Jo Ann Hannah




Jo Ann Hannah




Jo Ann Hannah


Donna Mikesch

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Mary Persyn


Houston, Texas


Donna Mikesch: Alright this is Donna Mikesch, today’s date is November eleventh, no it’s November the third, 2011, it is five o’clock and I am conducting an interview with Jo Ann Hannah for the Quilters’ Save Our Stories a project of the Alliance for the American Quilts. Jo Ann and I are at the international quilt festival is Houston, Texas. Jo Ann, will you tell me about the quilt that you brought today, please?

Jo Ann Hannah: It’s my Anniversary quilt. We were married in 1957 on August the 21st. My husband and I were married for fifty years, and he passed away December the 17th of 2007 so we barely made it, but I had begun this quilt and I was in the middle of quilting it, and after his death, I didn’t want to even look at it. A couple of months after he passed I decided it needed to be finished and it needed to be finished by me, so I finished it. [laughs.]

DM: Good job. Well I think you’ve said a little bit of this, but what special meaning does the quilt have for you?

JH: Well, it’s my anniversary and it’s just everything and it is special about it and it is that, I guess it’s just that.

DM: Okay.

JH: More or less.

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

JH: Because it said to bring a touchstone piece that was important to me, and it is. Probably this piece is most important right now. I may make something later, but this one is it now.

DM: I understand that. What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

JH: That I like to quilt [laughs.] I spend too much time quilting [laughs.] I have no idea what they’d think.

DM: I think what you--

JH: Everybody they say sees it just goes, “Wow.”

DM: Yeah, wow is right, absolutely. How do you use this quilt?

JH: I hang it on a wall in my den, and my son-in-law who has a full-time job but he does woodwork part-time, as a hobby, like I quilt for a hobby, made me a custom made wooden wall holder for the quilt with lights up inside recessed, and everything. When it’s a special occasion or something, we’ll turn the lights on, otherwise we don’t use those.

DM: Oh that’s nice.

JH: It is, it looks really good.

DM: I’ll bet. Well it looks great right here, I tell you.

JH: He’s just got a carpenter’s eye of a quilter [laughs.] It does look good, he finished it really good, and he knew how to make one because I told him, that you press the bars together and, you know.

DM: Good.

JH: No holes or clips or anything in it.

DM: What are your plans for this quilt?

JH: I’m going to leave it hanging for a good while and probably when I pass then I’ll give it to my children. I have two daughters; one of them will get it.

DM: Good. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking; what age did you start quilting; that kind of thing.

JH: I didn’t start quilting until I was I guess fifty-five. I was a home-ec teacher, and I taught in several cities in Texas, my husband was working in the oil business; he was a petroleum engineer, so we were transferred a lot. I taught school at several different towns but then I decided when we moved to Houston [Texas.] that I wasn’t going to work anymore, so I decided to take up quilting. I had a friend that suggested it would be good because I was doing needlework like crochet, embroidering, knitting, tatting, all of that stuff, and I went to Great Expectations, the big quilt store, that was owned by I think Kay Breslin when I think she--

DM: Carrie--

JH: Carrie, yeah, and I took a class. It was taught by Meng Young, I don’t know if you know her?

DM: Yes I do.

JH: Yes, she was very good. I took a beginning class from her, then she had an intermediate class and I took it. It was all piecing, then I went to join a quilt bee, I really liked this, and I went to it, and it was over in the west part when I lived in Katy [Texas.] and a lady named Vickie Mangum was at the bee and she flipped up this white quilt with all these colorful flowers and butterflies on it, and I said, “Oh, I’m in the wrong quilt end of the business, I want to do that.” [laughs.] I persuaded her to teach me how to appliqué, so here I am today.

DM: [laughs.] Good.

JH: Her worst nightmare [laughs.]

DM: I don’t think so. How many hours a week do you quilt?

JH: Fifty or sixty.

DM: Oh my.

JH: I live alone and I have a big nice home and I don’t have any responsibilities and at seventy-six years old, I have a lot of free-time, so I do what I want to do and I figure at my age, I can do what I want to do, when I want to.

