Alyce Foster




Alyce Foster




Alyce Foster


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 Alyce Foster. Today's date is June 22, 2010. The time is approximately 11:05. This interview is taking place during a Daughters of Dorcas meeting in Washington, DC. Hi, Alyce.

Alyce Foster (AF): Hi, Evelyn. How are you?

ES: Fine. How are you? I'm looking forward to interviewing you for this project. Will you first tell us what you have brought today to show us?

AF: Today, I brought my hand made quilt. The title of the quilt is "The Real Eve." It is 24 by 36. [inches.] Five billion people came from this one woman.

ES: Oh, yes.

AF: [Reading from the label.] 'Years ago, my brother, John Ashby, told me about a DVD from the Discovery Channel about the real Eve. Guess what? The real Eve was from Africa. From DNA the scientists can answer the question, "Where did we come from?" The real Eve.'

ES: Continue reading from your wonderful label.

AF: 'I enjoyed making this wall hanging in memory of my brother who always talked Black History to me, to his students and all who would listen to him. I made the decision not to put the title on the front of the wall hanging. I wanted Eve to stand alone. It is hand painted, beaded, free motion and machine appliquéd.' I also made this quilt for a project. I belonged to the Creative Spirits Fiber Arts Society. This was one of our projects.

ES: It is very nice. And you are right. This is the real Eve. What does she have in her hand here?

AF: She has, I believe, a walking staff. And I embellished it with a button that I had in my stash. And I had little beads that I hand embroidered onto it.

ES: You appliquéd the body onto the background, right? By machine or by hand?

AF: By hand. I appliquéd it by hand and I did an outline of Africa by the machine.

ES: Oh. I can see that. The background, is it one piece?

AF: It's one piece. It's a piece of muslin that I had learned to paint. One of my friends, Mary Jo Dolphin, who is a member of Daughters of Dorcas, had a demonstration once at her house. And I painted these sections on. When one section dried, I did the others.

ES: On the edges, the colors could run into each other? I thought it was Batik at first. Is this machine washable?

AF: No. It's a wall hanging. You may shake it out or hang it outside, but I am afraid to wash it. I don't want it to run.

ES: The magenta color of her skirt--

AF: That was dyed.

ES: It is a special color. And the body is--

AF: Commercial. Kona marble.

ES: I noticed your borders: you pick out the colors which you have inside. The magenta, that's what caught my eye.

AF: Now, the border I inherited from a quilter who passed. Her family invited us to her house to go through her stash. And I'm using that.

ES: It's perfect for that. What's on the back?

AF: My label and also this fabric is from her, too.

ES: It looks like buttons on the black. That is lovely. Do you have it hanging at home?

AF: I have it hanging in my basement in memory of my brother, John Ashby, who was a wonderful, wonderful person.

ES: He must have been a teacher.

AF: He was a real estate broker, who taught real estate agents. But everybody who passed through his class had to learn Black history. When we went to restaurants, we walked in the morning, young people, he would tell them about Black history.

ES: Did he ever go to Africa?

AF: No. He was on his way to Egypt on 9/11 and they had to cancel the trip.

ES: Oh, my. Have you been to Africa?

AF: No. I did go to Morocco, but that doesn't count.

ES: [Your wall hanging.] is just lovely. When did you make that?

AF: March 2008.

ES: When did you first start quilting?

AF: I retired from the federal government about eleven years ago. I never knew anyone who quilted, never thought of quilting. Then one day I said, 'I would like to learn something new,' and I happened to pass the Wellness Center on Alabama Avenue Southeast and I looked in and they taught quilting. I said, 'Oh. That will be good to do.' But before I joined there, I was not old enough, the Anacostia Smithsonian Museum had a workshop with the Daughters of Dorcas to teach you quilting on a Saturday. And I went and met the best ladies, Dorothy Dorsey, Vivian Hoban, Viola Canady, who was the founder of Daughters of Dorcas. We made a little pincushion. I fell in love with quilting. Have quilted almost every day since eleven years ago.

