Chrissy Atwater




Chrissy Atwater


Chrissy Atwater is a quiltmaker from Florida, part of the Venice Area Quilt Guild and a smaller internal group called the Cut-Ups. She's been quilting for over 50 years and learned from her grandmother. Initially, she was apprehensive about quilting, but once she began she was obsessed. In this interview she talks about a bright, happy quilt she brought which started as a baby quilt but ended up being 102" by 102", because of a family superstition that baby quilts can only be used for the intended baby, and if the baby cannot receive the quilt it's a bad omen to give it to another baby.




Melanie Grear


Chrissy Atwater


Jeanne Wright

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Englewood, Florida


Jeanne Wright


**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.** Note: Chrissy Atwater is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required.

Jeanne Wright (JW): This is Jeanne Wright. Today's date is March 18, 2011. It's 12:55 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Chrissy Atwater at my home in Venice, Florida. This is for the Alliance for American Quilts' Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Chrissy, thank you for agreeing to be part of this project.

Chrissy Atwater (CA): My pleasure.

JW: Tell me about the quilt you brought today. It is gorgeous, it's bright, it's just a happy quilt. Tell me about that.

CA: Well this quilt had originally started out as a baby quilt and the center part was part of the, the star was a part of the baby quilt. The person that was supposed to receive this was in the process of adopting a teenager's baby. When the teenager gave birth to the child, she decided not to give the baby up for adoption. So it's kind of a, I don't know, a family folklore thing or, it's kind of a superstition thing in my family that once you've made a baby quilt and the baby is no longer available to receive that quilt, you can't use it for another baby; it's a bad omen. So I decided to add to it and then it just kind of took off from there. It had a life of its own.

JW: How big did you think it was going to be once it took off?

CA: I was just going to do a couch throw thing with it because I didn't want to spend too much time on it, but that not wanting to one spend too much time ended up being two and half years piecing the top. [laughs.]

JW: What type of piecing did you do?

CA: It was English paper-piecing.

JW: How big did it finally grow?

CA: 102" x 102". It was my very first project with English paper-piecing in 49 years of quilting.

JW: Did you enjoy it?

CA: I had a blast. [laughs.] I had a blast.

JW: Good. How did you choose the colors?

CA: I didn't spend a lot of thought in choosing the colors. A lot of it is scrap. 99% of it is scrap. The background is all pieces of clothing from my children and myself, some of my siblings, there's a lot of family involved in this. I don't know exactly how involved they are, but I used to make clothing for my children and for my neighbor's kids and things like that. A lot of their clothing is in there, from babysitters, a lot of pastel.

JW: Do you have any idea to whom this will go?

CA: Me. Me, me, me, me me. [laughs.] Every time I make a quilt there is always somebody else in mind. This time it's me.

JW: Good. What special meaning does it have for you?

CA: Oh, gosh. My grandmother had a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt on her bed. She had made it. It was English paper-piecing and I wanted it. When she passed away, that's the only thing I asked for. My oldest sister Linda got it. I was devastated. I was devastated. So after the baby situation fell through I thought, well, maybe it's time for me to have my own Grandmother's Flower Garden. But I didn't want to do the traditional, make the flower and then the border around the flower and connect them like that. I wanted something that was different. It just kind of took off with a mind of its own. [laughs.]

JW: You have made many, many quilts, I know. Why did you bring this particular one? What was the deciding factor?

CA: Well my grandmother was instrumental in teaching me how to quilt, not just teaching me how to quilt, but the importance of quilts in family relationships and in friendships and things like that. When I look at this quilt I think of my grandmother and that quilt that she had on her bed and how much I wanted it.

JW: What do you think that someone looking at this quilt would conclude about you?

CA: That I'm a little anal retentive. [laughs.] I'm a little obsessive, I don't know.

JW: It's very well constructed.

CA: It's definitely a very busy quilt but I think the busyness kind of sets it off.

JW: Everything on it is hand done?

CA: Every single stitch is hand stitched. And it will be hand bound and hand quilted.

JW: How are you going to use this quilt?

CA: I'm going to snuggle up under that sucker from the time it's done. [laughs.] It's going to go on my bed and be my everyday quilt.

JW: You don't have any plans of your own after you get done with this quilt?

CA: It'll go to my grandson. After I get done with it? After I'm no long around to use it?

JW: Right.

CA: It's going to my grandson Collin.

JW: Nice.

CA: Yeah.

