Rosemary Kimball


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Rosemary Kimball


Rosemary Kimball was interviewed as part of the South Central Michigan QSOS. She shares her experience of making quilts for family and the excitement of discovering lost family quilts.




Rosemary Kimball


Pam Schultz

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Leslie Warren May


Battle Creek, Michigan


Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schultz. It's Monday, March 21, 2011 at 10:35 a.m. I'm interviewing Rosemary Kimball at Westlake Presbyterian Church 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. Hi, Rosemary. How are you this morning?

Rosemary Kimball (RK): Just ducky.

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

RK: I repaired a quilt for a lady who had a quilt of this design and she needed to have a repair done. I don't remember how I happened to be the one that said they would repair it, but I did. I liked the design so well, and I had never seen it before, so I made a pattern from the quilt and made my own out of my own fabric.

PS: When did you make this quilt?

RK: In 1999.

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

RK: No special meaning, I guess, but I just enjoyed it and I love thirties fabric. It was thirties fabric.

PS: Why did you choose to bring this quilt to the interview?

RK: Because I really like it. She was thrilled. I put it in the quilt show in 1999 and I still had her quilt, and so I hung them side-by-side in the quilt show. She came to that show and she was thrilled to pieces to see both of them. It also got picked as Judges' Choice--

PS: Well, nice.

RK: --at that time, also. And I do like it.

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

RK: Maybe that I'm picky-uney in what I do. I'm very careful with what I do and maybe they would conclude that I love appliqué, which I do and they might conclude that I like hand quilting, because that's what I do.

PS: I would conclude precise, not picky-une, precise.

RK: Well, maybe. Maybe that, too.

PS: How do you use this quilt?

RK: I haven't actually used it. It's in storage in the special furniture that I had made just to hold my quilts.

PS: What's that furniture like?

RK: Oh, it's wonderful. The husband of one of our former members made that for me. I wanted something that would hold my quilts and so I had Mike make it for me and he did a beautiful job. I love it.

PS: Is that like a cabinet, or--

RK: Yeah, it's lovely. It really is lovely.

PS: What are your plans for this quilt?

RK: Probably one of the kids will get it sooner or later, but they're not going to have it until I'm dead and gone. [both laugh.] Anybody that gets it is going to have to appreciate it, and appreciate the work that went into it. And all of my kids appreciate what I do.

PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

RK: I've always been interested in it. When my husband and I used to travel I knew that one day I would be a quilter. And wherever we went I would look for quilting magazines. If I'd find one I'd buy it and take it home. That was before I ever got into actual quilting. I've always known that one day I would quilt.

PS: At what age were you when you started quilting?

RK: Well, let's not get down to specifics. I've quilted for thirty-six years, actually. The first quilt I ever made I made for my first granddaughter and it was an appliquéd quilt, very simple little animals, appliquéd to make a baby quilt. And she still has it. In fact she talked her mother into giving her that quilt not too long ago. So she has it, now, instead of her mother. But, that's the first quilt I ever made.

PS: From whom did you learn to quilt?

RK: Me, myself, and I.

PS: You're self taught?

RK: Oh, yes. I have taken a lot of classes but I've sewed since I was ten years old, so it wasn't completely unknown to me. I knew how to sew. But I prefer handwork rather than machine, and I still do.

PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

RK: Depends on what else I've got going. Once I start, though, if I've got something that I'm really interested in I do it and forget the eating or cleaning or anything else. It's what I do, what I enjoy doing.

PS: What is your first quilt memory?

RK: The baby quilt that I made for my first granddaughter.

PS: Are there other quiltmakers in your family or among your friends?

RK: You know, after my aunt passed away, when I was clearing her house, I found a box, a coat
box up on the shelf in the hallway. I didn't know what was in it and I opened it and there were two quilts inside of it that I had never seen before. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I was so thrilled and I don't know who made them. I really don't know who made them. It could have been my grandmother because she was a dressmaker and she sewed for people. It could have been my aunt but I don't know. I mean I'm not aware that she sewed and, of course, my mother sewed but I know she didn't do those quilts. Evidently somewhere along the line there was a quilter. I don't know how many quilts they made but I love those quilts and, oh, I was so thrilled to find those. I don't think they'd ever been used.

