Marilyn Doheny




Marilyn Doheny




Marilyn Doheny


Karen Bennick

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


Karen Musgrave


Karen Bennick (KB): [tape begins mid-sentence.]...1999 at International Quilt Festival. I'm interviewing Marilyn Dohany--

Marilyn Doheny (MD): Doheny.

KB: Doheny.

MD: Doheny.

KB: Doheny. My name is Karen Bennick. Okay. Marilyn, tell me a little bit about your quilt.

MD: Will this [pointing to the tape recorder.] pick up that far away?

KB: Yes.

MD: This particular quilt was made using all the sizes of the nine-degree circle wedge ruler, which I invented and designed about 11 years ago and using all the fabric I designed with Northcott Fabrics called "Treasures of the Gypsies."

KB: Okay. What inspired you to do this? The design or the fabric?

MD: The fabric was a new world of adventure for me--designing was a brand new arena for me. I've always used fabric. I've always been addicted to fabric. It never occurred to me to design it but as people like Jenny Beyer and Roberta Horton came into focus designing fabric I thought certainly I would like to do that. The way that I play with fabric, when I write books, and teach classes is so specific that I wanted to design fabric that had those characteristics, what I call double voicing or flirting, or etcetera, etcetera. And then it came about that a friend [author Cindy Walter.] of mine was invited to design some fabric and she had no interest in doing so and she quickly went and got me at my booth during an HIA show in California--Las Vegas, excuse me. And brought me down to the booth called--of Northcott Monarch and said [to them.], 'You want her.' Well I had a file about five inches thick on what I would do if I was ever asked but I never went and asked anyone if they were interested in my ideas. I just waited and it happened. They had a previous designer, Jennifer Sampou, who had used my Bargello heart book which I had published. And so they were familiar with my quilt work. They were very pleased with that particular designer who had just left their company and they just swallowed me up immediately. What happened was interesting. I had, the day before and that that morning met another woman I was very much in admiration of, who is a jewelry, glass, wood, artist, painter, and I said, 'You really don't want me if you want someone who knows what they are doing because I had never done this before.' I use fabric but don't have a clue how you actually design it technically. I said, 'You need Joyce Strauss.' And they said, 'Who's Joyce?' I said, 'She is the woman I want to gore up and become!' This was about two and a half years ago. And I said, 'You really need to meet her. And I would really like to introduce you both except that if I introduce you to her now you probably never let me design fabric. She's so good. [KB laughs.] So I'll introduce you after I--' Well with that, Joyce literally in this enormous building turned down the hallway and walked toward me and I said, 'I have to introduce her now.' So I did. And in the time that I designed my line Treasures of the Gypsies, Joyce designed four lines. And has gone on to design three and four more lines. I laid out (over a two-week period) and collected all of the jewelry I won and all of the silk I own and I made photographic displays with a professional photographer and we photographed everything in different arrangements and with different light and such. I then flew back to Las Vegas about six month later and presented the line to the Northcott presidents as a slid show of ideas and at that time I had them sign a release. It said that if they didn't want it I could go on to some else with my designs and I gave them a time frame to decide and decline. That offended them a little bit but I did it anyway. And then I presented my designs on a sheet on the wall with a slide projector. It was no the best conditions. And the wife was there--of one of the presidents, Irene O'Rourke, and she said [that.] she really liked what I was doing. The problem is of course form the photographs, they don't make fabric. From books I make photographs. Photographs to book, I was familiar with that process and I thought I had cut out a lot of their work and I paid for quite a lot of professional costs. I had done some heroic things and they were perfect. And they then had to have someone in Japan hand paint my photographs. When I first saw them, the photos, I started crying. They were so beautiful. Some of them were so beautiful but they were certainly translated down from sharp image of a photograph. And of course, in the printing process to the cloth they get more blurry so things got a little more vague then I had hoped they would. At that point I took the 47 designs, they narrowed them down to 19 after the paintings and then I had to create all of the color ways for each painting. What you and I know as the dots on the edge of fabric, I had to take all of that and convert it to new pieces of color, and new pieces of color and new pieces of color so that each design was as we normally buy fabric; four different color ways. All of this is a mental process. You don't see it. You're just guessing. So I did that. They printed the fabric. It was one year ago this Market that it was on display. They had a big caravan of a gypsy wagon. They sold the line in a few months. They asked me to present another line. I said, 'Let's reprint this.' And they said, 'No, no, we don't reprint. Quilters buy so much fabric. We want new.' And I said, 'Oh.' So my royalty check barely covered my expenses in the professional photography and the color separations and everything. And I thought, 'All right, I'll try again now that I've learned a few things.' And as I was designing away, ready for a flight to Toronto to present, they called and said, 'Why don't you keep it a little more tame and normal in its appeal. People didn't understand your fabric.' I thought, 'What is there to understand.' I mean it's color and whatever. Anyway, so I said, 'Sure.' And I put away all the designs I was working on that I liked and I went to something that I thought was more tame, which was florals and botanicals which I'm in love with but a little more Alice and Wonderlandish. Very inventive. I got about 40 some odd designs done and color ways created. Took them up to Toronto about six designs into the presentation they said they were too outrageous and wild and they didn't want the designs. It was a lot of work. It was flatly declined.