JW: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CA: I initially started out quilting with a chip on my shoulder because I didn't want to do it. I hated it. I hated the time it involved. I was only a little kid. I was maybe four years old. I hated the time it involved. I wanted to be outside climbing trees and playing with everybody else, but my grandmother was hell-bent on me learning how to quilt. So, I didn't like it, the whole time I was doing it I didn't like. She made me rip out rows. She made me rip out stitches and re-stitch, over and over and over again until I wanted to take it and throw it in the fireplace. But once we got it finished and got it bound, she made me enter it in the fair, the county fair. I thought, please don't make me do this, please don't make me do this. I got a Blue Ribbon.

JW: There.

CA: Instant addict. [laughs.] Oh my gosh, I can do this. [laughs.]

JW: Instant addict?

CA: Addict. Oh, my gosh. I became a fabric junkie from that time on.

JW: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CA: At a minimum, twenty. A lot of times I can go almost eighty hours a week, easy. I sometimes, if I'm on a project and I want to get it finished or I'm just really involved in it I'll get up at like six in the morning, eat breakfast and I'll start quilting. I'll just keep right on quilting until nine, ten, eleven o'clock at night. I'll do that day after day, after day, after day, after day. Then I've got to stop because my eyes will hurt and my back will hurt. If I could quilt and not have to do anything else I would be a happy camper.

JW: How big a stash do you have for all this quilting?

CA: [laughs long and loud.] Oh, my gosh. My stash breeds like rabbits. [laughs.] Every time I try to eliminate part of my stash I turn around and find things I forgot I even had. Then I'll think, well why did I get rid of that? I could have used that. And I'll go out and buy something else. It's a constant, I think anybody that quilts on a regular basis has an issue with their stash. [laughs.]

JW: I happen to know that you are working on a project for your church now and you're able to use your stash for that. Tell me about that.

CA: The church had asked me if I would be willing to make banners for their fellowship hall. The fellowship hall is very white. There's no color in there at all. They wanted something to liven it up a little bit. What we decided to do was to, there's a lot of stained glass in the church, in the sanctuary, a lot of pictures and things. We decided to take a bunch of the pictures in the sanctuary and translate them into banners in stained glass, the stained glass method. The church had asked the congregation to write down on cards words that they felt expressed what they feel about their church. Those words were all compiled and a couple of retired English teachers got together and they turned them all into adjectives. We took those words and matched them up with the banners and what we are doing. Hopefully in another month or so that will be ready to go up on the ceiling and brighten up our little Naar Hall. [name of fellowship hall.]

JW: You had over two hundred words that had to come down to fifteen, is that right?

CA: Yes. Yes.

JW: That was quite a project.

CA: Yes. But there's a lot of them that expressed love, a lot of them expressed being an affirmative church, a bias toward Yes, all inclusive type words. I'm glad I didn't have to consolidate the words because that would have given me a headache. But we had several retired teachers and they were happy to do it.

JW: But you took on the project.

CA: Yes.

JW: And that doesn't give you a headache?

CA: No, absolutely not. Oh, no. I looked forward to doing it. I love it. I love every second that we are doing it. It's, every banner that comes to fruition is just more beautiful than the one before. I love it and there's something about taking little bits of fabric and cutting them and manipulating them and getting all these little pieces to come together as a finished project and have them bright and vibrant. There's something about that.

JW: Color is a very big important part of this project.

CA: Mm-mm.

JW: How many quilts, first, how many people are working on this with you?

CA: Oh, gosh. On any given day it could be anywhere from four or five people to eight or nine people. It depends on what's going on and what we are doing and who's available. There is a core group of about five--four, five or six people.

JW: Is there any timeframe for this quilt?

CA: For the banners?

JW: Yes, for the banners.

CA: No, when I get done with them. [laughs.] When we get done it's not going to be, we are not going to put a constraint on us to have them done at a specific time. They will get done when they get done.

JW: What is your first memory of a quilt?

CA: I actually, I still have the very first quilt I ever had as a baby. My grandmother had made it for me when my Mom was pregnant for me. Still to this day I take that, I have rebound that thing a hundred times at least. I still wrap my pillow with it and sleep [laughs.] with my "bankie." [both laugh.] Oh, my gosh. And I still have my first Big Girl quilt when I went from a crib to a bed, to an actual bed. My grandmother had made me my very first Big Girl quilt, that's what they called it. I still have that and it's still on my bed. If I'm sick that's what I wrap up in. That's the only thing that makes me feel better, that and ginger ale. [laughs.]

