Susan Kerr




Susan Kerr




Susan Kerr


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Salser Family Foundation


Boonville, California


Kim Greene


Note: Susan Kerr was hoarse and had a bad cough when this interview was conducted. The coughing which occurred throughout the interview was not included in the transcription which is the usual Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories transcription procedure. However, we felt it would distract from the interview.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Susan Kerr. It is 3:22 in the afternoon on March 8, 2007, and I'm in Boonville, California. Susan, thank you for letting me interview you.

Susan Kerr (SK): Thank you for doing it.

KM: Tell me about the quilt that you brought.

SK: This quilt is part of a series that was made by the Mendocino Quilt Artists for the Ultimate Group Challenge. The quilt is called "Mayan Mornings." Our challenge was called "Bed Quilts." They all have a bed which occupies a third of the picture; a quilt on the bed that is actually quilted or pieced, and a living creature. I chose to make a Mayan mother in a hammock inside a cane hut, probably somewhere in the Yucatan, except it can't be the Yucatan because there are mountains in the background, so it is probably Guatemala. This is her first born baby. She has just had him and she is lying in her hammock resting, which she never gets to do in the morning, and she will get to do this for forty days. Her mother will bring her food to her and take care of her. After the forty days and the blessing of the baby and the birth, she will get up, put him on her back, and go on about her work. It's not actually very realistic—the Mayan don't make quilts.

KM: Where is this fabric from? [pointing to the quilt.]

SK: It is Guatemalan fabric.

KM: That is what I was going to say. That is Guatemalan fabric that you made into the quilt.

SK: And this is a hand dye I bought and then painted on.

KM: Then it has a dimensional flower. [pointing to the flower on the quilt.]

SK: The Maya tend to use a lot of these in ceremonies. I can never think of what these are called.

KM: I'm drawing a blank also, but I know what you are talking about though.

SK: They use a lot of these in ceremonies, so I just wanted to put one up here, and this is a.

KM: Is it a bromeliad?

SK: Right a bromeliad. This is a limestone floor. Outside here is their cornfield, their "milpa" and some other little houses in the distance. In Mayan houses the door goes through all the way, you go in the front and come out the back.

KM: So you have been there.

SK: Yes.

KM: When did you go there?

SK: In the past ten years, probably four times to Mayan country to southern Mexico to Chiapas and the Yucatan and then to parts of Guatemala.

KM: What caused you to be interested in going to that part of the world?

SK: I have been a bilingual teacher my whole career. I have loved to go to Mexico for ever. I went with a teacher when I was 15. I used to only get to go to northern Mexico when I was young, to Sonora and Sinaloa, and then maybe fifteen years ago, I started going to places like Puerto Vallarta, and then I just started going farther. I went with a group to Chiapas and San Christobal de las Casas. There we were doing was witnessing, sort of like Witness for Peace, hearing the stories of the Maya who have been so badly abused by the militias and the government there. I have been to the Yucatan mostly just for fun, I spent several weeks in Caxaca in a small village working in schools there. I have only made pleasure trips to Guatemala. I would like to go there sometime and work. I thought would retire from teaching and live in Mexico at least half the year and probably volunteer in schools teaching reading, because there is no special ed [education.] to speak of in Mexico. If you don't learn what you are suppose to learn in a grade as a young child then you repeat the grade and if you don't get past third grade then you just don't go anymore. So there are a lot of kids who don't ever finish, who don't learn to read well enough. So my idea was to go and teach reading in small groups to kids that needed it. But I haven't done it yet.

KM: How do you use this quilt?

SK: It is a wall hanging.

KM: Is it in your home?

SK: I have sold it.

KM: Okay.

SK: The person who has bought it won't be taking possession of it until after PIQF [Pacific International; Quilt Festival.]. It is going to two other shows and it is going to be hung in our group show in the library in Ukiah. We always do a group show in May and June, so it will be hanging there for a while with the others in the series.

KM: How did this do in the competition?

SK: We won first place. Three years ago we won with quilts that were called, "Shall We Dance." Those had to have two figures dancing and again mine were Mexican women dancing from Tehuantepec. If you think about the clothing that Frieda Kahlo wore with the wide lace on the skirt and that is how they are dressed. Women there have very, very strong personalities and have a very strong place in their villages, because the men have traditionally gone off to work in the coffee fields, so it is not unusual there for women to dance together. It is a wonderful place. So the quilt is called, "Las Tehuanas" which means women fromTehuantepec.

