Kellie Wachter




Kellie Wachter




Kellie Wachter


Kathryn Koos-Lee

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

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Kailua, Hawaii


Kathryn Koos-Lee


Kathryn Koos-Lee (KKL): My name is Kathryn Koos-Lee and today's date is April 29, 2009, and we are starting at 10:09 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Kellie Wachter in Kailua, Hawaii for the Quilters' S.O.S - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage committee of the Hawaii State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Kellie Wachter is a quilter and a member of the Aloha Chapter. [pause for 10 seconds.] Tell me about the two quilts that you brought in today.

Kellie Wachter (KW): The first quilt is a Baltimore Album quilt, and it is my first one of that style and the other is a miniature crazy quilt made out of silk.

KKL: And why did you choose those particular two quilts?

KW: Well, it was a logistical thing mainly, because my husband is in the Air Force, and we are in the middle of a move. You can see [gestures.] [laughs.] all our furniture is on a truck headed for the warehouse, and so I needed to pick something that was portable so I chose the miniature quilt and, but I couldn't leave behind the Baltimore Album quilt because I am so proud of it. It's not finished yet, so I thought maybe it wasn't appropriate to show it. But I decided unfinished is better to be included than to not show it at all, I couldn't make up my mind, so I brought both. [laughs.]

KKL: It looks almost finished. What percentage of finished do you think it is?

KW: Well, the top is done. The top is how it is going to be, but I still need to make the quilt sandwich and do all the sewing, the quilting.

KKL: Do those have special meaning for you?

KW: Yeah, they do. The Baltimore Album quilt, when I first started quilting that was the style I was drawn to, that is what I always loved, but it was too daunting. I didn't want to undertake the project and then be disappointed that I couldn't do it. And so now twenty years later, I finally felt I was ready to take it on and I am really pleased with the result. It looks good, I think. And the little book, the album that the quilt has on one of the center squares, on the front, it says "Album" and you open it up and there is the quilt label that says, 'When this you see, remember me,' and it has my name and the date, year the quilt was made so it has that little special touch that I think is really neat.

KKL: It says 2009. [block actually says 2008 as that was the year the square was completed. the top was completed in 2009.]

KW: Yeah, yeah. I have been dreaming of this quilt for years. But I really didn't start it until this past year, and I finished the top at the same time and hopefully I will have it quilted before the end of the year so the label will be not inaccurate. [laughs.] Hopefully. [KKL laughs.]
And the miniature quilt combined my two loves. I am also a miniature artist, and so it seemed a natural progression that I would then do a miniature quilt and one of the master miniatures quiltmakers is right here on Oahu and her name is Joann Heim and she had done wonderful miniature quilts. One of them has sold for two thousand dollars in a charity auction and is now in a museum, a miniature museum. And I met her through a mutual friend, and she offered to teach me how to do it. And I thought I can't pass this chance up, so I learned that just, just a few months ago.

KKL: And Joann's last name is spelled?

KW: Heim, I believe.

KKL: So, I don't know much about miniature quilting so--

KW: There aren't too many out there. I have looked it up online. I have tried to see who is out there doing what and there are some really good ones, but they are few and far between. But Joann is one of the best.

KKL: So, what about other miniature do you do? Painting?

KW: No, I wish I could, but I am not a good painter. But I do make miniature food, like Fimo, food for dollhouses and that sort of thing. I have done miniature furniture pieces, miniature houses, miniature vignettes of all sorts.

KKL: So, it wasn't too far then for you to do this miniature.

KW: No, no and I have done other miniature quilts. But they were other little patch quilts, nothing, nothing too special. This one has a wow factor that the others just didn't have.

KKL: And what do you think the wow factor is?

KW: I don't know. It is one of those things when you look at something and you want to take a second look at it, you want to look at it closer. This one you look at and say, 'Oh, now that's different, that's special.' And it just has that quality to it.

KKL: Are there special techniques that you use to make a miniature quilt?

KW: It is the same techniques that you use for full size; you just have to scale it all down. It's not any different really, just working in a smaller scale. Smaller pieces of fabric, smaller stitches.

KKL: Is there a certain size that makes it a miniature quilt?

KW: Ah, some of the miniature quilts that are out there I've seen are maybe 24 inches square. This one is a scale miniature meaning its one foot equals an inch in miniature so it would fit in a one-inch scale doll house. So, the whole quilt in its entirety is only seven inches square.

