Charlotte Patera




Charlotte Patera




Charlotte Patera


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Grass Valley, California


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Charlotte Patera. Charlotte is in Grass Valley, California and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is March 19, 2009. It is now 3:46 in the afternoon. Charlotte thank you for doing this interview with me.

Charlotte Patera (CP): I'm happy to do it.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt "Touch Tone Dilemma."

CP: I've done a series of quilts about the world we live in today and all the frustrations that go with some of the high tech things we use. I think everybody has had that situation of getting on the telephone and finding a recorded message with a lot of options and often they aren't what you are calling about and sometimes you can't speak to a human. One reason that I chose that quilt is because everybody seems to get a kick out of it. It has been in a couple of shows and it was also in FiberArts magazine, I think because they thought it was funny.

KM: How do you use this quilt?

CP: What? How do I use it? [KM hums agreement.] I can't say [laughs.] I use any of my quilts. [laughs.] They are just wall quilts.

KM: Are they gathered on the wall?

CP: No, I don't have it on my wall. I don't have enough walls to put all my quilts on the wall. It is a wall quilt. It is not a bed quilt. In fact, I haven't made a bed quilt since I first started quilting.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

CP: I suppose the thing I'm mostly remembered for is my Mola related appliqué work and other kinds of appliqué. I do what most people call reverse appliqué although I don't like that term myself. I prefer referring to either negative or positive appliqué because it is all done the same way, the way I do it. I've done different subjects in my quilts. I have a website and I have about six different categories. One of them is Mola [related quilts.]. The various quilts I've done that relate to Molas have sort of evolved from my interest in the Mola technique and I did some on rock art for a while. I was very interested in petroglyph and rock art designs and so I did quite a few quilts, at least a dozen quilts on rock art, as well as about 25 small ones. The other subjects I'm interested in have been Life Today. That is something I got going on, I've done "Gridlock" and things that are related to the computer. I have one called "Nerd Words" and "Dot.Com" and let's see what else. My mind is a blank. I can't even remember my own quilts. An "Endangered Species" quilt and a "Shopping Mall."

KM: That is okay.

CP: One thing I like to do is I've noticed that as I travel and I'm around different places I keep taking pictures of sidewalks and tiles and I went to Morocco mostly because of the tile work everywhere so I've done some quilts that show stones and tile designs. That is one of the categories.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CP: Frankly right now I'm not really real interested in it anymore. I've quilted for about 40 years and I started in the early 1970's and during the bicentennial in 1976 everybody was getting interested in quilting and it seems like that was when it was really going through its second life. I used to live in Marin County, California, [north of San Francisco.] and there was a woman there named Joyce Gross, who I think is quite well known in the quilt world, and she got a whole lot of us interested in quilting, kind of raised our consciousness about quilting and she used to bring in a lot of experts on textiles and so on and she would have lectures and she would also give quilt shows and demonstrations. [I also went on two quilt tours that she organized. One to Denver to see quilts at the Museum and to visit Bonnie Leman at the Quilter's Newsletter and she also organized a tour to New England to visit quilt collectors and other quilt exhibits including the one at the Shelburne Museum.] A group of us formed and we used to get together and quilt a lot and then from that, another group kind of evolved, that I belonged to for many years called the Stitch and Bitch and although there are a lot of groups calling themselves that now, I think we were the very first ones. [The name came from one of the ladies' hairdresser.] We started sometime in the seventies and there were ten of us in the group. We decided to limit it to ten because we were going to each other's houses and that was about the size we could all accommodate. Five of us lived in Marin County. Five of us lived over in the East Bay, east of San Francisco, and we used to get together twice a month and of course have lunch and get together and show and tell our quilts and quilt. That lasted, oh I can't remember how many years, and it began to break up around in the end of the eighties when some of the ladies died and then others just moved away and I moved away, so I think it pretty much came to an end then. At that time, I was also a member of the East Bay Heritage Quilters, more or less in Berkeley, and most of our group was members of that too. When I moved up to Grass Valley, which is between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, I mention that because people usually don't know where it is. I joined the guild up here for a while but then I don't know, I lost interest in the guild meetings, kind of just drifted along by myself. Of course all of this time I was often teaching and traveling a bit and teaching at the Quilt Festival in Houston and a lot of other places. I entered shows like Quilt National and Visions as well as Paducah [Kentucky- American Quilters Society.] and the quilt show in Houston [Texas, International Quilt Festival.]. I entered many years for quite a long time. I taught in Houston about 13 years and I don't what else to talk about. I've been quilting until about ten years ago I decided it was time to retire from, at least from teaching and the traveling around.

