Karen M. Love




Karen M. Love




Karen M. Love


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Washington, D.C.

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): This is Evelyn Salinger, and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Karen M. Love. Today's date is June 22, 2010. The time is 9:45 a.m. This interview is taking place during the Daughters of Dorcas meeting in Washington, DC.
Hello, Karen.

Karen Love (KL): Hello.

ES: It is nice of you to come on this very warm day in June, the first full day of summer.

KL: Yes. It is good to be back. I've been out babysitting.

ES: What have you been doing?

KL: Taking care of a newborn.

ES: That's so nice. What is the relation of this newborn?

KL: This is my grandbaby. It's a boy. And his name is Javier.

ES: Good. Do you enjoy being a grandma?

KL: Oh, yes. I could sit up 'til midnight.

ES: You've brought an adorable quilt here. Will you tell us what it is and how you got started and so forth?

KL: This is a quilt that Block of the Month by Alex Anderson and we would get the pattern one month at a time and we were so anxious to get started because I was so new at quilting at that time. Every month we just couldn't wait to get our pattern and to collect the material and to collect all the little embellishments that went on it. It's a year. It starts from January to December.

ES: Oh, I see one here that's got the flag. It looks like Fourth of July.

KL: That's July month.

ES: Where did you get the fabrics for all this?

KL: Everywhere. Thrift stores, quilting stores, friends, everywhere.

ES: So, no two of these is the same as all the other people in the class. Everybody made something different for that month.

KL: Right. And it wasn't really a class. It was just my friend, just Alyce [Foster.] and myself.

ES: Oh, just the two of you got to do this.

KL: Yes. It was a T.V. series. "Quilting with Alex" on QBC.

ES: How wonderful. So how did you get started? How did you get the first pattern?

KL: You got it off of the Internet. Only one a month and you had to wait.

ES: Tell us what techniques you used here. First of all, what is the name of these little houses you have?

KL: It's more like a calendar. In January, you would want it to be cold, so you would picture a house and snowflakes and a snowman and then of course I got a door and a window and an attic and a chimney.

ES: And you embroidered some on that, too.

KL: Yes, I embroidered and appliquéd the house onto the block and the snowman is sitting in the snow. And that is January. February, we know February is what, Valentine. Again, I did the appliqué and I have a heart at my door. It is still cold, so I got smoke coming out of the chimney and the mailbox. Everybody wants to get a heart for Valentine's Day. And then I have a fence in the yard.

ES: I can see that that would be a lot of fun because you can find whatever embellishment goes with the month.

KL: That's right. Then comes March and we know in March the wind is blowing but we are thinking about Spring. So we have the sun and we have our clothes on the line.

ES: And they're kind of blowing.

KL: Oh, yes. And sunflowers are coming up and the cat is snoozing in the bed.

ES: Now you seem to have done a lot of blanket stitches on that one, around the house.

KL: Correct. Yes.

ES: Let's just pick out one more. What is your favorite one?

KL: Maybe, Fourth of July.

ES: Let's try July.

KL: We've got the flag and we got a flagpole and we have the little dogs running because the firecrackers are going on. Fireworks, oh, yes. It's hot. And we have a watermelon. And we have a mailbox with my name on it. A dog is [running away from the firecrackers.]

ES: He looks fuzzy.

KL: He has a lot of texture to him.

ES: That is very sweet. Did you do anything by machine in each of the squares? It was all by hand.

KL: Nothing. I think this is all by hand. The squares are drawn together with the sashing and that was put by machine. But all the quilting is done by hand.

ES: What do you use to quilt it? Do you do lap quilt or do it with a frame?

KL: I do lap and frame. I use a big round frame and a lot of lap.

ES: I am just curious about August. What is that little beast in the middle of that one?

KL: This is the rope along the beach.

ES: And I do like your Christmas one. That is really cute. The Santa is diving--

KL: Diving into the house from the chimney. And then we have cloth ornaments embroidered on a rope.

ES: You have chosen for the border, all sorts of colors?

KL: Right. All the materials that was used in making the squares, all the different fabrics.

