Linda Carlson




Linda Carlson




Linda Carlson


Heather Gibson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Houston, Texas


Heather Gibson


Heather Gibson (HG): Today is November 4, 2000. The time is seven minutes until four. This is Heather Gibson. We are at the Houston Quilt Festival. I am talking to Linda Carlson for The Alliance for the American Quilts' Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Let's begin, Linda, by talking a little bit about the quilt you brought today. Can you tell us something about it?

Linda Carlson (LC): Sure. The quilt that I brought today is fashioned after an antique quilt that I bought from an antique quilt dealer in Kalona, Iowa. Her name is Marilyn Woodin. She knew of this quilt from a dealer friend in Kentucky and the dealer in Kentucky was the one who bought it from the family. The original one is documented as having been done by Emma Barrett from Anson County, North Carolina. Twice a year I would go up to Kalona, Iowa to buy fabric from Sarah Miller, who owns a fabulous quilt store up there. So when I made mine in the same pattern I used Amish colors because she is an Amish woman. Since this one didn't come with a name, I decided to call mine "Amish Rose of Sharon Wreath: An Ode to Sarah Miller." I used the very same quilting lines that the antique quilt did. Mine is in red, green, some hot pink and yellow and a lighter minty-type green on top of the dark green background. The original antique quilt had a cream background with a teal green leaf and some other motifs in the same green, and it has a brown flying geese border. Then it's surrounded by a very dark green border. Both of these quilts are in my second book "Four Blocks Continued", published by AQS [American Quilters Society.] on page 24.

HG: My first question is do you know the name of the quilt shop you traveled to in Iowa?

LC: The antique quilt shop's name is the Woodin Wheel, just like the owner's name.

HG: Can you talk a little bit about the colors you used and how they compare to those of the antique quilt? And why you used, you say this is hot pink and that sounds like a non-traditional color, can you talk about why you used that color?

LC: I used it because I thought it went well with the rest of the colors. Sarah Miller is what we may term as a modern non-traditional Amish woman. She ran this store by herself. First of all, it was very unusual for an Amish woman to have a business by herself in that community. Also, she got to the point where she needed to have a telephone, so she had an outdoor telephone installed. Then she got to the point where she needed a telephone in her hand all the time, so she would go around with a cell phone. She used to have kerosene lamps in the shop. That was still there, but she incorporated some electricity, too. So when we would go shopping there we would try to get there before late afternoon hours so we could see the fabric without taking it to the window to see the color. I picked the hot pink because it went well with the other colors, but I also chose it because Sarah had become somewhat of a modern woman.

HG: What appeals to you about the Rose of Sharon pattern?

LC: I just like it. I buy four block quilts and have a sizeable collection of four block quilts. When Marilyn told me this one was available I bought it and then I wanted to replicate it.

HG: Why did you choose to bring this quilt with you today to the interview?

LC: Because it has an antique predecessor.

HG: How do you use this quilt?

LC: I use this in my classes on four block quilts as I teach across the nation. This is a favorite pattern of a lot of people. It's not necessary to choose the same coloration I do. People just like the pattern.

HG: Let's talk about your interest in quilting. How did it begin?

LC: My interest in quilting began when my husband got accepted to medical school. My mother thought I needed something to do. She said, 'Linda, you're going to have to find something to do while John is studying all the time.' Of course, I thought teaching school and having a young baby at home was enough, but she decided that wasn't enough so I took a beginning quilting course.

HG: Are there quilters in your family other than yourself?

LC: My paternal grandmother was a quilter, and I was not interested in quilting at the time when she was alive. But I received several of her quilts after she died and I am very appreciative that she kept them so nicely, laundered and free of tears.

HG: How do you use those quilts?

LC: I just have them in my special closet that's heat-, humidity-, and light-controlled. I don't use them at all. They are on rollers.

HG: What is your first memory of a quilt?

LC: My first memory of a quilt would be at my Grandmother Giesler's farmhouse. That was the grandmother that quilted. I can remember a red and white embroidered quilt that I used to sleep under. I especially wanted the little bunny embroidered motif up near my face.

HG: That's a wonderful little story. How many books have you published?

LC: I have published two books. The first one was "Roots, Feathers and Blooms. Four Block Quilts: Their History and Patterns." The second one is called "Four Blocks Continued."

