Julie Rushing




Julie Rushing




Julie Rushing


Mary McCarthy

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Houston, Texas


Mary McCarthy (MM): This is Mary McCarty. I'm here today on the 5th of November, 2011 at 3:40 P.M. and I'm conducting an interview with Julie McKenzie Rushing, who likes to be called Jules for Quilters' Save Our Stories, a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Julie and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Julie, tell me about this quilt you brought today.

Julie Rushing (JR): This is ‘Sunflower With a Passion for Color'. All of the fabrics are fabrics that I hand painted. They were hand painted then I did a mosaic style in the background. The leaves and the petals, after I put the fabric on, I painted on them again and then I thread painted. The fibers in the middle is hand dyed yarn and then I beaded on the center to give the texture and reflections of the seeds that are always in the middle of a sunflower.

MM: What if any special meaning does this have for you?

JR: I have sunflowers in my garden and I love sunflowers and I grew Mexican sunflowers one year and wanted to do quilts with the Mexican sunflowers, so this is one of the one I did. I did a comparison in using the hand painted fabrics against batik fabrics and so I have another sunflower quilt with the batik fabrics just to see what the difference is in the intensity and the feel of the quilts. I got a very nice contrast between the two.

MM: Do you have a painting background?

JR: No but I just, I started doing painting on fabric several years ago and I just really like being able to do that. It gives a nice uniqueness and texture to the quilts.

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

JR: Because it is one of my first quilts where I started experimenting on painting on fabric and all of the fabrics are ones that I hand painted. It also gives a nice show of the variety of quilting that I like to do and I experimented with doing different types of quilting where it's not an allover quilting, it's different little snippets of the sun and the breeze that are blowing through the air. I just thought that this gave a good representation of the style that I like to do.

MM: Does this quilt hang in your home?

JR: Yes it does.

MM: Do you have others as well that hang?

JR: Yes I do. My house is full of them [laughs.] quilts that I have hanging.

MM: Is this like one of a series of quilts would you say?

JR: It's one of the two that I did the study of on sunflower quilts then I've started doing some smaller sunflower quilts and I have done some patterns of them.

MM: What are your plans for this quilt in the future?

JR: It's for sale.

MM: It's for sale. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking and how you started.

JR: I have a very good friend that used to live across the street from us that collects antique quilts. She introduced me to antique collecting quilts and appreciating the workmanship in them and while they were in Germany for several years, I babysat some of her quilts because she did not want to ship them and she did not want to store them. I sat, I got to admire and love on her quilts and I started thinking, "Well, I've been sewing since I was five years old, I can do this." So I started out making traditional quilts and then I found out about art quilts and I got bored with traditional piecing and so that's what started me into art quilting.

MM: Are there any quilters in your family?

JR: Yes. My grandmother quilted and I have several doll quilts that my grandmother did. My mother's younger sister also quilts and quilters go on into my mom's family.

MM: What age did you start quiltmaking?

JR: I was in my mid-forties. I went and looked the other day and its only been about eight years that I've been quilting.

MM: Did you learn to quilt from anyone or did you teach yourself mostly?

JR: I was basically self-taught doing the traditional piecing. When I was getting into the art quilting I've taken some workshops to learn some techniques and I still like to take workshops to learn other art quilters' techniques. I don't want to replicate their work, where you could walk up to a quilt and say, "Oh that looks like so-and-sos quilt or no that person just is using their style." I want to take what they use and take parts of it to go into my work.

MM: Do you design your own quilts then?

JR: Yes I do.

MM: How many hours a week do you think you quilt?

JR: Forty. I'm a full-time quilt artist. I have a nice studio at home and I get up and I go into my studio and when my husband comes home then he might pry me out and I might go down and make dinner.

MM: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

JR: We're empty nesters and so he enjoys coming home and seeing what I've worked on during the day. My kids are not interested in quilting and they'll appreciate what I do and say, "Oh that looks pretty," then they'll go on. I have made baby quilts for all five of our grandchildren and they probably have two each. I've made a quilt for our daughter, other than that it doesn't impact them much in any way.

