Charlotte C. Egan




Charlotte C. Egan




Charlotte C. (Bishop) Egan


Joyce Rupp

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Susan Salser


Hastings, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


Joyce Rupp (JR): [32 second false start.] 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 am interviewing Charlotte Bishop Egan at Westlake Presbyterian Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is July 7, 2011, and the time is approximately 11:10 a.m. Thank you for coming.

Charlotte Bishop Egan (CBE): You're welcome.

JR: Tell me about the quilt that you brought in today.

CBE: I started this quilt in 1978 when I took a class at Kellogg Community College [Battle Creek, Michigan.] It was an evening class, and it was to be a sampler quilt to give us the experience of putting different things together. I thought about it long and hard and decided that I would pick out blocks that were representative of my family history. I don't know how much more you want to know, Joyce.

JR: You can just keep going.

CBE: I titled it "A Wild Irish Quilt Tale" and I started it 'Once upon a time there lived a lovely lady named Maurita,' who was my mother, and she was pretty and refined and came from a little more refined family and so I chose a Dresden Plate for her. Then I went on to my father who really grew up in, I wouldn't call it a log cabin, but he talked about papering the walls with newspapers in his era for warmth in the house, so you know it wasn't much of a house and they had six boys and a girl in their family, so I picked a Log Cabin for him. They married, met at Michigan State [Michigan State University, Lansing, Michigan.] and married and had a large family of seven girls and two boys. So, the next block is called Farmer's Daughters because they lived on a farm. Their sixth child was Charlotte so this is a Queen Charlotte's Crown for me.

JR: Which is the next block.

CBE: Which is the next block. And she grew up and went to Michigan State and became a bride. That's a Bride's Wreath when she met a wild Irishman. Now block number six is a portion of an Irish Chain. What else did it say? I could only win my freedom if I had five stars to fill my crown. The first star is for my son Michael, it's a Variable Star and I would say he is a variable child and young man and always has been. The next one is for Patrick. It's a Friendship Star and Patrick has always been one of the most friendly, congenial young men and still is, today. The next one is for Timothy who is a very religiously committed person. That's called a Cross. Am I right? Star and Cross. The next one is called Mother's Delight and that's for our daughter Colleen. The boys were Michael and Patrick and Timothy. I said that, and then Colleen. The next one is a Twin Star for our youngest, Daniel; it's a variation on the Friendship Star and he's very much like his brother Pat. The last one is World Without End, and I say amen, amen.

JR: What a wonderful thing for this quilt, to learn and to have a story like that. I think in the future everyone will have been pleased that you wrote the story on the back of the quilt.

CBE: I hope so. It's going to belong to my daughter. She wanted to claim it, so being the only girl, I think that's right.

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

CBE: [faint conversation is heard from other room.] That I was a beginning quilter, I'm sure, and that I enjoyed what I was doing and finally got it done. I started in '78. It was '94 before I had it totally quilted.

JR: Well, you've left it a long time just going through that process.

CBE: Yes. Yes, I had all the blocks done and had it all together before we left Battle Creek, but doing the quilting was a challenge. It was all a learning process for me. In the process, then, of not doing this one, putting it to the side and learning a lot of other techniques, like you do when you're a beginning quilter.

JR: It certainly has a lot of the aspects of quilt making, with the appliqué and the piecing and the points. I just think the thoughtfulness of going through that process, because it speaks to you as a thoughtful and caring about your family and wanting to move that heritage on to your children.

CBE: Thank you.

JR: Tell me why you thought that you wanted to get involved in quilting.

CBE: I have always sewn, from the time--my mom raised nine kids and she had an electric sewing machine that was given to her on their wedding day by my dad. Now, that was 1924. That's quite unique. But you raise a big family of girls, and you better learn to sew, through the 4H system, because she didn't have time. She did not quilt. My mother's sister, my Aunt Jean and my grandmother both quilted and there are other quilters, great aunts and others on that side of the family. But for myself, I like sewing and I like the creating of something and I think that was an era when things were starting up in quilting.

