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Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Beth Burke. Beth is in Hixson, Tennessee, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is March 23, 2009. It is now 9:09, lots of 9's today, in the morning and Beth thank you so much for taking time to do this interview with me.

Beth Burke (BB): Sure.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt "Red Alert."

BB: "Red Alert" was part of the Sacred Threads exhibit in 2007 in their show. That was the second time [actually third time] that I had entered Sacred Threads. The people that started it are just so spirit centered I guess you would say and I was drawn to enter the first time because it was shortly after my mother had died and I wanted to make a quilt in tribute to her and Sacred Threads is the kind of a show where you can do those spiritual kinds of expression that maybe aren't appreciated in a mainstream commercial type quilt show and maybe not an art show unless you have some body of work that goes that way. I did a quilt for my mother the first year that they had Sacred Threads and then "Red Alert"--they kind of expanded their focus. At first they were focusing on grief, spirituality, and healing and then they kind of expanded that to include joy. "Red Alert" was a really joyful quilt for me to make. I came to it with just no real expectations but I went into the sewing room and it came out very quickly. It was just a joyful thing to make and was a real departure for me from some of the earlier things that I had done. It is a three-dimensional red poppy. I love poppies and I had them in my garden when I lived in Ohio and I was always just, the color and so forth just drew me and I wanted to recreate that somehow in the fabric. When I did "Red Alert," it just happened so quickly, it was just very joyful so it was easy to make a statement about it to enter it in the show and then they accepted it and also they invited me to show it with some of their other Sacred Threads sub-exhibits that they did. I can't remember where all it might have traveled, but it has been shown in a couple of places. It still probably is my favorite quilt that I've ever made and I have it at home here and enjoy it every day.

KM: Where do you have it hanging?

BB: In the entry way to the master bedroom, which you can see it from the living room as well. It is something that I can see from a lot of different views [laughs.].

KM: One of the things that is important in entering Sacred Threads is the Artist Statement. Tell me about your experiences writing your Artist Statements.

BB: I have a writing background. I was a journalism major in college so I think that's possibly what gets me into some of these shows because I do have an easier time writing than sometimes [laughs.] what the quilt merits. I can jazz it up to make it sound like more than it is maybe, I don't know. I had one instance of that with a quilt that I showed at the Allentown Art Museum [Allentown, Pennsylvania.]. It was for, I want to say for a retrospective, but it was, the quilt was in progress when I found out about the show and I was able to make the statement fit the show more than the quilt might have originally if that makes any sense. I do like to write Artist Statements.

KM: You've had four quilts in Sacred Threads.

BB: Yes, that first one that was my tribute to my mother and that was very easy to write about because it was so dear to my heart and so recent and that was a Healing Quilt, and then the "Red Alert" and that same show I had one that pertained to my editing work that I do. I'm a freelance editor and that one was kind of just a shaped thing, I don't know how to explain it, but it reminded me of a page in a book where I had made numerous edits and so that was in that same show with "Red Alert," and then the show in-between there I had one, and that one was spiritually inspired as well. It was kind of a shadowy figure of a dove that I could envision on a piece of hand dyed fabric and I tried very hard to stitch that into the fabric so that you could see it, but it just reminded me of the Holy Spirit and the inspiration that sometimes comes when I am working. I try to focus my work from a God-centered perspective because I know anything that I do is from God, it is not like I was, I created this talent so when I do my work I try to focus on where it's coming from and put that into the fabric. That worked for that particular piece.

KM: "Red Alert" is 29 inches by 22 inches. Is that a typical size for you?

BB: I actually thought I was working very large when I did that [KM laughs.] and then when I got it in the show and saw it with other things, it was like 'that is puny!' Some people work so big. I haven't been able to stretch myself much bigger than that.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

BB: I started out, it would be 17 years ago, and the reason I can pinpoint it so easily is because the first quilt that I made was when I was pregnant with my son and I have sewn since I was about seven years old but when I was pregnant I decided I needed a baby quilt and so I think I got a McCall's pattern or something like that and started putting together a quilt and I kind of liked doing that and when we moved to a different house that had a room where I could set up for sewing I started making quilts in earnest and just have enjoyed it ever since. I felt like at some point that I had found a hobby that was one that I could have a passion about.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

