Lori Buhler




Lori Buhler




Lori Buhler


Pam Schultz

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Battle Creek, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schultz. It's Wednesday, June 2 [2010.] at 12:40 p.m. I'm here to interview Lori Buhler at her place of employment in Battle Creek, Michigan. This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan Quilters' Save Our Stories project of The Alliance for American Quilts. How are you today, Lori?

Lori Buhler (LB): I'm fine. How are you?

PS: Pretty Good. Tell me about the quilt you brought in today.

LB: This quilt is obviously not my best work, but it's got meaning to me because it was really one of the first ones that I designed myself. It didn't come from a pattern in a book or a purchased pattern, or anything like that. It started because I'd bought templates, plastic templates that were a certain shape and I kind of played with them and laid them together and it made a flower. So then I put this design together myself. This quilt is made out of flannel. It's actually--I call it my personal snuggle quilt because it's the quilt that I use to lay on the couch or whatever. You can see that the binding's all worn off. You see that? Both ends are that way. I pull it from the end rather than the sides. I'll have to replace the binding on that, but it's well used and well loved.

PS: Yes. What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

LB: Well, like I said it was the first one that I designed. I had it in the quilt show when I was quilter of the year in 2001. It was part of my display and a lot of people were asking me about the pattern for it. And I designed it myself so, of course, it didn't have a pattern. A lot of people liked it and were interested in the pattern and it got me to thinking that maybe I can design my own patterns. That kind of got me started down the line of thinking of developing patterns and trying to sell them. That's eventually where my book came from and this pattern is included in my book and I brought along a second quilt that's the same pattern but it's done in cottons and it looks nice. And this is the pattern that's in my book.

PS: Tell me about your book.

LB: My book is called "Quilter's Happy Hour". It was published by Martingale and Company in 2008. It has eleven patterns in it and all the quilts are named after cocktails. They have the cocktail recipes in it and it was a very exciting project for me to do, to see something come out in print with my name on it.
PS: Yeah, it is. Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview?

LB: Well, like I said, it does have special significance. It kind of got me started into the, down the path of designing my own quilts. Mostly that's what I do now.

PS: What do you think someone viewing this quilt might think about you?

LB: About me? [laughs.] I don't know. She uses her quilting and where's the binding. It's nice and soft.

PS: The next one is how do you use this quilt, and you've kind of answered that already. Do you have any other plans for this quilt?

LB: No, I'm not sharing it with anybody. This one's mine.

PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

LB: It really started very early. I remember, as a child, my mother taught me how to sew. She didn't quilt so she just did garments and so that's what I did. She also taught me to crochet and do needlework of all kinds and never really made any quilts. I do remember our family was friends with another family and on Sunday afternoons we used to swap kids back and forth to the other person's house on Sunday afternoon. My sister came home from these friends house and they had worked out a project together and she had made a quilt. They were just big squares and I think they were almost like upholstery fabric samples. She brought that home and I was so jealous that she had made this quilt. It appealed to me even then, but I didn't really get into quilting until I was an adult. It was back when the country style of decorating was starting to get popular and I wanted a quilt for my wall and I couldn't find one because if I could find one that I could afford then it wasn't the right colors. If I could find one the right colors then it wasn't one I could afford and so I decided to make one myself. That's how I got started.

PS: What age did you start quiltmaking?

LB: Probably about 24, 23 or 24.

PS: From whom did you learn to quilt?

LB: At that time there was a lady in my church who was a quilter and she showed me how to do the hand quilting stitch. She was the first person who showed me anything about quilting. The first quilts I made were really from patterns so I didn't really have anybody teach me. I got into one pattern that was a bed-sized quilt. It was a Giant Dahlia pattern. Yeah. Well, the story behind that--I wanted to make a quilt for my bed and my mother and I were in a quilt shop and she, like I said, is not a quilter. She sews but she is not a quilter and I had a pattern in my hand for a Trip Around the World quilt that I was going to do. You know, squares. She saw this Giant Dahlia one and she said, 'Oh, this would be easier. It has bigger pieces.' [Both laugh.] But it's a huge circular design and I laid it out on the floor and cut around it like you do a dress pattern. I wasn't really being too careful about how I was cutting it and I wasn't being too careful with my quarter-inch seams so when I laid out that big circular design, pulled the edges all out, the center of it raised up probably about two feet. Literally, I mean it was like this on the ground. It was horrible. But my mother, she tore it all apart and I paid a little more attention to my quarter-inch seams and put it all together and it's a finished quilt.

