Arlene Favreau-Pysher




Arlene Favreau-Pysher




Arlene Favreau-Pysher


Amy Tetlow Smith

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Newark, Delaware


Amy Tetlow Smith


Amy Tetlow Smith (ATS): This is Amy Tetlow Smith, and I am in Newark, Delaware on January 9, 2004, to interview Arlene Favreau-Pysher for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories and this is interview number UDEL-007. Hi Arlene.

Arlene Favreau-Pysher (AFP): Hi. How are you doing Amy?

ATS: I'm doing just fine. What I would like to start off with is for you to tell us about the quilt that you have here today?

AFP: Well, the quilt is, for me, a beginner quilt that Joan Hobbs taught at The Quilter's Hive. At that time my husband had cancer and was having renal failure and had been in the hospital for quite a few months. My sister had said to me, 'Come on, let's get out and do a quilt.' And so we had gone to do, you know, a Friday night quilt but I had never really finished that one. So, I should say, this is my first completed quilt. I found I really enjoyed quilting. I took Joan's beginner's class. I called it "The Healing Quilt" and for me it was a very spiritual journey. With Glen being so sick and the struggles that both of us had been involved in, as newlyweds--we were only married six months and here he was having almost died a few times. Since I'm a pastor, the significance of the colors were white for wholeness and healing and then I saw--

ATS: The white bars?

AFP: Yes, the white and there are some tan bars. I believe the pattern is actually called split rail?

ATS: I think so.

AFP: Yes.

ATS: This was Joan's class?

AFP: Joan Hobbs' class, yes. So that's why I positioned the white right in the center of the quilt because that's what I saw as where we are in all of our life journey, trying to go to wholeness. Wholeness both spiritually and emotionally. And in that travel, there's a lot of suffering and that's what the red was about. And sometimes that suffering took on a very dark ominous look to it and feel to it. So that is why the black bars. And as I was quilting this, my husband and I had talked about this quilt, and we realized this for us was "The Healing Quilt." Glen would often say to me, 'Hurry up, Honey, please finish the quilt so that I can be healed.' And when he went into the ICU unit, with another near-death experience, I would sit in the ICU unit next to him and I would be quilting the binding at that point. And then I would cover him up in this little wall hanging. And I think we both sort of felt a comfort in knowing that he was under The Healing Quilt. And that sometimes healing may not happen physically, but it could happen spiritually. So, as Glen struggled wondering why he was where he was and why he was suffering so. He was able finally to come home. He never got totally back on his feet. And about a year later he had passed away. But he had come to that healing point because at the very end he said he was now ready to go home, to go home to his Lord. And that for me was what the healing was all about for him and I.

ATS: That's wonderful. So, you carefully picked the fabrics for this.

AFP: Yes. I started with the outside border. But you know it's funny. It was one of those days, I came out of the hospital, had to pick the material, wondered why in the world I signed up for this class in the first place because everything fell apart for us. And you know I look at it and say, 'Boy, the black, there is a lot of black in the border.' [laughing.] And it surprised me. Then going in from the black to other colors in the inside where there is a lot of rose and then the white and the lighter colors, and I found that, indeed, it had a lot of symbolism for me. It was what I was feeling that day. And in the midst of all the darkness there is always some hope.

ATS: Now you have it hanging here in the family room. Is this where it has always hung?

AFP: Yes. At one time, this is the room in which Glen, and I spent the most time. We have a big picture window. He was able to watch the birds. He didn't have a whole lot of mobility. So, this became his favorite room and I had it hanging over this little cedar chest that my first husband's grandfather made, a hope chest for his daughter when she got married. And it was nice that way, but I found that because of the sun it was very easy for it to get bleached out. So, I had a blacksmith, Michael Walker, make me a frame to hang the quilt. And I said to him, 'I love curves,' and also the grapes meant a lot to me because of the symbolism as a pastor. And so, he had come one day with two types of grape leaf. He said he called it the fall leaf, which was more crumply and curlier, and the summer which was wide and spread out. I found that I liked them both because, again, that's life. Not everything is all summer, all fall, but it went in with the theme. So, he made this quilt frame for me. And then I've hung it here and just really always enjoyed it here.

ATS: It is a wonderful combination. You said this was the first quilt that you had finished.

AFP: Finished. Yes.

