Top of page

Collection Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 to 1996

Maggie Shockley

Maggie Cochran Shockley was born on April 4, 1913, in Hillsville (Carroll County), Virginia. She graduated from Hillsville High School but was unable to go to college at that time. She married Everett Shockley and they raised three children. Mrs. Shockley worked as a farm wife, cultivating a garden and orchards, preserving the produce, and maintaining livestock. At the age of fifty-six she enrolled in college and attended for three years. Although she did not get a degree -- "Math was a little hard" -- she worked as a teacher's aide for eight years, helping retarded students with reading and math. At the time of the interview in 1978, Mrs. Shockley had left her job in order to care for her mother, who was ninety-five.

Her mother, Sybella Cochran, was born in Carroll County, Virginia, on August 21, 1883. She was the oldest of eight children. When she was orphaned at age fifteen, she and her siblings went to live with different families, and Sybella learned to make quilts from the women she lived with. She married Norman Cochran (a carpenter who later went into the cattle business) and they raised seven children.

Maggie Shockley estimated that her mother had made "thousands" of quilts in her lifetime. Until she was about ninety years old, Mrs. Cochran made each of her children and grandchildren a quilt each year for Christmas. She also gave away many quilts, and others that she made were used by the family. Mrs. Shockley had accumulated so many of her mother's unquilted tops that she had sold some at a flea market several years before the interview.

Maggie Shockley had her mother's collection of fabric piecework pattern blocks. Many quiltmakers, upon acquiring a new pattern, made one block as a sample. The collection of blocks served as a reference from which the quiltmaker could select a pattern and remind herself of how it went together.

Maggie Shockley described how she and her mother made "crazy quilts" and "string quilts," both of which were usually pieced on a foundation of paper. Mrs.Shockley recalled that for her first attempts at patchwork, her mother cut diamonds from paper and gave her daughters only the smallest "strings," narrow strips. "Anything over an inch, we didn't get hold of." She sewed the strings onto the paper diamonds, which her mother then combined to make eight-pointed stars. Maggie and her sisters learned to quilt from their mother, gathering around the frame, being very careful to make small stitches.

Maggie Shockley recalled that her mother sometimes used feed sacks for quilt linings and that one time she collected enough Prince Albert smoking-tobacco sacks to make a quilt lining. This was considered quite a feat, as the tobacco bags were only about five inches square. Her mother also unraveled the tops of worn-out socks and used the yarn to quilt.

Maggie Shockley made quilts while her children were small. She typically put her quilt in the frame at five o'clock in the morning, when her husband left for work, and finished it by the time he got home in the evening. When the three boys were in school, she sometimes quilted "about all day long." She did her quilting in the winter months, when she had fewer farm responsibilities.

Maggie Shockley had done little quiltmaking for some years before the interview. However, she and her sister had recently set up a quilt frame at their mother's house so that they could quilt while caring for her. Mrs. Shockley reported that the quilt had been "in" almost two weeks and that they were about half finished.

During the 1960s Mrs. Shockley quilted with a group from her church, quilting tops for hire and making quilts to sell, but that activity had ended. At the time of the interview Mrs. Shockley was continuing to sell some of the tops she made. She had made quilts for her children and grandchildren, and she was then completing the last of three "Cathedral Window" quilts, one for each of her sons.

Mrs. Shockley made her quilts from sewing remnants, and she frequently received scraps from neighbors and friends. She also ordered cutaways (remnants from the process of cutting out clothing) from factories, pointing out that she could specify light or dark colors. She remembered buying special fabric for only two of her quilts.

In the years leading up to the interview, Mrs. Shockley had developed a greater appreciation for the lasting value of her quilts. "Mom did a lot of these and she's going to be gone. And I thought, well you know, if I feel that way about my mother's quilts, then my children will probably feel the same way in years to come about the ones I have done."

by Laurel Horton, July 1999

Photographs and Sound Recordings Featuring Maggie Shockley