Gail Rayman




Gail Rayman




Gail Rayman


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Battle Creek, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. This interview is being conducted for South Central Michigan QSOS, a project for The Alliance for American Quilts. Today I'm interviewing Gail Rayman at Westlake Presbyterian Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is March 11, 2011, and the time is 10:17 a.m. Let's begin by talking about the quilt that your brought in today. Does it have a special meaning for you?

Gail Rayman (GR): Yes, it has quite a few memories tied to it. I was in Tennessee with three other quilters, and we went to Sevierville [Tennessee.] to The Cherry Pit. One of the members of the group bought the pattern for me, down there. It was probably a good five years before I started it and I started it on a trip when another friend and I went to Paducah [Kentucky.] then back across to Anniston, Alabama. Then while she taught, I stayed at the motel and worked on my Poinsettia. I probably finished it in about 2008, rolled it up on a tube, put it up in a cupboard and forgot about it until, I think it was, July of 2010. I found it up there, and another one, and I brought them out, had them quilted finally. But it was after Christmas [when I got them back.] and that kind of disappointed me that I didn't have it to put up for Christmas. It has fond memories of two trips, really.

EW: And so that's why you chose it to bring to this interview?

GR: Yes.

EW: What do you think that somebody viewing this quilt might think about you?

GR: Hopefully that I did a very good job on it, and just finished it off very nice.

EW: And now that you've rediscovered and finished quilting it, how do you use it?

GR: I have put a special hanger up in my living room that I'm putting wall hangings on, so it will be up there--

EW: You're going to hang it up there during the Christmas season?

GR: Yes, during the Christmas season.

EW: Do you have any further plans for this quilt?

GR: I think I'm going to put it in the Marshall [Michigan.] quilt show at the end of this month and then, maybe, at the Art Center [Art Center of Battle Creek, Battle Creek, Michigan.] in May when they have their exhibition.

EW: Let's talk about when your interest in quilt making began.

GR: It was probably eight or nine years ago. Shirley Fuller got me interested in it and I was then a member of Burnham Brook, I found out that they had a quilting group. I went thinking that they were going to teach me everything [laughs.] and discovered that it was more like a circle, a group of friends that got together and quilted. Beth Howard was the head of it and so I talked to her and told her what I wanted to do, and she worked with me and I made my first wall hanging under her guidance. Of course, purple is my favorite color, so it was all purples. [laughs.]

EW: Good start. And so, were you of retirement age, then, when you started quilting?

GR: Yes.

EW: Have you taken classes or studied with anybody besides Beth Howard?

GR: I took one class at the Quiltery here in Battle Creek. Shirley suggested I do that to get more basics. There was probably eight or ten sessions that we had. That helped me a lot.

EW: It probably did, got you off to a good start.

GR: Had to learn how to draw my own pattern. [laughs.]

EW: Good thing to know.

GR: Yes.

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

GR: It depends on how I'm feeling. I went through a bad year in 2010. I don't think I touched anything. And just about three weeks ago I gave myself a good talking to and said, 'You've got to get busy on this stuff.' I have such a stash it isn't funny. I didn't use any of my stash, but I had squares that somebody had cut out and donated to the guild, of cats and dogs. So, I think I've got four quilts done that are all cats and dogs, one's all cats, one's all dogs, one's mixed and the other one, I think, was all dogs, too. And there's still a few squares left. But I just told myself I've got to get busy and do something. I have, when I get finished with the one out there in the other room, finished snipping the threads off, I'll have eight to turn in next Monday.

EW: So how many hours a week do you quilt now?

GR: Probably four or five.

EW: Okay. What do you suppose your first memory of quilts is?

GR: I guess it would go back to that one that my great-grandmother made, that my mother showed me.

EW: And you saw that about twelve years ago?

GR: Twelve or thirteen years ago. It's the basket with tulips. Done in oranges.

EW: Are there other quiltmakers in your family?

GR: No, can't get anybody interested in it.

EW: I don't understand that. [both laugh.] How does quilt making impact your family?

GR: Well, I'm single, so I do it whenever I want and spread out wherever I want.

EW: You have nieces and nephews.

GR: I take that back. I have one niece over in Kalamazoo [Michigan.]. She's into scrapbooking now, but she has quilted. She likes all kinds of crafts, and she does a lot of different things, but I don't know if she's done any quilting in the last year or two.

EW: Do you ever collaborate?

GR: No. She's a worker. [a full-time worker (registered nurse), mother, grandmother and wife, so she is very busy.]

EW: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

GR: No.

EW: It sounded to me like it would be the opposite direction, that in a difficult time you did not quilt.

GR: Well, that's because I broke my ankle. I was in a wheelchair, and I couldn't get into the room. [laughs.] We had to take doors off of two other rooms so I could get in and out.

