Alice Robinson




Alice Robinson


Robinson reflects on her experience quilting, including how it helped her during her battle against breast cancer, and the awards she has won for quilting.




Quilting arts workshop
Craft and art
Crafts & decorating


Alice Robinson


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Alexis Delbridge


Fort Worth, Texas


Kay Jones (KJ): This is Kay Jones. Today's date is March 15, 2001. I am interviewing Alice Robinson for the Trinity Valley [Quilters'.] S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project sponsored by The Alliance for the American Quilt. The time is 2:00. Alice, tell me about this gorgeous quilt that you brought today.

Alice Robinson (AR): Well, Jean and I took a block of the month class at the Calico Cupboard at that time now it is Quilter's Dream and the teacher was Kathy Clark, she's a excellent teacher in appliqué and I guess she learned from her mother because she does work, she's shown quilts in the Dallas show and she lives in California but anyways we were at Calico Cupboard one day and they had, I think, three or four of the blocks hanging up on the wall and so we ask if they were going to have a class and sure enough they were and so we just took a class and once a month we would have our block ready and go to class. It was really a different kind of class because most of them were young housewives who had small children and Jean and I were the grandmas of the class. [laughs.]

KJ: [laughs.] And for those who might not know, Jean is your sister.

AR: That's right. [laughs.]

KJ: It is a themed quilt so would you describe some of the blocks?

AR: It's called 12 Days of Christmas [a design by Laura Munson Reinstatler.] and you know the little song, how does it go, the first day of Christmas and then the second day of Christmas two turtle doves and then the third day of Christmas so many so many setting hens and so on, anyway, that's the way it goes.

KJ: So it's 12 blocks.

AR: 12 blocks.

KJ: Each one represents one of those versus.

AR: Yes.

KJ: The 12 Days of Christmas.

AR: Yes.

KJ: I see the five golden rings in the center.

AR: Yes.

KJ: And I notice, Alice, that it isn't all appliqué, there's some embellishment, is that something you enjoy doing?

AR: Yes, we enjoyed that embroidery, that wasn't part of the class; Cathy didn't have embroidery on hers. All hers was material and beads or something for the eyes but we decided we would embroidery ours and so we did the embroidery in the first ones that we took to class. These young girls had never seen embroidery and they were just so amazed that they got to where they wouldn't do their block until after we came to class with ours [laughs.] and so then they would put embroidery on theirs but that wasn't going to be part of Cathy's class I don't think.

KJ: They liked the affect.

AR: They did and it has a little bit different look than if you didn't put a bead or something in there it's just different looking.

KJ: How did you choose the fabrics?

AR: Well, Cathy had kits but some of them, the very first one I used that didn't--the rest of them I used my own material and I still have some of her material that I need to use up in something but anyway I guess it was alright she never did say you weren't supposed to do this.

KJ: You just made different choices that pleased your eye.

AR: Yes.

KJ: Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview, Alice?

AR: Well, I guess because it had a story behind it. We did these blocks in 1994 and we started in '93 in I think October of '93 and went on down and finished in September of '94. Then in December of '94 I was diagnosed with breast cancer so after my surgery and all I was sitting around and brooding and so I just got this quilt back out and started working on it so that was the therapy to get my mind off of my medical problems and so I just kept on adding more stitches [laughs.] so I kept with it. [laughs.]

KJ: Now you had some medical therapy along with your quilt therapy, did they end at the same time?

AR: No, I didn't have any medical therapy. They didn't end at the same time if I had any because when I left the hospital, well, I went in December the 8th that they diagnosed me and then they set up everything and I think it was December the 21st that I had the surgery and he promised that he'd have me out by Christmas and he did.

KJ: And he did.

AR: Yes and just going back for checkups was all I did and going back for radiation chemotherapy, well, that's the therapy.

KJ: That was the medical therapy that I was thinking you might have had.

AR: Yes but anyway the quilting kept my mind off of my problems and Jean was there helping me and Jerry and all together we got through it and now I've been six years free of cancer.

KJ: That's wonderful and you've got this beautiful quilt to remind you [laughs.] of your wellness. When did you get interested in quilting, Alice?

