Kathy York




Kathy York




Kathy York


Peggy Camp

Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Houston, Texas


Peggy Camp (PC): So the recorder is hearing you easily but I'm not hearing you easily.

Kathy York (KY): Oh really? I'll turn this way then.

PC: Kathy, will you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

KY: The quilt I brought today is called 'Fifty Female and Fearless'. It's a quilt that is very meaningful to me because it shows a bicycle rider with her arms outstretched riding on a bike and often I ride my bike like this with my hands off the steering wheels. It's all about balance and being able to take risk and kind of being fearless to embrace the world. To me, that's sort of a metaphor for my approach to art quilting because you have to balance your quilting with your life and you have to be willing to take risks and learn new techniques. You have to be fearless because sometimes making art evokes a certain fear. There's a fear of success. There's a fear of failure. There's a fear of having an idea and not being able to represent your idea the way it is in your head. Maybe your skills aren't good enough. I really like this quilt because it represents all those things to me. Also, it shows a love of my new passion which is surface design. I love doing batik work and the background of this quilt was made with all commercial fabrics which I batiked in stripes. They're all bleach discharged, which removes the background fabric color and then they are overdyed with a color. It makes this beautiful montage of all of these different colors all within this same color. When you over dye, let's say a cobalt blue on top of a bunch of different commercial fabrics, they don't all bleach discharge to white. They all discharge to a different level of paleness and when you over dye them you get a whole range of colors, even though you've used the same dye. Why I like that is because it gives it a lot of depth and interest for the background but also because it ties back into the scrappy look of traditional quilts, when you use lots of different types of fabric and pull something out sort of randomly. That's what it's linking for me, my roots and traditional quilting with my new love for art quilting.

PC: Where did you get that idea? Is that something you saw? I've seen that but I've never seen it done like this. I've never seen it done in literally like a set pattern.

KY: I had been in Houston at a quilt show. I found a book on shibori and the pictures inside of it were so beautiful I thought our art quilt group should explore that for our next group project. I took the book to the group and let's do some of this, let's learn how to do some of this. A friend of mine, Sherri McCauley, said 'Let's take a class from Malka Dubrawsky. She teaches shibori and batik.' I thought, batik is just putting wax on fabric and I'm really not interested in batik. But we all agreed to take the class. We met at Malka's house every Sunday. It was through the winter and every time we would show up it would be raining and less than 50 degrees and we are standing out in her garage huddled over the steaming batik pots and she taught up batik and discharge and over dye. She didn't do it this way. She didn't do the stripes particularly, but we learned all kinds of stuff and I had another project where I couldn't decide what I wanted the fabric to be. Once I thought of making it stripes, which seemed to work. This pattern that's in the pattern of this quilt I've used in other quilts. I loved the feeling so much, I knew I wanted to keep working with it.

PC: So that's kind of like your trademark?

KY: I don't know. It's not all I do. I do other things too, but this one I'm really drawn to and I keep doing it.

PC: What is shibori quilting?

KY: Shibori is tie dye.

PC: Okay.

KY: Basically you can tie little tiny things and then when you pull it up tight it resists the dye so every place that you've cinched in tight with the threads becomes the color of the background fabric. You start with white fabric and then you over dye it. It makes beautiful patterns. It's a Japanese form of resistance. The Japanese do it beautifully. I tried some of those ideas I was telling you about from the book and decided it was too labor intensive to make it much fun but it made me really appreciate the people who are able to make that art form because it's just beautiful. You could do it with a sewing machine, too. You could sew a line of basting stitches across the fabric and then pull it up and synch it really tight and then over dye it. It makes a beautiful line with double white marks on both sides. It's very organic looking. It's not one of those techniques that it's either perfect or it's not. It has a real organic feel to it and I really like that.

PC: That's interesting. I see that you are self taught in quilting.

KY: Yes.

PC: Did you decide that was something you wanted to do and took classes?

