Carol Taylor




Carol Taylor


Lori Miller interviews Carol Taylor, a successful quilt artist, at the Sedgwick Cultural Center in Philadelphia (Pa.). Taylor discusses her Gong quilt series and how she became a successful quilter. She talks about her creative processes when making a quilt pattern, her preferred methods of quilting, and what she believes makes a great quilt and quilter. Taylor talks about the success of her own career, and the various quilts she has sold in her lifetime and to whom she has sold them.




Decorative arts
Textile artists
Crafts & decorating
Machine quilting
Philadelphia (Pa.)


Carol Taylor


Lori Miller

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Megan Dwyre


Lori Miller (LM): Good afternoon, my name is Lori Miller. It is April 5, 2003. We are at the Sedgwick Cultural Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania interviewing Carol Taylor for the Q.S.O.S - Quilters' Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project. So Carol, to begin, if you could tell me about the quilt you brought in today. Who made it?

Carol Taylor (CT): I did.

LM: The origin, the age of it, just sort of describe it for us in general.

CT: This quilt is called "Cacophony" and it's part of my Gong series. I came up with this motif, the (Gong motif) as one block. If you put four of them together, you get what looks like a Chinese gong because of the cross sticks being kind of chopsticks looking, so that's kind of how it got it's name of the Gong series. I have 39 quilts in this series now, and this one is somewhere in the middle. You can see this is one of the times that I made the little separate motifs and made small ones and kind of twisted them every which way. So that's why it's called "Cacophony." Most of the quilts in this have musical names, things like "Sound Waves" and "Vibrations" and "Reverberations" and "Crescendo" and "Syncopation."

LM: Could you talk about the materials in [inaudible.]

CT: I've used cotton sateen. It's all hand dyed. I do some of my own, and I also use Heide Stoll Weber's and Judy Robertson's hand dyed sateens and it's a lot of fun to combine it. I like the little extra sheen that the sateen gives.

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

CT: Well, I think that pretty much was explained when I was talking about this particular motif. It's been interesting to take different motifs and try to play with them and this one I've done the most with, ending up with 39 quilts in the series. I actually brought you a folder so you can take a look at some of these to kind of see how I was able to vary the same motif to come up with 39 different quilts.

LM: Carol's brought us some pictures of other quilts in the series.

CT: Basically it was about two years to make the 39 quilts. One of the things that I've done on them that's been pretty consistent is to do circular quilting, and you can see it in this one, and it becomes obvious in some of the others too. The very first one I actually used just a grid, but then I discovered the circular quilting made it much more interesting. The series has done very well. It's been in a lot of shows including Quilt National 2001. This is the one, "Vibrations," that's in Quilt National. I would say about fifty percent of these have sold now. One of these is owned by the American Craft Museum, one of them is traveling for two years with the American Folk Art Museum. So it's been a real successful series for me, in all ways. In sales and in exhibiting, and in having museums own them.

LM: And why did you choose this quilt specifically to bring today?

CT: Probably because it was in [Art Quilts at the.] Sedgwick last year and I've been in Sedgwick every year but this year but I'm in Gross-McCleaf down in the center city Philadelphia. So they had their opening last night and that allowed me to come to Sedgwick too.

LM: How do you use this quilt?

CT: I hang it on the wall. [laughs.]

LM: And what are your plans for it in the future?

CT: I'll probably continue to enter this in some shows. When I enter shows I like to have three in a series and it's always interesting to have some little ones that are just, the simple motif and then this one which is certainly a variation on it. So I think it's probably the first one where I got more free and wild in doing the motif and letting it go its own way.

LM: Tell me about your interest in quilting. What age did you start?

CT: Oh I don't know what age I was. I can tell you it's exactly ten years though. I didn't start until 1993, and it's actually kind of a funny story. I had done a lot of needlework and crafts and things like that, but I decided I wanted to quilt, and I went in to sign up for a class, and the beginner's class didn't start until March. Well, I'm not real patient about these things, so of course I bought a book and some fabric, and a rotary cutter, and a mat, and all those little supplies that you need, and by the time the class started in March I had completed four quilts including a king-size, a queen-size, and two wall quilts. So I didn't need the class as much, but it was still interesting to learn some of the things. I guess I did it kind of backwards.

