Kim McLean


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Kim McLean




Kim McLean


Jo Francis Greenlaw

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics/United Notions


International Quilt Festival
Houston, TX USA


Rachel Grove


Jo Frances Greenlaw (JFG): [inaudible.] This is Houston Texas at the quilt festival. It is Friday, November 1, 2002. I am the interviewer, Jo Frances Greenlaw. F-R-A-N-C-E-S. G-R-E-E-N-L-A-W. We are interviewing Kim McLean, K-I-M--M-C-L-E-A-N, from Australia. The time is 9:10 a.m. Well, welcome, Kim. We?re so glad to have you here in Houston.

Kim McLean (KM): Thank you.

JFG: Have a seat, and you?ve come a long way, and--

KM: Well, thank you.

JFG: Won. You are one of our big winners. Let?s see. This is--tell me what you?ve won.

KM: I'?ve won the Founder?s Award.

JFG: Founder?s Award. I think we all can see for a quilt that was hanging on exhibit downstairs--

KM: Downstairs.

JFG: Which we will look at later. Right now we?re going to talk about a special quilt you had brought that we have right here in front of us that we can touch and talk about. What about this quilt? Does it have a name?

KM: It hasn'?t got a name yet. I usually have a name for it, and I can?t think of one--the original quilt was found in Western Australia. My quilt is inspired by this very, very old quilt that was--that was done by this lady called Sarah Evans in--no, in Western Australia. It was done--It was done in 1880, and I fell in love with it when I saw it in a book, and I thought, ?I?ll make it.? I just--I?d been staring at it for months [inaudible.].

JFG: Well, it is--would you like to tell us about the process? It looks like it?s--[inaudible.]

KM: It?s hand appliquéd.

JFG: Hand appliquéd.

KM: And machine pieced. [inaudible.] --and some hand piecing.

JFG: It is some of the most beautiful work here, and it?s made up of several blocks.

KM: It?s made of multiple rectangular blocks.

JFG: Rectangular blocks.

KM: The piece--the large rectangular blocks. They are twice the size. There?s more than one.

JFG: Uh hum.

KM: It?s [3 second pause.] [inaudible.]--how it ought to be.

JFG: Do the blocks individually represent anything?

KM: No, they?re pretty. It?s pretty motifs.

JFG: I hear they?re influenced from an early story, so, yes, this is a very traditional quilt.

KM: Very, very traditional, and it?s made from the fabric that we use now to make reproduction quilts--

JFG: Reproduction--

KM: Which are available.

JFG: Is Australia as resourceful as you see here--?

KM: Oh, yes.

JFG: Are the material as the size available to you?

KM: The fabrics come from the United States, and we do get them somehow. It trickles down [inaudible.]. With the Internet now we tend buy quite a lot of fabric on the Internet. There is just something else we'?ve got from the U.S.

JFG: Are you a native Australian?

KM: No, I was born in Indonesia, and I went to Australia at a very young age, and I was educated in Australia, in Melbourne, Victoria.

JFG: And are your influences from Australia, or do they go back to Indonesia?

KM: I think it?s more Australia because I?ve stayed in Australia for a long time and I formed Australian ways. I grew up in Australia.

JFG: Yes, so like Americans you have a strong Anglo--

KM: Yes, I'?ve--

JFG: [inaudible.]

KM: And still our way is very, very, terribly English, so--

JFG: [laughter.] Well, you chose this quilt to bring today for what reason?

KM: [3 second pause.] I--

JFG: You probably had many you could have chosen.

KM: I put it [inaudible.]--I just, no, I just love this quilt. It?s something that--You know I love old quilts, and probably in the last nineteen years I?ve made mostly sort of old fashioned quilts.

JFG: What patterns do you tend to prefer then in the traditional [inaudible.]?

KM: I--I think probably the medallion type. [3 second pause.] I think it?s mostly very [inaudible.]. [laughter.]

JFG: Well, American. [laughter.]