BB: Not as many as I would like to. I have to fit it in between a lot of other things, but I do try to get in there, even if it is just for short bursts, you know 15 or 20 minutes at a time and do something. A lot of times it's just touching the fabric and enjoying the textures and the colors.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

BB: I think they are really appreciative of it. My husband [Rich.] is always very complimentary on things and I've been able to give family members quilts. My daughter [Meghann.] kind of orders them up when she changes her dcor, 'Mom, now I need one in these colors.' My brother and sister-in-law--I gave them a quilt that I had made a few years back and my brother was so surprised. He said, 'Why are you giving me this?' [laughs.] And I said, 'Well because you need one of my quilts.' I guess they use that on their bed all the time. I've given my nieces quilts when they graduated from high school and great-nieces quilts for them to cuddle with and then I made little ones for their doll babies too. My son has two or three--ne for in front of the TV and one for on his bed and so I think that everyone has enjoyed the quilts.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

BB: Pardon?

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

BB: Yes I do. I made a really neat kind of a watercolor quilt for our bed and it's on there in the colder months. It gets pretty warm here near Chattanooga so I take that off in the summer but then I have made a lightweight one that doesn't have any batting in it that I put on the bed in the summer.

KM: Tell me about your creative process.

BB: [laughs.] Sometimes I am creative [laughs.], sometimes I just work by [inaudible.]. I'm inspired by texture and color, would be the two things that I think draw me to textile work. I just love the feel of fabric and the vibrant colors. I'm not much of a pastel person. I will see something sometimes in nature that inspires me and like the poppy in "Red Alert" it is just like I want to capture that somehow. Other times it might be some other quilter's work that I think, 'Oh that would be nice in a different color or something like that.' I started out really with all the traditional work in quilting, as far as I learned to hand quilt, although I don't do that, I tend to do everything by machine mostly because I want to finish it in my lifetime. I enjoy hand quilting, it is very relaxing and I like that it harkens back to the tradition of quilting, I like that things are based on that but I like to do them in mre of the modern style. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I forget where we were headed with this.

KM: Your creative process.

BB: The creative process.

KM: Do you sketch things out before you do them?

BB: Yes, I do. I keep a little sketchbook and I might put patterns in there that I've run across. One funny place where I always seem to find inspiration is if I'm sitting in church and someone has an interesting pattern in their clothing sitting in front of me I have to make a little sketch of it so I remember. I have a couple of sketchbooks going all the time and have those things to refer back to. Often times, it is just a matter of going in there and starting to pull fabrics or something will remind me of a certain fabric that I know that I have in my stash and I will pull that and then I will find something else that will go with it. Sometimes it's a matter of looking at, well say decorating magazines and they are showing new color combinations for the season and I think, 'oh I have fabrics in those colors' and I will go in and pull all of the fabrics in all of those colors, line them up and see what pops out and maybe find some kind of a traditional pattern that I would like to make a bed quilt and other times it is more of the art quilting. I go back and forth between traditional and art quilting and I don't really know what it is that makes me jump from one to the other, or why things inspire me one way and some another, but I like both the tradition and the art quilt aspect.

KM: Do you work on more than one thing at a time or one thing at a time?

BB: I usually have several things going and many, many UFOs [unfinished objects.] as we like to call them in the quilting world. I have project boxes and project piles and [laughs.], but I find that I get distracted easily if I have too many things going so I do try to focus on one or two things at once. For instance, I just finished piecing a quilt but I have another one that is sitting there with pieces spread around that I'm stitching on still so there are two things going at once.

KM: Describe your studio.

BB: It should have been a bedroom in our house and I have wire frame basket drawers stacked. I have each one is devoted to a color, that is how I've got things broken down for the fabric. I can see all of those fabrics when I'm sitting and working. I have my sewing machine set up on our first dining room table and there is a closet in there where I stuff all the batting and the other supplies. It is a nice size room and I finally have room to spread out. I was in the corner of the laundry room of our last house, so this is quite a step up for me.

KM: Do you have a design wall?

BB: No I don't. I [laughs.] I don't really work that way and I don't know why, I mean everyone that I ever read about does any kind of serious quilting has a design wall but I guess that is not the way I visualize.

