Karen Buckley




Karen Buckley




Karen Kay Buckley


Karen Bennick

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Karen Musgrave


Karen Bennick (KB): Houston, Texas at International Quilt Festival and I'm interviewing Karen Kay Buckley. Karen, we don't have your quilt here with us right now but we have a picture that's just on the cover of Quilters' Newsletter Magazine [Issue- December 2000.] Can you tell us a little bit about your quilt?

Karen Kay Buckley (KKB): Well, about the techniques that I used?

KB: The techniques would be fine.

KKB: Well, the techniques that I used were a combination of hand appliqué, hand embroidery and it is machine quilted. So it's a little bit different combination for me than normal because this style of quilt I normally hand quilt so it was a little bit different approach for me this time but I really enjoyed it and I know that I would do it again.

KB: Good. Okay. There are some questions I should have had you fill out before we actually got started with this. Do you make wearable art at all?

KKB: No, I do not.

KB: Do you sleep under a quilt?

KKB: No, because I have this dog that I absolutely love and she sleeps on the bed and so I do not have one. They're on my spare beds. They are on the walls of my house but there is none on my bed.

KB: Have you given quilts as gifts?

KKB: A lot. A lot of my family members for wedding gifts, baby's gifts and all sorts of things. Yes, I do.

KB: Are you self-taught?

KKB: I actually--I--to some extend, yes, but I started at an adult education program at our high school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. That's how I actually got started.

KB: And have you taken classes from a lot of other teachers?

KKB: A lot.

KB: And you're still doing this.

KKB: I still take classes. Yes. And I think I will forever. I just think there are so many new techniques and concepts and people have these ideas and like last year I took a class on machine quilting. I've done a lot of machine quilting but I learned one thing in that class that made that whole class worth taking and so for me I will just take classes probably forever.

KB: Do you have quilters in your family?

KKB: No.

KB: How did you get started in quilting?

KKB: Through the adult education program at the high school but the story is sort of interesting. I did a little bit of clothing sewing but not a whole lot. And I wanted to take a tailoring class at the high school and they were offering a quilting class at the same time but I knew I had to choose between one or the other and I thought the clothing I was sewing did not look great. I mean I was sort of self-taught in the sewing...the clothing sewing. My mother-in-law who did not live close by had seven children and she made all of their clothes. Every time she would see me she gave me constructive criticism, she would say, 'Now the next time you do that.' So I thought I should take that tailoring class. [KBB laughs.] And I signed up for that and they cancelled it; the best thing that ever happened to me. And so I called the school right away and said, 'The quilting class is the same night, can I still get into that class?' And they said yes so I got into the class and that's how I got started. And I've been quilting ever since.

KB: Ever since.

KKB: Yes. And I don't do clothing anymore. It's not that I don't 1ike it. It's just wasn't my thing. I wasn't good at it.

KB: How does your family take to your quilting?

KKB: Very much. They support--my husband supports me more than--it's unbelievable to me how much he supports what I do. I mean, he's the one that pushes me. He keeps--he kept saying to me years ago--he kept saying, 'I don't know why you're not doing your own designs. Why are you working from other people's patterns, etc.?' He's the one that sort of really pushed me. I guess I didn't know if I could do it or think I could. He was very encouraging. I have four books that I have published and he has edited every one of them. And so he knows what I do. I mean, he knows everything about what I do. My mother and my father and my brother and my sister were a little slower to kind of catch on to the whole thing. I didn't know this but I always give my dad copies of the magazines and stuff that had any of my quilts in and the ladies where he goes to eat lunch told me he brings them in and shows them. So he doesn't always say stuff to me but obviously they do appreciate what I do because they are bragging about me but not that I know of all the time. [KBB laughs.]

KB: Oh, boy. Are your parents are still living?

KKB: Yes. Yes.

KB: That's wonderful.

KKB: Yes.

KB: So they will have one more quilt to see on the cover of a magazine.

KKB: Yes, they will.

KB: Have you told them about the big prize? Do they know all about that?

KKB: My mother does because I did speak to her. My parents are divorced. And I did get a chance to talk to my mother and I did tell her but my dad doesn't know yet.

KB: Okay. Speaking of big prizes, can you tell us for the prosperity what this big prize is that you won this time?

