Kathy Kansier




Kathy Kansier




Kathy Kansier


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Karen Alexander, in honor of Barbara Gonce


Ozark, Missouri

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Kathy Kansier and she is in Ozark, Missouri and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview by telephone. Today's date is March 19, 2008. It is 11:11 in the morning. We are doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview based on the exhibit "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Thank you Kathy so much for doing this interview with me and please tell me about your quilt "Dear Diary" which is in the exhibit.

Kathy Kansier (KK): The quilt that I made for the exhibit was a hard quilt to make. I made it about my mother and about the process of having to put her into a nursing home when she started getting difficult to care for.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

KK: It is and it isn't. The quilt itself is a Crazy Quilt because it was a pretty crazy time in our lives. I do a lot of embroidery and beading on my quilts but the difference with this quilt was that it had to do with such a personal issue and a social and medical problem that we have in our world today.

KM: How did you come up with the idea of doing a diary? Each block is a diary entry.

KK: When I was a little girl I used to have a little pink diary that I would write in everyday and so I wanted to make the blocks as though I was entering into a diary. Each block on the quilt is a segment of something to do with my mother. It started out with learning that she had Alzheimer's. Sometimes the doctor called it dementia. I never quite understood if there was even a difference between those two words. She was living with us at the time. She was okay some days but other days she would become very difficult to be around. She would argue about many things. Our children were in junior high at the time and it was hard on them. All my life I had promised my mother, 'I will never put you in a nursing home; you can come and live with us when you get old.' When things got worse, it became a real struggle within me because I wanted to take care of her, but I found myself arguing with her. She was just difficult to care for. It came to the point that I had to decide which was more important - my husband and children or keeping my mother with us. The stress was becoming too difficult for everyone. So finally I had to put my mother in a nursing home and that was one of the hardest moments of my life. My Mother had always helped people during her life and here I was, her daughter, not wanting to help her anymore. I wanted to make the quilt to expose those difficulties in my life because I knew there had to be other daughters and sons out there that had to go through the same thing. I felt really alone at that time in my life and I want others going through that same experience to know that they were not alone. There really weren't many places at that time in my life that I knew of that could help us to understand and take care of my Mom or knowing, just how to work through all of those feelings. I felt that I was a terrible daughter while others were taking care of their mothers just fine. [I felt very selfish and lacking in love, patience and understanding.]

KM: Not an easy thing.

KK: No it wasn't and it brings a lot of guilt, a lot of really bad feelings within you. I made that quilt wanting people that were going through a similar situation to be able to relate to it and know I had gone through the same thing. That was my whole reason for making the quilt. It took me a long time to actually come up with what I wanted to say through the quilt and how I wanted to make it. I was really struggling because many of the other people that were making these quilts were just doing fine. Their quilts were getting done for being sent in to the curator. There was a deadline and I couldn't come up with what this quilt was going to be, what it was going to look like. Finally I woke up one night at 2 a.m. with a vision of the quilt in my mind. It was as though the Lord had given the whole idea and picture of the quilt to me. I jumped out of bed and just started making the quilt. I had it done in a couple of days as far as piecing the blocks and borders together and writing the little diary entries that went on it. [My husband saw the diary entries on the ironing board and said, 'Now that brings back memories! What are you making and why?']

KM: The diary entries, did you do those on the computer?

KK: Yes I did. I typed them on the computer, made them into photo transfers and put a fusible web on the back of each one. The blocks were Crazy Quilt blocks that I had actually purchased at a quilt show in Florida. The guild had a boutique and there was a set of Crazy Quilt blocks that I had bought from them. When I started to pull the fabrics for this quilt, I saw the crazy quilt blocks in my sewing room and I decided to use them rather than making new ones. My Mother would have liked that. She had gone through the Depression and was always talking about 'making do with what you have.' So the blocks were already done for me over five years ago. I fused the journal entries on the center of each one and then put borders on the quilt. I didn't really like the machine quilting that I was starting to do so I took that all out and put hand embroidered feather stitches on it for the quilting. I wanted it to have a Crazy Quilt look anyway so the feather stitches seemed appropriate. I felt that the long lines of feather stitches on the borders represented thoughts in our brain where we would go off this way and think for a while and then come back to the stem and go another way. As we get older sometimes those thought processes are shorter and sometimes they don't make any sense. So the whole purpose of the feather stitches around the borders was to represent our thoughts. I like to work with hot colors and batiks so the words, "Dear Diary" and "Love, Kathy" (which is always how I signed my diary), were done in a hot pink on a dark blue. The hot pink represented my childhood diary and provided a good contrast of colors in the quilt.

