Rosalie Baker




Rosalie Baker


Rosalie Baker was a graphic artist for thirty-three years, and began quilting after she retired. She took a quilting class while taking adult education classes, and quickly started getting involved in a local guild. Her favorite type of quilt to make is pictorial quilts, and give lectures on them.




Christine Sparta


Rosalie Baker


Amy Henderson

Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Davenport, Iowa


Lori Miller


**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.** Amy Henderson (AH): Hello, my name is Amy Henderson. It is 2:37 p.m. Today's date is November 7, 2002, and I am conducting an interview with Rosalie Baker for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Davenport, Iowa. We're in her home. Thank you, Rosalie for having me today.

Rosalie Baker (RB): You're very welcome.

AH: Let's start of the interview with you telling me about "Bouquet of Roses," when you made it and describe it for me--techniques.

RB: "Bouquet of Roses" came about when I read about the "Rhapsody of Roses" challenge in the Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. I started the quilt, but didn't get it finished in time to put it into the exhibit at the International Quilt Association show in Houston, Texas. I had problems with it. I don't know how many times I redid the roses, because I didn't like the colors. That's probably the reason that it took so long. The one inch squares in the border took a long time and the design process took a long time. I didn't have enough time to finish the quilt.

AH: And when did you complete it?

RB: In 1998.

AH: Can you describe for me the fabric you used and the colors?

RB: The background of the center is the traditional kaleidoscope blocks. They're six inch blocks pieced in light lavender for texture in the background. The tablecloth is a solid piece of fabric, and the bottom is also the kaleidoscope blocks, but in a color to match the tablecloth. I designed on the drawing board the bouquet of roses, the single rose laying on the table, and the grapes in the bowl on the other side, to make it a still life.

AH: The roses are appliqué, or they're pieced?

RB: They're appliquéd. The background is pieced; all of the background is pieced. Then I've appliquéd all of the elements onto the pieced background. I like to combine pieced with appliqué. It gives the quilt a nice texture in the background. It's not in an all solid color then. I like doing that sort of thing.

AH: And the quilting?

RB: This is hand quilted in the center, but the one inch squares were really hard to hand quilt, so the border is machine quilted.

AH: What special meaning does this quilt have for you.

RB: I've won quite a few awards with this quilt, including Best of Show at the Iowa Quilter's Guild. It was printed in the American Quilter's Society's 2002 Art Quilt Engagement Calendar. Since my name is Rosalie, roses are kind of a signature for me.

AH: Have you done other quilts with roses, before or after this one?

RB: Yes. I have one on the wall that is called "I Dream of Roses and Life's Blessings". It was a challenge that I did for the Iowa Quilter's Guild. I like challenges, and I do quite a few quilts because of challenges.

AH: The challenge in Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, did that give anything other than roses? Were there any other specifics?

RB: It had a size limit, but I can't remember anything else right now, I know it was on roses. I did go to Houston, Texas to see the exhibit. But I wasn't able to be part of the exhibit.

AH: How do you use this quilt?

RB: I use it for lectures. I do a lot of pictorial type quilts so I have started doing lectures with my pictorial quilts, because there is an interest in them. There's not that many quilters that do pictorial quilts like I do. I really enjoy making the pictorial quilts, being a graphic artist for 33 years. I like the design process.

AH: Tell me about your graphic art background.

RB: It started in 1959 in Red Oak, Iowa. Red Oak had a calendar factory; it was called the birthplace of the custom art calendars. I started working in the art department, designing and camera ready art for printing. It was kind of on the job training. I moved to Omaha, Nebraska and I did artwork for canned food labels at Epsen Lithograph. I was there for seven years. I married, Jack and moved to Davenport, Iowa. I worked at Wagners Printers doing graphic art, designing brochures and commercial print items. I worked at an advertising agency and ended up as a production manager. I should have stayed on the drawing board, I enjoyed it more. I enjoyed doing the art production type work rather than the manager type work. My husband retired from the Rock Island Arsenal, he was home for a couple of years before I retired. I decided to quit work so we could travel together. We don't do much traveling, I decided that I didn't like to travel, I liked to stay home. Right after I retired, of course, I had to find something to do. I looked at adult education classes, and I saw a quilting class. Of course, I always liked to sew. I took a quilting class and was hooked immediately on quilting. I started quilting and I've been quilting ever since.

