Marilyn Doheny




Marilyn Doheny


Judy Holley interviews Marilyn Doheny, a quilter, quilt teacher, and quilt book author. Doheny discusses the quilt she has brought for the interview, which she was commissioned to create in order to showcase the fabrics in a new fabric line for the convention she is attending in Houston, Texas. Doheny talks about how she began quilting and teaching quilting 24 years prior to the interview, detailing her experience giving quilt lectures throughout Europe. She discusses quilting's impact on her family life, as it played a role in her divorce and has altered the lives of her children. She talks about her role in improving quilting techniques, particularly the rotary cutter. Doheny discusses broader opinions about quilting, including what makes a great quilt, how quilts should be used, and quilting's impact on the lives of women. Doheny gives quilters advice about the creative process and tells the interviewers anecdotes about her experiences as a quilt lecturer.




Fabric arts
Arts & crafts
Women's history
Women's voices
Textile arts
Career changes


Marilyn Doheny


Judy Holley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Leslie Tucker Jenison


Houston, Texas


Rachel Grove


Judy Holley (JH): This is Judy Holley. Today's date is November 1, 2002. It is 12:04, and I'm here conducting an interview with Marilyn Doheny. Could you spell your last name for me?

Marilyn Doheny (MD): D-O-H-E-N-Y, with an N on the end of Marilyn.

JH: For Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories Project in Houston, and could you tell me about the quilt that you brought with you today for us to see?

MD: The quilt that I brought today is one of the largest quilts I've ever made. I made it inside a two week window three weeks ago for David Textiles featuring a new fabric line that was being launched Fall Quilt Market [2003.], and they sent me the strike off cuts [these are the first fabrics through the printing to check color and print registration.]. They asked me to make a very special quilt that they could use as a booth display of the new line, Visions of Versailles.

JH: Oh.

MD: It was the first time I saw the fabrics. David Textiles always has me make quilts for their booths to display new fabrics, and I like the challenge of doing that. The reason I like it is because I would normally pick fabrics that I want to work with and combine them, and what I forced to do is to work with what they send me, there's not much notice about what they will send. A major challenge and with a serious deadline it is a wonderful promotion opportunity to have my work seen in their booth during market. So not only are my quilts on display in my booth selling my products, but they're referenced elsewhere across the convention center. I like the challenge of working with what they send me because quite often I would like to add things, and I can't. I have to work with what they send exclusively, and I don't get much time to mull it over, I never know what I'm going to do because I haven't seen the fabric. Neither have they. The fabrics don't exist because they're brand-new, until 'now' they were ideas and paintings.

[added at proofing: It is an honor to be 'the first' to design and stitch with them.]

JH: You like the deadline too?

MD: I do and I don't. I do, because otherwise I'd wonder and fret and plan and play and this is an option so boom, boom, boom. So I've done this for about five or six years for them plus Princess Mirrah's fabric line with Bali Batiks, and I've sewn for Beta Textiles and Mission Valley Textiles and assorted other companies. But this quilt, "Butterfly Waltz," is one of two using the new line. I ended up making a very small little quilt for them and then this large one in two weeks start to finish, and there were times I was going to call them and say, 'Fill that ten foot space some other way. I cannot get this done in a week for Spring Market.'

JH: Is it quilted too?

MD: It's quilted. The only thing that's unfinished about it is the binding. I couldn't get the binding on.

JH: Is it on the floor or here?

MD: It's here. It's on a dolly – in a box.

JH: On the floor.

MD: It's right here with us now.

JH: Okay.

MD: It was at Market hanging in David Textiles' booth. Now it's on a dolly, and I'll be putting it up at 2:00 today in my lecture room.

JH: Okay, but you didn't bring it to the interview?

MD: Yes, it is. It's right here on the dolly in that room over there.

JH: Okay.

MD: Yes, and it's featuring my 9° Circle Wedge Rulers, and there are five sizes.

JH: Okay.

MD: And so create strips of cloth sewn together. I put the ruler on top of the strata – strips of sewn cloth - at a variety of angles creating a diverse array of pattern, I made random strata units first, and then I chose how to cut them out. When I created the images they were fan shaped. None of them were full circles. Well, one was finally, and that point I decided the fans would be butterflies and flowers. Some got to become butterflies. Some got to become flowers. Some started out to be one or the other and then became the opposite, and then I collaged them onto the background and borders putting the bodies to the butterflies, putting the antenna on, fixed everything down to the background fabrics with machine appliqué. So it's completely machine pieced, and then there was one other person involved for machine quilting, and so at ten o'clock at night the day before I flew here I drove an hour to the machine quilter. She took it at ten o'clock at night and delivered the next day at one a.m., and I went to the airport at three a.m., and I handed it to them at nine a.m. [3 second pause.] So I did it, and I was so relieved. I felt weightless and buoyant and very glad I kept at the task and did not give up.

