Interview with Melody Johnson, October 23, 1999

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00:00:00 - About the touchstone quilt: "Technique Rebellion III Redux" / Background

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Partial Transcript: Geary. It's October 23, 1999, and I'm interviewing Melody Johnson, who has won an award here at the conference. And we're interviewing her for the Save Our Stories quilt project. Melody, could you describe the quilt that has won you this award?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes her touchstone quilt, "Technique Rebellion III Redux." It is the third quilt in a series based on her logo, which is a "nonchalant nine-patch." Johnson was previously a painter, but she discovered quiltmaking during her senior year of college. After making her first quit, she decided to work with fabric instead of painting. Johnson discusses the techniques she used when making the touchstone quilt, as well as the previous quilts in her Technique Rebellion series. She also talks about the shows and exhibitions where quilts from her Technique Rebellion series have been displayed. Five of her quilts, including "Technique Rebellion II" were stolen from a quilt show in Indiana. Five years later, Johnson was asked to display "Technique Rebellion II" in a show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but she wasn't able to because it had been stolen. She then made "Technique Rebellion III Redux" as a replacement for the stolen quilt to display in the show.

Keywords: Applique; Art quilts; ArtFabrik; Fusing; International Quilt Assocation; Laura Wasilowski; Nine-patch; Painting; Published work - Quilts; Quilt Visions; Quilt purpose - Exhibition; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Rita Barber; Technique Rebellion; Technique Rebellion III Redux; Techniques; Thread painting; Watercolor

Subjects: Art quilts; Mixed media textiles; Quilt National; Quiltmakers--United States; Quilts--United States--Exhibitions; Textile artists

00:06:13 - Motivation for making the touchstone quilt

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Partial Transcript: When you were doing the second quilt, was your motivation to create an exact replica, or were you thinking of doing something else?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about trying to improve on her previous quilt in the Technique Rebellion series when making the touchstone quilt. She improved the embroidery and included more interesting quilting in the touchstone quilt. Johnson explains that there is no way to create an exact replica of the stolen quilt, because of its hand-dyed fabric and quiltmaking techniques. However, she is happy with the updated version, especially since it shows her progression as a quiltmaker in recent years.

Keywords: Embroidery; Fabric - Hand-dyed; Quilting; Technique Rebellion; Watercolor

Subjects: Art quilts; Mixed media textiles; Quilting; Quilts; Quilts--United States--Exhibitions; Textile artists; Textile painting

00:07:27 - Developing a quilting style

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Partial Transcript: When you talk about more interesting quilting, what do you mean?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses creating her unique quilting style in the years since she made the first Technique Rebellion quilt. She was inspired by Carol Shinn, a fine art embroiderer, to develop her long stitch embroidery technique. Johnson learned later that her embroidery technique is unique and not similar to Shinn's, which she originally believed. She explains specific details about her embroidery process.

Keywords: Carol Shinn; Embroidery; Long stitch; Machine quilting; Satin stitch; Teaching quiltmaking

Subjects: Art quilts; Mixed media textiles; Quiltmakers--United States; Quilts; Quilts--United States--Exhibitions; Textile artists

00:09:49 - Quilt memory / First quilt / Learning to hand-dye fabric

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Partial Transcript: When, what's your first memory of quilts?

Segment Synopsis: There weren't any quilters in Johnson's family, so she was introduced to quiltmaking by a classmate in college. She learned about strip piecing and made a Log Cabin quilts. Johnson cut the strips of fabric for her first quilt with scissors, because there were no rotary cutters. Her first quilt used a King sized bed sheet for the backing, and she hand quilted a back stitch instead of using a running stitch. Johnson was inspired after making her first quilt. After several years, she was influenced by Japanese fabrics, and she taught herself how to hand-dye her own fabric. She now makes a living by selling her hand-dyed fabrics.

Keywords: Bear's Paw - quilt pattern; Fabric - Hand-dyed; Fabric dyeing; Hand quilting; Irish Chain - quilt pattern; Log Cabin - quilt pattern; Machine piecing; Quilt business; Quilt memory; Strip/string piecing; Traditional quilts

00:12:32 - Importance of being a quilt artist

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Partial Transcript: How, what role does quilting play in your life?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson has always worked toward being a professional artist and now considers herself as a quilt artist. She is particularly interested in developing a unique quilting style that can be identified as her own. She also teaches her students to practice originality and produce their own work, rather than simply copying others.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Professional artists; Quiltmaking style; Studio quilt artists

Subjects: Art quilts

00:13:41 - Role of quilting in quiltmakers' lives

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Partial Transcript: What role do you think quilting plays in the lives of women?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson doesn’t limit the role of quiltmaking just to women. She believes that being involved in a creative act like quiltmaking can build up your self-esteem. Johnson describes quiltmaking as a creative outlet that can also provide excitement and a way to connect with other people.

Keywords: Quilt purpose - Personal enjoyment; Social quiltmaking activities

Subjects: Male quiltmakers; Quiltmakers

00:14:56 - Quiltmaking friends / The Professional Art Quilt Alliance

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Partial Transcript: Do your share your quilting with a lot of friends? Are a lot of your friends quilters?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses developing the Professional Art Quilt Alliance in Chicago. This group shares their work and discusses issues involving art whether it be dolls, quilting, painting, or anything art related. She also talks about making friends around the world as she travels to quilt shows for her business.

