Colleen Curry




Colleen Curry




Colleen Curry


Amy Henderson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Davenport, Iowa


Lori Miller


Amy Henderson (AH): Hello, my name is Amy Henderson. It is 1:20. Today's date is November 7, 2002. I am conducting an interview with Colleen Curry for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project, in Davenport, Iowa. Thank you, Colleen, for meeting me today. Let's start off by you telling me about "Kaleidoscope". When you made it? Where? How old it is? And describe the material, the pattern, the design, everything.

Colleen Curry (CC): It is not a pattern. It's made in a rectangle, cut up into seven pieces, and sewed into a circle. It is done with a multiple layer of masking-off and painting technique. You paint one color, mask off certain design elements, paint another color, mask off, and so forth. That's done in a whole cloth type of procedure, and then it is cut up. I picked seven because of a lot of significances with that number. When the seven pieces are put together, it looks like a kaleidoscope. I have begun to experiment with different ways of hanging quilts. I began with a number of different shapes, such as the silhouette of your face or the silhouette of your body, or other organic shapes. I used to be a percussion instructor for many years, so my husband suggested I use a bass drum hoop. I did that. I bound the quilt like you would normally do and suspended it with invisible fishing nylon. It looked like it was floating in the bass drum hoop. With this one, since it has such a kaleidoscope kind of look to it, I thought it might be fun to have a glittery look rather than a painted, multi-colored look. So, I bought a Hula-hoop, and suspended the quilt in it. This particular quilt is not bound, it is faced. I didn't want the eye to stop at the binding, but to go to the Hula-hoop.

AH: Tell me about the significance of the number seven.

CC: The significance is somewhat spiritual. There are seven colors in the rainbow and the Chakra system, seven notes in the musical scale, seven features on the face, seven days in the week, and seven is a fascinating number mathematically.

AH: Does this finished quilt have any other meanings for you?

CC: Yes. I've decided not to tell meanings as much as I used to. I had an exhibit at the Quad-City Arts Gallery in 2001. At the grand opening I walked around eavesdropping on dialogue between people about my art. Various people were talking about various quilts; each had a totally different meaning for each quilt.

AH: The quiltmakers were talking about their own quilts?

CC: No, they were talking about quilts I had made and what I was trying to say. It's like looking at an artist's painting. Artists pull apart paintings, they think, 'He said this,' or 'He was trying to make that point,' and on and on. So, from that point, I decided not to vocalize my deeper meanings.

AH: Why is that?

CC: Everyone has their own life experiences. If someone pressed me hard enough, I might. I really haven't talked about the meaning of Kaleidoscope.

AH: I'm curious what it might mean to you.

CC: You're pushing. Okay. To me a kaleidoscope--the traditional one with glass can represent all the different parts of life that you can go through, a myriad of things that effect you, experiences you've had, people you've been, or whatnot. A kaleidoscope is always changing when you turn it. That was the point, all the little different ins and outs, and quirks, and corners, and whatnot of life.

AH: It sounds like your quilts continue to have special meaning and stories, but you are not verbalizing them. Is that right?

CC: Right.

AH: So, your quilts do have very great significance. How do you use this quilt?

CC: I hang it on the wall and look at it. People do like to look at it.

AH: When did you start to quilt? How did you learn?

CC: The story probably started when I was a preschooler. In the early 50's, children used to play with sewing cards. My mother got those for me. She used to be a tailor's helper. When I was 10 or 11, I took a sewing class and won the 100% wool contest. This contest is still going on today. In junior high I took sewing classes. From then on either I or my mother sewed my clothes. I graduated from college, started teaching, had a family, and helped my husband with his business. Time flew. I would do mending or sew a curtain here or there. We sold the business, within the same year I retired from teaching. My mother had, when she retired I the 70's, started quilting, with all the 70's fabrics and batting. I was too busy and just watched as she showed me what she was doing. She gave me magazines or books. When we did retire, I started costume design and began designing costumes for the Quad-City Music Guild. That was a drain that was very demanding. So, I started quilting. The first quilt I ever made was done with some unfinished Dresden plate blocks that I found at a flea market. The outside edge of the plate was done but the center circle had not been finished. I took those and finished the centers and appliqu├ęd them on some squares. That was my first quilt. That was about eight years ago.

AH: So, you discontinued doing costumes?