DM: I think you’re absolutely--

JH: Before that, I was limited, but I’m not anymore, so that’s how much I quilt now.

DM: Great. What is your first quilt memory, they ask you?

JH: I guess it was that first little dinky thing I made that you should see now [laughs.] you’d know what I was talking about [laughs.]

DM: Any others that you--

JH: Well, one of the more important quilts to me was a little bitty wall hanging that I made, it was probably about like, eighteen by eighteen, for my aunt who lived in Waco [Texas.] in her home and she was my mother’s oldest sister. It was bright colored background, with a white around that, then it had a big bouquet of bright colored flowers that was colors that came from that background piece that went around the circle. She was approximately eighty-five I guess, when I gave it to her, and she said, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” and so she hung it in her den, where she’d sit and watch TV all the time. Then she went out to empty her garbage one day, and the iron gate hit her, and knocked her down and broke her thigh or something in there, pelvic bone, anyway, they had to put her in a nursing home, and she said, “I don’t want anything from my house, but that wall hanging,” and she said, “Hang it right there, I want to be able to see it when I wake up in the morning, and I want it to be the last thing I see at night.” I thought that was a pretty good compliment.

DM: That’s a very good, you’re absolutely right. Are there any other quiltmakers in your family or friends?

JH: I’ve got a lot of friends that are quiltmakers, but my grandmothers on both sides made quilts, but my mother was not a quilter or a seamstress, either one [laughs.]

DM: Just your grandmothers then?

JH: Yes.

DM: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

JH: I don’t really know, I guess if there’s anything positive to it, I don’t have grandchildren, I have given a lot of quilts to my two daughters, and of course they’re getting this one and a couple, the two in the book or whatever, but I’ve been donating a lot of my quilts that have won big prizes, to different organizations for fundraising. I’ve raised thousands of dollars for cancer.

DM: That’s wonderful.

JH: They sell, lottery tickets, not lottery, whatever you call it--

DM: Raffle tickets?

JH: Raffle tickets, yeah. Then at church every, the Sunday before Thanksgiving we always have an auction, and each class or people that’s in the church congregation can donate something, I always donate a quilt. Last year my quilt sold for two-thousand dollars and the year before fifteen-hundred, and then that’s used to help our missions programs.

DM: Oh that’s wonderful.

JH: So I think that it’s useful, you know, because I wanted to get rid of some of my quilts, I had too many, and that gives me an excuse to make more [laughs.] but I love doing it, so why not, you know.

DM: Exactly.

JH: I think if people pay that much for one, they’re going to take care of it, you know.

DM: One can only hope.

JH: Yes, but if I paid two-thousand dollars for a quilt I’d probably take care of it.

DM: I’d take care of it myself. Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

JH: Yes, when my husband died, I mean I was working on that one frantically.

DM: On this one--

JH: Up until he died, and the day he died I said, “I couldn’t look at it any more,” because you keep having a hope that you know it’s, the cancer it’s going to get you, you know once it gets really bad, so, but it kept me busy.

DM: During a bad time.

JH: Yes.

DM: Tell me about any amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking?

JH: I don’t think I’ve had any [laughs.]

DM: Alright then, we will pass that up.

JH: I don’t, I can’t think of anything that was funny about it, I’m trying to think, I just don’t.

DM: Okay, well we’ll just move on.

JH: Okay.

DM: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

JH: Oh the satisfaction of your time is well spent. When you get through with the day you can say, “Look, I have accomplished something. I haven’t just sat there and twiddled my thumbs, you know, watching TV shows.”

DM: Exactly.

JH: I get up and I have something that’s usable; it’s either going to hang on the wall or it can cover a baby, it can cover a bed, it can, you know, all the things you use quilts for.

DM: Good. What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

JH: Basting. It’s a pain [laughs.]

DM: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

JH: I belong to the Dallas [Texas.] quilt guild right now, and no others.

DM: Just this--

JH: I have in the past belonged to several bees and quilt guilds in different towns where I lived, but here, when I moved to Cleburne [Texas.] I didn’t join a whole bunch of them.

DM: You’re just in the Dallas [Texas.] group?

