Rosemary Switzer




Rosemary Switzer




Rosemary Switzer


Jane Kucko

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Fort Worth, TX


Mary Green


Jane Kucko (JK): It is Saturday, May 18, at 1:30 in the afternoon and we are at the Trinity Valley Quilter's Guild Show and part of the Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project. This afternoon we are going to interview Rosemary Switzer and we will at this time of course begin and you brought a quilt with you. Why don't you start by telling us about your quilt?

Rosemary Switzer (RS): This is a quilt I made for my son's bed, the first quilted project I ever made. Because we'd just found out he was color blind. We needed something with primary colors to help him through and he loves Sesame Street. So I started quilting and my mother-in-law came and said, 'Don't you pull the knots through?' and I said, 'Am I supposed to?'

JK: Oh, that's wonderful.

RS: So it has knots on the back of it [laughs.] you can tell it has an explosion from a chemistry set on the front [JK laughs.] and I mean the stitches.

JK: Yes, that's wonderful. What year was this?

RS: 1973.

JK: 1973. And it was your first quilt?

RS: Yes.

JK: You just told us you learned about knotting. What were some of the other things you


RS: That I didn't like to quilt in a hoop, in the summertime especially. I also got into another hobby because I made it into a bedspread and put a ruffled around it.

JK: Yes, I see.

RS: Well, I borrowed my best friend's mother's old Singer sewing machine that has the ruffler attachment and that started the Singer sewing machine collection.

JK: Oh, how interesting. Tell me about your collection then and we'll get back to quilting.

RS: It's over fifty machines.

JK: Really?

RS: I had some of them on display for the show last year. It's gotten to the point where I have got to move some out to our storage building because I have no room to sew. [laughs.]

JK: That's wonderful. Now do you have one of the first Singers? Or what's the date?

RS: I think my oldest Singer is 1893 and that's the treadle.

JK: That's wonderful.

RS: And then they just gradually come up, all the different oddball machines.

JK: Well that's exciting that that started from your first quilt.

RS: Yes, yes. I mean, the machine still has the cord on it that my friend cut with a scissors when she was a little girl and it's still taped together and I'll never change it because that is part of the machine.

JK: That's wonderful. Now you hand quilted. The quilt that you brought is the Sesame Street characters.

RS: It was a sheet, a Sesame Street sheet.

JK: A-ha

RS: And I had wallpapered his room and it was like a red, blue and yellow stripe, almost a plaid. And I cut out characters and pasted those along for the border, like from the pillowcases, and then quilted this and it covered a full-sized bed and it is well worn.

JK: It's beautiful.

RS: And he wants it for his daughter.

JK: That's wonderful. Obviously it was well used if it had the chemistry set explosion

RS: Yes, yes. It was on his bed 'til after he started school, I would say till probably about third or fourth grade. So he got a lot of good years out of it.

JK: What peaked your interest in learning to quilt?

RS: My mother had quilted in her early marriage before she had children. At the time I started quilting, my mother in law was quilting and so I thought, 'Well, gee, I'd like to do this.' And I'd taken a class, well I took it shortly after I'd started this, and it was the Seminole piecework and I got my first Grabbit pincushion there and also a rotary cutter. So they'd been out quite a while.

JK: That's wonderful.

RS: But I would say that that was the basis for it.

JK: Right. So did they teach you to quilt?

RS: No, this is the way it must be done, you know. And since then I've gotten a lot of books and learned to quilt [laughs.].

JK: You're primarily self-taught, I mean through experience, just doing it?

RS: Yes, what works and what doesn't work.

JK: Is there a particular quilt memory that comes to mind, a first quilt memory?

RS: The quilt memory that comes to mind is my great-grandmother pieced a quilt from my mom and dad when they got married and that was their wedding present. When I was in college, one year I asked my dad if I could go take it out of the cedar chest and take it into the church group and have it quilted. And he said, 'Well, sure, Mom will never get to it.' Well I did and gave it to them for Christmas. And she was just, 'How did you get that?' And I said, 'Well, Dad got it for me.'

JK: Isn't that great.

RS: She was the one who said there should be no such thing as a perfect quilt because even God didn't make everything perfect.

JK: Beautiful.

RS: Every time I make a boo-boo or a point doesn't match, I tell myself that and just go on. [laughs.]

JK: [laughs.] There you go. Now where is that quilt you just spoke of?

RS: My mother has it.

JK: She still has it. Someday do you think you will have it?

RS: I would rather have the quilt that she sent to me that I entered in the show this year.

JK: What is that quilt like?