KKB: The actual title of this award is--it's Master Award for Traditional Artistry and it's sponsored by RJR Fashion Fabrics.

KB: Right. It's a nice money amount that you--

KKB: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

KB: That you received to.

KKB: Yes. The nice thing about this show that I really like is that not only do you get the money but you get to keep your quilt.

KB: Right.

KKB: So I think that is very important.

KB: I would think that too.

KKB: Yes. Cause I don't like giving up my quilts.

KB: Right. Do you belong to a guild?

KKB: Yes. I belong to the--it's called the LeTort Quilters and it's in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and I think we currently have about 170 members. And I've been very active with the guild. I've been president at two different times and my--one of my best friends is now the program chairperson so you know, I help her out. And I also get very involved with our raffle quilt project through the guild. So, yes, I've been very active with our guild. And I support--they--we do a lot of charity work which is very important to me. And so it is kind of a way other people benefit from what we do as a group, which is very important to me.

KB: Explain the charity work that you do.

KKB: When we work on these raffle quilt project, I kind of ask for people to volunteer and I never have trouble getting people to help, ever. But it's probably a total of maybe fifty people that actually participate by the time we are finished. Every two years we do this with our group and our guild is like fifteen years old. And our money goes to whatever charity we decide. I mean the group decides on a charity. We've worked with Domestic Violence Services. We worked with a place in Carlisle called Safe Harbor which houses the homeless. We've worked with a local library for getting quilt books. We've worked with Hospice. We've worked with breast cancer so we actually...we've given a nice amount of money considering the size of our group. I think we have given some really nice donations for some really important causes so it is sort of a way for me to give back, through my quilting which makes me really happy. And some of the quilts I have in my head I don't have time to get all these done so it's another way to get one of those quilts out but a whole group gets to participate in it which is really wonderful.

KB: Really wonderful.

KKB: Yes.

KKB: I want a ticket in your next raffle.

KKB: [KKB laughs.] I can take care of that. [KB laughs.]

KB: Okay. Do you belong to a smaller group? A friendship group or something?

KKB: No. No.

KB: Don't have time?

KKB: No, don't have time but there are really...in our area there isn't anything like that so you know--

KB: Well, other than Quilters' Newsletter Magazine, you said you had four books that were published.

KKB: Yes.

KB: Could you mention the titles of them?

KKB: Yes. The first--all four books were published with the American Quilters Society. The first book was called, "From Basics to Binding: A Complete Guide to Making Quilts." The second one was called, "Above and Beyond Basics." The third one was actually just a--it's a--how do I describe this but? Not a full--the size of it--but it's kind of just a small book about--it's on bear quilts like for a baby quilt and it has jointed stuff teddy bears in there, which a friend of mine worked with me to do those. ["Love to Quilt...Bears Bears Bears."] And the last book came out this year in the spring and it is called, "Appliqué Basics-Flower Wreaths."

KB: Wonderful. Wonderful.

KKB: Thank you.

KB: Do you collect quilts other than your own?

KKB: Yes. I have an extensive antique quilt collection. And a lot of that is due to my husband. He likes to go--we use to go to a lot of house auctions in our area like on Saturdays and bid on these antique quilts and we have a lot. I have a couple hundred antique quilts. And we started collecting before it was a big thing. I haven't bought as many in the past couple of years because the prices have really gone up. I said in one respect it is good to know that people have developed more of an appreciation so the prices are going up but it has limited my purchasing.

KB: Yes. Do you collect anything else about quilting like sewing memorabilia or--

KKB: Other than fabric? [KKB laughs.]

KB: Fabric? [KB laughs.]

KKB: No.

KB: Tell us about your fabric collection.

KKB: I have a huge fabric collection. My husband said I have more fabric in the house than some quilt shops I've taken him into. [KB laughs.] I have no idea how much I have in there but I have a lot.

KB: Have you ever owned or worked in a quilt shop?

KKB: Yes, I owned a quilt shop for three years. For a few years my husband and I lived outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and there was a little town called Chalfont where we lived and my husband was offered a job in the Philadelphia area and I come from a small sort of farm community and so to entice me to move he said, 'You know when we go down to that area you could open a quilt shop.' And I thought, 'oh, I don't know a thing but sounds like a fun idea to me,' and I did it. And the shop went really well. I mean I think I was at the right place at the right time. It's been eleven years since I sold the shop and it's still going. I mean I sold it and the person who had it had it for ten years and she has recently sold it. So it is kind of a nice feeling to know that it is still going on and it was so well received but it is a very heavily populated area so it was a perfect location just by dumb luck but--

KB: Good timing...

