Deb Cashatt




Deb Cashatt




Deb Cashatt


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Cameron Park, California


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Deb Cashatt. Deb is in Sacramento, [actually Cameron Park.] California and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is January 26, 2009, and it is now 1:05 in the afternoon. Deb thanks so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me.

Deb Cashatt (DC): You're welcome.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt "The Picture is Only Half the Story."

DC: This was a quilt that my partner and I worked on together. We create our art together jointly so it's not like a quilting bee. It is just like we find each other and say, 'Oh we want this and that.' But this is a quilt celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama to the presidency and we heard there was a call for entry I think on the QuiltArt List. 'Wouldn't it be fun to do quilts marking this event.' That's why we made the quilt. It's a whole cloth quilt. We first started by choosing specific words and phrases out of newspapers, magazines and catalogues and anything we thought reflected hope and change and some of the, all the things that people were putting on to him. Like one of them is 'more than ever' and 'the change agent' and things like that. What we did is that we took all these snippets of clippings and we put them on a piece of paper and we created a portrait of Barack Obama using the snippets so basically it is just a value portrait and then we wanted to put some other text behind it of something that he was telling us so we chose to excerpt--well we actually put the whole speech of his race speech and I can't remember where it came from ["A More Perfect Union," Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 18, 2008.], I will have to have Kris do that one, onto a computer. So, we scanned the portrait once we made it and we did some manipulation in the computer mostly just sharpening some of the tiny words that we couldn't see and then we put his speech on race behind him and printed it out. Now the whole speech is not visible, you can just see portions of it but what we liked was it was still really important words, such as to continue the long march, worth caring, choice to run for the presidency, solve the challenges, together, we hold common, we may not look the same, from the same place, same direction, towards a better, children and our grandchildren. They don't really make any sense, but you get the essence of what he was talking about. Then we love to hand stitch with Perle cotton, so we backed the fabric with a very subtle Hawaiian print. It is dark blue and black and that was intentional to represent his Hawaiian times. Then we stitched around the text snippets with Perle cotton in various colors and then we stitched an overall. We call it maggot stitching. It looks like a bunch of little worms going every which way and that is all over the quilt except for the actual portrait. I think I've described it.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

DC: We entered it in this, I can't remember the name, see I shouldn't be in this room [laughs.] and the name of the exhibit is "President Obama:" [pause.]

KM: A Celebration.

DC: "A Celebration of Art in Art Quilts" ["President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts at the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Arts Center (King Street Gallery) in Silver Spring, Maryland, February 9 through March 5, 2009.] or something like that and this will be the inSilver Spring at the Montgomery College Art place. Kris will do a much better job on this I'll have to tell her to get all the information.

KM: That is okay. We can always add things so that is not a big deal. When it comes back to you at the end of March, what are your plans for it?

DC: Probably enter it in a couple of other shows. We haven't looked. I don't think we have exact plans for it. Eventually we would like to sell it, but we like to show it off because we think makes an impressive statement.

KM: Tell me about your partnership with Kris and how you collaborate.

DC: I've known her for thirty years. We have been in business together for five and what we do is we have an idea, or we see, one of us will see something in a call for entry and say oh we should do this. In addition to the fifty million other ideas, we have written down and want to do but this one had a deadline on it and we were supportive of Barack Obama, so we thought this was a good one for both of us to participate in. How we collaborate? Well, I think both of us have a lot of fun clipping out the text for magazines and we will just make a big pile of the snippets and usually we have a black pile, and we will have a white pile and then maybe a blue pile and a red pile and then sometimes we will ask each other, 'What do you like?' 'Is this word, okay? 'Or is this phrase, okay? Then we will take a break and say, 'No,' because she didn't want any reference to [President George.] Bush in here so maybe 'change' was okay but she didn't want any reference of the previous administration. I let her have her way on this one. Other times we will fight over things, and I will be insistent, or she will be insistent and we just sort of go from there. I think our big thing was in this quilt when we started doing the overall, the maggot stitching. We are going to have to find a better word. I said, 'I want to do it over everything, not just on the black background but over the text that we had printed on the background as well,' and she said, 'Well I don't think that is going to look good.' I said, Well I'm going to do it and you can decide if you like it or not and then we will fight [laughs.] and decide who gets to win on this one.' Once we did probably four inches or something like that then she really liked it. I think one of the things is that you can't even tell that there is stitching over the whole thing unless you look at it, look at it up close or get a detail shot. That is sort of how our collaboration works. We also talk to other friends, 'This is what we are thinking of doing.' Kris, her background is in writing so she can spin anything so a lot of times we create something and then she says, 'Okay, this is what we should write about it.' Often times the piece comes first and then she can create the story behind it, if that makes any sense. [KM agrees.] When it came down to writing, choosing the text for the portrait, after the fact she said, 'You know these are the what society and the American people and everybody else are projecting onto Obama and the background text is what he is telling us so it will be interesting in the years to come to see how, what, if he is able to live up to our hopes and dreams.'

