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Transcript of Quilts in Women’s Lives

Streaming begins at 08:36 with Grace Earl.


00:14
Film opens on a quilt with music playing in the background, camera goes in for a closeup on the quilt and "Quilts in Women’s Lives" fades up.

00:39
Lucy Hilty

Close up shots of quilt
I thought a lot about quilting and why people are so passionate about it. My stomach just turned flip-flops when I saw this quilt. I couldn’t believe that anyone would put this kind of work in a quilt. I’ve wondered about the woman that made this quilt. It’s an amazing piece of work.

01:07
Image of Lucy Hilty sewing
Well, I grew up in a Mennonite home and I think it’s, I think it’s very nice to, to be a Mennonite child because Mennonites are very oriented to children.

01:20
Farm images, picture of windmill spinning, farmhouse at dawn, flowers blooming, horses in front of a barn, a quilt hanging in the sun and birds chirping in the background.
I have early memories of my father taking us on walks and explaining things to us. My father helped my mother with the quilting. He was a teacher and he was also a carpenter so he would help her with the markings that she hated to do.

01:47
Close-up of hands quilting and Lucy Hilty
And they often talk about quilts having a great deal of sorrow stitched into them. I think my mother got a great deal of comfort from quilting after my father died. I found some quilt patches that she had put together and they were dated by the papers that were in the box which were, which was December of 1951, which was the winter after my father died. And I think she must’ve, had a great deal of satisfaction in being able to do this hand work.

02:17
Church choir sings as outside of church fades up. Church scenes of woman playing the piano, congregation and women quilting at tables in groups.
We went to church on every Sunday and our social activities revolved around the church. And my mother was involved with ladies affairs. There was some quilting in the church and she would participate with that. I would say that maybe a third of her quilting time was spent on other peoples quilts. She was one of those anonymous quilters.

02:45
Man calling out at auction house, women folding and viewing piles of quilts. People at auction purchasing quilts and band music playing.
--Man calling out at auction house, raising price to $175--The women make the quilts for the auction at the time that I was growing up. They didn’t have any of these big relief sales that they have now.

03:31
Lucy Hilty at home, outside in her garden picking roses, inside quilting.
I was appalled when I thought that I would retire and I had no idea what I wanted to do because I was very involved in my teaching. But then when this interest in quilting came I knew right away that this was something that I could spend the rest of my life doing because it’s a very creative activity and I think it’s wonderful to think that you can spend the last years of your life, maybe almost as many years if you live long enough, doing something creative, as you did in your career. I don’t particularly want to do traditional thing like this flower garden. One flower garden is enough.

04:13
Different styles of quilts are shown
But I would like to try different ideas and see something new happen to quilts. I see them not only as bed covers but as big areas to express an idea and that’s something quite new and recent for me. I really haven’t thought of it in those terms before.

04:33
Close-up of hands sewing
Well I can tell you that I used to sew a great many other things, I don’t care anything about making clothes anymore.

04:40
Close-up of Lucy Hilty talking
I don’t care anything about a lot of other things. I would be happy to get up in the morning and think nothing but about quilts. I don’t like to, I don’t want to do my housework (laughs) that needs to be done. And I can just forget these things. It’s, I don’t know what it is. It’s a big mystery, and I’ve asked a number of people and they haven’t been able to tell me what it’s all about.

05:02
Susanna Calderon

Closeup of a quilt with a picture of Susanna Calderon in a square. Images of farm, horses, Susanna taking clothes off of clothes line. Quilt drying in the sun.
We moved here five years ago from out on the Mendocino county coast. And where we are now is the outside edge of suburbia. The first quilt I ever made I took it with me everywhere and I found that working on this quilt at school board meetings

05:22
Susanna sewing in front of her sewing machine
allowed old family, old rancher, coastal people who saw me as kind of a radical, almost troublemaker perhaps, that the quilt became a bridge where they could come up and speak to me, and say, my grandmother made that quilt.