JH: Yes.

DM: Has, what have, have advances in technology influenced your work?

JH: Well when I started in 1990, they’d already invented the rotary cutter, the rulers and the mats so, I probably wouldn’t have stayed with it they hadn’t done that [laughs.] Advances, I don’t know. I’ve taken a lot of classes from Nancy Pierson and Pat Campbell, and they’ve shown me how to use the tools that we have, you know, to my advantage, other than that, I don’t, I have an embroidery machine at home, but I don’t use it a lot.

DM: So you don’t use a computer?

JH: No DM: You don’t use a computer? I think they’re--

JH: No, no.

DM: Asking--

JH: I write it, I draw a pattern, you wouldn’t believe it, on a piece or notebook paper [laughs.] I just scribble it out.

DM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JH: I don’t like to use anything but cotton and I like batiks to appliqué with because they don’t fray, I don’t like them to quilt but they do have pretty colors and they are easy to work with for appliqué. I don’t use anything but cotton.

DM: And appliqué is your favorite?

JH: Yes.

DM: Method of working?

JH: By far, yes.

DM: Describe your studio or the place where you work?

JH: I have a two story home, an upstairs that had what they called a game room, and that’s my studio [laughs.] it has windows all the way across the front of the house, and that’s where I sit my sewing machine and all my work areas in there.

DM: And storage for fabric and stuff?

JH: Yeah, I have an armoire that’s full of fabric. I have four bookcases that are full of fabric. I have several rolling chests that are full of fabric [laughs.] Appliqué people need a lot of fabrics [laughs.]

DM: Yes. How do you balance your time? I think we’ve covered that a little bit. You say you quilt fifty to sixty hours.

JH: I quilt whenever I want to. If I have to go or what to go somewhere and do something like come down here, I didn’t bring anything to sew, I haven’t quilted all day yesterday or today or tomorrow won’t either, I might maybe Saturday, I don’t know, if I’m still tired I won’t. I just kind of go with the flow.

DM: Do it whenever.

JH: So Sunday I’ll be at church and go to meetings and stuff and I’ll probably do a little, maybe an hours worth that evening or two, you know when I’m watching the news and TV.

DM: Do you use a design wall, and if so--

JH: No.

DM: No? Okay, then we’ll just move right on. If not, how do you go about designing your quilts?

JH: I draw it all on a sheet of paper [laughs.] then I figure out what I’m going to put on it then I just start doing it.

DM: And you, how do you do it, how do you make your patterns? I mean, you’ve got it drawn out---

JH: I borrow flower designs from Elly Sienkiewicz. I tweaked a bunch of them, and then that Brown Bird quilt design, , the swirl on the border, I liked the way it looked, so I tried to copy that on my own, with my own flowers and my own butterflies [laughs.] because I pick up flowers and the things that were in the central part of the quilt, and put it in the border.

DM: In the border?

JH: Repeated, yeah.

DM: So a lot of the butterflies and the flowers are your own--

JH: Yeah, you’re right.

DM: Creation? Okay. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JH: A balance of color, for one thing. I think when you first look at it; you get an impact from the first look, and the quality of the workmanship. I think that has to be good.

DM: Alright. What makes a quilt artistically powerful? Probably a lot of the same thing.

JH: Yeah, color, I guess, or design. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to make a Baltimore [Maryland.] album, and I thought, “Well this will be a semi-Baltimore,” then I through in that border [laughs.] I thought, “Well that kind of goes with Baltimore,” [laughs.]

DM: Yes it does. Well it’s beautiful.

JH: Anyway.

DM: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

JH: I don’t know really maybe a commemorative, like the 9/11 quilts or something like that, I don’t know.

DM: What makes a great quiltmaker?

JH: Patience, and lots of it [laughs.] Good eye [laughs.] Cripple fingers [laughs.]

DM: Whose works are you drawn to and why? I’m assuming they mean quilt--

JH: I like all the appliqué works, and I like Pat Campbell’s stuff, I like Nancy Pearson. I did a bunch of her patterns. I like appliqué stuff.

DM: Alright, and which artists have influenced you and I think you, oh you said Pat Campbell.