JW: Now, your grandmother quilted. What about other people in your family?

CA: Oh, I come from a long line of quilters, my great grandmother, my great, great grandmother, my aunts and that's on my Mom's side. On my Dad's side, all of his aunts and cousins and there's a lot of quilters in my family.

JW: Do you get together for something like a quilting bee?

CA: We used to. We used to, but I don't live in either of those areas, in Tennessee or in New York, but they still do. They still do.

JW: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

CA: It's a big social thing with my family. It's a big weekend activity--I mean quilting on Saturday, church on Sunday. There's always somebody having a baby. There's always somebody getting married. There's always somebody's anniversary coming up--a 25th, a 50th--graduation from school, graduation from college, graduation from Kindergarten. [both laugh.] They get together every single weekend, both in Tennessee and in New York. It's a very big social thing. It's--both sides of my family firmly believe, firmly believe in symbolism and when you work on the quilts the different symbols being put into the quilt to give the quilt meaning for the individual, like a mouse would be put on the baby quilt for quiet. The sun would always be put on a baby quilt for new life and things like that. It's kind of a way to be connected with other members of your family when they are not even there, you know, having a quilt. So it's a big social thing. A social thing, a--

JW: So it sounds like the training for your banners at church, all the symbolism, what all these things mean. I know these symbols were taken from sixty different windows.

CA: Yes.

JW: Was it hard for you to get the right symbol with the right word? You had fifteen words.

CA: No, not, I don't think it was. I don't think it was. Some of them were more like glaringly obvious, like the burning bush for spirit filled. We used the burning bush as the one to represent spirit filled. You can't, I can't think of anything more spirit filled than that.

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

CA: Yes. I actually, like I said before, if I'm sick my first Big Girl quilt is the first thing I reach for. I don't know what it is. Fears don't bother me as much; body aches don't bother me as much. If I have a headache I wrap up in that and snuggle up on the bed and the headache goes away. I don't know if it's my grandmother's Mojo in it or what, [interviewer laughs.] but yeah. I find it very comforting to--there's a tradition in my family where when you make a quilt to give it to someone, before you give that quilt away you have to sleep the first night underneath it when it's completed. That kind of gives part of your positive energy to the individual that is receiving it. Every single quilt that I have made, I have slept under. Every single one. Baby quilts, everything, I have slept under them.

JW: Very interesting. [interviewee laughs.] Very interesting. Tell me about an amusing experience that you've had while quilting. Can you think of one?

CA: Oh, gosh. When I was first--when I was a really early quilter, back when I was like five, six years old or seven years old or something like that, I remember trying to baste a quilt with straight pins because I didn't feel like running thread through it. I didn't see all the pins as I was quilting. I gave the quilt to my sister for her first baby. She unwrapped the quilt and stuck herself probably a dozen times with straight pins that I totally missed. [laughs.] Oh, my gosh. I thought it was funny. She didn't find it very amusing but I thought it was funny. [both laugh.] But I was young, I didn't know.

JW: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking? What is the best part?

CA: I think the warmth of the patterns and the colors and the, every time I look at any quilt there is something that stirs you, it will stir an emotion in you. Whether it will stir angst or stir a feeling of warmth or a feeling of love or happiness or giddiness or childhood memories. There's always something that a quilt will bring out in you emotionally.

JW: What about something about quilting that you do not enjoy?

CA: Running out of stash. [laughs.] The fact that I don't own my own quilt shop to support my habit. [both laugh.] That's about it. I don't think there is any aspect of quilting, actually, that I don't like. I love every bit of it. I love cutting pieces out. I love picking fabrics. I love designing patterns, designing quilt tops, putting things together, quilting, hand quilting of them. It's just a spiritual thing to me. I love to hand quilt. It's my Valium. [laughs.]

JW: Do you make your own patterns generally?

CA: Yes. Probably ninety percent of the time. For quilting patterns?

JW: Yes.

CA: Yeah. Yeah, I generally do my own.

JW: Do you belong to any quilt groups?

CA: I belong to the Venice Area Quilt Guild here in Venice [Florida.] and I also belong to an offshoot of that, which is a sewing circle. It's called the Cut-Ups.

JW: How to do feel that technology has influenced your work, the way you quilt?

