Shirley Farnsworth




Shirley Farnsworth




Shirley Farnsworth


Jeanne Wright

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Artistic Artifacts


Dexter, Maine


Jeanne Wright


Jeanne Wright (JW): This is Jeanne Wright. Today's date is July 25, 2010. It is 6:25 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Shirley Farnsworth at her home in Dexter, Maine for the Alliance for American Quilts' Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Shirley is a quilter and a member of three guilds: Clueless Quilters, Pieceful Patchers, and Heart and Hand. Thank you for having me here today, Shirley. I really appreciate it. You have a beautiful, beautiful home and you are overlooking beautiful territory [high on hill overlooking fields, woods and a lake, with large foothills in the distance.] Thank you for having me here. Would you tell me about the quilt you have here today?

Shirley Farnsworth (SF): Well, this quilt was begun shortly after I joined the Clueless Quilters. I decided I needed a handwork project to carry with me and this is the one. It has over 1,000 pieces in it and it was made for my husband. He really liked the variety of fabrics and unfortunately for him, it is the beginning of a long journey of collecting fabrics. So what started out as a little project turned into a major one. I bought a lot of fabric to finish this quilt and he loves it.

JW: That's fun. In the pieces you have highlighted and fancy-cut many, like I'm looking at a bee at a beehive. You have a lighthouse. You have a dog. You have a rooster, so it's very interesting. I see a dragonfly and a butterfly. So you were able to buy many pieces, which is a quilter's dream. Where do you get your fabrics? Is that local or do you have to travel?

SF: There are no local quilt shops anymore. When I seriously started quilting we had a small fabric shop in town, but they were here before Jo-Ann Fabrics and they couldn't compete at the time. People are drifting away from that now and are going back to the local quilts shops, so that's nice. But I purchase my fabric from a lot of different places--a lot of shops, a lot of quilt shows, everywhere I go I buy fabric--vacations--everywhere.

JW: How far away would you travel to get fabric that you want?

SF: I have traveled all over the state of Maine to get fabric that I wanted. One of my favorite places is in Litchfield [Maine.]. We go down there on a monthly basis.

JW: I was there last week.

SF: Mm-mmm, mm-mum, yes. I love that place.

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

SF: I think that this quilt, like I say, I have taken it many, many places with me. It's gone on vacations. It took me six years from the time I started it until I finished it. In fact, in this corner down in the bottom, there is one piece of fabric that's the millennium fabric, right here. That was my ending point. It's gone a lot of places. In 1998 my husband had a heart attack and I spent two weeks sitting beside him at the hospital and my quilt was with me at that, I think when he claimed it was his--his quilt.

JW: You were working on it…

SF: I had to sit with him. I was working on it--yes, I was working on it. It provided me with something to do while I sat and watched him sleep.

JW: I see that you have at least three corners of the quilt, three corners [on the back.] that have labels on them and they are all a little different. Why the different labels?

SF: This is [pointing to a label on the back.] the actual quilt label and the other two, I believe, are show labels. When I sent that to the State show, they required a label on the quilt. I think I put it on the hanger part, just to be safe.

JW: The reason you chose this quilt over these other beautiful quilts, you have a whole pile of beautiful quilts, but this one has special meaning because it was one of your first?

SF: Yes. It was my first attempt at a quilt with a lot of variety and it was my first hand pieced quilt since I was a teenager.

JW: Someone looking at this quilt, what do you think they would know about you from looking at this quilt? What would they conclude about you?

SF: That I love fabric. [laughs.] I'm a traditional quilter. I think it that would be, and I do like to take things with me. I like to keep my hands busy. I think that would be pretty much what they would conclude, also that I'm very traditional.

JW: If this were sitting over a chair at a meeting, somebody would look at it and they would say, 'Oh she must…' What would they say about you?

SF: She must like to do quilts that take a lot of time, but very simple, very simple.

JW: How do you use this quilt now?

