Leslie Rego




Leslie Rego




Leslie Rego


Sandy Mehall

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Nathaniel Stephan


Note: This interview was conducted on the convention floor so there was a lot of background noise heard throughout the interview.

Sandy Mehall (SM): [tape begins mid-sentence.] ...2002 its 4:00 in the afternoon at the International Quilt Show in Houston, [Texas.]. We're interviewing Leslie Rego and her project that she has brought today is called--

Leslie Rego (LR): "Guatemalan Cocktail."

SM: "Guatemalan Cocktail." It's really quite interesting. She has a brochure and she's going to tell us a little bit about the project.

LR: Well, the reason why it's called "Guatemalan Cocktail" is because it started with four cocktail napkins from Guatemala in the center. From there I built the rest of the quilt. I've lived in Guatemala for many years. I have a Guatemalan husband and all three of my children were born there so most of my textile love has come from the textiles of Guatemala. For a long time, I've been wanting to do a series with Guatemalan textiles. This is the second quilt in the series now. I'm starting my third quilt which hopefully will be done shortly. The Guatemalan blouses for the women are called huipils and the cocktail napkins go in what would traditionally be the hole of the huipil. [inaudible.] woman's head would fit through. The huipil would be in the form of a cross. So, I've inserted that cross in this quilt and then these would be the two shoulders in the front panel and the back panel. I've kind of done that symbolically in the quilt. All of the quilt forms take on that format. The influence of the Christian church in Guatemala. Then of course you've got the native religions or the indigenous religions--

SM: Is it Mayan?

LR: Yes, Mayan. So, you've got a lot of the pagan kind of symbolism there as well as the Christian. Then the fringe around the side, I actually cut off and placed that--inserted it there. So that explains the quilt a little bit.

SM: Could I interrupt you to get you to spell the word that you just said for our person that--

LR: Huipil? H-U-I-P-I-L.

SM: Thank you.

LR: As you can see with the brochures, I do trips to Guatemala to study the Guatemalan textiles. Also, one of the trips is the Semana Santa in Antigua which is a wonderful weekend in Antigua where it's a colonial town and the night before Good Friday is spent making these flowered and sawdust carpets which are all through the town. Then the precessions leave early Friday morning. It's kind of a tribute or a gift to the processions and the processions will walk on the carpets as they go through the town. That's part of what I do besides the quiltmaking.

SM: [inaudible.] these carpets?

LR: Well, I guide the people--

SM: You do the tours not--

LR: Yeah.

SM: Okay.

LR: You can also make the carpet from my street. This is the street we live on. It's a very colonial street with cobblestone and there's the volcano which is called the water volcano because when it erupted the water went flowing from the volcano. This is called the arch, it's a very famous street in Antigua and we always put a carpet on that street. It's part of being there, you can work on that carpet.

SM: [inaudible.] That's incredible. What part of the country is this?

LR: This is about 45 minutes from the capital in Guatemala. It's in the highlands. It's 5000 feet so it never gets really hot. About 70 degrees 75 degrees year-round. It's a very pleasant climate.

SM: Well, how did you wind up in Guatemala?

LR: Well, that's an interesting story. Actually, before I got into quiltmaking I was a professional figure skater. I was doing shows in Guatemala, and I met my husband at one of the shows. Got married and stayed.

SM: So, were you doing the figure skating singles?

LR: Well, I was really trained in ice dancing but when I was in Guatemala, I was doing singles. Yeah.

SM: How interesting. So now we know the origin of this quilt and why you brought it. How long ago did you make that one?

LR: This is my newest one. So, this just came out in September of 2002. It's a new one.

SM: Why did you want to make a series?

LR: Because the Guatemalan fabrics are so wonderful and so diverse. The Indians weave designs from each town so you know what town the Indians come from according to the design on their blouses or on their skirts--

SM: It's like the regional costume--

LR: Exactly, exactly. So, I'm doing a series depicting the designs from each town. I'm trying to insert the traditional patterns. Eventually I guess I'll get tired of it. It's been fun for me. I put a center panel in or I do something that shows the weaving from that particular town.

