Terry Eaton




Terry Eaton




Terry Eaton


Nola A. Forbes

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Cherrywood Fabrics (Karla Overland)


Kirby, Vermont


Nola A. Forbes


Please note: Terry is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is August 4, 2010, at 10:12 AM. I am conducting an interview with Terry Eaton in her home in Kirby, Vermont for the Quilters' S.O.S.- Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Vermont State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Terry is a quilter. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Terry Eaton (TE): I just wanted to make a quilt for our young child. I was inspired by Jean Ray Laury and her very graphic designs. In fact, that was what inspired me to make that first quilt.

NF: That was an article you found in a magazine?

TE: Yes, it was.

NF: About what year?

TE: 1963. [Woman's Day magazine.]

NF: You started the quilt soon after?

TE: Soon after. Right. I thought it would take a very short time, but it took a long time. Washed it and all that cotton batting had to be removed. That was my learning experience in that first quilt. It should be quilted not tied.

NF: Which parts of the design that you saw from Jean's pictures did you use in that quilt?

TE: I used the mushrooms. The almond shaped leaves because that was a new shape at that time, too. It's common now. The mushrooms. Flowers. That was what I did.

NF: We took some close-up pictures.

TE: Yes. The others I guess I must have done them on my own because what I copied was the mushrooms and the leaves specifically. The rest was to fill in space.

NF: You added some embroidery.

TE: A little bit on the butterfly. Yes.

NF: Is there other special meaning this quilt has for you?

TE: No, but it has become a cloth that I use to cover tomatoes when they need protection from frost. Through the years that is what this quilt has been used for.

NF: So, it's still used for warmth in a way.

TE: [laughs.] Yes. [both laugh.]

NF: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview instead of some of your others?

TE: You said, 'Bring the first quilt.' This is the very first quilt.

NF: What do you think someone viewing that quilt might conclude about you?

TE: They would laugh. I don't know what they would conclude, Nola.

NF: The future plans for this quilt?

TE: Put it back in the frost-covering pile. It's still in good condition for that.

NF: Have you made a quilt since then that used some of those same designs?

TE: No.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

TE: It laid dormant from 1964 until 1976 when we made quilts. Two. For the [United States.] Bicentennial that we had here in Kirby. What kept the group going was the baby quilts. Of course, the interest gained momentum that way.

NF: Would you tell us about what are you were when you started quiltmaking?

TE: That quilt? [laughs.] I was still in my twenties, Nola. [laughs.]

NF: So, you are self-taught, with that quilt?

TE: Very basic. I've never had any quilt lessons other than what we've taught each other or gleaned from books, since that 1976 time.

NF: When the group worked on those two Bicentennial quilts, who seemed to have the knowledge to share with the others?

TE: Heidi. Heidi stood up at the March Town Meeting and said, 'We've got to do something for the Bicentennial.' She got the group together at the Town Hall and she suggested the quilt. Everybody just went along with it. It was really nice because the two sides of the town didn't know each other, and it got them together with new people in town. Before we knew it, there were two quilts. Enough squares for two quilts.

NF: People on both sides of town worked on both quilts?

TE: Yes. We had the Bicentennial at the Brookside Schoolhouse, which was still a going schoolhouse at the time. Heidi had the idea to invite the governor up and he came. [Vermont's Governor Thomas Salmon arrived by helicopter.] It was one of three places he showed up for that Fourth of July celebration. Landed in somebody's cornfield. I've forgotten a lot, but you know, he spoke and then he left. It was a fun time simply because it brought a lot of people together to do something that was fun. They raffled those two quilts and I think Sue Ranney has one of the two.

NF: I believe it was borrowed back for the Catamount Arts exhibit this past winter.

TE: Yes. It is in need of a new border. They have used it.

NF: Would you estimate how many hours a week you might work on quilt projects?

TE: It can go from zero to twelve per week depending on whether I am working on a quilt

NF: What is your very first quilt memory?

TE: I really don't have one.

NF: Did you grow up with any quilts in your home?

TE: No. Zero. None. Oh, take that back. I was dating my husband and we had a quilt in the "Old 1937 Bomber," as they called that old car. His brother continued to use that car. What they discovered in that quilt was that it had a top which was worn but underneath it was another quilt top. In other words, it had been repaired with a new quilt top. They didn't take the old quilt top apart but had put the new layer on top of the old quilt. That's my first quilt memory. [laughs.]

NF: Do you know who might have made that quilt? Or where it originated?

