Look, Read, Find

Jude Hill

Quilt Alliance
Q.S.O.S.
Tape Number: NY11721-001

Interviewee:Jude Hill
Interviewer:Karen Musgrave
Transcriber:Kim Greene
Project Name:The New York QSOS
Location:Centerport, New York
Date:2010-01-08
Time:11:11 a.m.

Interview Image

Interview Image

Interview Image

KKaren Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Jude Hill. Today's date is January 8, 2010. It is now 11:11 in the morning and Jude I would like to thank you for taking time out of your day to do this interview. Jude is in Centerport, New York, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Jude, tell me about your quilt "Lion [Quilt.]."

Jude Hill (JH): The "Lion Quilt" is actually, for me, the most important piece that I ever made in that it was the beginning of what I call spirit cloth, which is really now my direction in quilt making. Although I've sewed for many years and made many other things, this quilt was meant to be sort of a documentary in that it contains [clears throat.] many of the different techniques that I know and have developed. At the same time it also records the story of my life, with stories about the people that I know. I think in general is a story cloth, my story. And the other important part of it is that it's not finished and is never finished, so I continue to add to it each year or whenever I have any stories to tell of myself. It is all hand pieced and stitched. [clears throat.] It took me about I would say four or five years to complete it to its stage now. This is generally what it's about.

KM: When did you begin this? What was the year?

JH: I started it about six years ago before my father had fallen ill. A lot of the projects I do I make to use up time or to calm myself through hard situations. This is one of the things where I had already pieced a base for something and I didn't really know what to do with it and I found myself having to sit in hospitals or by my father's bedside or whatever and I began to sew and sew and sew on it because I had just so much time to fill up. That also helped me because I was sewing part of the story of my family into the piece.

KM: The quilt right now is 50 inches square. [JH agrees.] Is that a typical size for you?

JH: I would say probably not. The square itself is probably most typical for me. Even for bed size quilts I usually try to work with a square. For some reason, it's easier for me. A lot of times I will start with a center of something and work outward and I usually do that in some even manner so the pieces always end up to be square. For portability this is often the best size for me to work on. It's manageable. I used to do a lot of my sewing on the commuter train while I was going to work. Anything larger than that just became a little bit to invasive to people sitting next to me. [laughs.]

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

JH: I plan to keep it. I would love to enter it into some contests or showings one of these days because I really think it is unique, but because I continue to add to it. It's really part of my personal collection.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

JH: My interest in quilting probably just comes originally from my interest in sewing. I can't say that anybody in my family was really a quilter in any major way, but everybody was stitching or sewing now and then. I used to make a lot of my own clothes. My mother used to make all my doll clothes. I was always surrounded by a needle and thread. Everything was always done by hand, hemming and altering of clothing and things like that. My grandmother did make a couple of quilts. She gave me a lot of leftover fabric scraps as a gift when I was a kid and I still have a lot of it. I'm still working with a lot of those little pieces and there is just something about recycling fabric that always caught my interest. I think it's just really the interest in fabric more than anything else that got me started. [the idea of the quilt as symbol of tradition and thrift and story is really what has caused me to pursue this craft though.]

KM: How many hours a week do you spend making quilts?

JH: I sew all the time. I would say, well, I'm just recently retired. I actually took early retirement, even though I'm not very financially stable but because I wanted to sew more. For the last 30 years I've been commuting back and forth on a train to New York City and I was in the textile industry and I was sewing as much as I could at that point, which was an hour and a half each way on a train. Maybe a little bit of prep time in the morning and a little bit in the evening before I went to sleep. Now, I would say I'm probably involved in stitching, probably, maybe six hours a day. Not constant, there is some time in between. I try to get up and exercise so that I don't die too soon. [both laugh.]

KM: Tell me about slow cloth.

JH: About what?

KM: Slow cloth.

JH: Oh slow cloth; I guess you know, it was really Elaine Lipson coined that phrase a couple years ago and it has really caught on. I think it is a term, for me, more to describe the consciousness of intentional crafting, the kind of activity you do that becomes totally part of your life. It is something, I wouldn't equate with arts and crafts, and in other words that it would involve shortcuts or just making things in some entertainment manner. It is more about work than play I guess, a life's work. It's obviously connected to the hand stitching part of it, but I can say that it could extend into other techniques like the sewing machine, as long as there was some ongoing dialogue with yourself, in creating and dealing with materials in a slower, more personal, meaningful way and in a way that is more sustainable, something of quality and value.

KM: Tell me about your creative process.

