Jane Cole




Jane Cole




Jane Cole


Alice Helms

Interview Date



Fletcher, North Carolina


Alice Helms


[Background noises and voices are heard throughout the interview.]

Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. Today is October 2, 2011. I'm conducting an interview with Jane Cole 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--[paper shuffling is heard.]

Jane Cole (JC): 1:10. [laughs.]

AH: 1:10. Jane, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

JC: The quilt I brought today is, the title of the quilt is "Claire de Lune" and I made the quilt in 2008 and it was made for a challenge in France, in Morzine, France and the rules of the challenge were that the organizers sent us a piece of kind of a lamé fabric, shiny and gold and we were to use a recognizable amount of that in the piece and it needed to be a meter square, so it's forty-one by forty-one. I really like simple lines and I like Asian looks and the inspiration for that piece was the fabric that's on the left. I had half a yard of that fabric and so that was my inspiration to do the bamboo. After I'd made the quilt it just reminded me of seeing bamboo in the moonlight, so it's called "Claire de Lune."

AH: And the challenge fabric is the red fabric?

JC: No it's the gold fabric. It's this. [points to the quilt.]

AH: In the leaves.

JC: Um hmmm.

AH: So there wasn't a requirement that you use a certain amount of it?

JC: No you had to use a recognizable amount.

AH: So what special meaning does the quilt have for you?

JC: Well the special meaning to me is I had been to France about a year before that and I know some French quilters and I love going to France, and so I guess the meaning is just my tie with these French quilters. The quilt hangs in my home.

AH: Okay. And what are your plans for the quilt in the future?

JC: It's going to stay at my house. It's one of my favorite pieces so my plans are that I'll keep it.

AH: Uh huh. It's appliqué, right?

JC: I love to do pieced backgrounds, so the entire background is pieced in half-square triangles going from light gray in the center out to charcoals and blacks and then I machine-appliquéd the bamboo stalks and the leaves on top.

AH: And it's machine quilted.

JC: It's machine quilted.

AH: How long did it take you to make it?

JC: Oh gosh. I don't ever keep track of time. Maybe my estimate would be twenty-five hours. It would just be a wild guess.

AH: Yeah, okay. So tell me how you started quilting.

JC: I started quilting, I took my first quilting class in 1978 while we lived in Ohio and it was from a teacher whose name is Sue Ellen Wassem and I think she's done a couple of quilt books and she was a wonderful teacher, it was a very traditional class where we used sandpaper templates and I remember we made--it ended up being three pillows and there was an Ohio Star, and there was a folded star and there was Cathedral Windows. And I just fell in love with the whole process immediately. I loved it. I'd already made a couple of quilts, and realized what a mess I had made of those. I've always loved to sew. I've sewn since Home Ec in the sixth grade. But the quilting started then.

AH: So you taught yourself how to quilt originally.

JC: Well I thought I had taught myself. [laughs.]

AH: Right. [laughs.]

JC: I remember I had made one for my son's bed and of course back in 1976, there wasn't a lot available. I used big fat polyester batting and then I used like a twill fabric for the background and so I put this whole thing together and nothing really, no points matched and then I had the binding and everything was done and then about a year later I thought, 'Well wouldn't it be fun to just hand quilt this,' so I started trying to hand quilt through this big fat batting and this heavy fabric and I never did finish the hand quilting part.

AH: But you finished the quilt.

JC: The quilt was done. Right, just partially hand quilted.

AH: And he used it.

JC: Oh yeah, he used it.

AH: And what happened to it?

JC: I think I got rid of it when we moved from Ohio. I realized I didn't need to hang on to that.

AH: So was that really your first quilt?

JC: That probably was.

AH: And what was the pattern?

JC: I think it was the eight-pointed star, which was probably not a real wise choice for a beginning pattern, I probably saw it in a magazine I think. It was brown and blue and white. Brown calico and blue calico and this heavy white background fabric.

AH: So you sewed clothes.

JC: I did. I loved Home Ec. I remember the first thing that I ever sewed was a green and white gingham apron. We had to make little aprons in the sixth grade and I remember it had a pocket and I used green rickrack to--I guess it was probably just my initials were in rickrack and the apron was all trimmed in green rickrack.

