Marla Ferguson




Marla Ferguson




Marla Ferguson


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Karey Bresenhan, in honor of Jewel Pearce Patterson


Palisade, CO

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Marla Ferguson. She is in Palisade, Colorado and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview by telephone. It is February 26, 2008 at 8:09 p.m. I am doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, which is based on the exhibit of "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Marla has a quilt in the exhibit. Marla, thank you so much for taking your time to do this with me.

Marla Ferguson (MF): You are welcome.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt "A Tribute to Man and His Family."

MF: The quilt I made because I belong to a quilt guild in Grand Junction, and there happened to be a girl in the guild who would send out emails to all these different things and websites to go to and find this and that and so forth. Usually I delete those because I don't have time to look at them all, but she sent one that said, Ami Simms is asking for quilts for an Alzheimer's exhibit. I looked at that and I said, 'what?' because I hadn't been married too long, maybe a year and a half, if that, to my husband, Daryl, and his father, who I never met, died of Alzheimer's. In the short period of time that I had actually been with his family and met his family, of course, I never had a chance to meet his father. But in talking with his family, they told me many stories about his dad and during the time that he was at home with Alzheimer's and how he wouldn't remember things and they just had all of these horribly sad stories. My husband came from a very large family and his father was extremely beloved. You could just tell he was just the most wonderful man in the world, and so then this email came by that said, 'You know, Ami Simms.' And I didn't even know who Ami Simms was! That is terrible! I know now she is a famous quilter, but I didn't know who she was! So I went to the website and I downloaded the information. I figured out what it was we needed to do and I said, ?Well this is something I really, really wanted to do, partly because of the connection with my husband's father who died from Alzheimer's and partly because in my quiltmaking over the past number of years, I have made so many quilts that I have given as many away to family and others that really want them and need them or whatever, so I would like to give them to organizations that will be able to use them either to raise funds or, well mostly to raise funds. This was a perfect combination to be able to do that! As soon as I read about it and got more information, the idea for making the quilt came almost immediately. Since it was "Forgetting Piece by Piece," of course the first thing that came to my mind was puzzle pieces and there were so many synchronistic things that happened with it. I had decided it would be great if I could get all of these photos of my husband's family and I wanted to put them on the quilt. But in order to show what Alzheimer's does, I wanted to put them so they got darker and darker and darker, and then I wanted to cut puzzle pieces out of the quilt so that each layer, as you got towards the bottom of the quilt, it got darker and then the puzzle pieces went through further, like into the batting. When you finally got down to the end, the puzzle pieces were through the pictures which of course were supposed to be symbolic of taking the memory away. It went all the way through the quilt, so there are actual holes in the quilt. I travel a lot with my work and I kept thinking how am I going to find a puzzle piece? I don't know how to draw a puzzle piece. I happen to work for a medical company, and of course at the trade show I was at they give away tons of different freebies to all of the physicians, so I walked around and I was on my way to the bathroom [laughs.] because I needed to take a break. One of the physicians at one of the tables where they can rest or have lunch or whatever had left one of these giveaways from one of thebooths, or one of the pharmaceutical companies and it happened to be a puzzle! It was a little five or six inch puzzle and it was Plexiglas and the back of it was a magnet so you could put it on your refrigerator. No one was there and it was just sitting there by itself and I said, ?Oh my gosh! here it is! It's like it was from heaven! Here are my puzzle pieces!' I picked up this magnet thing that had the perfect, absolutely perfect size puzzle pieces for the quilt. I came back home and I used those as the drawing templates for the little puzzle pieces that are on the quilt that have been cut out.. Once I cut through all of the different pieces, those got tacked on to the end so they were just dangling at the bottom, so it was like they were sort of out in the middle of mid air. That is my understanding of what happens with Alzheimer's is that you just lose all of those pieces of memory. And there it is, they are gone and they are dangling in space and you don't understand them, and they don't make any sense anymore and that is the whole thing. One of the things that was interesting in picking the background is that I wanted something that was bright in the colors of the background and my husband always kids me about this huge amount of stash of fabric that I have. Whenever I go to a quilt shop I always have to buy more, of course. He says, 'What are you going to use that for?' I say, 'I don't know, but at the right time it will show up. It will be the perfect piece for the right quilt. I just love this fabric so I will put a little bit of it away.' Well, that is exactly what happened with the background of this quilt. I had bought it a long time ago and I didn't know exactly what I was going to use it for. But when I looked for a background for this quilt it was the absolute perfect background for it because it was bright and it had all these beautiful landscape kind of things, lots of color in it and it just needed to have a lot of color and brightness to go with the pictures. Of course the pictures get darker and darker, and it gets kind of sad, but my feeling on that in using that bright colored background was that even though people are dealing with Alzheimer's and it gets so--it takes so much time and so much energy and it becomes sadder every day, that the rest of the world keeps going. The sun still shines and it rains occasionally and the flowers bloom and all of those same things happen. But when you are involved with Alzheimer's with a loved one, it is really, really hard to see all of that. Anyway, this perfect fabric for the background showed up too. It was in my stash, and it was also kind of funny because when I asked--I actually asked all of my husband's family for permission to use the photos because they weren't mine, they were his family's and I was a newcomer. I mean I hadn't been married very long and I didn't want anybody to be mad at me because it was going to take these photos and cut pieces out of them. Well, they were transferred to fabric, but I was still going to cut these pieces out of them. Actually my brother-in-law, my husband's brother, Doug, he was very familiar with the process of transferring photos to fabric and so I sent him four different colors of fabric that were light to dark in kind of a cream to a gray- dark gray, and asked him to put all of these different pictures onto fabric, divide them into four pretty much equal parts. It was funny because I got an email or a call from him and he said, 'Well, you realize that the ones that are on this dark gray fabric aren't going to come through very well. You are not going to be able to see them very well.' I said, 'Yes I know, that is exactly what they are supposed to do. You are not supposed to be able to see the ones that get darker.' His family actually hasn't seen the quilt in person because once I got it done I had to send it off right away. So they haven't seen the actual quilt itself. They have seen pictures. Each of them has one of the books. Each one of them has one of the CDs and so they have been able to do that, but I keep hoping that the actual quilt exhibit itself will get up to the Seattle area or somewhere very close so they can each see it in person. Especially since his mother is, she is in her eighties now. I want to make sure she gets a chance to see it in person if at all possible. That is kind of out of my hands though.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit yourself?

