Kimmy Brunner




Kimmy Brunner




Kimmy Brunner


Jodie Davis

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Handi Quilter, Inc.


Providence, Rhode Island


Cori Heacock


Jodie Davis (JD): Good. I'm Jodie Davis. Today is April 15th, 2010, and it is - what time is it?

Unknown person (UP): Three forty-five.

JD: 3:45. And I'm conducting an interview with Kimmy Brunner for Quilters' Save Our Stories, Quilters' S.O.S., a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. We are in Providence, Rhode Island at the Machine Quilters Association. Kimmy, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Kimmy Brunner (KB): The quilt I brought today I bought on eBay. I do not do hand appliqué and I've always wanted a Dresden Plate quilt and I knew I would never in a million years make one, so if I was going to have one, I was going to have to buy it. Bought it on eBay, got it home, it was nothing like the picture had shown [JD gasps.] It was a train wreck, that is why the name is "Train Wreck Dresden Plates". [JD laughs.] Took it out of the box and went 'wow, that's not like the picture at all'. It became my mission to save that quilt and just kind of resurrect it from its train wreck status to normal quilt status. It was fun. I love it, I love that quilt.

JD: Well, that explains it because when you opened it, I know I've seen your other quilts and the quilting looked right, but definitely not the pattern.

KB: Yeah, it was not, um not fabrics I would have chosen. It was extremely interesting to work on, because you could watch her, you could watch the quiltmaker, I have no clue who she was, when she made it, where she was from, nothing. It was obviously extremely old, it had been shoved in a closet or an attic, it smelled like an attic from grandma's house. There were stains, water stains and tears and I think areas where mice had chewed into it--

JD: Oh--

KB: The blocks are all of very old fabrics, little bits of pajamas and aprons and feed sacks, and one block where she bought all new fabrics. I watched her get better as she moved through the blocks. I watched her stitches get smaller, I watched her learn to be a good hand appliquer as I moved through the quilt, and when she finally got to her last block, she bought new fabrics, and she added a block out of her new fabrics. It was very fun for me and when it came to me it was just a top, no borders, no nothing, so, I went out and got the borders and quilted it to cover the stains. I want to you to look at it and see the quilt, but not look closely enough to see the scars that it bears--

JD: Oh, uh huh.

KB: I want you to just see that her quilt is done. It still has no binding and I figured it took her probably 40 years to get it quilted so I'm sure she's not in a hurry to get it bound. [laughter.]

JD: Join the crowd I have four at home.

KB: Yeah, me too.

JD: So, what special meaning does this quilt have for you?

KB: I really loved being able to bring it from trash to treasure. I love being able to turn sow's ears into silk purses. And I just I felt - it was like I could almost feel her watching me as I got it done, and really the most meaningful part about it to me is I took it from a cardboard box in an attic where it had been forgotten and I brought it back out and made it a quilt. And I just thought, you know what, that was the coolest quilt I ever made so--

JD: Wow, wow.

KB: --even though I didn't make it. [laughs.]

JD: And the connection with the eBay that you never would have--you know, whenever she made that she would never think that it would [inaudible as KB speaks over her.]--

KB: No, and her grandchildren, had they not sold it on eBay probably would have thrown it out and I'm glad that it's done. I'm glad that the work she started is done. And--

JD: A tribute to a woman you'll never know who she is [inaudible as KB speaks over JD.]--

KB: Yeah, I have no clue who she is.

JD: Yep, and why did you choose this one, especially because I know the work you do.

KB: It reminded me of my grandma. It was fabrics from my grandma's time period. It was a quilt my grandma would have made. It was a quilt I would have found at her house. So--

JD: So is it like you connected the generations through --

KB: Yeah, it was kind of like working on grandma's quilt.

JD: Oh neat [laughs.]--

KB: So, it was cool. It was fun. It was a really fun to work on. Whenever I got frustrated, I just thought how much grandma would have loved it if this had been her quilt, if it was getting finished and that's what kept me going, even when I was thinking oh you know what, this belonged in the box in the attic [laughs.] and it should go back there.

