Alison Bolt

Photos

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Title

Alison Bolt

Identifier

NH03561-001

Interviewee

Alison Dea Bolt

Interviewer

Nola Forbes

Interview Date

8/14/09

Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics

Location

Littleton, New Hampshire

Transcriber

Edna Curtin

Transcription

Please note: Alison is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Nola Forbes (NF): My name is Nola A. Forbes and today's date is August 14, 2009, at 10:08 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Alison Dea Bolt in her home in Littleton, New Hampshire, for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Alison is a quilter. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

Alison Bolt (AB): Well, the quilt that I'm displaying is called "My Kind of Garden." It's a twin-size, bed quilt. It is entirely foundation pieced. It was a project that I started when I really got into foundation piecing. I had been doing a lot of smaller things and wall hangings, but I wanted to see if I could do a bed quilt that was entirely foundation pieced. I saw this Block of the Month series advertised and I thought, 'That looks like a lot of fun.' It has a lot to it, and it actually presents one large pictorial, in this case, a garden. I thought it would be a lot of fun to pick out the fabrics and try and pull that together. It was. It absolutely was. It solidified my interest in foundation piecing for sure.

NF: Would you tell about the detail photos that we took, a little?

AB: One of the things that I most enjoyed about doing this quilt was the selection of the fabrics, trying to make the picture look real. One of the shots I believe you have is of the dog sitting by the fence, and, of course, you had to find fabric that looked like dog hair. I tried to find fabric that looked like an old-fashioned mailbox. I think I succeeded in that. I wanted to have the right kind of rustic look and the right kind of contrast. Another picture I think you have is of the shed. That was fun, too, because again I had to find fabric that I thought would replicate the look of a shingled shed and the roof of a shed. I was able to use quilting to do the detail on the door, and I found a nice little gold button for the doorknob. The whole point in doing this, for me, was trying to make it as realistic as I possibly could. The third detail shot you have is of the wheelbarrow. Again, I tried to find fabric that would look like old, old wood to make it look like an old-fashioned wheelbarrow rather than a modern, metal one. It's surrounded by lettuce and flowers and [laughs.] I was lucky because I found lettuce fabric. Trying to find fabric that replicates something like raked dirt was just a challenge. I completely got into buying the fabrics. I bought way more fabrics than I could possibly have used in this as I sought to get the right look. I would get them home and go, 'Uh, that's not quite what I want.' I found this quilt to be a great learning experience for me.

NF: Is there additional special meaning that this quilt has for you?

AB: Well, the title of this quilt is "My Kind of Garden." If you looked at this quilt you might think it was done because I love gardening. The absolute reverse is true. I hate gardening, which is why it's called "My Kind of Garden." Meaning I don't have to put my hands in dirt. No worms will crawl up my arms. This is my kind of garden, a fabric garden. So, yeah. My husband has been trying to get me to garden for years and I refuse to do it. I would rather clean toilets.

NF: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

AB: I think because it really did make me a devotee of foundation piecing. I learned such a tremendous amount about foundation piecing from this quilt, as well as about fabric selection. For example, I learned that the patterns for the foundations for this quilt were printed on vellum, which is quite slippery. They were traced and reproduced on a Xerox machine. They were traced with a Sharpie. It wasn't too thick a line, however, the line was thick enough that you could sew through the middle of it, to the right of it, to the left of it, all still within the black line. When you have you have twelve teeny, tiny little flower blocks to put together, just that two-thread distortion, by the time you try to put those blocks together, was very difficult because of that distortion. So, I learned that any time I do a pattern that I trace, I use absolutely the thinnest line that I can, even if it means a pencil line, so that the thread, when it goes on the line, is absolutely covering the line. Then there's no distortion. I learned that it's okay to differ from the pattern itself. Now, when I first started quilting, because I'm such a dreadfully Type A personality, all I wanted to do is find out the right way to do it. What I was supposed to be doing. Well, with this one, I looked at the pattern and the person who designed this wanted the background to be yellow. It's a garden. Why would the sky be yellow, unless, of course, there's a nuclear blast behind it? So, I said, 'I don't want this to be yellow.' I did it in blue. Then I started to think 'Why should this be such and such a color?' It was very liberating.

NF: You won some awards with this quilt?

AB: I did, I did. I won the award at the county fair. I was really proud of that, then I realized when I got home, I had dropped it in the parking lot so I don't have it now.

