Karen Watts




Karen Watts




Karen Watts


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


Houston, Texas


Karen Musgrave


[Note: This interview was conducted via e-mail from February 1 -March 2, 2006.]

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Karen Watts of Houston, Texas. Since we are unable to do this in person because I live outside of Chicago, the interview is being conducted via e-mail. Thank you, Karen, for allowing me to interview you. While the purpose of this interview is to document the Alliance's raffle quilt, I would like to start out by having you tell us about how you got started making quilts.

Karen Watts (KW): I started making quilts in 1991 when a friend showed me a log cabin quilt she had just started. She had received the book "Quilts, Quilts, Quilts" for Christmas a few months before, and had another friend that quilted a lot. I immediately wanted to make one of my own, so I went to the local quilt shop, bought the same book, and went home and read it cover to cover. My first quilt was a 5 block sampler, set on point, made with blocks from that book. Unfortunately, that book did not talk about rotary cutters, so that first quilt was made using cardboard templates, a ball point pen, and scissors. Still, the blocks went together perfectly and I was hooked. I have made over 200 quilts since then!

KM: Two hundred quilts are pretty impressive especially in such a short period of time. I would definitely say that you are "hooked." Tell me about how you came to having your professional quilting business.

KW: I always enjoyed quilting my own quilts, but felt that it took too long and was difficult with a domestic sewing machine. When a local quilt shop asked me if I wanted to quilt for the shop on a longarm, I said, ‘Sure!' I quilted for the shop for almost a year, but was not real happy having to be away from the house for 3-4 days a week, and trying to get home before school was out. The only solution was to buy my own Gammill! Luckily it fit in what was supposed to be a formal dining room, and is a much better use of space.

KM: How many hours a week do you spend quilting for others? Do you still spend time working on your own quilts? I guess what I'm really asking here is how do you balance the two or do you?

KW: The time I spend quilting for others varies widely. Some weeks I quilt 3 customer quilts, some weeks none at all. I never intended to be a full-time quilter, but there are so many tops out there waiting to be quilted that, if I wanted to, I could do nothing else! This year my resolution is to quilt at least one of my own each month, but in January I did 4 of mine! With two teen-age kids coming and going I don't always get to quilt as much as I'd like to, but I try to strike a balance between quilting for others and piecing and quilting for me.

KM: Tell me about quilting The Alliance's raffle quilt, "The Voice of You and Me 2006."

KW: At first I was intimidated, but when I got the quilt I immediately could imagine some of the different quilting designs in the spaces. It's a fun quilt, so I decided to just have fun quilting it too! There were times when I had to walk away for a while then when I went back to it I had fresh ideas. It was also fun to use so many of my pretty threads, some of which I had not had an opportunity to use before.

KM: Tell me more about your decision making, the process. Describe some of the quilting.

KW: This is a hard question! When I decide how I will quilt a quilt, I look at the different areas with these questions in my mind: What does this area represent? What kind of print is on the fabric? Do I want the quilting to stand out or blend in? What color of thread would look best? On the Alliance quilt, I knew I wanted to use lots of different designs because the quilt uses so many fabrics. I also wanted the quilting to be somewhat whimsical, and to use many colors of thread. Some areas were easy such as the grass and flowers, and I could use designs that suggest plants (I think I quilted meandering leaves in the grass). Other areas simply needed a fun fill-in, so I looked at a sampler I did for a longarm class and picked designs from that. Sometimes I let the print on the fabric suggest the quilting design. Some areas stumped me for a while, and that is when I would walk away, do something else then go back to it. I think I quilted it over a period of 3 days, but the actual hours spent wasn't that long.

KM: The quilting is outstanding and fits the quilt perfectly. Is there anything you would have done differently now that it's over?

KW: I would need to see the quilt again to decide that! There probably is, because when you look at something again you always see things you could improve on. But overall, I was happy with the way it turned out, and I got some real positive feedback when you displayed the quilt at the Lakeview Quilters Guild meeting in January. So that made me feel very proud!

KM: One more question, how do you see longarm quilting influencing the future of quiltmaking?

KW: So much has changed already due to longarm quilting, I can hardly imagine what will come next. When I first started quilting in 1991, it seemed that longarm quilting was somewhat looked down upon, in fact, many quilters looked down on any machine quilting. In spite of that, I always knew I'd machine quilt all of my quilts because I don't enjoy hand work. Gradually machine quilting became more accepted then it seemed longarm quilting really exploded and started winning top prizes at major shows. Now the quilt tops are coming out of the woodwork! Quilters that have stockpiled their tops for years are getting them out and having them quilted quickly and inexpensively. If anything, they are encouraged to make even more tops because they know they won't have to struggle to quilt them. So I think the major influence is that the longarm will help to continue the boom in the quilting industry. Another influence would be the style and density of quilting being done. We see less of the quilting designs that are hard to do on a longarm, such as cross-hatching, and more free-form, creative designs. Also, many longarm quilted quilts are more densely quilted than others due to the ease in filling a space with a lot of quilting lines. Every year at Quilt Festival there are more longarm patterns, rulers, templates, and new techniques for us to try, and it's anyone's guess what the next innovation will be. It's definitely an exciting time to be a quilter!

KM: Thanks not only for giving of yourself to this quilt and The Alliance for American Quilts but to quilting as a whole. You are wonderful. Please if there is anything else that you would like to share, do so at this time.

KW: I'd just like to say thanks for the opportunity to be involved in this quilt, and I hope it's very successful for The Alliance.

KM: Thanks again. This concludes my interview with Karen Watts. It's March 2, 2006.



“Karen Watts,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1442.