Carolyn Dahl




Carolyn Dahl


Carolyn Dahl describes the quilt she brought for the interview, which she titled "Don't Throw Away My Dolls." She says it is a memory quilt based on memories and objects from her childhood and family traditions. She describes her exact process of creating unique fabric stamps using those special objects from her childhood. Dahl talks about how she began her interest in quilting via her career in teaching fabric dyeing and painting. Dahl describes her first memory of a quilt, which was one made by her grandmother for one of her dolls. She talks about how her own quilting impacts her immediate family and more about her quilting schedule. Dahl talks about quilting during a difficult time in her life during a health issue, and how her work was affected. She talks about what she thinks makes a great quilt and what makes a great quilter. Dahl talks about why it is an exciting time in the world of quilting.




Decorative arts
Textile artists
Arts and crafts.


Carolyn Dahl


JoAnn Pospisil

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Jeri Riggs


Houston, Texas


Megan Dwyre


JoAnn Pospisil (JP): This is JoAnn Pospisil interviewing Carolyn Dahl at the Houston International Quilt Festival on November 1, 2002. Okay, Carolyn thank you for coming today and can you talk about this piece that you've brought with you?

Carolyn Dahl (CD): The quilt is called "Don't Throw Away My Dolls" and it's a memory quilt that documents a trip home to Minnesota. I live in Texas now. I'm a surface designer and a quilter which means I paint, dye, and print the cloth and then make the quilt. In this quilt, I used fabric printed with a particular kind of moldable-foam sponge block called MagicStamp from Clearsnap Inc. You heat its surface, press objects into it, and the imprints remain. Then you stamp the fabric with the blocks. Every one of these squares in the quilt was a printing block impressed with some object from my trip home and each image has a particular memory for me.

JP: Can you tell us about the material that you chose to use?

CD: The front of the quilt is cotton that has been printed with fabric paint and the back side is a commercial fabric. The materials that actually created the printed images vary. This block was made from my mother's crochet work. We went through a great big box of crochet items; some she made and some she collected from garage sales. She even made me a white crocheted dress when I was three years old. This block was impressed with a piece of coral from my sister. She had just been to Florida and collected beach coral. When I noticed her bowl of beautiful coral, I started to go through it and thought, 'Oh this will make a good printing texture,' so I did several blocks of that. And this square reminds me of a funny moment. I brought this quilt to the Carol Duvall show when I did one of her television programs for Home and Garden Television. She looked at the block and said, 'Is that what I think it is?' and I said, 'What do you think it is?' She said, 'That looks like my dishrag.' [laughs.] I said, 'Yes, that is what it is, a dishrag.' My sister had been appalled when I wanted to take her old, falling apart dishcloth. But I said it will make a great texture and it did. I wanted that image in my quilt because part of our family ritual when we get together is to cook our favorite recipes. The dishcloth block represents our time in the kitchen. The story book dolls that you see in the quilt, I've had since childhood. They are the reason for the quilt's title. When I was home my mother gave me my dolls. She had been storing them. My hands on the quilt reach for the dolls. So the whole message of the quilt with all its images and symbols is--don't throw away my memories, save the objects that hold the memories, just like this quilt holds memories. Let the quilt be a memory book for the wall.

JP: Beautiful, can you tell us about the transfer of the dolls themselves, the colors?

CD: When my parents traveled they got me these story book dolls. I wasn't really interested in baby dolls as a child, but I loved story book dolls. I think it's because I've always loved exotic things with color and pattern. That's probably why I dye and paint my own fabric. What I did with the doll images was to photocopy the actual dolls, moving the arms, head, dress into different positions to the amusement of the other customers in the store. Then I colored the photocopies with colored pencils and using a photo transfer process, I transferred them to the fabric.

JP: You have buttons. They seem to have colors. How did you decide what colors to use?

CD: I wanted a pastel palette that wouldn't obscure the black-and-white images. I wanted the objects to be the message, not the color--unlike much of my other things. I'm a color person so a lot of my work is very bright. I wanted this quilt to be mostly black and white so I used only a little fabric paint and textile markers, choosing to accent certain areas on the buttons. Some buttons had wonderful shapes, like the stars. My grandmother Dahl collected the buttons often cut off of old clothes over her lifetime. I wanted her and her love of buttons to be a part of my quilt.