JD: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

KB: That I'm crazy for doing this quilt. [laughter.]

JD: That's a good thing.

KB: Well, I hope they would conclude that I care enough about really old quilts to do what I can to keep them alive and not throw them away and just say 'well it's garbage, it didn't turn out the way that it should have, so it's garbage now'. I would hope that that's what they would think.

JD: Neat. And what are your plans for this, other than binding it? [laughter.]

KB: Yeah, that's my plan; get a binding on it eventually. Right now, it hangs in my sewing room, I see it all the time. I look at it every day, so that's where it will stay. It, well, I've got a great big hanger and it's there every day so--

JD: I noticed, didn't you put on the questionnaire that you don't sleep under a quilt?

KB: No, we have dogs who sleep on the bed--

JD: Oh ok--

KB: and I don't want dogs to rip quilting out of quilts. So, quilts at my house are in places where dogs can't lay on them.

JD: Ok, that - that explains it. I'll buy that. These questions are about your involvement in quilt making--

KB: Mmm.

JD: Tell me how, tell me about your interest in quilt making.

KB: I'm a three and a half generation quilter. --

JD: You're kidding--

KB: My great-grandma was a quilter, and she taught my - she was the seamstress in their county that you went to if you wanted your wedding gown or your christening gown - and she taught my grandma and my grandma's sister how to sew by teaching them nine patches, how to quilt, how to piece nine patches. So, grandma was a quilter, too, she was a hand quilter, and she tried to teach my aunt, and she tried to teach my dad, and neither one of them would go for it. So, I am the one whose picking up the reins of quilting in our family, that's why I'm kind of a three and a half generation. [laughter.] Sort of a third generation.

JD: Okay, okay.

KB: Great-grandma, grandma, nobody, then me.

JD: [laughs.] Okay, I get you. And at what age did you start?

KB: I pieced when I was little. Grandma taught me how to do crocheting and knitting and tatting and everything when I was little, and quilt making as well. And then I wasn't very interested in it. It seemed like an old lady thing to do--

JD: Yeah--

KB: So, I put it away until I was 30, and then I picked it up again.

JD: And what at 30--

KB: My grandma was getting Alzheimer's [JD gasps.] She could not quilt anymore, and she had always talked about how important it was. She taught all her sisters-in-law to quilt when she was a young wife. And she had just like - she called it corrupting our whole family. She corrupted everyone; she turned them all into quilters. [JD laughs.] And I knew that it would make her very sad if no one else in our family was quilting so when Alzheimer's started to take her, that's when I started quilting so there would be a quilter in our family. I thought I would just make a couple of quilts and, you know, say 'look Grandma, I did it', and look what happened after that. [JD laughs.] So- She got me started.

JD: Well, she gave you a great gift.

KB: She did. She really did. She would piece, my grandma and my great-aunts would all get together. There'd be a quilt on the frame and they'd all hand piece and hand quilt and I just thought, you know what, that's part of our family. I'm not going to let that slip away, so--

JD: And look where it took you--

KB: I just kept it going. Yep. [laughs.] Yeah, all the way to Rhode Island. [both laugh.]

JD: How many hours a week do you quilt?

KB: I don't quilt as much as I want to, but I'm working more than full time on quilt related things all the time. Everything that I do is quilt related. My business, I mean everything that I do is quilt related, so even if I'm not actually quilting, I'm working on quilting stuff.

JD: Yeah, because you do, you teach--

KB: Mmm

JD: And there's a lot of not just the teaching, but the travel and all the bookkeeping and everything. --

KB: Mmm, and making up the classes--

JD: Yep--

KB: making up the samples for the classes--

JD: Yep--

KB: photographing, running a business, making DVDs, doing books, writing articles. Everything that I do is quilt related. So, 80 hours a week probably [JD says 'yeah, you're not alone' over KB.] quilt related stuff. [laughter.] It's wonderful. I could have a real job, you know, work at a dentist's office or something [JD laughs.] I'd rather do this.

