Joyce Becker




Joyce Becker




Joyce Becker


Judy Holley

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics/United Notions


International Quilt Festival, Houston TX


Rachel Grove


Judy Holley (JH): This is Judy Holley. Today's date is November 2, 2002. It is 9:08 a.m., and I'm conducting an interview with Joyce Becker for Quilters' S.O.S.-Save Our Stories Project in Houston, Texas. Joyce, you brought a quilt for us to see? Joyce Becker (JB): I did. JH: Okay, we would love to see it, and have you tell us about this quilt and what it means to you and why you brought this particular one. JB: I brought this particular quilt "Here Chickee, Chickee, Chickee" because I make landscape quilts and I wanted to bring a quilt that is fun. JH: Yes. JB: I wanted to make a quilt that was kind of a hoot that would make people smile. Chickens are universal smile makers, and everybody just loves this quilt. This particular quilt will be featured on the cover of my new book. This quilt demonstrates most of the techniques I use when I teach and lecture across the world, so it's a good example of the type of quilts I create. JH: Okay. I see some hand dyed fabrics. Did you do those? Yes. JB: No, I didn't. The fabrics are Just Imagination and hand painted Sky Dye fabrics by Mickey Lawler. JH: Okay, and this is hand painting? JB: I did some shading with a dye pin on the door, also on the rooster because he was brown, and I wanted him white so I painted him with white textile paint and "thread painted" with machine embroidery for texture. All the leaves were individually cut out. JH: They are. JB: Yes, and some of the leaves are three-dimensional. Others aren't two layers. JH: Because it really looks like green fabric. JB: It--well, no. It is green fabric with pre-printed leaves. JH: Well, it does, but it doesn't look like they're individually cut out and placed. JB: Sometimes you can cut them out in clumps. JH: In clumps, yes. JB: The cutting is busy work that I do, perhaps at night in front of the television. I used some wonderful Mickey Lawler's Sky Dyes Fabric, and they just work perfectly. Foliage and all of these things are cut out and actually glued on. I used a canvas of muslin and stabilized, so I build on this canvas from the top down like an artist would do painting a picture, and they're glued on with 505 Spray Glue or KK2000 Sulky, whatever I'm using at the time. Every element is glued on the canvas, and then I stitch it with monofilament, and then comes the fun. After everything's tacked or basted down, I start doing the painting and the machine embroidery or other surface design techniques. Sometimes I do overlays for shading, and once the top is finished I square the top, add the borders, and quilt it. JH: Quilt it. JB: And then before I put the binding on I block the surface. JH: Before you put the binding on? JB: I actually do the blocking on the floor with the quilt facedown on a flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth, and I take a spray bottle and a wet pressing cloth with a dry iron and go over the whole surface of the quilt with the wet pressing cloth. JH: Pressing cloth? JB: Yes. What the blocking accomplishes is to make my quilts very flat, and it's great for many layers together, because I want them to hang nice, the quilts are meant for the wall not the bed, so it's important to block them. JH: When did you start quilting? JB: I started quilting about twenty-two years ago as a traditional quilter. JH: Oh.. JB: I always wanted the freedom of playing with my own color and my own sets. Even if I was using a traditional pattern, I had to make it my own all from the beginning. I know that this is a hard step for many quilters as well. They want to have a pattern to follow. They want their quilts to be exactly like the picture in the book. I was never that way [laughter.] for some reason. I'm a risk taker! JH: Did anyone in your family quilt that inspired you? JB: Not really. My maternal grandmother was a quilter, but she died when I was ten, and she wasn't making quilts when I knew her. JH: Do you have any of her quilts? JB: No, my mother had one of my grandmother's but it got stained. I have some quilts from one of my aunt's family. JH: Did you do handwork when you started first with these traditional quilts, or were you always a machine person? JB: I always pieced by machine, appliquéd by hand, and I love to hand quilt. The landscape quilts I do now do not lend themselves to hand quilting because there are too many layers of fabric. I still make traditional quilts, and I love the relaxation of hand quilting. I can hand-quilt for hours. Sometimes I even hand-quilt for my good friends. JH: The hand quilting is your favorite part? JB: Yes, absolutely. Hand quilting always has been my favorite part of making a quilt.. JH: Always has been. And you teach? JB: