Patricia Knable




Patricia Knable




Patricia Knable


Le Rowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Del Thomas


Chautauqua, New York


Tomme Fent


Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell, and today's date is October 10, 2007, and it is 1:30 p.m. And I'm conducting an interview with Pat Knable for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. And we are at Brastad House Bed and Breakfast in Chautauqua, New York, and we are sitting in one of the lovely bedrooms in this house for this interview. So, welcome, Pat.

Pat Knable (PK): Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

LR: Very happy to have you here. Tell me about the quilt that you selected to bring today.

PK: Well, this quilt is called "Indian Orange Peel." It's a Karen Stone design. And its paper pieced. And it took me probably three or four years to make it. And at the end of that time when I took the paper off, I had garbage cans and garbage cans full of paper that I took off of it. But the paper piecing makes it very precise in construction and I really enjoyed doing it. It looks like a Halloween quilt to me, and I keep thinking I should be putting it out at this time of the year and hanging it in our home someplace, but the lack of space prevents me from doing that.

LR: Do you have any idea how many pieces are in this quilt?

PK: No, I really don't. And it's been a while since I did it, so I have even less idea.

LR: And how did you select the fabrics?

PK: The fabrics were mostly from my own stash. I think I purchased a few new pieces for it, but mostly from my own [collection.].

LR: And so there are no hand-dyed fabrics in it?

PK: No, no.

LR: And the backing?

PK: The backing is one solid piece, and it's a print. It has partridges on it and it's a brown-and-tan combination. The face of the quilt is predominantly orange, brown, black, tans, and yellows, I believe. Also, gray.

LR: Describe some of the fabrics.

PK: Oh, the fabrics, many of them are prints. I think most all of them are prints, except for some of the black spears. Actually, when you look at it, you think of the Empire State quilts because it has the spikes. But mostly they're just prints that were in my stash that I felt complemented each other.

LR: And what inspired you to do this particular pattern? Does the pattern have a name?

PK: Yes, it's called "Indian Orange Peel."

LR: Okay.

PK: And you think Indian or Halloween or maybe even Orange Peel when you look at it. It's really quite difficult to construct because there are so many curved pieces and so many spikes.

LR: All those points.

PK: Yes.

LR: How do you use this quilt?

PK: I use it as a wall hanging when I have the space to do it. In my Cleveland house, I had it in my living room and I loved it, but in my present home, it's too large for any of my walls.

LR: So, what are your plans for this quilt?

PK: Well, I'm hoping to enter this in the Westfield Quilters' Guild show, next fall. And then to keep it for--one of my children, eventually. I have one daughter, so she'll probably have it in the end.

LR: Okay. Let's talk a minute about your involvement in quilt making. When did you start quilting?

PK: Well, I started sewing when I was about ten or eleven years old. I was part of a 4-H program and that got me started. My mother was very irritated with it because she thought we had all these projects that she had to teach me, and she thought someone else should have done that. But anyway, I got into the sewing part, and I loved it. I've done sewing or needlework all of my life. But then in about 1979, we moved to Athens, Ohio, which is where Ohio University is, and I became acquainted with Ora and Harriet Anderson, who saved the Dairy Barn on the mental health grounds and turned it into a cultural arts center. So right away, I was involved with that, and I was on the board. And so, every two years we would have Quilt National. Quilt National is full of every kind of quilt, but the art quilts took my attention more than anything else, and I decided I wanted to be a quilter and I wanted to make art quilts. Well, little did I know that I would have to go through all of the traditional piecing and all the traditional aspects before I could really do art quilts. So, I sort of came in through the back door, and after all these years, it's now 2007, I'm making art quilts, some of my own design, but I've made many traditional quilts. And I have three cedar chests full of quilts plus the ones that are on my walls. So, I continue to explore art quilts.

LR: That's a very exciting story.

PK: Thank you.

LR: As a matter of fact, I know you had a hard time selecting your touchstone piece and you did bring one piece that is an art quilt. Just talk for a minute about that, because that kind of was inspired, I guess, by your story.

