Fred Fuston & Karla Poggen




Fred Fuston & Karla Poggen


Fred Fuston and Karla Poggen each contribute to this interview. Raymond Fuston was the father of Fred Fuston, and the grandfather of Karla Poggen. Raymond Fuston created an appliqued quilt top in 1933-1948, while he was on duty at the Paris, Texas firehouse. It is red and white - standard firefighter colors - and features international symbols of firefighting. Raymond Fuston made two other quilts while the family lived at the fire station. They are scrap patchwork quilts and include some fabric from feed sacks and flour sacks. The family intends to donate the firefighters' quilt along with a fire truck (built by Raymond) to a local museum. Raymond Fuston's fireman's quilt top was stored in a cedar chest from 1945 to 1990. Significantly stained, it was cleaned and restored to its original white. The family had it professionally quilted in 1993.

A lifelong sewer, Karla Poggen started quilting in 1996 after seeing some nontraditional quilts in a shop. Poggen learned to quilt mostly from books. She likes watercolor and kaleidoscope quilts. Most of her quilts are wall hangings. She feels great quilters are anyone who is passionate about quilting. Quilting is Poggen's expressive outlet. She sees quilts emerging as a recognized art form today.




Quilts--United States--History--20th century.
Quilts--United States
Quiltmaking process
Quiltmaking purpose
Fire fighters.


Fred Fuston
Karla Poggen


JoAnn Pospisil

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Karla Poggen


Houston, Texas

Interview indexer

Sarah Cleary


Lori Miller


JoAnn Pospisil (JP): This is JoAnn Pospisil. Today's date is November 2, 2000. It's about 10:25 a.m., and I'm conducting an interview with Karla Poggen and her father Fred Fuston. The first thing we'll start off doing is explaining about the quilter and the relationships here of the quilt we're talking about. So, who wants to tell us this, Mr. Fuston or Karla?

Fred Fuston (FF): Let me just go ahead and say that the quilter is Karla's grandfather. His name is Raymond Fuston so throughout this interview as Karla answers questions and points out, we'll be saying Raymond, and he is the person who did this.

JP: Alright. So, the quilt that we're talking about, can you describe it and tell us just generally about the history of the quilt?

FF: Raymond joined the Paris Fire Department in 1929, in Paris, Texas.

Karla Poggen (KP): He was a city fireman, not a volunteer fireman. He was the only fireman at the firehouse. Being that he was the only one, he could never leave. He had to be ready for calls. While he was there, he found plenty of things to do with his time. And he was always doing things with his hands. This is just one of the several crafts that he did, quilting. He'd made other quilts prior to this one, but this one was made especially

FF: For him. That's what I was going to say. The fire department was his love and even though he made three quilt tops in his lifetime, this was his favorite. Now, if we want to describe it, the center of this is a white background with a red Maltese cross on it. And the Maltese cross is the international symbol of firefighters. On this, we have "Paris" at the top, and the "FD" fire department at the bottom. The #2 in the middle designates the station that he was at in Paris, at Station 2. And as Karla said this was a combination residence and fire station. And so Daddy, Raymond, was the only fireman there and his family.

JP: So, he actually lived at the fire station?

FF: Yes, ma'am. The reason that he was a craftsman and had time to work with things – quilts, wood, horn, leather – this was 24 hours a day, six days a week. He was relieved of duty on Saturday morning at 7, and at Sunday morning 7, he was back on duty. To get back to the quilt, on the center, in the left-hand side is the fire plug, the fire hydrant. And on the right is the hook, which is really a pike pole, hook and ladder. And going around this, alternating there's fire axes and helmets. I believe there's five each that go around the Maltese cross. Now as far as appliqués, Karla, I want you to look at how he did them and comment on that a little more. While she's looking, I'll tell you Daddy, Raymond, did a lot of sewing on a Singer treadle, and I can remember when he went to electric. So not being an expert, like you are, on quilts, we don't know what all he did by hand and what he did on the sewing machine. Karla might want to look at that and comment on that top.

KP: The appliqué looks like it is satin stitched, and it probably is by machine, but it's a very uneven satin stitch.

FF: He started this in 1933 and the top was completed in 1944, 1945, right there at the end of World War II. Now before we go on with this history of that is there anything else we want to add and tell about the quilt top?

JP: I have a question about the material. Do you know anything about his choice, why he chose red and white?

