Annabel Ebersole




Annabel Ebersole




Annabel Ebersole


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Lisa Ellis


Reston, Virginia

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave, and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Annabel Ebersole. Today's date is May 27, 2009. It is now 10:40 in the morning. Annabel is in Reston, Virginia and I am in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Annabel, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Periwinkle Dreams."

Annabel Ebersole (AE): Karen, it is a great pleasure to be part of this project. I'm really excited about it. "Periwinkle Dreams" is a quilt that I made with a group of other quilt artists gathered together by Judy House. The quilts were destined to be hanging at Walter Reed in the cancer treatment area, and Judy had been ill with cancer and was treated at Walter Reed. Some of us were students of hers and some were nationally known quilters. We all chose a theme of plants or underwater sea creatures or some other form of natural substance that was being used for chemotherapy research and periwinkle apparently has been used. I know someone else made a large quilt with the periwinkle flower, but I was particularly drawn to making the flowers smaller, they are in the forefront of my quilt, and then there is this lovely garden hillside behind it and a blue sky and a tree and a fence and there is a little feeling of the pathway, two pathways running through the garden part. We met several times at Judy's friend, Kay Lettau's, house, and we would go there with different drawings of what we were going to be working on and kind of went around the circle and everyone talked about what they were going to do. Mine had warped from something else that was bigger into this particular style that just felt really right.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

AE: It is typical of one of my styles and I'm really, really happy doing this. I should tell you, when I was making this and subsequent quilts made with this style, I tend to work on the corner of my dining room table which is closest to the stairs, and I will lay the fabric out. First of all I put a protective flannel pad on the dining room table and have my iron there and this is done with Wonder Under backing the fabric and a little travel iron. I will kind of lay things out the way I thought I was going to like them and then I would go up the steps, three of four steps and lean way over and look down at it or use my digital camera and take a picture to see if it was getting just the look that I wanted. This style of working has held me in good stead really. I currently am using some appli-quilt glue, probably more than using the Wonder Under, but I still have an incredible what I call a "library" of fabric with Wonder Under on the back of it.

KM: How did you quilt this quilt?

AE: I machine quilted it and it's quilted very loosely, not densely. Some of my other quilts have a background that is hand dyed. Heide Stolle Weber is someone who comes to the Quilt Surface Design Symposium in Columbus, Ohio and I have bought some of her fabric and used it for backgrounds in other quilts. Then one of the things that I've done in other cancer quilts that I've worked on with Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends, I have written words that are specific to diabetes or cancer that tend to be uplifting. They are about an inch to an inch and a half high and I do them free form on the machine and they are kind of like bubble letters and then I quilt very densely around them so that the words stand out. The quilt that has the "Lazy Susan of Life" on it has this really dense quilting all around the word "Lazy Susan of Life." I had another quilt that was flow- left right flow- and it had a lot of swirly things on the creative. The left side of your brain is the more Lucy goosey, and the right side is the more structured, so the right side of the quilt had a lot of up and down quilting on it and the left side had all this flowy quilting on it. [laughs.]

KM: Very interesting. Tell me a little bit more about your creative process. Did you draw this out? Did you plan it out?

AE: I didn't draw it out a lot. It really developed itself. I knew that I wanted to have the hillside and have the garden in the front. What I found very surprising after I had made this was that to the left of the tree it is all sandy looking, it's almost barren and obviously there is shading and there is this lovely tree that comes over on that side of the fence. Yet, when someone looks at it, they can have a feeling that that's where you are when you're in a really low period and you are struggling and here is this other more verdant side with the flowers and the yellow and all the lushness of it. That was almost instinctive, and I was amazed when I looked at it later and realized what the contrast was.

KM: You had to write an Artist Statement for the quilt.

AE: Um, hum.

KM: How was writing the Artist Statement for you?

AE: I think that was one of my first Artist Statements that I wrote, and I know I talked about Judy and the importance of what she taught me and taught us and her friendship.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about Judy.

AE: I think I first met Judy when she and I took a class together at the Quilt Patch in Fairfax [Virginia.]. It was a class taught by Joen Wolfram, and I was a relative teenager in quilting and Judy was definitely further along and more advanced in her color knowledge and everything. Lots of fun to be with. She and I bonded right away because of my husband being in the Foreign Service and we've moved around. So, we were talking about living in different cultures and moving our fabric and the influence of other cultures on some of our artwork.

KM: Tell me about the influence of other cultures on your artwork.

