ML Kaczka




ML Kaczka




M.L. Kaczka


Rachel Grove

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Milford, Delaware


Rachel Grove


Rachel Grove (RG): Okay. I'm here with Judy Manlove at Milford, Delaware, at the Kent Sussex Quilt Show, and today's date is October 19, 2003, and this is for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project, and I guess I'll just stop the tape recorder a second to make sure that it's working. Why don't you just say hello, Judy, so we make sure we're getting you?

Judy Manlove (JM): Hello.

RG: Hello. Okay. [tape recorder briefly shut off .] Okay, starting up again with Judy Manlove and the time is 3:20, and could you just tell me a little bit about the quilt that you brought today?

JM: Well, it's a quilt that was published in McCall's magazine by Robert Callahan. It's called "Grandmother's Album" and several people in one of my guilds were interested in doing the quilt, so we all decided to start it at the same time and see if we would finish. [RG laughs.]
And I had the center block--I had done years before and had never used it in a quilt, and this particular quilt had a house in the center, so I thought, 'Oh well, a good chance to use up one of those orphan blocks.'

RG: [speaking at the same time as Judy.] Perfect.

JM: And also it gave me an opportunity to use fabric in the border and on the back that came from the stash of my mentor who had died not too long before that, and I wanted to have some of her fabric in a quilt that I was going to keep, and I wanted to do something with both appliqué and piecing in it--for the variety, and so that was why I did it, and I used some fabrics that I had used in other quilts. The homespuns were leftovers, and I bought some new fabrics, and so I enjoyed doing it.

RG: Could you describe some of the images that we see in the quilt?

JM: Well, there are some pieced blocks that are just regular kind of piecing, and the--Oh, what do you call it? I want to say Mariner's Compass I guess. That's what you would call that one block, but then there's this block with the book, and it gave us an opportunity to put our names on it, and there's lots of leaves and lots of berries and different blocks, and then there's a long swag across this bottom. It just had a lot of variety. Let's see. Some of my favorite blocks--I like the ones with the grapes here and this tree with the birds I enjoyed doing, and there were some new challenges too. I hadn't done Maple Leaf pieced blocks.

RG: Right. Lot of variety?

JM: And then this was the--on the border was a little different with this fold. It was a folded piece that was in this whole border. I'd never done anything like that, and the stuff was just all rotary cut, pieced and cut part again.

RG: Yes.

JM: Which I enjoyed doing.

RG: Can you talk a little bit about all--there's so many different fabrics in this--where some of them might have came from or--

JM: Well, most of the plaids I used in another two quilts that I'd made, one for my sister and myself, of baskets that were designed by Mimi Dietrich, and I had a lot of those plaids. I had collected for a long time, and I wanted to use those up, and then most of the other fabrics are Thimble berry's fabrics and they just all kind of go well. They're muted rusty kind of fabrics.

RG: Yes.

JM: But, like I said, the border and the back, all the back, was this large piece that was in my mentor's stash. She was my quilting teacher, Ginny Glenn.

RG: Oh.

JM: The reason I quilt.

RG: So my next question was going to be, what special meaning does this quilt have for you?

JM: Well, that's it. The person that taught me to quilt Ginny Glenn. I took my quilting classes at Milford Library years ago. I remember we had just built our last house, my husband and I, and I came home, and in the paper one day, I was looking through, and they said they were offering quilting classes at Milford Library, and it was the last time I could remember feeling really excited about something, and so I called, and I signed up to take these classes, and I took it for a full year, and I finished that quilt, and then I signed up and took her whole class again the second time over with all new beginners just because I liked having that routine and having to have homework done.

RG: Right.

JM: And I finished that quilt, and then she invited me to join a bee that she was in, and I've been quilting ever since. That was back in '86 I guess. I started with her.

RG: Was that the first time you'd ever quilted?

JM: Right. I had sewn since I was a kid, but I had never done a quilt, and my husband and I collect antiques, and we like all kinds of colonial things, and quilts just fit in. I couldn't afford to buy original, old quilts, so I thought I would make them.

RG: Yes.

JM: That's what I did.

RG: Why did you choose to bring this quilt today?

JM: Because it--mainly because it had fabric in it that came from my mentor's stash. I had several others. I have four quilts that are in the show today, but none of them has a special meaning to me.

RG: Right.

JM: And this had things at least that I could say.

RG: Yes, and like we sort of talked about before we started the interview, you're a pretty prolific quilter. You've said you've done about forty quilts, so a lot to choose from with this one. Really just has that special meaning.

JM: Yes, and it was a combination of a lot of things. I enjoy appliqué a lot. I don't do a lot of machine piecing, but it's nice when I try something that has mixed methods in it. I enjoyed that about this, so that reflects what I like the most.

RG: How do you use this quilt?

JM: Oh, I sleep under it as an extra quilt, because it's not a full size bed quilt, so on chilly nights, it lays there beside me, and I just pull it over.

RG: Great. What are your plans for this quilt?

JM: Well, I'm going to keep it as long as I'm alive.

RG: Right.

JM: And then my poor nephew, who is the only person who is in the next generation of my family [laughs.] and already has two or three quilts that I've made him, will probably get this quilt too. Yes, this one will probably stay in the family.

RG: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JM: Well, since I retired from teaching school, I work a couple days a week at the library, but every other day that I'm at home I quilt almost like a nine to five job.

RG: Really?

JM: Because I really enjoy it, and my husband works on antiques and refinishing so he's in his workshop and I'm in my workshop, and we both work. We meet for lunch and dinner.

RG: [laughs.] Do you have a special room in the house that you quilt in?

JM: No, I have a--I actually--where we have our house we had built a separate apartment for my father-in-law, who lived with us until he was ninety-two, and after he died, I made his place into a sewing studio.

RG: Oh, great.

JM: So I have that. It's real nice, and I can just shut the door on it at the end of the day, and leave everything on the floor, draped wherever it is.

RG: That's fabulous.

JM: Yes, it's nice.

RG: What is your first quilt memory?

JM: Well, I guess my first memory is buying one in Amish country up in Lancaster, and I did buy one and how expensive they were. [laughs.]

RG: Yes, yes.

JM: So that's, yes, that's my first memory. As far as my own quilting, it would be signing up for that first class and just the excitement I felt being able to do it.

