Diane Herbort




Diane Herbort




Diane Herbort


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Houston, Texas


Kay Jones


Kay Jones (KJ): Diane, would you show us the quilt that you brought to show us this morning? It is so beautiful. Tell us a little bit about it?

Diane Herbort (DH): Well I made this quilt about six years ago and even though it is not my newest, it is still my favorite quilt up until now. And the title of the quilt is "Heartshrine." It is primarily a technique that I have been using for about 10 or 12 years that I call "Trash Bag Quilting," and I also make a lot of crazy quilts with garments and quilts and I actually came into quilting through wearable art. I was a fashion designer for a long time so I like to use a lot of different types of fabrics which got me into crazy quilting and when I was doing my crazy quilts, I always had a lot of little tiny scraps left that were too small to sew so I started playing around with a technique where you take your batting and you lay it out and then you take all your little scraps and you just lay them on the batting until you cover the surface, then you cover it up with tulle or some other kind of sheer netting or sheer organza and machine quilt those two layers together and that's what holds everything in place. But I also have been putting embellishments right on the surface of the scraps, under the tulle and one of the reasons why I like this quilt. Well there's a couple of reasons. Part of it is that I have been working with the heart shape for a long time and one of my challenges to myself that I will continue to do for several years is to work with the heart and try and find ways to work with that shape and not have it look like a cliché and that is harder than I thought it was going to be. But the other thing that I really like about this quilt this was the first one where I wanted to put some words on it and there is a quote from a Longfellow poem that is on here that is part of the central heart. And I have a Bernina [sewing machine.] embroiders words but I never liked the way it looked all lined up in a straight line and just a little block of words so finally one day it occurred to me that I could cut that lettering up and then just lay it where ever I wanted and just move it around and that was like this light bulb going on over my head. So this was really the first major piece that I did with the words and I have used that in a lot of pieces since then.

KJ: Could you read the quote for us?

DH: Let's see if I can remember it? It's 'The heart hath its own memory like the mind and in it are enshrined the precious keepsakes into which is brought, the giver's loving thought.'

KJ: Beautiful quote. What lead you to choose that particular one?

DH: Well I had been working with hearts for a long time and I did another smaller piece called, "Heartspeak" and I was going to do plays on words where, 'I had a heart of stone, I had a broken heart,' several things like that and I was looking for quotes for each block that went with those and I came across this one which was really a little long and it didn't fit with any of the heart words that I was going to use, but I like them so I decided to save them. And the other thing that I was thinking of when I did this quilt--I lived in San Antonio for a few years and we would visit the missions and go to some of the churches in Mexico and I was very impressed with the shrines that you would see in the church and the way they would pin the Milagros to the statue of the Virgin Mary and so, there is a little element of this, too, where I have sort of an arch that is almost a shrine or a grotto shape and even though I have not used any actual Milagros. I have a lot of embellishments, hearts and pins and cupids and things like that.

KJ: I wanted to ask you about those. How did you choose those particular embellishments?

DH: Well, I have a very large stash because I make crazy quilts and I use these embellishments in my crazy quilts and because I teach crazy quilting and other types of embellishment. My students kept asking for them so I also have a mail order business; where I also have a mail order business and I sell these little things that they have a hard time finding but every so often I find something really special so I will save that for a project like this.

KJ: I notice that it does have has many hearts- there are some cupids, hands, but the hearts are different materials--some are metal, some are shiny--it looks as if it is made of glass--vintage buttons. That's lovely. The heart in the middle is raised, it appears. How did you do this?

DH: Yes, the way that I did this. First, I created the background fabric which is shades of blue and I laid all the blue fabrics on the background, but I left a space without any scraps toward the center and then I took another piece of quilt batting and I drew my heart shape on that batting and then I laid all my scraps on that separate piece so I was really making two small quilts to start with so I quilted the heart separately and I had quilted the background and then cut the heart out and laid it onto the background so there are actually two layers in the surface where the heart is and that makes it almost trapunto in the way it is laid out. I usually use very thin batting--this is probably Fairfield Cotton Classic in here.

KJ: Getting away from this particular quilt, you do teach. Would you tell us a little bit about where and what you teach?

DH: Well locally at home, I teach at a fabric store in the area called G Street Fabrics. They have three stores and I teach at two of them and I also spend about one week a month on the road teaching at large quilt symposiums, like this. And I also teach at guilds that bring me in and I do a lot of different types of classes. My first love is crazy quilting and the wearables but I also do wire-edged ribbon work like I have here that I am wearing and I do a lot of machine classes. I am the person at G Street Fabrics who teaches the beginning machine embroidery and beginning machine appliqué classes and that sort of thing, and I do a lot of surface design- rubber-stamping, stuff like that. I am having a hard time focusing. [laughs.]

