Shoko Ferguson




Shoko Ferguson


Ferguson discusses her interest in quilting through her mother-in-law, as well as balancing quilting as a mother of three children. She describes the two quilts that she brought to the Quilt Festival Houston. She talks about how quilting has helped her become an American and become acquainted with American culture.




Quilts--United States--History--20th century--Exhibitions.
Quilting arts workshop
Quilts--United States--History--20th century.
Quilting--United States--Patterns.


Shoko Ferguson


Charletta MacDougal

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Amy Milne


Houston, Texas


Charletta MacDougal (CM): Hello. This is Charletta MacDougal, and it is October 22 [1999.] and we are in Houston, Texas. And we are talking to--

Shoko Ferguson (SF): Shoko Ferguson

CM: At the Quilt Festival. Tell me about your quilt.

SF: In the beginning, I never expected to make a large quilt. I just got one yard of fabric for a background. So I cut to four blocks first. After doing the four blocks, I was thinking about making a wall-hanging. But my husband told me, 'How about making it bigger. I like this quilt.' 'It looks beautiful,' he said. So I said, 'Well, okay let me try.' But it was already about three or four months since I started, so I couldn't find any of the same fabric again. So I ran around to four or five shops and found a very similar fabric but it's really a deeper tone like this one and this one. It's a little deeper color than this one. [pointing to the different fabrics.] So, I was really upset about it, but I had no choice to make a bigger quilt. So I did it and later on after I finished the quilt it showed the different tone of color. So I did more cutting there and I tried to come right to the color. It worked, I hope. So that is the beginning. After I finished the quilt top, my little girl came and looked at it. 'I want to help you, mamma,' she said. She was two. At that time I was marking with blue disappearing pen, a water-disappearing pen. She came and said, 'I love ladybugs.' So she grabbed her marking pen and put the red mark underneath of the butterfly there. And I said, 'Oh, what can I do?' So I put the little ladybug, about this big, a half-inch. But it was still showing a little bleed underneath, so it looked like a dead bug up there. So I thought, 'Oh, this is horrible.' So I took the poor, dead ladybug off and I put the butterfly on finally. But most important for me about this quilt, was all the emotional feelings when I was making this quilt because in '96 I got pregnant with my daughter. It was a really tough pregnancy. I had a early contractions and a bed-rest for three months. But in that time my mother came from Japan and helped me and my family. I have two boys, so I really needed help. So finally my daughter was born at forty-two weeks. She was little, only six pounds, seven ounces. That's why my mother stayed almost three months and went over the limit, staying over seas without any legal paperwork. So she had to go back to Japan. The baby was born three days before my mother left. So only one night my mother sang with my baby. It was really nice. During the time I was making the quilt, my friend passed away and it was kind of emotional for me. And of course I've got many other new friends, too. So it is really difficult to say, but this quilt has made citizenship in this country for me in my mind, because I was just a stranger in this country, but after making this quilt and showing here at this huge show it is so happy for me. My son said, 'My mommy's going to a humungous show.' And of course I appreciate this great award, but more than that I appreciate everybody for inviting me to this great show. And seeing the quilters come from the whole world. That is so amazing for me. I really appreciate this moment. I am so happy to be in Houston.

CM: Tell us just how long did it take you to make the quilt?

SF: More than three-and-a-half years.

CM: Tell us when did you start learning about this Baltimore design?

SF: I adapted the patterns from Ellie Sienkiewicz. I apologize to her because soon after I started this one I found out all of the flowers and ribbons, each color and setting having meaning. I never knew about it. That's why I thought, 'I like blue here--I like pink here.' But after I found out I was so ashamed of myself. I talked to Ms. Sienkiewicz yesterday and she forgives me. She said, 'Oh, no problem.' So I'm so happy to hear that. I've never taken any class in my life. I always had little kids with me, now my sons are eleven and eight years old, and the little one's two-and-a-half. So I never had a chance to take any classes. That's why I had no idea to join any show, but this is maybe an interesting story. I'm living about a half-hour from Ms. Ann Oliver. She's one of the Hundred Quilters. Ms. Oliver came to our guild show. At that time I was exhibiting this quilt there. When she came to the Maryland Quilters Guild show I was not there that time. But she told my friend, the guild-member, I have to join the Houston show. I have to enter it. I was so happy to hear that from the top-recruiter giving me advice to join the international show. I thought, she said so, so I should do it.