JD: Absolutely. What is your first quilt memory?

KB: Quilts at grandma's house. Sleeping in the spare room, across the hall from her room, under a pile of quilts. The colder it was outside - because they had a drafty old, old, old farmhouse, where even in the winter the winds would just come whipping through, and we would sleep under so many quilts that you couldn't turn over in the night because you were so packed in [JD squeals.] with quilts. So, I grew up with quilts piled on me.

JD: I'm jealous. That's wonderful.

KB: It's great, it's a great way to grow up [JD says 'it's perfect' over KB.] On a farm with a quilting grandma. [laughter.]

JD: Okay, and we know that there are other quiltmakers in your family, but currently are there any others in your family?

KB: No, I'm the only one.

JD: Okay. How does quilt making impact your family?

KB: They love it. I mean they just- I make quilts for my nieces and my sisters, my mom, I make quilts for everybody. I have astonishingly few quilts in my house for someone who makes as many quilts as I do. I make them and I give them away. I mean I just--

JD: You have a lot that are at shows--

KB: Yeah

JD: So, you must keep quite a few.

KB: Yeah, yep, mhm. But I love giving them away. I love going into the store, and taking a fabric and thinking mom would like this, and making a quilt for mom, or my sister, or my niece, or whoever. I like the whole process, knowing that this is going to go to someone else in the end. I love giving them away.

JD: Yep [laughs.] Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

KB: Oh yeah, I have had cancer twice--

JD: [gasps.] You have?

KB: Yep, and the first time, I had chemo and radiation for a year, and I was just as sick as a dog, and that was when Grandma was getting quite bad with Alzheimer's and we couldn't tell her that I was sick because it would have, she, when you have Alzheimer's sometimes you don't remember what's happening to someone else and what's happening to you. And we were afraid that she would become confused and think that she had it, and we didn't want her to be afraid. There was enough going on. So, I never told her and I, it would have been nice when I was really sick to tell her and to talk to grandma and have grandma make me feel better, but I had one of Grandma's quilts that she had made that still to this day smells like her house, it's um--

JD: does it?

KB: it does. I, it does. I keep it in a box, so no other smells can pollute it. It has an old wool batting, or a wool blanket for batting, and that's sucked in all the smell of her house, so it still smells like Grandma's. And when I was really sick, I would get this really ugly purple and green quilt out and wrap up in it and it was like Grandma was there. [JD says 'that's something over KB.] Because I was laying under my quilt. And I had to be really careful not to get sick on it so [laughs.] so it was a good quilt. It was a very good quilt.

JD: Congratulations getting through the cancer--

KB: Yeah, I'm not dead, so that's good.

JD: Yeah, oh. Now we'll turn to something more fun [both laugh.]

KB: Yeah. That was fun, it was a good quilt [JD speaks over KB, inaudible.] It was a very good quilt.

JD: Tell me an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making or teaching or--

KB: Oh lordy, there's so many--

JD: I bet, you could write another book, right?

KB: Oh, I could [laughter.] I had a purse that was [JD says 'oh I know this one' over KB.] really awful green. It was awful green, and it had a pink lining and I thought it was really pretty. It was, you know, right now everybody's wearing pink and green all the time, but this was, whoops, when pink and green first really started coming out and I bought a purse, it was like an old retro style handbag and I brought it to MQX, as a matter of fact. And my friend, Carol, saw it and said it was the ugliest purse she had ever seen in her whole life. I said, 'it's beautiful'. She said, 'no, it looks like Ruth Buzzi would have it on "Laugh In" [JD laughs.] and would hit that little guy on the tricycle with it--

