Sandra Dockstader




Sandra Dockstader




Sandra Dockstader


Heidi Rubenstein

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Northfield, Minnesota


Heidi Rubenstein


Heidi Rubenstein (HR): This is Heidi Rubenstein. Today's date is December 19, 2011. It is 1:15 p.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Sandra Dockstader for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Northfield, Minnesota. The interview is taking place at Sandra's home in Northfield. Could you please tell me about the quilt you have with you today.

Sandra Dockstader (SD): The quilt I have with me today is a reproduction of my grandmother's church window in Nicolai Lutheran Church in Canby, Minnesota. This window was originally placed along the side of the church near the choir pews where we sat at Christmas time, because each family was designated a pew. Our family had 14 grandchildren and six groups of aunts and uncles and so we were in the overflow. To keep me entertained every Christmas Eve they would make me count the sheep and talk about the flowers and how many of this and what panel is backwards and things like that on this window. When they sold the church and built their own church, they actually took this window and put it in the front of the altar, so it is the backdrop to the altar. Then they had a big centennial celebration in 1992 and they sent out Christmas cards to raise money and the Christmas card was a picture of the window. I took that and created the quilt from it. The quilt is of Jesus walking on a path with the lamb, one in his hand, and there is one black sheep and one sheep with its tongue out. And there are several different kinds of flowers and ferns, a birch tree and a regular tree. It was hard to make because at the time that I made it there weren't any hand-dyed fabric companies. I had a hard time getting the stained glass look with just using the back of fabrics, with Jinny Beyer fabrics and other things. I had to really search for generic fabrics that were a little different. I went to the Minnesota Quilters Show and Shades, Inc. from down south had a variety of greens that were mottled and one of the first hand-dyeds. So, then I was able to finish the quilt. I started it in June or July, and I finished it in September for my grandmother's church. It won Best of Show the following year at the Minnesota Quilt Show in June the day I gave birth to my daughter. I had planned to go to the show but could not because I went into labor. My friends brought me the quilt and the ribbon while I was still in the hospital, so it was really fun. Because it won Best of Show, people saw the quilt and liked the quilt. This window, or variations of it, is all over the United States in many, many churches. They were really excited about it, so they wanted me to sell a pattern. Being a new mom and all that, I tried to create a pattern and find a way to produce it. I started selling that pattern which led to my quilting design business and lectures about stained glass quilting because it hadn't really been done until that time. And I can't claim that I'm the first, but I think I helped revive it to a certain extent. So, I started creating patterns, small ones, to use for classes and I also sold this one. I continued to make a version of the old altar from the original church because I wanted to find out how you could take a painting and transfer it into stained glass. So that's my other one called In the Garden. It's Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. The quilt started my business that I had for about ten years. This one I even made a smaller version and sent it to Japan because their houses are smaller, so I had requests from there. I've had requests from all over Europe and Australia and England and Germany for the pattern and it's been all over. So, I really don't know how many are still out there.

HR: What year did you make it?

SD: 1991 is when I made it. 1992 is when I got Best of Show.

HR: And you made it fairly quickly - just from June until September.

SD: Yes, because it had to get done for the centennial. My grandmother asked me to display it there. This technique that I used was the old-fashioned technique of trimming the bias and opening it up, sewing down the seam, folding it back over and hand stitching the other edge. Also, for the background fabric I had used a batiste as a foundation and then put the pieces on there and zigzagged them on and then put the bias on, which is not the easiest thing to do and its very time consuming. So, after I got more into the stained glass, I developed my own technique where I would use the flip and sew but do it by machine on each side of the bias and then I would just zigzag the fabric back onto the whole background rather than just individual batiste and have all those layers. This one I did hand quilt. But the next few I started to try to experiment with machine quilting. This technique progressed to the point where then the Japanese company started producing the fusible bias, so then I could do the blind hemstitch on both sides. And because I could do that, I could also baste the fabric down on the background, put the bias on top and fuse it and stitch through all layers so it was quilted and stitched down all at one time. And all you had to do is bind it when you were done and that's what I taught. So that was the technique I developed to teach in my classes.

HR: The blind hemstitch was done by hand or by machine?

