Connie Hester




Connie Hester




Connie Hester


Pauline Saulzman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Heather Gibson


Pauline Saulzman (PS): Today is November 4, 2000, at the Houston Quilt Festival. My name is Pauline Saulzman. We're here with the Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project with Connie Hester. Welcome Connie. We're glad to have you. Would you like to tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Connie Hester (CH): This quilt is called "How Big is Your 'We'?" It depicts groups of our population who are exclusionary. Those groups also will always have some people within them who will reach out to others in varying proportion to the size of the groups. The two borders of precisely pieced human creatures depict our black and white judgements toward others, with little gray area. The other larger portion of the quilt is fiber collage with raw edge appliqué enhanced with machine embroidery and jagged edging to show an explosion of groups of the population as they move toward being more accepting of others for whatever reason.

PS: How big is this piece?

CH: I was told you were going to measure it, so I don't know precisely. It's about forty-three by forty-seven, I think.

PS: I notice you have a wonderful edge here. Do you want to tell me about it?

CH: That edge is jagged to show the explosive nature of this last group of population, which is exploding out into areas, into being very inclusive of all.

PS: Why did you bring this quilt as opposed to some of your other quilts?

CH: I just finished it. Also, I've been moving towards this direction, and I really like the contrast of precisely pieced areas in contrast to the free, collaged, raw edged areas.

PS: How do you plan to use it? Are you going to enter it? Hang it at home?

CH: I will enter it.

PS: Do you enter a lot of shows?

CH: Yes, I do.

PS: How about your interest in quilting? How did you get started?

CH: I was in college. It was in maybe 1970. In fact, I can trace my Quilter's Newsletter Magazines back to at least issue number eighteen back in 1970. I tear them up and keep the good parts that I'm most interested in. I don't know how much further back my pages go; I can't isolate the date. I started then.

PS: Before you did this, did you do wearable art?

CH: I've always sewn clothes, since I was eleven.

PS: Did you find the fact that you had sewn clothes made quilting easier for you?

CH: It was probably a real easy transition because I was already familiar with cutting fabric and sewing it together. Probably yes.

PS: Any quilters in your family?

CH: No.

PS: How does your family feel about your quilting?

CH: They tolerate me. [laughs.]

PS: Do you sleep under your quilts?

CH: Yes.

PS: So, you do more than just wall quilts? You do bed quilts?

CH: Oh yes. Everyone has at least one quilt on their bed, and there are many in the cupboards and many on the walls. There are many on clothing and many on book covers. It's everywhere.

PS: Are you self-taught? Did you take classes?

CH: I am self-taught. I've taken some classes. I think it's good to be self-taught because you work through the problems you run into, and it helps you be more prepared in the future for other problems that come up. You don't feel like, 'Well, this is ruined. I'll throw it away, or I'll need to take a class with an expert to find out what to do here.' I've kind of always done things by the seat of my pants.

PS: Don't you think that the sewing skills that you had before helped out?

CH: Oh, absolutely.

PS: I understand that you teach?

CH: Yes.

PS: What kind of classes do you teach?

CH: This year at Festival I taught "Improvisational Design in Quilts Using Paper Foundations" and I taught "Raw Edge Free Motion Appliqué."

PS: Do you belong to a sewing guild or a quilting bee or anything?

CH: I don't.

PS: Have you ever?

CH: I have in the past. The group that I started with many years ago remains a traditional group and I'm not traditional. I left that guild about ten years ago. In the meantime, I have organized some art quilt groups. I live in Bryan-College Station, Texas which is a very transient town where people don't usually stay for long periods. They are usually associated with the university there. Most of those people have since moved elsewhere, so it's hard to keep a group intact in Bryan-College Station.

PS: Do you have patterns or quilts published?

CH: I do. Years ago, I designed a quilting tool called Speed Grids, for speed piecing triangle blocks in multiple sizes. I have two books, and different patterns have been published, both quilting patterns and clothing patterns.

