Pat Leonard


VA22801-003 Pat Leonard.jpg


Pat Leonard




Pat Leonard


Judy Stryker

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Emily Klainberg


Virginia Quilt Museum, Harrisonburg, VA


Lynn Drake


Judy Stryker (JS): This is Judy Stryker and today's date is April 26, 2003. It's 10:00 a.m. and I am conducting an interview with Pat Leonard for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. We are in the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Well good morning, Pat.

Pat Leonard (PL): Well good morning, Judy.

JS: Could you tell me about the quilt you brought in today?

PL: I first saw this quilt about almost 50 years ago when my husband and I were married. It belonged to my mother-in-law and her mother made it. It was the only quilt she quilted because she mainly did tied quilts and beautifully embroidered crazy quilts. I always loved it because I like green and there's a lot of greens in it and I would look at it every once in a while. My mother-in-law liked to show her quilts, she had a large collection, and that got me a little interested in quilting because I did like to sew. I didn't see this quilt for many years. My mother-in-law became very ill about ten years ago and she told me when she died that the quilt could be mine. So that's the reason I have it and the workmanship is fantastic, for somebody's first quilt. I can't believe the stitching.

JS: Yes, it is very beautiful, and I can see it has a lot of sentimental value to you. How do you use this quilt in your home?

PL: I have it on display in my living room. I will put it over the back of a chair or something. I don't use it on the bed, and I don't keep it out all the time. I fold it various ways, but I just like to see it, I don't want it on the shelf.

JS: Right, oh I agree it is beautiful and you don't want to put it on a bed to get used up either.

PL: No and I have a cat who would probably sleep on it.

JS: [laughter.] Tell me about how you got started in quilting or your interest in quilting.

PL: Well, I've always liked to sew and then in 1976, with the bicentennial, I was asked to participate in Warrenton, Virginia, at the National Guard Armory, they had a big celebration, all kinds of crafts, I guess that's not the right word, but I can't think of another word. They asked me to display, at that time I was making afghans out of monk's cloth and yarn. You know, stitching different designs, so I was asked to demonstrate that. We had to make our own dresses and so forth.

JS: Ah.

PL: Then my sister-in-law and I, in our time out, looked around and I was noticing the women that were quilting and then I really got hooked so I even brought today my little, teeny thing, the first stitching I ever did. My sister-in-law and I attended a class at the extension office in Warrenton and that I really got interested. Then I started quilting and I think I took my first class with Jinny Beyer in probably in 1980. It's on my little quilt I brought with me.

JS: Oh, you brought--

PL: I brought my second piece. The first one I did was a doll quilt for my doll bed. Jinny Beyer helped me with it because I was having trouble when she was at Rush River in Washington, Virginia. And then when she held class, I took a design quilting class and from then on, I was hooked. I don't do a lot but I'm always stitching along.

JS: You've certainly got a good start with a good teacher.

PL: I think the world of Jinny Beyer.

JS: Well, are there other quilters in your family besides you?

PL: Well, yes. I have two granddaughters who have quilted and entered in our local fair and this year, my youngest granddaughter, who will soon be 12, we're going to do placemats and she's going to machine quilt them. We're going to get her to hand quilt, but she loves it. And the second granddaughter who is 15, I don't know if she is going to have time this year. She's so involved in sports that I don't know if she's going to have time, but we'll see what the summer brings. But they do very well.

JS: Did they get interested in quilts because of you? Did you teach them?

PL: Yes.

JS: Oh, that's wonderful

PL: That's why in my little questionnaire I stretched it a little bit on teaching. That's the only teaching I do is in the family so you might want to make a little note there but that's the only teaching I do is in the family.

JS: Oh, okay. We'll make a note of that. [rustling of paper.]

PL: So, make a note there.

JS: That counts.

PL: They really like it. They've done appliqué. The primitive stitch appliqué. They enjoy it and they have their own little featherweight sewing machine.

JS: Oh, did you have anything [laughter.] to do with that?

PL: Yes. Grandma did that. I keep them at my house, and they come there to do their machine work.

JS: So, they live close by?

PL: Yes.

JS: That's great. Of course, I can see that you found quilts pleasing and comforting.

