Jo Ann Jacobi




Jo Ann Jacobi




Jo Ann Jacobi


Joanne Gasperik

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Mukwonago, Wisconsin


Joanne Gasperik


Joanne Gasperik (JG): This is Joanne Gasperik. Today's date is November 12, 2003. It is 6:16 p.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Jo Ann Jacobi for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are in our guild meeting hall in Mukwonago, in Wisconsin. Thank you, Jo Ann for allowing me to interview you today. Tell me about your quilt, the origin and who made it, describe it to us, the patterns, materials that were used.

Jo Ann Jacobi (JJ): The quilt is titled "Jo's Garden." I appliquéd the top and my friend, Penny Gerds quilted it. I was inspired by an 1850's--I should say circa 1850's Wisconsin quilt that was published in the Wisconsin quilt history book, "Wisconsin Quilts, Stories in the Stitches" by Ellen Kort. This quilt was made in a very primitive area, now known as Green Bay. Then it was called Bay Settlement, by a woman and her daughter as a wedding gift. The quilt had never been used and so was pristine when it was documented sometime in the past 5 years and was one of the quilts selected to be published. There is a full page picture of the quilt and by the inspiration of the beautiful colors and the very folkloric representations of flowers I decided to make that quilt for myself. At about that same time, this was December of 2001, I had been asked to chair the raffle quilt committee for the Wisconsin Quilters Incorporated Symposium, also known as the Quilting Bee, to be held in 2003. The two events coincided that I had to make a raffle or spearhead a raffle quilt committee. I was very inspired to make a particular quilt that was very historic to Wisconsin. It spoke to me artistically that I determined that I would work on that particular quilt. So I had nothing but the photograph from the book to go by. It is a medallion style with successive borders which allowed by virtue of altering the proportions of the sashing to go from a square center medallion to a rectangular bed quilt. Thank goodness for graph paper, because that's where I started. My father was a draftsman and an engineer, so I have some of his tools and I used his caliper and my very detailed engineering graph paper so that I could determine what the proportion of the different borders and the sashing needed to be. I first sketched it out, and then tried to mathematically figure it to a standard bed quilt size. I was aiming for 80 [inches.] by 90 [inches.]. I know that in cutting one of the borders I mis-cut and ended up making it narrower than I had originally intended, but that's how the plan of the quilt began. Then I was lucky enough to have someone else's money to spend when I went fabric shopping. The fabric acquisition phase is always fun to do. The original inspiration quilt was made on a very plain background. I chose 2 different natural and tan checks: one a windowpane and the other just like a gingham check for my backgrounds, because it wasn't possible to find enough to all of one of the two fabrics, but they worked very well together. Then the blue fabric was the next. That is the picture framing sashing around the different border areas. Keeping with the folk art tradition, the colors that were so beautiful were the red and green and various shades of cheddar, or gold, to set it off. I used a variety of different fabrics for different texture. Creating the original medallion and all of the borders were done mainly by freehand drawing. I used the paper-cut method to figure out the first border which is the most symmetrical, folding the paper in fours and sketching until I found a center floral that worked well with sort of a mariner's compass star center and differing slightly from the original. My drawings were based on my artistic background. Every piece was then retraced onto Wonder Under © which was then fused onto the back of the fabric and cut and fused onto the background fabric. I use a method of fusing where in overlapping different colors, I trim away the base or bottom layer, leaving just a quarter of an inch footing for the next color to be attached to, so it would be possible to quilt through it. In some spots things were layered on top of others without the benefit of cutting the background away, just because an additional detail or flourish was needed. The next border features birds on trees, which is a very traditional, folkloric motif and rosemaling. In the original there were no birds. I put those in because the motif that she used had a similar shape, but was not exactly the same, but the 4 flowers coming towards the center from the corner were taken almost directly from it, and free-hand drawn, sketched. Then there was the next blue border and the second to the last border which is the widest of all of them has very representational prairie-type flowers, similar to what I have in my garden and I imagine that they had growing on the prairies of Wisconsin in the 1800's. Another border of blue and then the last I tried to work from the original and used very thistle-like or dandelion-like leaves and spade-type flowers with a more embellished one [in the.] center top and bottom. I worked on each panel separately which did make it very easy to do a narrow zigzag over the raw edge of the fused appliqué, rather than piecing the whole top together and then trying to do the appliqué stitching, because there was a lot of turning and in and out. I sew on a Designer 1 Husqvarna Viking sewing machine which has a sensor system, so the foot automatically raises when the needle is in a pivot position, which made it quite a bit easier, too. For the long curving stems I did use bias bars and shaped the bias as I pressed it down. Positioning all of the flowers I used an overlay method. I had originally done my sketches on a Swedish tracing paper, which you can see through very easily. I pinned each of the pieces onto the tracing, the Swedish paper, laid it down, released the pins and then pressed with the iron so that I was trying to get things in the same spots, top and bottom and right to left, and I think it turned out very well.