TE: No clue. No. I'm assuming it would be in his family, but it was never discussed or questioned at the time. That would be 1958. [both laugh.]

NF: Thank you. Are there other quiltmakers among your family you could talk about? Or your husband's family?

TE: His grandmother made him a quilt as a newborn. She did an appliqué Alphabet Quilt. I have that, in very bad disrepair. I tried to repair it. Somebody had taken the finest machine stitch and gummed it all up. The fabric was so brittle it started ripping. I'm not going to be able to. The end. Over and out. I still have the top. If you are interested, I will show it to you after this interview is over.

NF: Thank you. Her maiden name had been Evans.

TE: Evans.

NF: What about some of your friends who are quiltmakers?

TE: All of them. [laughs.] That's who I chum around with. It's funny. I don't know. I must have a friend or two that doesn't quilt. But everybody that I know quilts or at least sews.

NF: Are there some particular ones that you could talk about? Maybe from the early days of the Kirby Quilters?

TE: Joan Hahr, who made absolutely beautiful things. Still does to this day. Then there was Phyllis Wood who was an early member. An original member of the Kirby Quilters. It was a very fun time. She was just a delightful person to know. Her work, like Joan Hahr's, was just meticulous. Beautifully done and executed. I never saw a quilt that she made, but every square she brought to the baby quilts was always just beautifully done. She did their sugarhouse for one quilt. I don't know which quilt that was. She did do it probably on one of the original two Kirby Quilter quilts.

NF: Those were all appliqué?

TE: Yes, they were. There was no patchwork in those days. The first patchwork came when we met and decided we wanted to stay together as a group and do baby quilts. It was Alice McClaughry's child. [Susan.] The first baby quilt was done for Alice. It was a Log Cabin because they lived in a log cabin. I remember this quite clearly. I brought the pattern from a book. I made the templates from this book. One template was wrong. Minnie Wood, bless her heart, couldn't do it. Anyway, we corrected it. This is how we learned in those days, from each other and from the book.

NF: We've tried not to repeat the same mistakes.

TE: [laughs.] Good luck with that.

NF: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

TE: It really doesn't. It doesn't impact it at all. I've given every quilt I've made for the kids to them, so they have it. What they've done with it, I don't know.

NF: Would you tell about the quilt you gave to your son?

TE: [laughs.] Yeah. When the day came, I was cleaning out their rooms. I gave him his quilt. It was one from another Woman's Day. It was definitely a patchwork quilt. It had a great big center square that was a pig. He loved the pigs that we had and raised here. He and his girlfriend came and spent the night. I looked in on them and she was just wrapped up in that quilt. I don't know who has that quilt. If he kept it or did, he give it to her? I didn't ask.

NF: Like a cocoon?

TE: Yeah. There are two quilt stories here. They are small. [clears throat.] Recently, we gave a quilt to a new baby in town. A second-generation quilt. The mother had received one and now her baby has received one. Grandmother comes in and says, 'Quilts have always meant a lot to me. When I am sick, I still wrap myself up in the quilt that I had as a kid. It's in tatters.' But she says, 'I get better.' There's a guy you know but I'm not going to mention his name on tape. He said the same thing to me. He said as a child when he was sick, the quilt that he had, he said there was a connection there. At the time all this quilting stuff was new. But he shared that, and it stayed with me. A quilt meant that much to these two different people of two different ages. I found that interesting. I've never wrapped myself up in one of my quilts.

NF: Maybe that's a secret we need to share. [both laugh.] Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

TE: No.

NF: Are there any amusing experiences you can recall related to making quilts?

TE: Not really. Only that first one because Minnie was a sewer's sewer. She could do anything. When we had one of those pattern pieces for the Log Cabin quilt that did not measure up. Today of course you wouldn't need a pattern piece, you'd just go about it without a pattern. But we were ignorant in the very beginning. As I say, Heidi Lussier got us through a lot.

NF: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

TE: Everything. The color. The cutting. Putting it together. Seeing it finished. The color.

NF: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

TE: Bindings. Mitered corners. [laughs.]

NF: You mentioned being a member of the Kirby Quilters. Are there any things related to that membership that you'd like to talk more about? Or your role with the quilt shows?

TE: I was really not involved too much with the quilt shows. Other than the first one or two. It's just been a long history of knowing the same people through the years. That, if nothing else, is a gift right there. Aside from quilting. It has brought lengthy relationships. Not necessarily close ones, but you know people and you've known them from their youth.

