Judy Langille




Judy Langille




Judy Langille


Megan Dwyre

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Elaine Johnson


Megan Dwyre (MD): This is Megan Dwyre. It is April third and I'm at sitting here at Art Quilts at the Sedgwick with Judy Langille. Did I get that right? It's 1:50 and we're conducting an interview for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project, so why don't we just start with the quilt that's hanging here and if you just want to talk about it a little bit.

Judy Langille (JL): Okay. It's "Diagonal Waves" and I actually was looking through a bunch of my father's silk screens, as he was a silk-screen artist and I had been working with sort of grids on a square format. You know just a regular lined up format and I noticed that it just seemed so odd to me that I was thinking of working in a diagonal and I started looking through my father's prints and noticed that he used the diagonal grid all the time. So, I decided that I would play around with it. I took some strips of black paper and I was playing around with black and white designs with diagonal grids and so then I actually made a thermo-fax screen out of the diagonal grid and started printing it on fabric and it was really small. So, I made a few small pieces like that and then I decided that they had to be bigger. I blew them up and did a photo silk screen of it. So, blew up my black and white drawing to a large transparency where I was able to get it bigger. And then I printed a lot of fabric that was in the bigger scale than what I had been working and then I did this piece. So, some of the printing was done on black fabric with just discharge paste. I just painted color into the areas where there was discharge paste. Some of it was just on white fabric where I printed on white fabric. I had a whole bunch of fabric that I could work with and cut up.

MD: Do you want to describe it?

JL: The piece is using this diagonal wavy grid I basically was just creating waves and they were freehand and I actually used fusible Wonder Under on all the fabric and then I was just sort of cutting wavy forms. And so the quilt is basically these diagonal grids cut into wavy like structures and then I put it together that way.

MD: Have you made other quilts like this? Like a series?

JL: Yes. Yes it is, because I started a smaller screen and a smaller grid and that was about maybe eight and half by eleven so that I did make a series of smaller ones. There are actually three smaller pieces or triptych in this same idea. This is the big one in the series. The grandfather.

MD: How is this related to your father's silk-screen?

JL: What it is, is the diagonal lines, so if you saw one of my father's prints you saw something just like that in it.

MD: Ah, so it was inspired by it.

JL: Yes, inspired by it. It is not at all what he had does though.

MD: Does it have a special meaning for you?

JL: It does as I'm looking at it more and more, the special meaning came just from my father's inspiration. I sort of was thinking about why I would have just felt like cutting this into waves and then I started thinking about my father who was no longer alive. And thinking about all the summers we spent. When I was a child we used to go to the beach in the summer, like a beach vacation. Where my parents would rent a house and they would cover the whole downstairs of the house with plastic and my father and mother would make silk-screens all summer long. They would do that in the morning and in the afternoon they would take us to the beach. So, I guess it was that sort of inspiration. We would go to Cape Cod or Long Island or wherever.

MD: Did they only silk-screen in the summer?

JL: My father only silk-screened during the summer. He did collages the entire school year. He was a teacher. All the school year he would do collages and paintings and whatever else and he would narrow his designs down before the summer and he would prepare all these silk-screens and he would do maybe 10 silk-screens, 60 of each and with many colors and my mother was his assistant and that's what they did. There are still a lot left.

MD: So there's sort of two levels of inspiration, the silk-screens and the summers.

JL: Yes. That's right in the quilt there are two levels.

MD: What are your plans for this quilt?

JL: If it gets sold it would be lovely. But otherwise I would like to see it hanging wherever it could be hanging, shows and things like that.

MD: Did you want to talk about how you got started in quilting?

