Lyn Brown




Lyn Brown


Lyn Brown, who grew up in Australia, talks about quiltmaking with her mother and sister.




Lyn Brown


Pam Schultz

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Hastings, Michigan


Nancy Wilkinson


Pam Schultz (PS): This is Pam Schultz. It's Friday, April 8th at 12:30. I'm interviewing Lyn Brown at Quilt Camp, at Mishawana Camp in Hastings, Michigan. How are you today, Lyn?

Lyn Brown (LB): I'm good, thank you.

PS: Good. Tell me about the quilt you brought today.

LB: Well, I brought a quilt that my mother and I actually made together. In 2007, I believe, we started it when I went home to Australia to see my mom and I arrived in Australia seven days earlier than my family and we sat for six days and did nothing but make this quilt. I have done all the machine stitching and free motion embroidery and my mother did all the hand work on it. So, it was kind of combined mother-daughter effort.

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

LB: Everything because I made it with my mother and she and I, we just talk quilting every weekend when I call home. So that's what we do.

PS: Why did you choose to bring this quilt?

LB: Well, one, it's one of the few that I actually have that I haven't given away, and I only keep the ones that are really meaningful, so this was one of those.

PS: How do you use this quilt?

LB: Actually, I slept under it a couple of times. I guess I've used it occasionally, but usually I hang it on the quilt rack and admire it and keep it nice.

PS: And what are your plans for this quilt?

LB: Eventually I think I'll put it in a guest room when my youngest kid leaves for college, it's going to go in that guest room.

PS: Tell me about some of the things appliquéd on there.

LB: Each block is, well, my sister also came and gave her two cents worth. I think she did one of the ones with the umbrella on it, and the pot of flowers. This one, it has my husband's and my wedding date, when we got married and it has my mother-in-law and father-in-law's wedding date, and then it has my parent's, and it has my daughter's birth date and her ballet shoes. My son's block has a basketball hoop and his date of birth on his one. So it's kind of a bit of a story quilt as well. Then the others we just put in there, and of course we've got a lot of hand done crochet and things we put on it.

PS: Who did the crochet?

LB: My mother probably did two-thirds to three-quarters of it and I did several little pieces that I put on. And we prepared those months in advance. I knew I was going home to do it, so the year before we started getting little bits and pieces together. So we had a little box full of crochet and things ready to go. And my dad was there, he cooked our meals and made sure we just sewed all the time.

PS: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

LB: I actually slept under a quilt, a patchwork quilt that my mother made, when I was at college. That's the one I can remember most. I can't remember much before then, but I remember seeing patches of dresses that I had made because I sewed my own clothes, when I was growing up as a teenager. There'd be bits of squares that she'd use of the leftovers in the quilt. It was just a simple quilt using a four-patch block. I don't even know if we--either of us called it quilting in those days. It was just a blanket to put on your bed. So, that's kind of my earliest memories. And my mom didn't make anything more than that at that time. Yeah, she didn't get into it until later.

PS: At what age did you start quiltmaking?

LB: I probably made my first quilt, actually, when I came here to the United States in 1985, married in '84, came here in '85 and then we went up North, actually to Rose City/West Branch [Michigan.] area. That was the only place my husband could get a teaching job. I got a job substituting after awhile, but, I took a class in a sampler quilt which was all done by hand and I remember I was extremely frustrated because my stitches were not near as tiny as I thought they should be. But looking back at it, it's pretty good. It was just, you know, I wanted to get them perfect and it was hard, so I don't do much hand quilting. That's kind of my first one. Then I did a couple of other strip quilts at the same time and then after that I moved to Mattawan and had a full-time job. There I made a few Log Cabin quilts. I think I took a Log Cabin class, did the classic Log Cabin Quilt in a Day, you know, down at the Viking store back in '86 or '87, and then I made a few runners and a few different things and then the kids came along and I got busy with dance and everything else. I made dance costumes and kids clothes and things like that. In the last twenty years I've always had a quilt on my bed that I have made. My first was a Log Cabin or then it'd get a bit better every time, and I made the neighbors some, I probably--I guess I kept my hand in it, when I look back at it. But not, prolific, like I am now, but always just dabbling kind of.

