Ginny Eckley




Ginny Eckley




Ginny Eckley


Rebecca Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Houston, Texas


Joanne Gasperik


Rebecca L. Salinger: Today's date is Friday, November 2, 2001. It is 2:09 p.m. I'm conducting an interview with Ginny Eckley for Quilters' Save Our Stories - S.O.S. - Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project in Houston, Texas at the IQA [International Quilt Association.] Quilt Fest [International Quilt Festival.]. Ginny for the record could you please spell your name for me?


RS: Thank you, thank you very much. Tell me about these three quilts. You said it was a triptych.

GE: Right, right, this is the story of the salmon. I first did this quilt in three tapestries. And the owner of Martingale Publishing and the editor of my book "Quilted Sea Tapestries" had an author party, and she invited me back to her house. She had a salmon run behind her house which I had never seen.

RS: You don't mean--

GE: A ladder. I'm sorry a salmon ladder where they actually put a ladder up to try to get the salmon to go back up the stream. This was in the Seattle, Washington area.

RS: When was that?

GE: This was about in 1995. She started telling me the story of the salmon, and then I started researching it. They are just an amazing fish because they start out in fresh water and then go to salt water and back to fresh water.

RS: You want to just describe--

GE: In this first one, the bottom layer is silk taffeta and then the eggs and baby salmon there are painted separately and embroidered on top of the rocks, so it's the 'Salmon on the Rocks.'

RS: Does each triptych have a separate name?

GE: Yes. This one is 'Salmon on the Rocks.'

RS: I can see you have little baby salmon with their egg sack still attached and the eggs down at the bottom. It looks like this is silk taffeta.

GE: Right, this is silk taffeta, hand-painted, and above it is a marbleized silk, and the colors change from blue to green, representing the stream. The yolk sack disappears, the salmon becomes fry and eventually in the second piece, they'll be going out into the ocean. And this is happening in the springtime and that's why there are water lilies up above to represent the time of the year.

RS: Is there anything, we'll talk about the other things--is there a reason why you brought one other than the fact [inaudible.] ?

GE: These were on display in the Olympics, the winter Olympics in Japan. So that was very special for me. And then the museum of Delaware [inaudible.] Maryland also they were on display there, at the Museum of Natural History. That was the first time my quilts had been in a Natural History Museum so that was pretty exciting.

RS: Do you want to look at the rest of them and tell us about this quilt?

GE: [inaudible.]

RS: Now what is the name of this second triptych?

GE: The second one is 'Salmon over the Waterfall and into the Ocean.' Up above is the same green marbleized silk that was on the first panel and then you see the salmon going over rocks into the blue of the ocean. This is the water that is right at the coastline. The whole thing is silk, and it all started out white silk from crepe to taffeta. All hand-dyed and painted and then appliqu├ęd together.

RS: And how did you represent the water on the rocks?

GE: I used fine tulle, and you can actually paint the tulle, to get the colors you want. I wanted to represent the shimmering water against the rock. I paint each one in sections; this is mostly color you dye. This is the final one and probably my favorite. It's called 'Salmon Returning Home to Spawn.' The lower piece is a big piece of silk crepe, and the salmon is coming out of that to represent the rushing waters that are right next to the coastline. I just found it amazing that they have to go back up these rocks, and then they actually take time to rest in the stream. So, these are the rocks against the coast. This happens in the autumn so all the leaves that are--these are actually real leaves that are pressed on to the silk, preprinted silk and represents the fall time of year. [both are talking at the same time. inaudible.] At the bottom we have the water from the ocean and the rocks and the coastline. Then above that is stream with the salmon in it, resting, and above that are the plants and the sky. The neat story about this is the first set of salmon are mating and then they dig out a red, so the female and male together dig out a place where the eggs can be laid. Then the eggs are laid, and the males fertilize them then they actually die afterward. The color change in the whole process is startling.

RS: You said this one was your favorite quilt. Why is that?

GE: I think, because this on is so dramatic in the story line in the fact that they have to go up the rocks and they have traveled so far, so long in their journey, only 10% of the salmon make it to this point, to where they spawn.

RS: How do you use this; I mean do you hang it?

GE: Right, I pretty much use it for exhibiting and I teach probably once or twice a month I travel to quilt guilds, and I teach and I'll often take the triptych with me because it tells a nice story.

RS: Does it have a place in your home?

GE: No, I have a special closet I keep it in, so I don't keep it out all the time.

RS: Let's turn to quilting. When did you start getting involved in quilting?

GE: I didn't get started in quilting until my daughter was little, but I had been sewing since I was 9 years old. But I had been working in an interior decorator shop, interior design shop, but was so tired of matching colors for people I wanted to make something where I could put my own colors in and not have to match a couch or tile floor. And since my daughter--my daughter was really an active kid so I had to do something small, so I started doing small quilts and actually started doing fish.

RS: Really?

GE: Right [inaudible.]

RS: Well about what time--when was that? Do you remember the date approximately?

GE: Oh, that was probably around '85, that I really started quilting.

RS: Did you learn--who did you learn from?

