Lisa Call




Lisa Call




Lisa Call


Heather Gibson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Kim Greene


Heather Gibson (HG): Hello. Today's date is April 8, 2006. This is an interview for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project, Art Quilts [at the Sedgwick.] [in.] Philadelphia. This is Heather Gibson and Elaine Johnson is also here today. We are interviewing Lisa Call. Hello Lisa.

Lisa Call (LC): Hello.

HG: Can you tell me about the quilt you have in the show?

LC: This quilt is "Structures #41" and it is part of a series of quilts I'm making. There are around sixty quilts in the series to date. I started this series in 2000, and I am still working on it, and I also have begun some other series.

HG: How many quilt shows have you been in the past?

LC: A lot. [both laugh.] Quite a few. Several a year, four to ten a year probably for the last fifteen years.

HG: How long have you been making quilts?

LC: I have been making quilts since 1980 when I was a junior in high school.

HG: Really.

LC: Yeah.

HG: What got you started?

LC: A friend made one, and I figured if she could do it I could do it.

HG: [laughs.] Did you have sewing skills before that?

LC: Minimal. In junior high, you know they make you take home ec.

HG: So what did the first quilt look like?

LC: The first quilt was made out of old blue jeans, curtain scraps and other fabric found around the house. It was a combination of a lot of random types of fabric, corduroy, anything that I could find. It looked like a nine patch quilt.

HG: Okay. Do you still have it?

LC: I do, I still have it on my bed.

HG: You're kidding. Do you use it?

LC: Yeah, I use it often.

HG: I am going to stop the interview for a second.

LC: Okay.

HG: So, we were talking about your first quilt that you ever made. Blue jean fabric and it looked like a nine patch. Now you have gotten to this point of having this quilt in the show. So, tell me about the materials that you used in the quilt that you have here today, "Structures #41."

LC: It's made from fabric that I have hand dyed myself.

HG: Excellent.

LC: It's all one hundred percent cotton.

HG: What kind of dyes do you use?

LC: I use Procion MX Fiber Reactive dyes.

HG: And, do you quilt by hand or by machine?

LC: I do everything by machine. The piecing and the quilting are all done by machine.

HG: Do you have a quilting philosophy or why do you prefer using a machine?

LC: I don't think that physically I could do it by hand and make as many. I think they might look nicer, the quilting part, but I think physically not too many people can do that. I think I would end up with carpal tunnel.

HG: Have you always quilted by machine?

LC: No, I have done several quilts by hand, but that was long ago.

HG: Some people will say that they enjoy the process of quilting by hand. Is that something you enjoy?

LC: I do enjoy it, but like I said, I end up, with my arthritis, I just can't do it that much.

HG: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

LC: This quilt was made in 2004 at a retreat with a group of friends that were currently going through some turmoil and we were trying to come to an agreement on a name for our critique group, and the quilt to me is all about balance and tension and trying to make things workout when it is maybe not going to.

HG: Okay. Visually, how does that work?

LC: Well, I spent a lot of time figuring out where I wanted to put the horizontal bars in the quilt.

HG: Sure.

LC: To provide a visual tension. There are four large columns of color in the quilt and there is a very small area at the bottom of one of the columns that is completely different. It is the discordant element in the group that doesn't fit in with the rest. But, as someone pointed out, without that small discord, the quilt would not work. Maybe that is a necessary element of all groups.

HG: Beautiful. And how does this relate to the rest of the series?

LC: It is related to the rest of the series partly in that I use the same motif. There is an E shape in all of my quilts, which comes from a fence. So my work is really motivated by the imagery of fences and brick walls and so this one follows that. But I'm also interested in the psychological boundaries that we have within us, how much we hide and show of ourselves, so those internal walls that we put up. And so this one is more of an internal quilt. Thoughts about what is going on inside each of us and how we interact with each other, versus maybe the exterior fences but you can still see the exterior fences in the quilt itself.

HG: So the interview has moved upstairs. Hopefully the tape will be more audible. What are your plans for the quilt that you have in this show, once this show has come down? What will happen to it?