KM: When did you start quilting?

SK: Maybe ten years ago. I liked really old fashioned quilts and I had seen the musical "Quilters" in Los Angeles when it opened there, and it just took my heart away. So I started making miniature quilts by hand as old fashion looking as I could make them. I had Gwen Marston's books called, "Twenty Little Four Patch Quilts" and "Twenty Little Log Cabins." That is where I started, and then I just kind of moved on and started making other things and started buying Quilting Arts Magazine when it first came out, about the second issue. I came on the work of Susan Shie, and the chicken scratch quilting so I started making things in that style. It was so much fun. Then I just started making artier things and at some point I took a class with Laura Fogg, and it just changed my life. I took another class and another one; I have sold pieces that I started in her classes. Then when there was an opening in the group [Mendocino Quilt Artists.], she invited me to join.

KM: How long have you been with the quilt group?

SK: Four years. Three years ago we won Best in Show with our eight quilts, which at that time was a five thousand dollar prize, which we used to help defray our airfare to Houston and our retreat house on the coast. This time, they had eliminated the five thousand dollar prize and just had first place. That was twice that we had won and we are not going to enter again.

KM: Sounds good to me.

SK: The year intervening, we didn't win anything. We made quilts called, "It Takes Time." They were meant to show things happening over time, and mine was the history of quilting in four stages. But we didn't win; I don't think they hung together well enough. You couldn't walk by them and say 'These quilts are about time passing.'

KM: It wasn't cohesive enough. So is this quilt typical of your style?

SK: I don't usually work this big, this is big for me.

KM: You like smaller things?

SK: Smaller things, but heavy stitching is something I like to do, and I like to use lots and lots of different fabrics. I like to paint on them or use colored pencils. I like to use a lot of different techniques in a quilt, so in that sense it is typical.

KM: Do you have any quiltmaking in your family?

SK: No. None at all. I learned to crochet and knit from my grandmother, and actually to tat, which I have forgotten, but it was fun. No, nothing else. I learned to sew in high school and to embroider when I was about seven in Brownies [a Girl Scout program.]

KM: Why is quilting important to your life?

SK: I have always loved sewing machines and making things. I made my own clothes for years when I was younger, and I just love sitting at a sewing machine and sewing. I also love hand sewing. I love the texture of quilting. I originally just loved the history of it, the idea of the old quilts and making quilts out of what you had. Now I'm completely and totally hooked. I always have several in process.

KM: How much time a week do you spend doing quilting?

SK: If that includes thinking about it or reading about it, that would probably be fifteen or twenty hours. I work three days a week.

KM: What is your profession?

SK: I'm a retired bilingual teacher, but now I work as a behavioral specialist for the local county Office of Education and I work for First Five Mendocino. The way that California has used the tobacco money is to sponsor programs for children zero to five. This is a program where we consult with parents and teacher of children five and under who are having behavior issues. Part of the project is a universal screening project where we do a number of screens on children in those age groups looking for developmental, behavioral, emotional delays so that we can refer them to appropriate services. I work in Willits, which is 30 minutes north of Ukiah. This little alternative lifestyle town is up in the mountains. I also work in Covelo, which is a large Native American community. It is the place where California took the Indians when they wanted to move them away. It is a community with many, many needs.

KM: Tell me about your connection with Los hilos [Los hilos de la vida (Threads of Life) quilt group.].

SK: The first year I was a behavioral specialist for the county I was assigned to work one day a week in Anderson Valley. I came over here and was working in the preschools mostly trying to model for teachers and help them with behavior issues and classroom structure, and I met Molly [Johnson Martinez.]. She was talking about how her students needed something to do with their hands. We got to be friends. I got to see some of her wonderful art in paper, and then I brought some of my quilts over to show her. That was when she had the idea of having a quilting class for her students. At first I said that I could not possibly do it, I couldn't do that, I can't teach quilting, and the other thing is that I'm not being paid to teach quilting! So we called it a behavior class and they would quilt while we talked about behavior. We did try to do that, and I brought in fabric. We didn't have sewing machines. I showed them how to cut up and make pictures with fabric. The original ones were done by hand, and eventually we got old sewing machines donated and they started using them. We got tons and tons of fabric donated from different stores and from my quilt group and other quilt groups, and it just has grown. So at the end of that year, when I finally did tell people that I work for that I was having this quilting class, 'a quilting/behavior class,' they said that is wonderful because it is support for the moms. If the moms are happy, you know they are going to be better moms and if they feel like they have something for themselves that they are doing, they are going to be better mothers and have happier kids. I think that is true. At the end of the year, we had a show at Lauren's Restaurant. Have you been to Lauren's?

