Maureen Kampen




Maureen Kampen




Maureen Kampen


Alice Helms

Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Asheville, NC


Alice Helms


Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. Today is March 8, 2010. I'm conducting an interview with Maureen Kampen for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are at Maureen's house in Asheville, North Carolina and it is 1:45. Maureen, tell me about the quilt you brought today. ["Beauty in Survival".]

Maureen Kampen (MK): This is a quilt that's in a series of--when I started them I thought there were going to be thirty-one in the series but I think now, more realistically, there will probably be a dozen to fifteen. The middle section has a large photo which was taken from a photo that my daughter [Katie Thompson.] took and transferred onto fabric and I used a place in New York to have that transferred onto the fabric because it's too large for me to do on my printer. And then it's surrounded by a border that I've designed and in that border are pictures and words and information that bring the story of the woman who the portrait is of, so that the story can be read--snippets of her story at least--and these are stories that my daughter collected for a book for the Domestic Violence Coalition in Iowa and they're the stories of thirty-one women who are survivors of domestic violence and who are now going on with their lives. One of the comments I've received from so many people who see them say, 'But she's such a beautiful woman I can't believe that she could be abused.' As though it's only people who have a certain look that get into domestic violence situations. So these quilts eventually will be used either as adjuncts to quilt shows like having six of these quilts as an adjunct to your quilt show, or will be used when someone from the Domestic Violence Coalition goes around to give a talk and will bring one or a couple of quilts. This is the third one now and the other two have traveled with my daughter to college campuses and malls, shopping malls, where they've set up a large display about domestic violence. And the quilts are nice because they really draw people in, as quilts do. It's a project that for me, has really given me a chance to feel like I have something really important to do, because I think these quilts do get that message out, between the look of the person in the quilt and the words associated with it. Maybe later in the interview I can just read some of the words that are in the border of this quilt. So it gives me something that I feel like I can kind of leave as a legacy and it gives me an impetus to get going in the morning and get something done, so I can get to my quilting.

AH: And how big is the quilt? The overall size.

MK: The overall size is about 42 [inches.] by 30. [inches.] Approximately. And the portrait in the middle itself is about 18 [inches.] by 26 [inches.], I think. They vary, but that's approximate. So that leaves room for about a six to eight inch border all the way around.

AH: And the other quilts in the series, are they the same size?

MK: Yes. They're all approximately--some are horizontal and some are vertical. There's another one over on the design wall that's just getting started and that's a horizontal one, where this one's vertical. For each of them, because I like doing different kinds of borders and different kinds of accents, so that's where I can try some of the things that I've wanted to do and I don't want to make a whole quilt using a particular design but that makes it fun to try new things.

AH: And how did you choose the fabric that you used for the borders?

MK: Well it kind of starts from the portrait. Now this woman for one thing, looks so elegant. She's kind of a tall woman with beautiful blond hair that she wears kind of straight and it's fairly long. She has pretty green eyes and then she has a black business suit on. So she looks very elegant and there was all this maroon background. So actually the main fabric that I used in the border was from some drapes I made for my daughter [laughs.] so they're kind of a deep gold with a red velour scroll in it. To me it looks like a sophisticated fabric. And then I bought some fabric that also has some kind of scroll-y stuff in it and it has some more colors with some purple and black and a green. So I was trying to just keep this quilt kind of elegant.

AH: Who decided what words were included?

MK: I have a copy of the book my daughter is writing based on each of these women's lives and so I go through it and read the story and then pick out lines that I think help give the whole story or at least lead you into wanting to hear the rest of the story. It's not designed to sell her book, but it's just designed to get people interested. For instance if they were in a mall and to say to whoever is in charge, 'So what finally happened to this woman?' Enough of the information so that they get a bit of her story and are interested in it.

AH: Was this your idea to make these quilts?

