Laura Nelle Goebel




Laura Nelle Goebel




Laura Nelle Goebel


Suzanne Hill McDowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Sylva, North Carolina


Paula Carnes-Ashe


Suzanne Hill McDowell (SHD): And now we are just gonna talk and see if I need to--we are going to try to figure out where to put this so we can hear it, mainly you, so you just talk up. Tell me your name.

Laura Nelle Goebel (LNG): My name is Laure Nelle Goebel. I live on Lacy Fern Ridge.

SHD: What is today's date?

LNG: I think it is July 27th, but I am not sure.

SHD: Yes.

SHD: We are going to start recording now. Okay?

LNG: Alright. My name is Laura Nelle Goebel. I work at Napa Auto Parts in Sylva, North Carolina.

SHD: Ok. We're going for a happy medium here. Laura Nelle says something and see if we can hear you too.

LNG: My name is Laura Nelle.

SHD: Okay. This is Suzanne McDowell, and I am here conducting an interview with Laura Nelle Goebel in Sylva, North Carolina and we are doing this for the Alliance for American Quilts and our ID number is NC28779-001 and this is the 27th of July 2011 and we are doing the interview at Laura Nelle's home on Lacy Fern Ridge. So, Laura Nelle, thank you for joining me today.

LNG: Thank you.

SHD: Can you tell me about the quilt that I'm viewing that you brought in today?

LNG: Well, this quilt is from my barn series. It's a tobacco barn and the background is string patchwork. The barn is stripped and then appliquéd to the background and the tobacco hanging in the barn is made from chamois cloth. It has some dimensional appliqué leaves and loose tobacco leaves and I made this for a series of barns, barn quilts that I did a few years ago. I received a grant to go around and take some pictures of some dilapidated barns which is something that's leaving our landscape all over the United States and I hate to see them go but it's a way of life and I wanted to do my part to preserve something of what is not going to be here for our kids to see in a few years and I did 6 quilts in this series and thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me feel really, really good because I have some farm background in my younger life, and this meant a lot to me to be able to do this quilt.

SHD: What regions did you take photographs in of the barns?

LNG: I made some photographs in Jackson County, Swain County and Cherokee County. [North Carolina.]

SHD: And you say you grew up on a farm.

LNG: I grew up on a small farm.

SHD: And where was that?

LNG: That was in central Florida.

SHD: Okay.

LNG: Which we did a little farming, and my dad was a commercial fisherman, so I grew up very close to nature. And I think looking back over the quilts I've made, that shows up in my quilts. I love things related to nature.

SHD: Okay, so obviously that quilt of the barn series has a lot of special meaning to you because it sounds like it harkens back to your past as well as--

LNG: It does, it does and one of the barns, which hasn't been in existence for many, many years was my grandfather's corn crib that was on his farm and ranch in Florida years and years and years ago and I had a cousin who did a line drawing of that for me and I did that in free form stitching and I just tied some family remembrance into the whole series.

SHD: What County was that in?

LNG: That was in Osceola County in Florida.

SHD: And when did he have that barn? I mean, when was he actively farming?
LNG: Actively, he had a ranch in the early 1900's.

SHD: So how do you use this quilt now? You said you used them in a series and where were those exhibits?

LNG: I've had exhibits at the Folk Art Center in Asheville [North Carolina.] and at the Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowhee [North Carolina.] and I have had them hanging at different times in my home and my children borrow them occasionally when they want to change something in their house. I just received 3 of them back from my daughter who had a barn bedroom and so she had borrowed all of the photographs and a couple of the quilts and right now two of them are hanging in the office where I work.

SHD: Okay and tell me where you work now.

LNG: I work at Napa Auto Parts in Sylva, which is owned by my children. And my daughter, Marcie, is my boss and [laughs.] she has a tractor collection so when we redecorated the office she came in and put barn wood on all of the walls and so she has a lot of antique things in the office and she said, 'We've got to hang a couple of the barn quilts in here.' So, when you come in--

SHD: Now do you think are you planning to use these at other exhibits?

LNG: Probably not. This has been ten years.

SHD: It's personal now too.

LNG: Yes, yes.

