Venetta Morger




Venetta Morger


Venetta Morger discusses her quilt made to support cancer research for MD Anderson and its Ovarian Cancer Quilt Project. She shares how she began quilting and her experiences teaching techniques to fellow guild members. She has been a full time quiltmaker since 2007 and now has devoted studio space in her home. She aspired to have a quilt displayed at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, and has achieved that goal.




Venetta Morger


Sandy Goldman

Interview sponsor

Julianne Donofrio


Houston, Texas


Katie Demery


Sandy Goldman (SG): Venetta, will you tell me some things about the quilt you brought today?

Venetta Morger (VM): Sure. The quilt that I brought today was made especially for the Cherrywood Challenge that is my brainchild for raising funds for ovarian cancer for MD Anderson [Cancer Center in Houston, Texas]; for research, education, and awareness. This is a quilt that was based on a picture that I had seen of an ancient Turkish painting. I discharged the background and all of the fabrics on there are Cherrywood hand dyed except for the vines. I felted those with my felting machine. Of course I used machine trapunto, machine appliqué to put the flowers on, and then I also machine quilted it myself on my domestic machine.

SG: What did you use to discharge?

VM: I used chlorine bleach, and then you have to wash it very well and use a stopping agent so it will not destroy the fabric.

SG: Do you often discharge?

VM: Not that often. I also do traditional quilting but I'm also venturing into art quilting so I'm trying all different kinds of techniques in art quilting. I'm trying to keep a foot in both realms.

SG: Do you quilt everyday?

VM: I do, but only since about 2007. My mother taught me to sew when I was 10 years old. She was the kind of woman that would stay up all night and make our prom dresses for us. When I got into high school, I designed and made all of my clothes. I'm one of nine children and so she had amazing amount of energy and creativity and panache for us. She taught me how to sew and I never really thought that I would even think about quilting because quilting isn't in my family, until I had my first daughter in1986. I took my first class. It was hand drawn templates, hand piecing, and hand quilting. It took me four years to finish that quilt. I thought 'This is a very long process to get something that's just a wall hanging done'. I didn't end up really quilting much for a couple more years. We had our son a few years later, I was busy being a mom, and I was working part time. We were moving for my husband. My husband is with an oil company and we've moved from Houston to St. Louis, to Wyoming, to Washington, back to Houston, over to Holland, then to England, and now we've been here for the past seven years. My quilt that is in the book, Lone Stars III A Legacy of Texas Quilts, 1986-2011 is called "Wyoming Prairie Winters". In 1992 I thought I would take another quilting class. They had a huge fabric store in Gillette, Wyoming. I took several classes there and they were fantastic. This class that I took was a Feathered Star class, it was with templates but with machine piecing this time, and doing Y seams. It was very technical and I completed the wall hanging project. I enjoyed the process so much that I bought a lot of fabric that I thought would be great if I repeated this four times and made it into a bed-size quilt. Well, with children and moving, I have taken that pattern and that project to all of the places with me around the world and then back to Texas. I started it in 1992, I lost the directions, I went to all kinds of resources to try to figure out how to put together Feathered Stars, all different kinds of techniques. I was trying to piece it all together on my own and then in 2008 my baby sister, Audra Morger-Bonilla, who was 39 at the time, was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. I decided life is too short; I need to finish my quilts. This was one of the projects that was one of my oldest ones. I put my mind to it and I figured out how to put it all together. Then, when I had it all together, I was afraid to quilt it. I wanted to finish it wholly on my own. It wasn't until I took a class by Sue Nickels. She was our guest speaker and taught a workshop at my Woodlands Area Quilt Guild. She taught me how to machine quilt a queen size quilt on my domestic machine. She gave me the confidence and I ended up planning my stitches. Of course, Sue Nickels is the penultimate of feathers, which I just adored. She taught me a very easy way. I really enjoyed it and I ended up finishing that quilt and entering it in my guild quilt show. It won an award and then it's gone on to capture the eye of other people. That's my first baby, really top to bottom. I've made a number of quilts where I've pieced the top and given it to a long armer to finish it. But this one I wanted to do totally on my own.

