Joyce S. Rupp




Joyce S. Rupp




Joyce S. Rupp


Eleanor Wilkinson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Battle Creek, Michigan


Eleanor Wilkinson


[Photographs courtesy of Laura Craig and Carol L. Scott.]

Eleanor Wilkinson (EW): This is Eleanor Wilkinson. It's June 11, 2010, at 10:35 a.m. I'm interviewing Joyce Rupp for the South Central Michigan Q.S.O.S. project. It's a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. We are at Joyce's home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Let's begin by talking about the quilt that you brought in today ["Joyous Spirit".] Does this have a special meaning for you?

Joyce Rupp (JR): It was a commission by the local Kellogg Community College to design an original piece using my interpretation of what their thoughts were, which would be an abstract, ageless, colorful piece that would hang in the lobby of the theater at the college. It is part of a collection of thirty-four art pieces, and this was going to be the first quilt that will be part of their collection.

EW: It strikes me that this is a different type of quilt than what you have normally made. Did this present any unusual problems for you?

JR: I think that having to design the quilt, itself, took me more time than I'm usually willing to put into a quilt. I have found many artists that are in the quilting world that do wonderful design work, and I feel that I can interpret their designs in my own way and so, therefore, I usually put my own spin on a design, but I feel I have so many quilts to make that I want to do that rather than doing an original piece. I have done original pieces, and probably abstract or non-representational is something that I haven't done a lot of.

EW: I think you were very successful at it.

JR: Oh, thank you.

EW: Why did you choose this quilt to talk about at this interview?

JR: Well, it's my most recent piece. It probably took the most amount of time and I think the people that saw the piece, the committee that consigned it to me, or commissioned it to me, were impressed with my interpretation.

EW: What do you think that someone viewing this quilt might conclude about you?

JR: Interesting question. First I finish things, which in the quilting world isn't always an accomplishment of lots of people, or a goal. I think they think of me as an artist. I also think the people that look at the quilt and pieces of fabric that are in the quilt and the color feel the diversity of my thoughts in my interpretation, which I like because I have a liking of all things of our earth.

EW: I notice that you used quite a lot of different fabrics in this quilt.

JR: There are over 400 to 500 fabrics in the quilt.

EW: Different fabrics.

JR: Different.

EW: That's pretty impressive.

JR: You can tell that I have a lovely stash.

EW: And this quilt is going to hang there indefinitely?

JR: Yes.

EW: And it belongs to the school?

JR: It belongs to the school. They started their art program in 2003 and since 2003, through their foundation and private donors they have commissioned thirty-four works. And I really encouraged them as a quilter and as a supporter of the quilts in our community and quilters, to include more than one quilt, which they feel that they will in the future.

EW: Well, I think yours was a good start for them.

JR: Hopefully.

EW: Let's talk a little bit about your interest in quiltmaking. When did you start quiltmaking?

JR: In 1997 a couple friends knew that I had sewn throughout my life and wondered why I wasn't quilting. So they kind of put a bug in my bonnet. And then I had a granddaughter that her mother wanted me to make a table covering for a round table in the nursery. And so that just pushed me forward although I had already purchased some books and visited a couple of quilt stores. But I was really a person that did not have any other exposure to quilts. I didn't know anyone directly that did it at the time and I just felt that when I retired I really wanted to do something in a career or pastime, either one, that would pass the time or create a new interest in my life. Because I had been very, very busy with my family and work over the last thirty-some years.

EW: So would you say you really started quilting when you retired?

JR: Yes. I did a couple of pieces in the year before I retired but--

EW: Essentially it's just happened since then.

JR: Yes.

EW: From whom did you learn to quilt?

JR: I ordered three books through a book club and read them thoroughly. They were all on quilting and at that time I didn't even know what a sandwich was in a quilt. I didn't know what batting was all about. I didn't know when you put them together, how you did it. So one of the books took me from beginning to end and that's where I made my first two quilts out of. And I kept dabbling and got a little bit more passionate about it. Then a friend called and said, 'Would you like to join a quilt circle?' And I said, 'What is a quilt circle?' So she explained that it's a group of women that get together and share knowledge and fun things about their lives, with each other, a fellowship of sorts. So I joined that and found that I knew nothing about quilting and learned from all of those experienced quilters. Then they asked me if I wanted to join a guild. I said, 'What's a guild?' So they took me to a meeting and the first meeting I went to was a national speaker and I said, 'Woo, there is something to this quilting that I really like. There's lots of different ways to go about it.'

