Helen Tiffany Hibbard




Helen Tiffany Hibbard




Helen Tiffany Hibbard


Nola Forbes

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Saint Albans, Vermont


Nola Forbes


Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is October 23, 2009 at 10:34 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Helen Tiffany Hibbard in her sister Ardelle's home in Saint Albans, 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. Helen is a quilter and is a member of Captain Jedediah Hyde Chapter NSDAR. Tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Helen Hibbard (HH): This quilt I brought today is the Dancing Stars. It was made in 2004. I use it everyday. It's on my bed and I like it because it's so colorful. People that see it always say how colorful and bright it is. It just makes you feel cheerful.

NF: I noticed that some of the fabrics were batik fabrics.

HH: Yes, I use a lot of batik fabrics. I enjoy using them and I do mix them with regular fabrics.

NF: Which is your favorite color?

HH: My favorite color is blue. Anything blue. Everything blue. Light blue, dark blue, medium blue.

NF: Some other folks helped work on this quilt a bit?

HH: Yes. My sister [Ardelle Rich.] and I do work on quilts together. Sometimes I do the cutting and she does the sewing. Sometimes I do the sewing and she does the cutting. We have a good relationship and have fun doing them together.

NF: You had someone else do the quilting on this one?

HH: Yes, we did. Carol Philbin.

NF: Where does she live?

HH: She lives in Saint George [Vermont.]. She's very crafty and makes beautiful designs on the quilts. Does a wonderful job on them that's why we use her.

NF: Is that with a longarm quilting machine or a domestic regular one?

HH: A longarm quilting machine.

NF: For how many years have you had her work on some of your quilts?

HH: It must be fifteen, anyway.

NF: That's a long time. Is there any special meaning this quilt has for you?

HH: No, not really. We've made so many different quilts. This one just took my eye. We decided to go ahead and make this.

NF: Is this one of your favorite quilts?

HH: Oh, yes, my very favorite.

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

HH: I hope they think that I'm a good quilter. [laughs.]

NF: You said you use this quilt on your bed?

HH: Yes, on my bed.

NF: What are your plans for this quilt in the future?

HH: I have no special plans. Just continue to use it and enjoy it.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

HH: It goes back a long ways because my mother was a quilter.

NF: Do you remember working on quilts when you were young?

HH: Oh, yes. I used to help her cut out pieces. In those days, we didn't have rotary cutters then just use a ruler or whatever. Cut out pieces. She always asked for my color choices because she said she didn't have a good eye for color but I think she did.

NF: Do you think she just wanted you to come up with favorites?

HH: Oh, yes.

NF: About how old were you when you first started to make quilts?

HH: When I did, it was about twenty-five years ago when I started. I was still working. Didn't really get started again until after I retired when I was sixty-five.

NF: Did you take any lessons in making quilts to start with?

HH: No, I didn't take any lessons then. I have taken lessons since, in doing different kinds of patterns and things. It is enjoyable. We usually don't have much problem following directions in a pattern. Sometimes we do but most of the time we can figure them out.

NF: So you are a self-taught quilter, mostly.

HH: Yes. That's right.

NF: How many hours a week do you work on quilts?

HH: My favorite time to work on a quilt is between five and seven in the morning. This morning I think I got up at four. Working on not one of the quilts that we're making but on one of the other works we are doing especially for Christmas gifts. I have made quilts to give to family and friends. Wedding gifts. A very dear friend married and lives in Florida. I have a quilt that I gave to her that I made four or five years ago. It's fun to give quilts as gifts.

NF: Do you have a favorite pattern that you like?

HH: I like the Log Cabin pattern and I have made several Log Cabin quilts. In fact, I have a Log Cabin quilt on my son's bed. It's a different pattern than most Log Cabins. I think I made one for my spare bed upstairs.

NF: Is that in blue?

HH: Yes, it's in blue.

NF: What is your first quilt memory?

HH: My husband helped me pick it out. It was called the Hole in the Barn Door. He helped me pick out the colors. I made so many squares. I made two quilts out of these squares that I made. I still have several squares left. Someday I'll make another quilt.

NF: That was your first full-sized quilt?

HH: Yes, that was my first full-sized quilt. Hole in the Barn Door.

NF: How old were you when you were cutting out quilt pieces for your mother?

HH: Oh, gosh. Eight, ten years old, maybe. That was way, way back.

