Susan Atwell




Susan Atwell


Susan Atwell is a quiltmaker from La Porte, Indiana. She learned to quilt from her mother and grandmother, she recalls fond memories of trips to the fabric store with them, and began quilting herself when she was in her thirties and loves longarm quilting. In this interview she discusses at length her quilt, "Silk Scarves Revisited," which is a bed-sized quilt comprised completely of old, damaged silk scarves from her aunt, and used the project as a way of mourning her grandmother. She discusses the difficulty in working with silk and its difference from cotton fabrics.




Melanie Grear


Susan Atwell


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date



La Porte, Indiana


Tomme Fent


**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.**

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave, and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Susan Atwell. Susan is in La Porte, Indiana, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we're conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is October 9, 2009. It's now 10:05 in the morning. And Susan, thank you for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Silk Scarves Revisited."

Susan Atwell (SA): This quilt is my latest commissioned piece, and it's my favorite right now because it represents a lot of things that quilts represent for a lot of people. It's just a big conglomerate of all these things. The story behind it was my aunt had sustained some water damage to her entire collection of silk scarves, and she bought these silk scarves. Each one was a remembrance of a time or a place or some sort of a fond memory for her, and she celebrated it by the purchase of a silk scarf. And a lot of these were handmade by a now-deceased friend of hers, so they were all very, very precious to her. And she basically handed me the bag and said, 'Here, do something with that art degree.' And I said, 'Sure. This is what quiltmaking is all about. I'm up for the challenge.'

So in my ignorance of working with silk, I thought, 'Oh, this shouldn't be that big of a deal. This'll be fine. This'll be interesting, and putting all of these different things together and all of the patterns and the colors.' It was a very disparate group. And I thought, 'Well, this is going to be a great challenge.' Little did I know the, shall I say, difficulties and challenges in working with silk as opposed to working with regular cotton fabric. So the quilt took, from start to finish, over a year. In the meantime, my grandmother had died and I didn't really notice the impact of that until midway through the project when I realized, 'You know, I just need to go on this. I'm stuck. I'm struggling with what's going on.' And then I realized that's what part of the problem was as far as getting in the groove and getting the process finished, not to mention the challenge of working with the silk scarves. When I first decided to put this together, my first process was to hang the scarves up on a clothesline just to get an eyeball of what I had to work with color-wise and design-wise. And then that's when I decided to just use simple strips because everything was such a disparate group of color, texture, and pattern, and I thought this would be the most, the simplest way to just showcase the scarves and not make it too fussy and too patterned and have too many themes, to be perfectly honest.

So when I first cut my first silk scarf, I had no idea, again, not working with silk that it was just like working with, for lack of a better term, fluttery butter. [laughs.] I had no idea how I was going to do this. So I'd call up my mother, who's a seasoned quilter herself, and not having my grandmother to talk to, and she said, 'Well, why don't you just fuse them?' And I thought, 'Well, duh, perfect.' So we found some tissue-weight interfacing, fusible, and I used that and that seemed to be the problem solved. So I thought, 'Terrific. I'm going full speed ahead on this thing.' So I proceeded to fuse all of these scarves and cut them into strips, and that was quite a project because there were a lot of them. And I didn't know which ones I wanted to use or which ones I didn't want to use because I had to put everything up on the design wall and have everything available to work with if I wanted to. So I fused a lot of scarves and a lot of pieces I didn't use, but that was okay. It was fun to have them up on my design wall. So I started sewing the strips together, which presented another problem because I don't have a walking foot on my vintage Kenmore domestic [sewing machine.], when I'd have the two silk faces together it was just slippery. I couldn't get a grip on anything so I was getting puckers and all kinds of craziness and I was really, really frustrated. So I finally finagled a way to get the strips sewn together and through the machine, and that took several months, too, because it was just a standstill and, 'What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?' Some of the pieces had thicker interfacing on the back because I had run out of the original stuff and I couldn't find it, so if a thicker piece was on the top underneath the presser foot, it would cause problems. So it was just a challenge from the get-go.

