Larisa Denisova




Larisa Denisova




Larisa Denisova


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Houston, Texas


Tomme Fent


Note: Rimma Bybina provided translation for the interview. Also, the quilt was not available during the interview, since it was in a special exhibit at the International Quilt Festival.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Larisa Denisova, and we are in Houston, Texas [lobby of the Hilton hotel.], but the quiltmaker is from Russia. Today's date is October 15th, 2009. It is now 7:36 in the evening. And I want to thank you for doing this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Harmony in Red."

Larisa Denisova (LD): My cloth, it is more than fifteen years. And when we are going to create it for you, we are trying to show the best from Russian tradition, not to create just the blanket, but we decided to show the best of Russian tradition. In Russian culture, there are many traditions that exist together like quilting by chart, embroidery, and such items as when people make fabric by themselves.

KM: Is that a wool felt? Weaving?

LD: Weaving, yes. Very important was the work of the woman. In Russian culture, it's big attention to records of women, and like the fabric and multiple colors, in Russian color, it's the red color, and not only the color, it means life, beautiful. The red square is made from red felt because it's beautiful. Sometimes we say 'a red girl' means red, a beautiful girl. And for instance, in the houses, a whole generation, the corner which Russians call Red Corner, it means beautiful corner where people put items. And when we made this quilt, we decided to put together all beautiful embroidery and sewing. And we learned a lot from museums. We spent a lot of time on the library and searched many photos and pictures from the history about the traditions, Russian traditions. And we find, for instance, that the favorite technique in Russian tradition was the pineapple technique. You know that if you will translate the word 'pineapple,' it's like a fruit, pineapple, and this technique is called pineapple but you see what is interesting is that in Russia, we never have pineapple. It's strange that our Russian culture used the same technique and probably they've never been in the United States. Many embroiderers have symbols and will embroider a bird and for instance, we have many symbols in embroidery. For instance, the [inaudible.], it means [inaudible.], where the lines like this, it means water, and the woman will stand up. It means protection from evil. So this is the main symbol in Russia was the ring. It was the symbol of [inaudible.]. All these symbols, we use in this quilt "Harmony in Red."

KM: So how many women worked on the quilt?

LD: Five women were working together. You may see the tradition when women each made together the triangles [inaudible.], and you see not only the red color was a favorite as a traditional color, another favorite color is blue, dark blue, and black. There are three main colors in Russian tradition: red, dark blue, and black. We use in our quilts the material, the fabrics, not cotton but linen, not only cotton but linen because linen was the main material, main fabric used in Russia before cotton came to Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century. We use buttons which a woman usually uses. And not only cotton and linen, women used in this quilt, but other fabric.

KM: Like lamé? It's not cotton; it's gold and it's very shiny.

LD: Right, yes, yes. This fabric usually we use red for holidays.

KM: How do you use the quilt?

LD: This quilt was made two years ago, and it was made especially for a quilt festival in [inaudible.] city. There was a local artist, and he was in a Russian exhibition, and he was two years ago in Canada, where there was a festival, and now it's here. Any person can have--it is traditional in Russia and we usually show these quilts.

KM: So tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. How did you get interested in quiltmaking?

LD: My profession is music teacher, but I like sewing and fifteen years ago. I graded a class in Ivanovo, and there was a teacher and there was [inaudible.], and finally we got recognized as the Russian Quilt Association, and now this became my profession. I am President of Russian Quilt Association.

KM: So how many women are in the Russian Quilters' Association?

LD: More than 1,000 in different parts of Russia, and more and more people would like to be members of our association. We come with a group of fifteen people from Russia, from different parts of Russia, from Siberia, from Kazakhstan, Kazan. Some people work in Ivanovo, Yaraslovl, Moscow. Some people work in Moscow, in Kazan, Krasnoyarsk, and I don't know.

KM: So what do you think of this International Quilt Festival?

