Adina Dell Yewell Russell




Adina Dell Yewell Russell




Adina Dell Yewell Russell


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Alexandria, Virginia


Ruth Duncan


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today we are holding an interview with Adina Dell Yewell Russell for the Q.S.O.S. project for The Alliance of American Quilts. We are meeting after the monthly of Cardinal Quilters at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Alexandria. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger. The scribe is Ruth Duncan. Adina's number is VA22302-005. Welcome, Adina. Thank you for being the interviewee today.

Adina Russell (AR): You're quite welcome.

ES: Let us first talk about your quilt that you've brought here.

AR: Okay.

ES: This is your touchstone object. It seems to be a full quilt.

AR: Yes. A full quilt. It was started when Pat Bowlsby was our President [of Cardinal Quilters.] I'm sorry I do not remember the year. And not all of them turned out to be 9-square but they all seemed to fit. They--a lot of them are stars, quilts I mean stars and crosses.

Ruth Duncan (RD): They are based on the 9-patch.

AR: Most are based on the 9-patch. It's in mainly dark green polished cotton with little peach roses on it and then has peach morning glories on tan and is pieced together with plain muslin. Regular muslin.

ES: Now, did you do this by hand, or by machine?

AR: No, all of it--all the piecing is done by hand. All the quilting is done by machine because I can no longer go through several layers of material.

ES: So, this is essentially white and peach.

AR: Well, cream.

ES: Cream and peach and green mixed together. And it's a sampler, really.

AR: It is a sampler.

ES: So, each square has a particular name.

AR: That's because my favorites have always been the friendship blocks. And that's what makes up a sampler.

ES: Do you use this quilt regularly?

AR: No.

ES: No? What are you planning to do with it?

AR: Oh. Well, it's displayed on my bed every so often. That's about it. I haven't really used it as a cover.

ES: Very pretty.

AR: Thank you.

RD: Are these colors thematic with you?

AR: Not particularly. Everybody says my favorite color is green. I really don't have a favorite color. I have favorite shades of colors. There are a few colors I don't care for--mainly gray, black, brown. But most color-colors, I do like. And it's just--I usually find things in green. And there are a few shades, like avocado, and real chartreuse, things like that I don't care for, but most of the shades in green I do like. I guess that's why everybody seems to think it's my favorite color.

ES: It's just lovely. Now was this the first quilt you ever made, or--

AR: No, my first quilt was the Virginia Reel which I tried doing lap quilting, because I knew I could handle things in my hands better than I could on a--you wouldn't call it a loom--

ES: Frame.

AR: Frame. So, the Virginia Reel. I didn't realize the back needed to be larger than the front, and I am running into trouble with being able to make the corners match well. I'm going to have to eventually put a sort of bias or a strip in between all, just to make it good and safe. And then, I'd started taking lessons from Beth Ford, and--

ES: Oh.

AR: And she had us do some blocks and I decided, well, it might as well be a twin bed because it wouldn't take very much more. And I was also doing that in the lap quilting. Some of it is appliqué, some of it is the first quilt was piecing and quilting. And the clear blocks were just quilting in patterns of square dancers. This second quilt I called it "And God Created" because I found out I was doing things like cats and dogs, corn, trees, fish, boys and girls, things that weren't man-made. And when I had quilted it, I found that, well why not make it reversible, so I added in the appliqué part where I had just quilted, stuck it in, so now it is reversible. It's a little different.

ES: Do you have a special person that you will give these to, or do you keep them all yourself?

AR: Well, when I bought the material for the Virginia Reel my daughter said, 'Oh, this is for me, huh?' Because it was in pink and blue and those are her favorite colors. My son's favorite colors are purple, lavender and things of that sort. So, his wife does not like pink and does not like yellow. So that's another quilt I had started and did finish, and I finally gave it to my sister's great-grandson. She was luckier than I. She had her kids earlier and they got married earlier and had children, so--it was gingham check, yellow, so of course it couldn't go to my children. It had a little duck on it. Mother duck and under one wing is a toy duck and then there's a little aquamarine pool of water with some more little ducks on it. And I did it in clamshell quilting. That was when I could still do hand quilting. That's the only one I did all by hand. [laughs.]

RD: When did you start quilting?

