Janis Ludwig




Janis Ludwig




Janis Ludwig


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Janis Ludwig


Battle Creek, Michigan


Nancy Wilkinson


Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. This interview is being conducted for South Central Michigan Q.S.O.S., a project for The Alliance for American Quilts. Today, I'm interviewing Janis Ludwig at the Art Center in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today is February 9th, 2011, and the time is 10:10 a.m. Let's start out by talking about the quilt that you brought in today.

Janis Ludwig (JL): Well, this is a quilt, it's a Card Tricks quilt, but you don't have Y-seams. I made it in a class that.

Becky Green taught at spring camp and it's the most challenging quilt I've ever done because we had to, we put our blocks together, they had to go in a rotating fashion so that the designs rotated around in a circle. So that was challenging for me because I'd never done anything like that before.

EW: It's always nice to meet a new challenge, isn't it?

JL: Um-hmm, it certainly is, that's where you learn--every new challenge.

EW: Does this quilt have any other special significance for you?

JL: No, not really, it's just, I like the colors. I picked the purple; I'm going to call them apple blossoms first and then I had to find things to go with it, so--

EW: Then that is the challenge, the fact that it was your most challenging thing is why you chose it for today?

JL: Right.

EW: What do you think that someone viewing this quilt might think of you?

JL: That I like color. That I enjoy challenges. I guess that's all, I can't think of anything else.

EW: How do you use this quilt?

JL: I use it when I watch TV. It sits on the living room couch and when I get cold, I put it on to watch TV and when I'm knitting or doing a project I'll either wrap it around my shoulders or put it on my lap and cover it up like that.

EW: And do you have any special plans for this quilt?

JL: I'm going to keep it, [both laugh.] that's my special plan.

EW: Let's talk a little bit about your interest in quilt making. How did quilt making come about for you?

JL: Well, I've always liked to sew and I had a great-grandmother who made quilts and I sort of got tired of making clothes and things like that and so I thought, well I'm going to try quilt making. And so, a year before I retired from teaching, I started going to guild meetings and got really involved in the guild and then started making quilts.

EW: And was that a long time ago, or--

JL: Oh no, I've only been, let me see, I've been retired for seven years, so it's only been eight years, so, like 2004, 2003.

EW: Did you have teachers? How did you learn to quilt?

JL: Well, my very first lessons were from Dorothy Weeks when she could teach them at JoAnn Fabrics, that was my first experience with that. And then I did take a couple classes from The Quiltery that Lynne Evans had and then when I started going to guild at spring camp, and when they offered workshops.

EW: Okay. How many hours a week do you quilt do you suppose?

JL: Well, it depends on what I have to do. Probably not very many, most weeks, probably two to three. I like to piece the quilts; I don't like to quilt them. I've got a lot of UFOs that need to be quilted. But probably, two to three, sometimes more depending on if I'm working on a special project.

EW: Now, you're counting in the time that you'd spend piecing?

JL: Oh, yeah. It's all piecing, it's not quilting.

EW: Ah, okay. Think back, you said your grandmother--

JL: My great-grandmother.

EW: Your great-grandmother was a quilter. Think back and find your first quilt memory.

JL: I guess it would be when we as young children would go to my great-grandmother's, and she'd have this big black frame over her dining room table, and she would have a quilt stretched on it and--

EW: Did she have a lot of quilts down there?

JL: You know, I never knew that, and I wish I could have gotten one of her quilts, but I never did. I think she gave a lot of them away. You know, she didn't keep them for herself either. She gave them away.

EW: Were there any other quiltmakers in your family?

JL: Well, apparently my grandmother on my dad's side was a quilter and I didn't know that until, oh I was in high school or after high school, she gave me a top that she and her sister had pieced together.

EW: How cool.

JL: And so then I gave it or sent it to a church group over in St. Joseph, Michigan because I knew the son of one of the people over there and they hand quilted it for me. So, I do have the top of a quilt that my Grandmother Ludwig quilted.

EW: Well, that's nice to have, isn't it?

JL: Yeah, yes, it is, it's very nice.

EW: How does quilt making impact your family?

