Nicki Becker


QSOS-152 A.jpg


Nicki Becker




Nicki Becker


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics/United Notions


International Quilt Festival
Houston, TX USA


Nathaniel Stephan


[Note: background noise from the convention is heard continually throughout the tape. Often it grows quite loud as people pass by and talk.]

Kay Jones (KJ): This is Kay Jones. Today's date is November first, 2002. It is 4:10 in the afternoon and I'm conducting an interview with Nicki Becker for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Houston, Texas at the International Quilt Festival. Nicki, you brought some pictures of some quilts that have special meaning to you. Would you tell us about the first one?

Nicki Becker (NB): I'd be glad to. I got interested in doing t-shirt quilts when my daughter came home from college and bought a sack of t-shirts so I started making t-shirt quilts. Well apparently the word got out because her sorority happens to be Zeta Tau Alpha which is also the same sorority as Karey Breshanan and I was working at Karey's [Bresenhan] shop [Great Expecations.] at the time and some of the members of the sorority were sponsoring the Race for the Cure came in with a box of the race for the cure t-shirts from all around the country wanting to make a raffle quilt to raffle off at that particular October's Race for the Cure in Houston. These were shirts from the race all around the country. It became very special to me because I lost my mother to cancer and also lost my dear sister-in-law. I felt very honored to be able to make this quilt. Hopefully it was helpful for raising some money for a very good cause.

KJ: Now where is the quilt at the moment?

NB: You know this was the only disappointing thing. I wrote several letters trying to find out who won the quilt. I really don't know. I asked Karey and she didn't even know so unfortunately I don't know where it ended up. Maybe I can still track it down. I don't know but I kind of gave up after a couple of letters. [laughs.]

KJ: But the purpose of it was to raise money--

[both talking at the same time.]

NB: Yes it was and it was raffled--

KJ: For the Cure--

NB: Hopefully it did what it was supposed to do.

KJ: Right. Describe a little bit of the layout of the quilt.

NB: Well I tried to use the most colorful shirts even though they were all the same. They did have each city that the race was run in. In the center I put the pink ribbon and the Race for the Cure. Then just a little bit of sashing from each shirt that I couldn't get in. I used a lot of the little names of the cities all the way around it and as many cities as I could get in were represented where the race had been run.

KJ: Very attractive.

NB: Quite a few years ago. Of course I sashed it in pink. [laughs.]

KJ: Is making a t-shirt quilt very different from making a regular quilt? How does that work?

NB: It's a very easy quilt to make in all honesty. I use some stabilizer on the knit so when the squares are cut out they aren't as stretchy as they would be otherwise. Once those are stabilized it is very easy to sash them. I usually do machine quilting on something like this, however on this particular one I did quilt around the center pink ribbon by hand. I've had a lot of people make very interesting quilts made out of special shirts. [laughs.]

KJ: Tell me about how you got interested in quilting.

NB: Well in nineteen seventy six a very dear friend and neighbor said, 'Lets go take a quilting lesson.' Something I've always wanted to do and my grandmother was a wonderful needle woman and [clears throat.] did beautiful sewing and I had always wanted her to teach me how to quilt but when she learned how to quilt she learned as a child and they had to make quilts and it wasn't really fun. But she wanted to teach me how to tat and knit and crochet and do all those things but I wanted to learn how to make a quilt. When my friend wanted to take a lesson I said, 'Oh yes, I want to do that.' We went to Great Expectations [quilt shop.] in Houston and Jewel Patterson was my first teacher, Karey's [Bresenhan.] mother. At that time there was very little one hundred percent cotton available and she furnished us all the little scraps to make my first Sun Bonnet Sue block. [laughter from both.] From there I just continued on, fell in love with it and eventually started working at the shop and then started teaching and have loved it ever since.

KJ: You mentioned there were quilters in your family, are there still?

NB: My mother was a quilter, yes. Actually I taught my mother how to quilt. [laughs.] I also taught my sister how to quilt. My sister who swore that she could never even thread a needle actually made a grandmother's flower garden quilt and she was very proud of herself and I was of her. She was not the sewer or seamstress in the family.

KJ: What about the younger generation is that carrying on?

NB: My daughters, I think maybe some day they will become more interested. Right now they are busy with their careers and raising babies but I hope that some day. Actually one summer one of my daughters was home from college and did actually get a quilt cut out and started but that's as far as that got. Maybe she'll finished it some day. [laughs.]

KJ: About how many hours a week do you spend in quilting or quilting activities?

