Dorothy Weeks


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Dorothy Weeks




Dorothy Weeks


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Marshall, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


[Interview was done on the floor of the annual Cal-Co Quilters' Guild Show in Marshall, Michigan. Conversations and announcements are heard throughout.]

Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. This interview is being conducted for South Central Michigan QSOS, a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Today I am interviewing Dorothy Weeks at the Marshall Activity Center in Marshall, Michigan at the annual guild show for the Cal-Co Quilters' Guild. Today is Sept. 10, 2011 and the time is 12:22 p.m. So let's talk about the quilt that you brought to the interview today. Does it have any special meaning for you?

Dorothy Weeks (DW): Nothing more than the fact that I love the Civil War reproduction stuff.

EW: And I've forgotten the name of it.

DW: Civil War Christmas, or Civil War Christmas Star, either way.

EW: Why did you choose this one rather than another one?

DW: Because I hadn't done this one before.

EW: So it was a new pattern for you?

DW: It was.

EW: What do you think someone viewing this quilt might think about you?

DW: They'd probably think I was boring because of the dull colors.

EW: But those are Civil War colors.

DW: Yes.

EW: How will you use this quilt?

DW: It'll probably go upstairs and go in a pile.
EW: Do you have any long range plans for it?

DW: No.

EW: Let's talk about your interest in quiltmaking. What age were you when you started quiltmaking?

DW: I've been doing it for forty years so I was in my late thirties.

EW: From whom did you learn to quilt?

DW: I taught myself, totally.

EW: How many hours a week do you suppose you quilt?

DW: Probably ten, now.

EW: What was your first quilt memory?

DW: [laughs.] My first quilt memory, I started quilting because I wanted a Christmas gift for my brother and his wife. Her favorite color was purple which I hate, and I still own this purple Lone Star Quilt because after three years I got it done and I wouldn't give it to her because she wasn't worth it.

EW: [both laugh.] Good you found out before you gave it to her. And do you remember seeing quilts as a child? No quilts in your?

DW: No, they were not a part of my life.

EW: Are there any other quiltmakers in your family?

DW: No.

EW: But you have lots of quiltmakers who are friends.

DW: Yes. Well let me clarify that. My grandmother, I know she made two quilts, but I wouldn't call her a real quiltmaker.

EW: How does your current quiltmaking impact your family?

DW: Probably my husband wishes I would nail the door shut so I would be out where he is. [laughs.]

EW: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

DW: Maybe just to keep my mind off things. But, that's about it.

EW: So when you're working on the quilt your mind is occupied with the quilt?

DW: Right.

EW: Have there been any amusing experiences with your quiltmaking?

DW: Oh, none that jumps out right now, other than the very first one where I wouldn't give it away because she wasn't worth it. [both laugh.]

EW: What do you find that's especially pleasing about quiltmaking?

DW: It's very relaxing. It's frustrating but relaxing.

EW: At the same time?

DW: Yes. It can be frustrating.

EW: Are there any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

DW: You know, it used to be that piecing was my favorite part of it and now it's getting to the point that's really kind of my least. I'd rather appliqué.

EW: So appliqué is your preferred technique now?

DW: My preferred technique.

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

DW: The only one I actively belong to now is a small one in Athens. [Michigan.] It's just local people that don't belong to the guild, that don't actively show or do anything like that.

EW: Just a small, neighbors?

DW: Neighbors, yes.

EW: Are you a member of the Cal-Co Quilters' Guild?

DW: Yes. Actually, almost a founding member, I was at the first meeting. I was not asked to be part of the planning but I was at the first meeting and have been a member since.

EW: [long announcement on p.a.] Have advances in technology influenced your work?

DW: I really don't think so because I used to do very intricate piecing and stuff and now I'm going more and more primitive and more simple all the time.

EW: And you're using the rotary cutter now?

DW: Rotary cutter, sewing machine.

EW: Is that how you started out, with the rotary cutter?

DW: No. [laughs.] In face, when I started I couldn't see how you could do that. The very first one I machine pieced, I drew it all out with templates, the whole thing, and sewed along those lines the same as I would have done by hand. Then finally I decided to jump off and try the whole rotary cutting thing.

EW: And it goes faster now?

DW: It goes faster but for me it's not as accurate. I probably am just not as accurate a machine sewer as I could be if I tried.

EW: Well, you know that old quarter-inch thing can be skoshed one way or the other.

DW: Yes. And a thread or two makes a big difference.

EW: It's surprising, isn't it. And you have to account for a fold?

DW: Uh huh.

EW: What are your favorite techniques? I think you've already answered that but go ahead.

DW: Yes, the appliqué.

EW: And you have favorite materials?

DW: I haven't done anything in homespuns in a while but those are just wonderful to appliqué with. But they're very country look.

EW: Have you ever used feedsacks?

DW: I had the chance and I had original feedsacks for some time, but I don't appreciate that particular style of fabrics, so I gave them away.

EW: Okay. Describe your studio or the place where you create.

DW: Oh, what a mess. [laughs.] It's organized. Right now I've had to change everything around twice this summer, so it's really disorganized. I can't find anything. In fact I have a block of the month that I have to finish for Quilt 'n' Go and I can't find it.

EW: Do you have all you're equipment there in one place?

DW: Not right now, no. It's in two places.

EW: You would use the sewing machine, a cutting board, ironing board. Anything else of note?

