Laura Wasilowski




Laura Wasilowski




Laura Wasilowski


Rebecca Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Houston, Texas


Rebecca Salinger


Rebecca Salinger (RS): Today is October 23rd, 1999 and my name is Rebecca Louise Salinger and I am interviewing Laura Wasilowski of Elgin--

Laura Wasilowski (LW): Elgin.

RS: Elgin, Florida--

LW: Illinois!

RS: Illinois?

LW: Yes. [laughs.]

RS: For the Save Our Stories oral history quilt project for the Alliance for American Quilts. Tell me about this quilt that you brought today.

LW: This quilt is called War of the Roses. It was made in November of 1997. It's the beginning of my gardening series of quilts. It was made for an exhibit by the Quilters' Newsletter Magazine, in a contest. The theme of the contest was roses. I have a rosebush in the backyard of my house. We've lived there for about ten years and it has never bloomed. I've never had a rose bloom on this bush. So one day I got a little angry and I went outside and I chopped the rosebush up. I killed it. It felt so good, because I'd tried everything. You talk to them, you know, feed them, all this kind of stuff and nothing worked. So, I just went out and killed it. Most of my quilts are story quilts or narrative kinds of quilts, pictorial. This is a quilt with my feet stepping on the roses; smashing it down, surrounded by the clippers that I used to cut the rosebush up with and the gloves I had to wear and the basket that I carted the snippets away with. I don't know how large the quilt is; maybe 49 inches by 52 inches high. Part of the contest for the Quilters' Newsletter Magazine was that you had to have a rose in it somewhere. Well, because I had never had roses from the stupid plant, what I did was ended up stamping fabric with little roses.

RS: I see it.

LW: I used that fabric in the gloves. That's where the roses come in. Like I said, this was the beginning--I'll just keep talking forever.

RS: Go ahead. [laughter.]

LW: This was the beginning of a gardening series. Earlier in the year I had made another quilt in a similar fashion. The style I call this is kind of a woodcut-type of style.

RS: It's got a black background.

LW: Yes.

RS: Then what else? How do you make it look like a woodcut?

LW: What I do is I start out with panel black fabric and then I pre-fuse a bunch of colored fabrics. I cut out the shapes I want, like the shape of the glove or the shape of my feet or shoes or the rose branches. Then I fuse those on. I'm using Wonder Under fusible web and fusing them down and then stitching on top. What I do is I leave a little gap of black between each element or shape and that gives me, like a woodcut, that line of a woodcut. This is the style I've been working in for quite a while now. I have this affinity for woodcuts, black and white prints.

RS: Are you saying that all of these shapes, like the shape of the glove, are not turned under?

LW: No.

RS: They're just raw edges fused onto here?

LW: Yes. They're all raw edged. I would call it "fused appliqué." So I cut out the shape I want in the color I want, iron it down, and then later on I go back and do this free motion stitching to adhere the fabric, or to make another line, an additional line to make more texture. I quilt it as well, at the same time.

RS: Are you saying then, that it's all fused--

LW: Yes. RS: Completely fused before you start stitching or do you do--

LW: Well I've discovered if you look at many of the quilts--what I do is I start out with the center elements and then I build borders around it. The reason I do that is because I've discovered that my quilting, my machine quilting is not so hot, so if I start at the center and work my way out, things stay pretty flat. Otherwise, I get these little bumps. So I start in the middle with the whole design process with a sketch. Sort of an idea of what I'm going to do. Then I begin in the middle of the quilt and construct that. I fuse it, I iron it, and then I begin stitching in that area. Then I'll add maybe another border around it and then another border; then the final elements on the side. So sometimes even though I have a sketch that describes what I'm going to do, when I get to maybe the second border or so, things change. It may not relate to the same sketch. It's a process. The whole process is--well, when I begin making a quilt, because I'm a dyer--I print and dye fabric--I choose colors I want from my stash or if I don't have it I dye the color I need. Then once it's dyed, I fuse it. I iron it down and stitch it. So the whole process maybe takes, if you include the dyeing part, maybe two weeks.

RS: The whole process of making the quilt--

LW: Making the quilt.

RS: Making the quilt takes two weeks?

LW: About two weeks. That's working maybe eight hours a day. The dyeing process is hard to determine because I already have so much fabric in my stash.

RS: It feels very flat. What kind of batting is in here?

LW: I'm using Hobbs cotton heirloom batting. I press a lot, so things do flatten out. And as I go on pressing, as I said I have this problem of making ripply quilts, if you start in the middle and work your way out, you get something flat.

RS: I see. What kind of thread is this that you've used in the quilting stitch?

LW: Most of this thread is a Madeira rayon, maybe 30-weight or 40-weight Madeira. It's in various colors, usually bright colors. The type of style I'm doing now, I just use black thread, and use that as a way of describing line on what I'm making.

RS: When was this quilt made?

LW: This was made in November 1997, in the fall. It was probably after I had killed the rosebush.

