Vicky Groom




Vicky Groom




Vicky Groom


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Caryl Bryer Fallert Gentry


Ukiah, California


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Vicky Groom. I am in Ukiah, California. It is March 9, 2007 and it is 12:15 in the afternoon. Vicky, thank you for doing this interview with me. I am very excited. Please tell me about the quilt that you brought today.

Vicky Groom (VG): It started out as a challenge within my art quilt group and it was an "Eat Your Vegetables Quilt" or "Vegetable Quilt" as we ended up calling it, or "Veggie Quilt," and it was about three years in the making because I didn't exactly know that I was going to do. My quilt wasn't very well conceived to begin with and I thought I'd try several different things as my approach to making these vegetables. I ended up settling on Ruth McDowell's pieced vegetables. Some of them really are pieced and you know with seams and everything, and then I just got so, they were hard, those little vegetables are really hard, so I ended up cheating and just fusing them and then did some raw edge appliqué around them. It is kind of hard to tell which ones are actually done that way and which ones are pieced. I tried to sort of make them look like they were all raw edged or pieced, I'm not sure which they ended up looking like. Then I just sort of took off on that technique and I decided that was what I wanted to do. I needed to add some other things to make it sort of tell a story and actually as I went along my quilt group gave me all kinds of input, because first I started with this blue background and they said that it looked really neat, it looks like there is a window in the background. Then I decided at some point that I wanted to add some other interest by sort of chopping it up and putting some black and white stuff, where I got that I don't know, but I have seen that before and then I needed to have something on the bottom, and the suggestion was to do this countertop and then to put some stuff on the countertop--I'm kind of embarrassed to say that it wasn't exactly my total original idea. Then, oh my gosh, I love my California white wine. I had to have some of that on the front too, so that is kind of what happened and then I put this border on that was just kind of dead and I thought, 'oh my gosh I have to do something else.' So I messed around and messed around and had a bunch of starts and stops and then kind of came up with this pieced border and then decided I wanted--oh I know why, because things didn't match exactly in the corners so I decided to just put this little three quarter round slice.

KM: It kind of looks like an orange slice?

VG: Yeah, on the corners and it was three years in the making and because I kind of kept starting and stopping and changing and having a little meltdown and then I am really happy with the way it turned out. It is kind of wavy because the quilting, you know, it is not evenly quilted throughout so that it does do that. It doesn't lay completely flat but it actually has hung, actually it was at Houston this last year. I was so excited that it got juried in and then I think it was also in the mid-Atlantic quilt competition last year also. I just really, I am pretty happy with the way it turned out. It is kind of wrinkly because I also did some fusing, and so all that stuff just kind of adds more wrinkles and lumps. But overall I just kind of like the way it came out.

KM: How do you use this quilt?

VG: Well actually I don't have any room in my house to hang it, so it is kind of rolled up. I think I am going to enter it in maybe a couple of things this year, because it was finished in 2006.

KM: What is the title?

VG: "Still Life on the Cutting Edge." Actually the name of the contest was "On the Cutting Edge," so that is where the name came from.

KM: It has a big knife.

VG: Yes it has a big knife.

KM: And cutting board.

VG: Still life, yes.

KM: It is wonderful.

VG: Thank you. It was a lot of fun, a lot of different techniques, I painted and drew and stuff and a little photo transfer here on the label and the wine glass was pretty tricky to do and I didn't quite pull that off, as was the bottle. That was painted on silk.

KM: The bottle is great.

VG: Thank you. It was a result of just a lot of kind of messing around and.

KM: Silk organza?

VG: It is silk organza. I think it is a couple of layers, as is this. No wait a minute, well one of them is silk, maybe it is this one. The glass might be some kind of polyester.

KM: This feels very different from that.

VG: It does. I think this is the silk one, this little piece. So that is my story and I'm sticking to it.

KM: It works for me. Tell me about your interest in quilting.