JL: I don't know how it impacts my family. They've all gotten one, except for one sister and I've got to make her one. I guess they like it, they, they've not really said much about it.

EW: It doesn't affect, well, now your children are grown.

JL: Well, I don't have any children. Yeah, I don't have any children, so that, yeah.

EW: So, that, your time is pretty much your own?

JL: My time is my own, yep.

EW: Isn't that a wonderful thing?

JL: It's wonderful. I can do what I want to. [chuckles.]

EW: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

JL: Probably not, no. No, I don't think so.

EW: Have you had ever had any amusing experiences involving quilting?

JL: Hmm. Amusing experiences. Not that I can recall right offhand. Other than when I've made a mistake and thought how dumb that was.

EW: And have you taught quilting? [pen rolls on tabletop.]

JL: No. I did, in a way, it wouldn't be quilting, but in the first-grade math book that the Lakeview School District taught, they have a book on triangles and squares. And so, I went in and gave presentations to these first graders in how you put triangles and squares in different shapes together to make a quilt block. And then they would then do that with

construction paper.

EW: What a nice thing to do.

JL: So, I did that for several years after I retired.

EW: So, you introduced them to quilt making.

JL: I introduced them to quilt making, yeah.

EW: Who knows what will come from that.

JL: That's right. [chuckles.]

EW: What do you find especially pleasing, you've said that you like to do the piecing part, and is that your most pleasant part of quilt making?

JL: That is the most pleasant part of quilt making. I am not one to sit there and hand quilt. To me, for me, maybe if I had more practice, it's too time consuming for me.

EW: It is definitely time consuming.

JL: Yeah, and I would just as soon send it out, have somebody else do it, so that I could do something else and not have to sit there and do that.

EW: So, would you say that that hand quilting process is your least--

JL: It would be my least favorite.

EW: --favorite?

JL: My least favorite. I am doing a little more appliqué than I used to do, so I'm getting some more appliqué practice, but not quilting practice, so I just, it's not my cup of tea.

EW: When you send your quilts out, do you make the sandwich, do you baste the quilt before you send it?

JL: No, I just give them the top and all the pieces and they put it together.

EW: And then do you bind it or do you--

JL: I bind it, no I bind it, yeah. I do the binding. Yeah. I sort of enjoy the hand binding it.

EW: Well, it's kind of a finishing up process.

JL: Yes, it is. Yep, umhmm.

EW: Let's talk about what art or quilt groups you might belong to.

JL: Well, other than the Cal-Co Quilt Group, [Cal-Co Quilters' Guild, Battle Creek, Michigan.] I belong to the Spring Chixs Circle, and they meet every Friday morning and those are the only two.

EW: That's quilting. Are there any other--

JL: That's quilting.

EW: Are there any other arty groups that you belong to?

JL: No. Just those two.

EW: What advances in technology do you think have been important in quilting?

JL: Oh, gosh. Well, I would think the computer-generated quilt, you know, they can put their design right on the computer.

EW: Have you done anything--

JL: No, I've not done any of that, anything like that, I've not done anything technology related with--

EW: I bet you use the rotary cutter.

JL: I use the rotary cutter, you betcha. [both laugh.] Oh, yes, I use the rotary cutter. That is a life saver.

EW: It really is. We talked about your favorite technique which is currently piecing. What about the materials that you like to use? [sound from another room.] Do you lean toward any particular type?

JL: Just, you mean like cottons?

EW: Well, whatever the fabric is made of, or a batik, or gingham, or--

JL: I usually just stick to calicos and flannels. Those are the two, I mean, I do some with batiks, but I don't zero in on it.

EW: You talked about using the little apple blossom print on the border of it and that led you to choosing the rest of your--

JL: Right.

EW: --fabrics from that. Do you generally work with an inspiration fabric to start a quilt?

JL: Probably, yes. I'll find a piece that I really like and then try to go through my stash and see if I can find some more things that will go with it.

EW: But you always have to buy something.

JL: Right. Before I go to the fabric store and realize that I could have used this at home, so, I am trying to do that more. But yeah.

EW: It's always interesting how it's just never quite everything you need in your stash. [laughs.]

