Martha Kiser




Martha Kiser




Martha Kiser


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date



Alexandria, Virginia


Ruth Duncan


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Hello. This is Evelyn Salinger and I'm conducting an interview with Martha Kiser from the Cardinal Quilters in Alexandria, Virginia. Today is Thursday, December 19, 2002. Our scribe is Ruth Duncan. This interview is for the project Quilters' Save Our Stories. The number of today's quilt project is 22302.003. Good morning, Martha.

Martha Kiser (MK): Good morning.

ES: It's nice of you to agree to be interviewed today. I want to start out with a description of what we are seeing here. This is your touchstone object. Can you tell us about this quilt?

MK: Well, I like to do it, because you can do it in sections and take it here and there and you can use little pieces or you can use big ones. I used little ones on these.

ES: Can you tell us what this is called--cathedral window?

MK: Cathedral window.

ES: Cathedral window. And the background color is--

MK: Pink.

ES: Pink. And you used--all different?

MK: All different colors.

ES: Are there any two the same?

MK: Well, I was just sitting here, and that's--there's one--

ES: Oh, yes. A very few the same.

MK: I thought there weren't any until just now. [laughter.] I made one for a lady, too, since I made this one.

ES: Did you sell that quilt?

MK: I didn't sell it, but she gave me something for it.

ES: I see. And when did you do this? Do you know?

MK: A long time.

ES: A long time ago. Do you sign your quilts? Do you put the date on? That would tell you when.

MK: My husband said this was his quilt.

ES: Did you ever sleep under it?

MK: No.

ES: No. What do you do with a quilt if you don't sleep under them? Do you hang it up?

MK: I put it in a bag and change it around every now and then. [laughs.]

ES: All right. What are you going to do with this quilt? Leave it to your daughter? Or--

MK: Well, she'll get it, I guess. But I made her one with larger windows. I made it out of a muslin background. So she's already got that.

ES: Very nice. Colorful. Very lovely. Could you tell us when you got started in quilting? Do you remember?

MK: No, I don't remember. Must have been when my son was a baby, when I was looking for something to do.

ES: Well, that was about how many years ago?

MK: 1940.

ES: So, then you were a quilter at home. Did you ever take lessons, or did you just teach yourself?

MK: I just taught myself. I usually end up making something up for myself instead of using the pattern. That's what my downfall is.

ES: Oh, no, that's your creativity. What gets you started on a quilt, what gets you motivated to do a quilt?

MK: Well, I can remember a traveling some, and I bought about a half a yard of material in every little town I went through.

ES: Oh.

MK: And do you know, I have them in an envelope here. Haven't used them. [chuckles.]

ES: Can you tell us where you come from-- Northern Virginia? Or--

MK: Bealeton--or Remington, or one of those. Bealeton was my mailing address.

ES: Is that far from here?

MK: It's--you know where Warrenton is?

ES: Yes.

MK: It's a little southeast of Warrenton.

ES: You are a true Virginian, unlike many of our group.

MK: Who's the other one?

ES: I said, 'Unlike,' as we have so many from different places.

MK: Oh.

ES: You are a true Virginian. So, when did you get involved with quilting with Cardinal Quilters?

MK: You know, I asked somebody that question. I think I must have met Beth on the--riding the bus to work.

ES: Oh, isn't that interesting! And was she already teaching, or did she have the group?

MK: She had the group.

ES: Was it meeting at the library at that time?

MK: I think it was. My memory's so--

ES: In your family, was there any other quilter?

MK: No.

ES: You didn't grow up with quilts?

MK: No. I was famous for looking at patterns in magazines. I guess I started it from that.

ES: Were you a seamstress or a sewer? Have you been--

MK: My grandmother was a seamstress. And she got sick and I tried to do what she was doing then. I did a few things, but not anything--much. But she didn't do quilts.

ES: Did you do mostly hand sewing, at that time? Or did you use the sewing machine.

MK: Sewing machine. Yes.

Ruth Duncan (RD): Made clothes?

MK: I made dresses and such. And then when Audrey was born, I made her clothes. Just went on from there.

ES: What do you enjoy most about quilting? Do you like the piecing, or the quilting, or the choosing fabric?

