Alice R. Dove




Alice R. Dove




Alice R. Dove


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Washington, D.C.

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): This is Evelyn Salinger, and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Alice R. Dove. Today's date is June 1, 2010. The time is 11:00 a.m.
[This interview is taking place at the Daughters of Dorcas meeting.] Hi, Alice.

Alice R. Dove (AD): Hi, Evelyn, how are you?

ES: It's great to have you here and it's great to see your beautiful quilts. You've got two small quilts and they are very different, so I think it's good to discuss them. Tell me about this first one.

AD: Well, the first one actually is a quilt I made shortly after I retired and joined the group here at Calvary Episcopal Church, Daughters of Dorcas and Sons. I was still reminiscing about leaving school, the fact that I wasn't going to be there the first day of school, knowing how excited children are when they first come in. And I was able to find some photographs: one of my nephews, that his father took of him, and another one of my daughters when she was very, very small when she was reading a book. I was able to blow them up and incorporate their images on a quilt. Having been a kindergarten teacher for over 30 years, I thought about the classroom setting with opening of school when you have the little carpet, and the children are always in front of you. I used to think about it as the magic carpet. I taught in Washington, DC, for the majority of the time, so I put symbols in this that show Washington: the Washington monument and the Capitol.

ES: Oh, yes.

AD: My nephew whose arms are extended is looking out over whatever the future may hold for himself. My daughter is looking at a book that happens to have a little map in it. She drives and goes everywhere, and it just seemed to be appropriate to find that for her. I love color. I love primary colors, secondary colors, all colors, bright colors in particular. But as I am getting older, I'm sort of moving toward sometimes the more subtle palette. Anyway, that's what this quilt is about. The circles are for the bubbles and ideas the children had in their heads. I have them pointing what I call to the East. And this would only be of importance to me because I taught in Northeast Washington, DC. So, he's pointing in that direction, east of the Capitol. And that's pretty much what this quilt's about.

ES: You blew up some photographs. How do you get the pictures, with the arms and the face, mainly, and the body you could put on fabric?

AD: I got a very inexpensive projector from a craft store and blew up the photographs for each one. I did not have classes in terms of learning how to put the photographs on the cloth, but I read and research and can find so much information out there now that can tell you and teach you what you don't know. If you have something you want to do, you can find out how to do it. And that's pretty much what I did in order to replicate and get a pretty good image that looks like Trey.

ES: It seems like you stitched with the sewing machine around?

AD: My quilts are a combination of machine stitching and hand work. Now around Trey, you will see the machine blanket stitch going all the way around and to sort of attach into the cloth.

ES: I notice around the sleeves and around the neck opening, you have some other ornamented stitching.

AD: It's more of a decorative stitch that I used there. But whatever, I was kind of really new at this and trying to figure out how I would best apply the fabrics to the background, get the images to the background.

ES: Did you make the whole rectangular part; this lower half of the background first and then apply this on top?

AD: Yes. This is all in layers. We have the sky that's above and the magic carpet that was attached. And then the images of the children, the circles, all the appliqué, that was of course done later on. And I just moved things around and tried to find out where it wanted it to go.

ES: Some places you did quilting by hand?

AD: Right.

ES: I see some shining ones up there by the bubbles.

AD: I attempted to do some hand quilting. I don't consider myself a hand quilter, but from an artistic point of view, when I look at things that way, I try to determine what is best. Will the quilt be best served with me doing hand work or can it be served best by me doing machine work? You notice in the border I just used the double needle. And I stitched all of it by machine. And there is some other machine work as you see with the decorative work that is in here, most of this quilting on this particular one, I attempted to do by hand. It's not my greatest strength.

ES: And your daughter's picture. Again, you did different fabrics for her.

AD: I tried to find patterned fabrics that are in scale to the inch. Just sort of worked with it and so I was able over a period of time, and this is some very, very old fabric, actually. This is an ethnic print here; this is a tone on tone. The face, the skin you will see on the both of them are hand dyed fabrics where you sort of look for the lights and darks and see where you can place the image to take advantage of the lights and darks, and the shadows.

ES: I was thinking, for instance, the shadowing where the elbows and the wrists are curved.

AD: Some of this, of course, is dry brushed paint, an All-Purpose ink to put on here to enhance the image.

ES: For instance, here for shadows.

AD: Right.

ES: Where did you learn all these different techniques?

AD: Literally, literally from books. I think I am sure of the name, Laura Schwartz. There were several books that I was reading at that time when I first got started that had pictorial images used on quilts. And that's kind of where I was going and when I get an idea, I am determined to find how to get it done. You're going to find out how to make it work. And I guess it's just my education, my schooling, it just makes you go out there and just do the research and find out how you are going to apply it to what you want to do.

