Margaret (Peggy) Fetterhoff




Margaret (Peggy) Fetterhoff




Margaret (Peggy) Fetterhoff


Clarissa Cox

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Karey Bresenhan, in honor of Jewel Pearce Patterson


Houston, Texas


Natasha Gaiski


Clarissa Cox (CC): This is Clarissa Cox. Today's date is November 5th, 2011. It is 1:40 pm., and I'm conducting an interview with Peggy Fetterhoff for Quilters' S.O.S--Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. Peggy and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX.

CC: Peggy, can you tell me about the quilt you brought here today?

Peggy Fetterhoff (PF): This is my latest quilt that has been traveling and hanging in competitions all over the country. It's named "Transitions," and the reason it's called "Transitions" is because I recently retired, only I didn't stay retired, because I haven't dealt with it very well [MF laughs]. It is machine pieced and all hand quilted. I personally consider it some of my best work. It's won a Best of Show in Lowell, Massachusetts, a first place in Georgia and two hand quilting awards in Vermont and Dallas, TX.

CC: Was there any particular inspiration for creating this quilt?
PF: No

PF: Like I said, I laughed at your question, 'Do you have a design wall?' I had my son and my brother remodel the upstairs in my home including taking the walls out of a couple of bedrooms to build a large studio with three design walls. My inspiration is fabric. I just start cutting pieces of fabric up, place them on a design wall and move them around until something starts to gel in my mind for whatever idea I am thinking about. That is most often how I create designs.

CC: How did you get started quilting?
PF: Well, I think because I had a basis in sewing. I have sewn since I was 12 years old. I used to sew all my own clothes. I had a very professional wardrobe by making suits out of Vogue designer patterns. I have four children which I raised pretty much by myself. I put myself through college while they were growing up and got into IT. Once the children were grown, I needed something else to do because I had too much time on my hands. So, I took up quilting.

I started making quilts in 1995. The book that really got me interested in quilting was called Watercolor Quilts by Pat Maixner Magaret and Donna Ingram Slusser which I found in the mid 1990's. Deirdre Amsden from England was the one who created this concept, she called it Colorwash quilts. This technique inspired me because it was like creating a Monet painting by sewing all the small pieces of fabric together.

So, when I make quilts, there's hundreds if not thousands of fabrics in each piece. I have lots of fabric most of which are very small pieces. I usually don't buy more than a quarter to a third of a yard.

If you look at the book, Lone Stars III, you'll see there's two watercolor quilts in it made by me. The quilt that's in the book called "Floral Phantasma" was the first quilt I ever hand quilted.
I hung it in the IQA 1998 show here in Houston. They gave me an award for my use of color. The one I brought is my latest quilt to hang in competitions named "Transitions." So I'm still quilting and entering shows.

CC: Did anybody in your family particularly inspire you to start sewing when you were 12?
PF: Not really, my mother didn't sew that much so she did not make clothes or quilts. I did have a grandmother who was a quilter, but she didn't live anywhere near us. We lived in Niagara Falls, NY and Grandma Fetterhoff lived in Pennsylvania. My mother and I made two quilt tops in the '60s. I made a green one, and my mother made a pink one. I still have my mother's, and it's sort of pink, and it has material from my maternity clothes which I made about that time. I believe we sent those quilts to Plumville, Pennsylvania which was where a group of ladies quilted, and my grandmother was a member of that group. I have one of her quilts, but most of her quilts have been lost or destroyed. She did a lot of handwork on her quilts but she didn't teach it to me.

CC: So did you mostly learn from books?
PF: Yes I'm pretty much a book person, so if I want to learn something, I
pick up a book and teach myself. I have taken a few classes over the years one of which was with John Flynn who taught a hand quilting class. My friend who is with me today at the IQA show, Jan Thompson, really taught me more than anybody else did. I met her in a quilt shop and found out she lived in my neighborhood. She taught me how to get started with hand quilting and about the quilting community.

CC: So, you would say that's more of your friendships that helped you build technique rather than your family?
PF: I think it's more my own inspiration. I work very much like
I stated, if I see something different that I want to learn, I'll buy a book on it. I tend to buy books that are more contemporary not the traditional quilting books. Because my quilts do not originate from traditional patterns, they're very unusual, very original. They have a traditional basis, but they look very contemporary or more like art quilts.

CC: How do you decide what fabrics to use in a particular spot in the quilt?
PF: As I said, I just play with the fabrics on the wall. I'll take some concept like diamonds but I try to make things more complicated by breaking them back down, so that I can do something different with them. To do the standard traditional quilts with just little blocks is kind of boring. I try to find something in each idea that is original that I have not seen previously.

