Diane Gaudynski




Diane Gaudynski




Diane Gaudynski


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


Waukesha, Wisconsin


Karen Musgrave


Note: The quilt used for this interview is part of a book, CD and traveling exhibition called "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" which Ami Simms curated. The purpose of the exhibition is to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. All of the profit from the book and CD is donated to Alzheimer's research. For more information, visit www.AlzQuilts.org.

Karen Musgrave (KM): Diane, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Diane lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin and I am in Naperville, Illinois and we are doing this interview by e-mail. Our interview began on March, 2008. I am doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project based on the exhibit "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Please tell me about your quilt "Mourning Too Soon" which is in the exhibit.

Diane Gaudynski (DG): "Mourning Too Soon" was made after much consideration about how I could translate my particular quilting skills into an exhibit quilt that would interpret this theme in a way that was a bit different from the other exhibit quilts. I tried to come up with a plan where I quilted something very formal and recognizable, in my usual style, but then had it deteriorating and nonsensical. However, I simply could not quilt in that way, so I decided instead to make a perfect little quilt that reflected the way Alzheimer's sufferers were before the disease attacked. I wanted it an island of calmness, serenity, simplicity, beauty among all the message quilts, the quilts that were disturbing to see, the quilts that made you cry. If you cry when you see my quilt, it will be in remembering loved ones and who they were "before."

This quilt is made in honor of my dear mother, Erma Hinterberg, who is now deep in the darkness of Alzheimer's after many years of confusion and forgetfulness. We have lost her and it has created an ongoing sadness in our entire family. We want to help find a way so this does not happen to others.

The quilt is made of lustrous silk dupioni for its beauty and strength. I decided against any prints or busy cottons as too distracting from my quilting.

I wanted this to be as basic a quilt as possible in a vintage genre, so I chose the strippy style, a classic design frequently seen in antique quilts made in France and Great Britain, and early days in America. This style is still being made today and will never fade and change. This too is a reflection of the idea of the "before" in Alzheimer's that we cannot keep, that will change, that will deteriorate.

The colors were sort of reminiscent of the soft muted colors used in mourning dresses in the 1800's after the initial period of black dress was over. The lilac and the deep brown worked well together, and I liked their richness. I used #100 silk thread for the quilting, and a soft lofty wool batt to give the designs more dimension.

I marked the cable design with a standard cable from a stencil, and sketched out the basic curving lines on the violet strips so there would be some symmetry. However, the feathers and designs were done freehand without marking so are a little bit different in the various areas of the quilt that look quite similar but are not identical. I had a photo of the dove and used that to draw my own version of this bird.

The main motif is the mourning dove, a bird whose mournful cries are common here in Wisconsin, and who is said to cry for a lost loved one, a mate, an offspring, whatever. It really is the central idea for the title, "Mourning Too Soon." We lose people to Alzheimer's and yet they are still with us, needing care and compassion, but the essence of them is lost, and we really do mourn them years ahead of their actual passing. It is a terrible and dire situation. Heartbreaking.

The other elements in the quilting designs are classic feathers, cables, vines, leaves, and some of my own background motifs. I had to decide in a strippy how to resolve the top and bottom parts of the strips by ending them gracefully or to simply cut them off and imagine the designs continuing beyond the binding. The "cutting off" idea won out because of the way Alzheimer's cuts off the rest of a person's life.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

DG: After this quilt returns home from its travels as part of the exhibit, it may need a bit of repair work first thing, and I have to become re-acquainted with it. It was made in a short period of time, several weeks, and shipped immediately to the exhibit so I have had no time to get to know it.

I'll hang it in my home and enjoy it for awhile, take it with me for lectures and presentations to bring awareness of Alzheimer's Disease, as well as the project itself and quilts made for it, and if invited to submit work for exhibits will definitely include this one. I hope to keep it and hand it down in the family as a lasting tribute to my mother, her love, her intelligence and grace, her humor and kindness throughout her life.

KM: There is a CD of the exhibit that has an audio part where each quiltmaker can be heard saying her artist statement. Tell me about that experience.

DG: The audio part was fairly easy, mostly my artist's statement, but it gives such immediacy to the words, to be able to hear the voices of the quilters in the exhibit. The words carry such emotion and bare reality; it's really a moving experience to listen to the audio CD and the words behind the quilts.