So I finally got the top pieced together and I'm hanging it out on my clothesline, I'm looking at it, and I thought, 'You know, this is almost bed-size.' And my aunt had given me the full reins. She said, 'Do whatever you want to do. It can be as small as you want or as big as you want.' And I, of course, for some reason, I just have a thing about making bed-size quilts. In my mind, I thought that would be the best result for her to be able to utilize this again as a usable piece. So there were a few strips that were just short of the mark of making this a full bed-size quilt, so I had to refuse more pieces that I hadn't fused, unsew some of the strips, and add onto the length of these strips. So that took me another couple days. And then finally, I got to the size I wanted and I was just thrilled beyond belief. And I took a lot of pictures to celebrate this and got it on the longarm and started quilting. Well, of course, I found the perfect backng and binding fabrics and that was a challenge, too, because again, it was such a disparate group of colors and patterns in these strips. So I found something that was kind of Asian vintage-ish, purpleish washed out black for the binding, and I found a different color, lighter same style, same flavor for the backing, and I thought, 'Well, if she wants matching pillow shams, as sometimes she does, I could make those for her, too, and I'll have the extra fabric be the backing for that, too.'

So I got it on the longarm and I started quilting, and I'm doing a real simple just overall, kind of wavy crosshatch sort of thing, and I used a couple different colors of thread because the values do go from very dark to very light. And this is getting towards the over a period of a year. And I was home recouping from surgery, so it was a good project to be able to finish and be able to focus on while I was home, not being able to work. So I'm getting to the end of this project and I'm just ready to have it done and give it to her, because she's been going through some stressful situations in her life and I knew that it would make her happy to see this finally finished. And for some reason at the end of this quilting, I'm getting toward the very light end of the fabrics, and I'm thinking, it's the most horrible thought, I'm thinking, 'This looks like a mattress pad.' [laughs.] All the wind was out of my sails and I was just so dejected and I thought, 'Well, there's no turning back now. I've been looking at this for way too long. I'm way too close to this. I'm going to get it off the longarm. I'm going to take it with me to our quilting retreat that we have at my parents' lake place, and get some fresh eyes on this thing.' I told my mom and she's like, 'Well, let's just put it on the bed and see what it looks like.' And we put it on the bed and I thought, 'Oh, hallelujah! This makes like a 300% difference.' And she said, 'Well, I think you were thinking mattress pad because it was some lighter color fabrics, almost white toward the end, and it was just real simple quilting.' And I thought, 'Thank goodness!' because I couldn't live with this thinking that it looks like a mattress pad. So after seeing it on the bed, it made me really relieved and my mom said, 'Oh, I bet she'll do a room around this.' And I thought, 'Oh, wow, well there's the ultimate compliment.'

So after that was said, I felt much better, and we trimmed it up and I sent it home with mom so she could bind it, because she's my binder. And I felt so much better about this. But the reason it's my favorite is because it represents several things. It represented the use of something that would normally be thrown away, which were her damaged silk scarves, and then they also represented all of these special moments and meanings for her and examples of artwork by her deceased friend, and the fact that she trusted me enough with these precious bit to recycle or up cycle them into something that would serve another purpose. And again that was the ultimate honor for me. And then when it was all said and done, she called and emailed and just said how exciting and thrilled she was about it, and it surpassed her expectations,[she was going to use it for the focal point in her bedroom at her new condo]and that just really, really made me feel good because she's just been such a wonderful patron of the arts and she knew my grandma, and throughout this whole period of sewing and constructing this, I thought about my grandma several times and I thought, 'You know, if she was here, she'd help me with this,' because she was always about, 'Oh, just bring it over and I'll help you sew this. I'll help you figure this out.' And her spirit was definitely, definitely there with me making this, and my aunt would totally understand that, and when we were at the funeral, she and I conferred on some things that should have been said or could have been said regarding my grandmother that weren't and we were very disappointed about it, but she was a big admirer of her, too. So anyway, that's basically why it's my favorite now because it just represents all of those things and a challenge that I overcame, which was great for me as a quilter, as a piecer, as a longarmer, just getting through another challenge and moving on and that's what makes things so great about it.

