Pat Meinecke



Pat Meinecke




Pat Meinecke


Karen Downer

Interview Date

June 9, 2012

Interview sponsor



Cullowhee, North Carolina


Hannah Sailar


Karen Downer (KD): This is Karen Downer and I’m interviewing Pat Meinecke for the Quilters Save Our Stories Project. We’re at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. It is 1:09 on June the 9th 2012 and again I’m with Pat Meinecke and I want to first ask you to tell us about this beautiful quilt that I’m looking at.

Pat Meinecke (PM): This quilt was started in 1986 I believe and at the time I lived in Bremerton, Washington. The colors at that time that were real popular were the greens and teals and the oranges together and I decided this was going to be the background of a book that I was going to write called Birds of a Feather and I got as far as formatting the computer disk. [laughs.] And the first 8 blocks were made by a quilt group that I belong to that weave a little a little mini spin off group out of the Kitsap Quilters and we would each month one person would select the blocks that they wanted and pass out the kits and the next all the friends would bring them back completed. So 8 of the blocks were done by other ladies and then it kind of went on the back shelf and I didn’t get to it for a while because I discovered that every block was a slightly different size because being made by different people if you draw up your tension a little bit tighter it won’t work, one block will be smaller than the other. Well then we moved to Murphy, North Carolina and I got it out and completed the blocks and made the 3 panels which tell the story of birds as they related to my life in Arkansas where I grew up. The panel on the upper left is purple martins and birdhouses because we had purple martin houses in our backyard in Joliet, Arkansas. That was a big part of my life. The next panel down, the tall vertical one with the watery scene and the mallard ducks on it was my brother and my father and his four brothers were big duck hunters and in the winter time they would flood the woods and the ducks would come in and feed on the flooded woodland so that represents that. The bottom panel represents the rice fields where we grew up. It was a big rice country. The white egrets would come in and eat the frogs and salamanders and whatever else lived in the rice fields because rice fields were flooded all the time. All the other blocks have a name that represents something about birds, every single block has a name that represents a bird or circling swallows, dove in the window, birds in flights, grey goose, bird of paradise, pigeon toes, then a dove done in a Drunkard’s Path pattern. Birds nest, things like that.

KD: So this quilt integrates the story of the early part of your life and your quiltmaking activities now. What are your plans for this quilt?
PM: Well when it was originally made I thought I would give it to my father but by the time I had got it made my father had died. So it will just stay in the family and go onto one of my daughters.

KD: Tell me a little bit about your interest in quiltmaking and when did that interest begin?

PM: I was always interested in it because my mother and of course her sisters and sisters in law quilted and I always wanted to quilt but they wouldn’t teach me to quilt because at that time it was during the Great Depression or shortly thereafter and if you had to make a quilt that meant that you were really, really poor. They were kind of ashamed of their quiltmaking which is really sad. So, I waited until I was grown up and married and started it on my own.

KD: I know you’re very involved in quiltmaking in general, how many hours a week do you devote to actually quilting or quiltmaking or quiltmaking process?

PM: Maybe 4 or 5, probably not that much. If you averaged it out over the whole year.

KD: What other activities do you do that are directly related to quiltmaking?

PM: I teach at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I teach a few classes there. I’m also the resident quilt artist at John C. Campbell Folk School that means I hire the teachers for 38 to 39 weeks of the year. That also means that I do the grunge work like make sure the sewing machines in the quilt studio work, make sure all the supplies are there that teachers need, communicate with the teachers. Both before and while they’re there teaching during the week. I teach a few classes at quilt retreats.

KD: So you see a lot of quilters come through that school—

PM: Yeah.

KD: And you get to interface with a lot of quilters both as teachers and as quilters

PM: As their students, yeah.

KD: How is quiltmaking at this point in your life impact your family?

PM: They just stand back and get out of the way. [laughs.]

KD: What pleases you about making quilts?

PM: Just the fun of choosing the fabrics and picking the fabrics and making the quilt pattern fit, I always try to make some sort of unusual quilting pattern to go with each block. For example that one was sent to a long arm quilter and I told her, ‘I haven’t had time to draw out my quilt designs but I visualize a different quilt pattern in every block, something that compliments but is not exactly a replica.’ Not all echo quilting is what I told her. ‘Oh, yes no problem I’ll do that.’ Well apparently she gave it to her husband to quilt but she didn’t tell him this so when it came back it had big meandering quilting all over it and nothing in the sashing and something strange in the border and I paid her and ran away and I was just sick. I went home and I thought I’m not going to finish this quilt and one day when my friend from England was over, they were over for a month and I said, ‘I’m going to take this quilting out.’ So we sat down and she was at one end of it and she was at the other and we started ripping and we ripped as much as we could and it eventually it ended up that I just decided that I would rip out one block every day. I did that until all the quilting was taken out and then I drew new quilting patterns on it, put it back together, and quilted it myself. It’s the second quilt I did on my long arm machine.

KD: And the second time it was quilted itself.

PM: The second it was quilted. And it won second place ribbon the first show it went to.

