Ann Anastastio




Ann Anastastio


Ann Anastastio is a quiltmaker from central Illinois and is living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She's a member of the Studio Art Quilt Assocition and the Northern New Mexico Quilt Guild, and also teaches for the Parks and Recreation department in Livermore. Anastatio coined the term "Guilt Quilt" for a sort of mystery quilt using leftover fabric. In this interview she describes the quilt she made for the Barack Obama Support Quilt project.




Melanie Grear


Ann Anastastio


Karen Musgrave

Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Santa Fe, New Mexico


Kim Greene


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Ann Anastastio. Ann is in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. It is February 26, 2009. It is 5:22 in the afternoon. Thank you Ann for doing this interview with me.

AA: You are welcome.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt "New Mexico Support Obama."

AA: When I read on the [QuiltArt.] List about Sue [Walen.] starting up this idea [the exhibition, "President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts," from February 9 to March 5, 2009 in the main gallery (King Street Gallery) of the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Arts Center, Silver Spring, Maryland.] , I thought I would really like to make a quilt because I was so excited about Obama running for president. I was sorry Hillary wasn't, but nonetheless. I thought and thought and thought and I knew people were going to do faces and I thought I've never done a face and I probably would do a really bad job. What could I do? What could I do? Then I thought of all the excitement that was here in New Mexico about Obama at the time and I thought, 'Well what can I do that says New Mexico is excited? A lot of people are registering to vote for Obama.' The only thing I could think of was doing exactly what I've been doing since I moved to New Mexico three years ago, which was a hand appliquéd landscape with a big turquoise sky and then mountains near the bottom of the quilt. This is hand appliquéd, and then I hand embroidered plants, flowers, bushes, shrubs, things like that in the bottom. Then I thought, 'Okay what does this have to do with Obama? Nothing.' So I decided I would put words, embroider words in the sky. Well I had never embroidered words before and I asked my friends, 'What I should put?' And everybody said I should put 'Obamanose.' People have bumper stickers here that say "Obamanose." In New Mexico, it has a lot of Mexican and Spanish speaking people here and that apparently, I don't speak Spanish, but means "We are for Obama." I thought I was going to put that on it, but then I thought nobody else is going to know what it means other than people in New Mexico, so I embroidered "New Mexico for Obama." We tried and tried to figure out words and nobody could come up with anything better than that, so it's not a picture of him or anything, but it is an expression of the support of the people that I know in New Mexico that voted for Obama.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

AA: [laughs.] I don't know. I don't have any plans for the quilt. I have to admit that in the back of my mind was that maybe somebody, Governor Richardson, might see it and want to buy it, but other than that I have no plans. I will display it in my home when I get it back whenever that is.

KM: Is it for sale?

AA: Um, hum.

KM: Okay, so it is for sale.

AA: Yes. If it doesn't sell, it's not going to break my heart. I would be perfectly happy to keep it for the rest of my life. I like it. It is hand quilted, too.

KM: Good. This quilt is typical of your style then?

AA: Since I've been living in New Mexico. Before this appliqué was a four letter word. When I moved to New Mexico, and I live out in the country, we have a view of the mountains and I wanted to reproduce the mountains and I couldn't. I don't paint and I thought, 'Well okay so I will machine appliqué,' but machine appliqué flattened everything out. I didn't want it flat so I hand appliquéd. I don't iron the mountains or the houses or whatever that I'm appliquéing on or the pueblo, Not houses, they are pueblo buildings. Well they are houses but anyway I taught myself to hand appliqué and I taught myself to hand embroider and I always hand quilted. No, this is not the style I had before I came to New Mexico.

KM: New Mexico has really influenced your work.

AA: Absolutely. Color wise and technique wise and yes very much so.

KM: Where did you move from?

AA: For 25 years, I lived in Livermore, California which is 40 miles east of San Francisco. The climate is actually quite similar except that it snows here in New Mexico and doesn't snow there every. Well, it snowed once for 15 minutes, but it really doesn't snow there.

KM: I can't remember in my lifetime a president inspiring so much art work and specifically quilts. Why do you think Barack Obama has inspired so many art quilts?