KM: No.

SK: Lauren's is one of the nice restaurants here, and the show was an incredible success. It was attended by people from the County Office of Education, like the superintendent of schools for the county and virtually everybody in Boonville came. People sold their quilts, and that was really the big beginning. Sometime before that we had come up with the name, which means the Threads of Life, because it just seemed to be a wonderful name. It was really easy for me to connect with these women, because I have spent my whole career working with lots and lots of immigrant women and their children, and I have great affection for the culture and for what the women go through being here. So I felt very comfortable. I think the fact that I was so familiar with their culture and their experiences helped them to be able to begin to depict those in their quilts. The crossing of the border quilts, the celebrations at home, and things like that. I have seen incredible growth, just unbelievable growth in their art. For a long time, we had a hard time with borders. Deanna [Apfel.], who is one of the teachers, has been great with teaching borders. She is really good with technique and has taught that a lot. Last year, I realized I could not work four days a week and since my other three days are all together, I really felt I had to give this one up because it is in the total opposite direction.

KM: Do you miss the group?

SK: Oh terribly, yes, I love them. I have been able to go on fieldtrips with them when they have gone, or to their shows. I feel very close to several of the women—but there are also many new members.

KM: You brought another piece of work, should we talk about that briefly?

SK: Sure.

KM: You said this is more typical of what you do.

SK: I tend to work smaller.

KM: What was the inspiration? Tell me the story behind this quilt.

SK: I bought a little package of hand dyes, or hand painted fabrics in Houston. They were maybe six inches square, eight of them, and I couldn't figure out what to do with them. They had been sitting on my dining room table. I was looking at them one day and I thought, they say 'picket fence' to me. So I cut them in slices and made them into a picket fence, and then realized I had to have mountains and a yard. I like to buy hand dyes; I don't hand dye myself. I buy small pieces, or quarter yards of hand dyes at shows, and so I went through my stash and found this sky piece, and this hand dyed velvet and this piece and they all just worked out. I was going to put a bunny in the picture, but it felt too trite. I settled on the Adirondack chairs. The title is "Invitation"--so you can come and sit wherever you want. The hills look this at four or five in the afternoon. This is kind of typical of what I do, small. I have been in the Journal Quilt Project. I have a quilt in their book. I am trying to work bigger. I have gotten now where four times journal quilt size [8.5 inches by 11 inches.] is pretty comfortable for me.

KM: A journal quilt size is a sheet of paper.

SK: Right. Eight and a half by eleven. I like square quilts. I like to do sliced up quilts too, where I layer fabrics and just slice them and mix them up and sew them back together. I usually like to have one fabric that is common to all blocks. So after I combine two and cut them up, I will add the one that is going to be consistent all the way through and slice them all together.

KM: Do you preplan?

SK: No.

KM: Did you preplan this?

SK: Not really.

KM: Just go into it very intuitively?

SK: Very intuitively. Some of this (the woman in the hammock) I sketched first. But I work it out as I'm going.

KM: Have advances in technology influenced your work at all? Do you use a computer?

SK: I use a computer for research a lot; look at images to get inspiration. I love to look at other people's websites and blogs and see where they are going. Last year in Houston I bought a Janome 6600, because I have always had a small machine without very many stitches. I don't want to embroider, but I did want some decorative stitches, and I wanted the larger arm space. I am very happy with that machine.

We have a quilt retreat in the winter every year on the coast, and usually we do skits. Last time, I got to be the director with three other people, so I titled it "Pimp My Sewing Machine." Are you familiar with "Pimp My Ride"?

KM: Right.

SK: So that was my idea. It was about how I always have these old crummy sewing machines. I brought one of the worst ones that has ever been donated to the Los hilos and talked about how all the other people had "Jay-nomes" and "Husky Vikings," and then we painted mine and put glitter on it and jewels and a boa so that it would be just as good as the machines everyone else had.

KM: What a great idea.

SK: I thought it was funny but nobody in the group had seen "Pimp My Ride."

KM: So they kind of didn't get the whole thing?

