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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Interview with Katherine Bell - Author of Quilting for Peace.

Katherine, thank you for taking your time to do this interview with Contemporary Cloth. I have to start by stating that your publication, Quilting for Peace is exceptional…..from the layout to the contents to the physicality of the book itself. Quilting for Peace belongs in everyone’s personal library and it now has a special place in mine.

For a brief overview: the Quilting for Peace chapters cover the following: community quilting, wartime quilting, quilting for kids and quilting to change the world. As stated on the cover, Quilting for Peace contains more than 25 inspiring essays and 15 charity projects with clear instructions. It is packed full of ideas, life stories, quilt resources in a variety of areas, including quilts for pet shelters (cage comforters), sleeping bags for people who are homeless, quilts for solders, infants and many more people who have needs. Contacts and websites are provided, so that we can all become involved. There is information regarding places where you can donate finished quilts or fabrics. It is all here. Katherine makes it easy for us to follow through.

There are also significant quotes, which I loved, in each chapter. I hesitated to include any of them in this interview because they need to be read as they were meant to be, as part of each chapter. They are so meaningful and an integral part of this book.

The Quilting for Peace website is another excellent resource and clearinghouse of information. Katherine has a blog, a Flikr Group and a Get Involved Page with extensive information.

I read that you are an online editor in New England (my favorite place), what do you usually write about and what inspired you to write this amazing book – Quilting For Peace?

First, thanks for inviting me to your blog – I’m so happy to hear that you like the book! I’m an editor at Harvard Business Review and – it seems like that would be almost the exact opposite of writing about crafts and writing fiction (which is my other true love) but in fact they have quite a bit in common. I spend a lot of time thinking about people’s work lives, why they do what they do, how they stay motivated and motivate others, that sort of thing. I wish quilters were in charge of more organizations, because they tend to be resourceful, realistic, empathetic, and persuasive – all qualities common to great business leaders and entrepreneurs.

How did you gather the resources for your book? Did you find most of them on the web?

I did find most of them on the web. Many quilters were early adopters of the Internet. They’ve been networking online for years, and just about every organization I profiled has its own website. One exception is the Sunshine Circle, a quilting group in rural Iowa that started in 1912. Most of the women in the group now are at least second-generation, and they’re in their seventies and eighties. I lived in Iowa for a couple of years, and while I was there the University of Iowa Press published a book about Iowa quilts by Jacqueline Andre Schmeal. It’s gorgeous, one of my very favorite quilting books. There’s a chapter in it about the Sunshine Circle and I called Jacqueline and asked if she could put me in touch with them.

What particular crafts/sewing adventures do you personally enjoy doing?

Quilting is my favorite. I never finish knitting projects. I just made curtains for my living room, and honestly it was kind of painful. I really want to learn to design and make clothes, but I keep making quilts instead. I also like working with paper – letterpress printing and making handmade books. At some point I want to combine the two and try both printing on fabric and quilting with paper.

You refer to “the rhythm of each project” when you are quilting, what is your favorite segment in the process of quiltmaking?

I love the design stage and the process of piecing. The whole-is-more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts transformation is so satisfying. I get impatient during basting and binding.

It appears that the “tactile” nature of making and quilting is a rewarding process for you and for many of us. In Occupational Therapy (my previous profession), the act of “doing” is the main component of functional performance and self-esteem. You have promoted this philosophy and the resultant product is functionally useful and meaningful to other individuals. How do you feel during and after you’ve created a quilt?

The physicality of quilting is really important to me. I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the computer, working, writing, reading. So it’s extra satisfying to make something tangible. I love washing a brand-new quilt and pulling it out of the dryer all puckery and warm and already worn-in looking. And of course, the best part of all is sending it off to the person I’ve made it for.

Do you usually have a person in mind that you will be gifting when you are making a quilted project?

Almost always.

When you create your quilts, what are your favorite colors or patterns on fabrics?

I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to fabrics. I like small prints, shirting, and stripes. I love blues and pinks and greys and browns. And yellow and orange; I’ve been especially into orange lately.

While reading through Quilting for Peace, I found the quiltmakers to be such givers and they touch the lives of so many people in a significant, positive way, how has doing this research, meeting these people and writing this book affected you personally? How has this experience changed your life?

I have always spent too much time worrying about what’s going on in the world and not nearly enough time actually doing anything about it. The quilters I talked to don’t waste time thinking about how they won’t be able to make a big enough difference. They just do things that make a small difference and convince others to do the same, and those things add up over time. I’ve definitely learned from their generosity and resolve.

Is there a special story or experience that has affected you the most?

The two stories I found both most heartbreaking and most inspiring were Barbara O’Neill’s and Don Beld’s. Barbara’s son died in combat in Afghanistan when he was only 19 years old. “When there’s a tragedy,” she told me, “you do what you need to do, and then you recruit other people to help you.” Within days of her son’s death, Barbara and her best friend began an effort to make quilts for as many veterans as they could, with the help of quilters all over the world. After his son died of AIDS, Don made a panel in his memory for the AIDS quilt. A few years later, Don began another grassroots quilt memorial — the organization he founded, Home of the Brave, gives quilts to the families of soldiers and marines killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Is there a particular place where you have donated your quilts? Do you have a special cause that is important to you?

They’re all important, but the wartime quilts feel most urgent to me right now. We’ve been at war for eight years! I’m very concerned about veterans’ issues — PTSD, homelessness, and so on. I find it absolutely horrifying that one in three homeless men is a veteran.

Katherine, I have to say that I am with you. The lack of care toward our veterans is an atrocity in this country. And further, I will never understand the value of war, we have not learned much since Vietnam. It appears that President Obama is starting to assist the veterans, their needs and their families......long overdue.

The work that Katherine Bell has done is to be commended. This book would be a special gift for anyone. Katherine has opened our eyes and consolidated valuable information and resources in her book, website and blog. Katherine has now made it easy for all of us to do our part in providing hope and comfort to another person. Thank you, Katherine.

****Here is a recent post from Katherine's blog for those of you who are interested in quilts for veterans.

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