Heidi Gaskin Lussier




Heidi Gaskin Lussier




Heidi Gaskin Lussier


Nola Forbes

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Kirby, Vermont


Nola Forbes


Please note: Heidi 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 August 10th, 2009 at 9:30 a.m.. I am conducting an interview with Heidi Gaskin Lussier in her home in Kirby, Vermont for the 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. Heidi is a quilter. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Heidi Lussier (HL): The quilt that I shared with you today I call it "Vintage Posies." It's made of a combination of actual vintage fabrics and reprints, remakes. It's based on a pattern provided by the Quiltmaker magazine. I machine pieced it and hand quilted it. I liked the combination of the fabrics. The pattern lent itself to using basically small pieces of the calicoes, the cottons.

NF: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

HL: It actually is my second choice. I chose it because I like piecing. Especially scrap piecing. I also like to do hand quilting. There is not a lot of hand quilting in this quilt but it was a nice combination for me.

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

HL: That I'm a traditionalist. That I like traditional patterns and fabrics.

NF: How do you use this quilt?

HL: Right now it's in the guest room.

NF: On the bed?

HL: On the bed.

NF: What are your future plans for this quilt?

HL: I think it will stay pretty much right there as long as we continue to use the room. Hopefully some day the grandchildren will be spending nights and cuddling up under that particular quilt.

NF: Would you tell me about your interest in quiltmaking?

HL: I love the history of quilts and the relaxation of actually doing the quilting. I also like the mental challenge of designing and planning quilts. I like the frugality of using scraps and putting them together to make something special and meaningful.

NF: At what age did you start quiltmaking?

HL: I think I was eleven, maybe twelve.

NF: Tell me from whom you learned to quilt.

HL: The people. I learned from an elderly woman named Iola Weeks. The summer after I completed my fifth grade year, I went to work for her doing housework. She had had major surgery and was in need of someone to help around the house. When I would get all my chores done, she would call me into the living room where she had stacks of pieces of fabric. She would have me cut diamonds or squares or triangles and string them together in ten or twenty or thirty pieces at a time. However many she needed for whatever block she was doing. Toward the end of the summer, she started me just basting pieces together so that's when I started.

NF: What about the actual quilting stitch? Who did you learn that from?

HL: Myself. That is something I picked up just through exposure with friends and neighbors here in Kirby. Attending various workshops, gatherings, quilt meetings and quilt shows.

NF: How many hours a week do you quilt?

HL: That depends. This time of year maybe two. In the summertime, we are very, very busy with my husband's job and the farming that we do. So I don't spend a lot of time quilting in the summer. But in the winter, fall and winter, in the evening, I like to pick up a quilt and spend at least an hour or two in the evening quilting so certainly more in the winter than this time of year.

NF: What is your first quilt memory?

HL: That was that summer with Mrs. Weeks. The cutting out mostly diamonds. I remember lots and lots of diamonds. She was doing a Texas star, a Lone Star, whatever that's called. Cutting all those pieces. [both laugh.]

NF: Those were with scissors?

HL: With scissors. Yes.

NF: How did she have you mark them for cutting?

HL: She used a little piece of like dressmakers chalk.

NF: She had it marked for you?

HL: No. No. [NF laughs.] I used a little cardboard pattern. Traced around and cut. She was very exacting and did not want to waste any fabric. So she was constantly checking to make sure I had them close enough and yet not too close.

NF: Are there other quiltmakers among your family?

HL: My sister Lauri quilts. My mother did quilt. She can no longer do it. She has advanced arthritis in her hands. She used to do some very fine quilting.

NF: And your daughter? [Tiffany Lussier Young.]

HL: My daughter and hopefully someday the granddaughters will start.

NF: Do you have quiltmakers among your friends?

HL: [laughs.] That's for sure. Including you, Nola. Yeah. Lots of them. I call them girls. Lots of the women here in Kirby are quilters and certainly included in my circle of friends.

NF: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

HL: We get together. When any of my nieces or nephews get married we all get together. My sisters and my sister-in-laws, the other nieces and even the grandchildren. We all get together and we create a quilt for each member of the family who's getting married. That came out of a Kirby tradition that we started about twenty-five, thirty years ago.

