Louise Carter




Louise Carter




Louise Carter


Jeanne Wright

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Artistic Artifacts


Abbot, Maine


Jeanne Wright


This is Jeanne Wright (JW). Today's date is August 22, 2010. It's 10:10 in the morning and I'm interviewing Mrs. Louise Carter (LC) at her home in Abbot, Maine for the Alliance for American Quilts, 'Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories' project. Mrs. Carter has let us come into her home and talk with her this morning about quilting. [Mrs. Carter is joined by a friend of hers Pat Huckins (PH). Mrs. Carter is quite hard of hearing and Pat will help us from time to time. For questions which Mrs. Carter did not hear and had to be repeated to her, I will not note the repetition. Mrs. Carter turned 100 years old this year and is somewhat, and I'll emphasize, only somewhat, disabled in that she has only one arm! You will see that having only one arm is not much of an impediment to her life.]

JW: [Mrs. Carter], if you could tell us about the quilt, you have here today?

LC: Oh, I don't know. I just love to do it. It keeps me busy and seeing pieces going back together again, you know, I love it. I'm planning on starting another one. I don't know how far I'll get.

JW: The quilt you made; did you make it specifically for someone?

LC: Yes, this quilt I made for Pat [her friend sitting with us.]

JW: And Pat is a friend of yours?

LC: Oh yes.

JW: How did you choose the colors [of the quilt she was displaying.]? Is it because she liked those colors or because you thought it was pretty?

LC: I picked the colors out and afterwards she liked them.

JW: And the same thing with the pattern? You picked it out because you liked this pattern?

LC: Yes, yes.

JW: Have you made this pattern before?

LC: No, No.

JW: Well, it's nice for Pat, then, that you specifically picked out one for her. [Mrs. Carter laughs.] That's nice. How long did it take you to make it?

LC: Oh, probably six months off and on. I didn't sew on it all the time.

JW: What special meaning does this quilt have for you? You made it for a friend, but what other special meaning does this quilt have for you?

LC: Well, I love the girl. I think the world of her. All the while I was making it, she was coming in and out. She's my [physical.] therapist, so we're pretty close.

JW: That's nice. I see that there are two pillows that you made to go with it.

LC: Ayuh.

JW: They are beautiful. That's a nice extra touch, to do the pillows. Now if someone were to come in here and look at your quilt and not talk with you, what would they think about you? What they think about the person who made this quilt?

LC: About me? (JW: mm-mmm.] Well, I don't believe they'd believe it. [laughs.] It is pretty hard for one arm, you know, and everything, but I can do it. I made one other one and I gave that away to a friend.

JW: Have you just made the two quilts?

LC: No, I made three. The first one, I gave it to my son. Then I made another one for another friend of mine and he's got it in his camp.

JW: How long ago did you make the quilts?

LC: Oh, must be three or four years ago.

JW: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

LC: I don't know what to tell you.

JW: Well, I can say that you turned 100 years old this year. [LC: Yes.] Your birthday was in March, so Happy Birthday. I appreciate your letting me come in this year, because it is such a special year. Is there anything you can tell us about yourself at all? Anything you'd like to say?

LC: Well, I've had my ups and downs, but right now I feel content. I get to sewing again and everything will be all fine. But I have to keep doing something. I can't sit and I like to sew. I've been sewing ever since I was a tot. So, I know how to sew.

JW: So up until the last couple of years you've been sewing clothes, or other things?

LC: No, I've been, the last few years, I've been making quilts.

JW: Have you always lived in this area? We are in Abbot, Maine. Have you lived here all your life?

LC: No. I lived in Guilford [Maine.] and in Barnard [Maine.].

JW: Mm-mmm. Is Barnard close to here? I'm not familiar with that.

LC: That'd down around Brownville [Maine.]. [JW: okay.] And I've been up here 50 years. So, I'm content. It's quiet and everything. I just enjoy it. Before I lost my arm, I used to go outside and work all the time. After that, I couldn't.