ES: That is very nice. For whom is this quilt?

KL: This quilt is for the Love family.

ES: Oh. How big is the Love family?

KL: Three children and a husband.

ES: Do you have it hanging someplace? Is it a wall hanging?

KL: It can be, yes. It is more of a wall hanging. With all the embellishments you wouldn't want to use it every night.

ES: I imagine that the children love looking at that. There's so much to see in it.

KL: It is a lot to see but Grandmother has not hung it yet.

ES: When did you finish that?

KL: I'm not so certain. It was early on in my quilting career, so I would guess it was 1998.

ES: Start with me what is your quilting career? Where did you start?

KL: Daughters of Dorcas had a class at the Anacostia Museum and Alyce, my friend, and I, we went, and we got hooked. I've always wanted to make a quilt, but the quilting group in our community was for seniors and I wasn't quite a senior, so we begged to come in a little early, after checking about the Daughters of Dorcas.

ES: What did you start on first?

KL: The first quilt: They were making quilts for the flood victims of North Carolina. So, we started helping them. And then from there, we got a book called "Teach Yourself to Quilt" and each block was different. And each block taught you a different technique. Yes. I'm using that quilt today.

ES: Was it a full quilt?

KL: A full bed quilt.

ES: Did you do some of it by machine or do you do mostly all by hand?

KL: I quilt by hand. I'm not a machine quilter yet. I want to learn.

ES: When did you first learn to sew?

KL: I think I was in high school in Home Economics and that would have been in the late 50's, '58, '59. My teacher was Mrs. Mabrey. We were not well off and I was an orphan, so I learned to make my clothes.

ES: Did you do them by machine?

KL: I used the machine. My aunt could sew. After our parents were killed in an automobile accident, I went to live with an aunt, and she could sew. So that helped me. All through college and when I first got married and had children, everything I put on mostly I made. But after quilting, I stopped sewing.

ES: I understand that. It's so much more fun, isn't it?

KL: Oh, yes.

ES: You don't have to worry about putting in zippers. That was the worst.

KL: [laughs.]

ES: Where did you grow up?

KL: I was born in Washington, DC, but I was raised in Amelia, Virginia. And I stayed there until I went to college. And after college, I came back to DC. And I have been here ever since.

ES: What did you study in college?

KL: Business education.

ES: And did you use that?

KL: No. After graduation I signed a [teaching.] contract. In the meantime, being relatively poor, I needed a job for the summer, so I came to DC to work. I was recruited by the Labor Department before I left college. I was intimidated. I rode the bus and I would have to teach junior high and the kids made me afraid. So, I said, 'Oh, I don't think I can handle this,' so I stayed in the government.

ES: So, you worked many years in the government?

KL: No. Unfortunately, no. [laughs.] I worked for the Labor Department for about maybe five years, and then the district government because at that time you could transfer. I'm a civil servant. I became lame in my leg, and I had to go out on disability. So, I retired in '72, so that made me poor again. But I have been blessed. God has been a very good provider.

ES: That's good. You have a family.

KL: Oh, yes. My husband worked. I learned to be frugal, and you can make it.

ES: What is your favorite aspect of quilting?

KL: I think I like piecing best and appliquéing. I'm not all that good in picking out my materials. Patterns are not bad but coordinating my material, I'm still working on that.

ES: What are you working on right now?

KL: Oh, my goodness. I have about three or four at one time. [laughs.] I cannot just stick to one thing. From Daughters we have block of the month project. I have a quilt for our Raffle quilt and so I took that pattern and made a quilt out of it. I'm still working on that. I'm working on a huge quilt for a neighbor. I'm working on a quilt for my sister. So, I have a lot of UFOs, unfinished projects.

ES: That sounds fun. How many hours a day do you think you work on quilts, on average?

KL: Before I had to baby sit for the new grandson, I was at least four hours a day, or more.

ES: You say you are making one for a neighbor. Is this voluntary what you're doing or is it a commission?

KL: This is a commission.

ES: What sort of thing does she want?

KL: She just wanted a handmade quilt by me. This quilt for the neighbor probably took over a hundred and fifty different colors, pieces. It's really pretty.