JP: Okay, and can you talk about some more of the memories you have in these squares? For instance this one, sort of a grill pattern. [laughs.]

CD: Once again, we're back in the kitchen. [laughs.] And we're not a real kitchen family, but we have these dishes and we love to eat. We don't get together for meals often, so it seems that when we do, I want to eat all the foods I remember as a child. So this is a potato masher--

JP: That's what I thought. [laughs.]

CD: We have a family dish--my mother's heritage is German--it's really raw potato dumplings. We have to mash cooked potatoes. I mean we must peel, cook, and mash about twelve pounds of them. So we're in the kitchen all day. It's hard labor and everybody participates: the nephews get in on the job, the husbands, my mother, so that's why the potato masher is in the quilt. Here's another block with a fish. When I was home I did some art with my youngest nephew. My nephew loves to fish. In my first book, "Transforming Fabric," I have a chapter on fish printing. My nephew was very concerned that everyone may not have a fish to print. He said 'What if they can't go fishing or don't have luck?' So he bought me a plastic fish (actually a pencil box) and said, 'Now you can tell people who don't have fish that they can use a plastic one and make a fish print from your book.' [laughs.] So here's his plastic fish print.

JP And what about these that look like fabric of some sort, fiber?

CD: They're actually a string of beads from my mother's jewelry box. Yet they create a very abstract pattern when you press them into the MagicStamp block. I always tell my students that you don't know what an object imprint will look like on cloth until you print it. Recently I did a lot of nature printing on cloth for my second book, "Natural Impressions." You can look at a leaf with your naked eye, and you see one thing, but when you ink it and press it to the fabric, you see another level of nature's beauty.

JP: Bamboo or something is what came to my mind.

CD: Yes, the printing process gives a nebulous quality to the image. When the viewer looks at this quilt they may not be able to identify all the images nor understand the symbolism behind these objects. You might think that's bamboo and that's really my mother's beads. Others might see an artistic quilt, but for me every block recalls a personal story and a moment in time that happened to me. I think quilts do this all the time, especially quilts that use definite imagery. I think there are two kinds of stories caught in quilts. The first are the intangible stories. For instance, in old quilts, we don't know what happened as these women sat around the quilt working. I bet there were a lot of tears, good stories we'll never know. But when we touch that quilt, and I think this is part of the mystique, we feel those stories. And what we feel is what makes them so powerful. But then there's the other kind of story, like this quilt, where you take images, the symbols, and you create a narrative and a story within the quilt. The story is more out-front, more people have a chance at interpreting it. They can sit in front of the quilt and put together a story. It may be their own version, but that's wonderful.

JP: Let's see, you said you chose cotton material, the back is also a cotton print. Why would you say you chose this particular quilt to bring today?

CD: Because it is about stories and demonstrates how you can save your personal stories easily and in a very tangible way. This memory quilt could document the objects from any life event. If it were a wedding, you could make MagicStamp printing blocks from the bridal gown, the rings, the flowers because pressing them into this material doesn't damage the object. A lot of my students have done it.

JP: Can you explain the process actually--let's go with the potato masher, how do you get to this piece of fabric that you used in the quilt?

CD: It's really a very simple thing. Imagine a square of blue foam--the MagicStamp, approximately 3 by 4 by 1 inches. When I heat it with a heat gun, the surface starts to melt slightly. Then I press the potato masher into the heated-foam block, and hold it while the foam cools around it. When I remove the potato masher, its imprint is in the block. Then I roll ink across the block and then just stamp the individual blocks in the sequence I want on the fabric. It's a whole cloth quilt, so I would have printed the fabric first then added the hand and doll images on top of the finished fabric.

JP: So you had one piece of cloth, this is not squares sewn together or anything?

CD: No. I printed the blocks next to each other then quilted between them to emphasize the block divisions.

JP: Okay beautiful, and what do you plan to do with this quilt?

CD: Just love it. [laughs.]

JP: Wonderful, absolutely.