CC: For the most part, yes.

AH: Why are you drawn to quilting? What did it offer that costuming didn't as an activity and pastime?

CC: In costuming you're always involved with others; fitting garments, pleasing a director. You don't have anything in the end it belongs to whoever you are working for. I also wanted to develop some of my artistic talent that had been latent since grad school. I started teaching myself drawing and watercolor, and then went to oil pastels and acrylics. All at the same time I started with the traditional quilt. The two paralleled for several years. Then I met Elizabeth Bush, from Massachusetts. She's a nationally known art quilter. She inspired me to put the two together. That's where I'm going now with the items you see around you.

AH: How has your quilting changed since you began putting your painting skills to with your quilting skills?

CC: I think they've taken a new direction in what the creativity looks like. "Love is All Around" was the last full quilt that I made that did not have paint on it. I still use the most clear and vibrant colors I can find, but I use a lot of paint now. I pair it up with regular fabric.

AH: Do you still make traditional quilts?

CC: No. The last traditional quilt that I made was an Iowa Sesquicentennial Quilt, which was in 1996.

AH: What did that one look like?

CC: It was the state of Iowa with the original counties. The corner had the state bird, state flower, that sort of thing. It was a winner and traveled for a year wit show sponsored by the grout Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.

AH: What is your first quilt memory?

CC: Probably a quilt my grandmother on my father's side made after she retired, she was self-taught as well. It was very beginner looking, but I liked looking at it.

AH: How does quilting impact your family?

CC: I belong to a quilt guild of about 350 members. We have two meetings once a month. We have a large quilt show that draws from a large area. It's a two-day show and draws about 2000 people. The guild decided that they wanted to make quilt stands, so for four of us and our husbands got together. I think it impacted the family a little, it was a major undertaking. I always ask my husband for ideas and criticism and what not. He gives it to me. He also helps me haul my stuff around.

AH: And you mentioned you had children. What do they think of you quilt making?

CC: I have one son who is 33 and lives in California. He thinks my quilts are very artsy. He likes what I am doing.

AH: Have you given any to him?

CC: Yes. I made a king size piece for him about 8 years ago.

AH: And the artsy one?

CC: He has one. He's not married so he doesn't want a lot of that kind of stuff.

AH: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

CC: No. I don't feel like I've had a difficult time in my life. I look upon life as a continuous flow of experiences, each one of which teaches you something. If you're sick, or you've had a catastrophe in life, or you've felt the death of a relative or spouse, that's part of the flow of things. I don't look at it as a bad time. I try to constantly look at things and learn from them in a positive vein.

AH: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

CC: The infinite possibilities of creativity.

AH: And what don't you like about quilting?

CC: They take too long. I'm always experimenting with something that makes it quicker. That's one of the reasons I started painting.

AH: Tell me what you are experimenting with.

CC: Still with the use of paints. I would like the quilt to remain supple. If you touch these, even though they have many layers of paint, they remain quite supple. Sometimes I like things to look realistic. I practice my artistic skills so that when I use pain and transfer it to fabric, realism show through.

AH: Are there particular sewing skills, or techniques, that you're using to speed up the quilting process?

CC: Nothing new that others aren't using.

AH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CC: That's a little hard to say, because it puts you in a position of judging. I think that if you as an observer looks at a quilt and it inspires you in some manner, then it is a great quilt. If you look at it and you feel something, I think it's a great quilt. It's part of what I try to achieve in my work.

AH: What do you hope people might feel when looking at "Kaleidoscope"?

CC: Happiness, joy.

AH: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CC: Color and composition. It sounds like that might be a bit stayed or art class 101, nevertheless it is true. Now with "Kaleidoscope" the composition of the piece happens when the piece was cut into the seven wedges. If you hang it one way and the n you turn it and hang it another you see the composition change.

AH: Were you working towards that effect?

CC: No, but I've done other kaleidoscopes since, and I have consciously worked with that. I have one that is in the Quad-City Arts Gallery now that looks like a spider web as opposed to a kaleidoscope.

AH: How else have you tried to challenge yourself, or push yourself with other kaleidoscopes? Do you view them as a series which you're working through a particular technique? Or idea?

CC: Yes, I see them in a series. I have experimented with a number of different colors, and combinations of colors, also with the masking-off pieces. I've used various other shapes both geometric and organic. I've also experimented with different numbers of pie pieces--3-5-9. Design and color, that's about it.

