Caryl Gaubatz




Caryl Gaubatz




Caryl Gaubatz


Donna Mickish

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


Alana Zakowski


Donna Mikesch (DM): This is Donna Mikesch. Today's date is November 11, 2011. It is 11:53 and I am conducting an interview with Caryl Gaubatz for Quilters' Save Our Stories a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Caryl and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Caryl will tell, Caryl will you tell me about the quilt that you brought today please?

Caryl Gaubatz (CB): The quilt is called Redemption and the greater meaning is redemption comes when we love our children more than we hate our enemies. It was made after the Gulf War; I am a retired Army nurse and I was with the 41st combat support hospital during the first Gulf War, and we were stationed in both Saudi Arabia and Iraq. There are pictures in the background of the quilt of children whose pictures I took in Saudi Arabia and in the upper right hand corner there's one of my patients that was operated on when I was in Iraq. They're covered by a layer of silk organza, so they're kind of hidden and obscured from view, and you have to really look to find the children. In the foreground there is a daughter of a friend who is an American and she was forty when she became pregnant with her second child and it was a very difficult pregnancy and so there's, she is pictured with her baby and when I saw the picture the look of love of her face, it was so radiant and beautiful, I just said, "Please can I have this picture? I need to make a quilt of it." The young mother, or rather middle-aged mother with her baby is in the foreground as an example of loving a child and the children of war are in the background.

DM: Oh that's wonderful. Probably you've already mentioned what special meaning this quilt has for you I think, is there anything else you would like to add to that?

CG: It'll come out as we go.

DM: Okay, very good. Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview?

CG: Because it's taken me a long time to be able to process my experiences in the war and we're still in war and I think it's a message that people have to know. That the real victims of war are not necessarily obvious, the real victims are perhaps the children.

DM: I understand that, yes. What do you think someone viewing this quilt might conclude about you?

CG: I'm not sure. One person who looked at it, who didn't get the meaning said, "Oh, an obstetrician should buy this for their office," and I'm thinking, "Well yes, but that's not really what it's about."

DM: That's right. How do you use this quilt and probably we could put in there too, what are your plans for this quilt?

CG: It has been in shows, it has been in several shows and it is retired now and I am loving to look at it, it had brings back memories and both of my friend and times that I had that were not, not that good but are a part of me.

DM: The quilt lives with you at this point?

CG: Lives with me, yes.

DM: Tell me about your interest in quilt making? I understand from what you told me, you do wearable art and surface design, so maybe you could embellish on that?

CG: Like most people, I was, started out as a traditional quiltmaker and now I dye my own fabric, I belong to the Surface Design Association, I've taken a number of classes at the Southwest School of Art, and I do mostly garments and I do quilting in the garments as well as other surface design techniques. As far as making actual quilts, I usually do one a year.

DM: I see.

CG: That's as much as quilting as I do.

DM: What point, what age did you start quilt making?

CG: I can't pin that down. My first official class for which I actually have a graduating certificate, was in 1980.

DM: Okay [laughs.] maybe that should be from whom did you learn to quilt? Was it that class?

CG: It, books and that lady, but nobody in my family quilted.

DM: Ah, okay. How many hours a week do you quilt, or work on the garments or whatever?

CG: Probably half of time. I'm pretty serious about it.

DM: What is your first quilt memory?

CG: You know, I don't know if I really have a first quilt memory. I don't, haven't kept many of the early quilts, some of them were pretty awful [laughs.]

DM: Where did they go?

CG: Yard sales, friends, gifts--

DM: I got you; okay I understand [laughs.] Are there any other, I think you answered this before we started the interview, are there any other quiltmakers among your family or well friends? CG: Lots of friends, but my grandmothers' taught me to sew, to sew garments but not quilts. Nobody quilted, I'm the first.

DM: How about friends? I assume you have quite a few if you belong to Surface Design--

CG: Quilt Guild and yes and I belong to the Fiber Artists of San Antonio [Texas.] and there's a lot of art quilters there.

DM: How does quilt making impact your family?

CG: Every wall is covered, every bed is covered [laughs,] and my husband is very supporting, and he does all my computer and is very supportive.

DM: That's great. Let's see, wait a minute. Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time? I think you've probably, the one behind us here is it.

CG: Well actually--

DM: Or any others?

CG: Yes several. When I was stationed, during the Gulf War, I hand pieced a quilt while I was over there and we had in our tent, there would be one little 60 watt bulb and everyone else wanted the beds closest to the door and I always got the bed in the middle of the tent so I could be under the 60 watt bulb, and I would piece at night when we weren't working. People sent me, my quilt guild was wonderful, they sent me fabric from the states and people from all over the country who found out about what I was doing sent me fabric, so there's fabric in this quilt from all over, even from Australia.

