Blue Ridge Quilters | Mamie Bryan | Ila Patton | Maggie Shockley | Donna Choate | Zenna Todd | Lura Stanley
Zenna Todd Photographs and Sound Recordings Featuring Zenna Todd
by Laurel Horton, July, 1999
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Portrait of Zenna Todd

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Crazy quilt

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Double Wedding Ring quilt, detail

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Lone Star quilt

Zenna Bottomly Todd was born on June 1, 1916, in Ennice (Alleghany County), North Carolina, and at the time of the interview in 1978, she had lived practically all her life in the same area. She married in 1934 and raised three sons. She remembered starting to make quilts when she was twenty-five years old. At that time she made "crazy quilts" which were tacked rather than quilted. Her first patterned quilt was a "Monkey Wrench" made in 1936 or 1937. Her mother-in-law offered to help set up a frame and show her how to quilt, but neglected to tell Zenna how to pull the knots through to the middle layer so that they would not show on the lining. Zenna Todd was quilting with black thread, and when she saw the back of the part she had quilted, it looked "like flies a-setting on the lining."

Zenna Todd made her early quilts for family use, but her quiltmaking later was primarily an enjoyable pastime. In 1972, she taught a quilting class sponsored by the Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission, an anti-poverty program, at a local community college. By 1978, Mrs. Todd was making quilts to sell in local craft shops. A few years before, she had begun embroidering her name and the date on the back of the quilts she made.

Mrs. Todd considered coordinating colors the hardest part of quiltmaking. She bought fabrics whenever she found appropriate colors and prints at a good price. At one time she had been able to get "cutaways," remnants from a blouse factory, but by 1978 the factory no longer made them available. "The cheaper you get your material, the less you have in your quilt," Mrs. Todd said. She noted that the craft shops only wanted quilts made with cotton fabrics, not polyester.

Zenna Todd liked making the "Double Wedding Ring" pattern, even though it is hard to put together. She noted that once one begins piecing this pattern, it is better to finish it before switching to another pattern. "If you change off on another one, and then you come back to the 'Double Wedding Ring,' you have to concentrate, and it's hard to do." Mrs. Todd had a lot of "hand-me-down" patterns from family and friends, and she also acquired patterns from magazines like Quilt World.

Zenna Todd learned to quilt in the fan design from her mother-in-law, marking the semi circular curves with a string and a pencil. At the time of the interview, fan quilting was considered old-fashioned and undesirable for the quilts sold at craft shops. Mrs. Todd usually starts quilting during the winter, after Christmas. She sets up her frame in the bedroom and leaves it up until she has quilted four or five tops. It usually takes her about a week to quilt one quilt. "When I get started, I just go at it . . . I'd put maybe eight, nine hours on it. You can do a right much in that length of time."

The only time Mrs. Todd had quilted with a group was when she taught her quilting class. Once, too, she and other quilters were asked to demonstrate quilting at the Union Grove Fiddlers' Convention. "A lot of people would come in and want to make pictures, you know, and want to see us do it, that hadn't ever seen nothing like that a-going on. And it was, it was very interesting."

In 1976, to celebrate the Bicentennial, Zenna Todd made a wall hanging featuring a log cabin and a silhouette of George Washington. She also made an "Eagle" quilt, and both quilts were sold through local craft shops.

Zenna Todd's mother-in-law was ninety years old and still piecing quilts at the time of the interview in 1978. Because of her failing eyesight, her needlework was not considered by the family to match the quality of her earlier work, and family members complained about the mess she made. However, Zenna Todd told them "Now, let her alone. Let her work at that . . . If she's contented to that, let her do it." Mrs. Todd also described a conversation that took place when she sold crafts at a flea market. A woman stopped at the table and wondered why her mother couldn't take up a craft hobby, since all she did was "take nerve pills and complain." Mrs. Todd thought that people should have something they can do to occupy their time productively when they retire.

Blue Ridge Quilters | Mamie Bryan | Ila Patton | Maggie Shockley | Donna Choate | Zenna Todd | Lura Stanley

Quilts and Quiltmaking in America