Colene Adkins




Colene Adkins


Colene Adkins had learned how to quilt later in her life and was only a quilter for about year and a half by the time this interview was conducted. Despite her mother and grandmother being quilters she learned how to quilt at the library. Her favorite quilting technique is Chicken Scratch, and views quilting as therapeutic. Adkins also believes that quilts are an important part of our history, and hopes quilting culture will continue on in the future.




Christine Sparta


Colene Adkins


Ronda Coleman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Elkhorn City, Kentucky


Ronda Coleman


**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.** Ronda Coleman (RC): This is an interview for the Alliance for American Quilts' Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, identification number KY41522-014. Colene Adkins is the interviewee and Ronda Coleman is the interviewer and transcriber. The place of interview is Elkhorn Public Library at Elkhorn City, Kentucky. The date is March [should be April.] third, 2008. The time is 11:35 [a.m.] Thank you Mrs. Colene for allowing me to interview you today. Would you tell me a little bit about the quilt that you brought in for the interview?
Colene Adkins (CA): Well, it's a basket, I guess, is all that I know to say that it is. And it was very complicated.
RC: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?
CA: I don't know if it has a special meaning. I just know when I started doing it, it was very complicated and I thought once I would just throw it away. But I decided no, this is not going to beat me. I'm going to keep doing it.
RC: Good for you.
CA: So, I guess I'm proud that I did finish it. [laughs.] I'm proud of myself.
RC: It's a very pretty quilt. What do you think someone viewing this quilt might think about you?
CA: Well, I guess they would look at my quilt and say, 'Well she probably ain't good at making straight stitches but she does her best.' [laughs.]
RC: How do you use the quilt?
CA: As a spread. Put it on the bed and I'm going to use it as a bedspread. And I use it on a twin size, I mean a full size bed and it just about fits without a skirt.
RC: What are your plans for the future for this quilt?
CA: I set out when I started doing this to make one for each one of my kids. Well, I've got four children so if I don't get tired of making them. I'm going to keep this one myself cause I've got two more already made and in the process of getting one more made so hopefully by December of 2008 I'll have four quilts made. [laughs.]
RC: Well, you have a plan. That's always good to have a plan. Tell me a little bit about your interest in quiltmaking.
CA: I never did like to sew but I really really like doing this. My sister is the sewer. She can sit down and make anything. But I never did, when I start doing anything I want to get it done. I didn't want to set it down. But, I guess I've learned to be able just to set it down and walk off and then come back to it. But really, in my favorite things to do, this would be one of my favorite things to do anymore. I really enjoy doing it and I like doing it.
RC: So your favorite technique in quilting would be chicken scratch, then?
CA: Yes.
RC: Do you mind if I ask you at what age you started quiltmaking?
CA: [laughs.] No. I've only been doing this for about a year and a half so I guess I was sixty five because I'll be sixty seven in October so [laughs.] I was sixty five. So I haven't been doing this very long.
RC: [laughs.] From whom did you learn to quilt?
CA: Here at the library. The girls here at the library showed me how. Eloise was the one that convinced me, I guess. We were giving out hope over at our church. My daughter does cross stitching by count so I told her that I probably needed to learn to do something because it was getting winter time so she said, 'Come on over to the library and we'll learn you how to do that.' So I came to the library and I learned how to Chicken Scratch.
RC: About how many hours a week do you think you get to quilt?
CA: No more than twenty, I guess.
RC: What's your first quilt memory?
CA: [3 second pause] Well, [2 second pause] I guess when I did that tacked quilt that time, would be my first of the one's that I've done. My mother used to quilt and my grandmother used to quilt and I've got one that my grandmother quilted. She didn't quilt it. I had the top and I took it and had it quilted, of my grandmother's. But other than that, used to I didn't like quilts but now I just love them.
RC: So you do have some of your mother and grandmother's quilts?
CA: Yeah. They're just about worn out. I shouldn't have never used them, I guess but I think they're made to use and I think they would want me to use them so--
RC: We did--didn't used them because that's why they were made.
CA: Yeah. And I had those tacked quilts that I did. Those were from my husband's aunt. She had done the tops and at her death her daughter in law gave me a whole lot of the quilt tops that she had made.
RC: Nice.
CA: She was in her nineties when she died. She's been dead for four or five years so they were really old. She did it the hard way back then. Then I gave them to my kids, some of them. Each one, one of them.
RC: Did you keep any of those?
CA: No. I've got one quilt top left that I haven't done anything with so I haven't decided what I'm going to do with that one.
RC: Are there other quiltmakers in your family?
CA: No, other than my mother and my grandmother who used to quilt and they're both dead. My sister don't like to quilt but she likes to make curtains and everything else [laughs] I've got a pattern that my grandmother made. I've got one little block of it. I brought it out here to ask if they knew what pattern that was. And she had made it out of feed sacks, back when they started getting feed sacks in colors. She had made it out of different colors of feed sacks.
RC: Yeah, that's special.
CA: My sister's got the whole quilt top, where she had set it up, it all wore out. She took it all apart, really I guess she should have left it together but a person could take it and set it up and make another quilt. But I say it's just amazing. I've got a--well it's over there in that bag, a little square of it. Them little ole pieces that she had sewn together to make this square were just little ole tiny things. It would take you forever to sew them on that.
RC: She probably used whatever fabric she had available.
CA: Yeah, and back then, I guess they couldn't afford to go to the store and buy material
like we do now. It's really neat.
RC: That's true. What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?
CA: Well, it relaxes me. And if I get upset, I can sit down and it eases my feelings, I guess if I'm really upset about certain things or got certain things on my mind, it helps erase that away from my mind. It helps to relax me.
RC: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?
