Sharon Gaylord Chambers




Sharon Gaylord Chambers




Sharon Gaylord Chambers


Angela Steiner

Interview Date



Houston, Texas

Interview indexer

Jesse Moore


Alana Zakowski


Angela Steiner (AS): Okay, this is an interview of the Q.S.O.S. Quilter's Save Our Stories project of The Alliance for American Quilts. Today is February 15th, the day after Valentine's day, it's easy to remember and it is, we'll use Eastern time, 3:28 in the afternoon Eastern time. Our quilter today is Sharon Gaylord and Sharon you're from where in Arkansas?

Sharon Gaylord Chambers (SGC): I'm really Sharon Gaylord Chambers.

AS: Chambers, right.

SGC: I am in, living in Mena, Arkansas, and that is halfway between Fort Smith and Texarkana on the Oklahoma border.

AS: Okay great. So we're going to go through our questions and at the end Sharon, and especially since you've done this before, I will give you an opportunity to add anything else.

SGC: Okay.

AS: Because I know you're one of the Texas quilters too and we want to cover that, and if we don't within this, we want to make sure we do. So the first questions are about the quilt that you chose to be your touchstone quilt. Can you tell me about it?

SGC: It is a folk art quilt. I was teaching in Texas with a small group and wanted to share my enthusiasm about just taking patterns, putting them together and creating a folk look. I've been to some of the stores and seen some of the folk art quilts being done and so I started pulling patterns and ideas and put this together as a project for them to do. Kind of like a mystery quilt, they didn't know exactly what it was going to look like until the end and [laughs.] and that is what it looks like.

AS: They must have been happy [laughs.]

SGC: Oh they were. They weren't happy because I was using plaid backgrounds you know instead of the typical backgrounds. They were not thrilled but I think the end result was worth it.

AS: Yes, yes, absolutely I think it's what makes the quilt so special. What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

SGC: It just, as I have progressed in my quiltmaking I tend to lean towards that style, more than anything else so it represents me and something that I have done and way of being creative. Not original because nothing is, none of the patterns, you know I've taken patterns and ideas and just accumulated them into what I consider an original style for me, but it's a style that I like and I can be recognized as.

AS: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview, because I'm sure you made lots of others? [laughs.]

SGC: Well, because it was so different.

AS: Mhm.

SGC: And using the plaid backgrounds and the style and the way it was put together, it is just a good representation.

AS: Very good. What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

SGC: That I can be creative, that I am outside the box sometimes.

AS: Mhm [laughs,]

SGC: [laughs.] I do encourage my friends here in Mena [Arkansas.] to be a little more outside the box and it's very difficult for them to not do exactly what's there.

AS: Quilting's a good avenue for it.

SGC: Uh-huh, yes, yes.

AS: How do you use this quilt?

SGC: I just use it as a wall hanging in display at my house.

AS: Mhm. Do you have any further plans for it?

SGC: No.

AS: Okay. I would go along, I know you know this from before, but if there is any question that just isn't pertinent, sometimes I skip over ones that I know aren't, but if there's one you're just like, "Huh? I don't have an answer for that," that's fine.

SGC: It's okay.

AS: Okay [laughs.] The next questions are about your involvement in quiltmaking. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

SGC: Give me a lead as to what you mean by interest. I spend all my waking hours thinking about quilts.

AS: [laughs.] So you have no interest in quilts, right?

SGC: [laughs.] I go to a fabric store and I'm just lost in all the color and the fabric. I want to spend every free moment that I have. I am currently out in my special little hiding place, my husband says, "Oh you're going to disappear from me now, again." I've been working for the last couple hours and I've just enjoyed the heck out of it and I want to continue to do that.

AS: That's great, you answered the question well. What age did you start making quilts?

SGC: I started making quilts in 1974 and so that would probably have been my mid-thirties.

AS: Wow, wow. From whom did you learn to quilt?

SGC: I taught myself.

AS: Good girl [laughs.]