EW: Would you say that you learned more from your friends or from classes or were you essentially self taught?

JR: I would say I was self taught. But I kept asking questions and learned from others and it was a couple of years before I took a first class. A national speaker came and my friend encouraged me to take the class. So I learned from that speaker, and that was my first class. So I'd say it was 2001, 2002 before I actually took a class.

EW: Have you taken other classes since then?

JR: Oh, lots. I've taken them regularly to support the guild but I also take them when I go to national shows such as Paducah [Kentucky.] or the National Quilting Association in Columbus [Ohio.] I feel they have lots to teach me and there's always something new I'm going to learn and then to turn it around and do it my own way.

EW: How many hours do you work, do you quilt, a week?

JR: Some weeks I spend 80 hours quilting. Other weeks, I spend five.

EW: Is this a matter of scheduling, or other things happening?

JR: Family things and scheduling with my teaching and my other things that I like to do.

EW: What do you think your first memory of quilting is?

JR: My first memory of quilting--I had one of my Mom's brother's wife was a quilter, so it would be an aunt or mine. She did quilting as long as I can remember. Although I was I was always on the periphery. It was like when we went to the house, it was busy doing family things but she was a quilter.

EW: Were there any other quilters in your family that you were connected with?

JR: My mother's grandmother, or my mother's, mother's mother, was a quilter, but I never really saw any of her work. I just knew that she was a quilter through family stories that are written in our genealogy.

EW: How does quiltmaking, your quiltmaking, impact your family?

JR: It keeps them warm. They make very nice gifts because you can personalize them. We're kind of all absorbed in my quilting life.

EW: When you personalize a quilt, do you mean that you are making something that appeals to an interest of theirs or do you write their names on the quilt, or--

JR: There's always a special label on each quilt that I make for one of my family members. But, also, I tried to include what their interest is or what their favorite colors, or their activities surrounding them at the time.

EW: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

JR: Well, luckily for me, since I began quilting there has not been a lot of difficult times in my family. That's a very happy thing for me. We have had many, many sadnesses like all families do, but they were prior to my quiltmaking.

EW: Do you have a feeling that quiltmaking might be therapeutic or a distraction or anything of that sort?

JR: I think quiltmaking, for me, is something that my hands and mind can create and I've become very passionate about it. In my life I've been passionate about many things but this is my current passion and I am totally absorbed in it. But, when you retire from one position, you have to create a new world for yourself. My world is creating quilts, in addition to my family and friends.

EW: Do you recall any amusing experiences that have occurred in your quiltmaking career?

JR: I think that when I've gone to quilt shows with friends or been a participant in a quilt show, or worked with fellow quilters, it fulfills a need in me to have joyful experiences.

EW: Okay. What do you find that's pleasing about quiltmaking?

JR: Creating things with my own hands. Observing other people; they are busy in their lives but they don't have anything to show for it and I like something to show for it.

EW: I do too. Are there any aspects of quilting that you enjoy more than others?

JR: This is a funny thing. When I first started quilting--I have a love affair with my sewing machine. The sewing machine and I just love to go at it. And I said that I would never hand appliqué, ever, ever, ever. I saw a pattern in a periodical that caught my fancy and I said, 'Hmmm, it has appliqué. Maybe I'd better learn to appliqué.' Well, then I proceeded to learn appliqué. And, of course, I thought at the time there was only one way to appliqué and after taking classes from various speakers and teachers, I have found that there are many, many ways. Now I teach my own preferred method and find that that's really enjoyable. To put a little bit of appliqué on each piece, that certainly deserves it. I also think that it gives softness to any precision piecing. It gives that little bit of softness.

EW: Another layer? It makes it more personal

JR: I think so.

EW: Are there any aspects of quilting that you don't enjoy?

JR: I love the color selection. I love the pattern or the design selection. After the fabrics are all chosen, if there is a lot of repetitive action to it, I get bored by it. So if I'm doing one block and it has multiple pieces and I'm going to do that block multiple times you will see in my quilts that there are either different colors or I've gotten very bored by the process. So I guess it's the construction of repetitive things.

