Cyndi Black




Cyndi Black




Cyndi Black


Jeanne Wright

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Litchfield, Maine


Jeanne Wright


Jeanne Wright (JW): This is Jeanne Wright. Today is November 1, 2010. It's 10:35 in the morning and I'm conducting an interview with Cyndi Black at her home in Litchfield, Maine for the Alliance for American Quilts Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Thank you, Cyndi, for granting us this interview.

Cyndi Black (CB): You're welcome.

JW: You have shown me a quilt today that we've taken a picture of. I'm envious of anybody who can do that detailed work. Would you tell me about the quilt please?

CB: Well, I was inspired by quilts that I'd seen in [the.] Wenham Museum in Wenham, Massachusetts that were Log Cabins, but made with very small strips, about 3 inch or 4-inch blocks and I decided to make one. That was five years ago. It took me about five years to do it. There were times that I didn't work on it, but I decided I wanted to put it in the show [the annual Maine Pine Tree Quilt Show.] this year so I got it done.

JW: Did you pull your hair out doing this?

CB: Not at all.

JW: You loved it.

CB: I loved it. I loved seeing the little stack of blocks grow, grow, grow. I even took a picture of it when it was just stacks in a box just because it looked so beautiful.

JW: How large are the individual squares?

CB: They come out to about 3 and1/8".

JW: Is every little piece in it a different color?

CB: Yes.

JW: How many pieces would that be in a square?

CB: Seventeen including the center.

JW: Seventeen including the center that's how big?

CB: 3 and1/8". Each log finishes at ¼".

JW: Good gracious. How did you choose the colors?

CB: That was what I had. For years I had been saving scraps with no intent in mind, just because I can't throw anything away, and that's what I used. They are mostly all reproduction fabrics.

JW: You say mostly. Does that mean that there are some that are more current, or do you have some antique fabrics that you used?

CB: There is one antique in there, but I can't find it. I remember when I used it, but I can't find it now. There are some fabrics that were not really marketed as reproductions, but sometimes they look like it or they will fit.

JW: We are in your shop, and we will be talking about that in a while, but it's mostly reproduction fabrics in your shop. You have quite a storehouse.

CB: Oh yeah. And it's been a long time. I've been collecting them since they started making them.

JW: You knew you would be making a quilt with them, or you just couldn't throw them away?

CB: I just couldn't throw them away. When I started saving, I had no intent.

JW: Working in a shop or owning a shop, you have lots of scraps.

CB: Oh, yes.

JW: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

CB: Well, it was just to see if I could do it, I guess, and to own the quilt that was similar to the antique one that I could not own because it's not available.

JW: Did you take a picture of the antique one to go by at all or to refer to?

CB: No, we didn't. We were documenting quilts that day and we were doing it for the museum. They have their own photos, so we didn't take extra pictures.

JW: I note that you've got one just like the one we are talking about, hanging here in the shop, [behind the interview area.] but it's a smaller one. Did you make that so it would be easier to carry for display?

CB: That was just the leftovers. I made more blocks than I intended to make. I kept track, but at one point I must not have added it to the list, so I ended up with more than I needed. So, I just made that out of the leftovers.

JW: This is all machine done?

CB: They are machine pieced, yes. And I hand quilted around the red centers.

JW: The red centers, they are about three inches away from each other.

CB: Yes, that's right.

JW: Why did you choose that quilt for today?

CB: I guess it was because it was the most accessible. [laughs.]

JW: It was hanging on your wall when we got here.

CB: Right.

JW: You had thoughts of a couple of other quilts. Tell me about that.

CB: There were two others I was going to use. One is a Flying Geese that I made that I use on my bed right now. It was made with alternating strips [that.] are a copy of an 1814 fabric. I do have an original piece of the 1814 fabric. It's the brown and burgundy pheasants that's very popular and very well known. The other quilt that I was going to use was made with 1830's French dress goods from Margo Krager that I gave to my granddaughter for her wedding. It was a center medallion that I was inspired by a quilt I saw in a book. I just started in the middle and added nine borders.

JW: Lovely. The material, you mean it was an antique material?

CB: No, they were reproductions.

JW: Reproductions, right. How long ago was that?

CB: I gave it to her two years ago. I started it actually in 2002, but I don't work very fast.

JW: Was any of that appliqué?

CB: No. It was all pieced. I had to design each border as I went to make it fit the previous border. Then I did hand quilt it extensively.

