Jeanne Wright




Jeanne Wright




Jeanne Wright


Midge Shaw

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Windham, Maine


Jeanne Wright


Midge Shaw (MS): Hi. I’m Midge Shaw and I’m a member of the Elizabeth Wadsworth DAR and I’m interviewing Mrs. Jeanne Wright today, whom I met through DAR. Jeanne is a wonderful quilter. She has made about seventy quilts in the last eight years. She makes about ten a year and they are various sizes and various themes, and they are all very beautiful. So, I would like you to meet my friend Jeanne. Jeanne, tell me about the quilt that you brought in today.

Jeanne Wright (JW): I brought in a quilt that has to do with a tea party. The reason I brought it was because it ties the past to the present to the future for me. When my daughters went away to college, they came home during a break at Thanksgiving, and we would sit and just the three of us would have tea. That eventually grew because we have such a big Thanksgiving week here in our family and we have other family staying with us, that it grew and grew so that the night before Thanksgiving every year we have a tea. This quilt commemorates that time that we have tea together.

MS: I notice that you have different foods portrayed on there and also a menu and monogrammed napkins and so on. Can you tell me a little bit about the foods that you serve during that tea?

JW: We serve quite a few foods during the tea and it’s very hard to cut them back. My family, it’s only the women of course that come to the tea. The men, I have no idea what they do, they go in another room somewhere. But we all, there are so many things that we like. There are watercress sandwiches there and cucumber sandwiches and petit fours. There is a chocolate cake which probably doesn’t belong at a tea, but it does in our house. We have homemade scones there and homemade candies and it represents some of the fun food that we’ve had at a tea. It has a china set on it and my monogrammed napkins on it. It’s just a fun way for us to all think about how important it is for mothers and daughters and then granddaughters and so forth and to carry these on because everybody comes to our tea in our family from the time, she’s a day old up until she’s in her 90’s. We’ve had infants; we have everyone, and all the children have special teacups.

MS: Oh, that’s wonderful. That sounds so neat. I can understand why this quilt would have a very special meaning for you. Tell me a little bit about your interest in quilt making. When did you start quilt making and why?

JW: I think I have a creativeness about me that I’d like to have used all my life. But my working life, I was an executive secretary. I always, for many, many years, had to be on time, had to be strict about everything, everything had to be just so, that when I got ready to retire eight years ago, I wanted something softer. I wanted to play. I wanted to take the edges off from my life. I wanted to be able to create. Just before I retired, I started writing and I really enjoyed that, but this was more of a hands-on thing to me, so that’s why I started.

MS: Wonderful. At what age did you start quilt making?

JW: It was about age 54.

MS: And you hadn’t made any quilts before that?

JW: Nope.

MS: No. What about your first quilt? What was that like?

JW: My first quilt is rather a classic. It was a Sunbonnet Sue and back then I would buy patterns. I don’t usually buy patterns anymore now; I make my own, but for the first one I bought a pattern. But then I couldn’t let it be. There were twenty dolls on it, little Sunbonnet Sue’s, but I embellished and embellished and embellished. My whole point of the quilt was to play. I had just gotten done with work and I wanted to play. I still call them my little babies. I take them out everywhere. Everyone loves the quilt. They are all doing very active things. So that was--that was my first one. That was my fun.

MS: And I’ve seen that. It’s a wonderful quilt. It’s truly beautiful. From whom did you learn to quilt?

JW: No one. The nearest I could get to that is that I have a family of quilters who have preceded me, and I have many of their quilts. The oldest family quilt I have is circa 1835 and then we have Civil War, we have Victorian, turn of the century and up through the 20th century.
So, there’s a history coming to me, but something I find interesting about that is the style, the reason and the technical aspects of it. The style certainly did change. My family was a very practical New England country family. They didn’t do anything for show. Everything was practical and you could see that in their quilts. None of the quilts were quilted, up to me. They always tied their quilts. All of the quilts were patched. They were patchwork, but they were also patched. Pieces that were as small as an inch by an inch. Still, you could see where they had been seamed together. They didn’t waste anything. My great grandmother, I could see her quilting at her chair in her 90’s and she would sit there with her lapboard just cutting hundreds and hundreds of little bitty pieces with her sewing sheers. And they did a lot of patchwork. I don’t like to do patchwork myself, but there’s a lot of patchwork. So, I can see the styles changing. I can see the techniques. The type of quilting I do--which I prefer appliqué--they never would have done that. They were far too practical. And again, they tied their quilts and I quilt my quilts by hand.

