Linda Huff




Linda Huff




Linda Huff


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Woodridge, Illinois


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview. It is September 16 at 11:46 in the morning. I'm doing an interview with Linda Huff who is from Algonquin, Illinois, but we are in Woodridge, Illinois at Faithful Circles Quilt Show. Thank you so much Linda for driving down here and letting me interview you.

Linda Huff (LH): My pleasure.

KM: Tell me about your quilt.

LH: That one is my grandmother. Several years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My grandmother and I always had a very special relationship and watching her with this disease and how it progressed, I always felt like I needed to do something to commemorate my relationship with her, and when I saw Ami's [Simms.] call go out for quilts about Alzheimer's this seemed like the appropriate time and place to do this.

KM: Where did you get your inspiration?

LH: I always loved this one picture that my mother had taken of my grandmother. My mother is a photographer and she had taken that picture back in the late '70's. When I think of my grandmother this is the image that I always think of. With the progression of Alzheimer's she has become less and less like that image, and that is what I was trying to convey in this quilt.

KM: What did you do to fade out the picture?

LH: Actually I had to call my mom because I didn't have a good copy of this photo, so she sent me the photo and I scanned it, and we went through PhotoShop and did color degradation to achieve the fading and then I printed it off a printer onto the fabric, photo copy paper that is fabric.

KM: Did you plan this out ahead of time?

LH: Actually it kind of evolved. I had originally gone through twelve steps with the fading and in playing with how the images looked, I decided that nine was more appropriate because it, when you got towards the end there was less definition from one to the other and I liked this layout.

KM: How did you choice the border?

LH: I had been in an exchange several years ago where we were getting rid of scrapes and I said; okay let's make one and a half inch squares. So I had all these one and a half inch squares laying around wondering what to do with them. Forgetting piece by piece and all these small little pieces, and each little piece is like its own little memory and its own little piece of something that connects and is part of all of our lives, and this just seemed to like be the appropriate thing to do.

KM: Did you machine quilt it?

LH: Yes I did. I've got a longarm machine, so I just loaded her up and off we went.

KM: It is a wonderful quilt. It has gotten lots and lots of positive responses at the show today.

LH: I really think that when there is a lot of emotion that goes into the creation of something, I think that transcends all of those pieces and I think that is what people are picking up on. It is the emotion and the relationship that I have with her. This entire process has been so wonderful. It is like my grandmother is out traveling again.

KM: What do you plan to do with the quilt when it comes back?

LH: I have no clue because to me even looking at it here, um, it's so very emotional I can't imagine ever hanging it in my home. I have no plans for it at this point.

KM: You don't have to decide anything because it won't be back for a while.

LH: Yes.

KM: What is it July of 2009?

LH: Correct.

KM: I'm sure if Ami can make it go longer, she will make it go longer.

LH: If somebody is interested in picking this up at a nursing home or something like that, I'm more than open to that type of other venues for this to be displayed at.

KM: How did you find out about the exhibition?

LH: I had been online and Ami had put out a call on one of the quilt art list where I'm a member, and it just seemed perfect.

KM: That is the same thing that happened with me. I love the way that the serendipity of life.

LH: If things are to happen they do.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quilting.

LH: It started in October of 1999, because my daughter said she wanted a quilt. So I started with the Mariner's Compass. Had the top completed by November of that year, and then it took me several years to get it quilted. [laughs.] By the time it was actually done, she didn't like the color scheme anymore, so now it is on my bed. [laughs.]

KM: It is bed size?

LH: Absolutely. It is big enough for a queen size bed. It just kind of progressed. In 2003 I got my longarm and I started entering competitions. I entered Machine Quilters Exhibition. My machine was delivered in February and that show was in May and I won the Rookie of the Year Award that year. It has been interesting.

KM: Who taught you to quilt?