LM: So do you consider yourself self taught or is there someone who you learned to quilt from?

CT: Oh I learned a lot of things from people. I probably, I did those four quilts and then I took the class, which went on for ten weeks, and I probably did things out of books and traditional patterns for about six months, and then I knew I was bored. So I decided that I wanted to try things on my own and I found out about Quilting by the Lake and Quilt Surface Design Symposium, and so I started going to those, and taking from national teachers. I've had classes from Nancy Crow, and Michael James, and Libby Lehman, Melody Johnson, Jane Dunnewold, and a zillion other people. I think I learned a lot of techniques from all of those people and just kept going. I eventually ended up pretty much not doing any classes any more, but just doing my own thing.

LM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CT: Well I have a full time job. I own a business and I'm a head hunter [recruiter.] and I've done that since 1987, so I have to do that or I couldn't support myself. But I do tend to come home and in 1995, when in knew I was totally obsessed with this after two years, I built a studio onto my home, which is 1500 square feet and it's just a wonderful place to be. It has lots of windows and high ceilings, and I put a TV in there and chairs, and my sewing machine, and all kinds of great things, so every night I quilt. So I probably, I would say 4 to 5 hours a day at least, but it's not at the time that people would expect. It's in the evening instead.

LM: What is your first quilt memory?

CT: Of quilts that I've made myself or just any quilt?

LM: Quilts in your family? Was it used growing up? Anything like that.

CT: I really didn't have quilts growing up. My mother sewed, but she sewed clothes for me, something I would never consider [laughs.]. I made clothes for my daughters when they were young, but once you have to fit something, that just wasn't what I wanted to do. So really I didn't have connections with quilts until I just started doing it myself. No family quilts and such.

LM: So your mother sewed. Are their other quilters among your friends and family?

CT: Not really. I was an only child that my parents waited nine years for, so after they got me I think they just really spoiled me rotten and gave me lessons in every thing in the world, including all kinds of art type, crafts, things like that. So it probably gave me a lot of confidence to try things on my own. I've always liked color and texture, and all the things that quilting offers, and it just was very clear to me right from the first that it was going to be something I wanted to keep doing.

LM: How does quilting impact your family?

CT: Well my three children are all grown and they live in Boston, Atlanta, and Columbus, Ohio. They're very supportive. They like the quilts. They have them in their homes certainly. Every time they come, ‘Oh, I'd like that one Mom.' I think they've gotten to notice art more because of it and probably, having the two daughters are married and have their own homes, and I think they've come to appreciate how quilts can add to the décor of a home in that way. So that's been good for them.

LM: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

CT: I suppose in a funny way, although I have to admit that I've been lucky and not had too many terribly difficult times, but you know if something's bothering me, it's just kind of nice to sit there and sew quarter inch seams. [laughs.] You're accomplishing something, and maybe getting your mind off something else. I've used it for things like that.

LM: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

CT: Oh, lots of things. The color, the texture, just the tactile feel of it probably. I've thought about it before and I can remember when my first daughter was born, making little fabric animals that were maybe two feet by two feet, above her wall. It was really hard to do because I was making them all on my own. I didn't know what I was doing and I was all of 23 at the time, but I remember even liking the idea of having fabric on her walls then. It probably just took me 20 years to figure out how to do it more professionally. [laughs.]

LM: And what aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

CT: Oh gosh. I would tell you the paper work, but I'm kind of one of those people that's organized, and I obviously own a business, so have that in my background too, and I really wouldn't want to give it to somebody else to do. I enter a lot of shows so there is always a lot of paper work to do with that. Actually what goes with entering though is packing the quilts to send them off to the shows. I hate that part. That's the worst.

LM: Can you describe that process for us? [laughs.]