NF: You had mentioned earlier the two sides of Kirby. North Kirby and South Kirby not having known each other much until the Bicentennial. Do you think the Kirby Quilters have played a role in making a big change with that?

TE: I don't know if it's a big change. It certainly helped newcomers in the area to get to know those who had been here for generations. It took away some of the mystique. As far as, you come in from away. Getting to know some of these older people that have been really very nice. You get to know who your Town Clerk is, get to know who the School Board is, because they go to quilt meetings. You get to know the town as well as the people in it. That's another part of it.

NF: In making your quilts or quilt blocks, what advances in technology have influenced your work?

TE: The rotary cutter. The cutting board. That's about it. It has really freed us up. All the new techniques that have come in from this quilting groundswell have made it much easier to do. More fun. I think more quickly done, too.

NF: [clears throat.] You enjoy using the sewing machine as you work?

TE: Oh, yes. I did the first two quilts by hand. It was fun doing that. You do learn a lot from doing that. If you want to get a quilt finished, the sewing machine is the only way to go. Really.

NF: Would you elaborate a little more on your favorite techniques and materials? You don't care for appliqué quite as much anymore?

TE: Not as much. I do it because that's the way a lot of those baby quilts are done. I still go into it with trepidation because you never know. Your final may be an animal, but you never quite know how it's going to end up. Like the Railroad Quilt. [the 2010 Kirby Quilter raffle quilt.] You know, they were country scenes or something. You just have to get it in your headfirst and then try and duke it out. Whereas the patchwork, you can plan that and the colors. You know it will come out without any fuss and feathers.

NF: You can make a better prediction.

TE: Yes. The appliqué separates the artist from the would-be artist. [laughs.]

NF: What about materials? What is your preference?

TE: Oh, cotton of course. Whatever I see that hits me at the moment. I'll have half a yard of that and half a yard of that. Go home and sleep on it. [laughs.]

NF: Do you ever wrap yourself up in the yardage?

TE: No. Not yet, Nola, not yet. That comes after I'm gone. [both laugh.]

NF: Would you describe the area and space you use when are creating quilts or quilt blocks?

TE: It has changed. I used to just do it in the living room, on the living room floor with the machine on a footstool. Now, because we have electricity upstairs, I have commandeered one of the kids' old bedrooms. It's really not a bona fide quilting space. It's just where I work. I'm glad I have that. It's really great.

NF: How do you go about designing a project? You don't have a design wall.

TE: On paper. I have pad of paper and scribble. Cut and go from there.

NF: How do you balance your time?

TE: I don't. There's no way to balance time. Even when you're retired, there's always the garden. There's always the next meal. I don't balance my time. I just don't. When it's raining or snowing, that's when the most quilting gets done.

NF: What do you think makes a great quilt? When you go to look at other quilts?

TE: I'm always mind boggled by good appliqué work. It is still the outstanding people who are professional and do it well. When you go to the quilt shows over by Burlington [Vermont.], they are the quilts that you do remember. When somebody goes or takes something you've done all your life, like a Log Cabin or something, and does something entirely different then, 'Oh, wow!' You know? Having those people who are much better at it, they are an inspiration in what you do. Whether you do it or not, it always is inspiring to see somebody who has taken it away and run with it.

NF: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

TE: Color. It's always color.

NF: Do you have certain colors that you gravitate towards?

TE: [laughs.] Always red. Blue. I used to have a lot of green in the beginning, but when we started quilting there were no good greens. Now I've kind of gotten away from green. But red.

NF: What would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection, in your view?

TE: I don't know. I have no idea. Well, something that is well-executed. A little unique maybe for its time. Not a copy, like I do, most of the time.

NF: Are there any quilts that you've seen in museums or collections that you really remember or like?

TE: Not off the top of my head right now. I didn't get to the quilt show this year. [Vermont Quilt Festival.] When I go there it's always a mind-boggling experience. They had an Alzheimer's Show one year. That was just too powerful. I couldn't even finish looking at it. Whoever did those, that was touching.

NF: I think that is on display again, right now at the Shelburne Museum this summer.

TE: I couldn't finish looking at those things.

NF: It was very moving.

TE: Yes.

NF: What makes a great quiltmaker?

TE: [laughs.] Dedication. [laughs.] Stick-to-it-ness through thick and thin, [laughs.] and adversity.

NF: All wrapped up together.

TE: Yes. You take a combination of everything. Plus, the creative seed to do that. To begin it.

NF: Whose works are you drawn to, besides getting started with Jean Ray Laury? Are there quiltmakers through the years?

