Dorothy Orr



Dorothy Orr




Dorothy Orr


Amy Tetlow Smith

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Wilmington, Delaware


Shira Walny


Amy Tetlow Smith (AS): This is Amy Tetlow Smith. It is about 10:15 on February 10th, 2004. I am conducting an interview for the Quilters' S.O.S. [- Save Our Stories.] project with Dorothy Orr in Wilmington, Delaware and Rory Miller is here to help with the interview and Queen Elizabeth Powell is here to help be interviewed. [laughs.] Dorothy, the first thing I'd like to ask you about is could you tell us about the family reunion quilt that you have out to show us today?

Dorothy Orr (DO): Well, I've made so many quilts and I don't know where I got the idea to make a quilt with pictures on it. My son knew how to do it and he made the squares for me, well he made the pictures, the material.

AS: He put the photographs on the material?

DO: Yes. And then I did the quilt and actually it's really a lot of fun when you look back through the years, looking at all the family pictures and everything and it's just like you're living it all over again because some of the pictures are from a previous family reunion.

AS: So how many--I figure you have four copland willis.

DO: Yes, okay, that's all of those were family and my mother--in-law was married three times and so that's why the quilts--

AS: So, all three of the names. Who else--can you tell us about some of the people in the photographs? Who is the woman in the top right there with all the names?

DO: Okay, that's Annie Lee Glover and that, my husband James, his name is JD and I just say "Jay."

AS: Okay, Jay.

DO: And that's one of his older sisters.

AS: One of your husband's older sisters?

DO: Yes, and that's his youngest sister right there, Thelma Bush.

AS: Right next to the names--

DO: Right next to me and him. [inaudible background discussion.] No that's my husband and her. That's Thelma and Jay.

AS: That's Thelma and Jay?

DO: Yes, and that's Thelma and their mother. And that's Jay and me.

AS: Okay, and is this, Thelma?

DO: Yes, and this is Retha, his sister too.

AS: Okay, we're going to pause the tape for the telephone. [tape stops and starts.] So, you were telling us about the women in the older photograph. Those are your husband's brothers, sisters.

DO: Yes, sisters.

AS: And then the section of the quilt in the gold border.

DO: This is his brother; this is the oldest picture of the brother I have of him. He has other brothers, but I don't have their pictures, and this is their two kids and his wife. This is Richard, Rosa, Dot, and Dean. But her name is Richardean, named after her dad.

AS: Now did all of these people come to the reunion in 2003?

DO: No.

AS: Well, the younger ones I mean.

DO: Oh, the younger ones? Yes. Now this is Dot, Rosa, and Dean. These two little kids. And this is Dean's--

AS: Oh, and I see the leaves have the names of the, oh, that's really nicely done. Now who did this corner?

DO: Dot.

AS: Dot did.

DO: Her name is Dorothy Orr White.

AS: But a different Dorothy, there's more than one Dorothy Orr at this point?

DO: We've got four.

AS: You've got four? [laughs.]

DO: I've got a picture of all four of us together too.

AS: I like how the leaves are on the tree with all of the names.

DO: She is very artistic. She makes all kinds of things. She's into arts and crafts.

AS: She did that top corner, and did you do the leaves here on the tree?

DO: My daughter did that.

AS: Your daughter did that?

DO: My daughter did that, that's her thing.

AS: And are these her children's names?

DO: Yes, and grandchild, her one grandchild, Christian. And now, this is my family here.

AS: Big group picture.

DO: See if we can get them together so we can who is who.

AS: Now is this a picture from the family reunion?

DO: It's not this family reunion, but one family reunion, yes. And he is dead now.

AS: Oh, I'm so sorry. It looks like he was the chef.

DO: He was, he could cook very well, very well.

AS: So how did you get the idea to do the photo quilt?

DO: I'm always thinking and trying to do something different, like when I did the Star of David, my husband made the star for me, made the pattern for me.

AS: So, your husband made the pattern?