JL: Okay. I've actually been quilting for years and years I went to school for art and I was an art teacher for many years and I took some years off to have my kids and I was a little frustrated when I had little kids because I was having a hard time painting in my house with a baby and everything so I took a quilting class. So, I started out actually taking traditional quilt making classes and you know following everybody else's old patterns and things and I got bored with it pretty quickly and started designing my own quilt designs and I really wasn't that wonderful at the sewing machine. I hadn't really used a sewing machine that much before, when I was growing up, so that part was hard for me. Then I somehow came upon people who were dyeing fabric and printing on fabric and that's what really grabbed me. I loved the fabric, that part was always there but then I started dyeing fabric and printing on it and I knew I really loved that and I was teaching and was only doing it during the summers. I would go to these workshops and I would learn a new technique and make a lot of fabric and if I was lucky I would make a quilt in a year, because I had no time. So then, my kids grew up and I decided to leave teaching at some point and started doing this full time. At that point I really started learning a lot more and so that's really the history of how it got going. We moved to Chicago for a couple of years and I learned this new printing technique with the thermo-fax screen. That's when my work could take off. And I also learned about fusing fabric and being able to collage with it. I realized that I no longer had to do intricate sewing machine piecing to get my designs the way I wanted them and so, I was able to come to this point.

MD: How do you use the fusing? It's obviously stitched.

JL: Basically I make a lot of fabric that I think is going to be in a piece and I put fusible web on the back of all of it and then I cut it up and I work with a rotary cutter and I cut it up and make my design and take my iron and iron right on the wall. It's really cool and then after that, because I still want it to be a quilt I still have a batting and a back and then I do some machine stitching on top.

MD: So is it just really the top?

JL: Right. So the stitching is only decorative, it's not really to hold it together. In a way it finishes off the edges but it doesn't.

MD: Definitely you can imagine it without it.

JL: It could be without it. In fact sometimes I try to almost not have it so you can see it and so some of the zigzags I try to blend the colors more.

MD: It definitely adds to it though, it adds a lot.

JL: Yes, I like the stitching.

MD: So, how many quilts have you made?

JL: A lot, I've made a lot. First I would make one a year and hand-pieced and hand quilted and there was one on everybody's bed and everything like that. But in the last three and a half years I have made many quilts. I don't know how many, but a lot. Some are small and some are big. Some are as big as this one and some are smaller. I don't know I haven't counted. [laughs.] Is that okay?

MD: That's fine. So, how many hours a week would you say you quilt now?

JL: Well now, I would say I try to work at least four hours a day and sometimes I work six or more. I consider it my full time job now. Work and get my work into shows and whatever.

MD: Do you still do other kinds of artistic things?

JL: No. Well, I knit but I really have gotten to the place that I do this all the time.

MD: When you first started taking quilting classes, did you expect it to come to this?

JL: No, I didn't. And you know what the thing was is I wished it would. I would always be so disappointed when the summer was over. No, it wasn't really what I thought, but I would always say, 'If only, if only, I could do this more.' And then one day my husband's job changed and the kids were grown up and we decided he had to move to Chicago, he was actually commuting to Chicago and I said, 'You know, I'm really tired of my teaching job, anyway. It's silly for you to be in Chicago and me to be here anyway.' So we moved and I set up my studio and I met some really wonderful people who helped me learn some more things and I got way more confidence, that I didn't have to do it in a workshop and that I could set up and do it on my own. That's when I really started doing it full time.

MD: And where do you live now?

JL: I live in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. We moved back to New Jersey.

MD: What is your first quilt memory?

JL: My mother was not a sewer and there is none of it in my family history, so I would have to say that my first quilt memory would be the first quilt that I made. It was a sampler quilt and it was made in a class where every week we did a different pattern by hand and I cut one triangle out at a time. It was about 1979 along there sometime, so it was a long time ago. And so that's really my first quilt memory and it was on our bed for years to the point that it was shredded. [laughter.]

MD: Do you still have it?

JL: Yes I still have it, I'm not giving it away. I've tried to repair it, but it's just not worth it. Fabric wasn't that wonderful then. There was not much 100% cotton at the time. One of the first quilts that I made was an alphabet quilt for my oldest son, and I wanted it to be only primary colors and it was so hard to find 100% cotton. It just wasn't there.

MD: So it wasn't as sturdy--that made it not as sturdy.

JL: Well, it was like polyester and that was an appliquéd quilt because I was choosing a word knew for each letter. And it was polyester and it's hard to appliqué with polyester or a blended cotton.

MD: So you said there aren't any quilters in your family?

JL: No.

MD: What about friends.

JL: Well, I should take that back because my youngest son is not quilting but he is printing a lot on fabric and on tee shirts, and sheets, and pillowcases. I don't know he could be a textile artist. I think that I was definitely an influence.