KM: Did you do this by hand?

KK: Yes. I love working by hand. My mom taught me to sew when I was four. She really did. She started me out on those yarn cards on which you follow the numbers and make a picture. When I got good at making those, I progressed to stamped cross stitch and embroidery. I grew up in the fifties and we went to the dime store where we would buy these stamped little things. There were baby bibs, tea towels and pillow cases to make. So I was doing simple embroidery when I was five and six years old. I went on to sewing clothing and was in 4-H. I also took a required home economics class in eighth grade and learned more about sewing. During all stages of my life, I have enjoyed hand work. Today I do lots of beading and embroidery on my quilts and I love making hand appliqu quilts. I do a lot of counted cross stitch. I also make baskets and I hook rugs. So this quilt was just an extension of the type of sewing that I do.

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

KK: I don't know. It has been gone so long now. It has been traveling for over two years but I have been able to see it. I saw it at three different places where it was being exhibited. I will probably hang it in a bedroom, in a guest bedroom in our home and that will be hard too because my mom stayed in one of the extra bedrooms when she lived with us. It will be a tribute to her. It is a personal quilt. People will look at it when they come to our home and I will have to explain to them what that was all about. [I often wonder what my mother would think about this quilt if she was alive today. She had helped many people in her life time. My mom worked most of her life. She had worked in nursing homes and saw the sadness that often occurs in those places. During her later years, she worked for a social service department in Wisconsin. She helped to organize programs for the blind and deaf people in her community as well as for low-income families and the elderly. I think she would be pleased that Ihelped to raise money for Alzheimer's research by making this quilt. I also wonder what my children think about this quilt. They have seen it but haven't said much. I hope they never have to experience what I did as far as having to deal with a difficult mother and putting me into a nursing home. If you asked them today about me, they might tell you I've always been difficult. My mom was too but she definitely got worse toward the end.]

KM: Tell me about your impressions of the exhibit.

KK: The exhibit. The first time I saw it was in St. Louis and then I saw it at the AQS Show in Paducah and then at a quilt festival in New Hampshire. I then saw it at the Shelburne Museum. No, that's not right. I saw a different quilt exhibit there.

KM: That is okay.

KK: It is. I believe the exhibit is going to the Shelburne and I want and go see it when they are there. The first time I saw the exhibit, it was real interesting to stand back and watch people looking at my quilt. I saw people actually crying as they read each diary entry that I had on there. Every time you have a quilt in a show it is good to see it displayed, but seeing people's reactions with this quilt was really interesting. My husband drove me over to St. Louis to see it. It was at a guild quilt show. I kept going back to that row to look at the quilt up close and to also see it from a distance. Finally my husband said, 'You know, I think it is the best quilt in the exhibit.' And I said, 'Oh, okay now we can go home.' [laughs.]

KM: [laughs.] Do you have any favorites?

KK: In the exhibit? I love the one that is called "Leaving Us". When I first got the CD that they had put out about the quilts, I watched it on my computer. There was a picture of each quilt with the artist reading their statement about their quilt. The one "Leaving Us" really impressed me. It had three trees and the leaves each had something to do with Alzheimer's and feelings and thoughts. That quilt really impressed me.

KM: That is Cheryl Lynch's quilt. There is a CD and each one of us had to record our artist statement on the CD, because there is an audio component to that. Tell me about that experience for you.

KK: We had problems recording that. Three times we tried to do it but my words didn't get recorded. I'm not sure why. We live in the country between Springfield and Branson and sometimes we just have difficulties with our computers and our telephones. So Ami said, 'Why don't you drive up to town and call me on your cell phone and we will try it one more time.' So, I drove to town and was sitting in our bank parking lot with my daughter-in-law when I recorded it. I had the whole thing written of what I was going to say and every time I started doing the recording, I would get to about the third sentence and then I would start crying. It was so hard to deal with what I was saying because it brought back all of those old memories. It is also the statement that has been the artist statement next to my quilt at the shows and is in the book. I kept saying, 'Scratch that Ami let's start again.' It was such an emotional time to read that statement over and over again until I got it right for the CD.

KM: It was tough for me too. Ami kept emailing me and saying, doing it again.

