Saturday, October 6, 2018

Quilters Through The Generations - Deborah Wheeler

It has been a while since I have had a Generational Story to share... But Deborah Wheeler has graciously agreed to share her family's story of quilting through the generations.  

Her love for quilting is rooted deep in her DNA as she grew up with quilters all around her, playing under a quilt frame as a young child, and learning embroidery as a preschooler from her grandmothers.  

Many of her quilts are given as gifts as she enjoys sharing something she made that will not only keep them warm but also remind them of how much they are treasured.  

Thank you Deborah for sharing!  I enjoyed learning of your family... I am certain that others will as well.

Have YOU ever made a quilt or helped make a quilt?

I have both made and helped make quilts. 

Who helped you get started quilting?

My mom, Shirley Flinn,  and my grandmothers, Rose Flinn and Betty Zinn, got me started on handwork when I was very young (preschool age) by doing embroidery  and also getting me to help hand quilt whatever quilt happened to be in the frame. I was always encouraged to help even if my stitches were those of a beginner.  

I remember when I was too young to quilt, we would play under the frame as my mom, grandmothers or the ladies of our church women’s group quilted above us.  It is one of my earliest memories. I loved sitting around a quilt frame hand stitching with my mom and my grandmothers.  On my 50th birthday my Mom and my sisters helped me hand stitch a quilt I was making.  My mom has also helped me on another quilt I made.  She is a very accomplished hand-quilter.  She checked out my hand quilting and matched her stitches to mine so the quilt looks like it was quilted by one person (although her stitches were consistent and mine were not!)

Tell me about your first quilt...

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t surrounded by quilts as my grandmothers and my mother quilted, as well as some of my aunts, great grandmothers and great aunts.  

Over the years I made a few quilts with help from my mom.  One was a friendship quilt - shown here -  we made in girls club at our church.  We each made blocks using tri-chem paints and put our name on the blocks.  My mom then hand quilted it for me.  

I also made a baby quilt for my husband’s niece when she was born and a couple of quilts when our oldest daughter needed a bed quilt as well as one for our bed (both from fortrel).  

I had to look up what fortrel was... turns out it is a polyester fabric developed by Fred Fortress - here is what I found.  
Fred Fortess, a developer of Fortrel polyester and holder of 40 patents, died Saturday in Philadelphia. Mr. Fortess, who was 77, worked on development of man-made rubber and easy-care and flame-retardant fabrics. He worked for 31 years for Celanese Corp., where he received patents for new fibers and dyeing and finishing processes.

The first quilt I made on my own was the fortrel quilt I made for our daughter. 

These quilts were made before I knew anything about quilting such as a quarter inch seam or how to match up seams. I used a template cut from a cereal box and scissors to make the blocks.  In spite of that, both of these quilts were well loved and are worn out. 

My other “first” quilt was made in the beginner class I took with my sister, at a local quilt store - The Quilting Bee - in 2005.  By this time my children were all teenagers or done with high school and I had time to pursue quilting, something I had always wanted to do.

I remember being so nervous with all the new tools that were available.  They sure made quilting a whole lot easier than cardboard templates.

Below is the quilt I made in that class.  

It was a simple row quilt.  We had a wonderful instructor who taught us all the basics of quilting. And I haven’t looked back.  It is something I love to do. 

I still have the quilt I made in that class.  I use it on the coldest of winter nights. I also have the fortrel quilt I made for our daughter and hope to take it apart, repair the top and put new batting and backing on it.

Who taught you to sew?

My mom, Shirley, taught me to sew and to hand-quilt.  She is an excellent seamstress. I also took Home Ec classes in school.  The teacher said I would do a lot better if I would follow her instructions but I thought my mom gave better instructions and they didn’t always agree with what the teacher said! 

My mother has made many quilts and continues to do so.  She makes a lot of whole cloth quilts that are hand quilted.  Each of her grandchildren received a baby quilt and her children all got at least one double size quilt for high school graduation.  They are well-loved.

I don't have a good picture of my mom's quilts because the quilting does not show well... but she usually does the orange peel quilting design which was traditional in my Grandma Rose Flinn's family. She does not piece many quilts but her hand quilting is wonderful.    She also includes either a ruffle or prairie points around the edge.  All our girls had the ruffle on their baby quilts... and one of them, as an adult, may still like to hold the ruffled edge when she sleeps. 

Mom made this car quilt that featured embroidered car blocks for my brother when he was a teenager.

Did your grand-mother(s) quilt?  Great-grandmother?

My maternal grandmother, Betty Zinn, and my paternal grandmother, Rose Flinn, both were expert quilters.  

My Grandma Zinn (pictured on the left) always had a quilt on the go.

Grandma Flinn (pictured on the right), who lived in the same farmyard as we did, would stop in to hand quilt whenever my mom had a quilt in the frame.  

These are very special memories for me.  My Great- Grandma Conway and Great-Grandma Boettger (my grandmother's mothers) were also quilters.  