KM: Or American.

JFG: I?m thinking of--kind of have to think.

KM: I?m not very good with the machine. I just prefer doing something pieced by hand.

JFG: [4 second pause.] Well, what will happen to this quilt? Are you going to keep it, use it, sell it--

KM: No, no. My daughter will--she usually has all the quilts that I make.

JFG: Wonderful.

KM: Yes, I keep them.

JFG: You keep them?

KM: Yes.

JFG: Somehow or another in the family.

KM: I'?ve told her already, if she doesn'?t want it, she can give it to a museum.

JFG: Oh, very good. Very good.

KM: I prefer it to go in a museum.

JFG: Have you had other quilts go into a museum?

KM: Not yet. I?'ve got a collection of it. I have left it to her that if she doesn?t ever [inaudible.] want it, she is to give to The New South Wales Museum or one of the museum or--but she?s pretty sensible.

JFG: Like her mother. [laughter.] What kind of museum would around you would have a good quilt collection?

KM: Not very--Not in Australia. I think we are still behind in that. The National Museum would have a few quilts.

JFG: Uh hum.

KM: Very, very old ones, and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has some, and I--you know I don?t know. I'?ve told her that there is always a museum here that she could give them to.

JFG: You are quite young, and I see a possibility--

KM: [inaudible because she is speaking at the same time as Jo Frances.] [laughter.]

JFG: For you and your daughter to start them being interested in a good textile and quilt collection. It takes someone like you with a beautiful collection and the talent to start something.

KM: I?d love to do it. Yes, I'?ve--you know I'?ve sort of--My daughter doesn?t sew. She?s more of a [inaudible.], but she does appreciate the quilts that I make.

JFG: Well, how did you get interested in quilts?

KM: It?s really funny. When my daughter Casey was young I used to go to the Quilting Bee quilt shop nearby, and they had these wonderful, you know, quilts in the shop, and I usually stop and gawk and finally I bought the little kit to do a miniature Amish quilt. I didn?t know what an Amish quilt was. Anyway, I did it in all the wrong colors, [laughter.] but it got me. It got me, and a few months later I took a beginner?s course, which taught me to do, you know, drafting--It?s a sampler course, and I really--It really got me in a big way. You know I really loved it, and from then on I started doing quilting a big way.

JFG: And how long ago would that have been?

KM: That first sampler course was 1989.

JFG: [inaudible.]

KM: Yes, and then I made a Baltimore quilt--

JFG: [laughter.]

KM: Which was shown in Paducah, Kentucky actually.

JFG: Oh, how nice.

KM: It got juried into Paducah. [American Quilter?s Society quilt competition.]

JFG: So you are participating in several quilt shows?

KM: I'?ve only entered twice before, I entered two years in row in Paducah and I got juried into that. I think one of them won honorable mention, and then I stopped. I did lots of tops of course, but I never got around to quilting anything, because I was like really mad keen on getting the tops done.

JFG: Oh.

KM: And I just kept on making quilt tops, and I thought, you know [3 second pause.] about three years ago, ?Well, I?d better start finishing these.?

JFG: So this is all work--

KM: Yes.

JFG: You are quilting? You are doing the final quilting--

KM: Yes.

JFG: Together. Excellent. [4 second pause.] What would be your first quilt memory?

KM: My first quilt memory--I think--I kind of remember--I think it was ?70. I was in--I was in New York or something. I walked by--I went to a huge building foyer, I kind of remember. I think it must have been a bank, and I think they had this Amish quilt exhibition. I was--I didn?t know anything about quilts, and I did a double take and, ?My God, look at those things,? and after the meeting I went back through it again, and I looked at them, I still didn?t know what it was, and there was no one there to ask questions, and then I went home, and I forgot all about it until that visit past the quilt shop. That was earliest quilting memory that I had.

JFG: How long ago was that?

KM: Oh, I think that was in the ?70s.

JFG: Oh, you were fairly young.