SGC: My husband, you have to understand is my, gives me a lot of latitude and he also gives me suggestions and one day he suggested that I make a quilt and I'm thinking, "I've never, I don't even know what a quilt is," because I was not raised with them. So I started looking at what quilts were and of course he wanted a corduroy quilt [laughs.]

AS: [laughs.] Where did he get that idea?

SGC: He loves corduroy, I mean [laughs.]

AS: Did he have quilts in his past, because somehow he knew what a quilt was.

SGC: He must have had. His mother never made quilts but I imagine, I think his grandparents, mother did. So there was this idea and so I started researching and started with the basic four inch square whatever it was, and started making scrap quilts and took that corduroy quilt down to the Texas State Fair down in Dallas [Texas.] and said, "Here, I'd like to enter this in to the quilt exhibit," and they said, "Thank you." The next day they did call me back and say, "Come and get this quilt." [laughs.]

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: But that quilt, corduroy quilt, is still alive and every October it comes out and is on the bed.

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: It's not in good condition but you can imagine it's quite old.

AS: And it has a lot of meaning.

SGC: Yeah.

AS: How many hours a week do you think you quilt?

SGC: Oh I try to do two or three hours, appliqué in the evening, so you're probably looking at two to three hours a day, five to seven days, so that's, I'm not real quick, twenty hours, thirty hours.

AS: Yeah, around there, that's great. What is your first quilt memory?

SGC: That one is hard because it starts out with the story of the corduroy quilt and I don't have any memory from childhood because there was never any quilts in our lives so that would probably be the first memory.

AS: Mhm. Do you remember the first time you saw a quilt? After once, you know once your husband said something about it? First time you went to a quilt show or something?

SGC: Oh it wasn't too long after that that I discovered one of the very first Dallas [Texas.] quilt shows and went to it and was just so impressed and did not know where, you know what I was really getting involved in and then discovered if you look in the phonebook you can find quilt stores and [laughs.] found those and that was a big step for me, to go from what scrap fabric was at home with the kids' clothing that I had made to making quilts with real, really quilt fabric. And then not too long after that that I started taking quilt magazines and discovered that there's such a thing as the Houston [Texas.] quilt show.

AS: Oh [laughs.]

SGC: That led to fanaticism and [laughs.] then you slowly develop your small group and in Dallas [Texas.] there's a big Dallas guild had a lot of small satellite groups that were part of the guild and those were dear close friends.

AS: Bees?

SGC: Mhm, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

AS: So how does quiltmaking impact your family?

SGC: Oh, it, that's a hard question because it impacted completely. I decorate my house with my quilts, my quilts are with me all the time, whatever project I've been living in, they, the children, grew up with having quilts on the beds, so they know and appreciate them. It has a, it always seems you know, that's me, they don't, I don't think they think about me as anything else but working with quilts.

AS: [laughs.] That's great. Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

SGC: Oh yeah. Always. The, that is to me when you can sit down and quilt, actually do the handquilting on a quilt, you can lose yourself in time, and then you have your little barrier from the world and so whenever you have some major, I've had both my knees replaced and during the recovery I'd been quilting on quilts and that it seemed to make it so much easier to get past the time you couldn't be active.

AS: Yes, being productive.

SGC: Right. Anytime I have to deal with my husband's family, the quilts around [laughs.] You know the little project is, so you know, dealing with uncomfortable situations, there's always that.

AS: Do you handquilt all your quilts?

SGC: I am, used to, yes. I'm doing more, realizing my time is getting away from me and I need to do more quilts, and taking more advantage of the machine quilting, but got one ready to be handquilted now, I just need to mark it. But yes, I used to do all of my quilts by hand.

AS: Mhm. Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking.

SGC: I'm going to have to ask you to pass on that one because it doesn't come to my mind right ahead.

AS: Yeah, some people they hit and others you know, it doesn't. What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

SGC: Taking, the finished product when you finally finish one and it looks good and you're proud of it that is an accomplishment, it's like raising a child.

AS: Awe.

