Carol Miller


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Carol Miller


Carol Miller was interviewed as part of the South Central Michigan QSOS. She shares the experience of making her first quilt, passing down quilts over generations, the time that goes into making a quilt, and commemorating her husband's Kilimanjaro climb.




Carol Miller


Pam Schultz

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Del Thomas


Galesburg, Michigan


Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schulz. It’s Wednesday, May 19, 2010, at 10:33 in the morning. I’m interviewing Carol Miller at her home in Galesburg, Michigan. This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan Quilters' Save Our Stories project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Good morning, Carol, how are you today?

Carol Miller (CM): I’m pretty good.

PS: Okay. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

CM: It’s called a three-dimensional, a 3-D hollow cube. I took a class at Bernina Sewing Center on Portage Road, Kalamazoo, Michigan. I wasn’t happy with the sample the teacher had, so I did my own thing and did the hollow cubes in rainbow colors and then added black and white triangles.

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

CM: Well, at the time my six-year-old granddaughter wanted a rainbow quilt and that’s why I chose the rainbow colors here. She will receive it when she’s older and can appreciate all the work that went into it. But, for now, I’m enjoying it.

PS: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

CM: Well, it’s special to me and everyone that comes into the house really likes it. I had submitted this one and the Sudoku to Quilters Newsletter but they didn’t take this one.

PS: How do you use this quilt?

CM: It’s a wall hanging.

PS: And you told us your plans for this quilt?

CM: It goes to my granddaughter who lives in California.

PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CM: When my kids got through high school, I decided I wanted to--I raised two nice kids. My husband traveled a lot so I needed something to keep me busy and I decided I would start a quilt class with a friend. We jumped into a class at Calico Cupboard, which was in downtown Kalamazoo, back in the early '80’s. We just took on a big project, a twenty-block sampler and then I’ve just been hooked ever since. I just love it.

PS: At what age did you start quiltmaking?

CM: Probably in my early fifties.

PS: And from whom did you learn to quilt?

CM: Norma Storm.

PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CM: Oh, it varies. Maybe ten a week is all I could say, but some days I haven’t done anything, like the last two weeks.

PS: Took a little time off, huh? What is your first quilt memory?

CM: The twenty-block sampler. Because, back then they sent you to K-Mart to buy a batting and the muslin. The batting was very heavy. The muslin was very heavy. So, that twenty-block sampler is a really warm quilt. I did do most of it by hand, except the lattice strips. My son was looking for colleges and the rest of it was done by hand in the car when we would go and visit colleges. And I hand quilted it, too. But I put my back out and after that I took my quilts to the Amish to have them hand quilted.

PS: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

CM: No, I wish there were, so I could pass on some of my fabric.

PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

CM: They love it. My husband is especially proud of my quilt I made for him when he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. He shows that to everyone when they come in.

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

CM: Not particularly. We’ve been very fortunate. We haven’t had too much of that.

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

CM: I can’t think of any. Really, I can’t.

PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

CM: I just love fabric. Everyone says I have an eye for color. I just enjoy sewing since I was twelve years old and made my own clothes.

PS: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

CM: Oh, I don’t know. I love doing the bindings at the end. I tell Norma, 'I’ll bind that quilt for you.' Because then you know it’s done.

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

CM: No art at all. I have no art abilities. But, I was at Portage Quilters when I met Norma and then, the Cal-Co Guild in Battle Creek [Michigan.].

PS: Have advances in technology influenced you work?

CM: Oh, yes.

PS: In what ways?

CM: Well, the Olfa mats and cutters. You can do things faster. Now, the longarm quilting machines. I don’t mind the work it does and they’re done. I wouldn’t have so many done if I didn’t have the longarm quilters helping me.

PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

CM: Mostly I stick to the 100% cottons and as far as technique, I have to follow a pattern, except for my husband’s Kilimanjaro quilt.

PS: That was your pattern?

CM: I just framed the wild animals as picture frames and kept going and the quilt kept growing
[from a lap robe to a queen size.].

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

CM: Well, it’s actually our den. Half of it is my husband’s and half is mine. But he says I have taken over two thirds of it. When we built--I came in this room and said, 'Oh, I thought my desk was going to be on the left side of the room. And it’s on the right and I have a better view of the window with all of the bushes and trees and things [the magnolia tree and all of the beautiful flowers and trees. That is my husband’s hobby.].

PS: How big is this room?

CM: I’m not sure.

PS: It’s pretty large.

CM: I’m not sure of the size. He could tell you, but he’s up on the computer upstairs.

PS: Tell me how you balance your time.

CM: Oh, I really don’t. I guess some days I overdo the quilting and other days I neglect it. We do a lot of volunteering at our church, too. That takes up time.

PS: Do you use a design wall?

CM: I just use a piece of insulation from homebuilding, when we built our home, and put a large piece of flannel over it and pin it down at the top. I don’t even have it fastened. You can’t do very well with Scotch Tape. It doesn’t stay on. I keep that in the bedroom most of the time, when I’m not using it. It’s large enough to do a small project. Otherwise I lay things out on the floor in the basement. And then, at quilt camp, two years ago, I think it was Becky Green made those little squares for us as a table favor, remember, for rows one to fifteen, or her quilt camp crew. And I find those wonderful to pin on the rows to keep from getting mixed up when you do your assembly.

PS: I know, you pick the row up. You take it to the sewing machine, and it’s different.

CM: I know.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CM: Oh, I guess the fabric and the colors that are used with it.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CM: I don’t know how to answer that because I’m not an artist. I admire people who do their art work and they can just see this and that. As I say, I have to use a pattern most of the time.

PS: But, you’re an artist in your own way. Out of peoples work, what things do you like out of what you would consider art quilts, or artistic quilts?

