Penny Rigdon




Penny Rigdon


Peggy Rigdon says she was born in Washington, D.C., obtained a scholarship to Barnard College, and then moved to New York with her husband where she later had three children. She talks about learning to sew with her maternal grandmother from New York early in her life, and also the influence of her paternal grandmother from New York who made 4-H quilts. Rigdon explains how she made her first quilt for her and her roommates at Barnard College. Rigdon tells the story of how the ladies who would eventually start the National Quilting Association got together. She explains how the first National Quilting Association (NQA) shows were put on and where. She also talks about the NQA newsletter and the scope of the National Quilting Association. Rigdon talks about the founding of other, smaller quilting groups like the Daughters of Dorcas and the Cardinal Quilters. She talks about teaching quilting in Fairfax County, Virginia.




Quiltmaking process
Quiltmakers--United States


Penny Rigdon


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Alexandria, Virginia

Interview indexer

JT Eissenberg


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Welcome Penny.

Penny Rigdon (PR): Thank you.

ES: We are happy that you have agreed to be interviewed today. You have so many special remembrances and stories we have been hearing all these years. First of all, we will go into your personal background. Where were you born and where did you live a lot of your life?

PR: Well, I was born in Washington, DC, when it was a quaint little country town a very long time ago at the George Washington Hospital, which, the building, no longer exists. I grew up, if you excuse the expression, in a convent boarding school from the age of 5 to 17. You can believe that once I got out I never went back. I got a scholarship to Barnard College, which at that time was the women's college of Columbia University. I went through in three years so that I could graduate in time to marry my husband.

Ruth Duncan (RD): When was that?

PR: We were married May 29, 1948. We lived in New York, I don't know, maybe 10 years I guess. Our first little home was a one room apartment in Hell's Kitchen, 322 West 55th Street which is pretty close to the worst part of town at that time. A man from the Mafia got an apartment for us. We were very happy there. It was very hard to get apartments in New York in the '40's, with the war, and people coming back and no place to live. And what else? That's it. We came to Washington. We had three kids in New York, all little girls. None of them quilt. None of them want to quilt. They are all very talented. His [Carl's.] parents were--his mother was an artist and they are all very talented artistically, but they don't want to sew.

ES: Can you tell us when you started sewing?

PR: Yes, when I was a little kid, sometimes in the summer we would go to upstate New York where my Mother was from and stayed with my Grandmother, her Mother, there. Now she quilted and sewed all the time. And they would say, 'It is time to go for the nap now,' and I'd say, 'I am four years old and I am not going to take a nap.' And they said, 'You either have to take a nap or go and sit near your Grandmother.' So I said, I'll go sit by my Grandmother. So I sat by my Grandmother and she handed me a little pile of yo-yos. Little round cut-outs. They were not yet yo-yos, they were going to be yo-yos. And I was told how to hem a yo-yo. I was four and a half years old and I started. That's how I started.

ES: Very good.

PR: And every time I sit down still I like to hand work and I think of her. She would sit and just take it easy and rock and sew. She's right there with me whenever I sit down and I don't care if what I make is beautiful or not or ever gets used or not. It's the doing of it that is the most fun. The other Grandmother I did not meet until I was an adult. South Carolina she came from. She made everything on the machine. They were very nice. She made 4-H quilts till you couldn't stand it. She had 13 children.

ES: What does 4-H quilt mean?

PR: Heart, hand, help, and hope, or something--home--

ES: What does the quilt mean? [pattern.]

PR: Well, it's four H's that you sew a certain way-the letter H four ways. And a lady had come through town and bought all of her tops. She never quilted them much. Other people would quilt them and there was a stack of tops that never got quilted. And someone gave her ten dollars apiece. They were very beautiful, but they would not take this one that was really terrible. So I took that one, and I gave her 10 dollars, as though it was really a purchase. [chuckles.] This of course was really silly. I took it home and it was so loud, so wild, because by that time she was well up into her 80's, she did not know what she was doing. They were sewed together with the zigzag sewing machine. I mean it was preposterous! I quilted it from the back. This was back in the 50's or whatever it was, and you could not get quilting thread around Washington, I guess it was the 60's. It's was quilted with tatting cotton. Awful! I sleep under it every night to this day.

ES: You still have it?

PR: I sleep under it and it's a rag, but I don't care. I just love it and--I started with the other Grandma though.

ES: The second Grandmother, you said something about the way she got her materials.

