Interview with Nancy Brenan Daniel, March 14, 2008

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:00 - About the touchstone quilt: "Research Now, There's Still Time"

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Partial Transcript: This is Karen Musgrave, and I am doing a Quilter's S.O.S: Save Our Stories interview with Nancy Brenan Daniel. And Nancy is in Prescott, Arizona, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview by telephone. Today's date is March 14th, 2008. It is 11:15 in the morning, and we are doing a special Quilter's S.O.S. Save Our Stories interview, which is based on an exhibit called Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece.

Segment Synopsis: Daniel says that the title of the quilt arose from a conversation about Alzheimer's with Ami Simms. They talked about ongoing research, some of which looked hopeful, and the funding required for that work. Daniel has some personal connections to the disease through friends. Daniel discusses her design process and the imagery in the quilt. The process she used is one that she typically uses for applique quilts. She had originally intended this quilt to be done using applique, but since time was drawing short, she decided to piece it instead.

Keywords: Alzheimer's Disease; Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Ami Simms; Design process; Imagery; Research Now, There's Still Time; Techniques; applique; piecing

00:05:56 - Motivation for making the quilt / Viewing the exhibition

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Partial Transcript: My family hasn't been, directly, impacted by Alzheimer's. Nor have we been impacted by dementia.

Segment Synopsis: Daniel is unaware of any Alzheimer's or dementia in her family, even after asking around among her extended family. She has, however, seen other people deal with it. About her commitment to making a quilt for the exhibit she says, "It's what quilters do, and it's what friends do..." Daniel had the quilt ready by or possibly shortly after the deadline. (She notes that she is very deadline-driven.) Daniel was more than willing to make the quilt for the exhibit. She appreciates both the CD and the book. She has also seen the impact of the show on viewers, some of whom become emotional. She feels, "This is one show that is having a very, very strong impact on lives." She feels that all the work put into the project will be worth it if even one Alzheimer's sufferer benefits.

Keywords: Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Ami Simms; Family; Quilt Purpose - Fundraising

00:09:30 - Plans for the touchstone quilt / Imagery in the quilt

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Partial Transcript: What are your plans for the quilt when it comes back to you?

Segment Synopsis: Daniel hopes that someone, perhaps a corporation, will buy the Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece quilts. If that does not happen, she does not know what she will do with the quilt. She has some quilts that she thinks of as "working quilts". Since her quilt is traveling, "It's doing the work that it was meant to do." She has quilts decorating her house and, to a lesser extent, in her studio space. Daniel identifies the two women who appear on the quilt as herself and her mother. The images come from pictures that were next to her father's side of the bed, so incorporating them memorializes both parents. Daniel was not close to her mother, until the last few years of her mother's life. The initial inquiries from Ami Simms about participation in the project came around the time her mother died. Daniel wanted to "totally celebrate her life." She was also quite distressed by the recent diagnosis of a friend of hers with Alzheimer's.

Keywords: Alzheimer's Disease; Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Ami Simms; Illness

00:15:46 - Typical quilting work

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Partial Transcript: Is this quilt typical of your work?

Segment Synopsis: When asked if her touchstone quilt is typical of her work, Daniel said that when her next book is published, it will greatly surprise a number of her friends. She describes herself as "a fairly traditional quilter." She also adds, "I'm kind of known for the slice 'em and dice 'em quick, quilting techniques." In that context, her quilt is both typical and not. In it, she used a very broad mix of techniques. She notes that she has been an artist in a number of genres for a long time and can move easily from one technique to another. When working for her own benefit, she will "do anything that makes the art piece work." In that context, her touchstone quilt is typical of her work. People may look at it and think it is atypical, but they are not familiar with all the art she has made. She encourages students to learn different techniques, so they have more ways to solve problems with their work. She adds that it is more fun to work with different techniques.

Keywords: Stenciling; Techniques

00:21:23 - Learning to quilt

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Partial Transcript: So tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

Segment Synopsis: For a while, Daniel and her mother lived in her grandparent's house. Daniel sat with her grandmother, while the grandmother was quilting on a frame in a sunroom with birds and flowers. Daniel had her own box of fabric scraps and buttons, which she would sort. Later, after her father returned from WWII, her family lived near her grandparents. Although her grandmother was close to all the grandchildren, Daniel was particularly close to her, because they were both interested in quilting. Daniel not only wrote to her regularly, but also sent her pictures of quilts.

Keywords: Family; Grandmothers

00:24:46 - Relationship with grandmother / Making her first quilt

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Partial Transcript: And, um, through the years, I would write to her, and I would send her, by the time I'd married and had children, and started making rompers, and making, uh, baby quilts myself, I would send her scraps, and, she would send me back quilts.

