Becky Goldsmith




Becky Goldsmith




Becky Goldsmith


Jana Hawley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Houston, TX


Julie Henderson


Jana Hawley (JH): Good morning, I'm Jana Hawley. This is October 23rd, 1999, and I'm interviewing interview number thirty, Becky Goldsmith. We are at the Houston International Quilt Festival.

Becky Goldsmith BG): Good morning.

JH: You've got a great quilt.

BG: Thank you.

JH: Would you like to tell us about it?

BG: This is a quilt that was designed to be published in a book that my partner and I wrote for That Patchwork Place. I made this quilt and it ended up being on the cover of the book.

JH: Oh my God. That's impressive. Have you made lots of quilts?

BG: Yes I have. I started quilting in--I can't remember the year--probably in 1986 when my youngest child was about-- no, it would be 1985, because he was not quite a year old. We had moved. My husband had just gotten out of graduate school and we were poverty stricken. [laughs.] And we got bunk beds for the boys because Jeff kept trying to climb out of his crib. I thought he was going to kill himself. We bought these used bunk beds and I couldn't go out and afford to just buy the whole matching sheet sets for the bunk beds, so what I did was--I thought to myself, 'Well I'll make quilts for these beds.' That morning in the paper there was printed an article that said, 'If you want to make a quilt, make it from scraps.' [laughs.] So that's what I did. I didn't research this. I didn't think it through. I just took it as a message on high to make these quilts. [laughing.] I used up all of the scraps I had ever accumulated from garment making because I had sewn and made garments through the years. My husband was so sweet. He helped me with the cardboard template because it said to make the templates out of cardboard. I made these really long, skinny Drunkard's Path quilts because I thought it would be easier to use on a bunk bed. They were non-functional. It's a bad plan for a bunk bed. Quilts have a drop on the side for a reason. I didn't know that then. [laughing.] After that, my mom got a quilt book and I borrowed it from her then I took a class. From then on, it was much easier.

JH: Now did you make this - are you the sole maker of the quilt?

BG: Yes, yes I am. My partner made the other projects in the book and I made this quilt.

JH: Can you tell me how--the description, please, of the quilt?

BG: Yes. There are several blocks. We have to count them to be specific. [counts to fifteen.] Fifteen blocks? If I counted right. It's a representation of what I thought the houses would look like at the North Pole. Little bit on the funky side. To my way of thinking, Santa Claus flies at night and so the backgrounds are navy. The Santa and his sleigh and reindeers flying off into the night up at the top of the quilt with the houses from the North Pole below so it's darkest behind the Santa and the reindeer and then it gets gradually into the lighter navies down below. The border is pieced with a variety of navy fabrics; the lightest at the bottom, the darkest at the top. It's heavily embellished. The embellishments were added after the quilting.

JH: Can you tell us what's on it?

BG: Beads, sequins--some unusual beads. These of the window box of the bakery are dyed wooden beads. I went to bead shops. I've used Mill Hill beads for the beadwork. There are some unusual buttons on this one. It's hand quilted, mostly in linear patterns throughout the quilt. Where there was not a design in the fabric to follow that gave me a good quilting line, I put in a grid. In blocks where there are woven fabrics, I followed the linear pattern in fabric for the quilting line. In the border it's more of a zigzag kind of quilting. The outer edge is finished with cording, not traditional binding.

JH: This is all an original design?

BG: Yes.

JH: Are there houses on the North Pole?

BG: Beats me--I don't think so. [laughs.] Honestly, I think it's probably pretty barren up there. If there was a house, it'd be a Quonset hut.

JH: How old were your children at the time when you made this quilt?

BG: Let's see. It was 1996 then and it's '99 now. My oldest would have been fifteen and my youngest eleven or thereabouts.

JH: So were your children past the point where they influenced what you were making?

BG: Yes, pretty much I made this for myself but they enjoy this quilt. It's fun.

JH: Why did you choose this quilt--of all the quilts that you did?

BG: Well, I was ready to do something like this. I've done a lot of floral appliqué. My partner and I have a business. We're "Piece O'Cake Design." We mostly do appliqué books and patterns. It tends to run in cycles. I'd been doing a lot of florals, botanicals, things with leaves. I was ready for something more linear. That's why I chose this. I was ready to do something house-like and fun. And, I had been buying a lot of the North Pole village houses, you know, the ones that are made by Department 56. It was probably around Christmas time--I think it was--it was January when I was drawing these designs. I had just put them up for the winter.

