Lucile Leister




Lucile Leister




Lucile Leister


Nola A. Forbes

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Del Thomas


Bethel, Vermont


Nola A. Forbes


Note: Lucile Lester is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required.

Nola A. Forbes (NF): This is Nola Forbes, a member of the DAR doing an interview for Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories, a project for The Alliance for American Quilts. This is July 22, 2008, and with me today is Lucile Leister. Lucile, would you tell us a little bit about how you got started in quilt making?

Lucile Leister (LL): I've always been interested in quilts and there were several old quilts or quilts that were made by an aunt of mine, in the family. My mother did not quilt, but she had some of these old family quilts and I realized at one point that these old quilts were probably going to wear out and I thought to myself, 'What kind of things are my children going to have?' Cause at that point I had several children and I wanted to make--I wanted to learn how to do some of these quilts so that my children would have something in the way of a heritage that would include quilting.

NF: Did you learn quilt making from others or did you self-teach?

LL: Well, I asked around in Vermont about people that made quilts, and I found out that in the area where I was, and still am, that yes, people made quilts, but they didn't quilt them, they tied them all. And the quilts that I had, that were handed down in my family, were not tied, they were quilted. And I wanted to learn how to do the real thing, which I thought was the real thing. And so, it just so happened that my husband, was at the time, was about to take a sabbatical from teaching, and we were going to Montana. And I thought that in Montana there might be somebody that really knew how to quilt. Well, we got out there and we settled in a little town called Stevensville, which was south of Missoula, and I moved around a little bit in the town, and I was walking by a storefront one day, and looked in the window and there was a beautiful quilt in the window. I got so excited. I went into the store and I said 'Who made that quilt?' They said, 'Oh, there's a lady that lives over here a couple of streets and she makes quilts.' I said, 'What's her name?' Her name was Pearl Buck, of all the unusual names, and I knew something about an author Pearl Buck, but it turns out that this lady's name was indeed Pearl Buck. I asked where she lived, found out and I knocked on her front door. A very, very nice lady came to the door. I said, 'Are you Pearl Buck?' 'Yes.' I said, 'You're the quilt lady.' She said, 'Well, I do make quilts.' I said, 'Is there any chance I could just sit and watch what you do?' 'Oh,' she said, 'you can come anytime.' So, it happened that I did go again, and I just sat and watched her do what she does. She did absolutely beautiful quilting, just gorgeous quilting, and I thought 'Wow, how do I learn how to do that?' And I just went home and experimented with small pieces. I did things like pillow tops and placemats and small things. But I did enough of them so that finally I got to the point where I said, 'Yes that looks the way I think it ought to look.' So that's how I learned how to quilt.

NF: When you moved back to Vermont, what kinds of activity did you find among quiltmakers in the state?

LL: I did quite a lot in Montana before I ever moved back to Vermont. It just so happened that that was the year that Expo was going in Spokane, Washington. We were traveling out there, and we went to Expo. One of the things I saw at Expo was a group of ladies sitting around a quilt frame. Well, I think they could have brought my breakfast there because I didn't want to leave. I just stuck around until I saw what they were doing. It just so happened that they gave away 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper with patterns on them. So, I not only found out what they did, but I had some patterns to follow. So, I started. That's really kind of what got me going. Of course, I was writing back home to people in Vermont. A couple of people wrote back and said 'How about teaching us something? How about having some classes when you get back to Vermont?' I thought 'Well I don't know if I know that much about it.' But I said, 'Well, I'll think about it.' Well, when we got back to Vermont, I did have some classes. I taught some of the local people. Basically, I taught them the simple things like how to cut out a pattern, how to put things together. I said, 'There's a difference between piecing and quilting.' I said 'After you get things put together, then there's a matter of making a sandwich with the fabric and making little stitches that go through all three layers. Quite a few people learned how to do it. That's how I got started.

NF: Tell me a bit of your involvement in getting the Green Mountain Quilters' Guild organized and off the ground.

LL: Well, that's something that I had seen other people quilting. There was a group down around the Massachusetts area. They had started a group and I knew, or actually I had visited a couple of quilt shops down there, one of them was in Ipswich, Mass. [Massachusetts.] I said to the lady in there that there's a group here, isn't there, that does this? She said, 'Oh, yes, it's a New England group, the New England Quilters Guild.' I said, 'Oh, how did they get started?' Well, she told me what they did. I said 'Huh, I wonder if we could get one started in Vermont like that?' So I came home. The only thing I could think of to do to get information out to people is to put a notice in the paper. I put a notice in the local paper that there was a bunch of quilters that were going to get together. If you were interested in quilting, come to Bethel Elementary School on a certain day. And we would do that. Well, there was another girl that worked with me, and she had done things with another group, a ski group, a cross-country ski group. She said, 'Oh. I know how to get to more papers.' She said, 'I know how to get to a lot of newspapers.' I said, 'Well, if we get this sent to this newspaper, if you know how to get it into the other ones, let's put it in as many newspapers as we can, and see how many people we get.' Well, the day came for the first meeting, and lo and behold, we had over 50 people that showed up at Bethel Elementary School. We went into one of the classrooms, and I had a couple of quilts that I had made, some first quilts that I had made, and I had them set up out in the hall just so people would know that this was the place to come. So, that's how we got started.