SM: Now when they do this weaving are they constrained to always repeat that same design because that textile will come from that place?

LR: Yes, yes. They will weave whatever is indigenous to their town. Now of course today they do take off on it a little bit. If they are doing a traditional weaving then they won't, they will really keep with what is traditional to that town. If they're taking some freedoms or liberties, they might branch off a little bit. Many of the weavings are still very much like they were years ago.

SM: Do you see any other textile work like quilting down there?

LR: Actually, you do see some quilts down there made from the weavings. It's quite crude. The pieces are quite large and not intricate but a lot of the textiles you can't cut small pieces out of them because they unravel. They're hand woven on a back strap loom. They just unravel too quickly.

SM: And it's a very coarse cut? Is it not?

LR: Yes, it's very coarse.

SM: Did you start quilting because of these textiles or the other way around or--

LR: I actually made my first quilt when I was pregnant with my daughter. My first child. I wanted to make a baby quilt. I did it very traditionally. It was I think two pieces of tiny little flowered print on a muslin background. I just didn't think it was terribly interesting. It was a little dull. With my second child I put in maybe forty different fabrics in that quilt. I branched out. Then as I continued going, I would include more Guatemalan fabrics. I became more intrigued with the colors. At first, I didn't use so much the Guatemalan fabrics, the vibrant colors of the Guatemalan weavings. They will combine with the most amazing colors together and it works.

SM: Unexpected color combinations [inaudible.].

LR: Yes, very unexpected. I think that was something that I learned early on in my quilting is that you can really combine these colors and make it work within the project. That I definitely got from Guatemala.

SM: How old is your daughter that would bookmark your processes?

LR: She's 19 now. This is her first year at college.

SM: So, it's nearly twenty years then since you really first--

LR: Made my first quilt--

SM: And did you have a family person that was your inspiration or guide on this?

LR: Well, I had grown up sewing. My mother sewed and we made all our clothes. I had grown up sewing so I knew how to sew but other than that, no we didn't have any quilting [inaudible.] [person talking in background.].

SM: But especially for a baby quilt it was easy to transfer that process?

LR: Yeah.

SM: Why did you pick this particular quilt to bring today rather than your early one in the series or anther--

LR: Well, I like this one more. I think this is a nicer quilt which is why I brought this one. I have a quilt in the show in the Husqvarna Viking Gallery which won a prize. It won second place in the Husqvarna Viking competition "The Roundabout Way." I might have brought this for the interview, but I thought that might be complicated.

SM: This quilt which is based on a circle in a square pattern. Doesn't appear to have any Guatemalan fabrics in it.

LR: No. No. This I'd say a lot of the coloring is influenced by Guatemala, but it doesn't have any Guatemalan fabrics. It's heavily embroidered with metallic threads.

SM: By hand or machine?

LR: Machine. It's all machine done.

SM: How did you pick that pattern for this?

LR: I wanted a background fabric that had curves and so I just put that up on my design wall and sewed that together. I knew I was going to embellish it and so I just kind of wanted an interesting background to put the embellishment threads on.

SM: With the color choices you have I feel I see earth, sea and sky to me a bit.

LR: Yeah. I think a lot. Well, the fiery reds are definitely very Guatemalan. That feel of the bright brilliant reds. Then I'd say the rest is pretty organic.

SM: I see. So how do you plan on using first the Guatemalan quilt you brought? Are you going to hang the series or what are you going to do?

LR: I'd like to when I get enough. I'd like to be able to do a series. I had an art show in Sun Valley, the town I live in now in Idaho. I think about three years ago I had a one-woman art show in the art gallery there. So, I was thinking this might be a nice thing to do for another art show.

SM: The one that's hanging in Husqvarna Viking will travel--

LR: Will travel for two years--

SM: For two years. So, you don't really at this point have any plans for that one?

