Eloise DeSpain




Eloise DeSpain




Eloise DeSpain


Lenna DeMarco

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Winslow, Arizona


Audrey Waite


Lenna DeMarco (LD): This is August 9th and this is Lenna DeMarco. We are interviewing Eloise DeSpain in Winslow, Arizona. Good morning Eloise.

Eloise DeSpain (ED): Good morning.

LD: I thank you so very much for being a part of this. I really appreciate your being involved. We have a series of questions to ask you. And we'd like to start off first of all by telling us about the quilt you brought today.

ED: It's called "Triple Dipper." It's 42 x 70. It's machine pieced and hand quilted. In the center it's what they call kind of a fractured 9-patch and it's all out of 30s reproduction prints. It has a green border but the outside border is an ice cream border and with a bias scalloped binding. And I call it "Triple Dipper" because I have been thinking about--and in the center is pieced circles, concentric circles inside each other, small one, a middle one and then a large one. And it's three dips of ice cream; there's butterscotch, there's strawberry, you know, there's peppermint, there's blueberry--and homemade ice cream; there's cherry. And the green border - the first border on the inside has a waffle quilting pattern to kind of give the illusion of an ice cream cone. And the reason why I made this quilt is because I had been spending a lot of time thinking about --like most of my quilts--they are motivated by what's going on in either the world or the country that I live in, the lives of friends. Everything I quilt has [some background noise and pause for a few tears.]. And I was thinking of all of my friends, I'm an admirer of the 60s, but my parents, even my husband and a lot of my friends grew up during the depression, and I'm losing a lot of my friends. And I was thinking of that "Waste not, want not," and I love that. I absolutely love that; I made an embroidery wall hanging once, a little one, for a friend in cross stitch. It said "Waste not, want not." Actually I didn't do it for her. She saw it and said 'I have to have that.' And so this is sort of my homage if you will to the economic hardships.

LD: What do you plan to do with this quilt?

ED: I just started saying that is what is so amazing. A friend of mine came in and saw the quilt and said, 'I have to have that quilt.' I said [inaudible] [laughter.]. So she asked me how much my property taxes were and I told her. She said 'okay.' I thought it was very generous of her, but it kind of poo poos that the economic hardships that all of us are going through is a testimony to that - that I am thinking of all these summers that children and families must have spent during the depression making homemade ice cream with produce from Victory gardens and this is an era for a period of time that a whole cross section of our country does not have a clue about. I think it is really important to think about things like that, and that's another thing I like about quilting. I did not buy anything new to make this quilt. This quilt was made with everything that I have on hand. While it is true I am a compulsive fabric buyer, I have not bought any new fabric probably in 2-3 years. I have been using all the fabric that I have. I'll show you--all these shelves are filled with fabric because with this quilt I tell myself 'are you going to use all this fabric?' And it also stretches me creatively. I went to art school so I have some basic understanding of things like form and scale, proportion and value, color theory, so I figure I can do just pretty much what I want to do. And that is why this quilt is so important to me. I don't want to let go of this quilt. I have always wanted to do a scalloped ice cream border because I think this--I love 'em and I love 1930 depression era quilts. I think they are just absolutely exquisite. In spite of the fact that a lot of them were made from kits, they still took a certain level of craftsmanship, artistry, handwork that went into the making of these quilts, and I don't know if you want to get into that subject that I have.

LD: We really want to talk about you and your quiltmaking and what quilts mean to you. Tell me, how did you start quiltmaking, when did that start?