NF: No ribbon.

AB: No ribbon. No ribbon to show for it, just the memory.

NF: That was the Grafton County Fair? [New Hampshire.]

AB: Yes.

NF: How do you use this quilt now?

AB: I just display it. I have to say, when I was in the Annapolis Quilt Guild back in Maryland, whenever we had retreats, I would take it and put it on my bed. It was my showpiece.

NF: What are your future plans for this quilt?

AB: Just to keep it. I have it in a glass container upstairs. I'll probably give it to my daughter who is a very outdoors person and likes to plant things, has animals and things like that.

NF: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. At what age did you start quilt making?

AB: I started quilt making when I was forty-five years old. It was not anything I really intended to do. I kind of got tricked into it. Do you want the story behind that?

NF: Sure.

AB: My sister Karen was a seamstress, who used to make clothing. She got into quilting. My sister's sixteen years younger than I am. She's the baby of the family. My mother never quilted. My sister Karen decided it would be very nice if she took my mother on a quilt retreat. They learned to quilt together. So, my sister Lisa decided [clock chimes.] that she wanted to go on this. Then there were three of them and you needed four people to fill a suite. So, she called me, and she said to me, 'I really want you to go on this retreat down in Virginia. It will be three days; you learn how to quilt.' I stopped her and said, 'Karen. Quilting? You mean making blankets out of fabric that doesn't go together? Why would I do that?' But, I said, 'Okay.' Then [laughs.] I got the pattern, and I got the supply list. It was the first time I had ever done any of this. I remember going to the store, looking at the fabrics for the first time. It was so jarring to me because I needed six fabrics. I picked them up and, although they were nice colors, I was brought up in an era when you didn't wear prints and plaids together. You just didn't do that. So, looking at all of these fabrics that went together in a color palette but had prints of different types--it just really hurt my head. So, the very first quilt I ever made has two solids in it because I just could not deal with all of the different prints. That's pretty much how I got into it. It's funny, because when I went to this retreat, I had an old Singer machine that went 'ta-bunk, ta-bunk, ta-bunk, ta-bunk.' All the machines in the class were computerized and were going 'mmmmmm.' So, I stuck out like a sore thumb, which was embarrassing to begin with. Then, I kept wanting to know how to do this correctly, as I said. I stayed up until one o'clock in the morning on the first night trying to make the corners match, because that really bothered me. I didn't like the gaps. The third day as I was finishing my coffee, I went up to the teacher and I said to her, 'How do I know if I've done this right?' You see a pattern here? And she said to me, 'Well, if you've done it correctly, it should measure thirty-six inches square. If you didn't, it would be thirty-six and a half, thirty-six and a quarter, whatever.' My sister was giving me a very hard time all during this telling me that I was an obsessive compulsive and I needed to relax. I got the last laugh, because what happened was, at the very end, we all measured our quilts. Mine was the only one in the class that was thirty-six inches square. I take great pride in that, and it made my sister stop giving me a hard time. That's how I got into it, purely as a fluke. During that three-day trip, we went to an Amish quilt store, a fabric store. I went in there and I just started, I don't know, buying fabric. It was like the beginning of a very serious disease that's just gotten worse and worse and worse. I didn't even know what I was buying, really. I just knew I didn't have a stash and everybody else did. So, I better get some stuff, so I'd have one.

NF: Do you remember the name of your teacher? That first teacher?

AB: I don't. No, I don't.

NF: About how many hours a week do you quilt? Or work on quilts?

AB: That's kind of a funny thing, because I do so many other things that relate to quilting but not necessarily the sewing part of it. As you know, I write for a magazine. I'm working on a lecture. I've run shows. If I actually talk about the sewing part I'd have to say, whenever I can. I couldn't even quantify that in how many hours I do. I do it whenever I have free time to do it.

NF: Do you have any earlier quilt memory besides that exposure to your first quilt?

AB: No because that was not something that was done in my family. My grandmother was a crocheter. She made beautiful, beautiful afghans. So, I got that whole sense of the women in my family who worked with their hands and produced things for the family. One of my very special possessions is an afghan that my Grandmother Dea made with my Grandmother Lynn. My two grandmothers, even though my parents were divorced and had been for years, got together and they made this afghan for me. Made the squares, sewed them together and gave that to me when I was about ten-years old. I love it. I did sleep under it for years. But one thing about crocheting was that the wool gave. Over the years the knots would come out or the wool would. It didn't seem as durable as I would like it. I still have it, but I wouldn't use it now because it's coming apart in places. So, quilting to me is an extension of that same family tradition of working with your hands and wanting to be creative.