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

JR: No, and knock on wood I haven't had very many difficult times since I've started quilting. I did spend, our son and his wife lived with us and their three kids lived with us for a year, and I did spend a lot of time in my studio at that point. But at that time I didn't have a window, and after that, we put a window in because I was claustrophobic [laughs.]

MM: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

JR: It's very self-expressive. Since I design my own patterns and do my own style, I find that it can, it's how I'm feeling, it expresses me, it's very satisfying to work for several days on a quilt then walk intro my studio and I walk in and the first thing I see if my design wall and just see what I've been working on and to see how it has developed from hand dyed fabrics or really white fabric that I have dyed then I have cultivated into something that looks three dimensional sometimes.

MM: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy so much?

JR: Trying to decide what kind of binding to put on [laughs.] When my machine goes [inaudible.] but I really enjoy all the aspects. A lot of it is it's hard sometimes to get started because I have the plan and it just sometimes it's hard to make that first cut into the fabric, then to decide what, how to quilt it. Those are the two stopping points and sometimes a quilt has to hang in my studio for several weeks before I decide how I'm going to quilt it.

MM: Do you quilt your own quilts then?

JR: Yes I do.

MM: Is this on a domestic machine?

JR: It's on my Bernina.

MM: Are they all about this size or do they vary?

JR: Right now most of them are about this same size, maybe a little few inches bigger, but my goal right now is to start working a little bit larger and see how far I can push it.

MM: What's your favorite techniques?

JR: Painting on fabric, dyeing fabric, thread painting, raw edge appliqué.

MM: Have you ever used any unusual materials in your quilt?

JR: Cheese cloth.

MM: Cheese cloth.

JR: I've gotten into using hand painted or hand dyed cheese cloth. I like the texture and the versatility you can use with you because you can use it as it is and the weave it is or your can stretch the weave or put holes in it. I like using that.

MM: Do you have a design wall at home?

JR: Yes I do.

MM: How does that enhance your creative process?

JR: It's wonderful because I have a studio that's eighteen by sixteen and my design wall takes up one of the walls that's sixteen feet wide. The wall is probably seven feet tall. I can see it when I walk into my studio, that's the far wall from me and so I can stand back in the doorway and see what I'm working on and I get a good visual from a distance of what I'm working on.

MM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JR: Being an original design, color, texture. That's one of the questions I've been thinking about. Just the overall design and how the artist uses color and texture in the design.

MM: What would you say makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JR: Color plays; to me color plays a large aspect. I'm a very colorful person, I love bold and bright colors and when I'm walking through looking at quilts, the ones that really catch my eye are the ones that have the vibrant rich colors in them.

MM: Whose works are you drawn to?

JR: Sue Benner. Oh there's several that I like and their names are vacating me right now. A lot of the art quilters, I see their work, I've been looking at them all day long. I like Katie Pasquini Masopust and Esterita Austin and those are two of the artists that I've studied under some.

MM: Why do like their works?

JR: Because of their expression with color. Their styles are all different and I like taking from their techniques of how they work. I love their use of style and that not all their quilts look the same, they have a nice versatility in the way that they work.

MM: Have you gone to any exhibits with their works, solely their works?

JR: No I have not.

MM: How do you balance your time with quilting?

JR: It's about from the time I get up in the morning until dinnertime. It's, I look at it, this is my job and so I work from home so I go up and stay in there, I take my lunch break, then I go back into my studio and work. It's, housework gets done little [laughs.]

MM: Who has influenced you do you think?

JR: Oh gosh. I don't know if I can say any one person has influenced me. It's been kind of an awareness of you know, doing the traditional quilts and then finding out about art quilts and then researching and looking for different workshops and retreats to go to learn the techniques. So I can't say it's been any one person or group of people that have influenced me, it's kind of been a search.

MM: You made traditional quilts then for a while?

JR: I did. My first several quilts were traditional quilts. I did a star quilt and I took a quilting class to learn different traditional blocks. I have one large quilt that's all traditional blocks done in batik fabrics that is hung way up high and probably will never come down [laughs.] Then I have a water-colored nine patch that is on our bed that I did several years ago.

MM: What was the most difficult pattern in traditional piecing that you did?

