Shirley Banks




Shirley Banks




Shirley Banks


Nola Forbes

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Del Thomas


Lyndonville, Vermont


Edna Curtin


Note: Shirley Banks is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is November 26, 2008, at 2:25 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Shirley Banks in her home in Lyndonville, Vermont for the Quilters' Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Vermont State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Shirley, would you tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Shirley Banks (SB): The name of this quilt is "With A Little Help from My Friends," and there was really a lot of help from my friends. Dick and I moved every four years after we married and when we had moved to the Washington, D.C. area, in Rockville Maryland, I joined a quilt guild there, a small quilt group called Every Other Wednesday Quilters and Therapy Group. This was a block exchange that six of us decided to do, so we exchanged blocks every month for a year. Then I chose a setting from a book by Fons and Porter, and the setting was very complex. It has 1008 half inch squares in it. But we had a good time putting the quilt together and every time I look at it, I remember my friends in Washington.

NF: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

SB: That I enjoy quilting and am somewhat masochistic to do this small a block. And that I enjoy doing it.

NF: How do you use this quilt?

SB: I display it on a wall rack or lay it across a bed in our Bed and Breakfast when quilters are coming.

NF: What are your future plans for this quilt?

SB: Probably just to keep it forever and continue to use it as a decoration and to treat it very gently.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. When did you start?

SB: It was 1988. I was not a quilter when Dick and I got married. This was something that grew later, and he's still not sure it's a good thing. But I took an adult education class at the local high school and learned to do hand appliqué and piecing.

NF: Where was that located?

SB: In Aurora, Colorado, where we met and married.

NF: Do you remember the teacher's name? [both speak at the same time.]

SB: I don't. No.

NF: About how many hours a week do you quilt, presently?

SB: It all depends. Some weeks I don't do anything, and other weeks I can quilt anywhere from two hours to ten hours. I have found that you have to schedule it the first thing in the morning because if you put it off until in the evening it just doesn't happen. So, I try to quilt a little bit in the morning.

NF: What is your first quilt memory?

SB: I was born in Texas, and both my grandmothers quilted. My Dad's mother quilted for other people. She had a quilt frame in the guest bedroom. When they were not quilting, they would roll it up to the ceiling for storage. I can remember as a small child going to sleep on that bed and looking up at the back side of a quilt that was in progress and just being fascinated by the stitches. But I was probably in my mid-thirties before I stopped long enough to take a quilting class and to begin quilting.

NF: And your other grandmother also made quilts?

SB: Yes, she did. I still have two bed quilts and a baby quilt that she had made. They're tied quilts with just little squares, and most of them are made from fabric that she made us clothing from. So, it's fun to sit and see my brother's pajamas and my dresses. None of us have any of her hand quilting that was left after she died.

NF: Are there any others in your family that are quilters, or friends that are quilters?

SB: My mother made a few quilts before the Second World War. Then she went to work, during the war. Both my daughters have made one or two quilts each, but they have other things in their lives right now. I have a number of friends who are quilters.

NF: How does quilt making impact your family?

SB: It makes us very poor, monetarily. It takes a lot of time. I entertain quilters in my home, frequently. So, it's a joy to have your friends come and quilt.

NF: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

SB: I find it very soothing and comforting when things are difficult, to sit down and sew, either on the machine or by hand. So, I always have some kind of project that I am in the middle of, and I can sit down and take comfort from putting in a few stitches.

NF: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making or during your quilt teaching.

SB: Okay. Once again while we were in Washington, D.C. one of the older ladies in the quilt guild was in a bookstore, and she was talking to her husband about quilt books. A voice from the other side of the aisle said, 'Would you like to come to my apartment and look at my quilts?' She turned around and spoke to the young man who had talked to her, made an appointment, and a carful of us went to his apartment to look at his quilts. He had probably a hundred and fifty quilts on a bed in his spare room. His name is John, and he is an attorney now. His mother had been a visiting nurse out of Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania.] and had visited the Amish communities when she was working, and he had gone with her. As he became an adult, he created a company to help the Amish ladies sell their quilts at a very nominal fee to the company. So we just all chuckle about being picked up in a bookstore by a young man with quilts and going to view them at his house. We are still friends with John and see his quilts every once in a while.