MK: I like to cut 'em out.

ES: You like to cut 'em out! And you do mostly piecework, or do you appliqué?

MK: I do mostly piecework.

ES: That's what you enjoy. What gets you started--I asked you before, but what makes you pick out a particular pattern?

MK: I just take old magazines and tear the pages out. I've got a drawer full of them. And I just go through the drawer and when I see one I think is easy, I start it.

ES: You think most of your quilts are 'easy?'

MK: I guess so.

ES: Let's look at another quilt that's right here. This is one that is lavender print and white. Looks to me sort of like a pinwheel.

MK: Yes, I think so.

ES: When did you do this-- is this something recently or a long time ago?

MK: It hasn't been too long ago.

ES: What size is it? Do you normally make double? Or queen?

MK: It's a double.

ES: Double. It's got lavender light background. Very nice hand quilting all around the pinwheel, and--

RD: Sashing.

ES: Yes, it has a purple sashing that matches the pinwheels on the white background in the middle. That's lovely. You have another quilt here in the middle of the table. Let's look at it. I don't know what this one may be called.

MK: Well, I don't know, either.

RD: Bow ties.

ES: Oh, they are BIG bow ties. Very big bow ties.

RD: Sure.

ES: Very light. There's a bright green border and background, but the rest is all scraps. Now, did you have special scraps that you used for these bow ties?

MK: No, they just were made random--put together.

ES: You seem to like to use up old pieces from different things? Were these from sewing projects?

MK: Yes.

ES: And then between each of the bow ties you have--

MK: And whenever I go to a yard sale or anything and they have a--a bag of scrap material, I'll get it. [laughs.]

ES: Ah. Good for you! And you put it all to use.

MK: Yes.

ES: Now let's see. In our quilters group we often have charity quilts and you--you seem to be one of the greatest contributors to the charity. The nap quilts for the Main Street School and stuff. Is that when you use up all your scraps?

MK: Yes.

ES: And what patterns do you like to use most in those quilts you do for charity?

MK: Anything that comes to my mind.

ES: I see. What do you like most about quilting? Do you like the feel of the fabric, or--

MK: I like a thin batting, and I--

ES: A thin batting.

MK: And I always get too thick a batting.

ES: This feels thin.

MK: Yes.

ES: This is very nice. So this is all different colors--all different prints. Bow ties. Lovely.

RD: And you've quilted it in green.

ES: Concentric circles.

RD: But with green thread.

ES: Matching the back, of course. Okay, let's see. I guess what I wanted to ask about was the dolls we talked about before. I know that at the meetings you brought these beautifully dressed dolls. Would you tell about the doll project that you worked with?

MK: Well, it was actually through--my daughter got it. She works for the gas company. And she brought me the dolls and I dressed them and she took them back. And then we went to the Salvation Army when they judged them.

ES: I see.

MK: But the Salvation Army got the dolls in the long run.

ES: And then they gave them to the children?

MK: Yes. They had a big setup of them and when the meeting was over that day, they'd give them to the children.

ES: I see. And how many years did you do that?

MK: I don't know. Fifteen years, maybe.

ES: And what were some of the favorite ones you did? Do you remember?

MK: I've got pictures of them.

ES: Did you usually put them in different costumes, from different countries?

MK: Well, yes. I mean you dress them any way you want to dress them. Brides. And they have a judging of a bride, a baby doll--you know, different subjects.

ES: Categories.

MK: Categories, yes.

ES: Would you like to get out some more quilts? We'll have a quilt turning here. This is fine.

MK: This is where I use my tiny, tiny pieces, and I'll show you how--

ES: These are crazy squares that are probably 4 ½ inches, each made of many, many scraps.

MK: Here's the way I start them out.

ES: I see. It is about potholder size that you start with.

MK: Oh, that's just another size square.

ES: And you start at the center and add the scraps as you go on a muslin back?

MK: See, here.

ES: They're beautiful. You have a whole stack of these! When do you do all this? When do you do all your sewing?

MK: When I get too tired to do anything else. This is a 9-patch.

ES: These must be very old materials from all kinds of--

MK: And this is an--I don't know what you call it.

RD: Oh, Dresden Plate.

MK: Dresden Plate.

