Ann Fahl




Ann Fahl




Ann Fahl


Joanne Gasperik

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Racine, Wisconsin


Joanne Gasperik


Joanne Gasperik (JG): This is Joanne Gasperik. Today's date is August 17th, 2005. It is 11:21 in the morning. I'm conducting an interview with Ann Fahl for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories and we are in her home just outside of Racine, Wisconsin in the town of Mount Pleasant. Thank you, Ann, for allowing me to interview you today. Tell me please about the quilt we're looking at. When was it made? What was the occasion?

Ann Fahl (AF): Okay, we're looking at a quilt that I call "George's Garden" and I made it in 2004. I may have completed the last stitch the first day of 2005. It's a continuation of a series, many quilts that I've made, using coneflowers and black-eyed Susan's. Those are my two favorite flowers. I made this one because the one I made earlier, which is called "August Garden", when I backed up away from the quilt and I looked at that particular quilt I thought 'Gee, I wish I would have done this. Oh, how come I didn't do that?' So I made this quilt to improve on some compositional problems that I had had with "August Garden." So I mixed the flowers up a little bit more like they would actually have been in a garden and I set it on a purple patchwork background, with a lot of touches and go, it kind of just sings at you. When I had just started this quilt, it was probably in January, and was getting the flowers cut out and deciding where it was going to go, my friend George Hansen died and so I thought I would name it after him. That's why it's "George's Garden", instead of somebody else's or a month or something. It's taken on a life of its own, now since George died. [laughs.] It's become a memory of him, but also it's a very successful quilt. It has gotten some very, very nice prizes this year.

JG: Come on, elaborate. Which ones? Which ones? [AF laughs.]

AF: You know what? I can't even tell you what it got earlier in the year. But the one, the big one that it got at Paducah was the Best Machine Wall Quilt, at Paducah [Joanne exclaims: Whoa!] So that's big. That's one of the top seven, yeah. It has also been sold. So it has a new owner and it has a very happy ending because the owner was a friend of George's from the 1950's. So I guess their families were friends. Their parents were friends. So it just, like I said, taken on a life of its own and for me, I get to have it yet for another year. Sort of memories of George as we move on, life without him. He was a friend to my kids. And every once in a while he would come over for Thanksgiving or whatever, but he was a bachelor and he liked to do his own thing. But he was a member of my coffee group that meets almost every morning of every year. [laughs.] So it's a wonderful memory and it's just a really positive statement for me and it's a successful piece for me. And it's going to be in a new home that also has those same memories of everything. So it's cool.

JG: Oh, how great. So in a way it's a mourning quilt, but those are happy memories.

AF: Yes. Yes. George was 82 or 83 when he died and he was ready. Sadly he was ready to die. So we all remember George with smiles. There are no tears.

JG: No. No. A wonderful tribute, wonderful tribute. Ann, okay, this is your latest quilt, or almost--tell me about your first quilt and tell me about your journey, how you progressed to this point.

AF: All right, quilt fans will gasp in horror. I threw out my first quilt.So what it was, I've been sewing all my life. I'm not very, I guess you could say, I'm not very neat and tidy. I have things in piles and as I work through whatever, I'm not an exacting person, I guess is a better way to put it. So way back before I had ever taken a quilting class I bought two sheets, a turquoise sheet and a floral sheet that went very well together, that were colors in my bedroom. So I took a little 6 inch ruler, those little really old-fashioned Dritz ones with scissors and I sort of cut strips that were sort of four or five inches. Well and then sort of cut them in a, and I stress the 'sort of', because you know there wasn't a single square in the bunch and I started sewing them all together. And I thought this is the most boring procedure. I don't think I can ever do this again. So as I put together all the long strips of the squares, and then of course you know what happens when I sewed them together? Nothing matched. Absolutely nothing matched. And I thought, well, okay, it's very 'country' and 'homey.' And I put two layers of polyester batting, and I tied it together and it was so hot, we couldn't sleep under it. We used it for the kids, when the kids came along. And it was like totally [laughs.] And then it got totally disgustingly dirty. And it was too big to really wash very often. So I rolled it up and put it in the basement for a long time. And then years later, I thought 'what am I saving this for?' By then I had won prizes with my quilts. I'd taken classes and I knew what I was doing, and I thought this is not anything I would want anybody ever to know that I did. [laughs.] So that was my first quilt. [both laugh.] But, there are some similarities. That one was squares in the background. Of course it was only squares. And here, George's Garden is squares in the background.