NB: That's a hard one. I guess I should say, 'As many as I can.' Let's see. [five second pause.] Oh probably on an average maybe three to five hours a day, something like that.

KJ: Do you still work at the shop?

NB: No I haven't for quite a few years. We moved away from Houston so I tried to come back and continued to teach for a few years after we moved but again it was beginning to be kind of a long commute. We're up in east Texas which is about four hours away.

KJ: Where is that?

NB: Up in east Texas which is about four hours away. It got kind of hard to keep coming back.

KJ: What aspects of quilting do you enjoy the most?

NB: I wish there was just one part of quilting that I enjoyed the most. I love appliqué. I love pieced quilts. I love to hand quilt. Consequently I'm frustrated most of the time because I don't have time to do all that I would like to do. I guess maybe if I had to pick my favorite it would be appliqué.

KJ: Is there a particular piece that you're proud of or very satisfied with?

NB: Probably my daughter's double wedding which is not appliqué but something that I made for her and did all the hand quilting in it. It turned out very pretty and I was very happy with it and she was thrilled with it. It was special.

KJ: You actually got it finished in time for the wedding?

NB: No, actually it was about a year late. [KJ laughs then NB joins in.] My second daughter who was married two years ago is still waiting for her feathered star. [laughs.] But it's in progress.

KJ: That's a fairly typical story and the reason I asked. [both laugh.] How does quilting impact your family?

NB: I think they have learned to really appreciate quilts. My daughters even though they don't do the work themselves, they see what goes into it especially when they have to wait a year after they're married to get their wedding quilt. But they do see the work that goes into it, the love that goes into it. They have a real appreciation for it. Even both of my daughters' husbands have really grown to appreciate it. They say, 'Oh that is really great, you ought to sell those.' And I'll say, 'No, I don't have enough hours in a day to make quilts to sell. I have too many people I want to make them for just for gifts.' So that's been fun and even my husband, of course, appreciates what goes into it. The time and the love and the labor that goes into a quilt. They enjoy coming to the quilt show just to see the quilts and are always amazed as we all are each year how incredible they are.

KJ: They seem to get more incredible, don't they?

NB: They really do.

KJ: Is there anything about quilting you don't enjoy?

NB: Yes, there is one thing I don't enjoy and that is machine quilting. I find it very tiring however I also know I'm probably not going to live to be two hundred years old so I need to get things done. So there are a lot of quilts, a lot of the baby quilts I've made have been machine quilted and on utility type quilts I do machine quilt. But usually going kicking and screaming to the machine. [laughs.] I find it very tiring.

KJ: You have a feeling about machine versus hand quilting. You mentioned that you do hand quilt.

NB: I love to hand quilt. I used to just think, 'I will never have a machine quilt.' I've gotten over it and especially after seeing incredible machine quilting. I told my eldest daughter with her double wedding ring that was hand quilted [clears throat.] and I told my youngest daughter, 'I think I have one more hand quilted quilt in me before my hands totally give out.' I will hand quilt her feathered star because I still think you can't beat hand quilting, it's still the best but I have gotten over my feeling that it's not a quilt unless it's hand quilted. [laughs.]

KJ: Have you ever used quilting to get through difficult time?

NB: Yes I have. When I lost my mother. And she--I had a quilt that I worked on while I sat with her in the hospital. And it's--it became very special because it helped pass the hours. [voice cracks then she laughs.]

KJ: Where is that quilt now?

NB: Oh it's on my wall. [laughs.]

KJ: Reminds you of her?

NB: Indeed. Indeed.

KJ: We're sorta going to switch gears at this point--

NB: Uh huh.

KJ: We've been talking about you and your quilts. Now let's go out into the world a little bit. What do you think makes a great quilt?

NB: [ten second pause.] The use of color. The workmanship. Even though I like the traditional quilts best I can still appreciate the incredible artistry, the work that goes into some of the art type quilts. But I still like the traditional quilts that are beautifully made, beautifully put together, beautifully quilted; I think that's a great quilt.

KJ: The other side of that is what makes a great quilter?

NB: Oh, goodness. [ten second pause.] I think just the love of the fabric, the love of the beauty in the quilts. Of course the technical skills but I think to be great you may not have to be the greatest technician. I think if you just put your love and feelings into the quilt, it's great. [laughs.]

KJ: You said you taught. When you taught what were you looking for in your students? What did you want to instill in them?

