Rosie Werner




Rosie Werner




Rosie Werner


Heidi Rubenstein

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Dundas, Minnesota


Heidi Rubenstein


Heidi Rubenstein (HR): This is Heidi Rubenstein. Today's date is December 12, 2011, and the time is 1:20 and I'm conducting an interview with Rosie Werner for Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Northfield, Minnesota. The interview is taking place at Rosie's home in Dundas, Minnesota. Rosie, would you please tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Rosie Werner (RW): The quilt is called Woodland Fantasy and its biggest feature is the paintings that have been transferred to fabric. These paintings were done by Sister Marcita Reinbold, a School Sister of Notre Dame from Mankato, Minnesota. She's a retired art teacher and she does rosemaling and she paints these little Norwegian elves. This quilt has ten of her small paintings and they are put into a Bargello background using all of the colors that were in the paintings. The first thing I did when I made this quilt was to lay the fabrics out next to the paintings and the fabrics just made the paintings glow. It just needed to have the right colors. So, it's basically woodland colors - greens and browns and a little orange and blue. I pieced this whole Bargello background and then had to take sections apart to fit the paintings in, and then quilted it with sort of a rainbow pattern because the center painting has a rainbow on it, so I just continued the rainbow out into the piecing and quilted it so that there are these curved lines going from painting to painting so it leads your eye from one painting to another.

HR: It looks like the fabrics you chose were from a variety of different places?

RW: Yes, they are. There are a few hand-dyed fabrics in there and some solids and some prints. Not all one style of fabrics, but just had the right colors.

HR: Was it machine pieced?

RW: Yes, it was machine pieced and then hand quilted.

HR: How did you choose the quilting design?

RW: For the interior of the quilt, I chose it from the rainbow in the center design and so it's all curved lines and then on the outside I did a leaf pattern on the border.

HR: Was she [referring to Sister Marcita Reinbold] of Norwegian heritage?

RW: Yes, she was.

HR: How do you use this quilt now?

RW: So far it hasn't had a home, but I do have a place in my new studio where it is going to hang.

HR: It's beautiful. The next set of questions here will be about your own involvement in quilt making. I'm wondering what age you started.

RW: I was 56. I wish I had started twenty years earlier, [laughs.] but I made my first quilt when I was 56.

HR: That's surprising [laughs.] How did you start and who taught you?

RW: I started out trying to teach myself. I got a book, and I started making blocks. But Cookie Williams, my neighbor, was really the one who taught me how to quilt and has been my cheerleader all along.

HR: Were you friends before you started?

RW: We were. Not real close friends. I knew who she was, but we really didn't see each other much. But that's changed.

HR: That's great. Were there quiltmakers in your family?

RW: My grandmother quilted but not my mother or any of my sisters. I have three sisters-in-law who quilt and the four of us have, each year for quite a few years, spent a weekend together quilting every winter. One of them is an art quilter and the other two are more traditional and I guess I'm kind of a mixture. [laughs.]

HR: Do you feel like they were involved in teaching you? Or you were learning together or doing together?

RW: We usually were learning together, but we certainly learn from each other.

HR: I'm wondering if there were certain books that have been helpful or videos?

RW: I used to watch Alex Anderson's Simply Quilts on T.V. In fact, I taped a whole bunch of them.

HR: Was that a weekly or a daily?

RW: It was a daily show, I think, but it isn't on anymore. But I learned a whole lot from the guests she had on, and they each showed their techniques. I do buy books, but I don't use many of the pattern books. I have a tendency to want to design my own quilts. I might start with a pattern, but I usually try to put my own spin on it. Lately, I haven't bought any new books on quilting - different techniques or designs - unless it was a technique, I was particularly interested in trying. Most of the books I buy now are quilt history books because I'm much more interested in learning some of the background behind them.

HR: Were there any books that you referred to for the basics?

RW: Yes, I did start with one that each block you made taught you a new skill, so it was a nice one for a beginner. And I have one book that's called 101 Rotary Pieced Quilts. I think it's a Nancy Martin book. [101 Fabulous Rotary-Cut Quilts by Judy D. Hopkins and Nancy J. Martin.] And the basic unit in all of those quilts is a half-square triangle and incredibly, I've made a number of quilts from that book, or I go to that book to see how I can do something that I want to do, so it's a real versatile book.