CD: I'll keep it because it holds my personal memories. I've shared the process in my book "Transforming Fabric" though. But it documents our family and is a family quilt because everyone is in it through one of the objects. My sister enjoys it, my mother enjoys it, and we talk about it when we get together.

JP: We're talking about a piece, we just measured it awhile ago that we're looking at here that's about 25 by 29.5 inches and it's just a beautiful photo in all cases, but the print of your life stories, and that's so symbolic of this project.

Unidentified Person (UP): Actually the quilt was 45, I believe. We measured 45 inches by 25.5 inches I think the length is 45 inches.

JP: Okay, sorry. Yes that looks more like it, just looking at it. [inaudible. laughs.] Can you tell us about your interest in quilting?

CD: I came to it through the back door--through fabric dyeing and painting. My grandmother Dahl quilted. I have quilts from my family that I have in my own collection of textiles. But my field of expertise was mainly dyeing and painting fabric. Then in the 1980's, quilters started to get interested in dyeing and painting their own fabrics for quilts, so I started teaching here at the quilt festival. Pretty soon, if you're around quilters long enough, you get the spirit and soon you'll have to quilt too. Now I've combined the both of them, my love of painting, printing, and dyeing and quilts.

JP: So at what age did you say you actually started quilting yourself?

CD: Oh, don't ask me my age. [laughs.] Let's just say it's been long enough. [laughs.]

JP: You started quilting as an adult?

CD: Yes, definitely an adult.

JP: So, from whom did you actually learn to quilt? You were talking about just being in contact with--

CD: Just contact, watching, and some books. I'm really self-taught. I do my own version of quilting. For instance, when I hand quilt, I don't necessarily quilt in rows or repeating patterns. I do crazy made-up patterns, almost like drawing, perhaps because of my art background. I like the stitch to go in different directions and become an element of line within the quilt [inaudible.], so I actually like to hand stitch, especially miniature quilts because it's like drawing. I can experiment and make the pattern up as I go, and make the line more expressive.

JP: So how many hours a week would you say you spend quilting?

CD: It depends. Half of the week probably because the other half is spent in the studio dyeing fabric. It's not that I go out and buy the fabric pattern I like (although I do use commercial fabrics too and mix them with the hand-dyed), but instead I paint my own patterns. I like to say I'm dirty half the week--the dyeing and painting and clean the other half constructing, sewing, quilting.

JP: So regarding the fabric, you generally start with just the white muslin or cotton?

CD: Everything is white, yes. My studio is kind of different because when you go to most quilters' studios you're going to find stacks and layers of colored fabric. When you come to my studio, you're going to find rolls and rolls of white fabric. It's kind of a shock to people because they see my quilts, which often have a lot of color, and they expect to find a studio packed with colored fabric. But I'm the one who adds the color; I'm the final part of the process for the cloth.

JP: What are your favorite colors? You said this [the quilt.] was one of the rare ones in that you used black and white and pastels.

CD: I don't think there's a color I don't like, but I do favor turquoise, purple, and pink, kind of tropical tones. I use all of them. I even like brown and a lot of people don't like brown for some reason. Maybe I like it because I grew up in a farming community where soil was honored and valued.

JP: But bright generally?

CD: Pretty bright, yes.

JP: That's interesting. Your first memory of a quilt.

CD: A doll quilt that my grandmother Dahl made me. I'd gotten this pretty doll with long reddish-blond hair for Christmas--not a storybook doll. It was the one baby doll I really, really loved. Someone bought me a doll crib, and she made me a tiny quilt to cover my doll. That was my first memory of a quilt. I still have it. Come to think of it, it wasn't even quilted. The fabric mimicked a pieced quilt top and she had simply tied it.

JP: About what size was it, do you know?

CD: Oh, it couldn't have been very big. I don't know, how big would that be? [JP: 18 inches] About 18 by--

JP: Maybe 12.

CD: Just enough to fit a little crib. She wasn't a very big dolly, one of those little ones you know. Probably was about 18 inches x 16 inches.

JP: So are there other quilters in your family?

CD: Only my grandmother and an aunt. I think my mother would have liked to have quilted, but she worked all her life. She managed to crochet and embroider because they were things she could pick up in spare moments.