RG: Are there other quilters among your family or close friends?

JM: Well, a lot of my close friends are quilters. Like I meet with about three different bees at the hospital and at homes and things, and sometimes we'll form a bee just because we're all interested in doing the same quilt or whatever, and some of us have been sewing together for a long time. We still call ourselves by the group name for the original quilt we made, but we've made half a dozen other quilts together.

RG: What was that first quilt?

JM: White on white. It was--the first group started this White--and we still call it White on White. We meet the second Saturday of every month at Milford Hospital, but we have long since passed White on White and done several other things together, but I forget what we were--What was I starting to say? Oh, you asked me if I had--

RG: Family or friends, yes.

JM: Family members. Well, my--I had great-great-aunts, three of them. Never got married. They all quilted. [RG laughs.] And I used to--I mean I didn't know them, because they were dead by the time I was born, but I heard stories about them, and I do have a quilt that belonged to one of them, so--and my great-great-grandmother quilted. Now my immediate family--my mom never did. My grandmother never did, so it goes back about a couple generations.

RG: You're picking it up again for the family.

JM: Yes, yes.

RG: How does quilting impact your family?

JM: Well, everybody has plenty of covers to sleep under. [laughs.] That's about it. I mean for the last twenty--I mean my sister has about four quilts. I think everyone's got one. I'll sit and count how many everybody's got, because you can only give so many away, and I've never sold any. I've thought about it occasionally, and I don't have any children, so people always say, 'What do you do with all your quilts?' And they think like you're going to quit quilting just because you don't know who to give them to.

RG: Right.

JM: But it's just a way of life for me, so everybody has a couple that is in my family, and I just keep piling them up, and I--somebody in our guild once said that they figured that their legacy on Earth would be the quilts that they left behind them, and that's kind of how I feel myself. You know? It'll be something left of me when I'm gone. Somebody will enjoy it.

RG: Yes. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

JM: Yes, my mom came down one year at Christmas, and ended up in Milford Hospital for a couple weeks, and I started a quilt, about the second day she went in, just something that I could hand piece and sit in the hospital with her each day and work on, and she got through that, and I still have the quilt.

RG: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

JM: Well, that you get a finished product. You get a lot of satisfaction from it. It's an artistic outlet. All growing up I always was--even though I was a math major, a math teacher, I was always interested in art, but I just didn't have the imagination and originality to be an artist, but this is a good outlet, and I find that it teaches patience, and I am a person who likes to finish things, and this gives me--there is a definite finish. I mean there's a beginning and an end, so I like the process. It's just very satisfying to me.

RG: What aspects of quilting don't you enjoy?

JM: Putting on binding. [laughs.]

RG: Oh, that's what a lot of people say.

JM: [laughs.] Yes, and I guess that and machine work I'm not real fond of. Like I would like to know how to machine quilt just because of the speed, but I don't really enjoy it. I find I have a lot of tension if I try to do that. The rest is much more relaxing.

RG: But sort of on that note, how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting or even longarm quilting?

JM: Well, I always figure machine quilting or longarm quilting is alright for something that's going to be washed over and over and for a functional thing, but for something artistic or something that I've put a lot of hours in, like in appliqué, I want to have it hand quilted.

RG: You talked before the interview about how you had this quilt I think you said in particular sent away to have quilted by some Amish folks. Do you do that often or--

JM: Well, I--like I said about the first three or four quilts I hand quilted myself. I have a big frame like this my husband made [Judy's quilt was draped over a quilt frame during the interview.], and it took me about a year to do each one.

RG: Yes.

JM: After I had done the top, it took me about a year to quilt, but that also was when I would quilt one stitch at a time, one in and one out.

RG: Oh.

JM: And so then I, as I made more quilt tops, I started sending them away, first to Rose Valley Quilt Shop--Rachel Hershberger--and she would send them out, and then there was a girl in--

RG: Where's that Rose Valley Quilt Shop?

JM: Well, it's out of business now. She, Rachel, went out of business and got married and stopped that, but she did quilts or sent them out for several people in the area, and then there was a girl that was attached--her husband was at Dover Air Force Base, Cindy Wilkerson, and she started quilting, or she quilts for a lot of people, and she's quilted about seven or eight quilts for me. She lives in Virginia now, and I send them to her. She's got one right now that I worked on for the last year, and she's a wonderful quilter, and she does them, but occasionally I'll still do lap sized quilts myself, and I'm actually finally learning to quilt the correct way.

RG: The running stitch?

JM: Right, in a hoop instead of a full size frame, so I kind of enjoy that too, but I still--there's too many things I want to do and there's just not enough time.

RG: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JM: Fabric and color and the feel of it and the time that you spend with the people while you're making it and the good conversations and everything that you have and the memories that it invokes.

RG: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JM: Well, it's certainly different for everybody. I mean that's a question I guess that would be different for everybody, because I know even as I walked my husband through the quilt show today, we don't even necessarily like the same quilts, and I bought several miniatures yesterday, three of them, took them home, and I mean they really just spoke to me.

RG: Right.

JM: You know? None of them were alike at all. One them was like in lime and lemon colors and just reminded me of a summer day and a cool drink, and another one had a photograph of what looked like teachers from the nineteen hundreds, and it had been reproduced on fabric and then had log cabins, and that spoke to the old school teacher part of me, [laughs.] and then third one had a little appliqué bird that I appreciated the quality of the work and everything, so there's just different things. I mean it's color. It's the technique. It's the quality, and sometimes it's just something that's a bold statement. You know we noticed, as we walked through the show yesterday, some quilts look totally different half a room away from them they do right up front, so I mean that makes a big difference too.

RG: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum?

JM: Well, I guess I don't know. That's a question I have in a way. I don't think just because something had lasted for two hundred years that it necessarily is, and I'm thinking--I know it seems anymore that if something just has been around long enough that some people think it should be in a museum, but I don't necessarily think that, but if it has a history or a story to tell I guess--

RG: So you're more--maybe the quality then is something--

JM: Well, I don't know. I don't know. I'd have to really examine my own thoughts about that.

RG: Be an individual basis?

JM: Right. I mean I really--yes, each quilt I'd have to think about, but I don't think just because--same way with antiques, furniture and things. I don't think just because something has been around and lasted for two hundred years that it's necessarily deserving.

