Gayle Curry




Gayle Curry




Gayle Curry


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Susan Salser


Alamo, CA


Kim Greene


Note: Gayle Curry of Anne Loucks Chapter NSDAR entered her quilt "Stacked Coins Revisted" in 118th Continental Congress, 2009 American Heritage Committee's fiber arts - hand quilting quilt contest. The contest theme was "Our Heritage -A Patchwork of Our Past." Gayle's quilt placed second.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Gayle Curry. Gayle is in Alamo, California and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is August 10, 2009. It is now 11:08 in the morning. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee for the California State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Gayle, I want to thank you for taking time out of your morning to do this with me.

Gayle Curry (GC): You are very welcome. This is really exciting. [laughs.] I just still can't believe it.

KM: Well good. So tell me about your quilt "Stacked Coin Revisited."

GC: Actually it was definitely a work in progress that took several years. I started quilting probably in the mid-90s. Let's see, probably '90 because my first trip to Sisters, Oregon, and we can talk about that later, was probably '95. A friend in my quilt guild in Napa, where I was living at the time, had gone to Sisters and did the same pattern, Stacked Coin Revisited, but in homespun. It was very rustic- plaids and stripes and stars and it was just really nice. I've always loved it. When the American Heritage contest came out, I had this quilt all finished except for the quilting. This was what last year, 2008, and I started it probably at least five years prior. The reason I started mine was because I love Asian fabrics and I have lots and lots of Asian fabrics and I wanted to use every single piece that I had in my stash, [laughs.] which I actually accomplished so that was really exciting. Put the quilt together. I machine quilted it and when it was finished I bound it and I looked at it and I thought, 'I don't really like this so I put it away,' [laughs.] and I put it away for several years. We moved twice in the meantime. My mom was sick. She passed away. Life gets in the way then I dragged it out again when I got the paperwork for the competition and thought, 'I really do love this quilt. I really need to fix this and maybe I can do something with it.' I took out the machine quilting and I used the same pattern of the machine quilting and hand quilted it. Then I thought, 'Oh this is boring. It really needs something.' So then I thought, 'What can I put on it?' It is very linear and I thought, 'Okay, it needs to have vines and leaves and things,' so that's when I decided to do a design on it with the leaves and the berries and the vines. When I got that all done, I thought, 'Oh well this looks much better but I guess I need to put more quilting on it.' [laughs.] I added more quilting and finally and about five or six months it was completed and that is when it took on a life of its own and I sent it off. I was very surprised to find out that I was actually nominated to be a winner. [laughs.] That's it in a nutshell.

KM: What did you win?

GC: Actually I won first place in California and then I think it went to another area, southwest, is that correct?

KM: The Division.

GC: It won, along with another quilt. They could not decide which one was best and here again I have no idea what this other quilt looked like. I don't know if it was machine quilted or hand quilted or anything, but they couldn't decide and they gave two first places, and so then it went on to [Washington.] D.C., where it came in second in the hand quilted, machine pieced category.

KM: Very nice.

GC: Yes, it was very exciting. [laughs.]

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

GC: It lives in the closet [laughs.] which is a shame. I have kitties and my cats love to sit on my quilts which is fine because I have some other quilts out on my sofa and that's there bed and they sit on that, but I really don't want them sitting on this since it was an award winner. I'm hoping to have a quilt for each one of my granddaughters. One is eight and then I have twin girls that are five. This will probably go to one of them. Since my oldest daughter has several quilts, bed size quilts and my youngest daughter has wall hanging sizes and just more decoration kind of things, so it will probably go to one of the grand girls. [laughs.]

KM: You had to write an essay that went with this.

