Diane Petersmarck




Diane Petersmarck




Diane Petersmarck


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Evanston, Illinois


Karen Musgrave


Note: The quilt used for this interview is part of a book, CD and traveling exhibition called "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" which Ami Simms curated. The purpose of the exhibition is to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. All of the profit from the book and CD is donated to Alzheimer's research. For more information, visit www.AlzQuilts.org.

Karen Musgrave (KM): I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Diane Petersmarck who is in Evanston, Illinois. Thanks so much for taking your time to do this interview with me. Our interview is beginning on September 22, 2007. Diane, tell me about your quilt "The Crooked Path."

Diana Pertersmarck (DP): I first heard about Ami Simms from my sister, Beth Hartford, and had signed up for Ami's newsletter. Then when the news about AAQI [Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative.] first came out, I was intrigued, but didn't think I could make a quilt good enough. I'd really only made postcards and two art quilts (one really rough one for a Chicago Quilters challenge and one for a Christmas present that turned out fairly well) at that point. I was intrigued enough that when Beth told me she was going to make one and encouraged me to as well, I actually thought it might be possible! I started sketching and thinking and discarding ideas and thinking - this went on for several weeks.

I'm not sure when the actual idea came to me or if it came all at once or in stages. The one decent art quilt I had already made was a whole cloth painted background and I liked that process. So I pulled out some white fabric I'd gotten from the bargain bin at Vogue of unknown fiber content and stapled it to some stretcher bars. I got out my mostly unused fabric paints, spread a drop cloth and started painting. I know I had a rainbow idea and the log cabin pattern in my head so that's what came out. I'd left a white "middle" and when I got all done the idea for the path crystallized in my head with that as the end and I decided it needed to be a "portal" and I got out my lighter stick and burned a hole. I did it fast so I didn't have a chance to think about it. Then I added a second patch of background and the little figure, painted the path on and got quilting. All in all, it ended up being quite simple after all my wild and crazy ideas.

The meaning? I'd been reading a lot about Alzheimer's and I think I'd come to understand a bit of what Dad was going through. It made me so sad to think of how scary it must be for him, knowing in his lucid moments that something horrible was happening and not being able to do anything about it. I couldn't talk to him about it - not really - so I decided just to hang out with him as much as I could and try to make him feel less alone. That's where the holding hands as he walked the crooked path concept came from.

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

DP: I hadn't really thought about it much. I'm afraid it will be painful to look at if I keep it and yet it means so much to me I don't really want to give it away. If I did give it away, I think I'd give it to the nursing home where Dad is living now. They are really wonderful there and are really the ones who are holding his hand these days since I live 300 miles away and can't get up there as much as I used to.

KM: Tell me your thoughts about the "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" exhibit.

DP: I got the CD before I saw the show and managed to watch it in pieces, but I did get through it. I cried a lot - some were easier than others - you could tell the quiltmakers who had come to some sort of "peace" with it, even though there is always a lot of grief mixed in.

Then I saw the exhibit in Schaumburg and was thrilled to actually see the quilts I'd studied on the CD. I found myself not reading the cards with the quilts - not feeling strong enough to read the stories I'd heard on the CD. Rather, I absorbed the meaning from the quilts - the fear, the confusion, the anger, the sadness - and in some cases, the peace. And, I admit, I was distracted by techniques on a lot of them - so many talented quilt makers to learn from!

KM: Do you have any favorites?

DP: Well, I obviously love Beth's "Sundown" because it's my Dad silhouetted and I can deeply appreciate her message. That is one that gives me a sad peace - memories of happier times. I love Ami's "Underlying Current," especially how the cord is frayed and broken, and Elsie Campbell's "Confusion" and Liz Kettle's "Tears" and Sonia Callahan's "Alzheimer's Thief." I am most disturbed by Gay Ousley's "She's Come Undone" because it speaks to me of my crooked path - the slow deterioration, the narrowing path. The inexorable frightening progression. The need to spend time with them before it is too late. They all speak to me in some way, but that one is one and Beth's I tend to find reasons to walk by (despite myself) when white gloving.

KM: Tell me about your involvement with Priority Quilts.