EW: That was a trying time for you. Have you ever had an amusing experience that occurred from your quilt making?

GR: No, I can't think of anything.

EW: Have you ever done any quilt teaching?

GR: I help Shirley a little bit with a group down at North Athens Baptist Church. [Athens, Michigan.] She calls me her assistant. Lately we've been doing other projects and we haven't really quilted that much this year.

EW: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

GR: The joy of being able to give it to somebody else and see their happiness with them.

EW: And are there any aspects of quilt making that you do not enjoy?

GR: Piecing. [laughs.]

EW: Piecing is not your favorite.

GR: No, it's not. [both laugh.]

EW: What kind of art or quilt groups do you belong to?

GR: I belong to the Spring Chixs Circle and then the group down at North Athens Baptist Church. They don't have a group name.

EW: And the Cal-Co Quilters' Guild of Battle Creek, Michigan?

GR: Yes.

EW: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

GR: Not that much. I'd say no.

EW: Now we know that you don't care for piecing, then your favorite technique would be?

GR: Applique. Hand appliqué. Not machine appliqué nor raw edge appliqué. I want it done by hand.

EW: Regular, old-fashioned hand appliqué.

GR: Yes. That's what quilting is. The old-fashioned type. I'm not into the new artistic fabric and the embellishments. That's not quilting to me.

EW: And what about favorite materials?

GR: Florals, I like florals.

EW: Florals. Okay. Do you have a studio or a sewing room?

GR: Yes. After my mother passed away, it was a couple of years, and I redid that room and made it an office and then then into a quilting room. I started out in my basement, and I didn't like it. There's no windows down there. So, I had everything moved upstairs into the second bedroom and turned that into my quilt room.

EW: So that's where you have your sewing machine and your stash.

GR: My stash. I have a cabinet where I can store things and then half of it, the leaf drops down so I can pull that up and have a big cutting table. I've got some nice equipment. [the closet has shelves and also wire basket racks for my stash.]

EW: Very good. Do you have a design wall?

GR: Not a wall, but I have a design board that I made, out of Styrofoam and duct tape [laughs.] and a piece of flannel.

EW: Sounds like a good quilter thing to do.

GR: It works.

EW: How do you balance your time?

GR: Well, like I said, I'm single so it's when I feel like doing something I can just go do it. I can start and stop whenever I want.

EW: Your time is your own?

GR: Yes.

EW: What do you think makes a great quilt? I know you have some definite ideas about what is quilting.

GR: The design, colors and workmanship on it. We're going to Hastings [Michigan.] this afternoon. I like to see quilts and what other people are doing and I look at a lot of them and think, 'Man, I could never do anything like that.' But then I think they might look at mine and say, 'Oh, I couldn't appliqué anything like that.'

EW: So it kind of evens out? I wonder if it's not just a matter of you could probably do that, but you don't care to?

GR: I don't have the confidence.

EW: Oh, okay.

GR: That's my trouble with piecing. I don't have the confidence. I don't take many classes because if I'm going to do something I have really got to concentrate. I have to have it quiet, and I really have to work at it.

EW: Okay, but you're pretty particular about what your work finishes up.

GR: Yes.

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

GR: I guess, again, I'd have to say the design.

EW: And what would make a quilt appropriate for a special collection or a museum?

GR: Appropriate. To me it would have to be what I would call the old-fashioned kind of a quilt.

EW: Traditional design?

GR: Yes. But I know the new artistic ones should be in museums, too. They just aren't my style.

EW: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

GR: Probably dedication and the ability to look at fabric and be able to picture it done. And the ability to do it. [laughs.]

EW: That, too. Is there anyone whose works you are drawn to?

GR: No, I wouldn't say there is any one in particular.

EW: Are there any artists that have influenced you?

GR: No, I like a lot of different things. I don't have any one in particular. [that influence me.]

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

GR: I prefer hand quilting, but I know for speed, [machine quilting is great.] and they can do much more in design than I could do by hand. And it would be much faster. [laughs.]

EW: Faster is important, sometimes?

GR: Yes.

EW: And that's the longarm quilters that you're talking about?

GR: Yes.

EW: Why is quilt making important to your life?

GR: I think it's the end product and giving it to somebody and seeing them happy with it. I've made a special one for a niece out west and I just finished a big appliqué project for my great-great-nephew. And when the family looked at it, they just said, 'Whoa. You did all of that by hand?' Yeah.

EW: Did you take a picture of it?

GR: It was in the quilt show, and I got pictures of it, but I'm behind times. I don't have a digital camera and so I've got to use up the film yet.

EW: You might have a challenge in getting that developed now.

GR: Yes. I'm going to have to catch up with the times.

EW: Don't we all. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community?

GR: I don't know how to answer that.