JH: Do you want to pause, so one of us can get the quilt? [4 second pause.] I'm going to pause the tape, so we can get the quilt.

[tape shut off and turned back on again.]

JH: It's 12:09, and Marilyn is back with her quilt. [5 second pause.] I'm going to get the water out of the way.

MD: And the fabrics are David Textiles--

JH: David--

MD: Beth Bruske developed them, and it's a line called The Visions of Versailles.

[12 second pause.]

JH: Oh, my God.

Unidentified Voice: Oh, here you go. Power.

JH: We have fans, yes, and flowers, butterflies.

MD: There are thirteen images, and three of them are flowers. The rest are butterflies.

[13 second pause.] The quilter wants her name noted as Judy Irish. She wants to have it (the quilt) back to add even more fancy quilting, but she has done a wonderful job in what she's already accomplished as well. The only part that's raw edged appliqués are where the antennas are. Everything else was turn edged appliqué.

JH: How long have you been quilting?

MD: Twenty-four years.

JH: Twenty-four years, and what inspired you to make that very first quilt?

MD: I was born with a passion and insight into geometry. I've always loved fabric and people. My first child was nine months old and wasn't making any complete sentences. I was with her all day long running a daycare in my home, and I wanted adult interaction, and I saw a course that allowed for me to take a six-week quilting course for eighteen dollars one night a week in the evening for three hours per class. I had one truck as a vehicle with my husband. He had to come home from work, so I could go to the course, and in that course we did one Pinwheel potholder in six weeks, only. That was all we were allowed to do.

JH: Oh, really?

MD: So the third week in, I went to the shop owners and asked if I could teach quilting, because I had a book, and I figured I could do Drunkard's Path, Log Cabins and other patterns very easily. Rotary cutting had not been invented. The instructor was not allowing us to use scissors. We were having to tear our fabrics. One class we drafted our triangle for the Pinwheel potholder, and then the next class we got to add the quarter inch seam. This was way to slow for me, so I asked if I could teach, and they said, 'Aren't you in the beginning class downstairs?' and I said, 'Yes, but I think I could do this really passionately and abundantly,' and they said, 'No, we already have our teacher.' So on the way home I went to Fabric Land, which is another store, and I walked in, and I said, 'Have you ever wanted to have a quilting instructor?' and they said, 'Yep, we do, and we have a big classroom downstairs. Are you a teacher,' and I said, 'I want to be.'

JH: [laughter.]

MD: I hadn't even made a Pinwheel potholder yet, but I'd seen a Sunset Quilting book for Log Cabin and Drunkard's Path. I was just in love with the possibilities of this one little block using triangles over and over. I love people and I love inspiration. So they said, 'Do you have any samples?' and I said, 'You know what? I think I should make fresh samples with your store fabric.' I said this because I didn't have any fabric. I had only my potholder was two pieces of polyester. I mean this was weird. I didn't have any money either. I'd spent eighteen dollars on this six-week course. So they gave me the fabric, anything I wanted, and I had images of Mexican Star and Cross, so I elected fabrics in purple, red, and orange pin dot with points and all kinds of set in angles. The pattern was a complicated pattern for me. Oh, I was so impressed with myself. Then I made one out of satin. A Sunshine and Shadow, where there's a square--One of the squares is cut on the diagonal, and then there's a plain piece and then strips filling the other trianges. So I figured out how to create that with strips of cloth. That quilt was five inches taller on one side than the other--

JH: [laughter.]

MD: Because the satin really grew, and the third one was supposed to be a pink and black Log Cabin, but it ended up pink, blue, grey and red and black because there were no quilt shops and it was impossible to get enough pink and black. It ended up being more blue, grey and red than pink and black, but it was supposed to be pink and black. I was only three weeks into this beginning quilt class, and we hadn't even been allowed to stitch our triangles together yet, so I really wasn't clear that points were supposed to match at intersections. [laughter.] I didn't have a clue what quilting was, the stitching of the layers together, so I machine zigzag bar tacked much of these three quilts together to hold the batting and backing on. Binding was a concept I didn't even know existed either so I took the backs of the quilts folded them all in like diapers in the crouch of the baby at the corners.

