Mary Boyle




Mary Boyle




Mary Boyle


Isabelle Long

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Susan Salser


Sunnyvale, CA


Mary Kay Davis


Isabelle Long (IL): My name is Isabelle Long and today's date is the 30th of July 2011 at 1:25 pm. I am conducting an interview with Mary Boyle in Sunnyvale [California.] for the Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Mary is a quilter and is a member of the Santa Clara [California.] Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Mary, I see you brought your quilt today. Well, let's spread it out and take a look at it. We do need to look at the front. It's a really pretty quilt and I've seen it before when you were here to have the picture taken but I didn't get a really close look at it. Is this, first of all, is this a machine-made or handmade quilt?

Mary Boyle (MB): It's all machine quilted and machined you know I sewed it together with a sewing machine. The only hand quilting was when I was sewing on the binding,

IL: Okay.

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --the finishing on the binding

IL: Yes.

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --and the sleeve. I sewed on the sleeve, so.

IL: Well, how did you come to choose the colors because they're really pretty?

MB: I was in Wisconsin visiting my mother's hometown, my mother and father lived in a little town out in the country and I found the flower quilt, the flower fabric that I used in the border and then I started picking other fabrics to go with it. So, the woman who owned the store was a friend of my mother's so I'd go in to visit with her. My mother [Lorraine Meylor Boyle.] passed away in 2003 and then and I would go in the store and then I'd pick these pieces. You know the fabric from there.

IL: Well good, you did a good job.

MB: Thank you.

IL: I really like it. So let's talk about the patterns you have. You have at least four patterns plus the center one. Where did you find those or are they original with you?

MB: I used a book that's called "Quilt As Desired" [Charlene C. Frable.] and this was one of the projects in it and it was a challenge for me because I hadn't done this much piecing in a block before. It was the first time that I had done that. I haven't quilted very long and it was a challenge and I worked on them block by block. I think I made the, is it a pinwheel? The pinwheels before but I hadn't done the other different kinds of stars. So, it was an experiment for me.

IL: Well, it looks like it was a good experiment.

MB: Yeah, it came together. It did come together. I was really surprised when all the blocks actually fit together. [laughs.]

IL: I like the little setting, you know the four pointed I guess you'd call it maybe a pinwheel star.

MB: Yeah.

IL: That really sets off the other larger squares. Tell me about the fabric is it, fiber content?

MB: It's one hundred percent cotton that's what I'd been advised to use and that's the kind of thread I use too.

IL: Did, you wash the fabric before hand?

MB: Yes, I washed the fabric and you know pressed it before I began cutting.

[click of another tape recorder.]


IL: Okay. Now, now. Mary you said something about a quilt shop in Wisconsin and talked a little bit more about; I would like you to talk a little bit more about your mother, how you got started.

MB: Okay, my mother was a sewer all her life. She was really quite accomplished. There were six of us in the family and she made all of our clothes. She made dresses that we have family pictures and we're all dressed alike and she was just amazing with a handful of children [laughs.] at home plus sewing all the time. She was really quite accomplished and later in her life she made comforters for years and years and years and gave them as gifts to people. So, at her funeral they mentioned how many comforters everyone had on their beds. Wisconsin it's bitterly cold. This means a lot to people. But, and then when she lived in her later years after she retired, she started sewing other types of projects for decorative things and she got into quilting. So, she made some pieced quilts, but not very many and she got in, she made table runners. And when she passed away her apartment had about forty table runners ready to go because she took them to a little consignment shop across the street. So everyone got gifts of table runners in the family and our friends and things like that. So it's really nice. And she had talked to my daughter. My daughter, Lucy, in middle school took sewing classes and my son, Joey, did as well. And when we visited, one of the last few times we visited, she tried to, she showed us how she made the table runners and she tried to talk us into, you know, being interested in sewing those kinds projects and wasn't interested at the time, but when she passed away, went to her apartment and the sewing machine had all the pieces ready to go for another table runner [laughs.] She'd gone to the hospital for open-heart surgery, but she was coming back and I just couldn't give those away and there were boxes. There was a shoebox filled with four-inch squares. She was so proud of finding the fabric. She went to garage sales she just was so happy to find fabric everywhere and had collected it, you know, carefully. So I kept a lot of the fabric and I brought it back to California with me and I thought I've got a sewing machine, maybe some day I'll quilt and that was in 2003. Well, in 2005, a friend of mine went through a terrible thing. She, her husband divorced her. She was a woman in my book club and she'd been married thirty-five years. So we started going hiking. You know, just spending some time together talking in addition to book club. She was in the book club and she was a wonderful quilter and she reminded me of my mother actually. She was the oldest in her family. She was from Ohio. She could sew really well and I asked her if, 'Lynn,' [McCreight.] I said, 'Could you show me how to quilt, how to make a table runner?' You know, I said, 'I have this fabric from my mom.' So on Saturday mornings I'd go over to her house and she showed me how to make those table runners. So, that's how I got started.