JP: Tell me about your grandmother's quilting, what did she quilt?

CD: Typical of my grandmother and I think that time period, she quilted because she couldn't bear to throw away cloth. She used old clothes for quilts or whatever was around. My grandmother was also a rag rug weaver. She was Swedish, and she had a loom that my grandfather made for her. She would collect old clothes, or people would give her old clothes, which she would cut up for the rugs. One of my fondest memories is sitting in front of a wood stove. I even wrote a poem about it, as we cut clothes into strips which we wound into rag balls. Then when spring came she would have her stash of rag balls. The old loom would bang away upstairs all summer while she made rag rugs. So I think that was the start of my love of textiles. I think she would run across
fabrics that really would be better for quilts and she thought, 'Oh, this is too nice for a rug, I'm going to put that aside for a quilt.'

JP: And she made bed size quilts?

CD: Yes, because it was cold, we needed quilts. [laughs.]

JP: Yes, but I mean [inaudible.] utilitarian.

CD: Yes, probably my doll quilt was the only frivolous small thing she ever

JP: How does quilting impact your immediate family?

CD: I don't have children, but quilting impacts my husband and friends because that's what I do, all the time. [laughs.] And as you well know, your family is going to live whatever your passion is with you.

JP: Right, so they are very supportive as far as the time that you spend?

CD: Oh yes, and I spend all of my time.

JP: Do you?

CD: Yes, it is my passion. Creativity is my career, my passion, and my love. I've always joined them all together.

JP: So, how many hours a day would you say you spend?

CD: Well, whether I'm painting fabric or I'm constructing and quilting, I would say I work almost all day. My husband would say weekends too. [laughs.] I do take time off once in a while, but I don't think my work ever leaves my mind. I work in my home, so I will have an in-process piece pinned to the wall and every time I pass through that room, I'm thinking, thinking. So it's on my mine even if I'm not stitching or painting.

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

CD: Yes, yes, I've had eye surgeries. I was teaching in Minnesota actually, in my home state, when my first retinal detachment occurred--I've had several and six surgeries and possibly will have more. I didn't have any of the risk factors, nor had any warning, so when it happened I was devastated and depressed. I started a series of small quilts, miniature quilts that focused on the eye image. They had a lot of embroidery and embellishment. In the first one documenting my first surgery, everything was frantic, jagged, with zigzag wires surrounding the quilt's border. In the second quilt, everything looked depressed and brooding. I used red lace to represent the floaters and scars that now cross my vision and will for the rest of my life. But the third one, which is actually in the "Fine Focus 2002" exhibition on the conference floor here, came out sort of humorous. It's covered with little plastic eyes because I feel you can never have too many backup eyes. It shows how my feelings turned as I quilted, that I had somewhat adjusted to the fact that eyesight problems will be a part of my life. Those quilts helped me deal with what was happening to me and gave me a physical place to put my emotions.

JP: So quilting has been important to you in that aspect?

CD: A lifesaver.

JP: Lifesaver. What is it about quilting that you find pleasing?

CD: I love the feel of cloth. I don't think there's anything more inviting. We start life wrapped in cloth and we finish in cloth. Our whole life is involved with cloth. I also love the in-and-out movement of the needle. There is something so satisfying for me about stitching. I mean I can sit and hand quilt in my own kind of hand quilting for hours and it just feels good; I don't know why. I love that rhythm. It's like a meditation for me whether it's the machine, or my hand. Every technique has a way of thinking, a personality. With a needle you're joining things. You're not ripping things apart; you're bringing things together. I like that it feels like healing, by joining and mending.

JP: Are there any aspects of quilting that you do not enjoy?

CD: Yes, I hate bindings. [laughs.] I am not by nature a precise person. Some days I can measure and measure and every time I measure, it comes out differently. I have the hardest time getting a square quilt. It's really agony for me, so I'm trying to devise a way to eliminate bindings. I sort of invented the technique of painted batting when I did the Fairfield fashion show in the 80's. I said to myself, 'Well this is sponsored by a batting company. Why not make the batting the garment?' So I devised a technique, no one was doing it at the time, of painting the batting like fabric. It would become the cloth instead of an inner padding. The whole garment was made out of nothing but painted batting. I didn't know if the batting garment would survive traveling for a year, but it did. Now, I'm trying to figure out a way to avoid the binding by painting the batting and letting it peek out the unbound edges. [laughs.]