KB: I'd like to see what you did.

MD: I thought I learned something. And here I was trying to reapply it to get on their good side of it. And I said, 'You know what--'to myself, 'I don't want to do this anymore. I'm really good at writing books and inventing things. I'm really good at printing and publishing. I've won awards for my books. This is a whole new learning curve I don't need to take on right now. I'm trying to expand everything else in my life.' And the way I came to explain it in a lecture was that being a quilter then designing fabric is like being a gourmet cook or chef and then all of a sudden deciding you're going to have your own beef farm and trout farm and vegetable garden also. It's a whole different thing to design fabric than it is to consume it and use it in a good creative way. And I really like that side of the fence using fabric; I like gourmet cooking and I don't intend to have a vegetable garden per se. I have great places where I can go to get my vegetables, i.e. fabric.

KB: Was this quilt made to showcase the fabrics?

MD: It was made t showcase the fabrics and to showcase my rulers so that the identification would be concrete because I was the only one that has invented this kind of tool. [MD added after the interview: Several have copied me since then, but copy artists always do that.]

KB: So the--this and this is yours?

MD: Everything that is not a solid piece of cloth is something that I did [KB says, 'something you did,' at the same time.]. And the background was from the blackish brown line [of Treasures of the Gypsies.] which did not end up in this quilt. Only on of the blacks did. And so what I did was I took the taupey piece and worked off the backside of it to soften it so this actually is the backside because I was unwilling not to have it be one display. It was the favorite design in the line.

KB: Right.

MD: I did make three quilts for their booth each featuring different groups of fabric colors. And this is the one I brought to display for you.

KB: And what is it that you like about this quilt?

MD: I think that it's brought together quite a lot of my skills and one that is perhaps only temporary in the fabric designing but certainly I appreciate the edge of growth. I think that edge is where all the growth is. I like the quote, 'If you're not living at the edge, you're taking up too much space.' And so this quilt represents that aspect to me. It also represents learning that there's some thing you don't want to do in life.

KB: That's--

MD: And I still applied my rulers and I made the quilt within a week and a half, two weeks total along with the other two quilts for their booth and I enjoyed that time line deadline challenge as well.

KB: Now did you put everything together yourself, too?

MD: Yes. Yes.

KB: And what is that you enjoy most about quilting?

MD: I have a passion for color and geometric drama. I have an excellent mathematical geometric mind. I think what I like the very, very most about quilting, I like teaching it. [KB: Teaching.] If I was given the choice to go hibernate for a week and be by myself with fabric and design and quilt or teach seven classes, I would prefer to teach. [added during proofing: All seven classes- on seven different subjects to different students too!]

I like passing on the knowledge. I work out my designs such that they're flawless so to speak in execution, that anyone with any skill level can approach it, take it on, fulfill it, walk away gratified and want to do it again. These rulers have 20 different designs that come with them and there are five different sizes, so as soon as you start multiplying 20 times five, you end up with hundred r more opportunities and if you and I were to do the same thing, use the same tool, same size, the mathematics that I would give you with


KB: With the same fabric--

MD. Even the same fabrics, we wouldn't end up with the same display or design--

KB: Right--

MD: Because of how we would play inside of that territory. So I like the diversity. A lot of my work--I've written 47 books [added during proofing: I have at least another 30 in the works.] and I designed quite a lot of tools. In a lot of my work there is an equal opposite factor when you cut one you get another one. And I like that--I like that. It's shown up in my work a lot. It's not something I planned one but it just sort of evolved as how I work with cloth. Diversity, opposition and creative playgrounds.

KB: Boy you've really been involved. I'm impressed. [laughs.] What's the very first quilt you can remember?

