Henk Van Kooten




Henk Van Kooten


Van Kooten discusses his ventures in quilting and the influence that it has had on his life as a hobby as well as a source of monetary value when entering competitions. He talks about the wearable quilted item (the "Kootomono") that he brought to the setting of the interview, the influence of his Dutch origins on his quilting, his preferred method of quilting, and the importance of young people continuing the tradition of quilting. At the end of the interview, he briefly explains the name of the wearable quilted item that he brought along with him.




Male quiltmakers


Henk Van Kooten


Carolyn Malaski

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Leslie Tucker Jenison


Houston, Texas


Suzanne Sanger


Carolyn Malaski (CM): [recording begins midsentence.] ...Carolyn Malaski. Today's date is November 1, 2002. It is now 3:12 p.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Mr. Henk van Kooten.

Henk van Kooten (HK): Right, that's good.

CM: Tell me a little bit about your interest in quilting.

HK: After finishing my work so I like to do something fill up my free days. Then I start to have some hobbies, one of the hobbies was the quilting. And I like very much to do something with my hands, and I like very much the colors, and I like to make things for the fabrics, so I started a course from quilting. I didn't know that it was very nice, so after the base course, I was very lucky to do that, and I like it very much the quilting. So then I continue for my next period, like other lessons and I visiting some shops and some exhibitions, and a group of ladies at my place where I lived, for making, they were making quilts, and so it was begun.

CM: Okay, when did you start quilting?

HK: I start quilting in 1990, the base course.

CM: Okay. Who did you learn to quilt from? I understand you took a class, but tell me a little bit about that.

HK: The class was formed by five, by six students and one was the teacher. It was in the building where was given a lot of lessons and great lessons, like making dolls, like making quilts, like painting, that kind of institute.

CM: When you say in a building, you mean like in an apartment building or a housing area or stores and shops?

HK: No, in our city we have an ancient center, and the ancient center of very old, old houses, and one of the house was created like a studio where you could take lessons from it.

CM: When you say ancient, do you mean ancient like [ inaudible due to both talking at the same time.]

HK: No, old, like 300 years old, 200 years.

CM: So would it be a--

HK: It was very special, in that house was born John van Oldenbarneveld, important person in history, in the Dutch history.

CM: I notice that there weren't other quilters in your family, but were there other quilters among your friends, or did you just start out or strike out kind of on your own when you were interested?

HK: No, no one interested. No person or somebody else.

CM: So there wasn't anybody else no other friends or family?

HK: No, no. I discovered by myself.

CM: A little bit about using quilting as a release; I know you said in your leisure time, in your free time, but have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time or a difficult day or some things aren't quite going right?

HK: No, I start in the morning about nine o'clock and I work about four 'til five hours a day. If it is a rainy day, then I work six hours or seven hours. If it's a bright shiny day, then I work two hours and then after I go bicycling or walking in the forest or shopping and visiting some friends or doing something else. But every day I think I work on my quilts.

CM: Okay, so it's something you just kind of keep at. You don't use it as a release or as relaxation.

HK: Quilting is a relaxation, also a release because when it's the drawing on the paper and I look my fabrics, I put it on the wall my study and it's very exciting how is the colors and how, what kind of colors I use, and how many colors I use, and it's very exciting and before the drawing is finished, then I'm very, not nervous but excited how to match it and what is in my mind, I want to have it on the paper. That is very important. If it is clean, clear, then I'm relaxed. [laughs.]

CM: Now this question here kind of lends itself to the way people might use it to get through a difficult period in their life, a divorce or a death, a loss of some kind, I know with 9/11 here in the United States, there were many people who worked through their feelings in that. You haven't had those--

HK: I was working in jewelry shop and after 25 years working there, it was a big problem on the shop, on the management, so I lose my job at that moment. And then after, I was very depressed and I start quilting at that time.

CM: Oh, Okay, so you kind of have used quilting in that way.