KK: [laughs.] I thought I was the only one that had problems doing that recording. In fact, I thought I was the only one who put their mother in a nursing home. I guess I was not alone.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

KK: My quiltmaking started back in the early seventies. I was living in northern California and I had my first son, Joshua. He is now grown up teaching at a university in Michigan and doing really well in life. When he was born someone said to me, 'Well, you have to make your baby a quilt.' This was that time of the 70s quilt revival. I thought that would be easy to do because I'd been sewing all my life so I certainly could make quilts. I reasoned that they are flat and square and would not be difficult to make like clothing. I started making his baby quilt and it was a nightmare learning how to make a quilt. We didn't have quilt shops back then. I bought poly-cotton fabric at Penney's. I didn't even know enough to use cotton. I used a great big thick batting because I thought he needed to be warm. I ended up tying the quilt rather than quilting it. But when I made that quilt, I wanted to make more quilts because I wanted to get better at it. I spent the '70's and '80's trying to teach myself quiltmaking. I had moved back to Wisconsin and my husband took me to visit the Amish in our area so I could see their quilts. We became friends with a real special Amish family that sold quilts. I would go up there every two weeks and look at the Amish quilts and talk to them about quilt making. That was my beginning stages of quiltmaking and I learned a lot from them. We left western Wisconsin in the mid-eighties. We had become Born Again Christians and we moved to Mexico to be missionaries. I brought my fabrics and my Quilters' Newsletter [Magazine.] with me. I didn't have a lot of time to actually make quilts during that time. I made church banners and things for vacation Bible school for the kids. The 70s and 80s were my original quilt making training years. I've made every mistake that could possibly be made on a quilt. I could definitely write the book of how not to make a quilt. We moved to Missouri in 1992. Missouri is a real crafty sort of area. It seems that everybody makes quilts, baskets, rug hooking and all sorts of things. I joined a quilt guild. It was the first time I was ever in a quilt guild. I didn't know anything about guilds but when I walked into that first meeting and saw all the quilts they had for show and tell, I was just amazed at how beautiful the quilts were. One of the ladies said to me, 'Well, do you make quilts?' I said, Oh sure, 'I have been making quilts since 1974.' She said, 'Why don't you bring some for show and tell next month?' I was so nave back then [laughs.] I brought some of my quilts and talked about my self-taught quilt making and my friendship with the Amish. One of the ladies came up to me after the guild meeting and said, 'You know we have a lot of workshops and you might want to take some.' [laughs.] I think it was a hint and what she was really saying was, 'Hey, you need some improvement here.' So, I did start taking a lot of workshops and I started going to quilt shows and learning to be a quiltmaker and my quilt making began to improve. All of that really helped in the process. I still make mistakes on quilts. I've always joked that when I die, I want my tombstone to say, 'I will never do it that way again.' Because with ever quilt I learned something and I always say, "I will never do it that way again." I always learn how not to do something on the quilt and what I could do better. As a result of all of my self-teaching and the workshops I took, I ended up teaching quilt making. I now travel all over the United States to teach at guilds and shows. I even went to Brazil this last November to judge and teach at a quilt festival. With my teaching, I get to teach my students how to avoid my mistakes and how to become successful quiltmakers. I often say, 'Don't do it this way, do it like this instead.' That brings a lot of joy in my life. My mom taught me a lot of things of what to do and what not to do in my sewing, so I'm now able to pass a lot of things on to people just like she had passed a tradition on to me.

KM: Tell me about Brazil.