SG: So that's the quilt that is published in the Lone Stars Three?

VM: Yes.

SG: How did you feel when you found out it was going to be in the book?

VM: It just brings tears to my eyes because the colors of that quilt, believe it or not, when I chose those colors way back when I had no idea teal is a color for ovarian cancer and pink is the color for breast cancer and the colors for that quilt are teal and pink. Since I lost my mother 31 years ago to ovarian cancer… then, when my sister was diagnosed four years ago with ovarian cancer, I immediately knew that I needed to go see my doctor and get tested to see if I carried the genetic mutation that predisposes me for ovarian and breast cancer. Sure enough, I carry the gene for it. It's called BRCA1 genetic mutation. That pretty much has given me not only cause for something to work for but also this, combined with my passion and that's when I contacted MD Anderson, asked if they needed any help with their ovarian cancer quilting project to help raise money for their cause.

SG: Do you make quilts for them?

VM: I do make quilts for them, but I am also a great proponent for them. I go around and talk to guilds about the signs and symptoms of ovarian and uterine cancers, spreading the word to quilt shops and as many people as we can we can get the word out to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and other cancers.

SG: Did you help with the booth here at the Festival?

VM: I did. We have about 153 quilts that are on the online auction this year, and about 12 of those quilts are coming specifically from my guild, The Woodlands Area Quilt Guild, in order to raise funds. This year, they've donated quilts that comfort and so many quilters have such generous hearts. So many ladies have turned out, especially in my guild, wanting to help with understanding they've got family members that have female cancers and this is just one way in which we can hopefully make a difference for other women; not only locally, but around the nation and the world.

SG: It's great quilters are very giving people. Is that one of your favorite colors, teal?

VM: That's a really good question. I wouldn't necessarily say that teal is my favorite color, but teal is the favorite color of my son. He was only 4 years old at the time and I had taken him with me when I was shopping for fabrics for this project. He gravitated right towards that fabric, so I thought 'Why not?' I particularly liked the fabric because it's got a lot of paisleys on it and I do like the paisley design. It's pretty interesting that it turned out that it was the teal and pinks when you could have a range of choices in any coloring.

SG: And the quilt you brought today is teal.

VM: This is all teal fabrics and comes from a very special collection that was given to MD Anderson by Cherrywood fabrics. They hand dye their own fabrics and their founderess passed away from ovarian cancer in 2002. Karla, who owns the company now, had met the folks at MD Anderson at the booth at International Quilt Festival several years ago. They wanted to donate fabrics for their Ovarian Cancer Quilt Project Online Auction. They gave us 24 packets which contained six fat quarters of fabric of gradations of teal. We asked 'Well what should we do with it?" I suggested that we make a special competition for our auction called The Cherrywood Challenge. I'm also very involved with the art quilters with SAQA locally in the Houston [TEXAS] area. I took the packets to my local SAQA meeting and I asked anybody if they wanted to sign up and make a quilt for MD Anderson Ovarian Cancer Quilt Project, which would be used for auction to help raise funds for ovarian cancer. As a result, we have 20 quilts that were in the Cherrywood Challenge that were made by all kinds of wonderful art quilters that using these special fabrics. They're just all spectacular.

SG: How do you use this quilt?

VM: Right now, it's being used to raise funds for MD Anderson. I'm hoping that I'm going to get it back by bidding enough money so I can bring it back into my home. But if it doesn't, then hopefully it will raise enough money for the cause that will make a difference for somebody else.

SG: Do you have a hard time parting with your quilts?

VM: It's interesting; it depends on the type of quilt that I made. This one, in particular, because has so much emotion for me, so much meaning. I don't want to let this one go, but I've taught Disappearing Nine-Patch pattern to my guild and I've made a number of this type of quilt for friends and family. If it's a nice, easy pattern, it's still a quilt and it's wonderful, but it's easy to give those as gifts. The more difficult the pattern, the harder it is to give away.

SG: Is felting on a quilt common for you to do?

