Lynn Kough




Lynn Kough




Lynn Kough


Lenna De Marco

Interview Date

September 11, 2012

Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Chandler, Arizona


Delores Jenisch


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Lenna De Marco (LD): This is Lenna De Marco. I'm in Chandler, Arizona on September the 11th, 2012 and I'm interviewing Lynn Kough for Quilters S.O.S. [Save Our Stories.]. So, good morning Lynn.

Lynn Kough (LK): Good morning.

LD: Our first question--I'd like you to tell me about the quilt you have with you today.

LK: Well, the name of this quilt is "Stardust" and, as it happens, it's the cover quilt on the first book that I wrote, and had such a great time doing. It, shows off a design system that I worked out with a lot of eager and helpful students. And, we had a great deal of fun playing with traditional blocks and then seeing how much trouble we could get into if we broke pieces of the design out, or if we overlapped pieces of the design, and a lot of those results are in that book, Stretching Traditions. The fun thing about this quilt was that I had actually designed it as a horizontal piece on my design wall, and carefully put it all together, and took the top into the quilt shop where I was working at the time, and a friend of mine came in and I said, 'oh, come and look at this. See if you think it might make a good quilt for the cover for the book.' And, she did. And, it was laying out on a bare table, and so she looked at it the way I brought her over to see it and then she walked around to the end of the table, and she said, 'but, it goes this way.'

[LK and LD laugh.]

LK: And, she was right. [LK and LD laugh.] So, it became a vertical quilt.

LD: So, now this is your own original design and pattern. What do you think this design and this pattern says about you the quilt artist?

LK: Well, it says, I think, a number of things. Number one, I love star patterns in traditional blocks and so this was fun to play with. It's actually a block called 'Capital T', but if you mess around with the placement of the colors, or values, you get a star pattern from it. Secondly, it uses all of the colors in the primary and secondary groups. So, I really love color. I really love bright and exciting color, and so it shows off a lot of those. And I like the idea of incorporating the border with the interior part of the pattern so you can see in the quilt that the design sort of moves in and out of the border space. That was a lot of fun. And I also like incorporating all kinds of fabrics. There are fabrics used that read as solids. There are fabrics that look like batiks, or hand dyes, and there are fabrics that are absolute regular printed designs. And, I love mixing all of those together and seeing if they can play happily. [LK and LD laugh.]

LD: Now, those folks in Arizona are familiar with this quilt because it is on the cover of your book. Where does this quilt reside now? What do you do with it?

LK: Well, it travels with me as I go out to do lectures. It is useful in a number of different lectures that I do. And, so, it still has a life on the road. It's been in and out of more suitcases [laughs.] than most of my clothes. [LK and LD laugh.] And, it is always well received. One of the fun things that people ask about--it does have bead work on it--and I always tell them, if you're going to write a book, don't ask your editor the night before the quilt is due to be shipped out and photographed, whether or not you should put beads on it.

LD: [laughs.]

LK: Because she'll say, 'yes.' [laughs.] So, when they say, 'well, how did you decide what beads you should have on it, or what design?', I say 'that's how many beads you can sew on in 24 hours'. [LK and LD laugh.] And, that's why it has that many. [laughs.]

LD: It's a beautiful quilt. It really is gorgeous.

LK: Thank you.

LD: Let's talk a bit about you, the quiltmaker. How did you get started? Where did your interest begin, and when did you begin?

LK: Wow. Interesting thing is there were no quilt makers in my family and I didn't know anything about quilts really for a very long time. There were, however, very talented sewers. And, my father's older sister, Edith, for whom I am… I'm named for both of his sisters, Edith and Evelyn. I'm grateful they didn't call me Edith Evelyn. They named me Edith Lynn. Never ever have used her name, although it's my legal first name. But, Aunt Edie could sew anything. She was amazing. And, when I was in high school, I did a lot of plays, and we had an art teacher who was the costume designer and he would literally paint her a picture of what the costume was supposed to look like and then Aunt Edie would make it. And, so I think I learned to love fabric very early on. When I was a little girl, she made lots and lots of clothes for me. And, my mother sewed as well. But, quiltmaking was something of a mystery until I was in college and my sophomore year of college, I went to a school, Allegheny College, where it started to snow about the end of September, and probably quit by May. It was in northwestern Pennsylvania and we had a great deal of lake-effect snow. And, so I decided that I needed to have a quilt for my college bed. And, so, I made a quilt. And, in those days--that was 1966--in those days you were lucky if you found something in Woman's Day or Family Circle magazine, and the pattern would be a very, very tiny square with a blue grid over it that they would tell you to enlarge. And, I wasn't sure that I understood how you were supposed to do that so I just decided that I would take this bull by the proverbial horns and I would go home for Christmas break and I would make a quilt. And, I did. And my children call it "The Quilt That Will Not Die," [laughs.] because this quilt is constructed of wool, corduroy, and that staple of the sixties ladies' closet, bonded knit. [laughs.]