HR: Were there any books or types of books that you felt were not helpful?

RW: Yeah, I like a book that is based on a technique. The ones that just have a collection of cute quilts or collection of traditional patterns, they are nice to look at, but I don't really use them.

HR: What is your first quilt memory?

RW: My grandmother had a quilting frame in her home, and she and her neighbors would get together and do hand quilting together. I didn't pay much attention to that when I was a child. But I do remember seeing it there and knowing that she did quilting. But since my mother, who was her daughter, didn't take up quilting, it didn't seem to have much importance to me at that time. I wish I had looked at what she was doing.

HR: So, she had a group of friends who would come to her house and were they are working on the same quilt?

RW: They were all working on the same quilt. And my mother says there was one lady who didn't always quilt with them because she wasn't very good [laughs.] And I think she said that when she would come, she would quilt with the other ladies but there was a good chance that some of her quilting might be removed later [laughs.]

HR: That's a good story. How does quilting fit into your days now?

RW: I try to quilt as much as I possibly can. It's mostly in my free time, although if I'm really involved in putting together a quilt or designing it, I can spend the whole day on it. But usually, it's a couple hours in the evening or maybe an hour here and there during the day when I've got an opportunity to do that.

HR: Do you have a dedicated space for quilts? You are in transition, I know.

RW: I used to [laughs.] It's being remodeled right now, but when it is finished, I will have a room dedicated to sewing.

HR: And did you before also?

RW: Yes, I did. Because the house was empty, I sort of moved in with my sewing and took it over. So, I did have a lot of space and I never had to put a project away because I had to prepare a meal. My new sewing room will have a very large table in the middle. It will have a cutting station. It will have an ironing station. It will have storage, or course, for the fabric. I do store my fabric by colors. So as soon as it gets back together, I won't have to go searching always for something.

HR: Did you kind of get to start from the beginning with this new room?

RW: No, I used to quilt here in the house on the kitchen table, which means every meal I would have to put it away.

HR: You said you'll have a large table in the center and then a separate cutting station. Do you like to work at table height or counter height?

RW: I usually work at counter height because I stand most of the time, and even when I'm sewing on my sewing machine I stand. I started doing that whenever I would machine quilt because it was a good height for me. I didn't have to bend over. I found that I could also piece standing up, so I do most of my work at the counter. I use the table mainly for laying out designs or layer a quilt or just having a big enough space to lay it down so I can look at something.

HR: Do you ever use a design wall?

RW: Yes, I do. I have one which is down right now. But I use that a lot of auditioning fabrics trying to see how to turn blocks to get the effect I want or just to keep things organized while I'm working on it. I just finished a quilt that, because I couldn't use my design wall, I chose the wrong fabric for a border. It looked great with the center of the quilt, but there was a pieced border that went on next and when I put that pieced border on, it just fought with the fabrics. If I had put that up on the wall, I would have seen that right away because I would have put the pieced border up there too but since I couldn't do that, I had to remove the border and put a different one on.

HR: Do you do very much hand quilting?

RW: As much as I possibly can. I really love hand quilting. I find it very relaxing. I have always done handwork. I started doing embroidery when I was a little girl. I've always had projects going in different types of needlework. I do find that relaxing. I also do some machine quilting. I do it when I don't have enough time or when I want something to be very sturdy like if it's a baby quilt. But I have a whole different feeling when I'm machine quilting. My shoulders go up, I get tight, I get tense, and it's not a relaxing experience for me at all because I don't do it often enough, so I don't have a skill level that I've maintained. So, each time I try to do, especially free motion quilting, I have to practice and get a skill level back and I don't do as well. So, I do prefer to hand quilt, but that takes a lot of time.

HR: When you do hand quilt, would you be in your studio, or it's more transportable?

RW: It's transportable. I can take it anywhere. Unless it's on my big frame.

HR: You have a big frame? Is it like your grandmother's?

