Gina Perkes




Gina Perkes




Gina Perkes


Jean Howell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Sandra Anne Frazier


Payson, Arizona


Sharon Dixon


Note: Gina Perkes is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Jean Howell (JH): My name is Jean Howell and today's date is Monday, November 16, 2009 at 11:23 a.m. I'm conducting an interview with Gina Perkes in Payson, Arizona, for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Arizona State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Gina Perkes is a quilter, and I'd like to ask you, Gina, to tell me about the quilt you've chosen to talk about for today's visit.

Gina Perkes (GP): This is my latest quilt. It's an art quilt I completed--oh, last spring, say April of last spring, and I'm kind of excited about it and I thought it would be a great one to talk about. I'd remember what I did. [laughs.]

JH: How many hours a week do you quilt?

GP: I am kind of a little bit obsessive when I when I begin a project like this, so I don't really keep track of the hours and I don't work a set amount of hours per week, rather I might take off four months and not work on quilts at all. Then all of a sudden I'm obsessed because I'm so excited about my latest project that I might work 12 hours a day, 15 hours a day, so it's not a set per week hours, timeframe that I spend. It just depends on what my deadline is. I usually enter my quilts in shows and there's always a deadline, and I've got to get going on that and I typically procrastinate it, so [laughs.] it depends on the show when it's due. I try to kind of figure, 'Okay, I've got 2 months until the due date. I need to spend 8 to 10 hours a day to get to reach my deadline,' and then of course the last week I'm up 'til 3 in the morning sometimes trying to get it done [laughs.] and that's the way I work best which is really odd because most people think I'm crazy. I get most the most inspired when I have a deadline so if I were just to have nothing in mind for a quilt I just kind of sit down and make it I might not be inspired and motivated to make it I'd find other things to do. [laughs.]

JH: Tell me how you chose the Tuscan theme.

GP: I love this color scheme and sunflowers, and you can kind of see by looking at my home I like the warm colors, sunflowers throughout the house and normally the quilts that I would make would be really really bright colors that would never ever hang in my house because they just wouldn't look good wouldn't fit in with the décor and the color scheme so I thought for a change I would do something that once it's done showing it can hang on a wall. People always come to my house to visit and they know that I'm a quilter and there are no quilts on the wall so they want to see my my work, so that's why I did this one. And I'm just loving the flowers in general and the sunflowers. Just I love red red. Red's pretty much the common color in the quilt. But this is a deeper warmer red where some of the other quilts might have been a brighter red. This is a deeper red. The green is a complementary color to red so I like to incorporate complementary colors in my work.

JH: And do you do your own dyeing?

GP: I do. Yeah I do, this a new venture for me. This is the first quilt that I've made where I've actually dyed all the fabrics myself. Did I save money by dyeing my own fabrics? No. [laughs.] No, not at all. I did it because I like to use the gradations which is one color and it you decrease the amount of dye that you use of the same, it's the same dye, it's the same color with more water to the color then [pause for 4 seconds.] what is the word? There is a word where you add water so it's not a--

JH: Dilute?

GP: Yeah, there you go, dilute. Yeah, dilute the dye so that it's not as strong and concentrated. Then you do that with each step so there's eight to ten steps of each color. The red is just one color. The gold and the green is eight to ten steps. So you've got the heavily concentrated dye being the darkest number one and then you dilute it with water. It's a really really complicated learning. It's kind of a learning process so you have to do a lot of math and try to figure out the ratios to use of dye to water. It's [pause for 3 seconds.] first you use the concentrated then you use the math then half of that then half add water to make the amount solution. So it's pretty complicated, quite a learning experience. That's why I ended up dyeing 100 yards of fabric in this project. [laughs.]

JH: Oh my gosh.