JG: And the purple. Yes, yes. How did [laughs.] your journey progress after that?

AF: Then I made a wall hanging after that. It was a 'welcome home' gift for my parents, who had been studying abroad in Holland for a year. It was also a patchwork background and it was machine appliquéd but it was hand quilted, very crude, but I was very pleased with the design. So I was very interested in designing my own. Then I took my very first quilting class in 1978. I knew then what the procedures were and where I had gone so wrong with that lovely piece that I had made out of the sheets. That first "real" quilt was based on triangles, half-square triangles. And everything that we did in that first six-week beginning class, I made two or three or four blocks of everything and made a quilt. And that was done, the class started in September and I got it done for Christmas, for my mom. So that was half-squares. So still to this day half-squares and squares really are the backbone of all my quilts.

JG: Yeah. Yeah. Great. Jump ahead to when did you start your flower quilts, your garden quilts? What clicked in your mind to make that change?

AF: I live here in the woods, here in Racine. I'm basically a big-city girl. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, Washington, D.C. area. After I got married we lived in Chicago, in the Chicago area for a while. And then we moved here and this was the first place I've ever lived where Nature did all the deciding. The trees were put there by Mother Nature and the wild flowers and whatever, and well I was a big-city girl. I thought people put things in gardens. Well we had trillium. I had never seen trillium before. They were outstanding and they were simple and they were beautiful. So way back probably, I want to say in the 80's, perhaps. I started quilting in 1978. So somewhere in the 80's I looked around and thought here are the most beautiful flowers there ever were, so I started with trillium. I have moved along since then, changing my species of flower of choice.

JG: Yes. Yeah well they're just so beautiful. Well I'm surprised because you do have a very shaded garden. [AF agrees.] So to have but I see outside the window here, you do have the coneflowers right here in the garden. [AF agrees.] And so you have irises and, so you do have some of the sunny species, not just the shady ones.

AF: We lost 4 very large trees. So all of a sudden, right along the side of my house here and the back have now become sun filled. [JG: Oh, yeah.] So we still have trillium and whatever, the shadier side is over there and then to the back. It's still very wooded, so now I have garden flowers.

JG: New species!

AF: Yes.

JG: New species to quilt! So are you going to change flowers now?

AF: Well I've been fooling around with water lilies and iris and I have a big trillium piece in mind. I haven't done trillium for a long, long time. So I've made a little test piece, fooling around with trillium a little bit, so I'm going to make a big one. [JG nods.] So that's coming.

JG: And your preference is--well you do piecing, clearly you do appliqué and piecing, but actually the piecing is only for your background. Is that--?

AF: Right.

JG: And really you like your appliqué that's what you specialize in.

AF: Absolutely. The patchwork adds just, I don't know, a lineal quality or it adds a little bit of complexity to the background which otherwise would be a little too plain. So I like picking a color or going from one color to another to add some sort of a patchwork environment. I think it adds warmth.

JG: Oh, yeah, a great dimension. It's not as flat as just one solid color. Do you still hand appliqué or is it strictly machine appliqué?

AF: In 1988 I took a vow to leave hand quilting and everything behind me. Spending six months on a quilt was no longer doable. I had too many ideas I wanted to try. And when I finally stepped out and machine quilted I realized there was a lot of stuff out there with the right machine and I had a new machine at that time, or near that time. I realized the machine was really just an extension of my arms and I could give up some of that hand work which I really loved. I still do love hand work. But so my techniques of choice now are fusing in place and then machine embroidering everything, to give wonderful texture to the surface. So not only am I working with patchwork, appliqué or just fused shapes, then they get a more life-like detail because of the thread that's on the surface of it.