KD: Wow, are there aspects about quiltmaking other than ripping the entire quilt up that you don’t enjoy?

PM: [laughs.] No, I enjoy it all, every bit of it. That’s why I do it from start to finish.

KD: And now you do all your quilting?

PM: Yes.

KD: I am also looking at this beautiful quilt, it has some Asian influence and I think you have in the past mentioned that you spent some time in Japan. Could you talk a little bit about that, your time in Japan?

PM: We spent 4 years in Japan. My husband was in the U.S. Navy and we lived in Yokosuka, Japan. While there, I took ikebana lessons from a Japanese lady and became and became a first level ikebana instructor. Those lessons influence some of the things I do in quilting, learning about color, learning about the balance. A darker color feels like it has more weight because this is all things that go into your flower arranging. I also took lessons in shishu which is the art of silk on silk embroidery by hand and about 8 of us started out. Got up at 5 o’clock on Saturday mornings, caught a train which Tokyo transferred to another train which Chiba which was on the other side of Tokyo Bay, got in a taxi and rode about 30 minutes and we went to this center that was the Japanese silk on silk embroidery center. We took lessons there, sat on the floor just like the Japanese because all the frames were about a foot and a half off the floor and we would learn a lesson, a certain aspect of this and we would go home and finish that little lesson that week and come back the next week and do it again. So a lot of my designs, some of the designs from this quilt come from shishu embroidery or from ikebana.

KD: Did you also work on American style quilts while you were in Japan?

PM: Yes I did. Actually, I guess that’s where I did the very first quilt that I’ve ever done which my oldest daughter now has and I was very brave. I didn’t know anything about quilting except for watching my mother. But I found a few magazines and I just started to teach myself to quilt. So that’s where I actually learned how to quilt was while we lived in Japan because then all these other were started after we got back to America.
KD: So you’ve been to Arkansas and Japan and we’re going to go back to Murphy, North Carolina. But before we get there you had a stop in
Washington as well?

PM: Bremerton, Washington. Yes.

KD: This one was began while you were there, were you involved in other quilting activities?

PM: Oh, yeah. That’s where I really got involved in a quilt guild. I guess I made several quilts there, I can’t remember them now. I remember one that I started, a sampler, I’ve done quite a few samplers because they are always used as teaching examples. After we lived in Bremerton and moved to Murphy the first we were there was I believe the first year the American Quilters Society show in Paducah and 7 if the quilters that I quilted with in Bremerton came and we met in Paducah and went to classes, went to shows. We were all sitting around our hotel room working on different projects and I had one that was doing all browns and greens, or rusty browns and greens and things. It was another sampler. They said, ‘Pat what are you doing?’ and I said, ‘Oh, I’m making this sampler quilt and it’s going to be using up all my old browns and greens out of my stash just to get rid of them’ and they said, ‘That’s just not you.’ [laughs.] But it’s one of the best quilts I’ve got now.

KD: Well, let’s talk a little bit about technology and how have these advances in technology influenced your work, your process, and your products.

PM: I guess it’s made my quilting faster because I used to all hand quilt, but anything I hand quilted was probably a smaller quilt project. I have many tops that laid for 6, 7, 8 years waiting to be quilted because I could not face the prospect of doing them by hand. For example, a Texas lone star all done with home spun and when the long arm and the mid arm machines came into being and of course the first time I went to Paducah was the first time I saw those. It wasn’t the long arms at the time though, it was the big table top machine that you still slid your quilt around on top of the table but the arm of the machine was much longer and I came home and talked about it but didn’t do anything about it and then kept going and then I made a 5 foot by 8 foot block quilt for Murphy Medical Center for their lobby and I quilted the entire thing under my little [inaudible.] domestic machine and it did great but by the time I got through it my back and arms were so sore that I said, ‘I don’t think I can ever do another one of these, quilt on another domestic machine’ to my husband and he said, ‘well what are you going to do?’ and I said, ‘well there’s this thing called a long arm.’ ‘Well what’s a long arm?’ So I described it to him, ‘Well how much do they cost?’ and I said, ‘well the price of a small car’ and he said, ‘well get one.’ So he does more than just gets out of the way, he’s supportive.

KD: I want you to describe the place that you create in North Carolina around the area of Bremerton, what is your studio like? What is that place like?

PM: Well we built the house on the mountain, not on the mountain top but on the side of the mountain. It is cantilevered out over the hillside and the entire front of the house has windows that look out over the valley and when we built the house we purposely did not let the builders cut the trees down so that everywhere I do I’m looking out and watching the birds at eye level and when it’s nice weather I can open up all the windows on both sides of the house and the breeze blows through and I have a nice big studio that’s probably 18 feet wide by 20, 24 feet long and it has cabinets all on one side that the doors open, by fold doors pull open. It’s built that there’s storage behind the by fold doors but when I shut them it’s also covered with, what’s the product? You can put the fabric up against it and it will stay, flannel. That type of thing. So that’s my design wall and I also have cabinetry built in for all my thrift and books and things. When the house was built I thought I had plenty of storage for all my fabric, I would never need any more storage and now the floor is covered with boxes in every corner and every counter is covered in boxes because I’ve run out of space.