AA: I don't know about the art quilts, but I think in general he has inspired people in all ways. I watch the State of the Union message to Congress [laughs.] the other night and I mean he had such common sense and such a touch that people want to invite him over for dinner. I don't know why people are making art quilts. I just know about myself that I just wanted to participate in the show. I wanted to do something to belong to that group.

KM: Tell me more about the group.

AA: I really don't know very much about the group other than the enthusiasm is contagious and I do know a few of the people personally and other people by reputation. There are quite a few well-known quilters, art quilters in the group and I was very pleased to be able to have my quilt shown with theirs.

KM: Have you had any feedback on your quilt?

AA: Not a word, no. I didn't ask for any. I didn't ask somebody to take a picture of my quilt or tell me what it looked like, so I didn't expect any feedback.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

AA: That began a long time ago. I grew up in central Illinois and my grandmother, my father's mother, was a quiltmaker. She died when I was five so I didn't really know her very well, but I inherited some of her quilts and her love of quilts, but I didn't know it at the time. After I was married and a couple of years after we were married, we rented a house on Long Island and the lady was a quiltmaker. I saw that when I went to her home to pay the first month's rent and I asked her if she would teach me. She taught me a few things and that was the basis of a lot of experimenting and some misunderstanding of exactly how it worked and I just kept practicing and reading books. I was asked to teach at one point and I started teaching. I gave lectures and teach workshops and then with a friend of mine we started a group. Well not exactly a group, there are two of us called Broken Dishes Repertory Theater, which is a quilting musical comedy presentation. We do programs. I write music. We write lyrics together and we write a play. We have four different ones and we do conventions, like we did Road to California a few years ago. We do local quilt groups and things. We give a one-hour presentation that includes sayings about quilts and things and about 40 quilts. In the beginning, I did traditional quilts for about a year and then I realized I could not stand making one block after another that was exactly the same. So they weren't art quilts in the beginning but they were using traditional patterns but stretching perhaps, liking making a Nine Patch and making it into a rectangle or uneven Log Cabins and things like that and scrap quilts. In that way I acquired a palette, that is what I like to call it anyway. My husband just gasps and then he sees the mount of fabric that I have, but you need a palette from which to choice when you make things.

KM: How big is your palette?

AA: I have a palette in the house in California and I have a palette in the house here. [laughs.] I have them in clear plastic bins. I don't know is the answer. I have probably 40 bins here that are a foot high and two feet long filled with fabric. You can never have too much.

KM: "New Mexico for Obama" is 30 ½ inches by 17 inches. Is that a typical size for you?

AA: No it was the size of the piece of fabric I had for the sky. I didn't have any more and I didn't know where I got it and that is why it is that size.

KM: What is your typical size? Do you have one?

AA: It is usually it is about three feet square. Most of my quilts--well I'm sorry that's before I came here. Before I came here, they were square and they were about 3 feet on the side. Since I came here they have become smaller because it takes longer when you are doing it all by hand. Now they are probably 2 feet, maybe 18 inches by 2 feet is more typical except that I had a commission that was 4 feet by 6 feet, which was a stretch for me. It was much bigger than I had ever made before. I tried to talk the woman into a smaller one and she wanted 4 feet by 6 feet for the place on the wall, so that is what I did.

KM: Tell me some more about the commission.

AA: It was for a foundation, a charity, and she had seen the quilt I had made for my daughter. Well, I actually made her two. My older daughter, Alison, was in Botswana when she was in college and I made a quilt based on the emails that she sent me and she looked at it. She said, 'Mom, this is too green. There is no green in Botswana it is all brown.' So I made her another one and gave her the brown one. I kept the green one. It has native huts. I think it has eight or nine native huts and it is surrounded by free form piecing. You would have to see it to understand. This lady who commissioned this saw this one and said, 'Could I make a New Mexican version of that?' So I did pueblo houses. I did fifteen different pueblo houses. They are all hand appliquéd and then I surrounded them by all I can say is free forming piecing. I don't know how better to describe it. It is basically browns with a little bit of greens in it and a little bit of purple and a tiny bit of red. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would because I kept moving things around. I did all the houses first and put them up on my batting wall and then filled in with the other pieces and then put it together and took it apart and put it together and took it apart. I never knew that I would be so obsessed with getting it right but I was. She loved it so that is the important thing and I got paid.