DO: Yes. He was a mason, so he knew how to do it. And I did all the quilting and everything. Okay, this is my oldest son, this is Bernard, and this is his granddaughter. And this is his wife. This is my youngest daughter. This is her husband, this is her, well, their son and their daughter. She graduates from Law School this year.

AS: What are you going to do with this quilt when you're finished, I see you're still putting the boarders on here. Will this go on your bed?

DO: No. I thought about putting it on the wall but now I don't have a wall to put it on so it will just be here. I will figure something out eventually but no, it's not going on the bed. I don't want it on the bed. At the park, I had run a string through, and I had it hanging up and so everybody could see it.

AS: Was it at this year's family reunion?

DO: Yes, last year.

AS: Right.

DO: I had it hanging up and it really looked nice, and people could go up and look and see. I asked everybody in the family to send a picture and they didn't so that's why we have so many pictures of us in there because we had to make it, you know, fill it out. This is my oldest grandchild, and this is her mother and father. This is my youngest granddaughter. I had three boys and I had two girls.

AS: The girls look just like their mother.

DO: Really? And that's my husband that's me. This is Bruce's wife. This is Tony's baby, that's Taylor and this is Joi, and this is her mother, Francena and that's Dorothy.

AS: The fourth Dorothy?

DO: Yes. That's the fourth Dorothy. And I don't know what else to tell you. Okay, this is my son that drowned. This is his wife, she died, and this is their daughter and she died within three months of her mother and these two boys are still living, but they are grown.

AS: So, this is a memory quilt for you?

DO: Yes.

AS: How does it make you feel when you work on it?

DO: Well, you're kind of reliving it over. You're kind of reliving your life over again, you think about all the good times and things that you did with these same people and all. I guess this must be, yes, she's my youngest great grandchild. And this is me and Jay; we were going to a Masonic ball because he has his hat on. And Bruce did this. All three of them are Masons so he made that picture himself.

AS: So, Bruce is the one that did all of the photos onto the fabric?

DO: Yes.

AS: When did you first start quilting?

DO: Oh, 1985.

AS: 1985, what motivated you then to quilt?

DO: Well, I retired.

AS: So, something to do when you retired?

DO: Yes, so I went up to the church, they were doing quilting, I went up there and I had never done a quilt except since I was a kid and made little, teeny weenie quilts. I guess you know about, it was little, and I had made a quilt. I had an aunt that did a lot of quilting and I went up to the church and they were making quilts and I looked at one quilt and they had messed it up and I brought it home and took it apart and did it and ever since, I've been quilting. And she has too. She was already there when I went.

AS: So, did you learn from your friends at the church, or did you remember from watching your aunt?

DO: I have sewn all my life. I used to make clothes for the children, and I learned how to make clothes for myself when I was going to school so it was no big deal.

AS: So, you just started making quilts.

DO: Yes.

AS: Now you were telling us that you've made probably a thousand quilts.

DO: At least.

AS: What do you do with those quilts usually?

DO: Well, every once in a while, I'll sell one but mostly I give them away and this past year, I guess the last couple years or so, I made three hundred more than three years ago. Then when the children that was in our church that were graduating from high school, I always gave them a quilt, so I still do. And I wasn't even thinking about them, I said the children in the choir and some of the children have gotten like, two quilts.

AS: The children in the choir got a choir quilt then and graduation quilt?

DO: Yes. And some of them haven't even graduated yet. They graduate this year. Some of them do and some don't and they still, you know, still going. So, I don't know I just enjoy doing it really. And it gives me something to do, and it makes me very tired. We have a tighter bond between the two of us.

AS: And you're referring to Queen Elizabeth Powell here?

DO: Yes.

AS: Do you quilt together regularly?

DO: Yes, we do regular.

Queen Elizabeth Powell (QEP): Yes, we quilt together, and we started at the church, they were tie quilting then.

DO: Yeah, but see, I didn't tie quilt.