AE: We had a four-year tour in Portugal from 1980 to '84 and from there we went to Brazil from '84 to '86, and then we were lucky enough to have four years in London. Starting with Portugal, the Portuguese have a long history; there are beautiful tile walls and floors that are there; there is lovely silver that is just exquisite; there are beautiful old castles; and there are some private homes and castles that have been made into hotels called Posadas. We arrived with an eighteen-month-old daughter and then had our second daughter when we lived in Portugal, so when Bruce and I were able to get away for a weekend we would go to different Posadas and kind of explore that area. Even having one night away was really golden for us. [laughs.] The girls were great travelers, and we would drive regularly up from the Lisbon area up to Sintra, which is a hillside castle with a town at the base of the castle. We went further north toward Porto and outside of Porto there is an incredible Iron Age village called Citania de Briteros that kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It is just these huts with little kind of walkways with gutters in them and at the time there was a man who lived there who was the caretaker, but it didn't have a lot of protection the way you would think something would that is kind of a national treasure. They also had Roman ruins in Portugal, and we really enjoyed seeing mosaics and other evidence of the Roman presence, and Coimbra had this beautiful library. I think I've always been fascinated with architectural details.

I'll spring forward to London because that is one place where we really visited several stately homes. I was able to take a survey course of different periods, like the Georgian Period. We would learn about some of the art, the architecture, the gardens, the silver, everything from that period with just a little short history of who was the king, and what was going on in terms of political intrigue or whatever. We would visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and I think this class lasted probably three or four months. It was down in Kensington and that was a real highlight for me. I have always loved the skylines; the rooflines in England are just fascinating and if you go to a castle and you are able to look at some of the chimney pots that are intricately decorated, these brick chimney pots that swirl around, or they have a step like effect in them. Then you think of seeing a roofline and chimneys in Holland and you realize that there are some similarities that cross over, and you are reminded of all the explorers. The Portuguese certainly got around everywhere, and the quality of learning the history and having lived in Europe was fascinating. When we were posted in Brazil I was involved with the American Women's Club, and we helped to start a nursery school in an orphanage. There was amazing poverty in Brasilia. The capitol itself is middle class and then there are some very, very wealthy people there. In the outlying satellite cities, it can be extremely poor. We were invited to visit our, well we went to one wedding of a very working-class family and were invited to another one and really got to see how the other half lived and visiting the orphanage was an eye opener. Through the American Women's Club, we raised money for wheelchairs for people who lived in just poverty-stricken areas. I came back with just a huge awareness of how fortunate Americans are and how much we have.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

AE: I have, I'm lucky enough to have very creative people in my family on both sides. My mother has done needlepoint, but going back in my family, there is a beautiful Tumbling Block silk quilt and there is an old coverlet from Canada that is very old. On my father's side of the family we have one of those beautiful silk pictures that has little French Knots in it that was made in 1800 by my great, great, great grandmother. [laughs.] I'm in awe. When I walk in and see that and then I'm thinking of her looking down from heaven and looking at something like "Periwinkle Dreams" and saying 'wow this is just amazing to think that creative gene is alive and well'. I'm also very lucky, my mother saved a beautiful silk reticule made for my grandmother in 1913 by her grandmother and as an off shoot of that silk reticule I actually make bags that are round that have pockets on the inside and a drawstring top like the silk reticule. That's pretty awesome. Formal quilting training actually began in Brazil. I had probably taken a class at the Smithsonian, and I learned to knit and do needlepoint at a young age and sewing of course. Who didn't take a Singer sewing class and make a skinny straight skirt out of a half a yard of fabric. [laughs.] I tease my family about that.

I learned in Brazil from Leslie Pfeiffer who is an American and her husband was at the embassy also. She taught fourteen women to quilt during the time that she was in Brazil. We started out with hand work, and I really love hand piecing. It is very calming and very, very Zen for me. At that point between Brazil and London we were in the states for nine years and I bought a sewing machine, and I took it with a transformer to London. I was sewing for the Girl Scouts [at the American School of London.] who made a quilt there and the school made various quilts for fundraisers that I was involved in. I was a member of London Quilters which was really exciting and took classes from as many people as I could and went to quite a few of the shows that were held in London, and I think I went to one or two outside of London. I kept buying all of these kind of funky looking silks and I would buy wonderful looking threads--the beginning of the Oliver Twist threads before they came to the states really, I was buying some of those in England. I brought them back not knowing how I would be using them yet but that is where my class with Judy House made sense of them when I came back. That was the time when I really started getting into art quilts.