CA: [pause.] Well, my father just died back in February so, yeah, because every day or every other day it was a trip to the nursing home. It was really hard when I came home and I would just pick up a little ole quilt thing and that would help me to forget just for a little while and that was good.
RC: [pause.] What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?
CA: I don't know if there would be any that I didn't enjoy because I've only done the Chicken Scratch [laughs.] so I don't know if I would enjoy them other kind or not.
RC: Do you sew the blocks together yourself?
CA: I set it up and then I've been bringing it out here and Roberta's been quilting it. But the first one that I did, oh no, they had to take it all apart and it was so crooked.
RC: But you learned from that.
CA: I said I was going to learn to do that, which I have. Mine are not the straightest in the world but it's okay.
RC: How do you balance your time?
CA: If I've got something to do like do laundry or do cleaning, the quilting has to go for that time period. [laughs.] Of course there's no one there but me and my husband so I don't have to do a lot of extra cleaning. I have to have something to do with my hands. I'm not the type to sit and watch TV. If I can't quilt, I've got to read or do a crossword puzzle or something other like that. I've got to be continuously doing something.
RC: So, how does your husband feel about your new occupation?
CA: Oh he seems to like it. He even marks them for me. He even helps cut it. I said he's got just about as much to do with it as I have. He marked every one of them and the one I'm doing now he marks it.
RC: That's a big help.
CA: Cause, I'm going to have to learn how to mark it too because one of these days he might be gone and I'll need a little block marked [laughs.] and I won't have it. We've got a place in Tennessee, if he decides to go to Tennessee and I don't go and if I've just about got one done I'll say here mark me another before you leave. [laughs.]
RC: Very good. When you were doing the tacking of the quilts before with the tops that you got from your mother wasn't it?
CA: My aunt by marriage.
RC: Okay, from your aunt. When you were doing the tacking, how did you attach the layers of that quilt to prepare it to quilt?
CA: I took and I laid it on my bed. I took pins and pinned it together.
RC: How did you do the binding?
CA: Well, I cut it off where it would not have very much left and I folded it over and hemmed it. I guess you call it hemming it. I folded it over and sewed it.
RC: How do you decide the quilting design or where you were going to put the tacks, [pause.] the tieing?
CA: Oh, well, I don't really think I thought of that. I went down through a line and I guess I was just making sure that if I didn't put enough in there that it might come apart so I just made sure I got enough in there. I guess in each block that was there you know where she'd made each block I made sure I had a tie in each one of them little blocks cause them was small blocks. They wasn't like ours in Chicken Scratch.
RC: What do you think makes a great quilt?
CA: Well, I guess it would be great to us and not great to you. I guess it's the time and the effort put into making the quilt that would make the great quilt. Just like that lady over there a while ago somebody said her material was ugly. To her it's beautiful. It all depends on what that quilt means to us whether it's great or not, I think.
RC: What makes a great quiltmaker?
CA: Well when I think, probably of a great quiltmaker I guess you would think of a person who could sew really, really good or a person who puts a whole lot more time in it. I don't know. Just to be able to do all the steps for a quilt would make a great quiltmaker and there's more than just one step to making a quilt. They're quite a few of them so I guess that would make a great quiltmaker to do all the steps there are.
RC: What do you think would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?
CA: When I think about anything in a museum, I think of something that's old I guess, and maybe it needs to be something that's old, [inaudible.] not necessarily. Maybe a quilt that they aren't as many of them. Maybe it's a new one style out. That could be probably good in a museum.
RC: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?
CA: I guess the color that we've used and the design that we use would be artistic.
RC: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?
CA: I feel like if you do it on a machine, I think it would make it stronger and make it stay in longer. But hand quilting I guess is more valuable because you put more time into that quilt so that would make people think it was more valuable. But I think machine to me would do, I think it would last longer, the threads would.
RC: Is quiltmaking important to your life?
CA: Oh sure and I hope it's always around.
RC: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?
CA: I think it's a great thing that's been handed down from all these years and when I think back that that's the only way they could stay warm, is for their families to make a quilt. They used to be so thick but they didn't have no heat like we do. So I think it was very important.
RC: How do you think quilts can be used?
CA: I guess by showing people our different quilts from different cultures, from different generations that would be a way to let people know how they were used. I'm sure the way they were used, say, twenty years ago is different than what we used quilts for now. Then they only kept them for warmth. We use them now, well we hang them on walls, we use them as I said I was going to do to this, as a spread. And I think that would be really educational you know to know how someone used a quilt thirty years ago.
RC: How do you think they can be preserved for the future?
CA: I think that maybe if the young kids, I feel like maybe they don't think that quilting is as important as it should be and if the younger generation don't keep making quilts as the worlds stands, in a few years, they won't nobody will know about a quilt, other than the quilt you know that their parents had made or maybe if it's was made out of good material it would still--like mine I've got, I've had it I guess for thirty or forty years. It's almost worn out but I've still got it. But that would be the only way. If they don't keep making quilts, fifty years from now they won't know about a quilt, will they? And that's sad to think that something that's been in our lifestyle all of our life, to think that it's not there no more, that's sad.
RC: It is, you're right. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting you as a quiltmaker or your friends as quiltmakers right now?
CA: I don't really know.
RC: Well, I appreciate this interview Mrs. Colene. It is now 11:50 [a.m.] and the interview is concluded. I thank you very much.
CA: You're welcome.


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