Jessie McCoy




Jessie McCoy




Jessie McCoy


Jodie Davis

Interview Date



Duluth, Georgia


Ann Garvey


Jodie Davis (JD): Okay it says it's recording [there is a low level of background noise of recording in a large open space.] I'm going to read a little intro and then we'll get going. And I'm doing this because we want to do it the right way so that you know this is historic. It's going to stay. It's a permanent record. I'm Jodie Davis. Today is October 14, 2010, and it is 10:22 in the morning. I'm conducting an interview with Jessie McCoy for Quilters' S.O.S. -Save Our Stories - a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. We're in Duluth, Georgia at the Georgia Quilt Show. Jessie, tell me about the quilt that you brought today, your Touchstone Quilt.

Jessie McCoy (JM): Oh. [laughter.] I was in Brazil. My husband and I were Methodist--

JD: Hold it closer.

JM: My husband and I were Methodist Missionaries. We worked in China, Hong Kong, and Brazil and then he was called to the home office. And, of course, I went along. I didn't have a job --I didn't have a job when he was in New York. I made my own job. I was a nurse and worked in the hospital. So, I sewed--I have five children. I sewed for all of them. My specialty was making stuffed animals to acquire finances for church projects. And I made hundreds of animals. But, one day in Brazil, I got a Ladies' Home Journal which was a prize. Here I have an American magazine I could read. And in it, was this pattern for a crib quilt. A Bible figures--and Bible stories. I said, 'Well that should suit me, I like that.' So, I put the animals aside and started on the quilts. Well, each block on the crib quilt had a story. And of course, it wasn't meant for a big quilt, but knowing me, I went ahead and made a big quilt out of it. And the first one I did was Jonah and the Whale. I wanted to see if I really wanted to do it or have enough scraps to do it. I know you all have scraps. Well, I made Jonah and the Whale and that was--set me off. So, I started again and about that time my husband got called to come back to New York to work. So, off we went--me and my Jonah the Whale. I bought all the fabric so it's Brazilian fa-- cotton. The blocks are. And, it hasn't held up as well as I hoped it would. But, anyway, that's how the Bible quilt got made. And then, I had to get busy and really get the blocks done. And one of my fellow nurses was a quilter. And she taught quilt classes. And, I said, 'Well, why don't you go and get a--take a class and learn a little more.' And that's what I did. And that's how the Bible quilt came about.

JD: Very interesting.

JM: Long story.

JD: Yes, yes. [clapping by audience.]

JM: [chuckling by JM.]

JD: And are you self-taught or who taught you to quilt?

JM: My Granny was a quilter--a hand quilter, not a machine quilter. Course, she had the old-fashioned treadle machine which I would start to use, and it would break on me. And, then I have to get it started again. So that's another story. But my Granny quilted. And she taught me, and the first quilt I made was a "strippy quilt" on newspaper. Probably, all of you have done it--square newspaper in strips and across the thing. And, would you believe, I made one just recently?

JD: [JD laughs.] That's great. What's your first quilt memory?

JM: My first quilt memory were my Granny's quilts that she made. 'Cuz, we lived with one of my--my paternal Grandmother.

JD: How does quilt-making affect, or impact your family?

JM: Well, they know what I do. I have a sewing room and they know where to find me if they need me. And they bring me fabric when they travel. They know-- the Bible--appreciate that kind of gift, so I get a scrap of fabric when they travel.

JD: [Jodie laughs.] Have quilts ever brought you through a difficult time in life?

JM: [Pause.] Quilts--when I go in my room to sew, my mind can remember many things. You have to realize I'm within a few months of my 90th birthday.

JD: Wow

JM: So [clapping from audience.] I've got a lot of memories to think about when I'm in that quilt room.

JD: Oh.

JM: And time goes. So yes, it does bring them back--it helps a lot.

JD: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making.

JM: A what?

JD: An amusing experience. And maybe if something doesn't come to mind, that's okay.

JM: [Pause.] Well, what quilter has --doesn't have a good pair of scissors and a good ripper and laugh at the mistakes she makes, and rip em out, and start over again. I've had many of those in the last forty, fifty years I've been quilting.

JD: [JD chuckles.] Tell me about your sewing space--where you work.

JM: Well, I live in an apartment bui-I live in an apartment on the back of my daughter's house.

JD: Oh.

JM: And, one room was made out of her old bedroom divided in half, and I have my half--for that little--my sewing half. And, I have one chest here full of all kinds of things needed for sewing. One over here for--another fabric. And, I have a design piece of flannel on the wall. And, I have pictures all around. I have quilts all around. I participated in Olympic quilts, and I have those pictures around. And, I have gifts from other people who've sent me quilts. People send me things. They know what I like to do, and what I like. So, I get all kinds of quilt gifts.