JG: I notice. I thought perhaps it was shadow appliqué, but those are the stitches, that give that wonderful color, that very subtle texture in your flower petal. Beautiful. Just beautiful. What attracted you to quilt making in the first place?

AF: Sewing and color and texture. Those are the three biggies. I come from a family of musicians. So I was surrounded by the arts my whole life. My parents thought I should be a musician like they were. Although I have a lot of musical skills and whatever, I didn't find that to be satisfying at all. I liked to paint and color as a child for hours and hours and hours. My mother would say I would have disappeared and then they would find me somewhere with a box of watercolors or a box of crayons or whatever. So real early it was color, and I can't think of anything that was more exciting than a new box of crayons, really. That was just wonderful. [JG nods.] And somewhere along the line I decided I needed to sew. This was just before I took a Home Ec class or whatever. My mom didn't sew. She was a musician. That was her life. And so how I decided I wanted to sew, I'm not sure. But my aunt let me use her sewing machine. She lived in Georgia and I spent a month with her and learned a little bit about the machine then. And then I took that first Home Ec class and it was wonderful. I could use all this wonderful fabric and make clothes and of course being then a teenage girl, there is nothing more important in life than clothes. So that's when the sewing started. After that I did as much hand work and fiber things, whatever I could find, where I could design my own work: Embroidery. I did some weaving and tapestry, basketry. I did it all.

JG: Sounds like the usual trail--

AF: Yes. Absolutely. It's the same one--

JG: Which ends in quilt making. [both and laugh talk at the same time.]

AF: After that first night of the quilting class after the first hour I realized that this was going to be –I didn't realize how much of a change would come over my life [laughs.] But I was hooked. I knew this was big, and I needed to rush home [coughs.] and make more. So that's how I got here. [coughs.]

JG: You were at the time, you know the bicentennial, and in the magazines we kept seeing quilts, so in the back of your mind you kept thinking that could be an outlet.

AF: And at the time I was employed in the retailing business. I had been at Marshal Field's for a while. Then when we moved to Wisconsin I worked at Gimbels. So I've been in the fashion industry for a long time. Of course quilting had not caught up, or shall we say the clothing industry had not caught on to the quilting thing at the time. But being in retailing you have to be up on trends and know what's happening.

JG: I'm assuming you quilt every day, putting as much time as you possibly can into it.

AF: I try. Now that this is my full-time career I'm finding the computer and office work is consuming an enormous amount of time. So I'm trying to make--I don't like rules, but I'm trying to make myself a rule [coughs.]

JG: Do you want to stop for a glass of water?

AF: No, I'm fine. I made it a rule, I'm going to quilt in the afternoon or do something at the sewing machine in the afternoon. Because otherwise [coughs.] it just takes--I guess I do.

JG: We briefly turned off the tape recorder to get a drink of water. But we were talking about your evolution, your journey to how you came to quilting, what made you decide, you know the '78, the revival, the quilting revival and that journey. Do you have a quilt--what's your first quilt memory? What is your first quilt memory? When do you remember?

AF: My maternal grandmother sewed. She was a minister's wife in a rural coal-mining town in Pennsylvania. They really lived with very little. When my mom was young, my grandmother made two Sunbonnet Sue quilts, you know with the black blanket stitch around the outside edge and all that. So when we would go to visit her those days, they had a great big house that the church provided for them. The bedroom that my sisters and I slept in had those quilts on the beds. So I always remember them. I don't remember that I particularly liked them. I thought it was very strange there were no faces. But I did like the colors. After my grandmother died then my mom got the quilts and they were in my room for a while. I guess that is my first thing that I remember about quilts. I had on my father's side my great grandmother and her daughter both liked to piece quilts. But as was the custom at that time, I guess in Indiana, they always sent out the quilts for church ladies to quilt them. And I find, boy you're missing half the fun . The quilting is the relaxing part. [But they liked to do the piecing. But that's a very sketchy quilting heritage I never saw a quilt frame or anything like that in my whole life, till I took that very first quilting class.