SD: By machine because it was too time consuming to stitch by hand. Flipping the bias open and then flipping it back and stitching was not very easy to get around curves and keep it all the same width. It was not an easy method, so I had to come up with something new.

HR: So, this quilt is now hanging in your home. Do you imagine that you'll always have it?

SD: Yes, it's mine. I've lent it out to my grandmother here and there and let other people have it. But I put it up at Christmas every year. This is my Christmas Eve quilt because that's when I remember the window. So, I always put it up at Christmas and yes, it will be mine until my daughter wants it.

HR: Did you try to keep the colors true to the original window?

SD: For what was available at the time. Everything is timed by the era for what is available for fabric. It is really, really close. The difference is when the sunlight comes through the window it's a different color than when the yellow lights from inside and the candlelight are lighting it. So, I played with the candlelight theme, so it's a little more on the yellow tones than on the blue tones to try to keep it more like the nighttime look.

HR: Very nice. The next set of questions is going to be about your involvement in quilt making, so I'm wondering what age you started quilting and how you learned.

SD: Well, the bicentennial came around in 1976 and I was very into sewing. I was hand tailoring outfits at the time. I probably tried every kind of lace making technique and crocheting and knitting and bobbin lace and tatting. So that was my thing was to work with fibers and do crafts. My mom took a class at the Minnesota Grange. It's like a farmer's women's group type thing and I'm not sure exactly what it was but I remember that name. She came back and showed me this little quilt she had made, and I looked at it and said, 'It's a running stitch? That's all? Well, I can do a running stitch.' Then I went ahead and took all of my sewing scraps. This is terrible stuff, like seersucker gauze, every bad thing possible. I went down to the library, found a picture of a Lonestar quilt, drafted my own diamond, and made the star. I couldn't figure out how to do the rest, so then I just basted it to a poly/cotton sheet. And recycling was big, so I recycled a polyester blanket inside and put a polyester backing sheet on it - Which was not easy to quilt through. I found quilting a running stitch _wasn't_ that simple. [laughs.] My stitches were pretty much a quarter of an inch long, but I got it done and I had it for many, many years until all the gauze in that sheer, thin fabric from the era died and went away, so I ended up throwing that out. At probably 17, I made my second quilt because I'd gone to Germany and had a large feather tick or comforter given to me, so I made one that is bright orange gauze on the back with, I didn't learn very well, seersucker green and orange and white flowers on the front Drunkard's Path. I did use a blanket again to recycle, still not learning very well [laughs.] But I was able to quilt that one and I still have that one today. It's not anything of a prize winner because the pink blanket kinda shines through the white. But that's how you start. Probably I was 16 when I started and I didn't do much more than those two or three when I was in high school and when I got to college, of course, I got busy. But once I got out of college I moved to Arizona and I met a friend there who wanted to learn to quilt so both of us went to the Quilter's Ranch in Tempe, Arizona. We bought our rotary cutters and our rotary mats because that was the new thing, and we cut our Ocean Waves - two thousand five hundred and some pieces - out and I don't know if she ever finished hers, but mine got finished. And I started to quilt more and more and when I moved back to Northfield, Minnesota, I got involved with the quilt group here, Northfield Quilters.

HR: What year was that?

SD: 1987.

HR: You said your mom was doing something with the Minnesota Grange and that's how she learned.

SD: She just took a class because the Minnesota Grange was like a weekend for homemakers, and you could learn different crafts and so one of her classes was quilting. But my mom was an avid sewer and she taught me how to sew since I was little. I sewed all my clothes. I barely bought anything but maybe jeans and a sweater. I've always been involved in sewing. She doesn't really quilt, but she was a sewer of clothing.

HR: What is your first quilt memory?

SD: My first quilt memory would have been when I had that friend in Arizona. Terrell and I went out and there it is so hot that our rotary mats warped in the car before we got home [laughs.] We had our challenges, but before that we were cutting around cardboard templates and we decided that was not the best method. And that was my first one because the two of us worked on it together and we spent a lot of time and she had purchased a bunch of quilts at an antique sale. So, she had a lot of quilts and we talked about them a lot. That was that friendship and eventually she showed me pictures of her unfinished quilt and I sent mine of my finished quilt. That was probably one of my first memories.

