Phyllis Gall




Phyllis Gall




Phyllis Gall


Karen Downer

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Trenton, Georgia


Fran Randolph


Karen Downer (KD): I'm Karen Downer and I am an interviewer for the Quilt Alliance, and we are at Fran Randolph's Home Harvest Retreat, and it is September 20, 2013. I am here with Phyllis Gall and she and the Gall Gals are here at a retreat, and we have just had a wonderful lunch. The time is 2:37pm and we are going to begin this interview. So, Phyllis, I want to start with: "Who are the Gall Gals?"

Phyllis Gall (PG): It is a group of women from Music City Quilt Guild. That we all became, well a few of us became, traveling buddies and then as we talked to other people in the guild, they were like "well we'd like to go with you." So, we've added a few and then, we've ended up with the little group that we have now.

KD: OK and you have brought a lovely quilt today. It has these beautiful red birds on it, and I want you to tell us about this quilt.

PG: I made this quilt with Charlie Rhea; she made one also. I keep it on my bed at Christmas. I brought it mainly because it had the cardinals on it and I am originally from Kentucky. Fran wanted me to bring a Christmas quilt! [laughs.]

KD: So does it have special meaning to you?

PG: Just the fact that I made it with Charlie.

KD: That you made it with Charlie.

PG: We each made one.

KD: Who is Charlie?

PG: Charlie Rhea—she is in our group and a member of Music City.

KD: OK and what do you think that someone looking at this quilt --what do you think they might decide about you. If they saw this quilt, say, a hundred years from now somebody collected it, and they looked at it - what might they speculate about you --that is true. [both laugh.]

PG: Hopefully, that I love Christmas and that I enjoy machine appliqué,

KD: OK, do Redbirds have any significance to you?

PG: Just the fact that I am from Kentucky and that's our state bird.

KD: OK, when did you make this?

PG: When? In 2011.

KD: How do you use it?

PG: Oh, I use it on my bed at Christmas.

KD: And do you have special plans for this quilt. What do you plan for this quilt? To show it? Besides sleeping under it- do you have plans for it?

PG: Not really. I am sure one of my daughters will inherit it.

KD: Tell me about your interest in quilt making in general.

PG: I always liked quilts and back in probably the early 70s, my mother had always said she wanted a double wedding ring. I found this woman that lived in Indiana. She was in her 80s and she quilted for extra money and would make my mom a double wedding ring if we picked out all the fabric. So, I took my mom shopping, and we picked out all this fabric and she wanted gold. What we said, "on the back ". But she really meant "the background." But we didn't know quilting terms and when I ordered the quilt, I said she wanted the gold on the back. So, the women put the gold on the back. My mother never used the quilt because she was upset because the gold was not the background. But I have that quilt today.

KD: And that was back in the 70's?

PG: um hmmm.

KD: When did you start quilting?

PG: I started quilting in 1982. My husband and I had moved to Fort Mitchell, Ky. And the lady that lived across the street from me [Myrna Talbott.] quilted. I loved her quilts. She taught a class at the neighborhood's firehouse, and I signed up for the class and made a hand appliquéd, hand pieced, hand quilted with no rotary cutter or cutting mat- a Dresden Plate quilt. And I made that, and I thought, "Well I've done that -I'm done. " [all laugh.] It took me nine months to finish it. I believe I was the first one in the class that actually finished their quilt.

KD: As long as it takes to make a baby, it took you to make that quilt [all laugh.]. And so you learned a lot from that neighbor?

PG: Yes

KD: Do you know about how many hours a day -how much time do you spend quilting?

PG: Not as much as I used to. Probably, I would say at least 3. I've always got something in my hand if I'm not at the machine.

KD: And how does that amount of time impact your family?

PG: I don't think it does now. There was a time when they always kept saying, "Quilting is your priority, instead of the family". [laughs.] But it seemed that way to them. [laughs.]

KD: What is your earliest memory of a quilt not necessarily the actual art of quilting itself but what is your first quilt memory? When did quilting maybe first enter your mind?

PG: It was probably had to do with my very first quilt that I made. No one in my family ever quilted. And sleeping under it is what did it. You could never sleep under a regular blanket after you had slept under a quilt. [laughs.]

KD: Have you ever used a quilt or used the act of quilting, the process of quilting, to get through difficult times?