HK: Yes, in that way quilting helped me recovering from that disagreeable time came up and I discovered all the problems by quilting. I found myself by quilting.

CM: Okay. What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

HK: Oh I like all the parts. I like the sewing. I like the quilting. I like all the parts. construction. I like everything.

CM: Tell us a little bit about the quilt that you brought in today. When did you make it? What year was it, you said 1996?

HK: 1996.

CM: Okay. Tell us a little bit about it. Describe it for us, and the pattern, materials that you used in it.

HK: The quilt, the block is a kimono, Japanese kimono. I make it in original Japanese sizes because the [inaudible, sirens in background.] in Japanese sizes are 37 cm wide. So the leaves are 37 cm wide and the front and the backside double size. It's original Japanese from the top, from the head, to the bottom of the feet, and the material that I used is pure silk, all silk and the pattern I used was a traditional design, used my own way. I'm a member of the Dutch quilt association, and they had a fifteen years anniversary, and at that time they had some contests. They invite to the members make a quilt with the theme of moving because the quilt association is moving, a lot of members coming, and I started this quilt with the moving of the pattern, all the patterns turn around to old kimono, from the back to the front, from the front to the back like a circle, and that's my moving from the quilt, and you can also wear it. It is also moving. Two times moving, so I won the prize with this subject and this quilt is also in a magazine, fifteen years anniversary magazine from quilt anniversary also the first prize in 1996. It was in London in the big international exhibition, and I won the first prize for wearable art with this quilt. [inaudible.]

CM: So when you said in here that you have pictures of you or your quilts that have been published that's what you're referring to was the picture of the kimono.

HK: Yes, kimono, and all the quilts are in pictures.

CM: Okay. In the Dutch quilting association's magazine?

HK: Yes, magazine yes.

CM: What special meaning does this have for you? How was it that you decided to do that, and what's the significance of it to you?

HK: I decided to make the stars because the stars from celebration from fifteen years anniversary. The colors I like very much to work with colors, and these colors go up from one color to the other color and the inside it is gold silk color. And inside, you can see there's a special part that is quilted and you can see here the swastika sign. That's an original Asian sign. And the sign is only visible inside. But there's a gift I didn't' notice, a very special one, because it isn't an Asian kimono and the sign is from the Asian country.

CM: Why did you choose this one to bring?

HK: Because I think that most people come visit quilts, and it's something else.

CM: Something different?

HK: Yes, totally different. That is why I brought it.

CM: How is this being used, or what are you doing with it now? I know you talked about storing it in your special bag and all, but where is this in your home, or--?

HK: It is my home in this bag, and I have shown at many places for exhibition, so people invite me for exhibition, then I show my quilts and my kimonos. I have two kimonos at the moment, and I have 25 quilts at the moment, so I have them on exhibition in Holland, and in Belgium and Germany and in France last summer.

CM: Very interesting. So your plans then as far as the quilt would be to have it available for different exhibitions.

HK: Yes, yes. [inaudible.]

CM: Okay. Are the exhibitions always contests or sometimes--

HK: Sometimes contests, sometimes not. I won also in Belgium first prize in Antwerp and first prize in England and some exhibitions only just for viewing.

CM: Are your exhibitions there in Holland, or I should say in Europe, are they connected with financial or money prizes or are there other, or is it just recognition?

HK: Yes, big prizes.

CM: Because here sometimes it's a sewing machine or it's a check.

HK: Yes, it's most time check or some fabrics.

CM: Oh, Okay. What do you think makes a great quilt, or a great piece of quilting?

HK: About size meant?

CM: Well, what makes something really great or really good, or really special?

HK: How to use material. I like to make the upper side and the jin-jin-jin-jin-jin the upper side and the negative, positive/negative I like very much. And I like the warm gift. The quilt must say something to you. You have to look not only the pattern, but also the details. The details must be very interesting to say something in a quilt that is something from your soul.

CM: Like some kind of a message.

HK: Message, or that kind of thing.