RD: These are plates without centers.

ES: A whole stack of Dresden Plates.

MK: And this is another.

ES: Whole stack of--what can that be?

RD: 16-patches.

ES: 16-patches. You have enough projects to keep working on, don't you?

MK: Yes.

ES: They are beautiful.

RD: Oh, here's some more. One more block. These are squares set on point and there are nine squares set on point per block.

ES: Nine colored squares and white background in the block. And how big is it?

RD: 15? Probably 14 inches?

ES: Probably. Just beautiful. So these are squares set on point with white background. And there must be a whole quilt's worth of those. They are beautiful. And you've got another stack?

MK: This is a--you did this--Cracker Barrel, isn't it?

RD: It is called Cracker, as in the old party favors.

ES: It's little stripes that make a 6-inch square. All made of stripes. Okay. This is how you put four squares together, perpendicular to each other, so you get two horizontals, diagonally and two verticals, diagonally.

MK: Yes. And this is one I made in this big.

RD: Oh! Crazy patch. That's Shirley Shelley's project that you've taken.

ES: That looks to me like a 16-inch square or something. All crazy patch with different, beautiful materials. Little children, with cows and animals, and--

RD: Some of it is very old.

ES: Yes. Checkerboards and all in just--how many of these you have! You must have enough for a couple of quilts of that.

RD: Dozen. Dozens.

MK: And I've got some more of those in this bag.

RD: Crumb piecing, that's what it is.

ES: Crumb piecing. Oh, right. Another stack of crumb piecing. Oh, this is phenomenal. You have enough for ten quilts, here. All beautifully done, beautiful.

MK: My hands is getting stiff now.

ES: Do you do better with the machine, now? Rather than by hand work?

MK: Well--

ES: Does it help to do it on the machine? I notice a lot is by machine.

MK: This crazy stuff is done on the machine.

ES: They are just beautiful.

RD: So colorful. All of your work is colorful. A treat.

MK: My granddaughter, when she got married--her husband's brother made a quilt. And sent everybody a square, so that's why I had this one out. I made this square [she points to a particular square.]

ES: Okay. But it never got into this quilt?

MK: Yes. It was another just like it.

ES: Just like it.

MK: Her quilt was just beautiful. And he made it himself.

ES: That's nice.

MK: By the help of all the people in the wedding, made a square.

ES: That's nice. A good gift. What do you think--this is just general--makes a great quilt?

MK: I think joining them together.

ES: When you look at a quilt and you like it?

MK: This is another quilt--

RD: Oh, this is a Card Trick!

ES: A Card Trick? It is a large card trick!

RD: Big cards.

ES: So each set of the Card Trick has two L-shaped pieces forming this--crazy whatever it is--Card Trick. And each set of two light, two dark.

RD: And this has a solid and a print for each-- [block.]

ES: That's quilted by hand, or by machine? The quilting looks like it's by machine.

MK: Looks like it, but it's the only one I ever did by machine.

ES: By machine. And the patches, themselves?

MK: They were done by hand.

ES: And again, you were using lots and lots of different colored scraps. That is beautiful. Big quilt. Has a light pink background.

MK: This was 77 by 88.

ES: The Card Trick? I think you seem to like pink, peachy colors, green.

MK: Now those, I--I used whatever I had.

RD: What's your favorite color?

MK: Purple.

RD: Just want to get this on the record.

ES: You're wearing a purple dress today, and it looks beautiful.

MK: Now that was embroidery. [refers to quilt.] An embroidered one.

ES: Twelve 9-inch squares.

RD: It was a kit.

MK: It was a kit.

ES: Cross-stitches of little birds in each of the squares, bordered in blue and pink, for it could be a boy or girl. Now let's look at another. Now, Martha, have you ever sold any quilts?

MK: Oh, I've really never sold them. I made 'em for people and they give me something for it, doing it for them, but I've really not sold any.

ES: So, when you did that, they gave you a little something. Were they full quilts that you made for friends?

MK: Yes.

RD: Bed quilts?

MK: Bed quilts.

ES: Here's another child's quilt that has a whole alphabet.

MK: Now that was just a piece of material. And this was teddy bears. My eyesight's getting bad. And I can't see them now.

