Donna Hudson




Donna Hudson




Donna Hudson


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Mary Persyn


Seattle, Washington

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Donna Hudson. We are doing a special project for Alzheimer's Forgetting Piece by Piece Q.S.O.S. Donna is in Seattle, Washington and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview by phone. Today's date is February 18, 2008 and it is 3:33 in the afternoon. Donna, thank you so much for doing this interview with me.

Donna Hudson (DH): Thank you for volunteering your time.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt, "Holes in My Memory."

DH: Well, Holes in My Memory is low-contrast, gray with some color spots and has a hole in it. It was inspired by the blank spots in Grandma's memory. She had Alzheimer's. It was bad enough that we didn't even have to visit because Dad said she wouldn't remember us. For Dad to say "you don't have to visit" was a big thing. It was the holes that caught my attention.

KM: Tell me about how you put it together.

DH: I had just finished a design class where we did a spontaneous quilt - no planning, start to finish in three hours. I had so much fun with that exercise (which, I admit, took me longer than three hours!). Later, I was cyber-surfing and saw the call for entries. It seemed like a perfect match of theme and method. I knew I wanted to use gray tones because of the metaphor for the grayed out memory, the gray foggy zone. I started making neat squares and then remembered that Alzheimer's is not neat and tidy. So I started again, working more free-form on the design board. And since there are some days that are better than others, I added some spots of color. I was thinking of Dad and Grandma while working on the quilt, remembering that Dad was terrified of being diagnosed with the disease.

KM: There are threads that go across the croboso yes?

DH: Yes, they are the threads of thought running through the memory. I played with the tension so that the stitching was obvious. That was to represent the tension in the family.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your work?

DH: No, it was different. My work had been even more structured, so this was a big step for me, to design more intuitively and abstractly. I found it a fun way to work and to express an idea. I've done a second one, started a series, the same way, with the grays, color spots and holes. This quilt is much different than the first but obviously part of a series.

KM: Do you typically work in series?

DH: I have started to, because of the design class, so I think the answer is now, yes. [laughs.] It is bit hard to work in a series - there are so many other quilts to be made. On the other hand, the first version is never everything I want it to be. I finished "Holes in My Memory" for this show and when Ami [Simms.] accepted it, my first thought was ‘Oh no, I could have done so much more! I want a second chance.' [laughs.] So I have taken the second chance. And that is the advantage of working in a series, you get to say, ‘Hey this is a really good idea. I want to expand on it, change this one thing.'

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

DH: Very excited.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit?

DH: Yes. It was amazing to see the real quilts. I've bought both the book and the CD and I have seen the work on the website, but seeing it in person has more impact. It was inspiring to see the other people's work.

KM: Do you have any favorites?

DH: Yes, but I can't remember the name. I really liked the orange and black one, the synapses, broken synapses I think it was. I should look it up since I'm sitting next to my quilt books. Ah, yes - "Left Behind" by Claudia Comay.

KM: Why do you like it?

DH: It's got impact, it's abstract, it has powerful colors.

KM: Now the CD we all had to record our artist statement, how was that experience for you?

DH: Difficult. I was uncomfortable reading the statement to a recording device and I was rushed because I was leaving for a two week vacation the next day. Very early in the morning, I read the statement and hoped it was okay. When I returned, I found a message from Ami saying there had been technical difficulties and I was afraid that I had missed my chance. But she fixed everything, somehow.

KM: Have you listened to the CD?

DH: Yes. It is okay. I think Grandma would be pleased.

KM: Good. What are your plans for the quilt when it comes back to you?

DH: That is a good question, I don't know. I had thought about sending it down to Dad, but, in fact, he passed on in December.

KM: I'm sorry.

DH: Without having Alzheimer's, so it was a good thing. He was really afraid of that. He went fairly quickly. He did not have to go to a nursing home. He did not have the car keys taken away. All things considered, not so bad. I don't know if I will send it down to Mom or not. This one was meant more for Dad. Maybe I'll find a home for it in a hospice facility or an Alzheimer care facility.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

DH: I love playing with fabric and colors. I tried quilting ages ago, back before rotary cutters and when the fabric selection was more limited, and I let it slide. But now, between the new fabric and the new "rules" of what a quilt is, I'm back.

