Jan Mullen




Jan Mullen




Jan Mullen


Judy Holley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Houston, Texas


Elaine Johnson


Judy Holley (JH): It's 2:15 in Houston, Texas, at the International Quilt Festival. It is November third and I am here with Jan Mullen from Australia, for an interview. Jan I'd love for you to tell me about this quilt.

Jan Mullen (JM): I brought this quilt along because it's unlike most of what I bring to America. I thought this would tell more of a story

JH: We can continue now.

JM: This is from my other quilting life that I don't get to often do. It's not for any commission and it was done for an exhibition and because. It's a time in my life I had things I had to get rid of. It's kind of about my memories growing up and my first art making memories of wax crayon resist. I was looking for some way I could get that idea across. I have a collection of old fabrics, a lot of them from my mother and grandmother's scraps and silks and things like that so I roughly cut them and strip pieced them as you can see there. You can see the changes of direction there to simulate hand drawing and just different fabrics incorporated that I felt were nice and were reminders about me and what I did and what other people did and we are familiar with.

JH: So everyday things.

JM: Yes, everyday things and that are not usable size or condition not matching. The symbols and designs mean a lot to children and they continue mean a lot to me.

JH: You have recycled your mother's and grandmother's clothing and it looks like they're all solids?

JM: They were not necessarily clothing, but they were scraps from dressmaking.

JH: Scraps. So they sewed.

JM: They didn't quilt, but they sewed.

JH: Did they do embroidery?

JM: Yes.

JH: And they didn't throw anything away?

JM: They didn't throw anything away, I try to throw things away more than mother, but it can be difficult.

JH: Do you make a habit of this--of recycling?

JM: I don't like to throw things away generally, I keep things if I know they'll be useful, especially now.

JH: Do you take them and just cut them into strips.

JM: Yes.

JH: You cut everything into strips.

JM: Not straight away. I have them stored, color coded in boxes. And I get bargains sometimes from what we call Op shops in Australia.

JH: Like thrift shops?

JM: Yes, thrift shops. So some of those are recycled already, but they are useful for me. So, if I don't have something I make do.

JH: So is this representative of your work other than the solid color and no pattern or print in the fabric.

JM: No.

JH: It's not. I think maybe there's something else in the bag down there.

JM: The easiest way to explain what sort of work I do normally. To show you what my workmanship is like. I love bright color and I love black with bright colors. This is what I do in the real world, this is my life.

JH: And you sell the patterns?

JM: Yes.

JH: And teach classes.

JM: So this is my career work, and I'm very, very active and it's a very successful and life is full.

JH: How old were you when you began quilting?

JM: I've only been quilting about nine years.

JH: And what inspired you?

JM: To do this quilt? Memories of my first art experience at primary school; wax crayon resist with crayons covered in black paint so I've done a colored layer and a black one on top.

JH: You're first appliqué?

JM: Yes, I'm sorry, my first reverse appliqué. And it's very heavily quilted but the colors can be seen through.

JH: Yes, you can see the colors shadowing through the linen.

JM: When I was getting ready for the exhibition and interviews, my husband and I were preparing quilts for photographing and we got to this quilt and we just couldn't photograph it--the light just showed through, we couldn't do it.

JH: It didn't photograph well?

JM: It didn't photograph well at all. Not good enough for exhibition selection. [inaudible. beeping like a forklift backing up.]…this is machine quilted.

JH: Did you do the hand quilting first or the machine quilting?

JM: It was hand sewn..

JH: The hand appliqué with like the big running stitch and then--

JM: Appliquéd with perle cotton in a primitive running stitch and just freeform machine quilted.

JH: So just a freeform quilting stitch.

JM: Yes, all the symbols I love worked are in along the edge--for example up here there are

JH: There are little fish down here at the bottom.

JM: Yes, I love fish.

JH: There are some daisies.

JM: Daisies are a symbol my mother loves it was her grandmother's name. So every time I see daisies I think of her.

JH: And circles.

JM: Circles are there and they are just things I like to do and they're fun to look at--a good texture.

JH: And stars over in the left corner.

JM: Stars and they are important to me--Stargazey.

JH: That's the name of the quilt--that's where the name came from.

JM: It's my business name, just a word I liked taken from a Cornish Pie where the little fishes are looking skyward -wall to wall fishes. I realize later that my mother's family, way back is from Cornwall so I had a strong connection with the name.

JH: How does your quilting fit in with your family life?

JM: I work full time at this and I have a studio away from home--working very long hours. But, I am really working now on the Stargazey Quilts, series of 'work' quilts, not art quilts.

JH: series are a great deal.

JM: I wouldn't say a great deal as some people have a lot more than I but yet it keeps the work going with what I am doing.

JH: What is the most important aspect of quilting?

JM: Color, bright color and the placement and incorporating it with black. As I said I love black. And I wear black a lot. Some people ask why I wear black if you like color. It's because for me color is to look at and it really, really excites me, so I don't want to wear it.

