Cindy Friedman




Cindy Friedman


Megan Dwyre interviews Cindy Friedman, a quilter and fiber artist based in Pennsylvania. She discusses personal aspects of quilting, including how she began to quilt, her style and creative processes, and her feelings on what makes a great quilt and quilter. She talks about her accomplishments as a quilter, including her charity work, commissioned pieces, and how her quilts have been received in the quilting and art worlds. She talks with Dwyre about the art form of creating art quilts, including how these quilts have transformed the art world in recent years. She talks about the various mediums quilts interact with, particularly wearable arts and other forms of textile arts. Friedman also discusses her personal feelings about quilting as an art form, its impact on American and women's history, as well as its impact on her life.




Textile crafts
Fabric arts
Quilts--United States--Exhibitions.
Crafts & decorating
Quilting today


Cindy Friedman


Megan Dwyre

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Merion Station, Pennsylvania


Megan Dwyre (MD): This is Megan Dwyre on July 22. I'm interviewing Cindy Friedman for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories oral history project. The time is 12:15 so we'll get started. Why don't you tell me about the quilt that we're looking at?

Cindy Friedman (CF): The quilt that we're looking at is a family portrait. I knew I wanted to make a portrait quilt of my family. My quilts generally feature human figures and I'm very interested in human bodies and how they interact with their environments. So we had a special occasion and I had reason to have professional photographs taken, and I had done a drawing and I asked the photographer to pose us in such a way that I could use that photograph to generate the quilt, and so I did that.

MD: And what materials did you use?

CF: It's mostly silk. There's a little bit of rayon and rayon and silk combinations but I'd say about ninety-eight percent silk.

MD: And what special meaning does it have for you?

CF: What special meaning. It was a technical challenge for me to do this piece. It's large, it's incredibly tediously pieced because those little eighth inch bars are inserts. I paper pieced the background, or I foundation pieced the entire background, and it was also a combination of technology in that I also used my computer, my G4, and Photoshop, to generate the face images. I drew the face images in contour drawings and then painted them in in Photoshop and printed them on silk on my computer. So that's how I did the face and hand images of the people in the quilt. So it was a technical challenge for me as well.

MD: And it's of your family right, so it also has a personal--

CF: Yes, it's definitely a personal statement.

MD: So, it's hanging on the wall, and what are your plans for it?

CF: I actually--I sent it to IQA. It hung at IQA last year and I'm not probably going to put this one out on the circuit at all. It's just--it's sort of a centerpiece of my living room and it reminds me of this joyous occasion, and it's just hanging out here with us.

MD: What do you think will happen after you're gone? Will it stay in the family?

CF: I'm sure one of my kids will take it.

MD: When did you start quilting?

CF: I made my first quilt when I was a college student, probably 1975 or '76. And I made a baby quilt. A person I had graduated from high school with had her first baby and I made a baby block quilt without a pattern, without knowing what I was doing, but I was an art student so I knew how to draw and draft a pattern on my own. And so I made a baby block, baby quilt, when I was about 20.

MD: And when did you start getting into art quilting?

CF: I also have a background in Fashion Design. I taught Fashion Design at Drexel University for 11 years, and I guess when I turned 40 which was 1995, I decided it was time to be an artist or never do it, and I quit teaching and concentrated on making quilts full-time. So, since 1995 I've been making art quilts.

MD: What made you decide to choose quilting over some other kind of medium do you think?

CF: Well, obviously with my background textiles have always been really, really important to me, and comfortable as a medium. And around '93 I got involved, I got invited into, a group that was making a centennial quilt for a little town that's next door to where I live in Narberth. And it was a pictorial quilt of town scenes, and it was presented at this big centennial ball, and it's a huge quilt, and it's like 80 by 90 inches. And I very much enjoyed the group process of the design and then the execution, and we entered it in Paducah at the National Quilters Association show, and we actually went down to see it hang there, and I just got caught up in the quilt world, and I thought this is where I want to head.

MD: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CF: I would say I average 35 to 40.

MD: So it's your full time job?

CF: Occupation, yes. Except when I'm doing the Art Quilts at the Sedgwick stuff, then that's my full time job.

MD: Oh, yes I do want to talk about Art Quilts at the Sedgwick. Did you want to talk about what you do and what it is?

