Kate Laucomer


AFPBP-26 Laucomer.jpg


Kate Laucomer




Kate Laucomer


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Laura McDowell Hopper


Lincoln, Nebraska


Karen Musgrave


Karen Musgrave (KM): I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Kate Laucomer. Kate lives in Lincoln, Nebraska and I live in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview by e-mail. Today's date is February 24, 2008. I am doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project based on the exhibition "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece," and I want to thank you for doing this interview with me. Kate tell me about your quilt "Out of Control: In Memory of Bill" which is in the exhibit.

Kate Laucomer (KL): Almost 20 years ago, we met Bill and his wife Annie. They adopted our family and we adopted them! They were with us for birthdays and holidays. They came to track meets and babysat the kids. Bill was this big, kind, godly, gentle man. He was great with children; my kids adored him. My husband and I enjoyed his friendship.

Slowly, we noticed Bill seemed to be aging. He was forgetting things more and more. Simple activities he used to do now confused him. This "in-charge" man now needed help to do the easiest things. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

When the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative was announced in January 2006, our dear family friend, Bill, was in the last stage of his battle with Alzheimer's. I knew immediately what I wanted the quilt to look like. That was unusual. I usually have to mull things over for a while. And I needed to make the quilt – whether or not it made it into the exhibit.

We live out in the country. Everything around us is green and growing, hence the outside corners of green. Mixed in with the green around us is every color you can imagine. You see it in the wildflowers, cows, thistle, our neighbor on his tractor or combine, the deer, sunflowers, birds, weeds, the other neighbor's horses, my kids outside playing, our silly little dog running in the yard. Bright, bold colors are everywhere.

The outside circle or path represents life to me - all of the colors together moving along. Important names and dates are embroidered on the path. But then the Alzheimer's (the black) creeps in. At first it's barely noticeable. But gradually in creeps in more and more. The person with Alzheimer's is now on a different path. It coincides with the family for a while, but eventually it's a downward spiral. That spiral down started long ago when the first things were forgotten.

If you're fortunate, you have many, many years of 'normal' life before it takes over. But even the things in everyday life become a little skewed. The bricks on the path no longer march along smoothly; things get a little off center. And the Alzheimer's creeps in more and more. It's taking over until finally the days are filled with black and only a little of the color of life remains. At last, it's only black. The person you loved is no longer there.

Unfortunately, sometimes the body remains strong when the mind is gone. Bill was failing all of the fall. He finally entered the Alzheimer's unit the week of our oldest son's wedding.

I worked on the top the spring of 2006 as I grieved for this dear friend and his wife. Bill passed away on April 8, 2006 – the date embroidered at the center of the spiral. The top was completed April 12, 2006 – the day of his funeral.

This quilt is very different from those I had normally made. I usually did tradition patterns with a little twist. I preferred dark and plaid. Stars with lots of quilted feathers. I did a lot of fusible appliqué with blanket stitched edges. I did learn something new for this quilt. I learned to make piping and used a zillion yards of it. The piping was used to help appliqué the path to the top.

This is the first time I've ever tried to have a quilt juried into anything. I don't make quilts for sale. I have a pattern design company called Homespun Charm. This is my 15th year designing patterns.

KM: What do you plan to do with the quilt when it returns to you?

KL: I really don't know. I haven't thought that far down the road. I imagine at some point it will hang in my sewing room. No great plans.

KM: Tell me about finding out your quilt was accepted into the exhibit.

KL: I normally do traditional or close to traditional quilts. This was not traditional. On top of that, I don't even enter quilts in shows or competition where there is judging!

I had finished the quilt just before the Ami's [Simms.] deadline. And just in time for our local guild's quilt show - not judged, of course! People's responses to it in the show were interesting to say the least. A large majority of the quilts in our show are pretty traditional. This quilt isn't! Those who read the description understood and commented on it. Others went out of their way not to talk to me about it! I spent a lot of the show gauging people's reactions and wondering if Ami's would be similar!

