Kathleen Little




Kathleen Little




Kathleen Little


Jane Kucko

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Kay Jones


Jane Kucko (JK): I'm going to interview Kathleen Little this morning. I just want to thank you, Kathleen, for being here and having this opportunity to interview you. We are at the Trinity Valley Quilt Show, and you took us down and showed us your quilt you said it was a Wedding quilt?

Kathleen Little (KL): Yes.

JK: Could you tell us a little bit about it? It's beautiful.

KL: It's my daughter Karin's Wedding Quilt. She was married in December of 1999. I had all the wedding guests sign a small piece of fabric. I kept them for some time before I did anything with them. The quilt kind of evolved around those fabrics. They are in blocks of four. They have narrow mauve sashing, and in the middle of the sashing is a little charm that is wedding related. The charms were three different colors which caused me a lot of indigestion. What to do with them? I finally bought spray paint and painted them gold. It's not very "quilter-ish," but Karin is going to have to take them off when she washes the quilt anyway. But that won't be for about seventeen and a half years, I hope. The larger burgundy sashings that hold all the blocks together have phrases from First Corinthians: 13, which was the first scripture read at her wedding.

JK: Oh.

KL: You know. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love rejoices in the truth. Love is enduring. 'There are three things that matter: Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love.' The inside border has single words that relate to the wedding, like family, friends, goblets, gifts, bible, bowties, bouquet, halo, etc. Karin didn't want a wedding veil, so I made a floral halo for her. When I was ready to do the illustrations for the bouquet and the halo on the quilt, it got out of hand, (lots of detail). Up at the top there is Karin and her groom, Kjell, and their immediate families. It's very important to me, because Karin's daddy died two and a half months before the wedding. Family members--her father's insisted that I cancel the wedding. I couldn't do that. We had all worked so hard on it. So, we went ahead with our plans. I included my husband; and he's a little angel with the bride's family. It's very sad, and poignant, and bittersweet… but beautiful too. I showed Karin when the quilt was in the stitching stage. She looked it all over and took it in her stride, which kind of piqued me, then she came over and put her arms around me and said, 'I like the way you included my daddy.' We both shed a little tear. To me quilting is terribly personal as well as creative. I feel it is an art form and there are so many challenges in a quilt that it is, I think, the making of the quilter, too not only the beautiful, finished product. I learn and grow, and move on, dealing with the problems and challenges, and how I solve them, and I move on to yet another level of quilting. I thought about it long and hard and came to realize that I didn't want to learn, grow, and move on without my husband, Lee and that was quite a shock to me. Every time I went to my sewing room there was the quilt, waiting, waiting. In 2001, I would do a little bit of work on the Wedding Quilt, and I would have to put it down. Finally, it was finished. Everyone in the guild that knows the story said, 'Oh, Kathleen, you finished it. We are so proud of you.' This quilt was so wonderfully taxing. Finally, I am learning and growing and moving on, I can do it!

JK: That's a wonderful story. Your quilt certainly has a lot of meaning to it, beyond the ceremony of course. Your daughter's wedding.

KL: Yes, and my daughter's never going to wash it! [laughs.]

JK: You showed us two other beautiful quilts one of which is probably very special to you now as well. Do you want to tell us about the award for your Texas Lone Star quilt?

