Nancy Breland




Nancy Breland




Nancy Breland


Meg Cox

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Pennington, New Jersey


Eleanor Wilkinson


This is Meg Cox (MC). I'm doing a Quilter's S.O.S.--Save Our Stories interview for The Alliance for American Quilts. I'm interviewing Nancy Breland at her home in Pennington, New Jersey. The date is May 7, [2011.], and the time is 2:40 p.m. So, Nancy, thanks for letting me do this at your house, and let's just jump right in and tell me about the quilt that you decided to have for the interview today.

Nancy Breland (NB): This was very difficult to do, to find one quilt that is a touchstone, but I finally settled on this one because it's about a very meaningful place to my family. The name of this quilt is Moon River and it is an abstraction of moonlight on the St. Lawrence River where my family has gone for many decades in the Thousand Islands. I also chose it because I really like the design. It was a stretch for me. I was trying some new things in this quilt. I made this quilt in 2000. I like it and I also knew it would take a good picture.

MC: What do you think that quilt tells other people about you?

NB: It probably shows the techniques I'm most comfortable with. I actually appliquéd that moon, but that may be one of three things I've ever appliquéd in my life, because I don't do much appliqué. I like to piece. I like intricate piecing and I certainly like to play with color. And this one is very intricate as well. I didn't stop too soon and often times I think I'm so eager to get on to the next project that I don't really elaborate a quilt all the way to the end. And this one, it had enough in it. I really saw it through to the end.

MC: Now where did you get the pattern?

NB: It's my pattern. I do all my own pattern making. I always have, after the first year. I took a sampler class and thereafter I drafted my own patterns.

MC: What do you do with this quilt? Where is it?

NB: It hangs on my wall. Usually I put it up sort of late in the fall, in the winter. In the very top band you can see the skeletons of winter tree leaves. And I was thinking this may be what it looked like in the winter time. I display quilts all over my home and I change them seasonally. I don't let them be out for a very long time. So this one is up, usually, in my upstairs hall for a while, and I enjoy it and then I fold it up and put up something new.

MC: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. When did you start? How old were you?

NB: Well, I started making quilts in 1984. I think you all remember your first quilt that you made, but I had just brought home a new baby. My Julia is adopted and we brought her home and my next-door neighbor had a baby shower and she gave me a baby quilt and a lesson. And all the rest is history. She now speaks of me as the monster she created. I was so touched. You can imagine, it was a very touching time and here was this beautiful quilt she made for my much long awaited baby and she gave me a lesson. I was working at the time and so I couldn't really go to, The Quilter's Barn, was the quilt shop at that time. I couldn't really take lessons but she gave me lessons and then Judy Winerich down the street who taught in the adult night school, who kind of fit some lessons in as she was, is still, both of these women have moved away, but they were very kind with their time. One week they would teach me how to make the templates for this particular block and at the end of the summer I did have a sampler block. Also a couple of other quilts as well. I just kept going. So that's when I began. I was thirty-eight at the time and I should say this, too. It's really fun to learn to do something new, at mid-life, to learn that you have a new talent. So many people think you go to college and that's what you do.

MC: So it's not a family quilt thing?

NB: There was no family quilters at all. My mother sewed, but nobody ever made any quilts. It was my wonderful neighbors and friends who got me into this.

MC: And you were working and you were a professor then?

NB: Yes, I was a professor at the time and when Julia was in nursery school, Julia is my youngest. I have an older daughter as well. I was department chair and so it was a very stressful time, and I know this will lead to a future question, but quilting helped keep me sane.

MC: So, what is the transition, then, from where you are now, in your quilting, the type of quilting that you do and the place that quilting occupies in your life?

NB: When I first started, I was learning the basic skills. And they're different from the basic skills that you're learning today. We did graph paper, and we did templates, and we did drafting and I'm very, very glad to have those skills, because I can make anything I want to make. And I still do use templates. I also use rulers and whatever. So, I began with traditional quilt making and I learned to make every kind of block that I ever wanted to make. I began with hand quilting, actually we tied quilts and then we went on to hand quilting and I was really very good at that. I made a double bed white-on-white that made it to Paducah. [American Quilters' Society annual show at Paducah, Kentucky.] But then I started machine quilting and I really like that now. All of my ideas, now, are machine quilting, so I don't hand quilt anymore. The only handwork I do is binding and sleeves.