GP: Yeah. Well first, I'd done some fabric dyeing, and my first problem was that I was using permanent press muslin and the permanent cloth didn't take the dye as well but it did take the dye, but I just couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting the nice bright colors that I wanted and it was just and I found out that it was permanent press so I didn't even realize that it was permanent press. So I was just dyeing over and over again. I was even ordering new dyes thinking that the colors I was using just weren't dark and bright enough and I just couldn't get that dark color there so I ended up with about probably sixty yards of fabric of the permanent press [laughs.] dyed but just not quite as vibrant as I wanted. So when it finally dawned on me that I was using permanent press fabric I thought, 'Oh well, maybe that makes a difference.' So I researched it and sure enough you shouldn't use the permanent press so I switched over to just the regular muslin and then I got the colors exactly how I wanted them.

JH: So it was trial and error.

GP: Yep, a lot of trial and error and it wasn't necessarily that thing those fabrics that I had dyed using the permanent press were more than usable they just weren't what I wanted for this project so friends and family got lots of fabric [laughs.] and I ended up using the gold that you see as the background in just the quilted portion there in the middle, not the middle but the two segments dividing the appliqué portion of the quilt that was actually one of the softer colors that ended up as the result of the use of the permanent press fabric. Yeah, so it was a lot of trial and error and I'm really really happy with the results. I don't think I could have gotten the right colors that I wanted otherwise. The other reason that I like to dye my own fabric is I like my fabric to be solid as opposed to a print so the hand dye you have it on a [inaudible.] and I like to have my appliqué designs to be quilted as well as the quilting so if I had had a busy print then my quilting would not show up at all.

JH: And as complicated a process as this is, where do you actually do this in your house?

GP: I don't do it in my house. [laughs.] I do it outside because it's very very messy and I don't want to breathe in the chemicals of the powder. It can be harmful to breathe in some of the powders so I go outside. I wear a mask and I didn't want to get anything through into my house so I have just a big old white washtub that I put outside and I use a hose it's a real fancy, fancy set up. A hose, a little camping table, a bunch of buckets,. I'm outside doing it. Sometimes I'm out there in the freezing cold winter and some of the fabrics have to sit for several hours so there's time when I'll leave them overnight and I'll go out there in the morning and they're frozen [laughs.] but it works out fine. Yeah, I'm a trouper out there in the cold in the elements. We have really nice weather here so I really enjoy being outside and I do have small children really [inaudible.] children and they like to play outside on the trampoline so really we're all out there.

JH: Well, thinking of your small children and your family how do you balance your time?

GP: That's a struggle for for me. I find more times I think that there's certain things that can always replace housework. [laughs.] I don't feel that my house needs to be absolutely perfect all the time. I never watch TV so I think that everybody has the same amount of hours in the day and it's what you choose to do with them and so while some people might choose to spend an hour and a half in the morning reading the newspaper and maybe two and a half hours at night watching TV. That's four hours so right there I have no idea what's going on in the world [laughs.] which isn't necessarily a good thing, but I just choose to spend my time this way. If I have extra time, this is where I like to put it. Now my kids are in school all day so in that department I can do some basic chores in the morning and I still have got six to eight hours still for just for me so I can spend it plus I'm really lucky not to have to work outside the home. If I had to work outside the home, don't know if it would be possible. I don't because the kids are top priority and I'm really involved with them and their busy lives and so I don't I just make sure this doesn't take away from family. It does take away from watching TV and reading the newspaper, reading in general which is I know it doesn't sound good but I don't really spend time reading doing those types of things.

JH: Well you're balancing okay. [GP hums agreement.] So how old were you when you started to quilt?

GP: Let's see here [pause for 2 seconds.] my son is eleven now and I started quilting when I was pregnant with him so it's probably been about 11 ½ or 12 years [pause for 2 seconds.] since I started quilting,

JH: And what was your inspiration?

