Mildred Wittig


VA22801-004 Mildred Wittig.jpg


Mildred Wittig




Mildred Wittig


Judy Stryker

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Virginia Quilt Museum


Evelyn Naranjo


Judy Stryker (JS): Hello, Mildred.

Mildred Wittig (MW): Hello, Judy

JS: To start off, would you like to tell us about the article you brought today?

MW: Well, yes. Today I brought a quilt that I made. It is called, "An Addendum." It's a garment to wear. An addendum is something that is added to, and this is somewhat like a poncho; it's a dress-up or a dress-down garment. I wear it either with a blouse and skirt, or a dress, or pantsuit, or a dress suit. This is a project that I did because I love crazy quilting and I wanted to start and see what I could do with crazy quilting. I love embroidery and embellishment. The different fabrics have always inspired me. I just loved fabrics ever since I was a little girl, and my mother did sewing. So, this "Addendum" that I made I just started and worked my way through it piece by piece. I didn't have any pattern. I found pieces of fabrics in my box collection of fabrics from many years, and I used, in this "Addendum" velvet, wool, linen, silk, rayon, lace from my mother's dress that she wore back in the '70's. I used a piece of my husband's silk tie, a piece of my son's argyle sock and a piece from a fabric from a couple of dresses that I had been fond of in the past and no longer wear. And I did this project to sort of satisfy myself. I just wanted to be in touch with different people, and the fabrics reminded me of the people. Another reason I started this project, I wanted to prove to myself that I could make something that would be useful and attractive because I am a partially sighted person. I have a visual handicap, and since my surgery back in 1966, for a long time, I was afraid to undertake sewing. I was afraid I would strain my eyes; well, actually I had only one good eye. My left eye was blind and the right eye, after surgery for retinal detachment, my vision was restored to 20/200. That's legally blind and I had this terrible fear of blindness. So, for a number of years, I didn't undertake any tedious project or close work. Then, through the years, I went through a period of depression and anxiety and so in the late '90's is when I thought, 'I must overcome, and I must have a purpose and work to strive and do the best I can'. So, my passion for fabrics and crazy quilts led me into this, mostly to see what I could do, or to prove that I could do, and I did. I proved to myself that I don't have to sit back in a dark corner and grieve or despair over a handicap when indeed I came out into the light, actually. And of course, with the aid of magnifiers and magnifying glasses and special light, I created an area where I can sew and do the best I can do. It is not really the type of handiwork that would pass great scrutiny in detail, but I love it and, I really think, that anyone who has a handicap can overcome and put their best foot forward and discover all the potential, whatever potential is there, and use it for some good. And so, I love to wear this "Addendum". It speaks of me and a lot of things in my past. Later I went on to make a second "Addendum" which was all silk. The second one I call my dress-up "Addendum." My first one is a little more casual, but it is very serviceable, and I love it.

JS: Well, that's quite an interesting story and an inspiration, I think, to anybody that you told this and I see that the first thing you made was made with fabrics or scraps that you had that remind you of--it's like a memory piece and that is probably most special to you.

MW: It is.

JS: That's very good and it is an inspiration to other people that have handicaps. And I can see already you have used your love of fabrics to work through a difficult time in your life.

MW: I did.

JS: Did you sew before?

MW: Yes, as a young girl I did sewing. Not to any great extent. I took home economics in high school and did sewing, and I always enjoyed my teacher during my high school years. Of course, after high school, I went on to college and did other things, got married and had a family, but when our two daughters were little, and that was in the 1960's, the early '70's, I did make a dress for each to wear in their cousin's wedding. That was a major undertaking, but I kept it rather simple. So I did some sewing off and on over the years, but with the tedious work, I tend to shy away from it and I had fears. I had fears of blindness and that held me back. Today that doesn't hold me back anymore.

JS: Well, tell me about your interest in quilting, or in quilts? How did you get into it, or when did you first find an interest in quilts, either to make them or to collect them?