VG: I have always been, since I was a little kid totally interested in sewing and the needle arts and my grandmother made me a lot of clothes when I was a child and I got hooked on making doll clothes, by hand, I didn't use a sewing machine. I can remember she helped me make a little tiny doll quilt and that was pretty fun. It was just little squares. Then I made clothes all through high school. I made clothes for myself, clothes for friends and that sort of thing and then when I was in my thirties or so I thought really I would like to quilt and I believe this had to be before rotary cutters. I got a quilt pattern and I saw all those pieces that I would have to cut out by using scissors and I thought, no way, so that went by the wayside and in the meantime I was doing a little bit of knitting and this and that, going to school and working and then I had a quilt dream. I thought, 'oh, I really want to quilt; I have to listen to this.' This had to have been about fifteen years later, and I called Joyce who is here today because I knew she was quite a quilter and she was a friend and she said, 'Come over and I will give you some stuff to get started.' She gave me a rotary cutter; I thought 'okay' all of a sudden it became possible. I mean I could actually--of course it was possible before but I just had this mental block. So that was only about nine years ago and then she invited me to come to this quilt group before membership was closed. Thank god I got in under the wire.

KM: When did you join the quilt group?

VG: Just about eight or nine years ago. I think that my progress in quilting just, you know, it advanced by leaps and bounds as opposed to if I would have just been on my own without input and pushing and seeing other talented peoples' works. It has just been so good for me to have these challenges, it has really pushed me and I'm so excited. We go to quilt shows. Some of us went to Paducah last year, we go to Houston every year, and it is just fabulous. I just get so excited.

KM: Good. Do you plan your quilts out most of the time? Do you sketch?

VG: Not too much. That is the reason this one was so difficult—it just kind of unfolded without any vision really. Sometimes I sketch my ideas for quilts. I entered the Kaufman Challenge last year and I got the Curator's Award, or whatever the award is called and that one I did plan out and sketch. It was a medallion-type quilt. Some of my quilts I might just have sort of a vague idea of what I want to do and it sort of unfolds. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

KM: Have advances in technology influenced your quiltmaking at all?

VG: Well, the rotary cutter. [laughs.]

KM: Do you use a computer a lot, you said you used photo transfer here, do you do a lot of photo transfer?

VG: No I don't. I just happened to do it. I just like to have options. I think that is what is so exciting about quiltmaking is that there are so many techniques that one can use, but it is also kind of overwhelming. Well I got an embroidery machine but I haven't used it much.

KM: Do you use your computer at all for quilting?

VG: I haven't. That is an option. I do have "Block Base."

KM: You have "Block Base," do you use it?

VG: Not really. No and that is so strange, I don't know it just kind of, maybe in my mind I still, when I think about making a quilt, go back to the traditional way of making a quilt, although maybe the outcome isn't traditional.

KM: What are your favorite techniques?

VG: I love piecing. I really do. And I also like fusing, fusing is fun. I like to paper piece. I really like to put some (although I really don't have any on this quilt) but actually hand stitching. Not necessarily traditional hand quilting but using various embroidery stitches--I love that chicken scratch stitch.

KM: I do too. I didn't bring any of those quilts to share, but I do like that a lot.

VG: I don't know if it's exactly called that but it is just so organic--there is just something about it that I love. So, it is pretty, my favorite techniques are pretty basic.

KM: That is good. Do you have favorite materials?

VG: Cotton is really. I haven't still had a lot of experience using other fabrics and so I guess one would have to say that my favorite at least to work with so far is cotton, however, I do love the look of silk, like dupioni or something like that. I haven't yet really explored using that fabric.

KM: I love it.

VG: I do have a bunch in my stash.

KM: I encourage you to use it. Especially if you like things that are organic. I think you will really love dupioni, because I think dupioni for me is very organic.

VG: I love the feel of it. It just such a lovely feel.

KM: Do you consider yourself as more of an artist or quiltmaker or do you not make that distinction?

VG: I like to think of myself as an artist. Does that sound so totally off?

KM: No. I think it is really good actually.

