Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett




Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett


Barbara Barrett is a quilter in Bastrop, Texas who began quilting in the mid 1990s. She's known how to sew since a young age, and moved to quilting when she took a class. She is an active member of many groups and guilds including the Austin Area Quilt Guild, the Night Bloomers Quilt Bee, the Blockettes Quilt Bee, Loose Threads Quilt Bee and the In Stitches Bee. She also is a member of the International Quilt Association (IQA).




Melanie Grear


Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett


Shelly Pagliai

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Lisa Ellis


Houston, Texas


Katie Demery


**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.** 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.

Shelly Pagliali (SP): Barbara, will you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Barbara Barrett (BB): I call this quilt 'Sing a New Song'. It features a large bird in the center that happened by accident. A few years ago, I thought I wanted to make a New York beauty quilt. I got started on all of the arcs that takes and soon decided that I really didn't want to finish that. They sat around for a while on the table and one day they started to look like feathers to me. I put them up on the design wall and a bird came out. I decided he was pretty enough to pretty much stand on his own with a few friends and a little suggestion of nature. The border is interesting. It's made of scraps from a weaver from Taos, New Mexico. She makes garments and sells her scrap bags here at festival. I picked up a couple last year and turned them into a fringed border. It's one of my favorite parts.

SP: Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview today?

BB: This is one of the more recent ones I've made. It kind of represents the way my quilting is changing since I began. My quilting is getting to be more free in design. I think the quilt represents a joy in nature. We've recently moved to the country, so I have nature all around me. I'm more aware of it. I like that it used old things and repurposed them. That made it special for me. It also represents freedom. The bird is having a good time flying in the beautiful batik sky.

SP: At what age did you start quiltmaking?

BB: Seriously, about the mid 1990's. I've always sewn. I do know as a little girl, my next door neighbor friend and I one summer sewed probably about 100 yards of patchwork, maybe two feet wide. It seemed like miles of it at the time. Then I went on to other sorts of handwork. I found those recently and gave them to her for Christmas and we made a quilt out of them the next year. I didn't start really seriously quilting until about 20 years ago.

SP: Did someone teach you or did you learn on your own like that?

BB: I took a class. I gave myself a class for my birthday one year. It was hand piecing very traditional blocks. I came home from the class and said 'I'm not going to do this'. Then my parents came to visit once. My mom and I walked outside and it was spring. There were daffodils coming up in the yard and I looked back at the house and I said 'I could make a quilt out of that'. I went back to the shop and bought all of the fabric for that quilt. I put my house in the middle with some flower blocks around it. That was enough to get me hooked and I haven't looked back. Now it's my main passion.

SP: How many hours a week do you spend on your quiltmaking?

BB: Sometimes none. But a good week is when I can spend about four to five hours a day. I always do handwork at night. Every day I'm doing something, but during the day I'm at the machine or the design wall. A good day would be four to five hours. Some weeks go by where that doesn't happen.
SP: Do you belong to any art groups or quilting groups?
BB: I belong to the Austin [Texas] Area Quilt Guild and I have for a long time. I belong to a bee with a small group of women that meets on some frequency. For us, it's a month. I belong to the Night Bloomers Quilt Bee [Austin, Texas]. I belong to the Blockettes Quilt Bee, which is a block exchange group [ Austin, Texas]. [inaudible.] About six years ago I moved to Bastrop [Texas] from Austin [Texas]. I belong to the Loose Threads Quilt Bee [Bastrop, Texas] and to the In Stitches Bee [Bastrop, Texas]. I think that's all.

SP: Do advances in –

BB: - and IQA. I belong to IQA [International Quilt Association].

SP: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

BB: To some extent, I've always been a gadget person. I must own about 40 rulers. I did invest in a good sewing machine. I would love to invest in something to make machine quilting better. Someday I will. That's an advancement that I haven't taken advantage of yet. On the computer, I have Electric Quilt 6 and use it sometimes for portions of the design of a quilt, and of course using the computer to communicate, for online research, and even lessons and things like that. It's been a great tool. I'm also trying new threads, which I think have been made better for quilting.

SP: What do you think makes a great quilt?

BB: I've thought about that one for a long time. At the basic, you have to have excellent workmanship. That's a given. And visual impact. Without that, it's not a great quilt. Beyond that, I think it needs to have a unique or fresh view. I got to thinking because music has been a big part of my life too, how you'll be in the car and hear a song and some songs you just listen to and others you start singing to. As soon as you start singing, your whole mood lifts up and you feel like you've been given a gift. Singing that song makes you joyful inside. I think a great quilt triggers a similar response in you. That's hard to quantify, but you walk by and wonder 'How did she do that? What made her think of that?' It's a fresh approach, a fresh view. Then there are things that make a great quilt to me. It always has to have wonderful color. I don't think that's necessarily true for everyone. For me, I love color. I love symmetry. I love organic things and designs, but those three are more personal.