KKL: Is that what you plan to use it for a doll house?

KW: I thought I was at first, but after it was done, I liked the look of it so well, I think I am going to frame it and hang it on the wall.

KKL: What do you think that somebody who would be viewing your two quilts would think about you when they saw those?

KW: I think they might thought I have lost my mind. [laughs.] That crazy quilt is something else. I mean I wear a magnifiers loop, a jeweler's loop to do the embroidery because it is really tiny. But I think above all they would think I am not afraid of color. I love color, lots of saturated color, so I almost always have that in all my quilts.

KKL: And what about the other quilt, what do you think they would say when they saw that one?

KW: I would hope that they would think that I am starting to figure out how to do a quilt. [laughs.] [KKL laughs.] Maybe I have a little bit of talent in that area, it is not just thrown together. It is one of my better efforts. I am really proud of it.

KKL: And how do you plan to use that quilt?

KW: I wish I had made it bigger so I could use it on a bed. But it is not big enough. It is only 56 inches square so it will go on the wall. I could use it as a lap quilt, but it would get beat up then, so I am going to use it as a piece of art.

KKL: Maybe you could design a place to use it in your new home in North Carolina for both of them.

KW: Yeah, I hope so. South Carolina.

KKL: Oh, South Carolina. Excuse me.

KW: Yeah, it will be a beautiful thing on the wall.

KKL: So, tell me how you got started with quilt making?

KW: That's a mystery to me. I have always been in love with quilt making even though nobody around me when I was a child growing up made quilts. I have always just been drawn to them. I think we had one quilt in the house that came to me from my dad's side of the family, and we always loved that quilt and I think that is what sparked my interest originally. But I can't remember not wanting to sew. I can remember as young as four or five years old having a scrap of cloth and a needle a in my hand trying to make something. It wasn't easy since no one was teaching me how. But I would pretend. I would just sew my little heart out.

KKL: So, what age did you start then your quilt making?

KW: The first quilt I made was right after I got married in 1988. It was a denim picnic quilt; that I made out of old blue jeans and that was 21 years ago.

KKL: So, you used it for picnicking, and laying down or laying on a table?

KW: Oh, yeah, it is a nice big heavy quilt because it was made out of blue jeans, and I backed in a bandana print fabric. So, it is very, very--it's perfect for picnics. And we still have it. We use it every time we go somewhere. It is nice big, heavy. We have taken it on I don't know how many camping trips. It is a real beater quilt. And because it was blue jeans, I didn't actually quilt it, I tied it. I don't think I could have sewn through all that denim but -- Yeah, it was a great little quilt, and it was mistake proof. I mean, how bad could it be? The patches didn't line up, it didn't matter. It was meant to be a beater quilt. So, so that was my first one.

KKL: So how many quilts do you think you have made over the years?

KW: Oh, my, fifteen - twenty perhaps. Not all of them worth keeping. [laughs.] Most of them not. [laughs.]

KKL: No. [laughs.] So, if you didn't learn from your mother or grandmother, who, you just learned on your own?

KW: I'm completely self-taught, yeah.

KKL: That's great! So how many hours a week do you quilt?

KW: When I have a quilt in the works, I try to work on it a couple of hours every day. I learned a long time ago that if I stayed at it too long, I would get burnt out on it and wad it up in a ball and throw it in a corner and ignore it for months at a time. But if I always stop when I still feel like working on it, I'll come back to it the next day. So, I limit myself to about two hours a day, when I've got a quilt in the works. And I like to have one the needs actual quilting, the top that is finished and it just needs to be quilted and one that is in pieces that I spend time with the sewing machine, piecing the top. So having two quilts going at the same time is my preferred way to do it.

KKL: And you had these two quilts going at the same time?

KW: I did. [laughs.]

KKL: And one is still going. [laughs.]

KW: Yes. [laughs.]

KKL: You finished the little, little miniature quilt?

KW: I did. I knew we were leaving the island and knew I wasn't going to have an opportunity to learn from Joann anymore so I was desperate to get that one done so she could show me every step of the way, the entire process. So, I really pushed myself to get that one finished while I still had a chance to learn from her.

KKL: So, you have another quilt in the works?