HR: I'm wondering how quilting fits into your days now?

SD: I usually do it at night when I'm watching T.V. or trying to relax because you have to wind down after work. And its sort of my therapy to keep my mind and my hands busy. I don't like to just sit, so I need to be doing something. So, I probably do it for an hour or an hour and a half a day except when I'm too busy like with Christmas or other things.

HR: Do you have a dedicated space for making quilts?

SD: Yes, I have a sewing room that is my room for sewing and all of my fabric and all my stuff and my design board. That was important for me because I can't put it out on the table and pick it up every day. You just don't have time to do that.

HR: Do you do mostly machine work?

SD: Machine piecing, hand applique and hand quilting mostly. I have machine quilted but it's not my favorite thing to do because the relaxation time of sitting at the T.V. and hand quilting or hand applique is what I like to do.

HR: The technique you developed for the stained-glass quilting – would you call that applique?

SD: Stained Glass Applique. Without copyright, I used to call it Tiffany Style Applique. But I wasn't sure if that was a copyrighted type thing, so I quit using that, but it's Stained-Glass Applique.

HR: It's all done on machine?

SD: That technique is all done by machine other than hand sewing the back of the binding on. And that's because that was what was demanded in the classes. People didn't want to do the handwork. They didn't have the time. They wanted to come out with a finished product, so I had to make it simple. And that was hard for me because I really like the more elaborate and more difficult and making it 70 by 90 and doing the whole thing rather than 20 by 30. So, I have a lot of quilts that I design for myself that I don't sell patterns for because it would be too hard to tell people how to do it.

HR: What do you find most pleasing about quilt making? And I'm also going to ask you what aspects you don't enjoy.

SD: Manipulating the fabrics and the colors and creating something that comes out looking like a picture or a scene or realistic or just that whole design thing of how the fabrics and the colors go together and how it works out. I don't piece very much. I don't like to piece because it's squares and it's done and that's it and hmm. Where with applique, if I don't like that flower, I can take it off and put another flower on or add another flower on top or add a leaf or change the color for the background. There's just more flexibility, and I do it as I go, so I tend to like the applique and the more freedom that you have with it. Some people don't like it, but that's me. Piecing is frustrating for me because it's too precise. I don't piece unless I have to.

HR: When you are designing an applique do you work as you go, or do you set out the whole thing before you start sewing?

SD: I draw the whole thing out on graph paper and then I grid it. Then I use the drafting paper that's gridded and move the quarter inch squares up to one-inch squares and go out that way. It would be more random to do it as you go, but most of the things I've done, like the stained glass, is a picture so it has to be fitted and has to work and be proportional, so you have to plan it out first. But I usually do it on graph paper, transfer it to the gridded paper and then transfer it to freezer paper and then cut out the pieces and start with the background and lay them out on the background.

HR: How do you go about choosing colors?

SD: Put it up there and see what it looks like. Color comes really easy to me. I really enjoy working with color. It's trial and error. You have to cut a piece or lay a piece of the fabric on there to see what looks good, what works. And then pull it back off and try something else. That's the process. Trial and error is the best way to do color. You can do color theory and say, well, this will contrast and all that. But your brain tells you that anyway so you don't really have to sit there and think about secondary and tertiary colors because your brain will say, 'That makes it exciting. That doesn't make it exciting.' This is how it goes.

HR: Do you have a large stash of colors to be trying out?

SD: Yes. Too much fabric. I was limiting myself to one little cedar chest of fabric for many, many years and now I have a full closet and about five drawers and a floor full. So, I have too much, and I need to cut back, but you tend to buy a quarter [yard], use two inches, and then you have a quarter [yard] left.

HR: So, you pull out colors, put them together, and see what works?

SD: Yes, or you take some with you to the fabric store and see which ones match up. Sometimes you end up buying two or three and finding out only one of them works.

HR: Do you use all cotton?

SD: Yes. I try to use 100% cotton on all my quilts. I have ad-libbed every once in a while, with something if it works. I've used silk, but it's difficult to work with, so you are limited in what you can do with it. But I've done stained glass vests in silk. That's really pretty, but it's a whole other process to do it. One of the other first quilts I made when I first got married, I did was a corduroy – still didn't learn very well – a corduroy quilt with ducks on it. So that was fun, but it was challenging, because then you had to use all different kinds of fabrics. Cotton wasn't available in the early 80's. You had polyester blends, and they really don't work well. They don't lay flat, and they don't quilt well. I prefer 100% cotton.

