Karen Berndt




Karen Berndt




Karen Berndt


Joan Kennedy

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Des Moines, Washington


Karen Berndt


[pause for 33 seconds with some general conversation and silences.]

Joan Kennedy (JK): My name is Joan Kennedy and today's date is January 23, 2007 at 3:40 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Karen Berndt [mispronounced.] Berndt, excuse me Karen, at the Des Moines United Methodist Church in Des Moines, Washington for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of Washington State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Karen is a quilter and is a member of our Tillicum Chapter. I did want to ask you a few questions about your quilt. Tell me about the quilt that you brought today. You made it.

Karen Berndt (KB): Yes, I did.

JK: Does it have a particular origin or age?

KB: Well, I made it in October 2006. It was basically a three day quilt because it is partly machined and partly hand sewn, and then I tied it. And the pattern came out of my head, completely out of my head but I found out later that it is based on some patterns--I did a little research.

JK: Good.

KB: It is either a Road or a Fence. Well, this one I am calling a Fence Variation because it is so plain in the middle I figured it was kind of like a pasture or something, just like a fence around it and I picked the colors just because I liked the colors.

JK: Oh, I do too. They make you feel good, don't they?

KB: Well, I like that [inaudible.].

JK: I do too.

KB: I do and yellow is my favorite color. So that's what I did.

JK: It looks what you say, a pasture or a prairie and I can certainly see the fence effect. What type of materials did you use? Is this polyester or cotton fabric?

KB: It is supposed to be quilter's patches. I bought patches for all the fencing and then this I bought [pointing to the center yellow fabric.] there was like, oh what do you call it, there was a big roll left and I just bought the whole thing and it's all quilting class I bought at JoAnn's [Fabrics.]. I wanted to get something that wasn't going to wear out too fast because some of my early ones just tore apart because it was just regular cotton fabric. So this is probably a cotton blend.

JK: Your filler, what did you use?

KB: [pause for 4 seconds.] It's a poly fill. It is really light. I didn't want to use regulation because I have an old Phaff sewing machine and it doesn't take a lot of load so I wanted something that I could try to work with. And it didn't work anyway so that's why I had to do it mostly by hand once I put all the pieces together.

JK: The next question I would like to ask you and it might be a little redundant. What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

KB: [pause for 3 seconds.] I thought I'd try to make another quilt. I don't make too many. This just came out of my head and I thought I am going to do it, and I did it. It made me feel good. I suppose it was a project that I needed to feel good.

JK: And you certainly picked colors that would cheer a heart up.

KB: Fortunately or maybe unfortunately it is not red, white, and blue.

JK: I like yellow too. [laughs.] This question is why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

KB: This is the only one I made this year [meaning 2006.]. The last one I made is like 15 years ago and it has been recovered so it doesn't really qualify. I wanted something new and fresh.

JK: Right. Very practical too.

KB: Yeah. I don't think I am going to make too many more quilts. I just don't need to make any more.

JK: This is so lovely.

KB: Thank you.

JK: And now, how do you use your quilt?

KB: Well, for me. Unfortunately, I don't have any children to pass it on to or grandchildren. And the first two that I made were more like lap quilts, you know, very short. And this one I thought it would fit on a twin and it would fit on a double--it wouldn't go over too far but it would still work on a double. I thought why not.

JK: I bet it looks nice.

KB: Yeah.

JK: That really wraps up our first section. [tape turned off.]

JK: Karen, would you tell me about your interest in quilting. Where did it begin and at what age did you have an interest?

KB: Well, my grandmother [maternal grandmother Mary Sprague Hunt.] quilted. I did not see her do it very often because she was so busy in the family business. I have a quilt that she made for me and she had a loom [frame to stretch quilt over.] and so I was aware of quilting because I am from the Midwest. Midwesterners, the older generation, did a lot of quilting so I was aware of it. And I really didn't get an interest in a lot of sewing until I was in my 20s. I had my own [sewing] machine so I probably didn't make my first one until my late 20s or early 30s. And like I said they were lap quilts and they're patch quilts, very very simple quilting.

