Beth Maitland




Beth Maitland




Beth Maitland


Jeanne Wright

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Cumberland Center, Maine


Jeanne Wright


Jeanne Wright (JW): This is Jeanne Wright. Today is November 2, 2010. It's 2:37 in the afternoon and I'm conducting an interview with Beth Maitland at her home in Cumberland Center, Maine for the Alliance for American Quilts, Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Beth and her husband Fred are both quilters. You will rarely see one of them at any quilt function without the seeing the other one. Beth is currently the President of the Pine Tree Quilters Guild, Inc., which is the state guild for the State of Maine. Thank you for taking part in this today.

Beth Maitland (BM): Well, thank you for interviewing me.

JW: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. When did it start?

BM: I made my first quilt in 1977. It was a Lone Star Quilt made for a wedding gift. [I made the Lone Star Quilt while living in Billerica, Massachusetts.]

JW: [tape skipped, and the question was missed.] Where is that?

BM: That is in Nashua, New Hampshire at an upcoming event: "A Quilters Gathering."

JW: That's going to be an exciting three days.

BM: It certainly will be.

JW: Will you be showing [tape skipped.] How many do you have in progress right now?

BM: I'm laughing because I have a jacket [three quilts, two jackets, one vest and one dress.] that are partly finished. I have a Potholder Quilt that I am working on and have been working on for five years. I have a quilt that I'm doing from what I call thread catchers where I sew two pieces of fabric together in order to save thread after working on a quilt block. So that's really leftovers from a "Blueberry Fields" and "Blueberry Crossroads" quilts that Fred and I did for the blueberry challenge theme at Maine Quilts [state quilt show.] this year. Oh, I don't know. I've got all sorts of things going on. [I am working on a challenge quilt]. It will be at the British Countryside with all those patchwork fields and a cathedral in the middle of it.

JW: Oh, lovely, lovely. Are any of these things UFO's and they are going to remain UFO's? Do you have some of those?

BM: Oh, I have a basket full of UFO's.

JW: And they will always be that?

BM: Probably not.

JW: You tend to finish your quilts?

BM: I intend to. For instance, I have one up there [pointing to a partially completed quilt.] that's a mystery quilt where one block is in there the wrong way. I just need to take it out, turn it and finish the quilt.

JW: So not too far. You mentioned a Potholder Quilt. How did you come to make a Potholder Quilt? Had you seen an antique one, that type of thing?

BM: I seem to have an affinity for hexagons, so I designed a quilt with a six-pointed star, filled in with diamonds on the edges. Each point of the star has thirty-six diamonds in it. Each outside point has thirty-six diamonds. So that's thirty-six times twelve altogether for the number of diamonds that will be in this quilt.

JW: This is all handmade?

BM: It's all handmade. Each diamond is layered with a backing material, a piece of batting and then the front fabric. The backing fabric is folded over the front and then blind stitched in place. When the diamonds are all completed, they are then whip-stitched together to form the point of the star and the outside point of the quilt.

JW: This is a very vibrant quilt, very vibrant colors. But tell me in the last two or three years what's been happening with this quilt. Where has it been?

BM: To begin with, I did three blocks. That would be two-star points, a light and a medium point and one outside point that made like a Tumbling Block or a Rubik's Cube someone has called it. Now it has been displayed at both Cumberland Fair [a county fair in Cumberland, Maine.] and the Maine Quilts, maybe 2007. Then I did two more points and added those so that I then had five points all together and I do have that in the hallway [of her home.] That's been shown at the Cumberland Fair, Maine Quilts 2009 and at a Quilters' Gathering in Nashua, New Hampshire. I just recently completed three more points and that was shown at Cumberland Fair this year, 2010. So theoretically I only had four more points to do, but I ran out of Batik fabric that I was using in the outside points, so I redesigned the outside points.

JW: So, every year this is almost like a new quilt. [Beth giggles.] Every year.

BM: Well, yes. [both laugh.]

JW: That's an interesting type of UFO.

BM: That's right.

JW: But it will be completed.

BM: How many times can you show a quilt or show a part of a quilt?

JW: Because of the design of this one, actually, it's such a 3-D quilt, it is a different quilt--

BM: It is.

JW: --every time you show a part.

BM: It is.

JW: Most interesting. From whom did you learn to quilt?

BM: From whom did I learn to quilt? I really don't know. I do remember that at one point my mother said that you could whip-stitch pieces of fabric together instead of doing a seam stitch. So, I took pink polyester fabrics, cut them in squares and started whipstitching them together. That's an unfinished project that I have, a UFO, that may never get finished simply because a pin or two has rusted in it. [both talk at same.]