PG: Yes. I have a grandson with Down Syndrome and my daughter [Alecia Talbott.] is the Director of the Middle Tennessee Down Syndrome Association. And I made her a quilt for a Down Syndrome child, a baby that had been born. We got the idea to ask the guild members if they would like to use that for a project. The girls picked it up and said they would love to do that, and they named them Phyl's Angel's babies. So, our guild makes baby-quilts for babies born with Down Syndrome. Sally made one at the retreat this time. Alecia gives them to the mothers because doctors have a tendency to say, "your baby has down syndrome" and they just sort of …leave them. My daughter goes in and explains to them that they are really a blessing and it's going to be OK and then she has a quilt to give them.

KD: [Turns to scribe.]—did you get the name of that group? Could you tell me--tell us again the name of that group.

PG: It's the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee.

KD: And then also the name that they gave that project?

PG: Phyl's Angel Babies.

KD: Phyl's Angel Babies-ok- that's really special. Could you-- you told us already--one, but can you think of another funny experience that has happened during your quilt making or teaching. You told us about the gold on the back and not the background. Do you have any other funny experiences that have happened to you?

PG: After I got my Bernina, I was taking classes at Dancing Needles and Elaine Hyde was the teacher and we had made this quilt. I had the top finished and I was quilting and got all the way down and all of a sudden, the direction of which I was quilting it didn't quite… it was like…this isn't right. Well, I got back, and I looked at it and I had turned the two bottom blocks the other way. And I was like… because this was when I was a beginner quilter, you know. I was like, I'm like "oh my- gosh", I have ruined the whole quilt. So, I took it down to Elaine when it was done and I held it up and I said, "How do you like my quilt?" And she said, "It's beautiful; you did such a good job!" And I kept saying "Look at it again, look at it again!" And she never did see it --I had to point it out. And so, we thought, well, you know if she couldn't see it, I wasn't going to worry about it.

KD: What do you like about quilt making what pleases you about either the quilts or the process? What do you like about quilt making.

PG: I think, it's just the fact that it takes your mind off of everyday, everything and it just opens you up and relaxes you and makes you able to get though the next day.

KD: Are there -- Is there anything about it you don't like?

PG: … pauses… whispers… Mystery quilts, I don't like. [laughs.]

KD: I don't either.

PG: Mainly because I don't like making quilts that I don't really want. And I usually, if you do a mystery product you wind up with something and you are like, well I don't really want that. So, I did one and that was the end of it.

KD: So, the quilt that you brought that will be in the photo, there's a lot of piecing, there's nine patches and there's kind of a, there's appliqué in the center. So, you do both piece work and appliqué what would you say is your favorite thing to do?

PG: My favorite is hand appliqué.

KD: But you also do machine appliqué?

PG: Applique' is my favorite.

KD: And I'm looking at some, I am looking across the room at Fran's retreat at some lovely watercolor looking birdhouses and birds and that's machine appliqué --is that correct?

PG: Yes

KD: The thread you are using there is?

PG: Aurifil.

KD: And that Aurifil is also on the appliqué?

PG: I use whatever kind of thread on hand appliqué that I can get that matches my fabric -- I won't be particular about that!

KD: Machine appliqué as well?

PG: Yes… get the one that matches.

KD: That's beautiful --that looks like a watercolor painting. That's going to be a famous quilt someday when it's done. What groups to you belong to? Art groups or quilting groups or sewing bees or what kinds of groups do you belong to?

PG: I belong to Music City Quilt Guild, and I belonged to Quilt-aholics until this last year.

KD: OK. Do you enter your quilts in shows?

PG: In the fair -I've entered quilts in the fair.

KD: I saw a Bernina in your workspace here that I said was bigger than my car. It's not really- you know, I just own a Honda. It's this big, beautiful machine. Tell us how advances in technology have influenced your work since that first quilt you made in '82 that was all hand done. How has technology, I am looking at that machine, versus your original experience; how has that affected your work?

PG: The more the machine does- -the more you can do. The more techniques you can use. You know, I love a Featherweight too, if all I am doing is just straight stitches. But if you want to do a zigzag, if you want to do a blanket stitch, if you want your machine to remember what your stitches were that you used on a particular project, you can put that into the machine and go back if you do a project that is similar and want to use the same settings—it's there. It tells me what time it is. I can set an alarm and it can tell me, you know, like let's say if I want to sew for 2 hours, I can set an alarm and an alarm will go off and say "OK your time's up! " Go do whatever you have to do." That machine cost twice as much as my first house. Isn't that an awful thought.

KD: There's some perspective --No. I'd hate to think… Wow - OK. That's amazing. It's a beautiful machine.

PG: My first house was really cheap. But it was twice the cost of my first house.

KD: I hadn't really put that in perspective. Of course, some of that is the difference in time too. Your first house was probably a few decades ago, right? That machine was what a year ago maybe …or not so long ago?