MW: My mother-in-law gave us quilts that she made before she died in 1972 and at that time, I used a quilt on our girls' bed. I washed it in the washing machine, hung it on the clothesline outside, and did all the things you should never do with a quilt. But then later, as I learned from friends, I decided to preserve the quilts. And I now have two quilts that are made by my mother-in-law that are hanging in bedrooms and I began to learn and to discover that quilting is a very special art, and it is a very beautiful art. And so, in the '70's and '80's I thought, 'Oh, I want to learn more about it.' So, in 1990 I did join a quilting group and learned some of the basics and some of the things you really need to know about quilting. But it wasn't until the latter part of the '90's I made this "Addendum". However, in 1990 with the quilting group, I did make a wall hanging--"Cookie Jar" wall hanging. And that was very simple. But that was my first really hands on quilting in a simple way. Since my husband and I have been retired and I have more time than we used to with the family and all, I have gotten more involved with small projects.

JS: Well, how does that--how do quilts you have touched on or quilt related projects affect your family or what influence they have in your family? Do you find yourself spending more time than your husband wants you to on your projects? [laughs.]

MW: Actually, no. My husband is very supportive. In fact, he will just not mind at all if I don't stop to get lunch, or if I am busy at dinnertime and I suggest to him that there is something in the refrigerator, he'll say, 'That's alright. I'll make myself a salad'. [laughs.]

JS: That's wonderful.

MW: My husband is really good, and if I need any assistance from him, he will gladly assist.

JS: That's wonderful. Could you tell us all about what you in general think about quilts? Do you have any ideas about what makes a great quilt? Or a great quilter?

MW: Oh, well, to me to be a great quilter would be letting yourself be absorbed in the love of what you're doing. I wouldn't quilt if it was work. I would only quilt for my love of working with the fabrics and working with threads as with my "Addendum." I did embellishments with beads, lace, buttons and threads. It is a love for being creative and doing something that you might consider beautiful. Not everyone is attracted to the same type of things. I just love crazy quilts and I think because there is so much in them that talks. I think the quilt has to talk to you and tell you something.

JS: That's what I want to hear. [laughs.] What would you say would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

MW: I'm not really sure. It might depend on what the museum's emphasis is or what they're wanting to accomplish. I think something that would inspire another person to appreciate the art of quilting, or to capture another person's interest. It is kind of like a painting. Art, you know, there are different things that attract different people. So, I think for a museum it really needs to be something rather special with detail, and good craftsmanship, good seamstress work. And a work that shows that there has been care and time put into it, not hastily made, but one that has had a lot of effort and thought behind it.

JS: Do you consider quilting an art or a craft?

MW: Definitely an art.

JS: I guess you have already talked about your favorites are the crazy quilts. Do you enjoy sewing the pieces together, or the embellishing, because you did mention that you did like to use embellishment?

MW: Yeah, the embellishment I am more attracted to. I am always anxious to get the pieces put together because that is a little tricky in the embellishment, sometimes getting them to fit just right and to have good balance, color balance, as well as size balance in the piece. But then the fun comes with embellishing, and I'll get started, and sometimes I just don't quite know where to stop--

JS: [laughs.]

MW: --with that.

JS: [laughs.] I know what you mean. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life, to you?

MW: I think one thing I have often thought about in today's world I see in my children and their spouses and in our grandchildren that so many things are wasted. It is just buy and toss away and to me one of the valuable things that I learned from women who quilted years ago in the 1800's, they quilted and they used every scrap of fabric they had, and they used every piece, and they saved every piece that they had. And to me, the importance of quilting speaks to the need to conserve, be frugal with whatever you have, to care for and use, given the materials at hand.

JS: A lot of what you are saying is saying something about women's history too in America and what they had to do to get along and survive, I guess.

