Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Roy Mitchell, Jr., December 29, 2008

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Introduction to his quilt "Watermelun Babies"

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Partial Transcript: This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilter's S.O.S. Save Our Stories interview with Roy Mitchell, Jr.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell starts off by saying that he is a collector of Black memorabilia. As he studied Black culture, he began to wonder why Black people were always negatively correlated with watermelon. In response, Mitchell created "Watermelun Babies" to portray a more positive linkage between watermelon and Black people. His style makes the babies look more appealing and cute to enforce a positive stigma and show the public that it is okay to enjoy and eat watermelon in public.

Keywords: "Watermelun Babies"; African American quiltmakers; African American quilts; Quilt purpose - Memorial; Quilting; Quilts

Subjects: African American quiltmakers; African American quilts; African Americans--Social conditions; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting purpose; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:02:25 - Origins of Mitchell's nickname

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Partial Transcript: So, how did you become known as the Watermelon Man?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says that he belongs to a group called Daughters of Dorcas and Sons, where the president recognized him and stated "Oh, you are the watermelon man." He says that eventually the whole group began to call him that, and he adopted it as his trade name.

Keywords: "Watermelun Babies"; Nicknames; Quilting; Quilting communities; Quilts

Subjects: African American quiltmakers; African American quilts; African Americans--Social conditions; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmaker's club; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quilts

00:03:17 - How the quilt is used

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Partial Transcript: So, how do you use this quilt?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says that the "Watermelun Babies" quilt has been used in the National Quilters Association show. He also mentions that a National Slave Museum is going to be built and wants to display the quilt. He says that the "Watermelun Babies" quilt is traveling to multiple shows, whereas the smaller quilt has been used in school systems to teach kids about negative stigmas and how to make them positive.

Keywords: "Watermelun Babies"; Art education; Quilt purpose - Activism/Awareness; Quilt purpose - Exhibition; Quilt shows/exhibitions

Subjects: African American quilts; African Americans--Social conditions; Museums; Quilt purpose; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quilts; Quilts in art

00:04:05 - Plans for the quilt

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Partial Transcript: So, what are your plans for the quilt?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says that his plans for the quilts are to be donated and archived. He says he wants it donated to the Smithsonian Museum for African American History as well as the White House.

Keywords: "Watermelun Babies"; African American quiltmakers; African American quilts; Archive; Donating quilts; Quilt shows/exhibitions

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Museums; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quilts

00:04:48 - Interest in quiltmaking

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says that a friend of his introduced him to quilting when he needed to find an outlet for stress relief. They went to a state fair in Virginia to view quilts, and Mitchell was astonished by the prices of the quilts. He was under the impression that the quilts were not worthy of their high prices, since he thought they were just something you'd have as a child to place on your bed and keep warm. Mitchell believed that he could remake the quilts and began to take a class. He mentions that the first block style they used was Nine Patch and Bear Claws. After class was over, Mitchell made a Double Wedding Ring quilt. His method of stitching is couching, a hand piecing practice.

Keywords: Children's quilts; Double Wedding Ring (quilt pattern); Hand piecing; Quilt purpose - Home decoration; Quilt purpose - Meditation/relaxation; Quilt purpose - Personal enjoyment; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking class; Quiltmaking classes; Quiltmaking style; Quilts

Subjects: Children's quilts; Double wedding ring quilts; Male quiltmakers; Quilters; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:08:57 - Hand quilting methods and practice

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Partial Transcript: So, you like doing things by hand?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says he enjoys hand quilting, but he is also willing to use machines. He does note that the clown in the quilt was done by a method called stripping, which requires a machine. He reflects on how he learned couching with Mrs. Canady, and how she pushed him to perfect his hand quilting method.

Keywords: Design process; Hand quilting; Machine quilting; Quilting; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

Subjects: Quilters; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts; Strip quilting

00:10:24 - Kings of Quilts formation

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about the Kings of Quilts.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell gives insight into how he ended up joining the Kings of Quilts. He says that when he joined the Daughters of Dorcas and Sons, he was hoping that there would be more males. Mitchell says that he knew there were other men in the quilting community that would surely appreciate having a male quilting club. Through friends and neighbors, he was able to create the Kings of Quilts group, which now totals at about 8 members. His club is collaborating with the school system in Prince William County to teach young men how to quilt.

Keywords: Art education; Gender in quiltmaking; Kings of Quilts; Quilting communities; Quiltmaking class; Quiltmaking classes

Subjects: Male quiltmakers; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quilts

00:13:29 - Hours spent on quilting in a week

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Partial Transcript: So, how many hours a week do you quilt?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says he spends about sixty hours quilting. He says it took 12 hours for one baby to be completed on the "Watermelun Babies" quilt. He says that quilting in his studio is a therapy for him.