FF: Yes, ma'am. It was probably the only material that Raymond ever bought. Red and white are standard fire colors whether that was bought at Ayre's or Beall's or Kresses' or Woolworth's, we don't know. But his other two quilts were from remnants, from where our clothes and other things were made in the home, cut up, we know that. But I happen to know that this is the only material that Raymond ever bought, just because there wasn't anything large enough, red and white, around the house.

JP: [laughs.] So, what happened to the other two quilts of the three?

FF: The family has them.

JP: You still have them?

FF: One of them has already been given on down to Karla. She has it in Las Vegas in her quilt room.

JP: Was it an appliquéd type thing or you said they were made from the remnants and scraps?

FF: Would you describe that, Karla?

JP: What were the patterns of those two?

KP: The one I have is a Nine Patch, with about inch and a half square. Pink is the dominant color. It is a scrap quilt. And I don't know about the other one.

FF: I have to plead ignorance. I was going to do a little more on it. I have it packed away. And I don't know, but I do know that those tow tops were hand done.

KP: He did the one I have, the pink Nine Patch, he did sign it, "R. Fuston." There was no date.

JP: As far as you know that you recall, were they completed before or after this one.

FF: I think during, because I know everything was done by 1948. And the reason I know that the city sold the fire station in 1948 in Paris, and that was the first time we had to find a home. Daddy had a home, they built a new fire station, but it was manned by paid firemen.

JP: How many siblings were in your family?

FF: I have a brother.

JP: So, there were two boys, and your parents? And you lived in the fire station until 1948?

FF: Yes, ma'am. The recorder can't see that, but this is where we lived.

JP: I'm looking at a picture of the fire station

FF: The fire station was on the right. The residence in the center and on your left is the porch where we spent a lot of our time. And Raymond did a lot of his sewing in his lap on that porch.

JP: And it's noted that it's in the early '40's, so this was during the time that the quilting was happening.

FF: Yes, ma'am. And I can't give you the exact date on the other two quilts. I happen to know that it was from 1933 to 1948 and then Daddy didn't do any more quilts. He did a lot of other stuff.

JP: Was your mother ever involved in quilting?

FF: Not in quilting. She did many of our clothes

JP: Created the scraps for your dad to use.

FF: Yes, that's correct. And a lot of those clothes and scraps were from flour sacks and feed sacks. I can remember we'd go to the store and if Mother needed 50 pounds of flour, she'd let me, and my brother pick out the sack. So, we could do the shirts or the shorts.

JP: I think it's kind of obvious why you choose the quilt for the interview, because it does have such a historical significance to your family. How is it used today? Do you hang it?

FF: It's mostly stored. It has never been exhibited.

JP: But it's not actually used? It's just stored, generally.

FF: I see nothing wrong with using it, but it's just stored.

JP: Do you have any specific plans for the quilt?

FF: Our plans are, as soon as my brother is through with all the showing he wants to do, and they're through with it, I want it to go to Karla, if she wants it. And, eventually, we would like it to go to the Lamar County Historical. My brother has this 1932 GMC fire truck. And upon his death, this truck goes to the Lamar County Historical Society, Lamar County, Texas.

KP: Which is the fire truck that my grandfather built?

JP: Built?

FF: This wasn't bought, this is a shop-built truck, in Paris.

JP: So, your entire family is just really the history of the Paris fire department. And the quilt is an important aspect of that.

FF: I know I'm getting away from things.

JP: That's important too. That's the background for how the quilt came about and these are all the important things. He obviously worked very well with his hands constantly, he built everything.

FF: He was a craftsman.

JP: And an artist too. This is absolutely beautiful.

FF: That's right. They didn't have templates and stencils in those days.

JP: Why?

FF: But even though this quilt is heavy with appliqué, those other two, I wish I had brought one, but we're limited to this one. They would really show what I call, for that day and time, typical, traditional quilting.

JP: Karla, can you tell us how your interest in quilting evolved?

KP: To be honest with you, I hadn't really been interested in quilting at all. I'd been sewing since I was a child. Walked into a fabric store one day, not realizing it was a quilt store, and saw all the beautiful quilts on the wall that were non-traditional, and that's what caught my eye. Found all the books, my first book I bought was a watercolor quilt book, and from then I was hooked.

JP: And so how many years have you been quilting then?

KP: About four years.

JP: and generally what kind of quilting do you do?

KP: All machine piecing, I try not to do anything by hand. If it has to be done by hand, I try to avoid it at all costs.