JD: Oh yes--

KB: And I challenged her, just to get her to stop teasing me about my purse, I challenged her to make a quilt that was pink and green. And I said, 'I am a better quiltmaker than you' and she said, 'no, I'm a better quiltmaker than you', and I said, 'well then whoever makes the best pink and green quilt, we will know who is the best quiltmaker and also who has the best taste in colors'. So, we started out, it was going to be just a funny little wall hanging that would be like 24x24. We would hang it in MQX, and wouldn't it be funny, everyone would laugh that we made these pink and green quilts. Two weeks later the phone rang, and it was Carol saying, 'do you know what the wall hanging requirement is for Paducah?' And that's when I knew that you should never challenge anyone who's more competitive than you to do anything. We went from these funny little wall hangings that would take maybe a weekend to make; we both made show quality quilts. Pink and green and black and white. We had really strict rules. You had to have pink and green, but if you didn't like pink and green you could have different colors, that was our strict rule number one. [JD laughs.] Strict rule number two was you had to have black and white fabric unless you didn't feel like it, then you didn't have to have black and white. You could put on crystals if you wanted to, unless you didn't want to. Those were our three strict, very strict rules. And the fun part was we, we shared nothing as we went through the process--

JD: Oh--

KB: We told each other nothing, and our quilts were almost identical when we were done. [JD says 'you're kidding' over KB.] We hung them, they were hung side by side at MQX. We had quilted them the same way, we had used many similar fabrics, I did a spiral lone star with mariner's compass points around it, and she did a mariner's compass. It was eerie how much alike they were. It was as if we had made them together and yet we told each other nothing the whole time.

JD: And do you both normally make mariner's compasses?

KB: No, we don't, so we tried, we tried new things and we tried the same things and we never discussed anything. So, it was hilarious, I mean it just got way out of hand, and it was hilarious. I have mine hanging on the wall in my sewing room and she has hers hanging on the wall in her sewing room. She won one more ribbon with hers than I did [JD laughs.] so she's a better quilter than I am. I will say Carol Selepec is a better quilter than I am because [inaudible as JD speaks over her.]

JD: But there's always next time--

KB: Next time. [JD laughs.] Next time I'll win more ribbons. I am better than she is.

JD: Great story. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

KB: Everything. [laughter.] Everything. There is- everything except binding, that's the only thing that I don't like about it. I don't like binding. I think because it means the quilt is done, and I'm not working on that quilt anymore, and I don't want, I never want to stop working on them. So--

JD: It's like finishing a real good book?

KB: Yeah, I don't want to put it down. So, none of my quilts have bindings. [laughter.] They're all just naked little bare quilts.

JD: So, if you were going to put them in a show--

KB: Sure, or give them to someone, then I do have to give them a binding.

JD: What aspects of quilt making do you enjoy?

KB: All of it--I love the calm that it brings when I sit. I take over my entire kitchen table when I piece, I have this huge quilting room with - I've got a longarm and a mid-arm, and a huge desk, and this great studio, but when I piece, I piece in my kitchen in a [JD says 'really' over KB.] little tiny corner on an old 1941 featherweight, and it's sitting on top of a treadle featherweight that I, I don't use the treadle, but it's on, it's a featherweight on top of a featherweight in a little corner of my kitchen. I take over the whole table to lay out my stuff, and I just love the calm that comes from sitting in front of the window piecing fabric, and just thinking my grandma did this and my great grandma did this, and I'm at a treadle machine. My great grandma, no matter how many nice machines my family would buy her, she would never stop using her treadle, so I sit at a treadle even though I'm not treadling, and I put my foot pedal on top of the treadle and it's a connection to the past. I just love that calm and peacefulness.

JD: You, do you feel like you're with them?

KB: Sort of. I just feel like I'm carrying on a very important tradition in my family. So--

JD: And in the kitchen--

KB: In the kitchen--

JD: is the operative [inaudible as KB speaks over her.]

KB: Yeah, yeah, that's where grandma would have pieced, and that's where her mother would have pieced before her so-- We just can't eat at the kitchen table until the quilt is done [JD laughs.] we have to go somewhere else [JD speaks over her 'but you're so productive that's got to be--' inaudible.]

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

KB: I belong to our state guild, and I'm the president of our state guild. And then I belong to just a group of friends, and we get together and we go on two retreats a year, nothing planned, we just go away from our families for a weekend and quilt in our pajamas and don't wash our hair and eat pizza and have cocktails all the time, and then wonder why our seam allowances don't match up.