JH: Yeah, those, and Vickie, and all of those who, Vickie has one that’s out there that has the pattern that’s from that lady, Nancy Pierson, I’ve had classes with her, I’ve had them with Pat, I’ve had them with several people. Those are the people that I like, I admire their work.

DM: Okay. How do you feel about machine quilting versus handquilting? What about longarm quilting?

JH: I’m a handquilter, that’s it [laughs.]

DM: That answers the question [laughs.]

JH: Sorry [laughs.]

DM: That’s okay. Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

JH: Well, I guess it gives me something to do [laughs.] Keeps me out of trouble, oh, I don’t know.

DM: That’s a good answer. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region do you think?

JH: Well, I like, the one that’s going to the museum it had hummingbirds around the outside of it.

DM: What was the name of that quilt?

JH: Hannah’s Garden, and it was a, I saw it, it was made in 1935 I think, a picture of old quilts they had on the cover, and I drew my own pattern to do that, and she had bluebirds, but I put hummingbirds because at the time I was living in Rockport [Texas.] and we always have the Rockport [Texas.] Hummingbird Festival in September and I thought, “Hm, this would be neater for me, if I put hummingbirds on it,” so that is how that came about.

DM: Good, that does reflect your community or region.

JH: Yeah.

DM: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JH: I think they’re very important. I think that almost the, whatever you call it, the knowledge of quilting actually was almost lost for a while and it’s been revived. I’m very pleased to see that because there’s nothing that feels as good as a quilt. My grandmother would make one and give it to me, and you just sit there and want to feel it, and I just fell in love with that a little bit. I never had time to work on it, because I was working and I was making Barbie clothes and I was making little girl dresses [laughs.] all those things you do when you’re a mother, and your work. After I quit work, then I had all this free-time because I was so used to being busy all the time and they were in college and they were gone, and it was just me and my husband, I had to do something [laughs.]

DM: In what ways, okay wait a minute, in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women’s history in America?

JH: I think it’s important that they do what they do because it needs to be a record or what we’re doing, how we’re progressing, or whatever we’re doing, you know it tells, like I made the anniversary quilt, I don’t see a man doing that, you know, but I’m sure there are some that have, but, not as many as women. Like in the book, I think there’s two men represented in the book, and the rest are women, so it’s very important.

DM: Yeah I think so too, you’re right. How do you think quilts can be used?

JH: Everywhere for everything [laughs.] For picnics, for beds, for wall hangings, for babies, for the, you just name it.

DM: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JH: I think by that museum that they’re opening in La Grange [Texas.] and other places that have some quilts, are doing a great job, you know. Me personally, I use my quilts, I take and fold them, put them in that tissue, that preservative tissue whatever it is, and try to save it, then I put them in those and refold them, and store them in a closet.

DM: When you, one question in connection with that, when you give your quilts to be raffled off, do you give them any instructions?

JH: Yes.

DM: Good.

JH: I typed a written page.

DM: Oh good, oh that’s nice, great. Okay, what has happened to the, well we’ve covered this a lot, what has happened to the quilts that you have made for those for friends and family?

JH: They still have them, I don’t sell them, I give them away. If I want you to have one, I’ll give it to you; I will not sell it to you.

DM: Okay, great. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilters today?

JH: The high price of cotton [laughs.] I don’t know what the biggest challenge is, because I’m not out there with them anymore, I’m at home, I know what, I don’t take classes anymore, I don’t know it all, and I know I don’t but I know enough [laughs.]

DM: You know enough about appliqué.

JH: I’m just, I’m just happy where I’m at, so I’m just, everybody says, “Oh there’s this new way from the back,” and I said, “Well go ahead and do it from the back, I still like it the way I do it.” [laughs.]

DM: And if it works for you, why go on to something else. Alright, is there anything else that you have thought of to say?

JH: I can’t think of anything, that was, you pretty well covered everything [laughs.]

DM: Yeah, they’ve. Well, okay, I would like to thank Jo Ann for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters’ Save Our Stories oral history project. Our interview concluded at 5:22.


“Jo Ann Hannah,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,