SF: We don't. It's pretty much put away. We have a lot of cats and cats have a lot of hair. We take it out now and then and look at it and go over all the fabrics. It does hang now and then on a quilt rack where it can be displayed. But for the most part, it sits in the cabinet, unfortunately.

JW: Do you have any future plans for it?

SF: Eventually I think my youngest son will inherit it and then from there it will be up to him to send it down the generations.

JW: What about your interest in quiltmaking? When did you start and why did you start?

SF: When I was a teenager, my mother and I went to this lady's house. Her name was Myra Metcalf. She had a large quilt frame set up that took up an entire bedroom. On it she had a beautiful quilt with little Scottie Dogs. I just loved the Scottie Dogs. She told me that if I would get the items I needed, that she would show me how to quilt. It was little squares with blanket stitched pink and blue gingham dogs and I thought it would make a great baby quilt. Hers was large. I didn't want to do large. So the requirements then were very small. They didn't require a lot of money. A piece of a cereal box, a pencil, a pair of scissors and a couple of spools of thread and I was good to go. This took me until I was about eighteen years old. I spent a couple of years off and on making little Scottie Dogs and I put it away in my hope chest for the birth of my first child.

JW: How many little patches are on that?

SF: Oh, I've never counted. [quite a few dogs.] I would say there are, [counting them.] ninety six.

JW: Wow, that's a lot of little squares for a small quilt.

SF: It is. We lined it with an old receiving blanket. We didn't have batting, per se, I mean as far as I know, I wouldn't want polyester. This is just the way we did it then, you know, a small quilt, lined it with an old receiving blanket and we would blanket stitch the edge with yarn. [laughs.] It was very different, but it was a nice experience and it was nice of her to share that with me and that's what really started the idea that I would, at least some day, would enjoy doing this.

JW: Did you keep quilting with her?

SF: No. No, that was the only time that we did anything like that. I don't think she actually quilted her quilts; she tied them, but she had it set out on the big rack to do that. But it was a nice experience. After I finished that quilt, I didn't do another quilt until my second child came along and I made one for him. Then I put the quilting away until about 1989, when I took a class locally.

JW: What started you quilting again?

SF: What started me quilting a lot was the joining of the quilt guild. I don't know if it was the idea that I had a lot of friends that all produced quilts and it was something that we could all share together? It felt like you needed to have a quilt done for the next meeting and it just inspired me seeing everything that they did. Of course by then all the books were out, the patterns were out and the rotary cutting was in. It just took off from there. All of my other hobbies have taken a side road and have gone away. Quilting has stayed. I have quilted steadily for 14 years now.

JW: It sounds like perhaps you started for social reasons?

SF: Mm-mmm. I believe so. I believe so. We stopped at a quilt show. It was the very first one. The Clueless Quilters had only been in existence for two months and that's why they called themselves clueless, because they didn't realize how much effort it took to put on a quilt show. I joined because on the back of their little card, it said, you know, our meetings are--on a certain night, and I went and joined them right away. From there, I haven't stopped.

JW: You've put some other quilts out here before us. Why did you put these particular quilts out?

SF: Well because I think they pretty much show where I began and my journey. The first two are sampler quilts. I took a class a couple of different times using different methods, making sampler quilts. I decided right off that instead of just randomly making squares, I should buy my fabric and try to make a quilt with a finished item. Over the years, I went back and did several of them, adding here and there with different sampler classes that I took and different techniques. Another quilt that I have here I made out of hand-dyed fabrics. I decided I would like to try hand-dying. I did. I loved it. I made a lot of hand-dyed fabrics for a while and I decided I wanted a way to display them, so I put them all in a quilt. It's a plain quilt, but the actual fabrics make the design. Then the last quilt that I set out here, is the one I began after my first adventure with my charm quilt. It was a Grandmother's Garden with a yellow background, which was a little different. I saw one like it on a television program one day and I really liked the yellow background, so I decided to create one for myself.

JW: They are reproduction prints from the thirties [1930's.]?

SF: Yes. These are thirties reproductions.

JW: Have you ever worked with vintage thirties, forties?