JG: And your grandmother's quilt, when--about the time--in the thirties was that made, are you guessing?

AF: Yes.

JG: And then the great grandmother's, so that would have been--

AF: My great grandmother and her daughter made a quilt top for every one of her grandchildren. So everybody has one with these little half-square triangles. [laughs.] When her daughter, who is my great Aunt, broke up housekeeping and moved to a retirement facility, she gave me her best quilt, which was sort of a Boston Commons, or a Trip around the World, I guess. She had purchased all the fabrics herself from Marshall Field's in Chicago and it's a beauty, so I have that one.

JG: And what's the date about of that one?

AF: I don't know. Forties I would say.

JG: Oh that late?

AF: Yeah.

JG: Okay, that late. Because I was thinking, with Sears and Marshall Field, they were selling fabrics also in the twenties.

AF: And kits. I'm sure there were lots of kits

JG: Lots of kits. Yes. I had a thought and it zoomed out of my mind. [AF laughs,] [JG muttering to herself.] Quilt memories, quilters in the family. [sighs.] What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

AF: Everything. I like thinking about the quilts. My whole life there are always quilts in my brain, somewhere, an idea or the one I'm working on, or whatever. I love the design process. I love pulling the fabrics out and making a big mess and just having piles and piles of fabric to root through, finding just the right fabrics to work together for the background--

JG: -- And you cleaned up down here just for me?

AF: [laughs.] Yes I did. [laughs.] And I cleaned off the table so we could use it if we had to [both laugh.] And then I always start with a little seed of an idea. I don't draw out big plans for things. I just start and see what happens. That method seems to be most successful for me. So then the fusing begins and then there's all the embroidery. I find that--it's very repetitive, but I find that to be healing, comforting, work out the troubles of the day, what are you going to have for dinner or whatever. And I love the quilting part because the design and all the embroidery that I've spent so long in creating, then the quilting makes it come alive, because it adds that sculptural element to it. And then I even like putting on the binding. I used to not, but the binding kind of adds that little extra touch on the edge. And I know pretty soon this one is coming to an end. We've got to get the next one rolling, uhuh. It's time to get the next one. And then getting ready to show it or making sure it's done in time for some show deadline. I like it all.

JG: Do you teach quilting?

AF: Yes, I do. I teach a lot. I try not to go out more than two times a month. Once a month is enough. It destroys the creative process, but it gets me out working with people, so I get a lot of new ideas and a little socializing when I'm out on the road. So I like that. I find the traveling or what I call the commuting to be the hardest part, the packing, the going to the airport [JG: driving.]. Yes. That's just as horrible, but everything else is wonderful about it. So I have to accept the commuting as part of the deal.

JG: Does quilt history intrigue you?

AF: At one time, one of my first lectures was about quilt history and finding out all the little whatever there was, all the little stories and all the folklore, maybe stories behind the blocks. That kind of thing was fascinating. But it's the design and the color, that's what does it for me. So I'll leave that part to people who enjoy more of the research angle.

JG: When you're at a quilt show, what quilts draw you the most, draw you in?

AF: The ones with bright color and strong visual impact. Original ideas, that's it. That's it for me. There is value in recreating blocks, of learning traditional techniques, but then it's time to take off, use your own ideas. Things that--think well what happens if I turn this, this way? Or what happens if I add green instead of blue? Or what happens if you do something else to--then go beyond the traditional techniques and add your own touches to it. Then I find the process becomes really, really satisfying, because with every step you make toward making it really your own, that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment just grows and grows. And that's what I try and instill in everyone who [laughs.] listens to a lecture and comes to my class. Try and give them a little nudge or a little push toward, 'Okay, you know how to do this. Now what can you do to it to make it a little different or make it your own?' So that's my message when I'm out there teaching.

