Kay Horton




Kay Horton




Kay Horton


Pam Schultz

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Vicksburg, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schultz. It's Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2 o'clock p.m. I'm interviewing Kay Horton in her home in Vicksburg, Michigan. This interview is being conducted for the South Central Michigan Quilters' Save Our Stories project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Hi, Kay, how are you today?

Kay Horton (KH): Fine, thank you.

PS: Tell me about the quilt that you showed me today.

KH: It's a three generation quilt. The pieced part of it was done by my maternal grandmother. I quilted the middle of the star. My mother could see that I was probably never going to finish it so we quick taught her how to quilt and she quilted all of the yellow parts of the quilt. So, it's my maternal grandmother--my mother's mother--my mother and myself.

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

KH: I am, by nature, a very historical person and therefore I enjoy keeping certain things as mementos as heritage from both sides of the family. And I have quilts from both sides of the family.

PS: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

KH: Partly because it's one of the few pieces that I still own. Many of the pieces that I've made have been given away, and I don't have that many pieces to begin with. I have lots of things to finish because I taught for a while and we have things in stages that, if we put them together, you have, probably, twenty-twenty five quilts. But my interest has gone on to something else and so I don't quilt nearly as much as I used to.

PS: What did you used to teach?

KH: I taught quilting, team taught with Norma Storm and Jan Herbert at first and later Norma and June Belitz. I taught for the Portage [Michigan.] Community Ed. Program. I taught several hundred people in the greater Kalamazoo [Michigan.] area. And based on that we all went, the last three of us, went and qualified to become NQACT's, National Quilting Association Certified Teachers.

PS: When did you do that?

KH: Oh, I don't remember exactly. It was a long time ago.

PS: A while ago.

KH: Yes, probably in the 80's.

PS: Eighties. What do you think someone else viewing this quilt would think?

KH: That the prints are vintage, probably mid-nineteen thirties fabrics or before. Because it is close to 75 years old, the top was made for me, a baby quilt, and I will be seventy-three next week. And so it has a vintage feel to the center of it.

PS: How do you use this quilt?

KH: I don't use it at all. It has a rod-pocket on the back and it will be hung whenever I find somebody to help me put the hooks up to hang it. [laughs.]

PS: That covers what your plans are for this quilt.

KH: It will have to be a rotating piece because I have too many to hang them all up. When I had my old apartment I had red and white quilts everywhere and Norma [Norma Storm.] made lots of them for me. And she said, 'You don't have any more space to put them up. You're going to have to start rotating them.' And I just couldn't do that because I loved them all and I wanted them all where I could see them. Now I don't have any up at all as you can see because I can't decide which ones can go up.

PS: Who gets to be on the wall.

KH: Yes.

PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

KH: Right after I took classes from Mary Reineke at the Portage Public Library I became quite ill and had to stay thoroughly quiet for a whole winter and as I looked at the patterns I got very confused because I'd look at a pattern and say, 'I've seen that one before but it had a different name.' And so I started indexing patterns on 3x5 slips of paper and putting them in a box. At first I had a file box. And then I had two file boxes. And then I had three file boxes. Then I started working at a library where I could get the boxes that the cards came in. So I have four boxes that the library cards come in and I haven't indexed anything probably in the last fifteen years. But I would put the picture on there, where I got it, what size it was if there was a pattern, so that if anybody wanted to do that one all they had to do was pull the slip of paper out, see where it was and go get the pattern and do it. Then we got so we could draft our own and it didn't become as important. I then tended to gravitate only towards the appliqué ones because I'm not an artist in any way. If I want something done specifically that way I go talk to Norma. She is an artist.

PS: At what age did you start quiltmaking?

KH: When I was probably thirty-five? It was after my son was born. So it was about 1930, I mean I was about thirty-five.

PS: You weren't thirty-five in 1930.

KH: No. [both laugh.] That's true, I was not.

PS: From whom did you learn to quilt?