GC: Oh I did and you know I didn't keep [beep from call waiting.] a copy of it, but off the top of my head it went something like--it was Patchwork of Our Past was the theme and I did do some research. I emailed a woman who lives in lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and she's a world renowned quilter, quilt historian, and author. Her name is Barbara Brackman and I have several of her books. Unfortunately, I've never been able to take a class because she doesn't come out this way, but she responded to my email very graciously. I wanted to know the history behind the pattern, which is called Stacked Coin, Chinese Coin. I think there is a couple of other names and she emailed me back and said it was, as far as she could tell it was a Circa 1845, 1850 pattern and she gave me a brief history of it and I incorporated that in my little essay. That is how I started trying to draw the past into the future and I did that through interpreting an old pattern in a new way. The basic pattern is the same, but I interpreted it with Asian fabrics, which of course are new, and the leaves, the berries, the stems, which is not part of the old pattern but is my design. That is how that all came to be. Then when I actually won I emailed her again and she put a picture of the quilt on her blog and used it in a teaching seminar so that was really exciting.

KM: Very nice.

GC: Yes, so quilting truly is a world-wide phenomenon these days. It's amazing. You can touch base with people in Japan, in Lawrence, Kansas, in South American, in Italy and you have something to share even though we are all so far apart.

KM: Is this typical of your style?

GC: Probably. When I started quilting, I was very traditional in my tastes, my colors. I'm still a very traditional person though I've branched out into liking brighter colors and more landscape and art type quilts rather than bed quilts. Mainly because they are a little faster to complete and it makes me work outside my comfort zone and my box, which I find I really need to do. [laughs.] Yes and no. Quilting for me has been truly an evolution. I've always sewn or knitted or crocheted or worked with my hands but I didn't start quilting until the '90s via a friend who wanted to take a class because her cousin is a wonderful quilter and had a quilt exhibited at the state fair in California. My friend, Joanne said, 'This is something I want to do. Will you do it with me?' And I was still working at the time and said, 'Well I really don't have the time right now, but I will take a class with you.' I didn't even have a fancy sewing machine at that time. I had a basic forward and back, zigzag. She said, 'Okay.' So we took this class together which was way above our heads because the pattern was called Tumbling Blocks, which had set in and Y seams, which is not someplace where you start, but we muddled through. I actually completed mine and made a baby quilt out of it for another friend. We went on from there. A few years later I stopped working, though my friend continued to work and we took classes together and we sort of hung out and talked quilting together. We became a group- my friend Joanne, her cousin Marilyn who started this, and Marilyn's sister, Laura, who lives in Oregon and Laura's friend, Marsha, who lives in Portland. We all formed this group where we decided we had to have projects. We would set a challenge and whatever the challenge was for that year we would complete it or complete portions of it and when we got together, which was once a year in July, we would either finish it, sew it together or we would have a show and tell or go shopping and just do quilting things. It was sort of a girls' retreat away from regular life. [laughs.] That was really how we started quilting and that's how we kept quilting because I have this core group of five ladies that though we don't see each other any other time of the year with the exception of my friend Joanne, we are still very close and we do our projects every year and it keeps us going. It gives us insight and challenges and fun. That's how that part of my quilting life came to be. I really look forward to it because it's sort of a renewal of creative juices as well as friendships, which I think is what creating quilts is all about, friendship and renewal.

KM: You hand quilted this one, but you also had machine quilted it first.

GC: Yes, I did because I wanted it to hurry up and get finished. [laughs.]

KM: How often do you hand quilt versus machine quilt?