HR: Do you find most of the fabrics you need in this area, or do you have to find other ways?

SD: When Quilts by the Falls [in Cannon Falls, MN] was open, yes, I found everything there. Now there are a lot of stores closed. Because I worked there and I taught classes there, she bought what I wanted. I could come in when the salesman was there and I could say I need that one and that one, and she'd buy a bolt and they'd all sell. I was making samples for her there. Quilts by the Falls was really nice to have for that. Now there is another quilt shop there, but it has a little more louder, brighter, more intense, 50's looking fabrics. It's a little over the top for me. Some of the other quilt shops have variety, but you can see that they've been cut down, cut down, cut down. So now I have to travel around to find what I need. If I was going to do more stained glass, I probably would have to order online through one of the hand-dyed companies. There's a batik company in North Dakota that has beautiful stuff and I tend to order from them online.

HR: What kind of batting do you use?

SD: I have learned now going to quilt restoration workshop that I shouldn't be using polyester. I used to use Hoffman and Putnam, but Putnam I think is out of business, so you get what you can get these days. I use low loft usually. If I'm machine quilting, I use cotton. If I'm hand quilting, I like the low-loft batts. I've tried a variety of them.

HR: Do you still use polyester?

SD: Yes, because there's no choice. It's too bad they say your quilt will eat itself from the inside out from the polyester rubbing on the back. But then again, I sewed it down using polyester thread so that's going to rip it apart too. But it will still last until I'm gone, and the next generation can worry about it [laughs.].

HR: How do you choose your quilting pattern?

SD: I don't do patterns. I do my own. I don't do anybody's pattern. I take a picture and draft it if I see something I like. Even when I sew, I can't read a pattern. I just do it and put it together.

HR: So, you design your own? According to…

SD: Whatever I feel like that day. Stained glass, applique. If you go to Dover books in the bookstore you can find pictures and pictures and pictures and pictures and there are never ending possibilities for quilts and then draft your own patterns or adapt them.

HR: Do you look to antique quilts?

SD: Yes, mostly the applique and the hand quilting parts of what they've done and what looks good. I really love the old quilts, and in the last five or six years I've been restoring old quilts and finishing old projects because it's easy and you don't have to think, and they've already been started so you know the intent and then you just keep going and finish them. So, I haven't been doing so much designing lately as I've been finishing. But antique quilts are a really good source for color, design, lay-out and the feel of what it's like and from different eras. And I've been doing a lot of study of that with different quilt history groups.

HR: What art or quilt groups do you belong to now or in the past?

SD: I'm a member of Northfield Quilt Group, AQS, Minnesota Quilters, and also American Quilt Study Group and the Illinois Quilt Study Group. There used to be other ones out there, NAQ? but they've gone under.

HR: You mentioned in college you worked with another woman on a quilt, so that was one experience, and have you done other quilts in a group or in collaboration with others?

SD: Yes, and that was after college when I was married and moved to Arizona when I did that quilt. But yes, I designed a couple of the raffle quilts and then we exchanged and gave out patterns and fabrics and they made them, and we put them together. I've done that several times. I used to go up to Long Lake with Helen Kelley and I used to help them do their raffle quilts. We'd have a big quilting bee. The Northfield Quilt Group used to meet every Friday at the Methodist Church and quilt our raffle quilts. One other way is that I used to exchange postage quilts with people all over the world. They would, say, send me a twelve-and-a-half-inch block with a star on it or with a bird on it or in red and white and you'd send them one and say in exchange send me one. So, I made two or three quilts that way through postage exchange.

HR: How did you find out about those?

SD: That was in Quilter's Newsletter or Patchwork Quilts. They had little advertisements.

HR: Do you remember what year that was?

SD: Later 80's, Early 90's.

HR: Other than the Fridays at the Methodist church, you're not part of groups that actually get together and sew.

SD: On Thursday nights I get together with a small group, and then Northfield Quilters is Thursday nights too.