SHD: Well, it's a beautiful quilt. I love the leaves that you've created there and the tobacco, the tobacco leaves there too.

LNG: Thank you.

SHD: Did you ever farm tobacco?

LNG: Yes, I did.

SHD: Where was that?

LNG: This was in Macon County, here in North Carolina. When all my children were young, on the side, we had a small acreage of allotment for tobacco, and it's like a year-round job and you always take it to market just before Christmas, so it served us, you know extra money at Christmas time.

SHD: And what years was that, approximately?

LNG: It was in the 70's.

SHD: Yeah, because tobacco farming is pretty much gone--all the areas.

LNG: Pretty much gone, yeah.

SHD: Well, let's get back to your interest in quilt making. Can you tell me about how you first became interested in making quilts?

LNG: Well in making quilts, I was in my mid 20's when I first had a desire to really make a quilt. But quilts had been around in my family. Both my grandmothers quilted.

SHD: What are their names?

LNG: Their names--my paternal grandmother, her name was Nelle Tyson Thompkins, and my maternal grandmother was Laura Belle Ward. They made quilts, mostly utilitarian quilts and also you know, they just used up what they had, their scraps and feed sacks and what not. And my mother made quilts but not while I was growing up, she was busy doing other things and my mother didn't get back into quilting until after I started into making quilts. She would say, 'I used to do that--oh, this is the way I did it.' So, in the 70's and 80's we spent a lot of time together working on quilts and so it gave us a new interest working together.

SHD: So, you made your first quilt in your 20's.

LNG: My first quilt I made in 1969.

SHD: And what was it, do you remember?

LNG: Oh, I do. I remember it was a Trip Around the World.

SHD: That was quite ambitious.

LNG: Well, I thought it was very simple because it was just squares. I saw one that mother's neighbor had, and I said I can make that. It's squares, you know, how hard is it to sew squares? So, I hand pieced the entire thing out of scraps that I had. At that time, I was living in Tennessee and mother was still part-time in North Carolina and part-time in Florida. And I didn't see her too often, I was so excited to show her my very first quilt that I had made, and her comment was, 'Well, honey, the colors look very good, but your stitches look like toe-nail hangers.'

SHD: Is she the one that taught you to quilt?

LNG: She gave me some tips then and after I initially got into and saw that I could and the more you look the more you see and the more you want to do then I took a few classes to enhance my skills. [laugh.]

SHD: Would that have been in about the early 70's?

LNG: That would have been the early 70's, yes.

SHD: So, were the classes at fabric stores or where were the classes?

LNG: No, my first classes were through extension agencies. That is where I really learned some techniques. And at that time my children were young, I had 2 children in school and 2 children at home so it was not beneficial for me to work outside the home so I started making and selling quilted items through a craft co-op and that's the way I could work at home and be with my children.

SHD: Was that in Tennessee?

LNG: No, that was after I had moved here to North Carolina.

SHD: Okay, was that in Macon County?

LNG: That was in Macon County.

SHD: What was the name of the co-op?

LNG: It was Maco Crafts which was in existence for several years and helped an awful lot of people and its sad that it's not around anymore because it was a wonderful organization and helped a lot of people.

SHD: As far as learning things?

LNG: Learning things, yes, they had some teachers, instructors that would help people if someone wanted to learn a craft and sell their items. It was set up that way.

SHD: So, you mainly learned; it sounds like you really learned to quilt from your mom as well as classes that you mentioned taking them from extension. So how many hours a week do you now quilt since you work a lot?

LNG: I work, I work about 30 hours a week and I would say I have less than 10 hours a week that I can actively work at it until I get into a project and then its non-stop. I just get hooked and have to get it finished.
SHD: Do you mainly quilt at night, then?

LNG: I can't quilt at night as much as I did years ago. I do the things I can do at night, and I like the natural light now for quilting it is a lot easier on the eyes.

SHD: I would think so too.

SHD: What do you recall as your first quilt memory?

