Retha T. Crawford




Retha T. Crawford




Retha T. Crawford


Jeanne Wright

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Dexter, Maine


Jeanne Wright


This is Jeanne Wright (JW). Today's date is July 23, 2010. It's 6:30 p.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Retha Crawford at her home in Dexter, Maine for the Alliance for American Quilts Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Retha has a beautiful home here. We are in her quilting room. We're beside the lake and this is lovely. Thank you for having me here.

Retha Crawford (RC): You are more than welcome, Jeanne.

JW: We have a beautiful little quilt that you made here. Could you tell me about it please?

RC: Yes. We live here at the lake, and we have a lot of birds. In the last couple of years, we have been fortunate enough to end up with usually two pair of Baltimore Orioles; this year we have three and each pair probably has two or three babies. I see them out my window every day and fortunately I'm thumbing through one of the catalogs that we quilters all get sent, [JW laughs.] and you just drool over everything, and I saw this little picture in there. Maybe it was an inch and a half by an inch and a half of a quilt wall hanging that you could appliqué this Oriole onto. I thought, 'Oh, I've got to have it.' Well, I almost didn't get it, because you know how you look at things and you put it away and think well, okay, I'll order it next week? Fortunately, I ordered it the next week and the next catalog--it wasn't in it. [laughs.] So that's why I picked the Oriole. I love the birds and my husband watches them all the time. It was a fun thing, a really fun thing.

JW: How is it constructed?

RC: It's constructed with, they send the kit with the pattern, which you trace and put it on the [laughs.] Steam-A-Seam 2, or whatever it is, Steam-A-Seam 2. Then of course you cut it out. Well, they sent all the colors, and they showed a picture of how it's put together. So, then I had to cut them all out and iron them all onto the squares after I get it together. I put a batting inside and a backing. Then I proceed to try to sew on my machine with a little, fine zigzag so it won't show, going around all the little jigs around the leaves, jigs around that and had a lot of fun with it. The Oriole I embellished more than they did, although from a distance you can't see it. I put all types of lines in it so it would emphasize the wings better. I had trouble finding an eye for the little bugger, which you can't see, but I finally found one and ended up painting it with a black magic marker so the little eyeball inside would roll around with a little white and a little black, so that covered that up. I really enjoy it. I have a place in my, our, porch we sit in all the time and watch all the birds and what not, that is just perfect for hanging a wall hanging. It's the only place in my small cottage that we live in year around that I can put up a wall hanging, so I always manage to make them, oh, about 24 inches. Don't make it any bigger than that. You can make it longer, but don't make it bigger. This one was perfect. I had a lot of fun with it. To me this is a much more relaxing thing to do than making a king-size or queen-size quilt, because you are dragging the fabric around and you've got to make so many squares over and over again. This is, to me it is like putting together a picture puzzle with fabric and I love putting together picture puzzles. So that's why I chose this. I have others. I have a loon, which I did with a stained-glass window type thing with a double black bias tape, and I have a hummingbird. So, I keep making a different one when I can find a different one, because I'm not clever enough to draw my own. [laughs.] I can embellish it after I get a pattern or I can make it bigger or smaller, but I can't just say, okay, I will make a bird that looks like a bird. Forget it. [laughs.]

JW: Is that the style you usually use? The way, the method?

RC: Between that and the stained-glass window that you do with the double tape, the double black bias tape, yes, it is. I don't do good handwork and it frustrates me because I can't get enough of it done when I want to. Probably it would take me a year to make that little thing there if I had done it by hand. I love sitting at the machine, out here [sewing room, separate from house.] all by myself and I put the music on, and I can just work and work and just, totally, okay that's all I've got to do this afternoon, is play at my sewing machine. That's playing. [laughs.] I think you probably understand that.

JW: I certainly do. [both laugh.] What do you think someone viewing your quilts might conclude about you?

RC: Possibly that I'm a nature lover, things that fly anyway. I like color. I definitely like color. I'm not one who is interested in making a quilt of just plain brown shades or something like that. I've got to have something color. All of my quilts basically have color. They may be just a basic pattern that I have taken from times when people used to make the patch squares and log cabins and that type of thing. But I still want color. I can't seem to ever get away from it, which I love.