PR: Well, everyone in the family would take a paper bag and--from the store, these big brown paper bags -- and go to the mills. And you could just fill up your paper bag with all you could carry in your paper bag. And they did not charge you even. It was always cotton stuff. Most of it was quite pretty, you know. This one that was left though was the leavings of the bottoms, the dregs of everybody's paper bags; green checkered stuff with orange flowers on it and gosh! Of course the 4-H is supposed to have a lot of green in it, so she used all these ghastly green. I like green and I like checks, but these are terrible! And every other kind, all muddled together. They had a few flowers, a few stripes. [chuckles.] You can believe that if the sales lady would not even take it away. But anyway, it was saved for me, and I am glad I still have it.

ES: When did you make your first quilt?

PR: Well, I went away to college, I made two Irish chains for my bed and the bed of my roommate to have in our room, because you had nice rooms at Barnard, and nothing was provided, except the beds.

ES: So, you made that before going to college or after you had met your roommate?

PR: I made them when I went and kind of finished around the edges up there. There was a lot of time for sewing and sitting. I did not know anybody and did not have any money to go anywhere. I was on a scholarship. They did not give you anything except the tuition. So I did not have money to go places. Of course in those days, if you had a nickel you could go all over New York. Everything was very inexpensive for ordinary people. I would do some sewing in the evenings. And when they had dances and all, I made my gowns or I made over what other people gave me to fit me.

ES: When did you get started in quilting as a regular hobby? After you graduated then?

PR: Well, I made things for the kids and a lot of it was knitted and stuff for warmth. And of course in those days you could knit without being a millionaire, too. Yarn was not so much. It's terrible how things have gotten so expensive. An ordinary person cannot make a thing in the home for the practicality of a thing as well as the creativity of the thing any more. It was nice to be able to do that because you could not afford to do much else. We did not have anything. But anyway, what did you ask me? Ha, ha. Oh, to start as a hobby. Yeah, well, it never has been a hobby. It has been my life's blood. When I came here, how was that, this woman had come from Wisconsin--Taylor's Falls, Wisconsin. Her name was Helen White. And she wanted to go to the historical society downtown and learn about something here for history. She was a writer person, and her husband was a writer. She did not want to go downtown Washington by herself. So, I said, sure, I'd go and help her learn about the history of Washington. So, I went with her. The first night we went there, I was entranced with the whole thing. It meets in the Heurich Mansion, which is a beautiful old beer baron's palace that runs past Dupont Circle. And, a lot of nice old people were there. The president of the club at that time was Ulysses S. Grant's either son or grandson, I don't know and a lot of them would come down from Pennsylvania, old geezers that knew just everything about old Washington and all. Friends probably of the German element that brought the beer because it was the beer mansion guy and his children were still there. The last one was a daughter and she still came to the meetings. Well this first time, they asked for somebody to volunteer to repair Battenberg lace curtains that were in the windows that some intelligent person had sent to a commercial laundry. So, they were just in tatters. Just terrible. Well, two old ladies volunteered and I volunteered. I thought that would be a kick. I like lace and I knew how to do it. My Mother crocheted a lot and I knew a lot about lace, and all. So, every Wednesday afternoon, me and Essie and Eleanor, we repaired the Battenberg curtains. And the two of them sat and spoke German to each other and I sat a crocheted Battenberg stuff. And for about two or three months, then they noticed me and they talked in English some of the time. [laughs heartily.] And it turned out that they were doll collectors. And I said, well, dolls are OK, I really like teddy bears, but what I really like is miniature, little stuff like teeny chairs, and little doll house stuff. Not the houses, but the furnishings. I like that. So they looked at each other and said, 'Should we?' Both had been presidents of the Dollology Club of Washington, if you please. So they invited me to become a member of the Dollology Club of Washington. And of course ultimately, within two years I was president of the Dollology Club of Washington. And I was looking desperately for guest speakers every month. So, Lynn Harris, she was a member, and I don't remember who brought her into the group, called me up and she said, 'There is a lady out here who is going to write a book in Greenbelt. Her name is Dolores Hinson. And she's a quilting expert, but she's into dolls, too, and she is going to write a doll book. She has written a quilt book. And why don't we get her to be a speaker.' So we did. Well, when Dolores came, Lynn Harris and Dolores sat down and talked quilts the entire afternoon. People came and went. I don't know what happened to the program. I just do not know. But that's how--that was the beginning of the National Quilting Association. A long boring story, but that's how it happened.