AH: Did you use it?

JC: No, I don't think so. [both laugh.] No, it was just a project we had to make.

AH: I thought that maybe then when you took cooking class, you would've worn it.

JC: You know we hardly ever got to cooking class in that. It seemed that it was maybe two weeks of cooking at the end, but it was mainly getting whatever the sewing project was. But I remember that teacher and her name was Mrs. Chay and she wore these pretty little sweater sets and she always had her pearl necklace on and I just loved it. And my mother had a Singer featherweight and that's what I sewed on at home.

AH: So your mother sewed.

JC: I wouldn't call her a sewer. I think she had bought that machine shortly after she first got married, after World War II, and it was for mending, but I don't think she really liked to sew.

AH: Were there quilters in your family?

JC: No, there were not that I know of, no.

AH: Were there any quilts when you were growing up?

JC: No, no.

AH: What is your first quilt memory?

JC: I guess it's probably the quilt that I made, the blue and white and brown quilt. I always enjoyed looking at quilts in magazines but I don't have a memory of any in our family. I know neither grandmother was a sewer.

AH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JC: Oh gosh. I'm not very disciplined as far as going into my studio and working every day or for a certain number of hours, so if I'm really involved in something that I love to do then I'll spend some hours in there but I have a husband and my father lives with us who's 100 years old, so there's a lot of other things in life that interfere with quilting so I wish I could spend more time but I don't. But if I'm really involved then, and it might be in the morning, it might be the afternoon, it might until 11 at night, it's not a certain amount of time.

AH: How does quilt making impact your family?

JC: Well I think my husband is really proud of what I do. He enjoys coming to quilt shows and since he's been retired he does watercolor painting and he likes to--I oftentimes ask him for advice and I'll have something on the design wall and he'll come in and then give me advice and in fact in this quilt, when I was trying to do the bamboo stalks, he gave me some advice about how I had the pieces laid out and the angle that he thought would be the most attractive for me to put the main three bamboo stalks. So he gives me some good advice.

AH: Yeah, because that's a really important element of that quilt.

JC: Yes, it's very important, it is. They didn't need to be too straight but not too angled either. So he has a good eye for those kind of things, so I ask him. And I don't always take his advice but a lot of times I do.

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

JC: I have. I think that it's not necessarily a piece related to the time itself but I know in the last year my really good friend passed, well it's just about a year, it was October 6th last year she passed away and since then I think when I'm in my studio, I think a lot about Gail. [Rowe.] We had a business together for eighteen years, a quilters' getaway business and so to me it--I don't make a quilt in memory of a difficult time, but I think the process of quilting has helped me through some times that are not so happy.

AH: So tell me about the business.

JC: I lived in Massachusetts. I was the manager of a quilt shop in Massachusetts and I had hired Gail as a teacher there and she taught beginning quilting and quite a few things and we started this Quilters' Getaway Weekend business in 1992 up in Vermont and started out our first weekend, we had six women that came and it ended--I did the last [Getaway.] weekend last October, it actually was the day after Gail had died, so I did the two weekends alone. And we ended up doing three weekends a year and each weekend would have thirty women and we moved it from Vermont to an inn near Lake Winnipesauke [New Hampshire.] and then we down in York Harbor, Maine for a year and out on Cape Cod [Massachusetts.] for a year and then we ended up in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire and we were there for about the last eleven years doing our weekends. And she lived in Massachusetts and of course I was in North Carolina and so we managed to talk at least once a week if not more and she would come down here and spend a week with me, usually in the spring and we just managed the business together really well for eighteen years. It was so much fun, we had a great time.

AH: And would the same women come?

JC: Many, many, many repeaters. It became, I'd say probably out of the thirty women, twenty-five would be coming every year. We had some that came from the very beginning. And some of them came once a year and some came even the April weekend and the October weekend also. And a lot of times it would be mother/daughters or two friends that only saw each other when they came for the weekend. So it was just that those women became part of our lives.

AH: I would think so.

JC: They really did.

AH: And were they mostly from New England?

