Cheryl Lynch




Cheryl Lynch




Cheryl Lynch


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Broomall, Pennsylvania


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Cheryl Lynch. Cheryl is in Broomall, Pennsylvania and I am in Naperville, Illinois, so we are doing this interview by telephone. Today's date is February 22, 2008. It is now 9:52 in the morning. This is a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories because it is based on the exhibition, "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Cheryl, thank you so much for taking your time to do this with me. Please tell me about your quilt that is in the exhibition called "Leaving Us."

Cheryl Lynch (CL): The quilt I made is kind of like a triptych. It is three trees and I have made it out of silk dupioni and appliquéd leaves on the trees. On the first tree it is full of leaves with attributes or skills that normal people have. It is about their lives. This one is about my dad, the quilt is about my dad so it is that he was a brother an a father, he was also a bookkeeper, but then there are other things like A + B = C, because a normal person can add numbers together, not a normal person, but what can I say, someone in their everyday life, an adult. They can read. They have perception. I'm trying to read it as I'm talking about it, it has been a while. They can articulate. They can think. They can add numbers in their head. My dad was the breadwinner. He was a grandfather. He was mobile. Then as you move to the second panel, some of the leaves have started to fall to the ground and those would be things that people with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's would lose. My dad had trouble doing his checkbook. He had trouble writing. There were things that you just lose as you are entering Alzheimer's. Then the third panel of the quilt, the tree is almost bare. My dad was also a brother and a father and a grandfather but almost everything else he had lost. He couldn't move around. He did know where he was and that is what happens to a lot of people with Alzheimer's. Those were the three trees and then above it, also made out of silk dupioni is a sunrise or a sunset. I guess depending on how you view it. It is more like a sunset with beads scattered through it and along the bottom of the quilt each panel has what I call dangles hanging from it. The first one has ribbons hanging down, the second one has beads, and the third one has little triangles. We call them prairie points made out of silk dupioni. That is the quilt.

KM: How did you find out about the exhibition?

CL: I was online on the QuiltArt website and I found that Ami had put out--Ami Simms had put out a call for entries and I had done a few art quilts. I have been designing my own quilts for a lot of years and I taught and I have done different things. I have done things with publications, but I had just entered the art quilt arena when my youngest son left for college. I made a quilt to work through those feelings. I just love doing the embellishing, all the little handwork. When I saw the call for entry for this, I thought what a great opportunity. I'm kind of a Polly Anna and I want to live a very happy little life and when my dad died from Alzheimer's, I put my head in the sand and just closed that door of my life. I never learned that much about it. I just tried to be there for him. He had it for a short period of time before his heart gave out, so it wasn't as if it was years, and years, and years. When I saw Ami's request, I thought what a great way to learn more about the disease and make a tribute to my dad. I did learn more about it because of all the different leaves I put on the trees. I did a lot of research because that is not just what happened to him, but what happens to other people as they go through the stages. It was a very healing experience for me and it made me feel very close to my dad. I was so excited when I sent a slide of the quilt and Ami accepted it for the exhibition. That was really cool. When Ami made the DVD of the show and she put it on the cover and I thought wow that was really great for my dad. [cries.]

KM: On the CD we all had to read our artist statement. What was that experience like for you?

CL: Well you can tell that I break up.

KM: It was part of my experience, so I can certainly relate.

CL: I'm such a crier and then when you read it it just comes.

KM: I had to do it three times.

CL: Did you? [laughs.]

KM: Ami kept saying, 'Do it again.'

CL: I think I made it through, but it is very emotional. My dad has been gone. Let's see '88, ten years and it is still such an emotional thing. I wasn't very close to him, even though I was the youngest. I became the caregiver, which I don't know if that is a traditional thing. I always thought the oldest should be the caregiver. Because my mom had died by then, so I just felt this special affinity for him, but not like a special love growing. I shouldn't say that. I wasn't very close to him growing up. I was much closer to my mother. It is so emotional. The first time I went to the exhibit. I know I'm getting a little off topic.

