Monna Kornman




Monna Kornman




Monna Kornman


Olga McClaren

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Karey Bresenhan, in honor of Jewel Pearce Patterson


Houston, Texas


Alana Zaskowski


Olga C McClaren (OCM): Monna and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Let's start Monna with this beautiful quilt you've brought. What can you tell me about it?

Monna Kornman (MK): I was inspired to do a crazy quilt when my aunt left her house. She left a real old, old crazy quilt all wool, embroidered, and just in threads, but I was so fascinated with it that I wanted to make one. I started collecting velvet to make one and I've got velvet clothing and velvet from sample books and collected enough to make the quilt. Then just embellished it and I had more fun embroidering and collecting stuff to put on it and I put my signature on the corner in traditional crazy quilt fashion.

OCM: What special meaning does it have for you?

MK: I just like to do that kind of thing. I got Judith Montano's book which showed me how to proceed and I took that as my instruction and went from there. Then I entered it in the quilt show here in I think it was 1997. I took second place on it and all my friends just didn't, they just didn't like it because I didn't get first. I said, "You know, when you put something in a show, you put it in there for people to see," and I don't ever expect to get a blue ribbon or a red ribbon or anything, I just want to have people appreciate quilting. That's my aim, is to let it grow.

OCM: Do you think if people looking at this can tell anything about you?

MK: Oh I don't know. They might think I have a fetish [laughs.] I just like to do handwork. I love to embroider. A lot of those are just original designs, I just take the needle and thread and start. Some of them are kind of patterned to start with and I follow it, the design or pattern. A lot of the velvets were printed and I embroidered in the same areas, followed the print, and it came out real nice. It was fun to do.

OCM: It's just amazing. What do you do with this quilt in your home?

MK: I just hang it.

OCM: It is hanging.

MK: I haven't hung it in my new home yet. I have taken it and shared it with school children, they absolutely love it. I took it to my grandson's daycare when he was about four, and the kids just went nuts, I almost couldn't get it away from them. Then just yesterday I took it to my niece's third grade class and talked to them about quilts and then I told them I was going to talk to them about a crazy quilt today and they asked, "Do you know what that is?" and none of them did. Then I said, "Well I'm going to show you one and we're going to talk about crazy quilts and then you can come up and touch it," and they were just so excited, I was just thrilled that they loved it so. It was fun.

OCM: That's wonderful. I want to ask some questions now to get you to talk about yourself as a quilter, about your interest in quiltmaking. Can you tell me where that may have sprung from?

MK: I'm 83 and I've been quilting about fifty years at least but I was inspired from about three years old. My grandmother was a quiltmaker, she was a professional seamstress and she made quilts all the time in her spare time and she had made beautiful quilts. She made one for me and gave it to me for a wedding present and it was all red and green patches, the design was all in red and green and I put it on my bed for several years. Finally, it got so I needed to launder it and I didn't know any different and threw it in the washing machine, so it kind of was a sad thing and I couldn't use it on my bed anymore so I put it away. Now I bring it out every Christmas and put it under my Christmas tree because it's red and green. I still get to use it and it still gets to be very much a treasure to me.

OCM: What age did you start quiltmaking?

MK: I started sewing when I could barely walk. Threading a needle, trying to thread a needle from the time I was about three. I've always sewed doll clothes and made quilts when I was tiny, and I don't know what age that was. Then when I was in high school I started a quilt of nine patches and collected old dress fabrics and everything to put in them. Finally then, about fourteen, fifteen years later, when I had a baby, I put the rest of it together and made a quilt for her. She passed away when she was twenty-three from a fall and I buried the quilt with her because it was so dear to her. That was one of the sad incidences but quilts are a comfort, quilts are comforting. The quilt guild in Dallas [Texas.] makes quilts all the time for children and they give them to the people at Vogel Alcove and they are where parents leave their children when they work and some people at Ronald McDonald, we make quilts for them when their parents have to come and stay and bring their kids to stay at the hospital, and they present them with a quilt. Those kind of things I think are very important, they're comforting.