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

GR: I think we need more of that type of creativity. I would hate to see it die out. I know it almost did and now it's on such a big increase that you can't believe that it was almost a dying art. I hope it continues to grow and that the younger generations will see and appreciate them and use them. Don't get them and just pack them away and store them. I want them out where people can see them.

EW: And so, you think that quilts should be used?

GR: Yes.

EW: Would there be any quilts, ever, that you think should be preserved?

GR: Oh, yes. There's those, too.

EW: And how would you go about doing such a thing?

GR: I guess by donating it to a museum. Michigan State [University.] has quite a collection.

EW: Some kind of a program like that?

GR: Yes.

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

GR: You go back and look at some from the early days where they took shirts that were worn out and couldn't be used for anything else and they made quilts out of them. Then down in the South where the blacks have a group that makes quilts down there. They've been doing them for hundreds of years. And what they went through to get fabrics and things. It just amazes you. I made one of those "blizzard quilts," there was supposed to be a blizzard coming and [you needed another quilt.] You just take all the scrap fabric you've got [and put the pieces together with no regard for colors. You are just in a hurry to get it made.] because you don't have enough blankets.

EW: Oh, that would be interesting.

GR: And it was hard to just reach in and pull out something.

EW: And use it without--

GR: Yeah. Mine was all out of floral prints. It's not tied yet. That storm came and went and I'm still working on it.

EW: And so, you used those scraps without making a judgment about what goes with what?

GR: You're supposed to.

EW: It's tough, isn't it?

GR: Yes.

EW: We talked about how quilts can be used, some, but you've done a lot of wall hangings. Have you made bed quilts?

GR: Mine have been more throw size. I have a couple red, white and blue ones that are twin bed size, and I made one big one, probably would have been a good full-size bed for a niece out in Wyoming. It's all Western prints. Then there are nine photographs of her doing snowshoeing, kayaking, snowmobiling--

EW: So, you've taken her photographs and put them in the quilt?

GR: Yes. Put them into the quilt.

EW: How cool is that?

GR: Then in the center I did a block with a log cabin. Then on one side is a fire pit with a lake. The other side has a big pine tree. [and a pair of snowshoes by the cabin door.] And then framing that I have an eagle landing in a pine tree. And then there is a wolf and a bear and a moose. All are appliquéd.

EW: Appliqued. Wow. Were the photographs of your niece--did you appliqué those too or did you have them printed out on fabric?

GR: They were printed on fabric and then put in. She has it out on her couch, but I don't know if she'll let anybody use it. [laughs.] She's very protective of it.

EW: I'm sure she appreciates it. We've talked before the interview about some of the quilts that you've made to be given to children. Let's talk about that a little bit. Tell me about whatever program you've done that with.

GR: In the guild I'm on the committee for Quilts for Kids. We have a lot of fabric donated to us. We take it home, we wash it, we iron it and bring it back and the ladies can take whatever they want home and make it up. Sometimes if they need batting, we do have some on hand that we can give them. Then they are distributed to Safe Place, to a foster care agency and to the mission for families. It's mostly the building that houses women and families that gets the quilts them.

EW: Is that Safe Place?

GR: No. It's Inasmuch House. And the other one is Safe Place.

EW: Safe Place is what?

GR: For battered women and children. And then I'm in the group down at North Athens Baptist Church and they sponsor an orphanage in Mexico. We held a quilting bee and then members took fabrics home and made more on their own. We ended up with over 160 quilts for kids that we sent down to Mexico. That was a very good feeling.

EW: Oh, I imagine it was.

GR: First we aimed for a hundred. Then we found out how many children were down there in the orphanage and so we changed our goal, and we went over our goal. So, they had a few on hand for new kids that might come in.

EW: Were these crib quilts or--

GR: They were 36 inches by 42 inches, average.

EW: What has happened to the quilts that you have made?

GR: Most of them I have given to those groups. I don't have that many of my own. I get more enjoyment out of giving them to people.

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

GR: Having enough time to work on their quilts. I think the younger women coming have families and work and all that, and trying to work in time to do some quilting is very difficult. I hope they can. It's a big challenge for them, but they need the outlet.

EW: A creative outlet?

GR: Yes.

EW: This brings to the end of our questions. Is there anything that you would like to talk about now?

GR: No. I hope our guild continues and grows and that we get the younger women in. We have a lot of seniors and when it comes show time it's hard. I know I used to go and help with the set-up and teardowns, but I have developed a lung problem and I just can't do it anymore.

EW: So, we need some younger people to--

GR: I feel guilty, but I know I can't handle it. But we need the younger generation to step in. And a lot of them are doing just that.

EW: Well, we thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. I think it's a very interesting thing for me to do, too.

GR: Thank you.

EW: This concludes our interview. The time is 10:45 a.m.


“Gail Rayman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,