Pam Shuster




Pam Shuster




Pam Shuster


Martha Class

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Houston, Texas


Carolyn Kolzow


Note: Pam Shuster is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required. While Martha Class lives in Houston, she is a member of a DAR chapter in Indiana.

[recording begins 1 minute 10 seconds into the tape.]

Martha Class (MC): My name is Martha Class and today is May 21st, 2008, and it is 12:23 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Pam Shuster in Houston, Texas for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Indiana State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Pam, how are you doing today?

Pam Shuster (PS): I'm doing fine.

MC: Could you please tell me about the quilt that you brought today?

PS: The quilt I have is a Civil War commemorative quilt that my husband asked me to make for him. The original was made back after or during the Civil War by a woman who wanted to remember her family members who were fighting the war. This one is much smaller than that one. That one was 88 inches wide, and this one is only 42 inches wide. But I didn't have a wall big enough for that. We made this one to hang in the family room. My husband has family on both sides of the Civil War, and we wanted it to remember them.

MC: I see. Well, I guess you have already explained what special meaning the quilt has.
[PS hums agreement.] And why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview?

PS: Since this is being done through the Daughters of the American Revolution, it just seemed like a better theme type quilt to bring for that.

MC: What do you think that someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

PS: It was one of the first quilts that I did the appliqué on, and it is not that good, but they might think that I need more practice at it. [laughs.]

MC: [laughs.] Pause 5 seconds. Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

PS: I do it mostly for enjoyment. I started quilting about eight or nine years ago just because I had seen a couple of magazines with mini quilts on the front, and it just kind of grew from there. I have made quilts for my nieces and nephews, for both of our sons, for my parents. I made a memory quilt for my husband's parents that has pictures of the grandchildren on it. Most of my quilts are given away as gifts or donated as fundraisers.

MC: I see. And do you have--how did you--you are self-taught? [PS hums agreement.]
Did you learn from a book or--

PS: Most of what I have learned I have picked up through different books.
I have taken a few quilt classes at the quilt shop locally. I tend to buy a lot of quilt books because I like the pictures of the quilts in them.

MC: And how did you get interested? What's your first quilt memory?

PS: The first quilt I did was when the boys were in Boy Scouts. With three boys--I had two sons and my husband in the house, I finally decided I had enough of boys, so I went out and bought fabric in girl colors to make clothes out of and use the fabric to make my first quilts. All the left over scraps went into the first quilt I ever made.

MC: Wow! [laughs.] And how many hours a week do you quilt?

PS: I don't keep track of my time. It is hit and miss pretty much. Sometimes I am working on clothes, sometimes I am quilting. Sometimes I am doing nothing. It varies.

MC: So, it is whatever the mood strikes you.

PS: That's right. And what needs to be done. I have a quilt for the Fire Department that I need to get finished. My son hasn't told me when they are doing their fundraiser so--I haven't done anything on it because I don't have a time frame.

MC: Okay, wow, let's see. What aspects of quilt making do you enjoy?

PS: I enjoy most of the quilting process. I like looking at the pictures and deciding what I want to do. Then I get frustrated when I don't have the time to do it. If it is a big quilt with a lot of small pieces, it gets a little boring at times piecing the same thing over and over, but the end product is really worth it by the time I get to the end and put it all together. Some of them I machine quilt, some of them I hand quilt, depending on what they are for, who they are for, why I am making it.

MC: Are there other quiltmakers in your family or friends?

PS: There is no one in the family. Even my grandmother and her sister did not make quilts when they were alive. I've got a couple of friends that quilt, but I really don't know anyone in the generation before me who quilted. My grandmother taught me how to sew, but she never did any quilting.

MC: I see. And do you have any favorite techniques and materials that you like to make your quilts out of?