SP: Are there any artists or quiltmakers works that you are particularly drawn to or that influence you in particular?

BB: I've been influenced by the artists that pioneered studies of color, like Jinny Beyer and Joen Wolfrom. [loud noise in background.] I've always admired Sally Collins' attention to detail and her precision work. I love Gabrielle Swain's organic, nature-inspired graphic themes. I love Karen Stone's precision piecing and her idea that every block should be beautiful on its own. I like folk art, so Becky Goldsmith has been an influence. Those are ones that come to mind.

SP: What's your favorite –

BB:- [inaudible name-Ruth McDowell?] because of her organic, nature, joyful, simple creations. Her work makes you wonder 'How'd she do that? What made her think of that?'.

SP: What's your favorite technique?
BB: I think people would say about me, I love precision piecing. I like folk art. I like wool appliqué. I love hand quilting. Those are my favorites.

SP: Why is quiltmaking in your life?

BB: The first reason is how social it is. Most of my friends are involved in quiltmaking. Not all, but most. Without those friends, my life would be a lot emptier. The social aspect of quilting and sharing it with friends is super important to me. I guess the second thing would be that it lets me be an artist, or at least be artistic. I think that's in everybody to some extent, but its hard to express with all of the pressures we have today. People don't think of themselves as artistic, and with quilting anyone can be expressive to some extent. It gives me that.

SP: Are there any aspects of quilting that you don't particularly enjoy?

BB: I hate to baste a quilt [laughing.] Starting a new project is hard. When I'm into it, I'm in the swing of it. Getting off the paper and into the fabric is sometimes hard. Making the commitment to the design is sometimes hard. I think part of that is being trained to visualize the entire piece. I'm trying to un-train myself, to look at individual elements and let them tell you what to do next. I enjoy quilting. Machine quilting is difficult. I'm getting better, but it's still a challenge and sometimes frustrating. But I pretty much enjoy all aspects of it, starting with buying the fabric.

SP: Describe your studio or your work space.

BB: I'm lucky to have my own space. It's a 20' by 20' foot room. It's got a smooth, easy to use floor. I have a fireplace at one end with two rocking chairs. I have my computer in a corner and a tv in another corner. My sewing machine is in the center with an ironing board at an L to the side. I have a large cutting table with usually too much stuff on it to cut anything out. I have a big design wall. I have a wall of plastic shelving bins that I store all of my fabric in by color. I have tall ceilings, 10'. Pretty high up above the fabric storage I have a clothes rack that runs 20' feet long. I hang my quilts on that above my fabric storage, so I can see them. There's a shelf above that. I collect wooden shelf-sitter animals of all funky types and they're sitting up there looking down at me. I have a door onto a screened in porch that looks out into the back of the property. It's very nice and I'm very lucky to have it.

SP: Do you think that having the design wall helps a lot with your creative process?

BB: It's absolutely essential. I use it all the time. I use it even before I've cut out the fabric to put things up to see how the colors look. I try to keep most of it available, unlike my cutting table which is almost always unavailable. I put notices along the side, but I try to keep about six by eight feet always open. I put up all of my blocks. I use it constantly. I don't know how anybody could see their project well without one. It's a simple design wall. It's not permanent. I covered two insulation boards with fleece fabric and leaned them up against the wall. It can be taken down or moved if I have to.

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

BB: I think they're both wonderful. I enjoy hand quilting more than machine quilting. I think machine quilting has changed the art form on two levels. One, it has changed the type of quilting that people do and made quilting take off in a new direction, more intricate and certainly more intense and part of the design. Another thing is, it's helped people finish quilts. I hand quilt some quilts, I machine quilt some quilts, and I send some of my quilts to a good long arm quilter. There's a role for each of those in your life and it's great to have that much choice. I use what makes sense and I think without machine quilting, a lot fewer quilts would be made. It's put it into people's hands. It's made it more achievable. Because of that, there are more quilts. I think that's great.

SP: Are there other quiltmakers in your family?

BB: Yes, my sister quilts. My mother quilts. I'm trying to get some of my nieces to quilt. They have taken to it. One, who is an adult, makes some quilts. She has a baby so not as many. The others that are in school have all tried their hand in it from time to time. We're always trying to convert people to quilting.

SP: So your habit of quilting doesn't impact your family in a negative way?

BB: No. I think that for me and my husband, we each have hobbies we're very involved in. That's good in a marriage, to have individual pursuits. Then to come together at the end of the day and be able to share it. I love sharing it with my mother and sister. It's fun to get my nieces involved. It's been nothing but good, I would say.