SK: They didn't get it, they thought it was a bit off color! So that was sort of funny.

KM: That would be funny.

SK: It was.

KM: That is great. Do you think your quilts reflect your community or your region?

SK: This reflects my region. I also do a lot of quilts that are Hispanic in nature. Like the Day of the Dead, small border crossing quilts, quilts of quetzals, things like that. I do landscapes and they are usually ocean scenes or deserts. I grew up in Arizona in the desert.

KM: How did you end up in California?

SK: I moved here when I was twenty-two with a friend. She had a teaching job and I was going to get a job with doctors. We just moved here to seek our fortunes.

KM: You stayed.

SK: We stayed. I have lived in northern California now for eighteen years. Lived in southern California for twenty-five.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker, or do you even make the distinction?

SK: I guess I think of myself as an art quilter. I make wall hangings, and I also make bed quilts that I think of as being more artistic then traditional in terms of the use of fabrics. Quilt artist works for me.

KM: It is always interesting, you know there is a debate that goes on.

SK: All the time.

KM: It used to be art versus craft.

SK: I think it is much more than craft, although craft is wonderful. No, I would say it is art. I absolutely love when I finish something and it has worked and that's different from craft.

KM: Because that doesn't happen every time.

SK: No it doesn't. There will be some where something isn't quite right.

KM: Describe your studio to me.

SK: For years I didn't have a studio because I had one of my kids living with me and I live in a two-bedroom apartment. My studio was in my bedroom at the foot of the bed. I had a table, I had fabric in my bedroom, I had my sewing machine on my desk. When my son moved out, I started moving into the other bedroom to quilt, but I don't much like to quilt in there. So I quilt in the dining room and I keep my stash in the quilting room and my cutting table. I'm in the process of getting it more organized with the help of a friend. It has tended also to be a catch all room. So I would say that I don't have a studio.

KM: But it works?

SK: It works great for me.

KM: Do you have a design wall?

SK: I just pin pieces up on the wall with straight pins and it works. Sometimes I hang them, if they are large over the window in the front room or wherever, where I can stare at them for a few days.

KM: Why don't you want to work in the bedroom?

SK: I just don't. I don't know why.

KM: You don't know why?

SK: No, it just is not a place I want to be. I like to be out in my living room and dining room.

KM: That works.

SK: This could change. I am planning to get it much more organized. I have my fabric really nicely organized now.

KM: How do you organize your fabric?

SK: By color in stacks on shelves in the closet. And also by other groups of fabrics, like kimono fabrics and cottons, fancy fabrics. Batiks and prints that are not too obvious are all together by color. I have unfinished projects, boxes of those.

KM: Don't we all.

SK: I have a table that I have raised to be a cutting table and a table out in the dining room.

KM: I was just curious.

SK: I'm going to paint the 'studio' walls pale apple green. Maybe like your blouse. And then I may feel more like working in that room.

KM: I like that color.

SK: I do too.

KM: That would be nice. Have you shared your work with--I'm assuming you have shared your work with the women here.

SK: Yes.

KM: How do they respond to your work?

SK: They like it very much. They really do. Sometimes they will say they can't do it that well, and I will just say that I've been doing it longer and what you do is wonderful and it's your story and this is my story, and, I'm so proud of you.

KM: I think it is great that you connected the story with the quilt. That I find wonderful.

SK: That was a requirement of the Even Start Project because it is a family literacy project. There had to be a literacy component.

KM: I think it is great.

SK: It is. The quilter have reached inside of themselves and bought out stories they would never have told anyone.

KM: It is a great component, just a perfect component to--

SK: Lee [Serrie.] who is one of the other teachers, is really good at getting the stories out of the quilters. Sometimes you just have to sit there and pull the stories out. Other times they will come in and have a story you could never have dreamed of shown in their quilt. I don't know if you have seen the one that looks just like a basket of fruit. Did you read the story?

KM: I actually interviewed her. Just like the "Tinkerbelle" one.

SK: Yes.

KM: You wouldn't, looking at Tinkerbelle you wouldn't think of the story behind it. The story behind it is so powerful, how she told her story about why she made those decisions and what it means is very powerful. I think, that makes me very excited, but I'm into documentation, so of course that would make me excited.

