Linda Nichols




Linda Nichols




Linda Nichols


Alice Helms

Interview Date



Fletcher, North Carolina


Alice Helms


Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. today is September 30, 2011. I'm conducting an interview with Linda Nichols for the Asheville Quilt Guild Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are at the Asheville Quilt Show in Fletcher, North Carolina and it is 1:30. Linda, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Linda Nichols (LN): Well the quilt's name is "Murphy's Law" and when I tell you about the quilt you will understand where the name came from. I started this quilt many years ago and the first block, which was the tree block, I lost and so I re-made it and then of course, found the block. I continued to work on the quilt and I was in the process of hand quilting it and made the mistake of leaving my Ott light by a window. The Ott light had a magnifier attached, which I never used because it makes me a little wobbly. However, the sun came in and all of a sudden I smelled something. I was at my computer and the quilt was on fire. So I grabbed the quilt, ran out to the kitchen, stuffed it in the sink which of course was full of the breakfast dishes and extinguished the fire, but I was just heartsick. So, I put it away. In the meantime, I was chairing our local quilt show and so I asked our judge if she would look at it and tell me what she thought about repairing it and of course it was the only symmetrical block, so she said I had to take it all apart and redo it, so I did finally and then I had it together and had the borders on it, or ready to put on it, and because I was quilting it in sections, and I washed the borders and two of the borders ran and two didn't. So I said, 'Okay, we have another problem.' So now we have a lot of butterflies on the border and they are covering all the splotches and that's why it's called "Murphy's Law." But I really love it, it's just that I'm scared to death, every time I open it up and look at it I think, 'Oh Lord, there's going to be something else that I see.' [laughs.] But my biggest triumph--the first year we moved to Asheville, [North Carolina.] I finished the quilt and entered it into the very prestigious Asheville Quilt Show and it won a blue ribbon and as far as I was concerned, it was all worth it.

AH: Well in spite of all the difficulties, it is a very striking quilt. Why don't you just describe it?

LN: The blocks, some of them are original and some--the basket of fruit is from a paper napkin that I saw and thought, 'Wow.' The Tree of Life is a Jane Townswick pattern and I'm trying to think--I think the one to the right is also a Jane Townswick. The vase with the flowers and the berries, that was just a picture in a catalog, a furniture catalog or something. The basket of flowers is how it started, I'd forgotten that, actually I was going to make a wall hanging and the basket of flowers and I don't remember, I should have looked at it, that's probably another Jane Townswick [corrected to Mary Sorenson.] pattern. [talking heard in background.] The peacock is Elly Sienkiewicz and the next one over is Piece of Cake, because I really love their stuff and then the one with the tulips, that's Jane Townswick. The one in the lower left, Lord knows what ever possessed me to make that, but I saw something and thought it was a good idea at the time. The center bottom one was another picture from a home furnishings catalog and the one on the right is an Elly Sienkiewicz pattern. And then the border, a lot of it is Mary--[Mary Sorenson.] It will come to me, she's in Florida, it will come to me--that's her pattern and I really liked it as a border, plus butterflies of course.

AH: Yeah. So, it's twelve blocks--

LN: Hmm hmm.

AH: --and they're different sizes--

LN: Yup.

AH: --and they all have--it's all hand appliqué.

LN: Yes. Needle turn.

AH: Needle turn appliqué. And they're all flowers, birds, fruits, that kind of thing.

LN: The challenge--part of making the quilt was the challenge to learn how to use different size blocks in a quilt. When we were in Florida I belonged to a really wonderful cottage group and they basically taught me everything that I know and encouraged me and because I am renowned as a mathematical idiot, the little strip with the birds on it--clearly my measurements weren't quite right to make it all go together, so that's where the birds came from and they're all Broderie Perse, cut out from different fabrics.

AH: So when you made the blocks, you didn't make them knowing how they were going to fit together into a quilt?

LN: No. A normal person would have done that. [laughs.]

AH: And then the border is also appliquéd--

LN: Yes.

AH: --and it's a vine with flowers and leaves and birds and--

[both speak at the same time.]

LN: And butterflies. [laughs.]

AH: --and butterflies. It's just magnificent. And the colors--how would you describe the colors?

[both talk at the same time.]

LN: They're all pretty vivid. I just love color so there's a lot of red and orange and yellow, but it is a colorful quilt and that was my goal, to make it a colorful, happy--considering its history--a happy quilt.

AH: So how do you use the quilt?

LN: I haven't. Because then we moved to Asheville, or to Waynesville [North Carolina.] and we live in a log cabin that doesn't have very many walls, so I have it over a railing currently. Someday I'll find a place to hang it.