KM: How did you learn quiltmaking?

DH: I had sewn some before. I had tried some quilting before and then after that it was grab some fabric, grab some books and go for it. I have taken a number of classes. I definitely endorse the theory that practice makes better.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DH: Oh, things have been off a bit lately, so I'm trying for ten hours. Not nearly as much as I would like.

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

DH: I belong to a small mixed art group. Painters and quilters. It is a small group that gets together monthly. The design class that I'm in now is an unofficial group - we have been together for a number of years.

KM: How is it being in a mixed group?

DH: Very interesting. There is an oil painter, a watercolorist, an acrylic painter, a quilter and they all bring design, composition, and color work to the table. We have the common ground of art and the support of friends. You can't go wrong with that.

KM: No you can't. Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker, or do you even make the distinction.

DH: I am trying to be a fabric artist. I find when you say "quilt," it seems to trigger a rather stereotypical image. I'm on a personal campaign to show that this is not necessarily so. It can be a lot more. Even the classics can be done with such brilliant color or different interpretations that it is not the same as it used to be. It is not meant in any way to dishonor the work that was done before; it is just a different style.

KM: I think we are building on it.

DH: We are definitely building on it.

KM: We are just growing it bigger. Lets talk a little bit about you have taken some classes and all, whose works are you drawn to and why.

DH: I'm actually drawn to Carol Taylor and Nancy Crow's work, geometry and color. It is very interesting because my latest work has been much more representational.

KM: Interesting.

DH: The representational work is outside my comfort zone and I'm learning a lot from it. In Carol's and Nancy's work, I'm drawn to the geometry, the abstraction and the color. I think we get too many gray days in Seattle, so I go for color. [laughs.]You can usually tell when I went shopping for fabric on a rainy day, because it comes back purple and orange.

KM: I can relate. Not that I'm in Seattle, but gray days. My quilts are very bright in the winter. It is definitely a craving for color. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

DH: I piece, appliqué and fuse. Fusing gives me a whole different vocabulary. I have been working with commercially printed one hundred percent cottons. I've started some experiments with non-cotton fabric and some fabric painting. Right now, I'm more exploring possibilities than working with a favorite.

KM: Now you use tulle in your "Holes in My Memory," yes?

DH: I did use tulle in "Holes in My Memory" and that was actually a first, I think.

KM: How was that?

DH: I needed some practice. [laughs.] The thought evolved and there may have been an easier way to implement it. The results would have been the same, just a little bit easier. It did open some doors and remind me that there were many ways to do things and I used that lesson on a number of other pieces, and tulle on a number of other pieces.

KM: Describe your studio.

DH: My studio is the spare bedroom that I share with two cats. It's about ten by twelve feet. Of course, it would be fun to have something bigger, but actually I think some good storage shelves would do wonders for making the space seem bigger and the fabric more accessible. When I start a project, the room is a disaster. It looks positively like something exploded. Then I clean it up a bit, I like to work in a clean space, and go to it. I have a good machine that I have serviced regularly and a design wall.

KM: Did you dad see your quilt?

DH: He saw pictures of it. He was actually quite pleased. We never talked much about Grandma and Alzheimer's, other than he just really didn't want to go that way.

KM: What does your family think about your quiltmaking?

DH: They are pleased, supportive and entertained. [laughs.] I'm a retired database engineer and my mom and sister worried that I had "gone to the dark side"-overdeveloped my linear/logical side of the brain. They are glad I've loosen up a bit. My sister once said my early quilts were nothing more or less than my databases with color. Now, we try to get together for our own art weekend once or twice a year, have a lot of fun and build good family relations to help make it through the harder times. So it has really been a positive thing.

KM: What is your first quilt memory?