05:40
Close-ups of different quilts
She made that same pattern but it was different colors. Suddenly there’s this bond between people who may not have other things in common.

05:48
Susanna walking up stairs outside of barn, and interior of barn "office" space with quilts hanging all around her.
I work in the top of a barn. I use it as a refuge. It is far enough away from the house so that if I tell my husband and son, you know "Take messages, I don’t want to come to the phone.", they will leave me alone.

The bird quilt actually started out with a horse. The first block I made was a horse. And, you know, I was the very normal horse crazy adolescent girl in my teens and you know, the girls who drew horses in their notebooks at school all the time. And, uhm, the first block was a horse, the second one was the chicken.

06:18
Chickens walking around, images of chickens that were painted, and chickens quilted onto squares.
I’ve always liked chicken and ducks and geese. I love to see chickens scratching. Chickens are very kind of ridiculous. They’re very maternal. There’s some mixture of wild and then the domestic. Birds appear in my dreams all the time. I’m fascinated by the symbolism of birds. And so birds

06:37
Susanna working with her chickens
as a subject matter just come naturally. I’ve had a much easier draw chickens than people. It’s not loaded with the same, well it’s not a likeness and who can tell but me.

06:49
Susanna sewing indoors. Close-up on quilts
You know there’s an interesting thing to sort of look at the incidences in your life and say you know, what myth am I living out and so I thought about that.

06:56
Images of autobiographical picture story
I did a little story that’s heavily autobiographical but on adding machine tape, reeled on pencils. Put it in a milk carton, and it’s a marvelous way to tell a story because it rolls along.

As an adult I’ve found that the things that have always drawn me the most are things that are more like gardening, landscaping.

07:20
Image starts out in a garden, then pans up to see a quilt in the sun of the same colors. Other quilts images with birds chirping in the background.
That desire to make something that says, you know, this is mine and I made it. I think quilting comes very close to being play. Maybe that’s a cop-out, I don’t know. I enjoy the sort of backdoor approach that quilts represent.

07:39
Close-up of Susanna talking
It’s interesting if you’re thoughtful to say what is it that is so pleasing about cutting out, because nowadays we buy yard widths, cut them up in little pieces and then sew them back together and it’s ridiculous on one level, I mean, WHY do that, except there is something very basic. The urge to make pattern

07:58
Close-up of patterns
And the repetitive patterns, I think they probably function a little bit the way mantras and mandalas do in eastern religion. They speak to something very deep.

08:09
Close-up of Susanna sewing
But I think, probably many husbands would find their wives obsessions, you know, somewhat of a drag some of the time. My husband came out of a urban New York, garment industry background so he sews very well. I think my family are really quite supportive. It’s not a passion with them. And it is a passion with me.

(streaming begins here)
08:36
Grace Earl

Close-up on quilt with Grace Earl in a square. Music plays in the background. Scenes from a city, cars going by a downtown San Francisco apt building. Interior of apartment and flowers.

After teaching at the (Chicago) Art Institute for years I wanted a change. So I chose California, when I retired,

09:00
Close up of Grace Earl and images inside her home, and Grace sewing
I thought I was going to die because I couldn’t get my mind turned around, and I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t want to do anything, so I bought a blasted old tv and sat there and looked at all the old pictures. Marvelous old silent films every time they had them. Lord help me. I thought I could never, ever, it took me one year to settle down. I just left Chicago and came out here. When you’ve away from everyone you know, there’s nothing else to do then, you see, and you concentrate on what you love to do. I decided that I would finally make a quilt. I always made things because mother made things. Get up girl! If the suns in the heavens what are we gonna do today. Think of all the possiblilities of creation, then you go dive in and challenge yourself and guide yourself. It’s like love. It’s love.

