Liz Barber




Liz Barber


Liz Barber began quilting in the mid-1970s after she attended a quilting class. Her grandmother and great aunts quilted, however, her mother did not and as a result began with needlework as opposed to quilting. She was involved in the formation of two Texas guilds, and has served as president twice.




Christine Sparta


Liz Barber


Kay Jones

Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Fort Worth, Texas


Julie Henderson


**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 May the nineteenth, 2001. It is 4:10 p.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Liz Barber for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Fort Worth Texas. Liz, you've brought along a quilt today, would you tell us about it?

Liz Barber (LB): Well this quilt was made by one of my grandmothers for a wedding gift when I married, in 1953. It's made of feed sacks; she lived on a farm. They raised chickens and the chicken feed came in sacks. I also had garments as I was growing up from feed sacks, which I hated. I don't know where the cotton came from. It doesn't look like it's a purchased batting, but I really don't know. It was made a little bit longer because my husband is tall and my grandmother was tall, and she said she knew what it was like to have her feet hang out from under the covers. So she made it a little bit longer so his feet wouldn't hang out. It's the only quilt that I have that she made. So it's a real treasure, although she made a lot more.

KJ: Which grandmother was it, Liz?

LB: This was my mother's stepmother. But she was in the family when I was born, so she was always my grandmother.

KJ: Describe the pattern a bit.

LB: Well it's a tulip and it's string-pieced, or strip – it's string pieced - probably initially on paper which was torn away, then the tulip cut out and the rest of it pieced in there. It's, you know, I think it's hand and machine pieced and then hand quilted. But it was a quilt that was made to be used so the quilting is not wonderful. It wasn't intended to be--but it was to be used. Because at that grandmother's we had a great big quilt box and when all the family was there you went in to the quilt box and got enough cover for all the beds. She used quilts.

KJ: How do you use this quilt?

LB: I use it to sleep under. Sometimes it's folded at the end of a guest bed, but we do use this quilt. It's been washed a number of times and I don't really do anything special to it. It's just used.

KJ: Do you have some plans for this quilt, later on?

LB: Beyond me? [laughs.] No, not really. You know, I don't know what'll happen. I have a lot of quilts from my family and have made quilts for my children, and so [tape cut off for a second.] picture it, but, no, I don't have any plans for it.

KJ: Sometimes children have dibs, so I wondered--

LB: No, they haven't gotten as far as the quilts.

KJ: Liz, when did you first get interested in quilting yourself?

LB: Long about 1974 or -5, something like that. I grew up with quilts, had lots of them around our house that we used for cover. I wanted blankets like city people had. We lived in town, in Fort Worth, but everybody else had blankets or comforters, and we had these quilts. But in about 1974 or -5, I was very involved in a embroider's guild and went to a national workshop. I was teaching needlepoint at the time. One of the classes was on quilting. Well I took the class. It was Erica Wilson who should've stuck to needlework--I probably shouldn't say this. Her techniques for quilting were really interesting. But we did a Dresden plate, and it sort of piqued my interest at that point. My mother never made quilts. My grandmothers both did and I had two aunts who made quilts. Everybody used them; they were used in our family. So after that I decided that I wanted to make a quilt, so I did. I bought the fabric in Houston, because there were no quilt shops in Fort Worth. I sort of got started that way. Then I taught some classes, a few classes for guilds and things like that. I probably made my first quilt in 1975 or -6.

KJ: That was about the time of the Bicentennial--did that have an influence?

LB: The Bicentennial and it was a real revival. No, it didn't. I didn't make a Bicentennial quilt; I made a quilt that was browns and rusts and tans, which is folded and put away because those are not my colors anymore. It has knots on the back because I didn't get it pulled all the way through when I was quilting it. [laughs.] Anyway, I have it and so that really was sort of the start. Then since then I've been to workshops in Houston. I kind of probably taught myself initially, and with what little bit my mother said she remembered from when she was a child. She didn't quilt, but she got to thread the needles because she was the youngest and they wouldn't let her quilt. But she threaded the needles. But she said, 'I know you're supposed to take little stitches and you rock back and forth and all this kind of stuff.' So I kind of experimented, that's why I have knots on the back of the quilt. But I've taken workshops with the guild after I'd started.

KJ: Now, you said that when you started quilting there were no quilt shops in Fort Worth, but there was one in Houston. How did you know about that?

LB: Well that quilt shop belonged to Gayle Cochran's sister. I have a sister who lives in Houston, so I have access to Houston. That's why I bought there. Shortly after that a quilt shop opened in Fort Worth.