KM: No that is fine.

CL: When I went to Paducah, oh no, the first time I saw the exhibit it was in Pennsylvania and it was at the Mancuso show in Harrisburg. When I went around and I read the write ups beside everybody's quilts, I just was amazed by the common threads that run through everyone's quilt. So many of us were in denial for so long. It is so hard to take those car keys away and it was very comforting to find out that there were other people going, had gone through the same things that I had gone through.

KM: Do you have any quilts that are special to you in the exhibit?

CL: I love the one, you will have to excuse me I don't know the artist, one of my favorite ones is the one with the grandmother whose picture fades over time. I think that is so potent and it is so visual. You don't need to read anything. The other one that I guess I had to read it and then I got it was, I'm trying to think of her name, she travels. She did an appliqué quilt and in the beginning the appliqué was perfectly perfect.

KM: That was Becky Goldsmith's quilt.

CL: Yes Becky Goldsmith. And then as you got out to the edges it just became just a mess and what a great way to represent, make it representative of what happens to you without using words.

KM: It is a very pretty quilt and you don't see it, you don't really get that until you really look at it.

CL: I love the one with the cars because I went through that. Taking those car keys away.

KM: That is Georgia Bonesteel's quilt.

CL: It was great with the ones that were humorous because it is good to laugh. You don't want to cry through the whole thing like I do with mine. It is good to laugh through the tears when you go through the exhibit.

KM: I think humor does come through often, because we have to use humor.

CL: Ami's is humorous also.

KM: I love the story about the cord, because she actually burnt the cord she used on the quilt. There is a lot of humor.

CL: I think we need to use humor so we don't fall apart sometimes.

KM: I agree with you there too. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CL: I started quilting when we moved to Pennsylvania in '92 and up until then, well my background is chemistry and I chose to stay home and raise my kids and I had a little business called Little Einstein and I did hands on science with kids. We did little craft projects to illustrate different scientific principles and by the time we moved here in '92 I was a little burnt out and I decided to spend time doing what I wanted to do and I started taking quilting classes. I was hooked from the beginning because quilting. As soon as you learn one technique, there are a thousand other techniques to learn. You never get tired, you never get bored and there is always something to inspire you, so after I did a few of the traditional kind of quilts, I started doing my own thing and started teaching at a quilt shop in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania and it just took off. It is just exciting. There are things you have to do because you have commitments to do them, and then there is the design side, the things you really, really want to do to express an artistic feeling or you want to take something you see out in the world and design it in cloth. I am still in love with it, even after sixteen years there is so much to learn and so many more quilts to make.

KM: Is "Leaving Us" typical of your work?

CL: For one segment of my work it is typical with the embellishments. When you first learn to quilt, at least my first quilting class, you learn everything by hand. I learned how to piece by hand. I learned how to quilt by hand. Then the next quilt I did on my own, I did an appliqué and I did it by hand and I quilted by hand, and then I thought I could piece this a little faster if I use a machine. Then eventually you say I can do everything faster if I do it by machine. Then I found that I was losing the calmness of quilting. Just being able to sit down and enjoy it. It was just rush, rush, rush, especially when I was teaching I felt like I was on a freight train because you had to have your class samples in three months in advance and she wanted us to teach three classes at a time. I was just going from project to project to project just trying to get finished samples. When I was done doing that, I just found I love the hand work so by doing a blanket stitch by machine or adding beads to your quilt or buttons or doing the appliqué by hand, it just, it is just very calming and soothing, so that in that respect, this quilt is typical with my hand embellishing.

KM: You have buttons on her too. Did you machine appliqué the trees?

CL: I did machine appliqué with the blanket stitch.

KM: You mentioned dupioni, which is something I also love. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

CL: I love the silk because it's got that shimmer and it's got the slubs in it.

KM: Do you use a lot of silk?