CF: Art Quilts at the Sedgwick is an annual art quilt juried show that I was a founding member of about five years ago. It started with Debbie Schwartzman, Lonni Rossi, Leslie Pontz and myself and the first two years were invitational hanging shows where we simply put together a group of art quilters that we knew and then each person invited another person until we had a show to hang. The third year we went to a juried nationwide application show and we've done three shows since then that are like that. At this point, we have an excellent international reputation. We've been published, documented the show three times with a CD-ROM catalog, and our goal is to be Quilt National. So that's what I do. But my responsibilities for AQATS, my son is the webmaster so I supervise updating of the website and maintenance of the website. We have an online store, which he and I operate. We have a catalog that takes about seven weeks of my time, from early January until early March when it goes in for reproduction to actually technically put the catalog together. And then when it's time to install the show, I do the installation design.

MD: So having seen a lot of quilts, a lot of different art quilts as part of this, what do you think makes a great quilt?

CF: All the elements that make any piece of art; color, design, balance, something that makes a statement, something that speaks to your soul about something. I think quilts have an additional pull in the sense that there's a gut response you have to textiles. Probably because we're all exposed to textiles as one of the first things in our lives, and babies get swaddled and wrapped, and textiles are so important all their lives that I think people have a real gut reaction to quilts that they don't have maybe to paintings, and they're also a less threatening art form. They're a bit more easily understood.

MD: People are more comfortable?

CF: Much more comfortable.

MD: A lot of times I think about as I'm researching art quilting, I have a question, do you ever feel like quilting is looked down upon by other people in the art world because of its traditional side and its craft?

CF: I think there is some discrimination against quilts although less so against art quilts and especially as we continue to educate our audience, which is one of the missions for us at Art Quilts at the Sedgwick, to continue to educate the publics that yes, there is a quilting tradition where people make bed quilts and baby quilts, but art quilts are nothing about that and that they are meant to be completely decorative statements that are intended to hang on walls.

MD: Definitely.

CF: I think that sort of bias is eroding more and more as we get more good press, as we get reviewed in the newspaper, and written up in sort of more mainstream art, fine-art type magazines. I think we're moving into an arena where quilts are more and more accepted and that's evidenced by many museums hanging quilts as art.

MD: So have you been to museums where they would maybe hang quilts in the same museum as paintings and sculptures and stuff like that?

CF: Yes, in fact I went up to see the Gee's Bend exhibit in New York and there have been many opportunities to see quilts or textile work hanging. Not so much here in Philadelphia unfortunately, but they are slow to get on the board for everything.

MD: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

CF: Probably the same criteria that makes it suitable to buy a painting or acquire anything else. That it's a very strong design statement. It's a strong technical execution of the piece. It's a strong total piece that makes a statement. I know I was at the Smithsonian in Washington two months ago and they have in their contemporary craft gallery at least five or six quilts hanging at the moment, and they're all very strong design statements and they're part of the permanent collection.

MD: What do you think makes a great quilter?

CF: That's an interesting question, what makes a great quilter? I think the thing that we all have in common is we all love textiles and we're all compulsive and obsessive about textiles; collecting them, fondling them, sharing them. Personally, although the art quilt trend is not following this, personally I like the technical mastery of the medium too, although as I said there are people who fuse, that don't know how to sew, but they know how to iron and glue, and they're making wonderful art. So I guess it's a combination of having a great sense of color and what textiles will work together, what pattern works together, and then how to merge those.

MD: Do you machine quilt or hand quilt?

CF: Up until eight months ago I would call myself a machine quilter, doing as little by hand as possible. I love my machine, I'm very comfortable with it and I can draw with my machine as well as I can draw with my hands, but in the last year I've been taking advanced figure drawing, nude figure drawing classes, or open studio time where I've been doing drawings on double layers of silk, and then turning those into multiple layers, collages, I'll show you them. They have a completely different feeling and they didn't like the sense of machine stitching, so I've been doing all hand sewing on those, which is a whole different direction for me.

MD: How many quilts have you made?

CF: I would say something in the range of fifty.

MD: Do you give quilts as gifts?

CF: I used to, very seldom any more. Occasional. I have two grandchildren and I have made them both quilts, but I don't make and give them as gifts much any more.

MD: But you sell them.

CF: I sell my work.

MD: Okay, I'm going to switch topics a little bit. How does quilting impact your life?

CF: I think for me it's a primary creative outlet and it is a self expression format. It's also been economically rewarding in that what I've made and put out on the market has sold, so it gives me a satisfaction in that sense too, that there's somebody validating my work by being willing to buy it. It's just, it's as natural to me as breathing, it's what I've got to do, and I knew it as soon as I started doing it, that all of the skill building I've been doing on my life was meant to focus in this way, at this point.

MD: Do you think quilting, or I guess any kind of art, has a therapeutic value? Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time of your life? Or would you use it to get through a difficult time?