KKB: Yeah, I think so too.

KB: You do teach quilting. What do you get out of teaching?

KKB: Oh, that's a loaded question. I get a lot out of teaching. I mean just standing here today...like I was talking to some of the ladies and people come up to me and they said, 'I thought that hand appliqué was so difficult until after I took your class last night and now I know I will do more hand appliqué because I got so much out of that class.' That's so rewarding. I mean to think that you know that they're going to go out and keep making more quilts. I can't make them all. You know what I mean. You know. I think what I like about teaching and the feedback I get from people is that I tell them everything. Whatever works for me I pass that on to them and I just hope that they will take that information and make more quilts. I really get into techniques and workmanship in the classes and so my hope is that will get passed on.

KB: Do you have any idea how many quilts you have actually made?

KKB: Yes. I don't know the exact number but I do keep scrapbooks and I have every quilt photographed and I have scraps of fabric from every quilt that I have made and a write up on each of the quilts that I have made and if I've given them away, who I gave them to. And I know it's over 250. They're all different sizes, wall hangings to bed quilts to you know, whatever so I've kept records of all them.

KB: Did you ever make a quilt that had an emotional connection to something like do it for healing or for yourself or during a period of stress in your life that you had a special meaning to?

KKB: I would say the one I probably did that is more significant to me which was not a competition quilt or anything it was just a quilt that I did where I used fabrics a friend of mine who died from breast cancer. [KKB cries.] Sorry. And we were very close and so it was nice to be able to take her fabrics and put them into a project and I combined her's and mine and it turned out to be a really special quilt. And then my grandmother had past away years ago, loved violets so I sort of took the combination so I did the violets for my grandmother with Dory's fabrics.

KB: I understand. Okay. Have you ever participated in quilt preservation either stories or preservation other than collecting quilts which I know you have a lot of?

KKB: Right. No, I have not.

KB: I'm sorry I asked the wrong question again.

KKB: Not necessarily.

KB: No. It gives you the opportunity to share that.

KKB: Yes.

KB: And how meaningful it was...

KKB: It was very meaningful to me but obviously I might even make another one. [KKB and KB laugh.] Because it's still sort of very close.

KB: I understand that. I need to ask another question.

KKB: So don't ask me any more questions that make me cry.

KB: I'll try not to. [KKB laughs.] I'll try not to. Okay. Where do you think that quilting and quilts are going to be in the future? Right now it's taken off. What do you see for us?

KKB: I just think it is just going to keep getting better. The thing that amazes me is every time I go to a quilt show I think they can't come up with a better idea or a better--in just every show you go to you just see something that knocks you over and you're thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, how did they come up with that idea?' And I mean it just amazes me so I just think it's going to keep growing. Look at the response to the people that come to see this. I mean the inspiration they get from seeing these quilts they go back you know. I just think it's going to keep getting bigger and better.

KB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

KKB: Wow. What makes a great quilt? To me it's sort of a combination, it's visually first I think, when the visual impact hits me and then I think the second thing I look at probably is the workmanship. But the first thing for me is that visual impact. If I walk up to it and it just says something to me by its design or by its color then--

KB: You've done some judging too. Haven't you?

KKB: Yes, I have.

KB: Would you like to tell us how that compares with being judged? [KB laughs.]

KKB: It's actually a lot less stressful, but I love it. I love the fact that I get to really get in and look at the quilts because when you come to a show you can't usually get close enough to them to really see the workmanship and that's what I like about judging is I can get in and really look at the quilts and see the workmanship up close. That's probably the thing that I--and I--it's always been enjoyable for me to do judging. It's something that I've done in the past couple of years at several shows.

KB: Now when you have done the judging do you do the type of judging where you have had to give a little statement as to any thing you know where the quilter gets feedback?

KKB: It's varied. It has varied. At some of the shows we have done that and--it's up to the person usually that's organizing it but most of the time, yes, we do comments which I like so the quilters are getting feedback which I think is very important.

