Sandra Brockmeyer Button




Sandra Brockmeyer Button




Sandra Brockmeyer Button


Nola Forbes

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Chelsea, Vermont


Nola Forbes


Note: Sandy's residence is Middlebury, Vermont

Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is August 28, 2009 at 7:28 PM. I am conducting an interview with Sandra "Sandy" Brockmeyer Button in her seasonal cabin in Chelsea, 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 [DAR.]. Sandy is a quilter and is a member of the General John Strong Chapter NSDAR. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Sandy Button (SB): The quilt is a quilt I made for my second daughter. It's 37 years old. It's an ABC quilt. It was my first attempt at quilting. I saw it in a magazine and really liked it. I started drawing out all of the letters with serifs, and then selected materials that went with her room, which were mostly yellows, oranges. It has a farming theme because my parents were farmers and the children just really enjoyed going there and seeing the animals, the plants and the flowers. So I tried to incorporate that in it. Jessica's always loved the quilt. And home is her very special place to keep it. Right now she's in Alaska, so that's the only reason I have the quilt because mostly I give my quilts away. [laughs.]

NF: What about the fabrics that you chose to make that quilt?

SB: They're all farm themes or mostly plants and then kind of paisleys that go with the colors then there's solids. Each letter alternates solid and print. The background has the opposite solid or print. It's machine zigzagged appliquéd.

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

SB: Because it's the only one I have. [laughs.] The rest of them are all over the states.

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

SB: It certainly shows the '70s. The time of the '70s with the back-to-nature "hoakie" kind of lifestyle. [laughs.]

NF: What do you think the future plans for this quilt entail?

SB: It's already been the momentous for a second quilt starting the next generation, with the eldest granddaughter. That one we did kind of a family quilt because a cousin and another daughter, and my first daughter, all worked on it together with me. It was a lot of fun putting it together in Georgia.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

SB: That started when I was just a tiny child with that same cousin who helped me make the quilt, the second ABC quilt. It started in Kentucky on the farm of my grandmother. She always had--she always made quilts. I don't even think she had an elementary education because she had many chores to do on the farm in that day. She was what I would call a genius at quiltmaking. She would look at a quilt and then she would take a piece of paper and fold it and cut a perfect pattern from it, with no mistakes. Then she would make a quilt. Anyway, her beds were all covered with quilts. Blankets were rare in our family. They were all quilts. Feather beds and quilts. We were on the guest bed. My cousin and I were spending the night. We would look at the quilt and find our dresses, our pajamas, our shirts, anything, blouses. They were all there. My parents and my mother and her mother and all the other aunts, would always give my grandmother the scraps after. We all made our own clothes back then. We didn't have store-bought clothes. There were lots of pretty pieces.

NF: From whom did you learn to quilt?

SB: Really no one. I just started doing it myself. I saw my grandmother piecing with her basket beside her rocking chair. I just watched and did it. No one actually taught me.

NF: How many hours a week do you work on quilts? Do you have a regular amount of time? [both speak at the same time.]

SB: Not really. Not at all. I'm more goal oriented. If I decide I want to make a quilt, then I get it done within a month. Then it's off to its recipient. [laughs.]

NF: Was your first quilt memory that one of your grandmother's? Do you have another?

SB: Yes. The other grandmother made quilts as well. Then my mother also made a quilt before she died. She passed that to me. I couldn't understand why she made it purple, because they didn't like purple back then. I asked my aunt why. She said, 'Because people were buried in purple shrouds.' The undertakers, I guess, had them. So purple was the color of death for them, in western Kentucky, but I loved purple. So my mother [laughs.] went over her prejudice and made a quilt for me in purple.

NF: What pattern did she use for yours?

SB: It's a Pinwheel. My grandmother quilted it for her. They didn't tie quilts in Kentucky, they quilted them very intricately. Mom didn't have the patience to quilt it but she did piece it.

NF: So that was a joint effort?

SB: Yes.

NF: Are there other quiltmakers among your family?

SB: Not too many now. Times have changed and they're more into different lifestyles. I guess I'm kind of a holdback. [laughs.]

NF: Your step-daughters have made some quilts.

SB: Yes. They lost their mother when they were very young. So they went across the street to a lady who was a seamstress, in the hours after school and during the summer. When my husband worked they stayed with her. Pretty soon they started quilting. The oldest one did her first quilt when she was eleven or twelve. She gave it to her father for Christmas. The younger one was done at the same time but was two years younger, didn't quite get it done until she was about eleven.

NF: Nice. How about some friends that are quilters?

