Norma Storm


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Norma Storm


Norma Storm was interviewed as part of the South Central Michigan QSOS. She shares why she loves quilts, how she learned to quilt, and her experience teaching. She also shares the experience of publishing articles about quiltmaking.




Norma Storm


Pam Schultz

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sylvia Milne


Richland, Michigan


Pam Schultz (PS): Good morning, this is Pam Schultz. It's January 20, [2010.] at 10:25 a.m. I am here to interview Norma Storm at her home in Richland [Michigan.]. This interview is being conducted for the [South Central Michigan.] Quilter' Save Our Stories project, the Alliance for American Quilts. Good Morning, Norma.

Norma Storm (NS): Good morning, Pam.

PS: How are you doing today?

NS: Fine.

PS: Good. The first thing we are going to do is go over your quick question list.

NS: Okay.

PS: Do you make quilts?

NS: Yes, I make quilts all the time.

PS: Do you make wearable art?

NS: Yes, I wear it a lot. I've given it away to friends and relatives, to anybody who wants it.

PS: Do you sleep under a quilt?

NS: Yes, at least one. We have two on the bed now.

PS: Have you ever given quilts as gifts?

NS: Yes. Every member of the family has at least one quilt all their own plus extras. I've given them as get well presents. I've given them to welcome a new baby. It doesn't take much of an excuse for me to make a quilt and give it away.

PS: Are you self taught?

NS: More or less. I started out with a six-week class with Mary Reineke in the early 70's. There were twelve of us and she taught us for like an hour and a half at a time, once a week, with the understanding that the twelve of us would then teach the next class. So, here were twelve brand new quilters who didn't know what they were doing and we had to teach the next group, because the sign-up sheet went up on a Tuesday morning. I had gone into the library in Portage [Michigan.] to take out some books and they said, 'Would you be interested in the class?' The sign-up sheet just went up an hour ago and it was already half full. And so I signed it. Why not, you know? And I took the class from Mary. They said they had a waiting list of 150 after the first twelve.

PS: Oh, my.

NS: So we had a lot to do afterwards. But she taught us the very basics, just absolute basics and it developed into the Portage Quilters' Guild eventually. The last class, this was on Thursday mornings. I said, 'I don't know about the rest of you, but I would dearly love to keep meeting and keep learning about quilting.' And everybody was going 'uh huh, yeah, fine, sounds good to me.' I said, 'Good, I'll make coffee at my house next week. Anybody who wants to come, come.' And we met every week for a long time and then we all got busy. We all had kids. We all had houses to take care of. We were working, you know. And, so, it got to a point where we would meet every couple, three, weeks. And they still meet in Portage on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. I'm an honorary member, now. I haven't been able to go for a few years. But, it was interesting and we continued teaching. Mostly we taught as a team of three people in the Portage Adult Ed course and we would limit our classes to twenty, if we could. And that way we would each take a group of people. And that way they got three--they had three teachers. They had three opinions on everything. And if they didn't like the answer they got from one of us they would go to the others. It worked out well, and eventually, in the mid-80's all three of June Belitz, Kay Horton and myself certified for NQA teachers.

PS: Oh, wonderful.

NS: No, it was not wonderful. It was not a fun experience and I would never recommend it to anybody. The only benefit I got out of it was I learned how not to teach people, how not to treat people and I got to wear that pretty little pin. That was it. I wrote and told them at headquarters exactly how I felt about the whole experience. So, it was one of those things. We never benefitted at all.

PS: Oh, that's too bad.

NS: But we thoroughly enjoyed it, and we taught hundreds, literally hundreds of people to quilt.

PS: Wow. Do you have quiltmakers in your family?

NS: My sister. When I was growing we had some very ugly, very dark, heavy tied comforters that my grandmother on my father's side of the family was supposed to have made. They all died before I was born, so I never knew any of them. And my mother hated them because she couldn't wash them. If there was something in our house she couldn't wash she got rid of it as soon as she could afford to replace it. So, I grew up with blankets and nobody in our family quilted, but after I learned to quilt I got my sister interested. Shirley Palmer is quite a quilter herself. She makes gorgeous things. And both of my daughters know how to quilt. I don't think there is anybody else. We're a small family.

PS: Do you belong to a guild?

NS: I belong to the Cal-Co guild [Cal-Co Quilters' Guild.] in Battle Creek [Michigan.] And I am an honorary member of the Portage Quilters' Guild. And I try to go to the meetings whenever I can.

