Barbara Pate




Barbara Pate




Barbara Pate


Alice Helms

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The National Quilting Association


Fletcher, NC


Alice Helms


Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. Today is October 1, 2011. I’m conducting an interview with Barbara Pate for the Asheville Quilt Guild Quilters’ S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We’re at the Asheville Quilt Show in Fletcher, North Carolina and it is 4:15. Barbara, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Barbara Pate (BP): Well the quilt I brought today is not one of my own making but it is one that has been in my family a long time. I’m thinking that it was done by my grandmother but it could have been done by my great-grandmother. Since they didn’t sign things back in those days, one doesn’t really know what they had in mind or when it was done but I do know that it’s got some age on it and it came to me via my dad with a collection of other old quilts that came from his home place and I actually have this one on my bed at home when I need extra warmth. However, we’re going to have to get a little bit heavier quilt now that winter is coming. I have no idea what the pattern is. We’ve been trying to study it. The more I look at it the more I think maybe it was the quilter’s own imagination. I don’t know. It changes and Alice took a picture of it and when you look through the viewfinder, it’s very interesting because it shows up differently. So, it’s just an old quilt and I notice that the backing was wrapped around and became the binding on the inside. I think that’s very efficient. [laughs.] But anyway, and it’s the better one of all the quilts that were given to my dad and then were given to me and it’s a shame that I didn’t get down to the farm sooner because there are others down there that have been completely eaten by moths. So, but these are in relatively good shape and I have always wanted to learn how to quilt, even before I saw this quilt or the other quilts that I was introduced to. My husband’s family left him some quilts. Now they’re in terrible shape but we have to remember, back then they were utilitarian. They’re certainly not like the quilts that we see today in this show, or any other contemporary quilt show. They were utilitarian. But it’s interesting to me that this kind of quilt was beginning to show something more of a dimension than some of the other older quilts that I’ve seen. So, that’s my story, Alice, and I’m sticking to it. [laughs.]

AH: Okay. It’s a scrap quilt.

BP: It’s a scrap quilt.

AH: Obviously. So the fabrics likely were used already--

BP: Already. Probably came from a shirt or a whatever, or a dress or whatever. And I notice as I was thinking about this, some of the fabric is pretty faded but some of it held up pretty well, particularly the darker fabrics.

AH: And it’s got a very thin batting.

BP: A very thin batting, so this must have been used for a summer quilt and I remember as a little girl going down to the farm and seeing all kinds of quilts on the beds and some of them are still around--I have some--and then some are just not around anymore. And it’s interesting to me that family members wanted to take--when we had to do something with the things in the farm--they wanted to take the furniture and the this and the that and I wanted the quilts. And I may have come out to the better.

AH: How old were you when you started quilting?

BP: Very old. [laughs.]

AH: How long ago did you start quilting?

BP: [laughs.] About eleven years ago, but actually the first class that I ever took was from Georgia Bonesteel, and that was back in the seventies and that was before Georgia became really famous, internationally famous, and even before her TV show and I brought with me, Alice, the very first block that I ever made--

AH: With Georgia Bonesteel?

BP: This was in my class with Georgia Bonesteel and I don’t know what I was going to do with it but I still have it. I think now I will frame it and just have it as a keepsake and I had more fun and we had the class here in Asheville. [North Carolina.]

AH: Where?

BP: Trinity Episcopal Church.

AH: Okay.

BP: And so that was 1977--1975 or 1976, back then. And then I didn’t do any more, but I started collecting quilt books and Georgia’s were some of the ones that I collected. Interestingly, I tried to get every author of every book that I collected, signed. I do not have one Georgia Bonesteel signature, [laughs.] so I guess I’ve got to get her to sign my books. And then after many years of raising children and you know you do all those things--you see, I’m not a sewer, I never learned to sew, at all. My grandmother and my aunt were wonderful seamstresses. I would always look at the work they did and think, 'I want to learn to sew.’ But my mother felt like I needed to go study music and Gregorian Chants so that’s what I did [laughs.] with my two hobbies. The Gregorian Chants has been long since replaced by other things but I said, 'I’m going to take it, I’m going to do it,’ so I joined the [Asheville Quilt.] guild in 1999 and then I took my first class from--ta-da--Sara Hill. So I’ve had two very distinguished teachers and the one that has sweated with me the most has been Sara Hill. I’m just plugging along. Now I do, for the first time since I started, have a quilt in the show. And it’s hanging, honest to goodness, Norene Goard quilted it for me. But I have I don’t know how many quilt tops at home because I want to learn to machine quilt and I just need to practice, sit down and do it and I need to make some practice sandwiches, and figure out how you do it, learn how. I’m not a drawer, I never have been good at drawing, but I can trace, right? So I’m trying to get more serious about it. I have quilted a quilt that has since been sent to Wisconsin and I’m so glad that it is way up there because I chose, and this is one of the things you learn from doing things the wrong way, I chose almost a muslin white background and guess what color thread I used to quilt it with? Green. Every mistake that’s on that quilt you see on the back. Now fortunately on the front, it wasn’t quite so bad. It wasn’t the best thing in the world, but the back looked like somebody was feeling real good when they quilted that. [laughs.] It was awful. But I don’t have to look at it. Then, I had made, since then, two baby quilts that were made to be wall hangings and I quilted them and you know what? They came out pretty good. The other one is in process. But along the way you have to learn about the type of backing you use. If you use flannel, it does differently than cotton. You just learn all kinds of things. So I am a quilter-still-in-learning.

