Jean Sadowski-Pufpaff


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Jean Sadowski-Pufpaff


In this interview, Jean Sadowski-Pufpaff shares stories of her early quilting years, her favorite quilting tools, and her quilting community in South Central Michigan.




Jean Sadowski Pufpaff


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Allie Aller


Battle Creek, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


[Short conversation before interview begins.]

Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This interview is being conducted for South Central Michigan QSOS, a project for The Alliance for American Quilts. Today I'm interviewing Jean PufPaff at the--
What church is this?

Jean Pufpaff (JP): Westlake. Is it Westlake?

EW: Thank you. Westlake Presbyterian Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is March 4, 2011 and the time is 10:32. Let's begin by talking about the quilt that you brought in. The name of the quilt was, did you say Roman--

JP: Roman Tiles.

EW: Roman tiles. And does this quilt have a special meaning for you?

JP: I made this for my husband. He was complaining because I never made any quilts for him, so I made it for him and I used a pattern in Ami Simms' book. It's called Lattice Nine Patch. Rosemary Kimball helped me. She went on this tour with Ami Simms, of Italy and they saw all different tiles and so I just thought that might be nice for a man. You don't want something real feminine for a man.

EW: And does he like it?

JP: He likes it. We'd like to put it up and I got a hanger but we don't have it up yet.

EW: But that's your plan for it?

JP: Yes, that's the plan.

EW: What do you think someone viewing this quilt might think of you?

JP: Well, one thing is that I like blues because it's got a lot of different blues. I like color. It doesn't have a lot of bright colors but it has colors. I don't like a lot of dark colors like black. They're okay in their process but not me.

EW: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. When did you start thinking about quilts.

JP: I started in probably 1970, maybe '75. I lived in Addison, Michigan and the lady that lived next door to me had a shop and so I did some quilting then. Not a lot. I've always done a lot of sewing so I've always had an interest in sewing. I've done some crocheting, knitting, cross-stitch, all that.

EW: Needlework?

JP: A lot of needlework?

EW: And so that was really when you started making quilts.

JP: When I came here in 1980 or '82, where I worked Terri Doty's husband, I guess ex-husband, worked there. He got me interested in visiting with Terri. We would go to quilt shows and different things and we went to the meetings. When we first went, we would just go to the meetings, not participate, but listen to the meetings and come home. You know it's a lot better when you have some friends that you can get together with, so one time, I was still working at the time, and Terri Jacoby asked me to go on their retreat that they had. I really wanted to go but I was still working so I couldn't get time off. After that I was allowed to take time off and so I could go on some of the retreats. The retreats I really like. We've gone to Shipshewana. [Indiana.] In our quilt group, the Quilting Chixs we go to The Shack, near White Cloud. [Michigan.] It's just a nice time to be with friends and do quilting and do some of your projects, in which I am trying to use up my fabric.

EW: Where did you learn to quilt? You started with the quilt shop that you lived close to.

JP: I started with that and basically that was where she showed me how to quilt and I just went from there. I really haven't had a lot of classes on hand quilting. I just picked it up.

EW: Since you were a sewer--

JP: I have taught some people how to quilt. I did teaching at the Morman Church. A friend that I worked with, they had a group and they wanted to know how to quilt.

EW: You got some people started?

JP: I did that. I don't know if they did anything because it's hard when you only have an hour or two. A lot of these people were not sewers. So you wonder. I tried something just very small so they could do it. I don't know if they became quilters or what.

EW: Maybe you enhanced their appreciation of other people's quilts.

JP: Right, I think a lot of the people do a lot of sewing, but a lot of them don't do quilting. There's a lot more that are doing machine quilting.

EW: How many hours a week do you think you quilt?

JP: Do you include like sewing on the sewing machine?

EW: Oh, yeah. Anything about quilting.

JP: Oh, maybe ten to fifteen hours.

EW: Can you remember when your first quilt memory might be?

JP: I think maybe my first quilt memory was when my sister was expecting her first baby and I made an ABC quilt with gingham squares. She was going to have a girl so it was pink. I embroidered the ABC's with a different color in the blocks.