QEP: We learned how to, we started tie quilting from the church and the first quilt was made was a block quilt.

DO: That the two of us together made.

QE: I mean quilted.

DO: Yes quilted.

QEP: By hand, not tied quilted. And it was sold to an insurance man, we were so proud of it. We had never made a quilt like that before or had quilted like we are quilting now. I started off but she said she wouldn't have done it like that. I don't see how she does it that quilting so I just stopped I just helped make the tops.

AS: Queen Elizabeth makes tops, and you quilt them?

DO: Well, I make tops too.

AS: You make tops too?

DO: Yes.

DM: It's her specialty our specialty was star quilting but she has made all just a plain piece of material queen size quilts, but the specialty is star quilting.

AS: Dorothy has gone to get one of the star quilts to show us. [tape stops and starts.]

AS: Okay, now you've brought back in the star quilt?

Unidentifiable Person (UP): [due to everyone talking at once it is uncertain which person was talking.] All of them are star.

DO: But they're different materials and so they don't really look the same to me. They look different.

AS: Are these four the graduating seniors are the church this year? Who are these for?

DO: I haven't decided.

AS: That's very pretty. Now which do you like better? Do you like making the tops better or doing the quilting better?

DO: I like doing the quilting better.

AS: You like doing the quilting better? That's a bit crazy. [laughs.] And tell me, I see there's on the memory quilt, on the family reunion quilt, there's a lot of machine work on that but I see a lot of hand work on this.

DO: It's all hand work on this.

AS: This one's all hand work?

DO: Yes.

AS: Which do you like better, the hand work or the machine?

DO: The only time that I ever put machine on it is like, long seams like this.

AS: Long straight--

DO: I haven't even gotten to the point on this to even do the machine. I used to do the adding a long piece on it like that, I'd do the machine, but I don't.

AS: You do everything by hand now?

DO: Yes.

AS: How many hours a week do you usually quilt? Admit it.

DO: I don't know.

UP: Is that on? It's not on is it?

AS: Yes, it is.

DO: I mean I always have less than a week than I usually could.

UP: There's no special hours.

UP: No, whenever we're doing.

UP: She might decide to stay up till 11 o'clock looking at television and quilting. It's just something like that.

AS: You don't have a regular pattern, its just whenever you feel like it?

DO: Yeah. Whenever I'm working on and want to work on it. And the things up here like, if she makes the top, I can do it in two or three days.

AS: Wow. And finish it? Finish the quilting?

DO: Yeah.

AS: I don't work that fast. [laughs.] Have you given quilts to your daughters and your sons?

DO: I don't even know why you asked that. I have given my daughters and sons many quilts. My daughter-in-law, one of them, Bruce's wife, is a Delta, and I made her a Delta quilt. It's red and white and got a great big elephant in the center. I really wanted to show you it because it's red and white checked and it's got white, you know, like this with white and its got this great big elephant in it.

AS: Did you piece the elephant yourself?

DO: No, the lady next door--

UP: Draws very well, I had her to make me, draw it for me on the piecing material and I put it on there.

AS: So, you're recruiting help now from around.

DO: Oh yes. And this is Mrs. Powell's, this is hers. So, she will take it home with her.

AS: I like the strawberries.

DO: Isn't that neat?

UP: My sister gave her that material and I didn't know what to do with it.

AS: So where do you get most of your material?

DO: Greensboro, North Carolina

AS: In North Carolina? Do you make trips down there or do people send it up to you?

DO: I have dozens of [inaudible.]

AS: Ah. The supplier.

[background discussion and laughter between other people.]

UP: Wherever you could get it from.

DO: When I first started, Elizabeth would buy material. Tell her--

QEP: Oh, well, I said that the good ones are on Madison Avenue, and they had a lot of pieces of material very reasonable. And we used to make a lot, we had what's called a bazaar at the church.

AS: With nimble fingers? Everybody [inaudible.]?

QEP: Until they made me angry and then I quit.

