Christine Adams




Christine Adams


Christine Adams was interested in fabric from a very young age, as her grandparents were decorators on Philadelphia’s Mainline, and she spent a lot of time in their shop when she was young. Adams considers herself a ‘mixed media’ artist, primarily working in textiles because of their fluidity and color. She belongs to six guilds, most of them national and meeting only a few times a year. In this interview, Adams describes her quilt “Faded Memory” in detail, which is a dedication to her parents and part of "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" exhibition.




Melanie Grear


Christine Adams


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Rockville, Maryland


Karen Musgrave


**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): Christine, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Christine lives in Rockville, Maryland, and I am in Naperville, Illinois so we are doing this interview by e-mail. Our interview began on March 18, 2008. I am doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project based on the exhibit "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Please tell me about your quilt "Faded Memory" which is in the exhibit.

Christine Adams (CA): "Faded Memory" is as much about my Mom as it is about Dad. My mother died in her fifties and it was clear that a substantial part of Dad's joy in life drained from him when Mom died. They were extremely close. Dad had a very difficult time living life without his June.

Years ago Dad started a memoir, "Life with June," detailing all the places he and Mom had lived, the decisions they made, and most of all the love they had for each other. He would add to the memoir occasionally after Mom died but his behavior was erratic and he seemed even more eccentric than he had ever been. At the time we chalked the situation up to Dad being Dad but even more so. We knew later on that he was probably experiencing early onset dementia.

My Dad was one of the most intelligent men I've ever known. He was never afraid to venture an opinion and was frequently the center of a heated debate. He was only a reservist in the Marines but every time there was a conflict he was on call to his post in Air Intelligence. He could speak on any subject and make it come to life. He loved debate and would take whichever side his opposition didn't want. The semantics were what interested him. If you took him on he'd settle back and enjoy the word scrimmage immensely. As children we learned not to go to Dad with homework questions. We might have fifty questions to answer but he would give us the background and supporting info on that one we asked about and it could take hours. As adults we learned to appreciate this smart and often funny man but we all knew that Mom brought out his softer side. This is the man I wanted to honor in my quilt, "Faded Memory."

In "Faded Memory" I thought it appropriate to use men's ties exclusively along with the photo images on fabric. The photos are from happier times in Dad's life. As Dad's dementia progressed he would sometimes remember that a photo portrayed an old friend or his children or his beloved June. Sometimes you could see that he knew he should know who these people were but he couldn't quite grasp that memory. He tried to tell his old stories and would fail and his eyes would glaze over. A Matt Clark quote 'In Alzheimer's the mind dies first: names, dates, places - the interior scrapbook of an entire life - fade into mists of non-recognition,' seemed to sum up what life had become for Dad.

I placed the photos in haphazard positions using raw-edge free motion quilting to liken my wall quilt to the frayed and raw emotions engendered by Alzheimer's. There are many gaps. The quilt pieces are fragmented and irregular. The quilt is in an altar format because those who were most important to Dad were the last to slip from his memory. As you can see, June is at the top.

In working on this piece I realized that because I was caught up in Dad's care I also had forgotten some of the happier times. As I stitched many memories of both Mom and Dad came flooding back.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

CA: Most of my recent wall quilts are almost square. I don't know why I felt compelled to orient "Faded Memory" in this way but I did. Perhaps it was the altar effect which was not a conscious decision at the time. I tend to work without a rigid plan. I usually have a bit of an idea of where I want to go but I let the process happen and am sometimes quite surprised by the results. As I said, I have a bit of an idea but color and texture are what appeal to me. My next step is to mingle fabrics and sometimes trims in a heap on my worktable. Usually something jumps out visually and that piece is pinned uncut to my design wall. My husband and children know that I see something much different from what they are seeing in the mass of overlapping and scrunched fabrics that frequent my pin board. After several additions a starting place is found and I begin to cut and add to the design. The appliquéd base of my quilts is usually completely cut out before stitching. After I have a firm base I add other touches, then let the quilt hang for auditioning over the next week or so. It will tell me when something else is needed. In "Faded Memory" I used only ties to make the quilt. This is typical of recent work in which I use ties including the linings. I sometimes mix the ties with vintage aprons and laces. Working with the elderly has given me more than an appreciation for vintage fabrics and findings.