RS: Is this the first quilt as like a woodcut? Or is this somewhere in the middle?

LW: No. This is early on though. There were ones, a few before that, where I used a black surface and then applied the color on top. I began with really small quilts, maybe 4 inches by 6 inches. Tiny garden quilts, I started with those. They're about the shape of a postcard and I called them "Tiny Gardens." Then I did a series called "Postcards from Home." They were of houses. Then it evolved into these larger pieces.

RS: So when did you start this woodcut process?

LW: I would say sometime in 1996. I started with the small and I really didn't get to large until maybe early '97, mid-97. Now I have a whole series of gardens, garden quilts, things that relate to gardening. I'm on maybe my fifth one, large.

RS: How long do you think you're going to go on with this?

LW: I really love it, so--I don't know. I have a lot of ideas. I have a sketchbook full of ideas. One of the problems I have is narrowing down what the next project is going to be. It's not just the gardening things. I do other types of pictorial things, like interiors of homes and furniture--big into furniture. [laughter.] Big into "Kitchenscapes," I call them. Like I said, I did a whole series of small houses. They were kind of wacky, askew houses. They were a lot of fun, but I think I'm done with homes. I've gone through the chairs, the chickens, the homes. I have a whole bunch of gardening ones to go, and then I'll have--I know I have other household objects, like a giant iron, stuff like that.

RS: When did you first start quilting?

LW: I started quilting maybe ten years ago. I'd been a dyer for a long time. I have a background in costume design, for the stage. I graduated in '74 with a degree in costuming and part of that is learning how to dye and print fabric. So I had a small business where I was dyeing and printing fabric and making it into clothing. I'd sold these stupid jackets all over the country. I'd made five or six hundred jackets. I was sick of them. About that same time, in the late eighties, I met Melody Johnson, who is now my business partner in Artfabrik. She came over to the house one day and she saw all the scraps--boy I'm talking fast.

RS: It's okay.

LW: I'm hopped up. She saw all the scraps that I had from dyeing the jackets and said, 'What are you going to do with those?' I said, 'I don't know.' She said, 'I'll take them. I'll take them and make quilts with them.' I said, 'No you won't. I'll take them and make quilts with them.' So she really is the person who had inspired me to begin quiltmaking. That was about ten years ago. Since then I haven't stopped--I really enjoy it.

RS: What kind of quilts did you initially make?

LW: They were always nontraditional art quilts. I've never really made a traditional quilt. I don't know how to follow a pattern and I'm much too stubborn to follow a pattern.

RS: So what to you is a nontraditional art quilt?

LW: Well, a non-traditional quilt to me is where you're making up your own design, your own pattern, your own presentation of what the quilt looks like, I guess. It's not somebody else's pattern. It's something that's hung on the wall. It's to be viewed as a piece of art; it's not there to keep you warm or to protect you from the cold. It's something that appears as art. That's how I began. I don't have any background in traditional quilt making. Although I admire them, I will never probably make them because it's not something that I could do or want to do. I'll just buy them if I want them. It's easier. [laughter.]

RS: Why'd you bring this one to show us?

LW: I brought this one because many of the quilts I do have stories behind them. They're stories of my family or of my friends or of my home. This has an interesting story. It was exhibited all around the country. It went to France as part of the Quilters' Newsletter [Magazine.] "Roses" exhibit. It's colorful. It incorporates the woodcut technique that I talked to you about; the free motion quilting. It includes my hand-dyed fabric and printed fabric, and I like this quilt.

RS: Where does it live?

LW: It lives in my basement right now. [laughter.] Unfortunately I don't have any areas in my home where I can hang a large piece.

RS: Do you sell these quilts? Do you keep them? Do you give them away? What do you do with them?

LW: There are some that I keep because they relate to my family. There's a quilt called "Gus Cleans His Room"--it's about my son not cleaning his room. It's a picture of his bedroom. That will stay in the family. There are others of my daughter Louise, and my husband--a small one. So they will stay with the family. I do sell larger ones. I've sold several large ones. The small ones I sell quite a few of those. So, I am attached to some of them, and some need to go elsewhere. Most of them are just rolled up in my house right now. If you're interested let me know. [laughter.] If anybody out there is interested, let me know.

RS: Can you think about what your first memory of a quilt was?

LW: Yes, I can. When I was a little girl we had a quilt that was made by my grandmother who worked as a seamstress. There were all these patches of fabric in it that I remember very well. I didn't know her, she was much older than I am--she passed away when I was two or something like that. But she had made a little tiny doll quilt for me. The fabric that she made that out of was also in the larger quilt top that had been passed down to my mother and to me. It's just a crazy quilt. She had eleven children or something like that so she didn't have a lot of time on her hands to make them. But my mother told me that she worked as a seamstress to help supplement the income and this was passed on to us. Now it's just a quilt top. It was washed so many times; finally I took it off the batting and the backing that the batting was on. So I own that and the fabrics in it have a lot of memories for me, from my childhood, of what I know. So that's the first one.

