Rebekka Seigel




Rebekka Seigel




Rebekka Seigel


Kate Kleinart

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Rebekka Seigel


Owenton, Kentucky


Kate Kleinart


Kate Kleinert (KK): [Not recorded: This is Kate Kleinert.] and it is 3:09 [p.m.] on Tuesday January 3rd, 2006, and I am here with Rebekka Seigel and we're doing an interview for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project. Okay so first do you want to tell me about the "Ella Fitzgerald Quilt" ["Ella Fitzgerald Paper Doll Quilt."] materials you used, the size, when you made it, anything like that.

Rebekka Seigel (RS): I can't tell you the size, but I can give you a postcard that will have the size on it. [63 inches by 68 inches.]

KK: Okay.

RS: Because I don't remember those numbers in my head. The fabrics are all cottons for the most part. It has a velvet border. What else did you want to know?

KK: When you made it.

RS: I guess it was maybe 1998 somewhere around in there. I'm not sure.

KK: Ok. Can you describe it a little bit more?

RS: It's one of the first quilts in my Paper Doll Series. And it's a scene of Ella standing in front of her big band and she's at the microphone. They're on a stage and above them are five posters of places where something of importance happened in Ella's life. And on each one of the posters is a costume that reflects what she might have worn during that occurrence. And the costumes are all small quilts themselves attached to the main quilt with Velcro so that you can actually play paper dolls with these quilts. And that's why I call them Paper Doll Quilts. And the garments reflect Ella's history.

KK: Okay alright. Does this quilt have any special meaning for you?

RS: Well, it was the first in a series of 13 quilts that described inspiring women so it's special in that it was the first. My son is a jazz musician and so it's special to me in that I probably never would have even thought about listening to Ella's music were it not for him.

KK: Alright. When you started the series like did you have in mind to do a whole series, or did it just start with that quilt?

RS: Yes, I had in mind to do a series.

KK: Where is this quilt now? Is it being used or hung or?

RS: It's opening the middle of the month at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library in Iowa with all the other quilts in that series.

KK: How long have they been traveling?

RS: They've been traveling for about three years.

KK: Alright. When they're finished traveling do you have any plans for the quilts?

RS: Ideally, I would love for a museum to acquire them as a body but realistically that's probably not going to happen because I want a lot of money for them. So, I don't know what's going to happen. I would like to start selling them. But I've been renting them for three years, so they have produced income.

KK: Okay. How long did it take you to make the Ella one?

RS: Probably it took me about six months and I had it quilted by someone else.

KK: Did the other quilts in the series take that long or longer?

RS: I tried to maintain a-schedule to finish the body in six years and so I tried to keep on a regiment of two a year.

KK: What made you want to do the series or where did you get the idea for the series?

RS: I loved paper dolls. They were my favorite toys when I was a little girl and I just thought that it was a very interesting way to tell someone's history through garment. And I made some paper doll quilts earlier in my career. Not about anybody in particular. Just to work with that way of telling a story. And Phyllis George who was a great promoter of Kentucky craft wrote three books and put my work in all three books. And after she put me in the second one, I reminded her that she that I was flattered but that she didn't own any of my work. And so, we together decided that we wanted to do this quilt that would tell her life story through garment. And so, after doing that that's what made me want to complete a series.

KK: Okay. Can you tell me about your interest in quilt making? When you started quilt making?

RS: I started making quilts when I was pregnant with my daughter because I thought that's what mothers were supposed to do based on my grandmother's example.

KK: Okay alright. Did you learn how to quilt from someone or were you self-taught?

RS: I think both. I mean I--I knew how a quilt was constructed and the steps in making a quilt from watching my grandmother. But she would never have allowed me to work on her quilts because I was just a kid, and her quilts were very important to her. But when I wanted to make my first quilt, I asked for a pattern from her, so she gave me the first pattern. But after that I pretty much figured things out on my own.

KK: So, did you start by making traditional quilts?

RS: Yes.

KK: Okay. About how many traditional quilts do you think you made before you branched out?

RS: Three.

KK: What made you want to branch out?

RS: I hated piecing--hand piecing. And at the time I started quilting wasn't the big thing that it is today. And you just learned through traditional ways. There were no rotary cutters or any of that kind of stuff. There wasn't even colored quilting thread. And so, hand piecing was the way my grandmother worked, and I thought it was really boring. And I wanted to do something that was more interesting to me.

KK: Okay. About how many hours a week do you quilt do you think?

RS: I don't have any way of answering that question. I quilt whenever I can.

KK: Okay. Alright what is your first quilt memory if you can think of one?

