Vol. V, No. 2, Fall 1991


Profile: Dorothy Ennis

Hooked On Quilts

By Laynah J. Rogers



Laynah Rogers teaches English at Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri.

That Saturday September sunrise began a splendid day to be cruising the winding Shannon County roads toward my destination--the small country town of Eminence, Missouri. I was glad when Dr. Flanders said, "Go meet Dorothy Ennis. She is an expert quiltmaker." I was curious.

What makes one an expert on anything? I wondered. Upon my arrival, I phoned Dorothy.

"You're in front of the Western Auto Catalog Store. I'll meet you in ten minutes." How did she know where I was? Later I learned the town has only one pay phone!

I waited for her in a nearby cafe. Within minutes, a tall, thin woman, dressed in jeans and pink sweatshirt, entered and walked straight to me. "Are you Laynah Rogers?"

"Yes." We both grinned. I liked her already. After more formal greetings, we drove to Dorothy's shop in town--Ozarks Quilts Country--located in The Rock House, the former town garage. When I stepped into her shop I was instantly surrounded by the brightest colored quilts imaginable! Everywhere I looked I saw hand-fashioned quilts--crib size, samplers, beach throws, bed size. Exploring further, I was impressed by her precise organization of needles, thread, cutters, thimbles, scissors, cutting board, and patterns, arranged and tagged for retail.

Totally fascinated by this craftswoman, I discarded my pre-written questions and "winged my way."

As Dorothy showed her most popular quilt, Trip Around the World, she explained to me the step-by-step process of designing and stitching such a masterpiece. Walking about the shop, explaining for me the names of the many different patterns, she told me of the first quilting she had done, a Patchwork pattern, at age 5. Over the years, she stitched many more complex patterns of course, raised six children, and taught elementary school for twenty-one years. Since 1974, upon retiring from teaching, she has stayed busy quilting nearly full-time since "the Devil finds work for idle hands."

"Look around," she exclaimed, sweeping her hand around the brightly colored room. "People tell me they buy my quilts because of the beautiful color combinations." She stepped to a stack of at least 125 tops, organized and awaiting quilting, and added cheerfully, "On a depressing day the best way to chase the gloom away is to surround myself with bright colors."

"Did you quilt all of these by yourself?"

"No. The market demand is such that I employ two full-time quilters--one in West Plains and one in Springfield--and I keep them busy year 'round."

Dorothy has sold quilts in all but ten states in this country as well as to customers in Germany, France, England, and Canada. She travels frequently in Missouri, Florida, California (she has appeared on KCBS television in Hollywood), Michigan, New York, and Virginia promoting her handicraft. State Senator Dan Staples, Representative Richard Ichord, and former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's first grandchild all have quilts fashioned by Dorothy Ennis.

Planned trips to visit her daughter in California are often combined with business. Before she leaves, Dorothy ships quilts to arrive for home "quilt parties," where neighbors come and go, placing orders and purchasing her quilts to adorn their beds or hang on their walls. (The latter use is not an Ozarks custom, according to Dorothy.) At the first party, laughs Dorothy, the California natives expected Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. I'll bet they were pleasantly surprised when this aggressive, proud, stylish Ozarks quilter appeared!

Desiring to will her family a real Ozarks heritage, Dorothy began buying old hand-made quilts--some date back to the 1800s. Her collection now numbers over 100 and includes such patterns as Crazy Quilt, String Quilt, Log Cabin, Curved Seam, and Appliqued. When invited to clubs and organizations, Dorothy displays each quilt and shares its unique history to all who will listen.

Throughout the interview, Dorothy sang the praises of living in Eminence and being part of the mysterious charm of the Ozarks.

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Late that afternoon, I retraced the route back to home to Rogersville, feeling refreshed by having met this expert quiltmaker. I brought back with me a renewed sense of my own identity. As Dorothy demonstrated her craft, I visualized my Ozarks Grandmother Johnson, years ago stitching quilts out of necessity, and somehow I found a better understanding of our kinship in ancestry

Photos by the author.

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