Q.S.O.S. Spotlight

As much as I love hearing the quilt stories that are told during Q.S.O.S. interviews, sometimes my favorite part is the answer to the very first question, which is often a variation on “tell me about the quilt you brought today and why you chose it”. Choosing among quilts you’ve made can be like choosing among your children (well, maybe not quite that difficult) and it’s often fascinating to hear how a quiltmaker selected the touchstone quilt for their interview.

This week’s Q.S.O.S. Spotlight features Katharine Brainard, who’s made many deeply personal, cathartic and emotional quilts, such as her ‘Divorce Quilt’. Katharine brought another personal quilt–made with memories of traveling to New York with her sister–to her Q.S.O.S. interview. Read more about that quilt and why she selected it below:

“This is called “New York Quilt.” My sister lives in Maine and I live in Maryland near Washington, D.C. Every year we meet halfway in the middle, in New York, leaving husbands and children and whatevers at home, just the two of us sisters, for a sisters’ weekend. We’ve been doing that for many years. We meet in New York for a long weekend, and spend the time together exploring. We often go through little flea markets and through the garment district. One year I came back home afterwards and made this quilt, reflecting our sisters’ weekend together in New York that year. It’s got a black velvet background, sort of soft and night time, but it’s also got sort of frenetic energy. They say New York never sleeps, it just keeps on going. That year I bought these buttons from street vendors. I also bought these really ugly white plaster mermaids off a table at a flea market. I brought them home and painted them and put all kinds of buttons and beads and strings and ribbons in heir hair. And I bought the moon and star buttons in the garment district. These little people that are hanging here. [Katharine points to them on her quilt.] I also found those in New York, in a bead shop. Every year we go and have our palms read and fortunes told. Quite often the palm readers have beaded curtains that you go through and the beads swish to the side. That’s why I have all these little things hanging off the bottom of the quilt like a little beaded curtain. When you move the quilt, they make a swishing bead sound. And these little flowery beaded things were from Japan, bought those in the garment district, too. I just wanted to show the wonderful energy of New York City. The mermaids might look scary but they’re not gruesome, they’re just sort of energy. The whole quilt is supposed to represent energy. And this wave along the bottom is like an energy wave, almost like how the whole ocean is constantly moving and changing. There are lots of embroidery quilting stitches all the way across the quilt, changing from lights to darks. Sometimes I look at this quilt and it changes when I look at it at different times. That’s what I like about it. It’s never the same, it’s always changing. 

LR: And you chose this particular one why?

KB: Well, my daughter and I laid out a lot of quilts this morning and we chose this one because we like it. A lot of the quilts I’ve been known for are more emotional quilts. For example, I associate my “Divorce Quilt” with a part of my life that was a little painful but necessary. Many of the quilts came at the time of the “Divorce Quilt” and afterwards, people talk to me about them and ask wasn’t it a cathartic release, and some people were offended by some of them. Also, I did a “Suicide Quilt.” But I really don’t care to talk about those quilts that much because some people put negative judgments on things, because emotions can scare people. So that’s why I pulled out a non-emotional quilt today. I stopped making the emotional quilts because I couldn’t live with them on the walls of my home.

LR: The emotional reason–

KB: The emotional quilts were probably cathartic when I made them. I was taking the emotions out of me and putting them into the quilts. But then I really couldn’t live with them around me on the walls. It was too much. I was raising three small children, and I wanted to provide a calm, happy home for them. The quilts could go in a gallery, or in a museum, but living with them day-to-day was difficult. The New York Quilt I can live with day-to-day. It makes me happy to look at it. It’s very positive. It hung in our front hall for the past year. So that’s why I chose this quilt, plus I love the colors, blues and greens. Green has to do with growth. Blue with depth, the sky, the ocean, eternity. I’ve always loved the ocean. I grew up near the water. I have a special thing for mermaids and sea creatures, partly because they are mysterious and sort of hidden in the depths of the ocean, you can’t see what’s down there, but it’s swirling with life and energy. The ocean itself is alive. There’s a lot of life and things you don’t know about down there, and it’s constantly changing and moving, and I just, I like that. I picked this quilt because it’s easy to talk about and I love the colors and all the attachments. My favorite quilts have a lot of attachments, beads and buttons and embroidery threads. More doodads is better as far as I’m concerned. More is always good. I like it when more is more.”

You can read more quilt stories on the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Quilt Alliance website.







Posted by Emma Parker

Project Manager, Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories




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About quiltalliance

The Quilt Alliance is a nonprofit 501c3 organization established in 1993 whose mission is to document, preserve, and share our International quilt heritage by collecting the rich stories that historic and contemporary quilts, and their makers, tell about our nation's diverse peoples and their communities. In support of this mission, the Alliance brings together quilt makers and designers, the quilt industry, quilt scholars and teachers, and quilt collectors to further the following goals: To promote the understanding of the quilt as an important grassroots art form. To make information about quilts available to a broad public. To educate the public about the importance of documenting quilts and quiltmakers so that their stories will not be lost.

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