Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories (QSOS) is the largest oral history collection about quiltmakers in the world. Our archive for the original audio recordings and photographs is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The project was co-founded in 1999 by a dedicated group of Quilt Alliance board members and volunteers who identified an extraordinary gap in the quilt world: no one had ever created an oral-history project to capture the history, craft tradition, and personal experiences of America’s quiltmakers. They envisioned QSOS as a grassroots effort and designed the interview process in ways that would make it accessible to interviewers and quiltmakers at all skill levels and backgrounds, allowing them to explore the central question: “if this quilt could talk,” what would it say? Now, almost twenty years later, the collection includes over 1,200 recorded interviews with quiltmakers from novices to professionals.

The Quilt Alliance celebrates the twentieth anniversary of QSOS in 2019 with a whole new way to share our archive online. When the project is complete, you will be able to listen to the audio recording, read the summary and transcript and view the photos for each interview, and search or browse the entire collection.

Listen to Running Stitch, a QSOS Podcast

Running Stitch, A QSOS Podcast, is hosted by Janneken Smucker, Professor of History at West Chester University. Join us as we explore quilt stories, revealing the inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations of contemporary quiltmakers by drawing from the Quilters S.O.S. — Save Our Stories oral history project. We’ll dig into the QSOS archive to listen to excerpts from past interviews, and bring back interviewees to ask them about what they are working on and thinking about presently. Season one episodes will be released in June and July 2020.

Visit the new QSOS website

Here you can browse a sample set of 20 QSOS interviews that demonstrate the collection’s new features, such as original interview audio recordings and enhanced descriptions. Subscribe to the Quilt Alliance eNewsletter to receive updates as interviews are added to the new site.

SELECTIONS FROM QUILTERS’ S.O.S. – SAVE OUR STORIES

Read some featured interviews below. You can also search or browse the full archive of QSOS transcripts. 

QSOS with Irene Goodrich

QSOS with Irene Goodrich

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Irene Goodrich. Today is June 19, 2008. It is 3:25 in the afternoon. We are in Columbus, Ohio and this is a demo interview being done at a training here at the National Quilting Association’s show. Irene, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. Please tell me about the quilt you brought for this interview. Irene Goodrich (IG): This here is one pattern of nine in a series of designs by Susan R. Du Laney of Albuquerque, New Mexico and I just love her patterns. She just draws one out right after the other, as well as we would write really, so I have tons of her patterns and I’ve done several of this series, not all of them, but I plan to do them all if I live long enough. [laughs.] I’m just what you call a traditional appliquér. I mark my pattern on the background and I make a template for each color and I baste my edge under and then I match my thread and appliqué them down. I use a #3 hard lead pencil on light fabric to do my marking. I use, well you don’t want this right now, but anyway, I guess that is about all on this one. KM: You can tell me whatever you want. IG: I believe that will do it for this one. But I love iris, so I’ve done may iris pieces. I collect iris patterns. KM: Now this is hand quilted. IG: Oh yes, I do all of my quilting by hand. Someone made the remark that hand quilting is going out of style, and I said not as long as I’m alive. [laughs.] I always put all the information that I can on the back. KM: Let’s turn it over and tell me what information you have put on here. IG: It is my #77 wall hanging. I’m up over one hundred right now. I numbered from number one. I tell it is made by myself and my location, the size of the piece, the content of the fabrics and the threads and the batt [batting.], and the day I begun and the day I finished. The amount of hours in the construction. KM: Wow. IG: The amount of hours in the quilting to equal a total. Then I sign it and date it, and I always date all my pieces on the last day that I put the last stitch in it. I also keep a record in books at home. I have several books, one for wall hangings and one for quilts and one for minis. Put all the information that I can in those on the back. KM: What are your plans for this quilt? IG: I really don’t have any. [laughs.] I really don’t have any plans for it. I do give away a lot, and right now I’m selling a lot. Selling a lot of my items. If someone comes along and wants to purchase it, I probably will sell it because I’m in my eighties and I’m not going to be here forever, trying to downsize. I don’t know if I should say this in here or not, but right now I have either a block or a wall hanging or a full size quilt or a combination of the three in half of the forty-eight states, and some in Canada, and I have a block in Copenhagen, Denmark in a quilt, and I have three wall hangings somewhere in the Orient. I don’t know exactly where they are right now. KM: That is pretty exciting. What do you think somebody would conclude looking at this quilt about you? IG: Well that is hard for me to determine. KM: What do people think about your quilts? IG: I get lots of compliments I know that. Really I’ve gotten a lot of them in this show already. Got one just on the way up here. KM: What did they say? IG: My gorgeous quilts, they saw my gorgeous quilts hanging in the show and of course I always graciously thank them for a nice compliment. KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. IG: I will start at the beginning. When I was about four and a half or five years old my family had moved and I was getting under my dad’s feet, he had sort of a short fuse, so he screamed at my mother to take that child somewhere and sit her down in the corner out of his way. She took me to the front room of the house, I can just picture it in my mind now, it had a lot of glass in the front and there was no furniture in it. She sat me down in the corner and she got a piece of white fabric and she threaded a needle with black thread. My mother was a good size and I was a scrubby kid. She put some cloth around my needle finger and put her big brass thimble on my finger and taught me how to use the thimble from the very beginning, and she said you want to try to make tiny stitches, so with this black thread on the white fabric, you can see how you are progressing. I took to it like a duck to water and shortly after that she cut out squares and then triangles and put the triangles on each one, she called it squares and corners. Recycling is nothing new to us, then your sugar and salt came in cloth bags and they were sewn together with a chain stitch, so when she used the salt and the sugar she would take out the chain stitch and bleach out the wording in the fabric and dye it. On this particular quilt, she dyed it red. I had the top done before I started school at the age of seven, and it wasn’t a quilt until 1968 which began my quilting career. Let’s see, I come from a line of quilters. My mother would say that when she and her three sisters were going to high school they would always hurry home and get their lessons done so that they could quilt for an hour before they had to go to bed. Both my grandmothers are quilters. None of my sisters quilt, I’m the quilter of the family. It just took off from there. What else do I have to tell you? I seriously got into quilting in 1968. My husband and I didn’t have any children but I had nineteen nieces and nephews and my sister back here had five that were our children, so I began to make quilts for nineteen nieces and nephews. I added seven brothers and sisters and my parents and I’ve been avidly quilting ever since. KM: What made you start in ’68? IG: I was aware that there was becoming an interest in quilts. At first I was the only quilter in the area, but now it is really going great guns, which pleases me immensely. KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking? IG: Oh they are my greatest fans. [laughs.] They all have their quilts, some of them have two, two quilts, two full size quilts. KM: How many hours a week do you spend on quiltmaking? IG: I’m a widow now and live in this big old house by myself and so I can only quilt every other day because I can not quilt with anything on the finger. I can’t do anything with hands covered, even digging in the dirt, so I quilt Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and then on the other days I do whatever has to be done, wash the clothes, clean the house, mow the lawn or whatever, or get a new project ready. It is my life right now, just keeps me going. I want to mention that quilting is wonderful therapy. Beginning in 1970 when my husband and I had to take care of his mother and she was in our home in bed, and I think beginning in the early eighties my father became ill and for about ten years I had to go back and forth between the states of Virginia and Ohio. I had to get power of attorney for both of my parents and see to their affairs, and then January 31, 1997 my husband had a hemorrhage stroke and going on eight years, well he passed away in 2004, and I want to tell everyone that if you get into a situation like that quilting is the best therapy that you can possibly do. It saved me. KM: What do you find the most pleasing about quiltmaking? IG: Color and the beautiful fabrics that they are doing for us today and all of these wonderful books. When I first got into quilting I think we had two quilt books, one by, is it Marguerite Ickis and the other one was “101 Patchworks” by I can’t think of the author’s name right now. I just marvel at all the books we have and then all of a sudden all these appliqué books that are out there, which is my forte. I would rather appliqué than anything. I don’t like to piece any more. I love to quilt. I do the quilting. KM: Do you quilt on a frame? IG: I do have a floor frame, which I am not going to use any more. I have every shape of hoop that there is, moon shape, square, round, oblong. [laughs.] I use those mostly now. KM: Why did you move to using a hoop and not a frame? IG: It is difficult for me to handle the frame alone now, it takes two people to get a quilt in, but you do I think get your best quilted product on the floor frame, I have always felt that. Mostly I just use about I think a 15″ hoop now and I can sit in my front room and just quilt away. KM: Tell me about your involvement in the National Quilting Association. IG: I was subscribing to a little magazine, it was a needlework magazine called Stitch ‘n Sew. I don’t know if you are aware of it or not and it covered every type of needlework. They later had a Stitch ‘n Sew Quilt Magazine and I don’t think it is available any more or being published any more but I saw an ad from a lady by the name of Ella Anderson out in California and she wanted a store for her calico, where I knew where it was at the Vermont Country Store in Vermont because every October my husband and I spent three weeks vacation up there in the beautiful color leaves section, so I wrote her a short note telling her and in due time she wrote back a ten page letter, and she was telling me about National Quilting Association and I was very interested so I became a member. At that time I didn’t have chapters, I was just a member and now we have the two chapters in Columbus and I’m a member of both of those. I started getting their newsletter in 1972, but anything quilty, well I was very interested. I started out as a collector. When my husband and I would travel I would get the phone book and look under Q to see what there was in that area that had to do with quilting, and I met a lot of people that way and found a lot of sources. For instance, we were in Pennsylvania one time and someone told me that somewhere in Amish country there was a barn full of fabric, so I chased that down and truly it was a new barn with just bolts of fabric everywhere. One time we were going through Georgia and there were signs out around every turn, “Quilts Here,” so we went to this one home and the lady very cordially invited us in to see her quilts and she told me about another barn full of fabric. In this particular one, it was stacked from the floor to the ceiling, so if you wanted a bolt on the bottom it was your task to remove all those bolts to get to the one you wanted, but that was more fun. [laughs.] I’m a fabricolic. In my bedroom there are three chests and a dresser full of fabric and in the closet of that bedroom there is boxes of fabric. In the guest bedroom where my friend is staying, the closet is full of boxes of fabric. In my living room there is a desk, one drawer is full of fabric. In my dining room there is a buffet full of fabric. In a spare room upstairs I have forty gallon bins, six or eight of them full of fabric. I could open my own shop. KM: How do you find everything? IG: I don’t sometimes. [laughs.] I know I have a certain piece in the house and you can believe it or not sometimes I have to go through every one of those storage places I told you about to find what I want. In the meantime I’m growling to myself. [laughs.] KM: Do you plan things out? How do you go about deciding what to place where when you make a quilt? IG: I’m no good at drawing, so I have to use someone else’s patterns, and I always draw it off onto the background and then make my templates and cover it wherever. That is the way I work. KM: How do you go about selecting? How did you decide to make this orange and make three different colors of orange? IG: There is a color sheet and I have always followed her color sheet and I duplicate it exactly. KM: Good for you. IG: Same shade as she has. I know iris come in all colors, but I always think of purple when I do iris. KM: Is there any part of quiltmaking that you don’t enjoy? IG: No. KM: Like it all? IG: Yes I do. KM: That is good. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? IG: You have to say the design, the colors used, and the person’s interpretation of the pattern I suppose. Is that good enough? KM: Sure, you bet. What do you think makes a great quiltmaker? IG: A person that is dedicating to quilting. You have to have the interest to want to do this, the quilt. KM: What do you think about the changes in technology and how quiltmaking has grown? IG: It is very competitive. I don’t, myself follow most of it, I’m strictly a traditional quilter and that is pretty much what I can do. If there is an artistic piece out there, I don’t try to think that I could do it, of course I probably can’t, but I just do what I can do. KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you? IG: I think in the several members of my family there is artistic streaks and mine happens to be quilting. I have three sisters that can paint, or do paint and one still paints, and I have a brother that does woodcarving. He has never had a lesson in his life and you should see what he does. He just does gorgeous things. Our father was a number one carpenter and I think there are some [carpenters.] of the grandchildren or nieces and nephews out there. I heard my sister say this morning that one of her granddaughters is very into art and we have a nephew that writes poetry, so there seems to be an artistic element, if you want to call me an artist. KM: Do you call yourself an artist? Do you feel that you’re an artist? IG: Not a painting artist, but I call myself, I guess a fabric artist maybe. KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today? IG: I’m not sure if I have an answer for that. I hope they keep it going, don’t let it die. KM: Do you think it will die? IG: I don’t think it will anyway soon. I know they keep inventing new things. We don’t just don’t know how far it is going to go. KM: Do you have a design wall? IG: No. KM: Why don’t you have a design wall? IG: I really don’t have any place for it in my crowded house. [laughs.] KM: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect your community or region? IG: I don’t know whether they do or not. Do they? KM: I don’t know. IG: I don’t know either. KM: Do you belong to quilt groups? You mentioned something about being in the chapter. IG: I’m a charter member of Quintessential Quilters, Columbus Metropolitan Quilters, The Appliqué Society, AQS [American Quilters Society.], and almost in NQA. KM: Why is belonging to these different organizations important to you? IG: I just love quilting that much. Interested in all of it. I want to support it as much as I can. KM: Is anybody in the group like to ask a question? Here is your opportunity. Silence. [IG laughs.] Janet White (JW): Tell us about your relationship with Cuesta [Banberry.]. IG: Yes, have any of you met Cuesta? You know about her I’m sure. She has been a friend of mine for a long, long time. Let’s see, how did I originally meet her? I’m losing my memory on some things in the past. I’m not sure how I first met her but some years ago she came to Columbus. She only had one son and he lived here in Columbus. She came to Columbus this one time and came to my home and Marguerite Wiebusch happened to be a guest in my home at the time and Cuesta has special information. You know the Ohio Museum has the Hatfield McCoy quilt and Cuesta had some extra information on the quilt that they didn’t have and we had made an appointment with Ellice Ronsheim, who at that time was the curator at the museum, so she took us into the warehouse and showed us all those kinds of quilts to Cuesta and her son. He was so patient while his mother was there and we just had a grand time. I visited her home and I suppose all of you know that she was a quilt, one of the top quilt historians. In her home she had this closed in back porch with all of these boxes and stacks and piles of stuff, catalogued properly that she turned over to the museum not too long ago in New York, and she was a likeable person. We corresponded all the time. She sent me patterns and I sent material of mine to her and she made a scrape book about me, and I don’t know what became of it, I am curious of what became of it. She mailed it to me one time to look at and I mailed it back to her. She was a collector of the old kit quilts. She had tons of the old kit quilts and she had, I think it was called American Beauty Rose and she had two of them done by two different companies at the time just alike and I wanted to buy one of them from her [laughs.] but she didn’t sell it to me. I did a quilt for her grandson. I quilted it for her, for her grandson one time. I did a quilt business out of my home. I had to take early retirement because of health reasons and for about ten years I worked on quilts out of my home, repairing quilts, I did what ever they needed. For instance there was a doctor in my neighborhood that all I did three different times was cut out ocean waves for her, three different color waves, or different color waves each time. She was originally from Austria, her mother still lived over there, and she mailed these cut out pieces to her mother, her mother would sew the top and then it would come back to our neighborhood and another quilt friend, Mrs. Ellen Meyers, would quilt them for her. My husband was a photographer and I was so disgusted with myself that I didn’t have him take before and after photos of all of this work that I did. It was so rewarding. Sometimes I would take the worst rag you can image and restore it. I just did whatever was needed, binding, just one little patch or a whole lots of patches and replace fabric and re-quilt, whatever. I discovered that a lot of damage is done by pets, dogs and cats they love quilts. They do damage. That was really rewarding, I enjoyed it so much, but it got to the place where I couldn’t do anything for myself, which was frustrating. [laughs.] I’ve quilted for people and just all kinds of things. KM: Tell me about teaching. IG: Yes I taught appliqué throughout Ohio for several years and I started to work in the Ohio Research Project but I had to quit because my husband became ill so I didn’t finish with that. KM: What did you like about teaching? IG: The love of the students liking to learn something I suppose. I usually had them write out what they thought of what I did for them and I taught a little bit differently. I took some workshops myself quite a bit and when I taught I made up whatever I was going to teach, I made up a block first and then they were all going to do the same block, they would have their supply list and so I made another block right along with my students so that I wouldn’t forget any steps. They liked that. Went over real well. Had I been able to get into quilting sooner, I would have done what a lot of the quilters are doing, travel all over and teach, but I didn’t have an opportunity to do that. KM: How would you like to be remembered? IG: I don’t really know. [laughs.] How I would like to be remembered. Maybe my sister could answer that, how I would like to be remembered. How I would like to be remembered after I leave here? Ruth Shea (RS): As a wonderful quilter is all I know. IG: [laughs.] That is my sister Ruth. KM: We have been talking about thirty minutes, is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude our interview? IG: I don’t believe so. I don’t know if you would like to have this or not. You know I did a Trunk Show for our show in ’05 and this is the write up that Sandy did for the magazine. I don’t know if you would like to have that. KM: We can include this. Tell me about this. It says, “Irene Goodrich Extraordinary Woman and Quilter.” What was the trunk show about? IG: I showed them all the quilts that I had. I had an hour to show them. KM: How many quilts did you show? IG: How many did I have Janet? JW: A bunch. IG: I know when Teri [Henderson Tope.] wheeled them in on the whatever it was she brought them in on, and Pat [Moore.] said, ‘Oh you only have an hour to do the show,’ but we got done in due time and had a question and answer time at the end. KM: What is your favorite quilt? IG: Are you aware of the Simply Delicious by? KM: Piece O Cake. IG: Piece O Cake. I changed it a little bit. That is my favorite quilt. KM: How did you change it? Tell me how you changed it. IG: There is one in the show right now that has the little separate squares. Each block is separated with all of these little teeny squares and I didn’t want to do that. There was no border so I put the fruits on a gray sort of print background and I think I striped them with color, I don’t remember exactly and then I wanted the border so I used Nancy Pearson’s Grapevine border on it. I think I used a plum color for to add some color and I made a regular bed size quilt. It won big at the Ohio State Fair, and that is my favorite quilt. There’s a couple of people out there that have designs on it. [laughs.] KM: Why is it, tell me why it is your favorite quilt. IG: I like to work with fruits and vegetables and it just appeals to me. It was so much fun to do, and I like to make flowers and fruits and whatever I’m doing as much like nature as possible in color and everything. KM: Thank you so much for taking your time today. IG: You are welcome. KM: To come and be my demonstration interview. You did a fabulous job. We are going to conclude our interview at…