JW: How old were you when you started that?

BM: Well, it was for my daughter. She was about two when I started it.

JW: And you still have it.

BM: I still have it. [laughs.] I looked at it just the other day.

JW: What is your first quilt memory? Thinking of the quilt you saw and [inaudible.] had?

BM: It seems to me that in the blanket chest in the dining room in the house in Freeport, Maine, there was a quilt. I don't remember.

JW: You had been exposed to quilting when you were young. You knew about quilts.

BM: I knew about quilts. I knew what a quilt was.

JW: Did anybody in your family quilt that you were aware of?

BM: Only this Great Aunt that made this one quilt. Other than that, I don't recall anyone else in the family quilting. I do remember that when I was overseas, I met a man and a woman who sold insurance in West Berlin, Germany. When we went to visit them when we came back to the United States, she had quilts that were made out of men's suits, pieces of men's suits.

JW: This is a little bit different interview because you have a story for us, a true story. We are going to give the interview over to you for a little period of time anyway and you're going to tell us a story today, please.

BM: Thank you. Let's see, I really started quilting in 2000 when I got this sewing machine that would do what I wanted it to do. So, I started making quilts. As fast as I made them, generally I gave them away. Then September 11th came and of course [coughs.] excuse me, I made patriotic quilts. I made two quilts with flying flags, amongst other things. About that time, we decided, with the Friends of Fort Edgecomb, which is a group that my husband started, that we needed to do some fundraising. I suggested that I make a quilt that could be raffled.

JW: May I interrupt? Fort Edgecomb, would you tell us about it?

BM: I'd be glad to. Fort Edgecomb is the oldest octagonal wooden block house in the United States. It's in Edgecomb, Maine. In 1993 the State of Maine was no longer going to support that State Park, its Fort Edgecomb State Park. When my husband heard about it, he formed the Friends of Fort Edgecomb, and we were in the process of raising money to re-shingle the blockhouse. We needed a fund raiser. So, I designed a quilt, a relatively simple quilt for that purpose and it was accepted by the Friends of Fort Edgecomb. I was going to start the quilt. But then my husband needed cardiac surgery. He had a quadruple by-pass surgery, and it was some time after that that I decided it was okay for me to start the quilt. He was doing well enough that I didn't have to wait on him. But I couldn't find the pattern. So, I designed a whole new pattern which is a star-spangled banner flying over an octagonal wooden blockhouse with a three-masted schooner in the river. I started that in mid-April and had it ready for the second weekend in June for the 1812 event that we held each year at the Fort, as one of our encampments. This is when we invited troops from all over New England to come and participate in this. My husband and I would cook food for about 140 people at that event. It was a great time. So, I made the quilt. We sold raffle tickets and it got to be September and someone suggested to me that I really should submit quilts to the Cumberland Fair. Well, I had been to the Cumberland Fair. I had looked at things in the Exhibition Hall. Boy, I didn't know if my things were really good enough. So, I submitted several of my quilts. While I was submitting them, my husband said, or showed, actually, the people who were accepting the quilts, a picture of the quilt that I had done for Fort Edgecomb. They liked it so much that they said it really should be in the Fair. At that time the quilt was hanging on display in order to sell raffle tickets, at a quilt shop in Edgecomb. So, the next day my husband had to travel to Edgecomb, get the quilt and we took it to the Fair that night and it was accepted. On Monday, at a quilting meeting, someone said, 'Have you been to the Fair yet?' [I said,] 'No.' [They said,] 'You really need to go. You won't be disappointed.' [The next day we went to the fair and there in the area of the exhibition hall where the best work is displayed.] was my quilt. It had a Blue Ribbon and was just beautiful. That weekend Fred and I went to Norway, or Paris, anyway, one of those places in Maine, I think it was Norway, and we had an encampment there. One of the fellow re-enactors wanted to take the quilt to her place of work to sell more raffle tickets because the raffle was going to be held the following week. So, Fred and I traveled from Norway to Cumberland, even though we live in Cumberland, to get the Fort Edgecomb quilt to take it back to Norway so it could be taken to this place of work. We got to the Cumberland Fair dressed in our colonial outfits, found all of the quilts, except one. Evidently about a half hour before we arrived, the Fort Edgecomb quilt had been given to someone else. She had come looking for a quilt with a large flag on it and when the girl gave it to her, she said, 'Who else but someone from the South,' because she was speaking with a southern accent, 'would make a quilt with Fort Sumter on it?' Now mind you, Fort Sumter is a stone fort, not an octagonal wooden blockhouse. On the back of this quilt there was a label that said, [clock chiming in the background.] 'Fort Edgecomb, War of 1812.' But the young lady gave her the quilt. So, the police were called, and I was interviewed. Subsequently we went back to the encampment without the quilt. Well, now what do we do? The raffle is going to be held. So, I consulted two lawyers. One lawyer said, 'You have to give all the money back.' Now mind you, we had sold raffle tickets all around the State of Maine to people from, well, internationally because people from other countries come to the State Park to see the artifacts. If we had to send back all the money, how many $1 checks would we be sending out, including the postage and how far in the hole would the Friends of Fort Edgecomb be at the end of that? The other lawyer said, 'Hold the raffle and explain to the person who wins, that you don't have the quilt and what has happened to it.' So, we decided to hold the raffle. The raffle was held. The ticket was drawn, and it was very interesting because the very next morning I got a phone call before I left for work. This gentleman said to me, 'Beth, I just heard about the quilt. I want you to know that the money that we spent for raffle tickets can be a donation to the Friends of Fort Edgecomb. I said, 'Well thank you very much, Mr. Genz, because you are the winner of the quilt!'