MC: How many hours a week do you quilt now? You retired, so that makes it--

NB: I'm retired now, I've been retired for five years. So, I have more time to quilt. I quilt every day. I don't know that I quilt all day, but there are days when I hang out with my quilt-maker friends and that's sort of what we do, all day, so it's a huge part of my life. But, it's an everyday thing unless I'm out of town visiting my daughter and then I tuck my granddaughter in under a quilt so they're always there with me. And I did it every day while I was working, too. It was part of the balance of my life. It was at least an hour a day where I did something for myself, when I was pulled in so many directions of being a wife, a mother, professor and for a while, department chair. I needed some time just for me and it was with a needle in my hand.

MC: I totally get that. Was your first quilt memory, then, having this quilt for your daughter? You don't sleep under them or--

NB: No, no, we, finally, some years later, found a quilt in the family. I didn't know about it. But my first memory really was when Ellen Bell, my next-door neighbor, gave me that quilt and made me cry.

MC: We have to go into that other question that you were alluding to which is quilts getting you through a difficult time. Was that just the only time that really was--[inaudible, both speak at once.]

NB: No, there have been several times when quilting has really, really saved me. Certainly, when I was in the most stressful time of my career, and that's both positive stress and negative stress. I really liked what I was doing. But when things were very tense, and very full, quilt making allowed me to think through, particularly some of the personnel issues. I was chair of a Psychology Department, so I was in charge of twenty full-time professors, seventeen part-time psychologists and lots and lots of students, so they presented many challenges. You needed some time to think things through and I would quilt at night and, my daughters assumed that I was always available when I was quilting, too, so they would ask me homework questions, but the television wouldn't be on and then, when I had that quiet time, I could work through some of those issues. So, that's the first thing, but then there have been several very difficult times in my life where quilt making has been very important to me. While I was department chair, I lost my mother. She died of cancer and stitching through that helped me through that. In 1990, no, I forget the exact year, 2000 something, my father died, and I made a specific quilt, I almost chose it today and then I thought it made me cry. [MC laughs.] But I made a quilt right after he died. He died in March, and he loved that Wadsworth poem about daffodils, so I designed and made a quilt all about daffodils and I really felt the working through of his passing as I made that quilt. Probably the biggest thing was how quilt making got me through the most difficult transition that happened four years ago when my husband of almost forty years died. You don't get over that, I'm convinced, but you have to move on. So, how do you move one? I continued to quilt. My creativity totally left me, but I knew that I had to continue to quilt. I had to do that for myself and the first quilt that very first summer was just a nine-patch, you're just like a boring nine-patch. But I did it to give me a break from all the widow's work there is to do and then when I was done, I donated that to a charity for an auction and I just felt like a whole lot of grief went out the door with that quilt. That was really, really working through, aaa, I'm still working through that, you know--

MC: That's an amazing story.

NB: with that quilt. But the other thing is how do you get beyond that very difficult, very difficult, just the most difficult transition, and with support of quilt making friends along with my neighbors and other friends [inaudible.] two, particularly, with my quilt making friends, one was on this elbow and the other was on this elbow [MC laughs.] holding me up and just to continue to keep me moving forward. So, I can't imagine I did that without quilt making. I can't imagine mental health without quilt making. [MC laughs.]

MD: I feel like I have to insert this, being somebody whose work was about mental health and people psychology. Did you ever make that in a sort of prescriptive idea of suggesting this to other people in that way?

