Patricia Campbell




Patricia Campbell




Patricia Campbell


JoAnn Pospisil

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


JoAnn Pospisil


JoAnn Pospisil (JP): Patricia, tell us about this quilt that you chose to bring to talk about today.

Patricia Campbell (PC): Well, the reason that I brought this particular quilt is because it kind of launched my career teaching. It won so many different awards in its lifetime--in less than ten years--including a Founders Award right here at Houston Quilt Festival in 1990. Of course, I'm very proud of that because it was Karey Bresnahan, Jewel Patterson, and Nancy O'Bryant that gave me that Founders Award. So, that's really quite an honor and that was the reason why I chose to bring this one.

JP: Okay and when you said teaching?

PC: I teach. I travel to teach all over the United States and beyond. I teach Jacobean appliqué. I was the first one to do that. I wanted to do something different, didn't want to copy what everyone else was doing. It was the first in the Jacobean style.

JP: This quilt was the first in that style? And you developed that style?

PC: Yes. I did. No one else had done it that I knew of. There may be somebody out there that was doing it, but I didn't know about it. What I did was take seventeenth century embroidery motifs from the Jacobean era and translated them over to fabric. Of course, I had to modify them a lot because you don't just take these craggy little leaves that look beautiful because they were done with Persian yarns and then try to move that over to fabric. It doesn't happen so you have to modify them a little bit. [laughter.]

MF: What is the style called?

PC: The style is Jacobean. That's seventeenth-century embroideries. The castles during that time didn't have heat. They didn't have furnaces, so they had wonderful bed hangings and wall hangings. They embroidered mostly linen for the wall hangings and bed hangings. They are like tapestries. We know that style today as crewel embroidery. At that time, it was just simply embroidery, but it was done with beautiful Persian yarns. I just simply took that and translated it over to hand appliqué.

JP: Wonderful idea. It's a beautiful quilt. How old is it? When did you actually make this?

PC: I started the hand appliqué on it in 1989. It actually took a year. Most of my larger show pieces do take a year. I did all of the appliqué, but I did not do the hand quilting. A friend of mine did. Her name is Jackie Muehlstein who lived in Longview, Texas. She still resides there. In fact, I saw her yesterday. I was kind of pleased to see her here at the show. I hadn't seen her for a while and she said, 'Is the black quilt still around?' You bet it is.

JP: How do you spell her last name, for the record? Jackie Muehlstein?

PC: Muehlstein. M-U-E-H-L-S-T-E-I-N.

JP: Thank you.

PC: I had to think a minute. [laughter.]

JP: What are the materials that you used in this appliqué, in the background?

PC: The background is cotton. The backing is cotton. The binding is cotton. I would have to say probably ninety-five percent of the quilt is cotton fabric. I only used a little bit of silk, and it was China silk. I'm not real fond of using that because it's a little slippery and sometimes no matter how hard you try even though you do what you think is a perfect stitch, it still doesn't hide well enough. To suit me anyway, so that's why I didn't use a lot of silk. There's just a handful of pieces, but overall, it's all cotton and cotton thread. I use cotton thread because I'm afraid of silk thread. I'm afraid it will cut into that cotton in time.

JP: What prompted you to use those tiny silk pieces?

PC: Because of the color. They were beautiful hand dyed. They're here somewhere. You can hardly--they're in one of these blocks--here's one! It was just such a beautiful piece of--see purple and kind of reds. It was just the color.

JP: It was a color that you couldn't get in the cotton?

PC: Yes. I bought these because I just thought they were beautiful and I thought, 'What wonderful tree trunks.' But, like I say, I'm not real fond of using it simply because they're too hard to handle. Cotton forgives. It's easy.

JP: As far as the meaning of the quilt, I think you kind of covered that--you were trying to pick up on the tapestries--

PC: Yes. I had been teaching hand appliqué for a while, but I didn't want to keep copying what everyone else was doing. I wanted to do something different, creative, innovative. I had always liked the crewel embroideries. I always thought they were beautiful. The style for Jacobean is fantasy botanicals rather than realistic. You have the miniature tree and large, oversized flowers. And take a look at these grapes. They're certainly oversized. Large, large flowers. Large leaves. The original Jacobean style had tiny little animals along the hillocks on the bottom, or tiny people, but I wasn't fond of doing those little, tiny, tiny pieces so I avoided that.