JG: Well ,I see you've been published.

AF: My book has been out at least two weeks now. [laughs.] I turned in the original, the final manuscript just before the Fourth of July in 2004. And I thought, 'Oh, my goodness,' [laughs.] my life has been so focused on this book, that I didn't have very many quilts--I haven't made very many quilts, and my to-do list was twenty-five feet long. And when I turned in the book one month, and then I had another month to have all my little samples of my how-to procedural things. I had another month to finish all those. And then I could let loose and finish a lot--make a lot of quilts and work on those ideas that had come to me while I was working on the book.

JG: Yeah. Is there another book in the background? [AF laughs.] Do you want another book in the background? [laughs.]

AF: My book it's called "Coloring with Thread," so it's all about my free-motion embroidery. I put a life-time of experimentation and work in that book. Other thoughts have come to mind but I think I really need to just quilt in my free time now, when I'm not teaching. So I have some ideas, but I really don't know that I'm really going to do anything about those. The thing that really makes me happy in life is making quilts and exhibiting them. That's really what does it.

JG: Have you sold most of your quilts or do you have your quilt collection here?

AF: I've sold a lot of quilts, really, really a lot of quilts. When I first finish a quilt it's the best one I've ever made. Or, no, I shouldn't really say that. The next one is always the best one I'm ever going to make. But it's still warm from being under the sewing machine or turning the binding. It's still too special to even consider selling. Although I consider a quilt finished; after I sew the label on the back, then it gets photographed; slides and digital images taken; and then uploaded on the website. And then it gets included in my inventory, which is getting to be pretty big. It's that white notebook on the top [JG exclaims.] And so I give it a price and hopefully the quilts I make, if they're large will go to some shows and be exhibited around, wherever, east coast, west coast or somewhere in the middle before they're sold. I sell a lot of really small pieces. And then by the time a quilt has been to three or four shows the newness or that special quality is – you accept it and you're on to more 'best quilts of your life'. And then it's not so bad when it goes to a new home. Because usually somebody is going to love it and it's a small loss. You feel a little sad when it goes out the door. But you get over it because you've got another one that's ready to go, [laughs.] that you're ready to go on.

JG: I understand what you're saying, because unless in my mind I determine this quilt is going to that person, that's like taking one of my limbs off.

AF: It is.

JG: Until you're ready. You reach a point where you're ready to say 'Okay, fine,' but you extensively document your quilts, from the sound of it.

AF: Yes, yes. I try.

JG: Is that information on the label as well?

AF: On the label I just put general information. I've got three quilts that have stories on the back. But mostly it's just the title, the size, who made it and care, because I'm a textiles and clothing person. Everything is supposed to have care labeling. So I do add that. And so anybody who wants information on my quilt can go online and get the little story or whatever about it. It's in the inventory.

JG: Ah, yeah, but otherwise, slides and everything and work-in-progress photo?

AF: Some. But it's not basically for people to see. That's [JG: For yourself.] stuff that I do as part of the design process. I take a snap, print it out, and I don't even save the image. So it's whatever happens to be on that piece of scratch paper [laughs.] that comes out of my printer.

JG: Yeah, got it. Have you used quilting to get through a difficult time, aside from perhaps "George's Garden"?

AF: I think quilting always gets me through difficult times, whether you're mad at your husband or your cat or something isn't going right or whatever. I think just the process of working, particularly the embroidery and the machine quilting, which is a very repetitive, very soothing kind of thing. If I'm really, really upset about something, then it's not a good time to start designing a new piece. My Aunt Nelda, who was the daughter of my great-grandmother, was a fiber artist and a musician and a knitter. And she is one of the sort of important people in my life, and so when she died, she died in, I'm going to say, in 1994, when she was in her nineties. So when she died I wanted to make a piece for her. So that's what my quilt, "Indiana Memories" is about.

JG: Oh!

AF: And when I first made it I couldn't talk about it in public. I would always start to cry. But as time went on it got better and I can talk about it in a lecture and I can be just fine.