PG: My first Bernina was a 170. And that's a funny story how I got my 170. My friend, Barbara Starky, had asked me if I wanted to go to the Paducah Quilt Show. We were walking in the neighborhood. And I said, "I don't know. Can you go if you have only made one quilt?" And she said, "I guess so." So, we went to the Paducah Quilt Show. That's really what got me going with quilts…once you go to a quilt show - it's like WOW. So Dancing Needles, Reba's store, had sent me a card for a Quilter's Edition Bernina. My friend that had originally taught me to quilt- you know, the one I made in Fort Mitchell -had a Bernina. And she uses to make band uniforms, flag uniforms, flags. She did crafts and she was sold on the Bernina. So, I thought, "Go get me a Bernina." So, I did. And then we had Bernina club down there. And the first thing we did was a stack and whack block and it was 16 inches. Well, in the meantime I had moved from my first quilt -it's a double bed - and now I was in a king-sized bed. And I thought, "a 16-inch block, I can make a king size quilt really fast!" So, I made the king size quilt. Well, at the time I didn't know about long arm machine quilting. I didn't know you could quilt on your home machine. I hand quilted that king size quilt [laughing all around.] and swore I'd never quilt another King size quilt…it took me like three years, three years, to quilt that one.

KD: So, do you do some machine quilting now?

PG: Yes, I love machine quilting now.

KD: Do you do walking foot or free motion or what?

PG: Yes

KD: You do both of those. Do you do those on your Bernina …with a stitch regulator?

PG: No

PG: The stitch regulators mess me up.

KD: Plain free…Wow!

PG: I think if you have never free motioned the stitch regulator would be wonderful and helpful. But once you've got your motion and your rhythm --
then the stitch regulator just messes you up.

KD: So do you know about how many quilts you've made? [PG shakes her head.] You don't?

PG: No

KD: Well, just as an aside our scribe knows exactly how many she has made. We'll go on from that because that is documented in her interview.

PG: I know I have seen her book. She is so organized.

KD: Most of us don't know. Do you know how many you have actually machine quilted?

PG: No

KD: Do you have a guess, like a wild guess… an average of 5 a year?

PG: I would say at least 20. I have no idea, I really don't.

KD: I have no idea either and I started taking photos. I just had to give it up. So, we talked about your favorite techniques and materials. What are your favorite fabrics to quilt with. Do you have a favorite designer or other than cotton; what are your favorites?

PG: My favorite designer is Michael Miller. I love his fabrics. There's more times I will be shopping, and I will pick something up and I will think "OH, this is really cool" and it's Michael Miller's.

KD: So, you are drawn to him. Are those his fabrics? [looks toward design wall with birdhouse watercolor quilt.]

PG: No

KD: OK. Where do you create -where do you do most of your quilting in your home? What is that space like?

PG: My sewing room is in the basement, and it looks like a bomb went off in there. [laughs.]

KD: Just havoc everywhere? Describe that creative space to us.

PG: I think it's because I'm so much into appliqué and you can't appliqué without having fabric laying everywhere that you can see. So, it's all just … I have things that we bought at Sam's. They are like a wood top and a metal frame and then there's baskets that slide out. So, I'll pull it out and think this will be perfect and then NO that don't work. You just throw it on top; so, they are half open half closed --fabric is lying all over.

KD: So, do you find yourself with a quilt design and then pulling from your stash that you have probably collected for years?

PG: Pretty much-- I have a ton of fabric.

KD: As opposed to maybe taking a design and going and buying for that specifically.

PG: It depends on the quilt. We went to buy fabrics for this one because this took so many…like gold is my least favorite color to work with and there was a lot of the gold things in this, and I was like… I had to grit my teeth to get those in there.

KD: They look good though.

PG: They add a lot to the quilt.

KD: Did we get the year you made this down.

PG: I think it was 2011, was when I finished it.

KD: OK I don't think we got that. So, the quilt you brought in today you finished in 2011.

PG: I think I wrote that down.

KD: Over here, she did, you are right.

PG: I even measured it.

KD: Oh Yeah, she doesn't need us at all, Fran. She does not need us. OK, so the place you work is in the basement and that's where the Bernina lives, and it looks like a bomb went off and blew fabric everywhere.

PG: Two Berninas - live there.

KD: Two Berninas.

PG: My first one and my last one.

KD: Two Berninas and one quilter. How do you balance your time so that you get enough time to devote to quilt making?

PG: When I really was into just constantly doing a lot. It would be after my husband went to bed at 9 o'clock. Then I would just go down there. It would be 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I would come up. There were no phone calls. There was no "Mom can you come over and keep the kids for 5 minutes while I go do something. " There are no interruptions. That was my perfect time to get a lot done.