PS: Have you ever been a board member or a chair of a committee in a guild?

NS: Yes, in the Portage Guild I think I sat in every office there was, eventually, over the years. In over 35 years you have to have done something.

PS: Well, I would hope.

NS: Yeah, right.

PS: Do you belong to a sewing group, or a sewing bee or a circle?

NS: Not really. I spend all my time in my sewing room--well, it's half a room--doing my own thing.

PS: Have pictures of you, your quilts and/or patterns been published?

NS. Yes. "My Tigers" up here were part of an interview for the guild when I was Quilter of the Year in 1999. The Battle Creek Enquirer and News, I can't remember the man's name, but he was very nice. He was a nice guy. He did a very nice article about me then. And I have published, since--well, I think I started around 1990 somewhere, sending articles off to different magazines. And I've had thirty one published articles, some small, some large, some one page, some six pages, about lots and lots of different quilts and stories about quilting, tips, whatever. And they've been in several books as well. I have one more article coming up in June in Quilter's World Magazine. That will be article number thirty two.

PS: Wow.

NS: And last week I mailed off, all the paper work and pictures and everything for my lantern quilt that was in the quilt show. It won a third place ribbon in the show last September.

PS: And where did you mail those to?

NS: That one went to DRG. It's a diversified group--something or other, I'm not sure, but it used to be called the House of White Birches. And they publish Quilter's World Magazine.

PS: Okay.

NS: --and books and other magazines, but I'm hoping they decide to use it. It would be nice.

PS: Do you collect or sell quilts?

NS: I collect my own quilts. I don't think I have anybody else's. I've got one old one that I bought for $5. A friend found it at a garage sale and I used that as an article, with the old quilt and the new one that I made of the pattern. But I haven't saved any old stuff as far as I know except rugs.

PS: Do you have a collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia?

NS: No.

PS: Have you ever owned or worked in a quilt shop?

NS: No, I'm positive I've never owned one, but the only way I've ever worked in one is teaching. I've taught in two or three, but that's all.

PS: Okay. Have you ever won an award?

NS: Yup. Lots of times. I don't know how many I've won. I really don't. I've got a pile of ribbons in the other room. The only ribbons--well, let's see--I've sent my quilts off to big shows here and there and didn't get anything back on those, but in the Portage show occasionally I would get a People's Choice award. I've gotten a few. Last year I got the third place one on the lanterns and "Tony's Mariner's Compass" quilt took a blue ribbon last year. And the year before that I won, I think it was a People's Choice award for the challenge quilts. My "Weathervane Stars" quilted wall hanging--and that's the one that will be in the magazine in June.

PS: Have you ever participated in quilt history preservation?

NS: To the extent that I had them do one of my quilts when they did the Michigan Project.

PS: Yes.

NS: And we did a bunch of quilts for them but I think they rejected them, if I remember right. They weren't terribly happy with our quilts. They were beautiful and so we just took them all back home again.

PS: Do you have a studio or a sewing room?

NS: Well, I have a half a room. I have a big trestle table. I've got lots of storage space for my fabrics and I've got all my books in there. I've got a lot of books. I love books. And they're a mess, all of the time. Creative clutter, they say--

PS: Oh, I like that.

NS: --is a nice way to put it. It's a mess. I'm a messy sewer. I always have been.

PS: Tell me about the quilt we're going to see today.

NS: This is "My Tigers." I made this in 1998. So it's twelve years old. No, it's more than that. Anyway, it was the first one that I did that was an intricate appliqué. It kind of started a trend. I love doing pictures of animals. I just like doing quilts that look like something, that are recognizable. I'm not fond of modern art. So I like things around me that you can recognize. And I like doing colorful things. I used a pattern from Robert's Design Studio, Robert's Studio, I think it's called. And they sell wood-working design patterns for intarsia, which is an inlaid wood technique. The biggest tiger, that's Mister was the first one I made and then I decided that I wanted to do a family portrait. And so, I reversed the pattern for her. And the baby, I drew that one myself, with a lot of help from a daughter. But, it needed something. I didn't know what to do with it so what I did, was I took the [P.S. coughs.] color wheel and they said that blue was the opposite of orange and so I added blue to it and the tigers came alive.

PS: Uh huh.

NS: It made all the difference in the world.