KW: I do. I have. Well, the Baltimore Album that is half done, and I have another quilt top done of a miniature quilt--

KKL: Oh!

KW: To be embroidered still. I had to put it on the back burner. I worked on it so, too much. I gave myself tendonitis in my thumb and so I had to [laughs.] put it in a box and put it away for a while to let my hand heal before I can go back to it. But it is waiting for me when I am ready.

KKL: So, you will be taking those with you then.

KW: I will. It keeps me from going still crazy when I am sitting in a hotel room all by myself. I can pull out my quilting and get some work done on it.

KKL: So, what is your first quilt memory?

KW: That would have to be the quilt that my grandmother made that came to us through my dad's side of the family. He had died when I was young, so I don't know the exact story of this quilt, at least I didn't. I am starting to know more now through my family research, but we always had that quilt. At the time we used it for picnics; it was a beater quilt. We had it on the bed. We loved to have that quilt when we were sick and stuck in bed because it was--the pattern is Many Trips Around the World. And it is a postage stamp quilt. The pieces of it are only about two inches square and there are all colors. It is probably from the 1930's judging from the fabric. It looks like some feed sacks and that shirting material and like that. And so, each of these little blocks is different. And so, we could sit for hours; it looks like an "I Spy" quilt. There is one little patch of fabric in that quilt that had a little chicken on it that is a quarter inch big if it is that big. And I found it two or three times when I was little. Every time I have that quilt out, I look for that chicken again and I cannot find it. [both laugh] But we loved to be under that quilt, looking at all the different patterns with the fabric and when that got boring, we would tuck our heads underneath and hold it up to the sun light and it looked like a church window with all the light streaming through the squares. We just loved it, and I am sure that is what got me started wanting to do quilts.

KKL: That is a wonderful memory. [inaudiable.] So, has anyone else in your family pick up quilting?

KW: No, my mother didn't like to sew. She never did. My dad, I remember her telling a story that he got her a sewing machine thinking the reason she didn't sew was that she didn't have a sewing machine. It never dawned on him the reason she didn't sew was because she didn't like to sew. [both laugh.] So, she had the sewing machine sitting in the corner of the room for years. I finally took it and that is what I sewed that blue denim quilt. But my grandmother, her mother, crocheted like nobody's business. But she didn't quilt, so it was a real mystery to me where I picked up this compulsion to quilt until I found some family members on my dad's side that I had never been in contact with. So, we lost contact with his family when he died in the early 70's. And one of the questions I first asked this newfound cousin was, 'Oh tell me, do you quilt?' And she said, 'Oh, my, yes, we all quilt.' And so now I know, it was through my grandmother on my dad's side. They are all avid quilters. And they quilt by hand; she does all of her piece work by hand. I asked my uncle, when I finally found him, 'Did your mom quilt?' And he said, 'Oh, yeah. Yeah. I have several of her quilts.' In fact, she died in her forties of cancer, and I remember him telling me that even when she was too sick to leave the house and go out, she would have her quilting frame set up in her room and all her friends would come and they would sit around the frame and quilt. So, I am pretty sure that this quilt that came to us through my dad was probably one of her quilts.

KKL: That is very special. So how about your friends? Do you have friends that quilt?

KW: I do. I have one friend that I met in Omaha when we were stationed at Offut Air Force Base. Her name is Kit French, and she is a wonderful quilter. She is a textile artist really. She does her own weaving; she dyes her own cloth with natural dyes. She is into all kinds of interesting and unusual techniques. And she is the one who got me started on my Baltimore Album quilt. As I told her I dreamed of doing this quilt. But I had wanted to wait until I had just the right fabrics and really felt my skills were up to the task. So, my going away present from her was a stack of fabrics in flowery colors, meant for Baltimore Albums, and so she is the one who got me started with that. She really set me on the path to getting it done.

KKL: And what was her name?

KW: Kit, Kit French.

KKL: Kit French, ok. How would you say that it has impacted your family?

KW: It could go either way. You could say that it had a negative impact because it takes me away from doing things with and for them. But on the other hand, it is where I restore myself, so it puts me in a better frame of mind, and they get blankets to boot. Then it is to their benefit, so I think overall that is more to their advantage that I get my quilting time, [laughs.] than if I don't.

KKL: And you have a husband and one--

KW: One son.

KKL: And he is a high school student?