NF: So, there are no other quiltmakers anywhere in your family?

AB: My sister Karen. She makes quilts. My sister Lisa, who lives in Maryland, also is in a guild and makes quilts now. And it's all because of, I guess, that experience that we had together down in Virginia a hundred years ago.

NF: What about some of your friends who are quiltmakers? Would you like to talk about any of them?

AB: I have lots of quilting friends. My friend Jennifer--[Doyle.] let me talk about Jennifer. Jennifer is a very special friend because I met her when I went to my very first quilt retreat. I had no idea. I had just joined a guild. I'd only been in it for two months. I went to a quilt retreat. We were on opposite sides of the room. Jennifer was drinking diet Dr. Pepper, and so was I. At the time that wasn't very popular. Everybody else was drinking coffee and whatever, so we bonded over diet Dr. Pepper. I had taken my first quilt with me, the one that I made at the retreat I mentioned, the class I mentioned. Jennifer and I just started to talk. She was very unusual. Jennifer was the only person I have ever met who could get away with blowing bubbles in public, wearing rhinestone glasses and thongs [shoes.] that light up. She just had such a joy for life. She was just a character. We became very good friends. We did badly-behaving-girls type things at these retreats. We waited 'till everybody went to bed and then we walked around and looked at all their stuff and said what we really thought about it. [laughs.] Jennifer had this maddening habit. She was able to get things from people. We would have those horrible gift exchange things, where you steal other people's gifts? Jennifer could walk up to someone and say, 'You're not going to use that, you know you're not. I can actually use that.' And they would give it to her. We would laugh at the same things. It was just a very unique friendship. We made a pact that neither of us would ever, ever make wearable quilt stuff because we didn't want people to point to us and say, 'Oh, quilters.' You know? So, we didn't. We didn't make jumpers that had quilted tops. We didn't make sweatshirt jackets that had quilted panels. You know what I'm talking about. Throughout the last twenty years quilting wearables have kind of gone through trends. About two years ago, three years ago she called me, and she said to me, 'I've just made myself a quilted jacket.' I felt so betrayed. It became a joke because it's the only wearable art she ever did. We were very fast friends. Jennifer died just two weeks ago. She had pancreatic cancer. She fought it bravely. Her husband called me just yesterday and he's sending me the jacket.

NF: Oh, my.

AB: So, I will wear just that one piece of wearable art and it'll be like a hug.

NF: What kinds of quilt making did she tend to do?

AB: She did everything that was very traditional. It was comical, because she hated foundation piecing. Her mother bought a pattern. It was an Eileen Sullivan pattern. Her mother wanted to make this pattern, when she got it home and realized it was foundation piecing, she said, 'Oh I can't do this, this will drive me crazy.' So, Jennifer sat behind me at the retreat the next time making this just muttering under her breath. She tried to con me into making it for her. I said, 'Uh-uh, you did this yourself.' One of the funniest things this woman ever did to me. Right at the beginning, when I was new. The very first retreat I went to. I brought an orange blanket with me, a wool blanket with me. I put it on my bed. I didn't realize that was something that was a grievous offense. Apparently, it was, because everybody, as you well know, everybody who goes to these retreats has one of her products on her bunk. Then everybody walks around, when people are in the other room sewing, checking out the quilts on the beds. Well, I didn't have one. I had an itchy wool blanket. It was cold! It was the end of October! She told everybody outside. There were like forty-five quilters at this retreat. She made sure everybody knew that I had a wool blanket on my bed so that they could make fun of me. She was relentless about this. She guilted me into making a quilt that I called 'The Star Trail Guilt Quilt.' [AB points to quilt hanging upstairs on the wall.] The one hanging up there, the purple one with the stars, so that I had a retreat quilt to put on my bed, because she had one. She was my roommate. It was at that time, when I put this thing on the bed and slept under it for the first time, that she and I were talking. I said, 'Well, you know, you made one. I had to make one.' She said, 'Oh, I didn't make that. My mother made that.' So, she totally tricked me into making this thing. I was really mad.

NF: [laughs.] But now you have a wonderful memory.