KB: Okay. What do you think would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

KKB: That's a tough question. Wow. I mean I guess I think for a special collect that could be just something that somebody personally really likes. For a museum, wow, I don't know. I think almost...I think personally just about any quilt is worthy of being in a museum but other than that I can't give you a good answer. I don't know.

KB: Do you make quilts just for use like on beds? Some that you have given to people.

KKB: Yes, some I make that I really intend for people to use them and then some quilts I make that I want to use competitively. I mean I've gotten into that in the past couple of years so it varies. And when I start I know what I want to do. How I expect the quilt to be used.

KB: So you plan your prize-winning quilts?

KKB: I do. Yes.

KB: From the beginning?

KKB: Yes. I do. I actually sit down and I know that it's something that I want to work on that I would like to enter competitively and go from there. And on thoses I definitely I go the extra mile. I mean I really I really do extra work.

KB: Well, I've seen your quilts. I love the colors that you use. How does color affect you?

KKB: How does color affect me? Well, this quilt was relatively easy because it was a Christmas quilt so you know working with red and green fabric and I kept telling people when I was designing this quilt and I was selecting the colors I really wanted to get purple in this quilt. I kept thinking Christmas--the regal. I could not get it in. I mean I tried. I cut pieces and laid them up on the design board but I could never get it in there but...you know so this for me it's a Christmas quilt. The colors were very easy to do for this project. I mean I had no trouble at all. I've taken color theory classes. I've taken some art classes in the past couple of years at some of the college--like at the community college but I don't know how to describe it if I look at a piece of fabric just the colors that are in it I either like it or I don't like it. And I use fabric a lot of times--multi-color fabrics as a way to then tie colors together for my quilts. And so--

KB: Do you start out with the design first or the fabric first?

KKB: I think I more often start out with the design and then start picking fabrics after that.

KB: And how do you go about designing a design? Creating a design? [KB laughs.]

KKB: Most of my designs now I do totally on paper first so I draw everything out on paper to scale. It is the full size of what I am doing. 'Cause visually that's--

KB: That's the beginning.

KKB: Yes. Which visually for me works well. And I probably could save time and do things different if I could work in the computer but I don't feel that I am friendly enough with my computer. And having this to scale I can read better what's happening with my designs and what I'm doing but I do all of my, everything now in the past several years on paper first before I ever start cutting fabric.

KB: What do you--this quilt seems to be pretty floral. Is most of your design based on nature would you say or--

KKB: Yes, I would.

KB: Architecture?

KKB: Yes, I would, most of them. Yes, some architectural kind of design ideas most often incorporating flowers of some kind. Last year one of the quilts that I did and I've never done anything like this was a landscape quilt.

KB: Let's see. In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning in women's history and experience in America?

KKB: Wow. Well in some cases I think there is a lot of stories that can be told with a lot of the quilts and so you know we have that. Our quilts pass that on and you say in America, I think that's far expanded beyond just America. That, you know, what we do influences other countries as well as other countries' quilts influences us too so.

KB: Well, let's see is there something you would like to talk about any specific issues with quilting or some of your past quilts or experiences that you've had, stories that you would like to tell.

KKB: I can't--not any specific stories about any quilts. I love what I do. I feel very lucky to do this and I think probably some of the best people--my husband says the same thing that we know as friends have come out of my quilting. You know those are the people we do a lot of things with. I travel. I do a lot of fabric shopping trips with my girlfriends. [KKB laughs. KB laughs.] I get myself in a little trouble buying too much fabric but you know I just think that I met some of the most incredible people and feel very lucky. From having the quilt shop...that was one of the things about the quilt shop is you only met nice people. I still to this day I'm friends with a lot of the ladies that I met through that you know I met through my business even though I moved out of that area. And you just make some incredible friendships and it's because we all have this common bond so I love that.

KB: Okay. When--do you do most of your work by hand or all of you work by hand? Or do you--

KKB: Combination.

KB: You use machine and hand.

KKB: Yes. I do a combination. This project "The Memories of the Holidays" quilt is hand appliquéd and machine quilted so it is not unusual for me to combine the combination--I really love hand appliqué but I do--somebody told me one time that I haven't found my niche and I said but I hope I never do because I've hand pieced. I've hand quilted. I've hand appliquéd. I've machine appliquéd. I've machine quilted. You know I like that combination. Generally if I finish a project that I have put this much work in for the hand appliqué because it is so detailed my next project is almost something stress--totally stress free, fun job on the machine that I can machine piece and just have total fun. No pressure. Just enjoy the whole thing. You know. So I kind of go back and forth.