When I finally got word from Ami, I think she took about a year to decide, I was afraid to open it. I finally screwed up my courage and promptly started to cry. My kids asked what was wrong. I cried and stuttered out an answer. I called my husband and cried. He was his normal calm self. So, I called my best friend and cried. She listened and laughed. Then I celebrated with a Diet Coke and probably some chocolate!

KM: Have you seen the exhibit? If so, what were your impressions?

KL: Unfortunately, I have not been able to see the exhibit in person.

I bought the CD and only made it through about five of the artists talking about their quilts. It was a total emotional overload.

I was so glad Ami was able to do the book. I bought the book and more books for the family. Then I sat down with the book and the box of Kleenex. I read, I cried, I read, I cried.

What amazed me were the vast differences in the designs in the quilts. You look at one and think, 'Hmm, interesting.' Then you read about the quilt and look at it again. And you look a little more and think, 'Hmm, interesting. Yes, she nailed that on the head. That's just right!' So many emotions and aspects of Alzheimer's are portrayed in these quilts.

KM: You talked about not being able to make it through the CD. I guess we should explain that there is an audio component to the CD. You can listen to each artist give her artist statement. Tell me about your experience doing the recording.

KL: Ami went through each artist statement and helped us edit it down to a smaller version. That is printed and exhibited next to the quilt in the traveling exhibit.

The CD shows a picture of the whole quilt and a detail shot or two of each quilt. While you view the quilt, you hear the artist who made it read her statement.

Ami set up a system. After we had the statement sufficiently edited, we called her answering machine and read the statement over the phone into her machine. You could even call in the middle of the night--about the only time it is quiet enough around here.

It worked great- sometimes. It was very hard to read my statement and not cry. Fortunately, Ami had a long tape. And then the next day, I'd get an email from Ami saying, 'Do it over.' 'Speak slower.' 'It's okay to let your emotions show.' So I'd try again. And again. And again. Good thing Ami had so much patience!

KM: Do you have any favorite quilts? If so, which ones and why?

KL: Actually, I have many favorites, but I'll tell you about three.

The first is a scrappy Nebraska Windmill quilt. The block was designed in 1977 by E.S. "Bud" Dunklau. It won a contest and was chosen as the official Nebraska quilt block! My paternal grandmother, Beulah McCartney, made this quilt in the late 1970s. It is one of two quilts she made that survives.

The second is a quilt my maternal grandmother, Josie Sorensen, made when my husband and I were married. I can't tell you the name of the block. No one knows. It's not even in the Barbara Brackman book of quilt blocks! Grandma and her friends made many quilts using this block. It has a wedding ring with a small diamond on two sides and a larger diamond on the other two sides. It's a wonderful quilt.

The third is a quilt I designed when I did work for another company. It's a nine patch that sits inside a square in a square. The nine patch its straight, the first square is on point, and the last square sits straight. It's very scrappy made from who knows how many homespuns. The top and bottom borders are the same size. The side borders are narrower. Flowery vines are blanket stitch appliquéd in the top left and bottom right corners. It is machine quilted with double and triple feathers. It has a cotton batt so it wrinkled when I washed it. And it has been washed enough that it is incredibly soft.

KM: Very interesting. We will explore your background more but I'll ask one more question about the exhibit. Do you have any favorites from the exhibit? If so, which ones and why?

KL: Choosing is hard. There is something I like about every quilt in the book. If I have to pick, my first response is "Leaving Us" by Cheryl Lynch. I'm amazed the quilt is as small as it is. I like the triptych aspects. But what struck me the most is the leaves falling off. All of the parts of life that are lost even as the body continues.

The other one I really like is "A Tribute to a Man and His Family" by Marla Ferguson with all of the family photos. And ALL of the puzzle pieces that are falling out and dangle at the bottom of the quilt. Color at the top fading to black and white as you go down to finally black.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

KL: I made my first quilt with my Grandma Sorensen when I was 12. Then I made a couple quilts when I was in college. And decided I had had enough! No more. That's what old ladies do.

