Sandy Bryant




Sandy Bryant




Sandy Bryant


Amy Tetlow Smith

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Fair Hill, Maryland


Amy Tetlow Smith


Amy Tetlow Smith (ATS): This is Amy Tetlow Smith. It's 11:00 on July 29th, 2003. I'm conducting an interview with Sandy Bryant for the Quilters' S.O.S. project and we are in Fair Hill, Maryland. Welcome, Sandy.

Sandy Bryant (SB): Thank you, Amy.

ATS: What I'd like first is for you to tell me about the quilt you have here today.

SB: Well, it's what they commonly call a Baltimore Album quilt. It was a copy of patterns from quilts that were made from about 1840 to 1870 in Baltimore, Maryland. And they used a lot of red and green fabrics, so I did mine in red and green also.

ATS: When did you get interested in Baltimore Albums?

SB: Oh, probably the late 1980s. I took a year-long class from Madge Zeigler in '88 and made an appliqué quilt, but not particularly a Baltimore quilt. And when I saw this advertised class in 1991 with Mimi Dietrich, I said, 'I have to do it.'

ATS: So, can you tell me about the techniques you used for this? It's an appliqué quilt.

SB: Well, we met once a month for a whole year and we made one block each month. Each month we learned a new technique. We started out by using the cut-work technique, which is very basic and very easy. The second month we did the same thing, cutwork, just a little more intricate. Then we learned reverse appliqué where the background fabric is underneath and you cut the top fabric back to show the fabric underneath. We did ruched roses, folded buds. We did perfect circles. I'm trying to think what else. And when we got on down toward the end, it was do your own thing. By then we had learned most of the techniques and I started choosing patterns that had a particular interest to me.

ATS: Now did you quilt--you said you took the appliqué class from Madge in '88. Did you quilt before that?

SB: Yes. I started in 1981. I took a class from Teddi Tryon, in Northeast, Maryland and made a six-block sampler, all by hand. I quilted it in eight days and knew I was hooked on quilting. And had to wait through Christmas to get my quilt friends together and go buy fabric and pick a pattern for a new quilt. And I made a queen-sized Dresden Plate and completed it in five months. It was in quilt show in early June of that same year. I was really hooked. [laughs.]

ATS: Just a regular machine. [laughter.] Now this is hand appliquéd and hand quilted, as well.

SB: That's what I love.

ATS: You prefer the handwork. Do you ever do machine piecing or machine quilting?

SB: I have done a couple of table runners and small quilts on the machine, and I do not like that technique. It is never precise enough for me and I don't like the noise from the machine all the time. I get enjoyment out of sitting back and relaxing, stitching quietly. I really prefer hand.

ATS: Thinking back, what is your first quilt memory?

SB: Probably just old, scrappy quilts at relatives houses that were, you know, leftovers. Real utilitarian quilts. Not too pretty but made just to keep people warm during the winter. Both of my grandmothers made tied quilts out of scraps and my Father's Mother made some of them out of wool. My Dad used to point out some of the fabrics that were hand-me-down suits from his brothers. Since he was a baby, they were then cut up and made into quilts. And some were very ugly and scrappy. When I married my husband's family came from Maine and they have some beautiful old quilts from there. And then I really started to look at them and appreciate them.

ATS: So where did you grow up?

SB: Lynchburg, Virginia.

ATS: How does your quilt making affect your family?

SB: Oh my gosh. That's a big question. For my kids [ SB has two grown sons.], I started quilting when they were probably fourth grade to seventh grade. And I was always stitching. Always sitting in the evening, they're watching TV and I'm stitching. And I guess when my older son was a teenager, his friends used to come for basketball or whatever, and they'd say, 'Well, what are you making now?' And I realized these kids were watching me. Later I found out that my kids were bragging, 'My mom makes quilts.' And they would tell me that everybody else slept under bedspreads and blankets, and they slept under quilts.

ATS: That was a point of honor.

SB: I guess so. [laughter.] And I realize they also take care of them because they'd say to their friends, 'Don't sit on there with those dirty jeans. My mom made that.' I thought that was interesting. As far as vacations, whenever we see a quilt shop, my husband knows to stop for me to go in and browse.

ATS: So, they think it's neat and--

SB: They do.

ATS: What do you do with the quilts that you make? I see a lot of them here.

SB: I didn't even begin to show you all of them. [laughter.] They're everywhere. Oh, well, let's see. My mom has them on her guest room bed and several wall hangings. I have made them for wedding presents for some of our friend's kids when they got married. My sister has several wall hangings and sister-in-law has a small one hanging in her classroom.