OCM: Yes they are.

MK: I made my grandson a baby quilt and then I, when he was about in junior high one Christmas, always gave him a great big box, usually a coat or jacket or something and this year he wanted to know what was in that package, "What was in that package?" I said, "You just have to wait and see," and so I made a flannel three layer quilt with the fringe where you cut it and wash it, and it's a good sized throw. When he opened the box, he was just absolutely amazed and he said, "For me?" and he won't let it out of his sight hardly, he lays under it on the couch when he watches TV and everything.

OCM: Still to this day?

MK: Still to this day. Well, he's seventeen now.

OCM: Oh. So your family has really been fortunate to--

MK: They have been really supportive of me, yes.

OCM: You furnish them with quilts?

MK: Yes, I try. I try to make them for all my grandnieces then I got into the great-grandchildren and I've given up now [laughs.] I haven't had time to make anymore.

OCM: Maybe they can pass them on, the parents can.

MK: Well, I'm hoping to the next, you know, I expect they will.

OCM: How many, how long do you work on quilting, every week or month?

MK: Sometimes I get a quilt I just don't put down and sometimes I work from time to time. I don't have any set schedule or anything. I don't go much like I used to because, since I had my hip replacement. I just work when I feel like it. I have two quilts that are ready to finish. One is a hexagon quilt in the diamond shape all in Christmas fabric and it's got each individual block is different, one has got ornaments in the block, they're all fussy cut you know, and one's got Santa Clauses, one's got angel, and one's got houses, one's got trees, and it's a big quilt and it's about ready to quilt, I have to put the border on it and quilt it.

OCM: Have you embroidered all of those designs?

MK: No I didn't embroider those.

OCM: Okay, you didn't.

MK: Those are just Christmas fabrics.

OCM: Just Christmas fabrics.

MK: This is the only quilt that I have embroidered except my friendship group I was in charge of for a few years, and when I turned it over to somebody else, they all made me crazy quilt blocks at that time and they were little four inch blocks. So I put those together with a strip and then I embroidered the Texas Blue Bonnets in one corner between the blocks.

OCM: You've mentioned one such experience, but can you think of any other times that your quilting has gotten you through times in your life?

MK: Well not exactly gotten through times in my life, I suppose but it's always been a comfort to me to be working on fabric. I guess you'd say I'm in love with fabric. When my children were little, I needed a new bedspread and I thought, "You know, I hate to go spend the money to buy a huge bedspread for my bed," and my mother had a big sample, several big sample books of polished cotton, and they were pretty good size and I said, "Are you going to do anything with those mother?" and she said, "No," and I said, "Well why don't you give them to me and I'll make a quilt." I took all of those and cut them out, you know, took them out of the book and cut them to size and just put them together. Then there were solid colors to go with them and I took all the solids and cut them into little strips and put little rail fence all the way around the outside of it. Then I quilted it in long stitch so I could get it done in a hurry and I put cheese cloth on the back so it was really light. I kept that quilt for years, then when I decided I'd get rid of it I said, my mother said, "Well, what are you going to do with it?" and I said, "Well, I don't know you can have it if you want it." So she took it home with her and she took it to an antique dealer and sold it [laughs.] I guess they paid her pretty good for it.

OCM: That is an amusing story.

MK: Well, quilt stories are interesting, aren't they? [laughs.]

OCM: They are. This kind of reminds me of one of the things that a lot of quilters talk about is how our quilting compares to people, women, you know, hundred, two-hundred or so years ago and you are doing the same thing they did by using what you had.

