Timi Bronson




Timi Bronson




Timi Bronson


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Salem, Connecticut

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Timi Bronson. Timi is in Salem, Connecticut and I am in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview by telephone. Today's date is February 22, 2008. It is now 9:00 a.m. We are actually doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories based on the "Alzheimer's Forgetting Piece by Piece" exhibit. Timi, thank you for taking time to do this with me. Tell me about your quilt, "Shattered Lives."

Timi Bronson (TB): "Shattered Lives" is actually four small quilts that were then put together into a framing system that I came up with. I have three sisters and we each made a twelve by twelve quilt that is in fact a complete quilt in and of itself. They sent them to me, and I put the four quilts into a frame using cotton fabrics. The individual quilts represent what each of us feels about our mother who was diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia in 2004.

KM: Tell me about your quilt.

TB: My quilt is actually done from a photograph of my mother that was taken on their 50th wedding anniversary. I took the photograph and put it through several different techniques in different photo programs to actually shatter it so that it looked like a piece of broken glass. I then printed it on to fabric and appliqu├ęd it onto the background fabric. The dementia has actually shattered my mother's life and it has shattered our lives. She is not the same person that she once was and as caregiver for her, my life certainly has been changed completely.

KM: How has your life changed?

TB: My father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2000 and moved from Pennsylvania to live with us. My parents have lived with us for the past twenty years. My father had had a stroke in 1986. It was difficult for them to be on their own where they lived in Ohio, having no family around. They moved in with us. We have an apartment here for them; and my father-in-law, when he moved in with us, he took over the spare bedroom. He passed away in 2004, but since 2000 my husband and I have been unable to do anything together really. One of us has to be in the home at all times to take care of the folks, or his father when he was here. If we want to go on a vacation, we have to make arrangements with one of my sisters to come here for whatever length of time we want to go for and it is very difficult at times coordinating everything. They do to an adult daycare facility three days a week, and those three days are the days I work outside of the home. I have had to decrease the amount of time that I spend at a chosen career to care for them. Our daughter, her husband and our grandson have moved back home with us to help. That helps a little bit, but it is still a lot of stress.

KM: What a wonderful loving thing to do though.

TB: It is hard; it is not an easy job.

KM: Let's talk some more about the quilt. The four sisters, did you talk to one another when you were designing them?

TB: Not really. I sent them a rough sketch of what I thought the finished quilt would look like without details of the individual quilts. You know, how I had seen the framing planned out in my head. We each came up with our own designs. I did give them what color the frame was going to be.

KM: It is gray?

TB: Actually, it is black.

KM: Oh, the frame is black, okay.

TB: The framing part is black.

KM: What are the little dashes?

TB: They are black. It is all black cotton. That was the only thing that I said I was going to do, that I knew for sure it would be those little bars in black. They took it from there. Dona and I both decided to use a photograph to do our pieces, and the other two used piecing techniques and we all kind of incorporated the same color scheme, which was very odd because we did not discuss it at all.

KM: How did you feel when the quilt got into the exhibit?

TB: We were shocked, amazed and absolutely thrilled. Dona and I have shown quilts in different shows before, but Cherile and Sandy have not, so they were very amazed. Here we are in this group of well-known quilters and there is the four of us. [laughs.]

KM: Have you seen the exhibit?

TB: I have. My husband and I went to the show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I forget exactly when that was, but I think it was one of the first few shows that the exhibit was at. It was very, very emotional.

KM: Do you have any favorite quilts in the exhibition?

TB: Well, ours of course. [laughs.]

KM: [laughs.]

TB: There was, all of them were just so moving. One of them that sticks out in my mind is the one with the car.

KM: Georgia Bonesteel's.

TB: That was just very, it was kind of funny to me, but it hit home.

KM: It is all about taking the keys away.

TB: Right.

KM: From the car. I think it is a whimsical, the quilt is whimsical.

