Joyce Saia




Joyce Saia




Joyce Saia


Loveeta Golightly

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Diane Metts


Houston, Texas


Lavita Golightly (LG): Joyce, will you tell us about the quilt you brought today?

Joyce Saia (JS): Well, my quilt is called "Logs and Leaves" because obviously I've got the Log Cabin blocks and the leaves in the border. It's 80" by 80" and I made this in Beaumont. Actually, I finished it in Beaumont, Texas but I made most of it while I was on the road. Every year my husband and I travel for about four and a half months in the motor home. I always take my sewing machine and my supplies and as much fabric as I can sneak on board. This particular quilt I made in 2009. I knew that I wanted to make a log cabin quilt and I had a collection of Cherrywood fabrics. Before we went on the trip, I cut a whole bunch of fabric strips. So I just took strips, I didn't have to take a bunch of fabric with me on the road. I made myself a block and copied it on paper foundations and took that with me. On the road, anytime we would stop for a couple of days, I would sew. I just made blocks most of the summer. When I had them about done and when I got to Pasco, Washington, I have a daughter in Pasco who quilts; we went to her Bernina store or the one where she frequents. They happened to have this embroidery pattern that was with leaves called "Colors of Autumn". The rest of the way I embroidered. But first I didn't have enough fabric to make the border out of. So we ran to Anacortes, Washington and I had the number for Cherrywood. I called Cherrywood fabrics and talked to Carla there and said I needed some yardage quickly because we were moving. I couldn't stand and wait for mail to come. I didn't know for sure what color, but I thought chocolate brown was safe, I know what color that was. I asked her for chocolate brown. She shipped two yards of chocolate brown to me by priority mail. She sent it that day and I had it about two days later and then of course went to a laundromat and washed the fabric. I ironed it and then started cutting it into strips to make the border. The embroidery design I just made up as I went along. I put one design in the center and then I just made four borders the same. I couldn't put it together on the trip because I can't put a big quilt together in my motor home. I had it all ready to go for when I got home. Then I put the quilt together and did the border. For the binding I found a stripe that was the perfect coloring. I found the embroidery design that seemed to just match it perfect. It's actually appliquéd but it has embroidery on it. It's one of my favorite quilts. I got the best of show in our Golden Triangle quilt guild. Also in 2010 in March I got second place in Dallas. In May I got first place at the Denver National Quilt show with this quilt. I love the colors and I have had it several shows. I had it in the Houston show. I didn't win there but I thought it looked good.

LG: You said that you did your sewing on the road. Did you do your quilting on the road?

JS: I did put the center of the quilt together on the road but I couldn't layer it and quilt it until I got home because I don't have any place that big in the motor home where I can work. When I was traveling I have gone to quilt shops where they would let me use a table or something but I just waited until I got home to do it. Actually I made two quilts on the road that year and put them together when I got home. I always have several tops done by the time I'm done on the road.

LG: When you quilt the quilts at home do you do it on your machine?

JS: Yes

LG: Do you use a long arm machine?

JS: No, I have a Bernina home machine. With the embroidery I used a 730. Everything was done on it. I quilted the log cabins in the ditch because I thought about putting a design on it like some leaves or something but I just like it plain like it is. Then I thought I did enough quilting in the border, free motion quilting besides the embroidery design.

LG: You described your travels. Does this quilt have special meaning to you about your travels or something else?

JS: It was serendipitous to happen to find that embroidery with it together. I traveled to Beaumont and Houston of course to see it when it was here. It was just fun to do on the road. The fact that I was able to get the fabric from Cherrywood was luck.

LG: You said you go to quilt shows and you go to see your quilts at quilt shows. What do you think that people say about you as a quilter when they see your quilt?

JS: Mostly the color, the comments most people make is they like the color. They're bright, that's just the comment most people make.

LG: How do you use this quilt?

JS: Well right now it's put in my armoire with my collection [laughing.] I haven't put it on the bed or anything yet because I'm showing it places.