ATS: Have you ever sold any?

SB: Yes. Well, I made one for somebody once. And decided that five dollars an hour. (I could work at McDonalds for $5/hour.) I decided that I would not do that again. Plus, I missed ever seeing the quilt again after it was finished. When you make a quilt, it becomes part of you. When you give it away to a friend or relative, you can always go to visit it again. I also hand quilted a top that was made by a woman's grandmother. It was beautiful and I felt sorry that the lady died before she ever had time to finish it. I have also made them for church bazaars.

ATS: What is your favorite part about quilt making?

SB: Probably the actual appliqué. The actual stitching. Setting it up--the hardest part is picking the colors. But when I get in the chair and sit down and actually start stitching and watching it unfold, that's my favorite part.

ATS: Do you do all appliqué quilts now? Do you do anything besides appliqué quilts?

SB: Yes. Even though I do enjoy piecing quilts, and I keep thinking, I'm going to go and piece a quilt someday soon. But it is the thing I love.

ATS: What is your least favorite part?

SB: The picking of the colors.

ATS: Picking the colors? [laughter.]

SB: It's the hardest.

ATS: That is hard. [laughs.] What do you think makes a great quilt?

SB: I guess first is the overall visual view of it, first. Pleasing to the eye and catches your attention. After that, it's the workmanship--if it's precise, not sloppily made.

ATS: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

SB: Patience.

ATS: Yes. [laughter.]

SB: When you think of great quiltmakers, they're the ones that are published and make the award-winning quilts that are in all the big shows that everybody knows about. But, you know, sometimes you meet people in classes that have just done gorgeous work. They just never get out there in the public eye and get the recognition. They are great quiltmakers too.

ATS: How would you recommend a person interested in learning to make quilts get started?

SB: Go to your local quilt shop and take lessons. If you get a real good base start, then you can go anywhere with your quilting. But if you haven't established the base of putting the quilt together correctly, it is difficult to add on with other techniques.

ATS: What is the basic of good quilting?

SB: I think everybody should know both hand and machine techniques. They can sometimes become interchangeable, and machine is always faster. There are times that you will need a quick project and the machine is great for that.

ATS: Now, you teach appliqué. Do you enjoy that?

SB: I love it.

ATS: You are now formally retired except from teaching?

SB: Yes. Except from teaching.

ATS: How much do you teach a year?

SB: Oh gosh. I teach two Baltimore album classes and a graduate appliqué class per month all year long. I teach an all-day class in Celtic appliqué about 4 times per year. And I teach a two-week class in intro to appliqué about four times a year.

ATS: Do you foresee yourself tiring from that in the near future?

SB: Not really. As long as people want to learn, I'll be there to do it.

ATS: Do you still enjoy taking classes?

SB: I love it.

ATS: Going to learn forever?

SB: Yes. Each teacher has new or different ways of doing things and, you know, why stick your head in a whole and never learn anything new. That's what keeps your mind sharp.

ATS: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

SB: Yes.

ATS: What was it that helped you?

SB: Well, one in particular I can think of was when my father was dying with cancer. I was making a wall hanging with all Santa faces on it. It made me smile while working on it and my dad enjoyed looking at it as I worked. It made him feel cheery also. And there is something about the act of quilting, stitching I should say, that is like stroking me. It just eases and sometimes gives frustrations, anger, sorrow, or any emotion a place for all that energy to go--into your hands and fingers. It's good for you. If I don't stitch every day, then I feel like something is missing at the end of the day.

ATS: So, how many hours a day do you usually quilt?

SB: It's hard to say. If it's a real good day, especially in the winter, I could probably get in a good six to eight hours. I always stitch in the morning when I get up. At seven o'clock I get up and drink coffee, watch the news and stitch for at least an hour. If I get a chance in the afternoon, I stitch then too. And I always stitch in the evening when I am home. I cannot just sit and watch TV. I have to have a needle in my hand.

ATS: I wish I had that time.

SB: You will when your son is grown. [laughing.]

ATS: In what way do your quilts reflect either your community or this region?

SB: Well, the region probably because this is so close to Baltimore, and it is fun to be able to go down to the Historical Society and see the antique Baltimore quilts. And I have used some of the patterns from those quilts to make my own quilts.

ATS: And that's the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore?

SB: Yes. It has the best collection of Baltimore Album quilts. I have made some Amish wall hangings and it's great being so close to the Lancaster area also.

ATS: This may be a silly question, where do you get your fabrics? [laughter.]