NB: I often told my students, particularly returning, no, not just returning students; I was a professor at the College of New Jersey [TCNJ at Ewing Township, New Jersey.] and if you know the kind of students that are attracted there, many of them come from really struggling lives. They're brilliant kids, but they often are putting themselves through school. They come from single-parent families. A lot of them have had a lot of trouble and so they're working part time and they're going to school part time and they try and have a social life and I wanted to be sure, I said to them, 'Be sure you do something for an hour a day that's just for yourself.' So that was sort of one of the prescriptions that I did. But, then I also did a series of Psychology-related quilts, where I took Psychology ideas and made them into quilts and that was a fun series that ended up as an American Quilter article some years ago.

MC: Describe that a little bit, maybe just a couple of pieces.

NB: My training is not in therapy. My training is in psychological testing and there is one, you probably all took it in some time in your life, a block design test as part of an intelligence test, where the psychologist or someone may give you a series of cubes that either red or white or diamond shape, or half squares, and you have to reproduce the pattern? Hmmm, quiltmakers. It's exactly what you do. One of the quilts in that series was my variation of sort of the block design test. I also had fun with an ink blot, [MC laughs.] so I made an ink blot test on an ink blot quilt. The Psychology Department still has displayed on its home page, I'm so pleased, a quilt called I'm Crazy About Psychology [MC laughs.] and it shows, you know that picture of somebody's head with all the little compartments in it, it was a very old kind of psychology, so I made a quilt that was like that, a crazy quilt all in the border and I did a lot of elaboration of some optical illusions and a little piece of it was terry cloth. If you remember Harry Harlow's monkeys and whether you loved that monkey or not. The mother monkey was terry cloth, so there are all jokes and [MC chuckles.] that quilt hung in my office after I made it, it hung in my office and students might be a little wary about coming in and they'd look at that quilt and say, 'I know what that is. Who is that?' And it was furry down there and all these famous pictures. So that was kind of fun, too.

MC: That's wonderful. It says tell us about an amusing experience and you just did. What is it that particularly, if you could put your finger on it, that is pleasing to you about quilt making?

NB: [sighs.] Everything. At first I liked it because it gave balance to my life. I'm sort of half one person, really three people, a family person, your were your job person but there was this other thing. It was just like a different side of my brain, the opportunity to do creative and artistic work. So, I found that really very attractive and now I'm retired so that part of me who was the psychologist is sitting in the back seat and I can spend much more time doing the creative work that I really enjoy doing. Also, I really enjoy hanging out with my quilting friends. Most of my friends are now quilters. We've been at this for so many years, but as you know, quilters are wonderful people and I really value their friendship and their input into the work that I do.

MC: You talked before about how you made that transition from starting out doing everything by hand and now you really love machine quilting. Would you talk a little bit about that, about how you think differently about your quilts now, and also are there any other aspects of technology that have influenced your work?

NB: Oh, yes. I started doing basic blocks and about 22 years ago my friend Judy down the street who taught the adult night school, said, 'Nancy, why don't you go to Quilting by the Lake with us?' So I've been going to Quilting by the Lake for every year for this many years. I've learned a lot from going to school there. It's in the summer time so that my dear husband would take care of the girls and I would go off and have a week by myself and when I came home I took the girls to Canada, which is where this is, and he would have a week by himself. And this worked out really, really well, sort of a circuitous route to where I'm getting to, but Quilting by the Lake has always had a contemporary bent so that I'd go there with all these traditional ideas and I remember at first when they had the slide shows as part of the evening program, 'I don't like that. It's not symmetrical [MC laughs.][inaudible.] an art quilt. But I kept at it because it was such a good time and my work has become much more art quilting. I still love symmetry and I love the symmetry of blocks. I tried to be asymmetrical. I was like a rubber band. It stretched me [inaudible.] that I bounced back again [MC laughs.] [inaudible.]do nine patch.

MC: What's the most extreme thing they have you doing that you thought, 'I would never, ever do that?'

NB: Oh, Meg, that's a tough question. I would never, ever do that. I don't really know, because I think of every course that I've taken at Quilting by the Lake has left some kind of a mark on me. I've never had a bad one. I don't always come home and do the things that I learned, but maybe that's the best I can do with that question. But I wanted to get back to some other, newer things that I have going, too.

MC: Yes, yes.