MD: Do you think he may become interested in quilting?

JL: I don't know if he would be interested in quilting quilting, but you never know. [laughs.] You just don't know.

MD: Do you have friends who are quilters?

JL: I do. Now I do and when I moved to Chicago, I got involved in a really wonderful group called PAQA which is Professional Art Quilt Association, and they were really inspirational. Actually I learned this fusing technique there which was just a really major breakthrough for me. I have another friend Maggie Weiss who taught me a ton of surface design techniques. She's in Chicago. So, when I came back to New Jersey I was just desperate to look for people that I could have things in common with and so I could have a support group. I have a nice group now, I really do.

MD: Does quilting impact your family?

JL: Yes, it does. They're all very proud of me and supportive. Not everyone will be at this show and one of the reasons is that my oldest son just got married and is on his honeymoon, otherwise he would definitely be here. And one of them is in Rochester. But they're very proud of me and they've traveled to see my stuff. My friends are coming and family.

MD: Do you ever make quilts to give as gifts?

JL: I used to make quilts to give, as useable quilts. But I don't do that, although my kids have my quilts all over their houses.

MD: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

JL: Not something that was traumatic time, but definitely when I first moved to Chicago I felt like throwing myself into this, and my whole new thing was what really made it easier to transition from being a working person and going off to my school every day and missing those people and kids that I worked with to being alone a lot. And the other difficult time was truly after 9/11 when my son was having an interview at the World Trade Center on that day and we were in Chicago and we couldn't see our kids, they were so far away. So in that sense, yes. But I haven't done work based on any of that stuff.

MD: What do you find is the most pleasing about it?

JL: About my whole process or my work or?

MD: About the process.

JL: Well, you know what there are really three processes. One is making the fabric. One is collaging with the fabric and one is sewing. I really have come to love every part of it. Sewing was hard for me in the beginning, but now it's sort of meditative. I love making the fabrics, it's like the wild part for me where I just make fabrics for a week or two and I like collaging too so I like all of the parts. But if I had to really choose I would say it's making the fabric. That to me is the best.

MD: When you make the quilts do you start with an idea of what you want to make in your mind and then make the fabric for that or do you just make a bunch of fabric and then you sort of get ideas?

JL: It usually comes from the fabric. I might have an idea that I'm going to use a grid but then I don't exactly know how. I let the fabric really inspire me and I don't know if that is good or bad. I may change.

MD: So do you think that's sort of element of uncertainty when you're putting them together?

JL: Absolutely. And also, I give myself one more challenge. Say for instance I make a whole bunch of fabric and I'm running out of it or the colors' not quite right or whatever, I often will say, 'Let's see if you can do it with what you have to work with.' Sometimes I have to go back and decide that I need more pinks or discharge fabric or whatever. Often I set myself up the challenge of taking what I have and using it.

MD: So, you don't use any commercial fabric, you dye everything yourself?

JL: No, I don't use commercial fabric anymore. I haven't bought fabric, except for white and black fabric for a very long time.

MD: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JL: Well, I think when I go to look at other people's quilts and I think they're great. It's that something about them is very interesting to me. These days it's often the technique that they've used. Sometimes it's the design but not so much the images as how it's made. And if the surface design is really intriguing to me.

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

JL: Well, I think there definitely has to be a good composition and I think I work really hard at composition so, that's the first thing to me. Emotions and things like that make a quilt powerful, but if the design is not well designed then why even go up to it a second time.

MD: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

JL: Interest. Depending on the museum or special collection, but the same thing really. Something that maybe has not been done before or something that stands out as something very original that is not a take-off of somebody else's work or something like that.

MD: How do you think people can learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

JL: Well, you know, I have a background in art and I think that it's really important to know something about color and design and composition. Although, I try and update that background all the time by taking classes and things like that. So, I think that's how they have to learn. I think you can copy a pattern and probably anybody can do that, but to come up with your own ideas, I think you really have to. Does that answer that question?

MD: Yes. Do you think starting off making traditional quilts is a way to learn techniques and things like that?

