Susan Turnquist


QSOS-142 A.jpg


Susan Turnquist




Susan Turnquist


Barbara Beck

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics/United Notions


International Quilt Show
Houston, TX USA


Nathaniel Stephan


Note: Sounds from the convention can be heard throughout the tape. Susan Turnquist's voice is also faint on the tape so it seems the microphone was turned towards Barbara Beck as her voice is considerably louder.

Barbara Beck (BB): This is Barbara Beck. Today is November 1, 2002. It is 11:30 a.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Sue Turnquist for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Houston, Texas at the International Quilt Festival. I'm so glad you're here. Let's put this between us. [sounds of the tape recorder being moved.] Tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Susan Turnquist (SQ): The quilt brought today is an underwater theme. There are feet dangling in the water and machine embroidered fish. This is a quilt that I had in my mind since I first started quilting. It wasn't until 1998 that I managed to put this together.

BB: What materials are in it?

SQ: It's almost entirely commercial cottons. There are a few hand dyed fabrics. The legs are done hand dyed flesh tone fabrics.

BB: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

SQ: This quilt takes me back to my childhood days. I was the son my father didn't have so he took a lot of time taking me out fishing and things like that. It just takes me back to those memories of fishing for the blue gill and sun fish. It was some good times.

BB: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

SQ: I think because it has a special meaning. It takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of my father.

BB: How long do you think you thought about this quilt? [a voice over a microphone is heard.]

SQ: How long did I think about before I made it?

BB: Yeah.

[talking in background.]

SQ: Four years probably. I started quilting in 1995. [BB coughs]. It took me four years to get to the point where I had sufficient skills to make this quilt but I think it was in the back of my mind from the first time I started quilting--

BB: What started you quilting?

SQ: I went to the State Fair in Missouri in 1994. I had just finished with graduate school and I finally had a life beyond school. [BB laughs.] I was going through the vendors. There were several sewing machine vendors and for some reason it just popped in my head. I wanted a sewing machine. Then they asked me what I was going to do with it and I had no idea. I didn't know you had to have a reason to have a sewing machine. [inaudible.] That's how I got started.

BB: Did other people in your family quilt?

SQ: No, nobody in my family--

BB: No quilting history?

SQ: No quilting history at all. Actually I take that back. My grandmother on my father's side made utility quilts. She would take my grandfathers denim pants, painter pants and would put those together and just tie them. They were utility quilts. [BB: Yeah.] That was as close as my family had come to quilting.

BB: Had you slept under a quilt?

SQ: No.

BB: Never had slept under a quilt?

SQ: In fact I still haven't.

BB: You still haven't?

SQ: No.

BB: Okay. [clears throat.] How do you use this quilt?

SQ: It is a wall hanging.

BB: It's a wall hanging. [pause for five seconds.]

Unidentified Person (UP): Do you want to pause here and take a look at the quilt?

[tape recorder is shut off. 8 seconds of dead air then tape resumes.]

UP: I thought you knew the machine Grace. You all right?

BB: Thank you Grace, I'm so glad you know how to do this. Is it working?

UP: Yes.

BB: Alright. It's a beautiful quilt. It is wonderful. Which part of it do you like the best?

SQ: I like the fish. I had the most fun doing the fish.

BB: It's wonderful. Who did you learn how to quilt from?

SQ: A lot of it was self taught.

BB: We've got to figure out how to get this closer to you.

SQ: When I figured out that I wanted to quilt, I thought I wanted a sewing machine, but didn't know anything about quilting. At that time I thought I could take four or five hundred dollars and get a really good machine. I had no idea the sticker shock when I finally found out what they really cost so I went to the internet and learned all I could about quilting and sewing machines, [inaudible.]. [BB: Okay.] So a lot of what I do is self taught. [talking in background.] I've also been fortunate enough to take classes from some very good quilt teachers like Caryl Fallert and Ruth McDowell.

BB: That's been wonderful for you. [loud banging noises in the background.] How many hours a week do you quilt?

[loud continuous banging noise in background.]

SQ: I work full time so I have a very limited number of hours I've been able to quilt. [banging noise gets louder.] [inaudible.]

BB: I'm going to put it on. How many hours a week do you quilt?

SQ: Like I said I work full time so I only have an hour or two in the evening and then if I'm not on duty on the weekends I can get some time in there so I have a very limited amount of time to quilt.

BB: What is your first quilt memory?

SQ: First quilt memory--

BB: Memory. Your first quilt memory. I guess you already answered that didn't you when you said that--couldn't be though when you went to the State Fair.

SQ: That was the first time that I realized I wanted to make quilts--

BB: Okay.

SQ: When I went to the State Fair--

BB: Do you have any other earlier memories of quilts?

SQ: No.

BB: Okay. How does quilting impact your family?