KM: How did you get interested in Molas?

CP: When I first started to appliqué I saw some. First of all, there was an exhibit in San Francisco that I saw and then there was also an article in Women's Day magazine at that time in the late sixties I think it was. I was very interested in this technique and when I followed the directions in Women's Day it seemed very awkward to me and then later as I learned more and more about Molas I began to collect my own, I realized that technique just didn't work it wasn't right at all. I couldn't be very satisfied until I actually went down to the San Blas Islands and actually saw the Kuna Indian women working. That was a thrill when I finally got to do that. I wanted to do that for years, but I wasn't sure how to go down to Panama and how to get out to the islands because at that time there were not any good tourist facilities, there were no organized tours or places to stay or anything like that and I didn't know how I would go about going down there. One day at a quilt show I met a woman who said she had a friend down in Panama who went out to the islands all the time and knew all about the Indians and had a lot of friends among the Indians and so she gave me her address and at the same time she sent her my address. We got together and eventually she arranged for me to go and stay with an Indian family for a few days. Although I had traveled I had never traveled anyplace off the beaten track like that. Because I was kind of nervous about it, I got a friend of mine to go with me and we went down there and we spent ten days in Panama and we spent four days with an Indian family. That was very exciting. That same year I contracted to write a book about the Molas and so I went back. The first time I went was in January in '82, so I went back again in December of '82 to take more pictures and learn more about the subject so I could write the book. That was published in '84, I guess and before it was published I went down again in '84. I've been there about three more times after that. I remember at the time I was with the family, the father, Jeronimo de la Osa is his name, told me that his ambition someday was to have a hotel. His dream came true and he did open a hotel and it is the primary place where people stay when they go down there. Right now, they have more tourist facilities set up so it is easier for people to go now. I continued making more Molas and exploring new ways to use the technique. It was a lot of fun when I used to take my projects down there and show them and we would sort of show together and trade ideas back and forth, and I was always thrilled when they would take some idea of mine and use it in their Molas.

KM: How did you see the Molas change?

CP: Pardon?

KM: How did you see the Molas evolve or change over time?

CP: I haven't gone there lately so I'm not really sure but I did organize a tour one time and a friend named Louise Young went along on that tour and now she is leading tours. She has gone back to Panama at least once a year. She knows a lot more about the islands than I do. She sends me pictures of Molas every time she goes and they don't really change that much. Although for a while, they started using prints. While I was still going there, I discovered that they were using a lot of printed fabrics in the Molas, which was kind of different and I don't know, she sent me some recently. She just came back about a month and a half ago and there aren't too many changes except one is more like what we would call a "Tourist Mola" or a "Trade Mola," but it was actually a Mola that was worn on a blouse. They usually use very traditional techniques that just don't change that much through the years. There are a lot of things made specifically for tourists, which are not what they usually wear themselves. They make them only to sell to the tourist, although some of them can be very wonderful too. [I do enjoy seeing molas that stray from the traditional, perhaps by the use of color or certain little tweaking that happens.]

KM: How many Molas do you have?

CP: I think I have about 60 on my website [website:]. I show my collection of 60, but I do have a few more than that. Somewhere between 60 and 80 I guess, give or take a few. [I have sold some of my collection and like most collections, they have to be culled at times.]

KM: Was there any criteria you used for acquiring a Mola?

CP: It is just whether I like it or not. [laughs.] Sometimes the technique is very delicate and very precise and with perfect tiny little stitches and tiny little outlines. The main characteristic of Molas is to have lots of outlines and there are many different ways to do that. I look for very good technique but yet the technique can be as wonderful as anything and if I don't care about the subject I'm not interested in it. I find that I tend to go a lot for geometric designs. I'm like that with everything; I always like geometric designs rather than pictorial things. Most Mola collectors like the pictorial Molas that relate to the culture, which I suppose are the types of Molas you should collect, but I'm more interested in the design [and mostly the techniques.]