MS: Tell me about the earliest quilt, the 1835 quilt.

JW: I wish I knew more about that. I don’t know who did it back then. I know where my family was back then because of DAR I have my Patriot Marlbory Kingman, but I know these quilts have been handed down from my family because my aunts had seen them that my great grandmother had used. So, I know they are family quilts, but I don’t know who made that one. I can tell you it’s extremely small pieces. The quilting stitches have held up beautifully. Some of the fabrics are disintegrating, but the quilting stitches, whoever did it this long ago, it was fabulous.

MS: And it was hand quilted?

JW: Yes.

MS: Even pieced together by hand.

JW: Mm-mmm.

MS: Little tiny stitches.

JW: Itty bitty.

MS: [laughs.] Yeah. It was really beautiful. What about some of your other antique quilts? What are some of your favorite ones?

JW: Well, there’s one that they called the ‘Red Quilt’. That’s what my aunts call it. It was made by my great great grandmother. And they all, it’s a big, heavy quilt, but they always, they were twins, my aunts, and they always just called it the ‘Red Quilt.’ I’m sure who made it. The name is on the box and my aunts know that their grandmother made it for them. The color is still very good in that. It’s still little pieces, but it has a deep, bright red backing, which is a little unusual for my family. We’ve got a quilt that doesn’t seem to fit into the pattern, because I’ve got one that’s a Victorian Crazy Quilt and it’s all out of silks and velvets, but there’s no backing on it yet; it was a work in progress. I’ve maintained that because the back of it is just – it tells a whole story. So, I won’t be putting a backing on it. I think the story is on the back while the beauty is on the front. And then I have my Great Grammy Baup’s [family nickname.] quilt. It’s the one she made for me in the early 50’s. When I got it, I did not like it. I thought it was ugly, all those little pieces and I continued to think so [laughs.] until I started quilting. Then I realized the value of it. For one, my great grandmother made it for me, which is extremely valuable. But just to see the way it was done, there is a lot of value.

MS: Right. Wonderful. How many hours a week do you quilt?

JW: Well, that’s kind of interesting, because when I quilt, I quilt all the time. It says hours a week here, it should say day. I quilt up to, as much as at least twelve hours a day when I feel like it. I don’t sleep. I’ve never like to sleep since I was a little girl. I always feel that they ask you to sleep eight hours a night. If I slept eight hours a night, that would be one third of my whole twenty-four hours. If I slept one third of my life and I lived to be ninety years old, I would have slept for thirty years and I refuse to do that. [MS laughs.] So instead, I stay up and do the things I like to do, and quilting is one of my passions. So, I might quilt practically all night.

MS: Wow. [laughs.] Great. Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

JW: Not amongst my friends, but my daughter quilts. I have one daughter who quilts a little and I have another daughter that quilts for a boy’s home and she makes quilts depending on what they like. When they come into the home, they have nothing, absolutely nothing with them. She finds out what colors they like and for Christmas, if they are still at the home, she makes a quilt specifically for each one of these boys. She also makes them for family and friends, but I admire what she’s done. She’s made one for St. Jude and has gotten prizes for it--done a beautiful job, very creative.

MS: Wow. That’s a wonderful thing to do for someone else, very creative and very giving. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

JW: Oh, my goodness, there’s only one thing that I don’t find pleasing. I do not like to piece. I don’t like to machine sew at all. I hate that and that is of course what my family has done all of these years. I think coming up with the design, just to see something, the way I come up with a design to be inspired. Then to buy the colors; I love buying the colors. Some women seem to have trouble with that, but I love that part of it. Then just designing it, sitting there and drawing and drawing and drawing until I get what I want. And the quilting; I love hand quilting. It’s very peaceful to me. I can watch TV, I can listen to audio books, I can even visit with people. I love the quilting part.

MS: And you hand quilt all of your quilts. Is that correct?

JW: Right.

MS: You don’t use machine quilting at all?

JW: No. There are a few, very few, that are tied, but that’s because it’s part of the design. I make an origami pattern which needs to be tied as part of the design of it. Otherwise, they are all hand quilted.