KJ: The machine quilting--do you see that as a trend and where do you see that going?

DH: I see as it as a really big trend. I can remember several years ago when Caryl Bryer Fallert quilt in Paducah [Kentucky.] won first prize and it was the first time that machine done quilt won best of show and there were people who were so upset that they resigned from the American Quilters Society and people have come to their senses as people have been exposed to more of it and they are realizing that it's not a bad thing. One type of quilting is not better than another. They are just different and now you walk through any local or regional show and I'd say probably two-thirds of the quilts, now a days are machine quilted. People are realizing that you can get them done faster so my feeling is what's happening--hand quilting for the most part, especially with large quilts, those are going to be the ones that people feel are their heirloom quilts and they are going to spend the time and the effort on those special quilts that they make. But for the rest of the quilts, the baby gifts and the quick things they want to get done, they are going to use machine quilting. I am excited about it because I have rheumatoid arthritis and I have never been a good hand quilter and in fact, my doctor kind of discourages it, so for me personally, machine quilting has allowed me to quilt my own quilts. I still like to do hand work but I do hand embroidery which is easier and that seems to be a better use of my time. Now one thing that I think is starting to happen. There still seems to be this feeling that either you have all hand work on the surface or all machine work on the surface and I think we are going to be seeing more of an integration between those two things where people are going to just chose what is appropriate for the section or the area or the look that they are trying to get so you are going to begin to see both hand work and machine work on the same surface.

KJ: How did you get into quilting, Diane?

DH: Well I have always been interested in fiber art. I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted to be fashion designer and I did train. I have a Bachelor of Science in Design, and I worked in the garment industry for a lot of years but my husband was in the Air Force so we kept moving and I had to give these jobs up. Even when I was in college, I was doing appliqué and piecing quilting but in the early 70's that was frowned upon and every time I would try to do something like that they would tell me that was craft, that was not design. However that has now changed and it is a five year program. The fourth year students now take a class called "Textures" and they learn to quilt. They crocheted bread bags together and they do all sorts of things that we have been doing for years so I feel sort of validated with it but because I had to give up these jobs, I finally decided I would start doing freelance work. And for years, I did design work for several craft magazines including, McCall's, Needlework and Crafts, and I could do it wherever I lived and we would plan projects right from the start and I would just do these things for them and people started asking me to teach so I started doing that, too. But to me, my theory why there are so many quilters including myself, is because quilting is so all encompassing. You can make quilts. You can make wearable. You can dye fabric. You can embroider. You can work with your machine. You can work by hand. And you can still call yourself a quilter and I think that is the thing that is going to keep quilting going for a long time. Everyone can find their little niche and still be considered a quilter. When people ask me what I am or what I do, I usually say that I am a fiber artist who works mainly in the field of quiltmaking.

KJ: Are there other quilt makers in your family or was there influence early on?

DH: My mother sewed but it was more a matter of not having a lot of money to buy clothes. My grandmother liked to do crafts and she tried just about everything and she was the one that really got me into doing any kind of real fancy sewing. She made a couple of quilts. She wasn't really what we would call a quiltmaker. She was more of a crafter but when I was little to keep us quiet, she would give my sister and I a plain white handkerchief and we didn't even have embroidery floss. She would just take a needle and thread two or three different colors of thread in the needle at the same time and she would have us embroider with that so that is how I kind of got into that. I can't even tell you when I saw my first quilt but I think it was a Sunbonnet Sue of some kind. It sticks in my head but I just always knew that I wanted to make quilts or make garments to look like quilts, or quilts to look like garments; something along those lines.

KJ: It looks as if you're innovated. I don't recall this technique being introduced to it before--putting the snippets of fabrics on the batting--how did you get the idea for that?

DH: Well there have been variations of this around for a very long time. And I am not sure when I ever really saw anything like that. I did something kind of like this in college where I just had a lot of scraps and I laid them on another piece of fabric, which was not real efficient. We didn't have the training and machines that we have now a days, but it was just one of those accidental things that grew out of doing the crazy quilting. I do know that I have seen people doing something like this where they were lying fusible interfacing face up and then laying the scraps down and fusing it. But coming from a garment industry background, the drape of the cloth is very important to me and I wanted to find a softer way so I realized that by putting the tulle on top of it and not using fusible, I could keep something that was very soft. And several of my students have gone on, like the "Snippets" woman [Cindy Walter.] and several people like that and they have done their own variations on this.

KJ: Was she a student?

DK: She either was in one of my demos or an early class--something like that. There have been several people that have gone on and her work was more landscape-oriented. I prefer to keep my a little more abstract, although I do pictorial things with this method. So it is just one of those accidents where you experiment and you end up developing something and refining it.