EW: Do you find that when you're doing a quilt with many blocks of the same kind, that you really do try to incorporate different fabrics in them?

JR: Oh, yes.

EW: Does it affect your overall plan of colors or--

JR: No, I think about it before I start putting it together, because if it's going to be a larger quilt I have to find a way to put variations in it, whether it's the size of the blocks or different types of fabrics, the colors that blend into all the different aspects of it, yeah.

EW: How do you decide what color way to use?

JR: Well, it depends on where the quilt is going. If it's for my own personal use, then I select the colors that are pleasing to me. If it is for a family member or for a commission, I have to think of where it's going to be and what their preferred colors are. So, it's a variety of things.

EW: Do you start with an inspiration fabric?

JR: Fabrics all inspire me. [laughs.] But usually there is a focus fabric in mind. Sometimes it's a design and the design talks to me about what fabrics should be in that quilt. But, also, I like to choose fabrics with nothing in mind and so that I can have that fabric when the design talks to me.

EW: When you're at a quilt shop, do you find some fabrics so compelling that you must buy them even if you have no plan?

JR: Certainly. That's a true quilter. [laughs.] I think it's also a true artist. I feel that we as quilters have so much more to choose from to create art, because the designs in the fabrics also create part of the art. So, when I'm looking at a collection of fabrics, whether it's in a quilt shop or in my own studio, I think of them as a collective group to create a piece of art.

EW: Your palette?

JR: My palette.

EW: Do you have a particular style or type of fabric that you prefer?

JR: Well, if you look at the quilts around you here, you'll find that I like just about everything. I like a lot of color. I've tried to think of myself making a white and tan quilt, but I'd have to end up putting some appliqué on it to add a lot of color. So, I love color.

EW: You wouldn't make a bland quilt.

JR: That would be hard.

EW: Yes. What art or quilt groups do you belong to?

JR: I belong to the Cal-Co Quilters' Guild [Battle Creek, Michigan.], the Ladies of the Lake Circle or bee, the Syncopated Threads art circle. I belong to the Sew and Sews, who create quilts for charitable purposes, such as our veterans or quilts for children. I also belong to the Art Center [of Battle Creek.] I belong to AQS [American Quilter's Society.] and NQA [National Quilting Association.].

EW: Let's talk a little bit about the technology involved in quiltmaking. How do you think that advances in technology have influenced your work?

JR: Well, when I started quilting I had a 1962 Singer Touch-n-Sew Slant-needle and I could make any quilt I wanted to on that. But, I had always wanted another brand and it makes me feel good that I have the capabilities of those machines. I have two now. That lets me do the degree of quilting in a quilt that I would not necessarily have had, had I not had it. I think that's true with all quilters that grab onto a technology. If they can incorporate that in the pleasure of creating their art, then it has fulfilled and it's fulfilling many. The technology is fulfilling many, many quilters' desires in completing their works.

EW: Would you say that your favorite technique is in appliqué as opposed to piecing or is there a difference to you?

JR: Depends on the project. I get the same gratification from, probably, both things. But there is another technology, another aspect of quilting, not technology, of quilting. That is quilting the quilt itself. I think there are three separate things, the piecing, the appliqué and the quilting. I try to include all three of those aspects in each of my quilts.

EW: Do you machine quilt?

JR: Yes.

EW: Is that your preference?

JR: That's my preference. I told you I have a love affair with my sewing machine.

EW: I believe that. Do you ever hand quilt?

JR: I have hand quilted three pieces. And I scrunch. I don't put it on a frame or in a frame, because I didn't want to take the time to learn it. But, I certainly did enjoy the process when I was doing it. But I have too many quilts to make. I can't just do that.

EW: What do you mean by scrunch?

JR: Rather than putting the layered quilt in a frame I hold it with my hand and scrunch. [demonstrates with her hand.]

EW: Oh, you have it gathered in your hand?

JR: Yes. I do the same thing when I machine quilt. I don't roll it up underneath the sewing machine head. I scrunch.

EW: Do you, when you are hand quilting, do you have a flat area around your sewing machine to support the fabric?

JR: When I'm machine quilting?

EW: Yes, when you're machine quilting.