NF: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

SB: I love the fabric. I don't always have time to use fabric, but I love buying the fabric and looking at the fabric, and thinking about what I could do and what combinations I could make.

NF: What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

SB: I guess there are two. I have to really push myself to finish projects. I'll get to a certain point and then lose interest and go and start something else. Appliqué work is the very worst. If I had a wife that would do all the prep for me, I would do a lot more hand appliqué. But that part is very tedious, and I don't enjoy it.

NF: What quilt groups do you belong to or have you over the years?

SB: Each time that we moved I joined a local quilt guild, and still belong to several. I began at Great American Quilt Factory in Denver, Colorado. I can still drop in to see them. Then Friendship Star Quilters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Then we were in South Jersey, and I joined South Shore Stitchers, and I still belong there and go to their quilt shows when I can. Then we moved back to Vermont, I have belonged to Green Mountain Quilters Guild for fifteen years, probably. Then when I actually moved to Vermont to live--I still am active with Green Mountain Quilters and Kirby Quilters now and have worked for Vermont Quilt Festival for a long time.

NF: And there's another group in Southern New Hampshire? [both speak at the same time.]

SB: Oh yes, yes. Amoskeag Quilters, who are in Manchester, New Hampshire.

NF: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

SB: I think that they influence all of us. The biggest change was the introduction of the rotary cutter about twenty years ago which really speeded up the way that we could cut out quilts and sew them together. As sewing machines change and improve and that makes things quicker. Using the internet to buy fabric and patterns and look at new patterns is helpful. E-Quilter Design package on the computer is helpful to some people to design a quilt.

NF: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

SB: I always work with cotton fabrics, and a variety of battings. My favorite thing to do is hand quilt. I do sew most of my tops on the sewing machine 'cause there's not enough time to do everything. But I always have some hand quilting project around to work on, and I like that the best.

NF: Describe your studio/that place where you create.

SB: When we moved into this house my studio was in the turret on the third floor. It was very difficult to stay up there long enough to do anything. So we moved into a room on the second floor where the guest rooms are. I have a whole wall of shelves where all my fabric lives. The room is set up to cut and sew and iron. I adore working up there. And can interact with the front door a lot more easily.

NF: Is that where you also do your hand quilting?

SB: Not as much. I usually come downstairs to sit in a more comfortable chair on the first floor when I'm hand quilting, so either in the foyer or the living room, where I can watch TV at the same time.

NF: Tell me how you balance your time.

SB: It's always challenging. We run a Bed and Breakfast full time all year and so that kind of takes precedence over everything else. Having a business in your home is challenging. So, when the guests are fed and, on their way, then I can take time to sit and sew for a while or fit it into the ironing of pillowcases and napkins. Or in the evening after dinner is usually a good time. So, you just have to be very aware that you have to put it in the schedule to make it happen.

NF: Do you use a design wall?

SB: I do. I didn't for a long time. But I have figured out how to use a piece of gridded Pellon that I can hang in different places. When you are doing complex patterns or you're not quite sure how the colors will go together it's very helpful to place them on the design wall. Then you can move them around until you're happy with the way it looks. I find that if I finish what I think I want to sew and then walk away until the next day I'm happier with the results. I can make changes on the design wall before I'm committed.

NF: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

SB: I think it depends on the focus of each individual museum or collector. They're all very different. Having a quilter who is technically very good with color and with putting the pieces of fabric together is important. Finding quilts that fit into the theme of the museum or the collection is important. Whether it's antiques or art quilts, the search I think is what is the most fun. Each museum has a different focus.