PK: Well, I became interested in Libby Lehman's work and I made one of her quilts and then I decided to sort of extend that into my own thinking and I designed a few quilts along that line, but they were absolutely mine. So that's what I'm chiefly interested in now.

LR: And what kind of work does that involve?

PK: Well, these pieces are--they're not cotton; they're done on a shiny material, and they're done with metallic threads, and the designs are my own. And the quilting is done by the free-motion style of quilting, and so there are times when my sewing machine is red hot from doing the free-motion quilting. They're very beautiful on the walls. Almost any colored wall will be a good background for these quilts, and my grandchildren are crazy about them, and they've already spoken for them, so I don't intend to have them too much longer.

LR: I noticed that the piece, your touchtone piece, is pieced. Have you gone into appliqué or--

PK: Oh, yes, I've done a lot of appliqué. Well, I think I've done most every type of quilting I can think of. I'm trying to reconstruct, here, my history. I just can't think right now what all it involves, but I've done many different kinds: trapunto and stuffed work and even some whimsical things that are fused pieces that are sewn over, and just all kinds of things. Whatever comes up, I do it.

LR: I noticed that you also have made wearable art.

PK: Yes. I've made jackets and I've made vests and I've made, well, all kinds of little things, like pins and things that are made from fabric that you wear, and little accoutrements, actually.

LR: And gifts?

PK: Oh, yes, many gifts.

LR: So, what is your favorite aspect of quilt making?

PK: You mean as piecing as opposed to quilting?

LR: Yes.

PK: Well, actually, I prefer the piecing, but I have just completed a Grandmother's Flower Garden which took me probably ten years to make, and I have it already to layer up and hand quilt, so that will take me a good long time to do that.

LR: What size is that?

PK: It's a double bed size. It's very beautiful. It's made from the old materials that have been recreated. They're actually new materials, but they look like the old materials, and it just makes a very beautiful quilt. They're so hard to find, the Grandmother's Flower Garden, and I collect some of the older quilts. And I decided that I was not going to find one, so if I wanted a Grandmother's Flower Garden, I was going to have to make it myself, so I have.

LR: Is that the paper-piecing method that you used?

PK: It's made with the little plastic patties. It would be the same kind of work as the paper, sewing around the paper, but it makes it more accurate. And there are just millions of pieces in that quilt.

LR: You mentioned a collection. What kind of quilts do you collect?

PK: Well, I collect older quilts. I don't have them all dated, but one of them is from my brother's home in the Napa Valley. It was an old winery, and my sister-in-law found an old quilt, a Drunkard's Path pattern, up in the attic of this old winery. And she decided that I was the one that should have that, so I do have it. And it's very fragile but it's very beautiful. I had a quilt person evaluate it and she said that it was made after prohibition. I think that was in the twenties. Well, it was made right after that because it was the Drunkard's Path. [laughs.] And it referred to the prohibition. So, I really treasure that quilt.

And then others that I have just found along in antique stores, that I just couldn't live without. So, I probably have maybe a half a dozen of the older quilts. Then I have a quilt that my mother made, and it is embroidered and quilted by my mother. And I have two from my husband's mother. One is Cathedral Windows, and it must weigh twenty-five, thirty pounds. And then she also made a Log Cabin that I have. So, I have some family quilts. [Also, two made by my husband's great grandmother.]

LR: Where were these family quilts from, what part of the country?

PK: My husband's family lived in Youngstown, Ohio, and my parents lived in Iowa, northwestern Iowa, so they're Midwestern.

LR: What is your first memory of a quilt?

PK: It would probably be my mother working on a quilt that she was making, because she made several quilts, and she gave one to me in our early married life which I promptly used and wore out and have no more. So, the one that I do have, I really treasure.

LR: Were there other quiltmakers in your family?

PK: I don't believe so. My husband's mother did all kinds of sewing and quilt making.

LR: So you began quilt making in Athens, Ohio.

PK: Yes.

LR: And when was that?

PK: We moved there in 1979, and it was very shortly after that that I started making quilts.

LR: How many hours a week do you spend quilt making?

