Helen Aponte




Helen Aponte


Helen Aponte has been quilting for about 25 years, but did not fully get into quilting until after she retired. She is largely self-taught, however, she has taken some lessons once she became a more avid quilter. She enjoys using scraps of fabrics as opposed to whole pieces of cloth, and finds quilting relaxing.




Christine Sparta


Helen Aponte


Kristen Bara

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Loveland, Colorado


Diana Bara


**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.** Kristen Bara (KB): My name is Kristen Bara and today's date is January 27, 2008 at 1:56 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Helen Aponte in her home in Loveland, Colorado for the Quilters' [S.O.S-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Colorado State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Helen is a quilter and is a member of the Longs Peak Chapter of NSDAR. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Helen Aponte (HA): The quilt I brought is called, or I call it "Hearts and Flowers." It's a pattern that I saw on the cover of magazine a few years ago and I just felt like I had to make it. So I just started cutting out pieces. It's actually made from drunkards path shapes and then it has daisies appliquéd on to it. But the thing that appealed to me about it is that it just looked pretty and it's made out of scraps and I have lots and lots and lots of small scraps so it was a way to use up scraps. I thought it was going to come out looking pretty, so I just started making blocks and using up scraps and I was just very pleased with how it turned out. Drunkard's Path is a pattern that involves squares with a circle cut out of one corner and then you sew another circular piece in so you end up with a square, except the design has one quarter of it or a little more than a quarter of it is a circle of a different color or an arch of a different color and it's an old fashioned pattern and there are different ways of putting those blocks together that make different kinds patterns, so.

KB: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

HA: Well, it used a lot of my favorite scraps, pieces of material that I really liked and didn't have very much left from and then it involves curved piecing which is a little harder to do. So, when I was making it I was trying to do it on a sewing machine and I had seen a couple of lessons on how to do curved piecing on the sewing machine and I decided it wasn't that easy so I just did all the curved parts by hand. And there are quite a few curved parts to it, so.

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

HA: I just like it. I just like it, that's all I can say. [laughs.]

KB: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

HA: It's been said a lot of times I guess, I do a lot of quilting with little bitty pieces, [laughs.] little pieces that some people would throw away. But anyway, I enjoy it.

KB: [pause for 5 seconds.] [clock chimes.] How do you use this quilt?

HA: For awhile I had it on our bed but I have so many quilts that I kind of rotate them around so this one just sort of been hanging on a quilt rack for awhile. But a long time ago I decided that I would make quilts that were big enough to go on a bed. I didn't want to make a lot of wall hangings or small quilts so it's for a bed.

KB: What are your plans for this quilt?

HA: I don't have any plans for it. Just keep it. [laughs.] It's kind of a family joke, and quilters do this a lot. It's like I don't need a reason to make a quilt. I just like to make them so I make them. I don't have any plans to give them away or sell them or anything. I just make quilts and I have a lot of them.

KB: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

HA: I don't know actually how it got started but maybe 25 years ago I got interested and I made a quilt for my niece and she really liked it. She was only six at the time or about six. And then I started making a bigger quilt and I made it out of, I had no idea what I was doing, I was just sort making it up as I went along and I had no idea how to, what patterns to use, I just made blocks and I sewed them all together by hand, because I thought that's what you were suppose to do to make a quilt. I had a sewing machine but thought you were supposed to do it by hand and it was huge and it took a lot of time to do it. But, at the time I was married to a guy that liked to watch football and so I call this my football widow's quilt because when he was watching games, I was quilting and I enjoyed the quilting and it prevented a lot of squabbles [laughs.] and then I did, I think I started one or two more quilts after that and then I found I was just too busy because I was working and everything and I didn't really have time to quilt. So I had two quilts that I literally had partially together and I still had pins and needles in them and they were folded up on the quilt frame and stayed that way for 20 years, folded up on the quilt frame and one even had the needles still in it and it was on the floor in various unused rooms in the house and then finally after I retired I got it out and said I'm going to finish this and I did. I finished those two quilts and then I started making more quilts. But, by then I was really curious about what else I could do and how to decide on colors and what things to put together and how many patterns there were and all that kind of stuff. So then I took some lessons, by then I was on about my fifth quilt, and I took some lessons and then that just opened up all kinds of possibilities and I've just been going crazy with it ever since.

KB: At what age did you start quiltmaking?

HA: I was probably in my 30s when I started.

KB: From whom did you learn to quilt?