PS: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

NS: Oh, I love tigers. I adore tigers and we've lived with it on the wall behind the sofa all these years. In fact, we gave it a bath on Monday and blocked it, special for the occasion.

PS: Oh.

NS: So, they're all clean and my husband said he thought he heard one of them purring after we got them back on the wall. But, they're fun to have around. I enjoy quilts and I enjoy tigers. It just means a lot to me that I was able to do it. I wasn't sure that I could really do it. I discovered one thing. You start with the eyes and after you get the eyes right, then you add a stripe at a time. And they are not difficult as long as you follow the pattern very carefully. I've done others since then, two, just of the one tiger's head. I gave one to my son-in-law and the other one is in my pile of quilts in the other room.

PS: What do you think this quilt says about you?

NS: That I know how to make quilts. That I enjoyed doing it. You can tell when somebody didn't like making something. Beyond that, I don't know--that I like bright colors.

PS: And tigers.

NS: And tigers, right.

PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

NS: It's my life. I make quilts for any and every occasion and, to me, they are something that I need to do all the time. I love making them. I love sleeping with them. I curl up with a quilt whenever I feel like it. We have wall hangings in every room in the house. We have enough quilts so that I can change them once a month on the bed when I want to. And whenever I clean the bathroom I change the wall hanging in the bathroom. So, they're a rotating collection. I--they're just part of our lives. It's kind of fun to go in there and say, 'Oh, I forgot I put that quilt out yesterday or the day before or whenever,' you know.

PS: It is fun to see them again.

NS: Well, yes. A few years ago we had too many quilts and it was a horribly cold winter and so my husband suggested that maybe we should share them with the rest of the family, some of them. So we went in the other room and we dug out all the quilts that we had, which wasn't all that many, but, still a lot, and brought them out and told the girls to take whichever ones they wanted. They were a little flabbergasted at first but we told them we figured they needed somebody to keep warm with them. My aim in life is to keep as many people as warm and as happy as possible with quilts. And giving the girls the quilts for themselves and for the rest of their family just seemed like a good idea. They're being used and loved. We weren't doing anything with them. They were sitting in the other room.

PS: How old were you when you started to quilt?

NS: Oh, gosh. I must have been in my thirties. I don't know. [laughs.] It's terrible that I really don't remember. I can tell you it was probably 1972, something like that.

PS: I think we kind of talked about this before. From whom did you learn to quilt?

NS: Mary Reineke.

PS: Okay.

NS: She has since passed away, but she was a great influence on a great many people. She was a marvelous quilter.

PS: How do you spell her last name?

NS: R-E-I-N-E-K-E.

PS: And how did you know her? I think she was a teacher?

NS: I met her at the library. She belonged to the Portage library, just like I did, and they talked her into teaching that first class. She was an extremely busy lady and so we had a hard time getting in touch with her, even. She was busy with two daughters and a husband and their church. Really busy, but she took the time to teach us the basics, and it was fun. A few years after that, she told us that she was amazed at how we had taken off and the things that we were doing. Because, she never learned how to draft patterns--

PS: Oh.

NS: --the way we did. She said, 'You make it look easy.' And we said, 'It is easy, Mary.' It really is. She came to us for the pattern of one of her quilts. I believe it had been made by her mother or her aunt. And she let us take photographs of it, and measure it and the whole thing, you know. But, it was a really old fashioned quilt and not all the blocks were the same size. So we drafted the pattern so it was a nice accurate 12" block. And she thought that was really neat. Broken Dishes was the first one that she ever asked us for a copy of her pattern. That was fun.

PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

NS: Oh, gosh. I spend probably a minimum of six hours a day quilting. Either at the sewing machine or sitting over here in my chair, quilting. I get nervous if I don't have something in my hands to work with. And I don't sleep terribly well, so instead of getting up and walking around in this little house, or doing anything else, I'll do some handwork. Or, if I close the bedroom doors I don't wake Jerry up with the sewing machine. I'm terrible.

PS: What is your first quilt memory?

NS: First one? Golly, I think finishing my first quilt probably was it. I still have my first block. It was a Spider Web.

PS: Oh.

NS: And I kept that. I bound the edges of it and I kept it, but I don't even remember my first quilt. I think it was a brick fence? I don't remember what it was called, but it had a lot of yellow in it. And I sold it.

PS: Sold your first quilt?