JH: Black absorbs color.

JM: It means I can hide.

JH: How young were you when you started quilting?

JM: Probably officially--how old am I now?

JH: Did you quilt as a young child?

JM: I did sew as a young child but I didn't quilt. In Australia quilting was not as known then as it is now. It's becoming a tradition. There were probably quilts that were brought to Australia but not that I knew of.

JH: You didn't know about quilts?

JM: When I studied textiles I heard of them and saw pictures but I didn't see a proper quilt until I was older.

JH: As an adult.

JM: Yes. We didn't grow up with quilts. In Australia, we had comforters.

JH: I know it's definitely changing in Australia now. I find I can tell an Australian quilt by just looking at it because of the color.

JM: Yes, the colors.

JH: I do think the Australian color is very good.

JM: I come over here and there is all this industry and they haven't discovered color, why not? But then you look to England, or Japan and they are different again. We don't want to be too homogenized or we'll lose that difference.

JH: Do you see quilting taking on a more important role with women in Australia as they have here in this country?

JM: I see there is an increase in groups and exhibitions with modern quilter's and women becoming more aware of what the techniques are. I'm not sure where it came from but there is a very contemporary influence. We consider ourselves more artists than crafters.

JH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JM: I don't even know other than good use of color and that it works. It's more than just the design and plan of workmanship. I think that it has to be exciting for the eye too.

JH: Do you make your quilts for use or mostly art quilts?

JM: I use them mostly for my work, for classes, for exhibitions. I only started quilting early in the '90's. I have two boys and made quilts for their beds.

JH: And so what was the first quilt you made for one of the boys' beds?

JM: For one of those boy's bed's, for my oldest son, I made him a traditional one.

JH: It was a traditional American pattern, right?

JM: It was a bit more at that end, it was an American pattern.

JH: Traditional pattern and colors, not the bright?

JM: No the color came right away. It was a sea theme so a lot of blues and greens. So, lots of color and I used things that I had from boxes that I had of cottons--the recyling. More or less though it was a scrap quilt, I bought some fabric but most I had. It was a colorful quilt but not as colorful as I have done since.

JH: Did you machine quilt it?

JM: I hand quilted it.

JH: Did you teach yourself?

JM: Yes. Some things I made up as I went along or if I wasn't sure I'd check a book.

JH: You knew there were books available to learn from or did you not?

JM: I didn't always have quilt books but I knew where there were references to find information like for binding. As I grew interested I learned that there were ten different books some times on the same thing, not just one way. I'm not like everyone else in some ways I still do things my own way, make things up not a follower.

JH: Do you mostly today do machine quilting?

JM: I love machine quilting. I do a lot for exhibition on the machine but I still occasionally hand quilt. I don't seem to get too high and mighty about how I do something. How many stitches to the inch or follow traditional designs but I do both hand and machine quilting.

JH: Well, they're absolutely wonderful. And how are your quilts used, are they mostly decorative or do you sleep on them mostly for teaching?

JM: Teaching mainly.

JH: Teaching samples.

JM: I don't use quilts on the wall. They have a look I like for rooms, I put them on the beds and couches to be used but not simply displayed.

JH: And you don't make clothing either?

JM: I used to sew. I used to make all my own clothes. Then I started quilting and found that I liked that much better.

JH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JM: Probably not.

JH: Well your work has been absolutely wonderful and I've admired them a great deal on the floor. Is there anything you would like to ask?

Unidentified Person (UP): Are these available in the United States?

JM: I am holding on to most of these but I make some available at exhibition.

UF: Do you teach large classes or small classes, do you teach to guilds or quilt shops or seminars like this?

JM: I came here to quilt market and I do every quilt market now for the past three years, I am working with C&T; on a book and it is very exciting.

JH: And the name of your work is?

JM: "Cut Loose Quilts."

JH: "Cut Loose Quilts?" Is it out?

JM: Not yet, in April. And it covers traditional patchwork blocks made with free techniques.

JH: We'll be looking for your book

UP: When you started out did you do traditional quilts or did you just make things from the beginning?

JM: I just cut material and put it together in what way I felt I would look good on our beds--in the beginning for doonas.

JH: And what?

JM: Well, in Australia it is called doona- duvet cover.

JH: You have two sons, any daughters?

JM: One daughter.

JH: Has she shown any interest in quilting?

JM: Not quilting but sewing. She hand sews and pins quilts for me. I have shown her the basics of quilting but she doesn't have interest at this time but she is an incredible sewer.

JH: How old is she?

JM: She's fourteen. She's filled her wardrobe with clothes she makes.

[talking continues but there is loudspeaker announcement.]

JH: It sounds like the legacy will continue. It's quarter to three and we're going to conclude our interview with Jan and move over and take some pictures.

[tape ends.]



“Jan Mullen,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1264.