Susan Carr




Susan Carr


Susan Carr is a quilter from North Carolina who makes appliqued quilts that are hand quilted. Originally from Florida, she is involved in an active community of quiltmakers who use their talents to support their communities. In addition to making quilts for charities, Susan Carr finds personal satisfaction in the work and enjoys taking on new challenges by learning new techniques. Family plays a central role in her life and she sees her quilts as a way to preserve her own history by passing quilts down to future generations.




Susan Carr


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. I'm interviewing Susan Carr for the Quilters' Save Our Stories Project. We're at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. And it is 11:03 on June the 9th 2012. So let's get started, to begin I'd like you to tell me about this beautiful quilt that I'm seeing in front of me.
Susan Carr (SC): Well, it actually was inspired by the book Wildflower Sampler. I've always loved sampler quilts and I had just learned applique so when I saw the picture in the book I just fell in love with it and then I made it my own. I added borders and I added more applique and picked out colors from my stash-- just wherever I felt should go. That's what I ended up making,
KD: When you selected a quilt to bring today as your touchstone quilt why did you select this particular quilt?
SC: This one actually won Best of Show at the 2010 Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild show. It had, I think 330 quilts in the show and I was very pleased to get best of show.
KD: Do you have plans for this quilt?
SC: Well, yes. [laughs.] When I get my bedroom painted finally [laughs.] it's going on the bed.
KD: That is such a beautiful blue, a combination of blues. Does it have a special meaning for you?
SC: No, other than the fact that it did win Best of Show and the fact that it's just my favorite type of quilt to make.
KD: When did you start making quilts?
SC: In approximately 1995, 96. We moved up to North Carolina. I'm a Floridian. I try to look back and think about when I decided I was going to quilt but I can't remember when. But that was my goal, to come up here and start quilting. So I did.
KD: And these days, about how many hours a week, how much time do you spend with your quilting?
SC: Oh, if I'm home, because we do travel a lot, I would say I probably average a couple hours a day doing something in the quilting line.
KD: When you're travelling, you mentioned you travel a lot, when you're travelling do you seek out quilts to look at or quilt shops or quilt--
SC: I have the Quilter's Companion and my husband will attest to that. [laughs.] We do visit a lot of quilt shops when we're travelling.
KD: Is he patient with your quilting?
SC: He is very patient with my quilting. [KD and SC speak at the same time.]
KD: Go ahead.
SC: I was going to say I think he enjoys it. We just had the show of the quilts downtown and when I showed him the type of quilt I really thought stood out. He says, 'no I like your sampler quilts because they look like they are more detailed rather than just the same block one after another put together.' And I thought, 'well that's a good point.' I had never thought of it.
KD: Are there many quiltmakers among your friends?
SC: My friends are quiltmakers because when I moved up here I actually did not know anybody. So, I met my friends through quilt classes and through the guild. None of my Florida friends are quilters.
KD: Do you take a lot of classes?
SC: I have not the last 2 or 3 years because I've been ill. But I did up until that time, any new technique or whatever I wanted to learn. In fact, I am signed up for another class. One I've been trying to learn or set aside time to teach myself is the Cotton Theory. Fortunately somebody decided they were going to teach that class this month and I'm finally signed up to learn that.
KD: Right here in your backyard.
SC: Right.
KD: Let's see. How does your quiltmaking impact your family?
SC: My family consists of my husband and I have 3 children and they are all very supportive and they all have quilts in their homes. [laughs.] In fact, my one daughter is very specific in what she wants. She has a Southwestern motif so every time she wants a quilt I have to start searching for something Southwestern. And the other 2 will take whatever I give them. [laughs.]
KD: Does quiltmaking help you through your illness in anyway?
SC: Actually I wasn't able to quilt very much. I had shingles really bad, after they started, for four months I did absolutely nothing. In fact, I finished this quilt right after I finished my bout with the shingles and then for some reason it threw my immune system completely off and I have fought pneumonia for the last year and a half or so-- so no I haven't been able to quilt, that's why I didn't finish this one that is sitting here in time for th\is show.
KD: So they have been in celebration of your getting well.
SC: Oh, yes. [laughs.]
KD: What do you find pleasing about the process of quiltmaking?
SC: To me it's that I'm very at ease quilting. I think it's a challenge to me and I like a challenge. Especially trying to get points all the time where they should be and I've always liked something that makes me think and makes me feel challenged.
KD: I've seen an awful lot of the shirts that you're wearing while I've been here at this event. Would you tell me about the guild that you're in here locally?
