Evelyn Kerr




Evelyn Kerr




Evelyn Kerr


Sara Walvoord

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Corpus Christi, Texas


Sara Walvoord


Sara Walvoord (SW): My name is Sara Walvoord and today's date is January 22, 2009, at 10:39 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Evelyn Kerr in her home in Corpus Christi, Texas for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Texas State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Evelyn Kerr is a quilter and is a member of Corpus Christi Chapter. Evelyn, thank you for letting me come to your home to talk to you about your quilting. You have many quilts in your home, tell me about the quilt you have chosen to share with us today.

Evelyn Kerr (EK): This is a quilt that I chose to make talking about my life. I reached the age of past Medicare now, 69. I wanted my family and out of what I have done and also for my children and grandchildren to know a little bit about my life. They're scattered all over the world and they may not know grandmother [laughs.] and I thought this would be a way of documenting some of my life and some of my achievements in a different way other than just writing.

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

EK: [laughs.] I'm a crazy lady. There really if you look at it and not understand the meaning of it, I call it "Reflections on My Life upon Reaching the Age of Medicare and Social Security," which is 65. Just looking at all the different colors and the different blocks it really doesn't seem to have any continuity until you would know why it was done.

SW: How do you use this quilt?

EK: I don't. [laughs.] I have it on the bed once in a while up in the guest room for people to see but I really don't use my quilts that much except to just have on the bed. I change seasons by the quilts I have. Corpus Christi is a place where there's lots of heat in the summertime, so you don't need quilts and, in the wintertime, we have the heat in the house, so you really don't need things so most of the time they're just wrapped up in my closet shelves.

SW: What are your plans for this quilt?

EK: Well, I hope it stays in the family. Some of the quilts that I have that were alluded to in the introduction is I bought at estate sales and auctions, and it really is a shame to see that somebody's hand work is going for little cost. Knowing of how much it costs to buy fabrics and the time I just really get upset of how little things go for from anybody's life achievements or just sometimes even thrown away.

SW: Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

EK: Well, I started out more as not necessarily quilt making but using fabrics and color and design. I am not an experienced seamstress. I like the getting together with other women when you go to a class and learn a new technique. I don't have any of the fancy quilting pieces of equipment they have. In fact, I don't have any of my quilts that are machine quilted. They were all done by other people. I don't have a machine where I really can do that. I also don't have space in the room I use to have a big queen size piece of fabric around quilting. So, I am more interested in finding a pattern, piecing it and also having fun going to the shops picking out the colors I want to use.

SW: At what age did you start quilt making?

EK: About 65. [laughs.] I'm a new quilter.

SW: Did you learn to quilt from anyone?

EK: No. Just going to classes, reading books. The library here in Corpus Christi has a lot of very informative books. Somebody that has done quilting has helped the library pick out some good reference books and I just got books and read and talked to other people.

SW: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

EK: No. My grandmothers but they're both dead. [unidentified noise.] My father's mother was a quilter she always had a quilt frame in her house, and I have two of the quilts that she made here, and I have another quilt that she made up in our farm in Illinois.

SW: How does quilt making impact your family?

EK: Well first of all I have taken over one of the rooms and closets with all my stash of fabrics and I usually have my sewing machine set up and when we move from Corpus Christi to our farm up in Illinois during the spring and fall my machine goes with me. In fact, we also bought another machine for me to keep up there permanently because I spend my time up there working on fabrics and quilting. It is also a good retreat from the family. You need time to be by yourself. You can go into another world of working on your piece.

SW: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

EK: Not really, I do have a quilt that the pattern is called Mothers and Daughters, and part of the fund from buying this pattern goes towards breast cancer research. I bought this to remind me of my mother who was in a nursing home now and then my daughter who is over in Hawaii living there with her family and then my granddaughter, so I think that quilt I use to make me feel connected to all the generations of the women in my family.

SW: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

EK: Well, I like the picking out the fabric and seeing these pieces and then not really knowing how they are going to look until the quilt is all put together. I think it is really fascinating how you can take a little separate piece and build on it and making it look something pretty good.