KL: Yes. I made it while I was living in Sumatra, Indonesia. I never made a star before, and other gals in the group had and said, 'Oh Kathleen, it's so easy. You just strip.' I said, 'Well, when a quilter tells you it's easy, she is not necessarily telling you the whole story.' I decided to go ahead and make the star. My quilting mentor was out of the country at the time. And I knew I wanted it to be a queen size, and I had never made anything in queen size before. The star wasn't big enough. I said, 'What am I going to do?' And some one in the group said, 'It's so easy, you just float the star.' I thought, 'What does she mean?' I didn't get the explanation just 'Float the star, honey.' I decided it meant to make the background fabric larger. So that's what I did. It was a real trial and error effort. I was cutting on the floor in my little house in Indonesia and thinking, 'Gee, I hope this is right.' There are four triangles in the quilt, and I cut them to fit the space exactly. No rulers, just, 'Okay, there it is, and now I'm going to cut a piece of fabric that fits here.' I thought, 'Oh please God, help me.' I cut four pieces of fabric to fit exactly. No seam allowances! I had to cut four new pieces of fabric and try to remember, seam allowances. Then I was ready to cut the four big squares. I cut the first square and, of course, forgot the seam allowances, again. [laughs.] Some of us learn a bit slower than others. Once we learn the lesson we think, "Thank you, Lord. I really needed that lesson, and I will never, ever forget it." Then I find myself cutting something and I have a little flash, a little signal that says, 'Now remember, you're a little too quick with scissors, dear.' So, I put the scissors down and say, 'Now think, think!' The quilt designs for the four corners of the Wedding Quilt are taken from a white-on-white quilt that I had done earlier, also in Indonesia. The quilting on it is very elaborate. I used that white quilt as the alter cloth for my daughter's wedding. After the wedding I brought everything home. When Karin came home from her honeymoon, she scooped up this gorgeous white quilt and was leaving the house. I said, 'Whoa kid. Just a minute. You have something that belongs to me.' She said, 'Oh surely not. This was in my wedding. It's mine, right?' I said, 'Not in my lifetime, girl.' [laughs.]

JK: It's all hand quilted?

KL: Oh, yes.

JK: You found out this morning about the award for your quilt.

KL: Yes. This guild has an award, The Vivian Parker. Vivian was one of our founding members and was a quilter's quilter. Her quilts have heavy quilting, and everybody tries to emulate that. I was walking around here with a couple of gals saying, 'Oh, I can't wait to find out who wins the Vivian Parker.' In this guild, it's a very prestigious award. It has no prize, it's just the recognition. Last night, after we closed the show, some policemen from across the way came in. One guy had gotten all his friends to come in and just look and enjoy it all. So, I took them around and I was explaining the prestige of the Vivian Parker Award. This morning it was awarded, and the ladies walked me down the aisle and said, 'Kathleen, you put this ribbon on.' I said, 'Well, Okay. This one?' No not this one. Where is it?' 'Let's go down here.' I said, 'My quilt is in there.' They said, 'Yes. Why don't you go in there?' I said, 'Some of these quilts don't have a lot of quilting.' They said, 'Yes, but one does.' I said, 'But that's mine.' And they said, 'Yes, please put the ribbon on it.' I said, 'This is a mistake, that's mine.' Finally, the ladies came up and helped me to pin the ribbon on the quilt. [laughs.] I said, 'Really, really?' And they said, 'Yes, and now we're going to take your picture.' [laughs.]

JK: Congratulations.

KL: Thank you. I still can't believe it. I've been in the guild less than two years.

JK: When did you join the guild?

KL: I belong to a guild in Granbury, which is where my co-chair and I live. She brought me in one day late in 1999, and said, 'You really need to join this group.' I said, 'Ah, Fort Worth, 45 miles each way. Not so far, but okay I'll go with you.' Before they started the meeting the president said, 'Everybody stand up.' We all did. She said, 'Now greet the person on your right, greet the person on your left, greet the person in front and greet the person in back.' I thought, 'Gee, this is nice.' We didn't stop there. People came up saying, 'Tell me about yourself, are you new?' I said, 'This is one friendly guild.' And there is the talent, as you can see from this show and some of the awards. [laughs.] My son called from California. He knows this is all I've been thinking about for months. He said, 'Mom, I hope your quilts win every ribbon.' I said, 'No son, I'm not that caliber.' He said, 'Really, I hope they win; I just know they are going to win.' I can't wait to tell him. [laughs.]