KY: No, I didn't decide consciously to learn how to quilt. When I was in college, my mom had given me a sewing machine and a quilt store opened near her house in Corpus Christi. When I came down to visit for Thanksgiving, she said 'Oh, you have to come into this quilt store with me. It's just so wonderful.' And I thought, eh, quilts? I don't know anything about quilts. I didn't know at the time that my grandmother was a quilter because my grandmother never told me that and I never saw them at her house. I don't know why. We went to the quilt store. The bins of the blues and the greens and the yellows and she had it separated by color. I love fabric because I love to sew and I used to make clothes. But I looked in there and I thought, wow these are so beautiful. Back then, it was mostly the little tiny prints like calicos but I was just really drawn to it. My mom said 'I know you like making crafts, so if you're interested I will buy you the fabric.' Then we bought a little log cabin pattern and a little zippered plastic Ziploc bag. I had a pattern and I sat down with the fabric and started reading the instructions and I made the quilt top. Then, I didn't know how to quilt it so I did what they told me, which was basically stab and jab. I decided for a Queen sized quilt that was going to take forever, so I put it away for a long time. Every once in a while I'd pull it out and try it again and I guess that's probably something that's common with all quilters when you start a big project. It really feels like you'll never finish it. The first one took me 20 years. After I finished the first one, then I got addicted. I had some mistakes along the way, so I thought that I should take a class and learn how to do this right. I learned different things.

PC: Wow. That's interesting. That's a good representation of your first memories of being a quilt maker, which is a nice thing to have. That's nice that you mother made you do it.

KY: Yes.

PC: That's nice. Tell me something amusing that has happened. I don't know if we can beat the falling off the bike or not [laughing.]

KY: Yeah. It's a little ironic that I chose this particular quilt as my touchstone, as a bicycle rider with her hands off of the bicycle because about a year after I finished this quilt, I fell off my bike but it wasn't while I wasn't holding onto it. Some of the text inside the quilts say 'balance', 'risk', 'have courage', 'create', and 'have the ability to feel and touch' represented on the hands. I fell off and broke both of my hands. It took a long time to recover from that but looking at this image helped remind me of the values that I have to get back on the bike and not be afraid and to push through the pain of the recovery and try to get every bit of strength back in my hands so that I could return to what I love which is making art quilts. It's kind of funny and it's kind of ironic. It's a little bittersweet. These are supposed to be the values I would need as I moved into my new decade of the 50's and I forgot one word on there and that was 'slow'. I think I need to go a little bit slower [laughing.]

PC: Things break easier when we get older [laughing.].

KY: Yeah.

PC: How many hours a week do you quilt? Do you quilt everyday?

KY: During the day when the children are at school I try to get four hours in. At night when they go to bed, I start working again around eight o'clock and I work until I get tired. If I'm really excited, I might go late into the evening until 11 or 12. Most of the time I go to bed at 10. On the weekends, I quilt all day on Sunday because my kids are with their father. Maybe 30 hours a week?

PC: That's a lot.

KY: Yeah. Life can get unbalanced when you are working that much. Sometimes when I finish a project, I won't do anything for a couple of weeks. I'll get caught up with house cleaning, taking the kids to do stuff, and spending time with friends and hanging out with my family. Then when I start a new project, everything sort of gets forgotten. I lose balance again and dive headfirst into a new project.

PC: How old are your children?

KY: 10 and 14.

PC: 10 and 14. One's very independent and the other one's trying to get there.

KY: Yes. The younger one is very independent and the older one is trying to get there [laughing.]

PC: So we're backwards?

KY: A little bit.

PC: I see that this one is machine work. Do you do hand work also?

KY: Yes, I love the look of hand quilting. I love the look of hand embellishments and hand embroidery. My new series of work is going to be a lot of the batik fabrics that I like to make with heavily machine quilting and when that's done it holds all of the layers together so I can sit and do a lot of hand quilting on top of it with embroidery thread, which gives it a very interesting texture. It softens the texture a little bit. It doesn't look hard and flat. It gives it more dimensionality. I love the look of that. That's what I'm working with now.