ED: Well, I have a magazine over there, you can see it is dated 1980. I was born and raised in the barrio of Tucson, Arizona, and I went to art school. Actually I went to art school in Memphis, Tennessee, but I came back to Arizona because I did not like the South, and I am a desert rat. I love the desert and I love Arizona and my family was there. In the barrio was a lot of artists and these artists always hung out together and had potlucks and things like that. Sounds--and I need to take a peek, and I'm sorry about that but I just looked at the clock and realized that it was going beep-beep-beep. Anyway, I went to a friend of mine's house because we had big potlucks and she had a quilt on her bed that her granddaughter had made, and there is a photograph of it in this magazine eventually. And I was 22, and I took a look at this quilt and I couldn't figure out how it was put together. And I'm a [inaudible.] I know how to put things together, and I am very, very mechanical and I can fix most anything. I just kept looking at this quilt and looking at this quilt so I went home and I tried my hand at quiltmaking, and of course, it was a disaster because I was also a seamstress; I knew how to sew. I taught myself how to sew. I taught myself how to sew on a treadle sewing machine of my grandmothers. Which today would be a major feat for me. I have a lot of treadles and they all work. One of these days we might not have electricity for weeks on end and I'll still be able to machine piece. [laughter.] You know, there is always the other side of the coin when it comes to a quilter. So I tried and it was a disaster because I put interfacing on the backs of the blocks. Okay? Then my next quilt, I never finished it. This was the mid-60s and if you went into a Hancock's fabric store, or when I went into a Hancock's fabric store, my eyes started watering within 3 or 4 minutes because of the formaldehyde of the dyes in the fabric and the fabric was just really bad to work with. And there weren't any quilt shops; there weren't any quilting magazines, there was nothing. I have some of the earliest Quilter's Newsletter magazines. I've been subscribing to Quilter's Newsletter since one of the first issues came out. So little by little I have the first book that Webster did on quiltmaking, but it wasn't really informative as to how to make quilts. So just little by little by sewing and keeping on doing it. And, of course, the hand quilting part took me probably 3 or 4 years to get it down so that I could do the rocking motion because before I could get the rocking motion I was doing a regular sewing stitch. I don't know what it's called now. Anyway, it's a straight stitch and that causes carpal tunnel. I would start sewing and then within 10 minutes my arm all the way up to the elbow would start hurting and see this - I have arthritis and as you can see this part of my thumb is already gone, but as long as I quilt with the rocking motion there is no stress on the carpal tunnel - none whatsoever. I can quilt for hours and the only thing that hurts is my foot. [laughter.]

LD: Who taught you to do quilting?

ED: No one.

LD: You're self-taught?

ED: Yes, No one taught me anything. No one taught me anything.

LD: So did you primarily learn through magazines or did you take classes or nothing?

ED: Nope. I actually quilted in obscurity. The first time I saw a quilt "a quilt shop", I stood outside and looked at the sign in a shopping mall and I looked at the sign and it said "Quilt Shoppe," and I thought, 'Okay, this is where they are selling quilts, they are selling antiques.' It didn't dawn on me that they were selling things that you could use to make quilts with, like fabric. Once I got in the door and I saw that they were selling fabric, that was it. Because I had been--I had been engaged to a guy once that told me I couldn't buy any more fabric until all the fabric I had had been sewn up. Obviously I didn't marry him. That was it. That was not going to fly. And by the way, I still have some of the fabric that hasn't been sewn up and I haven't seen him for 35 years, but I've still got that fabric [laughter.]. It's holding up pretty good.

LD: About how many hours a week do you quilt? What's your quilting day like?

ED: Sometimes I have to put a sign on the door that says 'Do not interrupt. Quilting deadline' so I can get done. Sometimes that's a lie but it doesn't matter. It's getting to the close. I usually probably quilt a minimum--even if it's putting fabric on the shelves, finishing up projects or drafting because I draft all my patterns, I don't use other people's patterns--probably 2 hours a week minimum--a day and there are some days when I don't quilt at all because I've spent 4-5 days when I have been on a tear - what I call a tear, I'm on a quilting tear - that's when the sign goes up 'Quilting deadline. Do not disturb'. I unplug the phone, I put on jazz, Rachmaninoff on continuous, you know, cycle, and I get in the [inaudible.] and the day just goes right through my hands but I am very happy and my blood pressure flow, I probably don't have a blood pressure, I'm just [inaudible.] out--I'm whizzed out. To me it is the most therapeutic thing that I could do. Many times my women friends would say 'why did you do this' or 'why did you do that' and I think 'why don't you take up quilting.'

LD: Have you ever used quilts to help you through a hard or difficult time?

ED: Yes.

LD: Could you talk about that or share it?

