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Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Jennifer McCann. Today's date is June 20, 2008. It is 12:25 in the afternoon, and we are in Columbus, Ohio at the National Quilting Association's quilt show. Jennifer thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me.

Jennifer McCann (JM): Thanks for inviting me.

KM: You are more than welcome. Please tell me about the quilt you selected for the interview.

JM: This quilt ["Buddy Boy."] is one that I did to memorialize and commemorate my dog. He was one of those once in a lifetime kind of animals. I took a class from a really wonderful artistic teacher. She isn't a quilter, but she does fabulous portraits in textiles and I had seen a few of her things, and I thought this would be perfect. I brought a picture of my dog instead of a human being, and when I took it home I finished it up. One of the reasons I have it here today is because I was teaching value this morning, which is the light, medium, and dark characteristic of fabric. This is pointed out very well in this particular piece because he is a black dog and it's hard to put him into one dimension, so in order to make him dimensional, I used highlighting and value changes to give his face and his ears shape.

KM: What do the three hearts represent?

JM: Just because we love him so much. [laughs.]

KM: There is the dog bone.

JM: The dog bone of course because he loved his dog bones so we had to have a dog bone on there. He was black and white so the black and white background is set and it is really artsy looking fabric and very contemporary.

KM: Is this typical of your work?

JM: No, generally I make more traditional things in bright colors. I love the ordinary traditional, what we consider traditional designs. Like, for instance, Ohio Star, Bears Paw. I love all those. I do a lot of stars, but generally I do them in very bright colors, but I also love to do Nine Patches. My things are done in bright fabric and purple is my main color, black is my neutral when I'm working. I just enjoy the quilting so much and bright colors really do something for me.

KM: How do you use this quilt?

JM: It is used as a wall hanging. It is a small piece and it hangs in my kitchen at home. It's been there for a while and we just enjoy looking at it, enjoying that dog.

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

JM: It probably will go back up on the kitchen wall. [laughs.]

KM: Now this is machine quilted?

JM: Yes it is.

KM: Do you generally do machine quilting?

JM: I do. I teach machine quilting however, and I love hand quilting. In fact, what drew me to quilts in the beginning were those beautiful little dimples arranged in designs. The problem is that it is so labor intensive. It takes so long to do it that I took some classes and learned how to do it on the machine. Then I have a mid arm machine at home too and I quilt for other people. I have just naturally moved into predominately doing machine quilting.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

JM: It is interesting. I have a little sentiment that I will recite to you.

A quilt isn't just a cover for our bed.

A quilt is a work of art and a labor of love.

A quilt has a look and feel all its own.

To quilt is to identify with the past,

and reach into the future.

As we gaze at beautiful old quilts,

we hope that someday our own quilts will be admired in the same way.

And that is the end of my little poem. That came early on in my quilting career. I was just so taken with quilting. I've done all kinds of other crafts. I did macram way back when. Cake decorating. Tried my hand at stamping, did cross stitch, but when I started quilting everything else either was sold or shoved into the back of the closet, I just stopped everything else because I found my nitch. Two hours into my beginning quilt class I knew that I had found the thing that I wanted to do.

KM: When did that happen?

JM: That was in October of 1997. This coming fall I will be a quilter for eleven years.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JM: Oh boy, I would say some days I quilt seven, eight hours. So I would say about forty hours a week, sometimes more even.

KM: Tell me about your teaching.

JM: I teach lots of different things, because I love all quilting. I teach appliqu, which is applying designs in fabric, on fabric. I teach hand quilting, machine quilting on the home machine, paper piecing, which is a really interesting quilt by number kind of technique. I also teach a value class, which is what I am teaching here at the show today. I have an HQ Sixteen mid-arm machine and I work and teach at a quilt shop where we sell the HQ Sixteen. I also travel around installing the HQ Sixteen for new owners. I have been to Seattle and Buffalo and Atlanta and around Ohio to install machines.

KM: Tell me about being Teacher of the Year.