ES: Did you have art classes?

AD: Oh, yes. I was actually an art major when I went to college. I, of course, wound up being an elementary school teacher for the majority of the time but that was my interest.

ES: It certainly comes through in your creative quilts. Let's see. What is on the back of it? Oh, yes. Beautiful label. It is a most beautiful label, I've ever seen.

AD: I find so much in what I do, reflects: I tell people I was a kindergarten teacher and I love basic primary colors. Now, my eye is going in different directions sometimes, I have to be honest. But this will reflect the bright, intense, saturated colors that I love. And I love the hand dyed colors, because I love the way dappled light seems to go through the fabric where you can see light and dark. The sun has something, and leaves, whatever. You get that play of light on light in the color effect.

ES: Will you just read what it says on the label?

AD: The label says, "Can't Wait. 35 inches by 53 inches, by Alice Dove, Fort Washington, Maryland, September 2005."

ES: And the back, looks like a party fabric.

AD: It's really needles and thread.

ES: It is.

AD: I kind of got lucky and found that.

ES: So, in 2005, did you make this specifically for --?

AD: They were having a show at the Sumner Museum and the theme had to do with education in the school. That was right up my alley having just stopped teaching and this fit into it.

ES: We don't always have two quilts, but I think your second one is interesting as a contrast. [getting out the second quilt.] Oh, my. We are opening it up. What do you call this?

AD: This one is called, "Plucked from my Garden." And it's a lot of flowers, roses.

ES: They range from, what size would you say?

AD: From 15 inches, maybe, of some are of course different sizes. It's almost like doing a Crazy Quilt. Instead of going around and just adding pieces and adding strips, trying to get some different values in terms of color, so that each one stands out and holds up on its own. This one compared to the other one has a lot more machine quilting to it. I'd attempted actually to appliqué these by machine. I didn't like the look. I pulled out the machine stitching and I went ahead and appliquéd all of the flowers by hand. Now, I padded these flowers first. When I made them, I have a little bit of batting behind them and reversed it, pulled it inside out and then appliquéd them onto flower. It sort of has a similar palette to the first quilt. I'm trying to get myself pulled away from that, but I can't. I sort of see the blues, the purples and the pinks.

ES: And yellows, and burgundy, all the different depths of flowers. But I see very much a machine quilted rose or something there.

AD: It's an image of a flower here. And over here I traced my hand and actually used All Purpose ink in the closest color blue that I could find, that was in the background. And added that to that. So, this is sort of like my hand, so my hand is plucking the flower. [laughs.] I was studying on the computer the lessons I could find. I would actually look at YouTube and Sharon Schamber and people like her would have these little tutorials. And they would be in fast motion. It would drive me crazy to see how she would stitch with a domestic sewing machine to make feathers and loops and stipples and all kinds of things. So, I kept watching them over and over again until my brain could slow it down and figure out what she was doing. And then afterwards I was able to free motion these flowers. I practiced. I did a lot of practice squares and all kinds of things to fill in the background.

ES: Great. Feathers, leaves. And then your leaves are two toned, all different greens.

AD: The greens were two toned. And of course, on top this, all this was machine quilted.

ES: And this lattice on the left.

AD: Yes, that's a lattice for the garden. I guess you notice that it's the same print, even though it's a different color way that you see in the shirt for my nephew over here, Trey. It's the same one, but it was a different color. I just kind of like this.

ES: It is very nice. You must have an awful lot of different fabrics at home if you can do such a variety in each quilt.

AD: It's scary how much fabric you wind up collecting.

ES: Have you had this hanging at your house?

AD: No, I haven't hung them at this point. My sister really wants this one because her son is in it. She has moved recently to South Carolina, so at some point I am sure she will look at this and take this down there. I'm going to keep it for her. And where I would hang it? My wall space is somewhat limited, so I'm just not quite sure at this point where I would hang it. I have an idea, but I am not sure.

ES: Do you make full quilts as well as wall quilts?