JG: Clinical. [tears up.] Almost clinical. [both laugh.]

AF: This about Aunt Nelda, yes and all sort of personal imagery. A lot of my imagery comes, the stuff that isn't directly from my garden or the yard, comes from Winona Lake, Indiana. And her father, my great-grandfather built the cottage, so the cottage in Indiana is always the focal point of the family. We'd always get together every summer, you know all those things. And that's where I'd watch her knit. And as I got older, she taught me how to make those buttonhole, button loops or buttonhole loops [JG: Oh, yes.] and turn the little strip inside out, those things.

JG: Yes, hand-made button holes.

AF: Yes. Although she lived a long way from me, she was still a very important figure in my life. So I made the quilt in her honor and had a show dedicated to her in Marion, Indiana, at The Quilters Hall of Fame. She grew up in Marion, Indiana.

JG: Is that right?

AF: That's why I chose Marion, yes. The Hall of Fame people were nice enough [laughs.] to let me have the show, so that was my most difficult quilt, because it took me more than a year to be able to talk about it.

JG: Yes. When was the show?

AF: 1995. So that was my first really big solo exhibit, so that was a big year, a real big year. [pause.] So that's the difficult quilt part. [laughs.]

JG; Do you think that your quilts reflect your community or region or just your micro-world?

AF: Just me. [laughs.] Yes, my own world. Yes, a very skewed world. It's either a garden or one on a lake. That's pretty much it. [laughs.]

JG: That sounds very rich to me.

AF: Yes, it's wonderful.

JG: Sounds very rich to me. Do you think that some quilts should be saved, some quilts should be used? Or what are your thoughts about preservation?

AF: Well, since I've gotten into this Art Quilt thing and really doing my own designs, I would hate to think that somebody slept under one of my quilts. They're not meant for that. Of course most of my pieces aren't big enough now to sleep under. But yet the image of a traditional quilt that's patchwork is just warm and fuzzy and it makes you want to curl up in it on a cold winter day. And I think you should use them. But I really think you should take care of them, and not drink hot cocoa when you have a white or one with a lot of muslin on your lap or something, because so many – well it's going to happen. But so many old quilts that you see have big spots on them and one thing or another. And I guess that means they're loved. And that's what they were made to do. It's only us crazy art quilters that think they should be hung on the wall. So I guess every quilt has a purpose. [JG: Right.] And I can't imagine [gets emotional.] a better purpose than for somebody to give one for you to use. [sobs.] But, I guess that's the emotional side of quilting. [laughs.]

JG: Right. Because they're truly made with love. You know, they're your life, they're the sleepless nights, they're the finger pokes and pricks. It truly is--the total package is love, every stitch. And I guess generically we can't say 'quilts should be preserved' or 'quilts should be used' [AF: No.] because we do have quilts with different purposes. [AF: Yes.] Very different purposes.

AF: I read a book "A Communion of Spirits." It was written by a black photographer, Roland Freeman, who went and documented many of the quilts made in the South by Afro-American quilters. And there was a wonderful story about a young girl who got sick and she had to ask her grandma to please bring the Healing Quilt over. And this had been the Healing Quilt in the family, and when you slept under it you got better. [speaks with great emotion.] It's just emotional. [JG: Yeah.] You know all those family members that slept under that quilt--

JG: Wow, what a heritage.

AF: And felt better, yes.

JG: That is a great heritage, not just one quilt, not just your baby quilt, but a Healing Quilt – a generation [AF: Yes.] of healing went underneath this quilt. Oh, I'd love to be a little mouse and hear those stories.

AF: The stories of that quilt, yes.

JG: Yes! Fascinating. [pause.] How do you think a quilter or a novice quilter should go about learning the art?