AS: And then what do you use as the batting in between? Some of them are very heavy and some of them are much lighter.

DO: Well, what makes the difference is uh, let me show you the batting. [inaudible.]

UP: That's batting.

AS: You have a special supplier for that or do you just--?

DO: Oh, A.C. Moore.

AS: You just go over to A.C. Moore and buy the batting?

DO: A.C. Moore and the thing of it is I get the quarter percent discount coupon out the paper and Elizabeth gets it.

UP: So is mine. I brought that with me.

DO: No, you didn't, you got it from here. And Elizabeth made this.

AS: It's another star.

DO: Yes.

AS: From North Carolina fabrics?

DO: I don't know where I got that fabric from.

QEP: The top is my material and the bottoms her material so some pieces I've had for that have probably came from Goodwill.

AS: Now is this for your bed or is this for someone, are you giving this one away?

QEP: I gave her--

AS: This is a present for Dorothy?

QEP: No, Dorothy's going to give it away to somebody.

AS: Have you decided yet?

DO: No.

AS: No, you haven't decided yet.

DO: Not yet.

QEP: She told me when I gave it to her, 'I'm not going to keep this quilt.'

DO: Well, the thing of it is, I have made so many quilts for me and you can only use so many quilts and so like somebody I'll see, specially, this is not children, these are adults in our church and I'll give them one because like, I'll see that they're doing, working hard in the church and everything and if it's mine, you know I really, really want it and if you're going to give someone something, you give a person something that you want, not something you don't want, not unless they want it. Now if you have something that you don't want and someone wants it, then you can give it to them but if you're going to give a gift, just put it over there, if you're going to give someone a gift and they want it, and you want it, then you give it to them. Because God blesses you more when you give away something that you want, not something you don't want.

AS: What is your first quilt memory?

DO: My first quilt memory is, I must have been about twelve and they were having at a school, the elementary school, they were doing canning and they were doing quilting and, like I said, I made a quilt about that big and so that was--

AS: Two feet across?

DO: No, it wasn't two feet. It was about [laughs.] about like that, is that two feet? Well, yes, I guess it was about two feet. It was a square. And so that was my basic learning how to do a quilt. And then my next quilt that I made was one, like I said, in 1985.

AS: When you retired.

DO: Yes. When I retired because I didn't want to retire but circumstances made me retire so I don't know. You have to do something when you retire. You just can sit. Well let me tell you, I can't. I can't just sit and do nothing. I can't just sit and look at TV all day and I can't just read all day either.

AS: This is something constructive for you to do?

DO: Yes. I do a lot. I'm busy all the time. On Monday mornings, one of the ladies at the, I go to disciple three bible study, and she comes here on Monday mornings, we study, go over our lesson and Monday night we go to bible study and then I'm doing the year bible with, we're going to read the bible, the whole bible in a year, so it's a lot of reading. I'm the treasurer of the United Methodist Women, that's a big job too, I'm busy.

AS: I know the two of you quilt together; do you quilt with any other groups?

DO: No.

AS: The two of you are buy yourself?

DO: Yes.

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

DO: I just went through a difficult time. I'm still going through it. So yes, I guess that is why I've done a lot of quilting. But then I was doing that before my time got difficult too, like I said. When I first started--

AS: This has always gone along as part of your life since you retired?

DO: Yes.

AS: What do you find most pleasing when you're quilting? What part of it do you really like, makes you feel good?

DO: Putting the materials together, like will this go with that? I used to, it just had to be just perfect because like one time the place that we used to go to get the material that matched, the back would match the front.

QEP: I remember that far back. We used to go down there before it was Family Dollar. That's the store where we used to buy material. With all those lights in the yard they had a store where Family Dollar was. I don't know what the name of it was.

DO: Okay, but I used to go to, it's--Do you know about Wilmington? Are you from Wilmington?

AS: No.

DO: You're not either?

UP: My dad was.

QEP: I can't think of the name, it was a factory.

