Gail Valentine




Gail Valentine




Gail Valentine


Connie Marie Fahrion

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Houston, Texas


Katie Demery


Connie Marie Fahrion (CF): Gail, will you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Gail Valentine (GV): This is one of my quilts that I designed with mirrors. I did a book several years ago on mirror manipulations and they're based on traditional block designs. I had a student who asked if we could make the blocks different sizes and it wasn't really something they could do in class and hope to get anything done. I thought about it later and thought maybe I'd try that. I've made these blocks in lots of different sizes and they're all from the same print. I thought I'd try to make them spin and have a spinning motion on there. I figured out how I wanted to place the blocks in order to achieve that look. I figured it all out on graph paper first, 8 squares to the inch graph paper, so I'd know how big to make the various blocks to get this effect. They're all made from a tropical fish print.

CF: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

GV: It's fun. I like working with bright colors and just wanted to see if I could do this because it's a little different than what I've done with the traditional block placement.

CF: It was the technique that was really intriguing to you?

GV: Yeah, just to try and do this.

CF: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview?

GV: It's one of my favorites. I like the bright colors on the black and I thought it would show up well.

CF: I like it too, lots of motion. I like the musical bars; it has a musical feel to it. Maybe it's the colorfulness of it and the spinning wheels. What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

GV: Either that I'm musical or that I like bright colors, I don't know. [laughing.]

CF: How do you use this quilt?

GV: Most of my quilts I just use for teaching. I do trunk shows and I go around and do lectures and teach techniques to different guilds. Right now, my quilts are either in my armoire where I store them or in a suitcase because I travel with them.

CF: What are your plans for this quilt? Any special plans?

GV: I'm hoping that my son will inherit this quilt and hopefully keep it and like it. If not, I'll find a niece to give it to or something.

CF: How many quilts do you have at home in your armoire?

GV: It's a big armoire and it's full. [laughing.] I also have several other boxes full.

CF: Tell me about your interesting quiltmaking and what age you started quiltmaking.

GV: I didn't have any quilting in my family at the time when I was growing up. I really didn't get into quilting until after I was married. I like antiques so I liked quilts, but I didn't really know of any current quilting activity until I went with my husband to a home and garden show. There was a booth there of a quilt store and I didn't know such things existed. They said they offered classes, so I signed up for classes and learned how to do it. I had a background in sewing and I had even gotten my major in textiles and design from Cornell. I was really thinking of going into apparel design when I did that. I ended up working in retail instead as a buyer. Once I started learning how to quilt, I was very intrigued and started taking classes every chance I got. In fact, one of the people who worked at the shop asked if I had a cot in the back room because I was there so much. [laughing.] I just had a wonderful time learning all of the different techniques and how to do it right. That's how I got into it.

CF: You learned to quilt basically from starting to take classes right from the beginning?

GV: Right, yeah.

CF: How many hours a week do you quilt?

GV: At the moment, not too much. I used to just be totally full time and the last few years I've had other priorities. I've been moving lately, so it's kind of been on the back burner for a while.

CF: What is your first quilt memory?

GV: I always liked antique quilts. The first quilt that I actually ever did myself was when I knew nothing about it at the time. My sister-in-law decided that for my husband's parents 40th anniversary that the family should make a quilt. And because I was one of the few who knew how to sew in the family, I was sort of volunteered to make it. They wanted a king-sized quilt because that was the size bed they had. There were nine children. I made nine blocks that would make up a king-sized quilt so you can imagine how big they were. I went off and bought a base fabric. I don't know if there was even any cotton in that fabric. This was sort of a linen-y background color because that was the only sort of neutral beige I could find. I sent them directions on how to do embroidery stitching. I didn't know anything about quilting. I told them not to use felt or wool, so it would be washable. Unfortunately, someone did use felt. I don't know what's going to happen when somebody washes that quilt. Each one of them would make a block to depict their family. It turned out really interesting, but it was tied and never even quilted. I don't know if you can even call it a quilt. That was my first experience with quilting.

CF: You said there were no quiltmakers in your family, so how does quiltmaking impact your family today?

GV: My mother started quilting after I did. I didn't grow up with it. My family got used to me being very busy and involved with quilting. My husband was wonderful in supporting me that way. When I did my book, I was totally engrossed in that, and they all tolerated it pretty well. My husband would do a lot of the cooking.

CF: What made you decide to write a book?

