Diane Fisher




Diane Fisher




Diane Fisher


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Naperville, Illinois


Jason Scott


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. It is June 2, 2004. I'm doing an interview with Diane Fisher, who lives in Glen Ellyn, Illinois for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Diane, tell me about the quilt that you brought today?

Diane Fisher (DF): Well, this is the first quilt that I made and it's still one of my favorites. It's kind of interesting how I got to this point. I had made a quilt in college all by hand, all hand quilted. I did that over everything instead of studying for school. [laughs.] I just love fabric; loved idea of making something, but it was so much work, that I just kind of put it out of my mind and didn't make another one. I have a friend; her name is Denise and her--she has a studio over her garage. She quilts and sews a lot. She told me about this fabric store. She said, 'It's on Butterfield. You have to go find it. I say it has the most beautiful fabric.' So, I went up and down Butterfield Road searching for Stitches and Stuffing [a quilt store in Naperville, Illinois.]. I finally found it. I walked in and I was amazed at all of the different fabrics. I had never seen a quilt store like that before, and they had this particular quilt as a sample hanging up because they were going to have a class. I saw it and said, 'I want to make that,' and so signed up for the class. I just loved all the colors. It's a pansy and violet pattern in the quilt. What I loved about the quilt, is that it is a kind of a scrappy quilt and yet I think it's elegant and it--there were just so many different things that I learned in those three classes that I took and that's carried me through, and I've never stopped quilting since.

KM: So, what year was this?

DF: This was--I started it in 1998.

KM: And what were the things that you learned from it?

DF: Well, how to put colors together and sometimes how not to put them together. I think that it actually turned out interesting because I didn't really know a lot about color ideas when I started this quilt, so I have things here that if did it now, I probably wouldn't do it the same way. I think it's kind of quirky and I like the way it turned out. Sometimes I wish I didn't think so much about how I put things together now. I go back to this first quilt and look at it and say, 'See it turns out okay, it does turn out okay!' That's one of the main things I like about this quilt. The other thing is that in the class, I think, we had eight people, and so we exchanged pieces for the green squares that are in, I think of different people who were in the class with me when I look at this quilt; a lot of things that I wouldn't of personally have bought but now there're in my quilt and I love it. The other thing is the black and white squares. There's a nine patch and it's placed sporadic throughout the quilt. I think it draws your eye to different areas of the quilt. I like to use black and white in my quilts, just a little bit, just like I use it in my house. [laughs.] Black, it's the new neutral.

KM: So, what's the quirky part?

DF: Well, I think some of these, like this is more of a burgundy with a hot pink. [pointing to a section of the quilt.] I wouldn't normally think of doing that now, and [pauses.] I guess that's what I'm talking about. The color combinations are kind of different. I have like a burnt orange with a purple; those aren't necessarily things I would do now. I would probably be more structured, although like I said, I try to go back and tell myself to just put something unusual in every quilt, some type of fabric that I don't normally think of going with something. I put it in there just to get some interest. I try to keep that in mind.

KM: So, you machine quilted it?

DF: Right, that was another big thing. I was using a Singer sewing machine to piece everything that I had gotten for my eighth-grade graduation from my family, because I was such a big sewer back then, mostly clothes. As I was starting to quilt this, the motor was working too hard because I was quilting too, too big of a piece, too fast. There were too many pieces of--too many layers of fabric, and so I decided to get a quilting machine. I bought the one that I have now. This was a whole big process of learning to quilt and buying the right kind of equipment for what I needed it for. It took me a while to machine quilt it because I wasn't--I had never done that before, but I love how it turned out.

KM: So, tell me a little about the quilting?

DF: Well, the quilting on the border, I did it so it looks like a trellis. I just did crisscross lines throughout the whole thing. On the pansies I did, I guess you call it, half circles. They're supposed to look like petals of a flower, so I went back, oh maybe eight, nine, ten times round and round and round each petal of the pansies, and then I did vines throughout the green squares. All just by eye; I didn't draw anything on here. I just winged it [laughing.] and, again I'm just so happy how it turned out. Still one of my favorite quilts.

KM: How do you use this quilt?

DF: I sleep under it every night, and my husband loves it, and my kids love it. Everybody always wants to come into my room and get under the quilt even though they all have their own quilts. This is still I think the favorite because of its colors. They're just so welcoming. The purple, the pinks, the green, the burgundies. It's just a really richly colored quilt.