JD: Tell me since we're in Georgia, and you are a Georgian, about the Olympic Quilts projects. Because the Olympics were here in '96, and there was a very big presence with quilters, correct? I wasn't here then, so I don't know.

JM: Oh yes. We made over 400 quilts. Did any of you make quilts in the Olympics? We made over 400 quilts and every country participating in Olympics got two quilts--one for their Olympic office and one for their athletes. And those were made into a book--a quilt--Georgia quilt history book. If you haven't seen it, it's a very lovely book; it's not just about those quilts. It's about quilting as it progressed in Georgia.

JD: And, you've been involved in a guild and sewing bees within Georgia too, as well, haven't you?

JM: I belong to the Yellow Daisy Quilt Guild. It started in Stone Mountain area. We have a sewing bee--twelve women who have been together over 25 years. They're become sisters. What happens to one happens to the other. [JD chuckles.] And we're all--very close. That's one thing quilting does for you, isn't it? It brings you close-close friends. And I've belonged to the Georgia Quilt Council for [pause.] I think, I joined the second year it was formed as the North Georgia Quilt Council. And I've worked on the museum project. So, I do--I quilt--that's my life.

JD: [JD laughs.] Tell me how--what you think makes a great quilt.

JM: I do know we've seen a lot of great quilters. And they're--one of my dear friends here. [both laugh.] A great quilter is dedicated to her work. She doesn't necessarily have to be a "special-special" quilter. You can be a special quilter, and still make mistakes. You can be a special quilter and throw away some of the stuff you make because you don't approve of it. But, a good quilter, knows she can make mistakes, doesn't she in that?

JD: Yes [both laugh.] A note--we are here in front of a live audience, that was one of Jessie's friends who just walked up. Speaking to that, and also to the Georgia Quilt Museum with that idea, what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum collection?

JM: Well, of course, number one prizes--number one prizes and very special quilts. But a quilt like this, which has stitches a quarter of an inch long--the first quilt I ever quilted completely, and it's got stitches a quarter inch long. But it has a history. That's another thing that makes it a keeper.

JD: Very good, very good. Which quilters are artists outside of quilting, even outside of quilting, have influenced you?

JM: Oh, there are many quilters that [pause.] when I quilt I don't--I don't have one kind of quilt that I do. I try them all. Whatever comes out of--my friend here is shaking her head. She knows anything new that comes out, I try. And it's not a museum piece when I get through with it, but I've tried it. [Both JD and JM laugh.] And so when you make a museum you want--not only want the top kind, but you want the kind that have been labored over and have made mistakes. But quilts that mean something not only to the maker, but maybe to her family, maybe to the city she lives in, many of you maybe have made quilts for a city anniversary, or a church anniversary, or something like that--that's what a museum should hold. All kinds of quilts.

JD: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

JM: [pause.] Well, having come to the place where my fingers go every which way, I had to give up hand quilting, 'cept for tiny projects. But hand quilting is still the top. Beautiful hand quilting is still the top, but machine quilting has helped us do more things, and get more involved in doing it, but a beautiful hand-quilted quilt can't be beat.

JD: What do you think about the importance of quilts in our lives? Not necessarily as quilters, but everybody.

JM: Many people have a blankie. And sometimes it's a quilt blankie. One of our projects in my guild was making crib quilts to go in police cars, so that when they go into a situation and find children just lost, they don't know what's going on, they can give them a quilt. And, when the quilt--when the officer came to our guild to accept those quilts, she said, 'I have to tell you that not all these quilts go to children,' said, 'there are some adults sometimes that need a blankie too.'

JD: Oh.

JM: And quilts that are made by your grandmother, even though you're not a quilter, you pass that quilt, or your mother made one. Or you made it for a special occasion. Yes, quilts can be for other people too.

JD: Have any of your quilts won awards?

JM: I've won one award, but second place. A little quilt--and it was in a quilt show out in Texas, in a little tiny town that has an arts forum. And one part of the forum is a quilt show every year. And a friend of mine talked me into putting one there. She lived there. And I won a second place. But that's not what--I don't make quilts for awards. I make quilts for what they do for me.

JD: [JD chuckles.] And how much time do you spend quilting--say in a day, or a week, or however you want to quantify it?