SK: Right. Some of the stories are really mind boggling. Celia who used to work in childcare here, she just had a baby, she is the one that does all the angels, the big angel quilts. She sold one when we had a show at the college to the dean of the faculty, and it was because of the story. Celia really into guardian angels; she thinks everyone has one, and if hers is already busy, she will grab yours. So she made a quilt of many angels in a garden, and the dean of the faculty said that her job is so hard, she felt like she needed a lot of angels! It hangs in her office.

KM: So she needed three, not just one.

SK: Actually I think it was like five!

KM: Oh, my goodness. What do you think makes a great quilt?

SK: A great quilt? A great quilt to me is one that I wish I had made, I wish really, really badly I had made it. I'm trying to think. The last one that I thought that about, I saw it at Houston. It was in the style of Ruth McDowell and it was two robins. I don't know if you saw it, it wasn't really big. [SK shows the size with her hands and arms.]

KM: So it was four feet long by?

SK: Maybe five feet across. It was so wonderful. I remember thinking to myself that I wished I had made that quilt, it was so lovely.

KM: That is a great answer; I've never heard that yet. I think that is wonderful.

SK: Not that I don't appreciate many quilts, but usually at every show there will be one and I will go 'dang, that is just so wonderful!' and it is what I would have liked to have made. I think I would like to be Ruth McDowell if I were going to be another quilter.

KM: I could agree with that, Ruth is wonderful. What artists have influenced you? What quiltmakers have influenced you? Or have you been influenced?

SK: I probably was as much influenced by Laura Fogg as anybody, because I learned so much from her in classes. I learned about raw edge technique. I learned about just tearing up the fabric and using a lot of different fabrics. Cut it up and put it on and stitch it down. Also I learned about using tulle.

KM: Oh, does this have tulle back here?

SK: Yes.

KM: Right at the top. I'll be darned. Yeah it does. You taught using tulle to the women?

SK: I did, yes but and they don't use it so much anymore.

KM: They said it dulls the color.

SK: I think it really does.

KM: That is what they say. I'm just repeating what I have been told.

SK: I know, we have had that discussion. I always say that the lighter tulle does but the dark tulle doesn't. Deanna started them doing fusing. I had never taught fusing. They were doing lots and lots of zigzag around the edges of things.

KM: They still are.

SK: Some of them do it really well, incredibly well. I don't like to zigzag very much, so that wasn't something I ever taught. I'd rather just plain raw edge or raw edge under tulle and then put things on top of that. Like a quilted wall hanging with tulle over the background and middle ground and then some foreground pieces that are more three dimensional.

KM: What is your least favorite part of quiltmaking? Do you have one?

SK: No. Actually I love squaring up. You know when you finally get it ready to square up and you have all those ugly edges and then you get to cut them all off.

KM: Because it always looks so good.

SK: It looks so much better. And when you do the bindings and the border it is so lovely. I actually even like sewing down the bindings.

KM: Me too.

SK: Least favorite, I can't piece worth a darn, you know, little pieces. I tend to do paper piecing. I made all of these with Thangles.

KM: Which is basically paper piecing.

SK: It is so easy. I do like paper piecing.

KM: I know a lot of people can't paper piece.

SK: Right.

KM: I have friends who can't paper piece to save their soul.

SK: Really?

KM: No. I don't know how many times you show them, it's just not for them.

SK: I don't like needle turn appliqué.

KM: Oh, I do.

SK: Do you?

KM: Yeah I do.

SK: I think I don't have the patience, or I have too short an attention span. One of the hardest things for me is to actually finish a quilt, because when I get it about two-thirds of the way done I want to start something else, and I very often do.

KM: So do you have multiple things going on at one time?

SK: I do. They are all totally unrelated one to the other. I have never done a series.

KM: You don't work on a series at all?

SK: No.

KM: That was going to be my next question.

SK: No, I haven't worked in a series, other than doing the journal quilts, but they weren't really a series.

KM: They didn't have a theme to them?

SK: No.

KM: Each month was different?

SK: Each was a different type. Several were landscapes, one was a mourning quilt for my little granddaughter who died, and that is the one that is in the "Creative Quilting" book. No I haven't done a series; I never want to do one that is the same as the one before. Like I have no desire to do anything that looks like this one again or like that one again.

KM: So you are just going to go on--

SK: And do something different.

KM: What do you have in the works right now?

SK: Right now I have a bed quilt for my daughter in process.

[SK had a bad cough and the tape was turned off so she could get a glass of water.]

