Mary Colquitt Darkow




Mary Colquitt Darkow




Mary Colquitt Darkow


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Fairfax, Virginia


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today is February 4, 2004. We are conducting an interview with Mary Darkow. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger. The scribe is Ruth Duncan. We are in Fairfax, Virginia at 11:05 in the morning. Welcome Mary. We are interested to know from where you have come.

Mary Darkow (MD): Well, I was born in Alabama and grew up in Alabama, went to school in Alabama and then we moved to Georgia. So, when I came to Washington, [D.C.] it was like, oh, you are a Georgia peach. [laughter.] But I came to work for the F.B.I. [Federal Bureau of Investigation.] in 1956.

ES: Can you tell us what sort of thing you did for them?

MD: I was in the finance; I was a payroll specialist. I had worked for the city of Columbus, Georgia, for five years and was bored and no chance of advancement, so I got a job through the local F.B.I. so I would not leave home without a job. So that's why I was in Washington.

ES: Approximately when was this?

MD: This was in 1956. Actually, I came February the 13th and why I came on February 13th--

ES: It was a lucky day for you.

MD: But it was snow on the ground when I got here and some friends from the F.B.I. met me and I stayed with them for a week until I found housing which was in--you had to go through the bureau's list of housing. There was boarding house in DuPont Circle that most newcomers landed in. And it was a fun place. You met lots of people there. It was DuPont Circle. I don't know if you know the story of DuPont Circle.

ES: No.

MD: Well, it was a nice place then. But then it went to the hippies, now it's gone to I won't say what but --Warren lived in another house in the same neighborhood. So, we met at church and after a year of dating, we got married and lived here all these years.

Ruth Duncan (RD): So, you moved to Alexandria [Virginia.] when you when you were married?

MD: We lived in Washington for two years and then we bought our little town house in Alexandria. And we have been in Alexandria all that time.

ES: Did you continue with the FBI, or did you do other things?

MD: The first day I could take a day's leave, I went job hunting. [laughter.] I think I worked for them for six months and then I got a job with the Washington Real Estate Board, in D.C. It was a very interesting job, very good pay. And then family started coming along, so quit to stay home with Kevin, then Kerry, then Jerrell and then Madeira.

ES: In those days, women did not keep working if they had children.

MD: Well, I was working. I kept another child that was in the neighborhood, so you always helped out making ends meet. When Madeira was three years old, I decided to get my real estate license. And I've been a part time agent ever since. I still go to the office two days a week.

ES: Good. In your past, what do you have for memories as far a quilting?

MD: Well, I do remember my mother quilting on one quilt, but I can't remember what happened to it. I don't remember what the pattern was, but I remember the marking of it was done with a plate. And it was called the Baptist Fan. Now why I remember that I don't know so that's my first memory of quilting.

ES: And when did you yourself get interested in quilting?

MD: Probably in 1980 I read an article in the Alexandria Gazette that Penny Rigdon was going to give a talk at the Cardinal Quilters at Duncan Library which was down the street from [laughter.] where I lived. So, I went to hear her talk and have been in Cardinal Quilters ever since.

ES: Did you learn to quilt by attending those meetings?

MD: Oh, absolutely. In fact, it was very interesting, you probably remember, we had a big quilt frame set up. I mean it was stored in the closet there until the fire department said it was a fire hazard. [laughter.] It was brought out and set up. I remember several of us learned how to quilt on that quilt. That's the club quilt now.

RD: The president's quilt, I think we call it.

MD: But if it's ever for sale, I think I would like to buy it, [laughter.] because it has lots of memories for me. I actually learned to quilt on it.

RD: Do other members of your family quilt?

MD: Yes, Minnie quilts. My older sister is always saying she's going to quilt, but has not gotten around to it, yet. Minnie, I think is the only one.

RD: But your mother did.

MD: Not after we moved into a house that had gas heat. And actually, it was that time, too, that Sears had all kinds of blankets and comforts, and you could order, so I don't remember a quilt that she actually made.

ES: You brought something today that has something to do with your mother. Maybe you would tell us about that now.

MD: Well, my older sister said that my mother, when I was a baby, was piecing this quilt top. Now, at that time it was called the Little Dutch Girl. Now, it's called Sunbonnet Sue. But this was her Little Dutch Girl quilt top that she was going to quilt when she had enough money to buy the pink to go on the back. But with seven girls to sew for and to keep in dresses, that was never a priority. So, when she died, I was lucky enough to want the top, no one else seemed to want it, but I can remember it when I was home it was always in the trunk, it was in the attic, it was waiting to be quilted. So, I decided that I would learn to quilt Momma's quilt.