DO: Yes--

AS: Like getting the fabric from the factory, there were fabrics that went together, that were made to go together?

DO: Yes, and it was really nice until they closed it up and there up on 202 and that's strictly upholstery material, it's not like it was before.

QEP: But the material is so expensive and to make a quilt and give it away, you're putting--it takes about fifty dollars to make a quilt if you buy the materials that you really need. Inexpensive material is hard to find and they're expensive.

AS: Is there any part of the quilting that you don't enjoy? That you do just to get it finished? You like all of it? Sounds like you've found the perfect activity.

DO: Oh, I have. I really have. And I don't know, and in a way, my husband helped me with the quilting too because he did all the cooking, and I didn't have to stop.

AS: He did the other chores so that you could--

DO: He did the cooking. And even after he got sick, he still cooked until he, well, he didn't feel like it, he said, 'I don't feel like it today,' and then I'd go to cook and he'd say you do it like this and you do it like that, like I didn't know how to cook. [laughs.] And so, I don't know, because I had to start him off, but really what started him is like, we had our own business. I worked in the day, he worked at night. And he would cook before he left home and so when I came home, I could eat because he ate before he left. And so that's how he started.

QEP: And sewing is very relaxing, you can sit there and reminisce and it's quiet and if you're having problems, you can just talk about them. You know, 'how am I going to solve this problem.' It's relaxing, it's really relaxing and too, you're not just sitting there, pining away or, keeps your mind alert too because it's a lot about how it's all going to come out and you need to keep busy. I go walking most every morning [inaudible.] and we sit down in between, we went down walking this morning and a couple ladies, one was probably about '84, one of them was younger, had a single for two weeks and was talking about each other and the older one came in this morning, I said, oh where have you been, and she said my friends husband died two weeks ago [inaudible.] I was shocked, I'm sure she's very emotional so she's going through a thing. And there's a lot of widowers in our neighborhood, a lot of them.

DO: We've had a lot of deaths on this street. And that's another job I have. When someone on this street passes, we go up and take up a collection plate. Just on this street. I don't do any other street.

AS: When you look at a quilt, what do you look for that you think makes a quilt a really great quilt?

DO: I don't know what I really look for. I have to like the material for one thing, and I can see how it goes together, that's, and if it doesn't quite go together, and sometimes I get, I don't have nothing else that go together anyways. And when I get it together, well, it's not so bad, you're just going to cover up with it anyways, just to keep warm and so but then like if I'm really doing one that I really want to be special--

AS: Like the Delta quilt?

DO: Yeah, and the daughter, not her, the little, well, Jordan the one I say that's going to graduate this year from Law, she's a Delta and she doesn't have an elephant on hers, she didn't want one on hers, she has a Delta quilt, and I don't know how many quilts her mother has. Her mother gave me seven back, so you know how many quilts she has.

AS: What do you think makes a really good quilt maker?

DO: You have to want to do it. You can't just do it. Because if you do it wrong, you have to take it out, even if you don't want to. Not unless you don't care and I don't care what you do, I think you should care so if you're going to be a good quiltmaker, you've got to care because let me tell you, sometimes you get it together.

QEP: That's not right, that's not right, take that out.

DO: And she won't let me see nothing that she makes and it's wrong. [laughs.]

AS: Do you hide those? [laughs.]

QEP: You have to take that; you have to take that off.

DO: She won't let me see it no more. She used to show me, she won't show me anymore.

QEP: I don't quilt anymore.

DO: Yes, she does. She doesn't quilt as much as she used to, well, she makes the tops, that's still quilting, you just don't--

QEP: This is the worst job of quilting, putting those first pieces together and then getting them straight under the bottom, now that's hard. I can't do that. If I make it puff, I'm not going to take it out, so I stop quilting.

DO: But you have to. I told you, all you have to do is take your hand like that, because you know where the seam is under there, you take your hand and just smooth it out, and then, I would take and hold it up and look to see and if that is--you've got to have patience, if you don't have patience, don't even bother because you're just wasting your time. But then it's your time and if you want to waste it, that's up to you that might be what you need to keep yourself sane, I don't know.