GP: I started quilting at the time I had my daughter. She was small. She's now 14. At the time she was 3. We moved here to Payson about that time she was two or three so we moved here about 12 years. And we moved here and when we moved here we discovered that there really wasn't a whole lot to do here. [laughs.] There's not a lot of stores, there's not a whole lot of activities that we can do. And being a stay at home mom I really liked being at home with my kids and wanted just to find an activity to do to keep me busy during that last trimester of pregnancy here in Arizona in August. He was born at the end of August so what I wanted to do I set out to make a quilt for my daughter's bed at the time and then got that finished and then made a quilt for my son who was then a baby so it was just a sentimental thing for me wanting to make each of them quilts and that from there it started to have the utility form of quiltmaking which is to make quilts to be used to be wrapped up in for comfort but then also as an art form as well so I found that you could feed both of those--[pause for 4 seconds.] both of those there's a word what's the word?

JH: Kill two birds with one stone?

GP: [laughs.] That works. So then you have your comfort and then your creative outlet into we'll leave it at that kill two birds with one stone. So yeah, that is how I started.

JH: And are there other members of your family that quilt?

GP: I started first with the thought. My grandma started, she is an incredible teacher, so she taught me how to sew clothing when I was just twelve and we've sewn together for years and years, clothing until I got into the quiltmaking. I still sew clothes somewhat but when I got into the quiltmaking then my mom shortly shortly thereafter thought it was a great something to do and she had also had a sewing machine and sewed a little bit of clothing and gifts for me so she took it up too and she really went crazy with it and was just making quilts all over the place. And then my grandma took it up too. So I actually started it and then my family just followed suit and taken it in different directions.

JH: Other than making the quilts for your children that was your first inspiration have you given quilts as gifts?

GP: Yeah, I've given a lot of quilts for gifts. I love to make quilts to give as gifts. I think they are really special and wonderful heartfelt gift. I love receiving them as gifts though I don't really so much anymore but my mom's made me a few quilts and I just think they're so special just to wrap up in them and know that there was love in each stitch and it's just wonderful. So yeah, I have given baby quilts. I love to make baby quilts for friends and wedding gifts, you know just find out what their colors are and away you go and make a quilt. And you can actually make a utility quilt pretty quick pretty quickly, in a few days and since I longarm quilt that cuts back on the time significantly so yeah so like I said I tend to procrastinate.

JH: So tell me about longarm quilting.

GP: Longarm quilting is it's just a bigger machine basically. It has a 12-foot table that it's on. And it's just a free machine that runs on wheels so everything's free hand. It doesn't have the feed dog that a domestic machine would have so it's all done free hand. And it's just quicker because you have your quilt rolled onto it. You don't have to pin as you would a domestic with sandwiching and pinning it together so you just basically load the quilt onto the machine pinning the top edges and the bottom edges and then the batting is in between the two layers but it's just a lot quicker because it's all rolled out there for you and you have about 18 inches of quilting space that you can quilt side to side edge to edge. Then you roll it and you have another 18 inches edge to edge you just fill it up so it's quite a bit faster than having to fuss with a domestic machine where you only have a little bit of quilting space. And so I started that right away and it's much quicker you can quilt [pause for 2 seconds.] something like this. [points at quilt.] I spent over 100 hours quilting but if you wanted to do something, a utility quilt, something that's a looser more open quilting design you can do it in just a couple of hours on a longarm.

JH: Do you know what the dimensions of this quilt are?

GP: This is about 85 by maybe 65. 85 inches wide by about 65 inches long. So it's not that big. So it's a wall quilt so it wouldn't be used [inaudible.] You wouldn't look at it that way. It's just 85 by it's just a wall hanging a big wall hanging.

JH: Is there any part of the process or the detail work that you don't like?

GP: Hmm, I can't say there is. I really enjoy every single process. Sometimes you'll run into some trouble with maybe the designing part. You might get stumped and then I move on to something different because I like to move forward and get it going so if I get a little stumped on the design part I like to have something else that I can work on. But that would probably be the only only thing I don't like. I love it all. I love dyeing the fabrics, designing, appliqué, [inaudible.], quilting, binding, finishing, I love it all .The thing. [laughs.]

JH: Have pictures of you, your quilts, or your patterns ever been published?