RW: No, it isn't. It's a kit I bought where I got the ends and I had to purchase board for the length and conduit pipes to put the three layers on. When I'm doing a big quilt I use the frame, but most of the time I use a hoop.

HR: Two questions that kind of go together – What do you find most pleasing about quilt making and which aspects do you not enjoy as much?

RW: My quilt making has evolved over the years. When I started, I was very traditional. I would find a pattern that I wanted to do, and I would follow the directions and do it. I was not interested in applique. But over time I've tried applique and I've really gotten to like it, so a lot of times I'll do a combination of pieced and applique. The thing I really like most about quilting is being able to use my own designs. It's a creative expression for me. I've often tried different types of crafts and art looking for a way to express creativity and most of them were short term because it didn't really speak to me much until I got into quilting and all of a sudden there's this great expanse of things I can do with fabric and with my quilts that gives me a lot of satisfaction and it's exciting to do it. I don't follow patterns anymore. [laughs.] Just as with this Woodland Fantasy quilt I had no idea what it was going to look like when I started. Bargello was a technique I wanted to try but I had no idea how I was going to fit all of those little pictures into the Bargello, and it was quite a learning experience doing it and oftentimes a quilt will sit there for months just wondering what to do next and I'm comfortable with that. I want it to be right. I don't want to just push ahead without having it all fit together well. So that's what I like about quilting. The things I do not like. [laughs.] My least favorite part of the process is marking for quilting. I do not like to mark. I don't mind choosing the pattern and figuring out where it's going to go but it's very tedious to actually mark a quilt and then the layering process too, I get it over as soon as I can. But otherwise, I don't mind any other parts of the process.

HR: How do you do your marking for the quilting?

RW: Oh, lots of different ways. I'll use stencils if I have them. Sometimes I've drawn designs and mark them on the top by using a light box. I use various kinds of pens and pencils depending on the colors and what will show up. For machine quilting, I have often just taken a long strip of paper, drawn the design on the paper, pinned it to the quilt and sewed right through the paper so that I would know where to go and then they easily tear off.

HR: I'm interested if you could say more about the technique here [indicating the Woodland Fantasy Quilt] and how you learned it.

RW: I wanted the fabrics to be strip pieced - a piece of each fabric that I wanted, and the colors go from brown to orange to yellow to white to green and then back into brown again, so I cut a strip of each fabric, sewed those together and then cut them the other direction so I had a strip that changed with each block. I also varied the size of the strips. Some strips are probably an inch wide when I cut them, some were two inches, some were an inch and a half. So that it wouldn't just be square, square, squares, but it would have a little size variation too. And then I laid out the whole quilt and where the picture was going to go, I would have to take out some segments. I would take out those parts that were over the pictures. I had to remove those and do that for as big as the pictures was. I did not size these blocks until I knew where they were going to go and I could make them the size of the four rows or whatever the space it was going to occupy. It was a lot putzier that I thought it was going to be. [laughs.] Especially when one overlaps four rows of blocks but then two rows up there's another picture that juts out into it.

HR: So, it's an established technique that you had to adapt for this.

RW: I adapted it, yes.

HR: What are your favorite materials, for instance what kind of fabrics do you use and what kind of batting?

RW: Fabrics - I use mostly cotton. I've rarely used anything else. I'm not averse to using other fabrics, but that's what I have in my stash. I prefer wool batting for hand quilting because it's just very easy to quilt through. I find cotton a little harder to use for hand quilting. I don't mind it for machine quilting. I use polyester if I am making a quilt for someone and I know that they are going to wash it frequently, then I will probably use polyester or at least a combination polyester/cotton. Because they may not know how to handle a wool batt.

HR: How have you collected your fabrics and where do you buy them?

RW: Actually, I haven't been in a quilt store for a long time because I have so many fabrics right now that I would like to use up a lot of them. So, when I make a quilt, I try to take as much as possible from what I've already collected. When my husband and I would be travelling we would often stop at a quilt shop, and there have been trips when I'd come home with twenty or so pieces of fabric. But oftentimes because I couldn't see what I already had; I didn't know what I needed. So, the last few years I looked at my stash and said, 'I don't have enough yellow or I don't have enough black,' so when we would go into a quilt store, I'd buy a yard of the prettiest black that they had or yellow or whatever color I was looking for and that helped to fill out my collection of fabric.