LD: You can't kill it.

LK: No. You can not kill it. It has survived about 40 dogs, and two active children, and it still, in fact, rides around in the back of the van. And, to make it extra warm and to be sure that I would be so well--so well kept in that cold climate, I backed this quilt with my father's Army blanket. [laughs.] So, yes, you could be warm under this quilt. Don't think you could turn over, however, because it weighs about 450 pounds. [laughs.]

LD: Did you use batting in it?

LK: I did. I did. And, over the years that has sort of disappeared because batting back then wasn't very good. [laughs.] And, people worry about what kind of stitches they make--well, we're not talking about toe catchers here, we talking about thigh catchers. [LK and LD laugh.] But, in order to get a needle and thread through that stuff, it was very big stitches. I'm sure it was very artful [laughs.] But, the top and the back survived. Most of the quilting stitches have disappeared and there may be some batting remnants in there, but I wouldn't--I wouldn't count on it. But, it's--it's amazing. It still--it still retains its colors and that's just [laughs.] incredible. Over all that time.

LD: Double knit does that.

[LK and LD laugh.]

LK: Indeed.

LD: So, from there--did that open up the world of quilting?

LK: It did, it did. When my children were young, I got together with some like-minded ladies in the neighborhood and we would do some stitching together, and I became fascinated by the geometric patterns. I'm not a math person, but I did love geometry. I had a great geometry teacher who encouraged us to think and to arrive at the proofs of the problem however it worked for us. He never insisted there was only one way to do it. And, that's how I always felt about quilting. There's never one way that you must do it. And, so I thank Joe Riccuiti. God bless him. He was about five feet tall and played the trumpet in his own jazz band. I just loved that man. And--and, I learned that there isn't always only one answer, or one way to solve a problem, or figure out a riddle or use a pattern. And, I--I've always enjoyed that. I guess I also have a short attention span. I just can't simply make the same block over and over and over and over again. I need to see what else I can do. What if I did this; what if I did that? And so, my love of fabric that I had always had from a little kid on up, suddenly blossomed in the--in the quiltmaking world. And, I met more and more friends that way and, as they say, you just never know. [laughs.]

LD: So, you've been quilting consistently since you were in college. Right?

LK: I think… yes.

LD: How do you think that the evolution of the new techniques have impacted your work? I mean, because, when you started there were no rotary cutters--

[both LK and LD talk at the same time.]

LK: Uh, that's true.

LD: --then. Yet--

LK: That's true.

LD: So, how--how did….

LK: Cardboard templates. I drew the cutting lines and I drew the stitching lines, and-- my first pieces were made by hand and I quickly discovered that there was no way I could possibly do all the things I wanted to do if I was going to do it by hand. So, the sewing machine became my tool of choice. I always liked what Harriet Hargrave said about it's quilting with an electric needle, and [laughs.] I--I agree. The rotary cutter I learned how to use--actually from the same friend that told me that quilt ought to go vertically instead of horizontally, and never looked back. At first there were some rulers I liked better than others. I think everybody develops a favorite tool, or a favorite set of tools--ways of working. I learned to use graph paper early on and it didn't always prevent me from making mathematical mistakes, [laughs.] but it was a big help. I could work out my designs and what I thought I wanted to do on those magic squares of paper, and then make it come true on the design wall. That was always fun. As far as surface design and art quilting and things like that, these are about as far as I go. I am a Virgo and I must confess that messy stuff doesn't appeal to me. So, I don't dye and I don't paint, and I don't stamp, and I don't do things like that, because it just doesn't appeal to me. I like the challenge of taking the printed commercial fabric that's available, and also supporting some other people in their dyeing efforts, and then making it all work together.