HR: The small group meets in people's homes?

SD: Yes.

HR: I know that you were the featured quilter in the quilt show the guild put on this year [2011]. I'm wondering what the joys and challenges were of putting on the show and being the featured quilter.

SD: It was really fun because you get to talk about what you've worked on for so many years. I've dabbled in everything from pieced to Baltimore high-end applique to stained glass to batiks and then the older quilts. So, it was really fun to put out the whole array of all the things I've done. A lot of people only know me now and only know me from my old quilts but don't realize that I've done the stained glass and the Baltimores. It was really fun to do that and then talk to people about it and about the history and the story behind each quilt because every time you do a quilt there's always something that happened or a reason that you did it. It just brings life to them. The challenge is putting everything in your house up on display. [laughs]. And digging it all out and bringing it and knowing what to bring and how much to bring. That was a lot of work. Even when I used to go lecture, it would take me two hours to get it all out, then I'd lecture for an hour and come back and take two hours to put it all back. It was a lot of work that way, but it was fun. I enjoyed it. It's fun to talk about your quilts. I don't know if it's necessarily as much an ego trip as much as it's fun to share, because quilters like to share their knowledge and experiences.

HR: You've been able to share quilting with your daughter?

SD: Yes, when she was little, she would spend many hours, I have videos of her, playing with fabric out of my fabric bin. She was always attracted to it because I was always doing it. It's cute because when I'd lay a quilt out on the floor, she knew she couldn't walk on it, so she'd stick her feet underneath the edges and walk around the edges. People used to just laugh because she was always so careful with the quilts because I had trained her well. She got very interested at three, she'd sit on my lap, and I'd run the pedal and she'd run the serger and we made baby quilts when she was three. And by the time she was four she had her own ideas and I'd help her with fusible because she'd cut out the pieces really random and then I'd fuse them on for her and she'd think she was making this big, beautiful applique quilt. It was fun. She's made several quilts of her own. She's made two or three T-shirt quilts. She's made a couple of bed quilts. She won third place at the Minnesota show for one that was a batik with foil stars on it. She's displayed at the Minnesota Quilters show maybe five or six times. When she was little, I'd make her matching stained-glass vests with me, and we'd go to the show. She'd have her little skirt on and her little white gloves and everybody thought it was so sweet because she'd say, 'May I look?' and she'd pull with her white glove and look at the label and put it back. It was just too cute, and she loved every minute of it. Now she's gone out on her own to do her own patterns and she does landscape quilts, and she is very, very artistic. I feel good that I've given her the freedom to not have to do it by pattern and not have to make one like everybody else makes, to be free to do her own. She's really taken off with it. She likes fibers too. She likes the textiles.

HR: We'll go on to the next section about aesthetics and design. What do your favorite quilts have in common?

SD: Pictorial or realistic to a point. Squares and rectangles and triangles just really don't do much for me. So, it's mostly florals or pictorials like the stained glass. I like the challenge of trying to get it to look as close to real life as possible. I've even started doing contoured edges so the leaves of the trees would extend out over the outside edge and form a random shaped border edge. I used to call it my contour finish or contour binding. It's those kinds of things to see where you can push yourself beyond. Right now, I've wanted for many years to do a three-dimensional something like Tiffany used to do the draping of the glass. The glass would pool and drape and be three-dimensional. I thought I could see if I could get the fabric to do that. The only thing is fabric doesn't stay in one place. It moves and it crushes. So, I haven't figured out the solution to that. But it's always to challenge myself to do something new and different and see if I can do it.

HR: Which artists have influenced you?

SD: Katie Pasquini Masopust does the canyons and fractured landscapes and the colors, and I just love that. And of course, Elly Sienkiewicz and her applique and her Baltimore Album quilts. She is the sweetest lady you have ever met in your life, and she is so adoring. She really makes you want to keep going and going and going. She's very exciting. Then I think the detail with Judith Mantano. I love her detail, not that I do a lot of it, but I like that. So those are probably the three people who have influenced me.

HR: Did you find them through books?

SD: Quilt shows and magazines. You see a lot with the AQS magazine, with the winners at Paducah. You see that and it affects you and you buy their books, or you take a class from them. I used to take more classes than I do now because the classes of course were based on a pattern and after a while I decided to go beyond that.