JW: What kind of jobs have you had?

LC: I worked in hardwood products.

JW: In hardware?

LC: Hardwood product in Guilford.

JW: Hardwood? Harwood? [PH: hardwood.] Hardwood. What type of company was that?

LC: Well, they made tongue blades and applicators and spoons and things like that. I worked in there 27 years.

JW: What kind of work did you do there?

LC: Everything.

JW: This is while you had one arm, or before that?

LC: No, I hurt my arm in '38 [1938.] [and had it amputated in 1948,] on a machine and I never worked again after that.

JW: Did you try to or want to? Did you have difficulty finding a job?

LC: They didn't want me on the premises.

JW: What about other companies?

LC: I tried, but they'd say to me, "What can you do with one arm?"

JW: Did you tell them? I can see you maybe telling them what you could do.

LC: Well sometimes I'd tell 'em and other times I'd just walk off, because it got to the point where it was useless. There was no need of me, I gave up. I didn't even go looking for a job. I could get all kinds of jobs washing floors and taking care of kids and things like that. But I couldn't do it. My nerves are too bad for kids. I did do a lot of washing floors and sewing and things like that to get a little bit of money.

JW: So, you sewed for other people?

LC: Oh yes. I sewed for a man who had a men's store down in Guilford. I fixed his pants for him and hemmed them up and things like that.

JW: Did you have children at the time?

LC: Yes, I had two, a boy and a girl.

JW: When were they born?

LC: One was 1930 and the other one in 1928.

JW: What age did you start sewing? You said you were a tot. Can you remember when you started sewing?

LC: Oh, my goodness, I couldn't have been more than ten years old.

JW: What did you make back then? Did you make table runners or what?

LC: I had a little sister that I fell in love with when she was born. After that I made all of her clothes and took her out. I really took care of her because I didn't have a doll, so I used her for a little doll.

JW: That's sweet. Did you make matching outfits for you and her so both of you were wearing the same thing?

LC: Oh yeah. And I used to knit hats for her and booties and things like that. She was very special to me.

JW: Was she just a couple of years younger?

LC: I'm seven years older than her. She's gone. She's been dead a long time.

JW: It sounds like you had fun when you were young then [LC: Yes.] to have her almost like your doll to play with. [LC laughs.] From then, for a lot of years, did you sew clothes?

LC: Ayuh. I used to knit and crochet and do all that stuff. Right from the beginning I've done it.

JW: What other kinds of things do you do now besides sewing?

LC: Now?

JW: Mm-mmm.

LC: Put puzzles together. [laughs.]

JW: Oh. Neat. I like to do that. When did you first become interested in quilts or quilt making?

LC: Oh [paused to think.] it must have been before I left [inaudible.]. It must have been in the…I can't remember. It was a long time ago, but I made two carpets, rugs.

JW: What was that like, punch needle or braided?

LC: I made two rugs, one for my daughter and one for my granddaughter. The way I did it was, I put the needle through with the arm and then I tied it with my teeth.

JW: So, it's kind of a punch needle kind of thing or a latch hook would you say?

LC: No, I couldn't use a latch hook. I had to have a needle.

JW: So, this was with yarn on a background. [Ayuh.] It wasn't a braided quilt [rug.] or anything.

LC: It took me three years to make the first one.

JW: How big was that?

LC: Oh…it was a little bigger than that. [pointing to a small table approximately 2' by 3' on small wheels which she uses as her only table for sewing her quilts.] It was just beautiful.

JW: Who did you learn to quilt from? Or did you just pick it up on your own?

LC: Well, I see it in a store, and I liked the colors and just thought I'd start in. I never left it alone. I used to go up to the camp and sit on the porch and work for hours, listen to the water.

JW: That sounds beautiful. That's one way you are probably so content, that you can sit by the water.

LC: Yuh, I love the water anyway.

JW: So, nobody else taught you how to quilt? You just picked it up?

LC: No. Everything that I've done I've picked it up myself.

