Judy Martin




Judy Martin




Judy Martin


Amy Henderson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Grinnell, Iowa


Lori Miller


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Amy Henderson (AH): Hello, my name is Amy Henderson. It is 10:28 a.m. Today's date is Tuesday, November 5, 2002. I am conducting an interview with Judy Martin for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, in Grinnell, Iowa. Thank you, Judy for meeting me today. Why don't we begin by you telling me about this quilt? When you made it? What it's called and maybe just describe it for me.

Judy Martin (JM): This quilt was named "Judy's Fancy" because I had to name it a year before I designed it. I was asked to do a quilt using a new line of fabrics. It was going to be displayed at Quilt Market in the fall. They needed to know in advance how much space to save; they needed to know the name of the quilt and everything to write it up ahead of time. I had to give dimensions and a name long before I had even seen the fabric; it wasn't printed yet. I knew that the fabric was going to be traditional looking background, dark colors and off-whites. I had tentatively designed the quilt and was pending seeing the fabric. I called it "Judy's Fancy" because my name is Judy and I thought it didn't describe the quilt in any way and it was a good, safe name to use no matter what I ended up with. I think I told them it was going to be 84 by 96, or some multiple of twelve inches. It was fairly close but it wasn't exactly those dimensions. When I saw the fabrics I had very little time to make the quilt. And the design that I had worked out was perfect for it. I design on the computer in black and white and shades of gray. I like this quilt because it's my favorite way of doing scrap quilts. I do almost exclusively scrap quilts and my favorite way of doing them is to make a color scheme for each block and have them not necessarily relate to the next block so each one has its own color scheme. Then I consider what's already in there in the other blocks and don't put every color in the world in there, but I'm not too much constricted by that either. The quilt was pieced by me in 1995, in October or so, maybe September. I had to send it to Washington State to be quilted by a woman I had never known who had done some work for a friend of mine. In fact the binding was done by someone else,I don't even know her name. I had made the binding. She had to sew it on because it wasn't coming back to me before it went to Quilt Market. The first time I saw the finished quilt was at Quilt Market in the display. And I was really pleased with the quilting that Barbara Ford did.

AH: Tell me about the block.

JM: The block is sort of a hybrid between a Lone Star and a Morning Star. It has an eight pointed star of diamonds in the center and then what could have been two more rings of diamonds to make a small Lone Star, but instead of three diamonds I turned it into a parallelogram and one diamond. I made the coloring a robbing Peter to Pay Paul partly, and then introduced a third color and then a background. So the block is my own block but it's very close to traditional and I wouldn't be surprised if somebody had done the block before. The thing that I did was I split it in quarters, and so I have these seams here. I don't generally like to add seams just for ease of sewing if they don't add something to the look of the quilt. These are set in here, and these are not set in here. And the reason for this is I decided to offset the blocks. The concept was to have a square and then have these four blocks going around it, so that they hit each other staggered, halfway. Partly this is because I'm lazy and I don't like to have these joints hit each other, that's kind of tricky to get it to look nice.

AH: You're pointing at the joints in between the two star blocks.

JM: I don't like the points of two star blocks to hit each other. So by staggering them, they never touch and that makes the sewing easier. However, you have to either set in the center or have a zillion partial seams and have some kind of a map for how you're going to sew the quilt together. I discovered that I could just make half blocks and sew in diagonal rows and so I made two half blocks that were sewn up to the last seam, and then joined them with the plain squares. You have to have it all laid out on a wall or floor. I use the floor because my space is in an attic, and I don't have walls. I laid it out so that I would match the halves to make what looked like whole blocks, but they're really made into different rows. Each half of the block is in a different row from its other half. The border is not actually a border. They're smaller stars like the stars in the center of the block, that are made in squares that go around the perimeter of the quilt except where the big blocks, because of the staggering, come out to the edge and then they interrupt that flow. This is what I call an Iowa Border. After I moved to Iowa, I lived 45 minutes from a quilt shop and I often didn't have long pieces of fabric, I mostly buy half yards now. So I often will take similar values and join them to make scrap borders. I actually like them better that way anyway. I usually cut them out when I'm cutting patches for a block. I usually cut one strip of a fabric, with rotary cutting, and cut it into enough for one block and one border block, and cut another strip for the border or this'll have pieces for the binding as well, because that's scrappy. I really like the offset look because it's a little bit cattywampus and I tend to be so symmetrical with things, and very traditional, and this was eye opening for me because I found I really liked it. I'd always been one of those people who, if I were doing a diagonal set with alternate blocks, I always had to have the same thing in all four corners. And this doesn't turn out to have the same thing in all four corners. It was also pretty unusual because I made a mistake. This block has a mistake in it. All the other ones have the dark and light in opposite pattern from what I did here. I sewed the squares and triangles on the wrong sides of this, which turned this and made it backwards. I realized that before I sewed the quilt together-- and in fact I made another block which is on the back of the quilt. I made this to substitute for the mistake and I decided, 'No, I like the mistake.' So I put the extra block on the back and left the mistake on the front.