AB: Right. Right. I think that some of the friends you make through quilting--because you speak the same language and care about the same things--are very special friends that endure for a long time.

NF: How does your quilt making impact your family?

AB: My family supports the fact that it's a creative outlet for me. They've always thought I am creative and that I should do more of it. Mostly they encourage me to take the time to do it. It's the only way I would say, that has a great impact on my family, is because of the fact that it takes me away from the family.

NF: Maybe you would share the story about traveling with your husband.

AB: [laughs.] Yeah, well, okay. My husband and I are diametrically opposed in personality. When we go on trips, he thinks they're all athletic events. I don't want to do that. One of the telltale signs is looking at my front door before a trip, because Ron always has athletic equipment, hiking boots that kind of clothing, and granola bars and all this junk piled up by the door. On the other side, I have my sewing machine, my portable, I have marshmallow twists, and I have fabric. We just have a very different approach to traveling. This one trip we were going on, we were driving from Littleton, New Hampshire to Breckenridge, Colorado. It was going to be in the end of November. We were going to be in the car on my birthday. I knew what our route was going to be, so I went to my handy dandy "Quilter's Traveling Companion," which is a book I highly recommend and use all the time. I Xeroxed the pages for a number of particularly good quilt stores on this trip. On this one particular day I knew that we were going to pass right by Salina, Kansas and I knew there was an excellent store there with a whole lot of fabric in it. I had that Xeroxed copy of the page in my purse. I also had a hundred dollars that I had saved up and I stuck that in the back, hidden in a compartment in my wallet. On that day of my birthday as we were driving up the highway in Kansas my husband kept saying, 'I'm getting hungry, aren't you getting hungry?' 'No, no, I can wait a little while. Let's not stop, let's make as much progress as we can.' When I saw the sign that said, 'Salina, Kansas five miles,' or whatever it was, I said, 'Ron, you know, I really am hungry. Let's stop in this town. This town, Salina. This looks like a good place.' I knew perfectly well where we were going, because I had the map to the quilt store from the "Quilter's Traveling Companion." There happened to be a pizza parlor across the road. I said, 'Look, why don't you go on over here and get yourself some lunch. Get me a sandwich I can eat in the car. I think I'd like to go in this little quilt store.' He said to me, 'Well, it's your birthday, you go ahead and do that. Here's $50.00. Go buy yourself something nice.' Well, I went into that store. I spent quite a bit of time in that store while he was getting his lunch. I took out the $100 that I had hidden away in the compartment for that store and added it to his $50. I had a fine time in that store because men never understand that you can cram an awful lot of fabric into a small bag. They never have any idea how much it costs. So, I decided that was probably a useful technique that I have employed often. I suspect he's getting wise to it. He was an analyst for the National Security Agency, but he goes along with me.

NF: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

AB: Yeah, I think so. It's not so much quilts, but I find my sewing room to be a very meaningful retreat for me. I go in there and I surround myself with the fabrics that I love. I look out at the snow in the trees. It's just a peaceful place for me. I like to go upstairs. [clock chimes.] When I'm sewing, and especially because if I'm doing foundation piecing and I'm worried about the paper and all that other stuff, I don't really think about much else. I think sometimes that's what you need to do. You need to clear your mind. That's what it does for me.

NF: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

AB: I really, really like color. As I just said, I like the fact that it offers me an opportunity to be creative and peaceful at the same time because I am Type A and I move very fast, and I don't know how to relax. It's a pastime that forces me to do that.

NF: What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

AB: I don't like putting borders on. I hate all of that measuring and being on my knees. I always worry that it's gonna pucker. It just makes me quite frustrated. Basting is a huge pain in the neck, too.

NF: Would you describe some of the quilt groups that you have belonged to?