AR: That's hard to say. My mother was a quilter with the Dorcas circle which was part of the University Place church back in Enid, Oklahoma, where I grew up. [here there is a break in the narrative of about 5 seconds due to a glitch caused by transcriber. No significant information is lost.] And my father lost his voice, could not be the superintendent of schools or preach any longer. He lost his voice for two years, so he moved to the oil field refinery, which was in Enid, and from then on, we lived in Enid, Oklahoma. He built three houses over us, and--

ES: What do you mean, 'over us?'

AR: Well, we lived in the basement until the house was built over us.

ES: Oh. Okay.

AR: You know the old sod house type of thing. You could throw up in a week, but this actually was wooden houses, clapboard houses.

ES: You said you had--there were three of them. You graduated to a larger--

AR: Well, it depended. Most of the family was born in another little town. I was born in Jennings, and then we moved to Enid, so each of those three places, we had a house at different times. Dad would build it and then move on. That's how that happened.

ES: Was somebody in your family a quilter?

AR: Mother quilted with this Dorcas circle and my sister, and I used to play underneath the frame. The quilt was our roof, and their legs were our walls. And we would be given little pieces and we'd sew those together. Quite frequently we made the little quilts for our dolls. So, I guess that would be when I first started. Then it wasn't until about 1983 and I had a neighbor who wanted to know if I knew of anyone who quilted and could possibly teach her. That was June Southard, who used to belong to our group, and I said, 'yes.' I knew Beth Ford from the Methodist Church and she said could you get in touch with her. So, Beth invited us to come. That was when we were down at the Duncan Library. And we went there, well, I guess we may have come to this church prior to the time June moved back to Oklahoma. And so, the first full year I was in Cardinal Quilters, I was Shirley Nelson's Vice President. I was Vice President two times and then I was the second thing I did--

ES: I know you've been Sunshine since I was here.

AR: I was the Secretary-substitute. You know, whenever the secretary was missing. And then I was Sunshine for I think something like 8 years. And then, now I'm scrapbook--

ES: Historian.

AR: Historian-type of person.

ES: Very good. You've been active.

AR: Yes.

ES: That's twenty years, now.

AR: That's why I have so many quilts started. I can think of at least two more, so that would be fourteen quilts that I have started.

ES: Well, Okay. Tell us what you plan to do.

AR: Well, I still hope to finish off my daughter's, which is the Virginia Reel, and then And God Created was also a sort of a rosy pink with a little bit of blue in it, I think, so she probably will end up getting that. The friendship quilt is this one. No, wait a minute. Yes. This is either a friendship or a sampler.

ES: Sampler.

RD: It is a sampler.

ES: It is a sampler but it's friendship because--

AR: No, the friendship actually was the Virginia Reel because people pieced together that one. So, I did all. No. Two people did quilting of the square dancers. So that was actually my friendship. I should call this one the sampler. Then, my mother had started, and I received the unfinished blocks of Dresden Plate, and I figured that I could make each of my children one of those out of the blocks she had given me.

ES: Would you tell me about the fabrics in that, since you said your mother made it--

AR: Yes. They're Twenties and Thirties material and you can definitely tell it's different. It's not because the weave or anything like that is much different, it isn't flour sacking, of which I did have dress and bloomers made out of--they passed around their odd pieces of material in the Dorcas Circle, and so they weren't all Mother's pieces of material, but there are a lot of them I can say, Oh, that is the dress that Mother made me and I was cold so I came home and stood in front of the oven and my full skirt caught on fire.

ES: Oh!

AR: And it was a little purple rose on a white background, and it was one of my favorite dresses, so it was a boo-hoo-hoo time. And then another one I can point out is one of Mother's aprons that she had made from an old dress of hers which she used to do. Growing up in the time of our country's Twenty-Nine crash and thereafter, we saved everything. Every little scrap until it was worn out. And when I found some of these pieces of the Dresden Plate, I noticed some of them had stains in which I didn't think I could get out. So, I have made the Dresden Plate a little smaller than it originally was. But that's it. Then, oh I started--I started a quilt where you do the French knots, and it was teddy bears. With red and white gingham. Not quilling.

RD: Was it called Chicken Scratch?

AR: No, I've done Chicken Scratch but that wasn't what this was. It's not quilling but it's something like--

ES: Not cross stitch?