MW: Oh, I admire the history that has been related as far as women working together in quilting bees, or even just a lady herself sitting alone at night by candlelight or rising early in the morning to work by daylight. That's an inspiration. As individuals I think that we have so much to do that we sometimes lally gag and waste the time. I find that I was doing that at one point, there was so much time that I was wasting so when evaluating my use of time and my purpose in life, I found I could do more meaningful things.

JS: Like quilting or making quilted objects. Express yourself.

MW: Exactly, yeah.

JS: You brought a couple of other pieces today. Would you like to tell us about them?

MW: I would like to tell you about my baby quilt. This is one that my sister had. I have a twin sister and at some time in her life mother gave her our baby quilts from 1934. I don't know who made the quilt, and I actually don't remember this quilt as a child, but Margaret, my sister, said that our mother had given her the quilt saying it was our baby quilt. So, my sister Margaret has one hanging on her bedroom wall and this one I hang in our bedroom on the wall. And, of course, I like it because the colors are red, white and blue. That fits fine with the décor of my bedroom, but I think it goes back to 1934, and mother thought of it enough to preserve it. Why she didn't bring it out at some later time and talk to us about it, I don't know. But, anyway, I am glad it was preserved.

JS: That is very pretty.

MW: And the "Colonial Lady" quilt that I have here. I have had a passion for feedsack prints. I've always liked them because I grew up with feed sacks, wearing feed sack dresses. I was at an estate auction, where the top piece, it was like a coverlet was for sale. It was unfinished. And, as I looked at the "Colonial Lady" and saw the feedsack prints in it and the feedsack background, I decided I just had to have it. I wanted to complete it and restore it. I called a friend of the lady who was deceased, actually it was a relative. And I was told that the lady, Bertha, who had made the quilt, probably made it in the 1950's. And she did all kinds of piecing and quilting. Apparently, this was one she had never completed. So, after I bought it at the auction, I added a cotton batting and a feedsack backing and made the feedsack binding and finished it. Then I have a Mennonite friend who lives near Harrisonburg to do the stitch-in-the-ditch quilting which helps to enhance the pattern. Sometimes coverlets were made without quilting, and I think this was originally intended to be only a coverlet, but I think it is very definitely enhanced by making it into a quilt.

JS: And when did you make the quilt?

MW: I bought this in an auction in the late '90's.

JS: Oh, the late '90's.

MW: The lady, Bertha Haviland Shenk, was born in 1917 and then she died in 1996 and I purchased it in 1997.

JS: Beautiful outlay. It has a lot of feedsack.

MW: And this "Colonial Lady" quilt then hung in the exhibit at the Virginia Quilt Museum when they had a show. I have a label here that says--

JS: [inaudible.]

MW: Feedsack Show. It's on the back here and I thought it is just so unique. This "Colonial Lady" just has so many blocks in it. On the back corner is the label.

JS: I'll help you looking. Here it is.

MW: Okay.

JS: Yes, 'Memories by the Sack Full September 2001 to February 2002'. I know, and I remember it hanging here and how much I loved it. The flowers--It is designed a little bit different. The flowers in each block sort of look like balloons.

MW: They do, yeah.

JS: Ah.

MW: "Colonial Lady with her Parasol."

JS: I would like to ask you if you have any ideas how we can encourage quilting in the young people, or how we can encourage people to preserve quilts for the future. Have you ever thought about it?

MW: Yes, this program, S.O.S. [Q.S.O.S.] is certainly one great effort to make people aware of the value of quilts, not just monetary value, but sentimental, creative, the value of just having a handmade item, which is to me far more unique than a machine--projects that are made hundreds at a time.

JS: Mass-produced.

MW: Mass-produced. Yes. I have a grandson. One of our 9 grandchildren. He is age 11 and last year he had asked me to make him a bedspread just cutting squares and I had already started him at the sewing machine to do some sewing, so I talked to him about working with me. So, he actually used the rotary cutter and cut some squares and then he sewed some of them together on the sewing machine. He designed the pattern and the color layout. We used five different colors of solid fabric. He wanted just solid fabric. So, he did the designing, some of the cutting, and some of the sewing. When I finished putting it all together for him, he asked if he could have some of his other first cousins to help tie it. I think that is one of the ways to get an interest going. So, his whole family, his first cousins were interested in what he did.

