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5Q4: Fran Kahane

When you marry a New England girl a few things are included—love of the Boston Red Sox, an appreciation of leaves—and if you’re awfully lucky, you get quilts. In our house, homemade quilts hang like art on the walls, they are the top layer of our bedding, and spare quilts wait their turn on a nearby rack. Still others are kept on the couch for cat cuddling while we watch The West Wing. My wife’s quilts have been given as gifts to family and friends. I have two favorites—a book-themed quilt she made for our eldest son, who has been a reader/writer since before he had all his teeth, and a quilt for her grandfather’s 100th birthday made of panels that tell his life story. History stitched. Her latest quilt work has been part of the Deanna Davis Community Quilt Project, an organization that makes quilts for children staying in shelters and hospitals. My contribution is driving my spouse to the pick-up location for the pieces awaiting assembly. Afterwards we go to Zachary’s for pizza. With unabashed acknowledgement of nepotism, I present to you the finest quilter I know, with her answers to 5Q4: Fran Kahane.

Alameda Post - a maple leaf pattern quilt and a very creative quilt that looks like a bookcase
Maple Leaf Quilt and Bookcase Quilt. Photos courtesy Fran Kahane.
At what moment did you discover you wanted to be a quilter or fabric artist?

I’ve always loved working and playing with fabrics. I’ve been sewing with a machine since I was eight or nine years old. My mom also taught me hand embroidery and applique techniques. When I was in junior high school, everyone took home economics classes that taught cooking and sewing. That’s where I learned more complex garment-making and other fabric techniques. In college, where I met you, I decided to make a quilt for our first Christmas together. I used scraps of fabric from all of the things I’d sewn throughout my childhood. That was my first quilt. I used an old wool blanket for the inside, so it was really heavy, but it’s all about using what you have. Since then, I’ve made many quilts for our families and friends and garments for theater and everyday use.

Alameda Post - two quilts by Fran Kahane with colorful squares and cute little animals
Baby Quilts. Photos courtesy Fran Kahane.
Who was the most influential person who helped you achieve your goal?

I’ve had many influences over the years. My mom inspired me to learn the techniques she had learned from her mom. Family and history are really important to me so this was a way to connect with them, and with women all throughout history. Quilting is very meditative so I often think of those women while I’m working—how we are all part of a continuum, and what challenges they may have experienced while they worked.

Sewing with my girlfriends over the years has been such a gift. We always have so much fun and they encourage me to think outside my own design comfort zone, playing with color, pattern, and ways to use fabrics.

I’m also inspired by the recipient of each quilt. I try to think about what is happening in their lives at the time I make a quilt for them, and I choose a color story and quilting pattern that they might enjoy. I also like to try different techniques—stenciling, applique, embroidery, landscape design—so each one is unique.

Alameda Post - three quilts of various colors using lots of small squares
Donation Quilts. Photos courtesy Fran Kahane.
Tell us about the best–or a best—experience you had as a quilter or fabric artist.

Of course the quilts I make for my family are special. One of my favorites is the wedding quilt I made for my son and his bride. Their wedding was storybook themed, so I made a “bookcase” quilt with many of their favorite stories on each shelf.

During COVID lockdown I started sewing quilts for donations through a wonderful organization called the Deanna Davis Community Quilt Project (DDCQP). They donate over 1,000 quilts a year to local children and youth organizations, shelters, and hospitals.  DDCQP is part of the East Bay Heritage Quilters. (For more information, email Carolyn at ebhq.ddcqp@gmail.)

Conversely, tell us about a pretty bad experience.

One of my favorite ways to play with fabrics is to design and sew costumes. Many Halloween and theater costumes have been made over the years for our sons and their classmates. Most were incredibly joyful and rewarding. But one experience stands out as particularly difficult.

I was asked to sew swastikas for Nazi uniforms for a production of The Sound of Music. As I was carefully cutting them out, I was overcome with a sickening sense of connection to someone in the past doing the same thing. As I said, I feel connected to the past when I am sewing. It was so disturbing that I made each student promise to return their costume to me after the show and I personally destroyed each one.

Alameda Post - A rainbow colored scrap quilt and a quilt with pinwheels
Scrap Quilt and Pinwheel Quilt. Photos courtesy Fran Kahane.
Any advice for folks out there hoping to pursue a life as a quilter or fabric artist?

Any quilter will tell you that collecting fabric is habit forming! So unless you have amazing willpower, be sure that you have somewhere to store lots of fabric. I’ve recently started work on a scrappy quilt to use some of my stash and make room for new fabrics.

Other than that, my advice is to sew with friends. You will continue to learn about yourself, improve your technique, have lots of fun, and share not only fabrics but also a sense of community.

Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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