JM: Since I retired, I wouldn't know how many hours I've put in that quilt room. But I enjoy it, and right now in retirement, I have no responsibilities. [JD laughs.] I'm blessed, so therefore I can sew whenever and as long as I want. If I want to sew 'til 10 o'clock at night, that's fine. Nobody is bothering me, and I'm not bothering them, so--

JD: [JD laughs.] Sounds like heaven. [JD continues to laugh.] Do you collect quilts?

JM: Not really. I don't collect quilts. But, along with my family, we purchased a house up at a lake up in North Carolina one time. And we were supposed to buy the furniture and stuff in the house, and I found four quilts. They weren't prize-winning quilts, but they were early quilts. Fabrics were early fabrics. And, I said, 'I must have those four quilts.' And then, an English quilt teacher, friend of mine, saw them. She said, 'Take these off of the bed and keep 'em high.' They are historical quilts because of the fabrics and the way they were made. They are not prize-winning quilts, but--so I have those. I have one or two others, but I don't collect quilts, except my own.

JD: [JD laughs.] Those are great--Speaking about fabrics, and also going back to your Bible quilt. That was made in the 60's, and you started in Brazil, and used the fabrics you had there, and I found it interesting that you said before the interview that those fabrics didn't last long. And I started quilting in the 70's and fabric was really hard to find--good fabric, so I'd love to hear your experience of how the industry has developed, and how we have many more products and better products available.

JM: Well Brazil raises cotton and their fabric--the light fabric in that quilt is Brazilian fabric. And, it just hasn't held up as much--the blue was American fabric. But the light fabric that the blocks are made on is Brazilian fabric. But I think there's so much fabric today, that we quilters are overwhelmed. I keep--I'm a "scrapaholic," and I have my scraps in shoe boxes; so, my friends call me the scrap quilter. And, they'll say, 'You have anything to fit this quilt? Or, that quilt?' Or something that they are making, and they know they can come look in my scrap box. [JD chuckles.] But, if I were not at the end of my quilt life, I would go crazy buying fabric. But right now, I have to quilt out of my scrap boxes, 'cuz none of my family quilts so--And I've told my daughter, when I'm gone, call my quilt friends in and let them clean out the closet for you.

JD: [JD chuckles.] Speaking of your family, what is happened to the quilts that you've made for your friends and family?

JM: Well, I've made two big quilts for the five children--four children and the fifth one has a special quilt. I have ten grandchildren. They all have a baby quilt. They all have a big quilt. I have seven great-grandchildren--the seventh just born a few weeks ago, and they all have quilts. And, when I said--when I was making a will out, my daughter said, 'Well, when we divide the quilts, the in-laws are not allowed to come in.' [JD chuckles.] 'The four of us will do the quilt; the in-laws won't have their choice.'

JD: [JD laughs.] I guess they like your quilts. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

JM: The biggest challenge to me is--the amazing amount of wonderful fabrics. You cannot [pause.] you want to make something out of all of them, they are so wonderful.

JD: [JD chuckles.] What do you think--in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for American women through history and today?

JM: Well, just like I go and spend hours in my quilt room, my sewing room, I think quilts were not only a necessity to the early quilters--I'm sure most of you saw the Gees Bends quilts when they were downtown at the museum--made out of old overalls and out of all kinds of scraps and stuff. They made quilts, of course, for use. But, as quilting--if you study quilts from the past, they've always been an art. If you go back into the dark ages, you find quilts, or quilted clothing that are art. So, I think women get a great deal of satisfaction, as any human being does, out of making something themselves. They made it, nobody else did.

JD: Is there anything else you'd like to add? We touched a little bit on the Georgia Quilt Council and the museum, but there might be something--you've been quilting a long time.

JM: [JM and JD both laugh.] Well, I'd like to encourage you all to join the quilt council. To help us save quilts in Georgia. And the museum is scheduled to open sometime in the spring of 2011. But they are not holding us tight to that date. I've been down to Carrolton, and I've seen the building. And I can understand why it might not get finished right when they say. But, once its finished, I think the quilters of Georgia can be very proud of this project. It's going to be good for all of us. And, if you don't belong to the council, please join. We get together twice a year for a convention--all-day convention. Have a little business meeting in the morning. Have a special speaker. Get door prizes. But the best part of it is getting to know your friends from way off yonder in Georgia, or way down south in Georgia. You have a connection of quilt friends all over the State. So, come and join us.

JD: Well, thank you so much Jessie. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this, and it's been fun. [laughter.] And thank you for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' - Save Our Stories project of the Alliance for American Quilts. We're in Duluth, Georgia and our interview is concluding at 10:46 am. [clapping.]



“Jessie McCoy,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,