When I was pregnant with our second child, my friends had all started quilting. Not me! I took my cross stitching to quilting group! One day, to get them to stop hassling me, I took a couple stitches and I was hooked. We had a great quilting group. We learned everything together the hard way as we quilted. We were hand quilting in a frame once a week.

Then I got a sewing machine that did a blanket stitch and I was off designing my own quilts. I had a couple designs finished and my friends decided I should start a pattern company. Not knowing any better, I started Homespun Charm when I was seven months pregnant with child number three! We just had Homespun Charm's 15th anniversary this month.

Quilting is a necessity of life just like Diet Coke and chocolate. An interesting thing happened since making my Alzheimer's quilt. I'm a total plaid and homespun addict who now has more brights and polka dot fabrics than plaids and homespuns! All since buying fabrics for my quilt! I still love the plaids and homespuns. Nothing is more cuddly. But I really like the brights now. Especially lime green! You can NEVER have too much lime green! I still love the blanket stitch appliqué. And the piecing. And especially the machine quilting. I love to quilt feathers...you can never have too many feathers. And bright threads. And variegated threads. Okay, my name is Kate and I'm a fabric and thread addict!

Last year my friends and I discovered the wonderful world of fabric postcards. They are so addictive. I enjoy the fact that they are so small, so I can get one finished even at the busiest times. And that leads to a new addiction - embellishments!

KM: Tell me about your business.

KL: Homespun Charm is my quilt design and pattern business. I started it in 1993 when I was seven months pregnant with our third child. I started with sort of primitive appliqué patterns. They weren't totally primitive. For example, my camels have knees, my birds have wings; definitely not cookie cutter appliqué. All are made with fusible and blanket stitch appliqué. Fortunately, my sewing machine does the blanket stitch! I have several holiday patterns. I do religious Christmas but not Santa Claus. I've designed a lot of wildflower and sunflower quilts. I did a whole line of star quilts. And a line of long and skinny quilts. They're 11 inches by 36 inches finished with one long, skinny appliqué. I also have a large line of wool/wool felt penny rug patterns called Little Bits. Most of the patterns are easy enough for a beginner. Several of the patterns are traditional with a twist. Some may look harder to do, but they're not. I like my quilting to be fun.

To quote my mom, 'I'm the chief cook and bottle washer.' For the most part, I design the quilt, make the quilt, quilt the quilt, bind the quilt, write the pattern, run to the printer, and then assemble the patterns. Over the years, all three kids and my husband have helped make patterns!

Having the pattern company has led to opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I've gone to Quilt Market and met quilters and shop owners from all over the world. I had a pattern distributor in England and the UK [United Kingdom.]. I've received emails and letters from many countries from quilters who have made my patterns. I designed projects for House of White Birches for several years for their magazines and other projects. In 2006, I did my third book. This book, "Hot! Bright Quilting," was published by House of White Birches.

Having the business has a few advantages. I HAVE to go shopping for fabric! I need lots of the new "toys" on the market! And shopping is "research"!

KM: Why is making quilts important to you?

KL: That's like asking why is air important? From the time I was five years old, I've done some kind of craft. At my Grandma's house, you never sat without having your hands busy. She taught me to crochet, embroider, and sew. Even now, I have trouble just sitting without doing handwork.

Quilting became the handwork of choice. I discovered I am a process person. I love the final quilts, but I truly enjoy the process. I like designing the quilts. I can spend hours on the computer tweeking a design. I like shopping for fabric, sorting though the fabrics to find just the right one, piecing and appliquéing. I love machine quilting. I even enjoy hand quilting when I have the time. I'm not so fond of binding and labeling, but part of that is because the quilt is finished. Then I have to decide on a new quilt. Once I'm started, it's great! Then I'm back in the "doing" part of quilting.

I like giving the quilts to friends and family. So many of them do not quilt or don't have time to quilt. Our guild does charity quilts that are given out to various groups and individuals in town. It's great to be able to indulge in my favorite hobby and know that the quilts will go to people who need them.

Making quilts is also important because my daughter is showing an interest in quilting again. She finished her first quilt when she was six. She has always loved to look at fabric and arrange it, but hasn't had the desire to sew again until recently. Now she is working on a couple quilt tops and is sharing an interest in quilts again! It's nice that we have another interest in common besides Guitar Hero!