SB: Oh yes, there are many. I hope there will be successive interviews with some of them. One of which had a stroke and was not given much of a chance to live, but did come back and really began to quilt like mad afterwards. She quilts. She gets up every morning at 4:00 a.m. She's my next door neighbor. She starts quilting and by noon she takes her nap. She's very close to eighty. [both speak at the same time.] She quilts daily.

NF: Wonderful. How does quiltmaking impact your family?

SB: I think it is a heritage thing. It is history. It is tradition. The most impactful quilt I received was after my grandfather died. My grandfather and grandmother were kind of prejudiced because they always said I was their favorite grandchild. I really knew it when she came to my house after the birth of my first child. She said, 'I have something for you.' I opened it and it was a quilt- red, white and blue. It was made from my grandfather's housecoat and robes. I just broke into tears. It was the most precious thing that she did that for me.

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

SB: I see them as that. I see them as hugs from the person that made them. When I had a friend, who died about four years ago, she was my minister's wife when I was a teenager. We'd kept in touch all those years. She lived in North Georgia. I went down and I helped her organize her craft closet. We put everything in plastic bins. There were three or four quilts that were not finished. She had taken classes and then she, too, had a stroke. So she couldn't do them anymore. She said 'Would you take them home and finish them?' I said, 'Oookay.' Of course there were no instructions. She had her classes. There were squares missing. One was a white-on-white quilting square project. Not piecing but quilting. Then you'd put those squares together. Another one was a sampler. There were pictures of what was wanted to go by but no patterns. A third one was the little fisherman boy and the little girl with the bonnet alternating.

NF: Overall Sam or Overall Bill? [both speak at the same time.] Sunbonnet Sue?

SB: Yes. Of course, appliquéd. I took these and I would look at them with dread. I kind of put them off for a little while. Then about a year later I got a phone call. She had pancreatic cancer. My timeline really changed. I worked really, really hard and got them all to her. She had them specified for her son, her daughter and her grandchildren. When she died, her daughter got her quilt. I said, 'You just know that those are hugs from your mom, your dad and me.' Every piece is a hug.

NF: Wonderful.

SB: Also, our DAR chapter did quilts. We studied historical quilts for a year, as well. I cut pieces for three different squares. Every member took them and they hand pieced them together. We put that together. That was given, year before last, to the Women's Crisis Center.

NF: In what town?

SB: In Middlebury, Vermont. They were very pleased to get it. They had a new person there who was there for protection, but also she was very ill. It was just the perfect thing for her. Again, hugs [laughs.] from all of us.

NF: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking. Something out of the ordinary?

SB: No, not amusing, I guess.

NF: Or interesting?

SB: That one, I can't think of anything.

NF: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

SB: Oh, I know one that's amusing.

NF: Okay.

SB: I take my scraps next door to the lady I was telling you about who pieces from 4:00 a.m. on. They're quite a fun couple. I said, 'You know Bonnie, there's something wrong with this. That you buy material, to cut it up, to spend the rest of the time putting it back together. There's just something not quite right about that.' [laughs.] So, anyway, yeah.

NF: So what do you find pleasing about the process of quiltmaking for yourself?

SB: Using scraps and making something of 'em. Something that some might throw away. Or some that you might use for rags. But making something pretty, something special out of 'em. I love to make things out of those kinds of things.

NF: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

SB: Appliqué is not my favorite. [laughs.] I like quilting more than tying, definitely. I know it's more traditional in Vermont to tie, but it's not traditional in Kentucky and I guess I bring a lot of that tradition because I grew up in Kentucky.

NF: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

SB: No. I'm a retired art/music teacher, so I have a lot of friends who have the same interests as me. I had all kinds of little groups from over the years, but right now, no.

NF: When you were teaching art, did you teach any quiltmaking as part of your classes?

SB: Yes. We did that in Junior High. They really enjoyed it in Junior High. Also in elementary school, we would use construction paper to make quilt patterns. Then when the Bicentennials happened, [1976.] we did a lot of quilts. I taught elementary, so I taught in multiple schools in a week.

NF: In which state?

SB: In Vermont. I also did this in Kentucky and Georgia, but for the Bicentennial I was in Vermont. We would do Bicentennial quilts that would hang in the schools. A lot of times they would be more, since I was an art teacher, with the textile crayons, then we would put them all together. Church did another one. I was a part of that one, too. There was a lot of quilting that year. [laughs.]

NF: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

SB: It almost did. I made a Star quilt for my youngest grandson and took it to the store. It was for a twin-sized bed. I saw the quilting machine, so I said, 'How much would it cost?' She said, 'Oh, we start at $250.' Then I said, 'Well, I think I'll do it myself.' [laughs.]