PS: From whom did you learn to quilt?

LB: I'd have to say my first class in West Branch. I don't know the name of the instructor. I don't even think I made any little patchwork quilt or anything before that. Not my mother, because I went back to Australia the year after I did the Log Cabin Quilt in a Day, and I taught her and her friends how to do that one. And then she just took off because she was retired, so she just went quilting crazy.

PS: How many hours a week to you quilt?

LB: A many as I can. [chuckles.]

PS: [laughs.]

LB: I went through a phase last year where I thought, 'I'm going to do an hour a night,' and I'd put the music on and I'd sit for about an hour a night and that lasted okay, but I'd say in the last two years I've been pretty prolific. Up until that I was too busy with kids and whatever to be that prolific, but I'd say now I probably do, on a good week, several hours, I don't know, six, seven hours a week maybe, even with working full-time I just go down in the sewing room or plan quilts, or read quilt books or sketch stuff. I do something quilting every few days at least.

PS: What is your first quilt memory?

LB: That'd have to be my mother making those little patchwork quilts for our beds out of our leftover clothes.

PS: Well, that kind of leads to the next question. Are there other quiltmakers in your family?

LB: Yes. I have the quilting queen as a mother, [both laugh.] and my sister Sue, when we talk, all we talk now is quilting. And she's going to quilt camp with mom and I next August when we go home to Australia

PS: Oh, good.

LB: So, the three of us will be there. And my younger sister, Paula, is getting lessons from mom and her mother-in-law are taking classes and they're making heart quilts at the moment. Vicki has made a couple of quilts. She's not as prolific. And then I have my older sister who can't sew a button. [PS laughs quietly.]

PS: Awesome.

LB: Yes.

PS: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

LB: They're used to it. They have their thing. They go to their basketball stuff all the time. I think they're kind of glad I have a hobby and I'm not bugging them all the time to do their thing. In fact, my husband has been doing the "Shoot-a-Way" business. He's selling basketball hoops.

PS: Oh yeah?

LB: Gets $400 for every one he sells.

PS: Wow.

LB: He was off to the Final Four last weekend with my son and my son's the demonstrator. He does the shooting and demonstrates so they get their way paid for and all their meals and hotel and everything. He's into that pretty much big time now. I called him last night and he said, 'I think we should make a quilt for the Shoot-a-Way office. Can you make a quilt for the Shoot Away office?' [laughs.] So I think he's proud of what I do because when I took over a baby quilt to his assistant coach's house after they had the baby, he seemed quite proud. He doesn't get mad at me or anything. I spend what I want on it and he doesn't care. He's supportive--

PS: That's it.

LB: --very supportive. When I was coming away for this retreat, my son, Thomas, commented to me, 'Another quilt camp?' I was at camp four weeks ago with the Lawton group. I said, 'Yes, yeah.' So--

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

LB: As in sewing them? Sometimes when I'm worried about things I might go and sew. But more likely if I'm really worried about something I don't sew. I'm just not in the mood.

PS: Do you ever cuddle with them?

LB: No, I'm not a cuddler. I have a flannel quilt I made at my first camp with Cal Quilters [Cal-Co Quilters' Guild, Battle Creek, Michigan.] that I have by my recliner and I'll put that on when I'm watching TV. But more likely my son is the one wrapped up in them. And actually, he's wrapped up in one that is hand tied, that's in shreds. It was a Double Irish Chain. One of the first quilts I made after maybe that Log Cabin one and I remember I hand tied it, and I hadn't even stitched in the ditch or anything. The backings is shredding off it. It's been used to wrap the gun, that Shoot Away machine when they haul it to places, and Thomas just won't let me throw it away. It's long enough and it's what he likes to cuddle up in on the couch.