KM: Is this piece typical of your work?

DC: We've done several pieces like this now with the clips of text. I think that's just really fun for us. I don't know why but we sit outside usually on a [laughs.] nice day and we just start cutting out paper and we have ideas for several other pieces using this technique. I think the other think that is sort of typical of our work is that we print our own fabric so we are able, and this is why we choose to go into business together is that this might be a service we could provide for other people and eventually oh yes we could make money at it but turned out a little differently and that is sort of off topic but we do, we do print up to 42-inch wide and we use fiber reactive dye on the cotton and we print and then we steam and then we rinse and wash and then the color. Everything is permanent so people can wash it again. You could make clothing with this or whatever. The third thing that is sort of typical of our work is that we love to sew with Perle cotton. I think it is a textural thing, we love to touch it. When we are talking about our quilts or when we are showing our quilts to small groups, we tell them, 'Touch it. Feel it.' Because to me that is part of what fabric and fiber, and quilts are--the ability to touch them and it is unfortunate in a show that people can't come up to it and rub their hands over it and have this feeling or connection with the quilt. So, I think that is the three things- the snippets of words, the Perle cotton and the printing technique is pretty typical of our work.

KM: Tell me about your business.

DC: We started about five years ago. Kris was a professor of German, and she didn't get tenure in Massachusetts. I told her to come home, we will start a business. Eventually she came home, home being California, and that summer we sat around in the pool, and we said, 'What can we do? What do we like to do? [laughs.] How can we make a business and do the things that we love?' We love computers. We are very crafty, always have been. She is a big knitter. I was always a sewer. I've been sewing since I was seven and Kris also sews but probably, I sew better than she does. She writes better than I do so we have really a lot of complementary skills. What we did was we said oh we like these things, and I told her that I had seen the digital atelier women who are from Colorado and Massachusetts and somewhere else. [Digital Atelier artists Karin Schminke, Dorothy Simpson Krause, and Bonny Lhotka.] It was three women that I saw at a computer show in San Francisco probably oh, fifteen years ago. They were printing on fabric, and it was water fast and you could wash it and everything and it was just beautiful, and I had seen some of the iron transfers at that time. There weren't too many of the ink jet printing sheets when they were around, but I said oh that is something that I needed to know how to do. So, I, that year I bought a small 13" wide Epson printer and started printing on fabric just for myself. When you're printing on fabric, the nozzle clogs a lot, so I was always having to take it in to repair and if I wanted to change the dyes, for example from cotton, fiber reactive dyes on cotton to acid dyes on silk you know then I wasted a lot of ink, and it was very difficult to do it alone and just for yourself. When we were discussing what to do with the business, we said, okay I think that if we got out to quilters this is something that they would appreciate so we could fund our creative endeavors by selling photographs or printed things that quilters want and it turned out just the opposite, we were actually getting more sales on our silk scarves that we were custom designing and printing for people and the quilters seemed to think oh I can do that myself and a lot of people do it themselves and then they come to us and they say well your know your color is so good or mine washed out or this and that. I don't know if I can tell you a story about a situation.

KM: Sure, if you want.

DC: We had a woman come to us. Actually, called Kris up, I think Friday night, in tears because she had made a quilt for a friend who had leukemia. I think a sixteen-year-old boy or something like that and he was in the hospital and not doing very well so they wanted to give him this quilt and the hospital said, 'You have to wash it first.' When she washed the quilt--

KM: Oh no.

DC: Her colors all faded, and they sort of faded to black and white which would have been fine but actually the people looked very ghostly and so you could see maybe eyes and hair or something and it was, she just was beside herself, so Kris said, 'Bring everything you've got. Bring the quilt, the pictures, everything and come on Monday morning and we will look at this and see what we can do.' What we ended up doing was printing copies of what she had already appliquéd on and printed them like an 1/8 inch larger and she just appliquéd them over the top of what she had, and they worked night and day and finished this and the young man got to sleep with it for a few days before he passed away. We finally met the other woman who was part of this collaborative effort probably six months later and it is one of those moments when you think, 'Okay, we've done something to make somebody really happy.' We get a lot of joy in helping people to express their vision and that was a really good outcome a really good story. [laughs.]

