Christine Motl




Christine Motl




Christine Motl


Vicki Quint

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Jefferson, Wisconsin


Vicki Quint


Vicki Quint (VQ): This is Vicki Quint. Today's date is March 21, 2009 and it is 8:55 a.m. I am conducting an interview with Christine Motl for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are in Chris' home in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Thank you Chris for allowing me to interview you today. Could you tell me about the quilt you have chosen here today? The thoughts behind it. Could you describe it to us, the pattern and the material?

Christine Motl (CM): The quilt I have here today is called "Flour Sack Butterflies" and I made this quilt to honor my grandmother. She had made a quilt in the 1940's with an appliqué butterflies pattern. My entire quilt is made of feed and flour sack fabric and it is fused and appliquéd and machine pieced and machine quilted.

VQ: So it is special to you because of the connection with your grandmother?

CM: Yes, it is, I consider it a memory quilt for her.

VQ: And then, why did you choose this quilt to bring for the interview today?

CM: I brought this quilt because it is made entirely of feed sacks and feed sack collecting is my passion.

VQ: Excellent! What do you think someone viewing your quilt might think about you?

CM: Probably, that I love traditional quilts and also scrap quilts.

VQ: How do you use this quilt?

CM: Actually, I do not use this quilt except as part of my feed sack trunk shows and lecture.

VQ: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CM: Well, I am interested in all parts of quiltmaking. I have quilted since 1981 and my interest in quiltmaking extends beyond making quilts, going to museums and quilt history and other facets of anything, involving patchwork, quilt patterns and designs.

VQ: What age did you start quiltmaking?

CM: I was 31 years old when I started quilting.

VQ: From whom did you learn to quilt?

CM: I subscribed to magazines and bought lots of books so I think I am sort of self taught.

VQ: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CM: That depends but I try eight hours of quilting a week.

VQ: What is your first quilt memory?

CM: My first quilt memory is piles of quilts on my bed because our farmhouse was heated with a coal furnace. When the coals died down it could get very, very chilly.

VQ: And how old were you?

CM: Well that would have been when I was a child.

VQ: Are there other quiltmakers among your friends? Please tell me about them.

CM: Well, most of my good friends are quiltmakers because that is my social life. So, if my friends--one of my quilting friends I met when I had the thought that I might open a quilt shop and this were two years after I started quilting. So, I read one of the first things that you should do is open a banking account. So, I went to the bank and I said I want to open a checking account and I had a name--I don't remember what it was. The teller said, 'Oh, you're a quilter. I am a quilter too.' And she is now one of my best quilting buddies.

VQ: That's interesting. How does quiltmaking impact your family?

CM: Well, quite a bit. Many of our vacations are planned around quilting events or quilt businesses and museums. And, I decorate the house with quilts as you can see. There are placements, quilted runners, and wall hangings so; it is pretty much in every part of my life. I don't know if you noticed when you came by; we have a wooden quilt block on our barn.

VQ: Yes, that is definitely a landmark. Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

CM: Yes, I do sew when I am feeling stressed or very troubled, I like to have a project to work on that I call "mindless sewing" so that I can just sew. That I don't have to think about creating or think about designing but I can just sew. And, it seems even though I call it mindless you still have to concentrate on getting the fabric under the needle and it does help calm me down.

VQ: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking?

CM: That is the question that has stumped me. I can't think of anything.

VQ: Well, we will just go on then. It probably hasn't occurred yet.

CM: Right.

VQ: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

CM: Definitely the sense of accomplishment. I am a project oriented person vs. processes. I like the finished product. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment just to hold up whatever I have made and say, 'Oh, that's wonderful.'

VQ: What do you find--oh, oh sorry. What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

CM: Repetitive piecing. You know, when I am doing hundreds of half square triangles. That gets pretty boring.

VQ: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

CM: I belong to quilt groups – not any art groups. Mad City Quilters of Madison, Wisconsin and Quilters on the Rock in Watertown, Wisconsin and also I belong to the Midwest Feed Sack Club that basically communicates with newsletters.

VQ: Have advances in technology influenced your work? If so, how?

CM: Well, definitely the rotary cutter. I started quilting before the rotary cutter and the Plexiglas rulers and they made it so much easier. I did also enjoy strip quilting, log cabin, and such and, this made it so much easier to do that. And, the technology and sewing machines have made it so much easier to machine quilt and the free motion aspects, the even feed foot or those kinds of things which made machine quilting easier and faster.

VQ: You are strictly machine quilting, correct?

CM: Pretty much. I have done hand quilting. I enjoy hand quilting processes, but again it is just too slow for me.

VQ: You do the projects. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

CM: I like to do scrap quilts and of course I use cotton. My favorite techniques – I am not sure if it is a favorite technique but I like to do scrap bindings in that I try to find pieces--scraps from the quilt and I use these as the binding and it is something I saw someone do and I just liked the way it looked and I thought, gee, this would save on buying separate binding fabric. And, I have gotten many nice comments on it from judges where I have entered the quilts in quilt shows.