HR: Do you mostly buy a yard at a time?

RW: I started out buying just a yard at a time, but I find that frequently that's not enough, so if I really like it and I'm pretty sure that I'll use it, I usually buy two yards. I buy fabric on sale and if it's a really good buy I'll buy 5 yards and then I use those for backing.

HR: I really love this backing, so it's good to have that on hand. It's interesting that you get it ahead of time and then put it together in your own space.

RW: Well because I work so haphazardly when I start out making a quilt, I don't know what the quilt is going to look like at all, and I don't know how much fabric I'm going to need. If you have a pattern, it will tell you how many yards you need for each fabric, so I can't do that. I try to just take bigger pieces if it's going to be a bigger quilt and I choose from those and then usually I have to go find at least one fabric to pull it all together.

HR: Would you say you usually start with an idea of a traditional pattern and then change it as you go, or how do you start it out from scratch to make your own pattern?

RW: With this quilt it was the pictures. I wanted to do something with the pictures. Another quilt I made was a floor pattern from a chapel and I wanted to reproduce that floor pattern and I like doing pieced backgrounds, so that's where I might use a traditional block. I may piece it in one color value so that it barely shows, but it gives a little more interesting background for something else. Mostly I like quilts to have a visual impact, to stand out and catch your eye, but there are times when you want it more muted and not have that difference in color value and that makes a nice background when you do that.

HR: And then it would be nice to have your stash organized by color to have similar ones next to each other. I know you've done a lot of research on kit quilts. Have you made quilts from kits yourself and do you enjoy that?

RW: Yes, I have. Mostly I have bought a quilt top that's finished. The applique has all been done and then I've quilted it. It was a fun experience to do it particularly with one quilt that had a blue background with white applique and the quilting was to be done with blue thread and I used a little darker thread, and it was just so much fun to see that quilting pattern emerge because you couldn't see it hardly at all because it was blue stamped on blue. So, as I was quilting, this wonderful quilting design emerged, so it just made it really fun to do that quilting. I haven't done an applique kit from start to finish because it's pretty daunting to do all that applique. [laughs.] But I've also been researching the designers and I like to actually make something that person designed to get a better feel for what kind of skills that person has and what it would have been like for someone to make one of their kits. So, I've done some of the applique patterns of Marie Webster and I've put them into a quilt. I've also done some of the Ruby McKim designs, some of the embroidery and some of the pieced blocks that she had. That gives me almost a connection to the designer to know what it would have been like to buy this back in the 1930s.

HR: Do you have to reproduce the pattern?

RW: Ruby McKim's patterns are being reproduced by her granddaughter, so it's easy to get those patterns. For Marie Webster's, her granddaughter did a couple of books on Marie Webster patterns, so I use her patterns to do those. But in a kit, you don't need a pattern because everything is stamped right on the background and on the pieces of fabric and you cut them out and applique them down.

HR: Are things [kits] like that being made today?

RW: Some companies are still making applique quilt kits.

HR: Are they modern designs?

RW: Yeah, they are. They are still in the same style a lot of them – a floral wreath or something on the top. There are lots of pieced kits. The whole concept of a quilt kit changed with the rotary cutter. Every quilt shop now makes kits. They will choose a pattern and choose fabrics from their store to make that pattern with, which is a different concept than what it was in the twentieth century. So, there are lots of pieced patterns and there are cross-stich kits.

HR: And those would be stamped?

RW: Yes, and also the stamped blocks for embroidery. There are still a few companies making those.

HR: How do you choose the quilting pattern?

RW: I usually look at the quilt and try to think of something that goes with the design. This is a woodland fantasy, so I chose a leaf pattern in the border. Also, if there are a lot of straight lines in the block design, I would tend to use curved lines for the quilting. Or the opposite, if it's all curved, I would use straight lines in the background. It seems to be a good contrast to the design.

HR: Is that something you learned from looking at old quilts?