KH: I learned to quilt from Mary Reineke who was the wife of the board president of the Portage Public Library. She was going to go on and teach classes at Gilmore's Department Store in Kalamazoo and we were her guinea pigs. It's kind of funny the way I got into this. I had put a small display of other kinds of needlework in a display case at the Portage Public Library and so when they opened this class, there were going to be twelve people that could take the class, they just assumed that I would want to learn to quilt, so my name was put on the list before they opened it to the public. And it's a good thing because fifteen minutes after the library opened that day all of the places were taken and they took a list. Before the week was out 250 people had signed up for this class, and only twelve of us were going to get to take it. And Norma was in that class. Well, about six or eight of us from the twelve decided that we would stay together and help each other learn to quilt because we had just basics. And one day when the meeting was held at my home the director of the Portage Public Library at that time, Frank Hemphill, came over and wanted to know if we would be willing to teach twelve more people. And so we taught twelve more people. And then, that lead us into teaching for Portage Community Ed. So that's how we learned to quilt.

PS: When did you meet Norma?

KH: When I took the class from Mary Reineke. If my name had not been put up on the list and she hadn't called in the first fifteen minutes, we never would have met. I'm sure. Because I probably wouldn't have gotten that interest in quilting.

PS: That is so very weird, so very weird.

KH: Yes, Very.

PS: How many hours a week do you quilt?

KH: I don't quilt at all anymore. I did quilt a little bit of last winter. Down in the lounge we have a sort of get-together in the evening and to keep my knees warm I quilted on my great nephew's baby quilt. I should tell you that the young man graduated from high school this year and has just graduated from the Marine Boot Camp and I'm only about half finished with his baby quilt. You can see I'm not swift at quilting.

PS: Well, you're a busy lady. What is your first quilt memory?

KH: My first quilt memory. One summer all of my mother's nieces and nephews, with the exception of one came to our house for a week. I have mostly girl cousins, there's only one boy and I have a brother. So the two boys paired off and the rest of us did things all week long. And my mother was a great hand at finding things for children to do and so she decided it would be nice if we made blocks, embroidered blocks, which we did. And the last night we were there my mother put them together and so each of us got a little dolly quilt, which I'm currently showing to Pam. And I'm sure the others do not exist anymore, but this is mine and I've had it all these years.

PS: Wow.

KH: And you can see that they were done by children because the stitches are uneven and we had varying abilities. The other quilt that I remember was one that was on my Grandma Witherell's bed. It was just a plain comforter that was tied but it had grapes on it. The fabric had grapes on it. And I found out later in talking with people who knew a lot about fabrics that it was heavy, man, was it heavy. And people said they thought it was a mill felt quilt where they took the felts from the mill and covered them and tied them. And that they were often given to people who had limited income. And there was a time that my grandparents had limited income. So I've always associated that quilt with that. They lived in a two-room shack. I'm not kidding. No running water inside, but Grandma had glass paper weights and if we were very careful we could sit in the middle of the bed and play with the glass paperweights until they heard them clink together, and then, 'Time to put them away. You're going to break them.' But I remember sitting on that quilt in the middle of the bed playing with the glass paperweights.

PS: Oh, wow. Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends?

NS: Yeah, most of my friends quilt. And, like I said, my cousins were taught to quilt on my mother's side, taught two of the younger ones to quilt. Do I have any other friends? No they are mostly quilting friends that quilt. I can't think of anybody who's not a friend who quilts.

PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

KH: When my son was in Germany I went to visit him after we finished the trip to the Netherlands with Ami Simms. I went on to Germany. That was an experience and a half. The last night we were there we went to the Pizza Hut in Darmstadt. And they had a patchwork design on their booths and I said to my son, 'Be sure to let me take a picture of that before we leave.' And his former roommate said, 'What is this with your mother? She takes pictures of sidewalks. She takes pictures of ironwork on the side of buildings. What gives?' And so my son proceeded to give him a fifteen minute lecture on what it means to have a mother who's a quilter. He says, 'She has a corner in the living room that you do not, I repeat you do not, touch anything in that corner unless you're given permission.' He said, 'When my grandmother was quilting on the "Rhapsody in Blue" quilt that she was making for my mother, there were three assassinations or attempted assassinations and she put a safety pin on the quilt exactly where she was quilting when that event took place.' And I had made a diagram of that quilt just so I would know the placement of things on the quilt and so when we washed the quilt I took the safety pins off and pinned them on the paper copy so that I still, to this day, know where she was quilting when the attempts took place.