GE: I took classes from everyone, Yvonne Porcella and Katie Pasquini and Nancy Crow. I have taken pretty much from everyone. Now when I first started, I just took through the local guild.

RS: Where was this?

GE: Kingword [inaudible.]

RS: [inaudible]

GE: In Kingword.

RS: Oh, I didn't know you were from Kingword. How many hours do you spend quilting, say every week?

GE: Believe it or not I spend a good 8 hours a day just sewing and quilting; between teaching and creating my own quilts.

RS: What is the first quilt memory, not necessarily your--

GE: Do you think my first sewing memory--a quilt memory?

RS: Yes, how about sewing quilts.

GE: I was living in Mt. Healthy, Ohio and a neighbor lady was on her front porch hand sewing. I was so fascinated and interested. I just kept coming back every day until she finally said, 'Do you want to learn how to do this?' [laughs.]

RS: When was this?

GE: I was 8 years old. She taught me how to hand sew over the summer. In the course of the summer, we made a dress. Of course, a hand-made dress, it looked like a muumuu. I have six brothers so I came home and showed them this dress, and it was like, 'Oh my gosh, I could never wear the dress after their comments.' But I was so excited. I thought that I knew how to sew from that point on.

RS: Their criticism didn't dissuade you in any way?

GE: Oh, no, not in this sense that I knew how to sew. I figured I could sew; it was just that one garment that was a lulu. But other than that--

RS: What brought you to quilts? You said you started doing that when your daughter was little, and you wanted something small. Why quilts?

G E: I wanted to put something on the wall. I actually have a degree in art. Though I had made bedspreads I think that was so contemporary I don't know that it actually could be called quilting, but in the '70s I made some pretty wild things. I just thought quilting was so traditional that I never even thought of the word quilting when I was making it. I did layering; it probably was a quilt by today's standards, but by seventies standards I don't think it would be called a quilt.

RS: Does anybody else in your family make quilts?

G E: Not really. My mother and grandmother both sewed, but mostly clothing.

RS: How does quilting impact your family?

GE: I think for the most part it encourages them to do artwork. I consider my quilting art. Both my son and daughter have taken art classes and really have more appreciation for art than if I did not do quilting. In fact, this year, my daughter's English teacher mentioned that her mom was coming to the quilt festival from New York. So, my daughter went and brought her my two books and she was really tickled. So, it really made a neat little circle there.

RS: What do you find greatest about quilting, what do you enjoy the most?

GE: I think what I really enjoy the most, is the fact that i am working on fabric. I consider it artwork, but instead of being a flat, stiff canvas, it has suppleness and texture. I feel I can do anything with it.

RS: When you said, 'working on', what specifically does that mean?

GE: I work on silk mostly, but when I work--I have to tell a story right now. This is the salmon, but all my pieces are nature oriented. I just did a series of the yellow warbler. There is a fascinating story about the warbler, where there is a cowbird. The cowbird lays its egg in the warbler's nest. The cowbird egg is blue, the warbler's egg is white with brown speckles, and the warbler parents do not recognize that it's not their own baby. The cowbird is this big ugly brown bird, and they end up raising it. The cowbird knocks out the warblers out of the nest, they end up raising this cowbird, and the cowbird ends up being about twice as big as them, while it's a fledgling still in the nest. I just find different parts of nature so fascinating. So, through my artwork and quilting I try to tell stories of nature.

RS: Are there any parts of quilting that you don't like?

GE: No, I totally respect people who do any type of quilting.

RS: Oh no, i was talking about your work.

GE: Oh, my work? That I don't like? I don't like it; I don't put it in there. [laughs.] I do experiment a lot. When I have an idea for a piece, I'll spend weeks drawing and researching and then I even do small pieces where I paint the idea that I have to see if it going to work. I don't think there is a part that I don't like. I wouldn't do it if I didn't [laughs.] I don't like bookkeeping or the accounting that I have to do.

RS: That probably counts for part of your quilting [inaudible.]

GE: That's the hard part.

RS: Let's go on to something else. What do you think makes a really great quilt?

GE: I think you have to have passion behind the quilt. I think whoever the artist is making it, has to be really passionate about it. And I think that their passion shows through.

RS: What do you think makes a great quilt artistically powerful?

GE: There are a lot of elements. Of course, color, is critical. I do a lot of work with that. I think I have a good color sense, but it really has taken me a long time. A lot of times I don't even realize it's almost second nature to me but when I teach, I try to help people with that. And also, scale is really critical and tricky. It probably depends on where you are going to hang the quilt as far as how to adjust your scale for the viewer. And of course, design. I think if you create your own design, it says a lot more to other people.

RS: What do you think makes a great quilter?

GE: Technically I think a great quilter knows when her quilts are right, when her stitches are sloppy or something like that. It takes, someone in your past, like a strict teacher or someone who has told you 'you know you need to rip that out', 'you go ahead to rip that out and redo it' [laughs.] So do it right. You know how to do it right so do it right. That's why I think continuing to take classes is very important. At whatever level you are.