PS: Wow.

RK: I really don't think they'd ever been used. I put them in the quilt show one year a long, long time ago. They are lovely quilts.

PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

RK: Well, my kids appreciate what I do. They think it's wonderful. I'm in the process of making one for my son and daughter-in-law which I may or may not ever get done. I've got ten of the twelve blocks done. It's all hand quilted, or hand appliquéd. But I ran out of fabric for the background, so I've been searching for the fabric for the background and I'm going to have to substitute something, because I no longer can find--and I don't know why I ran out. I don't, maybe it's misplaced. Maybe it's somewhere, but I haven't been able to locate it. It's got to be finished because I'm going to hand quilt that, too. I'd better get started. I'm not getting any younger.

PS: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time.

RK: Probably, yes. Without realizing I was using them for that purpose.

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

RK: I'm easily amused. [PS laughs.] No specifics, but I'm easily amused, so. I don't know how to answer that, really.

PS: I know you've told us more than, at least one per quilt.

RK: I can't be specific, I guess.

PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

RK: Being able to do what I love to do and show my creativity and I do the best I can. I'm not satisfied; if it's pleasing to me then I know it's going to be all right because I am very fussy about how I do things.

PS: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

RK: I don't know that there's anything that I don't enjoy. I think getting things ready to start the process is what I least enjoy doing.

PS: Getting all your materials and thread and pattern?

RK: Yeah. And I am really disheartened now because I don't have room. I don't have room for my fabrics. I downsized five years ago and moved, and I had space before. I don't have space now. If I had my druthers I would have a great big sewing room so that I could see and get to my fabrics and have room to sew. I'm very confined now. I don't like it.

PS: And hard.

RK: I don't like it.

PS: What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

RK: I belong to Cal-Co Quilters' Guild. At one time I belonged to one, two, three, four circles. Now I only belong to three. At one time I subscribed to about six quilting magazines, but I kept some that were of interest to me and I no longer subscribe to any of them. I'll never live long enough to do all the quilts that I'd like to do.

PS: What are the three circles?

RK: Sew 'n Sews, Southside Ladies of the Evening, Spring Chixs.

PS: And do you do different things between those groups or--

RK: Some of the groups we do our own thing and we also do charity quilts in a couple of the circles, too. Not all the time along with our own things.

PS: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

RK: I guess not so much because I'm from the old school. I've learned to do the things that I do and it's pretty well imbedded in my thinking and doing. I'm not in a hurry to do things. I don't do them just for the sake of seeing how many things I can do. I take my time and am careful. I don't think, yes, rotary cutters are wonderful. That was a big time saver. I believe in rotary cutters. But some of the things, no.

PS: What about templates? What did you use for templates on this, to cut the pieces?

RK: I made my own on this particular quilt.

PS: Out of what?

RK: Cardboard.

PS: Would you do that now? Or would you use plastic?

RK: Maybe.

PS: [laughs.] Whichever you could get your hands on first?

RK: That's right. The trouble with cardboard, it wears out. It gets squishy along the edge. I do use plastic, you know, template material.

PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

RK: I love thirties fabrics. I love thirties fabrics. I go for the pastels and the fabrics that are easy to look at. I like the other fabrics but I don't do as much with dark fabrics as I do light fabrics. I want something I think I won't get tired of, that's soft and easy to live with.

PS: Kind of friendly, welcoming?

RK: Oh, yes.

PS: Well, you did a little bit of this, describe your studio or the place that you create.

RK: Well, let's see. How about the dining room, living room, not the kitchen, fortunately. Even the bedroom, sometimes. My sewing room is very small. It also has a computer in it so there's not much room. I've got stacks and stacks of fabric in the closet that I struggle to take the fabrics out of. And when I get it out I can't get it back in because it's so tight. I can't get to it because there's stuff on the floor. I have plastic tubs with stuff in, stacked and I've forgotten what's in the tubs and I can't get to them there's so much. It's miserable. If I had my druthers and a lot of money I would have more room. I'm getting too poor, too old and to anything different. [laughs.]

PS: How do you balance your time?