JD: [laughs.] And you don't care?

KB: [laughs.] Yeah, we don't care. I don't care.

JD: That's great. Have advances in technology influenced your work--

KB: yes--

JD: and how so?

KB: They influence my business because I've gotten into digitizing designs for computerized quilting systems, which did not exist until a couple years ago. I love that you can print your own fabric now on, you know, using your laser printer or your ink jet printer. I love playing with all the new stuff. I love that there are stitch regulators. I love that there are all these gizmos and gadgets on our domestic machines and our quilting machines. I know that there are some people who say, you know, quilting should just stay as it was and it should stay traditional, and I just think, my guideline is what would my grandma think, and I think, you know what, my grandma would think that this is cool. And she would be buying everything she could find, and I think all of our grandmas would feel that same way [JD says 'I do too' over KB.] They would all think it's great. So, I embrace it all. I think it's all just fun, and I look forward to seeing what's coming down the pike, because it's nothing but fun.

JD: Yep, yep. Tools. Just [KB says 'yeah, toys' over JD.] wonderful tools. --

KB: They're not even tools, they're toys. [JD laughs.]

JD: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

KB: I tend to prefer working with just cottons. I like piecing silks sometimes, but I like the old-fashioned cottons, 100% cotton. And I love, again, the old traditional chain piecing, don't like template piecing. But to me, the closer to old fashion when it comes to piecing, the better, although I do like trying new twisty stuff. You know, instead of a lone star, let's try a spiral lone star. I hate paper piecing the process, but I love paper piecing for the results that it gives me. But again, anything that's traditional I love it; I'm all for it.

JD: Excellent. You've already described your studio. Is there anything else you want to say about it?

KB: No, it's really fun. It's like Disneyland for grown-ups. [laughter.] Just go in there and go 'Oh look, fabric and thread everywhere'.

JD: Is it neat?

KB: No, uh [laughter.] You know, it's funny, it's messy when I'm creating because I throw fabric everywhere, but when I'm actually getting down to work, especially when I'm quilting, I cannot quilt in a messy room; everything has to be picked up and put away, and the only things that can be out are the tools that I'm using. Otherwise, I get too distracted by pretty colors and pretty threads and so during the creation process it looks like a bomb went off at the Crayola factory and then when creation is over it all gets put away and the quilting starts. so--

JD: I get it. I get it--

KB: I'm a slob. [JD laughs.] No, I don't care. [laughs.]--

JD: How do you balance your time?

KB: To me, what I do is all play. So, to me I don't worry about balancing, it's just all playtime. I play as much as I can, and I only work when I absolutely have to so [laughter.] and the rest is, it's all fun to me. So--

JD: We're lucky we get to do what we love--

KB: I know--

JD: that's what it is. Do you use a design wall?

KB: No, I don't. I had one in my old studio and never used it.

JD: Why?

KB: I can see a quilt in my head, and I don't need a design wall, so when I start making a quilt, I can see the whole thing in my head. I know which fabric is going where, I know how many blocks there's going to be, I know how many stop borders there are going to be, how wide they will be, what color they will be. I can see the whole thing in my head before I start--

JD: Really? Even in the process when you start putting it together there aren't surprises?

KB: No. I know what the quilt is going to look like.

JD: Really? Boy, you're good. --

KB: I thought everybody could do that until a couple years ago [JD laughs.] and then my friends were like 'well what?' And I thought, well boy, you can't do that? I can see it all. I have a friend who sees the whole thing in black and white. She sees the architectural aspect, she has the mind of an engineer, so she sees the layout. I just see the whole; I see the quilt. I start with the fabric, and I see the quilt, and I know what it's going to be and I just keep working putting pieces together until it looks the way I envisioned it to look.

JD: Very interesting. The next questions are about the aesthetics, craftsmanship, and design aspects of quilt making.

KB: Mmm.