EW: Had you seen quilts before then?

JP: Yes, I'd seen some. I don't think my mom had done any quilting until I actually got started and then she started quilting. I have a Log Cabin quilt that she made just before she passed away.

EW: Besides your mom and you, were there any other quiltmakers in the family?

JP: My sister does quilting but she's working full time at the University of Purdue [Lafayette, Indiana.] and she has a lot of responsibilities in that position so she's not really able to quilt.

EW: She doesn't have that much time.

JP: No, and I don't know when she retires. She did make a bed-sized one with those stitches, not appliqué, but embroidery stitches. It's all white, so she did make that.

EW: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

JP: Well, my husband says it takes up too much time. I used to have my sewing machine upstairs. Then we did some work upstairs and so I brought my sewing machine down because I didn't want it to get dusty. So, basically I sew down in the living room. While he's taking a nap I can sew and do all my crafts and then at night I try to have some hand work, like putting on a border, not a border, but putting on the binding. I've done some embroidery work, just something to keep me busy.

EW: So you have something for your hands to do while you keep him company?

JP: Right.

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

JP: Yes, I did. One time when my mother was dying and my nephew was graduating from high school at that time. I had made a quilt, but I just hadn't finished it so I took it home and while I was at home, and tied it on the kitchen table. Or at the dining room table while I was at my mom's. And when my sister died three or four years later I made some quilts for a couple of friends that she had, that were with her, and were good friends to her. They enjoyed those.

EW: That was a good gift for them.

JP: Yes it was.

EW: Have there been any amusing experiences that were connected with your quiltmaking?

JP: Well I can't really say anything really amusing, but, like when I go to the different groups for camp or when with the Quilting Chixs we always seem to have a lot of talk and have a lot of laughing and stuff. We always learn something. Last year when we went to The Shack we made pincushions out of the little Silicon cupcake containers. We made a pincushion and then there was something else I can't remember. But, you know there's always, you always learn something and--

EW: You have a good time?

JP: We always have a good time and then there's always got to be eating with it and shopping.

EW: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

JP: Sometimes I find it relaxing. I like to see all the fabrics in the different stores. When I first went to Yoder's in Shipshewana it was like overwhelming. I just couldn't take in all the stuff, so the first day--we were going to be there for a weekend, so the first day I just looked at everything. Then I went back. When I first started quilting, I really didn't have a project in mind. I just bought something that looked nice and if it was a blue, that was even better. So I did that. Now I'm getting more choosy. If I have something I need, I try to find it in my stash.

EW: So you have a project in mind before you fill it out with the colors?

JP: Right. Then I try to use things I have in my stash. If not, then I have to buy something. Sometimes I go to Jo-Ann's and don't buy anything. My husband will say, 'Well, you left it in the car.' [both laugh.] 'No, I didn't.'

EW: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

JP: Maybe the ironing of your fabrics, especially if you get a large, like two yards or something--is ironing that. That's tedious. Since you have the rotary cutter it makes it a lot easier to cut things out. Before, when I first started you just cut things by hand with templates and that's tedious.

EW: Well, I was just going to ask you what advances in technology have influenced your work, and that would be one, wouldn't it?

JP: The rotary cutter and I do have a new sewing machine. I think getting a sewing machine that you can adapt to is good. My other sewing machine was a Singer and it kept releasing, or something, when I'd sew and I'd have to tighten it up. So now I have a Baby Lock and I really like it. It makes my sewing more enjoyable.

EW: Do you have a favorite technique? Piecing, appliqué, embroidering?

JP: I'm not very good with appliqué. I have done appliqué, but it's not my favorite.

EW: You mostly piece?

JP: I mostly piece. I do embroidery work. I've done some wool, felted wool, pieces. I have two or three cat pieces. I just finished six, like a snowlady and a snowman. I just finished those.

EW: Was that a wall hanging?

JP: No. They're just little figures about four inches high. So I've just finished doing that. I've had that for a while. I'm just trying to clean out my stash.