PS: When you do a quilt, what is primarily your interest? Making the top, quilting it--

CH: Each one is a different level of design, so they all merge to make the whole. Usually, some fabric that just happens to be sitting together will make me want to put them together in some fashion. It's certainly not one layer as opposed to any other.

PS: Does the fabric come first or does the idea come first?

CH: It depends. Both, but I may start with an idea on one project and the fabric on another.

PS: Do you work on more than one at a time?

CH: Usually. That way I don't get stuck when everything gets done, kind of like writer's block. There's always something to be solved sitting there actively.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CH: First the visual impact, whether or not it's going to draw you in closer. Then, of course, good workmanship will make it further shine. I also think each piece needs something unexpected either in the combination of fabrics, patterns, general design or perhaps the stitching is something you might not have expected on a particular piece. It gives it a little spark.

PS: I think traditional quilters call it a zinger.

CH: A zinger, that works.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilter?

CH: I don't know. I think it would be different for everyone. I'm trying to think of what you're asking and what a great quilter would be to me. I could tell you what it would not be to me. That will help me narrow it down in my mind. A great quilter would not necessarily be someone who has twenty-two stitches per inch. The visual impact has got to be there.

PS: Do you enter your quilts?

CH: Yes.

PS: Why?

CH: It's fun. When I first started entering over twenty-five years ago, that was a fluke. I sent one in, and it actually won.

PS: What was it? Traditional?

CH: Oh yes. I started out traditional and I never thought I'd leave it. Kind of like my taste in food. I can't even make spaghetti sauce without sprinkling in some hot flakes now. Our tastes change, whether it's food or what excites us visually, our clothing. What was that question again?

PS: The question was, 'Why do you enter quilt shows,' then I asked you, 'Were they traditional in the beginning?'

CH: Right. I started out traditional, and I still go back and forth because I still love traditional quilts. I did evolve over time and wanted to do something different. When I first started entering, like I said that first time was a fluke. After having been involved in that first show, as an entrant you feel so much more involved in the activities of the event. That was here in Houston. Obviously, so much goes on at these shows that just having a quilt in the show made me feel like I was more a part of everything that was going on. It helps you meet more people. It's a good avenue to start up a conversation if you need one. Now I do it because I need more recognition in a more far-reaching way so that my works will sell.

PS: Certainly, that happens here in Houston. There are a lot of people. What makes your quilts artistically powerful? Do think it's the color?

CH: If we were looking at this quilt, obviously the colors are going to kind of grab you in contrast with some black and white to give your eye a place to rest.

PS: This one has wonderful edges.

CH: I've always treated my edges a little differently than most of the competition, which has gotten me into trouble. [laughs.] It's usually not included in the judge's criteria for binding and what the binding can look like. This one has been faced. Sometimes I'll turn both the front and back edges under a quarter of an inch and there is no binding, but there is a finished edge.

PS: Your quilts speak for themselves. I just want to know how you feel. Your quilts just kind of suck you in.

CH: I'm glad to hear that. For me, I like to see something unexpected that will give some interest to my eye. I like to see contrast, whether or not it's in values. I love to use turquoise and red in quilts. In fact, I have a whole hallway filled with just turquoise and red quilts and a purple and red one in a corner that I absolutely love. I think it's the excitement of those colors being together in a smallish piece. They're all under forty inches. In this particular quilt again, the contrast with the raw edges and collage…

PS: This quilt is what you'd call asymmetrical because all four sides aren't the same. You've got borders just on two sides. Do you do that often?

CH: Yes, I do.

PS: That's unusual. You don't see that very often.

CH: It's unexpected. It gives it some interest. I also like the free motion of the embroidery on here and the varied colors; the paths that the embroidery follows draws your eye further.

PS: Yours are all raw-edge appliqué on this quilt, right? I noticed that you used monofilament thread. Do you use it on the top and the back?

CH: Yes, for the quilting.

PS: Why is quilting important in your life?