VG: I've always had this creative part of me that I have to express. One time when I was, especially in my professional life, was very busy; I was getting my Masters degree in nursing. I was working, and I consciously said, 'I do not have time to spend on my art work, or my creative part.' That was not important. And I didn't, and I became so depressed. I didn't really realize that this was such an important part of my life. Not that I had done so much beforehand artistically but I was just kind of this person that wanted to express that, and when I had really put a damper on myself and it took about three or four years to get really depressed, but I really got depressed. With that I think that in my heart I'm an artist, but I also think everybody is an artist. But you just have to really have a desire to express that and cultivate it.

KM: Is this typical? Does this quilt look like your typical work?

VG: You know I don't know that I have typical work yet. I haven't, even though I have been quilting for nine years. That does seem like a long time, but I'm still exploring. I really, what I love about this quilt is that it is kind of whimsical and I love whimsy, but I'm not a whimsical type of person. There is a professor at the college here, Paula Gray. Her stuff is so whimsical. I just love that. So I would like to do some whimsical stuff if ever that is possible and then I've got my--I do some really kind of subtle, elegant, simple kind of stuff. I don't think I have typical--what I would say is my trademark kind of work.

KM: Works for me. I don't think I have a typical style. You saw my work. I think that is perfectly fine.

VG: Oh good.

KM: How many hours a week do you spend working on your quilts?

VG: Probably twenty to twenty-five hours a week I would say. It might be more then that, sometimes less. I work at home. I left my professional kind of job a couple of years ago.

KM: Which was?

VG: I was Director Case Management at the local hospital and then I was Interim Risk Manager for a while and that just really put me over the edge. So things financially worked out such that I could quit. I was so happy. So now I do medical transcription at home, but I only do about four hours a day and the rest of the time I really love to do things to my house and quilt. So that is my life pretty much. And my quilting group, I love my quilting group and my family and stuff, but I would say it is at least twenty to twenty-five hours a week, sometimes more, sometimes less.

KM: How has your quilting impacted your family?

VG: Well they are always, they are all very proud of me. My sister, she has a whole bunch of my quilts and she wants me to make more because she has a big house with lots of wall space, and she says that she just looks at those quilts and 'they just mean so much to me,' she says. 'Because I know the work that went into them and I know that you made them, and I just think that they are fabulous.' My family is really proud that I am part of a quilt group that has won some prizes and that my quilts have been shown in various places. I really think they can't quite believe it in a way. [laughs.] I've got the proof.

KM: What do you find most pleasing about making quilts?

VG: I guess, it is just the whole process. It is being able to kind of have an idea and go for it. I just made a quilt and it just, it is junk, I mean I spent this time on it and I, I thought in my mind it was going to look really neat and it just isn't. But needless to say, I just enjoyed the process. It was a pieced quilt, I enjoyed the process, the points match, and I mean that sounds so anal, but putting the colors together and just getting into this kind of zone, whether it creates a beautiful result or not, it's just being in that total place where time just flies and you are just totally absorbed. That is what I love.

KM: I call it being in the zone.

VG: Yes, yes it is, it is just--it is magical.

KM: Describe your studio.

VG: Oh my god it is a mess. We just have a little two-bedroom house and fortunately we don't have children, and so I just took over the extra bedroom. I do have a sewing table that has a big surface and my sewing machine fits in it, and it is, I don't know what I did without it. Then I've got shelves all over the place and I have a big table in the middle and it is mostly just a mess. I work messy. People come in and go, oh my god what a mess, stuff all over the floor and maybe the dog chewed on some of it, and you know it is kind of awful, but I clean it up from time to time. My fabric, I initially had it all neat and color coordinated or sorted out in colors and then when I start pulling fabrics and I'm so lazy about putting them back and it is a mess, what can I say. But I love it. Bad light though.

KM: How does that work?

VG: I just keep adding more, more lights, track lighting, this and that, floor lights. My exposure as far as natural light is bad. There is kind of a forest on one side of our house and the light is not that great. On the other side is a southern exposure so sun kind of beats down in there. Anyway I have to pull the shades down when that happens.

KM: What kind of sewing machine do you have?