KM: Very good. Describe your studio.

AA: My studio is the third bedroom and my sewing machine is in the middle with an ironing board perpendicular to it along the right side lowered to the same height as the sewing table. I have a Janomie 6600. My husband got me for my birthday last year, which I love. It has a knee lift which I never had before and it is fabulous. I have a six by six foot batting wall that has three quilts on it now, parts of three quilts. Sometimes I get stuck, I get so far and I can't figure out where to go so I just put things up there until they kind of marinate or something until I see where it is going and then I can get back started with it. There are two totally pieced works on the wall and one piece that is a beginning of an appliquéd scene of New Mexico again. I seem to be stuck on that theme for a while. Then I have a table, an architect's drafting table, that I got at a yard sale for $15.00 about 20 years ago that has two mats on it and that is what I use to cut out the fabric. I have a variety of inspirational. They are all landscapes now [laughs.] pinned to the side of the batting. It's a bedroom so there is a closet with down the center is bookshelves, or shelves rather and on either side if hangers and then on the shelves I have all my books, quilting books, at least the ones that are here. I have more back in California. I have shelves from Wal-Mart that hold the plastic boxes that are stacked up. They are in colors and then there are ones that are just landscape kind of mountain fabric and dirt fabric and bush fabric and sky fabric and things like that. I have all my batiks in one place too, because I couldn't remember. Batiks have several colors in them I could never remember where I filed them and I would look in the browns and it was really in the green box. So I went through one day and took them all out and put all the batiks together and that makes it a lot easier. Then I find almost exclusively using the batiks, because so many of them lend themselves to being mountains or trees or bushes or dirt or sand hills or something.

KM: How much time do you split between California and New Mexico?

AA: I live here in New Mexico. I go to California maybe every other month for a few days, but I live here because this is where my husband works and where he is most of the time if he is not in Washington [D.C.].

KM: What is your first quilt memory?

AA: Of what I made or just in general?

KM: In general.

AA: It was the quilt that was on my parents' bed. It is Grandmother's Fan which I have and when I was sick I could go in, because my bedroom was upstairs. So when I was sick I would sleep in my parents' room during the day and I could sleep under that quilt and my mom took really good care of it. They used it every day as far as I can remember and it isn't ripped any place. It is in really good shape.

KM: Do you have the quilt?

AA: Um-hum, yep.

KM: How do you use it?

AA: I don't. [laughs.] It's in a pillowcase labeled and I know that is terrible but it's for a double bed. I don't have a double bed. I only have queens or a king so it's really too small for anything and I don't want to put it on the wall especially here because of the light. We are at 8500 feet so the sunlight is really strong here and it really bleaches out things. I have carefully placed the quilts that I have in the house here so they don't get direct sunlight ever.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

AA: They are very supportive. In fact my younger daughter when I was at home Christmas said, 'I want to make a quilt.' She is 25. I thought it would never happen. My older daughter has never said that but my older daughter asked for a sewing machine two or three years ago for Christmas and she makes tote bags. She is a college student and she makes tote bags and sells them to make some extra money. It is something. My husband is very supportive. In fact, I play in an orchestra here and we had a fundraiser on Valentine's Day and I made a quilt to be auctioned. I was in charge of the silent auction and I made a quilt and he bought it because he didn't want anybody else to have it. He likes it so much.

KM: That is sweet.

AA: I was really surprised. [laughs.] He has some of my quilts in his office and he is very supportive. My mother on the other hand doesn't understand. [laughs.] She has no clue why I do what I do. I made her a quilt and she said, 'Oh that is very nice,' and opened the next box at Christmas or whatever it was. I thought, 'Well that is the last time I make her anything.' [laughs.] My sister really appreciates what I do and she is very supportive.

KM: Have you ever used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time?