HG: Do you still work outside of your quilting or has it become a full-time profession?

LC: It's full-time.

HG: Do you show quilts often in addition to teaching?

LC: No, not for competition. My quilt collection of antique quilts and some that I have made myself were shown at the AQS Museum in 1997.

HG: Can you talk a little bit about how it makes you feel to have your quilts displayed in museums?

LC: I was honored to be asked! I enjoyed taking the crowd around and acting as an interpreter, telling about the quilts. It was nice to see them all hanging with special lights on them, the subdued neutral background around them just really made all of them shine, whether they were antique or ones that I had made. So it was nice to see them on the wall instead of on my special rollers in my closet.

HG: How would you compare that experience to visiting an art museum where painting and sculpture would be displayed?

LC: I like visiting quilt museums more. I do go to art museums and go into the textile departments and study quilts, but I really like to see them out where the public can see them. I think they need to be enjoyed by many people, not just researchers, if they're in good enough condition to be hung or displayed.

HG: What do you find most pleasing as a part of the quilting process?

LC: I really like the designing part. I design all of the patterns. This one is the only one or one of a couple that I have replicated. Otherwise, I do my own original designs. I also like the appliquéing process. I have done my own quilting in the past; most of the time, since I write and travel and teach, I don't have time to do the quilting anymore. I have sent several out since I first began.

HG: Can you talk about why you enjoy appliqué?

LC: I think it seems to go faster than piecing. I got started with the four block quilts because I thought, 'Linda, you're never going to live long enough to do all the patterns that you see.' So I thought, 'Gee, these are big, bold and wonderful. There are just four.' But then you don't think about that you have to fill the space with something, either quilting or more appliqué, those kind of things. I really like them because they are big and bold.

HG: Going back to what you said before, when you first got married you were a school teacher?

LC: Yes.

HG: Now can you tell me a little bit about the differences between your experience as a school teacher and now as a teacher of quilting?

LC: I find them extremely similar because when I was teaching I had two children that were blind and were mainstreamed into my room. I taught myself Braille to be able to do their assignments for them. I've always taught individually. Many years ago in the teaching profession, we used to do what was called stations. It was geared to each child's level. Each station had a project and it might have three or four different levels. You would have a card that was around the student's neck that was color-coded as to which one the student was doing. The kids never knew which level was higher or for an average student or lower. They would do those stations within ten or fifteen minutes and then move on to the next. Then they always had self-checking. I compare this to the way I teach my quilting classes. I give students a lot of choices. They work at their own pace. I try to make the class feel like it's not rushed. I just give a lot of individual attention.

HG: That's wonderful. At this quilt festival we see people with many different agendas. There are quilters, quilt preservers, quilt collectors and historians. Can you talk a little bit about any differences you see in these and how they can be united?

LC: Tell me the categories again?

HG: I think of historian and collectors and quilters themselves. What made me think of it in my mind was when you were talking about quilting from an academic base earlier and how you found it a little bit different. I was wondering if you had any ideas or suggestions about how these people can come together?

LC: I think everybody has the love of quilts, number one. I think some people get so tied up in their own agenda. Some people are into this for the recognition rather than for the preserving of the art and furthering of the art. Sometimes those that are so engrossed in the traditional end of it cannot come to a happy medium with those that are into the art end of it, what we call the art quilts. There needs to be a happy medium. I'm not sure how they can do it other than they have the common love for quilts. I think when we get together for meetings like this, we need to try very hard to put personalities aside and try to work together. I also think, and I hate to say this, there are times when women just--I think women have experienced being in the men's world for so long that once they find a name for themselves some tend to be overpowering like some of their male counterparts. I see the same thing happening here at times. I just think people need to put personalities aside and work for the common goal of furthering the art of quilting no matter which end of the spectrum they are on.

HG: Do you have any ideas yourself about how the art of quilting can be preserved for the future?

LC: We need to be teaching children, and we need to be teaching children earlier. I have done some teaching in my own community and outlying communities in a rural area. When the teachers have social studies, in particular I'm thinking of one. It was Community R6, right outside of Mexico, in between Martinsburg and Laddonia, Missouri. It was a rural school. One of the teachers had a social studies project about frontier life. She brought me in to explain about quilting. She also brought me in to help the kids design their own quilt block. I think if you can get a multidisciplinary approach in the elementary schools and have quilting projects, maybe quilting guilds can have this as part of their outreach program to send somebody into the schools. It can tie in with social studies or math. If you're going to do tie-dye quilts, tie it in with science. You can use a multidisciplinary approach. Get it in the elementary schools and foster a love of quilts and quilting at that age. After all, our ancestors learned that way, at a much earlier age.