IL: So, your mother was the influence and your friend was the push button--

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: She made it happen

IL: --the go button

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --She made it happen and then she moved away and I started taking classes at the Granary [in Sunnyvale, California.], the local quilt store because I had--I don't know. It wasn't her bad teaching it was just [laughs.] my techniques that weren't working out very well. So I went to the Granary and took beginning quilting and then just kept doing projects on my own. Since I worked I didn't join the quild, a quilting guild, or a sewing group, but I would depend on the store for help. And you know, any guidance that I needed.

IL: It's nice to have those stores still around, those small independent stores.

MB: I always shop at the Granary. I try to avoid other outlets because I want to support them and keep them you know handy for their knowledge. You know their knowledge that they have.

IL: Did you follow in your mother's footsteps and give away some of the quilts that you made?

MB: Yes, I've given a few things away. I've--maybe like fifty percent. I'd love to have time to do more, more sewing and then I would give more things away. I, like I said, I had five siblings and four of them have gotten a quilt from me and I have the fabric for my sister in L.A. [Los Angeles, California.] I have it all picked out but I just need to find the time to cut it out and put it together but I finally got an idea for her. So I've made quilts for all my family members and my daughters I haven't figure out what to do for my son yet. He's given me some ideas. I've got some fabric, but I haven't quite figured it out.

IL: So do you have favorite colors that you like to work with?

MB: I think I like, I, the subtle color of fabrics that sort of blend together don't appeal to me as much as contrasting fabric. I've, you know, I did make a quilt that was peach and light blue and that kind of family of fabric because a friend of mine in Wisconsin, she, let's see, she I have this friend who quilts also and she, when it's my birthday she'll send me a gift box with quilting things in it and she gave me a book that she used and it had something in there and then I went and got some fabric and tried it out too. But I like, I like more contrast in my work I know that.

IL: Any preference for large prints, small prints, bright colors, neutrals?

MB: Yeah, the neutrals, you know of course you need neutrals.

IL: You've done it all?

MB: What, what I've done. Yeah, I've tried a lot of different things and what I've done because I'm working full time and sometimes forty-five hours a week and I still have a lot of family in my house that I'm pretty busy so I've, what I've been doing lately is picking kits with the fabric already made. I made one from the Granary that was a cherry wall hanging and they have all the fabric for you. You cut things out and then you can put it together. So that's a time saver and my daughter graduated from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology.] in June with her Ph.D. and I found a kit that sort of represented her. It's got cranes in it. When she was a child she folded paper cranes. So the pre-printed things, but of course it yeah, I think mostly it's the bold contrasting things that I like.

IL: Are any of your mother's four-inch squares left, or have you used all of those?