JC: Mostly, but we did have women from all over New England, some of my North Carolina friends went up for the weekend, we had a woman from California that came, some Midwest women, so it was kind of all over and kind of word of mouth and we advertised it mainly in New England, so most of the women drove and they were three-day weekends. You know it has a lot to do with, it isn't just quilting, it's really just fellowship with women and eating really good food and drinking wine and laughing and just having a good time.

AH: And would you actually have classes? Did you teach?

JC: We offered classes but we all sewed in one big room so if you wanted to do what I was offering then you did that but you were in among everyone else. It was very casual. So Gail always offered something and I offered something and a lot of the women liked to do mystery quilts so we always had a mystery quilt going and we had a special Friday night project and we had show and tell. It was great, it was just a lot of fun.

AH: You must really miss it.

JC: I do. I do, but I knew it was time to retire when Gail passed away because it wouldn't be the same.

[10 second pause.]

AH: Okay, back to your quilting. What do you like most about the process of quilting?

JC: Oh gosh. I'm trying to think of what I don't like. I love planning what I'm going to do. What I usually do comes step by step, it isn't all planned out at the beginning. I love picking the colors, I love picking fat quarters; that's usually what I buy. I love machine piecing, I love machine quilting, I'm not much of a hand quilter any more. I love it all. I love every bit of it.

AH: There's not one thing that you would say, 'I hate that part.'

JC: Oh probably the pin basting, maybe I don't love that. I even love sitting doing the hand binding. I really love it all, I really do.

AH: What is it about buying fat quarters? You probably want a smaller piece of fabric but you could buy a quarter yard off a bolt.

JC: Well of course a fat quarter is more usable, but I tend to buy small quantities because I like the challenge of making whatever I have work in the piece. I'm not the type of quilter that will run out of something and say, 'Oh I've got to look everywhere to get another quarter yard of this.' I'll just figure out something else that works into the piece which I found usually, oftentimes, makes the piece. What you have to make it work. And as you can see from "Claire de Lune," I like pieced backgrounds, so I don't necessarily need to have large pieces of fabric for what I like to do.

AH: But I also wonder sometimes if buying fat quarters, that there's just something easier about looking at those little--

JC: There is.

AH: --hunks of fabric in rows--

JC: I think that is true. I do a lot of scrappy quilts and you can pull out all your little fat quarters and stack them up and look at them and of course my fabric is, if I have a full fat quarter, that's pretty good. I have so many pieces where there are little chunks cut out. I keep my fabric in stacked drawers and so the drawers, they're basically color coordinated but the pieces of fabric are--it's best that they go in a drawer because they're not all nicely folded, they're just kind of in there. But I like it that way, that's how I like to work.

AH: So tell me about your studio.

JC: Okay, well we built a new house, about three and a half years ago and so I was able to kind of design what I wanted, so it's not particularly large, it's probably thirteen by fifteen. It has--on one wall are windows and I have my sewing table where my machine is up near the windows and I look out on--my summer view is lots of trees and my winter view is the tree trunks and the mountains in the distance. I've got a design wall. I have cabinets on one wall with doors so that I can put things in that I don't want to see and then I have my drawers stacked on top of the cabinets. I've got the walls painted a very, well it's just kind of a neutral, neutral gray/green because I don't want the wall color to interfere with the fabric color and I have really good light.

AH: Fluorescent lights?

JC: Fluorescent lights, right and then I have my cutting table in the middle of the room and of course the ironing board never goes away, it's always there. So it's good. I guess I would, in the perfect world, maybe I would like it a little bit larger, but it's good. I'm happy with it. I feel really good when I go in. I just sit and I can just gather inspiration sometimes just from sitting in my chair in my studio and looking out the window.

AH: And is that an easy chair?

JC: I just have like an office chair, that I can raise up to the right height for my machine quilting, or piecing. I piece on a Featherweight.

AH: Oh?

