Evelyn George




Evelyn George




Evelyn George


Darlene Reid

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Tucson, Arizona


Shirley Hobbs


Darlene Reed (DR): This is Darlene Reed. Today's date is Monday, September 14, 2009. The time is 2:28 p.m. I'm conducting an interview with Evelyn George of Tucson, Arizona, for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. This is the best room in the house. So tell me about your inspiration piece that you have here on the wall.

Evelyn George (EG): That is a quilt that was designed by me as a way to make the Hunter's Star block easier and more accessible to a beginner. I actually designed it as a mystery quilt and we presented it at a fundraiser retreat for Quilt for a Cause. The retreat was held last fall, and it helped raise funds for Quilt for a Cause, which is something we'll talk about later. This is one of the sample quilts that I made for the mystery quilt retreat. Do you know how a mystery quilt works? You don't know what it is you're making. Your instructions are to bring eight fat quarters of lights and eight fat quarters of darks. And this one was designed to be scrappy. Then you are told how to cut and sew various parts of the quilt, but you don't know what your quilt will look like until you get to the last part. You just follow the mystery directions, and finally at the very end, the mystery is solved and you see what you have made.

DR: Did you finish this quilt during the retreat?

EG: This particular quilt was a sample, so it was finished before the retreat, but not shown until the end. Several of the attendees finished their tops during the retreat. Nobody got as far as quilting them, but that wasn't expected. They were quite excited that they had a star and lots of little stars. It was fun.

DR: Is this quilt typical of your quilting style?

EG: Yes, it's very typical. Scrappy is my favorite thing. And, so it's got a lot of different colors in it. Typical in many ways. I like to use brown colors too, so it's not all brights. Also, I quilted it all myself which is typical. I have had a few quilts quilted by professionals.

DR: It's a good reason to do it. How do you plan for this piece to be used?

EG: Well, it's still being used to sell the patterns. After the mystery retreat we converted the mystery quilt into a regular pattern, since it wasn't a mystery anymore. This one and two other samples are on the pattern cover. The pattern is also a fundraiser for Quilt for a Cause. At our Quilt for a Cause events, and Tucson Quilters Guild events, people can buy these patterns.

DR: What would you like to have people take away after they view this quilt?

EG: I would like them to think, 'Wow, that's really neat. I could do that in my colors.' Or, 'Wow, it's really easy, quick cutting and quick piecing methods. I think I could do that.' I'd like them to feel that it would make it possible for them to make a scrappy Hunter Star quilt, even if they thought before they couldn't, because the traditional ones were all done with diamond shaped templates and Y seams. This one's all done with rotary cutting, nothing but squares and rectangles, to make the stars.

DR: So is this your technique that you kind of developed on your own?

EG: Well, I've utilized techniques that I've used all along. But putting them into position to make this quilt was my idea. And I looked at a lot of other people's Hunter Star patterns and I never found the quick ways to make it. But this one makes it much easier.

DR: How long did it take you to sort of develop this technique?

EG: The technique? Actually I worked out the design on the computer and then I just applied the quick piecing techniques. I've known it all along so it's very hard to say how long it's taken me to develop it. It's something I've learned over the years. You stitch diagonally across the square then flip it over so it forms a triangle.

DR: When or where were you first introduced to quilting?

EG: Well, there was a quilt on my bed when I was a little child, and it was interesting to me. There was a trunk in my closet. It was a little walk-in closet, and the trunk had old stuff in it from family members who had passed away. I knew what was supposed to be in there but I didn't know what it looked like and my mother was not ready to show me. One day I got as far as lifting the lid and another day I got as far as finding some old photos. It was kind of a secret place, you know. It was in my closet so my mother couldn't really see I was looking in the trunk, but I found there was a tray in the top of the trunk that was just a superficial layer. I knew everything in that after awhile, all the pictures and all the jewelry and all the old things. But one day I lifted that tray up and saw there was lots of stuff underneath there. I reached down in there to see what it was and there was something interesting, a Sunbonnet Sue block and some cardboard patterns and some little cutout pieces of sleeves and dresses and bonnets. And there were several blocks, it turned out, and I asked my mother about them and she got mad at me for looking as I thought she would. She said, ‘Oh, those were my grandmother's.' But she didn't stay mad for long, and so my mother taught me how to put them together and I made some more. I already knew a little bit about embroidery and crochet because all the ladies in the family all did needlework, and showed me how, since I was the first grandchild. So as a child, I had learned a little bit about it and learned how to make those blocks and made, I think, a total of twenty or so of them altogether but not all at once. Some when I was a girl and some later, after I got married, and I kept them all, including the ones I had brought with me when I left home. Many years later I gave all the blocks to my oldest daughter, and she put them together into a top. Now that top is still not quilted! But there's my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, myself and my daughter. So there's five generations in those Sunbonnet Sue blocks, a kind of a thread that runs through the family. My mother herself sewed everything imaginable, except quilts, but she had watched her grandmother quilt.

