Evelyn Barber




Evelyn Barber


Evelyn Barber began quilting in 1979 when she was 43 years old. She knew how to sew, but did not get into quilting until she took a class taught by Blanche Young at the Vermont Quilt Festival. She now teaches quilting in the studio Barber's husband made for her in their barn.




Christine Sparta


Evelyn Barber


Nola Forbes

Interview Date



Newport, Vermont


Edna Curtin


**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.** Please note: Evelyn is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is June 29, 2009 at 2:16 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Evelyn Barber in Newport, Vermont for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Vermont State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Evelyn is a quilter. Evelyn, tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Evelyn Barber (EB): That was a quilt that I made back in 1999, although I had bought the fabric probably about 1991 or 2. Because I wanted to make the Pineapple quilt, I did not want to do foundation piecing. Then I finally found--well a friend gave me a book on one that was not foundation pieced. It was traditional piecing and wanted me to teach her how to do it so this gave me a good opportunity and a good reason to get it done.

NF: What special meaning does this quilt have for you? [both speak at the same time.] Beyond that?

EB: Well, I made it for our guest room, and the pineapple was the old New England form of welcome. I found out the reason it was. When the sea captains would come back from a voyage, they would bring pineapples with them. After they got, as they said, 'reacquainted with their wives,' they would put one of the pineapples on the post which let the villagers know that they were now welcome to visit.

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

EB: Well, they might mistakenly think I was very organized. [laughs.]

NF: So how do you use this quilt now?

EB: It is used on our guest room bed.

NF: Do you have any other plans for this quilt in it's future?

EB: Well, hopefully it will hold together and some of our relatives will inherit it.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. At what age did you start quiltmaking?

EB: I started in 1979, which would have made me [pause for 3 seconds.] 43. I had done a lot of sewing and my mother did sewing but she did not do quilts. I don't know what it is about it but I made a quilt as a baby gift and just got stung by the bug and have been at it ever since.

NF: What was the pattern for that quilt?

EB: It was a Holly Hobbie, machine appliqué, which I really didn't know how to do, but it held together. It was for the new baby of my boss.

NF: From whom did you learn to quilt?

EB: I think mostly from the involvement in the quilt guild. And also my first class was at the Vermont Quilt Festival with Blanche Young. [then in Northfield, Vermont.] Before that I had done some quilting, but it wasn't 'til then and especially with the guild that I really learned what quilts were and how to go about making them.

NF: How many hours a week do you quilt?

EB: Oh, on average probably ten or twelve. Unless I'm really into a project then it would be more than that but I'd say average ten to twelve.

NF: What was your first quilt memory? A quilt you may have seen as a child, or--

EB: I don't remember seeing quilts as a child. I think it was at the State Fair when I was in High School when they had the exhibits in the homemaking barn that I first really saw a quilt to notice them.

NF: Which state was that?

EB: Vermont. At the Rutland State Fair in Rutland.

NF: Are there other quiltmakers among your family, or friends?

EB: I have two sisters who make quilts. One of them used to sew for Pat Benard, in Rutland, for the shop. And the other sister has done it mostly for friends and relatives. I don't believe she's sold any of them. And, of course, I have many friends now who quilt through the two quilt guilds, well actually three quilt guilds I belong to.

NF: And what are those?

EB: Oxbee Quilters, Northern Lights Quilters and, of course, the Green Mountain, the State Guild.

NF: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

EB: [laughs.] Well, I have a granddaughter who is getting very interested. Has already had two quilts at the Vermont Quilt Festival, [Essex Junction, Vermont.] and has taken two classes with me at the Festival.

NF: Do I understand you had a building project at home that resulted from your love of quiltmaking?

EB: Oh, yes. Back in, I believe it's in '97 or '98 my husband took part of our barn and made me a 20 [foot.] by 20 foot studio. So I can just go out there and sew. Also, I can teach eight people comfortably. So now I can teach at home and let others do the traveling, I don't have to.

NF: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

EB: No, I haven't. Usually for me it's reading that will get me through it. Like when I went through the chemo, I just did not have the desire to quilt, but I did a lot of reading, then.

NF: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking or quilt teaching.

EB: Well, can't think of any while I was teaching, but I went into a quilt store or fabric store to buy four fat quarters for a project. No, I guess it was to exchange in our guild, and got in there and saw fabric for a quilt for my daughter, and so ended up buying a hundred and five dollars worth of fabric [laughs.] instead of the eight dollars I would have had to spend for the four fat quarters.

