Martha Austin




Martha Austin


Martha Austin is a quilter from Fort Worth, Texas. Her desire to quilt simply grew from her enjoyment of quilts themselves. Austin quilts for and works with the Meals on Wheels program at Ridglea Methodist Church's Friendship House.




Melanie Grear


Martha Austin


Kay Jones

Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Fort Worth, Texas


Sondra Williams


**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.** Kay Jones (KJ): This is Kay Jones. Today's date is March 16, 2001. I am interviewing Martha Austin for the Trinity Valley S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project sponsored by The Alliance for the American Quilt. Martha, tell me about the quilt that you brought today.

Martha Austin (MA): Well, this is very interesting because I took a photograph of it at a quilt show, probably the one in '87. Anyway this Grandmother's Flower Garden was there, I took a picture of it, and my husband liked it so much he said, 'Could you make that?' And I said I could make that in miniature [laughs.] but I didn't have time with everything else to do anything like that. So I really made a mistake saying I can do that in miniature because, oh, but anyway I took the photograph and I started in the center with my magnifying glass counting these rows.

KJ: The rows of hexagons?

MA: Each row. Started with the bottom of the flower basket and did every one and then when I changed to leaves I knew that I came down two and everything, the whole quilt was done by counting and cutting and doing.

KJ: Now the original quilt was a bed size, is that right?

MA: Oh, yeah, yeah.

KJ: What are the dimensions on this one?

MA: This is 36 by 40.

KJ: What size would you say the hexagons are, Martha?

MA: I think they were called a one and a fourth inch hexagon.

KJ: Well, there certainly are a lot of them in there. Tell me what use you have for this quilt. What does it do?

MA: It's simply a wall hanging that is in my husband's den at home because he didn't want it in his studio. He was afraid he would get paint on it. [laughs.] So he picked a wall in the den and just put it there and it's been there ever since.

KJ: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview, Martha?

MA: Well, it's one of the few that I have got there at the house that I can say belongs to me. So I just took it down and brought it.

KJ: Well, it is certainly beautiful. Tell me about your interest in quilting, Martha. When did that begin and how did you get into it?

MA: Well, I have always enjoyed the quilts. Looking at them and seeing what people can do and the patterns they used and all that so that it's sort of been a natural thing with me. And not being much of a seamstress any other way I like the handwork that goes into quilts so when I was thinking about retiring I wanted to go and take some lessons because I knew nothing about quilts except that I liked them so I started before school was out that year. I started going over to classes at night there in the neighborhood and learned what I could about it and took it from there on and I haven't stopped since. [laughter.]

KJ: That leads to a question that I think will have a very interesting answer. How many hours a week do you quilt?

MA: [laughs.] If I say that I'm afraid people will think I don't do anything else. I come down here--I'll total this up--I come down here [Friendship House at Ridglea Methodist Church.] at 9:00 every day. Actually, I come because I open up and get ready for the Meal on Wheels to be delivered from our kitchen here. And they go out into the neighborhood so I'm really doing two things at the same time because when the drivers for Meal on Wheels are gone I just close everything up, empty the chests and see that they are clean and stack them up for the next day. Then I go back and start quilting and I quilt until 2:30, so from 9:00 to 2:30 say, maybe an hour out of that or an hour and a half for Meal on Wheels. That's every day except Saturday and Sunday.

KJ: So that's about four hours a day five days a week, at least 20 hours a week.

MA: Twenty hours a week. [laughs.] That makes me tired after I hear it.

KJ: And Martha, the 'here' that you mentioned is Friendship House which is a church sponsored house.

MA: Yeah, it's owned by the church and has Sunday school classes in the front, they graciously gave our quilting group a back bedroom, and we quilt back there.

KJ: And the quilts that you quilt there, what happens to them?

MA: They are brought in by individuals who know that we do quilting for the public and all the money goes to our church for our missions. Of course, we have the two home missions here, Bethlehem Center, and one on the north side and one on the south side and the money is given to those for whatever they need for their work. And we started out with ten quilters back there and we still have seven [laughs.] and we'll be in our tenth year this year when we start. This will be our tenth year.

KJ: So your quilting to a large extent is a mission effort.

MA: Oh, yeah, it definitely goes to that. And we have never advertised. We have never been without a quilt since we put our first one in the frame. Sometimes they stack up. We only have three frames now that we can put up and use but it gets kind of crowded so we try to stay with two. Around Christmas time, somewhere in October, people will be bringing them in saying, 'Could I have this by Christmas?' [laughter.]

KJ: Well, that's a wonderful ministry you have Martha. What is your first quilt memory?