RS: That's a pretty good memory.

LW: Yeah.

RS: Okay I want to ask you something about art quilts. What do you think--not necessarily art quilts--but what do you think makes a really great guilt, the kind of quilt that ends up in the Hundred Best?

LW: In an exhibit?

RS: In an exhibit, or what makes a great quilt?

LW: Well a good quilt is technically well made, I think. It hangs flat; it looks good. The stitching looks good. The piecing looks good, or whatever it is. Also I think that for me the visual impact is the choice of color and texture and line of course--that relate to me somehow. I can see some beautiful quilts out there that kind of leave me cold, but I know they're well done. If a quilt is well designed and somehow it moves me emotionally, then I'm very interested in looking at it. That's just how I feel.

RS: Well do you feel the same way--are you talking about looking at an art quilt or a traditional quilt, as far as moving you?

LW: I guess there are some traditional quilts that I enjoy looking at. I like the Amish quilts. I like their simplicity and the beauty of the color and pattern. Some of the art quilts that are full of color and movement I like. I'll tell you what I don't like.

RS: Go ahead--tell us, tell us.

LW: I don't enjoy looking at quilts that are about social issues that are sad. I don't enjoy that. So I don't look at those. I avoid them.

RS: Do they make you uncomfortable?

LW: Yes, they make me uncomfortable because I think they're, you know--I know it's therapeutic for the maker very probably, but I don't know that they need to share it with me. That's all.

RS: Well, what I want to ask you now is what do think is--where do you see the quilt world going from now into the twenty-first century?

LW: I think that more and more people are becoming comfortable with art quilts, the quilters use of art. I think more people are doing their own design, making their own designs. I also think a lot of people are using fabrics that are non-commercial. They're either hand dyed or hand-printed or hand manipulated in some way.

RS: What would be commercial then?

LW: Commercial to me would be something--I don't know what to answer--like a calico--I don't know. [laughing.] I don't use them so I don't know--things that are produced by the thousands of yards and sold in regular fabric stores. I think that that type of quilt making has a very large following but I think that more and more people are getting comfortable with using non-traditional types of fabrics. One trend I see among friends of mine is that people that are making art quilts are also patterning their own fabric and dyeing their own fabric. I also see a lot more hand stitching, which is kind of rolling back to the traditional methods. I see a lot of wonderful big-stitch kind of quilts and hand-embroidered kind of quilts and I really love those. I love the mark that the thread makes, so that's something of course that I want to see so I notice it.

RS: Well do you think that quilts--where do you think quilts fit in with women's lives?

LW: Well, not to ignore the men, but just with women's lives right? Well I think women naturally have an affinity towards the warmth and the feel of textiles and we're attracted to that, to do textiles, to do fabric. One way of creating art or expressing yourself is using textiles. Quilt making is so natural to us to do that, to work with fabric.

RS: Where do you see yourself in about ten, twenty years as far as the quilt world?

LW: I'm not sure. Recently I've started with working with paper and stitching into paper. When I work with fabric--I've just figured this out recently--when I work with fabric everything I have to make has to be pictorial because of the cutting of the fabric, there's that hard edge of the fabric. To me, everything becomes a picture. I can't stop myself. I cannot make abstract art in fabric. But when I'm working with paper, I can make abstract pieces. I really enjoy the edge, the line that a ripped piece of paper makes. So, I've got this new attraction to paper. I don't know how long this quiltmaking thing will go on. I'm comfortable with it; I know I finally kind of have it down. I enjoy going to the quilt shows and visiting the quilt makers. It's a real sisterly kind of organization to be in a group of quilt makers, but things evolve and there's change. You find yourself attracted to other areas of art. I don't know that I would ever leave behind the people, but things change. I'm not adverse to that.

RS: Do you have anything else you'd like to say about this quilt or about quilting in general?

LW: In general I think that it's a wonderful occupation for a lot of people. It's given me a job. [laughing.] It's given me a business; quiltmaking has given me a business, so I could put my kids through college. It's given me a whole ton of new friends, just a vast network of friends--and good friends. It's a wonderful world. I'm surprised how large it is. How much people are involved. It's a huge group, billions of people.

RS: Billions?

LW: 1.8 billion people. I read that somewhere, in the IQA [International Quilt Association.] thing. Yeah, they just surveyed and 1.8 billion women, people, participate in quiltmaking. I don't know if that's in the world or the United States. That could be in the United States, couldn't it?

RS: Billions?

LW: I don't know, that's a lot of people. And another thing I should mention right here, in case anybody's listening--I could not have done this without the support of my family. Without my husband, for one thing, having a real job and being able to subsidize me until I got the business started. Also, my family gives me a vast number of stupid stories to make quilts out of. I just want to thank everybody. Thank you.

RS: Thank you very much. This is concluding the interview with Laura Wasilowski.

LW: Hi everybody.

RS: This is Rebecca Salinger. It's October 23rd, 1999, 3:15 at the Save Our Stories project.



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