SB: Well, pre-Quilter's Hive, I used to get them in the local shops, you know, Middletown [Delaware.], Hockessin [Delaware.], and those are all out of business now, and Lancaster [Pennsylvania]. And in my hometown, there is a quilt shop there that I sometimes visit. When we opened our own shop in Newark, Delaware, I never shopped anywhere else. [laughing.]

ATS: Can you tell me a little bit about how you all got together and open the shop?

SB: Well, five of us have been really good friend for probably 25 years at that time. The others, Gail Bush came into the area later. The five of us had a little business where we basted quilts. We got together once a month to baste, eat, laugh and catch up on our busy lives. One day in August 1997, we were working on a raffle quilt for Ladybugs [a local guild.] and someone said, 'You know, we ought to open our own shop.' And somebody said, 'Yes, we should,' and the first thing we knew, we were talking about getting money and how to proceed with this idea. We were all so excited.

ATS: Had your business plan already. [laughter.]

SB: I flew home, said to my husband, Tim, 'Sit down. I have to tell you something. What do you think about us opening a shop?' This was August. He said, 'Great. Go for it.' So, we got together several times during the next few days and kept the ideas running. The next week I had called the University of Delaware and set us up for classes with the small business association, How to Start a Small Business. We took our husbands and listened to lectures by lawyers and accountants. We kept taking the next step and before we knew it, we were signing on the dotted line of a lease for the next five years.

ATS: So, the other six are?

SB: Joan Berwick, Gail Milburn, Joan Hobbs, Jeanette Pie, Gail Bush, and Leona Pancoast.

ATS: How many months did it take you from first day until opening?

SB: That first day was August 13th of 1997 and we opened the store on the 19th of January of 1998. So, it took about five months. During that time, we had been to Houston to Quilt Market and purchased the items needed to open the doors. We had signed the lease and became incorporated with the help of an attorney. And we had our investors and their money and the approval of all of our friends and family.

ATS: So that first day I went in, and you helped me pick out those fabrics, you guys couldn't have been open very long.

SB: Probably not. [laughing.] We were so excited. And it was a family affair. We took possession of the building on January 1st. On the 2nd we came in there with the truck full of all the collected fabric, notions, books, and the cabinets in pieces. Steve Bush made all the cabinets and we had worked all fall sanding, staining, and the varnishing them in Joan Berwick's garage. All of the husbands and kids were there to help unload and put the cabinets together. We had our crock pots full of chili and sat on the floor that evening eating and drinking champagne. And the next morning we got to work.

ATS: That's wonderful! [laughter.] That's a wonderful story. Let's see, I have another question for you. What ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women throughout history and even today in America?

SB: Well, number one they needed to keep their family warm. That was the original reason for making quilts and they used the old scraps of fabric to make them. When thinking of the Baltimore Quilts, they were fancier than traditional quilts had been. They were made by the middleclass women who had more time and money to pursue a hobby.

ATS: So, differentiating there from the utilitarian?

SB: Exactly. They were well preserved because they weren't used for every day. They were just put out when special company came for a visit. So that's why they remain in such good shape and are so valuable. There was a group of women in Baltimore from 1840-1860 that made these quilts. At least one of them was an artist that probably made the patterns for the blocks and the other women all stitched them. The biggest port in the U.S. was Baltimore and they had access to the imported fabric from all over the world. Fabrics were purchased for these quilts. Very little were scraps from around the house. They were making these quilts for wedding presents and gifts. These were middle class women who probably had more leisure time to spend making quilts. Did I answer that?

ATS: Sure.

SB: Okay, [laughing.] good.

ATS: So, you are following that pattern of giving your quilts to your family.

SB: Right.

ATS: Are there any topics that you want to bring up that you haven't talked about? Are there any particular blocks in the quilt that you want to show me and talk about? A favorite or one that means something special to you?

SB: I love the fleur-de-lis. That was the first one. And I particularly chose the Christmas cactus block because I just love Christmas cactus. And thought this is the fleur-de-lis. [SB points to the block.]

ATS: Where's the Christmas cactus? [a pause while SB and ATS look at the quilt.] There it is.

SB: And I guess from the first time I saw that block, I had to make that. I can't really say any other one in particular was a favorite. They all were. We had at least two different patterns to pick from each month, so I only made blocks that I liked. And I love reverse appliqué, so I liked making that one.

ATS: Thank you very much.

SB: You're welcome.

ATS: We appreciate your time.

SB: Good.

ATS: It's about 11:25 and we are in Fair Hill, Maryland. This is Amy Tetlow Smith for Quilters' S.O.S. This is tape UDEL-005. Interviewing Sandy Bryant.



“Sandy Bryant,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,