participants at the training. throughout the tape there are voices in the background from other classes.]
Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. Today is October 4, 2002. It is 11:10 a.m. and I’m conducting an interview with Linda Claussen for Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project at American Quilt Study Group in Rockford, Illinois. Welcome Linda.
Linda Claussen (LC): Thank you.
KM: Thank you for coming. Tell me about the quilt that you brought today.
LC: This quilt is known as “Bloom.” It’s made with fabrics that came from a variety of workshops and personal expressions and Walmart. [laughter in the background.] And the design block came from a Nancy Halpern class at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg [Tennessee.]. The quilt is dated 1997. The fabrics probably go back five, maybe eight years [sounds of someone taking a picture.] so there was a collection of fabrics that I had [coughing in the background.] plus the Nancy Halpern workshop. They came together to a degree there and gradually worked themselves into the piece. The piece is a little bit skewed and off-center which may be appropriate. I love traditional quilts but I have a sense of feeling like you need to make something new to add to the general quilt vocabulary.
KM: So why did you choose to bring this particular quilt?
LC: To be honest with you I hadn’t thought about bringing a quilt [laughing.] until I caught the email from Amy [Henderson.] and I was packing in that room and it was on the wall. [LC laughs as does the participants.] They you go and it’s not real big. It wasn’t hard to juggle.
KM: How do you use this quilt?
LC: It hangs on the wall in one of the bedrooms. [5 second pause.]
KM: Okay, what are your plans for the quilt?
LC: It will probably stay with us. I have two rooms that I circulate small wall quilts through. Some of them are quilts that I’ve made. Some of them are quilts, and I treasure these, my friends have made that I have been able to either have given to me which I love or buy, whatever. But I enjoy those. Some of them are some ethnic textiles that I think really are reflective of the things that women do and I enjoy that too.
KM: So you collect ethnic textiles?
LC: No but when I find something. No a lot. I’m not an active collector. I guess you would say as a quilter I’m relatively unfocused. I do quilt and I’m interested in quilt history. I have participated in Quilt Tennessee Project in–was it? 1986-87. I’m part of a guild and a quilting bee. My activities range back and forth. I’m not very intense in any–well periodically I’m very intense but quilting is kind of my personal part of my life and sometimes it sits off by itself and sometimes I’m very involved in it. [four second pause.] I have in the past enjoyed workshops in places like Arrowmont. I tend to prefer long term workshop a week or something like that as opposed to a short experience. And, again, this quilt was from that kind of experience. [laughs.]
KM: Have you used quilting to get through a difficult time?
LC: Oh yes, oh yes. I’m sure everybody has a feeling that quilting kind of trans–almost like a Zen feeling when have–when you can focus yourself on a design process, you can step away from issues that you can’t resolve right at the moment. Maybe you can resolve the design process and maybe you can’t. And other times just the physical act of quilting; the rhythmic quality of it and so on is a kin to taking a walk and it’s a pleasure. There have been times when I’ve had a big quilt on a frame and set aside maybe an hour or a physical block to design. That serves a period of stopping you and giving you a sense of stepping out of the pressures that you are dealing with and then get back in there and slug it out or make dinner. Whatever, answer the phone.
KM: It’s hand quilted?
LC: This one is hand quilted. I have some friends in my quilting bee who do fabulous, fabulous machine work and I admire some much what they do but the machine–piecing is great because you can get a quick fix and you can get the design done but the quilting on the machine to me creates a lot of tension and that’s the opposite of hand quilting for me so I do prefer the hand quilting. I’m not a particularly good quilter. I’m not a competitor. I know that there are always people out there. I don’t play bridge. I don’t golf. [audience laughs.] I will enter my quilts in competition because that is a nice thing to do but I don’t make them for competition and yet I understand that with some of my friends that is what drives and they get wonderful results for them. It’s just not what I need. [coughing in the background.]
KM: Let’s describe the quilt a little bit. Tell me a little bit about the quilt that we have here.