ED: My husband's death. And it was a quilt that I had gotten. It was a commission quilt [inaudible.] and I had just started it when my husband died. And it was cancer, and I knew that I was going to have to do this quilt come hell or high water. And so I decided that I would just work through my demons by doing this quilt and because of this commission quilt and it was going to go. I figured it would be part of the process of letting go, and I had read some books on the grieving process and things like that. They didn't do as much for me as quilting did, so I spent a lot of energy on a huge Hawaiian appliqué quilt. It was a copy of a quilt his mother had made which burned in a fire and she had died in the fire. The quilt was supposed to go to his daughter when she got married and she was getting married in a year's time, so I had to do it. I drafted it myself. He had a photograph of it. I borrowed an overhead projector and projected it on that quilt wall and put up the drafting vellum and got one section cut, folded like the German paper cutting technique and folded it and cut out the pattern and then I got the backing, or actually the top of the quilt, and appliquéd this Hawaiian quilt and it was huge. And it took me almost a year, well, actually it took me longer than a year to do it. And they say people talk about how long the grieving process takes and stuff like that. They don't know what they are talking about unless they have been through it, and I think it is different for every single person. I am really interested in mourning quilts and how women have felt during the loss of a child or spouse or the loss of anything any more. When he came to pick up the quilt I wasn't really sure he was going to get it, he was going to understand. I had it hanging on the wall with everything pushed all the way to the side so you could see nothing but the quilt. And he walked in the door and slumped against the door and he started crying and at the end he said 'thank you'. So it was like a double mourning quilt. I called it the quilt that got away because I had to let it go.

LD: Do you still have photos of it?

ED: Yes, I have photos of it. And one of these days I'm going to do another one, God willing I live that long. I'm getting to the point where I am really active in my community, but I'm getting to the point where I'm saying, 'okay, when are you going to learn to say no.' I mean I've been Lieutenant Governor of the Kiwanis for crying out loud. [laughter.]. How many more can I organize when I should be home quilting? So I have this Puritan work ethic thing about giving back to my community, and every year I do something, you know, a breast cancer quilt, a Special Olympics quilt, a law enforcement torch run quilt. Right now, I am doing a little Alzheimer's quilt for a friend of mine because she is not a hand quilter. It's just a lap quilt. I did a Juneteenth quilt for the local AME church - African Methodist Episcopal church that I attend - it's the church in town that I attend because of my experiences in the South. And like I say, I'm over 65 so I think it's time for me--it's OK for Eloise to say, 'no.' I have been able to create this space for nothing but quilting. There is not a bed in this house and this is a two-bedroom house with a great room in it and there is not a bed and there is not room for a bed because it is my work space, but I don't call it work. Because when I get in the throes it is delicious.

LD: Tell us about this space. This is a remarkable facility you have here. How did this come about? How did you get to this point?

ED: Well, I was working as a librarian and art/humanities professor for a local community college and they transferred me to work full time in the library and still teach art history and my husband's ranch was 30 miles by the freeway, 20 miles by back road and he was in his 80s by then. I knew that the children were not-- and the ranch is in the family trust, and I knew that was going to be contentious, so my husband and I had a very long talk about it. And I said I am going to--because after all I was 42 when I met him and I had put a roof over my head all my life, so I had some wherewithal. I said I'm going to buy a house in Winslow, I think I need to buy a house in Winslow [inaudible.]. And he said 'I think that is a good idea.' He supported me and made sure that it was real fair and came over and did all the stuff because he was a putterer like me. We liked to putter together. He used to kid me about how he married me and hired me [laughter.]. He was very romantic. Anyway I was driving around looking for a house and I was driving down this street and saw this roof line. This is what they call a Sonoran roof line because it is very high; the ceiling is 10 feet high. I said 'Wow!' and the street Warren is actually the barrio and in English barrio is warren for a rabbit and I know that is silly but I thought 'Wow, I'd love to find a house like that,' but I pulled up in front of it. It was for sale and I bought it. The house was actually for sale but of course it was a complete total piece of crap. Look at that. They had purple pizza puke carpeting, wall to wall carpeting. They had this-- there is what the back looked like. I tore that down and took it to the dump. They had painted this fake paneling. It was just cardboard. They had painted it purple. They had lowered the ceiling. Oh, they had lowered the ceiling so that, then they had that metal aluminum frame and then they put that white plastic stuff. Then they had glued to the ceiling acoustic tile. It took me almost two years to scrap off all that acoustic tile, and I did most of it by myself. That's what the backyard - you've been in the backyard. That's what the backyard used to look like. It was a dirt, shale hill.

LD: You did amazing out there.