AH: Did you grow up in a family of quilters?

RB: No, what started me sewing was my aunt, Christina England. She worked at dry cleaners and did repairs for the dry cleaners. She had a sewing machine and took the repairs home. When I was a child, I liked to go to her house and watch her sew. She'd give me the fabric remnants that were left over and she taught me how to sew. I made doll clothes and that type of thing. After I married, she gave me fabric remnants and I made clothing for myself and my daughter. We had mother-daughter dress that was alike. I sewed a lot back then, garments mostly.

AH: What inspired you to take the quilt class, of all the adult education classes you could have taken?

RB: I was interested in sewing and I needed something to do. I liked taking adult education classes. I've taken quite a few of them and still do. I don't think you ever stop learning. Now I'm into computers, so I take computer classes. It just looked like fun to me, so I decided to quilt. Cathy Litwinow was my first teacher. She was an adult education teacher at Scott Community College. She has a lovely personality. She told me about the quilt guild, so I immediately joined the local quilt guild. I did a lot of quilting.

AH: Have you taken other classes, besides that very first one with Cathy?

RB: Oh yes. I've taken quite a few after that. The last class was at the American Quilter's Society under Carol Bryrt Fallert. Friends and I travel to the different quilt shows, and I have taken classes with national and international teachers. Our quilt guild is really good at bringing in national teachers here. I always pick up a tip or two with every class I take.

AH: And you're also teaching now?

RB: Yes.

AH: And you're teaching pictorial quilting?

RB: I've devised my own method on how to make pictorial quilts. I'm teaching what I picked up on my own, and also devised ways to make things easier for myself. Being an artist, I like to create. I find easier ways to do things. I don't always go by what the teachers tell me. I go off on my own and, 'Oh this is an easier way, I don't want to do it that way, I want to do it this way.' I learn from others, but then I create my own way of doing things.

AH: How does your art career, as a graphic designer and advertising agent, influence your quilting?

RB: Quite a bit. I love to design. I used to watercolor, and I did a lot of watercolors. But the art world doesn't like realists, realism. I didn't go that far with my watercolors. But when I started making pictorial quilts, I started to get recognition. And it was a lot more fun. It takes a lot longer to make a pictorial quilt than it did to do a watercolor because you have to find the fabric. The fabric colors aren't as easy as mixing colors with paint. But it is a lot more fun buying fabric. I have a room that was a sewing room, but now I call it my fabric library, because I had to buy so many different colors to make my pictorial quilts. That's the one big change.

AH: Why is it fun to buy fabric?

RB: I think that quilters all have this lust for fabric. You like to feel the fabric, and fondle it. Of course, it's fun to travel to different places to buy fabric. The fabrics have a lot of colors, designs, and patterns. I really like buying fabric.

AH: Tell me about your process. You say you like to design the quilts. How do you come up with ideas? Do you sketch it all out before you start with the fabric?

RB: Some of my pictorial quilts were to be watercolors. I took pictures thinking that I would do a watercolor painting later, but they ended up being a pictorial quilts instead. I was going to do a watercolor of my granddaughter making hollyhock dolls. It ended up as a quilt. It's a little girl sitting in the garden, making hollyhock dolls. I took a picture of ducks on the pond at the college campus at Ames, Iowa. I was taking a watercolor class at the college, and I was going to paint a watercolor and it ended up being a quilt called "Ladies of the Lake". It looks like a watercolor but it is done in fabric. I think in terms of watercolors, but they end up in fabric instead.

AH: It really starts with a photograph.

RB: Some with photographs, yes. I've taken pictures of my granddaughter and she ends up on the quilt.

AH: Tell me, how many hours a week do you quilt?

RB: As many as I can, not as much as I would like to. I would like to quilt all of the time. It's become a full time job for me. I've gotten into too many things lately, so I have had to buy my quilts in the background. I do the membership book for the quilt guild, because since I have been in the graphic arts business, it is easy for me to do the booklets and brochures. I have a desktop publishing program on my computer and I know how to use it. I do things for the quilt guild. I'm also part of a support group for the Davenport Museum of Art. We put on two art fairs a year. I'm torn between the art world and the quilt world.

