Marilyn Walters




Marilyn Walters




Marilyn Walters


Lenna DeMarco

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Scottsdale, Arizona


Lenna DeMarco


Lenna DeMarco (LD): This is Lenna DeMarco on Tuesday, January the 12th on 2010. I'm interviewing Marilyn Walters. So, Marilyn, would you please tell me about the quilt that you brought today?

Marilyn Walters (MW): Well, when we were going to Sunday School and our paper that came to us for January of 1929 had a picture of a quilt on it, with all the blocks. It was called Audubon Birds and I said to my mother 'I want to embroidery this quilt, Mom.' And 'Oh my goodness', she said, 'You'll have to get some material.' So, she did. And she helped me get them off onto the material and I embroidered them. We got a different block once a week. And after I got them, all embroidered, they were all laid up and that was the end of my quilt right then.

(LD): How old were you when you embroidered it?

(MW): Ten years old. Ten years old in 1929. My birthday is November 1.

(LD): And then what happened to the quilt?

(MW): Well, the blocks. They just laid in a shelf somewhere, I guess. And when my boyfriend and I decided, we were going to get married, his mother was a quilter. My mother wasn't a quilter, or we'd have probably had it done. And she said, 'I know that you made the blocks,' because we went to the same church, 'If you want to get them made into a quilt, I will quilt it for your wedding.' 'Oh,' I said, 'That would be wonderful.' And so, again, I went to my mother, and I said 'Mother, I've got to have material. And we've got to try to make these blocks into a quilt.' And so, she helped me. She was a sewer, my goodness sakes. I had homemade clothes even in high school. But she wasn't a quilter. So, we got it made and took it to my husband's mother. Lettie Walters was her name. She said, 'Now would you like to help draw the pattern for the quilting?' And I said, 'You tell me how and I will do it.' And it's quilted with a feather pattern. It was a lot of work to make all those little feathers on each side. She appreciated that because she was a good quilter. But it takes a long time to get the pattern on. So, I did that, and I rode a bike a time or two over there. It was about, oh, six or seven miles to their house and that was fun. So, she did quilt it for us and had it all ready when we were married. And you know, we used that quilt and used that quilt and I felt bad later because it shows wear and--

[Delores Jenisch, interview assistant comments.]

Delores Jenisch (DJ): It's still in good shape.

(MW): It's still all holding together. [laughs.] I might say that, and it doesn't show too much of staining or anything but--

(LD): So, of all the quilts that you've made, and you've made hundreds of them, why did you choose to bring this quilt for today's interview?

(MW): Well, it's dear to my heart because I made every embroidery stitch on this quilt, and I was a little girl. I mean, well I had nose bleeds a lot when I was little, and I couldn't go out in the old dusty wind to play a lot of times so my mother gave me a piece of material to learn to embroider on. I had to have something to do. And, she didn't feel free, I guess, for me to work on the sewing machine so she had me embroider. I learned to embroider. And then when these quilt blocks came along, I thought 'Boy, this is what I'll use my embroidery expertise with.' And I did a pretty good job. [laughs.] She was great to help me with the thread and all that, you know, keeping embroidery thread for me.

(LD): So, what are your plans for this quilt since it has such special meaning to you?

(MW): Well, right now it's just in a cloth bag. You're not supposed to put them in a plastic bag. It's in a cloth bag on the shelf of my closet in the bedroom. I don't know. I haven't got any special plan because, oh my goodness, through the years I've made so many quilts and I have given them all to my family.

(LD): You have no plans to will this to a specific child? I'm sure there's going to be a lot of fighting over it.

(MW): [laughs.] My son has the second quilt I ever made which was in 1937, after I was married. It is pieced and I gave it to my mother unquilted, just the top and she never had it done because my mother was not a quilter. She loved the quilt, but she didn't know beans from doughnuts about what to do with it. And so, I took it then, when my mother died, and had it quilted by a quilter on a machine and gave it to my son. And he's had it ever since. And so, he's got that old quilt from '37. How old is this quilt now? I don't know, about 80 years, I guess. I haven't any particular plans for it.

(LD): Let's talk a little bit about your involvement in quilt making. When did you get interested in quilt making and when did you start making quilts, because you've made a lot.