VQ: It really ties it together.

CM: It does, and it's not always noticeable at first that it has used different fabrics and it seems when someone notices that, they it's like an 'ah ha' moment.

VQ: Would you describe your studio/the place that you create.

CM: Well, I do have an entire room that I am able to use. It's a spare bedroom in our house. The one thing that has been invaluable has been is that early on in my quilting career I bought a large cutting table and at the time, oh my gosh, I couldn't believe I was spending this money on this table and it has been the best investment I have made. It is 40 inches by 72 by and I can lay out my quilt to baste. It has really been a terrific purchase.

VQ: Tell me how you balance your time.

CM: Well, I try to have three different projects going, if not more. But the first one is a hand project so that I can do that when I need to be waiting for someone or watching TV. It needs to be portable. The second one, again, is this mindless project where I can just set at the sewing machine and just sew, sew, sew. And then another project that I like to have is something where I do need to be creative and think so that has to be time where I am in the right mood to design something so I feel that I am using my time wisely because whenever I do have time to sew there is something that I can work on that will suit my mood.

VQ: How do you go about designing your quilts?

CM: Well, I [sigh.] like to get inspiration from books and, uh, so generally I will follow a traditional pattern but I will change the size or I will add something and a lot of my designing is based on the fabric. I first have fabric I love and I say, 'I need to make a project with this fabric.' And, then I go from there. So, it also depends on the amount of fabric I have because many times that fabric probably isn't available anymore and I need to work with what I have.

[tape stopped momentarily.]

VQ: We are starting back up again. Do you use a design wall?

CM: Yes, I do. I started using one a few years ago and I do think it helps me spot mistakes, mistakes in value and it also is another way to sense your accomplishment because when you step back and see the things you have on the design wall, it helps you to see what you have done and it is kind of another 'ah, ha, it looks pretty good.'

VQ: All right, the next section is the aesthetics, craftsmanship and design aspects of quiltmaking. What do you think makes a great quilt?

CM: I think it makes you feel good. I really don't know that it has to be gorgeous appliqué or gorgeous machine stitching. It just is a quilt that makes you feel good and smile. I think color has a lot to do with that.

VQ: Definitely. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CM: Well, I think it is something that you walk up to and say, I really like that but you are not sure why.

VQ: I agree, you can't put your finger on it. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

CM: Well, I think that depends on the museum. Some are interested in certain periods but I would say it does need to be good workmanship and probably good use of color. If they are planning it for exhibit they want something to appeal to the people in the museum.

VQ: Great. What makes a great quiltmaker?

CM: Well, probably someone who is able to execute their ideas. I don't feel that I am a technically creative person but creativity is certainly very important for the quilters that are making art quilts. But I think mostly it is the ability to be able to follow through with your idea and making a pleasing quilt.

VQ: Excellent, whose works are you drawn to and why?

CM: Well, I can't name specific quiltmakers. I enjoy all types of quilting but I guess my favorites have always been folk art quilts and perhaps some of the whimsical quilts and the quilters who are using the bright fabrics.

VQ: You are definitely drawn to the bright fabrics. Which artists have influenced you?

CM: Not anyone in particular but through the magazines and the books, I read about many of the quilt artists but mostly I think antique quilts influence me.

VQ: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting? What about long-arm quilting?

CM: I think machine quilting is harder but faster and I appreciate both. The long arm machine quilters now have the capability to do some wonderful patterns and the advantages of that will mean that is the future. Unfortunately, hand quilting will possibly become less and less but there are some people doing it and it is beautiful.

VQ: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

CM: Well, I think quiltmaking defines me. Perhaps when I am introduced to people, they are saying, 'She is a quilter.' It gives me an identity that I feel is special.

VQ: It makes us feel like we belong I think.

CM: Right.

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

CM: Well, I have a farm background and I have always lived in a rural area so I think that is perhaps why I am drawn to the traditional quilts. My values are rather traditional and it probably shows through in the quilting and also frugality. I am a scrap quilter. I love to use many, many different fabrics and that is quite unusual because when I started quilting, a scrap quilt was probably considered, you know, three or four fabrics and now we are using hundreds. So, it is kind of a gaining a little bit of confidence to use more fabrics and mix it up a little bit.

VQ: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

CM: Well, I think they are very important. I think that they have always been the basis for women forming friendships, and special bonds between them and also it was an economic fact that a woman made quilts because they couldn't afford to buy bed covers or perhaps they weren't available in a rural area so I think that women have always needed some kind of expression and this was one of the earliest forms for women to express themselves through quilts and quilting.

VQ: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

CM: Well, I probably just answered that.

VQ: Yes, we did.

CM: By saying it is a means of expression and also from some of the history, state quilting history books I have read; it was apparently a way for some of the women to maintain their sanity.

VQ: How do you think quilts can be used?

CM: Definitely for decorating. I just love to have loads and loads of quilts around. Of course in the case of a child or baby, it is a comforting aspect, to be cuddled by a nice soft quilt.

