Elaine Garrison




Elaine Garrison




Elaine Garrison


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Fort Worth, TX


Sharon Carter


Kay Jones (KJ): Today's date is May 19, 2002. It is 3:05 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Elaine Garrison for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Fort Worth, Texas.

KJ: Elaine, you brought a Sun Bonnet Sue quilt today. Would you tell us about it?

Elaine Garrison (EG): Well, would you like the whole history, okay. It was started in 1925. My mother who was 5-years old at the time, her name is Opal Callie Carlton, and her sister, Zoe Carlton Yount started piecing it together in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My aunt Zoe was teaching my mom and her daughters, Dorothy and Geraldine Yount, how to quilt and also Johnnie Marie Yount, Zoe's sister-in-law. So they started making this quilt and as you can see, I think, just about every Sun Bonnet Sue is out of a different fabric. My understanding from my mother is that these were all flour sacks. In those days the flour sacks were actually printed fabric, and so they took those flour sacks and they made these little dresses out of them, and lets see, then my mother pieced about half of it. I can't tell which exact blocks that she did. I am not sure she remembers. But then five or so years later in about 1930 or 1932, my other aunt, Anna Carlton Smallwood, finished piecing it and then after it was done around 1932 Anna and my grandmother whose name was Jennie Sue Lettie Knox Carlton took it to the quilting circle at the local Church of Christ and they quilted it, and that is the history.

KJ: You say it's made out of flour sacks?

EG: Well, my mother says that when she was a little girl the sacks of flour were actually printed fabric, like this. The way she remembers it, they took the flour sacks and that's where they got the little girl's dresses out of and where the other fabric came from I am not sure, and the backing is blue.

KJ: Oh, it is a bright blue isn't it? [EG laughs.] What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

EG: Well, I grew up with these quilts and I didn't think anything about them at all. There's several of them at home. There's a Grandmother's Garden and another one. I started quilting about 11 years ago when I was about to have my first child. I love to quilt, and over the years especially as my mother has gotten older, I've begun to study the history of her family. The fact that I quilt too, these quilts have become really special. Now that I have a family of my own, I've gotten a lot more interested in hearing about my grandmother. My grandmother died about six years before I was born, so the few things that I have, one of them are the quilts that she worked on, and this was during the time when they did not have much money. It was during the depression and so the way they came about piecing them together and the way they found the fabrics to me is really special and the fact that they all worked together. It just means a lot from my family history.

KJ: How do you use this quilt or do you use it?

EG: We don't. If you look carefully at it the binding has come apart and there are a few Sun Bonnet Sue's that for instance, this one, you see how it has deteriorated. My mother has talked about us taking it to a restorer and having it fixed, so we are talking about that. But actually they have just been folded up in a closet. I think my mother may have one on display that her mother made, but they are not even displayed very formally. They've just been in the closet.

KJ: Was it used?

EG: I think my mom said that one of them was on her bed. She was the youngest of seven children. The fourth child, a girl, died very young at four. But Mom was the youngest and when her older sister finally got married and all the kids were married and she got her own room, I think one of the quilts was her bed quilt. I'm sorry I do not know that. I wish I knew the answer to that. [laughs.] Quilts were used on Elaine and the boys' beds when they were growing up.

KJ: What are you plans for this quilt?

EG: Well, I really just plan on holding on to it and my mother actually wrote down the history of all the quilts and gave it to me in a little book, so I have the history at home. She and I are beginning to talk, she is 81 and will be 82 soon, and lives in Arlington [Texas.], so we've begun to talk about maybe we should take these and have them restored. I really don't want to use them because I don't want them to get damaged. I have two little boys and I don't know that they would ever be interested in them. But I just want to take care of them and have them in the house. I just want to own them.

KJ: It seems this quilt is wrapped up in your family history. Do you think that's true about quilts in general? Do they have special meanings for families?

EG: Well, I don't know. One of my dear teachers whom I just love, is Veda Wilhite, and Veda has told me about how when she's had grandchildren graduate, she makes them a quilt and how much quilting has meant to her. I've made baby quilts for friends and I still have a quilt that my aunt Ruth, who grew up in Tulsa [Oklahoma.], and was my mom's sister-in-law, made my son a baby quilt. So, I've still got it and they mean a lot to me. Hopefully, when my sons get married I can make their wives quilts.