HR: How do you feel about hand quilting versus machine quilting and also long-arm quilting?

SD: Each of them have their own purpose. There is a whole range of long-arm quilters from the absolute gorgeous heirloom to the simple just get-er-done and use it, so it has its purpose. I don't personally like to do it. Machine quilting, I will do if it's utilitarian, get it done. I'm gonna use it a lot. The hand quilting is time consuming so people don't do it, but I think it's beautiful and it is more difficult to get the detail that you can get with a long-arm, it's amazing what they do these days, and probably back a few years I probably would have said 'machine quilting, yuck' but I see the purpose and the reason but I just prefer the calming repetitive motion of hand quilting and the look I can get from that.

HR: Do you consider quilt making more of an art or a craft?

SD: Art. Definitely. Craft to me is a Nine Patch, machine quilted, thrown on a bed. That's a craft. For me, I do wall quilts. I don't do bed quilts. I do pictorials. I do art. I try to push the envelope to make it realistic. I consider it art. I'm not so thrilled about the painted quilts. I don't think that's really quilting. That's textile art. There's a fine line where we are pushing the boundaries and it's not the fabric that's making the quilt, it's the paint. I'm not sure that's the way to go. That's the next fight. There was that whole thing between machine and hand. It just changes every year. It'll go back to the traditional or it will go beyond. We'll have to wait and see.

HR: How do you feel that quilts are appreciated in Northfield alongside another artwork?

SD: Northfield tends to call us crafters. I many times have suggested doing displays with art quilts and they have done a few but they are really snobbish about it, and I don't appreciate it. They still call it a craft.

HR: So, there is still a distinction?

SD: Yes, and many people here in town say 'Oh, you're a quilter. My grandmother made a quilt for the bed.' And I'm like, 'No, I'm not that kind of quilter.' And they don't understand. I've had people be quite rude about quilting being just sewing and it's so far beyond sewing.

HR: How has technology influenced your work?

SD: The fusible bias is a godsent. I know from quilt restoration now that it is probably not good because of the acid in the glue, but down the road it is what it is. Polyester thread, all the different types of machine quilting thread, machine applique thread, the rotary cutter, all the tools, all the new rulers and all the shapes. From when I used to sit with a piece of cardboard from my cereal box and trace around the squares and cut them out then they are random, and you try and make them work. Technology has really made a difference. And now I see people who are actually creating a quilt by just plugging it into their sewing machine and their machine embroiders the panels and they put it together. I'm not sold on that yet, but it'll come. It's just amazing what technology has done. And in my opinion, the rotary cutter was the best invention ever. It transcended quilting from being a craft into freedom. To be able to do it faster, do more of it. It was night and day between what you had to do before compared to now.

HR: In that time period, then, you see a real change in the quilts that could be made?

SD: We went from people making one quilt every year or maybe every five years and hand doing it and hand cutting it and it was very pain staking and long and nobody was really too thrilled about it to being able to turn one out in a day or to cut multiple pieces at a time and to speed it up. And all the other techniques and technology have made it even easier. All of these new ways to put things together to make it easy, so we didn't have to set in squares and all that. It just keeps going and going. Now I see that it's starting to fall back. People don't have time or the money to do it. They're sick of having 35 quilts around that are all the same. And they want now to go back and do more of the heirloom. And that's where I see more of the long-arm heirloom coming in. They are making these big, beautiful, wonderful, taking-forever-to-get-done, kind of quilts. So, it's another trend that's going the other direction. There was a trend when if you didn't make six quilts a month it was like 'wow, keep going, keep going.' But you don't take pride in them. And if they are being made for children or just to be thrown on the bed, that's great, but that pride in your product isn't there. You're just trying to get it done.

HR: The last section here is Quilts in American Life. One question I like is if your quilts have reflected this community or region?

SD: I don't know if mine would. Mine are mostly based on family, so in a way they are. Most of my stained glass started to be religious ones and that was my family based on my grandmother's church and my upbringing. My stained glass went more into Louis Comfort Tiffany, which wouldn't be this region. I think it more reflects me and what I like. I don't know enough about quilts on the east coast or the west coast to know the difference. But I suppose there is an influence because what you have available to use, you use. But there are not too many people out here doing stained glass quilts and there are not too many people doing Baltimores. There's a few, but it's limited.