VM: It's actually fairly new. In one of my art groups that I belong to, we try all different kinds of techniques. One of the days we experimented with a machine that is called an embellisher. The embellisher that we were playing with has five or seven needles. You take a piece of fabric and wool roving or any other kind of fibers and it permanently meshes into the fabric that you are using.

SG: Do you ever use other embellishing things like beads?

VM: I have used beads. I'm still experimenting with different kinds of techniques, mostly painting. I've done a lot of crystal embellishments, but not so much beads. I'm trying to expand my embellishment repertoire with embroidery.

SG: Embroidery by hand or machine?

VM: By hand.

SG: By hand? So you like to combine hand and machine work?

VM: I do hand and machine appliqué and quilting. It just depends on what the piece needs.

SG: Are you mostly doing wall sized quilts or do you do both?

VM: I do everything. It's interesting because I don't really have a specific style or genre. I pretty much go wherever I feel the inspiration takes me at the moment. At the moment, I'm getting ready for my quilt show that is going to be in April 2012 for my guild. Those are going to be mostly bed-sized quilts. I also belong to another art group, called 12 By The Dozen, which is an international art group that we have on line. We do 12"x12" pieces. It just depends on where I'm heading and what my focus is for that particular piece.

SG: What's your job for your show? Are you in charge of it?

VM: No, I'm not in charge of it this year. I'm not playing a major role for our guild, this year. The reason is that my daughter is getting married that night. Of all of the days that they had to pick, they ending up picking their wedding to be that night. My guild has been very understanding. But where I have really been a major force in my guild is when we had an auction two years ago. We decided that we would split out our auction and our show separately, because having a show and auction at the same time would be a lot of work and would burn everybody out. We decided to do an experiment where we would just have the auction by itself. I really, really believe in my guild, I really love my guild very much. We've got a lot of new quilters who have come on board. I'm pretty much self taught although I have been able to go to classes and learn from other people. Sometimes you don't always get the classes that you wanted, so we structured it where I taught workshops three times a month on a particular technique, to teach our guild members on certain techniques. The idea would be that they would either give us a patch back or do a project on that technique. We did hand and machine appliqué one month. We did borders one month and bindings. We did design one month. We have done all different kinds of techniques in order to get ready for the auction. We will have another auction again in two years and I can see myself playing a role in that and getting people lined up. It was very interesting when we were making some of these quilts that there would be a quilt top that needed a border on it and I would hand it to somebody and say 'Now, put the border on. It needs to be five inches wide'. Then they took it over to their machine and realized they had never been taught on how to put a border on how to measure. They just thought that they just measured a side, cut it, and sewed it. There's all these wonderful teaching moments that we had during these workshops that kind of came out of not even having a lesson plan. They just came out of people making assumptions so it's made everyone in my guild a better quilter. Another thing that I am really involved with in my guild is I've been the co chair for the past two years of the American Quilters' Society Ultimate Guild Challenge. It's been in Knoxville for the past two years and the idea is that your guild picks the top eight quilts and you send them off to AQS, based on a challenge that you picked. It's been a wonderful way that you can choose your own challenge and displaying the quilting from your guild. I think that this has really enabled a lot of members from my guild to get involved in a group effort in pretty things being judged without feeling like they are hanging out there by themselves or that they're alone and getting things judged. The nice thing about the Ultimate Guild Challenge is that it's not judged. They do pick a first, second, and third winner as a group, but they don't write any kind of critiques on the quilts that come. It makes it real safe. We are slowly trying to edge a lot of these quilters into going up to the next level. I've been on the board for for my guild about five years but I jump around to all different kinds of positions because you're only allowed to be in a position on the board for two years in that position. I really enjoy being a leader, but one of the things that came out of the workshops is that I taught a machine quilting class. So many people wanted to learn how to machine quilt on their domestic machines. A year ago, we started a bee called The Wanna Bees. We wanted to be able to machine quilt our own quilts. We started with about 25 and every month I would put together ideas or different kinds of techniques or exercises. We've been doing that now for about 15 months and it's really been very empowering and inspiring to them and to me as far as the amount of time needed in the saddle to become a good machine quilter. Also, they've been using this as a way of finishing a lot of our community service quilts. They've been practicing machine quilting on our community service quilts. It's really been hand in hand of what we do as a guild.