JP: It's interesting that you should say that about the binding, in our previous interview she was the same way about that.

CD: Oh, good.

JP: Because she had an art background and it was just too precise.

CD: Yes, when you have an area that isn't precise, it leaves a little human spirit in the quilt. Just like Native American rugs. They always make a little mistake or a break in the pattern so the weaver's spirit can escape. I think sometimes quilts almost become too perfect. Or is that my justification. [laughs.]

JP: [inaudible.] outside the lines.

CD: I like the look of the hand.

UP: Can I ask a question?

JD: Sure.

UD: Why do you think the binding has to be straight?

CD: That's a very good question. I think because I came from a different background into the quilt world. I see this incredible precision in all the work. The squares are perfect, the patterns are perfect, so I feel that if I'm to be a part of this world, to become a quilter, and exhibit, I have to match their standards. I strive to do as well as people who are capable of this precision. Yet it's not really my personality and it's not my background. My approach is different, but I always feel because I'm a teacher, they'll go 'Hmmm, look at that quilt.' You mean you won't judge me if my binding isn't straight? Okay, you wait, the next one, I'm breaking loose. What's your name? I'll say Barbara you told me it was all right to have a crooked quilt. [laughs.] One year I was a juror for the IQA show. Good bindings are one of the things you look at when you're jurying using the point system. So I guess I became very conscious of bindings because I wasn't quilting at the time, but was known mainly as a fiber artist. So I think maybe because of that I thought, 'Oh you'll be judged too if you don't have a totally straight quilt.' But after this interview, I'm free at last. [laughs.]

JP: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CD: First of all, let me use the jurying experience again. One of the ways I jury is to walk the whole show quickly and wait for quilts to call out to me. There is something intangible that will call me, grab my mind, force me to stop and look at it. I won't judge it at that point, I will just make a note in my mind that this was a quilt that had something special when I did a walk through. Then I go back through the show slowly, taking each one separately. I think a great quilt has creativity and has a strong quilter's voice just like books have authors' voices. I think a quilt should feel like the person who made it, very true to their spirit. There are a lot of intangibles. Although, certain images may attract me more than others, I like both traditional and art quilts. I like the whole gamut and can see greatness in many of them. I would be hard pressed to go downstairs to the exhibitions and decide which quilt was my favorite--the greatest quilt because I think the quality and definition of quilts have grown so much. It's a hard question to answer. When you finish judging the craft, judging it technically-- composition, color, stitching, things like that--then what is it that makes one quilt move ahead of another? It's spirit. For every quilt that's made, someone exchanged their life hours. They gave up something in their life to sit with the quilt. They are in it. To me, that's what calls to me during my first walk through.

JP: In the same vein, what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CD: To me, it's usually creativity; something that surprises me, a new take on something, beyond the components of the composition. Once again, it's very subjective because I might love one quilt and you another. We all bring who we are--

JP: Oh absolutely.

CD: To the quilt.

JP: That's why we ask everybody that so they can tell us what they think. Everybody does--

CD: A powerful quilt makes you stammer because it's beyond verbalization. I can't pinpoint the reasons, one, two, three. It grabs my heart.

JP: Absolutely. What do you think are the qualities that make a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

CD: I'm conflicted sometimes. What I observe is that quilts that are selected for collections are often those that come nearest to the definition of painting. The more they mimic paintings, the better they fit most museum's vision.Unless it's a museum specifically for quilts like the AQS [American Quilters Society.] museum. One thing I hope is that quilts don't become soft paintings. I hope the sensibility of a textile remains. There has to be a reason why the person chose to work in cloth. What did the quilter feel that couldn't be achieved with paint alone?

JP: What makes a great quilter?

CD: [laughs.] Oh, that's hard. A great quilter. I think a great quilter is someone who is absolutely true to her/his own vision, own ethnic background, own quirky way of working, and own imagery even if others may not like it. You have to be ready to risk who you are and be brave enough to put it in quilts.

