Lissa Alexander




Lissa Alexander


Lissa Alexander, who now works at Moda Fabrics Headquarters outside of Dallas, began quilting in 1979 when she and her sister got married. Because of her job fabric choice has influenced her quilting style, and is one of the reasons she favors scrap quilts. While she did not start quilting until later in her life, she grew up surrounded by her mother’s quilts. Alexander feels that documentation of quilts, and a less stringent adherence to the “rules” of quilting are thing s quilters should work towards in the future.




Christine Sparta


Lissa Alexander


Amy Milne

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Dallas, Texas


Eleanor Wilkinson


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Amy Milne (AM): This is Amy Milne, and I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S.--Save Our Stories interview with Lissa Alexander. We're at Moda Fabrics Headquarters outside of Dallas, Texas and the date is March 5, 2011 and the time is 10:42. Lissa, thank you for doing this interview.

Lissa Alexander (LA): Thank you for having me.

AM: First of all I'd like to ask you about the quilt you brought.

LA: When you said bring a heartfelt little project, it was really kind of hard to decide on something because most of mine have been given away. That's part of the things that meant a lot to me and so I actually brought a group project that my sister, who had passed away 21 years ago, and eleven other friends did. So it was a quilt swap, that's so popular now, and how you were able to get a lot of different varieties of fabrics but not have all those fabrics in your own personal stash. So, my sister's three boys are now married and having children so I pulled them out and are completing those, the quilts that she started for them and will be finishing them. So I thought that's pretty heartfelt. How about that? What's neat about a lot of the quilts that are so much about exchanging is also the color story because they're all set differently, so I had this exact same quilt but mine is set differently but still has a lot of the same pieces in it. There's thirteen other quilts out there that will look almost similar to this in some way or another.

AM: And what are you going to do with it? What are your plans for it?

LA: Finishing it up, quilting it and giving it to my three nephews who now are all grown. What's interesting is I have five children, four boys and one girl, my sister had three boys. So she was the home-ec major, she was the teacher, she was the only one we always thought would have girls and so all the quilts that she had made had a lot of pink in them. So being able to pass those off to boys has been a little hard. Now that they're all married and have a girl in the family, and having children, so far they've all had girls, I can actually finish a treasure and hand off a pink quilt to a boy and it be appreciated by other people in the family.

AM: So this was a group quilt for your sister?

LA: No, this was hers, but I had parts of it with it being in the swap.

AM: Do you do a lot of swaps?

LA: I haven't since I've started working for Moda, but I do love that and I have actually just started being involved with one that one of our designers is doing, Sandy Klop, American Jane. So I'm doing it from Texas to California.

AM: Who taught you to quilt?

LA: Actually I started quilting in 1979. My sister and I, we both got married the same year. It was a dreadful year for my father, but I got married in September, she got married in December. Shortly thereafter they wanted to do a wedding quilt, a gift. I lived in Dallas; [Texas.] she lived in Lubbock, Texas and we actually did the quilt-as-you-go method and we'd make blocks, send them back and forth through the mail and put it together and we gave it as a mutual wedding gift. Definitely kind of self taught. The first actually instructional book that I learned from was a Japanese book and so I couldn't read a word of English. I mean there was no English in it and so I just looked at the pictures. I was young, I'm a natural blond. It does kind of happen, but I didn't know there was a difference between metric and inches and so it was a Trip Around the World and it literally was big enough to cover the world. [laughter.] So my next quilt was, in fact I brought a few little, you know we do little charm packs; these are mini charm packs, but my truly, truly first quilt after the sampler wedding gift was, I bought a sampler pack from Keepsake Quilting and it had 250 one-and-a-half-inch squares and so I, again from the Trip Around the World huge, massive thing, I thought if I go with one-and-a-half-inch squares that probably is about the right size. Obviously 250 of those, that quilt was 25 inches by 25 inches. [laughter.] I've made a massive quilt and a little tiny, bitty one and now I know math and can kind of figure that out so I've covered both ends of the spectrum on my self-taught quilting experience.