AB: The first quilt group I belonged to was the Annapolis Quilt Guild in Annapolis, Maryland. I joined that shortly after I came back from that retreat. I keep calling it a retreat but actually it was the retreat I went to with my sisters and my mother. I came back and I joined this group. I really didn't know what to expect because I didn't have any knowledge of what they did or who they were. There was a woman in church named Sharlene. [White.] Sharlene was going to be the president of the guild the following year and invited me to join it. I said, 'Okay, great.' It was nice because I had somebody to go with to introduce me. There were more than 300 women in this guild. A very active guild. Every month they had national-level speakers. They had some of those speakers doing workshops several times a year. At the end of every year, in June, they do a full-blown quilt show with prizes and vendors. They have a lot of bees that are attached to it. I mean, it is a very active group. They do displays for the Maryland State House. So, Sharlene took me to the first meeting. She said to me, 'I'm going to be president next year, and I need a vice president. Would you do that?' I said, 'Sharlene, I don't know any of these people; I don't know anything about this organization.' She said, 'Don't worry. The way it works is, you'll be my vice president all year. You'll get to know everybody in the guild. You'll know how we do what we do and then next year, you'll be ready to take over for the year.' Then suddenly, Sharlene divorced her husband and became an airline hostess. I'm telling you; the first meeting was in September. She moved, and in October I became president of the guild I didn't know anything about. So that was my introduction to guilds. It turned out that because she left in her first term, I filled her term first. Then I had to serve my term, so I got to be president for two years.

NF: And for two quilt shows.

AB: Yes, yes. I swore after that I didn't want to get mixed up with quilt shows at all. What a confusion that was. Then, I ended up, after I was President, becoming vendor chairman of the quilt show, even though I said, 'No, I don't want to do this.' I liked it. I thought it was interesting to work with all the vendors. Of course, I got to look at all their stuff and get into all the products, and I was always very interested in that. And then somehow, I ended up on the board of the National Quilting Association which was interesting. And again, as you know, they do a very large show. A national-level show. I was the secretary. We would have these marathon meetings that went for two days. I took notes for two days straight, which was pretty tiresome. My minutes were twenty-seven pages long sometimes. Also, as I mentioned to you before, I am very involved in the periphery, the administrative aspects of the whole quilting process and industry. When I moved to Littleton [New Hampshire.] it was quite a jolt, because Littleton has a small quilt guild, thirty people, which is ten percent of what I used to have. It was a totally different orientation. In the guild in Maryland, we had people come and talk. Where in this guild, these are ladies who get together and do a project which means schlepping your machine and all your junk. By the time I get set up, because I have so much stuff, it's time to leave. I found that a little frustrating. They were very nice people. It was much more social because you really knew the people that you were with in this group, where in the Annapolis guild I knew lots of folks, but you tend to have a circle of friends and not know the other people well.

NF: Does this group have a special name?

AB: Littleton Quilt Guild, I think, is what they call themselves. My fourth major quilting involvement was with the Vermont Quilt Festival. When I moved here, my friend Shirley Banks was the Registrar of the quilt festival. The Vermont Quilt Festival is a very large endeavor. We had eleven thousand people, two years ago. Eighty-six vendors. Eighty-three classes. National-level teachers. Took over two venues. It's a very large production. I ended up, for better or worse, on the board of directors for two years. Then, when the executive director who ran the whole thing left precipitously, I was asked to take over and run it, which I did do for two years. That was almost a twenty-four-hour job because the office in Northfield was closing, and they hadn't opened an office in Burlington where the new venue was. [both in Vermont.] So, for two full years I had all of their stuff, administrative stuff, desks, computers. I had three hundred tote bags in my house! I had hundreds of shirts, supplies, and all that. Many of the quilt poles and things like that were in storage, but all the material from the office that you needed to run an office was in my house. So, it was just a very time consuming, absorbing task for me. I'd gone from tiny quilt groups to huge quilt organizations.

NF: And now you continue as a columnist?

AB: Yes, I write. When I retired, I was kind of an editor in the National Security Agency. I was on the staff of the Director of the National Security Agency. I ran a secretariat, which dealt with all the correspondence; I edited all of that. What happened was when I was in the Annapolis Quilt Guild and got conned into being president, there was a letter in the beginning of the newsletter from the president. She used to always write about what was going on in the coming months, but it was silly because all of that stuff was in the newsletter. So, I decided that was not interesting. I didn't know what to do with this, so I started just kind of writing about my own exploits. Things that happened to me when I went to quilt shows, my observations about other quilters, just kind of funny anecdotal information. People seemed to enjoy that. What happened was, when I was on the board of the National Quilting Association, they decided that they wanted to have a humor column in their magazine, The Quilting Quarterly. They asked me, having read some of my stuff, if I would do that for them and I did. Through the Vermont Quilt Festival, I met Jan Magee, who was the editor of Quilter's Newsletter. We started telling editor stories back and forth. I told her that I had started to do these things. I gave her a couple of my stories and I said, 'You know, I really would like your opinion about this,' because I had it in my head that I might like to write for a national quilting magazine. She took them and I didn't hear anything, I thought, 'Oh well. That's not a good sign.' Several months later she called me, and she said, 'Quilter's Newsletter is retooling and we're redoing the magazine, adding some new things, getting rid of some old things, trying to update the magazine. We'd like you to write a column for us.' I was flattered by that, frightened by it, because it's kind of daunting. It's a fairly large distribution. The other things I had written for were small distributions. You really never know how people will perceive you, but I did it. I've been writing for the magazine now for several years. So far, so good. I've only gotten two people who have written me ugly letters. Everybody else has been very supportive and nice and they seem to enjoy it.