PS: Wow.

KH: One was for Ronald Reagan. One was for Anwar Sadat and one was for the Pope. And she was quilting on that quilt. And he said, 'And that's what makes it so special when you get a handmade quilt is you know that they were sitting there thinking of you all the time they were quilting that and it has more significance to you.' I didn't think the kid knew anything, but I nearly cried.

PS: Aren't you proud of that?

KJ: Yes, I am and so he now has his own quilt. I had originally intended to hand quilt it, but Norma knew that I was never going to finish the top because we started machine piecing it and I don't machine piece. So she said, 'Well, listen, let me do the top.' So I said, 'Okay, fine.' So she took the top and away she went. She called me a couple of weeks later and says, 'Kay, we have a problem.' And I says, 'What's the problem.' And she says, 'Well, it's not a good size.' And I says, 'Well, do you have any more fabric?' And she says, 'Oh, there's gobs of fabric.' And I said, 'Okay, pretend it's yours. Do what you want.' So she did. A couple of weeks later she called me back and she says, 'Kay, we have a problem.' I says, 'What's the problem now?' She says, 'It's 109 by 109 and I don't think you're going to hand quilt it.' She was right. I wasn't going to hand quilt it at 109 by 109. So we sent it off and had it machine quilted. And it's beautiful. He uses it every day. It's on his bed. When I go up to change the baby it's on his bed now. Also, I'm very pleased with it.

PS: Tell me about that trip to the Netherlands.

KH: It was the second trip I took with Ami. The first one was to Rome. The second one was to the Netherlands and we met with a group of quilters on Saturday and they were all Dutch quilters and we had a lovely day. Then the next trip we took we went to Hong Kong. That was interesting. Fourteen and a half hours on the plane to Japan. A two or three hour layover in Japan and then four and a half hours on to Hong Kong. We went to get silk before it reverted back to the Chinese, so you could have a rough idea of when we were there. And then the fourth trip we went on we went to Northern Italy and ended up in Rome. It was funny, because we did on the first trip, throw the obligatory coins in the fountain at Trevi. Our hotel was just around the corner from Trevi and as I'm throwing it in I'm thinking I'll never be back here again and I was. [both laugh.] That time, the second time we went, we met with Italian quilters in the hills outside of Italy and it would have been a much better experience for us if we had spoken Italian or if we had more interpreters, but when they quilted they did paper piecing. They weren't used to the way we patch and I had some little pieces and I was showing them how I did it and I handed it to the lady and she looked at it very carefully and handed it back and I handed it back to her, meaning you can keep it and she handed it back and I says, 'No you keep it.' And then the interpreter came over and said, or the translator came over and said, 'She's saying you can keep it.' Well then I had to sign it because I had made it. I wish I had been smart enough to have handed her the templates so she could have made more. But they were little tiny, probably 3" spools and I was going to make a vest out of. I still have lots of them to do.

PS: So, it sounds quite a summer.

KH: It was. It was great fun. In fact they were so pleased that we came that they gave each of us a free pack of Frescotti wine and we went up to the mountain, up to the hilltop on a bus. And so here we were all coming down on the bus, little old wine ladies going home. [both laugh.]

PS: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

KH: Oh, yeah, I'm sure I have. I'm sure I have. I can't recall the specific time, but, yeah. They're very distracting and when you get into a rhythm it's very calming. That's why I like to do Sashiko, because the stitches are bigger and there is a rhythm to Sashiko once you get on the design that I did. It was very rhythmic and you just back and forth and back and forth, sometimes almost put yourself to sleep.

PS: Oh, like meditating.

KH: Yes. A little.

PS: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking or teaching.