SP: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

BB: Yes I have. The first time I remember is after my younger brother died in 1998. I made quilts for his four daughters out of his t-shirts and neckties. That was very healing. They love having something of his to cuddle with. We recently had a big wildfire in Bastrop County [Texas], where I live. It took me awhile to want to sew again. But it was through deciding to sew things for other people in my community that I could enjoy sewing again. That was very healing. I think from everyone I've talked to, and me too, when a tragedy happens, it takes away your desire to quilt for a while, for whatever reason. Usually, the first steps out involve doing something for another person with your quilting. That gives you some purpose in what you're doing, while reawakening the passion you have still hidden in you for it. Then you're back in the groove and can go on from there.

SP: Have you ever taken any really long breaks from your quilting?

BB: No more than a few months.

SP: You mentioned making things for people in your community. Was it quilts or quilted items after the fire or other projects?

BB: Sometimes. Right now I'm making a quilt for a firefighter who lost his home. I'm making some placemats for the people who loaned us a place to live.

SP: Do any of your quilts reflect your community or where you live?

BB: Not specifically. I don't set out to make a Texas quilt. I do tend to make a lot of quilts about trees. I've always loved leaves and the look of forests. Several of my quilts that I think are some of my favorite quilts explore that. I find myself more and more focusing on elements of nature to be expressed somehow in my quilts. I recently made a quilt for one of my nieces that was a garden quilt and had a path going off in the distance. I've made a quilt with trees, called The Forest and The Trees. This one has a lot of leaves quilted in the background. It has the birds and the branches. I've had two quilts in the IQA Show here. They were both nature oriented. I've made a tree quilt for another niece. I find myself drawn to those subjects quite a bit lately.

SP: I think that it's interesting, and a lot of other people have commented on it that you've used the woven scraps around the edge of this quilt. Do you use materials like that a lot or do you mainly stick with cotton?

BB: I mainly stick with cotton. That was a new experiment for me. When I saw them and touched them, I knew I had to do something with them that could be touched. Color and texture is what turns me on about a quilt. I have done some work in silk, which is beautiful. I learned the hard way some of the lessons about silk. The first block I ever made of silk literally dissolved into a puddle of threads in my lap because I didn't know how to use the grain to cut in the right direction. It just fell apart on me. Silk is beautiful, but I mostly deal with cottons.

SP: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for museum or a special collection?

BB: I think museums serve a role to capture the major things happening at a time period. They are a historical tool. I think collecting well-known artists is an appropriate focus for museums, especially now when there is so much to choose from.

SP: How do you think that quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

BB: There's a lot written about how quilts have reflected the times that women have lived through. For me, it's a story of evolution and that's what makes quilting so exciting, that it does change. It's always been a way for women to express themselves separate from what they do everyday and to give a voice to what is inside of them. A lot of people in the past have used it to comment on history. That's never been a big thing for me. Quilts are more emotional to me, rather than historical or documentary. I really don't like sad quilts. I don't like quilts that capture a sad event. Quilts should make you feel good. There are enough other ways to remember the tragic events in our life. I think that quilts are to remember the happy things and to bring joy to the people that see them. I'm not personally one to use them to document my times. I'm using them as an expression.

SP: Is there anything else you'd like to add to your story before we conclude? What do you think someone viewing the quilt you brought today might conclude about you?

BB: On the surface level, they would see what a lot of people see when they first meet me, that I'm kind of meticulous and I pay a lot of attention to detail. I think that if they had never met me, they might say some things that would be different. They don't know me at all, but they would look at this quilt and they would say, 'That person is adventurous. That person has a lot of passion and joy for color and living things. That person takes chances.' People that meet me on a different level, in a different context, might not ever say that, because I think that I am usually thought of as a pretty quiet and reserved person. Yet those things are inside. People that know me a long time know they're there, but quilting gives me a way to express those things. I think that a really healthy thing that other quilters can do with their work, is let it show what they know is inside but may not be so obvious.

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

BB: For me, it's been finding my own voice and my own style. There is so much diversity in quilting. You go to a major show like this and you're overwhelmed with the talent that you see. You think you can never do it. I hear so many people walking the show saying 'Well I'm not going to make another quilt again. I could never be this good.' But there's some artist in everybody. If you quilt everyday, you get a daily dose of beauty and it can't help but let you free yourself to take more chances. I think that's what pulls people more than anything, is letting themselves take chances with their work, not knowing where it's going to end up. They may feel like they are uncomfortable or don't have a sense of style. I struggle with that. I'm going to try to focus on smaller pieces and let them grow a little bit more on their own and a little bit less under the control of my brain. I admire organic design and nature designs and I think nature is a pretty strong force, a pretty strong power. You can't control it. Maybe opening yourself up by tackling smaller things and letting them tell you what they want to be. It's a challenge to find your own voice and to feel like you can do it.

SP: I'd like to thank Barbara for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 4:27 pm.


“Barbara Ann Bauer Barrett,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,