[10 second pause.]

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

DF: Well, I plan to always have it on my bed. [laughs.] I've thought about making another quilt for my room, and I just don't see anything as I look through books, patterns, magazines anything that really strikes me as much as this one did. This--and I know I should probably just go ahead and make another one of something, because I would probably enjoy it. I guess this just has a special place in my heart because it's my first one. As far as what happens after me, I don't know. [laughs.] No one said that they wanted it, but of course, I have a lot of people in my family who admire my quilting so who knows? I really should put a name tag on the back, which I haven't done because I wasn't doing that when I made this quilt, but I should go back and do that.

KM: All right, you talked about everybody in your family having quilts. How has quilt making impacted your family?

[5 second pause.]

DF: I think I'll talk about my kids first. They love color. They love to come pick out fabric or point out different things, 'Oh, mom you should make that quilt.' Or at Christmas time or my birthday, or on Mother's Day often times they've bought me quilt books. 'I would like you to make me this quilt someday,' or 'This just looked like something you'd like Mom.' I think it's helped them to think of life in color instead of just plain everyday things. They think boldly and their very creative kids. In fact, my one son, he likes to make things out of fabric, and I wouldn't be surprised if he made a quilt someday. He's made quilts out of construction paper at school, and brought them home to me, so I know that's something that he--he thinks is really cool.

KM: So two sons?

DF: Two sons, a sixth grader and a fourth grader, it's my fourth grader who is really creative in the art area and he loves putting things together, and mixing and matching colors that don't normally go together, which I think is really neat. My other son is more of a mathematical person, which again is related to quilting, because of all the measuring and how things piece together. So, I know that they--they are interested in what quilt I'm working on and looking at all the fabrics.

KM: Your husband?

DF: [laughing.] Lately he's been saying, 'I want my own quilt. When are you going to make me my own quilt?' In the beginning I think he just thought there's a lot of fabric around the house all the time and--but then he's grown to appreciate the beauty of the quilts and how much I enjoy it. One of these days I'll get around to making him his own; maybe a lap quilt or something. I've got so many projects that I want to work on. [laughing.] We'll see when I get there.

KM: So, he's never expressed a specific interest in want he'd want?

DF: No, no and that's what makes it harder.

[15 second pause.]

KM: Let's kind of go on to a something like a little bit bigger picture and talk to you about what you think makes quilts appropriate for a museum or a special collection.

DF: I guess for me it would be the history that surrounds that quilt, was it made by a certain person or a certain generation or of at a certain time in history, and what value it can lend to people to teach them about that person or that time of when the quilt was made.

[17-second pause.]

KM: In what ways do you think your quilts reflect your community? Or do you think they reflect your community?

DF: Well, I did work on a quilt project with a friend. At our school the fifth graders, they always leave behind some type of legacy for the school. My friend and I came up with the idea of a quilt that would portray the three fifth grade teachers. She has more of an art background and of drawing and sketching, so she sketched out what the teachers looked like from photographs. Then we used fabric to interpret those photos, and then we had each of the kids draw a pencil figure of themselves, and then we took that and ironed it on to fabric and surrounded the three teachers' pictures with a picture of each of the children. It's now hanging outside the fifth-grade wing at our school, and everybody comments on it. The teachers love it, they are memorialized, if you will, in vibrant fabrics: tie-dye's, batiks, hot pinks, the quilt turned out so neat and everybody is just so thrilled by it. Who knows how long it will be there, but it's hanging there right now.

KM: So how big is it?

DF: It is probably about ten feet by five.

[both talking at some time.]

KM: And which school is this?

DF: This is Lincoln school in Glen Ellyn. It's a primary school. My son was a fifth grader last year, and so I wanted to get involved with that. That was the first time the fifth graders had ever done a quilt project.

KM: What other kind of projects have there been in the past?

DF: They have done hand tiles, where the kids just stamp their hands onto a tile. I think they did steppingstones one year, but this was the first year where it's a picture of the people.

KM: How long have they been doing this?

DF: At least--at least ten years.

KM: Cool. [10 second pause.] In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history?

[8 second pause.]

DF: Well, I know the women in my family, even though they weren't always quilters, they were sewers, and they used things that they had around the house, or on the special occasion they would purchase fabric. I think for them it was a way to show their creativity; to show that what they thought was important, and that it, their creativity deserved the time, in addition to the everyday housework and chores; but they also had this creative outlook, and I feel that's an important part for me too.