JW: Does this mean that you like bright colors like oranges and reds, or can it be pastels?

RC: It can be pastels, as long as it's got a 'pop' to it somewhere. I don't want it just plain flat. So that's why when you make a wall hanging, those are made so that when you look at them, they jump out at you. It isn't just a piece of cloth hanging on the wall. It's similar to the one behind there, behind you, that I made for my sewing room here that has the old-fashioned little sewing machine on it and the scissors and whatnot. That's got a lot of color because I did all the border in a button fabric, so that it would just make it stand out.

JW: Did you do machine piecing on that too?

RC: Oh, yes, oh yes. I went all the way around the sewing machine and the scissors and the whole nine yards. I have patience with that.

JW: It has both methods then, sewing with a machine and some hand work?

RC: A little hand work. Not a lot, a little, because I had to put the needle in the pin cushion that had to be done and the pins had to be done by hand and the buttons and the, I guess I was able, my sewing machine I got at the time, which mine still does, it will do the alphabet, so I actually put my name down in the bottom of the sewing machine, so that's my name on the little sewing machine. [on the wall hanging.] [both laugh.]

JW: It's an adorable wall hanging. How do you use the Oriole quilt? Does it always sit in that spot, or do you use it somewhere else other than in [an enclosed porch.] your porch?

RC: The porch is basically where it goes because I always want something on that one little wall to look at. But I go seasonal. Christmas time is a Christmas tree and a snowman and the different birds and the lighthouse. I can't remember how many I've got; I've probably got at least eight. But usually, I can change them every six weeks if I want to, to do something different. See the hummingbird is usually up before the oriole. The loon is up--mmm--I like the loon, so he stays up longer. [laughs.] Some of the others, the Christmas tree of course, I love the Christmas tree up. That goes up just as soon as Thanksgiving is over. Then I can't remember what the others are because I've made quite a few lighthouses. That also presents a problem. When I have something hanging on the wall out there [porch.], somebody comes along and says, 'Oh, would you make me one of those?' [laughs.] Well, I've done pretty well. I've made probably three loons but have not made another oriole. My sister lives in Florida and she has a home down there that is full of everything. She said, 'You could walk around any corner and you're there,' because I send her all these wall hangings and make quilts for her and what not. She's the only sister I have. So, I told her about the oriole, which she had not seen. She said, 'Oh make me one!' I said, 'Not for a while I don't!' That took me many hours of patience and I'm enjoying it. Maybe later on when I just want to sit around and, okay, I don't want to make a quilt, I'll make one of those for her, but right now, no.

JW: When you put them out on that porch, it's kind of a live-in porch?

RC: Yes, it's a porch. We live here at the lake in what is a cottage turned into a year 'round home. So, our living area is actually a glassed-in porch right on the front of the cottage and it looks at the lake. And with all the trees, with I don't know how many different birds we have, so it just kind of puts it all together.

JW: When you put your quilts out there, is that something just because you like to do it, or do you have family and friends that they are going to look. They are going to say, 'I wonder what she's got there now?'

RC: Now well, they usually come in and most of them sit on the couch and say, 'Oh, look at that. That's so pretty!' Well, okay, I get a little excited.

JW: Do you have others that you have in your house that either stay in a particular place or are rotated?

RC: Yes. I don't know if you noticed over my doorways that go to the bedrooms, the doorways are right side by side. Did you see the flag? I've had that probably since '93 [1993.]. We moved here permanently in '92 [1992.] and in '93 I had a booklet that showed how to make that, so I made one and I thought, well what am I going to do with it. I had no place to put it. I had a wall hanging up there, but it was, you know, a piece of fabric that's got a picture on it. I think it had seagulls and you just stitch around all of them and make it all, and sort of make it padded. So that was hanging there because that was the only thing, I had to put it there.

JW: How was the flag constructed? Was it pieced?

