Lynn Welsch




Lynn Welsch




Lynn Welsch


Rosanne Miracle

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Houston, Texas


Alana Zaskowski


Rosanne Miracle (RM): This is Rosanne Miracle. Today's date is November 4th, 2011, and I'm conducting an interview with Lynn Welsch for Quilters' Save Our Stories a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Lynn and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Lynn, will you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Lynn Welsch (LW): Yes, this quilt was made for an invitational miniature quilt challenge and the theme of it was the journey is the reward. The title of the quilt is 'Hiking McKnight Mountain' and it was from a photograph I took hiking up through an Aspen grove in New Mexico. The idea behind it was in hiking, as in life, the journey as much as the destination is your reward and the things you do and see along the way are as important as getting to your destination.

RM: Do you use photography a lot in your quilts?

LW: I do. I like to take a lot of photographs, my own photographs, and then I like to do small miniature landscape quilts based on the photographs. This is an example of that.

RM: What was it that got you interested in quilting?

LW: Back when I was in high school a friend and I went to the Kutztown, Pennsylvania folk art festival and they had an exhibit of, they were very traditional quilts, but we were, we both sewed, and we were just blown away by quilts so we went back and cut up five-inch squares and sewed them together from all the dresses we've made and that was our first quilt. Then I didn't do much with it after that through college, but then in 1976 of the bicentennial, a friend that I had met where I'd moved was teaching basic quilting and I got back into it and started making quilted items; first traditional and then later I started making more art quilts and landscape quilts, things like that.

RM: Are you pretty much away from traditional quilting, more into the art quilting?

LW: Yeah.

RM: Do you think you'll go back to any traditional style?

LW: Any time, like a couple years ago I needed a new bed quilt, so I made a bed quilt, but most of my work are the smaller pieces that are art quilts, either abstract or realistic as in a lot of the landscape quilts, that's what I've been focusing on lately. I could do either, but my love is with the art quilts and the landscapes in particular.

RM: Do you still have that first quilt? What ever happened to the first quilt?

LW: The very first quilt, I fell over the quilting cliff right away, it was a baby quilt with about five-hundred pieces in it and it was given to my niece. I rather doubt that she has that first quilt still––

RM: That wasn't the five-inch squares from all your clothes?

LW: Well that one––

RM: That very, very first one––

LW: That one I didn't even consider a quilt really because I think it was tied and I gave to my brother, and I don't think he still has it but he did use it for a year.

RM: Oh, okay.

LW: Yeah.

RM: About how old were you when you first stared quiltmaking?

LW: In high school I was about sixteen I guess, probably. When I got really back into it, it was in mid to late twenties probably then in the eighties I really got into it strong. I joined the quilters' guild of Dallas [Texas.] and got involved with quilters in a group.

RM: Tell me about some of the groups that you're involved with and the work that they do.

LW: Currently?

RM: Mmm.

LW: I moved four years ago to New Mexico, I retired, and I live in a small town twenty-five miles outside of Silver City [New Mexico.] and I'm a member of the Southwest Women's Fiber Arts Collective and it's a group of all different women fiber artists––quilters as well as weavers, spinners, dyers, yarn makers. We have our own gallery in Silver City [New Mexico.] where we sell our work. I've been real involved with that group and in six days we're having the first Silver City [New Mexico.] Fiber Arts Festival that I've been chairing, so I've been really doing a lot of that. I'm also involved in a small group of quilters that get together once a month to share ideas and programs and things like that. Then I'm involved in S.A.Q.A., Studio Art Quilt Associates and they have a New Mexico group that's quite active, so I've participated in their shows in New Mexico, I had a piece in the Santa Fe Capitol Rotunda [New Mexico.] gallery. We had a five month show there this past year. I've been involved in that. I work in my studio fairly often, I have a nice studio in our home, so that's kind of what I've been doing lately.

RM: Do you remember when you first put a quilt in a show?

LW: It was a quilters' guild in Dallas [Texas.] and it was a small lap quilt and it won second place in the artisan category, and I was hooked [laughs.] and I've been entering shows ever since.

RM: I understand that you also were active in the bed turnings? Can you tell me a little bit about that?

LW: At our fiber arts festival, we're going to have a bed turning and that's where people bring their quilts in and they're piled up on a bed or two tables pushed together, and then you can pick the quilts up one at a time and show the audience and hopefully the quilters in the audience to give their story about their quilt. I've shown the one that's in the show here through the Lone Star's 3 quilters' book at several bed turnings in New Mexico. It's kind of fun.

