Interview with Ruth Hamlin Stokes, November 22, 2005

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:00 - About the first touchstone quilt: "The Little Christmas Tree"

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Partial Transcript: We are interviewing Ruth Hamlin Stokes, number 20002-021, on November 22nd, 2005, during a Daughters of Dorcas meeting in Washington, D.C. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger. Hi, Ruth.

Segment Synopsis: Stokes brought three wall hangings to discuss in her interview. The first touchstone quilt is titled "The Little Christmas Tree," and Stokes made it in 1998. Stokes used leftover scraps of Christmas fabric to make yo-yo shaped rosettes that form the ornaments of a Christmas tree. None of the rosettes are duplicates. She raided her button box and then sewed some buttons and glued others onto the wall hanging as embellishments. Stokes and Salinger describe the imagery in the quilt. Stokes hangs the wall hanging in her home around Christmas. She also displayed it during a Christmas-themed exhibit at the Charles Sumner School in Washington, DC.

Keywords: "The Little Christmas Tree"; Buttons; Daughters of Dorcas; Embellishment techniques; Evelyn Salinger; Machine quilting; Quilt labels; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Scrap quilts; Wall hangings; Yo-yo quilts; Yo-yo

Subjects: Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives; Charles Sumner School (Washington, D.C.)

00:04:25 - About the second and third touchstone quilts

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Partial Transcript: And your second wall hanging here is made of?

Segment Synopsis: Stokes made the second wall hanging out of scraps. She made it as a Christmas present for her daughter. Stokes' daughter likes blue, so she used blue scraps from her stash to make it. The quilt is titled "Kitty Watch" and depicts an attic window with cats sitting in it. The third touchstone quilt, "Miss Mouse" is made from two blocks. Stokes made the quilt for the 2003 exhibit at the Charles Sumner School. Stokes says it is based on an old quilt pattern she found in a book. Stokes and Salinger discuss the appearance and construction of both quilts. Stokes says she will probably give the "Miss Mouse" quilt away when she finds a recipient for it.

Keywords: "Kitty Watch"; "Miss Mouse"; Blanket stitch; Daughters; Family; Hand quilting; Quilt legacy; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Quiltmaking for family; Techniques; Wall hangings; Scrap quilts

Subjects: Charles Sumner School (Washington, D.C.); Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives

00:08:53 - Quiltmaking for family

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Partial Transcript: Now, why did you choose these today?

Segment Synopsis: Stokes no longer owns most of the quilts she has made. She gives most of her quilts away to family members. She has two grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Stokes is currently making quilts for all of her great-grandchildren. Stokes and Salinger discuss the colors and construction process of a stack and whack quilt that Stokes is making for her daughter.

Keywords: Applique; Bow Tie - quilt pattern; Dresden Star - quilt pattern; Family; Grandchildren; Nine Patch - quilt pattern; Quilt Purpose - Gift or presentation; Quiltmaking for family; Stack and whack quilts; Daughters of Dorcas

00:11:16 - Daughters of Dorcas

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Partial Transcript: I made a Cathedral Window quilt, and it fits a queen-size bed. That one is mine, for myself. That was the first piece that I made after I joined the Daughters of Dorcas.

Segment Synopsis: Stokes joined the Daughters of Dorcas in 1988. She made a queen-sized Cathedral Window quilt as her first piece after joining the group. Salinger mentions having seen a photograph of Stokes with other early members. Stokes says the picture was taken when they were teaching a quiltmaking class at Bowie State College. Stokes says she is "slowing down a bit now," but she continues to participate in the group. When Stokes joined the Daughter of Dorcas, there were about forty members, all of whom came regularly. Stokes estimates that more than a hundred people are members of the group at the time of the interview.

Keywords: Daughters of Dorcas; Guild activities; Quilt guilds; Teaching quiltmaking; Cathedral window - quilt pattern

Subjects: Bowie State College

00:14:31 - Quilt memory

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Partial Transcript: Well, would you tell us about, what was your earliest contact with quilts or quilters?

Segment Synopsis: When Stokes was a child, her mother went to school to become a seamstress. Her mother made the family's garments. Stokes helped her mother with the sewing and made other projects out of scraps. Stokes' mother eventually started making quilts to keep the family warm at night. Stokes also helped her mother with the quilting, and they used raw cotton as the batting. Stokes' mother taught all of her five girls to sew, crochet and cook, before she passed away.

Keywords: Batting/wadding; Mothers; Quilt Purpose - Utilitarian; Quilt memory; Sewing; Family

Subjects: Washington (D.C.)

00:17:36 - Quiltmaking classes / Hand vs. machine quilting / Quilt documentation

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Partial Transcript: So then, what have you done in your past, for your skills, besides your mom's teaching you? Did you go to classes for quilting or anything like that?

