Fran Randolph




Fran Randolph




Fran Randolph


Karen Downer

Interview Date

June 9, 2012

Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Cullowhee, North Carolina


Hannah Sailar


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Karen Downer (KD): Hi this is Karen Downer and I'm interviewing Fran Randolph for the Quilters Save Our Stories Project and we're at the North Carolina Quilts Symposium at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. And it is 9:01 and the date is June 9th and so let's begin. I want you to start by telling me about the quilt you brought today.

Fran Randolph (FR): Well what I have here is a quilt that I call "Friendships through Sylvia" It is a sampler. The original pattern had 140 blocks and after I did 128 I decided that I'd proven that I could do them [laughs.] and that it is out of comfort zone of doing kinds of blocks that I don't normally do. It was a book club just to get to know some other quilters that are in my area and we read one of the Jennifer Chiaverini's "Elm Creek" quilt books. And at the same time we all did ten blocks once a month and from the book "Sylvia's Bridal Sampler." So I just kind of created my own setting just because I like my setting better. That's where it came from and it's called "Friendships through Sylvia" because that's what I felt like I did. I didn't just get a quilt, I got a lot of new friends that are have become my "Peeps" and we get together on a regular basis and we're doing another quilt now with that same group. So--

KD: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

FR: I think, I want to say it's representative of me but it's not really at all because it's for me [laughs.] because most of my quilts aren't for me. But it's one that's going to go on my bed and I call it my Grand Opus and it's one of those things that I typically, this one was actually a 14 week club so I don't usually spend 14 weeks, much less 14 months on one quilt. So it's unusual in that way but I just liked it so much. It turned out better than I expected and I'm just really proud of it.

KD: Fran, when did you start quiltmaking?

FR: I started about 6 years ago. Basically I have always been a crafter, and have always done some kind of crafting. I had been doing Counted Cross Stitch mostly recently, and I just, and I'll tell you how old now that I'm more than 50, my eyes are not getting as good at seeing those teeny little stitches. It was more than my little eyeballs could handle [laughs.] so I was looking for a new venue to do my crafts and a gal from our church was doing some quilts with some others. Actually back in college I was even a crafter even back then, I thought, 'Wow I want to make a quilt' so I went and got scraps of fabric. I sewed from the time I was fairly young and sewed clothing so this was back in the early 70s. So I went through my mother's old fabric and all of her old fabrics and cut out 3 inch squares or whatever and started sewing all of those together and most of them were polyester, double knits, I mean anything. I had no idea at all, I just kind of started sewing all of these little squares together so I kind of did that in the dorm room and when I was a freshman in college. But that's really the only quilt that I did do. I didn't have a machine or anything I just did it all by hand. I didn't know really any better and I had no idea, had never heard of a quarter inch seam or anything I just figured, well, just you sew a bunch of squares together and then you sew other stuff and that was kind of the beginning of my quiltmaking. And then really until my eyes got bad I enjoyed doing that and quitmaking seemed to be coming back. So about 6 years ago my youngest son went away to the Air Force and I decided I needed a new venue to fill in the emptiness in my world and I picked up quiltmaking and its picked me up [laughs.] I've become a little bit compulsive with it [laughs.]

KD: Are there quiltmakers among your family, among friends?

FR: Among friends yes, well I guess my friends have been created because of quilting but other than the gal at the church, she was quilting, so I kind of got with her or she got me going. But family, not really. I did have my great grandmother, who I think was a very avid quilter and my grandmother always talked about her teeny little stitches and how she makes all these wonderful quilts but unfortunately I've never seen any of them. They were all stored in my grandmother's basement and it got flooded and they were all destroyed. They all turned to mold and I never did see any of them so that was really kind of a disappointing aspect that I had some heritage there that I didn't appreciate as I was younger wouldn't really until now, but it would have been so special. But yeah, I saw, I really haven't had any others. I've developed my friends through quilting but--

KD: About how many hours a week do you spend either at quilting or at some quilt related activity?

FR: Oh dear. [laughs.]

KD: Tell the truth. [laughs.]

