Dale Waddle




Dale Waddle




Dale Waddle


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Vermontville, Michigan


Nancy Wilkinson


Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan Q.S.O.S., a Project for the Alliance of American Quilts. Today I am interviewing Dale Waddle at her home in Vermontville, Michigan. Today is July 29th, 2010 and the time is 10:15. Now, we would like to start with talking about the quilt that you brought out today.

Dale Waddle (DW): Okay.

EW: Do you want to talk about what inspired you to do this?

DW: It was a Fifty-Four Forty or Fight block which happens to be one of my favorite blocks and one of our sewing circles, we decided to take a block of our choosing and see what we could do with it. And, so I basically left all the components of the block in place, I just changed the background fabrics and came up with four different blocks and put them together and made the quilt.

EW: And does this quilt have any other special meaning for you?

DW: Not other than one of the fabrics used came from San Diego [California.] on a trip to see my youngest son graduate from college.

EW: Why did you choose this quilt today?

DW: Well, it's a combination of things that I like. I like everything about quilting. I like the piecework, I like changing things and making them a little bit different than what they are and trying to see what other things you can come up with.

EW: What do you think somebody viewing this quilt will conclude about you?

DW: [chuckles.] Maybe that I'm happy.

EW: I think that would be appropriate. How do you use this quilt?

DW: It just hangs on the wall, gives me inspiration to continue to change things and see what new things I can come up with.

EW: And do you think you'll just leave it there on the wall indefinitely?

DW: Oh, it might come down and be put on a bed, but it's on odd size for a bed, but it might find its way layered onto a bed.

EW: Let's talk about your interest in quilt making. At what age, or at what time, did you start quilting?

DW: I began quilting in 2000? My mother passed away and there were three daughters, and the other sisters had no interest in any of the quilting supplies or stash of fabric or any of that sort of thing, so I inherited it all. And, I decided that I needed to learn to do something with it, [laughs.] so I began to quilt.

EW: And so, are you self-taught?

DW: Yes, I am. I do take classes on things that interest me and methods that I see that might help me improve what I do, but pretty much, yes, I am self-taught. There was some of the things that my mother had started, I attempted to finish using whatever directions or pattern parts and pieces I could find and I learned a lot that way, but basically, I guess I am self-taught.

EW: Were you a sewer before you started quilting?

DW: Only when I was a young girl. I used to sew my clothing, but not as an adult.

EW: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DW: About six, that's about all I get for myself. For professional quilting, it's quite a bit more than that, it's about 40.

EW: Let's talk about your professional quilting.

DW: Oh, dear.

EW: Well, we have a question later on that talks about longarm quilting, versus hand quilting and you, obviously, do longarm quilting. And, so how did you get started doing that?

DW: I was making--in '98--I was--or was it 2000? I was making about four or five tops a week and I didn't know what to do because I knew I couldn't hand quilt them. [soft music in background.] I had tried and it just, it just wasn't something that I wanted to do. It was not immediate enough for me. So, I bought the longarm and began finishing the tops that I had already started. And, about three months after I had the machine, ladies started bringing me their quilts to do, so that's how it all happened.

EW: It blossomed from there?

DW: It did. I had no intention of ever doing this as a business.

EW: And are you pretty much booked up now with other peoples' work?

DW: Yes, I'm usually at least two months out all the time. As soon as I get one or two done, I end up getting some more back. People call me, or wherever I go, if people know I'm going to be there a lot of times I'll just bring home two or three quilts.

EW: What is your first quilt memory?

DW: In the kitchen, with my mother, she was making a table runner and she was making half square triangles and I did not like the method that she was using, so I tried to figure a quicker, easier way for her to do it and that was my first quilting memory, was with her.

EW: Was this when you were an adult?

DW: Yes.

EW: Are there other quiltmakers besides your mother in your family?

DW: No. I'm the only one. My mom started quilting in 1977 and always encouraged me to do so, but it just, life was too busy then, I had kids to raise and other things to do, so--

EW: And you have lots of friends now that quilt?

DW: Yes. I have a lot of lovely, wonderful quilting friends.

EW: And did you meet these people from joining a guild?

DW: Yes. I certainly did. In school I was a chemistry and physics major with a minor in education and at the time I was in school there were very few girls in that field of study, so I never really had any friends. And we moved to Michigan and that's the time that my mom passed away and I began hanging out and going to see other people and they encouraged me to come see their quilting and join their group, so I did.