ES: Oh, my. That's enthusiasm.

AF: I said, 'Well, I'd like to go further,' and that is when I found out that the Wellness Center was teaching, and I tried to join. They said, 'You have to be sixty.' But I was fifty-five. I begged and begged, and the director there let Karen Love and I in. And that's where we met Sarajane Goodwin who is also a member of Daughters of Dorcas. We went to her class. We got a book, "How to Teach Yourself to Quilt," and we have been quilting ever since. I like traditional quilting. I really like hand quilting. I met someone else, Christine Bradford, who loves to machine quilt. She twisted my arm to buy a Bernina sewing machine. I got the Bernina, and she twisted my arm again to do free motion. She is a founder of the Creative Fiber Arts Society and I joined that, and I started doing art quilts. I had to drop out the club because my husband is not well, and I have to take him back and forth to the doctor. But I still put aside a couple of hours each day to something in quilting: reading, Internet or hand sewing.

ES: That's great. You really are devoted to this now.

AF: I am. I'm addicted. [laughs.]

ES: That's terrific. Did you know how to do any sewing at all as a child?

AF: No sewing as a child. Never knew anyone that quilted, but when I worked for the U. S. Department of Education, there was a director there, Jean Parks, and I wish I could find her, who quilted and she used to measure, have rulers and all kinds of measuring. I said, 'I would never want to do that,' because I'm not good at math. But then when I found out you really don't need math, they have patterns. And when I went to the Corcoran and saw Gee's Bend [Exhibit.], I said, 'All they probably did was tear the fabric.' And it opened a whole new world for me.

ES: You have been learning a lot in a short eleven years.

AF: Learning never ends. And by the way when I worked at the Department of Education, I was a photographer. And I had this hanging in my house, too, the cover of the magazine. They had quilters to come in for American Education Magazine and I took pictures of little girls quilting. I said, 'I'll never do that' and here I am today.

ES: That is great. When did you do your very first thing?

AF: My very first was this little pincushion that we did at the Museum. And the next one we did was to do different blocks to put it together. Traditional quilting. By hand. The top is finished. It's among ten quilts I have to finish. So, eventually, I am going to finish them all.

ES: It takes a few New Year's Resolutions, I think, to be able to do that.

AF: And Evelyn [Salinger.] taught us to do the Stack and Whack. I've been working on that for five years.

ES: But you just about finished it when I saw it last.

AF: I'm just about. But I had to put it aside to other quilts and it's still in the bag with all my needles and thread and I hope to finish it by Christmas.

ES: It's a good thing that you can carry it around at this point.

AF: That's one good thing about the traditional quilting by hand. You can carry it with you and work on it.

ES: What do you prefer to do now?

AF: Everything. [laughs.]

ES: Because it seems like you've been trying a lot of different techniques.

AF: I'm trying a lot. I really like hand quilting and that is what the Daughters of Dorcas is about, hand quilting. I am reminded of that every week when I come back from seeing the older members. This is hand quilting. I like doing that because when I'm sitting, looking at T.V. with my husband at basketball games and football games, I can hand quilt. And then when I have little pieces, I can take it to meetings or to appointments and do it. And the art quilt. I never thought of myself as an artist and I still don't, but I'm finding out something that's the inner me that's coming out. And I met someone else here, Alice Dove, who is an artist. She has taught me a lot. The Internet is just full of information and cable T.V. And another book that comes out is "The Quilting Arts Magazine" that has a lot of projects that you can do to see if you like them and contests which I have never entered. They also have quilt arts T.V. on cable and on the Internet.

ES: You just have to stay home long enough to do all that. [laughs.] That's great. Where did you grow up?

AF: I am a native Washingtonian. I have not lived anywhere else. I have always lived in Southeast Washington. Now I live at Branch and Alabama Avenue which is known as the Hillcrest area, which is a lovely area and we do have the Wellness Center where we quilt on Fridays. That's where I go on Fridays. Tuesday, I come here.

ES: You do charity quilts there?

