Jane Hall




Jane Hall


Hall spends much of her time quilting or writing quilting books. She expects to see change in the quilting community with the new wave of art quilts and believes that preservation should come second to actual use.




Quilts in art
Arts and crafts.


Jane Hall


Carolyn Malaski

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Pam Neil


Houston, Texas


Rachel Grove


Carolyn Malaski (CM): This is Carolyn Malaski. Today's date is 11-2-01. It is now 3:38, and I'm conducting an interview today with Jane Hall for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, in Houston, Texas. Jane, I'd like you to tell me a little bit about the quilt that you brought today. This is it right here? Describe it for us.

Jane Hall (JH): Yes, it is Pineapple Log Cabin variation that I made a couple of years -about a year and a half ago. Actually, Dixie Haywood and I were in the middle of writing our fourth book, and I needed a sample of this kind of a Pineapple Variation. So, I dreamed this up. I think I'm in my red period now, and I have twenty-five different reds in it with black Flying Geese triangles going across the surface. I love it. It came out better than I ever had expected. And it was photographed for the book.

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

JH: Well, it's a Pineapple and I'm known for making Pineapple designs, and I am teaching Pineapples here, so it is one I could include in my suitcase. I came overloaded. I would have loved to have brought a huge quilt, but there was no way with the airlines currently limiting you to only three shipped-through bags. It's representative of what I do.

CM: So how do you use this quilt then--in your classes primarily?

JH: In the classes, yes. I don't hang it. I don't plan to give it away or sell it. It's basically for my classes. Mostly because I'm teaching from the book and using it.

CM: So basically it represents what you do. Tell me a little bit about your interest in quilting. When did you start quilting, and from whom did you learn?

JH: I started quilting when we lived in Hawaii. My husband was military. I had always done handwork. I have a large number of children (five), and I spent a lot of time watching children, and you can't very well read. I went through knitting and cross-stitch and that sort of thing, and we lived in Hawaii and I saw a Hawaiian quilt. A great big snowflake, a cut-paper sort of thing, a beautiful thing. I just became obsessed with it. I had to have one, and at that time in the early seventies there was nowhere to buy such a thing. You couldn't even buy a pattern. I had to take a Home Extension course and learn to cut my own. I figured I'd always sewn, so I could appliqué. So I appliquéd. Nobody told me I should use 100% cotton. Nobody told me this was a ridiculous thing to do--[laughs.] to make a queen-sized quilt for a first quilt, but I did it, and it's really quite gorgeous. I taught Hawaiian quilting yesterday here, so I also do do that. I learned to do a large quilt, and when I got the top finished I decided I would send it to a church group for quilting. But I wanted it quilted in traditional Hawaiian fashion which was with echo quilting, and these ladies didn't do that. They just did crosshatch quilting, so I taught myself to quilt. There were very few books then. I had a friend who quilted, and she told me it was just a running stitch, and so I did it. I ultimately tore out the first three square feet of quilting that I had done in the middle of the quilt and redid them, because the stitches were so bad. But it was my primer on how to learn to quilt. About three or four years later I got my courage up and took a piecing class from a teacher in San Antonio, who taught me the basics of making templates and so forth. For the rest I'm completely self-taught.

CM: So it sounds like there weren't other family or friends who had any influence.

JH: No. None at all.

CM: What do you find pleasing about quilting, or what do you enjoy?

JH: I guess two things. One is the feeling of a tie to the past. I collect old quilts. I collect old quilt blocks, and I have this feeling that some woman--I know some woman a hundred, hundred and fifty years ago did it, and I wonder what her life was like and what she did, and I wish somebody had interviewed her. But I also love the tactileness--I love touching cloth. I love handling it. I love designing. I love putting colors together, and it's not messy like painting. I just--it really is a very, very good creative outlet. And if I'm feeling super frazzled, all I have to do is go into my quilt room, and just fold fabric.

CM: Have you ever used, or how would you use quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

JH: I've been really more fortunate than most. I haven't had any serious times--other than fights with husbands or daughters that don't speak to me for a day, you know, that sort of thing. I find that I can just go lose myself in fabric. It doesn't have to be--Lord knows if I am working on a book, or working on a quilt with a deadline, like if I had a deadline to get a quilt into this show or into the Paducah show, I can quilt hours at a time, but that's kind of a pressure thing. If things just aren't going the way I wish they were, I can actually go out and just clean up the room and fold some fabric and think 'oh I meant to cut that fabric up' and I'll see what will happen, and do it. As I say, I've been more fortunate than most. I have not had to go through deaths and divorces and awful things yet.

CM: How many hours a week do you spend quilting?

