Pam Schultz




Pam Schultz




Pam Schultz


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Susan Salser


Battle Creek, Michigan


Nancy Wilkinson


Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. This interview is being conducted for South Central Michigan Q.S.O.S., a project for the Alliance for American Quilts. Today I'm interviewing Pam Schultz at the Art Center in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is May 16th, 2011, and the time is 11:20 a.m. Pam, let's begin by talking about the quilt you brought in today.

Pam Schultz (PS): I initially made this quilt for one of my nephews as a high school graduation present and I made it very early. It was probably a year before I needed it, but I entered it in our quilt show and I loved it so much and it got so many ribbons, and a lot of people kept saying, 'Just keep it, just keep it,' and so I did keep it and I made him a different quilt.

EW: And so, does this quilt have a special meaning for you?

PS: Well, before I started quilting, or early when I started quilting, I really wanted to do a dragon. And I read a lot of the dragon books because they were popular then and I collected patterns and I did all kinds of things, and I just never got around to doing one, but then this pattern, the dragon part of it, was in a child's quilt book. And Lynne Evans at The Quiltery [Battle Creek, Michigan.] called me to say that she had that book, and I should look at it, and that was where the pattern for him came from.

EW: It's a really neat dragon, isn't it?

PS: He is, he is. And the name of it is, uh, I forget. It's on the back of the quilt. The actual quilt pattern has a knight in it, fighting him. But I didn't use the knight.

EW: You didn't need a knight.

PS: No. [laughs.]

EW: The dragon's good enough. And so, why did you choose this quilt to bring for the interview?

PS: I've always loved the colors in it. I loved working on it. The background blocks are from Jinny Beyer's Moonglow pattern, and the fabrics are Ginny Beyer's except for one or two. I did it so late in that series of fabrics I couldn't get them all anymore.

EW: Well, you seemed to have gotten everything matched up pretty good. And why did you bring the quilt to this interview?

PS: Because I love it.

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

PS: I had it at NQA last year and some ladies were real excited about it. And it's an old quilt now and so I happened to be at the same place where they were, and we got to talk about it a little bit. Some people would think it's too dark. I still have relatives that say, 'Well, my mother would never quilt something like that,' because everything was beige. And I don't like the beige. I like the bright colors and I like the dark backgrounds.

EW: Well, it's a very striking quilt. How do you use the quilt?

PS: It hangs on a wall.

EW: And your plans for this quilt?

PS: Keep it. [both laugh.]

EW: I think you've already done that.

PS: Yep, I'm keeping it.

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

PS: I like to do it. I'm more of a process person than a product person, unfortunately. I don't finish all the things I start and I don't work at them until they're finished, but I really like the process of quilting and I get a neat idea and I want to play with it for a while and I get to a certain point, I don't know where that point it, but then I'm sort of done with it even though the quilt is not done.

EW: You've figured out the answers to the questions--

PS: The puzzle. Yeah. I guess I see them as big puzzles. You know, how's this going to fit and how's this going to look, and I get that far and sometimes I don't always care about finishing them.

EW: And what age did you start quilting?

PS: I was thirty-six. I learned how to knit when I was nine through 4H, and eventually I learned how to crochet from a magazine, and I did that for a lot of years. And I sewed a little bit for a while. Then I did a cross stitch that took me two years that's a dragon in a castle in a lake and when I got that done, I started taking quilt classes.

EW: And so, did you learn to quilt from your classes, or did you have a start by yourself?

PS: No, I learned from the classes. I think the first couple of classes I took were kind of dumb. One was like "How to Make Labels." And one was a little bitty quilt, it was a mini. It might have been, I don't know, six by eight. And I took these classes at The Quiltery [Battle Creek, Michigan.] with Lynne Evans. And then she offered the basic class. I think I was just waiting to get into that basic class because that was an eight-week class so it didn't run all the time.

EW: And how many hours a week do you quilt?