VG: I actually have Janome 6500. I really like it, but I don't have that much to compare it to in terms of a high-end machine, it isn't like a seven thousand dollar machine, but it is certainly more than I ever spent on a sewing machine. So I haven't had a lot of experience sewing with a really high quality sewing machine, so I like it, but I can't tell you if it is great compared to a Bernina or what. Last year I bought a Singer embroidery machine from Ann who won it. She was selling it for a very reasonable price and she was really encouraging one of us to get it, and I don't know I got this bee in my bonnet and decided I had to have it. I have done a little bit of embroidery on it. I made a quilt that had some embroidery on it. I'm still trying to figure out how I want to use the machine embroidery in my work. Because a lot of the embroidery is cutesy stuff, I hate that. What I want to be able to do is not to have it as a feature in a quilt, but just to kind of enhance it somehow without not making it look so stilted or, I don't know what the word is. So I have to figure that out. But it is easy to use. My god it is just amazing.

KM: I don't have one.

VG: My god, I made these blocks that I put embroidery on. I used I think there were oh I don't know how many, maybe eight floral patterns that came with the machine. I was just messing around with it and I mean they really come out beautifully and you just, you just set the machine up and you just push the button and it stops when you need to change the thread to a different color. It is like magic. I had to just stand there and watch. I was in awe, but I'm not exactly sure how that is going to fit into my work, but I bought it so I might as well use it.

KM: What did you use before you had the Janome?

VG: I had a Pfaff that was lousy. Before that it was a Kenmore that my grandmother had given me when I was a senior in high school and that was really bad. So I decided that I needed to get something better than a Kenmore, so I went in and I said, 'I don't want one of those computer things. I just want a nice basic sewing machine.' And what attracted me was a dual feed, but it was bad because although that dual feed was great, it was really hard to do free motion quilting on it. It got all goofed up on the tension. The tension was screwed up consistently and I got so annoyed and fed up after about a year, I just traded it in on a, actually I traded it in on a second hand Janome embroidery machine, but I didn't use the embroidery, and then ended up getting the 6500 a year or two later.

KM: Has it made a difference?

VG: Yeah, I think so. It just feels good although it has its little glitches from time to time which is kind of annoying, but for the most part I have been really happy with it.

KM: Let's talk a little bit more about the quilt group.

VG: I love my quilt group. They are wonderful. I'm kind of an introvert, probably doesn't seem like it today, and actually I think they have helped me come out of my shell, plus my art has helped me come out of my shell. It was very uncomfortable for me for the first three or four years, especially to go to these retreats. It takes me a long time to feel comfortable with people and then at such an intimate level, you know spending four days with these people, and but we meet so often that we have, over the years we have become friends as well as these fellow artists. So I am sure you have heard this from all of us that we are true friends and we are very supportive of each other, and I can't image my life without them. I wouldn't move away from this area I think if somebody paid me because of this group.

KM: How many women are in the group?

VG: There are eleven of us.

KM: Talk about the retreats.

VG: The retreats are so good. Usually Ann [Horton.] and Joyce [Paterson.] come up with the idea for the project we are going to do. But this year, the whole group actually provided input. I wasn't able to attend last year's retreat because my mother was really ill and I had to take care of her, well she didn't say that I had to, but I had to. Last year's retreat project didn't really end up working. We discussed the process over the last year and decided that first of all there needed to be clear parameters for project and that the group in general would have a little more input. Prior to last year, we were working on quilts to enter into the Ultimate Guild Challenge. So those quilt retreats were, for me, a lot about angsting because the idea was presented, there were the parameters, but there was a lot of angsting on my part because it is very hard for me to work in a group and try to be creative. I am very easily distracted because I don't know if I like to have quiet and I just have to be able to think and there is so much activity going on, that I just, even though I love the retreats because I love to spend time with these women, it wasn't a good place for me to try to be creative. That was what was so nice about the retreat this year was that we started on our connections quilt; those puzzle pieces, so it was very kind of regimented. We knew what was expected of us. It just made the retreat more pleasurable because there wasn't so much angsting, except that I cut myself. I cut myself the first night drying dishes, or washing dishes and then I actually cut a little piece of my finger off with the rotary cutter the next day. Oh that was horrible. Other than that though I had a great time, and again the process of making the quilts, it was more of a community thing as opposed to all of these artists together, but working on separate work. That has been nice in the past too, but I really enjoyed this year the best so far.