AH: They're not one in the same?

RB: They can be at times. Right now I'm doing workshops at the Davenport Museum of Art helping with a community quilt project. I am teaching children about quilts and they are making quilt blocks using paint and markers. I'm asking the quilt guild members to volunteer to put these blocks into quilts. So yes, they intermingle.

AH: But they are distinct entities unless you cross them over.

RB: Right. I cross them over a lot.

AH: What is your first quilt memory?

RB: My family wasn't into quilts. I really didn't have any memory of quilts at all, until Cathy Litwinow introduced me to quilts. And then I had a thirst for quilts. I started doing quilts like crazy and couldn't get enough of them. At one time, the guild thought that I had joined a quilt-a-month club, because I was doing them so fast. I've slowed down quite a bit, especially with the pictorial quilts that I have been doing, they take so long to do. Some of them take over a year to do.

AH: How long did the "Bouquet of Roses" take?

RB: About a year. I document all of my time and the quilts. I have three 3-ring binders of my quilts. I write down when I started a quilt and when I finished a quilt. I also keep a daily journal so I can keep track of the time I spend on a quilt. I work on four to five quilts at the same time. I machine quilt by day and I hand quilt or hand appliqué in the evening. Whatever time I have during the day or night, I quilt. I don't like television, I don't watch much television. In fact I have a hard time just knowing how to turn a television set on.

AH: Do you listen to the radio, or music?

RB: I love music. I have a radio by my sewing machine and I listen to CDs, tapes and radio music. I love music, always have.

AH: How has quilting impacted your family?

RB: They've gotten quite a few quilts, so I keep them warm. My granddaughter, I think, might become a quilter. I hope so; I've been trying to get someone in my family to quilt. I haven't been able to yet. I'm working on my great-granddaughter now. My daughter, 'NO!' I'm in the process of giving all my family quilts because I have so many of them now that I don't have room for them. Some of my earlier quilts I've given away to family. They like them.

AH: Do you make a variety of different kinds of quilts, of the ones you give away? Or are they all pictorial, or wall hangings, or for the bed?

RB: The quilts that I give away are mostly traditional quilts. I do difficult quilts that take a long time, and I have problems with them, and sometimes I redo them. My husband calls me the 'queen of R & R' which is rip and repair. If I don't like a color, I take it out and replace it. In between my pictorial quilts which are really difficult to do, I like to do the traditional quilts, which are soothing to me. I can sit down at my sewing machine and sew and listen to music. And that is the type of quilts that I give to my family.

AH: You said you have four or five quilts going at the same time? One pictorial and four traditional?

RB: Yes, I have a quilt that I'm doing at workshops at the Davenport Museum of Art. It's a Christmas quilt, and it's a simple design, but it is for demonstrating for the children to show them how quilts are put together. I'm doing a quilt for my great-granddaughter. I give them each a frog quilt. The quilts all have different color settings, so she will be getting one for Christmas. I'm in the process of getting ready to pin and quilt it. I have another quilt that I am hand piecing. I take it places, such as, National Quilt Day. I take it with me when I visit relatives, because I need something to keep busy. I have a pictorial quilt that I am working on and that I would really like to see finished. It's of my father. I like to do figures in my quilts. This quilt is called "Fisherman Jim". My father was a fisherman and I have him holding two large catfish. He is hand appliquéd in one piece and will be hand appliquéd to the pieced background like most of my quilts. I have another pictorial quilt designed, ready to enlarge. I buy rolls of tracing paper that are 24 inches wide by 50 yards long, so I can roll it out. I like to do my first design small, and work on it until I like it, then I enlarge it 3 to 4 times. I found out that it needs to be over 40 inches or it can't be entered into the American Quilter's Society's quilt show because that's their minimum size for quilts. So that's a minimum size for me also, if I want to get it into the show.

AH: Do you find that these different quilt projects that you have going on simultaneously, fulfill different needs in you?

RB: Yes. I like to design and I like to sew. Beneath it, I feel I have to be doing something all the time.

If I'm waiting for someone or something, I can always sew for ten or fifteen minutes. If I had a long day, I can design and sew, hopefully without someone disturbing me. It's relaxing to me.

AH: Have you ever used quilting to help you through a difficult time in your life?