MS: Wonderful. Great. What aspects of quilting don’t you enjoy?

JW: It’s just really that only one thing. I don’t like to machine quilt. I don’t like to do anything more than I have to with a machine. All of my borders go on with a machine, but I don’t like it.

MS: [laughs.] What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

JW: Well of course time, but I think probably any generation could have said that. I don’t know if it’s that they don’t have the time, or they just don’t take the time if they don’t consider that it’s important. But also, interest may be one reason. But I think nowadays all lot of things are ‘Me’, what about ‘Me’ and the ‘Me’ thing and ‘Now’ that whole ‘Now’ philosophy and everything has got to be ‘Now’ and instant. I think that perhaps it’s too long a project for people and that because it’s ‘‘Now’’ they are not looking to the future, and they are not seeing that as important in their lives.

MS: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JW: I use almost exclusively all cottons and I love to appliqué. I both hand appliqué and machine appliqué because machine appliquéing to me is different than sewing together hundreds of horrid little squares. So, I do both hand and machine appliqué. I work with embroidery and embellishments. I also paper piece; I enjoy doing that. Almost anything that isn’t machine sewing is what I like to do. [laughs.]

MS: Great. What inspired you to make some of your quilts? You have some, such a variety of quilts.

JW: Everything in life inspires me. I could be walking down a street seeing a particular tree. I was in a church, another church other than mine one time and I looked at their window and I was absolutely enthralled, and I said, ‘Oh this has to be a quilt, this has to be a quilt.’ I got permission from their Trustees to use it as a basis for a quilt. I’ve made a stained-glass quilt that is exactly the same size and the same colors as the window. It came out beautifully and I’ve won awards with that, and I even had that one appraised and it came out at a very nice appraisal, but I was just inspired at the moment. I’ve been inspired by coloring books. I have a quilt that’s called ‘Blue Angels.’ I saw a coloring book full of little children angels flying through the sky and sitting up there playing instruments and playing baseball and it just amused me. I thought, ‘Well I’m going to make these Blue Angels’ and I made a blue-work quilt instead of a red-work quilt. I used it for traveling because it was in the big squares to embroider on. On one trip we were going through Pensacola, Florida and we went to the--I think it’s the Naval Air Base down there in Pensacola-- and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a hoot to go in there and talk to a Blue Angel pilot and get his signature on my quilt?’ So, I went in, and they said, ‘Oh no ma’am, you can’t do that. They are all in California, so that would be impossible,’ which was exactly the incentive I needed. So, I came back in the next day, and I knew who to ask for. In any business with any problem, you go to the secretary of the president, and something will happen. I knew that so I went right to her office, and I asked her, told her what I was going to do, and she said, ‘Could you come back in about fifteen minutes?’ I said sure and I came back, and she had gotten the head of this whole museum there at the Pensacola base. He was a retired Blue Angel pilot, and he signed the quilt for me. He was very unimpressed, but that didn’t matter; I have his signature [MS laughs.] from a Blue Angel pilot on my Blue Angels quilt.

MS: That’s wonderful. You have a wonderful picture that’s done with appliqué. It’s a picture of a snow scene and it has a house in it with texture. You’ve used corduroy. You’ve used little, tiny decorations on a Christmas tree. You’ve used a flowered green material for the outside tree. What was your inspiration for that one?

JW: I saw a piece of artwork by Charles Wysocki. He does the early Americana type of artwork and often times you’ll see his work on puzzles, regular puzzles, and I loved the work. One of my favorite quilt artists is Arlette Gosieski. She does this type of thing and I’ve always wanted to try that type of work. This just lent itself beautifully to that. So, I got in touch with the artist, and they gave me permission to use this. I have written permission to use this as a basis for my work. I think it really very accurately portrays his painting. This quilt, if I remember it right is about twenty by twenty-four. But it pretty much accurately matches the picture I’ve got, pictures that I have found to match it to.

MS: It’s lovely. I like the fact you have all kinds of different sleds. They are all different textures and different colors and so on, leaning up against the fence and you have a snowman and a decorated Christmas tree and a candy cane on the door and stones on the well. It’s wonderful. It’s a great, great picture.

