Ami Simms


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Ami Simms




Ami Simms


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Naperville, Illinois


Kim Greene


Note: Sounds from the making of coffee, voices, etc. can be heard in the background through out the entire interview.

Karen Musgrave (KM): Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Ami Simms. Today's date is December 4, 2007 [2:21 p.m.]. We are in Naperville, Illinois. Ami, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. I'm so pleased.

Ami Simms (AS): It is totally my pleasure.

KM: Tell me about the quilt that you selected for this interview.

AS: This is a quilt for the Alzheimer's Art Initiative traveling exhibit that is called,"Alzheimer's Forgetting Piece by Piece", and this individual quilt happens to be number twenty-six in the show, which is my quilt, called "Underlying Current." Basically it details the progress of my mom's disease, Alzheimer's, from our very earliest thinkings that there might be something wrong until the time she was diagnosed and through the time where she lived with us where we took care of her for just under four and a half years, and it ends when she was moved to an Alzheimer's facility so that she could be cared for. We just couldn't take care of her any longer and keep her safe. I drafted the quilt in my mind the day that I dropped her off at that facility. So this is a personal journey of hers and mine with Alzheimer's.

KM: Tell me a little more--you have--

AS: On the background there is a pushed neutral background of, I think there are three inch finished squares. These have been direct printed using an ink jet printer with things my mom said, or recollections about things she did, and they're in chronological order pretty much. Those are in the background of the quilt. Appliquéd on top, is a house, a traditional quilters house motif with the roof, two chimneys, two windows and a door, and a heart over the door. And on the house are direct printed drug interactions from the paperwork that came with her medications, and things that mom said in part of the house by the door. These are all things that my mom said at various times. I'm reading upside down here: 'I feel so stupid.' 'I love you to pieces.' 'I can't do it.' 'I don't know.' 'What do you think I am a cripple?' That was one of her favorite lines. She would say that every time I offered help. 'What do you think I am a cripple?' That is one of those things she did half in jest, and half just because nobody likes to be helped all the time. Anyway, so these are things that mom said and these are the things that I said as a caregiver, the things I said a lot - reminders, cues, how to do just very simple things, to remind her. 'Did you wash your hands?' 'Would you like a sweater?' 'Buckle your seatbelt.' Things like that which she just couldn't keep track of anymore. Around the heart that is above the doorway, you will have to read that for me out loud.

KM: I'm terrified of getting Alzheimer's. That each misspoken word or forgotten detail means my fate will be the same as my mother's. I curse AD for taking her from us bit by bit and I pray it won't happen to me.

AS: That is the ultimate fear, that you have a parent or a spouse or sibling with this disease, it is in your mind, sometimes in the fore front of your mind that every slip of the tongue you wonder, am I going to get this? Sadly no matter how many quilts you make to help raise money for research, there is no guarantee at all. We know that there is a genetic component, we know that there is an environmental component that we haven't figured out how this disease works yet, but I'm hopeful that we will. So anyway, the quilt is talking about those deep dark feelings, talking about the everyday interactions, and then it is surrounded with a border that has a photo transfer of an electrical extension cord. A bright orange extension cord that I actually barbecued [laughs.] to get it to look as if it was falling apart and bruised and open and charred, all of those things with some bead work and some very screwy quilting around it, because the name of the quilt is"Underlying Current," and that motif of that electrical current running through the quilt physically is to symbolize the feeling of having that constant stress and pressure on a caregiver for caring for someone who has a chronic or a fatal disease, because it is always there when you are responsible for another who can not take care of themselves. It is a huge physical, mental, emotional burden that you don't even realize it is there and it is that low frequency hum, that buzz. It is walking into a room that is quiet, except for the fluorescent lighting, and then you only notice it when you turn it off. I made this quilt is because I only noticed the stress I was under once it had been removed. When I moved mom into that facility that changed my stress level. I did swap some stress for others, but the day to day, the hour by hour, the minute by minute caregiving, being a care partner, that was not my responsibility anymore. And that was very freeing for having done it for so long. It's something I had no idea I would feel even on that horrible day, which was so emotionally charged. She did not want to be there. It was the worst place she could imagine setting foot in let alone having to live there. I was the worst daughter on the planet for putting her there. Even under that emotional stress, I felt my stress lifted. And then I realized how much this had been, a part of my life which was a real eye opener for me. I was ready to do more, but it was the prudent thing to do. We had not reached the end of our rope and were hanging on for dear life. It was just, 'Okay we really need to start thinking about this. This could be a better place for her to be.' But it was not an easy choice to come to by any means.