KB: So what aspect of quilting do you really like the best yourself?

KKB: I would say hand appliqué is my favorite. I think that is the one that I have come back to and I've combined quilts with piecing and appliqué but I really love appliqué. I think that's probably my favorite.

KB: Yeah. Do you do it in a specific setting like a studio or do you it in your living room in a chair in front of the television?

KKB: I do have a studio. My husband when he found this old house. We live in an old farmhouse that was originally built in the 1840's and they have added sections on to it and during the late 1800's they added this third floor, which is only towards the front part of the house but that is my studio. The whole area. And when my husband found the house, he walked in and said--he knew immediately that it was going to be perfect for me. I mean not just that area but the whole house. And he said the nice thing about it is that you can have the whole third floor. Now when my mother saw this house, walked in, floorboards are missing. I mean the house had been sort of a little bit trashed. Windows out. Pigeon poop all over the place up there and my mother is thinking, 'Yeah, right.' You know. But she said--she never said anything at the time but what we've done with the house is amazing because we have totally redone this house. And Joe and I both knew the house needed some paint. You know what I mean it didn't--it needed basic things; the structure was really in good shape. But it's nice having that area to myself and because it's on the third floor I have very good lighting, natural lighting and other. And also if I am in the middle of a project and my stuff is out all over the place nobody knows unless I take them up there. You know so it's not like anybody else is going to be walking in there or I'm in anybody's way. And I think that allows me to work a little more freely because when I talk to some of my students and they say, 'Well I have the dining room table and I have to clean up at the end of a project.' I thought I would never--I would never get as much work done as I do if I had to clean up after every project or in between every project but I love that. You know.

KB: How about in your studio do you have your fabrics all designed out?

KKB: Yes, I do.

KB: Color wise?

KKB: Yes, I do.

KB: They're all organized.

KKB: I have them arranged by--I mean I think initially they were arranged differently. I know they were, but as I have relocated I moved my fabric from area to another and redid my shelves. I laid it out in a different way because now I know I work in a certain way. And my multi-color print fabrics are like all in one area and then all the kind of tone-on-tone greens then we go into the blues, the purples so you walk in and you just kind of have this color spectrum. Right down through the isles. It's great.

KB: It looks like it makes you feel good.

KKB: It does. Just walking in there sometimes I can just go in there and sit and touch my fabric. [KKB laughs.]

KB: Okay. Well, I think we have touched on quite a lot of things. I'm just trying to think of one other area that I might touch on that we haven't said anything about yet that might be something you would like to tell us.

KKB: Can't think of anything.

KB: This is for posterity.

KKB: I know.

KB: I know.

KKB: I can't think of anything else to tell you.

KB: What's your next project?

KKB: My next project is in the works. It's up on the design board. It's just starting and it's another landscape. It will be my second landscape quilt. And I think what I like about the landscape quilts is it's a challenge for me because it's not my comfort zone and so it's pushing myself in another direction. And I never know quite how they are going to come out because the one I did two years ago is the first one I did and I worked off a photograph I had taken and this one I am sort of combining a couple of photographs to get what I think I want. But it's in the early stages so we'll see. 'Cause I'm never quite sure until it is finished what it's exactly going to come out of it. It has a barn and that's about it so far.

KB: What do you think of Cynthia England's quilt this year? [Cynthia England's quilt "Open Season" won Best of Show.]

KKB: Oh, it blew me away when I saw it. When I saw that at the award's ceremony, it takes your breath away to see a quilt like that. It is incredible. Truly incredible. I know after I saw it, I said to my girlfriend, 'Maybe I should just give up that landscape thing.' [KKB And KB laugh.] I don't think I could ever make one better than that.

KB: I don't think so but I think that the work that you do is wonderful.

KKB: Thank you.

KB: It's now 1:27 and if you have nothing else we need to talk about.

KKB: I can't think of a thing.

KB: Then we will end this conversation here today at the International Quilt Festival and congratulations again.

KKB: Thank you very much. Thanks.

KB: Thank you.



“Karen Buckley,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1281.