RS: Probably being at my grandmother's house and sleeping under a flannel quilt that she made.

KK: So, your grandmother was a quilter are there other quiltmakers in your family or your friends or anything?

RS: [shakes her head no.] I have lots of friends but they're my friends because of quilt making not before I was a quiltmaker.

KK: Okay. How do you think quilt making impacts your family?

RS: Well, it provides income. It keeps them warm sometimes. I don't often make bed quilts though. I express a lot of my feelings about my family and my life through my work, so I guess it impacts them that way.

KK: Okay. Have you ever used quilts and quilt making to get through a difficult time?

RS: Sure.

KK: Okay and what do you find pleasing about quilt making? What do you enjoy the most about it?

RS: Well, I guess I like everything about it. I like the process. I like the final product. I like gathering supplies. I don't think there's anything I don't--well I don't like how it makes your body hurt as you get older [laughs.]. But other than that, there's nothing that I don't like about it.

KK: Ok. What do you think makes a great quilt? And you can talk about traditional quilts or more modern art quilts.

RS: Good design. Good color. I guess that's--generically--I mean on a general basis I would say that that would have to apply to both art quilts and traditional quilts.

KK: Ok. What do you think?

RS: Good technique. Good technique.

KK: Ok what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

RS: Well, I guess if it touches you in some way. If you look at it and feel that you can relate to it in some way. If it's only through the color or the line or I mean it doesn't have to tell a story. It doesn't have to paint a picture it can just be about pattern and color and the use of design.

KK: Okay. What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

RS: Well, I think a quilt has to show some sort of expertise on the part of the quiltmaker whether in terms of design or construction or technique or good attention to making a good work of art. I don't--I don't think it matters you know whether a person paints a quilt or sews a quilt or uses any other sort of innovative technique or whether they just sew it in a very traditional way. It's really about the impact of a piece just like a painting.

KK: Okay. What do you think goes into making a great quilter? What characteristics?

RS: Well, someone has to enjoy what they do obviously and feel that they want to get better at what they do. Or they have to be willing to be spontaneous about changing directions when it's necessary. And it's good to see someone who has a lot of growth in their work. Who you can you know look at a quilt that they did twenty years ago and a quilt that they made today and see that that person has grown and changed and discovered some things along the way about art and quilt making and construction.

KK: Let's see. How do you think quiltmakers learn the art of quilting especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

RS: Well, I can't speak for how all quiltmakers do that.

KK: Right.

RS: I don't know. For myself I think that's very intuitive, and I just learn by trial and error.

KK: Okay. Do you feel one way or the other about machine quilting or hand quilting?

RS: No, I think they both require different skills and whichever one you choose you just need to make sure that that's the one that you're the best at. You know your own way of working.

KK: Okay. Do you think that your quilts reflect your community or region in any way?

RS: I don't think so. I think that they're more personal than regional or community oriented.

KK: Okay. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

RS: Well, I think that they have a very special place in American life. I mean traditionally of course they were necessary for--for making it through a winter you know. Today that's not of course the case. But I think that so many people have so many memories of quilts that were used to keep them warm that they have a very powerful impact on people even looking at art quilts. Even if they can't understand why anybody would make a quilt like that if their only reference is a bed quilt they still have some sort of emotional reaction to that piece made out of fabric stitched together in the way that they remember their grandmother making pieces. And I think that people can relate--I mean average people can relate more easily to quilts than they can to oil paintings.

KK: Okay. In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for woman's history in America?

RS: Well, it was mainly women who made quilts traditionally. And so--and there are all kinds of examples--all kinds of scholars that have done work on quilts made for political campaigns or quilts made in response to the wars. And you know so and then there are just the everyday quilts that people made. You know there was a time in our history when women valued themselves based on their sewing skills. And so, for that reason quilts have a very great importance in the life of women.

KK: Okay. How do you think quilts can be used?

RS: I think they can be used any way you want to use them. Except for rugs [laughs.] I don't like to see a quilt used for a rug or to cover up a car engine or you know something like that although they certainly can be used for that. But in today's society I like seeing quilts used as art.

KK: Okay. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

RS: Well, they have to be accepted into major museum collections and preserved in the same way that they preserve other precious art. And you know they need even more care than some things because they are fiber, and they are susceptible to light and air. And they-- they are organic so they will deteriorate.

KK: Have you given quilts as gifts to? Can you tell me about maybe one that you gave or something?