ATS: How old were you when you started quilting.

AFP: Oh, I started in the year 2000, so I was 55 years old.

ATS: So, did you start the first one with your sister?

AFP: Yes. We did the "Wilderness Quilt." It was a Friday night from 6 to midnight. We worked it so someone could be with Glen; and when he was sleeping, he was there in the hospital being taken care of. It was a way to get out.

ATS: When you were working on your very first one, too, the one you didn't finish, was also when Glen was sick?

AFP: Yes, oh yes. And the reason this started is because Glen was sick and my sister said, 'You need to get out of this hospital.'

ATS: Your sister saw this quilting as a healing?

AFP: Yes, and it's funny because for me I'm into traditional rug hooking, I do some weaving and spinning and all that, and one of the things I had decided I was not going to do was quilting. You know I made this decision just a couple years earlier even though quilting had always fascinated me. I have way too many projects here. And then I got hooked on it and after that I was doing all the hand appliqué and that's what I've done after that. I've done a lot of hand appliqué. I've done some more piecing, and I've given them away as gifts. But I still work on hand appliqué the most.

ATS: Now this piece is it mostly machine done?

AFP: It is all machine done. And the quilting on it was stitch in the ditch and I wanted to do hand quilting in the borders and all that, but Joan reminded me, that it was real important that I just finish it. And she was very right. I needed to have something completed, not another project waiting to be completed. So, that's when I put the binding on to complete the project. And didn't even realize how much it meant to Glen, until I was almost finished.

ATS: You said that you had consciously decided not to quilt.

AFP: Yes.

ATS: Going back in your mind, what is your first memory of quilts? You made this decision not to.

AFP: I think the first memory was that there was a lot of precision, mathematical cutting and piecing which was one of the reasons I decided not to. And also, there's a lot of accumulation of material [laughing.] and other tools. But what attracted me to quilting was always the color and the designs, which is what attracts me to any of the handwork that I do. I just love color. I love learning, love trying new things. So, I find I'm pretty consistent across the board in learning. I love to learn.

ATS: So, to learn how to quilt you took classes. Is that how you've approached your other projects, your weaving, your hooking and that type of thing?

AFP: Yes.

ATS: You're not a self-taught?

AFP: No.

ATS: You say now that you like the hand appliqué very much. Is there something about the machine versus hand that, or is it just the product or the process?

AFP: I think it is both. I've always liked hand sewing. Even when I was a young girl, I liked working with my hands more than on the sewing machine. I learned early how to do counted cross stitch and embroidery, to crotchet and to knit. My mother taught me these things, so I whip up things pretty good with my hands. And I just found that I liked to sit and feel. I really like feeling the fibers, so I like the cotton. I like 100% wool. I'm more of a purist in many ways. When I do the traditional rug hooking, I like the 100% wool as opposed to using other synthetic kinds of material.

ATS: So, your mother taught you.

AFP: How to sew, how to crotchet, yes, and knitting.

ATS: Did she ever do any quilting?

AFP: No. She never did. I inquired with some of my cousins, and it seems that my grandmother did a little bit of quilting, and she did some weaving. But there is nothing left in the family of it. And basically, it was very straight forward. They said just something utilitarian to keep them warm.

ATS: Now did your sister quilt before she got you to take the class?

AFP: No.

ATS: That was her first experience, too?

AFP: That was her first experience. She thought it would be a great idea to de-stress me.

ATS: Now, when you are quilting what is it that you find most pleasing?

AFP: I like, when I do hand appliqué, I love having points that come to a nice point. I love the small stitches, the precision. That's something I've always liked. I don't like making mistakes. I hate tearing apart and redoing, but I guess in some ways that becomes my perfectionism. If you notice even in my first quilt, my points, the corners, are all real good [laughing.].

ATS: They are.

AFP: They really are. [laughing.] They really, really are. And I have an eye, and good hand ability to do that and I even taught my sister-in-law how to quilt. I went to go to a quilt shop near her home in Connecticut and she got interested. So, we did a little nine-patch, and we actually pieced it by hand. So that was the first self-taught and teaching her at the same time and that was really fun to do. So, she has a little wall hanging. It came out really quite nice.

ATS: That's wonderful. So, you are passing along the knowledge now.

AFP: Yes.