RC: Yes, it is. It's almost a log cabin square, but it isn't. You had to have seven red shades, seven beige or off-white shades and each little log cabin square was not supposed to have the same red in it more than once, which was impossible to do. You weren't supposed to have any squares that were alike. So, when you get all the different ones, it's trying to put them together so that you've got a dark red in this one here and you've got another one that's got a red, but don't put it next to that square because [laughs.], so I think it took me two days just to lay the thing out. [laughs.]

JW: Do you like the puzzle work on--

RC: Yes, I do. I do. I love it. I love it. I don't do, as I say, hand appliqué. I just do the old-fashioned type squares where the ladies of long ago took the fabric and used, put in the squares or half-square triangles and you twist it this way and twist it that way. I have no two alike, naturally. So that, that's fun, playing with color, going to a fabric shop. Ah, I've gone to a fabric shop before, and I've wandered around. I don't need any. I probably, as with most other quilters who quilt a lot, I don't need any more. But there's always something there that says oh, you've got to take that home. And every time you do this, you show it to someone, and they'll say, 'What are you going to do with this?' [I'll say,] 'I don't have a clue.' Someday, when I'm out here I have, one, two, three, four [counting off her cloth storage boxes.] --I have eight boxes which are plastic tote type things, sweater boxes maybe you'd call them, full of fabric. I'll come out someday and I haven't got a project started and I'll say, well, what am I going to do today? So, I start, and people laugh at me. I call it stirring cloth. I spend a whole afternoon out here taking this piece from this box and putting it into this box because, oh, that goes with that, I didn't realize that. And then over here, oh I could do that with that. I'll spend the whole afternoon mixing my boxes up again. A lot of people I know though, everything is lavender, everything is pink--I can't do that. I have to go, go along with putting things together that I like the print and I like the shade and what not. Then after I get the cloth together, I go, okay, now I think I can make a pattern with that.

JW: You choose the color before the pattern?

RC: Nine times out of ten I seem to. Once in a while I'll say, okay, now today I'm going to make a log cabin, I must have seven fabrics. No, I don't usually do that. Somebody will ask me to make a quilt. I made one several years ago for a neighbor up the road. Her little grandson was going to be five years old, and she wanted a quilt for him. He had to have cars on it. I couldn't believe it. I went down to Waterville [Maine.]. I walked into the old Marden's [discount surplus store.] and there were these brand-new bolts [of fabrics.] with racing cars all over them. Red and yellow and blue and the stop lights and the whole nine yards. And then, okay, you're going home. So, I bought it. I came home and thought, now what do I do with it? So, I just kept playing with it and ended up with a quilt and the child, who is no longer five, he's probably a teenager, still uses it.

JW: You said that was back in '93 when you made that other, the flag quilt. [RC: Yes.] So, it's been a while since you've been here [in Dexter.]. Have you changed your style of quilting since then?

RC: I think I dare to do things a little more complicated. Of course, I love gadgets. That's my downfall. So, if there's a ruler that I can figure out that will do something different for me, which I just got a brand-new book that I'm sure quilters have used, but it comes with the rulers too, to show you how to do it. I said, okay. So, I bought that, and I will try that. Sometimes I know people are familiar with stack and whack, you must be familiar with that. Every time I make one, I say I'm not doing that again. However, I seem to fall into it every now and then. And like I say, I love color. I have a friend who comes and quilts with me quite frequently. She has another friend who wanted to learn to do the stack and whack. Well, I had no fabric picked out for that day and I thought, oh dear, I've got to find something in the box that I'm going to make a stack and whack, and I've got to, you know, I don't care what it is. Well, I pulled out a piece of fabric that had a black background with, I'm going to call them hyacinth blossoms, they are big, like they fall down with this big bouquet. They were white with tinges of green around some of the blossoms and some other deeper green and the white. Well, okay, do I or don't I? I made a stack and whack quilt. Really, I would show it to you, but I do not have it because somebody got it. I gave it to somebody else. But that's what the fun is. With a stack and whack, no two things ever come out alike. Every square is different, even [emphasized by hitting table.] though it was out of the exact same fabric. No two ever come out alike. You think, I like that one better, no, I like that one better. So, I made two or three different ones of those. I wasn't going to make any more, but, if you get the right mood, it's the mood, isn't it? Yep, it's the mood.