RG: What makes a great quilter?

JM: [5 second pause.] [laughs.] I don't know. I guess just somebody who has fun doing it. I mean who gets satisfaction out of it. Somebody maybe that inspires other people to do it and enjoy quilting too.

RG: Yes. How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics or colors?

JM: That I really don't know except with the help of other quilters. I'm the first one to buy a block of the month because somebody else has wonderful color taste--

RG: Yes.

JM: You know, and then do it. So I don't know.

RG: You seem like you're very focused on quilting as a group activity, sort of something--learning from other women.

JM: Yes, I mean I have learned--when you were talking about learning before I mean I'm always learning. I learn new things all the time, and you do. It's like a group activity. It's a whole social thing for me. As a matter of fact, the years that I've lived in Milford, which is about thirty something, I taught twenty-five miles away from here, and even though I lived in Milford I never knew anyone in this town, and it's only through sewing and quilting that I have really met people here, so it's like my whole--

RG: So has it really been just since you've been retired from teaching that you've been involved in this?

JM: No, no, but I got more involved.

RG: Right.

JM: But that was my only connection to the community until I retired, and then it was only on like the Saturday bees [inaudible.] thing, but now I'm involved in more during the week and things like that.

RG: Why is quilting important to your life?

JM: Because I think I'd go nuts. [laughs.] I need to feel that the time I spend is worthwhile, and quilting makes me feel like it's worthwhile. A lot of times I'll have the TV on or something like that, but I need to feel I'm doing something productive all the time, and if--since I retired, if I wasn't quilting, I would have to go and get another full-time job, because I would go nuts, so--

RG: In what way do your quilts reflect your community or region if any?

JM: I don't think they do, because like one of the ones I have in the show is called "Las Cruces." It's from New Mexico. It was a block of the month from there, and I mean I like them from all over the place.

RG: So you have an interest in different styles?

JM: Right. Different styles. Right. People--you know when people say, 'Oh, that looks like you.' I always have to laugh at that because I don't think that there's anything that does look like me because sometimes I'll do bright, real bright orange and different colors.

RG: Yes.

JM: And sometimes I'll do country things.

RG: [speaking at the same time as Judy.] This one's very muted.

JM: And other times I want just a two-tone, you know, blue and white, real traditional, so--

RG: I think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JM: Oh, I think they're real important. I think that women's crafts are undervalued, and I think that--You know if I had one job that I try to do when I come in contact with people that don't know about quilting it's to educate them on the amount of time and the cost and everything else involved in quilting and that it should be highly valued just as knitting and a lot of other crafts that are traditionally women's crafts should be just as important as any woodworking and things that they do.

RG: Sort of in that same vein--in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

JM: Well, lot of women have incorporated things in their quilts like fabrics that they made all their children's clothes out of and things like that, so a lot of times they are a--I mean somebody can take a quilt and point to different parts of it and say this is from when we did such and such and things like that, so they're like an open book in a way, and they represent a social gathering of people a lot of times.

RG: How do you think quilts can be used?

JM: Other that keeping warm? [laughs.] Yes, right. Well, decoratively and--yes, I have them on all over walls in my house. I have a display of small quilts at the library. I put that up to advertise the show, and people keep coming in and noticing all the little quilts up there, and they can be used as educational tools, and they can used to raise money for many different things.

RG: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JM: Well, the big thing against quilting in general being preserved for the future is there aren't very many young people doing it and I think--you know they took home ec out of schools or at least sewing pretty much. At least the school--I was in a junior high when I learned to sew, and I think there's a lot of lost arts, and we don't get very many young people. I mean for a long time I was the youngest person in our guild, and that's really sad, [laughs.] and I think that it would be nice if--I mean when I go to the big quilt shows like at Lancaster or Fort Washington where there's thousands of people, and they come from all over the country, it's great to see it, but still the average age has got to be in probably the sixties, and if you're in your fifties, you feel like you're one of the young ones.

RG: Yes.

JM: So that's sad, and I do think--but there's a whole generation of people that think that the quilts that you buy in Boscov's [a regional department store.] and Wal-Mart are--you know that come from Asia and have stitches that are half an inch long--that that's a quilt, and it's just not the same.

RG: Hopefully--I'm twenty years old, and I'm just starting, so hopefully--

JM: You're interested in sewing and stuff?

RG: Yes

JM: Oh, that's good, yes.

RG: My mother's a very big sewer, and it almost always seemed because she's such a good sewer she did all the sewing, so [laughs.] I'm just starting to learn as I get away from--

JM: Well, you know there's sewing and there's artistry too.

RG: Right.

JM: And there are a lot of fabric artists that make quilts, but it's just a whole artistic thing.

RG: Yes.

JM: You know, and I would like to have that talent, and maybe if I ever put my mind to it and ran out of things that were already designed that just attracted me, I really could do that, but I don't worry about it.

RG: What do feel about like art quilts, ones that are abstract and really different?

JM: Well, I think it's neat to have the challenge and to see it, and I think that it's important to--you know I would not necessarily own one, but I admire the work. I appreciate the talent that goes in to it and everything, and that's the only way to grow. Anything that stimulates growth and gets more people interested in widening the parameters is valuable.

RG: What has happened to the quilts that you've made for your family and friends?

JM: They all have them, and they use them. I don't like something to--like my mother had a quilt that I saw about twenty years ago that had been made when they were children, and it stayed in the cedar chest for thirty years, and I think that is crazy. I think that they should be used all the time until they're worn out, and then you can rest them for a while, but they use them.

RG: Is there anything that you'd like to talk about that I missed?

JM: I don't think so.

RG: Anything that comes to mind?

JM: I'm not real good on interviewing. I'm trying--well--

RG: I thought a school teacher like yourself would know how to take charge.

JM: With a bunch of eighth graders [laughs.] thirteen-year-olds, right. No, I just--you know I thank God that my eyes are good and my hands--that I don't have arthritis and everything and that I'm able to do it, because I hope that I can make another forty quilts and stuff, and I really don't worry about whatever happens to them, and I don't make them for a reason except that I enjoy the process of making them. I mean that's the part that I like the most.