KM: What is your favorite story about travel, anywhere?

CP: Gosh that is impossible to answer. I don't know. There is a quilting related one. When I went to Turkey in 1997 there had been an article about a quilt guild in Istanbul and there was also an address along with the article in Quilter's Newsletter so I wrote to this woman sometime before I was planning to go and she arranged for [me to meet some of the members.] Actually, it turned out that she was in New England at the time but she wrote me a letter and although she wasn't going to be there at the time I was going to be there, she arranged for some of her quilt friends to come and pick me up at the hotel and it just happened I was there a day earlier than the tour I went on began. These ladies came and picked me up and we spent most of the day going to the place where they held their quilt meetings and they had just had a quilt show so they had a lot of quilts and they showed me their quilts and then we had lunch. I had a very lovely day being hosted by these wonderful women. Later that year they also were in Houston, so we got together, I mean for the Quilt Festival at Houston and had dinner one night. They all wanted to have Tex-Mex food, so we had a wonderful dinner together. I saw them a few more times during that time.

KM: What are quilts like in Turkey?

CP: Actually they were just like they are here [laughs.]. I was surprised that they were all very traditional American type quilts. The same traditional quilt designs that are done here. I didn't see anything really outstanding, but one of the women liked to do wearable art so she had some very unique clothing and I think later on she did show it at Houston. In fact, I think they had a show in Houston of their quilts, but I wasn't there that year.

KM: Did you like teaching?

CP: I always found teaching very difficult for me, but I enjoyed it. I don't know, I just never felt like a natural born teacher, I was urged into it in the beginning. I don't know. I just didn't feel like I was as good at teaching as a lot of other people are. It wasn't, it didn't come natural to me, I had to work at it. The way I worked at it, because I'm an artist designer (I was a graphic artist for many years) I always gave out a lot of handouts with diagrams and patterns and specific instructions because I had written books and I was used to writing instructions in detail. [laughs.] I don't know, during the class I don't think anybody looked at them. Maybe they did after the class, I'm not sure.

KM: Tell me about your experiences writing books.

CP: My first one was for Better Homes and Gardens, I used to do a lot of craft work back in the sixties. Well it started in the early ‘60's when crafts got so popular and a lot of the magazines featured crafts all the time. Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle and Women's Day were the primary ones that I used to work for. It began because I was working as a graphic artist in San Francisco and I used to look at these magazines and I always cut out the pictures and one day I looked at the small type on all of the pictures and they all said Jean Ray Lowry and I thought who is Jean Ray Lowry, I wish I could be like her. I started submitting ideas to magazines and eventually, well actually the first one I ever sent was, evolved into, I mean I had to work, redo it but anyway it did become published in Family Circle magazine and I did a lot of things for Better Homes and Garden. I also did embroidery kits for Paragon and Bucilla. At that time, everybody was into crafts and everybody was wearing real crafty clothes and I was making my share of clothing with a lot of embroidery or even needlepoint. I used to do a lot of needlepoint too. I did over 250 things that were published in magazines, most of them from about the middle sixties to the middle seventies. Then the trend sort of died out but then quilting came in real big and so I decided quilting was the thing I liked best because I could use appliqué in quilting. I just found that a good way to showcase the appliqué and then when I began getting requests for teaching classes and so on, I was happy to start doing that. I traveled somewhat. I haven't traveled around the country as much as a lot of the well known teachers have and I used to always wish that I could, but now when I go back and think about it I'm glad I didn't because I didn't know how you would have any time to do any actual work when you are out teaching all the time. One thing about teaching is that I found I always had to sort of go backwards and teach something that I had already done myself and I was kind of finished and through with it, but because that was what people knew me for, well then that is what I had to teach. I was always personally more interested in advancing forward and discovering something new.

KM: How many books have you written?

CP: Five. The first one was for Better Homes and Gardens in the early ‘70's [called "The Appliqué Book."] I wrote a book "Cutwork Appliqué" and one called "Mola Making" in the 80's, and then in '95 I had a book published by C&T; on "Schoolhouse Appliqué" and with AQS I did a book on "Mola Techniques for Today's Quilters."

KM: What is your first quilt memory?