LD: It was my biggest dream to come to visit Houston. We arrive at this main and biggest quilters' event in the world, among the quilters. Last year, we came to Houston just to see and to realize possibilities. Still in Russia we were very shy, and now we come. We were very worried, [LD and RB both talk at the same time.] and we didn't know how Americans will like it or not because the quilters in Houston, they saw a lot from all over the world and we thought it would be terrible, dangerous. No, no, no, we really were worried how to come, how to show. But most of the women show our own face, Russian faces, Russian particulars, old style. Of course, we have many--we should learn more about quilts but at the same time, we've had a love of quilting. It's been a pleasure for us to see the different nations, difference with Americans who came to Houston. We are already ten days here and we are not feeling any political problems [inaudible. LD and RB both talk at the same time.] We met Houston quilt guild and there were warm feelings from both sides, and we feel that we know each other for many, many years, everybody, without no language.

KM: So, how has the reaction been to the quilts?

LD: They say, 'Look! Unbelievable! Gorgeous!' et cetera. We speak about Russia, and 'Here is information about our quilt exhibition.' And a few words about quilt show in Houston and very important words for us. The author wrote that we exactly showed the quilt festival and to show exactly for exhibition, Russia, and showed Germany and showed China. We felt so proud. 'We did it!' Just a few years ago, Rimma and [I.] were in [inaudible.] and came together to Canada, to see what's going on in patchwork and quilting in Canada. And we bought a big, big book, very interesting book, about all quilters all over the world, the quilting in the small islands, in different countries, but nothing about Russia. We were very concerned and decided we should show the world at Festival in October what we do. So it is a dream come true. Russia is the biggest country in the world and it's not only Russians in the country, many missionaries. And this means many missionaries bring different and particulars of their culture and it means we want to present Russia and not represent only Russians. For many years, our country was closed to foreigners and people sometimes knew nothing about Russia. We wanted to show our culture, too.

KM: Do you think the quilts will change now that the quiltmakers have been to Houston?

LD: What was that?

KM: Do you think the people who came from Russia, do you think their quilts will change?

LD: This is very, very interesting problem. Exactly. When people came from their home to America and saw the quilters, they understood this is very high level and specialist quality of sewing, beautiful special machines, and it's true, we are a little bit worried when people look at different things, they may lose their particulars. And for us, it's very, very important problem. The problem which exists in Russia is not so big quality of sewing. It's not only because the quilters don't want to make better, because they have not the opportunity [to learn.] [inaudible. LD and RB both talk at the same time.] But our purpose of our quilt association is to take care of our traditions and our Russian culture and not become dissimilar because we understand that for you, for Americans, and for any people who are interested to learn different cultures, it's better to keep it. We have an interesting project planned. What is the difference between American quilting and Russian is we realize in the United States because of the big support from the government. [KM shakes head.] No? When you meet, you have the community, the state.

KM: But it's not government. It's usually churches that have places so you can meet there. It depends on where. Some places charge a lot of money, and some charge only a little bit.

LD: You see, we are going to develop quilting in Russia and make big, big progress in Russia next year, and the name of this project is "Quilt Show of Red Square." We have support from the government already but some work we should show and we hope in January, we will have all information on this project and we will do it.

KM: Are you hoping to get people from outside of Russia to come?

LD: Yes, exactly. And if you see our traditions, we ask you to come to Russia to quilt show. Please drop in your dinner [business.] card and we will send you more information. And we have good connections. We have many guild associations from United States, from Europe, from Prague, from Germany, and we are sure it will be for many quilters because many of them are able to come to Russia to see the beautiful quilt show, not only for foreigners, but for us, too. I would like to say to have the whole group to meet together.

KM: I think that's just what would happen, yes. We can make all our differences go away when we are gathered around. So what is your favorite part of making a quilt? Your favorite part, what do you like the best?

Rimma Bybina (RB): She hates appliqué. She thinks the tradition is really the trick. It must be Russian.

LD: The best quilters in the world [are.] Japanese quilters. How they use the colors is amazing.

KM: And they have no tradition of quiltmaking. It came from the United States.

LD: In spite of [the fact that.] they do not have traditional, they-- [struggles to find words.]

KM: They made it their own.