KH: [nine second pause.] Nothing comes immediately to mind. Well, I'll tell you what. We started a class one time for the Portage Community Ed. Program and there weren't enough people and so we just fooled around the first night to see if we could get enough people to come the second time and one of the ladies who signed in as Constance, whatever her name was, and I didn't write up the class list the first week because I wasn't sure we were going to have any more people. Well, the second week there were more people so we called the class. The second week I wrote out the thing and it was Constance, actually Connie, and Nazareth College. And I thought oh, isn't this interesting. I wonder if she's a nun. So I spent the next eight weeks trying to determine whether this person was a nun or not. I would say things like, 'Should I call you Constance?' 'No, Connie is fine.' 'Should I call you Sister Connie?' 'Connie is fine.' Well the last week we always basted a quilt on a frame, so they could see how that was done and she came with two Sisters from the convent with her. Sister Romain and I don't remember the other sister's name, but that's when I really could prove that Connie was a nun. But she brought the two of them so that they could go back and the three of them could baste a quilt for the nuns. And when I taught her to appliqué I taught them to turn the edges under and baste it because I felt as beginners then they don't have to worry about the fabric. And they all had to prove some proficiency in appliquéing. When I got all done I looked at hers and I said, 'Very good.' And I said, 'Okay, class is almost over, are there any questions?' And she looked at me and she says, 'Well you do know that there are other ways to appliqué?' And I says, 'Yes, but I thought this was the best way for beginners.' I said, 'Have you appliquéd very much?' And she says, 'Oh, a little.' And I said, 'What do you mean by a little?' because she was a beautiful seamstress. She says, 'I've done vestments if that's what you mean.' [PS laughs.] So you never know what fun you're going to have. I did, I had a great time for those eight weeks, trying to find out whether Connie was a nun or not.

PS: A mystery.

KH: Yes.

PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

KH: I get the most enjoyment out of the planning of the quilt. Not the execution of the quilt, but the planning of the quilt. I was on the planning committee for the Bi-Centennial Quilt that the Portage Quilters' Guild made, which is now in the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. And every portion of that quilt had significance to it and one of our quilter's daughter was taking art appreciation class at Western Michigan University and she had to give a lecture, a little talk about something. And so I wrote up all the significance to the pieces that were in that bi-centennial quilt and I enjoyed that part of it although I'm not a writer. I enjoyed the planning of the quilt. Probably better than anything else. Even better than picking out the fabrics, although that's probably second. [PS laughs.]

PS: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

KH: Having to decide which ones are going to be up and which ones are going to not make the cut this time. I think I like all the parts equally, because I taught the appliqué. I don't appliqué nearly as much now. Even when I was quilting a lot I didn't appliqué as much and I think it's because my eyesight isn't the same as it was when I first started. I'm in tri-focals now and I always seem to be in the wrong focal.

PS: What quilt groups do you belong to or did you used to belong to?

KH: Okay, I belong to the Portage Quilters' Guild. I belong to the Cal-Co Quilters' [Guild.], did. And I suppose you would have to say that I belonged to the National Quilting Association by virtue of the fact that I was a certified teacher. Which, now, I would not qualify for, by the way. You have to demonstrate a proficiency in machine quilting which I would never be proficient in. I might be able to demonstrate it for small somethings but I'm a traditionalist, through and through, clear down to my bone.

PS: I know the requirements to become certified now are real extensive. They have a lot of classes and I wouldn't care to spend my time that way. I don't quilt.

KH: We probably wouldn't have tried except that Norma wanted to know whether she was good or not. We knew she was, but we couldn't convince her. And she wouldn't do it alone and so June Belitz and I all went and all qualified at the same time. And the difficulty there was that we had to write up our own lesson plans which we did, but they knew that we team-taught and so they kept saying, 'What do you teach? What do you teach?' and we, all of us, said 'We all teach it all.' Because we did. But the neatest thing about June Belitz was that we thought was an addition to the two of us when Jan left was the fact that she's left-handed and so she could show the left-handed quilters what you had to do and she has a unique sense of color because she's an interior decorator. And so we each had our own little specialty and, oddly enough, we very seldom decided to do the same thing. By that I mean, I learned to do Sashiko and Norma learned to do something else. June learned to do something different. So we had a broad range of topics we could cover with just the three of us. And we would tell the students that if you don't like the answer we give you, go ask one of the other two teachers. A lot of times Norma would say, 'What did Kay say?' and they would tell them what I said and she would say, 'Oh, well that's not the way I do it, but let me show you the way I do it.' And who knows which way they chose.