AR: Well, I really always wanted to do some quilting, wanted to do it. We had aunts that always had quilting out, you know, pieced quilts and frames up and quilting, I guess I always wanted to but anyway I had a friend that we went to church at Riverside Baptist and we moved to Newark and they moved to Boyd and so one day she came over there and she says, I found a place we can take quilting classes and I said oh great. And so I was still working and so I asked my boss if I could take these classes, could I get off from work the time they were showing them and so it was the Quilt Box, Janet Mullen's shop and so I took my first quilt classes from Janet Mullen and that was in 1983.

KJ: And so you've been at this for awhile.

AR: Yes. And that quilt that I made in 1983 is one that I have on my bed.

KJ: I was going to ask--

AR: And it's burgundies. [laughs.]

KJ: Oh, you like that color?

AR: I like pink and burgundy.

KJ: Well, I was going to ask if you sleep under quilts.

AR: Well, if it gets cold enough, I pull a quilt up but most of the time I lay it back and it's over my feet. [laughs.]

KJ: So you use your quilts decoratively and for gifts?

AR: Yes, I've given, well, one of my daughters I gave her Grandmother's Fan and I thought I had put quite a bit of quilting around the fan. I had put a rose across each one of the fans and then each spoke I put quilting at the top I put a little fan or a little design up there and so with Susan I gave her a Double Wedding Ring. Well, Susan dared her kids to even touch her quilt. 'Mother, I found something to do with your quilt.' And I said, 'What did you find to do with it?' Well, she was keeping this baby and so she put it on the floor for a pad and I said, 'Jerry-Ann, do you know how long it took me to make that quilt?' I said, 'You can go down to Wal-Mart and buy a mattress pad or something like that to put on the floor for the baby but don't you put that quilt on the floor anymore.' [laughs.] She didn't, well, I guess she didn't realize how much time I had spent piecing that quilt, but Susan did so she just dared her kids to even touch hers. And I gave my granddaughters a quilt, now I haven't given the grandsons anything because I don't know whether I can talk to them as I did Jerry-Ann. [laughs.]

KJ: How many hours a week do you think you spend quilting?

AR: Well, I don't do as much now as I used to but I've taken my sewing machine over to Jerry's shop and I do a lot of piecing over there.

KJ: Jerry is your husband?

AR: Yes and I've got him [inaudible.] now, this morning he said, 'Well, are you going to work with me today?' And I said, 'No, I'm going to the bee today.' He says, 'Oh, it's too windy for you to go to the bee.' [laughs.] But anyway, I do his work and he works and I piece a quilt. I pieced three baby quilts over there so I get a lot of time working over there but I haven't quilted anything, I've just been piecing them.

KJ: Well, I was really thinking quilt related activities so the piecing is part of that.

AR: Yes.

KJ: So you do spend several hours a week.

AR: Oh, yes, I spend at least a couple hours a day when I'm over there.

KJ: What is your first quilt memory? When do you first remember a quilt?

AR: Well, I tell you what, my first really memory is the start of the tragedy. Mother had people over quilting on the back porch, she had one of those frames that came down and this lady, she was quite a bit younger than mother, anyway she was pregnant and when I came home from school that day, I had the measles and so I exposed that lady to the measles and I don't know, I don't guess anything ever happened to her like nowadays but anyway I exposed Ms. Pansy to the measles.

Jean: I was going to say that was Ms. Pansy, I had forgotten that.

AR: But anyway, I guess that's about the first memory. I had a quilt and it was also a bad memory.

KJ: It was something that you remember. How does quilting impact your family?

AR: Well, I don't guess it does, I can go tell Jerry I'm going to the quilt shop and he says, 'Well, oh my gosh.' [laughs.] But he knows that I enjoy doing that so I go to the quilt shops and he goes to the auctions.

KJ: He's got his thing and you've got yours. [laughs.]

AR: Yes and sometimes he goes with me and sometimes I go with him, you know, to places. Like if he goes to Austin then we'll go with him down there but then we separate and go to quilt shops. [laughs.]

KJ: What's the best part of quilting? What do you like best about it?

AR: Well, I really like to appliqué better than just piecing but I like to quilt it too but it's--I have a quilt now that I've been working on, how long have I been working on, what the name of it is Dear Old Dad and it was a Judy Martin design and I said last year that I'm going to get that quilt quilted for the quilt show but I never did get around to doing it. But I've been working a little bit on it but I really do like hand quilting but I'm guilty of letting machine quilting take over too. [laughs.]