JW: Amazing. Amazing.

BM: Mr. Genz happened to be a member of the Lake Region Shine Club and Fred was a member there. In fact, he might have been President at that time, no, he wasn't at that time, he had just joined. So, we went to the Shrine Club meeting. I took a picture of the quilt. I had framed it in the backing fabric that I had used for the quilt, and I made up a story called, "The Journey of a Quilt." I gave all of this to David Genz. All was well and good. It was interesting that in November David wasn't at the Shrine Club meeting and I wondered why, because he never misses a meeting. However, in the meantime the police were working on the case. Just before Thanksgiving, David Genz gave me a call. David said, explained why he had not been at that Shrine Club meeting. At the October Shrine Club meeting, that evening, he had congestive heart failure. He subsequently went to the hospital, had cardiac surgery, went into rehabilitation, and had just got home and read "The Journey of the Quilt." In "The Journey of the Quilt" it stated that Fred had had cardiac surgery that year. So, David was calling to talk with Fred about his surgery. I feel this is the reason that the quilt went missing. Because why, then, the very next day, after the phone call from Mr. Genz, did the police call and say, 'Can we come over?' [When the police arrived, the officer.] walked in my kitchen carrying a shopping bag in which was the quilt. I called Mr. Genz. We took the quilt over and he and his wife were able to have the quilt. So why else would it go missing? There had to be a very good reason. Because it went missing, lots of things have happened at Cumberland Fair. They now have security cameras in the Exhibition Hall. They have changed their method of releasing the exhibited items to their owners and Fred and I have started demonstrating at the Fair for quilting techniques and I still enter my quilts at the Fair.

JW: So, it had a happy ending. But I think that's it's not ended yet. You have more story.

BM: [With a big smile.] Oh, the journey continues. The journey continues because in 2007 Maine Quilts, the theme was Ships Ahoy, so I asked Mr. Genz if I could borrow the quilt to put in that exhibit. He said, 'Certainly.' And he recommended that I keep the quilt for such display purposes. The quilt has subsequently been displayed in a variety of areas. Then a couple of years after that, Mrs. Genz passed away. This year Mr. Genz was found in his home. When I went to the funeral, I took the quilt with me and explained to his son and one of his daughters, one of his two daughters, that I had possession of the quilt, but it really belonged to the estate. When I suggested that the quilt really should stay in the State of Maine because of its provenance, they put a nominal price on the quilt, and I purchased it so it could stay in the State of Maine. Then in September of this year, at the Pine Tree Quilters Guild meeting, an announcement was made that a new stove shop was being opened in Wiscasset [Maine.] They wanted some quilts to be displayed on the walls. If they sold, they could be sold with no commission. So, I called the people and made arrangements to take up several quilts, including the Fort Edgecomb quilt. All the quilts had price tags on them except for the Fort Edgecomb quilt. That was not for sale, for display only. Well, they were ecstatic that that quilt could be displayed in their shop. [The shop was only one mile from Fort Edgecomb.] So we went, when the store opened, and we saw the display. It was in a back room, but a back room that you could see from the main sales room. It was hung elegantly in a marvelous décor. That day Fred and I went sight-seeing in that area. It was dusk when we were coming back, going by the shop. With the lights on in the shop, we could see the main sales room and right back into the back room and you could see that quilt hanging there. So that's where the quilt is at the moment.

JW: It's still there at that shop.

BM: It's still there at that shop.

JW: For display only.

BM: For display only. It's been there for a whole month now.

JW: [laughs.] That quilt has had quite a life, hasn't it?

BM: It has.

JW: What do you think is going to happen with the quilt? How do you see it being used down the road?