AH: Because it is bed-sized.

LN: It is, yes. But we also have two cats so that has kind of discouraged me from putting it on the beds. And it was really intended as a wall hanging quilt I think.

AH: Very lovely. What are your plans for the quilt in the future?

LN: I guess I seem to be just wandering around so I guess at some point I will know. That's probably not a good answer.

AH: Okay. So Linda, tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. How old were you when you started quilting?

LN: I actually didn't start sewing until I was, I think, twenty-one or twenty-two and I had three little babies and if I didn't get out of the house at least one night a week, I would kill somebody so I took an adult education class and the only one open was sewing and it wasn't until I signed up and started I realized that it was a tailoring class but I started sewing and I said, 'This is really fun. I love this.' And my in-laws were very generous and gave me a beautiful Pfaff--this was 1961--Pfaff sewing machine and you know, I made clothes and--mainly clothing and wedding gowns and prom gowns and stuff. It was before we retired, people were kind of talking a little bit about quilting in the eighties where we lived, we were in Massachusetts and you know people were talking but there wasn't very much instruction as for classes but I decided that I would take all my mother's old house dresses that I had inherited and cut them all up and sew them together and make quilts and my first quilts were all twin-sized for each of my in-laws and my mother and I put all the squares together and I thought, 'Gee they would look really pretty if I made them diamonds,' so I did and I am a mathematical idiot so the first one I made was all at angle because by the time you sewed them together they didn't go straight up and down anymore so I learned about that and I corrected them so I made these and I used old blankets for batting and tied them together and those were my first quilts but I just never stopped. And then I developed a love of appliqué and when we lived in Florida, as I say, these ladies, the SQUAT Team--I got infected with the bug and so my enjoyment is appliqué.

AH: So, when you made those quilts from your mother's house dresses, you just taught yourself how to do it?

LN: I just thought it would be just like sewing anything else, which it was until it came time to put them all together and then, yes, that was basically it. A few years later, I had a friend who lived north of Boston, [Massachusetts.] north of where we lived and she had met some friends and she was actually learning to quilt and Eleanor Burns was going to come somewhere and she went to the lecture and she is the one who really gave me a little instruction and that's how I got really into the quilting part of it and at that time my first appliqué quilt. I did not know about needle turn, I didn't know anything, so I hand buttonhole-stitched the whole quilt and it was a transportation quilt, which was quite popular back then and it had trains and planes and a guy riding one of those bicycles with the big wheel and stuff like that and so I gave myself a lot of work and I think it probably was tied, I don't remember but I do remember that it ended up being a dog bed for my younger daughter's dogs and so I was not happy about that.

AH: What became of the quilts you made from your mother's house dresses?

LN: I still have one just because I have to have one, and the others I think just either got worn out or I don't know, but the one that I kept, I still have. My cat sleeps on it.

AH: [laughs.] So were there any quilters in your family?

LN: No. I didn't have grandmothers that I knew or aunts or anything and my mother might sew on an occasional button but I would have to thread her needles for her so you know, I don't know. Really, if I hadn't taken the adult education class, I really don't know if I ever would have just learned to sew. I honestly think I probably wouldn't have, I would have learned to do something else. But it's just that my sewing machine is always set up and almost every single day I--it's almost like therapy.

AH: So how many hours a week do you quilt?

LN: Oh. Well, when I'm not doing quilt shows and involved in other things, probably five or six. You know, in the evening, I try always to have a little hand work going too, because that's relaxing for me.

AH: Five or six hours a week?

LN: Yeah, probably.

AH: A lot of your work is handwork.

LN: Yes.

AH: Because I forgot to mention, this quilt you brought today is all hand quilted.

LN: Yes, it is.

AH: Hand appliquéd and hand quilted.

LN: And that's really, given my druthers, that's what I would do for all the quilts I make but I don't have time to do that, so especially if I'm making quilts for my grandkids or bed quilts for family or neighbors or something, I piece them and lately I've gotten extremely lazy and don't quilt them on my machine unless I have to and pay somebody to quilt them, machine quilt them.

AH: And when you hand quilt, do you use a hoop?

LN: I use a hoop. I used to use a PVC rectangle, in fact that's what I used--no I had bought the hoop and that's why I had the set up and the fire for that quilt but I use it almost as lap quilting because I'm not tall and I don't have long arms so a floor frame is really hard for me to maneuver around so I use a round, I think it's a--I was going to say Heidelberg--is that the name? [corrected to Hintereburg.] Anyway, it's a nice wooden one and it has a floor frame and the big round--[LN holds her arms up in a circle to indicate the size of the hoop.]