KJ: Well, that's one of the questions I wanted to ask about your preference for hand quilting or machine quilting and what do you think about the trend in machine quilting.

AR: Well, there are some beautiful machine quilted quilts. There's a lady at the Wise County Quilt Guild that several members, she belongs to a sewing club and several members had appliquéd these blocks of wreaths and flowers and she put them together and she had this one where it was on [inaudible.] Bowie machine quilted and it is beautiful. She did a design on that quilt and it is just beautiful and so I would like either one but I would prefer hand quilting.

KJ: When you really have a choice you choose the hand quilting for yourself?

AR: Yes.

KJ: Are there some parts of quilting you don't enjoy?

AR: I don't like washing fabric [laughs.] Jean washes it for me.

KJ: I don't like ironing it after it's washed. [laughs.]

AR: Yes, I don't like that either, she does that too. [laughs.]

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilt?

AR: Well, I guess really it's truly planning it out and having just the right materials to go in each block. If you're going to make a pieced block or an appliquéd block I think that the materials and the planning is what really makes a quilt.

KJ: Have you won some prizes, Alice?

AR: Yes, now this quilt I won best of show at Bowie and at Chico, I received best of show and a first place ribbon, was it Bridgeport? I have a whole box of ribbons, yes, Saginaw. It their Train and Grain Festival

KJ: It must be very satisfying to know that other people appreciate your quilts.

AR: It's really exciting.

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilter?

AR: Well, I don't know what makes a great quilter. I guess I always thought of Aunt Ima of being a great quilter because she always had quilts going someway, it might be in the piecing stage or she had a quilt going all the time, she never did set with her hands idle and I'm basically the same way but I think grandma when an aunt was working on her quilt she'd pick out the stitches because she said that you could hang your toe in her stitches. [laughs.]

KJ: This was your grandmother?

AR: My grandmother was talking about another aunt and she was like that, I mean, she might have quilted but her quilting was like the utility quilting now so you know the stitches they have in that.

KJ: It held the quilt together?

AR: It held the quilt together long enough for it to wear out. [laughs.]

KJ: Wasn't very decorative.

AR: No.

KJ: Now, you've indicated that you took some classes early on when you started quilting.

AR: Yes.

KJ: Who's been the biggest influence on your quilting, Alice?

AR: Well, I really don't know. I really can't say.

KJ: Not one particular teacher or book or class?

AR: Well, I guess Judy Martin's books, I can't remember what the name of that book is but anyway, it's a book that had the Dear Old Dad pattern in it but she also had several different patterns that you could make from different pieces that she had and she had all kinds of squares and triangles and in the back of her book and she would have them numbered where you could pick out whatever number went with this pattern that you liked. Trudy Hughes, we learned a lot in her class.

KJ: Now, where does she teach?

AR: She was at Trinity Valley for a class, what was that?

Jean: I believe it was in '94.

AR: Well, yeah because the quilt that I made in that class I went ahead and quilted while I was recovering too.

KJ: What was the technique that she taught?

AR: She taught rotary cutting and she had rulers you know, about this long and she had the 12 inch ruler and she had one that she called Big Mama Ruler and you could make your ruler, you know, the size of whatever size block you wanted to make. You could turn her ruler like this and they went this way or you could turn it like this and stack it up together.

KJ: Kind of like perpendicular to each other?

AR: Yes. She was really a good teacher and she said that if you had any problems putting her blocks together she gave you her telephone number that you could call and she'd tell you what you had done wrong that your block wasn't going together right. But all of them went together you know, real good. It was called a Snowflake but it didn't look like a Snowflake but that was the name of the pattern. She had a class that was when we had meetings at the recreation center is when she had that class and we had the little Saturday meeting at the church.

KJ: Rotary cutting really revolutionized things didn't it.

AR: It really did, you know, you can cut something out just real quick like but you had to be careful [laughs.] you could slice a finger off.

KJ: Has that happened to you? [laughs.]

AR: No it hasn't but I know some that have cut themselves with a rotary cutter but I guess Trudy Hughes really revolutionized the way that I cut out things.