MB: I have not used them all and my mother was such a taskmaster that I think to myself she left all of this so that we would have plenty of work to do [laughs.] for time on and on. She had prints for every season. She had St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, lots of Christmas and what I decided to do is I used a lot of those in Christmas quilts for my siblings because there were so many of them and I just found other fabric to go with them and put them in a Christmas quilt for people instead of making multiple table runners with the four-inch squares, so.

[click of another tape recorder.]

IL: So Mary you mentioned your mother and how she influenced you. Was she influenced by anybody? Or were you influenced by somebody else?

MB: Her mother, her name was Prudence Soper Meylor and she's my DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution.] relative. She made quilts and she did the, my family's history is with the four-inch squares. They're really devoted to these four-inch squares, so that's what mom left behind and she was starting to use them in other ways, but my grandmother made quilts with four-inch squares also and she made them from dresses that we had has children, so, when I was in, probably I was in college, I went to visit my grandmother and she was sewing a quilt and she just put the squares together so that the colors looked compatible together and she made this quilt, just a simple quilt and I asked her about it and she said she was going to give it to the mission and I said, 'No, grandma, give me that quilt.' [laughs.] It had dresses that my mother made, that my mother wore, that I wore, that my sisters wore so that I still have that quilt that my grandmother made. And that's the kind of quilting she did with the treadle sewing machine, so.

IL: Did she quilt it on the machine or was it tied?

MB: They were tied. That's a really good question and she, and my mother tied her comforters also and my mother didn't really quilt her table runners or anything she just put them together and they were small enough so that they, she didn't do, so she always did tied quilts.

IL: Okay.

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --Good question.

IL: Where did your grandmother live?

MB: My grandmother lived in, she was born in Green County, Wisconsin in a town called, Argyle, out in the country and that's where her ancestors came from Vermont, who were the revolutionary war ancestors in 1844 so they were real pioneers. She talked about hearing wolves when she was a child, that's how wild Wisconsin was in the you know. She was born in 1903 and anyway then and she met my grandfather and moved to Lafayette County, [Wisconsin.] and they lived in a town called Darlington. Darlington, Wisconsin and that's where both my parent's families were. There were a lot of Irish immigrants and my father's family came from Ireland to Lafayette County and my grandfather's family came from Ireland to Lafayette County also.

IL: Well I'd like to get back to your experiences, and maybe some of the quilting tools that you use. Do you have favorites or ones that you have used a lot or others just a little bit?

MB: My friend Lynn taught me to use a rotary cutter and the rotary cuttering mat, rotary cutting mats. So, I've got that kind of equipment and I use the plastic rulers. It wasn't until I went to the beginning quilting class at the Granary that I knew to put the little plastic pieces on the rulers and that helps a lot to be able to cut correctly. So, I learned a lot of new techniques when I went to the store. So that's basically what I use. I don't have a room dedicated to quilting. I use my dining room table and I have a friend who works at the sewing store [Viking Sewing Center, San Jose, California.] and she came to visit me to help out with the sewing machine one time she said, 'You need to get a chair with a different height.' So I have a chair on wheels that you can raise and lower so I can be above the sewing machine and I use the, I have a, let's see, I started out with a Husqvarna, think it's a 530 sewing machine which has been a really durable, reliable sewing machine but when I began machine quilting I needed more. I kind of wanted a machine that had a longer arm so that I could get more fabric under there and more comfortably machine quilt. I've sort of challenged myself, by trying to do free-motion machine quilting, but it is the edge of the frontier for me. [laughs.] I sometimes get really frustrated with the results and keep working with it but the, in let's see, so I used the Husqvarna which we had for my daughter's sewing class and then in I'm trying to think of what year I got the newer sewing machine. It's probably been maybe 2008, the spring of 2008, I got the Viking sewing machine. It's a Sapphire and I don't remember the number, but it has the longer sewing bed. It's all electronic. Lots of things need to be programming. There's lots of censors in it so there's a lot of details to keep track of when I want to use it okay.