KW: He is. He is graduating this year and going off to college.

KKL: So, what is his view of your quiltmaking?

KW: I think he really liked it. I think he's at that age--well, he was having to choose blankets to take with him to college and he didn't choose a quilt. Because the last quilt for him was an Attic Window Quilt, and the backing fabric is all planets as he had a thing for space when we designed and planned this quilt. But now I think he thinks it is a little juvenile and he doesn't want to set himself up for ridicule when he goes off to college. [laughs.] So, he didn't take that quilt, but I know down deep he loves the quilts.

KKL: So maybe another time.

KW: I will have to make him a more masculine, more adult quilt that he can take off to school with him.

KKL: Good. Have you ever used quilts or quilting to get you through a difficult time?

KW: Oh, yes. That is why I have that Baltimore Album quilt top. [laughs.] Every time we PCS [Permanent Change of Station.] it is very stressful, and quilting is where I go to, it is my constant. The house may be in an upheaval. I maybe having to learn a whole new neighborhood, find new friends and all of that. But I always have my quilting, and so I always go back to it. And I know getting settled into a new community is always hard, so I like to have a quilt top project that will fill my time. So, I almost always make sure I have a quilt top ready to be quilted before we move to a new location. And so, I got my quilt top ready for this one.

KKL: Good! Do you look for a new quilt store in your new neighborhood?

KW: Oh, before we really get there. I already know there is a great one in Columbia, they do quilting. But with the tendonitis it is getting harder for me to do my own hand quilting so I am thinking that I could take some quilt tops in and have them done on a long-arm machine by somebody else. I will do the tops and let them do that. I think that will be nice. I still want to do some quilting, but I don't feel the need to do all of them. [laughs.]

KKL: There will probably be a lot of quilts to see in that neighborhood.

KW: Yeah, yeah. Sewing and heirloom sewing in the South is very big, so I think there will be lots of opportunities.

KKL: Tell me about an amusing experience that occurred to you while quiltmaking?

KW: I don't know how amusing it is. [laughs.] More heartbreakingly painful but now that I look back on it, it is now a little funny and I hope that I will laugh more as time distances me from it. But I had made a Flower Basket quilt and it was at that point it was my best quilt to date. I had really taken pains with it. The flower baskets were all done with half square triangles, and I had lost very few of the points on my triangles. It was a good quilt. And I had chosen my colors well and worked hard on it. I had hand quilted the whole thing. The only thing I did was I couldn't find a backing fabric that I liked, that suited me. I was still having to shop for bargain fabrics, because I am a stay-at-home mom, single income, we've got to make ends meet so I very often look first in the bargain pile for my fabric. And I found a fabric that was almost quite right but not exactly. But I thought, 'Oh, I'll dye it. I will give it an over-dye of brown dye and that will bring the color down and it will match and be perfect.' And I did that. I didn't wash the fabric afterward thoroughly enough I guess or didn't use a mordant to fix the dye. I didn't know any better. I sewed it all together, put in on my quilt and quilted the whole thing, put it in the machine to give it one last wash and all of that dye seeped out of the backing fabric into the fabric top and kind of made it sepia-toned. [laughs.] This bright, vibrant flowery quilt was now sepia toned. [laughs.] And I would grind my teeth every time I would look at it because I loved that quilt until I washed it. And now I hated the quilt. I was telling my mom about it. I sent her a picture of it. And she said, 'Oh, I think it would match my bedroom furniture as it is.'

KKL: Oh.

KW: I said, 'Oh, you think?' And she said, 'Yeah.' 'Well, you got yourself a quilt.' I boxed it up, I mailed it to her. She said, 'It is perfect. It matches the wood tone on my bed. It looks like it was made for it.' So, she now has the quilt.

KKL: What a perfect ending.

KW: [laughs.] Yeah, and I have decided I'm going to make it again because I want my own, so I got the fabric all chosen for it. So that is one of my next projects when I get to South Carolina to remake that stinking Flower Basket quilt. [laughs.]

KKL: [laughs.] So, you have more than one project in--

KW: [laughs.] I have several in the barrel. I found--you know they have the beautiful oriental fabrics here that you don't see on the mainland very often, so I have been stockpiling those and I'm going to make a Chinese Lantern Quilt and my husband gave me a book for Christmas. I think Mimi Diectrich wrote it about a diary quilt that tells your story in a quilt.