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

CA: My parents left a family home in Cape May Point, New Jersey to their nine children. Their requirement was that all of us and our families are welcome and that the home could not be sold without 100% percent consent. It was not considered as a part of their dividable estate. My brothers and sisters would like the quilt to hang there. I am still unsure but that could be the final resting place.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit? If so, please tell me about your impressions of it. Do you have any personal favorites?

CA: I have not seen the exhibit in person but would like to and am still trying to find a space that will show it in this area. However I've reviewed the CD many times and never tire of the stories. The beauty of the exhibit is that the pieces are very different - a wonderful mix of traditional and otherwise. It is hard to choose personal favorites. Some I like for the stories and some for the emotional and visual impact. I do like the graphics of Debbie Bowles "Russian Olive Trees." "A Porsche Problem" by Georgia Bonesteel made me laugh. "I like the Red" by Morna Golletz stays with me. So many of my residents that I worked with had a safe saying that they used in conversation over and over again. Your piece "Shattered" resonated with me also. And I appreciated the sentiments of Sue Nickels in "A Bouquet for You."

KM: There is a CD of the exhibit that has an audio part where each quiltmaker can be heard saying her artist statement. Tell me about that experience.

CA: The CD is poignant. At first I could only listen to a little at a time. I had trouble viewing and hearing the CD possibly because I have a MAC. I got frustrated because I wanted to absorb all of the stories and the CD was not responding. But I solved the problem; then I cried and laughed. The stories are for the most part positively and lovingly told. I was struck by how good some of the voices came across such as Cindy Cooksey with her quilt "Gaps." And then I was caught up in the stories as in "Holes in My Memory" by Donna Hudson, the often heard symptoms of Beth Hartford's "Sundown," Becky Goldsmith's "Trying to Hold One," Linda Huff's "Nevlin," or the tribute to her Mom "Once a Shining Star" by Helen Marshall. I wondered if someone someday will be able to discern some of who I was as in "A Day with Beebe" by Marsha McCloskey.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CA: Karen, I believe that the love of color and texture and fabric grew with me from the time I was two. At that time I lived with my mother's parents for a time. They were decorators on Philadelphia's Mainline. Their flat was above the shop and I went to work with them everyday. We all had our work to do. My Mom-mom entertained clients, my Pop-pop lifted and carted and cut the drapes, slipcovers, upholstery and such, and Sayers did all of the sewing. My job was to be occupied and to be as quiet as possible. I would sit with my favorite doll, Leo, joining two strings of upholstery fabric, laying it in rows, bits and pieces next to and woven together for hours at a time. The scraps were mine and there were many of them. Playing with colorful textures and scraps of fabric was a part of my daily routine. Leo was garbed in tangled strands of gossamer threads.

Mary Agnes Gilmartin Kessler, my grandmother, was the one who spoke to clients about color and the spell it wove on a room. The living area above the shop conveyed her love of beauty and elegance with its mix of textures, oriental rugs, and tapestry-covered furniture. Even simple meals were pleasing to both the eye and palate. We ate from pink glass depression ware dishes that had to be washed and dried 'til they sparkled.' Food was chosen for color and texture. Cloth napkins and table covers were a staple and polite conversation an integral part of the meal.

My grandfather, Leo, was in his shop when he wasn't with customers measuring for drapes or lugging a sofa or chairs back to the shop for re-upholstery. It was my pleasure to be a part of their days. After that initial stay it was not unusual for me to spend days at a time in the shop until I was eight and my family moved to California.