RM: Do you feel like technology has had an effect on your quiltmaking?

LW: Definitely. Four years ago, I bought a Bernina 440 with the stitch regulator, this is free motion quilting on the small piece I brought today but my larger quilts I do use that stitch regulator for quilting. You know the fact of just being able to get on the internet through the S.A.Q.A website and see the monthly shows, slideshows of quilts, you have just this broader base to look at other people's artwork. I'm not that technological proficient so just even in small ways it's affected me. I know there's a whole lot more out there that I don't deal with, but––

RM: Whose works are you drawn to?

LW: Definitely Jo Diggs. She does small miniature landscape quilts and I've taken a couple of her classes and visited her in her studio in Portland, Maine. She uses a couple of my quilts in her slideshows as examples of her students' work and I just always loved her work. She's actually used this fabric years ago; I purchased a piece of hers and this fabric was in that piece––

RM: For the tree trunks––

LW: Yes. I've used it in this one. I found the fabric and bought a bunch of its years ago and just pulled it out for the first time to use in this piece, but I have an extensive stash, which I've added to at the show here [laughs.]

RM: That's easy to do, isn't it?

LW: Oh yeah, very easy.

RM: Do you feel like that there are any other artists that have influenced you, maybe not in the quilt world?

LW: My undergraduate degree was in art education, and I've always been drawn to the painters in the impressionist group and their use of color. I've been drawn to the modern painters with their real use of bold color. Some of my more abstract work is very bright; this is a little toned down because it's a landscape [laughs.]

RM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LW: I think it's a quilt that captures your attention that you want to go back and look at it again; you want to see it again. I think it's a quilt from a distance that says, "Wow," and draws you in, and when you get up close, you discover yet more things or surprises or interesting techniques that you can't see from afar. I think a great quilt really answers the tenets of fine art, you know there's a balance to it and a sense of color use and a sense of rhythm and that it's not so discordant you don't want to look at it, you know. It's a lot of those same tenets that you look at in fine art, I think also help make them a great quilt.

RM: What do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? Do you solely use machine quilting?

LW: I do solely now use machine quilting. I have done a very little bit of hand quilting. I honestly think that there's a place for hand quilting and machine quilting and longarm quilting in our industry and it's really what suits the purpose of your work or what makes sense to the particular quilt. A lot of it's just time constraints too and what you're comfortable with but I'm very comfortable with my machine but yet I can very much appreciate the handwork when people do hand quilting.

RM: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

LW: It's my therapy [laughs.] it's a huge stress reliever. I can just get in my studio and start to work on a quilt and I just zone in and everything else is blocked out as I concentrate on what color or, "Where shall I put this?" or "What am I going to do next?" and it's just a kind of a mental escape I guess, you know. I love playing with color and fabric and you don't have to use a little care in there [laughs.] working with my fabric and creating; all my work is original work in that I don't use patterns and a lot of that's just part of the creative process I love too.

RM: Does your inspiration come from solely from your photography or how else are you inspired in these original designs?

LW: Well, a lot of it is from the places I've been or the places I live. The inspiration in those places, I do take photographs. Sometimes they're inspired by a quilt challenge. This was both a photograph I had on my board for a long time, I wanted to make a quilt and then this challenge came up and for the journey is the reward and I really felt like that photograph fit that challenge and it was a good size to make. I do also do abstract work and sometimes that's inspired by wanting to put a certain color palette together. I love circles, so I like to play with geometric abstract quilts with circles. I have a quilt, I have work in a gallery in Silver City [New Mexico.] some of my fiber art quilts and framed fiber art pieces and one of them is, I found, it was inspired by this fabric, I found a fabric with little aliens on it and I cut out the aliens and I put them in spaceships and then I put beading for the lights on all the spaceships because I like in, then I made this fantastical landscape that they're flying over. Then I used, it's like a clear plastic people often use, put it over tablecloths, and I used that for the top of the spaceship so they like were in glass bubbles. To me, I like in New Mexico, and I needed to make an alien quilt, so it could be the fabric, it could be the photograph, it could be just a sense of wanting to put a color palette and shapes together. My inspiration comes from different places, basically.

RM: What's your process like, from beginning to end?