VQ: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

CM: Well, I think many museums are doing a good job of preserving quilts and there are several textile collections around the country and such that are preserving quilts and textiles and as far as individuals, I think people are valuing the work that a woman has put into a quilt so that future generations will want to keep that quilt and have it and have a special memory attached it.

VQ: It is a connection, isn't it? What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

CM: Well, I do have a quilt or one or more from each of my grandmothers that they made so I have those. I have given many quilts as gifts for baby quilts and weddings. And, one thing that I do is that I take a quilt that I made that may have been used quite a bit and when my doggie dies, I bury my dog in one of my quilts.

VQ: I should do that. That's a nice thought. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

CM: Time. Definitely time, because we have so many choices. There are so many activities to choose from first of all and then within the quilting world there are many choices. There are so many fabrics, so many choices. Different kinds of machines and books and magazines so I think it is hard to focus. I also think that it is hard to reinvent the wheel so there is not a lot of newness that can come from quilting anymore and sometimes we just focus on improving the older patterns or re-designing something but I think that that is a challenge to find something new, new to do.

VQ: Right.

CM: It is hard to balance between new and experienced quilters. It is hard in guilds to kind of please everybody because we have different ideas that we want to focus on.

VQ: This places us about to the end of the tape.

[tape stopped momentarily.]

VQ: All right, we have some more time so let's just talk some more about your favorite aspects of quilting.

CM: I enjoy our quilt shows and I enjoy entering them. In fact, I entered my first quilt that I ever made in a quilt show and I was pretty naïve. I went to the show and they had apparently taken some of the quilts that they felt were not quite up to par and folded them in fourths and put them over on a rack and mine was one of those. But I am happy to say that I have advanced to having my quilts shown full size and last year I was very, very thrilled to win a special award at the Wisconsin State Fair. It was the "WQI Award for Best Baby Quilt." I attended the judging and I was thrilled when the judge just really went on about my quilt. It was a very nice moment for me. It made me feel that I didn't have to do elaborate quilting or designing and I still could make a quilt that was very pleasing.

VQ: Now, that judge was Carol Butzke?

CM: Right.

VQ: Shows can add a different dimension to it and kind of gives you something to--

CM: It is a nice sense of accomplishment, to get a ribbon is even more fun.

VQ: Definitely, and then we were going to talk a little more about your feed sacks.

CM: Yes, quilting and my love of fabric has led to my feed sack and flour sack collecting which has been an over the top passion for me. I knew about feed sacks because I grew up on the farm and we raised chickens and of course the feed sacks came in patterned, colorful fabrics but of course, as I grew older, I didn't like that anymore. I wanted fabric from the store.

But about 15 years ago I was re-introduced to feed sacks. I was taking a class about quilting in the '30's and feed sack fabric was discussed as to how important it was because women couldn't go to the store and buy fabric. During World War II there was a shortage of cotton fabric. It was all being used for the war. So, I started collecting and my collection has grown and grown to about thirteen hundred (1,300) sacks, pieces of fabrics that were once feed sacks and I now do a lecture and trunk show showing some of my more unusual sacks. And, of course, I use my quilt in that trunk show and the feed sack obsession has also led to a little bit of national fame. The Sewing with Nancy public TV show taped a five minute segment with my collection and it will be on the Sewing with Nancy TV show.

VQ: This month, correct?

CM: I am not sure when it will be on. We are still waiting, but it is available on DVD.

VQ: [laughs.] do you want to talk about some of your more unusual feed sacks?

CM: Well, my favorites are some of the novelty patterns and the, Percy Kent Feed Sack Company was able to copyright some Disney bags and of course those are fun. There is Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Alice in Wonderland so those are some of my special ones and I am particularly interested in some of the feed sacks that were marketed for special purposes. For instance, a bag was made that could be quickly turned into a curtain panel and I feel that the feed bag companies were certainly unique marketers to promote the use of cotton bags and this also happened when paper bags were becoming cheaper and more sanitary and the cotton industry was really trying to hang onto the business so because my major in college was marketing and retailing, that is a special interest for me and part of the reason why I delved into the feed sack history.

VQ: That sounds really interesting.

CM: Well, I would like to think that.

VQ: I'd like to thank Chris Motl for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Our interview has concluded at 9:27 am, March 21, 2009.

[recording ends and begins again.]

VQ: This is an addendum I am going to insert before the tape ended. Christine, could you tell us about your quilt that was published in a book?

CM: Yes, one of my feed sack quilts was published in "A Few of My Favorite Feed Sacks Quilt" book published by Moon Over the Mountain Publishing Company in Pennsylvania. The quilt was made from 6 inch squares of fabric many of them that were traded with other feed sack club and collector members and the entire quilt was novelty feed sack fabric. In other words, some of the Disney, children's, and special prints. For instance, one print was an envelope with wings which was a fabric designed when air mail came about so that quilt was really made because of my love of the feed sack fabrics and again my, admiration for the marketing and the special prints that they developed for feed and flour sacks.



“Christine Motl,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,