RS: So even experienced quilters--

GE: Oh, absolutely. I take classes. You can always get better. Always room to improve, no matter what level you are.

RS: It looks here like most of your work is machine work. What do you feel about the whole-- [both talk at the same time.]

GE: I think there are a lot of people that really love machine work and people that love hand quilting. I think there is plenty of room for both. Since I was a kid, I was a machine person. I talk to other people, and they find it just very relaxing to hand quilt. I totally respect each type of--I think it's an individual decision.

RS: Do you ever hand quilt?

GE: Not if I can help it. I am one of these people, if I can figure out how to put the back sleeve on by machine, I do it, and I have figured out a way. [laughs.] I was teaching in Michigan, and they were doing a raffle quilt. And they said, 'Anybody who wants a tip on how to put your sleeve on, come on down.' And I was down there. [laughs.]

RS: Why is--other than the ribbons, why is quilting for you important?

GE: It's an expression of art. That is what it is for me. I could do art in any medium, but I'm closer to the textiles. I've done it for so many years, I feel confident I could express almost anything that I wanted to express in a textile. In fact, if I was in pottery, I'd have to start from square one but because I've been doing textiles for eight or nine. [years.] It's my most comfortable medium.

RS: Does this quilt in any way reflect where you live?

GE: No, not at all. In fact, this is really more of what was happening on the West Coast. Salmon-- I try to do stories where there is some kind of danger in Nature to almost warn people that they are going to lose this if they don't take precautions. Like the editor having that salmon ladder. They built that salmon ladder to attempt help the salmon. There are always regulations to help it but it also takes public awareness to make a difference.

RS: Do your other quilts reflect where you live, your community?

GE: They usually reflect where I have been like, in this case, I went to Washington state, probably four times, and then to North Carolina. I am teaching in Asheville and picked up a wildlife magazine and read about the warbler. That's how that came about. Then I taught in Japan and have pieces with water lilies from the place that I was teaching in called Kita had a beautiful park below it that was full of water lilies, so they usually reflect where I have been.

RS: Where you've been.

GE: Right.

RS: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American society and life?

GE: I hope to get more of them in art museums because I think that's where they should be.

RS: Are you actually working on that?

GE: I am. [laughs.]

RS: You said that quilts in the museums would be [inaudible.]

GE: I mean that they should be--

RS: In quilt museums--

GE: No, I think in regular museums. Since the seventies I was an art major. But I worked in textiles, even though I was in the Art department. I took my textiles to the art department. It has been an issue with most weavers, most people who work with fabric. I don't think they feel that they have enough voice in the art world, and I think it does belong in the art world, especially original quilts, where people have designed them.

RS: What about where quilts fit in with women's history?

GE: Oh, absolutely critical especially if you think of women that were probably not able to get any fabric. They were in a situation where they recycled clothing to get quilts. There are just an incredible array of quilts throughout history that tells the story of women and their lives.

RS: Do you think that this is going to end up in a museum one day?

GE: I hope so! [laughs.] I don't have a big enough wall for it. [both laugh.] That would be very nice, if it was.

RS: If a museum came right now and said, 'We want your piece.'

GE: Absolutely.

RS: Would you let it go?

GE: After I make it, I have people say, 'How can you sell that?' Because right now, I just did a beautiful series. It is all in the gallery for sale. The joy for me is the actual designing and making of it. I am ready to sell it or hopefully sell it. [laughs.]

RS: Have you given away quilts? Do you give away quilts to family and friends?

GE: Yes, especially when I first started, I did. Then when I did my first book, I had to make several small quilts. I gave those to special people, like my mother. Then my family has actually bought my quilts. That's been nice.

RS: And it doesn't bother you, how they use them?

GE: No, no. They hang them up, pretty much, they hang them on walls. Most of my quilts are not meant to be on beds. They are really meant to be like paintings on the walls.

RS: Is there anything else that you want to tell us about this piece or you--

GE: No. I'll tell you about one fun series that I did. I took clothing labels and made quilts from clothing labels. The story behind it was, when I went to Japan, they would take some of our designer clothes and copy them. But they would do things like, misspell the name, like Tommy Hilfiger, would have an "e" instead of an "i". And so, that you would know that it was a knock-off and they wouldn't get sued. So, my idea was you should take the designer labels and acknowledge them for the work that they have done rather than trying to knock-off their designs. I was invited to do a piece for Japan for one of their big shows, so I did it out of the labels. I did a big archway all with the teeny, tiny labels over it and then a big world scene, but all machine embroidered that said, 'A World of Choices, a World of Designs.' I don't know if they 'got it' or not but that was my message. [laughs.]

RS: Do you still have that one or is that one--

GE: That one did sell, for about $4000. Someone here in the States bought it.

RS: Someone 'got it.'

GE: Yes. [laughs.]

RS: Is there anything else? Do you want to say anything more?

GE: No, I don't think so.

RS: I'd like to thank Ginny, for allowing me to interview her today, as part of the 2001 Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. This interview is concluded at 2:33 p.m. on Friday, November the second, 2001.


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