Mary Andrews




Mary Andrews


Mary Andrews was a dental hygienist who learned how to quilt after finding some quilt squares her mother made before she passed away. She loves to experiment with her quilts and hand-dye fabrics. Andrews wants people to see that quilts can be used as art, not just something people put on beds.




Mary Andrews


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Karen Alexander, in honor of Barbara Gonce


Grand Blanc, Michigan

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 Mary Andrews. Today's date is March 6, 2008. It is 12:21 in the afternoon. Mary is in Grand Blanc, Michigan and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview by telephone. We are also doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. -Save Our Stories, which is based on the exhibition "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" and Mary's quilt "Violets for Irene" is in the exhibition. Thank you for taking your time to do this interview with me and tell me about your quilt "Violets for Irene."

Mary Andrews (MA): When I first heard that Ami [Simms.] was going to do this project, I immediately thought of my mother. My mother had a form of dementia back in the late ‘60's and early ‘70's. They didn't have a name at that time and all I was told was that she had hardening of the arteries. When I think back to the symptoms that she had, it was very similar to what people with Alzheimer's have today. I wanted to do something that was a tribute to my mother because she taught me how to sew. She started me out very young, teaching me how to use her treadle sewing machine. She also taught me how to knit and do embroidery. Everything that she had available to her she taught me how to use. She always encouraged me to try every kind of art or craft. She took me to art classes and bought me art supplies. She was the inspiration behind all of my work. In doing a tribute to her, it had to be purple. Her favorite color was purple. She had purple clothes, purple hats, and even a purple room. She loved violets, so the idea came to me right away, it had to be something purple and with violets. I doodled a couple of designs and came up with one of violets. She had lots of fabric and scraps in her stash so that is why I did each pedal of the flower in a different fabric. The outside border of crazy quilting was inspired by a beautiful crazy quilt that was made by my great grandmother. My mother and I would ask to see the quilt many times when we visited the aunt who owned it. I was lucky enough to inherit the quilt.

KM: You have fiber running through it also.

MA: The fibers and the quilting is what I have brought into it from my life, along with my hand dyed fabric for the background and cording. I love to hand dye my own fabric and play with color. This is where I tried to intertwine my life with hers by adding a part of me to the quilt.

KM: Is this typical of your work?

MA: Sort of, I guess. I like to try everything. People say that you develop a style in your work. I don't really know what my style is because I've tried so many different things and I don't always do the same things over and over. I don't like to work in a series because I get bored working on the same things. I always have a new idea to try even before what I am working on is finished. What is typical in my work is the use of bright colors and hand dyed fabric.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt when it comes back to you?

MA: I haven't really thought about that until recently and I think I would probably like to donate it to a place that has something to do with Alzheimer's. Maybe to an Alzheimer's care facility where other people can enjoy it. It is kind of personal but yet I would like it to remain out in public. I think my mother would like me to do that. I'll see if Ami knows of a good place for it to go.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit?

MA: No I haven't. I've seen some of the quilts in the exhibit because I have gone over and helped Ami a couple of times with them. When she was getting it together I helped sew some sleeves on the back of some of them, she wanted a sleeve on the top and the bottom. I haven't seen the entire exhibit hanging because it has not been show in our area yet. I live in the same area as Ami and we have been friends for years. I am sure we will find a time and place to show it around here before it is finished with the tour.

KM: It is a very powerful exhibit.

MA: I have typed up the comments that people have written after seeing it so I can just image what it is going to be like.

KM: I do hope you get to see it, because it is worth seeing. There is a CD and there is an audio component to it and we all had to read our artist statement, tell me about that experience for you.

MA: I thought it was kind of hard to do that. It was hard to read the artist statement over the phone. It is much easier to just talk than actually read what I wrote. Knowing that it was going with the CD I had to practice it over and over to make sure that I got it right. I still had to do it over. This interview is easier.

KM: I had to do it three times.

MA: I think I did it three times too.

KM: I kept getting emotional.

MA: It was hard to do.

KM: I found it hard to do too, definitely. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. You talked about it being in your family.