(MW): Well, it took a while before I could get into quilt making because I worked in the fields, milked cows and did a lot of things on the farm and raised children, that took time too. [chuckles.] I wrote a story about making a quilt and I said, 'Even though you're thinking you're making a quilt, why you're still cooking and cleaning and all of these things that take up your time and so the quilt kind of gets laid back.' But, after we retired really, I just took up a lot of quilt making. I had books and stories about quilts, and I did some appliqués. I just got interested in doing it and kept doing it and, of course, I always went to our group at church. We had a lot of quilters back in those days and now we don't have hardly any quilters. It's sad 'cause its machine quilting that's taken over and really, they're pretty, they are pretty. But I quilted probably 12 or 15 and then my thumb joint got bad, it hurt so bad I couldn't quilt any more. And '93 is the last time I quilted a quilt.

(LD): About how many hours a week, though, do you spend making quilts and dealing with quilts?

(MW): Well, right now, I spend a lot of time because people know that I make quilts and so they're always handing me material and I don't like for it to pile up too high, so I keep pulling it out and making it up. I make Quilts 4 Arizona Kids and preemie baby quilts and all kinds of quilts. And I just love it. They go to Charity and different recipients.

(LD): Are there other quiltmakers in your family? Have you taught your children or any of your grandchildren?

(MW): Well, no. My youngest daughter made a quilt once and she mentioned it one day. She said, 'But I've been so busy ever since I haven't had a chance to make a quilt.' We were talking about it. And my oldest daughter was a sewer. She does a lot. She does stain glass and she does a lot of different things. But she taught school three or four years, and you know that takes all of your time practically. In fact, she doesn't have any thumb muscle any more from grading papers all those years. So, it a, no, there's no one, as far as I know, in my family, but every one of my grandkids, great grandkids and great, great grandkids have a quilt. Have a quilt from Grandma. Well, except one, and I crocheted an afghan and she's always felt left out but she's got three little ones now and they've all got a nice quilt and that made her happy. [laughs.]

(LD): Have you ever used a quilt or quilt making to get through a difficult time in your life?

(MW): Well, no, I've usually got one in the making. In fact, just this past year I had a niece that called me and said, 'This is our 50th wedding anniversary year and I'd like for you to make a quilt for us.' I said, 'Oh, Jo,' I said, 'I'd never ask a 90-year-old lady to make me a quilt. I don't think they'd be capable, do you?' 'Oh, Auntie,' she said, 'I know you could make me a quilt.' She said, 'I want you to make me a quilt.' So, she sent me the pattern. It was appliquéd tulips and she sent me the material. And told me how many strips she wanted around the side, and she wanted it queen size and all this. And when I got all that material and everything I thought, 'Will I be able to do this?' And, sure enough, I did. Took it to the quilting lady and showed it to her and she was really happy to quilt it like I wanted it quilted. The blocks in between were quilted differently than the tulip blocks, and she did it around the tulips which let them stand out. And, oh, Jo just loves that quilt.

(LD): How long did it take you to put it together, you 90-year-old woman, you.


(MW): I had that quilt done within the month of October and called her and said, 'It is,' I took it, I put my name into the quilting lady because she's about three months behind always, but I put it in when I got the material. I said, 'I want my name in because I'm bringing you a quilt.' And so, she put my name in and by the time I had it done she was practically ready to put it in the frame. And got it quilted and it is really beautiful.

[gets quilt.]

(LD): And this is the quilt? Oh, it's gorgeous--

[both Marilyn and Lenna are talking at the same time.]

(MW): That is the quilt.

(LD): My heavens. That's beautiful.


(MW): She loves it.

(LD): That's absolutely gorgeous. So, what do you enjoy most about quilt making because you obviously have fun quilting or you wouldn't be doing it so much?

(MW): It's just a joy to see the pattern and decide 'I can do that.' Whether it's appliqué or putting little pieces together. I made an Amish quilt with a lot of strips, and you make them in blocks and then I laid it all out on the bed to be sure that I had each block going the right way, in this Amish pattern. And that was a challenge because it's necessary that everything fits, once you get it all sewn up, you don't want to go to row eight, block six and rip it all out, that's for sure.

