Priscilla Tyson




Priscilla Tyson




Priscilla Tyson


Beverly Gentry

Interview Date



Inverness, Florida


Barbara Lamm


Beverly Gentry (BG): My name is Beverly Gentry, and today's date is February 25, 2010. I am conducting an interview with Priscilla Tyson in Inverness, Florida at her home for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project. We are doing this project through the American Heritage Committee of the Florida State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Priscilla Tyson is a quilter, and is a member of the Fort Cooper Chapter.

BG: Priscilla, tell me about the quilt you have selected to talk about today.

Priscilla Tyson (PT): OK, this is an Amish quilt, and when I started to do this I had been doing some basic genealogy research, and on my maternal grandparent's side I was told that way back they were Amish. Well, upon doing further research I found out they were Quaker, but the information I found regarding the Amish led me to do the quilt that you see here today. I call this "Early Reflections II," and the reason it is number two because before I did the large quilt which you see is 86 x 86 inches, I did a small 36 by 36, and I have the outside borders in a different order. I wasn't pleased with those, so what I did was I reversed them as you can see in the big quilt. Something I like about the way the Amish do their work, usually they either have a center square, or center diamond medallion, and then of course it is surrounded by a number of borders. In this case, I used three borders on the outside, each one gradually getting larger. You can see by looking at it that the colors represent the Amish from the area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and being that I spent my entire life in Pennsylvania before I moved to Florida, that's why I decided to use those colors. I wanted to use a gold in the center, but I found out that the Amish in Ohio and Indiana used gold, whereas those in Pennsylvania did not. The colors that you see here are the basic colors that you would see in the dress of the women. The plain black, the purple, the dark green, the royal blue, and, of course, the burgundy, or, as we call it, turkey red, which I chose to pick for my center medallion. The turkey red is one of the most popular colors of Pennsylvania, the older quilts that you see. And, of course, that is why I picked this particular design. The quilt design took me approximately 15 to 20 hours. First of all, I had to decide what I wanted to do. Most Amish quilts have a medallion in the center, and of course, I wanted to follow that along with the feathered stitch which is what you see in the green border, as well as the circular feather in the purple border. The blue border has what you call a double cable stitch in it. The quilt was pieced by machine, but it was quilted by hand, and I have had several people ask me how long it took to quilt. I did not keep track. After I kept track of how long it took me to do the design, and the design for the quilting was put on there with chalk. That's what I used because it brushes off very easily as compared to a lot of the marking pens that you see that the people use today.

BG: So why did you choose this particular quilt for our interview today?

PT: Basically because its one of my two favorite quilts. I have this one, and then I have a Hawaiian quilt that I had taken lessons from two different ladies on several trips that we have made to Hawaii, but I must say this is my favorite and, of course, that is why I have it hanging here in the living room, because I like to sit and look at it. I--you know it, I guess because I know the background and because I spent a lot of time around the Amish in Pennsylvania. When I was teaching school, we did not have the Amish students, but we were in a predominantly Mennonite, which is an offspring of the Amish population, and to me it is just very peaceful to, un, sit here--even though I made it, I just like to sit and look at it.

BG: It's very beautiful.

PT: Thank you, thank you.

BG: Obviously this quilt has a special meaning for you. Will you explain that to me a little bit more?

PT: Well, like I said, I was interested in doing the genealogy research, because my mother had told me that her aunt--this was my grandmother's sister--had told Mom that our family was Amish, and I wanted to find out, and I wanted to do something that related to my background and my family and I came from a long line of quilters. The funny thing is the only the only person who did not quilt was my mother. My grandmother is the one that I used to sit and watch, and, when she was doing, cutting out her pieces, I would sit, and I would help her cut out and select colors and stuff like that, and that's what got me interested in it.

BG: So you mentioned the Amish in your background, your heritage. Did they come from Germany?

PT: No. They were, well, to be honest with you, I don't know. See, like I said I found out that they were not Amish, they were Quaker.

