Winifred Rombaugh




Winifred Rombaugh




Winifred Rombaugh


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Battle Creek, 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 for American Quilts. Today I'm interviewing Winnie Rombaugh at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is November 16, 2010, and the time is 10:24 a.m. Let's talk about the quilt that we photographed for today. Would you have any particular reason why you chose that one?

Winnie Rombaugh (WR): Well, it won two ribbons in a quilt show in 2008 and I was real proud of that. I've got several quilts, but that was the one I chose.

EW: Do you have any special meaning attached to this quilt or is it just that you were very interested in the pattern that you used?

WR: Well, I've made several of the spiral Celtic and the regular Celtic quilts and I'm just fascinated by that technique, and they ask me why I can't make other kinds of quilts, but I'm just hooked on those.

EW: Well, I think that's evident, I've seen several of your Celtic quilts. I think that when I think of you that's what you do, and very well. What do you suppose someone looking at this quilt might conclude about you?

WR: Well, they may think of what a challenge it was and wondering how long it took me to make it.

EW: And what was it, how long did it take?

WR: About a year.

EW: About a year?

WR: It's all hand appliquéd and hand quilted. I made all my own bias strips and there's a lot of steps to it and it's just a challenge.

EW: It sounds like you're an organized person.

WR: Sort of, uh-huh.

EW: Maybe that's what I would think when I looked at that quilt. How do you use this quilt?

WR: I use my quilts. I've got them on my three beds, and I give them for gifts, wedding presents and I enjoy knowing that my children, my grandchildren, they're all sleeping under my quilts.

EW: That is nice, isn't it? Do you have any special plans for this quilt yet?

WR: My oldest daughter wants it. She loves the colors that I chose, and I don't want to give it up yet, but it will be hers someday.

EW: Well, that will be nice. I think she can wait. Let's talk about your interest in quilting. When did you really begin quilt making?

WR: Well, I made quilts, baby quilts and things just about all my life ever since I was going to have children, but I really got interested after I joined CalCo Quilters Guild and that was like back in 1993 and, it took us awhile to get organized, but now we're quite a group and I learned a lot from them. I'm sort of self-taught, but I do it at my own speed. It's good therapy. I really enjoy quilting.

EW: Have you taken classes?

WR: I have in the past.

EW: So, do you think you've been quilting for, say 30 years, or longer?

WR: Oh, at least, yes.

EW: How many hours a week do you think you quilt?

WR: Actually, in the evening when I'm watching TV, I have to have something in my hands and that's when I do my hand quilting or my appliqué things. I have to have busy hands. I just can't sit there and watch TV, I have to be quilting.

EW: It's a good thing. Think back in your memory. Do you have a first quilt memory of sometime when you saw someone quilting or when you first looked at quilts?

WR: Well, the first large quilt that I made for a bed was a Grandmother's Flower Garden and I gave it to my daughter for a wedding present. They've been married 30 years and the poor thing just fell apart, but I hand pieced it and worked on it very hard, and I found out since then that there's better ways to do this. So, they won't fall apart.

EW: Well, Grandmother's Flower Garden is difficult to piece, isn't it?

WR: Yes, it is.

EW: Are there other quiltmakers in your family?

WR: I have a couple granddaughters that have taken up the quilting. But I don't think that they've actually got into the hand quilting. They like to tie or partially quilt and partially tie. And I'd like to be living closer to them so I could help them, they live in Wisconsin.

EW: You could encourage them to get into the hand quilting. Couldn't you?

WR: I could.

EW: Was your mother or grandmother a quilter?

WR: My mother was, and she belonged to a church group where they'd go and have a quilting bee and they would meet once a week and they would have their potlucks and they would quilt just about all day and then once a year they'd have a festival, and they would raffle all their quilts and sell all their quilts that they made throughout the year. It was beautiful to see.

EW: I bet it was. Is there any special way that quilt making impacts your family?