CA: Well I'm one of those old codger sewers, even though I'm not an old codger, but I'm very much into hand sewing, hand quilting, hand piecing. That's my favorite. Technology really doesn't get into my quilting all that much. I don't longarm, I don't machine quilt at all, at all. I don't know. I guess I just feel, I'm kind of a purist. It doesn't affect my quilting at all. I don't know. I'm just don't, I'm not into that at all.

JW: What are you favorite techniques then? What types of materials?

CA: I always use 100% cotton unless I'm doing a Crazy Quilt. If I am doing a Crazy Quilt then it's silks and satins and velvets and things like that, but 100% cotton is pretty much all I use.

JW: But you like to make all types of quilts then? Do you have a variety of patterns or is there something you really like?

CA: Oh, yeah. I think the only time I have ever duplicated a quilt was for a woman in the Seattle area. She had a bed and breakfast and she wanted the exact same pattern for every bed. She had like a blue room so she wanted that pattern to match her blue room. She had a pink room and that type of thing. I made for her eight quilts that were all the same pattern. I think that's the only time in my life that I have ever repeated a pattern. If I do something, I love to appliqué. If I make like a Sun Bonnet Sue for someone, I won't do another Sun Bonnet Sue exactly the same way that I did that one. I will use different kinds of fabrics. I'll use different positions for the Sun Bonnet Sue. Sometimes I'll do a Bad Sue quilt.

JW: What is that?

CA: [laughs.] It's Sun Bonnet Sue doing things she really shouldn't be doing like you'll see her on a block holding a shotgun going past a "No Hunting" fence, you know. [laughs.] Things like that. Swinging a golf club at a gator. You know, that's Bad Sue. She gets in trouble.

JW: What's your favorite color?

CA: All of them. I don't know if I have a favorite color. I like pink, but I like all colors. I like them all.

JW: The first one that came to your mind, what was it when I asked?

CA: All colors. [laughs.]

JW: Okay. How about where you work? What's that like? Do you have a studio or an area, or is it the kitchen table?

CA: I have my sewing room which is where my stash is and my sewing machines and my tools. In my living room I have a very large frame that is set up against one wall, a quilting frame. That's up all the time. One quilt after another gets put onto that. It never gets taken down.

JW: Do you have a design wall?

CA: No. I never used one. I use graph paper and I say a prayer before I start every quilt and it's going to be a God's will thing. [laughs.] And they turn out.

JW: How about any UFO's? Do you have any?

CA: Yes. I have a couple of them. Of course. I wouldn't be a quilter if I didn't have a UFO.

JW: Do you have the intent of some time finishing them?

CA: Oh absolutely, absolutely.

JW: They are going to just sit in the closet.

CA: No. They are sitting there in a clear bin, but, there's a couple of them, they are sitting in a clear bin nagging me.

JW: They are taunting you.

CA: Yes, so as soon as I get, I've got to get these people to stop asking me to make banners and stuff like that and then I'll have time.

JW: How many quilts do you have going?

CA: I have two. I have a baby quilt that I'm working on right now that is an Hawaiian quilting theme and then the second one that I have going on is for the church also. It is a Tree of Life Quilt and that was my first "artsy" kind of thing. I don't normally work with this media. It is 100% cotton background and then it has, the tree is made out of yarns and twine and threads and metallic embroidery floss and stuff like that. It's made into the trunk and the limbs of the tree. Then I'm in the process of quilting that. Once that's quilted and bound, there's little individual heart leaves that we've made that has the name of each one of the church members on it. Those will get appliquéd to the tree. That's for the 50th anniversary of our church which is next year, in 2012.

JW: Hmm. Very nice. What do you think makes a great quilt?

CA: Something that pulls you to it. Something that expresses something to you.

JW: What about what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CA: If it stirs--the same thing, if it stirs an emotion in you. I don't think it's necessarily a--I'm not, I'm a scrap quilt person. I like scrap quilts because it's not going to be a planned out theme of colors if it's a scrap quilt. I try to, the only time I've ever made quilts that were like a color theme or a color-centered quilt would be a contract quilt that I've done that they specifically wanted mauve to match their mauve and peach bedroom. [laughs.]

JW: Okay. Scrap quilts. Would all the pieces come out of your stash or do you go buy them?

CA: No. I use up my stash. I have scrap [inaudible.] and oh, yeah, I have enough stash to make probably a half a dozen of the quilts that are on the rack here [laughs.] and not run out.