The store front was magic. It was filled with beautiful fabrics draped over chairs, threaded through brass rings and hung from polished rods. The front room was filled with upholstered furniture in glorious color. Gleaming side tables and magnificent china cabinets with lit glass shelves added to the glamour. Clients sat on feather filled cushions and looked through book after book of fabric swatches. In the workroom there was a large worktable that held several chairs and couches at a time and rows and rows of yard goods lined up against the walls. Sayers and her machine were there also. My grandfather installed a swing for me indoors and out so that I could have diversion even on rainy days.

If I shut my eyes I can transport myself back to the workroom. I know I am there. I can feel the rough flooring on my bare skin as I sit with legs spread about a project on the floor. I can lean back on the slick surface of a divan draped in plastic. Sayers, Pop-Pop's sewer, is humming along with her machine and my grandfather's oversized sheers snip and clip as he cuts fabric for chairs and sofas. On such days I can feel the impact of the hammer as he constructs the wood frames for upholstered furniture. The hammer bangs, the sound reverberates, and the huge worktable gives a small almost imperceptible skip. The impact is felt across the floor. It's a rhythm I learned to love. We all work silently together. The only music is the hum of Sayers and her machine. I am a part of the team and we all love what we do.

My studio is a happy place. Whenever we've moved a place was set aside for my machine and my collections of fabric scraps. When my children were young my studio shared space with the piano and the record player in the dining room. We called it the "dancing room." When the children were older I had a commercial space for seventeen years. Now that I am back home again I have rooms for different purposes - computer - books - but the textures and color I love are all in one place and envelope me when I walk into my room.

I am convinced that most quilts tell a story. We have to be still and watchful so that we don't miss the tale.

KM: You brought tears to my eyes. I don't think many people can be still today which brings me to my next question- What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

CA: Thank you for your input, Karen. I've been urged to have a website or a blog. It's difficult for me to relay who I am. In fact some days I'm not even sure who I am. However what I've written tells my story more accurately than anything else.

As far as challenges I can't limit myself to only quiltmaking. We all are challenged by technology and the increasingly closer presence of the world around us. In my case I was told I 'simply must' have a website so that I have web presence. I cannot keep up with all of the information that comes my way. For me the greatest challenge is to have the discipline to be in my studio every day - to try to push the world aside and find that inner self that has a story to tell.It is so difficult to create the quiet time because the beat of new books and techniques and wonderful chit chat is always there luring me away. What if I were to miss something and I do. I want to be in the studio but feel guilty that I'm not keeping up. Quieting that demanding demon seems impossible at times and I feel pulled in many directions. Even our mentors tell us that there is more to quilting or art than being in the studio. There are coaches that preach the same. It used to be that I tried hard to give of myself to my family. However now much of my time is spent preparing for classes, ordering supplies, creating samples, keeping up with technology, paperwork, and more. It is not often that I can allow my soul to have free rein to create its own story and perhaps my best work. My challenge is to carve out more truly creative studio time.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

CA: I love the works of Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Miriam Shapiro, Colette Wolf, and Grace Paley. All have inspired my work.

Romare Bearden uses paper as well as paint. Nothing is perfect. For instance his people may have two different sized eyes or claws for hands. We can see in some instances right through his buildings to the rooms inside. His works are primitive - the important aspect is that a story is told. The viewer can feel the pain or the joy of the characters shown. When I was the artist in residence in a nursing home I took my residents to the national gallery to see the Romare Bearden collection. We had been struggling with the concept of collage. It was hard for the residents to cover something up, especially a pretty piece of paper or fabric. It was difficult for them to show only a partial image. They were so afraid of being imperfect. When we had our day with Romare Bearden they finally saw what I had been talking about. It doesn't matter that Bearden's art is primarily painting. The techniques can be translated into quilting, mixed media, sculpture, or any other type of artwork. His themes are universal.