GC: Actually, I hand quilt almost exclusively now. I guess when I was younger I didn't have as much time as I did after I stopped working but things in your life change and your ideas change and for some reason when I first started hand quilting it wasn't as satisfying as it is now. I did hand quilt a lot of smaller objects because my machine quilting skills weren't very good. They're still really not wonderful but I seem to enjoy the process of hand quilting now so much more than I did before. I don't quite understand why. Maybe it's because it's a little easier for me since I've done it more and it's relaxing where as before it wasn't relaxing. I was much more uptight. [laughs.] I don't know how all that works out. In fact as we speak, I'm sitting in my sewing room and I have my latest project on the floor here. It's a Dresden Plate quilt. It's probably an extra long double or full size and I started quilting it last week. It's all marked and all ready to go and I was thinking, 'Oh maybe I should just send it out and have someone do it,' and I thought, 'You know, no, this is going to be one of my grandchildren's memories of grandma and you are going to sit here [laughs.] and you are going to work on this quilt.' I actually pulled it out of the closet and started. It's got a wool batt which I've never worked on before and it is just like butter. It's wonderful and I'm just having the best time, but it is going to take me a long time. Maybe thinking about next year's theme, Remembering America [America's Heritage Remembered.], might keep me going and maybe I can enter it [laughs.] next year. [laughs.] This is certainly Dresden Plate. I don't know how much you know about quilting patterns, but this is a very traditional pattern. There is a history about this as well. It started life--let's see where were we living? We were living in Napa. We were on Pinnacle Peak so that has to be 2000 to 2003. We were only in that house three years. I went to a small quilt show in a neighboring town and there was a grab bag for $5.00 and in the grab bag were some of the blades already cut, pieces of fabric and some centers finished and the rest of the centers just sort of willy nilly. All of this fabric was in there together. They were all calico prints, with the exception of one, were all '70's fabrics. I don't know if the lady who had started this passed away, became ill, lost interest. I don't know what the history is, but I've always loved this particular pattern so I thought. 'Oh this will be fun.' I started putting it together but one of the patterns on the fabric was very dark brown and all the others were light and airy and feminine. I agonized and agonized and I know you're not supposed to take things apart and redo somebody else's work but I couldn't stand it. I had to because it just was so jarring. It took away from the fabric and the design, so I replaced the brown fabric with a fabric that went and coordinated with all the others and was much better. Then let's see what happened. I had maybe three of the blocks completed and these are 15 inch squares so they're good size. Let me see how many. There are sixteen blades; 15 inch blocks and the centers are like an Attic Window. They are yellow and pink and they are sort of hexagons in the middle and that all had to be hand pieced, where the rest of the blades I sewed on my sewing machine. I had three of the blocks completed and then I had surgery, sort of an emergency sort of thing and when I got better and came home I needed to recoup and I thought, 'Well, I'm on pain medication.' I couldn't do too much and then, 'Oh this is the perfect project.' So I sat in my lounge chair and completed all the rest of the blocks. [laughs.] That kept me going through a time that was trying to say the least because I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn't expecting it, was in perfect health, didn't have any symptoms but life gets in the way and there you are. This quilt kind of helped me and my family through a time that was very trying to say the least. Now here I am healthy and loving life and working on the quilt again. [laughs.] I guess everything does come full circle.

KM: Do you have a lot of UFOs [unfinished objects.]?

GC: Oh my, well they are getting better. I just sent two away to be quilted so this one has to be quilted. Let me see, I have one in a box that's just patterns. It was the Block of the Month that I never started. It is a Basket quilt and hopefully one of these years I'm going to get going on that one. I have another full size bed quilt. The top is all completed. It's a Calendar quilt but it is baskets so each basket has something different in it apropos to the month. Like January has a cardinal. December has gingerbread. March has four leaf clovers, that sort of thing. The top is finished. One border is finished and this is all hand appliquéd so it's taken me a long time. I did finish the top last year and didn't really want to do all the appliqué work for the border. I was going to do a pieced border, but the more I looked at it the more I didn't like the pieced border. I had to bite the bullet and say, 'Okay this is for your granddaughter. You have to finish this. You have to do this right.' One side of the border is complete. The other side is marked and started and then I still have two borders to finish. I don't think it's going to get done this year, but that will be next years project to be completed. That's really the biggest UFO I have, so I've done pretty well. My New Year's resolution about four years ago was if you start a new project, you have to finish an old one, a UFO, and I've stuck to it. I've been really good so I've gotten my pile down quite a bit. [laughs.]

KM: Good for you.

GC: Yes, that is exciting.