JG: Yes, yes. I have seen the original. We were fortunate to have it at the [Wisconsin Quilting Bee and.] Show in October 2003, just now and the two of them, by comparison, it's a wonderful reproduction. A beautiful reproduction. Now, you did mention that it was a raffle quilt, so it was--how hard was it to give it up after so much time?

JJ: It wasn't hard at all. I just had a moment just before is spoke to Ruth Ann from Oshkosh, who was the winner, and I thought, 'Oh, my goodness. What if this is a person who just bought a raffle ticket to be nice and they have no appreciation of quilts.' My fears were totally allayed because she is a quilter herself and was absolutely thrilled to have won the quilt. She understands the work and the value of it.

JG: Yes, yes. Wonderful. Very exciting. Well, so tell me about your interest in quilting. When did you get started in quilting?

JJ: I started quilting in about 1978, taking a few courses at the adult vocational school in my area, because I had recently gotten married and we need a blanket for our bed.

JG: That sounds familiar [laughs.]

JJ: Many of the people start that way. It took me 6 years to finish that quilt. I still have it. Its hand quilted with huge stitches. No one had told me you weren't supposed to use yellow, which is another myth. But it's mostly yellow and red and other fabrics from my family's stash. Then there was quite a hiatus, while that quilt languished unfinished in the closet. Eleanor Burns introduced "Quilt in a Day" theory to the world. I was working at a fabric shop at that point and was asked to give a 15 minute demonstration. So I took the book home and a bunch of fabric and I ripped my strips and I sewed them and it turned out that it was really fun, so I made the demonstration quilt and about 6 others. Then someone invented the rotary cutter, which made life so much simpler. I began watching quilting programs on television--Georgia Bonesteel's program and Eleanor Burns "Quilt in a Day" series. I did tape them and draw my own templates, which I had learned in my first class, and then proceeded to quilt. Also about that time I joined Wisconsin Quilters Inc. [someone is playing piano in the background.] and began attending quilt shows, something that I didn't know existed and found out that there were other crazy people like me, who would buy perfectly good fabric, cut it up and sew it back together [JG: yes.] and that also lead me into a great appreciation of history and women's lives in the founding of our country.

JG: Yes. Yes. Yes, indeed. So you really were one of the pioneers, you know, since 1978, that goes way back. And you saw incredible changes, tearing fabric! [laugh.] You know! Not too many of us nowadays would consider doing that.

JJ: My first supply list was a good pair of scissors, rubber cement and sand paper, because you glued that on the bottom of your cardboard templates [JG laughs.] to keep it from slipping, while you traced it with your number 2 pencil. [both laugh.]

JG: Oh, goodness, [laughing.] so how many hours a week do you quilt today?

JJ: I try and quilt at least 3 or 4 hours a week. I am not always successful. I work a full-time job and take care of a house and have to cook and do laundry, as we all do, I'm sure [JG: yes.] but--

JG: So you work in a fabric shop and sewing machine shop, do you have a chance there to do demonstrations, for work?

JJ: Selling machines, so I don't actually get a chance to sew or quilt myself, for myself.

JG: What is your first quilt memory? The first time you every saw, laid eyes on a quilt.

JJ: Other than pictures, I have a quilt top that I rescued from my grandmother's house, which was hand pieced. I believe it's a Crazy Ann pattern in green and white and my grandmother used to tie comforters with heavy wool batt. The first quilts that I actually remember seeing were more on television and in books.

