Somebody will appreciate it.

DL: Yes, they will.

KJ: Let's go back a little bit Dolores and tell me about your interest in quilting. How did that develop?

DL: Well, I know my grandmothers quilted. I can remember my dad's mother had a trunk full of quilts and she had embroidered everybody's name on the back. But when she died, we did not get any of them. She lived with my dad's half-brother, and we got nothing from her except daddy got a handkerchief. And then my other grandmother quilted, and my aunt has her quilts. And they're so beautiful and soft. I'm kind of envious of her having them. But both my aunt's quilt and then when my husband was in Korea, I pieced a quilt and quilted it for a bedspread and then my mother-in-law and I quilted about six quilts that were bed quilts. That's what they were going to be used for and I've got several of them, but I don't remember which ones I worked on because that's been fifty years ago.

KJ: So, you started quilting early?

DL: Yes. But then I worked full time. I had four children, and I didn't start quilting and doing it the correct way, until I quilt work, I think in 1988. I started coming to the guild probably not long after that. And so, I've been quilting and attending classes and coming to the guild since probably about '89. I'm not real sure.

KJ: Now you said people in your family quilted and you took lessons.

DL: At the guild.

KJ: At the guild. Do you consider yourself self-taught or does somebody else get credit for that?

DL: Both. Because I can usually, if I see anything, I can usually make it. I don't have to have a pattern for dresses or stuff like that. My mother sewed for the public. She made coats and suits. I was always around sewing. So, I don't have to have a lesson to do something. I'm able to do it by looking at something or thinking of something. So, I'm both because I have had several classes. But it's more for information than really to have to have it to do anything with.

KJ: Kind of to polish your skills?

DL: Yes.

KJ: Do you have a first quilt memory?

DL: Well, the first quilt that I know I did from the beginning was while my husband was in Korea. It was a two-color quilt, aqua blue and a white and I got the fabric, and I pieced it and then I quilted it, and we used it as a bedspread. And that's the first one and that was in 1953 or 4.

KJ: Do you still have that quilt?

DL: No. Our house burned and I lost that in a fire. So, I don't have that quilt. But that's my first memory of a whole quilt that I did.

KJ: Are there other quilters in your family?

DL: My two daughters quilt and my granddaughter, who is nine. She started quilting when she was four. We gave her a 221 Singer sewing machine when she was eight. When she was nine, she made a queen size log cabin. It hung in our quilt show last year. She would work eight hours on the blocks and when she put them together, there was not one that had to be re-sewn. She just sews up a storm and I went down to help her put on the binding on her quilt. I had to hold it because it was a big quilt, but she did every bit of it. I spoiled her. I let her use my Bernina which helped her go faster. She saw all of the fancy stitches. So, after we finished her binding, she had to make a doll dress and put fancy stitches on it. Then after I left, she told her mother the next time she sewed she said 'boy this one is a lot slower than Mamaw's. [laughs.] We go to the quilt show in Houston every year, the three of us. And I go to Houston and spend a week with my daughter that lives there and we've been doing that for about ten years, I guess. And then I also am from Paducah, Kentucky. All my family lives there. So, every year, I take several quilters and we go to the quilt show in Paducah and stay a week and hit it all. Then I'm close enough to Dallas to go to the quilt show and our quilt show. So, I get to see a lot of quilts.

KJ: I was going to ask how quilting impacts your family.

DL: It does a lot.

KJ: Are there some other ways besides the shows and granddaughter?

DL: My son that lives in Ohio is a professor at a university and he always carries his students to the quilt show that's in Athens, Ohio. He always carries them and then he has some of his students make quilt blocks, but you know, for the art. He likes really outstanding weird quilts. And I'm more of a traditional quilter. Several years ago, there was a quilt and it had wooden spoons all over it and writing all over it and everything and I had seen it in Athens and then it was in Houston. But when I came back from the quilt show, I asked him which one he had liked best. That was the one he had liked best. [laughs.]