KM: I was in my twenties, eh?

JFG: Her twenties. [inaudible.] [laughter.]

KM: I?'ve always been interested in sewing, and you know I used to make lot of appliqués and cross-stitch and stuff like that, but quilting really grabbed me. This is fun.

JFG: Well, was your needlework interest from your family somewhere? Are there other people--?

KM: No, no one in my family sews, but my mother--I think my mother had--She, during the war, she had to keep going by doing embroidery work, I think, but she did it because she had to earn a living, and I think my grandfather?s factory was confiscated by the Japanese, so she didn?t have an income and she started doing embroidery, and I then I think she hated it because of the memory, but she always had--She had this cupboard full of sewing stuff, you know? Floss and beads, and I used to go to this cupboard. I used to sew away drapes, pillows, and things, and she used to say, ?You?ll ruin your eyes, you know??

JFG: [laughter.] Well, that is wonderful. You think if she hadn?t had that treasure chest there that you would have missed out.

KM: I think I would have missed that. Yes, I think I would have missed out on it.

JFG: Uh hum.

KM: She had all of those--You know those supplies, and I used to do--I was just sewing it. It came naturally to me. Nobody taught me. It?s something that I love doing, you know? I?ve always had a needle, a needle and something.

JFG: So have you--

JFG: Do you consider yourself creative and artistic?

KM: No, actually I?m a pharmacist.

JFG: Oh, so are you--[laughter.]

KM: [laughter.] So I don?t have any art background.

JFG: That?s interesting. So you are not into needlework and quilting as an income source?

KM: No, no, no, I?m a pharmacist. [5 second pause.] I just love doing this. I have taught--You know I?m teaching classes? About two a month is all I want to do.

JFG: And where are you teaching?

KM: In this little shop near where I live in Sydney. [3 second pause.] It?s quite fun. I get to meet all the girls, and--

JFG: Good. Well, that brings up an interesting question. Is quilting enjoyable because it involves other people with you?

KM: Well, yes. I enjoy meeting these other girls who have showed up in courses, and we talk about fabric and patterns and you know. I like quilting. I think it challenges me. It?s also quite precise. Maybe it?s got something to do with my training as well. I have to be precise with--in the pharmacy business, or you?ll kill somebody. [inaudible.] But it?s [inaudible.] well as very soothing to do it. You know, just sew away.

JFG: Fascinating to meet someone like you who can produce these things out your head, and you are--

KM: It?s not, no, not really out of my head .There are sources, this lady, Sarah Evans, made the original quilt in eighteen hundred something. I didn?t sort of take every single thing that she?s done. I think this is something similar, and some bits of these are similar.

JFG: Sarah Evans an Australian, or did you find her--

KM: I think she would have been an--She would have come from England, and she would have came to Australia for one reason or another, you know?

JFG: Well, so you are the only quilter so far in your family?

KM: Yes.

JFG: Until you can get your daughter to sew?

KM: I wish I could her to do some sewing, but she doesn?t seem to be interested in it at all, you know? She likes looking at it. When she was little, she used to like cutting up fabrics with me, and she used to arrange the blocks and stuff like that.

JFG: Well, you mentioned museums, and I love that idea of you pursuing something about a museum collection in your country. What do you think makes a quilt worthy of a museum collection?

KM: I?m not sure. I never sort of gone into it, you know? Future generations might be interested in knowing that somebody did make quilts and won something in America, and there are-- [3 second pause.] I think it?s quite nice, a big thing, for us to bring this kind of award back to Sydney.

JFG: Kim McLean has won a big blue ribbon for her quilt that is on the floor. What is the name of the one on the floor?

KM: ?The Roebuck Quilt Redone.?

JFG: ?Roebuck Quilt Redone.? Well, if that quilt were to go to a museum, would the ribbon go with it?

KM: Yes, I would keep them together, and I?ll give them the pattern as well, and I?ll give them the book where it came from, and--

JFG: Very interesting. Well, what in a quilt do you think is the most powerful? Is it the color? Is it the design? What grabs you when you?re looking--? I love when you saw in the bank.