I teach and I lecture worldwide. JH: Now when did that start? JB: When I came out with my first book, in 1996. JH: And tell us about that. JB: Well, the book is titled "Nature's Patterns" and it was published in '96 by The Quilt Digest. It was all nature inspired quilts, with twenty-three different artists including myself. It is more of a coffee table book because it includes scenic inspirational photography by a wonderful photographer, Charles Crust, along with the quilts, and interviews from each artist along with patterns and instruction. I did some traveling and teaching and lecturing with that book, and but in the past four years I've developed a techniques to create landscape quilts, and now that's what I focus on. I've been expanding my horizons and traveling and, teaching more in the past three years. JH: Is there a book on that? JB: My book is coming out at spring market in Portland, Oregon and is published by C & T Publishing. JH: In spring market where we all look for the-- JB: "Luscious Landscapes - Simple Techniques for Dynamic Quilts." JH: How does your quilting influence your family life? JB: Quilting influences my life a lot. [laughter.] My husband has taken over many of my responsibilities. [laughter.] My husband is retired, and so he does the vacuuming, and dusting pays the bills. I can't get him to cook yet! JH: Oh. [laughter.] JB: I think it's important for me as a role model to hand my tradition down to my children and my grandchildren. I have sons, and so I also have stepchildren. None of them quilt except for my granddaughter who I have started down the path of creativity. She has a wonderful color sense and is a great artist, and we've done projects together, and we'll continue to. JH: How old is she? JB: Shelbie Rose Valdez is twelve. She loves to play, and she's the only one I'll let get on my Bernina machine [laughter.] other than myself. JH: And that is wonderful. And she sews with you? JB: Yes. JH: And have you collaborated on a quilt together? JB: She's done The Reflection contests for her school for the past three years, so we've collaborated three times. She comes with a theme you have to follow. She comes up with the idea for her quilts and we go shopping for the fabric, and I guide her. Shelbie does the actual cutting with the rotary cutter and scissors and actually stitches on the machine. I might help her a little bit if she's having trouble, but she has to actually do it, so I'm just there as a mentor. JH: And it is more painterly rather than traditional pieced? JB: I would, yes, her quilts run more along on the art category. That influences carry over to her, and she's just dying to make her first landscape, so right now she's collecting photographs of what she wants to do so Grandma can see. I can't read her mind, so I need visual inspiration. JH: Right, right. JB: When I go and teach students need to bring a visual inspiration JH: The student has to bring a photograph? JB: Students need to bring a photograph, or a visual of some kind. Shelbie and I are hoping to get some time to work on a landscape quilt soon. She's also done a couple of other quilts with me too. If I have more grandchildren in the future, I will certainly carry this legacy on. I enjoy going to show and tell with Shelbie, as well. JH: Wonderful. JB: Just so you know, everything that I can do to help children and adults understand quilting is an important tradition in our country. JH: Country. JB: I was very surprised when I took a commissioned piece for a church, of the Olympic Mountains, to Shelbie's class for show and tell.. JH: How large a piece? JB: It is around seventy by forty, and it hangs in the narthex of the church. The church looks out over the Olympic Mountains in Washington, and the organizers wanted to bring that mood inside the narthex. Before I delivered the quilt to the church my granddaughter said, 'Grandma, you have to come to show and tell.' Well, I did, and of course the kids were eating lunch, and they all wanted to put their little sticky fingers on it. [laughter.] Their questions went on and on, and they were so interested. It was just magical. I'm so glad that I could share the quilt with the children. I'm also going to go this year--My stepdaughter is an aide in a high school with special needs children, and I hope to go and take my quilts one day and share with them. JH: Have a little trunk show? JB: Have a little trunk show with the special needs students. Also, I volunteer at the library and give slide presentations, and talk about quilting in the community. JH: So you find it very important to be an ambassador for quilters? JB: I absolutely feel it is important to be an ambassador for quilting. JH: What do you think makes a quilt special? JB: The thought you put into a quilt and, the energy you put into a quilt make it special. That's why I