LC: Well, [sigh.] it’s a random block that we developed in Nancy’s class. I had several fabrics; [coughing in the background.] a category of fabrics that I felt went together well color wise and so on. This [pointing to an area on the quilt.] came from an indigo dye class that I took at Arrowmont and we did other things too which I have completely forgotten. This indigo dye here is from Jim Lyle’s who was a long time member of our quilting bee for a while. He had an indigo dye workshop. Jim–some of you may know that he’s since died. His dye techniques and dye recipes were very well recognized. This friend of mine dyed for me–what do you call it? It’s a silk screen? [KM hums yes.] A silk screen done by a woman Martha Craig who is in Jonesboro, Tennessee and it was on white muslin which didn’t have much personality. I felt if you’re going to bloom where you’re planted, you need some color. Joan McGuiness did that for me. These funny little guys are a rainbow packet that came from a couple that were outside of Denver. What is their name? [someone from the audience says, ‘Micheal Bulance.’] Michael Bulance. They were boxers of all things. They’re obviously polka-dots but cut up they have some funny continuity. Just a funny relationship with fabrics. I almost think of it as kind of a conversation. I’m not quite sure what it says but the room where it is, it’s warm and sun shining through it and that pleases me.
[KM and LC talking at the same time.]
KM: I noticed you have a lot of–
LC: I wish I–Yeah. I don’t know if I have anything. I probably don’t. I’m not very good– once I get near the end. I have a little trouble following through. [laughs.] I know you should always label your quilts and so on and that’s probably a good discipline. I–when I get toward the end, I’m ready to race to the end and go on to something else. But anyway, it was a fun quilt to do. And to be honest with you to be looking back at it, I feel like I need to establish another relationship like this; another conversation. Who knows I’ll go back and find it out? I remember I got that fish fabric in a Walmart in Huntsville, Texas while I was staying with my sister-in-law [coughing in the background.] and I’ve haunted Walmarts ever since to find that same material and never have; a little piece like this. [points to piece of fabric in the quilt and shows the group.]
KM: [whispers.] Very nice. So what do you think makes a great quilt?
LC: I think there has to be a kind of energy behind it. I’m very turned on by color and how colors interact with each other. Manipulating the design so that the color makes sense has to happen. [loud voices in the background.] You can take every color there is put it on unless you make them kind of converse with each other they may be overwhelming. There is a fine line between–well there is a fine line between chaos and being bored that I like to find. I suppose that’s why I tend to back away from repeating a quilt that has already been made because in a sense, ‘hey that’s been done.’ And yet on the other hand you have a very favorite quilt that cannot have it so you start out and try to make it and well I always get a little off the subject there anyway. You notice that my cat is here too. [pointing out cat hair.] [laughter from the audience.] But we love him.
KM: So your cat sleeps on the quilt?
LC: No. No. Those people who have cats just know that their presence is made known as you travel and so on. They take care of your mind.
KM: How to do think quilts have special meaning in women’s history in America?
LC: I remember when I first met Merikay Waldvogel, she and Bets Ramsey had a quilt day of some sort in Knoxville. At the time Merikay was at the Knoxville Women’s Center. They scheduled a day where they asked people to bring in quilts; either quilts they had made or quilt that were in the family. And I had two quilts that had been in my family and interestingly enough they were exactly alike. [KM whispers, ‘How did they do that?’] My mother did that. They were part of the Little Women quilts that were in Ladies Home Journal. Mother made two twin size quilts for my bed. I brought one of them in and Merikay thought that was just fabulous and I thought, ‘Whoa, [laughs.] this is a surprise.’ I never met anyone that was that excited about it. And I also in the side of my head had the feeling that, maybe a prejudgment or something, quilts were a feminine expression. Somewhere along the line–and I was thinking about my older son, you tend to deal with your kids and I knew I couldn’t make him a Dutch doll or a Little Women quilt but I did find a tractor quilt pattern so it began to develop that I realized that quilting was a whole wide vocabulary of designs and expressions. And I think to me it is really intriguing that women all over the world have an infinity for fiber work one way or the other and I think that common thread so to speak that goes through it is really fascinating. I’m sort of skipping around a whole bunch things aren’t I.