SF: I have some. I have never used them. I have just saved it, you know, they are scraps that I have picked up here and there, or quilt blocks. I do have some quilt blocks that were from the thirties. I did put a few more of them together. They were Dresden Plates. But I have never made a quilt with them. They are just in a box, waiting. Someday, maybe I will do that, but if not, then someone else will get the squares and maybe they would like to put them together, or just look at them. You know, I just enjoy looking at things like that. I don't necessarily have to have a finished quilt.

JW: Are those pieces you have, are they family pieces?

SF: No. No. Actually one set that I have, a lady gave them to me in exchange for a little wall hanging that I had done. I liked the thirties prints that she had and she liked my wall hanging, so we swapped.

JW: That's great.

SF: Mm-mmm.

JW: That's great. You mentioned going to school or having a class. Was that through a local rec. [community recreational.] club or high school, or was it a guild?

SF: It was the high school. They used to have quilt programs, beginning quilt programs at their night classes. I think they have probably discontinued that now, but that's where I learned to do a lot of different techniques, from appliqué and piecing and quilting, wholecloth quilting. Everything that I have learned has been through little classes like that, and self-taught from books and what have you.

JW: How many hours a week do you quilt?

SF: As many as I can. Usually every Sunday afternoon is delegated quilt time and Sunday evening. I work [on my quilts.] a lot at lunch time. I do my hand work at lunch time at work. I carry it with me back and forth every day. I've made a lot of little pieces that way and I've hand quilted a lot of small pieces, wall hangings. I enjoy working immensely with miniatures. That's one of my favorite things.

JW: When you say miniature, what is the smallest size piece that you have worked with do you think?

SF: My smallest, I think, is probably 4" x 6."

JW: For the whole size of the quilt?

SF: Mm-mmm.

JW: So the pieces must be half inch or so?

SF: Yes, very, very small. Mm-mmm.

JW: What's your first memory of quilts? Not necessarily one you made, but what's your first quilt memory?

SF: Oh, you're going to dislike this one. [laughs.]

JW: Oh, oh.

SF: [laughs.] The first quilt memory I have, we didn't grow up with quilts, but my father had a tool chest that was very, very nice. It was one that, I think, his grandfather had made. He really cherished that. On top of it to cover it was an old quilt. I really couldn't even tell you what the quilt was. I think probably it was just four patches. It was rotting and it wasn't really much good. I don't know how much of that was because of the abuse it got over the years covering a tool chest, or if it was like that when he actually put it on there. But that is the first quilt memory that I have, is that old quilt laying on top of that tool chest out in our workshop.

JW: How old do you suppose you were at the time?

SF: Probably six, eight years old.

JW: Did it encourage you at all to think, 'Maybe someday I'll make a quilt.'?

SF: I don't think so at that point. I really don't think so. I learned how to sew from another neighbor, an elderly lady, Iva Kenny, when I was probably eight years old. She showed me how to do doll clothes and how to do pulled quilt thread work and different little things like that, making handkerchiefs with dainty edges, and a lot of that sort of thing, but we never did any quilts. I don't know if they weren't popular at that time? It was probably late fifties, early sixties. My mother never sewed. I think that it really wasn't a thought in my mind that I ever would do that, but I do.

JW: At this point, do you still like to sew, or do you just want to quilt?

SF: I sew some things. I do not sew clothes. I sew bags. [laughs.] Clothing has gone by the wayside. I ever liked it and I used to make all of my clothes, but I hated it. I do sew pocketbooks and carrying bags and things like that that have become popular. I do enjoy doing those, but pretty much I like to do quilts. Now I really like to do my smaller quilts. I do more small pieces than I do large.

JW: It appears that these are machine sewn though, the pieces, is that correct?

SF: Most of them, most of them. I have two here I have hand sewn and I have one that I'm working on now that is another large quilt that is all hand sewn. The hand sewn ones I hand quilt as well. I would hate to do all that, you know, spend all that time hand sewing and then turn around and put it on the sewing machine to quilt it.