NB: Recently, along with two other friends, I've been working on learning how to dye fabric and they'd taken more classes about dying than I have, but then we get together and [inaudible.] this is Leona Law and Trina Weller, who are my two best quilting buddies now, close enough to the zip code that I can meet with them often. They take what they've learned and where they have gone beyond what they've learned in classes and then they took me in into Leona's wet basement; that means it has sinks, to teach me a lot of fabric dying so I've been very pleased with learning how to dye some of my own fabric. I know the last two winters I've been snow dying and I'm absolutely crazy about snow dying. I wrote the instructions from Pro-Chem from their website about snow dying [inaudible.] and boy, is that a lot of fun.

MC: What is it about it?

NB: Oh, it's unexpected and for those of you who don't know about snow dying, you dye fabrics with these chemicals and the chemicals are meant to be applied at about seventy degrees, so when you mix the dyes with snow it really messes up the process, so the colors come apart, the patterns from scrunching things kind of come apart as the snow melts and then it sort of hits the fabric as you've manipulated it in a certain way, so you get these fabulous, unexpected results. And I can't get enough of snow dying. Of course, I can do it up here, too. I scoop up the snow back here and I run down to the basement, because I've got a wet studio down there as well. We've had a very good time with that, so now I'm finding more of my work is using fabric that I've dyed. Not all of it, but much of it is. Would you let me continue if I can?

MC: Yes, please do.

NB: With the technology question as well, because I saw that in the questions, and I thought one part of technology that really hasn't changed across my career is my sewing tools. I have a sewing machine and I made my first hundred quilts on a Kenmore that I got when I was married, and I could probably have kept going on that Kenmore, except that it had a short circuit, so there were times when you touched the sole plate you got a shock. Not good. So, when I wrote my book that was published in 1993, I used the proceeds of that to buy a used Bernina, a 1230.

MC: What was the book?

NB: It was called Tricks with Chintz. It was a very early AQS [American Quilting Society.] book, in the olden days. That was a whole series of quilts that, today, people do Stack-n- Whack®. That was before Stack-n-Whack®, fussy cutting to make radial V symmetrical designs. I did seventeen quilts in that series and then did a book about it. So, I bought myself a used Bernina 1230 and it's still my favorite machine. When you're thinking about technology, they're all mechanical machines. I don't need a fancy one and my current machine is a little fancier, but it sews straight stitches and it does machine quilting fine and doesn't have a stitch regulator.

MC: Is that a Bernina?

NB: I have an Aurora now because I was afraid to depend on the 1230. I sew so much I really want a good back-up machine and a Featherweight doesn't really back-up if you're doing machine quilting. So, when you think of that kind of technology, no, I don't think you need the modernist tools to make wonderful things. I use rulers. I use the rotary cutter. I use the rotary mat. I still design mostly on graph paper. I've done some stuff on Electric Quilt. I [inaudible.] think like a piece of graph paper and I figure out my fences and do some things like that. But the flip side of that technology question is how technology has informed me about what's going on in the quilt making world. I spent a lot of time looking at my computer, asking questions about quilts. I found Quilt Art List. Every day I enjoy just seeing what's going on there. When I want a picture of something I don't need a book anymore. If I want variations on nine patch, I just ask Google to give me images of what it is I want. I correspond online. When I want pictures like a quilt like I just finished was, I don't have it down here, it was a whole cloth quilt with a piece of snow-dyed fabric over which I drew with quilting, lots and lots of different flowers. So, what does a Morning Glory really look like? Just get into your little computer, pull up pictures of Morning Glories, you find the one you like and that's the one I then used to quilt that quilt. So, my information comes with information technology, but in terms of making it are not terribly changed.

MC: Now, it says to describe your studio, the place where you work, and since this isn't a video, it's audio, we are sitting right next to it. Would you describe your working area?

NB: Okay.

MC: And is this where you do your work?

NB: Pretty much everything. This is a family room and half of it is my studio and the other half is also my studio. [MC laughs.] But it might also be used for something else, so that when my older daughters--

MC: This half that has a couch and chairs?