KJ: When you quilt what patterns do you choose?

EG: Well, lately I've really gotten into the Red Wagon quilts in the last five years which are the folk art kinds of things. I don't have a big space to quilt in. I have to sew in my living room. So I tend to make small quilts like this wall hanging as gifts and I do have a queen size quilt that I hand pieced about nine years ago and I am still quilting it. And I do have a large quilt, a queen size quilt, that I am still piecing together that I took the class from Veda and she told me the other day that was four years ago, but mostly I just make them as gifts.

KJ: When did you start quilting? You said--

EG: About 11 years ago. I had taken a quilting course from Vivian Parker. I took a quilting class from Vivian at the Old Quilter's Quarters in Overton Plaza. I actually started because I love to quilt. I love to hand quilt. I wasn't very interested in piecing and then I saw Veda's, "One of a Kind Quilts," at the quilt show, so I took that course and I've gotten very interested in hand piecing now. But I use that term loosely because I piece on the sewing machine and use a rotary blade. So I have been doing it for about 11 years.

KJ: What is the best part of quilting? What parts do you like best?

EG: Well, it is pretty exciting when you've made a block and you sew all those blocks together and the quilt top comes together. That's very rewarding, but I also enjoy hand quilting very much. It's very relaxing to me and it goes quickly. There's something about the practicality of putting all this fabric together and all those stitches holding it all together that is just real appealing to me and using my hands. I like using my hands [background noise.].

KJ: Are there other quilters in your family? You talk about your mother, but a sister, cousins or anyone?

EG: Well, no I don't have a sister. I would say the closest was my aunt Ruth, and she died several years ago, but she made all kinds of things. She made clothes and curtains, and I really wasn't around her much. But actually I just walked into a craft store one day and picked up a book about quilting and it really appealed to me and that is how I got started. I was given a quilt book for Christmas and I made a Rail Fence. I've never had any lessons or anything and I enjoyed that a lot. So as I've had the time I have quilted, but I don't have a [chuckles.] whole lot of time to do it.

KJ: Well, that was going to be my next question. How many hours a week do you think you spend?

EG: Well, not much. The project that I showed you here I started two months ago. It's a teacher gift and I worked on it pretty furiously until I got it done. But I only got the quilting done about two weeks ago and I still have to bind it. So what happens is I have a flurry of activity for about a month and then I have to put it away because I've got other things I have to do. And then I get it out and as I told you I've got a quilt that's about nine years old that, in fact, Vivian Parker helped me sew the binding and the backing and the cover together and I am [laughs.] still trying to quilt it. I get things out, you know, if it's cold and it is wintertime, I get my quilt out and it keeps me warm and I quilt it.

KJ: So it would be hard to say?

EG: It really is. I am not a really hard quilt quilter because I just don't have the time.

KJ: Now the project that you showed us. It had Sun Bonnet Sue's in it too. Is it the same pattern?

EG: No, I got this out of a little quilt book and as you can see my mom's quilt is similar in that it has little arms and feet. I mean it's basically the same, but this is a little more stylized, the hat is a little more stylized and these little girls don't have aprons on them, and mine do.

KJ: I was thinking maybe you copied this one to put on that?

EG: No, I didn't. It's really just a coincidence because my mother asked me to bring this one.

KJ: What about quilting do you not enjoy or is there anything?

EG: I really hate basting those layers together. I tried using pins, but I don't have a place to really anchor it down where the three layers are really nice and taunt where I can baste it together. That's a real pain [laughing.]. I would rather not have to do that, but I do it. I could be better at binding. I would like to become more efficient at binding. But those are really the only two things.

KJ: The rest of it you like?

EG: I do. I enjoy it a lot.

KJ: Well, I know that this quilt is a great quilt to you because of the people who made it, but in general, what makes a great quilt?