KJ: Now, Gayle Cochran a friend of yours?

LB: Yes, oh I'm sorry. Yes, okay. But anyway, it was a friend who has a quilt shop that I knew about. So I bought my stuff there.

KJ: Then you said a quilt shop opened in Fort Worth?

LB: A quilt shop opened in Forth Worth. [spoken at the same time as above.]

KB: I'm interested in that quilt shop. Can you tell us about that?

LJ: It was Janet Mullin's quilt shop. I can't tell you the name of it maybe the Quilt Box, I think. She is a member of the guild. As far as I know that was the first one around in the area. There was one in Dallas – Great Expectations. I don't know the others. Now there are a jillion quilt shops. That was before there were a lot of cottons. Most of the fabrics were blends, which garment makers thought was wonderful but quilters, they learned that wasn't too wonderful.

KJ: Now after you learned to quilt, did you join a guild?

LB: No. There wasn't a guild before. So I was to do a program for an [inaudible.] guild, which was going--it was several years old. They wanted to do a program on quilting. So we did a two-session program and workshop on quilting. I got the fabric from Janet Quilt Box and taught the Dresden Plate to however many women were in the guild. Within a few months people in that group started talking about a quilt guild and maybe we ought to form one. I think there was probably one in Dallas that we knew about. So we put notices in the paper and had a meeting and started a quilt guild. I can't tell you the date, somebody probably can, but we did have a quilt show the very first year. I think this is the nineteenth show, so I guess it's been that long – whatever year that was.

KJ: 1982, would you think?

LB: Right, yeah, because next year will be twenty years.

KJ: Do you recall how many ladies there were--or was it all ladies?

LB: Initially it was--probably about thirty, initially. We put a notice in the newspaper. We met at an RD. Evans Recreation Center. Then we sort of organized a little bit more in the fall of that year, elected officers and wrote some very simple by-laws and had our first quilt show. We didn't charge for it and we had about six hundred people who came in about four hours, through R.D. Evans. We had quilts draped on stepladders and sawhorses and everything we could find to put something on.

KJ: Did you have a quilt in that show?

LB: Oh goodness, I don't know whether I did or not. Probably because we all had them. There weren't that many of us and we were all trying to fill up the room at R.D. Evans I probably did, but I couldn't tell you what it was.

KJ: You mentioned officers. Have you been an officer?

LB: Twice I've been president - the first president, and then in 1989, '90. I wouldn't do it again. [laughter.] The first time was a piece of cake because nobody else had done it before; we were all winging it anyway. Again, I had moved away and come back in 1988 and they asked me to do it again. So I did it.

KJ: Could you talk a little bit about what being a member of a guild has meant to you?

LB: Oh, I love it. That's why I did it again the second time. Well in the first place, the quilt ladies are just wonderful. They are for the most part very open and sharing and caring. They're fun to be around and they have the same addictions I do. Many of my very closest friends are guild members and we travel together. Then I think the small groups, and I belong to two small groups. As large as the guild is now, they are really necessities if you're really going to get to know people and get to be involved--I moved away from Fort Worth in 1991 to East Texas and there was not a guild in the town I was in, so I started a guild there. After about three years or so I couldn't believe that women in East Texas didn't quilt. Sure enough they do, they just hadn't all gotten together. So they've been going for a long time.

KJ: They just needed a leader.

LB: Well, they needed somebody who could gather them all together, I guess. But I think guilds are wonderful places to learn. That's where a lot of my knowledge and interest have come from. We've had good programs and good workshops and hands-on sorts of things to teach many different things.

KJ: Is there some person or are there some persons in the guild, or outside of it, who have been especially influential as far as your quilting is concerned?

LB: I don't know I think the person that I really would think about in quilts for me is Jinny Beyer. I saw a picture of a quilt that she had done that was in reds that I just thought was fantastic. I thought, 'That is a quilt that I would really like to do.' I have been fortunate to go to her seminar or workshop, whatever she has at Hilton Head once, probably fifteen years ago. But I really have appreciated her contributions to the quilt world. I would say that that red quilt and it's a mosaic kind of looking thing, probably had as much to do with my deciding to make quilts. I love Mary Ellen Hopkins. I like her attitude about quilts--fun quilts and to-use-everyday quilts.

KJ: As far as the quilts that you've made, have you incorporated some of Jinny Beyer's techniques?

LB: Probably color--her color, usage of color as much as anything. I like her colors. She's changed some of them but I like her colors.

