Becky Goldsmith


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Becky Goldsmith


Becky Goldsmith talks about getting started making quilts and how it's grown into a quilting business, and offers advice for new quilters.




Becky Goldsmith


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Del Thomas


Sherman, Texas


Kim Greene


Note: The quilt used for this interview is part of a book, CD, and traveling exhibition called "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece," which Ami Simms curated. The purpose of the exhibition is to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. All of the profit from the book and CD is donated to Alzheimer's research.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview Becky Goldsmith. Becky is in Sherman, Texas and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview by telephone. Today's date is February 29, 2008. It is 2:08 in the afternoon. We are doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories based on the Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece Exhibit and Becky has a quilt called "Trying to Hold On." Thank you for doing this with me, and tell me about "Trying to Hold On."

Becky Goldsmith (BG): When Ami asked me to take part in this exhibit and I said yes, it was not really because Alzheimer's runs in my family but it was because it is a disease that really scares me. Just because you may or may not have it in your family, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't get it. But anyway, the way I approached the quilt was if I had Alzheimer's, I wondered if I would stop quilting, and I decided that no, even if I had the disease I probably would keep on quilting, but I knew that over time as the disease ran its course it would take its toll on my skills. So I made the center of the quilt as perfect as I could and then as you move out from the middle the workmanship deteriorates, the color choices deteriorate, until you get out to the border and where it would be a typical vine and leaf border in appliqué, it is completely random and the pieces are not coherent. They are cut by scissors and just stitched down with heavy black thread. It goes from perfect in the center to completely, completely not perfect at the outer edges.

I used pretty happy colors, the pinks and the light colors, pink and greens and there are some other things going on, and it is funny because when people see the quilt they don't see the imperfections. I had this reaction, I would hold it up to people and they would say that is great, but I don't see what is wrong with it, and it is because the perfect part, the dead center middle perfect part is the part of the quilt that is the most different and it tends to draw the eye. I think it has turned out to be a really good metaphor for Alzheimer's and for what I would hope if I had Alzheimer's. I would hope that people would remember me for who I was perhaps at my best rather than who I was after the disease had taken its toll. Does that make sense?

KM: Yes it does.

BG: There you go.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

BG: Yes and no. Color wise it is very typical of the color pallet that I work with. I tend to use clear colors versus muddy colors. The appliqué block, certainly the one at the center is very typical of the kinds of, the kind of appliqué blocks that both my partner, Linda Jenkins and I do inside Piece O' Cake Designs. We do many patterns that draw from traditional sources that have a little bit more of a contemporary twist. It has had an impact on, this particular quilt has had an impact on what I have done since I made it in that before this quilt, I still like balance and I still like symmetry, but I was really seriously into balance and symmetry. Since I made this quilt, I have a lot more fun letting go of some of that in doing things that are just a little bit quirkier and maybe less perfect.

KM: Was it difficult to do it so imperfectly?

BG: Yes. Yes it was actually. Especially in the appliqué because I'm very used to doing invisible stitches and turning the edges under as smoothly as I possibly can. Working on the Alzheimer's quilt, especially out from the center, and the center is a very small part of the quilt, so working on the parts that were less than perfect required me to let go of a lot and work in a different way, and it was funny because a quilt about losing mental function. I could feel synapses forming in my brain forcing myself to work in a different way. It was really an interesting experience.

KM: What do you plan to do with this quilt?

BG: Well, my younger son has claimed this quilt. It is really funny. He does not like many of the quilts I have made, I don't know--too floral for him or something. But Jeff is the mathematician, he is working on a graduate degree right now at John Hopkins and this is the quilt that, as I was working on it and it was up on the design wall, he claimed it and after it was finished, he still claimed it. He wanted it. He will get it too; I'm going to give it to him. He and his fiancée, my almost daughter-in-law, Celia, they both really likes this.

KM: Did he tell you why he really likes it?

BG: I think Celia likes it as much because of the colors as anything. She really likes things that are pink. But I think Jeff likes it because it is sort of balanced asymmetry. It is floral without being sweet. It is a little bit edgier than many of the quilts that I have made, and all of those things really appeal to him.

KM: It has been mentioned as a favorite by a lot of people in the interviews that I have done.

BG: Really?

KM: Yes, are you surprised by that?

BG: Well, I'm happy to hear that. I don't know if it might be because it is not overtly depressing to look at, and let's face it, Alzheimer's is depressing and many of the quilts express that in a vivid sort of way. So it may be that people like it as much because it lightens the mood just a little bit and I'm happy with that, because I look at the body of the work that I have done, and I don't make depressing quilts. I can't seem to make myself make depressing quilts. I'm not really a very depressive sort of person. [laughs.] I am happy to hear that, I'm happy to hear that people like it.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit?