Segment Synopsis: Daniel continued writing to her grandmother throughout her life, and her grandmother continued to be interested in quiltmaking, until shortly before her death at around age 86. Much of their communication was "about whatever we were working on." Daniel also visited her grandmother when she could. Her grandmother provided the materials for Daniel's first attempt at quiltmaking as a child - a diamond template and cloth in two colors - out of which Daniel attempted to make a Five-Pointed Star quilt. Daniel thinks that the pattern was fundamentally flawed. It required modification, because it did not work mathematically and, short of appliqueing it to something else, there appeared to be no way to finish it. Daniel did not, in fact, finish it and has given up working on it, but she is still quite fond of it and uses it as an example in teaching While she was working on it, she learned machine sewing.

Keywords: Family; Grandmother; Hand piecing; Learning quiltmaking; Machine piecing; Star quilts

00:29:15 - Teaching her mother to quilt

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Partial Transcript: The interesting thing is, is that, years later, years and years later, I think my grandmother was dead, and, um, my mother's, my father had died, my mother had moved back to Columbus, Indiana, to be close to her sisters and her brother, and, um, by that time my early books were out, and, um, people would ask my mother, she, my mother would go to church and one of her friends in Sunday School class would say [gasp], "Your Nancy has written a book. She must have learned all of this quilting from you, Mary."

Segment Synopsis: Friends of Brennan's mother always assumed that Brennan had learned quilting from her, and her mother kept crediting her own mother and saying that she herself had not made any quilts. After a while, Brennan's mother decided that she wanted to make a quilt with Brennan, so she could stop saying that she had not ever made one. Specifically, since she had once started a Dresden Plate quilt, she wanted to give that pattern another try. Brennan was then one of three owners of a quilt shop in Arizona, so when her mother visited, she took her there to buy fabric. Her mother wanted one color for the background and another for the sashing and then just one additional color of fabric. Daniel thought that the result would be a really boring quilt, that her mother would give up on. Fortunately, Daniel's business partners convinced her mother to buy more colors of fabric.

Keywords: Anne Dutton; Dorothy Dodds; Dresden Plate (quilt pattern); Learning quiltmaking; Mothers; Quilters' Ranch; Teaching quiltmaking; fabric selection; quilt shop

00:32:40 - Further quiltmaking with her mother

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Partial Transcript: So it took us three years to make that quilt

Segment Synopsis: When Daniel and her mother bought the fabric for the quilt, Daniel and her business partners measured out enough cloth for a bedspread-sized quilt. Daniel's mother, however, thought that the quilt should just fit the top of the bed. As a consequence, Daniel and her mother talked across purposes while Daniel was trying to guide her mother long-distance through the process of making it. That dynamic resulted in it taking three years to finish the quilt, even though the two of them did eventually realize they were miscommunicating. Although Daniel describes it as a "beautiful quilt," her mother made no use of it. Later, Daniel's mother hand-pieced a quilt-top, which Daniel quilted by machine. Daniel's mother felt much better about that quilt and a picture of it appears as an illustration in one of Daniel's books.

Keywords: Family; Hand piecing; Learning quiltmaking; Machine quilting; Quilt design

00:37:07 - Other quiltmakers in her family

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Partial Transcript: My daughter's made a few quilts.

Segment Synopsis: Other family members who have experimented with quilting include Daniel's daughter, her granddaughter, and her Aunt Ruth, who at age eighty-three told Daniel that she wanted to make a quilt. When Daniel took her aunt to the fabric store, she insisted, over Daniel's objections, on buying a "set of kits." Her aunt has finished the top but is having problems with arthritis, so Daniel will machine quilt it. Daniel has told her aunt, who has two sons, that she needs to get started on another quilt, to avert sibling fighting over the one quilt.

Keywords: Daughters; Family; Grandchildren; Kit quilts; Learning quiltmaking

00:40:13 - Studio

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Partial Transcript: So, describe your studio.

Segment Synopsis: Although Daniel said earlier in the interview that she has two studios, she describes only the one in Prescott, where she lives. It is about six hundred square feet, in an former barn, with high ceilings. It has its own bath and kitchen. Daniel has a table made of a large piece of plywood set on storage containers and considerable storage space in cabinets. There are two sewing machines in the room, one of which she describes as a "standard sewing machine with a long throat." While she is not a big fan of machine quilting, she thinks it is a practical timesaver, given the number of projects she wants to do. She also sends out quilts to be quilted. Daniel can see her garden and her yard from the studio.

Keywords: Home sewing machine; Home studio; Work or Studio space

00:43:29 - Time spent quilting

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Partial Transcript: How many hours a week do you quilt?

Segment Synopsis: When asked how many hours a week she quilts, Daniel estimates a minimum of 72 hours, which does not include time spent teaching, traveling, or looking at books relevant to quilting in bed. It does include playful experimentation in the studio. It also includes time spent designing with pencils or crayons on paper. She also uses a computer to design, although she finds it most useful when she is ready to move from her black-and-white design, to one that incorporates the colors she hopes to use. Daniel says, "I think when you decide that you're going to live a creative life, whether as a quilter or anything else, there's not much that you do in life that isn't involved in that, in the creative aspects of your life." She acknowledges that she does a lot of work.

Keywords: Time management; quiltmaking process