KM: That’s quite all right.
LC: But at any rate, I became interested in Bets and Merikay and those of you that know them realize what kind of wonderful presentation they make and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ And at the time the Quilts of Tennessee Project was coming on and AQSG was in Gatlinburg and it was just a whole new doorway opening to me. I didn’t feel quite so silly as some of my family and friends thought I was when I was making these quilts. So that was a beginning. I was fortunate to find a guild that I enjoy, even more fortunate to find a group of women that meet every week–Thursday Bee. And we’ve had experiences over a period of 20 years. I have been truly, truly rich. There are four of us at this point that are now I guess you would call charter members which sounds scary but we have wonderful women who come and are a part of our experience doing all kinds of fiber work. And as I said I was interested in quilt history project. Some of us got stirred up about, I don’t know if I want to even bring this up, the Smithsonian licensing reproduction quilts made in China. And our Thursday Bee group was instrumental in explaining to the National Museum of American History that we really didn’t think this was cool and we came to an agreement that I think settled that issue regarding that specific Chinese reproduction quilt situation. And we were able to raise money for a quilt showcase that still stands on the–I think it is on the third floor of the Smithsonian and has a rotating quilt going through there. So we became a little pillar of political activism because Merikay was almost arrested for protesting [laughing.] the issue. After that we had a couple of good years dealing with Jim Lyle’s fabrics. Now Jim is a professor–was a professor at University of Tennessee and his hobby was finding and working through preindustrial dye techniques. And he came to a guild meeting with a rainbow pallet of fabrics that just made our fingers itch and we thought, ‘Wow.’ Fortunately Jim’s wife said to him, ‘If you think I’m going to make a quilt for you out of these fabrics, you’re nuts. I have other things to do.’ And Dale does other kind of textiles. To make a long story short, Jim ended up coming to bee for a period of about two years and those of us that were in the bee at that time made what we called a Tennessee heritage quilt. Thursday Bee prides itself in not having too many rules. We called ourselves a loose group. The quilt itself had two rules. We had to use Jim’s fabric and the blocks in the design came from the quilts of Tennessee Research Project. Those were pre1930 quilts. [applause in the background.] That’s kind of a bizarre thing together but we had quilt turned up in the project that kind of a crazy quilt and we used that as our justification for putting all these blocks in the same quilt and we had a blast. It was wonderful and we’re proud of it. At the moment we’re looking to place it in the East Tennessee Historical Society. And other projects that came out of that group–let me kind of think. We’ve done some other things. Right now we’re looking at becoming an advocacy group for the textile collection in the East Tennessee Historical Society. So it’s kind of a spotted career in textiles and fabrics and so on. I do it for my pleasure. I do it because I enjoy it. I do a lot of quick and dirty baby quilts. My feeling with a baby quilt is that I would much rather see a quilt that after the child turns five is a little ragged, chewed on the corners than one that has been up on the wall. And that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the truly fine–and actually like I said my baby quilts are quick and dirty. I don’t spend a lot of time on them but I do transfer a lot of love and affection and it’s great because you can use all these funky fabrics and colors and let loose with them. Where do you want me to go now? [laughs.]
KM: Wherever you want to go.
LC: Wherever I want to go. Okay.
KM: What is your first memory of a quilt?
