Interview with American Quilter Lucy Hilty

Published: Friday, 25th February 2011 11:11 AM

This interview is from the Quilters' Guild archive. Read more about the 'Quilt Stories' project here.

LUCY HILTY (1917-2001)

Lucy Hilty was born in Pandora, Ohio in 1917, and her mother’s involvement with the quilting group at the family’s Mennonite church meant that she grew up with quilting all around her. In the 1930s, Hilty attended Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and later completed her Masters degree at Columbia University. She worked for the Red Cross during the Second World War, before becoming a kindergarten teacher in California and at military bases in Japan and Britain. After her retirement, Hilty began to teach quilting to adults and became one of the founding members of the American Quilt Study Group. Hilty is renowned for her fine hand-quilting.

In 1983, while she was in the UK giving quilting workshops, Lucy Hilty took part in an interview with Quilters’ Guild Member, Margaret Bauldreay. An edited extract of this interview can be read below:

Margaret Bauldreay: Tell us what started you off in quilting and how it’s gone on from there.

Lucy Hilty: I began quilting at home; my mother was a quilter and it was one of her most enjoyable forms of recreation. I remember cutting out little triangles when I was about 8 years old. There was a period of time when my mother made a series of 4 quilts that were all the same. She made one for each of her children. They were beautiful, embroidered quilts and this started when my brother got married. The two of us worked together on this quilt. The next summer one of my sisters got married and my mother started the same quilt all over again for her, and the next summer my other sister got married and she made a quilt for her. When she got through she said now I’ll make one for you, and since I’ve never married it was lucky that she felt that way. The four quilts are very beautiful and this past Fall my sister entered the quilt our mother made in a quilt show in Akron, Ohio and it won not only first place in its category but best of the show.

Lucy talks about how quilting is an important part of women’s history:

I don't know of any other craft that [people] feel quite like this about. I don't know of any other craft that gives them the ability to work by themselves but also to work in a social setting, and maybe that's part of the love for quilting. And maybe part of it is related to women's history in that women [for] so many years were thwarted in terms of education, and so the quilting, maybe, was a kind of an outlet or expression of their inner needs. I don't know what it is but I feel a great kinship to the women of 100 - 150 years ago and the quilts they made, and I can understand how they brought beauty into lives that were very colourless and very difficult.

Lucy talks about the different phases of the quilt-making process:

I feel that quilting divides itself into phases; I mean there's the planning part which is terribly exciting, and gathering the things together, thinking up the pattern, how you want to use it, the colours you want to use, making the patterns. And then the next is the technical part of putting it together and making your top. And then the third part is planning the quilting, which I think shares an equal part with the other. I think it's as important to plan that as well as to plan everything else.

Lucy talks about why she likes large scale quilts:

I don't make miniatures, and one of the things I love about quilts is the bigness of them. I love working with something big. Women all their lives have done tiny little stitchery with embroidery, and you work and work for hours and maybe you've covered two inches. Well, I like quilts because you can cover a wall with a quilt. I like the bigness of them, and I like the boldness of the designs. I think women have always gone in for all those little pastel things and I like the quilt to really make a statement.

With thanks to Margaret Bauldreay.

This post was written by Museum Volunteer Victoria Griffin Boast