KJ: Why do you think quilting is important in your life, Alice?

AR: Well, it really gives me something to do and it leaves a tradition for my grandkids and kids. They can look at something and say well, that's what mother did or they can remember me that way. We remember our mother with the things that she and Daddy always did but it wasn't necessarily doing anything like this but they used to take us places and just enjoyed the kids even back in depression when you didn't have any money. Daddy was an automobile mechanic and he used to have customers that thought he could work on any kind of motor and he had this customer that owned the Maple Avenue Theatre and if the air conditioner or anything over there went wrong, he'd call Daddy and Daddy would load up a whole neighborhood of kids and take them to the picture show while he worked on the air conditioner so that's the memory that I have of Daddy so I figure that maybe my kids will have a memory of me working on stuff.

KJ: Working on quilts. Now we all have a stash, don't we Alice? Tell me about yours.

AR: Well, if I say I think I'm going to go look for some kind of material, Jerry will say, 'Why don't you go on down to the porch and see if you have it there first.' [laughs.] And sure enough I might really but I just enjoy going to the quilt shop in Lincoln.

KJ: Do you have a special room, special place where you keep your fabric and your tools and all?

AR: Where my fabric is out on the porch and I have shelves and Jerry got me some cabinets that you can put it in and close them up but I don't have a room at home that I can sew in. I have a machine in the bedroom and he'll come in and say, 'It's time to go to bed.' And I'll say, 'Well, this is a sewing room right now. [laughs.] Later on it will be the bedroom.'

KJ: So it's a multiple purpose room. [laughs.]

AR: Yes, it's a multiple purpose room and Jerry will go on back and sit down in his chair and watch TV a little bit longer and I'll finish up whatever I'm doing right at that time and put my things away. So then whenever he wants me to come over to his shop, I carry the machine over there. I said, I found a new sewing room. So I carry my sewing machine over there and iron, you know, [laughs.] and he said he had a customer come over the other day and he said, 'I believe you all have women over here sometimes, don't you?' And Jerry said, 'Yes, sometimes my wife's over here, how could you tell?' And he said, 'Well I thought that sewing machine and iron didn't go with selling cars.' [laughs.]

KJ: That's your husbands business? Selling cars? [laughs.]

AR: He sells any type of junk [laughs.] that he finds in an auction he'll take it back over there and first thing you know, he has people stopping to buy whatever he has out there.

KJ: He reconditions?

AR: Sometimes all he does is take them to the carwash and washes them off and maybe he might sell them the next day.

KJ: When you think about America and quilts in America, how do you think that, what kind of special meaning do you think quilts have for women in America?

AR: Well I don't know it seems like quilts are growing with America. You find more people working on them. Like Bessie was in here a while ago and she's talking about that little Bedford Guild a year old and already has 100 people in there. It's just interesting to more people than it used to be and it might be that you have more time on your hands to be able to do something like this.

KJ: I wonder why it's growing so.

AR: Well, I don't know. I believe probably some people are promoting it with quilt magazines, you can go in a quilt store and they have these magazines lined up out there and you see one of them and oh, I want to do that [laughs.] and of course you go home with a magazine in your hand and with all intentions of getting stuff out and making it so anyway I think that's why quilting is beginning, not like it was before the war when it was a necessity for war but now it's decorative more or less so I think that's one reason that people are beginning to decide on that is their hobby and they can still use it to decorate the house with it.

KJ: Can you think of some quilts that have been used by your family and friends different from the one that your daughter put on the floor. [laughs.] How do your friends and family use their quilts?

AR: Well I think that most of them might just use them as a spread, you know, for their bed. I don't know most everybody got into the habit of blanket, electric blanket or something like that for their beds so I don't think that the quilt is used for warmth as much as it is used for decorations.

KJ: Is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you'd like to talk about?

AR: I don't think so.

KJ: It's been great talking about your beautiful quilt that you brought today and I appreciate your allowing us to interview you. I'd like to thank Alice Robinson for allowing me to interview her. Today is part of the 2001 [Quilters'.] S.O.S. [- Save Our Stories.] project and our interview concluded at 2:32.

AR: My goodness.

[tape ends.]

Interview Keyword

Rotary cutting


“Alice Robinson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,