KK: It was really interesting. The hardest part of it was the traveling. My husband went along with me. We traveled over 15 hours on airplanes to get to our destination. I had taught at the Houston Quilt Festival just before that. I had stood for seven days teaching in Houston, which normally is not a problem while you are teaching. Teachers work hard. We do a lot of standing and walking in our classrooms. When we sit down, we feel the pain in our legs and feet. I got on the plane right after my last class. I sat down after seven days of standing and went to Brazil. That was stupid. Whatever was thinking? The plane ride was very difficult. We had no leg room and I was really wishing I had a first class seat, but those were really expensive. We got to Brazil and transferred to another city in southeast Brazil. It was called Gramado. It was this quaint little town up in the mountains where a lot of people had moved from Europe after World War II. There were a lot of Italians, Germans and Swiss. It looked like the little European town in the middle of Brazil. The festival--I was a little nervous about having to teach using an interpreter. I had used interpreters when we lived in Mexico and worked with the churches, so I knew how to do that, but I wondered how it was going to work as a quiltmaking teacher. I had the best interpreters in Brazil. They were quilt teachers and so they knew what I was trying to say to my students as I was teaching. If someone didn't understand something, the interpreters would just go on and explain what I was saying. It was good. The quiltmakers were wonderful. I also judged the quilt show. It was a very difficult show to judge because their quilts were excellent. There were many original designs and they used their colors well. They don't have the two hundred year background of traditional quilt making that we have here in the United States. As a result, they are more creative. I'd say seventy-five percent of the quilts at that show were art quilts. It was a time when I wished that there had been more than one judge because it was difficult to pick the best of show and the blue ribbon quilts. They have really poor quality fabrics made in their country. The few fabrics that are imported into the country are expensive because of import taxes. In our country, we walk into quilt stores and have two to three thousand bolts to pick from. They may have a hundred. The vendors at the show didn't have much to sell as far as batiks, Hoffman fabrics or Moda fabrics. What they did have was $24.00 a yard. We normally pay eight and nine dollars a yard for those same fabrics in our country. The fabric from their country is a real gauzy cheap fabric similar to what we had back in the sixties and seventies. So they do a lot of thread work over it. There really is a thing called Brazilian embroidery and they do beautiful things on top of the poor quality fabric to hide it. It was a really good trip, one that I will never forget. It was a special experience to go down there and see the country and to meet so many nice people. What is really interesting is this year, in 2008, I have a quilt that was accepted into the AQS Show in Paducah. I was reading the list of contestants for the 2008 AQS Show and I found one of my new Brazilian friends on the list. She was one of the ladies that had organized my trip to Brazil and had interpreted for me. I emailed her and she is coming to the AQS Show in April. I will get to see her and we will have dinner together. That is the beauty of quiltmaking you can meet people all over the world through the Internet, at guilds and at quilt shows and become friends for life with many wonderful people. How would I have ever come to know this person if it hadn't been through quiltmaking?

KM: You are also an AQS certified appraiser.

KK: I do three things. My hobby turned into a business. My husband accuses me of being a nonprofit business because every time I go to shows I bring back a lot of things. I just have to have that fabric or that pattern or those beads so I tend to spend money at the shows. I teach quiltmaking, I judge quilt shows and I'm an appraiser. So, I get to see all of the neat quilts up close. It is a really neat career that I have. The three things all blend together and guilds and shows hire me because they just have to pay one airfare to get me there and I can multi-task for them. I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in airplanes. But, I get to meet so many wonderful quiltmakers. People often ask me what do you like the best of the three things that you do. Judging is the hardest for me because I don't want to say something that is going to really hurt somebody in their quiltmaking. I want to be a judge that encourages people to go on and improve on their skills and to see the points that need improvement. But judging is hard because every word in every sentence that you say is going to have an effect on the entrant when they get their evaluations back. [To date, I have judged 39 shows and volunteered on 10 other judging floors as a helper. Recently, I had the privilege of judging at the Road to California Show near Los Angelos and the Appliqu Society Show in Tampa.] Appraising. I love appraising because I get to see antique quilts, I get to see new quilts, I get to hear stories about a great-grandmother that made this quilt and it was passed down through the family. [I also get to educate people regarding the care of their quilts. I want them to get their quilts out of the trunk and enjoy them. But I also want to teach them how to display them so they will last for future generations. It is a hard thing to appraise because we have to set a value on a quilt, and so it is a lot of research that we do.] I have lots of books on quiltmaking and quilt history. I'm on the Internet all the time checking prices of what quilts are selling for. That part of my work does take a lot of time, but it is enjoyable time. I'm not sure I make much money by the hour when I do all the work that I do on these appraisals, but I find that real fulfilling. I have always loved history. I watch the History Channel on TV and I watch news, I read encyclopedias, I read quilt books and so the appraising and doing lots of research on quilts and their values is a fun thing for me to do. The thing I really, really enjoy the most is my teaching. I can help people not to make mistakes in their quiltmaking or to teach them a new way to put a binding on a quilt or to insert piping into the binding or a new way to appliqu things, how to make perfect circles and I love to watch those light bulbs going off in the classroom when people start getting it. [I recently learned that I have been chosen as the recipient of the 2008 Jewel Pearce Patterson Scholarship for Quilt Teachers. This is sponsored by the International Quilt Festival and Market. I have been awarded a two week trip to the Houston Market and Festival to take an unlimited amount of classes. In return, I am required to develop new classes and hang an exhibit of work make by my students at the 2009 IQA [International Quilt Association.] Festivals. This is a very special award for me because I will be able to develop my teaching skills even farther than I have to this point.]