JP: Adapted it.

PC: Yes. You can't just copy everything that everybody else is doing. You need to do your own, and that's what I wanted to do.

JP: Does it have a name?

PC: Yes. It's called "Jacobean Arbor."

JP: Since it won the Founders Award, it's recorded.

PC: Yes, it's recorded somewhere, I'm sure.

JP: What are your plans for the quilt in the future?

PC: Where they'll go after my demise? Is that what you are asking?

JP: Not really. [laughter.] Will it continue to travel as a show piece?

PC: Yes. I do take it with me on all my travels. I lecture with many of the guilds across the country, so I take it along. I call it by name, "Jacobean Arbor," but it is also called the "Black Quilt." I was the very first one to ever do a black background. Well, I shouldn't say the very first one, but one in a show piece that ended up here in Houston and several other shows around the country. It kind of started a little bit of a trend--that direction, just a little bit different.

JP: What prompted your involvement in quilting in the very beginning? When did you start quilting?

PC: I took my very first class in 1984. I always wanted to make a Victorian crazy quilt. I always thought it would be a wonderful thing to own. I walked into a quilt shop in the Tampa Bay area of Florida and asked about it. The owner, Olga Cheyunski--wonderful quilt shop, Sewing Circle Fabrics. She said, 'Honey, you don't make those. You buy those.' [laughter.] I just thought it was wonderful. I said, 'Now what do I do?' She said, 'Go to the back of the room there. They're teaching a class.' Well, I saw what they were doing. It was handwork, and I always liked to do handwork. So, I took that first class and within a year I was teaching at her shop. About 1989 I did this quilt and, of course, completely different from anything anyone else had done.

JP: Have you ever made the one you started out wanting to make?

PC: No, I haven't. I own five of them. I never did make one.

JP: [laughing.] You took her advice.

PC: I took her advice. I bought them and all of them are over a hundred years old. I dearly love them.

JP: You said sewing circle classes?

PC: Sewing Circle Fabrics in St. Petersburg, Florida.

JP: You really had no interest in it? From your background, your mother or your family?

PC: Oh no, not at all. My mother didn't do quilt making. She was a Rosie the Riveter.

She was working. She didn't have time to make quilts. My grandmother had eleven children. She didn't have time to make quilts. I knew nothing about quiltmaking until one day walking into that shop and said, 'I want to make one.' And there I went.

JP: So that is your first memory of quilting or a desire to quilt?

PC: Right. Yes.

JP: What about quilting pleases you or fulfills you?

PC: Oh, it's absolutely the most wonderful pastime. I always liked handwork. I would do needlepoint, a little knitting, a little crocheting, and just kind of fun things. And, of course, all the trend stuff that anybody ever did. You know, those dumb macramé things. Anything that came along that was hand work. That was why I wanted to make a quilt, because I knew I could do that by hand. I still don't do much machine work even today and this is almost fifteen years later. In fact, I was making a quilt for a friend of mine the other day. I decided that I needed to make this quilt flannel. In my small group, we have a challenge occasionally, and it was simple nine patch--I had to call my friend Sally like nine times in a two-hour period because I kept goofing it up!

JP: Too simple? [laughter.]

PC: Too simple, but still too complicated for my brain because it's on the sewing machine. I don't know how to do that! I do handwork. [laughs.] I know it's silly, but we do what we do best, right?

JP: Exactly. What appeals to you creatively?

PC: Sure. Sure.

JP: What aspects of quilting do you not like?