JH: Creative process. Well, I probably wouldn't be able to describe that except that I've been thinking so much about it lately. I create by what I call a "thought catching" process. What that means is that I'm going back and forth between recording my thoughts and actually creating. Actually the blogging part of it has probably been integrated into that also. I get an idea. I write it down. I do a little bit of what-iffing with it. I get another idea, I write it down. I do a little something with it. I end up combining those things and ultimately everything I do becomes a story. the story of the process, along with the story that seems to build as I work. I will get an idea and I'll keep that in my head and then everything I do during the day I'm sort of filtering all the activities back through that idea it grows. I often refer to this as a living journal. I think it's just a combination of a lot of different random things that finally come together into one constructive thought. And then cloth. [very freeform is how I approach it. ]

KM: Tell me a little bit more about your blog.

JH: The blog was actually started after I started loading up a lot of photographs of my work into Flicker, which is an Internet tool. I guess a lot of people became interested in what I was doing with the images because they seemed to be constant, consistently telling a story and someone suggested to me, maybe people would be really interested in the behind the scenes working of an artist. I started it with the idea that what I was going to do was to change the way time could work for someone if they were watching my process. In other words, blogging is like a diary, you can break things down into small moments and because you can create atmosphere, someone can follow a process that would normally be boring, you can kind of stretch it out into a long path and if you are careful about the presentation, it becomes like a journey that someone can take with you. [clears throat.] So my idea was that someone could actually follow one of my cloths from start to finish, and maybe also the way the thoughts creep in. A person can start to understand what the life of the person is; how the lifestyle is connected with the craft. Really I was trying to convey the true spirit of the making, which is why I call it "Spirit Cloth."

KM: How has your blog changed over the years?

JH: I'm really amazed actually at the following I have. When you do something personal you figure there aren't that many people that would understand it and then when you think about the Internet you think, 'Well, I'll probably reach a few more people than I could in my neighborhood here.' I've got more than 6,000 subscribers now, which is ridiculous. [laughs.] I think because of that, because of the reaction, because of a lot of the people contacting me on a personal basis, my blog has turned into more of a teaching tool which is really my goal for it going forward. I share as much as I can and I've starting now to cater more to the comments that come in. I tend to react to them. I tend to make things that illustrate the answers to some of the questions that I'm answering, so it's become more interactive I would say. Yes, more interactive.

KM: What are your plans for the future?

JH: I don't really have any definite plans. I never do. It's one of my weaknesses. I do plan. Well, I am in the process of reconfiguring a lot of the connections between my work and the blogging thing. I have three blogs. I have one that documents the making. I have one that documents the techniques separate from the making. In other words when I come up with new ideas I go back and I kind of document those particular techniques separately without the entire story and everything. It's just like a teaching tool. Then I have another blog, that I just started to get back to, which records a lot of my textile collection and it's very, very extensive as I did work as a woven fabric designer for years and I just have so much to show and I wanted to share the fabric stories themselves with others, to inspire. My current plan is to coordinate all of that into an archive which actually would be used maybe by schools or universities to educate. Let me say also, I'm very much interested in the folk art aspect of what I do. To me I'm very interested in what the future of that folk art, especially textiles could be. And in view of the global reach that I have, I'm very interested in the crossing over of techniques, in other words [clears throat.] what I'm working on now combines some of the ancient stitching techniques from India into some of the more traditional type quilting activity here in the U.S.A. I am starting to think about how that can create entire new generation of quilts/textiles. [I would also like to teach at one point.]

KM: Very interesting. Tell me about writing for Quilting Art Studio, is that correct?

JH: Yeah, I'm currently writing for Art Quilting Studio [Stampington and Compnay, Lguna Hills, California.] I also write for Quilting Arts [Interweave Press,LLC, Loveland, Colorado.] magazine and I'm also doing some other things at the moment. Art Quilting Studio let me have a column all my own there which I called "What If" which is really excerpts from my other blog that discusses technique and also the creative thought process. It's been fun to do, but I really didn't think that I fit in there. [I feel my style is a unique combination of traditional and contemporary quiltmaking.] I really am looking forward to maybe getting involved in some sort of publication where it would make more sense. [something more educational and serious perhaps.] The best part is that I did get a lot of good reaction to the sharing of ideas. [clears throat.] It's hard to do that because sometimes you have to compromise. Magazines are very much into project oriented things rather than what you might call "Slow Cloth" which is more of an ongoing development process where you're not really making a lot of little things, you're actually making more of a whole of your life and your craft. [and an attempt to communicate through that.]

KM: I want to go back to your quilt. Why did you decide to call it "Lion Quilt"?