JH: Yes.

MD: Years later after much us they kind of dog eared out and looked silly.

JH: Yes.

MD: Which is kind of funny and that experience is mentioned in one of my lectures called "From the Beginning." These horrid quilts--

JH: You still have them?

MD: I still have the slides. I don't have the quilts any longer. [note added: Actually I do have the one Log Cabin. The satin one was given to the midwife who delivered my third child. The pin dot one was used and loved to it last days as a picnic quilt.]

JH: Oh, okay.

MD: I did these three quilts in one week with the store's fabric, and they hung them way high up in the store fortunately. Way high up, [laughter.] and my class filled, and I charged a dollar for the class, and it was a three-hour class, and we met once a week, and I was on a mission then. I had to be in front of my students. Meaning I had to know something they didn't know at least a week in advance and have a sample and have a pattern written up. So I started in with appliqué, because I was doing the daycare during the day, and that was a portable style project. I could run around with the kids at the park or anything, and I could carry my appliqué. So I started teaching appliqué. I started then teaching cross-stitch, because by now had gotten to the hand quilting, which I found out I don't care for. So I used to fill in the open area with cross-stitch instead of and quilting. [laughter.] I did fall in love with triangles. Then rotary cutting equipment emerged, and I was part of designing some of the rotary cutting equipment- the blades, the rotary tools, mats, rulers.

JH: I knew you did the rulers right?

MD: I have my own specialty line now but I design the Omnigrid rulers as well.

[inaudible because Judy and Marilyn are talking at the same time.]

MD: I did design for Omnigrid. I was the first designer for them. [note added: The left and right hand numbering. The double sight lines, the angled intersections we all my ideas. Also putting the ink on the bottom underside of the ruler to eliminate shadows was my idea too.]

JH: Did you invent rotary cutters too?

MD: No, I test marketed the cutters and made recommendations.

JH: Okay.

MD: I was one of the people who convinced them to loosen the blade and let it roll, because it was not designed to that. It was designed to be tightened. That's why there are pie shaped wedges on it with numbers drug until it was dull then loosened and rolled into the next, fresh, sharp area, and I said, 'Just loosen it. Just let it roll.'

JH: Yes.

MD: 'Just let the blade roll,' but it was not designed that way.

JH: Oh, really?

MD: So rotary cutting became an issue of designing fro me. Then--

JH: Do you remember about what year that was?

MD: [4 second pause.] That had to be '79, '80, right in there.

JH: Uh huh.

MD: 79' maybe.

JH: Yes. Sounds about right.

MD: I'm guessing.

JH: I was going to say early eighties--

MD: I'm guessing because of my baby.

JH: Yes.

MD: Were born.

JH: And then when did the ruler system--

MD: That was about '81 or two. The first way to use rotary blades was with clear plastic stripes. There was lady in our quilting area in Seattle, whose husband was cutting plastic strips, and they were poor accuracy with beveled edged, but they were certainly better than scissors and tearing. And the rotary cutter had now been invented, and so we were using his acrylic strips. At that point, Peggy Shaffer came to me, and she said, 'My husband's a boat silk screener, and I just took a quilting course, and someone said you know how to use rulers.' I was teaching a class at the time called "Rotary Magic," which is how to cut every shape there is without a template, and she said, 'What would you do if you were inventing a ruler?' At the time Dritz and Salem had rulers on the market--

JH: I've heard of them.

MD: At my first meeting with Randy and Peggy Schaffer, I said, 'First of all, get the ink to back. Get the shadows out. This puts the viewing angle lines exactly targeted on the fabric.' I said, 'And make the lines two colors to allow me to see dark and light cloth, hence double sight lines were put on and also I'm left handed. I'm so sick of cutting a four and three quarter inch measurement, so I can get a one and a quarter cut.' I had to mathematically work backwards all the time, and I said, 'So for left and right orientation. Also quilters always use sixty and thirty and forty-five degrees, so if you could put some angles on these rulers then we could tilt them to use the long edge for cutting assorted angles.' So we just brainstormed everything. We came up with the double site line, pattern and the left and the right numbering, and they were handmade by Randy with tape. Handmade rulers. The little tiny tape was hand stuck onto the back of the plastic. These were the first ones on their kitchen table. I tested and used them. We moved a few lines an d then they silk screened about two hundred of them by hand in a jig and brought them to the guild meeting and sold out very quickly, and--

JH: Right here?