NF: Did you end up getting those fat quarters as well?

EB: Oh, yes. [laughs.] They were part of the $105. [laughs.]

NF: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

EB: Well, I think working with colors, and fabrics. Also, just the feeling of accomplishment and the relaxation of it.

NF: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

EB: Marking the quilt to get it ready for hand quilting. Even though there is the machine quilting, my first love still is hand quilting.

NF: What do you use for a source of those patterns?

EB: Quite often stencils or pictures or pick up something from the fabric that I want to incorporate in the quilt pattern, and do my own patterns.

NF: Was your Pineapple quilt hand quilted [both speak at the same time.] or machine quilted?

EB: No, that was machine quilted because I didn't want to worry about it on the guestroom bed. At the time we had little grandchildren and so this way I didn't have to worry about it if they wanted to go up and jump on it, I wasn't going to be all upset about it.

NF: Would you talk more about each of the quilt groups that you belong to? Could we start with the Oxbee Quilters? [both speak at the same time.] And where they're located?

EB: Well, we say it's in Bradford, Vermont, but now we no longer meet in Bradford. I don't believe we have anybody in our guild from Bradford anymore. But it was started on February 1, 1989. Myself and Ann Morrill, who is no longer a part of the group, were the two co-founders of it so we have been in existence twenty years. Have about twenty five members. Some of them say, 'Well wouldn't it be nice to grow.' I mean I like the big groups, but you just get to know people much more in the small group. I think it's a more easily manageable one, so I really like the small group.

NF: And where do you meet?

EB: We meet at the New Hope Methodist Church in Waits River, which is right on Route 25. And the Northern Lights is a big group. That's about 150 members. They meet in Lebanon, at the, I believe it's the Methodist Church on School Street. [Lebanon, New Hampshire.] And I have been President of both guilds and also the state guild, but I think now I have belonged to the Northern Lights about eight to ten years. I like them because they're a very giving group. They do a lot of we call it Community Service quilts. Just a really nice group of women, very talented. So I was very honored when they made me one of their quote “featured” quilters this year. As I say, it's a big group, very talented.

NF: Congratulations!

EB: Well thank you.

NF: What about the Green Mountain Quilters Guild at the state level for Vermont?

EB: Well, I had heard about that before I moved up. And I remember talking with Alice, well at the time it was McClaughry, now it's Alice Roberts, and asked her if you could join even though you're out of state. She said, 'Yes.' I had a chance to join before I had a chance to attend any of the meetings so I got used to people's names and what they did. It's just fun to get together twice a year, to see all your old friends. It is like Old Home Day. Had excellent speakers, good programs, and a lot of fun with the Chinese auctions. They were a very easy group to be President of, because all of the officers I had took their job seriously. I can't say that I made any drastic changes. I didn't think any were needed so I joined in 1986.

NF: [both speak at the same time.] So I believe that was the start of your presidential service.

EB: Because I remember the first meeting I came to I was by myself and I sat with Lorene Liberty's mom.

NF: Merial. [Merial Liberty.]

EB: Merial, right. She was just so friendly, just made me feel welcome. So she was a special lady anyway, but that made it extra special to me.

NF: Do you remember any particular quilt that you saw that day that made an impression? [both speak at the same time.] Or was it the people?

EB: No, I think it was the people. And being back in--because I was born and raised in Vermont, so this was coming home.

NF: Then you evolved into getting very active with the Vermont Quilt Festival?

EB: Yes. I believe it was in 1991 Richard [Cleveland.] called me to see if I would take over for Sarah-- [pause for 10 seconds.]

NF: Knight?

EB: Sarah Knight had resigned so he called and asked if I would be interested in doing the job as Volunteer Coordinator. I said I would try it for that time and see what happened and he said, 'Sarah will be here to see you through it.' Well then, what he didn't know and Sarah didn't know was people were going on vacation at work, so I was kind of thrown in. Betty Tisdale couldn't be there that week because people were on vacation from the bank so I got a baptism by fire, [laughs.] but I went back. I believe I was the Coordinator for nine years. Of course, with that, I was there from Sunday to Sunday helping with the last minute things, as you well know, but I liked it. You know, got to meet the people, the volunteers, the vendors, the teachers. So it was great experience. I really love the Vermont Quilt Festival. Yes, why don't you pick that up, please?