KJ: Is there anything about quilting that you don't like, Liz?

LB: No, because now I like to piece and I like to--I like handwork, I really do. Now I've done some machine quilting because it's just faster. I'm not very good at it. It bothers me that there is so much machine quilting now, because I hope we don't lose the hand quilting, because I like the handwork. I've always done handwork since I was a very small girl. There's not much I don't like about quilting.

KJ: What is the best part, the part you like best?

LB: The best – starting a project, because I'm not a good finisher. I mean I like to start things. So I get real fired up and I guess I have boxes with unfinished projects – but I'll get around to them someday. If I don't, they're still [inaudible.]. I like the planning and getting it all worked out. Getting it started and seeing how it's going to look, then I start to lose interest. I have to push. I have to really push to finish one even though I have a really good use for it or a reason to make it. I have a quilt hanging here and I put the last stitch in at one o'clock before I brought it down here at eight-thirty on Thursday morning. [laughs.]

KJ: You had an hour and a half.

LB: I know, to sleep a little bit! But, I like beginning it.

KJ: Tell us a little bit about your quilting area. Do you have a special room? How do you work that?

LB: Well right now it's not wonderful. Up until we moved back to Fort Worth three years ago I always had a separate room for my sewing and quilting area. Now I don't. But I use one of the guest rooms for my quilting and I took over the whole walk-in closet. So there's about a foot of rod space for houseguests in that closet. It's not really very satisfactory because I can't put out my big table and things like that, but I just make do. I have some things in the garage that I have to go rescue every once in a while when I need them. But I sew on the sun porch and in that sewing room and at--we have a ranch and we have a room there that I keep a sewing machine in. So I go work out there sometimes. My space is not ideal right now. I have had ideal space. I just don't now. But it works.

KJ: Do you design your own patterns, or do you follow someone else's and adapt?

LB: Pretty much yes, I use someone else's. In fact I use mostly traditional patterns and then I may add to it or rearrange. Right now I'm in the process. I have a Lone Star started and I want to do appliqué in the large blank spaces around the lone star. So that's kind of my project right now, working on that. So I'll combine those two. Sometimes I do block-of-the-month kinds of things, but, they get stacked up and unfinished.

KJ: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LB: My first thought is that color choice in the fabrics is probably really important. Then I think workmanship comes right in there behind it. You know I don't like sloppy workmanship. But I think color and color choices, for me. When I look at a quilt, I look at color choices and the way they fit together or blend together or accent each other. I like colors. I think that's really important.

KJ: Thinking about color– you talked about living in East Texas. Have you lived other places?

LB: Lived in Michigan and Fort Worth and East Texas.

KJ: Were there differences in the quilting in those different places?

LB: Not really. I really didn't get into quilting much in Michigan, because I couldn't find a group. I did quilt some, and there were a few quilt shops up there, but they were cut and dried, not very innovative. Their colors up there--I didn't do a whole top. In fact when I left Lufkin, I gave away some things that I had purchased fabrics for in Michigan because I thought I don't really want to do that. East Texas was certainly very traditional, what we consider traditional quilts. I don't know anybody who was doing art quilts, so to speak.

KJ: Now was this a small town, in East Texas?

LB: Thirty thousand. The group we started really was just very traditional. That's what they wanted to learn, that's what they wanted to work on. That's what appealed to them. They have started going to Houston to see some other things and I've done a little traveling with them. So they may change somewhat, but probably not much.

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

LB: I think they each have their place.

KJ: You had said you had done some of both.

LB: I had just for expediency. I'm not good at machine quilting, because I've never done very much. It irritates me to have to finagle all that fabric around under whatever you call that, the pressure foot. For me a lot of the pleasure in making a quilt is hand quilting. But I think machine quilting has its place. I've seen beautiful machine quilting, both with long arm equipment and with traditional sewing machines. There are some people who do really, really pretty machine quilting. I would hate to see hand quilting eliminated by machine quilting just because it's quicker. Hopefully that won't happen.

KJ: Well obviously, Liz, quilting has been important in your life. What do think makes it important?

LB: Well, partly because I like handwork, that's one of the-- [pauses to allow loudspeaker announcement to finish.] Now I don't remember what I was going to say. [laughs.]

KJ: Why is quilting important in your life?

LB: Well as I said, I like handwork. My husband thought I was probably born with a needle of some sort in my hand, which has been very helpful because he does not object to my sitting there doing something while he's watching the ball game. It's important for me to have some handwork to do. It's very soothing. I would like to think it was something I left behind. I don't write; I don't paint. For me, quilts are very special and I would hope that to my children and grandchildren they would be special.