GP: Yep yep. I've seen I've had several articles and I'm also the face of the Gammill Company so I don't know if you've ever seen the ads, but I'm featured in those ads.
JH: And where would those ads appear?

GP: In Quilting Magazine where you'll see me featured with the machine that I use which is the Gammill Arm so I'm their national spokesperson. And yes, I've had a lot of interviews in magazines. On Track is an issue of Quilting Magazine that I've been featured in. This quilt is actually going to be heading to Quilter's Newsletter tomorrow and I don't know where it will be featured but they've said that it will likely be featured in the magazine, possibly the cover, but I don't know if we should say that yet just in case. [GP later verified suitability of statement.]

JH: Now don't be modest, how did you get chosen to be the spokesperson for the Gammill Company?

GP: Gammill, yeah. Well, I was just I was winning a lot of awards for longarm quilting and I think since I'm a little bit younger in terms of [pause for 4 seconds.] quilters are not really young per se [laughs.] for every aspect of the world but for quilting they tend to not be particularly young. Maybe not so much anymore but I was winning awards when I was still in my
mid-twenties so it was kind of odd to see somebody in their mid-twenties winning awards for quilting. So I think that kind of caught their attention. A lot of the machine companies in the quilting industry is trying to appeal more to the younger generation because they're afraid it's going to become a lost art. So I think that was part of their decision in coming to me was that I was a little bit younger so I was kind of representative of the younger generation of moms, younger moms, that were not necessarily retired a retired group. And then just the fact that I was winning awards for my quilting my longarm quilting.

JH: Tell me a little bit about the awards.

GP: I've just kind of been working my way up. Let's see, I started out my first longarm quilting award was probably eight to ten years ago. So I'd only been quilting two or three years. And I got a second place at the [inaudible.] Quilting Show featured longarm quilting show. And that was just so exciting. Then I just started I started gradually entering more shows and working my way up. I've won some awards at the Arizona Quilting Skills Show. I've won three Best of Shows and maybe four or five Best Longarm Quilting awards. Then I decided I would take it to the next level, the national and international level and I've just been working my way up through the years. The Machine Quilter Showcase last year or this year I won Best of Show there. So that was really an honor to me. Going to California which is a pretty good sized show I got Best of Show there and there's been a lot of first places through there just thinking of the more the most prestigious things. AQS [American Quilters Society.] which is the American Quilting Society at Paducah, [Kentucky.] there I won they call it the Young Designers Award, so it was a new award that was geared to people under 35. So again, wanting to they're wanting they're wanting younger people to become interested in quiltmaking. So they're offering really these cool awards and OLFA [registered trademark of OLFA Corporation, Japan.] is the sponsor of that one and they were really proud of that award that they started. They had been working on it for quite awhile it was a $5000 award. [laughs.]

JH: Wow.

GP: Yeah, [laughs.] so that's the first ever Young Designers Award and I got that and that was really neat. They paid my way to come to the awards show and the show in general. They paid my flight, my rental car, my motel so I brought my mom along and that was really an honor. It was so neat because it was kind of like the Grammies, the Grammies for quiltmaking and I went up on stage and I would not know how to begin to pronounce his name but the Japanese man who owns OLFA presented me with the award and it was really neat. He didn't speak English or anything he was about this tall [pause for 5 seconds GP holds hand to her chin.] tiny little man and he gave even a Japanese-made card. I'm sure it says something along the lines of congratulations and a date and $5000. And then the next that was three years ago and then the next year I got they have the grand prize which is the $5000 then the first second and third No the year before last I got second and then last year I got the grand prize again so I got the $5000 again.

JH: What an honor.