don't sell my quilts. It's like giving birth. I can't give up a child. It's a means to express yourself and your creativity. I love touching the fabric; the way it feels and manipulating it do what I want it to do. [5 second pause.] I love quilting. [laughter.] JH: About how many hours a day do you spend at your craft, profession, whatever you want to call it? JB: I don't necessarily quilt everyday. Since I have the business end of it too I have to make arrangements to lecture, and teach. Because I write books, that takes a lot of time as well. If I'm making a new project, I usually sew five hours a day. That's about my limit. Then my neck gets sore. [laughter.] JH: In the course of a month, how much time do you spend traveling and how much time do spend home? JB: Well, I make it kind of a rule of thumb not to travel more than twice a month, which usually turns into three to four days at a time, yes. [5 second pause.] As I age, it may be less. [laughter.] Now that my husband has retired we often combine our trips, business and pleasure. When I taught in New Zealand for example, the symposium lasted for a week, and then we stayed for three more weeks of travel, so it offers us an opportunity together as a couple to go and see places we would never have seen, so it's wonderful. JH: How would you describe the camaraderie you feel with quilters around the world? JB: Oh, the camaraderie's are just instant. You know quilters just look at each other and talk. You don't have to know each other. You smile, and say 'How are you doing,' and it's just instant, and that's my absolute favorite part. JH: The best part of being a quilting teacher is? JB: Is--Oh, boy. [3 second pause.] Working with all of the wonderful students and wonderful human beings. Some students turn into wonderful friends. I've made a lifelong friend in New Zealand now. She and her husband come to visit us. It's just very special, this connection. When I moved to Seattle, for example, I joined the local quilting guild. The guild was two blocks from my house. Evergreen Piecemakers, and I've made four friends, and they're the best friends I've ever had in my life. We'll probably be in the old folks' home together. [laughter.] JH: Making quilts. JB: Making quilts. JH: And teaching the other ladies. JB: We just have this commonality that ties us together. We don't always have to be quilting. We can go see a Ya Ya Sisterhood movie or whatever and just have a great time. The basis of the friendship is from the quilting connection, and that spreads out to another satellite group where there's about twenty of us. It's like you can go to the quilting group and vent, or you can go there and mourn, or you can go there and be joyous! Whatever's going in your life, there is a sisterhood of women who know exactly what you're going through. They give you the moral support that you need at the time. If something happens to one of us, we're all there for one another. JH: Well, you've just answered my next question in a way. Has quilting ever helped you get through a difficult time in your life? JB: Absolutely. JH: Is it the quilting or the people? JB: It's the people. JH: I thought that's what you were saying. JB: Yes, my friends have been there for many struggles. Health struggles, personal struggles, and so forth, yes. It's truly amazing. JH: How do you think quilting incorporates women's history in the past, and how does it point towards the future? JB: I think most of us as quilters want to know historically what happened with quilting in the past. I find it very interesting. In fact, I know Mary Bywater Cross fairly well. She has written several historical quilting books, on in particular on the Oregon Trail and the books are so accurate. Her research is just incredible, and I've enjoyed listening to her and learning her stories one on one. It's interesting to see how women made the quilts, and what they went through to make them and how far we've come as quilters. The women back in the pioneer days had no fancy tools. Looking at the beautiful quilts they made from scraps. I feel we are so blessed. I never take that for granted. I'm one of the founders of the Association for Pacific Northwest Quilters. We put on the Pacific Northwest Quilt Fest every two years. I helped found this organization, because I felt adamant that we needed a regional venue to have our quilts juried and judged, and to carry on the tradition of quilting in the Northwest Region. JH: What year did you found it? JB: 1994. It was really hard getting it going and getting the enthusiasm that was required. I worked almost fulltime for five years helping this organization. JH: Okay, now is this multiple states? JB: Yes. It's Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon. JH: Does it rotate from--? B: Quilt Fest is held at Seattle at the Seattle Center, recognizable