KM: Where do you go for your retreats?

VG: We go to the Mendocino Coast and we rent a house. The last three years we have rented this lovely home, lovely view of the ocean and lots of room for lots of tables and lots of sewing machines, and it has been great. Lots of places to sleep and we all cook, we have teams of two. For instance, Dede and I cooked Thursday night dinner, and Laura and Marilyn do Friday morning breakfast, and so forth. We have great food and wine. Although I shouldn't maybe say that but after all there is a wine bottle on my quilt.

KM: After all we are in California.

VG: That is right.

KM: We would not expect anything less.

VG: No. They have been great fun. Then there is the retreat at Deanna's [Apfel.] every summer and that is an overnight, and we are never quite sure until maybe a month or two before it happens what we are going to do. And last year, we had an adventure in trying to do some abstracts. I haven't finished my quilt that I started last summer, but it was still fun. It is always fun.

KM: Do you do group exhibitions?

VG: We have. Of course there have been the Ultimate Guild Challenge competitions that we have entered and actually had really good success with, and some of those quilts have hung in addition to the competition in various other places, libraries, fabric shops; there is a beautiful one in Healdsburg. A few years ago we had a show at the college gallery called the "Textile Connections," and that was a series that we did, group quilts. Also we have had some exhibitions of our group quilts at Mancuso's shows and things like that. What was the question? [laughs.]

KM: Exhibits. You answered the question, you did well. So what do you think makes a great quilt?

VG: The design, the color, the lines, the wow. I mean all those design elements, unity, repetition with variation. Just something that you are drawn in by that may tell a story, those are great too. I don't like cutesy stuff though. I think it is really hard to do faces and people, but I have seen some gorgeous ones. When, you can really tell the difference between a beautiful one and then something that is just there.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out with the art quilts?

VG: I don't know if I've got this traditional thing, but I think it is really important--I am really glad I did. I got a book called, "Quilts, Quilts, Quilts" and I actually learned what basic traditional quilt making is. I think that you can get a lot from doing some piecing. Also don't be afraid to use color and don't be stuck in this perfect color thing, because I just read this interview by Roberta Horton I think in the Quilters' Newsletter [Magazine.] and she was so right on, but it is so scary to mix things up, but as long as you kind of repeat it throughout the quilt, it is going to hold together. I mean every color can go together as long as it is repeated enough. So I think the color thing is, you just have to kind of go for it, and try stuff that you wouldn't normally do. I mean I was so closed minded about that, everything had to match and it had to be the same shade of red. So that is what really I think makes an outstanding quilt is being able to go for it color wise.

KM: Do you feel your quilt group has influenced your quilting?

VG: Yes, like I said, I don't think I could ever be where I am and be so open minded if I didn't have the group to critique and make suggestions about my work. I'm also influenced by everyone else's work. The other thing is that with Laura and Ann in particular getting their work out there and encouraging the rest of us, I would never have entered a quilt contest, are you kidding, and I never would tried to get into a gallery, a gallery show or something like that, I just never would have thought that that could ever happen. So what the group has done for me is that they have opened me up to the possibilities.

KM: Have you sold any of your work?

VG: No. Of course, I haven't really put it out there for sale. Well actually, I did have a price on it in Houston, but there were so many other gorgeous quilts.

KM: This was the first year they were selling quilts right?

VG: Yeah. I thought I would see.

KM: What was the buzz about that? I didn't get to Houston this year.

VG: It was just that, I don't know that there was too much buzz other than the fact that the International Quilt Association would get a commission.

KM: Which they should.

VG: Which they absolutely should. And you could still, if your quilt is juried in you could still have it hung there and you didn't have to have for sale. So I thought I would try it and nobody asked me about mine, but that is okay. It would be nice to sell a quilt, but I guess I'm so into making them that I'm not ready to spend part of my life marketing. I don't know that I am ready to do that right now.