DM: Oh that's wonderful.

CG: When people found out what I was doing. That helped me get through that. On the road up to, on the convoy going up to Iraq we were going to put up our hospital, I hand pieced and people said, "I can't believe you're doing that," and I said, "Well, I'm not thinking about what we're doing if I'm doing this." That was probably the most momentous. The other one, my husband has been very ill between 2005 and 2010 and at one point, our lives were such a burden with his illness, and I just said, "You know, life is such a burden." I came across a book of Japanese embroidery and there was a garment in it, it was a vest, and it said, "This item is worn to carry a burden," and I thought, "Ah, so what would that look like?" and so I made a very labor-intensive embroidered garment called the Burden Vest and it has on it is surface design printed on it, covered with stitches so you can't see it. What is has written on it is, "For those without forgiveness, the past is a burden. For those without love, the present is a burden. And for those without hope, the future is a burden." We never lost our hope, then in 2010, he had a surgery and he is well.

DM: Oh that's wonderful.

CG: So it has a happy ending.

DM: Oh it does have a happy ending, and do you still have the vest?

CG: I still have the vest.

DM: Any amusing experiences that have occurred from your quilt making or garment making?

CG: The only one that I can think of is, I had a vest that was made of different animal print fabrics and I had a little stuffed animal that was pinned to the shoulder of the vest. Whenever I was out in public, total strangers would come up and pet my little animal on my shoulder, it was a great ice breaker but it was also rather strange to have people that you didn't know come up and pet you.

DM: [laughs.] What do you find pleasing about your work?

CG: Pleasing? Well, most of it is very labor intensive, I'm not very productive in amount of quantity. For example, one of the pieces I recently made took 100 hours just for the center panel because of the shibori stitching on it.

DM: Oh my.

CG: That is very satisfying to me.

DM: So you also do, you say you hand dye your fabrics--

CG: I dye all my fabrics--

DM: Is shibori one of the processes--

CG: It's all hand dyed, it's all hand dyed.

DM: What aspects of quilt making, or the garment making, do you not enjoy?

CG: Well, cutting the knots--

DM: Oh in the shibori?

CG: In the shibori you have to take, put the knots in, pull them tight, dye it, and then you have to remove the knots, and that takes a long time.

DM: Yes it does [laughs.] What art, now you've mentioned several quilt guilds and what art or quilt groups do you belong to? I know you said the Surface Design.

CG: Surface Design Association, New Braunfels [Texas.] Area Quilt Guild, Fiber Artists of San Antonio [Texas.], and the Austin [Texas.] Fiber Artists.

DM: Ah, good. Have advances in technology influenced your work at all, if so, how?

CG: There is a piece of equipment called the ThermoFax machine, you may be aware of it. I can print, make wonderful prints with that and that's certainly, and I use that in my work a lot.

DM: Ah, wonderful. What are your favorite techniques and materials?

CG: Silk organza is my favorite, and this is, the quilt is covered with silk organza, that's the layer. Degumming, I'm sorry, degumming of silk organza and degumming, silk organza is a very stiff fiber, and as the silk spins, the thread is coated with sericin, a protein, and degumming is the process of removing selectively that protein from your silk fabric. When you do it, you can do it with Thermofax printing or you can paint it, that one is kind of done with a stamp that I made, and when you remove that sericin from your silk organza, the fabric takes up the dye differently. You have a mini layered process or product, then you can see the different layers and textures and designs on that come from removing the sericin, the degumming.

DM: The printing is done on the--

CG: Silk organza.

DM: On the silk organza?

CG: Yes.

DM: Describe your studio or the place where you create.

CG: I'm very fortunate when we built the house, half the house is our studio, my husband also does things. I have a dry studio where I sew and separated by a bathroom and a laundry room, and then my wet studio where I have a little shower to wash off silk screens and it has a print table and I'm very blessed to have such a wonderful place to work.

DM: That sounds wonderful. How do you balance your time?

CG: I do a lot of volunteer work and things, I'm pretty well gone most days, and I would say I try to at least get one day in the studio a week, I would hopefully do more, but days fill up, you can speak to that I'm sure.

DM: Yeah I can, yes. Do you use a design wall, and if so in what way and how does it enhance your creative process?

CG: I have a design wall but mostly for my garments. I have a dress form and I drape and so forth on the dress form or design on the dress form.

DM: What do you think makes a great quilt or garment or you might add that in there too.