EW: And so you belong to what guild now?

DW: I belong to the Cal-Co Quilters Guild from Battle Creek [Michigan.] and I belong to the Charlotte [Michigan.] Across the Square Quilters, both in Michigan.

EW: Are there any smaller groups that you--

DW: Yes. I belong to a small art quilt group called Syncopated Threads and I belong to a sewing circle. We call ourselves The Paducah Group. It's just a group of us, there's seven of us now and every year or every other year we go to Paducah [Kentucky.] and so we call ourselves The Paducah Group.

EW: How does quilt making impact your family?

DW: Well, I think they think I'm nuts, but that's probably [laughs.] not just because of quilting. Actually, they all encourage me quite a bit, but they still think sometimes I'm a little out of the box.

EW: I think that's a good place to be. Have you made them all quilts?

DW: Yes. Everybody has a quilt.

EW: And, have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

DW: Other than when my mom passed away and trying to work through that, I remember becoming very angry at her for not being there for counsel [laughs.] and so I think that in a way that probably helped me through that grieving period. But, I'm pretty happy and I'm happiest when I'm throwing fabric around, so I don't know if that qualifies that statement, or not.

EW: Are there any amusing experiences you can think about connected with quilting?

DW: Well, just the camaraderie that I have with my friends. They give me wonderful inspiration, encouragement and we really do have a good time when we're together.

EW: What is especially pleasing about quilt making?

DW: Making something from out of my head. Coming up with a new design idea or, either planned, or sometimes it's intuitive and just following through from start to finish and the gratification you get that you just completed something.

EW: So is most of your work then your creation, your design?

DW: Lately it is, yes.

EW: Did you start out as a traditional quilter?

DW: Yes, I did. [laughs.]

EW: And then you just climbed out of that box?

DW: I did. I still like some of those things but the more I learn about quilting, the more I want to change some of the things that I see.

EW: Are there any aspects about quilting that you don't enjoy?

DW: Probably putting on a binding, a traditional quilt binding. That's probably the least fun thing to do for me, but if I want it done I need to do it.

EW: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

DW: Yes, quite a bit.

EW: How is that?

DW: It's just a whole other tool. The computer is another tool, the digital camera is a tool, I like curve design elements, organic looking things and glues are now part and parcel of my arsenal. Fusible webbing, all those new things. Wash out stabilizers, wash out thread, I mean, it's just endless, I mean they all present another option when you're creating something.

EW: They expand your ability to adapt your designs to cloth?

DW: Absolutely and embellish them as well.

EW: What are your favorite techniques? Piecing, applique?

DW: Oh, gosh. I don't think I have a favorite. I love them all. There's a time and place on the quilt or one quilt, or maybe all of them on one quilt, there's just a time and place to use whichever one will allow you to express what you want the best.

EW: What about fabrics? Do you have a favorite type of fabric?

DW: No, I like them all. Again, it's a choice for the design.

EW: Would you talk a little bit about how you play with fabric with surface design? Or surface embellishment.

DW: Most of the time I'm trying to--I get what I call a case of the 'what ifs?' and I will try to--in my mind I might have a thought of what I want to do on a quilt and if I don't have the fabric that I think I need I will either paint it or dye it or somehow make it so that I have that particular fabric and it kind of matches what I had in my mind. Then other times I just like to take found things and use those to help create another layer on the fabric or make a bead or something that will embellish the quilt, just whatever I can find usually. I do purchase things but I find that I get a lot of enjoyment out of concocting something from just a pile of scraps somewhere.

EW: So do sometimes these found objects start you on a path toward a quilt?

DW: More often than not, yes. A lot of times I will start making them with something totally different in mind and come up, as I get creating these embellishments or a way to manipulate the fabric do something totally different than what I originally intended.

EW: Do you ever work with series?

DW: No. [laughs.] I have tried, it just doesn't seem to happen.

EW: Too many new ideas?

DW: Well, as I'm on the machine and I'm quilting I'm paying attention and I'm looking at what I'm doing but it creates, kind of in the back of my mind, another part of me is thinking about something else that I'd like to be doing and it just keeps that creative stuff going.

EW: Do you find that playing music while you're working helps maintain a rhythm or anything like that?