JR: Yes. I have a lovely sewing table that is an L-shape and I put it up against the wall and it holds the bulk of the quilt when I'm maneuvering it.

EW: And you find that you can handle a, say, a queen-sized or a king-sized quilt that way?

JR: I have not needed to create a queen or a king up to this point. I have done fulls, down to itty bitties. I think, with the professional quilting world that's out there, I don't know that I would ever want to attempt a queen-sized or a king-sized. I certainly have thought about purchasing a long-arm machine for my own pleasure and purposes, except I don't know where to put it in my house.

EW: Would you consider taking it out to a professional quilter?

JR: I do. I do that.

EW: What do you think about the work that the longarm quilters do?

JR: I use four or five different quilters, depending on what I want done to my quilts. I'm pretty specific about wanting it a certain way. Because I teach machine quilting, I have had longarm quilters come to me for my direction. I feel that I need to follow through because, first of all, when I have other people quilt it, it isn't all my own work. But, it still is my design on how I want it done.

EW: Well, that's important.

JR: And how I want, what threads I want to use within that. I always give them some artistic--

EW: Leeway?

JR: --leeway. Because they are artists also. I also want them to fulfill what I want the quilt to look like.

EW: You don't have any feeling of losing a personal touch when someone else is doing the quilting?

JR: That's why I do most of my own quilting, because I feel that, you start a project, you finish a project. Not every quilt that I make has a need for that. Certainly the quilt that I did for the commission for Kellogg Community College, I wanted to do that. So, when I created the design for that I did it in mind that I was going to quilt it. So, therefore, with a ten-foot length per panel, I had to break that down so that the design was broken down so I could quilt each individual panel of the two groupings.

EW: Let's talk a little about the studio, or the place where you create.

JR: Okay.

EW: Would you describe it for me?

JR: Busy. There is a lot of creativity up there. I have it on the second floor of my home. It has two sewing machines, a serger, a cutting table, a thread cabinet and my stash. An ironing board, a copy machine, so that I can enlarge patterns or pieces as necessary. It has my library of books and periodicals, all of my pieces that I add to a quilt, all of my tools, including my rulers and my cutting implements and writing tools that I need.

EW: Do you have a design wall?

JR: Oh, I do.

EW: How does that affect your creativity?

JR: Well, it's something on there all of the time to spur it on. I also have bulletin boards here and there throughout the room with ideas that I want to use for creating additional quilts.

EW: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JR: It's in the eye of the beholder. If the creator of the quilt is pleased with their work and their creativity, and it's finished, to me, that's a successful quilt.

EW: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JR: If it speaks to you. Again, each person that looks at a quilt certainly looks at it differently. A judge looks at a quilt much differently than the creator. They're looking at workmanship and what their eye says color should be, etc. whereas the person that created that quilt created it with passion, and a sense of transmitting to the person that it's either a gift to or the person that is observing it as a piece of that person's inner self.

EW: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JR: The special collections in a museum certainly have a subject matter that they want to collect for. Whether it's the age of the quilt, the region that the quilt was created by or the quiltmaker accomplishments itself, whether it is their fame or whether it's their sewing and technical skills, ability. Each collection has got to be different because of that.

EW: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

JR: Passion.

EW: Do you think that's essential?

JR: Oh, yes.

EW: Technique?

JR: Technique. Style. Their accomplishment, certainly, as a technician or their skills as to complete that work. Because, if you didn't have a passion for it, you certainly would not follow through and complete it, if you come to bumps in a road, and challenges along the way, which all of us, I think, have as each quilt develops. If it's created from a pattern that you embellished or enhanced with your own style, or created completely out of your head. But, I think that every original work also, the eyes in our minds have a way of remembering something that they've seen in their life that they want to create something of that. So, I guess that's to say there's no new ideas. But how you put it together in your format becomes your style and your creativity. Certainly there are those that create things that have a beauty to them as well as many others.

EW: Whose works are you drawn to, and why?

JR: Quilts? [pause, 11 seconds.] Judy Matheson created a style of Mariner's Compass, to me, that was absolutely beautiful. She was able to transfer that passion and technique on to me so that I can transfer it to others. I'm still working on my first Mariner's Compass quilt. I think the beauty of our earth and nature is probably one of my favorite things to pull from. I love flowers. I love the out-of-doors and I love to create from the colors and the palette that you see out there. So, I don't know if that's a person. I think that--

EW: It's a source.