FR: It depends on the event quite a bit. Average day, let's see, my husband's given me the wonderful privilege of staying at home so I've never really worked outside the home so I've got that privilege being able to spend more time doing it, probably an average 4, 5, 6 hours maybe. Maybe less may more. [KD and FR speak at the same time.]

KD: Is it quilting or is that in activities relating to quilters visiting your home?

FR: You know that's another issue, yes. Starting at well I don't know, about 4, 3, 4 years ago I was at a quilt show and somebody was passing out some literature that they were having, they had people coming to their home and did retreats. And I thought, 'Well what in the world is that' and I started looking into it and I said, 'I could do that, that would be fun' because again my emptiness and I have a full basement that used to be the kids' playrooms, and all these empty rooms. So I started a quilt retreat. Our quilt retreat is in my home where I have up to 8 people that come and I cook for them and I provide a place for them to quilt or just to spend time together. So it's called Home Harvest Retreat, and I'm in Trenton, Georgia. We just have a great time and when they're there I spend in quilt related activities probably about 20 hours a day. Because I do spend a lot of time cooking and spending time with them, and I just love them so much from the groups that come because everybody's got their own little personality and their own ways. The quilters are so much fun. Everyone's got something to give and I get new ideas from them and we have a great time and they have a great time. Most of my people come back on a regular basis.

KD: Do you use quilts to get through a difficult time or do you make quilts to help others get through a difficult time?

FR: I do, I do. Like I said, the quilt that I have here is my quilt. But most of what I make are quilts to give to others and I do obviously do give gifts for family and that type of stuff. But I have a lot of different organizations and I just really love to use quilts to share my love for them and concern for some people's difficulties. I do a lot of children's quilts, Back, when Hancock's used to do it, one of the first ones that I gave before I knew about anything else was through Hancock's Quilt of Dreams; they gave to St. Jude's. Those were the first ones that I made, then I found out about an organization called Linus Project and I typically make at least one a month for Linus, sometimes more than that. There's another organization in Chattanooga that supports children who have cancer and not only the children but also the families because they realize that the child is not the only one who is affected by cancer, the whole family is. So they do a lot of support for the whole family and counseling and that type of stuff. It's called Hatch's House of Hope. So I make a quilt or a quillow, they seem to like quillows even more. A quillow is a quilt that can be folded up, it goes into a little pocket that goes into a pillow so these children as they go to treatment many of them have to travel long distance for their treatments and stuff so they could put their little quillow in the car and it's a little pillow just for napping or whatever as they are going and pull it out and snuggle up with it. So I make those for them and my passion this past year, I just started really doing a lot for Quilts of Valor for the soldiers and veterans who have come back from war and who are affected by war, which anyone that's gone has been affected. But they don't have to be injured in order to receive a Quilt of Valor and it can be even Vietnam veterans and World War II veterans, especially the Vietnam veterans that have never really been appreciated for the sacrifice that they gave. So I try to get one Quilt of Valor made each month. Oh, who else so I make for, I make one every year for American Cancer Society, they raffle that one off at our local Relay for Life event. I make them for The Humane Society, for the Forgotten Children's fund. I do a lot of them every year for Cystic Fibrosis to raise money for that organization. I have a friend who has a child with cystic fibrosis and just see those and see the hurt. So it's not necessarily going to the individual but it's going to ways that can raise money to help those causes and those individuals.

KD: Very unique. Any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

FR: Oh, boy. Not really, some people say, 'Oh, I hate binding.' But that's not me, I love binding because that means it's finished. I can see it done and I know it can go somewhere and I can start a new one. A lot of people have stacks and stacks of UFO's, unfinished objects. But I can't do that, I'm one of those weird quilters that have to finish everything I start. [laughs.] So I don't have any unfinished objects but I have a lot of quilts in progress so I have my own fun little ways to keep working on things and keeping it fun and keep doing things to make it a game for me. And I love rules and a little bit of obsessive compulsive, so I love having my little rules. And it just makes it a game for me and I just love it.

KD: Let's talk about technology and how has technology influenced your work?

