Mary Mashuta




Mary Mashuta




Mary Mashuta


Georgeann Wrinkle

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Houston, Texas


Nathaniel Stephan


[note: throughout the tape there is constant background noise of the convention on the tape often making it difficult to hear the interview.]

Georgeann Wrinkle (GW): Today is November the [pause.] [someone in the background says 'second.'] 2nd, 2001. This is Mary Mashuta. The interviewer is Georgeann Wrinkle, and our scribe is--

Kay Jones (KJ): Kay Jones

GW: Kay Jones. We're here to interview Mary about her quilting. Everything about her quilting. First, we're going to look at your quilt. And if Mary, when you look at the quilt when you look at the quilt could you explain it to us like explaining it to a blind person. Like we can't see it of course on our tape and we would love for you to just really explain this piece.

Mary Mashuta (MM): The quilt is called "Fiesta Stars." I made it for my last book called "Cotton Candy Quilts." The book is about using fabrics from anywhere from the thirties up to the seventies. I used reproduction thirties prints and solids for this particular one. I was trying to understand what the old quilts were about. The idea of making do rather than going out and buying coordinated things, and when you run out you run back to the store and get more. This is actually not a traditional block. Part of what I was doing in the book is to encourage people perhaps to use the old fabrics in a new way or the old patterns in a new way. I think I call this Star and its Nine Patch. There is a star and Askew in the middle but there's kind of a nine patch that's turned on an angle behind it so that's Nine Patch the secondary space on the block. And I realized that it would be a good way to showcase the fabric. So, all the stars are solids from the time period and the prints are in the background. The border is traditional in that there is a plain border and then there's a little pieced one that's just squares so very, very simple and then there's another plain one. I deviated because the smaller first border is the pink and the last one is aqua and traditionally it would have both been the same color and it might have been muslin. Something else that I added was vintage buttons which are from the time period, but they wouldn't have embellished the quilt. There's some Sashiko stitching, and I also have variegated rickrack. Now rickrack was big back then, but they didn't put it on quilts, and it wasn't variegated or hand dyed. The quilt was machine quilted.

GW: Thank you very much. Why did you choose to bring this quilt? I know you have so many quilts and you're so prolific [MM laughs.] you have a million quilts you could bring.

MM: Actually, I wanted to bring another, but I had limitations of what I could bring so I had this here for one of my classes and it is for my new book.

GW: So, this is your most recent--

MM: No, it's not-- [both speaking at the same time.]

GW: The book was your most recent.

MM: Yes, and that's why I picked that.

GW: And this book has just been published then?

MM: Last May. Last May C&T; publishing California--

GW: And the name of that book is?

MM: "Cotton Candy Quilts."

GW: "Cotton Candy Quilts." Okay and so--

MM: I might mention that was not a title I picked. They picked that. I think they were trying to think about nostalgia and going to county fairs. I mean that kind of thinking of a better past, I guess. Or a romanticized--

GW: So, had you named the book before.

MM: Oh yes, I always do but they make you submit many names, and I wanted something about making quilts from the near past but that's too intellectual so. [laughs.]

GW: So, what are your plans for this quilt? You did bring it for teaching here?

MM: Yes, I actually teach a class using it.

GW: Tell me how you first got interested in quilting and how that all came about.

MM: Well, I have two degrees in Home Ec. They didn't do anything about quilts then but any time I saw a book about quilts or whatever I was very interested in it. My sister and I happened to go to a historical house that was open near where we lived about 1970 and somebody had a sign up saying they were going to teach quiltmaking. And we couldn't get signed up fast enough. My sister is Roberta Horton. We did not know that the teacher was about a week ahead of us in her knowledge. That's how I started by taking a class. My grandmother did make one quilt top for each of us, but I never saw her quilt or--

GW: Other than your grandmother was there anyone else in your legacy that you think was a quilter?

MM: No not that we know of. Well yes actually we go back to Martha Washington. We're related to Martha Washington.

GW: And we know she quilted.

MM: Yes so--

GW: And we do know she quilted. Not only that-- [inaudible.]

MM: And then my mother actually took lessons from us, so we didn't learn from her. [laughs.]

GW: So where was that where was that where you were able to share this with your sister and learn to quilt?

MM: In northern California. In Berkeley [California.].

GW: Okay. At that point what kind of a revival of quilting was going on?

MM: Not much. Not much. In fact, Jean Ray Laury offered a class about in 1972 at the Yarn Depot. Not a quilt store, a yarn shop in San Francisco [California.]. When we found out that we told a friend of ours whose wedding we were supposed to attend that we couldn't go because we had to go to Jean Ray Laury's class, and she changed the wedding date and came herself. Yes, indeed three of us went.