QSOS with Irene Goodrich

QSOS with Irene Goodrich

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Irene Goodrich. Today’s date is June 19, 2008. It is now 4:32 in the afternoon. We are in Columbus, Ohio at the National Quilting Association’s quilt show and Irene thank you for doing this interview with me. Irene Goodrich (IG): Thank you for inviting me. KM: Tell me about your quilt “Tutti Fruitti.” IG: I have used, I am going to do some reading from here. I have used all or part of eight patterns in the construction of this quilt. The top center block I started in a Baltimore Album quilt, it is from Jeanna Kimball’s Baltimore Album book I believe, and I had that block done for a long time and got sidetracked and didn’t get into the Baltimore Album quilt. As I mentioned, I’m trying to downsize and redo some things and I thought well I’ve got to use some of these things that I have started, so I used that as the basis of this quilt. I dug out all of the patterns I could find on the fruit baskets and I do have a lot of other fruit patterns and so the four corner blocks on each corner are the red back is seasonal fruit of spring, summer, fall, and winter and I started this quilt January or February. Well I’m sorry, I started this quilt February of 2006 and finished it in January of 2007. Construction required four hundred and three hours, and the quilting three hundred and eight hours for a total of seven hundred and eleven hours. I basically built the quilt as I went along. I started with this center portion and the four corner blocks I mentioned that, the center block on point is Winter Basket from, “Baskets, Baskets, Fruit and Flowers,” by Tony Phillips and Juanita Simonich from “Fabric Expressions.” The four corners around the center block are enlarged designs from “Gathering Baskets” by Cindy Blackbird and Mary Sorensen, published in the April of 2001 magazine of Better Homes and Gardens. The four borders around the center are the “Pineapple Passion” block from Robert Callahan’s “Floral Garden” in the February 2004 McCall’s Quilting magazine. The top center basket is Block #10 from Jeana Kimball’s “Reflections of Baltimore” book. The bottom center basket is “Therom Fruit Bowl” by Polly Whitehorn and the pattern is in Better Homes and Gardens’, “Great Appliqué, Wonderful Small Quilts” book. The four berry and cherry blocks on the corners of the center portion and the banana, pomegranate, kumquats and damson plum blocks are from the “Horn of Plenty” book by Kathy Delaney. The grapevine border is a Nancy Pearson pattern, and did I mention that I had used eight patterns. [100% cotton and threads were used.] That is the story of the blocks. Is there something else? KM: Do you work on one quilt at a time or do you work? IG: No I have probably a dozen things that are in progress. If I get bored with one I can go to another. What I mentioned in the earlier interview that I try to quilt three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the reason I do that, this finger that I put underneath the quilt gets sore so it has to have a day to heal and sometimes on the odds days, like Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday when I get chores done then I will start to cut out some appliqué pieces for another project or maybe I will have to bind a piece that is laying aside to be bound, or some other phase of the quilt that has to be done. KM: Did you plan this quilt out? Did you decide what blocks before you started or? IG: No. I built the quilt as I went along. I did that center one on point and then I figured out what I had to do to get it square again, so therefore those three little corners from “Baskets, Baskets, Fruits, and Flowers,” then I decided I needed a border around that so that is when I dug out the Robert Callahan pineapple and put that around, and I knew I was going to put the four seasons on the corners, and see what did I fill in with, oh, and I filled in with the other patterns from the Kathy Delaney book, and then I had to do something to two odd size, so I felt Nancy Pearson’s grapevine which is still fruity will complete that. I bound it in red, I thought that would frame it somewhat and then that finished the quilt. My friend, Sharla saw the quilt, the center part of it when I was just starting to construct it. She says, ‘Well I have a dibs on that quilt.’ [laughs.] I said, ‘Well you better wait and see what happens and then you might not like it.’ I think she loves it. KM: Are you going to give it to her? IG: I’m not going to give it to her, she is going to pay me for it. [laughs.] I’m a senior citizen on social security and so this is my way of making some extra money. It is tough. Of course I lost income when my husband died, you know, so it is a little bit tough what you have to pay today to keep yourself going and I’m in my own home, three bedrooms upstairs and a living room, kitchen, dining room downstairs, basement and the lawn to take care of. So you need extra money and that is my way of earning something extra. KM: You are okay with selling your quilts and giving them away? It is not difficult? IG: Not really. I feel very sad when a piece leaves the house but all of my nineteen nieces and nephews and my seven brothers and sisters and my parents all got a quilt. Some of them have two now, some got two quilts. So that took a lot of quilts out of the house and then my last four quilts, my four bed size quilts, outside of the present one that no one has seen that I’m going to put in the state fair in August have been sold. When my husband became ill, I still had several nieces and nephews that hadn’t gotten a quilt, so I called them in and let them choose. I must have thirty or forty quilts stacked up on a bed, so I let them choose and that depleted my supply. When they called on me here in ’05 to do the trunk show, I had to borrow quilts. I had my sister in Maryland to come in with several pieces that she had and then her daughter from Washington, D.C. came in with several pieces that she had, and my sister Ruth and I have a sister in Westerville [Ohio.], they all let me have pieces that they had so I would have enough to do the trunk show. I am trying to build my quilt supply back up because I don’t know when someone will call me to do another show, now what do we do now. KM: Can you make your way to the light? [the lights in the room went out so KM is talking to someone sitting in the room.] IG: Wow, I hope the electricity didn’t go out. KM: No I don’t think so. Oh, it went back on. IG: Oh there it is. KM: Well we had a little technical difficulty that will be in this interview. We were sitting in the dark for a while. That was very strange. IG: We could cut that. KM: We can. IG: That part out. Let’s see, where were we? KM: Oh, the trunk show. IG: Yes I was telling about trying to build my supply of quilts back up. I have plenty of wall hangings, although you can replace the wall hangings a lot faster and I’m constantly making those. I can turn two or three wall hangings a year out. For my fair in August, I have one bed size quilt and three wall hangings and a crib quilt and a table runner. So, even though they are buying the wall hangings, I can replace those easy. Not so quite easy, because it takes longer to do a large bed size quilt, but if someone calls on me again to do a major quilt show, I want to have the supply, you understand. KM: Tell me about how you decided to quilt your “Tutti Fruitti.” IG: My rule sort of is, well not really my rule, but the appliqué is rather elaborate on there, so I just used cross hatching on that, but also I do love to use designs in the solid, to me a quilting design is lost on a print fabric, but when you have a solid I do like to, and then sometimes if I’m in a hurry the cross hatching is the fastest way to get the job done. KM: You hand quilt all of your quilts? IG: So far yes. I hand quilt them all. [tape malfunction.] I said earlier made the remark that hand quilting is going out of style and as you know there are a lot of them being machine quilted, I really don’t like to see handmade appliqué quilt machine quilted, I truly don’t. So I said as long as I’m alive, and another friend I spoke with made the same remark, as long as we are alive there will be hand quilting on our quilts. KM: Do you sleep under a quilt? IG: Yes. KM: Tell me about this quilt you sleep under. IG: It is a cross stitch. A friend that I used to work with had a neighbor that had quilt tops and she wanted to unload them, so she sold me this cross stitch top for five dollars and I quilted it, and that is the one I sleep under. My gift to [my friend.] Sharla [pointing to a friend in back of the room.] here is sleeping under a Lone Star, or is it Bethlehem, they are both similar, which is a Martha or Aunt Martha Rainbow kit that was a present to me from my mother I believe. She is sleeping under that. KM: When did you make that one? IG: Oh my, probably in the seventies. I started in 1968 to seriously quilt, so I probably made it in the seventies. I don’t have all the dates in my head now. KM: I don’t have dates in my head most of the time, so I think you do wonderfully. How many quilts do you think you have made? Do you know? IG: I believe the quilt I’m putting in the fair might be ninety-one. See I’m headed for eighty-three. I just had my eighty-second birthday and I would like to at least do a hundred and I might go over that. I believe it is ninety-one. Wall hangings I believe over one hundred wall hangings, and miniatures is around forty sometime, because I separate each into three. KM: Tell me about making miniatures. How did you start making miniatures? IG: When NQA started having the mini auctions, I don’t think I got in. Do you know how many years they have been doing it? My donation this year is my seventeenth donation running. I think I missed at least the first year or maybe the second year. I just got interested in supporting. I have been a good supporter of NQA from the very start and I do all I can to help them. It is so much fun. [laughs.] It is so much, for instance at the Silver Jubilee, the one in Charleston, West Virginia, well may little, it was four little houses and the, I met her there and she gave me a hug, the head lady of, her name was, her last name is Tate. What is her first name? [Brenda.] Anyhow she wanted it and it was a house quilt, little houses, and so it won Viewer’s Choice. I didn’t know that they were voting on it. It won Viewer’s Choice. It was the Silver Jubilee and so they were doing these silver thimbles, so I got a free $35.00 silver thimble for my prize and got my picture on, or got my quilt pictured on the front of the newspaper in color, which I have a copy of. She was bidding on it and people were bidding against her because it was very popular, but when it got up past $200.00, why she looked at her husband and he nodded okay for her to go ahead and it went for $300.00. The thing of it was when the auctioneer got up front, he said now this quilt is very popular. He said [that.] it is Viewer’s Choice and he said, ‘We are starting the bidding on this at $100.00.’ And I think I made a few enemies, I think I did. [laughs.] It is so thrilling, I just love those auctions and the auctioneers, and when they, you know, you get up and start to get the bidding going and then it is so interesting when one will put their card up and the next one put their card up and there will be a little feud between the couples sometimes. [laughs.] KM: I bet you are happy that the show is staying in Columbus now? IG: Yes I hope it stays here for ever. KM: I thought it was supposed to. IG: Well all I know is that it is going to be here the next two years. I hope it stays here. Of course if it goes out somewhere I will not be able to attend. I just can’t travel any more. KM: How many of the shows have you been to? IG: In the beginning, I think the photo I showed you is in ’78 in Georgetown. I had it on the back of that photo that it is my first one, but I attended two or three. Greenbelt, Maryland and maybe I was at Georgetown twice. I think it was there twice in a row. Then the first when they moved out was in Fort Wayne, Indiana and myself and do you know Marguerite Wiebusch? [KM shakes her head no.] Well she is one of your earlier–she has a low number in NQA and I met her a long time ago. Marguerite, her husband Richard and me and my husband Albert we were a foursome at all of these shows. We would go in, earlier shows, and when they were hung and the powers to be would let us go in the night before and do our photography. The three of them, Margarita, Richard, and my husband were photographers and they would let us go in and photograph. I have a house full of NQA slides. Originals. He was a good photographer. KM: What is going to happen to those? IG: Well I don’t know. I may not be at liberty to say right now but something that I have done, I will just hold it for right now. I don’t know. But I want them to go somewhere. KM: That is a great resource. That should not be lost. IG: I don’t want them, there is hundreds of dollars tied into those things. But anyway, I am losing my train of thought. I had another thought here. What was it? Oh, they would let us go in and do our photography. Once in the DC area there, it was in a schoolhouse and there was going to be some janitors in doing work after hours and so, oh my goodness [lights go out.]. Should I keep talking? KM: Yes keep talking. IG: So one of the ladies in charge engaged my husband and I to baby sit those quilts until the janitors left. So the show closed about probably 6:00 and we were there to almost midnight baby sitting those quilts and she had gone out to get something to eat. She came back around 11:00 or 11:30 to make sure the janitors were gone and everything was locked up. We had the best time, my husband and I. We were there with all of these quilts guarding them and I was appliquéing Lancaster County Rose. Do you know the story of Catherine Eshleman that was a president of NQA in the past and she designed this. She designed this rose pattern called Lancaster County Rose and we had a contest and I think only about four or five of them ended up in one of the shows, but I got a 2nd place ribbon on mine, and let’s see, the Lancaster County Rose, I think, is that the one that they bought at AQS [American Quilters Society.]? I believe that is the one AQS bought for the museum and they had it a couple years before they got the museum built I believe, but anyhow, Catherine designed a pattern and we had the contest, and I was appliquéing then so I just sat and appliquéd on that while we were guarding the quilts. KM: That sounds like fun. IG: Oh it was. Anyhow, we haven’t been there too long and one of the janitors came over and he said, he said, ‘You people can leave if you want to. You don’t have to stay here.’ I said, ‘Oh sorry we had been told to stay right here. We weren’t about to leave.’ So anyhow that is that story. KM: Is there anything else you want to share about NQA? IG: I’m glad to see it constantly growing all the time. KM: It is the biggest show ever. IG: Since the beginning yes, absolutely yes. KM: What is your favorite part of the show? IG: The whole thing. KM: The whole thing. IG: [laughs.] The banquets and meeting all of my friends. I have lots of friends. I have people that they will come by and say, Hi Irene, and I haven’t the faintest idea who they are. I said to her this afternoon, ‘Why hello Irene how are you?’ And when we pass here I say, ‘I don’t have the faintest clue who that is.’ I have been written up in magazines and books and I’m on PBS TV and magazines. KM: Tell me about PBS TV. IG: It was in connection with our research project. They interviewed myself and another lady who is now deceased. Poor thing she died of cancer in her forties and they interviewed both of us in color and every time we turned on PBS people would see us on there doing our bit. Of course that was a long time ago, probably late eighties I image. KM: What were you documenting? IG: I don’t recall what all it was about. They came to my house to do the photography and we put a quilt on a stand in my front room and they photographed me in front of the quilt. I don’t remember all the dialogue or anything. I don’t know where they interviewed Ellen, I don’t know if they went to her home or what. Anyhow another time, CMQ [Columbus Metropolitan Quilters and NAQ chapter.] has a show at [Inniswood.] Gardens, one of our city parks at Westerville, Ohio and a couple years back while the publicity came in and I had a flower appliqué there at the time and so they did a close up on that quilt and that was on TV in color. KM: You have had a lot of adventures. IG: I should have kept a log. I really should have kept a journal. I’m sorry that I didn’t. KM: What advice do you give to someone starting out in quiltmaking? IG: Stick with it. A lot of beginning quilters become discouraged because they don’t do the small quilting stitches or they will pick a pattern that is too complicated. They should start out maybe with a potholder or a pillow with a small design, if they are doing appliqué; a Sunbonnet Girl is good for a beginner, or a large flower and work up to it. I’m a self taught quilter. I was on quilt number 22 before I was doing a stitch that I was pleased with, and of course the more you do, the more you improve. I have a motto; I will not sacrifice good workmanship for speed. KM: That is a good motto. Do you use a thimble? IG: I certainly do. KM: What kind of thimble do you have? IG: [laughs.] I have about three or four dozen with holes in them. I will make my last wall hanging if I don’t die to hang all those thimbles on [laughs.] and I’ve got to think of a good title. My mother hand this brass thimble, if you can get brass ones they last longer, but I’m hard on them. I poke holes in them and the first time I poke a hole, I usually get a hole in the finger. [laughs.] I use different ones, different types of thimble. I have several different varieties. I have a leather one that I didn’t care for and I don’t use it. I try to cover this finger, but I have to have a bare finger under there. KM: Me too. IG: I have to have a bare finger under there. KM: I can understand having to rest then. IG: Yes, it gets quite sore. Most people get calluses. Do you see any calluses there? [shows KM her finger.] I can’t keep the calluses. Some lady somewhere talking about quilting, I might have been, I’ve done a lot of demonstrating at different things. Oh one time in Columbus I lent all my quilts to a charity for children, they raised funds for children, and we had this armory in Columbus, I forget what street it is on, it might be Route 161, and they had a balcony, a real high balcony in the armory and I think I loaned them twenty some quilts and they hung all those quilts around the balcony. I did it free. They raised funds for the children. I can’t think of the name of it, anyhow we have bags all over Columbus that they put the groceries ads in and so my name was on all the plastic bags in connection with this show. But anyhow, somewhere, some lady knew I was a quilter and was talking to me and she said, well let me see your fingers, and she looked at my fingers, and I didn’t appreciate her or her remark and she looked at me and she said, you are no quilter. [laughs.] I didn’t argue with her, and at this armory I got so tickled at the lady that engaged me, that invited me to put the quilts in. She was walking around behind these two old ladies. They had big cards on the quilts of the years that I had made them, and I’m a constant quilter and I have a quilt here from 1970 and over here another one that was 1971 and another one 1972, and the ladies were discussed because they said there is no way this woman can make a quilt a year. [laughs.] So this lady came to me, what was her name, I don’t remember now, and she was telling me, and I said I wish you had gotten me and let me talk to them. I have a lot of fun experiences. Oh, my best win. I won lots of prizes and I’ve probably won around 275 ribbons and I’ve won everything but Mary Krickbaum and to my astonishment last couple of years I was looking at my critique sheets and it said in the corner, ‘consider for Mary Krickbaum ribbon’ and I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ Of course I didn’t win it, but I’ve won best workmanship, best quilt stitching, best theme quilt, best basket quilt, best of show quilts. I have tons of ribbons, you know they always awarded the ribbon the best of show and I never had to buy bat, I got free bats all the time. Let’s see what else? KM: What do you do with your ribbons? IG: I have them in a big box and they need to be pressed. Well now lately I’ve been giving some of them away. I made a quilt for my youngest sister, she collects owls and I made her an owl quilt. She lives on the west coast, and so I gave her I think three ribbons and there was supposed to have been a fourth of which I never got. I think she framed them. Then my sister, Ruth, one of her daughters-in-laws [Pam.] that lives in Kentucky, she is crazy about birds. I do a lot of bird quilts, and so the bird quilt won about six or seven ribbons and I gave them all to her. Do you know, did she hang the ribbons with the quilt or anything Ruth? Did Pam hang the ribbons on the bird quilt? [Ruth states they are framed.] Are they framed? She probably framed them. She had won seven or eight I think, seven or eight ribbons. KM: Great. That is wonderful. IG: If I had kept a journal I would have all this stuff in chronological order, but I’m beginning to lose my memory somewhat, for instance like just now I couldn’t think of some names I wanted to think of, they are not there. KM: I’m younger and. IG: One of my best friends said, ‘I don’t have Alzheimer’s, I just have half-heimers.’ That is me. [laughs.] KM: It happens. I want to thank you for doing this second interview with me. IG: Well thank all of you who have, I think Janet was behind this. [laughs.] KM: Janet. Well we were very interested in getting some of the histories of NQA because there aren’t anywhere and I’ve been working two years to get Janet to do this. IG: Well I had the old NQA newsletters probably in your archives you have a copy from the very beginning of all the newsletters that you can refer to, but the very beginning ones are very enlightening for anyone that wants to get filled in on some things that went on. I gave the early ones to Janet [White.]. I’m trying to unload things, so I hope she still has them and they finally went to color. I gave her all the black and whites from ’72 and I’m not sure how many years it was black and white and they started doing some color on the front and now they are doing color I guess throughout the magazine, which it is sort of tough to see a quilt in black and white. KM: They are so much better in person than the picture too. IG: They have a ton of stuff I’m sure in their office in the archives. KM: It is time to get it shared with other people. I think since we are in the dark again [lights went out and the room was pitch black, we later found out that the lights were on motion sensors so because we didn’t move around the lights would go off.] we will go ahead and conclude this interview. Unfortunately since I can’t see my watch we won’t know what time, but thank you so much for doing this interview with me. IG: Thank you and I hope I wasn’t a complete disappointment. KM: Oh no, you were fabulous. [interview…

QSOS with Gwen Marston

QSOS with Gwen Marston

Note: This interview was done as part of a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories training that took place during The Quilters Hall of Fame’s “Celebrations 2007.” Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am in Marion, Indiana with Gwen Marston doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview. It is July 21, 2007 and it is 10:18 in the morning. Thank you, Gwen, for agreeing to do this interview with me. Gwen Marston (GM): You are very welcome. KM: Tell me about the quilt that you brought for the interview. GM: This is just the last one I finished, and so it didn’t have a binding on it and I am on a road trip so I never leave home without something to sew, so this is a little basket quilt that I made specifically for my quilt retreat that is now in its twenty-fourth year. Every year I have a different theme, and this year it is basket quilts, so I have been keeping very busy making both traditional basket quilts and liberated basket quilts. This is one that just got finished. KM: Is this a traditional or a liberated? GM: It’s very traditional. It is a traditional pattern and a traditional setting and it is furthermore the color idea is taken from an antique quilt. Someone sent me a little card and I could see about six blocks of a full size quilts. It was made in the thirties, so I could just see that it was thirties prints and the backgrounds were kind of thirties solids, but it didn’t seem from what I could see that there was any particular order, so I just got out those fabrics and kind of worked my way through it. I have to say, first I made the red ones and then I got into the yellow ones and I was laying them out and I noticed in the original quilt there were blocks with white background. I thought that is going to look kind of jarring against the ones with the color, but I bravely forged ahead and made a few with the white ones and it worked out great. So that is pretty much the way I work. When I’m working in a traditional style I look at antique quilts. Even though the one that I was working with, working from that little picture, it was a basket quilt but not this particular block so I changed the block and I used that idea of having the prints for the baskets and using five I think, four or five solids from that same period to do the background. KM: Did you machine quilt this? GM: No I did not. That is one thing, I wash windows but I do not lift my feed dogs. So if I have something machine quilted I don’t do, I send it out. This was quilted by a girl who comes to my retreat named Robyn House. She is a northern Michigan quilter and does my machine work. KM: Do you give her any instruction as to how you want it quilted? GM: Yes I do. I wanted this in a real traditional quilting style and cross hatching. KM: That is in the middle. GM: Feathers on the border. KM: Nice feathers. GM: She is very good, yes she is. That is my little thirties basket and most recent piece. KM: Tell me about your liberated quiltmaking. GM: That started in ’91, and I was, I have always taken my clues for my quiltmaking from studying antique quilts. I started out with a bunch of Mennonite women as my first teachers who got me going, kind of taught me the basics. Then I kind of fell into the arms of Mary Shafer, so my roots are very traditional, but I noticed from looking at very traditional quilts that they broke all the rules that people had made kind of since then in the last twenty years. We have a lot of brand new rules now in quiltmaking, and I noticed that the antique ones, they seem to have a lot more freedom and they were doing all kinds of things that wouldn’t be the judges wouldn’t care for today and so there was so much of that, I started kind of trying to use those ideas because I like the look of antique quilts. If I’m going to make a traditional quilt, I would like it to look like one. I noticed that in my study of old quilts that you would see blocks that were, they were kind of like cotton crazies, they were these little kind of compositions made of scrapes. One day I was making those out of little pieces of fabric that were next to me at the sewing machine, just kind of sewing them together to see how they would come out, and I sewed a triangle on that was floating out there on my desk and I sewed it onto this little kind of mismatched block and it looked like a house and it was like look at that, if I try a little bit I can make house blocks without templates. It was very exciting because if you have ever have made a house block that it looks very simple but there are nine million parts and there is a right and a left and you can’t get mixed up on that. I stayed up until about 2:00 in the morning experimenting with this new little thing I happened onto and then after that, it was like, when that happened it was like the doors opened, light shone and the music came up and it was like I had stepped into a whole new world of quiltmaking and a whole big room full of other possibilities. Once I got onto that, if I could make houses for heaven sakes with no templates and no pattern, just kind of starting in, I wonder what else I could make. I started playing around with that idea and I think I did “Liberated Quiltmaking” with AQS [American Quilter’s Society.] in maybe ’95 after I had been at it and teaching it for a while. I work now in two ways. I still love making traditional patterns in traditional ways, but I also like the more free form liberated work, which is a great way to make original quilts without really even trying. You can make quilts that are so original you can’t copy yourself. That is another kind of way that I work. For the quilt retreat this year, I think I made thirteen, maybe twelve traditional quilts in different styles and periods and then I have probably seven liberated baskets that are, the points don’t match, they are very free form, and usually they are made in brighter contemporary colors so they are kind of more in the kind of quilt art world you could say I guess. That is how I work. By the way, yesterday, can I talk to you about basket quilts? KM: Of course. GM: Yesterday word had it that Pat Holly said that she found two antique basket tops at the school, or wherever it is that they are having, where they had stuff for sale, and she described them to me and said they were really cute but they won’t take a credit card so she couldn’t get them, so I said I would go and look at them but I didn’t have a check either. I went with Rosaline and I found the quilts and I said, she knew who I was so I thought that might help, but it didn’t. [laughs.] I said, ‘Okay you don’t take credit cards?’ no she doesn’t so I went and got Rosaline and said I want to buy these two tops. I’m willing to beg, I’m going to get the money before I leave and I’m taking the quilts with me. [laughs.] So I say to her, ‘Listen I have these two tops and I really want to buy them, do you think there is anyway you could spot me, could you write a check and I will send you the money as soon as I get home.’ She said, ‘Yes she would.’ So the way it worked out was that there was the person selling the quilts on one side of the table and Rosaline and I were on the other, so Rosaline was writing the check while the shop owner was writing the receipt for me, while I was writing my Visa number for Rosaline because she said if I gave her the Visa number she will run it through hers, so it was this little round robin of I will pay you and you give me and I will pay you. I got the quilt tops and Pat Holly was kind of surprised. [laughs.] I know why I wanted to tell you that story, because one of the old tops I bought was in red and cheddar on a white background with alternate white blocks, and the little handles were cheddar and they were top stitched with white thread on the sewing machine, and the owner said to me, ‘Well I’ll tell you if I wasn’t going to sell this quilt pretty quickly I was going to take those handles off and hand appliqué them, because that just drives me crazy.’ And I said, ‘You know a lot of basket quilts, the handles on antique basket quilts are actually appliquéd by machine, this other top I’m buying from you is also done that way, you just didn’t notice it because the thread matches better.’ Anyway, my whole thing is because I have this background in traditional work I like traditional quilts and I’m not going to change them. The idea when I see basket handles on an antique quilt that are top stitched on machine, I think all right, good idea I think I will do that too. There is something very interesting to me about what has been going on in the quilt world since I kind of got into it thirty years ago, and it is that while people really like traditional quilts, they love antique quilts, most people get into quiltmaking because of that, they don’t make quilts that look like antique quilts. You start out–I did, I started out totally as a traditional quiltmaker and then after thirty years, you kind of find other ways of working as well. It is interesting to me that while people love antique quilts, they don’t make quilts that look like that. When I do classes and talk to people about that, one of the things is say is ‘Look you guys, when you go through Quilters’ Newsletter Magazine, even without your glasses on, can’t you tell that is a new one and that is an old one?’ They say yes, yes, and so now I have done a few lectures where I start out by saying, ‘How many of you like antique quilts?’ Up go the hands, and I say, ‘I wonder why we don’t make them look that way anymore then, because we pretty much eradicated a lot of things like that, we have decided that we can no longer top stitch the basket handles, that wouldn’t be appropriate, and a lot of other things that are found in appliqué quilts that have been kind of eradicated.’ You know the dog tooth border? Is it okay if I just keep rambling here now that I’m on a role, because guess what, I like to talk about quilts. [laughs.] KM: [laughs.] GM: That is one thing I do. KM: I am so surprised. [laughs.] GM: As long as I’m on my pet peeve now, the dog tooth border is, the saw tooth looking border that is appliquéd and cut from whole clothe, and if you look at pictures of early quilts, Colonial era quilts where that was used more than it is now, you can tell from a little photograph 2 X 3″ if it is a dog tooth border appliqué or whether it is a pieced saw tooth border. The reason you can tell is because they were, the original way that they were made was from folded fabric and when you fold fabric and cut fabric you get inconsistencies. They are not even, and when you needle turn them, that is called needle turn not toothpick turn by the way, when you needle turn the edges under they are on the bias so they automatically curve a little bit, so that the distinctive characteristics of the saw tooth border are that they are inconsistently lopping along there and that they are curved, so they are just kind of almost scallopy looking. Nowadays, we have invented–the way it is taught now, it that you come up with a system where we eradicate those two characteristics that made it cute in the first place and charming and distinctive. Now the way it is taught is that you measure equal distant very carefully, god forbid that they shouldn’t be precise, and then you fold the edges in, which means you get rid of that little bow in the sides. It is like, well that is no fun, now you have taken the very things that characterize it artistically away from it. I’m kind of just hanging on, I like those old ideas and I think often times in antique quilts–when there weren’t quilt teachers around and magazines telling us the right way to do things, everybody was home on the ranch figuring it out for themselves and therefore, I think there was a lot more innovation often times on those earlier quilts. Also, I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel. I like the tradition, I think it is a good thing and I like the idea of people figuring things out for themselves and it isn’t rocket science. When I started with the Mennonites and Mary Shafer, they were making quilts out of their sewing basket. There weren’t any quilt shops and there weren’t any quilters’ rulers and there were any leather thimbles, there was only one thimble and you had your little sewing basket and away you went. It has just gotten more complicated. Quilting now kind of reminds me of what is it Carbellas I think or something, there is some big sporting goods stores, kind of chain stores around the country now and they are huge stores and they are for hunting and fishing, and I was so shocked when I went in there because on Beaver Island the way they go hunting is that they get their gun, make sure it is already to go, and they get some kind of dull brown clothes on and they go hide behind a bush and wait for something to come by. Nowadays, there is scent, there are outfits, I have no idea what all, but this was a huge store full of things to help you go put venison on the table. The same thing has kind of happened in quilting. You used to be able to do it with granny’s apron and little Suzy’s dress that she has outgrown, and scissors and needles, and now it has become this really complicated kind of commercial world. KM: Do you think it will stay that way? GM: Yes I do. KM: You think this is bad? GM: No I don’t think it is bad, but I don’t think it is good either. I don’t like to be critical because I’m happy when people are making quilts. I just think we need to remind ourselves, someone needs to say you can make a quilt without a design wall and to say all of those appliqué quilts in the museum that we can’t afford to buy were made before there was freezer paper. It just seems like it has gotten–a lot of the techniques I think are directed towards ever more precision as though that was some god that we were suppose to worship, and I don’t think Picasso was losing sleep worrying about staying inside the lines. Staying inside the lines does not equal fine art. I also what I think is missing is that it becomes almost a political thing for me, because in the early days women couldn’t vote, you couldn’t own property, you really, you couldn’t do very many things, but boy oh boy you owned your quilting. You could do your quilting. I kind of don’t like to see women give it over to the professionals and feel like they can’t make a quilt unless they buy a pattern and that they need to buy professional templates, because we couldn’t do that that would be way to hard. I guess because of my traditional background and because of the Mennonites and because of Mary Shafer I feel like John and the Baptist out there saying, ‘Oh no you can do it by yourself. Oh it is very easy.’ I think in some ways we’ve kind of gotten off track. My focus when I’m out in the world teaching quiltmaking is to show people easy ways to take control of it themselves. KM: Tell me about your retreat. GM: Next year is my 25th year of doing this and I did the first one on Beaver Island and I did only one session and everybody came on the ferry which is a 33 mile out in the middle of the lake is where I live, 33 miles out in the middle of Lake Michigan, and I remind people they don’t call them the Great Lakes for nothing. These are really big lakes. The day they came it was very rough and everyone but one person threw up. [laughs.] When I went down to pick them up there they were looking rather forlorn on the dock and I thought well this is the first and last Beaver Island quilt retreat. The next year I did two sessions, and the second one had just enough to pay the bills, but it has kind of grown. Now I have been doing it for, this is my 24th year and I do four sessions. People come in on Tuesday and go home on Sunday morning. There is a full day on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and I rent a lodge. I do it now in Elk Rapids, Michigan. I lost my place I had it on the island so now I do it in Elk Rapids, which is a darling little northern Michigan town and I have a lodge that is one hundred years old that I rent and every year I choice a different topic. I have done medallions and stripy quilts, and last year we did the parts department, which is from a book Freddy Moran and I did “Collaborative Quilting” and it had just come out so we did kind of ideas from that book. This year I’m doing basket quilts. I see my job there doing the quilt retreat as getting the lesson together. I work on it all year long because I have really good quilters who come. It is not like I can waltz in there and pretend like I know about baskets. I try to have something for everyone because I don’t have a class project that everybody does. My way of operating has always been to offer a lot of things and then let people choose and then I’m there to help if they get stuck. We do little demonstrations. If someone wants to know how to do something I just announce it to the whole class that this is what we are doing over here if you would like to watch. There is a lot of learning that is going on, but everybody is doing their own work. I try to have something for everybody; so I have stuff for the traditional quiltmakers and I have quilts for people who want to do more contemporary kind of work. By the time that the retreat rolls around every single year I’m beside myself with excitement, because after a year of making baskets I think why would anyone make anything else? My gosh, basket quilts are the greatest. Anyway, I have done it for a long time now and I think it has helped me to grow as a quiltmaker too because I have to work hard all year long. I put together a notebook every year as an extra resource for people and it has actually only pictures of traditional quilts. For the art quilts, you got to figure that out yourself in my estimation with examples of mine. Teaching art quilts is an interesting concept to me, because I don’t want to teach you how to make my art quilt, I want to give you the tools and kind of give you an idea of how the process works so you can make your own quilts, that is what we do there. KM: How many hours do you spend quiltmaking each day? GM: That is all I do. It is not like I get up at 6:00 and head directly for the frame and stay there until after dinner, but that is my whole gig. I’m working on some aspect of it. I have written books and articles also and because of the quilt retreat I’m busy doing that and I’m taking care of my correspondence and I’m an old fashion girl so I’m not online so I write notes to people and I actually go to the post office, so I’m kind of at it all day long. In the summer time, which is a wonderful time for me on Beaver Island because I like to be outside too, so that is really good, because then I am up at 6:00. I work on my quilts until I get tired and my mind wonders outside while I’m working at the frame and I think oh I’m tired of this, it would be great to be outside. I run outside until I start getting sweaty or itchy or the black flies or mosquitoes find me and then I begin to think how nice and cool and restful it is at the quilt frame and then I run in and quilt some more. My kind of work philosophy is that if I allow myself to do whatever I feel like doing, I get a lot more work done. I then stay at it constantly. I take work with me on the road, that is why I have this quilt, because it was done accept for the binding. KM: The binding is now done. GM: The binding is now done. I have done two bindings. I have a little motto which is, never leave home without your appliqué. I always have appliqué with me and I have done four block appliqué quilts on the road where I didn’t sew a stitch at home, they were my little sample blocks. I take along one to teach needle turning and to teach my classes and a year later it is like they are all done. That kind of helps me keep going. There is something also while thinking about my work and how much time I spend on it, there is a couple of factors. One is that I have never ever in all these years have gotten tired of making quilts, I really love, I love sewing, I love sewing at the sewing machine, I like handwork, I just like the whole thing. That keeps me going and the other part of it is that when you support yourself and you are the sole supporter that is a good reason to get up in the morning. I used to tell my dog that obviously he wasn’t buying the dog food, so somebody has to go out and get the dog food and bring that home, so that is me. KM: Why don’t we take the opportunity before the tape runs out to have, since this is a demonstration interview, to have the participants have an opportunity to ask you a question? Does anyone want to ask a question? Tell me your name so it is on the tape. Dale Drake (DD): My name is Dale Drake. When did you get started? GM: When I was little. I am little Miss Suzy Homemaker. I always liked to sew. I had four kids in my family and I was always the one making the cookies. When I went to college I was a Home Ec major so I was–I can tell you all about 7th grade home ec sewing. How I learned making the V neck shift. That is where I learned the inside curve; you have to clip it to make it turn. I remember my sewing teacher in 7th grade saying it is always best to use thread that matches the content of the fabric, so in appliqué I use cotton thread and not silk thread. Little things like that. It just got worse as I got older. KM: What is your first memory of a quilt? GM: I grew up in a family where there weren’t any quilts, and so my first memory of a quilt is as an adult I started seeing them at antique stores. I collected antique furniture so I would see them there. I bought a pink and white pinwheel for my daughter’s bed. I didn’t know too much about it, but if you are a needle woman, it is like wow, somebody really went for it. When I was little my grandmother gave me a little butterfly quilt that was button hole stitched and I don’t even remember getting that except that I was young. The wonderful thing about it is that all of my life experiences in moving around and everything I kept that quilt. I think it was because my grandmother made it by hand and even as a young kid I don’t remember getting it, I don’t remember particularly valuing it or any big deal, but boy do I love it now. If you would like to see a picture of that, I think it is in Sue Nichols’ first book. She used it as an example of hand buttonhole stitch. Ann Calland (AC) This is Ann Calland from Marion, Indiana. What do you feel is our intention with quilting? What is it about quilting that makes it so hot now? GM: I will tell you one thing, when I travel a lot and I’m on the planes, people will say to me, what do you do and I say I’m a quiltmaker and they go a what. I then say a quiltmaker, you know quilts, blankets. Oh my grandmother, almost without fail. Then the conversation starts and they remember that they have an aunt, almost everybody has an aunt or a granny that made quilts, so it starts triggering. I think it is just that personal. In the beginning people were making them with used clothing, which is another thing that is kind of lost and I don’t go there either, but I did, those quilts are like family history a lot of them, that everybody’s clothing, Uncle Harold’s shirt and bla bla bla were in there, and I think everybody knows that it was hand done for the family. Also, because nowadays we don’t make anything, we don’t even make our beds most people. You don’t make your own pie crusts, most people don’t. I would like to say I do. [laughs.] Anyway, I think that maybe it is that, because a lot of people have hung on, I mean there are a lot of people getting rid of their family quilts, they couldn’t care the less, but a lot of people are hanging on to stuff that they don’t really know too much about, but grandma made it and so. AC: I have a follow up question. That explains why we like traditional quilts and historic quilts. What is the connection with people getting a pen and following the pattern and making a quilt and saying I did that? What is the connection, personal connection with it? GM: I think when you make something yourself, even if you are following a pattern you still did it and it took you nine months and you accomplished it. The whole thing about patterns too I have to say is that we were, this generation, everybody here I think was raised with the idea of using patterns. Seventh grade home ec started with the apron. Off we went to the store and we got our pattern, we turned it over and it was like a yard and a half of fabric and we looked at the notions, and I myself was brought up that way. We were all taught to get the recipe or get the pattern and that was step one. It wasn’t until, and that was how I started quilting too, who would know. But it wasn’t too long, it was from looking at old quilts and I began to figure things out a little bit about how things were done. For instance, old quilts, if you look at old quilts, you see that a lot of times they did diagonal lines without marking them, and that is not hard to see if you look, you can figure that out pretty easily. KM: Anyone else have a question? Judy Rector (JR): I was wondering how many quilts you have made over your lifetime and who do you give the quilts to when you give them away. GM: When I give them away, I like to say that my grandson who is seven has quite a pile of quilts and I have to curb that or they are going to have to add on. My kids, I have a son and daughter both, and they growing up with them, neither one of them sewed, but they value them and they know a lot about them. All they have to do is come and visit and say, ‘Oh, I love that one Mom.’ [laughs.] It is out the door. I don’t quite know. I actually have a, I keep good records, but I haven’t added them up. It doesn’t go from one to two hundred and ten, but my method of keeping records is pretty good, so if I were to say have an untimely departure, it would all be there in the filing cabinet, because I record every quilt on a 5X7 card with a snapshot attached too, and they are kind of organized like a special file just for the four and nine patch quilts, and a special file for the antique quilts, and a special file for the four block medallions, I have my little favorite kinds that I make. KM: How many antique quilts do you have? GM: I probably have probably eighty and probably fifty tops and I have tons of antique blocks, I have a lot of that sort of thing. I can tell you I have made over, I can tell you how many little quilts I have made, because I did those books for Dover, Twenty Little This and Twenty Little That and Twenty Little That, and so that is easier to keep track and I know I have over four hundred of those little quilts. I probably have made maybe two hundred quilts probably, including some crib quilts. I quilt in an old fashion church frame, the big stretcher frames, not the rectangular ones. I learned that from the Mennonites. That is how I learned so I have stuck with that. That is a quick way of quilting and I think if you do it all the time you get faster. I am a very fast hand quilter. I just don’t get tired of it either. [laughs.] Peggy Long (PL): My name is Peggy Long and I’m from Pittsboro, Indiana. Do you have a plan for in scripting the quilts after you are no longer on this earth? GM: No I do not. I’m all worn out from getting Mary Shafer’s quilts here. Also, I think there is a lot of us in this generation that have produced a lot of quilts, so the museums are not going to take them all. My only goal is to make sure that I figure that out and I don’t leave my children with that many quilts. Pam Conklin (PC): This is Pam Conklin. Do you have your quilts appraised? GM: No I don’t, because I have too many of them and I’m a working girl and I frankly can’t afford to do it. Also, insurance, trying to collect on insurance is not an easy thing, I don’t care how much documentation you have. I’m just taking my chances out here. PC: How do you store your quilts? GM: I have great big cupboards and I fold them up and put them in there. I like to remind people that I’m not a museum. I have gone on road trips before where I have had a quilt like this and then after I’m done with my lecture I take questions, and someone says, ‘Gwen, I can show you how to fold your quilts better.’ I just want to come off the stage. I remind them that I had to get here and that means that they are jammed in a suitcase and often times it takes me two days to get somewhere now thank you to the airlines, and so they are in there for two days coming and going. This is not a famous quilt, I made this and for the moment when I come home it is going on my grandson’s bed and he is going to pee on it probably, and then it will get washed. I make quilts like that, so I’m not, I’m just not a museum. I do the best I can. They get moved around a lot, so they are not folded up in there forever and I keep my antique ones in acid free boxes, but when you live in a house, I have fabric in the kitchen cupboards. You can’t open a door without something coming out of a quilted nature. There is no more room at the inn here and they are kind of everywhere and I do the best I can. Andrea Baughman (AB): Do you have a studio? GM: I do. I actually call it my sewing room and I hardly ever refer to it as this is my studio, because I think that sometimes makes people who don’t have one feel bad. When Mary Shafer made all those quilts, I’m going to talk about that today at lunch, from a little pile of materials that she had at the end of the couch and nowadays people feel like if they don’t have a studio they are not serious, so I call it my sewing room. On the other hand in my house now on Beaver Island which is 1700 hundred square feet, it is not very big, but the whole second floor is one big open space with big windows that look out so I have good light and that is where I make mine. I have a big Steel Case desk where I have my trusty old Singer, black Singer sewing machine sitting, which I prefer, don’t get me going on that, we are running out of time, but I will tell you later what I think about sewing machines. JR: What do you think about when you quilt? GM: Lots of things and one is because I teach a lot, as I’m sitting there working on a quilt I am thinking about ways I could present material better. Often times when I’m working at my quilting frame, I’m thinking about my basket seminar that is coming up and do I need to do anything else. Have I found all the antique quilts I have? I’m thinking about quilting and often time when I’m piecing quilts also have the computer on and I’m running over there writing instructions particularly with liberated stuff, because once it is made I forget all the little things that made it work and things that didn’t work at all, so I kind of keep track of stuff like that as I’m working. KM: Believe it or not, forty-five minutes have gone by so we are going to conclude our interview. Thank you Gwen, you were wonderful. GM: You are welcome. KM: It is…

