Kay Marburger




Kay Marburger




Kay Marburger


Cindy Dollar Brown

Interview Date



Houston, Texas

Interview indexer

Jesse Moore


Alana Zakowski


Cindy Dollar Brown (CDB): Thank you. This is Cindy Dollar Brown, today's date is November 5th of 2011, it is 11:15 A.M. and I'm conducting an interview with Kay Marburger for Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. Kay Marburger and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Kay, will you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Kay Marburger (KM): My quilt, Lafayette Hero of Two Worlds, was my very first quilt that I made starting from scratch. I live in Fayette County, the town La Grange [Texas.] and in 2006 the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, decided that the next year they were going to have a big celebration celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette from France, after whom their city was named. One of the things they wanted to do was have a quilt exhibition and they were asking anybody, any town, any county with the name of Lafayette, Fayette, La Grange, because La Grange was the ancestral home of Lafayette, if they would make quilts and send them to this exhibit. The invitation came to Fayette County [Texas.] and the Fayette county judge asked me, because he knew I was a quilter, if our quilt guild might be interested in doing that. I took it to the quilt board and they said, "Yes, that sounds like something we would like to do." We were a fairly young guild, only about nine years old, and so the guild decided, yes they would do a quilt. They discussed what on earth are we going to do for this quilt. The theme was Lafayette Hero of Two Worlds. Brainstorming went on, and there were several ideas that people came up with and I had one idea, but my idea wasn't chosen by the guild, of course I just had an idea, I really didn't have any idea of how to go about doing it, I just kind of had a concept. The guild did make two quilts, one for the guild but we couldn't afford to make another one and finance it ourselves, so we asked the county if they would like to finance the quilt and the guild would make it for them, and the county said, "Yes." We did one quilt for the county, and they did pay for it, but we could send four quilts to that exhibit, so I decided, "Well, okay, I'll just make a quilt following my idea." My idea was a silhouette of Lafayette standing with his feet apart, one foot in the United States, one foot in France. I started thinking about that, I really had not been quilting that long at that time and I really didn't have an idea about how to go about doing this, but I just kind of sketched and just kind of drew and then I kind of figured out by looking at maps and kind of tracing the shape of the United States and France and kind of playing around with enlarging things and I got my basic outline, or background design for the quilt. I was going to have Lafayette, water, of course the Atlantic ocean between the United States and France, and the sky in the background above, but I really didn't want to do all the detail on Lafayette so that's why I chose the silhouette. I was kind of trying to decide what I was going to use on my quilt, to make Lafayette. Black of course was the first thing that popped into my mind. I just put that down as black, then I decided, "Well maybe I ought to use several different blacks," and just kind of intersperse them because I had been collecting some water fabrics and some sky fabrics, and I knew that I was going to use a bunch of different water fabrics and a bunch of different sky fabrics. This, like I said, was my first foray into designing my own quilt. I selected a one and one-half inch square for Lafayette, or maybe it was two inches, I'd have to measure [laughs.] and just started cutting black squares and then started sewing them together, small squares sewn together until I had a big large piece of black squares. I started out with some sketches, silhouette sketches, and just kind of played around with them. I had his hands out stretched and he has a cape, to kind of cover up some of the detail, and finally got my shape of Lafayette for the silhouette. I cut it out of the black, well before I did that I had to adjust him, I figured out exactly where I wanted the United States and I wanted France and I kind of had to make sure his legs stretched wide enough so that one foot would be in France and one in the United States. For France, I had some fabric that had the Eiffel Tower on it, and I thought that would be just great to use but then I checked out that the Eiffel Tower wasn't there in Lafayette's time so I found a fabric that had little fleur-de-lis on it, and was going to use that for France. For the United States, I had several fabrics but most of them were too busy, so I fussy cut some of the motifs on one piece of fabric and put them in a more solid, more of a marble background. I had some vignettes of the American Revolution Era in the United States. When I kind of laid my United States out on my background, I decided that I needed to add in the Great Lakes because that would just kind of finish off the top area of the United States. On my sea I decided to cut the pieces in parallelograms and I just cut up a whole bunch of parallelograms and just started sewing them together end to end, and then putting them in strips. For my sky I used squares and I used different kinds of sky frabrics for the squares and just sewed them together. Then I thought I had way too much sky, I needed to do something to the sky, so I had made a fractured flag, United States flag by another pattern but of course it was a much larger flag, so I figured out how to make it smaller, on the idea as that fractured flag pattern and I made a small United States flag and I was going to make a French flag with fleur-de-lis on it, but checking with the era, that flag was not the French flag at the time of Lafayette. I found out that the simple blue, white, and red one was which was really a lot easier