MD: Randy quit his job as a boat silk screener. That had to be '83. About '83. After he quit his job as a boat silk screener, and they were renting a small little home, and since then they have made millions of rulers they sold their corporation to PrymDritz Corporation, and their rulers are sold worldwide. They've invited lots of other artists to come on for additional designing features. People who work with miniature, people who work with other needs or interests--

JH: Yes.

MD: And they have listened and been responsive to every single thing, and they've invented rulers that might never have been. It was a very exciting beginning. My whole motive to do it was to get a better ruler for--

JH: You.

MD: Myself--what happened in the designing of their rulers is that International Quilt Market was happening. This is about twenty-two years ago now, and Randy and Peggy said, 'Will you come with us and help us sell these,' because they didn't really know to use them. [added: with all the lines and features and focus on quilters' needs and desires.]

JH: How to use them.

MD: Peggy wasn't a quilter, and Randy had no clue, so I came and demonstrated in their booth, and we stayed at the Hyatt. It was very expensive for us and very scary, so Randy and Peggy and I all stayed in one hotel room with Randy on one side of the bed, me on the other, and Peggy in the middle--

JH: [laughter.]

MD: In one queen size bed. [laughter.] We did that for two years, and I just did demos all day long in their booth, and then Helen Squire, Randy's mother, came the third year, and she and I roomed, and then they got their own room--

JH: [laughter.]

MD: Because now money was flowing a little bit more. [laughter.] They never paid me to come here, but they did pay my expenses. [note added: I was asked to teach at Quilt Market and Festival repeatedly. That of course caused State to State bookings as well. I began to travel and teach regularly.] Then a few years later, about nine or ten or twelve years later, they--Judy Murrah invited me along with a total of seven teachers from the United States to come on the first European teaching event. That was in Belgium, and Judy knowing that the teachers needed to make an income created Quilt Festival in Europe, and because the expenses for traveling were high, they created a European market, which was also the first time I believe. So unbeknownst to any of the teachers they wanted to invited, which they hand selected in advance, they also picked out a company that they felt would be the most interested in that teacher's representation of each company's products to cover expenses of travel in trade for promotion of the company's products at Market.

JH: Yes.

MD: And I think Husqvarna Viking called us the Edutainers.' Educating entertainers.

JH: Oh.

MD: So Omnigrid was called and asked if they would like to come to this market and if they would pay my expenses to speak for them, so I did, and Marsha McCluskey went to That Patchwork Place and Nancy Crow went for one of the fabric lines, there were seven of us total. It was so exquisite. Oh, hardly anyone knows this. I don't think Randy knows, but Peggy and I went over a few days early--but we had forgotten that when we fly to Europe we lose a day. It's already a prior day, date wise.

JH: Yes.

MD: We were very excited about traveling to Amsterdam the next morning to have fun time so we did, to visit her friends. They said, 'Stay the night,' so we did. We got back late the next evening, and I want to remind you that I had been hired basically to come over and do a world lecture talk for eleven countries--on Omnigrid's product with interpreters for each country. That what's each seven of us had to do for a specific company. Peggy and I got back at seven o'clock the next night, and the light was blinking on the hotel room phone, it was Judy Murrah, and it said, 'Marilyn, it's five minutes to four. You're lecture's at four o'clock. Where are you?' [3 second pause.] I missed the entire lecture.

JH: [laughter.]

MD: Karey [Bresanhan.] didn't talk to me like for four days. She avoided me going down halls, and on the fifth day I gave a lecture for international students. Nancy Crow was in front of me giving the first lecture, and then I was the backup lecture finishing out the lunch hour, and I saw Karey in back of the room, and I knew my whole career was flushed, and I never blamed Peggy although--

JH: [laughter.]

MD: She thought--I said to Peggy--She was in the restroom--'When is my lecture?' and she said, 'It's at four o'clock.' I said, 'What day?' and she said, 'Tomorrow,' and I said, 'No, no--'

JH: You just heard--

MD: 'Today.' [laughter.] She said, 'Oh, don't tell Randy.' [laughter.] So for the next seven days during market--And they did have a festival following that--everybody from every country via every interpreter said to me, 'Oh, you're the one who didn't come to her lecture.'

JH: [laughter.]