And the next time there was a miniature collectors' meeting, [laughs.] which they also told me about, I was invited to be in that, it was at my house. And I told everybody there was going to be a meeting about organizing a National Quilting group because quilts were dying. Nobody knew they existed except us! Oh, we really thought we were the last people in the world that knew anything about quilts being around. So, Margaret Todd said, 'Oh, I want to be invited. I'll come.' And Margaret had been corresponding with a very young woman at the Andrews Air Base or Bolling. Is Bolling an air base? One of those places over Southeast anyway. And this young lady was a quilt enthusiast from West Virginia, and she was really well informed and had a huge pattern collection and a lot of knowledge. And she took the bus down K Street everyday from out there and brought hand quilting, hand piecing on the bus. And every time she sat near someone who looked interested, she'd show them how to quilt and everything. And she saw Margaret's name in a magazine somewhere and they corresponded for a while.

ES: Margaret who again?

PR: Margaret Todd. She is in the hospital right now. She's 95. So that's how the girl from West Virginia became one of the founders. Sharon Stallard. The other person was Rae Koch. She was the Mother Lady at the Old Stone House in Georgetown, which is a national park. And Dolores, in her quilt research had gone there and had lots of fun conversations with Rae. It's short for Lorraine. So we all met at Dolores' house. And Dolores' Mother was there. Her Mother's name was Iris Codling. She was a weaver and she made the most beautiful little weaving pictures of scenes of today. I call them folk art even though they are very today. She would look at the television of the crowd of the Indy 500 and she could weave the picture from her mind. She would draw little bumps here and there what it looked like to her, little cars--and she would go and weave it maybe 16 by 16 inches. A small amount for weaving. And they were like paintings, but they're woven of thread. They're gorgeous. I do not know whatever happened to those pictures. [further description of the weavings.] That's folk art. That's what folks do. Well Iris did not want to overshadow her daughter that was Dolores, so she would not join or be a participant at all. But she was there and she was a helping hand a lot from the beginning. Well, that's how it all started five to seven of us.

ES: Did you have regular meetings, then?

PR: Not much. We decided we would make each other friendship blocks. Who else was there? Barbara Dash. You see, a lot of them did not drive. Lynn Harris did not drive at that time. She learned to drive very late in life. And Barbara Dash brought Lynn Harris. Lynn Harris brought a trunk full of cakes. She could not bake one cake. Lynn Harris had to be sure that if you did not like the lemon kind, there'd be some other kind for you. So we had that. Someone must have brought Rae. I do not know who drove her. Rae never drove and does not yet. Rae walks everywhere.

ES: And how old would she be now?

PR: She'd be my age. She's retired for quite awhile from the Old Stone House. They live in a gorgeous place, which they bought and totally rejuvenated. Ah, it is so good to come to such a person, this house. A real old timey. Reminds you of Queen Anne's style, but very sedate, none of these flashy Queen Anne type house. Oh, it was a farmhouse, a really big old farmhouse. And, oh, the beautiful things she has. And how she has papered here and hung these gorgeous chandeliers and she would walk around Georgetown on her lunch breaks, you know, and get friendly with the antique dealers, and this one and that one, junk dealers or what you will.

She was a very pleasant person. And I'm to tell you, many is the drunkard and the dope addicts and all of them that would come into there [to the Stone House in Georgetown.] because it would be warm and comfortable. There would be food around. And she would give them the old grandma finger and tell them to shape up. 'You go out there and weed the garden and I will give you something to eat.' And she'd straighten some of those souls out. And she did her work. I'll tell you what I'd like to hit it right. These girls were all so-- [feeling strong emotion.] They had something that had so much to them. She's still alive.

ES: It seems like they had a lot of empathy for everyone, as well as doing so much themselves.

PR: And so much drive, energy. At that time I had some, too. They were so congenial. I can remember Rae, once we were at her house before she moved to this nice house. She was in a little tract house in Rockville. Her other house is in Rockville, too. I am so glad that house came to them, because it would have just fallen down. It was so big. It was on such a desirable corner, lot of land empty. Some developer could have put up 35 houses there. But she got it, and she fixed it up. He's an artist. He worked at the Washington Post. An artist at the Washington Post. Anyway, once we were at a meeting at her house, and she called us out and she made fish chowder or corn chowder or something good to eat for lunch. And I was sitting there making a mess, on a quilt patch, and I heard somebody say, 'Can you believe, well she's making the worst mess I ever saw. Doesn't she see what it looks like?' And Rae said, 'Of course she can't see it. Do you think she'd make it like that if she could see it?' And that's the first I realized I needed glasses. But you see Rae had the heart to understand. Where this other girl just--can you believe she'd make a mess like that? And that's the difference in people, see. I do not remember who that lady was. But Rae was that way. She was so smart. And when we had the shows. Ha! Dolores was smart enough to know we had to have a show, 'cause we'd find all the quilt people that way.