PS: Well, probably thirty. I get so I'll work on it for a while, but I'll wander away and do something else and then I wander back to it, so it's hard to know how much time I spend.

EW: What is your first quilt memory?

PS: I tried to think about that, and I don't really remember what it was, but we always had quilts.

EW: When you were a child?

PS: Yes. There were quilts. And they were from my father's mother. She was the quilter.

EW: Are there other quiltmakers beside your father's mother?

PS: [chuckles.] I have a cousin who's quilting. And I don't think, on the other side of the family, I don't think anybody's quilting.

EW: How does quilt making impact your family?

PS: Not very much. My husband is interested in it and he doesn't mind the time I spend. He doesn't mind me dragging the stuff through the house and leaving it out and he actually is kind of interested in a lot of it.

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

PS: I think so. I remember, it was not a good time, but, this grandmother, I had a lot of her quilts. And they were kind of utilitarian quilts. But in the seventies, we had a bad snowstorm and we had moved into this big old drafty house, and it was really like a critical snowstorm. And we used those quilts to block areas of the house off and some of the windows because we had a wood burner. There was no power We had a wood burner in the dining room and so we tried to get everything down to the dining room and we used those quilts.

EW: Well, that's a use I hadn't thought of.

PS: And we, well, we nailed them up. So, it left holes in them, but that was a difficult time, and they really did help us. I mean, it really did work.

EW: But have you ever used the quilting process yourself as a means of escape or dealing with difficulty?

PS: Oh, it's always an escape. [laughs.] It may just be an escape from housekeeping, but it's always an escape.

EW: Okay. Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred with your quilt making.

PS: I can't think of one. Although with every quilt there are many. So, that's been hard for me. I can't think of that.

EW: What is pleasing about quilt making?

PS: I think the fabrics. The colors and the fabrics. Touching them and looking at them. It amazes me and I'm not the only one that does this, but I think a lot of us touch it because we think we can feel the color and I don't know if we can feel the color or not, but we all want to touch them.

EW: I think you do that in the fabric store. My mother even did that.

PS: Yes, yes. I have to touch them. Even if I don't like them. Some of those I touch, too, because they're so bad.

EW: [laughs.] And what aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

PS: I don't really like the binding. I always look forward to it because the quilt's almost done and it's simple and I get down to the binding and I hate it. It's like, 'Oh, jeez,' you know. I sew little bits at a time and put it away.

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

PS: I belong to Sew 'N Sews, that's a circle. And we mostly work on our own things [phone rings.] but we have done veteran's quilts. Once a year we do quilts for veterans. And we've done some group quilts and block exchanges and those kinds of things. I belong to Cal-Co Quilters' Guild. [Battle Creek, Michigan.] That's like the mother ship of all the other groups. And I love guild. I've known Barb Mason and Cindy Mumford since the seventies. We used to work together. And I sat with Barb for years. And every month she would say, 'Come to guild.' And I would say, 'I can't.' And I just wouldn't start until I retired because I didn't have time. I knew I wouldn't have time to do all those things. I retired on Halloween in 2002 and I joined guild in January of 2003. And I love it. I just love it. I belong to Syncopated Threads, that's an art quilt group. We've done lots of experiments. We have dyed fabric on several occasions. Last year we rusted some fabric from some instructions on the Internet. We've done a polymer workshop, polymer clay workshop. We've taken some field trips. We go to the Fiber Fest in Allegan [Michigan.] and we've gone on little shop hops of our own. And we just try all kinds of things and share ideas.

EW: It's a fun group.

PS: It is. It is. And then I belong to the hospice group, and we make quilts for the hospice unit here in town.

EW: Are there advances in technology that have influenced your work?

PS: Lots of them. Lots of them. I can remember when I started, they would have you trace those patterns on that plastic and cut it out so carefully and then trace it on the fabric and now there's rotary cutters and mats. I like the, well, I love the transfer papers. I love the fused papers. But I like the paper that you can transfer, let's see how is it? You can copy a picture onto fabric with special paper. I love that idea. I try not to buy a lot of the gadgets, but I do like the products. I like trying things. I like seeing what they do.

