Interview with Kathy Kansier, March 19, 2008

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:00 - About the touchstone quilt: "Dear Diary"

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

Segment Synopsis: Kansier's touchstone quilt, "Dear Diary," is based on her mother's Alzheimer's disease and having to arrange for nursing home admission for her. When asked if the quilt is typical of her style, Kansier said that the techniques she used were typical, but that it is not typical for her to address such a deeply personal concern or a social and medical issue. The quilt is constructed as a series of diary entries against a patchwork background, and each block addresses some aspect of her mother's situation. Kansier talks at some length about the complicated emotions she had around giving up care of her mother, including feeling really alone. She made the quilt to communicate to other people who had experienced a similar situation that they were not isolated, and that there were other people who had experienced the same thing.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Quilt Purpose - Therapy; Quilt purpose - Disease/illness; Techniques

00:04:11 - Quilt design process

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Partial Transcript: It took me a long time to actually come up with, what I wanted, to say, in the quilt, and how I wanted to make it, and I was really struggling, because many of the other people that were making quilts, they were just doing fine, and their quilts were getting done for, um, being sent, there was a deadline, and I couldn't come up with, what is this quilt going to be, what is it going to look like?

Segment Synopsis: Kansier really struggled to come up with a design for her quilt, but then woke up in the middle of the night, knowing what she was going to do. She immediately got out of bed and started working on it. She finished the piecing and the writing of the diary entries within the next few days.

Keywords: Design process; Quiltmaking inspiration; Quiltmaking process

00:04:58 - Techniques / Learning to sew

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Partial Transcript: Now the diary entries, did you do them on the computer?

Segment Synopsis: Kansier discusses the process she used to produce the writing on the quilt. She briefly outlines her construction process and talks about choices she made concerning technique and color scheme. She says she has always enjoyed "working by hand." In relation to that, she describes how she learned to sew at age four and her later experiences as a developing sewer. She has several current hobbies that involve working by hand and typically uses techniques like those she used on the touchstone quilt.

Keywords: Crazy quilts; Fabric - Batiks; Hand quilting; Learning to sew; Photography/photo transfer; Techniques

00:07:41 - Plans for the quilt / Visiting the exhibit

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

Segment Synopsis: Kansier expects that she will put the quilt in a guest bedroom. Since her mother stayed in one of those bedrooms, she anticipates that it will be hard to hang it there. She also expects that guests will ask questions about it. Kansier saw the exhibit in St. Louis, Paducah, and New Hampshire. She found other people's reactions to her quilt interesting, and she kept returning to that row of the show to view it again. Kansier's favorite quilt from the exhibit was "Leaving Us" by Cheryl Lynch. Kansier had a lot of trouble recording her artist's statement, partly for technological reasons, but, also because she broke down crying repeatedly when she tried to read it.

Keywords: Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Artist statement; Cheryl Lynch; Quilt purpose - Home decoration; Quilt shows/exhibitions

00:11:51 - Interest in quiltmaking

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

Segment Synopsis: Kansier's son was born during the 1970's quilt revival, and she tried to make a quilt for him. This first attempt did not turn out well, but she realized she wanted to learn more. She was initially largely self-taught, but Kansier also eventually connected with an Amish family and talked to them about quilts. She sums up her initial experience by saying, "I've made every mistake you could possibly be on a quilt." Later, she connected with a quilt guild and was steered towards classes, which she credits, along with going to quilt shows, with an improvement in her quilting. Eventually, she moved on to teaching.

Keywords: Amish quiltmakers; Amish quilts; Learning quiltmaking; Quilt guild; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Quiltmaking; Quiltmaking for family; Teaching quiltmaking

00:16:07 - Teaching quiltmaking in Brazil

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about Brazil

Segment Synopsis: Kansier made a trip to Gramado, Brazil, where she taught and judged a quilt show. She had been concerned about having to teach through an interpreter, but the interpreters were also quilters, and very good. Kansier thought that the quality of the quilt work was excellent, and that the lack of a deeply-rooted quilting tradition allowed quilters to be more creative than was the case in the United States. She noted, though, that the fabric selection was poor and much of what was available is poor quality local cloth. Quilters often deal with this by embroidering the cloth to hide its poor quality.

Keywords: American Quilter's Society; Brazil; Fabric selection; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Teaching quiltmaking

00:20:18 - Roles as a teacher, judge, and appraiser

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Partial Transcript: You're also an AQS certified appraiser.