KKL: Mmmm.

KW: So, I have that lined up and ready to go. And there is one other; but I can't remember what it is. I will figure it out when--oh, the Flower Basket, the Chinese Lantern and the Diary quilt. All of them, I have the fabric, everything lines up and ready to go. I just need the time and the space to do it in.

KKL: Hopefully, you will have the space once you get there.

KW: Yeah.

KKL: I know you won't have the time right away, but maybe eventually. [laughs.]

KW: Yeah.

KKL: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

KW: My favorite part is the color and choosing the fabrics. When you get it just right that's when you get that wow factor, I think. That's my favorite part is choosing just the right fabrics.

KKL: So, choosing the fabrics you say, is the part you most enjoy?

KW: Yeah, planning the quilt, choosing the fabrics and then you get into doing the actual work. But I do enjoy that part as well, but not as much as I like planning the quilt.

KKL: And how long to you think it takes you in the planning stage?

KW: Oh, I start ruminating on ideas months and months in advance. And when I get one project close to the finish line, then I'll start shopping for fabrics or pulling fabrics from my own stash. And getting things ready for it; and then waiting for the right time to start piecing it. I don't like to piece it if I don't have enough time to sit at it for two to four hours at a time because I need that continuity. The older I get the flakier I get. And if I have to start and stop, the quilt isn't as good, because I forget what I learned from sewing the last block and I have to relearn it, so it is choppy and disjointed and not as much fun. I have that learning curve. If I sew one block I see where the mistakes are and how I can improve it and then I can get it done. Stop and come back to it, I forget all that. And so, I have to wait until I have two or three days that I can call my own, and so I can sit down and get the top done.

KKL: Do you belong to any quilt groups or things?

KW: No, I never have.

KKL: And how would say that technology has influenced your work?

KW: I guess the rotary cutter has made it possible for me to be a decent quilter. When you had to cut the squares by hand with a template and a pair of scissors, accuracy was not easy to achieve and for me even less so. I am just not good with scissors. But with the rotary cutter I can actually get a square that's square. And so, it made a world of difference in my quilting.

KKL: So, the miniature quilt you said was all hand done and the Baltimore is that all hand done too or are parts of that done on a machine?

KW: The appliqué is all hand appliqué, but it is pieced together on a machine. Yeah.

KKL: So, you kind of use a combination of technologies depending on--

KW: I do, whatever will work best for me I am not afraid to use something. I know there are some purists who think something must be done entirely by hand, but I just don't subscribe to that. I think whatever gives you the desired result is how you ought to go.

KKL: So, you have a favorite technique or a favorite material?

KW: I really do enjoy appliqué, freezer paper appliqué. I like that best of all, I think. But I also like paper piecing. And oh, I think as far as materials I am a cotton girl. I like 100% cotton in most cases. The crazy quilt, the miniature, the silk is the best, I think. That is done on a foundation of cotton lawn or batiste, some real thin cotton fabric. But the patches are all silk and the backing is silk. And when you're working that small, you want to have it drape. You can't get the drape you need with cotton as it is too stiff. But the silk drapes nicely. It is nice to sew through; it's like sewing in butter. It is just effortless; so, it is nice to work in the silks in that regard. It is made mostly of old men's ties. Not old men's, but men's old ties. [laughs.]

KKL: [laughs.] Could be both. [laughs.]

KW: [laughs.] Yeah, perhaps it is both.

KKL: [laughs.] So, it certainly is beautiful. [laughs.] Do you have a special room in your house that you use for your quilting or a special place you like quilt at?

KW: I usually set aside one of the bedrooms as a sewing room. This is, was my sewing room before everything in it was gone. [gestures.] It had a nice sewing table for my sewing machine. One year for Christmas my husband gave me a spool rack that holds, I don't know, umpteen spools of thread. And it's, I love it. It hangs on the wall and is so bright and colorful. It's almost like a piece of art in itself. And that was one of my favorite Christmas gifts ever was that rack of thread. [laughs.]

KKL: Do you have new home yet with a room picked out for a sewing room or is that something you will be getting in--?

KW: Yeah, we have been looking online for apartments. I think we are going to move into an apartment. But we're definitely going to get at least a three bedroom because I have to have a room for my sewing. It is not optional anymore. I figure at this point in my life I can have a room for my sewing. [laughs.]