NF: So, did that help influence some of the types of classes that you have taught over the years?

EB: Yes. Because I got permission from Blanche Young to teach her method for the Lone Stars, which she then changed, because it wasn't really strip piecing at first. I think just being exposed to the teachers and well, I found out back when we lived in Massachusetts before we moved up. Two friends owned a fabric store down there and asked me if I would show strip piecing. I had never taught and don't have a degree in teaching. I went in and liked it and people seemed to like me. So it just kind of snowballed from there. So most of my teaching has been done, well at that point, was in shops. And then at the Continuing Education or Adult Ed at the Oxbow High School when I first moved up, and now as I say, in my studio at home.

NF: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

EB: Oh, yes. [laughs.] With the rotary cutter it's been great because I love Seminole Patchwork. I would never do that without the Olfa cutter. I think they were just really coming in about 1982, '83, about when I got started. So that has really changed the way, well just the fact that you can cut so much faster. Then get on to the good stuff. The piecing and the quilting.

NF: Do you use the computer at all with your--

EB: Yes.

NF: Your quilt designs?

EB: Yes. I have Electric Quilt 5. Well I like it because I don't think I have actually designed a quilt, the whole quilt, but I'll see a pattern, just a block and wonder, 'What will this look like in a quilt?' Then I can do it on paper and run it off and say, 'Yes, I want to do that,' or 'No, I don't want to bother spending the time or the material to do it.' So I do use it in a limited way.

NF: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

EB: I'd have to say my favorite technique, and I'm getting known as a queen of the Stack 'n Whack, the method that Bethany Reynolds developed. I love that because you never know when you're cutting out your fabrics what your quilt is going to look like. Because of course you stack it into your--well it's like, fabric's like wallpaper, it has a repeat. And then you cut into strips, into squares, and triangles or diamonds and all of a sudden magical things happen you have no control over. Probably if you did, you couldn't do it any better than what the fabric does for you. Of course my favorite fabrics are the cottons.

NF: What about other materials in your quilts?

EB: I think basically I have stuck to cottons, except for the battings. And, you know, that's changed with time, with what I really like for the battings. With those there's been such an explosion of new battings in the time I've been quilting.

NF: You have a preference?

EB: There's one by Hobbes, I think it's their 80-20 that I like. It's got a nice feel to it. It's not a high loft but it's not really thin, but it just gives a nice feeling to the quilts. A softness to them.

NF: Describe your studio. That place where you create.

EB: [laughs.] Well, I know where everything is, but nobody else would. It's 20 [feet.] by 20 [feet.]. The person who helped my husband build it said, 'Well, if you're going to be teaching classes.' He had to put in almost like little dormer windows into the roof of the barn for the light. And he said, 'We'll put a work station under each of those.' Then they put lights over it and I insisted that we have lots of plugs because of working at the [Vermont.] Quilt Festival and reading the evaluations, I know that one thing people wanted was light. They didn't want to trip over cords and they wanted the plugs handy. The one the electrician and my husband could not figure out I wanted the electrical plug in the middle of the floor for my ironing table. The first time I had a class I noticed my husband would come in, stand in the doorway, not say anything, leave and come back. It finally dawned on me that he was looking to see if I really used that plug in the floor [laughs.] which we did.

NF: Tell me how you balance your time.

EB: Oh! Well luckily I have a husband who's very understanding, so if I get up in the studio and get to going, especially with a Stack 'n Whack quilt and I don't come down when I said, it's because I've just gotten very involved. But I do volunteer at our library at home one afternoon a week and I'm on the board for our local health center so I do my volunteering, my community service work. It kind of evolved that a lot of my quilt friends are also in the auxiliary with me so we're just a little clique. We do all these things together, enjoy what we're doing and each other.

NF: Do you use a design wall as part of your creative process?

EB: Yes, I do. Yes. I just find you can't always picture what it's going to look like even though you've got all the components for your quilt, so it's just much easier and having it so you're looking at it all at the same perspective, not having it on a bed where the stuff up near the pillow is farther away. So I do use it.

NF: Some of your quilts have been perhaps in publications?