KD: Did you get a lot done the week you were here at this retreat?

PG: Oh yeah, I get more done preparing for a retreat.

KD: Figuring out what you are going to make?

PG: Yeah, I do.

KD: And the ladies who are her with you…these are Gall 's Gals. How much time do you guys spend together? Gall Gals.

PG: Quite a lot. Judy Forte has been my friend for over 20 years-- probably 25 years. She was probably my first friend. She taught toll painting classes when I had moved down here. I took toll painting classes from her. So she was out of the group, she was my first friend. And then I met Elaine and Judy Greer and Joyce through Dancing Needles. We had a club there called "Sew Inspired". I met them through that club. And then Sally was in quilt guild one time. Charlie and I were sewing. We got to talking to her and there was a retreat coming up after that I was not going to get to go to. Charlie you ought to ask Sally to go she seems like a lot of fun. And then Sally just worked right into the group.

KD: Do you guys sew in each other's homes?

PG: Charlie and Joyce and I have an appliqué day once a month and we get together and appliqué. Hand appliqué.

KD: Do you use, or do you have in your studio …do you use a design wall?

PG: Yes

KD: How does that help you?

PG: Because looking at stuff close you can't really see the full picture until you are able to put it up and back away and look at it. Sometimes you need to wait a day and go back down and look at it. And then think, "Oh my-gosh, what have I done that for?"

KD: So, you use it for laying out your designs and you make changes

PG: Yes

KD: What do you think makes a great quilt?

PG: Oh golly, you know that's the problem with being a quilter. We think all quilts are great and they are all pretty and you want to make all of them. That's part of the disease.

KD: It is that's part of it. When I look at all the pieces of the quilt you are putting together. I mean that just makes me think about color it makes me just stop and think about color. Because of the sort of the hombre and gradient and all the colors you chose for the birdhouses.

PG: I didn't really choose that. That's a Ryan McKenna pattern.

KD: OK. But is it Ryan McKenna fabric or did you choose the fabrics.

PG: No, we bought the kit basically. Charlie is making that one too.

KD: That is just beautiful… the colors.

PG: She gets all the credit for all that. I'm just getting credit for all the work.

KD: Well, we certainly all have used. I have one of hers just waiting. It's the one with the bears and the Christmas lights.

PG: Oh yes, that's so cute.

KD: She has been quite an influence on a lot of us. Which quilters have influenced you other than McKenna.

PG: Probably in the beginning it was Eleanor Burns because her books were so simple and easy to understand. And "Simply Quilts", the show, was
amazing for learning.

KD: You mentioned earlier you did a block and won something from Eleanor.

PG: I did, for her… I think it was her 25th anniversary. They did a contest and asked you to send in a block. They had the prizes. The grand prize was going to her studio I think for a retreat and the first prize was an Elna sewing machine. I had made a block using her logo. [cell phone is ringing in the background.] You know on her bag where she is throwing the strips. Her first book was a log cabin and I put a little log cabin in the corner of the block and put "Thank you for 25 years of quilting." and won first prize! I won an Elna sewing machine. [laughs.] Yeah, and sold it to Judy Forte's daughter.

KD: So, did you get to meet her?

PG: Yes, I have met Eleanor Burns quite a few times.

KD: Let's see we went somewhere. Oh, we went to her store in Paducah recently. How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting now that all that hand quilting you did years ago is all done and put away? How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

PG: I love machine piecing. I did not enjoy hand piecing. Hand quilting, I still enjoy.

KD: Do you use a long arm at all?

PG: No, I always said I would get one when my husband [Ron.] died. I would have to move his stuff out of the house to have room for one.

KD: Uncooperative, would you call him uncooperative?

PG: Which was really funny at a quilt show, I was at a Gammill booth one time at a quilt show. He said you want to try this. I was playing with it. He said, "Are you interested in buying one?" I said, "I am going to get one just as soon as my husband dies." He was like "What?"--he just didn't know what to say.

KD: OK, so we don't wish any ill to your husband.

PG: Oh, he knows I say that.

KD: What do you think makes a quilt, you collect quilts too we talked about that.

PG: A couple, I've collected yes.

KD: So you have appreciation for other people's work and older quilts…what do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a person to collect?

PG: Just liking it. I really do. Some people have to go buy…lots of people will collect the old red and green or just appliqué ones. But, to me, if you like the quilt, that's all that counts.

KD: Why is quilting and hanging out with quilters important to you?

PG: Cause there's nothing like it. Quilters are just special people. They really are. I don't know, they are the most giving, loving, caring people in a group that I know of.

KD: How do your quilts reflect you?