BG: Okay.

PT: But they came from England, and of course, when they first came over they had settled in and around Burlington, New Jersey, Burlington County, and then of course, they moved to Fayette County, Pennsylvania and Westmoreland and that's where they had settled and its funny, because I had--I found a picture of my great-great grandmother--and when you look at it, she looks like she has an Amish hat on, and I think that's why Aunt Lizzie thought that they were Amish rather than the Quaker background.

BG: Now how do you think that someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

PT: What I get is a lot of people say 'You must have had a lot of patience.' When you look at the designs in the quilting, as far as the piecing, this was a very simple quilt to piece. You know some people say 'How can you say that?' When you look at it, the quilting is what makes it look like it's more difficult than it is, but the piecing was very basic and simple because you had all straight lines. But the quilting is what takes the time, and being that its hand quilted, a lot of people say 'You must have had a lot of patience,' and see, this relaxes me when I do this.

BG: Now, what do you think would make a great quilt?

PT: First of all, your pattern. And then, I think what you have to do, you have to make sure that the fabrics that you select for your quilt are going to compliment the pattern that you are using. An example I can give you is some of the old traditional patterns, Log Cabin, Nine Patch, to me--I like to see them in the simple calico prints rather than the new, what you would call artsy prints, because to me they are traditional patterns. Now, a lot of people like them in the new modern fabrics and so on, but I am a traditional quilter. I like the old traditional type pattern.

BG: Now what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection? What do you think would make it appropriate?

PT: First of all you have to look at the workmanship. I know I have won quilt shows, and you will see quilts--and this will happen no matter who is doing the judging. Somebody is going to go up and say 'How did that quilt ever win for that?' The overall workmanship to me is the most important thing. Are your corners meeting, are they straight, when you have triangles or a diamond in there, do you have your points cut off or are your points exact to where you can see them. It also must be very, very appealing to the eye. The color, the pattern, the design that you choose, everything has to be appealing to the eye, and again, I still go back to the overall workmanship from start to finish.

BG: Have you ever participated in a quilt history preservation project?

PT: Yes ma'am. When I was in Pennsylvania, I worked with the Goschenhoppen Society up there, and we spent several weeks--well actually it was weekends--where we advertised and anyone who wanted could bring their quilts in, and what we did was--they were registered. We filled out a ten page form from start to finish on making the quilt, dating the fabrics, was it machined pieced, was it hand pieced, various things like this and each quilt was given a number, and they had cloth labels. And what we did, we had four ladies who sat there, and every quilt that we went through, checked it out and documented, they sewed the label in, and then the person was given this ten page paper that they could take home so that they know that is the work that goes with their quilt, and what we would tell them, 'If you give this to a family member, you give this away as a gift, whatever, be sure to give the paperwork with it so that they know and can keep track.' It was basically to find out who was making these quilts and where they were coming from.

BG: That's interesting. Are you familiar with DAR Museum collection of quilts?

PT: Yes, ma'am. I visited the DAR Museum last year when I was up for the Continental Congress. I was very impressed with the white on white quilts. The other thing that I found amazing was the tiny, tiny quilts stitches. And then going along with that, one of my members is a docent, and she did a program on quilts, and I went along with her and helped her explain to the ladies some of the questions they had for her, if, you know, she wasn't quite sure what the answers were.

BG: Great. Are there any artists or works that have inspired you in your quiltmaking?