PL: Oh, I do. I love them. Particularly the old ones, I'm more interested in the old ones. When I go to a quilt show, it's the old ones that draw me. The newer ones are the last ones I look at. The old ones and then I like small quilts, too.

JS: Do you buy quilts? Do you have a collection?

PL: Yes, but I haven't bought any recently, but I do have a few that I have bought from estate auctions of people that I knew, or my mother maybe knew. I do have few.

JS: So, you have a sentimental value. There's a sentimental connection there also.

PL: Yes.

JS: Besides just the quilts.

PL: Particularly the people I didn't know but my mother did and talked about. When I would go to their estate auction I would usually come home with another quilt.

JS: That's good. Well, I want to ask you a question. What do you think makes a great quilt and/or a great quilter?

PL: I don't know. I think of a great quilt--I look--it's hard to put into words sometimes.

JS: It is. That's a hard question.

PL: When I look at a quilt, I guess the old quilt, that's the main I'm interested in, I look at it and I look at the-- I guess I look at the workmanship, I look at the color and I think back at some of the old quilts, they didn't have the selection of fabrics we have now and I think what they did with the colors and the fabrics they had is absolutely fascinating. Because I think they did what I can't do, what I could not do, in putting them together. And just how they put the colors together. I guess how they worked with what they had.

JS: It is intriguing I know. What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

PL: Well, I would think a collection of old fabrics that it was made of. I don't think it has to be perfect stitches to belong into a museum. I don't think it has to be perfectly made to belong into a museum. I think maybe the history of it, if you can find the history behind it, which sometimes you can't do, that what makes it belong into a museum. But I don't think it has to be a perfect quilt to belong in a museum.

JS: Very interesting and I agree. And I've already gotten the feeling you want to tell us about how you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

PL: Well, I think hand quilting is absolutely wonderful. It's what I like to do the best because I think it's therapeutic. When I feel bad, if I can go stitch and sit down and do some stitching or if I had a headache, it will help tremendously. I see machine quilting as getting it done fast and I have had quilts machine quilted because when I have them made up for my granddaughters and my grandsons and I know they are going to get hard work, they go camping, those quilts get machine quilted. I am making quilts now, putting them together, they will be machine quilted but they won't be given to those children until they are grown up. I'm still a real believer in hand quilting.

JS: How many grandchildren do you have?

PL: I have five.

JS: And is that where. Are your grandchildren the ones you are making these quilts for?

PL: Yes. I've made quilts for my three children. But I do prefer the hand quilting. I have nothing against machine quilting but I--it's not the same.

JS: Yeah, I agree. Does quilting, you talked about how important quilting is to you. What about the impact on your family or have you ever and you also touched on this, have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time? You mentioned that if you have a headache

PL: Oh yes. When I feel bad and I've had back problems now since last July and I have a wing chair that I dearly love but I can't sit in it without pillows pushed behind, but I do that and I get some quilting and if I can sit there and quilt for a while, it does feel better. It really does. And I think it helps you no matter what kind of a problem or anything you might have. I'm prone to headaches, I'll sit, and quilt and my headache will go away.

JS: That's wonderful.

PL: I've always loved quilting and my stitches are not as good as they used to be, but they are satisfactory, so I don't worry about there being perfect stitches.

JS: That's good to hear.

PL: I used to. I used to agonize over these things, but I don't anymore or at least not as much.

JS: Well, I think there was an awful lot of emphasis, especially in the 1970s, early 80's. Tiny, tiny stitches and all even.

PL: I used to go to classes at Quilt Patch in Fairfax, in the 80's [1980s.]. Friends and I would go, and we'd take all kinds of classes and I would be intimidated by some of the people there because they, some of the instructors, they really pushed you to be perfect. And that wasn't me, so I finally gave up attending too many of those classes and sort of do it my own way.

JS: [laughter.] I can't believe how close your feelings go with my personal feelings, too. And I guess, what is the favorite part of quilting? The quilting for you?

PL: Yes, the quilting. I'm not crazy about piecing. I'm not very good at putting colors together. I can put two colors together, maybe three and you get beyond the three and I'm kind of lost sometimes so I really prefer quilting any day.

JS: What, ah, do you want to think a minute? What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life and what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's' history in America??