KM: How did you come about putting the exhibition together, the"Alzheimer's Forgetting Piece by Piece?" Did you have your quilt first and then start the--

AS: I made my quilt last. Beyond last. I know it was far after deadline. I don't like making quilts with deadlines. I have always made quilts for me when I felt like making them on my own time. So having a deadline was not helpful, and you know the saying, 'This is not your last quilt,' I kind of forgot that when I made this. There was a tremendous amount of pressure. Here I had accumulated fifty-one incredible quilts, knockout quilts, that spoke to me and I thought would speak to anybody who saw them, and then I had to add the fifty second one, because I had saved a space for my quilt. So that was really, really hard. As I said on the day that mom went to the facility, that's when I got the idea and I had my sketch done that day. Implementing it was another story. Everything I touched was wrecked at least the first time. I have never had so much trouble putting a quilt together as this quilt. I have never had so much internal cursing. Just nothing I touched did what it was suppose to do. The thread knotted, the knots fell off, everything had to be done two and three times, because I wanted it as perfect as I could make it. It just didn't want to get made, it just didn't. It took longer and it was quite annoying. I had to be done with it.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about the exhibition.

AS: Exhibition. These are fifty-two quilts made by fifty-four artists, if my numbers are correct I think they are, who took Alzheimer's and created their interpretation of this disease in fiber. There were, I believe, sixteen quilters who were invited to participate because I knew them, I knew their work. They said, 'yes.' Based on their participation alone, because these are people who are on the teaching circuit or well-know quilters, we were able to book the exhibit in six venues before any of the quilts were even made. So that speaks very highly of the participation of these incredible, talented, and well-known quilters. There are no flies on the other quilters who participated either! Those quilts were juried in and they needed to come up with a quilt that at first glance knocked me out. I looked at their quilts --and the jurying was done electronically, via email, so potential participants would send me emails with photographs of their work. I told them that I wanted to see something incredibly powerful, that there was no question that I was looking at a quilt about Alzheimer's. They had to nail it. If their quilt wasn't like that, then it was their artist statement that had to nail it. I think when you jury a quilt in person you walk into the room and there is a feeling of what is going on. You see the quilts at a distance, you approach them slowly, or in some cases, if they are really cool you run up to them, but the idea is that there is a way for your mind to get settled to what it is going to see. This way, I down loaded the file. I opened it up, and BOOM that quilt was right in front of me. Most of the time when that happened, I looked at the quilt and I burst into tears. It was that powerful. These quilts are that emotional. Of course, I am ready to receive that message, because this is what I'm living with. But seeing those quilts all at once, boom right in front of me, it made an impact and that is basically how they got into the show. If there was an impact, this visual impact that it struck me in a way that went directly to my heart, no question. If I was unsure, there are a couple of quilts in the show if you look at them, you go, 'Okay what does this have to do with Alzheimer's?' Or a couple that--I'll get back to that. If they didn't exactly talk to Alzheimer's, if it wasn't apparent, then I read the statement. And they were equally powerful with their words as they were with their art. I have the highest regard for the people who have contributed quilts. Not just because I share the pain that they are going through having had a loved one, in most cases but not all with this disease, but the fact that they were willing to jump through my hoops for this, and there were plenty of hoops. They loaned their quilts for a period of three years, which is a long time. They did so without any compensation whatsoever. And, furthermore, even when the book came out, they didn't even get a complimentary copy. So everybody who is involved with this has been on the same page from the beginning of this exhibit. This is needed to raise awareness about this disease, and they were so in tune with that. I am just so proud of them to do that. It is a huge commitment for their piece. It is a huge risk. I mean to send these quilts around the country, we do everything we can to protect them, but there is always a risk involved when the public is allowed to get up close and personal with these quilts. Thank goodness everything is safe and sound, but I worry about that. I am just so incredibly proud of their talent and their commitment to this project. So basically these quilts travel around to different venues, mostly quilt shows, but now we are getting into some other areas, into medical facilities, retirement communities, sort of outside the quilting world. They are there to tell people what it is like to have a loved one with Alzheimer's. Some of the quilts talk directly about how it feels as a person who has this disease, and they are doing such an incredible job. The very first show we had--the exhibit premiered in Nashville, at the AQS [American Quilter's Society.] show in August of 2006. There was a husband and wife standing in front of one of the quilts in tears. Both of them. And the hostess who was white gloving went up to them and said something like, 'You must have a connection, this is obviously very emotional for you.' And the woman said, 'I've just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.' She is looking at Sonia Callahan's "Alzheimer's Thief." She pointed to the quilt with this basket of abilities dripping out and this thief is taking them away, and she pointed at that quilt and she said, 'That's what it is like.' So to have someone confirm and validate what these quilts are about from that deepest part in their heart; that was just incredible. I can't tell you how many people look at these quilts and weep. They are just so taken with the theme, taken with the workmanship, with what these quilts are saying. I've seen grown men stand there and cry. I've seen people go see the exhibit wanting to see them, and after they look at the first quilt they leave in tears. They just can't do it. Some of them will come back two and three and four times looking at each quilt as much as they can take in and then leaving it and coming back. I've had people follow this exhibit, and tell me they had seen it in one city, and they came back to the quilt show to see it again in another city. It's very powerful.