LNG: I think besides sleeping under a quilt. I did have quilts in my house when I was growing up but thinking back one of my most unusual memories was watching my grandmother Laura, she made a lot of string squares, and she did some appliqué quilts also. But the thing I remembered and I think it tied me into this was I would see her take the squares that she had made and she didn't have a design board, you know, she just had a sewing machine in the bedroom and she would lay those squares out on top of the bed and she would start moving them around and I thought this was so silly why is she walking around and around the bed and she keeps moving these squares. Why doesn't she just sew them together and that be it. Later on, I realize she was balancing out her colors and making her design.

SHD: Even though it was a string quilt.

LNG: Even though it was a scrap string quilt, and she had a wonderful sense of balancing out her colors.

SHD: What kind of sewing machine did she have?

LNG: It was a treadle. I don't remember the make, but it was an old treadle machine, and she would sew the strips onto old sheeting or muslin whatever she had to make a foundation. She would sew the strips onto that. Most of the quilts at that time that she made were tied because they had the extra foundation, and they were really too heavy to hand quilt so she would tie those.

SHD: Did she purchase her batting at a store or was it an old blanket or what?

LNG: Yes, it was a cotton batting. I recall she did, at times, if it was something that wasn't being used, you know, she would put something maybe like a flannel sheet or something like that in it or she would go buy cotton batting.

SHD: Now where did the grandmother live? Is this Laura or is this Nelle?

LNG: This is Laura. They both lived in central Florida, in Osceola County.

SHD: And you are obviously named for your grandmothers, Laura Nelle.

LNG: Yes, yes.

SHD: What about any other friends in the family were there others who were instrumental to your quilt making?

LNG: Well, my mother's neighbor who was a longtime friend of hers. I would say you know she had made several of those Trip Around the World quilts and I was just taken by how fun it must be to do in your spare time.

SHD: Do you remember her name?

LNG: Her name was Cora Lee Bass.

SHD: And where was she--was she from central Florida?

LNG: She was also from there, but she had moved like so many other people into the mountains for retirement.

SHD: I'm trying to get a sense of when these women would have been young married women, would that have been about--

LNG: In the 30's.

SHD: In the 30's, okay, so very much an era of utility kind of quilts nothing like what we see today with the leisure and the money to purchase things.

LNG: Right.

SHD: What kind of impact on your family did quilt making have?

LNG: Well, it supported us at times. You know, especially it was the way I had an income when I had children at home and I am amazed now that children are all grown and how they are still tied to what was going on and the memories they have of being around quilts, and quilt shows and quilt shops. [laughs.]

SHD: Tell me one of those memories or one they have related to you recently maybe.

LNG: One of my daughters, she loves fiber now, but when she was growing up and we would start off to town, she would say, 'Now mom are you going to the quilt store?' and I would say either yes or no. If it was 'no' she would go to town with me but if I said 'yes' she said, 'I don't want to go there,' and so she would stay at home. Now she loves it.

SHD: Are any of your children quilters?

LNG: No. They do all other sorts of things but hopefully as they are getting older, they will get back to some of it. They all can sew. The only one now that really does any sewing is my son. He is my oldest child, and he is really good at sewing on buttons and darning things.

SHD: Give me his name?

LNG: His name is Garry.

SHD: I think I have seen him quilt.

LNG: You have seen him quilt, he came by and sat down and quilted with the ladies one day. [laughs.]

SHD: He beats me. [laughs.]

SHD: Well, what do you find pleasing about quilt making?

LNG: I just love working with fabric and I love color. I can remember as a small child going into a store with my mother and playing at the cabinet with the embroidery threads you know how they are all laid out in such nice rainbow colors. I can remember playing with those while she was doing her shopping. Must have driven the shopkeeper crazy but I just love color and I love what one color does when it is placed next to something else and how you can change the mood and change the whole look of an object by just changing the colors.

SHD: I wanted to go back to something that occurred to me when you were talking about your grandmother, Laura, I think it was, who used to walk around the bed placing the quilt squares like she wanted to. I think you have a felt board, is that right?

LNG: I have a design wall.

SHD: How do you use that? Do you find yourself mimicking some of her movements or--

LNG: Well, except it's vertical not horizontal. There was no space, no room for her to have that.

SHD: It is a perfect solution when you think about it.