EW: That goes back to your exploring an idea just to work out the--

PS: Yeah, just to see if I can do it. Yep.

EW: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

PS: I like fusing stuff now and sewing it down. Iron it on, sew around the edges. [laughs.] And I don't, I don't draw very well, I try and I'm getting better, I at least work at it. But when you think about cutting all those pieces out and then, like, folding that little edge down and then hand stitching that on, it takes a lot of time. And I don't ever really get a very good result. So, I'm happy with the fuse.

EW: And do you machine work around it?

PS: Yeah. I think it looks a lot better, even just to me, that if you go around that edge it kind of cleans it and defines it. Otherwise, it, I don't know, it looks a little loose or floating or something, which would be okay if you wanted it to look like it was floating.

EW: How do you balance your time?

PS: I don't. I just do what I want. I clean and do things like that because it absolutely has to be done at a certain point, but otherwise I just do what I want.

EW: Okay. Describe your studio or the place that you create.

PS: Oh, it's all over the house. [laughs.] The place I do the most sewing at is in our kitchen because we have a deck with walkout doors that are glass and there are two side windows and that's the room with the best light in the house and so I do a lot of sewing there. And then I have things stored in extra bedrooms and everywhere.

EW: Do you use a design wall?

PS: I have. I don't really have one, but I have, well, the place I hang that quilt, I can hang a piece of fabric up on that rod and I can use that. So sometimes I use that, sometimes I just use the floor. I found out from Norma Storm when you're trying to put fabrics together, she said to lay them on the carpet and then get up on a ladder and take a digital picture of them. And that works really well. Besides you can get rid of the picture or take it again or change it, but I've done some of that in trying to put stuff together and it really does work.

EW: I never really thought of that.

PS: Yeah. It gives you enough distance to get away from it.

EW: It does make a difference how close you are to things, doesn't it?

PS: Yes, yes.

EW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

PS: I don't know. I think they're all great. I've seen some kind of horrible quilts, but I really appreciate that they exist. I mean that, the work that goes into them, and whatever the person was trying to convey, and it might have been that they wanted that quilt to look that way. I just think they're all great. I don't, I don't know. I don't really like the crystals now. I like some embellishment on some quilts, but I, the ones that are winning the big prizes now have all those crystals on them and I just don't like that.

EW: Do you wonder why they use them?

PS: Yeah. Yeah, I don't know. It just gets too far away from quilting. A quilt is still something you should be able to cuddle in. And you can't cuddle in those and those are very valuable and are wall hangings and they're very beautiful, but I just don't like that trend.

EW: And what is it that makes a quilt artistically powerful?

PS: I think it's the colors. The design and the colors. And that's really not a strong point for me. I'm not very good at, I pick a lot of dark colors, I don't have a lot of contrast. I'm trying to get better. But even pastels. If you can get a lot of contrast in there and the colors don't fight, but they complement each other, and they make each other stand out. And I think I respond to color and pattern more than anything.

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

PS: It's whatever they want, whatever they're looking for. I've seen some really beat up quilts in little museums and they had a reason to be there. You know, the person who made them or what that quilt represented or what that quilt went through or, so, I guess it really depends on what the museum is trying to show. And I know there's got to be some perfect quilts in some museums, the AQS museum, they're all fabulous. One is there that's so old it's kind of disintegrating, but that's a good example of an old, old, old quilt. So--

EW: What makes a great quiltmaker?

PS: Somebody who likes to do it and does it. Even if they do bad work, [laughs.] if they enjoy it and they want to do it and they keep doing it, I think that's a great quiltmaker.

EW: You don't think that they have to have any particular skill? It's just their attitude toward their work?