AD: I can't say that I do bed quilts. Lap quilts, yes. I think I have a touch of creative ADHDefghijk. I've got to see myself getting through something. I have a love affair with my sewing machine. The first purchase I made after I graduated from college was to go downtown in DC and purchase a Singer sewing machine. And I remember carrying it home on the bus. I just loved the machine. I used to do reproduction dolls and I did that because I liked the costumes. I loved the costumes and from that, of course, I had to learn how to china paint and how to do the whole construction, but I learned from that. And eventually from the Singer, I was able, through a lady that I took lessons with for doll making, to get a Bernina. And with a Bernina, I was able to take classes to learn how to use it and they had heirloom sewing classes, so you learned how to put the laces together, how to do the pin tucks, how to do so many things. And I just loved the machine work. So that's why you see that I am not intimidated by trying to use it. I am not perfect with it. There's a whole lot more that I need to learn about using the machine to get a piece that reflects a certain quality of workmanship that I would be pleased to put my name on. It is a work in progress. I love to see people who can do the hand work. I'm just amazed by their patience and by their dedication. They can sit with something sometimes for years and they come out with this extraordinary product that is all hand done. I think what people don't realize when they see an art quilt or bed quilt or anything, they see it in a flash and there's no way unless they have worked on a quilt, to understand the amount of work that goes in from initial idea, selection of fabric. It is an extraordinary amount of work. And that's a part of the person's life. So, when you are looking at this and when you are looking at anybody else's quilt, you have to realize that it's part of their life that has gone into it.

ES: Just to make one of these flowers, you sew, turn, cut, sew, turn. You keep going round and round to making these big flowers. It's a lot of work.

AD: You are making decisions. It is a decision-making process. It's unfortunately sometimes a very solitary type of process. You are by yourself and not everybody can do that. There are times of course that you come to your quilt group or your quilt guild, you are around other people. And that's stimulating because each one of us has a different spin on how we want to do our quilts. That's our signature, the way we do the type of quilts that we do. I love looking at antique quilts and appreciating what the person must have gone through years ago, who didn't even have the tools we have to work with and to be able to see what they did. I can remember my grandmother in the country doing a quilt from a newspaper article [laughs.]
and just sort of putting it together. I was a child. And that is long before I ever thought I would ever be making a quilt. I wish I had that now. But you know that all seems to come into play. But it is something that I really enjoy doing. I'm sort of more going toward contemporary quilts. And sometimes art quilts. There's a slight distinction between the two. I like doing the griddy quilts sometimes but it's like it's teaching me something. It's teaching me something that I can use and something that is contemporary or something that will be an art quilt later. That's how I look it at now. A teaching tool.

ES: Right. Some of us don't have the vision to imagine these things like you're doing right here. Yours is very special. Most of us rely on the old patterns because we don't have a way of looking at--

AD: But I love the old patterns and looking at them and I see them done in a contemporary manner, which I like. I like when they isolate a certain part of an antique quilt and just maybe they make it larger or whatever, but they do it using some contemporary colors, contemporary techniques and they're just taking it up to different level. And that does not diminish what was already done. But that's our steppingstone. That's what helps us to move forward. So that's what I really enjoy when I get to see what people have done in the past. Years ago, I was able to get an antique kimono. The place was going out of business in downtown DC called Krieger's. And I was able to get an antique kimono. Now part of it was worn. It had holes in it. But I got it because the embroidery on it was so spectacular. The silk threads were so tiny. I'm not even talking about the stitches. The thread itself was so fine. But the butterflies and the flowers--And I would just sit there and look at it and just be in awe that a human being could actually work on something like that. I have no idea where that kimono is now, but I am hoping one day I can put my hands on it. [laughs.] But it was extraordinary. And it is art appreciation when you just can look at something and just know that quite a bit of their life has gone into it. You don't know who it was, and they will never know, and I will never know who will see this, and for that instant who will be impressed by what they see or move them or whatever. But sometimes you undervalue the thing because you think, 'Oh, well, somebody's going to look at it and then walk past it. And that's it. They really don't know what has gone into it.' So, it is sort of a selfish kind of thing that you are doing for yourself. Anyway, it is something that I really enjoy doing.

ES: You mentioned having some quilt experiences from your grandmother. What other quilt experiences did you have?

AD: I didn't have many quilt experiences. The grandmother that I was speaking of was my mother's mother. My father's mother, who I lived with along with the whole family, we all lived together when I was very, very young, had a Singer sewing machine. And she didn't make quilts. She would make clothes. And to keep me busy, she would give me a napkin and she would thread a needle and say, 'Just trace around the design.' And that's all. I would just sit there next to her while she was stitching on the machine, and I would trace around the design. So, I would see clothes being made, but I wasn't really seeing quilts being made. And it wasn't until just before I got married, that I was in downtown DC, and I saw a big bed quilt. It was an Indian design. I think it was called, "Dakota Quilt." And it was all done by machine. But it was the big bold colors and I remember thinking, 'I'm going to do that. I'm going to make a quilt.' And then I got married and I bought fabric. I knew nothing about buying cotton fabric, but I am buying whatever I see which was a lot of polyester. I drafted a design for myself that was huge, because we had a king-sized bed. I had no idea what I was getting into. And I started putting these blocks together. [laughs.] And I was stitching zigzag over them, and it was fraying, and I just didn't have any instruction. I didn't know. I eventually packed it all up and said, 'When I retire, I'm going to learn how to make a quilt.' It took all that time, but I did take an Eleanor Burns class from the same shop that I used to go to, where I bought my sewing machine to learn how to do a Log Cabin quilt. You go for two or three hours, and they show you. So, I had a general idea after I took that class, but I just knew that this would be something I'd do when I retired, because I was not going to have time to really get into it until then.

