Laura Wasilowski




Laura Wasilowski


Laura Wasilowski talks about her quilt, "On a Leaf and a Prayer", a fused quilt made from hand-dyed fabric.




Laura Wasilowski


Jodie Davis

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sally Maxwell


Duluth, Georgia


Ann Garvey


Jodie Davis (JD): [Hi, this is Jodie Davis it's October 16,] 2010 and it is 12:14. I'm conducting an interview with Laura Wasilowski for Quilters' S.O.S.--Save Our Stories--a project for Alliance for American Quilts. We're here in Duluth, Georgia at the Georgia Quilt Show. Laura--your first question. [JD laughs lightly.] Laura Wasilowski (LW): Yes.

JD: Tell me about the quilt you brought, and you can only have one.

LW: I can only--I can only show one?

JD: Yep.

LW: I'm not showing this one. [laughter.] I'm showing this one.

JD: The reason is--is because we want people to [pause.] to have to, you know, otherwise you would want to show a bunch of quilts. But, it has to be something that's important to you and has meaning.

LW: Well, this quilt does have a lot of meaning to me. This is called, "On a Leaf and a Prayer." And, this is a quilt--can you hear me in the back? [muffled.] Yeah, okay. This is a quilt that I made by improvising. I was--I'm a fuser. And, everything I do is made with fuse fabric. So, I fuse a lot of fabric. I use a lot of yardage. [Break in interview due to malfunction of recording equipment.] [Added after interview by LW: And I save all those left over fused fabric scraps after I complete a quilt. Often these fused scraps are the inspiration for my next quilt and trigger designs like this quilt, On a Leaf and a Prayer. The scraps allow me to improvise, to make up the quilt design as I go. They let me play.] And with it, I would play with both--with joining the leaf with the houses and I played. And, that's how I ended-up with "On a Leaf and a Prayer." That's the design--basis for this design. Can I talk about the stitching?

JD: Sure, why not--

LW: I will now talk about the stitching. [laughter.] I'm really enamored with hand embroidery now. For some reason it's come--I've always done embroidery work. But, for some reason on smaller quilts now. I discovered that if I add hand stitching to it, basic embroidery stitches, like running stitch, or French knots, or any of those basic stitches, then it really brings a quilt to life. It changes the surface. It gives it--it's more textural. Then, it's a way to add pattern and texture and it helps define shapes. For instance, if you put the little thread window panes on here, suddenly it--it becomes a window. So, I'm stitching straight stitches to make the window panes. I can add pattern in the background to kinda lift it off the surface more. So, I've become enamored with hand stitching. And, what I do is I usually use--I'm a hand-dyer, so I'll hand dye all the fabric for the quilt. And, then I also hand-dye thread. And, my thread is variegated, so the colors sequences change across the length of the thread. And, when I add the stitching, I'm using maybe a size eight pearl cotton, or size twelve pearl cotton that I've dyed. And I--it just makes me so happy. [JD laughs.] I can sit around and it's something I can do by hand. It's-- it's kind of a strange combination because fusing is very fast. It's very fast. But, hand stitching is very slow and methodical. But, it's a real--combination of slow and fast. So, I really enjoy that.

JD: Show the back of your quilt too.

LW: Oh. On the back of the quilt--on the back of this type of quilt, I would put random acts of fusing. Okay. Random acts of fusing is just taking all those left over fuse strips and--or fabrics, and filling in the back. You may have noticed that this has something inside it Jodie.

JD: Something stiff.

LW: Yes, thank you. What do you think it is?

JD: [muffled laugh.] Well, it's probably not cardboard.

LW: That's right. [laughter.] Thank you for asking Jodie. [JD laughs.] There's--there's [cough.] batting in here. But, there's also another product called Timtex inside. So, when I'm making this type of quilt, it's made with a wrapped binding and wrapping the front around not only the batting, but the Timtex. And, that way I can get curvy shapes round the edges. So, I stack the batting and Timtex up together and I cut them out the same size and shape at the same time. And, then you get a curvy wave. You can do circular quilts this way. You can do heart shape quilts--whatever shape you want to do. The Timtex keeps it really flat when you hang it on the wall. And, what I like about it is--I don't know if you can see this, but all you need is a really--a little loop to hang it on the wall--and that'll hang like--you don't need that stupid rod pocket.