JR: Probably the water-colored nine patch because it's a queen-sized quilt and having at the time the house we lived in, I didn't have the space I have now and I had to move all the dining room furniture out of the dining room so I had room to lay it out [laughs.]

MM: Where is this quilt now, hanging?

JR: It's well, the water-colored nine piece is on our bed.

MM: How do you feel about machine quilting versus handquilting?

JR: I never learned how to handquilt. Since my mom always did clothing construction, she never did handquilting. She tried to teach me how but I just didn't get the hang of it. I appreciate people that handquilt and their patience to sit and handquilt and can see how their quilting's going, but I never got the knack of it. I love doing machine quilting. I like being able to sit at my machine and have that rhythm going of the machine quilting and look forward to the day that I can have a longarm and can do it on a longarm.

MM: Have you used computers in your quilting at all?

JR: No.

MM: Let's see here. Why is quiltmaking important to you?

JR: It's my artistic expression and I, that is just what I strive to do, it's what makes me feel good about myself and that's, if I get grumpy, my husband sends me to my studio and says, "You need to go play with your fabric." It's just what makes me feel good.

MM: Do you have a large stash of fabric?

JR: Not as large as I used to. I went from using commercial fabrics to just my hand-dyes a year or so ago and so I've liquidated my commercial fabrics, but since I dye my own fabric, I have a large stash of hand-dyed fabrics.

MM: Is it cotton that you're dyeing mostly?

JR: Yes, cotton and silk.

MM: In what ways do you think quilts reflect the community that you live in?

JR: It's a nice variety. I have friends that are traditional piecers and do beautiful work and do beautiful quilting then I have a large group of friends that are art quilters. There's a very beautiful variety of us that we all do something different. We all get to learn from each other and share with each other the techniques that we like to learn. We never, our work never looks the same. It's all of our styles are different. I think that shows the environment that we live in because everybody is so different. Our neighborhoods are so different and so it just, it replicates the area being eclectic.

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

JR: Oh they're very important. Quilts have such a long history in America from starting out being the traditional bed quilts for families and how quilts were generated just as a staple as a family life then moving into being quilts for the Underground Railroad and the messages that those quilts gave and how they have played a part in family histories being passed down. Quiltmaking has taken kind of a dip in later in the past twenty years, but it's starting to have a resurgence in our communities now, but it's really nice to see how they're making another circle back in but they're being so diversified and so different than what they used to be.

MM: How do you think quilts can be used?

JR: As art forms, I mean you've got your traditional quilts that can be used as utilitarian quilts but now art quilts are being seen more as art and not just quilts hanging on a wall. There's such a big movement now to make quilts seen in the art industry as art but not a traditional quilt.

MM: How do you think quilts can be preserved for our future?

JR: I don't know. I have thought about that and I know that the Smithsonian and other institutes are taking great efforts in preserving quilts and how they're storing them and keeping them. I haven't done much research on that but I hope that the people that are in charge of that keep up preserving our quilts and we are able to find that the textiles to use to make sure the quilts last and we're not using things in them that are going to help them deteriorate quicker than they normally would.

MM: What do you thinks the biggest challenge confronting quilters today?

JR: Traditional quilters or art quilters?

MM: Both.

JR: Traditional quilters I think is to keep that part of the craftsmanship alive and looking through the quilts today, there's such a small section in the quilt show of traditionally pieced quilts, where most of the quilts are art quilts are looked at as art quilts. There's a nice section of traditional appliqué quilts, but the section of traditional pieced quilts is very small, so I would like to see that come back and be a larger part of our industry in being preserved and that history, family history, keep going. Art quilts, I would like to see more, seeing more as artwork and preserved and appraised as artwork instead of quilts because as artwork they have a higher appraisal and value then they do as compared to traditional quilting.

MM: Well I'm about ready to wrap up, is there something you would like to expound upon or something you'd like to say?

JR: I don't think so. I just appreciate being able to have this opportunity for the interview and be able to show in the quilt show.

MM: Well it's 4:02 P.M. and this is the end of the interview. Thank you very much.

JR: Thank you.

MM: I have a little speech I'm supposed to read to you. I'd like to thank Julie for allowing me to interview you today for Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories oral history project and our interview is concluded at 4:02.


“Julie Rushing,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2408.