CF: Well for me it's probably more general in the sense that I've known since I was a little girl that I've always felt better if I was sewing something and I think, I'm not sure whether it's the construction, or the total concentration, or the sense of accomplishment you have when you've finished making something, but it's the making of things that has always made me feel better, so it's always been there as a support for me. I guess to some extent, yes, probably when I was in my twenties, I did make things if I was feeling bad, because I knew it would make me feel better.

MD: How does it impact your family?

CF: Well, they weren't thrilled initially when I started disappearing for a week at a time to go to a meeting or to go to a conference, but they got over that, and at this point they're very supportive and they're very proud of me and what I do.

MD: Are there other quilters among your family or friends?

CF: Friends many, not in my family in particular, although my mother is a very creative person with her hands also. She doesn't make quilts though, and there aren't quilters in my family that I know of, with the exception of my great-great-grandmother made a quilt for my great-aunt, who left it to me, so I know there were quilters way back, but they haven't been active.

MD: What's your first quilt memory?

CF: Making the baby quilt when I was probably about 20 for my best friend.

MD: So it wasn't really a part of your childhood or anything? You came into it later?

CF: No, no. Right, I came into it as an adult.

MD: How do you think quilts are important in American life?

CF: Well obviously the number of people doing it find it rewarding in terms of it being a hobby or something that fulfills a need for them as a creative expression. For me it's defined my life as an artist, but I think for most people it gives them a sense of accomplishment to be able to make something and probably more of those people make utilitarian items, and I think that's a very important personal or self-expressive support.

MD: Do you think that they have a special meaning for women's history?

CF: I think they do because it's been predominantly a women's art form and I think whether it was out of necessity and recycling the scraps of clothing when the clothing was falling to shreds, or whether it was the Victorian's using all of the wonderful silks and satins and velvets in crazy quilts, for purely aesthetic reasons, it's always been a needle form that women enjoyed, women shared, and women did.

MD: What about in women's life today?

CF: I think it's very interesting that needle arts have come back as a very important focus for women, and it's been more so young women. I think knitting and quilting, have both seen a huge resurgence of young people paying attention to them, and I think that's partly because there's an awareness of the value of working with your hands and there aren't too many opportunities especially in today's world where you can work with your hands. We're all used to going to the mall and buying clothes, and you don't make your clothes anymore, and you don't make your furniture anymore, and most people don't' make their own household goods; their drapes, or their bedspreads, or their anything, textiles. So I think just the ability to know you can still do things with your hands stimulates a different part of the brain and gives pleasure.

MD: Do you think it's like creating a personal identity? Something personal that you made, that no one else has?

CF: I'm not sure what that is. I think our ancestors, my parents, my grandparents, were taught to use their hands to produce things. Whether it was painting a chair or producing the chair itself, they were taught to use their hands, which in turn taught their brains different things. You know, you hit your hand with a hammer once you don't do it twice because you learn to hold it differently. So people were used to learning information from their hands, and as we've gotten less and less hand oriented and more machine oriented, there's a sense of loss that goes with that. So I think that part of that resurgence has to do with recovering that sense of contact with your environment and its items that are in it.

MD: One more question that I wanted to ask also. Art quilting's a relatively new phenomenon.

CF: Twenty five years.

MD: Yes, for most of quilting's history it's been traditional quilting, why do you think that that came about when it did?

CF: I think all of the things that we've just been talking about, the sort of return to the appreciation or the value of handcrafted things was part of it. I think the women's movement, and sort of saying yes, you can be a mother, you can be a homemaker, but you can also do anything else you want. The empowering of women gave them the right to say, this is what I do, and this is what I do well, and I'm an artist, and it's okay to do this. So it validates it in a different way. That and I think there was probably a cross-fertilization of people who were trained as artists using the textile medium and that sort of opened other people's eyes to, 'Oh there aren't quilt police, you aren't going to get in trouble if you color outside the lines, and they're not going to come knock on your door.' Sort of breaking the rules became the norm as opposed to following the rules.

MD: Do you think there's ever an issue of, when does something stop being a quilt and start being something else?

CF: I don't have that issue. I think a lot of people do, especially people who come from traditional quilting backgrounds, have more trouble accepting quilts made out of wood, and plastic, and teabags, and matchsticks, and whatever. I enjoy the humor and the stretching of the definition more than I get upset by it.

MD: How do you think quilts can be used?

