WPA Quotes about Quilters


Belle Robinson (“Aunt Belle”), Kentucky: In the words of the interviewer, “She was working on a quilt and close investigation found that the work was well done.”

Charity Grigsby, Alabama: In the words of the interviewer, “She was sewing on a quilt when I arrived; humming an old plantation song… A broad smile flowed across her black face as I entered the cabin. She placed her needle aside…”. “I was in de house weavin’ an’ spinnin’ lak mistus showed me; an’ I didn’t never get in no trouble wid nobody.”

Charlotte Mitchell Martin, Florida: In the words of the interviewer, “She came to Live Oak to care for an old colored woman and upon whose death she was given the woman’s house and property. For many years she has resided in the old shack, farming, making quilts, and practicing her herb doctoring.”

Dora Jerman, Arkansas: “Grandma lived with us till she died. She used to have us sit around handy to thread her needles. She was a great hand to piece quilts. Her and Aunt Polly both. Aunt Polly was a friend that was sold with her every time. They was like sisters and the most pleasure to each other in old age.”

Elvira Boles, Texas: “Log cabins had dirt floor, sometimes plankin’ down. I worked late and made pretty quilts. Sometimes dey’d let us have a party.”

Fannie Sims, Arkansas: “In mah days ah’ve done plenty uv work but ah don’t do nothing now but piece quilts. Dat’s what ah’ve been doing fuh mah white fokes since ah been heah. Ah jes finished piecing and quiltin two uv em. De Glove and de Begger.”

Gracie Mitchell, Arkansas: “They said the reason I had such a good gift makin’ quilts was cause my mother was a seamstress. I cooked ‘fore I married and I could make my own dresses, piece quilts and quilt. That’s mostly what I done… I had a quilt book with a lot o’ different patterns but I loaned it to a woman and she carried it to Oklahoma. Mighty few people you can put confidence in nowdays.” The list of quilts shown to the interviewer by Gracie Mitchell consists of the following “designs”: Breakfast Dish, Sawtooth, Tulip Design, “Prickle” Pear, Little Boy’s Breeches, Birds All Over the Elements, Drunkard’s Path, Railroad Crossing, Cocoanut Leaf, Cotton Leaf, Half an Orange, Tree of Paradise, Sunflower, Ocean Wave, Double Star, Swan’s Nest, Log Cabin in the Lane, Reel, Lily in de Valley, Feathered Star, Fish Tail, and Whirligig.

Harriet Gresham, Florida: “Mrs. Bellinger was dearly loved by all her slaves because she was very thoughtful of them. Whenever there was a wedding, frolic, or holiday or quilting bee, she was sure to provide some extra “goody” and so dear to the hearts of the women were the cast off clothes she so often bestowed upon them on these occasions. The slaves were free to invite those from the neighboring plantations to join in their social gatherings.” In the words of the interviewer, “She embroiders, crochets, knits and quilts without the aid of glasses. She likes to show her handiwork to passerby who will find themselves listening to some of her reminiscences if they linger long enough to engage her in conversation – for she loves to talk of the past.”

Isabella Duke, Arkansas: “My mother never saw her mother after she was sold. She heard from her mother in 1910. She was the one hundred and one years old and could thread her needles to piece quilts.”

Kittie Stanford, Arkansas: Interviewee addresses her daughter, “Show her the las’ quilt I made.” “Yes’m I made this all by myself. I threads my own needle, too, and cuts out the pieces. I has worked hard all my life.”

Laura Ramsey Parker, Tenessee: “Hab wuk’d all mah life seem ter me. At one time I wuz a chambermaid at de Nicholson House now de Tulane en later ‘kum a sick nuss, a seamstress, dressmaker but now I pieces en sells bed quilts.”

Lou Fergusson, Arkansas: In the words of her daughter, “She never did have glasses – and today she can thread the finest needle. She can as pretty a quilt as you’d hope to see. Makes fine stitches too. Seems like they made them stronger in her day.”

Margret Hulm, Arkansas: In the words of the interviewer, “While Margret was giving this information she was busily sewing together what looked like little square pads. When examined they proved to be tobacco sacks stuffed with cotton and then sewed together which would make a quilt already quilted when she got enough of them sewed together to cover a bed.”

Margrett Nickerson, Florida: In the words of the interviewer, “She spends her time sitting in a wheel chair sewing on quilts. She has several quilts that she has pieced, some from very small scraps which she has cut without the use of any particular pattern.”

Marriah Hines, Virginia: “Evenings we would spin on the old spinning wheel, quilt, make clothes, talk, tell jokes and a few had learned to weave a little bit from Missus.”

Martha Bradley, Alabama: “In de winter time us’d quilt; jes go from one house to anudder in de quarter.” (pictured below)

Mattie Brown, Arkansas: “Mother quilted for people and washed and ironed to raise us.”

Mose Banks, Arkansas: “The womens’ job was to cook, attend to the cows, knit all the socks for the men and boys, spin thread, card bats, weave cloth, quilt, sew, scrub and things like that.”

Nelly Gray, Arkansas: “I’m weak in my limbs but I believe in stirrin’. Welfare helps me but I quilts for people.”

Omelia Thomas, Arkansas: “My mother was a motherless girl. My daddy said he looked at her struggling along. All the other girls were trying to have a good time. But she would be settin’ down trying to make a quilt or something else useful, and he said to a friend of his, ‘That woman would make a good wife; I am going to marry her.’ And he did.”

Roxy Pitts, Alabama: “Yassum, I kin see plenty good enough to sew, cep’n’ I can’t tread de needle, en I has to keep atter dese triflin’ chilluns to hep me. You see dis quilt I’se piecin! Miss Lucy gwine gib me tree dollars fer it, coz she say it be made right, en dat’s de way I makes em. Miss Lucy know she got er a good quilt, when I gits t’ru wid it.”

Sally Anderson, Arkansas: “I was six years old when [Mama] give me to [the Springers]. They learnt me to sweep, knit, crochet, piece quilts.”

Sarah Jane Patterson, Arkansas: “I used to quilt until my fingers got too stiff. I got some patterns in there now if you want to see them.” In the words of the interviewer, “The old lady took me in the house and showed me about a dozen quilts, beautifully patterned and made. She also had some unfinished tops. She says that she does not have much of a sale for them now because the “quality of folks” who liked such things well enough to buy them “is just about gone.”

Sarah Wilson, Oklahoma: “When old Mistress die I done all the sewing for the family almost. I could sew good enough to go out before I was eight years old, and when I got to be about ten I was better than any other girl in the place for sewing. I can still quilt without my glasses, and I have sewed all night long many a time while I was watching Young Mater’s baby after old Mistress died.

Seyna Singfield, Arkansas: ” I ain’t never been to school. When I got big enough, my mother was a widow and I had to start out and make a living… I’ve washed and ironed, sewed a right smart and quilted quilts.”

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