ES: How much time do you put into it per day or week?

AD: It's kind of hard to say. I had to stop work because of my mother. My mother has Alzheimer's. And its sort of like a back-and-forth thing, when you have time. Then my husband became rather ill. So, you sort of work things in between. It depends on your mind set and your emotions and everything. Sometimes it is a great stress relief to have something like this to work on. But then the other times, you don't want to get locked into it because you don't want to get distracted from the other responsibilities. Now, my mind set is to plan again. And I'm sketching. And I'm studying. And most of my studying is done through the Internet. I mean, I will spend at least thirty minutes a day. I will go to Google Images, and I will put in something like, "Quilts from Belgium with an African theme." Okay. And the pictures will come up and then I will study them. Sometimes they are in other languages. All I need is a picture to get an idea where the art is going: Because if you have a country that was occupied by another country, you will see the influence that's taken place in both of them. And I am interested in how there is a cross cultural connection between a lot of indigenous arts and arts that have been from Europe. And that to me is fascinating to see the connection or to see the connection between cultures that have no physical connection and see, oh, they did the same thing here that they are doing down here. They have an indigo dye system here that's just like this one down here and the countries never came together. That to me is just fascinating to see those kinds of connections that took place. And once I find something like that on a web site, then I'll just keep going to links and then I will jot down notes in case I want to come back to it and refer to it at a different time. And that's kind of how I do things. That's kind of my instructions.

ES: Have you been teaching other people?

AD: I have not been doing it. I used to teach adults at craft type classes in the public school system in the evenings for several years. But we did a variety of things. We even attempted to do the Log Cabin quilt that I had learned in a class, but there were some folks that just did not want to do it. But we did a lot of doll making, flower making, anything that I thought that we could get the supplies for and do. It's sort of a leisure type place. And I enjoy teaching people. When I make something like this and somebody will say, 'Well, how much does it cost?' You can see them draw in when you sort of give them a price. I say, ' If you want, I'll show you how to do it.' [laughs.] Because I enjoy doing that and I like sharing that way.

ES: Have you ever done commissioned works for anybody else?

AD: Quilts, no. Not for quilts. I used to do it for dolls, but not for quilts. This is sort of my thing and I think because I was in dolls, I used to do competitions. And there's a certain amount of stress that comes about when your work is evaluated. And then sometimes you agree with the evaluation, and you can use the suggestions as opportunities to improve. And then sometimes you'll say, 'No, they just didn't get that.' [laughs.] So, I do the quilts for myself. I don't do them for a competitive kind of thing. It's just for me. I don't mind exhibiting, but I don't want the pressure of competition.

ES: What are your favorite parts of this whole process?

AD: The study of it, and that's just the teacher in me. And learning new things and learning new techniques. I am dying fabric now sometimes. I'm trying to do that. And I just started last year, in a once-a-year type thing, because I have so much commercial fabric now. But I like the surprise factor of dying your own fabric and then it starts to talk to you and starts to work with you in terms of what you are going to create and use it for. And in a way that sometimes the commercial fabric does or does not do. But I love it all. There's not even one-color scheme that I can say that I don't like. I like it all. That drives me nuts because I like it all. I like the Japanese taupe fabric. And I've gotten some, but I haven't used it yet, but I just know somewhere down the road, I'm going to be using the taupe fabric. And that's totally different from these bright, intense colors that we have here. It is just things that I see, patterns that I see, different cultural patterns, ethnic patterns that I see that I enjoy as well as the traditional, these paisleys and prints and things. I love all of it. Some people say, 'I don't like green, I don't like brown.' There's a place for every color there is.

ES: You certainly have excitement in your quilts and the pleasure you get from this.

AD: It's sort of therapy, I think.

ES: What are you working on now?