NF: What about your involvement with the Vermont Quilt Festival, could you [both speak at the same time.] explain some of those areas?

LL: Well, yeah, after--I don't know exactly, I don't remember exactly how I got started, but it was definitely with Richard Cleveland. Dick Cleveland and I were kind of--[laughs.] we got along very well. He was very interested in quilts. He didn't make quilts himself, but as the same thing happened to me, he had some quilts from his family, and he didn't know how they were made, but he'd like to find out. He thought there were some other people that knew how to do this, and so I got kind of in cahoots with Dick Cleveland. At that point, they were having a Labor Day celebration in Northfield. [Vermont.] He started--the Vermont Quilt Festival started as a group of quilts in the basement of the church in Northfield. Well, we didn't have very many wonderful quilts in those days, but we had quilts. That's how it got started, it was very small but there was a group of people that were interested in getting it--getting this thing started. Well, it wasn't very long before the basement of the church was not adequate, so there was--I don't remember whether--there was a place downtown that we had it, but I think that was after we even got started at Norwich because we realized that Norwich University had the space that we could use. There were some people up there that were willing to get--to put in some work on it, too. So I was on the Board of the Quilt Festival for quite a number of years, until it began to get so big that I just thought 'No, I guess I don't really need to get into anything that big.' I did teach a few years, but at the point where it just mushroomed--and it really did mushroom there at one point. [Lucile resigned from the Board.]

NF: Do you still go and visit the displays each year?

LL: Oh yes, oh yes.

NF: What's your favorite part?

LL: Well, you see when it was at Norwich, it was in the Armory. Well, the Armory was a great place to have it but first of all it was not air-conditioned. The Festival was almost always held in July, probably the week after the fourth, usually, in those days. It was hotter than heck. It got to the point where it was just too hot to do anything in there. They did have some fans but they were not adequate. I could see a time when there was just not going to be--people would not come if it was so hot they couldn't stay in there. So I was real happy when I found that they were moving it down to the big fieldhouse. Norwich had a new fieldhouse. [Shapiro Fieldhouse.] So they moved it down there and that was an improvement. Definitely an improvement. But there were other things that weren't quite wonderful about Norwich either, because they had their things going on. Their activities and our activities kind of conflicted at some times. So I was, again, very happy that they decided that moving things up to the Champlain Valley [Fairgrounds, in Essex Junction, Vermont.] location was an improvement.

NF: In the different exhibits, is there one of their types that draws your interest more than another?

LL: Well, I do like to see the antique quilts. They always have, you know, a very nice display of antique quilts. Their idea of having vignettes of small, small pieces of quilting is interesting to me. But I like to see the new quilts. I really am very much into the--the quilts--the things that people are doing now because I think this is where quilting is going. We like to see the old quilts and they're fine. But there are just such fabulous things being done now. The idea that people can use different kinds of materials for quilting and the embellishments that they put on are sometimes wonderful. The really--the fun ones, the whimsical ones that people do, I think those are wonderful. Those are the ones that I remember the best.

NF: And you still exhibit some of your work at local quilt shows?

LL: Yeah, over the years I have exhibited things. Mostly I got to the point where Northfield [Vermont Quilt Festival.] was really a little beyond me. There were so many really pros that were doing things for Northfield that I felt that, you know, I just wanted to keep it local. So, I do exhibit at Billings Farm in Woodstock [Vermont.] and that's where I would most likely have things now. I'm to the point where [sighs.] I just made one big last quilt. And that, I decided, is going to be my last big quilt. I will do smaller things; heavens know I don't need anything more. My walls don't have room enough to hang the things that I'm doing now. So, my work is mostly going to be small things like maybe baby quilts, wall hangings, that kind of thing. My children all have one of my quilts. My grandchildren each have one of my quilts. Those are the things that really, I think, are my best work.

NF: And you had a retrospective gallery showing of your quilts a few years ago?