GV: Years ago, I had seen this new technique demonstrated, but they were using it more on border prints and sort of mundane prints. I was told you had to have a symmetrical print to use it. I was even told you couldn't machine piece it. I'm like 'no, no, no, no, no.' I was definitely a machine person, so I figured out how to do it and how to use very asymmetrical prints, wild prints, and get really fun spinning things happening. I did a little quilt and the bee that I was in, this was in Utah at the time, wanted me to teach them how, so I taught them how. Then another bee wanted me to come teach them how to do it and so forth. Pretty soon I was going around teaching people how to do it and they were saying 'Well isn't there a book on this?' and I said 'No, not that I know of.' They said, 'Why don't you write one?' I've never written a book. I probably never would've except that I ran into a person from That Patchwork Place at some quilt show and I said, 'What do you do if you want to write a book?' She said, 'I'll send you the proposal guidelines'. I got those in the mail, and I decided to fill it out and send it in. It was kind of like how many projects you think you want, give us a sample pattern, and that sort of thing. I didn't think anything would come of it. But about a month later, they called and said that my book had been accepted. I was just kind of like 'Oh, what book…' [laughing.] It wasn't written or anything, it was just sort of in my imagination. I had to really scramble to do it. I had proposed about five patterns, and the woman said that they'd like to see at least a dozen. I got my bees to help me make some quilts. I kind of came up with some traditional block patterns that I wanted to use, and I taught them how to do the technique. I designed the actual quilts, and they used those block patterns to make some variations of them. We ended up with 29 quilts shown in the book, but 14 of them were mine, in the space of about a year or so. That was pretty intense.

CF: How long did it take you to write it?

GV: The whole process was about a year and a half. I had only about eight months to get the projects and the manuscript done the first time. Then it took a while back and forth with adjustments and corrections, so it was about a year and a half for the whole thing.

CF: Tell me if you have ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

GV: No, I tend to lose my creativity when I'm really stressed out or have other priorities. I think that some people use it for therapy, but I tend to be the other way.

CF: Can you tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilting or teaching?

GV: I don't have anything that comes to mind right away, but I do remember a situation where my mother was quilting. She was a very impatient person and totally different than me. I'm very particular and exacting while she was more of a theory where if you can't see it from a galloping horse then it's fine. But she called me and said 'I'm so upset. I got my quilt back from the machine quilter and it just looked horrible. The corners are all smushed and wrinkled.' And I said, 'Well what happened?' 'He had called and said that the corners aren't square. I said that's alright, just make them rounded.' He kept arguing with her and she apparently didn't understand what he was saying because she got this mess back and I had to take out the machine quilting around the corners. When I did, I found that she had mitered the corners, but she hadn't done it at a 45-degree angle, and they were cupped. When he went to quilt it, he just had to smash it down. [laughing.] Luckily, she still had some of the fabric, and I was able to piece in enough in the corners to make them lay flat again.

CF: Was she finally happy after you fixed her quilt?

GV: That's one thing about teaching -- you learn every possible mistake that can be made and how to correct it.

CF: Even if you're teaching, it is very much a learning process. [laughing.]

GV: Yes, I've found that I learn from my students. They have taught me.

CF: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

GV: Working with the colors is what has always drawn me. Combining colors or manipulating the prints in the fabrics to get a design out of them--that's what I like.

CF: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

GV: I enjoy the designing and the piecing more than the quilting, but with my technique the quilting has always kind of taken a back seat anyway because of my using large prints. It's usually a very busy design and quilting has been something more in the background. I don't mind doing it. I don't have a long arm or anything, I have my regular sewing machine and have always done my own quilting. It's a bit tedious sometimes.

CF: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

GV: I pretty much use all cotton and with this technique that I've done I usually use large scale prints. But I have worked with other things. Other quilts that I have in the book, I have one of the mirror quilts and I have this other one that is a silhouette quilt. For the background in that I used some lamé and other things to get a little shimmer and shine.

CF: Describe your studio, the place you create.

GV: You wouldn't want to see it right now [laughing.] The last two houses we had I have had the room over the garage, so it's been a fairly big room. In fact, this last house we had I took out a wall between two small bedrooms up above the garage and made that my studio. The house that I am currently moving into I have a walk-out basement and there is one huge room down there with natural light-- that's always been something I've had to have. The house is on a hill, so the basement is on the ground level. It has nice, natural light coming in and it's a big room. That's nice.

CF: Do you use a design wall?

GV: I do. I don't have a formal one built in. A lot of times I'll just get a really big piece of foam board and cover it with a flannel sheet or something and use that.

CF: Do you feel that enhances your creative process?

GV: Sure. You can take a step back and take a look at things and get a feel for the balance and color and so forth.

CF: How do you balance your time?

GV: I'm pretty much retired now, so I can do what I want. If I want to quilt, I can just go down and quilt.

CF: What do you think makes a great quilt?

GV: I think visual impact is probably the biggest factor in what you see in a quilt right off the bat. I've always appreciated fine workmanship and I'm amazed at the workmanship of many of the quilters today. It's fantastic. It's just unbelievable in the show seeing the beautiful things that are being done.

CF: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

GV: For me, it's color. Although I can appreciate the sort of black and white or monochromatic things or whatever, the really powerful things to me are the color impact and the graphic impact, too. As far as enjoyment goes, for me it's color.

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

GV: I guess it depends on the collection. There are certain quilts that belong in certain museums and there are certain ones that don't, whether it's art quilts or architectural things or whatever is appropriate for maybe that venue. Certainly, I think workmanship has to be good and visual impact has to be good. No matter what venue it is you don't want to see a sloppily done thing.