SGC: you've put all this work into it and sometimes they're not great, and sometimes they're great and sometimes, you know everything is just perfect and the one I've just finished that I'm going to be handquilting is a wonderful quilt, but it's not great [laughs.]

AS: Oh.

SGC: You know those little extra errors that you make because you're doing something wrong, you're not paying attention, bygone I'm going to finish this quilt and it's going to be, but it's going to be a good quilt.

AS: So why handquilt that one then?

SGC: Because it just calls for it.

AS: Okay.

SGC: It's an appliqué quilt, are you familiar with a piece of cake people?

AS: Oh yes, beautiful, beautiful.

SGC: I love them––

AS: Oh their color, their design.

SGC: Yes, their design. Well I've taken whimsical which is one of their little packets of flowers and birds, and the flowers are very whimsical and used absolutely the brightest yellows and greens and purples and pinks and created this and made an appliqué boarder. It's just not perfect, but it's so good [laughs.]

AS: Okay, okay. So are you a perfectionist?

SGC: No.

AS: Okay, good.

SGC: No, no, then you never get anything done.

AS: Right. What aspects of actual quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

SGC: I'm not a good machine quilter. I keep forcing myself to machine piece but I'm not a good machine piecer so I really try to avoid doing that, but I'm right in the middle of a machine piecing one now just to force myself [laughs.]

AS: [laughs.] Good for you.

SGC: I'm making a six-inch courthouse square in Civil War fabrics.

AS: Oh.

SGC: And I really think this is going to be great, but it's not perfect [laughs.]

AS: [laughs.] What art or quilt guild groups do you belong to? I think you may have already answered this.

SGC: Within Mena [Arkansas.] we have a guild and there's such a thing as, and we have a wonderful quilt shop show every year here, so I've kind of moved on from the Dallas [Texas.] area because we've been here now ten years, and you'd have to be here but so I teach lessons at the quilt guild and I have a little group that we go every Tuesday we go and handquilt on a frame that comes down from the ceiling and there's about ten of us that we spend the day, take a lunch, go out to this little Baptist church out in the country [laughs.]

AS: Oh what fun.

SGC: It's a storybook. Then the frame comes down and we sit and we quilt and we talk and we share you know life experiences like women do, and it's one of those groups where you moan and groan like yesterday it was so foggy you couldn't see to drive and it was so cold and damp, but we bundled up and went to this church, and they've got a gas, propane gas heater and it just barely keeps us warm [laughs.]

AS: Oh.

SGC: But there were about six of us yesterday, and we're working on a new quilt and it's not really a wonderful quilt but we sit there and complain and start talking about you know, what's going on in the community and who's who and what's doing.

AS: Good, therapeutic.

SGC: Very much, very much.

AS: Have advances in technology influenced your work at all?

SGC: Give me an example of the technology.

AS: Oh, like using any kind of anything online or longarm machining or anything like that.

SGC: I think if you consider back in the seventies when I first started quilting that you had cardboard or milk carton plastic to make your templates with, it is amazing the rotary cutter and the ruler, I'm still very slow in progressing in using the technology that is available. I'm not sure if I want to use acu-cut, the machine that makes these appliqué shapes.

AS: Yeah.

SGC: Because I'm thinking, "I enjoy doing, drawing my own designs and cutting my own stuff,' so you know I'm not ready to progress that far but just when I first got a rotary cutter and a mat, it didn't even have the lines on it, so I'm wondering, "So how do you use this?"

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: You know, cut straight [laughs.]

AS: Revolutionary wasn't it?

SGC: Oh yes. There are lot of things that are worth it, and I enjoy having the progress, and there are some I think, "Well, not today."

AS: Yup. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

SGC: Techniques, I love appliqué, that's my favorite. Materials, do you mean by working with, or fabric, or?

AS: Fabrics or anything else that you use.

SGC: I guess my favorite thing lately is discovering freezer paper; it makes wonderful [inaudible.] you don't waste the money on the plastic templates.

AS: Yeah.

SGC: And you can reuse the freezer paper over and over again for your templates and especially if you're doing appliqué, you don't need to have a whole bunch of plastic.