LG: Any plans in the future to put it on the bed or the wall?

JS: Oh yes. I will. Probably one of my daughters will get it. I don't sell my quilts, but I make a lot of them. Mostly I give them to family or quite often I will donate them to auctions. A lot of them have gone to the quilt guild auction or to different charities. I just donated one to "Some Other Place" in Beaumont for a shelter where they feed people that are in from out of town that need help. I donated one to them recently for their raffle.

LG: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. How did it begin?

JS: I retired and decided that this was what I wanted to do when I retired. I had sewed before, but I had never quilted before. I didn't have anybody in my family who had quilted at the time but while I was still working my daughter gave me a sewing machine for Christmas once. I thought 'What am I going to do with this?' because I hadn't sewed in a while. But I had a grandson, a small toddler, and I started making clothes for him. I started with little Hawaiian shirts. Then when I retired in 1991 I decided I wanted to quilt and made a quilt out of all of the fabric leftover from the clothes I made for him. I tried to put a star together or something. I realized I was going to need a little more help or at least put a little more thought into it. So I went to a book store and bought something like "quilting in a day". I thought I could make a quilt in one day. I just started by looking in the book and I made lots of quilts. For about five years, I didn't know about the quilt guild. But I went to a quilt show in Beaumont and saw some wonderful quilts and decided that I needed to join the guild because I wanted to show mine. I joined the guild before the next show and put several of my quilts in it. But since I didn't have any formal instruction or anything, I would've have entered them now. I did get honorable mention in that show. The first time I went to the guild they had show and tell, where you got to show all of the things you've been working on. It was so much fun. I was really kicking myself because I hadn't been doing that. Then I discovered that they have classes and experts come in from afar that come in and give classes. Then I just started taking a lot of classes. I had already about 25 quilts done before I ever took any lessons. But then I learned that you're supposed to have really quarter-inch seams. I learned kind of what the rules are even though they say that there are no rules. The guild was a revelation how good it was. Now I'm in several guilds. I'm in a bee, "Happy Scrappers". In Beaumont we live close to Louisiana, so our guild and our bee have people who are from both Texas and from Louisiana. In our bee, we meet at different people's houses. We'll go about 50 miles in about any direction to get to someone's house to have these meetings. It's fun and our guild has a show every two years. We are having one in February and we have an auction every other year. Everybody donates quilts to the auction and that's to raise money so we can have those instructors come from other locations. Between those two and traveling to Houston and Denver and any other quilt show I can find, I spend a lot of time quilting. Everyday, probably for four or five hours anyway. I get a lot done. People always wonder how I get so much done. Partly because I have a wonderful husband who cooks and is very supportive of my quilting. He doesn't complain if I buy fabric. He teases me, but I don't have to sneak it into the house like some people do.

LG: You must have a lot of friendships from all of the quilting with your bee and your guild and all of your traveling.

JS: I do. I have a lot of friends in the guild and our bee. They're all pretty close. We keep expanding because so many people want to get in it. We have 30 members in our bee. That's the one where some of them are in Louisiana and some are in Texas. I have two daughters. One of them lives near me. She doesn't quilt, but she's very interested. She comes to Houston to these classes. She takes classes in painting and dying fabrics and silk painting. I have a daughter Linda who lives in Pasco, Washington. She's a quilter. I didn't teach her to quilt because I didn't quilt when she was at home. I didn't start until later and then I must have inspired her to start quilting. She's quite an accomplished quilter too. We call each other and talk about quilting. My whole family really gets involved in it. Even though I never had anybody before that quilted in my family, now I do --

LG: When I looked up your information online to see what I could find out about you, I saw a number of other quilts. You seem to have won a number of awards from other quilts as well. Tell us about that.