KM: Now did you use cotton or silk for the back and the binding?

SA: The back and the binding are cotton. I was not going to work with silk again, and I didn't think I would have a lot of choices, either, for that.

KM: And the quilt is 101 inches by 92 inches, so it is large. So you typically like that size, right?

SA: Yes, yes, and basically the strips kind of dictated how big it was going to be. It's just more of a top where it's not going to hang down on the sides too much, and I didn't know what size bed she was going to put it on, but it was just kind of an average something that would cover a bed-size category, I suppose.

KM: So tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

SA: Oh, boy, well fabric's part of my DNA. One of my earliest, fondest memories is going into a fabric store with my grandmother and just going, 'Oh, wow!' And it was like this physical feeling of just being overcome by all of this wonderful color, texture, and pattern, and just being completely blown away and overwhelmed by it. And I really didn't realize that this was such a big deal until I went away to college and tried to major in ceramics and there was a textile program upstairs and I went, 'Wait a minute. I've got to go up there and see what's going on.' And then I just felt like I was home. And that's the only way I can explain it. I've always been just absolutely head over heels in love with textiles.

KM: So at what age did you start making quilts?

SA: Let's see, I think I was in my thirties. I did some sewing and stuff on and off throughout my early adulthood. I didn't start quilting until I joined a guild, and even then my quilts were not the typical type traditional things, and then my mom joined and then I left for two years to go build scenery out east and then my mom just took the ball and just started running with it, and she's made way more quilts than I have but I think I've quilted more quilts than she has.

KM: So tell me about your creative process.

SA: Well, it depends on what type of quilt, I suppose, I'm wanting to create. Most of the time, I really enjoy the sort of the 'Ah, ha!' thing when you just start picking up fabrics and colors and things and just start putting things together and things just kind of come together out of nowhere. Once in awhile I'll have an idea, and a lot of times that idea will completely not even end up on the table with the finished product. It's more of an intuitive process more than anything else. I love the antique Amish. I love Gees Bend. I love Nancy Crow, and those kinds of things, but I generally, if I know what it's going to look like already, I'm not really interested in going through the process to create that. [I always have more than one project that qualifies as a work in progress (WIP) or unfinished object (UFO) I get interrupted a lot by my jobs. I takes me a long time because I like to be able to explore a lot of options when I'm working on something.] I want to enjoy the process and discover the journey along the way.

KM: Tell me how you got into owning a longarm and quilting for other people.

SA: Well, my mom and I had gone to the international show in Chicago, and I had wanted to turn my garage into a studio. That was pretty much the plan. And we went on the bus trip with all of the quilt guild ladies and we stopped by the APQS booth and ran into Sue Patton, and she just basically charmed us and said, 'Oh, yeah, you can do this. You can totally do this.' And I remember getting on the bus thinking, 'Maybe this is really possible.' And my mom and I kept telling everybody on the way home, 'Oh, yeah, we're getting a longarm.' [laughs.] And it ended up being just me getting a longarm and she really doesn't like to run it too much unless I'm here and she's kind of afraid of it. But that was the start and I really didn't think it was possible, but we went down to the, I think it was MQS in Springfield, Illinois, that next year to test-drive all of the models and that's when I decided, 'You know what, this is what I'm getting and I'm actually going to do it. And when I do something, I've got to do something I enjoy until I fall over dead. This is what I'm doing.' So that was the decision.

KM: So how is it, quilting for other people?

SA: You know, I enjoy it because most of the time, every single project is different. It's a different set of fabrics, of blocks, of textures, of everything, and that's what keeps me excited about it is that it's different every time. It's a new set of challenges. With the exception of one time I did quilt the same quilt. It was a block-of-the-month and three people unbelievably had pretty much the same quilt, and that was pretty weird. But that's what I love about it; it's always different. And I love the fact that I'm collaborating with another creator. And when you take it off the machine and it's all undone from all the restrictions and constraints, it just takes on a life of its own and that's my favorite part. And a lot of times, it's hard to give them back.