LD: Now, you're best known to us as a designer and teacher. When did you first begin designing your quilts? From the get-go, or did you use traditional patterns…

LK: No, I--I started working mostly with traditional patterns, and when I was asked to consider teaching at a shop, I was teaching beginning quiltmaking and understanding the pieced patterns for the most part, and teaching people how to figure out how to cut the pieces to make it work and all that sort of thing. I can do appliqué. I enjoy doing appliqué, but it takes me a fairly long time to do hand appliqué. And, so I don't do very much of it. I have recently discovered that I can actually stand glueing pieces [intake of breath.]--ooh. [LK and LD laugh.] Years ago I would have never ever considered it, but I have done some glueing, and top stitching of appliqué and find that enjoyable. Again, using my machine, and it goes a little bit faster. I must say it's a different look. Not the same as traditional needle-turn appliqué, but it's fun to do. I guess I started designing quilts, oh--maybe 10, 15 years after I really started to make them right. I really started to ask the 'what if' questions. What if I did this? What if I did that? What would happen if I stretched this, or I contracted that? What would happen if I overlapped? All those kind of things I talked about with--with what eventually became the first book. And, it was fun. It was liberating. It was interesting. The biggest challenge always in my teaching has been to offer students opportunities to make choices of their own and to take what they look at and say, 'Maybe I'd like to do something a little different with that, and how can I do that? I enjoy teaching mystery classes, but not the traditional mystery classes. I've taken traditional blocks, broken them down into pieces, and you put together the pieces and then you put them back together into a quilt that isn't necessarily the same block you started out with, or the same arangement of the various components. And, I love opening that door and possibility and watching the light bulbs go on over the students' heads… 'Where can we go with this? What can we do with these?' And, its very exciting.

LD: What do you--is that your favorite part of creating the quilt? Is it the design, or do you like the execution, or the finished product, or…

LK: Wow! I think I like it all. I like--I like that design rolling around in my head for a while. It takes me a while to let it percolate, I like to say. I have to see what could happen and then figuring out how to make it happen, and then finding the fabrics that will allow it to happen the way I envision it. Although, a fair amount of the time I start putting the pieces of fabrics up that I think will work, and they may or may not. As silly as it sounds, I do like to let the quilt talk to me. I'll go away from it. I'll come back and say, 'You guys still playing well together, or do we need to make some changes here?', and see how that works out. I enjoy sitting at the machine, sewing. It's a challenge to sew quarter inches and after a while it kind of becomes… the fingers have a memory in them and they know what they're going to do, how they're going to do it. I enjoy figuring out the quilting design because I do believe that all parts of the quilt should work together.

LD: Do you do your own machine quilting?

LK: I quilt my own pieces, yes. Mostly by machine. I do enjoy doing some of the utility quilting. And, I do teach a class on that which is fun. But, mostly I work with the machine which means I have to be at home to do it. I can't sort of take it to the dentist's office and work on it. I can work on sketches and designs when I go there. And, I love putting the binding on! I didn't used to. I didn't when I started. But I had another dear friend, Janice Byrne, who would, who would take our group raffle quilts--Janice always put the binding on, and she said, 'You know, you really need to do this because the sense of satisfaction is so [laughs.] wonderful.' And, she said, 'If I always get to feel that, you should have the opportunity to feel that.' And, she was right. I was binding my own quilts, but I wasn't--I didn't think it was a greatest idea, but then I started to look at it Janice's way [laughs.] and it's just a great feeling. 'Wow! Look at this. It's a complete package.' And, I also now don't necessarily always bind a quilt. I have some other edge finishes that I use. And, it depends on what the quilt needs, and that's what we go with.

LD: You're probably one of 12 people in the world that like it.

LK: [laughs.] Very funny.

LD: Tell us a little bit about your design studio which I'm sure you do have one. I'm at your studio. How does it look? How you work with it? Do you have a design wall? All that stuff.

LK: Well, I'm very fortunate in the home we live in now. My first sewing room, back when we were first married, was actually in a walk-in closet. [laughs.] I have progressed.

[LK and LD laugh.]

LK: And, the room that we're sitting in now actually used to be my office and fabric storage. And, then there's a little room next--across the hall that was my cutting table and my sewing machine and all that sort of thing. And, I--we live in a home that has what they refer to as a mother-in-law suite, or whatever, and after all of our wonderful parents passed on, a couple years ago my husband said, 'I think that you should take the apartment space, and that should be your studio.' And, I said, 'No, you can't be--no, you really shouldn't …' 'Yes', he said, 'yes, you should have that space.' And, so I am a very fortunate person because I have a large room that has not only my office and my book cases and my longarm, and my two tables set up with sewing machines. [laughs.] I know--it's--he says I've earned it. So, …

[LK and LD laugh and talk at the same time.]