BG: I have not had an opportunity to walk through the exhibit. I have gone through the DVD, and I have certainly looked through the book, and this is an exhibit that I really, really would like an opportunity to walk through and I hope I get the opportunity before it finishes its run.

KM: I hope so too.

BG: I really hope I do.

KM: You mentioned the DVD or the CD that is on this, and we had to read our artist statement, tell me about that experience for you.

BG: It was, it was, this was actually the easiest artist statement I have ever had to write. In general, I'm not that keen on artist statements because I think the work should either stand on its own or not, but this is a quilt that surprised me in that people didn't get it right off the bat. But the explanation fits nicely with the quilt, and so explaining it verbally or in the written word. I didn't mind it. I enjoyed being able to explain it and not try to come up with some weird fluffy artist reason for why I did it. [laughs.] So many of those artist statements, they drive me crazy. Not only to write them and then to read them.

KM: I agree.

BG: [laughs.]

KM: I often go, ha.

BG: It is like give me a break. [laughs.] What can I say, this one was easy.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

BG: Actually I like to make quilts because it keeps me sane. I don't make quilts for the finished product. I never really have beyond the very first ones that I made for my kids beds. I make quilts because I enjoy the process of designing them, both the drawing, the choosing of the fabrics, and the working with color. I like the process of hand appliqué. That is what I do in the evening, as I sew I can feel my blood pressure go down, so I do it for the work part. The finished product is a happy by product of what I do, and at this point, I'm really happy that both of my sons and their wife and fiancée, they want pretty much everything that I kick out. I know the quilts have a place to go and [laughs.] so I can keep making them and not worry about the closets exploding.

KM: When did you start making quilts?

BG: Let's see, I'm fifty-two now, and I started making quilts, lets see my youngest is twenty-three, twenty-two years ago. Twenty-two years ago, yah about twenty-two years ago when Jeff was trying to crawl out of his crib and I thought he would kill himself. We bought these bunk beds and they didn't come with comforters and I had to make something because we were too broke to go out and buy anything, and so I made quilts. That is how I got started, from an article in the newspaper.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

BG: If that includes actually working on all parts of the manuscripts and the drawings and everything else, if it goes into everything it takes in getting a project into print and publication, I would guess sixty to eighty hours a week. It is pretty much all day and all evening. If it is just actually the sewing part, maybe half that.

KM: I guess I should ask you about Piece O' Cake Designs, so that people can have context to all of this. Tell me about Piece O' Cake.

BG: My business partner, Linda Jenkins and I were friends for eight years before we started the business. We both used to live in Tulsa, we were members of the same guild there, and when her husband retired and they moved to Colorado and my husband got a job at Austin College, which is in Sherman, Texas. That was when we started the business.

We started small with just two or three patterns, and over the years, (I think maybe it has been almost fourteen years now) over the years we have published, I don't know, we self published a bunch of the books and now we are with C&T; Publishing, I guess we have a total of twenty-three or twenty-four books, and god knows how many patterns. I really don't, in the hundreds of patterns. As I said, we self published for a number of years, and then moved to C&T; when the, just the shear volume of handling all that inventory got to be too much.

The way it works, because Linda and I live in different states and have since we started the business, anything that is pertaining to the inventory goes to Linda, so anything that, anything that has to be warehoused or shipped or any of that, employees, money that is all Linda. Anything that is related to the drafting of the patterns and the writing of the manuscript, writing instructions, ad layout when we were still self published, that sort of thing that is mine, because my background is more in graphics. That doesn't mean that I'm the creative one and she is not, it means that I can draw and so when I'm drawing for myself it is pretty easy, but when I'm drawing for Linda--over the years we have worked out how it is she needs to tell me what she wants me to draw and then I draw it and she makes it. We each make our own quilts, but most people can't really tell them apart.

KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups now?

BG: I'm a member of the Dallas Guild, but I'm far enough away that I rarely get to go to the meetings. I'm a member of the local guild, but I'm on the road so much that, there again, I rarely get to go to the meetings. I feel like I'm a guild member kind of universally though because I travel and teach at a minimum at one guild meeting every month, and guild meetings, let me tell you, they are the same every where you go. I do go to a lot of different guilds. Where I am in Texas, there is not a lot of opportunities to be a member of other art groups, although there is the critics group that I've just joined and I'm looking forward to going to my first meeting in April.

KM: Tell me about that.