KJ: Sort of changing gears now. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DH: Oh, I think it has to hold your eye somewhere--hold your interest and I always look for good design and I am very aware of composition. I think when people look at quilts usually the color is the first thing that attracts them to it, but then there has to be good composition, there has to be a good organization of the space, good use of light and dark values in a quilt. Workmanship is somewhat important, but it is not as important as some of these other issues, especially if the person's intention is something that's more of an artistic intention rather than a traditionally based pattern. But I think it has to hold your attention and hold your eye and be something you can have and look at for a very long time, rather than just glance at get the whole thing in the first reading of it.

KJ: It has some complexity--you want to look some more.

DH: I do look for complexity. I just think that balance of those elements, the composition, the value and the color are really the first three things, and then the workmanship and textures become issues.

KJ: You have mentioned several elements in the quilt. What would you think that would make a quilt to hang in a museum?

DH: To hang in a museum, it probably also needs to in some way to break new ground where it is saying something either by content--perhaps it has political content that is historically relevant that will be important to save or it might be the--an important and wealthy signed example of a new type of technique that has now become important and influential or it might be just a very good design just from an artistic stand point be a piece of art. I don't like to think in terms of art quilts opposed to traditional quilts because I think there are many traditional quilts that could be considered art and vise versa. I think it just have to have a certain element of excellence to it in some way.

KJ: On another note, what makes a great quilter?

DH: What makes a great quilter? Well I think she has to really love what she is doing; she or he. Shouldn't be sexist here and diligent about it. [announcement over the loudspeaker.] All right, what makes a great quilter? Diligence, I think is really important and a willingness to focus even if the person does a lot of different styles or techniques. I think she needs to be willing to keep coming back to them and exploring whatever that theme or that technique or that color or what ever it is in depth in order to really work the bugs out of it and to get it right. And I think, also, a willingness to be open to influences, a willingness to get out there and look at other types of arts or nature and think about that input and somehow figure out how that can influence art and work. But mostly I think it is someone who finds a way to keep herself excited about it.

KJ: You said something about building on a theme. Have you done that?

DH: Yes, I have done that. I have several themes going in my work. I am not as focused as a lot of people, because I work in a lot of different techniques, but one of the themes is the heart theme and the use of the words. I would say that one of the themes that runs most consistently through my work is the fact that I like to use vintage items, vintage fiber, buttons, embellishments. I use a lot of ties and there are many old ties in this piece. I feel a historical connection somehow, to the people who owned these items before hand and I don't know why, but in most of my pieces there are some things that came from somewhere else that might have belonged to somebody. I do a lot of photo transfer work with old photos of people I collect antique valentines and post cards and some of those are transferred and they are a part of some of my pieces. So I think that historical connection, that connection to the past in some way, is the theme that runs through my work.

JK: I think you are not a one hundred per cent cotton person.

DH: No, I am not. There are too many beautiful fabrics out there to just limit myself to the cottons, but I use cottons a lot too. In fact, I have a series where I have decided where I am not going to embellish and it to me it was a challenge to just take cotton fabric and go back to that with nothing but the surface of the fabric and the quilting and see what I could with that and not rely on any of the other tricks.

KJ: So you are still stretching, still challenging yourself?

DH: Yes, in fact one thing that I have done this year that has been my personal challenge is I have been making small paper and fabric collages and I started on June 1, a year ago, and I am going to, I think, continue doing this probably for the rest of my life. I try to sit down and make a small paper and fabric collage at least once or twice a week, and I am a little behind this week, but it is a chance to perhaps explore something that I might have been thinking about that I want to try in a quilt or garment. It is strengthening my composition skills. Sometimes I sew them together. Sometimes I just glue stick everything together. I work with different sizes of index cards or I just cut a piece of paper and start building scraps of fabric and piece of paper on it.

KJ: So these are not large?

DH: No, they are not large. The largest ones I have done have been perhaps the size of a sheet of 8.5 by 11 paper. But most of them are more in the range of 3 by 5, 4 by 6, 5 by 7. But I am very excited about it. They will probably end up turning into some sort of series of small blocks that can become quilts but I am not worrying about that. It is my meditation. I try to empty my mind when I go into my workroom and just pull a bunch of stuff out and see what I can do with it.

KJ: Great idea. I think you touched on this question that I am about to ask in other ways. Why is quilting important to your life? What does it do for you?