CM: So that would make a great quilt to you if you were looking at this to describe a great quilt.

HK: Yes. It's not only a quilt. It's also a history on it. It gives you some information or some happiness.

CM: What makes a quilt artistically powerful? How is it used in artistry?

HK: It gives me first place what I have in my mind, I would like to show it to others, and I would like to show my feelings on the quilt, and I like that the people satisfies what I show.

CM: So that they can understand--

HK: Understand what was my meaning from this project.

CM: What would make a quilt appropriate, or a project such as yours, for a museum or a special collection? What would set that quilt or item aside and to be included a, say an art museum or in some special collection?

HK: I don't' know what you mean.

CM: You used your quilt in several exhibition in places related to quilting, and I'm thinking like here in America we have the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, DC, a place where really special things go that represent things that are Americana, or we have an art museum. There's the one in here and in many larger cities. What would make it real special? You don't have a place that you could do that in your country?

HK: Yes. We have also a textile museum.

CM: Okay, so what would make it real special?

HK: Most of them for the special the arts, kind of arts.

CM: So it would be more artistic or utilitarian.

HK: Yes. Both.

CM: Okay. So something that would be appropriate for a museum or a special collection in your mind would be something that is very artistic.

HK: Yes.

CM: What makes a great quilter?

HK: The happiness of the public. [laughs.]

CM: Okay.

HK: Because they admire my quilt here and I stayed there many hours and I talk with a lot of people. They speak about the quilt and how do you do that, and explain me why you did that. Explain me how you did something. And in the light you have to talk with the people about it.

CM: I often think of a great quilter as somebody who has some history and is a good teacher and good techniques. How would you see that? I know what you are saying about what you get from hearing what other people say, but, if you're trying to describe a great quilter, what are some of the qualities that they have--somebody that you admire, or that you think is really good? What would make them so good?

HK: The technique is very important. I'm very technical, so I like the technique from the quilts. Seeing some quilts, first I like how it's made, what's the color choice, what's the fabric choice, that's very important. And is it good seeing. I can't understand what's--

CM: You're on the right track. I mean that's kind of what I'm getting is that sometimes people--

HK: You have to say, 'wow, that's strikes me.'

CM: And it's very well made, because you're talking about the technical aspects of quilting. How do great quilters learn the art of quilting, like how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors? How do you think that they get that way? How do they learn it?

HK: How do they learn it? In Holland it's very good quality, high standards.

CM: So they have good teaching?

HK: Yes. Good teaching, very good.

CM: Designing patterns, choosing fabrics and colors, is that something you can learn or are those things that are kind of within you?

HK: Yes, every [inaudible.] in America different techniques and different things to see on the quilt than in the European. There is a difference between Europe and America. There is also a difference between Holland and Japanese quilts.

CM: Okay, explain to me a little bit the difference in what's in Holland and what's in America.

HK: Holland is the only, most of them use only the fabrics, and in America they use the fabrics in combination with the threads and the free moving in America. Holland is more traditional, more straight, I think. That's what the difference is.

CM: More structured.

HK: More structured. Yes, you have to become [inaudible.] your own feelings on the quilt. [inaudible.] more than American people do.

CM: Okay. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? Did you say this was hand quilting?

HK: Hand quilted, yes.

CM: Okay, machine pieced and hand quilted.

HK: Yes. Most of my quilts are hand quilted. I like hand quilting.

CM: Do you machine quilt?

HK: Yes, I do.

CM: Which do you prefer?

HK: Both.

CM: You're familiar with the longarm quilting that we use here in America? Have you seen the big machines downstairs where you can put a quilt on and just--How do you feel about that kind of quilting?

HK: No, I don't like that. It is too technical. I like to do it by my hands.

CM: Do you think that's really quilting? There is this debate in America so often about whether that's really quilting or not. And many people feel that it is not because quilting where you guide the machine on your own is fine, but when you put it on a big machine where you walk away and push the button and it does the whole quilt how do you feel about that?