JH: This design is available for people to purchase now?

BG: Oh, yes. It's--the book was published by That Patchwork Place. We wrote two books for That Patchwork Place to publish and this was the first one.

JH: What year was this quilt completed?

BG: 1996.

JH: Okay. Does this quilt have special meaning for you?

BG: All of my quilts have a special meaning to me. But, for the most part, I don't quilt for the end result. I quilt because I enjoy the process of quilting. So I was more excited during the making of this quilt. The quilt that's there at the end is like a reward, but the part of it that I really enjoy the most is the design, the choosing of the fabric and the actual making of the quilt. Then as a general rule when I get ready to put the last stitching in, I'm real sick of them. It takes a few years to get back into the joy of the actual finished product. [laughing.] So this one I'm beginning to like more and more with time. I've gotten past the being tired of it and I'm ready to enjoy it again.

JH: How did this quilt influence your quilts since then? You went from botanicals to florals.

BG: Well, I got done with houses for the most part. I moved on to other--more floral pieces again.

JH: Is this the only house quilt that you did?

BG: Just lately I did another one. We've got a new book on the market right now. Linda [Jenkins.] made the cover quilt for it but inside it are some smaller house projects and I did those. The experience of the more whimsical houses did influence the way that these more traditional houses ended up. There are specific appliqué techniques that are in this quilt that then once you get it and once you know how to design for those techniques it become easier to see how they can be used in other ways in other quilts. For instance, the roofs are done with a cutaway appliqué technique that lends itself to long skinny pieces. The windows with the interior sashing--that's both cutaway appliqué and reverse appliqué. You do them off the block before they're appliquéd to the quilt itself. Those are techniques that carry over. Color wise, I usually work in these more clear colors, not colors that are grayed-out. What was interesting here is I don't usually use this dark a background. That has a tendency to influence the fabrics that are put on top of the dark. So that was interesting too. I'm not sure I answered you question but--

[speaking at the same time.]

JH: It doesn't matter. [laughs.]

BG: It doesn't matter. There you go.

JH: What place does this quilt have now? How are you going to use this quilt?

BG: Well we use it a lot in traveling, as a sample to put up when we're showing the book. I travel and teach quite a bit so I take this during certain seasons, or depending how much room is in the suitcase. I take this quilt and show it to other quilters. At home, it hangs up seasonally and it spends some time in the closet in the off-season.

JH: Is it economically driven at all, this quilt?

BG: Well it was--you know, when you are a professional quilter, you don't have unfinished projects. You don't start a project that is not original and that is not going to represent a pattern. So yes, but on the other hand, Linda and I neither one work on quilts that we intend to sell that we aren't interested in because you can only make so many quilts in your lifetime. So why bother making something that you're not going to love for the long haul. So in a way yes, but at the time when this was being designed, this is what I wanted to make. We use the same care in the appliqué and in the quilting whether it's by hand or machine. This one is hand quilted, but I do a lot of machine quilting as well. We use the same care on that whether it is going to be a pattern or not.

JH: Which comes first for you, the fabric or the design?

BG: It's sort of an interrelated system. But my part of the business is the drawing end. I have the drawings in my head. As I'm working on the drawings I'm usually thinking about where the colors are going to go. When I'm choosing the color, I choose backgrounds first. Because, in this instance, I knew I wanted it to be a dark background, because I knew I wanted it to look like night. So that meant the appliqués had to be medium to light fabrics to show up on this dark background. In other quilts, if it's going to be say pink or blue or beige or green those background decisions influence everything you put on top of it. So I think about background first and then I think about the foreground colors. But that's usually a thought process that happens while I'm doing the drawing. When I'm drawing for my partner, she tells me what quilt she wants me to draw for her and gives me ideas. She gives me--for instance, for the quilt she'll bring this afternoon, the wildflower quilt. She chose the wildflowers. She knew pretty much how she wanted it to look and I drew it. If she wanted something changed, I changed that. So for her, I'm a human pencil. When I'm drawing for myself, for my own quilts, it's more I'm drawing what I want to do which is the way this one worked.