CC: What's your favorite part about quilting?
PF: Probably the color, design, and the movement. It's very important to me to see movement in a quilt. If you ever see somebody standing in front of my quilts, especially men, their hands will be going in a circular directions over the quilt top. It is because the designs are relatively complex, and I have a very logical, mathematical type of mind. I'm more of an engineering type with an IT background in networks. I think my quilts reflect that background. I may see a design that interests me but it usually needs to be very intricate and colorful to catch my eye.
I don't like the simple ones and I do like very vivid colors; I don't usually deal in blasé or beigey, browny colors, that's not my thing.

CC: Do you work with any textiles outside of quilts? Do you still sew ?

PF: No. Once I gave up sewing my clothes and started making quilts, that's pretty much all I do. I used to crochet at one time, but I don't even do that. I haven't done that in years, so quilting is still pretty much the only handwork I do.

CC: How many hours per week would you say you spend quilting?
PF: When I was working full time, I used to spend maybe 3 hours at night and 8 to 10 hours on each weekend day. I'm not as dedicated as that anymore. This quilt took five years because I wasn't that dedicated. For the two quilts that are in the Lone Star III book, I did the one quilt in 18 months and the other one in 2 years. I don't quilt that much anymore as those long hours bothers my hands and my back.

CC: So, have you gotten any of your family members to start sewing and quilting?
PF: My daughter, Debra sews. I taught her to sew when she was quite young. She actually works in the garment industry in production and accessories. In fact, she just got offered a job with a uniform company here in Houston. There aren't very many manufacturing companies in Houston, and she's thinking about moving back to Houston. Right now she's in Los Angeles, in Long Beach, California actually. She's a much better sewer than I am. We did one small project together, which she has as a piece of wall art. She works a lot and sews very little. I have three sons who do not sew.

CC: So you're from Houston?
PF: No, I was born in Pennsylvania, little town called Gibsonia outside of Pittsburgh, but I grew up in Niagara Falls, New York. I have lived in the Houston area since 1974.

CC: Ok, so when you started quilting you were in Houston?
PF: Yes.

CC: Do you find that any part of your community here has inspired your quilting?
PF: Well, I guess that meeting Jan, and then Jan introduced me
to the quilt industry, where there was quilters' guilds, and bees, and quilt shops. I didn't' really know a lot about the quilting industry before then, so it had a lot to do with my friendship with her. Now, of course, I know a lot of quilters. I belong to a quilt guild in The Woodlands and was even president for awhile. I meet a lot of people when I travel to quilt shows, especially when I have a quilt hanging in the show. I've competed all over the country and won multiple awards. I haven't gone to any international shows, but I'm planning to do that since I'm not working.

CC: What parts of quilting do you find frustrating?
PF: For me, sometimes I get stuck on a concept trying to figure out where I'm going to go with it. When I do that, I just have to walk away from it and leave it alone so it can sort its way out in my brain. Right now, I have a quilt top that's totally complete, basted [enclosed together so the quilter can quilt the quilt, a temporary fusion.], and I am ready to start quilting. I don't mark a quilting design to follow before I put the three layers together. I use the same process as when I design and make it up as I go along. I haven't gone very far with the quilting design so it's sitting there right now until I figure out what my next step is. So, there's just times when you have to wait for the creative process to work.

CC: Do you only make quilts for walls?
PF: No, I have a quilt on my bed that I made when I first moved in the house. I have made a few quilts for my family. I'm not a fast quilter. So, probably in fifteen years, I've made less than 25 quilts,
if I've made that many.

I have made my three sons each a quilt. I made myself do that, I think the year I retired. My oldest son used to have a love of Texas, so he got one with all the Texas things including horses, and Indians in a Western theme. The second son is very much into marshall arts, jujitsu, and he's married to a Brazilian . His quilt only had one marshall arts fabric as that is all I could find. I did put a Brazilian flag on one corner for his wife and an American flag on the other corner for him. The youngest son is single, so his quilt had fabric with women, cars, coffee, gambling, and things that young men do. I have made a couple for my grandchildren. The last one I made was for Stefano, who is Robert's son, my third child. His dad said he liked ABC's, and farm animals so his quilt had these images in yellows and greens. Robert insisted on a Dallas Cowboy emblem even though it was blue but it all worked out great.