QSOS with Jean Wells Keenan

QSOS with Jean Wells Keenan

Leah Call (LC): Jean, tell us about the quilt you brought–you have on display today? Jean Wells Keenan (JK): Well, this was a quilt that I made–it took a good amount of time because I also work full time but it really relates to the palate that I see in my garden. I love to garden and zinnias are my favorite flowers and so those flowers really are what inspired the colors in the quilt. LC: Can you tell me when you made this quilt? JK: I made it in 1999 and 2000 and I finished it in June of 2000. I teach quilting also and so the blocks in this quilt were used for class samples and I taught other people how to make these particular blocks. This is a New York Beauty design and all of the blocks are paper pieced but they are different so when you push four of the blocks together you still have a circular shape but the interior space has changed, so you really have that scrap quilt kind of look with more of a contemporary feel to it. LC: It’s beautiful. Can you tell me about the materials you have used? JK: A lot of hand dyed cottons and also batiks and then cottons that–have a garden sort of look to them and there is a lot of green because green is kind of like nature’s neutral. If you notice the greens, there aren’t just yellow greens or just blue greens. There is a real mix of greens because that is what I see when I work in the garden. LC: How do you perceive using this quilt? You know? JK: I own a quilt store and I teach and write and write quilting books and I like to display quilts in my home–it may go over the back of the couch–I have an eggplant color of couch. I will use it for teaching purposes. It is probably going to be in an upcoming book. LC: You have published books? JK: Yes, I have had over twenty books published. I started doing books in, oh, golly, it would have been about 1978. LC: Tell me about your own interest in quilting? When did it begin? JK: I started quilting when I was a young married mother and mother of two and I was teaching Home Economics and they decided that we should have boys in Home Ec. and so I was looking for projects that boys could do. I ran across some patchwork kind of things from England. What appealed to me was the accurate cutting and sewing and the geometric shapes. I thought they would appeal to the boys. They made floor cushions. At that time, quilting was not very popular–this was back in 1969 but I was real taken with putting fabrics together. I have been a fabric person since I was a little girl. I love to sew and so it just appealed to me. I kind of discovered quilting at that time and started teaching how to do it but didn’t have that background in my family or anything. It was just more or less something that I discovered on my own. LC: What is your history with quilting? Did it all begin with your teaching? JK: It did. I found out three or four years later that we had family quilts but my mother had them all packed away in the cedar chests and I didn’t even know about them so I didn’t realize that we had these family quilts and of course when I found out we did, I was very excited. And I found that some of the quilts that my grandmother made were the kinds of things I would chose to make so it kind of gave me a connection with my grandmother and my great grandmother that I didn’t have before. LC: So your first memory of a quilt–would that have been while you were– JK: No, it’s just I discovered it myself. I was twenty-six years old–looking for creative sewing projects. LC: You have described several of your quilt related activities–are there any other activities that you taught or have written? JK: Yea, I, quilting is–I have been very fortunate, it is like my life. I would do it as a hobby. I also do it as a business. I love to teach and see people learn because I have done the teaching and writing of the books. I am sharing ideas and that is really what I love the most about quilting–is what happens with the people and seeing people want to learn and seeing what they do with the fabric and the creativity that happens. That’s really what I love most about quilting. LC: Are there quilters in your family? JK: Well, it turned out that my grandmother and great grandmother quilted but my mother didn’t. You know, she grew up–the World War II era where you didn’t want to sew at that time and you didn’t want to look homemade unless you had to. I just always liked to sew from when I was a little girl and I had a grandmother who sewed and crocheted and did all that and so my grandmother kind of taught me to sew but she didn’t quilt. This was the grandmother on the other side of the family. My daughter is now a quilter and works in the business with me. LC: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy? JK: I really don’t know. I really like it all. I like thinking up the idea and then collecting the fabrics and then getting started. You know, I get very anxious to get started and start putting my ideas together and see if they work. You change your ideas along the way because not everything is like you envision it but I love that creative process that happens in quilting and how you discover things about yourself. You have to find new ways of working sometimes, you know, or a combination that you thought was going to work color wise, doesn’t and so you have to look for another idea and I just love that process. LC: What do you think makes a great quilt? JK: I think it is a combination of things. Having been a Home Economics teacher, I really believe in things being made well. If you are going to take the time to do then sew it right and be accurate and do a nice job. But, I think, when I look at quilts, what grabs me first is color and design and then sometimes I get up close and there are some quilts that are not made very well but I like to see all of it work together but I probably am more tuned in to color and design and then I see workmanship next but I think it’s as important. LC: What do you feel makes a quilt artistically powerful? JK: It is a combination. You have to balance color and design. The design elements like the scale of fabrics that you chose and how you create texture and how you create movement are all important. Repetition is very essential, repetition can be–all repeated blocks. Repetition can also come in other forms, like in this quilt, you know there are all these points but in this particular block none of them are the same but yet you still have repetition because you’re seeing this kind of shape over and over. And I like more subtle repetition, like when I get to the quilting. I quilted leaves because this quilt had a garden theme. I wasn’t going to put some sort of quilting on here that doesn’t relate the to theme so I really feel like every decision you make in the quilt needs to relate to the theme and the idea that you are trying to pull off and that’s what gives a quilt unity in the end. LC: You talked about this being a garden theme. Have you done other themed quilts? JK: Well I am kind of obsessed with gardening at the moment. I love to garden and I have always been a real outdoor person and like hiking and all of that and have been tuned into nature so I think most of my quilts have a feeling coming from nature because that is where I get inspired from. And I think what has happened with me personally is that you see things in nature that you might not be able to think up yourself like color combinations because it works there then it is going to work in a quilt so I really let that be my guide. And I don’t think I could have done this quilt had I not been a gardener and really tuned into the subject matter that inspired me. LC: What would make a quilt appropriate for museum or a special collection in your opinion? JK: I think it has to be unusual in its design and I think it has to be very well made. I think sometimes it has to do with the history of the quilt–what it was made for, who it was made for or if it was made for a particular event or a time that you know might be historically important but it has to have something special to say. LC: Now, was this one made for this event? JK: Nope, it was made for me and I saw the contest and it fit in one of the categories and so I submitted it. I was just hoping to get in the contest. I have never really entered a contest before. LC: What was this particular contest? I mean this category? JK: It was the imagination category. It was “Wishes for the World” and this probably sounds kind of corny but I just think if we can pay attention sometimes to our surroundings and our environment and see how everything interrelates and gets along, why can’t all the people also get along? It was wishes for the world. It would be nice to have world peace. I think circles represent the world and I think circles are complete and to me when you can get that circle completed so that was kind of what I was thinking about when I made that quilt. LC: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? Especially how to design a pattern or chose fabrics, colors? JK: Well I think it all comes by exposing yourself to good design and also to what’s out there and sifting through it. You can learn from other people. I think that is probably one of the best ways to learn and I think we are all inspired by somebody. People out there act like they all did it on their own, but we all get inspired by something. I know, for me, I get really inspired by what other people do and customers that comes in my store. I think, in my business, being here and seeing all the ways you can express yourself is very interesting but I don’t think people necessarily started out just wanting to express themselves. JK: Now we will have to get our train of thought going. LC: The pattern in choosing colors? Being inspired by customers? JK: I think when you expose yourself to an exhibit like this, you see a lot of possibilities you might not have thought of. I have been quilting thirty years and I still get excited and see things I want to do and ideas that I want to pursue. It is a very fulfilling process because the time that you spend, you have something to show for it when you’re finished and that is one of the things that I find in my store that people feel so good about what they have done and so many times, they’re making it for somebody else or for a gift. In today’s society being able to make something yourself is very nice. A lot of people just need that. LC: Why is quilting important in your life? JK: It has been important for a lot of reasons. Originally it was an outlet for creativity and then it became my profession and I made my living at it. I educated two children and sent them to college with quilting. Now I am doing retirement, but it has been a way to make a living and I feel very fortunate that I have been able to do it with something that I love doing–that I would be doing anyway so I think I kind of have the best of both worlds. LC: For the record, where do you live? JK: I live in Sisters, Oregon which is in the Cascade Mountains and we only have thirty seven frost free days a year so you have to plant hearty things and do it quick. LC: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? JK: Well I think they are a history of American life. You know, they document events in people’s lives personally and they also document events in our history and I think they say things about the social history of our country also but it is just a way to document the people we are and the era that things were made. LC: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? JK: Well, I think it is projects like this documentation. I think the oral histories are great and there are so many publications out and you know, those publications have certainly put quilting out in the main stream so to speak because people have been willing to commit to those publications. LC: What has happened to the quilts? Quilts from the family? JK: They have been kept in the family. I have two sisters and we all have some of the quilts and I know that I have already decided who is getting which quilt in my family. I have two children. They are putting dibs on things too, but making sure that the quilts do stay in the family and putting labels on the back is important. You want to be able to document when they made and who made them. I try to really push that sort of idea when I teach classes, too and you know, I just love quilting so much and what it has been able to do and you know through teaching you get to–you have a voice that is differently sometimes than just a local person and so I really try to push those, you know, concepts and ideas. LC: What is the label on this quilt? JK: I can’t remember which one it is. It is not real exciting. It just has for the contest. I will make a nicer label when I get home. It just has the basic information when it was made. LC: What kind of label will you make? JK: It will be gardening and I think I will do some embroidery and then I will put a little bit more of the history of why I made it. This one just has who made and when. LC: Will you document as an award-winning quilt? JK: I will now– [laughs.] I mean I never thought it would win any prizes. I just loved doing it. I was very sad when it was finished because I loved these colors and every single block has a different palate so every time you got to a block you had to decide where you were going to put things and then once I got about half of them finished you get to that stage in design where you have to decide where the quilt is going design wise. I remember getting about half the blocks done and I had only used red once. Well that was not going to look very good if I had only used red once. It would look like an after thought so then I made myself consciously use red a couple more places and then make it dance around the quilt so that it was not all in one spot. As I got down to this area–this is a transition area because you are going from flower to foliage and at that point, I started using green more in the blocks so that the blocks would transition. Originally I thought I was just going to use these blocks down here but when I got to that point it needed that feeling of the ground and what you see when you look through foliage. You know you see wedges. You don’t see exact leaves very often and so I was really looking at what I saw and interpreted this stitch and flip type of piecing and then added the actual realistic leaves to just further and kind of make the point come across. My daughter actually helped me with figuring out the machine quilting. She just started quilting about three or four years ago. She is not intimidated by free motion quilting and I kind of am but I wanted to do it and so she got my machine all set up for me and then I chose to put leaves in the background because it is a garden sort of setting. I would get up early in the morning and go down and quilt then go to work then go home and quilt some more. It was great. It was a fun thing to do. LC: Do both your daughters quilt? JK: I only have one daughter and then I have one son but my son’s quite a gardener and my daughter and I have done some quilting and gardening books. She photographed his garden and so I kind of casually said to him, ‘Well, Jason, you need to design a quilt for us,’ and he said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ And then last month, he said, ‘I almost got that quilt designed for you, Mom,’ so I can hardly wait to see what he’s doing. My kids have just grown up in quilting and both of them are a lot more knowledgeable than I ever realized. I think it is because quilting is a business and they were around it all the time. LC: Do you plan to take this design and put it into a quilt? JK: What do you mean? LC: You said that it was your son’s design. JK: Oh, yes, I’ll figure out something. I think it will be fun. I don’t want him to dictate too much though. It will be interesting to see what he came up with, though and what colors he will work with. I will learn something about him in the process. LC: What would your guess on the results go? JK: Well Jason likes things that are graphically, more simple. I made him a Double Wedding Ring quilt when he and his wife got married and he is the kind who would not like thirty fabrics in one quilt. He would like fewer fabrics and more graphic style. I don’t know what he has designed. We’ll see. LC: Would that probably eventually go to him? JK: Oh sure. I would give it to him. LC: Is there anything that I have not mentioned that you would like to include about this quilt: Any other symbolic– JK: Well one thing that I did because it has a garden theme, I tried to tuck little special things in like a frog here and a butterfly and there is a bumble bee. I suddenly kind of tucked those things that you do see in the garden and just the way I chose the fabrics. I think I lined this quilt because there were decisions till the very end where had I been doing all forty blocks alike once the decision is made. It is just labor and I really like the decision making part of quilting and choosing the fabrics. LC: Can you think of anything else? JK: Don’t think so. LC: Thank you. This has been Leah Call interviewing Jean Wells Keenan, November 3, 2000 for the Quilt Save Our Stories Project. It is 12:00…