ED: Well, whenever I think I am a lazy bum, you know, I take out this photograph and I go, 'Oh, you're all right. You're all right.' You know, I would go around and see people's piles of gallup bricks. People don't realize what they have, and I would go around and put a baseball cap on kind of awkward and walk up to them and say 'My name is Eloise DeSpain and I have this house up here and you have all this gallup brick. If you don't want to sell it I'll just come back or you can just give it to me. But I'll just come back. Do you want to sell it?' They are so glad to get rid of me they would just give me this gallup brick, and I would lay all the sidewalks and the patio all the way back to my casita and then a year later when my husband came over, he brought his really good compass and marked true north, east, south and west. I watched the sun; I bought it in January eleven years ago and I watched the sun come up for a year and then I started landscaping outside, the bigger stuff, the trees, the bigger shrubbery. When I was really tired of scrubbing crap off the ceiling, then I could go outside and sit under some shade instead of going outside and thinking 'Oh no, now I've got to start on this' and that would take forever. That is why I am in Winslow because I don't have--I'm not going to be able--I'd like to move someplace else. Ah, I'd like to move some place smaller but I like this a lot because I can walk everywhere and I've made a life for myself here. I've turned this house into what I think is a beautiful quilt studio. It's very comfortable for me. I can teach in it and I do. I teach--ah, I don't teach more than a few at a time because most of the people that have, students that I, and I've taught at the quilt shop the two years it was open, and I got a lot of students while I was there and they all liked to take classes from me which was really wonderful. And they have pretty much been on the journey with me and been very supportive. That's a lot. Quilting has given me a life beyond the loss of my husband, and he was very supportive of my quilting. He turned the basement which had one window in it - the basement in his house - into my quilting studio, and I came home one day and he was building shelves while I was at work teaching. He had built the shelves and little steps to stand on so that I could step on them and put stuff up on my design wall and step back and look at it. When I got my new sewing machine, it did automatic buttonholes and I showed it to him. He almost knocked me out of my chair because he wanted to try it. While he was a young, handsome man he could do beautiful leather work, he was very supportive and I know he is really proud of me right now.

LD: I'm sure he is.

ED: Yes, he is happy for me.

LD: Well, this is a beautiful, beautiful space and it looks like you--just looks like Eloise.

ED: Yeah? Really?

LD: Yes, something of everything, and very independent.

ED: I know I was freaking out thinking, 'Oh God.' I think you met Chief Garnett. He was one of the gentlemen holding up the quilts. He called this morning and he said 'Remember your studio is you and there is nothing wrong with you'. Isn't that sweet?

LD: Let's talk about your work as a quilter. What do you like to do most? What defines you as a quilter?

ED: Hand quilting, always hand quilting.

LD: And why is that?

ED: Why? It's very relaxing. It's extremely relaxing. I like every aspect of quilting; there is nothing about quilting that I don't love. I love to piece. I love to cut fabric. I love to see a block coming together. I love to work on the design wall, but once I get that quilt together and get it on the frame, the rhythmic in and out, it literally; and I know this to be a fact because I read it. I might even have read it in a Blanket Statements about how quilting lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and all of these things and I know that to be a fact because of how much I love hand quilting. It's a meditation. Just the rhythm of it is so calming. And it's also beautiful; it's art. And I almost wish a machine around; I mean I hate to vacuum. You know I am not going to push a machine around. And the other thing that [inaudible.] I'm not--I don't have the money to buy a machine quilter to machine quilt. That giant humongous thing and it's a sore subject with me. I know that some people are doing some beautiful, beautiful machine work and I've seen it up close and personal and it's really gorgeous, but I don't like the aspect of people doing one step removed from that historical value of what it was when I think about leaving it, even out in the distance somewhere, hand quilting is such a beautiful thing. And then I think of living in a super sleek modern magazine quality studio with a $35,000 quilting machine that their husband bought for them, I can't reconcile the thing, I just can't reconcile the thing. And I know their work is beautiful but I can't reconcile it. I'm sorry.

LD: So, are you more drawn then to traditional quilts as opposed to art quilts? Talk about your quilting style, what you create?

ED: Anything that moves me. Ha. The quilts talk.

LD: So, what draws you? What works draw you?