ES: And where would this show be?

PR: She [Dolores Hinson.] did a lot of her research at the new public library in Greenbelt. Brand new. Clean. Nothing living under the boards, you know. Beautiful. Nice. You knew everybody. Very understanding people. How she got to Greenbelt, I do not know. She lived in Riverdale. And that was not a walk, but she got there somehow. She didn't drive either, that's why it [meeting] was at her house. But anyway, she got herself there. So, we had the first [show] in 1970 through 1976 was at the Greenbelt Public Library, public room. And it would be about a week. And it would be in the Fall September usually. And of course that was hurricane season. And the lights always went out at least once. And Lynn Harris and Gladys Dill, they'd come in there with oil the lamps. All ready. Every time. Margaret Todd, she'd be there at the front door at the desk. First one there and the last one home, every time, all day. There was this girl, a member of the Mormons. A lot of quilters in the Mormon Church even in the city. Edna Laney was her name. And her husband built us these A frame things like for the roof of a chalet, and we hung quilts off of there on layers. And they would lie on the library tables just folded like in eighths. We got hundreds of quilts come. And so people would stand in white gloves and hold them. People brought in antique quilts, priceless things. 'Oh, I have this thing that old Aunt Minnie left me. I didn't know what to do with it. It's in a box in the closet. Do you think they'd be interested in that?' My gosh! You should have seen what Aunt Minnie gave her. And they were all, maybe a third of what came, made 50, 60, 70 years ago. And the rest of them were made maybe in the 30's through currently, and this was in 1970. And every year it got bigger and bigger. And people came the first year, the first winter. Dolores knew people everywhere. She had corresponded because of the research for her book, which came out in '66. And she had been researching it for several years. So she was way ahead of everybody. She knew people everywhere. And so she would write to her friends. She had this correspondence going. She never went anywhere. She really was never in very good health. She died here last September. [2002.] 72 years old. Anyway, a woman named Mary Sheaffer, who is a famous quilter, she's been on television. Fran Marsten bought her collection when she became too old to keep it any more. Penny Morris [TV.] had her [Mary.] on a whole segment one time on public television some years ago. She's older than the rest of us by a little bit. Anyway, so she won the Best in Show the very first year. And what it was--was a pieced clamshell. Try that some time. And patterned all over. It appeared in the Quilter's Newsletter [Magazine.] when she was written up but they did not describe it as being the first NQA Show winner, but it was. We had Baltimore brides' quilts coming in, just hanging on the wall in the library. And it was just astounding. [Note added in writing.] Mary Sheaffer's quilts are now at the University of Nebraska. The big problem, money raising. The librarian there was new and everything was new, and he was a man [obeying.] all the rules 'til it hurt. And you cannot sell legally in the library because you are competing with business people. Other librarians, if they had been there 50 years, they would have been doing everything. But he would not let us sell chances. He would not let us sell fabric, books, nothing. So of course there was no way to raise money. People came from everywhere and they wanted to give you something or buy something. We could not charge admission. Nothing. No money changes hands. Well, starting with about the second or third year, this gal named Francie Parry and some of the girls from Rockville, got wise to all this, and they came and bought material in Strauss's in Baltimore where they still had the rule that if you paid cash you got 2% off! They were something to deal with, these old guys. They were the real thing! We would buy materials for a certain price, up to about ten dollars and sell it to people from the trunk of Francie's car down the street! The only way we could make money. Well then this brainchild, from some place out in Ohio, said, 'Look at them undercutting the businesses. We are not going to stand for this.' And he gets himself elected to the board and made us quit doing that. So of course we had to leave and move the show. So Mr. Barr, Thelma Barr's husband, and Thelma arranged with the Georgetown Visitation Convent, and we had two shows there, in 1977 and 78. They were very successful. And the Capitol Hill chapter was given a bunch of Dove in the Window blocks. Mostly kind of yellow and blue and blowy colors and white white. We were used to seeing the muslin white. You really saw intense white and it was really very pretty. And so the Capitol Hill chapter quilted these up and somebody from Ohio won it. We never knew who. They never thanked us. We never knew what. You had to pay. It was a dollar or two dollars to get in. They gave a catalog. Gladys Dill and Thelma Barr would receive the quilts in, and as they came in I would write them up on a typewriter. And then we took them to an instant printing place and had them printed as a catalog. They were not in any order, they were just how they came in, which was kind of confusing, but right away they were made, and tomorrow the quilts were on the walls and the catalog was ready. We'd run over to Georgetown. Mrs. Goodrich would come in from Ohio with her husband, Richard, and they would be there no matter what. And Mrs. Wiebush from Indiana and a couple of others always came. And had a table and we set the pages out, and they were running around the table collating the catalog. How many staples should we put? I told them two, if three and they are out of line, you can't fold it. You learn all these things while looking. And a few people would come and we would give away the catalogs, you know. Then the ones who threw away their catalogs, we would go get them out of the ladies' room trash and give again. And they got a chance on this quilt for nothing, just for buying the admission ticket. We were so embarrassed to be charging money, because we'd never handled money before. The Greenbelt club, Gladys Dill, and others, they are all in rest homes now. Poor Gladys is blind. But anyway, they made a quilt and they sold chances on their own and gave us the money, and that paid for some of the things. I had bumper stickers made-- Quiltmakers get it all together--or something like that. And we sold those for a dollar. Our first show out of town was in Indiana. [near Fort Wayne.] You had a quilt in that show.