MD: I had taken--I had one child at nine months--one of them was nine months old and I just about had it with talking with someone who can speak back. Cause I like to talk. And she couldn't learn to tie her shoes or anything particularly and we covered crawling and rolling over so I was looking for an audience of some form. Mostly to entertain myself. So I decided to take a quilt class because I had a little black and white Quilter's Newsletter [Magazine.]. This was back in 1980 and was I enchanted with Drunkard's Path and Log Cabin. The things that you could do with a simple singular block and so I saw a quilt class, six weeks, $18.00. I could afford that. We only had one car so I had to wait for my husband to come home from work. It was in the evening. It was going to work. Two hours a night--one night per week for six weeks. And it was a treacherous class for me with my personality. In six weeks, we were allowed to make on pinwheel potholder. One. And only used two fabrics and actually one of mine ended up being polyester. She didn't cover the part about cotton in her talk. [KB laughs.] One week we got to pick our two fabrics. The next week we got to draft our triangle. The next week we got to trace our quarter inch around then we got to the next week transfer it to cloth and cut around it. And then the fourth week--fifth week we were able to stitch by hand. And the fifth week, she got us to layering and basting. Sixth week and quilting. I have never finished that potholder. I mean it is half bound, eighth quilted and it's only an 8-inch square. And it pinned up in my sewing room, but I have 1000 quilts that I have made since then.

KB: Right.

MD: Well on the way home from the class I decided to make triangles on my own and just put them together with a machine. So I started to do everything I could do with triangles. I didn't tell the teacher because I got the impression that would not go over well. At the end of the six weeks I went to the quilt store owners and I said, 'I would really like to teach quilting here.' And they said, 'Well aren't you in the beginning class downstairs?' And I said, 'Yes but I really think I can teach well here. I mean I taught people how to retie their shoes once I learned in kindergarten. I taught my whole block of kids in my neighborhood how to retie their shoes left handed even older children. Cause I figured it out left handed.' So I was ready to teach and they said [that.] they didn't want a teacher. So I went home--on the way home, I went to a Fabricland, which is a fabric store. I don't even know if they exist anymore. It's a fabric store like Hancock and JoAnn. Walked in. Mind you, I had only ever made a pinwheel potholder and some assorted triangle pillow tops. I'm not a quilter. I don't even understand all the details and the rules. I didn't even like the stitching part of quilting to tell you the truth. And this teacher didn't cover points matching either so I really didn't have much skill going on there or even knowledge that that was appropriate or important. Speed seemed to be very appropriate to me. Productivity too. Lots and lots of pillow tops. I must have had 18 or 20 of them in those two weeks. I told the store I would like to teach quiltmaking for them and they asked if I had some quilts I could bring in because they were indeed looking for a quilt teacher. And I said, 'No, I didn't actually have any quilt tops.' And I thought it would be a better idea anyway if I used their fabric because "a"--which I didn't tell them is that I didn't have any money to buy fabric and "b" I didn't know what I wanted to do yet. So, they let me pick out fabric that day; the day I left my six-week intro with my almost finished pinwheel potholder. I made a black and pink with a little blue in it log cabin. I made a Sunshine and Shadow out of satin, and it was 7 inches taller on one side of the whole quilt than on the other because the satin stretched out by the time, I finalized it. Oh, the teacher didn't cover binding, so I had sort of diaper folded 'back to front thing.' Didn't like the hand quilting so bar tacked it everywhere with the machine and in one week I had three quilts finished and the other one was a Mexican Star and Cross with hot purple, hot pink and hot read pin dots so I was all over the board with color. They hung them 10 feet in the air. Nobody could see the errors. Filled my classes and I was about a month ahead of each of my students technically speaking. So, I taught there and paid them rent. Then I realized the reason people come to quilting is social. We're here to heal. If you go into a quilting store, someone will say, 'Oh I came in for this and this and that.' And you can look in their eyes and see that maybe their dog has just died, or may her daughter just announce her wedding plans to a man they don't like, and they are there to get fixed.

KB: Right.