CF: What makes a quiltmaker?

GV: I think her enthusiasm probably. You see so many quilts now where you just know that their heart went into it. They were passionate about a subject or a technique or something and that comes through a lot of times.

CF: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

GV: Names don't really come to mind as far as a person, but I like a quilt that you can look at and look at and always see more; lots of different fabrics, textures or colors. To me, that's the kind of quilt that I'm drawn to, one that I can just keep looking at and see more and more and more.

CF: Something that grows on you a little bit with texture, layers, and depth?

GV: Yes.

CF: Which artists have influenced you?

GV: I've never been a big art person, so I couldn't tell you. I don't think there were particular artists in my life that I followed. I tend to let the fabric tell me what to do when I'm designing.

CF: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

GV: I've done both and I enjoy hand quilting, but it takes forever. Most of my things, especially if I've had to do them for the book or for a class or something, I machine quilt. I'm amazed at the beautiful machine quilting that's being done these days. It's overwhelming.

CF: Are you referring to long arm quilting?

GV: Not necessarily, any of the machine quilting has some real artists out there but I do admire the long-armers who are able to do their own designs and do some fantastic work too. I'm not opposed to having something sent out to have done. Some of these people are just unbelievably good.

CF: Is quilt making very important to your life and why is that?

GV: For many years, it was the center of my life. I was teaching around the country. Quilting was an everyday subject. It was something I did or prepared for or planned. It was my life for many years.

CF: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

GV: I don't think there's anything in particular about it. I've lived all over the country. I live in Colorado now, which is where I was born. But I don't make mountain scenes or anything, so I don't think that they are particular to my area.

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

GV: I think they've become much more prevalent and any time you run into people, and they find out you're a quilter, they say they know a quilter, or they have one in their family. It's become much more prevalent than it used to be, which is nice.

CF: In what ways do you think quilts have special meanings for women's history in America?

GV: I think you can track some bit of family life and design trends and so forth as you look at quilts throughout history. I do love antique quilts and quilt history. I've done a few programs on the development of quilting and that sort of thing. You can see, for instance, how things flourished in the 30's and the types of fabrics that they had and the amount of quilting that was done and how it dropped off somewhat in the war years into the 50's, when modern became important and people thought quilts were old and junky. It was not a popular thing in the 50's and how things have changed up and down through the years. It's pretty fascinating, I think. It does kind of track along socioeconomic things that are going on.

CF: How do you think quilts can be used?

GV: I think they're certainly not just for beds anymore [laughing.] I think they are more of a décor item and sometimes even just a matter of self-expression and creativity, sort of a creative outlet. It doesn't really matter if you don't use the quilt. I know a lot of times when I started making all of these bright and colorful quilts, that people would say 'Where are you going to hang that? It's so bright.' Even if I don't hang it somewhere, I had fun making it, I learned a lot, it was my expression. Even if I just pull it out once in a while and look at it, and occasionally hang it in a showroom where others can enjoy it. It's still worthwhile.

CF: It speaks to you and warms your heart.

GV: That's right.

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

GV: I hope they're still enjoying them but when you give a quilt you have to understand it's theirs now and you don't have any control over it so you hope it doesn't end up in a garage sale. You only give them to people who might appreciate them is the key.

CF: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quilt makers today?

GV: The price of cotton [laughing.] We were commenting on the price of cotton, it must be really hard for new quilt makers to build up a stash like we certainly did years ago. Things change, up and down. I remember in the 70's there just didn't seem to be that much available. A lot of quilters started quilting in the 80's and learning how to quilt in the 80's. I had no stash, but I was able to build it up and beyond.

CF: Do you have any other comments that you would like to make about your work, career, books, what future book you might have?

GV: I don't know if I'll be writing any other books but I'm certainly glad I did go for it and write that book. I think that it opened up a lot of doors. I was able to travel around the country and meet a lot of other quilters and learn a lot. The more I taught, the more I learned. I think that it's good. If people want to teach, as long as they know something, they can teach what they know and continue to learn. The more you teach, the more you learn. It was something that I enjoyed doing. By having a book, it sort of legitimized me as someone who was a real quilter, and I could go to shows and I could have quilts in shows.

CF: It enhanced maybe your legacy to quilters coming down the road?

GV: Yeah, I'm always amazed when someone recognizes my name or something. Maybe they've seen my book or taken a class from me and that's very gratifying. I taught beginning quilting for many years, and I still have some friends from back then. They occasionally tell me how grateful they are that I introduced them to quilting. That right there is worth it. They found something that they really enjoy doing too. That makes it all worth it.

CF: I'd like to thank Gail Valentine for joining me and letting me interview her for the Quilter's S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Oral History Project. Our interview concluded at 10:47. Thank you so much Gail.

GV: You're welcome, thank you.


“Gail Valentine,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 24, 2024,