JW: How do you feel when you are hand sewing a quilt? What's your feeling? What kind of feeling do you get?

SF: Peaceful. I just enjoy it. I enjoy it. It is, it's very peaceful. I can let my mind wander. I can carry on a conversation. I can do whatever, you know, if I'm sitting with people it doesn't affect anything about it. If I'm sitting by myself it's nice. It's calming.

JW: Now, are there other quilt makers in your family?

SF: My sister quilts. She hasn't for quite a while I don't think. She and I have quilted together often times. We have actually. We had a quilt we did as a joint venture. We each made twelve blocks and we made—six--well they were duplicates of six different blocks and then we swapped our duplicates. So we each ended up with a quilt with the same flower blocks in them. Then we finished them off and they came out completely different when they were finished. It was a dahlia quilt. We called them, 'My Sister's Dahlias' because they belong to both of us.

JW: Oh, that's sweet.

SF: Yeah, that was fun.

JW: Other than that, that sounds wonderful, other than that, would your styles be the same?

SF: No. No. I like more reproduction sort of fabrics. She prefers florals and brights. But we are both traditional quilters, I think. It's just fabric choices that would be different. She is definitely a traditional quilter as well.

JW: Does she live close enough that you get together quite often to quilt?

SF: Not any more. Not any more. She lives about a hundred miles away. We are both so busy that we just don't seem to ever connect. But she, I don't think, is quilting at the moment. I think she has packed her fabrics away. I think her last quilt was enough for her. She hand embroidered flowers all over it. She did a 'Grandmother's Garden' and then she hand embroidered morning glories all around it and her children are just dying to get their hands on it. [laughs.]

JW: Have you ever used, I think you alluded to this, but have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

SF: Not, except for having something to keep myself busy while I was sitting with my husband in the hospital. I would say probably not. I've taken them to the births of my grandchildren and what have you. They go with me simply because I enjoy working on them. It passes the time, but I wouldn't say that I've ever really used it as a comfort sort of thing.

JW: What about an amusing experience? Have you ever had an amusing experience you can think of to do with quilting?

SF: Oh. [pause.] Amusing. [laughs.] Well, I ran into a photo in my album the other day and it brought back a memory. We were taking a class on machine quilting and the very first part of the class they were talking about how clean your machine had to be and what have you, and she, unfortunately used my sewing machine as an example. She was standing there with a Q-tip and brought out a huge chunk of dust. I was so embarrassed. [laughs.] I could have died. And everyone laughed, because, you know, it should have been clean before I got there and not after the fact, but that always brings back a good memory when I see that photo.

JW: What aspects of quilting do you NOT enjoy?

SF: I don't enjoy deciding what I'm going to use for a quilting pattern when it's all finished. I enjoy the quilting part. It's just the thought of choosing a pattern that's going to work with the quilt. I don't particularly like that. Other than that, I love everything about it.

JW: Do you hand quilt and machine quilt?

SF: I do.

JW: And you prefer which more?

SF: I prefer hand quilting. I don't have time for hand quilting particularly, so I don't do a whole lot with it. But I love the look of the hand quilting and I enjoy doing it, it's just time.

JW: Do you have a longarm or do you do that on your machine?

SF: I do it on my machine. I had a shortarm for a while. It was built like a longarm, but it was very short; it was only six inches. I didn't particularly care for that. Someday I would like to have a longarm, but a big one, the real thing.

JW: The real thing. It appears that you do your own designs then. It sounds like you do your own designs for quilting?

SF: Sometimes. Sometimes I use templates. It's whatever fits. I do a lot of just straight line quilting or chains, or you know, solid things along that line. I love the look of the Baptist Fan. I've never actually done one though. But I do like the look. I'm always afraid to try that one, that it wouldn't come out right.

JW: You've talked about some of the favorite techniques that you like, things that you like to do. What about materials you use? What do you use for the top, the back, the batting?