Actually, I was working at the Quilt Patch. Leslie hired me, so I was on the sales floor and then I taught some classes in Sisters Choice and a couple of other, what was it called, it was a blended Nine Patch type thing [Blooming Nine Patch from "Tradition with a Twist" by Blanche Young, C&T; Publishing, 1996.] and really just loved working with people. I found it was fascinating to have someone come in and they had a kernel of an idea, and they needed help fleshing it out or they really had their idea, they had their fabric but there was just some little glitch somewhere and they needed a fresh eye. It was a great, delight really to work in the quilt shop. I took Judy's class from the very beginning when she was teaching it and she was a wonderfully encouraging teacher who said, 'Don't lose your sense of who you are and the fact that you like to do this kind of free form quilting, you want to keep doing that, don't let yourself get talked into being too structured.' I was at the Quilt Patch four and a half years and then there was an opportunity to help open a new store which was the Artful Quilter in Centreville, and I was there on the sales floor for four and a half years also and I'm still teaching there. At the Artful Quilter, Bev and I teamed up to start teaching hand piecing. Hand piecing has just always been something I've continued on since Leslie taught me and it has been a real delight to share that with people. I now have students who have been doing it with me for about three and a half years and another group that were beginners last fall, and they are on their second project and more. They are just taking off; it is just really exciting. Sadly, we lost Bev Koenigsberg to cancer also. I think of her often when I'm teaching or answering questions. It has been great because I'm able to help people to make their hand pieced blocks and a lot of them will put them together with a sewing machine and we use spacers around them, so it becomes very individual compositions. The first project they do is structured. It is twelve blocks and there is a lot of choice in what they are going to do. Then we go off for the second and third project and we do stars or baskets, or churn dashes and each student has their own color way, and their own style comes out when they are putting things together. It is very exciting to nurture this and in today's day and age to help people kind of slow down and enjoy the hand work and feel that they are really learning about themselves while they are in the class. One of the important things I do is when people come in and they have questions at the very beginning of class, I kind of graciously stall them a little bit and I say, 'Well I would love to answer your questions, but it is really great when everybody is together, because we then all learn by hearing each other's questions and we also learn by finding out the mistakes that we all make.' Whenever I'm teaching, when I've made a mistake through the process of creating a block or I find glitches in putting something together, I'm very careful to tell everybody what I did, how I did it wrong [laughs.], because I think it is important for them to know that and that you can learn a lot by sharing that. Your successes and your glitches. I'm also a naturally shaky person so I will say to someone, 'You know, hey, if I can do this, you can do this.' [laughs.] That is great.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

AE: Well interestingly enough, I just switched from being on the sales floor about two months ago and then in the course of that two months' timeframe I had a nice visit with my mom, and I was traveling a little bit. I'm training myself to do my exercising and my computer time in the morning and then to devote three or four hours or more to quilting endeavors and I haven't had that kind of dedicated time in the past, yet I longed for it. So ironically you kind of have to switch gears and get your brain adjusted to realizing that suddenly you have this time. It is of value to you, you've wanted it. Don't fritter it away. Don't do the laundry during the time that you could be upstairs in your studio or sitting at the dining room table gluing down your wonderful pieces for fish. I'm doing a series of different beautiful fish that are caught in the Jackson, Wyoming area. I have a nephew who is a professional fisherman, so I'm making rainbow trout and cutthroat trout and things like that. He is going to enjoy them and he may actually sell for me. That is still in the process of becoming. Whether it is going to work or not, I'm not sure. Suddenly there is time to actually make those rooflines that I got so excited about in London that have been percolating for years. I am learning and training myself to create hierarchies. Where do you begin? What are you going to be doing?

KM: You mentioned your studio, so describe your studio to me.

AE: We have three daughters and they are wonderful and they are all independent at this point so my main studio is in the bedroom that our youngest daughter was in. It has no bed in it anymore [laughs.] and I have a sewing machine, sewing table, cutting table, a nice window. It's quite bright, and I have some wonderful drawers from the Container Store that hold just drawers of beads and other drawers that have those wonderful fibers I mentioned or my Angelina and different yarns and things like that. I have two design walls, a bookshelf full of fabric and a few books. Finally took the closet doors off because they were the sliding kind and you could only see half the closet at one time, so we took the closet doors off and now I have just a curtain, a fabric curtain, and that is pretty nifty. It is on one of those rods that has a spring in it so I can just take it off when I want to, but then if I feel like it's too messy I can cover it up again. My teaching materials and a lot of books and magazines have spilled over into one of the next door bedrooms. I just realized recently, 'Gosh I could take the ironing board out and put it in the third daughter's bedroom.' The ironing board has left and it is in another bedroom where I can put something in progress. I have some art quilts on the walls, but I must admit I was fascinated in the, there is a wonderful book about Quilt National over the years and in the front of that there is an article about how to roll your quilts around a really soft central thing and how to label them. Maybe when I get more I will run out of wall space and that is what I will be doing. We will see.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