MD: They are there to get healed by touching the fabric and seeing their friends and knowing that life is going to go on even if there are some tragedies on either side. Many people go there after chemotherapy. They end up there or after they get a diagnosis they don't like and so I ended up noticing that we wanted to come together and noticing that a lot of people had a financial situation that I did. They couldn't afford to do it topnotch and buy everything--the classes gave connection, but they were craving the knowledge and the social. So, I began a guild called Needle and I Night and I would have one pattern presented each month. The whole participation for four hours cost $1.00, and I would have samples in various color ways. Appliqué, piecing, you name it or combinations. Cross stitch was a lot of what I was doing at the time as well. Since I didn't like to hand quilt, I would take the big areas and I would cross stitch them. So, I would spend 20 hours cross stitching instead of one hour of hand quilting and so I bean a cross stitch patchwork kind of thing that went on tandem with quilting. That combo of quilting with cross stitch became my first publishing adventure with That Patchwork Place [now called Martingale Press.] I didn't particularly care for my experience, yet I knew I wanted to write and print, and teach so I began to publish myself. I learned things I didn't even want to know! I decided that I had better learn to put other people into print as well so I can spread my company into a larger appeal of talent and design. And so, from that first class I began a guild that is still in state. They have about 400 members now and they meet monthly, and they have laws and presidents and they have gone on and on and on. And mostly because I am quite unorganized with bookkeeping, they have made me an honorary member not because I started it because I failed to send in my dues on a regular basis. [laughs.] So, they just gave me a full lifetime membership. And I think I answered--I need water. [coughs.]

KB: Oh, she'll get some water. [MD coughs again.] Sorry. Here's just a--[tape is turned off then back on.] What was your quest--what booth are your books in?

MD: The books that I have written over the years--this is my nineteenth Market I been coming to, and I've always had a booth and gradually my product line had increased and increased to the 47 books and the six different ruler--seven different rulers and recently what I decided to focus exclusively on writing and my designing and not run a publishing company. So, this is the very first Market 1999 where I do not have a booth--

KB: Oh, you don't?

MD: And so, none of my products are here in my booth but they should very well be represented in the other booths. "Op Art" which is another book and "Bargello Hearts" and some other have gone out of print but the popularness of the Internet asking for them everywhere has had me put them back into print so I'm maintaining all the books I have now and the sales and the distribution but I'm not going to go into major marketing over any new books.

KB: Okay, what are your plans for the future?

MD: I want to write and design and let someone else do all the publishing and the warehousing and the promotion and do the teaching to follow up with my products. So, I'm hoping--really hoping that C & T [Publishing Company.] picks up my work. They are very interested, and I feel their reputation is wonderful. They have a lot of authors line up and so I'm not sure I can get into their schedule as fast as I want to for my career.

KB: Right. Okay. Where do you think quilting in general is going? Do you think we have reached a pentacle? Are we leveling off? Are--

MD: Again, growth is at the edge and it exponential in the form of quiltmaking. When I began quiltmaking, there was not a fabric designed by a quilter. I don't even know that the term quilter was something that anyone related to other than the pioneers and some grandmothers who pieced things out of leftovers and calicos which were only available in the dress goods are. To watch what has happened from that humble nothingness of this incredible American art form based upon the passion of women for color, fabric, texture, value, drama, creativity, touching, has nothing to do any longer with beds or warm in my opinion. It has to do with art and love--

KB: Right--

MD: And legacy. Leaving behind something that is literally changing art and history made entirely from something you couldn't even floss your teeth with thread wise it's so

Fragile and yet it is going to stay here and we're each going to go away. Fabrics are our voice to the world as quilters.

KB: Right.

MD: It's fascinating to me. So, I believe that the world of quiltmaking is even now in an infancy stage and that's hard to imagine but it's based upon the history. The history of quiltmaking is not the future of quiltmaking and yet the history brought us to this level--

KB: To this point--

MD: If I were a new quilter coming into this arena, I would be very, very intimidated and I would say that because there are so many worlds. You could focus on appliqué and live there the rest of your quilt life. You could focus on embellishment whole pieces of cloth and live there the rest of your life. Each one is their own autonomous art form.

KB: Right.

MD: You could go into geometry or geometric work and interactive shapes, which is my passion and drama. There are infinite combinations. Branching "growth" has to be in texturizing and going other places and learning to dye fabric. I believe that any one of those worlds isn't adequate. I believe that they crossover most efficiently and probably the Fairfield Show exemplifies the crossover. Let's go see that.

KB: Oh, yes.

MD: All those worlds of design and fabrics combined now into clothing have held hands and now have created an art form that didn't even exist before. So, I think it is just headed in phenomenal directions we cannot imagine.

KB: Where do we go from here?

MD: For example, one of my first large books is called, "Bargello Tapestry Design." When people stated using that information form the classes and the book and put their work into quilt shows; the quilts went into the contemporary categories, and they were winning ribbons. This was wonderful. And then about four years later so much visual similarity, so much comfort and familiarity brought Bargello designs into a level of familiarity yet not completely to the traditional side. Yet if you put them into the traditional category, they were voted out because they weren't enough tradition so there was about a three-year period in there where Bargello quilts couldn't win a ribbon.