SF: I always use cotton batting. I started out with polyester [when taking classes in the late '80's.] I didn't like it. I switched to cotton. I prefer it. I like all cotton on my quilts. When I first started quilting I used just muslin on the back, which is pretty because you can see your quilting, but I like the design of fabric on the back and especially with my small quilts. Often times I will buy a small piece of something that has a very large pattern and I get home and everyone will say what are you going to do with that? It's too big. Where are you going to put it? It doesn't fit anywhere. I say that it's going onto the back of a small quilt because that way I can enjoy the fabric, because it's fabric, really, that I enjoy the most. I can enjoy that nice, beautiful, big design on the back of a small quilt.

JW: And you put binding on your quilts instead of turning over the edges. Are those hand sewn or machine sewn?

SF: Hand sewn.

JW: Front and back?

SF: Just the back.

JW: Where do you work? What type of space do you have to work in? Where do you create?

SF: I have one of my son's bedrooms. [laughs.] When he moved out it became an instant quilt room. It's quite full. Actually some of my fabrics have kind of oozed over into sleeping quarters now in the big bedroom. [laughs.] But yes, I do have a full room for quilting. I also have a very large bookcase of quilt books in the dining room. I've been cataloging my books and I found that I have over 600 books.

JW: 600 books?

SF: 600 books. You could say I collect those too, right?

JW: I think so! [both laugh.] Do you find that it overflows in other rooms too? You hand quilt, so you must do that, what, in the living room? You said in the car and at work.

SF: Well, yes, they are basically small quilts. When I'm quilting by hand on a larger quilt, it would be in my living room. I have baskets of things everywhere and quilts on display in every room. It consumes our lives, I think. It has.

JW: So what effect does that have on your family?

SF: Oh, they've come to expect it. [laughs.] My son always teases that my quilting always come first and the children come second. Last week I had a brand new grandbaby born and he was born on a night that I had a quilt meeting and dinner with quilting friends--and I had to give that up for the baby. So he really can't honestly say that anymore. You know, that's how they sometimes feel--my quilting comes first and they all come second. [laughs.]

JW: Well how do you balance your time? You have a family; you have a job. How do you balance that and feel comfortable with it?

SF: Oh, I spend most of my free time in the quilt world in some respect or another. You know, there are only so many hours in the day. I spend a lot of it with family, but when it comes between redecorating the house or time for quilting, quilting wins. [laughs.] Decorating will wait for another day.

JW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SF: Well, I think a lot of people put a lot of emphasis on perfect points and artistic value and what have you, but I think what makes a great quilt personally, is something that makes the quilter happy--the designer. If I'm happy with the quilt, I don't care what other people feel or think. It's my quilt. If I've chopped off all the points because I really couldn't get it quite right, that's okay, that's okay. But I will never be one of the hundred best in the country. [laughs.]

JW: Sounds like a good philosophy. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? If you were to look at ten quilts in a museum, what would be the one that would draw you?

SF: Well I like color. Color combinations, I think, would be what draws me, more than the design. I love the quilts that look like you could reach in a painting. They are beautiful. I love them. I never could create one, but I do love them. [laughs.] But I think it's, it's a lot of things. Color, design, a lot of things would draw me. Again, I would probably go more for that antique quilt that's hanging there, rather than the modern.

JW: What makes a great quiltmaker, the person?

SF: [pause.] Oh dear. [laughs.] I really couldn't say.

JW: Somebody in your guild perhaps, somebody you really admire? Why would you admire that person and that person's work?

SF: Probably mostly because they have a great sense of color. I think color is what draws me more than anything. Someone that has very artistic, they are artistic, but they choose colors that I like and they are vivid, combining their colors. That's what I like and I think that's what it is.

JW: Are there any quilt artists who have influenced you?

SF: Not particularly, although I do tend to lean towards Jo Morton's style of quilts. I have done her 'Jo's Little Women' Club. I have taken a lot of classes at state shows with artists doing all sort of quilts of different types and I enjoy doing them there. I finish them all, but I would never repeat it at home. I go there to learn a new experience. I enjoy what I learn from them, but I never seem to continue it. I always go back to tradition.