PT: As far as my Amish quilt, I would have to say my main inspiration there was Rebecca Esh. And Rebecca had--well, she now has a business near Intercourse, Pennsylvania--but when we went out to visit her she had her whole front porch from one end to the other with all these beautiful quilts hanging on there, and we stopped by and knocked on her door, and said, 'Can we stop in and see?' and we did. In fact, she's the one that got me started with the designs to use in an Amish quilt and things like this, and every fall there were five of us who made a trip, you know, we would go out to see her, see how, you know, what she had that was new. And it was interesting because the first time we went out everything was what you would consider to be the typical Amish. Later and later, you would see some small prints coming in. Then you would see some brighter colors coming in, and I understand around 1940 is when they started using the yellow, the pink, the oranges, what we consider a bright red opposed to the turkey red, and of course, now they do some of the most fabulous appliqué quilts that you see anywhere around, but they never did this back, you know, when they first started. As far as my Hawaiian quilt, I would have to say that Kepolia Kakalia and I'll spell these out for you--Wailani Jorgensen. Whenever we made trips to Hawaii, I always made it a point to, to take classes from these two ladies. And I must say that Kepolia was very impressive. She taught at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and the second year I went back and showed her the quilt that I had made from the pattern that she had given me, and she wanted me to send it to be displayed with the class work at the Bishop Museum for a month, but that's when all these quilts were being lost or stolen or whatever in the mail and I was afraid that, you know, shipping it from Pennsylvania to Hawaii--I didn't want anything to happen. I had put too much work into it. When I do appliqué work, I usually look at books from Ellie [Sienkiewicz.], Janet Kimble, and Nancy Pearson. I had classes from all three of these ladies, Ellie [Sienkiewicz.] is basically a Baltimore album. She does beautiful work, she is a fantastic teacher, and if it's just basic patchwork, I have several ladies there, too. Pepper Cory is one of my favorites. If I'm doing Ante or Civil War quilts, Barbara Brackman's books give you a lot of information on, you know, what types of colors and what the patterns were at that time. Hand quilting--Carol Doak and of course, like I said, Rebecca Esh--she is my Amish. I think I learned quilting basically from listening from all the tips that she would give us every time we would go out to see her. She would have a new tip to for us. I'm not crazy about machine quilting, so I figure if I put all this time into it I want to do it like it--to me--it's supposed to be done with the hand quilting, not the machine quilting.

BG: That was going to be one of my questions about machine quilting versus hand quilting or longarm quilting.

PT: The longarm quilting I do not like because there, all you do is set it and you follow the design and it is there. With the machine quilting if you're doing it freestyle, that's different than you push a button and the needle just moves across a piece of work. To me, that's not quilting, and I hate to say it, but I think a lot of people are now getting away from the hand quilting and going to the machine or longarm quilting. If you look now in all of the quilting magazines, you are lucky if you find one place where there is someone now doing hand quilting, and you'll have a whole half column where they'll do machine quilting or longarm quilting for you. I just prefer, you know, the hand quilting myself, and to give you a little bit of history on it, most of the Amish quilts have ten to 12 stitches per inch. They say if you can get six to eight inches to an inch, that you are an accomplished quilter, so that's why I like the hand stitching.

BG: Now, what age did you start quiltmaking?

PT: I made my first quilt in 1962 when I was 22 years old. I was pregnant with my first daughter, and my grandmother was doing a Grandmother's Flower Garden, and it's made of hexagons. It had one in the center, you had six hexagons around the middle hexagon, and then you have 12 around that. The centers were all yellow. What ever the fabric was that I was using for my flower had flowers in it, and I would pull one of those colors to surround the center yellow. I did 108 flowers, and there were no two alike in that quilt. My grandmother had two done, and it took me two years until I finally got mine finished, but I was proud of it, and it was quilted by hand, and I am now in the process of making my only granddaughter one, and this one too, will be all done by hand. The only problem is, my daughter wants a king size quilt, but she says by the time she gets married, she'll have a queen for king size bed, so I need to make 148 flowers for this quilt-- so--but that's when I made my first one. And then after the girls were born, I probably didn't do much quilting per se, until around the mid 70s, and around 1975 I started taking some classes, because up until that time, I had no classes. My grandmother was my teacher. I would do it from books. When I first started, I didn't know that you didn't use polyester. We used whatever was available to make them. Today the only thing I use is 100% cotton, and I have to even be careful because I have purchased cotton that when you put in the quilt frame, it stretches your quilting and it splits, because its not good cotton, but like I said, about 1975, I started taking classes. And that's when I had classes from the various people I was telling you about, being in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I was only about an hour from Reading and Lancaster and Intercourse, and of course, this is where you found a lot of your Mennonite and Amish, and the fabric; you had a wide selection of fabric. That was something that shocked me when I came to Inverness. When I was in Pennsylvania, I could drive eight different directions and within a half an hour or less and be at what I call a good fabric quilt shop. Here, I have to drive over an hour to get somewhere to get a good piece of fabric.