MA: My first memory I suppose was at my grandmother's when I used to play under the frame she would drop from the ceiling and I'd play down there. I must have been three or four years old and then we moved away from her when I started to school at six years old. I didn't have any relationship at all with quilts or anything until I got to the University and then I got interested in them again, you know. Because I was thinking about, I sure do need some covers when I leave college here. [laughs.]

KJ: So you slept under quilts at home?

MA: Oh, yes, yes, they were mostly made by my grandmother, I imagine.

KJ: Do you remember patterns and that sort of thing?

MA: Well, the Double Wedding Ring is the most familiar to me because I think everyone that got married in the family got one from somebody eventually and the first one that I ever did was this calendar quilt of the year, you know the months? In fact, that's when I started teaching at my house because so many wanted to make a quilt. We were doing them by the month, you know, and my quilt is half finished. My original quilt that I started teaching my first lessons on, I had 19 people in that class, if you can believe they were around, anyway, and 18 of them finished the whole quilt, stayed all year and finished the whole quilt. I though that was a great record. I loved it. Nineteen, and then I have 18 quilts. [laughs.] And mine wasn't finished. I'm still on September. [laughter.]

KJ: Well, there is always October. Are there quilters among your family and friends, Martha?

MA: No, none of my nieces. None of them quilt or know anything about it. Of course, I have three boys and they are always interested in the quilts but they are interested in the quilted, finished ones. And none of them ever tried to make one so I just go it alone.

KJ: Did you ever use quilting to help you get through a difficult time?

MA: Oh yeah. Because to me all the quilting that I do now, well if I'm not quilting I'm reading a book, because both of them are my total relaxation. That's it, and I just lose myself in whatever and just wish I had more time to do it, that's all.

KJ: More time than twenty hours a week? [laughing.] You said that your boys hadn't tried to quilt but how does the quilting impact them, what involvement do they have?

MA: Well, one of my sons is a collector of quilts and he has them from Saudi Arabia, he has them from England, he has them from about everywhere he has been he'll have quilts. He has brought some home that were in pretty bad shape and wanted them repaired so they could be used, and I've done that sort of thing with him but his wife, well she's an attorney, her court cases keep her pretty involved, so she is not really getting into the working end of the quilts but she does appreciate them and loves to see him come in with some.

KJ: You may already have told us, but I'll ask it another way. What is the best part of quilting? What do you like best about it?

MA: Well, let's see. I think I like the actual quilting process because I'm not very good at selecting colors and I'll quite often, when I'm putting together a quilt like this, I'll go into my husband's studio. He's a painter and I go in and say, 'Can I use this color with this color?' So I don't like the color part of it or selecting fabrics and sometimes I get involved in patterns that I get excited about. And mostly I like when the thing is pieced, put together and everything and I can start quilting on it. That's when I enjoy my quilting.

KJ: You mentioned that you collaborate with your husband a bit on the colors. Do you collaborate in any other way?

MA: No, I usually stay out of his studio very much. [laughs.]

KJ: Is there some part of quilting that you don't enjoy?

MA: Not really, unless it would be choices of putting fabrics together to begin but I'm even learning about that.

KJ: It's a big learning process, isn't it?

MA: It is. It goes on and on.

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilt, Martha?

MA: I think maybe the involvement that people have in just putting it together and watching it grow, watching the finished process of a quilt and to think that you are now able to keep them for years and years for your family or friends, whoever. I guess the main thing that I would enjoy would be knowing that the quilt was finished, completed, given to someone that loved it and would appreciate it. That's my main pleasure now, is doing things like that.

KJ: Rather than the artistic value of it?

MA: Right, right.

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilter?

MA: I think it would be the ability to stay with something. You find a pattern or something that you like and that you can complete that and know that you have done a good job and you can appreciate it and know that it's going to be around a while.

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

MA: I don't care for machine quilting at all. I don't enjoy it. In fact, I don't enjoy my sewing machine. [laughs.] When I get it out, it's almost like a personal war between me and the machine and I'm ready to put it up any minute but I have seen some fine work on the machine and I know that women do a lot of it and can do a beautiful job with it but it's just never been my interest at all and if I can take my quilt and do those fine stitches that I like to do, then that's good.

KJ: Again, you have touched on it, but why is quilting important in your life?

MA: I think that probably for the work that I can do in it and the amount of time that I have in it for relaxation and moving to it and getting something accomplished.

KJ: Now, you are involved both in the Trinity Valley Guild and the Nimble Thimble Bee. Talk a little bit, Martha, about how those quilting groups help you or keep your interest up. How do they work in your life?

MA: Well, I especially like the bee part because the individuals in the group are always so happy to share. Anything that they have learned they want everybody to know it. You know, it's contagious and I like that camaraderie that you have there with the group. The guild sometimes gets a little too big and too involved with activities that are going on all over the city but they help one another, mainly by exchange of ideas and just seeing what people have done and what can be accomplished whether it's a group working together or just individuals doing things within the group.