DP: Once I got hooked on Ami's sense of humor and dedication to helping to stomp out Alzheimer's, I wanted to do more and the priority quilt program seemed a perfect fit. I love working small and this gave me an opportunity to try out new techniques and off-the-wall stuff that popped into my head. When Ami put out a call for volunteers, I raised my hand up high - she needed help with the photos for the website and digital scrap booking and image editing happen to be my other strong interest. I'm also fairly proficient with a computer so when the $1000 Promise program was started, I volunteered to keep track of it for her and again with the Honor Roll. And after she showed me the laborious process she was going through making priority quilt price tags for shows, I took over that too and streamlined the process so it can be done a bit quicker.

I made and surpassed the "$1000 Promise," but will keep making priority quilts as long as the program is viable.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

DP: It's all Beth's fault! LOL! [laugh out loud.] She's been making beautiful quilts for years and years. When I was forced to take disability (due to MS [Multiple Sclerosis.]) from work, I was casting around for something to "do". Scrap booking and genealogy filled the bill for a long time but I had to admit that I really love fabric and I wanted to do something with it. I made plans for a twin bed quilt - made one block - and quit. I should go back to that someday, shouldn't I? The postcard craze hit just as I was ready to branch out and kept me busy for awhile and then Chicago Quilters issued a challenge and I decided to go for it! My result looked OK from the front, but the back was dismal and I knew I had a lot to learn, but I was hooked. I made a quilt from a photograph for my brother for Christmas and then got hooked into the AAQI - and the rest, as they say, is history!

KM: Tell me about your involvement with Chicago Quilters. Do you belong to any other quilt groups?

DP: Chicago Quilters is a relatively small yahoo group started by my friend Caron Carlson. It only has about 130 members, but it's nice to get news of local quilt shows, shop openings and closings and sales and the like. They had one challenge when if first began a few years ago, but has settled down to be more of an information exchange group than a participation group. I also belong to PAQA (Professional Art Quilt Alliance), which has been a fantastic experience for me - meeting artists and getting a broader picture of the fiber art world.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

DP: Well, I'm not sure I've developed any favorites - being too new to the game. I do know I don't enjoy piecing, and whole cloth quilts seem to be my forte. Let's just say my idea file is fat, fat, fat - because every time I hear of a new technique or material I want to try it. I've got drawers full of things like Tyvek and Lutradur waiting for me to try along with tons of fabric paints, unusual fabrics and things like Etal, Mistyfuse and Timtex that I've had the best times with! As an ex-paper scrapbooker, I have loads of things that have moved over to my sewing room, like beads, brads, ribbons and fibers. If my MS wasn't slowing me down, I'd be a creating fool!

KM: Has scrapbooking influenced your quiltmaking in any way? Describe your sewing room.

DP: Oh yes! I already had the basics of design pretty firmly ingrained from scrapbooking - working both on 8.5" x 11" and 12" x 12" pages in paper and when I moved to digital I worked only 12 x 12 but I also learned a few more essentials for design. Plus, when I moved to digital, I had all these paper supplies left - many of which have found their way into my postcards and quilts.

I have what I call my office where I keep my scrapbooking supplies and computer and desk. Then I have an alcove off my living room which I use for sewing. I'm fond of Iris-type carts with the clear plastic drawers and both rooms are full of them, plus I use cardboard filing boxes to store fabric - I keep telling myself it's short term so it won't damage the fabrics. Of course, that intention is based on the hope that I quit buying more fabric. Yikes! Anyway I bought myself what they call a "pub" table which is 36" high and 30" square which is perfect for my cutting board, my ironing board is build into a shelving unit/wall partition and my sewing "table" is white shelving on top of short white bookcases. It's not a large space, but it works well for me. I end up using my dining room table for lots of stuff too (my painting supplies are stored out there), and my portable design wall is in my dining room, so things tend to creep out of confinement a lot!

KM: In what way/how does a design wall enhance your creative process?

DP: I leave things hanging up there so they can "talk" to me - my creative process is usually slow - I'll start something and sometimes it tells me what's next right away or I leave it hang for a day or even two before I go on. Some things hang there for quite a while! Since I don't piece and all my stuff is whole cloth, I don't use it like a traditional design wall - it's merely a nice place to hang stuff flat while I think about it. I also like to photograph pieces and look at them on the computer screen - it sometimes gives me a whole new slant on the piece or points out things to do differently.