LR: Not right now, it's been planned. [laughs.]

SM: How did you decided on what your style is? I guess I would say.

LR: That is a long time coming because I started very traditionally and I was living in Guatemala at the time and I had no information, nobody else quilted. I was really there all by myself. I had one quilt book. I just did very traditional quilts for probably four or five years. Even though I included a lot of fabrics in the quilts, the designs were very traditional.

SM: If you found that first baby project as unsatisfying as you described why did you persist?

LR: I always loved to sew. I loved to sew, and I had sewed all my life. I had made all my clothes. I was tired of making clothes. I needed a more artistic outlet. Also, the first baby had a baby quilt so I couldn't not have the second and third baby does not have baby quilts. [laughs.] By the time I got to the third baby I kind of had figured it out and by then I was already exploring other options and other ways of doing things.

SM: So, you really are self-taught other than learning sewing from your mother?

LR: Yes, I really am. I was pretty isolated, particularly in the early years of quilting.

SM: I'm sure. You spend a lot of hours a week on it?

LR: I probably spend about three hours a day on quilting.

SM: Do you have another outside career as well?

LR: Well, I help my husband in his business. It's a software business and I still have kids. They're older. They're in high school but I do a lot with them. I'm a pretty hands-on mother.

SM: I suppose that's a good thing.

LR: Yeah. Do a lot of volunteering in the school, that kind of thing.

SM: Has your daughter or sister or your mother expressed interest in quilting now that you've done it?

LR: Interestingly enough my daughter is taking a course on Mayan anthropology and they're studying a lot of the Mayan sites in Guatemala. The most famous one being Tikal. For her project she's doing a quilt. We already started it. We're doing it together. We picked a Mayan legend in a lake in Guatemala. It's called Xocomil, which is X-O-C-O-M-I-L. Very unusual spelling. That lake is up in the highlands in Guatemala and in the afternoons, they get these fierce winds that come across the lake and picks the waves up. The waves come up like a ocean. They're really big strong waves. So, the Indians have this legend as to how the waves have come about and the quilt is depicting that story.

SM: Is it a God or a Goddess in the legend?

LR: Well, the fellow started off as an ant and went crawling up the edge of the lake, fell into the lake and swam down or floated down to the bottom of the lake where he came upon this crystal place where I think it's the Goddess, the daughter of the lake lives in that crystal palace. He became very lonely and tearful, and she decided to help him. They put him in one of the fisherman's nets because they fish a lot on the lake and he got pulled up. The fisherman was married but had never had children and when he came out of the lake he came out in the form of a human being, so they were delighted to have this young child that they then adopted and raised over the years. As the years progressed it became obvious that he had more powers than just a normal human child would. There are three volcanoes that surround the lake. It's just this beautiful lake. He would sit and transform himself into different shapes and animals. One of the things he did was transform himself into the wind until eventually one day he became the wind.

SM: And he is the one whose name--

LR: Xocomil.

SM: That's an Aztec myth, isn't it?

LR: Yes.

SM: [inaudible.]

LR: Actually, not Aztec, Mayan.

SM: Mayan, ok. What part of quilting do you like the most?

LR: I like the colors, definitely the colors. Playing with colors. I don't really like to use solids that much. I really like the fabrics to have designs or textures or something other than just solids.

SM: If you like color so much once you've implemented the concept of how the colors are going to be placed do the actual mechanics tire you then?

LR: Sometimes. Sometimes a project can become windy. Then I have to force myself to finish it. I do finish. I do finish all my projects.

SM: No U.F.O.'s, huh?

LR: Nope not really. Sometimes it takes me a long time to finish but they do get done. [laughs.] If I don't like it, it gets cut up and used somewhere else.

SM: Oh, now that's an interesting concept. Tell me a little bit more about that.

LR: [laughs.] Well, I do have some projects that I have started that would be U.F.O.'s except I will cut them up and insert them into other things.