RS: Well, I gave small quilts to my family this Christmas. Very small quilts. You wouldn't call them quilts. Fiber art. I have given quilts to schools that I have worked in that have suffered a fire or a tornado or something like that as a way of raising money for rebuilding. I've given quilts to new babies. I've given quilts--I give quilts to my children every time they enter a new decade.

KK: Okay. Do all of your quilts have a planned message or story or?

RS: Pretty much.

KK: Okay. And how--how much do you plan out that story or message before you start working?

RS: I pretty much plan it out all the way. My quilts are not very spontaneous.

KK: Okay. Ok let's see. Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the Paper Doll pieces? How did you go about choosing the women who you portrayed?

RS: Well, they kind of chose me. I knew that I wanted to make twelve quilts and it ended up being thirteen. And I wasn't aware of who they all were when I started. I just sort of kept my ears and eyes open. And I decided that they all needed to have lived within the twentieth century. And that they had to have been women who were in some way pioneering in their field.

KK: Okay. Have you done other series?

RS: Yeah, but I've never done one this long. I did a series once about people who were living in the Appalachian Mountains in the 30's and the quilt patterns that were indigenous to that part of the world. I did a series about trains and people who rode them. And I'm working on a series right now about high school age men who go off to war.

KK: How do you think your style, or your techniques have changed like from the Paper Doll to now or even prior?

RS: Well, the Paper Doll project really wore me out. I did everything by hand. I was a very hand-oriented person up to that point. My appliqué was all done by hand. My quilting was all done by hand. Embroidery was all done by hand. And I was worn out when I finished that six and a half years of work. And I thought I didn't maybe even want to make another quilt. And so, I began working on different techniques. And so now I'm doing a lot more machine work. But because I am a hand person I found the yo-yo--the quiltmaker's yo-yo and have been doing a lot of experimenting with that.

KK: Are there other techniques that that you're thinking about trying that you haven't tried yet?

RS: I don't know. I can't answer that. [KK and RS laugh.]

KK: Okay. Your pieces that you've made--have you made ones that were commissioned by you--or do you--or by you know an organization or something or do you just do what you know comes to mind?

RS: Both.

KK: Can you tell me about a piece that was commissioned?

RS: Well, I had a patron for a number of years who would commission pieces. And that was very nice because she didn't really care what I did. She was very accepting and so you know I didn't have any trouble trying to please her. She was pleased with everything. But--Sallie Bingham at the Kentucky Foundation for Women when she first organized that group commissioned a piece to hang at Hopscotch House which is the retreat house for women in Prospect [Kentucky.] originally it was for women writers. And whenever I do a commission for someone, I try to make four designs on paper that would be my interpretation of what I think they're looking for so that we have something concrete that we can look at. And she chose one of the designs, but it wasn't the one that was my favorite design, so I was very pouty for the winter that I worked on that quilt [KK laughs.] because I was doing something that I didn't think that I really wanted to do. And now that I look at that quilt, I like it, but it took me a long time to get past that emotional resentment [KK laughs.]

KK: Do you enjoy working on like the quilts that you just want to make more than the commissioned pieces or?

RS: Well in that instance I would say yes. But usually, it doesn't really make any difference because I am still working on a piece that I designed. You know that I--they're not something that where somebody says, 'I want this pattern,' and 'Make this pattern.' I don't do that.

KK: Do you have a favorite traditional pattern?

RS: I like Flying Geese and I like the Log Cabin. I like those patterns they used a lot of scraps to create the work.

KK: Okay. I [inaudible, tape paused and restarted.] Okay have you always worked with fiber or do you do any other art forms.

RS: No, I never learned how to paint. I think if I had learned how to paint, I probably would have painted. But I didn't go to art school and, but I had sewing skills based on my family experiences. And so, I've always approached art with a needle and thread.

KK: Do you use quilts in your home--like do you sleep under quilts?

RS: No. [KK and RS laugh.] Because I don't have time to make bed quilts. But well, that's not true. Actually, I bought a top at a junk store last year or the year before and it was someone else's work, but it had never been quilted and I thought it was such a sweet thing that this woman had done. It was all these embroidered portraits of little girls' heads and then there was a name with each head. And I quilted that top and so I do have a quilt that can be used as a bed quilt although I don't put it on my bed.

KK: Do you collect other people's quilts at all?

RS: I can't afford to. I would if I could afford to.

KK: Okay. I think those are about all the questions. Do you have anything else you want to tell me about quilting in general or your work?

RS: I'm not--I'm not somebody who talks about my work a whole lot so I'm better off with answering questions than I am [laughs.].

KK: Okay. That's fine. Alright well that will conclude our interview. It is 3:35 [p.m.].



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