JW: Are you working on any quilts now?

LC: No, but I'm going to start. I've got the material and everything. I think I'll start in and see how far I go.

JW: It looks like you have a small quilt, maybe a runner quilt that is laying here beside us and the pattern matches the quilt you have here. Now the edges aren't done on that. How do you finish the edges? Do you put binding on them, or do you turn it over and sew it?

LC: No, there's lining in it.

JW: [she didn't hear the question.] No, the binding along the edge.

LC: The binding?

JW: Yes. Do you use binding that's already made? [PH: restates to Mrs. Carter. "She wants to know how you bind the edge, how you do the edging." PH looked at the unfinished work and said, "Oh she's already got some of it on. She makes it."] She makes homemade bindings, and it matches the back of the quilt. [PH: Yup.] Now do you hand sew that on, on the front.

LC: Ayuh. You see that's, I'm making that for Janet [she pronounces it 'Janette' throughout.] for a runner for her table.

JW: So, you sew the binding so that it is on the back, so it's on the back, with the machine. [Ayuh.] And then when you bring it to the front do you hand do that, or do you machine do it on the front?

LC: I was planning on sewing it with a machine. I baste it and then sew it. I've either got to have a hand full of pins or baste it. [laughs.]

JW: Do you have any trouble seeing what you are doing? Do you use special glasses or special lights?

LC: No. Yes. I've got this one here [a tabletop reading lamp.] if it's real dark in here. And, but I, my eyes are pretty good.

JW: Now you're not wearing glasses right now. [LC: No.] Do you usually wear glasses?

LC: Well, I've got three or four pair, but I don't wear them. They make me nervous and I'm always leaving them somewhere.

JW: I think we all do that and it's aggravating. [laughs.] But do you use any glasses while you are sewing?

LC: Sometimes I have to when it's dark material.

JW: Yuh, yuh. Now how do you choose your material? Where do you get your material?

LC: Well, where I got this [pointing to some close-by material.] was I was down to a little store, down in Sangerville [Maine.] and they had a little quilt on the wall, and I liked it. I looked it all over and I bought the material and started making it.

JW: Did you use a pattern or just what you remembered from the pattern of the quilt?

LC: I had the paper, the book. I bought the book. I went from there. The other two quilts that you made, did you come up with the pattern or were they in a book?

LC: Yes. That was a pattern that was out of a book I had. I had to cut the pieces. That was more of a job than this was because I [had.] to sew them on.

JW: So, you did it by hand then?

LC: Ayuh, most of it.

JW: Yuh, hand appliqué?

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Now, what are your favorite quilt patterns, not including what you've done necessarily, but if you were just thinking, 'Oh, I'd like to make….", what would you say? What would be your favorite kind of quilt to try.

LC: They call it the wedding ring.

JW: Oh, yes.

LC: That's it. I've looked at that and looked at that, wondering how I could do it.

JW: There's a lot of small pieces to that.

LC: Ayuh.

JW: They have what they call 'cheater's wedding ring' too, where the pieces aren't so small. But I'll bet you would like to do it with all the pieces the regular way. Is that true?

LC: Yes. You see, people are sending me cloth and everything to make quilts now. [JW: Mm-mmm] I appreciate it totally 'cause I can't get out to get to the stores and as far as I can see, it's all there, everything that I need.

JW: Do they send thread and everything you need?

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Yuh. So, a pattern would come with it? They would give you a pattern or a book.

LC: No. No, just the cloth.

JW: Do they want you to make a quilt for them or are they just giving it as a gift.

LC: No. No. They just gave me the material.

JW: So how do you pick out a design? How do you decide which one you are going to do?

LC: Well just like this. I see it. [JW: yuh.] I've got a lot of books. I see it and I go from there. I thought this [the touchstone quilt.] was beautiful on that wall that day.

JW: It is. And the colors you've chosen are just beautiful. Did you choose these colors, or did somebody pick it out for you?

LC: No, I chose the colors.

