Marie Villanueva




Marie Villanueva




Marie Villanueva


Marylynn Kleeman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Caryl Bryer Fallert Gentry


Dixon, California


Nancy Edwards


Note: Marie Villanueva is not a member of the DAR. And while this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation, membership in the DAR is not required for participation.

Marylynn Kleemann (MK): Today's date is December 26, two thousand and eight. It is 12 p.m. I am conducting an interview with my daughter Marie Villanueva in Dixon, California for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this for the American Heritage Committee. Marie is a quiltmaker. Marie, can you tell me about the quilt you brought to the interview today.

Marie Villanueva (MV): The "Garfield Watercolor" was a quilt I made for my son Tony. It was the first quilt that he got from me, and we both love Garfield and I thought that would be an appropriate character for his quilt. I couldn't find another design that I liked, so I ended up creating the watercolor template from a drawing or a cartoon picture of Garfield dressed as a wizard and Tony liked that idea, so I enlarged the drawing and then put it on to a grid and ended up trying to find out how to do a watercolor quilt. From that point on I got some hints from different quilt shops in the area from Davis and Winters, and the "Cloth Carousel" was very helpful, and she really made it seem like it was going to be a feasible project and so I started buying lots of different oranges and greens and blacks.

MK: Can you explain a little bit about the watercolor quilt?

MV: The watercolor quilt is, if I understand it correctly, a watercolor quilt is basically a quilt of two-inch squares sewn together to create an image. Usually, it's a floral quilt put together to resemble a watercolor painting in essence. It's really neat the way they're put together. They've gone on to create hearts using the grid pattern, very simple grid pattern. I was challenging the watercolor way of making quilts by using a character because generally they're, like I said, flowers or gardens or hearts, and Garfield is none of those and that presented a challenge in itself. How was I going to get the lines? How was I going to make Garfield appear in the watercolor? So, it evolved. It was a project that was my most challenging, has been my most challenging, and it took about seven years to complete just the panel for the Garfield and then mom finished it up with beautiful borders, and put it together. Tony finally got his quilt for his graduation in 2006 [pause for 10 seconds.] [both laugh.], and he loved it, and he has slept under it every night and I was very pleased with the finished product, and I'm glad I was able to finish it, but it was very challenging.

MK: It's a beautiful quilt.

MV: Thank you.

MK: Why did you choose this particular quilt for the interview?

MV: I chose this particular quilt because it was my most challenging. It's not a traditional pattern, definitely a more modern pattern and to show that the watercolor type of quilt can be done in other ways as opposed to just a landscape. You know, your traditional way of making a watercolor quilt.

MK: What do you think someone would conclude about you if they were looking at this quilt?

MV: They'd probably think I was a Garfield nut which was probably pretty close to the truth. When I was done with this, with Garfield, one of my other sons asked, 'Are you going to do Snoopy or Scooby Doo now?' I said, 'No, probably not,' [laughs.] because of the challenge of the quilt, but I might tackle it now that I have it under my belt and I understand the different nuances of the lining up lines and then what happens when you sew those lines. You have to line them up crooked in order to get them straight and that sounds kind of weird, but it does work in the end so [laughs.] so someday I might do a Scooby Doo, but not right now. [laughs.]

MK: Tell me about your interests in quilting.

MV: I think my interests probably started when I saw you, my mom, making a quilt for me when I was 10 and it was an appliqué quilt and I still have it. Some of the appliqués need to be repaired, but I still love that quilt and it's always stayed with me. It's a wonderful way of expressing to someone how special they are because somebody who makes a quilt for somebody. It really is a wonderful way of expressing that care. The quilt that I, the first quilt that I made, was shortly after the birth of my Godson Josh and I wanted to give him something special and I didn't have a lot of money at the time so I ended up using some of my own children's receiving blankets and cutting them up and making a patchwork blanket for Joshua and it turned out it was a little off center, off square, but the love that I put into it and then with the boys' receiving blankets it became a very special blanket quilt for Joshua for his first birthday I think. It was really cool.

MK: That's nice. How old were you when you first started quilting would you say?

MV: I was probably about 25, 26 when I made the quilt for Josh.

MK: And how did you learn to quilt? Who did you learn from?

MV: Like I said, I remember mom quilting and I remember her sewing and, you know, I had done little sewing projects on quilts with little sewing projects when I was a child and took some sewing classes through 4H and through the Community Center when I was younger, and so my actual quilt skills probably came more from sewing and knowing how to put 2 pieces of fabric together to create a larger piece of fabric. So, I was probably more self-taught and then afterwards started taking a couple workshops to enhance my, the skills that I had already.