RW: It's something I learned from Cookie! [laughs.] Cookie taught me how to quilt and she had been quilting for over twenty years at that point, so it was something she had learned and maybe the people who taught her how to quilt told her that too, I don't know, but I do find that it does work.

HR: How have advances in technology influenced your work?

I don't use the computer much for quilting. There are lots of quilting programs, but I have not investigated them or tried to use them. I think that if the rotary cutter had not been invented, I would not have made nearly as many quilts because the cutting process would be very long and tedious. So that's helped me produce more quilts in the same time than I would have if we didn't have the rotary cutter. I look at all the new little tools and techniques and I love techniques where you can speed up the boring process [laughs.] Like if you need lots and lots of half square triangles to make a design. I like those techniques I've learned to make a whole bunch of them at once. Of course, that means that you're using only the same fabric and my preference is to make a quilt scrappy. If you have red in a quilt, I use maybe ten reds. I don't use the same one over and over again. That's just my preference. I made a quilt for my daughter for her wedding, and she chose the pattern and she said, 'I want only one red and one brown.' And I thought 'oh no' because I would have used ten browns.

HR: So, she wanted it less scrappy.

RW: Yes, she wanted it all to be the same. Which was fine, and I made the quilt, but after the first block the excitement was all gone. I knew what it was going to look like now.

HR: So, there are techniques for cutting more than one at the same time.

RW: Yes, and there are techniques for cutting strips on the bias, sewing them together and then cutting out a bunch of half square triangles. It goes a lot faster. Although you can still do it scrappy by alternating fabrics in your big piece that you put together.

HR: Do you learn those things from books?

RW: That I learned from a book, yes.

HR: What kind of sewing machine do you use?

RW: I have a Bernina Quilter's Edition. I bought it at a quilt show a few years ago. I don't use a lot of the features, but I do appreciate some of the special things that it has. I wish it had something to tell me when my bobbin is running empty, but it doesn't. It has a lot of different stiches, and you can get cards to expand that. I have a bunch of different feet for it. I love the quarter inch foot. I use my walking foot a lot. But it's a good heavy machine that doesn't give me much trouble.

HR: Do you just have one machine?

RW: No, I have a small Brother machine that I bought for a hundred dollars at Walmart. I use that when this [indicating her Bernina.] is set up for something and I don't want to disturb it. Or I will use it when I travel because it is very light, but it does have to be oiled every ten hours of sewing, so it's not the work horse that this one is.

HR: Do you have an estimate on how many quilts you've made?

RW: No, I don't. I know that it's over a hundred, but that's counting all the little wall hangings I've made that don't take nearly the time that a big one does. When I first started, I was quilting like ten quilts in a year, and I don't do that anymore. I'm lucky if I get two or three made in a year. But I always have three or four going in different stages. I like to have something to pick up and hand quilt. And then I'm somewhere else on another quilt.

HR: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

RW: I know a lot of people will use quilts to work through grief and I haven't had to do that. But I do use quilts to calm myself down. I sit and quilt for a while, it helps me sort things out. So, it does help me through difficult times.

HR: A few questions about quilt groups. I'm wondering what groups you belong to now and if there are others you belonged to in the past.

RW: The ones I belong to I still belong to. There aren't any I have left. The local Northfield Quilters. Those are the quilters I sit around and quilt with and we have a monthly meeting. I belong to the Minnesota Quilters. I don't participate much in their meetings, but I like to go to their shows and in the past, I have displayed some quilts at the show and have taken some in for the judged category. I like to get the judges' comments on what I need to work on. I belong to a quilt study group - the Land O Lakes Quilt Study Group [Minnesota.] because of my interest in quilt history and I really enjoy belonging to that group. And I also belong to the national American Quilt Study Group. I have found that that organization is above all my favorite and my local quilt history group. But I've met so many people working in quilt history who have inspired me and who have helped me with my research project. And I always find that I learn so much when I go to a seminar and it's just made retirement, although I'm still not fully retired, much more interesting for me. I have something to do that fills my day.

HR: Do you ever work on quilts with other people as a joint project?