KB: Right.

MD: And now they're showing up in the traditional category and winning ribbons because I think traditional really just means familiar. When people see something and have the thought, 'I understand it. I know it. I know the name of it. I've seen 20 of them or 200 of them.'

KB: Right.

MD: On the other hand, I've taken Bargello now into 30 categories of advancement. I can do Bargello stars, which has been taught at this conference. Bargello Reflection, Bargello merged, inverted, centrifuge, Tornado, a lot of "new" Bargellos, and all of these things use Bargello as a base almost like Bisquick is as a baking mix. So, you must know Bargello but again that is not a pentacle any longer. That's a base. And at one point it was a pentacle. And "Op Art;" the same thing. And moving any of these techniques into clothing, embellishing them beyond and merging each world. I liken it to a person in New York who'd flip open their coat and they had something to sell you in each pocket. [KB laughs.] I think as a quilter we need to imagine ourselves having a cape and inside each pocket is the talent to d a new thing. Every color, you have to not be afraid of and wiling to us all of them. Every technique you need to know how to do- insert piecing, curves, point matching, nonpoint matching. You need to know how to do a king-size quilt and a miniature. We don't just hang out in one world. You fill all the pockets so that if anything ever comes to you as a concept, you're not intimidated to try it--

KB: Right.

MD: Because your skills and your knowledge are broad enough to support you and sustain you while you go off into creativity. Picasso said, 'Art, true art is unrecognizable.' So, the more familiar it is, the more comforting it is, the more secure you feel but that's not where the growth is--

KB: Right.

MD: The growth is when you take a risk and your heart pounds, and you feel like you are out of your league. That's where the growth is.

KB: Right. You mentioned that your students come together for the social aspect of quilting and the healing. Have you had an event in your life that led you to understand and empathize with people like that?

MD: I've had it on both sides. From the interpersonal coming from myself--now you've made me cry.

KB: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that.

MD: That's okay. And I'll start another one. It's also rather a tear jerking. Many, many letters come to me. Many, many photographs come to me and my office. And in one case, the woman come to me, and she said, 'I want you to know--' [stops talking.]

KB: It's okay. Take your time.

MD: She said, 'You saved my life and my daughter's life.' And I had no clue. I mean does someone put a book together and stop a bullet? [KB laughs.] I don't know. She said, 'No.' She said, 'It's your book called, "Triad Interlock.' Which I happened to be teaching right now today. This is the lunch break. [during the interview.] And I'm still listening, and she said, 'My daughter is infertile and went in for in vitro, she ended up with triplets, gave birth and within the first nine hours they all died.' And she said, 'In the process she became sterile. She tried to kill herself in the hospital. Her husband filed to divorce within three months. He didn't want nay part of this any longer. And my daughter went into an institution and it's my only child.' She said--I mean I'm just sobbing now. She said, 'I didn't know what to do. I--my husband and I ended up divorcing over this as well. And I finally decided that I had to do something to get my life back together and so I started walking. I walked and I walked. And one day I walked past a quilt store and in the window was a quilt that had three figures merging through in the middle and weaving into a whole beautiful, soothing display and I found out that it was from your book called "Triad Interlock" and I know if I could make that quilt, I could survive and put these babies to rest.' I thought, 'Oh.' [cries.] So, she made the quilt. She showed it to her daughter. Her daughter became a quilter. She came out of the institution. I men it just goes on and on. Never would you imagine that while you're playing around with strata (strata for me is strips sewn together) and designing that you are going to have the ability to speak to someone as such a deep level that they can survive.

KB: Isn't that wonderful.