KM: So you don't have a website?

VG: Not other than the Mendocino Quilt Artist's website. That is the only one.

KM: What would you find on the website?

VG: It hasn't been updated for a while. So actually our textile connection quilts are there and what else is there, maybe our dance quilts, maybe the book quilts, attitude quilts maybe. I haven't visited it for a while myself. You know, the other thing for me is that I actually have, the last two years I have been able to devote a lot more time to the quilting and maybe I just don't feel like I have had enough time yet to do that. So maybe in a few more years that will be the next step.

KM: Have you taken a lot of classes?

VG: No, and that is another thing. I really would like to take some classes and I haven't. I took a class on hand quilting once and fabric dyeing although I didn't like that much. So that is two. I love making the quilts, not dying the fabric for them. So I think those are the only two classes that I have taken.

KM: Let's talk a little bit about function and meaning of quilts in the United States. What do you think about the importance of quilts in the United States, in the world, lets just be really big, the importance of quilts?

VG: They represent history to me and well mostly from a women's prospective historically. The kind of fabrics that have been used over the years, the techniques, what I loved is that I have two quilts that each of grandmothers has made and they have just so much meaning to me. I've got those and they are very traditional, and then to be able to see the Gee's Bend quilts and how they are just so different and the stories behind them, and what I loved was that they really wanted to break that white woman tradition and they are stunning, they are just stunning and the stories. Quilts are stories.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

VG: Yes.

KM: Did you make it?

VG: Yes. It is the one that I used my embroidery machine on. [laughs.] It is okay, I wouldn't enter it anywhere. It is not competition material, but I'm liking it better now that it is on the bed. I liked it better especially when I washed it and it got kind of crinkly and puckery that really helped it and it is growing on me.

KM: What is your first memory of a quilt?

VG: I think it was, I had a quilt, it was orange and white and curves it might have been a Rob Peter to Pay Paul kind of a quilt and I think that my dad's mother made it. I remember that as a child having that at home. It is in my mind back there. Then like I said, my maternal grandmother gave me this beautiful one that she and her sisters made in the thirties, so that vintage of fabrics. They are so comforting.

KM: What do you do with your old quilts that you have, your family quilts?

VG: The one that I have that my maternal grandmother made I hung it up for awhile. It has wool batting and it is kind of frayed a little bit, and I have taken it down and I have folded it. My walls aren't big enough. Then my sister has a quilt that grandmother made and she used it when her daughter was a baby and parts of it are trashed. I have another quilt that my paternal grandmother made about one hundred years ago, and it is kind of trashed as well. What I want to try to do is take those two quilts, of course my sister has given me her permission, and make some sort of collage of both the quilts with photo transfers of the grandmas, one for my sister and one for me and maybe try to get my sister to work on it with me.

KM: Does your sister quilt at all?

VG: No. But she likes needle work. She has embroidered in the past and I just recently taught her how to knit and she is totally into that.

KM: You knit too?

VG: Yes, but not much any more. I didn't do that much to begin with, just a few sweaters and stuff. Quilting is more fun.

KM: I agree. Do you collect anyone's quilts?

VG: No, I really haven't. I don't know why, not that I don't think they are absolutely beautiful and stunning, but I guess I would rather spend my money on fabric to make my own. [laughs.]. I have the grandma quilts. The beautiful old ones, a lot of them are in museums, so we can go visit.

KM: My next question would be what makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection in your mind?

VG: Probably the same thing that I have for a design for a great quilt, just those elements of color and design and also the story behind it. I think that a totally drab quilt would be appropriate, you know when you look at it and you think 'oh well what is so great about that quilt?' But then there is some really interesting story about it. The design elements.

KM: Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. We are going to conclude our interview, it is, has actually been almost forty-five minutes.

VG: Boy I just blabbed and blabbed.

KM: You did great, so thank you so much and I am going to end my interview at 12:57



“Vicky Groom,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,