PS: I use all cotton. I haven't tried any others. I haven't branched out into that yet. Maybe as I have more time in retirement, I will be able too. At this point I haven't. Cotton just seems to be so much easier to care for. When I give the quilts as gifts, I tell them that they are made to use and abuse, and when it falls apart, to let me know, and we will go from there.

MC: Durability, durability.

PS: Durability and easy care. Our parents are in their 80s, and so they don't need anything that needs special care.

MC: Do you use a design wall?

PS: I have one. It is not the best, but with the limited space that I have it works. I do use that on occasion.

MC: And, how in what way and how does it enhance your creative process?

PS: If I have some blocks that I am not sure how to position it, if they have a one-way design; I put the blocks up and look at it from a distance and decide if I like it this way or turn one another way. Sometimes I leave them up for a couple of days if the kids will stay away from them, and let it grow on me.

MC: I see. [laughs.]

PS: The preschoolers seem to think that the design wall is for them to play with.

MC: Well, that is very interesting. It really is. What do you think makes a great quilt?

PS: Well, you are getting technical. I just enjoy looking at the designs that they make as the finished product. I like the way the blocks go together, and the secondary design- the colors of the different quilts. That's what I enjoy. I enjoy traditional quilting. I don't care for the art quilts that they do now. It just does not appeal to me. I have always liked the traditional piecing, but that is just me.

MC: Well, that is a good thing. Is there anything that a--so, you probably enjoy the--do you see quilts as artistically powerful?

PS: They can be. Even the traditionally pieced can be very vibrant, very powerful, and have a wonderful design. The art quilts that I know do have a reason and there is a place for them. It is just that most of them would take too much work. And I am not into that.

MC: What makes a quilt artistically [cookoo clock heard.] powerful?

PS: The use of color and the design of the blocks in the traditional piecing. The art quilts do tell more stories than the traditional piecing does. I can see why a lot of people enjoy that. They are a lot more creative in that respect than I am. I usually make a picture to go by before I start.

MC: And what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

PS: That's one I couldn't even begin to answer. [MC laughs.] I would have no idea how to answer that.

MC: Well, that is okay. Now here is another one. What makes a great quilt maker?

PS: That's another question that I have no answer to. I don't know if it would be the time that goes into a quilt--the way it comes out. The way it looks. Some of the best quilts are ones that have been put together out of necessity rather than because they have the time and the money to buy the products to put together. I really don't know. As I said I just do this because I enjoy it.

MC: Are there any works that have been done by others that you are drawn to?

PS: Oh, there are a lot that have been done by others that I enjoy looking at.

MC: And why--any in particular, and why are you--

PS: I don't know any particular names. I enjoy looking at a lot of the uniquely quilted pieced quilts. The Wedding Ring quilt with all the small pieces, and the different ones from decades ago where they only had the small pieces of fabric and had to put together a thousand pieces of fabric to put together the one quilt. I don't think that I could ever do that in my lifetime. I would be nuts before I finished it. But those are very interesting to look at to me.

MC: When you were getting started in quilt making which--was there any particular artist that influenced you?

PS: When I first started quilting, I didn't even realize that there were people that were well known as quilters. I was just looking at magazines and miniature quilts and there were no names attached to them.

MC: Well, you have mentioned about quilting with a machine, like putting it together.

PS: Most of my quilts are pieced by machine. When I quilt them for the fundraisers and that, those are usually quilted on the machine. Some of the ones that I give away as gifts, I do by hand. The one for my parents I quilted by hand. It takes a lot longer but a lot of times it is enjoyable to just sit down and quilt.

MC: Obviously, you feel good. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? I think that you probably answered that.

PS: Machine quilting is faster. I just don't always get the backings done right which is why most of those are donations for fundraisers. They don't really look at the back.

MC: And what about long arm quilting?

PS: I have touched a long arm quilting machine once in my life. And it was enjoyable for the thirty seconds that I did it, but I don't know that I would want to do it on a regular basis.

MC: Pardon me, my ignorance, but what is long arm quilting? [laughs.]