LS:I won quite a few. Most of the quilts I make could be called Art Quilts. I do this Art Nouveau. It's in the designs of Alfonse Mucha. I don't know if you're familiar with Mucha but he made lithographs of beautiful women surrounded by flowers with flowers in their hair. There's a lot of symbolism around it. I started doing those from pictures. Mucha was very prolific. There are a lot of sources for his design and they're hard to copy because they are so old. You can get them in some books that are copyright free. I just copy it. I draw it, I don't trace it or anything. I draw the pattern for the quilts. I try to do it as much like he did as I can and then I appliqué and machine quilt and machine embroidery. I am mostly noted for those because I've done so many. I won at Sulky. The first one I sent, I was an amateur. I got the amateur grand prize in 2001. I won the appliqué division of the Hoffman challenge. In Sulky in other years I've won a grand prize, first, second, and third place. I've had several of the Sulky prizes. In Bernina in 2001, my Bernina dealer wanted to take one of my quilts to Bernina University where they have a convention every summer. She took one of my quilts and entered it. This was called "Nocturnal Slumber". It won the grand prize in the Bernina contest in 2001. I thought it might be better to bring more traditional quilts to this interview.

LG: You have a quilt here entered here at Houston in the Lone Star. Tell us about that.

JS: That one is a pineapple design. The design was from a drawing from a Jane Hall and Dixie Haywood book, Foundation for Quilts. So from that picture I just figured out how to make this design. It's blue and white pineapple. It's kind of unique because it has a lot of spirals in it. I was kind of surprised when they asked me to send it for the book. It looks great in the book and I'm thrilled.

LG: It's a beautiful quilt.

JS: Thank you.

LG: You told us about your studio and where you sew your quilts, but can you tell us about where you sew at home?

JS: Yes, I have a nice big sewing room that used to be one of my daughter's bedrooms. They went away to college -- When they went away for good, I took one of the room's for my sewing room. At first, there was a bed in there. I told my husband 'Maybe we could put a table over the bed so I have this nice big cutting area and everything.' He said 'Why don't we just take the bed out?' We don't need to have company. If someone comes they can stay at a hotel.' [laughing.] We just took the furniture out and now that's my sewing room. It has book shelves all along one wall. I have lots of shelves. My daughter, Leslie the lawyer, used to have her law books on there. She's long gone and she left her law books there. One day I just decided to move her law books out and put them in boxes. I put all of my fabric there. I just love it. I have it all folded up on those shelves so you can see.

LG: Do you have a design wall?

JS: I have a design wall. I have two big foam boards that are both 4" by 8" so together they're big enough for a big quilt. I couldn't do without a design wall. I put them up and put them together on the design wall. To make the Muchas I put up the background and then I put a plastic sheet over it with a drawing on it. Then I put the applique onto the background. I couldn't do with a design wall. That's one problem I have when I'm on the road traveling because I don't have the design wall so a lot of times I just make blocks. I can work on these Mucha quilts because they're smaller. I manage for four and a half months in the motor home.

LG: I want to talk about a different aspect of quilting, the design aspects. What do you think makes a great quilt?

JS: Of course, it has to be the impact. The most important thing that the judges think too is the impact. I like all kinds of quilts. But I think probably the colors are one of the most important things.

LG: What do you think makes a great quilt maker?

JS: Practice [laughing.] Real interest. Going to classes like Diane Gaudynski. Quilting like Gaudynski like a lot of them do.

LG: Have you been influenced or inspired by other quilt makers? Who are they?

JS: When I first started, I didn't know any. But then I did get inspired by Hollis Chatelain,
Diane Gaudynski, Carol Bryer Fallert. Right now I think David Taylor is terrific. I like to do his kind of work. Today I'm taking a class with Pam Holland and I think she's terrific. I like about every aspect of it I guess.

LG: Why's quiltmaking important to you?

JS: First of all, it's what I do since I retired. I had to have something to do. I think that this is the perfect thing. You can do art, paint it, draw it and you can dye it. It's such a pleasure to have something to do every day like that. I get up first thing in the morning and the first thing I do is walk into my sewing room and look at what I'm working on. Then I go make some coffee and then I go back and start sewing. I'll sew until noon, then I'll usually sew in the afternoon. We go to the gym and then come back and I'll be sewing again. It's mostly because it just keeps me busy all of the time.