JK: Very practicable [JK and KB talking at same time.].

KB: They tore apart because it wasn't quilter's fabric and then I just recovered it in solid so they are just solid quilts now, one piece.

JK: But isn't that functional. [laughs.]

KB: Yeah. [JK and KB talk at same time.]

JK: Did your grandmother teach you to quilt or are you self-taught?

KB: I winged it. Yes, self-taught.

JK: Good job.

KB: Thank you. My mother was a seamstress and she did a lot of sewing. So you know just being around a sewer you pick up a lot of stuff.

JK: That's true.

KB: So, osmosis.

JK: How many hours a week do you quilt?

KB: I don't do a lot of quilting so I wouldn't know really. I made this in three days. The other two quilts I probably took a weekend to do [each quilt a weekend.] so I would say I haven't done it much.

JK. Okay. [pause for 3 seconds.] What is your first memory of a quilt?

KB: First memory of a quilt period?

JK: What is the first quilt memory you have?

KB: [long sigh.] [pause for 2 seconds.] I don't remember sleeping with quilts. I really don't know. I don't think we had quilts on our bed because mom was more practical with wool blankets and so forth and a bedspread. But I had seen quilts so it was not like I unaware of them but we didn't have them at home.

JK: Are there other quilts among your family or friends?

KB: Grandma was the only one that I knew of. Mother was not interested in quilting. Mom is a seamstress as far as clothing. She is a very good seamstress but when it comes to the crafts, she left it alone because she just didn't have enough time or inclination. So grandma was really the only one in the family. I may have heard about from older members of my church or just older people.

JK: [pause for 4 seconds.] Now this question you probably already answered it but I will ask you. How does quilting impact your family?

KB: [pause for 7 seconds.] I don't think it does.

JK: Okay.

KB: Because, like I said as a child I don't think we really had quilts on the bed. I don't remember. When you get to my age, ha ha, [JK laughs.] you don't remember everything when you were a kid. But I always considered quilts as a wonderful craft.

JB: Thank you. Tell me if you have ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

KB: When I made this one, I kind of felt like I needed something to do. You know you watch TV or read a book or make a quilt to escape from something. So I evidently was escaping from depression or something. So yes I suppose so.

JK: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

KB: [pause for 6 seconds.] They are fun to make.

JK: I like the end result too. [laughs.]

KB: Yeah. That too.

JK: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

KB: I don't like to do any craft when I don't feel like doing it. I have spoiled too many things in the past when I pushed myself to do it. The end result is okay but it not spectacular or I goofed it up royally and had to throw it away. Maybe being an artist I am being temperamental but that is about the only thing I can think of.

JK: Thank you. We are finished with this section. [tape turned off.]

JK: [pause for 10 seconds.] What do you think makes a great quilt?

KB: Workmanship, color, design, and if there is anything else I can't think of it at the moment.

JK: Now, what makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KB: I've seen some machined quilts on TV that absolutely blow you away. They are so minutely detailed and they're works of art. Mine is a very simple quilt. That's as far as I wanted to go. And I forgot what the question is. [JK and KB both laugh.]

JK: This question I think you probably answered it but let me see. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KB: I think the same questions, same answers, is probably the workmanship, the colors, the pattern. There is even some plain quilts for the hand stitching and they are incredibly-- you are just in awe of how they put it together.

JK: That's true. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

KB: Well, for instance, the quilts used by the Negroes for the Underground Railroad they are historical. Some of the ones made even before that again they are historical because of the fabric they used, the patterns that they used, everything that they did they used clothes and so forth to make their quilts. Just a lot of it is history. Some of it is probably original, some of it might be the family themselves, they might do a lot of particular work or patterns particular to the family. I don't know.

JK: Thank you. This sounds like a redundant question also. What makes a great quilter?

KB: It takes time and patience. And that's important for quilting. You cannot hurry a quilt.