NS: Yes, somebody liked it and so I sold it. I could make another one. It was a scrap quilt, you know. I've made so many since then that I haven't even taken pictures of all of them. I have in the last few years, but the ones when I first started, I only took pictures of the ones on special occasions, like when I made them for my in-laws and gave them to them for Christmas. You know, we got pictures of them then. But the ones I just made for us I never took photographs of.

PS: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends? Please tell me about them. Well, we did talk about your sister.

NS: Yes, my sister, yes. Shirley and I love to quilt. The majority of my friends are quilters. It's our way of communicating, I guess. I don't know. I think ninety percent of my friends are quiltmakers, or have been or wish they were. [both laugh.] Or they're people who have received quilts that I've sent them.

PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

NS: It keeps them warm. Everybody has a special quilt that was made especially for them, a wedding quilt, graduation quilt, birthday quilt, bachelor quilt, moving quilt. And then there are the wall hangings and the small quilts that I've made for them either because they have admired them. Like our granddaughter, Mandy, had a bunny. And she wanted a quilt with him on there. And so they sent me pictures of her bunny. It was a, I can't remember what kind it was, black and white anyway. And I made her a wall hanging with two bunnies on it and Log Cabin flowers and all kinds of things. She still has it. It's fun. But, I have a daughter, Jeane, who adores Winnie the Pooh, especially Tigger and so she has a Tigger quilt. And she has a Pooh and Piglet quilt. Our great-granddaughter loves them, too. She plays with quilts like they were toys. She picks them up and she hugs them and she talks to them and she carries them around. And then she throws them on the floor and goes on to something else. She is just a little over a year old and she adores all her quilts and all the whole family's quilts. She enjoys all of them. She's not fussy. Anybody's quilt is fine with her.

PS: Tell me if you've ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

NS: Oh, yeah. Lots of times. I had a period of seven years when I wasn't able to quilt. I wasn't able to do anything. I was really sick. And it was like being in a deep dark hole. I spent all my time staring at walls and they didn't know why or anything. But it was quilting that pulled me out of it. I decided I have got to be able to make quilts again. And so I pulled out the Santa Clause quilt top that I had made seven years before that. It had been packed away with everything else. And I talked my husband and my daughters into helping me baste it. I finished quilting that one in, oh, two months. Something like that. And I started appliquéing angels. It was a very old Quilt World pattern for reverse appliqué, and appliqué, depending on the quality of the fabrics--because for reverse appliqué I have to have really good fabric. And if I couldn't get the good fabric that I wanted in the right colors I just used regular appliqué. I still have that top in the other room. It's queen size with white angels on blue backgrounds with bright pink hearts on it and a bright pink border around it. I just haven't had time to finish it up. I didn't know anybody who really needed it at the time. I still don't. It's just sitting there in the collection. I have a lot of those.

PS: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking or teaching.

NS: We have a lot of fun things that we do. When we teach, somebody will ask about showing this or that or doing something one way and somebody else will say, 'Well, I don't do it that way.' So, tell us. It's always fun to find out how other people are doing things. That's so much fun. We've taken lots of trips, going to quilt shows and there are always jokes. Quilters are fun people. I just can't imagine a life without quiltmaking and quiltmakers.

PS: You kind of answer my questions before I ask them.

NS: Oh, I'm sorry about that.

PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

NS: Everything. I enjoy every stage of it. I enjoy the patchwork. I enjoy the appliqué. I enjoy the quilting stitches themselves going in. I enjoy thinking about all the different patterns that there are, reading all the books that there are, and I enjoy curling up with quilts and taking naps. They're on my walls. They're in every room in the house and [clock chimes.] they're just nice things to have. They're like friends.

PS: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy? [clock chimes.]

NS: Well, I don't like to rip out stitches. When I make mistakes, I'm not fond of taking them apart. But I've done that. I can remember one quilt that I had all basted and the center of the quilt was finished but there was a lot more to do around the outside edge. I had sent off pictures of it, and patterns, to Quilt World Magazine. They wanted it for photography purposes before I had the quilt finished. So I took it all out, every bit of it and sent just the top. And, you know, it still isn't finished.

