Judy Kriehn




Judy Kriehn




Judy Kriehn


Judy Holley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Nathaniel Stephan


[crowd noises are heard throughout the tape as the interview was conducted on the convention floor.]

Judy Holley (JH): My name is Judy Holley, and this is Saturday, November 3, 2001. We are at International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. I'm here to interview Judy Kriehn of Garland, Texas. And it's 2:48 p.m. Okay Judy, you made this quilt in response to the terrorist attacks on New York [New York.]. Could you describe it and tell us what motivated you to make it and what it means to you?

Judy Kriehn (JK): It's a very, very dark and evil looking quilt actually. I didn't realize how much so until I really started working on it. It's all blacks and red. I used a lot of sheer fabric over the red to dilute the intensity of the reds, and then a lot of different textures and flat fabrics. [announcement over pa.] I don't even know how to describe why I picked the fabrics but the thing that was going through my mind--

JH: We're going to stop for announcements. We're going to stop for announcements.

[tape is turned off.]

JH: Alrighty it's what time?

Betty Coburn (BC): 2:50.

JH: 2:50 and we'll re-begin our interview. Okay Judy, you were telling us how you were inspired to make this quilt.

JK: The thing that kept running through my mind after the attacks was that it wasn't so much an attack on America, but an attack on humanity. There are so many ways that people use religion as an excuse to do horrible things to people that have never really done anything to them. I mean people firebombing medical centers, people firebombing African American churches or Jewish Synagogues and things like that. It's all terroristic. It's not just Arabs doing bad things to otherwise nice people. That's kind of where the 'evil lurks in the shadows' thing came from, and that's why I titled the quilt that. Before I even started making it, I knew it was going to be titled that. [laughs.] I wanted to depict evil lurking out of dark places because it always seems like they do bad things and then they go scuttling into the shadows before they go, 'Yeehaw look what we did.' That was kind of what I was trying to illustrate. The different textures of black I think show different levels of evil or whatever, but the red is the most evil part. When I started piecing it together this is the first time, I've ever not completely planned the entire quilt in advance--

JH: [interrupting Judy.] So, this is spontaneous--

JK: I'm usually very anal retentive about planning in advance planning in advance. [grrs.] This time, I wasn't going to go, 'and this goes here and this…' That's when I purposely sat down with a pile of fabric and a pair of scissors and said to myself, 'Whack mad.' [laughs.] Whacking away angrily at the fabric purposely trying to get jagged edges. Slapping it down, pinning it into place and stitching it down. The tulle where you see all this double stitching, I actually wadded up the tulle and smashed it down and stitched it into place because I wanted different darknesses of it going on. This is black organza that still you can see the red through it but it is quite a bit darker. Then when I got it already to start quilting, that's when I really realized just how mad I was. [JH laughs.] I'm stitching away going 'Whoa, this is a mad quilt.' I didn't realize just the depth of my emotion because until that time, when everything happened, it was just so surreal, it was like, 'How can somebody do that? How can somebody want to hurt people that way?' I was mad, but I just didn't realize how angry I was until I started stitching on it and it was just coming out of the quilt.

JH: How did you hear about this exhibit?

JK: Shortly after 9/11, Karey [Bresnahan.] emailed about twenty people that are just kind of in her email book off the QuiltArt [email.] list and said, 'What do you think about doing an exhibit at the quilt show with quilts about what happened? Do you think that would be a negative kind of thing?' Probably most of us responded back to the positive but yeah, there's something cathartic about being able to put your feelings whether it's on paper or fabric or whatever to say how you really feel and at least get it out of your system so you can really put a finger on what it is you've been feeling. So, she made the decision based on all the feedback she got from the people on the quilt art list to go ahead with the exhibit and just opened it up to everybody and anybody who wanted to make a quilt were included. All they had to do was send her an email that said, 'It's going to be approximately this size and it's going to have kind of sort of this theme going on.' Then we had to have them in by a certain date that happened to be the Monday before--the Wednesday before Quilt Market opened. I was quilting busily. Another friend of mine was making one at the same time and we'd be comparing notes as we'd go. 'Okay is yours ready to go?' 'I'm just ready to go to bed at dawn, I don't know.'

JH: So how long did it take?

JK: I did the piecing one evening probably in about two or three hours and then one evening before the quilt show meeting for Dallas [Texas.] I did the basting. And then probably over a couple evenings I did the quilting on it. The only actually quilting per se is these areas where there was the same fabric in both places and so I choose those places to put real quilting and I wanted it very jagged. The day after I finished quilting it, it was laying out and I walked out ready to go to work I looked at it and it looked like falling debris and I hadn't even realized that [JH: Yes, it does.] until the night after and I'm like, 'Whoa, that looks like falling debris.' On other parts, what I ended up kind of doing was heavy--what do you call it? Satin stitching [JH: Satin stitching.] border with a rayon thread, cotton threads and very heavy threads. It's basically quilted with the satin stitch embroidery. Then there are a few places where I just used stitch in the ditch with an invisible thread. This is all quilting stitching that when I was really starting to realize just how angry I was. [JH: They look it.] The way they started looking--

JH: They look angry. Yeah.