KD: So, it sounds like a combination between a workspace and a sanctuary.

PM: Yes, it is. I built this so that from the main living room and the kitchen you can’t see into my sewing room so I never have to put things away. I don’t have to interrupt a project

KD: Very smart.

PM: If you’ve got company coming, you don’t have to worry about hiding everything.

KD: When you’re not involved in your studio workspace sanctuary, what is something else that you spend a lot of time doing?

PM: I direct 2 hand bell choirs and I used to be the full time music director at a church but I retired from the core directing aspect of it but I still continue to direct their hand bell choir and I teach hand bell ringing. I also teach technique classes at the Regional Hand Bell Association which is now called Hand Bell Musicians of America. I go to Flat Rock, North Carolina occasionally to teach classes at conventions there. Our community hand bell group, which I started, is now will be in its 20th year next year and we give 8 concerts a year. We start in August and we learn music and give 4 concerts at Easter, we start again right after Christmas and we learn music and we give 4 concerts in the spring. So this spends a lot of my time. At one time I made a comment to my friend from England, ‘I’m really torn, I don’t get enough quilting done because I’m doing all this hand bell ringing. I’m torn between the hand bell and the quilting.’ So she went home and the next time she came back she brought me a little quilt which was a very long legged skinny woman and in one hand she’s waving a lot of fabric and in the other hand she’s waving a ringing little hand bells. [laughs.]

KD: Other than the conflict of time that that causes you, is there something that connects those two activities for you? Are there some similarities, some connection between quilting activities and hand bells?

PM: Probably the teaching, it’s teaching, both of it’s teaching.

KD: So you’re a teacher as well. How do you balance your time?

PM: Just whatever comes up, I don’t worry about it much. Whatever project needs to be done next, whatever class I’m teaching at the folk school next that’s the quilt that I’m working on.

KD: Keep your husband at work so you can quilt.

PM: Exactly, exactly.

KD: What makes a quilts speak? What makes a quilt powerful?

PM: I don’t know.

KD: What makes a great quiltmaker?

PM: I don’t know, the artistic I guess aspect of it.

KD: You’ve done the hand quilting and machine quilting. How do you feel about one versus the other?

PM: I like them both and I like to keep some hand quilting going all the time for myself because I hate for that art to die out. I try to teach hand quilting along with the classes that I teach. I teach more hand quilting than I do machine quilting because there’s a lot of really good machine teachers. I machine quilt for myself because of the time involved.

KD: You’ve been involved in John C. Campbell Folks School for several years now as a resident quilt artist. Can you think was there any incident or event or some student, something people would ask you about the folk school that comes to mind immediately about that? Is there some experience you can share with us about the folk school?
KD: Did you have some particularly challenging students?

PM: I’ve had at least one that comes to mind and it’s sad because apparently this lady was taking a medication that she couldn’t have feeling in her fingers but she was determined to hand applique a quilt and I really had to help her.

KD: Why is quiltmaking important in your life?

PM: Well, it just is, it just is.

KD: Do you think, I’m just going to go down a path of history here, do you think that quilts have a special meaning for women’s history in America?

PM: Oh, yes I think it does. You hear the stories and you see the quilts in journals and things of how the pioneer women made their quilts and stories that are woven into those quilts, very important.
KD: We’re drawing near the end now so I’m just going to ask you a few more questions. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing quiltmakers today?

PM: It’s probably time, time for them to devote to their families and still devote to their art and it’s also, hate to say this, but I think it’s also price. People are being priced out of it.

KD: How do you think that quilts could be or should be preserved for the future?

PM: Well, I think the best are museums or universities that have good archive facilities. It’s not to fold them up and stuff them into a closet where they just deteriorate and people don’t know what’s happening to them. We need to educate our people how to take care of them and get them out and show them.

KD: You obviously label your quilts, what type of things do you put on your labels?

PM: If I’m really thinking about it, I try to put down the story of why I started that quilt. Where I was when I started it, where I lived when I completed it, what year I started it and what year I completed it because a lot of times when I start and finish it might be 10 years apart. Right now I can count at least 8 quilts that are laying there as tops waiting to be quilted or in various stages that are almost finished and I should just go ahead and do it, but I don’t have time to do them. So where I lived, I believe I said that.

KD: If 100 years from now one of these lovely quilts fell into somebody’s hand that you don’t know, what would you want them to know about you?

PM: Just that I love nature and that I love birds and I love making things with my hands.

KD: I think they would know that from that quilt. We’re going to close now but just before we do I want to ask you is there anything that we didn’t get covered in this short talk we’ve had, is there anything you want to add to the records, some question that I didn’t ask that you hoped I would?

PM: No, no.

KD: Thank you very much Pat Meinecke for your time.

PM: Thank you, you’re welcome.

KD: It is 1:35 and this interview is concluded.


“Pat Meinecke,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 25, 2024,