KM: I was-It was the color, and the fact it?s so geometric? It?s probably because I?m a--because I'?ve been around--I'?ve dealt with geometry all of my training. It was just stunning. It was something that you think, ?My God, what is that?? and then you come closer, and it?s all that stitching, and you think, ?Good grief, somebody started all this?? [5 second pause.] And here I?m doing it now. [laughter.]

JFG: And look what you have to show for it. Well, what would make a great quilter? Why have somebody like become--a pharmacist becomes such an accomplished--?

KM: I don?t know. It?s the color, the way it?s arranged, I think. There is, you know, there?s rhythm in it somehow, I think, especially with the traditional quilts, which I like. [4second pause.] I haven?t explored the art quilt yet. I may still have a long way go. I?m very busy doing this sort of thing, because I love it.

JFG: There are a lot of art quilts here.

KM: A lot, yes.

JFG: How does that affect you? What do you feel about that?

KM: I?m stunned. [laughter.] You know that?s sort of in fact that I had been out of--I saw those Amish quilts--I said, ?Good grief.? [laughter.]

JFG: [6 second pause.] There is strong difference but is there a place in the quilting world for both types, the traditional and the artistic?

KM: Oh, I think--I think there is. Really, I think there is, so it?s [inaudible.] probably in the old days something that used to be called traditional might have been what, you know, [inaudible.] not so traditional or--I?m not sure.

JFG: Do you think the two shall ever meet, or will they have to be separate always?

KM: I think there?s--From the people I?'ve spoken to about this--Well, of course I?m standing in front of them. Although there seems to be a very strong tradition of people who love traditional quilts that--hand quilted, hand pieced, hand appliquéd, and to those want, love art quilts. [3 second pause.] I mean I appreciate both types.

JFG: Do you think they come from different places? The traditional quilter coming from a different place than an artistic quilter--

KM: It must be--I think to be able to do that kind of art quilt, you have to be some sort of an artist. You must have an artist?s background to able to draw that kind of stuff [inaudible.]. I?m not sure. I did photography for two years out of--It?s a diploma course, and after two years of it, in the third year I had to move from Melbourne, keeping an eye on the baby, so that was the end of the photography course. I enjoyed it. Maybe I, you know--I?d have to shoot [inaudible.] a lot more. Maybe I could come to make art quilts. I don?t know. I haven?t explored that area yet.

JFG: So there is a place you can come from to go another direction?

KM: I think--I don?t know. That?s--that?s me. I don?t know. Maybe--I don?t how, you know, the art quilters come to art quilting. I?'ve never met anybody that makes art quilts, so I must. Of course I?m here. I?m going to. [laughter.] I?m going to [laughter.] find some. I?ll ask them questions. How they get to make art quilts.

JFG: How has quilting impacted your family? Not just your small family but your larger family. How--?

KM: Well, they?re sort of--They'?ve been gaga about it. [laughter.] They see me--Well, my daughter and my husband are not crazy like me, but I keep on buying fabric, enough for a store, and my father sort of looks at me he says, ?You?re mad,? [laughter.] and my sister loves it, and she?s not--She?s been [inaudible.]. She doesn?'t [inaudible.] stitching and [inaudible.] when she was younger. She?s--she doesn?'t do anything like that that I?m aware. She?s in the foreign exchange trade.

JFG: Maybe someday--

KM: She does know she enjoys it. I think she get thrills from what I?m doing it or what I?ve done, yes, so it?s great.

JFG: Well, would you say this is a very important part of your life?

KM: Quilting? Yes, it is. It?s something that I need to do everyday. I hate not doing some sort of sewing.

JFG: Is that a creative need?

KM: I think so. It?s also time out for me. Yes, and I can?t sit in front of the television without anything. I really need to do something to--I can watch television just sitting there looking at it.