AF: Look at everything there is published online and magazines and books. See what all the quilters are doing now. And see if you can figure out how these things are being made. There really aren't any secrets in the quilting world. I find that one of the most refreshing parts of the quilting world is that quilters share eagerly their techniques with others. Whereas in the art world it's not that way. And so anybody who wants to learn anything, any special techniques just needs to ask the right person to find out how it can be done. But I think the most important thing is to find images that are important to you, that have special meaning, even if it's just a tree that grows in your front yard, or leaves from a certain place or a flower you like or a bird that landed in the bird bath one day, whatever, something very simple, very earthy. If you start with these things then your quilts become more and more a part of you and your life. And then in my opinion they get better, the more personal the quilts become. Even though maybe the viewer might not understand how personal or how important that image is to you as the maker. Somehow all of it when it's all finished becomes a better quilt because there was more emotion and more importance in the subject at the very conception [laughs.] of the quilt. So I think finding images, a shape, whatever, finding something that's really important is the key. [JG nods in agreement.] And then you'll find how to use it, how to put it together. See what evolves.

JG: Is there something that you thought I would ask you that I didn't?

AF: [laughs.] No. [laughs.] I hadn't really--I just figured we'd sit down and talk and whatever happened happened.

JG: Yes, that's right. I have a feeling you have a big stash.

AF: It's pretty good-sized.

JG: Do you dye your own fabrics?

AF: I dye a little bit and I paint some fabrics, but a lot of my friends in the Chicago area dye fabrics as part of their living. And so when I go to my PAQA meetings, that's the Professional Art Quilters Alliance, it meets in the western suburbs of Chicago, so they bring their work to the meetings and when you pull out all these wonderful colors, you just have to buy some and take it home. So I have hand-dyed fabrics from a lot of people that I know particularly. So I'm more of a collector of fabrics than I am really a painting and dying. If I have a special need however I go out in the garage or the front yard and paint stuff and lay it all over the yard. So I can make things, if I have a specific need.

JG: But the for the most part those colors have been invented already.

AF: Yeah.

JG: What is next on your agenda?

AF: [short pause.] Oh, I know. As I mature, and I am only twenty nine years old and a natural blond, I am getting braver, bolder and have more confidence in myself. And now the book is out I have rented a hotel space for my very first 'Weekend with Ann'. It will be in 2006. So I've put my neck out. It's just a workshop for twenty people to come and work on nothing but fusing, design and doing a lot of free-motion embroidery, learning all about thread, learning about what I've done, or how I've worked, so they can benefit from all my years of experience. And we'll see what happens. As I mentioned earlier the hardest part of the teaching part of my business is the commuting. If this works I will have to commute less. I maybe can do it twice a year and maybe take fewer travel commitments.

JG: But have a larger group.

AF: Maybe.

JG: Have a larger group, a larger audience.

AF: Racine, Wisconsin is right on Lake Michigan. We have a lovely lakefront and festival site, a very nice hotel right on the marina. And we can use the swimming pool, [laughs.] the restaurant and they have very comfortable rooms. And so it's sort of a business, a new business direction for me.

JG: Wonderful.

AF: But other than that it's just make more quilts.

JG: Make more quilts. And enjoy them, yes. Wow. Well, we're actually coming very close to the end of the tape.

AF: Alright.

JG: But you're always welcome to add something afterwards, if something important pops into your head.

AF: Let me just spend a minute on my "Adventures with Oreo" quilts. Much to my husband's horror I have started a series of quilts based on my kitty, whose name is Oreo. She's black and white, of course. And she is ever-present in our lives and being black and white she's very graphic. And a very famous quilter, Nancy Crow, used to mention in her lectures and workshops that black and white always adds something very strong and bold to a quilt. What could be more natural, I mean I always have cat hair on my quilts, but let's put the cat in the quilt now. So I have eight quilts finished. My goal is to have twelve, but hopefully when at first the show makes its debut I will have ten quilts finished with Oreo, in all of her – I'm trying to have various poses and [laughs.] occupations for Oreo, but that's sort of another little sideline. [JG exclaims.] A purrsonal, another purr-sonal, purr-sonal

JG: Yes, purr-sonal.

AF: Yes, P-U-R-R. [both laugh.]