DW: Nothing of note, no.

EW: Do you use a design wall?

DW: No, I don't have the space for one.

EW: Since you don't have one, how do you arrange your blocks so you know what you're doing when you put them together?

DW: That's one thing nice about primitive quilting. You don't have to. Whatever happens, happens.

EW: I hadn't thought of that. Tell me how you balance your time.

DW: When I'm not cooking, I'm sewing. I guess. I love to cook and sew, and garden. I'm outside a lot in the summer time. Now, because it's cooled off a little bit I'm able to be in and sewing room a little more, too. I love that.

EW: So you don't have any particular demands, you can schedule your own –

DW: I can do my own.

EW: Let's talk a little about esthetics, design aspects of quiltmaking. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DW: Original designs do a lot. Unfortunately I'm very set in my ways because there are colors I like and will use and some colors I don't use at all. Purple. Pink I'm a little light on. But I've learned to use greens which I didn't used to use. Of course with appliqué green is just a basic.

EW: That's right. So when you think of a great quilt then, the primary thing is original design?

DW: Yes. I like original design. I don't do a lot of it, but I like it.

EW: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DW: Color.

EW: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

DW: Wow, that one I can't answer.

EW: Well, then, what makes a great quiltmaker?

DW: [laughs.] I think a warped mind. [laughs.] Some of the things we do, you wonder why we do.

EW: Somebody who thinks out of the box?

DW: Yeah.

EW: That box.

DW: That box.

EW: Whose works are you drawn to?

DW: Whose works am I drawn to? Right now Kim Diehl. And I'm one of those weird people. I've always liked Lynette Jenson.

EW: And why do those people particularly appeal to you?

DW: Kim Diehl because of the just wonderful strong country, primitive look. She does a lot of fun things, yeah. And she does things out of the box. Lynette Jensen, everything is just so easy to follow with her. She is such an excellent author. The directions are just absolutely perfect. There are no questions.

EW: What artists have influenced you?

DW: I'm not into art at all, you know, Grandma Moses, Will Moses, that kind of primitive stuff. Somebody nobody's ever heard of, but because I do a little bit of craft painting, Sliney is his last name. I can't think of his first name right now and that is S-l-i-n-e-y. He does wonderful, whimsical stuff.

EW: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

DW: Again, I used to be such a traditional quilter that I thought you were just desecrating a quilt to machine quilt it and now I think how stupid was that? Machine quilting is beautiful.

EW: Do you do machine quilting now?

DW: I only do straight-line, walking foot. I do not know how to do free motion. I do know how to do it, but I have never taken the time to learn to do it.

EW: It takes that practice.

DW: It takes practice. So on small pieces I do a lot of straight, and everybody looks at you like you're nuts when you say straight line and they're looking at an arc. Well, that's still straight line. It's' not free motion.

EW: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

DW: It occupies my mind. I can't think of any other reason. What else would you do? If I'm not needling I'm asleep.

EW: All right. And in what way do your quilts reflect your community?

DW: Probably not at all. I can't think of a way they do.

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

DW: Well, historically I think they are wonderful. They are terribly underappreciated now. They were underappreciated when they were done a hundred and fifty years ago. They were a way to keep warm, too.

EW: In what ways do you think that quilts have special meanings for women's history in America?

DW: Just the fact that they find time to do some of these things under the most adverse conditions. One of the first books that I read about quilters, not about quilting, but about quilters, was somebody who was on the Oregon Trail, or one of the trails, and she actually in her little purse, not a purse but a reticule, she had her pieces and her needle and she was walking across this country, piecing. And I just can't tell you what an impact that had on me, that that was so important to them. And they did it without lighting. And look what we have now.

EW: Well, talk about technology; lighting is something that we take for granted now.

DW: For granted, yes.

EW: How do you think quilts can be used?

DW: Well, of course, as gifts, as a remembrance. I hope some people remember me from some of the quilts I have made. And, of course, to keep you warm.

EW: That, too. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

DW: You know, I really hope mine aren't. I hope they're used. A hundred years from now I hear all these people say, 'Well I'm only going to buy the best quality fabric. I want it to last a hundred years.' I don't. I want people to use it.

EW: And to love sleeping under it. What has happened to the quilts that you've made? Or those of family and friends?

DW: A lot of them have gone to family, but a lot of them are just piled upstairs on a bed. And in boxes.

EW: You've been prolific.

DW: Over the years. I used to be a lot more prolific than I am now.

EW: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilters today?

DW: I really think it's the cost of materials. Wow, is it getting expensive. I do work part time in a quilt shop and I know every time it comes in, it goes up. And then a couple of years ago she was quoting the fact that the shipping was thirty-some cents per yard, just for shipping. Now shipping has gone up since then so that doesn't even impact the cost of materials which have gone up enormously. I really think the cost is going to be a big factor.

EW: We have sped through this interview quite quickly. Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you would like to talk about?

DW: Not that I can think about.

EW: You haven't any pet peeves or anything that you would like to?

DW: Like I say, I get so opinionated about what I like and dislike about quilts. You and I were talking this morning with Rita and you were going on and on about the quilt and it's one of the least favorite ones that she's done of mine because it's so pastel and so blah. That's all.

EW: I want you to know that I really appreciate your taking the time to do this interview. This has been a fun interview.

DW: Thank you.

EW: Thank you very much. [the time is 12:39 p.m.]


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