PK: Well, I'm not spending as many hours nowadays as I once did, but when we were in Athens, I would get up in the morning, seven o'clock in the morning. We would have breakfast. I would go directly to my quilt making. I would work until lunchtime, make lunch, go back, and sometimes I would be there until eleven or twelve at night. So that accounts for all of those quilts that I amassed.

LR: How did that impact your family?

PK: Well, it was during a time when my husband was recuperating from an illness, so it worked out very well. It kept me sane.

LR: And meals got on the table?

PK: Yes. [laughs.] And all the other things of daily life were done, too, but the quilt making was the biggest share of my time spent.

LR: Have you ever used quilts to take you through a difficult time?

PK: Oh, yes.

LR: That was one of them [indicating.]?

PK: Yes. My husband's now in a wheelchair and he's actually been ill for about thirty years, so the quilt making was my therapy.

LR: Let's talk a minute about your quilt-related activities. You belong to a guild.

PK: Yes.

LR: Want to talk about that?

PK: The Westfield Quilters' Guild. Before that, I belonged to a guild in Athens, Ohio, which was called the Sew and Sews. We had shows at the local mall every two years, and it was a very active group. It was a small group, only twenty-five members, so we all knew each other very well. And it was restricted to twenty-five members. Then later on, it opened up to include more people, but I loved the small guild. And well, of course, I've been to many, many quilt shops around the country. I haven't been to [the International Quilt Festival in.] Houston yet, to the big show, but visiting quilt shops is important, and just anything quilt-related is big on my list.

LR: Have you held different positions in your guilds?

PK: Yes, I've been an officer in the Athens quilt guild, but not so far in the Westfield [Quilters' Guild.].

LR: And have you ever worked in a quilt shop?

PK: No, I haven't. But I have taught some quilting courses to the quilt guild that I belonged to.

LR: What courses do you teach?

PK: I taught silk ribbon embroidery for quilts and different techniques to use. One of the things was the memory quilts that they have now. There hasn't always been photocopying to get the image to put on the quilt. Before that, there was a material that you put on the photograph and then took the paper off of the back and then used that transfer on your quilt. So, I have a quilt of my family that's done in those three different techniques, and I taught a little course on how to do that, how to put the photographs into a memory quilt.

LR: Interesting. Where is your family quilt?

PK: Well, it's at home.

LR: Do you use it?

PK: It's a wall hanging, and I do hang it. It has, the center block has the saying 'Remember me.' And it's embroidered, hand embroidered, and then around that are the pictures of my family, my husband's family, and then our family. So, it's very dear to me.

LR: And I understand that you have won an award?

PK: Well, I won an award in--I belonged to the American Sewing Guild, and they had a contest with a few quilts entered, and mine won first place. So, I was happy about that.

LR: And what quilt was that?

PK: That was the Libby Lehman piece that I showed you.

LR: Yes, yes, I see it. I know you had a hard time choosing which piece you were going to use for your touchstone so, yes, that was also a lovely piece as well.

What do you think makes a great quilt?

PK: Well, I think inspiration makes the quilt, and a love of the process, of doing it. The process is almost worth more than the actual finished quilt. I think most quilters probably would agree with that. It's the actual doing it, actual making it, and learning as you go along, because you go through so many different processes arriving at that finished product. It's such a learning experience and once you have gone through that, you just want more, more learning experiences and different types of quilts.

LR: What draws you to a quilt, in a show for example?

PK: Well, the quality of work is important and the color combinations, of course, are very important. The different ideas that are conveyed through quilts. Sometimes the size, sometimes just the ideas that you know that someone constructed in their own mind to arrive at this product. It's so beautiful.

LR: And what makes a great quiltmaker?

PK: Patience [laughs.].

LR: Along with anything else?

PK: Well, a large stash of materials, so that you don't have to spend all of your time looking for new material.

LR: Inspiration.

PK: Yes.

LR: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

PK: The workmanship. The idea behind the quilt. The use of color. The statement that it makes. I think it probably encompasses all of that.

LR: I'm intrigued that you started your quilt making career with art quilts.

PK: Yes.

LR: And then went back to traditional quilts. What were the traditional quilts that you remember particularly?