SW: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

EK: In a way it has. First, that we have the sewing machines and don't have to hand piece everything, but I think advances in technology is changing the idea of quilting. I went to the quilt museum in Paducah, Kentucky and I saw a lot of the quilts there just don't seem to be many appliqué quilts. A lot of the quilting seems to be more of how fancy you can do with your sewing machine, how many different threads you use, using your sewing machine to put layers and there doesn't seem to be as much of patchwork quilting. I grew up in the Amish area of Pennsylvania and seeing this type of quilt just isn't done that much anymore. It seems to be all-- also you can buy quilts at the stores for, made in Korea and Japan, a lot of people don't realize the difference between a quilt you buy for a hundred dollars and a quilt that's hand made for three hundred dollars and they just aren't willing to spend that.

SW: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

EK: I like cotton. I am working up to be able to do a quilt using silks. I like the texture of silks and velvets. I stopped doing so much. My granddaughter, as I said before lives in Hawaii, prefers me making pillowcases for her than quilts because she doesn't need them. She doesn't use them. In Hawaii, you don't use many blankets and stuff, so I just really am looking forward to using different fabrics and looking for different designs.

SW: Tell me how you balance your time.

EK: [laughs.] When I do make a quilt, I usually wind up spending no time by the television and in a way, I try to do it when my husband is not here because it is up in the second floor and I don't like to be isolated from the rest of the family when I am doing that. I get too involved in looking at books. I have a lot of thought process before I pick what I want to do. I can spend hours in a store just looking at fabrics and getting ideas.

SW: How do you go about designing your quilts?

EK: Well, this is the first one that I really just thought up myself. Lots of times I would go to a quilt store, I'll look through a magazine and see a pattern that I like or else the one quilt I am trying to finish up now I went into the fabric store, and they had a very attractive display of the fabrics and I said, 'What can I do with this fabric?' And that led to the quilt pattern I picked out. So, a lot of it is just visual of the picture in my mind of what something would look like.

SW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

EK: A great quilt, like the ones I've seen in museums, are usually very well done. Your points of the triangles are points and not connected in the margins. The hand workmanship is there. The idea of using color, texture, also, just the idea that somebody thought of you taking a regular pattern and expanding it into something different.

SW: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

EK: Well, it's almost the same, one of my other interests is photography and when we enter photography shows for juried contest it is usually somebody who can look at this picture for about five seconds and then they go on to the next one. And it's the same with quilting, you walk into a room, and you say, 'Wow,' and if it has a wow factor, sometimes or not you really don't know what it is right away that has gotten your impact, but something just sinks to your soul. And it changes for everybody and everybody's opinion because in quilting people like different things so I can't really say one thing affects me, it just has that wow factor that I can't really identify.

SW: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

EK: Well, I love the sewing machine for doing the pieces. I have everything I've done in machine quilting which has helped me because I have one thing, I am trying to do with hand quilting, and I have decided I do not like hand quilting. I've known very few women who like actually doing the hand quilting. It's very tedious. I don't find it relaxing, some people do. [chiming cell phone.] I'm happy for somebody to do some machine quilting for me, the quilting part of it, but as I said earlier, I really think that somewhat of the quilting has gone now of someone using more threads and machine instead of actual piecing of the fabrics.

SW: What about longarm quilting?

EK: Well, that's the same kind I have one quilt I have hand quilted, and she did the longarm and it's just wonderful. I love the quilting technique. I paid dearly for it; she earned every penny she got from doing it. It's one of the best pieces that I have of actually showing what good longarm quilting can do. Once again, it's a lot of money to buy these machines and I think you're blocking out a lot of people who don't have the money to buy the expensive machines from entering the juried shows and what they're doing.

SW: What do you think is the future of quilting?

EK: Well, I know a lot of people are doing quilting. We've had two quilting shops here in Corpus Christi close for reasons I don't know. If it's because they're not enough people or whatever there is. In my family, people just don't need quilts [laughs.] anymore. They don't have room in the apartments, they don't have wall space. I think that smaller quilts for babies are not used because people throw things in washing machines now and they don't want a delicate quilt for that. So, I don't know I just think that all my quilts I hope will survive in the family when I die. If I look at what I have, grandmother's things then it's I don't know, I really don't know.

SW: Why is quilt making important in your life?

EK: Well, it gives me another way to express myself. It gives me a way to visually feel good looking at the colors looking at the shapes. It makes me retreat from the realities of what is going on. When you turn off television when you have your twenty-four-hour news stations reporting the same things over and over again, just turn it off, turn off the radio, put some music on and escape into your world of the fabric and the quilting and creating something instead of hearing all the destruction going on in the world.

SW: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community, or region or the places you visited?