AH: So it's a round hoop and it has a stand.

LN: Yes. Like a pedestal. It's on a pedestal stand. But you can take it off and there are two sizes of the round hoop and sometimes if I'm in a tight spot or something, I do have an oval shaped wood, but I do now like the wooden hoops. I don't know, it just feels good I guess.

AH: So what is your first quilt memory?

LN: Well aside from my buttonhole appliquéd quilt, my first actual quilt memory--gosh, I don't know. It probably had to do with my friend Judy because she's the one who really got me, you know, to that Eleanor Burns lecture. My first honest quilt, not counting my blanket-padded-tied quilts, was a Trip Around the World using an Eleanor Burns pattern and since then I've used that pattern a lot for quilts, and I actually like her methods.

AH: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

LN: It keeps me off the streets and out of the bars, I guess. [laughs.] They all encourage me. My son lives in Arizona and when he and his partner bought their most recent house, Ron, his partner, actually asked me if I would make them a room of quilts and I was very honored to do that because he is an architectural designer. So I flew out to Phoenix. [Arizona.] I was going out to visit and we went to a local quilt shop--Ron and I--and I spent gazillions of dollars which he wanted to buy and I said, 'No. This is my gift to you.' And we picked out all these patterns, we had wall hangings and this and that and everything else and of course it took me three years to do them all but yes, I think my family all appreciates what goes into the quilts. My daughter in Sarasota, [Florida.] my daughter Debi, is very contemporary and she would just think that [pointing to the touchstone quilt.] was hideous but I got into the Stack and Whack and I found a stripe and I did a striped Stack and Whack and she really liked that. It was contemporary and it was her colors and her mother-in-law who was in our cottage group in Sarasota did me a huge favor because she took Debi aside and--because it was hand quilted too--she took Debbie aside and explained to her that this was not a dog quilt so that was very helpful and she still has a quilt on her bed and that was eight or nine years ago. So yes, I think they appreciate me.

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

LN: Not so much difficult time, as commemorating time. I have made quilts for weddings using pictures and messages and--now that you mention it though, I will say that when I first retired, my husband and I retired and that was a terrible year. He developed prostate cancer and I was diagnosed with severe advanced emphysema and that was in 1997 and the doctor told me to get my affairs in order because my life expectancy was not more than a year and a half or so and just because of how things work in life--and I really do believe that there's something that kind of guides us or people around us or something--that was when I was invited to join the quilting group in Sarasota and they took me under their wing and they taught me all of this needle turn and all that challenged me and I made some decisions that I might regret but I guess that's really when I threw myself into quilting. When you asked the question, I never thought of it that way, but it is when I just immersed myself. So maybe that's what I do--because I do and I enjoy it and for me it's a stress reliever, just to kind of feel and touch. I hadn't thought of that, that's a good question.

AH: What do you like most about quilting? What aspects of quilting?

LN: I like the people, to begin with. And as far as making a quilt, I like it all, but I really like designing and I try to come up with original designs and they don't always work and they rarely come together the way I think they're going to but the quilt that I have in the show--the "Boston Common Memories"--I wanted to make a Boston Commons quilt so I started to make a Boston Commons quilt and then I thought, 'Well, in the center of it, I'll do something different.' And then I ended up actually with an appliqué quilt with kind of a Boston Commons border on it so I guess I really like the designing the best but then I like making it, so that I can see what my design is, come to fruition, especially with this quilt. Probably that's the one that I have enjoyed making the most. Just watching it come together.

AH: What do you like least about quilting?

LN: Cutting out the fabrics and sometimes I have a real hard time choosing what's going to look right, it's really not my forte. So I would say, that's probably the least, if I could have somebody come in and cut them all out for me I'd be happy. [laughs.] I'm lazy.

AH: Okay, what quilt groups do you belong to?

LN: I belong to, of course, the Asheville Quilt Guild, and I still have a membership in the Friendship Knot Quilters' Guild in Sarasota and I belong sort of to the Biltmore Lake Bee and sort of because currently I am the volunteer coordinator for Haywood and West Care Hospices and I have been doing that for about four years so it takes a lot of time and I plan to retire by the end of this year and I've also been asked when I retire to join the Shady Ladies group so I think I will enjoy that a lot and I think I will learn a ton from them. That's really what I'm looking forward to doing. So that's where I belong now.

AH: Earlier you mentioned a cottage group.

LN: Oh, that's bees. In Sarasota, we call them cottage groups and here we call them bees. I kind of forget where I am, to use the right word.

AH: I haven't heard that term before. I was wondering if that's what it was.

