Yvonne Porcella




Yvonne Porcella


Karen Musgrave interviews Yvonne Porcella, a member of the Quilters Hall of Fame, about the 2003 Quilt Alliance's raffle quilt. Porcella describes her artistic contributions to the quilt's design and what they mean to her, personally. She also discusses quilting as an art form and the importance of visual storytelling within the art of quilting.




Textile artists
Decorative arts
Crafts & decorating
Performing arts
Visual arts


Yvonne Porcella


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


San Francisco, California


Karen Musgrave


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Yvonne Porcella in the Chancellor Hotel in San Francisco. It is August 9, 2003 at 3:20 in the afternoon. The purpose of this interview is to document The Alliance for American Quilts raffle quilt. Thank you, Yvonne.

Yvonne Porcella (YP): Thank you.

KM: Tell me about the quilt. Describe the quilt and what it means.

[maid comes in to vacuum so the tape is turned off while Yvonne speaks with her.]

YP: This quilt was created from an 8" x 8" black and white drawing. I did the drawing in January of 2003 prior to the Board meeting of the Alliance for American Quilts. The drawing was passed around the meeting and everyone approved. Karen, you volunteered to make the quilt. From that small drawing you created a full sized cartoon that you used as a pattern. Some of the fabrics in the quilt were selected by me but the majority of fabrics you selected. What a great job you did bringing in all the colors. I particularly like the blues because I see a relationship to our web pages that use a blue background. The images on this quilt are another story, some of the designs are from The Alliance [for American Quilts.] promotional brochure, some are my designs and Karen, some are yours. Making the drawing was the easy part, about half a day of my time. The difficult part was making the quilt, doing the actual stitching, and we all are grateful for your generous contribution of time, creative energy and talent to bring the design to completion. [laughs.] We should be able to sell lots of tickets and wouldn't you love to win this quilt? And that was my grandmother's house and when I used to walk to school in this particular town we had Calla Lilies in our back yard and as I'd walk to school all the houses had Calla Lilies growing. And this is in California along the coast. I had thought that everybody had Calla Lilies in their backyard. Now when I got into school we used them as a procession in church. The older girls took the Calla Lilies and carried them in sheaves across their arms and then we walked in procession and they put them in vases and stuff. When I got to be that age, we had to color the Calla Lilies. You have to use Crayola chalk. Colored Crayola chalk and you had to crush it with a piece of waxed paper and a bottle. They'd give you a bottle to crush this and then you'd make a powder out of the chalk and you'd dust the inside of the Calla Lily then you'd tip it out. So you would have pale pink Calla Lilies, pale blue Calla Lilies, pale orange Calla Lilies all the colors. I mean I open a box of Crayola chalk now and I look at it and I see that--that memory comes back to me. I always thought that if God really wanted colored Calla Lilies, wouldn't he have made them that way? I love the white Calla Lily. A lot of people think they're a funereal flower but for me they were a joyous flower and so I put those in my quilts. The Calla Lilies on this quilt is my addition. If you notice on the quilt, Suzanne Staud did this wonderful bird which she actually saw on a traditional quilt as an appliqué pattern from a historical antique quilt. I added the Calla Lily, I think she also has a leaf over it, but the Calla Lily to me make the part of the bird and then comes into the Calla Lilies here [pointing to the quilt.] That section was kind of a mellowing of the two of us. Quilt save our treasures. Susan Staud came up with this beautiful treasure box full and I wanted to include that. [clears throat.] Then the quilt at the top is some of my imagery. The very top is a star. It's coming into the composition because it's part of our culture, the star. I happen to love stars. I love 5 point stars and I've appliquéd a lot stars on my quilts. I do a foreground background kind of a quilt during the 1990's where I did a geometric background and then I appliquéd stars over the whole thing, so that's for that. In the upper left hand corner of the quilt has some sort of geometric shapes- triangular forms that to me represent community. There's some little squares in there that represent windows so it's like looking at buildings stacked up and we had talked when we did the Alliance for American Quilts many years ago about having our own buildings. Having our own physical place where we could call this The Alliance as a museum. So that would represent that. It would be a series of buildings that our archives would be stored in. Then if you come down on the left hand side the needle and thread is my addition because that's what we do as quiltmakers. The needle and thread is important. The apple actually comes from the original brochure. One of those images. The roses are my addition to the design. I put the roses in there and I think Karen Musgrave who made the quilt choose the perfect fabric for that because when you look at this visually from a distance those roses, the color, just really speaks to us as a dimensional object. [clears throats.] In 1986, I began to use roses in my quilts because my grandmother's name was Rose, the one who had Calla Lilies in her backyard. My grandmother died her hair flaming red orange until she was so old she went into a rest home so I never knew my grandmother had white hair. She always had red hair. Everybody in town called her Rosy. My grandmother was the Matron of the Red Cross through the 2nd World War into her whole life so everyone in town knew her because she was always raising money for the Red Cross. I actually have her appliquéd little red star on the white bandana that she used to wear during the 2nd World War as a head scarf so the roses for me are that. Also as a child we used roses, again in procession, in our church. So it kind of honors my grandmother. A lot of us quiltmakers honor our grandmothers. So also the term "Cover Us"-- now we go to the right side of the quilt. The term "Cover Us" I wanted that to be important in the quilt because it's important as our whole concept of quiltmaking.