SM: Interesting idea. Interesting idea. It's a good idea. So, what do you think makes a quilt really great? Any one thing?

LR: If you're looking at it from the side of the viewer, I'd say it has to have instant impact. You have to walk up to it and say, 'Wow.' Now if you're looking at it on the side of an artist. What do you do to create that impact? I think the design concept where you allow the eye to travel across the face of the quilt so it's interesting and it's complex and there is activity across the face of the quilt is very important to the success of the quilt.

SM: Do you have an artist background of some type?

LR: Self-taught.

SM: I mean in schoolwork--

LR: I went to college, but I majored in Spanish literature. So that's not terribly helpful.

SM: No, I would think not.

LR: I'm a voracious reader. I love to read. I have read many, many books on art and color theory, the history of different movement in art, different artists. I think living so many years in Guatemala where really libraries were very unavailable--

SM: I guess that was pre the greatness of the internet or the access of the internet.

LR: Now, yeah. But when I lived there, we didn't have that.

SM: That's what I said it was pre that.

LR: So really most of my knowledge came from reading.

SM: Well, you've acquired it well, I think. Do you feel there's anything in particular that makes a quilt worthy to be in a museum? Or have that extra status?

LR: Do you mean contemporary quilts?

SM: No quilt.

LR: Or any quilt? Well, I think charm goes over the years. I think charm is a wonderful thing for a quilt to have. I think humor is great and certainly goes through time. A lot of the old quilts that I look at, that I really, really like, are charming. There's just something, maybe the fabric combinations or maybe the border didn't make quite sense and it's kind of askew and off centered or maybe she didn't have enough fabric and she didn't quite follow through on the design, but there's just something about the quilt that's very, very charming. Certainly, the perfect piece is wonderful to look at but I'm not sure it's as interesting to look at as the piece that has personality.

SM: The word that comes to me often is sterility. That the perfect one being sterile. I think it's because of what you're saying. That charm is not there.

LR: I would say the same thing with contemporary quilts. Some of the workmanship out there is just absolutely glorious. There's no question. The workmanship is probably better now than it was in the past. But I think the quilts that grab me don't necessarily have the perfect workmanship in them, but they definitely have charm in them--

SM: [inaudible.]

LR: They have a vibrancy to them which is unique.

SM: I think that's true. So, I think then you would consider a great quilter someone who influences things you just said?

LR: Yes. Not necessarily. Perhaps the best executioner technically that is out there, but the quilts I enjoy the most. You look at it and you just chuckle. There's something about it that just really makes you chuckle. Or you look at it and think what an interesting combination of colors. Like putting in this fringe in this quilt. For me that was just levity. Throwing it in there is just fun. It makes it fun. I like that in quilts. Something that's just fun in the surface.

SM: I agree. It's great. Has quilting then become a really important thing in your life?

LR: Absolutely. In fact, my youngest child is now a sophomore in high school, so I have three more years of really hands on motherhood which I absolutely enjoyed completely. I really look on quilting as my career after those three years. I'm hoping to be able to get more and more involved with the quilting when I have more time and I can travel more. Right now, I don't like to be gone from the home too much.

SM: Do you think that you are permanently influence by the Guatemalan vibrancy and use of color variety?

LR: For now, I think that's the direction I'm moving in. I want to move more and more with the Guatemalan fabrics. Mostly because I love them, and I think they just have a uniqueness to them that's not being used in the quilting world right now. I'd like to be able to play around with them and show the versatility, which they really do have.

SM: When you start to look at this quilt up close you have more than just the four cocktail napkins in the center.

LR: This is a piece of the placemat. Of a Guatemalan placemat.

SM: What about this border fabric?

LR: This is an Ikat fabric from Guatemala.

SM: It looks the same.

LR: Which I use on the border.

SM: So, you have--

LR: I have several pieces in there.

SM: Echoed in several ways--

LR: Yeah.