MD: And the stories go on and on and on. I was going through a tragic divorce after a 20-year marriage and very, very desperate emotionally and I would look at my fabric which I have and have loved my entire life and not remember why I had so much of it and what I was ever going to do with it. I was so flat inside. And a quilting friend of mine would pick me up and take me to quilt shows and she would stand in front of the quilts knowing that just visual resonance on my eyes would talk to my spirit because so much of me was quilting and drama and art and organization and order and geometry. And she'd time me and then she'd move me to the next quilt. And that alone after two years finally brought me back out and when I came back out, I came out so strong but for a while there I thought I was going to lose myself and all of my interest in anything that was passionate for me because it was such a dredging process to go through. So--and it just goes on and on. The stories of people--I know one woman who came to a class because mine are often advertised as being fast and accurate because more of the work is based on sewing strips together and controlling that element of simple sewing and then fracturing that up and bring the final design to life which looks incredibly intricate yet started out only as large pieces managed very gracefully. And she said that she had signed up for my classes because they were advertised as speedy. She was fifty something years old, had just retired and wanted to make a lot of quilts. I had asked at the time in most of my classes, 'What attracted you to this class?' This was about 15 years ago. And I would find out, 'Well it's my husband's bowling night across the street and I don't like smoke and noise and the light was on over here so I'm taking your class.' You know, okay. Great. So, if you don't show up next week, I know it's not bowling night and I don't have to worry about you. You were there for the social and the warmth and the lights on thing. Others would say, 'I'm here because you work with color in such a way that I want to color.' 'I'm here,' one woman said, 'because it's a Trip Around the World class.' And I said, 'Yes, it is. Why do you want a Trip Around the World class?' And she said, 'Well my husband and I were always, always going to take the trip around the world and my husband just died. And we can't take a trip around the world so I'm going to take a Trip Around the World class. And then I said, 'Have you ever sewn before?' 'No. I have never sewn before. I saw the catalog at my friend's house who's a quilter and it said, 'Trip Around The World' and I called, and I signed up.' So, you get people who in your class have reasons for being there that are technical, emotional, physical, and every other form. The one woman who was there to make all seven quilts in about four weeks. She was signed up for every class I was offering. Was there because her granny, her great-grandmother was a mail order bride and had come across in a dugout--married to--purchased by a man that she'd never seen. Now this is an unsavory thing if you think about it in today's standard. These are not women who have any other options. And yet she survived and thrived. She lived in a dugout the first five years and had four children in a dugout probably as big as this room [12 feet by 6 feet.] and made quilts for sanity reasons. I can certainly understand this. And then eventually they got a home, became prominent citizens of Kansas City. She's giving us this beautiful story of granny and to the point that Kansas City wanted to do a feature of her in the Kansas City Star. Her great-great-grandmother. I believe this 54-year-old woman was a very young child at the time of this celebration of her great granny. All the relatives flew in, and they put all of her quilts on the porch, on top of her lap, over the porch swing, took pictures, put it on the front page of the paper. Three days later granny's house was broken into, and all the quilts were stolen. It was almost as if it [the feature of her.] had set her up. My student said, 'I am here now that I've retired to make every one of those quilts that was on that porch.'

KB: Oh!

MD: So yes, quilts have a huge emotional social tie in connectiveness and that's probably what I love the most, setting people free to explore. While I can give them the technical profoundness, they can be free to enjoy what I call the voices of fabrics. Enjoy their love of fabric without the technical side being an issue that has to complicate things.

KB: Yes. This is amazing. [both laugh.] I'm really impressed with it. You're just so vivacious [laughs.] and--

MD: Well, I'm the only one that can write my books but I'm not the only one that can publish them that's why I'm pulling back a little bit. I'm just now separated from my second husband and although we love each other dearly where I want to go and what I want to do, the speed I want to do it at is not comfortable to him and the speed that he wants to live at is not a comfortable speed for me. One has too little oxygen and one has too much oxygen for either of us. We've just--I've shut down my publishing company and gotten my employees other jobs and now I'm moving my personal life--I mean I'm in a huge transition and yet for me the connectiveness with art and quilting is still there. I have gone all over the world. I think every place but China and Russia and hope to cover that too teaching. I just fly in and it's like I know everybody that I am already speaking to because this common love and this common endearment.

KB: Great. Great.

MD: I just absolutely love it. It's sponsored my new life.

KB: And obviously you give a lot in these classes.

MD: Oh, yes. [laughs.]

KB: What do you get from them yourself?

MD: I'm an aficionado of quotes so I have over 7 different lectures that I give, and those quotes just come out--they are life supporting about the chaos makers in our life, how we have to control them. One of them--beautiful quote is 'That the birds of worry and care, fly above your head, that you can't control. But that they make a nest there, that you can control.' And chaos makers, just remember, a chaos maker is someone who disrupts your life, and they like to do it. So, a chaos maker is like arguing with a pig, you're both going to get filthy, and the pig will like it. [KB laughs then MD laughs.] And these kinds of people, we need to keep out of our world of quilting. When they say, 'You don't need that pattern, or you don't need any more fabric. You don't need any more room.' You say,

'Fine. I agree with you. I don't need it to live but I want it.' It's very hard to argue with I want. And learning to control that or learning to say, 'I'm worth it,' like in the L'Oreal commercial. I'm worth some time, quality time--

KB: Right.