MK: Right. I was always taught to do that. I was born during the depression, so I was always told, taught to make the most of what you had. That came by me naturally. The other thing that I just did recently was my mother started to quilt. My mother was never really a quilter, my grandmother was the quilter, but mother started several. I finished two of hers, one was a Springtime in the Rockies that she was making when I was just a little girl and it was beautiful colors and I just couldn't resist to use like red and green and kind of an orange and it was a kind of a fan pattern, it's called Springtime in the Rockies, the pattern that came out in the Kansas City Star, and that was when they were, you know sending out patterns with the newspaper. So mother started it and she had in her drawer and in her house for years, and about twenty years ago I said, "Mother would you please finish that quilt, because I just love that quilt." She decided that she'd hurry it up, so it's got some little triangles between everything, she had decided to do those on the sewing machine and they didn't come out very well [laughs.] so I said, "Well just give it to me and I'll finish it." I took all the fabric that she had and all the pieces that she had done and I took all of that machine stitched stuff apart, I went to a retreat and I just about got it done in that retreat. I did that all over and finished the quilt, and put it in the Dallas [Texas.] show and it won a blue ribbon [laughs.] Then I put it in the Paducah [Kentucky.] show; I don't remember I think it got an honorable mention or something there. I still have it. This year, the one that she started those hexagons when I was about, 1930, I guess I was just a baby. She got it, she got the quilt finished to the point where she didn't know what to do with the edges and so she just put it away and never did any more to it. She died a couple years ago, she was 101, she never had finished that quilt and so I took it this summer and I finished it with red. They copied the colors now from the old quilts, and I took the reds because there was red here and there in some of the prints. They were prints from my grandmother's dresses and from my aunt's dresses and some of them my baby dresses when I was a child, and all these memories of the family and so I finished all of those edges. But the fabrics were so fragile compared to what we have today, and the edges were a little bit more secure than the centers and I worked on it so long and I thought, "Well, I don't think I want to quilt this," so a friend of my mine's quilting it for me now and she says she'll get done in time for me to put it in the Dallas [Texas.] show because I don't want to put it in the show for a prize, but I want to put it in the show because it demonstrates how quilts develop and where we are with quilts today, and just let people sit and compare you know.

OCM: The history.

MK: It'll be interesting.

OCM: When you mentioned the retreat you went to, do you belong to any quilting groups?

MK: I belong to the Dallas [Texas.] Quilters' Guild and the AQS and IQA.

OCM: How do you feel that these are nourishing to your quilting?

MK: I think they're very important because I think they prolong the interest in quilts a lot. I know people that don't know how much good they do, but we have all the charities that we take care of too. A quilt is the most comforting thing in the world, they're like a teddy bear to a kid, usually they'll never let them go. I mean, my daughter's quilts, she would, she was in college and I loaned the quilt to a friend's baby one night when they came over and it was snowing, it was in Minnesota, and when she came home that night she said, "Where's my quilt?" and I said, "Oh I let so-and-so take it home," "Mother, you've got to get that quilt back." I did.

OCM: She loved it.

MK: She just wouldn't, it was comfort to her. I even have quilts that I'm fond of and I sleep under one of the antique quilts that I've got.

OCM: I was going to ask you if you sleep under a quilt. Tell us about it.

MK: It was pieced by one of my ancestors, my aunt, my mother's oldest sister who was quite old when I got it, told me that it had been pieced by a cousin of hers who was nearly blind and the colors were, it was a Lone Star quilt, and the colors were in the right places but it had been washed and the pinks or reds had run and so now the whole quilt is kind of pink, but it's still in good shape and the fabrics are still good. It feels so good to sleep under because we just in Texas throw a quilt over once and a while when it's chilly.

OCM: What's one of your favorite things about quilting, the quilting process?

MK: I just like the creative process. I like the design work, I don't like to do like stars, that's not my favorite thing. I like to do mostly traditional looking things, things that, but I want to add a little twist to something artistic to it if I can, like the Christmas quilt with individual cutting, I like to do that. I guess I like piecing, hand piecing, I don't like sewing machine work, and I don't like to quilt on the sewing machine and I don't like machine quilting quilts when you hand do them. If you piece them by sewing machine then it's fine to do them you know, with the machine. I think some machine quilting is excellent, it's beautiful. I like all of it, I like all of it.