KM: So what has been your favorite quilt to quilt for someone?

SA: Oh, boy, that's a good question. There's been so many. My favorite quilt? I don't know. You know what? I really enjoy quilting my own which is a rarity. I enjoy quilting my mom's, too, because I know that they're going to stay in the family and I know I'm going to get to look at them again and enjoy them again. So from that perspective, I enjoy quilting ours but I enjoy quilting the ones that are vintage, the ones that are reproduction vintage. I love all that [reproduction style of.] fabric and all those patterns and those are some of my favorites, I think, the ones that are like that. But mostly I think the [authentic]vintage ones because they have the history and I always wonder, if the owner doesn't know, if they're not in the family, 'Who was this person and what were they like and what were they thinking when they made this?'

KM: So you mentioned converting your garage into your studio. Tell me about your studio.

SA: [laughs.] It's an old, single car garage that were like most of them, at the time, built from a kit. Well, when my fiancé, bless his heart, started remodeling this, we realized that there was hardly any insulation and the roof needed to be replaced. So it was pretty much all redone. It's got a concrete slab floor but it's the best heated room in the house. It's got a gas heater in the wall and gets really toasty in here, and right now it's a complete and utter disaster but it's packed to the gills with fabric and batting and thread and vintage quilt parts and just things on my wall that I can look at and things that I've purchased off of eBay that were just random orphaned blocks. And I've got my plants in here and all my books and magazines so I really need an addition, and I'd love an addition right out the back where I'd put in another small longarm and more room to store things, and I'd like a wet area, I could do a little more dyeing . So it's typical me: I've got too much stuff in a small place.

KM: So how did you come up with your name, "Fat Quarter Quilt Farm"?

SA: Well, I wanted to incorporate the farm aspect because I'm really excited about the fact that I own a chunk of land and it's a farm, pretty much. And I didn't want it to just have "studio" in the name and I wanted people to know that it had to do with quilting and I wanted it to sound kind of catchy. So when I first got the farm, my mom and my family and I, we kind of laughed about it, 'What are we going to name the farm? What are we going to name the farm?' And I always said, 'It's going to be Fat Quarter Quilt Farm,' just because of the quilting reference. And a lot of people don't understand, especially if they're not quilters, they don't understand the fat quarter part so I always have to explain that. [it's not a body part!]

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

SA: Well, it depends. I don't get a lot done during the week because I have a regular day job and I'm on my feet like for ten hours for four days. I'd say maybe, I don't know, eight to sixteen. It just depends on what's going on, if I have any deadlines, what my energy level is, basically.

KM: Is there any aspect of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

SA: I don't like binding. I'm not good at it. That's why I send it to my mom. I've done it for my own things. I don't really enjoy the burying of the threads. I don't make knots. A lot of longarmers do knots. I've never been good at knots, but I heard that judges don't like knots. So I leave all my starts and stops as tails and then I just pull those through with a self-threading needle, and that takes some time and I think that's the least exciting part of the process.

KM: You mentioned Nancy Crow and Gees Bend. Whose works are you drawn to and why?

SA: Well, I like the graphic qualities of the vintage Amish, the Arthur [Illinois.] Amish, and my first book was the Pottinger Quilt Collection way back in the '80s, I believe, I bought that book. And that was just the thing that got me started. And I like Nancy Crow stuff and Gee's Bend because it's just very graphic. I actually met her [Nancy Crow.] once, and she's such a prolific, amazing energy for quilting and she's just unstoppable and I just marvel, totally marvel at her abilities to do what she does and share all of her teaching, her knowledge with everyone. I enjoy the African American quilts because they were made out of necessity but they're such beautiful, beautiful pieces, such intuitive design sense. And that's the Gee's Bend and any of the other publications out there, to me, that's what it's all about. I enjoy the traditional, the fussy, major works that are vintage, I guess, magnum opuses, I suppose you would say. But there's something raw and fresh about the Gee's Bend stuff. It's primitive. It's just got this, what am I trying to say, unconstrained sense of life about them, I guess is what it is. It's just a snapshot into the person's creativity, I suppose. It's not finely honed, it's not controlled, there's no restrictions put on it. I guess that's why I really enjoy those.