PS: Oh, that's great.

LB: At that point I knew enough to know I didn't know enough about quilting, so I took a class. I took a beginning quiltmaking class at The Quiltery.

PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

LB: Of course it depends on the week. I'd say probably four to six hours a week. Maybe more depending on if I've got something I need to get done.

PS: What is your first quilt memory?

LB: Like I said, with my sister coming home with the quilt and me being very jealous that she got to make a quilt and I didn't.

PS: Well, that kind of leads to the next question. Are there other quiltmakers among your family and your friends?

LB: Not really. I do have two quilt tops that were made by a great grandmother. But I'm not really sure. My mother was--it was through my mother's family. She had them. She wasn't sure if it was her maternal or paternal grandmother that had made them. So, I do have quilt tops that were made by a great-grandmother, but I'm not really sure who they are, unfortunately.

PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

LB: Well, everyone sleeps under a quilt. As far as time, and everything, my family is very tolerant of the time I spend quilting. They don't complain if there's no--of course there's just my husband and me now, but even when my daughter was small there was no complaints of no dinner on the table because I was quilting. They were very understanding about it.

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

LB: Well, not anything specifically. No. It's just a soothing way to get through any difficult time, but nothing specifically. No.

PS: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking.

LB: Well, I don't know. I'd have to think about that one. Could we come back to that one?

PS: Sure we could. What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

LB: It's just -- I guess it's just the creativity of it. You know, you work on it to see what it's going to look like when it's done. That's why I like to do things that use a multitude of fabrics for the most part because if every block is the same, by the time you've made ten there's no anticipation of what it's going to look like. I like to use different fabrics so each block looks different, so that when I get done with the block it's like, 'Oh, that's what it looks like together.' It's a process, the creativity process I think.

PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

LB: Isn't that the same one?

PS: I'm sorry it is. That's why I started checking them. What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

LB: Basting. [Both laugh.] Basting. Yeah. There's not much fun about that. You get down on the floor and you're on your hands and knees. [Both talk at once.]

PS: --until it's done because you can't leave it on the floor.

LB: That's right.

PS: What art or quilts do you belong to?

LB: I belong to the Cal-Co Quilters which is the quilt guild [Cal-Co Quilters' Guild.]. I also belong to the Ladies of the Lake, which is a smaller circle. I don't really attend any of their meetings right now. It's just hard when I'm working, but I go on their retreats and everything.

PS: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

LB: Yeah, I've got a really cool sewing machine that does a lot of stuff. So, I would say yes. When I got my new sewing machine--of course I've had it for probably five years now. It has an automatic thread cutter. That's a sweet thing. And it's all computerized. Of course, the rotary cutter; when I first took my first quilt class the rotary cutter was just coming out and becoming popular. That was an advance in technology back then.

PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

LB: I like to appliqué. I just finished a quilt that had a lot of piecing on it and it wasn't as much fun as doing appliqué. I enjoy that more. And materials? Of course, I just use cotton. I like to use a variety of fabrics rather than just three or four in a quilt.

PS: Describe your studio or the place that you create.

LB: It's the third bedroom in our house. I have the whole room to do with what I want. It's the guest room because the sofa in there turns into a bed. It's got a TV and a chair so I can sit and do handwork in there. I'm just in the process of trying to reconfigure it and get some--have my husband build me some new furniture so it's more workable. I've got a sewing machine and a table and then I've got a cutting table, but being so short it's at the wrong height for me. I really want something like cabinets all across the wall that will have lots of room to put things away. So I do have a room to myself but I'm working on trying to make it better.

