Teddy Pruett




Teddy Pruett


Amy Henderson interviews Teddy Pruett, a quilt maker at the American Quilt Study group conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. Pruett discusses the quilt she brought for the interview, which showcases her humorous, unique style of quilt making. She talks about how she began to quilt and how her style developed through her unconventional methods. Pruett also talks about how quilting influences her every day life as a creator and a quilt appraiser. She discusses the artistic qualities of a great quilt and a quilter and gives her opinion on the importance of storytelling in quilt making. She gives advice to future quilters and quilt historians, emphasizing the importance of stories and personal expression in the art.




Crafts & decorating
Textile artists
Decorative arts
Visual arts
American women 1600-1900
Women’s voices


Teddy Pruett


Amy Henderson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Williamsburg, Virginia


Amy Henderson (AH): [tape starts mid-sentence.]...here with Teddy Pruett at the American Quilt Study Group Conference at Colonial Williamsburg, for the Quilt Save Our Stories Project on Saturday, October 13, 2001 and it is 1:55 p.m. Thank you Teddy for having an interview with today, I know it's the last minute. Why don't we just begin by telling me where you're from? TP: Lake City, Florida. The north woods of Florida. AH: Is this where you grew up? TP: Yes, mostly. My father was in the military and I traveled a lot but most of my adult life has been in Florida. AH: Great. Well, why don't we also start by you telling me about the piece that you brought today? When did you make it? Was it made from a pattern? Just describe it for us. TP: This is "The Eggplant that Ate Baltimore" and each block individually and the quilt as a whole is a parody--I'm sort of poking, innocently I hope, fun at the Baltimore Album Quilts. I prefer to work with recycled items and old things I find a new life for. And I had some 1950's eggplants and I was trying to think of how far over the top could you go with an eggplant. And I just got to thinking about the Baltimore Albums as being the ultimate quilt and that was the result. AH: Now the eggplant was a fabric with a print of an eggplant on it? TP: Yes, yardage from the 1950's. AH: How did you come to acquire that? TP: There was maybe a yard or so that was out of my mother-in-law's stash in West Virginia. She had been a quilter many years ago, and was no longer quilting as she got older. And she gave me garbage bags full of stuff. And this eggplant was in that garbage. AH: Do you have any memory of her using it in a project? TP: No, she had quit quilting before I had married my husband. She had already stopped. AH: Tell me about some of the other recycled materials. TP: Right off I see a 1950 shirt waist house dress that was recycled all over the borders. The purple sashing and swags are a gathered skirt, again from the 1950's, there's an antique hankie from the 1930's. 1950's upholstery fabric, 1940's upholstery fabric. A lot of 1930's hand crochet; antique buttons. There's not much new on that even the pearls are from an old necklace I tore up. This is part of a majorette outfit from the 1950's. AH: What inspires you to try and use these recycled materials? TP: I don't want my quilts to look like anybody else's. And when I go to quilt shows you can see people stand around and point and say, 'I have this fabric and I have this fabric,' and I don't want them to say that with my quilts. I want them to stand on their own. The second reason particularly and I use a lot of needlework and doilies and dishtowels and crochet items and I have a real tender heart for the women that made these things. They have sat and put their life, and their time, and their hours into these things that end up to be garbage. So I like to take what ends up as garbage and recycle it into something that is useful and productive and sort of honors what they did, way back when. AH: Can you describe for me a few of the scenes that are in the different blocks? TP: [laughs.] Yes, there's Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And she's handing him an eggplant. And there is a tree of life over there just hung with little eggplants everywhere, and a snake coming out the foliage on the side. There are several blocks that are very typical of Baltimore Album quilts and quilts before the Civil War and one is a rose wreath which is done in the top corner as an eggplant wreath. Another is usually a welcoming pineapple which is done with an eggplant. The bottom left would normally be an oak leaf and reel as opposed to an eggplant and reel. Just absurdities, just silliness. AH: What about the Venus De Milo, I've always liked her? TP: [laughs.] A lot of times there will be a statue or a monument of some sort in the Baltimore Album quilts and she was just funny to me, just--she's not one of the typical things you see. Just my version of a monument to be butchered. AH: What about the text that you chose. TP: 'When this you see remember me.' That is my all time favorite women's phrase historically and the first quilt I ever made that got recognition on a national scale, was a tribute to women's quilts and samplers in the very very early 19th century. And the phrase was on there, 'When this you see remember me.' And I took it sort of as a logo and I use it a lot. And it is very tender to me when I see it--well, when women spend this time making something which was, many times historically, was their only voice, their only voice, and the only thing they could