KM: Describe your studio.

KK: It is a mess right now, but it is always a mess. [laughs.] It has never been perfect like I would like it to be. But, neither are my quilts. I have this thing about wanting everything to be in its place, but when I sew everything comes out of its place and ends up in big piles. We live in the country on thirteen acres that are just really, really pretty. One of our intentions is that we are going have a quilter's retreat center on our property and bring people here. I will have to get that whole studio cleaned up by then, but that is a couple of years off. My husband is a contractor and has been in construction for over thirty years. He is planning to build a large classroom for quilters to come and enjoy the peacefulness of the Ozarks. I was sewing in the house on the kitchen table and on his pool table. One time I cut the pool table with the rotary cutter and cut right through that felt. He wanted me to have a nice place to sew and so he built me this really nice room as my studio. I thought was so big I wouldn't know where to put everything. Well, now I think it should have been twice the size that we built. It has cupboards and large closets with shelves are hidden when I close the doors. I like that because I have a lot of things in boxes. Each box is labeled so I know what is inside the box. They say "blue fabric" or "1850 quilt," or "quilting stencils," etc. So when I open those doors I can find things immeditely. I don't have to spend hours looking for them. I just read the labels on the boxes. The problem is that things come out of the boxes and don't get put back in. I'm in the Bernina National Teacher Program and I have a Bernina sewing machine that I sew on. I also have a couple of Viking sewing machines. I'm really blessed with good sewing machines. I have my computer out there because I write all of my appraisals on that computer. I also do all my quilt making business on that computer - things like contracts, advertising, my web site, contacting guilds, writing patterns etc. I have all of my books that are quilt related in that room. I have a short arm commercial sewing machine that I can do quilting on, but it is like the walking machine. It gets a lot of things piled on it. [laughs.] It is a good room. It is a functional room. It was designed specifically as my studio. I actually call it my sewing room because that is what my mom always called her room where she sewed and kept her crafts. We never called things studios back then. One of the other teachers said, 'Kathy you are going to have to start calling it a studio that is a much more professional thing to call it.' I replied that I like to honor those ladies back in the fifties that had sewing rooms. My mom didn't get her sewing room until her children were grown and she retired. Many of the ladies in the 50s and 60s didn't have special sewing rooms; they just had the kitchen table. When my kids were growing up that is where I sewed. I was on the kitchen table if I was doing anything with a sewing machine. I had to learn to sew fast, because I had to clear the table off for supper. I think that is why I gravitate more to the hand work too because I can sit in the living room with my husband and watch TV and do my hand appliqu or do my beading or whatever it is that I'm working on. I like projects that I can take with me anywhere and I'm not stuck off at the kitchen table or in another room.

KM: You are also an author.