EG: Well, I have found that many quilts for me, patterns that I wouldn't necessarily be very impressed with, Turn Dash, or whatever, I mean I have made Turn Dash, the ones that are pretty basic. If the fabrics are right any quilt can be extraordinary and you know that varies from person to person as to what makes great fabric, but I've come to understand that any quilt can be just wonderful if the fabric selection is done right. So I would like to get more proficient at choosing fabrics.

KJ: What fabrics call out to you?

EG: Well, I've really gotten into those, well these colors here. I know they are not called jewel colors, but they are more of the country colors, the burgundy's, the plaids and the flannels, but I am [laughs.] trying to get more into reds that have more of a cherry tone. I am trying to get out of the rut of these burgundy's and these kinds of plaids. I love colors that have gray in them. I think this is a beautiful fabric; it is kind of a gray-green. But again I am trying to get out of that and get more into the more vivid colors.

KJ: What has caused you to decide to take that step?

EG: Because I've seen some really beautiful quilts that were made out of those colors and I thought I just need to stop thinking inside the box so much. Because really I got interested in one style of quilting, you know, one fabric style, which was really put forth by Red Wagon with the stylized stars and hands with the hearts in them and things like that and there are some really beautiful things and I've done a lot of that, but whenever I come to the quilt show I'm so inspired by the diversity of colors and uses of the fabric and profiency. I'm always drawn back to these I have to say [laughs.], but I know last year they had quilts that used that very romantic green and pink, it's a kind of fabric that's got lots of little flowers and kind of ornate. It was just beautiful. So, I want to try other things. When I look in my fabric box its got lots of burgundy's, strips and plaids, so I want to try other things.

KJ: Expand your horizons?

EG: I do and one thing that I've noticed to is that people use fabric that if I looked at them on the bolt I'd go, oh you know, I don't care for that. Then they use it in a quilt and it is just wonderful. So, if I don't get too crazy in the way I match things up you can almost make a beautiful quilt out of anything. So, I try and get more adventurous that way too. I'm doing a lot more appliqué. I like appliqué a lot and I want to make a big quilt. Veda's quilt that I am working on now, when I get the quilt top done, I'm going to do a lot more appliqué. I enjoy that part too.

KJ: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

EG: Well, for me, I know last year there was one I think it was called garage door or something like that, it was just an amazing use of many, many diverse fabrics that all worked together. And years ago, I saw a quilt and I believe that it had won the Paducah Quilt Show [Kentucky.], the national show, and a man had done it and it was a biplane. Did you see that quilt? When you got up close to it he had used at least a hundred different fabrics. The background was like an oil painting. You would go up and you would say, oh my gosh, look at that pattern on that piece of fabric, and that, and that, and that, and it just worked all together. So, obviously to me, he understood color composition, he understood fabric composition, he understood how to compose the whole plane where he could integrate all of these fabrics together. It was just a work of art. To me that's what makes something artistic rather than just a nice quilt that someone worked hard on. Last year a couple of ladies did those roosters. Did you see those appliqué roosters? I just appreciated the work that went into those. Actually a lady at the quilt shop bought that pattern [laughs.] and I actually got to see the pattern and it was just so complicated, I even appreciated it more, but I just thought those were really works of art.

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilter?

EG: Well, I always think of Veda. She's got a heart of gold and she loves people and quilting for her is an expression of whom she is and she loves to teach and she's fun to be with and she's hilarious. When she is with you she just makes you feel like you are special and you are her only student and I'm sure she's got hundreds now. Were you talking about [laughing.] personality or were you talking about technique?

KJ: What you think makes a good quilt?

EG: Oh, I don't know. I like the whole idea of the Guild and the quilting bee and everybody sitting around together, sharing and talking about their families, and talking about their quilts, and just being together. I found the quilting community to be very nice and fun to be with, and welcoming. It is just a real warm sense of community.

KJ: Do you belong to a Guild and a bee?

EG: I don't. I joined the Trinity Valley Quilters' Guild about two years ago or three years ago, and I didn't get to a single meeting. I have small children, elementary school children, and also my mother being older, I just have so much to do that just to be able to get my little quilt out to work on it is so much, but I would love to be able to have the time to come to the Guild meetings.