PC: I actually don't like the hand quilting. That's why all of my quilts are hand quilted by someone else. That's the part I dislike. I love the creativity. I like creating the designs. I love the color. Obviously, I'm a maverick with color. I don't use very simple, boring, quiet colors. I'm bright and brilliant. Magenta is my neutral. [laughter.] Goes along with my personality, I guess. And I love the hand stitching. But when it comes down to the hand quilting, that's when I just sort of freeze up. Ten minutes worth and I'm already wanting to just stop. I can't do it. I don't enjoy it.

JP: So, you actually do the top itself, piece the whole thing by hand?

PC: I do every aspect of it but the hand quilting. Occasionally I do some machine pieces. I don't personally, but I have machine quilters that do them for me, too. I'm not good at that either.

JP: In your opinion, when you look at a group of quilts like this, what do you think makes a great quilt?

PC: That would be such a prejudiced question. What I think makes a great quilt--the first thing is color. If it's quiet and ordinary it can be the most exciting as far as design and balance and all, but if it's real quiet and boring, I walk right by it. But, again, that's just my own personality coming out.

JP: That's what we're looking for. We want to know what's different about everybody.

PC: That's right. You see, I judged the first show here at Houston that prize money was offered three years ago. I was very proud that I was one the judges. I was so thrilled to be a part of that because I could really look at quilts from a different eye. It wasn't what I liked, it was what was good, and that was fun.

JP: What makes a quilt artistically pleasing?

PC: It's got to have good color. It's got to have good balance. If the stitches are not even, the binding is wavy, the sleeve is lopsided, to me that's just all negative, negative. It's got to be very vibrant. It's got to be exciting. Again, it can be beige on beige, if that whole quilt is perfectly executed, and it hangs straight, and every stitch is perfect and every point comes together, I don't care if it's a boring color. That's all right. It deserves a ribbon.

JP: The artistry is there.

PC: It's there. Right. And I'm very non-prejudicial then when I'm judging. I forget everything that I like when I'm judging. It has to be really straight and narrow.

JP: Do you consider it an art or a craft when you quilt?

PC: A little bit of both, honestly. People refer to me as an artist and I sort of stand back when they say it because I don't think of myself as an artist. But I know that I'm creative so I must be something.

JP: Well, I think this is very artistic and pleasing.

PC: Thank you.

MF: What do you think the difference is?

PC: I don't know why, I guess it's because I'm not trained as an artist, and I just felt like maybe I wasn't. I picked this up so much later in life. I didn't do it when I was twelve years old or twenty. I picked it up later in life, so I didn't realize the artistic part of me until the past few years.

JP: Would the same criteria apply to choosing quilts for collections in museums?

PC: Oh, everybody's got their own taste and their own opinion on what should go in a museum. I'd be a bad one to answer that. [laughter.]

JP: Okay. So, you actually learned the art of quilting in quilting classes?

PC: Oh yes. Yes. I wasn't self-taught. No, no, I took classes. I took every class that came along, but a year after my first one I was teaching because I zeroed in on appliqué. It was--I really wanted to do.

JP: You do it very well, I must say.

PC: Thank you.

JP: How do you think that we should preserve quilts like this for the future? I wasn't implying "after your demise" earlier when I was asking.


PC: Oh, no. No, I love it. I love it--after I'm gone. I really have provided for that because I don't have a large family. I also felt that I don't want these famous quilts of mine to end up in a garage sale somewhere or even by accident lost somewhere. So, I have provided for them to go to a museum in my will because I wanted that handled. I don't want them to just go by the wayside.

JP: So, you don't have children or nieces or relatives following or interested in quilting?

PC: No, I don't.

JP: The maverick.

PC: Yes.

MF: Is the museum in your region?

PC: The Museum for the American Quilter [MAQ.] in Paducah. It is in my will. Absolutely. And each one is listed. The utility quilts and the quilts that hang in my kitchen and over my bed and the ones that are over the sofa are for the family. They're fine. Those are what I call utility quilts and decorative quilts. But my showpieces--what I consider showpieces--all of them that have won ribbons and have been in shows and are in books and are in magazines--all of my book quilts are provided for in my will. They are definitely going to MAQ. I don't want them to just go off somewhere.

JP: No, it's a beautiful legacy.