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

LB: An amusing experience? Oh, God. We'll have to come back to that one. I have a "quiltaholic" quilt that I made that my daughter laughs about all the time. She gives me a bit of curry about it, but I'm always making quilts for her friends and her boyfriends and she loves it, but she makes fun of me. You know, especially with that one she made fun of me.

PS: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

LB: I like the challenge. I just did the Brown Bag Challenge for the Cal Quilters for the first time this year and I love what I did. I don't know whose it is, but I just love it. I wish they'd give it back to me. I opened the bag and in it were fabrics that screamed Australian. Really different stuff, stuff you wouldn't use in a quilt at all, but, to give them to me, for me to pick it, was unbelievable because I had little Australian appliquéd animals that I put on this quilt. That was the only thing I added to her fabrics, were little broderie perse Australian animals. So--

PS: This is cheating, but it's mine.

LB: You're kidding. [shouts.]

PS: [laughs.]

LB: You gave me that fabric? Oh, you're going to love the quilt.

PS: I am. I love the fabric. [chuckles.]

LB: Well, it was so unusual.

PS: I'll pretend it's a surprise when I get it.

LB: Black swirly stuff? And black and white dots?

PS: I bought that up northeast of Traverse City. [Michigan.]

LB: I thought you'd given me this because you've got no idea what to do with it.

PS: Nope, oh no, I just loved them.

LB: Oh, you're going to love what I did with it.

PS: I will. I know I will. Now I can't wait. [chuckles.]

LB: I don't know if I can be there for the exchange, because I might be traveling with basketball my son.

PS: Well, I'll be calling you or seeing you.

LB: No, Debbie will bring it. She said she's definitely going to be there too because she loves the exchange.

PS: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

LB: I guess I would enjoy the finishing, I don't mind putting on the binding, I'm getting better at the machine, the free motion bit, but I'd really like to get a longarm so I could really enjoy doing the whole process. I like planning them, I didn't think I'd enjoy the challenge as much as I did, but I loved it, and my mother gave me nine little, I'll show them to you later, nine little Lazy Sunbonnet Sue things that are just outlined on, someone was practicing their machine embroidery. They were done on really crummy fabric. But she gave them to me to use in the quilt. I spent sixty dollars on fabric to go with these crummy little nine squares. [laughs.] That was kind of a challenge. Also I do a lot of my own designing. I probably make blocks and put them together the way I want more often than I follow a pattern. Not that I don't mind following a pattern, I love it because it's no-brainer. You know, you just kind of do it and you move on. But, a lot of the stuff I have now to be finished, like the wool one I did by hand has to be finished. And I did an English paper piecing one in batiks and it's all done by hand, because I have to have hand projects when I travel. When I travel to Australia in August I've got to have something to do by hand. And when I go to twelve weekends away with travel basketball with my son, I have to have something to do by hand. I got into those wooly projects I do by hand.

PS: What was the twelve week thing?

LB: The twelve month one was one I did in wools.

PS: I meant the other trip.

LB: Oh, I'm gone. Next weekend I start, well, next weekend I'm in New York at a wedding, but my son starts travel basketball next weekend and we're gone--

PS: Oh.

LB: --twelve weekends.

PS: Oh.

LB: Half of April, all of May, June he does with his dad's school program and July he does travel basketball again. We go to Orlando [Florida.], Minneapolis [Minnesota.], Louisville. [Kentucky.] Great quilt shop in Louisville. What's it called? Ah, it's wonderful. Been there two years now. Told the lady I'd be back one more year to that quilt shop, beautiful quilt shop.

PS: So you travel all those weekends.

LB: Oh, yeah. Hotels every weekend. And then--

PS: That's rough.

LB: And then you sit in between games and sometimes I take papers to grade if I've got a lot of grading to do, but other times I take handwork to do. So three of the quilts I've got at home are hand done. Either backstitched or English paper piecing or wooly stuff.

PS: No, you've got mine. I don't know whose I have. What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

LB: I belong to the Cal Quilters group and the Lawton Country Quilters. I got into the Lawton group by accident. No, I'm sorry, the Cal Quilters group by accident. And it's a little far from my house, but it's worked.