by the Wor Space Needle. It's a place that everybody recognizes. We were going to rotate the venue, but we decided it's more consistent to have the show in one place. Participating in the APNQ I have learned so much about quilts, quilt judging, jurying, the whole process of what goes together to make a show. Because we began by passing the hat, collecting money and built this wonderful organization is just unbelievable. We have national and international venders, and it's getting recognized as just a topnotch show, and that's what the organizers wanted. That was our goal, to showcase the beautiful quilts from the quilters in our region, and getting feedback on our quilts from the jurors and judges. So it's been a great, great joy to be a part of this organization. JH: What do you think makes a great quilt, like museum quality quilt? JB: Oh, many, many, many things. One of the most important things to me is the visual impact. Someone else might answer that differently. I want a quilt that speaks to me, speaks to my heart, says, 'Wow,' and then in line with that you have to think about how is it technically put together and the creativity part. Is the quilt evenly distributed and balanced across the surface of the quilt? All these kind of considerations go into what makes a beautiful quilt. They're all equally important. A museum quality quilt to me needs to be technically exquisite, in good condition, well taken care of with the same attributes that I've just described. JH: What are your plans for your quilts, because you already said that you don't sell them? They're your babies. JB: [laughter.] Well, right now I use them as workshop samples when I travel and teach and lecture. As I retire some of my quilts my family begs me for them. I may be able to part with some of my quilts [laughter.] if they're given to family. JH: Do you sleep under a quilt at home? JB: Yes, I certainly do. JH: One that you made? JB: Yes, absolutely. I have a small collection of traditional quilts and some antique quilts. My landscape quilts hang on my walls at home, and I rotate them, so I live with own quilts. They make me happy. JH: Well, what is one of the most pleasing part of quilting to you is the most pleasurable part of quilting? What is that for you? JB: The most pleasurable part is when I'm done with a quilt, and I love it, I say, 'Wow, I really like this quilt. I don't care if anybody else likes it. The quilt makes me happy.' It's all that matters really. It's not what somebody else says. JH: It's what is means to you? JB: Yes, absolutely. JH: Are there any other kind of classes that you teach besides the landscaping? JB: That's all I'm teaching right now-- JH: Right now. JB: Three different classes. One is a kit workshop, so students don't have to go out and buy fabrics. I make all the selections for them, and then I have a model, and then they can just copy it or go off on their own and do something a little different. I teach two landscape classes that can be one to five days, depending on how far you want to take it. JH: What is your first memory of a quilt? JB: How about if I just tell you what got me into quilts? JH: Please. JB: We lived in Pennsylvania near Amish country, and we went to the Kutztown Festival. JH: You want to spell that? JB: Oh, dear. K-U-T-Z-T-O-W-N, Kutztown. JH: Okay. [laughter.] JB: In Pennsylvania. We just took our one-year-old son with us at the time to the festival. We thought, well, we'll just go pet the animals and graze our way through the food vendors. JH: Yes. [laughter.] JB: And we walked into this big tent, and there was an Amish quilt show, and my jaw just dropped, because there was a Lone Star quilt in the typical Amish colors with the brights and the black background. I looked at my husband, and I said, 'You guys just go away. [laughter.] Just leave me alone for a while,' and I went and looked at those quilts. I was just blown away. I was like, 'I want to learn how to do this.' They were traditional Amish quilts. And they were for sale. I went to the festival in 1979, and the quilts started around five hundred dollars. I said, 'I can't afford this,' but it took many years for me to find a beginning quilting class. Because I'm of the mindset you need to learn how to do something, you need to learn how to do it the correct way from the beginning. You need to go take a class and not have to relearn you skills later on. [laughter.] We moved a lot, because my husband worked for the VA, but I finally found a class when we moved to Long Beach through the recreation department. There were five students [laughter.] in the class, and there was only one quilt shop in town, but it carried only cotton solids, so I would go to a regular fabric store. JH: And that's still 1979? JB: No, no. JH: '80? JB: This was like '81. JH: '81, okay. JB: I would find shirting fabrics