BG: From whom did you learn to quilt?

PT: Between--well, at first, my grandmother. But when Grandma was teaching me, I was having a hard time because--I will give you a little story. My grandmother had tried to teach me to crochet and to knit. She's right-handed and I'm left-handed. No matter what I did, I could not. I couldn't do it. And I had the same trouble quilting, so what she told me to do was 'Don't worry about getting the little tiny stitches. As long as your stitches are the same.' So I would probably say my first quilt--the stitches--I was lucky if I had eight stitches or four stitches to the inch, rather than, you know, six or eight to the inch. But my grandmother basically taught me everything I knew about quilting until I started, you know, taking lessons from people who knew.

BG: Do you think your interest in genealogy has influenced your quiltmaking at all?

PT: No, not really. In fact, it's funny. I was looking over the list of questions that was in the packet, and I saw 'How many hours a week do you spend quilting?' Right now, with me, it depends. My doing the DAR genealogy preservation project, and there are some weeks I do no quilting at all, because when I feel that I have time, I'll go in and get on the computer and do that. And then there are other weeks when I don't do that at all, and I may quilt two to three hours every day. So I don't think it's influenced me. No.

BG: Are there any amusing incidents or experiences that have occurred from your quiltmaking?

PT: I think one of the first things that happened was I got my quilt together and I realized that when I had taken it out to show Rebecca that I had made a mistake, and I was all upset, and she looked at me serious as could be and she said, 'Priscilla, only God can make something perfect.' She said, 'You don't know it, but we all make a mistake in everything that we make because we're not perfect.' So she just said you're following along and it made me feel so good, that here is this woman so accomplished and here I am, you know, a beginner, and this is what she told me; and it made me feel good. And of course I've heard that quite often now but I know that's what she told me, she says 'Only God can make something perfect.'

BG: Do you belong to a quilt guild?

PT: Yes, up here I belong to the Citrus Friendship quilt group, and at the present time, we are getting ready to have an antique, or a mini quilt auction to raise money for the Relay for Life Cancer Walk which will be held here in Inverness in April and when I had talked to the girls in the guild about this, I just mentioned that if they'd like to make any little mini quilts, I thought it would be a neat thing that we could do, and much to my surprise at the meeting two weeks ago, I came home with 50 quilts and I had several phone calls that if they can they will be bringing more in to the next meeting which is really exciting.

BG: That's fantastic. What do you find pleasing about your quiltmaking?

PT: It's very relaxing. That is one of the reasons back in the 70's that I picked up quilting again. I was teaching. I had come down with cancer and they had moved me out of the elementary school up to the high school, and I just found that when I came home I could go up and sit and I would sew or quilt or whatever until my husband and the kids got home and you know, it was time to get dinner. I just find it very, very relaxing.

BG: Are there any aspects about it that you do not enjoy?

PT: Right now, I have had two carpal tunnels and I had one trigger finger surgery and it's all of course been on my left hand, so right now I have a very hard time quilting and it's very frustrating to me. So as a result of that, a lot of my time now is spent making smaller projects, items for Christmas, birthdays, things like this. All of my children received a full size quilt and my husband has seven grandchildren, I have five, and as a result all 12 grandchildren and our great granddaughter have all received baby quilt that Grandma made. In fact, it was funny. Bill's oldest grandson Michael who just graduated from Pensacola Flight Training, when he was nine, I got this little patch in the mail and it had 'Michael, Love and Hugs, Grandma Tyson.' And that's all there was, this little patch and it said, 'My quilt is worn out. Would you please make me a new one?' So I said to him, 'What would you like?' and he said, 'I think I would like all airplanes.' Well, it took some hunting but he got his airplane quilt. So each one of the kids and grandkids have all gotten quilts from Grandma.