JC: Yeah, a little Featherweight. I have my mother's old Featherweight, but I found--this is a good story, I tell this story whenever I'm teaching. It was one summer and I was going in to a little market down at the end of our road, and it was a Saturday morning and there was a flea market table set up outside and nobody was around it and everything looked so junky and so I was just heading in to the farm stand but I noticed on the corner of the table was a white Featherweight, sitting there in the corner. There was nothing with it, just this little machine in the corner, and my heart was just pounding. I went inside and I asked the woman who was in there, I said, 'Do you know anything about the flea market out here and that little machine sitting on the table?' and she said, 'Oh honey, there's something it doesn't have. Let's see, I know there's something it doesn't have--a needle. It's a needle. So it's ten dollars.'

AH: Goodness.

JC: I had that machine in my car so fast and that little machine, it had been used a lot, you know it had some rust and when I got it home it really needed--I took it to Jim's Sew and Vac and got it tuned up and what it also didn't have was it was missing its bobbin case, so I actually had to get a new one. But it sews like a dream and so that's what I do all my piecing on. It has a better sound than my mother's. You know how they each sew differently and this one doesn't have a case, it didn't have anything with it, it was just the machine, but I love it. It was the best ten dollars I ever spent.

AH: I wonder why you like that better for piecing. Do you have more control over everything?

JC: I think that Featherweights, because they're only straight stitch, I think they do a better straight stitch. This one just feeds really well and I like the sound of it and I sew normally--my other machine is a Janome, and I like the Janome for the machine quilting, but I don't particularly like the way it feeds for piecing. It just doesn't seem to have the grip that the Featherweight does. I just feel like I'm more in control of the little Featherweight. So, it just always just stays sitting on the edge of my sewing table. That's what I use.

AH: So, you mentioned teaching. Was that when you managed the quilt shop?

JC: My husband was in the Air Force, so we did some moving around. So my background was, my degree was elementary ed, and so I had done substitute teaching but in Ohio, after taking that [quilting.] class, for a couple years while we lived there, I worked at, it was called the Stitching Post, and we sold Vikings and it was a sewing machines and fabric, so after I'd been quilting a couple years I started teaching some basic quilting classes that more had to do with selling the Viking machines and then when we moved to Massachusetts, we lived outside Boston and I worked in a large, really large, it was a fabric store to begin with called Ralph Jordan's and it sold all kinds of wools and silks and I started out working part time there and then I became a manager and a buyer and then the owner, he gradually transitioned the store into just quilting and a gift shop so I was a manager of the quilting department and I hired all the teachers and I also taught there. And then I've also taught for different guilds in the southeast and I teach at John Campbell Folk School. [in Brasstown, North Carolina.]

AH: Is there a particular thing you teach?

JC: It varies. What I taught this summer at John Campbell was designing your own scrap quilt. So the women came with, I had eight women from all over the country and all different levels, all the way from one gal who goes to the Dairy Barn workshops right down to a gal who had never sat behind a sewing machine before. And so they brought fabric and then I worked individually with them designing a scrap quilt, which I think is probably my favorite kind of quilting.

AH: Right. That's good. Jane, what art or quilt groups do you belong to?

JC: I belong to the Asheville Quilt Guild, and I'm a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, and I'm also, well Wendy Bowen and I are the organizers of Shady Ladies in Waynesville [North Carolina.] which is a group that's been going on for ten years and we have about fifty Shady Ladies and Wendy and I are--it's not really a guild, it's a group and Wendy and I--it's kind of a business for Wendy and me because the gals pay us and we meet every Tuesday and we rent space in a church and we have design walls and ironing boards and irons and cutting tables and mats and rulers and so forth and they bring their sewing machines and Wendy and I float around the room helping with whatever project they're doing. And then we have a quilt show every year and so that's been very gratifying to be part of a group that is so talented, just wonderful women.

AH: And I have to ask, why are you called the Shady Ladies?

JC: Well, we're called that because we meet at the Shady Grove Methodist Church, so that's how we got our name. There's a lot of questions about that. [laughs.]

AH: So, you do group projects?

JC: We do, yes. Well yes and no. Mainly they're working on their own piece. For our show we have, we just call it a raffle quilt, I know maybe that's not politically correct, but we like the word raffle. So, we have a quilt that the women have done blocks for and then Wendy and I put that together and when we have our show out at Lake Logan Episcopal Center, the raffle quilt money, the earnings from that, we decide on a couple of charities in Haywood County that we want all of that money to go to and then our admission money all goes to Lake Logan Episcopal Center.