AH: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

CC: I think machine quilting is great. It's faster. I don't hand quilt anymore, unless it's the dead of winter and I just want to sit around and keep warm under a quilt. Then I hand quilt.

AH: How do great quilters learn the art of quilting? Especially how to design a pattern, or choose fabrics and colors?

CC: I think trial and error. Intuition. Reading what other quilters have written. Looking at other quilts. Looking at other types of art, sculpture as well. Taking class. Asking questions. Being aware.

AH: Have you personally been influenced by looking at paintings, sculpture, or seeing what other quilters have written or made themselves?

CC: All the time. I have a giant file of things that I clip out of magazines. If for some reason I'm feeling a little glitch of what to do next, what to created or how to do a certain thing, I start flipping through my favorite pictures. I'm often influenced by magazine advertisement.

AH: Can you grab that piece for me?

CC: That's the earth with hearts all around it. It's kind of a "Love is All Around" theme that goes through a number of quilts as well. It was inspired by a greeting card.

AH: And what was the greeting card like?

CC: The greeting card didn't have the earth as the earth. It had the North American continent. It did have some hearts around it, and it was a watercolor. I think it said, 'Happy Birthday.'

AH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CC: I like to go in my studio and create things every day. A lot of times my drawings lead to a quilt idea. I can spend anywhere from two to six hours a day working.

AH: In your process, you generally begin from drawings and then move into fabric?

CC: Yes. I find that I don't see the finished product of a quilt without a drawing. It can be a rough outline. Sometimes I go all the way and do all the details and colors. My new process using paint is not sketched out first.

AH: Why is quilting important to your life?

CC: It gives me an outlet for my creativity.

AH: You were a music teacher before you came to quilting. Do you ever find parallels or overlaps between your music creativity and your quilting?

CC: I do. I find it in art in general, not just the art of quilts. I was an instrumental music teacher and band director for many years, and a solo percussionist. I found that in art as well as in music there is a rhythm that happens. This is seen in cutting and sewing. There's another rhythm when the idea comes and is being developed. There are a lot of little intricate rhythms happening. Just like a musical composition.

AH: When you began quilting, did you think you were going to sell quilts?

CC: Yes, I did. Actually, I still have my first quilt because I don't think anybody would buy that! I don't have most of the other quilts after that. Another thing I use them for is presentations. I do presentations for quilters and spiritualists. I'm always spurred on to make another quilt to fit a particular topic. It is important to me to get my ideas out, to have my quilts viewed by many. There are so many ideas, so little time.

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

CC: Quilts allow a person to sit back in their living rooms or bathrooms or bedrooms and look up at their wall and see something that is pleasing to them, inspiring to them, or evokes an emotion that makes them feel a certain way. That is what I'm after. I think that's very important in our society today, with television and movies being what they are. I think art quilts in general are a way of getting creativity and artistic-ness into the home. In some homes that would never have a painting or a piece of sculpture, there might be a quilt on the wall or laying across the back of a couch.

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

CC: I think they have a tremendous meaning because of how they've grown and changed. In our culture, if you're talking bed quilts as functional item that was part of the household thing that women did. They cooked the meals; they kept the family warm. It's a d tremendous impact. It was also a way for women to show their creativity when they had no other outlet. Now, you see tides turning. There are many men quilting, particularly in the art quilt area.

AH: Should quilts be in museum collections, private collections, should they be preserved?

CC: Yes, these quilts will become a barometer of history. I believe that in my area of quilting there are more people collecting than ever. Collections are lesson teachers.

AH: What lessons do you want your quilts to teach? Either to you, or to a wider audience?

CC: I would say, 'Do anything you want,' and 'Experiment with anything you want,' because that's how we come up with new ways of doing things. If that doesn't happen, if people stop developing new ideas, or processing a new thought, everyone would be doing the old traditional stuff. So go for it. Get creative. Try out anything. No fear!

AH: Is there anything I haven't asked you?

CC: The proverbial last question? I don't think so.

AH: I'd like to thank Colleen Curry for allowing me to interview her today in her home, as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, in Davenport, Iowa. Our interview concluded at 2:01 p.m., on November 7, 2002. Thank you.



“Colleen Curry,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,