WR: Well, they always look forward to one of my quilts, they let me know ahead of time when there's a baby on the way or when there's a wedding coming, and I have given full size quilts for wedding gifts.

EW: Well, that's a wonderful thing.

WR: And they love them.

EW: I'll bet they do. Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

WR: Well, in making one, I made a quilt here in--for the 2010 show and I had fallen and broken my kneecap, so I was laid up, so during that time I worked on that quilt. And it was a good thing I had something to do like that, to keep me occupied, keep my brain busy.

EW: Yes, I agree, that's a good thing. Is there any kind of an amusing experience that you can think of that has occurred from your quilt making experience?

WR: Amusing? Oh, I don't know, I just, I like all the get-togethers, I like our meetings. We used to get together years ago and quilt. Things have kind of changed over the years with our guild. But I like the quilt shows and everything's kind of interesting, it's just something you just look forward to doing.

EW: What do you think is especially pleasing about quilt making?

WR: To see the finished product is kind of rewarding. To look, and sometimes while you're making this quilt, you think 'Oh, those colors,' you get kind of tired of looking at it and then all of a sudden, it's done and it's kind of rewarding to see it finished.

EW: Are there any aspects of quilt making that you don't enjoy?

WR: Well, I guess because it takes so long to get it finished, you know, but when things go wrong and you've got to take things apart to redo them, that's the part, sometimes you set it aside and it takes a while to pick it back up and get going again.

EW: What about the art or quilt groups that you belong to? You mentioned the Calco Quilters Guild of Battle Creek.

WR: Um-hmm.

EW: Is there any other group that you--

WR: No, not at this time, that's the only one.

EW: Now let's talk about advances in technology. Have any of those influenced the way you work?

WR: Oh, I don't know. What's--

EW: Do you use a rotary cutter?

WR: Oh, I see what you mean. I do use a rotary cutter and I try to pick out fabrics that are interesting and I've gone through, with making all these bias strips and everything, I've gone through several rotary cutters and pads.

EW: [laughs.] I bet you have.

WR: And blades, so--

EW: When you started quilting was that before the rotary cutter?

WR: Yes, it was.

EW: So, you--

WR: It was hard to get things--

EW: Straight?

WR: --straight then. Yes.

EW: So are there any favorite techniques. You've mentioned, of course, that you like the Celtic patterns and--

WR: Well, one quilter several years ago is the one that got me inspired about the Celtic quilting and I thought that was so unique, I just gotta do this and we went to her home, and she showed us step-by-step what to do and I've been on my own doing that.

EW: Are there any particular materials that you favor?

WR: Well, I try to get, uh, all cotton and some polyester. It seems like you have to get things that you can cut on the bias for all these bias strips, and you try to visualize what it is going to look like as a whole piece and on the bias, to get it to look just right. I have to take the pattern, I've got all the twenty patterns that come with the Celtic and I, in order to trace these, you have to put them on a window or a lighted box and trace all these. It takes a lot of patience.

EW: You have a light box?

WR: I do, but it's not quite big enough for the blocks that I make, so I have to put them on a window and trace them.

EW: Where do you do most of your quilting? Do you have a studio or a sewing room?

WR: I just sit here in my Lazy Boy chair, and I have a spiral, or not a spiral, a spindle quilting frame and I use that and sometimes I have just the hoop on my lap. I do have a quilting room, but I like to have my TV and I live alone and so it, this gives me something to do and its good therapy.

EW: Yes, it is. Do you do all your cutting in your quilting room, or--

WR: No, I do all my cutting right on my dining room table.

EW: Your dining room table.

WR: I put a mat down here, so I've got good light.

EW: Yes, you do. Do you ever use a design wall?

WR: No, I don't.

EW: Or you have the designs all planned out ahead of time, so you know what you're going to need to do and --

WR: Yes.

EW: --where it's going to go?

WR: Pretty much, pretty much. If I know I'm making it for a certain person I try to get their colors, what they, their color scheme, and go to the fabric shops and look things over and a lot of times I go in there and don't buy a thing and the next time I see what I want, it jumps out at me.