ES: Yes, I had a quilt in that show.

PR: It was '79 or '80. It was '79 because '77 and '78 were in Georgetown. I got an honorable mention in that show, for my Clock quilt and I got an honorable mention for that same quilt at Woodlawn one time. That's the best I ever did, I think except for some antique quilts, which got blue ribbons, but I don't count those.

ES: Because you did not make them yourself? When did this association become national?

PR: Oh, it was national right away. The girl from Michigan won the very first show. Bernice Enyeart was another one. Gosh, she made beautiful things. The famous quilter from Kansas, she made the one of George Washington kneeling at Valley Forge; she made the one of Rockwell with the two little children behind; the little girl with the pigtails; two little farm kids on a bench or fence. Now she has gone into modernistic stuff. I was very impressed with the George Washington one. We showed that one in Greenbelt, probably '76. The newsletter was [started.] by a girl named Dorothy Brandt. She lived in Greenbelt and she was interested in transposing Indian designs into quilting. And you saw that happening later. So many of these little girls had these ideas in their minds, and you realize now these things are everywhere. But we do not know where to look and we do not hear them, or see them because they are so individuated. But that was her particular interest. She edited the first few issues of the newsletter and of course we did not write down a lot of the things and we did not realize that it would be something we'd want to know later. I did not realize how much I would forget. I used to get very impatient with people who forgot, because I did not understand. She did get out a newsletter. And then there was a girl named Pat Newkirk. God love her, she had had two husbands, and raised two sets of children, made robes for the choir, went to college on the off hours--and she really got the newsletter punched up and got a little logo to it, so you knew when that came in the mail. They were mimeographed, or Xeroxed, and then they'd go to Margaret Todd's house, a bunch of people, and then they would collate the thing by hand, stamp it, and address it with sticky tickets! And it went out all over. It was all very hand-hewn. And a lot of people gave up a lot of quilting time to do all that. It was always national. We saw it that way. We really thought that nobody but us knew about this miracle. That was what was so funny. [chuckles.] We started to hear from church groups that had been meeting since before the Civil War [laughter.] and never stopped during the war, during all the wars! We did not know that and that's what is so funny. And that's why I thought it is very important that we never get too heavy on the commercial side. We're there for the lady sitting at home alone with her needle and thread doing her stuff. And she deserves respect and she deserves more attention than she gets, she deserves more friends, and I don't really care whether her name is on the quilt or not. Once she's dead, what's the difference but to have a feeling of sisterhood around the world that we're here? We are getting more and more commercial. I'm sorry to see that. I don't mind a little commercial, we need that because if it were not for the little commercial outfits, the big commercial outfits would skin us good because they would not care if the materials were good or not. They would not care if the needles broke every ten minutes, or their fabric went to pieces in a week. The shops keep the quality up and so you gotta have them, I'm not knocking that. But I don't want to see us left out entirely. We are now. The newsletter [NQA.] comes now and there are not even any quilt designs in it now. A new girl comes in and looks at that and thinks what do I need this for? I'm really sorry because it has gone cold. But maybe it will change again. It changes every time new people come. But those are the people who started that. Pat died of cancer. They all died of cancer. She never saw the sunny side of 50. Pat Newkirk.