KM: Tell me about what else you are doing with quilts and the cause of Alzheimer's.

AS: The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative has a sister program, which is called,"Priority Alzheimer's Quilts." These are little tiny nine-inch by twelve-inch pieces of art, for the most part, or pieces of craft. I'll take anything. These are donated by quilters, some have a connection to this disease, some of them do not. Most of them don't. The quilts can be anything, any color combination, any style, any technique, any fabric choice, any ability; I don't care. They are donated and then the first ten days of every month we auction them and the money goes to research. One hundred percent of the money that is raised with the donation of these quilts goes to fund Alzheimer's research. It's almost two years since we started, and we've received over two thousand donated quilts. The nice part about this--there are so many blessings in this project, it's absolutely incredible. But one of the coolest things is to see people stretch their own art by participating and making something. It's a small commitment. You can knock one of these things off maybe in a day or two, an afternoon depending on the technique you want to invest in. And they're seeing their work displayed. Each quilt gets its own web page, they get a little glory for doing this, they feel good about helping, and to see their work turned into dollars for research - that is very powerful. Most of these people have never sold a quilt, and to watch and see the bidding go up, that's got to be tremendously fulfilling. To take a design--let's say you take a workshop and you never really want to finish the whole project, but I should really finish this motif I was working on, now what do I do with it? Well, here is what you can do with it! It doesn't have to be something that is your best quilt, it can just be a little component of something, a little experimentation. We'll take it. The prices we are getting range anywhere from $10 all the way up, I think our most expensive one to date has been $375. And for a little piece of art, that's a bargain. For the novice quilter, they have their quilt auctioned off and raise fifty bucks; that is phenomenal. We have had a lot of feedback from quilters participating in this program, and one of them suggested that she wanted to make as many quilts that it would take to raise a $1,000 for research herself, and thus was born the $1,000 Dollar Promise. So we've got over forty people, quilters, who have pledged right now to make as many quilts as it takes to raise a thousand dollars. And I would say that we've got maybe ten or twelve people who have already fulfilled their promise and they keep going. One quilter, Betty Donahue from Talladega, Alabama has made over a hundred quilts, and she has herself raised almost $5,000 so far. That is incredible! We love to get packages from Betty, because every time you open up one of her boxes you never know what is inside. It could be extremely traditional, it could be wild and funky. She is all over the board, and it is so exciting. I have watched her grow even more and that is just tremendous. That is tremendous, it is a wonderful--it is a win/win. Everybody gets to help, you get to create something that has such wonderful value, and it's doing a good deed.

KM: How far are you going to take this?