leave behind. And that's what they were saying was 'remember me.' And that was particularly poignant and we all want that. AH: What do you want people to remember about you when they look at this quilt? TP: [laughs.] I hope just a sense of the absurd. The fact that sometimes you don't have to follow the rules. And it is not everyone's cup of tea. Some people are offended by the way I work. And I am sorry about that but not really. I don't worry about it for very long. It's just like if you have any sense of humor at all you're going have fun with these. BH: What offends them? TP: Traditional quilters think you have butchered an icon or desecrated something that was sacred. And I don't think so. A lot of people enjoy it. AH: Why did you choose the Baltimore Album to play with. TP: I think I had just appraised a lot of them. I'm a certified appraiser and I do a lot of appraisals of new quilts. And I have seen so many Baltimore Album reproductions lately that I think I might have just had a bad day, where they had all begun to look the same to me and I had this absurd eggplant and I thought, 'What can you do with an eggplant?' And I wanted to make it glorious and fancy and just one of those things that come out of leading a stressful life. AH: How are you going to use this quilt? TP: It's done. It's done, once I'm through making them, I'm through with them. I put them in a few shows and show them around. And this is my newest work and then I'm done. They don't really have a purpose after that. The cutting and whacking and designing and pinning up and sewing, just the joyous oblivion from creating is the purpose. And once it's created, it's done. AH: It's meant to be a wall hanging, not for a bed? TP: Oh, absolutely yes. You couldn't do anything with a bed. It's full of junk and it's heavy and the fabric is already old. I don't think it's delicate at all, but it's just to look at and have fun with. AH: You said you finished it this year? TP: Yes. It was almost finished two and a half years ago. And then I moved and life got in the way and John Lennon I think has my favorite quote ever, 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.' And my life happened to me so it took a long time to finish, when it should have been able to be done in just a few weeks. AH: Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a quiltmaker? When did you begin to quilt and who taught you? TP: [laughs.] No one taught me, I'm self-taught. I started in the early seventies when I had a daughter who was maybe three or four years old. I just got up one day and said, 'I want to make a quilt for my daughter.' So I got a coloring book and I traced the pictures out of the coloring book and I sewed them together. I knew nothing about seam allowance. I knew nothing about thread. I literally knew nothing but I could sew so I made one. I sewed it together and I was hooked. AH: Who taught you to sew? Were you self-taught also with sewing? TP: No, my mother was a home sewer, my mother and all of her sisters could sew. And I started sewing clothes when I was about twelve so I could always handle a sewing machine. But, there were no quilters in my family, no quilters. My father's mother was a quilter but she lived in Virginia when I lived in Florida so I never had any exposure to that whatsoever. I think a lot of us, it's like a need that once you find that this is what you want to do this all you want to do. I've never been able to decipher where it comes from. But, I'm glad I've got it. AH: How did that first quilt turn out? TP: [laughs.] It turned out okay incredibly enough. The next few were total disasters. I didn't know about measuring and I didn't have a decent pair of scissors anyway. I was so poor then. And first of all I probably didn't own a pair of scissors that would cut fabric so I would just snip it and tear it. And I wanted to make sure I made it big enough so each piece was consecutively bigger. And it is a miracle any of them went together at all. And when I look at them now they are just hysterically funny. But I keep them to remind me. AH: Now you made that first quilt for your daughter, and then what possessed you to keep making quilts? TP: I have no idea. It's a need. It's something that you just know it's there, but I don't know how. I just had to do it. But it took years before I really made some nice ones. After my second marriage--after my current marriage. And I had a little bit of time and a little bit of money and for the first time I took a quilt class and after that there was no holding me back. I was on my way. AH: What did you learn in that first quilt class that you didn't already know? TP: How to do it the right way. I learned what a rotary cutter was. I learned what a rotary ruler was. That you were supposed to have quarter of an inch seams and that things were actually supposed to match, which I didn't know. I learned about new fabrics--cotton fabrics. Because before that I sewed with whatever I could get my hands on. But what's really kind of funny is I've come full circle now and I'm back to sewing with anything I can get my hands on. And I think once you've learned the rules and you know the right way to do it then you have carte blanche to break those rules and go on your merry way. AH: What are some of the rules you like to break? TP: [laughs.] All of them. All of them--when somebody says, 'You can't do it this way,' then it's my challenge to do it that way. I have a vision in my head and I will do anything it takes to get that vision out. I am not artistic at all. I can't draw at all. I don't know anything