HG: As a teacher yourself, you can verify that that would work?

LC: Yes. We often did quilting projects in my second grade classes.

HG: In your opinion, what makes a great quilt?

LC: I think it has to be visually striking, whether that means in bold colors or whether that means in extreme subtlety of stitch and texture of design. I'm always floored when I come to this show or any of the other large shows, at the quality of the work that's out there but the other side of it is, it's a great quilt if you love it. It doesn't matter if it has the perfect stitch. It's a great quilt if it has great sentimental value to you. I think a great quilt is extremely individual in the way that the maker or the viewer sees it. After all, how many times have you heard people stand by the winning quilt of the most money and say, 'I just don't get this,' or 'I think such and such should have won.' It's just a validation that that person has other things that they like in quilts. You could almost tell by the make-up of the judges which types of quilts will be chosen. Of course, they get the quilts that were finally entered after the slide jury judges are done with the entries. I think a lot of quilters have learned that in doing a quilt for competition to take a look at who the judges are and decided if they should enter that particular quilt in the contest.

HG: I noticed that on your quick question sheet that you choose not to be in juried or judges competitions. Is that why?

LC: No, It's not that particular reason. It's that I don't need that ego trip to win something. I've been a teacher since I was a junior in high school. I started teaching piano lessons at fifty cents for a half hour. Teaching is in my blood. That's where I come from. I don't need that kind of recognition. That's not to say that those that do enter quilt shows are after recognition. I believe many enjoy the challenge of being accepted into the show, as well as, comparing their skills to others

HG: I would be interested in how you, as a quilter, use the terms artistry and craftsmanship and what you think about those two ideas in quilting.

LC: I think that today they are one in the same. Good craftsmanship is art. I don't care what kind of medium it is. Whether you're talking about wood, bronze, paper, paint, oil, cloth, fiber, thread, needle. If it's quality, it's art. If the craftsmanship is there, it's art, period.

HG: What do you think the importance of quilts in American life has been or is?

LC: With the first book I did a lot of research on four block quilts. Americans learned to quilt from their English neighbors. England and other European countries learned from Asia via the merchant ships that brought those textiles into those countries. As far as what it means to Americans or in American life, number one I think it has always been a symbol of warmth and comfort. In the past thirty or forty years it has risen to the level of art, as evidenced by the prices collectors are willing to pay and the prize money offered at quilt shows. So it has different meanings to different people. I think it's about time that we recognize, and I think we have been recognizing, the artistry of the older quilts, whether they were whole cloth, whether they were chintz, whether they were pieced, appliquéd, whatever. I think that is where the present day of love of quilts and quilting has come from, seeing the quality, craftsmanship and artistry of the antique quilts. They are very important as documents of what happened to the women or men who made them. Just all sorts of things. There is history tied up with it, aesthetics. Just many, many things.

HG: Now do you think that quilts as art, both historically and today, should be viewed and assessed in the same way that we view other art forms?

LC: I don't see why not. I've just recently purchased some art pieces of Alexandra Nechita. She is a painter and she is now fifteen years old. She came to this country from Romania, and she has been called the Mozart of the present age. She started painting in the style of Picasso at three or four after she saw one of his paintings. She's like a child prodigy in art. Since I now own two prints of hers, it's amazing. It's art. This quilt festival is art. Quilts are art. I think you can just appreciate all kinds of art no matter what medium it is if the craftsmanship is there.

HG: What is meaningful to you, in your life, about the process of quilting?