DH: Oh gosh. Well, aside from needing to create--that is really the first thing, and the question is--we have had this discussion--several of my friends and my main question to anyone would be, 'If no one was ever going to see your work. If it was just as soon as you finished it. If it was going to be thrown in the dungeon and locked away and no one was ever going to see it. Would you still do it?' If the answer is, 'Yes,' then you need to create and you need to keep going and my answer would be 'yes' to that. But aside from that, the aspect of the friendship and the sharing and the women--that is such an essential issue. Last night, we had a little final reception for all the Fairfield [Fashion Show.] designers and to honor Donna Wilder. And we all got very weepy and aside from the fact that it has been a wonderful venue to show our garments and further our careers because people saw them. The thing that all of us felt so strongly was the most important was the fact that we all knew each other and we had gotten to meet all these wonderful people and make friends and people that you can count on if you have problem or you need something or if anybody needs help we know we can all help each other and I am going to start crying if I think about it again cause we all got weepy. But that aspect for instance here we are at Quilt Festival, people I only see once a year, but I know I am going to see them here and my heart would not be quite as full as it should be if I could not see those friends at least once a year and I think that is why so many quilt guilds keep going. My quilting bee at home, I can call on those people for anything. We help each other when someone gets sick or a family has a problem. I think we have formed a community and it is that community that keeps us all coming back even if we don't get anything made for months at a time.

KJ: You mentioned the Fairfield Fashion Show--do I understand you had a garment in the show?

DH: I do not have a garment in this year's show. I have been in the show eight times and I am always thrilled to get that invitation because it is carte blanche to do whatever you want. Your only restriction is to use Fairfield batting in it somewhere and make it a size 10. I mean that is wonderful. And I was telling Donna last night that of all the things that I have done in my life and I have written some books and done a lot of things, but probably the thing I am proudest of that is on my resume is that I have been invited to be a part of the Fairfield Show.

KJ: What garment are you proudest of?

DH: Well let's see. I think I am happy with the last one that I did which is on display here at the Teacher's Exhibit which is called, "Margaret's Glasgow Rose" and it is the trash bag quilting but what I like to do is set a challenge for myself each time and what I did with that garment. I did a lot of things with transparences and sheers and I wanted to explore that idea so it gave me an opportunity to try several things and I think it was pretty successful and I guess maybe, because it was also the newest one. It is a toss up between that one and the previous one which was a crazy quilt called "Still Crazy after All These Years".

KJ: I remember that.

DH: Yes, it was sort of a long, mostly in shades of brown with long jackets and they were not colors that I usually use so that was one of the challenges that I set for myself--to use some colors that I probably couldn't wear and were not as familiar to.

KJ: What do you think about the importance of quilts in all our lives? In American life?

DH: Oh, I think quilts represent so much more than just the surface of the cloth because if you think of all the things that happen while someone is making a quilt. The woman might be having a difficult time and she can sit down and hand quilt and get some solace out of the meditative quality of the quilting or just the solace and satisfaction you get from being able to create when you had a bad day. The friendship that a quilt represents because you take it in and you show it to your friends and you say, 'Well, I don't know what kind of border I want to put on this,' and they all give you ideas and you can ignore those ideas. It is more of the idea that they are sharing a part of themselves and it is almost helping you with your quilt. It is just what a quilt represents that's the important thing about all this.

KJ: Sharing--you mentioned that--you mentioned that a few minutes ago--tell us about your books.

DH: I have written three books. I have had co-authors on each one of them. My sister who is actually a very good writer and works in the advertising industry. Her name is Susan Greenhut and we have written two books together. One of them is called "The Quiltwear Book," and it focused on traditional quilting designs translated into wearables but using fashion fabrics. The second one is called, "Old Glories" and that is the one that tells people how to work with laces, old ties, and old buttons and there also information about conservation and care in there. And, then the third one is called "Gardening with Ribbons," which I wrote with my friend, Bonnie Benson, who owns Quilter's Resource, Inc. [wholesale business in Chicago, Illinois.] and that is about using wire edge ribbon which appeals to wearable artists and people who do Baltimore Album Quilts.

KJ: Well unfortunately, we are about out of time. I could ask you a hundred more questions, I think, Diane. It has been interesting talking to you. What I would like for you to do now is tell us anything you might want to talk about that has not been touched on.

DH: Actually, we have hit on a lot of areas and there is really nothing that I can think of, off hand. One thing that I do want to say though is that I think this is really important in what you are doing and I have never had--Karey Bresenhan the chance to tell her this but I think what she has created is--a hundred years from now is going to be, historically, extremely important because she has empowered so many women--when you think of the all the women who have started business and been able to make a living or just get out and find themselves as a result of what she has done--

KJ: Now this is Karey?

DH: Karey Bresenhan who runs Quilt Festival.

KJ: We wanted to get her whole name in.

DH: That is amazingly important. I think we are still too close to it but in the long run, I think it is going to be really, really important and we are part of it right now and I think we are really lucky to be a part of it.

KJ: I think so, too, and I know she will appreciate knowing you said that. At this point, I will make some closing remarks. I would like to thank Diane very much.

DH: Well, thank you for having me.

KJ: For allowing me to interview her as part of the 2000 Quilters S.O.S.- Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 11:45, Nov. 3, 2000.



“Diane Herbort,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1257.