IL: We haven't talked about applique. Have you ever done any applique? Do you like it better than piecing or piecing is better?

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --I think I could use more instruction in applique. I've experimented with some wall hangings and just sewed around the edges of some pieces that I cut out like maybe it was a fabric that had cardinals in it and I just cut the cardinals out and then sewed them on something, but wasn't really happy with the results and keep thinking I'll take some time and take a class on applique, but I haven't done that.

[click of another tape recorder.]

IL: Mary you mentioned that you work and I know that you work full-time at the Santa Clara City Library. How do you manage to find time to quilt? How do you balance that with the hours that you have to spend at the library?

MB: That's a really good question and I've had some periods where like when I was working on this quilt where I just dropped everything and probably neglected housework and home in order to focus on quilting, but then I got to a point where I couldn't do that and I, so now I'm, I'm still struggling with it and I think probably a lot of working women are always juggling things. My job seems to take more than full time you know sometimes I find myself working on things at home which I prefer not to do but it just happens so. Every year like after the holidays in January, I seem to find time to quilt and part of it is the library has Martin Luther King Day off and President's weekend off and we get a little extra time. So usually I can do a quilt in January and February and get most of it done. This year, well in 2010, I needed to set aside my quilting completely and focus on writing a family history for my Dad's. My dad's only sister was still alive and she wasn't in good health and she's always wanted the family history. So I, 2010, I did not quilt. So I came back to it this year and did a, put together my daughter's quilt in January, but when I started machine quilting, I was not familiar with the machine anymore and I had a lot of frustration and I also didn't have any time where I could devote two days in a row to it, so I just set it all aside, but then I got rescued in June after she graduated. I have a friend in the neighborhood who works at the Viking store and her daughter was the same age as my youngest daughter so she, she has come over, she actually; I met her at the Pacific International Quilt Show. I ran into there she was working for the Viking Sewing Center and she's the one who sold me the sewing machine. So when I have trouble, I think she takes it personally and she comes over and she's this is the second time she's come over and she just went through techniques and made sure the machine was okay and helped me out so I was able to finish, finish the project.

IL: That's wonderful. You mentioned what we call PIQF, Pacific International Quilt Festival. You've obviously been there, what quilts were you drawn to when you because they have a really big array?

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --Right it's a huge, a huge number of quilts displayed there. I like to look at what people are doing and see what appeals to me. I'm not really interested in art quilts. It's a different style for me and I just, I feel more secure staying with more traditional blocks and then experimenting with different colors to, anyway for my sewing and I don't remember anything in particular that really stands out. I went, I'm trying to think of which years I went. I've gone two years in a row, but I haven't gone maybe the last two years, so I haven't gone in 2008 and 2009, certainly not 2010, maybe I went in 2008 and I really did enjoy it though I liked seeing all the different supplies and I was able to get all the peach and light colored fabric that I wanted there and that's when I was working on that project.

IL: Did you look at the quilts that won blue and red ribbons? And did you agree with the judges that awarded those for the most part or not?

MB: I'm more of a generalist and I realized that some of it is technique and people have different tastes. My husband loves Escher [M.C. Escher.] and he'd love to have me quilt something that's like Escher. I cannot stand Escher. It makes me crazy. My eyes just swirl around so I realize that people have different tastes and the winners are you know beautiful quilts that are that have good techniques but sometimes I don't really like them that as well as some other things.

IL: Yeah, we are very lucky in this area that we have other places where there are quilts on display. Tell us about the ones that you've been to and that you've seen.