RB: Yes, the quilt called "Goodbye my Butterflies". I had two sisters that passed away within a year of each other. And since butterflies are a symbol of resurrection I designed that quilt. It's kind of a healing process, and it's called "Goodbye my Butterflies".

AH: What about the central figure, the girl.

RB: That's just an innocent girl that's looking up and watching her butterflies fly away. It also reminds me of my grandchildren, and the ones that I am going to leave behind.

AH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

RB: I like the subject matter, color, and design. That's what I like in a quilt.

AH: What makes it artistically powerful?

RB: The same type--the elements. Design and color.

AH: Anything particular about color or design?

RB: No. I like all colors, and try all colors. I'm not hung up on one color or another. I like quite a variety.

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

RB: Probably the same type of things, the design elements and the visual impact. I think that that's probably the most important part, the visual impact, because if you see a quilt and all of a sudden it's a 'Wow!' I think that is museum quality.

AH: How can you tell that 'Wow!'?

RB: I think everyone sees it differently and that's why there are so many different quilts in a museum. Everyone has their own 'Wow!' in them and it's different with other people. It's a matter of opinion. It's the same as artwork in a museum, all the art is different.

AH: What makes a great quilter?

RB: Enthusiasm, I think, and the love of doing it.

AH: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

RB: Pinning, or the layering of the quilt. I think that I would like to do away with that process. I love designing, I love doing them and I don't mind quilting them. It's the pinning process, the layering process, that I like the least.

AH: Why is that?

RB: I just think it is labor intensive and it's not fun.

AH: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? Especially how to design a pattern, or choose fabrics and colors?

RB: I think it's an inner thing; they have a feeling of what they want. I know I do. I think they know what they like, and the colors they like. That's why you see so many different quilts and people working with different colors. I think it just comes from the inside.

AH: Why is quilting important to your life?

RB: Quilting keeps me occupied, keeps me busy, and keeps me happy. You have a project and you have a product when you're finished. It is something to leave to your family.

AH: Do you feel your quilts reflect your community or region in any way?

RB: Yes, I gave a quilt to my husband for a 25th anniversary present that has a picture of a house that he was raised in. He calls it his homestead. His family still lives there, so it's an important part of his life, so it's a family quilt.

AH: It's a pictorial?

RB: It's a pictorial quilt of the house.

AH: Anything particular about Iowa in your quilts?

RB: I did a quilt called "Vignette of Iowa" for Iowa's sesquicentennial. It depicts a farm in Iowa with a woman feeding chickens. It has the goldfinch, wild rose and it has Iowa star blocks for a border. Yes, I have done quite a few Iowa quilts. I also have a civil war quilt, with soldiers in the center. The Gettysburg Address is quilted in the background of that quilt.

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

RB: I think it is history. In my case, I think it is art. It also keeps the family warm. It is also something that can be left behind, inherited, a legacy.

AH: Why is that important?

RB: I think it is important for someone to leave something, it's a memory that you at least existed in the world.

AH: What do you want your family and friends to remember about you and is that communicated into these quilts?

RB: I'd like to think that I put a little color in their life, and handed down some things that they might enjoy and their children to use.

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

RB: The men have so much history in books; the women have very little history in books. I think that women leave behind warm memories and the quilts are some of the warm things that the family remembers. Not necessarily deeds that are done, but the reflections of home.

AH: How do quilts tell stories?

RB: My quilts tell quite a few stories just by the appearance of the quilt, because they are mostly pictorial quilts. You can look at my quilts and it tells a story.

AH: And what story does the "Bouquet of Roses" tell?

RB: It tells me that when I hang this quilt on the wall, I will have a bouquet of roses that will last a long time. If my husband gave me a real bouquet of roses, they will wilt and go away. My "Bouquet of Roses" is kind of like an everlasting bouquet.

AH: Do you have any advice to future readers of this interview? Quilting tips or advice about quiltmaking?

RB: I just wish that everyone could enjoy quilting as much as I do.

AH: Is there anything I haven't asked you today that you think I should have asked you?

RB: No, I can't think of anything.

AH: With that, I'd like to thank Rosalie Baker for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, in Davenport, Iowa. Our interview concluded at 3:10 p.m. on November 7, 2002. Thank you.


“Rosalie Baker,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 23, 2024,