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

KL: Find a good beginning class.

Quilters use ¼ inch seam allowance NOT 5/8 inch.

Take classes whenever you can. You should be able to learn at least one thing from the class even if it's 'I don't like this!'

Try new techniques. That's why classes are so much fun. You can try something new and decide if you like it.

If you have a local guild, check it out. They are usually a great source for inspiration and encouragement.

Buy good fabric - if it feels bad on the bolt, it won't wash out.

Buy yourself good "toys." You need good scissors, rotary cutter, mat, and blades.

Machine piecing, appliqué, and quilting are all parts of real quilting, doing it by hand does not make it superior.

There is no such thing as the Quilt Police!

There are very few absolute rules in quilting. But one Kate absolute is plaid binding must be cut on the bias!

Have your machine cleaned yearly.

Enjoy yourself!

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

KL: My immediate response to this was time. Quilters never have enough time to quilt. I'm not sure if I would be satisfied even if I could quilt 8 - 12 hours a day!

My more serious response after a few seconds thinking would be a slight twist. What is the biggest challenge I see confronting quiltmakers in the United States? The answer would be: to be and remain grateful for all that we have in our quilting world.

We have so much here in the quilting world to be grateful for and sometimes I think we act like two year olds. 'I'm bored. I want something new to try.' Maybe instead we should remember:

We have access to fabrics, machines, and toys for which our ancestors and current quilters around the world would give their eyeteeth. We don't have to import everything and pay all of those additional costs.

We have fabric and supplies available in most areas or only a short drive away.

We have classes available to us frequently and for reasonable prices. We don't have to fly teachers in from foreign countries.

We have quilt guilds to further our quilting experiences.

Okay, now I'll get off the soapbox.

KM: Describe your studio/work space.

KL: A mess! When we moved out here to the country, I decided we didn't need a living room and a family room. We also home school our kids. So, the living room became my sewing room/school room. It sounds huge on paper – 13 foot by 2 foot'. But that has a 7 foot by 7 foot cupboard with quilts and fabric, a 3 foot by 9 foot cupboard of fabric with a pattern storage system on top, a computer desk, my desk that I sew on and work on, a love seat, another cupboard that is 10' x 3' with my HQ16 quilting machine, and a giant elliptical machine! Oh, and an antique radio cabinet that holds the stereo, an antique mini desk, a file cabinet with the printer on top, and an arm chair. It is so crowded! Probably not the best work environment. When I need a design wall, I bring a piece of that pink insulation stuff in from the garage! Definitely, not a work space anyone would want to photograph for a magazine! One thing I really like about the room is the two windows that look out to the lake at the bottom of the hill and the 10 foot north window that looks out over the neighbor's fields. During the day, the light is wonderful.

KM: Before we end, I'd like to bring us back to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. Have you participated in Priority Quilts? If so, tell me about it.

KL: I am a participant with the Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts project. Three of my quilts have already been auctioned off. Last Friday, I mailed in two more quilts. I'm slowly making my way toward fulfilling the $1000 Promise. This is a promise you voluntarily make to keep making quilts until the quilts you donate have raised $1000. I'm very slow. Some of these women have raised several thousands of dollars through their own donations. I've also been able to talk five friends into making and donating a quilt.

KM: I always ask people if there is anything else they would like to share before we close so I'm doing that with you now.

KL: I guess the last thing I would like to say is how very grateful I am to Ami Simms for coming up with the ideas for all aspects of the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative; for choosing my quilt to be part of the exhibit. For being everyone's cheerleader during the long times getting statements written and edited. Ami is the best cheerleader even when times get tough. There are probably a million more reasons that escape me right now. Lastly, for loving her mom and hanging in there as the times get worse. She was here in Lincoln and I listened to her interact with her mom. She is a great role model for the rest of us.

KM: I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for taking time to share with me. It is appreciated. Our interview concluded on February 25, 2008.


“Kate Laucomer,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1375.