PS: Have advances in technology influenced the way you work?

LB: Oh, yes. Obviously. Because you know when I started I was tying quilts. And then you were stitching in the ditch and now, obviously, the finish of them is. I think quilts look better when they're quilted down more and finished. Not too tightly. I don't like them too tight because they're not very soft.

PS: What kinds of, what, I don't know how to explain it now. What differences in technology do you use?

LB: Well, I have a better sewing machine. I've always had the walking foot because I've had a Pfaff for a long time. A lot more little tools that make your job so much easier. I mean, obviously, the rotary cutter revolutionized quilting anyway. I'm trying to think of other things I use. Like applique spraying glue, I mean, there's just kind of little things out there that make your job easier. Fast Flying Geese patterns, you know, things like that.

PS: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

LB: I love Flying Geese. I do a lot of applique. Machine appliqué mostly, usually satin stitch, sometimes buttonhole stitch. I just, lots of piecing. I love doing pieced borders because I don't want my borders too plain. So I like putting more interest in the borders. I will tackle anything. And if you look at the quilts I have unfinished, some are bright, some are dull, some are pieced, some are, there's a real wide variety of what I do, I think. I haven't met a quilt I don't like.

PS: Describe your studio or the place that you create.

LB: When we moved here in '85, from Australia, we bought a house in January of '86 and six years later, in 1992, we bought the lot next door and built a house right next door to the one we lived in. And when we did that we made sure we actually built a room in there that was my sewing room.

PS: Oh, great.

LB: I have a sewing room, but I've kind of outgrown it because I've moved into Katie's old dance room, which was a toy room and that's where I'm going to put my longarm when I get one. So I have a designated space, yes. So I've outgrown it, yes. So--

PS: And you're getting a longarm?

LB: I hope so. I don't know. I have a little budget and I'm going to go look at second hand ones so I think I'm not going to rush into it. I have a kid at K [Kalamazoo College.] so I can't afford it right now, but when I do I'm going to get me one. I'm young enough to get one.

PS: Tell me how you balance your time.

LB: I hardly do any housework. Only what I have to do. Because I'm at work at 6:30, I don't get home until about 3:30. I have a son still at home so I have to do basketball games at night and try to cook as little as I can. I try to do a little bit of sewing during the week on weeknights, but usually it's the weekend till I get some done. And I garden a lot, in the summer. My husband's a big bicycle rider and I bike in the summer, also, so quilting kind of gets put on the back burner a bit because there's Monday night bike group and Wednesday night bike group and weekends we try to go for longer rides, that kind of thing, so I'm a busy kind of person, but I'm not going to worry about my house much. So, it suffers. Nothing else does.

PS: Do you use a design wall?

LB: No. I have a big mirrored wall there, I could probably do that over it, but I use a design floor or design table, you know what I mean. I probably would be better because I know quilts look different when you hang them up than when you lay them down. They do, but I just haven't got 'round to it. I'm too darn busy to get around to that.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt?

LB: Well, I don't think you can say any quilt's not a great quilt to the person who's made it and just because you don't like it doesn't mean that it's not a great quilt. I think you really have to think about them long and hard before you jump into it. I mean, I like the designing process and I liked the challenge for the Cal Quilters. I mapped that out several different times before I finally hit on something that I thought, 'Ah, that works.' But I think you've got to spend some time and research on a great quilt, I guess. But some great quilts can be very simple, too. They don't have to have a lot of work in them.

PS: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

LB: What am I drawn to when I look at an artistically powerful quilt? What I've found is, my sister's really into the 1930's look and that kind of thing, that hasn't in the past done a lot for me, but I'm kind of warming up to them. I tend to be more of a bold, bright person as far as idols go. Civil War colors don't do a whole lot for me either. I think I prefer things that pop more. I like the workmanship, if I can look at a quilt and say, 'Wow, that person is really talented. You know, there was difficult piecing and it really looks good.' That, I guess helps. But, if the colors are wrong, it doesn't matter. It's still not going to appeal to you.