JM: Teacher of the Year, wow. Some of my friends, one in particular nominated me and then there were several other folks that joined in because NQA wants to hear from people who have been in your classes. As a teacher, especially for NQA, National Quilting Association, is all about education. They are not focused on commercial endeavors. NQA is a non-profit so they are not focused on making money, although they do support themselves by having this annual show. The lovely thing is, every level of quilting experience is touched by NQA. Beginners are nurtured along, teachers are nurtured to become certified teachers, those that want to judge are also mentored along to become judges. We have a Master Quilter Program, which is really, that is the pinnacle. That's the top of the food chain for quilters! The Master Quilts are just amazing. You can't believe that two hands have actually made them. To be a teacher for NQA, I got started in the teaching program because I had been out of high school for so long and I wanted to challenge myself a bit. So I had been a quilter for about five years and entered the program, and I submitted a little sample block. The Honey Bee Block is what they asked for, and I submitted that and was accepted into the program. You pay your fee, they send you paperwork and then you go through three steps. The first is written and you write out lesson plans to teach a beginning class. Then the second part is the hand work where you actually do quilting, all different facets of the quilt process, and then the third is having a paneled interview. I went from Columbus, Ohio down to West Virginia and had a panel in front of three certified teachers. From that I became certified.

KM: How was that experience?

JM: It was exciting. When I found out, I was at a quilt show here in Columbus and got a phone call. That was really exciting and then to become Teacher of the Year is just fantastic. I got a phone call about a month ago and I was laughing because it was just so much fun and then I was crying because it was a little overwhelming. I was honored at the breakfast and got a corsage and a beautiful framed print of our show theme, our show poster. That will hang in a really predominate place at my house. I'm just so thrilled. I don't know what else to say except that I'm thrilled. [laughs.]

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

JM: My husband loves my quilts. He thinks it's great. He loves quilts, he loves to come down and see what I'm doing. He is very supportive. He is here at the show working. He is such a hard worker and did such a good job as a volunteer they hired him on as a staff member for show dates. It is amazing to see him flying around here. He loves it. [laughs.] They love him, so he is getting along with everybody. A really likeable guy and he is a hard worker. He loves the quilts.

KM: What do you find most pleasing about quiltmaking?

JM: Wow, gosh I think just every part of it is fun. The only thing I don't like is having to baste quilts when you are getting ready to quilt them, but other than that everything, selecting the fabric is great, choosing a pattern or just looking at patterns in general just to see what kind of strikes your fncy. To sit down at the sewing machine, to use a rotary cutter and cut those strips and be accurate, and I'm horrible at math so it is kind of odd that I ended up being a quilter. I have sewn all my life since a tiny child, but quilting is not sewing to me. The only thing it has in common with sewing is that you use a machine, fabric, and thread and that is where the similarities end. Gosh to get things done, to pick those fabrics, to enjoy the colors, feeling the fabric, sewing the fabric, doing the quilting, having a finished product and then being able to go to Show and Tell at groups and quilt guilds is great. It is just very, very satisfying.

KM: Describe your studio.

JM: My studio is a nice size, it's not fancy by any means but it's very functional. I have two huge cutting tables that have mats on them. I have a Bernina sewing machine on a dining room table. I'm going to say I probably have maybe a thousand square feet. It is divided into two rooms. The smaller room has my HQ Sixteen quilting machine in it, and my husband built shelves and it's covered with fabric. The other room has my television and my DVD player and then the rest of it is the table, fabric, and quilting surfaces, tables.

KM: Do you have a design wall?

JM: Yes, I have a huge design wall. It's eight feet tall and probably about fifteen feet long with flannel.

KM: Tell me about why you like a design wall.

JM: It is great to be able to stand back and look and make sure that you have really done the job. [laughs.] When you take a look at it, it's amazing, especially if you are doing blocks and you are getting ready to put up borders to audition different borders, to say, 'well yeah I like that,' or maybe 'no not so much,' and you can switch things around before you actually get them sewn.