about line and design and weight and balance and scale. I think that I work under the premise that ignorance is bliss, if I don't know I'm doing it wrong I won't worry about it. And I think that when I know rules, I get hemmed in by them. So I try not to know very much. AH: When you look at this quilt for example today, there is design and there is balance and there is color organization and it seems to me that you've made a transition from being ignorant to very knowledgeable. TP: Well, I can tell when something looks wrong. Because I pin these on a Styrofoam design wall and I stand back and then I move them and then I move them again and I can tell when they are wrong but I can't tell you why that is. And I can always fix it by just moving things and then my eye says, 'This is good, this is right.' But I can't intellectually explain to you why. AH: So perhaps artistic is not always just an intellectual process but it is feeling? TP: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And my favorite art is outsider art and really, really primitive art. Because I am real excited about the human need to create. And I know that when people make perfect quilts and wonderful quilts, there is this reward at the end of that and it's in product. But to me the people who have no skill, and no education, but have to create in spite of that and don't care what they create as long as it's their vision, that's exciting to me. And my work is not real primitive or outsider, but I don't care. AH: Have either primitive or outsider artists influenced your quilt making, any one in particular? TP: No. No, I like it all from people who whittle out stumps and put button eyes on them to people who do bears with chain saws or all of it. The stranger the better. I saw an article one day where a lady had a garden full of sticks with boots on them upside down in her garden, and that's just so cool. [laughs.] It's just so cool. AH: Are there any quilt makers who have influenced you over the years? TP: I hope not. I hope not. I know the quilt makers I admire, but I don't emulate anyone that I know of. I hope I never do. AH: Tell me who you admire? TP: There are a number of very, very famous, internationally famous, what I call the "name brand" quiltmakers. Some of their work I admire. Some of the most famous I don't care for their work at all. The ones I like are the ones that I say, 'How did she do that?' And some of the very famous make quilts that are very simple structurally and if I can figure it out and I can say, 'I could do that in an afternoon,' then it has no interest for me whatsoever. So I admire the artists who do things that I can't do, that I don't understand how they got there. I also like artists who are very free in their work. When I look at a quilt and say, 'God, I wish I had thought of that. How do you break free enough to think of that?' Mine are not nearly as loose as I want them to be. They are still way--too constricted. AH: Can you tell me who? Can you make an example of a quilt or a quilter? TP: People that I like? Actually, I like Jane Burch Cochran's work. She's from Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. I like Wendy Huhn. I think she's in Oregon. And Sandy Donabed from Massachusetts. But, there are similarities there, because we all use recycled household items and we do embellishments and things like that, but that was a coincidence, because I had been working that way before I ever saw their work. So of course I like it because it's validation that, oh well these people are famous and they're published and they are well known for their work, so it must be okay for me to do this too. I would hate to say who I like and don't like. AH: Is there anything in your quilts structurally or a technique that you find is unique to how you do it? TP: Oh, heavens no I don't think so. It is basic traditional appliqué, reverse appliqué. There is hand sewing and machine sewing. There is hand quilting and machine quilting. Nothing unique just the vision I hope, but no techniques. AH: How does quilting impact your daily life? TP: Totally, totally from start to finish. I am a certified appraiser which means I know a lot about the historical end of textiles and quilts and it's like I think the quilt world is divided into three factions: You have what I call the craftsman, the people who literally make the quilts, you have the AQSG corner which are the scholars and researchers and the historians. But even the craftsman side is broken up into traditional quilters and art quilters. So I only have two legs to straddle that fence, but I have three places to put two legs, and I try to cover all the bases. I appraise so I need to know what I'm looking at there. I make quilts so I need to know the technical side and I have forgotten your question-- AH: How does it affect your daily life? TP: Oh, yes, completely that's it. I also write and lecture. So, I'm either writing lectures or researching lectures or giving them. I work at quilt shows doing appraisals, and then with every spare minute--which there aren't many of--I try to make a quilt once in a while. But the making is my true love. If I could do nothing else but make them I'd be happy. AH: What do you like most and what do you like least about quilting, the actual process of making a quilt? TP: Oh, my favorite process, I don't even have to think, pulling the fabrics, getting out five hundred fabrics and pinning them up and getting excited, and they talk to each other and they interact with each other. And they say, 'Oh, I love being next to you,' or 'This other one is wrong, it