CP: My mother always made quilts. My grandmother and aunts made quilts so I always knew about quilting but I was never interested in it. [I spent hours making and designing clothes for dolls. I even had a "fashion mannequin doll" similar to Barbie but long before her time.] When I was in high school I started learning how to make my own clothes but I used to say ‘as soon as I'm out earning some money I'm never going to make my own clothes again' but then when I was out earning my own money I discovered I couldn't find anything that fit me right so in the early 1960's I took a course in pattern drafting so I could learn how to make a pattern, design my own patterns and make them to fit me. [I tailored a series of business suits to wear to work.] That is how I started doing a lot of sewing. At that point I was serious enough to buy a sewing machine so I started just making clothes and then the quiltmaking came later. I also tried machine appliqué and I was doing all kinds of sewing techniques for the magazines and I did do machine appliqué too, but it was really quilting that made me more serious about having a good sewing machine.

KM: What were your favorite techniques and materials?

CP: For quilting?

KM: For quilting.

CP: I've always done appliqué. That has always been my favorite technique, any kind of appliqué. I mean any kind of hand appliqué. I've done some machine appliqué but I really don't like it as well.

KM: Why not?

CP: I find it's hard. I think it is much easier to appliqué by hand. It is much easier to control the whole process. Besides I like being able to sit quietly and do it, rather than have to sit at the sewing machine in a certain position for a long time. I always liked hand work much better than machine work, although I started machine quilting because my fingers used to get so sore when I was quilting by hand so I eventually started machine quilting or sometimes I will combine some hand quilting and machine quilting, but seriously machine quilting now. I haven't really done much quilting for the last ten years. I've sort of retired from it.

KM: Don't miss it at all?

CP: Not really. [I'm 81 and I enjoyed a good forty years of quilting and meeting fellow quilters but now I am catching up on all the reading I missed out on. I also exercise at the gym, in hopes of maintaining good health in my "old age."]

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CP: I have no idea [laughs.]. As far as I'm concerned, the more innovative a person is the much better. I like new ideas, something very creative that somebody has really dreamed up themselves rather than repeating other people's techniques and quilting. I like it much better when people can think of something for themselves.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

CP: How do I want to be remembered? [KM hums.]. I guess for contributing some appliqué techniques to the quilting world. I don't know. I never worried about being remembered. I always enjoyed doing the techniques and just doing it is what I like more than anything. I never cared anything about owning the quilt or being well known for it or anything else.

KM: Have you sold your quilts?

CP: I have sold quilts. I've done some commission work but I don't really like to work on commission so much. Some of the commission things I've done have been fun. The thing is I've been going through all my pictures from my whole life and scanning them and putting them on a CD and that has made me go back and look at things that I did that I had forgotten about. The other thing is, it is wonderful to go back and remember people that I've forgotten about as I go through all these old pictures. I then remembered some of the commissions. I didn't know I had done so many. I haven't done that many but it was more than I thought I had done back in the seventies, eighties mostly. They weren't always quilts. They were clothing, vests and jackets. I don't know, 45 minutes is a long time [laughs.]

KM: [laughs.] What advice would you offer someone starting out?

CP: Oh gosh, I don't know. I just think that if you really want to do something you will just do it. You do what you want to do. You don't have to wait for somebody to tell you what to do. I mean it is good to take some classes if you are not sure about something you want to do and you want to find a better way to do it, because when you read some of the beginning quilters, the way some of them started out without really having ever taken any lessons it can be kind of funny. Just follow what you want to do and don't worry about what other people are going to think about it. That is what I think bogs people down is that they are so afraid that their friend is going to think they are weird because they want to use this color with that color or something like that. I don't know, I just get bored with people who are afraid to go and do what they really have in their guts that they wanted to do.

KM: Whose works were you drawn to and why?

CP: What?

KM: Whose works were you drawn to and why? Which quiltmakers really excited you? You talk about Jean Ray Lowry.

CP: I used to love everything Jean Ray Lowry did back in the 1960's and then as more quilters came on, Nancy Crow and let's see, one time I went on a quilt trip with a girl in Lawrence, Kansas, what is her name, I can't think of her name.

KM: You can add it later.

CP: Later, when I was in Lawrence, Kansas, I went to visit her and I was just astonished at her quilts. I can't think of her name. One of the things I have to look up later. [Jean Mitchell. I thought of it the minute I hung up the phone.]