PC: Yes. Thank you.

JP: How do you think that quilts actually reflect a community or a region?

PC: Oh, I don't see that, honestly, with all of our travels--

JP: You think it's more individual?

PC: Yes. It's that person's like or dislike. And there are trends. I start one with this, and the next person that comes along, and the next person who teaches the class, and the next new book that comes along. The only thing that I do see, or have, is a little bit more interest in Southwest-looking things in the Southwest--through Texas and New Mexico and into Arizona and Nevada. I did a Texas-style Christmas quilt and, oh, the people just love it there, but certainly not up in Minnesota. And that's just my own one, but I'm looking at others, too. I don't see that much. I think it's strictly what this girl likes, and that gal likes and that gal likes. We all have different tastes. If the classes are the newest class or the newest book, then they all jump on that, but then they all still go their own separate ways. They add their own personality to it. Again, personal opinion.

JP: How do you think quilts, other than your showpieces, should be used? Or how can they be used?

PC: Well, I happen to not do anything with my showpieces except travel with them to lecture. My utility quilts, I have them hanging on walls. In fact, I have one that was really pretty special. I certainly wouldn't bring it, because I wouldn't have even thought of this until you asked this question. I bought a cotton, Irish-chain, blue and white duvet cover years ago from that little quilt shop that I started first classes in St. Petersburg, Florida. She had two of them and I said, 'They would make a nice little quilt.' Of course, it was a little torn and ratty along the edges. I took it home, cleaned it up, replaced the pieces, put some new batting, new backing, put some binding on it, and I use it as an afternoon nap quilt. Now, it's not a big, special quilt, but I lost my husband to cancer three years ago.

JP: I'm sorry.

PC: Thank you. When he was really, really, really sick, he was covered with that quilt. He loved it because it was soft and fluffy. I didn't overly quilt it. It was real light like a baby blanket, fluffy, and that's my favorite quilt in the whole house. This is my special quilt. Jacobean Arbor is special. It won a lot of awards. It's been in magazines. It's been on covers. It's been in you name it--it's been everywhere. But that fluffy little quilt--that silly little quilt took care of him when he was really, really sick, so that's even more special than this. And I don't think it cost ten dollars--so here we are. That's what quilts mean to me. But I wouldn't want anything to happen to this one either. [laughter.]

JP: Is there anything else that you would like to add for the record about your experiences or your plans for the future?

PC: My experiences--I've had an absolutely wonderful career. I have six published books. I have dozens of patterns over the years. I have a fabric collection that I've done for Benatex. My last two books were out of print. Their popularity sort of soared when my last one just came out with C & T Publishing, so American Quilters Society said that they were going to go ahead and republish the other two and combine them into one. So that's exciting. I travel, teach continuously. I'm always on the road somewhere. That's the story of my life.

MF: Can I ask you a couple of questions?

PC: Yes, of course.

MF: Did you think that this is what you were going to end up doing?

PC: I had no idea. Absolutely no idea. My husband and I owned a restaurant in Dallas, Texas. We moved from Florida to Dallas, and I thought that I would probably continue teaching a little bit, but certainly not very much and not at all on a national level. When I did this quilt, it was like overnight fame. It was like poof. My phone started ringing and it never stopped--And here I am now.

MF: How do you feel about being involved in quilting now?

PC: Oh, my goodness. Oh, I absolutely love it! I wouldn't consider a corporate job. When my husband died, we sold the restaurant so I wouldn't consider going back to that. I love the quilt world and my students enjoy me. I enjoy them. I love what I do. I mean, a hobby turned job--that is positively thrilling. It's exciting. It's fun. It's a lot of work. Don't get me wrong. It isn't all just fun and games--running through airports and time schedules and sleeping in a strange bed every night, but I wouldn't say, 'No. It's wonderful.'

JP: How important do you think quilts are in American life?

PC: Oh my, look around you. Look at the attendance here. They come from all over the world. That's how important it is. They'll give up all sorts of things to pinch that money to make sure that they get here every year or at least once in their lifetime. That to me shows how important it is.

