Ann Horton




Ann Horton




Ann Horton


Sandy Mehall

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


Suzanne Sanger


Sandy Mehall (SM): [tape begins midsentence.] two at three o'clock in the afternoon at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. My name is Sandy Mehall and I'm interviewing Ann Horton from Redwood Valley, California, and Ann has an exhibit in the Viking--a quilt rather in the Viking exhibit, entitled "Visions of Istanbul,' and this is the quilt we're going to talk about today, although she's also brought another smaller quilt that she made in 1999 that's called--

Ann Horton (AH): It's called "Shakespeare on Broadway."

SM: "Shakespeare on Broadway." Okay. Tell me about the quilt, the "Visions of Istanbul" first. You made it, right?

AH: Yes, I did.

SM: And how long ago, or what date?

AH: I completed this quilt earlier this year.

SM: And the origin of it? The name suggests it's perhaps from a trip.

AH: My son was traveling in Greece and visited Istanbul and sent back letters describing the bazaar, the Grand Bazaar, the mosques, the different experiences that he had, and so this is a vicarious enjoyment of his trip and the visions that I kind of picked up from what I heard him say.

SM: And he didn't bring you any fabrics? You generated these fabrics here?

AH: They were all fabrics in my stash I have to admit. He did bring me a piece of fabric from Paris though. It did not go into this quilt. It's waiting to be used.

SM: That's for a later one.

AH: Yes.

SM: And then how did you pick that pattern to express this Istanbul feel?

AH: Well, I was, I'm part of a small quilt group, and we had a project going at the time, and I was coordinating most of this project around pieced block patterns that we were each sharing, and I wanted to explore the New York Beauty pattern. However, I usually made the quilt pattern before we distributed, and I just got this whole idea about how I wanted to work with this Istanbul vision, so I forgot about the group project [laughter.] and focused on my own quilt and just got going on it and that's how I got started. Eventually, by the way, the group did do a New York Beauty pattern with African fabrics, but that's another story.

SM: But there is not a specific name for this block? Is that correct?

AH: The internal part of the quilt, the block is actually based on a New York Beauty variation, so it's based on a traditional block.

SM: And yet, there's a little bit of a compass kind of feel to these, to me.

AH: Yes, especially the way this block was pieced, which has almost a circle radiating around each of the way it's put together.

SM: And the points also of the circle sort of seem like compass points to me.

AH: Yes.

SM: And is this a quilt that you have a specific use for or are going to use?

AH: I finished the quilt. I usually just make quilts because they just come out of me. People are always asking, 'What are you making that for?' And I just, I don't even think about that 'til a quilt is finished, and true enough I have stacks of quilts all over my house and on all my walls, and I give quilts away, but I really don't worry about what the quilts can be used for. I've kind of freed myself up from that a number of years ago.

SM: That's liberating, I guess.

AH: I make as many quilts as I want because I don't ever have to use them for something specific.

SM: That's very liberating, isn't it? And do you have a specific plan then for this one?

AH: Well, this one will be traveling in the Viking show for at least a year and then when it comes out of that show I'll decide from there. I'll probably hang it in my home for a bit and see what else, well, we'll see. It is also for sale, so who knows.

SM: Oh, it is. What would it cost for the sale price?

AH: I have a very high price on it because I was not sure if I wanted to sell it and part of the proceeds go to support IQA, so I have a $10,000 price tag on it.

SM: Oh, I understand that that's fine, yes. So, tell me, how did you get to this point in time? How did you get started in quilting? Where did it begin?

AH: Well, I guess the beginning for me, I thought about that, knowing I was going to be talking with you, I thought, where did I begin this stuff? I've been sewing since I was a little girl. My mom had a treadle sewing machine. I lived on a farm. I started goofing around with that thing probably by the time I was five years old, and sewed doll clothes and this and that, scraps of anything I could get. I also had a grandma who was a quilter, and helped her pick fabric and thread the needle and did all that good fun stuff, which I was fortunate to have that in my life. I didn't really get making my own quilts until I was, before I was married, probably about early 20's, I started fooling around with it, didn't know anything about it, didn't have books. This was in about 1975, could have been in the late 70's, and then when my daughter was born, I decided to make my first full size bed quilt that was entirely hand quilted. And she was born in 1983, so I've been quilting for almost 20 years seriously.