Keywords: Chicago, Ill.; Professional Art Quilt Alliance; Traveling for quilt shows

00:16:20 - Owning a fabric business

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk a little bit more about our business?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about how her business began when she started dyeing fabric and showing it to her friends. She then started to sell fabric at quilt shows. Johnson met her partner Laura Wasilowski, who already had experience dyeing fabric and selling clothing in boutiques. Wasilowski and Johnson both wanted to work with each other because of their mutual interests and shared skills. Johnson finds it satisfying to connect with customers around the world and see what they make using their fabrics and threads.

Keywords: Artfabrik; Fabric dyeing; Family business; Hand-dyeing; Laura Wasilowski; Quilt business

00:20:17 - Balancing art and business

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Partial Transcript: How do you fit in both your art and your business?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about scheduling different sections of her time to work on art and also be a businesswoman. She tries to find a balance between the two, although that can be difficult. Johnson notices a difference in her personal satisfaction when she is able to spend time making art. She says, “Making art is what motivates me, and the other part is just having a job”.

Keywords: Quilt business; Quilt purpose - Art or personal expression; Quilt purpose - Personal enjoyment; Teaching quiltmaking; Time management; Traveling for quilt shows

00:21:40 - Finding inspiration

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Partial Transcript: Where do you get your ideas for your art?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson says that she is bombarded by ideas for quilt designs. She mentions keeping a sketchbook with her to make notes and sketches when she is inspired. For example, Johnson recently finished a series of eight quilts based on cracks in the sidewalk. She uses lines and shapes as a "jumping off point" for her designs. Johnson mentions feeling more open to exploration in her quilting designs, compared to when she was making more realistic paintings.

Keywords: Abstract art; Mosaics; Painting; Quilt designs; Quiltmaking inspiration

Subjects: Art quilts; Quilts--Design

00:22:44 - What makes a great quilt?

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

Segment Synopsis: Johnson thinks that a quilt can be great for a number of reasons. It could have historical value or an emotional impact, or a quilt could show a breakthrough idea or unusual quality. When asked what makes a quilt worthy of being shown in a museum, Johnson says that it would likely be for historical or artistic reasons, or possibly to show its craft. Johnson would prefer to see groundbreaking quilts in museums. She explains that those kinds of quilts would show originality, great design, and be "thrilling to look at."

Keywords: Aesthetics; Quilt design; Quilt purpose - Artistic expression; Quilt shows/exhibitions

00:24:30 - What makes a great quilter?

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Partial Transcript: What makes a great quilter?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson believes that someone who can expressive themselves through their quilts is a great quiltmaker. She discusses the differences between being a good person and a well-known artist. Johnson cites Picasso as an example of a great artist who is also remembered for being a womanizer.

Keywords: Quilt Purpose - Artistic expression; Quilt purpose - Art or personal expression

Subjects: Quiltmakers

00:25:44 - Studio / Quilting community

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Partial Transcript: What does your studio look like?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes her studios, which features one room for sewing and ironing, as well as a connected wet studio for dyeing fabric. Johnson also has a large foam design wall, which she uses to photograph quilts, including her own work and quilts made by friends. Johnson talks about the differences between having a network of support through quilting shows, contests, classes, and publications, compared to the traditional fine art world.

Keywords: Design walls; Published work - Quilts; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Quilt studio; Sewing studio; Wet works studio; Wonder-under

00:29:33 - Selling quilts

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Partial Transcript: What venue do you sell your works through?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about selling her fabric at quilt shows and when teaching quiltmaking classes. She also discusses selling her art quilts through exhibitions like Quilt National and the Quilt Visions exhibitions. Johnson mentions selling one of her art quilts at the Quilt Visions show for $10,000 in 1996. After that sale, Johnson realized the importance of having a supportive venue for selling her work. At the time of the interview, she had sold seven pieces at the Quilt National show. Johnson also discusses starting to make and sell smaller works. Smaller works are more affordable and easier to display for buyers. They also allow Johnson to try out new ideas on a small scale instead of making a larger project.

Keywords: Quilt Purpose - Personal income; Quilt Visions; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Selling quilts; Teaching quiltmaking; Visions Museum of Textile Art

Subjects: Art quilts; Quilt National; Quilt dealers; Quilts--United States--Exhibitions

00:30:51 - Vision for quiltmaking

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Partial Transcript: Do you have a vision of where you're going to be taking your quilting?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson says that at this point, she is more interested in the opportunities that quiltmaking has given her. She finds that traveling internationally to teach quiltmaking classes and meeting other quiltmakers has broadened her perspective of the world. Johnson has also been honored to find fans of her work and develop friendships with quiltmakers in Japan and other countries.

Keywords: England; Europe; Friendships through quilting; Japan; Published work - Quilts; Quilt community; Teaching quiltmaking; Traveling for quilt shows

00:32:01 - Chicago School of Fusing

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the quilt that has won you this award, or any of your other quilting?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses being a member of the Chicago School of Fusing, a group of like-minded quiltmakers who make their art by fusing fabrics together, rather than using traditional applique and piecing techniques. To conclude the interview, Johnson sings the Chicago School of Fusing's fight song.

Keywords: Chicago School of Fusing; Collages; Fabric - Fused; Fusible applique; Fusing; Quilt labels; Techniques

Subjects: Art quilts