Interview with Gertrude Braan, October 12, 2004

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:16 - About the first touchstone object

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Partial Transcript: Today we are interviewing Gertrude Braan, during the Daughters of Dorcas meeting, which meets at the corner of I and 6th in Washington, DC. This is October 12th, 2004. Gertrude's number is 20002-005. The interviewer is Evelyn Salinger.

Segment Synopsis: Braan brought three touchstone objects to the interview. The first is a bolero jacket. It was made for a challenge, in which participants received roughly five types of fabric from the Seminole Sampler quilt shop in Catonsville, Maryland. Braan used additional fabrics to create the jacket and was inspired by a design she found in one of Yvonne Porcella's books. The jacket is based on a clamshell pattern. Braan intended to wear the jacket herself, but she misjudged the size. Braan and Salinger discuss the jacket's appearance and the techniques she used to make it.

Keywords: Clamshell - quilt pattern; Color theory; Evelyn Salinger; Fabric/Quilt shops; Machine quilting; Quilt shops; Seminole Sampler; Wearable art; Techniques

Subjects: Catonsville (Md.); Porcella, Yvonne

00:03:19 - About the second and third touchstone objects

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Partial Transcript: Let's look at the second item you brought. Because your pieces are small, we can do more than one.

Segment Synopsis: Braan's second touchstone object is a jacket she made using Christmas-themed fabrics. She titled the piece "Christmas Now." The jacket features approximately fifteen different fabrics that are arranged from light to dark. Braan describes a technique she learned in a quiltmaking class to arrange fabrics from the lightest to the darkest. The third object is a lightweight vest that is suitable for summer. Braan hand-dyed some of the fabric she used for the vest. Braan and Salinger discuss the touchstone objects in more detail and the techniques Braan used to make them.

Keywords: "Christmas Now"; Color theory; Embellishment techniques; Fabric - Batiks; Fabric - Hand-dyed; Machine quilting; Muslin; Quiltmaking classes; Wearable art; Techniques

00:07:44 - Learning quiltmaking / Background

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Partial Transcript: I'd like to know when you got interested in sewing?

Segment Synopsis: Braan learned to quilt from her co-worker, Connie Smith, during their lunch breaks. Braan's first quiltmaking project was a pillow. Braan's aunt taught her how to sew by hand when she was a child. Braan took many sewing classes and previously used a sewing machine, but she wanted to learn how to quilt by hand. Braan has no early memories of quilting. She moved to the Washington, DC area in 1966, when her husband started a new a job. Braan then went to nursing school and worked until retiring in the late 1990s.

Keywords: Connie Smith; Hand quilting; Learning quiltmaking; Family

Subjects: Washington (D.C.)

00:11:13 - Development as a quilter / Daughters of Dorcas

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Partial Transcript: Alright, now I would like to go back to the quilting. So the first thing you did was the pillow and that was by hand-quilting?

Segment Synopsis: Braan's first quilting project was the pillow she mentioned earlier. After that, she made a wall hanging. Braan notes that it is less visually interesting than her current work, because she was more timid about using color at the time. Braan took a machine quilting class with Lois Smith and then made a large quilt. She took many more classes and started a number of projects that she didn't finish, because Braan became interested in making wearable art. She met Viola Williams Canady at a National Quilting Association seminar, where Canady was supposed to teach classes in Trapunto and Stained Glass Window quilts. The Trapunto class was cancelled, but Canady gave Braan kits for both classes and told her about the Daughters of Dorcas. Braan started attending Daughters of Dorcas meetings in the mid-1980s.

Keywords: Lois Smith; Machine quilting; National Quilting Association; Quiltmaking classes; Stained glass quilts; Trapunto; Unfinished objects (UFO); Viola Williams Canady; Wearable art; Daughters of Dorcas

00:14:18 - Role in the Daughters of Dorcas / Most and least favorite parts of quilting

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Partial Transcript: And it seems like you've always been the right-hand person to Viola.

Segment Synopsis: Braan became involved in the administrative and financial aspects of the Daughters of Dorcas after helping Canady with her method of tracking payments. Braan also spends a lot of time helping other quilters at Daughters of Dorcas meetings. She often does not bring her own work to the meetings, because she spends most of her time helping other members. Braan's favorite part of a project is putting the pieces together. Her least favorite part is the quilting, because Braan is not able to quilt her projects as well as she would like to.