RK: Balance time? What's balance your time? No, I don't balance my time. I eat if I'm not doing something that's enjoyable. If I'm involved in getting something that I want to get done and I'm enjoying it everything else stops. I don't clean. I don't eat. That's what I do. I have nobody to say you can't do it that way, so I do.

PS: Do you use a design wall?

RK: I maybe would if I could get to it. It's got too many things in front of it. I've got one.

PS: You do have one.

RK: I do have one. Yeah, I thought it was a good idea. I don't really need one if I have a pattern and know what I'm going to do. I don't need a design wall necessarily. It's a good thing because I can't get to it anyhow.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

RK: One that's well done. One that's pleasing to the eye.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

RK: I don't know. Do they have to be powerful? They have to get your attention, but everybody is different. And every quilt doesn't get every one's attention. So, people like different things. And you do what you like and there'll be someone along the way that likes what you do. But they'll also like something that someone else does in an entirely different design. And different colors. And that's a good thing.

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

RK: I don't know. I've seen quilts that have gotten special notoriety and maybe I don't think they deserved it. I've seen others that were absolutely beautiful that I think should have gotten more attention. So, it's all in the eye of the beholder I guess.

PS: What makes a great quiltmaker?

RK: Just one that loves what they do and does a good job.

PS: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

RK: I don't know if there's any one special quiltmaker. I enjoy the works of a lot of well-known quiltmakers. I can't think of a specific one.

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

RK: Well, of course I'd prefer the hand quilting. And, yes, there is a place for machine quilting and there are some that do beautiful work. I think there's a place for machine quilting, especially if you are doing a quilt for a child. You don't want to spend--yes, you want to do a good job and you want to do something that they're going to enjoy. But you don't want to spend hours and hours hand quilting if you're intending that they use the quilt. Because then you're devastated to think, 'Oh, they didn't take care of it.' I made a quilt for a granddaughter and, of course, I've got six granddaughters. I made a quilt for this one little girl and we didn't know whether we were going to have a little boy finally, or not. Of course, we didn't get one so I made a quilt for her and I made her as a little fisher-girl and I made the quilt with a hook on a fishing line and the worms were in a Campbell's juice can. Rather than Campbell's soup, I made it Kimball's on the outside of the can.

PS: Oh, how cute.

RK: She absolutely loved that quilt and a couple years ago the quilt was worn out and she wanted that repaired. It was so well gone that I couldn't repair it. I mean the only thing I could have done was make another quilt, which would have defeated the purpose. I said, 'You're going to have to love it and leave it as it is because there's nothing I can do with it.' But, it was a cute quilt and it was fun to make. It was fun to make and she dearly loved it.

PS: She did, she loved it to death.

RK: Yes, she did. And it was appliquéd, of course.

PS: What about long-arm quilting? How do you feel about that?

RK: If I don't have to do it it's fine. I've had some things quilted. I've had some done that were done very well. I had some bad experiences with longarm quilting, so I'm pretty dog-gone fussy in who I would have. I want to know that they can do a good job before I would send one of my quilts out to be quilted. If I have the time and energy I'll hand quilt.

PS: Which artists have influenced you?

RK: Don't know.

PS: How about people that you do know? People in the guild, or--

RK: Oh, there are some that do a wonderful job. And, yes, I'm always impressed with some of the people in our great guild. And some of our guest speakers that come it, I can't be specific, but there are a lot of them. I love their work. And it may not be what I do, but I appreciate what they do.

PS: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

RK: Oh, my goodness. If you've got to have a hobby, it's one of the best ones I can think of. Ceramics you can't come up with. No, you can't. Quilts you can. In quilts you can keep warm with, especially in the winter when your hand quilting. Ceramics you can't do that to. I used to make gem-stone jewelry. I had to do it when I had a basement; I had to do it in the basement. I don't want to spend time in the basement now. You can quilt upstairs where there's light, preferably a lot of light. So I gave up the gem-stone jewelry, but I enjoyed that when I was doing it. But I'd rather make quilts and have them stack up than making things that I have to dust.

PS: Good point. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or your area or region?

RK: I don't know if they reflect anything. Many years ago one of our ladies in town that had a quilt shop got out of the business because she said quiltmaking was passé and it was going out. I don't believe that's true. Seems like it's pretty healthy to me.