JP: Why is it that you feel that way about hand work?

KP: I don't know, it's just my sewing machine. [laughs.]

JP: [laughs.] Goes too slow.

KP: Gives me the joy. Too slow. [laughs.] And no therapy for me. I know a lot of people that do hand work because they say it's therapeutic. But I don't get that sense.

JP: But from the machine you do?

KP: Yes.

JP: You enjoy that.

FF: And I'd like to add that as far as I know, she gives most of this away. We have some lovely wall hangings in our

KP: It's not true. [laughs.]

FF: She keeps some, but I know several things that she's given away.

JP: What kinds of motif do you generally quilt?

KP: Geometric shapes, I'm a very abstract person. I don't do well with realistic looking things. That's what attracted me to quilting, I think because you can look at a quilt and say, 'Oh, that's just four squares put together. And look, they threw a triangle in there.' Those are all straight edges; you can sew that on a machine. That's what's so exciting to me about it, is that you can make beautiful pieces with the straight lines.

JP: What is your first memory of a quilt? Is it basically the ones that your grandfather quilted?

KP: No, these were not brought out until I was in college. Really, I did not grow up with quilts at all. There were not any quilts that I remember in my house. If there were, they were old ones that we used for packing.

FF: They were used between the coil springs in the mattress.

KP: Exactly.

FF: That's how we grew up. And when Karla came, the quilts were might near wore out. And they had been used for packing, and that was the days of coil springs. There were pieces of one or two left, and I passed one of those on to you.

KP: Otherwise, in my mind, quilts were something that grandmothers worked on and as a youngster that didn't appeal to me. I remember they were usually ugly colors. I just pretty much didn't pay any attention to quilting.

FF: If I might interject right there, we have to remember that the end of the war, about 1945, this was finished. The fire quilt top was folded, just the top, and put in Mother's cedar chest, where it stayed during Karla's childhood. In 1990, when she took it out of the bottom of the cedar chest, this was pitiful, terrible, oxidized, rust, that's the most pitiful looking thing you ever saw. Mother said, 'If you think you all will get that cleaned, your brother said that he'd have it quilted.' So, I found an old colored gal, right out here in Northwest Houston, and I'll never know what she used, but I feel like it was lemon juice, sunshine, and she got it back white. In 1993, my brother took it to Handcrafters Unlimited in Georgetown, Texas. And he worked with them, helping on the design of how they wanted it quilted. If you will notice on the red border, they had done Maltese crosses all the way around the border, on the side.

JP: That's fantastic.

FF: So, before she was born and throughout Karla's childhood until 1990, this was in a cedar chest.

JP: So, your first memory of quilts actually is the quilt fabric store?

KP: [laughs.] Basically, yes.

JP: When you walked in. Are there other quilters in the family?

KP: My mother sewed.

FF: Talent skips a generation.

JP: [laughs.] Do you have siblings?

KP: I have a sister, and she's not patient enough to sew.

JP: So, how did you actually get started? Did you take classes?

KP: A book. When I got my first quilt book, I read it from cover to cover. And I thought, 'I can do that.' I went and bought some scraps and started playing around. When I went to buy scraps, I saw that there was a class on watercolor, which was the book I bought. So, I did take the class, but after I'd already read the book. And that was my first quilt, the one produced in class.

JP: And how many pieces have you made since then? And what kinds of quilting have you done?

KP: I've made about 12 quilts. From my Watercolor, I went into Kaleidoscope quilts, and I've done two of those. I've done a Mystery quilt, in a class, because my goal was to make a full-sized quilt, to get off the walls. That was the most traditional one and my least favorite one.

JP: So, most of them are wall hangings, and not necessarily bed covers at all?

KP: Yes.

FF: Would you comment about the quilt you completed last year for your sister?

KP: Oh, yes. Last year--1999, I told my family that I felt confident enough in my skills that I would start making quilts for them, if they'd tell me what they wanted. My sister had saved all of her blue jeans from her family, her little boys growing up, and said, 'Well, just take my stack of blue jeans and make a quilt, I don't care what it looks like.' That was really fun, because I had a lot of artistic licenses. She said, 'Just do whatever you want to with it.' That was a challenge for me, because it was something I would not have chosen to do for myself. But I had a great deal of fun doing it and it meant a lot to me because I got to do it for her.

JP: Is that a wall hanging too, or a quilt?

KP: It's a bed quilt.