JW: Just very, very nice. What is your favorite color?

LC: Most all of them are my favorite. I don't go too much for yellow. [JW: Mm-mmm.] But anything that'll match.

JW: Some people like all pastel colors or they might like bright reds, but you just like all colors, except maybe yellow?

LC: I like the ones that go together good. [JW: Mm-mmm.] They have to be matching.

JW: Yup. When you're quilting, how many hours a week would you quilt? Like this one that you've made for your friend. Would you say, "I'm going to quilt four hours this week." Or would you say, "I'm going to quilt all day, every day."

LC: Sometimes when I was making this quilt, I'd sit here all day long and work on it….

JW: Mm-mmm. And your eyes didn't get tired?

LC: …and in the wintertime nothing else to do, you know. I just sit here, and I have my machine right here handy.

JW: Where do you cut out the pieces? Right in this room? [living room.]

LC: Ayuh. I have cut out…

JW: So, do you have a lapboard around you or a tray beside you or a little table beside you or something?

LC: No. I've got cardboard over here that I put across my lap.

JW: Mm-mmm. And then along the arm of your chair or something? Is that what you use?

LC: I just mark it. I mark on the back side of the cloth so it don't show, just a little mark. Then I go from there.

JW: So, do you hand cut everything with scissors? You don't use a rotary cutter? You just use scissors? [PH held up the shears Mrs. Carter uses.] Oh, I see a nice big pair of scissors there. [SofTouch Spring-Action Scissors.]

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Wow.

LC: They are wonderful shears.

JW: It looks spring-loaded, I guess you might say, so they will open for you so it's a little easier on your hand.

LC: Ayuh.

JW: So, you cut out every piece, every strip, [LC: Ayuh.] by yourself. Does anyone ever help you on your quilts?

LC: No, not necessarily. Not that I remember. Janet, she might cut out something and Pat, I don't know if Pat has or not. But I'm alone most of the time when I'm working.

JW: You live alone.

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Then you have a caregiver that comes in and helps out. You have someone that comes in and helps out sometimes.

LC: Ayuh. That girl that was here. [Janet Lewis.] Now that I'm getting older, she stays with me most of the time.

JW: Mm-mmm. What is your first memory of a quilt--the first quilt you ever saw? Can you remember?

LC: Well, I don't know. I guess it was, I was little I remember. My neighbor down next to us was making a quilt. That's the first time I got interested in it. It was so pretty.

JW: Did you think at the time that you'd like to make quilts some day?

LC: No, not at that time.

JW: Did you have quilts in your family then?

LC: No. No, I don't remember of any of them sewing very much.

JW: Okay. Have you ever used a quilt to get through a tough time? You know, for comfort or ever used a quilt when going through a tough time?

LC: No.

JW: Can you tell me about something that would be amusing about your quilting? Something that was funny while you were quilting or about one of your quilts.

LC: No. It wouldn't be anything here. I don't think of anything.

JW: You can't think of a mishap, something that happened one day, and you just had to laugh about it later?

LC: No, because I do it good the first time. [both laugh.]

JW: Yes, I can see that you do. [both laugh again.] What do you like most about quilting?

LC: Oh, it's interesting. Every piece put together brings it nearer the end. I look forward to getting it finished.

JW: Maybe perhaps like the puzzles that you like to put together?

LC: Ayuh.

JW: What do you not like about quilting?

LC: I don't know as there's anything.

JW: [laughs.] Good for you. You like to finish it off at the end [LC: yes.] and do the binding and everything?

LC: I'm anxious to see what it's going to look like.

JW: Can you tell us where we are now, what it looks like while you're quilting? You are quilting in your own living room and everything is right here for you. You have that chair [upholstered chair with upholstered arms.] and you quilt mainly in that chair?

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Tell me about this table here.

LC: I just pull it up here. [Pulls her little 2' by 3' rolling TV table towards her.] And I've got my little foot lever thing and I just sew. It's easy.