KM: What is your favorite technique and materials?

JM: I would say, I think just regular ordinary piecing. I love to paper piece and I teach it and I've got a lot of tips and tricks because I like to get into doing things. I don't like to cover up and compensate for things that are done wrong, I believe in fixing things, but I believe in short cuts and easy accurate ways to do things. I am always looking for those kind of things, and I have quite a few tips for paper piecing and I teach those in my class.

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JM: I think it depends on who is looking at it. I think for different people there are different quilts and they love different colors, different designs, and for me at any given time I can like one or the other, it doesn't matter. Colors, depending on the design too, because sometimes we will get, for instance not too long ago I found horse fabric with these great big faces on it. One of the fun things for me is actually designing a quilt around the fabric. I have done a few totally new designs, have done some new patterns, I'm teaching a rhinoceros tomorrow that I designed completely and so that is satisfying too, to design. I think every facet of it. I can't say that there is one thing that I really favor more than another. Maybe my slight preference would be just sitting down and making a block.

KM: Do you work on one project at a time, or do you have multiple projects?

JM: Oh no! I drive some of my more anally retentive friends crazy when they come to my house because in any given hour I could work on three or four different projects. I have lids, plastic lids from tubs stacked up with projects on them. I just work that way, it is just not my personality to work on one project, and I don't beat myself up about it. I probably have maybe fifty, sixty things in different stages of completion, but I always eventually finish things and I can focus on one piece if I need to and I've done that quite often.

KM: Are you neat or messy?

JM: I try to be neat. I can't stand the clutter and as I go along I kind of straighten up. I think I am more efficient if I can lay my hands on things. I don't like to be pawing through fabrics and tools and stuff. No, I try to be organized.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

JM: Do what you love. Pick the colors you love, take lots of classes. Think your way through things and see if you come up with ideas of your own. Usually when I see a pattern that I want to do, I'm changing the fabrics out, even mentally when I'm buying the pattern. I'm paying for the pattern and I'm already changing the fabrics to suit me. Do what you love.

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

JM: I don't really make that distinction. I think I'm both because I like to do artsy things. I'm not far out there. I think sometimes I would like to explore doing really odd, totally contemporary stuff, just geometrical things because I see them and I'm like wow. Generally right now I'm just kind of bouncing around and work one idea and then maybe set that aside and jump to something else.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

JM: I love the animal stuff, because I guess I just love animals, but I think probably not one individual designer. There are so many that are good. I work in a quilt shop so I get exposure to all of them. The gal who teaches these portraits in fabric, I love her as a person. She is just an ordinary, very nice woman, but she is very, very talented and she has no airs about her. She is just like your friend when you take her class. So I think of all the people that I know that quilt or work at it, I think I probably admire her the most.

KM: What is her name?

JM: Her name is Kate Gorman. She lives here in Columbus and she is an artist. She says, she not a quilter and she will tell you that right away, but the things that I've seen that she has done, because she is an artist, are amazing. She takes people in her family and gives them some characteristic, like one of the girls; one of her family members became an Indian maiden in one of her wall hangings. When you look at this, she is dressed in, just kind of a suggestion of Indian clothing, but the background she is in is a forest and you see this light coming from behind the trees and it looks like fog. It is just amazing. It's one of those pictures you can crawl into, it is a piece of work that you would like to walk through that woods.

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

JM: I think that would probably be finding the right fabric for the project. Although there are so many fabrics out there and so many designs and I think maybe one frustration is having a piece of fabric for a while, finally getting around to using it, running out and not being able to find it. That is the big thing the manufacturers and of necessity, of course we are all looking for the new stuff, they make collections, they run them for a while and then that's it, they are done and they go on to something new. If a person is one who kind of holds fabric for a while, that can be problematic, but there is so much fabric out there that if you really look, you can find complementary pieces to go with it.

KM: How long have you been working in a quilt shop?

JM: Wow, from like the first year I was a quilter I worked at a shop in Westerville, then I taught for a short while at another shop in town and now I'm at the current shop.