MD: And finally at the end of my lunch hour lecture to the Festival students, Judy came up to me and said, 'Karey wants to buy this little miniature quilt you made on the lectern for her collection.' I was just dumbfounded. I really thought Karey would never speak to me again, and now I couldn't speak, and Judy said, 'Marilyn, Karey would like to buy this.' I said, 'She can have it.' So I gave her that quilt called "My Volcano," and that quilt has its own life as well, because nine years later, ten years later, it ended up in an art auction here in Houston, and I saw it, and I was mortified. I thought, 'Karey doesn't want my quilt anymore,' but then I thought, 'Oh, this is exciting. I can get my quilt back.' So I bid five hundred dollars and got my little miniature eighteen by twenty-two inch quilt back, [laughter.] and I took it back to my hotel room that night and I told it about all my life. I just talked to it all night long. It's called "My Volcano." I made it during my divorce, and it's a Bargello style with Pick Up Sticks, two techniques I invented. The next night at the Yvonne Porcella banquet Karey came up to me and she said, 'Marilyn, your quilt was never supposed to have been given away to that auction, and I just can't wait to get it back for the miniature collection,' and so I lied to her. I said, 'I've already shipped it home--'

JH: [laughter.]

MD: 'I'll make you a better one that represents my skills now twelve years later. I'll make a better one for you, alright?' and so I still owe Krey a brand-new quilt.' [laughter.]

JH: Brand-new quilt, huh?

MD: And that was five years ago.

JH: And when did you invent your Wedge Ruler?

MD: I don't remember. Let's see when they were copyrighted. '89. 1989. So it could have been '86 or '87, and then the first printing of them was then too. And I developed twenty different patterns to go with the sale of the ruler. Now I have about twenty-seven different patterns that are very straightforward and very diverse, and the instructions come with the rulers. The actual rulers come in five sizes now. My first 9º circle wedge ruler was huge, twenty-five inches tall, and I was so afraid no one would want them. I printed two hundred of them and prayed. They [Omnigrid.] did my first printing of my first rulers [which were 45º Kaleidoscope Wedge.]--They printed my second 9º ruler too. My first rulers came out with a double sight line, which was their copyright patent. I was the first person outside their company to ever be allowed to use features of theirs, and they thought it was an incentive for their company to have a diverse look on unusual specialty rulers as they didn't have specialty rulers. So although they were my rulers, for years everyone thought they were theirs because of this double sight line.

JH: Yes, yes. They look the same initially.

MD: And then Randy and Peggy actually got to a situation where they were going to break up, divorce. And I knew that event could complicate my ruler production because I was going to testify and to support a woman, which was Peggy-- [added: About her part with the company creation and therefore her dollar value in the company.]

JH: Yes.

MD: Over the reality of the company's growth. I knew that Randy might not be printing my rulers any longer by his choice not mine if I testified in Peggy's behalf. So I weaned off them as my ruler printer and bought my own plastic and consigned out my own printing through other companies, and I dropped the double sight line at that time. For years people kept trying to buy the Omnigrid rulers from me. I would send them my rulers knowing what they wanted, and they would send them back saying, 'No, we want the Omnigrid rulers,' [laughter.] and that's when I think the world had to get real that they weren't Omnigrid's. They never had been. [added note: Canada still tries to order them from me.]

JH: Okay.

MD: And so I developed smaller sizes after the first market, because people wrote immediately and said, 'We want these smaller,' I also developed an Extension Wedge that makes larger images. Now all five sizes go from 9 inches, 14 inches, 18 inches, 25 inches to 37 inches.

JH: Okay. So we've influenced the rulers, helped design and test market the rotary cutter, and I know you've written some books.

MD: I've written forty-seven books.

JH: Forty seven? And you teach? What is the most rewarding part of all the things that you do in your quilting business?

MD: Empowering women. Absolutely. Connecting them to their creative spirit that they never lost, that they just stopped listening to and believing in and empowering women. And because men too have now come into our market--the first market I came to here in Houston twenty-two years ago, there were two men on the show floor at market. Two men on the whole floor and I think they were only there for setup and breakdown helping their wives. [added: I have to say "creative people" not women exclusively.]

JH: [laughter.]

MD: So I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the men show up more and more, because when men show up it means there's money and our creative industry will thrive.

JH: Oh.

MD: And I like knowing that, sit is o empowering.

JH: What about your daughter? Your influence of your quilting career on your family?