10:09
Grace in her fabric room arranging fabrics.
I arrange my fabrics according to colors. It’s like a palette, you must know what you have. Any by cutting the squares, or the triangles, I can see my complete available palette. The point is to have meaningful colors. Some fabrics are uglier than sin, which I wouldn’t have, I would throw ‘em away if they happened to appear in my closet, because their ugly. They’re distractin’.

10:47
Grace in house interior showing how to arrange a quilts patterns
All these years of teaching I was happy and I tried to make all my students happy. One of my student s sent me a letter and said "Art wouldn’t be the same without me". Can you imagine? In order to arrange these I have to have a board of some sort. You use felt. Felt’s the best thing because these squares and the shapes you’re using will stick to the felt. It appears there’s enough friction, and I can move it.

11:21
Grace demonstrates how a quilt flows
And you have to learn in your creation to use form. Form and movement and rythm and you have to make a unit however little and unimportant it is. We’ve got close values and contrasting values then you’ll get an all over effect in which there’s sort of a blurred center in here. Something like a painting. But I like to have all kinds of fun and I like a little vibration and tintillation and shimmery and after awhile I’m just all shimmers. (laughs) Which is ridiculous because you, everything falls apart if you just shimmer and do nothing else in this world. Then, you pick up a fabric that’s a little more quiet and use it. The thing is, every so often in order to have a restful area in this world you have to be quiet, right? Sit down and shut up.

12:27
Radka Donnell

Close-up on quilt with Radka Donnell in a square. Music plays in the background. Images of full quilts appear on the screen

12:40
Radka choosing fabrics to use and sewing.

Well I was experiencing difficulties in my work as a painter. In addition, my children were growing up and I was moving away from them physically. My marriage wasn’t working very well at the time, so I was really looking around for something. I don’t know what. And I came upon quilts. I made one. Then I made another. I felt good about it and anyone who saw them began to tell me make more, don’t stop, this is your thing.

13:13
Radka sitting on rattan chair by French doors.
I was suddenly being taken seriously by all the important persons in my life. And this hadn’t happened to me before so I felt authentic and I spoke for myself in a new way, and I was listened to in a new way, so you could actually say I was getting my voice by, by staying with the quilts and living out the issues that they represented.

13:41
Close-up of quilt pattern
I like to sew and I like to piece by hand and there is no reason why I should not go on doing it, except that the extreme demands on women’s time is something that I have tried to fight and in my work I fight it in trying to reduce the work by doing some of it by machine and for my quilts it makes them hardy and resilient and I accept this without any compunction.

I was commissioned to do two quilts

14:15
Radka sitting at French doors
using the clothes of a girl that had, um, that had died. And I would have said no if I hadn’t, if I didn’t have the impression that the, that for the mother it was an important thing to happen. It wasn’t a mere question of her remembering her daughter, it was a question of her putting her to rest.

14:42
Images of quilts with a sun across them. Various other quilts laid out on beds.
So she needed some sort of ceremony that she could not find anywhere else and which the conventional funeral hadn’t provided. And she needed somebody with her, and so I was interacting with her, I was helping face the situation and she couldn’t do this apparently with any of the members of her family. And still I had the feeling that the main thing had been

15:18
Radka sitting at French doors
her interaction with me and that the quilt was only a memorial to what had happened between us.

15:18
Radka laying out another quilt pattern
For me quilts carry a lot of emotion. I guess I was working through all sorts of prohibitions to touch. Touch is important to women because there is a lot of physical caring that they have to do and this makes them extremely sensitive…Touchy you might say. This said, and this is why objects that involve the sense of touch have a special meaning emotionally. Quilts have had a meaning for me on many levels. Making quilts helped me to get a sense for my own space. A sense of finding my way. A sense of really working my way out of a labyrinth. Quilts were a home for me as a first generation American so I found the medium that for me meant home.

16:24
Nora Lee Condra

Close-up on quilt with Nora Lee Condra in a square. Music plays in the background. Image of Nora Lee sitting in rocker looking at photo album. Black and white photos from farm.