SM: Did it take you a long time to make that first one?

AH: Everybody laughs because I'm fast at everything. I probably finished that quilt in six months, and it was entirely hand quilted and a large quilt, so I did kind of go at it.

SM: How many hours a week do you do this now?

AH: I quilt probably 15 hours a week maybe, to 20, sometimes madly into the night and it gets later, depending on what the project is.

SM: Does your first quilt memory go all the way back to that grandmother that you mentioned earlier?

AH: Yes, it does. I didn't have a lot of older quilts in my family at the time. I kind of later discovered that there were some other quilts made by my other grandmother, but my mother didn't have any of those. But my grandma, I just remember her piecing quilts and piecing quilts and she gave most of her quilts away to world missions, and she made me a couple quilts when I was little. I asked her to make me a quilt and so she made me a Nine-Patch quilt for my bed, and I was just so excited. That's really some of the first quilts that we used, and I slept under them then. That was my bedding.

SM: And don't you think that quilts of that time always were more for utility and not for artistry?

AH: It certainly was in my family. At that point they were for utility, and my grandmother pretty much sewed with fabrics on hand, from clothing. She did make feed sack quilts, and this was back when my mother even sewed some clothing out of feed sack for us, so we were definitely still using those kinds of materials.

SM: I think in every family that was more the typical way for it to be. The ones we saw like at the Chicago Exposition, those were probably the only ones made for artistry at that time to me.

AH: Yes, it's hard to say. I think in the soul of the quilter, there's always that artistry that's part of why you pick this piece to go with that piece. Whether it was recognized by anyone else, I don't know. But I believe that there's always some part of it that comes from our creative heart.

SM: Well, having that background of quilts being a utility, of fulfilling utility functions, how did you come to them as an artistic expression?

AH: Well, I tell you, I don't do much of anything unless it becomes an artistic expression. It's just the way I am. I have always painted and drawn and stain glass, and--

SM: The creative part--

AH: Creative, just from little on, everything I do. I love creating things out of things on hand. I love creating out of cast offs. The idea of quilting just appealed to me terribly because it was using what was on hand. As I say, I grew up on a farm, so we were very much into recycle and reuse and do with what we have.

SM: There is an example you had laid before you at an early point in time.

AH: Absolutely. And also, it touched that part of me, I love history, I love roots, I love where we came from, and the quilts appealed to me that way.

SM: Well, was your grandmother the only quilter in your family and is she today?

AH: No, she's gone; she died before I started making that first quilt. I found out later my other grandmother, who also died when I was only seven, had made several beautiful quilts, pieced, and special patterns, and given to some of her other daughters when they were married, but apparently by the time my mother got married, she never made one for her.

SM: Ran out of steam, huh?

AH: No-one talked about it, so there's that lost history again. It wasn't until I visited my aunt years later, and she knew I was a quilter, so 'I'll show you the ones Grandma made.' And I'm like 'What?' And took me up in the attic and there were these beautiful, couple of beautiful quilts that I never knew about.

SM: And they were in the attic.

AH: Yes, in the attic, in the hope chest, in a plastic bag, and I gave her my little, 'Oh please don't store them in a plastic bag,' so anyway that's where they were. She didn't even have them out on her bed.

SM: Has your daughter expressed any interest in this?

AH: My daughter, she's very artistic, and she has made beautiful miniature quilts, but her main passion at this point is sewing, embellished sewing, artistic kind of things that way when it comes to fabric. She's adept at the machine. I taught her at an early age. By five she was also sewing doll clothes. That was when I could still talk her into doing whatever I thought was great. [laughter.]

SM: There is probably a thread of continuity, if I can use that expression, because her artistry just may be a little bit different, but it may come around to quilting too. You just have to wait and see.

AH: It probably will. She's very good with sewing, and she's made probably two dozen exquisitely pieced tiny little miniature quilts, and beautiful color sense and all that, so once she finds her own path, she can come back and do some of the things that Mom's been doing too.

SM: How would you say that quilting has impacted your family? Has it?

AH: Oh, I would say so. They all know it's my passion. I've taken them all to quilt shows. They hear about it. They make room. My husband cooks dinner. Everyone is used to my stopping and looking in books, and you name it. Yes, the whole family is very supportive though. It's great.

SM: Have you ever used quilting to help you through a difficult time in your life?