LNG: Exactly and you have a totally different perspective also when you can place something on a design wall and back off from it and look at it and see where you need to make changes and maybe you even need to scrap the whole project [laughs.] sometimes, you know. But it is a wonderful way to work.

SHD: Do you have quilts from your grandmothers now?

LNG: I do. I have one from each of them and several that my mother had made.

SHD: Well, tell me what kind of quilt groups you belong to.

LNG: Right now, I am a member of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild in Frankin, and I am a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild in Asheville, which is a regional art and craft guild.

SHD: And that is a juried group.

LNG: That is a juried group, yes. I have been a member of that since 1980.

SHD: You are one of the older, probably, members in it now.

LNG: Well, I am getting there. [laughs.]

SHD: Well, tell me what advances in technology have influenced your work?

LNG: Well, I think mostly in my work it's the changes in the sewing machines that I have enjoyed the most. I have not gotten into computer designing. I haven't gone in that direction. But just the changes in the sewing machines and the things that I can do with that sewing machine and that has caused me to venture more into machine quilting rather than hand quilting. I still do both but in the past few years I have gotten more into the machine quilting and with the first machines I had I don't think I could have done that.

SHD: Tell me what the first machine you used was?

LNG: I had a--the first machines that I sewed on were treadle machines, that is what I learned to sew on and then my dad finally bought me a zigzag when I was a teenager and so I loved that because I could make nice buttonholes. I was really hooked then when I could make some nice things. I lived out in the country; we had a farm. I even took in sewing as a teenager. That was my after-school job. I had three ladies that I sewed for before I finished high school. That was the way I made my extra money.

SHD: What's your favorite machine that you've ever used?

LNG: Oh, it's got to be my Bernina 930. [laughs.]

SHD: I was just curious 'cause I think you had a collection of Singer machines, also.

LNG: I have Singer Featherweights, yes.

SHD: I know those are a favorite of many quiltmakers.

LNG: Well, they are, I really enjoy them, but I mostly have them now for if I am going to a workshop or something. But for my everyday use I'm still using my Bernina 930. I have some other machines. I do have an embroidery machine but after I bought it, I realized I didn't enjoy it that much. So, I don't use it that much. I have capabilities of making a lot of different stitches for embellishing and things which I enjoy but I want control of what it's doing. I am not thrilled with the embroidery. All of my machine quilting I still do on my Bernina 930. It's been around and I hope to keep it for still a long time. But now they're telling me it may be difficult to get parts for it.

SHD: That's not good, I know. What other, besides the technology of the sewing machines which we've kinda talked about, do you have other favorite techniques and materials that you prefer to work with when you are quilting?

LNG: Well, I love to work with cottons. I venture out occasionally to use some other fabrics but mostly cottons. I love the way they handle. We have so much available to us now. It is just unlimited what you can do. Techniques, I still like a lot of the traditional aspects of quilt making. Probably one of my favorites is the string patchwork which I can use up all those scrapes and I can do hodgepodge things and come up with some very traditional designs or I can take it into a different direction like I did with my tobacco quilt and do some more abstract landscape type quilts and I love hand appliqué. Some of the things that I love the best looking over forty years of quilting have been some of my hand appliquéd work. That is just very gratifying. I can sit down with some fabric and scissors and some colored pieces and just make the world go away. I can have fun cutting it up and stitching it and needle turning it and stitching it down. [laughs.] I love hand appliqué, it's very therapeutic for me. The same as hand quilting.

SHD: Yeah.

LNG: I love to machine quilt but there is nothing therapeutic about it, its work. It's faster but it's not easier and it is not as relaxing as hand quilting.

SHD: Yeah, I can see that that would be true. What kind of studio or place do you use here to create in? I think we are sitting in part of it.

LNG: Once upon a time, I had a nice studio, but now I moved everything into one bedroom of my home, and it has spilled into the living room, and I have a quilt that I am hand quilting in the frame in here in the living room. My Bernina is set up in here with a table large enough I can machine quilt on. And of course, I have one of my antique sewing machines in here also. So, when you walk into the living room it is like a work room too.

SHD: Yeah, you can't miss that somebody here does like fabric and stitching. And you are pretty organized it looks to me like.