KM: I know that you have seen the exhibit. Please tell me about your impressions of it. Do you have any personal favorites?

DG: The exhibit is beautiful and strong and memorable in person. The quilts are so varied yet carry the same theme so the total impact is intensified as you look at one quilt after another. The first time I saw the exhibit I could only read a few of the statements by the quilts, and looked at them to see the beauty of the work itself. It was almost too much to take in the first time. Later I was able to read one by one the moving stories of each quilt, and still it was too hard to read more than a few at a time. I did laugh at the story in one of them about the mom, age 91 or so, who lost her stamps and called her daughter, the quiltmaker, in a panic that she was worried she had "early" onset Dementia! But mostly I loved the variety, the colors, the large heart with everything dripping out at the bottom, photos worked in to the quilts, fractured images depicting lives broken. All the details also are memorable, the things lost in a person's life due to the disease, the threads used, the fabric choices. I especially loved Sue Nickels' quilt made in honor of the caregivers, a huge bouquet of flowers clutched in a hand, with tears around this image to frame it. Very striking and so memorable, as all of the quilts are. I think once you see these in person you'll never forget them.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

DG: I have been interested in quilts even as a child, seeing the beautiful ones my grandmother made, and having one on the bed to sleep under she made especially for my sister and me. As a teen I embroidered scenes with children holding kittens for my youngest sister, and my grandmother set these with sashing and hand quilted it - my first quilt! I sewed clothing for years before quilting became popular in the late 70's and then I gave it a try back in pre-rotary cutter days. It was many long years of struggling with hand quilting before I discovered machine quilting in 1988 and have been in love with it ever since. I quilted like a maniac at first, tried to make a new queen size quilt and quilt it each month, but common sense won out and I began to quilt more for beauty than for speed in the 1990's. People started asking me how I did the quilting, so I began to teach a little at the local level, and entered quilt shows. It was local teachers and show coordinators who twisted my arm and persuaded me to enter national shows, where I have since won many awards for my work, made tons of friends, and now teach and travel throughout the country. I have written two books on my techniques for quilting on a home sewing machine, and now see amazing quilts being made by students and those who have learned from my books. It is a gift to be able to quilt but also to teach others.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DG: I work in streaks - I can go a long time without quilting, then suddenly get inspired and work steadily for months and months. During that time I try and quilt about 5 or 6 hours a day, every day. Sometimes I take a day or so off to get away from it and have a fresh perspective so I can change things if necessary. Quilting in two sessions of a few hours a day with breaks works best for me. I would rather do a big project than many small ones, as they don't last long enough, much like a good book - I like thick, fat ones. Once a quilt is "under the needle" and I'm involved in the machine quilting it is pure pleasure and I don't want it to end.

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

DG: I belong only to our state guild here in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Quilters, Inc. and it has been a fantastic source of knowledge and inspiration for me. This group opened the quilt world to me by bringing in the best quilters for programs four times a year. I have been privileged to see so much in our meetings, from the best traditional quilts, art quilts, as well as garments. Information on the history of quilting, new techniques, quilting around the world came to me through this group. I learned how to be a professional myself by seeing those that presented programs and workshops. I joined in 1984 and am still a member, still learning, still enjoying the friendships I have made. I visit guilds all over the country as a teacher/presenter and enjoy them, see the friendships there, the value to the community they provide, and the role in quilters' lives they have that is vital.

KM: Since you brought up the importance of role guild's play in the lives of quiltmakers. What do you think about the importance of quilts in women's lives?

DG: Quilts have always been important in women's lives, and just as much in modern times too. I have worked with women in quilting for many years and see how quilts are the saving grace for many. In a world where we cannot control much at all, we have our own "say" in a quilt we make - the design, colors, fabric, how it's quilted, everything.

Quilting provides a small island of respite from the stress of everyday life, and unlike so much of "women's work," it isn't fleeting. A quilt lasts. It is something we can look at and remember every step of the way. Each fabric can evoke the memory of where and when we acquired it, the friend it was from, the pleasure it gave when washing and pressing it, cutting and sewing it. Many times quilters make quilts for gifts, family, or charities so the gift is multi-fold; it is in the making for the quiltmaker and also for those who receive and use and enjoy quilts. They are used up and enjoyed until they wear out, or treasured and saved, passed down in families. A person can be remembered by her quilts, a lasting reminder of who and what she was. We can touch a quilt. It is comforting and tactile. It has substance and means something.