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

HL: Sure. Absolutely. Particularly during the long illness and the death of my Dad. He and I, when I was little, used to do paper cutting. We used to fold paper and cut snowflakes. He taught me some very intricate cutting techniques. When he was sick we were doing some paper cutting. I happened to have come back from a quilt workshop where I'd seen a Hawaiian quilt so that made me think of the Hawaiian quilt patterns. I brought a copy of the Quilter's Newsletter down for Dad to see. He said, 'Hmm. I think you could cut those patterns. You could make them your own.' So I did use some very traditional Hawaiian quilt patterns to start my own Hawaiian quilt. But I also used three or four that he helped me to design and cut using some of my own favorites. For example, I love irises. So he helped me to design a couple of iris patterns. We folded paper and cut patterns. I cut out the fabric and appliquéd the designs. Pretty basically through the ten or eleven months of his illness he watched the progress of the quilt. It has a special meaning for me. That was my first choice quilt I would have shared with you but I haven't finished it. I will finish it. It's going to be one of my goals as soon as I retire.

NF: How many blocks were in that quilt?

HL: There are nine. Nine central blocks. Then we also cut a running pattern that makes a border all the way around the outside. It is a very large quilt.

NF: I remember seeing you working on it in his sick room--

HL: Uh huh.

NF: --while we had conversations.

HL: Yup.

NF: Tell me about some other experiences that have occurred during your quiltmaking years.

HL: Well let's see. The early Kirby Quilters group was more than just quilting. It was growing up together. The early group. Probably a core of eight or ten. We had children of the same age. We had mutual interests. We were pursuing careers that were similar. We lived and grew together. That meant lots of quilt-based activities and projects. It meant the town. We started having potluck dinners together. Meetings at the schools in North and South Kirby. Workshops. We even taught classes together. It brought together older members of the community, younger members of the community. Some of our quilt classes were great fun. I remember in particular Dot Vitters, who at the time was probably in her sixties. She was just full of energy and life. She came and took our quilt classes. We created a monster. [both laugh.] She made two or three or four of everything. She made quilts for every member of her family. She just couldn't wait until the next meeting to share and see what everyone was doing. It was a fun time. It was a good time.

NF: How did the Kirby Quilters get its start?

HL: In 1976. To celebrate the Bicentennial. The Town Clerk, Wanda Grant, approached a couple of us and said, 'What can we do? What can Kirby do to celebrate a Bicentennial?'

NF: Was it Dot Houghton at that time?

HL: Dot Houghton.

NF: And Wanda helped her? [Dorothy "Dot" Houghton was succeeded as Kirby Town Clerk by Wanda Grant, who currently holds the office.]

HL: Right. You're right. Yep. We had a short meeting to talk about what we could do and the idea of making a quilt came up. So we all agreed to go off and do blocks and get together again. Out of that first quilting experience we actually came back with enough blocks to do two quilts- one that was raffled and then one that was sewn together and quilted and hung in the Town Hall. We also thought we would have a celebration. It would bring everyone together. On a lark, kind of, we invited the Governor, Thomas Salmon, at the time. Boy were we shocked when he accepted. He actually flew in a helicopter and landed in Phil Houghton's corn field. That wasn't where it was supposed to land but that's where he landed. We all gathered at the North Kirby School for a day of picnicking and softball and quilt viewing. We raffled that first quilt. It was actually won by a Kirby resident who enjoyed it thoroughly and then passed it on to her daughter-in-law.

NF: Over the years, what other activities did the Kirby Quilters take on?

HL: Oh. Lots. We formed our own softball team, the Kirby Kilowatts. We would meet once a week on Sunday afternoons at the ball field which is actually just a big field on top of Kirby Mountain. We continued to meet as quilters regularly. Probably once a month, at least. We started the tradition of making a baby quilt for each child born in Kirby and marriage quilts for each young person, Kirby resident, who married. And 50th Anniversary quilts for our older residents.

NF: There were some quilt shows?

HL: Yeah. That's true. We, in the summertime, would host a quilt show with quilters from all over the state and actually New Hampshire. It started small with a tent. We put up one tent at the Town Hall. We used the Town Hall itself and the tent. It rained. One prize quilt got a little damp in the back and that worried us. We eventually moved to the Masonic Temple in Lyndonville. We had two or three shows there. Then that building closed. We actually outgrew that one, too. We ended up moving to Lyndon State College and using two gyms and two hallways.

NF: That had become a [both speak at same time.] Christmas Fair by then.

HL: Yeah. Christmas Fair. Yeah.

NF: Some quilts and many other--

HL: Vendors of Vermont crafts.

NF: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

HL: The tradition of quilting in itself is very much a part of me. I like the connection to generations past. The pride that women can take something, take little scraps and create something of beauty. I think it's an outlet for any quilter, man, woman, child, to feel this sense of accomplishment and artistry. I also enjoy the relaxation of it. Using my hands and letting my mind relax for a few minutes.