JW: The borders, were they patterned?

CB: The borders were random length of fabrics used in the quilt, as they were in the original.

JW: What a treasure. Is that a bed size quilt?

CB: Yes, it is. But the original was made in the early 1800's and quilts didn't always have big borders then because people didn't usually have lengths of fabric to use.

JW: The quilt that you have here that we are looking at on the wall, if someone were to see you with that quilt, what would they conclude about you as a quilter?

CB: Most people comment that, 'You must have a lot of patience.' [laughs.]

JW: I would use a stronger statement. [CB laughs.] Anything else?

CB: I enjoyed it. I enjoy the process of making quilts, no matter what the quilt pattern is, I just enjoy the process.

JW: I see when I look around that you've got quite a few, I don't know if you call them miniatures, but very small quilts--

CB: Right.

JW: --with very small pieces. There are some that I see that are appliqué. Are those your works?

CB: Mm-mm. Yes.

JW: But you don't like appliqué as much?

CB: Oh, no. I love appliqué.

JW: You do.

CB: I love appliqué. It just doesn't happen that it happens that much. Mostly my interest right now is in antique reproduction doll quilts.

JW: Doll quilts.

CB: And there again, we saw beautiful doll quilts at the Wenham Museum. They have a collection of nearly fifty. In our documentation process that we did here in Maine, there were a few wonderful doll quilts that showed up that really were inspirational to me.

JW: What would be the difference between a doll quilt and a miniature quilt?

CB: A doll quilt would be something that was made for a doll. A miniature quilt, a true miniature, is made of a scale of one inch to a foot, which is dollhouse scale, true miniature scale. I don't really do those. I do, I have done a few just to see if I can do it, but I like the doll quilts.

JW: There are some small ones hanging up here. Would these be considered doll quilts?

CB: By the size, yes, they would.

JW: So, they are perhaps 18" by 24", something of that size?

CB: Yes.

JW: Now how to you use the quilt that we are using as the focal point today? How do you use that? It's on the wall right now, but how else do you use it.

CB: Right. It will probably be on my sofa. It'll be a comfort quilt.

JW: You don't mind using the quilt?

CB: No.

JW: What about your interest in quiltmaking? How did you get started?

CB: Well, I always made clothes for my children. I always sewed. This would be the mid-1960's. I decided that I'd make a quilt out of everything that I had used for their clothing. I just cut out squares and I made a quilt and I put it on my middle daughter's bed. It was just tied. There was nothing available like we know today for information about making quilts. It was all just "do what I think I need to do." So even with the binding, I'm not even sure. I don't remember what I did with the binding. Then there was a lady that I knew, a friend of my aunt's, who made, she loved to make quilt tops. She made a lot of quilt tops and that was as far as she wanted to go. She never made quilts. So, my aunt gave me a few of her tops and I did put those together and tied them. So, everybody's bed had a quilt. It was nice. In 1980 my home burned, and I lost everything--all those quilts--everything. I was beside myself for a long time. I said I've got to get out of this funk, and I thought, I've got to do something I haven't done before so I got a book. At that point in time the Farm Journal had put out a book on how to make a patchwork quilt. That was my beginning. I made a quilt out of that. I used the instructions, which were very good for the time. Of course, we go into a lot more detail with things nowadays, but it was adequate for me, who was experienced in sewing, to use to make them.

JW: Did you do it with the help of a guild, or it was just you?

CB: It was just me at that point. There was a guild that formed a few years later and I was one of the founding members of our chapter, our local chapter.

JW: You would say, then, that a quilt really helped you get through a bad time.

CB: Oh, bad, yes. And more after that too.

JW: It took a while and a few quilts.

CB: Right. But I never stopped making quilts from that point; I just continued. Actually, the very first project I made out of that book was a pillow that I really was enamored with hand quilting, and I wanted to do hand quilting, so that was how I first learned hand quilting.

JW: And again, you taught yourself?

CB: Yes.

JW: Did you know what you were aiming toward? Had you seen someone's work and you said, mm, this looks good?

CB: Well, I must have seen something or read something about tiny stitches, so that was my goal and at that point in time, for that pillow, the only way I could achieve it was step stitch. Of course, since then I've learned running stitch and can go faster.

JW: When you were doing that first quilt, how did it make you feel? What was the process for you there?