JD: And, the other thing I noticed Laura is that you have a patch here that says, "Chicago School of Fusing" and it's on the back of the quilt.

LW: Yes. I am in fact a member of the Chicago School of Fusing. I'm the Dean of Corrections at the school. And, we are advocates of using fusible web to create art quilts. I mean they--these are art quilts. They're not--they're not functional in any way. Their only purpose is to hang on the wall and be seen. You don't wash these. You vacuum it off; shake it out to clean them. So, they're non-functional, they're just pieces of art for your wall.

JD: [pause.] Perfect. Perfect. [pause.] So tell me Laura about your interest in quiltmaking.

LW: Well, I don't have a traditional background for quiltmaking. I start--I have made traditional quilts, but I actually learned how to sew through the 4-H system. I was--I was born and raised in Colorado. And, I had a wonderful 4-H teacher. She was a mother of one of my friends and she taught us how to make clothing. So, I learned how to sew with her. I went through the whole system until, you know, your teenage years. And then, when we moved to Minnesota, we moved to Minnesota [added Scandinavian accent.] where I learned my second language. [laughter.] And, we moved to Minnesota and I went away--I went to college there, and I was put into the costuming department at the school, because I knew how to sew. So, I could sew the costumes. It was part of a work study program. And, when I was there, I learned how to dye fabric--costume parts. So, I became a dyer. Right out of school, I was dyeing and printing and doing silkscreen work on fabric and making clothing out of it; and sewing the clothes, you know, for boutiques and stuff like that. And, then when I moved to Elgin, Illinois which is where I still live. I moved next door to a woman whose name is Janet Dye. And, Janet is a quiltmaker and I owe so much to her, because she introduced me [unidentified noise] to the world of quiltmaking. And, she would bring me to shows, wonderful shows like this, and we would go to programs where there would be presenters. And, one of the very first presenters I saw was Caryl Bryer Fallert. And Caryl was doing the hand-dye fabric. She was making art quilts which I'd never heard of before. And, so she--she was so inspiring that I started using that fabric that was dying to make this thing called art quilts. So, I gave up traditional quilting. I've made them for beds; I'm not good at it.

JD: Seriously?

LW: But, I gave that up, and about the same time, I met another woman whose name is Melody Johnson. And Melody was--she was interested in fabric dyeing. And, I was interested in this technique that she was doing which is fusing. And, so we kind of combined efforts. We formed a company called, "Artfabrik." And, we sold hand-dyed fabrics and threads, but also I started using those fabrics to make fused art quilts. That's--the rest is nothing new.

JD: [JD laughs.] [inaudible.] That's great. So, how many hours a week do you devote to quilting?

LW: Probably, well I have--I have a business. Artfabrik is my business. I make hand-dyed fabrics and threads. I travel and teach all the time. So, I'm always developing classes or I'm out somewhere--seminar, or an exhibit like this. I make quilts to sell. I make a lot of small artwork to sell. So I would say, probably--how many hours are there in a week? Yeah.

JD: I can hear that was the answer.

LW: Yeah--at least--at least [high pitch from microphone.] ten hours a day or more. It's kind of a --you know, you have--when you're in this business. I love this. I love looking around and looking at all the vendors and stuff, because you know they're all entrepreneurs. They're all small business people at cottage industries. And, I love the idea that quilting is based upon all this different cottage industries. And, they've all evolved and developed their [high pitched sound--from distant microphone.] they're earning a living by doing this. It's a wonderful--it's a wonderful industry. [inaudible.]

JD: It is. What's your earliest quilt memory?

LW: My Grandmother had quilts that she passed down to us, and I still have some of those. And, I look at the fabrics that are in them and they remind me of her and my mother and a--a little doll blanket like and one of my Grandma's aprons.

JD: Hmm. [pause and then clears throat.] Have you ever used quilts to get through a [high pitch of microphone again.] difficult time?

LW: Yeah. Several--many, many years ago one of my sisters passed away. And, it was really traumatic. It was very hard for everybody in the family. And, it was also the same time that 9/11 happened. So, there was all this emotion going on. And, it was a real emotional time. So, I would take fused fabric and chop it up and rearrange it. And, I did a lot of collage quilts. They were called, "Color Chip Collage" quilts. So, this whole series madeduring that time span where it was very therapeutic to play with color and fabric and to make something that was all, you know, fractured and chopped up and make it into something beautiful. So, it was a good time with--experience. It helped me get through that time.