JFG: Has your needlework helped you through any tough time [3 second pause.] as a therapy?

KM: Well, lucky, lucky for me I?'ve never had a tough life.

JFG: That?s cool.

KM: [laughter.] But I--Yes, I?'ve been asked about it. I haven?t had any problems. I?ve been very, very lucky, extremely lucky, but I'?ve never had to [inaudible.], but I think there is. I think it would be.

JFG: Well, this wonderful quilt, which I wish were mine [laughter.] will probably have a future within your family. When you look at other quilts, do you wonder how people can sell them, let them go?

KM: Yes, yes, I do.

JFG: Why do you think some of us can let them go, and some of us cannot?

KM: I?m sure. It?s like a baby, isn'?t it?

JFG: [laughter.]

KM: I think--I mean--I don?t know. [4 second pause.] No, no, I can?t imagine--

JFG: To part with that.

KM: Yes.

JFG: Well, when you?re working with your quilts--do you have a plan before start, or does it just grow as you--

KM: No, no, I usually have a plan. I usually sit there and draft the quilt, and I might not get to quilt straight away, because I have several things on the go. It?s always one quilt on the drafting table. It?s one quilt that I?m actually cutting or sewing, and there?s one quilt that I?m quilting.

JFG: Do you have a studio?

KM: I have a room. Wouldn'?t call it a studio. [laughter.] I have room where I keep my sewing tables in. [inaudible.] I?'ve got stuff to do it in that room, and then I shut the door completely closed.

JFG: [6 second pause.] Well, we are going to be nearing the end of this interview pretty soon, but I would like to give you the opportunity to say anything that you might have thought would be very essential for us to know about your feelings of quilting, the future of quilting, where you hope for going--will you come back to the quilt festival again, even if you don?t win? [laughter.]

KM: No, I would love to do this. I?d love to come to the quilt festival again. I fact, before I left a lot of these girls that I teach. They said, ?You go and find out what?s going on there, and we might go with you next year.?

JFG: You'?ve paved the pay.

KM: I thought, ?Okay, I?ll find out what?s happening here,? and it?s about eight of them who wanted to come. We?'ve always [inaudible.]--We?'ve always looked at magazines and books on the particular quilt shows like [inaudible.] someplace that we should go. [laughter.] What do we like up--? So it?s like a child going through a candy store.

JFG: Apparently you travel to the U.S. frequently.

KM: States, uh hum. I do--I think I'?ve been to the States quite a lot, but only--not this far.

JFG: When you?re traveling, do you see different types of quilts? I presume you see a lot of textiles, because your eyes are on the front.

KM: Unfortunately when I go with my family, with my husband, my daughter--My husband will not go shopping or go to anywhere that?s got fabric. He is terrified of being left sitting there two hours while I go and fossicking in fabric stores or quilt shops. Usually when we travel to these places we--sort of go from one place to the other fairly quickly, because the holiday that Casey, my daughter, has is only two weeks, and we have to keep moving quickly in the two weeks time.

JFG: How old is your daughter?

KM: She?s eighteen now.

JFG: Eighteen and she?s still a student?

KM: Well, she?s just--right at the moment she?s doing her last year exams. The last high school certificate exams

JFG: High school?

KM: Yes, high school. We call it high school before you go to the university.

JFG: Uh hum.

KM: So I think once she goes to university, I think I might be able to go off and roam around on my own a bit more. So far I?'ve been uncomfortable leaving her to her own devices

JFG: [5 second pause.] Should you begin some of your Australian quilting friends along with you, do you think that would change a lot of the way that the quilting attitude is or the perception is in Australia? Would it open doors to them?

KM: I think it?s probably--they?re probably like me. I was totally blown away by this huge numbers of quilts out there. Yesterday I was very busy, I think it took an hour or so to take photographs of the quilts to show the girls, and I went through four lots of film of 40 shots

JFG: A hundred and sixty pictures?

KM: Yes, yes. It was very easy. [laughter.]