AS: Right. Describe the area in which you create.

SGC: This is just a delightful place. We moved to Mena, Arkansas, we are on almost thirty acres of woods, don't want to have any pasture, don't want to have cows or chickens, and so I, we built a second garage, because we didn't have enough room, and I said, "Well, put a room on it." So I have a huge window that looks out into the woods and right now because there aren't many leaves on the trees, I can see the mountains.

AS: Oh how nice.

SGC: And so it's, no one has gone in and cleared up the woods and so it's kind of wild.

AS: Yeah.

SGC: But it's so nice and then in this room I can also convert it to a guest bedroom because it has a full bathroom and a closet full of fabric and I can make all the mess I want and close the door and go back to the house [laughs.] It is just wonderful. So that is where I spend a lot of my time.

AS: Sounds heavenly.

SGC: Mhm.

AS: Do you use a design wall?

SGC: Yes, yeah, yes it's very important. I think another tool that is important is the reducing glass.

AS: Ah.

SGC: I just now think about it but I connect that with the design wall because once you put it up there and look at it through the reducing glass, you can see your errors.

AS: Yeah.

SGC: Or you can see that it's good the way it is.

AS: Right, yup. We're going to switch to the aesthetics, craftsmanship, and design aspects of quiltmaking. First question is, what do you think makes a great quilt?

SGC: The balance of color.

AS: Mhm.

SGC: And it doesn't have to be necessarily original but you can see that it all does works and the color is smooth through the whole thing and one thing doesn't just stand out and glare at you.

AS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SGC: That's a hard one, I'm not sure. I think, again it has to be a balance, the color has to be smooth throughout, the design has to be all the same you know subject matter, is that the right term?

AS: Mhm, mhm, yup.

SGC: Yeah, I think that's it. It just, I'm very much a tradionalist and so I love to look at old quilts that have been done and how they are well done, they speak to you, a real, and then I like to take that and twist it just a little a tiny bit to bring out more brighter colors and make it my quilt.

AS: Ah yes, yes. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

SGC: Just if somebody likes it and wants to spend––[laughs.]

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: I don't know. It has to be in fairly good condition and I mean you've got to have taken good care of it. You don't want to have a rag in there.

AS: No.

SGC: But you want, a good antique quilt would be wonderful for a museum collection and I think some of the ones that were selected for the Texas book are just amazing museum pieces.

AS: Yeah. What makes a great quiltmaker?

SGC: Oh that's, I don't know, dedication, the desire.

AS: Yeah.

SGC: And a someone who allows them to do it.

AS: Yeah, support.

SGC: Yes, support.

AS: Are there any quiltmakers that you find that their work is, you're really drawn to?

SGC: Oh yes. Not that I want to duplicate a lot of them, but I recognize their work and I think, "Oh yes," and quite of few of them. I was very very very fortunate to be involved with Pat Campbell and her Jacobean stuff. Took one of her lessons in her restaurant, one of the first students in her restaurant and seeing her with her style of the Jacobean appliqué, it's one of my favorite things to do, they're so flowing and smooth and wonderful to do and I've done several of those. And you see some of the artists in the book like Libby Lehman, I think is wonderful with all of her designs, it's not what I can do, but I appreciate it and love to see it.

AS: Mhm, yup. Let's go to the function and meaning of quilts in American life. Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

SGC: It allows me to be somebody.

AS: Oh, wow.

SGC: Most of women are identified with a job or you know, but I was a homemaker and I did have a job, but I didn't want to be identified with my job, and now I can be identified with the quilts. And in this small community I am the quilt lady.

AS: Oh, wonderful, wow.

SGC: But I think it allows them to be, it's like an artist and her painter, the quiltmaking allows the women to be or the artist to be, be an artist.

AS: Yeah, it's your way of expressing yourself. It's your medium.

SGC: Yes, yes.

AS: Do your quilts in any way reflect your community or region?

SGC: No.

AS: I figured not especially since you transplanted [laughs.]

SGC: [laughs.]