AM: I'm curious, why was it a Japanese book? Could you not find--

LA: My father was an engineer. My mother is an artist and a sales person, so my older sister, like I said, was the home-ec major. I'll never forget, she had a little piece of paper in her closet that had the days of the month and she wrote down, every day, what she wore because she was bound and determined not to wear the same thing within a month, because she made all her own clothes. I quickly realized, okay, I was 5'8" in sixth grade, so my first experience at a sewing class trying to think of, well, I can do that was I made a little pinafore and I thought that looks awful long and I just cut it off and it was definitely a little midriff, [laughter.] so I thought this clothing stuff is not going to fit my physique whatsoever and I quickly became my father's first born son and worked with him on rent houses. My friends all make fun of me because I memorize every floor plan ever known. They'll drive by every neighborhood and their like, 'Oh just ask Lissa. I'm sure she knows exactly what that house is like.' So I have my father's engineer mind but maybe my mother's creative, esthetic artist things and so that's just what intrigued me with the Japanese book was, not only the art, but the fine engineering of their illustrations and things.

AM: What is your first quilt memory?

LA: We grew up with them. I do now own my mother's quilt. She did make one with the help of my father's mother. But I don't know, other than going to Granny's house and all the grandkids running around, I just remember them always being around, never necessarily anybody sitting underneath a quilting frame until my sister and I started quilting.

AM: You mentioned you have five children and you work full time here at Moda, how do you fit quiltmaking into your life. When do you quilt and how often do you qulit?

LA: I've been with Moda, now, for fourteen years and when I first came on board Mark Dunn, the owner, said, 'You can work as little as you want or as much as you want.' And I always had the luxury, I literally am four miles from work and all my kids' schools are in between here and work and so if I needed to leave to go to the kids being in a program, etc. Before I worked here we did arts and crafts; I was a stay-at-home mom which was definitely a struggle, but I always made things and tried to sell them, so I'd travel to arts-and-crafts shows on the weekends, selling things. There was no such thing as Etsey. It's such an exciting time for [papers rustle.] sewers and crafters because now they can literally make and generate revenue from their art and their love. It's become to where, I have picture after picture of my kids sitting on my lap at the sewing machine. I recently caught my twenty-five year old early one morning of the Cowboys in the Super Bowl and I walk into my sewing room and he has a rotary cutter and a piece of fabric and the little dog's little cover, little sweater, and he's cutting out a fabric, a new little thing he's going to whip up for the dog to wear for the Super Bowl. [laughter.] My kids are quite comfortable with, they've grown up with it. They know it. We've got pictures of them sleeping underneath the table at the arts-and-crafts shows, peddling the wares. They make lots of jokes about it. They sleep, breath every bit of it In fact, my daughter's probably the least, we went through, she did all kinds of little, any kind of little fabric camp, she makes fun of now, having to be a model at the little fashion shows and wearing the stupid little homemade outfits. She's probably the least biggest fan of that, but we have hopes she will come around. AM: Do you belong to any quiltmaking groups like guilds or bees –-

LA: The Dallas Quilt Guild I'm a member of and I recently have joined the Dallas Modern Quilt Guild.

AM: What are the differences between those two groups?

LA: Surprisingly not near as much as I thought. The Dallas Quilt Guild is a huge mass of very, very talented organization of both women and men and they bring in wonderful speakers and have fabulous shows. The modern quilt guilds that are just popping up all over the country, I actually went to it with a whole different perception of what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be a lot of little young moms. I walked into the room and there was an art quilter that I had known for many years and so the word 'modern' did not necessarily mean young. It is a very exciting group in the fact that they do a lot of things with technology and email and things. Yet they are a lot better at having little sewing groups, reasons for these young moms to have to get out of the house and go somewhere and sew with a group of women. It's exciting to see both ends of those quilt guilds. I actually think a lot of the Modern ones didn't even know that the Dallas guild existed, and where did I start. You know, if you are interested in knitting, how do you find, there's so much information on the internet, but how do you find a group. How do you get involved in your local community with [cough in audience.] a hobby or an art that is yours and that is why it's so important the quilt stores and any of these kinds of organizations that you can go and find and be passionate about what you love to do, and learn how to do it.