DR: There was a quilt on your bed. Do you happen to know what the pattern was?

EG: It's that one with the kind of chambray blue squares in it then and a blue and white border. It's a nine patch and that was actually made by my great-grandmother as well. Probably one of her earliest quilts and I still have it.

DR: What time estimate would you say approximately it would have been made?

EG: That would have been made probably around 1910 when my great grandmother was a young woman.

DR: You have a great quilting tradition in your family.

EG: I do, but it skipped a few generations.

DR: Did it?

EG: It did. My other grandmother and my mother didn't do much quilting. So many things happen, sometimes you never learn how to do all the things that they do.

DR: After you got married, when did you then start--actively start quilting?

EG: I made my first quilt that I actually finished, when my daughter was a toddler, in 1962. I made it with all my sewing scraps. There were corduroys and there were the pre-quilted fabrics that I made her little coveralls out of, and there were cottons and denims, and everything except quilting fabric as we now know it. I had a good old Singer sewing machine that sewed anything, even leather. I think I used a mattress pad in the middle and put a sheet on the back and probably didn't bind it but I just turned the edges of the back over on to the front and made a blanket. It was a primitive sort of quilt, but there was something about that little quilt, and it was the first one.

DR: What teachers or quilting experiences do you remember from those earlier years?

EG: I knew how to sew just about anything, when a friend at the time said, 'I'm going to make a crazy quilt and I said, 'What's that?' and she described it to me and told me she was going to embroider lots of different wildflowers on the pieces of velvet and silk and things like that, and so she started a crazy quilt. So I decided to make one, too.

DR: So how old were you at that particular time?

EG: I was in my early twenties.

DR: Were there any other quilting resources around you where people helped you get started?

EG: Not really. I asked my first husband to make me a quilting frame and he built one out of--I don't know--two by fours. OK, now I'm going to quilt. So I got one of those Indian bedspreads made of a loosely woven cotton. Probably flannel is what I used as a batting. I put that on my quilting frame and I started hand quilting. I didn't know how I was supposed to do it, but I just did whatever I did and I got a row of quilting across that --probably the first six inches all across one edge--and my little girl climbed on the quilting frame, she was a climber, and she broke it [laughs.] and that was the end of my quilting for awhile because I thought that was the only way you could do it. The proper way would be to quilt by hand, not by machine. I was going to do it that way but after the frame was broken, I couldn't do it any more.

DR: So obviously today you're very busy and involved with a lot of quilters, so what happened between then and today? How did your whole quilt story go from there to here?

EG: To tell you the truth, it's all kind of a blur. [laughs.] I really don't know how I got from there to here except that I just wanted to do it. I kept wanting to make quilts and trying to making them, however I could do it. I really began to study a lot of books at first and I started figuring things out. I didn't really have any quilting friends back then; there wasn't the kind of quilting activity as there is now. It wasn't until the 90s that I started even going to quilt shows and meeting other quilters, and finding out how many quilters were out there. I remember my first reaction going to the Tucson Quilters' Guild show was ‘Oh my, those are just incredible!' I took pictures and I'd bring them home and I'd look at them and then try to teach myself how to do it and it wasn't until about the year 2000 that I joined the guild and that's when it really began to take off for me as far as having real teachers. By then I'd made a whole lot of quilts just by, you know, one way or another, however I could. I tried out the hand quilting and tried out machine quilting, and they were both kind of a challenge for me. It took a lot of time to get the hang of machine quilting, and the hand quilting was tedious but I just kept trying and trying do it better and better.

DR: What inspires you to do the things you do?

EG: The fabric and the colors might inspire me. Or just a particular color might almost burn itself into the back of my mind that I have to do something with this color. Sometimes, you know it's like a reaction to something. I work with a certain set of colors for awhile and all of a sudden my eyes are just burned out on those colors and I need to look at a different set of colors and that will inspire me to make something. Or, it could be any kind of image, something I see in my head, on a calendar, in a magazine, driving along the highway, or anything that just says, 'Oh, this would make an interesting quilt pattern.'