NF: I have certainly enjoyed it.

AB: Well, thank you. I try to keep it light. A part of it is I don't consider myself any ace quilter. I feel like I am every woman's quilter. I have the same neuroses as everybody else. I have the same problem finishing what I start, and I buy way too much fabric that I never use.

NF: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

AB: Yes, of course. I don't think I would ever have had time to do what I do if I didn't have the kind of advanced sewing machines I have. You've gotta love rotary cutters and everything they do, and the fact that they come in fifteen sizes, colors and shapes. I think so. I haven't really had the time to get into it, but the whole embroidery module technology now is quite amazing. What a wonderful thing to be able to make things for children and for home dec. My friend, Jennifer, the woman I mentioned, after conning me out of half of the fabric I had gotten in this one store, did a wonderful baby quilt where she had used her embroidery module to make very cute little blocks that she put together for her grandson. I think the technology is wonderful. I'm not a snob about this. My attitude is, it doesn't matter how you've done it, I don't care if you hand quilted it, long arm quilted it, machine, whatever. What matters is, does it please you, does it satisfy your creative urges, and does it look nice? With any technology that you use, there's skill in manipulating that technology.

NF: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

AB: I love batiks, as far as materials go. I really like, although I haven't done anything with it, I really like black and white. I am a very big fan of foundation piecing and I say that defiantly, because, throughout my time quilting, I have heard more than once, 'Oh, it's just foundation piecing.' Well, I did a quilt for Sharlene. That was another thing. Sharlene was the president for only two months and presidents in my guild always got a quilt when they left. I didn't think it was right, especially because she left in rough circumstances, so I made sure she got a president's quilt. I foundation pieced the Cynthia England pattern with the cat lying on the quilt then I did three-dimensional mice around the frame. We [in the guild.] made the bottom of it a mauve, black, and white Log Cabin. It was a really nice quilt. I was taking it up to give it to her at this banquet. Some women, who had admired it from where I showed it initially, said to her friend, 'Oh, it's just foundation pieced.' That quilt was not easy to make. It looked really attractive. That galled me, and it still galls me. I think that that's a technique that's incredibly adaptable and, because I like precision, it feeds my need for things to match correctly. I find it very flexible. By adding a line or taking a few lines out I can completely change the object that I'm piecing. I even have a license plate that says paper piecer, PAPRPCR. I have a dyslexic friend who just discovered that it meant paper piecer. She thought it meant paper crap. [laughs.] It's the technique that I prefer. I like making pineapples. Sometimes I use foundation piecing with traditional piecing. As I said, I don't like snobbery. It matters what it looks like, what the finished product is like, and whether I've enjoyed doing it. And I do.

NF: Would you describe the studio space that you have? Where you create your quilts?

AB: Sure. I'm very blessed because when I built my house, I was able to design my own sewing space. Although the space is over a garage, it's twenty-four by twenty-four. The only drawback to it is, because it is over the garage, you have the roof lines. I don't have walls that are straight up and down where I can put a design wall. That's the one flaw. However, I designed a floor, a linoleum floor because of my other house having a sewing room that had a rug where the threads kept getting caught. I was stepping on pins that I dropped all the time. I said, 'No more.' I have kind of a coral-colored floor with a black Bear's Paw pattern on it that I designed and laid myself, including gluing my backside to the floor because I didn't realize that linoleum glue dried clear. I sat on some of it. I have a stackable washer and dryer. I have a sink to [clock chimes.] wash things out in. I have a dumb waiter that takes my machines and fabric from the garage up to my sewing room and keeps my husband from being involved in things he has no need to know about. I have a microwave. I have a day bed in there so I can take a nap [laughs.] if I feel like it. A television, a refrigerator, a cutting table. It's kind of funny. I taught a class and with the class money I bought myself a wooden bookshelf because I needed some space for some more fabric. I put my batiks in that bookshelf, and I thought, 'Wow! I have lots of room here.' I promptly went out and bought myself all these batiks and now this bookshelf is totally full of fabric, too. So, it's a really wonderful space. I have a sewing table. I have a six-foot table where I can lay things out. Ironing board, the usual things, and a closet crammed with materials and a balcony.