AH: Oh okay.

JC: Our show is once a year in June and we always have at least a hundred quilts made by the Shady Ladies and they are all made within that year. And we don't do ribbons, we don't even do Viewer's Choice. It's just you come to the show, and you know what you like, and you make your decisions.

Ah: And you also have challenges--

JC: We do, we have a challenge every year--

AH: --like this one.

JC: --yes, we do. Wendy and I come up with an idea for the challenge and then it's completely optional, for the Shady Ladies, if they want to do it or not and usually about half of the women do and those challenges have been, they debut at our show and then this year they're at the Asheville Quilt Show in a special exhibit and we actually had our quilts in France a few years ago and they've been at the Haywood Arts Repertory Theatre [in Waynesville, North Carolina.] and they've been at the Arts Council and they've been at the Arboretum. So, the women just do wonderful work, and they complain, and they moan and groan all year, and 'Ooooooh,' but it's just a great challenge. It really is. It's a challenge. We say, 'It is a challenge.'

AH: That's why they call it a challenge.

JC: It's not supposed to be easy. [laughs.]

AH: That sounds great. And these are not bed quilts.

JC: The challenges?

AH: Well, that are generally shown in the show.

JC: By the Shady Ladies?

AH: Right.

JC: Oh, some are.

AH: Sometimes they are?

JC: It's everything from the challenge up to bed quilts and wall quilts and whatever, whatever they want to show.

AH: Oh, okay.

JC: And I think it's pretty amazing that fifty women can produce a hundred plus pieces every year.

AH: Right. That they feel they want to show.

JC: Right. And I think by the fact that we don't have judging, I think it eliminates the intimidation that I think can happen in quilt shows and make quilters maybe not want to put their pieces out for show and I think that's sad. I really do. I wonder about that sometimes.

AH: Right. So how long have you, when did you first start the Shady Ladies?

JC: Shady Ladies? In the summer of 2001.

AH: Oh okay. It's ten years.

JC: Wendy and I had both taught at the community college, Haywood Community College, [in Clyde, North Carolina.] and that particular summer they were using our room for something else but the women who were in our workshops wanted to keep coming, so we found this church that said we could pay them and use their fellowship hall and so we thought it was just going to be for the summer, but it worked out so well and was actually better space than what we had, that we just decided to stay and so we did. It's every Tuesday.

AH: Every week.

JC: It's four sessions, so it's forty weeks out of the year.

AH: Oh okay. So that's a big commitment.

JC: It is, it is.

AH: I mean for you and Wendy and for the other women too.

JC: So, the women can sign up for a session, which is ten weeks, and then they can come as often as they want to come.

AH: Oh, I see.

JC: And then if they want to stay an hour, that's fine, if they want to stay all day, that's fine. And they bring their lunch, and we have two design walls, so people are always putting their work up on the walls and everyone races over to see what's going on. Our Shady Ladies are not shy about advice and so you get a lot of advice on everything in your life including quilting. Actually, I think the Shady Ladies won fifteen awards in the Asheville Show this year.

AH: Very impressive.

JC: Yeah, it really is. I think we had twenty-two quilts. [in the Asheville Quilt Show.]

AH: Did you say there are fifty women?

JC: There are fifty women on our roster but like at a given session, maybe thirty are signed up and on a given day--we actually did have thirty there this past Tuesday, but usually it's closer to twenty, will be actually there. So, it works out pretty well and we got about ten summer people, so they are here for most of the summer session and a little bit into the fall and spring, then they go to Florida or Texas or wherever they live. So it's great and we have, let's see, our oldest member, Patsy, is eighty-four and our youngest is about forty-five, so we have everything in between. Traditional quilters, art quilters, just everything. It's great.