GW: What aspects of the quilting process do you enjoy the best?

MM: Well, I used to be a home sewer and taught sewing. Sometimes it was hard to isolate. I liked everything when it got done but I couldn't say just one past. I like picking out the fabrics, I guess. I actually pay someone else to do most of my cutting. It's kind of therapeutic to sew it together after it's all been designed. I do the machine quilting and I like to see the quilt come alive but physically I don't enjoy doing it. I don't know if there's one particular area probably the design part and the colors, picking the fabrics.

GW: How has quilting affected you personally in your life? How have you--other than making it your career?

MM: I changed my life to do this full time. My sister was the first accredited adult ed teacher in California in the seventies and because we're twins, I purposely didn't want to do what she did. So, I didn't come into teaching nationally until about eighty-five or eighty-six. So, it's changed my life because I've gotten to go to all kinds of places that I never would have voluntarily gone to and found out that there were lovely, enchanting people not just in the United States but around the world, so it has really changed my life.

GW: What else do you do in the professional quilting world? Tell us all the aspects of what you do.

MM: Well, I write and lecture and teach. I teach a variety of classes. Color and design. I teach about quilters creating their own workspaces. I teach straight line machine quilting that's particularly geared to people that have failed dropping their feed dogs. I teach a whole bunch of different kinds of classes. I also sometimes do studio consultations with people where I actually go to their home and tell them what to throw out and what to move. Much easier to do it with someone else's stuff.

GW: Do you have a studio of your own?

MM: Yes, I do.

GW: In your home or--

MM: Yes. It's in my home.

GW: Tell us about your studio. What's in it what does it look like?

MM: Well, we have a series of studios in my house. We started with the dining room when my sister and I lived together. I didn't work out when both of us became full time quilters. So, then we had a studio upstairs in the room that was probably labeled junk room, but it was very nice. But again, it wasn't good for sharing so we built another studio on the house for her, so we have separate studios. It's a nice light air-filled room. I have special tables. I have special disability kinds of things so I can work with my arm. I have a design wall. My fabrics. Some of my fabrics are stored elsewhere in the house so it's kind of a typical setup.

GW: On a day-to-day basis how do you use your time in quilting? I mean--

MM: It's not like a nine to five job because sometimes I'm away teaching and there may be time when I work on my quilting every day. I had to stop and do awful things like use my quilting time to go to exercise class to keep my body in shape. I mainly work in my studio during the daytime but sometimes I work there at night.

GW: What do you think qualifies a quilt as a--let's say quilts that go into a museum or quilts that are collectable? What gives that quality to good quilting?

MM: Well, I guess it's the focus of whoever's collecting it. The quilts I'm most interested in saving are the ones that have the souls of their maker. I would have really preferred to bring my Firestorm quilt rather than this one because this is a nice quilt, but it doesn't have my soul. So, I'm really interested probably in some of the quilts that were made for September eleventh that have the soul of the maker in them. We had a huge fire in the Berkeley hills ten years ago and ten women in my guild lost their homes and one lost her husband. I did curate a show about firestorm quilts, and I made one at the time. That's the quilt I would have loved to have brought today but it was just too big to bring. My guild did pay to have that show brought to hung in Houston. There were about twenty-four quilts that were in that show. Those were some of the ones that are important to me so it's probably some of art quilts and art quilts can be different than traditional quilts, but I do love the traditional quilts because I know that some of those that I stand in front of I can really tell the soul of the maker is in that quilt. I would have loved to have met that person.

GW: In terms of the knowing how to--knowing how to- in terms of process are you more inclined to try to put hand work in your quilt? Do you enjoy the machine work? Do you have someone do your machine work?

MM: I physically can't do all the hand work that I used to so I have to machine quilt. Sometimes I add the hand stitching like the big stitching on here but part of the reason I ruined my hands and arms was doing marathon hand quilting, so I don't do that anymore.

GW: Have you and your sister collaborated in any way on any projects?

MM: Well, we tried something years ago when one of our friends was going to have a baby and it's still in a box labeled 'argument' and he's a sophomore in college, but I will say that we have actually made a quilt for the show downstairs to be silent auctioned. I made one of my tourist shirt blocks in patriotic fabric and then I told her she had to put borders and the binding on so that's really the first quilt and we've been quilting over thirty years that we've ever collaborated on and finished.

GW: How has this quilt festival--the Houston [Texas.] Quilt Festival affected you? How do you perceive it as being a part of the big quilting community?