KM: Is there any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

BB: Not really. Like I said, I really like the tradition of quiltmaking and I would do more that was the old fashion way if I had more time probably. I've studied whole cloth quilting, I love that tradition. Probably the one thing that I shy away from is any kind of appliqu by hand, but I still do that on the machine so it's not that I don't like the effect of it, I just don't like the hand work [laughs.].

KM: Have you made any more dimensional flowers after "Red Alert"?

BB: I have one started. I started a purple iris, but it hasn't come along as quickly as the "Red Alert" one did and it hasn't been a struggle, but I don't think I've given it the attention that I need to make it come to fruition.

KM: You mentioned doing things old fashion, what is your favorite techniques and materials?

BB: I like just free form kinds of things. Things that don't require a pattern would be probably what I have the most fun with. I'm kind of a rebel in that if I see something I don't want to make it the exact same way so I figure out how to do it my own way and so in that respect that's where I jump off from the tradition because I don't follow a pattern. Just anything that's kind of, like I said, free form I guess would be the best way to describe it. I really like Margaret Miller is one quiltmaker I've admired because she doesn't give you a pattern per say, but she gives you technique and so everything that you create from any of her examples is unique but it still follows her kind of technique which is to cut in kind of a free form way and sew together in kind of a free form way.

KM: Since you mentioned Margaret Miller, whose works are you drawn to and why?

BB: I like hers. I think Caryl [Bryer.] Fallert did a lot for bringing the art quilt to the forefront. She kind of paved the way I think in that regard. Velda Newman does some beautiful work with the nature things, realistic I guess is how you describe it. Then there is an artist and her name is escaping me, [M. Joan Lintault.] but she does this wonderful thing where she cuts holes in the cloth and the first time I saw one I was fascinated by how she could possibly do that. It is odd things like that that kind of intrigue me. It is always the technique, you know 'how did they do that?'

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

BB: I had a woman approach me at church recently who asked about quilting. She knows how to sew, which that would probably be the first thing I would tell someone, get a basic sewing instruction under your belt just so that you are comfortable with the machine. Then I gave her some quilt magazines and said 'find something in her that appeals to you and go for it'. It doesn't have to be a complicated process. If you can stitch even if you can't stitch by machine I suppose you could do it by hand. I've not pieced a quilt by hand before but certainly you can finish one by hand. I would say just cutting and start sewing. [laughs.]

KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

BB: I have a membership in the Studio Art Quilt Associates. I've followed their work on the website and so forth. I don't participate too much. It was actually "Red Alert" that I showed at the Nashville AQS [American Quilters Society.] Show a couple of years ago [with a SAQA exhibit.], but they don't have too much local activity going on. I have in the past belonged to the [American.] Quilt Study Group, again because I'm interested in the whole history of textiles and quilting and that was interesting because they do so much with the history of quilting.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

BB: Anymore it's going to be the price of quilting because the price of fabric just keeps going up I think. I don't see, it kind of had resurgence after the bicentennial and I kind of expected it to die down at some point but I don't know--it seems very vibrant at least in this area. There's two shops and one would be more traditional and one would be more artsy and both of them seem to be doing great. Every time that I've been in either one there are people in there doing things. I don't know. It doesn't seem to be like losing its allure at least locally here.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction?

BB: I don't really make the distinction because I do have a foot in both camps and like I said I go back and forth pretty regularly. Sometimes I just feel like piecing a traditional bed quilt is comfortable, relaxing, all that my mind can get around at times and other times I'm just energized to the point that I want to be in there doing the free form cutting and sewing and creating something that is more of a wall hanging kind of artsy statement. I'm a little bit of both and maybe a little bit of neither. [laughs.]

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

BB: It is an outlet for creativity and it's also a good time for me to sit and ponder. When I'm doing the more rote stitching, I'm usually just thinking or not thinking, just letting my mind wander. It's an outlet for me. It's what I do to relax and have something tangible to show for my free time rther than just sitting in front of the TV or whatever.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

BB: That is a tough one. I don't know how to answer that. [laughs.] [pause.]

KM: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

BB: Probably color, composition, what someone brings to it that they've been able to translate into the fabric, the story behind it. Often times that tells a lot more than what you just see. Going back to Sacred Threads, when you go through that exhibit certainly there are things that are powerful in just the viewing of them, but it is reading those stories behind them that really brings it home for you, just makes it more powerful that way.

KM: Do you plan to continue entering quilts into Sacred Threads?