SQ: My immediate family right now is just my husband and I and my mother. My father passed away a few years ago. My husband is very supportive. He doesn't always get dinner. In fact he seldom gets dinner during the week if I'm working on a quilt. He's a very good sport about it. He is very supportive and encourages me to follow my passion. He's very understanding about me building a fabric stash. He has his own hobbies so he gives me freedom to pursue my hobbies and I do the same with him. My mother isn't a quilter, she has arthritis and is unable to use her hands to sew. She started participating in the quilting bees at her church just because she saw how much fun I was having and wanted to participate as well. I think it's enriched her life. My quilting has enriched her life as well.

BB: That's nice. That's nice. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

SQ: Oh definitely. In fact this particular quilt that I brought today helped to get through a very difficult time in my life. Frankly I don't know how I got through life without quilting. It's been a great source of comfort.

BB: How old were you when you started to quilt?

SQ: I started quilting in '95 so I was--seven years ago, about thirty seven when I first started quilting. I had sewn as a youngster. In 4-H I did sewing and I had an old Singer machine that I hated so much that I didn't touch it for twenty years. I quit sewing because I really hated that machine. I think it was serendipity that I started quilting. It has made a big difference in my life. Great stress reliever.

BB: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

SQ: I don't think there is anything in quilting that I don't enjoy. I stopped pin basting. I used to hate pin basting, but I use a spray adhesive now so I don't even hate that anymore. Probably what I hate the most is finishing a project and realizing it's over and I have to move on to another one. That's always a little bit of a let down. So now to get over the hump I try to plan another quilt before I finish the one I'm working on. I'm not one of those people who can work on multiple projects at the same time. I have to start one and finish one before I can start the next one.

BB: What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

SQ: A lot of it I think is the friendships I've made because of quilting. Quilters are wonderful people and I've met so many people. We have so much in common. You can go anywhere and find a quilter. That's probably one of the nicest things about it.

BB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

SQ: I think that varies from person to person. I look for use of color. I think technique is probably second to me. It's not quite as important as the use of color, design.

BB: Did you take art classes ever?

SQ: No. No art background at all.

BB: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SQ: I guess again I really have to go back to the basic design. A good design, good use of color, value is very important. I think that's why a lot of quilts aren't as good as they could be.

BB: You said you really enjoyed making the fish. What was it about the fish that you enjoyed? Lets' look at them.

[pause for five seconds.]

BB: Oh they're beautiful.

SQ: Thread painting is just a nice mindless activity. [people talking in background.] You can lose yourself in thread painting. You can do as much as you want or as little as you want--

BB: I'm sorry what kind of painting?

SQ: Thread painting. I had seen work by Ellen Anne Eddy and Jane Herbert. Jane is a fabulous thread painter. She's an illustrator by trade. [hammering in the background.] She does scientific illustration: fish, lizards, and other flora & fauna. I saw her work and wanted to take a class with her and ended up taking a class with Ellen Eddy. I learned so much from Ellen, and these fish are a byproduct of that class.

BB: They're really beautiful.

SQ: I made them up as I went along. There really aren't any fish exactly like these in nature.

BB: Tell me about them.

SQ: I just used color where I wanted to use color. I just changed the look of the fish to suit my needs.

BB: They're probably there somewhere. They're in your head.

SQ: Yeah they're in my head. There are a lot of things in my head that want out.

BB: [laughs.] I know. What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

SQ: It all depends on the collection. That's a tough question. It really depends on what the curator is looking for.

BB: Tell me about your colors. Tell me about choosing the colors. [people talking in background.]

SQ: I made this quilt immediately after taking a class with Caryl Fallert. I had just learned her freeform piecing techniques and I wanted to get the impression of an undulating watery, underwater type scene and this was my attempt. This is all strip pieced with green fabric. I wanted to give the illusion of sunlight filtering through the water. I put light value fabrics at the top where sunshine would be flittering through and then dark fabric where the sun didn't reach at the bottom of the quilt. Since then I've made another quilt similar to this but it achieved the effect I wanted to achieve better than this one did. I consider this one to be more primitive and I think I've refined my techniques better since I've learned more.

BB: After you pieced it then you did the thread painting on the--

SQ: No, actually the quilt was pieced and then cut. This was one part and this was one part. It was cut to allow me to put in the post. We can imagine that there is a dock up there. Up here and here. [pointing to the quilt.] After that was pieced the legs were appliquéd on. The fish were thread painted separate pieces of fabric and then they were appliquéd to the quilt; then everything else was added. The fishing line was couched on and then I used ultra suede to make the worm [loud banging noise in the background.]

[loud banging noise continues.]

BB: What do you think makes a great quilter?

SQ: I guess a great quilter is one that can not only make the quilt but can also teach what [loud banging noise.] she has done and is giving of herself--

BB: Because somebody said you were a great quilter. What would it be about you that [loud banging.] they could say that?

SQ: Well, like I said, I think it's someone who gives freely of themselves. Anyone can make quilts and I think anybody can do it long enough to make great quilts but unless they give of themselves and perpetuate the quilting culture [loud banging.] I don't think they are great quilters.

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

SQ: I've never hand quilted in my life and really don't intend to. I think machine quilting has come so far, even since I started quilting. I have no desire to learn hand quilting and with my limited amount of time I don't think I'd ever finish a quilt if I had to hand quilt. I really appreciate the machine quilters and what they've done for their craft.