AH: And the mistake is the yellow?

JM: The yellow and the black in one corner of the quilt are in the reverse places. The black should be where the yellow is and the yellow should be where the black is. All the other ones follow that pattern, but this one's different. I'm kind of proud of myself that I could make a mistake and leave it, because I'm a perfectionist and that was kind of freeing. I like the fact that it was asymmetrical and I like the staggering. It's typical fabrics for me. I often use traditional looking fabric. I don't try to copy traditional quilts. I always make my own designs, but they're usually mistaken for traditional quilts. A lot of people assume that they are traditional.

AH: Tell me about who designed these fabrics. You said it was a special line.

JM: Yes, but not all of them. I can never stick to just that few. There were only maybe forty fabrics in the line and I have to have hundreds. These were made by Marsha McCloskey for Clothworks by Fasco.

AH: Describe to me the ones that are from that line.

JM: A lot of them, the light backgrounds I really liked the way she had different backgrounds, so there wasn't all the same matched cream color. There were several different, some are taupe and some are gold. There's a paisley leaf thing with dark circles in the background. There's a floral, and this dotty vine, and a toile of roses, olive green and red on a cream background. This is one of my favorite ones, with a leaf made out of dots and a dotted background. I sometimes wonder if I go too far. I always stick some things in that really are a little too dark to be light. What I was doing here, I matched the background in three pieces of the small squares, so a quarter of the star has the same background in it, and then I switched to another background. The whole quilt has a checkerboard. It's just squares the same size, 5 1/8 inch squares, the background colors. Sometimes I wanted you to see that so I made it stand out a little more. And other times I wanted it to fade back.

AH: What meaning does this quilt have for you?

JM: It has meanings on a lot of levels. It was one that was exhibited, and I very rarely exhibit or enter shows. That was a little unusual in that regard. I didn't make it for publication, which was really unusual for me, I think I've done that twice since 1979 when I joined Quilter's Newsletter Magazine as an editor. Because it wasn't for a book I wasn't restricted in colors. Lots of times when I'm making a book I'll decide, 'Oh, I've already done those kind of colors. I've got to go in some other direction.' This one could be anything that went with her light backgrounds, which was anything. So I could pretty much do what I wanted to. Remind me of the question?

AH: What special meaning this quilt has for you.

JM: It was done at the request of Marsha McCloskey, who has been a quilting friend of mine since about 1973 or so. We used to sit together at a booth at a craft fair. She moved to Seattle, and I've moved all over the place since then. So it was fun to get together and do something. I like to stay in touch with her. It was meaningful because it started me thinking in new directions. Since then I've been thinking a lot about pairing big and little parts, and superimposing things, like this star superimposed over this bigger one. I've been doing a lot of superimposing, staggering, asymmetrical sets, sets where things float over the background, and big and little parts.

AH: How do you use this quilt?

JM: Sometimes in the winter I hang it over my window with some blankets behind it so it won't get too much sun. I have very few walls in my house and this would be on the window behind my bed which has an open brass headboard. There's another quilt on my bed, and this one is too small for my bed, but it remains one of my favorites. So in the winter I sometimes put it over the window because I live in an old house and the windows get really cold. This year I'm not doing that, I don't want it to get too much sun. I have it, sometimes, draped over my stair railing, and sometimes wrapped in a roll and stuck in a dark corner on a pole with finials. Sometimes it's folded up on top of my china cabinet in a dark room. I like to keep it protected from too much light, but I like to see it. I don't usually use it to wrap up in or anything.