KM: You mentioned that you are sitting in your sewing room. Describe your room to me.

GC: I have my design board which is two pieces of foam core so it's probably about seven feet tall and four and half feet wide. It's got two appliqué blocks on it that are Asian designs and another wall hanging that I finished is waiting to be sandwiched and to be finished and quilted. That is Sashiko which is a Japanese embroidery type of thing with appliquéd butterflies on it. It's a Kitty Pippen design and it actually turned out really well. It's quite lovely and that's waiting to be finished. I have another Kitty Pippen wall quilt on the wall which is hexagons and Sashiko. I have two fish wall hangings which were part of our group challenge; one was to do something with fish two years ago. I designed sort of an undersea coral reef at night and I hand dyed the background fabric, put that together and the other one is like a fish bowl and the background fabric in that was really fun to do because it's all two inch pieces. Each piece is a flowered fabric and it goes from darks, so the background is all pieced. Fish and everything are put on top of it, so it really does look like a fish bowl because it's got a little castle in it, plants, and rocks and little anemones and all kinds of fun things in there. Actually that turned out really well. I'm real proud of that. [laughs.] Let's see what else do I have in here? Oh, I have an exchange block, a little wall hanging that is three blocks and it's about maybe 10 [inches.] by 20 [inches.] and that came about through an exchange with a lady in England. When I was living in Napa, our guild every year had an exchange with a foreign country. One time it was Australia. One was England. One was Japan, and then several in the United States. This is beautiful Liberty fabric and she had a cup and a saucer, two cups and two saucers and a tea pot and she appliquéd them onto a, just a piece of fabric and that was it and the fabric is absolutely spectacular and the china is beautiful. I just decided I love this but it didn't work in my sewing room. I couldn't hang it up and I didn't want to put it in a closet so I took her cups and saucers off of the piece of fabric and designed my own wall hanging and there it is. [laughs.]

Let's see what else do I have in here? Oh I have my dollhouse which took me 25 years to complete and that's another gift for my granddaughters after grandma is gone. It's really big. It's probably three feet high by I guess, yeah three [feet.] by three [feet.] and it started life as a Federal house, but I like Victorian so I changed it. It's now a Victorian and it's got one, two, three, four, five, six rooms and a hallway and it's got bay windows and brick and I've made all the furniture and the quilts and it's got lights, so that was fun to do. Then I have lots of room boxes because before I was really into quilting I was really into miniatures and that's what I did for a long time was made miniature furniture, wall hangings, needlepoint, rugs, that kind of stuff.

I have a lot of room boxes in my sewing room. Then just odds and ends. Well I still try to knit but I'm not a very good knitter so I have yarn and I have pictures of places that our retreat group has been and pictures of my sewing friends. That is about it. I think it probably looks like almost anybody else's sewing room in that my closet is stuffed with containers of fabric that are all organized as the type and color and then my room boxes, and then I have this wonderful cutting board that also has drawers that my husband had made for me. That's really pretty good sized and unfortunately right now it's very messy and you can't see it. [laughs.] It's got books and papers and containers and threads, pins, and all kinds of things all over it because as I'm doing all these other things, I'm also working on a Block of the Week for an historical quilt and this quilt is called "Dear Jane" quilt and it's a 1863 Civil War quilt made by Ms. Jane Sickle and it is 240 four and a half inch blocks for the center and then all of the border blocks are triangles and each one is separate and this woman must have been phenomenal. I'm trying to reproduce her blocks and it's a challenge in today's society with all the wonderful tools and things that we have, and this lady did it without a sewing machine and cutting board and cutters and all the things we take for granted now. She must have been an amazing woman. I'm also trying to keep up and do that. [laughs.] So I guess I'm doing a lot of things.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out in quiltmaking?

GC: I think I would say start simple with whatever kinds of designs or patterns are of interest to them because if you jump in right away above your head, sometimes it's self-defeating and you get so frustrated that you put it away and you don't continue. It's always easier to start out small and easier than just, 'Oh I like appliqué and I'm going to do a queen size appliqué bedspread.' [laughs.] I speak from experience.