HR: Do you think of quilt making as more cooperative or more competitive?

SD: There's both. Cooperative is when you are doing it with your quilt group, and you are making a raffle quilt and its community, and you are building your friendships. You are getting together with your friends and you're doing it together. There is also competition, which I did for quite a while, but then I got sick of making my quilt to win the show and it wasn't being made for me anymore. So, I quit entering contests because my purpose wasn't to make a quilt to win a show but to make a quilt that I enjoyed, so I backed off. But there are a lot of people out there now who make a quilt to win the show and then they go to another show to win more money, go to another show to win more money. That's for them and that's good, but I think that it's more important that you like it and love it and it works for you and you want to use it in your home, or you want to keep it for your family as an heirloom. I think it should be more family.

HR: How do you think quilts and quilt making can best be preserved for the future?

SD: Passing it down from generation to generation is important because if you don't teach them how to sew, they won't ever learn to sew. I think that's how you preserve it for the future. As far as your own quilts, of course, you have to store them right and put them in acid free boxes and all that. But sometimes I also think that they should be used and should be enjoyed because if you put them in a box and put them in storage the reason you made that quilt was?? I think it's important that you see them, and you use them. I use mine on the walls a lot rather than beds because they were designed to be on the wall. I hang them up every three months. I rotate them and I try to use all of them at different times. I think it's important that they are seen, they are used, and they are handled. I know that that's not good for them because they get the oils from your hands, and you wear them out and the stiches pull and there's tug on them from the weight hanging on the wall. But really, unless you really want to be famous a hundred years from now, there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy them now.

HR: I'm going to turn this tape over, so we don't run out.

HR: What has happened to most of the quilts you have made and, also, how many quilts do you estimate you have made?

SD: I have nine three-ring binder files full of one page, on both sides, of quilts I've made. I probably have 150 or 200 quilts here in my home anywhere from old ones that I've purchased to ones that I've made. I've given away for baby gifts. I've donated for raffles. I've made samples for my classes. I've given them to my daughter. My daughter had seven different quilts to use for her baby dolls and to sleep under. I've given them to my relatives. I've given them to my grandparents and to my mom and my sister. I don't give a lot away, but I give them according to what they want or need. I'll make something specifically for them. My heirloom and fancy quilts are mine and one of them I made for my daughter that is all stories of childhood and quotes about how the handprints get higher and higher until they disappear. So, she has her own heirloom, and I don't use that one and don't display it because that one I want her to have and then she can display it and use it. It's one of the things I want to last until she leaves the house. It's to the point where I don't even remember some of them. And I've had to sell a few when money's been tight. They're all over.

HR: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

SD: The cost of the fabric. To justify putting that much money into it, what are you going to use it for? Are you going to use it? Are you going to hang it on the wall? Fabric costs are really prohibitive to getting things done because if you have to buy three yards of fabric to find the one that works, you're putting out $30. So, it's expensive. Time to do it and enjoy it. You have to choose what you can do. Otherwise, all of the technology and all of the patterns, it's all out there.

HR: This will be the last question I'll ask and then if you have any that you want to go back to, we can do that. What ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

SD: I think it tells a story about when in history we've had time, or we've taken the time to enjoy fabric and fabric art. I think there is a big family orientation to it. There are so many stories from the depression about buying feed sacks and keeping your family warm in the winter. There was a point when quilts stopping being made because people could buy blankets cheaper, so I think it tells what technology is out there and available. But then all of a sudden it became popular again because it went more to the wall than to the bed. So, I think it really reflects our history and what's happening in all of our lives. But for women especially because it's usually something for the home or for the family. Baby quilts are always given. Wedding quilts are given. It's really important.

HR: Is there anything else you'd like to go back to or add?

SD: Nope.

HR: I'd like to thank Sandra Dockstader for allowing me to interview her as part of our Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Northfield, Minnesota. Our interview concluded at 1:59 p.m. Right on time. Thank you.


“Sandra Dockstader,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed September 28, 2023,