NB: Yes. That couch is a futon and behind my design wall is the full bathroom, so that when my older daughter who lives in Virginia comes to visit with her husband and my wonderful granddaughter, this can be converted. I just have to abandon my studio. But you can see that I have wonderful light. This is just great. It's not great in the winter and it's cold because the room doesn't warm up as well as I'd like, but I really like natural light when I work. I have the design wall there with some nice spotlights on it and some spotlights in my working space. The cabinet over here is all full of thread and tools. This is sort of my main fabric, but the house contains lots of fabric stashes in other places. Another thing I really like about this space is how I can get away from my design wall and look at my design from a distance of maybe 20 feet. And boy does that make a difference, to be able to get back. So, you don't see the details, just see some points [inaudible.]. You really get to see the design; you don't need a reducing glass to really see the design and that's real important for me for the space to have a design wall that you can step back from.

MC: I don't want to let you escape by being overly modest. You've actually had quite a few quilts in magazines and--

NB: I have.

MC: particularly, I believe, Quilters Newsletter Magazine.

NB: Yes.

MC: Would you talk about that?

NB: Sure.

MC: How you came about that?

NB: I've made over three hundred quilts in my life. I can't stop. And, for a long time I had a good long run with publishing my patterns in Quilters Newsletter I've also had some things in American Quilter as well. I would design things and they would like them and somebody else would write up the instructions and they would be published, and I also did some of their columns as well when they used to have Quilt Lovers Forum, so I'd write an essay and they'd take it. Things have changed in the magazine world as you well know. Along with those changes came a difference in what they are looking for. So, it was a long run, but I no longer am designing things with an idea of could I share that pattern with somebody else.

MC: It's just what you want to make.

NB: It's what I want to make.

MC: Do you have any idea of how many were actually published?

NB: I think I had between 25 and 30 publications in Quilters Newsletter, either essays or patterns.

MC: That very impressive.

NB: That's a lot.

MC: In terms of esthetics and craftsmanship, what do you think makes a great quilt?

NB: No question, I think, it's design first. It has to knock your socks off with design. And I think the skill is secondary to support that design. [six second pause.] After I retired, I went back to school to study art, so I took five courses and one of the best ones was design. I'd read some books about design, but it was very, very good to go to Mercer County Community College [West Windsor, New Jersey.] with this fabulous professor and take a course in design and learn the basic elements that any piece of artwork has. I think that's what [unidentified person coughs.] a great quilt need. So often you see quilts that just seem to be about workmanship and not a whole lot else and they certainly knock your socks off [unidentified person coughs.] but I don't think they're great quilts.

MC: So what is the difference and how did those classes change [unidentified person coughs.] the way you approach a quilt when you start thinking about what you're going to do next?

NB: I think it probably didn't change me so much as give me confidence and give me the vocabulary to describe art. It's just good to know those terms and really mean and how they apply when you think about things like color and balance and symmetry and texture. And to see those things in other art forms, I think made me much more confident. I took a drawing course and [phone rings.] and it was very influential. I'm really glad I took that. I'm not good at it yet.

MC: When you did that [both talk at once, inaudible.] your machine quilting or what?

NB: It is great for my machine quilting, absolutely great because now if I want to do the outline of a morning glory, I can do it. I can draw any quilting pattern that I want to draw. And I think that gave me confidence. I would recommend that to you if you have time. You have to swallow your pride because you know you're not going to be a great drawer, or maybe you will be. You don't have to be. But I thought that was a really good lesson.

MC: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum? What is the museum quality?

NB: Some museums have wonderful quilts because they capture a piece of history, so that I love to see really good historical quilts. Years and years and years ago I went with my quilt group for a special exhibit of quilts at the DAR museum in Washington [D.C.] and those were just such fabulous pieces of history. That's one kind. Then there are other quilts in museums like the quilt museum in Paducah and what belongs there, and of course, that's very heavily weighted on prize winners and some of those, we could talk about those a little bit, some of those seem to me to be all about elaboration, and maybe, so heavily about elaboration that design is not the first thing that got them there. I want to see the ones I love in a quilt museum. They have to have good design and they have to be appropriately elaborated, not overly so.