DH: Mom made quilts that were strictly industrial. She took blankets that had holes in them and covered them with large pieces of cloth. Quite often, she would take two blankets, put the holes on opposite ends and covered with corduroy or jeans or whatever. These quilts were heavy as a tent, but nice and warm. Industrial. [laughs.] No nicely pieced things, these were made for keeping warm. The Depression mentality.

KM: Does she still make quilts?

DH: No, origami-she is a very talented and dedicated paper folder.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

DH: Yes I do. One of my earlier efforts.

KM: What does it look like?

DH: It is a dozen kaleidoscopes, symmetrical placed, traditional sashing. I actually didn't like the color that much when it was just yardage, but by the time the quilt was done, I had added the right complements. I made a variety of snowflakes and finished the edges so they were all unique. One snowflake was made with some additional fabric, so that it was very different. I called it "Family." We are all out of the same fabric, we are all different, and some of us are a little more different than others.

KM: Very cool. What advice would you offer someone starting out?

DH: Brand new to quilting? Take the basic learn-your-machine lessons from the dealer. Find a picture of something you like, the style you like and don't be afraid to try for that. If you really like a particular pattern because grandma made one, go ahead and start working towards that. Find a book. There are a million and a half great books out. Find a class because you will meet great people. Go forth. You can't hurt anything. The worse that will happen is that you will misuse some fabric. That's not a bad worse case, now, is it?

KM: I would like to talk about esthetics now. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DH: Good color theory and the basic composition factors. You can't get away from the basics, the basics of good design. Craftsmanship, too. It has to be well executed. And something magic-a passion that shows through, an idea, some joy. Makes a "great quilt" a very personal choice.

KM: What kind of surface design work are you doing?

DH: I'm barely getting started on some painting, printing, foiling, stamping. I'm not really set up for doing work that requires drying time. But when I go to Tucson to visit my folks, my mom now, I plan on doing some experiments. Boy things dry quick there! And it gives us something fun to do. That may be my next class choice-surface design 101.

KM: What advances in technology have influenced your work? We have talked about dying and foiling and anything else?

DH: The fabric available now. The batiks and the hand dyes that you can purchase are just wonderful. The fusible and soluble products that are available offer expanded opportunities. I think the biggest influence would be more open-mindedness about anything can go.

KM: Are you someone who plans everything out or not?

DH: Not so much anymore. I used to be very, very linear because that was my business. I am relaxing more, getting a freer feeling for where I want to go and am more willing to change things. I work differently than I did previously. I am more able to be flexible and open to change.

KM: What has caused this change?

DH: A concentrated effort to do that. [laughs.]

KM: Okay.

DH: And some classes. I think the design classes that I've taken have helped me a lot.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you? Why did you choose quiltmaking over another way of expression?

DH: Quilting started out being important to me because I could be in charge of a project that got finished! Doesn't often happen in the "real" world. And I got to do it my way, my pattern, my colors. I chose quilting because I remembered fabric from earlier experiences and loved it. And partly because it is ultra practical, you can just stop, put the needle down, turn the machine off and go take care of wheat needs attention. You don't have to clean the brushes. You don't have to keep the cats out of the paint. You aren't worrying about spilling on the floor. You know, it is terribly pragmatic, but oh well. [laughs.]

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

DH: Having their work accepted as Art, with a capital "A". I remember how hard it was for photography to be considered "Art". I think that the biggest thing would be recognizing it as more than just baby blankets. Not that there is anything wrong with baby blankets. I still make those, too, because every kid should have a favorite blanket. But the biggest challenge would be having quilts accepted as Art.

KM: Now Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece, that was the first time you had your work exhibited nationally correct?

DH: Yes.

KM: Has anything changed since then?

DH: I've had two pieces represented in print media. And to non-quilting audiences, which is fun. I did a series inspired by the Grand Canyon. I went on a river trip, two weeks down the Canyon in dories, and decided to do this series because it was just absolutely beautiful and it challenged me. This was my representational work that I was talking about earlier. One of the Canyon associations used my work in a newsletter and I was thrilled. They have members all over North America, Europe and Australia. And then a professor in Germany made email contact and asked to use one of my works in a poster for an ecology conference she was promoting.