DW: When I'm in the creative mood, I tend to play a lot of classical things or things that are in the background that allow my brain to kind of relax and just part of it wants to pay attention to the music and part of it just goes. Once I'm through the creating process, and I'm in the actual construction process then it goes to pop. It picks up a beat there and it's usually a faster pace music.

EW: Let's describe the studio here, where you work.

DW: Oh, goodness. When we moved here it held the feed for the horses that were on the property and when I bought the longarm it went into the dining room and I literally had to crawl underneath to change the thread. It went from one wall to the other wall. And finally I convinced my husband that what was then the dog kennel would make a really, really good place to work. So, we took the kennels out and it's about a three car garage in width with only two doors and those doors now have French doors that open out and on every side I've put as much window in as I could or some doors. It's got radiant flooring in the floor, so it's wonderful. It's never cold out here in the wintertime. And I have cupboards that were built for me by the Amish to hold the totes that hold the quilts and the batting and my thread and things so that it can be tucked away and I don't have a lot of, I don't like the dust that comes with working with the fabric, so if I can keep the thread and things under cover that makes me happy and then when I do start cutting and creating all that dust I don't get all wound up about it, I just let it fly.

EW: And let's see what machines you have here.

DW: I have my main sewing machine which is a Husqvarna Designer I and it does have an embroidery attachment but it's rarely used. And I have a Pfaff felting machine and my longarm. Those are the machines.

EW: And you have all sorts of tables and a large ironing surface.

DW: I have a higher ironing and cutting table that collapses but it's never been collapsed, it's always extended out and I have some six foot tables so that I can lay things out and make as much mess as I want to and I have a couple of cedar chests that my father-in-law made and when he passed away I got them and they hold the extra batting [laughs.] parts and pieces that are too big of a chunk to just toss, they hold that because there's bound to be coming a need, a reason to keep that.

EW: A design wall.

DW: I have one.

EW: And how do you use it?

DW: I just, it's a portable, collapsible one so that I can take it with me when I go anywhere, but I just set it up and then as I'm creating I throw things on it and it sticks because of the fabric and keep going.

EW: How do you balance all that time?

DW: Not well. [laughs.] There is never enough time in a day for me. I sleep typically between four and five hours a day and the rest of the time I'm either out at the longarm or quilting for myself. This time of year, this last two years, it's been a lot of quilting for others and I've told these ladies that I need to slow down a little bit and make some more time for myself, so hopefully, I'll be able to accomplish that.

EW: Good. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DW: Well, quilts are like people. You have to get close to see their true warmth and beauty. And I think, just, I don't think there's a bad quilt. Even if it's poorly constructed, I mean, someone has taken the time and the effort to put their everything they could into it and it's got to be gorgeous.

EW: OK. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DW: Technically, probably all the things, the design elements, the color, the balance, all those things probably, but realistically, I think it's whether it appeals to you as you're observing it and if it appeals to you then I think it's a good one.

EW: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

DW: Oh, I wouldn't have any idea. I have spoken with some curators and they want things that will appeal to a wide variety of people, sometimes it's someone who has made a significant impact on the community, but, for me personally, I would think everybody's quilt ought to be in a museum.

EW: What makes a great quiltmaker?

DW: A person that likes to make quilts.

EW: And whose works are you drawn to?

DW: Oh, that's a difficult question because a lot of people. I like Sharon Schamber's work, I like some of the art quilts, I don't know their names, Michael is one of the guys names, I can't remember his last name. There's several quilt artists that are mixed media works. I enjoy looking at theirs. A lot of different people.

EW: What is it about those works that appeals to you?

DW: Well, for Sharon it's her use of the longarm and how she manipulates stitching to make the quilt come alive. Katie Pasquini-Masopust--for her it's the way she manipulates the photograph and the color and it's abstract and that draws me to that, so it's--I think I like to appreciate what everybody has to offer and all the different venues there are for quilting.

EW: Have you used photographs in your quilting?

DW: Yes. I take pictures from the garden and the landscapes and I use those for, if not the subject material, for the color palette a lot of times for whatever quilt I'm working on.

EW: Do you ever print out photographs to incorporate into a quilt?

DW: I have done that on organza and different types of fabric and used it that way, but not as a photograph in a quilt, not in that respect.

EW: Just as a part of the design somehow?

DW: Yes.

EW: How do you feel, this is that question I alluded to before, how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

DW: There's a time and place for it all. I think that there's a time for a utilitarian type of quilt and you want it to be longarm quilted so that it stays together and lasts a hundred years, although that doesn't guarantee it will. And there's a time for hand quilting. There's times when I do both on one quilt. Just because that's what the quilt needs.