JP: How do you think great quilters learn the art of quilting? For instance the design or the pattern, or how to choose fabrics?

CD: Through books, teachers, conferences, you learn quilting and the sensibility of quilts. Even shopping, which we all love to do, helps you to understand a sense of what goes with what, the feel of fabrics, the overall composition. Looking at wonderful quilts, at good design, helps you to know and grow. But I think a lot of quilters are led by other people. Like I always tell my students, 'Have you talked to a child today, shown that child how to stitch?' Maybe it's your neighbor's child, not your own. If you're sitting in an airport and a little girl or boy is watching you, call the child over and explain your work. You never know if that will impact their lives and they'll be the next great quilters.

JP: Exactly, Okay. I think we've covered this already as far as how you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting.

CD: I love them both. They are often both needed to express an idea. There's a time you need the freedom of hand quilting to get an unusual design and then there's a time for machine quilting when you need speed and regularity.

JP: What about longarm quilting?

CD: I do not use it, I do not know how to use it. [laughs.] I know nothing about it. I'm old fashioned in that way, I love my old machine. [laughs.]

JP: I think we ran through this already too, as far as what ways does your quilting reflect your community or your region. Do you have anything more to add?

CD: This quilt "Don't Throw Away My Dolls" definitely reflects my childhood home, where I grew up. Perhaps the tropical colors that I now love came from Texas--no that's not true. Even when I was growing up in snowbound Minnesota I loved bright colors.

JP: [laughs.] It started long before, huh?

CD: Yes, I used to wear brightly colored socks when everyone wore white.

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

CD: I think they're extremely important. They're a source of comfort. Just holding them in hard times, in difficult times helps--the cloth is soothing. They play a role in the beautification of our homes and they satisfy the basic desire to create with our hands. They are a counterpart to our technological society and hopefully younger people will rediscover them.

JP: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history and their experience here in this country?

CD: They're extremely important and should be well documented. Quilting is a woman's art movement because it started with enterprising women. There are men in the field now, but it's the women who built the movement, who created so many of the patterns, who kept the momentum alive. The fact that we're here in Houston, at this incredible conference organized by a woman, attended by thousands of women, documents its importance for women. Quilts are our journals, and I'm so glad that not only are our images being collected, but also our words. We put our messages into quilts, the things that bother us that we're happy about. Quilts are the soft journals of women's lives.

JP: How do you think quilts should be used as far as, is your preference, you mentioned earlier about there's always a place for comfort, for the warmth, and then of course you do the creative--how do you use most of your quilting?

CD: Because my quilts are art quilts and contain elements that may not wash well, I enjoy them on the walls of my home. But frankly, I'd like to have a quilt on my bed also. I do not have one. I haven't found the right one yet, but I want a utilitarian quilt in my life again.

JP: You won't make it?

CD: I don't know my bed's really big, think of the bindings. [laughs.] I need someone whose bindings are precise so it will come out square for my bed. [laughs.] I want quilts to go everywhere. They can be on the wall, they can be in museums, but I still want them on the bed or at the foot of the bed to snuggle into for a nap. I'd be a better quilter if I slept under a quilt because I think it would affect my dreams. I think they're kind of magical.

JP: Put it on the bed meaning the quilt before them.

CD: Yes, I could, but this quilt isn't cozy and it's small. I'm still teaching myself a lot of things to make wall pieces for shows, but my quilts may get bigger and I may buy a new machine so I won't have to pull and tug my fabric along. I just might make my own then. The desire is there, so it probably will happen.

JP: What happened to the majority of the quilts you have made? Or the quilted pieces?

CD: I think I have most of them except for a few that have sold. They've been in exhibits and they've traveled and some I've given away to my family.

JP: Do you quilt a lot for your family?

CD: No. But if there are certain pieces that have special meaning for them or that I know they'll enjoy, I give them as gifts.

JP: Back to some of the details. What kind of thread do you usually prefer to quilt with, since you do a lot of machine--well machine and hand quilting? Is there a preference?