KM: So how many hours a week do you spend at quilt making?

DF: Well, I always spend one afternoon a week with my friend Denise at her home in her studio. That's probably good three hours and then I try to spend at least one other day, just on my own, probably another four or five hours; so somewhere around eight to ten hours a week. If I have a special project that I'm working on, yeah, it's unlimited; I'll go into the night on weekends until I'm done.

KM: So, is this quilt typical of the work that you do, the quilt that you brought today?

DF: Well, I don't think that I have a very typical style. It's whatever grabs me at the moment, I'll start working on. This one is the only flower one I've ever done. I've done more of a geometric one, American flags. I've done a more free form one of penguins, and right now I'm working on one made from my sons' drawings of Big Foot. That one is just very free form, although I do have some flying geese patterns in there, and some geometrics to break things up. I don't have a particular style. I think if people look at my quilts, they would notice the colors more than anything. I do work with the colors that I like.

KM: And what colors are those?

DF: A lot of purples, a lot of brights, not the real pastel type colors, but more of the bright colors, the vibrant, rich colors, that's what you would see in my quilts.

KM: So, what makes a quilt artistically powerful for you?

DF: For me, it's the color. It's all about the color because I'll even be working at home and also the colors will pop into my head, and my husband thinks that's interesting. 'So, you think in color. Do you dream in color?' And I said, 'I'm always thinking in colors; combinations just pop into my head,' I have done quilts where they weren't my colors, for other people, and it just wasn't as enjoyable for me. It was actually very difficult to work in somebody else's colors. I like to stick with my own. I don't make quilts for many people outside of my family because I know that people inside my family can appreciate what I like to do, and so I have a kind of free range to use the colors that I enjoy.

KM: So how many quilts do you think you've made?

DF: Maybe--well it depends if you mean bed size quilts or just all kinds-- [both talking. KM: All kinds.] probably twenty, twenty-five, somewhere around there.

KM: And how many have you given away?

DF: Only one. [DF added that actually she has given away one large bed quilt and several mini quilts.]

KM: Only one? Who'd you give the quilt to?

DF: [laughing.] My husband's brother, my brother-in-law was getting married and his wife she sews, and she was making her own wedding dress and so I thought here's someone who would really appreciate a quilt because I didn't want to make something for a person who wouldn't appreciate the work and effort and the thought behind it. And so, I made them a wedding quilt with the traditional wedding rings. It was really hard because I didn't have any idea what to do. I just did it from a book and kind of forced it to work. They were just thrilled. They thought it was from a store. They didn't know it was handmade, at first, when they opened the box, and unfortunately, we don't see them that often, so I don't get to see the quilt very often and I miss it. I think that's why I haven't made another one for someone outside of my family because it's really hard not to see the quilt. I have pictures of it [laughs.] but I really miss being able to see it, and just run my hand across it, and feel the fabrics.

[7 second pause.]

KM: But you feel she appreciates the quilt?

DF: She does, and they [inaudible.]. I didn't realize that they had a king size bed. I had made a queen size, so they have it in their guest room and it's been there ever since. I gave it to them a few years ago.

KM: Wonderful, so where do you sew?

DF: I sew in the middle of our house on the dining room table because it's surrounded on three sides by windows and there's a big mirror where I can see what's going on behind me. It's right in the middle of the whole house, so I can see what's going on and everybody feels like I'm not hidden off in the corner. They can actually see what's going on with my work too. They like to watch the progress and for me it's just the best place. I just love all the sun coming in.

KM: So, where you store your fabric?

DF: In boxes, in an office which is just the next room over from my dining room. Although now, I'm vying for position with my husband in that room because he started fly tying, and so he has a lot of supplies, too. [laughs.] So, we're kind of arguing back and forth over who gets more space in there.

[7 second pause.]

KM: Well, you can take over rooms when your children leave.


DF: Well, some of his things I've used in my quilts, some of his feathers, and different yarns, and he's used some of my threads, some of my silk threads, so we kind of share supplies--

[both talking at the same time.]

KM: Okay, so there--you have no quiltmakers in your family, is that right?