JH: If you count my writing, because I do write books, several hours a day. Sometimes as much as six or eight hours a day. Certainly I would say three to four hours a day involved with quilting in one way or another.

CM: Is there anything about quilting that you do not enjoy? [pause.] Or what would those be if there is anything?

JH: No, I really--Well, apart from like basting a quilt, which is really dreary. [laughs.] I can't think of anything that I don't enjoy. I don't enjoy the very rare times when people with overwhelming personalities get into the quilting world, but I've worked with a lot of women's groups, church groups, that sort of thing, and I find that in the quilting world there are fewer queens than there seem to be in other groups, and so I don't think that is a serious concern.

CM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JH: Design. Good design and of course color comes into the design. Workmanship has got to be there. I mean, you can have the best design in the world, but if you're a real slob then your workmanship--it detracts from it. Just a well executed, well thought out, well designed piece of quilt art, quiltmaker's art, and it can be the most traditional quilt in the world. It doesn't have to be an off-the-wall art quilt, but I think the design, the design is what catches the eye in a quilt. And color goes--of course color is all important.

CM: What makes a quilt artistically colorful, because you mentioned artistic type quilts?

JH: Again I think the design and color, the way the stuff is put together. There are a lot of people--I don't know how to say this--There are a lot more art trained people in our quilt world now, and some of them, most of them have done the quilt world a big service in expanding our horizons. Somebody in my class this morning was talking about how she really wasn't turned on by the art quilts. She really was so afraid people were going to stop making Log Cabins and Bear Paws and real traditional things, and I said I think there's always going to be a place for that, but the big thing to me is that when the art quilters and the artists got into the quilting field they made us think, 'Well, you don't have to make a pineapple that's blue and light blue and medium blue. You can do all this. You can make a purple bear's paw.' Even the real traditional people are expanding, and I think our days of 'I'm going to make this quilt out of this book and put the green where the book says to put green and the pink where it say to put pink', those days I think are going, and those are not good quilts, I don't think, derivative quilts.

CM: What would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JH: The best of its type or really, really representative of its type, whether it's an antique or a new quilt, an art quilt, a traditional quilt. You know we talk a lot about museum quality quilts and they usually are really, really representative of a genre, I think, whether it's just a country quilt--it doesn't have to be a world class, twenty stitches to the inch quilt. In the North Carolina Quilt Project we looked for--we had, you know, just absolutely knock your socks off quilts, but we then also had a plain old farm hand quilt--big lumpy quilts that you couldn't turn over under because they were so heavy. That should be included too. It shouldn't all be the gorgeous stuff.

CM: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting and or longarm quilting?

JH: I think that machine and hand quilting are very--Well, they're both here to stay. I think they live with each other very well. I'm a quilt judge. I judge them together. I would never separate them again. A good machine quilted quilt is every bit as good as a good hand quilted quilt. The trouble is there's not a whole lot of really good machine quilted quilts. A whole lot of people have jumped into it and think they can do it really, really well, and that it's just a kind of quick and dirty way to do and there are not a lot of Deb Wagner's and Caryl Fallert's and Sue Nichols' kind of quilting. It's getting better and better and better, but you know when machine quilting first came in they were separated into categories, machine quilting and hand, and NQA still separates. I think that's wrong, because I think they can compete against each other equally. longarm quilting I think is another story. I think if someone has worked to quilt with their fingers or quilt with their hands and their arms and their backs on their own home sewing machine and has perfected a technique, they cannot compete well with a longarm machine. longarm machine has got to have a good operator. And the other issue is--I mean the longarm machine can do with a mediocre operator what it will take an ordinary mortal--

CM: Advanced?

JH: Advanced skills to do, so in that respect it's not fair. The other issue of course is the two person quilt. I am violently opposed to me making a quilt and you quilting it with your longarm machine and we put it in the show, unless it's in a category competing against other quilts.

CM: That is other longarm?

JH: Other longarm, other two person quilts--it is just not fair. If you own a longarm machine and you are absolutely wonderful then you can put it in your own thing and you'll win everything hands down. I don't want to sound like the poor guys who were making buggy whips who got left behind after Henry Ford, so I think we need to guard against being against change, but I do think the longarm competition in unfair to this skilled machine operator, single machine, home machine operator.

CM: Let's take a little bit of a look at the function and meaning of quilts in American life, and we'll talk about you just for a moment--But why is quilting important for you in your life?

JH: I think it's just one of the finest creative outlets I have. As I say it's a tranquilizing, soothing thing that I do most of the time, except for when I'm under a lot of deadlines, but it's just really important to me, to do something with my hands. I've always worked with my hands. I love working with colors. I like the history aspect of it. I read all the quilt history books I can. I belong to the American Quilt Study Group and go to their lectures and hear their papers and so forth. I can't imagine not being involved in quilting.