HK: I like machine quilting for some parts, but I like also to compete with hand quilting. Both.

CM: So you wouldn't be interested in having your quilts quilted by the longarm machine, or that you would have one of those, and you would consider that.

HK: No, no. [inaudible.] My machine is from small parts, but a longarm I don't have. I don't like those. Like a factory. [laughs.] Some people like it.

CM: Would that attitude be very typical or similar to the attitude that other Dutch people would have about machine quilting?

HK: It's the same, it's the same.

CM: So those just aren't used there.

HK: No, they don't use it.

CM: Why is quilting important to you?

HK: First, it can fill up my free days, and I can relax with it, and also I have exciting with it. I can control my mind about it, and yes, I am very happy when I'm quilting.

CM: How does your quilting and the work that you do reflect the community or the region that you live in, you know, the area that you live in, in Holland? I know Holland is a very small country, but does it reflect what's going on in your community? Because you've got the 'Kimono', but what are some of the other kinds of things that you have quilted?

HK: You mean the people, how they like it?

CM: No, so much as how does it reflect what's going on and how does it show Dutch, the Dutch culture.

HK: Yes, the traditional quilts show the Dutch quilter. But the free, the free, the people make the free work, it's dependent on the person who's making it.

CM: So there isn't anything that's particular that if I went there that I would see or notice, or if you showed me some of your work that I would notice that it's Dutch.

HK: Yes, some pieces you can see that. My beginning work. It's traditional, the traditional patterns.

CM: More in the patterns.

HK: Yes, in the patterns.

CM: What do you think about the importance of quilts in your culture? How is quilting looked on in your culture as far as being very important?

HK: We have our country, 13,000 members of the quilters association and we are a very small country. So it is very important in our country. Lot of people are quilting and they are interested about it.

CM: Do people belong to small guilds? Like where I live in Michigan, we have a statewide organization, but then we have local guilds, and then we have little sewing groups. Do you have groups like that there?

HK: Yes, also we have that in Holland, too. In every city, in every small place, we have two or three or five quilting bees, quilting groups.

CM: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for history in your country?

HK: I think nowadays, the people are thinking only of themselves. The young people, I think, they have no feeling with the culture or looking only at the computer. I think handwork and the quilts. I think they expect them as a gift from our generation.

CM: How do you think quilts can be used? I mean, you have made this nice item that could be worn by someone, but as far as being used, are they put out for display, actually used on a bed that people sleep in?

HK: I have quilt on my beds, and I can change something, and every day I have slept on a quilt. Always quilts always on my bed. And I have one room where I have quilts on the wall, but not in my living room because my furniture and my paintings are different, [loud laughter in the background makes this part inaudible.] but not my whole house is quilt house. Is some parts are finished and then normal out of stone. [laughs.]

CM: Do you give quilted items as gifts?

HK: I did, yes.

CM: What kind of things?

HK: One son of my brother-in-law, he was married and they couldn't get children, it was not possible. And after some years, she was pregnant, and I was so happy about that, I have made a small baby quilt with bears on it and the baby's name in script. And I have made some small items for birthday or birthday and one of my cousins was married and I make on a wedding day all pieces of fabrics and I put all names of the guests on it. It was like in the reception room. And all the people write their name and how was the day and give some nice wishes for the couple, and I make one bedspread for the couple after the wedding, as a gift, for a wedding gift.

CM: That's very nice. Being a male in a predominantly female or a ladies area, how do you feel about that?

HK: The situation about that, yes. A lot of people are very happy that there is a male in the group because the talkings are different, my looking, my interesting from other sides. The lady side, my side makes some things on [inaudible] way, and everyone is very happy if there is a man in the group, also in the exhibition. Ninety-nine percent are females, and also in the Dutch quilt association, 13,000 members, only five males. [laughs.] And most of the males, they don't like come to bigger activities, because they don't like. I don't know why, but the ladies accept me 100%. It's very nice. I like it very much and the ladies also like it very much.