FR: Oh, dear. Technology, well I guess the most technical thing I have is a quilting machine [laughs.] and a sewing machine. So that's technical. Technology, I guess one of the first steps that make me another unusual quilter, I don't do classes. I've never taken, I don't think I've ever taken a class in my life. I really learned quilt through Fons and Porter.. I was at my parents' house and they had PBS and they had a quilt show on TV and I thought, 'I had never seen such a thing' and this was when I pretty much started quilting so I found Fons and Porter so I checked into looking into it and I ordered this DVD and I thought, 'I could learn from that' and I ordered another DVD so I basically have their whole series of their DVDs and that's how I learned to quilt. That was my stepping off point and then I made all my own mistakes and I learned how to fix them and so I kind of learned all from them and their DVDs and so it really, they are my closest teachers, not that they know me. [laughs.] I know them but I've never met any of them. But that's kind of where I learned.

KD: Well that's a good example. Tell me about your machines, maybe about the machines you use most often.

FR: I do have a Viking that I use for my piecing and then it didn't take me very long. One of the first, I don't know, probably 2 months into quiltmaking that I realized that this was really going to stick, this was something that I really loved. And my friend showed how to free motion quilt on my sewing machine. It didn't take me really but one, well I said, 'if I'm going to quilt I gonna need to do something else' and I was on my way to a quilt show and I saw this great big thing that you put it on a pad and you move it and you didn't have to get down and pin it and all that stuff so I decided that it's not really a Long Arm it's, I don't even know what it was, it was a Mega Quilter through Viking but it was on a frame so within a few months I ended up buying that machine and I use that to do many, many quilts. Just recently this past year I had a friend who was selling her more of a Long Arm and I bought hers because she was going up to a bigger one, but in doing so I didn't have a room that would take it so I ended up having to build a new room onto my house. [laughs.] I'm pretty bad about expansion. My husband is so gracious to let me keep taking over more and more of the house. So we took part of our porch and built a new room on that. So I do have a Voyager 17 that's on a Hinderberg frame. I do my quilting because, number 1, it's important for me to make the whole quilt because it's not mine anymore in my opinion if someone else quilts it. I don't have any problem with other people sending theirs out to get quilted, they probably do a significantly better job than I do but for me in order for it to be my quilt I need to do all of it so I do my own quilting and I do use my frame and I quilted all my quilts. So I guess that's my technology that I do have, I've got my regular sewing machine and my other frame that I use.

KD: Tell me about the studio or studios [FR laughs.] tell me about the place where you create.

FR: That's--

KD: And how it evolved.

FR: [laughs.] It evolved. Like I said, I told you how I'm a little bit compulsive so things kind of creep and they get bigger and bigger. Again I have an empty nest, I have all these bedroom that my children were in that they're no longer in, so I took over one of the bedrooms and had my quilting, my old quilting machine that did fit in there, it was a 10 foot frame. And then I had my quilting room, and then I had a table in front for my cutting and then it just wasn't enough room so I took over the room next door so that's another bedroom. That was going to be my cutting room and so I had a whole table and I had the racks, oh, I had stuff on the walls so I kind of took over that room as well. And then I had this wonderful idea, 'you know this is terrible to take up two bedrooms, I have a big wrap around porch on my whole house,' and I said, 'you know what? We don't use that porch very much so I took the whole side of my house, 35 feet long and this 8 foot porch and I just put walls in there with lots and lots and lots of windows and the whole wall is a window, the whole 35 foot thing. So I had a room made out of that for my quilting, so I was able to then take out of those bedrooms and I put my quilting frame on one section and then my quilting and then actually a scrapbooking area corner also and had pegboards all over so I can put everything up. So I took over that and I thought, 'well, nothing could be better than this.' Then like I said, last year my other frame wasn't big enough so I needed a new one. I thought, 'oh, dear my room's not big enough for another quilt machine.' So I had to build another room, so I took another part of our porch, our back porch which was an open porch so I put in another 14 foot room over there that's 10 foot wide because on this other frame I had to be able to get behind it as well as in front of it. And it also has nothing but windows all around so yeah, I have a very, very, very wonderful studio, and then my whole basement, I've got 1500 square feet in the basement. That's my quilting retreat area. So I have a very large work room and then 3 bedrooms downstairs and a bathroom and a full kitchen and also 2 rooms upstairs for the quilt retreat bedrooms for my retreats as well. So I've kind of taken over the whole house.