I like having it in the dining room, which is really just an alcove off the living room, so I see it every time I walk through the living room. I also move it in front of my Nordic Track (also in my living room) now and then so I can think about things hung there while I work out. P.S. my condo is a decorator's nightmare!

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

DP: Join a guild. That's the best thing I ever did, joining PAQA. The show and tell and information sharing are invaluable. Also, don't follow any rules - and along with that comes the caveat: don't be afraid to pitch something that just isn't working. Pitch it in a drawer, that is. I've pulled things out that I thought were hopeless and reworked them or cut them up and used them to create something new! I have a really hard time throwing anything out and regularly go through Beth's trash bin next to her cutting table and find treasures. She hates it when I tell people that!

KM: I love it! Do you get together and work with Beth? Besides getting you started, what kind of influence has she had with your work? And to follow up on that theme, whose work are you drawn to and why?

DP: I show Beth work in progress and she often has good constructive advice and criticism, but we don't actually work together much. Our styles are different and she has a traditional background and is a bit nonplussed sometimes at some of the wacky ideas I come up with. She grounds me, though - taught me things like borders and bindings and a myriad of other basics. She's my biggest cheering section, too, and is fond of telling people about my wacky notions that actually work (like burning the hole!).

I have so much MS-related cognitive dissonance that I seldom remember things like people's names unless I have a personal contact with them. I have gotten to know Annette Hendricks well through Beth and I have told her that I want to quilt like her when I grow up. I enjoy seeing other people's work and tuck bits of information away even if I might not remember their names. I am drawn to thread painting and surface design quilts even though I don't use either technique much in my quilts.

KM: What other challenges do MS give you with your quiltmaking?

DP: Nothing, really, other than having to move slowly - my thought processes move slowly - and that might actually be a benefit! If I leave something up on the design wall, I might have a thought but not be sure of it and if I wait a bit longer, I might piggyback on that thought or make it better. It may actually narrow my focus a bit too. I mean, I usually have several projects I'm working on, between charity work, a bit of web site work and family history (and documenting same with digitally), but because my brain moves slower, I tend to be less scattered - my energies need to be more focused on anything I'm working on. So, my production is low, but I think my quality is higher because of it.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

DP: When you are not able to work and you are home a lot of the day - not feeling all that energetic (MS can cause chronic fatigue), you need an outlet to stave off feeling crummy. For years, scrap booking satisfied me, but I was getting bored with it and needed another outlet. Quilting is fun and very satisfying - making gifts and especially making Priority Quilts because they actually make a positive difference in the world.

KM: You mentioned wanting to be Annette Hendricks, who makes incredible pictorial quilts, when you grow up so lets talk some more about aesthetics and design. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DP: This one is difficult for me to put into words. I guess, for me, a quilt has to tell a story and perhaps I enjoy pictorial quilts most for that reason. Or, if a quilt is an original design, I like it to spark my imagination - make me make up the story? I've made both kinds, and I've made collages, but I invariably am drawn to a work of art that has a "theme." Naturally, this is a very individual aspect of making and enjoying art. For instance, if I make an altered book, it would have to be about a specific subject and tell a story - rather than be a collection of different artistic images.

KM: I'd like to go back to your quilt before we end this interview. Have you shared this quilt with your dad?

DP: Nope, he was already beyond understanding something like that when we made them. He was always more of a black and white kind of guy anyway - always used to complain about Mom and Beth talking about quilts - called it "Qing" and said he'd go to another room. We still call it Qing now and then.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time to allow me to interview you and before we close, I want to give you an opportunity to add anything that you would like to share.

DP: I just want to thank Ami and all the hundreds of others who have made contributions (both big and small) to the AAQI. And, I want to thank you for all you are doing to preserve our stories. Quilting has a long and varied history and I just know there are exciting things on the horizon for all of us!

KM: Diane, you are more than welcome and I couldn't agree more with you. Thanks again. Our interview concluded at 4:10 on September 22, 2007.


“Diane Petersmarck,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1359.