Interview with Elizabeth J. Braxton, June 22, 2010

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:14 - Touchstone quilt, "Sampler Number Two": history, size, colors, and stitching

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Partial Transcript: This is Evelyn Salinger, and I am conducting a Quilter's S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Elizabeth J. Braxton. Today's date is June 22, 2010. The time is twelve noon.

Segment Synopsis: Braxton's first quilt was another sampler quilt, which was wall hanging size. Braxton wanted to make a larger quilt, incorporating more samples, which could go on a bed. The finished quilt is an appropriate size for a single bed. Braxton briefly describes the different fabrics that she used in the quilt. She used a mix of hand and machine stitching to make the squares and hand quilted the quilt, using a hoop. When Braxton discovered that she had one block too many for this particular quilt, she decided to use the extra block as a label. The quilt was exhibited at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (Washington, DC) a few years before the interview.

Keywords: Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (Washington, DC); Hand quilting; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Sampler quilts; Sewing

00:04:17 - Who owns the quilt / Family / Personal background (brief version)

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Partial Transcript: And for whom is this quilt?

Segment Synopsis: When she was making the quilt, Braxton did not have plans to give it to anyone, but after it was done, she gave it to her daughter. Braxton's daughter approves of her quilting, on the theory that people who are retired ought to stay busy. (Braxton questions that concept.) Braxton was a social worker for thirty years. Braxton's mother taught her to sew when she was a child, and she made clothes for herself and eventually her own daughter. Braxton used to spend a lot of money at G St. Fabrics, and she accumulated a lot of fabric.

Keywords: Daughters; Fabric stash; Family; G St. Fabrics (currently Rockville, MD); Mothers

Subjects: Sewing

00:07:22 - How Braxton became interested in quilting

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Partial Transcript: I had not ever considered quilting.

Segment Synopsis: Braxton's mother sewed, but Braxton was unaware of any family connections to quilting. Instead, she was exposed to quilting through various cultural institutions, such as the Smithsonian, via its exhibit of the work of Roland Freeman, and the DuSable Black History and Education Center (Chicago, IL). She also saw quilts in museums in Detroit. Quilting came to seem like an appropriate use of her excess fabric.

Keywords: DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center (Chicago, IL); Duke Ellington Society (Washington, DC); Fabric stash; Family; Roland Freeman; Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC)

00:08:45 - First interactions with local quilters

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Partial Transcript: So after I retired, someone told me about, uh, Quilt-N-Stuff.

Segment Synopsis: Braxton took a six week class at Quilt-N-Stuff, a store in Alexandria, VA, during which she made six quilt blocks and prepared her work to be quilted. Later, she connected with Gertrude Braan, a member of the Daughters of Dorcas, at the Washington Senior Wellness Center. Braan looked at Braxton's unfinished quilt, evidently thought well of the quality of her work, and suggested she join the Daughters of Dorcas and put her quilt in the upcoming exhibition at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (Washington, DC). Braxton followed Braan's advice, finished her quilt in time for the exhibition, and started thinking about what her next project would be.

Keywords: Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (Washington, DC); Daughters of Dorcas; Gertrude Braan; Quilt-N-Stuff (Alexandria, VA); Viola Williams Canady; Washington Senior Wellness Center (Washington, DC)

00:11:16 - Fabric stash / Charles Sumner School exhibition

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Partial Transcript: And then I found some use for this, because I had four yards of this, purple.

Segment Synopsis: Braxton discusses in some detail the fabric she had on hand when she was getting ready to make her second quilt. In addition to the purple cloth referenced in the partial transcript, Braxton also had a fair amount of "African-inspired fabric" from several different countries that she had either brought back from Africa herself or bought from people who travelled there. At [or before?] the time of the interview, Braxton has a Churn Dash quilt on exhibit at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (Washington, DC).

Keywords: Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (Washington, DC); Churn Dash; Fabric stash; International Monetary Fund; Maria Goodwin; Quilt shows/exhibitions

00:14:38 - Beginning of involvement in the Daughters of Dorcas / Other crafts

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, you came to Daughters of Dorcas, you say, about, ten years, [ten years?], ten years ago, mm hm?

Segment Synopsis: Braxton joined Daughters of Dorcas in 1999 and has enjoyed her participation in it. Braxton also painted watercolors at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop for a number of years. The interviewer notes that Braxton's Sampler Quilt used traditional patterns and asks if Braxton has ever done an art quilt. Braxton says that the closest thing to an art quilt she has made is a Skewed Nine Patch Quilt using African fabrics. She does have some ideas for what she might do "in terms of cutting out figures and putting them on backgrounds and things like that," but has not yet implemented them.