NF: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

HL: [sighs.] I actually can't think of any part of quiltmaking that I don't enjoy. Eight-point stars. Putting together [laughs.] eight-point stars is frustrating but I really enjoy it all. I like the planning. I like the piecing. I love appliqué. I love to do appliqué. I like the hand quilting. So I guess there isn't anything I don't like.

NF: You mentioned some of the Kirby Quilter activity over the years. I have heard people talk about you as being the Mother of the Kirby Quilters, helping to get it going. Could you talk about some of the demonstrations that have been done as well?

HL: Sure.

NF: Some of the places?

HL: Sure. I think we alluded to the classes that we taught as a group. We actually did that at the Town Hall. We started with maybe four or five, six people. That grew and grew. We did that for several years. We also went to Franconia, New Hampshire where we participated in demonstrations and workshops. Was it Cannon Mountain?

NF: Right. The League. [both speak at same time.]

HL: Right. The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Right. We were invited there to do workshops.

NF: During Foliage season there are some events?

HL: Up in Granby.

NF: Victory?

HL: Victory. Granby and Victory. We also did St. Johnsbury. [towns in Vermont.] It had the Lion's Festival in the fall. We were involved with that. I think over the years other groups have grown out of the Kirby experience. East Burke now has a very active club. Anne Brown has taken on the Elderhostel at Lyndon State College and created a whole quilting yearly class. Yeah, I think we've reached a lot of people.

NF: In the early years of the Green Mountain Quilters' Guild, tell me about some of your memories there.

HL: Alice McClaughry, at the time, and you Nola, and I were invited to meet with others in the state who were actively pursuing the creation of a state group or guild. We met with Lucile Leister. I remember going to her house and sitting around the table with cups of tea and talking quilts and planning. We also went to Bethel, Vermont. I remember meeting at a high school to talk about creating the first group. We attended a few meetings at that time and also got involved with Northfield. The state quilt festival. [both speak at the same time.]

NF: The Vermont Quilt Festival.

HL: The Vermont Quilt Festival in those early days. Then as time wore on, you managed to make more time for that and I kind of let those things go. So I haven't been as active in those things in recent years. But in the early days it was-- [pause for 4 seconds.] I'm at a loss for words here for a minute. Let's see. Just getting the ball rolling. Getting things started. I was happy to be a part of that.

NF: You have gotten some awards for some of your quiltmaking?

HL: Oh, a few. Certainly in our own early shows and the Franconia shows. More recently in our local fair. [Caledonia County Fair, Lyndonville, Vermont.] Generally as soon as I finish a quilt I give it away, so I don't often display it or enter it. But if I happen to finish one at the time that a show's coming up I will.

NF: You have a collection of quilting memorabilia?

HL: I do. I'm a collector of lots of things. With my interest in sewing I've managed to pick up lots of little sewing related items. Thimbles and scissors and sewing pockets and Victorian pieces. Just fun collectible items.

NF: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

HL: Not a lot and I guess I should blame that on Mrs. Weeks. I still do most of my cutting with scissors and most of my marking with dressmakers' chalk. I do use those washable fabric markers for putting on my quilting designs. But I don't use my rotary cutter very often, unless I'm doing something that requires a lot, a lot of squares or triangles of a particular size.

NF: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

HL: I love to appliqué and I love cotton materials. Good cotton. It folds easily. It holds a crease. It's durable. I like vintage fabrics when I can find them. I like to include them in some of my scrap quilts. [sound of turning paper.] I guess appliqué's still my favorite technique but I also, I love the scrap piecing.

NF: Would you describe the place where you create.

HL: My sewing room is probably a disaster in the eyes of most. But I know where everything is located. I know which pile is what. It's a small room. It's upstairs. I have a sewing machine. An electric sewing machine. It's not new. It's probably thirty-five years old. I have two treadle machines which I use. An ironing board, my iron and two walls of shelving where I have stacks and stacks and stacks of fabric and quilting magazines and quilting books and all kinds of accessories.

NF: Do you use a design wall?

HL: No. Most of my designing is on paper or in the head, then sketched out. I cut and play and put it right on the floor and move things around as I need to.

NF: Tell me how you balance your time.

HL: Hmm. That's a tricky one. I probably don't. [laughs.] I'm a teacher. I don't get home until generally five. Then there's hours of correcting to do in the evening. So pretty basically if I get an hour or two of quilting a night in I feel like that's a gift. My designing and sewing, piecing or appliquéing, comes in spurts. When I have a window, an hour here or an hour there, I grab it. In summertime, between haying and helping my husband in his auction business and babysitting grandchildren, I don't do a lot of quilting. So it's pretty much hit or miss.