KM: Tell me about the quilt groups that you belong to.

SA: Well, I belong to one that meets in Valpo [String-a-Long in Valparaiso, Indiana.]. It's a Valpo guild, and they're just a mix of a lot of the traditional ladies, and some of the original founders. We're getting a few younger, thirties-age quilters in with it. It's just, I would say, pretty much just your basic quilt guild. There's not a lot that's different. We have a couple, a few award winners or nationally-known people in the guild, but if you would look up "American quilt guild" in the dictionary that would definitely be us. We're having our guild show this next March, and my mom is the featured quilter, so that's a real big deal for us. And I'm on the publicity committee along with her and a friend of mine. But I enjoy going every month and we try to do the charity quilts, we're doing foster kids this year, and we're just really trying to create excitement about that sense of community and a sense of charity within quilting.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

SA: I would advise a young quilter to take in anything that could be considered a quilt. Quilts don't have to be the typical, traditional example. I think a lot of people get hung up because they think it's got to be perfect right out of the box and they think they have to follow the pattern to the letter, and I think we're losing the creativity and the spontaneity and I don't want newbies to be hung up on the 'shoulds.' It should look like this. It should be done this way, et cetera, et cetera. I would like to see them approach it more as a creative process and just a jumping off point because there's so many different ways you can go. There's so many avenues to explore, and there's no need to be disappointed or feel like you've failed because it doesn't look like the pattern you bought. I cannot stress that enough.

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

SA: The biggest challenge? There's still this whole idea of the 'quilt police' out there. 'You've got to have so many stitches per inch. You have to do it this way. You have to do it this way, You have to do it this way.' I think the challenge is breaking that stereotype, breaking those preconceived notions, and there's also still some of the hand quilted versus machine quilted mindsets. I think we all should just come together and realize that it's all about being creative and expressing ourself and our love for textiles. I think a lot of times, especially within guilds, there's a lot of challenges with personality types and power struggles and things that make being in a group not fun. And I think people need to just, 'Lighten up, Frances,' basically and just get over that. We're there because we want to be there. We're there because we love textiles, we love quilts, and we have to continue to remember that and embrace everyone's point of view, everyone's skill level, and realize that we all started somewhere and we're all in this together and not be, I guess, at odds with each other within groups.

KM: Have you seen a change in people's perception of longarm quilting?

SA: Yes, I think I have. I think a lot of people are more apt to surrender that unfinished top that was made by someone in the family to a longarmer, especially if they've seen examples of that done by the specific longarmer because that's a huge issue of trust. You're handing over a family heirloom to someone that's going to forever alter it. I think people are realizing that longarming is just not going to go away. It's just like the sewing machine; it didn't go away. And it's a way to get these things finished and usable, and like [Marianne.] Fons and [Liz.] Porter say, 'Done is good,' and I'm a firm believer in that. And I also believe that in today's world, people are, obviously, we're washing things, we're using things more often, and a longarmed quilt is going to survive that more than a hand-quilted thing. And that's what you want them for. You want to be able to use them and enjoy them and let members of your family use them and enjoy them, and specifically, if you give them as a gift, you don't want them to be afraid to use it or enjoy it.

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

SA: It's the 'Oh, wow!' factor, for lack of a better term. Either you're seeing it online, you're seeing it at a show, you're seeing it at your guild's show-and-tell, when it just makes your heart stop for half a second and you go, 'Whoa! That's awesome! That's amazing!' And again, that's personal preference, of course. It's got to do with what you love or someone else loves, but it's just that moment that really speaks to you and you get a picture of it or you get a shot of it or you wish you did or you try to convince someone who did to send you a shot of it for your photo library. It's all just very personal. Other than that, I really can't define it.