JD: What do you think makes a great quilt?

KB: I like a quilt that lets you see who made it. I like a quilt that that shows you a little bit about the person who worked on it. I don't like quilts that are copies of other quilts that other people have made. I want to see a little bit about you. I want to see funky colors or maybe unusual fabric choices; I want to see unusual quilting choices maybe. I want to see who you are in your quilt. I don't just want to see a quilt that you saw in a magazine and went 'oh yeah, I'll make a quilt just like that one'. That's somebody else's quilt. I want to see your quilt. So, to me what makes a good quilt is when I can say 'that's Jodi's quilt and I can see Jodi in there'.

JD: Uh huh. Well, most people are afraid to do that, so how do we encourage them?

KB: I don't know, that's a really good question. I just always tell people, 'Don't copy someone else. Take their quilt and twist it a little bit and make it yours. Even if it's something as simple as changing the colors. You know if you see a quilt and you think it's pretty that's great, but don't just remake someone else's work. Choose your own favorite colors or your own favorite fabric, or insert piping where she didn't have piping or, you know, just do something, do something that makes it your quilt. Try something new, something that will make it yours.'

JD: Stretch yourself a little more.

KB: Yeah, exactly.

JD: Yep. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KB: Color. I like seeing color. To me the most powerful quilts are the ones that have a lot of color. And let me restate that, either a lot of color or no color at all. There are a couple quilts hanging in the show that we're at as a matter of fact, that are almost like old handkerchiefs, old linens, they're very colorless, and yet very beautiful. Their color choices are so subtle that they are striking. So, like one extreme or the other, either a lot of color that packs a huge punch, a lot of shading for example a Jinny Beyer quilt, a lot of play of light and darkness over a quilt. So, like I said, it's either one extreme or the other, very bland or very wow. I don't like much in between.

JD: So, it's color confidence really?

KB: Yeah, uh huh.

JD: The ability to use it. Yeah. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

KB: Again, to me a quilt that shows who made it and what were they, what was that quiltmaker living through when she made that quilt. For example, the Dresden Plates that I brought today, obviously it was the depression. She was hurting for money; you can see she couldn't afford to buy fabric. She cut up what she had, and she made it work. So again, just like I was saying before, a quilt that shows you who, who was she, the woman that made that quilt, and to me those are the quilts that belong in museums. Quilts that tell us something about the quiltmakers of the time, who came before us, and what they were like.

JD: The thing about that quilt is it needed, she needed, you to interpret it though.

KB: Yes, but she still started it, and I just tried to follow her.

JD: But you did, but by examining it because you took it and quilted it, you could see how her stitches, how she improved--

KB: Mmm, yep--

JD: That's an interesting point about a museum needs to be able to tell the story too.

KB: Yes, yep, tell how she learned how to piece--

JD: Yep--

KB: nobody was teaching her, obviously she was learning as she went along and using what she had, and that makes her, to me, that makes her a very interesting quilter in my eyes.

JD: Right, yep. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KB: And again, I think I would have to go back to a quilt that tells me who the quiltmaker was. I look at, for example, the work of Cathy Franks who is a really good, very innovative quilter. You can look at her quilts, they're art quilts, no question about it, but they tell you about Cathy. They tell you who Cathy is. She's got little fairies and little pixies and she's got beautiful flowers on lovely backgrounds. You look at her quilts and you see a work of art, and yet you see Cathy peeking out. I mean, you can almost see her standing behind that quilt peeking out at you. [JD laughs.] And that's, I think those are the best quilts. So those are the best art quilts. Some of them I find very confusing and others I just think oh yeah, I see who made that. [laughter.]

JD: What makes a great quiltmaker?

KB: Somebody--

JD: Did I just ask that?

KB: No, this is a new one. A great quiltmaker I think is somebody who is willing to take chances, try something new, try something that has never been done before, and show us how, show us your vision. Show us that you wanted to try something new and here's how you did it. Here's how you decided to express yourself. I think, and that goes for great artists of all kinds, somebody who's willing to go out and do something that not everybody else is doing and tell us a little bit about the process that they went through to do it. There's a quilt hanging in the show that I saw a slideshow of how she made it, and I love seeing other people's processes. I just think that makes you such a good artist, to share your work with us, show us what you did.