PG: Hopefully, it's the artsy side, the creative side. Like I said, I used to paint. I was a hairdresser. You would be surprised how many of us are an old hairdresser. Two of those other gals in there [indicates retreat work area.] were hairdressers; Judy and Joyce were hairdressers. It's all being creative I think, working with your hands.

KD: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life 150 years ago.

PG: So important, it's all part of our history. The evolution of how we got to where we are today with my big "honkin' Bernina ". [laughs.] From people sewing by hand and on treadles and developing into what we have today. We can make them so much faster. That's the thing. The lady who taught me originally frowns upon machine quilting. You know to her that's still not really quilting, if it's not done by hand. And I said, yes Myrna, but I can make a whole lot more quilts than you do.

KD: How do you think quilts, what meaning do they have about women's history? Is there something specific to women?

PG: I think it shows how much women have always cared and been involved our history, from back in Civil War when they made quilts for the cots and all of that. We've all been…And flags! It's the women behind all that that did all of it, even though we weren't on the battlefield with a gun in our hands. We were involved and we fought just as hard as the rest of them.

KD: How do you think that we can preserve quilts for the future?

PG: By taking care of them. A lot of the museums, you know if you've got a beautiful quilt and you have nothing to do with it, you should donate it, I think.

KD: What happens to the quilts that you make?

PG: I have a lot of them because most of mine are Christmas. I really decorate at Christmas. I make them for the family. And I've made some for friends. We've made them for all of our projects at the guild for "Sewn in Love" which is for cancer patients, and they go everywhere.

KD: Do you quilt for people? Do you quilt for money, contract quilt for money?

PG: I made one for my dental hygienist, who wanted a quilt for her husband out of …oh, what kind of booze is it that come in the blue bag, the felt bag.

KD: Crown Royal

PG: Crown Royal bags. And I told her I would. I was so sorry after I said it and I started working with it. But I got it done. I even quilted little crowns in
the thing. She was absolutely thrilled. But that's the only one that someone that wasn't family, you know, had asked me to make and I said, "OK ".

KD: So you made a quilt for this lady out of Crown Royal bags. Do you know why she wanted a quilt out of Crown Royal bags?

PG: That's what her husband always drank. And she wanted to give it to her husband. He was thrilled with it she said. I thought it was the ugliest thing I ever saw in my life.

KD: It's out there with your name on it though, right?

PG: No, my name is not on it.

KD: Ah Hah -well we just connected you to that quilt forever. Now we know who made the…and I'm thinking, I've heard of a Crown Royal bag quilt before.

PG: I know I was at JoAnne's one day. A friend of mine worked there and she come up with this lady with a cart. She says, "I have a question for you." And I said "what", because you never know what people are going to ask you. She says, "This lady wants to make a quilt out of these bags. " I said, "What bags?" And she pulled them up and I said, "Oh- don't do it!"

KD: You just happened to be the only person who probably ever made one. Did you just leave them intact or did you cut them.

PG: No, I cut them, and I kept some of those little gold serging-pieces on it. The gathering part you had to get rid of in order to get blocks to be able to put it together. But it was all you know nothing really in line -it was all over the place. It was hard to work with because that fabric isn't really--it's not felt and it's not cotton, it's weird. It's weird fabric to try to work with.

KD: Let's see. Do you have a collection of quilting memorabilia?

PG: I collect pin cushions. I love pin cushions.

KD: Pin Cushions, so do you make them or buy them commercially.

PG: I've made some. Some was made by my mother-in- law and some was made by my mother-in-law's sister. Some I bought at antique places.

KD: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting us as quilt makers today?

PG: The biggest challenge quilt makers face? Being able to afford fabric, fabric just keeps going up and up and up. Our supplies, our rulers are getting unbelievably expensive. That's a biggie—buying our tools.

KD: We are winding down. Believe it or not it has been over 30 minutes. I have so much enjoyed this, and your stories and I appreciate your time and your willingness to do this. I want to ask you, is there something I didn't ask or anything that you want to be in this record. Just kind of think about someone finding your quilts and of course you've got a label on them, right-- most of them except that Crown Royal one. Someone finds out who made that quilt, and they go to learn something about you. What do you want them to know about you? Someone goes seeking information about the person who made this quilt or any of your quilts. What did I not ask you? What do you want in the record?

PG: I don't know—we look at quilts that other people have made. You can go to the shows, and you can pick up an antique quilt and look at it. But you
always know that the person who made it was a caring person--that is just a given.

KD: Thank you

PG: You are welcome.

KD: It is 3:11 and we are going to close at this point.



“Phyllis Gall,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,