MK: It was. My daughter was here visiting and she had all these portraits that were on stiff board and she wanted me to make bags for them because when she took them around to these shows she was so afraid that they were going to get bent or scratched and all that and I said, 'They'd sure be a lot easier if they were quilts.' And from there then, I remember we sat up that night and thought, 'Oh, I would love to do this.' And she said, 'Oh Mom, would you really?' [laughs.] And so it just kind of went from there. And of course at that time I said, 'Yeah, I could do them all,' and then I said, 'Well, maybe fifteen,' and now I'm thinking, 'Maybe a dozen.' [laughs.] Because they take at least a month to do and I like to do other things also.

AH: So was it really about making them easier to transport, or do you feel that the quilt medium puts the message out there in a different way?

MK: Yeah, I think it's more of the latter. And this is what people have said who have seen them at shows and some of the people in the coalition say, 'Oh, it's just a perfect subject for a quilt.' Because a quilt you think somebody really cares and somebody's taking care of somebody and so it just has a message of its own in that way. And people love quilts. You know they love to see quilts, so those of us who love to make them, I think we're pretty lucky.

AH: So this will be taken around to various venues by your daughter, but what will happen to it ultimately when that's all over?

MK: I don't know what will eventually happen. You know it isn't the kind of quilt that--I don't think that the person themself will like to have. I don't know. I'm living in the present. [laughs.] For right now there's good ways to get them out. And I haven't tried yet but I think there will be quilt shows that like to have a little special display. Like they'll have a Kaffe Fassett display, and so they may like to have three or four or six quilts that are telling the story of domestic abuse survivors.

AH: Do you want to read what some--

MK. Okay. Yes.

[AH and MK speak at the same time.]

AH: --of the wording says?

MK: On each of them, I've asked the women to send me a picture, a childhood picture of themselves and I've asked them to send in any other pictures that they think might be significant. So in this particular one, I started out at the very top with some wording across the top border, the only part that has any wording, it says, 'I was seventeen and pregnant. I graduated with my class and stuck by my boyfriend.' And then there's a strip along the top, underneath the border and on the top of the picture that says--and this printing is done by putting fabric through my printer and having typed the words on the computer--so across the top it says, 'At first it was just the little things--a punch, a shove, hair pulling but that was before the knives and the fire bat.' So that kind of sets the tone of the abuse starting there. And then down the side, I have first a picture of her when she's about two years old, it's just a beautiful--I put the childhood pictures in black and white, because I think that way they kind of give you the message they're older, the picture's older. And so it's this endearing picture of this little girl pushing open a door, actually. And then underneath her there's a square in the border that says, and I'll have to get closer to read it, 'After about two years of abuse my dad, who always came when I called, stopped coming. He had seen it all before, when his father abused, I mean terribly abused, my grandmother.' So I thought that was significant, that this was a family that had seen abuse before. And then a couple of squares down, I've done a thing I've learned to do on my computer, which is kind of fun. Barbara Webster, who many quilters will know, has been coaching me some on doing these things. And here I used a spiral, off of the computer to print a spiral that says, 'I got a restraining order. Next day he breaks down my door. I get another restraining order.' And this is all going in a spiral form, if you can picture that. 'So the next day I get another restraining order. He ransacks my car. Another restraining order. And it went on and on and on. Just goes on and on and on.' So that's all printed in the spiral on there. Then we go down to bottom left corner and there's a picture of her hugging her daughter, a little girl of about two, that says, 'My precious daughter,' underneath it and that's in color. And then coming out from that picture are a couple strips that say, 'Three years later she told her counselor about witnessing the abuse. By then I'd forgotten the details. She remembered it.' And then there's a picture of the Iowa courthouse. And this was something that--I just thought the courthouse was so gorgeous, so I had this picture of it down there because it says above, 'I got a job with the governor of Iowa. It was a great job. But the abuse got worse, much worse. The state troopers helped me. They posted his picture at every door of the state house.' And then the last verbiage on here says, 'My co-workers were like family. They knew. They were patient. They were supportive. They took me to a counselor.' And then I've got in a piece that's outlined in gold, it says, 'They gave me courage. I left. I finally left and I left for good.' So that was in the bottom right hand corner as kind of a final statement. So it kind of gives you a sense of the path that the woman's life had taken and for all of them, their story ends with a very positive note. This is what gives other people courage also. And then I also ask them for a symbol that was meaningful to them, or two symbols. And she said the infinity sign and a rainbow were two symbols that were important to her so I did work the infinity sign up in that--there's a very large space kind of behind her head that's all this deep maroon color and I quilted in the infinity sign and used a little bit of paint to emphasize the middle part. And then I superimposed the state house on a picture of a rainbow, so there's a rainbow behind the state house. And I did ask the women also for their two favorite colors and if there was any color they really disliked because I didn't want to make the quilt and have--you know some people just cannot stand a certain color. And her colors were purple and I can't remember what the other one was, but I did manage to get some purple in and then mostly it's this maroon color just because the background was so maroon, so that kind of decided the color.