EK: We've done a lot of traveling. Every time I travel, I get drawn into the fabrics. I have molas from Kuna Indians in Panama, I have some pillow tops I bought from Ecuador, I have some other fabrics from China and from Vietnam. When we travel in the United States, I usually try to find a quilt shop. My husband usually shakes his head and says, 'Oh no, not again.' [laughs.] I was up in Alaska and saw all the different patterns and the fabrics they have which is different than the patterns and fabrics we have here in Corpus Christi. Some of my materials are from when we are in Illinois and I travel over to Hannibal, Missouri. There's a lot of quilters in the Midwest and looking at the fabrics that their stores stock are different from down here. So, I think a lot of it is just the different people and their backgrounds living in areas and they all have different fabrics and different ideas of how to use them.

SW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life and historical America?

EK: Quilting has been part of American life. I think you have to look at the idea of how valuable fabric was in the early part of the United States. Looking at your colonies and how long it took a weaver to weave some fabric here when we people living on plantations the slaves weaving their fabrics just thinking of all the time it took to do this cloth and of how people used everything. You know I throw away some scraps that I am sure previously people would piece together. Traveling across in a covered wagon in the United States there wasn't room for a lot of things. But the woman usually could have their little stash of cloth that they reused. Lots of times people would take cloth from a dead person's wardrobe and make a remembrance quilt out of their clothing. I made a pillow top for my sister when her husband died of all the neckties that he had in his collection. She just treasures that as part of his memory still being in her family. Women would get together and it was a way that women could be together and talk and have fellowship. And I think that sometimes they did that more than really just quilting they wanted to be able to be together.

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

EK: Well, I'm just wondering because I live in a place where the humidity is terrible [laughs.] and I am looking at some of the quilts my grandmother made me and looking at the fabric which is just plain old cotton batting is kind of getting bad and they're getting marked from your insects around the area. I think to for the average home it is hard to do that. Just once again there is not room for storage. Luckily, we have a big enough place here that I can have one whole hall linen closet that is filled with my quilts that I have folded which they're not supposed to fold but that's how they are because there is no other room. And I think that's part of how we're going to preserve anything we have.

SW: What has happened to the quilts that you've made or those of family and friends?

EK: My granddaughter I got the first one I made for her I took a handkerchief and had her name embroidered on it they I just did a big Log Cabin around it and that is her first quilt she got for her first birthday. Second birthday I made a quilt for her with I called it a snuggle quilt using flannels and the raggedies and it got real soft as she used it more. And then my daughter said, 'We don't need any quilts, Mother. We're in Hawaii. We have no room, but Mellie loved the handmade pillowcases for her.' The other quilts that I gave one to my son who lives over in Amsterdam. He has it draped in the back of his sofa, and it looks pretty nice I must say but. My sister doesn't need them because she has quilts also that she got from the stash from my grandmother, so she has a whole bunch of stuff. My brother doesn't need it. He doesn't have room. So, I don't know what is going to happen to all these quilts that I have. I just love them myself, it's like my mother-in-law said, she knew she had to place some in the attic, and it just made her feel good to know she had them. [laughs.]

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

EK: Well right now, the challenge is also money. Fabric is not cheap, and I know I have spent some of these quilts are probably worth about $350 by the time I bought the fabrics [and have it machine quilted.]. I go to Goodwill and Salvation Army sometimes to find some clothing where the fabric is still good but lots of time the fabric is so rotten and this is one of the things I have with a quilt where the fabric is just rotting away just from being old fabrics I guess and the dyes they used I and to get them quilted and to do it well is money and a lot of people don't have the money so and they just don't appreciate buying them either and you can't sell them for a very limited market for the amount of money unless you're a very, very, very, very, very good quilter. I went to the Amish quilt show up in Pennsylvania people are willing to pay $1000 for a quilter's name and a handmade Amish quilt where there are very few women who can sell any of their work.

SW: I'd like to talk a little bit about the quilt that you brought to share with us because it reflects your life. I'd like for you to tell us about some of the squares that you've included on this quilt.