PC: That will be very pretty. You did say that you were divorced. Did the quiltmaking help you in getting through that period of time or you could go into your room, shut the door, do quilts and kind of get engrossed?

KY: I was pretty engrossed in quiltmaking before my husband and I separated. I'm not sure that it was related at all to the divorce. I've used quiltmaking on multiple occasions to deal with strong emotions. My very first art quilt was about the death of my dog. He died and two years later I was working on my masters degree in counseling. I took a grief class and we were required to do a project. I was still having dreams about that dog. It was almost as if he was my first born and he had died. He came before I had children because I had my children later in life. The puppy and the dog were when I was in my 20's. I took care of him very close, how people get very attached to their pets. Even years after he died, I was still dreaming that I was visiting him and I would wake up sad and crying again. Then I thought, it's just a dog. You need to get over this. In the grief class, I learned how grief can be complicated. There can be different issues affecting your grief process. Sometimes working on something that's a tribute or a memory to your lost person in your life can really help you so I took photos of my dog that I had from my collection and I put them in a little art quilt. I put his collar on it, his tags. I saved a scrap of his hair. He had long hair and was a Lhasa Apso dog and a really cute little guy. The process of making that quilt actually helped me work through the grief. I stopped having the bad dreams of missing him. It was really therapeutic. Before my husband left, for four years during the rocky part of our marriage, I had been planning to make a quilt for our bed. I had bought the fabric for it. It was sitting there untouched and I didn't know what to do with it. I think it is interesting symbolism that the marriage bed and the quilt I'm trying to make for it were stuck. As soon as he moved out, I pulled those fabrics out. I didn't know what to do but at that time I was pretty much the kind of quilter that always planned pretty much everything before you start working on it. Everything always decided and very controlled and I ripped those things out and started strip piecing log cabin blocks one after another. I didn't care about the size, I just made this whole two inch, 10 inch. I didn't know what I was going to do with them, but it didn't matter. The strip piecing, very traditional, very calming, very easy to not have to think about it too hard. I made all of those quilt blocks and then I didn't know what to do so I started putting them on the design wall. That's the quilt that went on to become "Little Cities", which won a first place in Houston.

PC: How exciting.

KY: And it's in the book.

PC: How exciting.

KY: I don't know if I was working through my grief. Whatever it is that's happening in your life, whatever it is, it gets expressed in your work whether you are conscious of it or not.

PC: That I understand.

KY: Yeah.

PC: What do you think makes a great quilt?

KY: If it's my work, I have to be satisfied that it expressed what I was trying to express. If I'm looking at somebody else's work, I don't know. I've judged a show once and I've seen the kind of criteria that people use to judge quilts and decide which ones are going to be the prize winners. For me, the biggest criteria, which is not always heavily weighted in the decision making, is the visual impact. If I walk up to something and it has a really striking visual impact, maybe it draws me from across the convention floor, I see it and I have to come up and look at it because it's so striking, that's the number one criteria that I look for in a quilt that appeals to me. Different things appeal to different people. Another thing I really like about quilts is if they have a big visual impact but they also have small design elements and it draws you in to look at a close up of the quilt. You want to see those quilting stitches. You want to see those tiny embellishments, whatever it is. Sometimes there's just different things that pull you in and that's what I like, something that's on a large scale is very attractive and then something that you see on a deeper lever, something small, something meaningful. I like quilts that connect with me emotionally.

PC: When I look at the quilts here at the quilt show and I see the ones that have won the big prizes ---

KY: Yes.

PC: Then you walk around and you see something that stops you in your tracks, but it didn't even get an honorable mention. Yet, you can look at it and see how incredible the work is. How would you think in your mind that museums and things pick the quilts that they pick to go up into museums and art shows and things like that? I wouldn't have a clue.