ES: Did you do any other part of it besides the quilting?

MD: I added the tiny little appliqué in the corners of the sashing.

ES: The sashing was--

MD: It was a pale aqua, but it has faded out now. I did not do anything to the top. It was exactly like she had made it. This [referring to the miniature Little Dutch Girls.] I appliquéd later.

ES: On top of the square.

MD: Yes, after I quilted it because I thought it would--I called it the old and the new.

RD: When did you do the quilting?

MD: Probably in '84, '83.

ES: This was after you had already done some other quilting.

MD: I pieced a quilt and quilted it to be sure that I knew how to do the running stitches and then I put this together and quilted it.

ES: Were these fabrics in the Dutch girls [from.] clothing that you have recollections of having been in your family?

MD: I don't remember any of them. I don't know if they were clothing, or aprons. I have no idea.

ES: Have you used this quilt some?

MD: Yes. And it has been in several quilt shows.

ES: What is your favorite part of quilting?

MD: Oh, the piecing. Absolutely.

ES: You like piecing more than appliqué?

MD: I like appliqué, I like embroidery. I did a baby quilt in embroidery for my first grandchild. I like all three.

ES: Are they all by hand? Or do you use machine?

MD: I have not done anything by machine. Yes. [laughter.]

ES: Have you made quilts for all the members of your family, and your grandchildren?

MD: My son, who is married, I made a Double Wedding Ring quilt for their wedding present, but the thing is when they get married the quilt is started, and at the end of two years they get the quilt. [laughter.]

ES: That's good. They stand the test of a couple of years' time.

MD: And I did it in blues. My daughter-in-law is very appreciative of it and takes care of it but uses it. Then I made one in yellows for my daughter when she got married. And she uses it every day. [here was an aside, whether we had seen the pictures when she brought them to a meeting.]

ES: What are some of your favorite quilts you have made along the way? The Wedding Ring makes you smile, but are there others?

MD: I liked the Double Wedding Ring. In fact, I have purchased three. I have not made one for myself, but I have had three that I have bought.

ES: Are those contemporary?

MD: No. One of them was a two-dollar quilt from Goodwill that needs a little bit of repair, but it still in pretty good shape, to be as old as it is. [from twenties or thirties.] Another one was probably made in the 1930's. And the last one I bought was at an estate sale. I just could not believe that nobody would buy it, so I was there the last day and paid very little for it. But it is a beautiful quilt. It's on my bed.

ES: Are you collecting more quilts?

MD: I have several that I have bought. And one that I will share. You have to see it to believe it. It's not all that gorgeous, but it is a million tiny little squares.

ES: Have you ever taught quilting?

MD: Not really. I mean just among our club members, demonstrations of some things.

ES: Have you entered contests?

MD: No.

ES: Published anything?

MD: No. [chuckles.]

ES: But you have taken part in some activities or programs. Will you tell us?

MD: Oh, yes. It was in 1984, the Kennedy Center had the stage play, "Quilters." And our local club was asked to provide some quilts for this play plus a quilt to be quilted on during the intermission and before the show started. So, I happened to have a new Cranberry quilt frame, very nice, so I was asked if they could use it. And I said, 'Only if you quilt my quilt.' [laughter.] So, they laughed and said, 'Well, okay.' It was the Colonial Lady appliquéd. So, we worked on one and most of it was quilted. There were very few places that were left to be quilted. So, there were about two weeks left for the show to run and I had the second one because I like pairs of quilts. I don't know why. They are single bed type quilts. So, I brought the second one in and I'd say a third of it was quilted on it. Then I did the rest of it.

ES: Would you tell us who quilted? Who worked on it?

MD: Oh, there were over 900 people who quilted on it--from all over the world.

ES: And you have a journal here.

MD: Yes. Nine hundred and twenty-five on the first one and--[looking over other numbers on the page.]

ES: And they left their names and addresses. Can you name some of the countries that you see there?

MD: Well, Australia was one.

RD: Wisconsin.

MD: Wisconsin. New York was one. [flipping through pages of journal.]

ES: Were there mostly women who quilted?

MD: No. It was very interesting. The middle age and the older men were so anxious to sit down and quilt. They said, 'I remember my mother doing this, I remember my grandmother doing this, and they had this thing that came out from the ceiling.' [laughter.] It was the way they had their quilting frames at that time for space.

RD: They could raise them and lower them.

MD: Now I don't remember that. I don't know if I ever saw one.

ES: I never saw one, but I've certainly heard of them.