Quilting is also very important in modern life because it brings people together in what can be a solitary pursuit. There are so many events and groups that provide information and socialization opportunities that being a quilter and being lonely are mutually exclusive! Friends can be made with others of any age; class boundaries are invisible. Quilting unites.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

DG: For someone starting out, moving to a new area, retiring and wanting to begin quilting, it is a good idea to seek out a local group, a shop that can direct you to one, books at the library to get you started. Classes can get you started, or a basic good quilting book might be your teacher.

One thing leads to another, and soon you will be able to pick and choose what sorts of quilting activities work for you. Information is everywhere now with the Internet. Search out anything at all and you'll find the answers online. Groups exist, bulletin boards, travel opportunities to go places with other quilters and not feel so alone on a trip. Cruises are especially popular, as are retreats, and big quilting events that can open the world of quilting to you. It's nice to have all this available on our laptop sitting in our cozy recliner, but it is also good to see real quilts at shows or guild meetings, and forge friendships with other quilters, and get out of the house and our day-to-day routine. The excitement in the air at a quilting event is always tangible. Quilting adds the extra sparkle to our lives!

KM: That is so true. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

DG: I think the biggest challenge is sifting through the options and deciding what to pursue in your own work. For every triangle there are dozens of methods. There are so many new techniques to choose from, so many styles that it might be daunting. I'd say follow your instincts and narrow it down to what appeals to you, and be sure to begin at a level where you have some hope of success. I advise my students to add one new technique at least to each quilt and then you will "own" that technique and be comfortable with it. You will know if you want to use it again and again, or if it isn't for you. But to try it all at once is overwhelming and can lead to frustration and failure.

KM: Describe your studio.

DG: My studio? I have one only in my mind! I do have a quilting workspace, where I keep my sewing equipment - cutting table, sewing machines in cabinets, some storage drawers, a few things on the wall. My supplies are not arranged wonderfully in an array where I can design, pick colors and fabrics, on a whim. They are packed up in storage in another room dedicated solely for my quilts, books, fabrics, boxes, file containers, and travel stuff. It is a pretty boring room, just stacks of stuff everywhere.

My workroom, a third bedroom on the second floor with windows facing south, is light and airy and I love being in it, working on a project. Most of my designing is done mentally away from the nuts and bolts of quiltmaking, and then I get out fabric and throw it up on the wall, lay out various possibilities, and make decisions and get on with it. My ideas usually come to me while driving, flying, day dreaming, or in the shower, not while I am around other quilters and quilts.

I would love a real studio. I want one of those tilted design tables so I could draw in comfort. Some day!

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

DG: Although there are amazing quilts being made today, I have always been drawn to the quilts from years ago, quilts made by pioneer women with primarily "found" fabric, leftover scraps, or salvaged small bits from worn out clothing. They managed to create useful quilts and still used their artistic abilities to make glorious compositions in color and design. If we had this challenge now, there would be a lot of whining!

I also love the vintage quilts from France (Provence primarily), and the north of Great Britain, as well as clothing from these places and even in colonial times here in America. These quilts and clothing are two-cloth, wholecloth, strippy styles and show the elaborate quilting to great advantage, as well as the creativity of the designers. They are my inspiration for my own work in quilts that focus mostly on the quilting itself. A good example is "Mourning Too Soon."

Modern day quiltmakers are also very inspiring, and bits of what they do and what I see at shows and in print does seep into my own work. I transitioned from using invisible thread on my early scrappy quilts to using now a variety of shades of opaque silk threads that adds more to the fabric, to the finished art of the quilt. I haven't yet succumbed to beading and embellishment, but I have learned to never say never.

KM: You are a National Quilting Association, Inc. [NQA.] Master Quilter, won numerous prestigious national and international awards and authored two best-selling books on machine quilting. You are amazing. Let's begin with becoming a Master Quilter. Tell me about this experience. Why was this something you wanted to do?

DG: Becoming an NQA Master Quilter was never ever in my plans. I was totally surprised when I received the paperwork from NQA explaining that an NQA judge nominated me to have one of my quilts considered and go through the judging system by them (National Quilting Association). I had to think about it for many days before I could wrap my mind around the fact that someone whose opinion I truly respected thought my work was good enough, consistent enough, at a high enough level to be judged for this honor. You can also nominate yourself, and some do that because you might wait forever to be nominated by a qualified NQA person, so that is a good path as well if you think your work will qualify and meet their exacting standards.