PL: I think they're important because they are a comfort to start with. And I know I think a lot about back when women left their homes and had to travel thousands of miles across country and sometimes there wasn't much, they could take with them, and quilts were generally included. I guess I remember that a lot because my husband's family traveled from Michigan to Missouri to Virginia in covered wagons and they brought quilts with them. And so, I've heard it through his family, I've heard of that, and I just think quilts are a comfort to people. And a lot of times women couldn't paint, there are things they couldn't do, but they sure could make beautiful quilts. And I think they put themselves in the quilt.

JS: Yes, they did, a lot of times. Do you have any thoughts on how quilts can be preserved for the future? What would be your advice to somebody coming to you and telling you them they had a collection of family quilts. What should they do with them?

PL: I know what I would say. [laughter.] I would say ask the museum if they would like them. That's what's going to happen with this one and some of the ones I have at home because I know they can take care of them. Lots of times some families, you may have your children your grandchildren, they might love them, but they don't know how to take care of them. When I have a lot of sentimental value over something, I want it taken care of not used daily because it will get used up and then it's gone. And I'm a firm believer in putting these in museums that was the reason I was glad that my daughter agreed to give this one quilt because it's too fragile to keep and I'm just a firm believer in the quilt museum.

JS: Well, in a museum it does get to be shared with a lot of other people.

PL: Everybody gets to see them. I know that some of my family came up just last weekend to see the quilts and they heard me talk about this quilt museum for years and they were absolutely delighted with what they saw. I like the people to see them instead of boxed up on a shelf.

JS: I can't believe how closely your feelings about quilts reflect my own. [laughter.]

PL: I'm glad to see. Usually, I always tell my husband, I think I think differently than everybody else but I'm glad to meet you. We think along the same lines.

JS: No and I think the most important thing is if the quilt makes you feel good that's what makes an important quilt.

PL: I think so.

JS: And a wonderful quilt and like you said, it doesn't need to be perfect.

PL: No.

JS: It makes you happy.

PL: Friends and I went to the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., I guess it was a year and a half ago, it was in the winter, to see this display of very old appliqué quilts. They were absolutely fantastic! I got up real close and looked at them and I went home feeling good because I wanted to do some appliqué. Their stitches weren't perfect by no means. Their stitches showed. I think it's only been kind of recent that your appliqué stitches had to be hidden. And theirs weren't hidden. They were nice little stitches, as long as they're nice, they don't have to be hidden and I felt much better, and I felt like I could go ahead and do a little appliqué.

JS: Yes, they're very few, really, of these old quilts in museums and anywhere that would win prizes in today's quilt competitions.

PL: No, they definitely would not.

JS: Yet we treasure these old quilts so much. Why don't you get out your piece? Let me see the other piece you brought.

PL: Well, this is the second one I made in Ginny's class, Ginny Beyer's class. We had to design; it's all her fabrics, even her thread from Rush River. It was 1980, I looked on the back. I embroidered 1980 on it.

JS: [they look at the piece.] This is attractive and your stitches are perfect. I mean they all look even to me.

PL: [laughter.] And then this is the little piece that we did at the extension office, a little quilting course. I think I got my same old needle still in there. That had to be '76, '77 [1976,1977.].

JS: Now is this cotton or cotton-poly?

PL: My sister-in-law put it together for us to attend this little seminar like and I haven't touched it since.

JS: Because at that time you couldn't many cottons at all. I know. Okay that's a practice piece. Did you date that?

PL: No, I didn't.

JS: You should put a date on that.

PL: I think I'm going to have because it was right after the bicentennial, so it had to be about '77, 78 [1977, 1978.].

JS: That's about when I got started. Did you join a club then?

PL: I didn't join a club until we started one Piedmont Quilters in Warrenton [Virginia.]. It was started through the extension office. And that was probably about the same time, maybe about '80, '81, '82. And I belonged to them until; I'm a life member there. Now I attend Fairfax Quilters Unlimited.

JS: The first, the Piedmont group. What did you do there? Did you programs?

PL: Yes. We had programs, instructors came in. Jinny Beyer came in several times. Margie Hockman, I think is a charter member, she gave little courses too. And a lot we learned from each other. It was a fair sized group at the time, which it still is. Mostly we learned together. We made life-long friends.