KY: I have no idea. I suspect it's very subjective. If you have different jurists, different judges, different people selecting for a collection, you're going to make it a different collection. If I had the money to invest in a collection, I'd be picking different things than somebody else would and for different reasons. I guess it sort of depends on who is doing the collecting. I don't know if whether it's for a public venue, is it going to appeal to a wide audience? I don't know how you decide that for other people?

PC: I wouldn't either, as I said. Do you teach classes?

KY: I taught a set of classes in Austin for my guild. Then I decided that I didn't like teaching. I was a public school teacher for eight years. I homeschooled my son for two years. I love working with people. I love teaching them how to do something if they have a question. I love sharing information, that's not a problem. The problem is all the time you spend trying to figure out how to plan for the class, how to manage the time, how to get all of the materials ready, it's really stressful. I don't enjoy that part of it. I enjoy working with people, I just don't enjoy all of the stuff that comes before it.

PC: All of the preparation.

KY: I might at some point after my children are grown and I think it's easier to leave them, decide to go back and teach some stuff. For now, it doesn't fit in my life very well and I find it very stressful.

PC: Do you sell your quilts or do you keep them all?

KY: I like to sell them.

PC: You like to sell them.

KY: Yes. There are some that are too meaningful for me to sell. Some of them that I wouldn't mind selling them if someone wants to pay me and arm and a leg, I put a higher price on those. If someone wants it I'd be okay letting it go but I'd rather somebody not buy it.

PC: That one has a little bigger tag on it.

KY: It does and I don't think you're supposed to price them that way [laughing.]

PC: Yeah, but when you put your heart and soul in it ---

KY: It's mine. I don't really want to keep it and I would be okay with letting someone else enjoy it. I also am interested in making quilts that I am okay with letting go of and letting other people enjoy my art because what good is having all of these valuable things if you leave them in a box in your closet? The purpose of the art is for it to be seen and connect with others. I like sending it to shows. I like inspiring other people. It's less important to me now if it wins an award or not. I love when it gets to come to Houston because 50,000 people come to this show. That's like, "Wow!" It gets to reach and touch that many people. It may not connect with that many people but the people that do connect with it talk to me. They send me comments. It's just really nice knowing that it's having some impact in the world.

PC: I talked to a lady yesterday that said kind of the same thing. She said that she had made this quilt and put her heart and soul into it. Her husband asked her, 'What are you going to charge for that?' and she said, 'I'm not selling this.' He said, 'Why not?'. She said, 'I just can't. I just can't.' Two to three years later, he asked her 'Where's that quilt you did?' She said, 'In the trunk.' He said 'Point made. You wouldn't sell it, but you're not enjoying it.' It takes somebody else sometimes to see what's going on.

KY: Yeah.

PC: Do you have a studio?

KY: I have multiple studios. I have the sewing studio, which is a converted bedroom. It has hardwood floors. I have wheels on my chair. I wheel around from the ironing board to the sewing machine, sometimes to the computer and then back. Sometimes I get up and walk around. I love that room. It's a wonderful room and it's a big room. I've got room for my design walls. I also have a dye studio, which can also affectionately be called the laundry room. All of the shelves in it have my dyes in there. I have my balance in there for weighing out my dyes along with the buckets where I keep all of my dyes. That room is really important to keep clean because when your laundry comes in you don't want it having any relationship with the dyes that might have gotten spilled. Half of the garage is my batik studio. I've got some repurposed abandoned glass doors that are my tables and I put them up on top of some shelves. I've got my wax pots set up. I've got my frames out there. I've got fabric that's ready to go and start batiking or soaking or whatever.

PC: Did you teach yourself all of this dyeing or is that what you got out of classes?

KY: I can't remember. Probably half and half. I bought dye books and read them about what to do. Then I got ideas and experimented. Then I read that other people did the same thing and then I read what other people were doing on a blog and got some other ideas and tried their ideas and altered it. I don't think I've taken a class on how to dye, but when I took the batik class we were dyeing our batik because that's what goes with it. Malka was showing us how to dye and dye baths. I don't like dyeing that way. I did it in her class, but I thought, I'm not going to do that again. Then I ended up doing it because it worked for the project I had in mind.