MD: It's really funny. Probably the cutest--My daughter has come here to Houston Quilt Market and Festival. She speaks French, so she's helped me in the international market as well she tells me what is actually said in their conversations in my booth. My sons [I actually have two sons as well.] have never come, but I was phasing out my nine thousand square foot warehouse and my thirteen employees about four years ago, so I could simplify and focus on my teaching, which I preferred to the demands of publishing. I was planning to market my work through other publishers. I originally published four books with That Patchwork Place and decided I could do what they were doing, and perhaps control it a little bit more to what I though quality would be. So that's when I began my publishing company. Now 15 years later, I was clearing out of the warehouse. I was shanghaiing my two sons to help me. The one who's eighteen now was about sixteen, and he was getting disgruntled with--I have well over a thousand books quilts and or tops I've made, and he was very disgruntled with packing up and moving them, and he said, 'Whose are these?' and I said, 'Well, they're mine,' and he said, 'Well, why do you have them?' I said, 'Well, I have them to use as teaching aids, but they're your inheritance.' He says, 'Well, I don't want them,' and I said, 'Okay,' and he said, 'How did you get them?' and I said, 'I made them.' He said, 'Where?' I said, 'On the kitchen table,' and he said, 'Well, when?' I said, 'Your whole life.' We were standing there, and I thought, 'Who is this child?' [laughter.] and literally I don't know how they missed it, but I did this mass of sewing all over the house every day of their lives. In fact my first marriage ended in therapy with my husband saying to the counselor, 'Can't she contain herself?'

JH: [laughter.]

MD: During marriage counseling I realized, 'No I can't 'contain myself,' and I don't want to' [laughter.] and that was when it was so clear that I needed to just do what I was doing, being creative , passionate and me. The reason I began writing and designing was because I knew that I had to be able to make money when I wasn't in front of people, and the only way to do that would have been with books or rulers or patterns, and that's what launched me, the need to financially survive outside of the marriage, because I never went to college. I got married at eighteen. I'm now forty at the time of the divorce, and this is what I do, and I have a gift/talent. I've been all over the world. I am picked up at airports by people I've never met and treated as though I'm family, and I feel like I'm family, and it's incredible. It's awesome, and the reason I want 'not' to self publish any longer is because of the lag time in doing all of that designing and then book creation designs I invented. I don't want to be eighty when I was thirty finally make it to print. I'd like to be under sixty, and I'm fifty-one now so--

JH: [laughter.]

MD: I want someone else to do the publishing.

JH: Do you sleep under a quilt?

MD: I do. Oh, yes. [added: I change them every 4-6 weeks for color and pattern decorating.]

JH: And all your family?

MD: Both the kids at home. Yes, they do. [added: My daughter has several also.]

JH: And they're going to inherit all these thousands of quilts.

MD: They have started to select the ones they want. They have started to get interested in some of the designs. Recently my sixteen-year-old saw this "Butterfly Waltz" quilt for David Textiles coming to life in this two-week period, this particular quilt, he loved it. I haven't even named this quilt at the time, but the fabrics are Visions of Versailles, and I made this small spiral dance of Versailles for the ownership of David Textiles too. This larger one came to life immediately at the same time, so this might be "The Waltz of Versailles" or the "Flight of Versailles." I'm not sure. I haven't named it. I hadn't even considered that. Often I'll name a quilt before I make it, so--

JH: It helps the design process?

MD: It does. It does. It focuses. I was just under a two week deadline and had no "fantasy thinking" time.

JH: Yes, but we had two weeks here?

MD: Yes, start to finish.

JH: Do you do any preliminary work or just take the fabric and play?

MD: I looked at them then realized there was just enough contrast in colors and values to play with my nine degree rulers, because the fan images require contrast fabric relationship. If it had been a more blurry and blendy and gentle group of fabrics, I would have done Bargello tapestry, but I had contrast. I preferred to work with the rulers. If I'd had super high contrast like I did with Kona Bay when I made them the nine--

JH: Yes.

MD: The nine quilts used solid fabrics from Kona Bay, they were very different. I would have done Op Art, an entirely different pattern and design. So each of my projects doesn't always require similar play, and--

JH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MD: I think honestly a clean visual focal point and great energy of the maker. I've judged enough quilts to know both are impactive, I've watched people go through quilt shows, I think it is the attitude of the quilter while she's making it, because children put a different ribbon on a quilt than serious quilters. And the general public selects an even different quilt.

JH: Right.

MD: And I have seen people migrate to quilts and hang around quilts when I am quite aware that they are not technically worthy of all the admiration they're getting, but you feel so yummy standing next to them. You feel great, and quite frankly I think a quilt would have a little naked baby on it or be out at the park with a mustard hot dog sandwich on top of it than in a closet wrapped in tissue paper in the dark. I think that's a really sad way to live your life protected from all the rich and vibrant experiences of life beyond sterile and perfect. And I don't think I want to or anyone else wants to be treated so specially that we don't get to have a life.