SC: Yes, it's a very active guild. In fact, the last I would say 5 or 6 years it's really become community oriented. We are involved in a lot of community activities. I don't know exactly how many members have signed up, it's somewhere probably between 160, 170 right now. And I just enjoy the whole process. We do demonstrations downtown at certain community activities. I have not been involved in the Symposium a lot because of my illness and I have really missed it.
KD: It's looked like it's been a lot of work and--
SC: Oh, it has and they have really worked hard and had a lot of obstacles to overcome. [laughs.]
KD: Is there any aspect of quilting that you don't enjoy?
SC: No, not really. I can't think of any. I guess the least favorite would be the bastings. [laughs.] That would be the least enjoyable.
KD: I can't help but notice that this is such beautiful handwork. Both of these quilts are lovely handwork and lots of it. Do you find yourself using new advances in technology in your quilt design or quiltmaking in anyway?
SC: I always go back to my hand quilting. I have tried to machine quilt, I don't care for it and I think it's just a different animal. I think people have a talent for doing it, and I don't, for machine quilting. But I've always sewed since high school and I've always enjoyed the handwork. So the hand quilting is what I always fall back to. It's something I can do at night and I love baseball season because I can watch baseball and quilt at the same time. [laughs.]
KD: You mentioned that you moved to North Carolina from Florida and you came here and you planned to quilt when you were here. Tell me about the place where you create these beautiful quilts.
SC: Actually, I'm confined to the basement. [laughs.] We have an extra bedroom in the basement so when we built our house here I had them put in cabinets and counters so I could have a work area even though it has to convert to a bedroom when we have company and then I can't find anything for months afterwards. But it's about, I'd say, 10 by 12 and I have 2 sewing machines going all the time because I have different projects and a different machine for each and I have a Serger and a cutting table.
KD: How do you balance your time to allow yourself enough time to quilt?
SC: Well actually being retired [laughs.] people ask, 'what do you do with all your time?' And it doesn't seem like I have enough time to quilt. As I said, we do travel a lot and I just actually try to get chores and things I have to do, get done in the morning so in the afternoon I have a few minutes or even an hour before I start cooking for the night and that's usually my time, somewhere between 2 and 4.
KD: Do you use a design wall?
SC: I do, I have a small design wall and I do put up things and I look at them for a few days before I decide.
KD: A few days?
SC: Yes, sometimes I know right away that I don't like it. Sometime things have to grow on you a little bit. [laughs.] And it's been hard for me, because when I started quilting I loved quilts with just 2 or 3 colors and then you start expanding and you wonder if certain things go together. But I've learned almost everything goes together once you get it in a quilt. In fact, this one probably has 60 or 70 fabrics in it so--
KD: When you say this one you're referring to--
SC: This one that I didn't finish for the show this year.
KD: Tell me about that quilt.
SC: That one-- I actually got the pattern in Iowa. I like the appliqued center and I just expanded from there. It has 48 6 inch blocks all on diagonal and then I added the borders. I think the shop had offered this quilt as a block of the month. I have tried making block of the month quilts-- I've done that before and I always end up changing the colors. [laughs.]
KD: And that's another example of your touchstone quilt of combining piecework and applique and a variety of blocks, and it's lovely I'll say. This quilt just grabs you from probably way across the room. What in your opinion makes a quilt powerful?
SC: To me it's probably color first of all. I was actually at the show when this was judged and I think the color set it apart from all the others and I think that's what caught the judge's eye, so in my opinion it is the color.that gets my attention first.
KD: The color makes this quilt powerful. In your opinion what makes a great quiltmaker?
SC: I've always been one for precision, a Sally Collins fan. [laughs.] And I guess all quilters do look for things like that, points and hand quilting. My husband said, 'you're terrible, you always go and look behind the quilt and see the hand quilting.' [laughs.] Although I just went through the show here and the machine quilting is just gorgeous. You can do so much more with a machine than you can with a hand. But that's what sets it off for me.
KD: Tell me, what is it about quiltmaking that's important to you, important to your life about the process of quilting or the product that you get from it? What's important to you about that?
SC: It's to me a lot of self satisfaction. I do get that and the older I get I think about handing things down to my children. There are no quilters in my family and I have nothing that was handed down. My mother, I know, used to do whole cloth quilts-- used to put them with 3 layers together and tie them. It wasn't until I started quilting that she says, 'Oh, when I was young I used to do that.' Well I never knew that and here I was 55 years old. So, that's kind of important to me now, to have things to hand down to my children and grandchildren.