MF: I DID see the exhibit! Actually it was in Denver at the first showing, or the first time that the Denver National Quilt Show, the Mancuso Show, was in Denver a couple of years ago. It was there and Denver is only about four hours away from me. So I drove up that weekend and stood with the quilt and got to see it in person again. I actually got to see all of them in person, which is absolutely overwhelming. It is just amazing. I partly went for that and I partly went to take a class and learn some other quilt techniques and shop, but while I was there I volunteered to spend some time with the quilt show. My gosh, I have forgotten her name now, the gal who is in charge at that time for that show. Ann Louise Mullard-Pugh. Anyway she was one of the people who had made a quilt also and she was giving me my instructions and I got to put a little sticker on people that says "I Saw the Quilts." She also said, 'Here is the box of Kleenex. You know if you need to give out Kleenex here is where you get it and I can get you more of anything and don't be afraid to give people hugs.' I hadn't really been around the quilts and hadn't spent that much time with them. I was really good at passing out all of the little stickers because everybody I saw I would say, 'Have you seen the quilts?' and 'Here they are and if you have any questions,' and 'Would you like to wear a sticker?' and of course most everybody would. But then there were a number of people, I was just amazed at how many people when I would do that, they would come up and you could see they were trying so hard to hold back their tears because, any one of them--the quilts, emits mixed emotions. You could tell that people, they would just kind of start crying and then I would start crying and I felt really bad about that. I would go get the Kleenex and we would sit there and cry for a little bit. I didn't know these people from anybody. It is such a universal feeling, and all of the quilts evoke that emotion. It is really kind of funny too because I didn't get to stand by my quilt. I was standing by all of these other ones that I had never seen, so it was like 'WOW.' Every single one of these quilts has such an emotional impact on people. There were lots of people that I would give them the Kleenex and then I would give them a hug or I would just hold their hand and say 'I'm so sorry.' A bunch of them said, 'I just can't, those quilts are wonderful, but I just can't look at them anymore.' I said, 'I know. And if you want to take more time at some point, you can get one of the CDs or you can buy one of the books, because the books are coming out soon.' It just touched so many people, you just don't realize how wide spread the disease is and how many people it touches. I think--it almost seems to be like kind of a silent disease because I don't know, you can't really tell on the outside. You don't know when caregivers--who the caregivers are unless they are in a group of some sort or that kind of thing and it just touches so many people. It is just an amazing project.