EW: Do you ever find anything that you just have to buy?

WR: Yes, I do. [both laugh.] Yes, I do.

EW: Have you ever tried making your own Celtic design?

WR: Yes, I have.

EW: And that's part of your repertoire?

WR: Yes. Sometimes I'll just take a little section of one of the blocks and put it in my borders.

EW: Oh.

WR: Or in my sashing but it all ties it all in rather than use a commercial one?

EW: That would be cool. Let's talk a little bit about quilting in general. What do you think makes a great quilt?

WR: Well, I think every quilter has their own little techniques and stuff. It doesn't matter how small you quilt just so it's consistent and, uh, I just study it and think, well, 'I think I'd like to do it this way' and if it doesn't work out then I'd start over.

EW: When you go to a quilt show and you walk around and look at everybody's quilts, what is it about some of them that really strike you as being special?

WR: Well, I like to see quilts that are hand quilted and, or, if you look at them you say, 'Well, this looks like this should be so-and-so's quilt,' or, and 'I like their choice of colors.' I get all kinds of ideas when I go to quilt shows, I think I'm going to go home and try this and somehow, I end up with the Celtic quilts and I've had different friends say, 'Well, you've got to try and make some other kinds.' And I have. I made the Irish Chain and I've made Trip Around the World and Log Cabin and Grandmother's Flower Garden. I made all these quilts, but I've given them all away and I've got a few on hand that I've got, and I've got the Cathedral Window and got yo-yos and when I get in the mood I'll sit there and make more cathedral windows and make the quilt grow or I'll make more yo-yo strips and make that grow.

EW: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

WR: Artistically powerful? I think if it's designed and laid out right and if you see where it's hand quilted, so you know a lot of time and effort went into it. You have to appreciate what that quilter put into that quilt, be it the quilt or clothing or what, you can see that they put a lot of work, a lot of efforts and a lot of time into making this and you have to appreciate it.

EW: If you were a judge at a quilt show, how would you choose Best of Show?

WR: I would look at their choice of materials and their choice of quilting. If they quilted it by hand, I would look to see that all their knots were hidden and that all the seams kind of lined up as best they could. I like the machine quilting and everything, too, but it, it seems like I've tried that machine quilting on small pieces and it doesn't work out for me, so, but they are beautiful and, if I were a judge, I would, I would try to look at it and see how much work this lady put into that quilt and her choice of colors and the finished product and the, if it catches my eye, I'll award her a ribbon.

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

WR: I would say they have to be something unique, something original. Something that's done beautifully, and that any artist would look at that and see where they had really tried to get something original. And, if it's old, it makes it more valuable, so--

EW: Now, I'm already thinking I know the answer to this question. What makes a great quiltmaker?

WR: It'd have to be somebody who really loves quilts and know that someone's going to receive this quilt and appreciate it. I'm, I just have a wonderful feeling knowing that my family is sleeping under my quilts.

EW: I think that's very special. To me, that is one of the nicest things you can do, is to give your family a quilt. Whose works are you drawn to, other quilters?

WR: We had, oh, you mean ladies that are in our guild?

EW: Anywhere.

WR: Anywhere? Well, I'm not too familiar with outside quilters, but I do have quite a collection of quilt books that relate to the Celtic quilts and we've had guest speakers that have my technique, or are the one that I like, and, one lady we had, one speaker we had, I bought one of her books and she signed it and wished me good luck with her techniques, so--

EW: Are there any artists that have influenced your work?

WR: [whispers.] I wish I could think of her name. Not really, I guess. I'm not too familiar with that, I just kind of, some of the guest speakers that we've had in our guild, I kind of consider them as artists and the last speaker we had, she had several pieces with the Celtic in it, a lot of the bias and stuff, oh, beautiful--

EW: That was fun to see, wasn't it?

WR: Oh, it was beautiful, yes.