AS: The project was started in January of 2006, and its deadline is July of 2009. That is the last date for the exhibit quilts, and that is when I'm going to wrap up everything. Having said that, we are now trying to become a nonprofit corporation so that the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative can continue. [Note: On January 2, 2008, the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative became a Michigan nonprofit corporation. All profit from the money raised is used to fund Alzheimer's research.] We build up so much momentum. So many people have been affected by these quilts. So many people have been touched by them. It would really be a shame to stop. I think there are more people out there that want to participate by either donating quilts or purchasing them, because it is equally wonderful to purchase one of these quilts, or to make a donation in exchange for one of these quilts. So hopefully with a nonprofit we can take this to the next level, and have it continue and have it continue to grow. So it's a very exciting time, a little scary right now but it's still very, very exciting.

KM: What other things would you like to do?

AS: What other things? I would like to start approaching other corporations, and say, 'Would you be willing to give us a percentage of sales on quilt related products so that we can fund the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative and more importantly to fund research and to find a cure for Alzheimer's. I would like to see what kind of partnerships we could come up with. I would like to see sponsorships. I need to learn more about what procedures we need to follow and I'm really looking forward to creating a charity that does all of the things that I want to see done in a charity. I think people want to see their money spent well. I think people want to be acknowledged for the donations of time and energy and product, and I think too that they want to see an organization that is appreciative and does a good job as a steward of this donation. The way we are set up now, it is totally volunteer and I like that. We had structured this organization so that everybody can contribute something. You don't want to make a quilt that's okay; you can print up flyers and mail them to the next venue. You don't want to do that; you can post on your blog. You can take this idea and share it with your quilt guild and get another group of women onboard to help make quilts. You can become a temporary quilt registration goddess. There are so many different ways that you can help, and I like that. The fact that we are operating on zero budget at this point, it's okay. People are going to pick up the ball and run with it, and I'm very anxious to see in what directions we run. So it's going to be very cool.

KM: Let's talk about how you got involved in making quilts, when you started. Let's talk a little bit about that.

AS: I always sewed it seemed. I don't remember not sewing. My mom taught me how to sew. She had an old Nechi sewing machine that she got in 1956 and I learned how to work that at a very young age. I think the first garment I ever made was a Superman outfit for the cat. It had a nice shirt with a big S. The cat, poor thing, had a hat with holes for his ears to stick out, and yes, I actually made a tail cozy. So the cat is wearing--[both laughing.] It's hard to dress a cat. The cat is wearing a shirt and a hat and a tail cozy and a cape, and once you put that on a Siamese there are only two things that it will do. One is to actually cower and not move, and the other is to take off like a bat out of you know where! Well, when you run, the cape flaps and it is quite amusing. I was like ten or so. I did it without any knowledge of being cruel to the animal at this point. If it weren't for the cat, I don't know if I would be a sewer as he alternately either cowered or took off. He would take off like a crazy animal, but he always came back. It's not like I sent him out of the house and we never saw him again. He'd come back and I'd nozzle him. I thought he was asking to be dressed again. So he had more outfits. I really got involved with quilting because of field work that I did as an undergrad in college. I was an anthropology major and had to do a senior thesis, so I wound up studying the Old Order Amish in northern Indiana, and spent some time with a family there. My very first contact, after the barn raising, was at a quilting bee where I saw this very large trampoline in a woman's front room with all these people sitting around it and they were sewing on the trampoline. I was at least smart enough to figure out that this was a quilt in a frame, but it was a little different than what I had used to. Because I never had really seen a quilt before, other than the ones we had at home that were made by a friend of the family, and they were made out of old pajamas and boxer shorts. Truly beautiful quilting. But they were treasures. That was the only quilt I had ever seen, so watching the Amish sewing on this trampoline was just so odd, and they asked me if I would like to try it, if I would like to quilt with them. My mind set was, here I am virtually unannounced, I came down here to, in my nineteen-year-old wisdom, to have them invite me to live with them for six months. Anything they had asked me to do, I would have said, 'Sounds like a great idea.' If they had said, 'Would you like to take all your clothes off and run naked in the woods?' I would have said, 'Sure sounds like a great idea.' Thankfully I didn't have to do that, but when they asked me if I wanted to quilt, I said, 'Absolutely!' So I sat down and they said, 'Would you like a thimble?' I said, 'No don't need one.' And they all snickered in their beautiful Amish clothes with their prayer coverings. They actually giggled at me en mass. I was stubborn though and I didn't have a thimble, had never used one, so what did I need one for? Not only did I bleed on the underneath hand, I also bled on the top hand as I jammed the eye of the needle in my flesh. And yet I had such a good time; I wanted to do it again. Which was unbelievable to me. So that was really the start of it. I have been at it ever since, and that was 1975, which is unbelievable because I'm not that old yet. [laughs.]