PS: A long arm quilter takes a big room. The table is fourteen feet long and it has where you can roll the quilt top on one roll, the batting that goes in the middle on another, and the backing goes on a third roll. And then--you have seen a regular sewing machine? [MC hums agreement.] The long arm quilter instead of being 18 inches like your regular sewing machine, the arm comes up to 24 inches maybe, and there is a place to put the pattern on the back and a laser follows this pattern. It stitches that pattern on the quilt. When you finish the area it's done, and you roll everything to the next area, and you just follow. It looks really nice. They are really expensive and take up a lot of room.

MC: I see. The quilt that you brought today, how long did it take you to make that? It is slightly--

PS: It is a smaller one. Piecing the stripes together probably took me a couple of hours. Appliquéing all the stars on it took forever. I would say thirty to forty hours maybe.

MC: This is the quilt that is going to stay at home.

PS: Yes, this one stays at home. Someday I may redo the stars and make them look a little more pointed, but that hasn't happened yet.

MC: Is there any amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making?

PS: When I started working on this one for Scott, the first time I appliquéd all the stars around the border, they were twice the size that they should have been. [MC laughs.] I had to start all over. Yes, that was interesting.

MC: I think that you probably already answered why is quilt making important to you? It is a relief?

PS: It is a hobby. I do it because I enjoy it, and it is fun if I don't have preschoolers climbing on me at the time. [MC laughs.] As they sometimes want to do. I enjoy finding the fabric that goes together, deciding what design I want to use, all of it.

MC: In what way do you think-- Do your quilts reflect your community or region?

PS: I've never even thought about that when I do any of the quilts that I make. So, I really don't know how to answer that.

MC: What about the importance of quilts in American life?

PS: In the past they were a necessity because they were the only kind of blanket that they had. In the present, I know the ones that I have given to my nieces and nephews have gone to college and have kept them warm in college. For my in-laws and my parents--for my in-law's theirs is a memory quilt so they keep that in the living room to show everyone that comes in. My parents use theirs to keep warm in the winter. They are all up in Ohio, so they get cold.

MC: So, for use.

PS: Mostly for use. Most of the ones that I have done are to be used. A few have been made for wall quilts. All the ones that I have given away have been meant to be used and abused.

MC: [laughs.] And in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

PS: A lot of the quilts show what the women have done and how they have managed to express themselves in their quilts. A lot of them I believe stand up for that reason. I am not sure about mine because they are just made for everybody to use.

MC: Oh well, this is very interesting. How do you think quilts--I think you have covered how you think quilts can be used. Obviously.

PS: Yes.

MC: How do you think that quilts can be preserved for the future?

PS: I know that they need to be taken care of very carefully, especially the older quilts. Some of them--some of the really special ones should probably just be hung and be cared for in that respect keeping the dust off of them. Whatever it takes for that. I know that they say that they need to be folded and refolded if they are going to be stored in a drawer, so that the threads don't break. I haven't gotten into any of that because I have had no experience with older quilts.

MC: I see. And what has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of your friends and family. I guess you have--we have already talked about that.

PS: I do have a patchwork that my mother's grandmother made that I finally put together as a quilt and put a border on it, so that she would have that to look at. That fabric doesn't show any signs of having had problems of being folded. But they are not very good at colors from back in the 1940s.

MC: Oh. [laughs.]

PS: We have done that, so my mom has that in her living room. I still have part of that upstairs; her grandmother was not very careful in her piecing. It is not very straight.

MC: I see.

PS: All the rest of them are being used.

MC: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

PS: My biggest challenge is finding the time to do all that I want to do. Even though I am not working full time anymore, I still don't seem to have much time to just sit down and quilt. I have more projects upstairs, than I have time to do in a year. I think that would be a lot of the problem. The fabrics now available are so much more plentiful than they were even eight years ago. It is so much easier to find the products that you are looking for than it used to be.

