June Swartzle




June Swartzle




June Harman Swartzle


Joyce Rupp

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Battle Creek, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


[Pat VandenHeede is June Swartzle's daughter. She is present for this interview and describes the history of this touchstone quilt.]

Pat VandenHeede (PV): The quilt top was pieced by my mother, June, and it's what I wanted, a burgundy and cream muslin Double Irish Chain. I took it to Pennsylvania with me and Margaret Davis, who was 82 at the time in 1997, hand quilted this for me. She actually lived in Cogans Station, which is outside Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This is the last one she did. She broke her wrist before she could start it and had to wait until she got her cast off before she could hand quilt it. She was shocked when I took the label back to have her sign it. She'd never heard of that before. She couldn't believe that anybody wanted to put her name on a quilt, so, I'm quite honored with it. And she did beautiful quilting.

Joyce Rupp (JR): This is Joyce Rupp. This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan QSOS, a project for The Alliance for American Quilts. Today I'm interviewing June Harman Swartzle, known to all of us as June. I'm at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is August 19 [2011.] and the time is 2:25. We're going to discuss your quilt, so do you want to lay it out while we're doing that? Pat, her daughter is with us. Then we're going to talk about your involvement in the quilting world, June.

PV: Is this enough?

JR: That's fine. Tell me about the quilt.

June Swartzle (JS): What do you want to know about it?

JR: Do you remember when you made it?

JS: See on the end, Pat.

JR: You've got a label on it?

PV: You were 75 years old, so that would be fourteen years ago.

JR: So that would have been in '97. Does that have a special meaning for you, when you made it? Just that you gave it to your daughter?

PV: She said, 'Mostly.' It's what I wanted.

JR: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

JS: Doing my quilt?

JR: If I looked at your quilt, what would I think about you?

JS: Well, let me see how I should get it.

JR: We already know the plans for the quilt. You gave it to Pat, because she loved it. Let's think back to when you started quilt making. Can you remember? I looked it up and it said 1986 was when you started.

JS: Yes, I went to Marty's.

JR: Marty Barlond's Sewing Center? Were there other people in your class? Or did you take a class?

JS: There was a group, and you know, I was thinking when we were down there on Columbia Avenue. I don't know if it was a fabric shop or what.

JR: Yes, she had a fabric store.

JS: But there was a tornado, or something came and we all couldn't believe that that's what it was.

JR: And you were sitting inside.

JS: We were there in a group.

JR: So, there were lots of people there? Was that the first place that really had quilting in Battle Creek? She was pretty dynamic in the guild, too, wasn't she?

JS: And I was with this group. You know, you get with a group.

PV: Ladies of the Lake, at the time.

JR: Was it Ladies of the Lake?

JS: Yes.

JR: Then that's where you met at the time.

JS: Yes. We met at Fine Lake for a long time at their club house.

JR: Maybe on Saturday, you met there, or Monday night?

PV: They used to just take classes, so a lot of them, like Sue Webster, Vesta [Grinder.] I think Kalli.

JS: Pat probably remembers more than I because she was right there.

PV: Rowdy. Who was the one up at the doctor's on Gouguac Lake? And Aunt Jean would come down.

JS: She came every week.

JR: Do you remember your first quilt memory? Did your grandmother quilt?

JS: I don't remember. I had this dysfunctional family. I wasn't raised by my mother. And I can't remember when I first got into quilting.

PV: You got into it in 1988. You didn't quilt. Grandma didn't teach you how to quilt. She taught you how to knit and sew and crochet and cook, but she didn't teach you how to quilt.

JR: Did Nancy Johnson get you going? Remember Nancy?

JS: Yes, I remember Nancy. I was trying to think who, I had this group--

PV: I think you and Vesta joined together. And Vesta had always quilted.

JR: Yes, Vesta had always quilted.

JS: And my sister lived in Ionia [Michigan.] and she came down and got in with us.

JR: What did you find most pleasing about quilt making?

JS: You want to know the truth?

JR: Yes.

JS: The companionship.