JK: That'll be a great phone call, won't it?

KL: Oh, yes.

JK: I want to get into your quilt's history a bit but before I do that, why were you in Indonesia?

KL: My husband was working with an Indonesian company on heavy construction, personnel management and contract negotiations to do with the oil fields.

JK: UI see.

KL: We wives had several activity choices since we were not to be employed by the company. Some played Mah Jong, some played cards, some got into trouble, some quilted and some golfed. Getting into trouble was tempting but I thought, 'Nah, I don't think so.' [laughs.] I am product oriented so I would rather at the end of my sixteen-hour days have something to show for my time.

JK: So, is that where you learned to quilt then?

KL: No, I actually learned to quilt in Saudi Arabia.

JK: Tell us about how you learned to quilt.

KL: We were sent to Saudi Arabia. My husband was [inaudible.].

JK: Let's wait one minute. [announcement over the loudspeaker.] Okay, now we can continue.

KL: My husband was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We were sent to build magnificent things for the Saudi government. Lee was the contracting officer. Then in 1981 we returned to the U.S. for Lee to retire from the Army. Before we left Saudi Arabia, the chairman of the board of Aramco Oil Company (at that time), visited our site and offered Lee a job. He said, 'When you get finished playing soldier, I have a real job for you.' So began a new adventure.

JK: When was that? Sorry.

KL: That's all right. 1977 to 1981 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 1981 to June 1993 with Aramco Oil Company. We lived in the same house for twelve years, with Aramco. With the army, even when we were promised a two-year duty station, we only served a year and then we would be moved on again and again. In twenty-five years, we moved twenty-seven times.

JK: Oh, my.

KL: In 1988 or so I learned to quilt, in Saudi Arabia. The gals didn't talk about the actual quilting you just put together a quilt. I told my daughter that I would make a bed quilt for her. Karin was about seven years old, and we had just rearranged her room and now there were twin beds in it. I had to make two quilts. In the quilt guild, someone was talking about a Trip Around the World quilt pattern. I had never seen anything like it. That's what I knew I wanted to make for Karin. I decided to make a little lap quilt first to see if I would actually finish the project. I bought different values and patterns of black and white fabrics…and put together this lap quilt. I didn't know anything about quilting, so I tied it with red yarn. I thought it turned out rather well. I do poorly purchasing just enough fabric for a project. I overbought. I believe better to have too much fabric than too little. As a result of over-buying, I have two black and white lap quilts. They are mirror images of each other. I don't do anything simple. Why do it the easy way when you can do it the hard way? I did go ahead and make two gingham quilts for Karin. I used backing fabric that had multicolored hearts…That was before it became the thing to have bright colorful backings for quilts. It was for my daughter. She liked it and it could be reversible too. There was enough fabric left over to make a baby quilt. I am saving it for Karin's baby. A quilt for Lee--Roman Stripe. Lee told me that as far as he was concerned. I could make any pattern any color that I liked but if it was for him--it had to be blue. This quilt is all the colors of blue in the sea. He really did like it too. We were back in the U.S. about nine months when Lee accepted an assignment in Indonesia. Don't go overseas if you are not secure in your family relationships. The assignments that we accepted were always in remote areas…and that can be difficult. You have a really good marriage, or you've got troubles. The divorce rate is high. We raised our children in Saudi Arabia, and they were all in college or beyond at this point, so we went to Sumatra. It was hot and humid. We were in the jungle in a swamp. There are exotic animals as well as exotic diseases. The people were wonderful, good, caring, generous and interesting. I met Indonesian friends, and they didn't know about quilting so a whole new area of interest opened up for all of us.

JK: I was going to ask you. Are they familiar with that form?