KK: Yes, I wrote two books a couple of years ago. [One is called "Protecting Tomorrow's Treasures Today" and the other book is an appliqu book called "Ozark Varieties." You can find them both on my web site along with patterns I've developed. My web site is: www.kathykansier.com.] I helped to start an appliqu group in the Springfield, Missouri area that is an extension of our quilt guild. We average about thirty ladies that come each month. We meet on the first Saturday of each month, and it is called As the Needle Turns. I had been teaching appliqu at a local quilt shop in Springfield and a lot of the ladies would say, 'I wish there was some kind of group where we could keep meeting and keep learning more things about appliqu.' Finally I called a friend of mine and I said, 'Why don't we start an appliqu group? They are all begging for this group and maybe there will be ten, twelve people but let's go ahead and do it.' The first time we met there were fifty people that came. I was shocked that there were so many people that wanted to know about appliqu. We have been meeting for over five years now. Like I said, we average about thirty people now at the meetings. One year one of the ladies came up to me in November, and said, 'We should do a block of the month next year and have everybody make the same quilt in fabrics that they want to use.' I thought she meant that she wanted me to design a quilt for the group. I thought, 'when am I going to have time to do that?' I said to her, 'Well let me think about it.' I went home and the more and more I thought about it, I thought well I could do that. But then I couldn't come up with what I wanted to design. I'm always very careful about copyright and not looking at another appliqu quilt and making a design that would in any way be a copyright infringement. So I was really struggling with what this quilt would be. I knew I needed a block for each month, so it would have to have nine to twelve blocks. I wanted the blocks to be symmetrical and fairly easy so the students would learn to accurately place the motifs on the block. I started looking through my antique quilt books and was really inspired by the traditional symmetrical look of the old appliqu blocks. Finally one night I got up again 2:00 in the morning and just started drawing out the individual blocks and overall quilt on freezer paper. I use freezer paper a lot for my designing and came up with nine blocks. I had them done by 6:30 in the morning of what I wanted to do. Each block was sketched out and I knew that the Lord had given me those blocks. I brought them to the group the next month, and I said, 'Here is the quilt we are going to start in January.' I told the group how much fabric they would need to make the entire quilt. Every month, I would make that month's block so they would know what it is suppose to look like. I actually made two blocks in different colors. One was made with hand appliqu and the other was made using machine appliqu. They had to trust me that this was all going to come together okay because they were buying a lot of fabric. For some of the ladies, it was the first quilt they had ever made. Each month we would come with our blocks and lay them down on the floor and look at them. It was so inspiring to see all of the blocks. We would say, 'Oh look at hers she used the peach and the green in her block, I wish I would have used those colors.' Or 'Look she added beading and ruching on that flower.' Or, 'Look at the fussy cutting she did on her flowers.' The ladies were doing all sorts of things. Each block was individualized in some way and we were all inspired and learning from each other. While this process was going on, I thought, 'I might as well make this into a book and sell this pattern because the quilt was turning out to be a good quilt.' But it wasn't even so much to sell the patterns in a book, it was to show the quilts that the ladies had made. I ended up self-publishing the book. I had a really nice publisher and printing company in Minnesota that I worked with and printed the book up. It was expensive to self-publish. My husband paid for the printing of the book. I still have it available and it has pictures of I believe there are eighteen or twenty quilts made by these ladies. There is a little paragraph next to each quilt that tells about the quiltmaker. The ladies wrote their own stories about themselves and their quilts. I was amazed because I didn't know that for many, it was their very first full-sized quilt. It was really neat to learn this. When we exhibited the quilts together at our local quilt show, my husband came to see the quilts. He was walking and looking at all the quilts. It was fun to watch everybody look at them, because they would walk down the aisle and all of a sudden they would stop about halfway through and they would look back and forth and say, 'Wait a minute, these quilts are all the same pattern. This is the neatest thing because all of these quilts have the same pattern but they look so totally different. They have different colors and different things that they have added on to their quilts.' When my husband saw it, he was talking to one of the ladies about her quilt. She started to cry and told him, 'This was the first quilt that I made and if it wasn't for this appliqu group I wouldn't have done this. I have met so many friends.' After she left he looked at me and said, 'Well, now I understand why you had to write that book, why you had to do this pattern and why you had to create this appliqu group. I now totally understand what is going on here.' That is one of those neat things about quilt making and this appliqu group. It is nothing that I would have planned. I don't look through life and know what the end result of some of the things that I do and what they will become or who they will affect. We meet the first Saturday of each month and there is camaraderie in this group. We have all learned from each other. Just little tidbits. Someone would say I'm really having trouble appliquing inside curves, does anybody have any hints to help me.The ladies will jump up and say, here is what I do to get that to make it lay flat. So we really have learned from each other and our quilts, every quiltmaker in there is getting better and better as a result of that. [Last year, a husband of one of the ladies had an accident after an ice storm. He fell off a ladder and broke his leg. He had seven surgeries and finally ended up having his leg amputated. Our group, along with our local TAS chapter, made an appliqu quilt and raffled tickets to raise money for his medical bills. We raised nearly $4,000 for that family.]

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

KK: I used to think it was how it turned out, how it looks visually. I teach a class on color and design. I used to think that, along with perfect techniques is the most important thing in quilt making. Now I think what is important is the process of making a quilt. It is what we learn along the way that makes each quilt special. As I've gotten older, I've learned I don't have to have that quilt done before supper when I had to clear the table off. Now I can enjoy each step of the way. Fixing things when they don't turn out right and learning from them, I think that is what makes a great quilt.