KJ: Now have you given quilts to each of your children and grandchildren?

LB: Yes, yes I have. I've given them to-use-and-wear-out quilts and I've given don't-you dare-let-the-dogs-sleep-on-them quilts. [laughs.] I will do a few more of those. A lot of times I do, particularly for my grandson, I do something for him to use that can be like Mary Ellen Hopkins, 'It's okay if you sit on my quilt.' I have one son who has lots of dogs and I know that when I make him a quilt it's going to have a lot of dogs on it. So I've had to make it with that in mind and kind of let go of it. But I would hope that each of them will have a really special quilt by the time I'm gone.

KJ: If you had only made one quilt, which one would you had rather it be? What's your best ever, as far as you're concerned?

LB: The favorite quilt I've made is a double Irish chain. I'm enamored with Amish quilts, Amish lifestyle, Amish anything. This is in Amish colors and was made for my oldest son. It was given to him and his wife was told, 'This is his quilt. He may [inaudible.], it's still his quilt. It's not y'all's quilt.' That's my probably my very favorite. Every stitch of it was cut before rotary cutters; every piece of it was hand cut. Little squares, hand pieced, and hand quilted. Now it would not take me nearly so long, but

KJ: How long did it take you?

LB: Oh, I really would rather you didn't ask, but I probably worked on it for ten or twelve years, off and on. He was in college when I started it, and I finished it probably ten years ago. It made two moves. It moved to Michigan on the frame, and two years later it moved back from Michigan still not totally finished. Then two years later it moved to East Texas, still not totally finished. But I finished it, and it hung in one of the shows here, and he has it. He said, 'Can we put that in the washing machine?' I said, 'I don't think so.' 'Well can we dry clean it?' 'No. When I come over there, if it needs something I will do it. I'll take care of that quilt.' So it took me a good long time.

KJ: Do you typically have several projects going at once?

LB: Yes. I even have more than quilting going. I mean I knit and I do embroidery. I had an aunt, who after she was widowed, we'd go to see her. She'd have tatting in this chair, embroidery in this chair, and piecing in this chair. She just sat wherever she wanted to and did whatever she wanted to and I thought that was wonderful, and I will do that someday.

KJ: As you think about your life with quilting, what do you think about quilting in the lives of all American women, many American women? Do you think there's a special place for quilting?

LB: Yes, I do, because I think women quilt for all kinds of reasons. But I think it's a creative outlet for a lot of women. I think it's an escape from other pressures, daily life's pressures. It's something you leave behind, probably, at least some of it. I think it's just part of being female. But that's not--not all quilters are female, I know that. But I think for women it's a real outlet, for probably a number of different reasons.

KJ: Well, going back to the guild, Liz, are there ways that the guild has changed that you either think are for the better or ways you'd like to see it change--do you have some thoughts on that?

LB: Well I do. They have to do with size. It is a totally different organization now, with almost four hundred members, as opposed to the thirty that we started out with. Because of the growth, it's had to be different. We started out with very simple by-laws; we called them that were on one page. A group this size can't operate that way. So it has grown that way, and so for years I knew everybody in the guild by name and their families and that sort of thing. I don't do that anymore, partly because I'm not here that much, just with four hundred people you can't do that. So, in that way it's changed. It has a huge budget, which we didn't have. We really struggled with our quilt shows for a number of years, financially, hoping that enough people came to pay the bills. But I don't want to go backwards. You don't want it to--even though that was wonderful, you wouldn't want it to go back to being that. As long as they have small groups and the workshops where people go and not only learn but you get to know other people--the retreats where you go and know other people. That still has some of that feeling of friendship and fellowship and caring that was in the early guild.

KJ: Well, Liz, unfortunately our time is about gone, so we're going to need to conclude. But is there anything that we haven't touched on that you'd like to talk about before we close?

LB: No, I don't think so. I really would hope that younger women would continue to become interested in quilts and quiltmaking. Providing something for the now and something for the later. It's not going to die; the art is not going to die. We've seen it come and go. While my mother didn't do it, my grandmothers did and I don't have any daughters so I don't know where it'll go from me. But I hope that it's not going to decline. I don't want it to. Well we certainly have too much fabric left to use--somebody's got to use. [laughs.]

KJ: We certainly hope that somebody uses that fabric, Liz. On that note, I'd like to thank Liz Barber for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 4:47 p.m., May 19, 2001.

[tape ends.]


“Liz Barber,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,