[chuckles from LD and DJ.]

(MW): So, it's fun to put them together. I get a lot of joy out of it.

(LD): What part of quilt making do you not like?

(MW): Oh, I think it's picking out the material. 'Cause I'm not a real good judge of what goes with what. So, people say, 'Oh, anything goes. You can put whatever.' But not for me. I like to have it look like it belongs.

(LD): Now you've been quilting for a long time, over a good long number of years. How do you think technology has impacted your work or has it?

(MW): I look at quilts, like I go to the Bernina Shop, and they always have a new one hanging on the wall. I haven't quite come up to their way of doing it. I just, I still have to have it pretty well mapped out in a book. [laughs.]

(LD): Now, do you use rotary cutters or scissors or?

(MW): Oh, yes. I have worn out two rotary, and two boards. Just made them so you can't even use them anymore. I'm on my third one now. And rotary cutter, I got so tired buying blades that I bought me a sharpener. And you can sharpen those rotary blades and they work real good. You don't ever want to hip a pin though. That's a sin--ruins the blade. [chuckles.]

(LD): How do you feel about machine quilting because you started out as a hand quilter?

(MW): Yes, I did.

(LD): What are your feelings about machine quilting?

(MW): Well, it, I still love the hand quilting. But it, they are really professional on those machines and this last one I made last year, I had them go around each tulip and then make a different design in each block and then around the edge. She had to charge me more for it, but I said, 'That's alright. This is a specialty quilt.' And when you make a specialty quilt, you're glad to pay the extra pay just to make it exactly the way you want it.

(LD): It's a beautiful quilt, it's just gorgeous. Let's talk a little about your quilting studio. Do you have a quilting studio?

(MW): [laughs.] Oh, would I love to have just one room that I could just shut the door and leave it. But when company comes, I have a bedroom where I have three machines set up. But when somebody comes, everything has to be put away and get it ready for company. And that's a big chore, too. So, I've never had just one room where I could call my room. And, but that's alright. I love to have company, so I get it taken care of, then get it out again pretty fast.

(LD): But do you have a design wall or anything that you can lay your quilts up on?

(MW): No, I just lay them out on the bed.


(LD): On the bed?

(MW): I cut them on my dining room table, and I get my walking through the day. I cut them on my dining room table then I walk to the bedroom and sew on them. Then I come back to the dining room table. And so, by the end of the day I say, 'How many miles have I walked today?'


(LD): Now are you part of any quilt group at all?

(MW): Well, our women at church. We have three women now that sew and others will tie, but we're not quilting.

(LD): Were you ever part of a quilt group at all?

(MW): No.

(LD): Not at all?

(MW): No.

(LD): Well, let's talk a little about the aesthetics of quilts. You've made so many and in so many different styles, what do you think makes a great quilt?

(MW): Well, I haven't created, really created only one or two myself. I took a bulletin from church one time, kept it for years, going to make that bulletin. It was a picture of trees, mountains and a lamb on a hill. And, I forget the scripture now, but that intrigued me, and I thought, 'I'm going to make a quilt.' Finally, I did. And there's a swing hanging down in the tree and that's really neat, 'cause I've got a lot of little kids and I think about them going up and finding a swing somewhere that they could swing on. And creating is fun but I don't take time to do it.

(LD): So, you use primarily patterns, set patterns?

(MW): Yes, I do. I have a lot of quilting books and find something that I like, especially on the appliqué. If I see an appliqué that I like, I'll make it.

(LD): What's your favorite form of quilts? Pieced, appliqué, whole cloth or art quilts?

(MW): I like the appliqué quilts. I think they have more creativeness to them. Anybody can just sew up seams and sew up, you know, blocks. That's very easy but to create an appliqué quilt and make it pretty and with the material that you choose helps to make it look right. And I really, I would like to just do appliqué but that's slow, and I like to get them out.


(LD): So, when you got to art galleries, quilt exhibits, what kind of quilts intrigue when you see them?

(MW): Well, the specialty, the specialty kind, the one that they have, you can tell that they have put a lot of thought and work into making it, the design of what they wanted.

(LD): What do you think is required be make a really good or great quiltmaker?