LNG: Oh yes, right.

SHD: So, we talked a little bit about your design wall. You do use some kind of felt design wall. Explain that to me again.

LNG: Well, I usually use a large piece of batting. My design wall in the bedroom now is not full size; it's perhaps 4 by 6 feet. I have had it covered with pieces of leftover batting and what not, which works well. You can buy flannel to put on it or a piece felt or whatever. Batting is what I had so that's what I used.

SHD: You probably find that with your experience now at quilting can you sense better how something is going to turn out even though your design panel is kind of small at this point.

LNG: I think so and looking back and listening to what people have told me. I think I have been blessed with a wonderful sense of being able to visualize what something is going to look like. Speaking with students that I've had over the years, a lot of people cannot visualize. They can take one block and look at it, but they have no clue in their mind what it will look like if they turn it on point or put it with other blocks and what not. I think perhaps has come naturally, maybe from what I was exposed to when I was younger that has enabled me to do that and think in those terms. But I sometimes will like if I start a new quilt, I may sketch it out roughly on paper. But I have found over the years that once I start it and I think I want to go in one direction with it I will get halfway into it and then it sort of takes on a life of its own and I start working with what the quilt wants to do. Often times it ends up looking much different than what I started out with. That to me is exciting. It's like I built this quilt, I didn't design it. It sort of designed itself and I have just sewn it together.

SHD: You have your own quilt muse.

LNG: Yes. [laughs.]

SHD: Do you ever get stuck when you are designing? I wanted to ask you that.

LNG: Oh yes.

SHD: How do you get out of that little trap that you have made for yourself sometimes?

LNG: It is according to how--to what it is. I have had some projects where I have worked too hard at trying to make it work. So, I have found that if I will fold it up and put it in a box and put it away where I can't see it for a couple of weeks. Just totally get it out of my mind. Then when I take it out again, the solution will be there. That has worked several, several times.

SHD: Do you work on other pieces in between?

LNG: Oh yeah. Oh, yes. [laughs.]

SHD: How many projects do you have going at one time?

LNG: Maybe 8 or 10. [laughs.]

SHD: Wow.

LNG: Some little projects; some larger projects.

SHD: Do you find--I am sure like with your barn series you had a deadline somewhat established of when you wanted to complete them. Is it more difficult of course to have a deadline or not or does it make you more focused?

LNG: It makes me more focused. When I know that this is my goal. I can focus in on that and cause myself to worker harder at it. But it works well for me.

SHD: If you had to estimate the number of quilts you've made since you started. What would that number be?

LNG: I would say between 375 and 400. Now that's counting wall hangings, small quilts and large quilts.

SHD: Yeah, but all quilted pieces of some kind.

LNG: Now that is not counting the wearable's that I have made. Which I have done a lot of that, also.

SHD: How many of those do you currently have? You and your family because your kids have some of them.

LNG: My kids have some of those quilts. I don't have a lot of them because a lot of them were sold. In the early years a lot of those quilts were sold. I have worked on some really interesting projects. In the early 80's I reproduced a Baltimore Album quilt and that was so difficult to turn loose even though I made good money doing it. By the time I had finished it I was so attached to it that I didn't want to let it go. A man brought an 1835 Baltimore quilt to me, and he wanted an exact replica. I did overlays of clear plastic to draw the patterns and then I made the new quilt, and you could put them side by side they looked exactly alike except you could tell the difference in the newer fabrics and older fabrics. That was difficult to let go of. Now all I have is pictures.

SHD: That had a lot of appliqué on it.

LNG: It was all appliqué.

SHD: You said you really enjoyed that too.

LNG: Yes, yes, but I worked on it a year. It was a fun project. Then when he came to pick it up, he said, 'Well I have three daughters would you be interested in making two more?' and I said, 'No thank you.'

SHD: That sounds like a once in a lifetime project.

LNG: Once is enough. If I make another one, it's gonna be mine forever.

SHD: Let's talk now a little bit about craftsmanship and design aspects of quilt making. What do you think makes a great quilt?