AM: What kind of quilts do you make now, would you--

LA: Oh, scrap. I'm definitely a middle child, I'm very much about the birth order of things. In fact, in a lot of organizations as well as when I used to teach quilting classes I can pretty much, uh, first born baby, and it definitely helps with that. I'm a people pleaser, which is part of a middle child, also. I love fabric. I don't know that I'm obsessive-compulsive about pretty much anything other than probably fabric. I don't have one single fabric and I like, the more fabric the better and working at Moda, so much of it is the parts of the designers and having the opportunity to be able to incorporate a little piece of them in my projects. So, really, about twice a year I will do a quilt that is not, so many of my things are deadline driven and that's probably another answer to how I can get things done, doing two trade shows a year and making sure that is all lined up, but at least twice a year I will do scrap quilts and I will try and use as much of that particular season of fabric. Every time [unidentified person clears throat.] I pick up a piece of fabric I think of the person that designed it, knowing them, having a relationship and a friendship and just the opportunity to be able to make something out of their fabrics.

AM: So the fabric is really more important than the pattern to you?

LA: Yeah, oh definitely, but the story, the story that goes into it. That's why it's so important to document just like what this organization is doing to document it, because you'll come along in history and you'll just want to know the whole, every quilt has a story and it really does, and it to be able to know what went into that quilt, what was going on in that person's life, what made them create and that project at that time is important.

AM: Are you a technology buff? When you go to shows [clears throat.] and you see the new products, does that interest you? Are you a machine quilter or a hand quilter, or both?

LA: When people ask me if I machine quilted a quilt my standard answer is no, but I made the money that paid for the person to do that, so [audience laughter.] yeah, I did that, I paid for it. What else more do you want? [laughter.] As far as productivity and completion and things like that, most everything I do is machine quilted because it's for work. Now, if there's things that I am making and giving as a gift, if it's a family gift I try and do everything myself, from beginning to end.

AM: And do you work at home? Do you do your quiltmaking at home or at work?

LA: At home. AM: And what does your studio look like?

LA: Well, right now, having five children, we have what's called some boomerang children so I was quite excited to have a sewing room and my daughter has recently moved back in with us so it is now the dining room. I've moved all my stuff to the dining room, the garage. My husband doesn't know we've floored in the attic. I did that one day while he was gone [laughter.] So there's a lot of stuff up in the attic. [laughter, throat clearing.] What's fun, though, is now it literally is in the center of the house and a lot of activity and where we lived before it was the formal dining room. It quickly became the heart of the house. The kids are always in there. My husband is always in there and so when I did have a bedroom that was kind of, I thought, secluded and quiet, I don't know, once this boomerang whizzes on and out again I don't know that I'll move it. I love being where I'm at. It's kind of hidden everywhere.

AM: Now do they all have quilts that you've made for their bed?

LA: Yes, oh, yes.

AM: And do you sleep under a quilt?

LA: I have a quilt; we consider quilts, my husband says it's like the wallpaper. Literally we don't have a quilt; we sleep under a duvet but there's a quilt hanging above our bed on the wall behind it, so I do consider quilt as art. I don't have much art hanging in the house, but I have quilts probably hanging on every wall imaginable.

AM: You said the kids have become immersed in your quilt world and they are comfortable with quilts. Do they ever give you comments, like critique of your quilts when they come through your studio space there in the dining room?

LA: Yeah, they'll always, 'Hmm, that looks like a Log Cabin.' Regardless of what the pattern is or what the [laughter.] design is. They picked up on a few little different terminologies and when I teach quilt classes and if they'll call the house asking a question and one time one of my students called and was asking about yardages, she was going to be buying some fabric, and my husband said, 'I think probably about a half yard would be fine.' I said, 'Honey, you cannot give out yardages over the phone.' [laughter.] So they all think they know everything. I do get volunteered for Halloween costumes, 'Oh, my mom can do anything that's sewing.' And they actually have gotten to where they like to patchwork up stuff, whether it's with paper and just the math. Anybody that likes to do puzzles is a perfect fit for quilting, because it is taking things apart and putting them back together and that kind of that mindset. I'm volunteered for a lot of their friends, oh, yeah, baby quilts and the whole entire list, but I usually make them help in some way or form.

AM: That's only fair.

LA: Yeah.

AM: Have you ever used quilting through a difficult time that you can remember?