JG: Yes, so in '78 basically. So was your grandmother's quilt, was that before '78?

JJ: No, it was about that time.

JG: About the same time.

JJ: And no one knows if she made it or if she just bought it as a top, thinking that she'd have it finished at some point.

JG: No provenance.

JJ: None what so ever.

JG: Awe.

JJ: I still plan on reproducing that one too.

JG: Who has influenced you in your quilting? Which teachers or what inspires you?

JJ: A lot of teachers have inspired me. The first class that I took from a nationally known teacher, Nancy Halperin was a great influence on me, because before that I was working from "101 Quilt Patterns," the Ruby McKim book and found that many of those lovely drawings didn't fit together, so there was a lot of frustration. Nancy also approached quilting from a much more pictorial and artistic view, rather than just traditional patterns. I do tend to think of myself as more of a traditionalist, but I am open to everybody's influences. I love taking as many classes and seeing as many shows as I possibly can, just to view which direction things are going in.

JG: Yes. Right. Are there other quilters among your family?

JJ: No, I'm the only one.

JG: The only one. And no one in line to inspire, no one behind you, no sisters, no--

JJ: No. They will let me make quilts for them and they love them. [JG laughs.] My mother is an artist, but she works in clay. She's a potter and she also is a glass artist, so she works in hard materials. We relate on that level, because we're putting pieces together and we're working with color, but I'm the only one in my family that deals in cloth.

JG: How does quilting impact your family, you and your husband? How does that impact?

JJ: Well, our lower level is full of fabric, so he knows that I'm very much inspired by the sensualness of the fabric, but Doug really appreciates my artistic outlet. He has no problems with it, although he does notice threads all over the house at times but he's very supportive. He too works in a field where color and form are very important. So I often have to bounce ideas off of him too, 'Does this color look better here? Is the balance of this layout good? Should we move things around?' He does help as much as he can.

JG: That's great, when you can do that, when your husband has that artistic sense that can balance. Sometimes you can tell him, 'No I don't agree with that,' but sometimes they have good ideas. It's amazing. Do you sleep under a quilt?

JJ: We sleep under three quilts in the wintertime or more and in the summertime at least one.

JG: And these are made by you then?

JJ: They're all made by me.

JG: Ohh. Good. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time? Has it helped you?

JJ: Definitely. When I was, the marriage that I referred to back in '78 ended in divorce. I lived alone for a number of years and pieced most every night, while listening to television, just to keep busy. A lot of the sense of accomplishment of getting quilts and other pieces done, and also learning about entering shows and doing that, had a lot to do with my self-esteem. Joining quilt guilds has definitely given me a wide circle of friends and acquaintances that it has enriched my life totally.

JG: Yes, it's very rich. It's what I hear from all quilters. What do you find pleasing about quilting?

JJ: I love the process of quilting. I like getting things done, yes. But the actual act of sitting and sewing and stitching, I find very relaxing and almost meditative.

JG: Do you like all aspects of quilting? Some favorites, some not?

JJ: There are some favorites and some less favorite. Sewing the binding by hand around a king-sized quilt is probably the bottom of the list, and putting that sleeve on ,when it's all done, is not high on the list, but it's still something that's pleasant.

JG: It finishes it, yes I know.

JJ: Yes, it finishes it.

JG: King-sized binding, anywhere from 16 to 20 hours [laughs.]

JJ: Yeah.

JG: Do you teach other people how to quilt?

JJ: Not professionally, but I do spend time with other girls at work, and I help them figure out how to do projects. And I show them different techniques. We have a young man who is working with us at the sewing machine shop. He primarily teaches computer programming for the embroidery machines. Well, I've got him paper-piecing now. I myself have no time for this, but I help everybody else. [laughs.]

JG: Sharing is an important aspect of quilting, it is. Have you won any special awards?

JJ: Well, "Jo's Garden" did get first place at the Crazy Quilters Show, and I was absolutely thrilled.

JG: Congratulations.

JJ: And I do have to mention, I did not do the machine quilting on the piece. That was done by a very proficient friend, Penny Gerds. We entered in the group category.