KM: How did you come up with the name?

DC: Pixeladies. Pixel is the smallest little element on a computer monitor. We consider ourselves ladies sometimes so [laughs.] that we said, 'Okay we could be Pixeladies,' and then we said, 'Oh it also sounds like Pixilated.' Well let me back track a minute, pixelated is when an image becomes--it's not blurry but it is just blocky when it's enlarged and doesn't look very good. Probably a good example is what is happening to TV right now, you see a lot of the pixels on the screen as they are doing this transition to digital TV but pixilated, p-i-x-i-l is being slightly tipsy, and Kris and I have been known to drink a little bit. [KM laughs.] That was a good combination of [laughs.] of who we are and what we do. [laughs.]

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

DC: Let's see. I have, I've been sewing for years and years. I probably made my first quilt when I was about fifteen or sixteen and I used that awful polyester batting, and I can't even remember what the pattern was. It was a traditional pattern, and it was in the early seventies. I made it with awful fabric, I didn't really know too much about combining values and things like this so I didn't really put a lot of planning into it and it turned out what should have been dark was light and what should have been light was dark so I just almost had a negative image of what I was really looking for in this quilt but I had it for years and years and I think I probably got rid of it a couple of years ago. We had been using it for covering up certain [laughs.] furniture when you are moving or things like that. Then I don't know when my mom took a class, probably early eighties I would think and she was having fun with it and I thought, 'Oh this looks like fun, but I couldn't envision myself really doing traditional quilts as far as following a pattern.' That really just didn't appeal to me so I would just put together things in whatever manner I wanted and mostly they would be for wall quilts. I did probably in the eighties, I did a traditional type block but I skewed it because I had read somebody's quilting book on drafting diamonds. Gosh, I wish I could remember who that was but it told how you basically redraft a block so it was a diamond shape instead of a square and that I found really fun so I made a cat quilt that was a cat block and set it on, set in diamond shapes and made it like Tumbling Blocks so each face of the block had a cat on it and I was really good with shading and the values on it so it truly looked like a set of six blocks with a cat on it. I think that was probably the last traditional quilt I did although I have to tell you the background of that quilt, the background fabric for that quilt came from upholstery fabric so I've worked in fabric stores, and I've never felt tied to cotton fabrics. A quilt doesn't have to be cotton for me and that is how I got started. When probably--let's see this would have been also--let's see Heather is twenty now, so probably about twenty years ago a high school friend of mine had a daughter and she thought it would be really neat if her daughter had a quilt made like the map of the U.S. so that she could put her pins on it. They collected pins whenever they went to some place and so I said, 'Oh that sounds wonderful,' so I made Heather a quilt out of the U.S. map so that each state was--a very realistic map. I can't remember how I did that. I think I probably hand pieced it and the back is awful. I didn't really know about stretching backs or things like that at the time so it was pretty hideous but she loves it and so I always thought of quilts as wall hangings and that is just where I've gone. I also like to commemorate events so since I've had such an attachment with fabric whenever I go on trips I tend to buy fabric type souvenirs and I think one of the big ones I did is when I went to Ghana in 1996, I bought a batik that was a fishing scene and then I built the quilt around this batik and each block, which was very irregular represented some part of my trip so for me doing quilts can also be like a souvenir or a memory quilt. We teach a class on memory quilts, trying to get people to view them instead of "picture, block, picture, block" as something that has meaning, that tells a story and that's probably where I have come from is that it is more important to me that the quilt has a story to tell, has a message and it might just be for me. In the Ghana quilt, there is a Morse code message in there, there is a lot of symbolism and there is, I think I stylized my name and put it in there. I had to take anti-malaria pills so there are little dots in there that are supposed to represent the malaria pills. I think there is a Pineapple Block in there because the pineapple was so wonderful, so I did a traditional Pineapple block and then beaded a drawing of a pineapple over it sideways which you really have to look to see this. Then when Kris and I got into business together we made her dad a quilt honoring her dad and we did a lot of the same types of things so if our quilts don't have Perle cotton and text, they probably have pearl cotton and blocks that have meaning to us that we are trying to tell a story with.

KM: Do you always hand quilt your quilts?