JH: The "Lion Quilt" basically started out as my idea of making a quilt into a research project or a documentary or a story cloth and I picked lions because I've always liked them, yeah, I studied illustration for a few years and I always liked animals and things like that, so I had a lot of drawings of animals and beasts that were part of children's books that I had thought about doing, which I never did. I started to just put all those little beasts on this quilt and I then I had another idea, since the image itself, the lion, has so many stories in history and in so many cultures it stands for so many things. I made each lion represent either a person or an experience in my life and each lion has actually written around it, a story [clears throat.] that represents what it is. They're guardians of things or keepers of things or reminders of memories. Sometimes they are giving advice. I've even documented my own pet cats as lions on the quilt and some of them are my friends and many of them are myself at different stages in my life and that's why I called it that. The lions in my life.

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

JH: I don't. [I admit I am a bit of a hermit and quite shy about certain things.] I actually developed a lot of this, like I said commuting on a train just to keep myself sane as a working mom and I didn't have any connection. I never bought any quilting magazines, I never belonged to any quilting guilds. I think when I started to blog I began to become more aware of the community and although I have joined a few groups on the Internet I haven't joined any physical group. I tried to get involved in some of the local groups here but they really weren't very interesting so I'm actually thinking of starting one.

KM: What would your group be?

JH: I think it would have something to do with the traditional old kind of quilting bee type of situation. Maybe, maybe host it in my home and make it like tea and textiles or something or just try to get that hand sewing conversation thing going on some human scale. Maybe I could teach in some way.

KM: What are your favorite techniques?

JH: I don't really care for the sewing machine mainly because I don't really like using one. It makes me work too fast. I don't like the look of a machine stitch anyway. I use it occasionally maybe to put things together quickly if I want to see what they look like. I guess my favorite techniques are all hand techniques. I think I've developed a lot of my own. I like basic hand pieced patchwork as a base, but I really like to embellish the surfaces of a quilt with an additional layer or group of layers and layering, I guess, is one of my favorite things. [because of this I rarely use batting.] I like to embroider over patchwork. I like to appliqué over patchwork and then embroider over that and then maybe cut through it or whatever. But I also like things to be functional. I do a lot of small art pieces in order to sell. I mean it's very difficult to sell a large piece, but my larger pieces are always used, they are always used as a quilt, something to keep you warm, to put on the bed. And they usually are machine washable despite all the stitches and raggedy edges and everything. I work very hard to develop techniques that are functional. [and practical. I feel quilting is rooted in that somehow.]

KM: What are your favorite materials?

JH: [I use mostly recycled materials, because it carries on the traditional roots of quilting but also because I have collected for so long.] I only like natural fabrics. [clears throat.] Cotton is obviously the cheapest and easiest to use, but my favorite, my favorite fabric I think I would say is linen. I like the way it ages, it has a history to it. I've been involve with fabric for a long time, as a weaver and a designer, so I'm very, very fabric oriented. I mean I just really love the feel of the linen, it has heaviness to it. It has a better drape; it has something ancient about it. It just feels really good. [clears throat.] It probably doesn't wear as well in a patch quilt as cotton because it's a little brittle when it's folded, but I do a lot of whole cloth bases and I prefer it over all others. I also love cloth with texture and to mix all sorts of different types of cloth. I'm just getting into silk though. Silk is fabulous and it's not really used that much in quilting. I'm working with some other artists to try to promote that a little bit, so probably this year I'll be using a lot more silk.

KM: Do you have a specific kind of silk that you like?

JH: I would just say the basic sort of silks. I think fabrics are really good for me because I do so many layers. A lot of the silks are sort of stretchy in their weaves and you really don't want those, just the regular flat thin silks, the kind that you see in a silk scarf more or less.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

JH: Starting quilting? [KM agrees.] I guess you know it really depends on what their goal is. I would basically say the best thing is to find somebody else that does it and hang around with them for a while. [laughs.] Because I really don't sense that you learn a lot from books. I mean you can learn the technique but as I recall always being very interested in weaving actually early on, I could never really learn much from a book. I would say to find a group of people, join a group maybe on the Internet and find out what's happening. Go see quilts. The most important thing about getting involved in any textiles is you really need to be able to touch cloth in some way. To be touched by the stories of the makers. It's really important to understand what you're actually trying to do. I'm more deeply interested in a relationship you have with what you make. If you want to just learn how to make a quilt I suppose you can just buy a couple of yards of fabric from a store and make a template and sew the pieces together, but I think it's more important to get involved with people who have been doing it for a while and give some personal meaning to it. There is a little bit too little of that these days, sort of the apprentice idea.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

JH: Most of my stuff was given away until I started to blog and then to sell, which was only a few years ago. Everything was a gift for family, so they all really love it because they all have what I call a "Spirit Cloth" which is a big project that takes like three or four years to complete and it's really a story of them and me and I made it and they love it. [and of course my mom is really proud of me because I have had the courage to go after what I want to do at such a late age. She was a teacher and has always encouraged us to follow our hearts.]