Keywords: Home studios; Quilt purpose - Meditation/relaxation; Time management; Work or studio space

Subjects: Quilters; Quilting; Quilting arts workshop; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:14:36 - Studio description

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Partial Transcript: So tell me--describe your studio.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says his studio is 12x16 feet and he often works in there with his son. He has a custom-made cutting table and ironing board. Mitchell has a shelf that contains all his fat quarters and authentic fabrics which come from Africa or are hand made by himself. He categorizes his fabrics by color and print type. Mitchell also says that he has three sewing machines. He also states that his height makes it difficult to machine sew.

Keywords: Fabric selection; Fabric stash; Fat quarters; Home sewing machine; Home studios; Quilting; Quilts; Studio quilt artists; Work or studio space

Subjects: Quilters; Quilting; Quilting arts workshop; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts; Sewing; Sewing machines.

00:18:09 - Trips to Africa and fabric design inspiration

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about designing fabric.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says he travels to Africa every year and stays for a month. During his first ever visit, he was fascinated by the African tie-dyeing method called "batik" and was inspired to create his own designs. Mitchell states that he has a staff that he informs on colors he wishes to use and how they can be blended to create fabrics, also known as mood fabrics. He further mentions that he knows how to work with textiles, weaving, and wax cloth.

Keywords: Design process; Fabric - Batiks; Fabric choice; Fabric dyeing; Quilt design; Quiltmaking inspiration

Subjects: African American quiltmakers; African American quilts; African American quilts--West African influences; Quilters; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:20:19 - Advice for new quilters

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Partial Transcript: What advice do you offer someone starting out?

Segment Synopsis: Belief and confidence in yourself is the advice Mitchell wants to instill in new quilt makers. He says that many people in his quilting group find the art of quilting to be therapeutic. Another important note Mitchell speaks on is to not over-invest in quilting until you find out if you enjoy it or not. He recommends finding a group first, learning from them, and then purchasing a basic sewing machine. Mitchell says that it is important to remember that quilting is an art practice.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Quilt purpose - Meditation/relaxation; Quilt purpose - Personal enjoyment; Quilt purpose - Therapy; Quilting; Quilts

Subjects: Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:23:55 - Typical quilt size

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Partial Transcript: Is it typical--do you g-generally work in that size? Or what size do you generally work in?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says that he has made a king-sized Double Wedding Ring quilt that he, his father, and son will work on. It will be a commemorative piece of their family bond. He says that the quilt sizes vary based on the piece.

Keywords: Family; Family life; Quilting

Subjects: Double wedding ring quilts; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting purpose; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:25:45 - Quilters vs. artists

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Partial Transcript: So you, you've talked about this being an art. Do you think yourself as, as an artist or a quilt maker? Or do you even make the distinction?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell begins by saying that he never thought of himself as an artist, just a quilter. When others started seeing his work and calling him an artist, he was able to now view himself as such. He advises that if you have a vision, create it. Finally, Mitchell decides that he is a "dual person": a quilter and an artist.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Art quilts; Hobby; Quilting; Quilts

Subjects: Craft and art; Crafts & decorating; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:27:18 - Challenges quiltmakers face today

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Partial Transcript: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

Segment Synopsis: Learning the technique is the biggest challenge to quilt makers, Mitchell says. He says that since there are so many art types and designs and ways to create quilts people often get confused on where to start. He believes that other difficult things include color selection, accurately cutting, and how to piece it together. Mitchell states that he struggles most with the creative side of quilting.

Keywords: Challenges within the quilting community; Color balance; Color theory; Hand applique; Hand piecing; Home sewing machine; Modern quiltmaking; Modern quilts; Quilt design; Quilting; Quilts

Subjects: Art quilts; Arts and crafts; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts

00:29:23 - How he wants to be remembered / Experience as a male quilter

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Partial Transcript: How do you want to be remembered?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell says he wants to be remembered for not being afraid of a challenge and being a male quilter in a female-dominated area. He wants people to know that growing up as an African American child and enduring racism did not change his positive outlook on life. He also wants people to remember that there is no such thing as a "female" or "male" job and to follow your dream. He says that his experience as a male in a female-dominated field has been welcoming. The women are eager to teach him.

Keywords: African American quiltmaking; African American quilts; Female quiltmakers; Gender in quiltmaking; Gender roles; Male quiltmakers; Quilting; Quiltmaking

Subjects: African American quiltmakers; African American quilts; African Americans--Social conditions; Male quiltmakers; Quilters; Quilting; Quilting.; Quiltmakers; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking process; Quilts