MK: What other people in your family are quiltmakers or friends?

MV: Well, my mom is a quiltmaker and as I started thinking about it, my Aunt Jody is a quiltmaker and several of her daughters, my cousins, are quiltmakers so some of them sell them and others give them as gifts, and I think that's about it. My boys are intrigued by it, but haven't yet gone to the quilt making themselves, but maybe someday.

MK: They like looking at them.

MV: Yes, they like looking at them. Michael really enjoys the fabric, and he gets into looking at the fabric saying that 'Wow this is cool. Wow this is cool.'

MK: Where you made Tony a quilt, have you made quilts for the others, your other 2 boys?

MV: Michael got the first big quilt that I made, and that one was a fun quilt to make. I did it in primary colors as the base and it looks like circles, but they're not really circles. They're all straight lines and so Michael got the first quilt and then Tony, and then Troy's is cut out ready to be sown and his is green and black, his 2 favorite colors and they're going to be T's for Troy. [laughs.]

MK: Good, that will be fun.

MV: Yeah.

MK: How does quilt making impact your family since they're all boys, males?

MV: I think they think it's pretty cool that their mom can make something, a blanket, out of all these different scraps of material. I try to use as much as I can out of my stash, so many of my quilts are more scrappy quilts as opposed to quilts that all go together. [laughs.] All the fabrics going together, but I think they're pretty proud of momma. That's what they say and it just kind of makes me smile. Thank you. Back to the--

MK: Talk about your stash a little bit.

MV: My stash is--

MK: And how you got it?

MV: [laughs.] Part of, well, a lot of my stash, we had a guild member who passed away from struggling with cancer and she had--oh my goodness, she had just boxes upon boxes of fabric. Her husband wonderfully said, 'Please give them to guild members and let them pick and choose and take the fabric because I know it will be used,' and so her good friend brought all these-- must have brought 12 boxes of fabric to one of our meetings one time. They were full of just a myriad of fabrics from just novelty fabric to seasonal fabric to Asian fabric to just all different kinds of fabric, and most of the pieces were from 2 to 5 yards worth of fabric so it was a wonder. We wrote thank you notes to her husband letting him know that it was going to be used and I have been able to make quite a few projects and still have quite a bit of fabric left over from the pieces that I've gotten from her. Every time I use the fabric, I didn't know her well, but I think fondly of her she was a dynamic woman and very giving to her community and her husband continued that giving by giving to the guild and letting us carry on her love of quilt making through the gift of her fabrics and it was really cool.

MK: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

MV: I don't know necessarily for myself, but I've used quilts for little motifs that can be put on quilts to give to other people to get through times. I love something that you have in your guild, be giving heart block, and, you know, being able to give kudos to people and thoughts of love and support to people. Giving a little heart block that they can incorporate into whatever they want. So as far as my hard times, I thank goodness, haven't had any that have been that stressful. Definitely I have some quilts that I've given out. For instance, our guild does, and I think many guilds do contribute quilts to for children who are in crisis. So, we've made a lot of quilts for children who find themselves in crisis and we've made a couple of special quilts in that area. One of the particular areas that's for kids in crisis, we created a quilt to go with a children's book and that was it was a lot of fun and it was very meaningful knowing that they were going to get a book and a quilt to comfort them.

MK: Now you say create. Did each member do it different?

MV: Yes, each member did a different book amazingly the 25 of us all had completely different books and the quilts were completely different from mine. Well, I thought of the idea of the world and so then I had to find a book that went with 'the world' and I found a wonderful book. I believe it was called "How to Make an Apple Pie Around the World," some something like that. It was a cute story about how you can get different ingredients for the apple pie from different parts of the world and so then I had a I found a wonderful pattern that looked like a beach ball on a quilt and cut up into different areas that were not necessarily the continents themselves but just the equatorial lines and the latitude lines. So in my quilt, for my world motif, I tried to find materials that represented different parts of the world and I tried to place them as close as I could to those different parts of the world so my world did have the different areas and countries represented as best I could and the 25 or 30 so pieces that went into the world so they were all different pieces of fabric and then the fabric was put in against a background border of the stars so thus space essentially, so, it turned out really cool. I was very proud of that quilt. [laughs.]

MK: You mentioned your guild, can you talk a little bit more about your involvement in it?