DR: Have you had any inspirational or significant quilt teachers?

EG: Oh, all of them [laughs.]. You wanted to know if there was one particular teacher who made more of an impact. I think I would have to say Kathy Sandbach. She came at a point when I was really just beginning to get the hang of machine quilting but I was afraid to try it much because I didn't know how to develop more skill. She taught us a machine quilting class, free motion class. She took the fear out of it. She told us to draw with your needle and don't be afraid, just go for it. I guess I just have to say she took the fear out of it and from then on it wasn't going to hold me back. And I still have a whole lot to learn and I'm looking forward to any quilting teachers that come, so that I can learn how to do more, especially with machine quilting.

DR: Talk about machine quilting and hand quilting and how you incorporate that into your work.

EG: Lots of times I will start by machine, quilting around the shapes or in the ditch to stabilize it and then I can do some free motion quilting on it. Sometimes I will still hand quilt. Not as often as I used to because I really like the machine quilting.

DR: Do you break any quilting rules?

EG: Oh yes. [laughs.] I've probably broken all of them, including all the ones that I've made for myself. That's how you learn sometimes. Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn't.

DR: What do you like best about quilting?

EG: Picking the colors. All we used to have were so many little tiny calicos, but now it's amazing how many fabrics and colors are available, and so beautiful.

DR: What do you like least about quilting?

EG: I'll probably never live long enough to explore all the ideas I've got. There's just so much I'd like to try.

DR: How does quilting impact your daily weekday life?

EG: Well, I quilt some every day if I can. If I don't have time I miss it. My home is where I work on quilting designs on my computer too, so I'm doing something quilt related most of the time.

DR: How much time do you devote to quilting activities in a week's time?

EG: In a week's time? A lot. Besides my own projects, I belong to three bees, I design the Block of the Month patterns for the Tucson Quilters Guild, and I'm a board member of Quilt for a Cause. I have to be careful now not to join too many groups because I won't have time for all of them, sometimes projects are due for everything all at once.

DR: Have you ever used quilting to help you get through a difficult time in your life?

EG: I'm glad you asked that question, because yes, I did when my parents were getting older. I usually took some handwork when I went to visit them. I did that during the time my father was in his final weeks of life. It was a quilt that I started at home, then took with me to work on while staying with my father. One day he asked me, ‘What are you making?' And I told him it was a tree quilt, and showed it to him and told him I was thinking about quilting some tree shapes in some of the blocks. And we looked out the window together at the trees on the hillside, and his eyesight was failing at that time, but he said, 'Mama always loved trees. I think you should put her name on it somewhere.' And I said, 'I will, and I'll put your name in there too.' That quilt has been done for a long time now, except for their names. I have to tell you that it's not that difficult, but it still is a difficult thing for me to finish that one part of the quilt, but I know I need to because if I don't do it, nobody will. You know how it is with those things.

DR: Do you quilt for friends and family?

EG: Oh, yes. In fact, I've given away most of the quilts that I've made. A few I've kept for myself. The scrappy ones I usually keep for myself. Usually if I'm making it in somebody else's colors I'm happy to give it away. If it's in my favorite colors, I want to keep it. Actually I have to confess, about the bigger quilts, my two daughters are still waiting for their queen size quilts and they're in progress. I have put them aside for this and for that and for the other thing and they're right there in that corner. This is going to be the year I'm going to finish them. [laughs.]

DR: It's on the record now, too!

EG: I know. Right. [laughs.]

DR: What does your family think about your quilting?

EG: They like it. And actually I've taught all my girls--my two daughters and my step-daughter and my step-daughter-in-law, my daughter-in-law and all seven of my grandkids how to sew and make quilts. They've all done some sewing on or part of making a quilt. I'd like to think they are interested enough to learn how to do it and continue on their own some day. And my husband, Wally, is my best supporter; he always gives me lots of encouragement and appreciation.

DR: Do you document your quilts in any way?

EG: I take photos of them and I try to label them when I do it because I forget. There's a lot of them that are not labeled but I'm trying to label them all.

DR: You said that what you love to do most is to involve and inspire others to use their creativity to help others. Could you tell us more about that?

