Interview with Selma Gray Lee, October 6, 2004

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:13 - Touchstone quilt: Purpose, appearance, and stitching

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Partial Transcript: Today is October 6th, 2004. I'm interviewing Selma Gray Lee, Number 20002.004. We are meeting in Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, at the home of Virginia Quinn. Uh, the interviewer is Evelyn Salinger.

Segment Synopsis: Lee made her touchstone quilt when her daughters moved into a townhouse together. It was intended as a wall hanging for a large stretch of wall and is quite big. Its squares depict butterflies in many different colors and incorporate feather stitching and embroidery. Lee used machine sewing, but hand quilting, to construct the quilt. Lee and the interviewer discuss the date the quilt was made briefly, without reaching a conclusion. The interviewer comments about how lovely the lavender background is.

Keywords: Hand quilting; Machine sewing; Techniques; Virginia Quinn

00:03:32 - How Lee's quilts are used / Earliest memories of quilting

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Partial Transcript: Now where does it stay? At your house or did you have to borrow it today?

Segment Synopsis: Lee's daughters rotate her quilts in and out of their house. They borrow some of her quilts and then their quilts return with her to her house, because the daughters do not have space to store them. In approximately 1976 a friend of Lee's, told Lee about the friend's grandmother's quilting. Lee became interested in quilting then, but her friend did not know much about what her grandmother had done, so they resorted to books to learn more. Later, Lee's mother got interested in quilting. Lee joined the Daughter of Dorcas in 1987 and learned more about quilting from a couple of the members.

Keywords: Daughters; Daughters of Dorcas; Family; Learning quiltmaking; Mothers; Quilt Purpose - Home decoration; Quilt guild; Viola Williams Canady; Virginia Quinn

00:05:08 - Background and family

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Partial Transcript: Now had you done a lot of sewing as a child?

Segment Synopsis: Lee did not do much sewing while she was growing up. Her birthplace was Atlanta, GA, but she spent most of her childhood in Washington, DC. As an adult, she worked in different contexts as a teacher. She also reared two children. Her daughters do not quilt. One, however, knits extremely well. Lee's mother was able to quilt for about ten years after learning how to quilt relatively late in life. Lee does not have any of her mother's quilts, as her mother always gave them away immediately, but she might have one or two that her father owned.

Keywords: Family; Family life; Illness; Mothers; Sewing

00:07:09 - What Lee does with her quilts

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Partial Transcript: And, now, what do you do with your quilts?

Segment Synopsis: Lee sometimes gives her quilts away, especially to her daughters, and sometimes keeps them. She has more quilts than she needs or really wants, but can't bring herself to pass many of them on. Her daughters have quilts she made on their beds. She made wedding quilts for both her daughters. One daughter does not use hers and the other displays hers on a wall. Lee says she used a Little Baskets pattern for one quilt and the other was a Stack and Whack quilt. The interviewer suggests "Dresden Star" as a nicer name for the Stack and Whack quilt. It was made from fabric from Africa.

Keywords: Daughters; Dresden Star (quilt pattern); Family; Little Baskets (quilt pattern); Mothers; Quilt Purpose - Bedcovering; Quilt Purpose - Home decoration; Quilt Purpose - Wedding; Quiltmaking for family; Stack and whack quilts; Virginia Quinn

00:08:34 - Favorite part of quilting / Support from husband

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Partial Transcript: What, what is your most, what was or is your most favorite, part of quilting?

Segment Synopsis: Lee's favorite part of quilting is hand quilting, but she does her piecing by machine. Her least favorite part is sewing by machine. For the most part, Lew uses traditional patterns, rather than designing her own. She kept albums of her work for a while, but eventually decided it was too much work. When asked about how quilting impacts her family, Lee talks about the assistance she receives from her husband, who, she says "gets involved in everything." In particular, he helps if something takes place outside the house or if Lee is having problems with her quilting frame. He also has made frames for other people.

Keywords: Family life; Frames; Hand quilting; Machine piecing; Quilt documentation

00:10:35 - Quilt shows / Teaching quilting classes

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Partial Transcript: Have you ever entered shows?

Segment Synopsis: Lee has entered her work in shows at the Decatur House (Washington, DC) and in Prince George's County, MD. The Decatur House shows were juried, but Lee did not win anything. She did, however, sell a "house quilt" at a Decatur House quilt show. Lee has taught quilting classes to both adults and children, sometimes in conjunction with other people.

Keywords: Decatur House (Washington, DC); Doris Scott; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Selling quilts; Teaching quiltmaking; Virginia Quinn

00:11:53 - Joining the Daughters of Dorcas / What Lee looks for in a quilt / Machine quilting vs. hand quilting

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Partial Transcript: And you yourself, wh-, um, let's see, when did you say you came into the Daughters of Dorcas?

Segment Synopsis: Lee joined the Daughters of Dorcas in roughly 1987. Joyce Nixon was entering the group at around the same time. The first project Lee worked on was a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, that a number of the other quilters worked on. Lee's participation in the Daughters of Dorcas includes some charitable work for children. When asked what she looks for when she looks at a quilt, Lee answers that she looks at the colors, the patterns, and the quilting, in that order. Lee thinks "machine quilting is, awesome" and she wants "to learn more about it."

Keywords: Daughters of Dorcas; Grandmother’s Flower Garden (quilt pattern); Joyce Nixon; Machine quilting; Quilt Purpose - Charity

00:14:13 - Meaning of quilting for American women / Advice to beginning quilters

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Partial Transcript: Um, in what ways has quilting, had meaning for the American woman?

Segment Synopsis: When asked about the meaning of quilting for American women, Lee says, "it gives us an opportunity to project ourselves in different ways..." She adds that "it gives you time to be with yourself, and be with what you want to do." Her advice to beginning quilters is to complete the projects they have started. She recommends avoiding starting a lot of new projects, but rather starting a new project when the old one is complete. She adds that often her advice on this point is ignored.

Keywords: Quilt Purpose - Artistic expression; Quilt Purpose - Personal enjoyment; Virginia Quinn

Subjects: Quilting

00:15:34 - Quilt history documentation / Television appearances

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Partial Transcript: Oh, have you participated in quilt history, preservation or quilt history, documentation?

Segment Synopsis: Lee says that her one experience with quilt history documentation was at a Daughters of Dorcas meeting. She reports that the presenters were "trying to, give, uh, um, meanings and, and age and all of them" of a number of quilts. Lee appeared on television in connection with the Daughters of Dorcas twice. Lee does no other crafts.

Keywords: Daughters of Dorcas; Doris Scott; Quilt documentation; Quilt history; Raymond Dobard; Virginia Quinn