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Note: Carol Clemens is a member of the Captain William Hilton Chapter of the South Carolina State Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Hilda Clemens is not a member of the DAR. And while this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership within the DAR is not required for participation.

Carol Clemens (CC): Today is Friday, October 10 and this is Carol Clemens. I'm interviewing my mother-in-law, Hilda Clemens and it is about 10 o'clock in the morning. I'd like to thank Hilda Clemens for allowing me to interview her today as a part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. First, tell me about the quilt that you brought today.

Hilda Clemens (HC): Well, the quilt that I have you can call it--I call it, "Stars" and it is very simple. You can make it in all sizes. I like it because it's so easy and uses up scraps. I like the colors. I like to put the different colors together. I enjoy that. The most important thing to me is that I can cut it out by hand. I often use a rotary cutter but I do like hand cutting and then I enjoy the fabric when I cut it and then I enjoy it when I sew it by machine and then when I put it together and quilt it by hand. I enjoy the colors then.

CC: It is very pretty. It has lots of pinks and grays and the colors all blend together and greens. Does the quilt have any special meaning for you?

HC: I am making this quilt for a friend. Their daughter is graduating from high school and it is going to be a gift for her graduation.

CC: I am sure she is going to enjoy that. What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you? Does the quilt say anything about you personally?

HC: I think it says I like scrappy colors. [laughs.]

CC: But you put them together very well. Tell me a little bit about your interest in quilt making. At what age did you start quilting?

HC: Well, my grandmother used to quilt and I used to watch her but I really didn't get into it until I must have been in my 40's and I'm 80 now so I think I've been at it a few years. But the first was a home Bureau that I went to and they were doing quilting and that's when I first got really interested in it. Before that I did homemade tied quilts, just put them together and tied them, not hand quilted them.

CC: Well, did your Grandmother show you how to quilt or was it the people at the Home Bureau.

HC: My grandmother did tied quilts and then when I went to the Home Bureau they did the hand quilting and took some lessons from a lady there.

CC: About how many hours a week to you spend working on your quilts?

HC: Oh dear, that's hard to say because it's just a little bit of time every day but probably 3 to 4 hours maybe.

CC: That's pretty good. What is your first memory of a quilt?

HD: I think it was one that I had sent down from the family. It's an heirloom and its where my mother taught in a country school and everyone made a block and they signed it and it was one of the real old-fashioned quilts and its passed down to me and then to my daughter and that's the first quilt that I really remember that I loved.

CC: Well, that's a pretty old quilt.

HC: Really old.

CC: And your daughter has it now. Now you mentioned that your grandmother was a quilter. Do you have any other family or friends who are also quilters?

HC: Lots of friends but family doesn't so far. I hope that one of the girls would do it when they get time after retirement.

CC: Tell me, have you ever used a quilt to get you through difficult times?

HC: Oh yes. When you start quilting you just kind of relax and if you don't it isn't fun and you don't enjoy it. But once you relax and get into the rhythm of it you forget about all other things.

CC: Have you ever had an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making or from teaching some else to quilt? Anything funny?

HC: Well, when I lived in Florida I said, at a meeting, I said, 'She who dies with the most fabric wins,' and a lady said, 'You can't die until you teach me how to quilt,' and so I started some quilting lessons and I had four people. They went beyond my original abilities. They were really good.

CC: So you took your knowledge and helped spread your skills with others. That's good. What do you find most pleasing about quilt making? What do you like best about it?

HC: I think it's the working with the colors, the fabric colors.

CC: Is there anything about quilt making that you don't enjoy?

HC: I'm beginning to not enjoy the hand quilting like I used to because it's bothering my hands and then my eyesight isn't as good. It's hard to thread the needle. But I'm learning now you don't thread the needle, you needle the thread and it's a tip that helped me.

CC: Could you explain what you mean by that? How do you do that?

HC: You hold the thread and then push the needle onto the thread instead of the other way around.

CC: Well, that's a good tip for anybody, even a non-quilter. Do you belong to any quilt groups or art groups?

HC: Yes. I belong to the Tar River Piece Maker Quilting Guild in Rocky Mount and it has over 100 members and we meet once a month and we then have several, oh five or six, bees and we meet at the Imperial Center, a museum in Rocky Mount. They have a room for us and we can set up our machines and we have the big room for big meetings. And then we have smaller rooms for storage and we get this all, I think, it's all free and we donate quilts. We make Soldier Quilts and baby quilts and other charity quilts.

CC: Could you tell me a little bit about the Soldier Quilts? I notice you brought one that you're working on that's not completed. Tell me what you mean by a Soldier Quilt and what are they used for?

HC: Well, we, the last group we sent twenty-seven to the hospital, to an Army hospital and they are used for on the soldiers' beds or on the wheelchair size. There are two sizes and we have been trying to make them in red, white, and blue mostly. I made five so far but they aren't completed yet. They're all in different stages. And I try to use up this material and it seems to reproduce but the material gets smaller sizes and I have to cut smaller pieces but it's been enjoyable setting them up. The hard part is trying to quilt them all and some people have professional quilt, a big quilt machine and they do it for me and then I do the binding afterwards.