KKL: [laughs.] Good, you will be able to keep going?

KW: Absolutely.

KKL: How do you balance your time between trying to do the projects that you like to do, and I know being a military wife and then I know being a mother who is actively involved in her son's school activities?

KW: Yeah, I do the carrot on a stick kind of thing. My quilting is my reward for getting all the other stuff done. If the housework needs attention, I promise myself I can quilt once I get that stuff done. If I have obligations with my husband work or my son's school, once I get that done, the quilting is my reward. So, it helps me hasten through those projects that are a little more tiresome. Not that dealing with my husband, or my son is tiresome. [laughs.] But the housework definitely is. So, I save it for my reward. And it helps me get through the other jobs that much quicker.

KKL: Do you ever find you like you are so involved with quilting that you had to leave it to go prepare the evening meal or anything?

KW: It is especially when I'm quilting or piecing a top. I can set the quilting aside and come back to it at any time. But when I am in the middle of piecing a top, I very often hate to pull myself away for the very reason that I had discussed earlier. I need that continuity to get the job done well. And so, I often will just let it be known that I'm working on this, and you'll have to fend for yourself. Do what you will, but I'm not stopping. I'm in that creative frenzy and it is best just to step back and let me do it. [laughs.] It will pass and be over soon and if you don't interrupt me, it will end even sooner. [birds singing in background.]

KKL: Do you use a design wall or how do you figure out or where do you figure out how you're going to do a project?

KW: Yeah, I have sketched my quilts before to kind of get a feel for it. Maybe colored them in with colored pencils to get an idea of color placement and so forth. I like the idea of a design wall, but I have never had the luxury of the space of one. So, I haven't done that. I usually lay the blocks out on the carpet and stand on a chair with a door peep hole that is like a reducing lens. That is so it will create some distance from your quilt, and you can see it better that way. And you can also hold it up to a mirror and it gives it distance. There are lots of different techniques you can use to see your quilt from a distance which helps you decide if the placement is right, if the color is right. Yeah, the little peep hole that I got at the hardware store for about two dollars works really well. [laughs.]

KKL: Well, that is a great technique. So, let's talk about some things you think about quiltmaking, so what do you think makes a great quilt?

KW: The wow factor. I think it needs to--you want to take a double look. You want something that keeps drawing your eye to it. Usually for me it is good color. I think if the colors are chosen well and the contrast is right, it doesn't have to be high contrast but good value placement, good design choices. The same thing that makes good art makes a good quilt- if the composition is there, if the colors are there, then it will be a good quilt.

KKL: When you say color you don't necessarily mean bright colors, but mean the way the colors are--

KW: No, how they relate to one another and how they are used in the quilt.

KKL: And what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KW: Gosh, I hate to keep going back to it, but is that wow factor. It's that indefinable thing that makes some quilts more powerful than others. Sometimes it is by intent, sometimes on accident. I remember hearing about and seeing books about the quilts of Gee's Bend in Alabama. It's a group of black women, maybe during the depression era, I just not sure, in an isolated area of Alabama and they created these striking quilts. And at the time I am sure they made some design decisions that they wanted it to look pretty, but it was more for utilitarian purposes. It wasn't meant to be a piece of art, but they somehow worked. So, I think you can't always plan it; sometimes you just get lucky.

KKL: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

KW: I think it depends on what the collection is, or the museum is. Like the miniature quilt my friend made that is now in a museum for miniatures. No other quilt would be appropriate. You know my Baltimore Album won't work in a miniature quilt. So, I think you have to decide what the exhibit is for, what you are trying to show case. I think a quilt that has historical value or artistic value would be appropriate in museum collections.

KKL: And what do you think makes a person a great quiltmaker?

KW: Well, I think a love of it and a willingness to take pains with it. And that's true with miniatures as well. There is slap dash just get it done and then there is no that is not good enough, let me pull that out and try again. And I think it is a leap into a higher plane when you finally decide it is worth pulling it out. There are times when it is not. There's a quote a friend used to say, 'How does it look from a galloping horse?' If you are riding by on a galloping horse, would it pass muster. Yeah, that would be ok and if that is the standard you are shooting for then that's okay. But when you decide you want to reach for that higher standard that's what separates the good from the great. [laughs.]