JS: And I think it is interesting that you taught the grandson, and you taught him, and he was interested enough to learn to use the sewing machine. I think that is wonderful. I know you made some blocks for the Pentagon Memorial Quilt. Do you want to talk about those? How you chose what to do?

MW: Well, I made one that's in the pentagon shape with the little people. I had fabric that I loved that had little people, so I just cut out each little person and appliquéd it onto the pentagon pieces. And I called it "Friends" -- "Pentagon Friends."

JS: Did you know anyone that was there?

MW: I didn't know anyone at the Pentagon at this time. The other block that I did was in the second quilt. There were two quilts, and the little "Pentagon Friends" went in one quilt and the other one I did was called "Ground Zero". I actually used fabric and quilted in two pieces that resembled the twin towers and a cross that shows up in the area between the two towers. And the area between the two towers has x's in it. There were black x's in that fabric, and I used that to represent ground zero. And I realize that is not Pentagon that it preceded the Pentagon disaster, and it is all part of the same event that day, and I just wanted to be a part of that project that I thought was wonderful that the Museum did.

JS: I know you volunteer here at the Museum. Do you, is there any special reason, how did you come to volunteer, decide you wanted to volunteer?

MW: I decided to come here to volunteer because I think it is a wonderful venture of having a museum where people from anywhere can come and view the exhibits. Because I think so much of quilting, and the preservation of quilts, and quilt making today, I would just like everyone to be a part of helping that to go on, and I like to give my time for something that I consider very valuable and worthwhile. And then too, I enjoy being here. Just talking and socializing and meeting people. So many interesting people come from different states, from other countries. It's an inspiration to me. I call it my "day out" every month because I find it exhilarating and I love giving my time for something that is so worthwhile.

JS: Do you have any thoughts about the future of quilting in America? The trends? I think we are seeing a lot of art quilts now. What do you think about that?

MW: Oh, it's good for people to expand their thinking and expand on their abilities and anything new that can come out of what you do is just growth for the person, and it is growth for other people to see and to share. I know, I have seen some modern quilt art that I think, oh, you know, it just blows my mind to think of. What is that? Or how did they do it? But I think it is a tremendous venture for anyone to undertake for an expression. A person can express themselves. And the viewers who see it, these quilts on exhibit, it is a great way to expand your mind, to expand your thinking, and then even go home and try some of the new ways and with the new equipment, the elaborate machines, I think it is great.

JS: Is there anything at all you would like to say in addition to what we have already talked about? Or do you want to expound on anything we have touched so far?

MW: I guess the one last thing is that people who I have met and worked with here at the Museum in quilting are wonderful people. I have enjoyed my association with Joan Knight [Director of the Virginia Quilt Museum.]. I think she is a fabulous person in all the time that she gives for the Museum. And her ideas, and her relationship with people is just so soothing and effective and inspiring. It's a way--quilting is a way of coming out of ourselves. It brings out the very best in everyone. You know, we work for the best, we work with the best people, and I just want to say the association in life to be productive, to be an influence on others people's lives and them on us, it is a very wonderful way to care, and share, and to have for our descendants, a legacy for our descendants that they can pick up on it and they can appreciate the things that we appreciate today. And I think it is a good thing to talk about quilting, and I think it is just good to show and to share our abilities with quilting.

JS: Well, I thank you for that because I think you are an inspiration to anyone in quilting or any other art or anyone with a handicap, and I really have enjoyed this. So, thank you, Mildred, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. The interview concluded at 12:45 p.m.

MW: Thank you, Judy. I enjoyed it.



“Mildred Wittig,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,