LC: It will come back to my house and hang on the wall.

HG: Okay.

LC: Unless someone buys it, which I doubt, but that's okay.

HG: [laughs.] Where do most of your quilts end up?

LC: On my wall. I am not looking to sell my work at this time. I am looking to show my work.

HG: Okay.

LC: I don't emphasis the sales.

HG: If we came to your house, what would it look like? Would there be quilts all over the walls?

LC: Yeah, quite a few. [laughs.]

HG: And do you keep them in the same place, or is it constantly changing?

LC: No they move around as I make more quilts, they will move around, as they, because there are always different ones traveling to different shows. So there are a lot of holes in the walls.

HG: What is your level of involvement in quilting? Is it a career, is it a hobby?

LC: It is a career.

HG: Okay.

LC: I spend maybe twenty to thirty hours a week making quilts and working on the business side of my career, because I also work full time as a software engineer.

HG: You do?

LC: Yeah.

HG: Okay. So how do those two careers [laughs.] work together?

LC: To me, it is really interesting because in my mind they are very similar. Because software engineering to me is a very much a right brain activity, even though most people think it is very cut and dry, logical and not that creative, but to me it's not these things. So I find myself solving problems in computer science in a very creative way that I would probably approach my art. The most important thing is that when it comes to the technical side of maintaining an art career, I can do it all myself. I can build my own website, I can understand the digital photography, I can do all of those without any help as I have a pretty extensive background in computers.

HG: What is your web address?


HG: I will check that out. So you learned to quilt from your, or you said that your. Oh, you said that your motivation was from a friend that was making a quilt.

LC: Right.

HG: How did you learn to do it?

LC: I just figured it out. I had sewn clothes, so I used what I learned from that to make the first quilt. Traditionally when you make quilts you sew a quarter inch seam, but when I made this quilt I sewed a five eighths inch seam and pressed the seams open, because that is how you make clothing, and I was doing like you would make clothing. And I just made it up as I went. It's a Nine Patch, but to me I thought I invented it because I didn't have a pattern, I didn't have anything to compare them against, I just figured it out. And then when I quilted it, I didn't know you were supposed to put the top and back together, and the batting. I had never seen a quilt. Actually, my grandmother quilted, but I couldn't remember, so I just quilted the top to the batting. I didn't put the back on. [HG laughs.] Until the whole quilt was finished. So it's not quilted all the way through, because I had no idea what I was doing. I just made it up.

HG: [laughs.] That's funny.

LC: Yeah.

HG: But how has your quilting evolved through the years?

LC: I made about one quilt a year at first, from 1980 to 1989, I was an undergrad and a graduate student and I was in school all the time. I would go home in the summer or at Christmas and I would make a quilt. Back then that was my whole involvement. When I finished graduate school in 1989, I decided that I had some free time and I started buying fabric instead of just whatever I could find laying around the house. And, I started making quilts on a more full time basis.

I moved to New York in 1990 and that is when I took my very first quilting class. I had been quilting for ten years, and I had made ten to twelve quilts. I got to the store and I discover what a rotary cutter was. Before that I had cut everything out by hand. I used cardboard templates and did it the old fashion way. So I took some classes and then it really took off. From there I did quite a few traditional quilts until 1992 when my son was born. So, for a couple of years I made a whole bunch of traditional quilts.

In 1992 my son was born, I quit my job and I stayed home, and I quickly got bored. I was looking for more intellectual stimulation in my life than changing diapers, and I turned to art. I decided that I could take my quilting into art. I always had an interest in art, and I decided to make that a direction to go, and so I started learning about doing self-expression with my art quilts. I didn't call them art quilts. I still don't call them art quilts. I call them contemporary quilts. But, it was in 1993 when I made my first original design quilt, instead of, you know maybe from a more traditional pattern. And just from there it evolved.

I spent another six years exploring different techniques and taking classes from well known teachers across the country and learning different things. And then in 1999 I took a class from Nancy Crow and learned how to piece quilts without using templates or rulers, and I knew I had found how I wanted to express myself. And, from 1999 onward, that is the only way I have been making quilts. Pretty much exclusively.