BM: I don't know what's going to happen. With all these things that have happened already, it's almost impossible to tell. However, I want to use it for display purposes, for educational purposes and I'd like it to eventually end up in a place where it can be permanently displayed, like perhaps the State Museum.

JW: This is a wonderful story. It's a wonderful story of hope and ingenuity. It makes a great story.

BM: But it's amazing the good things that have come out of the loss of this quilt. I found out about where you can post on the Internet any quilt that is lost and there's even a section for Found Quilts which is pretty amazing. It's just fantastic all the wonderful things that have happened since that quilt was made.

JW: That's why I was hoping you would share this story with us today. These stories need to be saved and enjoyed, preserved.

BM: Perhaps as an aside I should say that several hundred dollars were raised for the re-shingling effort for Fort Edgecomb.

JW: That's good. Have you ever used a quilt to get through a difficult time? At parts of this story, you were having a difficult time, I'm sure. But in other ways, have you ever used quilts for a difficult time?

BM: Fred was in the hospital at one time, and I don't remember for what now.

JW: How about an amusing experience? Have you had something happen while you were quilting, something do to with your quilting that just cracked you up?

BM: [pause.] I don't remember.

JW: [Tape skipped but I said, 'You'll think of it after I leave.']

BM: Of course, I will. [laughs.]

JW: Not while I'm here. What's most pleasing about quiltmaking for you?

BM: The design work. Creating. I don't really like following a pattern, but I like creating a pattern that someone else could follow.

JW: Using what methods? Piecing, patching, handwork, appliqué? What type of quilting do you prefer?

BM: When I'm away from the sewing machine I really enjoy my Potholder Quilts which is all done by hand in little pieces that I can take with me. You would think that at a meeting or a dinner, that sewing on something like that would shut you off and bar you from other people. Instead, it just opens up the conversation and gives me a chance to share my quilting experiences.

JW: And they are not large enough to be obtrusive in any way, to take away from the meeting that is going on.

BM: That's right.

JW: Comfortable to work with. [I asked, 'What do you not like about quilting?']

BM: Well, I suppose a deadline, when I've got to get something done. And also, sometimes it's difficult to do the free motion quilting with a domestic machine when you are trying to push all the fabric under that very short arm. That really affects the muscles in my arms and back.

JW: Do you do any hand quilting, Beth?

BM: No. Well except for the handwork that I do on the Potholder Quilts.

JW: Right, but the actual quilting?

BM: No.

JW: Do you send them out to a longarm person at all?

BM: No. I do all my own quilting.

JW: All your own quilting. Good for you. What do you think makes a great quilt?

BM: Do you mean in my work or in someone else's work?

JW: No. More general than that. If you were to go, look at a quilt what to you--

BM: Okay.

JW: --would be great about that quilt? What makes it great?

BM: I like color. I like the use of color. It can be a very simple quilt, but if you've got a gradation of color, a variation of color and the way the colors are put together, especially in a geometric quilt.

JW: What about the quiltmaker? What makes a great quiltmaker, the person?

BM: The person who puts themselves into the quilt. They don't just follow the pattern. They put something of themselves into their quilt. I think you can tell that when you look at a quilt.

JW: What makes the quilt artistically powerful to you? Not just the color, but if you were to go to a museum, one quilt would stand out to you. Why?

BM: I remember one quilt that I saw that was made in 1806. It was green and white. It was a very simple pattern, but I think probably because, I remember that because of our re-enacting for the 1812 period.

JW: You're always in costume [at the re-enactments.] so you're familiar with clothing of that time.

BM: Oh, yes.

JW: Materials of that time? How would you contrast the materials having been used at that time and currently, the fabrics?

BM: If we talk about some of the fabrics being cheesy, which is a term that was used, that's because it was very loosely woven.

JW: Do you use that type of fabric when you--

BM: I do not. Although, I do use homespun or thread-dyed fabric. That means that both sides of the fabric have the same coloration. That's really neat to use. That's what I made up. I've made several quilts with homespun fabric.

JW: So, you've used similar fabrics. What about the method of putting the quilt together? Would you say--

BM: I do not. I use the machine for those. I'm in too much of a hurry.

JW: What about the patterns? Where do the patterns come from? Are those your patterns or have you looked back? Have you research the older patterns?

BM: I have researched the older patterns, however, only in terms of putting together a lecture for the evolution of the quilt from the late 1700's to the mid-1800's have I done any colonial quilting.

JW: They tell stories, don't they?

BM: They do. They do.

JW: Have you been able to go to the museum in Vermont? It's just amazing the quilts that they have there.

