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Top 5 Questions You Wanted to Ask Ami Simms
QuiltingHub had the pleasure of interviewing Ami Simms for the top five questions you have always wanted to know about Ami (ah-mee). Ami is a world renowned quilter and speaker who has been quilting since 1975 and has been involved in the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. Ami has retired since this artcile was written.
How did you get started quilting?
AMI: I'll never forget the day. It was in the summer of 1975. I was a junior at Kalamazoo College. Tasked with writing a thesis in anthropology (a graduation requirement) I had driven to Middlebury, Indiana about an hour south of Kalamazoo to learn about Amish people. My faculty adviser had given me the name of an Amish man and a letter of introduction. My plan was to make contact and then somehow live with an Amish family for six months. Simple.
Although I wasn't too clear about the middle part between the introductory hand shake and me moving in part, I showed up at a barn raising. I found my contact and he gave me the grand tour of the barn. He answered all my questions, even the stupid ones. These were considerable as I was a 19-year-old kid from the suburbs of Detroit trying to grasp a devoutly religious and rural lifestyle with no electricity, automobiles, or designer jeans. He suggested I meet his wife, who was at a quilting. I wasn't too sure what that was, but headed over.
I was let into the house and saw about a dozen Amish women sitting around a trampoline. I later learned this was a quilt "in frame." They asked me if I wanted to quilt with them. Remember my mindset: I wanted them to like me. A lot. If they didn't like me and then invite me to live with them, I was back at the library for six months. I said, "Sure!" They handed me a threaded needle and asked if I wanted to borrow a thimble. I declined, they giggled, and not only did I prick my underneath finger, but I rammed the eye of the needle into the finger on top. Never-the-less, I thought I was doing a wonderful job, especially considering that I had never seen anyone quilt before. Several years later, my Amish friend told me that after I left that first day they pulled out all my stitches. I don't know what they did about the blood.
So what happened after that? I was invited home for dinner and asked the family if I could come for a few days at a time and visit. I explained I was harmless and wanted to learn about Amish life by participating in it. They agreed and I visited on and off for several months. I wrote my thesis (long, dull, and heavily footnoted) and passed with honors. The experience changed my life. Not only did I make friends with a wonderful family (we still visit) but I became a quilter.
Tell us about your sewing room.
AMI: It's a mess. I wish it weren't so, but it is. I can spend an entire day cleaning it up and in five minutes it's a disaster area again. I am genetically predisposed to clutter. I don't put things away, I throw things on the floor, and I dump things on top of other things. If I'm on task, it's much faster to push away tools, fabric, and things I should keep track of rather than to "put" them away. It may take me a little while to find them all again, but in the heat of the moment I just can't be bothered. (The only thing I always do is close my rotary cutter after every cut.)
I really enjoy when things look neat and tidy and I do stress about the mess---just not enough to do anything about it. Maybe I need a support group. An intervention?!
How do you make time for quilting without feeling guilty that other things are not being tended to?
AMI: That's easy. I gave up cooking so we either eat out, carry out, or graze on fruits and vegetables. I only clean when somebody is coming over. If it's somebody who already knows I'm a slob, then I figure they came over to see me and not my house. I just try to remove the larger tripping hazards. I have no interest in gardening and I don't have any hobbies. Making room for quilting in my life isn't the problem. Quilting is my passion and my profession, so quilting is my job. Getting quilting out of my life is sometimes the struggle. Those who work outside the home can leave work at the end of the day. Working at home means that it's often hard to stop working (quilting). That very sweet man I'm married to would sometimes like my full attention and at least a short conversation that doesn't include the "Q" word.
Do you sew during small allotted times on a daily basis or a larger time less often?
AMI: I would like to sew every day, but there are other parts of my job that seem to highjack my agenda: booking teaching engagements, making travel arrangements, designing quilts, writing patterns and class handouts, maintaining my website, blogging, answering email, and checking in on social media. Sometimes I don't get away from my computer all day! Sometimes I start the day in my sewing room and then feel guilty because I've neglected the other stuff!
One option that seems to work for me is to devote an hour in the office and an hour in my sewing room. I set an alarm and then force myself to change rooms every 60 minutes. Setting a schedule, however, is far less enjoyable than staying on task, whichever room I happen to be in. (Again, I'm blaming genetics.)
Are you organized with a list or without a list?
AMI: I love making to-do lists. I write them on pads of scratch paper, in iPhone apps, and on virtual Post It notes on the desktop of my computer. I write lists for long term projects on paper plates---they're harder to misplace. My desk mirrors my cutting table.
Just the act of writing the list helps me get organized and helps me remember what I have to do.
I also have a terrific calendar on my iPhone and I can set alarms for things I have to do. Some are programmed to haunt me until I check them off. I also email myself with reminders to do things in the subject line.
I don't leave on a teaching trip without checking off a very detailed packing list. My trip check-list has every single item I need for a trip, including underpants. Honest. (Don't ask.) It's amazing what a person can forget to pack!
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