Here is a four generation picture from 1959 of my Great Grandma Conway, my Grandma Zinn, my Mom Shirley and me (a baby).  Turns out we are all quilters.

My sister is the caretaker of a family heirloom crazy quilt (pictured below) made by my Grandma Flinn’s sisters in 1900 - this was the year my grandmother was born - prior to their move west from Ontario, Canada.  

When her sisters made this quilt they were ages 14, 12, and 6.  I also have aunts and great-aunts who are/were quilters.  These are the ones I know of and I am sure there are others both present and in the past who passed on this love of quilting through the generations.

My Grandma Rose Flinn was an excellent embroiderer and she, along with my mom, taught me to embroider.  I do not have either of their skills but still like to do handwork once in a while.

Have YOU taught someone to quilt?  

My daughter Cherilyn and I did the Oregon Shop Hop in 2007 and we made a quilt together using the blocks we collected.  My daughter still has it.  I didn’t win her over to quilting.  She said she will stick with stained glass.

How many quilts have you made?

I have made more than 50 quilts ranging in size from wall hanging to queen size.  My favourite blocks are friendship star and churn dash.  Plus I love house blocks.

Do you have a favorite quilt?

Hmmm...I like them all but I really do treasure the quilt (pictured below)  that my Grandma Zinn gave me for my high school graduation...   

...and the one (pictured below) that my mom made with fabric I purchased on a trip to Missouri when I was a teenager. (you'll notice the ruffled edge)

Do you participate in any quilt groups?

I did belong to a quilt guild for a while but found that with working full time I did not have time to work on my own projects so I have put that on hold until I no longer work full time.  

I do belong to an on-line facebook group, Prairie Quilt Militia, where we make mystery quilts and block of the month. I really enjoy the mystery quilts I have made with this group, two of which I finished this year.  (shown here...) 

There are also retreats for those who are close enough to attend.  It is a wonderful group.

What do you do with your quilts? 

Most of my quilts are given away to family.  This quilt was donated to Quilts of Valour.  I have given several others away... one quilt I gave to a community member going through treatment for cancer.  Another was given to a coworker when she entered a new chapter of her life. I find it very rewarding to know that something I have made will keep someone warm and also remind them of how much I treasure them.

I have never sold a quilt or entered any quilt competitions. I quilt for pure enjoyment and do not have a desire to enter any quilt competitions.
Where do you get your inspiration from? 

I get inspiration mostly from fabrics and colours.  I usually use patterns and then pick out colours that I love to work with or that the person whom the quilt is for will love. 

This year I made this Big Foot quilt for my husband for his birthday...

Bill is my biggest supporter of my quilt hobby and he is great at picking out colours for my quilts.

I also completed this rainbow quilt for our daughter and her husband for their anniversary this year.

What is your favorite part of quilting? 

My favourite part of quilting is the piecing.  I love small pieces.  And then hand stitching the binding. The hardest part for me is figuring out a quilting design.

Why do you quilt? 

I quilt because I love the whole process and find it very relaxing.  I also feel connected to my family's past because it is something that the women in our family have done for generations.


Deborah shared that she wouldn't always follow her Home Economics teacher's instructions because she had learned differently from her Mom.  

I, too, was a "rebel" in Junior High Home Economics...  During the clothing construction portion of the class the teacher wanted us to pin across the seam and sew over the pins.  I had been taught in 4-H that you should pin parallel to the seam and remove the pins as you approach them because sewing over them was just an accident waiting to happen when the needle hit the pin and would break.  

Now, with clothing construction as well as quilting, I will pin across the seam... but I NEVER sew over the pins (or if I do it is an accident).  I have had way too many broken needles.  And it is startling when it happens.  

So, which method were you taught in sewing?  
Do you sew over pins?  
Or do you remove the pins?

Feel free to leave a comment or question for Deborah as well...

I love to hear from my readers...

Quilt Happy,

Melva Loves Scraps - Home of the Quilters Through The Generations series


  1. Thank you for researching Fortrel for us and including it, Melva; I would have needed to look it up for myself, too. The family photograph of 4 generations is such a priceless photo, and I love that all of them are quilters!

  2. What wonderful family photos! I enjoyed reading about Deborah's family, seeing the quilts and her answers to the questions. I liked the quilts from the Quilt Militia group, too. I had not heard of them before, so thanks, Deborah! I had four years of home ec, required by my mother! I really did sew on a 1938 Featherweight at home, too. I wish I'd inherited it, but my non-sewing sister got it.

    I learned to pin parallel when cutting, but rarely pinned anything when sewing. When I did, yes, I did not sew over pins! I still don't, and I almost never pin anything now, either. I also sewed on a machine at school that had a knee control instead of a foot pedal. I don't think I'd do very well with that now!

  3. A great article Melva, I always find those with a family history of quilting have such wonderful stories to tell. Loved the photos, especially the generations one, and the 1900 quilt is surely one to treasure.

  4. Love your spooky quilt all are very cute but the Witch is my favorite.