CG: Following or knowing the elements of design and the principles or arrangement, and that goes for any art form, whether you're doing painting or sculpture or a garment or a quilt, if you are able to use shape, form, balance, texture, color, value and you are used to arrange them in a pleasing way, taking note of things like symmetry, unity, balance, doesn't matter what you're doing, that's what's essential to make it good.

DM: What makes a quilt artistically powerful, you may have already stated it, but is there anything?

CG: Color is the first thing you notice, but I think if a person has put something of themselves in it, no matter whether you get their message or not, you will sense that power, just like people look at that and they are moved by the image of the mother and the child, and then they'll look deeper, but it has part of me in it. Any quilt that you put yourself into, doesn't matter what it is, that will have power.

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

CG: Universality, something that will speak to everyone. Also, archival; you have to make sure that your piece is not going to fall apart.

DM: [laughs.] What makes, you may have already said this I think, what makes a great quiltmaker? I think a lot of it goes back into what you said before.

CG: Yeah, being honest and authentic. Everyone would think about technical skills, but I think being honest and authentic and willing to share that.

DM: What works are you drawn to and why?

CG: I think pieces that are more narrative, that tell a story, or that you can put your own story in appeal to me more.

DM: Which artists have influenced you?

CG: Quilt artist, Hollis Chatelain, Caryl Bryer Fallert, and I learned a lot from Nancy Pearson and Allison [inaudible.]

DM: Any, I think they also may talk about fine artists, or craft artists.

CG: Franz Marc who lived in, he died in 1917 in the Battle of Verdun. He was a German painter, he specialized, or focused on animals, and I use a lot of animals in my work; Franz Marc is one of my guiding lights. As far as quilt art artists, I forgot somebody very important and I, who taught me how to do the technique in this quilt and that's Terry Hancock Mangat, and she taught me how to do, in a class in Houston [Texas.], how to do portraits using one strand of embroidery floss and if you look at the mother, it's all done with that technique, it's embroidered.

DM: That's wonderful. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting and what about longarm quilting? Do you have any thoughts on any of that?

CG: Well, I do machine quilting, okay; I'm not very good at hand quilting, so I do machine quilting. My feel is that if I'm going to put a quilt in a show, I should quilt it; it would not be my quilt if I hired someone else to quilt it. If it's going to be on my bed, and the dog's going to sit on it, then longarm quilting is fine, as far as I'm concerned. This is my opinion and I'm very opinionated [laughs.]

DM: Why is quilt making important to your life?

CG: It's my form of artist expression and as we've said, I don't really make quilts, but I certainly will never stop sewing.

DM: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region? Or is there anything important?

CG: Most of my quilts deal with or most of my work deals with, spiritual issues or the environment and in that way, I think it effect, or it reflects all communities and regions.

DM: What do you think about the importance or quilts in American life?

CG: They are our heritage and our history and I think it's very important that we study them and treasure them and preserve them. It gives us something to stand for, something to relate to. I think rituals and traditions are extremely important in the fabric of the country.

DM: That kind of moves right into, why do you, in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

CG: Well because women were traditionally the quiltmakers. I wish I could say my family had some history or quilts, I was the first one to every make quilts in my family.

DM: How do you think quilts can be used?

CG: I would like to say politically. Of course you're going to say beds first, but no, I would like to see, say that they can be as part of politically of this country, and they do, and they do say things, they do say things.

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

CG: Through museums and conservators and also educating the public to know that not everything that you put in a quilt is going to last. I took a class with Ilze Aviks recently and she was talking about fusing, they're finding that fusing products, all fusing products are not archival and museum curators are having problems with some of the things in their collection.

DM: Oh my. What has happened to the quilts that you have made for friends and family or those of friends and family, any interesting stories on that one?

CG: I can't really say. I don't really have much family other than my husband and the friends that I've given them to, when I visit they always make sure that they're hanging up [laughs.]

DM: And they're probably there all the time I bet [laughs.] What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

CG: I would say, time of course, time. Maybe courage, I get a lot of quilt catalogs from different quilt companies, or different quilt stores, and I am surprised at the number of kits that are available. I suppose if you don't have much time, it's good to have somebody else think for you, but I would like to see that people are able to design their own quilts, make their own quilts, choose their own fabric; so I would say lack of courage to do that is a big fault for quiltmakers.

DM: That's interesting, good. Is there anything else you'd like to add? I know that's not a question but [laughs.]

CG: If the interview is over, I could just tell you something more about that, other than that I don't have anything else.

DM: Okay. I would like to thank Caryl for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters' Save Our Stories oral history project. Our interview concluded at 12:13.

CG: Good, we did good.

DM: We did good.

CG: We're on time.

DM: Now I think you go to the... this stays here. We turn this off.


“Caryl Gaubatz,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 14, 2024,