NF: Are they getting close to an age where they're going to get a chance at some quiltmaking lessons?

HL: Oh, absolutely. Yep. Tory, Victoria, is four. She'll be five this fall. She's already following Grammy into the sewing room. I give her little bits of pieces of cloth and she puts 'em here and there and great big ole stitches. We'll have a quiltmaker before long.

NF: Good. What do you think makes a great quilt?

HL: The passion of the quiltmaker. [pause for 2 seconds.] Good design. Design. Color. There are lots of elements of quilting, but basically I think it's the heart and soul of the maker. If you care about what you're doing, if you are doing it because you love it, it shows.

NF: Would a great quiltmaker have any other attributes?

HL: Certainly I think a sense of--well, how do I put this?--you need the technique as well as being able to express yourself. I like to see accurately pieced and stitched work. A sense of balance and neatness overall. I want to see that the skill is there as well as the expression.

NF: Do you have a favorite quilt that comes to mind that is artistically powerful to you?

HL: Some of the traditional quilt patterns. Right off the top of my head, Log Cabin comes into my mind because you can play with the lights and darks, and the widths of the strips. You can create so many designs. You can make it very traditional. You can make it very modern. You can do that with a number of the traditional patterns.

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

HL: Again, I think that it depends on the collection or the point of the collection. Some quilts deserve to be preserved purely for their historical value or contribution. Some quilts out of the sheer intricacy of the work or complexity of the design. Being kind of a traditionalist, I think quilts allowed the makers to express themselves but they were also meant to be used. They were created for function. I think there can be as much enjoyment out of using a quilt as just looking at it. So I can see the value in preserving quilts for their beauty or their complexity or whatever. But also, I hope that quilts continue to be used and not created just for display.

NF: Whose works are you drawn to?

HL: Hmm.

NF: Any artists that come to mind? Or influences?

HL: No. [pause for 2 seconds.] I can't think of any one in particular. I certainly enjoy looking at everyone's quilts. I mostly enjoy sharing quilts with the people I know. My friends and neighbors and family members who've created quilts. I certainly enjoy looking at big collections. I love going to the Vermont show when I can. [Vermont Quilt Festival.] But I can't think of any one in particular that comes to mind.

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

HL: Personally I prefer to do hand quilting. For me that's the way to go. But I've seen some beautiful quilts that are machine quilted. I have an aunt who brought two yesterday for me to look at. She's actually experimenting with using different colored quilting thread and creating this sort of varied coloring within the quilting of a single block. It was beautiful. It was beautiful to look at, but it's not for me. It's not something I have an interest in doing, but I can admire it.

NF: What are your thoughts about long-arm quilting?

HL: I don't have a lot of experience with it so I guess I don't feel competent to make any comments on it.

NF: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

HL: For all of the reasons that I think I've kind of touched on already. The historical connection. The tradition. The family ties. The community aspect. The social as well as the emotional piece.

NF: You've worked on charity quilts as part of your experiences. Tell about some of those.

HL: Well, we've created quilts for several organizations, to raffle to raise funds. I've been involved at school with creating quilts for the AIDs babies. We have made blocks for, let's see, various Veterans associations. The Heart to Hand group, we've done quilt tops for them. Certainly local organizations. Most recently, a Granby man who was seriously injured in a hunting accident. We did quilts for an auction to raise money for his family and his care. And then of course we try to keep up the tradition of quilts for families in town.

NF: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

HL: Well, certainly the New England tradition, where it's winter nine months of the year. Okay, that's a little exaggerated, but not much. [NF laughs.] Piecing. Piecing quilts. Having quilts in your home. Using quilts on your beds. [pauses 4 seconds.] Our local appliqué quilts that we do for our groups. We try to use themes. We've done the Vermont Running Quilt.

NF: Would you talk more about that quilt?

HL: That was a quilt commissioned by a group that had been at Lyndon State College for a summer workshop, meeting, conference. [Vermont Running Camp.] They had seen quilts through Anne's Elderhostel group so they asked us about creating a quilt that they could then use. [Anne Brown, member of Kirby Quilters.]

NF: That was a commission?

HL: It was a commission. It was a large central panel of runners. Then various appliquéd blocks of paths. Paths and trails that the runners used. [clock chimes.] Healthy activities. Heart healthy activities. We also did one for skiing. Burke. We did. Yep.

NF: What about the one hanging at Lyndon State College? [in the Samuel Read Hall Library.] Do you remember that one? [both speak at same time.]