JH: Do you do other medium in your art? I mean, do you use art in any other medium?

BG: Well, I have an undergraduate degree. It's in interior design. I never was an interior designer, but--I decided people didn't really want to take my advice. [laughs.] You know, it wasn't going anywhere. I've done a variety of things over time. I've been a tole painter. I've sewn garments. I've done a variety of things. But right now what I do as an artistic release is quilt.

JH: At what point did you decide to be a professional quilter?

BG: My partner and I used to both live in Tulsa. I had been taking art classes at the University of Tulsa because my husband was on the faculty there. I'd been taking drawing and painting and printmaking and that kind of thing. When Linda was ready to leave Tulsa she wanted Christmas blocks for her going away quilt. I did an original Santa block. She had been saying that we needed to do this--she had owned a beauty shop before. She was encouraging, and saying, 'We should be a pattern business. We should do this. It'd be great.' When I drew that block, it was good enough. It was publishable. She said, 'We're in business.' I knew at that time too, that I had accumulated the right skills to do the drawing and that there were enough ideas in my head to move forward. So that was the block I drew for Linda that got the business started.

JH: So how did you and Linda initially connect?

BG: We were both guild members at Green Country Quilters' Guild. We both joined at about the same time. I joined after my beginning quilting class. When I joined the guild, I was a real beginning quilter. We both volunteered for jobs. Because really the only way to get to where you really know what's going on and you learn and meet other quilters is by volunteering. So I volunteered to carry the coffee pot for a year or two. Over time, we took different jobs and were different officers on the board at the guild. We worked together and became friends through that experience.

JH: Do you still live in Tulsa?

BG: No, I live in Sherman, Texas. My husband teaches at Austin College which is a small liberal arts college in Sherman. Linda's husband retired and she moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. That's where our business--that's the address of the business. That's where the inventory is. That's where the employees are. That's where--the main hub of Piece O'Cake is in Pagosa. It was as she was leaving Tulsa and I was leaving Tulsa that I drew that block for her.

JH: What's your first memory of a quilt?

BG: My grandmother used to make all of our clothes--she was quite a good seamstress-- my sister and I as we were growing up and my cousin Mary. She had saved a lot of scraps. When I was about twelve or thirteen, maybe fourteen, she had a lady make quilts for us. I don't come from quilting stock. There were no quilts in our house, and I really had no concept of what a quilt was supposed to be. But she had a woman make these quilts. They were probably one and a half inch squares with no real discernable pattern sewn together with a two and a half to three inch border, as I'm thinking back. Mine was more red. My sister's was more blue. I don't know what my cousin Mary's was. We used those quilts on our beds and really wore them completely out. But that's my first real memory of a quilt.

JH: And how old were you?

BG: Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, somewhere in that range.

JH: You mentioned that you were initially involved in a guild. Are you still involved in a guild?

BG: I'm a member of the Dallas Quilt Guild, and I had worked on the show committee. This year and last year I've been in charge of judges. Before that I've worked with the vendors. This will be the last year for a while that I'm on that committee, because it's just gotten too busy. So I'm a member of the Dallas Guild, I'm a member of IQA [International Quilt Association.] but I don't go as often to guild now because there's just not time. There's a local guild in Sherman that I initially joined when I went to Sherman but they tend to stick to very basic patterns and I was used to a guild that had a little more activity. So I don't go to the Sherman guild anymore. Very nice ladies.

JH: How has quilting affected your life in the grander picture?

BG: Well it's my business now so it's what I do all the time but I would have been doing it all the time anyway. It's really what I do. Even on the weekend, when I've got free time, I'm working on the computer. I'm drawing or I'm sewing or I'm doing whatever. So it's what I do all the time and it keeps me from being really obnoxious. It keeps me calm. Handwork has a tendency to smooth things over. I do all my handwork in the evening, and I do anything related to the computer or the sewing machine in the daytime.

JH: How do you use the computer in your business?

BG: That's where I do the drawing. I use Adobe Illustrator right now and all of the graphics that are done for any of the patterns are done in the computer. It's easier once you get used to it.

JH: What do you like the best about this quilt?