ED: Well, for a period of time I did a whole lot of kaleidoscope quilts, fussy cut kaleidoscope quilts. I like to fussy cut. I like to let the materials talk a lot. That really draws me. Going into a quilt shop, and when I had money and could afford to buy quality fabric, God it's gotten so expensive, I could easily go into a quilt shop and spend $600 because if I kind of like a piece of fabric I would buy a yard. If I really liked it, I would buy 3 yards. If I loved it, I would buy 5. If I can't live without it, I buy the whole entire bolt. And it's the fabric that talks to me and makes me want to do a certain kind of quilt. The quilt I want to do, my next quilt, I have two commissions I have to do. I have to do a large Amish, the knot prize, they want an Amish quilt. They went to the Esprit Show and Pam and R.C. Nakai said 'basically we should think about buying an Amish quilt' and R.C. said 'let's get Eloise to make us one, because she does just as good a work as these quilts are,' which just made my day. I said 'hallelujah', so I sent them a whole collection of solids - the Hancock solids - anyway R.C. picked out all the things he wanted and said for filling in the spaces 'do what you want' which I am. I am going to do just what I want to do and they are not dictating to me. The first commission I ever got was a disaster. I got a commission from a woman. She gave me a down payment and told me what she wanted. I said yes I can do that within those parameters. I went out and spent money on fabric and got really excited and thought this is taking off, it's going to happen, it's real and then she called me up and said she was coming up and bringing her interior designer with her and bringing color swatches. I could have cried. As soon as I got off the phone I did cry. And said a few obscene words. I sat down and wrote her a letter and included a check for the money she had paid me and said I don't want an interior designer dictating to me what kind of quilt to make. You'll have to find someone else. So I don't know if that helps answer the question about...I don't do other people's quilts. I've never done other people's quilts. I'll do that little Amish wall hanging there and even this Triple dipper," they could be called derivative because I am doing what I call a series of smaller quilts that demonstrate the skill of traditional quilts for myself, to document my own life's work. Yes, she really knew how to do bias binding on a scallop; yes, she knew how to do fussy cutting; yes, she knew how to do this; yes, she knew how to do that, so that is what I am doing. The quilt that I want to make for myself, I want to make a pickle dish. I love a pickle dish. I love pickle dishes and I love the pineapple, and I love paper piecing. I really like to paper piece.

LD: Do you do that a lot?

ED: I have done it and I'll show you some samples of some little blocks because I just recently taught a course, a class in paper piecing because people are so intimidated because I do it the backwards way so that you are actually looking at it. Everybody thinks that it is difficult but it's not as confusing as everybody makes it out to be. But it's so accurate; you get the most accurate results. And then I am going to do an appliquéd landscape, a big one of Monument Valley and that one I am getting, as I've already got a large deposit and is going to be about seven and eight feet, and he knows it is going to take a long time. I've already got the fabric for it and some of it I hand dyed myself. I used to hand dye a lot of my own fabric but because I am process oriented, it's one of two things, I either have to dye fabric or I quilt because I can't do both because I get so wrapped up in the process of dyeing fabric that quilting just falls to the side. So I say 'okay, you've dyed all this fabric, you've got all the stuff, it's not going to go bad, you've got everything to dye a million yards of fabric in the future if you want so just go back to quilting.' So it's kind of like everything else, I go in cycles. I go in cycles. I've never machine quilted. I tried and it just hurt. I have a scoliosis and it just killed my back. I could not do it. I just couldn't do it. And it was really painful. I didn't even sit at the sewing machine because of the pain killers so I could sew my fingers to the quilt. [laughter.] And I've restored some quilts; I've restored several quilts, I have several quilts that I need to restore. You know, they are on the back burner. One quilt probably what I am going to do is put muslin just on the whole back of it, bind it and do a--figure out a way to do it so that I don't spend a whole lot of time quilting on this quilt in between the two layers taking a couple stitches to match what stitches are missing so that it will look like there is more. Just so it won't be as heavily quilted as--

LD: I understand.

ED: The binding I have for the fabric I think will be appropriate and it's hard telling some people you don't want to do anything to this quilt. Be glad that you have it, you know, label it, document it, keep it in a pillowcase, all the things that you said last night at the presentation. I've had to tell dozens of people you don't want to restore this quilt, you don't want to touch it. I've done a crazy quilt one time because I love to embroider. I won't do another one.

