Camille Carter Gorham




Camille Carter Gorham




Camille Carter Gorham


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Washington, D.C.


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): This is Evelyn Salinger, and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Camille Carter Gorham. Today's date is May 25, 2010, the time is about 11:20 a.m. and this interview is taking place during the Daughters of Dorcas meeting in Washington, D.C. Hi, Camille.

Camille Gorham (CG): Good morning.

ES: I want to thank you so much for agreeing to do this. We are certainly interested in you and in your interest in quilts. We'll start out with explaining what is this most beautiful quilt you've brought here today.

CG: All right. This quilt is called "Exploding Star."

ES: Do you want to read the little label just to tell. You've typed it is so nicely on the back.

CG: The label says, 'This quilt is an original pattern of an old design called Split Square and is also referred to as Light and Dark. It dates back to the 1880's. The basic perspective design stems from the contrast between light and dark in each square.'

ES: Would you tell us about the color choices and the pattern, and all those various things?

CG: It ends up being like an exploding star. I wanted it to be.

ES: When you look at it, you see the contrasts, and squinting, I begin to see the star expands outward. Do you have all these fabrics in your stash? Or did you have to buy stuff especially for this?

CG: No, this is made from scraps, only using scraps, but the blue for the border and to bring out the star which would appear to be exploding. I did buy that fabric.

ES: And that coordinates the whole thing.

CG: Yes. Blue is my favorite color, so I wanted to hand quilt this quilt, so I used my favorite color doing it.

ES: Do you hand quilt it at home on a frame?

CG: No, I hand quilted piece by piece. What happened, I had eye surgery. And I couldn't sew on the sewing machine because I could not see out of one eye. So, I was lucky. I had started thinking about doing it on the machine, but I could not do it. I tried to remember when I had my operation. You know, I think it was last August. I started this in August 2009 and finished it this April.

ES: That makes sense because you certainly have a lot of intricate things that you did. Did you sew all the little triangles by hand as well?

CG: Uh-huh. All that stuff by hand. And I just tried to take my time. I had to take my time. [laughs.] I had no choice.

ES: Where did you find this design?

CG: It's in one of my books that I had received years ago.

ES: Was it called Exploding Star then?

CG: Yes. Maybe I should have brought the book.

ES: I believe you. [laughs.] I have not seen this before. It is so colorful. For whom is this quilt?

CG: I made it for myself. I've always wanted to do a quilt hand quilting and because I do a lot of quilts by machine. Being that I was in the position I was, there were small squares to work with and so I was able to be anywhere, sitting watching T.V. or just anywhere putting them together.

ES: When you did each triangle, did you start out with a square and split it in half and use both triangles?

CG: I was able to do.

ES: So, you may be used everything twice?

CG: Yes. I was able to. This is a 12 by 12 piece that I sewed to another. So, this piece here is exactly like this piece down here.

ES: Oh, yeah. So, you use the same fabrics but did it in a different order. I mean the darks are with darks, but they are not all the same. How many pieces are there in one square? I just thought about that now. This [square.] goes all the way to this dark one here?

CG: Let me see now where it stopped, if I can remember. I think it's, [counting 1-8.] eight by eight.

ES: That means you have sixty-four. And all triangles. [laughs.]

CG: It was a doozey to put together, believe me. But at the time--

ES: We'll have to get a close-up picture of that. That is really intricate. In general, you say you don't do hand quilting, that you would rather do things by machine.

CG: Well, I like both of them, really. But sometimes I get tired of being at the sewing machine, so I like to have something that I can work on when I am watching T.V. or whatever. I don't have to do the machine all the time. I have this to work on. This is the second one that I've made, second hand quilted. And I did make the other one for someone. So, I say, this is for myself.

ES: Was the other one this pattern as well?

CG: No. It was Lover's Knot. Do you know that pattern? It's a really nice pattern.

ES: No. So, you have the blue border and then you have the blue coming through to separate the stars. What did you put on the back? Anything in particular?

CG: I just used the muslin.

ES: It's a two tone.

CG: It's called Ice. But I wanted to use something on the back that I could see the stitches. Sometimes we use patterns, a fabric that when you quilt you are not able to see the quilting. So, I wanted to see it.

ES: Yeah. So, you quilted it just in its entirety, just up and down, in the ditch on some of the places?

CG: It was advised to do "stitch in the ditch." So, along certain rows, it said to do that.

ES: And you chose every color that you have. There's nothing that you left out? No, I think you have everything, the whole rainbow.

CG: Yes. The more fabric you have, the better. The more scrap fabrics you have, the better off.

