Jean Vining




Jean Vining


Kay Jones interviews quilter Jean Vining, a former school teacher and award-winning quilt artist. She discusses the quilt she has brought in for the interview, a family quilt which she created for her sister's wedding anniversary. She talks about technical aspects of quilting, including how she creates her quilts and the techniques she uses to do so. Vining talks about the quilts she creates for family reunions as well as other crafts she enjoys, including knitting and sewing clothing. Vining talks about her life in Texas as a former school teacher and how her quilting has impacted her life, including her family and her relationship with her sister, who is also a quilter.




Crafts & decorating
Textile artists
Decorative arts
Family reunions


Jean Vining


Kay Jones

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Leslie Tucker Jenison


Fort Worth, Texas


Kay Jones (KJ): This is Kay Jones. Today's date is March 15, 2001. I am interviewing Jean Vining for the Trinity Valley Save Our Stories S.O.S. [Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories.] project sponsored by The Alliance for American Quilts. We are beginning this interview at 1:05 p.m. Jean, you've brought a beautiful and interesting quilt today, tell us about it.

Jean Vining (JV): Well this was a quilt that I made for my sister and her husband for their 50th anniversary and their two daughters Jerry-Anne and Susan helped me. Jerry has a big family so in planning, we decided that everyone in the family would be given the opportunity to have a square. After I had looked at several patterns, I settled on the one called Friendship Pinwheels. I sent out six inch white muslin blocks and the only information on the letter that we had about the quilt itself was the colors; Alice's colors have always been burgundy and pink; so we included that but, of course, people didn't always look at it [laughs.] they picked other colors but when I designed it, I figured that if I had some colors that were the same on each block, that would tie it all together. So I picked this stark burgundy, it's kind of a grey burgundy; you could call it that, and a light pink. Each of the blocks has those colors in the little triangles then in the outside triangle section, I had five different colors that would coordinate. I made a design for the main block which is the one commemorating when they met in Decatur at a barn dance; and with the Decatur water tower and the sign post, he's from Chico and we're from Dallas; so he went that way, we went this way. But anyway, I designed my plan so that none of these five colors would bump against each other. I reserved the blocks around the center block for her family and the children are immediately around, Jerry-Anne's on this side and then Dickie and then our church is there and then Susan is up at the right hand side and then below Susan in her husband's block are their two children and below Jerry-Anne and her husband those two blocks are her children. So then at the bottom, (I was the one making it) so I reserved myself a place [laughs.] and our mother who was still alive. We had a deadline of July 1st; we sent the letters out in May. Well of course when we went to their reunion on July 4th, we had very few of these. Jerry-Anne got busy and started getting them all in. The way I planned it, I could join the blocks together whenever I got them in so I wouldn't have a big job all at once. I thought it worked out pretty well.

KJ: Blends beautifully.

JV: And then I figured out when I got it layered that starting on August--their anniversary was December--starting on August 23rd, I would quilt a block a day and I would finish the first part of November and that way I would have time to do some other things I wanted to do for the anniversary party. I made myself stick to that and what was so interesting was she sometimes comes to my house but she didn't have any idea I was doing it. I named the project Swing Your Partner and we had looked at some material that was swing your partner themed so she never guessed. I was doing a quilt of my own using pinks so when I would go, she was with me when I picked out all the material to put the blocks together and she would say, 'Why are you doing that?' and I'd say, 'Well you know I have that quilt I'm putting together, it's one of those Trinity Valley quilts blocks, you know, one block of the month.' And so anyway, she had no idea. Her son-in-law Paul took a swatch of this dark burgundy and made the stand for the quilt. He went to the paint store and had them copy the color.

KJ: Well, Jean, that's a wonderful project for a sister, I just think you did a beautiful job, how many blocks in all?

JV: There are 72 in all and that includes the big block, it takes care of four and then we sent out, lets see, 58 or I did part of them and we sent out the rest of them. I reserved 10 at the bottom for people who came to the party and didn't have blocks because we couldn't send everybody a block and then they signed on this we had it arranged so that this was flat on the table and they could. Each block has a different story to it and this quilt has just about every kind of quilting craft or hand work craft that you could think of. There's embroidery, cross stitch, appliqué, even the photo transfer. This block right here is interesting because this is one of their granddaughters, Wendy and she knew what the process was and she asked her mother if she couldn't have two blocks because the other blocks would have Jerry and Alice on them but she thought we ought to have Paw Paw and Mimi. Wendy designed it and I helped with the embroidery. We would talk to some people that hadn't turned their blocks in they'd say, 'Well, I don't know how to do that.' And I'd say, well, okay, some people are getting something done at a embroidery shop or if you'll pick what you want on there, I'll embroider your name on there if you want me to, so we did that with some but we kept on until we got just about everybody.