One other time, my sister made a quilt for us for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It's a beautiful Hawaiian sampler quilt, in shades of rust and a real light peach background. I had started to quilt it. It was all together and I had started quilting on it and, if fact, I had a lot of quilting in the center of it and I did four blocks. And my sister came. Shirley had made the quilt top and gave it to me all basted, ready to go. Every time I showed her what I had done she said, 'Oh, the block just drives me crazy.' One of the blocks had gotten turned and the color was a tad different, the background, from the rest of the quilt. It showed up lighter than the rest of the blocks. It just drove her crazy, so I took out all of the quilting that was in there, took the quilt apart, turned that block and put it back together again. We rebasted it and the next time she came over I said, 'Are you happy with it now?' And she says, 'Oh, it's beautiful now. It's gorgeous.' She thought I was crazy for doing that for her. But it really made the quilt much different. It's just one of those crazy things that I like to do. I love designing them, like the new horses. I'm thinking of adding roses to them, calling them the Winner's Circle and putting roses around the outside [both speak at once.]

PS: That would be interesting.

NS: That might be pretty. I don't know. I'm thinking about it.

PS: Talk about your horses just a second.

NS: Well, there again they're an intarsia pattern from Robert's Studio in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. And I bought the pattern, oh, several years ago. It's probably been ten years ago. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I decided I would just wait for it to tell me what it wanted. In the last year I have made a couple of others. One was a fused one and I'm really not fond of fusing my appliqués. I'm really not, but I tried it because we had Aniko Feher come and talk to us at Cal-Co guild [Cal-Co Quilters' Guild.] and I got her instructions from the internet or how she works and so I tried it with one of the horses. I finished it up into a wall hanging and a friend bought it as a Christmas gift for a friend of hers. I did another one entirely by hand and I enjoyed that one. I still have that one. That's a Palomino horse. But the horses that I'm making now are--I'm trying to make them the color of real horses, chestnut and black and light brown or tan and a dappled grey. And I think I'll do a white one. They're good sized. They fit on an eighteen inch square. So, I have to be careful how many of them I make or I'll have too many for a wall hanging. I think I would like to make them into a circle. I figured if I drew a sixteen inch circle in the middle of the background fabric I could arrange them in a circle around, either five or seven of them and, maybe six. I don't know. And we'll go on from there. My quilts tell me what they want. These tigers just drove me crazy because they said, 'I'm not comfortable. I need some greenery around me.' And it doesn't hurt to have a river, or something in front of them because they look more natural that way.

PS: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

NS: Just the Battle Creek guild and the Portage guild. I did belong to the American Quilters' Society but I just dropped that because when we moved I didn't have room for all the magazines. In a small house they accumulate.

PS: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

NS: Oh, definitely. Yes. I love doing Olfa cutter patchwork. I've worn out a couple of Olfa cutters and mats. And my rulers are getting scarred around the edges. Yes, the new techniques of making quilts has made it possible for me to make faster quilts. That's the kind of ones that I pretty much do for charity. I have made a lot of quilts for the Kids' Quilts program, Quilts for Kids, whichever it's called at the Cal-Co guild. They--[introduces her husband to PS and exchanges a few words with him.] I try to make a few every month, at least. I think, if I counted correctly I have made between fifty and seventy-five in the last year.

PS: Ah, that's a lot.

NS: I turned in a few each month along and then in October I turned in a dozen. And again, in January, I turned in ten more.

PS: Wow.

NS: I have since done four more tops that are ready to be basted and done. But I do all of those by machine. When I'm doing special quilts for family I frequently will do the patchwork by machine, using the Olfa cutter method and then I do all the quilting by hand. But, I love doing it the old fashioned way as well. I think the quilts are friendlier, I think, when you do them by hand.

PS: That might be true. Well, what are your favorite techniques and materials?

NS: I love batiks and hand dyed fabrics. I love appliqué. I don't think there is much in fabric that I don't like. I'm not fond of working with silk because if you puncture it the hole stays.

PS: It's not very forgiving.

NS: No, it isn't. Not at all. I like to use cotton-poly, 65-35 for children's quilts, because the colors stay bright and they wash up beautifully. And they don't seem to fade quite as fast as cottons. The new fabrics that are available now are just amazing. The budget is the only reason I don't have every fabric that's available. As it is, I trip over some of my fabric, I have so much of it. But I've used up a lot of scraps in the last year, making kid's quilts and quilts for friends of my daughters. I take scraps from anyone and turn them into quilts.

PS: Describe your studio or the place that you create.