AH: You said that you made this not for publication. But did it ever enter a publication?

JM: Yes. I published it a year or two later as a pattern, an individual pattern. I did two patterns and discovered you have to have more than two patterns to have a pattern line. I didn't sell as many copies as I do with books. I later put it in a book. The book it's in is The Creative Pattern Book, which I put out in 2000, or 1999.

AH: Do you have any other plans for this quilt, besides how you're currently using it?

JM: No.

AH: You use it as it is. Tell me about your interest in quilting.

JM: I've been making quilts since I was a 19 year old, in college. I had sewn before that. No one in my family quilted, although years later my mother showed me an appliquéd and embroidered quilt that she had made. But she never showed me when I was at home. We didn't have any quilts in my family; in fact my mother hated quilts. She grew up in the Midwest and they didn't have central heating, and she remembers carding the wool from her sheep, using that for batting. She had wool quilts with wool batts and they weighed a ton and you had a whole stack of them, and you woke up tired. So she always hated quilts. She makes them now. But she doesn't use wool. [laughs.] I'd never seen a quilt before I made my first quilt. My mother had talked about saving sewing scraps for the ladies at church who made quilts. I one time was with my mother and she went down to say hello to the ladies in the basement and they were quilting. I thought that they were sewing the patches on, but they were actually quilting it. I thought that they used a frame to sew them on. I didn't really know what was going on. I thought quilts were just made out of uniform squares. I came home for Thanksgiving when I was in college, my second year of college, and I knew my parents had gotten a divorce since summer. It had been in the works for quite a while. It really was abstract until I got home. It was a different house, and my father wasn't there, and two of my brothers were grown and had moved out, and they had been there in the summer. It was just one brother and my mother living in this house. I didn't have a room anymore, I didn't have any stuff. My mother had saved some of my things and put them in boxes and stuck them in a high place in the closet. I was feeling disconnected, and I asked to see the boxes of things to see what remained. I saw these boxes of sewing scraps that I had used. I'd always sewn clothes. I started sewing a lot when I was nine and was making all my own clothes by junior high. I was looking at these scraps and decided that I'd make a quilt from them because it was really the only continuity that I found in this entire situation. I decided to make a quilt. I decided I didn't really have enough fabric there, so mom took me to a store that you could buy scraps from a barrel or something. I supplemented it with that. I made my whole family tiptoe around this quilt that was laid out on the living room floor all weekend of Thanksgiving. I picked them up a pair of patches at a time, walked into the other room and sewed them together. I used a sewing machine and I guess my mother told me to use quarter inch seams instead of 5/8. So I knew that much. I decided to be really original and use rectangles as well as squares. They were random sizes but in a whole row they would have the same width. It was done in long strips. I got it all pieced Thanksgiving weekend and I didn't put it together. I didn't use it for a couple of years. It took me a while to get to finishing it. It was red, white, and blue. Really ugly. But I liked it a lot. It was interesting to me, because I'd always sewn clothes. It was just getting to the point where you had to make a statement. You were either going to be a jeans and sweaters person or you were going to be a leisure suit person. I wasn't a leisure suit person. Jeans and sweaters were a little hard on my featherweight sewing machine, so I wasn't sewing clothes at the time. I started seeing fabrics as quilts after that. If I had an idea when I saw fabric at the store I had to buy it. I felt compelled to make quilts after that. I think part of it was the satisfaction of making something really big that people think is impressive. People aren't generally that impressed when you make a shirt. But a quilt's really easier. It takes longer but it's easier than making a shirt and you have a lot more to show for it. I think that I've always been, as a child in a large family, I was always a little bit attention starved. I always wanted attention, but I was also shy. So I didn't want some kinds of attention. I liked getting attention for good academic performance, or that kind of thing. I liked the kind of attention that I got from my quilts. Not everybody saw your quilts so you weren't showing off but you got praised by people who counted to you. I really liked that. I think that's probably why I became a quilter, I really liked the satisfaction and the feedback, just feeling like I stuck with a job, a big job, and I did it.