HG: So Nancy Crow's class was pivotal?

LC: It was a very pivotal experience in my life.

HG: What are some of your other influences?

LC: That would be a hard one to say. She is such a big influence on how I work. A lot of it is internal and I would say family influences in that my mother was always making crafts. She was always making things. She did decoupage and macramé and all of those things that moms in the seventies were doing. [both laugh.] All of those things. I think that was a very big inspiration to me, because she also worked full time as a nurse, so in addition to that and raising kids, she was also continuing on with her craft, and that has been a big influence for me as I work full time and take care of my kids, I continued to work on my art.

HG: What is the rest of your family think of your quilts?

LC: I know they like them quite a bit and they are quite proud of what I'm doing, but I don't really know if they understand where I am going with what I'm doing. I don't think art is a part of my background. My family, you know, go two generations back. They were all farmers, and art never really played a significant role in my upbringing. Doing crafts yes, but the art direction and my goals of where I want to see my artwork in museums, I think that is probably something they don't have much experience with. But they are very supportive.

HG: What about your son?

LC: My kids are very supportive of my artwork and they get excited when they see my work hanging in art shows. I just had my first solo show and they were thrilled to see it. They are always excited when they see pictures of my work somewhere; it shows Mom is actually doing something. I was on the cover of the Quilt National Book in 2003, and that was a huge deal for them.

HG: That is really something.

LC: Yeah. [laughs.]

HG: What do you enjoy most about quilting?

LC: I enjoy all of it, the whole process of just being there working with the fabric and being in my own mind and thinking about what I am thinking about, the cutting, the sewing. It is to me a very solitary activity where I can just sit back and think whatever I want to think about while I'm making the art. Very relaxing.

HG: Anything that you don't enjoy about the process?

LC: No. I like the whole thing. There is no step along the way that I have a problem with, I enjoy all of it.

HG: What makes a great quilt?

LC: What makes a great quilt? A quilt where the composition just worked, you just step back and you go ‘Wow, it really happened'. There is serendipity, the magic that happens, they are a gift. You just, you just know it when you see it. It came off, everything came together. And, for me it is mostly composition that creates the ‘wow.'

HG: What makes a great quilter? [laughs.]

LC: Someone that is dedicated to, someone who makes a great art quilter, I don't know. A great traditional quilter, someone who loves doing what they are doing. But a great art quilter is someone that is willing to be dedicated and to follow their own voice and not be distracted by all the outside noise out there. To do what they want to do and follow their vision.

HG: How can you learn quilting?

LC: How can I learn or how can the general public?

HG: How would someone learn to become a great quilter?

LC: By having the dedication to do it. I think a very large part of it is self-taught and practice. It is like the whole Carnage Hall thing, how do you get there, you practice, you make a lot of quilts. I have made hundreds of quilts, and that is how you become a great quilter. You don't make one and go, ‘Oh that worked.' You make hundreds and that's what it takes. You take classes here and there, but a couple of classes aren't going to do it, it's the experience of having done it yourself.

HG: Tell me about your social interactions with other quilters?

LC: I belong to a couple of online quilting groups where we just interact online, and it is a big support to my life. We've come to expect to talk everyday, to meet online. And if we go a day or two and no one has sent email, someone will say, ‘Hey, what's going on out there.' Because I'm sitting at my desk at work eight hours a day it's a nice way of keeping quilting in my life all the time. So the online groups are very important. I also belong to small critic group. We don't necessarily critic each other's work, but more we support each other. There are only five of us in the group and we get together once a month and talk about where we are going and what our goals are and what we would like to do in the future. We have had shows together. The largest group of my friends are probably artists.

HG: In what town in Colorado do you live?

LC: I live in Parker.

HG: Okay. Is that where your critic group is based?

LC: No, we are all over the Denver area. And, one of the members actually lives in Washington, DC.

HG: You're kidding. Well how does that work?