SK: It is strip pieced. The idea came from Judy Hooworth from Australia. I like the way she does the multiple sashings. So I'm doing multiple sashings. It is called, "Tropical Seas for Rebecca," and it is largely turquoise with about fifty different turquoises or aquas and blues, and then with burnt orange, reddish orange sashing and lighter yellow sashings, and I think I'm going to be very happy with it. And a baby quilt that is made the same way in yellows and blues for a young couple who don't want to know the sex of their baby until it comes.

KM: Which is nice.

SK: Yes. And I'm making a small chopped up piece from, made with another set of these fabrics—a southwest theme.

KM: Hand dyes?

SK: Hand dyes from the same person but dyed and discharged rather than painted. I am in the stage of beading that, actually quilting and beading it, and then I have a Day of the Dead quilt that I'm to the point of beading. I'm really happy with that quilt.

KM: What does that look like?

SK: The idea for it came from Quilting Arts [Magazine.] where they showed silk flowers under tulle. I thought 'okay I'm going to do that, it looks like fun.' So I went to Beverly's, which is practically next door to my house, half a block away, and the only silk flowers I could find were in autumn colors. They were mustard yellow and purple, they were mums. So I bought those and I had a dark blue, purple, green batik, very dense. I started putting the flowers all over it, and then I thought, 'that looks like the Day of the Dead,' and so cut out a church and a wall with a gate and made tombstones in the front and cut out skeleton figures from a fabric where they are playing in the graveyard. Put those behind the tombstones and cut up pieces of marigold colored fabric, because in Mexico they strew the marigolds petals because they smell like bones and they attack spirits. Then I put the tall, white tapers that are burning everywhere. I made what looks like a tile border for it, the colors of the tombstones, you know the tombstones are painted pink and blue and yellow. So those quilts are all getting finished.

KM: What do you plan to do with them?

SK: Sometimes I give them away. Some I will keep. I probably will keep that piece [pointing to the landscape quilt.]. I probably will keep the Day of the Dead. Others I will either give away or sell.

KM: It hangs in your house? [pointing to the landscape quilt.]

SK: Yes.

KM: Where will you hang it?

SK: Probably in my bedroom.

KM: Do you have lots of quilts hanging in your house?

SK: I do, I do.

KM: Do you collect other people's work?

SK: I do. I mostly have small pieces, but I do have a good sized one of Laura's called "Coast Calla Lillis." I had wanted it since the first time I saw it. It was published in American Quilters magazine in an article she wrote, and I thought that now it has been published people are going to want to buy it, so I had better buy it now, so I did and I paid her one hundred dollars a month for many months. I have bought small pieces by Teresa May, Kathy Briggs, and then I bought a lot of postcards in Houston. I have been in groups that did postcards and I think I probably made a hundred, and mailed them the year before. I decided I couldn't ever make another postcard.

KM: I think I did that.

SK: But I loved buying the ones at Houston.

KM: The ones Virginia had for sale?

SK: Yes. I so wanted one by Pamela Allen.

KM: Me too.

SK: Well I got one. I did!

KM: I didn't. [sigh.]

SK: You know it was just a fluke. I went over to the exhibit the day before we were leaving, and I asked, 'Do you have any by Pamela Allen?' They are all sold for the day, because they sold only two a day, and then so help me, I was looking on the wall and I said, 'That sure looks like one' and it was, So I bought Cynthia St. Charles, Pamela Allen and Frances Holliday. I was thrilled.

KM: That's great.

SK: Yes.

KM: That is wonderful. I don't know who I have, but I was happy with the ones I got.

SK: Yes.

KM: But I would like a Pamela Allen too. Pamela Allen did--I curated an exhibition for The Alliance of American Quilts that was house quilts and Pamela did one that is fabulous.

SK: I think I saw pictures of it. Did you curate that?

KM: Yes.

SK: I so much wanted to enter that and I don't know why I didn't.

KM: I wish you had. It's going to be at San Jose.

SK: Oh, good. At the museum?

KM: Yes at the museum. Our exhibition will be there so you can go see Pamela.

SK: I will go see it.

KM: It is going to be for sale at the end of December. It will be auctioned off in December.

SK: Oh, cool!

KM: I still have an opportunity. I probably should have kept that a deep dark secret so no one would go.

SK: Right, you should say they are all auctioned off already!

KM: She did a face and it's got all perm logs. It's fabulous.