NF: Where was that?

HH: Fairfield, Vermont.

NF: Not too far away.

HH: I was born and brought up in Fairfield. Was a registered nurse. I've been retired now for twenty years. After I retired was when I really got into making quilts.

NF: Do you have other family members who've made quilts?

HH: Yes, my sister [Ardelle.] and my sister Martha, who has since died. She did beautiful, beautiful hand quilting. She got many awards for her beautiful quilting. Her daughter also, was a quilter, who has since died but we're left, my sister and I who are doing any quilting.

NF: Do you have any friends that are quiltmakers that you'd like to talk about?

HH: Yes. We have a lot of friends, especially those in the quilting business, that like to work on quilts. My dental hygienist, she's a big quilter. When I have to go there, we're always discussing, ‘What are we doing now?' and other quilting.

NF: Are you a part of any quilt groups?

HH: No, we've never belonged to a quilt group, even though we have many friends that are.

NF: Has your DAR chapter worked on any quilt projects?

HH: No. I don't believe so unless they did it in the past before I became a member.

NF: How does your quiltmaking impact your family?

HH: It doesn't. It has no impact at all on my family. My husband is deceased. I'm alone. I have one son. No impact at all.

NF: Other than you and Ardelle getting together regularly.

HH. Yes.

NF: How often do you work on quilts together?

HH: Just often. [laughs. clock chimes.] We just finished one. In fact we have one at the [machine.] quilter's right now. We don't do as many quilts as we used to. They're getting so heavy. At our age it's getting hard to handle. We love small projects instead of doing the big quilts. We did just finish this one.

NF: What pattern was this one?

HH: Hole in the Barn Door. [both laugh.] After all these years, we went back to that.

NF: Tell me if you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time. [door closes.]

HH: No, I can't think of anything at all.

NF: Would you have an amusing experience that's occurred sometime during your quiltmaking?

HH: Yes, the mistakes we make. When you wonder, or get a big laugh over why did you make such a stupid mistake? You don't notice it sometimes until after it's all done. Then you say, ‘Oh, gee, why did I do that?' or ‘why didn't I see that before?' Then it's too late.

NF: That doesn't happen too often, does it?

HH: No, but once in a while it does. I know recently we were making a Christmas table runner. We just could not figure out the pattern. So we had to go to the fabric shop in Williston. Sew Many Treasures, it's called. The lady that made the pattern happened to be there. She explained what she meant by some part of this table runner. Once she explained it, then it made sense. She told me I was the only one that ever complained about it.

NF: Now you know.

HH: [laughs.] Now I know.

NF: You finished your table runner?

HH: Oh, yes.

NF: What colors did you use in it?

HH: It's a Christmas print. A green and gold and a lot of Christmas colors.

NF: Did you hand quilt that one?

HH: No, but we've done the machine sewing on that ourselves.

NF: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

HH: Just putting things together and getting the colors. Being so pleased when it comes out good when you look at it. In fact, I looked at this quilt, the Dancing Stars and was thinking, ‘Gee, we actually did that one.' So it's satisfying.

NF: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

HH: Not being able to figure out a pattern. Like this last one. Outside of that, I enjoy doing it.

NF: Which advances in technology have you taken advantage of?

HH: There's so many different things today. Especially on your machine and the different feet that you use, that we never had before. Different ways to thread your machine. The machine threading your needle for you. As you get older it's harder to see the eye. There's a lot of technology today, in cutting out the quilts. It's really fun.

NF: So you like to use the rotary cutter?

HH: Oh, yes. Yes, some.

NF: Do you use any Internet patterns?

HH: No, I never have. Never used Internet patterns but I am on the Internet a lot. We have ordered materials off the Internet.

NF: So that's another advance in technology.

HH: Oh, yes, definitely especially if you have favorites in materials that you like. Hoffman, Jinny Beyer, Moda. These are beautiful materials. If you like a certain pattern, you just get on the Internet and find it and order it.

NF: Do you have many local shops where you can buy fabric?

HH: Over in Burlington, Essex, Williston we have. Now we've just got a new one open here in St. Albans which we are very pleased with. I'm glad that we do. Spending the winter in Florida we have several fabric shops there but every one of them is at least fifteen or twenty miles away from us. That's okay. We take an afternoon off and go visit a fabric shop.

NF: Plan your trips?