CM: So you feel okay with that.

HK: Yes. I feel okay with that. I don't have any problem with that.

CM: What kind of feedback to you get from other men?

HK: Come to the quilt and try it. Why not? A lot of people are ready to try it or early time finish their work. Why are you sitting only at home or bicycling or smoking cigars? Try to do something with your hands.

CM: How do they feel about you quilting? Is that okay?

HK: Yes, sure, I think it is ladies work. They think it's ladies work so I when I stay here also by my quilt, here in Houston on the exhibition, I say, 'Why everyone look it, and see oh there is a man.' A lot of people are very [inaudible.] about that.

CM: How do you think quilting and quilts can be preserved for the future? How can we keep it on, keep the idea of quilting going on?

HK: I think there is no ending, there is no ending. I think the young people coming, starting. They start again and the old people finishing but discovering, the coming and coming and going. I think there is no ending on it.

CM: So that's important that we teach it and pass it on.

HK: Yes, also in our country, we like it, the young people like to make things by quilting also on the school in Holland, on the base school they start with quilting for these young people, and our Dutch magazine, we have also some pieces in the magazine for the young people, they go to see that and have to interview the young people and keep actively to do that more and more. Also in the exhibition, also small place for these young people, we invite them to show their works, and they like it.

Cm: And be part of what you're doing.

HK: Yes. If it's nice if it's not nice, it's not important. You have to come and to speak with the others and see the other things the other people made.

CM: That's all that I have today, but I want to give you an opportunity to ask about something or tell us about something related to your quilting or your experience of being here in Houston.

HK: Yes, in Houston, my quilt was a first prize winner, so I'm very enthusiastic about it.

CM: Oh, okay, oh which one?

HK: A Free-Life. Traditional quilt in the Huskvarna Viking.

CM: Okay. It's a traditional quilt in the Viking section. I did remember hearing your name.

HK: Yes.

CM: And I will have to get through there and now I'll have to be sure I look at it.

HK: Yes, I am the first prize winner, the first award winner.

CM: Well, congratulations. I'll shake your hand again.

HK: Thank you very much.

CM: But is there anything you'd like to share about your experience here? You've had a good experience? A lot of fun? Your first time here?

HK: Yes, this is the first time I'm in America and also the first time I'm alive on America, so it's a very wonderful time here. I came last Monday and I stay the full festival time, invited by the Viking, and it's so nice to be here and see so big all the audience came here; I heard last weekend more than 50,000 and a lot of shops here and so great, it is marvelous.

CM: So you wouldn't, at one of your big conventions or conferences, you wouldn't likely have all the vendors and all the people there like this.

HK: No, [inaudible.] is more than a third of this part. And that is big. [laughs.] But the organization is pretty good here. Organized also the classes is organized very good.

CM: Have you had the opportunity to take one of the classes?

HK: No, most are full and there is no time. For me is only few days, and I like to have no program here, so maybe next time, I don't know. [laughs.]

CM: Anything else you'd like to share?

HK: No, I have no other questions, no.

CM: Well, thank you very much, Henk.

HK: My pleasure.

CM: And we're ending our interview at about 3:42 on today's date, which is November 1, 2002.

CM: Henk's going to explain a little bit about the name of his quilted item, wearable item, and he'll tell us a little bit about that now.

HK: My kimono, is Japanese kimono, and my name is van Kooten, so I changed the name from Kooten and kimono, I put it together and I make the name "Kotomono," so all my kimonos, is "Kimono One," "Kimono Two," "Kimono Three," all the name "Kotomono." In future, I hope to have an exhibition with the kimono exhibition, the "Kotomono" exhibition.

CM: Thank you, Henk, and we've just added a little bit on to the original, so we're ending now at about 3:44. Thank you.

Interview Keyword

Dutch Quilting Association
Traditional quilting


“Henk Van Kooten,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2501.