ATS: Are there any aspects of quilting that you really don't enjoy?

AFP: I think the cutting, when I'm doing machine piecing, and all that. I have a hard time sometimes trying to figure out how much I'm supposed to cut, how to square things off. Where with hand appliqué, you can draw it on and needle turn. That's one of the things that I enjoy doing is needle turning instead of all those little steps. So, I guess sometimes the prep work is part of the process and I've learned to enjoy it, but it would be the more stressful part of the process.

ATS: Are you good at finishing projects or do you have a lot of unfinished?

AFP: I've got a lot of unfinished because I like to learn. I find colors, and designs thrill me. And so, I 'm starting a lot of new projects because of that. Then I see something else. I find that every ten years I get quite a few projects done. [laughter.] So, I work at it slowly.

ATS: But you're still in your first ten years of quilting.

AFP: That's right. But I do have a few done. I have a wall hanging for my grandson that was done; my granddaughter has a little crib quilt that was done. I did my own design for a friend's daughter who was turning 30, a Down's Syndrome girl who loves wrestling. I found all this novelty wrestling material and just made some big squares and did the quilt in the pillow?

ATS: A quillow?

AFP: Yes, the quillow. And so that's some projects that I have done. I have done a few. I've finished more in my quilting projects than most other things!

ATS: It sounds that way. What do you think makes a great quilt, or a quilt great?

AFP: Color, I think. How the colors interact and give vibrancy and life to the quilt. And then the workmanship, also. I like seeing nice workmanship especially the quilting on the top. So, I guess it's the three things: first, color, that's what will grab me first, the color, then the design, then the workmanship.

ATS: What do you think makes a quiltmaker great?

AFP: I think probably her spirit to always keep on wanting to learn. And to get better.

ATS: Like you.

AFP: Yes, I guess so. I never thought of that [laughter.].

ATS: Is quilting still very important in your life?

AFP: Oh, very much so.

ATS: You have many of these other projects going on, too.

AFP: I know. But I find that the quilting is one of the primary things that I'm doing. You know I've even set up a room for it so I can make the workspace easier to use. So, yes, it's very much a part of me.

ATS: What is the most important part of it to you?

AFP: Creating. I love to create.

ATS: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect your community?

AFP: You know, I never thought about that. What I see is that it's the people. And the fact that we come together. That's why I still take classes. Not so much that I need to learn a technique, or putting colors together as much, but I find that the camaraderie is really important so that the quilts that we share is a communal thing. Someone may suggest something, or you may see something in someone else's quilt, and you incorporate it in your own. When I took the wilderness quilt class, I had some interesting fabric for the moon and the people loved it. So, I took my fabric and cut out moons for them so that they, too, could have this-instead of the flat yellow. Quilts show sharing and the people that are involved in my life.

ATS: What do you think about the importance of quilts and quilt making in American life or in American history?

AFP: Well, I think it has a story to tell. You know I am working on my Baltimore album and the first class was on 9-11.

ATS: You were in that class.

AFP: Mhm. And so that very first block will have a story to tell. And I still am trying to figure out the motif of that middle portion that is symbolizing 9-11 whether I will put an apple with 9-11, symbolizing New York City on 9-11. I'm not sure. Or putting 'love' and '9-11' over the words. I'm not quite sure yet. I've got a couple of things in mind, but I look at some of the quilts made during the Civil War and they history behind it—the stories. I think stories are fascinating. You know it's like in my harp. I love the stories of how the songs were created. And I love the stories of the quilts and how they were created and why they were created. I remember the stories of the women on that day and why we still came to class. One was in the army, and she still came because she needed to be with others on that day. And I know I needed to be with others. So, there are powerful life events that happen within a story. One of the gals in our group had just gotten married the same time as my husband and I had been married, and in her Baltimore, album square she put the bride and the groom symbolizing their wedding, so there's reasons. Another one worked for the government and so she had the ships, and she had the flag of the state government where she worked. There are stories always within the quilts.

ATS: How do you think that quilts can be used?

AFP: The sky's the limit. I think that they can be used for decorating our homes, and for keeping us warm. To share, when people are hurting, whether we knit a shawl to wrap around an abused woman or whether we give her a quilt. Or our grandchildren, you know, this is the quilt made out of love by grandma. I think there's a lot of uses we can put them on display so others can enjoy the beauty and see what people are still about. I think, too, it's the connection we have with those before us that used to hand sew; or when the sewing machines came out and they started piecing it. For me it's never an action done only by itself. It goes back into time with our forbearers, our mothers that used to do this.