HH: Plan the trips.

NF: What are your favorite techniques?

HH: Favorite techniques?

NF: Do you like piecing or appliqué?

HH: No, I don't like to appliqué. I don't appliqué.

NF: You do your piecing with your sewing machine?

HH: Yes. All of it.

NF: You mentioned some of the material manufacturers. What kinds of fabric do you tend to like the best?

HH: Anything by those. It all depends on what I am going to be making. Later we'll show you some of the fabrics. How we store them and how we bring them back and forth from Florida when we go down. We're down there for almost six months. So we do a lot of sewing in Florida. There's a lot going on. We're down on the ocean. There's a lot going on at the condo where we live. People are always stopping by to see what we are making. Sometimes we do sell a piece now and then, but most of our things we give as gifts. We don't sell them usually.

NF: Do you like 100% cotton fabrics?

HH: Yes, only 100% cotton. It's all we use.

NF: Would you talk about the place where you do your sewing?

HH: Here at my sister's house, we have downstairs a cellar area. It's very convenient for us. We have a sewing table that belonged to my sister. [Martha Clifford.] Nobody in the family wanted it when she died. We got it at my sister's place here. We have that set up. It's so much easier to work at that. I'm fairly tall and bending over a regular table is hard on the back. We have made that really into our sewing room. In Florida we don't have a special room. We just use the dining room table.

NF: You have a lot of fabrics organized in the sewing space?

HH: Oh, yes. We have to have them organized. We make sure we've got colors put together. One bin each of reds, greens, blues, golds and blacks. When we go to Florida, we can't take them all so we have to just take certain ones that we might be using.

NF: Do you plan the projects that you'll work on during the winter and just take the materials for those?

HH: Not really. We don't know what we're going to be working on. We might see a new pattern and we like it. If we have the fabric there, we'll use it. If not we'll get some new fabric. We've got one shop in De Land, which is about twenty five miles from us. They know us, ‘The Vermont ladies are here.' The day when we go into the shop, the owner and the staff are all glad to see us when we come down. So it's always nice when they recognize you.

NF: They must carry all those essentials that you need? That you don't carry back and forth.

HH: Oh, yes. We have taken classes there, too. One was machine quilting. We took a class on that, even though I do it. I'll show you some later. Some machine quilting I do.

HH: Is it easier for you to machine quilt on small pieces?

HH: Yes, much easier.

NF: You mentioned earlier some of the quilts your mother had made. Would you talk about some of the materials that she used?

HH: She used the old grain bags that many years ago we would get and muslin. We would bleach them out and use them. Some of them had beautiful patterns on them. Some of them looked like the thirties reprints that you see today. That type of pattern. I know that she used a lot of used materials. There were four girls in the family. In fact, we were always sewing making our own dresses and skirts. With any of the materials left over, she would always use them in a quilt. We all have the quilts that she made way back in the thirties especially the thirties. I remember seeing her frame. It was all set up in the spare bedroom. I used to help her put the quilts on the quilt frame so she could tie the quilt. As I said, we all have some of those quilts.

NF: Did she have any favorite pattern that she used?

HH: No, I don't think so. They were all squares. The only ones that I've seen, the quilts that she made, were just about four-inch squares.

NF: Do you think she ever hand-quilted any of the quilts? [both speak at the same time.] They were always tied?

HH: No. Always tied. In fact that's the way it was done in those days. I've never seen anything that she had hand quilted.

NF: Did she have anyone that she learned to make quilts from?

HH: I don't think so. I think it's something that she did on her own. Her mother died when she was about twenty-seven years old. I'm sure that she didn't have anyone that I know of that could have helped her learn to quilt. Something she picked up on her own, I'm sure. She had an old Singer sewing machine that we all learned to sew on. All the girls. As I said, we made our own clothes.

NF: When you're making your quilt projects now, do you try to set aside some time every day, or do you have once a week that you plan to work on them?

HH: No, more than once a week. This summer we didn't. We had a big family reunion which Ardelle and I were chairmen of so we didn't have time to do much sewing this summer. We're back at it again.

NF: When you're working on planning a next quilt, do you use a design wall to lay pieces out?

HH: No. We don't.

NF: How do you go about starting a new project?

HH: Just decide what we're going to do, what pattern we're going to make, the colors we're going to use. Go on from there.

NF: No arguments about what you want to do?