SG: Are most of your friends quilters?

VM: Well if they're my true friends then they're quilters [laughing.] I have friends all over the world because we've lived in so many places. I'm also a long distance runner so I have a lot of friends that do that as well, and neighbors. My friends that quilt talk, I call it code talking because when you quilt talk there's never enough to talk about, it's always very exciting to have friends who are quilters.

SG: You mentioned to me earlier that you have a favorite pattern.

VM: I love Feathered Stars. I've got another project that I've started but I've only gotten in several blocks but I'm hoping to do some kind of a Feathered Stars, using it in an original and unique way. Using a traditional pattern in a different way.

SG: Do you collect anything special?

VM: I've got Singer Featherweight machines. When we lived in England, the Featherweights were made in Scotland. In England, there was a number of Featherweight machines that were sold on eBay. I also managed to get 2 of the 221 models of Featherweights machines but I also purchased a 222 model, which are more rare since fewer were made. The 222's have the little arm that comes out, there's not very many of those. in total, I have three Featherweights and I also collect antique Singer sewing machines, and I have about four or five of those.

SG: Where do you store your collections or do you display them?

VM: I do display them. I have a special ledge in my house that I have the sewing machines out. I have one Featherweight machine that is in working order. They're all in working order, but the one that I use is out.

SG: Do you use it often?

VM: Occasionally.

SG: Do you have a studio?

VM: I do have a studio, in a sense. It's the upstairs game room. When our son went off to college, we took the big screen tv out of there, moved in my sewing tables and cutting tables and we converted it into a sewing studio. Then about a year ago, I needed to expand so I took another bedroom and we moved the bed out and put more sewing machines and tables in there.

SG: And they're all for you?

VM: Yes and when my friends come over, I have a table where they can also set up their sewing machines. One of the things that has been very challenging for me is sewing by myself, personality wise, because I'm an extrovert and I love being around people, but I understand I've also got to have sewing time. I invite one or two friends to come over to my house and sew as often as possible. They bring their projects and we have sew days. I have a table where they can set up on the opposite side.

SG: That's nice. Are you a full time quilter or artist?

VM: Yeah, I would say so. It's interesting because one of the things that I'm always asked about how long I have been a quilter. I've really started thinking about time in the saddle and having a job and having a family that I really haven't been able to focus on being a full time quilter. Only in the last four years have I really been able to focus on my quilting. Before that, I sewed quilts and competed quilts maybe once or twice a year. It was always at the kitchen table. I never really had a space. Now that I have a space, I feel like I can take more time to work on projects and leave them out.

SG: How many projects do you work on at a time?

VM: I think I have an addiction. I think I have ADHD sometimes. I start a project and then I get to a point and think that I'm not ready to finish it or I don't know what else it needs, so I will put it away and then I'll start on something else; or maybe one of my friends has had a baby and I need to get a baby quilt done. When my sister got sick with cancer, I stopped everything. I made a quilt. They had a fundraising event for her. I made a quilt for the fundraiser and then I also made a quilt for her so that she could take it in with her when she went into chemo. I've had a couple of other friends that have been diagnosed with breast cancer where I have immediately stopped everything and made a quilt for them, ASAP. Then they take it when they go into chemo. Probably right now I have about six or seven projects that I call "in the shoot". They've been started and put away, but they need to be finished.

SG: Do you use a design wall?

VM: I use a design wall and I also have my design floor, design bed, and I basically design wherever I can lay it out. I have an artist friend who has one of those portable walls that she made. It's basically a piece of insulation, I think it's about a four by eight board that she covered with felt. That's been very nice because I can turn it sideways in the other room that I sew in where I have a felt up on the entire wall. I can always throw my blocks on the floor or I have a landing, that way I can look down on it. It just depends on the distance and perspective that I need.

SG: Do you have a big stash?

VM: Don't tell my husband. [laughing.]