Keywords: Flip and sew; Guild activities; Guild leadership; Hand quilting; Piecing; Teaching quiltmaking; Techniques; Viola Williams Canady; Daughters of Dorcas

00:16:44 - Time spent quilting / Design process / Documentation

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Partial Transcript: How much time in a week do you spend on this art that you do?

Segment Synopsis: At the time of the interview, Braan says she is not spending a lot of her time on quiltmaking. In the past, she would sometimes stay up late at night to work on her projects. She likes working with both machine and hand quilting techniques. Braan's projects are usually based on patterns, rather than her own designs. Braan says the Christmas jacket featured as one of her touchstone objects took her a moderate amount of time to plan and complete. Braan used to crochet, but she no longer does. She has photographs of her work and also keeps notes from the quiltmaking classes that Braan has attended.

Keywords: Hand applique; Hand piecing; Machine quilting; Quilt documentation; Techniques; Time management; Design process

00:18:51 - Impact of quilting on family / Exhibitions

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Partial Transcript: How does quilting impact your family?

Segment Synopsis: Braan's family enjoys her quiltmaking. Her husband is used to her working on quilting projects and sometimes asks what she is making. Braan gives her daughter some of her wearable art pieces. However, Braan hasn't made quilts for her children or grandchildren. Thanks to a government grant, Braan was able to apprentice with Viola Canady, who taught her how to make a Stained Glass wall hanging. Braan entered the wall hanging into a juried exhibition at the Decatur House in Washington, DC. The exhibit later toured the country and went to Switzerland. A critique of her piece, "From the ground up," was also published in the Washington Post. Braan exhibited her wearable art in another show, which also toured the country. Braan has also exhibited her work in smaller shows.

Keywords: "From the ground up"; Daughters; Grandchildren; Husbands; Published work - Quilts; Quilt purpose - Exhibition; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Stained glass quilts; Stained glass quilts; Viola Williams Canady; Washington Post; Wearable art; Family

Subjects: Decatur House (Washington, D.C.)

00:22:13 - Selling wearable art

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Partial Transcript: Have your sold any of you things?

Segment Synopsis: Braan sells some of her wearable art. She generally connects with customers by word of mouth. Her hairdresser also introduces Braan to customers at the salon and has commissioned a number of gifts (vest, jackets, and a totebag) for her mother and grandmother. All of the items Braan makes for customers are unique. Even if she creates a similar item, Braan notes that it is never the same, because she uses different fabrics. Braan also made a reversible African coat for the journalist Gwen Ifill.

Keywords: Quilt purpose - Personal income; Wearable art; Selling quilts

Subjects: Ifill, Gwen

00:23:55 - Charitable quilts / What makes a great quilt / Hand vs. machine quilting

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Partial Transcript: Do you make charity quilts, sometimes?

Segment Synopsis: Braan has made charitable quilts for children with AIDS, along with other members of the Daughters of Dorcas. She does not collect quilts. When discussing what makes a great quilt, Braan says, "I like to look for the design, what they did with the fabric, what colors they chose to go together, and also their quilting..." To Braan, it does not matter whether a quilter does hand or machine quilting. Braan points out that when she originally met Lois Smith, "they didn't honor machine quilts." Now, Braan notes that Smith has several of her quilts in the National Quilt Museum.

Keywords: Hand quilting; Lois Smith; Machine quilting; National Quilt Museum (Paducah); Quilt Purpose - Charity; Daughters of Dorcas

00:25:40 - Meaning for women's history in America / Advice for beginning quilters / Jacket design

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Partial Transcript: In what ways has quilting had meaning for the American woman, would you say?

Segment Synopsis: Braan says that quilting is a way for women to show their design and artistic skills. She notes that quiltmakers are finally being recognized as artists. Braan also says quilting is relaxing and helps with mental health. Braan advises new quilters to attend quilt shows, because it's a great way to see different types of quilts and get ideas from them. Salinger asks Braan about the jacket that she is wearing. Braan says it is based on a pattern and features sueded fabrics from a pack sold by Dawn Hall at Cherrywood Hand-Dyed Fabrics. [The fabric source was not recorded on tape, but it was added to the interview transcript later.]

Keywords: Cherrywood Hand-Dyed Fabrics; Dawn Hall; Quilt purpose - Artistic expression; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Wearable art

Subjects: Art quilts