DF: No, but we do have a lot of sewers. People who sew clothing. I had a grandmother, she passed away when I was in seventh grade, and she had a lot of material left over and they were--they didn't know what to do with it, and they said, 'Diane's the only one who sews.' You have to realize I have two aunts and five uncles who each had several children, and I was the only one who sewed, so I have all of this really neat, neat fabric; vintage fabric from the thirties and forties and fifties, things that she never used and just put aside because she wouldn't throw it away. So, I--I still have it and I'm still trying to decide what to do with it. I hate to cut into it. It's just so beautiful to look at. It is in these big giant pieces. I did make one small thing out of it. I made a purse which has a paper pieced busha [grandma.] as I call it because my friend Alice from Poland, so it reminds me of her, and I used her fabrics. So, I think that was kind of neat. That's the one thing I've used it for so far.

KM: But no one, no one else sews?

DF: Nobody else sews, a lot of people who knit and crochet and tole painting, but no, no one else sews.

KM: So, what is your earliest memory of a quilt?

[11-second pause.]

DF: Probably, something in a museum. It's hard for me to even remember. It didn't--I don't think it registered at that point, the quilting. Quilting to me didn't really take shape until I started looking at all of these fabrics and thinking how can I put this together. I didn't really notice the quilts around me. I don't think I saw many quilts. It was--I didn't even think of quilting as something special, 'Wow that's quilting.' I just thought, 'Oh, that's just sewing'. And sewing has been in my family for a long time, and it didn't come to me that quilting was art until after I started making this quilt. Then I started realizing everything that went into it and how much of a person is really in the quilt, their personality.

[15-second pause.]

[crashing noise.]

KM: So, what do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

DF: Someone who's willing to share themselves because I think it's a really personal thing that comes across in a quilt and the art of showing yourself, your personality. In fact, going back to that wedding quilt that I made, I had been working on it for months and had it all wrapped up in the box and before the bride to be was about to open it I was just so nervous and I was just almost shaking and one of the relatives had turned to me and said, 'What did you bring her?'

And I said, 'A quilt.' And she said, 'Did you make it?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'So this is part of you. You don't know how she's going to react to you.' And I thought that was so true, I was so nervous because it was all me in that quilt. That quilt just said, 'Diane across the whole thing.' And I wanted her to be able to say that she accepted it and liked it; meaning that she accepted and liked me, I guess. I didn't realize that until she was opening the box, how much that meant.

KM: Tell me about the other quilts that your kids sleep under?

DF: My fourth grader sleeps under a penguin quilt and the quilt only has three colors black, white, and red and it was made from a pattern in a book that he picked out for me, and he said, 'I just really think that you would like this quilt, Mom, and I like this penguin one.' Hint, hint. And so I looked at and it was actually for a crib quilt, and it was just black and white since babies, they think, see mostly in black and white. So I thought, 'Well, how can I spice this up?' And I threw a couple of red penguins in there turned the opposite way of the other penguins, and I included black and white checks all over it, and it's just really a vibrant quilt even though it's only in three colors. It really makes a statement. The reverse side of the quilt, again, it's just red, white and black fabric, but it's soccer balls, which he just loves to play soccer. So, it's kind of a fun combination, not something you would normally think of with a quilt, but it was just so fun to do. He sleeps under that every night; just loves it. My other son, I didn't ask him what he wanted. I just--I was making--I had seen a quilt in a catalog called Pottery Barn and I thought it was a really pretty quilt and I thought I could make something of my own idea, something similar. It's an American flag quilt with little free form stars on it and there's fireworks fabric in the border, which is really fun. Although now he tells me he would like a different one. He's getting a little older and he wants something a little more to his liking probably guitars or something black. Who knows what. We have to talk about it some more and then I'll start making a different one for him now that he is getting older. [7 second pause.] And that [the flag quilt.] could always turn into a good picnic quilt. [6 second pause.] It's a good size.

KM: Is it? What size are they?

DF: They're full size, both of them, larger than a twin, even though they're on twin beds it hangs over and they have more room to wrap themselves up in it.

[9 second pause.]

KM: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

DF: Well, along with those quilts, just to mention that they [my kids.] also have a comforter from my mom but it's not of fabric, it's a knitted comforter. So, they actually wrapped up in something that my mom gave them and me and they sleep with both of them. So, I think that's kind of neat, two different crafts but they're used together.

KM: And they appreciate them which is very nice. Very Cool. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.

DF: You're welcome.

KM: And I'm going to conclude my interview with Diane Fisher, and it is now 10:21.



“Diane Fisher,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1716.