LNG: You know I am so tied to quilts. A great quilt, a wonderful quilt is whatever it is when the quilter finishes it. Quilts that you see can lack so much in craftsmanship but the person making that quilt had to put their heart and soul into it because it takes such patience and perseverance to cut large pieces of fabric into small pieces of fabric and sew them back together to form designs. I like any quilt. I can always find something wonderful about a quilt.

SHD: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful, which is a kind of a different question from what we just talked about?

LNG: Right, right. Color has a lot to do with it and how it impacts the visual aspect of it. Color can affect your mood how it touches some people and the designs, you know. Some of the quilts now, I have a hard time enjoying but I appreciate them, but they are more explosions of color. I like to look at them, but they are not ones I would want to bring home and live with. I can go both ways there. When I go to a quilt show, and you know you are always asked at a quilt show to pick your favorite. The way I do that is I go through, and I look at quilts and I look at them like which quilt in this entire show would I like to take home and live with in my house and that is the way I pick. It is hard. It's hard looking at quilts. Some of the workmanship is fantastic, some of the design is really far out there and innovative and then you have the traditional you know, and it is hard it is like apples and oranges. You just have to love quilts in all of their forms.

SHD: If I were needing your help to pick out a quilt for a museum or a special occasion, what qualities would you look for in that quilt?

LNG: In that quilt I think I would, number one, where is this place the quilt is going to live and does the quilt have some ties to this area? If it does have ties, you would want to research it and find exactly how it is tied to the area. You are going to look for good workmanship and good fabrics and most of the time, how well a quilt has been cared for. That makes a lot of difference and whether the designs are traditional, you know. If you are in the market for traditional type quilts. Well, I'm thinking what would I choose for a quilt that is appropriate for Mountain Heritage center or--

SHD: --or an art museum.

LNG: --or an art museum. You have to put it into perspective.

SHD: You brought up the phrase "good workmanship." If you had to describe good workmanship what is your optimum description? Are we talking stitches per inch, quilting or what? I guess if I had to pin you down and say, 'Laura Nelle, tell why this is good workmanship in this quilt?' What is it?

LNG: I would look for accuracy like in a block design. Do the points meet? Like, if it is a star are the points cut off of that star? Well, you can't tell too much about hand piecing just make sure that it's tight enough and firm enough that it's not going to come loose. Hand quilting, I like to see, I am very much impressed by many stitches per inch, but I am also impressed by stitches that are all even. You can have fewer stitches per inch but if they are nice and even it still has a very nice look to it. I cannot accomplish 12 and 15 stitches per inch. I never could, I never will, I don't even want to go there. I certainly do admire the people who can. I have strived over the years to try to make my stitches even. And I am happy with the way it looks, you know. I could walk into a room and pick out one of my quilts simply because of the stitching. Once you get to know other quilters you can identify theirs also.

SHD: It's like a signature.

LNG: It is.

SHD: I hadn't thought of that.

SHD: You just kind of described for me what some qualities that a great quilt maker would have Are there any other qualities that you can think of that you would just say, 'Wow, she is just a great quiltmaker.'?

LNG: Well, its use of color.

SHD: Yeah, That's really a strong trait for you.

LNG: It is, it is. I love the color. I think the two things that quilting has taught me, and I think every quilter has to have this, is patience and perseverance. You have to have patience to know it is a long-term project and perseverance enough to finish it. Why are you shaking your head, Suzanne? [laughs.]

SHD: I am still working on that project.

LNG: I have had quilts that I have worked on that I said I have had it with this quilt, I have to finish it before it finishes me. It takes that perseverance of knowing I have to go on with it and see it to the end. But I also have those projects folded up that I have not yet finished.

SHD: You have UFOs too?

LNG: I do, I have some. I have blocks and tops that I haven't finished but someday I will get there.

SHD: What particular artists have influenced you. Can you name some?

LNG: A lot of the artists throughout the 80's. Jinny Byers and these people. My most favorite right now is Carol Bryer Fallert. She has a studio and lives in Paducah, Kentucky. She uses some string patchwork techniques that I can only aspire to. She has a wonderful sense of color; she dyes a lot of her fabric. She does magnificent work. She does machine piecing and machine quilting and it's just out of this world.