TE: Right now, I can't think of them by name. What I really liked were the Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilts. The magazine was always just dog-eared. I have gone through my collection and there are still quilts in those magazines that, 'Oh! I want to do that! I want to do this!' You get so you have, through the years, you have enough. You can start just by doing it without being specifically inspired. That Ladies Circle magazine was the right combination of people and photography. The whole thing was just wonderful. I haven't subscribed to a magazine since that I've liked so I've stopped subscribing to quilt magazines.

NF: I know Carter Houck and Myron Miller's photography really were top-notch.

TE: Yes. They were.

NF: Are there artists in the art world that have influenced you at all?

TE: No.

NF: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

TE: [laughs.] I would like to be able to do it. I have tried. I guess it takes a little 'Sit down and practice,' that I have not been able to do free meandering quilting. I can do it straight with a walking foot but not beyond that. I will anchor a quilt with the machine and the walking foot and then hand quilt it. I have never mastered the machine quilting. When we were giving that quilt to the latest baby over here, her grandmother had done a knock-out quilt. It was a Trip Around the World in pastel. She had machine meandered quilting on it. I'm going, 'You say you can't sew.' She said, 'I bought a special machine to do this for the baby.' If you ever get a chance to see that baby quilt, everything about it is perfect.

NF: So, the Kirby Quilters' fingers have stretched some more?

TE: Yes.

NF: What about long-arm quilting? When you see that in quilts?

TE: I'm not interested in it at all. I've seen some of that stuff on Alex Anderson [television program.] and it looks neat but close-up it loses its aura. From a distance it's beautiful because it does what hand quilting does. When you see those things close up it's just a needle-punch. It's just not attractive at all to me.

NF: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

TE: I don't know, I just love doing it. It's something I've always wanted to do. It just fell into place. After a while your little girls and boys grow up and you can't sew clothes anymore, so the next step in that progression is making quilts.

NF: Did you start your first quilts with fabrics on hand?

TE: Probably. From the clothes I had been making for the kids. I bought the muslin of course. Everything was from the stash.

NF: So, the stash has now grown.

TE: You don't want to see it. [laughs.]

NF: In what ways do your quilts or quilt projects you've helped with reflect your community or region?

TE: I really don't have an answer for that. Assuming that we live in the New England area, but I don't know how to compare that with what anyone does anywhere else. I have no clue.

NF: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life, in general?

TE: They tell a story. People used to do them for practicality. Now they do them because they really love doing it. There's no hard and fast need. No matter who you are, you have some kind of a creative outlet if you do quilting, be it patchwork or appliqué.

NF: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

TE: They've always done that. It's what they have always done. It was the one outlet they could use for a long time before they got away from the hard life. It was their one ray of light. To do something.

NF: How do you think quilts can be used?

TE: Personally, I do not like them as a tablecloth. On a wall, on a chair and on a bed. Not on a table.

NF: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

TE: I don't know. That's your bailiwick, Nola. Through photography. It takes space to preserve them. It would have to be a place like there is in Kentucky. In every state. There should be three or four in every state. They've done it in Vermont. They've selected old Vermont quilts. They do disintegrate, whether you want them to or not. So, I don't know.

NF: Do you think teaching the next generation how to make quilts helps?

TE: Definitely. Absolutely. There's no contest. Pass the skill along, the interest, the passion. We have that group now coming in. They are young and they are doing some beautiful stuff. Let's hope that they can keep that going, too. See what happens there.

NF: Some of the new members aren't particularly young, either.

TE: [laughs.] No. This area attracts older people.

NF: So it can span generations.

TE: Absolutely, yes.

NF: What has happened to some of the quilts that you have made?

TE: The very first real quilt I made, we used it on our bed, and it just got worn out. I just didn't like it anymore and I sold it. For a dollar. I don't know why she wanted it, because I didn't make any pretense at mending it. The others, I took a lot of care, and I gave them to the rightful owners on their way out the door.

NF: What states might they have ended up in?

TE: Vermont and New York. Mostly New York. My daughter got most of the quilts, she and her husband. I made one for my son's wedding and it was displayed for a while. I haven't seen it. It was a Double Irish Chain. That was fun. All the family did the quilting around the edge. Mainly it was just straight quilting in the ditch.

NF: Other family helped on that one?

TE: Yeah. We made sure that everybody did stitching on it or else. [laughs.]

NF: How long ahead of the wedding did you get materials out to people?

TE: I did the main quilt itself. It was around the border that we all quilted something. It was done by the wedding.