and whatever I could in cotton in the regular fabric store. JH: And the first one was? JB: My first quilt was a patchwork sampler. JH: Was it in the class or you doing it independently? JB: Both. JH: Both? JB: I took the class, but the teacher wanted everything done by hand, and I had two toddlers. It's like when pigs fly. [laughter.] So I went home and stitched my blocks up on the sewing machine most of the time, and I finished the quilt. The teacher didn't teach us about backing, sandwiching, or binding, any of those things. So, I guessed and I used the really lofty batting, because that's all I had. [laughter.] JH: Yes. JB: And those wonderful calico colors in rust and orange and some browns. I turned the backing over the front for binding. JH: Batting. JB: [laughter.] It was so ugly. JH: Do you still have it? JB: I have it, and I usually take it when I lecture just to show this is where I started. [laughter.] Gets a good laugh, [laughter.] so that was my beginning experience. JH: That's your beginning experience, and you've come a long way, because you already mentioned how you love to reach out to the community, and you would expand on that little bit more about the importance of quilts in American life? JB: Well, I think it's up to each of us as a quilter to lobby as much as we can about our skills and our quilts and what we do and why we do it. So if someone from the local library or a school calls me to come and talk, unless I'm going to be out of town, I usually say, 'Yes, I'd love to come and talk about quilts' and I'll provide some historical facts in the past. Mostly surveys and tell how many quilters there are in America and how much money we spend, that kind of thing, so I go on prepared and tell them how quilting started here and perhaps a bit about the Civil War, the Underground, how quilters expressed themselves in their quilts. I speak about the Underground Railroad and include some historical facts and then how it's transitioned into today and what quilters are doing today; how many there are, that kind of examples of traditional quilts, appliquéd quilts, pieced quilts, and we move on to some of the other kinds of quilts, so the audience can see the variety there is in quilting. There are always questions, and perhaps what it does is draw others into appreciate what we do, and then more people want to get involved. I provide information about guilds and associations they can join, where they can get fabric and supplies, and so forth. JH: Okay, now when you teach internationally-- JB: Yes. JH: Lot of other countries don't have the traditions that we have, and how do you find their reaction to quilting is, because they don't have the traditions that we do? JB: Yes, that's true, but I think many of the quilters across the globe are trying to establish their own traditions. JH: [said simultaneously with Joyce.] Their own. JB: Tradition, and that's what's fun about it, because when you go somewhere and see what other quilters do, it's not exactly what you're doing, but it's wonderful. Like in New Zealand, for example, they incorporate the brightness and the light of being near the equator into their art or their quilts, and it's just incredible. It's a whole different mood, or the Maori culture. Every place you go incorporates their own culture, but the quilters can still appreciate what I do, and I appreciate totally what they do. We're just in different genres. That's all. They use what they have, and I use what I have. JH: Now you have some other quilts there. Is there anything else you wanted to show us? JB: Well, if you want to see what time it is, we're good. [laughter.] [8 second pause.] I just brought them along, because I have to go straight downstairs to lecture. Unidentified Speaker [scribe, Karen Plummer?]: Do you need some help? JH: Yes. JB: I have lots of different techniques that are kind of unorthodox, and I guess that is why I enjoy it so much is because I can try new things, my techniques work, or don't work, and it's no big deal if they don't work. I just try something else, you know, like painting directly on the fabric is scary--use textile paint, but if I mess up--[cough.] I can correct my mistake. JH: Right. JB: So you just invent new things, new techniques [5 second pause.] out of necessity. [laughter.] Yes, I do. For example, when I made this mountain scene I didn't want to cut up all these little pieces – so I used dryer lint. JH: Don't throw it away. JB: The most fun part in my landscape quilts is the discovering. JH: Discovering? JB: Discovering, yes. That's it. JH: Well, we've enjoyed discovering all about your quilts-- JB: [laughter.] Good. JH: Joyce and the time is let's say 9:46, and we've concluded our interview. JB: Thank you. JH: And-- [tape recorder shut off.]


“Joyce Becker,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,