RW: We do a raffle quilt every time our local group has a show, so I've helped with those. I started quilting when I was asked to chair a charity quilt auction. At that time, I knew nothing about quilting, and I'd never been to an auction. [laughs.] But foolishly I said yes and then I quickly had to get someone who knew something about quilting to be on this committee. And that was Cookie and she got me started quilting. I have done quilts together with someone else for that auction.

HR: The groups that you're a part of don't usually sit and sew together?

RW: There's a mini group that I belong to from the Northfield Quilters. There are six of us. We meet weekly on the Thursday evenings that we don't have the monthly meeting for the whole group. I don't always make it, but as much as I can. We just sit and work on our own projects.

HR: You bring your handwork and go to houses?

RW: Yes.

HR: What are the joys and challenges of putting on a quilt show?

RW: Well [laughs.] one of the challenges is getting those quilts up so that they will stay up. We've had some problems with our framework going down. But it's great to see what everyone has done in the last two years and to show everybody what wonderful things you can do with quilting. I think that is the main thing about having a show. The problems are sometimes getting enough quilts. Getting a good display, putting it up so it's attractive and stable. It is a lot of work.

HR: Which quiltmakers from the past and other artists have influenced your work?

RW: I don't get thrilled by contemporary quilts. I love to look at them, but I see trends in quilting today that I don't want to follow. And part of it is the use of the long arm machine. And it's not easy. It takes skill to do, especially if you are free motion drawing on them. But I'm not excited about quilts that are quilted so heavily that they're stiff as a board. They don't have that soft quilt feel to them. And I know that people who enter contests are making that quilt for the contest. It's not probably a quilt they are going to actually put to use. They are trying to win the prizes with it. So, they go way overboard from what the normal quilter would do. I like to embellish a quilt now and then, but I'm not excited about extreme embellishment.

HR: And that's kind of a trend now?

RW: That's a trend now, the painting the beads. I think all of that is fine and I've used all of that but very sparingly. I've put beads on quilts at times. But if you're going to do a quilt for a show, you have to go the extra mile and you have to make it that much better than the people you are going to compete against, and they are doing all of these extreme things. I don't think I learn a lot from them. I like to look at them and they are beautiful. They are art pieces. But I find that my inspiration oftentimes comes from old quilts and from the designers I've been studying. Lately I've found that I enjoy taking an unfinished old quilt and finishing it or making it in the style of. I think I've retro-moved to the 1900s…

… [side A of the tape ended] …

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

RW: I think today there is a lot more concern about that, so people are more careful about the quilts they own and the quilts they're given. I think that collectors help preserve what's part of the past. I'm a collector. I could make all the quilts I wanted to, but I still collect quilts from the past. And part of it is that preservation of what people did in the past. My collection is mainly out of my research. I've done a lot of research on quilt kits, so most of the quilts in my collection have been made from kits, but I focus on examples of the different designers, so in a sense I feel like I'm keeping their work alive. I have other quilts also. Mainly twentieth century quilts. The quilt historians I've gotten to know are very much focused on nineteenth century quilts - the older they are, the more they love them. The twentieth century is over already, and there are not a lot of people focusing on the twentieth century, so I've made it my goal to do that. To try to preserve what quilting was in the twentieth century.

HR: A follow-up question to the last one when you said that quilts are not really regional anymore because of the way patterns and ideas are dispersed. Do you feel that's a change or has it always kind of been that way? Did they used to be more regional?

RW: Yes, in pioneer days certainly, you didn't have much access to quilting patterns other than what your family or your neighbors did. So you did have regional things going on. And maybe that's why people like to study the nineteenth century because that's pretty much what it was, so you can find trends. If you look at what people are doing today, you couldn't find any regional trends at all because once there were railroads all over the country bringing mail and magazines and catalogs and things that people could look at to get new ideas, then the same idea was being used all over the country and we lost that regional aspect.

HR: Is there anything else that came up for you that you'd like to add?

RW: I don't think so.

HR: I'd like to thank Rosie Werner for allowing me to interview her as part of the Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Northfield, Minnesota. Our interview concluded at 2:17.



“Rosie Werner,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,