JS: And I think that's the way women did it from the start of time.

PL: We made raffle quilts. Believe me, we really learned. That's how you learn by doing. So, it was enjoyable.

JS: Well, it's been very interesting. Is there anything that you can think of you'd like to talk about or tell us about your quilting experience or about quilts in general? You've touched on how you feel that it's important that quilts be preserved in museums.

PL: I think they definitely have to be. [pause.] It's been fun quilting. I've enjoyed it more than any hobby I've ever had. I like to read too but I still think quilting is so much fun and it's so, you never know what's going to happen when you start out with something. When you maybe run out of a piece of fabric, you can't find it well you make do with something else, which I've seen in so many old quilts and it doesn't deter from the quilt at all. I've had a dog chew a hole in my quilt and I've had to appliqué something over it. I had a puppy and that's what she did. I appliquéd, it was a sailboat quilt, so I appliquéd a little whale over it and frankly I think it made the quilt. But it's funny things like that. I've snipped, in taking basting threads out, I have snipped holes. Always there's something you can do to take care of it. But it's funny things like that. I thought it was a disaster at the time, but it can turn out to be. I think quilting. I enjoy it 100 percent. I really do and I think how old I am now, and I think oh great, I've some things I've got to finish, I've got to do more in the next ten years [inaudible.] than I have in the past. But my children, my family, they are interested. My two sons, they are really interested in my quilting, which as I find it's interesting that men, so many men are quilting, and they don't consider it a woman's job. I'm interested in that. I'm glad my family likes it because some of my things that I have made, I think they will take care of, though some of my old quilts I have written down that they will go to the Museum. So, I have one pair of twins, I call them the twins, they are twin bed quilts, and they were made in the early '30s and they were appliquéd by a mother and daughter. I get them out once in a while and straighten them over a chair, just to breathe. I just love looking at the stitches and thinking of what the women did. They didn't have electricity; they didn't have all the labor saving devices that we have. Course, as my husband says, yes, they didn't have cars to ride around in either. But so many of them-- I don't know. Not much quilting went on in my mother's, in my side of the family but in my husbands, they were very prolific quilters. And I know they did it mostly at night and I think of how hard those women, some of them worked. No electricity. I just admire the quilters. I really do.

JS: What do you think is the future of quilting? Do you have any thoughts on all the art quilts that are being created today?

PL: Well, it's just not my thing. It's like paintings, people like the modern art which I don't see at all. I've noticed in so many of the magazines, it seems to me like what it's going to, and I've dropped subscriptions to several magazines because I thought it too far out for me. But people seem to enjoy that but it's just not something I'm interested in at all, and I don't want to see it get too far from traditional because I still like to see the traditional quilts being made.

JS: Well then what do you think we can do to promote the traditional quilts more or to make sure people don't give it up entirely? Do you think, well most art quilts I guess are not bed size quilts, they're smaller. Maybe it's, well who knows.

PL: I really don't know. Maybe it's just a phase that you go through in few years. I don't know. I really don't.

JS: Does it worry you?

PL: Yes, because I frankly don't like it. I don't like it at all, but I don't know what to do about it. When I go to quilt shows, I've just been to Lancaster [Pennsylvania.], and I looked at some of them and I said, 'Why did that woman make that?' I'd like to know; I'd like to talk to her just to see where she got her ideas. Some of them are really, really weird. But maybe they had fun doing it and I wouldn't object to that, but some of them are really--we just have to stand there and look at them and wonder what went on to make them make that quilt.

JS: Curious.

PL: But I don't know what we can do. Maybe it's just a phase. Who knows? I know a few years back I went to Winchester [Virginia.] hospital with my father-in-law and while he was waiting for an appointment, I wandered all through the hospital because they have quilts on display on their walls. They're in a frame, very well framed and they were beautiful. I mean all up and down the aisles, I went places where I'm sure I wasn't supposed to, but I just walked right back along there just looking at all the quilts on the walls. But they were regular quilts, they weren't art quilts, they did not look new. So, I thought that was fascinating for that hospital to do that.

JS: Well, I think we kind of turn to old things, or things we know, to make us feel good or to comfort us.

PL: Well, that's just another example of quilts being a comfort.