JL: Sure. I definitely do, but I don't think it's necessary for what I do now, but you definitely need to learn how to print on fabric, but you need the sense of design and the sense of color and it has to be learned. You know I think it's helpful to have those things. I do know that there are quilters who just do it, I don't know if their work progresses. Maybe they do one quilt and it's good but they don't really know why, or they complain that they don't know why it's good whatever.

MD: So what do think makes a great quilter?

JL: I think a great quilter is somebody who's really willing to learn more and more, so that they're not just sort of stagnant and doing the same thing over and over again, but they're willing to go and push the edge a little bit, for themselves. Not push the edge of what everyone else is doing but push the edge for themselves.

MD: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

JL: Well, I used to hand quilt everything, not very well, and I didn't enjoy that part at all. In fact, I developed carpal tunnel, pain in my elbow and I never got the thousand stitches to the inch that were required and although I didn't mind sitting around and doing it, because I like to sew by hand, when I could do it by machine for me it just freed me up and I realized nothing had to be perfect and this was art and it's like a drawing line. I can see the value of hand stitching and I realize the reason people used to do it all the time, but for me it doesn't appeal anymore.

MD: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JL: I think they're really important. I think that even a quilt on a wall is more a symbol of comfort than a painting. To me a quilt is soft and whatever, I mean I always sleep under a quilt even though it's really sad that my last quilt that we slept under (not the first one I told you about but a later one) really fell apart and I really didn't want to make another bed quilt because I'm not interested in bed quilts anymore, so I had to buy a quilt. But I would still not ever not sleep under a quilt.

MD: Would you consider making a quilt like this for the bed?

JL: It's not soft. It's too stiff and it has the fusible stuff in it so it would be too stiff and you really wouldn't want to sleep under it. You would if you were desperate I guess. It wouldn't be very warm and I don't use a very thick batting.

MD: I'm kind of interested in what you said about it being a symbol of comfort. Could you sort of elaborate on that?

JL: Well, it's fabric and maybe it's just to me but fabric is soft and there is the knowledge that there is a layer of batting in between and I don't know it's just that it's comfort, you know.

MD: So would you differentiate between like an art quilt and piece of fiber art that's not quilted, do you think that is anymore "comfort"?

JL: Yes, I do. I still love to look at fiber art, but when I see a quilt it just grabs me, it's something that really appeals to me.

MD: So it's something more than just the fabric?

JL: It's the whole idea of it. It's the whole debate always about does it have to be three layers and all of that. If it's a quilt it has to have three layers. If it's in an art quilt show I don't believe it has to have three layers, but.

MD: How do you think quilts can be used?

JL: You mean aside from on a bed?

MD: Sure, I mean you can take the question and respond anyway you want to it.

JL: Well, I think they can be used definitely as something functional. I think that they are beautiful on a wall. I think that to get people thinking, certainly if it's a political statement sort of quilt, they can be used that way. They can be used to express sort of sentimental family things, a lot of people do that sort of thing.

MD: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

JL: Well I think that women have always done handwork and so I think it's just an important part for them. What I feel from it is sort of comfortable to do it and it's really hands on sort of thing, more than even painting and using the brush. You're touching the fabric, you're squeezing it, you're stitching it, you're doing whatever you're doing to it. I think that it's always been a women's sort of thing. There are men art quilters and fiber artists, but very few and I was just thinking about that and I think that they're materials that men relate to as well as women do. And I don't think that's a good thing or a bad thing, it's just truth.

MD: What do you think about socially, like the community?

[tape cuts out and then garbled words for about 15 seconds.]

JL: Well, I think people really love to look at quilts. The antique quilts and the traditional quilts and the quilt shows are popular and I think people are drawn to them.

MD: Do you think your quilts reflect your community or your region?

JL: Not really. I don't think that I think about that. It's not like I'm inspired by the colors of my region or anything like that.

MD: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JL: Well, I think that it's hard to preserve them; you know the colors fade and I suppose they wear out. And there is all this controversy especially with people who use fusing about which one of these fusible things are going to last. I can't picture them falling apart. They are probably less likely to fall apart hanging on a wall than on a bed that they're living on.

MD: We're getting toward the end of the questions. What has happened to the quilts that you've made for friends or family?