JW: It looks quite low. Does it bother your back?

LC: No. No. I had a man fix that, so it brought it up higher.

JW: Mm-mmm. So, it's just the right height for you.

LC: Yes. Ayuh.

JW: It's on wheels, so that makes it a lot easier for you.

LC: But ah, it's perfect almost.

JW: Do you pin things before you sew them on the machine? How do you handle getting things through the machine?

LC: I always either pin it or tack it [Mm-mmm.] so it wouldn't move.

JW: How close would you put the pins? I think it's hard to hang on to everything when I'm sewing. So how close would you have to put the pins before you sew it on the machine?

LC: So, the pins won't be in the way of the needle.

JW: Mm-mmm. But are your pins like every couple of inches apart, the ones you are pinning by hand?

LC: I have a way of pinning it so the needle will go over it.

JW: Okay. So, they are pretty close together though.

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Like a couple of inches maybe?

LC: Well, some of them are and some of them are more. It all depends on the cloth. You see, sometimes I can hold that cloth just perfect. I don't need so many needles.

JW: Good for you, because I'm not good at that. [both laugh.] Now tell me about the machine that you have. How long have you had that?

LC: Well, it was given to me for Christmas, no, my birthday.

JW: A long time ago or is it new?

PH: Her 100th birthday.

LC: My 100th birthday.

JW: Oh, your 100th birthday. That's a neat present. What had you been sewing on before this machine?

LC: One like that. [Singer.]

JW: So that's the kind that you like. Have you ever sewn on a treadle machine?

LC: That's all I've [Singer.] …yes. I've had all Singers anyway.

JW: Mm-mmm. How many machines do you suppose you've had?

LC: I got my old one in there [pointing to another room.] and these two.

JW: Just two machines in all this time? Three machines?

LC: Three. Three machines.

JW: Three machines in all this time. Well, you must treat your equipment well then.

LC: That one in there you have to get up and thread the needle from the side. It's hard work for me to keep jumping up and so I got one of these.

JW: So, is this one an automatic needle threader? This machine?

LC: Yes. You can, but I never tried it.

JW: So, you just have to stick the thread through it, it looks like. Tell me about your sewing on the treadle machine. Did you enjoy that?

LC: Oh, yes. That's when I was little. I used to whip that thing along. I don't know as I could do it now.

JW: I used to like the rhythm of being on a treadle machine. Would you say that's true for you, the rhythm of rocking it along?

LC: No, I never see one.

JW: When you're using a treadle machine and your foot is moving back and forth, did you used to like the rhythm of that, the motion?

LC: No. I was too busy watching my business, [both laugh.] my thread.

JW: Ayuh. Ayuh. What do you think makes a great quilt?

LC: Well cloth is the main thing. You got some good cloth. Then you've got to have a lot of patience to get it right. I tried to make, do everything right.

JW: Do you have to take out stitches a lot… [LC: Oh, yes.] …or do you just do it right?

LC: Yes. A lot.

JW: What do you use to take the stitches out?

LC: I got a little thing here that takes them out.

JW: Now what do you think makes a great quiltmaker, the person, like if you met somebody somewhere and they had made a beautiful quilt, what would make a good quiltmaker?

LC: That's somebody that would like to sew and interested in what they are doing. I can't imagine anybody just picking up something and just sewing it and laying it aside and sew again once in a while. I don't think that's good.

JW: So, you might say that you want the quilts to be used when you make a quilt for someone?

LC: Ayuh. When you're making something, like when I used to knit, I'd have to finish it so that I would know what it would look like.

JW: Did you do knitting for others?

LC: No, just for my kids, my sisters.

JW: Just family. Now did you ever either wear or make what they call 'Feed Sack' clothing back in the 1920's or 1930's? Do you remember the feed sack material, not the material, but the feed sacks that they turned into clothing? Are you familiar with that at all?

LC: I don't remember it.

JW: They took feed sacks, and they were printed. They made them printed that looked like material and used them. Do you think you ever wore something like that?

