Darlene Reid




Darlene Reid




Darlene Reid


Lenna DeMarco

Interview Date



Gilbert, Arizona


Lenna DeMarco


Lenna DeMarco (LD): This is Lenna DeMarco and I'm in Gilbert, Arizona with Darlene Reid and today is Friday, January 14th, 2011 and we're going to be interviewing Darlene for the Quilter's S.O.S. Darlene, thank you so much for being part of this. We really appreciate your participation. We'd like to start off with first of all having you tell us about the quilt you brought in today.

Darlene Reid (DR): The quilt that I have chosen is a quilt that I made in the 90s. It's a reproduction of a crazy quilt that my grandmother, great grandmother and great aunt made.

LD: What's the special meaning that this quilt has to you?

DR: Well, I went to visit an aunt that I hadn't had much connection with and saw the original hanging on her dinning room wall. And what I saw was that each of these ladies had made their own block on the quilt and had signed their name and that the quilt was dated as well. And I went from being a person who wasn't that interested in crazy quilting to someone who said "I've got to make a quilt like this." So it took me two or three or four years before I really--talk about self-taught. I was self-taught as far as crazy quilting.

LD: So, now why did you choose this quilt because you're a fairly prolific quilter? Why did you choose this one?

DR: It's just beautiful. I love--now I teach crazy quilting and, of course, crazy quilting is very, very flamboyant and gaudy and so it will make a great photograph.

LD: So what do you think this quilt says about you?

DR: It says that I am a woman and a quilter who's very interested in my foremothers and my quilting roots. When I first became a quilter I didn't think I had any quilting people attached to me and then afterwards [inaudible.] as the years went by I gradually realized that my paternal grandmother, who had taught me to sew on an old sewing machine and taught me embroidery, of course, had a great influence on me a well. And then when I found this quilt I felt so thrilled that I had foremothers who were making these beautiful quilts.

LD: So, now you say you really didn't have a background in quilts as a young woman, when did you really start making quilts and who was it that taught you?

DR: I took my first quilting class in 1982 and I took it at Sally's Fabrics on Baseline Road [Mesa, Arizona.] and my quilting teacher was a lovely, lovely lady named Wilma Cook and she taught a beginning series, an intermediate and an advanced series in quilting. And we learned a whole process from making our own templates with sandpaper [gestures to indicate size and shape; laughter.] to putting--we made a piece that was pillow size, how to put it in a quilting frame and how to quilt it in the frame. So I learned the whole process.

LD: Amazing. Now, how many hours a week do you quilt today?

DR: [laughs] I don't quilt as much as I'd like to. I probably quilt 40 hours a week.

LD: That's a full time job.


DR: Yeah, it is, it really is.

LD: Well, what do you find the most pleasing about quilt making?

DR: Oh, it's just, just very soothing, it's tactile and the ideas that come into your mind that we get so excited about and the searching for the right fabrics and finding the pattern and then all the friendships that I've made over the years. I've made wonderful friends in the quilting world.

LD: And how do you feel your quilt making has impacted your family?

DR: Well, they all have quilts that I've made for them.


DR: And I think, when I said in my acceptance speech for Quilters' Hall of Fame, I asked them, you know, for their understanding because of having a wife and a mother who was "always quilting," it just seemed that way. And the dishes did get done and the meals were cooked and the laundry was done.

LD: Well, now are there any aspects of quilting that you don't like?

DR: The only part of quilting I don't like is when I'm making a full sized quilt and it gets to be so huge it's like wrestling a dinosaur.

LD: [laughs.]

DR: It's like having a baby. You've got to think ahead to when it's finally finished and on the bed.

LD: And do you primarily make smaller quilts then, wall sized, wall hangings?

DR: I make all sizes. Of late, yes, they're more wall sized than full sized.

LD: Are there any specific groups that you belong to?

DR: I belong to Nimble Thimbles [Gilbert, Arizona.] and then I am one of the quilters at the Gilbert [Arizona.] Historical Museum. I belong to a Wednesday friendship group in Mesa, Arizona.

LD: And what do you do there?

DR: We are volunteers at the museum. People bring their quilt tops into the museum and we sandwich them and put them--we have two full size quilt frames that are set up and we quilt them and we will also bind them or make labels. Whatever the person wants but the money goes to the museum.