TB: Yes.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

TB: I never understood why anyone would want to take perfectly good fabric and cut it up and then sew it back together again. My sisters decided one year that we should go on a trip together. At the time Dona was living in Chicago and mom said that was a really good idea. We decided that we would go to Paducah to the quilt show. Mom and I flew to Chicago and Sandy flew to Chicago and we all met, Cherile was unfortunately not able to go with us. We drove to Paducah, and I spent three or four days with them walking around and looking at all of these quilts saying, oh that is nice, that is nice, and then we went to the art quilt section, and I thought wow that is so different, because to me a quilt was something you put on your bed. When we came home from the trip mom decided she wanted to learn how to quilt, so she and I went to a local fabric store and took a Log Cabin quilt class. Before the class was over, I had designed and made an art quilt for a friend's first child. It is kind of a joke because I had a bookkeeping business, and it was called Mind Your Business. The girl that I made the quilt for was an artist and she used to come in and fax her sketches to the New Yorker Magazine. They would have her do sketches, she is primarily a wildlife artist, and she would fax them in for approval. She used to call us the Bee Fax Chicks. I had a partner and there were a couple of girls that worked for us in the office, so her quilt was a beehive, which is what we gave her and her husband for their wedding gift, with all these little bumble bees flying around on it and an apple tree with some birds and stuff on it, and that was the first art quilt that I made. That was probably about 1990, 1991 maybe. Since then, art quilts are what I make and that first Log Cabin quilt that I started is still not finished. [laughs.]

KM: Do you plan to finish it?

TB: I did take it out last fall and looked at it and discovered that I really need about fifty more blocks if I'm going to put it on a king size bed and decided I'm not doing that. [laughs.] But I have all these blocks. I probably will put it together one of these days and make a lap quilt out of it. I have had quilts in shows in California, Michigan. I have sold a couple of quilts. One of my quilts was an embroidered green man design that is in a private collection in Scotland. I currently, well not yet it is going on the 5th through 8th of March in 2008, I have a quilt that I embroidered that was--the design itself came from an x-ray of my back. I took a digital photograph of the x-ray of my back after spinal fusion surgery, and then converted that into a digitized embroidery design. That quilt is going to be hanging at the eMotions Pictures Orthopedic Art exhibit next month in San Francisco.

KM: Very cool. Is your block, is this typical of your work, your quilt in the exhibit?

TB: I tend to do abstract weird kind of things. I do a lot of embroidery. I have a commercial embroidery machine. I've started doing some longarm quilting. I just got a longarm quilting machine a couple of years ago. I do a lot of quilting for the Quilts of Valor program. I think that too is a wonderful cause.

KM: Tell me about Quilts of Valor.

TB: Quilts of Valor is a program with the goal of giving every wounded soldier that comes back from the Middle East a quilt. There are toppers all over the country that create quilt tops and then they are paired up with a longarm quilter. The longarm quilter typically provides the batting and the time to do it, and the topper typically provides the quilt top and the backing, and then between the two of you, you determine who is going to do the binding and send it on to the wounded soldier.

KM: How many have you done?

TB: I have done about fifteen so far. I started doing that in 2006.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

TB: For the past couple of months, it hasn't been as often as I have in the past. My mother is requiring more and more constant attention. My sewing studio is in my basement and typically I'm down there at least four hours a night. Now it is a little less because I have to wait until mom is in bed. I keep a baby monitor down there so I can hear what is going on in her room after she's in bed. On the weekends, if somebody is around the house and I can go downstairs, that is where I usually am. So, if I'm not sitting on the computer I'm sewing.

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

TB: I belong to an online art quilt group, and I belong to several online quilt groups that tend to do a lot of arty stuff. The local guild is more traditional. I have been a member in the past, but it just wasn't my preference. Like I said they are basically traditional quilters and I prefer to do different. [laughs.]

KM: You talk about making art quilts, do you think of yourself as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction?

TB: I really don't make the distinction. I have started doing other forms of art besides quilting, but I tend to blend those into the quilting so I'm not really ready to call myself an artist yet [laughs.], but I'm getting there.