has to go.' I did an enormous patriotic quilt a few years ago. And I had pulled one fabric that I was going to take all the colors out of, and I completely made the quilt--which is an enormous quilt--and none of the original fabric even went into it. But pulling the fabric, picking it and tacking it up is my favorite part. Once that's done, it's all work. AH: So, the sewing-- TP: The pulling fabrics and the design and starting to sew them down to see how they interact. I love matching colors. If I'm in a quilt shop when somebody is trying to pull their fabrics, I'm right on top of them. Right on top of them. I have to pull their fabrics with them, 'Look at this, look at this, you have to do it this way. Try this one.' Because people tend to be too non-adventurous, unadventurous, too timid. Too timid, people--quilters want other quilters to tell them that it's okay. They want permission that yes this is good or that is good. So my greatest message that I try to get out to quilters that exactly what you want is okay. This is what you need to do, make your own decisions and don't let your best friend or your quilt shop influence you. AH: But it's okay if you influence them? TP: Oh, it's okay when I influence them, no what I do is try to help them with things like contrast. I helped a lady one time who had pulled three yellow fabrics and you couldn't see them. They all looked like the same fabric. You couldn't see the difference. And she was making a dimensional quilt. So, we just talked about that a little bit and she was really excited that somebody helped her. I was glad to do it. AH: And what is your least favorite part? TP: My least favorite part? I like it all, I do like it all. I wish I had time to hand quilt everything. I love the meditative process and the therapeutic sitting still with your own thoughts when hand quilting. Unfortunately the kind of fabrics I use don't always lend themselves to hand quilting. I use a lot of upholstery fabrics and heavy stuff. So I guess machine quilting is my least favorite part, because it's heavy and hard and I don't do it well and I hate it when I do it. So, machine quilting is my least favorite part. AH: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? TP: Artistically powerful. I guess the simplest answer is visual impact. Visual impact can be so many things. I don't know what makes one visually powerful to me. I just know that I love to go through a show and there may be four hundred quilts and I can walk up to one and say, 'Holy smoke, look at that.' And I will stay at that one quilt for an hour, where the others may get a perfunctory glance. And it can be something different on every quilt. And it can be something as mundane as a traditional antique nine patch. Sometimes women can take a nine patch and make a phenomenal quilt out of it. AH: Do you think it's because of selection of color, or pattern or-- TP: Oh, just any, any and all. AH: What makes a great quilter? TP: What makes a great quilter? I think that anyone who makes a quilt is a great quilter. Because it is satisfying a need in her and I think that as modern women we are so stretched and we lead such fragmented lives and there are so many demands on us--even the most selfish of us don't have much time. And any woman who has this thing that she wants to make a quilt and when she has made that she is a great quilter. She has accomplished something that to me is very great. And one of my pet peeves in the quilt world is people who are opinionated about the kind or the type. And it literally makes me crazy. There is the perfect quilt for every quilter. And it is like me making fun of Baltimore Albums but when I look at one I am totally in awe of the workmanship, totally in awe of the design, the longevity of the popularity of those things and the fact that women that have made incredible heirlooms that have lasted two or three hundred years. I don't want to make it but it is a great quilt for someone. AH: What are some of the other therapeutic aspects you have found personally in quilting? TP: Therapeutic? AH: Well, you said it was therapeutic. TP: Time alone, just time alone. Time for me and it is very rare and very special. And when I have five minutes that are mine that's where I want to spend it--digging in fabric and fondling and petting and I talk to it. I've moved recently and just built a studio. And I had to refold all of my fabric. It's a wall 16 foot long and 8 foot tall. And I got to fondle and pet and I would pull some out and lay it out and say, 'Oh my God, this is beautiful,' and I would just touch it and play with it and it was great. AH: Like re-reading a letter from an old friend? TP: Yes, it could be. And I haven't been able to quilt in so long, I don't have any inspiration. I don't have any exciting visions right now. And just pulling the fabrics every time I would pull one I would think, 'I know what I could do with you, and I know what I could do with you,' but then it's all filed away again. AH: To what degree are quilters story tellers? TP: You may have asked my most favorite question right there, my best question. When I was a child I had a real leaning towards writing, I was just real excited and thrilled by the written word. I was so excited because some one can have a thought in their mind, and they can put it on paper. And when you read what's on this paper that thought is transferred into your mind and you have an emotional reaction to it. And I think that is just the coolest thing in the world. And after I started making quilts like "Rotten Bones" and "Memorial Day" and people