(MW): To have vision and then create it. I saw the pattern for--it's called "A Scene from the Chugach Mountains in Alaska". And this lady said, 'This is what I see from my living room.' And it's the grass in the front and all the trees and the little cabin tucked in the middle of the trees and then it goes on up into the mountains and the peaks, two beautiful peaks and, you know, it just goes from green and different kinds of trees, not all the same. And then coming into the purplish mountains and then into the blue skies. I've made six of those quilts and they're all gone. One's in India right now. And I've got my material out and I'm going to make another one because my house feels empty without one in it. And when the last one went, I almost cried. [laughs.]

(LD): So, do you ever make quilts just for you? [laughs.]

(MW): I thought I was making the last Chugach Mountains one for me and then it disappeared.


(MW): No, some people came along and said 'Oh, we can't go to the wedding in India; we want a quilt.' And that's the one they chose so I let it go without weeping but [chuckles.].

(LD): Have you ever sold any of your quilts? Any of your quilts?

(MW): Very few. The two girls that was at my 90th birthday, and I suppose we had 12 or 15 quilts hanging up and two of my nieces, they decided they'd help us get the quilts down. Well, when we got them all down and folded up, each one of them had one under her arm. And I said, 'Whacha doin' with those quilts?' 'Well, this one's mine.' 'This one's mine.' I said, 'Oh?' And when I saw what they had, I almost wept again. But they each gave me $300 for the quilt. They asked me if I'd sell them and I said, 'I just can't sell a quilt. But I'd give them to the church, and they'd sell them.' And the last one they sold went to Virginia and they sent me a picture back showing it on their bed and they sent the church $300. So, then they gave me each $300. [inaudible.] [laughter.]

(LD): When people look at your quilts what do you want them to think about you? What do you think your quilts say about you?

(MW): Do you think she really did that?


(MW): [laughing.] Oh, I don't know. They all really loved that quilt show. That was my son's, that was my son's idea at my 90th birthday to have a quilt show. And, in fact, I appliquéd one with swans and cattails and lilies, the whole works. And I always called it "Bob's Quilt" because he encouraged me to do that. I wanted just to quilt the designs on it or piece. And they brought it back from Cincinnati so it could hang on the wall at my 90th birthday. Then they took it home again

(LD): Tell me a little about this quilt exhibit they did for your 90th birthday. How was it done and how many quilts?

(MW): Really, I can't, I don't remember if I counted all the quilts.

(LD): Was it done at the church?

(MW): It was done at the church and all down the hall as they came in it, the ceiling has these big squares and there's a type of a little pin you can get and then it has a hook on it and then they, I had to put backings on my quilts put a rod through and they got the white plastic pipes. And then they hung them on those hooks. And so, it was all up and down and in one room was completely covered. And then my stained-glass window quilt, which is a gorgeous quilt was put in the sanctuary because we had one part of the service in the sanctuary. And everybody was awed at the quilts. One was the Sun Bonnet Sue that I had given a little granddaughter and she had to come in from Oregon because. I've made three Sun Bonnet Sues and one lady that lives here has one but she's homebound. And I didn't want to ask her for her's so my daughter brought my granddaughter's with her. So, there was pretty much a sampling of all the kinds I've made.

(LD): So, do you get your patterns from contemporary publications, or do you use old patterns or where do you find your patterns for your quilts?

(MW): On the stained glass, I saw it in a magazine at a friend's house in Colorado and I just said to her, 'Can I copy this?' And she said, 'You can just have the magazine. I don't want it.' And so, I brought it home and my daughter helped me with the pattern, and we made it, and it is so pretty.

(LD): Now you've made a number of those, haven't you?

(MW): Just two.

(LD): Just two.

(MD): One I put it together with the black for the stained glass and then the other I put it with the brown. And my daughter worked in stained glass. She's made stained glass lampshades and windows and stuff like that. And I knew she loved it, so I gave her the one stained glass.

(LD): And where is the other one?

(MW): I still have it. [laughs.]

(LD): Good.


(LD): And what's going to happen to that quilt?

(MW): Oh, may have to go up for auction.