JR: The people that you were with?

JS: That's right. It would have meant nothing to me, Joyce, if it hadn't been for--it was just like your sister, always. They were always there for you. I had some pretty rough times there and they sure got me through it.

JR: When you started, was there a rotary cutter or did you cut out with scissors?

JS: I remember cutting out with scissors first.

JR: Using templates, maybe?

JS: See, she was young, and I was always scared to death that she was going to get into that stuff.

PV: Mother, I wasn't young then. I was in my forties.

JS: Were you really, Pat?

PV: Yes.

JR: To her you were still young.

JS: I was scared to death she'd get cut then.

PV: She did always worry about that.

JR: Tell me about your favorite techniques. I have a feeling it might be embroidery? Is that true?

JS: That's pretty much it. I started there.

JR: It was something your grandmother taught you.

PV: Who taught you counted cross?

JS: Nobody.

JR: I think that's something you pick up if you are an embroiderer.

JS: I remember my mother told me, once, that they had books that I could buy and I made up my mind, Joyce, come hell or high water, I would learn how to do it.

PV: 'Cause she didn't show you.

JS: She wouldn't show me.

JR: So, you had to find a book?

JS: I did not have too much relationship with my mother.

PV: You didn't live with her. She never raised you.

JS: No, she didn't. My dad did. So, she told me once, when I asked her a question about it, that I could get a book. So, I got no help there.

JR: Tell me about how you decided what designs to put in your quilts. Did you and your friend, Vesta Grinder, do it together?

JS: We were very close, [an occasional unidentified hiss.] Vesta and I. She was a leader, really. She was a good--there will never be another Vesta.

JR: Well, there'll never be another June Swartzle either.

PV: 1-800-call Vesta comes from-- [two speak at once.]

JR: Well, I have it right down here.

JS: Yes, Pat always considered her other mother.

JR: Her udder mudder, yes, they both told me that.

PV: When she ran into problems Vesta was right across the street. She'd help you and show you, wouldn't she?

JS: She was just as close as a sister ever was. And she was close to my sister, too.

PV: Oh, yes, because Vesta and Mom had the same machines. So, Vesta would help Mom with the machine.

JR: Well, that's convenient. Is that what Marty Barlond carried, the Pfaff machines?

PV: Yeah.

JR: When you would go to a quilt show and look at the quilts, what kind of quilt did you like the best?

JS: I really believe I liked the ones best that, like the four-patch.

JR: Just the simple quilts? Well, you kind of liked a special appliqué, too.

JS: Yes, very much.

JR: And what was that? Was that the Dresden Plate? I think that I remember you choosing to put that on every quilt block that you gave to each of us. Did you take all those fabrics out of your stash?

JS: Yes, I think I did, didn't I, Pat?

PV: No, because there was one time, remember, when Dad looked at the checkbook and said, 'Who in the hell is JoAnn?' You were writing all those checks for and that was before we really had any quilt shops in the area. It was JoAnn Fabric.

JR: Only women would know what JoAnn Fabric is.

PV: Well, she just wrote in the checkbook, JoAnn's.

JR: Tell me about your involvement in the quilt guild. I understand that you had an office at one time.

JS: Yeah. I don't remember what the office was.

JR: Maybe president?

JS: Yeah. I wasn't too good a leader. I liked to be a follower, Joyce, much more.

JR: You didn't want to negotiate. You wanted to get along with everybody.

JS: I wanted to kiss butts. I didn't want to fight 'em. I tell you, there's nothing like a good circle, like a guild, because them girls will be behind you no matter what you do. I consider every one of them just like a sister. I feel that close to them.

JR: There is a dedication in a new book that has come out and it talks about women needing other women and that's what makes our lives full.

JS: I believe it. I really do. [small amount deleted, not on subject.]

JR: One of the things that I have found that is very unique about Ladies of the Lake circle is the amount of blocks that we make for each other. I wonder how that got started.

PV: You know, Joyce, they make less blocks; they used to make one every month when it was a smaller circle.