OCM: Tell me about where you create your quilts? The room or the studio, or whatever you call it.

MK: Right now I have a wonderful place to work. I always had a corner for my things and I've got three rooms of fabric I say, I've always gone to the shows and collected things. I've got a collection for an African quilt and I have a collection of feed sacks and I have a collection of silk and a collection of wool. I've got things ahead of me that I'll never get done, but it's fun. I told my friend who I came here with, I said, "Don't let me feel any fabric, because I can't resist it." [laughs.]

OCM: [laughs.] Too tempting. Well, tell me about the space where you work.

MK: I have now, since we built our house, I have a room, a large room with high ceilings and I have an old table that was out of one of my husband's old offices--one of those old library tables with two little drawers which is wonderful for needles and all the little things that you need to store. I have also two sewing machines set up. I have a Bernina and a Pfaff and I have one of those little Singers that I think I'm not going to use anymore because I just take that on retreat. They have a retreat up to Lake Texoma [Oklahoma] from Dallas [Texas.] guild every year and I used to go to that all the time and drive and everything, never be stopped by anything. It was really lovely because my husband and I are very much independent, he's a golfer and I'm a quilter. We are just rocking along in our new home out by Lake Ray Hubbard [Texas.]. I have this big room and the bath is next to it with the laundry washer and dryer in there with a sink and a big hutch is on one wall. Then it's got two closets that are stuffed with batting and lace and all that kind of thing and the two sewing machines and also another storage chest and a couch.

OCM: Do you use a design wall?

MK: No I don't. I have a guest bed that I put everything on to look at. I actually put my quilts on the floor and stretch them when I baste them. I can't get down there very well anymore. I think next I'm going to have to have somebody baste.

OCM: Sounds like it's a wonderful space to work.

MK: Oh it is, it's just heavenly. It's got windows all on one side. I have lots of windows in this house and its light and we just love it.

OCM: Are there any quilting techniques that you particularly favor?

MK: I use needle turn on appliqué . I've been doing that since I entered a block contest. The first one I entered was an appliqué and I didn't know how to do it, but I finally wound up just turning it under and sewing it down. Then I discovered later that that's the best way to do it. Then I got Pat Campbell's books and she uses needle turn and then I took one of her classes. I learned quite a bit from her but a lot of it I figured out by myself, I just experimented over time. She was a wonderful appliquér and fun person. Anyway, that was about that technique, and then the embroidery, and I guess hand piecing is what I enjoy most. I have awful trouble with the corners if I do it by machine, those sharp corners, I can do it but it's tedious for me, I don't enjoy it like I do just sitting down and working with my hands.

OCM: Do you use a quilting frame?

MK: I have used all kinds of quilting frames. When I was little my mother had the one from the ceiling and she had the women come in and quilt for a day, and I played under the quilt. Then I got a quilting frame that sits on the floor and you roll the quilt. That's what I did the first quilt that I ever quilted on. Then I got hoops and I tried that, and I like that the best. Then I have one that's on a frame with a hoop, and it's got a magnifying light, and it's great, but I really like to just take the hoop and go sit down on the couch, and work from that. That's always fun to quilt from and I can sit there for hours and quilt.

OCM: That's great. Has modern technology influenced your work in any way?

MK: Modern technology is wonderful, but I don't think it's for me.

OCM: Okay.

MK: I think a lot of people have just really progressed with all the things that they have to offer, but I don't enjoy the idea of doing embroidery on the sewing machine, or doing design work on a computer, because I'd rather not sit in front of the computer, I'd rather just sit in a comfortable chair and daydream. I don't like to look at the screen and work things out like an engineer. I like to play with it, but not on the computer.

OCM: Now some things you said have given me an idea of how you think about and design your quilts, it sounds like you're really influenced by the fabrics that you have. You talked about having the fabrics for an African quilt. How do you get an idea?