JW: You mentioned going to fabric shops, how you like to do that. What's your closest fabric shop, not what is it, but how close is your fabric shop?

RC: The closest one is Newport [Maine. About 20 minutes away.], but for some reason or another I end up over to Skowhegan [Maine.] at the Fabric Garden quite frequently. [laughs.] In fact, the last time I went I wasn't going to go at all. They had their April, June, May--they had a month sale anyway, specials every week. So, my husband, fortunately, had to go over to the hardware store over there and I said, 'Oh, you can drop me off at the fabric shop.'

JW: Would that be something like 45 minutes away?

RC: Yeah, no more than that, Newport is about 20.

JW: How far would you go to buy fabrics?

RC: Would you believe I've been to Massachusetts? I also bought fabrics in Asheville, NC [North Carolina.] when my girlfriend wanted a quilt for her new home. If there is a fabric shop available, and my husband is very understanding and he usually says, 'Oh, do you want to stop?' Of course, I want to stop. I don't need to stop. [laughs.] And do you realize that he's the kind of husband that gets upset if I come out with nothing. He says, 'Oh, I thought you were going to get some fabrics--how come? How come you didn't buy anything?' So, I say, 'Okay, I'll buy something!' [laughs.]

JW: At what age did you start quilt making?

RC: I didn't start quilt making until probably I was about 43 [years old.] I would say.

JW: So not as a child at all?

RC: No, no, not as a child. My mom was a schoolteacher and did not have time for that. She had taught me how to sew. I could make my clothing, but we never did any quilting. At my shop [Retha owned a beauty shop.] one day, a lady walked in and showed me the most adorable child's quilt that was all appliquéd with a big duck and an umbrella and all types of things, and she said, 'Come on over to my house and I'll show you how to do one of these.' Not the duck but it was pineapples, a pineapple pattern.

JW: This was your first quilt?

RC: No, it was not my first quilt. If you want me to go backwards, my first quilt, I took a class from a lady in Brewer [Maine.]. It was about a six-evening class of the basics of how to figure a triangle and where it goes here and she had copied off these pages on a copy machine to go home and do what we were supposed to do for that week, and I did that for about six weeks. That's what got me started so I understood what it was. So, I did understand that, but this lady had showed me this little quilt before and took me over to the house and said, 'Now look, you can do this.' I thought, I can't do that, but by going to this class, then it clicked as to what this was all about, how you cut things and do seams, and you know. So that's when I did it. And that's the only training I really had.

JW: Would you say that that was the time when you really got hooked into quilting?

RC: Yes, I did. I did. I didn't have that much fabric and we were living in another home, and I had a little sewing room, but I made several things. I--mainly back then I made throw quilts that you put on the back of the couch. They weren't that big, but I could get the pattern figured out.

JW: Would that be a tied quilt?

RC: Yes. They were all tied. I don't do anything other than on a quilting machine occasionally, but mainly they are all tied. I do all my outside binding on a machine, but the outside binding on all of my quilts I prefer to do the backside by hand, a lot of people don't, but I do, that's my hand quilting.

JW: Who did you learn to quilt from? Was it just all on yourself?

RC: No, it was Nancy Congelton and she lived in Brewer, in that area. She was the most beautiful, understanding quilter that you could ever run into if you wanted to learn. She never criticized anything you did. She just came along and said now it might be better if you tried it or it might be easier if you tried it. Plus, when you go to a quilt class, people make every different kind of thing there is. Some are nice and some are not. In fact, I have the quilt that I could show you when we get done speaking, that I did make in her class. I did do that.

JW: So that would be one of your earliest quilts

RC: That would be my earliest that meant anything. I whipped together some squares for a quilt, but I didn't call it a quilt. I used it. We had to hand quilt all around the ducks and all that kind of thing and that was hers, that was ducks' way back then and we weren't even living here.

JW: Now, how many hours a week do you quilt?