MD: I'm worth buying more and doing more and taking away from my job and my family in essence to build with me, to find a bigger me. Everybody benefits. I love the quote, 'If momma ain't happy than nobody happy.' [KB laughs.] So, we have to keep ourselves happy and a lot of us aren't even happy. As soon as we buy all this fabric and patterns and books, we have guilt. I've got a whole lecture on quilt verse guilt.

KB: I don't feel guilt anymore.

MD: Good. It's not--no, it's not worthy!

KB: I need it; an excuse to make another quilt like a golfer needs another reason to play another day.

MD: Exactly. Or a fisherman needs excuse to buy another--you know hook or another fishing trip. It's all in the sport of it.

KB: Right. Exactly. Doreen Speckman taught me a lot about that kind of thing.

MD: Indeed.

KB: You don't have to justify purchasing another yard of fabric. Does you husband justify buying another screwdriver?

MD: Exactly. No, exactly. [KB laughs.] We don't do it.

KB: We just do it now because we enjoy it.

MD: Thoroughly, thoroughly feel that as great satisfaction.

KB: Right.

MD: In other words, this bag of beautiful fabric does not have to become that pattern that we bought to go with it. It's still a bag of beautiful fabric and it will be next week as well and next year as well.

KB: Right.

MD: Just don't say it has failed because it hasn't become this or that yet. [quote added during proofing- 'The house of tomorrow is a prison for the present.']

KB: Right. Stamp collectors don't mail out their stamps.

MD: They don't. [KB laughs.]

KB: Okay. I'll look for another question. [sounds of rustling paper.] Are there any other quilters among your family or your friends? Well, of course, among your friends because every quilter becomes your friend.

MD: Yes. My mother and grandmother sewed and that is how I learned to sew. I'm on of four daughters. I'm the only one that does sew. That didn't help my mover decide to give me the Featherweight [antique sewing machine.] I learned to sew on from my grandmother. No, she gave that to one to the other daughters so that they would learn to sew. [KB laughs.] I wish I had that little Featherweight, so I've had to collect three other ones to compensate. My mother became a quilter after I became a quilter and she worked with me for many, many years in the booth and in Houston. I'm sure she is exceeding proud but that's not her job. Her job is to fix me so wherever she thinks I haven't done something right or I'm doing too much of something, she is the chaos maker in my life. [laughs.] She's always trying to fix me, and we have had to part company a bit in the world of quilting because I refuse to be fixed. I think I am doing well, and I think others are enjoying what I do, and I think my lectures are inspiring and compassionate and I want to stay really in tuned with myself and my voice. [added during proofing: and my gifts and stop seeing where 'I'm not fixed yet!']

KB: Right. Here's another one. If you can't live with it--if you can't get it together, you learn to live with apart.

MD: Exactly. [KB laughs.] Exactly.

KB: Right. [sounds of rustling paper.] In--well I don't know--in the length of the time we have had talking I have to discredit some of the questions we would normally ask. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

MD: The importance of quilts in American life has from its beginning influenced the world differently than I think it is now able to do in the future. When I first became aware how important quilts were in American life was when I was in Europe because they see quilting as truly an American art form. And there are only a few things like that. I think baseball and maybe jazz are the only other two and maybe the blues. Maybe the blues. And from that regard, I honored it differently because I saw quilting differently when I was in a country who had 2,000 years of art history and honored the U.S. for quilting. Which, of course, we didn't even have at the time 200 [years.] in the United States. If you went to the west coast, we probably only had 150. And certainly not the mystique in cultural richness so I really felt pride in the fact that we were survivors having left England and Europe and that we frugally created an art form our of leftovers and that we have taken that art form and appreciated it whereas quilts use to be created to pay off a doctor bill for a child that died so to speak or a veterinarian bill to fix a cow so that you could live and survive. They were very utilitarian, but I never believed they weren't filled with heart and love and of course, the quilting bee validated the social side of creating quilts.

KB: The social side.

MD: An American art form, I think now we are getting a lot of competition from Europe because they have all that rich art history which gives them a broad base to move from creating. And for instance, the Canadians or the people in Alaska and Australia and the Japanese don't have all the rules that our country has had. [added during proofing: They have their own incredible voices of cloth use to add to this art form.] In Japan and in India if you wear layers and layers of clothing that have different contrasting textures and colors, you're wealthy. If you do that here, you are "trashy." You bought something from the Goodwill, you have no fashion sense and you're from the wrong side f the tracks.

KB: Eccentric.