JS: That circle, to me, has never been what you would call a circle. It's been a family. That's the way I've looked at that and I've just always have felt that.

JR: So, we made things for each other.

JS: It was just a family. [Husband enters and comments on the rain. Eighty-four second conversation is unrelated.]

JR: How have you used quilts, June? Have you used them on your bed?

JS: Yep.

JR: Have you used them on your table?

JS: Yep. I've used them everywhere.

JR: Have you used them to cover yourself up watching TV?

JS: Yes, I've done that, too.

JR: Do you think of any other ways that quilts should be used? Did you ever make a jacket or--

JS: Yes, indeed. We made jackets.

PV: [inaudible.]

JR: Book covers, I think, at one time.

JS: We've been down all of them paths. [two speak at once, inaudible.]

JR: Do you think that quilting in our area is different than anywhere else that you have been? When you go to Pennsylvania is quilting different than it is here?

JS: I have a sister-in-law, Si's sister. I don't think they're as close as we are. I don't.

PV: Might not be, but they may have sewing circles.

JR: Do they do more hand quilting there than they do here?

JS: I really don't know.

PV: I don't think, like Aunt Jean isn't as involved in small patterns. It's more of bigger quilts like you tie. Of course, my Grandma Swartzle always made quilts but she hand tied them. They were utilitarian.

JR: And she lived in Williamsport? [dog barks.]

JS: That was Si's mother.

JR: I think, until--

PV: And she sewed all of hers by hand. I don't think she owned a sewing machine, did she? She always sewed them by hand. I know that. She said you can work and fit the pieces in.

JS: I tell you, now she, to me, she was what you would consider a grandma. Would you not say that, Pat? Them kids, she took us in when Si was drafted. We had the kids. My family didn't take us in. My mother-in-law took all four on the train and came out and got us and took us back, took us in and I'll be forever grateful because she put up with Pat getting in the chickens' mash and she'd go to work every morning and she'd say to Pat, 'Now, Patty, we're not going to get in Grandma's chicken mash, are we?' 'No, Grandma.' Grandma wasn't down the road and Pat was out there.

PV: She always quilted, and she quilted by hand.

JS: She was, I tell you, she was--

PV: She always had busy fingers.

JS: She was what I would consider a mother, really.

JR: Now, when you went back there, I have to believe that it was in the forties?

JS: Yes.

JR: So, she was quilting and kind of exposed you to quilting back then, but you probably never had time for it, not with four kids.

JS: I wasn't that interested, I don't think, at that time. The kids were small, Si was drafted. I had the three kids and we lived with Grandma. [unidentified hiss.]

PV: She made them out of feedsacks, old clothing. [hissing sound.]

JS: I had a non-functioning mother.

JR: Sounds like it. Can you think of anything else that you would like to tell the interview about your thoughts on quilting?

JS: I would say that really, to me, it has always been my life. Really, the focus.

JR: The home, quilting, your friends and quilting?

JS: That's the main thing, right there, the friendship. Because, Joyce, you just can't believe the friendship I feel toward--

JR: Well, it shows every time you see us.

JS: Really, just like Kalli, so much younger than we are? And it's just, my daughter, so much younger than we are.

JR: Hey. [laughs.]

JS: It's always been Vesta. She's always been in it all her life, with me.

JR: And you made the best peanut-butter fudge to take to our retreats. Tell us about our retreats.

JS: I loved them things. I really did.

JR: Did we get anything done?

JS: Well, who went, really, to get anything done?

JR: Did we shop?

JS: Well, I really didn't care about that. It was just the friendship.

JR: The food. But I don't know, you always came home with a couple packages.

JS: Really, to me, it was friendship. It really was, because there's nothing that could buy that.

JR: I think that's a good place to stop our interview. I need to include in the interview that your daughter, Pat VandenHeede and your husband Si Swartzle were included in our interview.

JS: Okay.

JR: And I want to thank you for doing the interview and I need the time, exactly.

PV: It's 2:50.

JR: 2:50.


“June Swartzle,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 25, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2181.