ES: Could I now go to some of your other organizations? Daughters of Dorcas [in Washington, DC.] and the Cardinal Quilters [in Alexandria, VA.] the two groups I know of that you belong to. I think you belong to others.

PR: Well, how was that? The Daughters of Dorcas. Viola [Canady.] retired. She just turned 80, so that must be somewhere about when she was 62, I guess. She retired and she wanted something to do and she always sewed. She made Generals' uniforms. The made the draperies in the McNair mansions. Those things were thick. You cannot just hang a ruffle around one of those. She was a genius. Well she came. I don't know how it happened. She came out to Greenbelt. You will have to ask Viola that.

ES: I will.

PR: And I met her there at a meeting at Greenbelt and I brought her down to Virginia to the Hayfield Country Quilters. That year was around 1981 or 2 I guess. And she was scared to death to come into Virginia. And I said, 'Don't give me that stuff.' I said, 'You came into Fort Myer every day for how many years?' 'Well that is not really Virginia,' she would say. [laughter.] You get there on the bus and that was it. But anyway, she came to that meeting and taught them whatever she was teaching then. I think it was the black tape going around the pictures like church windows, stained glass. And we became very close friends. And she got a few people together and going out to Greenbelt was so far. I said, well, just get 5 girls together and start your own thing. So she did, right in her own house. And I am not even sure if they were all quilters but she got five names and sent in money for 5 people. And when she got that church, that lovely fellow, Dr. West, he's [retired minister and just celebrated his 85th birthday.] at the Calvary Episcopal Church. They met in that room. They already had a craft outfit, but their idea of beautiful was plastic boards that you put knitting thread over. So they all got to quilting. She taught them all triangle stars. All pretty colors all made of cut-outs. They did not have to buy yardage. You should see the beautiful things they make now. You know what they make. Wonderful. And this group [Cardinal Quilters.] started. Beth Ford and another one or two of them--a lot of it's the driving because the distances around Washington--two or three people would get into the car and that is who would come, you know. Beth had a couple of people with her. I'm sure that one girl with the blond hair. She's dead. I can't think of her name, Eve Harber. She made beautiful things and she was very proud of them. Her husband's people were quilters and he had old quilts. Beth made a skirt out of neckties and a collar went with it. And it was on a hanger with paper over the hanger. And I wrote on the paper, 'This is a very clever use of these, better than you usually see. You should more things, this is real nice.' I just did that to be silly. Well, she got so excited. They came back to Alexandria. They had a big quilt show between her stuff and Eve's stuff and a couple of other people's stuff and Aunt Gladys' [Beth's husband's Aunt.] at the Queen Street [added in proof.] public library here. And they got quite a following and that's how they had the original meeting and Thelma Barr and Mr. [Ed.] Barr and I came representing NQA at the first time for Cardinals. That was at the Duncan library in Del Ray, Alexandria, VA.

ES: That was the beginning of the Cardinals. [Cardinal Quilters.]

PR: And the Hayfield I went to, I just forget who started that. I wanted to join it to find some younger people, what they were interested in. For a very short time I was editor of the newsletter, but I got fired because I was not very efficient. But I had fun doing it. And I met a lot of fun people. And I stayed in Hayfield for quite awhile until it got too far to go to. Something else I wanted to tell you about but I can't think what it could have been--had a lot of fun in NQA. They gave us a good party on the 25th anniversary.

ES: Let's go back to something personal. What techniques do you like to do the best?

PR: I like hand piecing best of all. Running a lot of stuff up on a sewing machine is like a factory to me. It's work. And you get all tense and everything. When you sit and sew, see, I do not have to make anything. I do it because I want to do it. And if nothing comes of it, I don't care either. In fact the television is on, I have it on while I do this, I listen if it sounds interesting and I spend a lot of time alone. I'm not real healthy and we live in a rough neighborhood, and I'm home a lot. I like my home. I don't want to go anywhere. I go out to quiltings and Carl takes me. Thank God, we are still together. And I sit and do hand sewing. And most of it is never going to go anywhere. I don't really care. And when I do finish something, I give it to somebody that's getting married, or getting graduated or having a baby.