KL: No, they have wonderful batiks…but the fabrics do run. Every fabric that we bought in the local market we put right into a vinegar bath. I have several quilts that are made with batiks. Batiks are wonderful for quilting. We had a workshop where we made Christmas tree skirts and used a pie shaped template. Each one of us got two skirts out of the fabrics. I gave one of mine to my older sister. She was blown away. She is easy to impress. My friend, Suzie and I made our skirts in batiks. They are striking. The Indonesian ladies were desperate to have American cottons. We wanted to show them that their batiks were so very beautiful. Let's work with them. The Indonesian ladies grew up with batiks so that was old stuff. We were seeing batiks for the first time, and we thought they were magnificent. When we went on home leave to the U.S., we would try to bring back lots of cottons for our friends and we would then go out and buy batiks.

JK: We've talked about learning to quilt. Sounds like you have quilted in a lot of groups, and you've had other people who were quilting, would you consider yourself self-taught?

KL: Yes, absolutely.

JK: So, you pretty much learned on your own?

KL: The group in Saudi would have workshops once in a while but that's all. We would get together and stitch or just have a meeting.

JK: Just social pretty much?

KL: In Sumatra we weren't really a guild. We were just women that got together. We met every week and honey, they were serious. After a while, I noticed that there weren't any Indonesian ladies in the group. Suzie and I thought, 'We got together with Indonesian ladies and had people coming to our homes.' We taught them in small groups. They asked about paper piecing. I told them that I did not know how to do that. Suzie said that I did that I had just finished my lesson and that now was the perfect time for me to take these seven ladies and show them how I'm not a fan of paper piecing. [laughs.] But when you use that method your corners match. There's no doubt about it. I have the kind of mind that has to be able to see things in a logical progression and to see the project finished. Then I can say, 'Oh, I can do that, except for this little bit and I can get help for that.' I could not picture how the paper piecing went together. Suzie kept saying, 'Kathleen, don't think just do what I am telling you. Don't think. Just do it.' I did and it was perfect. My friend then told me, 'Now go and do likewise, dear.' [laughs.] Those Indonesian ladies absorbed the lessons. They are so quick so creative. They are fearless. Colors, patterns, they put them together easily and the result is wonderful. One talented group that I taught called one day and asked if they could come and see me. While I was working on a quilt…and thought that I was quite busy. I always made time for the new quilters, wanting to encourage them. All seven ladies told me, 'We want to thank you for teaching us to quilt. We really like it.' I said, 'Wow, good for you.' [laughs.] 'Please accept this,' they all said--heads bowed, and hands extended. Each lady made a Christmas block for me out of fabric that I had given them to make anything they wanted using their new paper piecing techniques. They made seven blocks for me out of my own Christmas fabrics as a thank you. They are so wonderful so generous.

JK: Now, has that become a quilt yet?

KL: No, it's not enough to make a quilt. It will probably be a Christmas table runner.

JK: A runner.

KL: Another group of Indonesian ladies came to me one day and asked what I thought about a quilt to hang down in front of the alter at the local Catholic church? I thought that it was a great idea. They said, 'Yes, Mrs. Kathleen please design it and teach us how to make it and if you would provide the fabrics, why that would be nice too.' I've never done anything like that I didn't think that I was capable, but I did it and the gals did a fine job. The quilt hung in the Catholic Church for Advent--Christmas of 1997. We brought the pastor in to look at the quilt. He was very unsure of the situation. He said in Bahasa, Indonesia, 'Not only beautiful but liturgical.' I put my hands on my hips and told him well yes. [laughs.] I should explain one never puts hands on hips in Indonesia. It's impolite. It means extreme anger. I forgot and immediately put my hands down and said, 'Of course liturgical for the church.' Shortly before Lent--Easter (in the Spring), the same group of ladies came back and said, 'Mrs. Kathleen--' I could see this one coming, sort of, so we made another alter cloth for Lent-Easter.

JK: How did you become involved in quilting?