BG: Have you ever won any awards for your quilts?

PT: Yes, ma'am. I can't even tell you how many, whether its 1st, 2nd, 3rd or honorable mention that I have won in both Pennsylvania and when I was down on Marco Island and belonged to the Naples Guild, but one of my biggest and greatest moments came when the quilt that you are looking at was accepted at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in Williamsburg, VA. Out of 300 entries, they only selected 160, and this is one of them that was selected, and that was in 1995 and when I got the comments back--they always give you a comment sheet--what to improve and so on--it had commented about the good color combination, also that it had good quilting design, and the thing that really made me feel good was that it got a rating of excellent quilting. I think that that was my goal--that I would like to have just one quilt accepted into a national show of that caliber and be accepted. I didn't care if I won, I just wanted to make sure that it was of the caliber to where they would accept it and rate it, and of course, when they did, I really felt good about it. That same year this quilt won the Blue Ribbon and Best of Show at the Naples Quilt Guild that year. I've probably made just rough guessing between baby quilts for the grandkids and full size quilts, since I've started, I've probably made over 100 I would venture to say.

BG: Are there any other quiltmakers in your family?

PT: My grandmother. My mother wasn't a quilter, and it was funny because she used to come visit us and she would see me quilting, and she would say, 'You know, I wished I had learned to do that,' and I said to her, 'Mother, you're never too old to learn.' So what I did, I would pick out simple patterns and I patched long cabins, things like this, and I would say 'Okay, why don't you try this'--and my grandmother had a lot of wool because she made wool comforters, so mother started doing that and I guess that was one of my greatest achievements that made me feel great that, you know, mom taught us all kinds of things. I was able to teach her something and she made my sister and I both one, and all five of her grandchildren got one that she was able to make.

BG: In what ways do you quilts affect your community?

PT: Up here--I haven't done much since I've been up here. I've only been up here a little over four years, but when I was down on Marco, my husband was president of the Historical Society and they wanted to build a museum, and at that time they had gotten one of these wooden artifacts that had been found on Marco called the Key Marco Cat that was done by the Calusa Indians back in 1896, so I had done a small wall hanging and in its center is a scene, a beach scene of Florida. It has shells that I picked up on the beach there in Marco. The birds were the doves out of sand dollars that I had found on the beach, and then surrounding this, I have pen and ink drawings of 12 of the different maps and artifacts that were found on the island, and then in the center over this whole thing I have a Marco Island cat that I etched on there and, not too many people know this, but three weeks ago we went down to Marco because they have finally got the museum built and they had called and asked my husband to come down since he was a past president, and someone told them that I had entered that wall hanging in the DAR American Heritage Contest last year and I got 3rd place in the Florida contest, and they asked if I would mind hanging it or donating it to the museum and I said 'No, it would be an honor.' So that little wall hanging will go to the Marco Island Historical Museum.

BG: Why is quiltmaking so important in your life?

PT: I guess because it reminds me of, you know, good times at home. We used to sit around in the winter in the dining room. We had a huge dining room and that's where Grandma would work on her patterns and figure out which fabric she was using and we always had a good time doing that, and I know when I was making just bed blankets for the kids to basically keep warm, I would hear them talking about, oh, 'Do you remember when mom made this dress for us?' or 'We had this made out of this fabric,' and it just has so many good memories that I just find it very, very enjoyable. A lot of people don't, but I do. It's very relaxing, like I said.