HA: Well mostly myself. You know my grandmother did some quilting, although I think it was pretty plain stuff. I don't remember ever seeing any of her quilts. But no body in the family ever taught me. I just sort of decided it on my own and there's one technique called paper piecing and I got kind of interested in paper piecing and I remember we were on a cruise one time in Australia and I found a book on paper piecing and my husband would take naps in the afternoon and I would study the book, so by the time we got off the ship, I was ready to make a paper pieced quilt. [laughs.] But I just, I've always been a sewer and so I just figured I knew how to do it.

KB: How many hours a week do you quilt?

HA: Its real variable. I do more in the winter time than I do in the summer because in the summer I do more outdoor stuff. But, I try to divide it up so that in the daytime I'm doing the piecing which I do downstairs on the sewing machine and then in the evening for TV time I always have a quilt on my lap that I'm hand quilting and or sometimes appliqué. So I try to divide the quilting work up so that I get some of it done during the daytime and some of it done in the evening and we travel quite a bit, so there are periods of time I don't get any done, but.

KB: What is your first quilt memory?

HA: Oh, [pause for 4 seconds.] you know I don't really remember. I must have seen some in a magazine or something or other and long time ago, in 1978, I joined the [pause for 3 seconds.] Colorado Quilting Council and I started going to some meetings again but I was too busy really and I didn't have time and the meetings are held all over the state and so I didn't really have time to be driving around to meetings and stuff, but that kind of gave me a view of what things were possible and I didn't really have a lot of money to spend on fabric and all that, so I didn't get a whole lot done then, but that really peeked my interest.

KB: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

HA: My sister is a quilter but she's in New York State and I actually haven't seen her for quite a long time and we talk about quilts on the phone. That's in fact mostly what we talk about and then she sends me notes about quilts on the computer and she uses the quilting sites on the computer a lot more than I do. She'll spend time looking at those but I don't. But, anyway we talk back in forth about quilts but then once in awhile she'll send me a quilt that she's made. She makes some wall hangings and she makes big ones or she'll send me pictures of the quilts that she's done and I send her pictures but as far as I know we are the only two in the family and now the friends I have are, some are through my quilting group, so I do have friends that are quilters now.

KB: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

HA: Oh, my husband is kind of amused by it. He sort of puts up with it although I think he's very pleased with the quilts I make. And he's pleased if I win prizes with them and I have given his daughters quite a few quilts as gifts and his granddaughters. And he's always very pleased that I give them quilts, so he thinks that's pretty nice.

KB: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

HA: Just the football widow thing. [laughs.] Now, I think that's probably it. Otherwise, quilting is just part of my life. It's very relaxing for me. I enjoy the piecing. I enjoy the hand quilting. And I feel lost if I'm sitting in the chair in front of the TV and I don't have a quilt to work on.

KB: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking teaching? Quilt making?

HA: I don't really know. I guess probably some of the funnier stuff is the cat's reaction to it. The cats like to lay on quilts and so the other day I was quilting and I had this big huge quilt on my lap and I was trying to reposition it and I kept tugging and I couldn't get it to move and I of course discovered the cat was sitting on it on the floor, the part that was dragging on the floor. This cat is kind of funny because he likes to get under the quilt, so I had looked down but hadn't seen him because he was underneath a fold in the quilt. But, I guess those are the funnier ones.

KB: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

HA: I just like the piecing, I like putting the colors together, I like trying to make the designs and it's very relaxing. Just sitting, I always feel like I'm doing something but its very relaxing to do. Its like television is such a waste of time and even if we're watching good programs on the history channel, I can still quilt while I'm watching them. I don't have to be just sitting there watching television.

KB: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

HA: I belong to the Colorado Quilting Counsil, and I belong to LNCQ which is the League of Northern Colorado Quilters and then I belong to a quilting group through LNCQ which is called [pause for 3 seconds.] Kindred Quilters and they meet once a month, and in fact we had an extra meeting this month, because occasionally we get into making charity quilts and we had a bunch of quilting that we needed to get done. So we had an extra meeting just last Thursday and we spent all day sewing. I think there were just six of us that were there, but we just had a good time. We brought stuff for lunch and made a total mess out of this lady's house because we had fabric scraps all over the floor and her equipment all over the place, but anyway, we got a lot done. We got two quilt tops pieced so, and then you get to talk all day to your friends, so it was fun.

KB: Have advances in technology influenced your quilt? If so, how?