to make [laughs.] I put the flags on my sky background of assorted fabrics and then just to make sure that you would know who this was, I made a little label saying, "Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds." This was the first time that I had extensively used a lot of fusible, that I did fuse all of the elements onto the sky and water background, and then quilted it and I have a Handiquilter, an HQ16, so I loaded it on my machine and quilted it. Then bound it in little black edging so to kind of look like a picture frame. Our guild sent off three quilts to the exhibit in Lafayette, Louisiana, and it was open October through November of 2007. They send us an invitation, you know, "Please come if you can," however that was about an eight to ten hour drive from my hometown so no one went, no one was planning to go, but then my husband decided that that would be a good place that we could try out his new motorcycle; that we could take a trip there, and it would take us one day to get there, stay in a motel, go see the exhibit, look around Lafayette, Louisiana, and then come home, which we did. When we got to Lafayette [Louisiana.] and found out where the exhibit was, it was in the Cultural Arts Center, and as we walked up to it, looking up to the building, on the second floor in the building was a huge glass window and the first thing I saw was a reproduction of my quilt, much more than life-size, it was probably about let's say maybe about eight feet tall. It was you know, photographed and enlarged and I don't know how they do stuff like that, but they do. I was so excited I just couldn't believe it [laughs.] We took a whole bunch of pictures and then when we walked in to the exhibit, and it was a small center, and the first thing you saw when you walked through the doors into the exhibit was a table with the bust of Lafayette and then they had a small crest that they were using, that they had been using throughout their previous information and you know, really for probably about a year and a half to advertise this, and that was on the table, and right behind the table on the wall was my quilt. They let us take all kinds of pictures, and we did, but there were about thirty-five quilts hanging in the exhibit and of course I took pictures of everything [laughs.] and just really, that was so exciting for me, to walk into a place and see my quilt featured like that. They did publish a book that had photographs of all the quilts, and of course the information that we had sent with it, they ask for a little synopsis of what the quilt was about. The woman that was curating that exhibit had told us that they were going to try to find other venues for this exhibit. Since there were quilts from France, Canada and the Netherlands and you know some from the United States too of course in this exhibit, and the French, the let's see, somebody from the State Department from the United States in the State Department, I guess the French ambassador, I mean the US ambassador to France, his wife saw the exhibit and she thought that that would be nice if these quilts could tour in France. They selected, she selected some quilts from that exhibit to tour in France. Well this one wasn't selected to tour in France, but one of the other quilts that our guild made was. Of course we were all excited about that, and we watched the progress of that and that didn't happen until April of '08 to, through the summer of '09. Then, the quilts of course, the quilt was touring in France, came back, and about a month after that it came back, from that long tour, we got a letter from the women that had curated the exhibit originally and she said, "The DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. would like to showcase these quilts in their exhibit," she said, "All of the quilts." I was so excited about that, we all were, the whole guild was because all three of these quilts, you know, were now going to be in Washington, D.C. We had already given the one to Fayette County [Texas.], and you know Fayette County had to agree to loan their quilt to the museum in Washington, D.C. which they did. Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds, plus the other two quilts from Fayette County [Texas.] went to Washington, D.C. April through September 2010 and hung in the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. a special exhibit, and they called their special exhibit Honoring Lafayette, Contemporary Quilts from the United States and France. Once again there was going to be an opening to the exhibit and they asked if we would like, you know, invitations, and so I said, "Yes, sure would," April the 15th was going to be the opening night, but you know I live in Central Texas and it's going to be in Washington, D.C. at night, and there's definitely no hopping up there [laughs.] you know it would be at least a two day trip and in the middle of the week. I wanted the invitation because I'm going to put this in a scrapbook. When the invitation came, you know we had the return address, the DAR Museum Washington, D.C. and I knew what it was, I opened it up and when I pulled it out of the envelope, the front graphic on the invitation to the exhibit was my quilt, Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds and I know, you know tears just sprung into my eyes, then I got so excited and that was a day or two before our quilt guild meeting, so when I went to the quilt guild meeting, and I did call the other gal who designed one of the quilts, because she had wanted an invitation too, and I called her and said, "Did you get your invitation?" and she said, "Yes!" and of course she was excited too that my quilt was on the cover of it, but when I took it to the guild meeting and it's show and tell time, I walked up and I stood in front of the group and I said, "I got this in the mail," and I opened, took the envelope out, and I pulled the card out of the envelope and held it so everybody could see it. Everybody was all excited about that too.

CDB: How wonderful.