PS: Yeah. Yeah. There's been some people who've shown up, that want to help, and they just do so badly sometimes you have to take it home and do it over. But I would never not let them participate. It's like, just let them do it, you know. And a lot of its attitude. They're trying to do something for somebody else and they're doing the best they can and they're doing what they know how to do. So, that's okay.

EW: And whose works are you drawn to and why?

PS: Oh, lots of people. [chuckles.] I had a class from Vicki Pignatelli a long time ago through guild and I just love her stuff. I had a class from Susan B. Cleveland, Susan Cleveland, I think it's B, Susan K. And I like her work, too. And her class is really good. Most of them, and there's some other famous quilters, I have their books and things, but you know a lot of the women I admire are in our guild and they have taught me a lot and they do excellent work. And I think that's just such a big resource. It has always amazed me because I get so clever and I think of this thing and I do it and I show it to somebody at guild and they did it twenty years ago or fifteen and moved on, you know, so, it's just a really good resource.

EW: It sounds like a learning process that we all go through.

PS: It is, it is.

EW: Are there artists that have influenced you?

PS: No, I guess just maybe the quiltmakers that have published books or that I've been able to see at guild. Lee McDonald was probably the real artist, and she taught a little workshop for us and actually it's probably one of the best workshops I took. A lot of these workshops you're going to do this stuff and you end up not really being able to keep up or do what they want you to, and it ends up to be a wasted morning, but she taught us how to bead. A couple hints about beading I got from her and then she taught us how to thread stitch, or thread paint, and I was doing okay in that class and the whole afternoon I would say I had enough, and everybody'd go, 'More, more, more, more.' [laughs.] And that's the only way I could have ever gotten through that, I would never have done it right. But her class was real valuable. She was really good.

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

PS: It all works for me. In fact, I don't like, I appreciate the hand quilting, but I actually don't like the way it looks anymore. I think you can do a lot more with the machines. The designs stand out better, I don't know, I guess there's not really a difference in thread you use, but the hand quilting is so hard, and I do appreciate that, and it is beautiful, but I like the machine quilting better.

EW: That's cool. And that includes, of course, the longarm quilting?

PS: Yes. Yep. Yep. Longarm, shortarm, I don't care. I do some machine quilting. Hey, I'm not very good at it, but I'm doing it on a, just a domestic machine. And, ah, I forgot her name. A lady came to guild and did a class on that a long time ago. But I just kept trying it and on a small piece it works pretty good, on a big quilt it's really hard.

EW: It's a challenge.

PS: Yeah. You're always refolding and shoving and trying to balance that thing and it's kind of hard. I've done some hospice quilts and I've machine quilted them, and I made a little scrap quilt to take to our reunion that's coming up and I machine quilted that. But I just did curvy lines, kind of a straight line with a curve and that wasn't so hard.

EW: Have you ever thought about renting time on a longarm machine?

PS: You know, I have, but I hate appointments. [both laugh.] I know you have to practice on it. I've tried it every time we go somewhere, and they have one out. I try it and I think it's wonderful, but I would hate loading that thing up and I would hate having to get up on Tuesday at nine o'clock and get there and do it because I might not feel like doing it that day. So, I'd rather pay someone else to do that, I think.

EW: And why is quilt making important to your life?

PS: I like the fabric. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel creative. I enjoy the fabric, I like looking at it, I like touching it. And it's, I don't know, I guess it's a way to stay out of trouble. [both laugh.] Keeps me out of the bars.

EW: [laughs again.] In what way do your quilts reflect your community or region?

PS: Oh, I don't know. They just do. I'll buy the fabric here. I guess maybe that reflects my community or region. I don't know that they necessarily do. I don't think about that. They do or they don't.

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

PS: I think they're very important. People that have them or do them or make them know how special they are. That they are comforting, they are exciting, they're valuable.