AH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

BP: Well, not enough. Not enough, but I have determined that tomorrow night when I shut this quilt show down, I’m going to go into hiding and start really being serious and if I can get back into Sara’s class, [laughs.] I’m going to do it. Because you have to be dedicated to be a good quilter, you have to really practice. You asked me how many hours I do, this summer I haven’t done any. But I spent a fair amount of time, back in the fall, prior to this, probably, you know once you get started, about four or five hours, you can do. But, I get tired, so then if I get up and start doing something else then--but I’m going to do better, Alice, I really am.

AH: I know something that something that’s taken a lot of your time is that you’re the chair of the Asheville Quilt Show this year and the theme you chose is "Once Upon a Time, the Stories our Quilts Tell.'

BP: Once Upon a Quilt.

AH: Once Upon a Quilt--

BP: --the Stories Our Quilts Tell.

AH: --and I was just wondering why you chose that theme.

BP: Well I chose that theme because I knew your group, the Alliance, was very interested in the stories of our quilts, all of our quilts and we’ve had other kinds of things, and I don’t know, one day I was sitting around thinking, 'Oh wouldn’t it be fun to come up with a theme about the stories our quilts tell?’ And it’s just tied in beautifully.

AH: And many people entered quilts in the show--

BP: Yes, they did.

AH:--in that theme category.

BP: Yes, they did. Yes, they did and in fact there was a large number of people who entered to be chosen for Best of Theme in this quilt show, so that worked out well.

AH: So it’s been a popular theme. So you mentioned the Asheville Quilt Guild, what other groups, quilting groups, do you belong to?

BP: I’m a member of the Beaucatcher Bee. And I have another little group that gets together occasionally and we just mostly have fun. [laughs.] But we’ve all said we were going to get--I think we call it the Over The Hill Gang, so we’re going to get better.

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

BP: Actually, yes. Well, let me kind of rephrase your question, that more suits me. I have used quilting as a way to try to express some creativity in a different way than I’ve never been able to express before and when you’re frustrated about not being able to express what you like to do, you try to find something that allows you to do that. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had any tragedies, like a lot of other quilters that I’ve heard about, but I think there’s a lot of creativity in all of us, in all of us, and quilting was just one way that I wanted to see if I could do it and I still haven’t figured out how to do it, but it’s coming and now I’m challenged to maybe want to try to do more art quilting, which would allow me to sort of do it however I want to do it. However, I do like traditional quilts, I do and I like doing them. And I’m a pretty good piecer, I really am. Took me a while. This I remember, this little block that I did with Georgia, we cut out cardboard, we didn’t have the--and we did it with scissors--we didn’t have rotary cutters and all those pretty little things that we have now. Anyway.

AH: What’s your earliest quilt memory?

BP: Oh gosh. That would be down at my grandmother’s and grandad’s, down at the farm. And that farm now is on the National Registry. It was a big old house in Canton [North Carolina.] and there’s a big history to that, but that’s where I remember seeing most of the quilts. And now that I’m thinking about it, maybe that’s where I picked up my interest, but I was a young girl and you know, maybe some things you learn as a child don’t come back to you until you’re 200 years old. Yeah, I think back when I was going down to visit my grandmother. And Alice, you know you and I were talking, she also had a loom that she made these wool--and I’ve been trying to think of the name of the things she made--but they were in the blue and white, or the black and white wool yarn and she did beautiful work on those, because I remember watching her do it.

AH: Did you ever see her quilting or piecing?

BP: No, never saw any of my dad’s people, women, quilting. I think they stopped that by the time I was going down to visit them. There’s a name for that coverlet that she wove. But no, I don’t remember ever seeing them piece. Now I had an aunt-in-law, my dad’s brother’s wife, she was a quilter and I remember seeing her quilting down there but all of hers were hand done and hand cut but by that time, women had discovered going to Sears and Roebuck and buying their--now we call them blankets. [laughs.]

AH: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

BP: Oh, just the creative process. Just seeing color come alive. I love color, love different kinds of colors. I used to think I didn’t like yellow but now I do. Used to think I didn’t like chartreuse green but now it’s my favorite color. It’s just colors coming along and colors being put together in odd wonderful ways that you would never think about.

AH: So what part of the process do enjoy the most?

BP: All of it. I mean, since I’m still learning to machine quilt, that’s the hardest part for me now, but I don’t hate it, I just don’t know what I’m doing. And I’ll feel a whole lot better when I know what I’m doing. Do we ever know completely when we have achieved something perfect?

AH: I don’t know. So describe your studio.