SHD: Wow, I would like to see some of hers sometime.

SHD: We have talked a little bit about--you say you do both hand and machine quilting. Do you have a preference one over the other or does it depend on the project?

LNG: It depends upon the project.

SHD: What do you think about the long arm quilting that's become very popular?

LNG: I like the long arm quilters. The only part I don't like about it is I don't like to see a quilt that has been computerized where you just put the design in and it quilts it. I like to see the hand guided longarm work and that I admire. I have no problem with the longarms or with machine quilting. I am sure if my grandmothers were here today, they would be thrilled to death and they would say, 'Oh boy, look what I can do with this.'

SHD: I suspect there are a lot of those kind of appliances that we kind of take for granted that they would enjoy. Well, we are about to come to the last few questions, so we are going to talk about some of the function and meaning of quilts. You have answered this in a number of ways, but I will give you a chance to reflect on it one more time. Why is quilt making important to your life?

LNG: Do you know I thought about that, and it is just something that I do. There are a few times in my life that I have tried not to do it. I would say, 'I am going to put this away and go do something else,' but I always come back to it. It is just a part of me. That just makes Laura Nelle, who she is. Ever since the beginning, when I first got into quilt making, I always said when I leave this earth it would do my heart good for someone in a hundred years to find one of my quilts and say, 'Oh look at this.' I just hope it's not one of those old polyester ones I just whipped up. [laughs.]

SHD: I think there are a lot of those out there that we all wish were not out there. In what ways do your quilts, I could comment on this myself, in what ways do you think your quilts reflect on your community or your region?

LNG: I think I draw from what is around me. I love the mountains and so I have picked up a lot of that in my quilts. In my tobacco barns there are mountains and some of my other quilts and I lean towards the greens and the blues and all the floral designs that surround me in my area. That is more or less what I am drawn to. But once and awhile, it's kind of strange because I have those Florida roots too and sometimes, I want to do some birds and water things and so those kind of creep in too. I can tell at different times, it's all in there.

SHD: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? I guess we are talking more broadly than just in our community here that you and I both live in.

LNG: It is a family statement. When I am out doing demos or shows or something, the first thing they say is 'Oh my grandmother had this,' and they remember and it is a memory, a fond memory. I have never heard someone say grandma had an ugly old quilt. You wrapped up in grandma's quilts and you just knew that it was special, and someone's loving hands made it especially to keep you warm. As far as designs, this is the way women have expressed the artsy side of them, playing with color and the geometric designs in the traditional patterns and what not. This is something the women just have to do they have to introduce color into the home some place no matter how somber it is. Even the Amish, in their everyday wearables are just so subdued, but when it comes to quilts, they can throw in that color and play with it and have fun.

SHD: So, it sounds like you really do, and from people you run into, it's a significant way women's history can be shared and talked about.

LNG: Yes.

SHD: It's another means.

LNG: Uh, huh.

SHD: We have talked about what happened to the quilts you have made for family and friends. We hope we can find some of those.

LNG: Yeah. [laughs.]

SHD: What do you think are the biggest challenges confronting quilt makers today?

LNG: Time and money. That's mine. You know we have gotten away quite a bit from the "use what you have" economy and we are able to go out and buy fabrics and design our quilts just the way we want but it is becoming a challenge unless you have a lot of extra money that you can play with. I have solved some of that by going back and doing some of my own dyeing.

SHD: You mean dyeing your own materials?

LNG: Yes, dye my own fabrics. I don't do a lot of it. But some of it and I feel that saves me quite a lot and makes my work more distinct. Just yesterday, my daughter and I went on a buying trip for fabrics for a special quilt and we spent over $200. This is before you ever cut a single piece or stitch it. You already have that much in it. I think a lot of people in the world just do not realize what goes into some of the quilts and how expensive they have gotten before they are ever shown any place or given away or whatever.

SHD: Well, Laura Nelle, thank you for this interview time today. I think we have covered a lot of the questions and gotten some really good answers from you, and it is a pleasure to speak to you again about quilts.

LNG: Thank you Suzanne, it's always a good time talking to you.



“Laura Nelle Goebel,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,