LD: I understand.

ED: Yes, and I'll show you, people get on these crazes. Everybody wanted to do the stack 'n whack. And you're probably going to have to edit this because I said 'okay, I've got the book. The instructions were gibberish, right. It was the worst instructions ever. You are a math instructor [refers to Anne Hodkgins, also in the room.] and can understand what I mean.' I have the hardest time with most of the instructions being printed today in quilting books and magazines. They are horrible, and I realized it is because the editors are not quilters. And it doesn't take me; does the right brain, left brain thing for me. I can look at a quilt block and tell you how to make it. I can look at a quilt block and say 'oh, this is how it's made.' This is how it's put together. And I can intuitively do that and I don't know how, but I just can. So everybody wanted to do the stack 'n whack. I got the book. I almost had to rewrite all the instructions in that book, it was so bad. And I taught the class, bit my tongue throughout the whole darn thing. It was very hard for me because, then of course, a lot of women made these stack 'n whack quilts and one of them even got a best of show at a local quilt guild show and the whole notion of women doing other women's quilts, other women's designs and techniques, ah, it's disturbing to me. I want to teach women how to draft their own blocks, design their own quilts and know all the technical skills that it takes to do anything they want to do. In other words, just total freedom to be a skilled quiltmaker, an artist. I went to a Salvador Dali show a couple years ago of all of his etchings, "Dante's Inferno." I had done some copperplate etchings in art school and I thought 'What am I doing fussing over all of this marking on quilts?' Fabric is so forgiving. There are a lot of quilts - and talking about art quilts - there are a lot of quilts that I don't like them at all. It's just like the machine quilters. I can look at the block or I can look at the quilt and think, well, I think I will just quilt it this way. I don't mark it. I just quilt away. And most of the time it works out pretty good and if it doesn't, it is so forgiving I just rip it out, and I'm not afraid to take out stitches. I am not afraid to take out quilting, I never have been, you know. I've taken out a whole lot of stuff because I didn't like the way it looked and I wanted to have it look better. I had a better idea.

LD: In our conversations you have talked a lot about process and like most artists the process is the most satisfying to you. What do you think makes a great quilt? Or is there such a thing?

ED: Oh yes, there is. It is the same element that works in art - composition, scale, value, color. Anyway, all the elements of art apply to quilting and then the technical ability - the technical ability. And I'm not the quilt police; I'm really not, because I actually love the freedom of, of course, the Gee's Bend quilts because they are so incredibly graphic. They just knock you down. You know I have seen some quilts the person who made the quilt did on such an intuitive process level that the effect was just drop dead gorgeous. You just looked at it and it took your breath away-- took my breath away. Then I've seen other quilts like Zena Thorpe's "Alphabet Quilt," the "Celtic Alphabet Quilt," that the technical perfection knocked me down. Whoa, this is amazing. I've seen a lot of technically superb quilts but when it came to the aesthetic process or impact, it's just blah. It didn't have that punch, you know, I like quilts that just punch you right in the face. It's not whether or not everything matches, the seams you know, it's the overall composition.

LD: What do you think is going on? Where do you think quilting is going in America today? Where do you see it heading? Because you have a pretty good knowledge of the history of quilting. Where do you see it going?