AH: Oh, absolutely. I don't go without having some quilting with me or various projects going. I've cried my way through quilts. I've celebrated my way through quilts. And usually, if you're really working on a quilt, you get to do a little bit of all that during the construction. And I look back at certain quilts I've made, and you definitely pair them up with, 'Oh, I made that during this time in my life, or when we were in the middle of that move, or when this was happening, or, oh, that was a hard time.' I made one huge bed size appliqué quilt that I made flat on my back with a back injury, and I was just going crazy trying to lay down in the bed.

SM: How can you appliqué lying down on your back?

AH: You know, on one fast trip to the bathroom, I grabbed every scrap that I could, stuck it in a basket, and sat it on my headboard. That was it. Grabbed that piece of fabric and cut it, sewed in place. Where there's will, there's a way.

SM: That's true. How many quilts do you think you've made. Do you have any documentation of that?

AH: I try to photograph my quilts before they're gone. I have a lot of my quilts, but I give a lot away, and I guess there's probably a couple hundred quilts that I've made already, maybe more. Quite a few bed size.

SM: That's very productive for 15 or 20 hours a week. Are you a machine or hand stitcher?

AH: I do both. I have hand pieced and turned hand appliqué pieces. I have machine piecing. I have machine quilting; I've got hand quilting. I usually have one of each going. In the evening, after I come home from work, or in the nighttime, I'll usually work on hand work in the living room with it on my lap, with the family. But when it comes to the weekend and I'm looking at a great day in my sewing room--I'll--hand work aside, I'll go for what I can get done at that. My design work and all that usually takes place fresh in the morning.

SM: You've probably dreamt about it all night.

AH: Absolutely. That's happened. I've gotten stuck many times and woke up in the middle of the night going, 'I've got it!' So that does happen.

SM: Is there any part of the whole thing you don't like?

AH: I don't especially enjoy the basting. That's hard on my back.

SM: I don't like the squaring up. It's interesting. At the end, you know. I'm always so worried that it's not going to come out right.

AH: One of the things I've enjoyed is kind of a freedom from rules. I do really appreciate good workmanship and feel like that's a constant goal to increase skills, but I'm also not too caught up in 'I've got to do the rules.' In fact, I made this one quilt called The White Sister quilt, and it was sort of my loose interpretation of an African American approach, and I just had a great time doing that. They weren't square and they were goofy, and it was great fun. And I love that quilt. It's one of my favorite quilts. And I purposely did not square the corners or worry about points matching. Wow, what a freedom. I recommend that to everybody, to do at least one quilt where you just absolutely don't even try--purposely have to stop yourself, from squaring it up. It's a great experience.

SM: What do you think makes a good quilt, or a great quilt? Artistically powerful? Workmanship? What? Color?

AH: For me it's color and it's what it stirs up in you. For me it's emotional expression. That's why most of my quilts have several hundred different fabrics in it. I can never stop myself. I forced myself to make one three-fabric quilt once, and I did it, and I liked the quilt, but I just, to me what really intrigues me is just a real exploration of color, pattern, texture, sculpting, the whole works. And now, I usually do beading, sometimes embroidery, sometimes large stitching, special stuff on it to give it more texture. That's kind of evolved more and more as time has gone on. This Istanbul quilt has thousands and thousands of beads on it that I just hand beaded onto it. It also has machine embroidery, metallic thread stitching, just a lot of different stuff put into it. And that was great. It's just fun to explore.

SM: Metallic fabrics too?

AH: No, not really metallic fabrics. Mostly it was just thread overlays, and I did use some sequins and beads and things to highlight.

SM: To give that bazaar feeling.

AH: Yes, exactly. I wanted you to hear music when you saw this.

SM: The little tingling of little bells. That's great. Do you have any feel about what makes a person a great quilter?

AH: What comes right out from me is a person's ability to explore, and to explore themselves. What's going on with them, how they express it, open to new ideas, willing to let the fabric and the experience lead you, so that you're not too stuck with forcing it to be what you think it's going to be. To me, a great quilter is someone who just starts into it and let's themselves flow with what that piece is saying.

SM: Follow the road.