LC: Number one, it's very soothing. I just finished a third manuscript called "Yesterday, Today, Forever and Always: Stitching to Soothe the Soul." I taught this class last night. There is a lecture that goes with it. There was a medical study done where five different leisure type activities were given to women. They measured their heartbeat, their blood pressure, etc. and they talked to them about what they were feeling while doing these things. Sewing came out to be the one activity that lowered their blood pressure and lowered their heartbeat more per minute than any of the other activities. You have often heard people talk about how quilting really relaxes them, and they come home from a stressful day and quilt. Well, that is sewing. I often laugh when I think about this, but it took some study to prove what women and some gentlemen have known for hundreds of years, that they really enjoy it in that way. For me, personally, to write that manuscript…That journey began seven years ago when my father died, and I was working on a quilt for my daughter Meredith. It had a weeping willow trapunto border in it. When he died, I was working on the border. The traditional meaning for the willow became all too real for me, grief and sorrow. I could sit and stitch and sob. My twin sister teaches gifted children at the junior high and high school in a room that was very, very small. You can't really go into the broom closet and grief and sob. She wound up with stomach problems and would wake up at the time of his death, at 3:45, every morning for six months afterwards. She went through some grief counseling. I was able to deal with it because I was at home, and I could grieve any time during the day. She could grief in the morning or evening when she got home. So, I wanted to reach out to other quilters. It took me five years before I could finish the manuscript. I wanted to research mourning, memorial, commemorative and casket quilts. I started doing that on my own and I wanted to reach out to other quilters who might be going through similar experiences, or just having trouble dealing with everyday life. I developed a set of six patterns. These are meant to be either used in the funerary process or--Note; as a stress relieving project to relieve the sadness in our hearts through the labor of our hands. I had a woman in class when I taught it in Washington at the end of last month that said her husband had just left her, she had found out some other things going on in her family that were pretty bad. She expressed it in the following way, 'Grief is not only in death of a body but in death of life, marriage, dreams, and plans. Sometimes it is worse than a physical death. At least it is tangible. I need to make this memorial to my life and my future. I see the quilt I will make--as the memorial quilts to document and to tell the story and ending to my moment of sorrow.' She needed a project to work on, not because someone had died, although she internalized that the marriage was dead. She wanted a new project to work on, to finish it, and to say to herself, 'I got through this project, and I can get through this other stuff in my mind.' I've come to find that it's these small quilts, 15 inches by 45 inches that are designed to go over the closed bottom half of the casket with ample room for the traditional floral spray; I've come to find that these small quilts are being used in different ways. You might use them at the visitation. You might use them afterwards. They can also be used in the home to remind yourself that 'this is something that happened in my life that I got through and I will continue on.' It's very individual. They can be buried with a person. I found through the research that there are many Native American tribes that use quilts in funerary ceremonies. At times they are also used in births and marriages, and then maybe on the first-year anniversary after the death. They're called "Giveaway" quilts by certain tribes. There are some Polynesian and Asian cultures that also use quilts in this way. The process of finding out about the history, then the process of wanting to help other quilters, it started out to help my grieving journey, but it's grown to allowing other quilters creative ways to work through their own life stresses.

HG: I'm so glad that you told that story. I've never heard of this information before.

LC: No one else is doing it. That's not why I'm doing it. I wouldn't have done it had this death not occurred. It's been a very personal journey for me.

HG: Thank you for sharing that.

LC: You're welcome.

HG: What can you say about the importance of quilts in women's lives in a historical sense and to this day?

LC: Historically, I think they were always meant to be used for the family. This is something that the women did for the family. It was out of necessity, but it was also expected, too. Sewing and quilting was part of their education. We know that quilting has fallen out of fashion during several decades in the 20th century and then it came back with the 1976 bicentennial celebration. I'm glad to see that women and men are again doing this. Not only for their family and for their homes and as gifts to give away, but also as a pleasurable leisure activity for themselves, and as stated previously, quilting allows self-expression of art as well as a physiological and psychological release of stress.

HG: We're running out of time, and I think you've answered all the questions that I have in mind. Is there anything that you wish I had asked in this interview that you'd like to mention?

LC: I have a website where you can see all sorts of four block quilts and all of the memorial quilts.

HG: What is the address?

LC: It's It has all of the classes that I teach and everything and photos of almost every class. There are twenty-three classes. If there's any other quilt that someone would see from the interview that you would like to question me about, that's the only reason why I mention that.

HG: I'm glad you mentioned that. Can you talk a little bit about technology and quilting? That is a big issue today because you can use it in the process and getting your quilts online and having a very diverse and wide audience view them.

LC: Give me the first part of that again.

HG: How has technology affected your quilting?