ES: When did you first encounter quilting and quilters in your life?

CG: I believe I started quilting around 1992. I wasn't quite sure what to do, but there was a girl that I worked with that was a quilter. And then it was around that time that I read an article about Daughters of Dorcas, and I remember thinking that when I retire, I'm going to join that group. It took me a while, but I did.

ES: So, you really didn't get started your own quilting until after you retired?

CG: Right.

ES: What did you do before?

CG: I did a lot of sewing, making clothes and different things like that.

ES: That was your job?

CG: No. I worked for Verizon at that time. When I retired, it was Bell Atlantic.

ES: When did you start sewing, then?

CG: Oh, in junior high. We had Clothing [class.]. Then, I realized that I loved clothing. And my mother, she sewed quite a bit. I'm from a family of six girls, so she made a lot of our clothes. There are two or three of us that still are sewing. And that's what I really wanted to be, was a Home Economics teacher. I wanted to go into that but was never able to.

ES: You are very adept at sewing machine, for sure. Do you recommend one kind or another?

CG: Well, right now I have a Bernina and that's my choice. I haven't tried any others. [laughs.]

ES: So, you were sewing all the way through your whole life? Did you sew for your children?

CG: Oh, yes. I made some clothes for them. I remember making clothes for my daughter, not so many for my sons, but I made clothes for my daughter when she was coming up. And I make quite a few for myself. But right now, I don't need them, so quilting is my passion. [laughs.]

ES: What does your family think about your passion?

CG: They don't know how I have the patience to work with quilts. They have no patience with it, but there are some things that they do that I don't have any patience with. This is to me, it relaxes me. Really something I enjoy doing.

ES: Have you made quilts for everybody in your family?

CG: Yes. I have. My family and others.

ES: Whom else do you quilt for?

CG: I'm doing baby quilts and veterans. I do quilts for those two groups. And this year is my first time to do it: I'm making a raffle quilt for a family reunion.

ES: So, will they get tickets and somebody's going to go home with it?

CG: Right.

ES: What a good idea.

CG: Uh-huh. And I have one distant relative. It's on my husband's side but she's the matriarch of the family. She's in her nineties. And I am going to make a memory quilt that we all can sign and give to her. This is the first year that I've tried this.

ES: Will it be empty squares for them to sign in? They are not going to contribute as well. Or you are going to make the whole quilt?

CG: It's going to be a pillow. It's not going to be a whole quilt, because I don't know how many people will be there. But they will be able to sign it and then she'll be able to take it and have other people sign it, if she would like.

ES: Where will this reunion be?

CG: It's going to be in Tarboro, North Carolina. That's where my husband's father is from. And this is the first year they've done it there. We usually have it around this area.

ES: Is this something you do each year?

CG: Yes. We usually do it, and I can't remember how many years we have done it. But it has been quite a few. But this is the first year that we've had it away from this area. So, I don't know how many people will be there.

ES: What sort of number of people do you expect?

CG: Usually, there's been about fifty or sixty. But this year, because it is away, I don't know how many will be able to make it.

ES: Did you come from the southern part of the country as well?

CG: No, I'm from Indiana. A town called Richmond, Indiana. I worked for the telephone company there. When I graduated from high school, I went to Indianapolis to work for AT&T; and from there I transferred here. And then you know, of course, later AT&T; split up to different companies. So, I ended up with Bell Atlantic.

ES: You worked for many years for them, totally, for the telephone company?

CG: When I retired, I had almost thirty-five years of service with them.

ES: Terrific. You were sewing during that time, but you really didn't get to quilting until after you retired?

CG: I did not get to quilting until I joined the Washington Senior Wellness Center. Sarajane Goodwin, she was the instructor there. And of course, she encouraged me to join Daughters of Dorcas and I did not hesitate. And I've been with both groups ever since. That was in 2002, I believe I joined the Wellness Center Group. And then in 2003, I came here to Daughters of Dorcas.

ES: What is the Wellness Center exactly?

CG: It's an organization that is for Seniors. But now, in the past year, it's intergenerational, because they changed who was in charge of the Wellness Center. So, right now, it is still a lot of senior activities, but they include younger people in programs and all.

ES: And so, the quilters' group is just one of its groups?

CG: One of them.

ES: Do you know how many people would be in that?

CG: Right now, there's, I would say, at least ten. People come and go, but there's about ten of us who continue.

ES: I notice that you make raffle quilts for them. To earn money for the center?

CG: Yes. With the money that we make, some of it goes to the Center and a portion of it we keep for the group in case we need to buy supplies for whatever quilts that we make. They will reimburse us for the money we spent on fabric and whatever for quilting.