AH: I'm interested in the fact that the year your parents got divorced, and you turned to quiltmaking, you felt that it represented the continuity yet you didn't grow up with quilts. It sounds like you didn't have quilts on your bed because your mother didn't want them in the house. What was it about quilting that felt comfortable, or a continuation?

JM: Those were fabrics that I had used to sew clothes, and I think one of my chief identities in my high school years, junior high school years, was sewing. I sewed clothes constantly; that was my hobby. Reading and sewing were the big things for me, actually more sewing than reading in those years. These were fabrics that I had sewn into clothes and it reminded me of the sewing that I had done. My mother had taught me to sew. My mother and I didn't do a lot of things together, but we shared that. We both liked sewing. She had to keep me from using all her fabric that she had plans for. She'd have these drawers full of fabric and I'd go through them when I wanted to make a project and she'd have to say, 'No, I have plans for that.' [laughs.] I guess that's the continuity, it wasn't so much that quilts were in my family, but sewing was.

AH: There's association with the fabrics.

JM: Right. In a way, I never made quilts from scraps of clothing that had been worn. Cutting scraps from clothing, yes. For me, I still get that same feeling, that people have an old quilt that reminds them of their aunts' dresses or aprons or those kinds of things. They have a sentimentality. My quilts have that for me because I collect fabric, I remember where I bought it and when. This is from 1972 and I bought it at Weatherberry Farms. Things like that, I remember all sorts of details. In fact, I used to keep a log, with a little swatch and where I bought it and how much it cost, two dollars instead of nine dollars. Things like that. It's meaningful to me anyway. I often buy on vacation. All my vacations are in my quilts.

AH: Are there any fabrics in this quilt, or which fabrics in this quilt have those kinds of associations for you? Any vacation fabrics?

JM: Not so much vacation, but I remember the fabric in another quilt I might have put it in. I love this fabric, it's hard to use but I love it.

AH: Can you describe that one?

JM: It's a dark brown background, but not much of it, and a banner shaped things with a pumpkin and gold circle. It all looks kind of air brushed or something. It's got little gradated dots in the background. I just love that fabric, and I love this one by Pilgrim and Roy and I'm always trying to pick these things off, little squiggles of thread-like things. That's an antique reproduction

AH: What is your first quilting memory? A quilt memory?

JM: Of a quilt? Probably the first one I made.

AH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JM: I have no idea. I tend to go in spurts. And when I'm doing a book I'll be either designing or piecing or planning or quilting or cutting for about a year. I tend to start all the quilts before I finish any. I don't really care if I finish them, but I think my readers do, so I finish them. [laughs.] Because for me the fun part is the design. In fact, I like the line part of it. An empty drawing to me is the most exciting thing in the world because I can see all the possibilities. Once I color it in, or even shade it in gray, that's only one of the ideas. I like all of them. I know a lot of people don't see anything in a line drawing, and so I continue beyond that. For a long time I made quilt tops and in a lot of my books there are only tops, they're not quilted. I like quilts a lot better because tops are just two dimensional. You don't feel like you should handle them very much, so they won't fray. You don't really feel like they're completed. I jump around and say I collect quilt tops. I know I'll never finish the hundred or two hundred tops that I have laying around. The ones that are quilted have a whole new dimension. It's not just that third dimension of the depth of the quilting line and the shading that it has. It's a tactile quality. It's an object now, not just a graphic representation of an object. I really like that about a finished quilt. I rarely quilt them myself because I don't have time to write the books and quilt them myself. I prefer hand quilting. I don't do any machine quilting. But I have most of my tops finished with machine quilting by other people; usually Jean Nolte does it. This one was done by Barbara Ford. I'm always a little bit disappointed when I have a top machine quilted because that's saying it's not going to be hand quilted now. Whereas if it's still a top it could maybe, someday, be hand quilted. That disappoints me in a little way. But it also makes it an object to demonstrate your love for someone. You don't give people tops. You don't tuck your kids into bed with quilt tops. I like the finished quilt as well.