CM: In what way would your quilts reflect the community or region in which you live?

JH: I don't really think they would. I've made them all over the country, because we've traveled so much, and I'm not a particularly churched person, so I don't work within a church group. We can't say that I've got Amish flavor or southern flavor or northeastern flavor or Texas flavor. I mean, I spent many years in San Antonio, but I don't think I'm a southwestern type.

CM: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history and their experiences in America?

JH: Oh gosh. It's always been considered a woman's art, and I imagine it was the only art outlet that an awful lot of women had, especially back before now. The book that was written called "Anonymous Was a Woman," I think, said a lot of it. It made the point that a lot of written and painted things, written works and painted things that were signed anonymous were probably women, because they didn't sign their name. I mean they were little more than chattels at one time. I have a wildly women's lib daughter, so a little of it has rubbed off, not a lot, but a little. [laughs.] I think probably quilts provided an outlet for them too, and there was something when they had to put together scraps and make a quilt to cover their family, you know, before the snows came, it was still something that let them put a little square of red here and a little square of red there, and it's that that drives me into it.

CM: How do you think quilts can be used, or what should quilts be used for? How might they be used?

JH: As a function? I mean functionally they were made for a bed, and the really nitty-gritty definition of art and craft has to do with function, and that's why we're classified as a craft by some of the snootier museums, because we make things that are functional. This has always bugged me. Art is something that doesn't have a function, so they're made for the bed, they're made for the wall, they're made for the body--I make them to give to newborn grandbabies. I make them as wedding gifts. To me they're a creation of my hands that can be given as a gift, but obviously they're made for beds, walls, and bodies.

CM: What happens to the quilts that you've made, and you've mentioned that you've given as gifts?

JH: Oh, my baby grandchildren drag them around with their thumbs in their mouths. [laughs.] I have a forty-three year old son who finally married last year, and called me and said, 'Mom, you remember you told me that when I got married you'd make me a quilt,' and I reminded him that that was thirty years before when he graduated from college [laughs.] or twenty year before, but it suited me to make him a quilt because I was in the middle of doing this new book and I needed a border. I needed a vehicle for a border, so I made him a quilt. He lives in Austin. He wanted a red and yellow quilt, so I made him a red--it was really quite pretty-- it was red and gold Log Cabin, and I just flew up to Austin yesterday and had dinner with them last night, flew back today, just to see them, and the quilt's on their bed, and it's carefully covered up with a sheet during the day, so the cats don't get on it. Of course it's eminently washable, so I know they're not mistreating it. [laughs.]

CM: As far as quilt preservation, how do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JH: Well, they have a finite life, and I think we need to realize that. Fabric is not going to be here 200 years from now. It's tough. It's just the way it is. I think people should….I'm really, really insistent and in my classes, I really push people to label their quilts and sign them, you know, 'made by so and so,' I mean, if our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had done that it would have been a whole lot easier for us now. They shouldn't be put in strong sunlight, put under dogs to have puppies on. I mean, you know, sensible stuff, but I wonder how much good--I tell people to use their quilts, because somebody gave me some linen sheets when I was a bride, and I put them away for best, because they were too good to use, and thirty years later the silverfish had eaten all the creases, and I never had those sheets on the bed. Fabric is going to go. We shouldn't mistreat it, but to store it wrapped up in acid free tissue paper for 100 years. Nobody's gotten to enjoy it. So maybe I'm a Philistine. [laughs.]

CM: Is there anything that you would like to share or like to tell us a little bit about something that I haven't covered?

JH: Gosh, you've been so thorough. I'm frantically thinking of answers to what you're saying. I think quilts give women something, probably have in the past and boy they sure today--Our lives are so full of 'shoulds' and 'musts' and 'ought tos' etcetera, and quilts give women, ordinary women--I'm not talking about Nancy Crow and Jinny Beyer and the people who are a cut above in terms of art in their field--but quilts give ordinary people a measure of control over something they're doing and a measure of creativity. And if they can be--I told this to my class this morning--God's not going to come down out of cloud and smite you because you did something one way. I tell you this is good way to do it, and if you try it you don't like it, do it your way. This is something you can do. It's a measure of what you can do, and I really think it's something that's real important to quilters. Students come in and they say, 'I'm no good at this. I can't do colors. My fingers don't work right. I'm no good at this.' And this is so dumb, because we think that we've lost what we had when we were five, and quilts give some of that back, plus give a great deal of culture. People just get giggly when they do something, and I love that aspect of it.

CM: I'd like to thank Jane Hall for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Project, Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project. Our interview concluded today at 3:59 on November the second, '01.

Interview Keyword

Women's history.



“Jane Hall,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2495.