KD: So quilt making has influenced your whole living environment [FR laughs.] it has influenced the construction and reconstruction of your home and your business. Okay. So now I'm going to have to ask you, given all that how do you balance your time?

FR: [FR laughs.] I don't, I just do it. I tell you, I am a list person and I love my list. So I do, I balance it. Again, my husband is so wonderful, my husband's Tom and he gives me that opportunity, he wants me to do the things I enjoy. I think they always say that you make mom happy to have a happy home. He just loves me and wants me to do the things that I enjoy.

KD: And where is Tom today while you are here?

FR: Actually, he is in Cambodia. He is teaching through the Department of Defense to Cambodian students. They are teaching English to Cambodian students to develop positive relations. They have an organization through the Department of Defense that they send teachers all over the world, so he's there for the summer. So it's a long summer so I actually have a whole lot more time now because I don't even have to stop to make meals or anything. So, he's over there doing that, actually I am having to do all of his chores. We live out kind of in the country so we have chickens and goats and a donkey and 30 acres to manage. So I've had to do all his chores, so I'm having to manage a little bit there. But, like I said, I'm a compulsive person. I like my list and I love order. So I make my list and I do one little project in the house or clean something and then I have a list that I can go and work on my quilt projects. Even then I have order in that so I have at least 3 or 4 projects that I'm doing at one time. So what I do is I make all my little sub lists. Especially to do the things that I don't particularly want to do or if I have something that needs, I do a lot of scrap quilts and that kind of my thing. I do a whole lot more scrap quilts, so I could end up doing 96 blocks of the same pattern with usually all different fabrics. So I would do little sub-sections and I would have a list and I'd have like Quilts of Valor whatever, cutting out, it may be piecing these blocks, may be doing the binding, it may be doing some quilting, whatever I do about an hour to 2 hour sections and I'd make my little list so I don't have to decide what to work on, I roll a dice and when I roll my dice it tells me what I work on so I don't have to make the decision. Until everything on my first list is complete and I can't go onto the next thing. So I work on Quilts of Valor, I work on a Linus project. I'm usually working on all these things at the same time in all the different phases. It keeps it fun and it keeps it a game for me.

KD: What do you think makes a quilt great? You've made so many quilts, how many quilts by the way?

FR: Oh, in the 6 years I think I'm at 183.

KD: And what do you think makes a quilt great?

FR: You know I think what makes a quilt great is the smile that goes onto a face that receives it. Some people are quilt artists and that's great. I honor them and that's their thing not mine. If it can't be loved and it's not something that can be given to somebody else, to me it's not worth it. I make them for a purpose. Many times I make them for a cause. Just to make a quilt just to make it, I'm not enough of an artist to do that. I want to have a quilt that has a purpose and I never realized that that was unusual. Whenever I see people at my quilt retreat that they are working on something I say, 'Oh, what's that one for?' 'Oh, I'm just making it.' 'You're just making it? Well who is it for?' 'Well I don't know it's probably going to go in my closet.' I go, 'Oh.' [laughs.] For me I just have to have some place for it to go. Whether it's to raise money for an organization, for a child that needs to know that they are cared for, for a soldier who is coming home and they don't feel appreciated or they don't know that anyone really remembers, they're not. They come home and sometimes they don't have families that are supportive that understand what they did. So it's important for me to have something that I can share with others.

KD: So you sort of know what's happened to the quilts that you've made. Is that correct?

FR: Most of them, yeah. Most of them I know where they originally went. Whether they were gifts for individuals or went to organizations that type of thing.

KD: I want you to tell us how you document your quilts. I want you to talk about labeling perhaps and other aspects of that.

