Liz Antilla




Liz Antilla




Christine Sparta


Liz Antilla


Debbie Ballard

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


E. Lansing, Michigan


Francie Freese


**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: Michigan State University Museum also has a copy of this interview. The identification number there is 2002:63.58.

Debbie Ballard (DB): We are doing interviews for Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories at the Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing, on August 10th, 2002.

Liz Antilla (LA): Yes.

DB: My name is Debbie Ballard and I am interviewing Liz Antilla. Hello, Liz.

LA: Good morning.

DB: How are you doing?

LA: Fine.

DB: You have brought some beautiful quilts for us to look at today. But first I'd like to get some background on your quilting. Can you tell me how you got started?

LA: Just give me a minute.

DB: Take all the time you want. [laughs.]

LA: Don't ask me why I'm tearing up but in 1985 I retired. And prior to that time I had built a cottage on my property and was very handy with wood tools. And when I retired I didn't know what to do so I stopped in a quilt shop one day just to see what was there and when I came out I had signed up for a class. And all the way I, well actually I was troubleshooting in Bay City and I was staying there three two nights, working three days, and I would pass this shop in Kingston, Michigan, every morning when I went up and when I came home but it was never open. So one morning I was late and I stopped in and I met Faye Stoll, the owner, and it looked real interesting to me so I signed up for a beginner's class. And all the way to Bay City I kept saying, 'Oh my God, I don't even know how to hold a needle.' And Faye would tell you that too. So I did the beginner's class which was one day a week for four weeks and then Faye said [that.] they had a Block a Month class. And you would go in once a month, get the pattern and then you go home and make the block and come back, and when you had 12 you had a quilt. Well, needless to say, I did join and I never anticipating finishing that because I am a Gemini and I am flighty and I always have to have my hands in everything. I can't settle on any one thing, so I thought, well, I'll give it a whirl. And in previous hobbies I had always overbought and I decided with quilting I will just buy this one and that's all I'm going to buy until I finish it. Well, that didn't last very long because I have a huge stash and anyway I continued in the block a month with Fay and we were making samplers. And so now I have nine samplers and the patterns for two more [laughs.] if I ever get around to it, but that was how I started. There's no background in quilting in my family. I'm it.

DB: How about your nieces or--

LA: I have--

DB: Do you have anyone encouraging?

LA: I'm not encouraging them to go into quilting but I am making them very aware of what they're going to inherit some day when I die, and that is another story because I have numbered all my quilts and I have left instructions that when I die, and not before, but when I die they can have a drawing. [laughs.] And because right now I feel if I were to pick out a quilt to give to a particular niece or nephew, they might think I'm showing favoritism.

DB: Well you have brought a wonderful book--

LA: Oh, yes.

DB: Of your story and numbering your quilts.

LA: This is my quilt catalog that I made from when I got my computer and I have everything that I have ever made and the reason I was able to do all this, because I still got everything I ever made. I gave very little away and I have had two one-woman shows because I still [laughs.] have everything I ever made. And that's why I was able to get the pictures.

DB: How many quilts do you think you've made?

LA: I've made at least, I have 39 quilts listed here. I've worked on quilts for other people, not actually made quilts for other people but did little things but I don't have them in this book. This is what I have made.

DB: Okay, there looks to be much more than 39 quilts in this book.

LA: We got baby quilts, we got wall hangings, we've got--

DB: Do you know how many pieces overall you've made?

LA: Well the last show that I had I had a hundred and fourteen pieces and I have more now, so--

DB: When you make a quilt, what's your intention when you begin? Or do you have a purpose in mind?

LA: No. It just happens. I can't think that far ahead. And believe it or not, I have trouble visualizing. I just start out and maybe I do have, I don't know, but it's no plan.

DB: So the quilt grows then.

LA: Yeah, the quilt takes me on the journey, yes.

DB: Do you have a lot of support for this from friends? Your husband? Family?

LA: Well, I'm not married but I do have a very important friend. [cries.] Here I go again. You know you should furnish Kleenex for this. But anyway, yes, he is very supportive and when I ask him what do you think of this color, what do think of that and then I don't use it, he's very upset with me. And I try to tell him he's just helping me sort out my own thinking. But yes. And these are my friends here and they're my support.

DB: Good, good. Well tell me about the two quilts that we have here. How about the one on the table to begin with?