PK: Well, Log Cabins, appliqué quilts, the Grandmother's Flower Garden. All of the techniques that are involved in traditional quilt making are in your art quilts too. I mean, you just have to know that first. And I just felt like I came in through the back door, but it was a necessary step so that's what I did.

LR: And how do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting versus longarm?

PK: I think they're all important and they all have their place, because there are many quilts that you might make as a utility quilt, and you don't want to put thousands of hours into the hand quilting when someone's dog may eventually be sleeping on that quilt. So, I think they all have their place.

LR: You made quilts for your daughter?

PK: Yes, I've given away a number of quilts as gifts, and I try to make a quilt for each of my grandchildren. I have nine grandchildren. So, I only have three to go, I think, and then everybody will have one. Plus, I've given some larger ones to my own children, too.

LR: Do you have any quiltmakers coming up in your family, among the grandchildren?

PK: My youngest son's youngest daughter is interested, and I bought her a machine and she has shown a lot of interest. So, it may wane a bit through the teenage years, but I'm sure that will come back to her later on and she'll have an interest again in it.

LR: How old is she?

PK: She's thirteen right now.

LR: Any others?

PK: No, that's the only one so far.

LR: How do you--one of the questions is how do you encourage quilt making in young people?

PK: Well, you help them get supplies, get ideas. You do it with them, so you have a project together. Many times, nowadays the children live so far from you that you don't get a lot of chances to actually teach them and work with them, but then when you're together those special times, you find a little time to do something together.

LR: You mentioned that you had taught and have you had the opportunity to teach any children?

PK: Just this youngest. [granddaughter.]

LR: How do great quiltmakers learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose the fabrics, the colors?

PK: Well, I think the design comes later on, but in the beginning, you start out with a simple pattern and if you complete that, that gives you incentive to go on to the next pattern. You just go on to ever increasingly difficult patterns. And the colors, it takes a long time to learn the colors. I think a lot of it is trial and error, and when you say to yourself, 'There aren't any real terrible mistakes that I can make,' you experiment more with color and you get better at it, and you get better at all the little tricks that go along with the quilting. And it's just an ever-developing process.

LR: Talk a minute about the trends that you have seen from the time you started your quilt making to where you are now to maybe what the future's going to be.

PK: Well, when quilting started to have a resurgence, you could see people who had never even thought of it before, trying to learn quilt making, trying to get into it. And then it just grew and grew, and then there were all of these wonderful exhibitions. Like at the Dairy Barn. There are many quilters in Athens, Ohio, people from the farms, from the city, and they have all learned by going to those shows and by quilters who live there, Nancy Crow and other people that have followed in her footsteps. It's just a delightful thing to do to express yourself, and it has become so big. And I don't see it slacking off at all, and I hope it doesn't.

LR: But do you see certain trends in--

PK: Well, I can't really say that I do because the people who are making art quilts are going to make art quilts. And they get farther and farther out, you know? But the people who are traditionalists pursue that traditional quilt and they never tire of making traditional quilts. But I think the trend is to be able to make something yourself. Women want to create things and quilt making is a way of doing that and it has been that way for so long, but it's just grown so much, become such a beautiful, expressive way of living. It's just wonderful, actually.

LR: You mentioned your sewing machine and the photo transfer. What other tools do you use in the creation of your quilts?

PK: Well, I have just purchased a new embroidery machine, and about ten years ago, I bought a smaller embroidery machine. So, I've been doing that, and now I expect to expand on that and be able to do more with this new machine because I can digitize images and put them into my sewing machine from the computer and sew out things that I could never imagine before. So, each step that you take leads you to something else.

LR: What about just the simple cutting process?

PK: The cutting? The rotary cutter, that was a revolutionary thing. Before, those scissors, you could work with those scissors forever, but you could not be accurate, and with the rotary cutter, things are very accurate.

LR: Any other special tools?

PK: All kinds of tools, my goodness. All of the new rulers, all of the tools, I've been working on making chenille, and there's a new chenille cutter that you just slip into the groove, and it just cuts that chenille immediately, where before you had to cut all of that with the scissors and do all of the slashing by hand. I made a piece, it must have been about twenty years ago, out of wool and it was slashed, layers of wool sewn together and then slashed so that it would bloom as you washed and dried it. And now they have it with the cottons and you sew these channels and you just put this stripper in there and you've got chenille work. And it's beautiful; it really is.