CT: Well the entering of the shows, in the first place, is complicated when you do as many as I do, because you usually have to send three entries, and there's a certain entry date, and then there's the notification date, and there's always a big gap. So the three that you've send to show A, you can't send to show B, because one of them might be chosen. People are always saying I get into a lot of shows and they see my work everywhere, which is great. I appreciate that, but it's because I'm so prolific that I've made over 400 quilts in the ten years I've been doing this. But even though I have a lot of quilts to play with, it's still hard to come up with what to send where. After that, that's a big decision, and after that big decision is made then you have to send the slides and all the things that go with that. Then when you get the notification, that's the fun part when the letter comes and says you're in! Then usually about two weeks after that comes the bad part. Then I've got to take the quilt and make sure it's in perfect condition, and wrap it up, and some of them want them in pillow cases and plastic bags, and mark the thing, and take it to UPS, and send it off, and hope you see it again [laughs.].

LM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CT: I think the design is the most important part. How things balance, how the design draws your eye around the quilter, something that attracts you to it. I think one of the things that I enjoy is the ability to make an impact from far away and at the same time to make it intriguing enough in it's fine work or to bring you up close to look at the stitching or some detail that you don't really get from far away so I think that's the best part – making the viewer look twice.

LM: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CT: The same thing really. It's got to be the design. The comment I probably get the most on my quilts is color. I don't understand people who are ‘afraid of color.' I hear that a lot in classes I teach. Color seems to me to be nothing you would want to be afraid of. I just love it, and I haven't met a color I don't like, and a lot of them go together. I'd combine almost anything.

LM: What makes a great quilter?

CT: That's an interesting question. What makes a great quilter? Probably somebody who has the eye to see when that design is right, when to stop and when to keep going. I find I'm the person who doesn't know when to stop. I make a lot of large quilts and it's because I still see something I can do, so I keep adding to it. I could probably start another quilt instead of making that one bigger. I have this wonderful sign on my board at home, it says ‘Simplify', but I apparently don't pay attention to it [laughs.] because all of my quilts seem to have a great complex nature about them. That's just the way it is.

LM: You mentioned teaching. Do you teach classes?

CT: I do. I mainly just teach locally. I've done out of state some guilds and things like that. I don't want to go on the road and teach, but by profession originally I was an elementary school teacher, so it's kind of a nice combination to do that.

LM: And along with a great quilter. How do great quilters learn how to make great quilts, especially things like designing a pattern or choosing colors? How do they acquire those sorts of skills?

CT: Personally I think the real answer is by practice. I'm probably one of those people that learned this way so I guess I think it's the best way. I would take a class and then, I wasn't the person who took my class project home and never finished it, which is extremely common. I finished everything, and Ned Wert who's one of the teachers that I've had--he's an art professor originally, said the one thing he sees about me is that I always make ‘something out of nothing,' and I will take home whatever I've started and somehow I'll make it into something. They may not always be great but they turn into something that's at least worth finishing I guess. So I guess I think persistence and just what I would call my work ethic, to finish things, is probably one of the things that's made me prolific.

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

CT: Well I'm a total machine quilter. It's one of the things I teach. I think the fact that free motion quilting you can do anything with it. You're drawing with a needle, and so it's lent itself to be so much more practical in this day in age when we're not at home taking care of kids and in the home to do the hand quilting. I certainly couldn't have made 400 quilts in ten years doing hand quilting. I hand quilted exactly one quilt; the one that I made in that original class. [laughs.] That was it.

LM: Why is quilting important in your life?

CT: Oh gosh. It's really become the focus. It's what I wake up thinking about. As you look around, you see ideas. I see ideas for quilts in just everything I look at, so it's just fun. It is something that is very independent, so I can't do it at any time that I want. I can play with color and texture and all those fun things, and yet can also have lots of good friends in it that I can at least get together with once or twice a year. So it's just an all around enjoyable thing.

LM: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, if they do at all?