CB: Well, I had always enjoyed making the things I used, the clothing for the children and things for my home. I had always made the curtains, table covers, whatever I needed, I would make. I've always enjoyed making what I used.

JW: When you're sitting there quilting, is it a time to relax, to think ahead, to muse on the past?

CB: Yes.

JW: What age then, if you care to give me the age, did you start quilting?

CB: I would have been 31.

JW: That's a little earlier than some folks. [tape skipped, but the following question was asked, 'How many hours a week do you quilt?']

CB: As much as possible. I don't really know if I could tell you the hours, but I try to spend a couple hours each evening doing something of handwork or quilting, just because that's how I relax at the end of the day.

JW: That has nothing to do with your business, that's you quilting?

CB: It is me quilting and it could be business related or it could be personal. But everything I make for the business is personal because I only make what I like. I only make what I will use.

JW: I hear from around the state as I talk with people though, what you make and you like, others like, because if I say anything about reproductions, 'Oh, Busy Thimble. [name of Cyndi's quilt shop.] I've been there. I love that.'

CB: [laughs.]

JW: How many quilts do you have in progress right now?

CB: Lots. I don't know.

JW: Are they UFO's or are they just really in progress?

CB: There may be a couple that will remain UFO's and I will not finish, simply because I might have started them a long time ago and my tastes have changed. There probably will be some UFO's left by me.

JW: Is there anybody in your family or are there friends that might complete those?

CB: Oh sure.

JW: Now you own this quilt shop. Tell me about the shop. Tell me about your business.

CB: I started about twenty years ago in the front two rooms of my mother's Cape [Cape Cod-style home.] which is seven miles from here. I stayed there for three and a half years, and she said, 'It's time to build you a building because you are moving into my quarters.' So, we built this building in the Fall of '93, and we moved in on January 1, 1994. From the beginning when I would order fabric, I remember telling my mother at one point, 'Everything I order looks old.' Even though reproductions, per se, had not been started to be sold. They weren't identified as reproductions. They really were, but they weren't marketed or identified as reproductions. That became my focus. I tried other things along the way. They didn't interest me enough, so I just decided to stay with the reproductions and homespuns. I do homespuns too.

JW: What do you think guided you towards the reproductions?

CB: Only my own personal taste.

JW: How did you find your source of material? Did you go around to places and check out companies?

CB: No. They come to me. I've always had sales reps that come to me right from the beginning. I've had three or four that were the same for many, many, many years, until they retired.

JW: So, they know just what to bring you.

CB: Mm-mm. Yeah, they know what to show me--

JW: Yup.

CB: --that I'll be interested in. I'm sure that they do that for all the shops though, because almost all the shops reflect the shop owner's interest, and everybody's interest is different. There' a lot of different types of quiltmaking, a lot of different types of fabric. There is something for everyone.

JW: Really, reproductions and Busy Thimble, they are synonymous when I hear people talking. [inaudible] work for you. It's a rather small space, but there is a lot of material here. Do you have anybody helping you?

CB: No. I work completely alone.

JW: Have you always worked alone?

CB: Yeah. Once in a while, like when I'm getting ready for a show, someone will offer to help me, but most of it I do myself.

JW: Now you and another person [Wendy Reed.] I have interviewed for these Quilters S.O.S. [interviews.] are Documenters. Would you tell me about that process?

CB: We started in 1986. What happened was, I think that right before that, the Pine Tree Quilters Guild [State of Maine guild.] had done a survey asking about what the members were interested in and what you wanted to see happen in the future. It seems that Wendy Reed and I both indicated that we wanted to document the quilts. The Kentucky Quilt Project had just produced their book. I was completely enamored of that book. I loved it. I remember the warm spring day, sitting on my front steps reading that book. I loved it. So, they introduced us to each to each other and we started in 1986. We've gone around the state and have documented nearly 3,000 quilts since then, which is twenty-four years. We've had a great time. It's been a wonderful learning experience. We both were interested in antique quilts at the time, and it's only deepened our interest as time went on.

JW: When you say antique, what period--of what period are you speaking?

CB: It would pre-date 1960, but most of everything we see is 1940's, 30's and previous. We don't see much of anything beyond that. In the 1950's there wasn't a lot of quiltmaking going on so we really haven't seen a lot that came from that time period.

JW: Do you go outside the state to do this?

CB: No. It's just in Maine.

JW: Is there a certification process or is this just an effort that you two are going through to help people understand their quilts better?