LA: Well I think they are both traditional Dresden Plates quilts. This is the old type. When anybody in years--well, I don't know, what, thirties, forties, made a Dresden Plate it was usually on white background or muslin. The centers would be pink or green and the petals were made out of scraps. And it could be, in the olden days it would probably be feed sacks. Or clothing, used clothing. Well I have to go back. I made this quilt first because I used to go to a girlfriend's house every once in a while and when I stayed over her grandmother's quilt was always on my bed and I dearly loved that quilt. So I borrowed it and copied it. And I copied it as close as I could from that and that quilt had been made in probably 1920. And it had been handed down to the daughter. Well it was originally my girlfriend's grandmother, so it was handed down to her mother and then handed down to her. So that is why I made this, and even the quilt stencil, you know, the quilting I copied from that quilt. Now when [inaudible.] years so I don't know how many years later a group of us girls went to Paducah, Kentucky, to the quilt show and in one of the vendor booths we found a template that was made of metal and the center was open so you could see your fabric. And, but the startling thing about was the sample that was hanging there. It was the dark colors and the bright flowers and everything this wasn't. You know what I mean? But it's still the same thing. So we all ran, we all bought the [laughs.] everybody bought these templates and ran home and started making them. Well, we read in a magazine that that template was made in, started in England in the 1900s [laughs.]. And we thought that it was a new invention. Well so much for that. And I used it probably on one block and I threw it away evidently because I tried to find it to bring it, I couldn't find it. But we use the, not the visqueen but the template in every plate I marked the flower and then found it in the pattern, in this--

DB: So this is the piece of fabric.

LA: This is from that. Well I had made, anyway, everybody bought material but I said, 'Oh no, I got material at home just perfect for this.' So when I got home I made three or four plates and I only had four yards of material so I knew that I was in trouble and I had to, there's no sense going on because I can't finish it. So anyway, and I have, a map of Michigan pasted on some cardboard with pins in it. And for every shop that I have been to has a white head on it. And every shop that I have not been to has got a dark pin on it. So my friend Wayne called me and he said, 'You know I gotta go to Holland, Michigan for an interview. Will you go with me?' And I said 'Wait just a minute.' So I checked my map and oh man, all these black pins. So yes, of course I'll go. Well he said, 'We have to go straight to Holland, but I'll take you anywhere you want to go on the way home.' We only hit 20 shops on the way home. [DB laughs.] And he'll tell you, he's still complaining. But anyway, in that trip I ran into a little corner quilt shop someplace, I can't even remember where, and this fabric reached out and grabbed me. And oh I have been looking so long for it. So then I was able to go home and finish it.

DB: Boy, it is beautiful. Now is this quilt, have you had this one in a magazine?

LA: This has been published in the Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilt and every place that I show this quilt I win something. I've won $150. I won $100. I won $10. I won Viewer's Choice. But the reason when all the girls bought theirs they finished it right away so that was a big splash and I didn't get mine done for three years. So by the time I finished mine I was in the field all by myself.

DB: Oh. [laughs.] I think this one stand out anyway.

LA: It does.

DB: It's beautiful. So this was in Ladies Circle Patchwork in April '97.

LA: And another um thing that I want to stress is most people seeing that now today will say okay, it's a Stack-n-Whack ["Magic Stack-N-Whack" by Bethany Reynolds, American Quilter's Society, June 1998.]. This was before Stack and Whack. And you would get the same effect with Stack and Whack but you stack your material and you have to cut in smaller pieces and everything, where I had to search and cut each petal individually. And I got about half of them done and or not half, maybe three-quarters done and I thought I can't find another pattern in here to save my life. I'm done. And then I let it sit a week or so, went back to it and I found the rest and I think I can get three more.

DB: Oh my.

LA: I got some spots here. [both laugh.]

DB: It sure looks like Swiss cheese. [both laugh.]

LA: It does. And I always hang, when I show the quilt I hang this on the quilt.

DB: How many yards did it take this time?

LA: Oh I think I got 12 yards of this. [DB laughs.] I had four and I think I probably bought ten.

DB: When you make a quilt, Liz, what is your favorite part of quiltmaking?

LA: I love drafting.

DB: Okay. Do you draft a lot of your own patterns then?

LA: Sometimes. Now, of course, I got a computer so that takes, you know, but I have found over the years that there are so many misprints in books, in patterns, that no matter where I get a pattern from or from whom, I draft it. And then it's in my, I put the pattern and everything in a sleeve and it's in my file. Another thing that came along in my quilting is I would start a quilt and then couldn't remember where I bought my fabric or what or what make it was. So I started a catalog file on fabric. When I bought fabric I'd cut out a little piece. I put it on a 3 by 5 card, said where I bought it, how much I bought, how much it cost, and so I have all that in, and then when, if I need it I could go back and find it.

DB: Well it sounds like you're very organized then.

LA: That's what they tell me but I'm a Gemini. I don't know.