HA: I think the biggest thing is having a better sewing machine. Now, it's kind of funny because I only use very simple stitches on the machine I mean my sewing machine will probably do 75 different decorative stitches, but mostly I just sew a straight line forward. A lot of people will get a lot of information off the computer and use a process to download patterns and stuff like that. But, I don't because, I think, to me those things are time consuming and they take up time that I could be quilting. I mean if I spent time on the computer looking at quilt stuff, that's all I'd get done is just looking at quilt stuff. So, I'm better off just to do the sewing. Then there are a lot of, [pause for 2 seconds.] if you're not a quilter it's probably not too familiar, but there are templates now for making the various shapes that you need to make which make it a lot easier and there is a rotary cutter which makes cutting just absolutely phenomenal. You can cut a lot of pieces in a hurry and very accurately and it makes a lot of difference. The thought of cutting all the pieces with a pair of scissors just makes my hands hurt. But mostly all the templates and the cutters and the cutting boards and stuff like that really make it pretty easy to do.

KB: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

HA: I try to stick with just cotton although someday I want to make a crazy quilt and crazy quilts are usually made with velvet and a lot of exotic fabrics. So I started collecting the fabrics, but I haven't done anything with them yet. But, mostly cottons and I have sort of become addicted to shopping in thrift shops to see what fabric they have. Like yesterday I went to the thrift shop in Berthoud and they had a huge box full of packages of quilting material and you can buy scraps to make quilts out of, for practically nothing. In fact in one thrift shop last week I bought, I think it was 7 yards of fabric for $2.00; 7 yards all in one piece and these are mostly new fabrics. It's just somebody bought them and never got around to using them. Or a lot of times I always say grandma died and they were cleaning out her estate and this is the stuff no body wanted to work with. So I buy a lot of fabric and that's sort of a joke among quilters because we all have our stash of fabric, some of them are huge, just unbelievable amounts of fabric. Mine is fairly big but they're not necessarily big pieces of fabric. But, it pleases me to think that I'm using up scraps. I really enjoy that. I can go to a quilt shop and buy the fabric and make a quilt, but probably when I came home from the quilt shop I would discover that the colors I bought don't really go together like I thought they would or they aren't really the colors that I want, [clock chimes.] so my objective is to have enough stuff on hand that any day, any time, I can start making a quilt and I probably just have to go through my boxes to find the colors and the pieces that I want, so. And I can do that now.

KB: Describe the place that you create.

HA: The place? [pause for 4 seconds.] Oh, my quilting place maybe? Well when we lived in Aurora I had a very small room. It was actually a child's bedroom and it was a very small bedroom in a basement, with one window way up high. That was my quilting room and I made my husband install shelves on one wall but it wasn't nearly enough space and I had fabric in the closet and supplies in the closet and I had two little tables and it was extremely cramped and I still made quilts. So when we moved I said that I was going to have a room for quilting and we had the basement finished and I made the guy that did the finishing make a quilt room for me except that he talked me into making it a bedroom, because he said if you want to sell the house you need to have a bedroom, not a craft room. So, it has a traditional closet in it, but otherwise it is my quilting room and I have fabric all over the place and my sewing machine and my tables and the ironing board is always set up and my lamps and I can go in and turn on my lights and sit down where I left off and just start whatever I was doing again and drag all the fabric out of the closet and spread it all out on the floor and decide what I want to use and don't have to worry about putting it away or how it looks or anything like that. Once in a while I vacuum it if I get everything picked up.

KB: Tell me how you balance your time.

HA: It's pretty much governed by [pause for 5 seconds.] the season, I guess. I do more quilting in the winter. I like to do genealogy. I do genealogy until I feel frustrated with it. I do some genealogy for the DAR and then I'm waiting for people to send me data and in the mean time I can do all the quilting I want. I don't have to wait on anybody because it is all right there. I just can go back to it and do what ever I want to do. I try to do my housework and my exercise in the morning and then I can have the afternoon for quilting downstairs and then I can do my hand quilting in the evening. I have not taken quilting on the road yet. I have a friend that did that for a while. She used to haul her sewing machine around and she would sit in the hotel room in the evening and quilt. But, to me that is just too much work, because I'd have to drag too much stuff with me and when we're traveling generally in the evening, we go out to eat and by then its enough time spent and we come home and watch a little TV and go to sleep, so I don't think I'd get too much done.

KB: Do you use a design wall?

HA: Yes I do.

KB: If so, in what way/how does that enhance your creative process?