AH: That is great. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JC: Well, I think visual impact is the most important to me. Good workmanship is important, and I do strive for that, but I think the visual impact is most important. I guess maybe I feel that way because most of what I do now is for walls rather than for beds. And I think, I guess the very most important thing is looking at a piece and seeing some of the quilter's personality put into the piece and I feel so good when someone comes up to me at our Shady Ladies show or the Asheville Show and will say, 'Oh I loved this quilt, and I knew it was yours. I could just tell it was yours.' And that makes me feel really good, when something that I've done is recognizable, so it shows that there's something of me in the piece.

AH: And what do you think makes a great quilter?

JC: I guess the passion for quilting. And really putting some of yourself, your own personality and not just trying to reproduce the work of some other quilter that you love. I think that takes a while in your quilting life to get to that point where you just decide that you're going to please yourself and when you decide that, then that's when you do your best work I think, not trying to copy a style of some other quilter who you might admire, but just doing what you love to do.

AH: And who are some of the quilters or artists you admire?

JC: Oh gosh. Well, I was telling some friends this weekend that I think the quilt that stood out in my mind the most, and there's a total reproduction of it in this show here, is the Judy Mathieson Mariner's Compass. Have you looked at it? It is exactly Judy Mathieson's quilt from twenty years ago, but of course it doesn't say that in the tag but it's not my style at all, a Mariner's Compass. I took a class from Judy many years ago and ended up with a mess of a Mariner's Compass but I remember when I saw that piece of hers with the big Mariner's Compass in the middle and all the little flying geese going in a circle around and then the small Mariner's Compass and the gradations of the fabrics, and this was in 1991 and it was all done in solid fabrics--not hand-dyes, just solid fabrics--hand quilted and I remember thinking, 'I will never forget seeing it.' And I think it is known as one of the hundred best quilts. There are so many that I admire. I like Nancy Crow's work. I admire Ricky Tims for what he's done in the quilt world; he's got a very distinctive style. But I guess that one particular quilt has stood out in my mind through the years. When I walked in here today and saw that one, I just could not believe it. I had seen it online yesterday and I thought, 'Do they have a special exhibit of some world-famous quilts here?' [laughs.] But it's just a reproduction.

AH: That's interesting.

JC: Yes, very interesting. The judges must have known because it doesn't have a ribbon on it. It's a beautifully made quilt but it's way too much of Judy Mathieson.

AH: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting versus longarm quilting?

JC: Oh gosh. Apples and oranges and grapefruits and watermelons. [laughs.] I started out as a hand quilter, which probably we all did, and I love hand quilting. I now do mostly machine quilting and I do it on my Janome home sewing machine. I feel sad when I am at a show and I see people standing in front of a quilt and saying, 'Well, that's just machine quilted.' That really makes me feel sad because I know how difficult good machine quilting is. I think it's like anything else in our world, times change. And styles change. And if our grandmothers had the machines that we have now, they probably would have been doing machine quilting. So, I guess that's another reason I'm just not all that wild about judging because it's so difficult to judge one against the other. It's mainly if you've done it well. I think I feel that I personally can do more creative quilting by doing it by machine than I could by hand. And longarm--I admire the people that can stand behind a longarm and do a good job. It's not something that I want to do, but there's beautiful work done on long arms.

AH: Why is quilt making important to your life?

JC: I guess it's been so important to me, not just because I love doing it, but the friends I've made. It really is sort of the center of my life. I think most all my friends are quilters. After you used to meet your friends because your kids were playing soccer but then when you're a little bit older, you meet your friends through doing what you love to do. If I couldn't do it, I would be so sad, I just hope and pray that my eyes hold out and my hands. It would be a terrible loss to not be able to do quilting.

AH: Okay, well we're almost at the end of our time, so is there anything else you want to add to the interview?

JC: I guess I pretty much covered it.

AH: Oh, I have one more question: do you sleep under a quilt?

JC: [laughs.]

AH: You can say it.

JC: I don't. [laughs.] No, because we have a cat and I have a comforter on our bed. It's terrible to say that. I have quilts hanging on my walls. Well, my father has a quilt on his bed.

AH: Did you make it?

JC: I did make it, yes, I did. [laughs.]

AH: [laughs.] Well, I think this concludes our interview. It is now 1:50. Thank you, Jane.

JC: Thank you, Alice, it was a pleasure.


“Jane Cole,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed November 30, 2023, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2216.