LG: In what way do you think that quilts have special meanings for women in women's lives in America in particular?

JS: That's a good question [laughing.] It's something that is really ours. There are a lot of men in it and they're really good, but I think that it's something that women feel that they can really get involved in and get so much companionship from it. It's all so exciting because you can all take the same design and every quilt is going to be different: Unless you're just working from a kit or something. You just make wonderful friends, too.

LG: Do you use technology in your quilting? A lot of people use computers.

JS: I try. I'm not really computer literate but I use my computer with my embroidery and transfer designs to the machine and everything. I have all of the equipment I could do to design quilts on the computer. I don't really do that. I leave that for people who really know more about computers.

LG: What do you think is the biggest challenge for quilters today?

JS: The biggest challenge --

LG: What do you think is your biggest challenge?

JS: My biggest challenge is the quilting design. Once I get the quilt done, I don't usually know how I'm going to quilt it until it's done. Then I sit there and think. It's like I've never quilted before because I'll sit there and wonder what I'm going to do with it. That's my biggest challenge.

LG: Do you spend some time letting the quilt speak to you?

JS: I do. Sometimes I put it up on the design wall and I have to wait quite a while before it says anything --

LG: Can you tell us about something that has happened in all of your travels to various shows, shops, and quilt making that you thought was a hilarious or amusing thing that happened? Maybe a conversation overheard or something else, anything that stuck in your mind over the years?

JS: There have been so many [laughing.] I have so many stories that have been so exciting, but I'm blanking --

LG: Let me ask you another thing. Have you taught any of your daughters, granddaughters, or grandsons, or anyone else how to quilt?

JS: I only have one grandson and I haven't taught him to quilt, but I have made quilts for him. He loves them. They have a lot of cats and when he was about three, I made a quilt for him with a lot of cats called 'Too Many Cats'. I had pictures of him with the cats when he was three looking so cute. When he was seven, I made him an X-Men quilt. His favorites were the X-Men and he used to have all of these little action figures so I made a quilt that had all of those action figures on it. I had it in our local show because I had just made it for him. I did some designs from a deck of cards and that had all of these X-men on it, but I never put it in a big show because I wasn't sure about the copyright and it was just for him that I made it. That did win a prize in our local show. He was just so thrilled to get that. Also, I made him another one that was Indonesian batik designs. It was supposed to be a monkey dancer. The art museum had asked for some of our quilts during one of our shows so I had this in the art museum. There was a man that wanted to buy it. The museum told me that this man really wanted to buy that quilt. I said I couldn't sell it because I had made it for my grandson. I told my grandson about this and said 'Listen, this man wanted to buy your quilt'. He was silent for a little while and he said 'How much was he gonna pay?' [laughing.] So it didn't mean as much to him than it did to me probably.

LG: You said you were in guilds and you indicated that you had been on guild boards. I wondered what kind of work you did with guild boards.

JS: I haven't been a board member or anything because I'm gone so much of the year that I can't spend the whole year doing this but I do co-chair the boutique in our quilt show. I don't have to be there year-round to do that. A friend of mine and I do boutique for the quilt show, so that's about the extent of that.

LG: Is there anything that I have not asked you that you really particularly want to share with someone who might be interested in your quilting or quilting in general?

JS: I really am a blank [laughing].

LG: Okay. I think we have come close to the end of our interview time and you've answered a whole lot of my questions very nicely.

JS: When I travel, I take a journal. I've been doing this for about 15 years. Every year I have a journal with all of the things that happened. When I first started it I told my husband I was writing a journal because we will never remember what we did on all of these trips. Every fall I get out a journal and start reading about what I did.

LG: That's good. This will conclude our interview. I'd like to thank Joyce Saia for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilter's S.O.S-Save Our Stories Oral History Project. Our interview concluded at 11:45. Thank you.



“Joyce Saia,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,