KM: Do you like working at a quilt shop?

JM: I do. Mainly because it is fun to meet the folks and help them, and also it keeps you up to date with what is new. If you are gone for a month [laughs.] and you are out of the country or taking a trip to the moon or whatever and you come back [laughs.] it is pretty startling to see what new fabrics are there and even new techniques, new tools. You would think that after a while people would run out of ideas but they don't. There are constantly new tools, things to make quilting quicker, more accurate and a lot of tools that serve the same function that are totally different tools. It is pretty amazing.

KM: Where do you see quiltmaking going?

JM: Wow, well that is a good question. I hope it stays in the same mode that it is now, moving forward. New fabrics, it is always probably going to be cotton, but new designs, new pattern, just exactly the way it is now, just new tools, new designs, new fabric.

KM: Where do you see yourself in the future?

JM: Wow, actually what I really would like to do [laughs.] is to sew up all the fabric I have at home. [laughs.] I don't even want to mention how much. It is pretty horrible. It is pretty much like, well people come in and say, 'Gee this looks like a small quilt shop!' I used to beat myself up about that, and then I decided no I'm not going to, I'm going to kind of slow down on buying things for new projects and kind of concentrate on buying completion fabrics for fabric I already have.

KM: How is that going?

JM: Somewhat well. [laughs.] But I do have a quilt business at home so that takes a chunk of my time to try and keep up with that.

KM: Tell me about your quilt business.

JM: I quilt for other quilters, they bring me their completed quilt tops, backings and batting and then I put them on my mid-arm machine. We talk about threads and the quilting design and then I put them up on my machine and quilt them for folks. I make money at that. Very, very fun. I see a lot of different ideas. I get to see a lot of quilts, so I have the satisfaction of quilt exposure without having to spend all that time doing the piecing.

KM: Do you think having a large stash has influenced by working in a quilt shop?

JM: Well, no, because a lot of that fabric that I have I bought away from the quilt shop where I work. I have a small group that meets at my house twice a month. Every once in a while we decide that we have to have a trip to Amish country, so we drive two, two and a half hours and we have our favorite quilt shop that is just loaded with new stuff and traditional things as well. We go there and then there is a great cheese shop nearby and there is a wonderful restaurant that does the family style stuff. So we are just excited as everything to get out. It is a beautiful drive. It is up toward north eastern Ohio. It's a pretty drive, roads are nice and it is just relaxing. It is a nice get away.

KM: Tell me about your quilt group.

JM: My quilt group. Well they are my friends. They were hand picked, [laughs.] and they are folks who have quilting in their hearts, we have an older lady that meets with us who is adorable and is really great with colors and is really into the quilting and then a gal that is a little younger than I am and she makes gorgeous quilts. She is a very refined kind of quilter. Her technique is exquisite. She does just the really excellent job, beautiful colors, has exquisite taste and she is just an overall nice lady and the three of us just have a good time together.

KM: Do you belong to any other quilt groups?

JM: I do, I have belonged to several guilds, but right now I've decided to just focus on one guild and it is the Westerville Quilt Guild and we have kind of an unusual guild because we have what we call President of the Month. One person volunteers to be in charge of the meeting. They can present the program or they can call in somebody that they think would be interesting. It isn't always related to quilting, but usually. It is great because sometimes folks who would never be asked to be president have a chance to do that. It is amazing the talent that is out there and the interest and how good people really are at what they like. That is really fun.

KM: Very interesting. I haven't heard of President of the Month.

JM: First time I heard it, because every other guild that I have belonged to has been the traditional picture, one year, two years, vice president steps in. I think you get more of a variety of people because they don't have to commit for an entire year. It has been a great model for us. We have been at it now for three years and it has worked great for three years, so I can recommend it.

KM: What size guild is it?

JM: It has about sixty people and it is starting to slowly grow. We need a bigger meeting place I think. If you want to be big, you need to pick a place that is going to accommodate a larger crowd. The smaller crowds, people feel pinched and then sometimes they drop away because they don't want to have to struggle to get a seat.