KJ: [laughs.] The one with embellishments?

DL: Embellishments. It was full of embellishments. It had wooden spoons with garden sayings written on it and all kinds of flowers. He really likes the one that I'm piecing, "my carry along quilt."

KJ: So, your son gets involved. What does he teach?

DL: He teaches art history, ceramics and sculpture. He got his Master's in sculpture from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. He teaches that, but he always carries his students to the Athens quilt show.

KJ: What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

DL: Well, I'm a hand quilter. And I can't get into machine quilting. So, I keep a basket by my chair. Right now, I always keep something to quilt on and I have made nine or ten hand quilted baby quilts for my great grandchildren and my grandchildren are from eighteen to four. So, I'm getting head a start. [laughs.] I'm piecing one that is a grandmother's flower garden shape. It's a ¾" octagon and I'm making each block from a different fabric. So, it's really a charm quilt. And I have it about three-fourths done. But when I get through, I'm going to time myself how long it takes me to baste it and then sew it together and count the pieces and see how long I've worked on this quilt. I do it off and on. No set time to finish it.

KJ: Well, that's probably a lot of hours. How many hours a week do you spend quilting?

DL: Well, I don't really know because it varies. And if I'm sitting and watching TV a lot, I quilt and then every week, there are five or six of us that meet every Wednesday. I also belong to two bees. One meets the last Wednesday of the month, and one meets the first Friday of the month. I don't get to attend it very often, but every Wednesday I do sit and sew. Mostly hand sewing. But we make a lot of gifts for our friends, and we have one hanging in the show now. So, I make a lot of blocks to give away, but I do spend that much time and of course I come to the guild. I come here once a month and a lot of times I do my basting of my blocks while the program is going on. So, quite a lot of time I guess besides the hours at night.

KJ: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

DL: Well, yes. I think any time. I think it's a soothing something to do. I guess all of us have problems. One time I broke my arm, the ball of my arm and they couldn't go in because it was so shattered, and I quilted on an embroidery hoop about nine inches long and four inches wide because I thought my fingers were broken too. They were so swollen, but I could hold that little bitty frame. And so, while I was sitting, I quilted a wall hanging. I didn't want my fingers to stiffen up. [laughs.]

KJ: So even a broken shoulder didn't stop you.

DL: No.

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

DL: No. I think I enjoy it all. I like to see the creative, what everybody does with colors, and you know the beauty of what turns out and the joy people get from receiving them; the soothing part of it. I don't know a thing I don't enjoy. The time I don't have to do it. [laughs.]

KJ: Well, we're here at the 2002 Quilt Fest for Trinity Valley and lots of wonderful quilts here. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DL: Well, I think the color and for myself, I still like the handwork, the hand quilting. I'm just not into the machine quilting yet. And I have a hard time getting a quilt pieced even on the machine because what I like to do is the hand quilting of the quilt after it's done.

KJ: You talked a little bit about your son's taste being different than yours but what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful or wonderful?

DL: Well, I would think the use of color and people's imaginations, they can look at a pattern and make something so entirely different just like when they have a mystery quilt, they always come out so different. The balance and mostly that's what I look at but mainly color.

KJ: What makes a great quilter?

DL: What makes a great quilter? Somebody that just keeps at it I guess. [both laugh.]

But you know I think anybody that really tries and completes a quilt is a great quilter.

KJ: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

DL: Since I love to hand quilt, I'm just really kind of sorry that so much of it's going to machine quilting. A utility quilt that's going to be used a lot now, I can see machine quilting, but somebody that has pieced a beautiful quilt, I always hate to see that it's quilted by machine. But I've taken a machine quilting class and I admire people that can do it beautifully.

KJ: I think you may have touched on this Dolores, but why is quilting important in your life?

DL: Because of the friends I have, the enjoyment I get out of it. It's been a great part of my life.

KJ: You've been involved in the guild. What types of things have you done?