MC: Whose works, speaking of that, whose works are you drawn to and why? And this could be somebody who is a quiltmaker or--[inaudible, both speak at once.]

NB: In the quilt world I think there are two who are my favorites and I bet you know who they are. [MC laughs.] The first one is Caryl Bryer Fallert, whose award-winning Solar Eclipse stunned me when I first saw it and every time, I've seen it since, I said that is the most beautiful moving quilt of all. And I have had a chance to study with her, it's been a long time at Quilting by the Lake, twice. Her work just is thrilling, just thrilling. And the other one is Ruth McDowell, and you don't get to see her work very often. You see it in books. I did take one class with her at Quilting by the Lake and saw some of those pieces up close, and what she can do. The variety of fabrics I just love. So those are probably my two favorite quilters but there are some others. As part of my formal education in art I also took a History of Modern Art course at Mercer Community College and was exposed in a bit more depth outside of the quilting world to some other designs and artists whose work delights me. Of course, at the top of everybody's list is Monet. You have to love Monet. And I had done, before I took this course a series of water-color quilts that are very [inaudible.] But I really like his stuff. I still like his stuff. Everybody likes his stuff. So, he has influenced me, but there are some other modern artists whose work I really like a lot, Mondrian, with all of his squares and Rothko, I've got his name, right, with his color fields are so neat, so there's a lot of inspiration outside of the quilt world.

MC: Absolutely. You've talked about you graduated into machine quilting. You were a little uncomfortable at first and now you're very happy with it. [unidentified sound.] What about long-arm quilting? Is that something that interests you at all? What's your stand on that?

NB: N-O, no. Somehow or other it seems to, the long-arm quilting influence, particularly in quilt competition has kind of un-evened the playing field, to me. Because they can do things at a level of intricacy at its size that you can't do unless you have those thousands of dollars to buy the machine and a big place to do it in. So, here I'm getting a little grumpy, but it seems to me that some of the competition quilts are so over done to the point that it takes away from rather than enhances the basic design of the quilt, so I'm not too crazy about the intricate long-arm stuff. I'm certainly glad that there are long-arm quilters around who will help people finish their work so that people who make quilts and don't want to wrestle with a full-size quilt as I do under my own home sewing machine, that they still could make quilts and get them done. So, I'm glad that they're there, 'though I wish that more home quilters would get more comfortable doing their own machine quilting. You can do it unless it's a queen-sized bed quilt. It's pretty hard to get all that bulk underneath your home sewing machine. So, no, I have no interest in having one. No.

MC: This is sort of a big umbrella question, but why is quilt making important in your life?

NB: [laughs.] What would I do without it? My best friends are quiltmakers. It's the way I spend my time. It's the way I spend my money. I can't imagine my life without quilt making. There are sometimes when you look down the road and you think you're getting older and what would happen [inaudible.] stop there. And what would happen if I had vision problems, if I had [inaudible.] problems, if I didn't have quilting in my life anymore. I don't spend time thinking about that. It's just an important part of my identity. It's who I am and what I like to do best and who my friends are.

MC: Do you think your quilts reflect your community, your region, in any way?

NB: At first, very much, yes, because I was taught by Hopewell Valley Quilters, but now I think quilting is so big nationally and internationally and we are so informed that these regional differences that were , Texas quilts and West Virginia quilts, or Colorado quilts, now our world is so much bigger that information that comes to us is so much bigger that I don't think the regional stuff is as important as it once was. Now, I'm still very much influenced by where I buy my fabric. And having Pennington Quilt Works less than a mile from my house, you know, what they carry and certainly I see the influence in my local quilt guild. What they carry, the kind of courses they teach influences the interests that people have. Not too many repeat-block, ditzy calico quilts come out of the materials from that store. But maybe people aren't doing that from all over. Well, I don't know. There are still people who still do that. In this region we don't see too many.

MC: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life today?

NB: I'm certainly glad to see an opening up of fiber art in the art world. I think that that's important. I like how so many more people are making quilts because I think the quilt world is a very wonderful place to be in. Ask me the next one. [both laugh.]