KM: Do you have any favorites from the exhibit?

MF: Oh golly, I love the "Brain Cramps."

KM: That is Mary Stori's.

MF: Yes, Mary Stori's "Brain Cramps", and I just have such a great deal of respect and love for Mary Stori and all her work. One that is called "Tears Of?" by Liz Kettle.

KM: With the beads?

MF: Yes, with all of the beads and they just kind of drop out of the heart and it is just like?

KM: Don't you think that quilt is so much better in person?

MF: Oh, it is.

KM: While the book and the CD are fabulous, the quilts are so much, that is universally, better. I think specifically that quilt in person is just so much better.

MF: Well actually they are all better.

KM: That is what I said, I didn't cover that well, but I do believe that all of them are better in person, but that one in particular.

MF: It just has such a stark impact between the black and the red and the beading, and of course a lot of the beads look like tears and yes, that one is amazing. One of the other quilts that I had an opportunity to see up close and I didn't know whose it was at the time when I was looking at it, but it is Ami Simms, and it is the one where she has all of the breaks in the cord and then she has all of the typed things in the little squares. Even if you just sit and read those, I mean, your heart just breaks for all of the things. It is like, she doesn't know who her daughter is, she doesn't know who her son-in-law is, they are just, it is just, I don't know, sad. It is just horribly sad. One of the other ones that I think is so impressive too is the "Nevilyn." They did kind of a similar thing that I did with the photos in that they started out with a nice photo and it just keeps fading out and fading out and you go, 'oh my gosh.' The real people, it is just sad.

KM: You mentioned the CD and we each had to add an audio component to it, we each had to read our artist statement, tell me about that experience for you.

MF: Actually I had fun with that. I think that I had to call in and just leave a message and I goofed it up so many times I had to call in about four or five times and kept saying 'okay this is the real one, no I'm sorry, I goofed that up, this is the real one.' [laughs.] I wasn't very good on it but I did enjoy being able to do that, and I think that is probably one of the things about the CD that is actually even different from the book and seeing them in person. You get to hear the actual person who made it and what they had in mind and a little bit of the background, and lots of different things. When you actually have to hear or talk to somebody, it makes it more real. Sometimes if it is just in a book or just a picture, it is like 'oh, okay, yah, but that would never happen to me or "I don't know who that person is, they are not really real', but when you hear somebody's voice like that, I think it makes it even more real.

KM: What are your family's thoughts, your husband's family's thoughts on the quilt?

MF: Actually they like it. I think they don't--didn't completely understand. I think they were overwhelmingly pleased that I would want to do that and that it is traveling. I think they don't have a complete understanding of it because they haven't seen it in person. That is one of the reasons why I really would like them to be able to see the whole thing in person at some point, but I know they won't travel to see it, so hopefully we can find some place in the Seattle area that will be willing to show it before its over. And my husband is SO proud of me! Everywhere we go he tells people that I have a quilt traveling with the Alzheimer exhibit. He's such a sweetheart.

KM: How did you feel when you were told that the quilt was accepted into the exhibit?