NS: It's just a part of a room. I have a trestle table that was rescued from a dumpster. My husband brought it home. It was absolutely filthy. We sanded it down and cleaned it up and he put it back together again so it's nice and sturdy. It has a drawer for my thread in one side of it. I put my sewing machine on one end of it and my cutting board on the other and I have good lights. I have two lamps that I work with all the time. And then I have a heavy-duty industrial-strength set of shelves with my quilting books and patterns and my notebooks with all my articles and pictures on it. Then I have a very old chest of drawers that I got at a garage sale once and we revamped that. I put so many fabrics in one of the drawers that it popped the front right off the drawer. So, my husband put it back together again for me. I also have tubs, Rubbermaid tubs of fabric. I have things hanging on hangers in the closet. I share the room with our desk and bookcase and our computer. It's a busy little room.

PS: Tell me how you balance your time.

NS: Well, now that Jerry has retired and I retired at the same time he did, although I didn't actually have anything to retire from, we do as we please. Except for appointments we work whenever we feel like it, at whatever we feel like doing. So, I don't have to budget my time anymore. It's really nice and the fact that my husband enjoys quilts almost as much as I do is terrific. Because he is extremely good with color. He worked in the printing business for years, umpteen, forty-some years, and he knows how colors interact and when something doesn't look quite right he'll tell me. Or, if he especially likes something he says, 'That's nice. [inaudible.]' He's been terrific about this whole thing.

PS: Do you use a design wall?

NS: No, I wish I had one. I tape things up on the wall occasionally or I hang them on the clothesline. Mostly I lay them out on the bed or on the floor and I get the stepladder out and get up and take pictures. And if you take pictures of something, it will point out glaring errors. It's amazing what you can see with the camera. This year for my birthday Jerry gave me a very nice digital camera. I have been having a ball with it. It's wonderful. It's easier if you have a design wall. I used to have a wall twenty years ago in the basement that I could hang things up on, or pin things to a sheet hung up on a wall, then go back and sit on the stairs to design what was there. That was lovely. I enjoyed doing it that way. It was easier, because the quilts--if you're working in a small room the quilts yell at you. 'I'm crowded. I don't like it here. I need more space.' So a lot of times I'll just lay things out on the floor or on the bed and go away for a while and then take my glasses off and come back in the room and anything that looks out of place, I put my glasses back on and change it. And then go away for a while and come back. Sometimes the quilts stay there for a couple of days. We walk around it and over it. That, to me, is the easiest way to do it here. We have a rod up over the fireplace there?

PS: I see that.

NS: Well, the rod isn't' there now.

PS: I see where the place is.

NS: [both speak at once.] Just the hangers now, but you can see where the place is. I, in the past have taken a quilt and hung it up backwards so the plain back was facing out and pinned things on that.

PS: Oh.

NS: And used that as a design wall, after I'd pretty much decided what I wanted to do. That helped. There just aren't enough walls in this house. I've even pinned things to the drapes. Closed the drapes and pinned things up to them just to get a little better perspective on things.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

NS: I think if you start with a really good design to begin with. That helps. That's key. If you've got a wishy-washy pattern, something that doesn't have nice lines to it, or interest. You need a really neat pattern. Then you need marvelous, marvelous fabrics. Lots of contrast. There's nothing worse than a quilt that somebody has spent a year making and you can't find anything good to say about it, other than 'You used pretty colors and your quilting is beautiful and it feels wonderful.' That kind of thing. If you don't have enough contrast in the colors, you need light, dark, medium and bright in every stage of the whole quilt. Otherwise you'll end up with a wimpy quilt. Wimpy quilts are sad things. They don't photograph well. They keep people warm but that's about all you can say for them. They never win prizes.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

NS: There, again, I think it's the way you use the fabrics and pattern to bring out the best in what you're making. Lots of contrast, lots of different fabrics. The tigers have, I believe nine different whites in their faces and there are at least twelve different oranges in them. And, all of the flowers are different blues and greens. I don't think I repeated the fabrics often enough so that you can say, 'Oh, it's there and there and there.' But, I guess I like scrappy-looking quilts, to give things depth and just make them look better. I like to use tone-on-tone fabrics.

Like with the horses I've used nine different blacks in the black horse. [shows horse.] And I've used both the front and the back of the fabrics. This is the front, this is the back and I used a grey here instead of a white for the blaze. There's, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. There are eight different blacks in here. Once he's quilted he's going to look real. [PS: hums agreement.] He'll come to life. When you quilt around in an appliqué it pops. It's like the flowers are blooming. And the animals come to life. That's the best part, right there. The best part of making quilts is when somebody says, 'Wow, it looks real.' I have one friend who complains about my Tigers. She says, 'They follow me. They watch me.'