RG: Very good. I'd like to thank you for talking to us, and I just want to say that it's about 3:46, 47, and this has been an interview with Judy Manlove. The interviewer, myself, has been Rachel Grove. It's October 19, 2003, in Milford Delaware, and it's for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories Project, and I'd like to thank Mrs. Manlove. Thank you.

[tape recorder shut off.]

Rachel Grove (RG): Good afternoon. I'm here with M.L. Kaczka in Milford, Delaware. What's the name of the event we're at today?

M.L. Kaczka (MLK): The Kent Sussex Quilters' Quilt Show, and this year our theme is "Seasons of the Quilt."

RG: Okay. I'm going stop the tape recorder a minute just to make sure that it's recording.
[tape recorder shut off and turned back on again.] First, M.L, I'd like you to tell me about the particular quilt that we're sitting in front of today.

MLK: Okay. This is the second I've written--I'm on my third mystery quilt, but this is the second mystery quilt that I wrote. It was for a retreat for a guild that I belong to in Dover called Helping Hands. They had a retreat, and it's based on the Kansas City Dugout block. I'd seen the layout in a magazine but I kind of changed the way we did it so you could set it up as a mystery where they prepared some of the elements before they came to the retreat and then you gave guidelines on selecting a fabric, but the idea behind a mystery quilt is you don't know what it's going to look like when you're finished. You just follow directions, and so we went over in Maryland to a bed and breakfast type historical house, and we started Friday night and started working on it, and the first person that got the center part of the quilt done won a prize, and I had already gone to bed, and somebody comes up like one o'clock in the morning, wakes me up, 'I'm done. I'm done,' so--

RG: Was this quilt in particular like a group project or was everybody doing their own--?

MLK: Everybody was doing their own thing, so this was my prototype to make sure that my directions worked and to try it out in advance.

RG: So you did it beforehand?

MLK: Beforehand, and I had--the border fabric is a Jinny Beyer border fabric, which she's like probably my favorite nationally known quilter because she does geometric stuff and I'm a retired math teacher, so--

RG: Oh, okay.

MLK: I taught geometry, so I love geometric stuff, but I used the border fabric to select the colors that I used, and I have eight different fabrics in it, but I had it so people could use like combination of two, four, or eight fabrics or whatever they wanted for their colors, and then you needed a neutral, which my neutral's the black.

RG: Could you describe the fabrics for someone who might not be able to see them, what they look like?

MLK: I did four out of like beige tones, so I have a light, two mediums, and a dark beige tone, and then the others are aquas and the same thing, a light, two mediums, and a darker one. One of the aquas has sort of a gold leaf pattern on it also.

RG: Seems like there's leaves on a lot of--either very tiny or pretty big.

MLK: Probably just like any good quilter with my stash I think I just dipped into my stash, and these are probably fat quarters I think I have that I was using these, so I have like eight different fat quarters that I selected.

RG: What do you mean by fat quarters?

MLK: Okay, when you take a yard of fabric and cut it in half that would be a half yard, and then you cut that piece in half so that it's a quarter of a yard, but it's not all the way across the fabric.

RG: Okay.

MLK: So they're like usually roughly eighteen inches by twenty-two inches wide, and they're a big thing that many quilt shops--they'll have a rack of fat quarters that if you just want a little bit of a fabric.

RG: Yes.

MLK: I guess the eighteen by twenty-two inches there's more you can do then if it's nine inches wide all the way across.

RG: So you think you just acquire these fabrics over time? Like you've had them just in your stash?

MLK: Right and I haven't been quilting that long, but it didn't take long to [laughs.] acquire a stash, and I said I started with the border fabric, which is a deep aqua, and it's sort of floral kind of pattern. It's pretty typical looking for Jinny Beyer's. Some of her fabrics are border fabrics and then mitered my corners, so the fabric matches.

RG: Oh, very good.

MLK: That was quite a challenge for me too.

RG: I also just want to comment quickly that I realize that I didn't tell us the start time of the interview, and it is five after one right now, so we've been going for about five minutes, and my name is Rachel Grove for the transcriber, and this is for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project. Sorry for that little interruption.

MLK: Oh, that's okay.

RG: Okay, does this quilt like have any particular special meaning that you chose it out of all the quilts that you have that you wanted to show this one to me?

MLK: Probably several reasons. Again because I used the Jinny Beyer border fabric, and she's like my favorite nationally known--

RG: Yes.

MLK: Because the design is--I said I saw it in a magazine, but yet the actual directions for the quilt I wrote for the mystery quilt, so I kind of feel like a little more of me is in it personally.

RG: Right.

MLK: The middle border with the little blocks of fabrics that are taken from the center of the quilt--I mean that's just all my own choice, the mitered corners--I tried a lot of different things in here. I have a longarm quilting business now too, and so I quilted this. I also tried to do--I did machine binding. Usually you sew it on the front, and then you sew it on the back, and it takes a long time, so this time I tried where you do on a machine. It's like a hem stitch where it comes along and then just skips over every so often.

RG: Oh, okay.

MLK: So I was trying that to see how, you know--

RG: Is that a technique that you had learned from someone else or you just sort of were just experimenting?

MLK: I was experimenting then I--retired teacher, I read a lot, you know [laughs.], and I've just always felt, you know, if I could read something I could teach myself so I've seen different, you know, books that talk about this as an alternative way of doing binding, and I wanted to try it, and it was getting near time for the quilt show and I was running out of time [laughs.], so I thought, 'Let me try that.' With the black--it has black binding, and with black thread I figured it's not going to show if it doesn't quite work as perfectly as I've done on some other quilts.

RG: Can you tell me a little bit about the quilting stitch? I see it's like sort of curves all over the place.

MLK: In longarm quilting, there's--when you do a pattern that just goes all the way across the quilt and doesn't necessarily match the design of the quilt, that's called a pantograph pattern, and this particular one is called loops and stars. And I kind of picked it because there's if you--there's different ways of looking at it. You've got sort of donut shape from--and I'm not sure why this is called Kansas Dugout, but that's what the block's called, but also if you look here there's a star formed. Can you see?

RG: Yes, you're right.

MLK: It shows up more like here in the white, lighter fabrics.

RG: Yes, I can see that.