AR: No, not cross stitch. It's the French knots.

ES: French knots, then.

AR: I can't think of the name right now, but that's--

RD: Candlewicking.

AR: Candlewicking, you're right.

ES: Okay.

AR: I have either 4 or 6 blocks of those done and the red gingham. And I had another friend who said, 'Well, you don't have this exactly on the straight of the material.' So, it got packed away and never finished. I think I will finish it and give it to the baby quilt group. Which I have made about--we started out with the AIDS babies. I think I made a dozen and I know--I--last year I made a dozen for the new group.

ES: That's right.

AR: So

ES: For the Main Street School, yes.

AR: So, I think I have made at least 24 baby quilts other than the one I gave my great-grand-nephew.

ES: Since we are talking about that, just tell me what is your favorite technique for these baby quilts? What do you usually do? Are they pieced, or are they whole quilt?

AR: I was given a great many pieces of the pre-quilted material. And so, I have usually used that as either the back or the front and then put whatever together I could. Sometimes they were just little sort of crazy blocks. Others, if I had to put on a full front, I sometimes ironed on and then stitched around with the machine. One was a teddy bear, one was a mouse on a candy cane, one was a Sunbonnet Sue. But then I had started some gingham quilt blocks and I think I put four of those together and put a rim around it. So, I've done everything. I've tied some of them. I have machine quilted some of them. I think there at first, I actually did some quilting on it.

ES: That's a very generous thing that you do, to give away

AR: Well, they're small. They use up some of the cloth I have, which I have a way too much of. And so that's how it helps. I was given these pieces of pre-quilted material--I was given specifically for that purpose. So, I definitely felt obligated to do that.

ES: Very nice.

RD: Is it arthritis that keeps you from

AR: Yes. Yes. I can't hold my fingers together to hold the needle for more than ten minutes at the very maximum. And I have got a growth here [points.] and it shoots pain up the thumb. So—I've had carpal tunnel correction and that didn't help it so I mean, it helped it, but you know. It could have been a lot worse by now if I hadn't had it, but it doesn't do that. And arthritis has taken over about half of my hand. It also affects my shoulder. As I told Linda [Freeman, another Cardinal Quilter.], Stand up straight, don't let osteoporosis get started. Cause the hunching is one of the things. I have to have the test every year, so

ES: How did you learn to do quilts? Did you just pick it up on your own?

AR: I started out on my own, and then took the lessons from Beth [Ford, the founder of the Cardinal Quilters.], which helped improve it a great deal.

ES: I see.

AR: When I was able to do the actual quilting, I actually got so I could do the ten stitches to the inch, and I was able to do it by keeping it on my needle and keeping going. When I tried to do the punch-it-down and punch-up, I got all sizes of stitches. I just couldn't do it that way. But a running stitch, I could get ten to an inch at that time. Twenty years ago.

ES: Did you use a frame or a hoop?

AR: No, nothing. Just lap quilting.

ES: Just lap quilting. Oh, that's

AR: But you definitely need the back bigger than the front, if you do it that way. I hand basted. At that time, I don't think I was using pin-basting at all. Sometimes I do now. Sometimes I go ahead and baste it.

ES: What techniques do you like the best? I mean, what part of it do you like best?

AR: I used to like appliqué the best, because I thought some of the patterns were prettier. I can't do that as much. So, I prefer the piecing now.

ES: And today you showed us a heritage quilt. Piecing. You want to describe that a little bit?

AR: Well, I started because I saw this beautiful one that was called Grandmother's--Grandmother's Favorite. And I decided to make it for my grandson. And he calls it his "Forever Quilt." And it's the story of our--of his family, back as far as I can go on either side. To his great-grandfather and to his Granddad on the other side.

ES: And just describe each patch, I mean, what each 9-or 12-inch patch--

AR: It has the kites, and it has the squares.

ES: So, squares and diagonals.

