Jean Vick




Jean Vick




Jean Vick


Heidi Rubenstein

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Northfield, Minnesota


Heidi Rubenstein


Heidi Rubenstein (HR): This is Heidi Rubenstein. Today's date is October 17, 2011. And it is 1:45 p.m. And I'm conducting an interview with Jean Vick for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project in Northfield, Minnesota. Thank you, Jean, for joining me for the interview.

Jean Vick (JV): It's a delight.

HR: Could you tell me a little about the quilt you have with you today?

JV: It was made back in 1985. It was an anniversary quilt. It was the 50th anniversary of my parents and I asked every relative I could contact for some blocks to commemorate this. I got a very good response and a wide variety of pictures and then after I got the pictures, I took some coordinating fabric and tried to put a little bit of a green in all of the pictures and then I embroidered some of the highlights in the pictures to bring them out. I didn't ask the people to do that because I knew a lot of my uncles would object. [laughs.] And then I added some extra blocks, like I got pictures of all the homes they lived in. I got pictures of our summer home that we share, that they've given us, and just a few holes that didn't seem to be filled, like their professions. They were both teachers, so I made a professional block for that. But it's just a real wonderful quilt. I gave it to them, and we celebrated, and they took it with them everywhere. They took it with them in the camper and they took it with them to the summer place in the Rockies and showed it to everybody for years and years. Then after Dad died, Mom continued to have it on her bed. When she remarried, and actually after her second husband died, they broke up their home and she's moved into an apartment and so the quilt came back to me and I'm not quite sure what is the next step for it.

HR: So, you did most of the embroidery or all of the embroidery?

JV: I did all of the embroidery.

HR: And then a little bit of applique in each, or in most, of them it looks like?

JV: uh-huh, yeah

HR: And then did you do the quilting?

JV: After all that embroidery, I did decide to have it machine quilted. Jean, out in Lonsdale, is the machine quilter, she and her husband. [Jean and Ray Jirik of Webster, MN]. Her husband had some disabilities after a farm accident, and so she arranged a business where she brought in the customers and he did the quilting because it was one of those big sort of tractor-like quilting machines that he could drive all over the place, but he did an awfully nice job, I thought.

HR: Yes, he did. I like the waves.

JV: He echo quilted a lot of the features of the blocks and he put the waves in which I think is a template kind of a thing. The echo quilting must have been a lot of work for him, but it was just a joy to get back.

HR: So, it's here with you now and it sounds like you're not quite sure what its future will be.

JV: No, I'm not.

HR: Well, it's a wonderful piece of history.

JV: Mom wanted it to come back to me, so I figure I have to keep it at least until she dies. Then I might have it go up to the cabin, but I'm not sure of the care it would get up there.

HR: Well, thanks for showing it. Now I'll ask you just some general questions about your quilt making. I'm curious what age you started quilt making.

JV: Probably 35 or 40.

HR: I saw that you said you were not self-taught.

JV: Well, there are so many people that have helped me. [laughs.] So, I would not say that I mean I would come up against an issue and we had a wonderful quilt store downtown called "Jacobson's" and the owner, one of the owners, Char, would help us. She used to be part of our group. Or people in our guild have helped me an awful lot. So, I am not very good at reading and following direction. I always read too much into them and get quite flummoxed, so I usually go to somebody and ask them to help me out after I'm completely confused.

HR: Did you take any classes or was it more informal?

JV: About the whole quilt making process? No, I've never taken a whole class. I've taken special skilled, I took a machine quilting class one time, and certain features of quilting, but not about the whole process.

HR: Do you make quilts with others, working together or working on your own projects together?

JV: Yeah, I've been quite active in the raffle quilts that we've had. And one of the ways that I sort of got into quilting was helping someone for another memorial quilt where I sort of shadowed her and watched what she did and helped her where I could.

HR: That's nice. I'm curious how quilting fits into your days and how many hours a week do you think you might quilt.

JV: Well, I've recently become a pensioner and so I have much more time and I am seeing that I'm spending more time in my quilt room. I find it an awfully good thing to do after dinner where I might have read before, I would fall asleep now [laughs.] and quilting is a very hands-on and yet restful thing to do. In this last week, I would say that I've been fussing up in my quilt room, oh, almost every night. But certainly, when I was employed, I rarely got to it more than once a week. So, I think there's different times of your life when you do different things. Children don't allow much quilting. [laughs.]