BG: I like the way that it worked out in fabric the way I had it pictured in my head. I truly enjoy the embellishments. I don't as a rule embellish a quilt much. I really like the way the beadwork worked out on this quilt. I like the rickrack. This was a fun quilt to make. It was quite enjoyable, it's funky. It's funky, and truly, I'm not a very restrained individual, at least in color choices. I'm quite a liberal conservative. [laughs.] This quilt really shows my personality pretty well. I like that about it. It's well planned without looking quite so well planned.

JH: How does quilting affect your family?

BG: You know, it's funny. I'm only now beginning to think of myself as really being a quilter. But my children don't have any memory of me not being a quilter. So for them, it's the natural way I am. There's always something in progress up on my bedroom wall-- that's where my design wall is. I've always got something in my hands and I've always got pins stuck in my clothes and in the chair. They're used to it. Both of my sons have a proprietary interest in the finished product. So they--as I finish one, they go, 'Well that one's mine.' And I say, 'Well no, actually it's mine, for now. [laughs.] It might be yours someday.' I have a quilt hanging in the show that looks very unlike this quilt. It's in the "Art Quilt" category. I don't consider it an art quilt. I don't consider it innovative, not traditional either. It's truly--it doesn't belong in any of the categories so it ended up in "Art Quilts, Small." If you were to take a picture of it, and compare it to this, it doesn't look like the same quilter made them both. Right now, that's the quilt--the more contemporary one--that my children are fighting over but it's fun. No matter what I finish the kids want them or my mom wants them so the family likes the quilts.

JH: Does this quilt have a name?

BG: It's called "Welcome to the North Pole."

JH: And the quilt in the show?

BG: "Hugs and Kisses." My mother named that one. It's a variety of circles, large circles, that I appliquéd on a square background then I cut them apart horizontally and vertically on different angles and inserted pieced strips in there. It's got a different border. It's embellished too, lightly embellished, and it was a lot of fun.

JH: I'll have to go look at that one. Maybe we can walk by there.

BG: [laughing.] Yes, it's machine quilted. It's hand appliquéd and hand and machine quilted. A--

JH: Do you have a proclivity for machine or hand quilting?

BG: Well, I prefer hand quilting but when you're in business you have to finish things--I'm a good machine quilter. I truly believe that if the women a hundred, two hundred years ago had had the machines that we have now, we would see a lot more antique quilts that were machine quilted because there's a rhythm to it that's very different from hand quilting, but you can do things with the machine that why would you bother to do that by hand. [laughs.] And really, it's a wonderful rhythm, once you get it. And you know, there's good hand quilting and there's really bad hand quilting. There's good machine quilting and there's really bad machine quilting. I used to have a real bias against machine quilting but I see now that they both have value and they both can be done very well or very poorly. So it depends on the project and it depends on what kind of quilting I want to put into it. That's how I decide whether it's hand or machine.

JH: I think, for the most part, we all agree that quilting is the woman's realm. I mean we occasionally see a male who does quilting. Why do you think it's played such an important part in women's lives?

BG: I think we've got more sense. [laughs.] You know I think there's a lot of men who would benefit from hand work. The culture doesn't let them express themselves that way. Perhaps as men become more sensitive guys. The more sensitive guys there are the more likely they are to pick up handwork and be able to not be influenced by the other guys in the men's room or--really, it's not that they wouldn't do it well. It's that as the culture is more accepting, we'll see more of it. I think it's a good thing because the men who quilt, they have a special place in quilting. Very often it's not because they're doing such great work, it's because they're guys and it's so unusual. It would be nice if the playing field were more leveled and men who do good work, great, they should be there. And men who are doing average work should not be getting the acclaim just because they're men, now there's a personal opinion for you.

JH: But talk a little bit more about its importance for women.

BG: I kind of hate to generalize, but I think that women do more, because it's more accepted, and over time it has been and it's a--it frees you from the stress. There are times when it's just easier to be able to concentrate on your handwork when the life around you is so chaotic. There's this one thing that you have control over and you can deal with things. I myself truly have not had that chaotic a life. I have been blessed and I wait for the other shoe to drop. But so far, my life has been good. So for me, it's a way to mellow out in the evening. But I know that for many women who have had stresses it's quite a good way to have something to control. And you have a finished product at the end. So I would view it as an artistic outlet that releases tension and that you do have something at the end to hold on to.