JK: When I was doing that stitching.

JH: Where you surprised about how many quilts are hung here?

JK: Yeah, I really was because all the previous things I had seen I thought there were only forty or fifty people who had made the deadline of committing to doing this. I was very pleasantly surprised to find two hundred quilts there.

JH: When this exhibit is over what are you going to do with this quilt?

JK: I'm taking it back. They offered--they asked us to donate them for a silent auction but I'm not at a point in my life where I want to part with my quilts. I don't specifically make them for that. This was pretty personal and so I really didn't want to part with it.

JH: Do you want to hang it? In your house or--

JK: I don't' know that it will necessarily hang anywhere but I've got prize winning quilts that live in a bag. [laughs.] I don't even sleep under a quilt on my bed. All my quilts are very small. I wasn't ready to let go of it, so it comes back home--

JH: [interrupting.] It's personal. It's going to live with you.

JK: Yeah, for the time being anyway.

JH: How long have you been quilting?

JK: Actually, I took my first quilting class in 1993. I have a degree in art, a bachelor in fine arts with a specialization in advertising and graphic design. [rustling of paper in the background.] When people find out you have an art degree, the first thing they say is, 'I bet you do wonderful paintings.' I don't paint. I don't get along with brushes very well. So, I spent a lot of time after I graduated from college looking for an artistic outlet that I really enjoyed. I've got a thousand dollars' worth of beads. I don't even like beads. I've got all this other stuff. 'Oh, this is going to be it.' I'd try it and that wasn't it. It would leave me flat. For Christmas in 1992, my cousins asked me, 'What do you want for Christmas?' For no apparent reason I just said, 'Quilting stuff.' [laughs.]

JH: Now come on there's an apparent reason somewhere.

JK: I had a friend who was making a quilt for a little boy, and I guess that may have been a catalyst. I thought, 'You know, I could do that.'

JH: Did you have a sewing machine? Did you know how to sew?

JK: Oh yeah.

JH: Okay.

JK: I learned [machine sewing.] when I was in junior high. I've been hand embroidering since I was a little kid and stuff like that. I grew up in a family where I think my grandmother considered quilting to be kind of a bourgeois thing that only cheap people did. If you couldn't buy it at the store, you shouldn't have it. Quilts were always hidden away when I was growing up. I always coveted them. 'I want a quilt.' But I really never had them when I was a kid. I guess it just never occurred to me I could make them myself. Anyway in 1993, I got this gift certificate and a cutting mat and stuff from my cousins for Christmas. I went visiting all the quilt stores and sewing stores in the area looking for a beginning quilt class. It was probably a smarter thing to do because I tend to buy the stuff and then never do it. The class at least you had homework [JH: Yes.] and you would be mortally embarrassed if you did not do your homework and come back. So, taking the class I actually had a finished quilt, and it really struck a nerve with me that, 'Oh this is really fun.' I like fabric because it's tactile and you can touch it. I like anything that's touching feeling. I like the smooth touches like this is a satin or this is a rough fabric and velvet and things like that. I think that's one of the reasons why I've really been drawn to quilting as an art form because it's something you can touch even though they have all these 'do not touch' signs at quilt shows. It's natural to want to touch them.

JH: You make quilted garments too?

JK: Yes, I do.

JH: And you have a garment here in the show?

JK: Yes, I do.

JH: Could you tell us about it?

JK: Yeah, it's not real fancy to look at but it was a real interesting experiment for me. I decided I wanted to see what would happen if I didn't use batting as batting; what if I used something else as batting between sheer fabrics so it is two layers of organza with tissue lame layered between then I stitched the hell out of it to hold it all together. It was a real adventure and learning experience because I was using spray glue and things like that trying to hold it all together long enough to get it stitched--

JH: What garment is it?

JK: It's called "Wind in the Willows"--

JH: Is it a jacket? Is it a dress?

JK: Well, it's a jacket with a dress underneath--

JH: A jacket with--

JK: The jacket is the actual part of it.

JH: Do you wear your quilted garments?

JK: No. I don't make things that fit me--

JH: You already said you don't sleep under your quilts [JK: No.] or you don't make quilts to sleep under.