BG: It is kind of a low profile group with a series of other artists, and to be honest I haven't been to the meeting yet, but I think it is mostly fiber artists and the group contacts a person who is qualified in some art realm to come and everybody gets to bring one piece and the critic critiques the piece and then you get feedback from the group, so it is not necessarily a pat on your back kind of group, I have a feeling if they have bad things to say you will hear that too, they just do it, you benefit sometimes more from--well you need actual criticism, so it is the good and the bad, and I'm looking forward to it.

KM: What made you decide to join the group?

BG: I was invited to join the group.

KM: Why did you accept?

BG: Why did I accept, because the person who invited me. Since this person is pretty low profile I'm not going to mention names, but the person who invited me, I thought ‘damn I think I will do this.' [laughs.] This person who said it had helped her a lot and she is an individual that I didn't think needed any help to begin with. [laughs.] I think this will be good for me.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist, or a quiltmaker, or a business person, or do you really make a distinction?

BG: I don't make a distinction really. I like to hope that the body of work that eventually will be left behind is remembered and used as a resource for quilters who come after. That would be really, really nice if the patterns have life, life beyond just me. I'm a little bit hopeful, because people use our patterns. It is really, really nice. I don't know about other people who write patterns and publish their work, but I'm always happy to see when people use what Linda and I have done and make it their own, make changes to it, but still acknowledge that we are the source. It means that they like what we do well enough to use it themselves and that is good. They use it themselves successfully. People have success with our patterns and that makes me very happy.

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

BG: Time. Today I would have to say time. There are so many things in every individual's life that make it difficult to find the time to spend doing whatever it is that particular person enjoys doing, and for most quilters it is finding the time to quilt. You can get by with less money, you can get by with a lot of things, but time is the big one. You can't hardly get by without time.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

BG: I think it is because I like to hold fabric. It is what I do. I could possibly work in paint or collage or paper or something else, but the fabric itself--I think it is the tactile quality of the fabric. I really enjoy holding it. I like working with my hands and I've come lately to understand that working with prints, colored prints is fundamentally different from working with paint. Paint is--you paint with blue you are painting with blue, you are not, like, painting with blue polka dots, and I enjoy working with the patterns, the individual texture in addition to the color. I find all of that pretty challenging and that is what I enjoy. I enjoy that part.

KM: Describe your studio.

BG: My studio is nine feet wide and about fourteen or fifteen feet long. It used to be a porch on the house and whoever had the house before us converted it. So where the patio doors used to be opens on to the living room. That opens directly into the studio and then across that nine foot width you can walk out into the back yard through a door, so that is across one narrow width of the studio. And then down the length wise length at one end is my design wall, closer to the living room, and at the other end is the doorway to our bedroom so my studio is actually part of the big traffic pattern in the house and I like it, I like that. It means it is a common area of the house. I don't like working off by myself and it puts the design wall in easy view of pretty much of anybody who comes and goes and I find that people like that, they like to see what I'm working on and they comment on it and that is good too. My fabric is in the closet in one of the bedrooms and my books are in the dining room.

KM: Are you neat when you create?

BG: Pretty much. We don't have that big of a house, we don't even have an eighteen hundred square foot house and because my studio is in such a visible area of the house, I can't let it get too crazy. It is not perfect, but there is an order to the chaos. I think better when it is not complete chaos around me and stuff. I can't deal with stuff piled up on the floor and everywhere, I just can't go there. I can't think, so it is moderately tidy.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

BG: They are all happy. My husband brags on it. He really enjoys telling people what I do and both of my sons, they grew up with me quilting and so I don't know that they could image it any other way. They are both now out of college and they have their own families and now they enjoy it because they are benefiting from it. My daughter-in-law, she really loves it. The quilt I made for her is called "Lorna's Vine", her name is Lorna and it was on the cover of one of our books and it makes her happy. And Celia is very pleased as well, my almost daughter-in-law.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

BG: It has been a series of people over the years, but I have to say that probably I'm drawn more to quilts that have been made anonymously by people in the past. Very quirky antique quilts are the things I find myself going back to and inspired by the most. The quilts that are not quite perfect that were made with the fabrics at hand and that were obviously drawn from somebody's very vivid imagination, I enjoy those a lot, a whole lot. Nancy Crow, I've always enjoyed looking at Nancy Crow's work, and Ruth McDowell. I really like Ruth's work as well.

KM: They are very different. Nancy Crow and Ruth McDowell.

BG: Yes and no.

KM: Alright then tell me the differences and the similarities.

BG: I think that they are based, they both, I know Ruth has an engineering background so what she does in her quilts makes a lot of sense if you know that. I don't know about Nancy Crow, but there is a balance to her work that suggests an analytical mind.