GP: Yeah, and then the show in Houston which is the International Quilt Association they also have a large prestigious show in Houston. And in fact it's the biggest convention in Houston of all the conventions, it's the quilting convention. So that's really neat to know that all these people coming from all over the world to enter quilts and just see the quilts. And they kind of followed suit with the younger in wanting to appeal to the younger generation so they also came out with an award that they called their Future of Quilting and the first year they had that which was last year I got that award. So it was a $2,000 award plus we got a whole trip too. So flight, hotel, everything was included and then this year I got it again for this quilt that we're talking about. I got the Future of Quilting Award but that's it for me. I'm 35 now so now I have to if I want to win these big awards I have to be with people an age that 35 and up. I guess I' m not really young. [laughs.]

JH: You seem so to me, and as young as you are what is your short term goal going forward?

GP: Short term? I'm just still wanting to more of the same. Just more art more creating. Now I've kind of moved into the quilting as an art form so rather than just producing quilts for beds you can only have so many quilts for your beds and we have plenty. So now I'm moving into just the quilting as an art form and I think that it's too bad that you don't have four or five lifetimes because there's so many ideas just finding the time to do it. So that's where I'm headed now just more of the same and hopefully hopefully more awards.

JH: So this is the direction you're going towards.

GP: Yep, this is the direction I'm going towards. I'm also pursuing writing book a longarm quilting book. I was approached by a company but I'm not allowed to say yet until everything's final. But we're moving, we're moving in the forward direction with the book and. Yeah they approached me about a year ago and it's going to be a general longarm quilting book. And in general that's more of the producing the art quilt and then teaching and writing books as well. When you win awards then the shows will invite you to teach your techniques so I've had some invitations and I'm kind of heading a little bit in that direction too.

JH: Tell me more about your teaching.

GP: I don't. I'm not wanting it to do--to let it take over because I think that tends to happen so what I'm trying to do is just teach at four or five venues per year. Right now I'm teaching both longarm and domestic quilting with longarm kind of my specialty. As you can see my quilting kind of plays a starring role or equally important role and that's what the quilts are that's the appliqué I'm teaching. And so I'm doing a lot of longarm teaching at the some of the longarm specialty shows MQS [Machine Quilters Showcase.] Kansas. There's another one called MQX [Machine Quilters Expo.] in Providence, Rhode Island.

JH: So it takes you around the country.

GP: Oh yeah all over yeah. MQS is in Kansas and the MQX is in Rhode Island. Then I'm going to in Michigan in the spring for a long run guild. They offer classes there and then I taught at the International Quilt Festival this past October, so it's nice. Yeah, I'm kind of taking that direction a little bit and just teaching basically, just teaching what I do. All wanting to learn the different techniques for quilting the feather and quilting filler designs which is a small intricate design that pop up in quilting and people want to learn different fillers or just basically your techniques how you have success in your quilting and that's what they just want to do.

JH: Other than the time you're spending time teaching and of course your own work what art or quilt groups do you belong to?

GP: I don't belong to any small groups. No small groups. The International Quilt Association and the American Quilters Society but that's not really a small group.

JH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

GP: For me it's a balance of quilting great colors, great design. A place for your idea so it's not too overwhelming and I think it's just like any type of art they're all different and they all appeal to different people for different reasons. I don't think that there's necessarily a right or a wrong way to make a quilt. For me workmanship's important. I want--I like to see that are done really well and that the artist has taken the time to, you know, just to place an importance on quality work. Not cutting corners necessarily but like I said there's just so many different amazing types of quilts out there and they're all so different that's what is so wonderful about this kind of art form is that you can never get bored with it I don't think. If you get bored of appliqué then you move on to [inaudible.] on a quilt. You can move on to foundation. If you don't like foundation, you can try a different form of [inaudible]. I mean it just goes on and on. Then you might choose to play around with raw edge appliqué. So it just goes on and on and it never gets boring.

JH: With all the variety there is what do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

GP: Well for a museum I think again, as I said before, just the quality workmanship and [inaudible.] special collection? A special collection I think it would just have to appeal to the collector, something that really catches their eye and moves them, and well, they can be political they can be sentimental. So I think it just depends on whose collecting. If you're talking about the American Quilting Society's Museum, their collection--

JH: And where is that?