DC: No that is the funny thing. We hate hand quilting. We just love Perle cotton, so we had some piece judged and one of the judges' comments was, 'I like your long quilting stitches.' so we never attempt to try to make small little traditional hand quilting stitches. For us, it is all about the Perle cotton, so we don't really consider it quilting even though we are just sewing through all the layers with Perle cotton, and I think we have some ideas about expanding that so that become more of the focus of the quilt instead of what the image is on the quilt.

KM: You did this by machine?

DC: This one was all hand.

KM: Okay.

DC: We do a lot of machine quilting, but it happened to be that this one we did all by hand. It is sort of bringing the old with the new so the technology for us making the whole cloth part is very modern and the hand sewing is very traditional.

KM: How do you decide when to hand quilt and when to machine quilt?

DC: When we have time, when we think it would matter, sometimes it's easier for us to say, 'Oh if we stitched with the pearl cotton, it would add something,' and a lot of times it's when we can't figure out how we would machine quilt it. I think that's for us a big deal. I think I considered at one time machine stitching around the letters of the race speech and that just seemed like, 'Oh that would take forever.' Kris hates the stitching of letters with machine quilting as if you were handwriting the message. She doesn't care for that, so I was happy to say, 'Okay we don't have to do that. We'll just print the text.' I don't know why I thought about just stitching over it. We probably had seen someone's quilt in Quilting Arts ["Textural Play" by Rose Hughes, Quilting Arts, June/July 2008 and "Elly's Garden" by Laura Wasilowski, Quilting Arts, October/November 2007.] that had a lot of textural hand stitching. I think we both saw a quilt and said, 'Isn't this cool?' 'Isn't this cool?' Then said, 'That would work.' A lot of times that's what will happen.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking and your business?

DC: My husband is very supportive, and I think he loves it because he can help us with the technology. He is our hardware kind of guy. He would say, 'Oh you need a new computer.' 'You need this now,' so we let him do that. My mom is a good customer of ours and she likes to quilt so she likes to have us print photos and things for her. She's more of a blocky person than we are. [laughs.] She says she likes our quilts. I think for us the Obama quilt living where I do in El Dorado County--I'm not in Sacramento I'm in the foothills so this is a very conservative area and this election it was sort of like you were very happy if you found someone else who was pro Obama and it was like you had to hide your political identity around here and the more people you find that would, you know that were politically like you it was like a little club and so we found out we could show the quilt to more people than we thought because we didn't want to offend customers so we tried to keep politics out of our business but this one we just happened to love and show it to a lot of people so it was pretty fun and it was sort of like coming out of the closet. [laughs.]

KM: What were people's reactions to the quilt?

DC: Usually they are amazed. People that don't know what we do always say how did you do that and so we have to explain the printing process to most people. The people that we tend to show it to really like it because [laughs.] most of the time, they are like-minded but other people that see it that we know aren't politically aligned with us. They still can appreciate the quilt for what it is, for the work that is involved in it.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

DC: I'm, this is a time when I'm not sitting in front of the computer or a book or anything and when I'm going through memory loss and I'm just brain dead. I just can't remember anything anymore, so I have to write it down. There is a woman who does portraits Alice somebody [Alice Neel]and she draws her portraits, but she tends to outline in a blue and that to me was something that I really admired especially when I was taking a beginning drawing class and you were told not to outline so when you saw somebody who was in the portrait gallery who had blue outlines I thought it was very interesting. When I first saw Chuck Close's work, I felt like I had met a kindred spirit because I always wanted to do quilts where the blocks were like pixels in a computer. Tammy Bowser has a great technique for creating those types of quilt and it is just, I always, I wonder why didn't I think of that. She did so, it is so great so I'm glad somebody did think of it and her technique is wonderful and it is accessible to a lot of people even if they aren't very computer savvy. Who else? Rosalie Dace, I love her work. She is from South Africa, and I took a class from her at Pacific International one time and I would love to do that again.

KM: What is her work like?

DC: It tends to be lines. It is texture. It is texture. It's just an abstract form and a lot of lines. She is influenced by African design sensibility where it doesn't have to be very regular, and I like that. Who else, there is just so many people that I admire their work and I really feel awful because I can't name them off the top of my head right now.

KM: That is okay. What advice would you offer someone starting out?

DC: In what?

KM: Quiltmaking.