LC: I’m not really sure. It’s probably those Little Women quilts that Mother made. We–I remember going downtown Newark, New Jersey. Those were the days of department stores. Life is different now but I remember going downtown to Haynes into the fabric department and looking for the little figured fabrics for the dresses and I remember Mother making that. I never was able to get across to her that I didn’t like the kind of sage green background on those quilts. I still don’t like it but it’s okay. There were those and to be honest I kind of forgotten as I came away from home. I kind of forgotten about those quilts per se and the fact that Mother made them. Mother was a good needlewoman. She and my grandmother taught me to knit, crochet, you know the whole nine yards. My grandmother was Danish and she was primarily responsible for making sure I had these skills that seem to be necessary for anyone. I’m good at some of them and some I find tedious. I grew up making my own clothes. I wouldn’t think of doing that now and I honestly take pants to the cleaners if the zipper has to be repaired but I can remember one time seeing one special fabric on the back of a pattern magazine and wanting that fabric and trying to get it. Well it never did work. I think it was a pale blue background and had ice skaters on it. I don’t know what I would have done with it but I wanted that fabric and to be honest with you, I have not gotten over wanting that fabric. [laughing.] It’s just an affinity I have. I suspect I may be more of a fabric collector than a quilter but at any rate that always requires more. When Mother died–she died in 1975, and I guess I had been given the Little Women quilts before that. We don’t remember that but in her things a year afterwards I found a Dresden Plate that she had started. It was just the blocks and then–what was the name of that pattern? It’s not Trip Around the World, something like that. Another she had cut out kettle cloth. I don’t know if all of you remember kettle cloth. It was like iron. [laughing.] I had a couple maternity dresses out of that and I was able to wear through all three kids. But Mother had made these blocks kettle cloth and I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.’ Now at that point I did not know how to make a quilt and it never even occurred to me to try to find how to make it. So I found some more kettle cloth and put alternate blocks and was able to make again two quilts alike. I wouldn’t show those to you. I really would not show those to you. They were done on the machine. I didn’t even look for a batt. I had an old white blanket I put in between each of them. I quilted them on the machine and boy I had little kids and I was in a hurry. They are like iron. They are awful. They are my youngest daughter’s favorite quilts. She has one at the beach house and she has one in the back of her car. And they are absolutely indestructible. [coughing in the background.][laughs and so does the audience.] Afterwards I found out there are ways–I remember going to Bell Buckle and showing Mildred Locks some piecing I had done. She very kindly told me that I needed to keep my seam allowance consistent [laughs.] but very nicely guided me along and made me understand that if you refine some of the techniques that you develop yourself you will be doing fine. To that extent I am self taught. I do appreciate the fine craft of quilting. And fortunately I have some friends that kind of say, ‘Come on. Do it right.’ My friend [inaudible.] who use to be at AQSG was one of those people that would say, ‘Okay you’ve got great ideas just slow down and do it right and you’ll be more satisfied.’ I’ve done a lot of quilting with kids at one point for I guess about five years. I participated with the fourth grade–no actually I used all the grades at a local elementary school, a school where there is one classroom of each grade and through the spring months every kid had the opportunity to make a block. The blocks varied with the kids and they were made into quilts and distributed through a variety of things- Ronald McDonald, the Linus Project, the–what are some of those others? Well at any rate that resulted in maybe 120 quilts that were done out. Kids had a quilt show in the hall and so on and that was fun. I enjoyed it. I can’t get down on the floor anymore. [laughs.] I had to make them on the floor. I felt like I had to anyway. Okay, what else can you stir up? [laughs.] I’m a blank.
KM: You’re doing very well.
LC: I am? Okay.
KM: You are.
LC: Well, I have to say I might as well give a commercial for AQSG since I am here. As I said, when I met Bets and Merikay, I realized that quilting was not just something weird that some women did. There is a justification there. There is a discipline behind it, that there was a recognition of the accomplishment that some of our forbearers had done and we really can’t shut guys out. You know there are guys that make some fabulous quilts and I think that and the experiences here at AQSG really made me feel like I was part of something important and I have to say in terms of my maturity and I’ve decided that I’m at that certain point over a certain age that I can do what I want. As a woman growing up, with small children and basically a woman who didn’t work. I think that there was a lot of personal growth that happened through this association with the type of women I met at American Quilt Study Group and my friends at home too. Though it has been an area personally where I felt that I was able to resolve some of my own issues that way. Now what?
KM: I think we will conclude.
LC: Oh, that’s good. [laughs.]
KM: I’d like to thank Linda Claussen for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 11:33 on October 4, 2002.