JL: Most of them are hanging. I made my parents a quilt years ago and it was an Amish quilt pattern and it was hand pieced and hand quilted and it's on my mother's bed. And my mother used to live in the Hamptons in a house with a lot of glass and the colors are so faded and I replaced the border once and now my mother told me that she is trying to repair it and she doesn't even know how to sew and so I promised her I would come and see if I could. These quilts that get really, really lived with get used, especially when they're hand stitched. It's the beautiful thing about them but they get worn out.

MD: What about quilts that you've sold do you ever keep track of them?

JL: Well, I actually haven't sold many of my quilts. I'm hoping to. I've sold some fabric that I've made, and with fabric you can only imagine what was made from it, maybe a jacket or cut it up and used it in their quilt. That's really interesting, because I haven't had any quilts that I've sold that I've been able to follow through on. I would follow through with any that I sold, because I feel that's really important.

MD: Why is quilting important to your life?

JL: I don't know it's just the basis of my life, you know. [laughs.] It's almost my art more than quilting; I wouldn't call it quilting at this point. I'm definitely using quilted format with my stitching and everything and I think that's the part that makes it a quilt. I base everything on it pretty much.

MD: You mentioned that you were a teacher. Do you have a desire at all to teach within the quilting community?

JL: Yes. I have been trying to establish myself in this new town that I live in and I've been teaching some of the printing processes that I can do. Yes, I'm more interested in teaching right now the surface design part of it and the fabric part of it than the quilting part. I wouldn't want to teach a traditional quilting class again.

MD: What about your son, did you teach him how to do?

JL: Well, it's funny I have three sons. Two of them are artists and one of them has been working with me a lot on the thermo-fax printing on fabric and so yes, he developed an interest. And one of my other son's is a painter and for a while was studying fashion. Together, over the phone, I taught him how to thread a bobbin, thread the needle and a lot of tricks. So he's sewing garments and even before that I made my parents a quilt another quilt when they were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The Amish quilt was when they retired from teaching and that was a really long time ago. The fiftieth anniversary was a quilt that I sent all of our relatives and their friends a square and everyone had to do something to it and since my father was an artist there were a lot of artists that I could send to. And my kids were little then and they each made a square and one of them did a crazy quilt square. He was little and I taught him how to use all the fancy stitches on my machine. But all of them did something on fabric at that point. And everyone in the family did something. Some of them just took a photograph and had it transferred, so everyone got a taste of making one then.

MD: When was this?

JL: Maybe ten years ago.

MD: So is that quilt to be hung on a wall?

JL: Yes that quilt was to be hung on a wall and it's still hanging on my mother's wall and there are numerous photographs of it and with my parents in front of it. It was right after that my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and whenever my mother looks at that photograph and we really hadn't put two and two together and she looks at it and says, "See, he was so sick then and nobody even knew." I can tell now. It was like a memory photograph. It was just a big quilt and the two grandparents and my parents standing in front of it and a part of family history.

MD: So would you want to keep that quilt?

JL: Absolutely, absolutely. And actually that quilt is not in bad shape, because it's been hanging on the wall. Actually, the borders are a little faded because it was at their beach house, but now it's not at the beach house. One of the squares is one where one of their friends took a pocket, like from a shirt like on a man's tailored shirt and put it on the square and in it is a banner that you pull out and on it is 'congratulations' because it was for an anniversary. So, it's really a very clever, beautiful, well thought out quilt.

MD: What do you think would distinguish a quilt like this from a quilt like that?

JL: That quilt was really memories and commemorating an event and memories and everyone had a hand and very sentimental. This I consider to be a piece of art work.

MD: Do you think there is any connection to memory with this too?

JL: Of course. One of my sisters took a piece of my father's art in that family quilt and transferred it onto the quilt so even his work is actually on it.

MD: We pretty much went through all the questions. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't talked about?

JL: I don't know, not really. I think that it's really nice that you're doing this project. I think that it's a great thing to get peoples' feelings and their history. So it's sort of an historical project so I'm happy to be part of it.

MD: Well, thank you very much for letting us interview you.

JL: You're welcome.

MD: We'll be concluding this interview at 2:26 p.m. I would just like to thank Judy Langille for being part of the project again.


“Judy Langille,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1414.