would stand in front of them and cry. Or "To Hell with Housework" and this one and people would stand in front of them and laugh. And I thought, 'This is the equivalent of the written word.' You are transferring an emotion, a story, a statement, and out of this dishtowel or rag or doily or whatever you have found you have said something to someone else. That gives me chill bumps. That's a great question. AH: Why is quilting important to your life? TP: That's not the same as the other question? If I could do what I wanted to eighteen hours of the day it would be involved with quilting in some way or another. I would either be studying the history more or sewing more, or out on the road collecting junk more. I have a friend who is pretty famous nationally as an appliqué artist and she has some of my quilts in her lectures and she introduces them as, 'This is my friend Teddy's work who shops in places where I would only go with rubber gloves and a set of tongs.' All ends of it- looking, making, learning about them sharing them, all encompassing. AH: It's similar but it's an entirely different question, what do you think about the importance of quilts in American life or American society? TP: I think, because I've been fortunate enough to learn about some historical aspects, I think it is very, very important. One of the first quilts that I made that I really love was a tribute to early American women, from like 1780 to 1820 or so. It was a time when some women couldn't own property, a lot of us couldn't read, or write or vote for sure. And women would use these textiles to report political statements and thoughts and sentiments and use as gifts and coffin covers, or mourning covers. They have always been a way we could communicate and share things. So, I think they are very important historically which I believe AQSG would certainly attest to that. The fact that we exist as a group. AH: What questions should we be asking about quilts and quiltmakers today, what questions should historians be asking? TP: Wow! Let me approach it this way when I appraise quilts, somebody brings me an antique quilt and I look at this, the first thing we say is, 'If we could only know the story.' And my very favorite quilts are sort of the kind that I make--the ones that make people scratch their heads and say, 'Why did she do that?' And if there was some way to go back and find these really wild, crazy things and say, 'What made her do that?' I'm all for good workmanship but I'm bored with it. When I see a quilt that shows me the soul of the maker, I get really, really excited. Or this woman says, 'I am different and I was here,' or 'I didn't want to follow the rules and I was here.' I think if we could really find the stories behind the quilts that's the main thing. AH: So to explore both the traditional and the non-traditional? TP: Oh, absolutely, there are a lot of non-traditional out there. And those are the women I want to know. The ones who made the weird ones. AH: What direction do you see quiltmaking going today? What different directions? TP: Just on and on and on. You know every few years the rumor surfaces that it's dying back. And I have people telling me all the time, 'Gee, it's too bad nobody quilts anymore.' And I just, crack up and then I go into this speal about how it's a billion and half dollar industry the last I heard and there are these hundreds of thousands of people at any given time that are at national quilt shows, and it's not in recession that I know of. I don't know why we need it so badly I just know we do need it so badly. It just fills a lot of needs. I hope it keeps on keeping on. AH: Do you feel your quilts reflects your region or community at all? TP: Lord, no. No, no. AH: There's nothing about Florida in this quilt? TP: Not a thing, not a thing, no. AH: Think about it as the Florida Album Quilt? TP: No, no, no. They'd probably kick me out of the state. I don't see anything southern much less from Florida. I have made quilts that are very specific I think to a time and a place and a people, but this one does not. AH: Is there anything you'd like to add to this interview that I haven't asked you that you want other quiltmakers or future historians to know about either your work or how you think about quilting? TP: Yes. I had to think this up several years ago for an artist's statement for something and it always stands me in good stead. The fact that I had started as most quilt makers with lessons and follow all the rules and make my points pointy and my corners match and all like that. And I really worked hard at it and harder and harder at it. And I am really not a great technician. Once I came to terms with that and I thought well if I can't follow the rules then I'll break them and not worry. And once I quit worrying about it, it's been phenomenal. The joy is back and the fun is back. And if you don't care what people think, and you don't have to cater to what people think, then it's no holds barred quilting and that's what I like. Just follow your instincts. AH: I'd like to thank you for talking to me today for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project. This interview was concluded at 2:25 PM. Thank you. TP: You guys have some questions that are right on. Those are good questions.

Interview Keyword

Humorous quilts
Recycled materials
Fabric art
Quilting techniques
Art quilts
Abstract quilts
Machine quilting
Women in quilting
Quilt appraisers
American quilts


“Teddy Pruett,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 25, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2446.