JH: Yes. So what do you think will help mark your quilt?

MD: This one "Butterfly Waltz," size and creativity.

JH: With your quilt and even your special ones, you know?

MD: I don't think that the quality of my quilts will be a feature it all, because I don't get meticulous or very serious over anything about creating them--I don't think the quality of my quilts--Perhaps the volume is impressive, but the quality would not be museum level. The thing that I love is that I'm inventing history right now. Nobody's done what I'm doing. I do very contemporary pieces that other can be inspired by, not overwhelmed and intimidated by, and so when I'm teaching women, and they say, 'Well, is this the right way to do it?' I say, 'Do it however you want, because in forty years people are going to be looking at your quilt and determining that this was the right way, so do anything you want now, because you're inventing it right along with me if you play.' So what will happen to my collection of quilts? I have no idea. I've just purged about eighty of them and decided I'll sell them. And all I've done is purged them. I haven't gotten them to Ebay or to someone who wants to sell them yet, but I have way too many quilts, and I travel with about thirty or forty per subject and I teach 37 subjects. With the airline that is not at all viable to take every one per subject.

JH: Yes, right.

MD: Not at all viable. It's becoming impossible.

JH: So how many days of the year do you travel now?

MD: I used to travel two and three weeks a month, but now no marriage and the children needing me and a house needing me and the animals needing me and the pond that I have in my yard. I'm now maybe gone nine days a month. Nine days a month average, and some months I don't travel at all.

JH: And how many hours a day when you're home do you sew?

MD: Two, three.

JH: And the business aspect?

MD: That takes up six or seven. Shipping the books, billing, invoicing. My quilts are in storage facility fifteen miles from my home, and so there's a commute that's involved. My books and products are in my home, so that I can ship from my home location as a business and I am revamping my business, trying to sell off work existing titles of other authors so that they can stay in print with a new publisher. I have a few other authors still that need to have their work gotten into the hands or taken forward by another publishing company and that requires negotiating on my part, and I'm ready to do that again as well.

JH: Well, you've already mentioned that you do this because it empowers women and that you feel like you're making history.

MD: I love this quote. 'As I work with the cloth, the cloth works me.' Yes, and I feel like a midwife when I teach others to make my designs with no labor pain. [laughter.] Very fun. I just say, 'Breathe, breathe.' [laughter.]

JH: That is wonderful. So how do you think--So that gives us an idea of how you think quilts have empowered women today. What about in the past and in the future?

MD: The same--I don't see--Well, the future of quiltmaking can't be the history technically.

JH: Right, that's true.

MD: However it will never separate from the roots. Quilting bees were the social event of a woman's life. They were when women got together to talk, to cry. I love this quote. It says, 'We come together because we need each other, and so we come to this place to work, to cry, to laugh, to dance, and to sing.'

JH: What is that quote from?

MD: It is actually the opening statement at my church, and it says, 'We call ourselves a spiritual community.' I say, 'Here we call ourselves a quilting community,' not because this place is in of itself 'Quilting Mecca.' It's because what we do here and what we say here and what we are here that makes it so. Next week they're going to have motorcycles here. But this is heaven on earth. This is a time of awesome growth for the quilt world and community, what has been made into a growing viable concern. Women have never had the voice that they do today. They've never had the ability to say I like that fabric, and their name goes on the hem of it. We were getting by on leftover fabrics, other people's cast offs, leftover feed sacks, leftover men's shirts. After the fabric was used and useless we got to makes quilts out of them. Then quilts were abusively handled, boiled in lye, hung in the sun, lived in dugouts, and they survived. I have feeling these current day's quilts are going to be around longer than we are by thousands of years. I tell women to be as aggressive as you can because this quilt's going to be here a few hundred years past your life, and the odd part is we're leaving [dying.] and they're staying as a legacy. So ask yourself as a quilter, what's your voice? Your voice is what you do with your fabric.

JH: Wonderful. Is there anything we haven't covered that you would like to talk about?

MD: [5 second pause.] Well, I would tell anyone, 'If you have the thought, follow it.' If the thought makes you salivate, do it. Don't excuse. Don't make a prison of the present. Don't say there's not enough anything: time, money, talent, creativity, space, support. Don't buy into any excuse, because the voice that's coming through you that keeps knocking will just get softer and softer until you can't even hear it, and if a fabric jumps off the shelf, take it home. Take it home. You don't have to know what it goes with. You don't have to know what it's for, but you can't talk to it 2 o'clock in the morning when you wake up and you're ready to create if it is still at the store.