JD: Which artists have influenced you?

KB: Ronda Beyer, as a longarm quilter she's fabulous. I look at her quilts and I find them to be so pleasing. She is so good at taking traditional quilts and twisting them, and yet they're still quilts, they're not stiff art things that belong in a museum. They are still quilts. Dale Chihuly, who is a glass artist, I love his work. He uses color in ways that really influence me strongly in how I choose colors for my work. I have a lot of his postcards of his glasswork in my studio, and on days that I just feel like the creative wellspring has run dry, I have a DVD of his that I just pop in my DVD player and I watch him make glass with all these beautiful colors. And I think that, I think that other artists in other mediums can really inspire us, as long as we are willing to look at things through other people's eyes. I mean look at the world through a glass artist's eye, or a sculptor's eye, I think it inspires - at least it inspires me - I hope it would inspire everybody else too.

JD: Does Dale know that he inspires you?

KB: No, I just worship him from afar. [laughter.] I just think he's fabulous. I love him, he just doesn't know me yet. [more laughter.]

JD: You already answered the question of how do you feel about machine versus hand quilting.

KB: You know, if I knew I was going to live to be 500 years old, I would hand quilt, [JD laughs.] but I, right now, I don't think I'm going to be 500. So, it's all going to get machine quilted.

JD: Okay, this last set of questions is about the function and meaning of quilts in American life.

KB: Mmm

JD: Why is quilt making important in your life?

KB: It is a connection to the past. It is a way to bring calm and quiet into what is a really busy and confusing life sometimes. It's a way for me to show in a concrete "here is a gift for you" kind of a way that I love the person that I'm giving a quilt to. And you know, it's, to me it's more exciting than when I was in kindergarten and I had a box of 64 new Crayola crayons, you know, you just open the box and start playing, so it, it's very important to me.

JD: In what ways, if any, do your quilts reflect your community or region?

KB: I don't think they do. I really don't think so.

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

KB: I think they're very important. I think if you look at them from a historical aspect, they kept our ancestors warm as they came across the prairies and settled America. We were born with quilts, we died with quilts. They gave women of that era, and continuing today if you look at the Amish communities, they give women a way to express themselves. Even if you look 150 years ago a pioneer woman who worked her butt off all day long creating a place for her family to live, at the end of the day she could still create beauty by cutting up old clothes or old fabric and making, even though it was just going to be a blanket for her family, she could make it a beautiful blanket for her family. So, I think they're extremely important to American history.

JD: Mmm. Mmm. In what ways do you think quilts have special meanings for women's history in America?

KB: I think it goes back to what I just said about allowing women to express themselves, giving them a creative outlet in a life that may not have many creative outlets. I think they allow us to express what we're going through in a fabric form. We can comfort ourselves; we can lift ourselves; we can inspire ourselves. I think for women it was a way to connect with other women, you know, working in a quilting bee or being like Grandma and corrupting your sisters-in-law [JD laughs.] You know, having a way to draw your close women friends together and have friends and friends and family, loved ones in, in a relationship that revolves around an object.

JD: How do you think quilts can be used?

KB: However, you want. [laughter.] You can sleep under them or let your dogs climb on them if you want. However, you want. I know that there are people who treat their quilts as works of art and think that oh they should just hang on the wall. To me, I like a quilt that a little kid can use as a Batman cape or a fort or to comfort them when it's thundering and lightening outside. I want my quilts to be used. I would hope that all of my quilts are used until the day they've just fallen to shreds. I just want my quilts used. --

JD: Aw--

KB: don't hang my quilts on the wall. Use them, use them, use them.

JD: [laughs.] How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

KB: Do you mean quilts in and of themselves or quilt making?

JD: However, you want to answer it.