LC: [laughs.] She doesn't join us every month, we see her once or twice a year. She is here [in Philadelphia.] now, two members of my group are in this show, and so the friend from D.C. came up. It's a very focused group of women and we tend to get into a lot of these shows. So, it's kind of nice. See each other as we travel around the country. I joke I have to come out to Philadelphia to see my other friend from Denver, because she lives about an hour from me in Denver.

HG: Tell me about the importance of quilting in your life.

LC: Quilting is my life. [laughs.] [HG laughs.] Quilting is--I used to say, ‘It's what kept me sane through being a stay-at-home mom.' I am not sure I necessarily have a personality of someone who would be a good stay-at-home mom, to sit on the floor and play with their kids, and think that that was a fulfilling life. It's not that I didn't enjoy those parts of my life, but they were not enough and I needed something else to keep from going crazy, and that is what quilting did for me. It was a chance to have a part of my life for myself. And that is what it is--it is for me. I show the quilts and I don't do it just for the public, although that is an aspect of it, but really it's for me. The part of me that has to do this, I'm an artist.

HG: It fulfills you intellectually?

LC: Intellectually, creatively and pretty much everywhere.

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

LC: I think that traditional quilts are a big part of American heritage. I hear a lot of art quilters complaining that when the general public sees the word quilt the think ‘Oh, my grandma quilted.' But I think that there is a reason for that, and I think that it is an extremely important part of our heritage. I think that it signifies to us the hardships we went through to colonize this country. And, to us we are proud of that, we are proud of what we have done. I mean, certainly if we think about what we did to the Native Americans maybe we aren't so proud. [laughs.] But, it was very difficult what the Europeans did, they came here to this country, and I think quilts signify that. I think that when we think quilt, that it's not just the physical thing, but I think that is the image we have of these pioneers in Kansas that were stitching these quilts on the back of covered wagons and it's a nice legacy. It's a very important part of American life.

HG: How does what you do relate to that?

LC: What I do, to me, I love saying what I make are quilts. I don't say I make art quilts, I say I make contemporary quilts. I use all the same techniques that people were using a hundred years ago. I piece it and I quilt it. And, I'm not doing anything else. So, I make quilts. I feel that I am part of that tradition, a part of the American women that helped in the struggle to make America what it is and continue to make it what it is, to add to the arts in the country. It is very important I think, and my quilts fit into that.

HG: So you think quilts are important in women's lives?

LC: I do, and I think that goes back to what I was talking about. About how it fulfilled me and how it kept me sane. I think that quilting probably has kept a lot of women sane over the years. [laughs.] I suspect I'm not the only one that would answer the question that way, and one hundred years ago, I suspect, you know the quilting bees and being able to do that, and the lives of these women led were really hard, and I think quilting was probably the thing that they had for themselves that they could keep grounded with.

HG: Have quilts gotten you through tough times with things going on with your life?

LC: Yeah, they have. I have always quilted. It is rare for me to take a break from quilting. I went through a divorce five years ago, maybe it was six years ago, I can't remember, five years ago I think. And, I made a piece about a month or so after my husband had moved out of the house and it is a very dark piece, but it is a piece that grew from dark into a more lighter area, and for me that piece always signified my divorce. It took two years for me to finish that quilt, and to me that piece was really working through the divorce. And when I finished it, I thought, ‘Okay, now I can move on with my life, I have dealt with this issue,' and I think there are a lot of quilts in my life that probably capture things that I was going through in periods of my life. And it is not that I said, ‘I'm going to make a quilt that is about this issue,' it is the art, by nature of having made it at that time, it picks up some of those elements.

HG: How does it make you feel going back and experiencing those quilts, you know, years after they'd been created?

LC: Usually to me they are a positive experience. They are about moving on and having dealt with the issue in a positive way. So, to see them again is a positive thing for me. I keep my divorce quilt over my bed, so I see it everyday.

HG: You're kidding?

LC: Because the divorce quilt is about me growing and needing to understand that I lost myself in my marriage and I needed to find myself again, and it was about finding myself. So, it wasn't about the bad times, but about the growth that occurred afterwards and where I was looking to go with my life.