LD: Now, you're working with older quilts with--for them? Are they old?

DR: You know we have brand new quilts and we have quilts that are well over 100 years old.

LD: In terms of quilt making today, what advances in quilt technology appeal to you?

DR: All the gadgets. I love all the quilting gadgets there are.


LD: How has it influenced your work do you think over the years?

DR: How has it influenced my work?

LD: Uh-huh.

DR: I've probably been able to go faster and better. More accurately.

LD: And do you have a favorite technique or materials that you like to work with?

DR: No, not really. I like them all.


LD: Well, so tell me how you balance your time then. You said you work 40 hours a week. How do you spend your time?

DR: You mean I quilt 40 hours a week.

LD: [nodding.] You quilt 40 hours a week though.

DR: How do I--I get up very early in the morning and work when everyone else is asleep. And then I, well, Tuesdays are always quilting at the museum all day. Wednesdays I belong to a quilting friendship group so we meet in the morning and then we go out to eat later. So those all take two days a week.

LD: You're pretty busy with it then.

DR: Yes, of course.

LD: Now tell us about your studio. You took us a little tour of it before the tape. Tell us about your studio.

DR: Well, it's one of the bedrooms and before, when we had this house built, I chose the one that was closest to the kitchen than the rest of the house. Now I wish I would have taken the front bedroom because it's bigger. It just doesn't quite have the space I need. But there's room for me and I guess that's the important thing.

LD: And do you use a design wall when you're--?

DR: Yes.

LD: Does that--do you think that using a design wall, does that enhances your creative process?

DR: I think so. I think one of quilters handicaps is we're constantly looking at our work at the end of our nose. And what we really need to do is step back and see it from a distance. And also maybe see it over a period of days. And you'll suddenly get more ideas about how you like it to proceed.

LD: Now you're an award winning quilt maker and you're also a member of the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame so would you tell us, please, what you think makes a great quilt.

DR: Well, I think personally that a great quilt is the reaction it gets from the people who view it. And some people may see it and not think much of it and someone else may see it and be absolutely enthralled. And when more than 50% of, I'd say, people who view it are enthralled that is what really makes a quilt famous and whatever.

LD: And are there any elements that you think make it artistically powerful? Or ones that speak to you?

DR: Color, design, the way it's put together, using maybe techniques that aren't usual, unique, different.

LD: And what do you think would make a quilt appropriate for a museum, since you do work with one, or special collections?

DR: That their amount of workmanship, their design, maybe rare design that aren't seen that often.

LD: And what do you think makes a great quilt maker? [laughs.]

DR: The confidence that they have in their work; that they can get an idea and carry it through and carry it out well.

LD: Are there any specific quilt makers that have influenced you that you can think of?

DR: Lots and lots. Mary Ellen Hopkins really. I took several classes with her. The thing I liked about her was she really was kind of impatient with all the, with the quilt rules. And she said 'Now you need to work to please yourself.' And she just had a great sense of humor. She was the only nationally known teacher I've ever seen who got a standing ovation when she was done. [laughter.] She was like a comedy act as well as a great quilt teacher.

LD: What works are you drawn to in terms of quilts? Which ones really grab you?

DR: Oh, I really like everything. But probably, well, traditional quilts. But I love a lot of the new modern quilts, too.

LD: Any particular styles or qualities?

DR: The quilts that look like modern art. Very simple, but lines and colors and, you know, the quilts of Gees Bend. They really look like modern art.

LD: So very graphic quilts?

DR: Very graphic, yes.

LD: In terms of like new quilts, how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting or long arm quilting? Any feelings?

DR: I love it all. I approve of it all.

LD: Do you hand quilt?

DR: That's what we do at the museum. [Gilbert Historical Museum, Gilbert, Arizona.][inaudible.]

LD: And do you do that on your own quilts?

DR: Sometimes and many times I take it to a long-armer and they do the job for me.

LD: Let's talk a little bit about you and quilt making. Have you ever used a quilt to help you through a difficult time?