MC: How do you think quilts can be used?

NB: They certainly can keep people warm, and I have made lots of quilts that keep people warm. Last week I sent off quilt number six to my granddaughter because she needed to keep warm. She's two and a half and the little quilts that I made her, baby quilts, aren't quite warm enough to cover her little body without her kicking them off. She's not in a big girl's bed yet, so quilts can keep people warm. And they're a gift from the heart as that first quilt that was given to me. It was just a gift from Ellen's heart to me.

MC: Does it still exist?

NB: It still exists. Yes. It got worn out a lot and then Julia, my second daughter, was certainly the quilt girl so she always had to sleep wrapped up in a quilt and so they can keep people warm, and they are a way of sending all the warm feelings to somebody else. But I also like what they do when they are exhibited, particularly in public places. Particularly in public places, where people want a sense of warmth. I wish every doctor's waiting office had a quilt on the wall. I think at one time one of the places at Princeton, maybe urgent care or something like that. But you know, here you are, you're going into this place, you've got some troubles about your health. You walked up and the top of the stairs there's this wonderful Amish quilt behind Plexiglas, and I thought in these kinds of places where people want some comfort as well as beauty, quilts should be there.

MC: I think that's brilliant. I really like that. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

NB: Well, sometimes they shouldn't be preserved. It should be worn out. [unidentified person coughs.] I think my most successful quilt, [laughs.] it was made as a baby quilt, made for a kid down the street. By the time he was in middle school there was nothing left of that quilt but binding and a few of the machine-appliquéd parts which he kept in sort of a bag, took one of those hearts in his backpack. That quilt was loved to death and so I think sometimes quilts shouldn't be preserved. They should be used and loved. I certainly hope that my granddaughter's quilts fall apart, but maybe if I make enough of them, they won't. [laughs.]

MC: How should they be preserved?

NB: I like the idea that the Alliance is saving stories of quilts and pictures of quilts. I like how some museums are able to save some quilts. I like how the quilt museum in Paducah is saving some of those wonderful things. Maybe that's the best I can do.

MC: You know, these hundreds of quilts that you've made, and there are some that are particles, now, what about the rest of them? Where are they, in the homes of people? [both speak at once, inaudible.]

NB: Too many of them are upstairs. Yeah, I've saved a lot. I've found it very hard to let some of them go unless I made them specifically for somebody, you know, to send a quilt to my granddaughter and that's what you want to do. My brother who lives in West Virginia just loves my work, so he has more quilts on his walls than anybody else. He just would take every one that I make. He's just a great fan. My daughters have lots of quilts. They keep warm, and my daughter who has a house in Virginia has quilts all over her walls. Some of them have been given away as gifts. Some aren't actually even up stairs in the attic because they weren't really very good, and they probably should be given to a dog shelter. [laughs.]

MC: We're sort of winding down here, what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

NB: Well, I think the biggest challenge is trying to fit quiltmaking in to a very busy life. Now, this is particularly women whose lives are so pulled in so many different directions, women who try to do it all and they really get strung out by doing it all. The biggest challenge is to push that away and try to make some time to have quilting in your life and all the wonderful things that go with that. So, I think that's a big challenge. You never find the time to quilt, because you don't have time just lying under a tree. You make the time to quilt and that is so hard to do with the multiple roles, and I'm speaking particularly of women. I don't mean to exclude men, but women, the women who are parents and work and just really have a hard time getting through a whole day with everything done on their to-do list. That's a challenge to get through that and I think quilting can really help you with that, but so many people say, 'I don't have time to do it.'

MC: Before we conclude is there anything else about your quilting that is important for you to share today?

NB: No, I can't think of anything else.

MC: Thank you so much for your time--

NB: Thank you. I'm very honored that you chose me to be interviewed.

MC: Well, I really enjoyed it and I've enjoyed your work for many years and I consider you one of my mentors, so thank you so much. We're concluding this interview with the Quilters' S.O.S Save Our Stories and the time is now 3:17 [p.m.]



“Nancy Breland,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,