MD: But one kind of younger lady was there, and she said, 'It used to scare me to death when I went to Grandma's house.' [laughter.] It must have been in her bedroom or something.

RD: It would have been in the living room, I think.

ES: It hovered up above them.

MD: I think it would have been some place where you'd have space to sit around.

RD: The living room would be the likely spot, or conceivably a farm kitchen, where there would be space to get around it. But it would move because houses did not have high ceilings then. So, it would be kind of a lower thing. It would be big, and it could be threatening to a child.

MD: I have never seen one and I can't really imagine how it would work. But it worked because that's what they had.

ES: I imagine a one-room cabin. The child could have slept in there and the whole family was living behind a partition--all pretty much in one room.

MD: Like the "Little House on the Prairie."

ES: Yes.

RD: Incidentally, it was just the Cardinals [of Cardinal Quilters.] who were involved in this?

MD: Oh, no. It was the NQA. [National Quilting Association.] And it was the--[searching for a thank you letter.] Yes. She mentioned how many quilters--

ES: Would you read that to us? It was written by--

MD: The woman from the Terrace Theater, Julia Evans. It was dated September 16. [1984.] It says, 'Dear Mary, seven weeks have come and gone, and it's all finished. You and all your friends from the NQA have become special to me. With your help and cooperation, we were able to have 7 x 8 x 6 which is 326 ladies quilt for us and see the show.' She had a record of that, because see we got free passes, a free ticket when you were there.

ES: And some of you attended every performance?

MD: Oh, absolutely. There were 7 quilters at each performance. [continuing to read.] 'It has been a monumental success. Do let me hear from you, Mary. And enjoy those two quilts. They really are unique now in the quilting world. Best of everything. I hope to see you again. Julia'

ES: Very nice.

MD: So that was a very interesting time.

ES: Did you have to do anything to the quilt, like take out some bad stitches, or anything like that?

MD: Oh, no. [a few partial sentences deleted.] Nothing was taken out. If you look, you can find them. Your toenail might get caught in them. [laughter.]

ES: Right.

MD: But it was some of the best, also.

ES: Could you describe some of the early activities of the Cardinal group?

MD: Besides the Kennedy Center project, "Quilters" was over in Maryland, and I don't quite remember just where that was, but we also participated in that. That was the second quilt that I took over there.

RD: That was NQA, then, and not Cardinals.

MD: No, but Cardinals. We participated in the opening of it. And then I went back and -- I don't remember just when that was. And then Beth [Ford.] and Penny [Rigdon.] and I'm not sure if anybody else was involved. We participated in a Smithsonian historical project over in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

ES: Was it documenting quilts?

MD: I'm not sure but they knew of the Kennedy [theater performance.] thing we had participated in and then they asked if we would give our demonstration there.

ES: Did the Cardinal Quilters have shows.

MD: We had one show at the First Baptist Church in Alexandria, [Virginia.] on King Street.

ES: That was around--

MD: Did we say '88? We had a lot of quilts. It was a big auditorium. And we had not planned for anyone to guard the quilts overnight, so my husband and I, Warren and I, brought our sleeping bags and spent the night. [laughter.] It was on my birthday. He said, 'Wow, you really know how to celebrate unusual birthdays.' But it was very interesting. Of course, nobody tried to break in and take away anything that did not belong to them.

ES: You said it was eerie.

MD: Oh, about two or three o'clock in the morning it was a very eerie feeling. You could hear every little creak in the building you thought people were coming. And you thought you could hear footsteps. But it really wasn't. It might have been the angels' way in. [laughter.]

ES: Do you belong to any other quilting groups?

MD: No.

ES: Have you held offices through the years?

MD: What was I? Program chairman one time. We had a little project of the month each time.

ES: You have been treasurer since I have been president.

MD: Oh, I'm treasurer.

RD: You were sunshine, too, weren't you?

MD: I don't think so. I'm pretty busy. I do good to get there.

ES: Do you have a line-up of quilts that you need to do for various family members? Or have you caught up?

MD: Well, I have a finished Nine Patch Log Cabin that should be quilted. I think I've shown that. You remember that it's in blue. I have a pink and yellow Dresden Plate, pieced Dresden Plate that is number two, because I gave number one that was already finished to my son and his family. And my daughter said, 'You can give it to them only if you make another just like it.' So, it's ready to be quilted. It's finished. And my sister, Nell, her husband bought a wonderful house in Pennsylvania, and I started a Basket king sized quilt for them. It's just about finished. But the house has been sold. Her husband passed away. And now she lives in Florida. So, I am not a finisher-upper at all. And then I have about four tops that I have bought at different shows that are ready to be quilted. Those that I have put together and resewn, so I am not a finisher upper.