EW: What do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

WR: Well, I'm kind of stuck on the hand quilting myself and it just, when ladies put a top together and then send it somewhere else to be quilted, machine quilted, I think it takes away from the original maker to begin with, but they're beautiful and all those beautiful threads they use and everything, it's just, uh, they make them really, really beautiful.

EW: So, the long arm quilters do nice work in general--

WR: Oh, they do.

EW: --but they're not, but it's not the same as if the top maker had done her own quilting?

WR: I get a lot of satisfaction in hand quilting. I really like that.

EW: Why do you suppose quilt making is important in your life?

WR: Well, it's been my hobby for a long time and it's important. It's hard to understand why some of us ladies cut up all these pieces and sew them all back together, but there is a lot of satisfaction in seeing something that you've made and can show off and give it as a gift.

EW: Are there any ways that you think your quilts reflect the community in which you live?

WR: Oh, I'm not sure about that, but, uh--I am not sure why I picked up this technique. It was just, I was fascinated by it, and I sometimes can't wait till I get one done so I can start another.

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

WR: Oh, that's always been important. Quilts for years and years and years, it's always, it's an important thing. It's one way to use up scraps of your materials. Every quilter has a lot of materials on hand. [both laugh.] You have to figure out a good way to use them and that's a good way to use them, into a quilt.

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

WR: Well, you go down through the years and you hear of people making patriotic quilts and historical quilts and over the years and they become heirlooms, and it would be nice to know that someday my quilts might be an heirloom to one of my family.

EW: I think they will be. We talked about covering our family with our quilts. Are there any other ways in which you think quilts can be used?

WR: Well, they use them to--on their beds and they use them to cover up things and they use them for wall hangings and for display. [pause 5 seconds.] The most important one, of course, is to use them on your beds for warmth, and [quietly.] yeah.

EW: What do you think about preserving quilts for the future?

WR: I think they should be preserved in the best way possible, so they won't get stained or wrinkled too much. Sometimes it's good just to take them out and lay them out on the bed and then re-roll them a different way and, but as far as putting them away and saving them, I'd rather someone's using them, so--

EW: So, then you think that there are maybe some quilts that might be saved for some, just for savings sake? Or, in general, you would say that quilts really should be used?

WR: I think they should be used.

EW: What has happened now to the quilts that you've given all your friends and your family?

WR: Oh, I'm sure that they use them because they tell me they do. And especially the ones that I've given over the last few years for wedding gifts to my grandchildren.

EW: Those would be very special.

WR: Those are very special. And I'll be working on one and they'll say 'Oh, grandma, those are my colors. You can give that to me when I get married.' And it's surprising that they remember this and when it comes time for that wedding gift, I do give it to them.

EW: And you've made a lot of baby quilts.

WR: Oh, yes. I've got twenty grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren, and I've made all of them baby quilts and then crib quilts and then when they graduate, they each get a quilt. I've got one grandson that says his needs to be repaired, but the way he rolls up in it to sleep in it he doesn't want to give it up [both chuckle.] long enough to get repaired.

EW: You've made quite a few quilts in your day.

WR: Yes, I have.

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

WR: Well, the expense of all the materials and it's surprising how much it does cost to even get started and there's so many different materials on the market, picking the right ones and when you talk about a challenge, you want to make it the best you can, especially when you belong to a guild and participate in quilt shows and stuff, you want something that if you were to put it in the show, you want to be proud of it.

EW: This is the end of our scheduled questions. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

WR: I just really appreciate the fact that I was able to belong to a guild and like I say, participate in quilt shows and go to our meetings. That's all been real special for me, meeting all the wonderful people and all the ladies that are interested in--

EW: Quilts are fun to, quilters are fun to know, aren't they?

WR: Yes, they are.

EW: Well, I appreciate very much you're taking the time out to do this interview with us and I'm sure that all of your grandchildren and your children will be interested in seeing when it's posted on the Internet so they can read what you said.

WR: Oh, that will be wonderful.

EW: Oh, I think so. Thank you. [the interview ended at 10:57.]


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