KM: Have you ever used quiltmaking to get through difficult times?

JM: Usually if I'm in a really bad frame of mind I can't quilt. I can go down there and putter around but I just kind of need to be in a good place to be inspired. I did design a quilt based on the three firemen at 9/11 and that was therapeutic, but other than that no. Generally if I'm feeling really bad I'm just not really creative.

KM: Tell me about the firefighters quilt.

JM: It is those three firemen that are raising that flag in front of the rubble at the World Trade Center. It is narrow and long and it is just simply the three firemen and a flag and then I use a piece of string to make like a dimensional rope that actually hangs on the piece and I have a fabric that has the Pledge of Allegiance at the bottom and then behind the firemen I've taken gray, black and white fabrics and I've chopped them up with a rotary cutter. They resemble rubble and then the chopped pieces are fused on the backing, so it is just rubble behind these three firemen lifting the flag. The firemen have no faces, they just have flesh colored faces, they don't actually have features.

KM: What do you do with that quilt?

JM: I have entered it in a couple of shows. Got some really good feedback. Judges think that it's really a wonderful piece to be commemorative. I take it when I go and lecture at guilds and it is part of Show and Tell and I created a pattern for it.

KM: What is your lecture about that you do for guilds?

JM: Usually value, the light, medium, and dark characteristics of fabric and how they work together best in quilt. How it touches every quilt that we ever make. It has been very well received. I have given that lecture a lot and it is something that I don't hear people talking about too much. Quilters talk about light and dark fabrics, but never how they relate and how important they are to being able to see the design that the person has taken the time to put into a quilt. If the values are poor then it is difficult to see what the quilt is saying, to see the design with poor value, it is very difficult.

KM: What do you think makes a great quilter?

JM: Wow that is an interesting question. If you are talking about folks who are prize winners.

KM: Not necessarily.

JM: I don't know too many of those. [laughs.] I've got a first prize for a jacket that I made. It is very fine work from prize winning quilters, everything is precise and accurate. There are no errors, there are no bad seams, the seams are true and right where they are supposed to be. The quilt has a delicate look about it. It may be a heavy duty quilt and it may have heavy colors in it, but when you really look at it it is flat, its square, the seams, and I'm not sure how to, delicate and refined I guess is the best way I can describe a great quilt. For instance, the master quilt that is hanging down there from Sharon Schamber [Best of Show and Master Quilter award winner.] down in the show right now, it is just stunning. In fact it is so good I don't think there are words to describe that quilt. It is just amazing. Which is what I saw at the first quilt show I ever went to I saw that same thing, but because I was a beginner the more ordinary non-winners had that allure for me because I was stunned that people were doing those kinds of things with fabrics.

KM: You teach, you quilt for people, and you work in a quilt shop, how do you balance your time?

JM: I don't balance it, it is all about quilts. [laughs.] I have started going to a new fellowship near where I live and I joined the ladies group [laughs.] to keep my spiritual person fed and that is great and very soon we are going to be having that meeting at my house, but that's my other thing I do. I have the one day a week at the shop and then my life is pretty much quilting. In rely on God for many things. He lifted me up when my little son died, so Jesus is very dear to me and that is the most important thing, but the quilting really takes a lot of my time. Willingly I give it. [laughs.]

KM: Wonderful. I always like to, before we get to the end, make sure that there isn't anything that I haven't asked you that you did want to share.

JM: No I think we have covered everything and you've got my poem.

KM: We got your poem which is wonderful. Do you share that poem often?

JM: No. No I don't, but I did share it with the ladies in some of the groups today.

KM: How was the response to the poem?

JM: It was wonderful. You could see a lot of people going like this, they were nodding their heads yes and so they were identifying with what I was saying. I think that sometimes we get so far away from our emotions and we don't express ourselves well as a society. We are so busy rushing around that there are times when we need to just sit down and take the time to express those things to one another, the way we feel about one another, and especially friendships and the people that we love. I need to do that more.