BG: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

PT: First of all, they have to be kept out of the sun. You do not store them in plastic bags which a lot of people do. That is one of the worst things you can do. Quilts have to be, if you have them folded, you must change them every three months. The quilt that you see hanging here every three months it gets turned. There is a sleeve so that it can hand a different direction. When you fold a quilt, if you fold it in half then fold it in half again, the next time you fold it, fold it in thirds and then in thirds again and you always keep your--the top to the inside because that way if you should get some stains when you have it stored on a shelf from, you know, some of the stain that's in the wood which happens a lot of times. They should be stored in acid-free paper. And they of course you need to make sure you use good fabric. Now when I'm doing something for the kids, I don't mind buying less expensive fabric, but something that I want to last, like each one of the kids quilts, I bought the best fabric that I could because I wanted it to last longer.

BG: Do you feel quilts have a special meaning in women's history in America?

PT: I do, because it was part of their daily life. They did these not for the same reason that I do. When I first start I did. I was making them because we needed to keep warm, and I think that was how they could show what they could do with some scraps, things like this. They were able to show the different designs and so on, you know, what they could make.

BG: Where do you design and create your quilts? Do you have a special area that you do this in?

PT: Yes ma'am. I have a room and in that room I have my sewing machine, I have my cutting boards, I have four closets, not closets, cabinets and in those cabinets I have my different fabrics. My fabrics are all folded according to color. In other words I have all my blues, my reds, my greens, and so on together and then I have cabinet that has nothing but Christmas fabrics in it, because that's one of the things that I still do a lot of. I make a lot of Christmas table runners, placemats, things like this, for all of the family and I enjoy working with the Christmas prints.

BG: Do you have any favorite techniques that you do in your quilting, or favorite material?

PT: I like scrap quilts. Scrapping quilts is my favorite and if I had to pick out what as far as what type of fabric it would be plaids. I have a large Tupperware container that has nothing but plaids in it and they are already cut. When I get fabric if I think that I am going to be using this in a scrap quilt as I call it, I start out by cutting 6½ " squares, 5½, 4½, 3½ down to 2½ " squares.

BG: Now what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting modern quiltmakers today as opposed to our Colonial sisters?

PT: I think it's the other way around because today you have cutting boards, you have rotary cutters, everything that you can think of. I mean, even the sewing machines today, you can put a disc in the sewing machine and come out with this beautiful embroidered centerpiece to put in the center of a block, whereas, you know, I can remember my poor grandmother there measuring out with her pencil and her yardstick making her 2½ squares to do her nine patch blocks, and I think it's the other way around. I think the challenge was for the older generation because today you have everything that you could imagine.

BG: Priscilla, is there anything else you would like to add to this interview this evening that we haven't talked about that you may want to bring out?

PT: Not really. First of all, I want to thank you for doing this. I have really enjoyed talking about it. I think, as you can see around the room, I love my quilts. I enjoy doing it and right now I'm teaching both my granddaughter and both of my daughters. Every time I go out my granddaughter says 'Are we going to that, that'--what does she call it? It's called the Quilt Asylum. I forget what she calls it; she doesn't call it the Quilt Asylum but she knows what color fabric she wants. In fact, it was funny. For the quilt guild here last year we had a challenge and we had the ugliest fabric you have ever seen. It was orange and blue and green, and we had to use it in whatever we made. So when I went out to Texas to see the kids I said to Jade, 'Okay, you gotta help grandma find fabric for this.' She picked out what she wanted in it, and what I did, I made her a blanket, or a cover for her toy chest, and that's where she keeps it out of this, I call it "Jade's Ugly Fabric,"--uh--"Ugly" quilt.

BG: Her crazy quilt?

PT: No, it's ugly.

BG: Well, I would like to thank you, Priscilla, for allowing me to interview you this evening as part of the Quilters' Save Our Stories. Our interview is being concluded at 7:40 pm, February 25, 2010.


“Priscilla Tyson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,