LD: I'm sure you have.

LK: I'll go along with that.

LK: And, then there's a second room that has all the fabrics stored in it, and my big cutting table, and my design wall. And, it's not a huge design wall by a long shot. It's two 4x8 pieces of foam core board put together and covered with felt, and that's what I work on. That's what I've worked on for years.

LD: Let's talk a little bit about--about quilts as art, and your studies of quilts. What do you think will make a great quilt?

LK: Well, as I said, I do think that all the elements of the quilt work together. The design, the stitching, the fabric, the patterning, the finishing, the quilting---all of it works together. I've had the great privilege of being a judge at many shows and its always a wonderful time to not only share knowledge with quiltmakers, but also to enjoy the fruits of their labors, and to see the wonderful quilts that so many people are making. And, they don't have to be elaborate. They can be a simple pattern. I am absolutely ga-ga over red and white quilts, or blue and white quilts, with a simple repetitive pattern, but where the fabric choices, and the stitching, the quilting pattern just all work together so beautifully. I have to confess I am less impressed with what appear to be chaotic art quilts where I don't feel all the elements are working together. But, again, I try to be open minded [laughs.] about this and to see it for what it is. But, that's again, you know, the wonder of quilt making. There's something for everyone. If you want to do simple repetitive patterns, if you want to do elaborate surface design, if you want to try quilting tea bags together, if you want to dye your own fabric---there just is no end to all the permutations of what can become a quilt.

LD: Do you feel a connection at all with the quilts of the past, like the nineteenth-century quilts that you referred to ?

LK: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a very, very tiny collection [laughs.] --mostly three quilts that I found in my grandfather's attic. I don't know where they came from because they're not mine. But, there's a crazy quilt, and an appliqué quilt – a Colonial Girl appliqué quilt, and a blue and white basket quilt. And, they are very dear to me. I love those three quilts. And, I have a few other old, old quilts that came from an elderly gentleman in New Jersey when we were working on the New Jersey Heritage Quilt Project, documenting quilts. And, I know that he sold the best quilts that he and his wife had collected, but he did give me three quilts that are more utilitarian---or that they're just--they have so many things wrong with them now that age has done to them. [laughs.] But. I love them too, especially one of them because it's bound in the tape that was only made in New Jersey.

LD: Really?

LK: Yes, yes. And--I'll show it to you, Lenna.

[LK and LD laugh.]

LD: That's my area. You know that.

[LK and LD laugh.]

LK: So, yes, I feel a very strong connection with quilts of the past. And, I just especially enjoy finding pictures, if I haven't seen the quilts themselves, of patterning and design that's just sort of off the wall. I mean, the beautiful Baltimore Album quilts--yes, I admire the workmanship and all the beautiful patterning in them. But, some of the ones that I love the most are ones that are, for example, pinwheels that just--the fabric in them has no business being in the same quilt together. [LDlaughs.] And, the colors are just strange and wonderful, and yet, that quilt is so exuberant that I just love it. I just love it. And, it just says that--that whoever put this quilt together was having an awfully good time. [laughs.]

LD: I wish our listeners could see you because you're just embracing yourself.

[LK and LD laugh.]

LD: Well, I mean, this is a kind of question that you can answer it any way. So, let's get specifics. How--what is quiltmaking to you? How does it play a part in your life? How does it define you? Or, does it define you?

LK: Well, I'm a wife and a mother, and before I was a quiltmaker I was a singer, and an actress, and an English teacher, and, um, -- [laughs.] Cooking is also a part of who I am. I sing still. I sing with the Sonoran Desert Chorale, and this is my twelveth year with them and I've loved every minute of that. And, strangely enough, I think I love the rehearsals more than the concerts because of the learning process and the discovery process and I think that's what I love about quilting too. I love the finished product. I do, just as I love singing in the concerts. But, it's all of the puzzles to solve and the choices to make that go into putting a quilt together that I really, really enjoy. And, as soon as it's done I'm ready to move on to another one. I don't need to sit and look at it forever [LK and LD laugh.] I want, I want to learn something else now. I guess that's your attention span thing again. But, it--I think that's who I am as a person, too. I enjoy discovering things. I enjoy understanding things that I didn't know about, or things that are new and different. I love the NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration.] home page. Or the page where you can see all those wonderful cosmic photographs and stuff like that. I mean, I just--I love to learn. I love to, to experience all kinds of things, and I haven't yet run out of things to experience in quiltmaking. So, --

LD: Do you think it's the creative process that brought you most to quiltmaking?