KM: I would agree with you, I would agree that both have that analytical mind.

BG: It is evident in what they do in different ways. I enjoy it. I enjoy the way they both use color. I really enjoy the way that Ruth uses the texture of the fabric. In fact, I'm taking the first class I've taken in fifteen years. Since we started Piece O' Cake, I have not taken classes because I think it is, it is just weird when you are still publishing to take classes, but I'm going to take a class with Ruth next month, and I'm really looking forward to it.

KM: Which one of her classes are you taking?

BG: It is kind of a thing she teaches. She has a five day workshop, at an Empty Spools Seminar. I have heard so much about how good she is in the classroom and I want to experience it while she is still doing it. I have a feeling that I can learn from her and it is not so much the technique, because her book is very clear as far as how she technically does what she does, it is more the playing with the fabrics that I'm looking forward to. And I hope I have my pattern done so I can actually play with the fabric when I'm in class.

KM: Let's touch on Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece Exhibit, do you have any favorites within the exhibit. Any quilt that or quilts that have caught your eye.

BG: No, I sort of, I viewed this thing as a whole--I really do and as a whole, it is so powerful. I think that if I have, when I get a chance to walk by and actually see the quilts in person, it would be easier to pick a favorite.

KM: They are very different in person than they are in the book or on the CD.

BG: When you look at something in a shiny format it changes it. You know what I mean? Pages are glossy and the computer screen it is glossy, it changes the whole thing.

KM: I would agree with you. I would encourage people to go and see the exhibit because it is very, very different, although it is difficult.

BG: I have never been where it is.

KM: I do hope you get a chance.

BG: I do too.

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

BG: Varies from person to person, because what I think might be a great quilt, someone else would not. I suppose a quilt that makes you actually stop and look and continue looking. Then maybe walk back and look at it some more, and then you think about it at night when you are sleeping. They are not always the quilts that you like the best that make you do that. The ones that stick with you for one reason or another I would consider great quilts, and the ones that have affected me that way are completely varied. It is not ever any one genre or color and it changes too. As I get older and my tastes change, I find this changes too.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

BG: Work hard. [laughs.] Work really hard. It depends on when you say starting out, starting out as a quilter, that would be do what you enjoy and learn your craft. Someone starting out in the business, you work really hard and know your craft and never think you know everything because you can learn something new every single day. Be willing to learn from your mistakes and admit it and move on.

KM: Is there anything that you don't like about quiltmaking?

BG: I do not like calculating yardage. But I do it. There is always a lot riding on it, it is not like you are just calculating yardage for yourself and if you mess up you have only messed up for yourself. When you calculate those kinds of numbers, yardage, instructions and all that and it is going into print, if you mess up it messes up more than just you, so there is a lot of responsibility there. Plus it is not that much fun to calculate yardage and that sort of thing. But there again, it has to be done.

KM: What do you find most pleasing about quiltmaking?

BG: I like the hand sewing part. That is the part that pleases me the most.

KM: Do you hand quilt?

BG: I hand appliqué, but I machine quilt.

KM: That is what I thought.

BG: I tolerate the machine quilting. I don't love it, but I don't hate it either, it is not my favorite thing.

KM: What do you think about longarm quilting and that whole phenomenon?

BG: If I had room for one I might want one, but I don't so I don't even have to worry about that. The thing about longarm quilting is that when someone lets go of a quilt and hands it over to another individual to quilt it, they need to understand that the quilting can really change the quilt. I think the quilter, people give credit to their longarmer, but there are a lot of places where the longarm quilting is more important than the quilt top itself or better than the quilt top. I don't know, it just seems to me like you are handing over a lot when you just hand it over and let somebody else quilt it. The day will come, I feel certain, when physically I will be one of those people who has to hand my quilt over and you just live with that decision, but I would encourage people while they are physically able to quilt their own quilts to think twice before just churning out the tops and letting somebody else quilt them, because the quilting is too integral part of the quilt to just let go of.

KM: That is part of a life.

BG: Yah, it is. If you intend to claim this quilt as your own, then just handing it over to somebody else to quilt, it is not really, its not part of the deal. [laughs.] It is not. If it is yours, you need to do both parts.

KM: Tell me about the appraisal process for "Trying to Hold On". Ami required each of us to get an appraisal before it went on the road.

BG: Yah. I sent mine off and it got appraised and my younger son is going to own this quilt and he was very happy. [laughs.] It appraised a little higher than I thought it would. I have not sold many of my quilts. I hope at some point to sell more of them, but I think this one appraised at $3,600 and I thought that was pretty good.

KM: It is thirty-six by thirty-six inches.