QSOS with Cynthia Mumford

QSOS with Cynthia Mumford

Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schultz. It’s Tuesday, May 24 [2011.] at two o’clock. I’m interviewing Cindy Mumford at the Art Center in Battle Creek. [Michigan.] This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan Quilters’ Save Our Stories Project of The Alliance for American Quilts. How are you today? Cynthia Mumford (CM): I’m good. Good. Good. PS: Tell me about the quilt that you brought in today. CM: I brought in a quilt that I made several years ago–I think it was 2007–that was a project between a friend and I, who shall not be named, no, who’s here today with me. We decided to challenge ourselves to make this beautiful New York Beauty style quilt. And I never would have made it without that challenge because it was, at the time, probably the most difficult quilt I’ve ever made. PS: What special meaning does this quilt have for you? CM: Oh, lots of special meanings, mostly special memories, because my friend and I, can I say Pam Schultz, and I spent many, many hours shopping. It has a tremendous amount of fabric in it, in that there are a lot of different fabrics. We used mostly batiks, but a lot of other fabrics, too. I can’t even tell you how many different fabrics. I don’t know whether you could count them. But we did a lot of shopping to get all those different fabrics and we traded fabrics and we experimented with fabrics. If you know anything about New York Beauty block, it can have many different fabrics in one block, which all of these do. So, that part was a lot of fun. We also did some making together. Pam made up the patterns for the Beauty blocks, which we got out of Valerie Wells’ Book? No. PS: Karen Stone. CM: Karen Stone’s book, called New York Beauty Block, I think. [New York Beauty; Paper Foundation and Freezer Paper Templates to Complete 30 Blocks, Karen K. Stone.] So we used her patterns, made them up on copy paper so we could paper-piece these blocks. They were, for me, quite a challenge at the time. I had never done a New York Beauty block or anything quite like it before. There’s lots of little pieces and lots of points and so it was a big learning experience for me. PS: Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview? CM: I still think it’s one of my best quilts and I’m not sure I’ll ever make one this complicated again. [laughs.] I’m most proud of this quilt, I think, of all the quilts I’ve made. PS: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you? CM: I don’t know. It’s colorful so maybe they would think that I liked color. It’s intricate. I don’t know. PS: How do you use this quilt? CM: It hangs on the wall in my studio and I look at it every day. It still inspires me. PS: That kind of goes with the next one. What are your plans for this quilt. CM: It’s going to keep hanging on my wall. [laughs.] It’s probably the only quilt of mine that I never get tired of looking at. PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. CM: When I started? PS: Yeah, and now. CM: I’ve always been a sewer and probably since seventh grade or so when I learned how to, actually my mother taught me how to sew on the sewing machine. Before that my grandmother was teaching me to hand sew. My great-grandmother was a quilter but she was long gone before I was of an age to quilt and didn’t live near me so she didn’t teach me to quilt. But my grandmother did, even though she didn’t really like quilting like her mother did. So I’ve been sewing a long time and when I had children I never was a quilter until my grandmother gave me the quilt that her mother had started for me. It was all in pieces. Some of it was put together but mostly it was pieces. It was one and a half inch squares and it was called a Postage Stamp quilt, I was told. On my eighteenth birthday my grandmother gave it, unfinished, to me. She was supposed to finish it for her mother, but not being that much into quilting, she never did. So she gave it to me and said if I would put it together she would take it to a quilt guild, I think it was a church group that did quilting, and have it quilted for me. As I said, at the time I knew nothing about quilting itself. I just knew how to sew. So I sewed the pieces together as best I could and she had it quilted for me as promised and that was my first quilt. I did not really get into quilting seriously. I made quilts for my kids and things around the house, but I didn’t really know anything about formal quiltmaking. I’d never had a class or anything like that. I just knew how to sew. And so when I retired I had some friends who had started quilting before me and I was always too busy with my kids growing up to take classes and things. They had started taking classes and one of our friends belonged to a guild. Anyway I didn’t do all of that until my kids were older and then when I retired I joined the guild and I started quilting seriously, which is about ten years ago. PS: What age did you start quiltmaking? CM: When I was eighteen, but I didn’t know what I was doing so when I started seriously quiltmaking I took a class when I retired. I was fifty, maybe I was fifty-one or so. The first thing I did was sign up for a quilting class, took a class and found out what I didn’t know about quilting. And went from there. Just kept taking classes and joined the guild. [Cal-Co Quilters’ Guild of Battle Creek, Michigan.] And made more quilts, practice, practice. PS: From whom did you learn? CM: My first quilting class was from Lyn [Evans.] at The Quiltery, a little shop in town that was a quilt shop, was where I took my first formal quilting class, and learned how to quilt as opposed to learning how to sew. PS: How many hours a week do you quilt? CM: I usually do a little bit every day, almost. Maybe ten to twenty hours a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. PS: What is your first quilt memory? CM: My first quilt memory is the quilt my grandma gave me that my great-grandmother started for me. I remember other quilts that she had made. She made all the family quilts to use as bed covers. When we would visit my great-grandmother, she lived on a farm, all the beds were covered with quilts. They were just everywhere and she made–my brother was her oldest great-grandchild and she made his quilt and his quilt was on his bed his whole growing up and I have that quilt now. I’m not sure why I have it. My brother doesn’t, but I have it. So I grew up, sort of, seeing quilts around and just always liked them. PS: This one’s a little bit of a duplicate. Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends? CM: Lots of quiltmakers among my friends now, because I joined a guild and they all quilt. [laughs.] So that’s really nice. And I really like my quilting friends. I don’t think anybody else in my family is quilting, that I know of. I have a cousin who did some quilting for a while and actually she did a fairly good job but she didn’t really know much about quilting either. She just did it and she was making picture quilts, which I also liked to do. And she made some very nice little appliqué quilts but she doesn’t consider herself a quilter. She’s the only one in our family that I know of that’s done anything with quilting, so far. PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family? CM: My family? Well, all my nieces and nephews all got nice quilts now. [both laugh.] My family now consists of me and my husband. I’ve made quilts for my two boys. Several of my nieces and nephews. I usually try to make quilts for my nieces and nephews when they get married. I’ve made lots of baby quilts for the babies in the family. It’s affected my husband in that I’m always down in the basement sewing. He has to come down and drag me out sometimes. But he likes my quilting, too. He likes the products that come out of it. PS: Have you made any quilts for the grandbaby? CM: Oh, yes. Several, more than several, probably. In fact I have another one waiting for when he gets a little older, to give him. PS: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time? CM: Well, yes, and yes. I think I have. Sewing has always been kind of a soothing escape for me. I can sew and let my mind wander and that’s good for me. I can sort of resolve things that might be going on in my life while I’m sewing. It’s an activity that I can do like gardening that I can kind of wander off in my head and think about things while I’m still sewing. It just allows me that time in my head. My husband was sick a couple of years ago and I think quilting and my quilting friends and my quilting guild really helped me get through that period. It gave me something else outside of my own life and problems to think about and be with people that I have something in common with and that I like and shared. So, yeah, I think it helps me a lot. PS: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking. CM: Amusing. Hmmm. I don’t know. I can’t think of anything. I don’t know. Let’s come back to that. PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking? CM: Oh, everything is pleasing about it. I just like to sew. I like the creative part of it. In more recent years I’ve gotten into the more creative part of it and joined a little art quilt circle that we can explore different techniques and try new things and I do like that. I’ve never thought of myself as being an artist, per se, but I’ve always wanted to be. I’m an artist wannabe. I admit it. And I think I’m probably more artistic than I give myself credit for maybe, but I hear people say, ‘I can’t draw. I can’t draw. I can’t do this and I can’t do that.’ And I’m one of those people, but I really can do a little bit if I just put my mind to it and try it. And this art group gets me to do that more. So I like the sewing. I like the creativity. I love fabric. I love just touching fabric, looking and fabric, buying fabric, feeling fabric. I like wool. I like thread. I like everything about it, really. PS: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy? CM: There really isn’t anything I don’t enjoy. I have changed my focus, I think from making big bed quilts to making smaller, more artistic kinds of projects that aren’t necessarily utilitarian, but just to look at, just to look pretty. I do get bored; I think is more the word. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I get bored if I’m just making a large pieced quilt, like repeating a block, making the same block over and over again, twenty-five times or whatever. I did enjoy that for a while, but I’m not enjoying that as much now as doing things that are a little more creative and different. PS: What art or quilt groups do you belong to? CM: I belong to my Cal-Co Quilters’ Guild in Battle Creek, Michigan. I belong to a circle called Syncopated Threads Art Quilters which is the little art group I was talking about. And I belong to another circle called Sew & Sews and we just get together and do little projects sometimes. Sometimes we teach each other things. Sometimes we just work on our own sewing and then we do several charitable-type projects like sewing quilts for the veterans. There is a little organization in our guild called Quilts for Kids that we make children’s quilts to be donated to various agencies in our community. That’s about it. PS: Have advances in technology influenced your work? And how? CM: Oh, yes. When I first started seriously quilting when I retired, I had an old sewing machine that I’d had for years, twenty years probably, and prior to that I’d had a sewing machine for the previous twenty or thirty years and it wasn’t anything fancy. It was just plain, straight-up sewing machine and after I’d been quilting for a while I decided to take a plunge and buy a really nice sewing machine that was kind of designed to do quilting-type sewing. It really made all the difference in the world. It just made sewing so much easier. I had no idea that it was going to make such a big difference, but it did. I’m really glad I finally bought myself a nice machine. So the machine alone was a nice improvement and I’m sure that I could get a new one. That one is now, maybe, ten years old. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but I think it has and I could probably get another new one and be even more satisfied with that, but so far I’m still using that one. I love it. It made such a big difference, going from what I had to that one. The other things, of course, there’s all kinds of products out now for doing all kinds of different things, fusing and all the new threads and just all kinds of things that are wonderful for sewing and quilting in general. PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials? CM: I love wool but don’t do a lot with wool, but I love wool. It’s really easy to work with. But I also just love the plain cotton. Hundred percent cotton is the best thing there is and that’s usually what most quilters use and what I use for my quilts is just a hundred percent, a nice cotton. What else did you say? What else? PS: Techniques and materials. CM: When I first started quilting I did a lot of piecing and, as I said, I got eventually tired of or bored with doing multiple piecing blocks and things like that. I really got into machine appliqué. I just really like machine appliqué. I don’t know why. I have no idea why, but I love doing what I call making little pictures. I use a lot of patterns or sometimes I draw my own little pictures and turn them into appliqué patterns and I really enjoy that part of it. I love seeing the little picture take shape and turn into something and every block is different. I don’t ever repeat the same, well, I shouldn’t say that. I have repeated my machine appliqué as well, but I like it best when every picture is different, when every little appliqué piece is different. I really like doing that. PS: Describe your studio or the place that you create. CM: I’m lucky to have a nice big space. When I first was sewing, as a young married person, I sewed wherever I could, at the kitchen table, the dining room table. Then eventually I had a little space in the basement where the washer and dryer was where I sewed, [laughs.] which was small and dark, but I could go down there whenever I wanted to, when the kids were finally in bed and blah, blah, blah and I could sew and not bother anybody watching TV upstairs and be by myself to my heart’s content. Now I have a nice big room in my basement, again, but it’s a walk-out basement so I have windows now and it’s a nice big, huge room. There’s a TV and I can stay down there all day and watch TV and sew. I’ve got plenty of room to lay stuff out on the floor. I’ve never made myself a design wall or anything like that but I use the floor a lot to lay things out. Or a table. I bought myself some big plastic fold-up tables. I often lay stuff out on the tables now because I’m older and crawling around on the floor is a little harder. So I use the tables more now than I used to. I have a really nice big space, which makes it a lot easier and I like it. I used to have to pack everything up and put it all away and get it all out again and make a mess and put it away and now I can just leave everything where it’s at and that makes it a lot nicer. PS: Tell me how you balance your time. CM: Well, I’m retired so I have a lot of time. [laughs.] And I don’t know if I balance it very well but I try to. I operate on guilt a lot, because if I’m downstairs sewing too long I start to feel a little bit guilty and I have to go upstairs to pay attention to my husband. But I just basically do what I want and I–wow. [vibration outside, roadwork, jackhammer.] If I have a deadline for a project then I work on that, but otherwise I pretty much work on what I want to work on and try not to give myself too much over structure, you know, my sewing, because I want to enjoy it. I don’t want it to be too structured. I just want to have fun with it. [conversation between CM and PS about the noise outside.] PS: What do you think makes a great quilt? CM: For me a lot of it is the color, I think. I like really colorful quilts. I’m sure I have particular colors that I lean toward. I couldn’t tell you exactly what they are. I think it’s more the combination of colors that draws me to a particular quilt, to make me look at it closer. Sometimes it’s the mood of the quilt, if the quilt evokes some mood in me that, whether it’s real whimsical or to the other extreme of being very somber and serious or mysterious or something. There’s always something that draws me to a particular quilt and it’s no one thing. It’s just that combination of those things, whatever the fabrics, the subject matter, the colors, maybe the quilting itself, the design work in the quilting. It excites me, I guess. I’ll say, ‘Boy, I like that one.’ But it’s not just one thing. It’s that whole combination of how the quilt goes together. PS: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special exhibit? CM: Again, for me, it would be a combination of all those things I’ve just talked about, but in addition to that, I suppose, would be the level of skill, the skill of the quilter, the skill the quilter has exhibited in putting the quilt together or the construction of the quilt or the quilting itself. Obviously some quilters are just talented and put together the most beautiful things and I don’t know how to describe that but some people are just more gifted quilters just like gifted artists are, I guess, and they can put things together in a more beautiful way. And there is a certain amount of precision that goes with the art of quilting, depending on the style of quilting, probably. For traditional quilting there is a required amount of attention to technique that is looked for when choosing a quilt to be exhibited in a special way or in a museum or a winning quilt show or something like that. Did that answer? PS: What makes a great quiltmaker? CM: A great quiltmaker. I don’t know too many great quiltmakers [laughs.] other than myself, of course. [PS laughs.] The great quiltmakers of today that are considered the great quiltmakers, is that what you mean? PS: Well, what do you think? Who do you think? CM: What I think makes a great quiltmaker, I guess, would be a combination of artistry and passion for quilting itself and knowledge of the techniques used to make a quilt. A lot of people can make a quilt but it wouldn’t be a great quilt. [chuckles.] I think the effort and the talent put into the construction of the quilt itself is a big part of whether the quilt is successful or not, as an excellent piece of work or as a piece of art. But the quilters themselves have to not only have the ability to do the techniques well, be a great seamstress, but also be very knowledgeable about color and combinations, fabrics and threads and all those things to be able to make a really great quilt. PS: Whose works are you drawn to, and why? CM: I like Caryl Bryer Fallert. She’s the one that lives in Paducah, [Kentucky.] right? She’s a great technician, number one. [phone rings.] Her quilts are immaculately produced and stitched. But I like her use of color. I like the colors she uses. She uses very bright, intense, bold colors and to me they’re beautiful. She dyes her own fabric. She’s done some designs of her own but mostly I like her use of color. Her technique, as I said, is really immaculate. PS: Which artists have influenced you? CM: A lot of them. I particularly like Paul Cezanne. I like all the impressionist artists like Monet, Manet, and Seurat. I can’t say that they influence my quilting but I do like them. Somebody like Cezanne would be more of an influence on my quilting because of his use of color. In my high school we had an English Humanities program which was copied after Michigan State’s [Michigan State University, Lansing, Michigan.] Humanities program. So we had three days of English, a day of Art and a day of Music every week. We had to take it all the way through high school. I loved it because I enjoyed the art part. I enjoyed the music part, too, but I really enjoyed the art part. It gave us the background in Art History that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise, in high school or college, unless I took that as a college major. So I think just that background, just having that much background in Art really helped me all through my creative endeavors throughout my life time. I’ve been more of a crafter than an artist and I’ve always been a crafter but I think my background in that art education really helped me. PS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? CM: When I first started quilting I hand quilted. I have quite a few quilts that I hand quilted and I do still enjoy hand quilting, but my hands don’t like it so well any more. My fingers get sore and I’ve got a little arthritis now so I don’t enjoy the hand quilting as much as I used to. Initially that’s all I did. Machine quilting intimidated me but I finally just dove in and started doing it and I do enjoy it. I’ve gotten better at it and I like it for small pieces but I still don’t enjoy doing it myself for a large piece. It’s just too difficult. In fact I would rather still hand quilt a really large piece if I’m going to do it myself. Otherwise I’ll send it to a longarm quilter. [PS coughs.] PS: So how do you feel about longarm quilting? CM: I love them. [laughs.] I haven’t tried it myself. I’ve thought about trying it. I’m never going to buy a longarm machine but I know we have someone in town, now, who is going to be renting out hours on a longarm. I have not done that yet, but I may. I do like the machine quilting for small pieces but a longarm quilter, I admire the heck out of those gals because they do a great job and I’m perfectly willing to have them do my large quilts. [PS coughs.] PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life? CM: I think now, for me, especially since I’m retired and I have a lot of time, it’s very fulfilling to me. I have always had a creative side to me that I didn’t have a lot of outlets for and quilting has given me an outlet for that. I really enjoy that. PS: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region? CM: I don’t know. I’m sure there is some influence there but I don’t know if I know what that is. I think being mid-western has its influences in making kind of conservative, in a way. [clears throat.] I don’t mean that in a political way. I was talking about being a little more reserved. And I, like many other people, have tried hard to kind of get outside my box a little bit and do things that aren’t so, are less conservative and a little more daring, a little more bold and therefore, to me, a little more artistic. [laughs.] PS: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? CM: Well, they’ve been around a long time. I think they are very important and I think they will continue to be important even though their main purpose has gone from primarily utilitarian to more an artistic endeavor. I think that’s equally as important to have, and maybe that’s their utilitarian use, now it’s something for people to pursue as an art form of its own and it’s being more and more considered as kind of an art form of its own rather than just a utilitarian effort to make a cover for a bed. I think having the creative outlet is just as important as making something useful for the household. PS: In what ways do you think that quilts have special meanings for women’s history in America? CM: Even though women were making quilts to be used and often made them out of worn-out clothing or whatever little bits and scraps of fabrics they could find, even then they were using their creative abilities, some more than others, but even then they were creating something that pleased them or that they knew would please someone else, whether they were making it for their daughter’s bed, their daughter’s room or giving it away as a wedding present or making it for their own bed or whatever they were doing, it was still for most women a creative outlet for them. You can look back through history and see some wonderful examples of beautiful, beautiful quilts, back then and today, too. PS: How do you think quilts can be used? CM: Pretty much for anything you want. [laughs.] I think they can be used in the traditional way as a bed cover. They can be used as wall art. They can be used on your dining room table. They can be used as small quilts that are placemats, or table runners, all kinds of things around the house. Pillow covers. People are using them in all kinds of ways now. PS: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? CM: Like technically, preserved? PS: Just preserved I don’t– CM: I just hope that they are preserved. I know there are organizations around now that are collecting quilts and making efforts to preserve examples of quilting. I think our own Michigan State has a collection of quilts and I think there are several universities now that have quilt collections around the country, and private museums and what-not that have quilt collections. I think, hopefully, that they will continue to be passed down among family members and find their way to museums or universities that keep them. I think there are efforts being made to preserve some of them. Hopefully that will continue. PS: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family? CM: I have at home, maybe twenty or so, quilts that I haven’t given away to anybody, and I sort of rotate. I have this one I brought today, I hang on the wall in my studio and I have several that I rotate on beds in the house. I have some that are seasonal, several that I get out at Christmas, during the holidays and what-not. The rest I’ve given away. I’ve given away as gifts or I’ve made countless numbers for charitable donations. PS: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today? CM: For some it would be money. I know in some countries fabric is very expensive. Hundred percent cotton is expensive. [phone rings.] The cost of cotton is going up in our country, we’re told. So I think for a lot of women, the older quilters, one of their biggest obstacles is the expense of buying the fabric itself to work with. It’s not just the fabric. It’s the thread and the batting and the backing takes a fairly large chunk of fabric. The sewing machine itself. Granted you can sew on any machine but even any machine costs money. So I think one of the biggest road blocks is being able to afford to quilt. Simple as that. Otherwise it’s just having the time to do it. PS: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? CM: I don’t think so. PS: Thank you, Cindy. CM: Welcome. [interview ended at 2:43…

QSOS with Karen Alexander

QSOS with Karen Alexander

Amy Henderson (AH): My name is Amy Henderson and I’m conducting an interview with Karen Alexander at the American Quilt Study Group Conference at Colonial Williamsburg for the Quilters’ [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project on Saturday, October 13, 2001 at 3:40 p.m. Why don’t we start? Please tell me where you’re from. Karen Alexander (KA): Well, I currently live in Reston, Virginia, which is in Fairfax County, about 30 minutes south of and west of D.C. AH: Is this where you grew up? KA: No, I grew up in northern Ohio. My father taught at Kent State University, but his roots are in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. That’s where the focus of my research is–the Shenandoah Valley. I’ve been privileged to–he’s given me four or five tied comforters from my great-grandfather’s home, which he inherited in 1974 in Page County. I’ve made the three counties where my ancestors settled Page, Shenandoah County and Rockingham County the focus of my research. Our earliest Mennonite ancestors arrived about 1740. AH: Wow, so you’re both an historian and a quilter. KA: Yes, mainly an historian now. I haven’t made a quilt in a long time. AH: But you did bring an object for us to talk about today. KA: Ah, yes. AH: Tell me about it in terms of age and you made this quilt? KA: No, this is one in my collection from Page County. AH: Okay. KA: I subscribe to the newspaper from Page County, so that I can follow the estate auctions. I try to get in at the ground level, since my budget is limited. I have been to maybe four or five auctions over the ten years I have lived in Virginia. When I walked up from the road, up the gravel driveway, to this particular auction, they had a double clothesline of quilts hanging. This one was in the second line, so it was sort of hidden. The wind was blowing the quilts in front of it. The first row of quilts were much more subdued, but I could see this color flashing through as the wind blew the other quilts. My heart just started thumping. As I approached the quilts, I made myself walk real slow and come around the end of the clothesline. When I saw the ‘bold one’ I just thought, ‘Of all these estate auctions I’ve been to, this one is the most unusual. Please, I want this one.’ I decided I would go for broke on this. AH: Describe for us the pattern and the colors. KA: It’s a Feathered Star. It’s a variation of the Feathered Star; I’ll put it that way. I found three similar patterns to it in Barbara Brackman’s book. But this one has a very unusual center. In the center of each block is square of navy blue with a small white design in it. Right in the middle of each of those squares is an almond-shaped, double-pink, as we call it, piece of fabric–which comes totally out of the blue, you might say. One of the reasons I was attracted to this quilt is that I like the unusual. This quilt is unusual but traditional at the same time. Maybe that’s it. So it was a traditional pattern, piecing and all, yet it’s unusual too. This woman must have been a real ‘individual,’ I thought. That’s reflected in her choice of colors, as well as this almond shape in the middle of each block–she just came up with something that had nothing to do with the traditional pattern. I’m very drawn to the traditional Swiss-German Pennsylvania colors. Those same Swiss-German people migrated down into Virginia along the Great Valley Road, down into the Shenandoah Valley, and my ancestors on my father’s side were among them. So first the colors drew me then when I got up close and saw it–I felt this was an unusual person who’d made this. And I liked that. AH: What do you feel is unique about the color combination? KA: It’s just very bold. To me, it says something about a person who’s not afraid of boldness. There were a lot of subdued colors available at that time. She didn’t choose subdued colors. Apparently she didn’t feel like she had to be this little subdued person. It’s just lively and it makes you want to dance–well, it makes me want to dance. So that’s what I like about it. I like the cheddar orange here; I’ve always liked that color in a quilt. I like the cheddar in conjunction with the greens and the double-pinks. Then it’s got enough blue and brown to tone it down just a little bit. AH: What did you learn about the fabrics? When were they manufactured? KA: My guess is the quilt is ca. 1880’s – 1890’s. I am fairly certainly most of the fabrics are from that era. It’s possible that there are a few fabrics that might be a little bit earlier. The maker has little tiny points in those feathered stars, and some of those fabrics are possibly earlier. She must have really dug deep into someone’s scrap bag to come up with those little tiny pieces. So I think there are a few that might be a bit earlier. But I haven’t taken it to my fabric dating club yet to see if they agree with my opinion. Could these be earlier, maybe 1870’s? Possibly but probably not as early as 1860’s. Another reason I love the quilt is, again, because my family roots are in the Shenandoah Valley. This quilt actually comes from a family quite close to my great-grandfather’s home. So it gives me a sense of the fabrics my great-grandmother and great aunts in the Valley could have been using. AH: Now you’re also a quilter, even though you didn’t make this one. KA: Yes. I started quilting in 1980. My mother-in-law, Wini Alexander of Seattle, Washington, really is the one who got me interested in actually making quilts. She started making quilts for my children in 1976 and my children are her only grandchildren. She surprised us one year by presenting a quilt to my daughter on her birthday. I had sent my oldest daughter’s artwork off to her, and lo and behold she made a quilt out of my daughter’s artwork, interpreting each piece of art in a different form of needlework. She had always done many kinds of needlework and only took up quilting in the mid-seventies. So she used her other forms of needlework to create each block, and then embroidered a huge 1976 in the center bottom block of the quilt. I was just so enthralled at this on many levels. It so honored my daughter, showing my daughter how much her grandmother valued her artwork, not to mention the amount of time and effort that went into that quilt. Now we have forever a treasured memory of my daughter’s artwork in fabric. Wini kept all the original artwork for me, too, in a folder, so I have that to go with it. So she got me into other forms of needlework first. When we moved to Virginia from California for the first time, in 1979, and lived in the Richmond area, that put me within an hour and a half of the Shenandoah Valley. My father had just inherited my great-grandfather’s home from his cousin a couple years earlier. I went back to that house for the first time since a child–I think ’58 was the last time I had been in the house. There were all the thick tied comforters on the beds, and all of a sudden the memories started coming back. I only remember two, maybe three visits as a child, but I loved visiting the Valley as a child. My father started giving me some of these comforters from my great-grandfather’s house. That’s when I decided to sign up for a quilting class in Richmond, joined a guild, and took a series of classes from the extension service, I believe. The woman who was teaching–Vicki Arnett was also one of the founders of the Richmond Guild, which was only about two or three years old at that point. I made a Sampler Quilt, did it quilt-as-you-go and did fairly well until I quilted it. With quilt-as-you-go you piece and then quilt one block at a time and you put all the blocks together at the end. Well, I discovered when I went to put the blocks together with the sashing, that some of my blocks had shrunk. I didn’t know that as you quilt, the block shrinks if you don’t keep your tension correct. Of course, this being my first quilt, the blocks had shrunk in size. [laughs.] So I had to add tiny little slivers of fabric to get the block big enough. I did finally get all of that together and got the sashing in and got the borders on, but never got the batting added to the borders, so the quilt is still unfinished. AH: Do you think you’ll ever finish it? KA: Yeah, I think I will someday. But then I moved on to making smaller things then, like wall hangings, and did a series of quilted hoops and began to sell my stuff through Rocky Road Kansas in Alexandria, Virginia. I even taught a beginner’s class at a local quilt shop – a beginner teaching beginners. I began doing a lot of white-on-white work, small things. But then I finally started another bed-size quilt. I had seen a beautiful folk-art quilt at the Abby Rockefeller Museum while here in Williamsburg on a visit. It was what I call a Snowflake design, where you fold paper, and fold paper, and then you cut out the design, and then open the paper to see what you have. If you like your design, you translate it to fabric. It’s a form of appliqué. I liked that quilt so much that I sketched a couple of their ideas. Then I just went home and folded paper and started cutting out my own ideas until I had twelve patterns that I really liked. I had a piece of dark forest green fabric from the family home in Page County, and I used that as the fabric for the appliqué, and I had a beautiful dark red, blood red, I’ll call it, not a bright red, in my stash for the sashing. To those two I added muslin for the back. I call this quilt “Valley Christmas Memories.” I started the appliqué in ’82 and had about three-quarters appliquéd and moved to New Orleans in ’83 and finished the appliqué. But then I went to work full-time in convention planning. That was an extremely fascinating job and very time consuming, plus I got into genealogy, so I didn’t spend the time quilting while in New Orleans that I had done in Richmond. However, I made one more quilt during those years, a baby quilt for a cousin. Meanwhile, I got Valley Christmas Memories half-quilted, put it away and I didn’t quilt on it again until September 11, 2001. When all that happened, I had to have something to do. I got that quilt out and started quilting on it again. AH: How did it help you that day? KA: Well, I don’t normally watch much television, but I sat in front of that television for ten days straight watching the news. Having the needlework to do always was, when I was quilting back in the ’80s in Virginia–very therapeutic, very meditative, very calming to me. Those events of 9-11, of course, were very, very upsetting for all of us. They happened to come on the tail end of a lot of other sadness and crises that happened in my life that summer. So I really needed to have something in my hands–something to do that was meditative and calming. So I turned once again to quilting. AH: Do you feel that the meaning of that quilt has changed over the seventeen years that you’ve been working on it? KA: Yes, I think in particular because of the event that triggered me to go back to it. Getting a threaded needle in my hand once again got me in touch with what I always had loved about quilting. It’s so tactile. And the actual doing of it is comforting as well as challenging. But the other thing I love about quilting is the history attached to quilts; the history attached to quilting, especially women’s history and family history so now that quilt begun 17 years ago encompasses so much more. There’s the fact that the fabric came from my great-grandfather’s home and there are all my Valley memories. There are my Richmond memories. There’s my New Orleans memories and then I pick it up again at this time of great crisis in our own American history. So it definitely will have far more memories than if I had finished it seventeen years ago. AH: As an historian and a quiltmaker, are you interested in documenting in any way your change in mood and feeling and need while working on that quilt so that twenty years down the line your daughters or your grandchildren will understand what you went through when you were quilting on it? KA: Yes. I have kept a journal since 1976. All my quilt work, whether it’s actually the making of the quilts or whether it’s my research, I keep quite a journal going of what I’m up to. But it’s interesting. What has changed the most, however, in all these years of journaling is e-mail. I find that I correspond a lot by email now. I save all my emails and have them backed-up on Zip disks. In fact, I even made a note in my journal, my hand-written journal that is, the other day–that it is very difficult to hand-write, with all this emotion, but I could get online and type and then send emails to my friends and talk about what I was feeling and the experience of quilting this quilt at this time. But I could not write, because my handwriting was–it just took so much more emotional effort to hand-write. Plus it was too slow. My thoughts and feelings were racing and I wanted my fingers to be able to keep up so I typed emails instead of handwriting in my journal. AH: What is your first quilt memory? KA: Probably sleeping under the quilts down in my great-grandfather’s home in the Shenandoah Valley. They were very heavy, big, thick comforters. The beds were – oh my, the mattresses on the beds, ugh. They were four-poster beds; some of them rope beds, and two beds to a room. The floor slanted badly in one particular bedroom. The mattresses were not modern mattresses. I’m not sure what they are but they’re not real comfortable. The quilts were so heavy, and I think there were maybe two of them to the bed. The combination of the spooky house and my great-aunts–they had skirts almost down to their ankles – and of course I thought they were really old and didn’t know anything about the modern era. This was the late 40s and early ’50s, but they seemed like from another century to me. So, actually my first memories of quilts were kind of like, ‘Wow, these are heavy, dark things.’ It wasn’t until my mother-in-law made that quilt in 1976 and gave it to my daughter where I really associated a different kind of feeling with quilts. But I always had this sense of family history associated with quilts, especially Valley history. AH: How does quilting impact your daily life? KA: Well, since 1985 until very recently, the actual making of quilts, not much. But since I do a lot of research, and I do a lot of genealogy associated with quilts, I’d say at least four days out of seven I’m either into quilt history research or the actual genealogy of a quilt maker. So, quilts are very much on my mind–this is my life. I quit work as a convention planner about ten years ago. My research and writing is really my life now. Plus I have now started to lecture as well. AH: What do you think makes a quilt particularly powerful? KA: To me, color. I would say color first then design. But how do you separate the two? I love art quilts. I like traditional and art quilts. I probably like funky traditional more than real spit-and-polish traditional. I like art quilts because they go outside the box. I like that sense of–like I said in the beginning about this quilt–that this says something about a woman who, to me, must have thought outside the box in her own little neighborhood. I know the maker of this quilt beside me grew up in a very traditional, high-expectation traditional-era, and so I look at this and I just think, ‘This surely is a woman who thought outside the box a little bit.’ AH: Have any quilters greatly influenced your work, or even influenced the way you look at quilts? Historic quilts or contemporary quilts? KA: I would say the members of AQSG [American Quilt Study Group.] have personally been the greatest influence in my life. When I started quilting in 1980 a friend in Richmond told me that there was a new research organization starting. I don’t know if she called it “research” she may have referred to it as “history.” Anyway, she said they’re going to start groups where they’re just going to get together and talk about history of quilts. I go, ‘Yes! Where is the local chapter? Where can I join this organization?’ I joined in ’81 but I didn’t attend a meeting until ’85 for they were only meeting in California. Between ’81 and ’95 the person who probably most impacted me was Erma Kilpatrick, who is a member of AQSG. She had come up from North Carolina in 1981 to speak at our guild and I was really drawn to her. She made quilts as well as did research, and that appealed to me, the combination of the two. She invited me to come down to Chapel Hill and stay with her and bring my friend and attend the North Carolina Quilt Symposium, which I did. I stayed with her a couple of nights. She and I became good friends and we started corresponding. She encouraged my interest in the history and writing, in fact, she encouraged my writing very much. When I moved to New Orleans, I drove my kids and the cat and everything else down to New Orleans. We spent the night on the road with her. I called her up and said, ‘Erma, I’m coming through. Can we all park at your house?’ I knew I could always do that with Erma. Eventually I joined a guild in Louisiana but did not actively participate very often. Very seldom in fact–occasionally volunteered time for this or that. But I did not actively participate. I was too busy and satisfied with my new job as convention planner, plus three kids and volunteer work at that point in my life to continue with the quilt making, other than the one baby quilt I mentioned earlier but I did continue to read and study. Then when I moved back to Virginia in 1989, I got into genealogy, big time, started a newsletter and started writing. Erma continued to be an encouragement to my writing. Then in March ’95 when the Smithsonian had their first quilt research conference, I went to that and, of course, saw Erma there. That’s when she introduced me to Hazel Carter, who is also a member of AQSG and the founder of the Quilters Hall of Fame [Marion, Indiana.]. I had never met her before, yet we only lived about six miles apart. Then when Erma told Hazel about my writing, she said, ‘Come get involved with us because we need some good writers.’ Hazel and I subsequently became very good friends. So my natural bent for writing and research then got channeled in a new direction, which was great fun. I shifted from majoring in genealogy to doing stuff for the Hall of Fame. AH: How would you differentiate the time you spend quilting versus the time researching? Do you gain similar benefits from both activities or different? KA: Interesting question. Quilting–when I quilt, my mind wanders and drifts to many other things. Lots of times, when I used to quilt a lot, I found myself thinking about my children or other scattered family members; what trials and tribulations they might be going through; reliving memories; thinking about my mythology studies–my other hobby is the study comparative mythology. Anyway, I would wander down those trails, thinking about some of the ideas I had been reading about. So I get into a very meditative mode when I do needlework. When I’m doing research, I’m very focused on just what it is I’m up to at that moment. You can’t let your mind wander when you’re doing research like you can when you’re quilting. The only time I go off on tangents when I am studying is if something I’m reading in this particular book jogs a memory of something else I’ve read that would help this research, then I might jump up and go into another file or book or something like that. There’s not the conscious meditation, but there’s definitely the deep satisfaction. It’s just different way to get to that satisfaction. AH: What do you think you’ve gained from the fellowship of the AQSG? KA: Soul sisters, just wonderful soul sisters who appreciate the quilt from so many different dimensions, which is what quilts mean to me. They are not one-dimensional at all to me. There’s the making of them, the tactile process and the meditative journey. Then there’s the family history. It’s such a touchstone for family history. Then there’s women’s history, because I feel like through quilts–one of the most important things for me about quilts is that they have become such a wonderful vehicle of our culture finally honoring women’s history. They’re so tangible and so graphic and people seem drawn to them effortlessly. Quilts have now broken all kinds of museum attendance records, in museums that are not even quilt museums. There is something unique about quilts that draws people in–I suspect most of the time they’re not even conscious of what it is. Quilts capture women’s lives, women who would never have been remembered for anything, and now there’s this whole group of people researching women’s lives, trying to track down who made this quilt, that quilt. Get her name; where was she from; what can you find out about her. Write it down; attach it to this quilt; put it in a book, put it somewhere! So a dimension of women’s history is finally getting documented. I just think it’s incredible that quilts are that vehicle. There were far fewer women painters than women quilters in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it’s certainly easier to trace a woman’s personal history through the quilts she made than the food she cooked. The food gets eaten and it’s gone. What else do women do that can become a tangible vehicle of their history but write or stitch? Early cross-stitched samplers have always been very popular but I don’t think anything holds a candle to quilts though. So quilts are a vehicle for women’s history; I think that is incredibly powerful. Since I got involved in 1980, I feel like rings from that pebble dropped in the pond since the mid-seventies has just spread out and out and out. There is so much more we know now about women’s history because of the research this group [AQSG.] has done–like the quilts that were sent to Europe during World Wars I & II. I wonder how many were aware of that until someone in this group did that research. This particular seminar paper blew me away because it opened a whole new area of quilt history I had never been aware of before. Women made quilts for the Civil War. They made them during World War I. They’ve made quilts and given them away by the thousands and hundreds of thousands in time of war. I’m not sure about any “war quilts” prior to the Civil War. But since the Civil War, the quilts have been made en masse and shipped off to soldiers and refugees alike. In my quilting lifetime, the last twenty years, American quilters in particular have sent quilts all over the world in time of crisis. I’m hoping we’re going to give bundles of quilts to Afghanistan and Pakistan, for people in that area of the world. Make sure they’re warm this winter. That’s just one small aspect of what quilters do. I think that’s a wonderful way for people to communicate and to show that we care about other people. AH: What are some of the other stories that you feel quilts communicate? KA: Well, I definitely think that for some people, the quilt may be more important to them as simply an artistic vehicle, as artistic expression. I’m very excited to see what’s happened to the art quilt in the last 20 years, what we call the art quilt now. Art quilters are not just women, but are predominantly women. I am pleased to see that quilts have become a greater vehicle for art. I think that’s one of the big changes. We may talk more about traditional quilting and traditional uses of quilting, which I kind of focused on in my life – but the art quilt’s a wonderful shift that I have loved ever since I first saw my first Quilt National, and Michael James, Nancy Crow and Susan Shie’s work. AH: What questions do you think we should be asking quilts and quiltmakers today? KA: I always like to ask the question, ‘Why are you making this quilt? What influenced you to make this quilt?’ If I just start with those two questions the story that evolves takes you down all kinds of roads. So, ‘Why are you making this quilt and what influenced its design and where is it going next; are you going to sell it; are you going to give it away; is it going to become a family keepsake?’ When I lecture, I encourage them to document while they’re making, or at the least, document the back of the quilt. I think that is pretty standard procedure now for most quilters. Document the quilt’s history right on the quilt itself. But I do like to encourage quilters to keep a written quilt journal and document their thoughts as they are working. Such journals are going to be wonderful sources for future historians to plumb. AH: Can you elaborate at all on what ways quilts have special meanings for women’s history and experience in America? You talked a little bit about as their–an area they could express themselves artistically. KA: Well, let’s look at it chronologically. I think we have always assumed women made quilts for warmth, first. But I think many did it consciously for artistic reasons as well – and then eventually they started making some for political reasons as well. That’s another whole strain of quilt history–the political use of quilts. I can’t recall right off the top of my head what was the first documented political quilt. The first thing that comes to mind of course is the anti-slavery quilts. I can’t remember if there were any prior to that, though I think the Temperance Quilts may have come earlier. Those are probably the most well known early political uses of quilts. Then starting in the late 1960s / ’70s quilts once again became a very popular political vehicle for saying all kinds of things about the women’s movement and women’s lives. I’d say its political use really exploded then. It’s an old use for quilts; it’s not a brand new use. I just think it’s been more out there, more in your face – especially some of the designs that came out in what many label the radical ’60s and ’70s. I remember one particular quilt made in Northern California in the ’70s, though I can’t remember the name of the women’s group out there that made it. But they made some of the first posters and calendars out of their political quilts that I, personally, ever saw. I break this type of quilt down into two groups: political quilts and political action quilts. The political action quilts expressed everything from the burning of the bra to domestic violence and everything in between–graphically depicting women’s issues through symbols in ways not thought of as feminine, or traditionally proper to discuss, whatever, before the radical ’60s. This Northern California group portrayed in this quilt via appliqué blocks all kinds of stories, and it was just really outrageous and wonderful. AH: Is there anything else you’d like to say about quilting that I haven’t already asked you? It could also be about this quilt, in particular, if you wanted to add more of your thoughts about it. KA: I guess one of the questions that keeps coming to my mind is the need for research overseas in the individual countries where quilting has spread or been reawakened. So I’m really excited and curious to see what the future will be for the research in all these other countries as well. Just look what’s happened in Japan alone in the last fifteen years–think of the documentation that needs to done there. The research on Korean quilting presented today at the seminar; and research on the quilts that have been shipped overseas, given away during times of crisis in the past twenty years, and so forth. I’m really hoping someday to see someone do that research as well. I know there’s somebody working on the quilts that were shipped to England during World War II. Some documentation is coming out on that now. But what about–I think the earthquake in Armenia – that just comes to mind, that big earthquake several years ago. Wherever crises have occurred, Americans have shipped quilts. Ever since the launch of the Internet, every time there’s a crisis somewhere, eventually up pops someone on one of my quilts list saying, ‘Okay, we’re making a bunch of quilts to ship to wherever overseas to meet these needs.’ Remember the huge mudslides down there in Central America a couple of years ago, and Mexico with the earthquakes there? American quilts have gone overseas. I want to see those stories documented someday. I don’t know, maybe it’s too bold to say but I wonder if someday we’ll look back and say that the American quilt was as indigenous to American culture as jazz. I just wonder if any other culture has taken the quilt and done with it what we have done with it in our culture. Just like we did with music via jazz, I think the American quilter in the 20th century mastered a convergence of styles and added their own unique improvisation on a theme. The European and black strains, the Creole strains came together for jazz and made it an American music that has spread all over the world. American quilters have now been doing that with the quilt for more–well over 15 decades, with an enormous resurgence of interest and artistic excellence in the later half of the 20th century. AH: Why do you think women choose to make quilts as a donation or a gift to these areas in crisis? What do you think that those women, quilt makers, gain from the experience of making those quilts? KA: I think it gives us the opportunity to express our awareness of being a part of a larger human community and let’s others know that we want to participate in their crisis. We can’t go there; we can’t be there, but we can give a very tangible part of ourselves, because our personal creative energy has gone into it. Quilts warm others and they can bring a bit of beauty to their fractured lives as well. AH: I’d like to thank you, Karen, for talking with me today for the Quilters’ [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. This interview concluded at 3:17 [probably 4:17.] p.m. KA: Thank you. Thank you for the…