HR: Yes, it's a treat. Let's see [looking at list of questions.] Are there other quiltmakers among your family and friends.

JV: Well certainly among my friends because there is the guild and I've fostered those friendships. In my family, I think mom might have made, you know, she made a few quilts. She made baby quilts for my brothers. You would not describe her as a quilter, she much preferred knitting. I think the same way with my grandmother, certainly my maternal grandmother much preferred knitting and crocheting. And my paternal one, though I have one of her quilts here, I can't see her sitting long enough to quilt [laughs.], she was a very active person. So I'm not thinking there were a lot of quilters in my family.

HR: What would you say is your earliest memory of a quilt.

JV: The sick quilt [laughs.] Mom did make a wonderful, soft cuddly either flannel or corduroy. I'm thinking its corduroy, but it was such a soft corduroy.

[Jean speaks to her husband who has just arrived home and introduces Heidi]

JV: It was a very soft quilt. It was just a patch quilt, it's not even a Nine Patch. But it was so soft, and we could only use it if we were sick. And I think that's the way she kept us loco. [laughs.] There was no playing if you were sick. So, we got to have that quilt.

HR: Do you know what happened to it?

JV: Yeah, I think it's up at the cabin. It may not be in good condition, and someone may have thrown it out, but I do remember it being up there for a while.

HR: How many quilts would you say you've made?

JV: Of the big variety, probably ten. I like to make them as gifts or for certain occasions and I'm running out of those. [laughs.] All of my family has a quilt.

HR: That's a big accomplishment.

JV: Well, the local family, not everybody.

HR: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JV: Boy that has changed over the years. I started out doing a lot of applique. And now I'm doing much more piecing.

HR: When you started out were you doing applique by hand?

JV: Oh yeah, I haven't been very happy with machine applique or the iron fusible stuff. So, it's all being hand turned.

HR: And have you done piecing by hand?

JV: I did. This summer I was on a trip and couldn't take my machine. So, one of the members of our guild had taught hand sewing, or hand piecing. So, I took that little box to Italy. It fit right in my suitcase and while the rest of the group was playing Quartets I sat on the balcony and did a little piecing. I finished a little-- I showed it at the last group-- Just a little thing, but it fit in the airplane.

HR: What materials, like, do you have a favorite batting that you use?

JV: I am becoming more picky about battings. I never really thought about them too much. They just were batting but I did a Mariner's Compass that was mostly navy blue, and I used a polyester batting, and it bearded like crazy. It was also too hot to be under. So, the next one, this one over here, the blue one, is a cotton, Warm and Natural. And I really enjoy it especially since I do hand quilting.

HR: Do you have a favorite thread?

JV: No, I haven't learned to be picky about that. I know I should. I was one of the beneficiaries of "Jacobson's" at the end of their history here in Northfield they sold things off, so I went down and picked one color of every single thread they had.

HR: It was like a going out of business sale?

JV: Yeah, so I'm thinking I'm doing really well with color matching. Mostly it's polyester blends. I do quilt with 100% cotton. But, no I haven't been picky about brands or anything.

HR: Where do you buy your fabrics now?

JV: Oh, it's sad here in Northfield. So since "Jacobson's" went out of business, we've had the good fortune of having "Quilting by the Hearth" over in Lonsdale, but that is still fifteen miles away? 10 miles away? And in the other direction, there's another one that went out of business, "Quilting by the Falls" but now there is something new there in Cannon Falls--

HR: "Fourth and Main."

JV: "Fourth and Main", yep. I haven't circulated much down in Faribault. I know there is at least one that when I visited her, she was just getting started and it wasn't very exciting. So, I have succumbed to a little more shop hopping type stuff. When we go up to the cities [Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota] I do try to stop at "Fabric Town" or "Mill Ends."

HR: It sounds like you do your quilting more by hand. Have you done any machine quilting?

JV: I did try. I took a class. [laughs.] I don't know. I'm not in love with the hard stippling effect. It makes it feel-- I mean, it becomes a hanging, a piece of wall art and it is not soft.

HR: Do you use patterns? Or have you ever designed your own patterns?