BP: Oh, it’s a bedroom that I had converted into my-- [laughs.] Hardly a studio, Alice, it’s just more space than I had. But now I’m thinking about converting the den into my studio and telling my husband he has to stay upstairs.

AH: That would give you more room?

BP: Oh yeah. And then I would look at a longarm. But I don’t have the space to put it and it’s expensive and if you can’t put it in the right space you should’t buy it. And so that’s not much of a quandary for me because I don’t have the space to do it anyway. But that would be my goal, is to re-do my den and put everything down in the den.

AH: So how do you feel about hand quilting, machine quilting, longarm quilting?

BP: I am a great admirer of hand quilting. I’m awed by the work they do. I however know my personality style, and if I hand quilted something I would be hand quilting it in my coffin, because I’m slow and just would never get it done. Machine quilting, I’m fascinated with and when I now see what a machine will do, whether it’s a longarm or your home machine, I just want to learn to do it and so I’m more toward the machine quilting. Now, I do like to appliqué. Yeah, I do. And so I’ve got some things--I have an awful lot of UFO’s at home that I’ve got to complete, that I’ve done some appliqué on and this little baby blanket, which is really a wall hanging, has some appliqué on it.

AH: Hand appliqué.

BP: Hand appliqué. And then I took Libby Lehman’s classes at Cotton Company here and I really love thread painting so I’ve been paying attention to what she does and we have another member of our guild, Eve Agee, who has taught us and I love watching her process so there again that’s with the machine. So I’m more, I guess I look at it this way: if my grandmother were alive, and she said, 'Okay, why are you doing all this by machine?’ and then she realized how much faster you can go on a machine than hand doing it, I think she’d probably use the sewing machine. I have been told that there are some hand quilters who say they can hand quilt as fast as they can by machine. I don’t know about that. We’ll do a time trial one of these days and see. [laughs.] I don’t know.

AH: That would be an interesting event for the quilt show.

BP: Yes it would. [laughs.] I’ll assign that to some other chair.

AH: Barbara, what do you think makes a great quilt?

BP: Oh gosh, the workmanship. And the color. And the use of techniques that make the quilt speak to you. You know, this is the first time that I’ve seen this old quilt of my grandmother’s hung up like this and I’m impressed with this because they have picked a pattern, we don’t know what it is, but it does speak to you because you sit there and you look at it and you think, 'What’s going on here?’ So I think part of being a great quilt is the workmanship, the creativity, the color, the use of fabric, the use of different fabrics. Now I’m just having a fit to work with dupioni silk because I just love the look of it. I don’t know how to do it yet, but so that’s what I see.

AH: And what makes a great quiltmaker, a great quilter?

BP: Oh gosh, just practice and stick-to-it-iveness and staying with a project instead of starting one and then putting it aside. This is confession time, Alice. [laughs.] I just think when I see some of the quilts in this show, and I talk to the quilters, they work on them and they work on them and they do them and they practice and they just keep working on them and that’s what makes a great quilter. And I think you do have to have a sense of color.

AH: Whose works are you drawn to?

BP: Oh, I wish you hadn’t asked me that because I could give you a hundred names. Currently I am drawn to Judy Heyward who’s our Best of Show. I mean her quilt is just brilliant. Brilliant. And I look at some others and then I think, 'Oh gosh, this is brilliant too.’ Linda Roy from Knoxville [Tennessee.] is another just--and she’s a hand quilter. And I’m jealous of her because boy, she’s done some brilliant work. I’ve seen Libby Lehman’s work that I just think is marvelous. We just had Ricky Timms here and his work is marvelous. So, that is a hard question to answer because there are so many. Oh even Linda Cantrell and her use of humor in a quilt. Barbara Swinea and she’s a hand quilter. There’s just thousands out there that I wish I could grow up and be just like them.

AH: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

BP: Oh wow. It allows me to have the creative juices going, that I need when I’m not being quilt show chair. It allows me [laughs.] the opportunity to shop, [laughs.] build a stash. No, that’s not it. It’s just the creative juices going. And you know quilting’s time-consuming. It really is. And it’s frustrating at times. And sometimes it’s hard. And when you get up to my age, you need to keep your mind going and I think that’s why I quilt.

AH: And you’re very active in your quilt guild.

BP: Yes, too active.

AH: That’s another aspect.

BP: Yes, but that’s satisfying to me, so there you go.

AH: Good. Let’s see. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

BP: Oh golly. Time. Time to block out your day. So you say, 'I’m going to quilt every day even if it’s for an hour. I’m going to block out the time and make that a priority.’ Because life gets in the way and it becomes less of a priority at times. But time, to me, is the biggest challenge. I mean I could--you know it’s an excuse to say, 'Well I’ve got to go do other things,’ but you just have to say, 'I’m not going to do that anymore.’

AH: Well, I think we’ve pretty much come to the end of our questions here. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

BP: Alice, I’ve said about all I can say. [laughs.]

AH: All right, well that was great, Barbara, thank you very much.

BP: Well thank you, Alice.

AH: This concludes our interview. It is now 4:45.


“Barbara Pate,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed March 1, 2024,