PS: I think it is pretty healthy.

RK: I think she was wrong. Maybe she was just tired of it. I can't imagine anybody being tired of it, but maybe she was.

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

RK: I think quilts have been around for years and years and years and years. People made quilts. They've always been artistic. They did it, yes, because they needed to keep warm. They didn't have the things that we have. They cut up their old clothing and made quilts. They did it because they needed warmth. Now quilts, you don't need it for that, although they're used for that. But they are not necessities. They're a form of art, as far as I'm concerned. And you get a lot of satisfaction; I do, at least, from completing a quilt and even in working on it. It's not a bad hobby to have.

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

RK: Would we have a place in history, maybe, if it weren't for our quilts?

PS: Oh, that's very good. You're right. We wouldn't.

RK: No. No. And it still is a man's world. I don't care what anybody says.

PS: It is.

RK: And there are more, way more women quilting than there are men, so what does that tell you?

PS: How do you think quilts can be used?

RK: They can be used for display; they can be used out of necessity. They can be used as art. And I think they're important. Now that the economy is such and they're discontinuing so many of the art and music in schools I think it's even more important now, to have quilting and these sort of things. And I think it's necessary for children to see these things.

PS: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or those of friends and family?

RK: Oh, I've made quilts for a lot of the members of my family and besides the six granddaughters I have got seven great grandkids, five of them girls and two of boys. So I have all kinds of possibilities of quilts that I can make. I've made quilts for all but two of the great grandkids. And if I live long enough there'll be great-greats I can make quilts for, if I can still see. I've given quilts, a lot of quilts, as gifts and my kids all appreciate what I do and I hope they won't be fighting over them when I'm gone, but I guess I won't know that, will I.

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

RK: Probably being able to find fabric. It's more expensive all the time. But if we are die-hard quilters I'm sure we have got our stashes. So we shouldn't have to worry too much. I don't know that we should have too many worries. We can always quilt. If they quilted years and years and years ago with not much light and with very few things to quilt with--

PS: Not much fabric--

RK: [inaudible, both talk at once.] I guess we shouldn't be too frightened of the whole thing.

PS: That's true.

RK: Yeah.

PS: Do you have any questions or is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

RK: Not really.

PS: Okay, well then, this concludes or interview. What time is it? Thank you. It's 12:05 [p.m.]. I think that's it. Bye.

RK: Bye
[conversation not pertaining to interview.]

PS: This is Pam Schultz. Rosemary and I have been chatting after her interview and we would like to cover some more information. Now you said that you made a quilt that was in one of Ami Simm's books. [Classic Quilts: Patchwork Designs from Ancient Rome, Ami Simms, Mallery Press, 1991.]

RK: Correct.

PS: So how did that come about?

RK: Ami came to one of our guild meetings back in, I don't remember when, probably in, maybe in '96. I'm not sure. And said she was going to do this book that had designs, the mosaic patterns that were in ancient Rome. And, would anybody like to do a quilt to represent those ancient mosaics? I volunteered to make one of them and I chose the one I wanted to make. And it was chosen as one of the quilts she had in her book. I also traveled to Rome on one of her quilt trips, in fact I took four trips with Ami, two to Italy and one to the Netherlands and one to Hong Kong. But I made the one quilt that she showed in her book with the little blurb about humor and about my quiltmaking. It was fun and it was fun to go with her on this trip and see where the design came from. Afterwards I also made a miniature when we were having miniatures that we auctioned off at our guild quilt shows and one of our members bought that as a miniature of the quilt I made. That was "Plotted Plants" was the name of the quilt that I made. I forget the name of the mosaic but it was fun. I never thought that that would be shown in her book but it was, so I was thrilled to death.

PS: Did you get a copy of that book?

RK: Oh, yes I have two copies of that book. I got copies that I gave my kids and then I have a copy of that book. Yes. Yes.

PS: Well, that's really interesting.

RK: That's fun. It was fun. We had a great time.

PS: Thank you, Rosemary.

RK: You're welcome.

[end of interview.]

Interview Keyword

Quiltmaking for family
Learning quiltmaking


“Rosemary Kimball,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,