LA: Definitely, I haven't been very good at documenting my own quilts and own projects, but I do think that it's interesting with the few that I've looked back on, the colors maybe more so, the choices of colors that you would use, whether, I'm not considering any of them as mourning quilts, per se. There's probably been a lot of ebb and flow kind of in just colors. My sister and father both passed away the same year and so that was, looking back on some of the projects I did them, were very gloomy, but very therapeutic. There's a neighbor, business around the corner from us that she's actually a therapist, but she's a quilter and you can, now she has a process that's quilt therapy and so you go to her place and she has the old time quilting frame and all of that kind of stuff up and you literally go and sit and have your therapy while you're at the quilting frame.

AM: Wow.

LA: I think if more people quilted then there wouldn't be as much need for medication, [laughter.] so that's another good reason to pick up quilting if you don't already quilt.

AM: So do your quilts that you make out of Moda fabric, are they in the booth at market?

LA: Yes. I have a fantastic opportunity to get to help design a lot of the projects, work with the designers on what their project is and my over-all responsibility is the booth and making sure at least 24 quilts are made two to three times a year.

AM: And what other quiltmakers do you admire right now?

LA: The list just goes on and on. [AM laughs.] I can't think of one single person. Of course all the Moda designers, because I get to know them and work with them on such a personal level, but there's so many new, exciting, can I say Luke, [laughter.] a new quiltmaker I just met this weekend, Luke, from Seattle.

AM: Yeah. What makes a great quilt, to you?

LA: The story. The story, the fabric, the part of the person that went into that story, went into that project.

AM: And are there quilts that you're drawn to visually? Could you pick out a pattern of it when you are at the shows and you see quilts that you like? Are you drawn to scrappy quilts more, before you know the story about it, but just visually?

LA: Oh, certainly. This might [unidentified person coughs.] the dichotomy of being a middle child, but I'm either scrap or red and white. Two color quilts or as many fabrics as possible in a quilt. But I also like the geometric of patterns, then trying to be able to figure out, again probably the engineer part of my brain, figuring out the process, figuring out how it was pieced, that it looks a lot harder than it actually is and breaking it down to the most common little element that's used in it.

AM: Do you think about quilts and what quilts would belong in a museum, or when you see a quilt you think, 'That is an exceptional quilt and it should go in a museum.'? And what qualities [paper shuffles.] sort of trigger that in your mind?

LA: Having the opportunity at Moda to be involved with Howard Marcus collections, Collections for a Cause, and just reproducing an antique from his collection and just the grandiose of that, how those quilts have survived time, survived history, you can pretty much tell going into it and looking at it that it's a museum quality, piece of work that should be restored and taken care of.

AM: Had you been exposed to that kind of historical look at quilts before you worked here?

LA: I don't think that, again, from my little, very small exposure, I worked at a quilt store before I came to work at Moda Fabrics and was always interested in history and reproduction types of fabrics, but that was such a small pool that I never really thought of it as museum. Now it's such a bigger world and being exposed to so many more different things than my little tiny quilt shop that I went to work at every single day.

AM: When you're doing the marketing for a line do you sort of interview your designers? Something like this, to try to pull the story of that collection out, or how do you get some of the narrative that goes along with it.

LA: So many of them tell us the story when they send in a collection or they're inspired by, especially the reproduction things. Some of the other ones that are the true artists, like there's Deb Strang, Kathy Schmidt, Sandy Gervais that truly paint out every single one of their color ways, theirs is more about what is going on in their life. It's also filling a need. It is a business and filling, patriotic and things that they're known for. Just recently Deb Strang did a, in fact it's going to be out soon that is a barn, quilt blocks on barns. So that's happening in the world today and so she's able to do a whole line of fabric that's inspired by that. So sometimes it's what they're going through, but also what they are seeing out there as being a big deal in the quilt world.

AM: Interesting. What works besides quiltmaking are you drawn to as far as art?