RS: It won a third place and it's Burgoyne Surrounded. And she made it when she had a knee replaced in the fall. She had it pieced and put it in a big frame and quilted it that winter when she was recovering from her knee replacement.

JK: That's wonderful. It has a lot of meaning to it then.

RS: Right.

JK: How many quilts have you made?

RS: I don't know. A lot of baby quilts. Big quilts probably over ten because each of my kids have two or three and I have three or four.

JK: What kinds of techniques and style of quilts do you typically do?

RS: I like to machine piece, then hand quilt. I love to paper piece but I will machine quilt the paper piecing. I love to do free-hand quilting with the sewing machine. But I quilt in a bee every week by hand.

JK: So your bee meets once a week?

RS: Meets every Wednesday.

JK: Now are you also a member of our guild?

RS: Yes, I'm the treasurer this year.

JK: Oh, you are? I should have known that.

RS: Yes.

JK: The money person.

RS: [laughs.] The money person. They keep me locked in the closet. [laughs.]

JK: [laughs.] What kinds of things do you enjoy most about being a part of? You can take it from the bee perspective and then from the guild.

RS: The bee perspectives are my dearest friends. If you have a problem, you go and you talk it over with the bee and they either sympathize or they tell you to get over it. And you just feel better after. I mean we've solved the world's problems around the quilt frame. And the guild is such a learning experience. In a way it's almost like you're teaching and you can see the light come on in people's eyes when they see how the pattern goes together or they see how something does.

JK: Very good. Your bee meeting every week sounds unusual to me [inaudible.] that it's so frequent. Do you think that's true, that you're one of the bees that meets so frequently?

RS: Probably we are. We're a spin-off bee from when our friend Minnie Reevess had a quilt shop outside of Azle. And we all met and quilted there. And we quilted every week. And some weeks some of us can't be there; we understand that. If it's your quilt in the frame, we go ahead and quilt it. We take turns quilting for each other.

JK: Now tell me more about that. So you literally all quilt around the frame then?

RS: Yes, yes. There are six of us and we quilt around the frame. Twice a year we all go to Quitland, Texas and go on a mini retreat for a week at a time over there. It started out as two days and then three days [laughs.] and now we are going for a week.

JK: [laughs.] That's good.

RS: And just do nothing. You can take a book and read all week or you can quilt or you can sew. We eat like we'll never have another meal. We just have a wonderful time.

JK: So how do you decide who's quilt you get to work on?

RS: Whoever's got one ready.

JK: Yes?

RS: I mean, if we quilt for somebody and do two or three quilts. Well, I haven't had time this year to really make a quilt. I've been the guild treasurer and it's that's fine job. So I've just quilted on everybody else's this year. Well next year I might get a couple done.

JK: Uh-huh.

RS: So it all works out and none of us care whose quilt it is. We're there just for the companionship more than anything else. We take turns bringing lunch or if somebody wants to try a new recipe they'll bring it. A lot of times the fourth Wednesday of the month we will go out to eat or if it's somebody's birthday. If there's a fifth Wednesday of the month, then we'll go shopping. [laughs.]

JK: [laughs.] I like your bee.

RS: Yes, we have a good time.

JK: So you've been together a long time then?

RS: Yes, yes, we've been together, probably bits and pieces of us for over ten years.

JK: That's incredible. That's great. That's terrific. Now, you have children?

RS: I have two boys.

JK: Two boys. I was going to ask if you've passed down your quilt making to any family member.

RS: My youngest son, the one who I made this quilt for, is the one who when they were expecting their first baby and they found out it was a girl, he said, 'Mom I want a bunny quilt.

Well mama didn't pick out a bunny quilt. She wanted one done with Mary Engelbreit panels so I have to find a way to make it look like a quilt, not just panels. So for my granddaughter's first birthday, she got her bunny quilt. [laughs.]

JK: Sweet.

RS: And then I have a grandson and he got blue jeans--the Sunbonnet Sue companion but it's three foot tall.

JK: Right. How old is your granddaughter?

RS: She just turned a year old.

JK: So that's not old enough for her to know--

RS: Well, she knows that Grandma's quilting scissors and quilting things are no-no's. When she's bigger, then she can help Grandma.

JK: So she's interested.

RS: Oh yes, in everything. [laughs.]

JK: That's wonderful. I was just going to ask what you love most about quilt making.

RS: I love to piece. I love to see it done. I like the solitude of it. When I go upstairs to piece or cut out a quilt or anything like that, I have no radio on, no television on. I refuse to have a phone in that room. That's my time. And that's my room and I can shut the door on it and if I go in and lay down, that's fine. But just to be able to get away from everything and have that time just for you.

JK: How often to you get to find that time?