JP: To what do you attribute that?

PC: It's a fever. It's just absolutely a fever. The passion keeps compounding. And there's a camaraderie. You know, the thing about quiltmakers, it doesn't matter what color you are, what religion you are, [if.] you're short, you're fat, you're tall, you're thin. It doesn't matter what job you do. You can be a judge. You can be a waitress. You can be a floor scrubber. You can be an attorney, a nurse. You see these people all sitting in a room together. There's no judgment whatsoever as to any of those things. There's an instant bond. I think that's what makes it so much fun. It's just nonjudgmental. There's a competitive spirit, but that is not paramount. They just enjoy each other's company and that's the big thing. I can run into somebody sitting in an airport and they'll say, 'You're a quilter.' 'Yeah, are you a quilter? Wow.' Bingo. Instant friendship. It's amazing. Absolutely amazing, and I've never seen that in any other.

JP: You said you travel a lot; do you find that to be national or international?

PC: Both. I travel all over the country and out of the country. I've taught in South Africa. I've taught in Australia. England. Not much beyond that though. I have personally traveled beyond that but, just for quiltmaking, just those.

MF: Do you see that diversity in people in the audience that you work with?

PC: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It's really pretty thrilling. It really is.

MF: It sounds like that profile of women has changed so much from earlier days, say in the 1920s or 1930s.

JP: They made quilts then, but it kind of stopped during the Second World War, that's when comforters came into vogue. Women went to work for the war effort. They didn't have time to make quilts, and that's when it went by the wayside. Just like my mother. She went to work and then, as I grew up, I went to work. I didn't think anything about staying home. 'What do you mean stay home?'

JP: You mentioned your husband. How did he adjust? Do you have children?

PC: [shakes head 'no.']

JP: No. How did he accept your quilting?

PC: Oh, he loved it. He absolutely loved it. It was a nice little hobby for me at first and then when he saw what happened--this stardom--he was my biggest fan. He was wonderful. He was just thrilled about it all. He just loved every minute of it.

JP: Fantastic. Good support.

PC: Yes, he was. He was good support. Absolutely.

JP: Where do you look for inspiration for newer designs or other designs?

PC: Actually, they just sort of pop into my head. I always use the old Jacobean style, but I will look at some of the old ones and say, 'Well, today I think I'm going to do that same tree, but I am going to reverse it, and I'll put different flowers on it.' I'm not looking to today's work. I always have to look at the old stuff so it's in keeping with the old look. What is exciting to me, or maybe something inspirational, would-be new fabric. I might see a particular background and say, 'Oh, I know what would look good on there.' I don't do a lot of research, nor do I do a lot of study of today's quilts. I always look back.

JP: Do you generally do your quilts in mostly cottons?

PC: Oh, yes. I don't mix any of the other mediums much. In fact, I haven't used silk in years now--since this one.

JP: So, you are looking for color and pattern combined in your fabrics. Do most of the Jacobean themes have a solid background or do you ever use print?

PC: I do use prints occasionally. Not white-on-white necessarily, but tone-on-tones or two-color prints. I do those occasionally. I started out using solids like this for backgrounds, but now I've kind of expanded. I almost always use more vibrant colors for backgrounds--purples, dark greens. I like lots of color.

MF: Where did you first see the Jacobean influence?

PC: You know, I'm not even positive. It's something I always liked. Something as simple as a tea towel or a cocktail napkin or I would buy things that had that in gift shops. It was those fantasy flowers that I liked. They weren't real. I would run across them every now and then just buying things, so I knew that was what I wanted to zero in on when I started doing it.

JP: Do you have anything you would like to add?

PC: I think we've just about told you the story of my life here. [laughter.]

JP: You've done a wonderful job. I want to thank you very much for sharing your story with Quilters' Save Our Stories. You've done a wonderful interview. I'll say, 'Thank you,' and we will end the interview now here in Houston on October 22, 1999. Thank you so much.

PC: Thank you. Alright.



“Patricia Campbell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,