JW: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

CA: Someone who's in it more for the creativity of it, not the technicality. Something that kinda, I don't feel that comfortable with right now with quilting, is people are getting so technical that they are losing the joy of quilting. That's why I don't let the modern technology get into my quilting because I think it takes away from the purpose of quilting, and that's to make you feel more connected to another individual, or to, when you quilt it brings out emotions in you that might go into the quilt. I think that's more important.

JW: Are you drawn to anybody in particular for an artist, a quilt designer or artist?

CA: It changes. It changes on a blow-by-blow basis. It depends. I can read a magazine and be absolutely enthralled with somebody's work and go to a quilt show and there's somebody else's work, but there's nobody in particular; nobody in particular.

JW: What's the key thing that would say, oh, I've got to make a quilt? Is it a pattern you've seen, is it a color, is it a person you talk to? What is it?

CA: A lot of times it will be, I'll see a quilt and it will bring back a memory of something I've seen. My grandmother was very prolific with quilts, as well as my aunts and my Mom and my Dad's relatives in Tennessee. I've seen hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of their quilts. Every once in a while I love to appliqué and a lot of appliqué was done back in the early 20th century, mid-20th century. So I love to appliqué and that shows up in an awful lot of my work. It kind of makes me feel like I'm making another connection with people that have gone past.

JW: When you were young, where did you start all this quilting, what state?

CA: We--up in New York. We were a military family and my Dad would come back to the States a couple times a year. Every time we came back we stayed in the area that my grandmother, my Mom's mother, lived. Every time we came back I quilted. I had projects with me that we traveled around with.

JW: Do you think being in a particular area has anything to do with your quilts?

CA: Sometimes it does. Like, up north you have the change of seasons, you know the Fall and Spring and Summer and those are different color schemes that you see. For instance, in the Fall you get the sienna's, the reds and the oranges, the browns and yellows and stuff like that, the Fall colors. Sometimes that will influence but I try not to steer toward a specific color scheme.

JW: So you don't think that a region of the United States or anywhere else has much of an impact?

CA: On my quilting?

JW: Mmm.

CA: No, not particularly.

JW: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

CA: Like I said, quilting is my Valium. It is. If I am stressed, if I pick up my quilting it is within minutes that stress is stopped. If I have a headache, if I pick up some handwork and work on that, even though it's close eye work, it relaxes me and the headache goes away. It's a balm, a salve for my soul I guess. I don't know. It's very calming. It's very calming for me.

JW: What about the quilts you made for someone else? Did you become friends with those quilts? Did they touch you?

CA: Well I've made quilts for, my kids both have I can't tell you how many quilts, and all my grandchildren have quilts. The people I've given them to, I tried to give some thought as to what's important to them.

JW: But ones that you sold, like the ones you did for the bed and breakfast? That type of thing, consignment quilts. Can you get into those at all?

CA: When I was doing that it was to help to pay for my kids sports activities and stuff like that. It was a job. I don't like it being a job but I made good money making quilts. It was still fun but I think when you sell quilts like that, and I was selling quite a few at the time. I had a tailoring shop. It wasn't just me making the quilts. I was able to, on our down time, have the staff help me piece quilt tops. Some of them were good at it and some of them I didn't let them touch any of it at all. It becomes commercial and I think that takes away from the spirit of quilting.

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

CA: I've learned quite a bit about the history of quilting because I was taught by my grandmother because she thought it was important to see why, to understand why quilts were such a big part of family life and socializing and things like that. It just seems to me that quilts played such a huge part in different aspects of American life, just for an instance. Like when they were making the big trek out West, when they opened up the West and the Louisiana Purchase and all that western country and people were traveling in wagons to go out there. They made, ahead of time, probably three of fours quilts for every single member of the family so that they would have, not only so they would have quilts, but they'd have all the friendship quilts that were made by friends and stuff like that and their names would be signed on the blocks, embroidered on the blocks. It just, there's a connectivity with quilts. I think there always has been. Quilting has always been a place to socialize. Back in the colonial times it was considered to be quite a selling point for a woman to do some very fine handwork. That was considered that, it make her more desirable as a wife. I don't know, I think that quilting has always played a very important part.

JW: How about in women's history specifically? Are there any other comments that you want to make on that, the special meaning in women's history?

CA: I think women are nurturers. I think they are born to be nurturers to some extent. It provides you a way to give a nurturing side of yourself to another individual, that warmth, that snuggle. When I myself wrap up in a quilt, it's like having someone's arms around me. It's like be cuddled. It's like being cradled. Quilts are love, man. [both laugh.] Quilts are love.