MLK: So that's a four point star. Now this is just a pattern I had on hand that has the five point star in it, but kind of thought since this had the star, that pattern kind of fit with it, and it was really interesting at the retreat. We probably had fifteen to twenty people that were doing the mystery quilt, and just on the choice of fabrics, on some people's those stars just really popped out at you. In other ones, it was maybe this diamond shape. I mean it was just interesting to see how doing the same pattern but just choice of fabrics makes such a big difference.

RG: Have you done other mystery quilts before this one?

MLK: Yes, my first one I did was written over eight chapters, and I did that for my guild that I belong to in Milford, and--

RG: What's the name of that guild?

MLK: Piecemakers Guild and I'm currently the president [inaudible.] officer. I'm currently the president of the Milford Guild, and it's hanging over in another corner, my prototype that I did for that one, and I'm currently writing a third one, which I think might be my last.

RG: Oh, why?

MLK: They're a lot of work. I mean at least maybe until I'm done being president.

RG: Right.

MLK: It's, you know, five--they're just a lot of work.

RG: Do you often go on retreats too that like this--?

MLK: That was the first one I'd gone to. It was kind of neat just to--we went--it was just a Friday night and then stayed Saturday, and it was--again I can't remember the name of the place. It's owned by the Methodists. It's over on the water over in Maryland, and it's where their ministers go like when they need a weekend, or they do conferences, and then they rent the place out, and it's an old, probably eighteen hundreds historical building, and you know there's people there to do the cooking for you and everything, and you just kind of haul your sewing stuff there, and they had the mystery quilt, and then they had an appliqué project for people to do.

RG: That sounds nice that you made this quilt.

MLK: And I know there's some people that just go away, just maybe small group, and they'll just go away somewhere for a weekend or a long weekend or a week to quilt.

RG: What are your plans for this quilt?

MLK: This one's not spoken for, so it may just go on the back of the sofa. It's a little bit bigger than just a lap quilt, but right now I'm planning on holding on to it.

RG: Okay. Do you tend to hold onto your quilts or--

MLK: Like I said, I haven't been quilting real long, and I've only just kind of started finishing quilts, but no, I don't think about it.

RG: How long have you been quilting?

MLK: Since '99, so four and a half years.

RG: How long have you been retired?

MLK: Four and a half years.

RG: So you started it as sort of something to do?

MLK: Initially that was it. I sort of consider myself self-taught, but I took a beginner's class the winter of my last year of teaching, knowing I was going to retire, and I had a good friend that quilts, and my sister quilts, and besides I thought, 'Oh, that would be kind of interesting to get into to,' and then I just really jumped into it. I just love it. For the math side of me it just really fits, and then I didn't know I had an artistic side, but I guess I do.

RG: You must, yes.

MLK: And has been a need, so--

RG: Had you done any kind of quilting before then, or was that your first introduction?

MLK: That was my first introduction to that. I mean I'd seen other people's quilts, and I sewed when I was younger, but--

RG: What kind of sewing did you do?

MLK: I made some of my own clothes until I got to the point that my top and bottom weren't the same size [laughs.] and then I don't know how to alter, so once I quit fitting into the patterns nicely I kind of lost interest.

RG: Who taught you how to sew?

MLK: Have to say my mom, and we had--when I went to school girls took home ec. Boys took shop and then they don't call it that anymore but you know I had sewing in school and when I was in college my mother got me a sewing machine one year for Christmas so I just kind of get sewing.

RG: How many hours a week do you quilt?

MLK: I'd say twenty to thirty.

RG: Wow.

MLK: But then I'm trying--I'm working on a business, so--

RG: Longarm quilting?

MLK: Yes.

RG: Yes.

MLK: We're machine quilting, so--

RG: What's the name of your business?

MLK: Quilting Duck Studio.

RG: [laughs.] I saw that was your e-mail address.

MLK: Yes, quilting duck. Well, the explanation is that Kaczka is the Polish word for duck.

RG: Oh, okay. That's M.L.'s last name--note.

MLK: Yes, so that's why I just done a lot of things then with--and then my mystery is called--the first one was called "And then the Duck Quacked." [RG laughs.] And I just called it that, because you know how like when in a mystery at the end of a chapter it will say, 'And then the phone rang,' or 'Then the door opened,' so I did "And then the Duck Quacked."

RG: [laughs.] That's funny.

MLK: And this is "And then the Duck Quacked Again."

RG: Oh, okay.

MLK: And the one I'm working on now is "The Duck Quacked Thrice," but I think the duck's dying at the end of this one. [laughs.]

RG: Oh.

MLK: Or at least going on a vacation.

RG: When you're writing the mystery quilt it actually has like a story to go along with it, not just the--?

MLK: No, some people do. Some mystery quilts do have a story. I haven't gotten to that point yet. I'm more with just--being a teacher I mean I get very detailed, and into this we always had different people at learning styles, so I do diagrams. I do written directions to make sure that you're covering all the bases.

RG: What age did you teach when you were in school?

MLK: I taught seventh through twelfth grade. Everything from seventh grade math to AP calculus.

RG: Okay. Can you tell me sort of what you do as a guild president and what in a week that involves or what you have to do with that?

MLK: Well, we meet monthly. We meet on the second Thursday of the month, and so working closely with my vice-president we coordinate meeting, what we're going to do, different meetings. Sometimes we have guest speakers. Sometimes we have project. I have--we have a newsletter that goes out, so I'm responsible for my little presidential comments and then just making sure all the other information there for upcoming events and different things that we're doing. The vice-president carries the bulk of the work, but in our guild--

RG: Really?

MLK: I was the vice-president. You're vice-president/ program chair, so you kind of coordinate, and you're the one that contacts the guest speakers and everything, and then when you're vice-president--the trick is to have a really good vice-president, and I have a really good vice-president, so--

RG: What's your vice-president's name?

MLK: Debbie Coverdale.

RG: How many people are in your guild?

MLK: We're right up around ninety people.

RG: Okay. I'm going to sort of go back to how you started quilting, and I'd sort of like to know when your first quilting memory is? It might not even be with you quilting, but sort of a quilt memory.