LH: Actually my grandmother and great-grandmother had quilted for years, and while my grandmother had taught me to sew, it was all garment construction. She had never gone through quilting with me per se. Again you talk about serendipity; this is kind of like a nice little segway into honoring my grandmother and my great-grandmother, because my grandmother for years was chairwoman of the Missions Circle and coordinated all the quilting and stuff that got done for the church.

KM: What is your first memory of a quilt?

LH: I remember being sick. We have many quilts in our family because of that, but there was one special quilt, it was purple. I think my mother still has it. When we were sick, we got to be with the quilt, so there is that kind of memory that this is a big comfort and it is special, when you are not feeling well, to have something special until you start feeling better.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your work? Does it look like what you usually do?

LH: I don't know, I don't know if I have a typical style. I moved into some of the art quilts, and to me this kind of just blends itself to the art quilt. I have been part of the Journal Quilt Project in Houston for the last four or five years. I have moved into more of the artistic interpretation of quilting. To me, anything I do is my style, but really identifying, I'm not sure that somebody who just walked in would be able to identify something that was mine.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials to use?

LH: I can run the whole gambit. I do not limit myself to cotton fabric. My criteria is, if it works and if it gives the effect that I'm looking for, that is what I use. I do love my longarm and I use that a lot. I have even used it on small little 8 ½ [inches.] by 11 [inches.] Journal quilts because I can. For some reason there is a part of my brain that can work that machine even a small piece like that to get the effect I want better than working it on my home machine. So again, any technique that works is what I use.

KM: Do you do any handwork or is it all machine?

LH: No, I use a lot of handwork too. My latest Journal pieces, all the quilting is done with embroidery floss, and again that lends itself to what works and what is appropriate for the piece.

KM: Do you think of yourself as an artist, or a quiltmaker, or do you make that distinction?

LH: That is a tough call. On some pieces I do. I really think it is more about the art. On other pieces it is more about the quilting. So it kind of back and forth between those two. It seems like you are always walking down this road and you kind of go off onto this little side road and then you come back to the main road. Maybe you take this little juncture over here, but it is all maybe a route to all the same location.

KM: How do you balance your time? Are you a full time quiltmaker?

LH: [laughs.] I work full time, which lately that has been fifty or sixty hours a week, and quilting is my escape and my unwind time. Because I recently started a new position, all my energies have been tied up with that and just in the last few weeks I have started to be able to segregate out the work portion of my life and the creativity portion has started back in.

KM: What do you do professionally?

LH: I'm an accountant. CPA and all of that. [laughs.] All those numbers doesn't seem to jive with quilting, but in a lot of ways I find a lot of correlation between the two.

KM: I can see that. How many hours a week do you generally spend making quilts do you think?

LH: I think on average, um, probably a good ten hours a week. Sometimes it is more, sometimes I go into overdrive and that is all I do, because I've got something in me that has to be said. For example, with "Nevilyn," this quilt was done in four days, and part of that was because if I knew, if I I was up against a deadline, and part of that reasoning was that I knew if I had given myself too much time I would get to caught up in the emotions that I was trying to create and with a deadline I just had to concentrate on getting it done. If I had started a month before, I don't know if it would be finished yet.

KM: This is an Ami question. She wants to know if you learned more about Alzheimer's because of the quilt, after the quilt.

LH: I'm the type of person that when I get confronted with new information I want to find out everything I can possibly know about a condition, the disease, whatever, so when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's that's the first thing you do. You go and find all the information that you possibly can and then you watch as the steps and the stages start to come true and this is just kind of the expression of all the pieces that I have found out and watched. Yet, still I find out things after the fact and because of this and because of the exhibit, anytime I see anything that says 'Alzheimer's' on it, it is like you zero in on that and you say, 'What is this? Is there something new? What is going on now?'

KM: Do you have a studio?

LH: I have a studio. It is a dark basement space. [laughs.] It is partially finished. At least I have a door and a radio and it is wonderful and that is really the place I go when I'm ready to create and I need to get away from things. Kind of my solace, even though other people walk in and go, how can you do anything in here? [laughs.]

KM: Do you have a design wall?