HH: No. Ardelle usually leaves it all up to me on the colors. She says she doesn't have good color sense. I don't know if I do either but I like to put things together.

NF: Do you ever design you own patterns?

HH: No, I've never done that. No.

NF: What do you think makes a great quilt, when you see one somewhere?

HH: I've been to quilt shows and I've looked at some of the quilts. If it looks right. Taking time to make sure that it is sewn properly. That's my main thing. Try to do the best you can do. Follow the pattern. Be happy when it turns out great. If it doesn't, try another one. [laughs.]

NF: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

HH: The colors. The pattern. Especially the colors, but the pattern, too.

NF: Does it have to be blue?

HH: No. It doesn't have to be blue. [both laugh.] But blue is my favorite color.

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

HH: In a museum, I suppose it should be an antique quilt. The only antique one I've got is a small one my mother made. About a full bed size. I would say that was an antique quilt. She probably did it in the thirties.

NF: Is that one just squares?

HH: Yes. It's squares.

NF: A big variety?

HH: Many different colors. Because she made it, it is special.

NF: For sure. What makes a great quiltmaker?

HH: I guess just to be happy in doing it. [clock chimes.] See what others have done. I don't think I'm a great quiltmaker but I enjoy it.

NF: Are there other quiltmakers whose works you are drawn to?

HH: My cousin in Enosburg and my sister who's passed away. She did the Underground Railroad quilt which was exceptionally beautiful.

NF: What has happened to that quilt?

HH: I believe one of her sons has it.

NF: Was that your sister Martha?

HH: Yes. She was a DAR member.

NF: Your cousin in Enosburg. What kinds of quilts does she make?

HH: She makes artistic quilts, too. I can't think of the name of the pattern, the one she just did about a couple of years ago. Bunny rabbits. It was a pattern quilt with every block with a different animal. Lambs.

NF: Was it pieced or appliquéd?

HH: Appliquéd. She likes to do appliqué.

NF: What was her name?

HH: Charlotte Donlon. Charlotte Leach Donlon. She's my first cousin.

NF: Are there any artists that have influenced some of your piecing?

HH: No.

NF: How do you feel about machine quilting against hand quilting?

HH: I don't like to hand quilt so I love the machine quilting.

NF: For a special reason?

HH: No, I just don't enjoy hand quilting although my sister did. She loved to hand quilt. She did a lot of it. For the reunion this summer she had made a quilt. We only have the reunion every five years in a different part of the country. It just happened to be Vermont's year. She had given us a quilt that she had made, except she hadn't done the borders. From four years ago, maybe. She died before the reunion. My sister [Ardelle.] and I finished it off and gave it as a door prize. That was hand quilted except the borders we had to put on it.

NF: Where in the country did the quilt end up?

HH: It ended up in Boulder, Colorado.

NF: My goodness.

HH: In Boulder, Colorado. She was so excited that she had won it.

NF: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

HH: It is relaxing. It is just enjoyable. Sitting at home and doing some hand sewing maybe. Not hand quilting but sewing bindings and so forth. It's just enjoyable.

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

HH: I don't think they do at all. We give them as gifts to family and friends.

NF: Continuing the heritage from those before. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

HH: That's an interesting question, too. Quilts have been made, probably in the centuries before us. Those in the eighteen hundreds. Some of them are really beautiful. I think more and more people are beginning to go into sewing. Quilting and sewing. It's wonderful to see. It hadn't been done for many years.

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

HH: Living way back they probably had to use what they had, like my mother. Feedbags they'd use. Not sure that way back to the Indian times, they used to color their materials with the colors. I think people probably did quilting way back in the eighteen hundreds, even the seventeen hundreds, for relaxation, for the warmth.

NF: How do you think quilts can be used?

HH: Enjoyable on your beds. I don't know how else you'd use a quilt. Display it some place in your house maybe.

NF: Do you have any on the walls in your home?

HH: No, I don't. They are on all my beds, though.

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

HH: I'm sure you have to use acid-free paper that they use to protect the cloth.

NF: Have you seen some of the quilts the DAR owns at the John Strong Mansion? [Addison, Vermont.]

HH: Oh, yes.

NF: Those have been preserved well.

HH: Right. They have to be.

NF: Where are some of the places that your quilts have ended up?