CM: That’s hard to say. If they’re really kind of--some of them I look at off the wall--especially what title they give them. Where’d they get that title? I can’t see that. I just don’t have that perception.

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

CM: Hmm, if it’s really different or the antique ones, too, are really, really beautiful. People don’t realize how much work those people put into that and then I heard a fellow say, out in California this spring, 'Oh, I have one from my grandmother. We take it to the beach.' My jaw just about dropped off. I didn’t want to offend anybody, but that offended me to hear that somebody would take it to the beach, that grandma had spent a lot of time on. He didn’t realize.

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

CM: No one in particular. I just buy books that I think have something different, a new technique or a new pattern.

PS: Which artists have influenced you?

CM: At first I used to buy magazines featuring Sharon Craig. I liked her things. She always had a chapter on What If? In other words, she was changing the pattern to some other design and color, and 'What if it looked like this?' She would say. I got magazines I would read a lot in the beginning.

PS: Do you still read them?

CM: Oh, yes.

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

CM: I don’t mind it. Some people say 'Oh, it’s not a quilt until it’s hand quilted.' But at my age I have to go to machine quilted because I know I have to get a certain amount done because I have to get all that fabric used up. My basement is full and these cupboards are all full, too.

PS: And what about long arm quilting? How do you feel about that?

CM: I like it. Dale [Waddle.] just did a quilt for me for my niece in New Jersey and they were batiks that were just blocks and sashing strips, but the back had fabrics, the selvedge said Everglade Collection or the National Park Collection and this was the Everglades and it was the big cranes with the beautiful sunset in the background, the whole thing. Fortunately I bought enough fabric for the whole back. And then, Dale quilted circles on that looked like ocean waves. I thought it turned out great.

PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

CM: It’s something I can give away to my family and its history.

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

CM: I think people are getting to appreciate them more and more. And I was really appalled when the first ones came over from China. But I have to admit I bought one. [both laugh.] It had all irises on it. It was hand done. It wasn’t as good as people would do in our country now, but it’s on a bed upstairs.

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

CM: Well, I think it helps you remember your relatives who did something nice for you.

PS: How do you think quilts can be used?

CM: Wall hangings and on beds. Sometimes I do sleep under that Kilimanjaro quilt on the couch in the afternoon. I sometimes need a nap and I cover up with that. Otherwise, I don’t sleep under the one on the bed except when the electricity has gone out. Then we appreciate them.

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

CM: I wonder about that, with the ones that I got from my Mother’s cousin in Florida. What to do with them after I’m gone, because I don’t know what my kids would do with them. I think I need to start making a list of things, because I’ll be seventy-five in August. I don’t know what my kids would do with all those. They have smaller houses. They don’t have the room for it and my son lives in California and they don’t, you know; it’s not that cold that they need too many.

PS: It might not be a bad idea, though, so you can tell them what you want done with them.

CM: I know Michigan State has a collection and I have thought about, maybe, contacting somebody there. But I think they have so many they don’t know what to do with all of them. It’s hard to know.

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

CM: Oh, we still have them. My niece has one that I made for her. It’s from a Barn Raising, Log Cabin class that I took at Marty Barlond’s and she says it’s getting worn now so I gave her a Double Wedding Ring that was from the cousin in Florida. I need to get another one made for her.

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

CM: I’m not sure. I don’t know how to answer that.

PS: I have to stop here a second. [Recorder was turned off for about six minutes.] This is Pam Schultz, again, and I’m sorry for the delay. Carol, is there anything else you would like to talk about?

CM: I did do some novelty fabric quilts for my sister’s seven grandchildren about three years ago. Six of those are boys and I had this fabric with pigs on motorcycles, dogs on motorcycles and cats. And I tried to use up as much fabric as I could. I used eight and one-half inch squares and put sashing strips around them, then wide borders of real bright colors, either red or royal blue or green or yellow. And when Dale brought them back, Dale Waddle, the machine quilter, brought them back to me, she said, 'Carol, I hope you’re not mad. I put their names in the borders.' She had quilted their names all around those borders and then on the blocks she made smaller letters and quilted their names across the centers on the diagonal, across the center of each block. Those are special memories for me doing those for the kids. And they loved them. The little girl I didn’t do the motorcycles. I had old fabric from--I don’t know where I got them. They were Hershey candy bars and kisses and there was a fabric with the old Coke bottle, with the cap on top, the glass bottle in back of it was powder blue, and had bubbles from the Coke, you know. Things like that I put in hers, flip-flops; she was ten or twelve at the time. I found a piece at JoAnne’s [Fabrics.] that was a lady walking her dog by the Eiffel Tower. So, I had different novelty fabrics in there that she really loved, too. And she put Brianna’s name on that one also. It was really neat. Other than that, and I guess the red, white and blue, patriotic Log Cabin that I did, two large ones, from a class at Marty Barlond’s in Battle Creek, back in the, probably early nineties. I did two large ones because one I did for our own family and then I gave it to my son. Then, when my husband’s secretary got remarried; it was the Fourth of July weekend, so I did it in red, white and blue for her and the back was all fireworks fabric, sparklers. So everyone loves that sparkly fabric that I have even in that little lap robe that’s out on the couch. Those are my two, well, of course, there’s the Kilimanjaro one that I did for my husband. But then my son-in-law was asked to speak at a tropical diseases symposium at Kilimanjaro, and my daughter was able to go with him so when they came back from that, I did a Kilimanjaro quilt for them also. So that’s a treasure for them.

PS: Thank you for talking with me today.

CM: You’re welcome.

PS: This is Pam Schultz and we are done. It is 10:58 a.m.

Interview Keyword

Handing down quilts
Quiltmaking for family


“Carol Miller,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,