ATS: Do you think quilt making has a special meaning particularly for women in history?

AFP: Yes, for example women making old Victorian quilts and the crazy quilts … here the patterns, and everything at that time had a certain set way of doing things, much like society. And then women started emerging, creating, being more daring. So, you see that freedom for women played out in their quilt patterns. It was the way they express themselves. Also, the ingenuity, they can create something out of nothing. That always amazed me, even in traditional rug hooking, the early pattern designs used pieces of charcoal out of the fireplace on the old grain bags, and the family's woolen items that were cut into strips to hook. They found ways to make their lives more beautiful. And that develops as time goes on. Sometimes from very restrained expression, because society said this is the way to do something--to being very bold and daring in the patterns. Look at some of the contemporary quilts. You look at them and go, 'Ah, how did they do this.' And to be able to use their creative juices that way!

ATS: What has happened to quilts you have given to friends and family?

AFP: I find that they really like them. They like to snuggle under them which is really neat. My granddaughter has hers. Now she's progressed on to a twin bed and it's still there on the twin bed. She just really enjoys it. I did one that was a wall hanging for my grandson and I'm realizing that wall hangings have a place but more and more I'm looking at doing things that they can wrap themselves in, enjoy them and use them. Not just look at them. And I did do one when I was in the hospital with cutwork and hand appliqué and then started doing a lot of embellishments on it and that became a little wall hanging for my family. And it was fun figuring out how to do different embellishments for this wall hanging. I brought it to other groups-my knitting group and there's a woman there who does dolls, and she gave me some ideas of how she works with dolls and creates images and how you can create an illusion of the person you are trying to replicate in your quilt. So, it was again that shared experience and knowledge that we bring together.

ATS: When you quilt do you prefer to quilt with groups or by yourself?

AFP: Because right now I'm single, for me it's an opportunity to socialize. But I do like also to just sit and quilt quietly because I need my solitude as well. So, it's a balance, to tell you the truth.

ATS: Can you think of any other topics that we should talk about?

AFP: Maybe the quilt that I did for my son and his fiancée, who is Korean because that one was really exciting for me. That was for me even going more outside the line of following a set pattern, to create and do it a little bit different. And that's what I find happens with me. As I'm doing things, I learn the basic then I start wanting to go beyond that comfort envelope. It was a pattern that was taken from a woman in South Korea in the 16th century who did silk screening to decorate her family home. And they have converted many of her silk-screening patterns to quilt patterns. And I had taken that pattern and combined a few different kinds of elements and did hand appliqué, and stuffing, and embellishments for their wedding. And then another one was the garden gate one that you've seen me work on. And I have the blacksmith who did the quilt frame, and my railing also came, and he finished my stone wall for me. And I found some material and found this book "The Enchanted View" where we look through wrought iron fences. And I studied that and created my own design of a fence looking at a garden with a cat that he has in his home and the stone wall around the flowers. That's been real exciting. And that is my thank you to him.

ATS: So, do you find the hand appliqué is more flexible and allows you to express yourself better?

AFP: To me it is. When I have to do machine piecing it has to be very accurate and I have not felt confident to try to go beyond very simple blocks like the one I made the quillow. That was my own design, but it was very, very simple, you know 12-inch squares and just really tried to keep it simple. I find that I have more freedom to express myself when I hand appliqué. I can fussy cut. I can do embellishments in different ways and give different dimensions by the way I cut my material. I've done some stenciling on material and worked on that to give it shading on the material to make it look more like a vase or a tablecloth hanging over a table with oil pastel crayons-craypas. And that's been a lot of fun. So, I've done a little bit of that. My world is opening up to me and it's exciting. That's why I say I have a lot of unfinished projects; I do a little here and a little there before I get.

ATS: Are you going to have enough time to finish everything?

AFP: Oh, I'm afraid not [laughing.].

ATS: Well, thank you very much.

AFP: You are welcome.

ATS: Again, this is Amy Tetlow Smith with Arlene Favreau-Pysher, and this is UDEL-007.



“Arlene Favreau-Pysher,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,