CL: I do use a lot of silk. It is funny because I just started doing so. I live in an area of the country, Delaware County, Pennsylvania where there are a lot of stone houses. I just started a series doing stone houses, which is so traditional, where I spent a few years doing stuff a lot with silk and with embellishing just because it is so much fun to work with and then when you get that iridescent silk that has a warp and a weft that are different colors and give it a different sheen. I love that, but what I found is that I can embellish by hand whether it is a contemporary piece or it is a more landscape kind of quilt. You can always find something that you can do by hand on them, and I guess that is what I'm in love with right now is hand work. I still don't want to appliqué by hand and I don't want to quilt by hand, those things I want to do by machine because to me that is not the fun part of the process right now.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CL: I spend a lot of hours quilting. I'm very also involved in my quilt guilds. I would say I probably spend twenty to thirty hours in my studio. It is not just quilting. I do some professional work. I have a little Jewish pattern company and I've been entering competitions and I have done some Jewish patterns for magazines for the Hanukkah season coming up and so it is surprising how much time that other stuff takes that you are not actually sewing. That is kind of frustrating sometimes because all you want to do is sew, but there is paperwork and communications and that type of stuff. I am very active in my quilt guild. Actually I'm chairing our guild's auction that we use to raise money for funds, both for our speakers and to do a lot of community outreach projects, so that really takes a big chunk of time, so I'm looking forward to that being done in the middle of April, I mean middle of May, no middle of March let's get that right, and then I can spend more time sewing and creating.

KM: Tell me why belonging to a guild is important to you.

CL: It is so important to have people to share your art with. I am using art, yes art. Not only do you share your finished products, but when you are stuck or when you have questions or you are not sure something is going right, it is so nice to have friends to talk with about it. We also bring in nationally recognized speakers, and you go to a meeting and you leave there so jazzed you want to get home. They either inspired you to continue further in your work or they have inspired you to try a technique that they have shown you or just to read their books or to do more investigation into something they have said. I find it very inspirational. I love the camaraderie. We are in a guild of about one hundred and fifty people, and about one hundred people come to every meeting. Because I'm so involved, most of the people know me, I know most of the people and it is just great to see them and find out about their families, find out what projects they are working on or where they are traveling. I could not not be part of the guild.

KM: You mentioned art. Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction?

CL: That is a really good question. To me there are quilt artists and art quilters and I have made my own definition of the two, and I know it is mine and I know you can get into some really good discussions about this. I consider myself a quilter first and then an artist second and part of the distinction to me is that I care about what my back looks like. I want my back to be neat and tidy, I don't want there to be loose threads, I don't want there to be knots on my back, I want someone to look at my back and know that I know what a quilting technique is. I'm not trying to be disparaging to artists that use fiber as a medium because I don't think to them the back doesn't matter that much and it is not that, I don't know I'm going down a wrong path here. [laughs.] Let's erase all that. But anyway, I care about the quilting technique.

KM: I don't think this is disparaging, personally I don't.

CL: Okay. I just, technique is very important to me. I want my binding to be right, I want my quilts to be square and I want my back to look nice and neat. I still, with that being said, I still consider myself an artist because I design my own quilts and they are more than just blocks, traditional blocks.

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

CL: I think the biggest challenge from the art point of view is being taken seriously as artists. I have been in a few galleries, especially down in Florida where they just have beautiful, beautiful work. I love Key West and they have just gorgeous galleries down there and you speak to the owners about why there is no fiber art and people don't buy it or why you don't see fiber art in a lot of museums. It just seems to start becoming into its own. I think about the hours and hours that we put into our quilts, I don't think that work is appreciated or could get you financially remunerated for that kind of work. The work I have done for the magazines, I know what they are paying me and I could work at McDonald's and make a better rate than what I have made, all the hours I put into designing and sewing it. I don't know how that is going to resolve itself if people want to make a living doing this. I'm lucky enough to have a husband that supports me and I can do what I want and take as many hours as I want to make things, but if you have to support yourself, I think it is really tough.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

CL: Quilt work?

KM: It doesn't matter.

CL: That is quite a question. I'm drawing a blank.