AH: How has your publishing quilt books influenced the making of your quilts?

JM: It has influenced them a lot. I think it's probably kept me more middle of the road, because I've seen some quilt artists--way back before art quilts really took hold--but I remember seeing quilters go the art quilt route and lose a lot of their following. Since it's my livelihood, I'm afraid to go too far, and in fact I think that in some ways may negatively impact me. Maybe if I just did what I liked my books would be better, but I'm trying to please other people as well. That may be a negative influence. It makes me make my quilts brighter because they lose something in the photography and they lose another step in the separation and they lose another step in the printing. So you have to be brighter than you want it to appear in the end. It's gotten to the point where I like them brighter so I make them a little stronger. I also use printier prints than a lot of people do, because they all look solid. When you make big quilts, which I prefer to do, they look pretty solid by the time you've got it in a photograph. I tend to pick things that you would still see a print in, like this, or this; things that would still look like a print once they're in a photograph. They're busier than a lot of peoples quilts are.

AH: How do you characterize middle of the road? What does that mean to you?

JM: Middle of the road is something you'd put on your bed. I think a lot of people who like to decorate with quilts have traditional style homes, and want something that looks a lot like a traditional quilt. I've ventured into batiks and things like that on occasion, but my own home is a Victorian. I like old things and I like the look of old quilts. I don't tea dye or try to make them look older or try to fool anybody into thinking it is old. I have a hard time making decisions so for me it's nice to have parameters. With an art quilt I don't think there'd be enough parameters for me to function. With a traditional format I can push the envelope a little and feel creative. I feel creative with what I do, but I don't feel directionless. I think I would feel directionless if I would make art quilts. Whereas in a continuum of traditional style quiltmakers I feel like I have a place. I feel comfortable there. In a way I am middle of the road. Middle of the road being in the historical continuum of quilts made out of repeating blocks. I've kind of broken out of sashes and alternate block and the usual sets. I'm bored with that now. I still like to make things out of blocks.

AH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JM: I just listened to Chris's [Hulin.] interview and I think the expression of one's self, someone's self, is an important part of that. But just to look at, I think color is most important, complexity. I like complexity. And I like to see good workmanship. I think people should take pride in their work and try to improve. I think some of these quickie things that people do will be just as quickly forgotten. They iron on an appliqué. It seems like if it's too quick it doesn't have enough love in it. That doesn't appeal to me and it doesn't count. [laughs.] I really, really am always disappointed with people who copy. I want to see them have the satisfaction of being creative. Maybe they feel like they're being creative just by pushing a needle, but I think that if they only ever tasted designing something themselves, or picking their own colors scheme, or that kind of thing, I think it would be overwhelming for them. I think they would enjoy it so much more. It obviously disappoints me when people don't get the chance to experience that. I feel a little uncomfortable with my line of work because I make patterns so people can make quilts just like the one I made, and yet I feel that would be unfair to them, to deprive them of the joy of doing something more creative. Sometimes I feel like it's bad to give them patterns. I try to give them encouragement to go beyond the pattern. I do that in a lot of ways in my books, yet it's hard for me not to tell them what I thought. I think, 'Oh, I've got to tell them this.' But then they're not going to get the chance to discover that I ought to do this. It's hard for me to stop myself. I think that not enough quilting authors and teachers are providing enough of the basics. They're getting into quickie stuff, and again, where's the love? I don't know. I'd rather do something that takes longer.

AH: You said that a great quilt should express the individual who made it. What does this quilt express about you?

JM: It's cattywampus. [laughs.] It's off kilter, just like I am.

AH: Yet you love the precision, the perfection.

JM: I'm a perfectionist.

AH: Perfectional cattywampus.

JM: Yes. And the mistake, that's an expression of myself. I made a mistake, and that I had to make another block expresses me. That I didn't put the block in anyway expresses a sort of growth. I think that it's very expressive of me. It's both very traditional and a departure from tradition in its arrangement.

AH: Why is quilting important to your life?

