Dana Chapman




Dana Chapman




Dana Lacy Chapman


Judith Preston

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics / United Notions


International Quilt Festival
Houston, Texas USA


Rachel Grove


Judy Pelston (JP): [tape begins mid sentence.] ...date is November 3, 2001. I'm--[sound is lost for 5 seconds]. It is 10:10 am. The interview is for the S.O.S. – Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project in Houston, Texas. [6 second pause.] Dana would like to have her name corrected and included in the records. Go ahead Dana.

Dana Lacy Chapman (DLC): My name is Dana, D-A-N-A, Lacy, L-A-C-Y, Chapman, C-H-A-P-M-A-N.

JP: [6 second pause.] Dana, I think that we all know your subject matter is September Eleventh. Can you tell us [4 second pause.] about your quilting and about this quilt?

DLC: I use quilting to help me deal with events in my life, and this image of the plane exploding into the second tower that was so vividly played and replayed and replayed on the television news reports just stuck in my head, and I couldn't get it out. One way for me to get it out and yet preserve it was to put it into the quilt, and in an odd sort of way it also worked with an interest in experimenting with ways to manipulate fabric and bring three dimensional effects to the quilts, and the explosion lent itself to that experimentation and provided a foil, I guess, to really put it to work and so just--I don't want to say that's the excuse for making--it was the incident and it all sort of--that's the wonderful thing about quilting. It all sort of fits together and gives you the opportunity to express things, deal with things, experiment with techniques, and sometimes the events in our lives give us the motivation to go ahead and bite the bullet and try what it is you've been curious to try.

JP: How did you get into quilting in the first place?

DLC: I had my PhD, and I was a professor in a clothing textiles department and taught clothing construction for years, ten years, at the University of Akron. When we started moving around because of my husband's career, I did not have the opportunity to teach so I was at home fulltime with the boys and this gave me something to do while I was at home with the boys. I discovered quilting quite by accident and taught myself a lot about quilting and found it a wonderful way to create, to keep my juices going, and discovered a whole new world in the quilting community.

JP: Well, did you have a family background of fabric, or textiles, or quilting, or--

DLC: I had a family background of art. My father was a scene design and production professor, and my mother was always very interested in art and always doing projects. But I'm not aware of any family quilters other than my sister who also quilts, and that's a great joy we share.

JP: Where were you when this September Eleventh happened?

DLC: I was at home alone looking forward to a quiet day and turned on the radio for background noise and heard this newscast. It was about--oh, it was a good hour after this all happened that I finally got around to turning on the radio and heard discussion about it on the radio and then turned on the television, and that of course was the end of the quilting day. We were all just so glued to that and that image that they just showed over and over again as if we looked often enough we'd come to believe that really was happening, and it--

JP: I think that is a great point.

DLC: Yes. [7 second pause.] Go ahead.

JP: On this area [lower right hand corner.] that appears to be more of the aftermath.

DLC: [pointing to orange vertical lines in lower right hand corner.] This was very much the two images that stuck with me, struck me, and stuck with me, and after the explosion and it came down, the steel skeleton that was left of the--and I remembered it as orange, that steel skeleton that was left after the buildings came down stood as such a – and it struck me as that they were very cathedral church-like, the way they were human built cathedrals anyway, and that struck me as a very interesting second after image, if you will, and sort of rising from the flames, and [3 second pause.] that color. I just couldn't get the color out of my head [clears throat.] and the flames and the smoke and how that all began to appear once the depths and smoke began to clear. I used tulle to affect the smoke and then cut it away where the scraps of orange and red are to show a brighter flame, because the flames keep burning.

JP: I heard you mention to the photographer about something about people.

DLC: Well, I do have an eagle up here very quietly. I didn't want--

JP: That's in the left upper corner?

DLC: It's in the left upper corner, and it is an eagle that is done with continuous line quilting, which is a brand new book of Laura Lee Fritz, and she shows all kinds of images that you can do with continuous line. I'm a free motion quilter and I do it on a regular sewing machine. It's not a longarm. I wanted the reference of the patriotism that evolved from this event but I did not want it to overpower the two images that I was focusing on. It's like you don't want to diminish the effect of what you're focusing on by putting too many things in, but I did want that reference, so he is there very subtly appearing in the left hand corner, and it's sort of small as compared to the--his fingers just sort of evolved when I started quilting the like black hands up here.

JP: I had thought you said, ‘People' but you said, ‘Eagle.'

DLC: [says simultaneously with Judy.] Eagle. Yes, yes.

JP: Thank you.

DLC: [3 second pause.] And he's very clear on that side but like I said I didn't want him too strongly illustrated.

JP: [3 second pause.] Well.