KM: What other types of art are you doing?

TB: I'm doing watercolors, I'm doing some collage work, drawing, sketching and of course embroidery where I take--I can take a design from the concept, do the drawing, take the drawing and create the embroidery design from the drawing and then stitch it out so it is the whole process.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials? You mentioned embroidery.

TB: Embroidery, I'm really starting to get into enjoying doing the longarm quilting. Again, that is more to me like drawing with thread. I like trying new techniques, incorporating painting into the fabric. I work at an upholstery supply company, and they have all these neat things there that are structural upholstery items. They will have some damaged pieces of foam or whatever and I will bring those home and play with them, do something with fabric, which is kind of interesting.

KM: Let's go back to the "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." There is a CD, and we were all required to share our artist statement. How was that experience for you?

TB: It was difficult for me because I, it is a very emotional subject. I guess because I'm so close to it, caring for my mother. It makes it difficult for me to talk about it.

KM: It took me three tries. I kept crying. Ami [Simms.] kept emailing me back saying, do it again.

TB: [laughs.] Being new to all this, trying to write that kind of stuff. It is very hard for somebody who has not had any previous experience to write that type of statement. It was difficult.

KM: How did you find out about the exhibit, the call for the quilts?

TB: It was, I believe it was posted on the Art Quilt Group, the Quilting Art Group, that is not actual group name; it is just an online group. I think that is where I first saw it, and I sent it to all my sisters, and I said we should really do this. This is the second sister's project that we worked on all together. The first one was a round robin that we had done where we each created our own center block and sent it off to the other sisters.

KM: How did that go?

TB: That was a lot of fun. It was very interesting to see the center block that we each created were completely different. Mine was Mariner's Compass that was paper pieced. The colors on a couple of them were pretty much the same, but they were also very different. It took us a little longer than we set the rules for, but [laughs.] eventually we got them all back where they were suppose to be.

KM: Did you organize the round robin?

TB: No, I did not. Sandy did. She is the second oldest sister, and she lives in Florida.

KM: How did the quilts end up being?

TB: They were about forty-eight inches square, give or take a little pretty much.

KM: Who took up quiltmaking first?

TB: I think it is a tossup between Dona and Cherile. Dona has always been a seamstress; it is between her and Cherile because they were pretty close. Cherile used to buy quilt, antique quilt tops at estate sales and auctions and then finish them. That is how she got started in it. It kind of filtered down from those two to Sandy and I.

KM: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

TB: My husband complains that I never sit and watch TV with him. [laughs.] Other than that, having taken over the basement, which is probably better than having it in the main part of the house. I have many, many plastic tubs full of fabric that will probably never get used, but you have to have it. As far as impacting the family, my daughter who never had an interest in sewing when she was growing up has started making quilts now. She does art quilts based on music lyrics and has sold a couple of those. It has had a little bit of an impact as far as showing her that there is a market for this, and it is something that you can do to express yourself artistically.

KM: Has your mom seen "Shattered Lives"?

TB: Yes, I showed it to her when I finished putting it all together, and I don't think that it really registered other than she said is that a picture of me? But that was about as far as her recognition of it went.

KM: What are your plans for the quilt when it comes back?

TB: I don't really know. Originally, we had talked about taking the frame off of it and giving the individual pieces back to the original maker, I don't know if that is what we are going to do or not. One of the other sisters suggested that we auction it off for additional funds for Ami's project. I don't, we really haven't made a definite decision yet.

KM: We have some time.

TB: Yeah. [laughs.]

KM: Hopefully it will travel a little longer than the three and a half years now, I guess.

TB: That would be nice.

KM: What was the appraisal process like for you?

TB: That was a real experience, because it was the first time, I have ever had a quilt appraised, and the appraisal process was interesting in that it was kind of an interview type of thing. Then when she came back with a dollar amount, it just blew me away. [laughs.] To think that something we had created would actually be worth that much money. [laughs.]