KM: It went to Washington, D.C. it hung in the DAR Museum and I didn't go to the opening night, but I did go to Washington, D.C. [laughs.] in the summer and saw it hanging there.

CDB: Did you go on your motorcycle?

KM: No we did not [laughs.] No my husband said he was not going to Washington, D.C. but it was fine, I could go. I went with a friend and no we really don't do cities too well [laughs.] we prefer wide open spaces.

CDB: Is it unusual for you to do some much historical research and you know, have a theme like this for a quilt?

KM: That was the first time I did anything like that, but we had been given a title, or a theme, and asked to follow that theme, or there was another theme, the Friendship of Washington and Lafayette. As we were trying to come up with ideas for the quilt, then for any, all of the quilts, we did a lot of research. I really haven't done that type of research before, not for a quilt because most of the time I would just find a pattern that I like, and pick fabrics that I like, and just make a quilt. I hadn't thought about designing things or making up my own designs or ideas.

CDB: This one you described as you did several sketches and drawings, do you have a background in drawing or art?

KM: No I don't. I've always felt like I wasn't a very good artist, that I couldn't draw realistic pictures, but although I love to doodle, and I doodled all the time, and I think that has helped me in my quilting, but as far as artwork, you know its one reason I selected a silhouette [laughs.] so I wouldn't have to fill in facial features for one thing that I think are very hard although I really admire them in all of these quilts that I see, especially here at Festival.

CDB: How do you use this quilt now that it's back from its national tour?

KM: I haven't really done anything with it. I have it stored at home [laughs,] and I might, I really don't have any plans to do anything with it, it's just, I love it. You know I just pet it every once, I get it out and kind of play with it a little bit.

CDB: How did your interest in quiltmaking begin?

KM: I've sewn since I've been in high school and I sewed a lot of clothes for myself, for my children, and we live in a small town and we had a fabric store there for a while, but you know finally the lady, you know she was ready to retire and she closed it. Then this quilt shop opened up in La Grange [Texas.] in 1998, thirteen years ago, and I wandered in during their grand opening because I knew they would have fabric, and when I walked into the quilt store I was just very, very surprised at the colors of the fabrics, they were so vibrant, and the feel of the fabric, that's probably the first thing I did was you know reach out and touch the fabric, one of the bolts. I walked through the whole quilt shop, I looked at everything that was there in the quilt shop and of course the young lady that opened the quilt shop was there behind the counter and she knew that obviously I enjoyed fabric and she asked me if I quilted and I said, "No I didn't," and she said, "Well we have classes, and we're starting a quilt guild, why don't you come and find out what we're all about." So I did, I walked into the quilt guild meeting and I saw a women there that I knew, I went over and sat down next to her, and she had this quilt in her lap, and I said, "Oh I didn't know you quilted," and she said, "Well, I took a class at the Quilters' Cottage, and I haven't ever done anything on a machine but this is all done by machine," and she said, "It was quick and it was easy," and I looked at it and I said, "I could do that." I signed up for that class, because it was being offered again, and I went into the quilt store and I looked around for fabrics and I selected my fabrics and just really enjoyed doing that and then I had to get everything all cut before you could come to class, so I did. I went to the class and I started out you know, following the directions and it was a six hour class and after those six hours I had half of the quilt finished [laughs.] I went home and I finished that quilt, by the next day I had it finished and I was so excited about it and I really enjoyed doing it and I was hooked from then on. I decided, "Well, I'm going to do some more of this." I was working part-time but as classes would come up at the Quilters' Cottage that I could take, I would take a few more classes, and then incorporate that with some of the other things that I had learned. I didn't have a background in quilting, no one in my family had ever quilted, I didn't grow up with quilts at home and I was just amazed. I'd look at these patterns and I'd think, "Oh my goodness I could never do something like that," but I decided I'm going to do this and I love the fabrics, I love looking for just the right fabric for the right project, for the mood, for the quilt that goes with the other colors.

CDB: What was that first quilt like? Do you remember it?

KM: Yes, oh yes I do. That pattern was called Grandma's Cuddle Quilt and it was a quilt as you go. You cut your strips, and they were on the diagonal, they laid across the square on the diagonal, but you had your background fabric, the square, you had your batting, it was a square, and then you had your strips that you laid on that square diagonally, one down the center, your focus fabric down the center. Then on either side of that you laid a strip, right sides together, sewed it down, flattened it out with an iron, laid that next strip on there, flattened it out, till you got out to the corners and then you did the other side, then there was a technique in the class where they showed you how to put them together. Once I got the hang of it, after I did about one block, it was just straight sewing, and I thought that was just great.