PS: How do you balance your time?

LB: I don't cook or clean. [Both laugh.]

PS: I like that. Do you use a design wall?

LB: I do have one. It's a flannel, kind of a free standing thing, so you can put it up and take it down. I probably don't use it too much for designing, meaning looking at things and rearranging things. I like to just put things up as I finish them so I can see them. I do have one, yeah.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LB: That's different for everybody. I mean, everybody has different tastes. What I think is a great quilt somebody else might not think so much. So it's just a personal opinion, the combination of colors, the design you like, the quilting that goes into it.

PS: Which ones do you like?

LB: Well, like I said, I like ones that have lots of different patterns in it. I prefer appliqué. I like quilts that have a lot of quilting on it. I find that I'm doing more and more quilting on my quilts. That's taking a lot longer. I'm working on a quilt right now. It's a graduation quilt for one of my nieces. I bought a spool of thread to use for the bobbin because I use the clear on the top and I went through a whole spool of thread on the back of that quilt. That's 500 yards and I'm not done. It's got a lot of quilting on it and I like that.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LB: I think that's beyond me to answer. Artistically powerful. I don't think if I can answer that.

PS: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

LB: Well, there's a lot of debate about art quilts and regular quilts. Really, every quilt is a work of art. It's just, art is different to everybody. When the guild has had exhibits at the Art Center here in Battle Creek, and just putting a normal bed quilt under the lights in the gallery makes it art. I think that's what is so exciting about that exhibit, is to see our quilts displayed like that.

PS: What makes a great quiltmaker?

LB: These are hard questions. What makes a great quiltmaker? Somebody who enjoys what she's doing.

PS: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

LB: Anybody, right?

PS: Oh, yeah.

LB: I've got a lot of quilting heroes in my, in our guild. One of them--two of them that came to mind right away are Wanda Warner and Joyce Rupp and both of those, I think I'm drawn to their work because of the quilting they do. They both do machine quilting which has been a process for me to improve that. So I'm drawn to theirs because of the beautiful quilting they do on it. Shirley Palmer is an amazing quilter, because of her sense of colors, the way she puts colors together and the beautiful appliqué she does. That's just a few of my quilting heroes.

PS: Which artists have influenced you?

LB: Artists? I can't say that any have. You mean like famous painting artists?

PS: Well, maybe quilt artists.

LB: I don't know.

PS: Okay.

LB: I can't really say that any have.

PS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

LB: Well, I'm a big fan of machine quilting. To me--I've done both. When I first started quilting I hand quilted everything. I enjoy the process of hand quilting, but I want to make more than two quilts a year. So the speed of machine quilting helps me finish things. To me it's a harder process to do than hand quilting. Hand quilting is very relaxing. You sit down and you got a hoop in your lap and you can make it look nice. It just takes a lot of time. Machine quilting, when I first started doing it, it was an ugly mess. It was hard to get that quilt through the machine. You know the back had puckers in it. It was hard to make it look nice and so that's why I admire somebody who does beautiful machine quilting because I think it is harder to do beautiful machine quilting on a regular sewing machine than it is to do beautiful hand quilting.

PS: What about longarm quilting?

LB: Longarm quilting. There's a place for everything. There's a place for everything in quilting. Some people are snobs where 'you're not doing it all yourself. It can only be hand pieced and quilted,' but there's room in this quilting world for every different technique there is. If you've got a longarm quilting machine and you can operate it, more power to you.

PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

LB: It just is. It's a way to fulfill my creative urges. That sounds--it is. I just enjoy doing it.

PS: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

LB: I don't know. I don't have a good answer for that.

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

LB: Well, it's a traditional country art, I think, that has gone worldwide. It's not just a country thing that women do when they cut up old shirts and dresses. It's become a full-fledged art. It's probably a multi-million dollar business. What was the question?

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

LB: Oh, importance of quilts. I think everybody should sleep under a quilt, but that's just me.