CB: It's just us. There was no certification as such, but we both were very interested, and we studied a lot. We studied the quilts we were studying, and we both have an extensive library of books that we've studied. I've bought every book that ever came my way that I found out about. I just recently received a book from the Victoria and Albert Museum for the Toile's that are in their collection. And we also belong to study groups. I belong to two different study groups, one in Maine and one in Massachusetts, that meet several times a year.

JW: Are they focused on a particular time period?

CB: Not really. No. We study all time periods. Predominantly 19th century probably, we'd have to say. But everyone, in the Massachusetts group we have more collectors, so we get to see more quilts there because people bring in quilts to view. The Maine quilt group is brand new and there aren't too many that are already collectors, but we're learning and studying together and its great fun. Of course, when you do this, it branches out to women's history, as well as history in general. I'm more interested in history of the common man, of what happened to ordinary people, than the wars and the politics that is usually written about for historic purposes.

JW: The movement of people as they moved to new locations, you must really be able to tell their story that way a little bit too.

CB: Right. Right. I've been listening to an audio book recently. It's a trilogy by Jane Kirkpatrick. It follows the life of Emma Giezy who went from Missouri to Oregon. There's an accompanying book that tells about the historical site that's in Aurora right now. There's pictures of her. There's pictures of her quilts. Of course, the author just took the facts and just wove the story around them. A lot of the characters were known. It was a religious sect that were called Bethelites from Missouri. Their goal was to have a village that was self-sustaining. All their members produced something for that. Every member had an ability, a craft or whatever that helped, whether it was making the quilts or doing the cooking or making shoes or blacksmithing. They had everything pretty much covered.

JW: That sounds very interesting.

CB: It is.

JW: What about your quilt documentation carrying forward? Are you going to be doing workshops to help new folks start this type of thing or are you two just doing what you like to do right now?

CB: Well, we do have volunteers that like to help us and I'm sure they learn in the process. I don't know. It's going to be an ongoing project for the foreseeable future. We are going to be putting the Maine quilts on a Quilt Index. We are all registered to start that. We've got five people who are going to do the data entry; however, it's been such a busy summer that not one of the five has yet started, that I know of. I would know, because I've got the records. [laughs.]

JW: Tell me about the Quilt Index.

CB: The quilt index is the University of Michigan State Museum. It's called the Matrix. I'm not 100% sure what that may mean. But anyway, they have, they started with collections from museums. They are doing individual people's collections and they are doing the state projects, especially like ours, because there won't be a book. There are over 50,000 quilts on that site right now, with more being added all the time.

JW: How does a quilt get there? What qualifies it to be part of that?

CB: It just has to be part of a collection I guess, or there is a separate collection being done of just signature quilts. I understand that individuals can upload that information. It doesn't have to be an organization or a museum.

JW: Now, your documentation process, how do you find the quilts, the people that have the quilts?

CB: Well, we just have different places sponsor them. They could be quilt chapters or historical societies. We are going to the Bowdoinham [Maine.] Historical Society this coming Sunday, November 7th, to document quilts. They are having a little show and we are going to document quilts for four hours on Sunday.

JW: Is this a volunteer thing that you do?

CB: Yes.

JW: This is all volunteer.

CB: All volunteer. Completely volunteer.

JW: What a treasure that is and a gift to future generations. Thank you from all of us for doing that.

CB: It's been most enjoyable.

JW: Is there anything else that you'd like to mention about the documentation process?

CB: I think it kind of speaks for itself. It's been a great thing for people interested in researching the antique quilts and all this is up on a quilt index. That's what it is for. One of the main interests is so that people can have the information for research.

JW: Invaluable for research. What's your first quilt memory?

CB: Now it would have to be something I made myself. I guess it would have to be that first quilt that I mentioned for the children.

JW: Not necessarily a quilt you made yourself, but your first memory of a quilt.

CB: Well, I see quilts in antique stores, if that's what you mean. I think that the first quilts that I must have seen were scrappy quilts because to me that's what a quilt is. When I first started quiltmaking, or soon after I was making quilts, we had Eleanor Burns come on the scene and all these planned quilts with like two or three different fabrics. It was just like I couldn't relate to that at all. I needed to see a lot of color, a lot of different fabrics. So, I think the first quilt I ever saw was a scrappy quilt, but I don't really recall it. It's just what's in my brain.

JW: And that's still what you like, then?

CB: Yes.