AF: We do charity quilts and I also do quilts if a neighbor has a baby, or someone is sick. I try to make a little lap quilt or a baby quilt to give to them. I have not really sold any quilts because most people do not want to give you what it's worth. So, I give it away. I don't want to be insulted.

ES: Did you make for your family?

AF: I'm making for my family. One granddaughter just had a great grandbaby, and I made a butterfly quilt. The background was green. It was pieced. And butterflies in different colors. And I made her a pillowcase, also.

ES: Was that a baby quilt?

AF: It was supposed to be a baby quilt, but it is a big quilt. The baby can have it until it's a teenager or longer. So, I did that.

ES: What does your family think about your hobby?

AF: Well, my husband doesn't say much. [laughs.] But he does say, 'You're always quilting.' And when people call, he says, 'I think she's out with a quilting class.' But he's happy that I am doing this. I have not made him a quilt, which I want to do. I have sketched out a memory quilt for him.

ES: Will it be a wall hanging?

AF: I think I will make a large one with friends on it, the jobs he's had, his family background. He likes to play cards, he likes to go to the Casinos, so I am going to have all of that on.

ES: That will be nice. Do you sleep under a quilt?

AF: Yes. My second quilt, I sleep under. I have that on my bed and if it gets a little chilly, I just put that on.

ES: Have you entered to any shows?

AF: The shows I've entered have been through the Daughters of Dorcas, Sumner School. Any others, no.

ES: Do you do any other crafts?

AF: Knitting. I'm back into knitting. I started off as a photographer, which I put that aside to do quilting full time.

ES: How has quilting had meaning for the American woman?

AF: As I understand it, women used to quilt to cover holes in their cabins, to keep warm, to hang up in windows and I think maybe that had something to do with my psyche. I never thought of them as being beautiful. And as I mentioned before, the lady that worked with me, it just seemed too much work to do. When I started doing it, it had a lot of meaning. First, it gives you a social gathering. You can gather with like-minded people. I have found out that most classes and especially quilters are very giving people and like to share and to help each other. They even call to see how you are doing if they haven't seen you at a meeting in a while. So that's a lot for us. Then back to Gee's Bend, when those women did it to keep warm and to use them for their everyday product and someone came by and saw the art in it. And I said, 'This is something else.' The Amish quilts which are absolutely gorgeous. And I think now with the magazines, the television, the museums, quilting has come out and had a lot of meaning for us to bring it up again. And that is what it has meant to me.

ES: Do have any advice for new quilters?

AF: The advice I have is don't be afraid to ask a person to help you. And if they say it's wrong. Don't get upset. Take it out. Do it again. And a person here, Vivian Hoban, is famous for telling you that. People say, 'Oh, she's so mean.' And people have said that about me. But it's not being mean, it's helping you to grow. I have grown under her leadership, and I hope someone has grown with me helping them. But, read, read, read. Take out. Do it all over again. The other day I had put a binding on, and it was wrong. I had to take it out and do it again because I'm at a stage now that you have to show improvement.

ES: I always think, I take a step forward and then a couple of steps back and then I start again.

AF: It helps you. Sometimes I say, 'Oh. If I leave it in, it gives it character.' And sometimes we all have character. But most times now, just rip it out and sew it over again.

ES: Do you keep a log or photographs of what you have made?

AF: I have a little photo album that I'm taking pictures of the quilts that I have made. I'm also now signing my quilts. One time I was just doing them and not putting a label on them. Now I'm putting labels on them and the one on "The Real Eve," we had to put a label on it. And also, it's an art quilt. I sign my name on the front of it now. Because when people go to a museum in 4010, I don't want them to say, 'Unknown Quilter.' [laughs.]

ES: Right. That's why we started this Quilters' Save Our Stories so at least we had people's stories.

AF: It's good because when we went to the Renwick [Museum.] and saw the beautiful quilts there and so many of them had 'Unknown Quilter.' And I said to myself, 'You want to be known when we're looking down from heaven, that someone is admiring our work and know our name.'