After I agreed to do this, with much trepidation and flutters in my stomach, I realized the quilt in process that would be entered and judged was a basic log cabin. I felt perhaps I would not be able to enter it after all, that they were looking for something so difficult and so over the top that this would not be appropriate.

As it turned out, this quilt ("Through a Glass, Darkly: An American Memory") was anything but basic. Sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees with your own work. It is simplicity itself, has its roots in old quilts, but has strong almost modern graphic appeal. The control with color and design, and use of the zillions of shaded colors to achieve design depth was the focus of the quilt and what I believe propelled it to star status. That, and the lovely machine quilting in the wide solid-color border.

The entire process was one I approached with the thought that I'll do the best I can in this moment with what I have now---skills, machine, tools, time, experience--and that's the best I can do. I had no thought that it would pass the scrutiny of five specially trained Master Judges but when the phone call came that it had, and was now a Masterpiece Quilt, I felt a bit numb with disbelief. I had won awards for my quilts before that, but to be so honored was something I never thought would come my way.

It has given me a confidence in my work and in my teaching. I can work with much more freedom, knowing that I have made a place for myself with my quilts, and that all other work is an outgrowth of that experience and honor. I certainly don't flaunt it, or mention it except in my professional resume, but it is there all the time, held close to my heart, giving me confidence and a feeling that wow, I did this.

KM: What a great story. Tell me about becoming an author.

DG: After winning some big national awards, and answering questions to large, note-taking crowds when I stood by my quilts at shows, I was asked so many times to write a book about my techniques. I really didn't think I had anything new to say, but after I had taught classes for a few years I realized all I had to do was look to the students for the material, answer the questions, address their problems. The same thing kept coming up in every class so I decided after much procrastination to accept the offer from my publisher and forge ahead.

I have always enjoyed writing, but a book? About quilting? I had no idea even where to begin. There was no manual on how to write this quilting book. So what I eventually decided to do was every time I taught a specific area I would return home and start a chapter or section or sometimes even a few paragraphs and write about it, right off the top of my head, no agonizing, no plotting and planning, no outline. I wrote like I was emailing a friend, not writing a textbook on quilting. So many quilters have told me not only do they appreciate the information and the photos, but they loved reading it, cover to cover as it was funny and enjoyable.

I ended up with a cutting table covered with printed out stacks of information. I then arranged things, consolidated, edited, deleted, added and came up with a manuscript that I sent off to my publisher. This was similar in so many ways to how I make a quilt!

My very good editor there, Barbara Smith, further sifted through everything, and after more cutting and adding, insertion of diagrams and photos, we came up with a final version. I decided to take my own step-by-step photos with my digital camera, and I've done that for both of my books. It's easier to get just what you want when you do it yourself. Because we had such a good working relationship, the process was easy for me. Time consuming to be sure, and lots of proof reading and deadlines, but it was not nearly as daunting as I had feared.

I had a very talented graphics designer at the publisher who put the books together so they reflect my quilts, my style, my color preferences. My editor even got my publisher to include photos of my cats, a first for them, but it is one of the most common comments I get from quilters - they love the cat photos!

Like everyone said, the first book is the learning experience, and the second one goes much faster and easier, and that was very true. I really enjoyed doing them, and maybe have another in my future.

I also like sitting next to a businessman on a plane, and telling him I am an author when asked what kind of business I am in. It gives my teaching, designing, and quilting a recognizable title. If I say "I am a quilter," he will bury himself in his newspaper or laptop.

KM: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I always give people an opportunity to add anything that they would like so here?s your chance.

DG: I think that the "Forgetting Piece by Piece" exhibit, each individual quilt, says it all. You will never forget these quilts or the stories they tell. They also provide a time capsule of our trends and techniques in quilting at this time. I hope these quilts will raise awareness and funds for research to prevent and treat Alzheimer's. I am truly honored to have been invited to participate, to make a quilt to be shown to so many people, to have a place in history because of the importance and impact of this exhibit.

Special thanks to Ami Simms, who envisioned this exhibit, won me over to make a quilt, and whose ongoing tireless and selfless efforts have made it such a huge success.

KM: You said it well. Diane thanks again. Our interview concluded on March 3, 2008.


“Diane Gaudynski,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1376.