HL: I remember. I remember doing a block for that. In our appliqué work, in some of these quilts that we commission, we capture the scenery. Vermont. The four seasons. We've done a number of blocks that incorporate the local animals. The flora and the fauna.

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

HL: Certainly, historically, quilts traveled with pioneers as they moved west. Quilting is a tradition. It's an American tradition. Especially the patchwork that was created out of necessity. I think, even though in this hectic busy lifestyle we have today, probably quilting is not busy in every home, it is certainly still alive and well in every town and city across America. I think there are quilting groups similar to ours that serve a similar function. Social and emotional as well as physical. It's not just getting together to create the quilts, it's a way of bringing people together and lives together. I think it's a tradition that's alive and well. Right across the nation.

NF: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

HL: Yeah. As I said, I think although women weren't always publicly recognized outside of their roles of wives and mothers and homemakers, quilting allowed them an outlet to let their creative side flow. Let the artist within come out. I'm sure for many women quilting was one more thing they had to do. But it was one more thing you could do that gave you a little release time. Over years, women have taken quilting to the next level. It's no longer just a purpose. A necessity. Quilting has become an art form. It certainly has allowed some women to become recognized worldwide. Quilts are hanging on walls as pieces of art. It has become an outlet for some artists in a new medium. Fabric is a new way of expressing art.

NF: You've already answered somewhat how you think quilts can be used. Do you want to elaborate any further?

HL: I don't think so, Nola. I think as long as we preserve, protect and continue to use quilts and quilting.

NF: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? You've taken some workshops on preservation?

HL: I have and I learned a lot. Certainly in the treatment of fabrics. I think as long as [clock chimes.] as long as we continue to recognize the value of quilts hopefully people will take measures to preserve them. Historic quilts that have historical importance need to be handled carefully and taken care of and preserved. That involves a little work and a little research. I think it's great that we have preservationists who travel around states and offer their expertise and opportunities for people to come and bring the quilts to be dated and discussed. I think that's a good thing. I think we need more of that. I think the Internet has allowed people access to information about preservation and that's a good thing.

NF: Could you tell us what has happened to some of the quilts that you have made?

HL: Most of my quilts, I hope, are on beds and being used. Certainly in terms of family members there, that's where most of them are. I've sold a few over the years. I think those were bought for usage. I do know one that's hanging on a wall over in the Stowe area. [Vermont.] One that's on a wall up at the Wildflower Inn. [Lyndonville, Vermont.]

NF: Did you make one of the Rocking Horse small quilts that went to California?

HL: I did. I did. Yep.

NF: Do you remember how big that was?

HL: It was a wall quilt. Probably 35 by 45. [inches.] Something that size. It wasn't a rocking horse, I think it was a horse pulling a sleigh.

NF: Ah. I think each person [both speak at same time.] did a different--

HL: Had to do something with a horse.

NF: Must be mine was a rocking horse. [both laugh.] So you have some in various parts of the country.

HL: I do. I have one in Alaska. That was Skaters. That was an appliqué of Skaters.

NF: What about in Kentucky? Do you have something--

HL: I do. I do. I have one in Indiana, actually. Indiana.

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

HL: Time. [laughs.] Time. [NF laughs.] Just not enough time to do the things that you love the most. Well, that's not true. Quilting's one of the things I love, but there's never enough time.

NF: Heidi is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?

HL: No, I guess not. Well. The Kirby Quilters, we started that little group and it was a very important part of my life and my growing up as a person. I think that's one of the aspects of quilting that those who don't quilt, don't recognize or don't understand. They can appreciate the beauty of the quilt. They can look at the workmanship and see hours that went into it but I don't think they understand the whole community part of a quilt group. How much it brings people together and what it means for a whole community.

NF: Maybe we've got time for you to tell a little about a current project?

HL: I'm still working on the Hawaiian Quilt. I have a baby quilt that I've nearly finished. I have a quilt that I'm working on for--it actually grew out of a quilt contest at the Caledonia County Fair last year. We had blocks brought in, judged, and then sent out to be put together and quilted. That's for the Shriners, I think. [both speak at the same time.] The Shriners' Association.

NF: I believe so.

HL: So I'm working on that one. I have a Log Cabin in pieces upstairs. I have a couple of other tops in progress. Just scrap. Scrap quilts. I guess that's it.

NF: I'd like to thank Heidi Gaskin Lussier for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 10:14 a.m. on August 10th, 2009.

[interview concludes.]


“Heidi Gaskin Lussier,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2071.