Meena Schaldenbrand


AFPBP-29 Schaldenbrand.jpg


Meena Schaldenbrand




Meena Schaldenbrand


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


Plymouth, Michigan


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

Karen Musgrave (KM): Meena, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Meena lives in Plymouth, Michigan and I am in Naperville, Illinois and we are doing this interview by e-mail. Our interview began on March 3, 2008 with the first question being answered at 7:01 a.m.. 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 "Mixed Emotions."

Meena Schaldenbrand (MS): "Mixed Emotions" is about my Mother in law's gradual loss of memory. She was a strong widow and lived independently for many years.

It has been difficult to see her frustrations and anxiety as she struggled with the memory loss and appeared to be confused and so fragile. And yet, she was so overjoyed every time she remembered good things she had forgotten. For instance, she had forgotten we got her a kitchen set she really liked she was so happy over and over; each time it was as if she had seen it for the first time.

We were also concerned about her safety and that of others as she understandably wanted to continue to drive and be independent and did not want to give up her freedom. One of the sadness in watching the deterioration is the realization that one day it very well could happen to us.

Her favorite phrase when she used to talk is 'Really?' It was the theme of my quilt as she sometimes could not tell what was real and what was not. We were constantly worried about her and wanted to jump in and help in every way we could.

Below is my artist statement about the quilt:

It is a roller coaster of emotions for both the person with Alzheimer's and the caregiver. People with Alzheimer's experience a range of emotions from feeling lost to having faith. The caregiver wants to protect and be responsible, feels sad and yet has hope as there are good days and bad days. The memory tree has falling leaves. The helping hand is for support because Love never ends.

hardware cloth: question mark
gutter guard: period of question mark
washers: thoughts
beaded trim: outline of face
watch charm: eye
string on finger with locked heart charm
metallic net, rick rack, piping
machine quilted

KM: Is this quilt typical of your work? Tell me about your design process.

MS: The quilt is like many of my quilts, they tend to be personal and reflect events and people in my life and it also uses metals.

My design process consists of making lists of what I want to convey. Then I look for images in books, magazines, computer for inspiration. I pin pictures on my design wall and develop ideas from them. Each day brings new ideas and direction. When I am happy, I start with fabric and put those images in fabric on the wall and work on improving the images. When I am pleased with that, I sew the whole thing together. I then keep in on the wall for further improvement until the deadline.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt when it returns to you?

MS: It will hang in my home. It is a daily reminder of my mother-in-law as is the screensaver on my computer of a wedding picture of her and my father-in-law.

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.

MS: Reading the artist statement was very emotional. I have my quilts arranged alphabetically by subject (Alzheimer's) in my PowerPoint presentation. It is number one when I present my quilts at guilds and it always gets me choked up.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit? If so, tell me your impressions. Do you have any favorites?

MS: I saw it in Chicago [Greater Chicago Quilt Exposition, Schaumburg, Illinois.] While white gloving I got to see the quilts up close. So many quilts spoke to me. I loved reading about their stories. Many of the experiences mentioned were so familiar and rang so true thus I do not have a favorite quilt. It is one of the most moving quilt exhibits I have ever seen.

KM: Let's move into your involvement in quilting. Tell me about your interest. When did you start? How has your interest in quiltmaking evolved since I know you've been making quilts for more than 25 years?

MS: I started quilting in 1981 when my husband was doing a residency and I wanted to find a hobby after my job to fill my time. I worked in the Microbiology lab and had always taken science classes. Now that I had time, I wanted to find a fun area of interest. I tried many adult education classes including drawing, knitting, arts and crafts and even tried woodworking.
What brings me back to quiltmaking is the tactile nature of fabric. Other reasons why I also love it is that you can tell personal stories and each quilt can be so different. After I made many traditional designs, I wanted to create original work. I view each of my quilts as one of my kids.
Doing challenges pushed me to develop new ideas, techniques and designs.

KM: What advice would you give someone starting out?

MS: Try many different designs, learn the methods of construction. Use quality fabrics as some chain store fabrics fade fast. I have a quilt that was black and is now a weird shade of purple.
I also saved the best parts of many of my kids clothes from infancy to jeans and eventually made them each graduation quilts--very personal and memorable. Work on small projects like journal quilt size 8 ½" by 11" to develop ideas of your own. Continue taking classes. Definitely dive in challenges. It is so surprising what one can come up with.

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

MS: The challenge for quiltmakers today is not to be intimidated by the awesome quilts created by others. Use them as learning tools and inspiration for what you like in creating your own body of work.

KM: What does your family think about your involvement in quiltmaking?

MS: They are very supportive. My husband and daughter display my quilts in their offices and rotate them several times a year. It is a conversation starter for their colleagues and a friendly environment for their work. Both my daughters have made several quilts over the years. I hope I transferred some my passion for the fiber arts to them. They have gone to many quilt shows with me and I do believe they appreciate the art of quiltmaking.

Quiltmaking has given me a voice and my work reflects who I am.

KM: Describe your studio.

MS: It is currently in the basement. There is a room with a window that houses my fabrics on open shelves by color. There is a ping pong table raised to a comfortable height that has large cutting mats. And, it stores more fabric underneath. There are flannel covered homosote [pressed fiber board.] vertical design walls. I also have additional flannel covered insulation panels for more design walls. The pool table is used for more project layouts. I always work on more than one project. When I am stuck, I can make progress on other projects. There are flat plastic drawers that hold objects from garage sales including charms, and jewelry that can be taken apart and used as embellishments. There are more boxes of buttons stored by colors. There are organizers that hold metals including aluminum pop cans, brass, copper, interfacings, paints, rubberstamps, stencils, Tyvek, underwire, wire, wire form, wire mesh. There are flat plastic drawers for storing text fabric words alphabetically. There are shoe cardboard boxes with 9 compartments. I use plastic shoe boxes as drawers to hold UFO's [unfinished objects.] that are placed alphabetically e.g. attic windows, animal blocks, etc.

There is a giant calendar with deadlines--the key to finishing some projects.

KM: You mentioned that you always work on more than one project at a time. Are you neat or messy when you create? You also mention having lots of different materials available. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

MS: I audition a variety of fabrics/ materials and stuff is everywhere! I am messy when I create. I always have to clean up my area every time I finish one project as I often cannot find simple items.

I love to play with a wide assortment of materials. The last few years I have loved sewing with metals for instant drama and glitz. It can be frustrating with the fragility of metals as I have to use small amounts so they do not bend or break. Hardware stores are also fun hangouts for items to use on quilts. Last year I discovered the fun of burning and using Lutradur. I will have to play more with it.

KM: I'd like to bring us full circle and talk about the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) which the exhibit is just one part. Have you participated in Priority Quilts which is another part of the AAQI?

MS: Yes, I made a quilt called "Fragile." As I get attached to the quilts, I make a duplicate for myself, too.

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.

MS: Thank you!

KM: Meena thanks again. Our interview concluded at 12:25 p.m.


“Meena Schaldenbrand,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,