ES: And that person put a lot of life into that quilt.

AF: Exactly.

ES: Do you have preferences of what you like to do the most in the quilting process?

AF: No. If you come to my house, I have converted my bedroom. First, I converted it into a computer room. I don't do computers anymore. I have material, I have paint sticks, I have paint, I have dyes, I have jars of buttons, lace, all kinds of embellishments. I even go outside now and pick up twigs, leaves, rusty items, all of those things I do need.

ES: You definitely are into the arts mode of it.

AF: I think so.

ES: You are doing a lot more art quilts than bed quilts?

AF: I am doing more art quilts, but the ones I have to do are my traditional quilting that I am doing by hand.

ES: And you have a stash of materials besides all that other stuff.

AF: Yes. I want to take over my husband's closet, but I won't mention that to him. [laughs.]

ES: No. That's not quite fair. [laughs.] Have you sold any of your work?

AF: My primary care doctor who was a young single woman when I first met her, she got married. Evelyn [Salinger.] taught us how to do the pillowcases. I did pillowcases for her. I embroidered her name on one and her husband's name on one. And she said that no one had ever given them anything with their names on it. So, I made that for her, and I made a baby quilt for her when she became pregnant. And I made her a business card holder to hold her business cards. She called me in March and told me she was graduating from a fellowship program that she was in, and she wanted to make business card holders for her classmates. So, I made fifteen business card holders for her. Then one of her friends had a cosmetic bag for her stethoscope and I made a little envelope bag for her for that, and she paid me for that work.

ES: So creative. Were all those business card holders, were they all different fabrics?

AF: They were all different fabrics and I forgot to mention she's from Africa, so it was a variety of African fabrics. I used different threads to satin stitch around it.

ES: Have you taught anybody?

AF: I think we teach each other through Daughters of Dorcas. We help the new people who come in. And at the Wellness Center that I go to on Alabama Avenue, we teach the new people that come in and try to help them. And I have one student now that thought I was mean. But she apologized. She understood what I meant, when you take it out, read and ask questions.

ES: I remember Viola Canady did the same thing. Somebody would bring something to her, and she would say, 'That's puckering. It's not any good.'

AF: Rip it out. Here's the ripper. Rip it out. And you would do it and you would be happy.

ES: It's a higher standard.

AF: Right.

ES: The Daughters of Dorcas has meant a lot to you?

AF: Daughters of Dorcas has meant the world to me. Really. Friendships I have found, things I have learned. It's really a wonderful organization.

ES: Are there any other stories that come to mind concerned with your quilts or meetings or any funny things that you can think of?

AF: No. Which means all those funny things going on. [laughs.] But I can say that I am passionate, passionate and addicted about quilting and I have met the best people through quilting. Even in the fabric stores, I have met wonderful people. I guess I won't say the name, but I go to one fabric store in Forestville [Maryland.] and when Karen [Love.] and I go in, they say, 'Here comes double trouble.' And if they don't have enough quilting material, I say, 'We need more quilting material.' And people are glad to help us and show us new fabric. I went in the other week to get some stuffing because I was going to make a pillow. And one saleslady said to me, 'You don't have to buy that, I have some stuffing that I am not using. I'll have my husband to bring it to your house.' Which he did. So that goes to show you that they know us, and we love them, and they love us.

ES: Certainly, quilting has come a long way in the last quarter century.

AF: Oh, yes. And at Daughters of Dorcas, we even have bus trips to go to some of the quilting shows to see the fabrics and to see the new quilts.

ES: Is there anyone that stands out in your mind where you have been?

AF: I think it's Lancaster. [Pennsylvania.] I think I've been to about 5 of them. I still have projects that I bought at a quilt show, probably from my first one that I haven't used. But I plan to be quilting a long time and I will never be bored. [laughs.]

ES: That's for sure. Thank you so much for doing this today.

AF: Thanks for asking me. I've really enjoyed it.

ES: Great.

Time: 11:35


“Alyce Foster,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,