KJ: Now, you have been on some committees and done some things with the guild.


KJ: Tell us a little bit about that, Martha.

MA: Well, mostly that comes from; I suppose being a schoolteacher. That teaching process carries over into everything. If you are a teacher, they think you can teach anything any time anywhere. Sometimes you can't but you learn a lot from the experience of trying to be a teacher, or trying to help with something so it's a good idea to be involved in those things like that. I have worked on committees and now I'm on a committee that takes quilts in and puts them in the basting frames that we have. When you get a group in there you can get eight or ten people around one of those and you can finish basting a quilt in a couple of hours just by getting the people that know how to do it and move around and get involved and first thing you know it's all basted together ready to start quilting.

KJ: Now how does that work. Do people bring those--

MA: They call and set up a time to use the quilting frames because they're kept down at the church where we meet. Then we go down and get it all ready and everything and the one that's wanting the basting comes in with all her friends, everybody she can get to do it, and we get around the tables down there and get busy with it and in just no time, at all we've got it finished up.

KJ: And then the quilter takes the quilt home to hand quilt?

MA: Yes, to put in the frame or hoops. A lot of them use those big hoops. They quilt it however they want it.

KJ: You've been involved in quilt shows as well.

MA: Yeah, I try to work at something like that at our quilt shows every year. I'm usually found at the demonstration quilt where we're sitting down just quilting. And I used to, when we first started out and I was several years younger, I'd take the quilts in and set them up and do all that. Go up the ladder and down the ladder getting the quilt show hung. Now I avoid all that if I possibly can. I just say 'I'll sign up. I'll quilt over here on this one for two hours. Then I'll move over and have lunch then I'll quilt over there.' So I stay kind of involved because I like the activity of the quilt show. We do an awful lot of good work at those shows.

KJ: Yes, aren't there some scholarship funds offered?

MA: Yes, I like the idea that there are young women who are going to the university and are deciding that that is what they want to do with their talent, whatever. We have some that are studying textiles we have some that are studying patterns, designing and creating new ideas in quilting that we hadn't thought of before so it's good to know that they are going on with this.

Somebody will say something about, 'Oh, quilting is a lost art,' or 'Quilting is coming back,' you'll hear somebody say sometimes. And that's good because I don't want young people to get into the idea of just machine piecing and machine quilting and all that because it takes that real old, old idea away.

KJ: You want to preserve the tradition of handwork?

MA: Oh, absolutely. It's like we teach our little ones that come across over here from the nursery across the street at church. They come in about twice a year and visit in our room while we are working. They ask some of the most beautiful questions about quilts and why you are doing that. When I go with a couple of women to different schools and spend, the day and we usually take 4th and 5th grade classes when we do that. The interesting thing about that when we go into the school room and spend the day and we usually always take paper patterns or something so they can fit them together finally for a big quilt, the boys are the ones that ask the most questions. They're the most interested. It's amazing. I've just never run into children in groups like that where the boys were predominantly the interested ones. [interview interrupted by someone entering the door.] And it's really enjoyable to work with those groups like that for them learning. The teachers are always interested in their class getting the most out of all of it. It's amazing what goes on.

KJ: I think I can tell from everything you have said, Martha, that you think quilts are important to life in America. Do you think there is a special importance, for women, of quilts in America?

MA: I like to think so, yes, because sometimes you find women, especially those that are out in the working world, they are so involved in their work sometimes they lose sight that they need something for themselves to keep their life enriched and all and I think it's very important, though, that they enjoy what they are doing with quilts. I think it's important for the women to remember that their home and what they're putting into it is a part of the fabric of their lives because if they forget where they started and where they came from they don't often get where they want to go. So it makes a big difference.

KJ: Well, I have one last question and if you have something that you would like to say that we haven't touched on, I'd like for you to do that. What has happened to those quilts that you have made for friends and family?

MA: [laughs.] Well, I've got some in Virginia. Most of them have been handed down from my sons to their relatives and then some I have just given, say, to a child that I have became especially interested in. I give them a graduation gift or a wedding gift or something like that so they are everywhere because they move and their husbands transfer.

KJ: So they are kind of spread out.

MA: Yeah, they are spread out. They are scattered around pretty much and of course, my middle son has been retired from the service after 26 years in the Air Force so he has scattered a few around overseas and here, too but it's been fun.

KJ: Is there anything you would like to talk about that we haven't already, Martha?

MA: No, I hope I've said enough and done enough letting these be seen.

KJ: Letting your quilts be seen?

MA: Yeah.

KJ: Well, I would like to thank Martha Austin for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 S.O.S. Project. Our interview began about 1:30 is concluding at 2:05.


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