LL: Yes, a few years ago I was given some space up at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph. [Vermont.] A neighbor who is an artist helped my husband hang the quilts. I had a very nice show up there of a lot of my quilts. Not all of them. We hung as many things as we could, and we still came home with three quilts that we couldn't hang because there just simply wasn't room. But I did have a very nice show up there. I had lots of people come and sign in. The thing that pleased me most was that all of the quilts that I had made for my family, my kids, my grandchildren, and my family and the house here, they were all together. That was pleasing to me.

NF: Now one of those quilts is the one that you've brought today for us to photograph. [LL affirms.] Could you tell us a bit about the story behind that quilt?

LL: Well when we went to Montana and I found out a lot about quilting, we drove. We drove across the country. It was the first time most of us had been west of the Mississippi [River.]. We could not get over the size of the country and the beauty of the country. I decided when I came back that I was going to make a quilt that would kind of depict that trip that we took. That car trip that we took. I thought that the most impressive thing, or not impressive but, the most--pattern that I could think of that would be all over the country was a star pattern because all the patterns that I could find--many of them were stars. And many of them had the name of a city, a state, or a country in the name of their pattern. So I researched these patterns and I found enough to do thirty blocks and each of them has in their published name either a state name, a city name or a regional name. I thought 'Well, no big deal on color. I just like lots of color, so I made them all different. I also was experimenting with quilting at that point. 'Cause I hadn't done a lot of quilting but I had done some. So I have a quilt--the picture of the quilt that you see is depicting cities or states and each one has its own quilting pattern. None of the quilting patterns are the same. They're all different. I had read enough about quilting to know that the old-time quilters said that quilting is not--'You don't have a fully quilted quilt unless you've covered every inch of the back with quilting.' I didn't cover every inch but I came close. So that's why there's so much quilting in it.

NF: And what did you call the name of this quilt?

LL: I called it "Stars Over America" because it was basically the trip that we had taken, to go all over the country.

NF: And then this quilt won a special award?

LL: Yeah. Fairly shortly after we got home it was at the time of the Bicentennial. [1976.] The Smithsonian [Institution.] was running a quilt contest in connection with the Bicentennial. So they asked people to send in pictures first of your quilt, and they picked the ones that they really wanted to see. They let me know that they wanted to see my quilt. So I sent it in and it was chosen as the one that was the Vermont Quilt. They selected one from each state. And this was the one that was selected from Vermont.

NF: And this quilt has appeared in other publications?

LL: Oh, it's been all over. [laughs.] Yes. It was--let's see a Vermont Life that had it, had parts of it in. There was a quilt magazine that had it on. At that time, it was fairly new. [laughs.] The reporter--whoever it was that wanted to see the quilt--the best place we could find to hang it was over the woodpile, which was outside. We hung it over that. It actually appeared on the cover of a quilt magazine. I got lots of flak about that because they called it The Woodpile Quilt. [laughs.] But it really got quite a lot of publicity that way. [Quilt World Omni book, Spring 1983 issue.]

NF: What kinds of quilting memorabilia and supplies have you collected over the years?

LL: Well, one of the things I did which was kind of fun--I of course used to go to lots of quilt shows. In those days I used to judge quilt shows. There were a lot, quite a few quilt shows around. I've judged quilt shows in New York, and New Hampshire and--I don't know if there were any in Maine. I don't think so. But anyway, every time I would go to a quilt show, no matter where it was, I would ask them if I could have one of their posters. I built up quite a nice collection of quilt show posters. I still have these, but they're not in very good shape now, because recently we had made quite a few changes in my house, and where the quilt show posters were on the wall. That wall has been changed a lot and so the quilt show posters had to come down. They are now kind of rolled up in a place where they are not very visible. I would like to put them somewhere where they would, you know, somebody would like to see them or use them. Even a quilt store would use them on the wall somewhere, because I think they would be kind of, you know, nice wall things for some kind of show. They couldn't use them for show. It's just an interesting thing.

NF: Do you have any favorite techniques or materials that you like in quilt making?

LL: Well, when I make quilts, it has got to be cotton. They're all cotton. I don't make quilts with any other thing because they're all washable. Most of my quilts have been washed and they've come out very, very well. I don't subscribe to the kind of things that quite a lot of the younger quilters make--do now. Fancy things like sequins and shiny fabrics and things like that. They're nice but I'm definitely a traditionalist.

NF: Would you describe the place where you create your quilts or your studio?

LL: [laughs.] Oh, my studio. My studio is my dining room table. [laughs.] That's where I do my quilting. That's where I--the only place I have to work.

NF: Do you have a set amount of time each day that you work on quilts?

