Home

Summer 2002 Journal of The International Quilt Association

"Quilts. . .A World of Beauty."

the IQA files
Nancy
Elliott
MacDonald
 

 


IQA Journal: Tell us a bit about your personal background.
MacDonald: I was born in 1937 and raised in Southern California, the youngest of four daughters. My parents were from farming backgrounds in southwestern Minnesota and both were college educated.

My sisters and I grew up comfortable but not wealthy. My folks didn't spend frivolously. I call my background good, old middle-western Methodist work ethic. We kept busy "making it ourselves." Buying things ready-made was not a concept we understood. The ethic called forth truisms: "if it's easy, it's not worthy," "Idle hands..," etc. However, I remember growing up as a wonderful time.

I married after one year of college in Utah; divorced after nine years and two children; moved with kids to a little town in the northern California High Sierra country; married and divorced; then moved to Sacramento where I met and married (in 1980) Mac, my third and final husband. Well, at least I kept trying until I got it right!

I worked as an Executive Secretary and Administrative Assistant at the High School District and County Schools, then as Secretary to the Senate Transportation Committee in the California Legislature (Sacramento) for seven years before retiring from my "official" career in 1985. While living in Houston, I worked at dressmaking.

IQA Journal: You say that you've been "needle-addicted" since 8 years of age, doing sewing and tailoring. When did you first get involved in quilting?
MacDonald: Grandma Hattie made quilt tops for her granddaughters, of whom there were eight. I am the youngest of them. Unfortunately, Grandma Hattie gave out before she made mine! After my family moved to Salt Lake City, my mother and her "buddies" made wedding quilts for their various children as they married. Unfortunately, I got married before they started that tradition! So I guess I just had to make my own damn quilts!

While living in West University Place in Houston, I participated in a community Texas Sesquicentennial quilt project, mainly as a vehicle for meeting people in the area. My block is in the quilt which hangs in the West U Library, but we moved to another part of town before the friendships could develop.

Early in 1988, back in Sacramento, my first grandson was approaching his 3rd birthday. I thought that his grandmother should make him a quilt, for heaven's sake! So I bought a sampler quilt pamphlet and several brightly-colored calicos and made the quilt with 12" blocks and 3" sashings and wider borders. I machine-quilted it because I didn't know you needed special equipment or techniques. The quilt was a little gnarly, but really bright and cheerful. He still has it, carefully put away after some years of hard use.

That year I read every quilting book in the library, bought a few books, started collecting fabrics, and made four or five quilts. In December, I went to a dollmaking class at a nearby fabric shop. The teacher didn't show up, but we went ahead anyway, and I met a quilter who encouraged me to attend her quilt guild meeting with her. She made me do show and tell. The applause blew me away. Wow! I did something cool and fun and got noisy praise!

An important by-product of joining the quilt guild is the friends I met and still have. Never before did I have friends who also shared a deep and abiding passion. This was and is something without equal. My mini group of six women has been together for 11 years now and we value each other beyond description.

IQA Journal: What are your favorite styles and techniques of quilting and why?
MacDonald: My quilting is accomplished mostly by machine-piecing and quilting. I enjoy hand appliqué and hand quilting but my hands do not, so I save those techniques for special projects. I do not enjoy hand piecing of any kind. I do not enjoy paper-foundation piecing of any kind.

IQA Journal: Color and geometrical blocks are important in your work. What about them appeals to you?
MacDonald: From the beginning, I have been drawn to clear, bold color (like Nancy Crow and Yvonne Porcella). Great color just simply makes my soul sing. I'm also drawn to subtle colorwork (Diedre Amsden and some Japanese quilts). I was frustrated at the beginning (late 80's) because everything was sort of greyed down. But the last few years, wonderful color abounds and I'm a happy person. I've recently been collecting groups of hand-dyed fabrics and using them in a limited way.

I've tried to analyze my [love for geometry] for some time. I've also tried to work on looser, more abstract designs and really have a tough time with them. I think I must feel more in control of things when I use the block format. I jokingly say that I've been trying to get some control over my life for some 60-plus years--it's really not such a joke! So, I pretty much stay with my comfort level while occasionally stepping out of my box for a brief foray into the unconstructed world.