JW: Can you tell me an amusing experience that happened while you were making a quilt or in your quilting world? Can you think of anything that just cracked you up when it happened?

CB: [pause.]

JW: After I leave you will remember [talk at the same time.] one.

CB: I'm sure. I'm sure. But I can't right now.

JW: What do you really like about quiltmaking? What makes you get up in the morning and say, 'Mm, I love quiltmaking because--'

CB: Well, I just love making things and I love seeing them after they are finished and know that I made them. I enjoy the process from start to finish. Probably the least favorite thing is basting the quilt, but I don't baste anything large anymore. I send it to a long armer to be basted. I love the quilting. I even love the binding. I have done some quilting by machine. I'm not very good at it. I can't say that I enjoy it very much. I mostly just do "quilt in the ditch" because if you look at antique quilts, if they were quilted by machine, that's kind of how they were quilted. It wasn't the fancy stuff we see today. If a machine was used, it was usually straight lined, sometimes running across the patchwork and sometimes following the seam lines.

JW: I've seen an example of your hand quilting. It's amazing.

CB: Oh, thank you.

JW: Do you have any idea how many stitches you get per inch?

CB: Actually, there's only about 9 or 10. It's really pretty average I think--

JW: Not for a lot of quilters. That's a close stitch--

CB: Is that right?

JW: --for a lot of quilters. What about quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

CB: Probably nothing. There's nothing I don't enjoy.

JW: What quilt groups do you belong to? Do you belong to more than one?

CB: I just belong to the local Backroads Quilters Chapter of the Pine Tree Quilters Guild. I'm also a floater with the guild. I belong to the American Quilt Study Group. Wendy [Reed.] and I belong to that. We just started. I have all the books produced from the research papers that are done every year at their annual seminar. I think that's it for--I'm not, I don't belong to anything else, I don't think.

JW: Okay. Do you do your quilting here in this shop? Describe you quilting place.

CB: Well, the piecing is done mostly in my sewing room in my house, although I, if I have time here in the store, I do have it set up here. I can piece. Quilting and everything else takes place in the house. That's usually in the evening, at the end of the day when it's quiet.

JW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CB: Of course, it does have to have that wow factor that you just look at it and say, 'Oh my gosh, look at that quilt.' But I also believe that craftsmanship is very important. I think I get that because of looking at the antique quilts. When you look at an antique quilt, if the craftsmanship isn't perfectly wonderful, you don't tend to expound over it like you do if it's really wonderful. In the documentation we have seen some marvelous work. Absolutely. When you think of the marvelous work that was produced with such, what we would call, primitive conditions, they had nothing for the tools we have now. It was fabric, very crude scissors, needles and thread. Yet they produced some marvelous, marvelous quilts.

JW: What makes a great quiltmaker?

CB: Well. A beautiful quilt, I guess.

JW: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? You mentioned the wow factor, but as a quilt, what makes it artistically powerful if you were to see one, what do you want to see?

CB: I guess I do want to see good colors, but I do like to see precision points and very neat work, very--of course I like the look of the antique, real flat quilts. I like things that are very neatly bound. I think that's to me, of course the artistry to me is, I don't even call them artists, the quiltmakers of yesterday because they didn't consider themselves artists, I don't think. They just were making quilts for their use, be it every day or for best. I'm sure they put their best efforts into their best quilts, but I wonder if they really call themselves artists, like we call them today? I don't think they did. I think they were very proud of their work when they did make something that was beautiful.

JW: And yet they used them. They used them.

CB: Oh certainly. Yeah.

JW: But there are still many that were preserved until today so we can enjoy them.

CB: That's why we see mostly the best quilts. The utilitarian, everyday quilts were probably used right up.

JW: What do you think would make a quilt appropriate for a museum?

CB: Well, I know you speak about museum quality and how it needs to be perfect and everything, but I think anything that goes into a museum would have to be something that was well made, but also unusual, one-of-a-kind. Something that was not seen every day. Something that someone put a lot of effort into.

JW: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

CB: I like being busy and it keeps me being busy.

JW: And you choose the way to be busy.

CB: Right. And I would choose quiltmaking related activities over housework any day. [laughs.]

JW: Wouldn't we all? Do you think that your quilts reflect this area perhaps, the State of Maine or New England at all? Do you see differences, regional differences in quilting?