KM: That is fine.

CP: There are so many. I always like Faye Anderson quilts. Yvonne Porcella, I always loved what she did. Nancy Crow. Pamela Studstill and Sue Benner are two quilters whose work I really enjoy. And I can't go without mentioning Michael James and his innovations that have added so much to quilting. Katie Pasquini is very creative and always coming up with a new technique. These are people who really are very clever. I mean they just go and do what they really want to do. They don't wait for somebody else to like it or not like it. One thing that bothers me is when people enter shows and they are heart broken if they don't win an award. I just never, when I enter a show, I just never think about it winning an award. I'm not entering it to win somebody's approval. I'm entering it to show people what I do. Actually awards never really win my heart over. I just never cared about awards one way or the other. Of course if they included money that was always nice. [KM laughs.] It was always great if somebody liked something I did, but that wasn't my main interest in entering a show. Some quilters also can't face being rejected from a juried show. I always think it is a crap shoot. You enter and hope for the best. If you don't make it into a show, so what? If there are 1200 quilt entries and only 80 are picked, it doesn't mean your quilts are not good. It just means the judges had to make a lot of difficult decisions to make it a harmonious show.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction?

CP: I've always been an artist. For many years I did graphic package design work. I've been an artist all my life. Quiltmaking came much later. Artist first, quilter second, retired quilter now.

KM: Describe your studio.

CP: It is really the master bedroom in this house. The house I lived in before it was also the master bedroom because When I am asleep, I don't have to be in a big room, but when I'm working I do need to be in a big room. I have one entry hall into the studio and it is all white storage units, drawers and shelves and cabinets, and that is where I store everything. I had a special sewing machine table made when I did my first book. I kind of told a furniture designer who I met at an art festival what I wanted. I showed him the exact dimensions I wanted and how I wanted the drawers and a thread cabinet and so he designed it and that has always been my treasured piece of furniture. It is a special L shaped sewing machine table. I have plenty of room on my left side for the quilt or whatever, so it won't keep falling on the floor. I've always had a studio couch so I can do my hand sewing there. Actually I spend all my time in the studio. [I have a TV, CD and tape player, radio.] I have a desk and I still have an old typewriter that I never use anymore except to fill out a form. I have lots of other bookshelves besides the shelves in the storage units. I have other bookshelves too around the studio and I have a special little cabinet I bought at K-Mart for storing shoes and I have lots of fabric folded up in all the little cubicles sorted out. I usually have my studio pretty organized except for the desk. The desk is always cluttered up with paper and junk that I don't know how to sort out. [I also have a work table. I used to have a large one but then realized that at this house, I had it in a corner so I could not walk around it so most of it was useless. It had a lot of drawers and slots underneath for storing so I had to give that up with the table. I sold it and bought a smaller table. By that time my quilting time was diminishing.] The big problem has always been how to store quilts. This is not a very good way, but I have them all rolled up on shelves in the closet, on the upper shelves of the closet and then I have plastic nailed to the wall so that it will keep them from getting dusty. They are all rolled up and piled on top of each other. I never had a really good way to store them. I don't know whether anybody has a really good way to store quilts.

KM: What do you plan to do with your quilts?

CP: I don't know, that is my big problem in life, what am I going to do with them? I don't have any children and I've given many away to my nieces and nephews but I think they have all they want and I'm afraid if I mention it again they will say ‘oh there is Aunt Charlotte trying to unload her quilts again.' I don't know. That is a real problem. What do people do with their quilts? I'm hoping that I can give my Mola collection to the textile museum in San Jose, California. I had them on display there one time so I'm hoping that they will take them. The next time I have to move, I hope that they will take them off my hands. Otherwise I don't know what I will do with my Molas. The quilts are another problem. I wish somebody would find a good answer for what to do with quilts. That's probably the main reason I've stopped making quilts because they pile up and I really don't know what to do with them. I know that sounds like a dumb reason to quit I guess, but I'm practical. [I plan to give some to friends and quilters.]

KM: Is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude our interview?

CP: I can't really think of anything else right now.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day and sharing with me.

CP: Okay you are welcome [laughs.]. I hope it's something worthwhile.

KM: I think you are very worthwhile.

CP: Thank you.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview. It is now 4:25.



“Charlotte Patera,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,