MV: We're a small intimate guild of 25 members. In our bylaws we have said that we don't want to be any bigger than that because we enjoy going and having meetings in July and December at a hostess' house and sharing a potluck meal. There are salads in the summer and then more hearty meal in the winter in December and so we keep it to an intimate number of about 25. Currently we have about 22 members. We meet once a month and we talk about the different projects we're working on. As I said, before we do crisis quilts for children and young people. We also encourage the guild members to do the lap quilts for returning veterans who are in the hospitals recovering from injuries that they have sustained. We also participate and help--we just started last year and we're going to do it again, the quilt exhibit at the Dixon May Fair which is in May. We will help talk about the quilts that are there, and to the people who come in to look at them. We'll talk to the fairgoers who come in to look at the quilts and talk about quilting and encourage people to look, don't touch. [laughs.] That was a lot of fun last year. We had a lot of fun and we had a wonderful display exhibit from the previous year. We ended up with almost, like, if I remember correctly, almost 70 quilts came into the May Fair whereas previously it was15.

MK: So, this was just not your guild members--

MV: No.

MK: Displaying quilts.

MV: No, it was anybody who wanted to enter a quilt into the fair and we've given suggestions on what type of categories they might look into for this next year. We had a couple of entrants who were first-time quiltmakers. So, we thought that that would be a very appropriate category. So that they're not up against seasoned quiltmakers and they get a chance to show the skills that they've learned and are able to enjoy quilt making at the beginning level and then increase their skills and know that they will. If they choose to stay in quilt making, that they will increase their skills and become better at their craft. It was a lot of fun and we're going to do it again this year. I am getting ready to step down from my position as president after two years. I've had a wonderful role to play with my guild I've very much enjoyed leading my ladies these last two years. So, we have another wonderful president coming up. She's going continue the lead and keep moving but it's a lot of fun with Prairie Quilters of Dixon. It's a lot of fun.

MK: Sounds like a nice group.

MV: Yeah.

MK: Let's see, let's go over what we've talked about we've talked about your guild, your participation and then--

MV: Yes.

MK: What advances in technology have influenced your work?

MV: Oh, the rotary cutter. [laughs.] My very first quilt that I made for my Godson was cut out using a basic ruler, 12-inch ruler and a pair of scissors and a pencil. [laughs.] So even though it wasn't quite square it was still done with a lot of love, but I definitely enjoy the advances in the technology, if you will. The rotary cutter and the myriad of rulers that are out there that I have a very small sampling of but use often because I do like my sides to be straight, and it sure makes it a lot easier to square your quilt up when you've got straight edges. [laughs.]

MK: [laughs.] That's true. What are your favorite techniques and what kind of materials do you like to use for your quilts?

MV: One of my favorite techniques is the rag quilts. I really love the primitive and cozy look of the rag quilts and so I don't only do rag quilts in flannels, but I also do them in cottons which fray very nicely for the edges. One of my guild members decided that she wanted a finished edge on her rag quilt and showed us, which I'm sure many people have probably thought of doing. To actually finish an edge with a folded piece of fabric and so then you have kind of like, a little border around your rag quilt that's not ragged right at the edge, so it makes a really nice finish. If you want it a little more formal but still casual, but I love the rag quilts. I like appliqué if I don't have to do a lot of it, but I love the skill it takes to get the pieces down. I like the hand appliqué and then putting those little, tiny stitches in to get around the hand appliqué and then seeing how wonderful it looks when you're all done with it. I like a new technique that we've just learned. It's similar to a crazy quilt. It's kind of like a crazy quilt and stained-glass quilt put together. You cut 20 pieces of fabric to about anywhere from 12 inches to 20-inch squares, and then you take 4 of those squares and you cut them in half or wherever you want. There's no measuring involved. You just have a straight edge and a rotary cutter, and you make a cut and then you put a thin vein, you sew a thin vein, in between two of those pieces of fabric and then you cut it again. You sew another vein so you're ending up with a crazy quilt look with a stained glass look and it's kind of hard to explain it, but I think we're probably going see a couple more of these quilts out there because they're so easy to make. They look so complicated, and they look so great when they're done. I've done one quilt in brights. That's really, really a very nice quilt. I haven't, I've got the top done. Now I just need to put it together in a quilt, [laughs.] but that's another technique I like. I like the traditional quilts, the traditional piecing of your basic blocks and then putting a nice sash in between them and figuring out a nice border to go around it. So, I kind of do a little bit of everything, but I like probably the piecing as opposed to the appliqué, but I do everything. [laughs.]