ES: Oh, there are little teddy bears on some of the squares in between, but there's--

RD: With embroidered eyes.

ES: The whole alphabet, with numbers on the corners, four-patches on each corner. Two numbers on white and blue-and-white gingham again. Lovely. Another little one--yellow, red and black.

RD: Oh, cartoons!

ES: Oh, what have you got here! Did you cut up one piece of material, or did they come in these little squares?

MK: No, I cut up a piece of material.

ES: But you were able to cut it so you have characters on every one. That--there's some reading in them. The characters are--I don't know them--an old cartoon. So, this is primarily black, white, pink, red, green, blue, yellow. And then, in between, squares seem to be white dotted with different colors and, as I say, bordered by yellow, red and black. Very nice hand quilting. And the back seems to be flannel.

MK: Yes. Yes. Wrapped candies. Candy.

ES: This will be a very delightful little quilt for a child. Very nice. And the next one we're looking at is--yellow backing. Rick rack around the edge.

RD: Lace.

ES: Oh, it's lace. It looks like ricky rack at the end. And it's hearts set on white squares with alternate squares of light green. Hearts of all different—no two the same. A child's quilt, again. I would say a baby quilt. Very nice.

MK: Now, that one's

RD: This one's OLD.

MK: I didn't do this. I got this someplace. I didn't do this one.

ES: This is a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, all on white background. Somebody has appliquéd all the different characters--

MK: Yes.

ES: And the broken chair, and the broken--

MK: There was a little something to be done to finish it. I got it at a yard sale. I didn't actually do this one.

ES: I recognize this blue material with the yellow dots. This was very popular around 19--

RD: '75?

ES: No. 60-something. I bought green of it out in Iowa and I was there in '74 –'75. Very nice. Is there one more?

MK: That's all.

RD: That's a lot!

ES: Do you have any idea how many quilts you've made?

MK: Oh, no. I have no idea. Say, why didn't I keep count of them?

ES: Do you have a photograph book that keeps pictures of them? This is really a beautiful set. There's your name, Martha Kiser.

RD: M. Kiser.

MK: I had that in a quilt show or something.

RD: They MADE you do it!

ES: So, you had--

MK: Just lay 'em there and I'll put 'em away later.

ES: This may be embarrassing: Have you ever won any awards?

MK: No.

RD: Did you ever enter a contest?

MK: No.

RD: That's why.

ES: You've been a member of Cardinal Quilters for quite a long time. Do you--

MK: How long's Beth been in there?

ES: Well, it was 25 years and it was near the beginning of that.

MK: Yes.

RD: Were you one of the beginning people?

MK: Yes. [she nods.]

RD: I thought so.

MK: I forgot about this quilt.

ES: Can you just make a statement of how quilting is in your life? How important is it for your life?

MK: When you're by yourself, quilting's a joy. It passes time. Lots of times I fall asleep doing it. [chuckles.]

ES: But it's really just a fun thing--a pastime--

MK: It's a pastime.

ES: It's a pastime. Are there any other hobbies that you do in the sewing line? Mainly been quilts?

MK: I do Audrey's sewing the buttons on and all such stuff as that [laughs.]

ES: Do you feel that your family appreciates your quilting?

MK: I don't know. Now, I started my daughter-in-law a patchwork. Velvet, you know. But I have never tried to do those stitches on it, and I--it's in the attic and it's too cold to go up there. [laughs.] But she wanted that.

ES: Now did you already piece those velvets and things together?

MK: It's just a matter of getting it together. I like those crazy quilts.

ES: I can see. They are so colorful, the ones you have here. Crumb piecing. And all the ones in your bag. You have enough projects here for I don't know how many quilts. It's been really nice talking with you today. I want to compliment you on your work. It's your life's work and it's wonderful.

RD: I haven't seen a lot of these, so I feel lucky to be here today.

[After the tape was turned off, we finally asked Martha about offices she's held in Cardinal Quilters. That and a browse through the Cardinal Quilters minutes, tell us that Martha Was Vice-President in 1980. She maintained the scrapbook from 1984 for a long time—probably at least 8 years, or more. She was Lap Robe chairman in 1986. Old minutes show that she also often demonstrated for the group in its early years. ]


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