MM: It's the biggest festival of the year. I always enjoy coming and seeing what's here. I also come to earn a living and that's very important. I have to put food on the table. I had a piece in the Fairfield--excuse me the Bernina show and now Bernina has taken over Fairfield, and I thought that was absolutely lovely show last night so that was really thrilling to get to see that. I made that garment while we had painters in our house for thirteen weeks this summer and I had to make all these difficult design decisions that I would prefer to make when it's peace and quiet with them singing in Spanish in the bathroom next door. It was a thrill to get that thing finally finished and see it up on the stage. [laughs.]

GW: It's nice to hear you talking about wearable art. Tell me about the wearable art that you do.

MM: I guess the first book I wrote was called "Wearable Art for Real People." I do runway art, but I'm very interested in what real people wear. A lot of what's on the runway doesn't translate to wearing in the more casual. It's wonderful because it celebrates your imagination and all of that but usually whatever is on the runway mine are the most easy to wear out in public kinds of things. I'm very interested in relating the garment that someone creates for themselves. I introduced the concept of not only relating your skill level and your time commitment to making a garment but also thinking about your "body uniqueness." I'm from California so you think of it in a positive way. Your body uniqueness and your flamboyant quotient so that when you put the garment on it doesn't run away with you so that's part of what I think that I've contributed the idea of thinking about making it look like it goes on me.

GW: Do you wear wearable art?

MM: Yes, I do.

GW: On occasion?

MM: When I come to quilt events, I do. I don't wear it to the supermarket. I live in Berkeley [California.] you could wear anything. I don't tend to wear it except to quilt events. And then it's if you put on your wardrobe you're set to go.

GW: If you had not chosen to be a quilter if you had truly fought that instinct what would you be doing now? How would your life be different?

MM: Well, I taught in public and private schools where I've done that. I've worked in interior design, and I've done that, so I don't really want to do anything else. I don't want to be anyone else.

GW: In what ways do your quilts reflect your personality?

MM: [sigh.] I think they reflect my personality. I have done a whole series of story quilts that relate to things that have happened in my life. They reflect my personality and me because I'm very interested in color and design, so I think that shows in my quilts.

GW: If you had other than your firestorm quilt which you've already talked about. Other design of a quilt that you've done that stands out in your mind what would that be? What would a favorite one of yours personally.

MM: Well, there's another later quilt that's called "Trumpet Vine" that's made with stripes and hand dyed fabrics. It's kind of an undulating continuous design but it's a block that only has two templates. I've been working recently in trying to find simple blocks that don't have a lot of templates where you can concentrate on working with color. For instance, the one in front of you only has two templates to make the blocks so that's only two templates on that one. That one did win one of the prizes here at Houston when I brought that so that's one of my favorites. I love stripes and it has lots of stripes.

GW: So, you like to make your designs accessible to people?

MM: Well, part of it is I just don't sit at home and make quilts. I have to think about making a living by making quilts and being different than the other teachers. Sometimes I'm making art quilts and things that are just for me and then a lot of times once I get an idea, I have to make simpler quilts to make them more accessible to my students so rather than starting at the simple and working to complex I tend to go the opposite direction so when you write a book you go from the simple to the complex. I don't just get to make the quilts I'd most like to make. I spend a good deal of my time making accessible quilts so that my students aren't overwhelmed by something I would make that would be in Quilt National or in an individual show. That they look at it and say they could do it to.

GW: When you're designing do you use a computer?

MM: No--

GW: Tell me--

MM: I can do email and I write on a computer and that's it. I don't need that technology.

GW: How do you design then? Your process--

MM: Sometimes I have a drawing. The quilt in front of you there was a block to start with. [GW hums agreement.] So, I tend to work in blocks. I don't work freeform because I have to pay somebody else to cut for me. I don't want that person to be there when I'm actually moving things around on my design wall. So, mine are all based on almost all of them on some kind of block to begin with that I work with. I may tell the fabric cutter to cut so much of this and so much of that. But like I said I don't really work on the quilt very much when she's around.

GW: The quilts that you've mentioned I think they're all are pieced quilts.

MM: Yes, I have done a few appliqué. I did one that was called "Breakfast at the Café Beaujolais" and that was an appliqué quilt.

GW: And the story quilt?

MM: Yes, and the story quilt that was about my favorite restaurant in Mendocino, California. I've eaten there many times with many different friends and wanted to make a quilt about that, but I never could, and I bought fabric that I though was for the back of the quilt and a friend actually drove me there when I met some horrible quilt deadline. A four-hour drive and we had breakfast, and I came home that night and the quilt came out and what was going to be the back was on the front and I kind of collaged on a room setting with chairs and tables and a window and food or whatever. A very happy quilt.