JR: It's nice to have a product from your endeavors to remember what you did. At what age did you start quilt making?

CBE: I'd have to sit and figure it out, Joyce. I'm seventy-seven and this was, let's see, 1977. I was probably about fifty-five.

JR: I'm sure over the years, since you've done that, you have quilted lots of hours sometimes and little other times.

CBE: Right.

JR: In the midst of doing a great deal, how many hours a week do you think that you quilted?

CBE: Oh, my. Oh, probably ten hours, I don't know. I know that in the process with this, then you move on to other things. You join groups and you have other projects, if you're doing for other people. I've done a lot of baby quilts for a church down South and started many other things that are not finished, all a learning process.

JR: What is your first quilt memory? Maybe with your grandmother? Or--

CBE: I think, probably it would be my mother's sister, my Aunt Jean, who made a quilt for any of us when we were getting married and after that, she didn't marry until very late in life, so she had no children, but she made baby quilts for all of my kids and for my sister's kids. But she gave me a quilt for our wedding gift, and it had blocks, scraps on it from many things she had made us in our growing up. That was very precious. This wasn't the first one I made. I made one in 1960 that was just about two-inch strips sewn on one after the other. It was very colorful.

JR: And they are, still, today.

CBE: I don't have that one anymore.

JR: How does quilt making impact your family? Have you made quilts for all of your family?

CBE: No, I haven't, yet. No. My daughter has one. My youngest got one for a wedding gift and that's, that I have back now, [chuckles.] for reasons of divorce, let's say. I've made them for four of the grandchildren. There are six grandchildren, made twin size for them. Made baby quilts for them. So I'm in the process. I'd better hurry up.

JR: You've got things to do yet. Tell me if you've ever used quilts to get through a difficult time in your life.

CBE: I would say no. It's just part of the process that I enjoy doing, unless when I'm stressed, I go out and buy fabric. That's a possibility.

JR: That's part of quilt making. Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making. Did you teach?

CBE: No, I don't--

JR: Part of the groups that you were in?

CBE: I've never taught. I don't enjoy teaching. I'm happy to share a process with anyone, but I think there have been fun surprises along the way where you know you have a quilt friend that likes bunnies. I remember one of the ladies here in Battle Creek did and so we concocted this insane bunny quilt for her. It was really terrible, but it was fun.

JR: It was fun. What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

CBE: I do not enjoy machine quilting and I do very little of it.

JR: What quilt groups do you belong to, or have you belonged to over the years?

CBE: The first one was the Cal-Co Quilters' Guild [of Battle Creek, Michigan.] and then a circle out of that, the Ladies of the Lake, that I belonged to from the beginning, and we used to meet out in Fine Lake [Michigan.] in some little house of some kind.

JR: Their association--

CBE: Yes, their association house and then when I moved to North Carolina I belonged to the Western North Carolina Quilters' Association, and I belonged to that all the time I lived there for about twenty years. I belonged to the Tar Heels quilt group and another small group called the Kaleidoscope Quilters.

JR: And in the guilds that you belonged to how did you participate?

CBE: Different committees, certainly here and in North Carolina. I was president of the Cal-Co Quilters at one point, and I was the program chairperson for the Western North Carolina group, and participated in quilt shows, would not run a quilt show, different aspects.

JR: Have advances in technology influenced your work? If so, how?

CBE: I don't really think so. For quite a while I collected 1930's quilt tops and memorabilia from that era, and it always comes back to the fact that whatever you are doing in quilting you can keep it very simple. All you need is a cereal box and a ruler to draw the template and needle and thread and scissors, and fabric, of course.

JR: Do you use a rotary cutter?

CBE: Yes, I do use a rotary cutter. Now that's one advance that I would say gets a big, big A+.
I sometimes think that all the gizmos that they have created in the name of quilting are totally not necessary.