DLC: And I didn't want the literal representation of that plane. I didn't want the literal image of that plane coming in. It's much more with the- the plane coming in is much more about [3 second pause.] the terror they're using as their weapon, not what specific thing, and so I kept that a little bit vague.

JP: [9 second pause.] Is there anything you think that I have missed or forgotten to ask you that you'd like to add?

DLC: I don't think so. This has been a wonderful--one thing I love about this whole exhibit is its raw and emotional reaction. It's so sudden. It's so impromptu, and it just, you know, it crushes you, but it's wonderful to get it out, get it in the light. We can-- [inaudible.]

JP: How soon did you have this together after?

DLC: I debated a long time because the call for these came out--I can't specifically remember, and I thought to myself, ‘Do I want to take time out from my other activities to do this, or should I focus on my other activities?' It just was sort of a nagging feel, and so I decided--they wanted e-mail of intent that we were going to do this by September 29th, and so on the 29th I said, ‘Okay, I'll do it,' and between the 29th and the 24th of October I did this and--

JP: Did you have any trouble doing it emotionally or--

DLC: Yes, it was. I started with the flame, because I thought to myself, ‘If this doesn't work then my idea of conveying this image is not jelled enough and then I won't' so I think I tried that flame, that explosion, even before the 29th, because I wanted to make sure that was going to work in a technical way for what I wanted to convey in the quilt, and when it did I decided, ‘Okay, this was meant to be,' and I did not--I'll admit I focused on getting the thing done rather than what I representing because I couldn't think about it too much other than, ‘What am I--how am I going to portray what it is I'm trying to convey.'

JP: Did you have it in your mind before you got the e-mail that you had the impulse to do it?

DLC: Yes, I had thought there's a quilt in this, and I had had previous experience of quilting through a very negative life experience, and that was a very successful way to deal with it and cope with that, and I thought this would be the perfect way to express the emotional reaction to this, and I liked the immediacy of it. You know I didn't give it a whole lot of thought. I didn't mull it over. I didn't--it was really pretty much an immediate sort of thing, so it's got raw.

JP: It was pulled out of you perhaps?

DLC: Exactly. Exactly. It was like I sort of felt I was getting out of the way to let this out more than struggling with the exact thing that's going to express it best, and sometimes that is a neat way to quilt. Just let it happen. Just go with the immediate idea rather than overanalyzing what it is you're trying to show.

JP: [4 second pause.] Well, thank you very much.

Unidentified Person (UP)[perhaps Scribe, Rebecca Salinger.]: Do you think we can continue here? It doesn't seem too bad, the voice. What do you want to do?

DLC: If that'll work for you guys, that's fine with me.

JP: Okay.

Unidentified Speaker: What do you think?

DLC: I think it works nice.

JP: All right.

DLC: Do you want to check to see if that's recording?

JP: I'm going to stop for now.

[tape recorder shut off and turned back on again.]

JP: We're continuing to record at 10:35 on the quadrant questions number one. Can you tell me the name of the quilt?

DLC: The quilt is called "Fractured Sky, Hallowed Ground" and it refers to the two images that I really tried to focus on in the quilt. [5 second pause.] That is the explosion and then the skeleton of the World Trade Center towers after they came down.

JP: Can you specify the materials that used in the quilt?

DLC: Yes, I used primarily commercially manufactured cottons. I do have some Dupioni silk that I painted and some cotton that I painted in the sky, but most of it is commercially produced cottons.

JP: What are your plans for the quilt?

DLC: I would like to continue to show the quilt in other venues-- [announcement over the loudspeaker.] [tape recorder shut off and turned back on again.]

JP: It's 10:37 and I'll continue with the informant's involvement in quilting. At what age did you start quilting?

DLC: I started quilting at abut thirty-six years of age, so I've been at it for ten or twelve years, although not seriously until the last eight or so.

JP: How many hours a week would you say that you--

DLC: Not enough. [laughs.] I probably put in a good sixty hours a week quilting and would do more if I could, but you know there are meals to cook and stuff like that.

JP: Do you remember what your first quilt impression or quilt memory was?

DLC: [5 second pause.] No, I don't know. I think it was just being attracted to books about quilts and quilting, and how to do it and the pretty publishing and thinking, ‘Well, that would be a way to put my clothing construction together.'

JP: Do you still have children at home?

DLC: I have a fourteen year old and a sixteen year old still at home, and they understand that my quilting time is not to be interrupted, so we've worked that all out.

JP: [6 second pause.] What do you find pleasing about quilting?

DLC: Quilting is a time of solitude, a time of meditation in a lot of ways too, can even think about the things that are going on in my life or I can escape them totally depending on what stage of the quilting I'm in. I do most everything by machine, so it's not and idle--no, I shouldn't say that. I don't mean idle. I mean it's not a quiet time in front of the TV with hands. It's something that I truly focus and--

JP: All right. On the other hand what do you not enjoy about it?