JV: I am a person after my mother's own heart and that is that you don't buy a lot of things - you try to make do. And so, I have inherited patterns from friends an awful lot and also from the guild. This Irish Chain is the one I learned strip piecing on, and I think it came out beautifully. As far as a complicated pattern, no, I don't design those [laughs.] But on the other hand, I guess in some ways I do with the applique. I'll take photographs and pick out parts of flowers or something that I want to--

HR: and draw it and transfer?

JV: Yeah, I guess that could be considered designing your own.

HR: How do you choose your colors?

JV: Poorly. [laughs.] I have books and books on color. That is a real challenge for me.

HR: Do you buy all of your fabrics at once. Like if you are in a shop and you have a quilt planned?

JV: Yes, if I'm that far along.

HR: Do you take from a stash?

JV: I have resisted the idea of a stash. People talked about their stash, and I keep it in two drawers, and I know my friends have walls of fabric, but I like to go to a store and pick out the whole nine yards. [laughs.] to mix a metaphor.

HR: Are there any aspects of quilt making that you do not enjoy?

JV: Being precise. [laughs.] Matching things up, getting them straight.

HR: We talked a little bit about quilting with others. If you could say which quilt groups you've belonged to.

JV: About when I started and after I made this [indicating the anniversary quilt.] I was so proud of this quilt that I wanted to show it off and I did come to the guild, and it was a real experience trying to fit into a small-town quilt guild. And the hurt feelings and the times I felt good, it was always kind of a roller coaster as far as social aspects, but I continued on. I noticed the people I really admired were meeting at other times and I could never seem to finagle an invitation so I decided just to invite people to my house and started up a little quilting bee that's become quite strong and we put out rules where we did not have food because one of the things I noticed was the weight average in the larger quilting group, so no food. And it was going to be every Thursday and just 7-9 and bring what you could.

HR: When did that start?

JV: I guess maybe six years ago now.

HR: And you're still doing it now?

JV: Yep

HR: And how many people gather?

JV: As many as can fit around the table, so we have to limit it to about six or seven.

HR: Do you meet year-round?

JV: Yeah, every Thursday and we switch houses, and we try to be in town in the winter and in the summer the people who live out – we have one in Lonsdale and one out there in Dundas. The one in Lonsdale is a 45-minute drive out there, and to be sure she has to drive 45 minutes into town, so--

HR: You touched on something I had written down as a question. Do you see quilting as more competitive or more cooperative?

JV: Whoa.

HR: What are your thoughts on that?

JV: It's interesting because I guess I've not thought of it as competitive, but you are right people do display and win prizes and wouldn't we all like to be a Vici Miller and have that skill and all the prizes behind her name. But was I motivated to put anything in the Rice County Fair? No. So, I guess it's more cooperative, but I'm not above wanting to display and show [laughs.] and get appreciation, so in that way it's a little competitive.

HR: It seems that with shows there are usually prizes and voting that might not go along with other forms of artwork.

JV: Yes, and as one who has helped organize the quilt shows, we've struggled with Voter's Choice. We do not award prizes ourselves. We don't have a jury or ask for guest people to come in and select the one they like. It is a way to engage people.

HR: That was another question I had – the joys and challenges of putting on a quilt show.

JV: [laughs.] Oh, gracious. It's so much work for the two or three days that we have and it's so intense that people's feelings get hurt and feathers get ruffled. And part of it is because we're tired and we've overextended ourselves for those couple days. The raffle quilt has been a challenge to get done for the last two or three years. And there is a group that insists on hand quilting it and then it goes away to one person. That's been hard. And then recently there has been some questions about the money and as moderator of the group that fell hard on me. So that part was hard. But it's always good to see quilting friends come through the show that don't come to the guild or who have come at one time of their life and had to stop for one reason or another. And every time it's that "Oh, I can show people my stuff.' And I want to do that. So that's the joy of it.

HR: It happens every two years?

JV: Yeah, selecting a place has been hard. Working with the place not knowing quite what their expectations were because they've never done it before. We overstepped some boundaries not knowing that people got kinda frustrated with us and I would take the rap.

HR: You've served as president of the guild?

JV: Yes.

HR: But you're not in that position now?

JV: We used to have a president and a vice president and it would cycle through. But people have not liked that system because they all felt like they've done it, and so this year we are trying this new thing of every three months switching so that no one person has to do it for very long. It's in some ways more of a sharing but it does lose the continuity. We'll see how it goes. I only have to do it two more months. [laughs.]