KM: You're talking about Quilts Matter?

YP: Quilts matter. Quilts matter that was it. Quilts matter now you see I'm an operating nurse and matter seems to me like a term that didn't fit the word quilts so quilts matter is important as a fundraising tool but "Cover Us" says it all. I think "Cover Us" is really a great title.

KM: I like that much better.

YP: So then when we get to this needle. The point of the needle. One of the other Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. _ Save Our Stories, the oral history project of The Alliance for American Quilts.] and the archive project. Susan Staud also worked in the traditional computer symbol of the computer mouse and I wanted that Internet, the electronic media, to be connected to our sewing needle so this point of this sewing needle connects to the mouse. I think that also speaks for the fact that we have a presence on web. You click on your mouse and you can actually see this beautiful raffle quilt. Now when I design these quilts I like to have people understand that this quilt was made in America. The American flag to me is very important because it's this fabulous concept of stripes and stars and I've used that a lot in my quilts. Now when I mentioned that I do a background foreground in my 1990's quilts or 80's quilts, I also do that when I design these quilts that are based on a drawing. Basically the stars and stripes are a space filler but it because a wonderful compositional element where you can change all the stripes because I don't concern myself with the number of stars and stripes, you need to be correct on our flag, but rather it's a way to bring all those wonderful colors in and then the foreground which is some of the other imagery can be tied in compositionally color wise with some of those print fabrics. I also think about it as fields of grain. All the concepts are of American anthems and our icons. So that's what the stars and stripes are for as field--as the American flag. Then overlaying it on the lower right hand corner is another element from The Alliance brochure. Susan Staud actually found that on an antique quilt and she scanned it in and then she changed the shapes. Now when I did my shapes I actually changed them once again. On The Alliance brochure they're just in a single color. When I suggested to Karen when she could alter the design in the actually composition and making of the quilt that she would again change some of these shapes. Make them a little fatter, make them a little thinner, make a blouse and a pair of pants or a dress and etc. That was important to me to have some of Karen's own artistic sensibilities come into that part of the quilt. Now if you notice right above these first two women here there's the letter Q. The letter Q comes from again our Alliance brochure. Very subtly in a layering effect Susan Staud did a Q and an M, which is Quilts Matter so I use this and it was an afterthought for me because I had a negative space that I needed to fill in. So the Q here is for quilts actually. Then when we come to the bottom of the quilt I like the idea of a raffle quilt people knowing when they got the quilt so the year 2003 is there because that's when the quilt was conceived and when the quilt was created and so 2003 is there. On the left hand side as you come over here on the very bottom, I added the star and I added the heart because quilting is all about our love, our preservation and it's connecting people emotionally. My husband told me one time that quilts--when you go to a quilt exhibition most guys look at the geometry of it and then they go sit outside on the bench. Women emote over quilts. It's the connect, that heart connection, that textile that whole embracing that feeling of like you say, 'Quilts matter so cover us.' Anyway that's what the heart is there for then above the heart are three houses. Now this image of the three houses I actually used this same design on a quilt I did in 1998 that was representing the United States in an exhibition in Poland. This to me represented again the connection of villages, agriculture, again the fields of our American flag become communities, become villages and again are connected through the Internet through the mouse and that whole sort of thing so that those three houses are my design here but on The Alliance brochure the main part of the brochure is the school house quilt so I wanted to make that connection again. Then I did this really neat thing that Karen actually transcribed it with the help of Bernie Herman because I wasn't sure the exact symbolism but it's S.O.S. in-- [pause as she tries to think of the words.]