BB: Yes, I didn't make the deadline this year. I had some ideas of a direction that I wanted to go but it just didn't gel for me in time but yes that's one venue that I really do enjoy entering because it's just a quality show.

KM: How is Sacred Threads different?

BB: It allows self-expression and then the way that they show the quilts is just so, it is hard to explain. When you go to a commercial quilt show it is often quilt after quilt after quilt, it's invigorating in the color and so forth usually but Sacred Threads they just do so much more to show the quilts in a unique light and they off set everything with floral arrangements and fountains and the lighting is just perfect and they do all this in, where it has been in the past was like a school gymnasium and it is just amazing how they transform that into this wonderful atmosphere. It's an experience and you come out of there with kind of like a "wow factor."

KM: I understand that each quilt has a book that comes with it where people write comments.

BB: Oh yes.

KM: What kind of comments did you get on "Red Alert"?

BB: People thought that it was a joyful kind of quilt and that it made them happy. I think it was probably kind of a nice contrast as some of the quilts came with a little bit more somber story maybe, which you would encounter there at Sacred Threads. I was really gratified to see that people did enjoy seeing it and maybe caught a little bit of my joy in creating it when they saw it.

KM: Do you enter quilts in other shows?

BB: I have entered some in the past. When I lived in Ohio, there was a couple of local smaller shows and they were the kind that were where you would enter them and they would be judged and ribbons awarded, that kind of thing. That's another reason I guess I like Sacred Threads. It is not a judgmental kind of show. They jury the quilts in, but that is more for their content I think than anything but they are not judged once they are hanging.

KM: How have advances in technology influenced your work?

BB: I like to try out all the new gadgets that come along. When somebody is showing something new I am one of the first to at least give it a try but I don't know that I necessarily embrace every new technique or new gadget either. I certainly like that we have sewing machines that [laughs.] we can use because I probably would have made maybe two quilts in my lifetime if I had to do everything by hand.

KM: What are your favorite gadgets?

BB: Certainly the rotary cutter is a whole lot better than having to use scissors to cut everything. All the different sized acrylic rulers are really helpful and the one that I probably use the most is the seam ripper. [both laugh.].

KM: A lot of un-sewing?

BB: Although that is with the pieced and traditional things where I'm actually trying to fit something. When I get going on the free form things I don't worry about it, I just stitch over things for the most part.

KM: Tell me more about your machine quilting.

BB: I took a class one year at Quilt Surface Design Symposium which they have every year in Columbus, Ohio, and at that class I learned how to do the free motion quilting and that opened up a whole new avenue for finishing quilts. I didn't feel like I had to follow so much the traditional piecing and quilt-in-the-ditch type of thing. I went from that kind of to heavy duty thread work. I made a quilt that I overstitched the edges on a flower form trying to make it look like it was shaded and shadowed. I don't know if I accomplished that so much but I remember I entered that into one of these judged shows and the judges who were more versed in judging traditional quilts actually laughed at it when they looked at it because they couldn't figure out what I was trying to do [laughs.] and now I'm thinking I may have the last laugh because I see that same technique on so many of these art quilts now, I think, 'Well you know that was just my way of getting into that whole kind of style and they just weren't familiar with it', but I do like thread work. I have a huge box of thread that if I needed to find my way home [laughs.] out of the forest I could string thread for miles.

KM: Do you miss living in Ohio?

BB: No I don't. I hated the snow and ice and having to be inside for months on end and not being able to plan anything because you didn't know if you were going to be hit with a snowstorm. I just love it in southeastern Tennessee.

KM: How does the quiltmaking differ between when you lived in Ohio and where you are in Tennessee? What are the differences? What are the similarities too?

BB: I don't really notice that much in the way of differences. I think quilters are quilters wherever you go and I guess the people that I've been around who are quilters share a lot of the same traits and you've got your traditional ones and you've got your artsy ones and I knew some of each both places. I would say that they are pretty much similar.

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

BB: I do know that some of what I think probably is my, where I get this drive to sew or make quilts is possibly in my genes because my great-grandfather was a tailor and I found this out after I'd been quilting for several years and my aunt told me that and I thought, 'Well gee, maybe it is something that is kind of an inherited thing to want to sew.'

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your morning to share with me. We are going to conclude our interview at 9:51.