LC: Oh, I used to go down to the grain shop, because I didn't have any money, and I'd pick up the grain bags. He'd save them for me, match them up, you know. And I'd make dresses out of it.

JW: How many would you try to get at one time that would match?

LC: Three. He'd save them for me.

JW: Now I understand that it would take three to make a woman's dress and perhaps two for a man's [shirt.].

LC: The way I made it, I just cut the sleeve out and straight down and around the neck. It didn't take much to do that. But I used to do that when I was little, right on the floor.

JW: Do you think that perhaps, is that something you wore a lot for a certain period of history?

LC: Oh, yes. I used to wear it in the mill.

JW: Can you tell me why you think quilt making is important in your life?

LC: Oh, I don't know. It just means so much to me. I like to see the results of what I've made. I'm so proud of this quilt.

JW: It's gorgeous. How old were you when you started quilting?

LC: Thirteen, or fourteen.

JW: For quilting?

LC: No. When I started quilting, I couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old.

JW: When you were quilting like this?

LC: Ayuh. I used to take big pieces and sew them together to make a quilt.

JW: What did you use for the batting in the middle?

LC: Anything.

JW: Fabric, blankets, or…

LC: Old blankets or old sheets or anything like that and sew it together and make a quilt.

JW: Did you do any quilting (the small stitches) or did you tie your quilts?

LC: No, I used that old pedal machine.

JW: So, once you got the quilt all together, you machine quilted, is what you're saying?

LC: Ayuh.

JW: Ayuh. Now do you have any tips for beginners, if somebody is just starting out quilting, what would you tell them they need to be careful with? What do they need to do?

LC: Well, I would say get everything they need together and then go from there, because you can't just start out with a little and keep it going. You've got to have your material.

JW: What about patterns? What would you advise them for a pattern?

LC: Well, I've always had good luck just looking at a picture.

JW: Is that what you would advise for a beginner to do?

LC: Well, no. I would have to say to a beginner, today anyway, years ago they didn't have to, they could cut out their squares and sew them together. That would be better than just starting in.

JW: Would it be something you would like to do is to help teach a beginner?

LC: I probably would if I were younger.

JW: Did you ever teach a quilter to quilt?

LC: No.

JW: No. What do you think is the biggest challenge for quilters today? Now you've had some challenges, certainly, in your life, things have happened in your life that have been challenges. What do you think about a modern-day quilter? What do you think their challenges are?

LC: I don't know. To get it right.

JW: Is that your biggest challenge when you quilt?

LC: To get it right.

JW: Is there anything else you'd like to add to this interview?

LC: No, no.

JW: You think you've said it all? Nothing about colors or designs or other people who quilt.

LC: I haven't seen too many other quilts. Once in a while I'll run into a store and they will have one hung up, you know, but I don't get out much, so I don't see. But I enjoy it and I think anybody else would if they started.

JW: That's a good recommendation then, have somebody else try it. I'd like to thank you for allowing me to come in and interview you for this 'Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories' project. You've had many years and probably lots of stories, so I want to thank you for sharing those stories with us [LC: okay.] so we can keep the stories. Our interview is now over unless there is anything else you'd like to say.

LC: No.

JW: Okay. Thank you very much for letting me interview you.

LC: You are more than welcome.

Interview concludes just before 11:00 a.m.

Upon return of Mrs. Carter's transcript which she reviewed, the following information was confirmed, and I thought it was interesting and should be added to the interview.

- She still like to cook and still makes her own biscuits and pickles
- She made Thanksgiving dinner last year
- He cat Baby was snoring during the interview
- She had three singer Sewing Machines. Her first one was bought in 1938 and had a backup stitch on it.
- If she were younger, she would like to try using a rotary cutter
- According to her friend Pat, she is very intent when she quilts, but she sets aside her quilting when people are around. Quilting gives her peace of mind, more important is that it's done with passion and love.


“Louise Carter,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2158.