MB: I've been up to San Francisco to see the Gee's Bend quilt display and that was very inspirational. It was, it brought me back to you know my family roots, which were using old dresses to make quilts with. We never used blue jeans. I think sewing with blue jeans would be a real challenge, but you can see how nicely they turned out with the Gee's Bend quilts and so I really enjoyed looking at them and I spent a lot of time at the exhibit, more so than the large quilt shows. The large quilt shows are more overwhelming because there are so many things to see and I've been to the local Santa Clara Valley Quilting Association exhibit and there's, which is every other year and I like that a lot better there's only about two hundred exhibited quilts and it's just more, you know, you can absorb what's there a little bit better. I've also been to the San Jose Art Museum [San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.] and looked at their quilts and it's really good to look at art quilts and see some of the advances people are making with quilting. I've also been to the Milwaukee [Wisconsin.] Art Museum. That's on the Lake Michigan, and I remember that was when I was just starting quilting and there was a small wall quilt that was done and that was it was an art quilt and it was done to look like the forest and she had really accomplished that and it was very interesting to look at what she did. It's something that I haven't forgotten her quilt and it may have been on permanent display there because I've been back and I think I saw it again, so I think it might be a permanent display.

IL: Mary I don't think we talked about your preference between hand quilting and machine quilting. Whether you like to do it or whether you like to see it on the quilts that you see at quilt shows.

MB: I'm really interested in hand quilting because I like to, I love it when I've finished a quilt and I'm sewing the binding on there's, it's just a great feeling. I know some quilters they hate that. That's the worst part of the process, but it's really comforting to do the hand sewing and at some point I would like to learn how to hand quilt. But, that's another thing like with applique that I've kind of put on the back burner because I'm working full time now and I'm hoping my eyesight will last so I can do hand quilting at some point.

IL: Okay, why is quilt making important to your life?

MB: I talked about connecting to my mother and I miss my mother a lot and when I sew I feel connected to her and my grandmother and it also is a big stress reducer. So 2010 I focused on writing this short book about the family and then this year I've gone back to quilting, but I find during stressful times that if I can have small project to think about and work on, it's a great stress reducer. My job is all on computers and reading and in the library and I when I get to sew I'm touching fabric. It's a tactile experience. I get to look at different things. It's like using a different part of your brain and it's so satisfying to complete a project.

IL: And in what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women sort of throughout history. It's certainly changed from what it is today. Oh, do you think they felt the same way; it was a stress reducer? Or do you think in some instances they had to do it?

MB: I think it, I don't know about them historically, but I think that it connects women to their past like I've been talking about with my mother and my grandmother. My mother-in-law is from North Carolina and when I first started going to the south, I met my husband in 1976, her mother was alive and the women in the neighborhood got together in the church and sewed one night a week and they did everything hand quilting. Each of them knew certain techniques so that they could finish the whole product, and we, Keith [Mary Boyle's husband.] and I decided that we would purchase fabric and ask them if they would make a quilt for his mother, Margaret Ann McLaurin, and they did that and it was a complete secret. She had told me that she wanted to make a leaf quilt. She told me the colors she wanted and we just got in touch with the, with those women and they made her a maple leaf quilt. Now, when I've started quilting and I look back and I can, she, I can see that quilt and see if it's something that I could do. You know it's, but she, she just treasures that quilt and is very careful about storing things. She also has the quilt tops that Keith's grandmother, her, his father's mother made, that at some point she might ask me to help her finish. In the meantime I have a project where she bought large blocks that she calls, Sunbonnet, it's Sunbonnet Sue to me and she calls them little Dutch girls, but there's enough to make a pretty large quilt and she's given them to me and I'm supposed be putting them together. She told me about the sashing and corners, cornerstones that she'd like to have with it and I'm a little bit afraid of doing this project because she wants it to be like a bedspread and its more techniques that southern women have that I'm not as familiar with. She's also a perfectionist, so I'm a little, I'm a little nervous about that one but I'm, but I, I will do it for her. I'd like to finish it so that she has this finished quilt.

IL: Was this maple leaf quilt a bed size quilt?

MB: Yes, it's quite large

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

IL: --they made--

IL: And so will the Sunbonnet Sue quilt--

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --it will be too

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

IL: --fit a bed too?

MB: Right, it's very large, large 14-inch blocks. They're oblong and there it will be big enough for a bed cover.