MK: You talked about learning this technique. Did you take a class for that?

MV: Two of our guild members, a mother and daughter, had taken the class from a local shop and asked the teacher because originally the gal who taught the class was going to teach it to us. Something happened. She wasn't able to so she gave permission to our ladies to show it to us and so they showed it to us. They showed their several quilts that they'd made with this pattern, this technique pattern. It's called "Easy Crazy." I believe is the name of it and it is both easy and crazy, but it's a lot of fun. [laughs.]

MK: Talk a little bit about your work in your studio.

MV: [laughs.] My studio. [laughs.] My studio originally was a room about 14 by 14. It's supposed to be--well, it sold as a large kitchen counter. It has three drawers and two large shelves underneath and that's my worktable. [dog barks in the background.] I have several different crafts that I do. I love quilting, but I also do beading. So, my beading is also on half of the table and my quilting is on the other half of the table. I'm in there a lot in my little room and then I have my sewing machine. I have some bookcases with both quilting and beading and other crafting books, and then of course my fabric is in the closet on shelves so as color coordinated as I can get it [laughs.] and because I'm in my workplace. My family has dubbed my workspace "the cave." [MK laughs.] And yes, so I have now dubbed my workspace "the cave" and I really enjoy it. That's my place where I go to just relax and enjoy creating and sewing. I have my music in there so I can turn my music on and just listen. It's usually classical music and I just kind of sit, just have fun, paint or whatever I'm doing at the time. [laughs.]

MK: Now do you use your beading in your quilts too?

MV: Some of them, yes. I've done some, not wearable art, but I've done some purses. I don't know if those would be considered wearable art but functional pieces and, on the purses, I have done beading embellishments and I really enjoy doing that. I actually have some books and I looked at the books. I know embroidery and I put embroidery into some of my quilts I did a candle mat that has crazy bear paws and on each of the crazy bear paws. There's a different embroidery stitch around and so I really enjoyed doing that. Now there's no beading on that, that was before I got into the beading, but then later I did do some beading then I ended up taking a class that kind of told me any everything I already knew but it was nice to ask the instructor questions, to kind of verify. Okay, yes, 'I was doing this right.' Or 'Oh, okay, that's a better way of doing it.' So, I have taken a class on beading embellishment and making fabric embellishments so that was a lot of fun to take both of those classes to enhance my quilting experience.

MK: We talked a little bit about designing your own patterns. Do you use a design wall, too, in creating?

MV: I didn't really have room for a design wall [laughs.] in my old space. My new space, we did talk briefly about my cave, has shrunk to about a 10 by 10 room. It's still very workable. I've been able to get all of my items in that I need for quilting, and I don't have any space really for a design wall. However, I was given a portable design wall by my parents. [laughs.] So, I'm looking forward to using that, because I have used one in a class that I took quite a few years ago. It was really nice to be able to put something on the wall, of possible block design, and then step back and look at it and go, 'Hum, no, I don't like that, then rearrange it,' and so definitely I love the idea of design wall and I can't wait to use my new design portable design wall. [laughs.]

MK: Good. Talk a little bit about your sewing memorabilia collection.

MV: [laughs.] I have five sewing machines. I don't use them all. My husband laughs and says, 'Why do you need another machine? You already have five.' Sometimes I don't think husbands understand the need for the different sewing machines. I have a treadle machine that does work. I do not use it though. It was my great aunt's. When she moved out of her home, my cousin asked if I wanted it. I was very excited because I didn't even realize she had the treadle machine and I was like, 'Wow, yes, thank you very much,' and it's lovingly in our living room right now. Someday I might try and use it, but right now I don't. I have a Featherweight. I bought a Featherweight machine online because I wanted a machine that I could take around with me to different workshops and I do take my old Featherweight with me to workshops and set it all up and there's actually another guild member who has a Featherweight that takes [MK laughs.] hers as well so it it's kind of fun. I'm very, very happy too. I love my little Featherweight. I have my grandmother's old Viking, that poor thing, the plastics are falling apart so I don't use that one. I got a new Singer computer one that I haven't hooked up yet so I'm very excited about using that one. The main machine I use though, an old Singer from the fifties, I believe, that was my grandmother's and then my mother used it when I was young. In fact, I believe she used that one to make my first quilt.

MK: I did.