AR: So, there's, I think, 4 kites and 4 squares put together with white muslin and the centers are mainly animals because he loves animals and because I grew up on a farm and knew many animals. Then, I took the favorite hobby, or work, or something that signified each member of the family. His granddad. His grandmother. Like they went on a trip to China, so there's a boat in each. She came over on the Mayflower, so there's the Mayflower boat. Then music for his father. The things that interest him the most, like dinosaurs and cars. Things of that sort are in his block. His mothers are things I had made her when she was growing up--her dresses, her artist's smock for kindergarten, her first day of school dress. A skirt that she particularly liked. Things of that sort. I think one f them was a maternity blouse that I wore and then I made into a little sundress for her, because they tied on the shoulders, and it could be that way. And then--

ES: You have a whole bottom row about your various crafts, and we would be interested in knowing how you picked up the different crafts and so forth along the way and how much time do you spend on each one of these compared to quilting.

AR: [laughs.] Well, I think reading and quilting, and stained glass are the most done.

ES: Do you set aside a few hours of the day to do.

AR: No, no. I just pick up what I want to do at that time. Like I started out in ceramics. When I think it was the last year of high school or the first year of college. I can't really remember back that far. Almost 80, no, 60 years. And I've continued on it, dropped it for a while, and then started it again when the children were small. And I took lessons in it, and I've made Christmas presents. I LOVE making my own Christmas presents. They mean more to me than going out and buying something for someone. And so, I've usually got something in ceramics, something in stained glass, which was one of the last crafts that I have picked up, and what I actually make my spending money on, now.

ES: Oh, do you sell these?

AR: Yes, yes.

ES: Where do you do that?

AR: Well, my partner and I work together up in the Methodist--no, in the Presbyterian Church. And we do a class for the community and then we do classes for T.C. Williams [the high school for the City of Alexandria.] and right now, we're in a class of beginning stained glass. But then, on a Saturday in April and one in May, we will do fused glass for jewelry. So, we teach it, and we do it, and then, once a year, just before Halloween, she clears out three floors of her house of her furniture and everything except something can be displayed, like bookcases. You can put something in there, so she leaves those. I think her organ and her piano are too big to move, so she displays things on those. But, otherwise, people bring in--there's about 30 crafters that bring in their things--30 to 35. I think we've gone as high as 35. And they're all mixed together. It isn't one table here and another table there. And so, we made our stained glass. We do slumped glass. We do fused glass for jewelry. We do like lazy susan inserts. We buy the lazy susan and then make the insert. We've done lamps. We've done bowls, angels, snowmen, Christmas trees--

ES: My gosh!

AR: Just every type of thing. And then others will do little doll-house things and somebody else will do stuffed animals; somebody else will do vests, or jackets and things of that sort. So-

ES: Sounds like a really good craft show.

AR: It really is a great one. And then we do about five others besides that. And we teach beginning stained glass, at least two a season, so that's four during the year, at least. Sometimes we have more than that, depending. We also teach beginning beading. The knotting between pearls or semi-precious stones. We have taught basketry. I have taught quilting there. We have slowed down to where now we are doing only the stained glass at this time.

ES: I see. You are certainly busy with crafts! My heavens!

AR: I started with the basketry and that's why it's the first block, after ceramics. But then I decided to do them in alphabetical order. But the basketry was the first one I learned from Madeline, and before the first class was over, she says, I want you in my class on Wednesday, no, Tuesday. Morning and evening. And then I started teaching for her and it just got on

ES: When you say basketry--

RD: When was that?

AR: That was about '83 also. I think it was just before I started quilting.

ES: Now this basketry you're talking about is made of what materials?

AR: Ash or it can be palm leaves. It can be cardboard that's folded; it can be any material.

ES: OK. I didn't know whether it was quilting baskets, but that was a little too early in your quilting.

AR: Yes. I have done those, though. I made a swan as an Easter basket for my daughter. I made a cat for my son, because I thought he liked cats, but he gave it back to me. So--[laughs.]

ES: Do you design all your own things?

AR: No. No.

ES: So where do you get your ideas?

AR: Everywhere. Yes.

ES: And your quilts, specifically. What is it that inspires you to start a particular pattern? Or a particular quilt? Usually.

AR: Well, as I said, Pat Bowlsby was our leader and our President at the time I started this sampler quilt. We started the Stack 'n' Whack here. And so--

ES: That's right you have that one, too.

AR: Yes.

ES: You have that one with the fans. Would you describe that?