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

LB: Oh, that probably has to be pretty special. I haven't been to many quilt shows or exhibits, so I guess for a collection you'd want something that was historically important somehow for a period of time. What techniques were in fashion then? I can imagine if something was contemporary, what I saw at the Chicago show is that most of them are contemporary art work, they're not something you're going to put on your bed and they're very, overly, heavily quilted. But I know that for a piece of artwork that's probably what it is, but they didn't particularly do a lot for me as quilts, but if I looked at them as a piece of a wall hanging or a piece of artwork, they're nice, but to me when I think of quilts, I don't think of an art show.

PS: What makes a great quiltmaker?

LB: You could say patience, but I think creativity. I think willing to just work at stuff and keep doing your ideas until you get something right. Auditioning fabrics and being willing to throw it out if it doesn't work and start again until you get it right. I think it has to feel right. That's with me anyway. When I put something together, it has to feel right. Otherwise I'm not going to do it. I wouldn't be happy with it.

PS: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

LB: I have no idea. People talk about designers and I know Eleanor Burns. That's about it. They talk about Amy somebody's bags, I don't do the name brand thing. I never have. I just don't know who's out there or who does what. Kay Wood. I know Kay Wood and Eleanor Burns. [PS laughs.] That's it. I really don't know because when I shop I don't look for, oh, brand names, I know Kaffe, because Sue wanted me to pick up some of hers and I really kind of know her style now because I just picked them up, but I really am not out there looking at who's doing what, if you know what I mean? I'm just, not aware of it, I guess. Not important in my life, so I'm not aware of it.

PS: Well, which artists have influenced you? Any? [chuckles.]

LB: My mother.

PS: That's good, though. Who else has influenced you?

LB: Oh, gosh. In my quilting? More my mother and friends probably and quilt groups and, guilds. I can't say anybody who's out there. I never look at a person's name when I'm looking at a magazine or book either. I don't say 'Ooh, that's a so-and-so design,' I just, 'I like it,' so I don't know. I don't know who they are. So, I don't get excited when someone says someone's coming. I find out what they are doing first and then I see if I want to go.

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

LB: I find hand quilting very frustrating and way too slow for the number of quilts that I want to make. And I don't think it holds together as well. I think machine quilting holds together better. Good, fine hand quilting is nice to look at and that kind of thing, but I truly, I think I prefer the look of machine quilting. Done right.

PS: What about longarm quilting?

LB: I love it, but I don't want to pay anyone to do it. [PS laughs.] And I don't want other people's work on my quilts. Because the longarm quilters are so good at it and their designs are so beautiful people are looking at all the beautiful swirls and everything and they're not looking at my piecing or my applique. And if there's going to be quilting on my quilts, it's going to be my quilting. Regardless of how it looks.

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

LB: I would say that it's a whole different taste of quilts here than there is in Australia. Australia leans more towards the brights, the thirties, from what I can see over there. The colors we have here are more subdued, more traditional. There's just a whole different flavor if you go into a quilt shop in Australia and if you go into a quilt shop here. It's really different. I mean some prints are the same, but there is a different feel, I think, to what's out there. Maybe it's to do with the climate.

PS: Or the culture.

LB: Or the culture. I mean, you'll find some of the same stuff too, obviously. But I notice they tend to be a little bit trendier over there. [chuckles.] And that's probably just because we're in the Midwest, too, or maybe it was just the area I was in where my mother lives. But they make quilts that look similar to what we make here too. So, I guess it is a hard question.

PS: Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

LB: Oh, wow. I think I have an expression for my creativity. And I love seeing colors go together. And I just get excited about it. You know? How would you feel if you could never quilt again? I mean, don't you get excited about it?

PS: Yeah.

LB: Yeah. And I love giving them away. I like seeing the expression on their faces as you pass them on. I always get a photograph of the person I'm giving it to with the quilt.

PS: That's a good idea.

LB: Yeah.

PS: It's a really good idea.

LB: So they can remember the occasion.