KM: When did you become a professional quilter?

AS: I am trying to think of the exact date, which escapes me, but it was probably shortly after we were married. We were married in 1977, made a couple more quilts, entered a couple of shows, then I started teaching. And the teaching I guess qualifies as becoming a professional, so don't ask me how I wound up doing that. It is still one of those mysteries, right place, right time. I picked up some quilts at a quilt show and they asked me to say a few words about them, because one of them was a hideous orange quilt and they couldn't imagine how anyone could stare at it long enough to quilt it, let alone to continue to possess it. I said a couple of things. I was talking about how I had quilted it like the Amish taught me in a quilt frame as opposed to in a hoop. That was very peculiar for a lot of people and they didn't understand what that was all about. And after I was done, I took my quilt and as I was leaving a woman came up to me and said, 'Would you do your lecture at our guild?' And I went, 'You must be talking about someone else, I was the one just talking about the trampoline and my experience with the Amish.' 'That's what we need.' So that is what started it. I went and talked to her guild, and then it was word of mouth, and I have been doing it for twenty some odd years now. Totally backwards. I never thought it would lead to anything like this in a million years.

KM: What is your favorite part of quiltmaking?

AS: Good question. I have parts that I don't like.

KM: Tell me what don't you like then?

AS: Those are the same things I do like.

KM: Oh.

AS: Kind of that love/hate sometimes. I love getting ideas, and then I hate having ideas because I can't develop them all. I love dreaming about what is going to happen, and what I hate is finding the time to make it happen. I love the hand quilting. I love the piecing, except when I want to be done already. I like all the parts, but I do get bored with some of the parts because it is a long process. If I had unlimited time, I think I would feel differently. Right now I haven't had enough of my quilt time. I feel that I've been cheated. I need to sit in front of a machine. I need to have that fabric in my hand. I need time to quilt because it feels good. Today, I just haven't gotten my licks in yet but I think quilting is so creative. It's what you want to make it. If you're bored in quiltmaking, it is your own fault. There are so many different directions to go in. And there can be that satisfaction from a number of different venues, different avenues. You can be satisfied in the creative process: 'Oh, I just thought of something nobody else did!' You are wrong of course, it's been done already, but that kind of excitement, the thrill of starting a new project, the thrill of accumulating all the supplies, getting the fabric ready, the fear and angst of cutting into it, and you just dive in, and you cut with abandon, and there's that wonderful freedom. Taking those pieces and watching them come together. Having made an incredibly stupid error or some curse overwhelms you and you accidentally slice off half the block you've decided to save accidentally and then you come up with a reason, a way to fix it. Those are very creative times and those are good. Sometimes I will quilt on a project and not end it, because it would be over. It is like reading a good book. You love the thought of what you are going to find inside that book, and you love the story, and you follow it, and you enjoy it page by page, and then you get to the end and you are sad. I'm always dissatisfied with the endings of books, because I want to know more, I want to know the next six months. Tell me that they lived happily ever after, and tell me how wonderful it was. Don't just make me think of what it was. Quilting is a lot like that. I always have something going, and I feel empty and nervous if I don't have at least a hand appliqué project going, or something in the works so that when I need it, it is there. It is already cut out and ready for me to pick up and sew, so I find that very calming and exhilarating at the same time.

KM: How do you balance your time?

AS: Not very well. [laughs.] I wish I was better at that. I would like to have many more hours in a day. I'm at the point now where I need to off load some of the things that I'm doing, because it is too much. I need to concentrate on what's important. I'm at a crossroad so to speak. I'm at the time where I need to reorder my priorities.

KM: Don't you think reevaluation is something--

AS: It's constant.