PS: Really, I think it's exciting to be in on that whole process of quiltmaking getting popular and interesting. You guys were back there when some of that was happening.

KH: Yes.

PS: Back at the beginning.

KH: Yes. In fact we lectured a lot. We took Jan Yoon and Norma Storm and I did a lot of outside groups with things and the biggest reason we stopped was because we got too old to carry that many quilts up and down stairs. It got to be a logistics problem. And several times they wanted us to put the quilts around the room and I would not allow that to be done because I wanted the surprise of the next quilt. And I did it one time at one of the churches on Stadium Drive that has a raised dais and when I got finished there around me on the stairs was all the quilts laid out and it was kind of cool. And I almost always went in my bi-centennial costume because I wouldn't have to worry about what I was going to wear. Had an Amish-style hat and the whole thing.

PS: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

KH: I don't think so because I'm a traditionalist. I still prefer to do it by hand and I don't think the needles are any sharper than they used to be. I think when you get a flu shot they are but I think in quilting they're not.

PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials? Well, appliqué?

KH: Yeah, appliqué. I tend to go towards cottons. I haven't done anything with the silks that we brought back. But I don't think I've ever used any what you would consider any unusual fabrics. I'm sure I haven't used any unusual fabrics. Norma's the one who does unusual fabrics.

PS: Uses it all.

KH: Yes.

PS: Tell me how you balance your time.

KH: My time right now, because I'm retired, is balanced between watching my granddaughter so that her father can go do noon duty with his other two step-children. And I'm trying to finish up a project for a gentleman in England on genealogy, so I spend most of my time in libraries. [both laugh.] That project will, I hope, soon be over and I can go back to something else. I didn't quilt much this winter. Like I said before, I quilted quite a bit last year but I didn't quilt very much this year because I had spent so much time using my eyes on the computer that I couldn't see the needle. Eye strain.

PS: Do you use a design wall?

KH: No, I do not. Like I said, I draw it out on graph paper to size so I'll know the measurements. In here there isn't enough space for a design wall.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

KH: Good workmanship. Good choice of fabrics and a good design. By that I don't mean that it has to be innovative design. It might be a very traditional pattern done in a different way.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KH: I'm not good at judging artistic quilts because I'm such a die-hard for tradition and most of the artistic quilts--I enjoy looking at them, but I would never, I think, make one. Because they're just not my cup of tea. I've seen beautiful ones on the front of some magazines and in books but they're just not for me. Sorry.

PS: There's room for all of us.

KH: Yes, there is, thankfully.

PS: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

KH: Have to go back to good workmanship, again. When we went to Fort Wayne [Indiana.] to one of the NQA shows in Fort Wayne several years ago now, there was a masterpiece quilt there. It was red and white, so I was drawn to it and it was beautiful. Later I had a chance to go up and look at it closer and that's when I noticed that it was machine quilted and so for a little bit I was like, 'Oh, well, it's machine quilted.' And then I backed away about three feet and I couldn't tell that it was machine--obviously I didn't know when I first saw it, that it was machine quilted. And that's when I had to say to myself, 'Hey, if it's well done, what difference does it make which way it was done?' It's the workmanship that counted. And it was beautiful. So I had to retract my handquilting at that point, but I still prefer handquilting.

PS: What makes a great quiltmaker?

KH: Enthusiasm. Love of color. Quilting for a purpose, either for your family or your friends or to give away. Like I said, I've given away almost of the completed pieces I have ever made. And I enjoyed making them because there was a purpose for making it and I knew it was going to go. But it was sad.