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

LB: I think it was different in the past when women were making quilts out of old clothes and stuff, because then there was a historical record of what they had at the time, whether it's feed sacks or old aprons or whatever that they're cutting up to make quilts. It's a little different now. There is still a lot of ways to record history in quilts. I have been making graduation quilts for my nieces and nephews as they graduate from high school and on the back I piece into the back an open area. I usually use the digits of their graduation year like this year was two thousand and ten and they have it at their open house and everybody signs it. So it's a history of that event and for that person so this is my way of giving them something they can keep and hold on to.

PS: How do you think quilts can be used?

LB: Can be used? Well, we can sleep under them. We can hang them on the walls to view. We can put them on our tables. Just infinite possibilities.

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

LB: Well, I've got two minds about that. I mean, you should preserve your quilts for the future because you put a lot of time in and you'd like for them to last forever. But, on the other hand, if I give a quilt for a gift, I tell people, 'Don't put it away in a closet to keep it for nice. Use it. Use it and you use it up.' Like this one, it's on its way to being used up, but it brings me joy every day, so if I put it away I can't enjoy it. So, yes, it's important to preserve our quilts for the future. On the other hand, we should enjoy them today.

PS: What has happened to quilts that you have made for your family or friends?

LB: For the most part they enjoy them and appreciate them. I have requests for quilts all the time. I did graduation quilts for all my nieces and nephews as they graduated from high school. They're now starting to get married so I'm doing a quilt for when they get married. They're thrilled with them. I have made a few flannel quilts that weren't any great works of art that got used up. Meaning, the dog got ahold of them. They got holes in them. I got them back to see if I could salvage them and it was like, 'No, sorry. Have to throw that one out. I'll make you a new one.' But I can't say that they've--well, maybe when the dog gets ahold of them they get a little abused, but for the most part they're not abused. They're appreciated.

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

LB: One of the challenges, I think, is that the general public thinks that a quilt is worth whatever J. C. Penny sells them for. You know, they're selling the imports from China for fifty-eight dollars and the man on the street thinks the quilt is worth fifty-eight dollars, when, if I'm making a quilt, or anybody's making a quilt using quality fabrics, you've got a hundred dollars into the fabrics alone, plus all your hours of labor on there. So, it's hard to get across that these quilts are worth more than what they are selling for in the store. Another thing, too, I think a lot of people, if I tell people I'm a quilter, they say, 'Oh that's a dying art.' Well, no. No it isn't. You don't live in my world, so you might think that, but it's really not true.

PS: Have you ever been a board member or a chair of a committee in a guild?

LB: Yes, actually when I first joined the guild, a couple of months after I joined, I got a call from somebody on the nominating committee and asked if I wanted to be the secretary. And it was kind of out of the blue. It was like, 'Well, what the heck. Why not?' And that was a great way to get to know people in the guild; is to jump right in and join the board. I think I was secretary for five years. I was vice-president for a couple of years. I was president for two years. I chaired the quilt show for one year.

PS: That's a big job.

LB: Yup.

PS: Do you teach quilting? Or have you taught quilting?

LB: I have. Not consistently anywhere. I've taught at quilt camp. I've taught some classes at some of the local quilt shops.

PS: Have you ever won an award?

LB: Yes, a few. At our quilt show I've won, I don't know what I've won. I've won a number. One year I was very pleased to see that I won Best of Show at the quilt show. It was kind of funny because my brother had been visiting and I had that quilt on a spare bed and he was looking at it and it was like, 'Well, that's an ugly quilt.' [Both laugh.] You know men. They give their opinion. You know, of course it doesn't bother me because his opinion is not mine and it went to the quilt show and it won Best of Show. So then, now when he sees a quilt that I'm working on he'll say, 'Oh, looks like another award winner.'

PS: Anything else you'd like to discuss? Did we miss anything?

LB: I don't know. I don't know. I don't think so.

PS: Okay. This concludes our interview. It's 1:04 p.m. Thank you, Lori.

LB: Okay.


“Lori Buhler,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2382.