SG: We will tell him not to listen to the interview.

VM: He's not allowed to read the transcript. I do have a stash. It's interesting because depending on what I feel that I want to make, I have a stash of batik's, children's fabrics, brights, neutrals, appliqué, but at some point in time they are all going to find their way into a wonderful, wonderful quilt.

SG: Is there any aspect of the quilt making process that you don't like?

VM: Being by myself. I don't like being by myself. I think that's why I've really enjoyed teaching these workshops to my guild friends. I also taught some dear friends of mine when we all lived in Holland, our children were about the same age, we all moved back together to Houston. There's about five or six of us and we wanted to make T-shirt quilts for our graduating seniors. I said 'Well, I'll teach you how to do that.' We all got together, about four or five or six times, making these T-shirt quilts. They didn't know how to make these. Several of them didn't even have sewing machines. Not only did we make T-shirt quilts for that child, but the next year we had another child that was graduating from high school so they came back again. Those are probably my happiest times teaching my friends how to quilt, them making something special for their family members that's being made by the mom. Also, just teaching people how to quilt, I really get a lot of satisfaction and happiness from doing that.

SG: Are you drawn to any particular quilt makers? Their styles, their colors?

VM: I'm always amazed. I took a class here at Festival two years ago from Philippa Naylor and I lived in the UK for three years. I always wanted to take a class with her but I never managed to. Her style is so unusual in using threads for coloring in her quilting. I thought it was just beautiful in her own design. Cynthia England, using all of those little teeny tiny pieces to piece together pictorial quilts, I just think that is phenomenal. Sue Nickels, I think she will always be my hero because she was the one who empowered me to get beyond my own fears of quilting my own quilt on my domestic machine. I mean I have so many heroes out there who are amazing quilters.

SG: We seem to have covered a lot of information, it's great. How do you think we should protect and preserve quilting for the future generations?

VM: I definitely would love to see sewing, home ec, quilting coming back into the school systems. I think we need to organically teach our young people how to use a machine, how to sew, how to be creative, how to use it for expression either through making quilts for comfort or for color. I really do believe very strongly that we need to be able to continue this on. I makes me very saddened that I see a lot of these types of things that we do by hand because we know so much of our time and spirit and our energy goes into these quilts when we sleep underneath them. But to have so many of these mass produced, I feel they are very soulless. They're pretty and there's a market for them but I think that we need to encourage our young people that they can do this as well. When I lived in the UK, they teach their young people all kinds of fiber crafts; knitting, embroidery, crocheting, sewing, and it's part of their culture. I think quilting has been part of our culture and we can't overlook it by forgetting to teach those who are coming up.

SG: Do your children quilt?

VM: No, they don't.

SG: Well maybe it will skip to your grandchildren.

VM: I'll just add a little note: they saw me do it, they thought it looked so easy. They thought that if it was easy enough for mom to do it, they could do it. I taught my son to quilt. He can quilt, he's very mechanical. My daughter is very creative, but she's not very mechanical. I think at some point when she starts her own family. She knows that she can come to me and I would more than happy to teach her. My son as well, or his wife, or any of my grandchildren absolutely.

SG: Do you have any other stories that you'd like to tell us today?

VM: I just know that four years ago when I started quilting full-time, having the time to quilt, my kids were all gone and off to school. I really dreamt that one day my quilt would hang in Houston. My quilt hung in Houston two years later in the special exhibits, with the Texas Guild exhibit that they do. I never would have imagined that it would have been picked as one of the best 200 quilts made in Texas in the last 25 years. But I hope that by having a dream, by encouraging others to have a dream, and making it big, that there's nothing dreaming big. It's absolutely the way that we can head towards a goal, and my next dream is to have a quilt in the winners circle here in Houston one of these days.

SG: I think that's a great way to end our interview. I'll come and see your quilt when it's hanging in the winners' circle. Thank you so much Venetta for allowing me to interview you today and for the Quilters' S.O.S. – Save Our Stories Oral History Project. Our interview is concluding at 1:40.


“Venetta Morger,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,