PS: Kind of miss them?

KH: Yes. Yes.

PS: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

KH: Oh. See I go way back. I go back to Jinny Beyer and Michael James and even Marie Webster's pieces. Let's see, I can't think of very many modern quilters because I've been out of it so long, I don't recognize any of the modern quilters. Like in the last twenty years.

PS: That's all right. Which artists have influenced you?

KH: None in particular. I can't think of any. The one that I find most fascinating in what she's going to do next is Norma. You never know what she's going to do next.

PS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus handquilting?

KH: I do not find machine quilting relaxing, at all. And handquilting I can get into a rhythm and enjoy it. I have a brand new Singer sewing machine that I've used three times since I got it. I'm just not into it. Norma says I just need to practice more, and it's probably true, but I'm just not comfortable. Part of that is because when I first started quilting we had travel trailer and there was no space in that travel trailer for a sewing machine. But there was space in that trailer for a pillowcase or a small box of pieces to hand piece or stuff the quilt in a pillowcase and use it as a pillow and quilt on it when you had time. I think that's part of it, is that I didn't start out on the sewing machine. Although, I knew how to sew, we learned to do it by hand and I stuck with it.

PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

KH: It's a creative outlet that I do it. I enjoy doing it when I do, do it, but probably the last fifteen years I haven't done that much. Part of it was because I lived with my mother and was doing it and I was working. That was the other thing. I worked for the Southwest Michigan Library Co-op and didn't have as much time as when I had been home all the time, or working just part time. I even taught a class on quilting for the Co-op. We had librarians and people who didn't want to learn how to use the computer and so my boss got this brilliant idea of keeping certain topics for people who might have an interest that she could draw them into using the computer. And so I taught one class of quilting on a computer and what it was, was finding designs, finding fabrics, finding about quilters, finding where quilt shows were going to be. One of the girls had just come back from a trip to California and she bought fabric. When she got home she realized she didn't buy enough so I said to her if you have the band on there, look for the name of the company. Go on their website; see if you can find the fabric and see if you can get some more. And two weeks later she let me know that she had found the fabric and it was on its way, so that was kind of cool.

PS: That was very cool.

KH: Yeah. That was one of the side-lights of things I did well. I was working somewhere else and I did the genealogy that same way. Taught genealogy classes at the Co-op, because librarians had to know a little bit about it and so I taught classes in genealogy.

PS: Librarians know all the information or how to find it.

KH: Or how to find it, yes. That's the secret.

PS: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or your region?

KH: I don't know that they do, anymore because we travel all over everywhere and so it's not as regionalized as it used to be. I have a quilt that was made by my great-grandfather's first or second wife. A great grandma was the third wife. And it is a Lobster quilt and they lived in New York State. I don't know that you would think that, that Lone Star quilt came necessarily from Michigan. It could have come from Texas or it could have come from Iowa, the tri-states. So I don't think there's as much regionalism as there used to be, at least that I can think of.

PS: I don't know, but you made your point, too, that you just get your fabric from the Internet now, and you can get it from anywhere, so, your right.

KH: I know.

PS: It's kind of sad, in a way. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

KH: Well, I sleep under one every night. We've used them for all kinds of other things like under the picnic lunch and we have them to curl up with when it got cold this winter. They're an important part of quilters' lives, at least, and probably for their families also. They learn to appreciate things when it's taken so long to make them, if they were around to see how long it took. It's not something [snaps fingers.] you do today. My mother only pieced one quilt in her whole life and that was for my nephew and she said she would make a Lone Star for Tom if his mother would help. She had to cut the pieces out so we gave her the first fabric and she had to cut eight triangles and then she'd cut the next row and she brought them back and she was all excited. It was finished. And mother said, 'No, now you've got to cut twice as many for the next row and twice as many as that for the next row.' And Ginny says, 'How many of these things do I have to cut anyway?' Mother said, 'Quite a few.' She didn't realize it was going to be that much work to get a quilt for her son.

PS: How do you think quilts can be used?