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

KK: I think one of the challenges is learning to be creative. As a Christian I know that God created everything. When we moved to Missouri, I used to sit and just sit out in the yard and look at the trees and enjoy how beautiful it is here. I would just marvel at the creativeness of God. I took time to smell the roses. One day I realized that if I am made in his image and that means I've got to have some creativity in me. Prior to that, the only type of quilts I made were from patterns and books. I would go to the quilt shop and see a sample quilt made and I would say, 'I want to make that quilt in those colors and fabrics.' I would panic if they were out of a certain fabric that was in that quilt. I didn't realize that I could change things, that I could alter patterns. I still buy patterns and I still make Block of the Month quilts because there are some great patterns out there. But the quilts that are winning at the shows, even on a regional level, but especially on a national level are the ones that are original designs. They are not made from patterns. So that is the challenge for quiltmakers. It is hard to walk out of that box of just buying a pattern and making it to get to the place of creating their own quilts, picking out the right colors, learning what makes a good design and what doesn't. One of the classes that I have developed is teaching people how to make an underwater scene. My students learn how to place rocks and plants and fish, how to add beads, how to pick out colors and fabrics. I love when I teach at the quilt shop in Springfield because my favorite time is when a student says to me, 'I'm really having trouble picking out fabrics for this quilt.' My instant response is, 'Let's go to the shelves.' I know the clerks just cringe because they see me pulling fabrics off the shelves and laying them out for people. I try to remember to put them all back when we are done. It is a fun thing to teach people of how to choose colors and fabrics that work well together.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

KK: I like every quilt I see and that's not a lie. It is the truth. Every time I see a quilt, whether it is traditional quilt or an art quilt, a crazy quilt, a pieced quilt, I just marvel at it because I know how much work is in it. I see a lot of quilts. When I go to judge shows I see hundreds of quilts. When I go to teach or appraise, I see a lot of quilts. I dream about quilts all the time and if I could just remember what I dream I'd be thrilled because I know I've got a Best of Show quilt in my dreams. The problem is that I can't remember what it looks like when I wake up. As far as quilts that I enjoy the most, I'm most impressed with Hollis Chatelain's quilts, because she has a God given talent that I don't have. She really is an artist. She paints with dyes and takes her sewing machine and does incredible things with these images. So, when I see her quilts, for example the "Blue Man" quilt that hung in Houston a few years back or the new purple one that is called "Desmond Toto" that won Best of Show in Houston I am so impressed with her artistry. I stand for hours looking at her quilts. She is so talented. I like Ricky Tim's quilts because Ricky is so likeable as a quiltmaker, as a pianist. He is always encouraging quiltmakers including myself. So I'm drawn to his quilts too just because I know that personality and that love of quiltmaking and for quilters that is in him. I could go on and on with quilters. I admire Judith Montano because she makes the most beautiful crazy quilts and silk ribbon flowers. Her talent amazes me. Diane Gaudynski is another quiltmaker that I admire. Each year I try to choose a technique that I'm not really good at and try to improve on it. I often tell quiltmakers it is like pole vaulting. When you jump over the pole and clear it, then they raise that pole to the next level. We need to do that too in our quiltmaking to attempt to get better as we go. Last year my goal was to learn how to get better at machine quilting. I drove to Paducah and took a three day class with Diane Gaudynski on machine quilting. I learned so much from her. I learned how to make the perfect feather and how to hold my hands on the machine to be comfortable and not tense and how to learn to stop when things weren't going right. That was a hard thing for me, because I keep thinking, 'It is going to get better, I'm going to get these curves smooth and it is only getting worse.' Now when I do my machine quilting, I can hear this little voice of Diane's in the back of my head saying, 'Kathy, just stop.' I really admire her work, because she really does do just perfect, perfect quilting. I like Sue Nichols from Michigan. Sue and her sister that made the Beetle quilt or there was another one they made, an astronaut quilt. They take a theme and just follow it through and do wonderful machine appliqu and machine quilting on it. I like quilts that make me laugh or smile. I like quilts that bring a tear to my eye, because all of those emotions when we see quilts are really, really important. I watch people at shows as much as I at the quilts. When I see a quilt that is being photographed a lot, I know that is a good quilt. When I see a quilt that nobody is looking at, a quilt that everybody is just passing by, I know that that quilt either has problems in color and design or it's just kind of plain. But I also know that somebody made that quilt and really did the best that they could at that time in their lives. I do look at every quilt in respect of their makers, but I really look most at the ones that are being photographed a lot. They may not have a ribbon on them, but I know that is the winning quilt.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