JL: No. Well, like I'm helping the hospital do a, I belong to the hospital quilt group. And we're doing a wall hanging for a third place and the border on the outside is greens with a green square in the middle, so I went through my stash, and I found 23 greens I could use.

EW: Wow.

JL: So, I was really pleased, they weren't very big pieces luckily, but I did find 23, so it's nice to go to that stash.

EW: That's why you have it.

JL: Yes, that's right.

EW: Do you ever just buy something because you like it--

JL: Yes.

EW: --not because you have a plan?

JL: Yes, I do. Because my mother always thought if you see a piece, you like buy it right then and there cause when you go back to get it it's not going to be there.

EW: I think she's right.

JL: So, I do buy. If I really see a piece that really draws me to it, I'll buy it and then think about what I'm going to do with it later.

EW: I think that's a smart thing to do.

JL: Yeah, it is a smart thing to do.

EW: Where do you do your quilting at home? Do you have a studio?

JL: No, I don't have a studio. I have a little sewing room. And, either there or I'll sit on the couch while I'm watching TV and do it.

EW: Okay. Oh, you piece by hand?

JL: No, I don't.

EW: [laughs.] Okay.

JL: But when I'm doing the binding or cutting out or something,

EW: And what kind of equipment do you have in your sewing room?

JL: I have a sewing machine. A good light. Iron. Ironing Board. All my tools for quilting, rotary cutter--

EW: Your stash.

JL: Well, some of my stash is in there. Some of it is upstairs. But, you know, just all the tools I need to quilt with.

EW: Do you use a design wall?

JL: You know, I never have. Never used a design wall. I know it's important, but I've never done one.

EW: Do you ever lay it out somewhere to--

JL: On my bed. I lay it out on the bed.

EW: And stand back and--

JL: And stand back and look at it.

EW: --see how it's working?

JL: Umhmm, umhmm.

EW: How do you balance your time?

JL: I just, because I don't really have any, not very many obligations, I just do whatever I want to do. So, someday I might work all day on the quilt and let everything else go.

EW: That's a wonderful option, isn't it?

JL: [laughs.] Yes, it is.

EW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JL: Oh, it has to be pleasing to the eye. And it's got to be, I've got to think about how I want to say this, it's got to be something that the quilter really likes and is proud of what they do, or what they did.

EW: And what goes into making it pleasing to the eye, do you think?

JL: Well, I think the right color combinations, or the right color contrast. Because sometimes you can get a quilt and there's one piece in there that doesn't quite go with the rest, and I think then that's a distraction to the quilt.

EW: And what about the design?

JL: Well, design, not so much. I don't think about it. I think more of the color because you can take any design and make it with different fabrics.

EW: Do you lean toward traditional designs, or do you have a preference?

JL: I probably lean more towards traditional ones. Easy ones. I still don't, not that good of a quilter, so I tend to do the easier ones still.

EW: Do you ever make up a design?

JL: Well, sometimes I do. I mean, I'll just put pieces together and I took a workshop with Carol Loessel and we had to make our own fabric, so in a way, just took scraps of fabric and put them together to make a fabric.

EW: So that's what you did, you put the scraps together and then you cut the pieces--

JL: Then you cut the pieces from that, yeah.

EW: That sounds like a fun project.

JL: Yeah, it was.

EW: It was using your scraps.

JL: Right.

EW: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JL: Oh, wow. Well, I would think the design of it, the colors that are in it, and you would have to take into consideration what it's meant to portray.

EW: What its purpose was?

JL: Umhmm.

EW: Do you think size matters?

JL: Not necessarily, no. Because a small quilt can be just as powerful as a big one.

EW: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JL: Ooh, wow, that's a toughie. I would think it would have to be the design would have to be sort of intricate. The quilting would have to be really good. And I think there might have to be some added detail that you might not expect to be in a quilt. I've seen quilts where they've had, where they've sewn on beads. But I think the workmanship is the most important thing.

EW: What do you suppose makes a great quiltmaker?

JL: One who enjoys what they are doing. And is willing to share their passion or artistic ability with others.

EW: And whose works are you drawn to?

JL: Do you mean by people that I know or--

EW: Anybody.

JL: Anybody?