NF: You already mentioned some of your favorite techniques. What materials do you prefer to use?

SB: I like cottons. I also like them with themes, like Star quilts, the Farm quilts, Sunshine quilts, things like that. I haven't done a lot of what we call scrap quilts. I tend to like to go to the store and buy them, too. [laughs.]

NF: Describe the place where you create your quilts.

SB: In my house, we have a lower floor and I have a sewing cubby. It has big counters there on either side of the room. There's a lot of space in the center so that I can lay out my quilts on the floor. I usually work a lot on the floor after they're starting to come together.

NF: You don't use a design wall?

SB: No.

NF: When you're planning the quilts, do you use graph paper?

SB: I do. When I'm drawing the letters I definitely use graph paper. Otherwise, I tend to do what my grandmother did and use pieces of paper. Fold it and then add the seam allowances as I cut them. I didn't even know about the quilting, cutting tools and all those boards until I met Pauline about nineteen years ago. The lady across the street who helped the girls learn to quilt. I got some new techniques from her, definitely.

NF: How do you balance your time?

SB: Very precariously. [both laugh.] As I said, I don't do it all the time. I just do it when there's somebody special that I want to do something for.

NF: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SB: Love. Love and someone who wants to give that much time and that much love to someone else. I haven't kept a one of mine. I don't need to. I keep the ones that people have given me.

NF: So you do sleep under a quilt?

SB: Yes.

NF: Or more than one.

SB: Um-hmm.

NF: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SB: Colors and patterns, shapes and sizes. Everything. There's nothing in it that isn't artistic. Even if it's a Crazy quilt, it's as artistic as can be with all the embroidery on top. Or painting or whatever they do. I have one from a great-grandmother. It was a wedding quilt and it was painted. Some of the pieces were painted on velvet. It was just beautiful.

NF: Was there a favorite figure that was used?

SB: Flowers. It was flowers.

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

SB: Mostly age. Of course in DAR we're always looking toward preservation and historical views. The age and the techniques used at those ages. Knowing how busy those people were. A lot of people think it's the grandmother that sits and quilts. But her eyes weren't that good. It was the younger mothers that were doing it. Probably to save every parcel and piece of material they had to keep their families warm. So the stories and the patterns.

NF: What makes a great quiltmaker?

SB: Stamina. Stick-to-it-ness. An eye for beauty. A heart for giving.

NF: Whose works are you drawn to?

SB: Quilt-wise?

NF: Yes.

SB: Just family people.

NF: Do you have any favorites that you've seen in museums?

SB: Lots of them, but like I said, I love the Crazy quilts. I love the ones that had so much quilting on them it's unreal. I love the ones with different textures, the ones that you can just tell they used everything they could find.

NF: Are there any artists that have influenced you when you're making your quilts?

SB: No. No.

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

SB: I think machine quilting in this day and time works a lot better because a lot of us, especially we who don't do it all the time, are not that skilled in hand work. My grandmother's stitch is very different from mine. Hers was tiny and straight. It's hard to do. Some do have the time and the stamina to do that, but in order for it to hold up with today's households, it often needs to be machine-quilted. I know that my next door neighbor, that makes these beautiful quilts, and her sons or daughters will come and say, 'Mom, the dog is using this one and he tore it. Can you fix it?'

NF. My, my. [both laugh.] What about longarm quilting? What are your thoughts on that, where they use an industrial machine?

SB: That's the one I was talking about with the quilting machine. Yeah. I think they're beautiful. I think they'll last forever. But it's over my budget to do 'em.

NF: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

SB: It's something, in this day of quick gratification, that I can give my children and my friends and my family that others might not be able to give. It's something that makes their memories of me kind of special, I hope. That's my goal.

NF: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, either earlier or now?

SB: The Star Quilt. If you'll stay a little longer tonight and the clouds go away, you're going to see massive stars here. The least grandchild has been here and seen those stars, so I sent him a quilt full of stars. Some of them even glow in the dark. So they're all reflections of our life and of our love. The Sunshine Quilt is for the little grandson who's just a happy little person. He's very fair and it just is a reflection of him.

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

SB: I think they tell us the history and the story and they're a wonderful heritage to pass on and on.

NF: In your region in growing up in Kentucky did a lot of families make quilts?

SB: Yes. Yes, because it was not an affluent area and there was much chance to do it. There's less now of course. But in the day, yeah, a lot of people did it.

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

SB: I guess some of the things I've said before. It's just bringing their own personal creation into the world to be passed throughout generations as long as they last.

NF: How do you think quilts can be used?