JR: It's a source of the creativity that I love. I appreciate all of the speakers and the classes that I have taken from all the individuals which I have been lucky in the last ten years to do. Each of their styles and techniques have created in me a more complete quilter. So, it's kind of all of them put together. I certainly appreciate the workmanship of all of our guild members that have created for many, many, many more years than I. Each of them has created in me a source of enriching my own passion for quilting. There are those that give me inspiration from an art standpoint of creating with more color and trying new techniques that I might have never thought of. There are those that have shared their skills of piecing and appliqué and machine quilting that have enriched me. I probably have drawn sixty percent of all of my inspiration from those skills of those people that I'm around daily.

EW: Have any of their philosophies influenced you or changed your way of thinking about quilts?

JR: I think that's part of the influence. If you have a quilt show every year and you see the talent that surrounds you, if that gives you inspiration to try to make yourself a better quilter, to rub arms with them, I think all of that is inspiration for all of us. I also feel that's why I need to go to different quilt shows and be in different venues where quilting exists, whether it be a little quilt shop out in the middle of Wyoming or a wonderful quilt shop that's in Paducah. Each of them offers something for my inspiration.

EW: Do you stop at quilt shops as you travel?

JR: Oh, yes. We travel a couple times a year for a month each and we try to hit quilt shops on the way. And on the way back.

EW: You talked about your passion for quilting. Can you explain why quiltmaking is important to your life?

JR: Fulfills it. As an individual, things that I do for my family certainly are for them and for myself. But, I think that the passion for quilting is all encompassing to create a legacy, you might say that this was part of her makeup. This was what that creation of things by her gave her a purpose other than being a mother hen. I had a wonderful career and there was accomplishment and one of my bosses once said I had a great deal of passion for it. But, anything in this world that you are committed to needs a passion.

EW: A quilter's legacy, a nice thought.

JR: That's a nice thought. Yes.

EW: In what ways do you think quilts reflect your community or your region?

JR: I get out of the box a little bit on that. Since I've been part of guild I've seen the guild grow from very, very traditional to try new things and realizing that they're all artists.

EW: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

JR: It's an example of who we are, a lasting legacy of our presentation to the rest of the world about ourselves. They tell stories. They tell--a photograph only lasts a while. Maybe a quilt only lasts a while. Those that stay, tell of our passion for life.

EW: How about the preservation of quilts?

JR: Well, now, you're speaking to a retired archivist. I think that fabric is certainly something that a sample of the quilts need to be saved for future generations to improve their skills or to create something that was created before. But, from an archival standpoint, the fabrics that are created today hopefully will last longer than fabrics created yesterday. That's part of what the museum or archives that keep our quilts will find as they test fabrics for tomorrow.

EW: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for friends and family?

JR: I have three children and they certainly have children and each one that I give is used in a different way. Some are saved and preserved for the next generation. Some are loved as you read a book or watch a TV or play a game. Others lay on our bed to keep us warm at night and others hang on the wall to beautify our home.

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

JR: Being able to do everything that you want to do. With the technologies that are out there you have to, finally, choose where to spend your time. I could create a quilt on the computer every day of the week, but I want something to show for my work. The precision of the computerization certainly made many templates obsolete. And the rotary cutter and the mats and the rulers have just allowed us to be so much more precise about what we do. The quilting world in this country and, I think, probably the world right now, has brought many quilters closer together. It is a huge industry, so that it's created many, many, many jobs for many people, whether it's creating the thread that makes the cloth or the thread that you quilt with or the fabrics that you quilt with. It's the people teaching the classes and quilting your quilts for you or the quilt store owner that has all that wonderful product available to us. There are always people creating new things that will create more jobs.

EW: I think that's a wonderful finish to our interview. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

JR: I'm glad that the guild is doing the Save Our Stories. I think that what Eleanor Wilkinson has done for the guild is putting us on the map and, hopefully, saving the stories for the interest of quilters down the road.

EW: Thank you, very much, for this interview.

JR: You're welcome.

EW: It is ten, eleven, pardon me. It's 11: 25 and we've enjoyed this very much.

JR: Thank you.


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