KKL: I think we have already talked about how you are drawn to the miniatures at this point in time. Are there other people that you're drawn to or types of work that you are drawn to in quilts?

KW: I am a big fan of Kaffe Fassett's quilt designs. I love the way he brings colors together. And I know he started out as a needlepoint artist and now he does mosaics and paintings, and I don't know all that he got his hands into now. But his quilts I think are breath-taking.

KKL: And his name is?

KW: Kaffe Fassett.

KKL: His first name is?

KW: Kaffe K-a-f-f-e, I think. And his last name is Fassett. F-a-s-s-e-t, I think that is the spelling. If not, that's close enough if you Google it, you will figure out who it is.

KKL: And you said the artist that influenced you was the lady that helped you with the miniature quilt? Are there any other artists that have influenced you?

KW: My friend, Kit that I had mentioned earlier has been an influence on me. Some of her appliqué work is just beautiful, just absolutely beautiful.

KKL: [five second pause.] Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

KW: Well, it is a constant, like I mentioned before. It is what is unchanging in my life. My husband summed it up once when he said, 'You know you always go back to quilting,' because I have tried my hand at all kinds of things. I've tried oils paints. I've done the miniatures. I've done stained glass. I have really tried lots of different things, but he said, 'You always go back to quilting,' and he's right, I always do.

KKL: It is such a creative outlet in your life.

KW: It is! It really is.

KKL: And I didn't ask you, did you have other quilts hanging in your home. Ah, I know you plan to hand these two that you are finishing up, that you showed me today. Did you have others hanging?

KW: Yeah, I did, I had one hanging that is done to look like a bookshelf. I saw one at a quilt show in Omaha when we lived there, and it was just wonderful. But it is done to look like a bookshelf and has books all lined up, you can see their spines, little knick-knacks. On mine there is a bonsai tree, and a family photo of my dad and his brothers, and another one of my sisters and I when we were babies and another of my whole family now, a recent photograph, and a vase of daffodils. It has drawers at the bottom, like a bureau. It is done in wood grain fabric. So, it looks like a wood shelf. And I had one hanging that was just a fantasy landscape that was evocative of New Mexico where I am from. Just a bluff on a hill and a watery lake I guess and just pine trees off in a distance, just a landscape quilt, of no real place, but something that reminded me of home.

KKL: So, you have used a lot of quilts to decorate your home?

KW: Oh, yeah. Since we move so much, we can't paint the walls very often so I will slap a quilt on the wall, just to have some color. [laughs.]

KKL: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect your community or region?

KW: I think my color choices are influenced by where I grew up in the Southwest. It is not entirely unlike Hawaii with lots of really bright strong sunlit saturated color, just more earth tones maybe. Hawaii has all these lovely tropical flowers that are just unmatched anywhere else in the world. But the colors in the Southwest are a lot of bright earth tones and those are the colors I am always drawn to.

KKL: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

KW: Oh, when I look at the history of quilts in America, it tells the story doesn't it. You see it in the names of the patterns, Fifty-Four Forty or Fight, and the Whig Rose. What is it? Something about Kansas, I can't think of the name of that one. But yeah, you can trace America's history through its quilts. I think that's fabulous, and it is a chance for women always to have told their stories. When you realize they are putting their political opinions in their quilts, I think that is wonderful. I am glad we don't have to result to that now, that we can put our political opinions in the voting booth. [laughs.] But there was a time, when that was your only voice. [KKL hums.] So, I think it is an important part of history, particular women's history in America.

KKL: Where do you think quiltmaking is going to go from here?

KW: I think it is really going to be much more regarded as an art form. They started out as utilitarian things to have around the house. But now that we really don't need them for that purpose and people are starting to recognize the artistic value of quilts. The art quilt is going to be the wave of the future. [laughs.]

KKL: You have said you used quilts for wall hangings; you talked about using them as coverlets on beds. What other ways to you think quilts can be used?

KW: Well, those are my favorite ways to use them. I use them as gifts, I have given away as many as I have kept. And I like to do quilts for my family and friends.

KKL: I guess you also mentioned about using them for tablecloths and for other things, too.