KM: Morse code.

YP: Morse Code. On this little section here on the left just underneath the mouse because quilts save our stories I wanted it to be dot, dot, dot, dot. So it's 3 dots 3 dashes and 3 dots so that's what that's for. That's the story of the quilt. Fill in areas as far as I'm concerned you can add and I told Karen you can add stars and flowers so some of these flower shapes that she's added are all part of that again fill in as a way to get a lot of other color and a lot of other prints and a lot of other patterns on the quilt.

KM: So how do you feel about the collaboration?

YP: I think the collaboration went very well. The title of the quilt, "The Voice of You and Me" was--I tried to think of a title that would incorporate all of us that worked on the quilt. I was particularly concerned that the designer who came up with the brochure, Susan Staud, that her voice was in this quilt, my voice was in this quilt and certainly Karen's voice because Karen did all the labor. I mean I just handed her this drawing in January and Karen said, 'Oh yeah I can do that.' But it was asking her to do something that she might not be as comfortable doing but on the other hand I think it's a learning experience for all us when we try to execute someone else's design. It just jazzes another part of your creative sensibilities and your brain. And then we were having another woman, Rebecca [Skvorc Latham.], do the machine quilting. When I was sitting on the computer thinking it's all about the stories. That's what The Alliance is. It's preserving archival papers; things that are printed. It's about preserving stories. It's about preserving quilts. Understanding and identifying collections. Understanding and identifying ephemera. I sat down and the term voice came to me because this is the voice of you and me. It is the voice of a number of us who have collaborated on the quilt. Whoever owns the quilt it again adds their voice to the preservation of the quilt. So I think The Alliance for American Quilts if we're successful on this raffle as generating funds for The Alliance, I really particularly am fond of the numbers on the bottom as I mentioned 2003. I think that The Alliance for American Quilts should use the title "The Voice of You and Me" and collaborate with others in the future and do the 2004 quilt. I love things that rhyme so "The Voice of You and Me in 04," "The Voice of You and Me in 05," "The Voice of You and Me in Oh Five." So I think this will lead to some other beautiful collaborations. I did want to mention one other thing on the quilt that's again a very subtle thing and what I like about these particular quilts is that they have such intense stories. That's why I love to do all these fill in areas. I did a quilt like this for the city Modesto, [California.] and the County of Stanislaus County. The quilt hangs on their 2nd floor lobby and a lot of school children come to this building because they see city government and country government in action. I did a quilt, a 72 inch square quilt, for this instillation on the 2nd floor and I worked in symbolism that the children would identify with if they looked at it long enough. In that case I put the word--Modesto was hidden in there some place and they have to really look at it to see the word Modesto. There's also a saw in there signifying the construction of new homes and etc. On this quilt the other thing that's added that's a hidden thing that when you notice it you go, 'Oh,' it's the flagpole. It's just sort of hidden in there but it's there and if you look at it long enough you go, "' wonder what that little circle and that little streamer and that little,' that's the flag pole. I think it all comes together as I said in a quilt that you can appreciate for it's beauty and Karen did a great job selecting fabric. We both wanted it as a colorful quilt. In the quilt world because I'm a Quilter's Hall of Fame member and I'm Silver Star honored by the International Quilt Festival. When people say, 'I know Yvonne she makes colorful quilts.' I think Karen did a fabulous job selecting the fabrics on this because it does speak of color. To me it speaks of warmth and friendship and love and a lot of red which to me is passion. And we all have passion for our quilts.

KM: I want you to know that I also snuck some symbolism in here was that I kind of made it look like a microphone.

YP: Ohhhh.

KM: I snuck that in there.

YP: Ohhhh, okay.

KM: At first someone said, 'The flagpole looks like a microphone.' I went, 'Yes, yes, look.' Only because no one gets the dot, dot, dot, dash. You know. They don't get the Morse code so I at first I was going to change it but then I left it in here to kind of make it look like a microphone. Another element of voice.