HA: Oh I love it! A design wall is just simply, well mine is just simply a big piece of flannel that you hang on the wall. You just stick your blocks to it or your designs or your fabrics whatever and I have one quilt that I am working on now which consists of blocks of different sizes and its just a way to figure out different layouts, check the progress of how much I got done, see what colors go together and I've used it for years. I just love it.

KB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

HA: Little pieces. I like quilts that are colorful and fairly unique. I saw one quilt one time, I remember, it was just really striking colors. It was gorgeous. However, when I looked closely at it, I decided there were gigantic blocks and it must have been really simple to make it was very striking to look at, but it must have been probably the easiest quilt you could ever make and sometimes that bothers me because I keep thinking if I put a lot of work into a quilt I want it to really look good and sometimes they look kind of bland or ordinary or something. People can do a lot with colors that are very impressive, they are very simple, but very impressive. I'd like to see more work in some of the quilts even more quilting. I do a lot of quilting fairly close and I notice that a lot of quilters they either send their work out and have somebody else do it, or they do a minimal amount of quilting and I'd like to see more quilting in it.

KB: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

HA: I think mostly colors. I think color is the big thing. Design is of course important but colors are very important.

KB: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

HA: That would be hard for me to say. I really like traditional quilts and the last time I went to a quilt show in a museum, they were art quilts and to me they were not very appealing. I am not really interested in pictures, people make pictures with quilts. I'm not interested in photo transfer quilts. I just like the mixing of the colors and the fabrics is what appeals to me, fairly traditional designs and then some really detailed quilting. It doesn't have to be hand quilting. But just really detailed quilting is what I like and maybe the public is bored with that, but I am not. That is what I really enjoy.

KB: What makes a great quiltmaker?

HA: Gee, I don't know. You have to be pretty productive. Somebody who does it all, I think. Some people only like to do the piecing and they send all their quilts out to be quilted by somebody else and I think the great quilters do the whole thing themselves, and they learn a lot by struggling through, you know, how do you machine quilt a large quilt on your little sewing machine and stuff like that. But, [pause for 3 seconds.] they have a lot of perseverance.

KB: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

HA: [pause for 5 seconds.] I don't know that there is any one particular person. I really enjoy watching Eleanor Burns make quilts because she is so funny and she seems to pick some colors that are really appealing to me. I haven't watched her programs for quite a long time, but I learned a lot by watching her TV programs on quilting and she has a very refreshing attitude about it, makes it seem doable. Some quilters or teachers just kind of plod along and remind you that seams have to be perfect and all that kind of stuff and Eleanor always just made it fun and she'd throw the scraps over her shoulder and stuff like that.

KB: Which artists have influenced you?

HA: You mean artists outside of quilting? I can't say that I've paid much attention to any of them, really.

KB: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

HA: I really like machine quilting but I always do hand quilting. In the beginning, I thought you should do hand quilting or it wouldn't be a real quilt. However, you can't get very much done if you have to hand quilt all your quilts. I would like to do a lot more machine quilting but I make large quilts and it's hard to do it on a sewing machine and I have been thinking about getting a quilting machine, a long arm quilting machine for quite a long time. I haven't got my husband to agree to it yet. They are large, they take up a lot of space and they are fairly expensive. But, I think I would really get a lot out of it. I actually do not need to make a lot of quilts. I mean how many quilts can you live with? I just enjoy the process and I think if I had a long arm quilting machine I would do a lot of machine quilting and I would really enjoy it, but so far that's not the case.

KB: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

HA: It just gives me that sense of thrifty, making do, using scraps, using up stuff, making something productive out of something that somebody else would get rid of, having some value of the little pretty pieces of fabric, I just really like that.

KB: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

HA: Oh, I don't think they have any connection to anything. The ideas that I get now come a lot from national magazines and I'm trying to do things that are more unique. They would probably be involving using traditional patterns in different ways, I'm not very creative about it, but suppose I add different colors and mix things up a bit. I have done a couple of quilts where I created the design myself but more likely I take a design that I see in a magazine that looks really flashy and I make that, only probably using my own colors. I never end up buying the fabric so that it will end up looking exactly like the one in the picture. I always end out picking out my own colors and I always call it my color study. I'm trying to figure out what things look really appealing together. So I'm experimenting and I might look at the picture and say that shade of green and that shade of red look really striking together and then I'd go out and try to find something that is similar to that, but I never get close. It's a guessing came.