Jacob Lawrence presents everyday situations in bold color with simplistic figures. His compassionate feeling for his subjects is apparent in his painting. His paintings are individual life stories. All of the clues are presented for the viewer. The scope of the subjects shown in his paintings cover activities of everyday life. One cannot help but identify with one or another of his works. Using paint, his art is similar using to what my English teacher taught me about composition and the usage of words. You tell your reader in an opening sentence what you are going to write about, then you write about your topic, and then you wrap up by reiterating what you just said. Lawrence's paintings are like that. The immediate impact is there. Then you look further and see more but you are left with his clear cut image and his bold message.

Miriam Shapiro, another of my favorite artists, creates pictures within pictures. She combines paint, paper, and fabric to create her art. Her work is lively, colorful, and whimsical. Many of her pictures are fractured, creating a secondary design. Looking closely, the viewer can see that there are supporting stories told along with the one that is most apparent. Technically her work is remarkable. Some of the pieces are quite large – eight feet by twelve feet. The size alone is difficult to work with when using fabric. I would like to be inside her head as she is sorting through various elements to use. I would like to know how she chooses which images to use, which images should be prominent and which ones used to tell the supporting tale.

Colette Wolf is a master of technique. However instead of paints and dyes, Colette uses fabric manipulation to create her diverse pieces. She folds and tucks and stitches. Her work has cutouts and overlays and more tucks. I have been tempted to try each of her techniques on eight inch squares of fabric and to stitch the various manipulations together much like a sampler quilt. Her book is one of my bibles. She is capable of doing quite fine work or work that is exceedingly bold. Much of her art is monochromatic. The manipulation of the fabric creates the artistic interest.

Grace Paley is an inspiration and a political activist. She is also one of my favorite authors. One of her books that I am particularly drawn to is "The Little Disturbances of Man." This book has almost a dozen short stories – all about love in its many quirky forms. Paley seems to favor those whose paths are a little out of the ordinary – those who dare to be different, not just to be different, but because the difference makes them who they are. Her stories all have a bit of a lesson attached. It makes me think that inwardly she is thumbing her nose and saying. 'Now see that situation did not turn out badly after all.'

Each of these artists: Bearden, Lawrence, Shapiro, Wolf, and Paley have influenced my work with their use of words or color or technique.

KM: Of all the arts, why quiltmaking? Do you think of yourself as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction?

CA: Even calling myself an artist used to be hard for me. Then I decided that just because a person is a clerk or doctor or artist doesn't mean that they are good at what they do. It just means that this particular profession is how they choose to spend their time. I choose to spend my time as an artist.

I think of myself as a mixed media artist who uses primarily textiles. Why textiles? Textiles are fluid. They can be cut and bent and manipulated to convey any message. They come in a plethora of color and design and whatever isn't available can be dyed or created with surface design. Textiles keep me close to my roots and to generations of women who have gone before me.

KM: Since you mention women who have gone before you, what do you think about the importance of quilts in women's lives? Why is quiltmaking important to you?

CA: Women have guided and raised their children while completing a multitude of tasks. I feel at one with these women even when my thoughts are not the same as theirs there is usually some one thing we have in common. For many women quilts and gardens and cooking - the every day tasks of life were the only ways in which they could be creative. Art with paint and brush was beyond the means of many. Much of what had to be done was so labor intensive that little time could be set aside for art itself. However we all need to feed and clothe ourselves. My ties and upholstery fabrics were passed down by other people. Some of my fabrics are bought by the bagful at thrift stores or vendors save damaged goods for me at vintage shops. I like to think that some other woman tried to find the right piece to use to complete a project and when it wasn't available she dyed it or traded as I many times do. There is a certain satisfaction in working through a process that can be pocketed to soothe a child or can be brought out and worked on in the evening light while reflecting on the day gone by. It's as if all women belong to a secret sisterhood that celebrates their beauty, strength, power, and relationship to one another.

KM: The making of quilts is mostly solitary. Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

CA: I do but most of them are national groups: SAQA [Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc.], Surface Design, IQA [International Quilt Association.], Art Quilt Network meets twice a year, Fiber Art Study Group meets every few months locally. I also belong to Needlework, a community group that meets once a month. Every six weeks or so several friends and I meet for lunch, exchange ideas, and share our work.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and material? Have advances in technology influenced your work? If so, how?