QSOS with Juan Pablo

QSOS with Juan Pablo

Note: This interview with Juan Pablo happened during his school recess. Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. Today’s date is March 7, 2007. I am doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Juan Pablo in Boonville, California, and it is 12:10 in the afternoon. Juan, tell me about the quilt that you brought today. Juan Pablo (JP): I like the cars because they are cool. KM: What kind of car is this? JP: Maserati. KM: Where did you get the fabric for the Maserati? JP: My mom got it for me from the school [where the Los hilos de la vida meet.] KM: Got it from the school. You knew exactly what you wanted to do with it when you saw it? So did you pick out all the fabrics for the quilt? JP: Um, hum. KM: Why did you pick them out? JP: Because I like them. KM: You have up at the top, what kind of fabric do you have up here? JP: Black sky. KM: Black sky. So you wanted a black sky. Is it night? The quilt is done at night? JP: Yeah. KM: You have a Maserati with flames? How old were you when you made this quilt? JP: Like six. KM: You were six years old when you made this quilt? Wow so that was a couple of years ago. What made you decide that you wanted to make a quilt? JP: I just like the idea. KM: Is it because your mom makes quilts that you wanted to make a quilt? JP: Yeah. KM: Have you made any other quilts? JP: No. KM: Just this one? JP: Yeah. KM: Is this going to be in the book? Do you know if it is going to be in the book? You don’t know? Did you write a story to go with this quilt? JP: Yeah. KM: What was the story? JP: The Maserati. KM: The Maserati. Would you like to own a Maserati? Do you like fast cars? JP: Um, hum. KM: That is good. Cool. Have you made any other quilts? JP: Um, hum. KM: Are you going to? JP: Yeah. KM: What is your next one going to be about? JP: Like a horse. KM: Horse. Doing what? JP: Eating, man that is getting him to eat. KM: A man and a horse. A man feeding a horse. JP: Ah huh. KM: What do you do with this quilt? Does it hang in your room? JP: No. KM: No. JP: I don’t know. KM: You don’t know what you do with it? How come it is not hanging in your room? JP: I don’t know, because I don’t have it. KM: You don’t have it because the school has it. We have to tell Molly [Johnson Martinez.] that she has to let you have your quilt, right. Did you mom sew this together for you? JP: Yeah. KM: Did you cut the pieces out. So you cut everything out and laid it out, decided where everything was going to be and then your mom sewed it for you. JP: Um, hum. KM: Very good. Does anybody else make quilts at your house? No, just your mom. JP: Um, hum. KM: What do you brothers, your brothers? JP: Yeah. KM: What do they think of this quilt? JP: Um, that it was cool. KM: That it is cool. Did you draw the car? JP: Yeah. KM: You drew the car all by yourself? JP: Um, hum. KM: I like the fabric that you picked out for the tires, it is very cool. You cut the flames out all by yourself? JP: Um, hum. KM: Did you make this at home? JP: Yeah. KM: How long did it take you, do you remember? No, you don’t remember how long it took you? JP: Like four days. KM: Four days of working, that is pretty good for somebody that age, don’t you think? You must be pretty special. JP: Yeah. KM: Do you like quiltmaking? JP: Yeah. KM: Would you sell this quilt, or do you want to keep it? JP: Selling it. KM: You would sell it? How much would you sell your quilt for? JP: Three hundred. KM: Three hundred dollars. Your mom has sold quilts, right? JP: Yeah. KM: What is your favorite quilt of your mom’s, do you know? No. Do you like all of them? So there is nothing she makes that you don’t like? JP: No. KM: That is good. Have your friends seen this quilt? JP: No. KM: You don’t share it. I bet they would think it is cool though. Right? JP: Um, hum. KM: Good. Do you think quilts are important? JP: Yeah. KM: Why do you think quilts are important? JP: Because you can get more money. KM: Get more money, okay. What about expression? Do you like the fact that you could express something? No. Do you want to say anything else? JP: No. KM: I didn’t think so. Do you want to go to recess? JP: Yeah. KM: Thank you. Thank you for doing the interview with me….

QSOS with Kelly Anderson

QSOS with Kelly Anderson

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I’m conducting a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Kelly Anderson. Kelly is in Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m in Naperville, Illinois, so we’re conducting this interview over the telephone. Today’s date is December 14, 2009, and it is now 5:31 in the evening. Kelly thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to me. Kelly Anderson (KA): You’re welcome. KM: Please tell me about your quilt “My Ladybug.” KA: It was a quilt [clears throat.] that I had made in about October. I used the iron on stuff and so then I ironed the patterns onto my quilt and then I just stitched around it to make it look nice. I dedicated the quilt to my Papa Lyn who had Alzheimer’s. It was in an auction just recently and it was sold for $100.00 and so I’m really proud of it. KM: This is 8½ [inches.] by 11 [inches.]. KA: Yep. KM: Is that the size you like to make? KA: Yeah, it is. It is nice and easy to make. It’s not like really big and difficult to handle. It’s just a really nice size. Yeah. KM: I guess we should ask you how old are you. KA: I’m 11 and my birthday is in October. KM: So you’re just 11, and you’re in 5th grade, is that right? KA: Yep. KM: You dedicated this quilt to your grandfather. [KA agrees.] And you donated it to the Alzheimer Art Quilt Initiative. KA: Yep. KM: Is this the first time you’ve done this? KA: Yes, it is. KM: How did you learn about the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative? KA: My grandma [Joanne Cunningham.] and my mom [Charlene “Dolly” Anderson.] had been making quilts for it for a while and I just liked how pretty the quilts were so I wanted to try to make one. KM: Very nice. Do you know who won the quilt? KA: No, I don’t. It was a person named Gram, but it wasn’t any of my grandmothers so I don’t know. [note: Gram gave the quilt back to Kelly.] KM: I hope that they love it as much as you did. KA: Yeah. KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. KA: I think it’s fun, I think it’s a way you can make express how you’re feeling [clears throat.] and you can like show it off to friends and family. I like putting beads on my quilts. I also like looking at other people’s quilts because I think they are just so beautiful sometimes. KM: At what age did you start making quilts? KA: I’ve been making quilts for quite a while. Well when I was younger I used to make them with just the iron on– [pause.] KM: Fusible. KA: Stuff and so those are like some of my first quilts. KM: Who taught you how to quilt? KA: My mom and then also my grandma. My grandma and I used to make dolls together and I have quite a few of them now. KM: How many hours a week do you quilt? KA: Not many because I’m so busy with school but if I can, I usually try for an hour or so. KM: How many quilts do you think you’ve made? KA: Probably around six or seven, maybe around there, maybe more. KM: What is your biggest one? KA: My biggest one was probably the ladybug quilt. KM: So 8 ½ [inches.] by 11 [inches.]? KA: Yeah. KM: You like little ones. Do you like to give them as presents? KA: Ah ha, yes, I made one quilt for my sister as a Christmas present just last year with my grandma, because every year my grandma and I get together and we make Christmas presents for each family member. KM: What did your sister’s quilt look like? KA: It was multiple colors. The main color was black and there were little colorful squares on it and the binding was red and there were star buttons all over it. KM: What is your first quilt memory? KA: My first quilt was making this one, it was probably around the time that my sister was born and it said, I wrote on it with fabric markers, I put “I Love Babies” on it and I put a big heart and these fairies on it. KM: How old is your sister? KA: My sister is now 5½ [years.]. KM: Has she made a quilt? KA: She has made some with the iron on stuff. KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking? KA: They are really proud of me and they really like it. They think it’s really creative. KM: What do your friends think of your quiltmaking? KA: They like it. I sometimes will bring my quilts to school and after school gets out I’ll show them my quilts and they all love them. KM: What have they said about your quilt being auctioned? KA: They were like really impressed. I told them just a few days ago [clears throat.] and they were all like really, really impressed. They were like, ‘Wow, you did a really great job.’ KM: What do you find most pleasing about making quilts? KA: I like making them for family members and just having the feeling that they’re done and looking at them and seeing my mistakes and also the great things about them. KM: Is there any aspects of quiltmaking you don’t like? KA: Well, sometimes I don’t like how long it takes because sometimes you’ll get this great picture and sometimes it will just take quite a while, but then when its done its always really great. KM: Do you machine quilt your quilts? KA: Yes, I do. Well, I use my mom’s quilting machine and so yeah. KM: Do you like machine quilting? KA: Yeah, I do. I like using the different stitches that they have. Like sometimes I’ll just use a piece of fabric and just go into a room and quilt on it with all the different stitches that it can do for fun. KM: What is your favorite technique? KA: I like ironing on my patterns and then sewing around them because it’s easier to make, to press down and then just stitch around it. KM: Do you satin stitch around them? KA: Yeah, I do. KM: What are your favorite materials? KA: I like using all different kinds sort of and they are all just really nice. KM: What advice would you offer somebody starting out? KA: Well, I’d tell them to make a smaller quilt, to start up small and then to work their way bigger and just to be patient with it and to just be confident that you’ll be able to finish it, but that it will take a while sometimes. KM: Do you draw out your quilts before you do them? Do you sketch or anything? KA: Yes, I do. I’ll take a piece of paper and I’ll usually like sketch them and I’ll try to get them as accurate as I can on the size and then I just cut out my fabric and sew it. KM: Can you describe the place that you sew? Could you tell me about it? KA: I usually sew in my mom’s quilting room. It’s [coughs.] a good size room and it has lots of fabrics and all of my quilts hanging up on the walls. She has a desk where I can sketch out what I’m drawing and then she has her other quilting table where she has her quilting machine. It’s nice and big so it’s easy to work in. KM: Do you have your own stash or do you just use your mom’s? KA: I have my own stash. We have a scrap bucket from other quilts that my mom has made that she has little snippets of fabric in and my sister and I usually use that bucket. I can usually like come up with a good idea with some of them. KM: Do you plan quilts out ahead of time? I mean do you have a long list of quilts you want to make? KA: No, not really. Sometimes I’ll just like get an idea one day and I’ll want to do it. I will plan out the quilt and I’ll make sure I have all the materials and I’ll just do it. Also for the ladybug quilt I thought of the idea and I just had it in my mind as like a ‘to do’ sort of. KM: Why did you choose the ladybug? KA: I just chose the ladybug because I thought it was an easier thing to make, but it was also, it is also one of my favorite insects. I think they’re cute and pretty. KM: What do you think makes a great quilt? KA: I think if you just like put your heart into it and just really have a purpose for it and actually want to do it and it doesn’t really matter what fabrics you use, just that if you put your work into it and it turns out great then you know you’ve got a good quilt. KM: How much time did you spend on the ladybug quilt? KA: All together I probably spent around like 2 ½ or 3 hours, maybe more on the quilt. I pretty much finished it in one day, but then there were also like the labels I had to finish and putting the hangers on it, so, yeah. KM: Why is quilting important to you? KA: I think it’s important because I like to see the look on my family’s face when I give it to them as a Christmas present or when [clears throat.] I get $100.00 to give off in an auction for it, I just like the feeling of like pride that I get. KM: Very nice. Do you have any more plans to donate quilts? KA: Yes. I would like to if time allows but I am in the 5th grade and I do have a lot of homework, but if I did another one it would probably be a caterpillar or maybe a flower. KM: Very nice. KA: Yeah. KM: Very nice. Tell me about your grandmother’s quiltmaking. KA: My grandma, she is like really talented. I just love to look at all of her quilts that she has made. She always puts beads on her quilts and I just think it’s really pretty how she does it. She made this one quilt that I especially like. It’s a little village and she put many, many beads on it and it has like a glossy touch to it. All of her quilts are really pretty. She has different patterns each time and they’re all beautiful. KM: Do you have a lot of beads? KA: Yes, lots and lots of beads. KM: [coughs.] Why are beads your favorite? KA: I like beads because they’re like sparkly and they come in so many shapes and sizes and colors and they can also just like be used to like make your quilts a little bit better and they’re just nice additions to quilts. KM: What kind of beads did you put on the ladybug quilt? KA: I actually didn’t put any beads on the ladybug quilt. I thought of that after I had sent it off. [both laugh.] But if I would of I probably would have put some in the background, probably green to match it and so it would actually look like grass that the ladybug was crawling through. KM: Tell me about your mom’s quilting. KA: My mom, she usually makes bigger quilts and she has put many of them on our beds to keep us warm and a lot of them she also hangs up around the house and they’re all really, really pretty. She has also made baby quilts for friends that are having babies and they’re really pretty. KM: What is the different between your grandmother and your mom’s quiltmaking? KA: I think they’re both a lot alike, but my grandma she usually uses more beads than my mom. But there is this one quilt that my mom made and it has a big sunshine on it and it has lots of beads on it. It’s really pretty. KM: Tell me about the quilt you sleep under. KA: I sleep under a quilt that has cats on it and my grandma had made it for me on my 5th birthday or maybe my 6th birthday. It can cover me all up and it keeps me really warm and I had told her when she was making it that I didn’t want any dogs on it because I liked cats at the time, but on the label she put a few dogs on it. [both laugh.] KM: Does it have any beads on it? KA: Yes, many beads. There is one sun that has a lot of yellow and orange beads and then in the grass and like on the lettering she has beads on it. KM: Do you do any other kind of crafts? KA: Yeah, I do actually. I love art. My mom and I do scrapbooking quite often and I’ve completed one scrapbook that is from our trip to Paris, France, and then I also just sketch a lot and I do origami and I do lots of other crafts too. KM: Very nice. How would you like to be remembered? KA: Just I think being remembered as a nice creative person that likes quilts and loves art because that’s what I am like and yeah. KM: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women’s history? KA: I think that some quilts like they can tell stories like when a woman wants to make a quilt sometimes they tell stories on the quilt with different pictures or they can use them to keep their families warm, is like they live somewhere that is very cold and they need the warmth or they could just make them for decorations in many different places. KM: Very good. You’re very articulate. [KA laughs.] Is there anything that you would like to share that we haven’t touched up? KA: Not really. KM: What do you think your grandfather would think of your quilt? KA: I think he would really like it and he would be really proud of me. Yeah, he was, he would probably be very grateful that I did it. KM: Talk a little bit about him. KA: He was really nice and he was funny. Sometimes we would go to Kansas City to be with them and one thing that I always remember about him is how he would, we had a big recliner chair in their house and he would always sit down there and their cat, Necko, would jump up on his lap and in a few minutes he would be asleep snoring. [KM laughs.] I always thought that was really funny. KM: Very good. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day, your busy schedule. KA: Yeah. KM: And your homework, right? KA: Yeah. KM: I want to thank you for taking time and I appreciate it so much. KA: Thank you. KM: You’re welcome. We are going to conclude our interview at 5:50. KM: This is Karen Musgrave and I’m continuing my Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Kelly Anderson. Today’s date is December 15, 2009. It’s now 5:37 in the evening. Kelly, I thought of more questions so I just needed to get you on the phone and talk to you again. Please tell me about seeing the Alzheimer’s: Forgetting Piece by Piece exhibit. KA: It was the quilt show that I went to, it was in Prescott and I went with my grandma, my mom and my sister. When we got there we met some friends and looked around at the quilts and many of them were really sad. I read some of the entries that the ladies had put on them and they were really touching, but very sad. I liked a lot of the quilts that had the beads on them and I thought that they were really pretty. After that we went into another room and we listened to Ami Simms talk about her grandmother [actually her mother.] and how she had Alzheimer’s and that was also really sad but some stories that she had told were funny and [sneezes.] she seemed like a really, really nice lady. KM: Tell me about some of the quilts that you saw. What was it about them besides the beads that appealed to you? KA: It was just about how Alzheimer’s forget, makes you forget piece by piece and many of them had the, the quilters had cut holes in them because that’s pretty much what Alzheimer’s does to your brain and it just talked about all that stuff and the quilts were based on that. KM: After the exhibit you were interviewed by Ami, right? KA: No, I actually wasn’t. My mom and my grandma talked to her some. KM: Okay. KA: And I just listened in. KM: Tell me about the journal entry you wrote after your grandfather died. KA: The journal entry I wrote the day after he died, I was actually at school and we had been taking a test in the computer lab and I went on to Microsoft Word and I just started typing because I like to write and I was just typing about what had happened the day before and before I knew it I had typed an 8 page long journal entry of what had happened and just remembering how great of a grandfather he was and I was just. In the piece I talked about the fond memories that I had of him and I talked a little bit about Alzheimer’s and how sad I was. I was really pleased with the piece once I had finished it. It was sad but I was happy that I had written such a long piece just about it. KM: Have you seen other quilt exhibits? KA: Yes I have. I have been to a couple with my grandma and mom. Some in various places. I think one was in maybe Houston and those were all when I was smaller so I don’t remember many of the quilts from them, but they were very pretty. KM: What kind of quilts are your favorite kind of quilts? KA: I like quilts that some are like big but also I like the small ones because they’re just like easy to make and you can put a lot of work into them and because its easier to put beads on because you don’t have to cover so much room with the beads [KM laughs.] if you do a longer one, I mean a bigger one. KM: Do you have any friends that make quilts? KA: No, I don’t. My mom and grandma have friends but not that I know of do my friends at school make quilts or anybody that doesn’t go to my school. Some do like latch hook rug projects and do crocheting and stuff but that’s pretty much it. KM: Why don’t you think there are more quiltmakers in your school? KA: I’m not sure. Maybe one reason is because they’re busy with homework and sports and then also they might not think that it’s, they might not like it as much as I do. KM: Do you think you can influence any of your friends to become quiltmakers: KA: I probably could. Actually one of my friends has really liked all of my quilts and some times it seems that she would like to sit down with me and make one, but we have never gotten a chance because whenever we come over to play we just don’t have the time because we don’t get to see each other that often. KM: Do you think you will be a lifelong quiltmaker? KA: Yes, I probably will. I do like to quilt and I probably will carry on once I am older and I plan to make big quilts for other family members and like for beds and other people. KM: Very nice. Is there anything that you would like to share? KA: Nope, that’s it. KM: I really appreciate you talking to me again. KA: Yes. KM: We’re going to conclude this part of our interview at 5:44. Addition: Kelly’s journal entry November 17, 2009 Kelly Anderson Yesterday while I was playing in my room something really sad happened. My dad had just gotten a call from his mom who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Then mom came into my room. She said that Papa Lyn had died. I was extremely sad. I thought about how it was dad’s father who had died. His only father. Papa Lyn had been a wonderful grandpa. I loved to go to Kansas City to visit him. I always thought it was funny how he always fell asleep in his recliner chair. A few years ago he had to go to the VA hospital in Cameron, Missouri. He had Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a disease that makes you forget about things. Sometimes we would visit him. He never said much and he was different than before. Every time I saw him in the VA I would think, this disease is horrible. I wish I could do something about it. I finally found out I could help. Mom and Grandma Joanne, who lives in Phoenix, heard of an organization earlier in the month. They made many quilts that the group organizer sold to raise money to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s. The quilts they made were beautiful. I was so inspired by their works of art I decided to make one too. It was a ladybug. Ami Simms, the organizer, saw that I was only 10 when I made the quilt. She wanted to interview me and get it in the newspaper! I was thrilled! In October, Brandy, Grandma Joanne, Mom and I went to Prescott to see a quilt show [Alzheimers: Forgetting Piece by Piece.] for the Alzheimer’s organization. It was very sad. Ami Simms’ mother had Alzheimer’s. The quilts were beautiful, but the statements were sad. A few weeks later in October, Ami Simms took my quilt to Houston for a quilt show. Mom and Grandma Joanne went to the quilt show. They didn’t see my ladybug because it had already been sold. We later found out it sold for $48.68! It was not as much as my grandmother had gotten for her quilts, but it just felt good to have donated money to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. [note: Kelly now understands that it wasn’t her quilt that sold in…

