Marlene Peterman




Marlene Peterman


Hester Able interviews Marlene Peterman, a quilter and quilting teacher, for the Quilters' S.O.S. Oral History Project. Peterman discusses personal aspects of her quilting, including how she began quilting, her personal style of quilting, and her daily routine of quilting. She talks about her broader feelings about quilting, including what she believes to be qualities of a great quilter, as well as a great quilt. She discusses personal quilt use as well as preservation. She also talks about the history of quilting in the United Kingdom, and the impact of quilting on American women’s history.




Textile artists
Decorative arts
Crafts & decorating
Arts & crafts
Great Britain
Women's history
Scottish Americans
Sewing machines
Machine sewing
Quilts as art


Marlene Peterman


Hester Able

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Leslie Tucker Jenison


Houston, Texas


Megan Dwyre


Hester Able (HA): This is Hester Able. Today's date is November 2, 2002. It is 12:20 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Marlene J. Peterman for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. [giving instructions on the interview process.] I'm supposed to use these questions to start with so could you tell me what you brought as a significant thing? Some people don't bring quilts so. [looking at object]. Oh, it's beautiful, really beautiful. Can you tell me about that?

Marlene Peterman (MP): This quilt is a miniature of a larger version, there's a full size one and it's similar to the Baltimore quilts, the thing is that the larger one I made for a trip to Scotland to teach about four or five years ago. This one was for a trip to Scotland again a couple of years ago so they both have things that are significant to my life and my heritage, not being American.

HA: I do detect a tinge of an accent, yes.

MP: I'm from Scotland.

HA: Does this quilt have some special meaning for you or it's just something that you built to take to Scotland?

MP: Well, it's the type of quilts that I teach. I teach Baltimore type quilts and floral quilts so this is just an example of what I do.

HA: And you only use this for teaching purposes basically, you don't use it while you're watching TV or anything like that?

MP: No.

HA: I'm not meaning to demean it I'm just double checking. What are you planning to do with it after you finish using it for teaching?

MP: It will probably just be put in my sewing room. I really have no idea what I'm going to do with it.

HA: Well we've talked about that quilt. How did you get interested in quilting?

MP: When my son was born in 1975. The tradition in Scotland is to knit or crochet something for a child and because he was the first American child in this family, I decided I would do something very American and make him a quilt and quilting does have a British heritage, but not in my background I'd never seen anyone quilting when I grew up.

HA: So you were a grown-up person when you started?

MP: Yes.

HA: Having a baby. How did you learn did you take classes or did you read a book?

MP: No, no. There wasn't anyone teaching at the time, in 1975, and so I went out and bought a pattern and it was a big lion and I went home and just basically taught myself how to do it. I didn't know about quilting or thread or anything like that, or how to appliqué and I just did what I thought you should do and finished it.

HA: Did you ever take any subsequent classes?

MP: Yes, later on I found a little store and they were teaching pillows, and I took a pillow class to make a Grandmother's Flower Garden and I went home and made a king-size quilt, and then the next pillow class was a basket. Everything was hand done, a pieced basket with all the little triangles. I made one in class and it was crewel work embroidery and then I went home and made a king-size one. And so, everyone says it's because I'm Scottish and I have to use everything that I make but I only had a king-size bed and I thought you had to make it for a bed. I didn't know you could put quilts on walls at that time.

HA: I think they're awfully fine in bed too. How many hours do you spend a week quilting when you're not out teaching?

MP: Well, because I do it professionally now that really is my job and so if I have a project I work on it sometimes 12 hours a day and then sometimes I don't work on it for a long time if I get tired of it.

[speaking at the same time.]

MP: It depends.

HA: So sometimes you pause for trips and teaching and sometimes you pause-

MP: Just to get a break.

HA: Do you just do one project at a time?

MP: Yes now I do. I usually start with it and continue on with it until it's finished.

HA: And this was not always the case.

MP: Well, I wasn't doing it professionally at the beginning so I was jumping around like everybody, taking classes and doing projects and things, but after I started teaching I did less of that. Most of the things I do are teaching samples of something special and I get them finished.

HA: You said before and now here too that no quilters in your family at all, is that right?

MP: No.

HA: And you had never seen someone quilting?

MP: No.

HA: Oh my goodness. You have a family now?

MP: Yes.

HA: And what do they think of your quilting?

MP: They've always been very supportive. They're my best critics, my best friends.

HA: So they support you?

MP: Yes they do.

HA: That sounds great, I wish I had somebody like that. Have you ever turned to quilting when things weren't going right in your life? When things were not going well? People for instance get cancer and then they decide to make a quilt as part of their recovery process or whatever. It's therapeutic.

MP: No, I really haven't needed that, but I do have stressful times in my life because my husband and my son are firefighters, and so there's many times sitting watching them on television at incidents, earthquakes and fires in southern California, so that's when I find I do a lot of quilting, when they're off somewhere and I don't know where they are.

HA: Can you do quilting and something else at the same time, like watching a film or-?

MP: I usually listen to it.

HA: Listen to it, Okay. [laughter.] This is a funny question, what do you find pleasing about quilting? What do you think?