CA: Favorite techniques include free motion quilting which I like to think of as scribbling, raw-edged piecing, photo imagery, dyeing fabrics, collage, and overlaying multi pieces of geometric cut-outs one upon another. The materials I most frequently use are silk, rayon threads, artist-dyed and stamped fabrics, computer manipulated images, and vintage fabric and findings. In 1985 I began to experiment with a variety of ways to transfer images. The computer made this process immensely easier. I also like to include words and quotes on my work sometimes using purchased letters, or computerized writings, or a technique I call ransom note lettering in which I cut various letters in different fonts and shades from magazines, assemble the words and photo transfer them to fabric via the computer. In spite of all of the manipulation, sometimes 100% cotton solids and a simple approach create a most effective wall quilt.

KM: Describe your studio.

CA: Last summer, 2006, I had the honor of being exhibited at The Fresno Museum of Art. While at Fresno I had the opportunity to teach and to also visit with Jean Ray Laury. Her home is her studio. Bits and pieces of what Jean is currently working on are throughout her home. She inspired me. Instead of staying within the confines of the room that holds my sewing machine or the laundry where my dye table is, I've spread out. There are eight drawers in my office/computer room for photo imaging supplies and a variety of prepared images and quotes. I also fit a three-drawer file in for exhibition memorabilia and other files. A table with a small amount of storage is in my family room for projects that I work on in the evening. There is a back staircase from the room I sew in to the back bedroom that is used for company. My husband and I installed over 100 running inches of bookshelves eight shelves high in that room for my resource materials. We also included a futon so that I can research and read my books in comfort and a table to work on. My studio now has a definite presence in five rooms of my home: the guest room, laundry, family room, den and the main studio/sewing room.

The main studio space is next to the kitchen in the heart of our home. It was originally designed as a dining room with a wall of shelved closets twelve feet wide. On the wall opposite the closets is a bank of windows that faces the woods that back up to our yard. On this wall I've place my large work table. On the third wall is the opening to the kitchen and the back stairs that go up to the guest room. Under the steps is horizontal storage for my rolled quilts. Backing up to this area and facing the opposite wall is my sewing machine housed in a drop leaf sewing table. The fourth wall is opposite the staircase and the sewing table. On this wall is a four foot wide armoire that holds supplies, an enormous bin for my rolls of tie fabric, and an arched window situated low enough that I can watch the small animals that venture out from the woods. There is also room for two four foot wide steel shelving units. In front of each of these units I've placed four foot wide moveable design walls that can be used on both sides. They are constantly filled with inspiration and pieces that I'm working on. Spaced about the room are small shelves with various samples, my pin cushion collection, images and ephemera I cannot bear to put away. Baskets and other containers hold a colorful selection of current projects. My studio is a happy space.

KM: You've been great. I always give people an opportunity to share anything that they would like that we haven't covered. So here is your chance. Is there anything that you would like to add?

CA: You are very thorough and a delight to work with. Thank you again for your patience.

When I created "Faded Memory" for "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece," I had no idea of the scope of the project. None of us did. I've worked in health care since 1985. For seven years I was the artist in residence in a 1000 bed nursing home that catered to those who live independently as well as those who are at the end of life. As artist in residence I worked with the medical team and social workers to identify the needs of the residents and to enhance their lives in any way possible. Walking through the entrance each morning I could feel myself turn on. My work with the residents was my life. Working on this project I've met so many who seem to have the same feeling. Ami is a talented director of the project. She brings out the best we each have to offer. I feel humbled and honored to be a part of this initiative.

KM: You were wonderful also and I'm sad that our time together has come to an end. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. Our interview concluded in the morning of March 19, 2008.

CA: Thank you Karen for putting me at ease. I appreciate the time and energy you've freely given to compile the thoughts of those who worked on this special project.


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