JW: How to you think quilts can be used? The standard is to cover a bed. How do you think quilts could be used to make a difference?

CA: Oh, I've made quilts that have ended up being used to upholster furniture. I've made quilts that have been used as rugs, wall hangings, very decorative. Wherever cloth can be used, I think a quilt could go.

JW: So you've worked with many kinds of different fabrics?

CA: No, actually the rugs I've made were all cotton. They were never put in high traffic areas, but people liked having quilted rugs.

JW: What do you think about preserving rugs for the future, and especially your comments on, you have an older quilt and should you put it out so people now can enjoy it or should you put it away so that people in the future can enjoy it?

CA: Well I think both. I think both. I have a quilt that my mother gave to me about twenty years ago. It was made by my great, great grandmother and my great, great, great grandmother back in the 1880's for my great, great grandmother's hope chest. It's not--I don't want to hide it away. I think it's important that people see this kind of work and know what these women did to get a quilt together. I have it displayed in my bedroom on a wall that gets no sunlight. There's no direct sunlight at all that hits that wall. I keep it up there. I keep it displayed. Anytime someone comes to the house I let them to see it. Then any time I go and do a talk someplace and it's going to be not handled, displayed and not handled, I'll bring it and let them look at it. I think it's important for people to see them, but I also think it's important that if something is getting very fragile then it needs to be stored appropriately to prevent further damage. But I also think they need to be taken out from time to time for people to see.

JW: When you do these programs, what type of program do you do?

CA: I just did a series of talks on the history of quilting for a couple of different women's groups. I've also turned around several times and taught classes or done speaking engagements at quilter's guilds or different things like that.

JW: So you teach quilting?

CA: I used to. I used to. Now I--

JW: Was that at a local school or from your own home?

CA: No. I traveled all over the place. I traveled all over the place. I used to have a setup where we could actually have quite large classes and take up an auditorium and we had the big screens. I would do the work at the table that was being filmed and they'd be able to, I was mic'd, and they would be able to watch on the screen what I was doing, how to piece things together. I would go through it a couple of times so that they could pick up the technique.

JW: How far away from Florida did you do this?

CA: Oh, I've done a bunch in Florida. I've done them in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Michigan, Texas.

JW: So you enjoy that.

CA: Yeah. I used to.

JW: You enjoy teaching.

CA: Yeah, I used to. I'm spending more time quilting now.

JW: Have pictures of you or your quilts been published? Or your patterns?

CA: Yes. I had written a couple of books back in the early '80's under my maiden name. Then I know that back in the mid-80's I had a quilt that was entered in the International [Quilt Show.] in Houston, [Texas.]. It was--

JW: What kind of quilt was that?

CA: It was a picture. It was taken from a snapshot. A girlfriend of mine had a horse that ran at Pamlico, the race in Pamlico, and her horse came in first and he won by a nose, so I named it, "By a Nose." It was made for a wall hanging above a fireplace that she had built specifically for the wall hanging. [both laugh.] So that was published because it ended up winning a prize at the International and then it ended up touring for eight years before she actually got to hang it over her fireplace. [both laugh.]

JW: Do you collect quilts?

CA: No, not really. I have a collection of quilts that I've made myself. I have a storage facility that I keep. I have approximately 200 quilts in it. My grandson Collin and I go there every three months and do the "folding of the quilts." He just loves going through them all and seeing all the patterns and telling me which ones he loves, which changes, on every "folding day" that changes. [laughs.] But we, so, we go down and refold them and put the paper in between the layers and stuff like that just to make sure that they stay without huge creases in them and they are preserved. They are in acid-free boxes and stuff like that.

JW: People talk about doing that. They know it's a good idea, but you're actually doing it.

CA: Mm-mm. Yeah, I've been doing it forever.

JW: What do you think on the life of your quilts? How long do you think they will live?

CA: Oh, I have no idea. I know I'm not going to be around to see the end of a quilt. I have quilts that I made back to when I was under ten years old for older sibling's weddings. They still have the quilts and they use them on a daily basis. So I don't know, I think it depends on the quality of the fabric you use and the quality of the stitching, quality of the thread.

JW: Why do people choose you to make quilts for them?