RD: You have plenty to do when you choose to do it. [laughter.]

ES: Do you have any special quilts you'd like to talk about, that you enjoyed doing?

MD: Well, I have given to my son and his family seven quilts in all. The Double Wedding Ring. The first one. And the embroidered baby quilt that I had picked up one of the Ben Franklin's, used to be Ben Franklin, then Total Crafts, on sale that's a little kit. But it turned out absolutely gorgeous. It's really a beautiful quilt. And then a Double Nine Patch in blue because it's Debby's favorite color. And the yellow and pink Dresden Plate. And then I had a Nine Patch that was in navy and purple that had an optical illusion. You remember that too, don't you? And then a sampler quilt that I made learning to quilt. I finally finished. I took Beth's [Ford.] class, and then I made it bigger. So, I finally finished that for Jordan. [second grandchild.] And before Jenna [first grandchild.] was born, I had started a pink and blue quilt that was a baby quilt. So, I finally finished that. It was finished, but I kept holding on to it. I was going to write a little book about it. But didn't get it done. Poor Madeira [daughter.] has only got the Double Wedding Ring Quilt. So far. Now this one [pointing to Colonial Lady.] has been used on Madison's [third grandchild.] bed a lot.

ES: That's one of your granddaughters.

MD: Yes, but in the house, they are in now, they all have single beds. But before they moved, she had a double bed. So, this was used on the bed. Now I have given quilts as gifts. Warren had a namesake, Jim Gehrke. So, when Jimmy got married, I made them a Basket quilt. It was more of a napping size quilt. It was just for the back of the sofa. And I gave my friend, who has been a very, very big help for me through the years, a Flying Geese pattern. And he says he sleeps under it when he is nervous and when he needs to rest. [laughter.]

RD: Does that not mean, always?

MD: No, he says his wife--this is in the guest room, and he takes his nap under my quilt for my healing hands. Oh, the Seven Sisters quilt I gave to my aunt in Kansas. I think that's it.

ES: [inaudible.]

MD: I gave Nancy Gillis' niece enough of those purple Nine Patches. She made a quilt like the one that I had with the optical illusion. She was very excited. When she'd come out from Oklahoma to stay with Nancy, a couple of weeks, she would work on it. So, I think that's about it.

ES: That's a very good output. I was going to ask you; do you keep track of these with pictures in an album?

MD: I have not. But I should.

ES: Do you enjoy looking at them often, when you get the chance?

MD: I take them out and refold them and if they need washing or -- because I have used a lot of them.

ES: I'd like to ask a couple of questions that are more general. What do you think makes a quilt great?

MD: Well, I think probably the fabrics and the artistic pattern, and I would say that lots of things go into a making a quilt. The appreciation of --it's fabric art, in so many ways.

ES: What has been the meaning of quilting for American women?

MD: Oh, well, it has been their social life all through the years. It has been way--they had to quilt in the summer to keep their families warm in the winter, before all the houses were with central heat.

ES: In conclusion, is there any other story you can tell us about your quilts?

MD: When I first started with Cardinal Quilters, Aunt Gladys Ford [Beth Ford's husband's aunt.] was a member. And she, for some reason, liked me and I liked her. And in fact, I have the very last little afghan that she made. She insisted that I have it. And it's, what do you call it when you ask your friends for thread? It's all different kinds of threads. It has a name. [in discussion, we could not think of it.] But it's a little bit of thread from Ruth, a little bit of thread-- just what you had left over. I'll have to bring it. It's really sweet. Also, the house that I'm in, in Alexandria--I met Edna Tremane through the Cardinal Quilters. She had lived in this house for fifty years. Her family was worried about her, being the only one in the area. Her daughter and her family lived in Richmond. [Virginia.] Her son and his family lived in Rhode Island, and another son lived in Florida. And so they insisted that she could not live by herself any longer. She was 86 years old. But she was so vivacious, and she worked at the church and got into that car and drove to Richmond when she'd want to. But anyway, she would not leave Alexandria unless she knew that I had her house. I did not need her house. We had a big house on Holly Street. My four grown kids were still at home. So, Warren and I bought her house, and we moved out and left the kids in the other house. And I'm still in her house. It needs lots of work. It was built in 1929. It's a grand old house. But that was through the connection of the quilting friends.

ES: I think we can conclude now, unless you can think of something else, we should know.

MD: Well, I could tell you stories and stories. But I think I've talked enough.

ES: We appreciate very much your contribution today in your interview. Thank you very much.


“Mary Colquitt Darkow,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,