KJ: That's 72 blocks?

JV: 72 blocks.

KJ: That's magnificent. You don't have to tell me what special meaning this has to you because that shines in everything you've already said but how do you think Alice is using this quilt or is she? [laughs.]

JV: [laughs.] Well, she's not really using it, she's saving it. [laughs.] But she has shown it at several quilt shows and it has won some awards at some of them.

KJ: Oh, tell us about those.

JV: Which made me feel good because I'm the novice in the family. This was really a stretch for me of my skills but the last one we went to, was it Bowie or Alvord? Bowie that had a show in the summer and this got first place in its category.

KJ: What category was that?

JV: It was family quilts or something like that.

KJ: Family quilts. Well it is just beautiful and how did you get interested in quilting, Jean?

JV: Alice. [laughs.] Before I retired, I knitted. After I retired and moved down to Newark, I did a lot of cross stitch and she kept saying, 'Well, why don't you do quilting? Get interested in quilting?' Before she retired, I started on a quilt and it was a grandmother's, no, Jacob's Fan used in Jacob's Ladder; it was a pretty pattern but she showed me how to do all the work. This was before the rotary cutter came into style, anyway. I remember marking off all those pieces and she'd come down and help me, show me what to do with actually sewing it together because I hadn't tried to sew it together by hand, I was not at that point. I don't think I'll ever be at that point. I'm a machine piecer. I didn't know how to pick batting so I picked the fluffy--What's it called? High loft batting. That was a mistake because it was very hard to quilt on and what I did was I picked smaller projects and practiced quilting [laughs.] before I ever tried to quilt on that. When I got home to it, it really was hard but she taught me how to quilt in the lap, you know, lap quilting and then that's when I realized that the batting was what was really holding me back so I'd put it in and I'd take it out and work some more on it. From the time I started that quilt and she explained to me that I needed to keep a journal, so from the time I started it until the day I finished it, it was seven years. And it was a coincidence that I started the quilt on my Aunt Ima's birthday and I finished it on Aunt Ima's birthday. I didn't realize it until I got back to write my finishing date on there, so I dedicated that one to her; she was the one I was named after.

KJ: Is that something you do now, Jean, just as a matter of course? Do you keep a journal?

JV: I try to, now sometimes it's just a matter of the date when I started it, the date when I put it together or what the top size is. I really don't keep a set journal but I know about different things on it, if there's a problem I'll put that down, it's a very pragmatic journal just what I feel like I'll need in the future to help me out.

KJ: When do you remember seeing your first quilt? What's your first quilt memory?

JV: I guess it was down at grandma's house in East Texas. She had a lot of quilts. I remember their having a big quilting frame, you know that they rolled up and brought down there and in Aunt Bessie's house. Those are only two places that I remember quilting anything. But mother had some of grandma's quilts and then we have some of the tops that mother had. Before World War 2, mother had brought some quilt blocks from East Texas to Dallas. There was a couple that lived about two blocks from us that did quilting and she was going to get those quilted and then the war broke out and that project kind of fell by the wayside but she kept the quilt tops. We still have some. I gave some to Alice and we've quilted one for our niece that was a real pretty one. Another top that we had we took apart and Alice washed the blocks and then luckily it was the 30s or the depression day green and pink colors and but on those blocks, every person in the Banks family that was alive at that time had a block embroidered, had their name embroidered on a block and one block had 1933 so we know that's when it was. We found material that would go with it and then I sashed them. We took the quilt to our '98 family reunion where we auctioned it off and that was interesting project I found. But the family is getting interested in it because the lastest Banks reunion quilt we made for the 2000 reunion. In the '98 one, we sold tickets and the one who won the quilt was able to keep it, but this last one we did family reunion pictures and sewed that from the 50s, 60s, and 70s and they voted that that was family treasure so they would like to keep it in the family. They decided to have whoever won it, keep it for two years and at the next reunion we'd go through another little auction and the next person could keep it for two years. It was very interesting that Alice won the first time [laughs.] and then her husband said, 'Now, why didn't we vote to keep it?' [laughs.]