KH: Oh, we had an interesting thing used for quilt blocks. When Western Michigan University decided to do the play "The Quilters" they called me to see if I could show them what the designs looked like for the blocks that were used in the play. So I met the ladies at the Portage Public Library and because some patterns have more than one name they got a chance to pick between designs. And so, they got finished and they were happy with the designs they picked and I says, 'Who's making the blocks for you?' The lady says, 'Oh, we'll paint them on canvas.' I says, 'What? With the number of quilters there are in the greater Kalamazoo, you're going to paint them?' And she says, 'Well, do you think we could get quilters that would make them?' And I says, 'Well I wouldn't be at all surprised if you could get people to make them.' Did I want to chair a committee? No, I did not, but I knew people who were in the Log Cabin Quilters. [Log Cabin Quilters' Guild of Kalamazoo, Michigan.] So I said, 'Why don't you call a couple of those people and see. I'll be happy to make a block but see what they can do.' Because, at that time I was still working and so they called and, sure enough, we did the blocks for "The Quilters" in Kalamazoo. That was kind of fun. The block that I had was Robbing Peter to Pay Paul and I did it in brown and golds for Western Michigan University, because I was a student there. And then I made a little one and the night of the play, opening night we were invited as guests. So I wore my name tag with the design I had done and the actress who used that block in the play was quite a comedienne and so afterwards I gave her my name tag so that she could have it and she was running around saying, because they were told; right away they wanted to keep their blocks when it was done and they said, 'No, if anybody gets them the quilter will get them, but we're hoping that they will let us keep them and when we do the new arts building we will hang it.' That play, have you ever seen that play? Oh, the blocks are probably thirty-six inches square and they use them and talk about them in the play. Then in the back there is a big stage canvas that has Velcro on it and the blocks have Velcro on them, and there was one person who just takes them and lays them on and walks on them to get them stuck to it. At the end of the play the daughters and the mother come out with this thing that looks like a carpet on their shoulders and they hook it to grommets and they pull it up and you see the whole quilt finished, with the borders with, usually, appliqué on them. And everybody just, [long gasp.] you know. I've seen the play done in three different versions and I still think ours was best. [both laugh.] It was a lot of fun. We had gone to a lecture from Carla Hessle and she had told how her quilts had been used in dramatic ways. One of her quilts, she wrapped around her children's heads because their motel caught on fire. And she says, 'By the way, if that ever happens to you and you're going to dip something, don't take time to fill the sink with water.' She says, 'I know it doesn't sound pleasant, but dunk it in the toilet because you want to get out of there as fast as you can.' Another time they were on their way home and they came across a group of home economics teachers that had gone off the road and some of them were injured, so they just took her prize-winning quilts out of the trunk of the car and wrapped them around them, and we all went [long gasp.]. Number one, did she get them back? She did. Number two, how did you get the blood out? There wasn't any. What do you mean there wasn't any? She says, 'No, it was freezing cold and it had dried on their skins and so there was no blood on the quilts.' So, I always say that I had a quilt that was used in a dramatic way, in the play "The Quilters." [laughs.]

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

KH: Well, they have to be taken care of properly. That means not putting them in plastic bags, preferably in already washed, unbleached cotton, and stored if you can, rolled. Mine are not, mine are folded in breathable bags in the closet. You should take them out once a year, which I haven't done since I moved here. If you have a spare bedroom pile them on the bed, one on top of each other. I know a quilter who does that.

PS: One of my aunts used to do that, down south, and it was the tallest bed you could imagine.