CD: Whatever I have, probably polyester-coated cotton or cotton. I just use what I have on hand for whatever else I'm sewing. It seems to work Okay.

JP: Absolutely. [laughs.] Do you put batting in your pieces?

CD: Yes, I like batting, it's like adding clouds.

JP: What kind do you prefer to use?

CD: This is probably cotton classic. I can't remember.

JP: It's very light.

CD: Yes. I like cotton. Some of the fusible and needled battings will probably work better but I like to feel the fluff of cotton. I think I'm going to try some of those soon.

JP: I noticed that you really didn't quilt around your photo prints. Do you sometimes do that?

CD: Sometimes I do, but in this, I wanted the hands and dolls to stand away from the background. If I were to go into or around the images with little stitches, they would
flatten and anchor the hands and dolls onto the background pattern. I wanted the images to float, so it was a design decision. Stitching changes the character of the images' outlines. Because this quilt isn't going to be washed or have hard wear, I didn't have to worry about quilting around the images to secure them.

JP: Do you have any other comments that you would like to make regarding your quilting or quilting in general?

CD: I think that right now quilting is the most exciting art movement that's out there. I'm not saying this just because I'm a textile artist or someone who works in the field, but if I go to museums and galleries, they don't wow me the way they used to. But when I go to quilt shows like this one, I am stunned by the level of creativity. Recently at Market, I was standing by a quilt and a man came up to me. He was from New York, a textile producer, whose fabrics went mainly into wearables. He had heard about what was happening in Houston so he came to investigate. He was amazed. I'm a total stranger to this person but he kept rambling on about how no one knows what's happening down here. 'My mind is blown away,' he said. 'I can hardly talk these are so good. You know what else? I don't mean to put down New York, but sometimes the people are so mean. I've come here and everybody's been so nice. They're helping me.' Then he said, 'But you know what I love most, everybody here loves cloth--just cloth--it's not all about money these quilters love fabric.' I think that moment summed up the quilting world for me.

JP: Okay, that's a wonderful commentary on the festival in general.

CD: Yes, and I've heard similar things from many of my student's from all over the country and the world. They also say that people don't know what's going on at this conference. But I thought the man's amazement was very touching.

JP: Where do you teach, basically at the conference?

CD: Mainly I teach at fiber conferences around the country. I do some guild teaching but mainly conferences. I teach not only quilters but a lot of different fiber-related groups. But the quilters are so incredibly dynamic. I like that they include everyone. There is a place for the hobby quilter, the art quilter, and everyone accepts the other. I think there's a deep respect for not only the tradition but also the movement forward.

JP: And that's wonderful, not every group has achieved that yet.

CD: I don't think you can leave tradition behind and have only art quilts and still have a really strong movement.

JP: Right, being inclusive is very important.

CD: Yes, if the traditional admires the art quilts and the art quilters admire the traditional ones, everyone grows together. Besides, there are a lot of traditional techniques that if you modify them slightly, they become interesting art concepts. We've seen it often, traditional patterns skewed into an art form.

JP: It's all complimentary.

CD: Yes it is. It always awes me. I've been teaching here since the '80's and the quilting movement has given me and others many opportunities. I wouldn't have published my first fabric dyeing and painting book, "Transforming Fabric" if people from the American Quilters Society hadn't attended some of my lectures. Because of that book, I became interested in nature printing, which became my second book, "Natural Impressions." [Watson-Guptill Publications.] I think many good things have happened to many people here and businesses are surviving because of the quilt world. We're very lucky to be a part of it.

JP: I have no other specific questions. I thank you Carolyn Dahl. JoAnn Pospisil and it's November 1, 2002, and we're about to end this particular interview. Thank you so much.

CD: Well, thank you. I've been trying to do this interview for two years I think and it never worked into my teaching schedule. I'm happy that this year I had a time slot.

JP: It was wonderful meeting you.

CD: I think it's just a great project.

JP: Thank you.

CD: Thank you.

Interview Keyword

Don't Throw Away My Dolls
Memory quilts
Design process
Quiltmaking process
Quilt purpose - Utilitarian
Quilting as therapy
Quilt purpose - Comfort
Art movements


“Carolyn Dahl,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 12, 2024,