AA: Yes, when my friend Caroline died. She was a quiltmaker and she died very suddenly. Well she had breast cancer. She didn't die suddenly I guess, she had it for a long time. She one day decided that she was done and well it wasn't quiltmaking so much, well I guess it was. She left some quilts and I helped finish them for her daughter and that was really special at the time. She was a wonderful person and it was a terrible thing. She just gave up one day. Just called hospice and the next day she was dead. Wow. I am sure her daughter really appreciated that we finished the quilts. I mean she told me she did. That was pretty much the only thing I can think of.

KM: That is pretty powerful. Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

AA: I belong to SAQA which is an international Studio Art Quilt Associates. Here in New Mexico, I belong to the Northern New Mexico Quilt Guild, and I'm in charge of the art quilt group that is a small part of that. There are about ten of us. We have had a couple of shows a year I would say in the last few years. We are going to have one open on Sunday at the local Santa Fe Library, the main library. It is called "Recess" because it is outside of the children. We were trying to come up with a title that could be taken many ways and it is outside of the children's room. We decided to call it "Recess." I know that people are doing mostly not school recess. Somebody is doing recess in a tree, like a place cut out kind of in a tree or recess in a doorway, things like that. It should be interesting. I'm sure people are going to wonder at the usage of the word, but it is open to whatever people want to do.

KM: Which is a good thing.

AA: Yeah, yeah.

KM: Tell me about your teaching.

AA: I began teaching in Livermore, California for the Parks and Recreation Department. I taught for a long time and they wanted a Sampler class and I taught a Sampler class four times a year for fifteen years. I tried to teach other things and they didn't fill up but the Sampler class just kept going and going then I started teaching for guilds. What I teach for guilds is very simple things. Original design but really, really simple with graph paper and for instance one of the things I teach is expanding a Nine Patch. Making the Nine Patch into a rectangle and changing the proportions of the blocks and then when you make it is all rectangles and squares and it is so simple but when you put things together [laughs.] you can't tell at all that is what it is. I've made over fifty Bowtie quilts. I used to teach a lot of Bowtie workshops as well. Let's see what else do I teach. With Lanie, my friend, when we do Broken Dishes Repertory Theater we teach several things. "There is the Quilt Somewhere" [workshop.] which is based on a piece of fabric that you bring up that you've always wanted to include in a quilt and you can't figure out what to do with it, we teach, together we teach a variety of techniques that you can use to feature that fabric. The "Guilt Quilt" is another quilt that we teach which is specifically to use up fabric. It is a very simple block but it is fun to do. We tell people to bring stripes or squares or rectangles, whatever you have leftover from other quilts and we tell them you should bring about a quarter yard of this or quarter yard of that and all the time we've been doing this, one person has brought scrapes, everybody else goes out and buys a quarter yard of this or a quarter yard of that which defeats the whole point of the class but I don't know.

KM: How did you come up with the name "Guilt Quilt"?

AA: Oh, you're guilty because you have all these pieces leftover from a variety of quilts and you're guilty because you haven't used it all up, that you need to find something to do with it. Apparently people [laughs.] don't understand the concept, but that's okay, it works out, it is fine. The way we teach this one is that we go around the room and everybody looks at everybody's palette and makes suggestions as to what you can put with what and that is really useful. We enjoy working together and teaching together, and we have written a couple of quilting books, neither of which anybody wants to publish [laughs.] so we shelved that and we decided we were going to write something else. We had seen other people who had written quilting mysteries and things like that and we had felt that a lot of them were not written as well as we would have liked them to have been written or edited as well as we would have liked them to be edited and we decided we were going to write a book. Well Lanie doesn't like mysteries. She likes science fiction so we have written a quilting science fiction book that is complete and she is now shopping it around to find an agent for us to get it published, so we will see.

KM: I hope it works out.

AA: [laughs.] Me too. [laughs.] It is pretty darn funny. It could be interesting.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out in quiltmaking?