LR: Very exciting.

PK: Yes.

LR: What next?

PK: I don't know, but I'm ready for it.

LR: How do you think we can preserve quilts for the future?

PK: Well, one of the ways is just the way you're doing it now, recording people and taking pictures of their quilts. You don't know how long those quilts are going to last, so if you have good records on them, that's wonderful. And then preserving the ones that we have in the museums, I think any quilt should be preserved, should be well taken care of. And quilters know pretty much about how to do that. People before always put them in cedar chests with nothing between the fabric and the wood. Well, wood is an enemy of cotton, or other kinds of cloth, too, but people know now to put them in a cotton pillow slip or wrap them in some kind of cotton to preserve them, and they will last. There are special things that you can buy to preserve them. I have put acid-free paper between my quilts, and you can buy boxes that are acid-free that can preserve them. So, there are ways of doing it.

LR: How do you document your own quilts?

PK: Well, I try to take pictures of them. I put a label on each one. But there was some documentation through our guild because of the shows that we've put on; they were documented that way. But that's about the three ways that I've done it.

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

PK: Very important to women's history because women always want to make something beautiful. No matter how poor or how destitute they are, there's always the drive to make something beautiful. And that was one of the ways that they could do it, was to make a quilt. Perhaps they couldn't paint, or they couldn't do anything else art-wise, but they could make a quilt. And you could do that before sewing machines. It goes back so far.

LR: Do any of your quilts reflect the region in which you live?

PK: Well, I think so, because when we lived in Athens, that was Appalachia. And the tradition of quilts reflected that way of life and making something from almost nothing. And the designs, some of the designs are more primitive and people used whatever they could manage to make a pattern, whether it's the top of a glass or a shape from something in their kitchen. It was all done with very little technical [knowledge.]. It was primitive.

LR: It's quite a legacy.

PK: Yes.

LR: So, quilt making is very important in your life?

PK: Oh, yes.

LR: Do you have a special place at home, a studio you want to talk about?

PK: I do have a loft which is my studio. I have all of my fabric there. I have all of my machines there. I have cutting surfaces that are handy for me. My stash is there, of course. And I have good lighting and I'm by myself and I have peace there, and I can do whatever I want.

LR: I'm curious, how do you create a quilt? Do you work on a wall or on a table? This piece, for example, your touchstone piece.

PK: I have used a flannel to place the pieces of the quilt. I've also used a bed to lay out a quilt. That way you can see just what size it's going to be for that bed. Or any number of ways, sometimes even the floor might work. It just depends on the quilt that you're making.

LR: And when you travel, do you carry quilt making with you?

PK: I have. If I'm appliquéing, I sometimes take appliqué pieces with me. But mostly, I quilt by myself. I do my best job when I'm alone.

LR: So how would you describe the future of quilt making in America?

PK: As going on forever. It's not going to stop. Too many people are interested now and too many people love that way of work and the art that's involved. So, I think the process will go on forever.

LR: We just have a few minutes left. Is there anything else about your quilt making that you would like to share with us?

PK: Well, it's just that I hope to grow in aspects of quilt making, and I hope to make a lot more quilts before my eyes go. I'm having eye problems, so I feel like I have to work a little bit faster now. And I hope to enjoy every moment of it, and I hope to leave a legacy about my life for my children and my grandchildren through my quilts, because this is all that I have to offer them in the end.

LR: Do you have any special ideas in mind, or what kind of ideas for your next quilt?

PK: Well, I hope to make more art quilts, but I'm open to anything. Whatever comes along, whether it's new or old, I will do that.

LR: Do you plan to continue teaching?

PK: If I were asked, I would teach, yes.

LR: Well, it's quite a great gift that you have. So, thank you, Pat, for coming for this interview for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. And it is eleven minutes past two. So, thank you very, very much.

PK: It's been wonderful talking to you.



“Patricia Knable,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,