SM: It's not an isolated affect to just have those four in the center.

LR: No and most of the pieces are not. Usually, I have three or four Guatemalan fabrics in the quilt.

SM: This is very reflective to me of the region. Is every quilt you've made that way?

LR: Reflective of Guatemalan--

SM: I feel this one that is in your exhibit is a bit that way as well. In terms of at least the color.

LR: The color is, yes. Well, I went through a period that my quilts were much more traditional, and I would not say influenced by Guatemala. But certainly, within the last five years I would say most of them are highly influenced by Guatemala. Particularly just the vibrancy of colors. But different from what you see down in the quilt show because the Guatemalan colors are very vibrant but they're not neon--

SM: There is a difference.

LR: Yeah, I think a lot of the quilts down there the coloring's beautiful but it's very different from the Guatemalan color.

SM: It's so interesting a distinction to make, that's good. What do you think about the importance of quilts in the American life today?

LR: When I come to Houston, to me it's just mind boggling that there are 50,000 women that come to Houston to enjoy quilting for a few days. I think we should never underestimate the importance of quilting in the United States. I think it's amazing the numbers of people who love it. I think a lot of women just like using their hands. They find it very calming, particularly in the evening, when they have a little bit of time to sit down and relax and do something creative which there's an end result to, because so much of what we do now-a-days there's not a result.

SM: But that's always been true for women.

LR: Oh yeah that's true.

SM: There was a surge of popularity once before this century and then it died down and now it's back. Do you think maybe there's a reason for that?

LR: Interesting question. One would like to think so that it's here to stay. I think people are busier and busier. Certainly, women worked hard, always worked hard and their days were full, but I think that the speed at which we do things now-a-days has picked up incrementally. I think that probably the quilting is representative of the slower time in your day and perhaps that's what people are finding very attractive about it now.

SM: That yearn for yesteryear?

LR: We always think it's better, don't we? [laughs.]

SM: Yes, we do. Are all of the quilts you've made, other than your baby quilt, display quilts rather than--

LR: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's not true. Each child has had a bed quilt made for them.

SM: As well as the baby quilt?

LR: Yeah. So, they do have a quilt on their bed. I'm hoping that I can get a bed quilt made for my husband and myself now that I've finished the kids. [laughs.] We'll see.

SM: Your artistic drive is a little too strong for [inaudible.]. What do you think would keep quilting preserved for the future, so we don't lose what we have now?

LR: I think that we have so many people who are quilting professionally and who are showing quilts. Plus, there's hardly a quilt that doesn't have a label on it. Already I think we're doing better than--

SM: We have been very educated.

LR: I think we're doing much better than we did in the past. Though I have to admit this quilt doesn't have a label on it because I just finished it and brought it down. So that's the first thing I do when I go home. I think right away that helps the quilting movement a lot. To validate quilts that way.

SM: What has happened to all the ones you've made other than the children's?

LR: I keep my quilts. I have given away a couple to my brother, my mother, to very special people. As of now I have not sold any of my quilts.

SM: That's nice to keep them in the family.

LR: I like it. I'd like my kids to have them one day.

SM: I'm sure there's something about all of your quilt-making journey that I have not asked you or that I omitted or maybe there is something that you want to tell me about that I've forgotten. Is there a hole there or an aspect that I haven't covered? Something you want to get down to make sure it's recorded.

LR: I'll probably think of something as soon as I leave this room. But no, I think we've done pretty well. Thank you.

SM: I hope your daughter does continue doing it--

LR: It will be interesting to see if she makes more quilts. She's a beader. She does beaded necklaces. She does beautiful work.

SM: So, she has that creative--

LR: Yes, she does.

SM: Thank you so much.

LR: Thank you.

SM: We concluded our interview 4:34 p.m. on November 2. The interview was with Leslie Rego, the interviewer was Sandy Mehall and the scribe was Theresa Hall Ford.


“Leslie Rego,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1349.