ES: Do you have any time limits to try to get it done by?

KL: Yes. I want to finish the one for my sister by August and the one for my neighbor by at least by Thanksgiving.

ES: Do you have a big stash, now?

KL: Yes. More than I have room for.

ES: Do you have a special room to quilt in?

KL: I quilt in my attic. And I live in the attic.

ES: Wow. Do you have the whole space?

KL: I have the whole space. I have a full bath and a bedroom, a little room and then a child's room and all of it is full of quilting material.

ES: Ooh. That is really nice.

KL: And my machine, of course.

ES: Do you have a preference now of using machine with your piecing over hand piecing?

KL: I think I prefer hand piecing if I have the time.

ES: This quilt you are doing for your neighbor, are you doing that all by hand?

KL: I quilt it by hand, but I piece by machine. I like the combination.

ES: When did you get started with quilting?

KL: It's about 10 years. I would think around 2000, somewhere like that.

ES: Have you put some of your quilts in the quilt show anyplace?

KL: Yes. The church that the man came and got the quilts. [A quiet discussion follows as to remembering where.]

ES: Do you have any quilt stories that you would like to share? Anything that has happened in your quest for quilts?

KL: No. I don't think anything interesting. I have very sore fingers from hand quilting. [laughs.]

ES: Do you remember any quilting as you were growing up? Did you know anybody who was doing quilting?

KL: Oh, yes. My grandmother. They quilted in a quilting bee. People from Northern Virginia would come and commission her quilts and she would make these silk quilts with the beautiful embroidery stitches. And the old ladies would help her put it together when she got ready.

ES: Were these friends or was this a church group?

KL: Just her friends. Uh-huh. And I'm sure that's how she got her little extra money.

ES: Where would she have gotten her fabrics?

KL: I really don't know, but my grandmother's quilts, because my aunt sewed, they could use the material that they had left over from sewing. I can only remember my aunt making one pattern. They would just make utility quilts, but she had a beautiful red and white Monkey Wrench. In fact, when I left home, my grandmother gave me a quilt. And when I got married and moved into a house, we got movers to move and of course they relieved me of my quilt. I was very hurt because that was my quilt from my grandmother.

ES: That was your legacy.

KL: Yes.

ES: And you didn't discover it right away?

KL: I didn't discover it right away. But I'm sure they figured they'd use it for hauling and not treat it as an antique.

ES: Do have any other hand craft that you like to do?

KL: Oh, yeah. I used to crochet. I taught myself to crochet. Being lonely, after my parents died, and being taken from my home to another, that gave me comfort to learn to do things and so I taught myself to crochet. I crocheted two full sized bedspreads. Oh, I wish I had one.

ES: And they disappeared somewhere, too?

KL: Well, one was for a teacher, and I see her from time to time and she still talks about it.

ES: How old were you when you did that?

KL: Oh, I was married. I had children. And the teacher was one of my children's teachers.

ES: When were you doing that big crochet on the big spreads?

KL: I was grown. But when I was young, when I first started, I would do doilies and things for Christmas. But I have crocheted vests and some other wearables, hats and things like that. But the biggest thing was those spreads. My sister has one and then the teacher.

ES: That's why you wish you had one.

KL: Yeah.

ES: Would you go back to crocheting something like that again?

KL: I would love to crochet but I don't know if I would have the fortitude to do a bed spread.

ES: People toss those around as though they were nothing, but they take a lot of time, too. How do you think quilting has been meaningful for the American woman?

KL: One thing you get your creative spirit, your juices working. Another thing, they are so nice and warm and comforting and then you can be at peace when things when things are bothering you or you are bogged down with something. You can take the mind off your troubles and create a quilt. And then you can always share a quilt. I participated in helping people make quillows for the sick. Quilting is a lot of fun. You can do so many different things and now of course, I have made one jacket, but you can also have wearables.

ES: When did you join the Daughters of Dorcas?

KL: Approximately ten years ago.

ES: How did you get introduced to it? Through that little class you had earlier?