MP: I think it's just the accomplishment of doing something beautiful and for other people to enjoy it too.

HA: What part of quilting do you not like?

MP: Do you mean a technique or just part of the quilting process?

HA: However you want [inaudible].

MP: I don't usually use a sewing machine, everything I do by hand and I use very traditional methods, so the parts I don't like I don't do.

HA: Well, you've solved that problem haven't you? [laughter.]

MP: Yes.

HA: Now, we're going to talk about other people's quiltmaking. What do you think makes a good quilt?

MP: Usually if I see a quilt that really strikes me when I see it for the first time, it's so striking it takes your breath away and it may not be because the technique is so wonderful, or the stitches are so small, it's just visually beautiful to look at. Sometimes the ones that are so perfect are a little boring to look at.

HA: [Laughs] Well I've never had any problem [inaudible]. What is the difference between a quilt that people make for a museum of special collection? How is that different from say quilts you might make for teaching purposes?

MP: Well I really don't know.

HA: I just I thought maybe you had your standards about what would be appropriate to go into a museum.

MP: Well, I've seen quilts in museums and the workmanship was read bad compared to what we're doing today, in fact the workmanship that we're doing today is more precise. So, I think we have beautiful quilts in museums and we have beautiful quilts that people are doing today.

HA: But you've seen historical pieces for example that you were not impressed with their craftsmanship, is that what you're saying?

MP: Yes, but there's been others I've seen that have just been absolutely wonderful, so I think it depends.

HA: How do you think really great quilters, [inaudible] who they are, how do you think they learn to be great? How do design or how to pick the colors or things like that?

MP: Well I think it helps if they have an art background. I find a lot of the people whose work I admire, they have an art background and so they're a little bit ahead of the game.

HA: And you? Do you?

MP: No I don't have any degrees in art, but I do paint and I do have artistic leanings. [laughter.]

HA: Well I envy people who have art training, I mean really formal stuff, because I'm just guessing, I'm just bumbling through and so I understand what you're saying there. You do everything by hand on the quilt, you piece, and you put the borders on and the binding.

MP: Yes, everything by hand.

HA: You don't like those machines do you?

MP: Well, I started doing it by hand and to me it's more relaxing to sit and do it by hand, I don't care to sit at the machine.

HA: Okay, you know this attitude is not very common, most people they want to get through fast.

MP: Well, I think that's a problem.

HA: Now we're going to talk about how quilts relate to life in general, for instance why is quilting important in your life?

MP: I'm not quite sure about that. It's important because it's something I love to do. I think just basically for my own well being it's important, but I really don't see it as being a very important part of my life really, in the long run.

HA: You said something about this quilt had some things in it that were significant to your culture and your background and so forth and so on. Do you think that your quilts reflect your background and your region?

MP: Yes, it does a little bit.

HA: Yours would be different from people from some other place.

MP: Yes.

HA: I know that you said there was a background of quilting in your country, certainly we have one here. Do you think that that's made a difference in American life for example, or British life or Scottish life?

MP: You mean today or in the past?

HA: Either or.

MP: Today there's a lot of quilters now in Scotland and in England, even in Wales, a quilt museum, and I think it's becoming very popular over there. When I first went back to Scotland to meet with some quilters it was really surprising to me it was even being done there. There have been a lot of things that we were doing a few years ago, but some of them are as equal to what anyone is doing here.

HA: Oh, no doubt. It's just that the tradition is perhaps not so apparent in any European history, whereas this is you know, you see Betsy Ross with the flag here so it must be here. It's just been here all along. Do you think it has any special meaning as far as women's history is concerned, the quilting part of it?

MP: In this country?

HA: Well here or there.

MP: I think so in this country, not so much in my country.

HA: How do you think quilts can be used?

MP: In what way.

HA: In any way you want to interpret that.

MP: How can they be used?

HA: How can they be used? Not necessarily just your using them but how can they be used?

MP: I'm not quite sure of the question.

HA: Well, I hate to give you an answer.

MP: Like making money or that kind of thing.

HA: Yes, making money is one way that you can use a quilt or use quilting.

MP: Or just to give to someone to comfort them.

HA: Certainly. Do you think we need to worry about preserving these quilts for the future?

MP: Well, I think there's enough knowledge now that people should know how to preserve them.

HA: But should we worry about preserving them or are they just something for us now?

MP: Oh, I think they will be preserved and I think they should. So many people quilt.

HA: What happened to some that you've made for family or friends?

MP: Most of my quilts, I haven't given them away. Mostly I've given children's quilts, my son always got a quilt, but normally I don't give them away.

HA: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about while you're here? No bones to pick?

MP: No.

HA: Well, this was really nice because it was easy and I just read through the list here. I'd like to thank Marlene Peterman for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2002 Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Interview concluded at 12:35. Thank you.

Interview Keyword

Personal life
Designing quilts
Museum quilts
Traditional quilts
Historical quilts
Technical aspects of quilting
Hand quilting
Machine piecing
Hand piecing
Stress relief
Teaching quilting
Quilting careers
Scottish traditions
Craft stores
American quilts
Baltimore quilts


“Marlene Peterman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,