MK: I do collect fabrics and that does help me influence the design because when you lay the fabrics out, then you start to get ideas. The other thing is I just like to have everything be a little bit off the beaten track; I don't like to use a pattern, it's somebody else's idea and I'd rather develop my own. I'd rather try to create something that's a little different from what everybody else does, to me that's the challenge.

OCM: That kind of leads in to what do you think makes a great quilt? We're all so different.

MK: I think that a quilt, a really good quilt needs to have a universal appeal. I think it needs to be something that's attractive, that's pretty stimulating or it's calming or it has an influence on your feelings. I think that sometimes we can go too deep. I think special exhibits can have things that are very strongly political but I don't like to see that, it doesn't generally appeal to everybody, it appeals only to a certain segment. A really great quilt to me would appeal to everybody, it's like great art.

OCM: Artistically powerful to you is?

MK: Something that everybody appreciates, that everybody can enjoy.

OCM: You are a great quiltmaker, what is your opinion about what makes a great quiltmaker?

MK: Oh [laughs.] I think anybody that has a passion for it can make a quilt that is good enough, you know? It doesn't have to be perfect. I think that detail is great for entry, entering in to competitions and I think it's great for the fact that it will maybe endure longer, but sometimes it's not in the details, it's in the impression it creates. They say sometimes don't use raw edges; there's a place for raw edges. When I made this crazy quilt, they said all quilts had to have three layers, so I had to put batting in this in order to enter it.

OCM: Even though the fabrics themselves were so heavy?

MK: Right, right. But that was a rule. So if you're going to enter something you have to follow the rules.

OCM: You've mentioned several quilters whose books you have bought--

MK: Oh yes.

OCM: Are there any people you'd like to mention that you're drawn to their work or influenced?

MK: I love Paula Nadelstern's work. I think she's just fantastic. I think Kumiko Frydl has done some of the most stunning things I have ever seen and her work is just beautiful. So I admire a lot of other quilters, and I like to go through the shows and admire the other quilting and what is submitted. I would hate to judge them. I don't like to be too opinionated about judging, it's hard and I never feel bad if I don't win. Some people come crying, "Well I think I should have won," and I said, "Well, there's a lot of things entered into that. If you're putting your quilt in the show to win, that's the wrong reason."

OCM: Have you ever judged?

MK: No. I don't want to judge.

OCM: I'm wondering how you feel that your quilts not only reflect you, but do they reflect your environment, your community, or your region in any way?

MK: I don't know. I don't know about that. I think they do reflect me and I think, I hope they're a comfort to other people and I do quite a bit of helping other people when they have quilting problems. We have a group that, a friendship group that meets every week, from ten to four, which makes a really good timeout during the week. There's also an appliqué group that's coming from the same group now that meets once a month but that's such a great influence to help people get started and I've helped some people get started that are just doing great now. That's such a good feelings, that they're getting the same kind of joy from what they're doing and feeling really worthwhile to do.

OCM: So you are a teacher in a way?

MK: In a way--

OCM: Yeah.

MK: I don't teach publicly but I taught in the school room the other day and I was kind of shy about that, I've always been kind of shy, but you'd never know it now would you? Anyway, it's a real joy to be considered among the top quilters, it's just thrilling to me to be noticed for what you do, I think it's encouraging to everybody. I think it's so great to keep encouraging, because that gives you stimulation to keep going. I think that's been such a help to me.

OCM: Have you ever thought about if there are any challenges that are facing we quilters today?

MK: I don't know all over the world is in such a turmoil and I do think quilting is a wonderful escape and I think people are wanting to do things with quilts that will be a benefit to some of these crises. I'm not sure that it works, I think there's so much unrest and I don't think that we can resolve that, if we can help one person at a time, that's about what I feel my job is to help one person at a time, where I'm given opportunities to help one person, you know as we go through life. I think you do more good than if you try to do some big thing. I guess the quilting enters into it sometimes.
OCM: Well, I'd like to thank Monna Kornman for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories oral history project. Our interview is concluded at 5:08. Thank you so much.

MK: Thank you.


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