LL: No. People say, 'How long did that take?' I don't know. However long it takes. I don't quilt every day. I don't usually have a deadline. Once in a while, if I'm doing something special and it has to be done by a certain length of time; I can do it, but I don't like it. I don't like to do that. I'd just as soon work when I have time. I think it's--quilting is not a fast thing. If you're in a hurry, forget it. That's not a quilter thing.

NF: Are there any artists that have influenced you or whose works you are particularly drawn to?

LL: [pause for 5 seconds.] Well, there are quite a few. Quite a few big names in quilting today, and I think each of them has something special to give. I don't know, I'm kind of out of it now, because I haven't been into the quilt world as closely as I used to be. There was a time when I knew all the names. But I don't--I'm not into the world of quilting as closely.

NF: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

LL: Oh yeah, I think quilts have definitely a big place in America. I've given several talks in various places. Sometimes I say quilts are the only American art. The real American art. That's not really quite true. But they certainly are very, very much a part of American life because of the history that goes with them. The old quilts all have a very big part of families. I think when I give quilt talks, it's amazing. Not the women come up to me. The men come up to me and say 'My grandfather had one of these. My grandmother made one like this.' It's the men that really want to preserve the heritage of their family quilts. I think it's great, just to think that there are people in the country that really want to preserve these heritage quilts.

NF: Do you have any advice for beginning quiltmakers?

LL: Well, there are lots of good teachers around. I think anybody that wants to learn how to quilt will find somebody to teach them. And I think it's important that they go to a quilter that really knows what they're doing. As I say, there are a lot of good teachers around. I think the quilt shows, the Vermont Quilt Festival, and places like that have come quite a way in teaching people who really didn't know what they were doing. I'm really happy to see that the classes that are given at these big quilt shows are pretty well attended. I think this is where some of the people who are just starting are getting their inspiration. And it should be.

NF: I noticed that at today's Delectable Mountain Quilters meeting you had some new quiltmakers.

LL: Yes, yes.

NF: Can you tell about some of the activities that your group is involved in?

LL: Well, we have a group that's pretty laid back. Sometimes we have a lot and sometimes we don't, depending on the season actually. In the summer, which this is, our snowbirds come back from the South, and we have lots of people. Whereas in the wintertime, it's kind of just us, you know, we're the local folks. We have a smaller group but occasionally we get new people. Some people that move into town or move into the area will see something in the paper about a quilting meeting and they will wonder about that. Fortunately, they will call. I've had several calls from people who have heard about our group and ask if it's all right if they come. Sure, it's all right. We welcome new members. When they come, we give them just as much advice as we can because that's what they're after. That's how they're going to learn.

NF: Have you participated in quilt history preservation?

LL: Well, yes. Richard Cleveland and a couple of friends from the Vermont Quilt Festival have collected, and are collecting, pictures and information about old quilts. There's a state group and I think this is all in a lot of other states. I think the other states are having preservation groups going too. I don't know how many of them are, but I know that one of the things that happens at the Vermont Quilt Festival every summer is a whole section where quilts can be [NF prompts LL.] documented. People find out how old their quilts are, how good they are, how valuable they are. This is part of what's keeping things going--or many people. I mean, as I say, a lot of families have old quilts. And they don't think anything about them until they see all these others, say, at the Quilt Festival. And then they think 'Wow. I wonder if that one I've got up in the attic is any good?' And they'll bring them out.

NF: So, do you think that's elevating their appreciation for women's work [both speak at same time.] in quilt making?

LL: Oh yeah. Oh definitely. Sure. This is one of the big things that--that's what's keeping us going as quilters is having people appreciate what we do and what their grandmothers have done.

NF: I recall that some years ago, you had a little logo that you were known by as the Snowflake Quilter.

LL: Oh, I was interested. [both speak at same time.] Yeah.

NF: Could you say something about the snowflakes?

LL: Well, I was interested at one point in snowflakes, because I thought, what better logo could I find that's going to talk about Vermont? Because what does Vermont have most of? Quilts. [laughs.] And they have Snowflakes. There was a man who during his lifetime took many, many pictures of snowflakes. His name was Bentley. Snowflake. And his name--and everybody called him Snowflake Bentley. There was a book out of his photographs of snowflakes. And I thought 'Well, now there is a good treasure trove of patterns for quilting.' Not necessarily piecing, but quilting. So, I have made several quilts that have snowflakes incorporated in the quilting patterns. And I think they're wonderful. I think, you know, there's a lot of diversity, different kinds of patterns in those snowflakes. So, I may use them again. [laughs.]

NF: Well, thank you [machine disruption, lost middle of sentence.] …interview Lucile. And good luck with all your quilt making projects.

LL: Well, thank you.

[interview concluded at 5:20 p.m.]


“Lucile Leister,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,