QSOS with Terese Agnew

QSOS with Terese Agnew

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Terese Agnew. Due to circumstances this interview is being conducted online. I am thrilled to be interviewing her. We are beginning our interview on March 26, 2006. Terese, tell me about the quilt you selected for this interview. Terese Agnew (TA): About five years ago, a friend of mine invited me to go to a talk with two young garment workers from Nicaragua and their host, Charlie Kernaghan from the National Labor Committee. They described working under horrible conditions at a factory that produced clothing for export to the United States. My reaction might surprise you though. Here were two very young women who had been subjected to unimaginable abuses but had still found the courage and where-with-all to speak out about their situation in a foreign country! They said they were proud of their work but they wanted to be ‘treated like human beings, not animals.’ I had nothing but admiration for them; their strength and personhood was unforgettable. I wanted to do something to help but I didn’t know what. Then one day while I was shopping in a department store, I noticed huge signs everywhere–Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and so on. They were all proper names. I realized that by contrast, the identity of the workers who made those clothes was rarely thought of and often deliberately hidden. I thought that by creating an image of one of those workers using the name-brand labels on the clothes we buy, I might make it harder to forget the person(s) who makes those clothes. I contacted the National Labor Committee and asked if they had any photographs of textile workers that I might use for the project. They had hundreds. I was looking for one that commanded the same respect that I felt for the two women I had met. I didn’t want people to feel pity. I wanted them to see the potential of a generation being wasted. I wanted people to see a beautiful, dignified young woman who, at the very least deserved to be treated with common decency. I chose a picture that was taken by Charlie Kernaghan of a young garment worker in Bangladesh. I think she is very beautiful; she reminds me of my niece Natasha who will head off to college next year. The project began with a massive campaign to get the labels. I started with the Milwaukee County Labor Council, a website, and pretty soon the word started spreading. The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, Wisconsin asked if I would like to have the opening exhibit of the piece at their center and I said, ‘yes.’ They assembled a team of wonderful people who continued to collect labels for the project until its completion. I received labels from all over the country, many from around the world and from people across the political spectrum. Every package I got amazed me-people took the time to painstakingly cut out labels-one by one. Quilters and sewers were of course particularly generous and helpful. I loved the camaraderie they shared with me. KM: This is truly amazing. What was Charlie Kernaghan’s reaction to the quilt? TA: Oh, thank you for asking that. Here’s what happened: Charlie came to Milwaukee with two textile workers from Bangladesh and a translator. They were on a national tour to tell people what was happening to garment workers in Bangladesh. (BAD.) I was nearing completion of the Portrait, so after their talk at Marquette University they came over to my studio. Both of the women were young and very graceful and understandably angry and sad in their talk. When they came in and saw the piece, it was one of those moments when no words needed to be exchanged, they just got it. They knew that I and everyone who had contributed to the piece appreciated them. They both hugged me and I wanted to show them just how many people cared about their plight so I started carrying in box after box of envelopes that were sent with labels for the quilt and letters! Art is a form of communication and I’ve always believed it should be a two-way street but this project became a four-way intersection with intercepting paths fanning out across the globe. Charlie said he loved it and asked me a string of very smart art related questions too. He wanted to know how I created the feeling of recessionary space and how that collapsed into labels at a certain distance from the quilt. Charlie’s a great observer of many things or he could never have taken the poignant photograph that this portrait was based on. KM: Well, this is perfect because I did want you to explain more about the use of labels. How was it working with them? How long did it take you to get enough to finish the quilt? TA: I used the labels in numerous ways to create the image. For example, I used text on a contrasting background as a gradation (such as white on black or black on white), text borders were ironed back leaving a unified block of tiny words to form specific tones, names were used as segments in a line and combined with others like lines in a drawing. To make her soft (in labels) the gradations had to be very subtle. Charlie’s photograph, beautiful and poignant though it is didn’t have detailed visual information at the scale I was working in. I redrew most of it to articulate details that were incomprehensively fuzzy blown up and to accommodate the directionality of label lettering or their ability to become flat tonal planes. I worked a lot on the light quality too. My goal was to render the image so that people would see it as a representation of a real place from a distance of 15 or 20 feet but maintain the experience of seeing it up close as a mass of labels that could easily be from the clothes in your own closet. As to your other question, I needed labels up to the end. In fact, I was so desperate for dark gray labels at the end that a few of my friends allowed me to ransack their entire closets. Luckily by then I was pretty good at removing labels without poking holes in a shirt or sweater. KM: This is so incredible. I truly wish I could see it in person. Where is the quilt now? Where has it been? TA: Right now it is hanging at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee. The opening exhibit was at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, Wisconsin (January ’05) then it went to the James Watrous Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin (Wisconsin Academy of sciences arts and letters), in February of 2005. This past September it was in a show at INOVA (Institute of Visual Arts) at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The INOVA show was for The Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists. (I won one of the 3 Established Artists awards in 2004). If people want to know where it will be they can check my website (www.tardart.com). The next showing will be back at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, Wisconsin for their state wide Hidden River Festival September 22 -24. A few weeks later it will go to Mount Mary College for a symposium On Portrait of a Textile Worker, and the issues it raises. KM: As I recall, you began your art career as a sculptor. How did you come to make quilts? And how does making quilts relate to your sculptures, if they do? TA: From 1985 to about 1989 I made large-scale public sculptures with the help of many, many people but by 1989 I felt that the process worked better than most of the art. I decided I had to rethink everything I’d been doing up to that point. I started wondering how to take issues outside of the narrow political framework of predictable oppositions and put them back into the realm of human experience with art. A lot of political art at that time was very confrontational and ended up preaching only to the converted. After a great deal of contemplation I thought, ‘Why would you oppose anything if you didn’t first value or love whatever was being subjected to destruction, injury or ruin? The emphasis was on the wrong thing!’ By chance in 1992, I’d also been making quilts. At first to stay just to stay warm in the drafty building my husband, Rob Danielson, and I had just moved into. But I quickly saw that using the medium to make art opened up an endless variety of construction methods with a vast range of materials. I started working with fabric scraps and thread the way I would have used line and color in a drawing or painting. Quilting had obvious possibilities as a three-dimensional medium too; sometimes I would tack the fabric on with a single stitch so that it would float on the quilt surface, other times I would unravel the cloth for texture. Quilts have a warmth that isn’t just about utility. It’s a medium that reminds us of being cared for, and/or it’s opposite; disregard for people and the nature that sustains us. It turned out to be a great way to address political issues without the divisive go-nowhere arguments that dominate mass media. But I’m getting off the topic of your question. My next piece will be perceived as more of a sculpture than a quilt, but it comes from one of the basic definitions of a quilt: three layers; consisting of cloth and batting connected together. KM: Tell me more. I’m especially interested in hearing your thoughts on this and where you think quilts will be in the future. [there was a long break between this question and TA’s answer due to her schedule.] TA: Well I’m not letting the cat out of the bag quite yet but I will tell you part of the concept: quilts tend to be 3 layers as I mentioned, but why stop there? Why not make one that’s thousands of layers and build an image from the side? That’s the idea I’m working on. Where do I think quilts will be in the future? Where ever quilters want to take them. As far as I’m concerned the sky’s the limit. KM: I agree that the sky is the limit. I just attended the International Quilt Festival in Rosemont and was pleased to see the limit is being tested and accepted into the show. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? TA: I don’t want to segregate quilts in answering this question. Any work of art that’s powerful for people will be compelling on many levels. Form, composition, what something is made of and how it is made become inseparable from the overall concept. Andy Warhol’s serially printed soup cans stop people in their tracks for this reason. It’s a perfect reflection of the impact contemporary production has on our everyday lives. It makes us conscious of details in our surroundings as opposed to reducing them to ambient background. One of my favorite artists is Roger Brown, who would have made a magnificent quilter had he not been a great painter. His paintings are just beautiful. He works with repetition and pattern to show evocative situations that are as familiar as they are alien. His paintings are more like questions or investigations-that’s certainly part of their power for me. KM: I’d like to go back to your quilt. It’s quite large 8 feet by 9 feet. Why did you choose to make the quilt this size? Do you usually work large? TA: I once said “Portrait of a Textile Worker” is just big enough to compete with those Tommy Hilfiger signs. But I don’t think I work that large. Everything I make relates to human scale-I consider how a person would see a piece from a distance and up close. I don’t want my work to overwhelm as much as draw you in. They might seem large because the details are small. I’m trying to show something of the complexity of the world-it’s a very rich place-nothing looks air-brushed to me. KM: I hope that you and your quilt continue to do good things. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. The interview concluded on June 19,…