KM: Why is quilting important to you?

JM: It's filled that nitch. I love to create things, but I love the color. The color was the big thing. The quilting, the little dimples all arranged in beautiful designs, was intriguing and then as I started looking at it, then I think the color and the fabrics took over for sure. There are fabric lines out there now that if you were blindfolded and you were given several pieces and there was a piece of silk among those, you would be hard pressed to really decide blindfolded which one was the silk and which one was just an ordinary cotton. Beautiful fabrics.

KM: Challenges that we go through. Do you think that your quilts reflect your community, your region?

JM: Yes I think probably, although I don't know. I think around the country there are probably people doing exactly the same kind of things that I'm doing. The art quilters are spread out, the traditional quilters are spread out, so I think the difference here is that this is a huge community, in this particular central Ohio area, this is a huge community of quilters. We support four major quilt shops. You just don't find that everywhere else. The association has moved their offices here, we have the national show here, it is well supported. I think a lot of people, when you tell them that this is probably the biggest quilting community in the country, out twenty, thirty miles from Columbus in all directions they are kind of surprised at that, but it is true and all you have to do is look to see how many quilt shops are successful here and that tells you the story.

KM: Are you happy that the show is going to be in Columbus?

JM: Oh yes, I knew we were here in 2009 and when I heard we have two more years, I was elated. My husband told me this morning, I was excited. Yeah I'm glad! We were here, the third weekend in June is usually the traditional weekend for the show and due to some odd circumstances in moving the show around we lost that spot. For the past, from 2005, 2006, 2007 we have lost that particular weekend and the attendance was down a bit. I think that was partly due to the fact that we were earlier in the month of June. People take off as soon as school is out and they are off on vacations. They are gone for graduations, they are either local or they go away and there are weddings and so I think that's the age group, the quilters now and we need to be recruiting some new young people. They were torn away with other engagements and of course family things are going to take precedence over coming to the show, but we noticed even yesterday, Thursday, which could be a slow day here at the show, the first day, there were lots of people here.

KM: I heard it was the best show ever as far as pre-registration.

JM: Yes, I think I heard in the area of eight hundred.

KM: Yah that is what I heard.

JM: That really speaks well of the show. I think it helps that we are later in the month and that people are getting used to us being here too. We are not moving around like we did before, retraining all the folks that are involved and the volunteers and getting a staff that is committed and people get used to us being here.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

JM: No, but I'm going to when I get it finished. [laughs.]

KM: What does your quilt look like that you are going to sleep under?

JM: It is One Block Wonder. I had a quilt all done for my new house. We moved three years ago and I had made this quilt and I was buying a new bedroom suite, but then I had everything picked out, I found bedroom furniture that was just so amazing and I had to have it. The quilt that I made is totally contemporary. It's little Nine Patches, bright colors in a rainbow, very contemporary. Unfortunately, the bedroom suite that I fell in love with is Italian Renaissance. So if you get a mental picture of this bright square geometric quilt on this cream colored, four poster canopy bed with vines going up the posters in cream and then it is antiqued, no, and I tried three times to put that quilt on that bed. Did not work at all. Now I have this huge 120 X 105 quilt that has no home. I am making a One Block Wonder in the right colors.

KM: What colors are these?

JM: My walls in the bedroom are the palest, palest lavender, surprise, surprise, I love purple. The cream color in the bed and then I have a few bed linens that are a green. So this quilt has got greens, burgundy, lavender, and just the tiny, tiny bit of cream in it.

KM: When are you going to get it done?

JM: Well the top is done; all I have to do is border it and get it up on the quilt machine. I could have that done in a couple of weeks. Probably won't because I'm here and I've got customers quilts hanging at home. I hope by September.

KM: Very good. You have a class to go to.

JM: I do.

KM: We will.

JM: It is across the hall.

KM: That is good. We will conclude our interview and it is now 1:00. Thank you so very much.

JM: You are welcome.