AE: They are actually very supportive. My husband's family, he grew up in Paradise, Pennsylvania, he had two great aunts who were quilters and his mother quilted some when she was younger. He used to sit by the quilt frame when he was little and roll it forward for the great aunts because they had some arthritis in their hands. We actually have their quilt frame. It is in the top of our garage, which is exciting and a few of their treasured quilts too which is wonderful. Our daughters have all quilted and they have made a quilt to take to college. Clara saw a picture in one of my quilting magazines and liked it but there was no pattern so she figured out how to make it. Betsy made I think it was an Irish Chain variation and Emily made something similar to that also. Actually, they make baby quilts for friends. They make quilts for their boyfriends. Clara has taken up knitting. The oldest is a knitter now, but she does have a quilt somewhere that she may come back to.

KM: You mentioned belonging to Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends, do you belong to any other art or quilt groups?

AE: I'm a member of SAQA [Studio Art Quilts Associates, Inc.]. I'm quite a new member, and I really enjoy getting their paper publication and I know they have a lot online. Part of my new plan is to spend a little more time online looking at that and answering mail and being more focused on taking part in that. I'm taking an interesting class in June at Quilt Surface Design that will be about where your inspiration comes from and it's also, I think, a little bit about criticism. I am very active with my Reston Quilters Unlimited, which is part of the bigger umbrella organization in northern Virginia. In Reston I have helped to plan the retreat the last two years that was for about thirty people. I will be working on the nominating committee next year and I've always been very involved in Reston QU and have taken part in a small bee as well. Interestingly enough, two of my, well one of my class groups has started going away on weekends. Three times a year we go on a retreat and then I have another bee that is the Pack A Lot Bee [part of Reston Quilters Unlimited.] and they go on a retreat two or three times a year. Then I go to Quilt Surface Design and I help to run the big Reston retreat. Suddenly my husband is saying, 'Wait a minute, all these weekends away. Hold on.' [both laugh.] I have to be very careful about. I've passed up the one that is this coming weekend which is May 29 knowing that I will be at Quilt Surface Design for nine days, June 11 to the 20. I think I am on for one in July [laughs.] that will be just before the family vacation. He is remarkably good about it. He has gotten his own routine. He goes up to Longwood Gardens and has a great time visiting the garden and then a lot of times he will go and take his mother out to lunch.

KM: Very nice. Whose works are you drawn to and why?

AE: I've always loved the Impressionists and I've loved Raoul Dufy. I really think when I've looked at some of my paintings in his style that I did as a teenager that part of my technique that I've used has kind of been nurtured by that. I also love Gustavo Klimt as an artist. Oh gosh, quilt artists. It has been wonderful to be in Sue Benner's class. She was hugely inspirational and it's she who had this technique of having all the Wonder Under behind the fabric. I actually keep my library on one of those lovely lap desks that a friend gave me so that my library of fabric is lying flat. I know my friend, Donna Radner, has hers all rolled up but this flat library seems to work well for me. Going to something like Quilt Surface Design where it is in depth and so exciting, you come home feeling invigorated and that's really neat. I get a lot of inspiration there.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

AE: I feel that it was really good grounding for me to learn hand piecing and to learn a foundation in traditional quilting. A lot of my students will be nervous about color. The long term hand piecing group, we are making a rather large, 100 inch square Victoria and Albert Museum sampler that Kaffe Fassett redid in his fabric and there are 6 ½ inch blocks in there that are pretty intricate, some of them are intricate. For those who are making a smaller project, instead of having six rows of these 6 ½ inch squares, they are going to have just two rows. There are piecing challenges in the center and everyone has grown into this. It is very exciting to see. They will ask me about color and be worried that colors won't work and I assure the more beginning students that I didn't start out with this confidence in color that it grows as you grow and develop as an artist. Then it is so exciting, we have one wonderful student, Lisa Greisen, who has brought in a quilt made for her by her grandmother and Lisa's grandmother is smiling from heaven when she sees the colors that Lisa chooses because they are peas of the same pod. [laughs.] It is really fun that we all can recognize that.