JW: You do?

SF: Mm-mmm

JW: Why is quiltmaking so important in your life?

SF: I think it is the friends that I've made. I've made a lot of good friends in the quilting world and I think overall that's what keeps me there. I might have drifted off into something else after ten years, but I don't think so, I don't think so.

JW: You mean another creative. [both talk at same time.]

SF: Mm-mmm. I've done all of those things, but they've never held me very long, but quilting has. I think a lot of it is the friendships that I've made. I have a lot of quilting friends. They are always there for you when you need them and hopefully I'm always there when they need me. It makes life very nice.

JW: Would you say that's why you are in three guilds? What made you decide to go into three different guilds?

SF: Hum. Well because I just simply enjoy quilting [laughs.] and variety is great and each guild is a little different and I get to enjoy the different camaraderie with each and every one. I meet a variety of people that way and it's been a lot of fun.

JW: How many days or evenings are you with a guild quilting or participating in a guild event?

SF: Well, I go to a guild meeting every Tuesday night and every other Wednesday night I meet with a group of girls at the library and we just sit and do our own thing, whether it be quilting or knitting or crocheting. Everybody has their own little thing that they enjoy doing. We spend Wednesday nights doing that. Thursday night, I have a lady that comes and crafts with me every Thursday night and that's when I, again, work on my quilts. And [laughs.] Fridays are free. Fridays are for my husband, how's that? [both laugh.]

JW: So that's where the family fits into the picture. [both laugh.] In what ways do your quilts reflect either your community here in Dexter, or your State of Maine or this region of the country? What do you think?

SF: Oh I would think probably mostly in the design of the quilts that I use. I wouldn't do a quilt here with a flamingo on it, but I might do a lighthouse. Now I think New England has very traditional simple block patterns. They're not the Baltimore Albums that come from Maryland of course, or whatever. I just enjoy doing simple blocks using the traditional reproduction fabrics and what have you that would be more the darker colors, things that I think would be considered more northern New England.

JW: Do you have another region of the country where you really like their particular style?

SF: Well, there are a lot of styles that I like. I would probably never actually do one, like the Baltimore Album. I love to look at them, but I don't have any desire to actually make one. [laughs.]

JW: Have you traveled a great deal and perhaps have seen different types of quilts?

SF: Not really. I have traveled to places like the Virginia Quilt Museum and I've gone to those kinds of things. I've never been out West. I think if I was out West I would probably really like the Southwestern designs. If I lived there, that's what I would do. But it wouldn't really go in my traditional New England home. [laughs.]

JW: You don't think that you would buy some fabric out there because you were in that area?

SF: Oh, I would buy it. I would buy it. I would bring it home and I would add it to my collection of fabrics and I would enjoy looking at it, but I probably would never use it.

JW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in America? What place do quilts have in America? How is it happening that we are using or that there are many more quilters now? What is the importance of quilting in America?

SF: Well, I think that different people use quilting in different ways. I think that with a lot of events that people have expressed themselves through their quilts. A lot of people, like you had asked earlier, they use it to get them through a tough time. There are a lot of quilts that represent "9/11" [attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.] There are a lot of people that have done quilts for the AIDS program and different things like that. I think that those sorts of things help people and they also will be there for generations to come. I think they make their place in history.

JW: My next question was going to be about the special meaning for women's history in your country. How does that dovetail? How do you see that interacting with women's history in our country?

SF: In the past, of course, I think a lot of women expressed themselves through their creativity and their quilts. They, you know, the Temperance Movement and things along that line and when they couldn't vote. I think that's how they more or less stated how they felt, was in their quilting. They could do that. I think that they could kind of make their mark. Maybe some people never even knew what they were doing it, you know? [laughs.]

JW: How do you think the whole evolution of quilting from the early days in America has changed to this point? What types of changes through reading your 600 books [both laugh.] to talking with people, what types of changes do you see? What has evolved in quilting?