KM: How did she find your quilt?

DH: I have my work on a web page. I wanted to show my quilts to my new river friends and it was easier to put them on a web page than send emails. She found it somewhere in cyberspace and I find that amazing because there must be trillions of Grand Canyon images in cyberspace.

KM: I love serendipity.

DH: It was very cool.

KM: Okay. Do you find that being with the painters and the other quiltmakers influences you?

DH: Yes, very much so.

KM: That is good.

DH: Influence and inspire. I really enjoy seeing what others have done. It's helped me generate a list of ideas that I won't be able to finish in my lifetime! The design class has some outstanding artists. I love their work. I'm intimidated sometimes, but, again, practice will make better--

KM: Let's bring it back to the Alzheimer's before we end. Have you participated in Priority Quilts at all?

DH: Yes I have. I did three small studies for my Alzheimer's series, ideas I want to try and might turn into big pieces. Then I sent them off for the Priorities.

KM: So your three quilts were very different?

DH: They were very different from the one that I had done.

KM: The "Holes in My Memory"?

DH: Right.

KM: But they were still part of your Alzheimer's series?

DH: Yes-gray tones, bright spots, lines of thought. One was an experiment with chenille, a look that I generally don't like. But it was perfect for what I wanted to say - all the fuzzy frayed edges seemed so much like what I think Alzheimer's is. It was perfect for the Alzheimer's concept. I was very pleased with that and that I made myself try something that I didn't think I'd like. That was a successful experiment.

KM: I guess that we should mention that the Priority Quilts are donated and the money, they are auctioned off and go for Alzheimer's research.

DH: Right. There's been more than a thousand donated and I'm hoping that everybody enjoys them, that people buy them. There have been some very nice pieces.

KM: Have you purchased any?

DH: No I haven't.

KM: I haven't either. I always lose out.

DH: [laughs.]

KM: Which is okay too. Eventually it will happen.

DH: It will, that serendipity thing again.

KM: Exactly.

DH: You will find the perfect one.

KM: Right. It is a good thing. Do you fear getting Alzheimer's?

DH: I don't dwell on it. I guess that I recognize that it's a possibility and, if it's not Alzheimer's, it could be senile dementia. Perhaps it's just part of aging, since modern medicine can fix or delay so many other problems. It doesn't really matter which. Because my dad just died and I was at the hospital for the entire time, I'm struck with the how the medical profession deals with the end of life. We've have to learn how to die with dignity; I don't think that we know how to do that. The whole idea of going through my last years without having a clue where I am - I do not like that idea for either me or my loved ones. I just don't like that. I'm hoping that we make some advances on the Alzheimer's front, on the dementia diagnosis/cure as soon as possible. And I am hoping we figure out how to pass on gently.

KM: I think that is an excellent wish all the way around. I always ask people at the end if there is anything else that you would like to share, so I'm giving you this opportunity before we conclude our interview. Is there anything else that you would like to share with me?

DH: We, the medical profession and society, need to learn how to die more gracefully. Alzheimer's impacts everybody, not just the patient. Alzheimer's caregivers--take care of the caregivers, take care of yourself, it is going to be a long haul. Make sure that you take care of yourself. That also is a scary part of the Alzheimer's - the collateral damage.

KM: I think unless you experience it, you probably don't fully understand it. That is probably true about anything. Your piece really does address the tension I think very well.

DH: I'm watching some friends taking care of their parents and I recognize that I'm at peace with my dad's passing. It could have been so much worse, so much worse. The stress it is putting on the family is just incredible, and there is no way around it right now. Yes, the tensions and the blank spots and the grays - but there are some bright spots every once in a while. I hope.

KM: In talking to people, the humor comes out, I like the humorous stories that people tell. I think humor is a good way to cope with.

DH: A great gift.

KM: I mean if we don't have humor and we don't have those bright spots to hold on to, it can be quite dark I think. Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to share with me. It is appreciated.

DH: Thank you for doing this project.

KM: You are more than welcome. It is now 4:12.


“Donna Hudson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,