CC: Well, that sounds like a very good service project that you're working on. Have there any advances in technology that have influenced your work? Do you use different equipment now than since you first started?

HC: Oh yes. When I started we didn't have rotary cutters and we didn't have these plastic things to cut around and templates. I used to cut them out, in fact I still do, of cardboard and sandpaper and plastic milk jugs and we did all kinds of creative ways and now they have just tons of materials. You go to an art show or quilt show and find vendors there that always have new products and it's interesting to see.

CC: Describe the place that you work on these quilts. Do you have a special room in your home that is your quilt center?

HC: Yes, I work on it--for the hand quilting, I sit in my easy chair and have the TV or the music on and I just listen and quilt and relax. And then my sewing room is a [laughs.] I call it my "Hell Hole" because it gets really bad. I have so many projects going at once because if I get bored with one, I pick up something else to do and it holds the ironing board and the iron and the machines, and all the fabric. It's, it's a zoo sometimes.

CC: Do you use prepared patterns or do you design your own quilts?

HC: Well, I love quilt books and I look at them and just dream and look at them but I end up doing my own. I follow the pattern to a certain degree but then take off on my own because of the colors I want to use.

CC: So the color is the most important thing to you.

HC: Right, correct.

CC: I can see from the various quilts that you have here that you do enjoy working with colors, bright colors, and putting them all together. They look lovely. What do you think makes a great quilt?

HC: Oh dear. I think it is just the love you put into it. I don't do it for show. Many of the girls do a lot of quilting for the quilt shows, but I do it for the love of it.

CC: Do you think there is some special quality that a quilt needs to be a museum piece or part of a special collection?

HC: Oh yes. I think it must be much better than what I do. It, it has to be real fine stitches and the best material and stuff like that. But the old fashioned way when they started it was just with scraps.

CC: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

HC: Well, I prefer hand quilting as long as my hands will hold out and there's only maybe five of us that I know in the group that still do hand quilting. Most of the ladies have these big machines that take up a whole room and of course, I couldn't do that and I wouldn't enjoy it but I prefer the old fashioned. There's not many of us left.

CC: So a longarm quilting machine is not something that you'd use?

HC: No, I would never use it.

CC: Tell me a little bit why you think quilt making is important to you personally.

HC: I think it lifts my spirits and keeps me happy. I can't imagine people not having something to do and it's just a hobby and it's enjoyable. That's about it.

CC: Do you think your quilts in any way reflect your community or the Southeastern part of the United States? Or are your quilts more general?

HC: I'd say they're general.

CC: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

HC: Well, I think it's becoming more popular with more quilt guilds and groups around the country that I have read in different newspapers. And then we have speakers that come that have written books and it gets more interesting. And I think more people are picking it up now.

CC: Do you think quilts have any special meaning for women's history in America?

HC: Oh yes. We have talked about the history and many of the books have the history of American quilts and even foreign quilts and it's interesting to read and they have stories based on quilts.

CC: In what ways do you use your quilts? Do you use them just on the beds or as you mentioned, the soldier project? Do you do anything else with your quilting?

HC: My daughters use them, all my family use them. I guess my quilts are to be used not just to be hung or anything like that.

CC: You can hang them on the wall, use them as bedspreads.

HC: Yes.

CC: Do you ever do quilting on objects like clothes or purses or anything like that?

HC: Well, I make tote bags but I don't usually quilt them.

CC: Now you mentioned that some of the quilts have gone to members of your family. Who else do you give the quilts to or where do they go? Do you donate them to charity other than the Soldier Project?

HC: Well, there's the, we have a birth mother quilt that we make a small quilt for the adopted child and the birth mother gets a small patch that stays with her when she gives up the child. And they have the newborn babies that we do for the hospital and that has to be very small and a certain size. And then other just charity quilts like somebody will come and say this home, these people, need quilts and we give them charity quilts. But my family uses them and they use them well with dogs, cats, [laughs.] the whole family. [laughs.]

CC: Do you ever donate your quilts to say a raffle for a fundraiser for a group?

HC: Oh yes, yes. We used to do that. I did that for the Humane Society in Florida and it makes pretty good money and also a bazaar up north and they make good money that way.

CC: So your quilts are probably all over the eastern coast of the United States.

HC: I would say so.

CC: What do you think is the biggest challenge presenting quilt makers today?

HC: I think the biggest challenge is whether they're going to do machine or hand quilting. I don't think there is going to be any hand quilting left after our generation is gone.

CC: Oh. Well, that's the end of my questions, but is there anything else that you would like to say or any other comment about quilting that you would like to share?

HC: Only that I had a lot of help along the way starting with my grandmother and then with the quilt groups and so forth. And I and this last years was the first year that I went to a real big quilt show and that was a thrill of my life. And so since then, I've gone to smaller ones but it's just a joy that keeps me going.

CC: Well, thank you very much, Hilda, for allowing me to interview you and I do appreciate it.

This interview ended about 10:18 a.m.