RS: I will take steps. It depends on what I am making. If I'm making a gift for someone, I spend more time or if I have to get something done. I like to--usually each evening. I am not a television watcher so I will go upstairs and sew or cut out or look at quilt magazines or patterns or just look for something in general. [laughs.]

JK: Wonderful. Is there a particular quilt that you've always wanted to make that you haven't had the chance to make yet?

RS: Yes, a Grandmother's Flower Garden.

JK: Really. Why that particular pattern?

RS: I don't know. It's just a challenge.

JK: Do you have all the fabric for it?

RS: Probably more than enough [laughs] because it would be scrappy. I love the scrappy look of scrappy quilts. I don't like them planned.

JK: So how do you buy your fabric then? It's not with a quilt in mind particularly.

RS: Sometimes if I need a certain background or leaf fabric or something, I will go and buy just specific, but usually it is I go thru the stash and pick and choose.

JK: Can you define "stash?"

RS: My old dining room table which is three feet wide and probably almost six feet long with plastic storage boxes underneath it. And it's full. And there's a great big HUGE big duffle bag that is just the pieces that anything a yard or more. Then there's another area that is fat quarters and there's stuff that is just scraps.

JK: So where do you dine? [laughs.]

RS: On a new table. [laughs.]

JK: That's terrific.

RS: And occasionally I will just go through it and reorganize. Find things I'd forgotten about. I'd think, 'Oh well, gee, that's where I'd put that that I'd lost a long time ago.'

JK: Now, some of the forms you'd filled out for us. Are you from Alliance, Nebraska?

RS: We are from central Nebraska, from Merna. My husband works for the railroad so we have moved.

JK: Moved south.

RS: Yes. One more move and we'll get wet. [JK laughs.] And we've moved back and forth to Kansas City twice. I was in Kansas City and I had taught before we went up there in a neighbors group and I taught a lot of quilting to very novice. Some of them I had to teach to use the sewing machine.

JK: Did you?

RS: But it was just incredible.

JK: Obviously you benefit from that or you see a reward in that. What is that?

RS: A sense that you've done something worthwhile. Being appreciated, I think. Of course we had a full basement there and I had all my sewing machines set up and so everybody could come and sew and didn't have to bring their machine.

JK: Yes.

RS: We had one day that everybody did bring their machine and we spent cleaning sewing machines. Some didn't even know that you were supposed to oil them. But they learned. We took them apart, cleaned them, and everybody kept saying, 'My machine worked so nice.' Well, we'd put a new needle in it! [laughs.]

JK: Right.

RS: I think one of the girls had done a little bit of quilting but the rest of them hadn't--we went to a quilt shop and they wanted to make this Santa Claus wall hanging. They just fell in love with it. Well, it was too detailed for them to make the way the pattern said, so I had to go back and revamp the pattern and I ended up making it a paper-pieced pattern so they could make this wall hanging.

JK: Right.

RS: And teach them that they could drop the feed dogs on their machine and free-motion stipple quilt. Some of the ladies would break out in a sweat--fear of a sewing machine. And no one should feel like that. So you just felt like you'd really accomplished something when everybody went home.

JK: That's wonderful. Do you still teach?

RS: Occasionally. I get to stay home all the time and that's where I want to be now.

JK: You've done all the other. This is your time.

RS: This is my time.

JK: In your moving, between Nebraska and here, have you noticed any differences in either technique or pattern?

RS: In central Nebraska, you're not going to see a lot of the modern art quilts. They're still pretty traditional, pretty basic. The name brand fabrics are real hard for a lot of the people to come by because there aren't quilt shops. They don't have the luxury of just going quilt shop shopping, a shop-hop kind of thing.

JK: You mentioned Central Nebraska being more traditional than the art form. Do you have any interested in moving in that direction yourself, more contemporary? More artistic?

RS: No. I will never live long enough to do all of the traditional things that I want to do. There are just too many new techniques that I want to try. Anything new that comes out you have to have the gizmo gadget to do it with. And you do a little bit of it and it's a UFO, because you know how to do it. [laughs.]

JK: Right. How do you go about selecting a pattern or a design?

RS: By eye. A pattern or a quilt will catch my eye, and I have been known to put three or four patterns together to make one quilt. Then I go to the fabric and look. I usually have a fabric that I want to use, a color. Then it's just more of put it together and see how it turns out.

JK: Can you conceive in your mind what that quilt is going to look like or are you sometimes surprised?

RS: I can pretty well conceive what it's going to look like.

JK: Really? Wow. Do you have a particular color pallet you work in?

RS: I love to work in primary.