JG: Well, it was a raffle quilt, and there was a raffle quilt committee, so yes, it wouldn't have been a one person job. Do you document your quilts? Do you photograph them? Do you record the process along the way?

JJ: I do photograph them when they're finished. I do keep a record on the labels that I attach to all the quilts, when approximately it was started and when it was finished, who it was for and my name and address. But I haven't gotten myself into the journaling of quilts at this point.

JG: Mmhmm, mmhmm, but do you take photographs along the way, of the process?

JJ: Yes I do and the finished ones, unless I don't have film in and the quilt has to go to a baby shower or something then they get away from me but I have photographs of most of everything that I have done.

JG: What would you like your quilting legacy to be?

JJ: Oh, my goodness.

JG: To be remembered--

JJ: I would like to be remembered as someone who made proficient quilts.

JG: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JJ: I think a great quilt is like a great painting. It speaks to someone artistically. It has color harmonies. It has balance and it has interest and can be a focal point to a room, perhaps, as well as functioning as a quilt, as a bedcovering, something to keep you warm.

JG: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JJ: The same thing that you would say in a work of art is powerful, that is has a sense of color. It has a sense of drama. There is motion. It keeps you eye moving around the piece, just like it would, if you were looking at a nature scene.

JG: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or for a special collection?

JJ: Well, I think, for a quilt to be appropriate for a museum would have to have some historical significance, or timely significance. [talking and laughing in the background.]I know contemporary quilts that are collected now, would be so, because they speak of a particular cultural change, or cultural recognition. Also the artistic flow, even in quilting among traditional quilts, we have not necessarily fads, but we have different currents that run through, and different themes, that speak of a particular, almost school of quilting, just there are schools or salons of painting.

JG: Do you think that there should be different types of museums that take in quilts? Specialty quilt museums or can some quilts go into an art museum as we know art museums?

JJ: Oh, I think that there are quilts that should be included in art museums. I think there should be quilt and textile museums just for the preservation of quilts as we know them now, so that there is a historical record in the future, what was going on from the 80's through 2000, just like we're now studying and going back and trying to find the older quilts or any of the surviving women's art.

JG: Well, in a way, because of the quilt history project in Wisconsin, you were inspired to make this reproduction that we're discussing now, this beautiful quilt, which was--go back in history and take 160 year old quilt and revive it again and make it current. What do you think makes a great quilter?

JJ: I think a great quilter is skilled and proficient, but also has an artistic side to her that she makes things that are beautiful. I also think a great quilter tries to make as many quilts as possible, not necessarily masterpieces, but just quilts for charity and for sharing in her family and other causes.

JG: Okay. How do great quilters--how do you think they learn the art of quilting, you know, how do they learn to design or chose colors. Is there a special--something special that they learn?

JJ: I think they do it by trial and error and making a lot of mistakes and finding out what works and building on that.

JG: Just trial and error and error. How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting and now longarm quilting is entering into the picture? How do you feel about those different techniques?

JJ: I love to hand quilt but I don't have much time, so I learned to machine quilt and I'm trying to work on my expertise in that area. I've also had quilts finished by longarm machine quilters because of dead-lines, so I think that they're all appropriate and fill a need. And I think that neither is better than the other, I think they should all be judged on their own merit and their own technical difficulties and not compared one against the other.

JG: Hopefully we can get over those prejudices.

JJ: Yes!

JG: Why is quilting important to your life?

JJ: It keeps me busy. It keeps me planning things, moving ahead. It keeps my hands busy. It keeps me from getting bored and it also gives me an opportunity to get out of the house when I don't feel like being there, to hang out with other quilters and to make things.

JG: Yes. Do you think your quilts reflect your community or region in any way?

JJ: Oh I know "Jo's Garden" does. It definitely pulled things out of me that my Germanic heritage, the prairie flowers that are around, in my garden, on the roadside. I've always been influenced by nature, for colors, even though some of them have not been totally successful, but I think they really do reflect my surrounding and my time period, too. [background talking noises are increasing.]

JG: I've heard some people say, 'Oh, yes, you can tell that she's from the Midwest, she uses certain colors.' Do you prefer certain colors or do you try to go across the palette of color?