EG: Well, I like to share my ideas with other quilters, and see them have fun with them, too. The blocks and quilts I design are usually easy ones, which can be used for charity quilting. We have a Quilt-a-thon each year where we all work together to make many quilts to be donated to local charities. And Quilt for a Cause encourages quilters to donate their work to be auctioned as fundraisers to help fight cancer. And it's satisfying to me personally, too, because if I share my ideas, many of them may actually turn into quilts, more than I could possibly do in my own lifetime.

DR: Tell us more about Quilt for a Cause

EG: Quilt for a Cause was founded in Tucson, Arizona in 2003. We held quilt auctions in 2003, 2006 and the third one will be in October 2009. Quilters work together or on their own to make and donate quilts to be auctioned off to raise money to help with breast and gynecological cancer. We are different from some of the other organizations that are more widespread. This one is really just local and all the money goes for research, education and treatment of these cancers in Tucson.

DR: How did you get involved with Quilt for a Cause in the beginning?

EG: Through the guild, through Tucson Quilters Guild. It's where I met Jeannie Coleman, the founder. And then she gave me jobs to do. [laughs.] And I got more involved and became a board member, and probably all the quilting friends that I have now have been contributors to its success.

DR: What has it meant for you to be nominated for the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame?

EG: I feel very honored, and very thankful for all the opportunities I've had, and grateful to my family and everyone who encouraged me.

DR: Where do you see your quilting going in the future?

EG: I haven't stopped here and there is always something more I want to learn. I have so many things that I'd like to finish eventually. I also see myself coming up with more new ideas because I can't seem to hold them back, and I know that I'm going to start probably more projects than I finish, no matter what.

DR: Where do you see quilting in general heading in the future, then?

EG: I see it going two different directions, both away from traditional quiltmaking. I see people doing quick quilts by machine, weekend quilts. That's one way I see it going. The other way it seems to be going is into the art quilts, using a variety of techniques. So I think it's heading in at least two directions: quicker and easier, for time-challenged quilters, and art quilts, for those who are moving quilting in the direction of the fine arts. And the technological advances in quilting equipment are leading many of us in new directions, too.

DR: What do you think is the biggest challenge to quilting today?

EG: Probably everything that's available to us and making choices. How do you choose? We have so much to choose from that we never used to have.

DR: What kinds of questions do you think quilt historians should be asking quilters today and also, what should their role be?

EG: I guess they should ask the same questions you have asked me today, and helping to promote an interest in quilts.

DR: What sort of things have we not talked about today that you'd like to talk about?

EG: I've been getting more interested in making dimensional things.

DR: Talk a little bit about that.

EG: It's fun to play with fabric and manipulate fabric and I'd like to do more garment design which incorporates quilting.

DR: You were saying that you have taught most of your family

EG: And the boys

DR: And the boys. What sort of projects do you to use to start teaching them?

EG: Very simple ones. Actually I usually cut out the fabric and let them choose the squares that they wanted, and arrange them on the design wall how they wanted to put them together. I showed them how to sew the quarter inch seam and they actually got very good at it, even the youngest ones.

DR: Do they still have any of the quilts that they've made?

EG: Oh yes. I think they all still have them, but some of them are kind of starting to wear out. Most are teenagers now. The youngest one is eleven.

DR: Have you held any offices in the quilt guilds you've belonged to?

EG: Actually, no major offices, but every year I've headed one or more committees, such as Outreach, quilt show committees, Quilt-a-thon, Block of the Month.

DR: What does the quilt outreach committee do?

EG: It promotes an interest in quilting and provides quilt-related services to the community. We work with schools and community service organizations. We donate quilts, placemats, bears, stockings, pillowcases, etc. to local agencies that distribute them as needed.

DR: What kind of a response do you get when you do that?

EG: They appreciate it, the adults as well as the children. It's an enrichment even for preschool children ages four and five. Let them sit on the quilts and ask them to pick out shapes and colors. This is part of what they're already studying. And the teachers can incorporate quilts later into their teaching plans. At some of the elementary schools, we have taught the children how to quilt. This builds self confidence.

DR: One more question – how do you want to be remembered?

EG: I guess I'd like to be remembered as a quilting Grammy [laughs.] you know, by my family, and I'd like to be remembered as someone who really loved to quilt and to share my quilting ideas with others.

DR: Thank you very much for allowing us to come here today. I'd like to thank you, Evelyn George, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project in Tucson, Arizona, and for the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame. And our interview concluded at 3:10, September 14, 2009. Thank you again.


“Evelyn George,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2116.