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

LB: I think they're really important. And I think people remember them. I say 'They won't remember how clean my house wasn't, but they'll remember the nice quilt they got and maybe they'll still have it or maybe they'll pass it down to someone else.' I don't like putting labels on my quilts, but I'm getting used to it because I know that it has to be done so that people can remember the quiltmaker.

PS: Why don't you like the labels?

LB: Oh, it just takes time, you finish the quilt and then you have to turn around and put on the stupid label.

PS: But you know, it's wonderful to have that date, place and person on there.

LB: I know. And now that I'm giving them away like to Jake, I wrote, 'For your 21st birthday,' and then they can look back at it and see who made it and for what occasion. [PS responds in background.] So they're important, I know, but I just, you know, the last little finishing touch that you've got to do--

PS: Then make the label first.

LB: Yeah, I should.

PS: You don't have to write on it, but make it so it's ready to be written on--

LB: Well, I only write on mine. Mom always embroiders hers or she does them on the machine, but I just buy the premade ones and just stitch them on and write on them with a felt pen, permanent--

PS: There you go.

LB: --marker. So it's not a big deal.

PS: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

LB: I think historically we made do with what we had, only modern quilters don't, we just run to the store, we don't try to make do. I think it's a real challenge to try and make do. You use your scraps up and to do that is a challenge. That's why I like the challenge so much. You had to use what you were given and you had to use your to come up with something nice out of that. And I think early quilters were very good at that because they had to be. They had to be frugal and make use of what they had.

PS: How do you think quilts can be used?

LB: Well, other than on the bed? And on the wall. And on the sofa. And, obviously, hanging in public places. I think they have a lot of uses that way, especially if they tell a story. They're comforting. You make them for the Sheriff's Department; they give them out to the victims of crimes and things like that. I think they're meaningful. So they have a good place in the world, because everyone has to stay warm somehow. You may as well stay warm with something that's nice.

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

LB: Well, obviously museums. People who have quilts have to be told of the the importance of them and keep them nice, but once you give a quilt away you really don't have any say about what people do with it. You have to give it up. So, you really can't do that. [laughs.] I warn them and say, you know, 'These are prewashed or it's a wool batting, just wash it in cold water,' but, you know, that could be water on a duck's back. The young kids, wrapping their kegs in it or whatever they might do with it, [both laugh.] you know.

PS: Whatever they need it for, huh?

LB: Whatever they need it for, I guess. Yeah.

PS: What has happened to the quilts you have made for those of friends and family?

LB: What has happened to them? Well, my immediate family have worn some out and put them in the garage sale. And I guess I have a difference between a show horse and a work horse. If it's a work horse, it'll do five, six, seven years on a bed and I'll probably get rid of it somehow. Use it as a dog blanket if people need a dog blanket, or whatever. If it's a, you know, a show horse, it sticks around and is given special purpose and taken care of. So, I guess it depends. We've still got some work horses that are twenty years old lying around in shreds. I don't know if I have any of my really early work. I've probably got a couple of pieces, but they were just small wall hangings, things like that.

PS: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

LB: Time. It's just hard to find time to do something that's creative like that unless you're retired or unless you really find, put away, a special amount of time to do it. I don't think there's many challenges as far as getting supplies or fabric or anything else. I think that's come leaps and bounds from, you know, twenty, thirty years ago. Because quilting, I don't know about here, but quilting in Australia, I don't think was, a big industry, twenty, thirty years ago. There weren't the quilt shops; people were still sewing clothes for their families. And now that we all buy clothes, I think women need some kind of creative outlet for their sewing skills. And the camaraderie. I mean, getting together in your quilt groups and that kind of thing. Because they used to have those quilting bees, or they used to have those things hundreds of years ago which brought people together.

PS: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

LB: I think you've covered everything pretty well.

PS: Well, thank you. I enjoyed this.

LB: Well, good. I'm glad. I'll tell Debbie I have your quilt challenge.

[interview ended at 1:02 p.m.]


“Lyn Brown,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024,