CT: I don't really think mine do. I tend to do abstract. I definitely don't do realism or landscape or anything like that so I think they reflect me in the color choices I make and the fact that they're almost always bright. I think I have maybe one "subtle" quilt in all of them [laughs.] and that reflects my personality.

LR: How do you come up with the design for your quilts? [inaudible.] And your own patterns, how do you--

CT: It's been a process. I like working on my board, which is a flannel board, and just playing with different pieces of fabric. That's probably the initial way that I did it because you can try it so many ways before you decide what's good. I think probably what I learned is to always view it from really far away. When you're working on a quilt you tend to be so close to it that you're missing some of the things that might be great. Then I started doing motifs and I'm not much of a sketcher because I can't draw a person and make it look like a person [laughs.] I'd stick figure, but with abstract I can make little sketches. It's intriguing. I had to give a presentation on working in a series with these 39 quilts and so I included some of the sketches and it's always fun to look at what I sketched because it never turns out the way I sketched it. There are similarities, and I know that that's that quilt, but if I were to give it to you, you might not recognize it.

LM: Do you usually work in a series? You have 39 within this, but do you have others as well?

CT: This is really the first series that I've done. I've done then two series of three pieces, which is not much of series. I really didn't want to go on with those particular idea things. I have a new series called the Confetti Series, which is what three quilts at Gross-McCleaf are, and that's been fun. The story behind this new series is pretty interesting. The last quilt in the Gong series is called "Crescendo" Gong Series. I'm very happy about this quilt because it won first place at Houston and it just won first place at Lancaster a day ago and it's going to AQS and on top of that it sold, so it's really been a nice quilt. It's a big, big quilt. Let's see if I can tell you, 67 by 86, and the outside part of this is the first time I ever did what I'm now terming the "confetti" part. So this was just a really transitional quilt because it has both the gongs and the confetti's in it. Then I decided to make more confetti, and I have ten in that series now. I have another series that I just started playing with that I call the "linear series" and that one has six. So it's kind of fun to work in a series, I think it makes you better because you're trying a different way of doing the same thing. You're trying to stretch yourself, give yourself maybe a challenge of doing it differently. I think it's helped to make me a better design person anyway.

LM: You talked about the importance of quilts in your life, but in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history or women's history in America?

CT: I definitely think they do; the fact that they used their own clothes, as demonstrated by the Gee's Bends quilts that are out there now. It's amazing what people made out of nothing, old clothes and things like that. Even the quilting bees and the social value of that for women in a time when they really worked very much on their own in the home so I think all of that comes to play.

LM: How do you think quilts can be used?

CT: How do I think they can be used?

LM: [inaudible.] and show and you can hang them on your walls, put them on your bed, but do you see use for them maybe outside of the decoration or do you have them as functional objects? Do you have any other ideas about what can you do with quilts?

CT: I don't know. I mean, I like them as decoration and I know when I built my studio I asked them to build me, well I termed it a "quilt rack". They thought I meant that one little quilt rack that would be at the end of your bed. Well this quilt rack is floor to ceiling and has five rungs on each side and goes across and I have quilts stacked on that. When I designed the room everything I put in the room was a textured cream type color- the carpet the wallpaper everything and quilts provide all the color in the room, so I guess I think that decorating with them, even not separately on the wall, is something that I like. I like that color and texture in my life.

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

CT: Documentation certainly, photos, all of that type of thing. Shows, museums--I hope that that will be part of it. Certainly my children having them and now my grandchildren having them. It's nice to do that.

LM: What has happened to the quilts that you've made for your friends and family? Your children have them, but--

CT: As far as I know, pretty much the ones that I've given away are definitely in use in those people's homes or whatever. A lot of them that have been in shows are maybe in museums or collections. I've sold quite a few and people are using them in their homes. It's nice to sell them. I don't even think I sell them for the money because it's not my main job, but it's nice to know that somebody likes it well enough to want to hang it on the wall in their house and make it part of their life.

LM: Do you have any advice for future quilters who might read this interview?

