By Suzanne Labry
Anybody who has been around quilts for any length of time knows that a template is a pattern for tracing pieces or for tracing lines to be quilted. Templates guide us, show us what to do, where to cut, what to leave whole. In a larger sense, most of us are lucky enough to know people who act as templates for the way we live our lives. Kathleen McCrady is a template for me. I daresay that many people who love quilts know who Kathleen is, but if you don't, then let me tell you about this truly amazing person who inspires and encourages everybody she meets.
Kathleen makes quilts. Those three simple words make up a short little sentence that, while certainly true, hardly conveys the depth beneath its surface. It's sort of like saying Mozart wrote songs. Kathleen has made hundreds of quilts, more than a few of which could rightly be called masterworks. She is from Austin, and is a member of the Austin Area Quilt Guild
The awards and prizes she has won could almost fill a room and her work has been featured in magazines, books and exhibits throughout the world. She is astonishingly prolific, yet her workmanship is unfailingly fine. Yes, Kathleen makes quilts—really, really good quilts.
She learned to quilt when she was very young and she grew up in a time and place (1930s Oklahoma) where quilts were an accepted and necessary part of everyday life. All through her school years, as a young wife throughout World War II, during the years she raised her family, as a career woman, and on into retirement, she made quilts.
When many of her generation took a hiatus from quilting or stopped altogether during the 1950s and '60s, Kathleen kept on, jokingly calling herself a “closet quilter.” When the quilt revival occurred in the 1970s, Kathleen didn't need reviving. Not many people can say they've been actively quilting for eight decades, but Kathleen can.
Although she is truly a master of her medium, she always seeks to learn more, to be better. With a curious mind and energy that daunts those half her age, Kathleen is a passionate student of her art, ever hungry to try a new technique; to re-draft an old pattern; to read yet one more book about any aspect of quiltmaking; to attend another exhibit or travel to museums or visit private collections; to meet and learn from other quilters; to research the history of textiles, dyes or fabric printing; or to learn about quilt dating, appraisal, restoration and conservation.
Her search for knowledge turned her into an avid collector of textiles, antique quilts, quilt tops, sample blocks, patterns, and quilt-related books, magazines and sewing tools. She is the proverbial "walking encyclopedia" of quilt information.
She amassed so much data and material that she felt compelled to share it with others and in the late 1990s, Kathleen launched a training program that she called the Quilt Study Hall. From a separate building at her home that housed her collection, she offered classes free to the public on the history of quilts from 1840 to 1970.
Hundreds of people took the class and when that effort became too burdensome, she donated the contents of her Study Hall to the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. This treasure trove and the promised future donation of selected quilts will serve as a fitting legacy for Kathleen, along with the book she wrote: My Journey with Quilts—Over 70 years of Quiltmaking 1932-2003.
Kathleen never touts her deep expertise. She is modest about her accomplishments and ever willing to share what she knows, be it as a teacher, a guild officer, a bee member, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a program presenter, a show judge, a certified appraiser, a consultant to universities, or—in my case—as a beloved friend.
In Japan, the government recognizes certain people who are exemplary in carrying on Japanese traditions as Living National Treasures. I wish the United States had a program like that. If it did, Kathleen McCrady would surely be on the list, a template for us all.
Kathleen’s Six by Six Comes Up Roses quilt.
Among its many awards, this quilt was named as a finalist in the
search for the
20th Century's 100 Best American Quilts
International Quilt Festival in 1999.
Sawtooth X by Kathleen McCrady.
From the Quilts, Inc. Corporate Collection.
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Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
See other archived columns here