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

SGC: That's an interesting question and that's a harder one to come up with. I don't see in everyday life at this present time is quilts being important in life. It was in the past and I think it can be, but I think it's up to the individual family to have a quiltmaker to make them important. My children, and I think the children of the quiltmakers, are the same way, they admire, take home, they use the quilts, they're wrapped up in the quilts, but on an average life, I don't think that happens.

AS: Yeah, yeah. In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

SGC: Women have used the quilts to make it through the trauma in history you know, the civil war quilts, the bible quilts, it's in a way they can express their feelings with their designs.

AS: Mhm. What has happened to the quilts that you've made or those for friends and family?

SGC: I have given out a few quilts to my friends and family, to my family more than to my friends, and they use them. Most of them I keep, I'm not really yet fir them to take quite a few of the quilts because I'm not sure yet if they're going to keep them safe.

AS: Right, yes.

SGC: There are, anyway, so I don't know what's going to happen to my quilts [laughs.]

AS: Oh.

SGC: But I'd like to be able to give them to somebody, someplace where they can be used and seen and appreciated.

AS: And safe?

SGC: And safe.

AS: Yeah, yup. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

SGC: I think finding time to do their craft, their art. You really have to be able to do that. With most of the women these days working outside the home, it's difficult because I'm privileged to have been able to work and do my craft and then retire and do my thing here.

AS: Mhm, very much so. Now, tell me about your quilt was in the Texas quilt book.

SGC: Yes.

AS: Correct?

SGC: Yes.

AS: Tell me about that.

SGC: I have two quilts.

AS: Oh.

SGC: In the book and I was just so flabbergasted, it was one of those experiences that, it was just beyond experiences.

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: I was thrilled. The one of the quilts is a Pat Campbell Jacobean that I did in her class, so again, there is her influence, it is using fabric with a printed background where everybody was still using solids for their quilts and they kind of, "I'm not sure if you should do that." [laughs.]

AS: Oh.

SGC: And I didn't realize that I could piece with machine piece that lattice border, so I had to appliqué it, I appliquéd all of that [laughs.] but it is a delightful quilt. And the second quilt is a very traditional feathered, princess feathered, and I call is Feathered Rose because it, I love princess feathers. The rotating stuff that goes on and I love the red and green quilts, and so this is a variation of a red and green quilt where, and a four block quilt, and each block is the same thing of the feather and the rose in a circular pattern.

AS: Pretty.

SGC: And it's I reds and again I've pieced the background fabric and every background is a different color for each of the squares but they blend all together. I like scrap quilts the best and I love using different types of backgrounds on my quilts to make them, to make it look a little harder.

AS: Ah [laughs.] Tell me about how you get chose to be in the Texas quilts book.

SGC: Oh, I don't know [laughs.]

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: I really don't know. I was sitting at my computer and got an email from Barbara Hartman and she is a Dallas [Texas.] quilts person and it said, "Sharon, where are you?" and I had that feeling of, "Sharon I'm sitting here at my desk, what do you mean where am I?" And she was passing on the email of a list of quilts that they wanted to put in the book and I recognized the Feathered Rose name and it was just the names of the quilts, not the names of the quiltmakers and, "If you recognize this as you quilt, then let us know." So I emailed them back and said, "I recognize Feathered Rose as my quilt," and then they said, "Well what about the other one?" and I said, "Oh?" and I looked at the list, couldn't remember what I had named the Jacobean [laughs.] and it was listed so it was just a fluke that I got in there because somebody found me.

AS: Oh, do you know how?

SGC: Well Barbara, I've been in and out of the Dallas [Texas.] area and I haven't really changed my email since then, so it's kind of on a list somewhere in the Dallas [Texas.] and Barbara must have just found me.

AS: Oh wonderful.

SGC: Yeah I cant thank her enough.

AS: Yes, that's incredible. One other thing I picked up on is you do do some teaching?

SGC: Yes, yes, yes.

AS: Just for the guild?