QSOS with Adrienne Yorinks

QSOS with Adrienne Yorinks

Bernard Herman (BH): Today is November 30th. This is Bernie Herman from the Quilters’ [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories for an interview with Adrienne Yorinks from New York City. The time is approximately 11 o’clock. Adrienne, could you please start by telling us about the quilt you brought today? Adrienne Yorinks (AY): This is called “Tartan Number 3: A Midsummer’s Daydream.” And I’m doing a series of tartans. I’ve found it a fascinating format to use because it allows me to focus on different ways I work and has a built in way of “grounding” the piece. What I mean by this is if you look at the definition of Tartan in the dictionary, basically it is a woolen cloth with a woven pattern of straight lines of different colors and widths crossing at right angles. So it makes a perfect structure to do the kind of piece I want to work on at that time. I’ve been called an abstract expressionist by a few people viewing my work, and I am most moved myself by the abstract expressionist. My favorite artists are Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg; Rothko for his incredible ability to capture mood in color and Rauschenberg for his sense of collage. I have always loved collage. My inspirations when I work are color, fabric, and subject matter. This piece really is about color. And I love summer. So, I just had to do a piece that was exciting, in reds and oranges. It’s to me a very happy piece. I will use cotton, a lot of vintage fabric, and anything else that strikes me. There’s a lot of silks and mixed blends that I’ve used together in this piece. BH: And this is one of five that you– AY: It’s in a series to date of five. I’d like to do a lot of them. The first one is called–I can get a picture of that if you’d like. “Tartan #1: Autumn Light” and then “Tartan #2: Fractured Octagon,” “Tartan #3” is this one, and “Tartan #4: Daybreak.” “Tartan #5” was picked the show at the Quilt Festival in Houston as part of the millennium quilts. And it’s a smaller piece. One of the subject areas I’m interested in is animals and particularly monkeys and animal abuse. I really love monkeys and I detest the way they are treated in laboratories and zoos, for the most part. So that piece is called “Tartan #5: Let Me Go.” I used those words particularly because they are from a famous song. Many times in my work I will use phrases or expressions that will get to people on different levels. BH: Now each of these works within this geometry, but also color is key to each of these and how do your color-design qualities work from quilt to quilt within the series? AY: First of all color motivates me and inspires me more than anything else when I am choosing fabric either to buy or for the particular piece I am working on; what mood I am in as well as what the piece dictates to me. What this series addresses on one level is the psychological impact of intersecting lines regardless of the subject matter or the mathematical or geometrical properties of the intersecting lines. At times both psychological and mathematical properties are evident. While working on “Tartan #1,” I was astounded at how visually; depth was becoming the most important part of the piece. For me the depth created a lot of psychological content. I felt that the vintage floral on white background created a clearing that was blocked off and secret. This piece is one of my most successful works because viewers all respond to it on a deeper level. People seem to stare more at this one than others and it doesn’t matter what they feel is going on. I am truly happy when my work evokes something deeper to the viewer. I achieved great visual depth in Tartan #1 and to be honest, I am trying to analyze in words how I did it. When I am in the midst of creating a work, I allow the work to take over. It is the creative process itself that creates many times the vision for me. At present I am struggling to articulate verbally how I achieve this for an article I am working on for Quilting Today, and that is much harder for me than creating a new work that has depth. BH: You referred to intuitive practice in design. Could you explore that a little bit? AY: Yes, I do work intuitively. Sometimes, people will ask, because I do a lot of commission work, people will ask for drawings. I am very up front. In the beginning I’ll say, ‘You can look at my drawings but you won’t know what the final piece will look like. I can’t really communicate the final product until a piece is nearly done. I will keep you informed of the process but at a certain point, you will have to take a leap of faith.’ Which has worked because I’m pretty up front and I will try to answer questions as best I can. As the piece progresses, I take a lot of Polaroids. Again, Polaroid photos are awful to look at for the client and I warn them about this too, right from the start. For me, Polaroids give me a lot of information. They allow me to see balance, size and color choices and if a pattern of a fabric is sticking out too much and detracting form the whole image of the piece. I can also see what is working in terms of background to the subject matter and what is receding in the Polaroid to the background. I can then replicated and balance the whole piece. Also, though Polaroids are flat and awful, if I am achieving a sense of depth in the photo, I know it will remain when the piece is finished. My process is highly intuitive. I work on a homeasote wall covered with white felt. Most of my commission work is commemorative, political, biographical or historical in content. I am most known for my pieces that contain photo transfers. I use the wall to move around the images important to the subject, almost like a puzzle. This is how I worked on the commission I did for the City University of New York. In that piece, there were 103 photographs that had to be in the work. I had access to the archives of CUNY and spent several days there culling through all their old printed matter. I can’t tell you how much I love the smell of old reading materials and how much fun it is to do the research. I love libraries. I work this way for all my photo transfer works where I put up all the photographs, balance them out as to size, time period, if important, and balance of color and shape. I will mix black and white photographs with color because it realistically shows the passage of time, particularly when referring to the CUNY commission which commemorated its sesquicentennial anniversary. So I use the board to put up the photographs and then work the base of the quilt around them. I am constantly moving around the elements to fit the design. I was always very good at math. I come from a long line of mathematically gifted people. It was my favorite subject in school. My sense of mathematics now is really more intuitive. I haven’t heard or seen it written, but I believe that if you have a mathematical mind, balance and color are a part of that, I believe that’s where I get my sense of color intuitively and how I place the parts of the puzzle together. The most fun part of the project for me is the beginning of the design on the wall. That is truly exciting and I can work straight for twelve hours and not notice the time at all. BH: Would this fall into your abstract category? AY: Yes, I guess this could be called abstract, expressionistic. It’s interesting when you are labeled a term like abstract expressionist. I am quite flattered and though I kind of understand what they mean, it is still hard for me to talk about my own work that way. I guess this piece is more traditional in a sense. BH: How would you describe this quilt as traditional? It’s a tough use of the word. AY: The “Cherry Blossoms” piece is to me somewhat traditional. BH: Actually I should add that in fact you’ve brought several quilts here and as we talk, we’ll move through these. So, we’re going to now take a look at “Cherry Blossoms.” AY: “Cherry Blossoms” is a second in a series I am working on which is very different for me. The series deals with works with one object repeated. The first in the series is called “Them Apples” and depicts many versions of Macintosh apples. That’s a smaller piece than “Cherry Blossoms” and if I had to say which of the four works we have seen today is most traditional, I would have to say “Cherry Blossoms” is. It stems from the wealth of quilt making in terms of a block with an object pictured on it; let’s say of an appliqué–traditional appliquéd quilt, but it’s fairly contemporary. BH: Well, in fact, it’s not traditional appliqué in the sense that it actually has physical depth to it. AY: Yes, that’s true. BH: And there’s a third area of work, wouldn’t you say, on the one hand is abstract expressionism, and then within the idea of tradition is the second, and the third category is the narrative. AY: I guess narrative in my illustration work, in that I’ve gotten into illustrating books since 1998 and that’s very much narrative and very exciting and different for me to work in. BH: Talk a little bit about the relationship between your quilts and your work as an author and illustrator. AY: I didn’t pursue illustration, I was pursued which is wonderful in a way, because I didn’t think I could do that. I don’t draw people or my work is not traditionally for children’s books so to speak. I was approached by Lisa Holton who is the publisher for Hyperion Books for Children. She had seen a one woman show and just felt my work should be in children’s books and she hooked me up–my first project–I was very blessed. My first project out I worked with Marian Wright Edelman, who is probably one of the most genius people of all time. And I had to illustrate – which is a tough thing for any illustrator, I think–a speech she did in June, the first, in 1996, in front of the Lincoln Memorial. So illustrating a speech first thing out was very interesting. I used a lot of photo transfers in that work. When I first started to work–I like to work big–so this is where I had to be stretched as an artist. I have very good far vision and like to stand back in front of a large piece and fell enveloped by emotion, mood or color. This is what I love about Rothko. I can stand in front of his paintings for half an hour just absorbing how it makes me feel. I thought originally on “Stand for Children,” that I could create one large piece that could be photographed in details for the book. What I discovered through the process is that when using photo transfers for illustration work, there are a lot of problems. First there’s the gutter of the book where a lot of information can get lost. And also that if you’re using photo transfers, it is best to work close to the actual size of the book for the clarity of the image. I have learned to work proportional to the actual size but usually work a bit larger I just like to be able to fit more into the piece that will become a page. I learned on my second book that I prefer working 100% bigger than the actual trim size. I also am always challenged by art directors. The first one I had kept changing her mind and made it very confusing for me. So learning to work to the scale of the book has helped a lot. I adore illustrating books. I’m in the process of illustrating two books for very young kids. It’s been gratifying to me as an artist and has increased my awareness of content and information in a small piece. It’s great as a quilt maker or textile artist because textiles are so vivid. I mean, you know as a painter you’ve got cobalt blue or white. I have used fabrics from 1820 in the book that I did based on an essay by Eugene O’Neill–“The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog.” And I really wanted–I had a tine piece of 1820 fabric that was gorgeous and for a lot of people who love vintage fabric, at times its hard to use in a piece because it’s so rare. I use special fabric now because they’re going to be produced in books, which is very exciting to me. And you have all those years of fabric. I have used fabrics from many different countries in my work particularly in the CUNY commission which has at least 28 countries represented, I wanted to represent as best as I could the student population of today which has students from all over the world. And “The Alphabet Atlas” which is an alphabet book based on geography–Australia, Brazil, Canada, etc. I used all the fabrics from those countries where I could get them. I called the embassies. And it made it exciting visually for the kids because you immediately with the motifs of those fabrics produced in those countries–Australia, for example are egocentric in a positive way; their fabrics really denote their wildlife and their culture. There are honey possums in their fabric which only exist in Australia. So, it is very exciting for a kid to see that and for me to use them. And the African fabrics are exquisite too as are the Japanese. It is very exciting to use fabrics from all over and what a wealth of palette you have as a textile artist. It’s just fabulous. BH: Actually, you’ve raised two questions that will spring out of this. One is that is if you could describe for a moment what sounds like your fabric library and how you go about compiling and organizing the fabric library. And the other which is very different is the idea of the quilt as a medium for print illustration, which is the fact that quilts get illustrated, but they don’t get conceptualized as the meaning for illustration. What are the challenges of working in a medium which is not generally thought of as being central to book illustration? AY: Let me address that and then go back. Should I do the second question? BH: Either way. AY: Well, what’s interesting about and I could talk about the “Alphabet Atlas” in particular. Fabric is so compelling that even though design wise, element wise it reproduces really well, people love the book the “Alphabet Atlas.” When they see the actual quilts they go, ‘Oh, my God they are so much better.’ Because when you’re working and even though the production department at Winslow was fabulous and they put in way more expense than what most publishers will do, they are very cheap now. But Winslow was great. For Thailand, I had a friend from Thailand who gave me three of her skirts that had gold in them–very hard to reproduce that beautiful, delicate, gold embroidery fabric – and they did it as best they can. It is difficult in terms of color and it’s difficult in terms of texture. And I am now working with a company called Endographics. The process to get from textile art to reproduction is interesting. What I have done in the past is I get photographed by a wonderful photographer for quilts and textile art, she can light it beautifully. She creates a 4 X 5 transparency which in a sense becomes the original art and then from them they make the book. What I am doing now, even though she is very good, she doesn’t get the depth of the stitch work that one would want in reproduction to really show that it really is a piece of textile art. So, Endographics is a company that will do digital photography both in European mode and American mode and they have been working and testing it out in the book I’m in production now called “Everyone Sleeps.” They are trying to balance the lighting with the texture because if you light the whole surface you lose the texture. It’s a very hard compromise and they are working with me directly to get to that so it’s been an interesting and frustrating process. My favorite art director is at Winslow and he loves my work so much, whatever I bring, he just loves. He was frustrated himself how it still didn’t describe no matter what he could, what the original looked like. So, he put batting in book. If you look at the “Alphabet Atlas,” it’s batted. [laughs.] And Barnes and Noble they loved getting it, it is the softest book. He wanted to show that this is a textile medium. Design elements work, the colors work, the textures are working hopefully the product will be even better, that we can get those two things–still there is nothing better than the original piece of art. BH: The point about light and photography is very well taken. What you get if they’re fully lit is they flatten out. And if you use raking light is you create these very art Topographies. AY: Hot spots and dull spots, that’s what happens exactly. BH: Let’s go back to the first question which was about your library of fabrics. AY: I kid people that I used to carry scissors because I like your tie. I don’t do that but I used to kid them, I don’t but I get fabric from everywhere and the funny thing, and I’ll talk about one wonderful project that I had the experience of happening while doing the last book. But, old fabric is getting harder and harder to come by, because people are buying it up and E-Bay like every other antique market has ruined antique fabric. When I first started which was about eleven years ago now, I could get a box of 1930’s fabric for about $100. It’s just a difficult time. I would still pay it if the fabric is great. But, it’s just frustrating because I don’t like to work with scraps I like big pieces. So, I have to tell of one instance that happened with “The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog.” It’s a beautiful essay written by Eugene O’Neill, written from the perspective of his dog Blemie, a Dalmatian, who is dying. It was written in 1940 and I wanted to use mostly antique fabrics, because it would give the sense of the seriousness and somberness I wanted in the book. I used photo transfers of my own border collies. While working on the book, I had to go to Fitchberg, Massachusetts to do a workshop at the library there. Coincidentally, there was also a quilt show going on so I decided to go. There was a wonderful vendor there and I bought 3 yard pieces, at a wonderful price, of 1885 fabric and then I went to the Textile Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts later that day and there was a card in the case that said–it had three of the fabrics that I had bought that morning that were mourning fabrics. Now I never knew that there was such a term, that there were actual fabrics that people would bring to the widows that they would use for their clothing. I had just viscerally felt that they were perfect for my book and they were indeed mourning fabrics. And I was so excited by myself jumping up and down in front of the glass case and luckily they didn’t take me away. But, I was so excited to find that again there is so much more passion and emotion in fabrics. Viscerally you know what they are even before you have a name for them. I have one other story to tell you and that expresses the amazing power and emotional content in fabric. I was commissioned to do a piece for the well-known illustrator, Maurice Sendak and while I was showing him possibilities for design, I brought out a quilt I had done that had all thirties fabrics in it. When he saw it his jaw dropped and he said, ‘Those are my mother’s dresses.’ He was born in 1928 and he remembered the patterns from his early childhood. Perhaps as an artist he was more susceptible to recognizing them, but he remembered them as his mother’s dresses, he had visceral memory of those fabrics. So, what we do is very exciting, it’s just a wealth of history, texture, color and emotions. I love textiles so much because it’s such a wealth of passion. BH: How do you organize your library? It sounds extensive. AY: It is actually. I do it by color basically. It’s fairly organized. I have had some transitional moves so even though my paperwork and files are in a sorry state, I do have my fabrics organized. I arrange them primarily by color first on large open shelves. I do put my vintage fabric, if it’s particularly special, on another shelf and my conversional fabrics which I use so much for my illustration work are on three shelves by themselves. I have a lot right now because I am currently working on a book for National Geographic on America and like “The Alphabet Atlas,” it will contain many conversational prints. I wish I had more. I do use it a lot. I don’t believe in not cutting fabric. Some people save it– I cut it. I just get it out there and use it. If I love it, I just use it immediately, because first of all you never know–a year from then if you’ll even love that fabric the same as when you have that passion at the moment. So, by color and if there are large pieces I put them on another shelf. So, I have shelves and shelves of color arranged fabrics. BH: Could you talk a bit about your influences? How you actually began quilting? AY: I think I always wanted to live in the 1800’s. I always sort of echoed back to that time. I was always drawn to fabric. As a child I actually did a lot of doll clothes. My mother didn’t sew and I taught myself. I always liked to play around–I either watercolored or I did doll dresses. So, I always liked color and design. It wasn’t until I moved to North Salem in 1989 that I saw a little notice about a quilt show and guild right in my neighborhood, that I thought, ‘This actually exists.’ I just wasn’t aware that guilds existed. I had started sewing in Manhattan a couple of quilts, but I didn’t know they had to be quilted. I was just putting together fabrics. I also had my first major–big, big career was I had a grooming business in New York City and I was the Galloping Groomer and I was known for my scarves. Every animal when they were clean and blow dried got a scarf. And I knew it was time to transition when I was much more interested in the scarves than grooming of dogs. But actually I worked for Stephen and Kathy Graham, son of Katherine Graham–his wife’s name is Katherine too–of the Washington Post. They have a five floor house on 78th Street and I did six of their cats. I got directions what cat personality had what fabric so that was fascinating. I had another fascinating career, but I’m really glad this one took over. Scissors are the same. I really like scissors, so I think that’s part of it. My influences again, I go back, my mom was really into art and she took me to museums as a kid which I’m really blessed, but I was the only one in the family who wanted to go. So, I was exposed to all kinds of art and incredible paintings living so close to the city, as a child. And I think that was very good influence on my life. BH: So, you’re influences are really coming out of painting and fine arts and not out of quilting– AY: Right. BH: So, how did you get to quilting with those two and prior to discovering the guild in North Salem, New York? AY: Well, I was always good with my hands. I did watercolors as a kid and I was really good with dogs. And I wanted to live in another time period. Well sitting around in a quilting bee and it was really exciting when I moved to Westchester and I learned that it’s no longer called a quilting bee but ‘stitch and bitch’ and that was just great for me. That was fun. And I guess I was always fascinated with the past and I guess that’s what drew me to quilt making. And also the fact that because of it’s nature if you’re working on a quilt and it comes out lousy your cat or dog are going to love it. It’s not a painting where you’re going to have to stick it in a closet. Someone will love it, which is kind of a neat thing. BH: You’ve mentioned twice your interest in the past particularly in the nineteenth century. What draws you to the nineteenth century? AY: I don’t know – that’s a good question. I really don’t know why I’m drawn to that era, but it seems to always come back at me. I was always struck by a couple of coincidences in one’s life–if one calls them coincidences which I do. The first really large commission that I got was from City University of New York and it was for their sesquicentennial–their 150th anniversary that was 1847. And then I did another piece that people have really loved that I believe you saw which was “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God” and that was 1848. Then we bought a farmhouse a few years ago that had a smokehouse labeled 1848 on it. For some reason I keep going back to that time period. I think it was a very exciting time period for women. The strength of women at that time–thank God that we have equal rights in a sense, because if we had to do it today I don’t think we’d get them – those women were so strong and passionate and really brilliant women, in an interesting time with abolitionists. It was a very powerful, political time and I think that’s what draws me to it. The first city university–free university for everybody was formed then and that’s exciting to me. So I think it was an exciting time period. And now all of a sudden, I’m being represented by a gallery and the building again was built in 1848. So, I don’t know what’s that’s about, but I tend to dwell in that era. BH: Part of what you describe is almost a kind of tension. On the one hand is this engagement with the nineteenth century and the world of quilting but when we look at the quilts, these are very contemporary. Can you talk a bit about that negotiation of the contemporary and the Victorian? AY: That’s interesting. Well, I am living now [laughs.] so I guess you are culture and time bound in a sense. And I think that respecting the past and where we came from and to put it into my own. I never negate those brilliant designs. I call myself a textile artist because it suits me in terms of financial and the acceptance of the world that I want to be with my art. But, I relish the beginnings of quilt making, I am from the beginnings of quilt making, but also I am a contemporary artist. I don’t know if that explains or not. BH: We may return to that. AY: Okay, I’ll try to get it better. BH: You also refer to your interest with dolls and doll’s clothes. Could you talk a bit about that? AY: Yes, as a child I was. I did a couple dolls for a while when I first started quilt making. As a child I loved dolls and I had a whole fantasy world with my dolls and their outfits. They had to have very cool outfits. I actually went back to dolls when I first joined the guild and I did a project called “Broadway Dolls” and we were given the remnants of Broadway costumes and we made dolls that were raffled off to fund AIDS research. So, that was a wonderful project. Mine got raffled off and it got bought by a famous opera star. I did an opera diva from this incredible sequined remnant from a gown from Broadway. I haven’t really done dolls since 1982. I’m caught up in the quilts right now but I do like dolls. BH: I want to go again in sort of two directions here. One of these is–we’ll start with the question–are there other quilters whose work you admire at this point and time? AY: Yes. BH: And a distinction you had drawn earlier today and then elsewhere between quilters and textile artists. AY: Quilters of today are textile artists. BH: You draw a distinction about nomenclature. AY: Nomenclature is what we are talking about actually. We are always going to be caught up in nomenclature because of our language. It is unfortunate in a sense but important, we were caught up in nomenclature about women and we are going to be caught up in nomenclature for the rest of our lives, about races and religions. So, we’re going to get caught up in functional art versus high art, which again I’d rather not have the nomenclature. I also think that part, because it’s a woman’s art, so to speak and it’s a functional art, financially it’s not respected enough. I don’t think that’s right. So, in a sense do I really care what I’m called. Eventually, no. If they pay me enough money I don’t really care. But, I think also that I want to be recognized by a full audience not just a quilt world audience. I think that’s really an important distinction. I am recognized now really by both. I’m all over the place in terms of my work and I think that’s why I have a broader base and recognition. I think Emiko Toda Loeb considers herself a quilter and I think she’s brilliant, brilliant, wonderful design person. There are several people I love. I don’t know what they like to call themselves. I think it’s somewhat personal, but it has to be defined in your information if you want to get what you want out of your work. And I do want to be considered an artist first, who uses textiles. BH: In another interview with Gretchen Echols, she actually describes the liability of using the “Q” word – which is quilt. What is your thinking about that? AY: Well, it’s interesting. It slaps you in the face both ways. It slaps you in the face again financially and being considered a woman’s thing and it slaps you in the face in the opposite way from quilters, because my work for a lot of quilters is not true quilts. They are three layers and they’re batted and yes they are quilts but they’re not really. I had a one woman show at the Citigroup Center in New York City last year. I have a following of quilters who come to all my exhibitions. But there are always a couple of “fans” who are committed to me yet always seem to say something negative. I am trying as an artist to remember the forty wonderful comments and forget the two bad ones, but I still tend to remember the negative ones. The exhibition showcased my large works as well as the pieces I did to illustrate my books. So my “fan” wanted to comment on one of the original ones from “Alphabet Atlas” which is 16″ x 21″ framed in UV protected Plexiglas, clearly a piece of textile art which is what the show was labeled. I think the piece was “Greece.” She really liked it but kept saying, ‘It’s not a quilt. How am I going to put this on my bed?’ ‘Well, it wasn’t meant for your bed–but if you want to take it home and put it on your bed and pay me it’s okay with me.’ But, it’s sort of like that, you get slapped both ways. If you’re doing something innovative in your own niche and you might as well say what you are–and I respect the whole field. I have no issues. I’m not political that way. I love Amish quilts. I was honored in the exhibit, those are the most exquisite quilts I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what all the other contemporary artists call themselves; I would call them contemporary artists, though. I do think it’s a far reach and I don’t think any of those were meant for the bed. BH: To what extent do you think the medium is feminized–the medium of the quilt is feminized and that very quality keeps it on a kind of fine arts margin? AY: That’s a good question. I’ve been interested and I’ll talk about something personal that happened to me and is very interesting to me. My work has always been liked by men and women and I have been thrilled. It’s taken seriously. It’s not just looked over. So, I reach both genders which I’m excited about. I’ve reached all age groups and economic groups and I’m really excited about that. I think it’s unfortunate that there is a gender issue still in this country. But, I think there are so many issues in this country. I think women’s work–which sewing always was–even though there are some incredible art quilts even from the 1800’s. It is just not considered true art. I’m not answering this really great. I just want to be seen as an artist and then you can go into that I’m a woman and that I’m Jewish, that I’m brought up in New York. That’s okay, but I would like to be considered an artist first. To go back–the wonderful experience at Citigroup Center was I was seen by everyone that works at Citigroup Center and I had incredible comments, like they didn’t want the Pineapple quilt which was in this exhibit to leave the building. They really wanted color, they loved it. And also I had from my illustration work for Stand for Children, I had the elevator man come up and kiss my hand and say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you for your work. You have made us so happy the last couple weeks.’ And I was touched by that more than most of the other comments that I touched somebody as an artist, and it didn’t matter. He might not have kissed my hand if I was a guy, but he really loved my work and I think that is important. BH: You just mentioned that you’d like to talk more about some of the experiences that you’ve had and this would be a good time to do that. AY: In– BH: In terms of the reception of your work. AY: Well, I had one wonderful experience in February, I spoke at a school. I do workshops and I do lecturing for seven to ten year olds in a lot of libraries and for librarians. I was with seven to ten year olds and there was a huge snow storm before that so I couldn’t pick up some of the work I usually bring for kids. I like to usually bring in all kinds of fabric and let them touch them and I couldn’t get them from my storage. So, I had to bring what I had which actually was my Pineapple quilt–the red quilt I call “Tartan #3” and I had a piece called “Midnight” which is really about the time midnight. It is very dark and has elements of twinkling and flashing lights and stuff and I figured that this was all I have to show them and one of the pieces from “Alphabet Atlas,” which I usually show that belongs to the children’s series in the children’s books. But, these are sophisticated quilts – “Midnight” is a fairly sophisticated quilt and so is “Midsummer’s Day Dream” I didn’t expect kids to react to it. And “Pineapple” I didn’t expect them to really appreciate that. I brought those quilts to these kids and they were mesmerized and they talked. I did something sort of fun with them I said, ‘Well, what would you call this piece [talking about “Midnight”.]. What does this look like to you?’ And they came up with, ‘It’s dark.’ ‘It’s late at night.’ They knew what it was and they picked out things. I had some conversational print–money fabric–and they go, ‘Late at night they rob you.’ And I had these comments from kids, looking at very sophisticated work–not my children’s illustrations and they were thrilled. They picked out the colors. It was a wonderful experience for me, because I always think very highly of children, but I never thought this would go over with them. Now I know I have to bring big pieces. That was exciting to me to learn that. BH: I want to come back to a question I asked earlier, but we strayed away from. You talked about your influences in terms of fine arts but are there other contemporary quilters that you particularly admire? AY: As I mentioned, Emiko Toda Loeb and my other favorite contemporary quilter is Nancy Crow. I respect what she has done for the field of quilting and the power of her art so much. She had a great exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, in New York City a few years ago based on “Chinese Souls” in reaction to the massacre in Tiennemen Square. I was mesmerized by her work. What I think is interesting here is that the way Nancy Crow works is so different from me. It is much more cerebral approach to her art as she designs the work and she is not involved with the process. My process as an artist is in the actual working of the piece so I find her fascinating. There have been a couple of pieces I did that came directly from a mental idea and I loved working that way but most of my art draws from the actual working experience. I was just asked to do a piece with the Manhattan Quilter’s Guild and there are some very talented women–all of them are very talented and I love all of their works. They have very different works. I do love the Amish, the wool in particular, I could cry in front of one of those pieces. I get excited by quilts of all kinds, there are of course some I’m going to be drawn to more, but there is not a category I dislike. BH: What do you think makes a great quilt great? AY: Design. Immediate impact. Color. If it’s a quilt of conscience, the subject matter and how they addressed it. And I do love comment quilts, statement quilts. “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God” was Jean Ray Laury’s pick of the best new statement quilts of the century. I was really honored, because I love her work. And that’s another quiltmaker. And I think she considers herself a quiltmaker. I’m not sure. I just read that she had been doing it since 1956 and I was born in 1956 which I thought was very interesting. She chose my work and all of the quilts in that exhibit were spectacular and I loved those. I either like whams of design or, if I really have to say what I don’t like–I don’t like muddy things. Muddy that have no impact. Pink and blue quilts are not exciting to me. I like baby quilts, people can make them with love and that has a real value to me. The African–the slave quilts are really amazing to me. There was that exhibit. I think it was called “Who’d have Thought It.” I was blown away by that show. Those quilts have so much power and emotion in them. You feel that the person, probably long gone from this earth still has their energy imbued in each stitch and piece of the fabric. I am moved by quilts of conscience and particularly those early quilts that show the struggle of women and the hardships of their lives. They are still speaking to us in their work. BH: Could you talk a little about narrative quilts and comment quilts? AY: One of the first quilt shows I saw was in New York City by the Manhattan Quilters Guild and there were several Quilts of Conscience. It immediately got me excited about the possibilities of quilts and textile art and how I could use my own voice. I was fascinated by the potentialities of the medium: a soft medium that could express difficult subject matter of be a true medium of self expression for so many people. I have seen many quilts that portray the feelings of women and their life experiences from menstruation to divorce to their love for their departed family members, to a Holocaust Quilt I saw at the Jewish Museum in New York, that had embedded yellow stars from the Holocaust, it was so moving, to Liturgical works, the works of women of color and their feelings about their life experience, to the several quilts I have seen that women have done cathartically and to use in healing when going through breast or cervical cancer. All of these quilts validate our lives. In my own work, I have exhibited many of my photo transfer works as “Still Life Documentary.” I really like the title because I can encapsulate my own experience and historical information in a very personal way for myself. I love “rewriting history” from my own perspective. I am in the process of creating several works that deal with the subject of cruelty towards monkeys. I have my BS in animal behavior from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and I worked both in the monkey lab as well as the Vilas Zoo. I do not like laboratories and also feel that many zoos give non-human primates the worst enclosures, so I get very angry about that situation and am putting it into my work in the monkey series. I also am appalled at the cruelty of stealing primate babies and killing their moms and actions of poachers who are making ashtrays out of the hands of gorillas. I cannot believe the cruelty towards our closest relatives in the animal world and hope the works I do about this will reach people. I think a couple of pieces in the show are fascinating because they are about women’s feelings–about their bodies–about themselves and I think it’s important. BH: This is the show at the Durst– AY: Yes, the Durst show. It was wonderful to see those pieces. I’ve always been somewhat political and I think it’s vitally important to comment on things that you are going through personally or that we are going through in the times we live in. I loved doing the piece for the AFL-CIO because it shows where we have come as a country and yet how far we still need to go so that everyone is recognized for who they are. I feel very proud as a textile artist to be asked to do a piece for the AFL-CIO to celebrate their commitment to civil rights and how intertwined civil rights and workers rights are. They commissioned me to do a large piece that could be turned into a poster and notecards for them to sell on their website. And Milton Avery did one of theirs and then there was a folk artist who did another of their posters. They found me from the book stand for children. And I was contacted by Donna Jablonski who is the head of publicity I believe is her department. I always say I’m lucky because I’m the middle child, because I can work well with others because I had two conference calls, I was shaking with seven board members from the AFL-CIO and I’m good politically–although for New York, I’m a little liberal. But that was a lot of agendas. When you’re talking about photography and what photographs to put in to represent AFL-CIO you’re talking about a lot of agendas. I didn’t know from the voices who was who. It was an incredible commission that I’m very excited about it and I will send you literature. What they wanted from me was to celebrate the commitment between workers rights and civil rights. And when you think about it, because I took a long time investigating that, they are totally connected. Women would not be where they are today without workers’ rights. We had to deal with civil rights–where did they come from–workers’ rights and civil rights are totally intertwined and so it had to echo back to Martin Luther King, Jr. And yet politically that was fascinating because even though we had to echo back to Martin Luther King, Jr. we were careful about what photographs one uses. We have to have respect–because some of the photographs were very painful for some of the people on the board. It was fascinating to me because though we’re all so culture bound. What photograph is worth a thousand words and what does it mean to each person, so we had to be very careful. What is fascinating about what we’re celebrating today with the AFL-CIO is that 40 years it was about white male and then it was about men of color and now it’s really about women of color and children are affected too by workers’ rights. The whole piece really we’re talking about women getting their rights in the workplace. It was just a fascinating project. I was so nervous about it, I sent off the quilt to them and I didn’t hear for three days and I’m a little nervous. Did they like it? Did they not? I called finally and said, ‘Well, what did you think?’ and she said, ‘I cried. I never had any idea–I cried.’ So, to make the AFL-CIO cry is something. And now it is hanging in their headquarters in Washington and it is a poster. I’m excited that I could bring quilt and textile art into that market–in a sense. It makes us all look good. The more broad you become as textile artists, the better it is for the world of quilts. It just increases our footing actually. I think. And my little goal for myself is to get in really odd buildings. I’m in City University, I’m in the AFL-CIO. They’ve come to me. I would have to think about where else I should go. BH: Do you have a short list? AY: I have to think about it. I should make my list up for January. Where do I want to look? I mean something really different that we can do here. Let’s get them everywhere and be really respected for this incredible American art form. BH: That’s a nice segue to a question. How do you see the role of quilts in the larger fabric of American society today? AY: Well, it’s interesting with the AIDS quilt and what that did. It brought more recognition. We’ve gained five million people in the last couple of years – all of a sudden from 15 to 20 million quilters in this country, that’s exciting. And then all of the reactions to September 11th. I think that more and more we’re going to be drawn backwards into things that mean something to people. And people are becoming more home oriented because of the trauma of September 11th and the downturn in the economy. I think people are realizing that there is more to life than money, that the value of commitment to activities that offer more in a spiritual or artistic way is worth so much more. I do think we’re going to grow in this field even bigger, first in quilt making and textile art. Animals love quiltmaking–they do–particularly hand quilting, which I like to do some type of hand work all the time, although I do occasionally do use machine. But I do think that we’re going to grow, first in quilt making and textile art because fabric is not that expensive. You can have a blow-out time and spend a hundred dollars and you’re not going to buy even a sweater for that. For a hundred bucks you can go into a fabric store and be drooling. It’s a very cheap still wonderful experience. I just think it means more to people. And I think people are more into hand work for their babies and their families. They want to leave a legacy. I think we’ve become such a strange society in a way. I think we’re going to go back to what is important to each of us, to our family and what we want to bring back. What is our legacy? Money doesn’t mean so much as it used to, because there is never going to be enough of it these days. I think people are beginning to see that there are more valuable experiences. Quiltmaking–it’s American, you know we have jobs and then we have quilts and I think that’s important. We’re becoming very patriotic as a country. And I think we are echoing back to that– BH: That’s a wonderful summation. I’d like to thank you very much. AY: Thank you. BH: Thank you for your time today and perhaps the opportunity will afford itself that we can follow-up with a second conversation. AY: That would be great. BH: So this is Bernie Herman and Adrienne Yorinks in New York City on the thirtieth of November concluding our first New York interview for the Quilters’ S.O.S.– Save Our Stories. Thank…