AH: Absolutely. I told my friends I have this idea of quilting. It's like this maze that you're in, and you take one turn and it's like, 'It's working, and it's working, it's working,' and then slams you against the wall and it's like to be able to say, 'Whoa, I'm against this wall. I need to stop and take a few breaths, back up and let this piece speak to me again.' It might be in a dream that night, it might be just in walking outside and seeing something that starts it working again, but the piece will talk.

SM: Have you ever done it a section or appliquéd a part and had to dismantle that because it didn't work?

AH: Oh absolutely. I have done that. I just recently finished a quilt that I spent five hours picking out this embroidery line because I just thought, 'How am I going to make this work? I can't. This is wrong.' I'm also good though, at taking something that I don't think is working and just taking that as a challenge and saying what else can I do?

SM: Making it in a different way.

AH: Yes, what can I do with this? Where is it going? And that will work too sometimes.

SM: So, quilting is important to you because of the self-expression that comes into it. Is that why it's important? Because of its art? Its artistry for you? I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, I'm trying to understand.

AH: It's a language. To me it's a language. The fabric, the colors, the textures are a language to speak in , just like when you and I are sitting here talking, my piece downstairs that people are looking at is also talking to people and it's talking about me, it's talking about what they see. To me real art is what it stirs up in people and the language that it starts internally.

SM: Now how did this quilt get in this exhibit? How did they become aware of it? Did you, I'm sure somehow it was juried in, but how did this get from your workroom to here?

AH: Well, I just saw the masterpiece contest, whatever, being advertised in one of the magazines, Quilters Newsletter or something like that and thought, 'Hey, I don't know if I have any chance of getting this in there, but I think I'll give it a go.' And I took my own photos and it was kind of a big process because you had to take three sets of everything because they had three different people jurying them in from three different I think countries or something so I just sent it off and back came the letter that said, 'Hey, we want your quilt,' so I was very glad.

SM: You were bouncing off the wall.

AH: Oh, I was very excited. I just feel like it was a really very special event.

SM: Have you had a quilt in any other shows?

AH: I just won a Judge's Choice ribbon at Pacific International Quilt Festival on a hand quilted piece, and that's only the second year I've ever entered anything there so that was exciting. My small quilt group, we have thirteen people in my quilt group. Last spring we did a series of vagina quilts to complement "The Vagina Monologues" that was coming to town, and they were highly controversial and exciting and actually the HBO came and filmed the quilts as part of their filming of "The Vagina Monologues." They heard about the Ukiah [city in California.] vagina quilts, and so those actually are being printed in a book and that film is supposed to possibly be aired next year, so that's exciting. And we also won, our group, we sent ten quilts in and won second place in the Ultimate Quilt Guild Challenge this year, too, in the AQS Nashville show.

SM: Wow. That's great. You all are a busy group.

AH: Yes, we've been branching out here. We're going to have a gallery show too at our local college, of quilts. I have three quilts in that show. We've been starting--to exhibit our work.

SM: And what college was that?

AH: It was our community college in Ukiah. Ukiah, California, which is close to Redwood Valley where I live, is a small community in northern California, and we have Mendocino, it's in Mendocino County, and Mendocino College is the college that has a nice gallery and a good art show for us.

SM: So, how, if I asked you, quilting is important in your life, it is not just for your artistic and emotional expression, it sounds like it's your social outlet as well. Is that correct?

AH: Oh, yes, definitely. Especially related to the thirteen women in our quilt group. We've been together, most of us, for almost ten years and the kind of, it's just incredible, the deep connections that we have experienced with one another. Trying to leave these people would be like getting a divorce. I couldn't handle it. It's just too close, and, I don't know, it just really means a lot. We have a retreat every spring. We rent a house over on the Mendocino coast and spend four days creating together and sharing bits and parts of our lives and it is very powerful.

SM: Do you feel that any of your work is regional or reflecting that area that you're from, northern California?

AH: Some of the work is. I've also done quite a bit of work on connecting back to my own roots on the farm, so I have a number of quilts that reflect my farm life and my early growing up.

SM: There were early patterns that you've tried to do again?

AH: Sometimes it's a pictorial.

SM: [inaudible because both are talking at the same time.] you have them, the quilts themselves. Be clear in what you mean.

AH: I have made a number of quilts that relate to my early childhood experience. Some of them use old vintage fabrics, some of them are new quilts but they just reflect some image. One of them, I had at PIQF was called "The Barn Loft," and the whole feel of the quilt was my kind of emotional expression about the barn loft on my old farm and the colors and the mystery of that, and I tried to capture that in the quilt itself. So that's kind of a regional thing for me, I guess.