CF: Any way you want to use them. Except, and I take exception with this, I think a lot of people who make wearable art use quilts badly in that they don't know how to make and fit clothes to a body so they end up making a quilt and then trying to make it into a garment, and it typically doesn't flatter the body or fit the body very well, so I have trouble with a lot of the wearable art that's out there right now, and I would like to see that part of the quilt world get more educated about bodies and three dimensional quilts.

MD: Did you want to talk more about your wearable art?

CF: Well I've been making clothes since I was about seven. I started with doll clothes and then my own clothes, and I've always made clothing that when I started making art quilts I couldn't ignore the clothing part of me, and the first time I went to Houston for the International Quilt Festival about eight years ago, seven years ago, and I saw the Fairfield Fashion Show, I thought I can do that, and I should be doing that. So I applied to be a Fairfield designer and you have to submit a slide portfolio and then be selected from the pool. And I was invited to do the Fairfield Fashion Show twice and I've done the Bernina show twice now. Altogether, I've done the two shows four times. It's really been an interesting experience for me in terms of creating a whole original ensemble, and some of it's quilted and some of it's not, and then, knowing that I know how to merge these two worlds because of the unique skill sets that I have, and therefore I should be out teaching in that world, and so I've sort of gone that direction too.

MD: So you teach a lot?

CF: Well I've taught in Houston a couple of times, different wearable arts classes, and I'm going to go back to teaching actually in September at Rosemont College, and they want to offer a fine arts degree with a fashion emphasis. So I'm teaching in September, I'm going to be teaching a mixed media class where we're going to be using everything but fabric to make items that emphasize different body parts. So we're going to be exploring the body, exploring alternative materials, but also a fashion attitude, and a fashion sense. So I'm going to take them on field trips. For example there's an Elsa Schiaparelli show that's going to be mounted at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Opens in September, it's going to be fabulous. Elsa Schiaparelli was a mold breaker and a trendsetter. And we'll take a field trip out to Jomar fabrics, which is up in the greater northeast, and we'll do a field trip on different types of fabrics and what defines them, what are their characteristics, how do they get used, that kind of thing. And to the hardware store of course.

MD: Do you dye your own fabrics?

CF: No, in fact I don't like fooling around with dips and paints. I've done it. I mean I've done workshops with Lonni Rossi where I've stamped and printed fabrics and I've fooled around with it, but for the most part I prefer dry media, like colored pencils on fabric, or stitchery, or appliquéing, or multi-layering of sheer fabrics. I don't like playing with paint. I find it too difficult a medium to control.

MD: Did you want to talk a little about your creative process? What inspires you? I read on your website that you were interested in the human form, architecture, geometry?

CF: Right, and repeating things, geometry, grids, and patterns that repeat have always fascinated me, the way those get applied to human beings and bodies in terms of the environments we create to live in, the way we reproduce patterns on fabrics and textiles, the way pattern reoccurs in nature. All of those things kind of catch my interest and I've rediscovered the joys of keeping a sketch book in the last eight years, and so I doodle. I constantly have a sketch book and I'm drawing or doodling, and taking this drawing class in the last year has also renewed my interest in a lot of those things especially the human figure, and the body structures, and the way light happens and falls on a body, and then how to try and either catch that imagery in a quilt form, or how to draw that imagery and then turn it into a quilted textile.

MD: So how do you decide what you're going to make next?

CF: Sometimes I have gone through my sketch books and when I do a drawing I really like and I know I want to turn it into a quilt, I use an overhead projector and I do a full-size cartoon on the wall, of whatever the quilt is going to be, and I do actually a pen and ink drawing on Mylar or on drawing paper, and I'll take it and have blueprints made of it, and I get right-reading and wrong-reading blueprints. The right-reading blueprint I put up on the wall and that acts as my template, or my visual thing that I fill in with fabric. The wrong-reading ones I spray mount to freezer paper and I actually use as my templates. So that's how I produce most of the quilt images that I've produced, but with the new stuff that I'm doing I'm taking a layer of China silk and a layer of silk organza on top of it, and I spray mount the China silk to paper, and then I use Sulky K 2000, which is a spray adhesive that disappears after a period of time, to put the two layers of silk together. In essence it's stretched then on my canvas, and then I use Prismacolors, which are wax based colored pencils, and I do my drawings, and I discovered along the way that that it produces two drawings because the top layer of silk acts like a screen and the colored pencil goes right through it. So you get a drawing on the surface of the organza, you get a shadow drawing on the China silk, which can be used independently, the layer of organza you can use on either side because the image shows from both sides, and after I finish doing the drawing, I take it off the paper, actually I do it when it's still on the paper, I cover it with muslin and I iron it with a hot, dry iron, which melts the wax and which releases the pigment and the colored pencils right into the silk, which makes the drawing permanent. Prismacolors are permanent pigments anyway, but once they're embedded in the silk I know it's a permanent color. It won't rub off, it won't whatever. Then I can peel the drawings apart and start manipulating them, and what I've been playing with, once I realized I could do this, is layering other sheers between the two layers, and holding all of them together with stitches. And so I realized I could do a whole other kind of imagery with quilts and that's where I'm headed right now. So things I can draw; I have good drawing skills, and I started with drawing people, and I'm going to branch out probably and start drawing doorways, and windows, and objects, chairs or other things, and I want to play with layering imagery of people with the objects, but on separate layers, and see how that plays together. And there's just a million ways that this could be used on everything from garments to, I mean it just was a very exciting thing for me when I stumbled on to this, that I can draw like this, I can manipulate them, and there's a million directions I can go with it.