SGC: Yes. Yes just for the local, I used to do teaching in Texas when I was there and I do it here for our guild. We just finished up a project and this is an amazing, we started out with just a half dozen or so people and then our leader dies, and I'm trying no to be the leader because I don't want to do this you know, and I'm slowly saying, "Okay guys, what do you want to do?" and the year before last they did a star sampler that somebody kind of thought, and so I said, "I've got some quilts here and I can help you and we can do one of these." So I showed them some of these, my quilts, and they said, "They want to do that," so we did over, starting with last March and finishing it up in November, one of the folk arts that I do. Not the one like you have a picture of, but another one. I had twenty-nine people getting patterns and packets.

AS: Wow.

SGC: It is amazing to see the creativity, the people that have never done anything, and it's a very difficult quilt to do because there's so much appliqué, there's so much piecing, then because I'm and of flaky and I had no idea what it's going to look like when it ends up, or where we were going or how big it was going to be and they all wanted to know these questions and I said, "I can't tell you, because I make it us as I go." [laughs.]

AS: [laughs.] Follow me blindly.

SGC: Yes, exactly right. It's amazing. We had a showing of the ones that were just about completed, they ran with that, one lady did hers in navy batiks.

AS: Oh.

SGC: Yes. I thought, "No, no, no, no this is not the right way to do this."

AS: But it worked.

SGC: But I didn't say that to her because I didn't want to squish her, and it is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

AS: Oh.

SGC: Then the other ladies have done their styles, they didn't all, but they picked their own fabrics to use, and I was thinking, "oh gosh this is going to look terrible," [laughs.] but I didn't say that to them because they were working at it. Oh to see the end product of all these and am hoping to have it displayed at our quilt show in June with the folk art quilts that they've done.

AS: Oh great.

SGC: Yeah, it's just amazing how they just took, and every one of them did their own thing, and learned, and that to me is I did a good job.

AS: That is success.

SGC: Yeah.

AS: Well I have just one more question, and that is because your husband is the one who suggested you start quilting, what does he think of all of this?

SGC: Oh he is very, very supportive. I can't, in the other interview I gave them a copy of an article he wrote for the quilters'' newsletter and I hope that's going to go in the archives. He had supported me from day one and allows me to take off and doesn't question the money you spent.

AS: [laughs.]

SGC: Oh you know he makes fun of the fact that I've now spent three or four hours out here while he's in the house, you know [laughs.] but oh, I think he's a little proud.

AS: Good.

SGC: Yeah.

AS: Good.

SGC: Yeah, it is, he has been extremely supportive and I just cant say how much. There are some people in my life, I've mentioned Pat Campbell, there want another lady who moved from Chicago [Illinois.] into the Dallas [Texas.] area and she started up bus trips where we would go up for two of the Amish communities in Iowa and we would stop at every antique and quilt store and these learning experiences and her dealing with color has helped me so much to be able to say, "Yes this is good," and people feel like I can see good color, but I only learned it from this person.

AS: Oh, wow.

SGC: So there's, we had a small group in Dallas [Texas.] we called ourselves Material Girls, it started out as Think Tank but it changed names, but we had a good group of people that just made us grow, and I've always been very grateful for that.

AS: Yes, yup.

SGC: And my husband. I'm very grateful.

AS: Yeah, yup. Is there anything else you want to add?

SGC: No. I did want to make sure I recognized, that I did talk about my husband before and I do feel like if it wasn't for him that I wouldn't be here.

AS: Well he, you didn't know what a quilt was before he mentioned it, so yes.

SGC: Right, right.

AS: That's amazing.

SGC: It is.

AS: Good, good. Well if there's nothing else you can think of.

SGC: I think we, unless you can, I think we're good.

AS: Good, excellent.

SGC: And you like the little folk art quilt that you saw?

AS: Love it, yes, really I love the plaids and I know they're harder to work with, but still.

SGC: [inaudible.]

AS: I'm going to hit star two, let's see if this works. So this concludes our Q.S.O.S. [Quilters' Save Our Stories.] interview. It is still February 15 and it's now 4:07.


“Sharon Gaylord Chambers,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,