AA: What advice. I think look at a lot of books, take a beginning class so you know how things go together. It doesn't mean that you have to do that forever but you need--taking a Sampler class is actually a very good thing because you learn a wide variety of techniques and you learn. Like my Sampler class included curves and diamonds and you could say, 'Oh I don't want to ever do another curve.' 'I'm not doing those diamonds. They are too hard,' but you need to know what you don't want to do. You need to try a variety of different things. I think taking a basic quilting class is really good. Talking to people, joining a guild. Joining a guild is one of the best things I ever did. I was not a joiner ever. I mean I have been in Brownies or Girl Scouts and that was pretty much it and I joined a guild when I moved to California, where I actually formed one basically. I went to the initial meeting and there was 12 or 13 of us and we all had a different idea of what a quilt guild was and none of us had ever been to a quilt show or to a quilt guild but we decided that we wanted to get together, we wanted to socialize and we wanted to learn from each other, we wanted to learn from teachers other than ourselves because none of us were teachers at the time. It was the best thing I ever did. I came home from that meeting the president of this emerging guild. Again, it was [laughs.] the best thing I ever did. I met all these wonderful people and lifelong friends, 25 years. It started the first year I was in California and it was just wonderful. I would say [laughs.] join a guild. Guilds don't expect you to know anything. You just go, you sit there and you take in the information, you ask questions, you go to their workshops, you find out about the local shops through them. It is really good. It was for me certainly.

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

AA: Boy that is a discussion that goes round and round and round with a lot of people I know and online. I don't think of myself as an artist, I think of myself as a quiltmaker. I try to say I'm going to my studio but I laugh inside. It is my sewing room, it is not my studio. I just don't look at it from that view. I consider myself an art quilter because that is the nontraditional kind of quilts that I make, but I don't. I would never fill that in a blank if someone was saying to me, or you say occupation or whatever, I put quiltmaker and teacher. I don't put artist.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

AA: To get taken seriously. A lot of quilts, I can see why art shows wouldn't take traditional quilts but I don't understand why they don't take textiles in general and quilts in particular that are nontraditional. It is just a different media, medium. I know a lot of art shows exclude quilt and the minute you use the word "quilt" people think grandma and Log Cabins and all that and I think that is the biggest challenge is getting taken seriously as nontraditional textile. Again, it is the definitions that go round and round. There is no answer. Nobody agrees on any of it. Are you a textile artist? Are you an art quilter? Are you a nontraditional quilter? Are you collage person? There is no real--we are all different too. I don't do collage. You wouldn't call that--I'm sorry I'm just spinning my wheels here and not defining things very well.

KM: You are doing fine.

AA: Okay. Thank you.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

AA: Nancy Halpern. You mean quiltmakers? [KM hums.] Nancy Halpern, from 1970 something, when I first saw her things--at that time, she did this hillside quilt that just blew me away. It was architectural. It was repetitive, but it was just fabulous. Ruth McDowell, she does a few architectural things but she mostly does things from nature and they are just stunning. I just admire them so much. I once took a class from her; I just didn't get it I'm embarrassed to say. I did not come away with anything I was proud to make from that class. I would love to take it again now that I know how to do a lot more things and I think I would get it, but I just really admire her work tremendously. Jane Sassaman, I admire her work as well. Just stunning. I like architectural things and I like things from nature. I don't particularly find any resonance with abstract things or painted or abstract things just don't seem to do anything for me. I like symmetry to some extent. Velda Newman from Sacramento, well maybe not Sacramento, near Sacramento, California, who does enormous quilts from nature which are fabulous. And a woman here in New Mexico, Pat Gould, who lives in Albuquerque. She won this Knish Award last year or the year before I think and she does a lot scenes and she does some really beautiful work. I am sure there are many more but I can't think of any right at the moment.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

AA: It varies widely. When I'm working on a project I work on it all day. Well I mean I eat and whatever. I would say that I average probably an average two hours a day during the week and less on the weekends.

KM: You mentioned working on more than one thing at a time, is that very typical of you?