KJ: Well, I was going to ask about other quilters among your family and friends so that would be Alice as family, other family members other friends quilt?

JV: I can't think of anybody in the family, well, our cousin Margaret in East Texas is a quilter and she lives in Alto and goes to Alto Methodist Church where they have a quilting bee and quilt for people. She's just the only one; I can't think of anyone else that works with quilting.

KJ: I think you've answered or already talked about how quilting impacts your family. It sounds as if the family that goes to the family reunion has really valued the quilt and been excited and interested about it, any other ways that it impacts your family?

Alice: The one last year [inaudible.] wanted to buy it from the winner of course that was his mother's sister and so his mother told him that he couldn't sell it.

JV: That was the one in '98 but I didn't realize that so many of them would be interested in it; you know, I didn't know how they would react to it. Not too many of them are interested in quilting but I think they're getting interested in it.

KJ: Well, it's hard not to be interested when you touch it and see it, isn't it.

JV: It is. At the 2000quilting some of the ones there were just little bitty when the pictures were made, it was so funny to watch them and their reactions.

KJ: Have you ever, Jean, used quilting to help you through a difficult time?

JV: I really can't say yes on that. Quilting is especially hard when I'm quilting by hand; it's not easy for me, I'd rather do something on the machine. But cross stitch is really more restful for me and knitting really was because I can knit and leave a row and still come back and not have to worry about it. [laughs.] But I haven't become that comfortable with hand quilting, now if I've started something and I'm kind of depressed, I'll pick it up but my choice would be something else.

KJ: Sometimes it is a help but what do you like best about quilting?

JV: I like best about putting different designs together and taking a pattern and figuring out how I want it to really be on a quilt, and the colors too.

KJ: Now, Jean, you make clothing items too, don't you?

JV: Yes I do.

KJ: Tell us a little bit about how you go about that, what items you make and the process.

JV: Well the vests I make from an old vest pattern by Hancock's, one of their free ones [laughs.] and I get some of the, it's not Wonder Under but it's similar to that that I cut out and then what I do is I construct the blocks on it. I usually use three inch block squares and I will paper piece a design that is, if it's three or three and a half inches somewhere around there and then I'll put those on the quilt, I mean on the vest and I'll see which squares I want to put around it and kind of block it out like that. The back usually I'll have some paper pieced illustration on the back like a big heart or tulip or trees or something for the back and sometimes the blocks for the vest will come from material that I used in the sweatshirt jackets. Alice and I took a class with Ann Colvin I guess it was in '93, anyway, it utilizes Seminole piecing and I really enjoyed doing those and I've done, it seems like a million. [laughs.]

KJ: Well, I noticed you were so careful and thoughtful about the colors in the anniversary quilt and the vest you have on today has such beautiful colors that harmonize so much, is that something you especially like to do, Jean is work with the colors?

JV: Yes.

KJ: And how do you go about that?

JV: Well, sometimes I'll have Alice with me, she can differentiate hues better than I can on the colors but I just keep on until I figure out something I want to do and I need a dark piece, a medium, and a light and it's not really very scientific. We pick out a sweatshirt and whatever color it is, start working with something that will go with it. [laughs.]

KJ: Well, I think you certainly have a good eye. What do you think makes a really great quilt?

JV: Well, a really great quilt is one that somebody has thought about, decided you know, this is something I'd like to do sometime that maybe in the back of the mind for several years and then the care that you use to pick out the pattern and as you say the colors that would go with that pattern and then the care in which you work with it, wanting to make it everything go together and then really to me a great quilt is one that is hand quilted and I think Alice is really, this is my big project [laughs.].

KJ: So as far as hand and machine quilting, do you have an opinion about that in terms of which you like?

JV: Well, I admire hand quilting. I prefer machine quilting for myself. Machine piecing, that's okay, I can do that better than I can hand piece but I really like hand quilting. The problem with me and hand quilting is I don't feel proficient enough to really work on something. We took a class together on the 12 Days of Christmas; well, I did the appliqué and I did whatever we needed to for each block. I got the top together and it's still in my closet unquilted. [laughs.] The first of the year I'd say well, this year I'm going to take a block a month and I'm going to have a quilt. I have gotten interested in the Stained Glass quilts and I have done several wall hangings or little banners with that.