MA: Yes, there was a quilt in my family although no one in my family taught me to quilt. My grandmother crocheted and I didn't know my great-grandma, who made the quilt. My mother did not quilt that I know of. She made people clothes, doll clothes, aprons, Christmas stockings. She made all kinds of things. What got me started in quilting was finding some Sun Bonnet Sue quilt squares in her attic after she died. The fabric on them was from the 1930's and even her sisters didn't know where they came from. It looked like her work. I decided that I would put them together and make a quilt out of them. I was working as a dental hygienist at the time, so I got one of my patients that I knew was a quilter to show me how to put them together. Someone else showed me how to quilt them. I did a terrible job quilting them, [laughs.] because I had never hand quilted before. It took me five years to make that quilt and I thought I would never make another one since it took so long. I went to buy one and saw how expensive they were and thought to myself, I can make this. I made some for my children and then started taking some quilting classes. I joined a quilt guild and got hooked.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials? You talked about hand dying.

MA: Yes I love to hand dye my own fabric. I have taken a lot of dye classes from different dyers. I'm more of a serendipity dyer. I don't follow recipes precisely. I just did some snow dyeing because I read on the Internet that someone tried snow dyeing. I thought that sounded like fun. We had lots of snow this winter to experiment with.

KM: Tell me about snow dyeing.

MA: I went outside in my back yard and squirted dye all over the snow then buried a couple of pieces of fabric in it, stomped on them and left them out all night. Another time I squirted the dye in the snow and then scooped that snow into a bucket and brought it in the house. I plopped it on the fabric and let it sit there overnight. They all turned out really good. I showed them to some of my friends, they tried it and we had fun comparing results. I don't know anything about the chemistry of dyeing, but do know you need heat to get good color. It seems like the cold would do just the opposite, but it worked just fine. I think it turned out just as nice as anything that I've dyed in the summer.

KM: Interesting. What are some of your other favorite techniques and materials?

MA: I like any kind of surface design. I'm more an art quilter than a traditional quilter. I started out as a traditional quilter, but didn't like all the rules. I do make an occasional traditional bed quilt, but I don't quilt them myself, I send them out to someone who has a longarm quilting machine.

KM: You mentioned belonging to a guild; do you belong to any other art or quilt groups?

MA: Yes, I do. I'm in a couple of art quilt groups where we critique each others' work and get inspiration from one another and one other group of artists where I am the only fiber artist. I also curate a traveling exhibit each year. It started out about twelve years ago, when a friend and I decided we wanted to show people that quilts are art rather than just something that you put on the bed. We started the first year with twelve quilts and showed them in a couple of different places around town. Now, twelve years later, have around fifty quilts in the exhibit. We get quilt artists from all over the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula and we show the quilts in libraries and hospitals throughout the state. It is a lot of work and sometimes I wonder why I am doing it. I do it because every time we go to take them down from one place to take them to another, we get so many wonderful comments. Recently a librarian told me that she thought everyone was happier in the library when the quilts are there. The staff was happier. The people who come in and look at them are happier. I thought that was one of the nicest compliments that we have received as quilters are that we are making people happy with our art.

KM: How did you come up with this idea?

MA: My friend and I were talking one day and we both wanted to show the public that quilts are art. We knew that most people think of quilts as something for the bed, and we wanted to show that a quilt can go on the wall as a piece of art. We went to our local arts council and they helped us to get our quilts into a few of the venues around the city where they had a continuous rotation of art work. From there we found more places in other cities near by.

KM: Do you think you have changed people's minds?

MA: Oh, yes. (That is evident from comments we receive.) We have a theme every year and everyone does such beautiful work, every one of them is different. It is like the Alzheimer's quilts. Everyone did a quilt about Alzheimer's but each one is so different and they each have their own story. These quilts do too. We call it the Michigan Quilt Artists Invitational. I make up a notebook that has a picture of the quilt, artist statement, a short bio, and a little bit about the description of the materials and techniques the artist used.

KM: You consider yourself an art quilter?

MA: Yes.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you make that distinction?

MA: I see myself as an artist. It took a while to be able to call myself an artist, but I think being around other artists has changed my attitude. [dog barks.] The mail girl just came. I don't have any trouble saying that I'm an artist now. I say I'm an artist and I make quilts that are art that you put on the wall. If you say you're a quilter only, people think that you make quilts to put on the bed. When you say you are an artist, then they usually say, ‘what kind of art do you do?' Then I tell them the kind of art that I do.