AH: Have you met this woman? Or, the other women?

MK: No, I haven't met her. No, I haven't met any of them. My daughter has, of course.

AH: But you've corresponded with them.

MK: I've done it through my daughter. I don't know why, but just for some reason I thought it's better that I have a medium there. I'm sure what that's about, but it just felt right. And it's been amazing, when I'm working on the quilt, [MK tears up.] I'll tear up. I just feel like I treat it with such respect because it's telling this very important story of these women who have just done a great thing in surviving so I'm just surprised how intimate it becomes when I'm working on these quilts.

AH: Have any of the women seen their quilts?

MK: Yes. The two that are out have seen theirs. And the very first one I did, when my daughter Katie was at a show in a shopping mall and it was up and she saw two little guys standing there, they were about eight or ten years old. And they were talking and looking at the quilt and so finally she went over and she said, 'Are you getting the story about this woman?' and he said, 'I'm explaining it to my friend because that's my grandpa's sister.' And he said, 'Boy we really think she was a brave woman.' So that was pretty special.

AH: Well that's wonderful. What a wonderful project.

MK: Yeah, it feels like a good thing to spend time on now that I have time to do this kind of thing.

AH: Okay, well why don't we move on to some of the other, more mundane subjects here? [AH and MK both laugh.] When did you first start making quilts?

MK: [laughs.]I started when I was living in Minnesota--probably about '78 or '80--and I had always been sewing and I had all this fabric and I thought, 'Well I'll learn to quilt so I can use up some of this fabric.' So when I went to the first quilt meeting, and was introduced and I said, 'I'm going to start quilting because I want to use up this fabric I've got.' And everybody laughed [laughs.] and I didn't know at the time why they laughed. But I know now because I have twenty--fifty times as much fabric as I did when I first joined that quilting group. And then once I went to that one I met a couple of people who were real avid quilters and I started to really enjoy it because I love color and I love the feel of the fabric and it was just something I loved doing.

AH: And where was this? Where were you living?

MK: I was living in Stillwater, Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis.

AH: And you joined a quilt guild?

MK: I did. And then we had a small group too that would meet more often and that was fun.

AH: And how did you learn how to quilt?