CDB: How has your quilting evolved from that first quilt?

KM: Well that first quilt only had about six or seven fabrics in it, and it was the same square, twelve times, and then you know sashed and bound. I soon found that I liked lots of different fabrics in my quilts, that I was happier making maybe that same block, but in other colors or in other shades of the colors, not the same thing over and over. I liked, I really enjoyed the piecing. To me it's a challenge, its fun, it's interesting, it's exciting. One of the first classes that I took after that class was a foundation paper piecing class because the woman that ran the shop, she and her mother had designed a foundation paper piecing patterns, miniatures and so I picked out a pattern and I read what you needed and it said, "An assortment of colors," and I kind of scratched my head, I understand an assortment of colors, but I was thinking, "how on earth can you just put all of these colors together?" I talked to the instructor and she said, "Well just bring your scrap box and all you need is small pieces because it was a miniature," and she said, "You'll probably have lots of scraps." Well I didn't have just a whole lot of scraps because I kind of scaled back on my sewing and I just didn't have that many scraps around, especially cotton scraps, but I brought what I had. When I went to the class and started learning how to foundation paper piece, these little bitty I think they were like, maybe the whole thing would end up a four inch square, there would be four little two inch square pieces that you would put together for this pattern. I just started laying out fabrics that I thought would go together and soon I had little piles of fabrics that would go together and I watched the other ladies in there to see what they were doing [laughs.] I made all these little, it was a jack-in-the-box pattern, and I made all of these squares and the pattern called for you to put them together in a big square or big rectangle but I liked vests and I wanted to make, wanted to use those in a vest, so I took another class that talked about using squares, or using quilt pieces, pieces of quilts and making, putting them into clothing, actually that one specifically putting them into a vest. I took my squares, I had them all ready to go, you know I made them, and learned how to put them together and add solid fabrics or the fabric around it so that it would go into, make into a vest. Really, I use the same thing on this vest that I have on today, this was not my first attempt [laughs.] and I put it all together and here I had this vest, and I knew I had to line it and I was so excited about my sewing and I didn't really know how to quilt then, and I hadn't really done that much quilting except for that little bit on the machine and I didn't know how I was going to machine quilt what I just did, because it was a lot smaller and there were a lot more angles and a lot more lines. That first piece, first vest that I pieced, I didn't quilt, I just sewed the lining in it and [laughs.] just started wearing it like that. I did learn how to quilt by hand, that was the next thing I did, "Okay I'm going to have to figure out how to quilt these things by hand," so I took a class on handquilting and then started handquilting, you just have to keep quilting and quilting and quilting and I did really enjoy the handquilting. I could sit and watch TV or rather quilt, but it was in my lap, but if you're watching a football game, you can always look up when there's loud noise and keep right on quilting by hand, and I could do it in the car, and I could do it in the airplane. At that time, they really didn't question if you walked on the plane with scissors and needles or anything like that.

CDB: Do you have a favorite process or technique now?

KM: Now I don't handquilt because it took so long to finish just the small things and I did mostly baby quilts or small wall hangings, and so I decided that I wanted to learn how to machine quilt and I tried free-motion quilting on my sewing machine, and it still took quite a while to do it and I had to maneuver all of that fabric, that bundle, that rolled edge of the quilt, I had to maneuver that through my sewing machine. I was making like twin bed size and queen size bed quilt tops and taking them to a longarm quilter to have them quilt it. One day I went to pick up one of those from my longarm quilter and there was a for sale sign in the front of her house, and she said, "Oh we're selling everything and we bought this nice RV," which was parked in the driveway, she said, "We're just going to become full-time RV-ers," so I said, "What are you going to do with your quilting machine?" and she said, "We'll, I'm going to sell it." So I ask her, then I just said, "Well, you know how much would something like this cost?" and she had a Gammill, it was a large one, and she gave me a price, and she took me into her studio and let me look at it, and when I saw how big it was I thought, "Oh I don't think that's going to fit anywhere in my house," but I took measurements and I went home, and I measured. Sure enough, it wouldn't fit [laughs.] It wouldn't fit in the bedroom that I could have dedicated to it, and so you know I called her back and said, "It's too big, it won't fit in my house," and she said, "You know you just need to go to quilt festival," [International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX, about 100 miles from where we live] which was like about two weeks later, she said, "Just go to quilt festival," and she says, "Look at everything they have because," she said, "You know you might find something." So I did, in 2004, I came to quilt festival and spent you know the whole time here, looking at every machine that was available. Now I had my dimensions of my room, and I knew the amount of space you know that I could commit to this machine. [laughs.] I located one that I thought fit my room the best, and it was the one that I now have, it was a Handi Quilter, and at that time they just had the sixteen-inch ones, so I ordered a Handi Quilter and a table and it took it about a month to get there and my husband helped me set it up, matter of fact I'm really no good at putting things, pieces of furniture together and that type of stuff, and we had to take out the video on how to load the machine, because I had ordered videos about quilting and how you go about doing it. He had never even seen a quilting machine, the only ones I had seen, I really hadn't paid any attention to, and I was more interested in you know maneuvering the machine, not how it was set up. We watched that and John started assembling it upstairs in the bedroom, the bedroom that I was going to be using, and it took several days to get everything in place and get it together, and of course all of my friends were [laughs.] I'd had it there about a week, and we had a guild project, we were decorating some place for Christmas, and everybody came over after we worked on that to see my machine and to see how I had it set up and then I spent about a month just learning how to use the machine, and just doing simple quilting designs; like stippling, and loops [laughs.]