JH: We're closing the millennium, and quilts have had a big impact on the past. Can you speak to what the purpose of the quilt has been in the last hundred, two hundred years?

BG: Well first it was for necessity. If you had to have a blanket and what you had was fabric you made a quilt. And too, for those women who had no other artistic outlet, I think it was a way to make something pretty, to make something lovely or to express whatever they were feeling at the time. Over time, as it's become less necessary to have the quilt for warmth. It's been an artistic outlet--really, whether it's an artistic quilt or not. [laughs.] It's a way that any one individual woman is able to express herself--and do some work. Hold the fabric. It's a nice feel in your hands. I know that I myself every project I finish this year I'm slapping that '1999' on because it's fun. My grandfather was born in 1899. It was always a nice way to be able to date his life. Whatever year it was plus one--that's how old he was. There's a nice roundness to the number. I think next year when I finish quilts I'm going to be real excited to slap that '2000' on them--just because the number looks good. As far as it being some momentous event--well you know I'm not convinced. I have a feeling that New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are going to be nice days. It'll be an opportunity for a good party but for those people who think that the world is going to be a whole new place the next day--it's going to be another day. [laughs.] Life is going to move on, on just the way it always has. I think it's a nice date just because they're pretty numbers. It will be easy to look back and go, 'Oh yeah, I made that one in '99.' It'll be easy to remember but as far as having some real impact on the way the world runs, I don't think so.

JH: So do you think quilts will have--how will they be for the future?

BG: I think they will continue to build the way they have been building since the seventies. There was that lull in there when you couldn't get cotton and perhaps there will be another lull somewhere down the line. But I truly believe that it's going to keep building in momentum the way it has through the eighties and the nineties and on. It's not so much the date as it is there are now so many quilters. There are so many women doing it and there are so many younger women doing it. And as these younger women grow older, and I would consider myself to be part of that trend--I started quilting in my early thirties--as we get older, our daughters--although I don't have any--my daughters-in-law--the younger women that we teach are going to grow up with quilts. They will be important to them, not because they need them in their little log cabin on the prairie but because it's an artistic outlet and because it's a stress reliever and because they can make something pretty for themselves. While they might not consider themselves able to draw--I hear lots of people say, 'I can't draw so I couldn't do this,' or 'I can't put colors together.' There are patterns out there and there are books and classes. As people become more confident in the craft, they get better at expressing their own selves in the craft. So I think as there are more of those people, as the population grows and as one person teaches twenty people who would then influence maybe ten or twenty more people-- that's what's going to make quilting grow. It's that ever-widening circle of people who are touched by the quilting world. Really, I think men, like my kids, at a certain point in their lives, may say, 'Hey Mom, teach me to quilt,' because they're going to want these things and I think they are of a generation where it will be more acceptable to just do whatever they want to do. So that is what I think is the impact of quilts on the future.

JH: What makes a quilt artistically powerful? But first, answer to me: are quilts craft or are they art?

BG: They're both. I think that it's what an individual puts into a quilt that makes it art. If you buy a pattern and you copy the color choices that are on the front of the pattern, that's craft, that's not art. A really fine quilt that is art does not have to be well crafted in my opinion. Now it may not hold up as well over time but when I judge a show--and I don't do it often, probably because of this attitude--[laughing.] technique and craftsmanship are good but I think what makes a quilt special is how a woman, or man, has used the color. What pattern choices have they made? Have they obviously taken a risk, and maybe tried something new? Perhaps it was a little beyond them but you can tell they're getting there. I think that's the most important thing whether it's absolutely beautiful but an exact copy of another thing--that's not art, that's craft. It's new thought; a new original way of doing something or a building on tradition in a different kind of way. That's where the art comes in.

JH: So of the design principles is color the most important or--

BG: Not to my way of thinking but then I'm very interested in the line quality of the pattern itself. That's what I take the most pride in--the quilts that I design. It's that the basic design is good enough that it can be done in any color way and look wonderful. I've seen enough of our patterns done in other colors to know that they do. I'm quite proud of that. What I choose to do color wise, that's my personal choice on it, and that's usually what draws people in. More people are attracted to a quilt by its color but I'm more drawn to a quilt by its underlying structure. So you'll get a lot of people who tell you that color's the most important but I don't happen to be in that camp.