AD: Right now, I am working still with my hand-dyed fabric. I'm putting together a quilt that I call "The Trilogy." My husband passed recently at the first of December, and I look at things a little bit differently. I have more time in some ways to work on projects but then there's this thing what I'm going through. It's sort of a metamorphosis that I am going through now in terms of how I can construct my time. And I'm not quite where I want to be, but I have these ideas and I am making myself write down what I'm thinking or any little thing: Or sketches of things that have interest. I like looking at magazines and seeing only a part of a quilt, folded up. And so, you don't feel like the whole quilt is yours to steal, you're just looking at one little isolated part and thinking, wow, what can I do with this part? And how can I enhance this part? How can I take this and make it mine? And I kind of like that, because then you're not just taking the whole enchilada, so to speak. [laughs.] You're trying to figure out what you're going to do with this little section and maybe all these different things you're seeing. You started saying, 'Oh, well I put a whole lot of things together to make a quilt.' These are different things I saw in magazines or different things like I saw on the Internet in terms of how to do the quilting. And you just start pooling everything that you have learned together to make the unit, to make the quilt.

ES: You are a true artist. You are definitely so different from so many of us who just really don't have that vision, as I said before.

AD: What I'm seeing from my friends who will even take a pattern and to me to have the ability to interpret what they see in a pattern in their own way. That's a level of artistic creativity that comes in to play there. But not everybody can do that. And I look at the workmanship. That's so important. And people nowadays kind of get away from that, but the workmanship is so important. So, it's not just something that's bad style, there's a lot of time and like I say, a lot of that person's life and the consideration and the things they had to think about in order to put it together that makes it such a valued product. And I think that all of us are hoping that a hundred years from now, this will not be a lost art. That people will still be doing quilts like this. There is so much now being done in terms of embellishments and we have so much other stuff being added on to it. But the softness of the quilt, the fact that if I had to, I could wrap this around me and be kept warm, that element is still there.

ES: You belong to a couple of different groups?

AD: I just belong to Daughters of Dorcas, and I work at the Sew Sociables at the Wellness Center in Southeast, DC. Those are the two groups that I work with. I'm afraid to add any more on to that. I just don't know how I could handle it because I've been asked to join other groups but then their structure starts to put too much pressure on me and takes me away from what I want to do. It gives me assignments. And then you have my background for years. I had to give assignments and I was given assignments and now this allows me the freedom to create my own personal assignments for myself. So, the challenges are here, and my job is to figure out how to solve the problems so I can get to the end results that I'd be pleased with. [laughs.]

ES: That's terrific. Are there any experiences or other things you'd like to tell about at this point?

AD: No. I lead a very, very solitary existence, I feel, [laughs.] with these quilts. I look forward to, like I said, coming to the meetings and seeing what everybody's doing. And there is just such a warmth in a group where everybody has sort of a similar interest. And that's what I loved when I first joined this particular guild. It was very embracing. Viola Canady was the president of the group when I first joined and basically the kind of thing was, just walk around and see what everybody was doing. And everybody was just so helpful. If you said, 'How did you do that?' They would take the time to explain it to you. You didn't feel as if somebody was sort of keeping ideas to themselves and didn't want to share. Everybody should do this; they would do it. And so that's something I really look forward to.

ES: Well, you have contributed a lot to this group. You have a particular viewpoint. And that's very, very nice. Do you have advice for beginners?

AD: Yes, just jump right in there and look for somebody like me who would be glad to help you. I used to teach an art class after school, called the Kuumba Guild. Kuumba means creativity. Of course, the school wanted me just to take any child after school who wasn't behaving in some other event, and said, 'Oh, go down to Ms. Dove's room.' I would not let them do it. I said, 'No, I only want the children who have an interest in this,' because I really want to push them in a certain area. I want to make sure that this is something that we all can enjoy. It was not a place for you to put somebody that you didn't know what to do with at this particular time. Because they think art is for everybody. Anybody can do art! Well, no, not everybody can do art. You have to have a certain ability to focus on what you're doing, so that you won't waste materials and that you will learn skills and techniques that maybe will enhance you at some point down the road. You just never know. So, I was kind of picky about that. But I enjoyed working with the kids that I had, because they really put their hearts and souls into the little projects that we had at that time.

ES: That's very nice. Do you keep track of what you've done?

AD: I have photographs of most of my quilts, I think, at the house. Unfortunately, I have not put them in a binder or anything, but in an envelope. I have a few that are on my digital camera that I need to print up. But I do have a record of most of those that I have done so far. I have not done a lot of quilts, like some people can just turn them out. I can't do a whole lot, but the ones I have done, I do have a record.

ES: You have shared so much already. Thank you very much for what you have told us. Continue your wonderful work.

AD: Thank you, Evelyn, for asking me. This is of itself an interesting experience. [laughs.]

ES: Yes, it is. [laughs.] You've done very well. Now, if I can interpret what you've said, it would be nice.

End time: 11:40 a.m.


“Alice R. Dove,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,