KM: That is okay.

CL: [laughs.]

KM: Can you describe your studio?

CL: Okay, thank you. [laughs.]

KM: You're welcome, no problem.

CL: [laughs.] I moved around into different parts of my house and we have a place up in the Pocono Mountains and during the summer I used to go up there with my kids, my kids are in their twenties now, but when they were little, and I used to get a lot of quilting done. I tried to figure out why I got so much done up there during the summer and not so much at home. My conclusion was that I was in the main traffic stream in the Poconos. My sewing room was on the porch overlooking the lake. A few steps and I was in the kitchen. The kids were running in and out, as opposed to home where I was kind of sequestered in a bedroom upstairs. We ended up moving my studio into the dining room, because we don't entertain that much. In my dining room where I'm right off the kitchen I get a lot done, a lot more done because I'm right in the mainstream. We removed all of the dining room furniture and it has a walk through to the living room like most traditional modern houses and my husband actually put faux doors up in the living room so it looks like it has closed doors in the archway and on the other side in my studio it is a wall full of bookshelves filled with fabric and books. Along one of my walls I have my computer and my stash and then in the center of my room I have my sewing machine and a large cutting table, and then I just covered one wall with a Styrofoam product to make the design wall so it runs twelve feet long and it is eight feet high. I get a lot of use out of a design wall. I don't know how people design without them, I just could never get along with out it. I have a long ironing board that I made out of, a luan door and covered it with batting and fabric and that is along side my other wall. That is where I spend a lot of my time.

KM: Tell me more about using your design wall.

CL: My design wall, I'm looking at it right now and it has a new project in the middle which I have put on tracing paper. It is going to be a stone house scene, so that the bulk of it--and then on the sides I have two wall hangings that are completed that I just leave up there because I like to look. They are more modern with those dangly things hanging from it, and I have a hard time finding things, so I pin a lot of stuff on my design wall that I don't want to lose or I want to remember or that give me inspiration. I have a couple of my ribbons pinned up there. I have a couple of sayings. I have a leaf from the park where I walk. I have a stone house painting. Well a magazine picture of a painting by Peter Sculthorpe who is a well known artist in this area that does stone houses. When I'm working on a lot of projects, I have to take down some of my trinkets and stuff, but that is what I use my design wall for.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

CL: It is so funny because a friend of mine, her daughter just left for college, last September, and she decided she wanted to make a quilt for her. I had worked with her on school projects and I had helped her through it, but she had never done any of the sewing or any of the creating, so she wanted to make a quilt for her daughter.I so admire her because she did not let technique get in the way. She just forged ahead and poured her heart into this quilt. It turned out to be a gorgeous quilt. I don't think there was any seam that was a quarter of an inch. I don't think there were any pieces that were the same size, but her heart was in that quilt. I think people need to follow their heart and not be intimidated by a technique or learning something. Just do it, just do it. Every time you make a quilt, your first quilt isn't going to be perfect. Your hundredth quilt is not going to be perfect, but every time you make a quilt you are going to get better and better and you are going to improve on what you did last time. Just do it.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

CL: I think it is important to me because it is an emotional outlet. Almost everything that I make comes from my heart and whether it is a quilt about my family or a quilt about my son leaving for college or a scene of a place where I want to live. It is how I express myself. I could never do it with paint and a brush, but I can do it with fabric and I can come up with technical ways to get to where I want to go. I think it is important as an outlet for emotional feelings.

KM: Have you used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time?

CL: Yeah, when my--I have two boys and my youngest son was my best buddy. Now I'm going to cry. See I cry at everything.

KM: That is okay.