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

PS: Well, I think the thing about quilting, this grandma from Arkansas, she was the quilter and she had eleven kids. Two of them died as infants, but she had eleven kids, and they were farmers. And she worked like a dog. I mean just keeping things together. Getting food on the table. Keeping people clean. And she quilted. That's where all our quilts came from. And I think that quilting was the outlet for her. It was still a job. It was still a valuable way to spend your time, but she could be with her lady friends. They would quilt together. They'd share the work on a quilt. She could get away from the house. She could do something different than cleaning, childcare, farming. And I think that was real important for them. And then it was also a way for them to artistically express themselves. I mean, they didn't have a lot of chance at that. I know the, the Hidden in Plain Site quilt, that they talk about people--the slaves using them to travel or to know where they were going, as a map to see markers and I just think a lot of, it was a chance for her to get away from that family, spend time with her friends, and still be working on family things. And I just think they're real important.

EW: Okay. You mentioned how quilts were used in the bad snowstorm when you wanted to make the house smaller to heat an area.

PS: [chuckles.] Yeah.

EW: How many other ways can you think of that quilts might be used?

PS: Well, I had one on my table for a while for a tablecloth. We didn't eat on that table. We don't eat on tables we eat on our laps. [laughs and coughs.] They can be used for decoration. The dragon is a decoration. They could be used to stay warm with. In high school we used to drag a quilt to the beach and use that until it disintegrated. You know, we never thought it was going to disintegrate, but it did. I'm trying to think. They can be used in all ways.

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

PS: I think it's important. Even if they're bad examples. And now we have so many of them. When I think back maybe twenty years there weren't that many quilts, or even earlier than that. And they weren't artistic. They were kind of traditional, simple patterns, simple colors. And now they're just, everything. So, I don't know. I think it's important to take care of them if you can so other people can enjoy them.

EW: And how would you go about taking care of them?

PS: Well, I know you're not supposed to let them be in the light, that's a killer. I think hanging is best, if you can keep it dust free. And out of sunlight. If they're folded, I know they have to be refolded periodically. And I had an aunt in southern Illinois; we stayed with her one weekend. She had a bed, that I don't know, it was like three feet off the floor, maybe four feet, because she had thirty or forty quilts stored on that bed. And every month she'd take them apart and, like, restack. But actually, it was a really good way to hang on to, to take care of those quilts.

EW: I think it might have been. What has happened to quilts that you've made or those of your friends and family?

PS: I think they're still being used. I made one for my sister when she got married and she's divorced and think that's rolled up in a closet somewhere. So, I ought to make her another one that she can use. I don't know about the other ones. Somebody told me a long time ago they had given a quilt to someone; it was not a small quilt. And then when they visited at this person's house, the dog had the quilt. The dog was sleeping on the quilt.

EW: Oh, that's a bummer.

PS: And they, well, she was very upset about it. And I thought about that, and I decided then that if I give a quilt away, I don't care what happens to it and I'd rather not know, but I don't care. If a dog ends up sleeping on it, or it gets run over by a car, I'm not going to worry about it. Once you give it away it's not yours anymore. And it's not a dishonor to you if something bad happens to that quilt, so I don't even worry about it. I've sold, well, I don't really sell quilts. I've done quilts for our mini auction. We used to do that at guild for our show, and the hospice quilts and the veterans quilts are giveaways and I never know what happens to those quilts, but I don't care. I just hope somebody's enjoying them that's all.

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

PS: I think it's that we have too much available. [laughs.] There's too much fabric. There's too many fancy threads. There are too many patterns. There's too many teachers. Too many techniques. I just think it's just all too much. I can't do it all and I get frustrated with that. But I'd like to try it all.

EW: I think that would be a fun thing to do too. Now we've reached the end of the assigned questions. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

PS: No, I think I've talked enough. [both laugh.]

EW: Well, I want to say I thank you so much for taking this time to do this interview with us. It's been very interesting.

PS: Oh, thank you.

EW: We appreciate it very much. This ends the interview, and it is now 11:47.


“Pam Schultz,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,