(MW): It was a lot of work because at the time I got the pattern I could not find the polished cotton. And they were all made with polished cotton. And Quilted Apple [Phoenix, AZ.] had some but there was green and pink and orange, and all colors and they didn't have all colors. So, it took me quite a while to get enough materials for it.

(LD): Those are large quilts. About how long did it take you to make those quilts? Or make one individually?

(MW): It doesn't take too long if you know how to run a sewing machine.


(MW): And if it doesn't break down. I have a baby Singer, 1934. And that is the best machine to sew up just straight seams.

(LD): Is that what you use primarily?

(MW): That's what I use primarily to sew the seams. Now if I want to do a little zigzaggy thing or something else I have to go to another machine.

(LD): So, did it take you about a month to make the quilt or two months or?

(MW): Oh, not more than a month.

(LD): Oh, really?

(MW): No. If you can find the material and it don't take long. And really, the stained glass is in, there's four quarters that are exactly alike. And then when you put it together, then there is a lot of appliqué on it. And I did quilt both of those quilts myself.

(LD): Do you have any problem appliquéing with your hands now or anything? Are you doing, okay?

(MW): I'm doing real well because I got on a medication, MSM, and that helps to keep my pain down.

(LD): And all your appliqué is by hand, then?

(MW): Mm-hm.

(LD): Have you ever machine appliquéd?

(MW): No and I don't, I've kind of be tempted to get a machine that appliqués but I thought, I don't need it. [inaudible.] [laughs.] Kind of curling up.

(LD): Let's talk a little about quilting in your life. How important is quilting to you?

(MW): Well, now that my husband's gone and I am alone, it is one thing I really enjoy doing. I love, sometimes it's scary when people bring me some more material because I think, 'Oh, my goodness, am I ever going to get to use this?' But, boy, once I get to sorting and going through it, I get enthused again and get started and I love to do it. I love to create the different colors into the quilts, and I've got a lot of books. I really don't start from scratch. I always have some idea going.

(LD): You think of yourself primarily as a quiltmaker?

(MW): Mm-hm. Mm-hm.

(LD): We live in a very specific area of the country, the desert. Do you think your quilts in any way reflect our region here?

(MW): Mine don't. I've got the one of the Chugach Mountains, but we have so many beautiful mountains here, but I don't have anything really made from an Arizona pattern that I can think of.

(LD): Now quilts have been very important in your life, how do you think quilts are, what do you think are the importance of quilts in American life today?

(MW): Oh, I just. You know, quilts are something that just, everybody, almost everybody that I know, have someone in their lives that makes quilts. And because my husband's mother, oh, she boarded schoolteachers and she made quilts and she cooked, and she had homesteaded in Colorado. But yet, quilt making was so important to her. And as you go back East, that's something they always did. And I was thrilled to death when I got to stop at Sturbridge Village [Massachusetts.] one time and see the many different kinds of quilts and all old quilts. I just loved it all. It's just something that's in me and I guess maybe I'm strange in my family because I don't know of any cousins that make quilts.

(LD): You're the lone quilter?

(MW): I think I'm the lone quilter. And my family, goodness sakes, the kids all worked, grandkids worked, the husbands worked, the girls worked, and I've never known them to even sew. [chuckles.]

(LD): In what ways, do you think, quilts really have special meaning in women's history in America? How do you think quilts reflect that?

(MW): Well,

(LD): Particularly since you lived through the Depression.

(MW): Right. We used every scrap of flour sack and sugar sack and everything else. And comforters, my mother made what she called comforters. The parts that what worn out in clothing she'd sew up in comforters. We needed it for bedding. But she just never got into the quilt making. For some reason. But that probably was the way it got started, because people wanted the quilts for their beds. But yet, I've heard about trunks being found with unfinished quilts. [laughs.]

(LD): Did you do any quilting during World War II? Do you remember working on quilts then?

(MW): No, we were busy farming and ranching and busy raising our children during that time. I never got started with that.

(LD): What do you think is going to be the future of quilting?

(MW): Well, the quilting lady that I take quilt to now, gets more and more and more. And she's astonished at how the volume is growing. I think that there's more people getting into quilt making now than there was quite a few years ago.

(LD): Do you think it's going to continue to grow, or do you think there's going to be a downturn?