MD: Did you develop the process by yourself pretty much, just by experimenting?

CF: I did I was taking a drawing class. [Cindy's son arrives home. tape shuts off for a break]

MD: Okay, we're back now from a little break that we took. It is 1:20. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about what we were talking about during the break which is some work that you've done for charity and commissions.

CF: Okay. For charity the project that I've been most involved in the last three years, is producing these little pins that are lapel pins. The pins are about an inch and a half by about two and a half inches and it is an image of a pink ribbon, and we make and sell them as a charity fundraiser to support the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation in Philadelphia, and my guild began making them because one of our members was diagnosed with breast cancer and during her treatment one of the other members designed this little pin, and we all loved it. We thought it was a really wonderful thing she did for Christina and we had the idea of making them and selling them for a fundraiser for Linda Creed, and at this point we've sold thousands of them and donated more than $8,000 to Linda Creed. So that's my sort of charity part, and I make probably about eight dozen pins a year. October is breast cancer month so we're geared up right now, we've been producing pins. The other major charity that I've been involved with involved the Ronald McDonald House and that was actually a commission and we produced a quilt that is dedicated to their volunteers, and the idea behind the quilt was that being a volunteer at the house makes you feel so good you get to dance with the stars. And so the quilt face even though it's a regular repeating block pattern, is covered with these freeform human beings that are made out of a combination of sheer and opaque silks, and we used textile paints to actually draw the figures and cut them out, and then appliqué them, and that the figures are the volunteers. And they have a range of volunteers old to young, some with handicaps, some in wheelchairs, as long as they can do things like answer phones and file, they can volunteer at the house. So we wanted to make the quilt as joyful and as wonderful as the house itself. And so that quilt has been hanging in the formal living room, or the board room, at the house, which is at 38th and Chestnut in Philadelphia and it's the first Ronald McDonald house in the world. So that was made 1997 I think, or '98, and it's still hanging there. And the other commission that I did was also a group quilt. Four of us produced that particular quilt and it hangs in the Infectious Disease Clinic in the University of Pennsylvania. It was a quilt that was based on the theme of celebrating the Bill of Rights, and that its patients have the same rights as everybody else does, and the quilt was donated to the clinic by a commission that had come in through the RMH Foundation. So, that's what I've done in terms of that kind of stuff.

MD: You mentioned before that you've won an award, or awards, did you want to talk a little bit more about that.

CF: No. It's not a big deal. It's nice to win the awards, but that's not what makes the work good.

MD: And you're part of a guild?

CF: I'm part of a guild and it's a small guild, which is actually how I met Debbie Schwartzman. Debbie and I met at the guild and Debbie introduced me to Lonni [Rossi.] and the group of us, for awhile, were marketing ourselves as a group. We just decided to pool marketing resources, and we've done a number of shows as joint exhibiting artists. And so I met Debbie and Lonni and I also met Leslie Pontz through Debbie, and that's the core of the Art Quilts at the Sedgwick program.

MD: I don't have any more questions, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that I haven't asked you or anything else that you wanted to elaborate on?

CF: No, it's just I guess for me I have such a hybrid background between garment making and quiltmaking that I still do probably almost equal amounts of both, maybe a little more towards the quilt side than the garments. I guess it's sort of the epitome of using all of my skills when I make garments or wearable art that are quilted in some fashion, so I get the best of both worlds.

MD: Okay, well the time is 1:25 and we're concluding the interview with Cindy Friedman for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. This is Megan Dwyre.

CF: Great.

Interview Keyword

Art quilts
Traditional quilts
Quilting as an art form
Contemporary quilts
Youth culture
Quilts for charity
Commissioned artworks
Quilting guilds
Quilting communities
Artistic processes
Creative processes


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