DB: Do you use your computer much in your quiltmaking?

LA: I haven't yet, no, I haven't yet.

DB: Do you have a quilting program or have you looked into that?

LA: I have, due to good friends I've got 'em all. [DB laughs.] And most of them are on the computer. I just haven't had time to sit down and--

DB: Okay. Why do you think quilting is important to you?

LA: [laughs.] When I retired, I was lost and I did not know what way to go. I still had my cottage but it was pretty much where I wanted it. I had start. I had built another home I had, it's my permanent home. I knew eventually I would. I had the property on the lake and I knew eventually I would retire there so I had that piece, that home. I had the house built and then I finished it off inside so I had that pretty well set to move in and in fact I was living there. And I just didn't know what I was going to do with myself because I had always worked. I always worked in dealerships and there was hard, long hours and no hobbies other than my cottage and I didn't know what to do. So when I ran into this it was perfect, absolutely perfect. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I am a perfectionist and I learned that I can draft. I never knew that. And I just lose myself, which is a good thing to get away from me once in a while.

DB: What do you think you have given the quilt world?

LA: Enthusiasm. What else Bobbie? [laughs.] Mainly enthusiasm I think. And I have not taught although I do help people. I think that's mainly.

DB: Now you talk in your book about the woman who did your quilting.

LA: Yeah, and there I'm going to cry again. Frieda Warner was my quilter and I didn't meet her until I started quilting in 1985 and I met Frieda in '87. And by that time I had four quilts done and I tied 'em because I thought, the actual quilting is. I thought if I had to quilt a quilt I would never finish it. So a neighbor told me that there was a quilter in the area and I went over to meet Frieda and Frieda made quilts herself and she had done some for quilting for other people but not much. And when she, I said, the first day I went there I said, 'I have four quilts,' and so we took the ties all out and she quilted 'em. And so she has quilted every quilt that I have and almost all of my things except two.

DB: Do you have another quiltmaker now?

LA: Well I have a friend that will quilt for me and she's a beautiful quilter. But in the meantime I was living up on the lake and I moved to Port Huron, and packing and downsizing was [laughs.] very difficult. The garage sales and now I have a brother that's not well so I spend a lot of time with him.

DB: Do you find--you mentioned you have a brother that's not well; do you do any quilting when you are with him?

LA: No. He is a full-time job. I mean when I'm there. Well he has had two strokes and his wife has dementia so when I'm there it's take him to the store, take him to the doctor, do the washing.
I'm busy. And I leave as soon as I can.

DB: How are you preserving your quilts?

LA: Well, we moved into this house in Port Huron and the reason why we bought the house was because it had a finished basement. And I immediately said that's my sewing room. And Wayne was in business and he had, he needed an office. So my equalization is he gets 10 percent and I get 90. So he's got his little bitty office down in the corner and I've got all of this other space and behind that is a room. So we put up shelves and all the quilts are in the shelves, on the shelves, and they. I take 'em out and roll 'em or then I take 'em out and fold them and I'm, you know, but um I have a fan in that room. Well actually when we moved in we put a separate furnace downstairs because it was a little chilly to sit down there and sew so we put in a separate furnace so the room is constant temperature. And I put a fan in that room that goes all, you know, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

DB: Can you tell me a little bit about your stash?

LA: Oh mercy. [DB laughs.] I've got a stash. But I just spent this last weekend at Virginia Anderson's house who you know who she is and I don't compare to her. Believe me. [DB laughs.] She's got me beat. But my, now when I go out, when I decide I want to make something, my stash isn't adequate, I don't have the right fabric. Never have the right fabric. And yet one year at our guild they wanted to another sampler and everybody needed the border prints, so I brought in all my border prints and I had about seven or eight and I let the girls buy them from me. And now I'm seeing their quilts and I'm very mad because oh my God, I could have made a quilt out of that.

DB: [laughs.] Gosh.

LA: Thanks for letting me come up for air.

DB: Oh. [laughs.] Trying to think here. Your story is fascinating to me. Where do you see yourself in five years?

LA: Dead.

DB: Or ten years? Oh let's hope not. [both laugh.]

LA: I don't know. I think of that often because I was telling a grandson the other day that my God, you know, time's going so quickly andthe young people are saying that too.He is a college student and all that and he reads all the books and said, 'Well I'll tell you why you feel like it's going so quickly,' he said, 'You know, if the life expectancy is 87% and when you're four or five years old you've only lived for 5% of your life, so when you're 80, you're pretty close to have lived 95% so then you look ahead and you say, Oh my God, I don't have much time left.I got to do this, I got to do that and I got to.' So that is his equalization. I'm myself so busy. I mean and you have to set priorities and right now quilting is, can't be a priority. So I'm enjoying what I have done and I'm keeping up with all the guilds I belong to, but that's about it.