KJ: That may come. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

EG: Well, I prefer hand quilting. I just think its got that nice imperfect, not exactly random look, but I don't know it just appeals to me. I like doing it. I don't find it to be a task, but very fulfilling and satisfying. I certainly can appreciate quilts that are machine quilted with all the various serpentine and all that, and it is pretty, but I like my quilts to be hand quilted [laughs.].

KJ: Why is quilting important in your life?

EG: Well, I worked for many years and I got married in my mid 30s and I had my family in my late 30s and I never really had a hobby prior to getting to stay home with my children. Quilting was the first thing I found that I really did because I really loved it and it was fun for me and I could see something get done. Whereas it seemed like everything else I ever did in my life was because I needed to do it or because I was taking care of myself or I had something I had to do. So, I don't think in my life I never had taken the time to think about what do I really like what kind of a hobby would I really like? In fact, I have a master's in business and sometimes I wish I had gotten a masters in textiles because I've enjoyed quilting so much. It kind of helped me find a little bit of whom I was. I hope that doesn't sound too shocking, but it really just opened a world of interest to me that I enjoyed. A kind of self expression that I had just never found before.

KJ: Has quilting ever helped you get through a hard time?

EG: No. I've lost a brother to cancer and I've lost a stepsister to cancer. I can't say that I've really sought it out. I think there've been times when I felt stressed out and I [laughs.] quilted for a while.

KJ: Just the daily stresses?

EG: Yes. It's like my time for me.

KJ: Do you live in Fort Worth?

EG: I do.

KJ: Have you lived in other places?

EG: Well, I lived in Dallas [Texas.] for 11 years after I got out of school until I got married, and then my husband and I moved back here. I went to school in Austin [Texas.], and before that I lived in Arlington [Texas.] and I actually lived on the coast of Texas as child, but we moved in Arlington in 1965, so I lived there until I went to school in Austin. So, I've really been in this area all of my life.

KJ: So you know Texas and Texas quilts? I heard you say something about going to shows?

EG: I do.

KJ: Do you think that quilts from different regions reflect their communities and their area?

EG: Well, I don't know. I haven't been to that many. I've only been to about four. So, I know there is a lot of Texas in all these Texas quilts [laughs.].

KJ: So on the coast, those are different from say Fort Worth and Dallas?

EG: Well, I've never been to a quilt show outside of Tarrant County and Dallas County.

KJ: Oh, so--

EG: And really these are the only quilt shows I have been to. I went to one in Dallas [Texas], but Trinity Valley Quilters' Guild is the only one I have been to and this is my third or fourth one.

KJ: How do you think quilts should be preserved, Elaine, for the future?

EG: I think what you're doing is great. I have a friend whose husband's grandmother made just an incredible Bethlehem Star and they've got it hanging in their home, which I think is really nice. I don't have a wall to display a quilt, but I think for my quilts I wouldn't mind them being used [laughs.] on a bed or somewhere.

KJ: Do you have any thoughts about what quilts should go into a museum? What kinds of quilts?

EG: Well, for instance [announcement over the loud speaker.] I wouldn't mind if this quilt went into a museum that my mother made because, you know, this is something that was made during the depression. It was made by our family. I don't know if anybody else would be interested [announcement over the loud speaker.] in it, but to me it is very interesting to see that time in our nation when people got through a difficult times and they didn't have much. I think that the Paducah Quilt Museum is a wonderful museum. I don't know.

KJ: You said you made some quilts as gifts?

EG: Yes. That is mostly what I do.

KJ: What has happened to those quilts?

EG: Well, I assume that all the ladies that I made them for, as baby quilts, still have them. I hope so. Because if they don't I want them back.

KJ: You have sons. What would you hope your sons would do with your quilts?

EG: Well, I just hope that they remember that I made them. I've started labeling my quilts and I just hope that they hold on to them [continuous announcement over the loudspeaker].

KJ: That is the end of our formal questioning. Is there anything you'd like to tell us that we haven't touched on?

EG: No. I just love quilts and I've come to appreciate my mother's quilts and I am so grateful to have them.

KJ: I would like to thank Elaine Garrison for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2002 Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 3:31 [p.m.]


“Elaine Garrison,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1996.