AA: Absolutely. Yes, I have a mild, self-diagnosed ADD. I don't concentrate well for long periods of time. Even when I'm working like this big commission which to be honest the only commission I've ever had so I have nothing to compare it with, but I would work on that for maybe an hour a day. I couldn't seem to work. I couldn't work on it longer and then I would work on something else and I can't concentrate for very long. It is just the way I am. I'm usually working on three or four things at one time.

KM: Is your studio a clean studio or a messy studio?

AA: Very messy. When I can't think of anything to do I tidy. I re-file the fabric. When I can't think of anything to do, I'm stuck. I don't know what next to do in whatever I'm working on and I tend to get out the bins and file things. It gets tidy and you can see the floor all the way up [laughs.] up to the bookcases and then other times there is fabric on the floor, all over.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you? We are talking about all the mediums that are available for expression, why quiltmaking?

AA: I don't know to be honest. I stuck with it for a long time, since the seventies, about 1974 or 5 I think it was. I love fabric I guess. I love the feel of it. I love the subtlety, especially in the batiks, the subtle change in colors and patterns and I have in (except for my landscapes) the other things that I make other than landscapes I probably have 200 fabrics in every quilt. I like to have lots of fabric, lots of little pieces, little bits of light, bits of very subtle color changes. I don't have a lot of contrast except in the landscapes. Most of my quilts don't have nearly as much contrast as most quilts do. I get a deal of pleasure just looking at them because there is so much variation in the fabrics, there is little interesting nooks and crannies if you can say that about a quilt. I just get pleasure of seeing one fabric next to another one. I can't really I guess explain it very well but that is what I feel about it.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

AA: Boy, you ask hard questions. Not as being a fine quilter, not as being accurate or so many hand quilts stitches to the inch or anything like that, but in making things that are interesting, that people like to look at, that people look at and say, 'Oh look at that. Oh look she put this green in there. There is no green any place else,' or 'Oh she put a bead there, one bead. Why is there a bead there? Why isn't there a bunch of beads?' I think for making something that someone would look at twice, for making something that was interesting.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

AA: I use exclusively 100% cotton and with the exception of some fabrics that I dyed I use commercial fabrics. No, I've used other people's hand dyed fabrics, but I would say 95% of the fabrics that I use are commercial fabrics. I keep trying to use nontraditional fabrics and I keep taking them out of the quilts that I make. I just don't like shiny. I don't like distressed. It's like trying to make things that have more contrast. Every time I make things, I'm going to make a black and white quilt. It ends to be a gray and black quilt. I just don't seem to be able to get there with the exception of the embroidery floss. I'm using hand quilting thread, regular thread. Oh I use variegated thread when I machine quilt and I use variegated embroidery floss too to do the plants because it just looks a lot more interesting and more natural if you use the variegated things to make leaves and grasses and things like that. I don't use very many unusual techniques or unusual materials. I use fairly normal things.

KM: How often do you hand quilt as opposed to machine quilt?

AA: I hand quilt all the landscapes and I machine quilt everything else. For instance, this commission that I made in the blocks that had the pueblo houses that is hand appliquéd and hand quilted and everything else was machine quilted. I'm pretty traditional in some ways. [laughs.]

KM: Is there anything you would want to share before we conclude that we haven't touched up?

AA: No I can't think of anything. No, always since I moved to California had a close knit group of friends who are quilters that we had a variety of different groups, challenge group and progressive group which was a round robin but not the type of Round Robin that people normally have. It was a round robin in the way that you added to someone else's quilt month by month but that was pretty much it. It was up to what you added to it. It didn't matter in the least. You could have a center. You started out with something that you thought would be the center but somebody else didn't think so and by the time you got it back it was in the left corner or something. That was a wonderful way to stretch and we had some fabulous quilts come out of that group. I just enjoy being with people who have like interests. I have to say since I've been here I joined a beading group which I never thought I would do and they are making necklaces and things and that group meets every week, which is a wonderful group of people. I think the best thing about quilting is the people. Everyone you meet you learn something from everyone and you become a better person for it and you make a lot of good friends. I don't know that I've met a quilter that I didn't like. There is always something interesting about them.

KM: I think that is a great way to conclude our interview. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to me. We are going to conclude our interview at 6:08.


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