DB: How many guilds do you belong to Liz?

LA: Well right now I only belong to three.

DB: And what are they?

LA: Well I belong to Kingston that was my original. I belong to the Greater Port Huron because I live in Port Huron. I belong to Michigan Quilt Network, who I've been chair for Region 5 a couple of years, and I've been secretary and I've done my volunteering. And but I still find when I go to a quilt show or go to anything that's with quilts I participate because that's where I enjoy. If I can stand up in front of a quilt and tell somebody about it number one, I get an audience and I perform better with an audience. And that's how I enjoy it.

DB: When you do quilt and find time, do you enjoy quilting, working on your quilts more in a group or alone?

LA: I accomplish more alone [laughs.] because I'm too busy talking when I'm--[both laugh.]
at a meeting. And I think that you do need that support. I think that show and tell time is your reward and it's inspirational because you see something that somebody else has done and you. I don't care if you had the same teacher several different times, you will always learn something. And that's what it's all about.

DB: Okay. I just lost--

LA: [laughs.] I had a class from you one time too.[both laugh.]

DB: What is your greatest joy then in your quilts?

LA: Well I really used to enjoy working on them and finishing them and I was, you know, gun ho, but I think now it's showing. Showing,

DB: Do you use your quilts? Are they--

LA: No.

DB: On the bed?

LA: Oh heavens no. Oh mercy. I, in fact since we've lived in the city and my friend has five children all married with kids and our house is like, you know, the stop off, and I'm, when they stay overnight I search all over for blankets. I get out these scrawny blankets and I forget I even got quilts. [DB laughs.] And if they would mention my quilts then I kind of cringe because oh God, no. I have to tell you another story. One time Wayne gave me a sewing machine for Christmas and it was a big, big surprise. I made a lap robe and I gave it to him. And it was on the back of his chair. And I walked into the house one evening and he's got his head on that quilt, on that. Well and so I screamed and he jumped off his chair and was 'what, what, what.' And I said, 'You got your oily hair on that thing.' And he said, 'Well I thought it was mine to use.' 'You can put it over yourself but you don't put it under yourself.' [both laugh.] And then I had made--I had started a quilt years before and it was to be pink and blue. Well the first friend that looked at my color combination said, 'Oh, that that pink's gotta go. That you can't use that pink with that blue.' And so I dropped the pink and then I put something else with it. I had a terrible time. Well I ended up with a blue quilt, three shades, dark, medium, light and white. But all the time that I'm working on it I'm complaining because I love blue but I don't like to work with blue. So Wayne again, being the--he said, 'Well, Liz, I'll tell ya. When you're through if you still don't like it, I'll buy it from you.' So the more I worked with it the better I liked it and when I got through, of course I had told everybody I knew that Wayne wants this quilt. So then they said, 'Well when are you going to Wayne?' And I did say that, didn't I. And they said-- [ DB laughs.] Well I finally said, 'Okay.' I said, 'Wayne I'll give you this quilt but if when something happens to you I want it back in my family.' And he said, 'If you're going to tie strings to it I don't want it.' I said 'Okay, thanks.' [DB laughs.] So he never got it.

DB: Uh oh. [laughs.] Before we finish up, Liz, is there something you'd like us to know about you

LA: About me?

DB: And your quilt.

LA: You already know! [both laugh.] I'm a big mouth.

DB: No, no.

LA: Well I don't know. No, there's no--

DB: What would you like to leave us with?

LA: Well I'm leaving all my quilts [laughs.] to my nephews and nieces. I think that when people retire they've got to have a reason to get up in the morning and this is, there isn't anything more rewarding than quiltmaking. You, as I said, I discovered a lot about myself. I've also discovered I am a little artistic. I don't believe that I am but my quilting I think that you'll see that. It took a while to learn color but I think that I've grown in that area. So I think that I have grown as a person and as a quiltmaker and don't be afraid to afraid to try new things. This is a sample of the old and that's a sample of the new and uh they're both rewarding.

DB: They're both beautiful too.

LA: Yeah. And, you know, I said I copied this but until this is washed many times and it's faded, it will not have the charm that the old one did, yes.

DB: Yeah. Well thank you so much. I really enjoy--

LA: Have I talked 45 minutes? [laughs.]

DB: So, I loved it. Thank you.

LA: Thank you for interviewing me.

DB: Thank you. [claps.] You did very well.

[tape ends.]


“Liz Antilla,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,