HH: The new one there is in Boulder, Colorado. I know that we have a couple in Florida. My niece in Albany, New York. I made her a couple of quilts. Trying to think of other people we have given quilts to. Our local family, of course, have our quilts. Last year we made one for my brother. A flannel quilt.

NF: Where does he live?

HH: In Fairfield.

NF: So you all stayed kind of close by. What was the pattern of that flannel quilt?

HH: I can't remember.

NF: Sounds like a warm one.

HH: Yeah. I think it was just squares. I'm sure it was. Quite large squares in fact, because he complained about being cold at night. So we made him a flannel quilt.

NF: You've made some quilts for charity giving? What organizations?

HH: We made one for the Cemetery Association in Fairfield. We made a quilt for that, several years ago, when we were working on the cemetery. The old cemetery. Raffled that one off. Made a pile of money to help support it. We've given quilts to other places, but that's the main one. The cemetery.

NF: Some of the needy children organizations, maybe?

HH: No, I can't think of any for needy children. We've made them for nieces and nephews, my great-nephew. We made one for him when he got married. Others when they got married.

NF: Quite a few family members.

HH: Yes, we made them for a lot of family members.

NF: I'm sure they all appreciate them.

HH: I hope so.

NF: You mentioned that you have a bit of a collection besides fabric. What else would you have for a quilt-related collection?

HH: We certainly have a lot of fabric. There are all your essential tools- your threads, bindings, bias tapes.

NF: What about books and magazines?

HH: We've got a lot of books. We don't subscribe to any magazines, but if we happen to see one at a bookstore or something that we like the looks of, we will pick it up. Or at a fabric shop if we see something, we'll buy them if we like a pattern.

NF: What is your next project that you're thinking of? Have you determined a next one?

HH: My sister wants another twin-sized quilt. We just finished one so now she wants the next one. We haven't decided yet when we are going to start that.

NF: Will it be in Florida or Vermont?

HH: Probably in Florida.

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

HH: I can't think of any big challenge. I know when I go to fabric shops now, there's a lot of people in the fabric shops that are taking lessons. Younger people too, which is great. Get the young people making quilts and even sewing.

NF: Have you taught any quilt classes to others?

HH: A few years ago, my sister and I taught a class in Enosburg in how to make pocketbooks.

NF: How did that go?

HH: It was a lot of fun. In fact, there were several DAR members. One said lately that she still had one of the pocketbooks she made in that class, and was using it. I guess they enjoyed it and continued to make them.

NF: Was that a patchwork type?

HH: No, it wasn't. It was a pattern from a friend's daughter that lived in the condos in Florida, where we are. She lives in Toronto. She came down. She is a quilter. She loves to shop in the United States and get her fabrics here, in Florida especially, when she visits family there. She taught us to do this pocketbook. She also helped me do an Ohio Star quilt one year when she came down.

NF: Does the quilting seem to be big in her area in Toronto?

HH: I believe it is. She gives a lot of classes. She works in a gift shop, I believe, that has fabric. They don't call it a fabric store. She does a lot of teaching. Loves working with fabric- Egyptian prints, out-of-this-world type of prints. She makes dolls. She's very vivacious. A lot of fun to be around. We enjoy when she comes to Florida with her mother. Loves to sew.

NF: So creativity doesn't just stop with quiltmaking?

HH: No, it certainly doesn't.

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

HH: It was interesting reading the questions you asked and you have to stop and think about quilt making. I did. I guess I didn't realize there's so much to making quilts. Seems like it came automatically, making a quilt. Looking at these questions, I began to think about how to make a quilt and what you think it is. I guess I started early. Then I gave it up until about twenty-five years ago when I decided to make a quilt. I've always had a sewing machine. [clock chimes.] I made a lot of other things, made a lot of dresses and clothing. I hadn't ever done a whole quilt so I decided that the Hole in the Barn Door was easy enough to do. So I got that one started. After I made that one, I made a Trip Around the World then I made two Log Cabins. Some my sister Martha helped with when she came to Florida. We sewed all the while she was there for about three weeks. We made a couple of quilts. I remember we made Trip Around the World. That was with the old method. Now there's a new method. It's a lot easier. She loved to sew. She had five children and she was a great sewer. We really miss her.

NF: Sure. I'd like to thank Helen Tiffany Hibbard for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 11:16 a.m. on October 23, 2009.


“Helen Tiffany Hibbard,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2082.