LK: I think so. I think that's the part that I probably enjoy the most.

LD: Now, as a teacher, and we're coming to the end of our time, but as a teacher and someone who travels all over the country, and teaches us up here in Arizona, how do you see, now that we talk about the past, how do you see quiltmaking in American life today?

LK: Well, it's very interesting to watch what's now called the Modern Quiltmaking Movement. And, I look at it and say, 'Everything old is new again.' [laughs.] And, I don't care how we get new folks to quilt--if you want to call it The Modern Quilt Movement, and if you want to work with simple shapes and lots of quilting area, that's fine by me. As long as you're quilting and as long as you're trying it and enjoying the process. I think in this economic climate of today a lot of women are turning and looking at sewing as an opportunity in their lives to do quilting or to do home dec items. I think that the quilt market is, is trying to expand to cover all those areas. The thing that astounds me, of course, is the price of cotton fabrics these days. I'm just stunned by it and I often wonder how new young families and women-- I know when I started, even when it wasn't all that expensive a yard [laughs.], there were lots of times when I could only afford a quarter of a yard of something, so it was a very precious commodity to me. And, I think there will always be slightly new and different gadgets. I watch with awe the new kinds of thread that come on to the market. I think that's very exciting. I miss some of the ones who've gone away from the market because I fell in love with those in my work. It's--it's always--because in part it's tied to retail, it will always evolve because it's always in retail. 'What have you done for me lately? What's new? What's different?' But, I think that the core tradition, the patterns that have been passed down from women for years and years and years, the feeling of taking something in your hand and making something beyond what it is to begin with. A piece of fabric is beautiful. Can I make it more beautiful by incorporating it into my handwork, into what I'm creating? And, I think that quiltmaking does that. It allows us a creative outlet, anybody a creative outlet. It allows you to be as elaborate or as simple as you wish, to express what's important to you, or simply what you need at the time because the baby shower is in two days. [laughs.]

LD: It's a really interesting point, because, I mean, if you think about quilting historically, I mean, primarily they were utilitarian, functional items that women expressed--could still express their own artistic sensitivity with. And, now we have such a modern quilt movement, primarily art quilts, or a lot of it is art quilts. Do you think that there is still the same emotional investment into quilt making now-a-days as there was in the past? I mean, you're read all the diaries and the historical stuff about it--

LK: Yes, I think that there are two kinds of quiltmaking, perhaps, that are happening now. One would be the quilt where women are expressing themselves solely in an artistic medium that's meant to be hung on a wall, or to be framed, or they are using fabric and/or surface design material, in place of what might have been paint, or crayon, or watercolor, or things like that. And, then I think there are others, the second side of it, who are still making the quilts for beds, and for children, and for gifts for occasions, for very special parts of their lives, and that those quilts still express an artistic sense in that person, or perhaps even they're following a pattern down to the fabric that's in that pattern, and every single step of that pattern, but that they are putting their own love and emotion into that by actually making that item. So, I think probably two sides to the coin.

LD: This is our final question, but what do you think is the future of the quilting in America? Where do you think it's all going to go? [LK laughs.] That's an easy one.

LK: [laughs.] I think that quiltmaking will always be a part of American art and/or craft. I won't get into that discussion. [laughs.] I think that quilts will always speak to us in ways that the blanket set you buy in the store, or the bedspread that came off the loom, who knows where, can't speak to us in that same kind of way. And, I think that there will always be women who love fabric and who need--who need,--who have a need to touch fabric and do things with fabric and to create with fabric. And, I think we will--I think we will revisit quilt revivals over and over and over again. And old will be new, and new will be old, and it will be an evolutionary process that I hope never ever comes to an end.

LD: Amen to that.

[LK and LD laugh.]

LD: Well, thank you very much, Lynn. It's been wonderful having you and we're so delighted that you are part of the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame and that you're--even though we're both transplants--I'm so happy that you're here in Arizona.

LK: Well, thank you so much, Lenna. This has been a pleasure and I am so honored to be a part of the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame.

LD: Thank you.


“Lynn Kough,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,