KM: Constant

AS: You have to pay attention to what you decide to reevaluate. It is one thing to go, 'yeah, yeah, yeah, I need to get this out of my life. Only do that, and make sure there is room for this.' But you have to go beyond saying it out loud, you have to actually do that and that is the hard part because I don't want to give anything up. Everything I do is only because I want to do it. My problem is I keep thinking up too many projects that I want to invest my time in. I'm constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul, and doing that the long poles and the plates, running around from one pole, spinning the plate then running to the next. That's been my life every day but I must like it, otherwise I wouldn't do it, so that must be the way I'm built or structured some way. I think my brain is hardwired to do that. I blame my mother.

KM: Was your mother like that?

AS: I think so, yeah she was.

KM: Tell me about the worst quilt contest. How did that come about?

AS: "The Worst Quilt in the World Contest." I was writing"How Not To Make A Prize Winning Quilt." I like that book. I still open it up from time to time and read part of it and laugh out loud and think that was cool, I'm glad I did that. So I'm very proud of that book. I was in the middle of writing that, and that was a hard book to write because I needed to find a voice that wasn't pessimistic and it couldn't make anybody who was reading it feel badly about their quilting skills, so it wound up being a self-deprecating kind of voice. When I found it I knew it was the right voice. It was a lot of struggling with how to present what I wanted to present. At that time, I was no longer entering shows myself anymore, for a variety of reasons. You always saw the entry forms, and if you ever entered a form, then you know what those are like, and I thought as an exercise what I would do is try and to make a parody of it. One of my first writing classes in high school was--I think it was Jonathan Swift who wrote about the potato famine and his way of solving it was to eat the children and he wrote about that, and our assignment was to write something similar. It was sort of where I took that from. And writing a parody on the entry form was really an afternoon's recreation. As soon as I finished it I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what if somebody would really want to do this? What if I could get prizes and people would be willing to submit their worst quilt, and then that way I got to tell them, no there is somebody's who is even worst than you, wouldn't that be accelerating?' Won't they feel like, 'Oh my gosh, maybe I will keep up this quilting stuff.' So, of course the person who won the worst quilt in the world contest, they would get a bunch of prizes, so I made it worthwhile and I could soothe their ego in some way. So I think the first company I went to, it was either Omnigrid or Bernina, it was one of them, and they said, 'yes.' 'I went, 'You're kidding, cool, alright, so.' And then it was, 'Well you know these two companies said yes, wouldn't you like to be a part of it?' And then it grew. We wound up with a couple thousand dollars worth of prizes, and it was a stitch from the get go. I loved to see people read that form and they'd just laugh out loud. It was just fun. It was a way for a lot of people to come clean and go 'You know I really didn't make the best quilt, but I sure had fun doing it.' We had people creating quilts especially for the contest, which was fine by me. In fact the quilts that got a lot of press were the ones that were for the most part, not always, but for the most part, were made specifically for the contest. And that is fine. That's a creative way to have fun too. So I always got a laugh. It was a fun deal. I enjoyed that. We had to stop it of course because of the danger to the judges by just the sheer amount of ugly quilts they were forced to endure. I was worried about health concerns because people are so sue happy in this country and this is the last thing I want to do is go to court over injuries sustained by emotional trauma for the judges judging this quilts. [KM is heard quietly laughing in the background.] It was kind of hard, but I had to give that up.

KM: Believe it or not, we don't have that much time left, so I'm going back to your quilt. If someone were to look at this, would they say this is an Ami Simms quilt? Is this typical of your work?

AS: No, I don't think so. No. I'm trying to qualify that. Not my colors that was a first. I'm definitely out of my range, but it had to be these colors, because it just had to be. There was no other question.

KM: Which is not bright?

AS: No, it is not bright. It is muted and it's brown. I don't think I have ever done brown and I don't do red either. I like beige, but not this much of it. I guess the extension cord is the Ami-est part of this quilt. The fact that--actually that was really a blast to take--well I took one of Steve's extension cords, poor man and he still comes back for more, and burnt it on the barbecue literally because I wanted to have that distress on there, and then I photo transferred it. Of course, you couldn't use the extension cord after that but that would be the most Ami part because that I find humorous to look at. And I would hope that my technique and stitching would be Ami, but the rest of it is a little bit different.

KM: When you did the photo transfer of the extension cord, did you actually cut the extension cord, or did you just--

AS: No. I manipulated it on the scanner until I got a chunk that I liked. I knew I wanted to have it visually go in and out as if it were threaded through the border of the quilt. It was handy that it was in pieces, I could only get so much in the scanner. Appliquéing it down by hand was not the most fun, but it worked out alright.