EB: Yes. The quilt that I entered in the Vermont Quilt Festival in 2005 which got the Governor's Award which I was very thrilled with that, because that had been my ambition to get that award. Then about a week afterwards, I got a letter from Quilter's Newsletter Magazine asking if I could send it to be photographed.

NF: What is the title of that quilt?

EB: That is [pause for 5 seconds.] Lone Star with Whig Rose but I think I called it “Whig Rose Star.” In red, white and blue. It was going to be a raffle quilt, a money raiser for one of our grandson's class trips. Then we did raffle it off. It took in about $1,700 for them. The woman who won it, let me keep it. In return, I made her a Giant Dahlia quilt, which she loves, in her colors because she said, 'Anything,' but I wanted to do something she wanted. So it was a nice exchange.

NF: What qualified the quilt for the Governor's Award at Vermont Quilt Festival?

EB: I have to laugh, because I said something about 'Last year, neither the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor could make it,' and they said, 'Then how can he pick out his quilt?' And of course the Governor does not pick out the quilt, it's the quilt that earns the highest points that's made by a Vermont quilter.

NF: Thank you.

EB: It must have been close that year, because I noticed that when they averaged it out they took it out to about four decimal places. [laughs.] So it must have been a close race, and I saw all the people who usually win the Governor's Award did have quilts in that year. I think there were thirty-five of us, so I felt I had done a good job.

NF: You did. So what do you think makes a great quilt?

EB: To me a traditional design well done is more powerful than some of these in quotes “art quilts.” I'm still a traditionalist and I just like that because that's where quilting started. I kind of like caring for that tradition.

NF: What else makes a quilt artistically powerful to you?

EB: The colors. The use of colors, and design but basically the first thing that catches my eye is color.

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

EB: Well, that's one that--well like Barbara Barber would do, or Paula Nadlestern, where everything is so precise, so well executed, and hangs so straight. [laughs.]

NF: And then, what makes a great quiltmaker?

EB: To me it's not only the quality of their work, but how they interact with people. Also to teach their methods in a way that you can understand and maybe not duplicate, but get close to.

NF: Whose works are you drawn to? And why?

EB: Paula Nadlestern because of her color sense and her designs are fantastic.

NF: Which other artists have influenced you?

EB: Blanche Young, for one. I love her Blooming Nine Patch design. Of course, the first one I did which was one of my favorites is the Lone Star. I've always loved that one.

NF: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting? And include discussion about longarm quilting.

EB: Well, I first started seeing machine quilted quilts--the first one I remember seeing was one by, now I can't remember her name. It was a Vermont quilter and she had one in the show this past year, the one who does the fish.

NF: Sue Damone Balch?

EB: Yes. She had one that looked like a Navajo rug. She had used a domestic machine and quilted it. You could not see where her stitches ended and began. And that's when I decided yes, they should be judged at shows, using the same criteria you do with hand quilting because I have tried it, and it is not easy. But I really still, for myself, like the hand quilting. Maybe you don't have stitches as close as machine quilters do but I guess, I don't know, to me that's the tradition and just it gives it that real quilt look to me. I'm amazed at the intricate work they can do with the longarm machines. The little design that they call the pebbles or bubbles. I mean, it is just amazing.

NF: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

EB: I think because it just gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Being able to share something I love with others. Through my teaching I have got a lot of people started who have taken their first class with me and then have gone on and done great work. So it's just the whole thing is just very satisfying just from, I don't know if artistic standpoint, but just the creative standpoint.

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

EB: Hm. That's a good question. I think again it might be the patterns that might be, well I know that I don't think any one pattern belongs to any region, but they all have different names for them. But I think maybe the colorings that are used. As I understand from listening to teachers that come, they buy fabric at just about every show because depending on the part of the country, the colorings of it. So I think maybe I'm influenced by the colors of Vermont in my quilts.

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

EB: I think it's, well, the sharing of quilts through all the guilds that have different projects going on. And it just makes people feel special when they get something that's made by someone they have never met, but they cared enough to make it for them.

NF: Some of the charity quilts?

EB: The charity quilts. The ones we are making for the homeless Veteran's homes. That I believe there's going to be six of them in the state. Just carrying on an old tradition.

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

EB: [pause for 5 seconds.] Well, I think it showed men that women--I mean, if you look at the quilts, all the geometry that should go into it. That many of the women who did these quilts did not have the education but they were able to figure out how to do those designs. I think it maybe gave men an appreciation to the women that, yes, they could do something without the men having to tell them how to do it, kind of gave them a sense of independence.