BM: The New England Quilt Museum often times has antique quilts on display, so it's in situations like that.

JW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

BM: They tell the history of how people lived, how they made do. They didn't always have all the things that we have today. Now, of course today I've gone far beyond just making a quilt for a blanket. When I learned how to do curved piecing, I developed landscapes. Now I do quilt, machine pieced, and machine quilted landscapes.

JW: These are for sale, is that correct?

BM: They are for sale, but I also use them on my own clothing. So, the picture you see of the jacket I have on has a landscape on the back.

JW: I'm going to try to get a picture of that landscape on the back. Now what about the special meaning for women's history in America? Not just of the times, but women's history.

BM: Why women's history? There's this quilt that was made in 1776 out of wool that a man made.

JW: Mm-mm. I interview both men and women. [both talk at the same time.]

BM: So, it's both the men and women.

JW: Just the women's history for right now.

BM: [laughs.] Would you like to rephrase the question for me please?

JW: Over time women's history, women have gone through many changes socially.

BM: Mm-mm.

JW: How do you think that is told in quilting?

BM: How do I think that's told in quilting? I can't, I'm not coming up with an answer there. What I'm thinking about is that in colonial times, a woman had her pocket and that was her only possession, what would fit in the pocket. She couldn't own property. She had to save pennies to buy pins. A needle was often shared within a community. So, fabric and thread were not easy to come by for a woman, even though she had to make all the shirts and all the clothing for the whole family. Often times she had to make her own dresses, although the tailors would also make women's dresses.

JW: Do you think that through time you can see where women were in history, socially let's say, depict the different eras?

BM: I think the quilts where women had more time because they had household help and they could create, using fancy fabrics and velvets and satins and silks and all the extraordinary embroidery that goes into those.

JW: So, there are stories that you can find there.

BM: There are stories [talking at the same time.] And you go into the 1930's and people couldn't afford help in the home any longer. But manufacturers would put grain, sugar, flour, etc. into cloth bags and those bags would then be used for clothing or quilts.

JW: That's a fascinating period of time for me.

BM: Mm-mm.

JW: Maybe it's not fair to ask this in a brief form, but how is quiltmaking important in your life now, this year, how is it important?

BM: It is a marvelous way for me to exercise my newly found artistic creativity. I find it just amazing.

JW: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

BM: The biggest challenge? [inaudible.]

JW: So, it's not a challenge; it's an adventure, is what it sounds like.

BM: Absolutely. Absolutely.

JW: What do you have for tips for new quilters, for beginners?

BM: Well, I'm teaching a 12-year-old how to do a quilt made from a Jelly Roll. So, at the Cumberland Fair this year, in the week that my husband and I spent there, I took in a Jelly Roll of fabric, which is 2 ½ [inch.] strips of fabric. It's approximately 40" in length. Ten different patterns and colors, two strips of each and then some sashing fabric and I made a quilt that week. Now I've developed a syllabus, if you will, and I'm going to be teaching the making of that quilt at Cumberland Community Ed, February through April.

JW: I saw that quilt in action. You were in action, but I think it was too. It's a bright, happy quilt. I would ask you [while sitting at the next table beside them.], 'Now, what's the next step?' Your reply was, 'I don't know,' [Beth laughs out loud.] in a very lilting, happy voice. [Beth continues to laugh.] In other words, not because you didn't know what to do, but you weren't sure what the quilt was going to say to you.

BM: Right.

JW: Wouldn't you say that is accurate?

BM: That is completely accurate.

JW: You let your quilts to talk to you.

BM: I do. This particular quilt would not allow me to put a border on it. It just did not work. So, I put a facing on the quilt. And because the fabric wasn't wide enough for the backing, I inserted a panel in the back to stretch the fabric. So, the cat [the cat was part of the design pattern on the fabric.] that wanted to be in the quilt, that just didn't fit on the front, is now on a centered panel on the back.

JW: You are doing this all within a week's time at which you are sitting at a table demonstrating. You had two other things that you were demonstrating, having children put quilts together and also your husband was doing some demonstrating. [Her husband's interview was separate on the same date and followed Beth's interview.] Do you have anything else to add to this interview?

BM: Well, I did take the Friday off [Jeanne laughs.] at the Fair. My husband wanted another means of showing what could be done with what he was demonstrating, the marbleizing on fabric with ink on the fabric, so I took twelve of those pieces of fabric that he had done with the designs and I made a small quilt on Friday.

JW: [laughs.] You are a wonder.

BM: [Beth laughs.]

JW: I would like to thank Beth for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 3:27 p.m. on November 2, 2010. Thank you. Thank you very much.

BM: Thank you, Jeanne.

Tape concludes.



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