JH: In what way do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history and experience in America? We sort of touched on that but--

BG: Probably--don't know about the education level of all of the women who've made quilts that have survived them. My guess would be that probably many of them were not very well-educated. So the quilts they've left behind is their legacy. What we can determine about their lives is what we can glean from the quilts they left behind? Get back to--what was the question?

JH: What special meaning do they have for women's history and experiences?

BG: That's the record they've left. If we are lucky enough to have something written to go along with it, or some oral history that's been passed on, that's really good, but I think you have to judge from the work. You know it's probably a lot like what an archaeologist faces when they open a tomb. You're guessing from what's been left behind about what went on. So we can make educated guesses, but I wonder if in some cases if those educated guesses are accurate. [laughs.]

JH: So what's going to be your legacy that you leave?

BG: It'll be the quilts--the quilts and the patterns.

JH: But what stories will they say about you?

BG: Well, there's a lot of written text to go along with the patterns. I've been teaching a lot, and so I'm hoping there will be stories that along with it. But, you know, I'd like to be remembered maybe the way Marie Webster is remembered for her patterns. My legacy is the patterns and the quilts I've left behind. I would hope that two hundred years from now those designs are still in use and people still think they're great. They'll look at it and go, 'Those are the most wonderful antique quilts.' Where today people look at them in the colors we've made them up in and they're thinking, 'Oh, those are so contemporary,' because both my partner and I tend to use very clear colors. So people view them as quite forward-looking. But really I want to be remembered for the line work, for the patterns themselves. The quilts should survive me. They're made well with, for the most part, 100% cotton fabrics and my family values them. I expect them to be around. I expect them to be here long term.

JH: Do you draw inspiration from historical quilts?

BG: Often.

JH: Which ones touch you?

BG: Well really none of them touched me for a long time. [laughs.] But my partner likes that eighteenth-century feel, patterns that are more symmetrical floral patterns and very simple. So I drew a quilt for her that's called "Through Grandmother's Window." It was when I was drawing that that I began to see the beauty in those designs. They're very simple, and they're influenced by nature. I like that. I really like that. I like designs that radiate out from the center and each quadrant of the block is done the same. It's a nice look. They've survived through time because they are such good designs. Those antique quilts I'm influenced by. In pieced quilts, it's as much the quilts as it is old tile patterns, or those basic geometric designs that have been around in more than just quilts for lord knows how long. It's basic good design. There are some things that you do that are good and they're going to be good in no matter what medium you use.

JH: When you get ready to design a new quilt do you research from history, or do you just go forward with your brainpower/creative power?

BG: Sometimes it's helpful to look through books just to get some inspiration. I don't sit down and do straight reproduction drawings off of something that's old. You can kind of feel the flavor of it, put it away, and then draw. Not even from memory, but it's an interpretation of a style rather than a straight reproduction. I find straight reproduction to be pretty boring. There's one pattern that we did that was a straight reproduction--sort of. It was a pieced pattern. It was a variation of a dove in a window pattern that I had never ever seen anywhere before and I had never seen it drawn anywhere. My partner and I both thought that was too good a design to let die with the woman who had died long ago and thought it up. That was a straight reproduction in a sense. We altered the color way some, but that was fun to do. But for the most part, I find straight reproduction to be boring.

JH: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the philosophy of quilts or this quilt or you as a quilter?

BG: I'm happy.

JH: Good, good.

BG: I'm happy doing this and I think it's a wonderful way to spend your time. I hope that other quilters are happy in their craft too.

JH: Have you enjoyed it as a business?

BG: Yes.

JH: It's been a good business for you?

BG: You've got to be in a business doing something, you're very lucky if you get to do something to make a living that you enjoy. I quite enjoy this. There are always parts of the business that are work. There's a lot of work involved in this. So it's not all fun, but at least it revolves around the fun part. So yes I've enjoyed it as a business--originally as a hobby and now as a business.

JH: Anything else?

BG: No, don't think so.

JH: Okay, well thank you very much.

BG: Thank you.

JH: This is October 23 and we are finishing the interview at 9:35. Thank you very much.

BG: Thank you.



“Becky Goldsmith,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,