KW: Yes, one of my favorite pictures I have--we were stationed in the Netherlands and we decided to have our Dutch neighbors over for Thanksgiving Dinner and I didn't have a table cloth, but I did have my grandmother's quilt, the Trips Around the World and now that I think about it, how appropriate, as that quilt has made a few trips around the world itself. [laughs.] Yeah, but I put that on the table, and it was beautiful. And it was a perfect Thanksgiving tablecloth. And that is my favorite picture. We have all of our friends gathered around my grandmother's quilt. And this little Dutch girl, Sandra Van De Glind, holding a turkey leg and eating it, all by herself. She couldn't have been five years old; the turkey was as big as she was. [both laugh.] It's a great picture.

KKL: That's great. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

KW: I think now that we are valuing quilts more than maybe we had in the past. They were just things meant to be used and used up. And we're taking better care of them. I think people understanding how to preserve them better. I remember somebody telling me oh, don't put your quilt on wood, wood will damage the fibers in the fabric. I had never known that before and ever since then, I have always been very careful not to keep my quilts on a wood surface without something underneath them to protect them, so I think education. People are trying to take care of them now more than maybe they have in the past.

KKL: Do you know any stories or things that have happened to the quilts you have made and given away to people?

KW: I have wondered about the quilts I have given away. I know the ones that are in my family still. I have given them to my mother, my sister. I know where they are what they are doing. But I have given quilts to people who have gone on to lead other lives. We were in Alabama when the terrible hurricane season was on us, Ivan and Katrina. And we were getting ready to move to Hawaii and we were having to lighten the load. I decided you know I have a pile of quilts, more than we need. They are in good condition. I am going to donate them to the relief effort. So, two or three of my quilts, I washed up and dried them and took them down to the truck where they were collecting donations for hurricane victims. And I hoped they liked them, something that they will keep and cherish, not knowing where it came from, but something that somebody made it and--

KKL: And cared enough to give it to them.

KW: Yes, yeah, I am hoping that's what happened to them.

KKL: Do you take pictures of your quilts, so you have a record of the event?

KW: I haven't really, perhaps I should. The ones I have done in the past weren't worth wasting the film on, but I am getting better so I am more willing to archive them.

KKL: Well, the ones that you showed me are beautiful.

KW: Well, thank you. [laughs.]

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

KW: Well for me, it would be the time. Finding the time to work on it. It's a time-consuming project and a lot of people don't have the patience. I know, I remember hearing an interview about the TV show ER and how it was filmed in these short bursts of activity. And they said that was intentional as it was marketed to the younger generations who were brought up on televisions and commercials and sound bites and their attention was diminished and so they always had to keep the action going to keep the viewer's attention. And if that is true, I worry that the younger generations wouldn't have the interest span or the desire to sit with a project that can take you months or years to complete. It is just not something that they would take on as it is not in their comfort zone. So, I hope that's not true, but I worry that it might be.

KKL: On the same hand, you have learned to do it in small bits of time. But, as long as you a little bit of time to set aside.

KW: Yeah, yeah.

KKL: I think you have used some of those principals in adapting yourself.

KW: Yeah, is delayed gratification and you have to work toward that goal, and I hope that people are still able and willing to do that.

KKL: Is there anything that you would like say about your quilt making or about quilt making in general?

KW: No, not really. I think we have covered quite a lot. [laughs.]

KKL: So, you have a lot of projects ahead of you and a long way to go in doing lots of quilts.

KW: Yeah, yeah. When I did the Baltimore Album, I would call it my magnum opus. But after I got the top done my husband referred to it as my magnum opus. Well, I said now I hope not, as it is kind of bad to have peaked at 42. I like to think I have a few more good quilts in me. [laughs.]

KKL: Is there a dream quilt that you are thinking of doing that you haven't gotten into the planning?

KW: A true dream quilt, another Baltimore Album, but something a lot more detailed and a lot bigger. Something more like Ellie Sienkiewicz would do. This one is real basic; the blocks are really big, but it was a good starter quilt for me. But if I ever work up the courage to take one on that detailed that would be the real magnum opus.

KKL: Well, I liked to thank you for talking to me today.

KW: Well, you're welcome. I enjoyed it.

KKL: So, I'd like certainly like to thank you, Kellie Wachter, for allowing me to interview her today as part of the project, the project of [Quilters' S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories. The interview has now concluded at 10:50 on April 29, 2009.

[interview ends.]


“Kellie Wachter,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,