MLK: I'd have to say it was my sister that quilts at home, but in 1981 she--because it says Christmas 1981 down in the corner. [laughs.] That's the only reason I remember the year for sure but she gave me a quilt for Christmas and when I used to sew I'd always give her my scraps, all my left over fabrics. Well, it's a simple quilt. It's just kind of got squares in strips, but some of the fabric is stuff that I had given her, and I can remember the dresses that I made out of it and things like that, and there's some dotted Swiss that I had made a wedding--my bride's maid dress for my roommate in college's wedding. I made my dress, and so it's just kind of neat to just look at those things, and it's some of this really bright stuff from the sixties and seventies, [laughs.] but it's fabric that I had made things out of.

RG: Do you find that fabric sort of has memories that you can remember when you got certain things or--

MLK: Yes.

RG: Yes.

MLK: It's amazing. I even picture some of the fabric that's in this that was my sister's, but I can picture like the blouse that got of it and things.

RG: Are there any other quilters in your family besides your sister?

MLK: I have a quilt that was started by my Grandmother Okerlund who was my father's mother that they found in the cedar chest, and then my mother and sister and the two little ladies that live next door finished it up. This was before I quilted, but you know finished it up, and my sister got one, and I got one, and I think they made a pillow or two for me brother.

RG: Does your mother quilt?

MLK: Other than working on that quilt I don't ever remember her quilting, and my mother's passed away.

RG: Okay, yes. Sorry. How do you think quilting has impacted your family?

MLK: [laughs.] Well, we had to add on a room, so I could get the longarm quilting machine. [laughs.] My husband, God bless him, he's very supportive and we were going to add on a sun room anyhow but it wound up having to be a little bit bigger, because--I don't know if you know what I mean by a longarm machine.
It's on a fourteen foot table, so it takes up half the room.

RG: So this is a home business?

MLK: It's a home business, and then I just moved like all my quilting stuff out there, because I had taken over half of his shop. [RG laughs.] I had like two of the spare bedrooms upstairs where--just filled with stuff and so.

RG: Well, at least now you have sort of a studio, kind of a place where you can take everything.

MLK: Yes, right, and it's very nice and big and lots of windows, and it's just off the kitchen, so I can hop back in to get lunch started or whatever, so I would say it's a positive impact, because I think I'm a happier retired person because of it, so it's very positive to do.

RG: And, oh, how does your husband react to your quilts? Does he--

MLK: Well, he's a pretty practical man, so I mean he's not gushy or anything. [RG laughs.] But he'll always say, 'Well, they're nice,' or whatever, but he's just kind of practical. He's a farmer. Practical, straightforward, and but his mom sewed. We just moved four years ago to the house that he grew up in. His mother's passed away also, and she sewed, so I just kind of sometimes feel like it's her spirit there. She sewed clothing for like all the grandkids and stuff but just feel like there's kind of a connection with her even though she's not with us any longer.

RG: Wow. That's nice. Tell me if you've ever used quilting to get through a difficult time.

MLK: I don't think I've been at it long enough, because my life's been pretty good since I quit teaching, retired [laughs.], and I mean I don't want to say I disliked teaching. I enjoyed teaching.

RG: But it's a job.

MLK: But at thirty years it was time to retire also, and I kind of went out--I was teaching AP calculus. I was teaching wonderful students, and it just kind of was nice to like quit on a high. So I do want to say I enjoyed teaching, but I was also ready to retire, and I just think this quilting has just been like a godsend, because it's just such a positive activity. The people that are involved in quilting I think are the most positive group of people I've ever been involved with, and so I think it's really--I wouldn't call it a difficult time, but it's really--some people worry you're retired. You're going to have nothing to do. You're going to get depressed. You know whatever, but I have just found this to be a wonderful way, and I'm so happy to have it to fill--I don't want to say fill my time, because that just sounds like busy work kind of stuff, but that I found it at this point in my life when I can really devote a lot of time to it.

RG: Sounds with a business and being a guild president and quilting yourself you probably have a lot of time invested in it.

MLK: Right and I'm to the point now where I have start backing off. I've dropped out of a couple of my bees, because I feel you just can't do it all. I want to. [laughs.]

RG: I know the one women back in the other room that we just came from was saying that it's addictive--

MLK: Oh, it is.

RG: Like she can't--What do you find pleasing about quilting?

MLK: I would say probably my favorite aspect is the design aspect, the designing the quilts, and putting colors together. I worked a year in a quilt shop, the one down State, down in Lewes.

RG: Oh, okay.

MLK: And I was the Tuesday girl. [laughs.] I worked--

RG: Came in on Tuesday?

MLK: Yes, I mean I just worked one day a week, and but I just really enjoyed helping people pick their colors. Some people don't have color confidence. And they want--I just find that just a really fun thing to do, and then I have the EQ5, which is a computer program for designing quilts, and I like just getting on there and playing with design and things and seeing how different things look.

RG: Yes. Do you find with your background in math you sort of can be a little bit more adventurous with the kind of ideas you can think to put things together or-- [4 second pause.] I know that that's a problem for me, sort of figuring out how things are going to go together.

MLK: Well, the computer program helps too, because I'm fairly comfortable with computers. I'm one of those dangerous people. I'm converting this to female. They used to say, 'Jack of all trades, master of none.' I'm the 'Jill of all trades, mistress of none,' but so computers don't scare me, so I get on there and try things, because you're not going to break it, and like to do the math, like to figure out something you designed yourself, and then like how long to make borders and things when it's not like it's just already written for you or how much fabric you need to do different things. The math part doesn't bother me at all. Whereas some people--they're a little more intimidated by the math.

RG: That would be me.

MLK: So they like patterns that already tell them that, which is--like when I'm writing a mystery quilt that part doesn't bother me. It's kind of tedious, but it doesn't bother me.

RG: Sort of in that vein. What aspects of quilting don't you enjoy?

MLK: Oh, what don't I enjoy? Well, I'm sorry.

RG: I knew I wanted to make sure.

MLK: Some quilts like it's nice to have the techniques now where you just do repetitive--like the strip piecing or you're sewing something together, and you're making like fifty blocks, and you just crank them through the machine, and it's easy, but that--but I like geometric quilts, so you know some of this stuff is just repetitive motion kind of thing, but that can get a little boring at times, and until I got the machine I had a lot of tops that the quilts weren't finished, but at least now that I have the machine--

RG: The longarm machine?

MLK: The longarm machine. I mean I said I'd do them for other people too, but it's also giving me enough way of getting my quilts done.