SB: They're definitely something that can be used for warmth. They can be used for stories. They can be used as examples of textiles. They can be used as examples of techniques. They can show the amount of time that one had, possibly waiting for wars to end. Their loneliness, to put all that motivation and just long hours into it. Then today with, as you said, the long-arm machines and the ones that you sit down and push a button and it does it itself. You can see the difference in time elements and in interest and doing it oneself.

NF: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

SB: That's a sticky one. Aside from putting them in museums, behind frames and Plexiglas. It's going to be hard because these things do deteriorate. Especially if they're loved and used.

NF: I see the quilt we photographed today has been loved for sure.

SB: Yes. It has a few holes and a few patches.

NF: What has happened to some of the other quilts that you have made and given away? Where are they?

SB: They're in Kentucky and Florida, in Georgia and Alaska. We had a house fire when my girls were young. We lost a lot of quilts. My grandmother had just given me a Drunkard Vineyard Quilt. Actually, she gave me the top and wanted me to put it on the backing. That went in the fire. So I ordered the pattern for a Drunkard Vineyard. The pieces are over there in my basket. So when I have time here, in my rocking chair, in this non-electrical place where there's no TV, I piece them in my rocker. Or sit on the porch and swing. Some of the memory. Oh, yeah.

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

SB: Time. Just time. Also being in touch with those who can pass it on. I know there are quilting classes. But I don't know how many people would be more interested in that than in electronics and in today's different way of entertaining oneself. Sitting down with a needle and thread might just not be the first priority. Not quick enough.

NF: Have you any other current projects that are going to become quilts? Or ones you're thinking of?

SB: Yes. Yes. In my teaching, I always wore art smocks. I have had many of them that have to do with the season or the holiday coming up. That kind of thing. I have Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Passover. [clock starts chimes.] I have all those things that the kids would really enjoy it. I would come to their school once or twice a week. They always would look at my smocks, give them a little bit of motivation. My next quilt is going to be scraps from all those. So it'll be a seasonal quilt.

NF: Sounds very interesting. Have you worked on some other charity quilts that you haven't talked about? [clock finishes chimes and cuckoo bird chirps.]

SB: No, that one is the first one. Our project this year is Women In History, so we may be doing another one. A lot of people, it was their very first time to sit down with needle and thread. Not a lot, but a couple of them, in the chapter. I think they really enjoyed seeing it when it was done. Just the group effort was pretty special for all of us. Then to find out where it went was doubly rewarding.

NF: About how many women worked on that one?

SB: Fifteen. Sixteen.

NF: So maybe some are getting bitten by the quilting bug a little?

SB: Let's hope so. [laughs.]

NF: Is there anything else, Sandy, that you would like to add to the interview? Maybe discuss some of the patterns of these other quilts? [approach the quilts on the bed nearby.]

SB: The last one we received was from the youngest daughter. Here, we're here on the farm of my husband's grandparents. They were dairymen. Her quilt is pictures of cows, Holstein cows, then alternating with a square of 'MOO's written in black on white. So it's red, green, black and white. It's really cute. She gave this to us, mostly for her father, last Christmas. It was really special. She has started hand-doing her quilts because she watches TV. I kind of taught 'em you don't just watch TV. You gotta do something while you're watching TV. She's really taken that to heart. She's made quite a few hand-pieced quilts so this one was kind of a neat one.

NF: You also helped show her some of her piecing techniques, in addition to the neighbor?

SB: Yes. I taught them all to sew. The older ones taught the younger ones, too. The little ones, yes.

NF: Out of all of those patterns, is there a pattern that you really like the best, to make yourself?

SB: I like variety and I like doing Sampler quilts where just about every piece is different. The fabrics are the same, color hues and prints, but the pieces are different. They're just neat. Where every place you look is something different.

NF: Any other thoughts we can include? I see you have some decorative pieces here. [pointing to the table centerpiece.]

SB: Yes, those are quilt pieces, too. These are Jim Shore figurines. I love 'em because he incorporates quilting in his. There is one more thing where I've incorporated quilting. I do Ukrainian eggs and I have done quilt patterns. The Ukrainian patterns are very historical and symbolic. I got the technique by doing Ukrainian symbols. I've done wedding quilts and star quilts patterns on eggs.

NF: So you've adapted those?

SB: Yes. I have given them, [laughs.] as usual, to people who quilt. That was kind of fun to incorporate those two art forms. Craft art forms.

NF: I'd like to thank Sandy, Sandra Brockmeyer Button, for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 8:05 p.m. on August 28, 2009.


“Sandra Brockmeyer Button,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,