CL: When the kids were growing up my husband did a lot of traveling. He was in international research and development, so my kids became my lifeline [crying.] so my youngest one did everything with me. He shopped with me. I'm an avid cyclist. He rode bikes with me. He just was always there for me, and when he left for college [crying.] I thought it was going to be the end of my world. Coming home from dropping him off at school, I'm crying in the car and crying. As you see I cry quite often. My husband is what is the matter, what is the matter, you know, and that is when I decided I had read about and seen the mammogram quilt when someone had breast cancer. A quilt they made to work through it. There was a divorce quilt I remember where someone had tire marks on their quilt, driving over I don't know what it was, I had seen that people could actually work through feelings by working on a quilt. I had been getting Quilting Arts Magazine from the beginning, but since I was doing more traditional quilts I couldn't use the techniques that were in it even though I was dying to try it. I decided in the car driving home that I was going to take those magazines and go through them and pick out techniques and make a block at a time, and each block was going to be either one or a couple of techniques that I read in there and to try and work through my sad feelings. The first block I made, it was I took a photograph of our family at his high school graduation and I did all kind of embellishments and I printed on fabric, "We Are Family." The next block I did was I 'made fabric' from yard, which is another technique that was in the magazine and on it I took a heart and I jagged cut through it and I broke it in half and I quilted into the fabric "My Heart is Aching and Breaking." The next one was like a James Joyce kind of, the flowing thought where I went through everything from when my kids were little until that day and time, about vacations and friends and where we lived and everything. The fourth block was all the jobs that I wouldn't have any more now that I didn't have any children at home, you know I wouldn't be a school mom, I wasn't an alarm clock, I wasn't making lunches, all those different things that we do when we are moms with school aged kids. When I kind of got to the fourth block I was really feeling surprisingly better and it was only a week or two into it. I just put some borders on it. I named the quilt, I'm trying to think of the name of it, oh gosh, let me look at my quilt because it is here [crying.] 'If I did such a good job of giving my kids wings then why am I so sad.' That was my quilt. The short name for it is "Motherhood", and that was my first art quilt. I was so excited about it. Because of Quilting Arts, I sent them a photograph with the story of it, and then people wrote back to me and asked me if they could put it in their magazine for their next fall issue. That was a real exciting time for me, so it took a very sad thing and made it such a positive thing. It was the start of my professional art quilting career. Yes you can do it, Yes you can be different. Yes you can be an artist. I love that quilt.

KM: It hangs in your studio?

CL: It hangs in my

CL: It was cool because on it I used those shrinky dinks kind of thing and there are photographs of my kids on it. So when it was published in the magazine I'm going hey guys you are in the magazine. [laughs.]

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

CL: My family is so proud of me, which is--I have a master's degree from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology.] in Food Chemistry and it seemed no one was ever proud of me for that, but with my quiltmaking my family is so proud of me. When I make a new quilt they want to see it, they want to see a magazine, great job mom, it really is very encouraging and very nice.

KM: Why do you think they are so much more positive about your quiltmaking than your education?

CL: I don't know I think they just kind of take the education for granted. I was a mom. I guess they didn't really see me do anything with it.

KM: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CL: That is a very good question. I think that is such a personal question. I think what is powerful to me wouldn't necessarily be powerful to someone else.

KM: Which I think is the wonderful part of that question?

CL: To me, I guess there are two things. Sometimes the colors, the color combination just speaks to me. There are certain combinations that just give us that warm feeling. The other part is that it has a message. I just love quilts that have a message, and if it's a funny message or so much the better.

KM: Humor is important to you?

CL: Yes humor is very important to me. We talked about that before, like with the Alzheimer's quilts.

KM: Right, we have kind of come full circle there.

CL: Yah and you know I can't seem to make humorous quilts even though I would like to. I so admire people that can take things and make them humorous or take a political and do like a political cartoon kind of thing, so I really admire people that can make statements using humor.

KM: But you can't do it yourself?

CL: No I can't.

KM: Interesting. What do you think about the importance of quilts and women?