KJ: Are those machine quilted?

JV: Those are machine, you can do them by hand but I prefer machine.

KJ: Why would you say quilting was important in your life?

JV: Well, it keeps me busy, gives me something to do, if I don't, you know, I've always liked to have something to do when I'm sitting down at night and that's one place that knitting really came in good. I was a school teacher and I did a lot of grading papers or making lesson plans and when I was a counselor, working on student's plans and how they were going toward their graduation plans but I always had something that I was working on. So now, if I'm not working on something, I just, you know, I'm miserable. I go to sleep or do a crossword puzzle.

KJ: I notice on your quilt you said that you were from Dallas, you and Alice from Dallas; did you always live in Dallas? Has Texas always been your home?

JV: I was born in Dallas, the only member of my family born in Dallas. The rest were from East Texas.

KJ: Well, would you say that living in Texas and this area has influenced your quilting at all?

JV: I'm sure it has, this past week I finished one that's going to be in a quilt show but it's machine quilted that's wildflowers of Texas, has Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes and everything. So I guess it does, it gives more down to earth attitude.

KJ: The quilts that you remember from your childhood were they typical Texas quilts or what kinds of patterns were they?

JV: I don't know that I remember patterns.

Alice: They weren't anything elaborate. Most of them were quilted with what they call Baptist type shell or whatever.

KJ: Baptist fan?

JV: Yes.

KJ: Do you think that quilts have a special meaning for women in America?

JV: I think so and I think they are. It's becoming more so than 30 years ago.

KJ: What's happened to the quilts you've made for friends and family, Jean?

JV: Well, I've given them away and I don't know what's happened to them. [laughs.]

KJ: Do you give most of your quilts away?

JV: Yes. I guess one of the ones that I did is on display at Alice's house I was sorting some things out at the house, I came across these, what we used to call cup towels but the young people call them tea towels now of little 30's girls that I'm sure our grandmother did it where she appliquéd Sunbonnet Sues. Well, not exactly that but there was one for each day of the week and I had put them aside and we took a class over at what used to be Calico Covering on It's Okay to Sit on my Quilt. When we came to the one that utilized the snow, no the triple iris chain, that was it, and the snowball. I told Alice, 'Well, that's what I'm going to do.' So I put together those blocks and then used an orchid or purple and green fabric for the squares in the Irish Chain, then we took the top over there, put it on the floor and the lady over there had me find some material and we'd go in and look at the 30's looking material so I made that as my class project. It was the first item I really decided to quilt on, we'd go back to that first quilt and do a little bit and then put it aside and this is one of the things I'd practice on. And I decided to finish it in time to give it to Alice for her birthday. She didn't know it. She saw me working on it all the time but she didn't have any idea I was going to do that. There's one block on it, the Thursday block that has material on it that she remembered using to make pajamas when she was in junior high with her sewing class.

KJ: So it has a lot of memories to her?

JV: It has a lot of memories to her.

KJ: Precious quilt.

JV: She has it out on display.

KJ: Is there anything Jean that I haven't asked you that you'd like to talk about?

JV: Oh no, it seems like we've covered quite a bit.

KJ: It's nice to have Alice here to help out. [laughs.]

JV: It is. [laughs.]

KJ: From time to time. [laughs.]

JV: Yes, she was my teacher. [laughs.]

KJ: So you weren't self taught, you were sister taught.

JV: I was sister taught.

KJ: To a large degree.

JV: And she'd come up there and I'd be working on cross stitching, 'Well why aren't you working on that quilt?' [laughs.] So anyway--

Alice: But she has surpassed me.

KJ: Well, I'd like to thank Jean Vining for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2001 [Quilters'.] S.O.S. [- Save Our Stories.] project. Our interview concluded at 2:39. 1:39. [laughs.] Thank you, teacher.

[tape ends.]

Interview Keyword

Texas quilts
Texas culture
Quilting patterns
Anniversary gifts
Hand quilting
Machine quilting
Relaxing crafts
Antique quilts
Quilt blocks
Quilt tops


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