AR: Oh. The fans were a friendship block for my sister. And she says it's one I will never get completed, and I had made her 3 or 4 blocks to go with it because there weren't quite enough to finish it off. And so, one Christmas, she gave it back to me and said, 'You will finish it before I will.' So I have made several [blocks.] since then. And I have redone so the background is all the same, the ones that were done. I kept the fan part as was.

ES: Would you describe what you made the fans out of?

AR: Well, they are peach and green cotton on a muslin background, and then, with lace, usually, bordering the outside of the fan, sometimes, the hand part of the fan. It will be finished off with sashing, and then have a Drunkard's Path which will be the tassel. It's just this little block in the corner that will be the tassel to the fan. And there's ribbon embroidery. There's regular embroidery. There's pieces that have been bought that have been machine-embroidered. Little roses and ribbons.

ES: Some jewelry, too.

AR: Yes, some pearls have been used. And just whatever comes to mind.

ES: Okay. So, how large will that be?

AR: It will be more or less a queen size, I think. It'll be a little bigger than a double bed. Full size.

ES: How many more squares do you have to do?

AR: I think I have two more to do.

ES: That's not bad.

AR: So.

ES: That's good.

AR: And, of course, my grandson's almost, the top is finished. I just don't have the border on its yet, and I don't know exactly how I'm doing it. It may be red, since that's his favorite color at this point. But it may be a stripe. I just really haven't finished that idea off, that's why that isn't finished.

ES: Oh.

AR: I started it by taking pieces out to my sister when I went to visit her each year.

ES: In California, is that?

AR: In California. So that's, since she quilts, why we did that as amusement, since she isn't able to get around very much. She is hoping to come here this year. So. I haven't been able to do as much quilting. I'm having to do house cleaning. [laughs.]

ES: You'll have to bring her to our meeting sometime.

AR: I'd like to, if she's here at the right time.

ES: Oh. Let's see now, what else--

AR: At this point it looks like she won't be. Looks like she will be here the last 2 weeks of May.

ES: I'd like to ask you a couple of philosophical ones. What do you think makes a great quilt?

AR: Finding the pattern that you enjoy doing the most. As I said, mine happens to be the Friendship block, because I like to start something new all the time. That's probably why I never get anything finished! [laughs.]

ES: But when you're looking at a quilt and you say, 'That's really a great quilt.' What is it that makes you say that?

AR: I think it's the pattern and the material that you want. I know I couldn't sew on something I didn't like. And so, for each person, it would be different.

ES: Yes.

AR: And I might have the same liking for somebody else's. Or I may dislike it entirely. It wouldn't mean that that quilt wasn't just as good as the first one. It would just mean that it fit in with my feelings more.

ES: It's sort of the same thing as when you're looking at a painting, a picture

AR: A painting.

ES: Right. Artwork. Right.

AR: Or listening to a piece of music. I happen to like stars and crosses, just like Ruth [Duncan.] does, you know, it doesn't HAVE to be that, because, as I said, in my grandson's it's also--this one has stars and crosses. If you look for it, you can find both the star and the cross. The quilted piece has the star and the setting in has the cross. But I think maybe because I'm a minister's daughter? I don't know.

ES: Okay.

AR: But he wasn't really a minister most of my time. Except that once you're a minister, you're always a minister. So

ES: Another kind of philosophical question. What do you think is the importance of quilting in American life?

AR: Oh. For the American woman, how many really had the opportunity to sit down and do a painting, whether it was watercolor, oil, or whatever. But they NEEDED the warmth of quilts. So yes, very definitely, it was their artwork. It will always be the American woman's artwork. Uh, if they get to do something else, that's wonderful. But it really is for the American, their artwork.

ES: Very good. Do you have any other things you would like to talk to us about? That I have forgotten to ask?

AR: No. Nope. [laughs.]

ES: Well, I do--you have another question? Okay I'll just say this has been a very fascinating interview.

AR: I hope Ruth corrects it, without all the uh's and mm's.

ES: Oh, you don't have that many. It's really been a very interesting conversation. Thank you for giving your time.

AR: You're quite welcome.

ES: Good luck on finishing all your quilts!

AR: Yes. I don't know how much longer I have, but I sure hope I get some more of them done.

[the tape goes on a few seconds longer, but the interview, proper, ends at this point.]


“Adina Dell Yewell Russell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,