IQA Journal: How have you developed artistically over the years?
MacDonald: Hard question. Let me answer it this way: For years, I tried to develop an "artistic" style-like Crow, Porcella, Halpern, McDowell, etc. work. It didn't seem to work for me so I decided to stay near my blocky-design comfort area and make lots of quilts. And I did. And I do. And I will.

IQA Journal: Are there any funny or memorable stories or anecdotes about your quilting that you'd like to share?
MacDonald: There's my daughter-in-law who didn't know what a quilt was when I made my first one for her child. Then, a couple of years later when I sent them a "quickie" wall quilt for their new place, she told my son, "It's beautiful, but it's not hand quilted." I just crack up every time I think of that. Bless her, she gets it!

There's the time I had to unsew, rearrange, and resew 65 blocks of a commission piece because the colors were going in the wrong direction. That wasn't really very funny, though.

There's the time I took a chunk out of my arm with the rotary cutter while cutting toward myself--but that's not very funny, either. Jeez! Did that ever bleed!

There's the time I was "closing out" some hand-cut templates for $10. I had 16 sets of templates and 21 students. They rushed me like a school of Piranha fish. I saw a hand frantically waving a $10 bill over the solid bank of shoulders. I heard a voice saying, "What am I buying?" If that isn't pure quilter reaction, I don't know what is! I love that story.

IQA Journal: What made you decide to join IQA and what do you get out of it?
MacDonald: Very honestly, I first joined IQA in order to enter quilts in the Houston show. I continue to enter the shows and have received wonderful exposure this way. Two of my quilts have even been to Europe because of IQA, which is more than I can say for their maker! I also enjoy every issue of the IQA Journal. No run-of-the-mill quilts on those pages! The appearance of my quilts in the Journal has also given me good exposure.

IQA Journal: What do you think have been the most exciting developments in quilting over the past few years?
MacDonald: The fabrics, of course-patterns and colors especially for quilters just keep on coming. Boy, the fabric manufacturers surely did catch on to us, didn't they? And let's hope they just keep it up. And there are books coming out of the woodwork. Anything anybody could possibly want to know about quilting is in a book someplace.

I really love seeing all the really young women (and men) becoming involved in our craft. Although how they find time to quilt with so many distractions, I cannot imagine. I am just delighted to be watching this quilting thing get so big.

Many new, wonderful national and international quilt shows keep appearing so that quilt artists have more venues for exhibiting their work, and so that new (and old) quilters and non-quilters may be exposed to our work.

IQA Journal: And finally, when did you decide to "cross the line" between quilting and teaching and why?
MacDonald: After I shared my curved-seam piecing techniques with my mini group, they kept after me and I was dragged kicking and screaming into teaching my first class in 1996. I came away simply thrilled. The new career just grew from there. I feel pure joy when I see a student "break through" to new techniques and artistry. I love it when a student tries something "out of their box" and finds it comfortable and exciting. I get feedback years later that I really changed somebody's (quilting) life. Those are really special rewards

I have my own templates made for the curved-seam patterns I teach--most weren't available commercially and the home-made ones are really tough (and dangerous) to use with a rotary cutter--now it is becoming a business of its own. The downside is that it takes time away from creating quilts. This is something I have to work out as the template area develops.

I'm scaling back my teaching commitments for a while now because I've not had time to make competition-quality quilts. Just keeping up with class samples and teaching materials has taxed me. Right now I don't have quilts to enter in the big shows because what I have is too "old." So that tells me something. I do enjoy competition and being a little "famous." So I need to keep my name and my quilts out there.

I do feel that my teaching is very important as a way of sharing what I've learned with others and as a way of giving my thanks for the wonderful ways quilting has enriched my life. And I believe that this new "after 50" career is keeping me active, interested and interesting at a time in my life when I could easily just let myself get old.

Article © 2002 by The International Quilt Association All rights reserved.

Fiesta
Fiesta! (Winding Ways Study #9
(51.5" x 51.5"), 1994

Reflections
Reflections of Another Time -
Another Place (25.5" x 37.5"), ©1996

Beach City
Beach City Condos (59" x 40"), ©1996

quilt
TwoQuet Bouquet (42" x 40.5"), © 2000

quilt
Warm Path (52" x 60.5"), 1992

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2002 Journal of The International Quilt Association, "Quilts. . .A World of Beauty." Reproduction courtesy of IQA.