Segment Synopsis: Stokes says that the only quiltmaking classes she has taken were shortly after she joined the Daughters of Dorcas, when some of the older women would teach shortcuts and piecing techniques that made quiltmaking easier. Stokes prefers hand quilting to machine quilting and finds quilting by hand to be faster. Stokes says that when you allow for time to set up a sewing machine and the relative portability of hand quilting, that hand quilting is the faster method. Stokes has not kept a photo record of her work, but thinks she may ask family members to take pictures for her.

Keywords: Piecing; Quilt documentation; Quiltmaking classes; Techniques; Hand quilting

00:19:52 - Impact of quilting on family / Other crafts

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Partial Transcript: You have said that everything goes into your family that you make. What are the impacts of the quilting on your family? How do they feel about your...

Segment Synopsis: Stokes's great-grandchildren boast about the things she has made for them. In addition to quiltmaking, Stokes makes dolls and angels. She enjoys being challenged and keeping her mind occupied. Stokes says that despite living by herself, she is never lonely, because she is occupied with craft projects. She used to sell dolls and angels to her co-workers when she worked as a bookbinder, but Stokes does not sell her quilts. She still makes tree-top angels for people who call and request them.

Keywords: Family; Sewing

Subjects: Arts and crafts

00:22:21 - Doll making / Crocheting

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Partial Transcript: And my granddaughter, my great-granddaughter, my oldest great-grandchild, she's thirteen now and she belongs to a dance group.

Segment Synopsis: Stokes' thirteen-year-old great-granddaughter often asks her to make dolls for the teachers of her dance group. Each doll is designed to represent the person who will receive it. Stokes discusses how she finds and buys doll hair and fabric for the dolls' skin. She either finds patterns for the dolls, creates her own, or mixes and matches parts of different patterns. Stokes also used to crochet. She taught a number of her co-workers, who are now quite good at crocheting. Stokes used to crochet afghans, which she either gave to family members or kept for herself.

Keywords: Crochet; Fabric selection; Techniques

Subjects: Arts and crafts

00:26:27 - Teaching quiltmaking / Learning to machine quilt / Collecting pins from quilt shows

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Partial Transcript: Have you taught quilting by yourself or in groups? You mentioned these earlier trips that you took to teach the Nine Patches, but have you done any other quilting teaching?

Segment Synopsis: Stokes teaches her friends to quilt when they ask her questions about it. When Salinger asks about Stokes' preference for hand quilting, Stokes says that she is teaching herself machine quilting. She is thinking about buying a machine, because her hands have become arthritic. Salinger and Stokes agree that it is easy to get behind on quilting and end up with many quilt tops, instead of completed quilts. Stokes talks about going to quilt shows and buying the pins for each show. She puts the pins on an old fisherman's hat, which is now too heavy for her to wear.

Keywords: Learning quiltmaking; Machine quilting; Nine Patch - quilt pattern; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Quilt tops; Teaching quiltmaking; Traveling for quilt shows; Hand quilting

Subjects: Charles Sumner School (Washington, D.C.); Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives

00:28:57 - Fabric stash / Charitable quilts

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Partial Transcript: I was going to ask you about your stash of quilt fabrics and such.

Segment Synopsis: Stokes jokes that her fabric stash is so big that she will have to move somewhere else and use her house as storage. She does not anticipate using all of the stash and has started giving away some of the fabric to other people. Salinger asks Stokes if she makes quilts for charity, because that is a good way to use fabric from her stash. Stokes mentions wanting to make quilts to donate to homeless shelters.

Keywords: Fabric stash; Quilt Purpose - Charity

00:30:32 - Meaning for women's history in America / Traditional vs. contemporary quilts

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Partial Transcript: How has quilting had meaning for the American woman?

Segment Synopsis: When asked how quilting has had meaning for American women, Stokes says that quiltmaking demonstrates their creativity and skill. Quilting also benefits the practitioner's mental health. When discussing whether she prefers traditional or contemporary patterns, Stokes says "I like them all. I just don't do them all, but I like them all." She creates some of her own quilt designs. She is currently working on a scrap quilt, constructed from very tiny bits of fabric, which she is hand piecing. When she goes to doctor's appointments, she takes part of that quilt to work on in the waiting room.

Keywords: Hand quilting; Quilt purpose - Meditation/relaxation; Traditional quilts; Scrap quilts

00:33:07 - Hobbies / Advice for beginning quilters

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Partial Transcript: And when I'm not doing that, I'm baking.

Segment Synopsis: Stokes mentions that she also likes baking as a hobby. Salinger and Stokes discuss singing as another hobby they share. Stokes has belonged to a number of choirs throughout her lifetime. She currently sings in her church choir. Many members of her extended family sang, and at one point they had a family choir. Her children, however, do not carry on this family tradition. Stokes' vocal range is diminishing with age, but her choir director is willing to work around her limitations. When asked for her advice to new quilters, Stokes recommends that they continue quilting. She adds, "it helps you to keep your mind alive." Stokes says quilting also helps prevent loneliness.

Keywords: Quilt purpose - Personal enjoyment; Quilt purpose - Meditation/relaxation