KD: This quilt, as you mentioned before, won an award at the show here last year. Have you won other awards?
SC: No. [laughs.] I hate to say this but this is the only time I've ever entered the show.
KD: Aha, and why is that?
SC: My husband says it's because of my background. My mother was one that you never showed off anything [laughs.] or bragged about anything. So, it's taken me a little bit to get over that. But this particular show we had a new president, Cindy Williams, and she was just challenging us all to get a quilt in the show. So I thought, 'well, maybe I better do it this time.'
KD: I'm curious, when you walked up to your quilt and you saw that big first place ribbon on there how did you feel?
SC: Actually I was there when the quilt was judged and selected.--
KD: So you saw it go on--
SC: Yeah and I thought, 'yay.' [laughs.] The judge talked to me and said, 'I guess I made the right decision.'
KD: What are your thoughts on the special meaning in women's history that quilts have?
SC: I do like reading about quilts and history. I was really impressed when I started quilting and Eleanor Burns came out with her Underground Railroad book which I know the idea has been challenged that quilts were actually used but that fascinated me. Who is it, Barbara Brackman that does all the history and I enjoy reading her things. I think it's very important because quilts have taken a part in history.
KD: What's happened to your quilts that you've made? I'm sure these are not your only 2 quilts, I just have this feeling. So what has happened to the quilts that you've made?
SC: My children have a lot. I have given away a couple to friends but if you walk into my house-- there's some hanging from my stairs and I probably have 4 or 5 quilt racks around the different floors, I have 3-- basement, main, and bedrooms upstairs. There's quilt racks all around so, they are sitting on those and some are still in the closet unfinished. [laughs.]
KD: How many?
SC: [laughs.] Well, I decided I told my husband that before I start any other project I'm going do one of the unfinished quilts. There are probably 7 right now.
KD: Do you ever sell your quilts or donate your quilts?
SC: I have donated to Katrina victims and of course we do make the baby quilts for Head Start. I try to do 4 or 5 of those a year and for other organizations that can use them--so, yes I have.
KD: What inspires your thinking about what to put into the design of a quilt?
SC: Usually just going through books. In fact, I have selected several projects as I've seen them and will go right away, if I really like something ,and look for the fabric and everything that I need to put that quilt together. Even though I might not start on it for a couple years, it's ready to go. [laughs.] But it's usually just going through quilt magazines or books -- this one was a book.
KD: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing us as quiltmakers today?
SC: The biggest challenge I think is price because fabric is so expensive right now. I know a lot of quilt shops that I have looked for throughout the country travelling that are no longer there and I'm sure that's part of the problem, the economy. In fact, I just signed up for another block of the month, it's all applique and all batik. I think just getting those blocks of the month in, it's going to be over 400 dollars by the time I get all of them, and that's not even the batting and backing. So I'm sure cost is the big thing that's holding back a lot of quilters. In fact, every once in awhile somebody will start quilting and they just can't afford supplies so we'll go through our stashes and all our things that are needed for quilting and see what we no longer use or could give away and we try to get young quilters started that way.
KD: How do you think that quilts, and certainly quilts such as this, can be preserved for the future?
SC: I think that for me it's through family--that would be the big thing and of course I know out my 3 children my oldest daughter is the one that would really be the one to do the preserving. I know that my younger daughter doesn't appreciate it as much but she just has other interests. I'm sure once my older daughter retires and moves up here, which she plans to do, she will be a quilter too.
KD: So we're getting close to the end of this interview and I want to just ask you a couple more questions. Let's see, is there something I didn't ask you that maybe you were hoping I would? Is there something that you particularly want on the record about yourself and about your quiltmaking?
SC: Not in particular about me, but I did want to mention, because I think it's important for people that are in the quilt world to know who admires their work. I have always been a Jinny Beyer fan and I did mention Sally Collins and right now I'm kind of thinking about going back to Judy Mathieson and doing all those points on her thing. [laughs.] But I would like to recognize those.
KD: Just one more question for you, if 100 years from now that quilt fell into someone's hands and they owned it, what would you want them to know about you?
SC: That I love quilting, and because I love my children I think I will try in the next 10 years to get heirloom quilts done for them and I think it is a way to preserve your own history.
KD: Thank you so much for your time, it is 11:24 and we're concluding this interview unless you have anything else?
SC: I can't think of anything.
KD: Thank you so much for your time, that was priceless.


“Susan Carr,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 22, 2024,