EW: A national person or a friend or--

JL: You know I like them all, I mean I'm just always intrigued by Beth Payne's, Beth Howard, which one is she? Beth Howard's, her small ones. And then I think of all the ladies like, well, Joyce Rupp and Jean Champagne and even you, who do the applique stuff.

EW: Well, thank you for that.

JL: And then the art that we're getting more of the art quilts in and those are always neat.

EW: We are, aren't we?

JL: Yes.

EW: I think they're interesting.

JL: What they choose for their, what do I want to say, challenge piece? Like one year, didn't you do a zipper?

EW: I put a zipper in one--

JL: Okay, yes.

EW: --quilt, yes.

JL: But there's one thing that has to be in every quilt and how everybody puts that thing in their quilt differently.

EW: Those are fun challenges.

JL: Those are, yeah.

EW: Are there any artists, visual artists, that have influenced you?

JL: No, not that I can think of.

EW: How do you feel about machine quilting and hand quilting?

JL: Well, I envy those people who can hand quilt. I cannot hand quilt. Because I think it's beautiful when it's done. I think our machine quilters, not me, but our machine quilters do a wonderful job when they machine quilt.

EW: Do you ever do machine quilting yourself?

JL: No.

EW: Okay. Why do you think quilt making is important to your life?

JL: It gives me an opportunity to do something that I enjoy doing and to also help other people. I give a lot of my quilts away. I mean, I've sewn a lot for the Quilts for Kids, and I know that my work is going to help somebody who needs a little extra warmth or a little extra comfort.

EW: That's nice to do.

JL: That's nice. I enjoy doing that.

EW: What else has happened to the quilts that you have made?

JL: Well--

EW: You give them as gifts?

JL: I've given them as gifts. Two of my sisters have one. And I've given them a lot for baby showers. I've given them to the hospital. And we sell them to raise money to make other quilts, so that's basically what I've--

EW: Okay. Do you have a collection of quilts? Other than your own?

JL: No, I don't. Other than my, I have my grandmother's top, and my sister gave me one that somebody had tied, it's just a little lap thing and then I have one that I bought from Charitable Union when they were having a fundraiser. So, those are the only three that I have that I didn't make.

EW: Do you think that the quilt work that you do reflects your community or region in any way?

JL: No.

EW: It's just what you do?

JL: It's just what I do, yeah.

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

JL: I think quilts are very important because to me it's a labor of love. People do them because they enjoy doing it and they like to give them away, or most people like to give them away so that other people can enjoy them too.

EW: And what do you think quilts have in the way of meaning in the women's history of America?

JL: Oh, I think it tells a lot about what the women in all the different eras have done. Like with the pioneers when they just used scraps of fabric or worn-out clothing, put them together. They had to use them, you needed them then. Where now quilts, you don't really need them, they're nice to have.

EW: It's actually more expensive to make a quilt than it is to buy a blanket.

JL: Right, it is, yes, yes. It changes with the different eras of American history.

EW: In what ways do you think quilts can be used?

JL: Well, they can be used for warmth, they can be used to cover a table, they can be used for a tent, they can just be used on the wall for decoration, so, really, you can use it any way you wanted to.

EW: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? Do you think they should be preserved for the future?

JL: Well, I always feel that a quilt should be used. I don't like to see quilts just sitting around collecting dust. So, I would say use them, take good care of them, and hopefully they will survive.

EW: And how would you care for them?

JL: How would I care for them? I would wash them very carefully. Keep them out of the sun if at all possible. I guess that's it.

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

JL: The cost of fabric.

EW: And it's going up.

JL: It's going up. I heard a few months ago it's going up 300%.

EW: I heard that too.

JL: Yeah. And so, I mean the cost of fabric I think is a big drawback for many people for quilting.

EW: I think it's probably a challenge. We have reached the end of the questions on this list. Is there anything that you would like to add?

JL: No, not really, you've covered everything. I was a little nervous about this, but no--

EW: It came out alright?

JL: Yeah, it came out okay.

EW: We appreciate your taking the time to share your quilting experience with us and this is the end of our interview and

the time is now 11:34. Pardon me, it's 10:34. Thank you very much.


“Janis Ludwig,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2183.