JD: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred through your quiltmaking, or your teaching.

LW: My favorite story is about my husband. [chuckles.] My husband is--he works, of course but one time, we went to the Houston Quilt Show because I needed somebody to help me with the booth. I didn't have a helper. So, he decided he would drive down to Houston with me and we would set up the booth, and we did all that, and he was fine. But, he's never been to a quilt show before in his life. So, we're all set up and the doors open and you know how the herd of people come in, and he looked at the--looked at the aisle and at one point he turned to me and he said, 'It's women! It's all women.' [laughter.] He was so scared. [laughter continues.] It was the funniest thing.

JD: That's a good one.

LW: Yeah. [laughter.]

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

LW: I belong to a group in Illinois [high pitched microphone again.] called, "Professional Art Quilters Alliance." It's PAQA. P-A-Q-A. And, it's a group of people in our area. We have people from Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and Indiana. We all meet maybe once a month of the second Wednesday in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. You're all welcome. [chuckle.] And, we gather together. Our purpose is not so much to--to have cookies and cake, it's more about advancing ourselves professionally. So we're--we encourage each other. You know, we'll show each--we mentor each other, basically. So we're talking about teaching. We're talking about how you can make--turn your--what you're making into a business somehow. If somebody has experience in pattern-making, they'll help other members. If you published a book, you talk to the other people about publishing, and that type of thing. So, it's--it's--it's for people that are interested in treating this as a professional.

JD: Wonderful. Have advances in technology influenced your work?

LW: Yes. Well, fusible web is an advance in technology, I guess. Although, it's been around since the 70's or so, right? So that's--that really changed how I worked from being a piecer to somebody who makes the pictorial art work. But, what I liked about fusing when I discovered it was I could take that idea in my head and translate it into fabric really rapidly. And, I didn't have to piece things together. So, yeah fusing has changed the way I work.

JD: Describe the place where you work.

LW: I work in a pit. [laughter.] I work in the pit every day. I work in the basement of my house. The basement is--is pretty nice though. It doesn't have any outside light, but--I've a fairly large laundry room. So, one wall of the laundry room is the--the washer and the dryer and a sink. And, just behind that is a very large table--about 4 x 8 table with a plywood top with canvas on top. And, that's my printing table, or where I dye fabric. There are shelves for the dye over here--for mixing the dyes. There's storage. And, then there's a little office space where I've all my files and the computer and my bulletin boards and something like that. So that's one room. On the other side, is a sewing area where I've two large sewing cabinets. [high pitch from microphone again.] And, then I have cabinets on the wall for storing quilts--the long quilts are rolled up and put in there. And, then there's a large table with that Teflon sheet all over it where I--is my fusing table. And, I--I have to stand up when I work so I--it's a little elevated. So, I stand there, so. And I have a design wall and really good lighting.

JD: Lighting is important.

LW: Yeah.

JD: Tell me how you balance your time.

LW: I try to work [muffled --poor audio quality.] on something a little bit--I work in units of time. How's that, so, I'll set aside an hour to do computer work; set aside an hour or two to do stitching. I break up my day that way. I try to focus in on what I'm doing with that time and not be too scattered. But, I am one of those--I'm a task stacker, you know, those people that like to do multi-task. I like to do multiple things in life, so I'm in my studio; I have to be doing the laundry at the same time.

JD: [JD laughs.] Fortunately, it's right there.

LW: Yeah.

JD: So you said, you do use a design wall?

LW: Yeah. Yes. I use--it's also for photographing quilts, so I'll design on there and then it's it's--I've got lights, so I can also take photos myself.

JD: Good idea. What do you think that makes a great quilt? LW: I think a great quilt is something that's well designed, it's--it's balanced, it has all the basic principles of design, variety, and contrast, repetition, and balance. And, it grabs you--when you see it, it grabs you--it sucks you in. That's the--That's a mark of a good artist--somebody that sucks you in [laughter.] [inaudible.]

JD: What makes a great quiltmaker?

LW: Somebody who's--appreciates fabric a lot. How's that? [laughter.]

JD: I think everybody here is that--

LW: So far, we've got a room full. [laughter.]