QSOS with Margarete Brescia

QSOS with Margarete Brescia

Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today’s December 5, 2007. Margaret Brescia is the interviewee and her number is NM87111.003 and we’re at her home on Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hi, Margarete. Margarete Brescia (MB): Hi, there. ES: It’s nice to have you do our interview today and I’d like to discuss your quilt that you have chosen to talk about. MB: Okay. ES: Would you like to tell us what the pattern is and what you used in it? MB: It’s a Log Cabin, but it’s an unconventional Log Cabin, in a way. It’s about 90 [inches.] by 100 [inches.] I think. And, well the fabric is always a problem to choose that but I think we did pretty good. A friend of mine and I did the same one. Ann did the same one, too, so we picked the fabric. The both of us went and picked hers and mine. ES: And you bought it here locally in Albuquerque? MB: Yeah. And some of it we buy at Southwest Fabrics and the rest you go to Hobby Lobby. ES: Would you describe the colors? MB: It’s in red and gray, different reds and gray. ES: And your quilting of it is unusual. MB: That’s what makes it different. A regular Log Cabin you have a certain way you quilt it. And this one I just did the way I thought I would like it. So I started with the center and come out. And then all the squares are surrounded by little stars. Eight on one square and the other side is only six. I came up with the star because it is on the outside border. It’s kind of vines and star and vines and star. You see when you quilt, then all of a sudden I sat there and I knew there was something missing but I couldn’t figure out. I didn’t want to make any more square lines in it because it just didn’t fit, so I figured out the star and a friend of mine even helped me with it. ES: Did she have a template that you could trace? MB: I got it from Carole [Bonda.] and she got the template for the star. And when she came she said, ‘Why don’t you use the star and put it around in those little holes?’ And that’s what I did. So it turned out very nice, I think. ES: Good. And what do you have on the back? MB: On the back is just muslin. I always put bleached or unbleached muslin on the back because nobody sees the back. And on the back, I think, even if you would like to turn it over, you just have plain white or cream color and you see all the quilting. And to me that is very nice. But that is what I always use. ES: And for whom is this quilt? MB: That’s for my grandson. ES: And how old is he now? MB: He’s about twenty-six. And he lives still with another young man and he won’t take it until he is really on his on, or maybe has his own apartment, which is not very good, because he tried that and that did not work out because of his diabetes. Sometimes, you don’t hear from him and all of a sudden, you think, ‘Oh, my God.’ And so somebody else moved in with him, so now we don’t have to worry about him. ES: When did you finish that quilt? MB: Oh, just a month ago, maybe. ES: I’d like to ask you about your earliest contact with quilters. MB: With quilters, I had a dear friend living behind me and in turn she had an old lady living across the street and she took me once to look at her finished quilts. She had closets full of finished quilts. And one was more beautiful than the other. I said, ‘Well, I’d like to learn that.’ So that friend of mine and I, we head out and we just got our fabric. That time it was less expensive than it is now–and so we head out and started and I made five Grandma’s Flower Gardens. Every little two inch squares–hexagons–I quilted in each one. I didn’t know any better, so the outside is zigzagged and I didn’t know what to do, and she didn’t either. So what I did was a teeny-weeny blanket stitch all around the edge–to get around those zigzags. All five of them. ES: You made five, why? One for each of your kids and one for yourself? Are these still around? MB: They’re still around. ES: When was that would you say? MB: Oh, that was in ’65. ES: And that was where? MB: In Fort Collins, Colorado. ES: So once you got started, where did you do some quilting? MB: Once I got started there, I got involved with the church. They always had about seven quilts in the frame, maybe eight. It all depended. So I went there every day and quilted and that’s how I really got to learn the right way. There’s a right and a wrong way in everything you do. And I had a dear friend. She was twenty years older. And she was an excellent quilter and she showed me the ins and outs of what you should and shouldn’t do. And so, even now when I think of Pearl, I think, ‘Oo oo. She wouldn’t like that big stitch,’ and I take it out again. It sticks with you. ES: Is she the same lady that had the closets full of quilts? MB: No, that’s a different lady. She just was in church. She was there already when I got there. But she quilted until–Good heavens–she died when she maybe was ten days before a hundred and she quilted until the month before. You don’t see so good any more then, but she was not as excellent then as she was when she taught me, but she still did it. And she still enjoyed it and came every day. That was nice. ES: And your children were in school at that time, so that you were free in the morning. MB: Yeah. So I was free. Every morning I just went from eight to noon, or thereabouts. The kids did not come home for lunch, so I was there then in the afternoon. ES: And for whom were all those quilts that you all were working on? MB: We actually had a system, like if anyone had a quilt, any quilt top. Some of them were very old and we actually had to put little tulle, like wedding veil, and you had to put that on top because you could not repair it because it was so very old. And so we put the tulle over and then quilted it. The way it went, people brought it in and then someone was there figuring out how much is the cost and what the backing and the batting. And they figured all that out and then the people were told that’s what it costs. And if they agreed, they left it there and it was put in a frame and it was quilted. And if it was finished, then the people paid and the church or our group got the money and we bought new batting and backing and things like that. So it was self sustaining, the whole business. Or we bought new, or we made pajamas or things like this for the children’s home in Denver. And that money went towards all those things because we had to buy stuff. A pretty good system. And there was always people coming. Most of the time on Thursdays was quilting day, so to say. Or if you couldn’t quilt, you could do other things. But I got there every day because I enjoyed doing it. There was someone else there doing something else, maybe. ES: And on the quilting day, that was more of a general meeting when more people came? MB: On Thursday then everybody came and the quilt frames were full of people. ES: Very nice. How did you learn to sew, to begin with? MB: Oh. When I was about fourteen, at the time I wanted to be a seamstress, hum? But it would have cost three marks, which say was three dollars a month, and there was no money in my family. We could not come up with the three marks a month. So, I just gave up that idea and went into a little factory which made down comforters, pillows, or comforters with wool batting inside. And I was at first taking care of the books like you make samples. And they were sent out to people and you had to take care of how much you used and what it cost, what number it was, and all that. And then later on I was taught all the steps in the whole little factory. And there was mattress making and there was, as I say, down comforters, and the other comforters and each one was a different way of doing it. And I learned all those things. And I was there for three years, was employed there. ES: Starting from when again? MB: When I was fourteen. And I worked there for three years, and then I went to a different work. ES: This was some good practice for you for later on. MB: Yeah. And it really came in handy later on. I had a friend and her mother was a quilting partner also, and she knew what I was capable of. And that friend of mine had a business making drapes. So sometimes I helped her out, but she also had to–with the drapes came the bedspread. And she had to go to Denver to have it done. And then it was done–sometimes it wasn’t the right size and it was very bad because she had to eat it. You know if the customer says, ‘It’s too big or too little.’ So her mother said, ‘Well, why don’t Margarete do it?’ And so I got me a big machine, one of those free arms with no feed dog in, and I opened up a business. I made it very simple, just the top was always supplied by the decorators. They were the best decorators in town. And so they supplied the top fabric and I supplied the rest. You couldn’t make a mistake, because the decorator materials, you needed about twelve yards and one yard was anywhere from sixty dollars up. So, you couldn’t afford to make a mistake because then I would have to pay. So any way, [laughs.] I never made one, luckily. But you really have to check and recheck before you do, especially as you start out. ES: So this was a huge project. MB: Yeah. I had a great big table about 140-145 by 110 and I prepared it on the table and then I put pins all over the place. So if you have a big bubble and sometimes with big batting, not skinny batting, the thicker batting. If you had that on your lap with all the needles sticking in you, wee it was a pain sometimes. But later on, I figured for eleven years, and then I couldn’t do it any more, it was just too heavy for me, and I didn’t want to employ anybody because what you do is not what the employees do. I didn’t want to do that, so I just gave up on it. ES: You are really adept at machine work, but now which do you prefer–the hand work or the machine work? MB: That was a different item what you made, I mean, bedspreads, they are made, just for that purpose. You buy the fabric with the flowers in it and it’s just one big sheet. But quilting is an entirely different thing and I would never, ever have one of my quilts machine quilted. Never. Because it is silly, first of all you snip them all to pieces and then you put them back together and it is so much work in it. Why should you machine quilt it? And the old quilts can’t even, if you have to quilt them, they can’t stand machine quilting any more because the material is too brittle. I would never advise and I’m doing it for people, and there’s no one that I know that’s doing hand quilting for other people, for money. ES: But you will do hand quilting for other people. MB: And I still do it. But, you know, sometimes they come and then well they don’t realize how much it will cost, which is not outrageous because I’m charging the same thing as the church up North charged. So, it’s a very reasonable price and well, then all I have to say is, if it was my quilt, and especially an old one, it’s some grandmother that handed it down to you, you wouldn’t want that machine quilted. I say, ‘Well, it’s up to you,’ but I rather would hang it just like this on the wall.’ I think in any business, you run into all sorts of different people and they kind of–I’ve had them come back and say, ‘Yeah, I can do the binding.’ After fourteen days, they come back and say, ‘Can you still do the binding for me?’ To save a few dollars, but then if I can’t do it, I can’t do it. If a plumber come and charge you whatever, you can’t say, ‘Oh, I do it myself.’ If you don’t know how, you can’t. Different people. ES: Nowadays, there’re a lot of people doing machine quilting. MB: Nowadays. Oh, my gosh. Almost everything, wherever you go outside class [Bear Canyon Quilters.], there is nothing hand quilted in the whole shop. And there are walls and walls of quilts. ES: They look so beautiful. MB: They look very beautiful, yes, but it defies the purpose of doing something what has been done a long, long time ago. Even then they didn’t do it for show. They did it because they needed something warm and they had something made it out of. But now, well, different people. ES: What is your favorite part of the quilting process? MB: [laughs.] Quilting. I don’t like to fit them together. I used to do so many fit them together. I don’t like that anymore. Oh, boy, I just did one–actually, I did three of them. ES: The garden one? MB: Two of the them, the beige one and the flower garden and the one in green. But, [Laughs.] I don’t like to do it anymore. ES: They are appliquéd. MB: Two of them are appliquéd. I like the appliqué. But you still have to fit them together because you have small pieces when you appliqué them and you still have to fit them together but quilting, any old time. ES: When you do your quilts, do you use your own patterns mostly? MB: No. If somebody says, ‘Look, this is a nice one,’ I don’t want to make another one, but most of the time it’s because somebody made it and you thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ I like to do that. And for the quilting, you find out, even if somebody brings you a quilt, and they don’t know what they want done on it, you find out while you are sitting there quilting, you have a little bit done, they you think, ‘Oh. There’s something missing still.’ And then you go back and do that over, to fill it in, so it really is the way I would like it and I am sure the other person would like it, too. ES: Who have been the recipients of your quilts? MB: My kids. Almost all of them. Some of them don’t have it hanging on the wall any more but one of my daughters, she has one. She has a great big house. One is just a window wall and the other walls are big walls, high walls. So there’s three big ones hanging up: a real old one and a Dresden Plate, and an embroidered one is hanging down. In the hallway upstairs, she has the whole hallway full of Southwestern. ES: Are the Southwestern ones mostly wall hangings? MB: Yes. All sorts of different kinds. And then she got those racks, you know. She has two racks full of them and she has a big tub where she has the folded up ones in there. She’s got lots of them. She has the most of them, the other ones have some, but not as much as she does. And she enjoys it. ES: How much time do you spend with your quilting, would you say? MB: Well, a quilt may be 90 by 100. It takes me maybe five-six weeks to quilt, just the quilting, not what you do before. ES: That seems very fast. MB: Yeah, I’m still pretty fast at it. ES: How many hours a day do you spend? MB: Sometimes, now it’s up a little bit. My eyes do not want to do it in the night anymore. But it used to be, I always sat there eight to ten hours. And if I couldn’t sleep, I got up again and I did another few hours. So, lots of times, long hours. And it didn’t bother me, but now my eyes just don’t want to– ES: It would take some of us a year, when it takes you six weeks. MB: Yes. But if you sit there every day, mostly every day, I do. Sometimes you go some place. But if you keep on doing it, then you can get it done better. And if you just sit there talking with somebody, [laughs.] then you get nothing done. ES: That’s true. Do you quilt on hoops or frames? MB: I used to quilt on hoops. Up North we had every year a quilt show. And there was one quilt what a whole group made for raffling off later on. So it went to each one’s house. And then you did whatever you wanted to do on it. I had a big hoop, one of those oval ones, and I quilted on that. I didn’t like that. The frame, the one I have now, it’s pretty easy for me because I have cogs on it, one on each end. All I do is put it in, tighten it up, and then put the next layer on, roll it again, and so forth until I have all three layers there and they are all attached. And then I start quilting from the beginning, at one end, and then I just move it along until I come to the other end. I really like that frame. I used to have it just on quilt stands, and they were clamped with four beams. You have to have a big room and that I don’t have any more. But then I could do it because I had the big room downstairs. Now, if there’s no quilt on the frame, then I use it as a work table. I put a sheet or thin stuff up there and then it’s a work table. That’s nice. But that frame is really nice. ES: Would you tell us about the Bear Canyon [Senior Center.] Quilters and how you got started with them? MB: Well, I moved here about nine years ago and I went down to the Center and what I thought I wanted to do was learn Spanish. Since I’m living here now, I thought I would learn Spanish. And I came down there and it was a big sign that you had to have prior knowledge of the language, which I didn’t. So there was something in session and it was a French session. So I thought, well, and so I went in and I listened to it and I could understand everything, but then came the part they had to write things down. I never wrote, I was able to speak it, but I could never write things down because that’s not what I learned. So I just went and then I saw the quilting room so I thought that would be a good idea, since I know how to sew, I know how to do things like this. And so I started there and I have been there nearly every time–I can count on one hand what days I missed. ES: Like when you travel. MB: Whenever I’m gone, then that’s the only time I miss, otherwise I haven’t missed any days. And on Saturdays, we go and do the Ronald MacDonald quilts and I haven’t missed one of those either–maybe one or two. And I enjoy doing it and it’s a real nice group. They’re all really nice people and each one has her own qualities. Each one is different. And it’s amazing how twenty-five different people can get along well. ES: And there you have the format again of working several quilts at the same time. MB: You can work on whatever you choose. And some of them are in [the frame.] a long time. ES: When you only have three or four hours maximum once a week, you can’t get very far and fast. MB: I used to go there, at eight o’clock. I was there. But now I don’t do that any more because most people don’t even come in ’til nine thirty, sometimes, well, then you don’t get nothing done. ES: You don’t usually put your quilts in there, because you do yours at home. MB: No, I have always just worked for everybody else. I have never put a quilt in and I will never do one either. ES: Do you have advice for new quilters? MB: Well, the only thing I can say is, whatever you do, it you do it from the beginning, if you start a quilt and you be precise with your first step on the quilt and you are precise throughout what you are doing, you don’t wrong. It has to be exact, otherwise the next step–ach–this is big and this is small and it doesn’t match up. And if you know that and you ought to know that if you are a quilter, then you can’t go wrong. It’s nice for being there, for companionship and it’s nice. You do have to be exact and you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise there’s no sense to it. If somebody says, well you have to sit down and quilt, uh-uh, it has to be something what you enjoy doing, then you will get better and better at it. It’s not naturally given to you. You have to work at it. ES: This has certainly been a big part of your life. MB: Yeah, it has. And it always has been and I think I couldn’t even imagine just sitting down doing nothing. [laughs.] It just isn’t possible. You are so used to doing something all the time, that you can’t do without it. Whatever it is, but you got to do something. And I’m not a big fan of reading, especially with the eyes, you know, so you don’t like to do that any more. It’s got to be a very interesting book if I’m going to read it. ES: I’d like to know if you have any quilt stories to share. MB: Well, the only one I think would be worthwhile telling. [laughs.] My son lives down in Florida in the panhandle, Pensacola, and the last hurricane was Ivan and we just got finished moving into the house, and I went back home. I think a month later the hurricane came. And it took the whole house, everything. And my son called after he quieted down, and he said, ‘Well, yeah, the house is gone. The furniture is gone. Eeverything is gone. I can buy all those things again, but I can’t find and what is gone also, are the two quilts you made for us. Those I can’t replace.’ So my daughter in Washington, she called me, and she said, ‘Whatcha doing?’ I am doing nothing right now. I have no quilt in the frame. And she said, ‘Get busy and make another quilt for Augie, because they can’t find theirs.’ So I went with my daughter-in-law what lives here and we got the fabric and started on it and made another Hawaiian. The one what was lost was a Hawaiian quilt and I made him another one and I gave it to him at Christmas. Well, the quilts, later on when they sifted through everything, and they found all sorts of things, uprooted. They found the quilts, both of them, with the stick still attached. You know, where you attach it to the wall? The stick was still attached in the top end and it was found wrapped around a tree. Both of them. Now they were so dirty and, uh, it was terrible, so they took a power sprayer and they attacked it with all sorts of things and they got them all nice and cleaned up. I have the pictures to show, where half of it is done and the other half not clean. So they’re hanging up again now. ES: Good. What kind of quilts were those? MB: One was a Hawaiian quilt and the other one was embroidered quilt. The Hawaiian one I actually bought the center. It was just small, maybe a yard by a yard. We found it in Hawaii, in Honolulu and my son saw it and he liked it, so he asked me, ‘Could you make that into a big quilt?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I guess I can.’ So I worked around that. The pattern what was in there was dolphins, and crabs and all sorts of things, and I worked around that part and made the whole outside. The outside has waves and dolphins swimming. ES: Are they embroidered on it or quilted in? MB: No, they’re appliqué. It’s all appliquéd. And it’s quilted around half an inch apart. You know, Hawaiian quilts, you don’t stretch them like we stretch ours. They actually have them laying on the table. They would quilt on that. But it turned out very nice. ES: What colors did you have? MB: The waves were light blue and then the dolphins were grayish blue. And the next one, I had different colors, but I had to do the whole thing, so in the center, which was what we bought, I put just a circle of dolphins. ES: What color was the center? MB: The background was off white, I think. The dolphins, again, they were different colors and the waves were different fabric and different colors, too. But in the center, I made a big circle, about a yard, and big dolphins swimming around. ES: That’s wonderful that they found that. MB: Yeah. He was very happy. He didn’t know, they didn’t know, that I had made another one. So on Christmas, we were up in Washington, there was a big package there and they opened it and they were really surprised. Although they found the other ones, but it didn’t matter. [laughs.] ES: Now you have pictures of that. Do you keep pictures of your other quilts along the way? MB: I have books of pictures, but lately, the last few years, I don’t have a camera myself and it was always a bother to ask somebody to take a picture, so I didn’t take pictures any more from a few years back. But I used to make so many of them for people. I had a friend, I made, twelve of them. ES: Twelve of them! MB: Her first one was a Wedding Ring. And I said, ‘Pauline, how can you pick a Wedding Ring.’ ‘Well, it looked so good.’ And she was a very precise person, so it was just perfect. The next one, she said, ‘Guess what?’ She had another Wedding Ring because one daughter-in-law wanted one like that. And then she had old ones from her mother and her mother was actually just as precise as she was. Her quilts were laying down flat, the tops. Beautiful, she did beautiful work. So all together I did twelve, and the number thirteen was when she came and she brought me a little one and then I said, ‘Don’t forget your quilt.’ She said, ‘Oh, no, no, you’re supposed to quilt that.’ I quilted and I sent it to her. She used to live here and now she lives in Washington State. And there were quite a few people what had old quilts and sometimes I made eight or ten of them for people that dug them our or found them at garage sales. I made lots of them, I still have the pictures, but most of them the past few years I haven’t been doing too many of them. Even if I do, I don’t take pictures any more, because later on, who wants to look at the pictures? ES: You have certainly been a prolific quilter. MB: And I, again, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise there is no sense in punishing yourself. And it would be a punishment if you consider doing something what you really don’t want to do. ES: You certainly do a beautiful job, you have a good sense of color and your quilting is exquisite. MB: Thank you. ES: And you are so fast, as well. MB: If you do it a long time–I feel sorry sometimes because if I look at what someone does, then I think, um, it would be a whole lot easier if–you know. A grown-up person does not want to be told what they’re supposed to do, even if it would be a whole lot easier for them. It’s a big advantage if you know what I learned through forty years and why not pass on some of that knowledge if it helps someone else. But most people do not want to know. ES: Thank you very much for doing this interview today. It is very interesting. MB: Thank you. [interview concluded around…

QSOS with Jette Clover

QSOS with Jette Clover

Bernie Herman (BH): This is Bernie Herman on April 8, 2006 at the Art Quilts at the Sedgwick with Jette Clover. We are here to talk about your work and your thoughts on quiltmaking and quilt design. So first of all, welcome. Jette Clover (JC): Thank you. BH: Could you begin by telling us a bit about “Ledger”? JC: Yes. It is part of my Rust series. I lived in Florida for the last four years, up until August in 2005, when we decided to move back to Europe. And I wanted to document this specific time and place. I was planning a solo show and wanted to make new work. And that’s how I got started to rust fabric. Our house was over 100 years old and by rusting fabric with objects that we found in the ground, when we restored it, I got a ‘real’ historic imprint of this place; its DNA so to speak. I was also adding a recent and more personal history to the fabric. I had saved the rusty nails from the plywood, we had to put up to protect the windows and glass doors during the four hurricanes we experienced in 2004, and now I let them make their own rusty tally-like notations on the fabric. I wrapped the rusty objects in fabric soaked in vinegar, and every morning I would check on my rust ‘crop’ and make sure that it stayed moist. I felt like a rust farmer. I made 46 pieces for my show, inspired by the hot and humid Florida weather and the river we lived at. “Ledger” was also printed on rusted fabric, and it was inspired by a Japanese accounting book that a friend of mine had bought. It had an elongated shape and beautiful lettering, from which I made thermo fax screens to print with. It became a piece symbolizing the sum of the days that I lived in Florida. BH: There are a lot of things I would like to ask you to follow up on this, but the first one is, can you talk a bit about the relationship in your creative imagination between art and history? JC: I have a degree in art history. BH: Well, I’m thinking about this as being your art and, but the other thing is that your sense of history that goes into this. Not art history but the history of place. JC: I am curious about the influence that place has on your work–maybe because I have lived in so many places and in several different countries. I was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark. I got a degree in journalism and worked for a daily newspaper, but then I met an American jazz musician in Amsterdam. We married and traveled around in Europe, before we went to America, where we lived mainly on the West Coast, first in California and later in the state of Washington. I studied art history in Seattle, and worked with different techniques in textile. However, in 1981 we moved back to Europe, because my mother was seriously ill. We had planned to stay a couple of years, but ended up staying twenty years. We ran a jazz club in the south of Holland for five years, and then I got a job at the Dutch Textile Museum, where I curated several big quilt exhibits. But in 2001 we moved to Florida to be close to our son and grandchildren. I was overwhelmed by the light and the colors in Florida–so strong and so bright. As a reaction I looked for my Scandinavian roots and northern subdued colors. I started to work monochromatically and exploring one color at a time and concentrating on texture. I completely fell in love with yellow, and dyed all kind of shades of yellow then followed a red and then a blue period. I could tell you a story about light. BH: Please do. JC: [laughs.] I was going to have a duo show in Denmark at the Textile Museum together with a Danish friend. We were emailing each other about what we were working on, and I said, “Oh, I stopped my yellow series, and I’m looking out over the water every day. I am working on a series in Danish blue.” Danish blue is kind of soft grey-blue, and I really believed that I was making Danish blue pieces, looking over the water and remembering my childhood at the Danish seaside. So I went to Denmark with all my blue quilts, and when I opened up my suitcase, the first thing my friend said was, ‘Are you kidding! That is not Danish blue. That is Florida blue!’ And it was true. I could see it myself. The light in Scandinavia, is very subdued, pale, grayish, but my new blue pieces had a lot of turquoise in them and were very bright. I had not been aware of that in my studio in Florida, but I sure could see it in Denmark. It made me think a lot about time and place, and how we both consciously and unconsciously are being affected by our environments and our surroundings. BH: Rust is very different from blue as a color, and rust has the sense of decay. JC: Yeah. Lovely, isn’t it? BH: Of wearing away. Can you talk a little about how you came to rust? I know you mentioned that you found the pieces in the ground, but you have taken that much further I think. JC: Yes, I have always been interested in decay. I love crusty and distressed stuff. I take photographs all the time of crumbling walls and corroded metal. When I lived in Europe, I photographed a lot of walls with peeling posters and lots of graffiti, and I think that is when I started using layering and lettering and discovering collage. So the color of rust and the process of rusting relate very well with my earlier work. BH: Can you talk a little bit more about your attraction to decay? JC: Using a process of decay to mark fabric brings attention to the cycle of life: the cycle of birth, growth, death, rebirth. Erosion speaks to the condition of life. I’m not attracted to things that are straight and perfect, and I have never made a real traditional quilt, because I don’t have the patience to sit and be so precise. It would really make be feel like I was competing with a machine, and that to me would be pointless. I mean, I didn’t start making quilts to test my patience or practice my mathematical skills. I make quilts because I love working with my hands and to discover new ways of putting colors and lines together. I don’t make plans for my quilts. I feel that if I had a plan, I wouldn’t need to make the piece. The excitement of discovery would be missing. It’s important to me to touch–sorting, cutting, tearing, ripping, folding, layering, patching. Where was I? BH: We were talking about decay. JC: Decay, yes. It has to do with, with character, I think. I love the sense of history. I like old and worn surfaces. I like wrinkles and scars. I like to see that there has been a life. Why does everybody like antiques and old photographs? I mean, it is appealing. It is storytelling. I found a photograph of an anonymous 19th-century woman and made screens from it. I named her Augusta, because that was the name of the woman who had come from North Carolina with her husband and homesteaded in Florida. They cleared the land and built “our house” more than 100 years ago. I really felt a bond with this woman and used her image on rusted fabric for quilts such as “Augusta and Her Sister,” “Augusta’s Daughters,” “Dear Augusta,” “Thanks to Augusta.” By working with the rusting process I let go of some of the control of art making and the need to control nature. And I find the element of surprise very exciting. I mean, I react to the marks and the colors from the rusting process by putting down my marks in the form of painted and printed signs and words. It’s like being involved with nature in an exchange of mark making. BH: I was going to ask you about storytelling here. Why Japanese? JC: That has to do with the simplicity that I relate to Japanese design. I feel very close to the Japanese aesthetics of wabi sabi. BH: Fung shui? JC: No, no, that has to do with how you arrange your house. Wabi sabi has to do with things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It shares some characteristics with what we commonly call “primitive” art – earthy, simple, and made from natural materials. Let me give you an example: the way clay cracks, when it dries and of course the way metals tarnish and rust. BH: Okay. JC: And, I think this striving for simplicity probably also comes from my Scandinavian background. I don’t always succeed, but I do try to follow the principle of ‘less is more.’ BH: I was going to ask you. There are two questions that I want to go toward, and one of these is how you came to be a maker of quilts and a quilt artist. But the other question that I have in mind is that I want you to tell me a little bit about “Urban Walls.” JC: Well, I’m a journalist and I love words, and I am fascinated about how people communicate. Growing up in a small country, there are only five million people that speak Danish, you just know you had to learn other languages, if you want to communicate with the rest of the world. And I like the forms and the rhythm of written language. The “Urban Walls” series actually started because of my interest in graffiti. Sure it is sometimes very destructive and aggressive, but it is also kind of a cry to be heard, ‘Pay attention to me. I’m here.’ I feel really lucky that I have the possibility to express myself in quilts so that I don’t have to scratch my name on an old cathedral door or spray-paint an overpass in order to have a voice. I have taken a lot of photographs of graffiti. Glimpses of urban communication and wonderful layering. I grew up in Copenhagen, so I am a city person. And that is where the “Urban Walls” came from. BH: I wanted to ask you about the connection between quiltmaking and writing. You come at this as a writer. JC: Yes, and I still love to write. I write every morning. Several years ago somebody gave me the book “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron. I read the first chapter and I thought, ‘That will work for me.’ I never finished the rest of the book, and now I can’t find it. She suggests that you write three pages every morning, first thing when you get up. Don’t think about it, don’t plan it, but do it as a sort of ritual for yourself. And don’t read it afterwards. So, I have done that for about ten years now. I have a big pile of notebooks. I have never read any of it. I still have them, so maybe it’s my idea that one day I will read it. I don’t know. But the feeling that it gives me is that I am giving myself the time. A quiet time for myself. It is really like a ritual- my first cup of coffee, sitting at my desk, writing with an old-fashioned fountain pen. And I know that it is like a stream of consciousness, because it takes me exactly a half hour. A lot of times, I just start out with writing, I don’t have any idea what to say– but before you know it, you are writing about thoughts and ideas. I know that I have written a lot about the meaning of my work. But I don’t go back and read it. That is not important. The important thing is the process and the quiet time with myself. I feel that if you start every day ‘talking’ to yourself, having a private moment for half an hour, whatever happens during the day, at least it started good. Writing is a rhythmic thing. It is kind of similar to stitching by hand, in and out of the fabric. I stitch a lot by hand, and yeah, the movement of it, the rhythm of it, has very much to do with each other. BH: That makes me want to ask you now about the connection between your work and poetry. JC: I don’t think it has any connection. BH: You don’t see your work as poetic? JC: No. I see it more as maybe meditative. And, quiet. I really feel that it is meditative. I think that is a good word for it. Of course it is my reaction to what surrounds me, but I am very selective. We are not like a camera that just clicks the whole picture. We make very selective choices about what we see, and what we talk about. Well, does that make sense? BH: Yes, it does. JC: Okay. BH: I am always interested in the way that quilts, particularly quilts like these begin to intersect with other creative forms, for example, and that is when you talked about writing and your background in journalism, or your interest in the found world of graffiti or tattered handbills, all sorts of the textures. JC: Yes. BH: The grit of the urban landscape. JC: I like that. That’s a good one. The grit of the urban landscape. Can I use that? BH: [laughs.] Help yourself. JC: I will. It has a nice ring to it. Well, I should have told you before that in my early series “Urban Landscape,” I started applying text on my quilts. Sometimes they are covered with it, almost like a diary. But again, I don’t really see it as poems, and I don’t see it as literature. My mother tongue is Danish, but I have lived many years in America, and my husband and I speak English together. And then we lived 20 years in Holland, and I spoke Dutch every day – so I use all three languages intermittently. People often ask me, if I make a conscious choice when to use English, Dutch or Danish on my quilts. Sometimes I do. If I don’t want to be so obvious, I’ll use Dutch or Danish text, but if I really want the whole world to listen, I’ll write the message in English. However, sometimes all three languages are on one piece, because they are all part of my daily reality. BH: Sure, almost kind of layered graffiti. JC: Yes. A little prettier, a little less gritty, but nevertheless, yes, it is. I think it is a sort of graffiti, because I’m doing it to be heard or seen. And now the people making graffiti are often called graffiti artists, aren’t they? It is sort of what I said before, that it all comes from the same need to express yourself. To tell the world that you are here. BH: One thing about graffiti is that the style of graffiti is also coded. It takes a special ability to read a great deal of graffiti. JC: Yes. BH: Can you talk about that aspect in your use of graffiti? Do you think in that way? JC: Yes, it’s like Japanese writing. When you can’t read the letters or don’t understand the words, you start seeing the forms and the lines more. And if you take the graffiti out of context, you see beautiful flowing lines like calligraphy. It might say, ‘You,’ but I can’t read it. I can sort of sense it from the aggressiveness that is in it, but because it’s not a word that I can really decode, I can enjoy the beauty of the lines, and at the same time feel it as a powerful message. After all an insult is only insulting, if you understand it as such. BH: There is a distinction, though. When I can’t read Japanese and I’m drawn to the line and to the form, it is still intended to be read by somebody. But with graffiti it is the obscuring of words on purpose. It’s to really emphasize the line over readability at the moment of its making. JC: I’m not sure that that is completely true, because I think you can indeed see it like Japanese. There is a society. There is a group of graffiti people that can read it. Maybe it is more like a sign language, but I am sure it is readable and significant to the group. It is almost like a tribal society isn’t it? BH: “Crews” is the word that graffiti artists use. They are organized by crews. JC: Yes. BH: And there are different styles, like “wild” style, or “bubble” style. JC: I like the immediacy and the boldness of it. It is like an urban subculture has created a written sign language that sometimes is being understood on an international level. It is meant to be read by somebody, and it communicates to the rest of society an emotion, an anger, a political and social statement. But there has always been writing on the walls. BH: All the way back, at least to the Romans. JC: Yes. BH: One could argue that the cave paintings of Lascaux are a form of graffiti. JC: That’s my thought. I mean what is really the difference? That was what my “Urban Walls” were about. BH: I have asked all of these questions, but is there a question that I haven’t asked? Is there something that I missed? JC: I told you that I don’t see poetry as an influence, but music certainly has been. Of course I married a jazz musician, so there has always been music around the house. I don’t consciously apply music to my quilts, but my husband is a drummer and percussionist, and I think that I have lived with this rhythm all the time. It is kind of like the regularity of stitching, and the regularity of writing, and the regularity of the drum beat. The regularity of a heart beat. I mostly work on whole cloth pieces, put the sandwich together of top, batting and backing, and then I just start stitching on the sewing machine. Lots of horizontal lines. This first stitching, I think, has very much to do with creating a rhythm and of course at the same time it gives stability and structure to the piece. BH: So, jazz is never completely regular? Jazz relies on various forms of syncopation. JC: Yes, well, my lines are not that regular either. BH: So your husband is in here as well. JC: Oh yes. He is also my biggest fan. [laughs.] Yes. Definitely. BH: Well, is there anything you would like to add, or do you think we have covered it here? JC: I think we talked a lot. I feel like I talked a lot. I am trying to think, if I forgot to say something. I think I am done with my rust period. I am slowly starting to explore white. I am curious to see, how far I can go with white on white, before it gets boring. I know minimalism from art history, but just a white square is too little for me. There has to be an element of surprise. Maybe a text fragment–the piece has to sing.We now live in Antwerp, Belgium, a beautiful and very old city. And, I signed up for a class in book binding. I thought it would be nice to know, how books are made. And I can see a lot of similarities. I really like touching the paper, and you have to sew the pages together. I am using paper and the idea of books a lot in my latest quilts. I have been using the discarded covers of old books. You start peeling the layers off to see what is underneath, and very often you’ll find old paper with text on it. These fragments are absolutely beautiful–hidden words from centuries ago. After all paper used to be made from textiles, the rag paper, so you can stitch it very easily, just as easily as textiles. So, this is what I’m working on now: combining paper and textiles and exploring the textures of white, off white, beige. BH: Also, around the idea of the book. JC: Yeah. I am part of an exhibition in a Florida museum, called “Reading between the Lines”. There are artists books and altered books, and then, on the walls, my quilts relating to books and writing. So, it’s a nice interaction between three-dimensional and two-dimensional work and between paper and textile. BH: Is there a place where your urban quilts or book quilts have been published, so that people can go look at them? Or are they online? JC: They are online. I have a website (www.jetteclover.com), and I have published a book, “Naden/ Seams” (in Dutch/ English) about my small quilt collages. BH: Oh, very good, I will be visiting. JC: Okay. I have to update it, because I’m not very good with computers, and somebody had made it for me. But now that person is in Florida, and I’m not. So, I really have to learn to take care of it myself. BH: I want to thank you very much for participating in the interview. I have learned a lot. This is great. JC: [laughs.] Well, it was fun to do. BH: All right. [laughs.] JC: Kind of being put on the spot. BH: But you have such great things to say. So you will be getting a copy of the text and everything else to edit and add. I may actually ask a couple of additional questions as I think about it. So this will be super. JC: Good. BH: So, I want to thank you again very much. JC: Thank…