NF: Did you hold a quilting bee to accomplish the quilting?

TE: Yes, we did.

NF: Here in Kirby?

TE: Right here in the living room. Yes.

NF: Did you use a quilt frame or hoops?

TE: No, I think we used hoops. Someone didn't like the hoop, so they just did it in their lap. Whatever anybody wanted to do was how we did it. I wasn't going to discourage anybody from trying to sew on it.

NF: Are there other quilts that you could talk about that you've made for your children? Describe some of the patterns?

TE: No appliqué, that's a cinch. That first quilt I made by hand. Actually, it was the second quilt I made by hand. The first one I told you it got worn out. It was brown and yellow, something like an Ohio Star but it was different. That was the basic premise. Every other block was plain. Every other block was patchwork. I entered it in the very first Kirby Quilt Show. [in 1978.] The one where it rained, and the tent was blowing away. Everybody was trying to save whatever we had outside. It won first prize in the single bed. [category.]

NF: Congratulations.

TE: She has the quilt. [Terry's daughter.] I sent her the official thing that it was a winner. I have no documentation of that, Nola. She has it. Which is where it belongs. [laughs.]

NF: Do you still have the ribbon that you won that year?

TE: There was no ribbon. It was just the award. No money, no nothing, just first place in that category. The only quilt I think I ever entered. I haven't entered any since. Let's put it that way. [laughs.] It was a one-time thing.

NF: A good memory. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

TE: Time. Always time. Going to get fabric. For some people who don't like to buy fabric online. You have to touch the fabric before you buy it. I made a nightgown here for my daughter and granddaughter at Christmas time. I didn't have any elastic to put in the wrists. I didn't have the right color rickrack. There's no place to buy that stuff locally. Wal-Mart had absolutely zero. I didn't have the time, that time, to trot over to JoAnne's. There's no place where you can do something like that anymore in our area. No Ben Franklin's. No Newbury's. No Center's. No May Store.

NF: That was a well-known establishment for many years here.

TE: Yeah. It supplied everything you needed or thought you needed. You can go and you can buy fabric now. There's that place in Lyndonville. [Vermont.] The place in Whitefield [New Hampshire.] but I have yet to get there. You've heard about it? [laughs.]

NF: I have heard about it.

TE: Danville [Vermont] has a place. It's just fabric and thread. That's it.

NF: Do you think people are not sewing as much anymore and so that's driven the local market?

TE: I really couldn't answer. JoAnne's wouldn't stay in business if people weren't sewing. But it must be harder to keep those supplies in smaller stores. You don't just run downstreet and get something. Pick it up and come home.

NF: In talking about choosing fabrics to buy and being able to handle it, are there some particular designs or styles that you are drawn to?

TE: I love them all. I go for the color first and if the color works, that's where I always start. That, with some particular pattern in mind. But it's always the color that draws me in. I go from there.

NF: Would you describe any current projects that you have started or that you're thinking about?

TE: I have several unquilted quilts on the bed upstairs. None of them bed-size. I don't do bed-size quilts anymore. The need is gone and the desire to do a bed-size quilt is gone. There again, my sewing machine was on the fritz since last January. I just got it back day before yesterday. There's nothing in the works except things that are gathering dust upstairs ready to go that I'll have to reacquaint myself with. Literally.

NF: Would you tell what some of those patterns might be?

TE: [laughs.] I don't remember. No. There's nothing by name at all. I could show you. There's no name.

NF: Are they any that you created yourself, as a pattern?

TE: No. Mostly there's a book that I was smitten by that had use-up-your-stash type of thing. I did some of mine using a pattern from that. I used up one yard of fabric up to the last two inches. As I say, it waits upstairs to be backed. It has a back. I have to start quilting it. Then another one, I was waiting for the sewing machine to be done so that I could use its fancy stitches to do the appliqué work for me. So I don't have to do it. [by hand.]

NF: You've experimented a little with machine appliqué?

TE: Yeah. A little. Yes, I like that.

NF: It takes some practice.

TE: It takes practice but with all these new little iron-on things and the fabric glue it's taken the problematic parts out of actually doing it. I do use those things. Especially for the baby quilts. You know they're going to stay down there through many washings.

NF: Then they can get loved to death?

TE: Yes.

NF: Terry is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?

TE: No, I think you've covered the waterfront, Nola. I really do.

NF: I'd like to thank Terry Eaton for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project.

Our interview concluded at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2010.


“Terry Eaton,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2295.