HG: How long have you had it above your bed?

LC: Let's see, I must have finished it in 2003 or 2004, since then.

HG: If someone came into your room, would they be able to look at it and tell it is about something that you had gone through?

LC: I suspect they might. It's very black. [laughs.] Half the quilt is all pieced and it is just black on black fabric. So it is very dark. They probably could tell what this quilt is about. When I show that quilt, I simply say ‘It's about my divorce,' and usually people view it as a very negative thing which is fine. Everyone brings their own ideas into it. I did show it to a bunch of divorced friends and they felt that the thing was great. [laughs.] I believe that it is probably one of my most successful pieces. When I show my work, that piece is generally everyone's favorite piece.

HG: Has it been in a show?

LC: It has. It has been in my solo show. It is on my website. Or at least it is on my blog, I don't know if it is on the website.

HG: You said that you still use your first quilt. Do you use any other quilts that you have made?

LC: I do. Being a stay-at-home mom, you can't not make your kids quilts. [laughs.] [HG laughs.] My kids unfortunately have a lot of quilts, and think their mom could make them a new quilt in a few minutes, because I remember one day. I had made my son several fire truck quilts, his whole bedroom was fire trucks. He loved fire trucks, and I made him this really detailed quilt for his bed and a couple of wall hangings and everything was fire trucks, and one day he drags a quilt into my room when he was about five years old and he says ‘I don't like fire trucks anymore' and he dumps the quilt on the floor and he says ‘I want a bug quilt.' So, I make him all these bug quilts. But I still use the fire truck quilt on my bed.

HG: You do? [laughs.]

LC: [laughs.] Yeah. I put a lot of work in that quilt, I'm going to use it now. But, I have dozens of quilts that I have made and use on my beds.

HG: What other quilts have you given as gifts?

LC: I used to give a lot of my quilts away, traditional quilts. My family all has quilts. My brother and sister all have quilts. Both quilts that hang on their wall and quilts on their bed, and my mom has some of my quilts and my dad has some of my quilts. My dad commissioned and paid for the first quilt I ever sold. He wanted a quilt for his bed, and I was in the middle of a move and I had a two year old son and I'm like, ‘Well, okay how about you pay for it'. [laughs.] So he did. So he has a really beautiful quilt on his bed that I made. I have a group of friends when I was a stay-at-home mom that we were very close and we all had kids the same age, within a couple of months of each other. We were brand new stay-at-home moms, and it was a pretty interesting experience to bond with each other that way. And, I taught most of them to quilt. A couple of them already knew how to quilt, and we would make baby quilts when we would have second children, but we spent a lot of time together quilting, and they each have the quilt that I either helped to make or have made for them. So, a lot of those friends do. I have never given away any of my, what I consider my contemporary quilts. I still own all that work or I have sold a couple of the pieces.

HG: What is the difference in your approach to making a quilt that is going to be used on a bed versus making one of your contemporary quilts?

LC: The difference is my point of view, and how much time I'm going to put into the quilting part of it. The quilt, the piece that is here in the show, the quilting is very detailed and very dense, and I never quilt my utilitarian quilts like that. I do them very, very quickly, because I know they are going to be used. The time it takes to quilt a piece, like the piece in the show, I simply don't have the time to do it for bed quilts. A lot of times the utilitarian quilts I will use commercial fabric, where I use hand dyed fabric in my art work.

HG: Okay. What is the life span of the hand dyed fabric?

LC: I don't know. I'm hoping a very long time. I do know it fades, and if it is put into direct sunlight, that is definitely a problem, but I also know that commercial fabric fades. So, it's not an issue unique to the hand dyed fabrics. The fabric, the dyes that are used in the hand dyed fabrics are the same dyes that are used in the fabric industry, or the garment industry, some of them. So, it's the same. I mean I use very high quality fabric. I use a very dense weave fabric, because I don't want it to fall apart over time. I think the dye is completely rinsed out and it is not a problem with the chemicals. It is how well you take care of it. Putting it in the sun, just like any fabric, it's just not going to last.