JFG: Will you be taking back fresh ideas?

KM: Yes, I think so. I will sort of show them the photographs and see what they--how they will go with that.

JFG: When you are photographing, did you concentrate on traditional quilts, or--

KM: No, no, I didn'?t. I took all them--I haven?t finished yet. [laughter.]

JFG: Another hundred or so?

KM: I ran out of film yesterday, so I've got the rest of it today. No, I haven?t finished. I?ve started a [inaudible.]. I can?t [inaudible.], and no, I take all of--I?ll take all of them. I?ll take the contemporary and the traditional [inaudible.].

JFG: Seems like you have in a built in slide lecture to give when you get home.

KM: I think, yes--I think I?ll print it all out, and I think we?ll probably spend; you know, time together and spend the whole afternoon passing photos. It?d be great. [laughter.]

JFG: My feeling is that you are a great asset to your community.

KM: [laughter.] I mean it?s fun.

JFG: Are you buying a lot while you?re here?

KM: Well, I don?t know yet. I haven?t been--I haven?t managed to get that far, in between standing in front of my quilt which is really great. I got to meet so many people, and they are very interested in how it?s done and things like that.

JFG: What aisle is your quilt in?

KM: It?s in the front there. It?s in the front--That?s because it?s--

[Jo Frances and Kim are speaking at the same time.]

JFG: Oh, one of the winners.

KM: Yes. It?s because of winners, yes.

JFG: The front. The front. Okay. And that sure--

Unidentified Speaker [scribe, Grace Rapp?]: Lovely, lovely.

JFG: I have--

[several seconds of muffled identified speech.]

JFG: I have--[laughter.] So I?m just--but I haven?t spent money. [laughter.] Well, one any last one you?d like to throw out for us here? This will be in the archives of the University of Delaware--

KM: Yes.

JFG: Library and accessible online, and all of your friends and quilting ladies can access it--

KM: Yes.

JFG: Once it?s transcribed. It takes about a year [laughter.] to get it up on the Internet. [3 second pause.] And so thinking that way, since it will be available to the whole wide world, is there anything you?d like to add--the final statement. That?s tough, isn?t it? [laughter.] [3 second pause.] Maybe from your country, from your--from Australia--That aren?t that many Australian people represented here I don?t believe.

KM: There?s a couple of us that won. There?s one lady that?s won the miniature quilt.

JFG: Yes.

KM: She?s from Melbourne. We do sort of--We know each other.

JFG: Yes. Do you have quilt shows?

KM: We have quilt shows once a year. It?s usually on in June

JFG: And do people come from other places, or is just too far?

KM: It gets it [inaudible.] to Sydney. A lot of the quilts get shipped in from various places, and it does attract a lot of people. Not as huge as this.

[Jo Frances and Kim are speaking at the same time.]

KM: This big business.

JFG: This is the largest in the world, but do you think it could begin to attract people from the United States or Japan?

KM: There?s some--yes, there?s some thought of us being the biggest from Japan, and I think it?s gone from say--You don?t say it [inaudible.], but I have a feeling they feel Australia is a little [inaudible.].

[several seconds of unidentified muffled speech.]

JFG: Can you think of something a little more than that?

Unidentified Speaker [scribe, Grace Rapp?]: Thank you. I was really interested in the fabric in particular, especially for this one that you copied from the book if there was any the fabrics have any special meaning?

KM: No, not really. It?s--I?m trying to use reproduction fabrics, because it has--I wanted to get that look, you know, of the very old quilt. I love old quilts.

Unidentified Speaker [scribe, Grace Rapp?]: And the color palette?

KM: The color palette is--The original one, that?s very brown, you know was a very `

KM: Thank you.

JFG: The a--I am Jo Frances Greenlaw, the interviewer. The scribe has been Grace Rapp, R-A-P-P. Thank you.

KM: Thank you.

[tape recorder is shut off.]


“Kim McLean,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 12, 2024,