JW: I like to be able to use things that are one thing, but they look to be another thing. The tree that you mentioned, it’s really a fabric of white flowers on a green field, but when you look at this picture, it looks just like snow hanging off from a fir tree and I’ve used things like netting for smoke; the corduroy is for the clapboard house. I have an ugly, ugly piece of something that I thought I’d never use for anything else; it was the perfect roofing for the house. It just looks like it was made specifically for that. So, I love to use one thing to make it look like another.

MS: Right. And even the snow has a pattern, so you can see where the snow would have different swirls and other kinds of things. You’ve used several different patterns of white in the snow, so it’s great.

JW: Thank you.

MS: Yeah. Wonderful. [pause for 10 seconds.] I notice you have a paper doll quilt. Can you tell me about that?

JW: I love actresses of the 1940’s and Claudette Colbert was one of my favorites. She was through the 30’s, the 40’s and the 50’s. My daughter knew this, my adult daughter, and she gave me a paper doll book of Claudette Colbert. It was such a nice book that I didn’t want to cut it up. But later I thought about it and said, ‘Aha, I know how to play.’ So, I took the paper doll book and made all of the outfits. Now I didn’t construct them like clothes, but from those patterns I blew them up and I made the flat patterns, but they were padded. Now I put them on the quilt and they each have a place that they fit. They have the tabs on them just like the regular paper dolls would. I’ve made the dolls that are along the side. So, you can actually take these clothes off, which I do when I store it. And she has a trunk at the bottom and all the clothes fit in that. There’s an old-fashioned hat box and all the little hats fit in that. And it was just--it was great fun to do. I really enjoyed making that quilt.

MS: [laughs.] Great. How about the Old Meetinghouse? Tell me about that one. That’s an appliqué quilt and it’s beautiful.

JW: The Meetinghouse was a little church that I used to go to when I moved here to Windham [Maine.]. We outgrew the church and we had to sell it. They moved it next door to a spot of land the town had. It’s a really lovely old building--1871 I think, yeah, 1871 when it was built. They’ve restored it and it’s just a lovely building and it inspired me. So, I went down and took pictures of it from all kinds of different angles and made up another one of these appliqué quilts. What I have done is--I have it on permanent loan to the Little Meetinghouse. When they like to use it, they ask for it and otherwise I store it for them because it isn’t open all of the time. I’ve really enjoyed that; I love this type of thing. This leads actually to the person who inspires me about this was Arlette Rose Goseiski. She’s a quilt artist that does machine appliqué and it’s kind of more in the early Americana type of situation and it’s very, very small pieces that are machine appliquéd to create scenes. I love to create the scenes. So she’s somebody who’s inspired me and then it’s lovely to do things like this, like this one for the Little Meetinghouse.

MS: And where to you display that quilt in the Meetinghouse?

JW: Well, they had someone come in and make a special cover for their organ so that this has a special way that it hooks onto that cover, so that when they have something, it’s draped on the back of the organ, which faces the folks in the congregation. Then this is attached to that. Then I unattached it and I bring it home.

MS: And I noticed it has Velcro strips on the back, so you are using modern technology to--

JW: That’s true.

MS: --attach. Yeah, that’s wonderful. How about this little quilt that you said was inspired by a second-grade class?

JW: When my granddaughter Abby was born--I of course had already made quilts for all of my grandchildren, and when she was born, I was looking for inspiration for hers and I couldn’t quite get it. But I was volunteering in a second-grade class and one day I was reading with a little child. We looked at a picture and it was a big umbrella, and a child was holding it and facing away from the viewer. All you could see was the big colorful umbrella and two black boots with scrawny little legs. It really captivated me, and I thought, oh that would be so sweet if I had it in all kinds of colors, which is what I did. So, she has, there are thirty little umbrellas on it, and they are all different colors of little umbrellas.

MS: And the little black feet just peek underneath.

JW: Mm-mmm.

MS: [JW and MS speak at the same time.] All little black feet. Yeah. Cute. And it’s bordered in blue.

JW: Mm-mmm.

MS: That’s wonderful.

JW: She likes blue.

MS: She does. Tell me about your Scrabble quilt.