CB: Well, the only thing I would have to go by is from books and magazines for that reason because I don't travel all that much. But when I see the quilts that are in shows, there are a lot more artistic quilts in other regions I think than are being done here. I think traditional quiltmaking is pretty much alive and well in Maine. But I like to make quilts and I'm inspired by things that I've seen in a documentation. Both Wendy and I have tucked little information away that we've seen that a quilt would inspire us to, maybe not make one exactly like it, but would be something about it that we would want to make for ourselves.

JW: Do you collect quilts?

CB: Yes.

JW: What type, what would you be looking for in a quilt?

CB: Well, I only collect antique quilts and I collect a lot of tops because that's what happens to be available right now. Not too many really good antique quilts are on the open market anymore.

JW: The tops that you have collected, are you going to do something with them, make them into quilts?

CB: I think I may. Right now, there's no immediate plans. These are mostly scrappy tops. I like the postage stamp ones and the triangle charm quilts. I've got a couple of those. Those are tops. I do have, however, a quilt that was made here. It came out of a farmhouse here in Litchfield that was done in the late 19th century, but it has tremendously thick, heavy batting in it. I am going to take that out. I'm going to take it apart and put it together with a thin cotton batt and hand quilt it because it will not survive beyond my generation. Nobody would want this quilt because it is so heavy.

JW: Is it tied then?

CB: It is tied.

JW: But you're going to hand quilt when you get the new--

CB: Right. I'll quilt it.

JW: And use the same backing?

CB: Yes, I will. It's got a nice backing. I will use that.

JW: Does it have a binding or how is it finished at this point?

CB: It has a knife edge so it will be really easy to put a binding on. I'll find an old fabric.

JW: Do you have a collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia?

CB: Well, whenever something comes my way, I save it. I have a box that I've saved a few things and once in a while my mother will give me something that she used years ago. She doesn't sew any more. So, I get, I'm the family repository for anything old.

JW: [laughs.] So am I. [both laugh.] I know what you mean. Have you ever taught quilting?

CB: Yes. I taught here in the store as well as in Adult Ed[ucation.] in three different towns. This would be in the late '80's through 1998. In 1998 we had the ice storm and that was at the sign-up time for the Adult Ed courses and of course no one signed up. We were without power for 14 days and I'm sure a lot of other people were too. You had other things on your mind. So, there were no classes that spring and I decided I loved staying home at night and quilting and I did not want to go out anymore and that was the end of that.

JW: Do you do workshops at the guilds or anything at the state meeting?

CB: I have done a few here and there. Some of them are mostly talks so if people want to see either the quilts I've made or quilts I have collected. That right now is the extent of what I have been doing.

JW: Have you ever won an award for one of your quilts?

CB: Well, I've won ribbons. I did get a Viewer's Choice at the Common Grounds Fair [Maine.] a few years ago. I got ribbons at the Maine Quilt Show last year and this year.

JW: Very nice. Have pictures of you or your quilts or patterns that you do been published?

CB: The only thing that has been published would be, I have been in the newspaper, but it was mostly in relation to the old quilts. I have designed a few patterns myself and I sold them here in the store. While I don't hold classes per se, I do do individual, private classes with just one or two people and I also am very willing to help people. People bring me their quilts all the time to help me solve their problems for construction and stuff. When I do the Jo Morton Club, I do demonstrate a lot of techniques that are used when making quilts with small blocks.

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

CB: Well, I think the importance is keeping the history alive, the history of quiltmaking. Quiltmaking is defined as the American craft, even though it started in England and Europe before America was founded, but I think it has defined America. It's defined as an American craft. And I just think that as long as we keep on making quilts, it keeps that history alive.

JW: How to do think that quilts have a special meaning for women's history, specifically in America?

CB: Well, of course, that is what they did. I think it brings attention to women. When it brings the attention to them, we find out a lot of other things they did too and what their everyday life was like, which is vastly interesting to me. I just love to know what their everyday life was like. That's what this audio book that I mentioned earlier was. I mean you get a good insight into what everyday life was like, how hard it was.

JW: Would you say you are kind of researching that in this area, like in the New England area, or anywhere in the United States?

CB: I would say anywhere, but it would be, I like the timeframe of like, say, before the Civil War. Things moved really fast after the Civil War. We got into the Industrial Revolution in the late 90's and there was a lot of everything moved fast then, but up until that point it was slower, and I liked reading about it.