YP: Voice of course, of course.

KM: Because when the title came up I had though about appliquéing over this cause I didn't know whether it was too and then after you came up the title it was like it's staying and it's my little hidden thing about another thing of voice. Make it look like a microphone also in there.

YP: It seemed to me that we couldn't use story again. We're saving our stories so the title could not have story in it.

KM: Right.

YP: But it is the voice. I think people need to understand I did two quilts again in the same appliqué style. One called "Waiting for Pink Linoleum" and the other called "It's all in the Timing." I did give Karen postcards of some of those quilts that I've done in appliqué because "Waiting for Pink Linoleum" and "It's all in the Timing" is all about the conflict between the conflict between performing arts and visual arts. Quilts are considered visual art. Performing arts to me stands by itself but we all know performing arts is not single action, it's a collaboration. There's the actor, the musician, the stage man, the lighting guy, the director, the playwright, everybody comes together to make something that the audience appreciates. Visual arts on the other hand you have to have the artist voice which is a flat piece of art on the wall be strong enough to draw the viewer in to make their own comments to make their own emotion about this. It is a static art and we have to somehow capture the audience and say, 'Look at my voice. Look at what I have done.' You're not there to tell them. Nice thing about Save Our Stories [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, the oral history project of The Alliance for American Quilts.] is they could go to the Internet and read out it. We have to show them visually our voice. I think this quilt does it all. It draws them in because of these wonderful colors. Any more comments about this?

KM: I think on the label we need to add Suzanne--

YP: Suzanne.

KM: It's very easy because she came first.

YP: Right.

KM: So I can put her on here very easily. So I'd like to do that.

YP: Okay.

YP: So as I say "The Voice of You and Me" encompasses so many people for this. All of us who are going to try to sell the raffle tickets. All of us who are going to tell people. That's the interesting thing too. All of us who are selling raffle tickets are going to go into our communities and tell people about this so then we're adding another element another story. What I tell people about The Alliance is I tell people that if you have quilt in your collection that belonged to your grandmother write it down. Either that or write on the back of the quilt. Use a permanent marking pen because these stories are important. Who did I meet in the lobby in this hotel and I said, 'Oh we're here for quilts.' Oh I know it was at the museum yesterday. At the Asian Art Museum we took a docent tour. And the docent said, 'What are you here in San Francisco for?' and Shelly Zegart, president of The Alliance, and I were standing there and we said, 'We're here for quilts. We belong to this national organization. We're having our annual conference here.' First thing out of her mouth was, 'My grandmother made a quilt.' So it's the voices again. I said, 'You need to save that story. You need to tell people that's your grandmother's quilt.' I think this will do it again for us in terms of getting out the message of The Alliance which again is important for the world to understand and we are preserving quilts.

KM: When I've talked about the quilt because I've taken it around. I say that this quilt has a very clear mission. It's not only just to raise money but to educate.

YP: Right. Exactly, exactly.

KM: I think it's a great tool for--

YP: I think so too. It would be interesting to hear what other people who are showing this quilt what they say about it. That I think is going to be interesting. I had a friend whose art work was an installation of a shrine in her home that was everything she could find that was pink. From a bubble gum can to pink plastic flowers to--you could not believe it there must have been 700 or 800 objects in this installation. She had it in a museum exhibition one time. She set up a chair next to this--like lots of boxes all created together with all this stuff on it. She sat there in this chair next to the piece and she just sat there like she was part of the artwork. She said every single person that came up to that installation the first thing out of their mouth was, 'Oh my god,' because it was so difficult to process how anybody could A. collect all that and A. put it all together. That's the same thing when you look at this quilt. It's not that you are going to say, 'Oh my god,' but you are in you're your heart going to say, 'Oh my word what a beautiful quilt.' I think that, that's again another voice. I think it's great.

KM: Thanks.

YP: Well, we did it.

KM: Tada. Well we're going to conclude our interview with Yvonne Porcella. Thank you, Yvonne.

[tape ends.]

Interview Keyword

Women in quilting
Visual storytelling
Quilt symbolism
Creative processes



“Yvonne Porcella,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2445.