NB: Well, I'm one who found teaching beginning quilting the most satisfying because I think so many women of my generation who would come to my class--I'm in my sixties now. And came to my classes convinced that they couldn't do this and they really didn't even know why they were there. And by the time they would finish the class to be able to see how proud they were of what they had done just always made me feel so good. To see them get enthused that they really could do this. That it wasn't that mysterious, that it wasn't that difficult. To see them take up this wonderful quilting. That's probably the most rewarding. To see their enthusiasm. I think the enthusiasm in my students that was the most rewarding for me. To see a lot of them go on and do much better [laughter.] than I did.

KJ: You touched a little bit on it, but why quilting important in your life?

NB: Well one of the most important things about quilting in my life is, of course, the satisfaction of working with the fabric and seeing this piece that develops from just a pile of fabric. Of course making a quilt to give to someone to make them happy. The other part of quilting in my life that is really important are the friendships that I have made. In fact the two girls that I'm staying with right now we've said, 'You know I think we hardly even got over to the show. We've enjoyed being together so much. Catching up, we all live in different parts of the country.' We used to all live in Houston but we don't. now Come back and get together and of course seeing friends and just being with other women who love quilting is so special. I'm not sure exactly how to put it in words. That's the part--the very important part of quilting to me being with people who love the same things you do.

KJ: You hadn't mentioned traveling, but have you noticed or reflected on the differences in regions in terms of quilting?

NB: That would be hard for me to say. I pretty much have been in two regions. Here in the Houston area and in Colorado where I spend some time so I don't know--

KJ: Is there a difference that you note?

NB: I don't think I'm going to give you a real good answer on that. I don't--

KJ: They're pretty much the same?

NB: Probably, it probably is. [laughs.]

KJ: Well thinking back in term of history, what roles do you think quilts have played or quilts or quilting have played in the American history particularly?

NB: Oh my goodness. I think they've played a tremendous part in history. I often go back to the story "The Quilters" and I think of the women and the only way many of them got through very difficult times was being able to work with their hands. One of my grandmother's favorite saying, and I think it's so true today, 'You know honey, when things really get tough you just get busy and you sew something or you go out and work in the yard or weed in the garden and that helps you get through.' And I don't know but there is something about working with your hands that does--it does help you get through difficult times. Maybe it takes your mind off of it, I don't know. As far as history, yes, I think there are so many wonderful stories that one reads about women and the women with quilts in their lives throughout history. Of course, a lot of the names of a lot of the quilts just reflect the historical part of quilts. It's been a very important part of our history.

KJ: Do you sleep under quilts at home?

NB: Oh yes. Yes I do. I do sleep under quilts. My kids sleep under quilts. The grandchildren sleep under quilts. [laughs.]

KJ: Ones that you've made?

NB: Yes, they do.

KJ: Do you have a pretty big stash?

NB: Yes, very big stash. I'm sitting here with a bag of fabric that I said I was not going to buy. [laughs.]

KJ: How do you house that stash?

NB: Well I house it by colors. I have shelves. I have a very nice sewing area and I have shelves. I have a shelf of blues a shelf of reds and so forth. And then there are also the boxes. We're getting ready to move and my two friends who are with me at this show are coming home with me and we are going to do some serious thinning out [laughs.] of my fabric. [laughs.]

KJ: When you add to your stash what are you looking for?

NB: Right now today I was buying some kind of--what I would call woodland type flannels because we have a cabin in Colorado and I've been making flannel quilts for the beds. So that was my excuse to buy fabric today. I needed some more flannel with bears and cabins and trees. [laughs.] I also like the reproduction fabrics. I love working with the reproduction type fabrics.

KJ: Was your last quilt a t-shirt quilt or another kind?

NB: No, the last one was a quilt for my newest grandbaby who is five weeks old. So it's a little flannel quilt with ducks on it. [laughs.] And before that I finished a king sized quilt for our bed at the cabin. It's a nice flannel nine patch.

KJ: How many grandchildren do you have?

NB: I have four.

KJ: They all have quilts?

NB: They have quilts. Three of them are a lot of fun to make quilts for because my oldest daughter's first child was born on Halloween so he has a Halloween quilt. The next boy was born on the Fourth of July so he has a Fourth of July quilt and her little daughter was just born this year on Valentine's Day. [laughs.] My youngest daughter who just had a baby-- her baby was not born on a holiday and she said, 'I'm not sure I can compete with Kathi's.' [laughter from both.]

KJ: That's remarkable. That's just remarkable.

NB: It really is so those are built in themes. [laughs.] And consequently that's also an excuse to buy heart fabric and patriotic fabric.

KJ: Of course. [clears throat.] Well I think you've answered how quilts should be used. You use them pretty extensively but how do you think they can be preserved or should be for the future?