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

MA: I'm not really sure. Maybe it is that there is so much out there to try and there is not enough time in the day or days in the week to try all the new things. I think it was easier years ago there wasn't that much, it is almost overwhelming how many things there are to try. You just can't try them all. With art quilts, I think the biggest challenge is the competition because there are so many wonderful quilt artists out there making really good art quilts. Depending on your goal of what you want to do with your art, if it is entering shows and winning prizes, the competition is really, really tough, the same thing with selling, there is a lot of competition today.

KM: Describe your studio.

MA: My studio is in my bedroom. I have a huge bedroom, but a small condo. There is a wall of shelves with fabric, most of it filled with hand dyed fabric. There are shelves of traditional fabric and lots of book and magazines. I have a big table with 2 machines set up all the time. I always have three or four projects going at once. I also have another studio in the basement where I do my dyeing and the messier things. That studio is extremely messy and cluttered. I'm not an organized, neat worker, but do try to put some things away when I finish a project.

KM: Me neither. How many hours a week do you spend?

MA: I don't know how many hours I spend because I never have timed myself, but I do something with art almost every day. Some days I will have more time than others, and depending if I have a deadline I have to meet I let other things go and get things done to meet my deadline.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

MA: I'm drawn to any kind of art quilt. If I go to a show I look for the art quilts. I think that traditional quilts are very nice, but they tend to be similar and art quilts are all so different. I don't know that I have a particular famous artist that I really like. I love to go to Quilt National and like the special exhibits in other quilt shows.

KM: How about if I phrase it a little differently. Has anyone influenced you?

MA: Yes. Ami has been a great influence on me. I think Ami was my very first influence. I remember reading an article about her in the newspaper a long time ago and knew she lived in the area. When I was in the quilt guild when I first began quilting I wanted to take a class from a famous quilter. When someone suggested that we have Ami come speak and do a class at the guild, I raised my hand to volunteer to take care of the workshop so I could meet her. After that workshop I got to know Ami. It was shortly after that that she put out her book on classic quilts and she was looking for people to help her make quilts for the book, so I volunteered to make a quilt for the book. I took two patterns to make and was really in the beginning of my quilting at that time. She was such a big help and such an inspiration. I did get both quilts in the book and was so happy. I went over to her house one day and saw that she had photographs on fabric and I was completely enthralled. I also had done a lot of genealogy. I had tons of family photographs, so I worked with her with the photographs and made a photo transfer quilt. (That quilt is in her "Creating Scrapbook Quilts" book.) She encouraged me to enter it into the AQS show. I quickly sewed the binding on so she could photograph it. The quilt was accepted into the AQS show the very first time I ever tried to get in. I was always willing to help Ami with her projects so learned a great deal from her. She is a very creative person and full of ideas. I like being around people like her. I think the other person who has influenced me later on is Nancy Crow. I have taken two classes from her. She gets you to take your art very seriously.

KM: Is there anything about quiltmaking that you don't like?

MA: I don't like machine quilting bed quilts.

KM: Yes you did say that.

MA: [laughs.] I like all aspects of it. I usually have a hard time thinking of how I'm going to quilt something once I get it made, but if I look at it long enough, something will come to me. I enjoy all aspects of quiltmaking.

KM: Before our time runs out, let's move back to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. Tell me about your involvement in Priority Quilts, which is the other half of--the exhibit is one part and the Priority Quilts are another part of the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative.

MA: I don't know how many I have sent to her, maybe five or six. I have a few more here that need the paperwork done on them. I make a lot of journal quilts. I like working small so I have a lot of them. I am amazed at how much money those little quilts have brought in for Alzheimer's. Actually I'm amazed at how much quilters have done for Alzheimer's. I am happy to be part of it.

KM: The money goes for Alzheimer's research, which I think is another wonderful thing. That it is earmarked specifically for research.

MA: Yes, it is not going to pay for someone who works there like so many other charities. There is definitely a need for research, as the baby boomers are all getting older. I think there is a big fear as you age that you don't want to get Alzheimer's.

KM: Do you fear it?

MA: Oh yes. I think that I'm at the age that my mother was when she started getting her dementia. Every time that I forget something, which is quite often, I hope I'm not getting it. When one of my children or grandchildren forgets things, then I don't feel so bad. [laughs.]

KM: I think we are on so much overload with information.

MA: Yes, I think we have too many things on our minds today so you can't possibly remember everything.

KM: That is my story and I'm sticking to it. [laughs.]