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

CB: Well, of course we've all got to put our quilts in museums and as much as we can, we've got to help the State Museum in Maine, as well as other museums to stay alive in these trying times. They are all struggling. To me that is the only place that they would be actually preserved. I'm sure that families have good collections that they pass down from year to year, but I think they eventually may reach a generation that doesn't care about them anymore.

JW: Oh, you think so?

CB: They may, oh yeah. I've talked to people who have rescued quilts from being thrown out. Their neighbor's home was being cleaned out and the sewing machine, fabrics, quilts and things like this were just heaved out and they were saved by, and I'm sure there was a lot that was heaved out that did not get saved.

JW: What a tragedy.

CB: It is.

JW: As a quilter's ears over here, I don't like to hear that.

CB: Well, I, oh--[pause.]

JW: It's sad.

CB: Oh yeah. It just breaks my heart when I hear about it.

JW: So you think generations in the future, I mean even a couple of generations in the future won't care about the quilts anymore?

CB: Well certain people won't. They like new things. They don't like any old things. I even think that they are not even as interested in history anymore. That's only my personal opinion though.

JW: Well, what has happened to quilts that you have made for your friends and family?

CB: They love them, and they use them. I want them to do that. I don't want them to just put them in a drawer or hang on the wall. They are using their quilts.

JW: Now those are the ones you have made. What about something that you've obtained that's perhaps early 20th century. Is that something you would use?

CB: Oh yes. In fact, in the winter there are three quilts on my bed. The two I have now which are hand quilted by me and the third one is a heavy one with a heavy batting tied. My brother-in-law left it to us when he passed away. It was never used, and it was probably around World War I. It's a four-patch and it's very warm and cozy and I use that too.

JW: How is that cleaned?

CB: So far, I haven't had to clean it. It was never used when I got it. Like I say, it was in wonderful condition. I take very good care of it. We only use it--

JW: What's the fabric?

CB Cotton.

JW: Cotton.

CB: --and there's a couple of flannels in there that kind of look different and a lot of checks and plaids. There are a couple of pieces of fabric that are way much earlier in the 19th century.

JW: Do you know anything about the history of it or who made it?

CB: No, I know nothing about it.

JW: That would be fascinating to find out. Now do you have any tips or advice for beginners, beginning quilters?

CB: Beginning quiltmakers or beginning studiers?

JW: Makers.

CB: I guess I would just have to say, 'Do it. Don't be afraid to start. Don't worry if things don't look right at first. Just persevere and keep working. Find out what is wrong, why those points are being cut off, or just work as accurately as you can, but mostly enjoy the process.' Because if you don't enjoy it, I just, I couldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it. I'm sure everyone else that does it must enjoy it too or they wouldn't do it.

JW: Otherwise, it would be work.

CB: Right.

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

CB: [laughs.] Timely. [because she owns the quilt shop.] The price of cotton commodity futures has gone up very much. It is now higher that it has ever been before. I don't know what that's going to do to quiltmaking.

JW: To you that's an especially close subject because you own a quilt shop.

CB: Mm-mm.

JW: So that must be hard for you to see it go up so high--

CB: It is.

JW: --because people find it harder. Do you find you have fewer people come in or that people don't come from as far away? How do you notice?

CB: I have probably an equal amount of people from Maine as I do from other states. I have people that came from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Last week somebody from Georgia [called and] is coming this Saturday. I have a blog now. I've joined a lot of different Yahoo groups. So, they know who I am. I sell fabric to people in Australia on a monthly basis. I just am in contact with a lot of people with similar interests.

JW: Would you consider at all being a catalog type of business--

CB: No.

JW: --on email, on Internet?

CB: Yeah. Well. I don't. They know what they want usually. They'll call and ask me if I have it.

JW: Do you sell anything that isn't a reproduction type of fabric?

CB: Oh, I--my head can be turned by a beautiful Fall fabric. [both laugh.] I love Fall colors, but mostly it's the reproductions.

JW: Is there anything else you'd like to say to add to this interview? Something that somebody should know?

CB: Well, I guess it's just that I would love to see the antique quilts taken care of and preserved. I would just like for people to realize their value--

JW: Mm-mm.

CB: --both in the item itself and in the history, it gives us.

JW: Very nice. I would like to thank Cyndi for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 11:20 a.m. on November 1st, 2010. Thank you very much.

CB: You are very welcome. I can't believe that forty [five.] minutes went by.

Tape concludes.



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