LH: That tends to fluctuate based on what I'm doing. I use any available space that I can, depending on what I'm working on, what the size is, and sometimes I employ my daughter and say, here hold this and I walk across the room and take a look at whatever I'm working on.

KM: Is your daughter interested in quiltmaking?

LH: Absolutely not. [laughs.] She is very excited that I do this, but she works in oils and she is starting ceramics class that she is very excited about.

KM: How old is she?

LH: She will be eighteen in October.

KM: There is still time.

LH: Yes there is still time.

KM: Whose work are you drawn to and why?

LH: I like everything that I see. Even pieces that might be considered outside of the box, artwork that might be controversial, I think that you gain something from looking at any type of artwork no matter how many times you see it. I had taken my daughter one time down to the Art Institute in Chicago, and we sat, because she is a painter and we sat in front of Monet's "Haystacks" and had a conversation. And what I found very interesting. As I asked her questions and we made observations on the four pieces is that a crowd of people began to gather around us as we discussed it, and that is, now a memory that I will associate anytime I see those hay stacks. I It informs and it adds to my experience of Monet. So anytime you look at any artwork, the outside influences, who you are with, those things change the artwork. It doesn't necessarily change the image that you are viewing, but it changes your emotion to it, or your reaction to a piece. Those types of things are what I like to get into my pieces so that when people view them, they are changed somehow. Whether it is by the people they are viewing it with, whether they hate it, love it. As long as I get some reaction from people, I'm thrilled. People don't have to love what I do, but they have to have a reaction and that is the wonderful part. There is nothing more discouraging then to hear somebody glaze at your piece and go, oh, and move on and that is not what I'm after. I'm after somebody to go, ah that is wonderful, or ah how could she have done that or some sort of reaction.

KM: Let's go back to the "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" exhibit. Have you been through the exhibit?

LH: Yes.

KM: What was your reaction to the exhibit?

LH: It is very touching and very moving, and very affirming that our family and my grandmother is not the only person that is going through this. Even though everybody's experience in their walk through Alzheimer's is different, there are commonalities and there are things that everybody shares on some basic level.

KM: I find it very hard to go through. Working yesterday, I basically peripherally paid attention, but tried not to concentrate.

LH: I have worked the exhibit and that is what you really have to do. When you are working the exhibit you really have to block out those images because it is so overwhelming and it is so emotional. Part of that is because you are touched by somebody who has Alzheimer's so you know what all of these emotions are and it is so easy to get caught up with everything. When you are working the exhibit, the point is to help those feelings be conveyed to other people, and so the only way to deal with that is to block that out.

KM: I didn't do a very good job yesterday. I think I cried like five or six times with people, because the tears started falling and it was. I find it phenomenal, what the exhibition is doing, and I think it is great, it is traveling and doing what it is doing, and I think that says a lot about quiltmakers and the power of quilts.

LH: Absolutely, and the fact that my grandmother was a quilter. The other thing that was so very sad for me was when my grandfather retired, he was very adamant. They bought a trailer and they drove around the country and they wanted to see things. His statement as to why they did this was, there is going to be a time when we have to go to a nursing home and his object was when he was in a nursing home and couldn't go out and do things, he wanted his memories to be able to draw on, to sustain him through those years where his body was giving out on him. And yet, here is my grandmother who was able to participate and gather all those memories and now they have dissipated and they don't belong to her anymore. That's the saddest part, but in some ways with her being in this exhibit she is traveling again, and she is going out and she is touching people in ways that she doesn't even know and she will never know.

KM: I have heard a lot of positive comments; both when I was in Schaumburg and the show as in Schaumburg and then all day yesterday, your quilt resonate with people. I think it is very wonderful.

LH: Thank you.

KM: Do you belong to any quilt groups or art groups?

LH: With everything that is going on with my life? [laughs.] Other than online groups, it has been a challenge to get into a group and develop those relationships. In some ways, I say, "What is more important?", Being in a group or taking that time and actually creating something. So I choice to create. Even though that means that sometimes I'm in a bit of a vacuum or void. I do try to get out to quilt shows and I do view online shows, and try to do as much of that as I can without taking out a lot of time from the creation process.