LW: Well, if I'm working off a photograph, sometimes I do a small sketch of the photograph then depending I might have it blown up at a document center, my sketch to a full-sized template to work off of. I often work with freezer paper, and so I will start cutting out the freezer paper shapes and I'm a purest from the point of view that I'm not a big fan, personally of raw edged appliqué, so every piece that I do, ever edge is turned under and stitched down with invisible thread. I use the freezer paper to turn my edges under. Then I will start to use a washable glue stick to glue the sections together, and then I will start stitching the sections together with the invisible, it's monopoly that I use––

RM: A polyester thread––

LW: Yes, not nylon, it's been an improvement over the old nylon products. Anyway, then I turn it, all the edges under and stitch all the edges down. Now the quilt that you see in Lone Star's 3 was done in 1992 and that is completely a pieced quilt. It is very different from the way I work now, the color palette is very different, it's just part of the evolutionary process as you grow as a quilter.

RM: Sure, sure. Do you have some thoughts where you think you might, a direction you might be headed in the future?

LW: Well, walking around this show I was thinking that I would like to take kind of what I'm doing and go bigger with it. I'd like to do, not huge pieces, just because that's wrestling a bear, but you know, more forty-inch pieces or whatever, and do some landscapes that are more involved. I'd like to also, a sad story, I had a quilt juried into art quilt miniature for this show, and FedEx lost it on the way to the show here, it was never found and yeah, I was pretty upset about it at the time, but I thought, "Well, I'm going to take the concept of that quilt," which was circles and bars, "And I think that I will choose a new color palette, but I like the black background the other one had, and go very large with it and do Circle Game 2," because Circle Game was lost. It could be a blessing in disguise, but you know, I thought I'd like to, I have to go back and do something with that concept since I lost, well I didn't lose it, FedEx did [laughs.] That's kind of where I'm thinking I'm going. I have a commissioned piece that I need to have done by May and they want something of New Mexico and fairly large, so I have several different landscape quilt ideas in mind to do for that, and they left it pretty wide open. I'll be working on that after I get through the Fiber Arts Festival in next week, so I'll start working on that.

RM: Do you ever use unusual fibers on your quilts or just primarily cotton fabric and threads?

LW: Right now, primarily cotton. This piece I did use a fabric marker for the leaves within the stitching of the leaves edges. I've started to do a lot more thread panting. This piece you can see it in the grass. I did take a, I went on a quilt retreat Holly Altman was teaching where we were using Angelina fibers and embellishments and beading, so I'd like to do smaller pieces in that direction also, to move off of being so rigid and adding some of these other things. So that's another direction I'm thinking about.

RM: Do you teach?

LW: I have taught. I have taught a class on color theory, I've taught a class on studio design, I've done a class on miniature landscape quilts most recently. Last year I did that for Rio Rancho, New Mexico group and it was a three-day weekend where they worked on landscape quilts, so I have done some teaching. I do enjoy that. Where I live is not really a teaching venue, it's a town of ten thousand people and so I haven't done a whole lot there, a little bit.

RM: Tell me a little bit about your studio?

LW: I love my studio. My husband and I actually live on a private airstrip, and we live in a metal box, it's a hanger-home; half of it is a hanger for the airplane and the cars, the garage too, and half of the box is a seventeen hundred square-foot house. I designed the building and the layout and the second largest room besides the great room, is my studio. It's about seventeen feet by sixteen feet, I think. It has large five-foot windows, two facing north and two facing west and then I have shades for them when I need it. It's got a tile floor and it has a Murphy bed in it that is also my guest bedroom. The bottom of the Murphy bed is my design wall, and the sides of my Murphy bed are cork tiles that I pin notifications and things up there. I built it with electric right in the middle of the floor so that I could sew there and have machine quilting set up without rolling over the cord with my chair. All my furniture is on wheels, it folds up, and it can be pushed aside so it easily becomes a guest bedroom. It's got walls with doors of fabric stored and a closet with stuff and it has counter and table, and my machine sits in the table and then I have a cutting table and the design. It's primo [laughs.] I love my studio space and it's a joy to work it. Then on the ceiling I have six fixtures with full-spectrum lighting like the Ott Lite only they're the Ott Tubes, each one has two tubes so I have twelve of those four foot bulbs on the ceiling so at night, it is like daylight in the studio and it looks like the alien house because the light is white, everybody else has this pretty yellow glow at night and mine is just white, you know, they can see it from all the way across the neighborhood, "Oh Lynn's working in her studio again." It's very well set up, it's really comfortable to work in and it's just my little sanctuary.