MF: Well you know, actually that is kind of funny. Well, sort of funny, because I was waiting and waiting and waiting and I was out of town at the time. I knew what the deadline was when they were going to make a decision and I had given my email address. I kept checking email and I kept checking email and I would call home and I would ask my husband if there is any message on the answering machine. No there wasn't any message, so I thought 'oh my gosh!' Well, I was really hoping that it was going to get in because I just felt like it really spoke to the theme and everything. But I also knew that there were probably twelve gazillion other quilters who had entered something and of course I have entered things before and some things have gotten in and some things haven't, so there was never any guarantee on that. I think it did say that you would know one way or the other, so I waited for about a week or so and I still hadn't heard anything and I still hadn't heard and I finally looked up Ami's email address and I sent this email off. I was really nice and said something like "you said this was the day and I was just wondering if you guys were delayed in making your decision or whatever, I hadn't heard anything. Just wanted to know if it got in or not.' I finally got this email from Ami and she says, 'Yes!, yes!, yes!.' I'm in! ?You did get in! We have been trying to get a hold of you!' Apparently I was so excited or something at the time that when I had put down my phone number I goofed up the numbers and gave half my work number and half my home number. [KM laughs.] So she kept trying to call that and it ended up being somewhere in Ohio or something. She said, 'I don't think you live in Ohio?' or wherever it was.

KM: That is funny.

MF: I don't know if she even connected with anybody, but it obviously didn't get to my house. When she wrote back and said 'yes you are in!, we have been trying to find you!, I'm so glad you called!. Oh my gosh! [laughs.] I was thrilled! I was so excited! This was a big, big deal for me. Very excited.

KM: Very cool. Let's broaden out a little bit in talking about the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative, which is one of the other things that Ami does is the Priority Quilts which are quilts that are auctioned off, tell me about your participation in Priority Quilts.

MF: I have made, oh golly, I think only about ten or so. I kind of make them in spurts. They are kind of fun because they are small and so they go fairly fast and they are easy. Since I travel so much, I like to take hand work of some sort with me and I usually don't do any hand quilting because ?hand' is a four letter word to me. [laughs.] I do all my bindings by hand though and so on the little Priority Quilts I have taken those along on a number of trips and then they are easy because they are small and then I can finish the binding and put on the little backing, or the hangers.

KM: The sleeve.

MF: Yeah, the sleeve that's it, I knew that was what it was called. [laughs.] You know, sometimes when I forget simple little things like that I wonder if I'm not getting Alzheimer's myself. It's scary. So I like to take those with, but since I do travel so much I have to prepare that stuff ahead of time. It seems like all of the different quilts that I want to get done or get entered into something, they are all due at the same time. And I have to prioritize when I'm going to get things done and so I try and get all of that, as many of those things done at one time as I can and then I have a big lull. Then I can't get anything else done because there are other things that take priority. Right now I'm working on about another sixteen to put on to the website to get sold. Actually, I think all of the ones that I have made so far have actually been sold. Some of them went to Houston, this last fall. They took a bunch to Houston and so some of them went to that, and I'm working on more of them now.

KM: Excellent. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. How did you get started?

MF: Actually the very first quilt that I made was in high school and I have been sewing clothes ever since I was in about the fourth grade. So I have always loved to sew and I had all of these scrap pieces from all of these clothes that I had made all these years. Then in high school before I went to college I decided I wanted to make a quilt. Of course, some of these were pieces of polyester knit and [laughs.], they were corduroy and they obviously weren't all cotton and the only thing I knew how to do at that time was to cut them all into squares and then sew them back together, which was horrible. It was absolutely horrible, and it was kind of funny because I thought I had enough squares, and I probably did, and I decided, okay I will put them on the floor and decide what color I want where, and so I put all of these squares out in the living room or dining room or something and then company came over and I had to pick them all up. Then they got all out of order and I ended up just taking them and putting them in a bag and pulling them out one at a time and they came out fine. Well, I didn't know really anything about quiltmaking and I put in some kind of batting or something, although I know it wasn't real batting, and all I knew how to do was to tie it. So I tied it about every foot and a half or something so it would stay together, and it was so ugly.

KM: [laughs.]