DL: Well, when I first joined, I was Treasurer and then I've been Quilt Show Chairman. In fact, ten years ago I was the Quilt Show Chairman and I've always been involved in the decorating up until this year. The last few years, I've had fibromyalgia and it's kind of slowed me down working a lot. So I've had to cut back and at one time, I belonged to the Arlington guild, and I did the donation quilt there. That's quite a project to chair. To choose what you're going to make the quilt, get it made and assembled and then let somebody sell tickets for it. But it turned out very beautiful. It was a birdhouse theme. It was from That Patchwork Place calendar, but we didn't make the houses like that, but we had a contest for birdhouses and then chose the best ones to go in it. It was several months job. But I haven't done that for Trinity Valley. Just have to slow down with my health.

KJ: You said you did the decorating for several years at the quilt show, what did that involve?

DL: Well, you have to decide what kind of theme you're going to have and then you have to decide what you want the people to bring and then decorate the alcoves with what is brought. Everybody seems to enjoy our show because we do that. It's different. It's a lot of work; a lot of walking and a lot of time to see that everything is put together.

KJ: So, all quilt shows don't do it that way?

DL: No. They may have just a little decoration like trees, or some flowers set different ways. But Trinity Valley has been known for decorating the alcoves.

KJ: What would one look like for just an example?

DL: Well, it would have maybe a handmade tablecloth and then some handmade dolls or pictures or flowers setting with it; antiques, antique sewing supplies. We have decorated with antique sewing machines and antique rockers and children's, whatever the quilts look like; we try to put something in there that brings them out.

KJ: It sounds like being with other quilters has been important to you. Is that something that you think a guild is a good activity for?

DL: Yes. Yes. Because you get ideas from other quilters, and you see their work and it inspires you and I also teach a class once a month at our church. They're all non-quilters and I started out making resolution squares for John Peter Smith and we made lap robes for nursing homes and now we're making quilts. So, they have progressed. We are making them for our missionaries. We're on our second or third whole quilt. So just meeting once a month, it kind of goes a little slow. [laughs.]

KJ: Were you involved in the 9-11 quilt effort across the nation?

DL: No, I didn't do that one. I thought about it, but right about that time I wasn't feeling too good, so I never made a block. I saw all of them that were at Houston, and it was amazing. Some of the women came up with such beautiful quilts. I should have. I always try to make the blocks for our donation quilt. I think you learn when you make one. Like I have never made a feathered star and I appreciate that block now. Just laying it out, the pieces, was pretty involved.

KJ: And the feathered star was made for?

DL: Our next year's donation quilt.

KJ: In your involvement with the guild either here at Trinity Valley or the Arlington guild, have you ever won any prizes?

DL: Yes, I did. I was lucky enough to be the winner of our donation quilt in I think it was 2000 because it was Y2K in Blue. I don't know if there has ever been another winner that belonged to the guild before, but I was certainly surprised and happy. It's a beautiful quilt.

KJ: What did it look like?

DL: It was made with all kinds of blue and white fabric and a lot of different fabric and it's kind of a nine patch but, well it's kind of hard to describe it, but it's a very beautiful quilt and I'm very proud of it.

KJ: Well, I know you were happy to win it since you worked on it.

DL: Yes. And I didn't buy all that many tickets either. Sometimes I buy a lot of the tickets. I bought fifteen that year because I sold several. I did want to tell you, are we about through or do you have some more questions?

KJ: I have some more questions but go ahead.

DL: I'll tell you this one last.

KJ: Have you always lived in this area of Fort Worth?

DL: No. When we married, our home was in Paducah, Kentucky.

KJ: That's right.

DL: We moved to California because my husband was in the Marines and then he went to Korea while I came back to Kentucky. That's when I quilted with my mother-in-law and then we lived in Illinois and then we lived in Tennessee. We lived three different places in Tennessee, east, west and middle Tennessee and then we moved to Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia for five years and then we came here. He was going to be sent to Boston and we decided we had gone far enough north. [laughs.] And so, we came to Texas. His sister lives in Terrell, so we came in this direction.