DC: Do what makes you happy. We teach a class where we try--it's called The Pixeladies Piece Party and it's basically a Crazy Quilt. We promote it as 'get out of your block and just be free,' and for most people this is really hard and for other people they have said, 'Oh I've been waiting for permission to do what I want to do.' 'I get bored making a block and I just want to put colors together or textures together.' So, if you are the kind of person that likes to build a puzzle and you derive pleasure from that I think traditional quilting is a good thing. If you just need to be free and just, try a bunch of techniques. Go for it. You can put it together. Don't feel like you're limited to cotton. We try to tell people, 'Don't worry about the quilt police. Make something that makes you happy.' I think that is the advice I would give.

KM: Tell me about your teaching.

DC: Well, I teach PhotoShop to adults. I like that because it gives me contact with people. Sometimes when you're home and working out of your home studio you don't get as much [laughs.] contact and then Pixeladies teach several classes. We teach the Piece Party class which is a lot of fun. I think that is one of the most, I get the most pleasure out of teaching that because some people are just so resistant. 'I can't do this without a pattern,' and if you ever see them break out, I just I like that. We also teach a memory quilt class where we try to get people to tell a story in their quilt and not just do 'picture, block, picture, block.' We design four purse patterns and so we will teach those too for guilds and things like that. I think that is what we basically teach. We really like to teach. I do and I know Kris does and I think that to us is more fun than printing the fabric. [laughs.]

KM: How do you balance your time?

DC: That is a good question. We are not very good at saying no to people, so we tend to put our work aside if somebody needs something printed. We are going to try this year to be better at and say, 'Okay we will only print on the last week of the month so you will have to wait [laughs.] until then,' and then we would have more time to work on our own projects. When you have a small business or really with life in general, there are so many things you could be doing and should be doing that if you are bored with something you stop and do something else because there are always fifty things that need to be taken care of. We don't have a bookkeeper or secretary, so we have to do that and that takes up a lot of our time. Takes away from our creative work. We try to set goals where we are only going to work on our art you know on this day and so far, we have been really bad at it so we are going to try a lot harder this year [laughs.].

KM: Describe your studio.

DC: I live in a rural area. It probably, at one point, was a two-car garage and but it was built into a studio when we moved here. I think it is about five hundred square feet and that is for both Kris and me and [laughs.] we are growing out of it so we have two huge Epson printers 9600. We have two sewing machines. We have several sewing machines for space with two out at a time and we have two computer workstations. Then we have about a 6 by 6 table in the middle. Well not really in the middle, on one wall that sticks out and underneath that is boxes of fabric. We have a wall of closets that are full of fabric. We have a cabinet full of beads. We have boxes full of yard. I'm a pack rat and Kris is not. If somebody says, 'Oh my grandmother passed away and she had a lot of fabric do you want it.' I will say, 'Yes,' and then we will try to go through it and figure out what we want to keep and what we don't. We have had a lot of those [laughs.] donation [laughs.] inheritances so we have some really cool fabric plus I've had fabric all my life. I worked at a fabric store. I had quite a stash before Kris came and we have buttons galore, probably it was about two or three years ago when we decided we would co-mingle our button collections so that was a sign that we were in this for the long haul. [laughs.] What else do we have in the studio? We have lots of books, books on design, books on quilting, books on art, we have clip art, the Dover clipart books sometimes when we need an Indian design we will go through those books and say, 'Something like this would work.' And oh, what else is in there? All our rolls of fabric to print on. We buy them already backed with paper and treated. We have 42-inch long rolls up one wall of silk and cotton. There is a bathroom in the studio and the bathtub is full of batting and pillow forms. There is a kitchen in the studio which has a small refrigerator and a small stove and sink.

KM: So basically, you never have to leave.

DC: It's true, if we had a spot for a bed we would never have to leave. Fortunately, it is attached to my house so I can just come down whenever the mood strikes me. Kris has to commute about an hour each day so it's hard for her, so we are also trying to be better about dividing our work. 'Oh, this is just secretarial. I-can-do-it-from-home type things,' so she doesn't have to commute.

KM: I should point out that I said you were in the wrong location, you are actually in Cameron Park, California.

DC: It's cold in the winter and hot in the summer. We have a swamp cooler [laughs.] but we also have air conditioning in the main house that we ducted over to the studio and the heating is ducted over to the studio too, but it doesn't, for California cold. I'm saying it can be cool if we were someplace else [laughs.] we definitely would have to consider separate heating. That's pretty much. We would like to have more space, but this is free, so this is what we have. [laughs.]

KM: Is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude?

DC: I don't think of anything. I think this has been wonderful. I just wish I had a better memory so I could tell you who I admire and. [laughs.]

KM: You can always add it. You can always add it. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to share with me and we are going to conclude with our interview at 1:50.


“Deb Cashatt,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,