CH: I can't not do it. It's a creative outlet. I'm a very tactile person. I have to feel the fabric. It's an artform that has more than one modality of enjoyment. It's something that I'm constantly challenged by. I'll set up challenges for myself, whether it's limiting myself with pattern or size or shapes or directions and see what I can do within those limitations. Besides a creative outlet, it's also a problem-solving outlet that I enjoy, too.

PS: Do you enter challenges?

CH: No. I prefer my self-imposed challenges.

PS: What is the importance of quilting in American life?

CH: There are so many, starting with the comfort element. Are you speaking of appreciation of quilts or the action of quilting?

PS: Both. How are they used? How do you feel about them? What have they done for women? What have they done for you?

CH: I think first, getting back to the comfort element, so many of us remember grandmother's quilt which we find comfort in both physically and, I think the reason I keep going back to traditional quilts, they are visually comforting. Also, the action of making the quilts is a creative outlet. Where many women are limited to maybe their home environments or their home and work environments, and don't have a lot of resources or time to get away from those, quilting can be done bit by bit and satisfy that need to create. Like you accomplished something of your own that you didn't have to do.

PS: So, they can be used for beds, and they can be used for decorative purposes. How does your family feel about it?

CH: As I mentioned, they are tolerant because sometimes they are fixing their own dinners. I have a daughter of fifteen and a son of thirteen and a husband that are all totally capable of making their own meals. I think it's good for them, as they're growing up, to see a mother who is in the home who still must take this time and do what I have to do.

PS: So, you feel like you have to do it.

CH: Absolutely.

PS: Do you travel?

CH: I haven't left the state because the kids had been younger. I also took some time out and taught in the school that my children were in for a few years. It's taken the last couple of years to try to catch up with myself. I'm ready to start traveling again.

PS: Do you quilt X amount of hours during the day? Do you try to do it every day?

CH: I have a routine that I try to stick with. After I've delivered my daughter to school, from 8:30 to 1:00 I am untouchable. I am strictly in the studio working. After that I eat a late lunch and then I have errands and taxiing children around for the afternoon and evening.

PS: I have one last question unless I think of something else. How do you feel about men in the quilt world? What do you think they've done for the quilt world? What do you think some of the new directions are?

CH: As far as men being in the quilt world, I don't see an issue based on the sex of any artist in any field. What have they done? For the most part they have joined in the fun.

PS: Up until the last couple years it has been, and it still is, a woman's hobby.

CH: Mostly.

PS: What happens when men join the hobby? Do you think it gives any more credibility?

CH: No.

PS: What do you think about the new directions quilting is taking with the artists coming into the quilt market? By artists I mean the people who paint the quilts. The people who do the techniques that are done in other shows where they are not necessarily sewing techniques. How do you feel about those?

CH: I think there is room for everyone. If we start censoring techniques, then we're hurting everybody. We should all be able to express what is it that we want to express in our work. It will either be received by others or not, but that also gets back to why you're doing it in the first place. Are you doing it for others or are you doing it for yourself?

PS: Have you got any more you'd like to tell us?

CH: I'm having lots of fun quilting. It has opened the world as far as making friends and maintaining friends all over the world. I can't imagine what else I would be doing that would give me that opportunity.

PS: What do you do with all your quilts?

CH: I sell some. I keep some. I help organizations raise money with some.

PS: You don't do full-size quilts?

CH: Yes, I do.

PS: Okay, so how many quilts do you think you produce a year?

CH: That varies a great deal. This one took such a long time because it was so labor intensive. This year I have only produced about three, and this is November.

PS: Was this a paper-pieced block here?

CH: Yes.

PS: Any idea how many there are?

CH: Eighty-eight.

PS: These are two-inch blocks?

CH: Yes.

PS: These are tiny little blocks.

CH: Tiny little creatures.

PS: I suppose I really don't have any more questions. I want to thank you for coming. It's 3:05 on November 4.

CH: Thank you.



“Connie Hester,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,