RC: Okay, in the summertime, very, very little. We are at the lake, and I spend my time outdoors. In the wintertime I live out here in my sewing room. Every afternoon, we get lunch over with, and I'm out here by 1:00. I sew from 1:00 to 4:00. Some days, if I don't have a busy morning, I will sew two hours in the morning if I've got a big project that I'm working on, a queen-sized quilt, then I will make sure I get two hours in the morning and usually three in the afternoon. And that would probably be, maybe some weeks would be five days a week and others might only be four, because it was a day you've got to go somewhere or have something going on.

JW: You mentioned a queen-sized quilt. What do you think would be the percentage of large quilts as opposed to smaller wall hangings?

RC: I tried to count one time on my fingers and toes and whatever, when I was just thinking about things, how many quilts I made, and I really couldn't add them up. I know queen-size, it doesn't sound like many, but I have probably made twelve, which doesn't sound like a lot, but that's queen-sized. Then, when it comes to twin-size, I've made a lot that I've even lost track of. But my bed is a twin bed, so I practically can change quilts on my bed as often as I change wall hangings on the porch. [laughs.] Nobody has twin-sized beds now. If you do, you have to make two, which I have done for friends. So therefore, I've only got one, but I love the fabric and I've made the pattern and I like it, so it's mine.

JW: Are there other quiltmakers in your family?

RC: No. No. I only have a sister. My mom, back when she was living, did do like the ladies' aid quilts. You know they make what they call them? Ribbon quilts, I think. You just sew across the patch with whatever strips you have. They used to make those in the ladies' aid, but that's the only quilting that I know of in my family.

JW: Have you ever used a quilt to get through a difficult time?

RC: I don't think so. No, no.

JW: Or to help somebody else get through a difficult time?

RC: Well no. I have one now that is going to go to someone, I think. When the situation gets straightened out, they are trying to get custody of their little grandson. When they do, I have a really cute quilt that he's going to have. I haven't given it to him yet.

JW: You told me what you enjoy about quilt making. What parts do you not like?

RC: Oh dear. [laughs.] Well probably, it's laying it out on this quilt table, putting all three layers together, and then pinning and basting around it, or whatever, and the number of times you have to baste around it, depending on how many borders you've got, if you've got three borders, that's four basting rows. That's it. I'm fortunate though, I have a very dear friend here in town who likes to quilt. She can use my table, because neither one of us can get on our knees anymore. She comes up and I help her baste hers. So, when I need one done, she comes up and helps me. We chatter away, so it's not such a terrible thing.

JW: Do you belong to quilt guild?

RC: No, nothing, nothing.

JW: No?

RC: No, never have.

JW: Tell us about this studio. It's a wonderful, wonderful workplace. Tell me about this and what you've got in it.

RC: Well, this was a garage when we moved here. My husband had the garage made and it was huge. I said, 'What do we need a big garage like that for?' I said, we only need something to put a car in.' Well, this garage has a top floor, just like a house. It was going to be his workshop. Well somehow or other [laughs.] I ended up with my sewing machine out here. My sewing machine sits at a table that is, I think it is six feet wide by eight feet long, which is actually two tables that I was fortunate enough to buy from a clothing store in a mall. They were trying to get rid of them and my husband said that I could use those. I said that I don't need them, you made me one. No, I think you could use those. So, they are fabulous. They are the right height. They have shelves, two shelves underneath. They have pull-out drawers and shelves that you can put things on so if someone wants to come and sew with me, I sew on one side of the table and they can have a sewing machine, or two, on this side of the table. It's all set up with everything I need. The ironing board is handy. I have a television. I have music. I have this little table [where we are sitting for the interview.] when things [laughs.] run over and that table isn't big enough. This table holds the excess.

JW: You have an almost brand new long-arm--

RC: Yes, I have a long-arm quilt machine, which I'm not that proficient at. But to me, I enjoy it, It's my toy. I do it totally for my enjoyment. I do not do quilting for anyone else. So, I have days when I go in there and it's just fun, and okay I can do this, I'll do that. But I'm not proficient at it. I just like to do it. There it sits. It will hold a queen to a king-sized quilt, so I can put anything on it that I want. So, that's what I use that room for. So, I have two rooms, when I was only supposed to have half of the big room. [laughs.]