I grew up in Mississippi in an old log cabin. Just two rooms. And that’s all I knew was about farming. My dad he rented his land and he raised everything. He liked to trap and catch all kind of games and sell their hides. And catch fish and that was to help buy the clothes. And my mother would quilt. Start quilting with the flour sack quilts.

17:14
Nora Lee sitting on a chair inside her house showing us a quilt pattern.
And she would take the flour sacks, and wash them out, and start piecing quilts. Cutting out samples like this. This is something like the fish. The Tail of the Fish. You see it here, this is a Fish Tail. And all of this is from flour sacks. And this is an old quilt. It’s around 100 years old.

17:31
Close-ups of various quilts
I was around 14 when I first start sewing. My mother started me out to mending my brother’s socks. And then I start piecing quilts. And the first quilt that I ever pieced and quilted was the string quilt. I made around a 16 quilts of my own when I got married around 19 I had my own quilts. But my aunt, she gave me a quilt. Beautiful fancy quilts. When I got married I didn’t have to ask for no cover. My aunt started quilting in my family. This is her quilt. This is the Tree of Life. And I would say it’s ninety some years old. The Tree of Life. And this, I know, this is flour sacks too also. Then my grandmother. This is my grandmother’s quilt right here. The Bear Claw. This is the Bear Claw. And then, also, my mother. Dessert Dish. Right here. This is what my mother quilted. Dessert Dish. And that’s three generations right there.

O.K. coming to Nora Lee I would say the "T" because I have the "T" did that. This is mines. The "T" a "T’s" just like the alphabets. Old fashioned "T" here…see there?

Close up of Quilt
I can remember my mother, and her friends, she had black and white. They all quilted together and they would have meals together. And they would sit down and quilt this quilt together. And we would go to each ones house, say come to my house today and round and round until we make a circle. And after we would make that circle, sometimes we’d have three and four quilts. When you’re quilting and piecing quilts together you get to know each other. And your more concerned about each other because you have a feeling for that person.

20:07
Image of grandmother
My grandmother was 98 when she passed in March.

20:16
Nora Lee sitting in her house talking
Before she passed away she would always tell me about her quilts. She would tell me that if she passed, she wanted me to give each one of, my children a quilt, and I had seven children, so she said give each one of them a quilt. And then give my two brothers a quilt. And she had enough to do that and then some over. And she said the rest of them I would keep for myself. Sometimes I get to thinking about her and I just look at the quilts and it makes me feel that she’s close by. Because this is something that she liked to do, and it’s something that she did by hand.

21:00
Image of Nora Lee sewing, close up of hands
Well, a lot of people say, you should grieve, but I don’t. I see her as doing these quilts and rejoicing about doing it and happy about doing it. When you’re quilting a lot of times you say… Lord and as you quilt the needles going through…it’s Lord well nd it looks like the needle is saying that. And as you do it the more you do it, the more you want to do it. And it’s just like prayer. By the help of God I can do it. And you can. And after you do it, you say, "Well look at here, this is beautiful! Let me make another one."

21:46
Hortense & Christine Miller
(streaming ends here)

Close-up on quilt with Hortense (H) & Christine (C) Miller in a square. Music plays in the background.

21:50
Black and white photo of sister with her father and one of her as a music teacher.
(H) My career lasted about 35 years. It was my father really who had the idea that I would be a good school music teacher. I taught music and sometimes art.

22:05
Sister now sitting in her living room with a quilt in front of her.
(H) I was eager to see the world or at least the United States. So I would only stay from one to three years at each place and then move on.

22:15
Photos of sister in various states
(H) So I taught in Iowa, Wyoming, Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, and New York State.