HR: How long have you been a member of the guild?

JV: Since 1995. So, I didn't have to be president for a long, long time. But about four years ago I was president for two years.

HR: These are some questions more about craftsmanship and design aspects of quilting. What do your favorite quilts have in common? The quilts you are viewing?

JV: I would say they probably have some striking colors. Color is important to me even though I struggle with it. I don't like overly designed quilts. I still like to think of them as blankets.

HR: I understand that. Which artists have influenced you?

JV: I certainly like the watercolor things of Monet, but I like the bright colors of Picasso a lot. I like the ordinary parts of Grandma Moses and Andrew Wyeth.

HR: How do you feel about applique versus pieced?

JV: Obviously applique can be so beautiful. Vici is just doing such beautiful work. And I may go back to applique. I have some paintings or photographs that I would like to transfer into cloth. It's a awful big job.

HR: Do you consider quilts more of an art of a craft?

JV: definitely both.

HR: Do you feel like quilts are appreciated in Northfield as artwork. Do you have a feeling for how they are looked upon?

JV: It is merging over to maybe artwork with the Senior Center asking to do a display. We are not on the city arts board yet. We have an ally who is sitting in the other room.

HR: This is the section of Function and Meaning in American Life. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region?

JV: Its hard to see the forest for the trees here. When we look at Black quilts or some of the Underground Railroad history of quilts, stuff like that, we definitely can see that community and history.

HR: Right, but when you're in it--

JV: But when you're in it, it is hard to see. I'm seeing now that I'm aging that colors come into vogue and fade and I'm so sorry to see all the batiks go – stores just aren't carrying them anymore. They had their fill of batiks and now they're doing a lot of thirties and those never did interest me in the thirties or now [laughs.]

HR: How long do you think the batiks were in the stores?

JV: I wonder if it was ten or fifteen years. So, it probably had a good long run, but I was surprised when I went to "Fabric Town" and they just did not have any. It really surprised me.

HR: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JV: Label, label, label. That is certainly a good thing. I'm thinking that one of the things we have to be careful of is some of the trendy pens, pencils, iron-ons and stuff like that that can affect the fabric and it might be easy to make with a water-soluble pen, but the one I did it kept coming back and coming back. And I just learned from my friend that you had to rinse it before you washed it with soap – Oh, it just says wash it out, it didn't say anything about that, so that may be an issue for that quilt forever. I mean you just take a bottle and spray it and it goes away but it comes back. So I think we have to be kind of careful and the simpler we do things may be better.

HR: Do you keep your quilts on beds or how do you store them?

JV: Now that's a question for Rosie [Rosie Werner.] The blue and white quilt I have on my bed in the wintertime, but in the summertime its folded up and I did try the flag fold on it, so it didn't get overly folded in one direction. I keep them in pillowcases. They do sort of rotate through times on beds. They relax on the beds, as Rosie would say.

HR: You said your daughter did one of these squares. Did she pick up quilt making from you?

JV: No, she hasn't.

HR: But probably an appreciation--

JV: Yes, I did a quilt for her in fact that was one of my earlier quilts. It could have been before this one. It was hand quilted. No it was after this one. But she fell in love with what I want to call a dog birthing quilt. One of our neighbors had thrown a quilt away and the dog was using it for when she had puppies. And this neighbor felt sorry for us when we didn't have very much so she washed it and gave it to us, but it was just a terribly put together quilt. So, I remade the quilt with fresh fabric and everything but following the same pattern and gave it to Laura for graduation and she's carried that around the world, around the world. And I was just seeing it in Italy and thinking, you know, she needs new one. [laughs.] She was kind of objecting to my color choices as being too wild, but it was just copying this quilt that she had loved.

HR: It seems like a project like this, the anniversary quilt, would do a lot to teach, at least the people in your family about quilting and what goes into it.

JV: All I did was send them a block and a pen and then they got to see how it came together.

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

JV: Finishing their work [laughs.] UFO's. [Unfinished Objects.] And certainly, passing that skill and love down to a new generation.

HR: Well, you're doing your part.

JV: Well, its so good to have you as part of our group.

HR: Thanks. Thank you to Jean Vick for allowing me to interview her as part of our Quilter's Save Our Stories Project in Northfield, Minnesota. Our interview concluded at 2:25. Thank you very much.


“Jean Vick,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed September 29, 2023,