MV: Yeah, and that's the machine that I still use, and I love using it. It's a wonderful machine and so that's probably my biggest collection of sewing memorabilia, my machines and then a thimble collection. I'd be surprised if every quilter didn't have at least five thimbles or more. [laughs.]

MK: Probably. We've talked somewhat about, you know, what you feel makes a pretty quilt, an artistic quilt. You talked a little bit earlier about whose works you were drawn to and why. Can you talk about that?

MV: I don't have any specific people to name in particular. I don't know that it's necessarily quiltmakers that inspire me but artists just in general. I like, I really am drawn to the Expressionist Age of painting and my quilts don't go necessarily in that fashion, but I love just the raw energy that's thrown into those paintings. So, I try, and I really enjoy trying to put that into my quilts as well, and I love the bold colors and using bold colors and using bright colors and I love red in a quilt, just a spot of red. It doesn't have to be a lot, just a spot somewhere of red. It's just striking to me and so Patricia Palacco is a children's author. One of her first books was-- [pause.] I'm blanking on the book's title, but in the book, it has the quilt that her family, her mother and grandmother, made about the people that were left back in the homeland. Even though she never met these great, great grandparents and aunts and uncles, she can tell you stories about them from the quilt that her family had made, because it's a living memory from when her parents immigrated, her grandparents immigrated and created this quilt. So that they wouldn't forget the special people that they left behind so that's just one of the wonderful things about quilts is keeping the memories alive of the family. The quilt that I made for Tony, and that mom finished, once again, did wonderful borders and quilting on it. For my cousin, Marcella, I created a quilt out of aprons that her mother used to wear, and it turned out just beautiful. I'm so excited to give that to her. She comments every time I see her about it, and she loves the memories that she has when she sees the quilt, sees a particular apron pattern, thinks about her mother wearing that apron and making a special meal and just being in the kitchen and just, you know, keeping that alive with family.

MK: So, in history, would you say it's more of a personal history that quilts play in the role of history or would you say there's a way that quilts have been used in history in general?

MV: I think definitely in personal history, because you have, you know, you have the people coming over the prairies and they have their history, and you have the women before they could vote being able to express through quilts that they made this their voice, being heard because they're making this quilt and showing that this is what they support, and you know so definitely, I think, that you know that's a history, the woman's personal history rather than it's a history. It's our history as well, American history. Definitely. It's probably both, but I think because the quiltmaker, and because quilts are so personal, anyways every quilt that I make is. It's generally for someone, and so whether I create from scratch the pattern or whether I pick a pattern, you know the fabrics that we put into it, it's definitely personal. You're making something for somebody and you're putting yourself into it, so yeah, I think there's definitely a personal history.

MK: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

MV: Oh gosh, we need to get out there and encourage people to possibly take the time to learn how to make them. We have quilts that you can buy in the super malls that are 50 bucks but they're not going to last as long, be as wonderful as a quilt made by someone who puts themselves into the quilt. Really does a great job and it's not going to fall apart after a year or two. You're going have it for a long time, so you know encouraging the continuation of learning the skill, passing that skill on from one generation to the next.

MK: What about labels on quilts?

MV: I think they're very important I don't always get a label on my quilts, I must admit, but I think it's particularly special and important for those quilts. For instance, the quilt that I gave to my cousin of her mother's aprons, you know, I did label that so that future generations will know, 'Where did these fabrics come from and why is this quilt so special?' Well, it was a memory quilt, memories of Aunt Mabel, and you know that was just to be able to look back at the photographs you know of in our family and say, 'Oh there's Aunt Mabel and look, she's wearing one of those quilts.' It's just, that would just really cool. I mean it keeps the family threads of life together.

MK: That's good. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

MV: I think this is a wonderful project [laughs.] and I hope you get many, many more people adding to it and quilts are--I hope they're not dying because they're such a wonderful art form, functional art form that can be passed on from generation to generation. They're a wonderful way of showing love to the family, and as I said before, you know passing on that you know it takes a lot to put a quilt together. They know a nice quilt isn't going to be done in a day. It's going to be done in weeks, anyways, or a week anyhow if you've got that much time at once to put it together, but they're wonderful, wonderful pieces that we need to keep in our history.

MK: Your story is a wonderful "quilting" history for people.

MV: Well, thank you.

MK: Thank you.

MV: You're welcome.

MK: Really thank you. That concludes, I think, our interview and the time is 12:45.


“Marie Villanueva,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,