JH: Because it's not in your house.

MD: So just be receptive. Be open. Listen. Embrace the inner voice. The thing I love is another quote from my church, 'If any two of us were alike, one of us would be unnecessary.' So if there's nobody else on the planet who has the same fabric sense you do or the same sense of joy or stress, don't look outside yourself for the validation to move forward. Know that the fact that you have the only fingerprints on the planet that are like yours makes something about your thoughts that are very, very unique also, and don't necessarily feel alone go beyond fear. Don't have the need for someone external or something external to tell you that what you're thinking and doing is of the utmost importance. You have no idea how many women and even men have written letters and confronted me and said, 'This changed my life.' One story involved the death of triplets and my "Triad Interlock Book." This book and a quilt from it ended up bringing a woman to quilting and healing. Her daughter had been put in a mental institution after the death of the invetro triplets. Because of a Triad pattern that I invented which she saw in a store window as a sample made her feel whole. Unbelievable. Another story, a man who was on a farm was very angry that his wife--This was in I think it was Denver. I was flown in on January to lecture, and it was snow storming, she said the only thing she wanted was to come to my lecture. That was to be her birthday present, and he didn't want to take her, but he said she go so he drove her in the snow and he stood at the side of my lecture all day long in front of five hundred people there, and he looked angry the whole time, and at the end of the lecture he came diagonally through the chairs, moving them like a bull straight towards me.

JH: [laughter.]

MD: Right at me, and I was a little nervous, and he came up to me and he thumped me on the top of the head with his finger, and he said, 'You got some good manure up there.'

JH: [laughter.]

MD: And I said, 'What?' He said, 'This going to save my wife a lot of stitching time. She can get out in the field with me.' [laughter.] I thought, 'Wow, this man has a whole new take by realizing that speed and accuracy are fabulous benefits for a quilter who uses speed "strata" sewing.'

JH: Right.

MD: So, you know, you just never know. I had a man next to me on a plane ask, 'Well, what are you doing?' I said, 'I'm flying in to work a convention.' He said, 'Really?' and he said, 'Where are you staying?" I said, 'Well, I never know. The people who hire me, they either have me stay in a hotel room or with them or they put me up in a home of someone who's really is important to the group.' Well, at the end of this conversation he thought I was a hooker. [laughter.]

JH: [laughter.]

MD: And I thought, 'No, no, no.' Now right up front I say, 'I'm a fiber artist.' [laughter.] It's just been a hoot to go anywhere and everywhere. Yes, I have a lot of books that I still should put out on techniques that I've invented, but one of the books I would love to write is involves teachers' experiences. Teachers rarely get to network together. We rarely do. And it used to be that we felt--Not myself particularly, but I will speak for us as a collection of distilled beliefs, because it was so common--that if we got together, and if there was by chance anything I was doing that you thought I got via being inspired by you that there might be some conflict, and it was so ridiculous. So we rarely shared time together. Everyone would kind of stay secluded, and so when Primeda puts us together in an event like they do here every year and let all of the teachers have a cocktail and have some food and just sit around, talk, and laugh and tell jokes, it's what I call "girl time" it's empowering to us, because we get to connect and admire one another. You are given an opportunity to go take a class from someone else, and then you are responsible to come back and proliferate, and you know if you put a seed in fertile soil it's going to do that, and all you have to do is stick it in, so what I'd like to do, because when we get together and talk what we talk about is our unusual travel stories. Things we would never want to repeat, and we never tell who or what city, but there are some amazing stories of challenges that we've all been through. That's the book I'd like to put out would be a collection of stories from anonymous teachers like "Chicken Soup for the Soul" called "Teaching Stories You Might Not Want to Experience Yourself." [laughter.]

JH: You need to do that.

MD: They're viable, so--

JH: So. I think this--

MD: Thank you.

JH: has been a very inspiring interview.

MD: Thank you.

JH: And I thank you, and the time is 12:40, and we'll close this interview now, and--

[tape ends.]

Interview Keyword

Fiber artists
Uses for quilts
Utilitarian quilts
Fabric lines
Textile lines
Machine quilting
Book publishing
Promotional quilts
Creative outlets
Quilt lecturers
Art quilts
Traditional quilts
Quilt designs
Left-handed quilters


“Marilyn Doheny,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,