(MW): Well, I haven't studied it. But I see no reason not to always have, it's kind of like you say, well, that women are supposed to like to cook or this or that. Someway or how, it's the circumstances you're in is the reasoning for you doing what you do, and I don't exactly know why I took up quilt making so strongly. It's just I guess, something I love to do and so I do it. I think it will keep growing.

(LD): Now Marilyn, you wrote a little story about quilting. I'm wondering if you would read it to us.

(MW): Oh, my goodness. Yes, I would.

[gathers up paper to read.]

(MW): 'No one can know what goes into making a quilt until you've made one. First, choosing the pattern, then selecting the material. Buying the material and thread needed. Washing and pressing the material. Next, cutting out the various patterns in all the colors needed. Then you are ready to sew up the blocks. [Now this is if you're making a quilt with blocks. 'Course if you're laying an appliqué, why there's more to it.] Then I lay them out on the bed in order and sew them in strips. Sometimes they are set together with strips in between the blocks. When they are all sewed together then you sew on the border. Sometimes you have two borders. The first one is called the resting strip. You choose the backing. Will it be plain, print, white or colored? If it is as wide as your quilt, fine, otherwise sew it together. Wash and press it. Now you're ready to put it into the frames for quilting. First put the back in and then the batting on top. Smooth out and lay the quilt on top of that. Now you do a lot of smoothing, stretching and pinning into place. Sometimes you can mark the quilting before putting it into the frames; it depends on the pattern of the quilt. Now I don't know how long the above takes. Mostly it depends upon the complexity of the quilt. But I do know it takes a long time to quilt it. At least a month. But it's worth it once you see it finished. Now you're ready to put the binding on and call it finished. Now remember, while you're doing all this you are still cooking meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, working in the yard, reading the mail, paying the bills, grocery shopping, going to church and all the little other details that keep a household going. Hope you try it sometime. Sleeping under a quilt is sleeping under a blanket of love.' And I wrote this in 1999.

(LD): Would you read the little part there at the end that your daughter put in?

(MW): Oh, at the end, my daughter Joanne put in: 'As of October 2004, Mother has made 118 twin, full, queen and king size quilts. She has made hundreds of baby quilts, lap throws and so forth. Over 50 this year alone. She has also sewed thousands of other items--bags for the Afghan children, for the needy, clothing, pillows, tablecloths, curtains, and so on.' Besides, before Christmas this year I had people giving me, one was going on a 50th anniversary cruise and she bought the most gorgeous skirt, but it was too long, and she brought it to me to shorten. And she wanted it shortened from the top instead of the bottom. Oh, my goodness, that meant the zipper, that meant the belt, that meant oh. So

(LD): Did you, do it?

(MW): I did it and she went off to her 50th anniversary celebration. [laughs.]

(LD): Now, Marilyn, before we end up today can you tell us if you have a favorite quilt memory?

(MW): Do you know I don't know as I have one favorite. You know quilting isn't all I do. I have crocheted an afghan for every one of my grandkids and my great grandkids as they graduate from high school.

(LD): And how many would that be?

(MW): Well, it's a lot.


(MW): I have five grandkids plus two we have adopted because their mother died when they were little and they're my nephews and so they always called us grandma and grandpa. And then I have 15 greats and four of them are married and now I have seven great, greats. So, I told my grandson, my last great granddaughter, that's graduating this year, and I already have her afghan done, but I told my grandson that by the time his children, which are our great grandchildren, they're just only nine on down to six, I said, 'You know Grandma probably won't be around when your kids graduate from high school. And he looked at me about one second and he said to me 'Grandma, could you make them prematurely?'


(MW): I said 'Ben, I guess I could.' Do you know I already have all three of those kids done? [laughter.]

(MW): Now then when others decide they can say the same thing, I may be doing afghans for the next year.


(LD): Well, Marilyn, thank you so much. You've been wonderful and I really appreciate your spending the time with us.

(MW): Well, it's been a joy, it's been a joy.

(LD): Any words of wisdom you want to leave us with?


(MW): Listen, keep active. Don't let any grass grow under your feet.


(MW): If you see a project, get into it.


(LD): Thank you so much.

(MW): You bet.



“Marilyn Walters,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024,