FF: And it blew my mind as to how it came out just with all her ideas, and how she blended the wear and tear on the blue to the white. I'm still astounded with that one.

JP: So, you've had quite a varied

KP: Yes.

JP: What other quilt related activities are you involved with?

KP: Attending quilt shows.

JP: Do you teach classes, or continue to take classes?

KP: I've found that the classes usually don't challenge me anymore. I find that I'm disappointed in more classes now than I was in the beginning. And that the books seem to be better teachers for me. I can move at my own pace, and I won't have any disappointment. The books are all beautiful anyway. If I don't learn anything from them, at least I have beautiful pictures.

JP: Do you belong to a guild or anything?

KP: I just joined a guild. I haven't been to a meeting. But I do try to attend all the local quilt shows.

JP: And you're out of Las Vegas. We didn't talk about where everybody's from right now. You're living in Las Vegas at this time?

KP: Yes. [speaks to Fred.]

JP: And you said you're in--

FF: Northeast Texas.

JP: Northeast Texas.

FF: Yes, ma'am. Enchanted Oaks.

JP: Enchanted Oaks.

FF: As the lady said, 'very enchanting'. I'm a Texas boy, and I hadn't left.

JP: What is it that you find pleasing about quilting?

KP: I think I found my niche. I've always known I was an artist, but I never could find my niche. I think it's the medium, the fabric, is what I'm most comfortable with. I feel like I'm at home, that's what I was supposed to do.

JP: What are the aspects that you most enjoy when you do quilting?

KP: The piecing, the actual sewing together of the two pieces of fabric, taking it over to my iron and pressing it open, and seeing the nice, crisp seam. Then you see your design start to emerge.

JP: What do you enjoy least about quilting?

KP: The hand work, the binding.

JP: In your opinion, what makes a great quilt?

KP: I think it can be just one thing. It can be anything, actually. You can have a quilt that has beautiful fabric in it, or it's just a beautiful color, or it has a unique design, or a unique use of a traditional design. If a quilt has one great thing in it, it's a great quilt.

JP: What makes them artistically powerful to you?

KP: A good composition. The design in a quilt should flow, it should be logical. Of course, the colors. Artistic use of fabric, so that you can create luminosity, 3D effects using a fabric that actually looks like water, or fabrics that look like things actually in nature. An inventive use of quilting.

JP: If that's what makes a great quilt, what makes a great quilter?

KP: Oh, that's easy. Anybody who's passionate about anything of quilting is a great quilter. If they don't sew a stitch, if they are just a collector of antique quilts, that means that they have a passion for quilts, and they are a quilter.

JP: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, do you think?

KP: Trial and error. [laughs.] You know, there's a lot of great quilters that are educated artists. Reading books and hearing their lectures, I know that every quilt they make is not great. They'll make something that they don't show to anybody, but they'll get an idea and the next quilt they make might be the masterpiece.

JP: Evolution over time.

KP: Exactly.

JP: How do you learn to choose the right fabrics, colors, patterns?

KP: Trial and error again. You have to dabble in it. You can read as many books as you want, you say, 'Oh, I have that color theory down.' But until you go out and you actually put the fabrics together yourself and apply it, you just have to practice and learn.

JP: How is quilting important in your life now?

KP: It's my expressive outlet. Like I said, I always knew that I was an artist, but I never found out what I was supposed to be creating and I think that I found an outlet, a way to express who I am, my personality.

JP: In what ways does the quilting that you do now reflect, or do they reflect your community or your region?

KP: I think no, my quilts don't reflect my community or region. I live in the desert. When I look at my quilts, I don't get a sense of desert. But I grew up in Texas, and I don't get a sense of Texas either. But listening to all the speakers at this international show, it has me thinking that maybe my quilts are American, and I never realized it. At this point in my early quiltmaking I don't know that it really does contribute, but it might be emerging.

JP: How do you think quilts are important, just in general, in American life today?

KP: Quilts are probably the least recognized in the art world. And I see them emerging as an art today, whereas in the past they were utilitarian. They were necessary. Today they're just beautiful to look at.

[tape ends.]

Interview Keyword

Quilt purpose - Commemorative
Machine quilting
Quilt conservation
Machine applique
Quilt tops
Paris (Tex.)
Raymond Fuston
Fred Fuston
Karla Poggen
Quilt preservation
Watercolor quilting
Kaleidoscope quilts


“Fred Fuston & Karla Poggen,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,