PC: Is there an aspect that you have in quilting that you just hate?

KY: Yeah. I don't like the end. Putting the hanging tube on and the label. I sit down and don't like to finish it because it's not the creative part. Sometimes putting the binding on can be fun and sometimes it's grunt work and I don't like it.

PC: I don't know why but most everybody that you talk to doesn't like to do binding.

KY: Really? It's not just me?

PC: No. No they don't. I like to do binding for some reason.

KY: I will bring them to you then [laughing.]

PC: What artists have influenced you the most?

KY: I like Pamela Allen a lot. She works in a very free form. She picks the fabric up and starts cutting them with her scissors to make the shapes. She uses a lot of fabrics that I would never choose to use like velvets and all kinds of stuff. It makes her work so rich and interesting. She uses a lot of embellishment. Her work is representational but it's not like a photograph. You can tell it's a figure, a woman sitting in a chair, a woman with rollers in her hair, you know it's a woman, but it doesn't have to look exactly like a woman. She's very successful at what she does. I also like Pam Ruppert's work because it's hilarious and very well crafted. She does very cartoon style quilts. I like really bold, flat graphics. Carol Taylor has been an idol to me for a long time because her work has great colors, shapes, and themes that really appeal to me. When I first started, I loved Yvonne Porcella's work because it was so bright and graphic. A lot of art quilts are very realistic in terms of being able to paint, like Holly Chatlain. I love her work, but I'm also very drawn to basic graphic design work that looks really great. In my latest series, I'm working on some architectural style quilts and I've noticed that two architects who are very artistic, Huntervasser and Frank Gehry, both embrace the spirit of thinking outside of the box and not being constrained by what they can't do but letting their imaginations go wild and then figuring out the engineering behind how you make something work. It's kind of like my quilt here, Central Park. I made another quilt like that with three-dimensional buildings on it. Before I made it, I didn't know if structurally it would stand out on a quilt. You've got the quilt against the wall and I wanted my buildings to pop out from the wall. I didn't know if gravity would make them sag down or if I would be able to find a way to make them come out at a perfect 90 degree angle. When I started the project, I didn't know the answer to that. I had to go ahead and let my imagination run wild with the idea and then figure out and problem solve how to make it work.

PC: How did you make it work?

KY: It wasn't easy. I tried a lot of things that didn't work first. One of my ideas –

PC: I can understand that.

KY: I had four ideas on how to make it work and by the time I got to idea number three and I didn't have them all at one time, that one worked. I was grateful because I only had one more idea to go [laughing.]

PC: Did you use any other medium to get it to go out there or did you just build?

KY: It's hand appliqué. It's appliquéd tightly around the base and they stand out. There's no slack in the building. If it's loose it doesn't work.

PC: If I'm standing here and I'm looking at this quilt, which is bold and bright and one of the things that it draws a person to it, what do you think other people will get from that? Do you have any idea? I know you kind of answered that a while ago. What would you want to tell those people that are looking at that quilt?

KY: I don't know. I think that this quilt for me was about aging and the difficulties you face as you get older. I think that's a difficult concept for our culture because we're afraid of death. It's not something we embrace. I also struggle with depression so for this quilt, the colors alone. The yellow can be fear, but it can also be cheerfulness. Blue often times represents a calmness, but it can also be the depressive state. Sort of coming out of the blue, a contrast to the depression, just to embrace life and to be inspired by it and live every day and be appreciative of what you can do. Keep your eye on the goal and remember what are your values. Make sure that the time that you're spending is consistent with what your values are, not wasting your time doing things that aren't meaningful to you. I've had a number of people write me after I put this on my blog or who saw it in Houston last year who were really inspired by this piece. Pokey Bolton was so inspired by it she put it on the cover of Quilting Arts. That was really quite an honor.