MK: Well, just because I knew how to sew, I guess I figured I knew how to quilt. And so it was just, at first just trying to get it to do what I wanted it to do and then later, in the last ten years, I started doing workshops, going to workshops and learning some of the techniques rather than doing it all by trial and error. And then there was another way I got involved with quilting, really I guess a pretty significant way. I love to write and during this time when I was living in Minnesota I was single, I was between marriages and I thought, 'I would love to write a children's book,' and I thought, 'I know I can write it, I just don't know how to market it.' So I thought, 'I'll try to think of something that would kind of market itself.' And I had a dentist friend and he said, 'Why don't you make books that I could have in my waiting room and that other dentists could, that talks about the dentist, you know, and I wanted to do it on the computer so it could be personalized and he said, 'Then you can put my name in it and you can put the nurse's name and whatever.' So I thought about that and then I got to thinking, 'I know. I'll write one that--' Oh, I'd gone to a quilt show and I saw all these people at quilt shows buying things from the vendors [laughs.] and I thought, 'That's what I'm going to do. I'll write a children's book about quilting and be a vendor and go to quilt shows and maybe I can make enough money to at least pay for my fabric and going to shows.' So that's what I did, I wrote a computer-generated children's book called, "Purple is Me." It just took each color and would say, 'Red is the exciting color. It's the color of fire engines and it's the color of maybe Aunt Sue, because she always does such exciting things.' And for each color, I'd take--the person who was buying the book could fill in what person's name could go in there. And so I went to quilt shows, I'd set up and people would come up and fill in the form that I had, you know--Red: list someone in your family who's exciting; Yellow: somebody who's--I can't remember what yellow was; Green: somebody who's growing, it could be a pet or a little brother. Anyway, I did that and they sold pretty well. I could do the book right there. People would come back after a half hour and it would be all printed up and they'd take it. And after I'd done a few of them, I'd gotten into the Paducah show as a vendor and my friend went with me and she was a real salesperson. I'd kind of sit back and say, 'Would you like to look at this?' and 'I could make you a book.' But she'd get out there and say, 'Come on. You got to get in here. Here's the author. Have your book made and it's going to tell about your family and this child will be the center of the book.' So we just sold them right and left and so the third day we were doing it she said, 'How long do you suppose it'll take us before we get a grandma crying this morning?' [laughs.] Because once they'd come back and get their book, they'd read it and start to cry. [laughs.] So we took bets. It usually took, not very long, first one back usually shed a few tears. So that was fun. And that was what really got me hooked on quilting because then I got to all the quilt shows, saw all the fabric. By then I was really accumulating fabric.

AH: How long did you do that? How many years were you--

MK: I did it for about three years and I would--after I got going I'd do it in the summers and once in a while I'd take a weekend during the year, because I was working for Head Start and traveling and was somewhat busy, certainly busier than I am now but I didn't have the kind of job that kept me tied down weekends and evenings and so on.

AH: Maureen, what is your first quilt memory?

MK: Let me just think a minute. Oh, I think it's probably going to an auction in Watertown, South Dakota with my mom maybe back in the fifties and they were selling some quilts--auctioning some quilts and they were going for like $2.00 and $3.00 and I bought a couple of the quilts and they were old quilts. One was a Sunbonnet Sue I remember and that's really my first memory.

AH: Did you have quilts in your house when you were growing up?

MK: We didn't have quilts per se. My mom sewed a lot and she'd make bedspreads but she would take upholstery or drapery fabric and make it from that, no quilting or piecing. The piecing is what I love the most.

AH: Do you have any quiltmakers among your family and friends?

MK: Certainly among friends because that has been probably my primary way of making friends as I've moved to different towns--is through the quilt guilds. [laughs.]Tell me your question again, Alice.

AH: Do you have quiltmakers in your family?

MK: Oh. Not in the family, no. I have quite a few family members who sew. I have three daughters and none of them sew. None of them can do anything with a sewing machine or by hand. So, it really hasn't been a family thing so much. I think it's come out of the fact that our family has always done a lot of sewing.

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

MK: Well in a way, these quilts, when I started I was feeling a lot of loss in having moved from Santa Barbara and I was really missing the ocean and my old friends and so on and so in that way, quilting has helped soothe a feeling of loss and it isn't so much that I sit with a quilt as I just work on a quilt. And like I said, working on these quilts, I feel a closeness to the person who I'm doing. So in that way, they're real comforting. My cats get a lot of comfort from quilting. [laughs.]

AH: Do you sleep under a quilt?

MK: No I don't. I made a queen-sized quilt but it's on the guest bed.

AH: What do you find most pleasing about quilting?

MK: Just having a way to express--a creative outlet. When I'm thinking of, 'Okay, how am I going to compose this quilt? How am I going to put it together?' Working the colors together. For me it's a real creative outlet and I just love that. And I find that I get really--well, no one's living with me now but I was going to say I get hard to live with if I can't do some quilting on a regular basis. But I get real crabby if I can't get some of that sort of thing done on a regular basis.