KM: I guess we should explain, we had our quilts appraised because they were traveling, and Ami wanted to have insurance for the quilts. How did you go about finding your appraiser?

TB: I used the one that Ami suggested, Cindy somebody. The process was a little, it took a little bit longer than it probably would have if I had gone to somebody locally, but I had no contact for quilt appraisers in my area. I just let her do it, since she had volunteered.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

TB: In quilting? Go for it. There are no rules. If somebody tells you that you have to sew a quarter inch seam, you don't have to. You can make an inch seam if you want. You want the seams on the outside? Put them on the outside. There are no rules.

KM: Is that why you have the appeal for the art quilt oppose to the traditional?

TB: Yes, I think so. I tend to, even in life; I don't like people telling me you have to do it this way. I guess I'm a bit of a rebel that way. I would rather do it the way I want to do it.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

TB: I think there are a couple of different ones. For people who are professional quilters, those who have longarm machines and do the actual stitching of the quilting for people who have constructed tops, I think that industry is going to be affected quite a bit because of the economy. For artists who are creating quilts as an artistic medium, trying to get people to recognize quilting, as a true art form is another challenge. For the traditional quilters who want to keep quilting the way it has always been and do hand quilting and you know, they have a challenge too because there are people out there like me who say no, no, we don't have to follow rules.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

TB: It gives me an outlet right now to get away from everything that is going on with my mother. I can go downstairs to quilt, and although I'm aware of what is going on because of the monitors, I can kind of forget about it for a while. It is a release.

KM: Is there any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

TB: Not really. The quilts that I make tend to be on the smaller size, so I don't have, I tend not to lose interest in them as quickly as I would if it was a bigger project, like a bed quilt. I have made a few bed quilts and by the time I get down to doing the binding, I'm looking at it and thinking I can't wait for this thing to be done, I don't want to look at it anymore. But with the smaller size quilts, in a weekend I can have a quilt done.

KM: Do you use your longarm to quilt all your works?

TB: I do. Even the smallest ones I do on the longarm.

KM: Why is that?

TB: For the practice, and because I have it. It makes it a lot easier than trying to shove fabric and stuff around underneath the regular sewing machine.

KM: Tell me about your perception of longarm quilters in the quilt world.

TB: I think it is an evolving industry. With the invention of the computerized, computer guided longarm quilting; I think it has open up a whole new avenue. It is becoming more like the embroidery field where people can create their own designs based on something they dreamt about or from something that is part of their quilt and make it a truly custom quilt. As an example, with my embroidery machine, I can take a photograph, of a person maybe, and put it into my software and create a portrait using thread from the photograph. I think eventually the computer driven longarm is going to be able to do some really amazing things like that too.

KM: Do you have a lot of longarm quilters in your area?

TB: I know of one other one in my local area. There are several others around, I'm sure. But like in the next town over I know there is at least one. She is actually the person who taught me how to load the quilt and use the longarm.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

TB: I really like Esterita Austin's work. Bonnie McCaffrey is another one. Her painted faces quilts are amazing. Laura Cater-Woods, I like the abstract feel of her quilts. I like Barbara Olsen. As far as longarming, I think Karen McTavish is wonderful.

KM: Why?

TB: She is a free spirit and although she does a lot of traditional whole cloth quilting, she kind of puts her own spin on it.

KM: Anyone else?

TB: I have learned a lot by watching Linda Taylor and I have taken some classes with Pam Clarke, Jamie Wallen is another one, I think that his quilting is just amazing.

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

TB: I think every quilt is a great quilt to somebody, whether it is the maker or the person that the maker gave it to if it was a gift. I think every quilt has its story and it is a beautiful piece of work.

KM: I always ask people if there is anything else that they would like to share before we end our interview.

TB: No, I don't think so.

KM: You did well.

TB: Thank you.

KM: We will conclude our interview. It is now 9:35.


“Timi Bronson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1365.