JW: My Scrabble quilt came about because my grandson Eri and I were sitting on the couch one day, looking through a magazine and we saw a Scrabble game [crossword.] in the magazine. He said, ‘Nana, that would be such a great idea. Why don’t you make a crossword puzzle.’ It was a crossword puzzle. I said, ‘That’s interesting, but how about Scrabble? I love to play Scrabble.’ And we got excited about the idea. Then I said, ‘Instead of working with words, let’s use family names.’ We were both interested in that because he and I are both very much like genealogy and have done that quite a bit. So, I researched all the names and I now have six generations of names that are in the quilt. My grandchildren, children, my husband and I, my two sisters, my parents, my grandparents and my great grandparents on both sides. All of their names are on this Scrabble quilt, and they are all--it’s a legitimate Scrabble quilt with the triple letters and so forth, a hundred tiles just like you’d have in a game, and it’s embroidered. It’s embroidered onto little squares which I had to do on a machine, but I enjoyed the embroidery work. And then I have a great big bag at the bottom which holds all the tiles if you were to play the game.

MS: That is a wonderful quilt. I noticed that the colors that you chose for the tiles for the triple--

JW: Mm-mmm.

MS: --points and the double points and so on are true to a Scrabble game.

JW: Yes, they are. If one of the letters came down through where one of the words went, I just used the color of the letter, just like you would in a real Scrabble game that sits on a triple word. But if you were a Scrabble player, you would understand every bit of this Scrabble board. For me to get that many names, it took me two days to figure out how I could get legitimately spelled names in a legitimate group so that every name, like if it has Thomas across and it would have Morris down and that ‘M’ would connect, so it’s all legitimate connections.

MS: That is wonderful. And it’s a big quilt. How big is it?

JW: Huge. Too big. I got carried away. In my early quilting days, I did get carried away. I did two things that were unnecessary. One is that I made quilts very puffy because my idea of quilts were actually comforters and I had to come to understand that a quilt isn’t necessarily a comforter. They don’t have to be big and puffy. So, I have gotten them, so they are not so puffy for one thing. And I used to have big borders and extra things all over the place. Well, I’ve got two quilts I can barely lug around because I made them too big. So, I’m getting smarter. But this is a big quilt and the quilting in it is all letters, so it looks like little Scrabble tiles all around the border.

MS: Right. Tell me about the one with the teacups. There are various teacups on that quilt, I think twelve of them. And they all have, it looks like some cross-stitch.

JW: Yes. All of them are cross-stitched. Some of them, I have quite a teacup collection, so some of them I drew out from the patterns on my teacups and embroidered them, cross-stitched them. Then others I found in a book, or I just sat down and made-up designs. I just liked the look, they are very different, each cup is very different, and I’ve put them together in one collection. But that again talks to the tea party. It’s not the tea that’s important. It’s putting the people together who need the cup of tea. Sometimes women just need women, and you don’t take time enough for that. But we do. At least once a year we’re having tea.

MS: That’s wonderful. Tell me about your surprise quilts. You’ve got some, a couple of quilts that have surprises.

JW: Well, I do have the, an Easter quilt, it’s a small--it’s a wall hanging, and there are Easter eggs that I’ve embroidered patterns on, and they are sitting in little squares. Now they look adorable from that side. You turn the quilt around and it’s completely plain white backing on the back. It’s cute. It’s a nice little quilt, but the secret is, is if you take the quilt and you hold it in front of the window, then all of a sudden you see the surprise inside the egg because I’ve inserted little surprises. So, it’s between the front of the quilt and the backing, but you can’t see it unless it’s in front of a window, because you have no idea the secret is in there. My grandchildren love that quilt. No matter how old they are getting, they still love that quilt. Another one that I’ve got was a wall hanging that I wanted to make a particular pattern I had seen somewhere, and I thought, well I’d make it up. It was somebody else’s pattern, but it was a certain kind of star, and I had some Christmas material. So, I made it up and I didn’t like it. It was somebody else’s pattern, so I already didn’t like it very much and it just did nothing for me. It was reds and blues and greens for stars on a white background. So, I put it away and I didn’t use it. Now one day I was having a quilt show, I’ve had some one-woman quilt shows, and I took it out and I happened to pass it in front of the window as I was moving my quilts around. All of a sudden there was the surprise for me, because on the back of the quilt the backing is very colorful, lots of Christmas colors in big shapes, little shapes and so forth. So, what happens is, when the light comes through the back, it just comes through the front on the white part enough, so it looks like chalk on a sidewalk that has rain coming down all over it. It’s just a very soft swirl of colors because the light is coming through from the back. There is no particular pattern to it; it’s just a soft glow of various colors. So that was a surprise to me and now I love the quilt.