MD: So, for us to now see how everyone is using our art form with their fabric sense is enriching us. And I think it has made the world smaller. It has made us realize it is our art form, which is valuable but someone else took that seed and did something magical. They cloned it differently. They hybridized it. Australians are rugged, independent people and they do it their way. And so in that regard, they've taken the art form, but they have almost disregarded the historic patterns from the onset. In Europe, the historic patterns are played with but not very long in a sacred way. They embrace the new quite quickly. The hardest thing for me as a publisher and a writer is keeping the control of the work as my own in terms of someone--what we would say knocking it off and taking my class notes and erasing them with White Out and pretending they are theirs and even printing them. And in Europe that is going on a lot. In Australia, my ruler was reinvented by someone and called the 10-degree wedge ruler, yet she put a photograph on the cover of her little header card that was of my quilt with my hands and feet showing on either end--

[KB laughs then says, oh, yeah.] which she took from Houston in a class. So that has--that has offended me to watch, on all continents, people taking designs that are a tremendous amount of work, take notes and teaching materials and assume they're theirs because they paid 18 or 30 or 75 dollars for a class when in fact it took hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars an hour to produce that information. It belongs to the ownership of the author. It's not to say you can't use the knowledge and make quilts and get ribbons and take home a $10,000 prize but you can't own it--

KB: You should just acknowledge who it belongs to--

MD: The printed rights to a design really do belong to the designer and I thin there's a huge world that needs to honor the derivative work as well. I've taken Bargello basics and expanded it into a book that had nine categories, all called basic. And now I have developed some 40 odd derivative designs. Others can't say this is all mine and total original if they is my basis and derive new from it. And I think people are now wanting to enter the contemporary competition so often and they gotten a little stymied with the traditional, they want to branch out and what they are doing is creating a moderation of something that is really someone else's and trying to call it contemporary. Contemporary means you don't recognize it when it is born. Contemporary means absolutely not ever seen before, and people are frightened to go that far. I think we need a lot of art classes. Art fabric art. Meaning play. Just play and play and play. Knowing that you will be uncomfortable inside of that play because you don't know what you are doing. You don't know what it is going to become. You have the skill to do any kind of sewing and cutting but you don't know exactly what the creative result will be. This is an art quilt! That is a contemporary quilt. That is where I think a lot of people need much more time playing around to come up with their own intuitive and spontaneous voice and signature so when you look at it you go, 'That's a Marilyn Doheny quilt. That's a Doreen Speckman quilt. That's a Katie Pasquini quilt.' That kind of thing. [note from MD: I want to create workshops called "Artists at Play!"]

KB: Caryl Bryer Fallert. Can you recognize them when you walk into a room.

MD: Absolutely.

KB: Absolutely.

Unidentified Person (UP): [in the background.] It's time.

KB: Is there anything else you would like to talk about? Something to record for posterity.

MD: I would just like to say again, I think growth is at the edge. The area where I see the need for the most growth is in not alienating ourselves and the way I see we often do that is when I'm invited into an area to teach and I say, 'Is there another guild or is there another shop that can use my services at the same time for the airfare fee, for the car rental fee, for the travel fee?' And they'll say, 'We don't share. We want you exclusively.' I think that is very, very, against the whole foundation of quilting as a way to bring people together. I certainly know that any quilt teacher that travels has enough classes to take care of five guilds each and not overlap--

KB: That's correct.

MD: And I think that we could all begin especially with the expenses of these travel arrangements and the wear and tear of the teacher, to begin to share much more so begin recognizing that we are not doing so. There is several conferences that I have been asked to teach in repeatedly and I enjoy that because of the familiarity of coming back. [added during proofing: When I return, I can a) go deeper, b) change subject, c) repeat what I did last visit.]

KB: Right.

MD: There are conferences which I have applied to regularly for teaching opportunities and never even been responded to and I know I have the caliber work to provide well within their chambers. And so I often wonder what is this alienation? What is this veto? What is this about? It's not about quilting. Cause I know if I show up and I know their students are requesting me it must be something political or something egotistical that I'm unaware of that I know I'm not fueling on purpose but is being held by the powers that be to keep people out of certain conferences in certain areas. And that's curious to me because in this art form it was never a part of how we proceeded. So those are the areas where I think growth is needed. We need to get rid of the darkness whatever needs to be healed by turning on more light. Turning on more light in our lives and being more inspired. I love Mae West. She said, 'Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.' And I love that. [laughs.] Udora Welty said, 'Sometimes wisdom comes with age but sometimes age just comes alone.'

KB: [laughs.] I love that. Okay. We're going to wind up this tape and it's 12:02 and it's--we're at the--my name is Karen Bennick.

[tape ends.]



“Marilyn Doheny,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,