PC: That is great.

KY: I hope that they get a sense of inspiration to keep trying, not to give up to the negativity.

PC: How old were you when you started quiltmaking?

KY: Early 20's.

PC: You were in college or in school?

KY: College, but I didn't really start until I hit 40.

PC: What do you plan to do with this quilt?

KY: This one?

PC: Yes.

KY: Put it back on the walls so I can look at it.

PC: To make you happy.

KY: Yes. It is for sale. If someone buys it, I would be happy with that.

PC: You said you like to do some hand work and embellishing. If they took one or the other away from you, which medium would you rather be left with? Machine or handquilting? If you could only do one.

KY: Definitely machine work. It's an unusual reason, because it's a design reason and not a convenient reason. Machine quilting is convenient because you can work faster, but when you machine quilt you get a solid line of thread on the surface. You can use that line to draw with. You can have really fine thread where your line doesn't show as much, just like when you're sketching you can use a fine leaded pencil. You can also put in a thick thread and your line shows more and you can color in and draw whatever quilting design that you can imagine. When you're doing hand quilting, your line is a broken line. The thread comes up, you see it, it goes to the backside, and that leaves a space for a gap. You can make really interesting lines with broken lines. It's like a dashed line. The dash line is also useful but I like working with the solid lines. If I had to pick one or the other.

PC: Do you do any long arm quilting?

KY: No.

PC: Just with the sewing machine?

KY: Just a tabletop sewing machine.

PC: Have you tried long arming?

KY: A couple of times at quilt shows. I have a friend with a long arm and we've done a couple of group projects on it. It's nice but the type of designs for quilting that my mind come up with don't sit well within the framework of a long arm. You get a ten inch window on your quilt and then you have to unroll it or roll it. I might want lines that traverse the entire quilt diagonally, or vertically, or sideways depending on what I want the design element to be of the quilting to be. That doesn't lend itself very well to long arming. Does that make sense?

PC: Yes, that makes sense. Number one, as you roll it and unroll it, that breaks your train of thought for continuing on. How do you think that quilts can be preserved for the future?

KY: I don't know and they might not. They're not going to last forever. They're made out of fabric and fabric doesn't last forever. If you want something to last forever you could work with steel or concrete, I don't really know which materials last forever.

PC: So many people like you are quilt makers now, you would know how to take care of a quilt. But [inaudible] who has 15 of his grandmother's quilts might not know how to take anything about preserving them.

KY: And he doesn't. He covers his furniture with them and paints the room.

PC: That's right.

KY: My grandmother's quilt has paint specks on it and it's appalling because I know she hand pieced it and hand quilted it probably with her bee, which I didn't know about them either. I think it would be prudent or helpful if you had a quilt to put care and instruction on the label. Hang out of direct sunlight. Vacuum through a screen. Do not store in a plastic bag. Do not store in a humid environment. Store in a dry environment. Don't store it on wooden shelves. Although, I'd probably phrase it in the positive. It needs to be in archival tissue. Whatever would help preserve it, that information should go with the quilt just in the label.

PC: Washing instructions.

KY: Yes, washing instructions and basic care.

PC: I cleaned the first quilt I ever had, and I didn't know.

KY: When I sew quilts, I pin that information to the back.

PC: That's what I've learned to do too. I needed to know that and I didn't have anybody to tell me that. I had to go without it. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing quiltmaking today because when you started there was very little information and stuff there that you had to go hunting for? Now, you just click on the computer and everything you ever wanted to know about pink and blue and yellow and green is up there. What do you think is a challenge that the quiltmakers have here nowadays?