EW: Do you have any plans for using these little figures?

JP: No, I don't. I may give them as a Christmas gift. On the back of them, they all had like a little backpack. They said you could put a candy cane in--

EW: Oh, that would be cute. Maybe a napkin ring, or something?

JP: Yes. Money or something like that.

EW: Somebody would appreciate that.

JP: That's right. So I may do that. Or you could use it as an ornament, or I thought you could also use it as a pin.

EW: How about materials, now. Are there any new materials that strike your fancy?

JP: Not really. I do like Laurel Burch. I just finished doing a panel, a couple of cat panels that I bought a long time ago. I thought it was just one panel but it was two panels so I cut it in half and I have enough extra, so I made one, it's not real big. And the other is smaller. I thought, "Well, that would work out just fine.' But I don't know what I'm going to do with them. I'll probably make one for me and maybe give one away.

EW: You've talked about where you sew, downstairs in your living room. Do you have a sewing room or a studio?

JP: Upstairs is where I have my--

EW: That's where you keep all your supplies?

JP: I keep all my supplies and everything.

EW: And do you cut out your fabric upstairs?

JP: No, usually downstairs, either on the floor or on the ironing board. Just depends.

EW: Now, how do you balance your time?

JP: Well I know that some people get frustrated when they're trying to get something done and they get frustrated. I've found that if I quilt for a while and I like to read, and read for a while, and, maybe, watch TV or go for a walk or do something like that. I try to balance my time that way. Try not to concentrate so much on it that you get frustrated.

EW: Do you have a design wall?

JP: No, I don't.

EW: How do you handle the designing of your quilt then? Do you lay things out somewhere to see how they're going to go together?

JP: Yes, I lay it on the floor.

EW: Not unusual.

JP: No. Sometimes, I do work part-time at a church and sometimes I take it there and I can put it on the tables there.

EW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JP: I think the design and the different colors. If they go together. I've been to a lot of quilt shows and a lot of quilts are just really are outstanding and some, even some of the colors that I don't care for, you can tell they're a beautiful quilt.

EW: What about those quilts that are outstanding? What is it about them that catches your eye?

JP: I think the color and the design, the way they were done.

EW: Does it matter whether they're a traditional design or not?

JP: No, not really.

EW: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JP: I'm trying to think. Oh, the way it was designed or the colors, different colors.

EW: And what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection.

JP: Well, I think if it was an older quilt. I think if it was hand done and hand quilted that makes it a little more special. A lot of quilts now days are machine done and machine quilted. I think if it's special it should be in a museum.

EW: What makes a great quiltmaker?

JP: I think someone that can go with the flow and can, if they're doing classes or writing a book. Especially if they're doing classes, if they can adapt to different people's level of skills.

EW: If they're teaching?

JP: If they're teaching. Some people demand a lot of time and some people take to it like they've been doing it all their life. That helps and so far at camp I've had a lot of teachers and they've done really good with their teaching. And I finally finished a quilt that Becky Green taught me, Disappearing Card Tricks, in camp at least three or four years ago.

EW: Whose works are you drawn to?

JP: I really don't have a favorite quilter.

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

JP: I have always hand quilted and I know machine quilting is a lot easier, a lot faster. You get a lot more done. Right now I haven't done a lot of machine quilting. I've done some. I think, hand quilting, you can do it when you are sitting in a group with people. Machine quilting, you've got to be with your sewing machine.

EW: That's right.

JP: And it takes time and I find that when I do a lot of sewing you should get up and walk around and stretch. Get the kinks out.

EW: What about the long-arm quilters?

JP: I think they are great. It just depends on who quilts it. I've heard problems with some and others are great, so it just depends on who does your quilting. I don't have room for a long-arm quilter. My cats probably would be up on top of it, sleeping up on top of it.

EW: Why do you think quilting is important to your life?

JP: I think it's something to keep me occupied. Keep my brain moving. I guess I don't prefer to sit and watch TV and just not do anything. I like to keep busy. Like my husband always says, "Can't you just sit down and relax?" And sometimes I do. Then I feel guilty that I haven't done, or that I'm not doing anything.