NF: What makes a great quiltmaker?

SB: I think someone who's passionate about what she does, whatever kind of quilting she's interested in. Or he. Wanting to learn and practice and get better and better over time. Becoming a master at the artwork that you create. I think for me, a great quiltmaker is someone who's willing to share with others and to teach other people techniques and tips to make their quilt making better. That sharing and helping others has been a tradition with quiltmakers for a long time.

NF: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

SB: I enjoy Marsha McCloskey. I have a lot of her books. She's been around for a while, teaching and Trudy Hughes as well. They are master quilters. They design works that I enjoy making. Their books are without error and have good directions. When they come to speak at a guild or to teach classes, they are very personable, and giving, and have good sense of humor. I like the work that they do. And, of course, whenever you move, each new quilt guild has got two or three people that you identify with, and you like to work with them.

NF: Which other artists have influenced you?

SB: Probably the most would have been Doreen Speckmann. When I first moved to Maryland, Doreen came twice to speak at our guild and teach classes, and I got to spend a lot of time with her. She was a great quiltmaker. She had a wonderful sense of humor. I don't know how she managed to take quilters on tours all over the world and still produce as many quilts as she did. She was a delightful lady, and when she died, we were all very sad. We still miss her to this day.

NF: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting? And what about longarm quilting?

SB: I do like hand quilting the best, but there's not enough time in our lives to do everything by hand. I do machine quilting on the dining room table when I make baby quilts to give away because they have to be usable and washable. The machine quilting holds up well. For me, it's a way to speed up the process. I would like to learn to get better at machine quilting. The longarm quilting is kind of a new thing, a new technology with quilters. I now have several friends who have longarm quilt machines and businesses. As I look at all the quilt magazines that come, all the quilts that are done by longarm quilt machines start to look alike. They're very similar, and I can look at pictures of quilts and pick out the ones that were done by hand or by a personal machine or on a longarm. I think it's a personal choice, as to which you like, or the purpose that you want your quilt to be used for as to how you choose to have it quilted.

NF: Why is quilt making important to your life?

SB: It's an artistic outlet, and I love playing with fabric. I am obsessive-compulsive and this is a passion, and so I enjoy buying the fabric and using the fabric. I like the puzzle aspect of quilting. So, there are a lot of times when I put a quilt top together and that's all I need to do with it. Eventually I have to find homes for all those quilt tops. It's just a way to relax, and create something that is, has beautiful colors and to use up a part of my quilting stash.

NF: I understand you had a role in establishing a drop-in quilting group?

SB: We did. I guess the Cobleigh Library down the street had a lot of questions about people wanting to know if there was a quilt group available. They called and asked if I would organize something, and we could use their building. So, on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month we meet at the library. It's a social support group. You bring a project and do your hand work. I always bring chocolate. Sometimes we bring other food to eat. We've had some classes there. If you have a problem someone there can help you with it. One young woman brought her sewing machine to sew a skirt because she had no place at home to do this. It's a very flexible group. Sometimes the rug hookers come, and work along with us. It's a fun time to go and use the library and they enjoy seeing what we're doing. The group is slowly growing.

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

SB: They represent the history of women through the history of America. In Abigail Adams' diary she wrote about weaving the fabric for clothing for her family and servants and bed sheets and whatever else they needed. I'm not sure that she was a quilter, but that was kind of a historic beginning for quilts. All through the different times of history in America there were different quilt fads. In the Depression people used clothing to make quilts. That's when my family probably quilted the most. Baltimore Album Quilts had a very short time on our history when they were very popular. There's a musical called "Quilters" that is just a fascinating thing to watch. One of the women in the musical says that quilting saved her life. It was the only area in her life that she could control. Her husband and her family controlled every other aspect, but she could make quilts in any way that she wanted. I think that that's still kind of the case with some of us. It's an area that we can use in the way that we feel like in that day to express. It helps to have a record of the lives of each one of us as quilters.