CL: I think it is such a way for us to express ourselves and I think about the women in the past who have taken needle art, needle craft and used it to express their artistic selves. You put your love, you put everything into that quilt and whether you are just putting a traditional block together or whether you are designing something yourself, it is a part of you, and it is back to the expression of your feelings and your feelings for someone that. I don't really enjoy cooking, but I understand how people love to see people as to show their love. I think, but then the food is gone. So that to me is why it is not as enjoyable. It is gone and you are left with a sink full of dirty dishes. But when you make a quilt, that love lasts forever and I think the receiver of that quilt feels that love and can hold onto it when they need to feel some love.

KM: Why did you choose quiltmaking as a means for your artistic expression?

CL: I don't know, I don't know. Before I started quilting whenever I messed around with crafts I always used those linear quilt blocks as a design for something, whether I was doing rug hooking, or needle punching, so that, the linear-ness of it just drew me to it in other areas so I guess I decided that I would like to learn how to do it with fabric. I never realized, I never thought about it at the time that I could use that fabric to paint. When you first start you just think about making blocks. I think that is why it has held my interest. Because you can use the fabric and manipulate it and do appliqué and all different kinds of piecing to make it art.

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

CL: I guess one thing that I would like to say and talk about is my admiration for Ami Simms. Am I allowed to talk about that?

KM: Of course. By all means.

CL: The energy that she has put into this project and how she has embraced it and how nothing, nothing stops her, nothing slows her down. She just took this little idea, put it out there into the world and it has just grown and grown and grown, and she has given up of her own career for it because of the amount of time she has put in, and I have such admiration for her and wish her continued success in everything that she does with it.

KM: Have you participated in Priority Quilts?

CL: I have, I did one. It was more towards the beginning.

KM: Tell me about it.

CL: I made a little, well they all are little, right you have to put them in that bag. It was a sun out of blue and white. My favorite colors to work in are blue and white, even though this quilt was not blue and white, and I don't do a lot of blue and white. I love blue and white. I did a sun with rays in blue and white and I called it "Hope" and I beaded the heck out of the background which was just so much fun to do. I just took all my blue and white and gold beads and put a little bit of everything on a plate and just beaded the background on it. That was a lot of fun to make.

KM: The quilt was auctioned off, how did it do?

CL: I think they did okay. I can't remember exactly because you know you watch in the beginning and you say, oh nobody is bidding on my quilt. Then it took off, so I don't remember what it was.

KM: I think it is very typical that people are slow and don't. The activity happens at the end.

CL: I'm not even sure. Then I got an email from the person that won it.

KM: How nice.

CL: I thought it was wonderful. She just was thrilled and that was a very nice thing for her to do.

KM: No one has ever emailed me.

CL: How many have you done?

KM: I think only one has gone up. I think she has only auctioned off one, but I did put a note on there that said I would really love to hear from you, and I didn't. I think it is wonderful that you actually heard from the person.

CL: I'm a little timid so that is why I was kind of, I don't know. [laughs.] Are we on the record?

KM: We are on the record still.

CL: Oh on the record. Sometimes I don't have as much confidence in my designs as people have in them, as my family has in them, as my friends have in them, and sometimes I just think oh I'm not sure somebody will like it. That is why I was just so happy when it started moving up in price. I thought, oh nobody is going to like it, so I was very happy when it sold. I was so happy that it is a way for Ami to raise money, for us to do something we love, and to help her raise money.

KM: It is more than $157,000.

CL: Isn't that awesome.

KM: It is awesome and it all goes to Alzheimer's research, because Ami wants to find a cure.

CL: And don't we all want her to because I don't know about you but I think--I'm 53 and you know you go through this menopause and your mind starts to go and I think oh my god am I going to follow in my dad's footsteps. Wouldn't it be nice if they found a cure for us and everyone else?

KM: Definitely I agree with that. I think that is a motivator for Ami too.

CL: There are so many of us that are afraid because we can't remember things. We can't remember names. We can't remember different things, and it makes us worry that we are next in line whether it truly is just menopausal or if it is because something is coming down the road. I think a lot of us are afraid. It is certainly worthwhile to put in our time to help find a cure.

KM: I agree. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to share about your quilt and your quiltmaking, and we are going to conclude our interview, it is now 10:34.


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