JR: You know, that could be true, but think about the quilting industry and the volume of jobs that have been created through the technology and through the versatility of the way that we've done it.

CBE: That's true. Yes, and I'm sure all the younger ladies are fascinated by all the gizmos, and I have enough of them in my room where I quilt. I have enough of those, don't get me wrong, but if you want to really get down to the basics our grandparents did it with much, much less.

JR: Oh, certainly. That's why it's called new technology.

CBE: I have one piece of cardboard that was somebody's report card from about 1930 something. I just thought that's fascinating. [laughs.]

JR: Describe your favorite techniques.

CBE: Oh, I don't know, Joyce. That's hard to say. I don't think I have a technique that I claim of my very own.

JR: Well, many people only like to appliqué or only like to paper piece or only like to--

CBE: I would say the favorite thing I like to do is to think about a quilt and buy the fabric and combine the colors and stack them up and say, 'Oh, this is wonderful.'

JR: And many people have a hard time with that.

CBE: Yes.

JR: And so that's a wonderful attribute to have.

CBE: Well, I'm not saying I do a good job of it, Joyce, but I enjoy it.

JR: Describe the place where you create. Or places.

CBE: Well, the place I create now is just a large corner of our basement, which is totally finished off. It's really a very, very small area. I don't have room for a design wall anymore. Down South I had half of our basement, and it was bright and light and Pat got storage cupboards for me and I had this huge island counter that I could walk all around. It was wonderful. But life changes so you learn you can do in a smaller space, and you do what you have to do.

JF: That's true. Speaking of a design wall, how do you create now that you don't have a design wall?

CBE: I have a quilt that's hanging on a curtain rod and it's not an extremely large quilt, but I am able to pin other quilts over it at the top. I'm thinking what I need is a little strip on one wall downstairs there, that isn't technically in my area, that I could back away and look at things. I used to have the foam board that I had covered with flannel. I had two big pieces that were ceiling height and they folded together and were covered with flannel. That was marvelous.

JR: Design walls really make you take a look at your blocks in a whole different way.

CBE: You need to be able to back away and look at them. Yes.

JR: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CBE: I would say color more than anything else.

JR: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CBE: The use of color, I would say, and the variation of shapes, and how they're put together.

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

CBE: Oh, my. I don't really know, Joyce. I've never thought about that. It would have to be something, I think, unique to represent a certain area, perhaps, of where you live or commemorative. The Cal-Co group, I know, has that Michigan quilt that they have. Something of that particular. I don't know.

JR: What makes a great quiltmaker?

CBE: Perseverance.

JR: Whose works are you drawn to and why? You certainly, in your living in different places you certainly have come upon different people that you probably admire.

CBE: Yes. Georgia Bonesteel belonged to the group in town. She was at many, many of the meetings and instrumental in getting that group going. I think that she had to be admired for getting, and still is, doing basic things and teaching in that way. There are a lot of them that I admire that, Jinny Beyer, I think, does beautiful, lovely things and her color choices are wonderful, but they're a little beyond me, I think.

JR: Or beyond what your expectations are of yourself?

CBE: Yes, but you can still learn from things like that by keeping it simpler.

JR: We touched on this a little bit, but for the whole quilting world, how you feel about machine quilting, hand quilting and longarm quilting?

CBE: I did finally take my daughter's quilt and had it machine quilted. I think that's a big adjustment and I'm still not fond of that, but I understand the time consumption. I would prefer to hand quilt and I understand the time consumption involved in that, but to me, maybe the finished product isn't always better with hand quilting. I understand people wanting to get it done. I, deep down, feel that maybe we've created a bit of a monster in, 'Oh, we've got to get this done. We've got to get this done.' And society in general is like that and it's nice just to sit back and take the time to do the hand stitching.

JR: Good thoughts. Why is quilt making important in your life?