SM: So, from all you've said, I know that you think that quilts have a special place in women's history and women's lives.

AH: Definitely. Yes. A number of years ago, our local theater did "Quilters," and I was involved in coordinating the quilts for that project and I loved that theater piece because it did just that. It really celebrated quilting and women's lives and quilting in women's lives, not just as something they did but as such a part, a rich part of their emotional life, and their family connections, and their roots, and what they took with them. I just loved that. I think that's what happened back then. I think that's happening every day. We pick up fabric and start to work. We're telling a story.

SM: I agree. And sometimes I think that the reason ours are so much more artistic is because of the resources we have available compared to what they had available to them.

AH: That could be. I'm not sure we're the only ones that are artistic so are those old quilts.

SM: They are.

AH: We're going to go see the Gee's Bend quilts that are at the museum here in Houston, but I've seen photos of them, and they speak their own language.

SM: They do, yes. How do you think we should preserve these for the future?

AH: Well, I think what you're doing right now, preserving oral history with some visual history, if you do some photography or whatever, it's really important. I think just educating people about the importance of quilting. I love the fact that what you hear over and over again is label your quilt, put your name on it, tell something about the quilt, we have to know where it's from.

SM: We've become very educated about that, haven't we?

AH: That is terrific. I think that's the way to save it and how we care for them and how we honor the maker and the piece.

SM: And what has happened to most of yours? Do you still have them or have you given them away, sold them?

AH: I have a lot of them or my family members, or I've given some as gifts, wedding gifts for instance. They're around. I've sold a few. I know where most of my quilts are.

SM: Is there anything you feel I've omitted in the questioning? Or something in particular you would like to tell us about or share?

AH: Well, you've done a good job of covering a lot of things. I will say, just as a little addition to this, my day job is a psychotherapist. I work with people in private practice, and I have quilts all over my walls in my office, and I just think that those quilts again speak to people coming in. They speak of comfort. They speak of commitment. You don't make a quilt without having a commitment to time and perseverance and I think that's another thing I'm trying to communicate to people with those pieces of work. 'I'll commit to working with you, and you can commit to change in a long term sense,' that kind of thing. So to me again the quilts represent a language of character.

SM: Do they become a vehicle for opening a discussion with your clients?

AH: Oftentimes. They don't come into the waiting room--new people or even people I've seen for some time--without speaking of the quilts. It's another part of saying who I am but also some part about who are they, artistically, emotionally, all of that. So I just add that as a thought that I think that's another connection.

SM: So that makes it all the more impressive when you have a day job that you still can do this 15 hour or 20 hours a week.

AH: Definitely. And sometimes I do more. I've been known to quilt for four or five days straight, hardly taking a break, because I'm really caught up in the fever of a project. So then the 10 or 15 hours is a moot point here.

SM: And your husband is obviously very supportive.

AH: He's very supportive. He's great. He doesn't worry if dinner's not made or whatever. He's like, 'Don't worry about it.'

SM: Well, I think that concludes our interview with Ann Horton today. It is 3:30, and we thank her very much for all her input. It's really interesting to hear all she has to say.

SM: This is Sandy Mehall again and it is now 3: 40 and we've been visiting with Ann Horton a bit more, and we have a little bit of an addendum to the interview on November 1, 2002. Ann realized that she perhaps would like to talk about actual names of relatives and I will let her do that at this time.

AH: I just wanted to give a little reference point here. I did grow up on a farm in northern Illinois, in DeKalb County, and that was a farm that had been in our family for a number of generations. The grandmother's name, who quilted, was Louise Stausberger Kahle and I'm sure that I had some great grandmothers that quilted as well. I had an Anna Kahle that quilted and I just wanted to reference where they came from. My mother's name is Eula Gaddie Kahle and she also taught me to sew and has helped do some hand quilting on some of my quilts.

SM: Thank you and we might add that you have emigrated to California and was that just your generation or a generation prior?

AH: I moved to California in 1974 after I graduated from college. My mother and father moved to California to be near us in 1981.

SM: So, the family is moving westward.

AH: Evidently, that's where they go.

SM: Thank you very much.


“Ann Horton,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,