KL: My neighbor in Saudi and I took needlepoint classes that was my first creative needlework, and I just loved it. The gal that taught the classes was at one of our women's group meetings. She was working on a piece that was just lovely. I went over to tell her that her work was beautiful. She thanked me and told me that I could make the same thing. I told her no not me. My enthusiasm is great at the beginning of projects, but I haven't brought much to fruition. She said, 'Not in my class, sweetie. You take my class and every time that this part of your anatomy (your bottom) connects with a chair you pick up your stitching and you do your homework, girl.' I asked her if she thought that she could teach me that I was a difficult case. Years later she told me that she never forgot what I said--I asked what she meant by that, 'Honey, you're one of my most advanced students ever.' I have made some beautiful things but all I ever thought was, wow, I am really finishing this. My neighbor chimed in with, 'If you like this you will love quilting.' I told her that quilting was for little old ladies that have the time. I'm busy with two very adventurous and obstreperous little boys and a darling little girl. I don't have the time. She told me that I have the time for what I want to do. That is a truism, but I kept brushing her off. One day she came to tell me that she was going to a quilt guild meeting and that I was going with her. The ladies were so friendly so creative so talented. The talk was about a pattern called A Trip Around the World. The workshop mentioned earlier came out of this meeting.

JK: What do you like most about quilt making?

KL: At first when I get an idea, I think that I can't possibly do that. Then I think, 'Now wait just a minute.' I believe it's an expression of what's creative within me even though it's a recognized pattern. It's what I do with that pattern. A couple of years ago I made a Double Irish Chain for my older sister. I wrote to her and asked her to give me twenty-three sketches of different aspects of her life. There were twenty-three snowball blocks to fill. People told me to choose a nice template and draw that in each of the blocks. I thought that templates were so predictable. Why do something that is easy when I can make it so much more difficult for myself? That seems to be my guiding light. My sister never responded to my letter. Let's see what I know about my sister. She lived in Colombia. She is a gourmet chef. She is a Catholic nun. She is a college professor. I thought that I could do this. I live in Granbury, and in order to get to my house you have to drive over the river and through the woods. I put that into the quilt plus other things, some of her travels, and awards that she received. Her Double Irish Chain is done in batiks, and quilted in dark blue thread because she is much older than me and I wanted her to be able to see the quilted pictures. She told me that the other nuns bring every visitor in to her room to see the quilt.

JK: Now you do all hand piecing and hand quilting?

KL: No, when I started out, I did all hand piecing because my neighbor told me that wherever I went I could take it with me. I believed this to be true until someone told me that I could do this on the sewing machine. I discovered that the sewing machine is quicker, faster, easier, cleaner. So, now most of my quilts are machine pieced and all of my quilts are hand quilted.

JK: Do you ever see yourself hiring machine quilting?

KL: No, machine quilting will never take the place of hand quilting on my quilts.

JK: Why do you feel that way?

KL: I guess maybe it's just a thing with me. I want it to be hand done maybe because I started out hand piecing. I did some wall quilts that are hand pieced and even now so many years later. I'm terribly proud of them. I prefer the hand quilting. Maybe it's a matter of pride in the hand work an expression of myself.

JK: It has just been a real pleasure listening to you.

KL: In Indonesia I hired ladies to quilt things for me so that I would have more time to make quilts and the local ladies would then earn money for the first time in their lives. They would have a marketable skill to bring money into their homes…and into their villages and into their tribes. Once they earned the money, I asked them what they would do with the money. The ladies told me that now they could send a child to school.

Education is not a right in Indonesia. Families must pay. The children must have a uniform. To have children in school gave these people status in the community.

JK: This has been fascinating. Is there anything else you would like to say or anything you thought I would ask that I did not?

KL: No.

JK: Secrets you want to reveal?

KL: No. [laughs.]

JK: It has been a delight. I would like to thank you for being here and being part of [Quilters' S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories and our interview has concluded at 10:50 a.m. Thank you, Kathleen.

KL: Thank you.


“Kathleen Little,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1979.