BB: Let me ask you this. Why do you think quilting is important in your life?

SQ: I think it's important for everyone to have a creative outlet. I don't think we all have the same creative outlet but we all need one. That's what it provides for myself. I think everyone has creative ability they just probably don't want to work on it or discover what their creative path is. I think I was fortunate to find mine and I wish I had found it several years earlier.

BB: If you hadn't been mad at your old Singer. [laughs.] [loud laughter in the background.]

SQ: That's right. [laughs.]

BB: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect the community or the region where you live?

SQ: I tend to try to make my quilts have something to do with nature. Not all of mine do but I find myself drawn towards nature themes and I live out in the country in a small town, a very small town in Missouri so I think it tends to reflect what I see everyday. What's outside my window when I get up in the morning.

BB: How many quilts have you made do you think?

SQ: Probably around a hundred I would guess.

BB: That's wonderful. Wonderful. How many of them do you absolutely love?

SQ: Most of them.

BB: Have you ever slept under a quilt?

SQ: No.

BB: Never?

SQ: I have one that I could sleep under I just haven't finished quilting it yet. I have so many other quilts in my head I don't know when I'm going to [loud banging noise returns.] finally get to that one. Most of those I make hang on the walls.

BB: What do you think about the importance of quilts in America?

SQ: I think there has been a revival of quilting in the last few years. I think they're taking on a bigger and bigger importance. [loud background noise.]

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

SQ: I think we've seen, even with the pioneers coming west, we've seen quilting almost from the beginning of our nation here and I think they've been a very integral part of our history as the ladies moved west and then discovered sewing machines. Or someone invented sewing machines. We've seen an entire progression of a very important part of our history.

BB: How do you think quilts should be used?

SQ: I don't think there's any limit to how we should use quilts. To sleep under, to hang on our walls, to adorn our buildings, there are unlimited uses. We wear them.

BB: Yes. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

SQ: I think the museums go a long way. I think a number of museums in the United States right now are doing a good job of preserving, handling and taking care of them. I think educating the public as to how to take care of their antique quilts and not throw them in the washer, is important. I think that it needs to be done. I think there's some quilt preservation going on but the public needs to know more. The general public has no idea how to take care of quilts.

BB: Yeah. What has happened to most of the quilts that you've made? Where are they?

SQ: Most--probably a third to a half have been given away to friends and relatives who appreciate quilts. I've donated several to charitable organizations and the other handful I still retain as mine.

BB: Do any people quilt that you work with?

SQ: No. They all appreciate my quilts and all want to see them but no one else quilts.

BB: Do they know how much fun you have doing it?

SQ: Oh yeah, they do.

[loud banging noise returns.]

BB: Great. Is there anything else that you want to say that I haven't touched on? What have been some of the other themes of your quilts?

SQ: I've got one hanging downstairs [at Quilt Festival] that's got a cardinal on it. A large cardinal. I've got another with fish and feet quilt. In this past year I've gone back to more of my traditional roots. I still don't do traditional quilts but I'm taking traditional patterns and doing a lot of those with curves. I've got a couple downstairs that are curved log cabins. I've done tigers. I'm finding my own voice but I'm still not focused. So I'm still experimenting.

BB: What is the one you're working on? You said you were working on one. That could go on your bed.

SQ: Oh, to go on the bed. It was a quilt that I started in Doreen Speckman's class. It's a Storm at Sea. It started off as a wall hanging and kept growing [laughs.] and growing and growing. Now it's king size. When I started quilting on it I just had a small Bernina home style sewing machine and it was very frustrating trying to quilt the big piece. I gave up and moved on but I would like to finish it up. I upgraded to a stretched Bernina machine. There is a gentlemen in Utah that expands Berninas so I have about fifteen inches of throat space on the machine to work with.

BB: Oh my gosh.--

SQ: So it won't be as difficult to quilt if I can finally get back to it. I do a lot of competition quilting so that's what I put most of my energy into now. So I work from one deadline to the next. [BB: Yeah.]

BB: Okay. Are there any questions you want to ask Grace?

Grace: What did you get your degree in?

SQ: I'm a veterinary pathologist. I'm a veterinarian. I was a professional student [laughs.] until I was thirty five or so. I actually have a bachelor's, a DVM, a master's degree, and a Ph.D.

Grace: Do you feel that some of those studies have a greater understanding of the anatomy of your quilts?

SQ: I think it helps especially with the thread painting to understand some of the anatomy so I can do the thread painting to highlight or extenuate the different parts of the animal or the bird or whatever. It also gives me ideas.

Grace: So that's what you do all day at your work?

SQ: I teach veterinary students. I work at a university. I do animal autopsies and I read biopsies. When I say I need a stress reliever I really do.

BB: You really do need a stress reliever. Debbie?

Debbie: Is there anything you would like to add?

SQ: No. I think we covered it all.

BB: We really enjoyed this, thank you. It is twelve o'clock. Now can I push stop?

UP: Yes.


“Susan Turnquist,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,