ES: You haven't kept very much of your own things, then. You have given everything away.

PR: Same thing happened when I made pottery. I used to love the potter's wheel. I never liked the electric wheel. I liked the kick wheel, 'cause I could get the rhythm of it. And I loved making pottery. I sold everything I ever made, even the ones with rocks in them! You know, sometimes there's a rock down in the stuff and you don't find them, then when they cook it, there it is sticking out like a-- I loved doing that, but my strength has given out, I can't do it any more.

ES: Have you ever sold quilts?

PR: Oh, yes. I made a house quilt, that was my schoolhouse quilt. Nine hundred dollars. But I did not get all of the money, but most of it. It was sold at the Decatur house. The girl down there really knew how to invite people there to the openings, and how to follow them around. And it had a lot of building stuff in it, and a decorator who does a lot of the building bought it. And he had it on his own bed for the longest time. And one day he'd call me up and he said, 'I got this here quilt that you and your girlfriends made out there in Greenbelt.' And I said, me and my girlfriends, listen, I would like a little respect from you. You know, these were all the founding Mommas [of NQA.] out there. And he said, 'Well, we got to wash this quilt, and we do not know what to do.' I said, you know what to do. I said, you got to run water in the bathtub, you got to get a couple of friends to help you, la, la, la. And I gave him the whole story how to wash the quilt. He said, 'I don't guess I want to do that. Do you have any other suggestions?' I said, send it to Bergman's, tell them to be careful, and if they ruin it, sue them. [laughter.] So I never heard any more about it. So, it may not exist any more, I don't know. I made another quilt. There's a lady that writes in the Post, she used to write for the Star. And I like her work very much, Mary McCarthy. She's a newspaper lady. Old. So, she wrote an article once about the MX missile. A lot of controversy at that time about the MX missile. And I was so inspired by the writing of that column that I thought I'm going to do something different. I am going to make an MX missile. So I took, I just forget now how many colors, and made a block, the size of a block, but a little bigger, cut them all the same, laid them in a pile, and cut them all with the cutter, you know, the same shapes, but pointy, everything was pointy. And then I moved them all around so that all the colors were in all the blocks in a different place. And I did it maybe several times to cover a whole bed. And then I had it the way I liked it and I sewed it together. I spent two months making it and quilting it. I did nothing else. It was on the dining room table. I don't care where they ate. I don't know what they did. I finished it. I was really hot to make this quilt. It is the only one that ever got to me like that. Well, I had this dear friend named Priscilla Rose. She was pushing the 80's then. And she had a daughter in Philadelphia. And Priscilla and I used to write letters back and forth forever. I went to their first quilt show up in Maine, of the Maine group. [NQA.] I went and helped them, way back then. Anyway, so Priscilla's daughter, also named Priscilla, called me and said, 'Mom's coming down, and you know the best present I could give her is if you were here. You come visit us, stay with us here.' Me and Carl. And Mom will be here and you can have a nice visit. 'Cause Maine was so far, and he [Carl.] did not want to go, and he was working two jobs then and all that. So, I just had finished my wonderful MX missile quilt. I wrapped it up. We went to Philadelphia and visited the Priscillas. And she had guests come for dinner to impress everybody, and stuff, and that lady would not let go of it. I never saw it again.

ES: Oh. [laughter.]

PR: She paid 600 dollars. She handed me the money right there. There's nothing I could do. It's rude at somebody's house at dinner. What are you going to do? I can't turn down 600 dollars. I figured, well, I can go home and make it again I guess, but of course I never did. I think there's a photograph of it somewhere. Otherwise, nobody's ever seen it.

ES: Talking of photographs, do you have an album where you --

PR: No, I do not have an album. I have pictures hither and thither and I go up and pick out stuff that I have NO recollection of at all. And I can see it's my work. But I have no memory or what it was ever going to be, when I did it, why I was doing it, what it was intended to be finished looking like. That's why they always tell you always draw a picture. Always keep it, you know. And for years, I kept a notebook and I always when I taught, I told the ladies to keep a notebook, and all that they were going to do, and what they did, and how many hours, and what it cost, and all that stuff. 'Cause I can remember telling one bunch one time, they were foreign service ladies, they were visiting down there at Woodlawn. And they had me come to give a talk at Woodlawn. And I told them, I said, you know I've had an interruption as long as 12 years. And that was way back a long time ago. Ha! So. But I did not do it very much myself for very long. I did try, when I was teaching.