EK: Well, let me start off first of all I went through, and these are mainly patterns that I got from a calendar of every day, and I was looking for parts of my life I wanted my children and ancestors. This goes back to my interest in genealogy and the reason why I am in the DAR. We were living in Panama, and I met a woman who was from Iowa. She was in the DAR, and she said Eve, no body's going to be able to know about your family. You were born in Pennsylvania, your husband was born in Illinois, you got married in Texas, your children are born in Japan, and you don't have a current address because we were in the military for thirty some years. She said you've got to get this written down. [laughs.] And I kept on looking and looking and that is how I wound up finding my ancestors were here in 1755 is the earliest written thing we have so heaven knows of I never knew this. [laughs.] So, this one quilt tells about me, very selfish, it's me. Not the family, it's me. So, this is starting out with I was born in 1939 and as I said this is what I have done is on the back of the quilt I do have a pattern and a diagram of telling what each square means. And the first one is called A Century of Progress. And I said what a great experience to see new decades, a new century and a millennium coming into my lifetime. You know this is the big thing when 2000 came in it was big everybody going to think the world was going to end. The next one is Children's Delight, and this was born by my sister, and me and my brother so we have the pinks and the blues for us and the yellow to go with it. This is Philadelphia Pavement which is interesting of how you have these squares that could fit in my life because I grew up in Philadelphia and this is the red brick for the color of a lot of the houses and the tan for the sidewalks and the green, we lived on a street that had trees that over arched over the street. This is the Flying Dutchman this is my college career. I went to college [movement noise.] [two years to Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.] the college mascot is the Flying Dutchman, and their colors were blue and white and then I went my last two years and got my degree in occupational therapy at Richmond Professional Institute [Colleges of William and Mary now Virginia Commonwealth University.] and their colors are green and white so that's why I put this in here. The red border signifies the University of Oklahoma which is red and white and that's where I got my master's degree so just this one piece tells me all about my education. This is Variations on a Theme, and I am looking at it and this quilt I made a couple of years ago and now I say, 'Oh my Lord, the points aren't meeting perfectly.' But this is Variations on a Theme, I grew up in a musical family, my mother and sister are music teachers. I played in symphony orchestras all my life, but I just go to concerts, and operas and stuff but I enjoy classical music. So that's what this one is. And then I go over to the top here of the Army Star that's the name of the quilt. I had this center embroidered. This is the Army Medical Specialists Corp insignia, that's what I was in. This is the Army seal over here and the color for the medical department is maroon that is why we have the maroon up in here. I met my husband in the service and we spent over 32 years traveling around the world. I got married in 1968. I have to keep on looking at my dates because to me I got married the Friday of Thanksgiving. I keep on forgetting the date of it. So I use my computer printer and I printed out our wedding invitation here and then this is the Amish Wedding Ring pattern, which was one of the interesting, once again it's a learning thing to get these little points of the triangles that didn't meet right in the middle [inaudible.], still learning how to fit everything in. This is Trip Around the World, when we traveled, I've been to every United States state and over 50 different countries in our travels. This is Airplanes it's called, signifying my love for flying. I have the FAA license of a certified flight instructor for both instruments and for single and multi-engine airplanes. I don't do any flying now but one of the things I used to do was to teach flying. There are not very many women that actually had achieved the level that I had reached in competence but I had children and a family so I really couldn't join the airlines at the time, but that's what this one is. Up at the top again is Hens and Chicks [noise from moving.] [laughs.] I have two children- a daughter, Victoria, and a son, Shane, so we have the pink and blue and these are my children and then the grandchildren the little ones around here. This is Corn and Beans our second home is up in Illinois and it's called the Kerr Corner Farm and we just celebrated the hundredth year of being a family farm up there, so I thought this is kind of appropriate to find this corn and beans pattern. This is Texas Treasures piece and I spent 6 of my 9 years in the army at Brooke Army Medical Center and then we were married in Texas and now we live in Corpus Christi, so I am a Texan now. This one is Ocean Waves. I wound up being a swimming instructor and doing a lot of swimming and I just need to be by the water. That is one of the reasons we live out in Padre Island in Corpus Christi. And this last one is called Crow's Feet. And I [laughs.] heard about this one [noise from moving.] when women did a whole quilt with this pattern for somebody who was retiring, and I said these are laugh lines that you see in my face they are not crow's feet, but this is the last one I did so. And I said on the back of the quilt is the pattern of a diagram and telling what each one of these were because someone looking at it might say, 'My Lord, what does all that mean?' But I say once again, this is me and this is what I think is important and what I want my family to remember about me. That's it.

SW: Evelyn, is there anything you would like to add to this interview?

EK: Nope, I am glad you came. [laughs.] Once again I am not a famous quilter. I don't do quilting. I just do it for fun.

SW: I would like to thank Evelyn Kerr for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Our interview concluded at 11:04 a.m. on January 22, 2009. Thank you Evelyn.


“Evelyn Kerr,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2003.