Joyce Ashley




Joyce Ashley


Joyce Ashley is a quilter from Michigan who began quilting around age 60. She gained an interest from watching her mother-in-law quilt with her guild, but is almost entirely self-taught. She mainly quilts for children through Charitable Union at her church, Westlake Presbyterian in Battle Creek, Michigan.




Joyce Ashley


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview sponsor

Susan Salser


Battle Creek, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. This interview is being conducted for South Central Michigan Q.S.O.S., a project for the Alliance for American Quilts. Today I'm interviewing Joyce Ashley at the Westlake Presbyterian Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is March 25, 2011 and the time is 11:14 a.m. Let's start by talking about the quilt that you brought today. Does this quilt have a special meaning for you?

Joyce Ashley (JA): It's the only full size quilt I've ever made, actually. At the time that pattern came out several of the gals in the group made that same pattern. I enjoyed it, myself. I like to do that type of appliqué.

EW: So that's why you chose it to bring it to the interview?

JA: Yes.

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

JA: I don't know. [I like appliqué, blanket stitch.]

EW: Okay. How do you use this quilt?

JA: When I first had made it I used it as a spread on my bed, just on top of everything, but then through illness and different things I just had it folded up on the chair.

EW: And what are your plans for it?

JA: Just keep it. I don't know. No plans, particularly.

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

JA: Probably sixty.

EW: How did that come about?

JA: My mother-in-law was a quilter. In fact she belonged to the quilt guild I do, years ago, I guess. Through seeing her things I started--

EW: You got an interest in doing it?

JA: Yes.

EW: And, would you say you learned to quilt from her?

JA: Just more or less on my own. She didn't show me or anything. I just looked at her things.

EW: Were you a sewer to start with?

JA: Yes, I sewed all my life, clothes and things.

EW: How many hours a week would you say you quilt?

JA: About fifteen hours a week, maybe.

EW: And what types of things do you make?

JA: It's mainly the kid's quilts that we're doing for the group. And I go to Charitable Union and do a lot for them.

EW: Oh, do you?

JA: Yes, tie quilts and sew things.

EW: What is your first quilt memory?

JA: Actually my own grandmother had utility quilts that we used and they were just squares sewed together.

EW: So that's something you remember from childhood?

JA: Yes.

EW: Did she make those quilts?

JA: Yes, and she was unique. She only had one arm.

EW: Oh, really?

JA: She had the lower part of her arm missing. She was born that way. But it was amazing all the sewing she did.

EW: She didn't experience a loss, so that's the way she grew up and learned to use her other hand? Is she the only other quiltmaker in your family?

JA: Yes, as far as I know.

EW: How does your quiltmaking impact the family?

JA: I don't have any family left, hardly. I just have a son here in town. He enjoys. I've made a wall hanging for him, now and them. He likes them.

EW: Well, that's good. Have you ever used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time?

JA: It passes the time if you need something different, than thinking about bad things.

EW: So it distracts you?

JA: Yes, it does.

EW: And have you ever had an amusing experience that occurred from your quiltmaking?

JA: Not that I can think of.

EW: Have you ever taught quiltmaking?

JA: No, I haven't.

EW: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

JA: It's an accomplishment. It just makes me feel good.

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

JA: Oh, there's some things I don't like to do as much as other things. I don't know.

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

JA: Just this one on Friday and the quilt guild, of course. [Cal-Co Quilters' Guild of Battle Creek, Michigan.]

EW: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

JA: Somewhat. I'm not up on real modernistic quilting at all.

EW: I'll bet when you started quilting we were already using rotary cutters.

JA: Yes. Oh, those are wonderful.

EW: Aren't they

JA: Yes. They sure are.

EW: Do you have a favorite technique? Appliqué, or piece, or does it make any difference?

JA: I do both.

EW: And do you have any favorite materials?

JA: Well, cotton, mainly.

EW: Do you have a sewing room or a studio where you create your work?

JA: I have a bedroom that I use for sewing.

EW: Do you have a design wall?

JA: No. My walls are full of everything.

EW: How do you balance your time?

JA: Well, usually in the mornings I work on the quilting until about noon and then I sit down and rest the rest of the day.

EW: So you might spend twenty-twenty five hours a week quilting?

JA: Well, possibly, yes. It varies.

EW: Do you ever need to lay out the parts of your quilt to organize them, see how they look?

JA: Yes.

EW: Where do you put those?

JA: On the dining room table.

EW: On the dining room table.

JA: That's all the place I have for it. Wish I had a bigger table.

EW: Don't we all?

JA: It would help.

EW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JA: The colors and, of course, the design.

EW: And what would you say makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JA: The coloring, I guess, I would say.

EW: When you go to a quilt show, what is it that catches your eye?

JA: The quilts that the patterns have been around for a long time. I'm not into the real modernistic types.

EW: So you prefer the traditional patterns. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JA: Well, once again, it's the patterns that have been around for a long time, I guess. As far as I'm concerned.

EW: What do you suppose makes a great quiltmaker?

JA: Someone that's very particular with their work and like to make it just so. Not rush through it. Take your time.

EW: Is there anyone, especially, whose work you're drawn to?

JA: In the group, you mean?

EW: Anywhere.

JA: Well, there's like Beth [Payne-Howard.] that I talk to and Rosemary Kimball. Some that are really professional at it, I'd call them.

EW: They do professional work.

JA: Yes, they do beautiful things.

EW: And are there any artists that have influenced you?

JA: No, I don't believe so.

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

JA: Machine, of course, is the thing to do now-a-days. People don't want to hand quilt. It takes too long, I'm sure. Machine is pretty. It's beautiful.

EW: And do you hand quilt?

JA: Yes, so far.

EW: And what do you think about the long-arm quilting?

JA: It's very pretty and it's the thing of the future. There's more and more of that and less handquilting at the shows.

EW: Yes, that's true. Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

JA: It's something for me to do rather than sit and stew about things. It's just a big part of my life anymore.

EW: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community?

JA: I don't know.

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

JA: Well, it something to show how things have been in the past, quilting and everything.

EW: Do you find continuity in the way that quilts have been in households over time?

JA: Yes, definitely.

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

JA: It shows that women like the art part of making quilts and enjoy the coloring and everything. It's art, that's all.

EW: How do you think quilts can be used?

JA: Well, on beds, mainly, for warmth. Not so much anymore. I think they're more for display and things like that.

EW: What has happened to quilts that you have made, or those of friends and family?

JA: Mainly I've piled them up in the corner. Wall hangings. I do wall hangings all the time, things like that. I have given a few away to the family but that's about all.

EW: And how do they use those?

JA: Hang them on the wall.

EW: They did hang them on the wall? What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

JA: The cost of it, for one thing. The material has gone up in price so much it's unbelievable.

EW: This brings us, then, to the end of our questions. Is there anything that you would especially like to talk about?

JA: Not that I can think of. No.

EW: This concludes our interview. The time is 11:27 a.m.


“Joyce Ashley,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,