JJ: I prefer certain colors, but I do always try and force myself outside of just the same sorts of colors, so that things can change and keep growing.

JG: Yes, and reach a little bit. How do you think, what do you think of the importance of quilts in American life?

JJ: Well, I've heard it said just recently that there are three things that are inherently American, quilts are one of them, jazz is the other and the last is the blues. So I think it reflects our society and it's something that we're sharing with the world, but an American patchwork quilt will always stand out differently from a European patchwork or Japanese or other oriental quilt because our cultural upbringing and background are different.

JG: In what ways do you think that quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

JJ: I think so few women had a true outlet to express themselves. They couldn't express themselves politically and to this day I think that there is still some repression, maybe self-imposed that people do, that politically or in any other sense that they can't just stand up and say what they mean, but they can put it down in a quilt, using symbolism, using colors. Some are more blatant than others. Quilters like Terry Hancock Mangat who can just paint out a scene which means something and others have to be a lot more subtle but I think it's truly the way that women express themselves.

JG: Different events in their lives, perhaps, something that has changed them.

JJ: Oh, yes. And participating in a community quilt, for example, someone will be in touch and say we need a quilt block for this or a quilt block for that. I am helping to make blocks for a breast cancer quilt, which, you know. I'd like to volunteer and just participate in group events, which is another way that women produce art. They do it communally.

JG: How do you think that quilts can be used?

JJ: Quilts can be used on the bed and just for family enjoyment. They can be used as objects of art, for raffles for auctions, for raising money. They can be used to decorate public buildings, especially if it is something like a community event quilt. It's very nice walking into a doctor's office, for example, and seeing a quilt on the wall. It kind of has a calming effect, that somebody spent several hours making this, and isn't it pleasing to the eye? Quilts really help when they're around.

JG: How are your quilts used? What do you do with your quilts?

JJ: I display them in the living room and on the bed and we use them, we wrap up in them. Smaller ones I hang on the walls at times, I even have gone and hung quilts on my front door at some point in time, little holiday quilts. [background noise and talking gets louder.]

JG: What do you think the future holds for quilting?

JJ: I think there are more and more quilters coming up and I think they are going to continue to study and push the boundaries. There are several extremely talented men who are starting to quilt, too, which is going to put a different slant on it. I think that quilting and other related needle arts are going to continue to become stronger.

JG: We're coming close to an end in the interview, is there any message that you would like to give to the quilters, to people reading this interview? Is there anything that you really need to convey that we haven't touched on?

JJ: Oh, just that quilting itself is quite a bit of fun and it's a very pleasant way of sharing yourself and your talent.

JG: What's your next project coming up?

JJ: Actually I have an inkling that I'm going to make another "Jo's Garden" quilt from the pattern that I've done and the coloring is going to be very different.

JG: You know, we started out saying that you were thinking of making this quilt for yourself. Will this be your quilt, the one that you have planned--

JJ: Yes, it will.

JG: Will you keep it?

JJ: That one I'll keep.

JG: And so different colors, but still with the focus, looking over your shoulder to the original quilt.

JJ: Yes.

JG: How very nice. How very nice. And the process will be the same, you will machine appliqué--

JJ: Yes, I will.

JG: And machine quilt?

JJ: Yes. I'll do the machine quilting myself, this time.

JG: That sounds like a wonderful project. Is there anything else that you'd like to mention?

JJ: No.

JG: Well, in that case, I would like to thank you, Jo Ann.

JJ: Thank you, Joanne.

JG: For talking to me today for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We have concluded this interview at 6:55. Thank you very much.

JJ: You're welcome. Thank you!

[tape ends.]

Note added from JJ: Terry Hancock Mangat of Cincinnati, Ohio is a quilter who began to use the techniques that I call fabric collage or art quilting as early as 1990. I became aware of her work as it was included in the "Quilts San Diego Visions" exhibits, juried quilt exhibits at the Museum of San Diego History. What I perceived as revolutionary is her willingness to include "found objects" to embellish her quilts and each piece used a symbolic language to convey an idea.

Footnote about the quilt - "Jo's Garden" won a blue ribbon in Group at American Quilter's Society, Paducah, Kentucky, 2004.



“Jo Ann Jacobi,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,