CA: I've never figured that out. I've never even given that a thought. I don't know. A lot of them have seen my work. A lot of them have specifically told me that they just wanted a piece that came from me. I don't know. I've never given it a thought. I don't know.

JW: Do you think it is the color, the style?

CA: I don't know. I've never given that a lick of thought.

JW: Have you ever won an award other than the one you just mentioned?

CA: I've won tons of ribbons at fairs and quilt shows. I've won a couple of Best of Shows at different quilt shows and original technique and appliqué and stuff like that. I've done that for years. When you do things a thousand times you are going to run across a ribbon or two. [laughs.] But I have.

JW: What do you do with your ribbons? Do you keep them with your quilts or do you have a wall?

CA: No, actually they are kept in a box and it's something that's going to go to Collin, my grandson. He likes the quilts. I keep that one box for the quilts. He gets that. He gets a kick out of looking through them. He's gotten a couple of ribbons himself.

JW: What type of quilting would he do?

CA: Oh, he's just learning how to quilt. He's done Nine Patch and he's learning how to--he did that on a machine. He got a ribbon for that.

JW: How old is he?

CA: He is twelve, so the first one he did, he was seven. He likes it; he loves it.

JW: What a nice tie between you two.

CA: Yeah. Yeah.

JW: Do you belong to a guild?

CA: Yes, Venice Area Quilt Guild. [Venice, Florida.]

JW: What's the advantage, to you, of belonging to a guild?

CA: It's nice to learn different techniques. I like seeing what other people are doing. It won't necessarily make me want to do what they've done, but there's always something tweaked inside of me that will spur on a creative vein and I'll follow that and something will come out of it. It's a great way to stir the pot of your soul and your brain.

JW: How many quilt guilds have you belonged to, not necessarily how many, but have you belonged to a wide range of quilt guilds?

CA: Yes. I belonged to one over at Daytona Beach for over twenty years. The main gist of the quilting that they did was seascapes and sea colors and sea life and I didn't do that stuff though. I like my old-fashioned Grandmother's Fan.

JW: But you belong to guilds here and there.

CA: Oh, yeah.

JW: You said earlier in New York.

CA: Yes. I belong to the quilt guild in Norwich, New York, the Chenango County Piecemakers. They've got an amazing, for such a small little podunk town, they have an amazing array of professional quilters. There are certified quilt judges, appraisers. There's people that are like me who are very much into the hand piecing and then there's people that are making a very lucrative living off of doing longarm quilting. There's people in guild that own quilt shops. It's quite a mish-mash. I would love to own a quilt shop, only to be able to pick up fabric as I wanted. [both laugh.] I'd have to be independently wealthy. [laughs.]

JW: Do you have any tips or advice for beginners?

CA: Have fun. Have fun. I think that what delayed me in having fun is I looked at it all as a job. There's so much fun to be had in quilting. It's a great way to express yourself. I mean there's a million different ways to express yourself and people have to find their own niche, but I think quilting is a really good creative outlet for people.

JW: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

CA: So much fabric, so little time; [laughs.] and in finding enough time to do all the stuff that you want to do. There isn't a quilter that I know that doesn't have UFO's. We are constantly getting bombarded with new ideas. It's not that we don't want to finish what we started, it's, we've got to start something before we lose that creative oomph. [laughs.] So I think that is our biggest challenge is getting everything done that we started. I don't think [inaudible.] though. [laughs.]

JW: Can you name one challenge specifically for you?

CA: Oh, goodness. Lack of space. I wish I had a bigger home. If I had a bigger home I'd have a bigger sewing room.

JW: More stash.

CA: Oh, it would be half my house, easy, or more. [laughs.]

JW: Chrissy, is there anything else you would like to add to the interview, any comments?

CA: Well yes, there is. There is something that my family does in Tennessee that I just, I think I mentioned it earlier, I just absolutely love this. [inaudible.] In their hand quilting they sew symbols into their quilt. Like an eye means truth. A key means a key to heaven. They will put these symbols into their quilting. I just love that. I think that adds such a nice personal touch.

JW: Would that be embroidered in?

CA: No, into the quilting stitches, the actual quilting of the quilt.

JW: Mm-mm. Okay. Anything else?

CA: That's about it.

JW: Okay. I'd like to thank you for allowing me to interview you today. This helps the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project and what you have to say is very important. Our interview concluded at 1:45 [p.m.] on March 18th, 2011. Thank you very much.

CA: Thank you.


“Chrissy Atwater,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024,