NB: Well, I think that people that are not say from a quilting family who know that they must take special care of their quilts should be educated in how to launder them, how to dry them, if that's what you mean? Just the quilts that you use. Of course the outstanding quilts, it's wonderful that so many museums are using them in exhibits and despite what the Wall Street Journal said. [laughs.] I think it's wonderful that the museums are showing them to the world and helping to preserve them for the future.

KJ: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum? What would you choose?

NB: I would probably choose the quilting. First of all and the workmanship.

[five second pause.]

KJ: When you make quilts for your friends and family--

NB: Can you back up? One other thing and perhaps if a quilt has a very interesting story to it. I think that some of the quilts that were in the America from the Heart exhibit last year were some of the most incredible quilts I've ever seen. I could only look at about two or three of them at a time. Those kind of quilts I don't have words to describe how incredibly moving that was. It was the most fantastic exhibit I think I could have ever seen. I'm sorry. I didn't mean--

KJ: No, that was good to hear. [NB: agrees.] That was a moving exhibit. When you've made quilts for your friends and family what's happened to them?

NB: Fortunately I think they are well loved [laughs.] and cared for and used. Really most of the quilts that I make are quilts to use. [laughs.]

KJ: Did I see that you collect quilts or maybe sewing memorabilia?

NB: I do. I have not collected as many quilts lately as I have in the past. When I used to work here at the show as I have for many years and I used to say alright each year I will treat myself to a little antique quilt. I love the antique quilts. So I would usually pick up just a --I like the scrappier type of antique quilts because I enjoy looking at the different fabrics, the old fabrics. I have quite a few of those, enough of those now so I don't collect them anymore. I have a minimal amount of memorabilia as far as that goes. I have quite a few of my grandmother's--her scissors and some of her buttons and just kind of ordinary memorabilia but special to me because it was hers.

KJ: What is your next quilt going to be like?

NB: My next quilt--well I'm working on my daughters feathered star right now but the next quilt that I'm working on is a heart quilt for my little granddaughter who was born on Valentines's -- for a bed in her room I did a little crib heart quilt for her when she was born but the next one will be for her bed in her room and maybe with any luck about the time she'll be moved from the crib to the bed maybe the heart quilt will be done. My daughter requested pink and lavender so this ought to be quite different for me because I like [laughs.] the darker colors. [laughs.]

KJ: I noticed that you make wearable art.

NB: The reason I answered 'yes' is because I used to but I have not in the last few years so I was not sure exactly sure how to answer that. I did at one time when I think we were wearing wearable art but I don't wear as much now so I don't make it.

KJ: What did you make when you did?

NB: I mostly made vests and jackets. [KJ clears throat.] I go all the way back to strip pieced vests. Oh, I'm trying to think what the last one might have been. An Amish type vest would get away from some of the strip piece. For me wearable art evolved, came in and went out.

KJ: Quilting is pervasive in your life--

NB: It has been. Yes it has.

KJ: I know that we've talked about a number of things. It's okay. Is there something that we haven't brought up that you would like to talk about?

NB: I've covered so many areas that I had no idea you were going to cover. [laughs.]

KJ: While you're thinking, I've thought of another one.

NB: Yes.

KJ: You said that you worked at Great Expectations. How is working in a quilt shop satisfying or interesting experience for you? What did you gain from that?

NB: Well again many friendships--again back to friendships from working at the shop. The fun of helping people plan quilts. I think that was great fun. The fun of being around that much fabric. [laughs.] Your daily dose of inspiration. I think those are probably the most enjoyable memories of working at the quilt shop because I started so many years ago it's been a lot of fun to see the evolution of where we started and where we are now.

KJ: Were you involved in the quilt festival from the beginning?

NB: Not from the very first one, but from about nineteen seventy eight. I have been working at the quilt festival until I moved in nineteen ninety so for probably for almost twenty years I was really involved.

KJ: So it grew and changed how--

NB: Oh my goodness. I can remember one of the first ones I went to was in a church recreation hall with a handful of exhibitors. So this has been an incredible trip [laughter.] to see an entire convention center full of quilts. An incredible tribute due to Karey Bresanhan.

KJ: I expect very satisfying food, your hobby is--it's more than a hobby. It has been a career as well and a lifetime passion.

NB: It has, it really has.

KJ: Well then if you have nothing more to add I'd like to thank Nicki Becker for allowing me to interview her today as part of the two thousand two Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at two forty.

NB: Alright, four forty?

KJ: Four forty, your right.


“Nicki Becker,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,