KM: It sounded like it.

GC: Yes, because I've always loved appliqué. That's the thing that's always drawn me into quilting is appliqué landscapes and baskets and just all the texture and color. I would say, 'Oh look at that. Isn't that wonderful? But I could never do that.' It took me a long time to realize yeah you can do this, you just start small. [laughs.] That's how my Basket quilt that I was telling you about earlier came to be. It started as a Block of the Month, even though it took me more than a year to do it. You broke it down into pieces and it was much more satisfying and much easier to complete. It's just really exciting because now that it's all together, I look at it and say, 'Oh my gosh, I did that. [laughs.] That was fun.' Even though it's not quite finished, but it will be. In my lifetime, it will be finished. [laughs.]

KM: Is there any aspect of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

GC: I hate cutting. I really don't like the tedium of cutting. I think that is why I don't do repetitive project, each block is the same, because I just don't like cutting piles and piles of fabric, which is strange because when I first started out I loved cutting. It was satisfying. It was secure. It was something that I knew I could do and I could do well. Sometimes you make mistakes, but not too many. It was fine and I liked the repetitiveness of it, but that was when I started. Now I'm not in that same place anymore. I don't like all the repetition and I really don't like cutting, but I think my most favorite part next to the quilting is putting on the binding. [laughs.] So I love binding. [laughs.] Maybe it's because the binding is nearing completion so you can feel that you have a job well done and the anticipation of something new in the future.

KM: You mentioned Sisters, Oregon at the beginning of the interview. Tell me about Sisters, Oregon.

GC: Sisters, Oregon, would be like Paducah, Kentucky, for those who live in that part of the States. It is held every year. Sisters is in central Oregon and it's a very--well not quite so small now, but when we first started going it was a town of 900 people. It has become the Mecca on the West Coast for quilters. Every year there is the Sisters Quilt Show. This year there were 1,200 quilts entered and they are displayed in the shops and outdoors all over the buildings in town. I didn't see in the paper this year what the statistics were for the people who came, but well the last year I remember, there were 35,000 women in Sisters, Oregon and this is a one day quilt show. It lasts all week because there are classes of all different kinds, quilting, learning how to quilt. From basic quilting to people who are very artistic and they are artists who work in fabric, so they do landscapes and clothing and just all kinds of very exotic wonderful things. The quilt show itself is only one day, but you have a whole week of quilting and that's what my friends and I do. Because we were very fortunate, Laura lives in Sisters so it's easy for us. It's like a six hour drive from where my home is and the three of us, Marilyn, Joanne, and I get in the car and we take turns and we are there in one day. Then we hang out all week and we work on projects and we visit and we go to the quilt show and then we take little side trips. Let's see where have we gone? We've gone to Jacksonville, Oregon. We went to Ashland to the Shakespeare Festival. We saw Mount Shasta City, some very pretty rivers. Dunsmuir which is an old train town. So we try and combine quilting with visiting historic sites and just things of interest in and around the areas as we are traveling. That's what we did this year. We actually went to Sisters. Whereas last year we decided we didn't need to see the quilt show and we went to Bandon, Oregon, which is a lovely little town right on the Oregon coast. We rented a house and we hung out and we quilted for [laughs.] five days. That was very nice too. That's kind of where we are right now.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