RG: Where'd you get your longarm machine?

MLK: Rich Nelson. He's my dealer out of Voorhees, New Jersey. I had--he was at the Fort Washington show, or his wife was last year, and then if you to the Gammill--mine's a Gammill machine. That's the brand name, and if you go to their website then they notify the dealers that are closest to you.

RG: Oh, okay.

MLK: And then they get in touch with you.

RG: Oh, okay. Sort of more in a little broader terms what do you think makes a great quilt?

MLK: Design. My own personal that I make I lean more towards the geometric mode but I have a great appreciation of appliqué because you know the patience and the time that it takes like Baltimore Album quilts. But again I said I'm big fan of Jinny Beyer, and she did one for right after September 11 that just has all these triangles, and it's just all swirls out. Every time you go around the circle the triangles get--you know they're a different shape, and it's in sort of smokey red, white, and blues to kind of give the idea of the smoke from the September 11, the buildings, and everything, and it has little Statue of Liberty like off of a specialty fabric in some of the triangular points, and it's just gorgeous and just to know the meaning of it, but--

RG: How'd you become familiar with her work?

MLK: Just probably from reading one of her books and or if I saw her on Simply Quilts [television show hosted by Alex Anderson.] first or not, but--and just I mean her stuff is so geometric. I went couple years ago--she does a seminar every year, a week long seminar in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and I went in 2002--went down there for a week, and she has like a theme for the week, but then she has guest teacher come in and stuff too, so it was wonderful. [laughs.] I parked my car on one Sunday and never moved it until the next Sunday, and I did get out on the beach a couple days. It was nice enough, but it was just--

RG: That's great that you have like somebody to admire and sort of--

MLK: Yes.

RG: Look up to.

MLK: Now the only thing I don't--she does everything by hand.

RG: Oh.

MLK: She cuts. She uses templates. She hand sews. She hand quilts. I mean she cuts all her templates.

RG: [speaking at the same time as M.L.] Wow. Just the little bit of quilting I've done I've like tried to not do everything by hand because it's insane.

MLK: She started in I think--and I'm not positive--I think it was with her husband that they were living in India in the seventies and wanted to start to quilt but didn't have all the--so she kind of like--she did a quilt that she just had like a black and white pattern for, so she didn't know what the traditional colors were supposed to be. She did it in all these bright India colors, and it was really kind of--just kind of started off on a different path without realizing it.

RG: When you don't have any rules to break, she can--

MLK: Right. Yes, and I think that's probably helped her a lot that she didn't feel fenced in by these rules, because she didn't know what they were.

RG: Actually, there's sort of a question on here about longarm quilting versus hand quilting or just machine quilting versus longarm quilting, because some people are sort of sensitive about which way it's done. How do you feel on that issue?

MLK: Well, I think there's a place for everything. Like the Baltimore Albums and some of those some of those going to be an heirloom that's going to be passed down. I can see probably want to have it hand quilted. It sort of has a traditional look to it, but if you've got a quilt that you're sending off with the grandkid to college that you knows going to go in a washing machine several time, what they call like utility quilts or that's just going to be used. The machine quilt's going to hold up a lot better. What I find--like I said I haven't even done much advertising, and I have a dozen quilts at home waiting to be done of other peoples. They kind of went on hold for the quilt show. People like enjoy making the tops, but hand quilting's a long process, and then trying if it's any size quilt to machine quilt it on your home machine is challenging. I know there's some people that do a very good job of it, but I just think there's a place, and then I--longarm quilters kind of serve that niche for the people that are making quilts for other people that they know are going to be used, and they just want to get it done. I mean I can--I don't know if I did this one in a day. I could do it in a day if I just stuck with it. I have a short attention span [inaudible.]. [laughs.]

RG: You could do this all in a day with longarm machine?

MLK: Right but with a pantograph pattern. Now this one back here, which I know we're not technically talking about [pointing to an adjacent quilt that she also completed.].

RG: We can talk--this--

MLK: That one's mine also.

RG: Yes, the Maple--

MLK: The Maple Leaf pattern. [4 second pause.] When you do a border treatment you have to rotate the quilt. You do the top and the bottom and some of the quilting down to kind of stabilize it, and then you have to rotate it to do the other two sides, so they now become the top and the bottom.

RG: Oh, okay.

MLK: So that you can do it all in one continuous where you'd have to break the pattern, and so that takes more time. This would be called custom work, because each block was--it's the same pattern, but each block was done separately. The sashing's done separately. The borders are done separately. Whereas this is just you pick--and that's a whole market out there. There's all kinds of patterns out there, the pantographs that they're on a great big, long roll, and you put it on the back of the table, and then you have a laser light, and you just trace as you go across, and what you're tracing is what they machine is sewing. So, you just go from side to side. You crank it up. You go from side to side, so you have some longarm quilters that that's all they'll do is pantographs.

RG: Did you have to get any special training to learn how to use it or--

MLK: Rich when he came and brought the machine, he was there nine thirty in the morning and by lunch time had the machine set up, and then we had lunch, and then I had like--then he trained me. First on the mechanics, timing and where you have to oil and everything and then we did some training. I had just some muslin that we put on, loaded it on that machine, and practiced different moves, but other than that it's just on the job training, so I had some of my quilts' tops that were ready that I started experimenting with.

RG: Back sort of to that general stuff. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

MLK: [8 second pause.] I go back to design and use of fabric and dramatic colors and something that's a little different and just kind of pushing the envelope as they say. Although, I'm not really sure what that means. [laughs.] I said when I went to Jinny Beyer's seminar, I took a class from this Katie Pasquini Masopust. She does very artistic quilts. She had one there on display. It was like these carafes with colored water in it and sort of black, but then she had done it. It was like from a still life kind of thing, but she did it in fabric instead of like somebody might paint it. It was just gorgeous.

RG: What do you think about some of those art quilts that people make that aren't even like--I don't know they don't look like a traditional quilt at all? Like they're not geometric at all. What do you think about those?

MLK: Again, I can appreciate them. I mean I think they're wonderful. I wish I could do them, and you just have to--I guess I can't narrow down my focus enough yet. I still kind of--I've tried some appliqué. I do the geometric things.

RG: You think you'll try them someday, something?