JW: Now what do you think makes a great quilt?

RC: I think that it's got to be well constructed. I'm a little fussy, even though I use just the basic type squares, I like the points to be sharp. I don't like my seams to be crooked. I like to look at a quilt that someone has tried to do that type of thing. I also like color, naturally. I like quilts that are hand done, by someone such as you [pointing to me, the interviewer.] who does nice hand work. I don't do it that well, so I wouldn't try it. I have tried, but I don't like it. But as far as machine quilting, I'm a little iffy on that. The quilts are beautiful at quilt shows now, but it seems to me that the old style of people doing things by hand and doing the hand quilting is sort of pushed aside. Everything is machine quilted, except for the lady who's sitting here interviewing me now. So, she does lovely work. There's a difference in that, I think. Plus, the fact that I think it bothers me in a way that when you go to the quilt shows, they should give a ribbon to the people who do the quilt machines, and a ribbon to the people who do everything by hand, because they are not the same, definitely. But I don't know. I don't do the judging. I have no idea if that's the way they do it or not. Plus, the fact that I'm old-fashioned so I still tie my quilts. I like the puffiness. I can put the knots where I want them. I also make a point of using embroidery floss, which is getting very scarce now. Marden's carries some, but Walmart doesn't carry any, so I have to scrounge to find the colors, but when I make a quilt, we'll say it's got lavender, yellow, green and purple, or what not, and a knot goes on one of those squares, I try, as close as possible, to match my embroidery floss to the color of the square, because it doesn't show. Or, I have also, when I really didn't want it to show, reverse knotted, which is putting the little knots on the back side of the quilt so all you've got in place, little stitch. So basically--[laughs.] I forgot the question. [both laugh.]

JW: Tell me what makes a great quiltmaker.

RC: A great quiltmaker is someone who's got a lot of patience, who does it, not just for their own enjoyment, but to possibly give someone else something to enjoy, like I've made quilts for my sister, for my friends, and it's nice to know that they've got something that they enjoy because I enjoy the fact that they enjoy it. That's basically what makes a good quiltmaker.

JW: Do you think your quilts reflect this area, in Maine or the region at all?

RC: I don't know because I don't get out to the other quilting things. I go to the big quilt show in Augusta [Maine.] about every second or third year. But those quilts are so fabulously far beyond my talents that I really don't know what people do around here other than my girlfriend and I who basically make the same thing. You would never know it because whatever we do, mine will not look like hers, color-wise, or pattern-wise or anything, but we're making the same thing. Do you get my drift? [laughs.] It's funny.

JW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in your country as a whole?

RC: I'm pleased because a good number of years ago when I was first thinking about making a quilt, I guess I did make something that went on my bed, and I didn't have that much choice of colors to say I want four for this quilt to find the fourth one that would go with it. A lady at the time had a fabric shop and she told me, she says, 'You know,' she says, 'this is something that is going out. They are not going to be making cotton fabrics for quilting anymore.' I wish the dear soul was still around so I could say, 'Do you remember when you said that?' because it seemed like within the next five years it just took off--everywhere.

JW: What timeframe was this?

RC: This would be back in probably the '50's, late '50's [1950's.]. Well, yeah, well in the early '60's.

JW: What do you think there is for special meaning of the women's history? How does it apply to women's history? Do you think there is a correlation between quilting and that?

RC: Well, I would imagine that if somebody planted me out in the prairie, which don't even think about it, I'm a New Englander, I would had to have had an outlet and I think that's where it came from, where the beautiful patterns and the hand work that they were able to do with so little to work with. They wasted nothing, but they made beautiful things out of them; heirlooms to pass down through their family. The only way to keep warm was a quilt. They didn't have processed blankets [laughs through this sentence.] and sleeping bags and all that stuff.

JW: What do you think about preserving quilts for the future? Do you do anything special to preserve yours? Do you have comments on preserving quilts?