JK: Well one day I will, but I haven't gotten that big yet. [laughs.] The quilted garments the only reason I don't make them to fit me is that it stresses me out to think I have to make it fit me because I have a very oddly shaped body. [laughs.] It's just easier to take a pattern cut it out be done with it and work on the design or the garment rather than if it's going to fit me.

JH: Would you say most of your work is contemporary as opposed to traditional?

JK: Yeah. I'm very much more drawn by bright colors or contemporary patterns or contemporary twist on traditional things than I am very traditional kinds of things. I walk right past the Baltimore Album Quilts. 'Nah, no way.' I don't like really boring colors at all, and traditional quilts tend to have more boring color schemes going on. That's just me. I recognize that it's a very personal thing for everybody. Any kind of art form, you need to recognize that not everybody else is going to have your taste. That's one thing that kind of irritates me is the people, 'Well that's not an art quilt.' Who are you to say that's not art? So, what if the seams are rippled. That's personal to that person. Yes, it's art. Black velvet fabric paintings of Elvis can be art. It's what it means to you.

JH: So, do you think quilts have a big future in the art world, in the museum world?

JK: I think so. They already have a place in the museum world. A lot of very high-profile collections have both traditional and more contemporary quilts in their collections. I think it's an art form that has proven its ability to survive over time. It's not necessarily a trendy thing like some art forms will be. I think it's something that people are drawn to for the tactile nature of it. Did I answer that question?

JH: Yeah, you did.

JK: Okay.

JH: How do you think this exhibit relates to the tradition of the American quilt?

JK: In a lot of ways, probably the cathartic nature of it. I think that a lot of people have found quilting to be a comfort whether they're making it to comfort somebody sleeping under it [JH: hums yes.] or they're making it to comfort themselves. Overall, that's what this is about whether it's comforting yourself or letting your feelings be known. I've done other quilts that are very emotional. I did one about my mother dying of breast cancer. I've done some about close friends [Judy's voice breaks and she sounds close to crying.] who had bad diseases and it's a way to say something.

JH: It certainly is. Is there anything else that you'd like to comment on that we haven't covered in this interview?

JK: Nothing I can think of. But then, I had no preconceived notions coming into it. [laughs.]

JH: Betty is there anything you'd like to ask?

BC: I'm so busy writing I haven't been able to think. [all three laugh.]

JH: Well, that's okay; would you like to see something along the lines of this exhibit expanded to travel to other parts of the country?

JK: I don't think it can--

JH: You don't think it can?

JK: No. I mean I think variations of it will go on but I don't think this particular exhibit. This is the only time it's ever going to be like this. They're going to do a juried version of it next year.

JH: That's what I had heard. A juried version of this topic.

JK: It will be different.

JH: When people have a year to prepare instead of two weeks, or was it three?

JK: Actually, we started talking about it the week after--

JH: It was two weeks you had?

JK: Yeah, we had more than two weeks to do the quilt--

JH: Did you have to have the quilt due by the twenty fourth--

JK: We had to be committed to doing it by the end of September--

JH: And it had to be here by October twenty fourth?

JK: Right, right.

JH: So, you had like basically a little over a month?

JK: Yeah.

JH: Yeah. [pause 5 seconds.] Do you sell your quilts? Are you going to give--you give them away?

JK: Only ones that--

JH: Let your children take them?

JK: Well, I don't have kids. I'm not married, and I don't have kids. All I have is fabric. [laughs.] I have three sewing machines and fabric. I had a lot of cousins who were having babies, so I made baby quilts for them. I make a lot of things that I give away and people are like, 'How can you give that stuff away?' Well because it's personal even when it's a baby quilt. It's coming from my heart, and I'd rather give it to somebody who is going to appreciate it than try to sell it and be unhappy no one wanted to buy it. I'm just not at a point where I want to sell my stuff. I have a lot of friends that's all they want to do is be a successful artist selling their quilts. I may get there some day but right now I don't have time. [laughs.] I don't want to think about that kind of thing. I'd rather devote my time to the emotion of the project whatever the project is at hand and making it the best possible thing at that time than worrying about if it's going to please this other person. I want it to please me.

JH: Please you first.

JK: Yeah.

[5 second pause.]

JK: Did I answer the rest of the questions?

JH: I think you answered the questions. [laughs.]

BC: And you have a closing statement to make.

JH: I've lost my card.

JK: The end. [laughs.]

BC: Who you are, who she is and where this is.

JK: But she did the opening statement with that.

BC: But they do it at the end.

JH: There is a closing statement. This is Judy Holley, and we just finished this interview with Judy Kriehn from Garland, Texas and the time is--

BC: 3:19--3:09--

JH: 3:09 on November 3, 2001, in Houston. Thank you very much Judy.

JK: You're welcome.

[tape ends.]


“Judy Kriehn,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1317.