MS: Yeah. That’s great. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JW: You have to have two things; one is color and the other is contrast. I learned about the contrast because in an early quilt I made, I loved all the colors and the shades. I’m a pastel person, and I put it together and although I loved each color, the quilt became boring. So, I learned that you need the contrast there. The other thing is color. To me, color is a gift from God, and I truly feel that. I know color is necessary in nature and it does things, and the animals and so forth and you need color in nature. However, humans are blessed by the appreciation of color and that’s where I really feel it’s a gift to me that I not only see color, and maybe everybody sees the colors differently, I don’t know, but it’s the appreciation of recognizing color and enjoying it. That’s a gift to me and I just love to put colors together that in my eyes really create something special in my heart.

MS: Great. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JW: You have to see the heart of the quilter a little bit in it. If you don’t see the imagination and the heart, and I think that goes to patterns again. Patterns are important and they play an important part because people have to start somewhere and there are thousands of patterns out there that are really great. But even if you use somebody else’s pattern, you’ve got to see the heart of the quilter in there and, again, the color and the contrast.

MS: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

JW: I have two and one is Arlette Rose Goseisky and she’s the one who does--I believe I have mentioned her. She’s the one who does the little tiny scenes with machine appliqué and makes wonderful pictures from early Americana. Another one [Ida Beck.], I don’t know what else that she made, but she has one quilt and it’s been called by two different names [“Alphabet Monogram Quilt” and “Rainbow Monogram and Initial Quilt”]. It’s presently in the Shelburne Museum in Burlington, Vermont. It’s just an incredible quilt. I hardly know where to start. There is a little bit of piecing in it, but only as a kind of trim work. There are alphabets that are done in various scripts, various colors. It’s represented months all around it. It has the name of the month, it has the flower for the month, a bird for the month and colors, gems, and so forth for every month. It just has incredible work. And from what I understand, she was a woman who had some health issues and she had to spend a great deal of her time inside and she made this quilt because she was inside. This was voted one of the one hundred most important quilts in the United States in the 20th century and in fact, her quarter of the century, during that quarter, there were only seven quilts nominated for this. So, she was one of seven in a quarter of a century because of this quilt. So, if anybody gets to go to the Shelburne Museum to see it, I only assume it’s still there, that’s where I’ve seen it. It’s incredible. I don’t know anything about any other works that she’s done.

MS: You bring up another point. Tell me about the awards that you have won.

JW: I have been very fortunate that people have seen something in my quilts that they like too. So, I put all my quilts into the local Cumberland [County.] Fair here in Cumberland, Maine and they always get awards. I’m pleased to say usually Blue, some Red and a few White ones in there. I’ve won Best of Show. I’ve won Judge’s Choice. At the Maine State of Maine Quilt Show I got ribbons there for quilts and I also got Viewer’s Choice my first year in the exposition of the quilts, which were really meaningful to me because the quilt judges judged the other quilts and that was good, but the one that was chosen, which was this tea party quilt, and it was because people just plain liked it. From all over the states, it took the votes from the states and was the Viewer’s Choice. I was absolutely thrilled and honored.

MS: Well, I can understand why. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JW: In the present or in the past?

MS: Both

JW: In the present I think that it’s moved, just as my family, my old family quilts have, it’s moved from being practical to being more of a work of art type of thing. Any many of us use our quilts. I use almost all of my quilts. We have family movie night at church every Friday night and my grandchildren they pick out which quilts they want, and we take all the quilts to church and watch the movies. So, we’ve all used our quilts, but I think a great many quilts nowadays are made as art quilts and I have probably had more of those. I have some very whimsical quilts too. So mine aren’t too practical, although I use them.

MS: How many wall hanging type quilts do you have? I notice that you have a variety of sizes, and you have several wall hanging quilts. Tell me about some of your favorite ones.