RC: Not really. I don't preserve them. I use what I've got and what people have asked me to make, fortunately they use them, and I'd prefer that they were used. I don't think I've got anything that is that spectacular that anybody would want to preserve. [laughs.] I don't feel that I do, other than wall hangings, but I give quilts to my granddaughter and made a queen-sized one for my 6'5"grandson. I had to make that extra-long. [laughs.] But he's using it. I mean, you know he's a young fellow, so if the cat sleeps on it, which the cat sleeps on ours, I don't care. Use it, that's what it's for.

JW: Do you think that about every quilt you ever made, or did you make one that you thought, I'm never going to let the cat sleep on this one?

RC: Not in this household, because the cat is the queen. I think other people will understand what I'm saying.

JW: Well, what happened to some of the other quilts you've made? You have a 6'5"grandson--

RC: Grandson, yes, yes. His is in Brewer [Maine.] in his apartment at the moment. I just finished that one, pause, just last fall. Last fall I did that. Then I made another big one like that for my brother-in-law in Florida [laughs.], so that one had to be extra-long. That's why when you do the type of quilting where you have squares, you've got to think, oh dear, I can only get one more row, but can I make one more row and make it look right, or can I make a bigger border on the end? [laughs.] I'm always trying to figure. Now let's see. Quilts, okay. One of the very, probably the first one that I ever sold, which I had no idea I was going to sell anything, I have a dear friend who was a neighbor but now lives in North Carolina, whose son had gone to work in New Orleans and then moved to Dallas, TX [Texas.] for his job. I told Jeanne on the phone, 'Oh I just made a red, white and blue quilt. I thought it was kind of pretty. I just took a picture out of a magazine and figured out the square sizes and, no pattern, I just figured it out.' 'Oh,' she said, 'tell me, how big is it?' So, I told her. She says, 'I'll call you back.' So, she called me back and she says, 'David needs a quilt and he doesn't mind the red, white and blue and, in fact, would like to have it, although it was called "A Trip to Oklahoma "and he didn't like Oklahoma.' And she said, 'Don't call it that.' I said, 'Okay.'

JW: You just changed the name?

RC: I just changed the name. But he needed it right away. Oh dear, I took the sides all off, the big borders all off, added batting, added backing, added border and made it big enough so it went to David.

JW: How old was he?

RC: Probably, he just graduated from college--probably 24. And God bless his dear little heart, in the mail comes a check for $250 and I just about dropped it on the floor.

JW: Wow.

RC: Yes. And he didn't even have a clue as to what it was going to look like until he got it.

JW: And you didn't expect to be paid?

RC: No, I didn't expect to be paid. So that quilt was in Dallas, Texas. So, he got married. When he got married, they got transferred to Belgium for his job. He is an engineer and has worked in-- I don't know if it's refrigeration, no it's not refrigeration because he was out on one of those big oil rigs out there for a time. It's thermal something or other anyway. So, he and Rebecca lived in Belgium, and they had their one little girl there. Then he got a chance at a better paying job and transferred to Australia. The quilt went to Australia, and they had a little boy. Now the quilt is back in Illinois and as far as I know, it's still there. But it's been around since, oh man, what year did he graduate? It must have been in the '80's [1980's.] You lose track of time.

JW: And they have been using it?

RC: They've been using it. I don't imagine there's much left of it with two kids crawling around on it, but I don't care.

JW: Did they ever ask you to rebind the quilt?

RC: No, no. Because I don't imagine there's enough of it left, with dragging it all over the countryside and whatnot, but my girlfriend has seen it. She's been to Illinois. She says they still have it. So, I thought that was kind of neat.

JW: How about some of your other quilts? Do you know where they are? Have they traveled outside the state or outside the country?