CM: Which quilter?

SF: Ann Oliver. She's so wonderful and I was so happy to hear that. I really appreciate her.

CM: Well, where did you first learn about this pattern?

SF: It's very hard because I just pick up and try to do it by myself. Plus, I don't know the dimensional appliqué. That's why I look at the picture and think about how they did it. Anyway, I did little by little by myself and found out how it looks. It's a little different method I did because I tried to create it by myself. But I'm glad it happened. And also I appreciate another two friends, Carol and Maryanne, who invited me to make a Baltimore Album Quilt. At that time I was not interested but they said, 'Well you do appliqué, so let's do it together.' I said, 'Okay.' That time my youngest son was five, so I can't go places very often. So Maryanne and Carol said, 'Okay, I'll come over to your house. Let's do it.' So I told them, 'I have no excuse to say I don't want to do it.' At that time really I thought I was too busy to do it. But now I really appreciate their inviting me to do it. Maryanne got an award at the Ohio State Show, which had our Baltimore Album Quilt. We started to make it together. So she still told people, 'I learned from Shoko.' That really tickles me. I'm so happy.

CM: Tell me when did you first become interested in quilts? What is your earliest memory of quilts?

DS: It's funny, but the first time I visited my future mother-in-law, Jean Ferguson, in '86. She showed me a family heirloom quilt which was an olive green and white Irish Chain quilt. She showed me and I saw for the first time a quilt in front of me. She didn't say anything to push me. But my English was really poor, at that time. I just misunderstood. She told me, 'This is a family tradition,' so I thought I must keep going this way. I have to make a quilt. I thought she told me so. Then I was really panicking, because I'd never done anything like that. I went back to Japan and was looking for a quilting book in Japan. So I grabbed one book. It's Ms. Shizuka Kuroha, who's a pioneer of Japanese quilters. So I grabbed her book and went to the States. When I started quilting I had little vocabulary and quilting books have special words like "sashing" or "background" or "batting" or "backing." So I couldn't understand anything with English explaining about the quilt so that's why I grabbed the Japanese book and started in Maryland. If I didn't misunderstand what my mother-in-law said, I would never have started quilting. So that time I thought, 'It's family tradition so I must take up this handicraft work.' That's why I started.

CM: What did your mother-in-law say when you told her about this award?

SF: She's so happy for me. She's eighty years old, so she can't make the trip here. But I really hope she's here staying with me could be here. I'm really hoping so.

CM: You really are doing the family tradition now, aren't you?

SF: I hope. It feels like being a real family member.

CM: So you are really enjoying quilting now?

SF: Yes, very much. My eleven-year-old son was diagnosed with autism when he was nine. Of course he showed the abnormality when he was two or three years old, but the doctors didn't diagnose it at that time. But all the way from two or three years old up to now all the doctors told me to be patient. Be patient. Do not get mad at him. Somehow his brain's not working, so you have to be patient in telling him. So for me that is really tough because he is my first child, and I was believing there was nothing wrong with him. But suddenly it popped up, that sort of thing. So I thought I need to do something, a therapeutic kind of thing. So that's why my very first large quilt that I started in this country was a three-quarter inches postage-stamps quilt. So when I was mad at him, I tried piecing together. I start with 90 by 90, so I stop it because I worried about it becoming a super-large quilt. Now I still need to do something because my son became eleven years old and shows a little more difficulty now with his age. So I thought, 'I need to do something now,' so I'm planning to do some tiny piecing now after this.

CM: Tell us about this miniature quilt.