ES: So you were a teacher for a while. Where did you teach?

PR: Just if people called me up. I taught in Fairfax County. Just whenever people asked me to come, I would come. I was never good at it. I never had a series. Well, I did have a couple. I taught down there at that middle school near Lorton, a couple of times. That was real interesting. I met some interesting people. A young lady who worked on the Lorton train that goes to Florida. She was a scream and I don't know different people that you'd meet when you get out there. I do not get out there much, because I like to be home, I really do.

ES: Well this has been wonderful. We certainly enjoyed hearing as much as we have and I have a feeling you have a storehouse [of stories.] for another whole interview which we may even want to do some time.

PR: I'm sorry. I'm such a windy, windy lady.

[a few final comments .]

PR: Well, when you get Virginia Quinn over here, she can stand on her head!

ES: With her yoga!

PR: That's right. [laughter.]

ES: Well, we do not need to do that in quilting! Okay. Well, Thank you. That wraps up today's interview.

[Side one of both tapes end.]

[Side two, we captured some more comments.]

[In discussion, there's another quilt group she had forgotten to mention.]

PR: Priscilla Rose and Florence Morgan [names added in writing.] and they paid 22 dollars cab fare one way to get to Oxen Hill. And they said, listen, we've to find a better system than this. They had not gotten home yet you understand. You don't go to Oxen Hill to join somebody else's quilt group. So they started the Capitol Hill Chapter [of NQA.] in 1972. They found us at the show in '71 and started the chapter. I joined it because I had this terrible back trouble and the Arlington Club was way out in McLean and they would not let me drive. And that I could get on the bus and get to the Capitol Hill group. I could walk around, but I could not drive safely. So for a long time I did not drive, so that's how I got into the Capitol Hill chapter. And of course when the show came down to Georgetown, they were there. And this club [Cardinal Quilters] too, and by '79 Beth Ford was in charge of hostesses, because it was so convenient. And the Capitol Hill club in '78 they took care of the national show.

ES: I have a question. I remember during the bicentennial there was such a resurgence of quilting. Did you notice that here too?

PR: We had a lot. And the show was in Greenbelt. We had a special category for that. Now in 1981 or so, when it was back in the college in North Arlington, they had a reprise of all the best of the bicentennial quilts, starting with '75, 6, 7, 8, 9, and '80. And the blue and red ribbons of all those years of the bicentennials. And Lucy Catherine Bowie's purple quilt won the best of the best. [quilt names added in writing.] Solomon's Puzzle. We used to call it, 'Purple Mountain Majesty.'

ES: Is that the quilt that is one in the Virginia Museum?

PR: That's the one in the Museum. My daughter slept under that quilt, she saw it being made, and she loved it, first of all because it was purple. And she loved Lucy Catherine and we did too. We've known those people for 40 years. We're very old friends. And I knew her sister from the doll club, see. Her sister used to come in on the milk train, way early in the morning from Culpeper to be at the Dollology Club by one in the afternoon in Washington. And the first I got acquainted with her. [laughs.] My friend, Eleanor Childs, they were jokesters these two. She said, 'Why don't you take Miss Bowie home? She lives right out Route 29.' And we had not been back in Washington very long, and I knew Route 29 was in Rosslyn. So me and my three daughters got in the car with Miss Bowie and headed out to Culpeper. My husband was home thinking, 'What in the world. It's dark. Where are they? She has the car.' And I was still out driving Route 29 so that was the first time I met those people and Miss Lucy Catherine Bowie.

[Penny discusses how the quilt gets to be in the Virginia Quilt Museum. At the end, with a donation from the Cardinal Quilters donating $100 to make up the buying price. And also that it is included in the new book, just come out of the quilts in the Virginia Quilt Museum.]

PR: [Note added in writing.] The entire Bowie collection is now in the Virginia Quilt Museum, 301 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, Virginia, because fortunately when Lucy Catherine died I got to meet the niece who inherited everything and heard her say the quilts were to go to auction because in Bisbee, Arizona, where she lived, nobody would want to pay the price. So I begged her to let us have one last showing of them in Virginia at the Museum. Arrangements were made and the Curator who was my friend, every quilter's friend, convinced many individuals and groups to contribute the necessary funds to purchase each one. They had each been evaluated by a professional appraiser.

Interview Keyword

National Quilting Association
Cardinal Quilters
Daughters of Dorcas
4-H quilts
Washington (D.C.)
Barnard College


“Penny Rigdon,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,