CC: What do you think makes a great quilt?
PF: I think there's a lot of great quilts so when you say what do you think makes a great quilt to me it's a combination of things. I like original ideas, but I expect very good workmanship. I enjoy art quilts if they're done well, but if they're very casually thrown together then I don't enjoy them as much as one that's well done. I am fascinated by all the different techniques in the IQA show. Compared to what the show was when I first started in '98--completely different show. In '98, hand quilting still dominated. Now, art quilts and machine quilting dominates. Very different concepts. They do things with machine quilting that I could never do with hand quilting. I like all the aspects of it, but I just don't care for something that has poor workmanship in it. And I do like to see original ideas, and new things because some things have been around for years and years. I enjoy looking at them, don't get me wrong, but it's not something I would ever do.

CC: What kind of quilt would you classify that you make?
PF: To me they're very contemporary quilts, they have a traditional basis, but they have an art quilt look to them. When you say quilts to a lot of people, they think of their grandmothers' quilts, and my quilts don't fit in that category. They're very contemporary, they're artistic, they're very bright. So, they tend to move more toward art quilts, and they tend to be large. I don't normally do very small pieces. I'm trying to convince myself to do them, but I haven't been very good at it. Like one of the quilts that's in the book is 96" by 96". This one's 86" by 86", so I have gone a little smaller.

CC: So, what was the first quilt you made like?
PF: Well, that was the one that my mother and I made when I was in
my 20s, and had little kids. And it was a I don't know, what do
they call it--like a dinner plate type of thing. [MF laughs and says how she doesn't remember, UP says 'Like Dresden plates?'] Yeah, something like that. Like I said, it had a combination of polyester fabrics because that's what maternity clothes were made of in those days. It was a very traditional quilt. I never made another quilt until 1995. That's a long time.

CC: When did you have a studio first?
PF: That came with this house, which I bought this house ten years ago, despite the fact that I have sewn since I was 12; I never had my own sewing room all those years. When I was raising the children, they had to listen to a sewing machine in the background of their television. But now, I have the studio which was probably built maybe 8 years ago. Everything was custom designed with oak wood cabinetry. There are 58 drawers in the room. The guy laughed at me when we bought the drawer fronts stating most rooms didn't have 58 drawers. All the table's heights are designed so that everything is interchangeable, you can move it apart or put it back together based on the project you are working on.

My brothers are very good carpenters. My youngest brother, Don, came from Florida and helped my son build it. The custom design includes an ironing table, 2 feet by 4 feet, and when you flip it over, it has a light box underneath. There's a cabinet on the wall for all the ribbons that I've won, so yes it's a neat room. People are very impressed when they come to see it; it's like something you see in a magazine. But I waited a long time for it. I earned it and I paid for it.

CC: So what is your creative process like when you decide to create a new quilt?
PF: With me, it's that you're walking around with ideas in your head, or you're making sketches, or you're doodling, and like I said, to me fabric's the inspiration. I don't create fabric, I don't dye or stamp fabric. I see a fabric that appeals to me, and I buy it. These days, I only buy for a project because I just have so much fabric. But, it's the fabric that's the inspiration most of the time

CC: Have you taught classes?
PF: No, no. I don't teach, it's a great skill but not mine.

CC: Has your quilt making impacted your family in any way?
PF: I'll tell you this story; this is my favorite story. I have three sons who were all living in Dallas, TX at the time. The other quilt that's in the book called "Sphere," won Best of Show in Dallas in 2000. I had a very hard time convincing my sons that they needed to go to the quilt show in Dallas and see their mother's quilt. Up to that time, Mom just sews; it's just no big deal. I walk in the door, there's my quilt hanging in the entrance and it has won Best of Show. My sons were very impressed. They now think of their mother and her quilts with more respect, let's put it that way. The phrase they used probably should not be repeated [they laugh.], but they were impressed when their mother's quilt won Best of Show and that Mom actually does pretty good stuff.