KH: That reminds me of when Jan Herbert's little boy, Jeff, came to a quilt meeting one time. He got sleepy and we had been showing Show and Tell, so people were laying their quilts in the corner and Jeffey went over there and he flipped three or four as fast as he could flip them. We thought, 'What is he doing?' Got to the one that his mother had made for him and he hauled it out, went back in the corner and went to sleep. [PS laughs.] He knew which one was his. [laughs.] Now, I think that some of them must be preserved through an association, somehow. They should be rotated in and out of collections so that they don't get sun damaged. They have to be protected from people taking flash pictures of them. We found that when Jinny Beyer came. She told people that they were free to take pictures of the quilts, but no flash, and a lady took a flash and she whipped around and said, 'I said no flashes.' And the lady said, 'Well, I didn't think that meant me.' And Jinny was visibly upset about that, and rightfully so. That was the one that won the Good Housekeeping Award and it had been everywhere. She said she could see that it was fading. We couldn't because we hadn't seen it in the original but she said she could see that it was fading. And they do. They do fade, quite easily if they're exposed to direct sunlight. They should also be hung properly, with either boards that especially designed to clamp them or with rod pockets. And kept away from metal and woods that will stain them.

PS: What has happened to quilts that you have made, or those of family and friends?

KH: The very first one I made was a baby quilt for a family friend. It was made out of flowered print flannel. It had white eyelet embroidery ruffle all the way around it. It was made the pillowcase fashion, and when I went to quilt it, it was so humpy-bumpy that I just quilted in the middle and let it go. Probably twelve years later I went to their home and Lynette said to her daughter, 'Go get your quilt and show it to Kay.' And she hung her head and said no. Her mother said, 'It's all right, Kay will understand.' So she came out and in her hand, wadded up, no bigger than her hands would hold, was very, very dark gray batting, light gray white eyelet embroidery, and flannel that was threadbare. She could hold the whole piece she had left in her two hands. And her mother said, 'Kay understands it was well loved. You may go back and put it where you keep it.' I really did. She had kept it and she was a twelve-year-old girl and she wouldn't give it up and it was nothing. I mean, it didn't resemble even pieces of the quilt. But, she loved it dearly. We've had lots of children who have gotten very attached to their quilts.

PS: What do you think the biggest challenge that today's quiltmakers are confronted by?

KH: Well, the way the economy is probably the price of fabric. [laughs.] And time could be another factor, because we have so many things we have to do or want to do and there just isn't enough time. It would be nice, maybe, to be bored once in a while but I don't think that's going to happen to me in my lifetime, because I have too many things that, if I'm not interested in doing this today, I can do that or I can do that, or I can do that. And I don't cook. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a cook and also be a quilter because I eat TV dinners and go back to whatever. A lot of quilters are good cooks. I just don't happen to be one of them.

PS: Do you have any other questions or things you would like to discuss? [papers rattle.]

KH: For several years the Portage Quilters' Guild did a quilt show and one of the questions was 'Have I ever served on a committee?' I registered the quilts for the Portage Guild. We tried to register as many as we could before because we hung them on Friday night. The show was Saturday. They were taken down Saturday afternoon and it was all cleaned up before we left. So that was a fairly arduous thing to do. For years, when we didn't do it anymore, between the first of the year and the seventeenth of March I couldn't figure out why I was so agitated and it was because I didn't have quilts to register, because that's what I did between New Years' and St. Patrick's Day, was register quilts and get everything squared away. And it took me a long time to figure that out, that that's what the problem was. One of the questions was, 'What did I collect, quilts?' I have my former husband's grandparent's wedding quilt, which is a red and white Irish Chain, which has appliquéd corners in it rather than pieced in. And the design on it is concentric circles in each block. And that's the one, when we taught, people would say, 'How do you quilt the quilt?' And I would say, 'If it has straight lines, you quilt it with circular designs. If it has circular designs you quilt it with straight lines unless you choose to do otherwise.' And that's when I knew whether the people were awake or not. If they laughed then they were awake. If not then, fine.

PS: Just any way you want to.

KH: Yes. Well then they would call and say, 'How do you quilt a Lone Star?' 'How do you want to quilt it?' 'Well, how's it usually quilted?' I can show you twelve pictures and they're all quilted differently, but they thought there was a way to quilt it. No. Whatever you want to do. Go to it.

PS: Thank you, Kay.

KH: You're welcome.

PS: I appreciate your spending this time with me.

KH: Okay, it's nice having you.

[Interview ended at 2:54 p.m.]


“Kay Horton,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2520.