JG: [tape clicks.] We started a new tape briefly, but we were enjoying the 'purrsonal' quilt show that Oreo's going to have. Ten quilts, you say.

AF: That's my immediate goal. I hope to have twelve, maybe when I'm done.

JG: Okay, and how big are they?

AF: They're small. They're only 25 by 25 [inches.], 30 by 30 [inches.] something like that. So I can get a crazy idea about something and I won't say anything on this tape about what she is doing, but there are some rather controversial quilts, [JG laughs.], but they're all very light-hearted. They're not political. [JG laughs.]

JG: Will you remove the cat hair from these?

AF: I'll try.

JG: Awe. [both laugh.] But she's famous.

AF: Yes she is.

JG: At least leave some inside the batting.

AF: Yes, okay. It's wool batt, in the new ones.

JG: Oh, is that your new experiment with wool batt?

AF: Yes. I was converted last year. [laughs.] I was given a scrap. I made a little, just a kind of a potholder-size half cotton batting that I had been using and half wool. And I found the wool batting adds more sculpting sort of, to all the embroidery [JG: Right.] than the cotton, which I have loved and has been very successful for me. It just kind of didn't have that loft [JG: Right.] that the wool batt added. Boy, I was shocked. I was--yeah I was thrilled to death.

JG: I have not tried that yet, but I've been quilting with the Hobbs Heirloom, the 80/20, just for the same reason. The 100% cotton was just too flat and when you have beautiful quilting you want to see it. [AF: Right.] I haven't tried wool because sometimes my quilts are utility quilts and I don't want people to boil them [laughs.] and shrink them.

AF: Yes, I think they're washable, but you can't agitate them, because otherwise the wool will felt itself. [JG: It felts.] So that is kind of a drawback, but you can send them to the cleaners, I guess.

JG: Yeah, but washing is no problem, washing wool, just don't dry it. [AG: Right.] Air-dry it, [AF: Right.] Flat.

AF: Well that is a problem. [laughs.]

JG: But see that would be part of the care instructions that goes on the label.

AF: Right, right.

JG: And generally you use--well I see you have SULKY threads, so whatever thread--

AF: Is the right color.

JG: Gives you the right color and the right texture.

AF: I always choose variegated over solid. I love variegated thread. I think that comes from a childhood of knitting with Red Heart variegated yarn. It went from red to purple to blue to green. I spent hours and then when I got my first spool of variegated thread I thought there is something here very familiar and very comforting and fun about seeing which color was going to be coming next. And so it was much later when I realized 'Ah, yes' it was that old Red Heart yarn that I used [laughs.] miles and miles--

JG: That was the source. Oh, boy. How great. Well it's true, you know, it's stuck in there, something stuck in our brains and then it comes out as a new creative process. [AF agrees.] Oh this has been very lovely. Now, George's Quilt, will that have more of a story on the back?

AF: No it doesn't. [JG: It doesn't.] There is a--well the story is, there is a little bit of the story in the American Quilter magazine that came out, the Fall issue. But pretty much the whole story is on my website and also in my book. It's also the cover of my book and there is a little bit of a story in there, and in the inventory. I don't want to bog people down too much, with sad stories or anything, but this is really a happy quilt.

JG: But the recipient, the recipient, well they know George anyway. [AF: Right.] They have their own private memories of it and this just reminds them of who he was. [AF agrees.] Well, I actually think we have covered about everything. Did anything else pop into your head that you'd like to add, for posterity? For prospective students? For--[laughs.]

AF: I wish I could say something like the guy on the moon, you know, [JG laughs.] with the giant step for mankind, or whatever, but there is nothing there. Just 'Go make a quilt.' 'Use your images, enjoy the process. That way we grow.'

JG: True. Well Ann, thank you so very much for this wonderful interview. [smiling.]

AF: You are welcome.

JG: It really was a highlight. Then I am ending this interview at 19 minutes after twelve. Thank you again. And thank you so much. [JG talking to Oreo.]



“Ann Fahl,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,