KM: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

LH: Everywhere. I think that is the mark of an artist, people say where is your inspiration and that could be driving down the road and watching a flock of geese fly or leaves falling to the ground, or a simple thing as a simple mark on a piece of paper that creates an image and starts some things going, or a song on the radio. Anything is potential for inspiration for a piece.

KM: What is your family's reaction to the quilt?

LH: They have been overwhelmed. My mother can't look at the piece without crying. Partially because my grandmother no longer knows my mother's name, and in a lot of ways Alzheimer's is like watching a person die very, very slowly. It is excruciating for family members, and it is very hard to go and visit your relative that has this. Because you get to a point where they don't even know who you are and every time you go away, it's like you have gone to another funeral. It is just very difficult.

KM: I know longer visit my mother-in-law because of that.

LH: My mother has come to the realization that she is better off and less stressed not going and seeing her. It has nothing to do with not caring for her or not loving her, because she does, but the toll, the emotional toll that it takes on a family member. I hope that if nothing else is that people who are in these nursing homes and that are caring for these people, don't think badly of the families that no longer come to visit. ecause their emotions are so tied up with not being recognized even on any level that its too painful for a lot of families to go and see.

KM: I feel that Alzheimer's is like having somebody die twice. Die in front of you and then there is the reality of the actual death.

LH: Dying in front of you, it is one piece after another. We watched as my grandmother went through, as her memory started to fade, she started to regress and you could tell where she was in her process because at one point in time my mother went and saw her and my grandmother was saying to her, I guess you have to go, the kids will be home from school soon. So we could tell where she was in her memory process by the comments that she would make. Each time you see that, it is another death and it's another mourning, and it is another adjustment to go through, to say that is no longer there.

KM: It is a terrible disease.

LH: For everybody involved.

KM: Have you made any priority quilts?

LH: I made one. That was for my Aunt Clara who has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

KM: Tell me about the quilt.

LH: The priority quilt?

KM: Yes.

LH: The image I chose to portray for that one is kind of three dimensional. It is almost as if you are looking in a box and there is a little door that slides across and what you see at the end of the box is an eye looking out at you. To me its, that box was the way that person proceeds away from you, that their memory is to the point where there are no memories and eventually that door will slide shut, and even though you know that person is on the other side of that box there is no way to get to them.

KM: What a powerful quilt. It is very nice. I guess we should explain a little just in case that priority quilts are auctioned off for Alzheimer's research, it is something else that Ami is doing with the art, the "Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative." What do you think makes a powerful quilt, since we just talked about your powerful quilt? How would you define a powerful quilt?

LH: Something that grabs you and pulls you into it. It may not be the first time you view it, it might be a second time or a third time, but it's got to have something that resonates that pulls you in and makes you take a longer look than just a glance.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

LH: I'm carrying on a tradition. It's evolving and changing. Sometimes knowing my great-grandmother the way I did, I think she would be very proud of where I was and what I was doing. [laughs.] She was a bit of a pistol and did things just because they were, it was the right thing to do and she wanted to, and so I guess being kind of on the cutting edge of doing art quilts, I think she would be there right there with me if she were still alive. And I know there is controversy about longarm quilting versus hand quilting, and she would be the one saying, well if it makes the job easier use the longarm. [laughs.] It is a connection with my relatives and people that I know, that even though they are not here, it continues on.

KM: Do you hope your daughter will be interested eventually?

LH: If not my daughter, then a niece or a nephew or even a casual acquaintance that I may get to know and maybe mentor or inspire to do something. It doesn't matter, as long as that chain is continued and taking it forward.

KM: Is there anything else you would like to share? Anything?

LH: Nothing comes to mind.

KM: It is a wonderful quilt.

LH: Thank you.

KM: I want to thank you for sharing it with me. I will conclude our interview, and it is 12:15.


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