LN: Yes, that's what it is. It's what we call a bee. And the group that I belonged to, was called the SQUAT Team, which is an unusual name for a quilting group, except that it was Seven Quilters United At Timmy's and Timmy was one of the founding members and her husband was very ill at the time and she was housebound caring for him, she was his only caregiver, so that was the SQUAT Team.

AH: I thought you said "squat" earlier.

LN: Yes, I did say "squat." And the other quilt that I have in this show is "Fairy Tales" which was a block where each of us made--each person chose a subject and then each of us made a block according to that subject. Mine was "Fairy Tales" and it does say, 'Fairy Tales by SQUAT Team.'

AH: Oh, okay. The theme of our Asheville Quilt Show this year is Once Upon a Quilt - Stories Our Quilts Tell and I know you entered one or two quilts in that theme category--

[both talk at the same time.]

LN: That one. Right, that was the one I entered, the "Fairy Tales."

AH: Oh, okay.

LN: Because to me it tells the story of our SQUAT Team. They all made a block and I set it with kind of a book background, cut shapes sort of like an open book with a picture of the individual quilter for that block and the name of the fairy tale. And sadly one of the members passed away before we were finished and I was sorry about that. She was the one, probably one of my most inspirational teachers when I learned but that was the story about that.

AH: So how do you feel about a guild versus a bee or a cottage group?

LN: I guess it certainly has to do with the composition of the group. I think a guild is such a wonderful place to learn from other people, I mean you learn also in your bees, but you go to the guild and then you usually--my experience is, and I may be wrong, but the bees tend to--well like ours was an appliqué bee and you know, then you have bees that kind of have different focuses but then you go to a guild meeting and you get to meet other members and you learn about the other types of quilting so I think--and it's an outlet for those people who really feel strongly about the guild and the future of the guild to participate. So I think you need both, I do think both are very important. I need both, so I'll say that.

AH: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

LN: Oh definitely needle turn appliqué is my favorite technique. And all kinds--I got into this Batik mode recently and Batiks are just wonderful because you can cut them up in little pieces or big pieces and they're really good for needle turn because they don't fray very much but I can't say that I really have a favorite.

AH: Describe your studio.

LN: It could use a bulldozer. [laughs.] When we bought the log cabin in Waynesville, it has three bedrooms and I said, 'Now I'm going to have a sewing room.' And a group of ladies were recommended to me and sadly they've since gone out of business but they came and all I had, we had not been in the house very long and everything was in boxes and I had cartons and it was just a mess and I told them what I wanted and two weeks later, they came back with a drawing and it was absolutely perfect, I did not change one single thing and it was very reasonable, the cost was very reasonable and so I have shelves, I have a huge cutting table, I have cabinets and I have drawers and the normal size bedroom closet now is all shelves and bins and I try to sort by color, I try to keep it neat and I don't. And most of the projects I'm working on I keep in those sweater tub things and so I try to keep thing sorted and labeled but as I said, a bulldozer would probably help.

AH: So do these women design quilting studios specifically?

LN: No, they're called More Than Closets and they just come and do rooms and closets and kitchens and wherever you need. I was amazed because I really--they said, 'Well tell us what you think and what you think you want to change,' and I said, 'I don't want to change anything.' So they really did a beautiful job.

AH: So when you're doing your hand quilting, are you in that room?

LN: No. I'm usually upstairs. It's a two level and we have this great room which should have been our living room but now it's just become a combination of everything but that's where I am because that's where the light is good and no more magnifying.

AH: No. Okay Linda, what do you think makes a great quilt?

LN: For me, color and contrast. My first Stack and Whack quilt I thought I did so well and I looked at it, I thought--and then I realized I had no contrast in the setting and the fabric I chose to make a Stack and Whack so I think contrast is important in a quilt.

AH: And what makes a great quiltmaker?

LN: Oh man. I don't know. I know all these wonderful quilters and quiltmakers that belong to this guild and I would love to crawl inside the head of some of them and know what they know.

AH: Do you want to name some of them?

LN: All of them practically. Barbara, oh Barbara. I just said that to her, Barbara Swinea. What a beautiful quilt and the imagination, to put into practice, and the talent and the knowledge and the color sense. Those I think all really make a--but I think all quilters have to have some imagination. I think that's probably the most important thing.

AH: Yeah. Are there any quilt teachers who've influenced you or quilters who have written books or--

LN: Oh boy.

AH: Anyone like that in particular?

LN: I think when I first learned, when I really first got in to quilting, when I retired, at that time, on PBS, Georgia Bonesteel who's a member of this guild, she was a huge influence on me. And for writing books--not so much Elly Sienkiewicz but Jane Townswick, people who take it and give it a little twist, I guess that's it, to take a design and just, you know, give it a little twist, put their stamp on it so you can put your stamp on it.