HG: What about batting for the contemporary quilts, versus utilitarian?

LC: I use the same. I use one hundred percent cotton batting in both of them.

HG: Okay. I have a question that I will relay to you from Bernie Hermann, who you met downstairs.

LC: Okay.

HG: He asked that I ask you about architecture in quilts. You have any comment on the architectural nature of the quilt that is downstairs?

LC: Architecture.

HG: Or how quilts might some how relate to architecture.

LC: Well certainly my quilts are directly related to architecture, because this one down here, maybe not as specifically as some of my other ones, like the one on the cover of Quilt of National is directly related to brick walls. I took a lot of pictures of brick walls. I was in New Zealand for five months and all I took a lot of pictures of brick walls, and ah. [interruption by someone.] So, my pieces are very directly tied to fences and walls and those types of architecture. I take a lot of pictures of buildings and bridges, and I definitely influenced by manmade structures.

HG: How can you communicate something like architecture in fabric?

LC: I don't think that I need to. That's not what I'm trying to do. Architecture is an influence that I have and when I look at the quilt that is what I see, but I don't feel a need to communicate to my viewer my vision. I simply need to make art, and they can respond anyway they want to. I don't feel the need to do that. I know there are people who try and do that, and might try and answer how to communicate architecture in fabric but I'm not looking to do that, I'm not looking to portray a fence physically, but it's more of the nature of what that fence might be. So, it's not the physical structure. And, in fact, if people don't even see that in my work, I'm fine with that, whatever they want to see in my work, I'm happy. As long as they have connected to it and they have some reaction, that's good enough for me.

HG: Do you use any kind of blueprint when you are starting to make a quilt?

LC: Not at all.

HG: How does it arise?

LC: I walk into my studio and when I'm ready to start a new quilt, I just look at my fabric, I pull out fabrics that I like, and I start putting them on the wall. There is no preplanning or thought usually whatsoever, it's just, it's what happens. I work in a series and so one piece does build onto another. So in that way I, if there were a blueprint it would be all the quilts that I have made previously in that series. It would be what goes into making this new quilt. That is what drives it, but there is no plan that I have written down on paper. It is all in my head. Very improvised.

HG: Elaine, are there any questions that have come up from you?

Elaine Johnson (EJ): I did have a couple of questions on this particular quilt. You use a lot of red threads for this.

LC: Right.

EJ: Was there a purpose in using red?

LC: I just thought it would look interesting. One of the things I was working on in this quilt was to use contrasting thread on top of the fabric. I generally use matching thread, so you see the texture but you don't see the thread quite so much, because it blends in by the color. So one of the things I was purposely looking for was a contrast, and the red was a thread that gave me quite a bit of contrast on those colors that I had selected. And I always think red thread looks really wonderful on top of other colors.

EJ: Do you have any influence with all the red work quilts?

LC: No, I have never made one. I have seen them, but that was not an influence. In fact, I hadn't even thought of that. It's interesting.

EJ: The other question was, you have the one contrasting color that you were talking about at the bottom of the quilt as being the one that didn't blend, and yet that is the lighter color in the whole.

LC: Right that is kind of interesting isn't it. [laughs.] But the interesting thing is that, you know, I have all this meaning attached to that quilt, but all of that meaning is not derived while making the quilt or before I make the quilt, it is all something that I look at afterwards and say, ‘What was going on in my life and what does this mean', and it's not that I made it up and it's not real, it's that I think that a lot of times we have to internalize what is going on in our life before we actually know what it is that has gone on. I think that it's a process, like the divorce quilt was not purposely made as a divorce quilt. I made a couple of other quilts at the time that were not that, it's just that I can go through my work and I can pick out things and I know what this was all about, and I think the more I make work the more I can identify what these pieces are actually about.

HG: Lisa, is there anything that I haven't ask that you would like to be preserved as part of this interview?

LC: No, I think you covered it all.

HG: Okay, well it was a pleasure seeing your work.

LC: Well thank you.

HG: And this is Heather Gibson, Elaine Johnson, and Lisa Call ending our interview. Thank you.


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