ES: Are you in charge of that group?

CG: No. Sarajane Goodwin is.

ES: She still is.

CG: We won't let her go. [laughs.]

ES: You seem like you may be the spirit behind the group.

CG: Oh, no. We want Sarajane to stay there.

ES: What is your favorite part of quilting?

CG: My favorite part would be, just seeing that people enjoy what I've made. All my sisters, they seem to appreciate, and I really want people to appreciate because they don't know how much work goes into making a quilt. It's not like the quilt that you buy at the store. It's an original. There's none other like it. laughs.] So, I just enjoy. I made so many tops. I still have to get around to finish them, but I don't know, I just enjoy making them.

ES: How many hours a day do you think you put into this? Can you calculate that?

CG: I get up at six. I'm an early person. And sometimes, I look at the clock and I see maybe 12:00, 12:30. And then I make myself stop then. And then I try to have something that I can work on by hand. Sometimes in the evening, I might--I would say I spend, not every day, but on the days that I work with my quilts, I put in I would say, maybe six hours or so, sometimes. And the time goes by so fast. That's one thing that I notice. The time goes by so fast. So, it's not like out working somewhere. You're just not relaxed and into it that much.

ES: Do you do something else while you're doing it?

CG: Oh, definitely. I have my house.

ES: I mean while you are quilting? Do you listen to music or look at T.V.?

CG: I have a T.V. in my sewing room. So, I can watch T.V. and that's about it.

ES: Some people prefer to do it in complete peace and quiet.

CG: There are times when I like that myself, when I want to concentrate on what I'm doing. But I've put on music on and listen to that sometimes. A lot of times, there are times when I just want peace and quiet.

ES: Do you have quilts at home, or do you pretty much give them away?

CG: So far, I usually give them away. My one cousin, she did pay me something for it. Not what it was worth. [laughs.] Usually what I have made, I have given to family, basically because I would have to know the person well to know if they are going to appreciate it and take care of it.

ES: Do you use a quilt on your own bed?

CG: Yes, I do.

ES: You don't give them all away.

CG: Oh, no. I keep the ones that are special to me.

ES: You certainly have been prolific in the short time that you have been quilting. Do you keep track of your quilts, where they are, and pictures or album?

CG: I do. I take pictures of them. And I have a photo album of some that I've made and others that I see at quilt shows. Then I keep scrap books, quilts from magazines that I might make.

ES: From whom do you get your inspiration for the different patterns, in general?

CG: That's a good question. Where do I get my inspiration? Sometimes, I'll be making a quilt and I'll put it aside and then maybe a month or two later, it comes to me what I want to do with that. So, I think my inspiration just comes to me at times, on some of my quilts.

ES: Do you usually use traditional patterns? Or do you sometimes make your own designs?

CG: I have made my own. I do belong to a small group that is called Creative Spirits Fiber Arts Society. And there we are encouraged to make our own designs and all. So, I have. They are all small quilts, but I have several of those. But right now, I'm trying to finish up tops that I've made. [laughs.]

ES: Are you doing them by machine quilting, to finish the tops?

CG: Some by machine and others by hand.

ES: Do you have a preference, when you look at quilts, as to machine versus hand quilting?

CG: I believe I do. There are some patterns that I think I would rather have hand quilted than machine quilted. And there are others that, if I think that I might give it away to someone, I machine quilt it. Because I can say that hand quilting, to me, takes more time and I like the looks of a hand quilt better than I do a machine quilt. They're lighter. They're not as heavy as a machine quilt. I really prefer a hand quilted quilt.

ES: Just that it takes a lot of time. [laughs.] Have you done any teaching, yourself, of quilting?

CG: No, I can't say that I have. I've been to schools and then down to the Historical Society teaching new people who might want to learn to quilt. That's all.

ES: Well, that's teaching.

CG: Yes, but as far as teaching a class, or whatever, these are young, about nine years old, and then down to the Historical Society, they were older people.

ES: You gave them the instruction how to start.

CG: Right. Yes. At the Martin Luther King Library, we did give some classes down there, to teach people.

ES: That's good. That's teaching. Have you entered any shows?

CG: Just the show that the Daughters of Dorcas has every year.

ES: Have you sold some quilts? Commissions?

CG: No, I've never been commissioned because I don't, what would you call it? If I let more people know that I was a quilter, [laughs.] I might get some commissions. But I just sort of do it for enjoyment, more so than trying to make money out of this.

ES: Are there any other hobbies or crafts that you enjoy doing?

CG: Before quilting, I was into ceramics. I made quite a few ceramics.