LC: Not at all. Of course, I buy some new tools and that kind of thing. I use some freezer paper. When I teach, I teach as if I were teaching the blind children again. If you're used to this needle, don't buy the one I use. The one you use fits your fingers. Don't go out and buy this just because I'm using it, or the marking pen that I use. Students are all individual and they have all individual needs and expectations. I just try to do what that individual student needs, and therefore as far as saying, 'You need to get this kind of photo paper,' for some of the things I do or, 'You need to do this and that.' I like to give students a lot of choice. I do admire what a lot of people are doing with painting on fabric or adding the beads and all of the embellishments and stuff like that. I think it's wonderful. What Hollis Chatelain does is absolutely wonderful. I like that not because of the technology she uses in it, but because her pictorial quilts show the emotion in the quilt, the photos of the people in her quilts. It's the emotion that comes through in her stuff. She's at one end of the spectrum and I'm at the other end. I still can admire her stuff, and I know she uses a lot of technology. There are a lot of quilts out there that use digital camera photography and then scanning it and then using it on cloth, using the cloth in the printer instead of paper. That's fine and dandy for some people. It's not for me, but I can still appreciate it. It has changed the way we look at quilts. That's why we have art quilts. I think they were using more of the technology than, say, traditional appliqué and piecers. There's room for all.

HG: One thing I forgot to ask you before is, how much of this quilt you brought in today, the Amish Rose of Sharon wreath quilt, is done by machine and hand? And how much of your other quilting activities are done by machine and how much by hand?

LC: Everything is done by hand except putting the four large blocks together. I will use the machine for that. I will use the machine for adding borders and I will use the machine for the binding, but then it's turned over and hand stitched down. Everything is done by hand other than that, all the appliqué and all the piecing.

HG: Do you label your quilts?

LC: Yes.

HG: It's about time to close this out. Is there anything else you'd like to mention while you're here? We have more time.

LC: I don't think I can think of anything else except that I think quilts will continue to be recognized as art for their craftsmanship, if it's there. I think that's all.

HG: Wonderful. Well, I've had a fantastic time interviewing you. It's great talking to you.

LC: Thank you.

HG: I'm going to close this out. This is Heather Gibson on November 4, 2000. The time now is 4:25 and we are at the Houston Quilt Festival. Thank you. [tape shuts off and is restarted.] This is Heather Gibson again and we have come across some more information that we'd like on the tape, so this is Linda Carlson talking more about her funerary quilts.

LC: I forgot to mention that during the research that I did and talking with funeral directors, correspondence with other quilters via the internet or letter or by telephone, that people in guilds especially are seeing quilts used to memorialize the maker, the deceased maker. Several of them have covered the casket. Several of them have been hung in the member's honor. One that I can think of particularly is Doreen Speckman. At her visitation, her favorite maple leaf quilt was laid over her casket. It was later seen at the American Quilter's Society Museum this year, April of 2000, in an exhibit of several of her quilts as well as several quilts made in memorial to her by her friends and colleagues. Funeral directors have told me that many times when babies and young children die that the families will wrap the babies in quilts, or they will have their favorite quilt or blanket buried with them for an older child. There is even a casket that is made by the York Casket Company out of Pennsylvania that has the lining, pillow and all of the materials you see in the casket in a double wedding ring pattern. The funeral director that I talked to said that in Mexico, Missouri, where I'm from, most often families of elderly ladies want that particular casket because they can remember that she made it or they had one within the family. That's kind of interesting. A lot of funerals are very personalized now. For my father's funeral, his golfing buddies came and got his golf bag and cleaned it up, left a few clubs in it and took it to the florist. She filled it with an arrangement and brought it back at his visitation. So funerals are very personalized where I'm from. Through the internet and letters and telephone conversations, that we are seeing many more quilts used in funerals now, which is the way it was a hundred years ago. Through the research I found that it was quite often the case. I have several daguerreotype reproductions of children being photographed in their homes with either quilts over or under them or used as a backdrop. I have never run across a daguerreotype reproduction of an adult with that. Since it was the norm to have the funeral in the home, often if the family had enough money, they could hire a photographer to come and take those momento mori photographs. That's what they were called. They were displayed in the home. They wanted to remember the child or the family member in the state of death because back in those days death was something to be revered. It was a better state than the way we live on earth. Heaven was your goal. Today modern medicine fights to the last breath to keep us from dying.

HG: Thank you.


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