DR: Yes, I have used quilts to help me through a difficult time. In 1985 a doctor told me that he strongly suspected that I had ovarian cancer. And my daughter was getting married a week from then and so instead of going right into the hospital the wedding went on so at night I, it really, it hit me like a ton of bricks because I had an aunt that was dying of ovarian cancer at the same time. So at night when I would wake up I would go in my quilting room and sit down and quilt on my quilt. And that would--I could--it was very soothing and I could sit there and quilt until I felt calmer and able to go back to bed and go to sleep.

LD: Why is quilt making today important to you?

DR: Oh, all the changes that are going on and it's more advanced and expanded than ever before in history. And I think it's great. All of it's interesting.

LD: In what ways do you think your quilt reflects your community or where we are in Arizona? Do you have any feelings about that?

DR: When about--years ago I made lots of Western quilts but now I just do, you know, my own thing. But I did have an interesting experience. The city of Gilbert [Arizona.] in 1998, they were looking for a community of quilters who would make a millennium quilt for the city. And so I went to city council meetings and I volunteered along with about 12 other ladies and so for 18 months we worked on this quilt. And we had a designer, a lady who, you know, and the front of the quilt is very modern, it's all "wonder-undered" and then with bridal netting sewed on top and it gives it a painterly look. And all the back of the quilt is, was done by older quilters in very traditional designs. And it was dedicated at the community library here in Gilbert and then it disappeared. And so we went on this hunt. They just told us someone from the city just came and took it down one day. So we just happened to have a lady who quilts on Saturdays who works for the city. So she went all through the city building asking questions and they found it, folded up in someone's drawer or closet and so she brought it to the Gilbert Museum so it will start hanging in the Gilbert Museum very soon.

LD: How long was it missing?

DR: Years.

LD: Oh, my goodness. [laughs.] Well, I know that you have a lot of interest in quilt history. Tell us what you think about the importance of quilts in American life. Both past and present and in the future.

DR: Well, it has a great impact. I think looking back over the years, of course women made quilts because they couldn't go to J.C. Penney's and buy a blanket. They had to cover, you know, to keep their families from freezing to death. And then through the years, like the crazy quilt phase, you know, ladies just made them the wilder the better, whatever. And so there are phases that rise and fall and re-curve. And today the fabrics we have are just absolutely wonderful. And the designers and the shows, the national shows, the American Quilt Study Group. I've belonged for many, many years. I think almost from the beginning. And so you really learn about quilts. And quilting has always been there in one form or another.

LD: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women today?

DR: Oh, they do lots of things for women. They satisfy their ability to make quilts for babies and battered children and foster children. They make quilts for loved ones, for friends. Our Wednesday group just finished making a comfort quilt for one of our members who had a recurrence of cancer. So, women, women--it's a perfect women's art. But I love what the men in the quilting world do, too.

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

DR: Well, they should be used as they were intended. If it's for the baby to drag around, that's fine. Or the family members or whatever, but they shouldn't be misused. And I think maybe that's a quilter's biggest fear. Of making a quilt for someone and then knowing that they put it out back for the dog's bed or whatever. So, and then it's just the creativity, just expressing themselves and their creativity.

LD: Now you've made a lot of quilts for your family. Can you tell us about the quilts you've made and what's become of them and all the quilts you've done for your family? Those 12 grandchildren.

DR: [laughs.] Well, when I first started quilting in 1982, the very first thing I did was start making quilts for grandchildren. And so it was quite a few years before I ever had any quilts in our house. But when I finally got them all done, and I made them for my children, I finally said now I want wardrobes of quilts for the beds in my house. So first of all I wanted a bed for my husband and I and then I wanted quilts for all the beds. And I did that. Then I wanted Christmas quilts for all the beds. So my goal now is seasonal quilts for all the beds in the house.

LD: You're prolific.


DR: I love doing it.

LD: What do you think is the future of quilts? Where do you think quilts are going to go from here? As you've talked about different phases and such, what do you see happening in the future?

DR: I certainly hope they continue. I was reading an article in a quilting magazine last summer that said that the average age of the quilter today is getting older and the theme was that if you don't start encouraging younger women, mostly, to come into quilting perhaps, perhaps quilting will die out. But I don't think it will. And when I--the quilt groups that I belong to, especially Nimble Thimbles [Gilbert, Arizona], there's young women, lots of young women with small children who belong. So to me they're the hope of the future.