Keywords: Art quilts; Capitol Hill Arts Workshop; Christine Bradford; Daughters of Dorcas; Gina Clapp; Sampler quilts; Skewed Nine Patch (quilt pattern); Traditional quilts; Watercolor paintings

00:18:02 - Piecing vs. applique

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Partial Transcript: Do you prefer piecing to uh, uh, I guess to applique or have you done some applique?

Segment Synopsis: Braxton has done some applique, but prefers piecing. The next few sentences on the tape are somewhat confusing, as interviewer and interviewee appear to be talking at cross purposes, with a lack of clarity about whether they are discussing hand piecing or hand quilting. One possible interpretation of this material is that Braxton was initially taught to hand piece, on the assumption that that was the best way for new quilters to figure out how the pieces fit together. Braxton clearly states, however, that she has done both hand and machine quilting. She finds machine quilting difficult, in part because she did not have the correct gloves when she attempted it.

Keywords: Hand quilting; Machine quilting; Tumbling Blocks (quilt pattern)

00:20:53 - Album / Charitable quilting / How satisfying Braxton finds quilting / Reading

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Partial Transcript: Do you keep pictures or an album of what you've done?

Segment Synopsis: Braxton keeps an album of her work, including her donations to charitable projects. She says that she has made small quilts for those projects. She agrees with the interviewer that she finds quilting satisfying, but adds that she also likes reading and goes through periods when she does not quilt, because she is reading instead. The interviewer suggests books on tapes. Braxton says that she does not listen to audiobooks when quilting, but sometimes has the television on. She adds that she does not generally spend more than an hour or two at a time quilting.

Keywords: Photography; Quilt Purpose - Charity

00:22:40 - Advice for new quilters / Sewing room

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Partial Transcript: Do you have advice for new quilters?

Segment Synopsis: Braxton's advice to new quilters is that while quilting is a hobby, it is one "you really have to enjoy doing." It is important to learn to do the "basic techniques" right to begin with, because otherwise bad habits will stick with you. On the other hand, Braxton advises avoiding perfectionism. As an example, she gives the Gee's Bend quilts, which had what she describes as having "irregular looks," but which, nevertheless, people think well of. Braxton uses a bedroom in her house as a sewing room.

Keywords: Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC); Gee's Bend quilts; Home studio; Work or Studio space

00:25:04 - Personal background (detailed version)

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Partial Transcript: Have you lived in Washington, a long time?

Segment Synopsis: Braxton has lived in Washington, DC, her entire life. She earned a B.A. in home economics from Howard University. She worked as a nurse's aide for ten years, before being hired by the DC government as a social services representative. Braxton took advantage of leave policies designed to encourage higher education, and got a Master's degree from Howard University School of Social Work. She worked for the city government for thirty years. In addition to the Daughters of Dorcas, Braxton quilts at the Model Cities Senior Wellness Center.

Keywords: Daughters of Dorcas; Gertrude Braan; Howard University (Washington, DC); Model Cities Senior Wellness Center (Washington, DC); Wee Bee Quilters (Washington, DC)

00:28:57 - Musical and genealogical interests

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Partial Transcript: And then I'm a member of the Duke Ellington Society.

Segment Synopsis: In addition to her other interests, Braxton belongs to the Duke Ellington Society, which she became involved with because her daughter, who already belonged to the group, suggested it. Braxton discusses what this group does in modest detail. Braxton also belongs to the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Washington, DC). She is researching her family roots, on both sides of her family, and reports that her daughter is researching her own father's family background.

Keywords: Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Washington, DC); Duke Ellington Society (Washington, DC)

00:32:08 - Time spent quilting / Meaning of quilting for American women / Becoming involved with quilting (brief summary)

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Partial Transcript: You do have a lot of interests as, as you say. Is the quilting, how many hours a day can you, do you have [?]?

Segment Synopsis: Braxton quilts only an hour or two a day. She points out that, among her other activities and obligations, she takes care of a brother with health problems. She does, however, very much like to quilt. When asked about the meaning of quilting for American women, Braxton says, "It's been an avenue, for expression, uh, for many, many, many American women." She points out, however, that some men also quilt and that this was true even among the "early quilters." Quilting is also a way to interact with other people. Braxton has only been quilting about ten years. Before she got involved, one of her co-workers told her to drop by the group at Calvary Episcopal Church and talk to Viola Williams Canady. She did drop by, but Canady was not there, and she did not immediately go back. When Braan told her about the group later, however, she remembered hearing about it before.

Keywords: Calvary Episcopal Church; Gertrude Braan; International Monetary Fund; Male quiltmakers; Quilt history; Time management; Viola Williams Canady