AH: And what aspects of quiltmaking do you like the least?

MK: I guess the very ending of it when everything's got to be--just like the one hanging in front of us right now. I just had to tear off part of the border because it just wasn't hanging right and those final little bits at end--you're ready to be done and you love what it looks like but you can't get the last little details done. But that's partly the way I work. I like to do the big slapdash stuff and then when it comes to details [laughs.] I'm not quite as patient as I am with the other stuff.

AH: Tell me the quilt groups you belong to.

MK: Okay, well right now I belong to the Asheville Quilt Guild, which is a large guild of about 350 people and we meet monthly and have speakers that we bring in and sometimes do activities at some of our meetings and I really love that and I've made a lot of friends through that group and then I belong to a bee which is about eight to ten people that meet together every other week in each other's home and we just sit and stitch and talk and solve problems for a couple hours. So both of those are really great.

AH: Describe your studio, your quilting studio.

MK: I'm very lucky. In fact it's why I bought the house. I was going to move after my husband had died. I had to leave Santa Barbara [California.]; I just couldn't afford to stay there. And so I wasn't sure where I was going to move and my brother lived in Asheville and I came down to visit him and he wanted to take me out and look at houses because I thought I might move here. So by the end of the day, he brought me to this house that he'd really liked and it was empty so we walked around it and I saw this large room on the back that was all windows and I said, 'Oh, there's my quilting studio.' It happens also to be a two-story house with four bedrooms and four bathrooms [laughs.] which--I live here alone. So I had found this wonderful studio, we found a realtor to come show it to us the next day and I decided to move to Asheville and buy the studio that had a house with it. [laughs.] And it's probably--how big would you say that is Alice?

AH: I don't know.

MK: Twenty--

AH: By twelve, maybe?

MK: Twenty by fifteen? Anyway, it's big and it opens on windows on one side to the back yard and then on the other side it opens to the living room and just--I guess if I were probably living with a family in here that might be a problem but when it's just me I don't mind if everybody sees the mess in the studio. It has hardwood floors and it has my desk for the computer because I do a lot of computer-generated pictures and things and words on the quilts. And there's lots of room for the fabric and of course the fabric now has spilled over into the bedroom upstairs and the cedar chest in the basement. So I didn't achieve my goal of starting to quilt to use up my fabric. I now have it in every corner of the house.

AH: And you have a design wall?

MK: Oh yes. A big design wall which is really great and I just kind of made that myself. I took a window screen that was in the basement and put a real thick piece of cardboard over it and tacked it to the wall and covered it with a couple layers of flannel and it works great.

AH: And you use that a lot?

[both speak at once.]

MK: I use it constantly. Yes. In fact usually I have another piece of flannel hanging where this quilt that we're talking about today is hanging now. So I can have two going at a time.

AH: You obviously use technology in quilting but you've been quilting for thirty years, so that has come gradually to you.

MK: Yes. Yes.

AH: How did you feel about taking that aspect of quilting on?

MK: I'm trying to think of how I got started doing that. Oh, I think what it was, was I was making some placemats--Alice will laugh because she knows I make placemats for everyone--about five years ago I was making some placemats for my granddaughters, actually for my daughter and her two daughters and the granddaughters at that time were working on their SATs and so I took fabric and I looked up which were going to be some of the SAT words on the test and I wrote them and then transferred them on to the fabric so every time they looked at the placemats, they would see these words on their placemats and that was when I was first learning to do it because on words, if you are doing it using the technique where you print it and then it's on this special paper that you iron on to your fabric, which I don't do anymore, but I was at that time, you end up with them backwards. So I made the girls' looking right, so they could read the words; decided for their mom, she needed a placemat too so I put all the words that were backwards on her placemat. [laughs.]

AH: A little more challenging.

MK: To make it more challenging, yes. So that was how I got started using the words and now almost every thing I do has either pictures or words or some kind of printing from the computer.

AH: And most of those you print out yourself from your own computer.