BG: That quilt has had an effect on the quilts I have made since then. In that respect, when I look at this quilt, of the quilts I have made over the years, this one would rank right up there with one of the important ones I have done personally, that I think is important. It may not be what other people think is one of the important ones I have done, but I do, I would rank it right up there in the top five of the quilts I have made.

KM: That is just because of the experience?

BG: Yah, and I don't know that the affect it had on me would have that much bearing on the value of the piece itself, but I place some value on that.

KM: What some other, you said the top five, what are some of the other ones on your top five list?

BG: "Simply Delicious" would be one. That was the very first, very successful pieced background I had ever done behind a quilt and that became a signature look for Linda and I. It is relatively common now, but it wasn't when that quilt was made. "Stars in the Garden" would be another one. "Everyday Best" is one from one of the newer books; I think that is a big one.

KM: Why is it a big one?

BG: That is one that I just really like the way it turned out. Color-wise it is pretty complex. The way the color and pattern all went together, there are lots and lots of dots, and it is very circular design and it took a while to figure out how to put the pieces together so that it turned out the way it did. I know, because I saw it in pieces that it could have gone south really quickly. This one was on the cover of Quilters' Newsletter. It's still one of my personal favorites.

Funny enough--sometimes I think about putting it in the top five and sometimes I don't but "Welcome to the North Pole", that is the book that we did with Martingale, I think that is the book that is one that has been in print the longest, and it would be funny that that might be the book that people remember us more for than anything else. That would be kind of funny.

KM: It is interesting.

BG: It is kind of quirky, whimsical, cute. It is a nice piece.

KM: Are quilts hanging on your walls?

BG: Only a few, mostly when I'm done with them I'm done with them. I've got "Empress Feathers", a great big princess feather, that hangs in the dining room. I've got one hanging in the pink bedroom where my fabric lives. I want to hang the "Stars in the Garden", the big pink quilt there, but until the grandkids get old enough that I can trust them with something like that on the wall within reach. I've got "Flowering Vines" up there and then "Everyday Best" hangs in my bedroom. Plus whatever is on the design wall, so there is always something up on that.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

BG: One from Crate and Barrel. [laughs.] I've got cats. I'm not going to put a quilt I made on the bed because the cats would tear it up, or at least get it all hairy and dirty and I don't have to worry about the Crate and Barrel quilt.

KM: Is there, I always give people an opportunity, is there anything else you want to share, either about the exhibit or anything?

BG: I don't think so. Don't eat airline food, bad idea. [BG had just returned from Australia and was recovering from food poisoning from the airline food.]

KM: Do you like traveling?

BG: Yes and no. I really like being home, but travel can be interesting. I wouldn't have gone to Australia if it had not been for traveling for the job. There are a lot of people that I have met and places I've seen that I would not otherwise have gotten to do. So yah I enjoy the traveling. I do really like being home as well though.

KM: How much do you travel?

BG: On average, one to two weeks out of every month. Like this month I was gone two weeks and I will be gone two weeks in March, but then I've got some months off, so it balances out.

KM: What are you working on right now?

BG: We are working on a book that is, that actually grew out of the "Trying to Hold On" quilt. It is one of the things that I got interested in was the use of lines. That is one of the topics that came up when I thought of the "Trying to Hold On" quilt. If you draw, let's say you draw with pencil, if you are using a very sharp hard lead you make one kind of line, and if you are using a softer blunter lead, you make a completely different kind of line. It is the line work in drawing that is so expressive and so interesting, and I got to thinking in quilts, we don't have that same kind of capacity to do line work. You can do raw edge and you can do some other things but that is different. When you sew fabric together you get a harder line, so it is learning how to play with the line quality.

What I decided was that so often we rely on rulers and it is that ruler-cut, straight hard line that reads one way and a line that is more freely cut, without a ruler, reads a different way. And so in these quilts, certainly in the backgrounds and even on the outer edges, no rulers have touched them so it is much freer line work in those areas and then as far as the appliqué goes. We have been playing with less precise placement, less precise balance. They are balanced; the symmetry is maybe a little edger. It is fun. Anyway the tentative title is "Breaking the Rules", so we will see, but I'm working on the manuscript for that right now.

KM: How very interesting. It sounds like it was influenced by "Trying to Hold On."

BG: Exactly. That was the beginning of this, so when I said that this quilt marked a real break in the quilts that I have been making, it did. I mean, I have spent the last year and a half on these quilts.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out and doing this interview with me.

BG: I'm happy to have done this. I appreciate being asked.

KM: We will conclude our interview at 2:49.


“Becky Goldsmith,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,