CDB: Do you take in other quilters' projects now that you have the big machine or do you just focus on your own projects?

KM: No I don't. I just do my own projects and I've done things like quilted some quilts that the guild was going to, the guild put it together then we're giving it away for our various charity projects. We did a lot of quilts of valor and you know I quilted them, but not, I'm not for hire [laughs.]

CDB: Your quilts are very artistic, so what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

KM: It has to have a theme and I feel that it has to have a recognizable theme. One reason on mine that I put that title, in addition to the fact that I needed something to fill up that space was I wanted people to know what I was trying to tell them, and I think if you look at it, then you, "Oh yeah, I get the idea." I think the choice of color is very, very important, I think the colors need to be vibrant enough so that they catch your eye and I'm not necessarily opposed to pastel colors or more muted colors. I definitely think there is a place for them, but I'm just drawn to brighter colors.

CDB: Have any quiltmakers influenced you in your work, or mentored you?

KM: I've had just a couple of mentors that have really helped me. One of them just kind of, our guild has a bee, once a week, you know a bee, and it's from ten to four at a church and people come and bring their projects, whatever they're working on and it's, anybody in the guild can come, so there are different people that come. It was on a day when I wasn't working, so I started going and I would always take my projects and one person in particular Jo Knox was, she was always there, and you know she watched what I was doing and she would give me little hints. She'd say, "There's an easier way that you could do that," or she said, "You know, you might want to try this," and she gave me color selection ideas. When I would have problems, she, if I would ask her she'd always tell me and you know she was the type of person too that if I didn't really agree with her, that was okay [laughs.] it didn't ruffle her feathers any at all and sometimes I didn't follow her advice, but most of the time if I didn't follow her advices [laughs.] I thought, 'Oh yeah, she does have a point there." She has always encouraged me too, you know whenever I would try something new, and she still encourages me to do things that I haven't done before and one of these days I might even try some appliqué that you actually stitch down by hand [laughs.] but I'm not wild about hand appliqué. Everything in my Lafayette quilt is stitched is appliquéd down, but its machine appliqué using invisible thread, in most cases I think I used invisible thread on that. Another person that had helped me quite a bit with the foundation paper piecing was the owner of the quilt shop there, was Kristi Grigsby, and she and her mother Jackie Asbill designed a lot of the patterns that they had sold. I've done a number of foundation paper piecing projects.

CDB: I think we're getting close to the end of our time, so I'm going to ask a couple more questions then I'm going to ask you if there's anything you want to add at the end. Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

KM: It gives me a creative outlet and I've never really felt that I was just a wonderfully creative person but I like to do things and I like to make things and I made a lot of quilts and given them as gifts and I enjoyed doing that because I'm usually thinking about that person whenever I'm working on a project that I'm going to give away. It just gives me a good feeling inside.

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

KM: Women have been quilting for a long time, and just quilting myself, although no one in my family quilted, I feel like I have a connection with people that have quilted years ago and I feel like they too were trying to express their creativity and their individuality in the quilts that they made while providing something useful for their family. When I make quilts and give them away or like for baby quilts, I encourage the mothers to use them [laughs.] use them and wash them and use them and wash them because I just feel like that's a connection with other people.

CDB: Well thank you so much for coming today. Is there anything that you'd like to say or question I didn't ask you that you'd like to talk about?

KM: No, I can't think of anything.

CDB: Okay thank you. I'd like to thank you Kay Marburger for allowing me to interview you today for the Quilters' S.O.S. [Save Our Stories.] Project, our oral history project and our interview concluded at 12:02.


“Kay Marburger,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2700.