LD: No, they find their own thing, yes? Small, small pieces, lovely. And you never be not understanding Japan or Russia because Japanese. [KM shakes head and smiles.] Exactly, everybody knows that it's Japanese. That's why we try to be typical Russian. We recognize the traditions to the small islands off South America [San Blas islands.]. You know the Molas? We bring many--we were lucky because we have friends there. We find cheaper tickets and go there and they take care about those things and show us from the boat, where we go from the island, many, many quilts but smaller quilts. [inaudible. both talking at the same time.] And other culture is a different thing for Russia, too.

KM: What are your plans? What other plans do you have?

LD: Quilt show and show quilts. [laughs.]

KM: How about personally?

LD: I made application and the main purpose of my plan is to keep Russian tradition and to learn how to teach the small club, biggest clubs, all over Russia, how to [quilt.] and keep Russian tradition.

KM: So do you do it by hand? Do you do it by machine?

LD: Just now, it's not difficult to find any equipment in Russia [inaudible.].

KM: So what have you bought at the International Quilt Festival? [both laugh.]

LD: Not only fabric. We went shopping for cutters.

KM: For rotary cutters?

LD: When I have been only to Houston, I thought, 'Please close my eyes. I don't want to see fabrics. I will spend all my money!' I thought, 'Oh, oh, it's everywhere!'

KM: What are fabrics like in Russia?

LD: Just now?

KM: Now.

LD: If you buy fabric just now, no so good. There have been very big changes in Russian fabric, many, many colors, big change of color and designer, more than few years ago. Mostly many, many [inaudible.] fabric to sew clothes and mostly the rest of manufacturers just produce the fabric for-- [motions with hands.]

KM: Tablecloths?

LD: No, bed spreads but you find some people who are ready to pay for fabric and to cooperate together to make fabric for quilting and design Russian fabric, and the whole of Russia will have their own fabric because we have a good collection of old Russian fabrics from the beginning of the last century to the end of the century, a good collection and many, many designs we just now find among the American fabrics. It's just like this.

KM: Anything else you'd like to share? Anything she wants to share that we haven't talked about?

RB: She's very, very happy. She meets here in Houston with American friend who was in her house just, how many?

LD: Ten years ago, an American quilter who visited Russia some years ago, in 1994. And in Russia, we have the first quilt festival and it was with American quilters. [inaudible both talking at the same time.] Reading magazines and equipment and teachers and make some classes, but quilts will be the major thing. And we will have traditions, one part of Russian quilts and another part of American quilts. And we'll have Americans and Americans will have Russians. And we write each other and email. And I met them and we said, 'Wow! Wow!' Ten years, but we meet each other like very old friends. And we are really very grateful for American quilters who just push us as a quilter woman in Russia.

KM: So, what do Russians think of the quiltmaking that's starting to happen? I want to know how people outside of the quiltmakers look at Russian quilting?

LD: In Russia?

KM: Yes.

LD: Ah.

KM: I mean, a lot of people here think, a lot of non-quilters, that they're made by little old ladies at home.

LD: Many people think quilts are only made in the village or countryside by older women, yes. But it's changing. [inaudible.] It's a little different position from the non-quilting people. And for instance, when we ask them about our traditions, they say, 'No, no, it's not one of our traditons.' We bring some quilt show and at first, we said we protect our project and we ask, 'How can we do an exhibition?' But when we [inaudible.], one month more, free of charge. Okay, one more. They say, 'You can use this space for one month more.' We said, 'No, we are too busy. We have new exhibition.' And so it's a very famous exhibit space made by [inaudible.], a very famous name in Russia. We have a tradition in this house two years ago, probably, and I ask them to sell the tickets and they said, 'Oh, we earned so much money from your tradition. Very well.' They didn't have any problem with the culture, and it helped us and showed our tradition and showed the fabric of our tradition embroidery and many, many people came.

KM: Very good.

LD: And we find support from the government to show our traditions because it's necessary [inaudible - background noise.] in small village, we need to show [inaudible - background noise.].

KM: Very good! I hope it works.

LD: Me too. [both laugh.]

KM: Well, thank you so much for taking time out of a very long day to share with me here.

LD: Thank you so much.

KM: And I'm really happy that you took time to do this interview with me. So we're going to conclude our interview at 8:13 [p.m.].



“Larisa Denisova,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed March 2, 2024,