KM: Describe your studio.

JH: I don't really have a studio. I'm working in the backroom off the kitchen. It's basically one of those rooms that was planned to be kind of a Florida room so it has lots of light and I live on a hill overlooking Long Island Sound so I have a wonderful view. I don't have any particular equipment. I have a large table and I have a computer on it and I use that to cut on and I use it as a drawing table and things like that. It's rather cluttered. There isn't a lot of space. I have two looms in it also, which makes it even a little more crowded and a nice wood burning stove for atmosphere. I don't keep most of my fabric in my studio because it's much too small. I have a ranch style house so I've knocked out all of the ceilings and it's really just lofts all around upstairs. The whole second level or the whole attic level of the house is filled with fabric that I've collected since I was 12. I just sort of randomly rummage through it once in a while because I have no real way to organize it. I would say it's just a space, a little private space with a lot of view of the outside. I can open it all up in the warmer weather so I'm almost working in the fresh air.

KM: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JH: Story basically. [clears throat.] I'm probably fairly honest to say that the art quilt movement in general has never really been something that attracted me. I don't really equate a quilt with a painting. I guess you could say that some people create a nice composition and they hang it on the wall and everything like that. I think it's got to be a little bit more, a little bit more story related, a little more personal. That's a hard thing to answer. I'm not really sure how to describe artistic. Probably quilts to me don't really ultimately fall into that category for me, yet they are an expression of something. They definitely are an expression of the person who made them, but they're also about fabric and cloth story so I say that I'm more interested in the spirit of the thing, the maker and their story and what they ultimately produced out of that. Does that make any sense? I'm not sure.

KM: I think it makes sense.

JH: Yeah. A lot of time you get roped into talking about things in a way that it wasn't really intended. I never really called myself an artist either until recently. I've been sort of pulled into that way of expression.

KM: So when you weren't calling yourself an artist, what were you calling yourself?

JH: I guess I was calling myself a quilter or maybe I wasn't really calling myself anything because it really was a hobby so I didn't really have to. I was a woven fabric designer, that's very cloth related, that was a structural, more scientific approach to fabric and my love of fabric itself led me to a hobby that is related to it. At that point I was a designer so I didn't even think about the hand work I was doing in terms of a label.

KM: Why do you think it changed?

JH: I think it changed because I've become more a part of the community. When you interact with people you tend to [clears throat.] classify the bunch of people you're interacting with and they all call themselves something I think. [both laugh.] You don't really have to. I think a lot of times it's to make a point maybe. I like to call myself a folk artist at this point, because I'm interested in what that actually is and I think it might be close to what I'm doing.

KM: Tell me a little bit more on how you balance your time.

JH: How I balance my time? [KM agrees.] When I really had to worry about that I made space for what I wanted to do in between what I had to do. Now both my husband and I are not working [clears throat.] and trying to live a smaller life, which means we decided to want less so we could spend more time not doing a lot of things we didn't want to do. I just, I alternate my day between activity and non-activity even though I'm doing something when I'm sitting, so really, I get up very early in the morning maybe 5:00 a.m. and that's the time where I do my computer work because there is no sun shining outside and no birds singing and I don't feel guilty. Then after the sun comes up I usually take a walk. I try to get some exercise and then I fit in things like eating and whatever and then I spend a couple of hours stitching or sewing or drawing or whatever it is I'm doing and then I do the same thing, I get up, I move around, I may go out, go shopping, whatever I have to do during that day that requires activity and then I come back and I sit for a while again. One thing I have to say suffers is housework. [KM laughs.] It's not really something I've spent a lot of time doing, but if you simplify your life you can get away with less.

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

JH: I don't know. I don't think it's much of a challenge. I think it's quite popular. I think I would say it's probably a challenge to stay true to some integrity. I'm very turned off by the marketing aspect of the craft and how it seems to drive the style of what's produced by either competition or product. I think it's more of a challenge to maintain it in some traditional manner, to try to continue a lot of the knowledge and skill that has been built up over the years and not be influenced by a lot of the shortcuts that are marketed. A lot of the junk you apply to fabrics, a lot of the stuff you put on it that makes it stop feeling like fabric. I don't know, this do it yourself kind of shortcut thing that really takes away from what it can really be. I think it's a social activity. I think it's historical. I think it should tell a story. I think it should develop, but I think that's hard especially for people just coming into it. [and then it is a challenge to find the time, to slow down and find the time to make something.]