MC: It sounds like there is a lot to be done to try to preserve all that and to keep that art alive.

PS: I don't look at my quilts as being art or needing to be preserved. I make the quilts because I want people to use them. That's what they are for.

MC: Isn't the advances in technology--have they influenced your work?

PS: Oh, yes. The newer sewing machines make it much easier to do anything. If I want to use the machine to quilt, there are different stitches that the machine automatically does, that makes it so much easier; and it makes it look nice.

MC: Do you have a studio or a place that you work?

PS: I have a room that we call the sewing room. Half the time it's got children in it. It is my sewing room. Someday it will be just my sewing room again, soon, I hope. [MC laughs.] It makes it much easier than having to bring everything out and put it away. Yes, the sewing machine stays out.

MC: I see. So, obviously eight or nine years ago, I won't ask you. Before you retired, you started quilting?

PS: Yes, I have only been retired since December. So, I was quilting before I retired. And, I had more time to work on it then than I do now. Well, I don't understand that. Well, yes now I have two young children living with me now. That takes some of the time.

MC: Does your quilting impact you family?

PS: Only in the sense that sometimes they don't get dinner on time, or the laundry might not get done, if I get busy and lose track of time, but other than that I don't think that it makes a big difference.

MC: Do you have any other objects that you are working on?

PS: Oh, I have the Fire Department quilt that I have got to finish up. I've got another quilt for my husband that I am doing by hand that needs to be finished. I have been working on that for a couple of years. I have a Hawaiian quilt that I haven't finished appliquéing. I started that in '04.

MC: A Hawaiian quilt?

PS: It's a Hawaiian appliqué. Appliquéing that piece on the top takes forever. I just haven't been working on that. And then I have all of these bags with fabrics together. This will be this one, and this will be this one when I have time, so-- I have plenty to keep me busy.

MC: So, it sounds like you work on several projects at one time?

PS: Depending on what is going on. The Hawaiian quilt stays in the car. If I get stuck somewhere, then I have something to keep me busy; to go to a doctor's office or whatever. It has been to Ohio and back a couple of times and that kind of thing. [pause 5 seconds.] There are so many pretty fabrics and only so much time to work with them.

MC: Yes, I think so. I think so. I guess sometimes it must be difficult to balance your time.

PS: Oh, no I have no problem with it. It's just--[MC laughs.] They may get upset that I am not balancing my time the way that they want it, but it does not bother me at all.

MC: Can I see your quilt?

PS: Sure.

MC: What is the back?

PS: That is the fabric that Scott saw and liked. If someone in your family said I don't know what you would do with it, then we would say, 'Well, get it anyway.'

MC: Well, that is unusual because that makes it even more patriotic. Because it almost makes it so that it can be reversible.

PS: It could be except for the sleeve. He liked that fabric so--

MC: And these are some badges.

PS: That is why he liked that one.

MC: This is interesting. Now, was the one that you donated backed like this?

PS: No, I pieced together the red, the white, and the blue for the back. This one was just for him.

MC: This one was for your husband.

PS: I haven't looked for that fabric again.

MC: Was that difficult to put together like that?

PS: No. This was one of the easier ones because it is smaller. It fits on the table without hanging over the side.

MC: I see.

PS: I hand quilted this one around all of the squares on the front and the stripes.

MC: Well, this is very unique. It is almost a custom made.

PS: This is one of the ones. One of the few that I have done all by hand.

MC: Wow.

PS: It is pieced by hand and quilted by hand. I don't do many like that because they take so long.

MC: Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?

PS: There is nothing in particular that I can think of. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy looking at quilts that other people have made. For me, it is just fun. It is not a necessity.

MC: Well, that is good.

PS: And I would certainly be one that tried to sell them.

MC: Well, okay. All right. [laughs.] I'd like to thank Pam Shuster for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 12:53 p.m. on May 21st, 2008.


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