EW: You have lots of things that you need to be doing or that you need to be getting done?

JP: Right, and I try to write things down so that I know what I need to do. Then I cross them off my list.

EW: Do you have any UFO's?

JP: Oh, yes.

EW: Are these things that you plan on doing someday or some things that you've just lost interest in?

JP: No, I have a Christmas quilt that was made from different blocks that we got during a Christmas exchange. I have that partially done. I have a Bow Tie one that I did, that's all put together. I have just to quilt it. I haven't done that. And I have a Red Hat one that's just different squares that I put together. Those are the three. And then another one that I took a class with Terri Jacoby a long time ago. I guess a big quilt is hard for me to--we have a dog now and the dog likes to be right by me so it's hard to be moving everything around with a big quilt. Eventually I'll get these done.

EW: When you hand quilt do you use a rack or do you use a hoop?

JP: Sometimes I'll use a hoop. If it's a smaller quilt I don't use a hoop. I don't have a frame.

EW: What ways do you think your quilts reflect your community?

JP: I think when we had the Art Center display [Battle Creek Art Center, Battle Creek, Michigan.] I think people really enjoyed seeing the quilts and some people don't realize how much is involved with quilting. They think, well, you can just whip this up in no time. Well, it does take time to get your colors. I think when you find a magazine or a book with a quilt in it--
some people prefer just to do what's in a magazine and I like to sort of go out of the box and do something a little different.

EW: Use your own color scheme?

JP: Use your own color scheme.

EW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JP: I think it's a good heritage that we have kept of quilting. Some people years ago said that quilting was a dying art but I think it has come around. People are doing more quilting, depicting more, like some of the quilts with people's faces on them, houses and things like that. I think that's great.

EW: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning in women's history in America?

JP: I think it shows what women could do at that time, even thought maybe they didn't have electricity. They were raising three or four children and in an earlier age women did all the work. The men didn't help with the kids. They didn't help with the housework. So I think it's great that women were able to do this when they didn't have any help.

EW: How do you think quilts can be used?

JP: They can be used as a bed quilt, lap quilt, dog quilt, cat quilt, any kind, or for kids.

EW: Have you given quilts as gifts?

JP: Yes, I have.

EW: And how are the gifts being used? Do you know?

JP: I made a quilt for my sister. We are a cat family so I made a quilt for her with cats on it. She has it hanging in her living room. I made one for my one sister that passed away. It was a Halloween quilt and I think my niece has that. I made one for my niece and two nephews, each a graduation quilt.

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

JP: They should take good care of them. If you have animals just make sure that the animals don't get on them and tear them or destroy them. I have an old quilt that I bought from a friend, oh, thirty years ago. It was just the top. It was a Grandmother's Flower Garden. I don't know if she had done it. I bought it for fifteen dollars and I don't know if she did it or who did it. And so I finished quilting that.

EW: Was that a full-size bed?

JP: Yes.

EW: What has happened to the quilts that you have made, or those of friends and family? You've talked a little be about some that you have given as gifts.

JP: The one that I made for my one nephew, both of my nephews are tall, very tall. The one that I made for him, he said he still uses it but he wants a taller--

EW: He wants a longer one?

JP: Longer one. So I'm in the process of making one of the rag quilts for him. It's out of flannel. I have all the X's all sewn together on it, so hopefully I'll get that done.

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

JP: I think new things that are coming out. New ideas, new innovations. You know you have all these things that you can buy at the store, notions. There's a lot of notions and there's a lot of new fabrics and there's always something new coming out, different innovations.

EW: We've reached the end of our list of questions. Is there anything that you would like to add, especially?

JP: No, just that I've enjoyed this interview and thank you for talking with me.

EW: I'm so glad that you were able to take the time, again, to do this interview. We appreciate it very much. This concludes our interview and the time is now 11:02 a.m.


“Jean Sadowski-Pufpaff,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,