GW: How do you think quilting affects women?

MM: I think when using the word accessible. I think that it's not as intimidating as having to go out and learn to paint or do something like that if you want to express yourself in an artful way so it's comforting because we are used to textiles. I mean we wear clothes, we iron clothes, we launder clothes, we fold clothes, we're used to textiles so it's not intimidating. I think there's also a wonderful comradery or friendship that can be spontaneous. You don't even have to know the people in your class and by the end you've chatted with them or whatever. I can go anywhere in the world and even if I don't speak their language I can fit in if there's quilting there. I think that's really, really important.

GW: What other countries have you been in?

MM: I've been in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and Japan and Great Britain, Denmark. I've been to the quilt expos in France. I'm going to the one in Barcelona [Spain.]. I've met people here from other countries.

GW: Have you made friendships that have lasted?

MM: Yes. One of the things that's wonderful about the quilt teachers is I can't say sisterhood because there are guys too, but you have these friends and maybe you don't see them real often but every now and then you run into them at a quilt event or whatever so it's just kind of like you put the book down for a while and then you pick it up again. There's just a wonderful community or just seeing the vendors that you know over and over again.

GW: Have you done quilt fabric designing?

MM: No, I haven't done fabric designing. Oh, I did a little bit once when "Wearable Art for Real People" came out. I colored stripes. I just like using everybody else's fabric.

GW: How do you use quilts yourself in your home?

MM: Well, we have lots of quilts hanging on the wall. I don't sleep under them. We just had our house officially photographed and there are quilts on the bed, but I don't do that normally. The only time I ever sleep under my quilt is when it's cold in the motel room. [laughs.] Then I sleep under them. So, we do have ones that are hanging but because of traveling and teaching they're those particular quilts are all vintage quilts. Well, there are some contemporary made ones so there're used as decoration.

GW: Do you collect vintage quilts?

MM: My sister has more than I do. I haven't collected very many, but I have collected vintage fabric, so I have quite a collection of feed sacks. We also have something else that is unique. We have our quilt room. And each of us have a bed that we store our quilts on and she bought me my bed when I filled up her bed and she always wanted whatever was on the bottom so we each have our own bed.

GW: Do you sell or give away your quilts?

MM: Well, I have given away a few and I have done a few that I knew where going to be commissions. You can be a studio artist and spend all your time there or when you go out and teach you have to have something to show or people who have paid you to come somewhere so I don't really make my quilts to sell but every now and then I do.

GW: Give them away family members something like that?

MM: No just in the past there has been very few times that I have.

GW: How do you get your family member to understand the quality of quilting?

MM: I don't have to worry about that because Roberta and I are both quilters and we live where we do, and my parents are both dead. Her daughter understands and appreciates but is not a quilter and the rest of our family is all in the south or back east and so they know what we do but they're not part of the quilt world, so we don't have to justify to anybody.

GW: We have just talked about a lot of things today. I wish that you would look in your brain and see if you can find something that you would like to tell us about yourself that I have been neglectful in asking.

MM: Well, I don't really know. That's a hard question to ask. I'm sure as soon as I leave, I can tell you. I've been a quilter for over thirty years, and I think it's not a way to become rich to be a quilting teacher, but it certainly is a wonderful occupation because as I mentioned you can meet people anywhere. When you go somewhere people treat you as special and show you what's wonderful about where they live and all of that. That's one of the things I like just besides working by myself in my studio just knowing that there's this wonderful big community, accepting divergent community that's out there.

GW: Do you do any teaching at quilt guilds?

MM: Yes. Quilt stores, quilt guilds, conferences--

GW: That sort of thing?

MM: That's how I make my living.

GW: You've been able to go around the country and teach at these quilt guilds. How have they received you and what have you felt about the quilt guilds?

MM: Well, I enjoy that. Sometimes it's difficult because they're volunteers and I'm not and so things don't always run smoothly but I taught in inner city schools with riots, so I always know that quilters aren't going to riot on me. [laughs.]

GW: That's true. That's true.

MM: I always say, 'We're out in the prairie and we make do.' And that's exactly what we do. I do enjoy going.

GW: That's right. Well, this has been just a delightful interview. Can you think of anything you would like to ask her? We will just say that this is Mary Mashuta and I'm Georgann Wrinkle. I have asked the questions. Kay Jones has done the scribing today and this is November the second two thousand and one and we are now going down to take pictures of your quilt and yourself to be part of the presentation that we do.

[tape ends.]


“Mary Mashuta,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,