KJ: As you traveled and you've done quite a bit of that, have you noticed differences in the regions and quilting?

DL: During that time, I was young, and I had four children and after I came here, well, it's when I did most of my quilting, so I didn't really before I quit work. I was working and had four teenagers and we did a lot of things with the kids at church and so I didn't really look at quilts until the last fifteen or twenty years. I can't really answer that question very good.

KJ: Do you think that quilts have an influence on women's history?

DL: Oh sure. I think that's one way they had their artistic outlet; even when they were making them for use. Women have to do something that's beautiful. [laughs.] Don't you think?

KJ: I think so.

DL: We're blessed you know because we can go buy the fabric. They probably had to use used fabric and tear 'em up. Kind of like I do for the wool quilt that I'm making. I had to buy skirts and shirts and trousers and wash them and tear them up and cut them up. That's probably what they did most of the time. I have made wool throws as gifts, for all my children and husband.

KJ: How do you think quilts can be used?

DL: Well, they could be used to display as art, or they can be used as covers for your bed or they can be used to snuggle under when you're sick or on the couch. That's what I made my wool throws for, just to snuggle in, my children that are in Ohio, I made two for them because it's cold up there. They take naps in the recliners. So that's a good way to use them. And then of course the baby quilts. All babies need a quilt to be wrapped in.

KJ: What's happened to the quilts that you've made for friends and family?

DL: Well, I think they've been used. That's what they were for.

KJ: You're happy that they have been used?

DL: Uh huh.

KJ: Well, we have come to the end of our formal questions Dolores, and I think you had something that you were interested in telling us.

DL: We just had our fiftieth wedding anniversary and I wanted to mention what my husband gave me. He made a sculpture, and he got me five golden thimbles and ten sterling thimbles and put on it. And the limbs were for our children and the little limbs that came out on each branch were for our ten grandchildren and that was the silver thimbles. He wrote, 'The five golden thimbles were for the fifty years. They could each represent ten years if anyone wishes to read that into this marriage. But your husband chooses not to imply this interpretation but views them as emblems of inner strength of each of us as we continue to be of this marriage. Why thimbles? I thought of golden inlays for my favorite hunting knives or shotguns or perhaps golden handles for my hunting knife. Even better, real gold on my Honda Gold not Redwing, (that's what I called his motorcycle which it's not). I am certain you would have been surprised at any of these or something more weird or bizarre, few surprises after fifty years, right gal? A golden chalice would have been beautiful but somehow not Dolores. This is especially true when you only drink wine on special occasions. Golden earrings would have been high profile, but you have earrings. I almost had a golden bone nose made for you but couldn't find no one to hold you down while the body pierce artist did his dastardly deed. Additionally, I was unsure just how you would look and where you would wear it. Trinity Valley's Quilters' Guild meetings, Piecemakers, church, I think not. So, thimbles it is. Your fingers have sewn clothes for all of our children and many if not all of the grandchildren. These same fingers have covered and reupholstered chairs and couches made covers for ragged car seats and patched all of the above and many more including my hunting clothes during the last fifty years. So, thimbles it is. Emblems of youth. Beauty, work given, small emblems of a large heart.' I thought that was so sweet and so precious that I wanted to include that part.

KJ: The sculpture was a tree?

DL: Yes. He got a stone and then he made a tree. And it also has thorns on it, but he made the branches, enough to put the five golden thimbles at the top and then four for our children and then it had kind of like thorns on it. Enough for ten grandchildren, they had ten thimbles on them.

KJ: Thank you for sharing that with us. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with us?

DL: No. I think this is a great project to do to save stories. So much of our history has been lost on our quilts. I have so many beautiful quilts like this one that I brought that we don't know the maker or where it's made. I think everyone should label them.

KJ: Well, I'd like to thank Dolores Lyles for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2002 Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 10:44 a.m.


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