SK: You know I had an idea for one and then I didn't do it.

KM: That's okay.

SK: It would have been somebody like sitting on the roof of a house in New Orleans. Did you have any like that?

KM: No we didn't but we had a lot more political quilts than I thought. Have you ever made a statement type quilt?

SK: I made one, yes. You know our group did "Vagina" quilts.

KM: I heard about that.

SK: They were made to go with the "Vagina Monologues" and you know they were filmed here. That was before I was in the group. When I joined the group I was supposed to make a vagina quilt, and I just didn't have one in me. But I made an endometriosis quilt because I was unable to have children because of severe endometriosis--my children are adopted. And it is called "The Babies Who Weren't: a Story of Endometriosis." It was so satisfying to make. It really was.

KM: Where do you have that quilt?

SK: It is in the studio.

KM: So what does your family think of your quiltmaking?

SK: Probably the only one who is very interested in it is my daughter and her boyfriend. My son thinks they are nice, you know, and he will say nice things about them. My husband sort of goes, 'Oh yeah that is nice,' but that is okay emotionally. But my daughter really likes them.

KM: Does she quilt?

SK: No.

KM: Does she have any interest?

SK: Nope.

KM: No.

SK: Nope, no. She doesn't sew either. She draws, she cooks, she is going to be a veterinarian.

KM: Great. Very good.

SK: So, I'm trying to think of anything else political. I did make a border crossing quilt with the Virgin of Guadalupe behind the fence. It was a journal quilt, fairly tiny.

KM: How do you make the really tiny people?

SK: I cut out little tiny figures out of fabric and then put them under tulle and stitch them. They are really little.

KM: Really little. We are talking less than an inch. Wow.

SK: But the fence is very tall, it has barbed wire, and then the Virgin is cut out of one of the Virgin of Guadalupe fabrics and there are mountains and desert.

KM: Where do you see you quilts going?

SK: Where do I see them going?

KM: Where do you see you going with quiltmaking? What do you see in your future?

SK: More.

KM: More.

SK: More, I think I will probably continue to follow my heart and make whatever says it wants to be made, because that is what makes me the happiest. You know that wonderful feeling you get when you just know you have to make a quilt and you start it and you have to keep making it until it is finished, and it really makes itself, it tell you what to do next.

KM: I like that zone.

SK: I do too, I love it.

KM: When you are in that zone. I like that feeling a lot.

SK: I will keep on doing group projects. You know we do group projects. This year is, I don't know if Deanna showed you the puzzle piece. Well we are doing the puzzle piece. I didn't find that very interesting to do, but you know it will be a lovely quilt. It was so, so, so dictated you know.

KM: Too many parameters?

SK: Too many parameters, and also like okay do this now. We all did them together. This is how you have your fabric and this is how close together you have to have your embellishments. We always tease Ann [Horton.] and Laura [Fogg.] about having elves because they both turn out so many quilts. So Ann was joking about, here are the elves, finally. So we were joking back about being a sweat shop, and Ann said, 'Boy this is great, I always wanted to get a big quilt made in three days!' It is a big quilt.

KM: Who will get the quilt?

SK: It will belong to the group. It will be shown. Then, I don't know where it will hang.

KM: How important is the group to you?

SK: Very important, very important. There are a couple of people in the group that I'm very close to and one person I get together with alot sewing, talking.

KM: You meet twice a month?

SK: We meet twice a month. We don't usually sew, you know we eat and talk and share work. And ask for feedback, we are working really hard on giving feedback well and not jumping in and saying this what you should do.

KM: Is it an interesting experience?

SK: Well, I think that there had been a tendency to give heavy handed feedback in the group, and so now it is much more letting people say what kind of feedback they want, and trying to respond to whatever they want for their quilt, rather than I think you should do this. I would never have gone to Houston by myself and I didn't have other friends who were quilters. You know that was kind of something I was doing all by myself. I went to a local guild the Grapevine Quilters. It is a very big group. They meet once a month in the Elks Hall and the focus is traditional quilts. It wasn't a fit for me..

KM: Smaller groups are better for you.

SK: This group is so much better for me. This group is like having sisters.

KM: That is great.

SK: It is.

KM: It is wonderful.

SK: I feel very honored to be part of it.

KM: I can't believe it, the tape is almost out.

SK: Wow.

KM: Thank you so much for taking the time out.


“Susan Kerr,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,