KM: What would you say is a typical Ami Simms' quilt?

AS: Loud, bright, and I like to have some element of whimsy I guess. I don't know why that comes to mind because not all of it goes that way. I don't know. I have done a lot of different kinds of quilts. I have done traditional patchwork. I have done Amish reproduction quilts. I have done pictorial quilts. Novelty fabrics, Picture Play Quilts, Twisted Sisters, and there are a lot of those. My own patterns using a lot of different fabrics. I once heard, I was told, I was lectured, that in order to be an artist you have to have a particular style that is recognized, and that really grated on me, that always has. I guess maybe I don't consider myself an artist but I do consider myself very happy to be making quilts. And I make them for me, and if I'm interested in a topic and I want to explore that topic, I'm going to. I really don't care if it looks like what I did a year ago or not. To have a continuous lifelong style, I would never get there. There are too many things that I'm schizophrenic about. I'm very much like pinball, once you shoot me off and I'm bouncing from one thing to another. It really distracts from my day to day life too. I'm perfectly content with that.

KM: But you don't consider yourself an artist?

AS: I'll take that back. It is very hard to define an artist. Some quilts, yeah. To me art is something that elicits an emotional response. If you can move someone, either to happy or to tears, if you give them an emotion that they didn't have before they looked at your work, then you have succeeded in that piece as art. If you made it, you are an artist. Some of my pieces are there for the emotion, this one in particular I want you to feel something. Some are just fun for me to make. At times I am an artist, and at other times I'm just having fun.

KM: I think that is okay.

AS: Not to say that I didn't have fun on this quilt, but maybe some day in the future I will make a quilt that has a statement that does elicit that emotion response in the viewer and then it will be a happy experience.

KM: You teach?

AS: Yes.

KM: You lecture?

AS: Yes.

KM: You write?

AS: Yep.

KM: You make quilts?

AS: Yes. Fabric lines. Done that. Publish books, made tools. I don't know.

KM: Had contests.

AS: Had contests.

KM: So of all those things, I mean, what do you like the most?

AS: I must like them all, otherwise I wouldn't do them. That's been the bottom line. You have to do something, whatever is your passion. If there is no passion, just somebody told you to do it, why bother? I certainly don't do it for money. If I had, it would be under different circumstance. Whatever I do, I want to do it because I want to do it. There's some reason internally that makes whatever the project is valid and needing of my time, and I am very happy to give my time to it. So it has to satisfy that first. I have done a lot of crafts, everything from knitting and crocheting, none of it very well. I did broom making, tin-smithing and I thought at one point I wanted to make a forge in the back yard so I could do blacksmithing, but I was really crappy at all that stuff. Quilting has held my interest for thirty years or more, and I still feel I will never get to that point where I have exhausted it. It is going to be with me until they cart off my fabric with a backhoe after I am deep in the ground. This is part of me. Is that anywhere close to what the question was that you were asking?

KM: Yes, it was fabulous. It was really great. We only have a couple more minutes, believe it or not, is there anything else that you would like to share before we close?

AS: I just want to thank all the quilters and all the people that appreciate this work for participating in the Alzheimer's project. That has been one of the most amazing things. There are so many times that I am touched again and again. Looking at these exhibit quilts, I have seen them hang in half a dozen shows, and there is not one time that I don't cry, that I don't see something else that I haven't seen, that I'm not overwhelmed all over again at the generosity and the talent of the contributors. When I see the Priority Alzheimer's Quilts coming in and I photograph them, and I read the dedications, I am always wiping away a tear. They are so powerful. I am definitely grateful and I'm indebted forever to my Amish friends who taught me how to quilt. What would I be doing with my life, oh my gosh, I can't even image. I don't know what that would be. So, I have a fantastic life just because of an accidental encounter thirty some years ago. I can't believe it. So I guess be open to those things that come your way, you never know where it might lead you. Life is a mystery. It is wonderful to have one, have that mystery.

KM: Excellent. This is a great way to end. It is now 3:05 and thank you very much for sharing with me.

AS: It is my pleasure. Thank you, Karen.


“Ami Simms,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,