AH: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

LN: Golly, I can't think of specific--it just is. It's part of who I am. Very exciting for me, as I said I'm involved in the hospice and we, in Haywood County, are building our very first in-patient hospice house called The Homestead and the theme of The Homestead is quilts. And each room is named after a particular quilt block and I'm just over the top with that as you can imagine, and just by default, I seem to have, it's funneled down to me for the quilts. Each room will have a wall-sized quilt of that block and will have a twelve-inch block of that pattern outside the door for identification of the room, will be named for instance, Checkerboard, Garden Patch--I can't even think of all the names right now but they had an interior designer who chose the furnishing and the colors and then I have asked local quilters who would be willing to make the wall hangings, giving them pictures of the fabrics chosen so then they can choose fabrics that coordinate with them on their own and then we have a project that--I really should stop volunteering and not tell anyone that I am a quilter, it would make my life simpler--I'm kidding. We are putting together a signature quilt that will hang in the entry and we have made finished four-inch blocks with the center that they can sign and then colored fabric on the other two corners. I don't know what that pattern is, but anyway, and we've distributed them all throughout the service area of MedWest and Westcare and one of the--I think she's the president of the Maggie Valley quilter's guild, they're called the High Country Quilters and her name is Elsie Orrell and she and I are going to be assembling all these signature blocks and in fact we start--her quilt show is this coming weekend and following that we'll start assembling them and it will hang in the entrance hall of The Homestead, and the idea was just awareness of hospice, awareness of The Homestead, and just to give everybody who wanted to, to be a part of this new building so that's really exciting, I cannot wait to start putting them together, it's just going to be so fun and today I was thinking, 'You know what we really should do is, to run around taking pictures of some of these people who have been involved in making the other quilts and stuff and so, I think we'll add that. I haven't talked to Elsie about that yet.

AH: That is a wonderful idea, I wasn't aware of this.

LN: And, in addition, we, meaning The Homestead, is going to be part of the Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina and we had a contest looking for designs. The criteria was appropriate to Haywood County and hospice, and we had all kinds of submissions and the winning--we held a little event, we had judges, we had the mayor of Sylva, who was our adjoining hospice, the Westcare hospice is Sylva and west--and we had the executive director of the Haywood County Arts Council and the third judge was I think the executive director of Community Service for Haywood County and I'm probably not correct in that title, but the design that was chosen was an original design and it was designed by one of our volunteers who is now a staff person and that is in the process of being made now and they have promised that it will be installed on the chimney, outside of The Homestead in time for our opening, which will be the end of November.

AH: So this is a painted--

LN: It's a painted, wooden block and I believe that the Burnsville group are doing that particular block and the group of doctor's wives were generous enough to fund it so I guess quilts do play a big part in my life, Alice.

AH: Yes. But I think it's so interesting. I'm wondering who was responsible for deciding that the hospice facility would have this quilt theme.

LN: Well the executive director is Jenny Williams, or our program director of hospice, and she made the decision. Her mother is a quilter too and I know that she knew if she did that, then I would not be able to restrain myself. So but she made that decision and it was just way too exciting.

AH: And how many rooms are in the--

LN: There will be six finished in-patient rooms. We are just waiting on our certificate of need for between two and four more. So they will be roughed in but they won't be used. Two of them have names, and will have, in readiness, the wall hangings. It's really exciting, Our member, Jane Cole, has made one and another one of our members, Dee Werner, she made the first one. She did Churn Dash. And the Cruso Friendship Ladies are making one, they're making Garden Patch. Their participation--it's not just a small nucleus of people who are making them, it's really just all kinds.

AH: It's really such a wonderful symbol for a hospice.

LN: It's quilts. What could be better? [laughs.] So there's all kinds of exciting things that are in my life that relate to quilts and quilting.

AH: Well, we're almost out of time, but I just wanted to ask one final question, which is, what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

LN: Well, of course there's the economics of it and the cost of materials. I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. If there were a challenge for me, I would say that continuing the art of hand quilting and needle turn appliqué, I guess would be, to inspire more quilters to continue in that vein. I remember the first quilt show I went to, where they had a machine-quilted quilt--horrified, we were just horrified. It's just everything in its time and so that's--

AH: So before we stop, is there anything else you wanted to add?

LN: Oh gosh no. I'm sorry that I didn't stop talking. [laughs.]

AH: Well, this is your interview. So, we are concluding our interview with Linda Nichols and it is now 2:12. Thank you, Linda.

LN: Thank you, Alice.


“Linda Nichols,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024,