22:27
Sisters now sitting in their living room with a quilt in front of them.
(C) We lived in Baxter Springs, Kansas and I went with my mother to the Ladies Aid meeting every week. And I didn’t quilt, but I kept the needles threaded for the quilters. And after a while, I thought, well maybe I can quilt for a little bit, and I tried, and I was so fascinated, seeing a pattern come out…that had been marked, following the line… you didn’t know what it was going to look like but when the pattern was finished…you had something very beautiful.

(H) Well, it happens that we’ve had nineteen grand nieces and nephews.

23:09
Photo album page of nieces and nephews
(H) Six nephews and thirteen neices.

23:15
Sisters now sitting in their living room with a quilt in front of them.
(H) And in 1961 we got the plan, the idea, of making a quilt for each one

23:23
Images of different quilts hanging outside in the sunshine
(H) of these nineteen. And we planned to do it in ten years. Then we took a whole week for cutting pieces. We cut three quilts practically in that solid week. With no time out except sleeping and eating.

23:46
Photo of a couple getting married
(H) We give the quilts to the recipients when they marry,

23:50
Sisters now sitting in their living room with a quilt in front of them.
(H) but if they get to the age of forty and haven’t married, we present the quilt anyway.

(C) Oh, we’ve been quilting together about twenty-five years.

24:01
The two sisters demonstrating how to quilt
(C) Tell about the knot. How we put the knot through.

(H) You make a small a knot as you can and have it stay in place. And then you put it in from the top of the quilt and come up, wherever you want to start quilting, and you pull through so it pulls the knot through the cloth, and you go on with your quilting.

(Hortense and Chritine cross talk)
(C) And when you get to the end (um hm), you take a little backstitch (um hm),, so it doesn’t
(and then you)
wrap up.
(H) (you’re supposed to go under.)
and go under
(H) (the full length of the needle)
of the needle
(before you bring it up)
(C) bring it up
(H) (it will not run back when it’s washed)

24:37
Examples of hand drawn designs and borders
(H) Our mother was very proficient in making designs and borders for quilts.

24:49
Sisters now sitting in their living room showing examples of border designs.
(C) The design makes the picture on the quilt.

(C) This is the cable border. This is the one we used in our Butterfly quilts.

(H) Here’s another border. She was very good at borders.

This is a variation of the cable only it’s a sharp instead of round. ((H) That’s right) A variation of the cable. ((H) A variation of the cable, those are the borders)

25:08
Shots of examples of stitching
(H) That’s what makes it special ((C) And that is what makes it special)

One thing.

25:16
Sisters now sitting in their living room with a quilt in front of them.
(H) Of all the quilts we have made, we don’t have any of our own ((H) Laughs in the background). That we can call our own. Isn’t that too bad.

25:25
Example of
Quilting, of course, is always fascinating.

25:30
Sisters now sitting in their living room with a quilt in front of them.
(H) I have in the past usually quilted two hours a day. One hour at a time, but on the last quilt we were working on I got so I could quilt four hours a day, two hours at a time.

(C) I couldn’t do more than one hour a day but I would work fast, and I would work hard, and then I would like to brag at the time myself a little bit. That I had done as much in one hour as she had done in two hours, but that didn’t keep up. (H) Well it’s just fun.

(C) It is, it’s fun. And we like to see how much each one of us can get done, and then we’ll say a few, announce, this is where we’re going to go to the next time. We’ll work from here, up to there. And then our eyes are all bent on that particular part ‘til we get up to there, and then it’s the nice part that we can roll, and roll, and roll.

26:38
Quilt showing hanging outside. Piano music.

26:45
Sisters sitting playing the piano. Music is heard over as we see one sister sitting telling what she likes to see in a quilt as we see images of examples of this work.
(C) I like to quilt because I like to see a pattern come out. And to sit at the quilt and stitch and stitch and stitch. Specially if you have plumes, feathers, something fancy. And then when the quilt is finished. Look what I did! (H) It’s all very fascinating. ((C) It’s fascinating.) It’s just FASCINATING!

27:29
Credits appear over various parts of a quilt.

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