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The work of Kay Capps Cross
The tale behind her story-telling quilts

Once upon a time there was a woman. She was no longer young, yet not too old. Her name was Val. Lovely and sweetly shy, Val lived alone in an apartment with three cats, Chloe, Clarice and Corner (a favorite place for a corner-loving cat). Val's life was simple and routine. She worked and returned home each evening to play with her cats.

One late afternoon Val tiredly walked toward her apartment, already thinking about a quiet evening spent playing with the cats. She bumped into the man from 3B. He had admired Val for a long time, and even suggested that they meet for coffee, or a movie, or drinks. But Val always turned him down. This time, when 3B invited her for evening dinner cocktails, she said, "Yes, but cocktails only," reluctantly admitting to herself that, indeed, she was somewhat attracted to him. With new-found energy, Val hurried to her apartment to change, already feeling panicked as she realized, "I accepted a date!"

The cats were happy to see Val, but sensed that something out-of-the-ordinary was about to happen. "She's going to leave us!" thought Chloe. "She's never gone out in the evening and left us alone like this!" thought Clarice. Corner just fumed. The cats began to cavort and show off their best antics, hopeful of attracting Val's usual, loving attention. Preoccupied, Val ignored them.

Caught up in her which-cocktail-dress-to-wear ruminations, Val tried on, rejected, tried on and rejected several dresses, finally settling on the ebony silk. Then, she peered inside her jewelry cabinet. "What will it be? Diamonds or rubies? Diamonds or rubies?" (It's one of those perplexing questions that plague women each day.)

Finally, wearing her best frou-frou, Val left the apartment, barely giving Chloe, Clarice and Corner a glance. The cats, terribly distraught that Val would leave them alone in the evening, cat-wheeled through the apartment. They tumbled through each room, upending themselves and the furnishings. When the neighbor heard the raucous, the police were called. The police came, and poor lonely Chloe, Clarice and Corner were taken to jail.

When Val returned home from her pleasant evening with 3B, she discovered that the apartment had been thoroughly trashed. But much more disturbing was that Chloe, Clarice and Corner were gone. Val was trying to think what to do when the police called to say that the cats were in jail. "Oh my!" thought the exhausted Val. Then, drawing on a reserve of unseen strength, she determined, "I've got to spring my cats!"

To be continued…

Thus begins a fabricated story depicted in several quilts designed by Kay Capps Cross.

  • "Bun-Bun for Baby" (37" X 46") The quilt that intrigues Val because in the design she sees cocktail dresses.
  • "Cocktails with Val" (42" X 20") 3B and Val's evening cocktails.
  • "Diamonds, Rubies? Diamonds, Rubies?" (48" X 64") Val's dilemma about which jewels to wear.
  • "Catwheels" (54" X 54") Those crazy, cavorting cats!
  • "Jailhouse Row" (25" X 18")

Quite literally, Kay adopts the adage, "every quilt has a story" and infuses humorous fabricated stories into each one. "My designs are 'wonky,'" states Kay, who also doesn't believe in symmetry or matching corners. "And, my patterns are great for beginners because they're very, very simple." Her fabricated, story-telling quilts include "Snuggletime, He-Man" a design that speaks volumes about Kay's husband, Gary, and another about a quilt shop owner's mom, Dorothy. She disliked the name Dot and the color "mustard yellow." That's all the inspiration Kay needed to design the antithetical "dot, dot, dash" quilt with its profuse display of mustard yellow.

Kay's own story begins in a more typical manner. She visited a shop expecting to buy garment interfacing and instead was attracted to the quilts on display. She immediately signed up for quilting classes, and within a few months found herself teaching and clerking at the quilt shop. Her first quilt pattern success—a nine-patch lunch cloth* pattern called "Lunch Anyone?"—launched her design career.

Working from concepts she sees in her head and that please her own sensibilities, Kay admits that she struggles to overcome what she calls the "talentless boob syndrome." She explains, "Many of us have a tremendous fear of acting on our dreams. When we face situations like that, it takes great courage to overcome our self-doubts."

Seeming to have overcome her own doubts, Kay's carefree style is reflected in her quilt making methods. She relates that she learned them during one of the first quilt making classes she took. An instructor saw Kay's work and commented, "I guess if you can live with that…" Kay's mental response was, "You bet I can, baby!" The instructor's remark had a huge impact on Kay and "has completely colored the way I quilt." It's also a reminder to quilting instructors that the little things said to students can greatly affect their self-esteem and attitude.

Kay's break-the-rules style includes her inclination to tear fabric. She says, "I do it even though I've been told it's a 'no-no.' The same goes for foundation-piecing. There's rarely a mistake because I won't rip out seams. To this day I haven't seen the 'quilt police!'"

Kay also states that she can't draw and she scribbles her designs on blank check book deposit slips. She adds, "My ideas seem to flow better if I grab cloth and begin to cut."

Though Kay began working and designing with many colors, as the three year-old business—Cross Cuts—has grown and evolved, so have her designs. She now focuses on designing black and white quilts that have only a splash of color.

Like many quilters, Kay depends on the members of a small group to give input and balance to her life. Members of "The Fab Four" come from divergent backgrounds and e-mail one another nearly every day. "I'm the only one with school-age children," explains Kay, "yet we have so much in common. We're definitely fools for quilting!"

Kay relates that when the foursome goes on a quilt retreat "we get silly. We become the children we long to be, carrying stuffed mascots that we dress, prop on our sewing machines, and even sew sleeping bags for!"

Kay says she has waited a long time for friends like these. "It's delightful to be with women that I can speak honestly with."

*A lunch cloth is a table covering traditionally used in farming communities. It's sized to cover a card table.

Freelance Contributor Linda Hungerford is a West Des Moines, IA, writer and editor whose articles appear in various quilting magazines. First-Time Quiltmaking published by Landauer Corp. is her recently released book project. To contact Linda, visit www.HopeQuilters.com .

Reprinted from SQE Professional, November 2006