SF: Oh I think a lot of people now are getting into a lot more artistic quilts, I think years ago, many people--they used it for bedding to keep warm. They had maybe some quilts and there are a lot of beautiful quilts out there that have been made that were possibly to keep for special occasions and what have you, but I think now a lot of people are going more towards the wall hangings and sort of things that they can decorate their homes with, rather than just on the bed. I have both. We always sleep under a quilt, all year 'round. But I think that years ago they wouldn't necessarily have used them on the wall. They were on the bed. I think that maybe that lends an entire creative outlet for people to be able to decorate their homes using their quilts, whether they are on the table or on the wall, whatever. They can express themselves through that.

JW: How do you think quilts are going to be used in the future? You were just talking about wall quilts.

SF: Mm-mm.

JW: What other uses do you see? How could they be used to be really effective to make an impact on the future?

SF: [pause.] I really have never really given that much thought to be honest.

JW: That's fair. What about preserving quilts for the future and in preserving your own? How do you store your quilts?

SF: I store my quilts in a fabric wrapped box, a hope chest. I never allow them to get against the wood and I take them out and I refold them now and then. I probably should actually put tissue paper in the middle, but I don't. Most of my quilts are intended to be used. Those that, the special ones that I've made that we don't use every day, and those I probably take a little better care of. But for the most part my quilts are intended to be used. I tend to take them out and we use them all.

JW: Good. That's good. What has happened to the quilts you have made for your friends and family? Do they use their quilts? Have they traveled? Are they in other places than Maine?

SF: No, I think, well yes, actually, what am I saying? Yes, I have made them for all of my brothers and sisters, most of mine. I've made them for my husband's brothers and sisters and they live all over the country. I have given them to my children. Everyone in my family, pretty much, has a quilt. Most of them use them, at least over the back of the couch or chair, even though it may not be on their bed. I have one sister that absolutely refuses to use a quilt that I made her because she wants an heirloom for her children. And I told her it isn't really an heirloom quilt and take it out and use it. Put it on your bed. Keep warm with it. That's what it is made for. But she intends to pass it on to her children.

JW: Mm-mmm. Now what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

SF: Hum. I really don't know. I would say probably, well there's plenty of availability. I mean there's fabrics. There's books. You can get it at local shops. You can get it online. It is always good to be able to support your local shop if you can at all, because otherwise, I personally, I buy some things online. But I really want to see that fabric. I don't want to look at pictures and say okay I think I would like this and then spend all the money that it costs plus the shipping to get it and find out that I really don't like it after all. So I really think that buying locally is the best way. The other challenge might possibly be, you know, cost. It costs more now to buy all of the bells and whistles everybody expects that you need to have, all the rulers and cutters and everything that never used to be. But the cost of fabric, that would be the biggest challenge.

JW: Do you find you use a lot of technology or do you think you are an old-fashioned quilter?

SF: I think I'm an old-fashioned quilter. I've got an embroidery machine. I think I've used it twice. I've never used it in my quilts. I have no desire to even really learn to use something like that. I prefer just the traditional quiltmaking, the old-fashioned way.

JW: Is there anything that you'd like to add that maybe we haven't covered today?

SF: Oh, I think you have done a fine job at covering everything, [both laugh.] even things I may not have anticipated. [both laugh.]

JW: You have quilt books out here and some pictures to show me when we get through with the interview. Do you take pictures of each of your quilts and have a file on each of your quilts?

SF: I don't keep a file, but I do take a photo of every quilt and if I've given it to someone I record who I gave it to and when. I also have a lot of pictures of an old family quilt that I have that is over one hundred years old. That is always fun to look at. I don't actually have the quilt in my possession, but I do have the photos from it. That's nice.

JW: Great. Well, I would like to thank Shirley for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 'Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories' project. Our interview concluded at 7:12 p.m. on July 25, 2010. Thank you, Shirley.

SF: Thank you.

Interview concluded.


“Shirley Farnsworth,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,