KL: Oh, no. I joined a quilting group in my neighborhood, the Senior Wellness Center. And Sarajane [Goodwin.] from Daughters of Dorcas was head of that and she introduced us to the Daughters of Dorcas.

ES: How do you feel about this group?

KL: Oh, I love the sharing and the getting together with people of all different ages. A lot of ideas you can get. You learn a lot.

[Small deletion.]

ES: Do have a little time to do this now with your baby sitting?

KL: I like to do putting the border on or maybe putting the label on, but not really. No, you cannot really concentrate with the baby.

ES: How long will you be doing the baby sitting?

KL: Maybe until he is two [years.] or eighteen months. But I'll have the summer off, so I will try to finish some of my UFO's. My daughter-in-law is a teacher. And they say grandma is the only one that can give him a good start in life.

ES: I think that's true.

KL: I think so. [laughs.] I come when he's crying and just being a baby. I say, 'You got to be glad that you got your grandmother.' Yeah. [laughs.] Because when they're crying and you can't figure out why they're crying, I just think a person who is not really bonded with their baby is not as patient with him.

ES: Have you made a quilt for him, yet?

KL: Oh, of course. Before he got here. [laughs.]

ES: And you have a granddaughter as well.

KL: I've got a granddaughter and another grandson. I have two granddaughters and they all have quilts.

ES: For whom do you make quilts?

KL: Basically, for family. I have a niece in Germany, and she said it is so cold in Germany, she needed a quilt. I made her a wall hanging and a quilt. But the thing about her quilt, the husband was not treating it the way she thought it should be treated, and they were in the military, so she sent it home. He was using it as a utilitarian, not as it should be treated, with respect. [laughs.]

ES: I guess if you don't grow up with this, you don't realize the time it that has gone into it.

KL: That's right. And I've heard people say that you have to be careful who you give your quilts to because they don't appreciate the time and the expense.

ES: Do you have advice for new quilters?

KL: Oh, yes. Just don't give up. Don't do like I got started. You get so excited that you take on too many projects at once. Finish one so you can just say, 'I have one. This is my first quilt.' My girlfriend has not finished that first quilt that we started together and that's over ten years. So, finish it so you can say, 'This is my first quilt.' Oh, I just love my quilting.

ES: It means a lot to you.

KL: Yes. It takes me away.

ES: Is there anything else in mind that you would like to share with us about yourself or your quilting?

KL: Being a cancer survivor, I am blessed to be here. I'm a twenty-four-year cancer survivor. My doctors didn't think I'd make it from month to month, but I survived it and I give honor to praise to God for allowing me to be here. He did not leave me here to do nothing. So, I have to keep sharing. I teach Bible studies, I teach Sunday School, I teach my Wednesday Bible class to quilt if they want. I started them. I had a small group, and one lady Sunday told me that she was working on some little thing. I had about six ladies who finished a full-size quilt.

ES: This is at your church where you are teaching? And you do the Bible study in the same room?

KL: Yes.

ES: Do you keep track of what you've made?

KL: Unfortunately, no. I have pictures of some, but I am not a journalistic person. I keep journals about a lot of things, but I fall short.

ES: There are only a certain number of things you can do in a day.

KL: Yes. [laughs.]

ES: Do you have a least favorite thing about quilting?

KL: The least favorite thing, I think, is putting the binding on. [laughs.]

ES: Have you designed any of your own patterns?

KL: Unfortunately, no. I have tweaked other patterns, but I have not designed any.

ES: What is your preference on patterns? Traditional, geometric, appliqué?

KL: I like to try them all.

ES: Do you feel that you've been self-taught?

KL: Yes. The good thing about being in Daughters, there's always somebody there to help you. If there is a technique that you're not quite sure about, you can always find someone who's willing to help you. And I like learning new things.

ES: It is a great opportunity to have this group.

KL: Oh, yeah.

ES: Well, if there is nothing else you want to say, we'll just leave it here.

KL: All right.

ES: Thank you very much for sharing and good luck to you.

KL: All right.

It is 10:17 a.m.


“Karen M. Love,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2136.