KM: Tell me a little bit more about selling your work.

JH: Selling your work is near to impossible. [laughs.] It's something I have to do because I don't I really have enough income. although I have a small retirement and things are okay for me, I, like most what you call working artists, have to find a way somehow to sell what I do and the hardest part about that is to not be over influenced in your own work to kind of end up making things that aren't what you want to make. I mean there's just really no point then I could just go to a part time job in a library or something. Marketing has a lot to do with it and that is something that this Slow Cloth group is trying to address, how you maintain your integrity and do business. I've had tremendous success and I think it's because I've made contact with a lot of people. I think the blogging and the process and the stories is something that people can relate to. I can make a really, really amazing large size quilt and I doubt unless fortune may have it that I would be able to sell something like that. [not with the work I put into it.] I think you have to find other ways to make things accessible to an audience. I do believe that people want my cloth sometimes but I have to go out of my way. There is a gift giving part of this when it's a craft. I have to find things that I can make that make sense to me that I'm still able to share some way. Most folks don't have a lot of money these days.

KM: Tell me about the Slow Cloth Facebook group.

JH: That group is new. I don't really know what it will be. As a matter of fact there are three of us, and we are having a phone conversation tonight because we just started it and it really blew up quickly and we are trying to figure out what our purpose actually is. I think we want it to be an environment where you can have a conversation about traditional crafts, skill, the quality involved in crafts, to address some of the marketing issues that are causing that to change. We are addressing the need for slow time, the need for devoting yourself to something of quality that expresses how you feel, but a lot of people are caught up in the other end of it and it just seems that we want a place where we can promote and encourage people to spend more time learning about respect, learning about life, learning about dedication and the work it takes to develop a skill. We don't know really how that can happen. Green crafting, more consciousness in the way you work, things like that.

KM: Who's the three of use?

JH: Me and it's Glennis Dolce, who is a shibori silk dyer out in California. We connected through the Internet. She does lot of the quilt shows and everything and she is very much into a traditional technique but at the same time trying to bring balance to her work as far as making and selling. She has a beautiful product and a great, great outlook on crafts. Elaine Lipson is more of a write, more of a journalist with a conscience and she is promoting the idea of slow craft idea in response to all of this, what we were calling sort of crappy, badly made stuff that seems to be flooding the market. Her purpose is really more to reach out to the business level, to the sustainability of product, to the consciousness of the environment. [like the slow food movement if you are familiar with that.] We all have different approaches to the idea and we are trying together to try and figure out how to form a dialogue between those different areas. I know Facebook is annoying to me sometimes but it is just a super way to reach a lot of people really quickly [laughs.] and to try to gel something, sort of bring together a lot of these ideas that are floating around. It's not really new; it's just that we thought maybe we could have a focal point. Share links, share and try to make it a teaching thing. Share techniques, share consciousness of things that we've found to be useful.

KM: Sounds wonderful. How do you want to be remembered?

JH: I don't know, I would like to be remembered as someone honest I guess. [laughs.] I really hadn't thought about it. I don't know. It is a question that is hard for me to answer. [I guess I just want to tell my story, whatever that ends up to be and I would like to be remembered as generous and kind.]

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

JH: I'm not really sure. I guess the thing that I want to share with people mostly is just that there is a real joy in creating and I just think there is so much more to life than a lot of people realize and I think making things is a great way to understand a lot of the other things around you, past and present. I would just like to encourage people to get more involved in, I guess I can use artistic but in some creative thought and taking the time out of their day to spend some time thinking about that.

KM: Why quiltmaking?

JH: Quiltmaking for me simply is because fabric is my love, but there are a lot of other things about it too. [ quiltmaking represents something very important in history. For me it is a great way to connect the past to the future. it is what I have chosen as way to communicate. ] We all have our own story to tell, that's mine.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about writing the stories that go with your pieces.

JH: I think actually one of the roots of American quilting was story quilts, which was people putting stories into cloth for many different reasons. I think the story is who you are. If you want people to know you, you have to tell your story. There are many ways to do that. You could write a book. Maybe my quilting is a similar thing to that, just in a different medium. I studied children's book illustration in college and I didn't finish because I had to pay my rent and get a job and oddly enough I got a job as a trainee hand weaver and that led me into the fabric business. I believe that I continue to tell the stories that I had in my mind when I was trying to be an illustrator and I just rerouted it to cloth.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me.

JH: You're welcome.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview at 11:54.