KY: I don't know if this is for everyone. I think that the number one challenge facing women who are trying to make quilts might be a self esteem issue because you have to be able to listen to your own voice and make your own decisions to be able to make a quilt. Making a quilt requires 10,000 decisions. You have to pick the pattern. You have to pick which fabrics you want to use. You have to pick what your quilting design lines are going to be. It's difficult to make all of those decisions if you don't trust yourself. Also, I've seen this a lot in my classes; Women who don't have the confidence that they think they're not skilled enough to make a quilt and that it's too hard. Another one is 'I don't have time to make a quilt because it takes too long.' You can make a quilt. It's one step at a time. It's just like when you're facing a house that is too messy to clean up. You can't just leave it like that. You start by picking up one object at a time and cleaning the house. Making a quilt is the same way. You start one step at a time and it can be really overwhelming. Like you were saying, there is so much information available. I think that compounds the issue. There's probably a level of information that helps people to some extent but then when you get on the internet and see how much information is out there then you can easily become overwhelmed. It's too much. It's too much to shut it all off. As much as I would like my quilts to inspire people to try and take a risk and do something, I know I've been intimidated by the skill level of professional quilt makers when I go and look at their work. Sometimes that level of intimidation can be enough to keep you from stop trying. If you have confidence in yourself, whatever too much information, not enough time, whatever the excuse is for not making a quilt, you'll be able to overcome those obstacles and be able to start working.

PC: That's a good answer. Some of those things I really had not thought about. What awards and things have you won on your different quilts? I know you've won.

KY: There have been a lot and I don't remember them. I thought when I first started getting them that I should start writing them down so I could keep a documented list. I do have one at home. It's behind and I need to update it. I don't remember that stuff. I remember more the people I meet when I stand in front of my quilt and they come and talk to me, that my quilt is emotionally provocative to them or that it reminds me of something in their life and they share their stories with me. This is interesting because we're doing an interview and sharing our stories but the stories that people share with me that are related somehow to the image of my quilt, those are the things I remember. I know I've won awards. I know I've won two first places in Houston. I know I had a quilt at Quilt National. I know I've won in a number of local guilds, some prizes. There have been other prizes I've won in Houston. I've been published in Quilting Arts. I didn't know I'd been on the cover four times until Pokey said something about it in our blog about me being the most prolific cover artists. And I said, 'Really?' and she said, 'Yeah. You've been on it four times.' I remember each time how exciting it was to be on the cover. That's the way I feel every time I get an award no matter what it is, I go through the whole emotional excitement. I don't remember those. The feeling is good when you're there, but it's connecting with the people, those are the things I remember more.

PC: You owe it to probably your children to have all of that stuff documented.

KY: Yes.

PC: Maybe 40 years from now they'll decide to do the family history and they would want all of that information and stuff that's down the road.

KY: I'm pretty rigid about keeping records. Every quilt I make, I make a new divider in my notebook. When the notebook fills, I start a new notebook. Every show it gets entered into gets stuck in that section. I always keep a copy and when I get those rejection letters, those get stuck in there too, so I don't try to apply to the same show with the same quilt because I don't remember [laughing.] I'm getting such a large quantity of quilts and I'm sending them out to so many venues that it's hard to remember. I've got one section and in there, if I get an award that goes in there too. Once it's filed, my brain goes 'You don't have to remember it anymore because it's recorded.' I just let that go, push it off the plate.

PC: The children grew up with you doing this. How did they relate to mommy quilting? I cake decorated, so my kids thought it was just incredible and would tell everybody and then they'd run to the freezer and get cake and frosting. I had something they could eat [laughing.]