NF: A beautiful space. What do you think makes a great quilt?

AB: I think its visual impact and what it summons up. I think great quilts do have an impact, and for different reasons. Sometimes they are effective because of the colors that they use. Sometimes they're effective because they're pictorials and display an emotion. I think it can be any number of reasons. What's effective to one person isn't to somebody else. I know that, because I've been with friends looking at quilts going, 'What was she thinking?' And where my friend is going, 'Oh, that's wonderful.' In my case, if you put pea green in a quilt, I'm going to hate it. I don't like yellow green but that doesn't mean that somebody who sees and loves yellow green doesn't go 'Wow.' So, it's all about the individual. The bottom line for me is, if I like it, that's enough. It has to make me happy. I have to be satisfied with my own work.

NF: Would you name some of the people that have influenced you? Some of the artists who you were drawn to their works.

AB: I was immediately drawn to Cynthia England's work. She does amazing things with her own technique which is called picture piecing. Nevertheless, it's foundation piecing. If you choose to take her patterns you can either do them her way, which is to take the pattern and cut the pattern into tiny pieces, or you can do it the traditional way, which I frequently do. Her designs are wonderful and creative. And have a zillion pieces. I did her pattern "The Grand Tetons" and it had like fourteen hundred teeny tiny pieces. I thought I would go crazy. She really did influence me. She made it okay for me to be a foundation piecer because she does gorgeous things. She has one of the quilts that were selected as one of the best hundred from the last century. So, I have great admiration for her work. Although I don't do appliqué, and that's what they're known for, I really, really admire the color use of Becky Goldsmith and Linda Jenkins. I love their quilts. They're whimsical. They're creative and the color is just wonderful in all of their quilts.

NF: Are there other quilt artists that you are drawn to?

AB: Well, I like Barbara Olson's material. I'm not an art quilter, but there's just something unique about her work, I really do like her work as well. And Libby Lehman, again, she did, when she first started out, stuff that was considered quite innovative. I like her work as well. Another two of them that I really like: Jan Krentz, who does wonderful color work, and Judy Niemeyer who does fantastic foundation pieced work. And I also like Norah McMeeking. Did I mention Norah? Norah McMeeking, who does foundation pieced, worked with a Venetian flair. As you see, I tend toward some of the foundation piecers who do very creative work.

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

AB: They certainly have a large part in our history. If you look at quilts, you do see history, as techniques progressed through the decades, and women who went from making quilts out of scraps that they had, clothing that they had, to women now who spend a fortune on fabrics, machinery, the best of everything. And I think throughout time they have been a venue for women to get together, to do things for their families, to talk to one another and support one another. I think they still do today.

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

AB: Time and money. I think today, more and more women are in the workplace. It's not a question of just saying, 'Oh, well, I've washed the dishes, I think I'll go upstairs and sew all afternoon.' You've got to fit that in. I've certainly suffered from that myself, when I had a job that was ten hours a day. I had two teenagers. My mother-in-law lived with me. I wanted desperately to get into my room and sew and close the door, but there was no time to do it. Well, even if there were not a recession, there are so many choices out there for us--in fabrics and machinery, in product--that trying to afford all of the things you would like to buy, to go to the shows you would like to attend, to learn and take the classes you would like to take. That's expensive. They're not cheap. Having run a quilt show, I know that a good teacher for a one-day class can charge the organizing people $600, $700. That's a lot of money. So, the classes themselves have to be $65-$75. That's a lot when you take that, and you add it to all the materials that you have to buy for a class.

NF: Alison is there anything that you would like to quickly add to this interview?

AB: I would like to say that's it's been a privilege for me to be interviewed. I think that quilt making is whatever you choose to make it. One thing I have learned throughout the years is there is no right way to do it. I wasted fifteen years looking for the right way and the right way is your way.

NF: I'd like to thank Alison Dea Bolt for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 10:54 a.m. on August 14, 2009.

[interview concludes.]


Citation

“Alison Bolt,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1870.