NF: How do you think quilts can be used?

EB: Oh, they can be used on beds. They can be used to comfort someone like my guild made me a quilt when I was going through chemo. It was just nice to have that to know they were thinking of me during that time. You know, to give to babies or back when they had all the upheaval in Kosovo, I know we sent many quilts from the United States. Some of them weren't used as quilts, they were used as partitions for the camps that they were sleeping in, it was the only privacy they had.

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

EB: Oh, I think people are getting more and more aware of how to take care of quilts, how to launder them. Of course, like the Shelburne Museum [Shelburne, Vermont.], the New England Quilters' Museum [New England Quilt Museum, Lowell, Massachusetts.], the American Quilter's Society Museum [Paducha, Kentucky.], with all of their preservation with climate controls, but basically when I make a quilt I'm not sure that I care if it lasts a hundred years. Because so many of the baby quilts I've made, and I think someone knows who I'm talking about, they got put on the wall because they said they were too good for the child to use. My response always has been, 'Well, let 'em use it and wear it out, I'll make them another one.'

NF: So do you think Kelsey [Abramson, Evelyn's granddaughter.] got to use her quilt at all?

EB: There's one I don't think she did. But the next two that I made her, she did.

NF: Good. What has happened to some of the other quilts you've made for friends or family?

EB: Well, unfortunately, sometimes when there was a divorce, the person that I really didn't care to give the quilt to got the quilt. But I think most of them have been used as quilts and hopefully they have worn out and they may be giving me a call to say they need another quilt.

NF: Do you have any other projects in mind right now or works in progress that you could talk about?

EB: Well, my granddaughter and I took a class at the Vermont Quilt Festival and we got a kit that was all cut out and so I'm finishing that up. That was a class with Charlotte Angotti. Then a project I'm quite involved with is the quilts for the Veterans' homes because the one in Northfield will open, I believe the end of this month, was what they were thinking. The official dedication will be in November 11, Armistice Day.

NF: That's the Veterans' Place, [both speak at the same time.] the organization overseeing that?

EB: Yes, that particular one, but then there are, I believe, six others in the state, not as big. That will have 26 beds but in all there will be eighty-eight beds. So the Oxbee Guild has spearheaded the drive to get 88 quilts so every veteran will have a quilt, a handmade quilt on his bed.

NF: [both speak at the same time.] That will be for them to keep when they transition?

EB: No, they will stay in the home. I was hoping that they would be able to take them, but it would be just an awful lot of work to just keep making quilts as they leave, because hopefully they will be able to leave, and have homes. I'm going to do two work days at the Countryside Quilting. [shop in Newport, Vermont.] We're going to make quilts for the Veterans' home.

NF: What patterns will those be?

EB: I'm going to give them four easy patterns, like Rail Fence, and there's one that's, I forget what they call it, but I've always called it Friendship Star. Then it has four Rail Fence blocks in between and they have another name for it. I haven't quite decided which other two or they can do any quilt they want. It's really not a chance to teach them anything, just a chance for us to get together and get them done.

NF: Will those be quilted, or tied?

EB: We're hoping to have them quilted, because they will be going through commercial laundries.

NF: So, machine quilted?

EB: So machine quilted, yeah. We're hoping that longarm quilters will come forth and volunteer. As long as they can't make a quilt but maybe they would volunteer to quilt one for us.

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

EB: Deciding which fabrics to use because every time you pick up a magazine they have a new line of fabric out. Also the price because the prices have gone up so, and in our economy well I think it's going to be hard for people to make all the quilts they would like to just because of the cost. [both speak at the same time.] So fabrics and the quilting.

NF: So, is your fabric stash diminishing?

EB: [laughs.] No, I probably could make a quilt that would fit the whole State of Vermont. [laughs.] Because I always wait 'til it's on sale. Then I feel so virtuous that I've waited.

NF: Evelyn, is there anything else that you'd like to add to this interview?

EB: No, I think it's covered everything I can think of. Just very happy that I was made a part of the project.

NF: I'd like to thank Evelyn Barber for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview has taken place at her summer home at the beautiful edge of Lake Memphremagog. [Newport, Vermont.] We concluded the interview at 2:52 p.m. on June 29t, 2009.

[interview concludes.]


“Evelyn Barber,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/53.