CC: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult point in your life?
PF: I think "Transitions" is a reflection of that question. I like to work. For me to stop working at a regular job has been very difficult. In fact, I just went back and took a job for four months over at El Paso in downtown Houston in IT. And my old boss called me up and said, 'Would you like to come back to work?' I said, 'Yes. Absolutely.' This is hard for me. We call it empty nest syndrome--that's when I took up quilting seriously

CC: Are there any particular artist who have influenced you?
PF: Oh, there are lots of people that I admire in this industry. Hollis Chatelain's work is just phenomenal. She paints, she doesn't really piece. I love her work. That was a new step for quilting, and I think her work is just really spectacular. Libby Lehman's a very good quilt artist from Houston. Michael James is a well known artist whom I admire. All the quilters I know, that are well known that hang in these shows, you get so you recognize their work. I would love my work to be that, where somebody would look at it and say, 'Hey, that's a Peggy Fetterhoff.' But my quilting's not at that stage. So, it's really interesting to be able to walk up to a piece and say, 'I know who made it,' before I look at the artist write up. I would love to go to London and see Deirdre Amsden's work since I have been so inspired by the technique she invented

CC: What do you think about the importance of quilts in everyday American life?
PF: Oh, I think all quilters are inspired by what was created in the past. My quilts are that way. There's a traditional block, Log Cabin, there's a diamond shape, even though I don't make traditional quilts, I still like to look at them. And I like to see what somebody did to them that was original or different, and what their interpretation of it was. When you look at what quilts have been over the years, from very utilitarian, where it was meant to keep somebody warm, to the art
quilts of today, it's quite a transition. It's very interesting, it has a lot of history, and there's a lot to discover about people who quilted over the years.

CC: What quilt groups do you belong to?
PF: Right now, I'm a member of the Woodlands Area Quilt Guild, a member of IQA [International Quilt Association.], I'm a member of the AQS [American Quilters'Society.], a member of the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky and I have a quilt in the National Quilt Museum's traveling exhibit that just got printed in their book, New Quilts From An Old Favorite, Orange Peel for 2011.

CC: You said you have a piece in a museum. What do you think makes a piece worthy of being in a museum?
PF: Again, I'd start with technique. I want to see the quality of the workmanship in a quilt in a museum. I would like to think that it's very well done, it's the best of whatever it is be it a traditional quilt or an art quilt. Well done, well thought out; the artist has put a lot of effort into making it

CC: Has technology inspired you in any way, influenced you?
PF: Oh, I think so, yes. I'm always looking for new tools, new ideas. I have a huge collection of tools, rulers, and anything that I think is new that I might like. All of the things they're doing with machines, I would love to be a machine quilter. I'm just not very good at it at this stage. I'm good at piecing, but I'm not good at machine quilting. I'm still trying to learn. All the new things that they come out with on the home sewing machines, as well as the hand tools are always interesting. If you're going to be good at something, you need good tools. So, any technology improvement in how you make quilts is a great idea.

CC: So, what are your favorite techniques and materials to use?
PF: I pretty much sew with cottons fabrics for quilts. I love silk, and I do have a collection of silk fabric to make quilts, I just haven't gotten around to it at this stage. I like natural fibers. Anytime when I had sewn when I was younger, it was cotton, silk, and wool. Well, I shouldn't say that because the first one was polyester, but that was the '60s. Today I wouldn't use polyester. Even with the batting I try and stay with the more natural fibers. The longevity's better, the
handling of the quilt is better.

CC: So how do you preserve your quilts?
PF: To begin with, most of my quilts are competition quilts. They're not even washed, so they're kept on a bed or they're folded up if the children are visiting. I don't have that many. Now, the ones I made for the kids are very washable, for the grandchildren or my children. They have to be sturdy for grandchildren. You can't expect somebody to take care of it. The competition quilts don't go anywhere, they're in my home.

CC: How do you balance your time between a job and quiltmaking?
PF: Well, when I was in IT, I used to build computer networks and I traveled quite a bit so I enjoyed the hand quilting because it relieved the stress. I would laughingly say that quilting was cheaper than a psychiatrist, because the job could be very stressful, and the hand quilting was very relaxing. You also have something quite interesting to show for it when it's done. So, I've always liked that aspect. I will probably always hand quilt, even if I do learn how to machine quilt. I like the relaxation that's involved and you get to keep your hands busy while you're watching television. I don't sit quiet well without keeping my hands busy.

CC: So, what do you think somebody looking at this quilt might conclude about you?
PF: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. I think with art in general, that people look at things and base it on their own beliefs in life, rather than mine. Hopefully, it's all good, but art is a personal sort of thing. So, I think people can look at an artistic piece and see very different things.

CC: Well, I'm out of questions. Do you have anything you wanted to add?
PF: No, not in particular. I'm kind of familiar with your organization, so I do know what you do.

CC: I'd like to thank Peggy for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters' S.O.S--Save Our Stories Oral History Project. Our interview concluded at 2:09 p.m.

Interview Keyword

hand quilting
International Quilt Festival


“Margaret (Peggy) Fetterhoff,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024,