RC: No. That's the only one that I know of that has gone that far. I've sent some to Florida to my sister and her husband. And then my girlfriend moved to North Carolina, we moved here in '92 and she moved to North Carolina in '94 and I went down to visit her, and she said, 'Would you make me a quilt?' So, we hunted. That was back when there weren't--you would think that in North Carolina there would have been a lot of fabric shops. We did go to Georgia Bonesteel's, which I was absolutely--[excitedly.] got to Georgia Bonesteel's. [laughs.] It was a tiny little place. If I remember right, now I hope I'm not hurting anyone's feelings, if I remember right, her husband had some kind of a hardware shop on this side of the building. On this side, [moving hands to indication the other side of the building.] on the right-hand side, there were bolts of fabric and sewing supplies and whatnot. And she gave classes, and they were on an upper level so that you could sort of look down onto the shop. I thought it was wonderful, but the thing of it is, she didn't have much fabric back then, not the way you'd see a fabric shop nowadays. My girlfriend and I, I don't know how many places we tramped around and tramped around, trying to find colors that she wanted for a quilt. Plus, the fact that she picked out a pattern that, oh man, I've never made it since, and I never will. [laughs.] Because I didn't know that much about quilting and it didn't look that difficult, which it wasn't. But it was very time consuming--a thousand and some odd pieces in it. So that was that quilt. But she still has it; she still uses it on her bed. Yeah.

JW: I've got just a couple of questions left--

RC: Okay. Alrighty.

JW: --for our time together. One is, can you tell me an amusing experience, something that has happened while you've been quilting or something about your quilting?

RC: Well, you would laugh if you were up here when my girlfriend was here, because we would start out with a pattern that we both are making, and we are putting it together. And I'll say, well you put this seam here and you add that and whatnot. And then she'll look at me like, what did you say? Then she'll do the same piece, but what she says I don't understand either. [laughs.] So, we are always saying, 'Well we never talk any English we either understand.' We just do it and it comes out right. But I say it one way and she says, every single time, if we're just basting a quilt around, it doesn't make any difference. I'll say well, I'm going to baste this way. Oh, you are going to do it--No--It's the same thing. We cannot talk English together and we get to laughing about it. So that's about the funniest thing that happens. We have a very good time together, a very good time. I enjoy sewing and so does she. It's an outlet for her because she's widow lady.

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

RC: [clears her throat.] The challenge to some people would be the fact that if you are just making them to sell, there are so many quiltmakers now that I don't know how you'd have a market, unless you're, well, if it's exceptionally good, yes. I know the ladies who can do the long-arm quilting are doing quite well. I think that they can really do it because you see them advertise all the time and they seem to have set up businesses doing it. Which, if I were maybe thirty years younger and had tried long-arm quilting back then, I might be interested in doing a little bit, but I'm not. It's just something that I'm just old enough so I just don't, I don't want to get involved and have somebody say, 'Have you got that done yet?' 'No.' [laughs.] So, I just do things at my own pace, and I thoroughly enjoy it. My husband enjoys the fact that I'm out here and he stays in the cottage and I'm out here.

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

RC: [pauses.] No, I don't think so. Probably after you're gone, I'll think of a hundred things and I'll say why did I say that and not the other, but that's me. I chatter a lot. No, this has been fine. I didn't know, really, I read the questions, but I didn't know really what to expect. It's fine, so if other ladies are willing to have this done, why I hope that they will, because it's a fun time, chatting with you. I don't see you that often, maybe once a year. It's been fun. I appreciate the fact that you asked me to do this, because when, I'll tell you, when I figure when there's a quilter like you, which I would say, okay, she's probably got at least a Master's Degree [in quilting.] and I'm down here in kindergarten still [JW laughs.] --that's the way I look at it. I'm still in kindergarten, still learning, still doing the basics and have been.

JW: Absolutely not. [RC laughs.] I just do what I like to do.

RC: Well, I think that's what quilting should be all about.

JW: Well, I'd like to thank you for your interview today. This is part of the Quilters S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project and we are done at 7:13 p.m., I guess it is. Thank you very much.

RC: Thank you. It has been fun.

JW: [beep is timer shutting off.] 44 minutes and 38 seconds.

RC: Gee, you did it, didn't you, with all my yakkity, yak, yak.

Interview concluded.


“Retha T. Crawford,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,