DLC: I find trying to quilt on a home sewing machine frustrating, and that's probably the part I don't like the best, but I'm getting better at it, and I'm finding ways to make that less of a problem.

JP: And what do you think makes a great quilt?

DLC: I think a great quilt is--I'd answer that two ways. Any quilt that somebody pours their heart into, for whatever reason and in any way, makes for a great quilt, because that accomplishes what quilts means for. I also am deeply impressed with some of the new contemporary art quilts that are coming out and the innovations in technique and ways they're finding to produce fabrics, and a great quilt is one that uses fabric image or stitching in ways that I haven't seen before. I think that's wonderful.

JP: [6 second pause.] And what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DLC: Color first [6 second pause.] Very clear focus. That is not trying to do everything you can do within a single quilt unless it contributes to what you're trying to convey in the quilt. So I don't want to say non-busy, because sometimes non-busy works for what it is you're trying to do, but something that's clearly well thought through.

JP: [5 second pause.] What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

DLC: Boy that is a good question. I think an innovative technique that has been successful. I think an innovative use of materials and a good carry out of traditional technique, a good representation or a good reworking of a traditional technique.

JP: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

DLC: I think both are--[3 second pause.] I admire hand quilting very much. I choose not to do it because I'm impatient and want it done very quickly, but the quilters that are good at that--oh my gosh, that's a skill that is unbelievable, but I don't think it's the only way to go. I think machine quilting and these longarm machines that are quilting now--I think what is being produced on those is unbelievable.

JP: [4 second pause.] Why is quilting important to your life?

DLC: It's how I express myself. It's who I am. It's how I announce myself to the world [3 second pause.] and work through whatever it is I'm dealing with.

JP: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

DLC: I'm originally from Colorado, and I have done several pictorial quilts that represent that area. In another way, I do service quilts for Ronald McDonald Houses and for the schools that my children attended. We did auction quilts to raffle off, so--[3 second pause.] and I tend to take my inspiration from things around me.

JP: How do you feel about the importance of quilts in American life?

DLC: Oh, I think they're part of our history and continue to be so. Not only in terms of how we managed in days of old but how the roles of women have changed and the purposes they serve.

JP: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

DLC: [5 second pause.] They express not only how women lived. They express the art that women found in whatever way they lived, and they provided them opportunity for community, and socialization, and camaraderie, and support, and encouragement, and a way to avoid isolation.

JP: How do you think quilts can be used?

DLC: I think they can be used for everything from comfort to comfort, to stay warm, comfort to stay soft, a way to express your thoughts, your philosophies, and they are aesthetically beautiful. They're a way to--[inaudible.]

JP: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

DLC: That's a good question. I think they should be preserved, and I think all forms of quilting should be reserved; both traditional ways and the innovative ways, and the museums are the way to do that, because they have the facilities to keep these things from breaking down and rotting away. Then they should be in museums.

JP: What has happened--[clears throat.] Excuse me--to the quilts that you have made [laughs.] or those of friends and family?

DLC: [4 second pause.] Most of them I give away, and my friendships and such are excuses to make quilts. I feel guilty making a quilt for me and keeping it, but I do have a couple that I've made specifically for me, about me, that I do keep near me, because they are part of me.

[tape recorder shut off and turned back on again.]

JP: I'd like to thank Dana. Is there anything else that you'd like to add for the interview?

DLC: [3 second pause.] I'm delighted to see this project the S.O.S. [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project going on. I think you guys are doing a really vital service to the quilting world to keep these stories, and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to do this, and thank you guys, for your time.

JP: Thank you.

[tape recorder shut off and turned back on again.]

JP: I'd like to thank Dana Lacy Chapman for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 Quilters' S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at [6 second pause.] 10:47, November 3, 2001.

[tape recorder shut off and turned back on again.]

JP: We're adding a P.S. to Dana Chapman's interview on November 3, 2001. I'd like to ask her about her Dallas guild.

DLC: I am a member of the Dallas Quilters Guild of Dallas. Have been since 1999. I am the current vice president of the programs and workshops for that organization. It's a wonderful place t learn and interact with other quilters and be quilters together. I'm also a member of the Plano Quilters Guild of Plano, which I also joined in 1999, and the guilds are such important places to keep this thing going that--

JP: Are you a member of any other quilt organizations?

DLC: And I'm also a member of ITAA [International Textile and Appraisal Association.], National Quilting Association, International Quilt's Association, and American Quilters Society.

JP: [3 second pause.] Thanks.

DLC: I just wanted you to know that.

JP: Thank you very much.

DLC: [laughs.]

[tape recorder shut off.]


“Dana Chapman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1312.