JD: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

LW: I'm drawn to a lot. I like Melody Johnson's work. [muffled singing in background.] On the other hand, I like Frieda Anderson's work, because it--because of the design. She has really rich colors. But, she has very elegant design. That's kind of simple, but they're very nicely cut elegant designing. Are we talking about quiltmakers or--

JD: Could be any artist.

LW: I would love Van Gogh's work. I love Vincent Van Gogh's work. Any of the Impressionists because of their use of color and light and the way they place color next to color, it's wonderful. I'm very fortunate living in the Chicago area. They have the Art Institute of Chicago there. They've a wonderful exhibit of--wonderful area called the Impressionists' artists. I go down there and--get [inaudible.] wonderful place.

JD: Hmm. With your smaller pieces you're doing--hand work with your larger quilts, do you do hand or machine? And, how do you feel about hand versus machine quilting?

LW: Well, on a larger piece, I would do mostly [high pitch microphone.] machine work, although starting to combine hand on--with a machine, but--and the small work, because you're--you know you're holding your hands and your manipulating, it's easier on a small piece than a big piece. I'm not making as many large pieces anymore, because I don't have as much time. And, I'm so caught-up in the hand stitching that I want--only want to make small.

JD: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

LW: Well, quiltmaking is a way for me to support my family, of course. It's a way for me to earn money to support my family. It's also a way for me to travel [a low pitch murmur of happy birthday is being sung in the background.] around the world. I was in Ireland this year, Great Britain. Next year, I will go to Spain and Denmark. So, I get to go to these places that I wouldn't normally get to go to. I get to go to places like Duluth, Georgia. [chuckle.] I have never been. So, it gives me a way to travel and see things. I get to meet all sorts of really fun people like Jodi and other quiltmakers that I really enjoy meeting the other teachers. We share the nation. We commiserate. We know each other only because we've seen each other on the road. And, I have all these students that have really interesting lives. I've had zoologists and people that have worked at NASA; I mean they just have really interesting lives. They train dogs; I mean there's just so many interesting people out there. It's a great way to meet--meet a variety of people.

JD: It is just a big guild.

LW: It is.

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

LW: Well, of course, traditionally they--you know, we used them for comfort and to keep us warm and that type of thing. I think that they--they join us to the past generations. They--they cross generations and they--they give us that feeling of nostalgia, or connection to the people in the past. As well as to you know, to your neighbors and friends. So that's--[high pitched microphone.] It's a great way to network socially.

JD: And, then thinking specifically of women--

LW: Yes.

JD: The importance of quilts to women. How do you feel about that?

LW: Yeah, Well were--I think as women we're tactile people. You know, from the moment you're born, you're wrapped up in fabric, right? So, fabric is really important to us. [laughter.] Hopefully, you're wrapped up in fabric. Anyway, so we're tactile people and we like the touch of it and the feel of it. And, its--and now it's something that women are probably more familiar with and I don't know, because we have the tradition of sewing. For a lot of--most women have that tradition in their background.

JD: So, what has happened to your quilts? Where are they?

LW: My quilts are in collections from Japan to Great Britain, Spain. They're all around the country. A lot of people buy them--the smaller versions to put in their sewing room, or--or on the walls. I've sewed big ones and little ones. I give them away once in a while. But, they connect me to people everywhere.

JD: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing quiltmakers today?

LW: I think the biggest challenge is, finding that next gadget that you want. [JD chuckles.] It's very difficult--you have to walk aisle after aisle. [more laughter.] [inaudible.] It is so hard. I know I've been looking for hours already. I've got my eye on a few things [laughter continues.] That's my biggest challenge right now.

JD: Why do we love to learn? [more laughter.]

LW: Yes.

JD: Is there anything you wanna add that we haven't touched on?

LW: No, I think this is a really wonderful art form. It's--it gives you so much in your life. And, it's a great way to connect with other people and to see the world. And it's--it's just something that has really fulfilled my life. And, I don't know what I would have done. I would have had to be a secretary. [JD chuckles.] Oh, no offence to [inaudible.] [laughter.]

JD: Yeah. Great. Well thank you Laura. This interview was with Laura Wasilowski. Thank you for allowing me to interview you today as for the Quilters' S.O.S.--Save our Stories project for the Alliance for American Quilts here in Duluth, Georgia. Our interview is concluding at 12:36. [clapping.]



“Laura Wasilowski,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,