JK: What do you think makes a great quilt?

RS: Workmanship.

JK: You define that by?

RS: Not necessarily the piecing. By the quilting. The quilting makes it a quilt. It can make it or break it. And some of the machine-quilted quilts are gorgeous and they deserve the credit. And anybody that doesn't believe that has never tried to use a long-arm machine. Whether it's hand quilted or machine quilted, it's the quilting that makes it a quilt.

JK: I see.

RS: The more quilting, the better.

JK: How do you determine when enough is enough? Quilting I mean?

RS: When there isn't room for anymore?

JK: How long did it take you to reach that point, that recognition?

RS: When I wouldn't be satisfied with a project, because it just didn't look finished. It just needed something else. And when the stippling technique came out, that was it.

JK: Uh-huh.

RS: You could push things back and bring things forward so easy with it.

JK: Uh-huh. So that's a technique you personally use?

RS: I personally love it if I'm doing machine quilting. I don't necessarily like to do it by hand.

JK: Right.

RS: There are enough other things that you can do by hand that take it's place.

JK: Uh-huh. Now do you enter your quilts in shows and things?

RS: I've entered quilts in this show for two years. Last year I won a second place and a third place.

JK: Oh, wonderful. In what categories?

RS: One of them was Christmas

JK: Uh-huh.

RS: Maybe they were both Christmas. I can't remember. Then this year I entered a couple of the quilts I taught classes from and then I convinced my mother to send me two of hers that I entered.

JK: That's wonderful. Now did you tell me earlier that one of those did get a ribbon?

RS: Yes, it did.

JK: Have you told your mother yet?

RS: Yes, and she cried.

JK: Did she?

RS: And she's not a crier. And then for her birthday in June, I had it appraised by the appraiser that we have here and I called her again and told her what it appraised for and she kept saying, 'Oh my, oh my.' [laughs.] She couldn't believe it.

JK: What kind of role do you think quilts or quiltmaking has in our history?

RS: Women have always needed a way to get together to discuss, solve their problems, cuss and discuss whatever. One of my friends and I both live north of Fort Worth, one of the gals in our bee. This spring we were at quilting and we said we knew why women on the plains and in Texas would go crazy because of the wind blowing, I mean just continually. Because we are both out in the open where you could get the wind. You could see they would so look forward to getting together, another woman to quilt or a group to quilt. And some of the quilting book, fiction books that are out now, everybody should read, every quilter. "The Persian Pickle" is wonderful. Then there is--I forget who wrote it, "The Round Robin" and "The Apprentice." They are great.

JK: What do you think accounts for at least the appearance of increased interest in quilt making?

A lot of young people seem to be more into it.

RS: I think some of it has to do with television. There never used to be a quilting show on television. Well there is now. I think a lot of them watch it. We find we are getting a few more stay-at-home moms that are quilting. It's a hobby. But I don't know why reoccurrence or if it's somebody grandmother did it or maybe their great-grandmother and they're seeing some of the work and wanting to do some of it themselves.

JK: Are there any trends in quilt making today that either excite you or concern you?

RS: Paper piecing was a fantastic thing when it came out. Really, I have no concerns. That's what's great about quilt making, because it can go to the art quilts or the traditionals are still going to stay there and be basic quilts. I mean very few people use quilts on their bed, which I do. But the only thing that would concern me is the ones that are sold to the department stores. Because they're giving the people the image that that is a quilt and I don't think you could probably wash them over twice whereas this has been washed every week for probably five years. That would be the difference.

JK: Are there any other questions I haven't asked you or anything that you would like to elaborate on?

RS: No.

JK: So you'll be quilting forever?

RS: Yes. And I'll be collecting sewing machines and notions and if I can't go, one of my friends will pick them up for me.

JK: [laughs.] Great. Are there any other collections you want to start?

RS: Oh no, I don't dare. [laughs.] We had to buy a house that had an upstairs so I would have a place for the sewing machines.

JK: Yes? So you still collect those now?

RS: Yes.

JK: What do you hope will happen someday to those? Obviously they are very valuable.

RS: I hope that one of my grandchildren will appreciate them for what they are. I wish everyone of those sewing machines could talk. I would love to know their histories. What they have sewn on.

JK: Do you know some of the owners to some of the machines, where they originated from?

RS: Yes, I do. Some of them still had a warranty card or ladies had written their name and address in the book that came with the machine. I do have my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine. And it still sews.

JK: That's great. I really appreciate you being with us today and being part of our history. I really have enjoyed that. And I would like to thank Rosemary Switzer for being part of our Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Our interview has completed at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Thank you very much.


“Rosemary Switzer,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,