GP: That's in Paducah [Kentucky.] and they collect quilts that have won the top awards so the Best of Shows, they're actually purchased. They purchase the award winning quilts. There will be four or five top award winners every year, and the purchase the award winning money is actually the purchase price. So Best of Show, so the quiltmaker who wins Best of Show is awarded $25,000 and then that quilt becomes the property of the museum. So the museum circulates the quilts throughout and there's a huge variety of quilts but they're all quilts that are done really well, have that wow factor that just catches your eye. The colors are great but the [inaudible.] is great. The techniques are done well but they're also new techniques people have done something different but it's all quality all clean work and the quality is in every aspect of the quilt. The quilting is done well the stitches are even the binding's done well so it's hand [inaudible.] well. The hand portion is defined. The machine appliqué is clean you don't see bad tension. So it's just these types of thinks good technical and individual.

JH: So there's an objective criteria and the nonobjective.

GP: Yes exactly. That you know that you want this has to be in the stitches but first of all it has to be visually dynamic but what's visually dynamic to one person could be not to another so that's the question.

JH: Tell me about any amusing experience that you had during your quiltmaking or teaching.

GP: Okay.

JH: Something funny.

GP: Something funny. Let's see. I have a funny story that happened to a quilt I designed. I designed a quilt top for my mom. She likes to piece and appliqué but she doesn't want to design her own quilt. So I designed a quilt for her with the colors she liked, it was a Feathered Star Quilt. She does really nice piecing in appliqué and then I was going to quilt it, do fancy quilting for her so we chose solid fabric that would show the quilting off again on deadline. [laughs.] So we're sitting there, she agreed that she would mark the quilting designs onto the fabric onto the quilt as I finished designing them basically. So she's marking the block designs while I'm drawing the whole design and she was trying to fashion a fancy not so fancy light table with using a large square which was like a transparent kind of plastic ruler, square ruler, this one nice and big it was 25 inches square, and a light table is basically a just piece of glass or plastic that you can see through with a light source shining up and then you lay your fabric over it with your quilting design underneath so you can see to trace it on to the quilt. So she was going to get really fancy and she used a square with box underneath but she needed a light source so she's running through the house looking for something. So at the time we had my children had an iguana, no a bearded dragon, a reptile, and he had a light source to give him heat so I guess she didn't realize that was what it was for and so she left it for a few minutes and I noticed a funny smell, looked over and it's steaming, not steaming it was smoking and the ruler's all misshapen and melted and we had a hole in the quilt burnt through, so now we think back it was really hilarious and even probably at the time it kind of was because it just so happened to be in the perfect spot for that fabric it was the sashing which every other part of the quilt was just a solid cotton sateen so that would have been really hard to patch without it being obvious. So the sashing was a printed fabric and it was just right there on the sashing and it was a little burnt so we just appliquéd and kind of matched up the pattern of the fabric over it then we were good. [laughs.]. So we always laugh that she tried to burn down the house and the quilt. [laughs.]

JH: A disaster with a happy ending.

GP: Yep, yeah, so that was really funny.

JH: Believe it or not we've just got a few minutes left but I want to give you a moment to sum up or say anything else you'd like to before we have to end the interview.

GP: Wow time flies. I don't know. I think we've pretty much covered everything, don't you? I just think it was lucky I found quiltmaking. It just feeds me creatively and just having something to do with my hands and working with the textiles, it's amazing. I encourage people to try it. And as I said before it just can appeal to so many different people. Even men, men should try it too, and getting involved with it. It's not just for women. And it's just a great great craft and a great art form and I think it should be used as an art form because it truly is and it's just a wonderful wonderful craft to have found.

JH: I think that's a beautiful way to end. Quiltmaking for everybody.

GP: Yep, Yep. Guess that's it for me.

JH: I'd like to thank Gina Perkes for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 12:05 [p.m.], Monday, Nov. 16, 2009.


“Gina Perkes,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 16, 2024,