PS: Now that's a real compliment.

NS: I thanked her. I thanked her. She said, 'You stand on one side of the room. He's looking at you. You walk across the room, he's still looking at you. He follows me.' [laughs.] I like my quilts to look real. Like the tigers are just sitting there. Or the horses will look like they're posing, in their winner's circle. Tony's quilt that won a blue ribbon last fall, the Mariner's Compass medallion--somebody, I don't remember who it was, one of the quilters--came to me and she said, 'I knew that was your quilt before I ever read the sign. All those bright colors and everything, the design looked nice and crisp on the background.' And I thanked her and then I went and looked at it and I figured, you know, looking at my quilts compared to some others around there, you can tell. Because I like bright colors. It had bright orange and red, screaming yellow. All those colors in it, but it was really a navy blue and white quilt. But, I really love to play with color and fabric. And I'll use any fabric I can to get the right color in the right place. Purists don't agree with that.

PS: It's your quilt.

NS: Yes. Yes, you can get away with something if you know how to treat it.

PS: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

NS: Oh, I suppose it has to be a masterpiece, something that's very, very special. I would think. I don't know. Or it has wonderful things, memories of wonderful things. Or it belonged to a very special person. Was made by a very special person.

PS: What makes a great quiltmaker?

NS: Enthusiasm. She has to love quilts and she needs to love what she's doing. It shows.

PS: Whose works are you drawn to, and why?

NS: Well, I'm very fond of the beautiful portraits that we saw when Aniko Feher came to lecture to us last fall. Her portraits are spectacular. They are superb and I would love to be able to make one as nice as she does. In fact, I'm planning to make one of my great granddaughter. I love the beautiful old-fashioned appliqués. Something that I enjoy doing is taking an old pattern, one of the old, old ones from fifty years ago and using the new batiks and the beautiful new fabrics to make them. I made one for a friend. She happens to be my hairdresser. She moved into a new salon this last year and she loves pink. My husband had surgery this last year and I had a lot of waiting time, and keeping him company time while he was recuperating. So, I did a lot of handwork. One of the things I did was I took an old-fashioned pattern of North Carolina Rose and I did it in new batiks, bright, bright pinks and greens on a pretty white-on-white background. I was showing them to my hairdresser when I went in to see her one time. And she fell in love with this pink North Carolina Rose. After she got moved into her new salon I finished it up and gave it to her to hang in her place. And she admitted that when she saw it the first time, she almost asked me if she could have it. She says, 'But I was afraid that would be tacky, so I didn't.' But she loves it. She hung it up in the shop and it's bright. It's cheerful and it's pink. She just loves it. I like being able to do things like that. It's fun to send something to someone or hand it to someone and say, 'Here, this is yours.'

PS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? And what about longarm quilting?

NS: Well, I prefer hand quilting. I think it's prettier but the gals who do the expert longarm quilting do wonderful, wonderful things. I can't do that. I do--on the kids quilts that I make--I do utilitarian quilting on my sewing machine. It's enough to hold them together and make them puffy and tough enough for kids to drag around. But, they're not a work of art by any stretch of imagination. They're bright and they're soft and they're warm and that has to be good enough. But, I wish I could do spectacular machine quilting. But I can't. So, I do really nice hand quilting. It's one of the most fun things in the world, to take a plain piece of material and draw feathers on it and quilt them. It's really a neat thing to do.

PS: Kind of something from nothing.

NS: Yes, Yes. But, I know when they first started out with the longarm quilting machines there was a horrible uproar from the traditionalists about all this machine quilting that they didn't like it. They didn't think it was proper and that it shouldn't be allowed in shows and it was a ridiculous argument. Because there are artists with machines and there are artists with needles in their hands. And they're all beautiful.

PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

NS: It's the most important thing I do. Making and teaching and writing about quilts is the most important things I do. [pauses 6 seconds.] I don't know beyond that.

PS: That's enough.

NS: On, good. I'm glad, because that's my whole life.

PS: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region? Or do they?