JM: For one thing, it's my family's livelihood. For another thing, I went to college in the late sixties and early seventies and I'm a little bit of a rebel. I'm a very rule governed rebel. I wouldn't do anything illegal but I don't like to be told what to do. I tried working at a bank, and some other office jobs. I worked at the University of Oregon at the registrar's office or something like that. Those kinds of jobs I'm not at all suited for. I don't like to dress up for work. I like working with other people if I respect them, but you don't always respect everybody you work with and I find that really hard. I'm pretty much a loner, I don't like to sew with other people watching me. I feel a little uncomfortable with that, in a demonstration. This is the perfect work for me. I always liked art, I always liked sewing, I liked math, I liked writing, and this combines everything that I like to do. In fact I decided on a career in quilting by reading a career guidance book called What Color is Your Parachute? I had decided when I was 29 that I'd better come up with a real job. I'd just been making quilts and supporting myself with going back to the waitressing job, or working in a copying shop, some minimum wage kind of thing. Occasionally sewing a quilt and mostly living on poverty level without the desperation because I had a college degree and I knew I could always go to work. I didn't want to. I decided I really ought to stop disappointing my parents and get a real job. I read this book to figure out what kind of real job I should get. I decided I wanted to be published before I died, and I like the writing, the sewing, the art. I decided that I would be perfect for a quiltmaking career. I decided that I didn't want to make and sell quilts. I wanted to sell the same thing more than once. I decided that writing was the way to do that. I applied for and got a job at Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. That was my dream job. For eight years I did that and learned a lot about the publishing industry, and really enjoyed it, worked with some great people. I was ready to move on after eight years and work at home, start a family. I like it even better, working at home. I work with my husband. Some people say, 'How can you do that?' It's been the best thing for our marriage. We both used to come home from work and try to out-complain each other, who had the worst day. Now we know what kind of day we had and we don't even talk about that. I see how good he is at what he does, and he sees how good I am at what I do. We're both perfectionists and we get along in the office. It's great. I really, really enjoy that and I can't imagine going back to work in some kind of office.

AH: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

JM: I think that women didn't have a lot of time to express themselves creatively, yet I think they had to make their quilts pretty. They had to make them warm, yet they took the time and the trouble to make them pretty. Because they could, because they wanted to, they cared enough. They took pride in it. I think it was more a reflection of who they were, one of the few things that didn't get undone. Cooking gets consumed. Cleaning just has to be done again the next day. The quilts were lasting and we can see a little window into the past and see what someone took pride in doing. They were often done for someone, for a wedding or a child. I think you really see, when you look at correspondence often people were trying to get more green fabric for a quilt, or something like that. They were asking relations in other areas to help supplement things like that. You knew that they were putting some effort into this, and it was self expression and artistic expression that they were doing.

AH: We have just a few minutes left, and I was wondering if you have any advice to the future readers of this interview. Any tips or advice. Or is there anything I didn't ask you that you want to go down on record?

JM: I think that you should keep your mind open. Don't think that what any one teacher tells you is going to be right for you. Don't be afraid to try different things, try your own thing. I made up my own methods because I thought I knew everything. Then I found out that they didn't do it that way at all. But I thought it was a better way so I did it my way anyway. I'm kind of a maverick in my methods because I'm a perfectionist. I like to use lengthwise grain and things like that. I think that just because other people use crosswise grain doesn't mean you have to. Not that they have to go my way either. They should make their own decisions based on their own experience. So try things. For the longest time I didn't do set-in seams because I thought they were supposed to be hard. They're not hard. Do the quilts that you want to do? If they're so-called 'hard quilts,' you'll just get better until you can do them. You aren't going to be happy making ugly quilts because that's what you know how to do. If you only know how to make squares, and you are bored by squares, learn how to make something else. I think that some people don't venture far enough into things to learn what they are really capable of. None of it's really hard. I don't think any of it is as hard as making a dress or a shirt. There's nothing like setting sleeves in or bound button holes. You're not going to have anything like that in a quilt. It's just all easy. Just learn to be accurate and everything will fall into place.

AH: That's great advice. I'd like to thank Judy Martin for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, in Grinnell, Iowa. Our interview concluded at 11:15, on November 5, 2002. Thank you, Judy.

JM: You're welcome.



“Judy Martin,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1683.