SF: Yes. I was really happy to see the real Indiana wreath quilt at this exhibit because I scaled down the copy of that by myself from I think maybe a really old issue of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine showing the black-and-white picture of the Indiana wreath now exhibited in the century quilts. It was black-and-white so I couldn't imagine the color but I really loved that quilt. So I thought, 'Well, let me start to do it.' It's scaled down, but the picture was really tiny so I made a large copy and tried to draft by myself and made this quilt. The border is my original design. But after I made it in '96, I titled it "Old Time Beauty" and entered the "Miniature from Heart," a Miniature Quilt Magazine contest. I got the best of show that time. It's really something making the miniature appliqué quilt. That's why I used miniature appliqué in the center block. It's kind of the same size as the small one in the middle, the basket. I really love to do it now. I was thinking someday I want to visit the museum and look at that particular quilt so I was so happy when I saw it here. It is amazing. My dream came true.

CM: So what are your plans for your next quilt?

SF: Well, I'm thinking some tiny piecing again but I'm asking everyone to sign my blocks here, for a memorial quilt of Houston.

Marcie Ferris (MF): What do you like about the tiny quilting?

SF: Is it tiny, do you think?

CF: Yeah, it's tiny.

SF: I just try to do it. Basically, I can't trash fabric, so that is why I use all of the tiny pieces. So after I made the quilt into square piecing, the little off the edge. I trim to triangle, and I piece a triangle. I really love fabrics, so I can't throw away any tiny piece. I ask my quilting friends, please trash to me all of the scraps. So many friends do it now. I have a bunch of scrap fabrics at home. I love looking through because so many people have so many different tastes over picking fabrics. Some I would never pick, but somebody love to pick it. I would never pick this shiny color. But somebody gave it to me, so I love to use it. It really makes a good effect in this quilt. It really shows off the color. For this brick red and this pink and the background I bought new fabrics. The rest all came from the scrap bag. So this is really a scrap quilt.

MF: Were you aware of quilting in Japan when you lived there?

SF: No. After I moved here I learned about the guilds. And they are a really big help. Now I belong to the Quilter's Workshop of Oxen Hill, and the Southern Maryland Quilter's Guild. Those ladies have helped me a lot. Most of the help is when somebody looks at my quilting and just to say, 'Oh, I like this part. I like this part.' They cheer me up and give me energy for the next step. I really think so. So if nobody tells me I want to see the larger quilt, I think it's boring. It's just half-dying, sleeping forever. What quilters call a UFO, like Unfinished Object. It was going to that. But everybody told me, 'So how much have you done of the Baltimore?' Well, that means I must keep going. I was done almost at the deadline of the entry. I thought I'd never finish it.

MF: It sounds like quilting has really shaped your experience in the United States.

SF: I think so. Yes. That's why many ladies came over here and said, 'Oh, you are Japanese, but your quilt does not look like a Japanese quilt.' So I thought, I don't know what a Japanese quilt is because I never learned quilting in Japan. I never did quilting in Japan, so I have no idea what is a Japanese quilt. I have no idea because I am an American quilter. I am so proud of that part because I love the traditional quilt. And I love to make a quilt to use it. And I sometimes give them to friend's babies. I usually ask them after they use it, wash it and use it and it becomes really looking antique please return it to me. I'm going to make a teddy bear for the baby. I love to make teddy bears too. I really love the old style of quilting. I usually tell everybody I'm a quiltmaker. I'm not an artist. I'm happy to be a quiltmaker. I really appreciate my husband because if he didn't push me to finish this maybe I wouldn't finish it because between making it I had a baby and my son's autism diagnosis. It felt really hard to keep going physically because I got tired from feeding my baby or I needed to rest all the time. But he told me he loved to help me as much as he could. Always he's helpful, but it increased. So I really got big help from my husband. So I'm here under the spotlight, and my husband is just doing housework for me.

MF: Do you think that this award and this involvement in Houston will change your--

SF: I think so. Change my life, because mentally I became an American citizen. No paperwork yet, but I got a really comfortable feeling over that. It's had a big meaning for me. Of course, this show gave me a very big opportunity because my most respected quilter, Ann Oliver, came over and she invited me to be a guild member in Virginia. I was so happy to hear that. And she's happy for me because she told me this world needs some young traditional quilters to keep going this way. I was so happy to hear that and I want to keep going this way. This has big meaning for me. This "Founder's Award" has big meaning for me. Miss Carrie here and Nancy, and their mother's here to celebrate my quilt. Miss Carrie told me this is kind of a special award by the International Quilt Association, so that is really something special for me. Most of all it gives me a chance to stand here and talk to people from all over the world. I really appreciate this moment.