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

HA: Oh, it's just amazing to me. I went and saw the play "Quilters" a while ago and that's kind of a nice historical description of quilt making and what people did with quilts and then I get some of the same sense of the importance of them from the charity quilts that we do right now I make quilts that are lap robes for disabled vets and service men and then the other group I am doing with them, is making quilts for a firefighters group and I'm not fully aware of even what the group is about but, it's for a sort of retreat place that they use for people who fight fires and they needed quilts for the bed or they needed blankets and so we are making them quilts and I know, I mean I think about the historical importance of this kind of stuff because I always, especially when we are driving, I am thinking about how did people ever do this before there were roads. I think about people traveling in covered wagons or the Mormons pushing hand carts and all that and they had to bring everything they needed with them and I've spent some time camping and being outdoors and realizing how cold you can get and so and realizing how people had none of the comforts that we traditionally think of and they just use scraps of clothing and scraps left over from making clothing and put it together probably not very creatively, but put it together so that it was warm enough and comfortable enough and then as they got more leisure time, they were able to make things a little bit more decorative and more appealing. But, it's just that sense that quilts have always been important. You couldn't always go to the store and buy a blanket and so having a quilt was a really important thing.

KB: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

HA: Oh, it's the same kind of theme. It's the women. Making quilts was not considered a really significant event, but families would not have survived without them. People were out challenging the frontiers and moving west, [clock chimes.] checking new ways of life and all that. But, the women were the ones who did all the traditional chores, kept things going, kept the family together, kept things warm, made the food, did all this stuff and they packed in quilting as kind of a necessity, but recreation and it's sort of a creative thing that you can do, I mean you need a quilt, but you can make it look pretty, so it is sort of a creative thing you can do and they did it kind of quietly, like when the light was good enough and when the chores were done and stuff like that. I mean it's what helped families survive.

KB: How do you think quilts can be used?

HA: Oh, a lot of people use them as art work and hang them up and of course we use them as bedding. I just sort of like having them around because they are pretty. I just like to look at them.

KB: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

HA: I don't really know very much about the preservation of them. I've seen some people talk about restoration of quilts, damaged quilts and stuff like that. I think people just need to value them and take care of them, keep them clean and keep them from getting beat up. I always say this as a joke and yet I know it's true, when you are making charity quilts you never know how they are going to be used. They might let the dog sleep on them or they might put them under the car when they are changing the oil, you don't really know what the fate of this quilt is going to be. Hopefully, people will have a little more interest in them and find them valuable enough to keep. I have two quilts that I didn't make. One of them I won in a raffle and the lady who made it said it was cheaper than therapy. [laughs.] I guess she bought the fabrics. And the other one is a quilt that my husband rescued at a garage sale and I had seen it and I thought I really can't justify buying that. I have so many quilts now, why would I buy a quilt. Well he bought it. The quilt was big enough for a twin size bed and he paid $5.00 for it and it's all handmade and the people that got rid of it, I'm sure they were selling grandma's estate and they didn't give a hoot about it and they just wanted some money and so we got this great bargain. And it's a wonderful little quilt and I use it for the granddaughters when they come. They put it on their beds to sleep. And sometimes if my husband's taking a nap he'll use it. It's very pretty but they just did not see any value in it, so.

KB: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

HA: The ones that I made mostly I still have. I've given a bunch away mostly as gifts to the daughters and granddaughters. And then the charity quilts I have given away. Recently, I was on a trip to Peru and they told us a head of time that we were going to have a dinner with a local family and that we should bring them little gifts, if we were willing to and they talked about things like little post cards. I took along a quilt that I had made a long time ago. It was just a little wall hanging but it was all made by hand and I gave it to the family that had the dinner and I thought, when we go to foreign countries we look at what they do with textiles and dolls they make and little wall mats, and those kinds of things are the things that we buy as souvenirs and they don't have any idea what Americans do. I mean our culture is so plastic and throw away so much of the time and they wouldn't have any idea, I think, of what we do. So, I just took them this little quilt and I've wondered about that since then, what they think of that and it was a three generation family and they had the grandma living there and then the couple and they had two daughters. So, there were lots of women and I thought well good, they can spend time looking at it and see what they think about it and all that, so.

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

HA: Oh [pause for 3 seconds.], there is so much stuff available there is so much fabric, there is so much equipment just deciding what to do, of all the possibilities. There is just a lot of choices.

KB: Helen, is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?

HA: It's been fun. I don't get to talk to people about quilting very much except the people that like to quilt, so it's kind of interesting to talk to other people about it, so.

KB: I'd like to thank Helen Aponte for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 2:37 p.m. on January 27, 2008.


“Helen Aponte,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/50.