She was my friend.
It was my first trip to a quilt show as an editor representing Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. I was a little scared, but wanted to make a good impression. Before I started my official duties, though, I needed to calm down. Nearby was a show booth of beautiful old fabrics and quilt tops. I'd begun collecting these beauties, studying and thinking about how to quilt on them, repair them and such.
I was riffling through the hangers when a voice startled me. I can't remember what she first said, but it was clear that we had a similar enthusiasm. We talked so much that we met for supper that night to talk more.
And that is how I met Nancy Kirk.
As I remember, the Kansas City show's vendor mall was the first time she'd ever had a booth. This was 1992 or 1993; the Kirk Collection was still relatively new, and Nancy and Bill were feeling their way in this strange new world. (As was I.)
Their storefront was an antique itself, a wonderful place with a dusty, intriguing smell of old fabric, walls of shelves and drawers stuffed with the most wonderful things. Nancy was selling indigoes from South Africa -- the first modern reproductions I'd ever seen that exactly matched the old prints, when washed and aged properly. They were even printed on the original 19th century rollers. She had fat quarters of Depression Era prints and solids; strips of early chintzes, including pillar prints (which I'd only seen in books up to that point); and all sorts of quilts and tops, including quirky redwork pieces (I bought their cream-colored one) and gloriously-embroidered Crazy quilts.
At last -- a person (actually two, since her husband Bill felt the same way) who loved old fabric as much as I did. Along with Camille Cognac, a brassy 'New Yawkah,' she and Bill had founded the Quilt Restoration Society. Did I want to go to their first conference?
You bet I did.
When I first arrived, everything was in disarray -- boxes and piles littering every available surface, the desk piled high with registrations and the phone ringing incessantly. I'd been an executive secretary, and knew just what to do -- so started answering the phone and helping welcome attendees. In fact, I did such a good job that people actually thought I was one of Nan's employees. (It also began a habit of calling her "Boss" that continued for years afterward.) I was lucky to meet people that changed my viewpoint and deepened my knowledge and training. Some, like Shirley McElderry, Betty Pillsbury, Jennifer Perkins, Lynn Lancaster Gorges, Newbie Richardson and Dee Stark, became friends.
As I attended more conferences, including the beginnings of the Crazy Quilt Society, Nan and Bill welcomed my help with various matters. I began teaching now and then, and kickstarted by the fact that most Crazy 'histories' were actually just how-to books, began writing my own, to set the record straight. (After years of research, Crazy Quilts was published. Nan wrote the foreword.)
Our friendship ripened with every meeting. I loved arguing with Bill over some odd feedsack or patriotic quilt. (He would generally be a quiet presence around students, but was a voluble and entertaining person in private, and when selling at a show. I grew to love him just as much as Nan.)
|Nan, during a quilt restoration workshop -- which you can read about here,|
thanks to Quiltsmith, an Australian blogger
In 1996, I was laid off from QN, along with many others, thanks to the kind ministrations of Rodale, who then owned Leman Publications. Anyone less than full-time got the ax -- and I was only working 36-39 hours. Not a cent of severance pay was offered; in fact, I was told I wasn't eligible for unemployment. (Which turned out not to be true.). The wholesale reps I worked with were laid off just short of month's end -- neatly cheating them out of that month's commissions. (Whenever a national company brags about their 'earthy' approach and 'family' values, it often applies to what they say -- but not what they do. I'm wary about Rodale to this day.)
Three days later, I was taking a shower when the phone rang. Dripping wet, I heard Nan say, 'I heard you got laid off. Why not come work for me?'
I became the Managing Editor for the Quilt Heritage Foundation (QHL), the parent organization for the Quilt Restoration Society (QRS) and the Crazy Quilt Society (CQS). I wrote all of the newsletters and much of the publicity materials. (Hanky Panky Crazy Quilts, my first book, began as a project for the CQS newsletter.) I worked the conferences as a staffer, sometimes teaching, sometimes not. (Kris and John Driessen joined in, and became good friends.)
And I began to grow my own business, Brickworks, learning as I went. Nan was more than happy to share her own knowledge and wisdom, and was brimming with suggestions on how to manage this, where to promote that. (Sometimes I followed her advice, sometimes I didn't.) I tested and passed for AQS appraisal certification, and began writing a column for McCall's Quilting that continued, in some ways, the newsletters I'd done for Quilts & Other Comforts. The work for QHL died down, as I began writing more for other clients on a variety of subjects. The appraising led to judging opportunities.
Nan and Bill remained fairly steady on their course, keeping the shop open and holding regular conferences. They did restoration for various clients, sold a lot of feedsacks to Japanese clients, and Nan grew her appraising business, which she was doing before I became an appraiser, too. She was brilliant at analyzing old quilts and fabrics, and taught me much about recognizing them by their smell, dyes and surface feel. She talked about stitching: 'Black piecing thread is a hallmark of Indiana and Ohio quilts,' she said. (And was often right.)
My own teaching and appraising duties took me out on the road, and I did not see Nan and Bill as often...though I generally stopped there at least once annually for many years, if only to play with fabric and catch up on our lives. Sometimes I taught for a conference. Nan kept on, though I think the heart of her enthusiasm dulled somewhat after Bill's death. She still taught and appraised, but more of her energy went into her work for the Tri-Faith Initiative.
She first met me as a 'greenie' and learning -- and in some ways, Nan retained her "Boss" approach to me for the rest of her life. But she was also warm, funny and generous with both her time and her knowledge. I spent many an evening, after each conference, analyzing and planning for the next one -- strategies that I still use today.
Nan was a fellow appraiser, teacher and judge, mentor, advisor, restorer, Crazy quilt-lover...and friend. I will never forget her.
Her obituary is below... but seems somewhat bland, for the larger-than-life personality she actually was.
Her memorial serivce is Sept. 15, in Omaha -- if you knew her too, and can attend, I know her family will appreciate it. (I have a gig to take care of, with another soon after -- and won't be able to.)
You can send a card to the church (see the obituary)...or leave a comment on Nancy's Facebook page, which is still up.
She influenced many people, particularly those who loved, studied and helped restore old quilts.
She will be greatly missed.