KY: When my son was little, he was mesmerized by the machine. I think he's going to be the engineer in the family. He learned to quilt when he was four. He sat at a little toddler table, with a real sewing machine, the one I use, and I would sit behind him and I would help guide his hands to make sure they didn't go under the needle. He pieced blocks together. He made his own. Once he figured out how it all worked, then he was done with it, not interested anymore. He was terrified of the iron. My daughter was the opposite. She was a little older when she got interested. She loved ironing stuff, so when we would work on projects together she likes fusing because she liked using the iron to make the shapes right on there herself. But when it came to the sewing machine, she was afraid of the speed of the needle. Even though I would help her with it, she just always had this flinching response. I decided that the two of them together would make a good team. She could press the seams and do the fusing, and he could sew the pieces together. By then, they were already at the age that they didn't like each other and they fought more so they never teamed up. My son got to a place where he was tired of the quilt that I made him as a small baby, so we made a new quilt for him. It was mostly just fused shaped, colorful squares and rectangles on a black background. I thought it would look like a little computer chip, but he couldn't stand the fact that it was me doing the designing. He came in there and started ordering me around, 'Put three more red blocks here and put a yellow one over there. This needs some orange here.' I'd just start cutting the shapes and handing them to him and he would place them. He designed the quilt himself. Then I ironed it all and placed it all together and sewed it all together for him and that's what he uses now. Every time I would offer to make a quilt for my daughter, she would see something in a catalogue and want it more, which hurt my feelings a little bit. But then it was also a relief because I didn't have to make her a quilt she didn't want anyway. Now, she got old enough to want mom to make her a quilt. This summer, I made her a quilt. She helped pick all of the fabrics out. She helped with the process of making it and now she's sleeping under it because it's cold enough to need a quilt. That's her quilt. When I spend countless hours in the studio, the one rule in the family, we have to keep the door closed. We have four cats. Cats can't come in. The kids can come in and interrupt me anytime. I'll hit the pause button on the machine, you can interrupt me whenever. Don't worry about me not wanting to stop my work. I want to stop my work if you want to hang out. I will stop, I will come out, whatever. Sometimes they come in and bug me. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they come in and need help, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I'll notice that an hour has gone by and it's too quiet outside. I have to stop what I'm doing and go check on them and make sure that they're still –

PC: Make sure that they're not hurting each other.

KY: Yeah. I don't know if that answers your question.

PC: That did. That did. A lot of it parallels with my kids growing up. Can you think of anything that you would like to sum up with, which all of this is going to go into the Library of Congress, which is really neat?

KY: Yes. I would say the three things that I would like to emphasize, and I'm not sure that we talked about all of them, but one is to be prolific. If you want to make quilts, you have to do the work. It requires a lot of work. If you want to get good at it, you have to do a lot of work. You can't get good at it without doing a lot of work. That's the first one. The more you make, the better you get because you learn from everything you make. The second one is to don't be afraid to take a risk and try something new. Take a new class. If it interests you or pulls you in, it might be something that you want to do. Don't be afraid of it. It may not look good at first, and that's when you need to do the work and learn it and then you can do it. Be willing to take a risk, even if you start small on a little personal quilt. The third thing is to do it with a friend because there's nothing like having the support of friends around you when you're working on something new like quilting. I belong to an art quilt bee. For a long time, I also belonged to a traditional bee. I go to the guild meetings. I go to the quilt shows and just having the support of people around you who are walking the same path makes a lot of difference in the world.

PC: That's [inaudible.] I would like to close by thanking you.

KY: Thank you for having me.

PC: Thank you for taking the time to do this. I think that this book, I didn't even know about it until I followed you to come to do this. It has just been awe-inspiring, the people that are willing to give up their time and come and talk about their art. Some things are very personal. I think that's a great attribute that people will do that, and that they would be comfortable doing that.

KY: And you're donating your time. You have a crew of people around you helping record these stories. I'm very appreciative of the fact that you guys are recording the histories of so many women. It's important.

PC: I just was amazed at what Amy and I don't know if she had a whole crew doing it or what, but that she has put all of this together because it's mind boggling when you see the list of what it took to get the people and the times and the whatevers.

KY: It's as overwhelming as making a quilt.

PC: More so, to me. This is going to be for Save Our Stories, and it is the whole heart of this project. We are going to conclude at 11:03 and I am Peggy Camp and I'm talking to Kathy York and I would like to thank you for your help in doing this.

KY: Thank you Peggy.


“Kathy York,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2264.