LD: And what do you think is the biggest challenge facing quilt makers today?

DR: Probably finding enough time.


DR: To do all the quilts they want to do.

LD: What do you think is going to happen to your quilts in the future?

[Lenna and Darlene talk at the same time.]

DR: Well, I--

LD: Or what would you like to see happen to them?

DR: Well, I would like, the quilts especially I made for my family, I hope they appreciate them and they do. My grandchildren especially have, have all of their quilts, you know, packed away if they don't have room or whatever where they're living now. So I just hope that my family remembers me and appreciates the quilts and they use them well, not misuse them.

LD: Is there one special quilt that you would like to have as the quilt that remembers you?

DR: Mmmm. Probably my story quilts that I've put together.

LD: Talk about those story quilts a little bit for us. Tell us about them.

DR: Well, I--the very first story quilt I made was inspired by a lady in an interview. Her name is Betsy Nimrock and she's from St. Louis. [Missouri.] And she's an artist and a quilter or a quilter and an artist. I went into Quilted Apple [Phoenix, Arizona.] and they had a box of greeting cards with this quilt that she had made. And I think it was called "Americana" But it was the image, the head and shoulders, of a nineteenth century woman. And the minute I saw it I said, 'Ah. I've got to do something like that.' And so I, it took me a long time, maybe a year or two, whatever, just mulling it over in my mind. And then one day I suddenly realized that every day I walked past this picture of my grandmother. And it was her picture that she had taken before she got married. And, of course, I never knew her because she died in 1916. But I thought, there is the one, the image that I want to portray on a quilt. So I took the picture to Brandt's, [Mesa, Arizona.] the photographer, and he was wonderful in working with me to get it. It needed repair and it had to be enlarged and fine tuned and everything. And so, and I knew that I wanted to put the picture on the fabric. So he told me about a place in Mesa called Surf and Ski and they do that, in fact they just did some work for me last week. But what I did was, you make the picture the size you want it and you take it into them with fabric and they will screen print it on to fabric for you. So I did. I had taken a class in Texas Stars so I took just a quarter of the Texas Stars design off and put it on, made it into the quilt as the background and her image, which was good sized. And then I found her obituary because she died the twentieth of December in 1916. So I sent for the obituary. I had that transferred to fabric, so that's included in the quilt. And then her first two children died and so I had their names in pink and blue fabrics, old fabrics. And then I had the list, my grandfather and six children who were left bereaved. And she, her funeral would have been the day before Christmas, and I just kept thinking how sad, how tragic. But women died. She had pneumonia and there were no wonder drugs. So, I just put this all together. I entered it in the AQG [Arizona Quilters Guild, Phoenix, Arizona.] Quilt show and won a red ribbon, second place in the theme category. And when I saw it with the ribbon, I cried. I thought, you know, here this lady is getting her story told. And I really felt, because I was so close to my other grandmother, I felt like I'd really spent time with this other grandmother that I never knew. So that got me started. I said, 'Okay, I've told all my stories and then within a year I got another idea and another idea and it's just gone from there.'

LD: Are you ever going to do one of yourself?

DR: No, but who knows? Maybe you've planted a seed today in my mind. [laughter.] Well, you know, I might. Our youngest grandson was a senior in high school. He came to me and he said 'Grandma, for my English class, we have to tell our life story.' And it struck me, here's a seventeen year old kid telling their life story. And he said 'I want to tell my story in a quilt.' And he brought all the pictures he wanted and he wrote all of the quotes underneath all of the pictures. So I had them all transferred to fabric and we combined them into a quilt. He was a football player. I had school colors and footballs and everything. And so he gave that as his life's story, although I made him a label. I said, "My Life Story So Far."

LD: [laughs.]

DR: And so he--I would have loved to have been a mouse in that English class. And kids that age are, you know, so afraid of being a little bit different. And so I said 'How did you, did you have someone hold the quilt for you?' And he said no, the teacher had an overhead and so it was on a screen and he could point to each one himself and tell the story. And he got an A for the class. It was a great quilt story.

LD: It is. It's a wonderful quilt story. Well, Darlene, we've come to the end of our interview and I'd like to thank you for participating in Quilters S.O.S. It's been great and thank you so much.

DR: Thank you for coming.


“Darlene Reid,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2117.