JW: I recently did an “I Love Lucy” one. I saw some fabric in a magazine that I fell in love with, just too, too adorable. I found at Keepsake Quilters in New Hampshire that they had the fabric. So, I went over and it’s--in the middle--it’s, the whole thing is about the chocolate factory episode, which everybody knows the I Love Lucy and the chocolate factory. They had some fabrics that worked for that. So, I came up with a design for the quilt and then I wrote in the borders around it; I embroidered around it. I told about that particular episode, when it was aired and when it was made and so forth. That was just great fun. After that, very soon after that, I was in a store and happened to see this box with two Lucy dolls. It was Lucy and Ethel, they are like Barbie dolls, and they are standing there with the outfits on that came from the chocolate factory and they are showing chocolates coming down in front of them. They are stuffing these in their hats, chocolates in their hats and so forth. It was just too adorable. It even has the soundtrack. You push a button, and it says, ‘Oh, Ethel, I think we’re fighting a losing game.’ [MS laughs.] It’s just so cute. So, we are using that. My family is having a get together this weekend and that will be part of our get together, for the Lucy quilt. So that was a fun one. We have a Mardi Gras party every year and one Mardi Gras I wanted something special, so I made a Mardi Gras one. They kind of come at whim, when I feel I’d like an extra decoration, I make one. It might be for Christmas or Easter or just for the heck of it.

MS: [laughs.] That’s wonderful. In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women’s history in America?

JW: Well, you know, a lot of people, if you think history--they think about--I see it as on the east coast when people were making the quilts and then they traveled by wagon train across the country and there are stories about making the quilts as they traveled, or even just sitting on them when they were on those hard seats and using them. They were used for practical purposes and to keep warm and for comfort and for things on the journey. But there is a particularly neat picture, I think, about a picture back in the early history of getting across the country where a family had made their little Soddy. They were in front of the Soddy and having somebody come by the people taking pictures used to come by and do this. The family is sitting out their kind of stiff and formal in their chairs across the front of the Soddy and right in the middle of them, out front, there’s a little old-fashioned sewing machine. It turns out that the sewing machine was so highly regarded by these women, because there were so few of them, that they actually put the sewing machines in the pictures and the sewing machines often became quite an important part of the picture. It said something about the family because in some cases these sewing machines were worth more than the plows and implements that they had other than that. So, I like to think about these women sitting out there, probably they were sitting outside a great deal of the time when they sew because there wasn’t enough light inside and the things that they made with very little cloth and no electricity and maybe not that much light and certainly not much time. So, I think about those things coming out from history.

MS: And they all made them with fine stitches, and they are beautifully put together. Why is quilt making important to your life? What do you perceive for quilt making for you for the future?

JW: Quilt making right now is addressing how I live right now, what I think right now, which actually changes from year to year, just like it does anybody. So, for the present I enjoy. For the past I really respect and honor the past, to see what people have done before me. But in the future I have hope too. I have two grandsons that they like to try making quilts as well. And before this program started with the DAR and going out and speaking with people and doing the Quilters’ S.O.S. program, I came up with a little program of my own. It’s called A Quilter S.H.A.R.E.S. SHARES are letters that stand for Seeks, Honors and Records Each Story. I was thinking about people in independent care and assisted living and so forth, people who are very often alone now. They don’t have anybody to tell their stories to. These folks have wonderful, wonderful stories that should be preserved. So, I’ve taken my quilts out, some of them, maybe a dozen at the time, and I’ve put them up. The little Sunbonnet Sue one that I told you about before, I used that one as my focal point and don’t discuss it, so that when I tell some of these stories like I’ve mentioned here today, one thing will lead to another and pretty soon somebody will say, ‘Well I’ve got a story,’ and they tell their story and then somebody else does. If they don’t tell their stories, I use these little Sunbonnet Sue’s and I might say, ‘Do you remember maybe one time you went and skated with your uncle on the pond, or one time you cooked with your grandmother or a particular birthday party you had where you blew out the candles?’ and inspire them to tell a story. I’m also recording those stories. And, boy, I’ve heard some very interesting stories. This is just so much fun and it’s something I’d like to do. I’d like to go into this type of place, not just in my hometown, but in various areas. I love to do quilt shows. I do them for free. I don’t sell quilts at all. I’ve never sold a quilt; I just make them because I love them. I give them to the church, they have raffles, and I do that kind of thing. I make them for [pause for 3 seconds.] the blanket project [searching for the word.] Project Linus and things like that. So, I give them away. I give them to family, but I don’t sell the quilts. But I love to do quilt shows and I’ve done a couple that, I don’t charge anything, but that the organization, the charitable organization, will charge for people to come in and they make the money. I’ve always called my quilts my babies because you know what it is like to have a baby. It’s just like having a quilt. You create the idea, and you work and work and work on something until it’s finally grown up and where you want it. I call them my babies and I love to take my babies out to play. That’s what I do. I go to quilt shows. I’ve been asked to be in two more this year. I just love to take my quilts out to play and show my quilts.