MK: Right.

AH: But not these large photos.

MK: Not the large ones. Right. But the others I do. Usually I have about five of each picture by the time I'm done because I'll print it once and think, 'Oh why didn't I make a little bit more--one thing or another. Do it again.'

AH: And do you use a special printer--

MK: It isn't really a special printer. I used the one I had but then when I got a new printer, I had taken a workshop from--I can't think who it was now--but she said, 'Get a printer that doesn't fold your paper over, that just slides it through.' And so I got the Epson printer which not only does it not fold the paper, or the fabric over that goes through, but also it has three cartridges for the color that you put in, plus it's pigment, rather than ink.

[both speak at once.]

AH: Oh.

MK: So it's more permanent.

AH: Okay, moving on, what do you think makes a great quilt?

MK: Well let's see. Part of it is certainly that it catches your eye and that you want to keep looking at it, like Alice brought something over today that was made with old and new fabric and it just catches your eye because of the way she's used the colors and also the fact that part of it is old fabric and part of it is new and it just keeps you looking at it. First it catches your eye, then it keeps you looking at it because there's something with special interest there. And for me, what catches my eye the most, is either color or unusual shapes. Like I love using illusions, geometric shapes like the tumbling block and that sort of thing.

AH: What makes a great quiltmaker?

MK: I don't know. I've wondered that because I see these people in our guild that produce so much good, good quilting and I think, 'How do they do that?' Most people say it's patience. I think that makes a good quilter but not necessarily the good, good quilter. They've got to have something else. It seems like a lot of people either have art training or are just kind of natural artists. Then you come out with a really great quilt.

AH: Are there certain quilters or artists who have influenced your work?

MK: Well I mentioned Barbara Webster. She certainly has. She's the one who lives very near Asheville here, up in the mountains, does a lot of photo transfer sort of things that are gorgeous. A lot of people. I look at the books I've bought, written by these different quilters and I realize--for me to buy a book, I really have to feel like there's going to be something special there and for so many of these people they really do such special things.

AH: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

MK: Well I love to machine quilt and I like the look of it but I also like the hand quilting. I'm not very good at it. For me, it isn't the relaxing, great feeling when I'm done with it like it is with machine quilting. But I like the looks of both of them and I've been kind of put off by some people who have said, 'Oh, well. If that isn't hand quilted I'm not even going to look at it.' I feel like machine quilting has great merit also.

[pause for 8 seconds.]

AH: Have you made quilts and given them to friends and family?

MK: Yes, I've made quilts for a few family members and I have one promised to my son as soon as he marries the woman he's living with. [laughs.] And my grandchildren. The very first quilt, big quilt, I made was for my daughter's expected twins and I didn't know at the time they were going to be twins, but I was so slow at it by the time it was finally finished I said, 'The twins will have to share it.' Which they did.

AH: Do they still have it?

MK: Oh yes. And I've made some for my daughters. Usually I don't make bed quilts. Usually I make more like wall hangings and maybe that's because I just don't like to stay at one thing that long. And then I do a lot of things like placemats and little things like that, that I just love to do because you start them in the morning and you've got them done by night, so that's kind of fun. And there I like to work with the color and the scraps that I have. So those I use a lot as gifts.

AH: Have you ever sold a quilt?

MK: Well, I did sell one quilt. I never tried much to sell quilts. And then I did an exchange with an artist in town for a piece of furniture for a quilt. And I think I've told Alice this but he really liked it and he said he was going to send me a picture of it so I could see how nice it looked in his house and when he sent me the picture, he had it hanging upside down. [laughs.] It took me a couple days to decide if I should tell him that it was upside down but I finally did tell him and he said, 'Well I was kind of disappointed that there wasn't a way to hang it,' and I said, 'Well there was if you'd look on what you thought was the bottom, there's a sleeve.' [laughs.]

AH: Okay Maureen, we're just about at the end of our time. So I'm going to say thank you and this concludes our interview and it is now 2:28.


“Maureen Kampen,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,