ED: You would ask that question. I'm not happy. I'm not happy about it. The consumer really enterprise if it makes a lot of women happy, that's great. I'm not someone to criticize people buying, you know, quilt in a day, block of the month, that doesn't bother me. But it's the consumer driven aspect of it, the cult of the personalities, the workshop of the stars, you know, you couldn't get me on a quilting cruise for all the tea in China. Okay, it's just--no, uh-huh, and in some aspect it hasn't barely appealed to it because there are so many women--I'm one of those--I live on $1,000 a month. If it wasn't for my quilting and my dog sitting and my house sitting, I wouldn't be making it. I wouldn't be making it, period. That's all there is to it. So, OK, there is, actually, there is no way in Hell that I am going to be taking a cruise to the Caribbean with a bunch of women who are sitting around talking about how their husband just bought them a $4,000 Bernina. I'm comfortable with my deal-- no husband, no Bernina, no money. You know, that is just not--I mean, I can just think you can stay home and make a huge quilt. I love eye candy. I am addicted to quilting magazines. There are some magazines I don't like. I think this one is not mine - it belongs to a friend of mine. But I like Quilters Newsletter, and I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of quilting magazines and hundreds and hundreds of quilting books because I love the photographs, I love to look at them, I love to read about them. I very seldom read about how to make them because I have a drafting table. I can look at the block and I can figure out if I want to make it a 9", a 15" or a 6" block, and I think it is great that quilting has come to the center I guess, if you will, of pitching about like The American Quilting Show, Paducah, Houston. I went to the International Quilt Festival in Long Beach [California.] and that's where I saw the Zena Thorpe quilt. But the crush, the crush, the human crush of people at all the vendor stalls because I accidentally went down one of the aisles. You know, I thought I was going to faint. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I went with a really good friend of mine. We went to the nearest decent hotel close to the thing and went to sit in the bar and had a cheeseburger and, you know, slugged down two margaritas and then went back to the quilt show so you could look at the quilts. Seriously, because it was so much like a herd of cattle. I never had my feet stepped on so many times in my whole entire life. And I'm relatively claustrophobic so it was not a pleasant experience for me. You know, I was thinking these women are so enthused and so thrilled and they've got the quilting bug; they've really got it bad. If it sets them free from the loss of a child or a husband, or breast cancer or whatever life presents them with, go for it, girl. Do it. You know, I am all for that. I am just not for [inaudible.] the pompous, elite few group of people that are not really teaching real skills, and I know that is happening. They are selling crap. You know, they are selling new tools. You have to have this, the latest this, the newest this, the newest that, you can't live without it. Well, yes you can. It's called cardboard and a sharp pencil.

LD: Well, that brings us really to our last question and that fits perfectly. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

ED: The biggest challenge? That's a good question. I think that is a hard question for me to answer because I do quilt in obscurity for the most part. You know the people that support me in my quilting adventures are, the truth of the matter is, are first-hand friends that for one reason or another just think, you know, we need to get one of Eloise's quilts before she kicks off. Well, we joke about it and put labels on everything because I have featherweights and treadles and millions of dollars worth of fabric and, you know, all the antiques that are related to quilting because I've spent years--I've been quilting solely for 40 years--as an adult, as a child I was putzing around sewing. The greatest challenge to quilters, that might--um-m, the greatest challenge to quilters?

LD: What do you think is the greatest challenge to you as a quilter if you did it personally?

ED: Staying focused on quilting, and getting the quilting done, valuing my craft, my skill and not letting people diminish it as a hobby because it's not; it's fine art - I think that's probably the greatest challenge because the quilting industry does all that commercial, you know, cramming all that stuff down our throats about how you need this, that or the other. If you don't wake up and realize that no, you don't need all that stuff. What you need is to believe in ourselves and that goes right back to this whole thing that the subtext of women's history. What's going to be this era? How is this era going to be described fifteen, seventy-five, one hundred years from now? What was quilting all about, the quilting industry? Is it going to be whack 'n stack, quilt in a day, buying kits that are precut? A friend of mine recently went to a show, that I have known for a really long time and she recently took up quilting which I dearly loved before because that was a source of support. She went to a quilt show and the entire show was made of quilts that the woman had made from precut kits. And then had someone else machine quilt. Okay, that's-- and, of course, my friend just left with steam coming out of her ears. Okay? So I think, I think it's the same challenge that it probably was and always has been for women-- believe in ourselves, trust in ourselves, trust our intuition. Trust our skills, just step out and forget, you know, that whole thing about fear of failure, fear of success, that's still with, especially my generation, our generation. It's still with us and it's just this big cookie monster thing. You know, I have to put it in a corner and say 'You don't get to talk to me. Just sit over there and shut up. Because I have things to do, I have things to do.' And I think a lot of quilters wrestle with that whether they acknowledge it or not. And at that point they fall back on these pre-made, precut quilts because they do not have the confidence to step out on their own and say 'I don't need anybody to tell me what fabric to use. I don't need anybody to tell me anything.' So, yes, that is what I think is the biggest challenge with quilters.

LD: Well, Eloise, we have come to the end of our time, and I want to thank you for this. It's been wonderful. You are a delight and I am so happy you consented to be a part of Quilter's S.O.S.


“Eloise DeSpain,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2118.