Segment Synopsis: Kansier has developed into a professional quiltmaker who teaches quiltmaking, judges quilt shows, and appraises quilts. She enjoys her job. She finds judging to be the most difficult, because she is afraid of discouraging quiltmakers. She finds appraising to be enjoyable, both because she likes talking to people about their family quilts and because she enjoys the necessary research. Teaching is what she likes most, because she can teach quilters how to avoid errors and help them learn new techniques.

Keywords: Appraising quilts; Judging quilt shows; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Teaching quiltmaking

00:23:14 - Studio

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Partial Transcript: Describe your studio.

Segment Synopsis: Kansier describes her studio as messy, but says this is not her preference. Her husband built her studio, and while she now finds it somewhat lacking in space, it is very well set up and helps her to be organized. She has several sewing machines in the studio and also a computer, because she writes her appraisals and runs her quiltmaking business from the studio. Her books about quilts are also there. Towards the end of this segment, she says that she prefers to use the term "sewing room," as a way of acknowledging women of the past who had sewing rooms, rather than studios (if they had any separate sewing space at all).

Keywords: Home studio; Work or Studio space

00:26:55 - Publishing a quilting book

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Partial Transcript: You're also an author.

Segment Synopsis: Kansier discusses publishing a book based on a project that she started for her applique group, As The Needle Turns. Although all the group members worked from the same design, they added their own touches to their quilts. Kansier included not only included the quilt patterns in the book, but also pictures of quilts made by members of the group. The group also exhibited their quilts in a quilt show. Kansier's husband gained an appreciation of her work on this project after talking to one of the other quilters at the exhibit.

Keywords: Applique; As the needle turns; Family; Published work - Patterns; Quilt design; Quilt group; Quilt shows/exhibitions

00:33:04 - What makes a great quilt / Challenges for quiltmakers

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Partial Transcript: What do you think makes a great quilt?

Segment Synopsis: Kansier used to think that what was important was the visual appearance of the completed quilt. Now she believes that what makes a quilt great is what the quilter learned while working on it and fixing mistakes. Creativity is a challenge for quiltmakers. Kansier recounts realizing that, in terms of her Christian faith, if God is creative, than she also must be at least somewhat creative. Prior to that, she only used published patterns or copied quilts other people had made, and she did so rigidly, down to using the same kinds of cloth and colors. She notes that most winning quilts in quilt shows are "original designs." Moving on from using commercial patterns to developing one's own is a big challenge for quiltmakers.

Keywords: Creativity; Quilt patterns; Quiltmaking process

00:36:13 - Favorite quiltmakers

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Partial Transcript: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

Segment Synopsis: Kansier says she likes all quilts, as she is aware of how much work goes into making them. That said, she also particularly likes the work of a number of quilters, including Hollis Chatelain, Ricky Tims, Judith Montano, Diane Guadynski, Sue Nickels, and Nickels' sister. Kansier also particularly likes quilts that evoke an emotional response. Kansier adds that you can tell at quilt shows which quilts are really good by which ones people are taking pictures of, whereas quilts that are not being looked at have some sort of problem. The latter quilts, though, are still their maker's best effort at the time.

Keywords: Diane Guadynski; Hollis Chatelain; Judith Montano; Ricky Tims; Sue Nickels

00:40:38 - Importance of quiltmaking

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Partial Transcript: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

Segment Synopsis: Kansier gives a number of reasons why quiltmaking is important in her life. She says, "it's the people." After her death she wants to be remembered, among other things, as a quiltmaker who taught others. Quiltmaking, for her, is a rendering of her work to God. The friendships she forms are important and will quite likely outlast the quilts. That said, she buys up and keeps old quilts and cross-stitching when she finds them. She decries the loss of traditional home skills and says she wants to pass those skills on.

Keywords: Friendships through quilting; Social quiltmaking activities; Teaching quiltmaking

00:43:33 - Future of quiltmaking

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Partial Transcript: What do you think of the future of quiltmaking?

Segment Synopsis: Kansier says that the tradition of quilting is in danger of dying out, if a conscious attempt to pass it on is not made. Other hand crafts that were popular in the Sixties and Seventies are now out of fashion. As well, she thinks young people have other interests and may not be able to afford expensive sewing machines. One of the reasons quiltmaking has lasted as well as it has is because it is social. She is teaching her four year old granddaughter to quilt. Despite her long-term fears for the future, Kansier thinks the quality of quilts has improved since the early Eighties. She credits teachers and workshops for that change.

Keywords: Family; Social quiltmaking activities; Teaching quiltmaking; grandchildren

Subjects: Quilting