ES: But quilting has taken its place.

CG: Yes. The people moved to Florida. They retired and they closed their shop, thank goodness, [laughs.] because that can be kind of expensive, too. But I was into ceramics before this. But I prefer--this is what my passion is.

ES: Do you have a sewing room that is just for sewing?

CG: Yes, I do.

ES: And do you have a big stash?

CG: Oh, yes. [laughs.]

ES: At this point you're ready to do scrap quilts?

CG: That's what I'm trying to do. I've been pretty good this year about buying fabric. Because I've decided that I have enough and I'm going to use what I have. And so this is one reason that I am doing more scrap quilts, now.

ES: How has quilting been important to American women?

CG: I feel that it is very important. I never feel lonely. I always feel like I have something to do. My children are all grown. And I have time on my hands. And I can always pick up a quilt and start working on it. And then you get so into it that you forget about time, people and everything. You're just into your quilts. [laughs.]

ES: That's lovely. Very good.

CG: And I've been with other people who enjoy it. It's good to have the fellowship of the different groups that you belong to. Friends and you meet new people and you become friends. Quilters are good people, too. I think. I've never seen an unfriendly one yet. [laughs.]

ES: Very nice. Have you been in charge of the Raffle Quilt here for the Daughters of Dorcas?

CG: I'm in charge of the Raffle Quilt this year. I'm the coordinator, but three years ago I helped Mary Washington. She was the coordinator and I helped her with the quilt. I guess you'd say, assistant coordinator.

ES: Will you describe what this year's Raffle Quilt is?

CG: It's a quilt I would say that could be used in the Spring time because it is very springy. I believe it's called "Spring Garden."

ES: I just happened to see it today as it was laid out. I did not know if you were in charge or not. It seems to be greens and lavenders, floral? With crisscross lattice work in it?

CG: Yes. Right. I adapted the pattern from one of the magazines that I subscribe to. I don't subscribe to it any more. But I keep them in case I use a pattern that I like. And that one is the one I chose.

ES: Will people be taking turns on quilting it? Or how does that get done?

CG: Yes.

ES: It will be hand quilted?

CG: It is hand quilted and we have several quilters that do very good hand quilting. We're at the point with the quilt now that the top has been quilted and we are getting ready to work on the border. It has to be done by December, so.

ES: You are ahead of the game?

CG: Yes.

ES: Very good. Do you have responsibility at the Wellness Center? It seems like you have run quilts for them, too, haven't you?

CG: Yes, I have been responsible for the quilt for the Wellness Center.

ES: Do you have advice for new quilters?

CG: Yes. Take your time. Be patient. It will come later. Just have patience to hang in there. So many that I've seen, they give up. I don't know if they think it is too large for them, or what? But, I remember the first quilt that I put together was so funny, so funny. I did not know what I was doing. But it turned out to be a quilt, but it wasn't made the way that quilts should be made. [laughs.] My stitches were really big, but over the years if you just continue, you get to the point where it looks pretty good.

ES: Do you like to shop for fabrics?

CG: Oh, my goodness. Well, I'm trying to get away from that. As I say, I have quite a stash and the only thing I want to go shopping for now is maybe backing or batting or for a notion. I would like to say, I really feel that I was destined to quilt, because I remember years ago for Christmas, my mother gave me a book of quilts and it was called, "Favorite--" I can't think of it. But it had a poem about quilts in it and I memorized that poem. I can't say it all now, but I liked that poem so well. "Patchwork Quilt of Favorite Tales." That was the name of the book.

ES: That reminds me, because I had one when I was growing up and I thought it was called, "Grandmother's Trunk." That's what I thought it was. And I remember each patch had a story. And she would tell the story of that patch. I never found it again.

CG: It might be the same poem in another book.

ES: This wasn't a poem. This was a book about a quilt in Grandmother's trunk in the attic and as she unfolded it, she told the story of each fabric. I'd love to find that again.

CG: I went on the Internet to see if I could find the book because it was after I graduated from high school that my mother and father moved to another house and they got rid of a lot of things. And that book was one of those things. But I went on the Internet, I put in the name of the book. And it came up and I think the poem came up also. But I went on to see if I could get the book again, but they wanted too much money for the book. It's like a classic now or something. Yes, but it's there. It's on the Internet.

ES: Quilting seems to have made you very happy.

CG: Oh, it has.

ES: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about? I guess we have covered mostly everything that I can think of. I appreciate your giving your time today.

CG: Oh, all right. I've enjoyed it.

ES: Thank you very much.

End time: 11:55


“Camille Carter Gorham,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,