1. How long have you been quilting?
I have been quilting since 1978.
2. How did you start quilting?
My Mom liked making clothes, and taught me to sew when I was in grade school. All along, she kept the scraps in a big box, saying, "Someday, we'll make a quilt." We never did make a quilt together, but she did plant the idea in my head.
My first job was working for an anthropology professor (anthro was my major in college). I spent hours managing the data entry from the grad students on his large primatology project. That was back in the era of mainframe computers. "Jobs" were "submitted", and then there was the long wait for the "output." Ancient terminology!
I took a little beginning quilting class, to bring some color into my life of words and beige and white computer stuff, and also to give me something to do while waiting for my output. I also learned some hieroglyphics, and corresponded that way with a friend at another university. These activities made me pretty much an oddball over at the computer center, and actually attracted the eye of the guy who is now my husband!
Anyhow, I also fell in love with quilts and have never stopped since.
3. How did you learn about antique quilts?
After a few years, my husband convinced me to see if I could make money via my love of quilting. One thing that really worked for me was that I started working at an antique quilt gallery called the Wild Goose Chase. It was owned by two artists who appreciated the graphic and historical qualities of quilts. They hired quilters to work at the store. We all started learning about repairs as customers brought them in. I took some textile conservation classes and attended a couple of symposia. I took copious notes, and those still are the basis for what I do.
4. Why repair old quilts?
My background in anthropology has definitely informed my approach to quilts and quilt history. Anthropologists study all aspects of culture, including what's called "material culture," i.e. objects. Quilts carry so much meaning and history that most people don't think about. The status of women as artists, westward expansion, politics and historical events, the history and development of fabric production technologies, world-wide trade patterns, the interaction of cultures, family narratives, and so on and on. I find it all very fascinating. And therefore, preserving every quilt we can is a way of saving another little bit of those important stories.
5. How do I tell if my quilt is worth repairing?
In many ways, I think every quilt is worth repairing, because every quilt has some historical significance. That goes for "garden variety" quilts as well as "museum-quality" quilts.
Right now, any quilt from the 1830s is really special, just because it survived. Eventually, the same will be said for any quilt from the 1950s or the 1980s or the 2010s.
Aside from that, the question becomes one of balance - the owner's time or money budget, plus the extent of the damage on the quilt, plus the owner's goals for the longterm life of the quilt. There are many options for type and amount of sewing that can be done, and usually there is a suitable answer that takes all these things into consideration.
6. What do you think is the most important thing to consider when caring for quilts?
The less you do, the better. This is especially true for private sewers and collectors. Conservation labs have all sorts of equipment, and conservators have all sorts of detailed training, that allow them to do more things and make what they do much safer.
Safe storage and careful handling can go a long way towards preservation and avoiding real problems down the road.
7. Isn't it a shame to store quilts away instead of using them and enjoying them?
This is totally a matter of personal preference. Safe storage is pretty much the best mode of preservation. Display, use, and washing all take a toll on the fabrics, and sometimes relatively quickly. My goal is to inform quilt owners of the options and the potential results. Then, whatever is decided, it is an informed decision, and there will be fewer unpleasant surprises in the future.
8. Wow, you must have a lot of patience!
It's funny how often I hear this! I don't see myself as a patient person at all. Yes, handwork can get tedious, and is very slow compared to how we tend to live our lives these days. It also is very peaceful and meditative. And I always really enjoy the result - spreading a finished quilt out and seeing it all neatened up and brought back to life. Knowing that a beautiful result is coming can keep me going.
9. Why did you write this book?
I feel that I have collected all sorts of knowledge and experience that so far hasn't been published at length all in one book. Quilts have a special ambiance and carry so much meaning. I want others to learn how to take care of that special "quilt legacy". This book is my own personal legacy, a statement about the work I've done and the career I've built over many years.
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