AS: What do you think is going to happen to all these quilts that you've given away?

DO: I don't know really. I know some of them go to college. I do know that because like this one boy that, they don't go to our church anymore, but they used to go to our church, and I gave him a quilt and this year, he went to college and his mother called me and told me, 'The quilt is going to college this year.' And so, okay, that's fine and then I was at, in Greensboro too. Oh yeah, we have family reunions every year, different places, different states, so one of the young men that was in New Jersey when we had the family reunion and I gave him and his twins and their brother, his single brother, and he told me, he said, you know what that quilt has lasted all this time and it hasn't, thread hasn't broken at all. Well then I had three that was in the big comb, and it was really heavy, it's really a poster material, and I can't get that anymore, my daughter got that and so she can't get that anymore. And you've got to have good thread and then the quilt, they've got thread they call quilting thread, but you know, I've had when Joy Trim was here. You know about Joy Trim?

AS: Oh yes.

DO: Okay, they had thread that was nylon, and it wasn't called quilting thread but it's better than quilting thread because they're quilting thread, sometimes when I pull it hard enough, I can break it. But that, nylon thread that Joy Trim had they finally turned me onto, and now I can't get any more of that either. I don't know where to buy it. I got my cousin in North Carolina looking for me some. And I used to buy a lot of material when I went to North Carolina. I don't go very much now. I don't have nothing there now but cousins.

AS: Do you have any questions that you wanted to?

DM: I'm looking at the list and I think we've covered most of the topics.

AS: Are there any more topics about quilting that you that we've missed that you want to tell us about how you feel?

DO: I don't think so, because we about covered everything.

QEP: I feel very proud of myself that I have accomplished a task and can look at it. This is far as I told her she was going to buy me a bedspread, why would you do that? You've given so much to other people, why don't you put something in memory you can look at, and say, I made this. And so, she listened to me.

DO: I was going to use that piece of material and make a quilt anyway, but I wasn't, hadn't planned to make curtains, pillow shams either but because I had shown it to another friend of mine, 'Oh, I want one out of that too.' And so, I had to tell her, I can't give her one because I was going to use all of the material for myself now and so and now, she's going on about my bedroom, well, hey.

QEP: Well, I think she should change it because her husband's dead. I said you're going to have to make a turnabout of some kind because you still have him in the house.

DO: He will always be here. All that up there is his.

QEP: I took my picture out of the room. I had mine in the living room.

DO: There he is up there, and it looks like he's always looking at me and like if I feel like something is wrong, I said, what are you worrying about, what are you trying to tell me and it soon goes away, whatever it was I was worried about, it goes away. So I don't know whether he's trying to tell me something or not and like, I know one night I was lying in bed reading and I had my back, well, I was lying flat on my back, and out of the corner of my eye there's a mirror across the wall from me and it seemed like light grey smoke came up out of the mirror and I just turned on over and kept on reading. Then when it got over the top of me, it was white and so I just continued to read and it went away and I said, okay, what's he trying to say, what is it that I need to know because this would be the first time that I had to do taxes by myself because really, all I had to do was get the stuff together, he did it all so, now I got to go through, get this all together and still, you know, be sure that I got everything that I need and you know, because I don't want IRS down on me. It's a lot that you miss when you lose your husband and you've been married for years and years.

QEP: Oh my, stop the hardship, make something that helps you, make the quilt, make all that you can and the drapes the say, honey look what I made for you.

DO: What do you mean all that I did, I got that quilt over that I made him for a Valentine gift and then he did something, hey, he don't need nothing else, he doesn't need anything else.

AS: Well Dorothy, and Mrs. Powell, thank you very much. Elizabeth, thank you very much. It's been wonderful hearing about your quilt, and this is Amy Tetlow Smith, and this is Tape UDel-008 and it is now about 11 o'clock.

[tape ends.]



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