KM: So why is quiltmaking important to you?

SA: It's important to me just because it's something that's part of, again, a part of my DNA, and I think it's important because it's a way for women to continue to express their creativity. And if it's done in the traditional sense, as a bed-size, it's a way to enjoy creativity on a daily basis. It's a way to share your creativity and your passion with family members and friends through making gifts for major occurrences like weddings, graduations, et cetera. It's just part of our daily life. Fabric and textiles are just part of the everyday life of our existence, and it's just such a universal language, I suppose, as far as the creating with the fabric and color and texture and pattern. It's such a huge thing it's, again for me, it's hard to define.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

SA: Not as the crazy chicken fabric lady, that's for sure! [laughs.] I don't know.

KM: The crazy chicken fabric lady?

SA: Yes.

KM: Tell me about that.

SA: Oh, boy, well, ever since I've been collecting fabric and stuff, my grandpa would laugh and call me the "Crazy Bag Lady" because we would always have fabric in bags and stuff and sorted, whatever. And of course my grandma quilted too, and she always had her stash. But since I've had this farm, we got chickens like three years ago and they're like pets. I have cats and dogs, too, but now it's just another group to add to the zoo here and it's kind of like children. They're not even laying any more. It's pretty hilarious. They're just like kids. But my nieces are teenagers and I think that when I die, they're going to curse my name because I've got so much stuff and they're not tuned into much of that. They're doing the teenager thing and they've got a whole different mindset. But hopefully when they get older, they will have some sort of affinity for this, and if they don't, that's fine, but they're going to be the ones, since I don't have children, that are going to have to deal with my estate, as it is. So I kind of get a kick out of thinking about that. As far as quilting goes, I don't know, I'll probably be known as a big mouth and someone that spoke her mind, and hopefully someone that encouraged people to do what they loved.

KM: Very nice. Do you consider yourself an artist or a quiltmaker, or do you even make the distinction?

SA: I'm formally trained as a, quote-unquote, artist. I mean, I have the degree. So I would like to consider myself an artist. I am definitely a quiltmaker, more of a quilt finisher than a maker, if you want to break it down into percentages, but I'm trying to get to that artist point. And that's something that people, I guess, always have to define for themselves. My ultimate goal would be to get something in a major show, whether it would be Houston or Quilt National would be the absolute bomb. But that's kind of a lifetime goal for me, to really consider myself, I guess, an artist. But if you're a creator, you're a creator, and I think that's the most important thing, and that you just keep doing it, you just keep doing it, and you share it. And now with the Internet, it just makes it so much easier. I used to feel so isolated and people, a lot of times at my guild, they didn't get me, they didn't understand it, and that was hard because you really wanted to connect with someone. You wanted to be able to talk shop or share a brain cell and really understand each other. And with the Internet, it just makes it so much easier to find those other kindred spirits and it's just been such a life saver for me. And I really feel like I am working towards the artist thing. I see what other people are doing out there and they're doing some amazing stuff, and they're calling themselves artists and I think, 'You know what? Yeah, why not?'

KM: You talked about dyeing fabric. Tell me a little bit more about that.

SA: Well, it's something I dabble in and out of. I don't have a really great facility for doing that out here. I have an old septic system. And again, that's something that's part of me I can't quite give up. I see Nancy Crow dyes all of her own stuff and I know Lisa Call, who's another quilter with an influence on me, she dyes her own stuff, too, and I'm always thinking about quilters and new techniques and new things that they can use to incorporate into their own works. We have such a lovely selection of commercial fabrics out there but you know what? Some people just want to push the envelope and they want to do their own thing and that's where I am, too, sometimes. I want to try some new techniques and I just love the fact that you never know what's going to come out of the dye pot. That's part of, I think, the deal for dyeing with me. It's never a majorly controlled situation; it's always the, 'Oh, look what happened to this. Oh, and what can I do with this?' And that's what I love about it. It's just, it's always a jumping off point and it's always an inspiration, the end result out of the dye pot.