MF: I was really proud of it though and I took it to college with me and it was on my bed and then there was a gal at college who she had this beautiful denim quilt made out of jeans on her bed and it was in this cool design., Now I know it had to be half square triangles or something, and I said, "Wow that is really cool. How did you make that? Or where did you get that?' And she said, 'I made it.' I said, 'Oh!' and she said, 'Yeah it took me about a couple of days or something.' I just looked at her and thought, 'You are the biggest liar I have ever heard of in my life!' [KM laughs.] Because I had just spent practically the whole summer trying to put this stupid thing of all of these squares together for mine, and I was like, "oh right, there is no way in the world you could have done that in a few days!' Well, the years went by and I saw this class on "Trip Around the World: Quilt in a Day", and I said, 'Oh I have to take that class!' I had to take it because it was telling about all this strip pieced thing and doing it in a day and everything. Then after I took that class, because I actually did, except for the binding, finish my little baby quilt in Trip Around the World in a day! I was hooked, and then I realized, 'oh, that gal from college probably knew all about that kind of stuff and was using those kind of techniques before I even had a clue that you could do that!' Once I did the quilt in a day, the Trip Around the World, I had to take every class that I could possibly think of and I would stay awake at night dreaming of all of these different colors of fabrics and how I was going to make this quilt and how I was going to make that quilt and all of these tricks and techniques. Of course, that first year, everybody in my family got a Trip Around the World whether they wanted one or not. So I just kept taking classes and learning more. I just loved to do it all by machine and of course, all the first ones were all tied still because I didn't know how to machine quilt. Then I started to venture off and decided "I'm going to learn how to do the machine quilting" and took classes on that and kept going and then I realized that I want to do something more than just these strip pieced things. Then I went to--well actually I also figured out that you could use quilting in clothing and so I started making wearable art. That was like heaven!, Oh my gosh, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! You mean I can quilt things and wear them and do this wearable art stuff? That was so much fun. I got a piece, an outfit, in the American Quilter's Society Fashion Show in the amateur division and when I went down there, I volunteered to white glove at the show. I was at the small wall quilts and so I was sitting here with the winners and in my white gloves so I could see everything up close and one of the wall quilts that won like first or second that year was, oh golly, now I'm going to forget her name. She was just here. She is the Chicago School of Fusing.

KM: Is it Laura Wasilowski?

MF: Yes, Laura Wasilowski. She was just here in Colorado too. I looked at her quilt and it was just so fun! Everything. I looked at the back label and it said "Chicago School of Fusing." I'm going, what? I asked questions to somebody else and I looked and said, 'Oh my gosh, she fused that!' Because I had gotten this totally wrong idea in quilting that there was a right way to do things and there is definitely a wrong way and Wonder Under was definitely the wrong way to do things is what I thought. And here she won! She won this major award in this national quilt show! And from that time on I said, 'Okay, Wonder Under is my friend. I can fuse appliqu.' Then I got away from all of just strip piecing and stuff and said this is fu! I can cut out any shape and any fabric with this fusible stuff!' So I do a lot of fusible appliqu and that kind of thing now and do lots of embellishments. I like to embellish things.

KM: What kind of embellishments do you like?

MF: I like to couch different kinds of threads on. I like the little glue on crystals, those are really fun. I love the beads, but I just don't have a lot of patience for all of that back stitching beading thing. I did take a class from Mary Stori one time on the beading and I've done it before, but man it is tedious. You have to do all that hand work again.

KM: That is a four letter word. [laughs.]

MF: Yes it is!

KM: [laughs.] I remember that. I remember you saying that.

MF: That is right, and I did take a class one time on doing beading by machine, but that seemed to be almost as tedious, so you know I like these little glue on, iron on crystals and those work pretty well for me because I don't do enough beading. Although I have a bunch of beads because I like them, so maybe one day I will change my mind and I will end up sitting around and sewing by hand. It will be fine. I do love all sorts of different threads and sequins and stuff like that, they are all fun.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

MF: First of all I would tell them, yeah there are certain rules for different kinds of quilting and stuff, but end up doing whatever you want because one of the things that I remember from Robbie Joy Ecklow. She does all that fusing stuff too and she is the first person that I had heard that fused her binding on. She did a little decorative cutting on it and fused it from the front to the back and that was her binding. She had entered it into a competition and the judges didn't know what to do with it, they said, 'Oh, this is interesting!' She won an award for it. I thought, ' I wouldn't have done that. I would have been scared to death! They are going to mark me down because I did something wrong or something different.' And if there is one thing that I have learned with quilting, you know, just do what you want to do and you can't really make it for somebody else. Whatever you are making you really need to make it for yourself. If you like purple bunnies, then I don't care if no one has ever seen a purple bunny in their life, make a purple bunny! It needs to be what makes you happy. That's one of the things. I like to try different color combinations. There are certain ones that work. I just, just go out there and do it! Just start on something, it doesn't have to be perfect. I look back at some of the first quilts that I made and I just go 'oh my gosh! I thought that was good?' It is all a process. Some of the first machine quilting that I did was really atrocious. It wasn't very good but you know it is a matter of practice.