MA: [laughs.]

KM: What do you think makes an artistically powerful quilt?

MA: First of all, if there is one that makes you say ‘Wow.' If the quilt makes you look and look and look some more and you walk away and then you want to walk back and look at it again, I think that is an artistically powerful quilt. When you go to a show and are walking around looking at quilts, there are certain quilts that draw you in. Maybe it is the colors, or the way that they put the colors together, or the design, I don't know. It might be a number of different things, but if it draws you in and keeps you there looking, I think that is an artistically powerful quilt.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

MA: I would tell someone starting out to take a lot of classes, join a quilt guild, find other people that have the same interests. The more you are around other quilters, the more you are inspired. Look at other people's work and it will inspire you. Get involved. Make a charity quilt, it is great practice. The more quilts you make, the better you get, so keep working at it. Learn as much as you can. Read books. One of the things that I have really liked, besides being in a small critique group, is going to quilt retreats. You are surrounded with other people with the same interests. You don't have to cook. You don't have to clean. You don't have to do anything except work on your art.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

MA: There have always been quilts around; their houses are full of quilts. My house is full of quilts. Occasionally they will see something that they like, and say, ‘Oh I would like to have that,' I almost always give it to them, if it is not promised to someone else.

KM: Why is quilting important to you?

MA: I think it is important because that is what I like to do. If I couldn't make quilts I think I wouldn't be very happy. Making quilts makes me happy. I have always done crafts or sewing of some kind. When I go on a vacation I don't go to the beach and lay around, I want to go to a quilting retreat where I can be doing something with my hands and learning something new.

KM: Why do you think fabric, of all the mediums that you could have chose, why fabric, why quilts?

MA: I've tried a lot of different things and I always come back to the fabric. I love fabric. I can remember when I was a child I would go to the fabric department with my mother. You know how the fabric hangs out so you can touch it, I would walk through the bolts of fabric and feel all the fabric. I was always looking over my mother's shoulder when she was sewing and I wanted to learn how to do it. I have always been around fabric and I love working with it.

KM: I always give people an opportunity before we close to share anything else that I haven't touched on. It can be related to the exhibition or personally, anything.

MA: I think I would like to say something about Ami. She is a truly creative, energetic person. She gets an idea and acts on it. I thought the "Worst Quilt in the World" contest was her biggest endeavor until the Alzheimer's project. I don't know if she anticipated it to be as big and as successful as it has turned out, but I can tell you that she has put a lot of time and effort into it. She took a big chance when she published the book of the exhibit and may have spent a few sleepless nights worrying about if she would sell enough to get her investment back and then make money for Alzheimer's. I had no doubt she would sell enough, but I didn't lay out any money to get it going. I just know how quilters love books. She has shown how caring quilters are with their thousands of donations of small quilts to the auction and their purchases to raise so much money. Her mother may not be able to benefit from this now, but many people will be able to thank her someday when a cure is found for the disease.

KM: Now it is a nonprofit.

MA: The non-profit status will help Ami in that she won't have to use her own funds to run it. She will still have a lot of work to do though. We should thank her family, her husband who supports her work and her daughter, Jenny, who is always willing to help. I don't know if there is anyway that we can thank her, but we do appreciate what she is doing.

KM: Do you have any favorite quilts in the exhibition?

MA: I looked through the book again and I think my favorites are the ballerina called "Unforgettable." I really like that one, and I also like the "Alzheimer's Thief."

KM: That is Sonia Callahan's quilt.

MA: I really like that. It is so sinister in a way, but yet the pink background lightens it up.

KM: The ballerina was done by Tammy Bowser.

MA: Yes.

KM: Great quilts. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to do this with me and to talk about the exhibition and Ami especially. We are going to conclude our interview, and it is now 1:04, so thank you.

MA: I want to thank you too for doing these interviews also.

KM: I think it is a nice way for me to be able to contribute, so support Ami and what she is doing and to broaden the stories behind the quilts. If you go to Sonia's interview and read her interview, she talks about her inspiration for that thief and where it came from. You wouldn't know that by just looking at the quilt. I think it is a good way to have a little bit better understanding of the stores behind the quilts.

MA: When you do see a quilt that you really like, you want to know what is behind it.

KM: Hopefully this is exactly what it will do. Thank you very much.


“Mary Andrews,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,