FR: It wasn't too long, within 6 months actually when I realised the importance of labeling. I thought, 'Oh, I didn't know I was supposed to do that.' So I started doing it, I typically label everything. Unfortunately I don't typically label things ever that I keep for myself. But I have gone back and started doing that. But I do have a name for each of my quilts and I put them on there. I knew from the beginning that wanted to keep a record of my quilts. I don't know why I had that in my head. I don't know where that came from. I don't consider myself a major historian or anything. But I guess it's part of my compulsive nature. But I wanted to keep a record of my quilts so even from the beginning I did take pictures of them and I had this kind of idea that I was going to make a quilt of my quilts. So what I would do is I would make a quilt actually from the very beginning. Actually, I don't even remember what size I started with. I think a 9 inch block or 8 inch or 6 inch. I don't remember what it was I don't remember but I started off making an additional block or 2 blocks and then I was going to make this great big quilt out of all the quilts that I made and just kind of put them all together. But then in my retreat center I started getting not so many quilters, but I had a lot more scrap bookers that started coming. And also my sister was into scrapbooking. So I was just going to take and flop those pictures into some kind of a page protector and stick them in a 3 ring binder with my pictures and those blocks. I was going to tell where the quilts are going to and that type of stuff. My sister said, 'Oh, no. You can't do that. You've got to get these 12 inch pages and you've got to do 2 pages for each quilt.' I thought, 'Two pages?' Well anyway so it didn't take very long before they convinced me that I really needed to do an official scrapbook for these quilts so they got me started and by that point I was about 60 quilts behind. I had already done about 50 or 60 quilts. I started doing a scrapbook of those and I put all the little scraps of the fabrics that I had made. So I do regular scrapbook and then I ended up doing quite a number of them so it really worked out to where I do 25 or 30 a year so I do a scrapbook for each of the years that I've quilted. In the scrapbook I usually try to have some of the fabric in there. Whenever I make a quilt I usually do at least one extra block so the block goes in there or just pieces of the fabric and I do a picture of the front I do a picture of the back. I do a close up picture of the block. In the end I do a picture of the label and then I put what number quilt it is and what organization it going to and then I do a little write up that describes the pattern. It gives credit to wherever the pattern came from. If it was through a magazine, or if it was an original design, or if I got it from a particular book or something. I would put that in there too so it gives me a record if people say, 'What's that quilt pattern' and I'd say, 'I don't remember.' So I go back to the book that I made that in whatever year this was. I'll go through the book and I'll find it. It's in there so it's kind of fun. That is, that's one of those things I get behind on. This is already June and I just as of 2 days ago finished 2011. So I'm now 6 months behind and I think I've got about 14 or 15 quilts that I've done so far this year. But I'm catching up now cause I've put that on my list so when I roll my dice before I can do the next thing I've got to do one scrapbook page. But I don't have to sit and do 15 hours in a row, I just do one and I can get back to working on something else.

KD: I think that's wonderful. We're drawn to a close.

FR: Oh, dear. [KD and FR speak at the same time.]

KD: That's why I made that little exclamation. I'm just going to ask you a couple more questions--

FR: Sure.

KD: I'm going to ask you what do you think is the biggest challenge facing quiltmakers today?

FR: I think, I don't know I would say time was my first thought. In general we're all so busy. We're so busy with doing so many different things. That certainly is an issue. I'm thankful but I don't personally have much of an issue with that because again I have a very supportive family and they realize that that's what makes me happy and that's where I can give. So they give me that time. Money is an issue. I think cost of fabric has gone up crazy. But I find places where I can get it a little less expensive, and that's kind of a fun challenge for me. Going and finding bargains on fabric and that type of thing. It certainly isn't a lack of inspiration. There's so many wonderful resources out there that we have now. Places like symposiums and retreats. Getting ideas, there's never a lack there.

KD: Is there any aspect of your quiltmaking life that we didn't touch on that you would like to be in this record? Is there something I didn't ask you that you wishing I had?

FR: Oh dear, you were very thorough. [laughs.] I really can't think of anything, I think no. You just did a great job. I enjoy doing quilting. I enjoy quilting so I can give to others. To people as well as to organizations. I think more than anything else just a real appreciation for my husband for being so supportive and allowing me to have this avenue of expressing myself and giving to others through this means.

KD: Well, Fran I know you're an inspiration to a lot of other people and quilters. So we're going to conclude and it is 9:37 A.M. and thank you so much for the time you spent making this record today for Save Our Stories.

FR: Thank you.


“Fran Randolph,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,