MLK: Well, like I said I started a project. We did a project in Katie's class, because it was like a--[3 second pause.] I think that was two days, and then I came home, and it's just kind of still sitting out in the shed, [laughs.] my husband's shop, that I always meant to finish it or try it again, but there's just too many things that I want to try. I wanted to go back to when you asked me about like the longarm and things, and I know there's some people--I ran into the art teacher from where I taught, and I thought he'd be impressed, because I was into quilting. I was into something artistic you know being the math teacher, and as soon as I told him that I do machine quilting, 'Well, that's not real quilting,' and he asked me, 'I suppose you have a bread machine too,' he said [laughs.], but it's like I think people have--myself I just think there's different times for different things and whatever works, so--

RG: People shouldn't be so narrow-minded.

MLK: No, and they have gotten better like at national shows that--I don't know if they keep them separated, but machine quilting has become an accepted form, and people do some gorgeous stuff with machine quilting like metallic threads and just all kinds of really fabulous stuff. It's just another medium.

RG: Right. What makes a great quilter?

MLK: I think someone who's willing to try something new and step out on the--step out on what. I don't know--plank and jump [laughs.]. Challenges themself that pushes themself because that's the people I see. They're out there trying these techniques to--very innovative things that you see their final project that really worked out. Who knows how many things are back home that didn't work before they got to that point, that they're just always willing to experiment?

RG: Yes. How do great quilters learn the art of quilting like how to choose colors?

MLK: I'm sure it's probably a lot through trial and error. I would think they do or just--I said the thing I think so neat about quilting is one of things is you can put together all those things that your mother said you couldn't wear together. [RG laughs.] You know with the plaids and the florals and the stripes, and just if you like it, it's fine, and I'm sure that's how the really great quilters just experimented a lot and try different things, and like I was saying with Jinny Beyer, the fact that she didn't know what the rules were, so she just kind of went out, and then you get other people who maybe know what the rules are but decide, 'Well, hey, I don't have to follow those. Try whatever I want.'

RG: I sort of remember like an art class in high school they used to tell us that we had to learn how to do things realistic first, because you can't break the rules until you learn them, but yes, I don't know.

MLK: Yes, and probably most of these quilters did start out with traditional things and then just decided they wanted to do--I have a book I just got recently where it takes--well, it might take like this block here, and then it just would pull this point off center, and it would give it a totally--like these pieces would become bigger, so these pieces would become smaller, and it just kind of shifts.

RG: That little variation.

MLK: Instead of it being nice symmetrical block it shifts like the center point, and it just--you put those together, and you got a whole new look.

RG: Why is quilting important to your life?

MLK: [9 second pause.] [inaudible.] quilting. [RG laughs.] It just--[6 second pause.] It just--it combines my mathematical abilities with an artistic talent I didn't know I had, and [4 second pause.] I think it makes me feel good about myself that I can create these things, and I'm trying to learn [inaudible.], and I thank God for these talents that if I didn't have the brain power and all that he gave me I wouldn't be able to do this whether--it's just really just been a wonderfully creative thing to do, and I said I enjoyed teaching all those years, but teaching is kind of--I called it locked in a box. It's nice when you're locked in the box with a nice group of kids, but it's still locked in a box all day, and you're somewhat restricted in what you can do and can't do, and this just like I said anything goes and the limits of what my finances [laughs.] will support, and but I've just found it a wonderful way to spend my time.

RG: Yes. Do you think that your quilts reflect your community or region?

MLK: [6 second pause.] Probably right now because I'm still somewhat traditional. My color choices might not always be real traditional, but my blocks and things are, and downstate Delaware I think's pretty traditional place.

RG: How do you think quilts can be used?

MLK: Well, the utility of them for warmth, for napping on the sofa or on your bed or for decorating the guest room, hanging on the wall. There's some groups--my guild up in Dover, Helping Hands, they have a group. They call themselves Q.F.O., Quilting for Others, that they make quilts, small quilts, that they give to the local police and the fire companies so when they go either to like a fire where there's small children or like if the police are going into a home abuse situation that they can give a quilt to a little one. I think they're a wonderful source of comfort, and I think they're starting to make them now too like for lap quilts in the nursing homes, and so I just think--I think quilts can send a wonderful message of comfort and love, and it can be the plainest quilt in the world. There was a group that came to our guild two, three years ago that they said they were making what they called ugly quilts. They were well made, but they were kind of blah fabrics and stuff, but they were giving them to like homeless people, and they made them kind of drab, so they wouldn't try to sell them like to buy drugs or booze or whatever so that they would use them for the warmth when they were out on the streets, so that's what they called them, ugly quilts. They didn't want them to be attractive that somebody might want to sell them.

RG: That's interesting. What has happened to the quilts that you've made for family or friends?

MLK: [6 second pause.] Well, I have a--right now they're a five-year-old nephew and a eight-year-old niece here in Delaware that I've made several for them, and they're gotten all used, and I made--it's called a six-hour quilt. It's one you make with a serger. It's a little different technique, and I made Kaitlyn, Colby, and then their cousin Jesse ones like they could use like when you're going to kindergarten, and you had to have your little quilt for naptime, and most of the ones I've given away so far have like gone to little kids, so I'm assuming they're well used and been through the wash a few times.

RG: Would you like your grandchildren to learn how to quilt someday?

MLK: Well, this is one of those mathematic things. I don't have kids, so I'm probably not going to have grandkids. I just have nieces and nephews, but I don't have any children, so--but I would hope someone in the family would continue on with it. Sometimes it seems like it skips a generation. The kids are getting the benefits without having to do the work. [laughs.] The aunts or moms are here that are making the quilts for them, and then you have to skip a generation.

RG: Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you'd like to talk about?

MLK: [9 second pause.] Not that I can think of.

RG: Okay, that's fine. I guess we'll end it then. We're getting near the end of our time. This is Rachel Grove. I'm here with M.L.--give me your last name again.

MLK: Kaczka.

RG: Kaczka. Why can't I remember that? M.L. Kaczka in Milford, Delaware, and the time is 1:43 and I just want to thank her for sitting down with me and being so open.

MLK: You're welcome.

RG: Very good. Very good. The end.

MLK: I have an opinion on most everything.

RG: [laughs.]

[tape recorder shut off.]



“ML Kaczka,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed September 29, 2023,