JK: I agree with you. Do you think that they often need to have an artistic eye?

KB: Oh definitely. When quilts began they didn't have a whole of time to paint or create a lot of crafts because they did everything from scratch so quilts were very necessary and that was one way for them to be artistic, I suppose. I am a watercolorist and abstractist and this kind of appeals to me because I was just putting colors together at random. I just put pieces together; I didn't care if two of the same color were next to each other. It was just fun to put together. That's how that got built. Actually the middle pieces [looking at quilt and pointing to the middle pieces.] I added later because it was so extremely plain in the middle and my mother suggested I put something in the middle to make it a little more pleasing. That's what I came up with. That's all the fabric I had left.

JK: You are not only artistic but you are a practical person too.

KB: Well, if you are from my area you have to be practical.

JK: [laughs.] How do great quilters learn the art of quilting especially how to design a pattern or choose fabric and colors?

KB: I think a lot of it is learned from mother to daughter, to grandmother to daughter and so forth or aunt or something. It is passed down or else they learn from a quilting club. I am sure a lot of the women had quilting bees and they traded patterns among them [selves.]. Now there is published patterns so you can do it that way.

JK: Thank you. That's a good response. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? And then the last part of this question is what about the long arm quilting?

KB: I don't know anything about long arm. I will answer that now. As far as machine versus hand, I think they are both equally artistic. I have no disagreement with either one of them. They both take patience. They both take time. They both take patterns, fabric, colors, and artistic ability so I have no disagreement with them. They are both equal in their creation.

JK: Thank you. [tape stopped.]

[pause for 11 seconds.]

JK: Why is quilting important to your life?

KB: That's a good question. I don't think if it is really important in my life. It's not a function I normally do. I just did it for pleasure. So it is not really a function.

JK: But you obtained pleasure from it.

KB: I did obtain pleasure, yes.

JK: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

KB: I live in the Seattle area. My quilts, I don't think, reflects on Seattle because I think of Seattle and blues, to be honest, blues and greens. This is more of my heritage from Iowa, I think, being in farming country. I lived in a small town in Iowa so I think this reflects my heritage rather than the place I am living in now.

JK: I like your response. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

KB: Well, it is historical. They were a necessity. They couldn't go to a store and buy a blanket. They had to make something to keep them warm other than an extra body.

JK: How wonderfully they were able to use left over fabric or reuse fabric.

KB: They didn't waste anything.

JK: No, no. In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history in America?

KB: [pause for 5 seconds.] I suppose again the answer that the African women with the Civil War, the stamps that have been out lately would be, I forget the name of it [from audience: Gee's Bend.] Gee's Bend quilts that are absolutely incredible. There is so much artistic ability in all ways of life, all nationalities. It is very interesting.

JK: It is wonderful isn't it. How do you think quilts can be used?

KB: Well, use them for bedding; you can use them in making clothes. I have heard of quilted coats and purses and all sorts of stuff. Cozies for your tea, a lot of things. And I forgot the question again [laughs].

JK: How do think quilts can be used?

KB: [JK and KB talk at the same time.] Anyway they want, to be honest.

JK: Right. They can hang them on the wall or drape them over a chair. [laughs.]

KB: Put them in the window.

JK: Yes. How to you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

KB: Put them in a museums. Take pictures of them. Put them in books. Hand them down in the family. All sorts of different ways.

JK: Thank you. And our last question, what has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends or family members?

KB: My three quilts have all gone to me. The first two have been recovered because they were not quilted properly and they fell apart. And I hate to throw good bedding away so I still have them but they are covered in one piece. This is the only one [pointing to quilt behind interviewee.] that [I.] pieced together and is in good shape.

JK: And it is lovely, thank you. [tape turned off.]

[pause for 14 seconds.]

JK: I'd like to thank Karen Berndt for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview was concluded at 4:10 [p. m.]. Thank you so much. This is January 23, 2007.

KB: You are welcome.


“Karen Berndt,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2089.