JS: Would you take a time out and think of anything else you'd like to add?

PL: [pause.] Well--

JS: Let me turn this off. [tape recorder turned off and turned on again.] Just go ahead and talk.

PL: Something similar to this back in, and I can't remember the name of the book, but I do have the book at home, where this couple went and were interviewing people all over about their quilts and getting their stories and the pictures they had and the men and the women. I think it was mostly East Coast, I think but I can't remember the name of the book. Myron, was it Myron somebody?

JS: Oh, yes.

PL: The most fascinating reading. I have read that book and read that book. And this is sort of maybe similar to what that is. To get the history before it's lost completely.

JS: Right, so you do feel that's important. To preserve the story.

PL: Because if they hadn't done it then we wouldn't have their history at all. And now, different times, different, well everything's different now in the quilting. Different people, different fabrics, well just different stories. And I think that's good this is being done but I just happen to think about that book because I saw it the other day on my shelf and I thought I need to get it out and read it again, read some more in it. I love the quilting books too, the history books. I had one on the Oregon Trail, which I made a quilt for my older son based on one of the quilts that went over the Oregon Trail because he's western oriented. That was fun making that quilt. I do some paper piecing but this one wasn't paper pieced. It was just fun, and my son loves that quilt because he says he could almost feel it traveling over the Oregon Trail and just those stories of those women and I think of how easy really, we have it today to make quilts. We ought to make to make a whole lot more, I guess, than what they did. I think history is very important as well as preserving the quilts themselves and preserving the stories.

JS: [pause.] Okay. We really covered most of the questions. Well then do you consider quilting an art or a craft?

PL: Craft has gotten to be a word that I think sounds, I don't how to say it. I don't consider quilting a craft. I consider it's an art. Crafts now seems like it's gotten a tacky word. That's my personal thought.

JS: Have you ever made a quilt to express an opinion, political or that you felt made a statement other than a comfort to you? You have already told us that you like the traditional patterns and the old style, so I'm presuming you choose a pattern because it's pleasing.

PL: It's like my older son's. I choose that pattern because of what he liked, and it was sort of a replica of one that went over the Oregon Trail. And then my daughter-in-law, who shows Holstein cows, has shown them since she was a little girl, I made her one two years ago of a black and white quilt. It was a log cabin with a little red square and the rest were black and off white fabrics. Just because of the colors and the colors of the cows that she shows. She dearly loved that. And then my daughter, I usually have a theme or something, it's nothing political, but my daughter loves Christmas so I made her a Christmas quilt and I'm now working on a Christmas quilt, log cabin, for her older son, who loves Christmas. So, I usually try to pick the quilt to the person but as for making a statement or something, my political statements, they don't want to see some quilts I might make for political statements [laughter.]. Usually, I don't just make a quilt, just pick out a pattern. I usually try to match it to the person.

JS: And you did make a block or several blocks for the Pentagon [September 11.] quilt, didn't you?

PL: Yes.

JS: How did you, did anything special come into your mind to pick what you did?

PL: I wanted a star. I do like stars, and I always did like the long-legged stars and the ones I made were long-legged stars

JS: Did that help you get through the emotional time? Did you know anybody? Or how did that affect you? And did making the block help you through that?

PL: It sure did make me think about it. I didn't know anyone personally, but I did know people who knew people who were working at the Pentagon at the time it happened. One of the men was severely burned, he happened to be a contractor working there at the time. He was a friend of a friend of ours. I was working at the barn, feeding my animals that morning. I walked into my son's house, whose main house is on the farm, and he was in there and he said, 'Did you see this?' I went in there I couldn't believe my eyes. And so, I turned around and went home. What a horrifying thing but when it came time to make this block it kind of brought it all back, but it was a little therapeutic, to make something that would go into a quilt memorializing the event.

JS: That's interesting. Okay, is there anything else you'd like to add?

PL: I don't think so except that I do hope we can save all the old quilts that we can, particularly for the younger people coming up today. They need to see the items and know the stories behind them.

JS: Keep them interested or appreciate?

PL: Appreciate probably. Yes, appreciate them.

JS: Thank you, Pat, for allowing us to interview you today as part of the Quilters' Save Our Stories project and our interview was completed about 10:35 a.m. Thank you.



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