KB: I think that for quilt making, we should do everything that we can to keep it alive. I think that everyone who is in quilting now needs to be committed to teaching someone younger than us. Your daughter, your granddaughter, a neighbor child, we all need to keep this alive. It would be a shame if quilt making died out. As far as preserving quilts, I think that it's fabulous that there are places like the Smithsonian in the U.S., the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a wonderful textile room. I think it's important that we have people who are dedicated to actually preserving these things for as long as possible. I mean, it's fabric so eventually it'll fall apart, but boy, I sure hope they can find a way to keep it, keep it from falling apart for as long as possible.

JD: Hmmm, yep. What has happened to the quilts that you've made or those of friends and family?

KB: I hope they've all fallen apart. [laughter.]

JD: Good, okay.

KB: But I know a lot of them are still around, I know a lot of them have just been used to death, my kids use them, the ones that I made for them when they were little, they've used them until they outgrew them, and then I made them a new one and folded up the old one and stuck it in the closet. And I hope that someday I can take them out of the closet and give them to my grandchildren. So, I, like I said, I hope that they're all just shreds, I hope there's nothing left. When I'm dead I hope there's not one single quilt left. I hope they're all used up. [laughter.]

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

KB: Time. Nobody has enough time to sit down and make a quilt anymore. And I think that the companies, fabric companies and pattern companies, know that, they're making, or at least I'm seeing a lot of new patterns coming out that have bigger pieces, less piecing so you can still make a quilt although it's not going to take you a hundred years to make a lone star with a million pieces. But I think we all struggle with time, finding enough time in our day to sit down, cut apart fabric, and sew fabric back together again.

JD: Yeah, absolutely. And you were self-taught? You said you were a combination of self-taught and--

KB: Yes, I learned from Grandma, so I knew the basics, and then I started quilting again, took a couple classes through community ed, and bought a ton of books. Because I remembered, I knew what I was supposed to do. Grandma had hammered it into me, 'you need to cut the pieces the right size, and you need to put them together the right way, and you need to press correctly'. And I have taken classes as new techniques have come out that I couldn't figure out by myself. I can figure out a lot of things on my own, so I really, I take a class more for the companionship and the fun and the, you know, just meeting new quilters. But a lot of things I just figure out on my own, and I make a lot of mistakes and I find a lot of new techniques that way.

JD: Yeah, you learn that way. Is there anything else you want to add?

KB: No, I just hope that people make quilts for a long time to come. I hope that it never dies.

JD: I have one other question that's my own question.

KB: Mmm.

JD: And, uh, because it's something that interests me a lot, is continuing quilting but also growing industry, and as an industry we're wanting more people in it, where do you see that growth, is it young people? Is it older people?

KB: You know, I'm seeing more and more young people. I teach a lot of beginner's classes, and I'm always very happy to see young faces in my classes. When I first started it was a lot of middle-aged to older women, and, you know, once in a while I'd have someone under 30 in my classes. I'm seeing a lot more now--

JD: Very interesting--

KB: and it's wonderful. I'm so happy when they come into my classroom. I just think we; I think we need to, um, fabric companies need to make fabrics that are appealing to young people and colors that are appealing to young people. We need to make quilts, not look like a little old lady's thing to do, we need to make them like Amy Butler's stuff. It's fabulous. I think she's a fabulous influence on our industry and I hope that there are more Amy Butlers out there who will bring in those young people that we need. Otherwise, it is a dying business. So--

JD: Beginners are the life blood.

KB: That's right, and I think we all need to pat them on the head and say 'you're doing a great job, keep it up. Now try this instead and see where that takes you'. [laughter.]

JD: [inaudible.]

KB: You're doing a good job, now let's just keep on moving.

JD: [laughs.] Well, thank you, Kimmy. I appreciate it--

KB: You bet, it's a pleasure

JD: Thank you for letting me interview you today as part of the Quilters' SOS, Save Our Stories project of the Alliance for American Quilts. We're here in Providence, Rhode Island, and our interview is concluding at 4:19.


“Kimmy Brunner,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,