MF: Do you hope to teach or do any activity like that at some point?

SF: No, but from last month I started working at the Chesapeake Bay Quilting Shop. It's a new one in Southern Maryland. The owner Nancy Gorski gave me a chance to teach there. I taught only four students the Celtic appliqué. And those ladies are supposed to be having class tomorrow, but they understood this special situation. I appreciate that.

CF: Tell me about your having everybody sign the pattern?

SF: I think maybe this will never happen again in my life, so I have to do something right now. So I traced the Celtic design, it's a large, 17 inches square. I brought eight blocks with me and I'm asking for signatures from the ladies coming and stopping to talk about my quilt. I'll bring that home and make my own special memorial quilt. I'm planning a nine-block quilt. It's going to be a special quilt. In the future, I'd love to bring that quilt back to Houston with me. I want to do a show-and-tell! I'm really, really happy to be sharing this moment in Houston.

MF: What do most people ask you about this quilt?

SF: Well, the most-asked question is how long did it take to make this quilt? And the next is how to do the small appliqué? So I say, 'Needle turn.' After that they ask how to make time with three children. So I usually answer with my husband's help, and I usually do my quilting after 10:00 and keep going 'till 2 a.m.

MF: Has there been an interest in you, now, back in Japan about your quilting? Have they wanted you to come and speak in Japan about your interest?

SF: I don't know.

MF: I ask because there are so many Japanese women here. Why is there such a strong interest from Japan?

SF: Well, it's hard to tell because I never did quilting in Japan. But I think this is because we learn needlework in elementary school, middle school, high school. We learn how to make a dress or pajamas or something like that. Everybody I think really got the strong impact by the t.v. show "Little House on the Prairie" and also "Anne of Green Gables." So many quilters started with that situation. Many Japanese love traditional quilting I think. Of course, when I see the Japanese magazines, they don't use much strong impact color. Usually they have much less color, and I think really they do beautiful needlework. I feel a little sad to look at it because if they are showing their personality a little more it would have strong impact. My quilt having originality or not, I can't tell because this is not my judgment. Japanese love to make a copy of a quilt, but I hope they do a little more adding of their originality. So maybe it would show up differently. But I can't tell because I never learned in Japan.

MF: Did your mother sew?

SF: Well, it's funny. When she came to Maryland, to help me, she had not done much appliqué. But I showed her the Mimi Dietrich's, "Baltimore Bouquet" book. She really loved it. She finished it when she was in Maryland and brought it back to Japan with the book. She said, 'Can I have it? Can I keep it?' I said, 'Okay,' and she brought it home. I hope she's still doing it. She had never tried the ruching [pronounced roosh-ing which simply is gathering.] flowers or folding flowers but she learned many things when she was here.

CF: Have you talked to her since you won this award?

SF: Of course, yes. She said, 'Oh, you make me feel dizzy, or heart-attack,' she told me. She said, 'Oh, oh I need time to catch my breath.' She's proud of me mostly because I completed something. When I was a little girl, my sister did everything really good. I started and she finished, kind of like that. Or sometimes I started knitting, but my sister was doing a much better job so I lost interest in it. She was not interested in hand-piecing. She says, 'I have a machine, so why do I need to do it by hand?' So I thought, 'That's it. I'll do it.' After I started it, if she tried to make it and she had done much more beautifully than I do it, maybe I would have thought, 'She did it, so I don't want to do it.' But she never was interested in quilting. That's why I think this was somehow maybe God helped me to keep going this way.

MF: Why don't I take a picture of you in front of this quilt, and then we'll go back and take a quick photograph of you in your booth with your miniature quilt.

SF: Okay, yes, thank you.

CF: You did great. Thank you so much for your interview.

SF: Oh thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

Interview Keyword

Shoko Ferguson
Japanese Americans
Japanese American quilters
Miniature quilts
Quilt Festival Houston


“Shoko Ferguson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,