KM: Do you still have your quilt that you made from college?

MF: No, I don't. I actually ended up throwing that away, but this is kind of funny because there was a good friend of mine that I had gone to high school with and we lost track of each other and a couple of years ago I found her. I had gone to a reunion and she ended up being there and we connected again. She reminded me that I had made a quilt almost exactly the same for her and she had it all these years and it had a bunch of holes in it and she wanted me to fix it. I looked at that thing and I said, 'Oh my gosh, Beth, please, why don't I just make you a brand new one? Because I quilt a lot better now and it would be really pretty.' She said, 'No, I have had this one forever and I love it and all of these fabrics. It means more to me.' I actually took her quilt and I found fabrics that were still kind of old and sort of matched and [coughs.] I fixed it for her. I did more machine quilting on it. Actually I machine quilted the whole thing so it would stay together better this time. She has hers and I need to get a picture of that because I was just--it was so exciting to reconnect with her in the first place and then I hadn't even remembered that I made her that quilt and she still had it! Now she'll be able to have it a lot longer.

KM: That is wonderful. That is a great story.

MF: It was really funny because I remember someone telling me at one point that your thread will last longer than the fabric in the quilt. I'm like, 'what? You'e kidding! No!' But it was true because there were strings of thread that were still in that quilt and the fabric was gone. Maybe it was polyester thread which probably never dies. [laughs.] I thought that was interesting.

KM: It is interesting. Describe your studio.

MF: [coughs.] I'm sitting in it right now and it is a total mess.

KM: I always love hearing that.

MF: It is almost to the point where I have to clean it up again because I can't find anything, but it is the second to the largest bedroom in the house and it is all mine. It's full of fabric. I don't have a design wall so all of the stuff that I work on is usually on the floor. So the floor--well there is just barely a walking space in the room right now because I have been working on a couple of other things that are close to a deadline to have to have done. All of the little pieces that got cut away or whatever are still on the floor. I've got a big giant ironing board, one of those big Bertha things or something, but it was a homemade one and both of the closets are full. I've got boxes of fabric. Half the time--well it is interesting because every once in a while I have to go through those boxes and I will look and say, 'oh I love that piece of fabric! I forgot I had that one! Oh yeah, I want to use that, I want to use that one some day.' Sometimes I will end up using it for whatever project I've got, but most of the time it goes back in the box and then I will look through it again and go, 'oh, I love that fabric! Oh, [laughs.] I forgot I had that one!' [coughs.] So it is always kind of a fun exploration again when I look at the fabric. Most of the fabrics are on shelves and I have tried to color code them so I can see, but once I start working, I pull out different fabrics. If it doesn't work then it doesn't always get back onto the pile easily and then I will have to redo that pile and all of that, and I don't like to do that very often. I don't like to clean up my sewing room very often either because it is always just, it is work to do that.

KM: It is time away from creating.

MF: It is away from creating, and then, of course, every time I clean it up I decide, 'oh yeah I will put this in a place that I for sure will remember where it is and it will be easy for me to remember and find it.' And sure enough, as soon as I change something, I have no idea where it is the next time I try to find it! In fact, there is a special pair of scissors that I had, I know it is in this room somewhere, but they have been lost for over a year and I have no idea where they are, so I went out and bought a new pair. [laughs.]

KM: Good for you. We have almost talked for forty-five minutes.

MF: Oh my gosh!

KM: I know, is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude?

MF: Oh golly, not that I can think of.

KM: You did great.

MF: Thanks, it was fun.

KM: I'm going to; we are going to conclude our interview. It is now 8:54.


“Marla Ferguson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed September 29, 2023,