MS: That’s great. You are going to speak in September for a group that I go to called P.A.L.S., which is Portland Area Lutheran Saints for Lutheran churches that get together and have a lunch and a speaker. I’m really anxious to have you show your quilts because I know that it will inspire them. I hope that it will allow them to share some things too. What do you plan to do with your, the stories that people tell you, the assisted living people who are inspired by your quilts and want to tell their stories?

JW: What I would love to do is, my initial thought was that I wanted to take these twenty patterns of these twenty little Sue’s doing their thing and behind each, make a page, make a little book, and on each page you’d see on the page, a little picture and then there would be the stories that were inspired by that picture and then the next picture and the stories that were inspired by that picture. I found that because of copyright laws I can’t use these pictures. But I think I could do the same kind of thing. I would like to do collections of stories that were inspired by these types of things. And probably never happen, but I think it would be very interesting to publish these and to have somebody sell them. I’m not in sales, but if somebody could sell them and then that money could go to the [searching for the word.] Alzheimer’s organization, because that group understands what it is to lose stories. They understand how important it is to save stories. If it doesn’t go that far, then I just make up--not make up, I take these stories and can have them in little booklets that can go to the person giving me the story and also to the place, to the house, the living situation where they are, if it’s assisted living or that kind of thing.

MS: So, you are going to share these stories?

JW: Mm-mmm. [MS and JW speak at the same time.]

MS: That’s wonderful.

JW: Yeah.

MS: That’s great. What is your plan for the future? Are you working on a quilt now?

JW: I’m always working on a quilt. I’m always working on a quilt. Right now, I’m doing an Origami quilt. I’m making it with--it’s cotton, but it has a slight Japanese pattern, just kind of one of those, just slowly in the background make you feel kind of good and interested background. I’m making it in Origami flowers. I’m anxious to see how that works out. I’ve made some other Origami baby quilts, and table quilts and so forth so that was fun to make. I actually have others in the works. And now people, unfortunately, are suggesting ideas to me. I have (JW and MS laugh.), it’s hard for me to limit myself because everything I see is a quilt, everything, everywhere I turn. I either have the fabric for it or I know what I want to do. On vacation a month ago, I was sitting at lunch with somebody I’d never had met before. It turns out that her brother was a clown [Duane "Uncle Soapy" Thorpe, who was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame.] in the Ringling Brothers Circus his whole adult life. There were paintings made of him. He died here a little while ago. He had, of course, his own special make-up and hair and so forth. They invited me to her house, she didn’t know me from anybody, invited me to her home in Florida. I looked at the paintings and some of the memorabilia that she had about her brother. He became one of the clowns that would teach other clowns and he had quite a status of clowns. I looked at his picture and said, ‘I’ve got that fabric, you know, his hair.’ I had exactly the right fabric for it. Then one of the people who had gone over with me said ‘Oh, Jeanne, that looks like a quilt.’ I said, ‘I know it, another quilt.’ [JW and MS laugh.] So, ideas are everywhere. I’ll continue to make quilts. But I really like to take my babies out to play, so that’s what I’d like to do. If I can do it for charitable organizations, take them out there, let them see them and let’s talk about the stories; there’s a story behind every single quilt. If I can do that and if they’d make a little money by charging admission, or whatever they want to do, then that’s fine. I don’t have plans to sell them. Maybe I would do that one day, but not right now, because then it becomes a job, it becomes work, it’s no longer fun. I worked very, very hard my whole adult life and now it’s my time that I want to have fun. I want to be creative. I want to enjoy colors and I want to express my passion.

MS: Great. Wonderful. Well, this has certainly been a wonderful and inspiring interview for me. I have really enjoyed it. I thank you so much for your interest in quilting and your passion comes through beautifully. Thank you.

JW: You are very welcome. I know we’ve talked, it’s almost an hour now. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, but it’s hard for me to stop talking. I thank you for your patience and I appreciate your asking me to do this. This has been a great deal of fun.

MS: Great.


“Jeanne Wright,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,