IL: Okay, getting back to the quilts that you've made, especially those that you have given away, I don't know quite how to ask this question, but how would you feel if they did not keep it?

MB: I think you have to, if it's a gift, you have to consider that they can do whatever they want with it. My issue is I'm not a dog lover and people who sleep with their dogs and you spend hours working on the quilt and they're going to have the dog sleep on it, and I tell myself it's okay, they can have their cat sleep on it. If their cat throws up on it, that's okay, it's their quilt and I just sort of let it go and try not to think about that, so that's

IL: But it's still difficult?

MB: [laughs.] It's one of my challenges, when I'm having a difficult time with a quilt then I think about that, but mostly. My brother told me that he took the quilt that we gave and they have a second home on a lake in Wisconsin and they put it there because I guess it gets, they when they go up in the wintertime, then they like having it there, so I, it was nice to hear that.

IL: That's good.


[click of another tape recorder.]

IL: Mary early, earlier in our conversation you mentioned that you gave a quilt to your daughter or maybe both daughters. My question is, have they taken up the quilting hobby?

MB: So far neither of them sew. My younger daughter Lucy, she's currently twenty-two. She was the one who did sewing for many years and she made a small quilt with a, during a class at the Viking Sewing Center in Cupertino. She made a really nice quilt and she got it completed which is quite an accomplishment. She was a middle schooler, but she hasn't been interested in sewing recently. She's busy in school. And my older daughter has never sewed or showed much interest in those kind of things, but maybe, maybe it will happen.

IL: Maybe down the road when she sees your quilts and hears the stories about your mom and your grandmother that will be it. What are some of your ideas about the best way to preserve quilts?

MB: [coughs.]

IL: Or how would you like to see the quilts that you've given away, preserved?

MB: I'm, I think I'm of the tradition of practical and when I give a quilt to someone like I gave a baby quilt to my niece in North Carolina and I told her, 'Please use it' you know, 'Don't put it away' and keep it. You know, I'd like to see that, 'Use it and enjoy it.' So I like, I like the idea that people use them and they're, you know, a useful object and they're enjoying them rather than just putting it away and no one gets to see them and use them. So that's the way I feel about quilt preservation.

IL: Wouldn't you like to see some of your mother's, oh c'mon what's the word?

MB: Ancestors?

IL: No the table runners. Wouldn't you like to see those preserved?

MB: That's a good point. I have many, I have many of her table runners and I use them all the time. I think she would want us to use them more than preserve them but its something to think about. I'm not, I guess our family ethic is moving a lot and not hanging on to things. My husband's family in North Carolina, they keep everything and it sometimes disintegrates and they haven't used it so I'm very practical and I just I use it and enjoy it, but I think it would be interesting if my, I have the feeling that my grandmother's mother was quite an accomplished sewer and quilter and I have no idea of anything that she did. So, it would be really nice to see or hear about any quilts that she made.

IL: Well Mary, is there anything else that you'd like to add to this interview?

MB: I guess adding on the preservation now we have digital techniques. So, photographs and digital images and maybe we'll be preserving them that way and people can use and enjoy them but still have documented. I do document my quilts. I keep, I try to make a label and date and you know document my quilts. I think that part of that's from being a librarian and also a genealogist. You need, you know that you want to find out when it was made and when, you know, the circumstances around it. So I have a photo album that has pictures of quilts that I've made and when I made them and what happened to them.

IL: Wouldn't it be nice if they were included in the family history?

MB: That's a really good thing. That would be really nice and it might enhance the, my husband's working on his family history if we documented and had images of those quilts that they still have and and my mother's too. That's a really good point. I could add that to my mother's--

IL: That'd be great.

[IL and MB speak over each other.]

MB: --I could add that to my mother's record.

IL: I'd like to thank Mary Boyle for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories. Our interview has concluded at 2:15 p.m. on the 30th of July 2011.


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