CT: I guess I'm happy with the path that I took. I found it helpful to take a whole lot of classes in order to learn a zillion different techniques and then doing my own thing with what I learned. Some of them, I've probably never touched again, others I've made my own so to speak. For me, because I had no art training or anything like that it was a great way to learn and it's good that those people are out there teaching.

LM: And is there anything we haven't asked you that you think we should have, or anything you'd like to add?

CT: [pause.] I don't think so. We've covered a lot of questions [laughs.]

LM: Alright then I'd like to thank Carol for joining us today. Our interview began at 2:11 and concluded at 2:35 pm. It is April 5, 2003 and thank you Carol for joining us.

CT: Thank you.

[tape turned back on.]

LM: We're back. We have an amendment to the original interview [laughs.] additional questions and comments so we'll let my co-interviewer Amy Smith do her thing.

Amy Smith (AS): I have one question which had to do with if you came to quilting relatively recently, if somebody had told you twenty years ago that sometime in your future you would have not only taken up quilting but reach such a level where you were winning awards and people were purchasing your work, would that have surprised you twenty years ago?

CT: Twenty years ago it would have surprised me that I was selling them for other people to put on their wall probably. I think I expected to succeed at the quilting part because it was fun and I enjoyed it, and I think anything that you enjoy you're going to work at hard enough to make yourself succeed. I think I struggled with the term "artist" at first and the term "studio." I can remember thinking, I don't know if I could call my little bedroom that I quilt in a studio, but then when I added the addition to my house in 1995, that was definitely a studio. Then as my quilts became more popular and got into more and more shows and I knew that I was hanging on walls next to other people that I considered artists I thought, well maybe I am an artist, and so that part was kind of fun. It was surprising that it succeeded to the level that it has, and it's also terrific that people buy the quilts. I don't try to do this to make my living because I couldn't afford myself if I did that, but the best success story I can tell you is that this year starting in January I've sold seven quilts in 70 days, which is just unheard of. I mean I wouldn't believe it if somebody told me this, and they were all sold by me, none by a gallery or anything like that. People who had seen them in a show, people who had seen them on my website would call me up and say, ‘We want to come and see things.' A couple from Philadelphia as a matter of fact, saw my quilt in Houston, not in Philadelphia, and they called me up, or and said, ‘We'd like to come to your studio and look at these quilts and we're interested in purchasing one,' and this one was a very large quilt, like 86 by 70 so I had to tell them how much these quilts cost because I didn't want them to make this huge trip and be shocked, you know maybe they thought this was going to be 250 dollars. So I told them and they still were willing to come, so they drove six hours, looked at the quilts for about three hours, had lunch, purchased a quilt, and this was a quilt that's now in three shows. It was already committed to three shows. So this was January; they're not getting this quilt until August, but they purchased it, put a deposit of half down, and it's now theirs and they own it, and they've kind of become friends because I sent them a notice about the opening last night here in Philadelphia and they came and brought two other friends, who want to come to the studio when they pick it up [laughs.] So it's been fun, and the most interesting purchase came, when another fellow saw my quilts on the website and he emailed me and asked if a certain quilt was available and it was so I called him back. It turns out that he is a member of the jazz quartet called the Yellow Jackets, and they've won three Grammies and been a quartet for 25 years. I'm not a jazz person so I wasn't aware of them, and I just thought he was a normal person trying to buy a quilt. Well it turns out they wanted to buy the quilt to use as their playing, and also to put on the cover of their new CD that's coming out in May. So that was one of these seven too. So they just came out of the blue and it's been an amazing 70 days [laughs.]. So it's really nice. The money from them is certainly wonderful, but I'm much more thrilled that people want to put my art on their wall or use it on their CD cover.

LM: Everything?

CT: I think so. I think you hit most of it all.

LM: Okay.

[tape shut off.]

Interview Keyword

Circular quilting
Quilt artists
Quilting techniques
Quilt series
Creative processes
Art quilts
Art appreciation


“Carol Taylor,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,