NS: I don't think they do. Because I've done designs from all over the world. I've seen some fabulous Japanese quilts that I wished I could make. But, I look through my books and anything that takes my eye frequently I will take the idea from a book or a picture from a show or something or other and then do my own thing with it. It's--I don't think I have ever followed a pattern blindly. I have to tweak it.

PS: Make it yours.

NS: Yeah, I have to do something with it.

PS: What do you think about the importance in American life?

NS: Oh, they've been a necessity, forever in America. We don't have to have quilts now to keep warm, but they make life nicer. They make everything nicer.

PS: In what ways do you think quilts have special meanings for women's history in America?

NS: Well, they were the only outlet for women's art for a very long time. Even the Amish people who do not allow artistic leanings of any kind at all, allow their women to make practical quilts. And the fact that their quilting is masterpiece-type quilting and their colors are strong wonderful colors seems to go right over the head of the people who made, the men who made all those laws. But, they've always been important to women. Women have always had to have something bright and pretty around them. And if it kept somebody warm, so much the better.

PS: How do you think quilts can be used?

NS: Well, I've used them for practically everything, for teaching, for learning, for enjoying, for keeping people warm, for making something pretty to hang on the wall. Even cover up an ugly chair with a pretty quilt sometimes helps. I don't know beyond that. They just make things better.

PS: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

NS: Probably by photographs would be the safest way to do it. The quilts that I have made I expect people to use up and wear out. So, I can replace them. It would be nice if a wide range of nice quilts could be kept in some ways so that a hundred years from now they would be able to see what kind of quilts we made. Because we can look back at the quilts in the museums now and see the kinds of things that they were making a hundred and fifty years ago. It's interesting, but I still think photographs is probably the safest way to do it. That way they can't wear out.

PS: What has happened to the quilts you have made for those of friends and family?

NS: Hopefully, they have been loved to death.

PS: Hopefully so.

NS: Yes, I prefer that people use my quilts and enjoy them. And I can remember, let's see, of course I made quilts for my grandchildren when they came along. And I remember, several years ago, asking Jeane if her kids still had their quilts and she said, 'Oh, yes, they have their quilts.' And I said, 'Could I see them?' And she said, 'You don't want to see them.' They're worn. They loved them a lot. And they're worn out, so I just take out a picture and look at the pictures occasionally. And know that they had them.

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

NS: Oh, I can't think of any big challenges. The fabrics are superb. The patterns are everywhere. Finding enough time to make them probably is the biggest challenge. And I'm lucky enough to have all the time I want to play with my quilts. I am lucky, because not everybody has a husband who encourages them to do what they want to do. I've never had anybody say, 'Oh, you can't do that.' That would make me want to do it more. A lot of times Kay Horton will suggest something just to see what I will do. When I was Quilter of the Year and we had the booth set up in the show she said something about a pattern. I had bought a pattern for an intricate little wreath and she said, 'Well, if you could do that you could make a hedgehog.' I said, 'You've got to be kidding.' She says, 'Well, why not?' I said, 'I don't know. Do you want a hedgehog?' 'Yeah, I'd like a hedgehog.' 'Okay, what color do you want?' And before the day was over she had bought a set of fabrics for a jacket with hedgehogs on the shoulders, front and back. And she provided me with all the fabrics and the jacket and I found the pattern in Creature Comforts, I think is the name of the book. It was a Quilter's Newsletter editor's book, designed by a couple of gals. And I adapted the pattern that was in there for a hedgehog. And I used that to make little ones to go on the shoulders of her jacket. And I believe there were, two, three, four, five, six or seven of them. Five on the back and two on the front. And she said later that she had no idea that I would even try it. She throws these ideas at me and she knows that they'll start working up here. You know it's like a worm working away in your mind. Well, I could do this or I could do this, or I could do this. It keeps me interested. That's what I do when I'm quilting the outside edge of a quilt. You know you get a little bored with it by the time you get to the outside border and so I plan the next twelve quilts while I'm doing that. It's amazing what you can come up with when you have to finish that last bit of quilt before you can start on the next one.

PS: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

NS: I have talked about everything already.

PS: I think you've done wonderfully.

NS: Well, if it's too long you'll have to edit it.

PS: I think it will be fine.

NS: Good

PS: Thank you, Norma.

NS: You're welcome.

[interview ended at 11:37 a.m.].

Interview Keyword

Teaching quiltmaking
Learning quiltmaking
Design process


“Norma Storm,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 25, 2024,