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

AE: I think there are a lot of quilts that are made in magazines that are very matched. They are all made from the same line of fabric, so someone else has done all the color work for you or you're getting a kit from somewhere. I think it is very challenging to grow in terms of learning to put colors together and using your stash. I'm a real nut and I have several years [not every year but several years.] I have given up buying fabric for Lent and therefore for a good chunk of time in the late winter or early spring I'm not buying any fabric and I'm challenging myself to use what I have in my stash which is considerable. I think that I've learned that color families will come around again over a period of time but I've been working in quilt stores for nine years now so I have seen the changes of the colors and how some prints and ideas come back. I think it is very challenging, the computer offers a chance to buy fabric that you've never felt and I really want to see it and feel it before I buy it, so shopping online is not a real joy for me. I'm teaching myself to be better at taking photographs and this sounds really rinky dink but that is something you need to learn and to feel really confident about sending it to people and making sure it is the right quality of print when you are making a submission for a juried show.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

AE: I think I would like to be remembered as a good teacher, and I really do a lot of lifting and boosting and listening in my classes and in teaching. I love to bring people together and to help them grow and to support them in their lives. I really think the gift of being part of Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends and leaving memorials and supporting people who are doing diabetes research or cancer research, or those who are suffering from these diseases, and providing something wonderful to look at in the hallways when they are walking around for whatever reason. That is a great memory to leave behind.

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

AE: I think I have touched on most everything. I continue to, when I go somewhere I pack my hand work first and then I pack my suitcase. [laughs.]

KM: You have your priorities straight.

AE: I have my priorities straight. [laughs.]

KM: Do you consider yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

AE: I am. I really have started calling myself an artist. My mother had saved this adorable pheasant that I drew when I was six and I think for a long time I ignored that artist person inside of me and now I'm really letting her out to play. I think that is pretty exciting.

KM: It must feel good.

AE: Yes. It does.

KM: Why is quiltmaking the art that you chose? Why is quiltmaking important to you?

AE: I think it is very tactile. It is wonderful that you have a finished product. I had studied geography and cartography and this certainly fits with map making. That's given me the ability I think to do the writing that I do where my letters are pretty uniform, just free form because of years of having done some drafting. I really like to have a quilt that you can wrap someone in. My dad had Alzheimer's and I made a quilt for him that was one of those wonderful bookshelf quilts. On the bookshelf it had books that he loved and things he loved to do and I made a cigar and it had a little kind of fake ash on it and I actually put a ring from one of his cigars on the cigar. I had bottles of wine because they had a little vineyard in Maryland. I put on things that he loved on the front of the quilt and then on the back I had photographs printed of family going way back so that someone who came to see him could look at that and have something to talk to him about. We were living in London at the time that I made this for him. I gave it to him in person when we were on home leave and that helped me enormously because I was hugging him from a distance and I was doing something that could make a difference.

KM: Is there any other time that you feel that a quilt has really contributed in a meaningful way to someone?

AE: Yes, I really feel that way, that it is almost a ministry in some ways that you give of your talents, that it is just being channeled through me. When I'm teaching or certainly some days at the quilt shop when we would have the grandmother and granddaughter come in and mom had died and they were coming to plan the quilt or finish the quilt that mom had started and you really felt that there was a holy, holy touch there, that you were a part of continuity. Yes, I'm sure that there are other ones like that. You know people have come back and said, 'Wow that really meant a lot to me.' Or you just put in the one fabric that made it spark, you found the right one. It has been very special.

KM: Let's go back to "Periwinkle Dreams" before we conclude. What kind of response have you received about the quilt hanging at Walter Reed?

AE: The response I've gotten has been very interesting. Some of the nurses when we went to this wonderful' thank you' ceremony, they said 'yours is the one that we can stand in front of and get lost in, that we feel like we can go and step into that and we want to be sitting on that hillside or we want to be under that tree', so I feel it really just provides people with a little mini escape.

KM: What a nice thing,

AE: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. I also teach a wonderful Art Quilt Exploration class [Sheri Alcorn had started out with this class and then she became very busy running the shop and I've taken over.] and we have wonderful group of art quilters. We have a wonderful time and several of them have quilts in Sacred Threads this summer in, I think it is Reynoldsburg, Ohio. [KM hums agreement.] We often times will have a particular technique that we are working on or that I'm teaching. We just did something with foiling and several of the ladies said, 'I've never tried this, I never thought that I could and it would be this simple,' and it is as if we extend the permission to everybody to do these different things. I've come up with really zany type challenges where I've given them funky things that they need to put on their quilts and kind of pushed their comfort zones and other times in class we've drawn artichokes or some plant that someone has brought in. It's really exciting to be with these other artists and be a part of their growth over a period of time.

KM: I think this is a great way to conclude.

AE: Thank you.

KM: Annabel I really want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with me and share with me.

AE: My pleasure.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview at 11:25.


“Annabel Ebersole,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,