EW: When you are working on someone else's quilt, are you generally given a free hand, or do you get directions from them?

DW: Most of the time they tell me do whatever I think it needs. And I really appreciate that because there's some things that I do better than others and I like to give them a nice, finished product. I do my best and try to determine whether it's a more contemporary style quilt or a more traditional style quilt and make the quilting accordingly.

EW: Why do you think quilt making is such an important part of your life?

DW: Because it's fun. [laughs.] It's fun. And all the people I know that are in quilting are all happy people as well and it seems to be good for our soul.

EW: And what ways do you think your quilts reflect your community or your region?

DW: Ooh, I don't know that they do. I don't know. Probably because--I don't know, I really--I don't know.

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

DW: I think that the quilting began out of the need and probably today there is still some need, we still need something on our beds to keep warm. Sometimes it's snuggling up in a quilt that you know your mom or grandmother or some other important person in your life made for you and when you're not feeling very good or having a blue day you can snuggle up and pretend that you're getting a nice warm hug from them. But that still happens and it's still important as something, that generally, women do, and I think sometimes we need to be able to stand proud for what we do. And keep all those things in perspective and keep a running history of those things because that's another part of what happened before that we don't always have a clear history of. So, if we can try to continue to get a better history of what quilts are made and who's making them, I think that's a good thing for us.

EW: How would you do that?

DW: There's a documentation process and I don't remember the name of it, I have a flyer, where you can document your quilts and they take a picture of them, they take the information on who made it, who owns it, and a brief history of it and they do that several times.

EW: Is that the Michigan State program you're talking about?

DW: It could be the Michigan State program.

EW: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

DW: Well, nowadays I think we can be pretty open with what we say, but sometimes we still need a way to express it and I think quilting allows us that expression.

EW: How do you think quilts can be used? Besides from that expression.

DW: What do you mean, how they could be used, like on a bed, on a wall? On a bed, on a wall, as art, whatever someone would want to do with them.

EW: What about gifts?

DW: Oh, for sure gifts, yes. Yes. For sure gifts.

EW: Do you ever wonder, and I'm not referring especially to you, but do you ever wonder if a gift is sometimes given to a person who doesn't appreciate what has gone into it?

DW: Frequently, I think they don't appreciate it. And it's just a lack of knowledge.

EW: How do you suppose a generous person would be able to tell whether or not a gift would be appreciated?

DW: I suppose in the end as to how the quilt was used. If it was put on the floor as a rug, you would certainly have an idea about how they felt about it.

EW: That would be a hint, wouldn't it? [both laugh.] But then it's too late.

DW: It's too late.

EW: How do you think quilts can or should be preserved for the future?

DW: Well, I think we need to use them, we need to just take care of them and if we can document them or if the maker wants it documented, then that certainly should be done for the country and just as a record of what we're doing.

EW: Do you think that there are some quilts that should be saved rather than used?

DW: Well, when it, yeah, probably. But I don't know where someone would draw that line. Certainly, like for myself, my mother's no longer here to do any more quilting, so everything that she did I would certainly save. But I don't know that I have the answer to where to draw the line that would work for everybody. I think that it's something that everyone has to choose or decide for themselves.

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

DW: Time. Time to do it, to learn whatever parts that they want to learn. Time to experiment.

EW: I notice that you have done some teaching. Tell me about your experience with teaching.

DW: [chuckles.] I don't know that I'm very good at it. Some people think I am, but my experience teaching is basically processes that I either learned from national instructors or little things that I have discovered on my own. I will do a show and tell on it with a quilt and the ladies will ask for a class on how to do that, and so that's where my teaching is, it's all within my circles and guilds.

EW: So, it's a friendship circle?

DW: Yes, yes.

EW: That brings us to the end of our questions, is there anything in particular that you would like to talk about?

DW: Oh, goodness. First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity to even listen to anything I that have to say. But I just want people to know that if they are interested in quilting, they need to pursue that interest wherever it might take them. Their thoughts and ideas may change from one day to the next, one decade to the next, but if they have an interest, they need to pursue that interest.

EW: All right. Thank you very much.

DW: You're welcome.

EW: This concludes our interview, and the time is now 10:48.


“Dale Waddle,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed March 1, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2177.