KK: It is the people. Some day when I die, I want people to remember me as a quiltmaker that took the time to try and teach other people some things. I want them to remember me as a decent person and a Christian. I always share my faith when I'm giving a lecture. I don't do it trying to offend anybody but to explain to them how God has caused me to try to be good at what I do in life and to treat people good. I explain that I do my quiltmaking as though I was doing it onto the Lord. That means trying to do the best that I can at that particular day in my life. That is why quiltmaking is important to me. It is also the friendships that I make. The quilts eventually will be gone, quilts get lost and stolen or used up but the friendships remain. I have quilt a few antique quilts in my collection. Some of them have holes or the binding is fraying. I can't throw them away because I think somebody made this somewhere at a point in our history. Their family didn't keep it for whatever reason. When I find quilts in antique stores or yard sales, I grab them up. I grab cros stitch up and buy it just because I know somebody put their heart in that thing. I love those handmade things. Back in the sixties and seventies and even to this day I have been somebody who we always have a garden. I can foods, make rugs, weave baskets and quilting is another part of that whole homemade process. We heat with wood. Everything that the early colonists did, I like to keep doing that. I meet young girls today that don't know how to sew a button on. They don't know how to cook a roast. They don't know how to make a pie crust. Some of this is because our school systems have dropped home economics from their programs. Another reason is that we have a high divorce rate in our country and single moms have to work and don't have time to pass on traditions to their children. Our economy is such that most moms in two parent homes have to work and our children grow up in daycares. That is so sad to me because we have become such a fast food nation. We go to McDonald's drive through or pick up a pizza because we don't have time to cooks supper. We are not taking the time to stop and enjoy handmade things, whether it is food or sewing or quilts. So it is important to me to keep trying to pass that whole tradition on to the next generation.

KM: What do you think of the future of quiltmaking?

KK: I think if we don't keep trying to pass on the tradition, it is eventually going to go away. Although I see so many people into quiltmaking. I really have had this problem of not knowing just what is going to happen regarding the future of quilt making. I heard a statistic that there are twenty-four million quiltmakers. That is quite a few. But then I see the younger generation getting more into fashion and clothing, Project Runaway and all those sort of things. But I'm not sure what is going to happen with quiltmaking. It has been the one craft that has lasted the longest, although people are getting into rug hooking again. But many of the things that we did, macram back in the sixties and seventies; we aren't doing those things anymore. Counted cross stitch and embroidery seems to have gone by the wayside a bit. Wal-Mart stopped carrying embroidery floss now. They are taking their fabrics out of their stores. That tells me that the future of this whole industry is a little shaky. The sewing machine companies--wing machines are so expensive today. When I graduated from high school, I got two things, I got a set of suitcases, what does that tell you, and the other thing I got was a sewing machine. I sewed on that one hundred dollar sewing machine for fifteen years before I got another sewing machine that was a better one with more stitches on it. Young people today, I'm not sure they can afford some of these expensive sewing machines. They may get into the hand work. I know that knitting is a big thing right now and it is hand work. I love when we have somebody that is under thirty that wants to come to our appliqu group or shows up in one of my classes. I had a nine year old girl come with her mother to one of my classes in Brazil. I'm really not sure where things are headed. Quilting has lasted because it is a social event. Back in the 1800's it was the quilting bees where people would meet their friends, neighbors and would come together and quilt on a quilt. They would have a dinner afterwards and a dance and that is usually where you met your husband. So quilting has always been social, even in the Depression when we left the farms and moved into the cities, we had little groups that would meet in apartments, but it was often too small so they started meeting in churches and doing their quilting bees there. Today we've got the quilt guilds that are just wonderful things to belong to, whether it is a little guild of thirty people or a guild with five hundred in it. They have a lot to offer as far as friendships and education for the quilters. I think that quilt making is going to continue at least for the next generation and then we will have to see. I'm busy teaching my four year old granddaughter to quilt. She has an interest and I'm helping to boost it. The quilt shows--quilts are becoming an art form, although I've always believed that anything that is visual is art. Quilts are not just crafts, they are an art form. But there is a real artistic movement within quilting today. So when you walk in these shows and you see things that are just phenomenal as far as design. Every year when I see these quilts, I think 'Why didn't I think of that? I could have won an award if I had thought of that design.' I'm always amazed how the quilts are getting better and better. Technically and design wise and color wise. If you look at the quilting magazines that we had say in the early eighties as opposed to what is on the covers of these magazines now, you will see a marked improvement in quiltmaking. That has to do with a lot of the teachers and with the workshops that people are taking. People are learning things in those workshops and then they are going on and just exploding with their creativity.

KM: We have been talking for more than forty-five minutes.

KK: I just rambled and rambled.

KM: No you did wonderfully. I want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas, and we are going to conclude our interview at 12:00.

KK: Thank you Karen.


“Kathy Kansier,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2562.