KM: So what are your favorite quilt techniques?

SA: I love string quilts. I love string stars. I love, well, of course, the Gees Bend type of thing. Let's just start with this, a pair of jeans, and end up with an awesome quilt. There's just so many things out there that I do enjoy. I think what I don't -- one of the things I'm not excited about, I don't like real thick polyester bats and things. But I think that would be like the only thing that really would be a turnoff for me. I like to explore raw edges and zigzag stitching and just, again, the whole, 'What if? What if?' I don't like to be constrained by tradition too much and I think within the tradition, there's people that have pushed the boundaries and I think that's healthy and I think that needs to continually be done.

KM: So you mentioned Lisa [Call.]. How's Lisa influenced you?

SA: Lisa has influenced me by putting her stuff out there online, and she just shares everything. She shares her thought processes and she influences me because she's got a full-time job, too, and she has kids and she just has an amazing amount of energy and she shared her Christine Kane connection with me, which has been really helpful in my getting over my lack of creativity every day. She's shared her connection with Alyson Stanfield, which is the, who's amazing, too, with her resources and her generosity. And I love the hand-dyed, I love the fact that she's taking such simple, simple elements and just doing some amazing things with them. And she's just been someone that I've alternately been just so in awe of and been completely jealous of, so I think that means that she's one of the gurus in my mind. She's out there. She's doing it. She's making this happen. And I just really, really admire that.

KM: So what are your plans for the future?

SA: In a perfect world, I would walk into my day job tomorrow and say, 'See ya!' I go through that every day. My plans are to ditch the number fifty millionth stupid day job I've had, because I've had a lot of them in my life just to get by. In my mind, I guess that's what artists do, just to get by, to live. I would love to teach more classes here at my farm. I would love to teach more classes at local guilds. I would love to teach on a semi-national level, even. Another longarmer friend and I have a lecture program , we call ourselves "The Longarm Ladies," and we're dedicated to educating the piecer, who is ultimately any longarmer's customer, to help them avoid problems or extra fees or just that the secret language between longarmers is not a mystery, and so we're trying to help people understand that it's not a mystery and just educate them as far as what they need to know and how to choose a longarmer and the different styles, the different levels of quilting, the different cost levels. And I think that really needs to be done because we hear a lot of things when we're out there at shows vending and stuff and people say, 'Oh, she ruined my quilt. Oh, she ruined my quilt. Oh, I didn't like this. Oh, I didn't like this.' And again, it just boils down to communication. So we're trying to do that, teach more. I would love to just have more time to just play with my own ideas, and it's been so long since it seems like I've had ideas because I've been doing quilting for everyone else. So I would love to be able to continue to quilt for everyone else, because I do enjoy that, I enjoy helping people get these things finished. I love seeing what people are doing, up close and personal, and I want to connect with more creative people, which are the quilters. I don't want to spend the next half of my life working somewhere where I'm not appreciated, where my talents are not being utilized, where I can't even talk to people about what I'm about, because they get this blank look on their face. I want to be surrounded and immersed in quilting and textiles because that's, again, that's my DNA, and hopefully someday to work up something that I feel is good enough to be entered into a show and maybe someday get into the show and really feel like, 'Yeah, okay, this is success for me. This is what I've defined and I've actually done it.' That would be my perfect future.

KM: Sounds good to me. Is there anything that you'd like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

SA: Not really. I guess I just want to thank your organization and you for the opportunity for this. I think this is awesome. When I buy the history books, all the different quilting history books, I try to collect them as much as I can, the personal stories are the things and the personal photographs are the things that always intrigued me the most. And I think it's great that you guys are saving the stories and recording these things because all too often, things just get lost or they go to the grave with someone, and I think what you guys are doing is super, super important and I just wish you guys the best of luck and hope you can continue to get these stories.

KM: Well, thank you.

SA: You're welcome.

KM: We're going to conclude our interview at 10:50.



“Susan Atwell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,