GC: I've never thought of quilting as a challenge. It is just something that you start and you do and you move forward. I think probably it would be trying to keep fresh ideas, moving forward, trying not to work in your comfort zone all the time, trying to push the boundaries of what of what your skills are in whatever medium you choose, whether it's machine quilting, hand quilting, appliqué, machine appliqué, piecing, hand piecing. Keeping the design flowing, that I think is the biggest challenge. That's my biggest challenge. I know a lot of times when you're working in the beginning color is a problem. I know it was for me. How do you put colors together? What works? What doesn't? What are the right colors? There are tips and techniques for doing all of that, which is again a learning process. I think that's probably for me is to keep everything moving forward and then of course trying to complete your projects because it's always fun and exciting to start new things. It's not easy to finish. It is always exciting to finish, but sometimes you get lost in the process and that for me is kind of hard because your real life gets in the way and sometimes you don't have enough time and quilting is the one thing that will fall by the wayside because you have family commitments and other commitments. Just keeping going and moving forward and working, trying to work above your comfort zone that would be the biggest challenge for me. I can't speak about anybody else, but for me that would be it.

KM: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

GC: Color, texture. First color, then texture, and then I think the overall design or the creativity that goes into it. A good example of that would be the Sisters Quilt Show because when you have 1,200 quilts of all sizes you get to see a broad spectrum of the quilting fields from antique quilts to people who have just started. People who work in very traditional patterns to people who are just so far out there. It is just amazing how they do this. They work with gold threads. They put in embellishments and beads and shells and feathers and just amazing things on their quilts. It's the color, the texture, and then the overall design. It just pops out off of a fabric. Painting. We saw a lot of hand painted, not just hand dyed fabric this time that I hadn't seen before and that was really exciting. A lot of natural things, nature things, birds and mountains and rocks and they truly do look like birds and mountains and rocks. How they do that, I don't know because I'm not an artist. I can execute things technically, but I have to have a picture to work from and some of these ladies just have the most wonderful ideas and how they do that I'm just in awe. That will never be me, but I certainly appreciate it. [laughs.]

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

GC: As I said before, my tastes have changed a lot. When I started I liked very traditional bed sized quilting and things like that. Now I'm much more drawn to artistic things, birds, mountains, landscapes. Those are the things that really excite me now. Not that I don't appreciate all the others because I certainly do but that gives me something to work towards. I've always wanted to do a landscape quilt and I haven't quite yet. Well actually I did one last year and I have a problem with perspective. Not being an artist with an artist eye, perspective is hard for me [laughs.] so when I finished it, I showed my husband. I said, 'Well this is not quite working,' and he said, 'Well no, your mountains don't quite look like mountains, they look like [laughs.] loaves of bread.' [both laugh.] He was right. They did. They did not have the perspective right. I can certainly appreciate when people can get mountains that look like mountains. [laughs.] It is very hard to do.

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

GC: I certainly would like to thank the Daughters of the American Revolution for nominating my quilt. That was really exciting. It has given me a little push that I've needed to say yes you can, you can do this, you're actually, someone out there appreciates and really likes what you did and you can keep going and go for it. It's made a big difference. I never told anybody, except my DAR friends, they of course knew because they announced it at the meeting, but I never told any of my friends except my friend Joanne who quilts with me that I won a national award and my husband just has surprised me, he's told everybody [laughs.] and everybody's kind of looked at me like, 'Wow quilters must be okay,' because you won a national award. It's not just something you hole up in your sewing room and spend hours doing. I guess people appreciate this. That was really exciting. My friends looked at me in a whole new light like, 'Oh you do have a life. [laughs.] You do do things,' which was surprising. Other than that, I think if you're so inclined or you have a desire to do anything, whether it's quilting or painting or landscape design or whatever your medium is. I think you just need to start and then see where it takes you because it's been a wonderful journey. I've made wonderful friends that have just lasted a lifetime and it's something that you can share with a total stranger and it's a wonderful hobby. It's very rewarding for me and I hope my family and it's exciting, whether you win an award or not is not the point, it's just something that you can do in the quiet of your own home. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Quilting is for every person and every budget. It offers a lot and it's just a wonderful, wonderful thing to have in your life. I think that's it. [laughs.]

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your morning to do this interview with me.

GC: You are very welcome. It's been my pleasure actually, my pleasure. It has been a wonderful treat for me.

KM: Good. We are going to conclude our Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview at 11:53.


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