CBE: Because it gives [airplane outside.] me a creative outlet, something to plan and to look at quilt books and see something and you say, 'Oh, wow. That would be wonderful to try to capture that or to capture some of it.' Yes. Creativity.

JR: In what ways do you think quilting or quilts reflect a community, and you've lived in a couple different areas that are very unique. How do you think the quilt making in different areas reflect that community?

CBE: I think that people are, today, more accustomed to having a quilt group in their area and so many of the groups today do so many charitable things which I think is very nice. That does give them some recognition and the quilt shows give them some recognition. I know as far as Western North Carolina where I lived, because of Georgia Bonesteel was well known for, 'Oh, you quilt, and you'll fit right in down here and you will meet lots of people.' Which I did. So that's an aspect but I think anywhere you go in the United States today if you have to move as a quilter then you will find friends and maybe that's a good reflection of an area.

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

CBE: Oh, I think it was standard and basic and we don't realize that, that we, if you read books of the pioneers and how a lot of the young ladies had to have X amount of quilts and they took quilts across the country, on the Oregon trail and it was a very, very important thing. I remember, and I quizzed my sisters about this, but during, probably 1940-42 my mother worked on some tied quilts. My mother didn't quilt, but somehow the Methodist Church was given a whole bunch of fabric that had a white background, and my memory says it had grapes all over it. My sisters don't remember anything about that, but they made comforters out of that for people, for warmth. It was just the two layers and batting in between and they were all tied. But I have not been able to track that one down. That's because people were hurting in that era, and they didn't have things that that was a charitable thing that they got together and did. Keep people warm.

JR: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

CBE: If you've read anything about Jinny Beyer, not to say this is wrong, or anything, but I understand that she hides all her quilts away and doesn't let the sun get to them. I think it's nice to preserve them. You see, this one has got a white streak along there because I've had it on my quilt rack. I don't put it on my bed too often, but I have slept under it. I think it's one thing to preserve them and be careful, but I think they were made to use.

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

CBE: Price of fabric, probably. [laughs.] I understand it's going up and up. I don't know how many younger quilters we are seeing coming into groups and maybe they don't until they get to a point where their kids are grown, but that could be a challenge to continually involve new people in groups. I think there has been resurgence in sewing to a degree, maybe because of quilt making and quilt shops, but I think there are an awful lot of young people that don't know how to sew.

JR: Because they're not learning in--

CBE: Yes. We don't have Home Ec in the schools anymore. It's a different era.

JR: When I asked you to do the interview and I gave you some sample questions, throughout our conversation today, did you note any other things that maybe we haven't covered in our interview? Or thoughts that you had since we discussed it, that you think should be shared at the end of this interview:

CBE: Well, I think it's a lot easier today to--the question about being self-taught. I think it's a lot easier for quilters today because there are so many classes, where I did take that class, but I had many books and was messing around with it.

JR: Who was your teacher for that class?

CBE: You know, I don't remember that. I remember Carolyn Harvey. You know Carolyn? She was in that class and she's the only one that I remember, and I haven't seen her since I came back to Battle Creek. I think the only thing I jotted down here is, and I did refer to this to a degree, I did have a really nice collection of quilt tops from the 1930's and because of moving I put them in auction down south and I had feed-sack quilts, fabrics about yay, that I also sold because you get to a point in your life because, number one, you're going to have to move it. Number two, you will never get this done, so you cut back.

JR: So, you can share it with others?

CBE: Yes, yes. I have pictures of all of them. I don't know. I don't see anything else on here that you didn't cover. I do think that belonging to a guild, whereas I've inferred that I don't really like to do the birthday blocks and things like that anymore because I've got so many that I haven't finished at home, that were, maybe, somebody else's creation and not really mine. I think you get into that with trading blocks and sharing.

JR: You do.

CBE: So, at this point in time, I just want to finish what I've got.

JR: This concludes our interview. The time is 11:35 a.m. Thank you.

CBE: You're very welcome. That was very interesting.


“Charlotte C. Egan,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 16, 2024,