LA: It probably would have to be fashion. But it's still very textile driven. Just the sheer tote bags and purses, but yet I still love; I guess I'm so geared towards this kind of thinking. It's a painting on a side of a building. How could that be made into a quilt? It's a dishtowel at Target, like, oh, man, that'd make a great graphic quilt pattern so I'd like to say that Mark Dunn, the owner of the company has me 24/7. [laughs.] Anything I see I think, oh, gosh how can we do something with that? But, again, it's the same with architecture and things like that; it's whether you're creating something with wood or you're creating something with fabric. So much of it is the same mental thinking and the same creative process. It just is what your medium is, whatever your choice of your medium is.

AM: Let's go to some questions about the bigger picture of quilts in American life. Do you think about history and women's history and your own history with quiltmaking as you're making quilts, as you're working with designers and you're seeing antique quilts, do you ever think about the person that made that quilt and sort of compare it as it moves through history? What thoughts occur to you?

LA: I guess not so much thinking backwards, but thinking forwards, if that's okay to take that question that direction, the sheer fact of people not wanting things not mass-produced, the people wanting things that are special, people wanting things that are different. It's so funny, because the teenagers of today, God forbid if they were to look different in what they're wearing than their peers. They have to conform, they have to not stand out, but yet, as they get a little bit older, they don't dare want what someone else has and they want their own unique thing. I see you're smiling. I know you have young ones so you can see this. I've been quilting for literally 30 years and I've also been married for that long. That's how I can remember my anniversary. It was actually when I also started quilting. [unidentified person coughs.] People would always say, 'What do you do?' Well, I quilt. 'Oh, honey, you're too young to quilt.' How old do you have to be to quilt? [laughter.] Back to what the question actually was, like I said, looking forward and seeing the growth of people wanting handmade things, that's part of the disconnect we've all suffered from, technology. But, they're getting back to that and wanting to give a personal gift of something that has actually has come from them and the handmade part of that. So, I guess I don't look backwards as much as I look forwards, with the women of the future and what we're doing now to impact sewing, men and women of the future.

AM: What do you think the biggest challenge is for quiltmakers today?

LA: Oh, I don't think there is any challenges. When I learned to quilt there were all kinds of rules, you had to do this, you only could use this kind of fabric, you were judged, the intimidation factor of all your points matching. Many years ago at a quilt shop I heard a lady say, 'Oh well, if you mess up, just give it away.' And that bothered me for quite a while. I thought why in the world would you give away what you had messed up on? I'd messed up on a lot and there was no way I could give away any of that. It was atrocious. But, what she meant by that is that you are so critical of your own work, don't ever point out a mistake, don't ever 'Oh, but this point doesn't really match nicely.' And that's what she meant. It will always be troubling to you, an imperfection, but not to someone else. So give that gift. But now days I guess that's what so freeing up the future is there are no rules. They're not afraid to try and make something without the pressures of it having to be perfect and they learn and perfect their skills as they go on and using all kinds of different kinds of fabrications and beads and just anything goes. It's extremely exciting.

AM: Yes. You said that you've given away a lot, we've made a lot of quilts we've given away, if we could--

LA: Definitely.

AM: do a geo caching or a mapping of all quilts that you have given away, where would they be?

LA: That would be fun. From leukemia fund raisers for a little girl that had childhood leukemia, which she's still alive and doing well and I need to track some of these people down and see if my quilts have survived as nicely as they have. Being involved in all kinds of different organizations and/or gifts, I wish I would have done a better job at documenting those before I gave them on, but I was young and wasn't wise enough to keep a little piece of that with that. And, again, technology, I wasn't good about taking a bunch of pictures of things and now I know better.

AM: And are there quilts that come along that you make that you just don't want to give away? Have you kept some for yourself? [unidentified sound.]

LA: Oh, yeah, having been a stay-at-home mom and needed to earn money, I pretty much needed to know when I started sewing something that I was going to sell this. So it was just a process. I did not get emotionally attached to it. Other than that I pretty much keep them.

AM: Is there anything else that you'd want to share that I haven't asked you?

LA: You mean talk about raising kids? [laughter.]

AM: Please tell me about raising kids.

LA: Maybe that's another interview for another time. [laughs.]

AM: We'll do that one--

LA: Okay.

AM: Thank you so much, Lissa Alexander, for letting me interview you for Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. We're still in Dallas, outside of Dallas, Texas at the Moda Headquarters and the time is 11:15 a.m. Thank you.



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