RM: When you teach locally do your students come to you or have you gone to other areas?

LW: No, I go to Silver City [New Mexico.] which is actually twenty-five miles from where I live. There's a quilt, we do have a small quilt shop in the town, they have little classrooms so that's where I've taught in town. I could have people come out to me, but a lot of people don't want to drive twenty-five miles, you know, out where I am but I do have a table and chairs and I could easily have classes in my studio. I have a door to the outside directly from my studio also if I do studio tours or people come in for classes. It was pretty well thought out when I put it together [laughs.]

RM: In what ways do you think that quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

LW: I think there's a lot of levels to that but women quilters' in history, I mean they were making quilts for their families to keep warm but it was also a personal creative expression for those women even though it was a practical item they still took pains to make it pretty or do things that they could when they could. There were a lot of quilts historically made by women that made political statements. They you know, they had a lot of meaning on a lot of levels I think for women, you know besides just the practical just keeping their family warm.

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

LW: [laughs.] Yeah. You know that's when times are the most stressful is when you know, I like need to get in my studio and just play with fabric and colors and design and even if I'm quite stressed out, I may not design but I will go in and just do. In other words I'll pick a task if I'm working on something that's fairly repetitive, like making tree trunks in here and turning the edges under, that I don't have to think beyond if I'm really upset but I can at least do that, keep my hands busy and be working towards my goal. I generally design first thing in the morning when I'm really fresh and then I have tasks so that later in the day or in the evening or watching TV I have other tasks when I'm working on a quilt or quilts that I can do while I'm, you know just sitting there watching TV.

RM: I know we talked a little bit about the early quilts, but your later quilts, where are they? Do you have them or have you given them to family or friends or sold them?

LW: I've sold some of my pieces lately, some wall quilts, more art quilts. A lot of my quilts were given away to family members. When I worked, just about everybody I worked with over twenty eight year period, I made baby quilts for them and when I retired, unbeknownst to me, they went back out and gathered up all these baby quilts, and they lined the walls of the reception room with the baby quilts I had made over twenty eight years, or whatever. There were photographs of the kids at the age they are now next to each baby quilt. I was like, "Oh I'm not going to cry," and then I walked in and I just lost it you know. They brought just about every quilt back and you know, our city manager worked for a city in Texas, came to the retirement reception and he had no idea I'd done this, of course everyone in the department did, and he just was blown away, you know, he's just like, "What a legacy." He kept looking around the room, but it was so moving and what a great tribute to me when I retired [laughs.] you know. It was pretty cool. So a lot of them, they had been well used and loved. Some of them I don't think they ever let the baby touch them, they were pristine condition, you know they ran the gamut but they still had them and they were willing to bring them back to share for the reception. That was pretty cool. That's where some of them are. I have some at home still, you know hanging on racks around my house.

RM: Can we see the back of your quilt?

LW: Sure.

RM: Will you tell me a little bit about your labeling?

LW: Well I always label everything I do. If it's going to be in a show I include my name, the address, my cell phone, any information and the title and when it was made.

RM: Handwritten?

LW: Yeah. I just do a handwritten label and I use a piece of fabric for the label that was the same from the tree trunks so I try to tie the label into something that makes sense with the quilt and I try to use backing fabric that makes sense, you know with the quilt and binding.

RM: What do you thinks the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

LW: I think time is a huge issue for quiltmakers. The second one would be with the economy would be money. You know we're looking at quilt fabrics that are over ten dollars a yard, spools of thread at four dollars a spool and that's going to start impacting what people buy and what they make. I think you're seeing the generations behind mine as having a lot of time constraints. If they can't get into careers and are working two or three jobs just to make even, I see that with my nieces, they don't have a lot of free time to do handwork or even machine work. You're seeing a growth of the modern quilt guilds which are people that are doing much simpler quilts, not so complex, but they still love quilting and using fabric but it's a whole different way of looking at quilting, which I'm glad to see that that's happening. I think time for a lot of people and then money probably are going to constrain the industry.

RM: I'd like to thank Lynn for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories oral history project. Our interview concluded at 2:48.

LW: Thank you so much––

RM: Thank you.

LW: I've really enjoyed talking to you.


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