NF: How do you think quilts can be used?

SB: A lot of us make quilts to go on our beds at home. We give baby quilts to anybody having a baby. ABC Quilts and Project Linus Quilts are donated quilts that quilters make across the country. They're given to children in cancer hospitals. They are carried in firemen's trucks and policemen's cars to give to children when they are saved from dangerous situations. We do a lot of raffle quilts to raise money for different functions. Animal shelters and quilt shows. I think it's a creative outlet that you can use for a lot of different things, and it just depends on who's making the quilt and what they want to do with it.

NF: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for friends and family?

SB: God only knows. [laughs.] With my family, the girls and the grandchildren are very active, and so when I gave them a quilt, I know that it will be washed in one load with panty hose, and church dresses and blue jeans, and they use them all, and that makes me feel good. Some of the family quilts we have all agreed to care for. And make them last as long as possible. So, they get a little bit better care. But, when you give a gift, you hope that they enjoy it. Most of mine are enjoyed to death.

NF: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

SB: Finding enough time to do what they would like to do. Most of us work in some capacity, and there's just never enough time for all the things we want to do. So, it's just finding a balance in your life so that you can fit quilt making in to all the rest of the activities that you do.

NF: I know that in recent years, a great amount of your time was devoted to assisting with the Vermont Quilt Festival, wearing many hats. Would you talk about your history with that group?

SB: Sure. It's been a big part of my life for a long time. When we moved to New Jersey I told Dick that I would like to come up and work at the Quilt Festival and get to know people in Vermont-- for when we moved to our house in Vermont. Every year for four years I would drive up and work eight days at whatever job needed to be done. I hung quilts, and worked with the judges, and did white gloving, and took classes. At the end of the show, we took the quilts down and put them in the boxes to mail them back. I just learned a lot. I made friends and really enjoyed it. I love working at quilt shows. When I moved into the house in Vermont, that year that I worked as a volunteer at the quilt show, they needed a new Registrar. My friend Cheryl said, 'Now you have to be Registrar.' I had some vague idea of what that meant, but I did it for seven years and loved the job a great deal. Signing up people for classes and dorms with a lot of volunteer help. Through several administrative changes I got a battlefield promotion to Chairman. I had been there a long time and had worked all the positions and knew what ought to happen when. We were able to continue with balance for a couple more years. I have been able to find replacements for Registrar and Chairman and retire a bit so I can make more quilts. And still go and play at the quilt show, as I have for years. It's been a great, positive part of my life.

NF: Well, I know many people are appreciative of all the behind-the-scenes efforts that you have put into that show. It's always amazing to see what results.

NF: Is there anything more you might like to add to this interview?

SB: When we lived in New Jersey, one of my friends there said, 'I've just read about this new thing at the Houston Quilts [International Quilt Festival.] called Boxes Under the Bed [a project of The Alliance for American Quilts and the training occurred in both 2005 and 2006.]. Would you go with me?' We went to the very first training class for Boxes Under the Bed and Save Our Stories [ another project of The Alliance for American Quilts and the Quilters' S.O.S.- Save Our Stories' first training occurred in 1999.] in Houston with Karey Bresenhan and Rita Barber. It was just a fascinating weekend. We learned a lot, came home and interviewed several of the older members of our guild. Two of them have passed away now, and so it was a very good part of my life at that time. And so, when you asked me to do an interview to fit into their program for Boxes Under the Bed and Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.], I was very pleased that it had grown to this point, and I'm pleased to be a part of building a database of quilters. [Note interviews are not included in the Boxes Under the Bed project.]

NF: I'd like to thank you, Shirley, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' Save Our Stories project- Quilter's S.O.S. [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] Our interview concluded at 2:55 p.m. [both speaking at the same time.] on November 26, 2008. Thank you, Shirley.

[interview concludes.]


“Shirley Banks,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,