Vikki Pignatelli




Vikki Pignatelli




Vikki Pignatelli


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date



Reynoldsburg, Ohio


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Vikki Pignatelli. Vikki is in Reynoldsburg, Ohio and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is March 11, 2009. It is now 9:10 in the morning. Vikki, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me.

Vikki Pignatelli (VP): Thank you Karen, I appreciate this more than you know.

KM: Please tell me about your quilt "Creation of the Sun and Stars."

VP: "Creation of the Sun and Stars" is my favorite quilt. Every artist has a particular work that they think is their masterpiece, their favorite piece of work and "Creation of the Sun and Stars" is mine. It is really funny how this quilt came about. It was an inspiration. I believe a divine inspiration. The inspiration came about really, really early about 5:30 one morning and it was on a day that I was really looking forward to sleeping in. My husband had a day off and usually we were up early. I had to get up for a quick trip to the restroom and came back and you know that inspiration was there before I could snuggle back into that warm bed, and my first thought, my first reaction was 'no!' I want to go back to bed and as usual with my inspirations that appear at inopportune times, I thought, 'rats!' I got up and I started to sketch it out and I went downstairs and by 8:30 that very same morning the quilt was totally designed out, completely, full size ready to start. It truly was an inspirational gift. This was probably the easiest quilt I had ever made in my life. It fell together just beautifully. There were no mistakes and that is probably the one quilt that I've always felt that I couldn't change anything on it and make it better than it already was. It also had other things going for it too and that is the reason that Sacred Threads exists today. It always has been the quilt that I bring with me when I go anywhere, when I hang my quilts in an exhibition, it is the first one I choose in my classroom and for my lecture it is the one that I bring with me, it is kind of my mascot. It is my favorite quilt. The inspiration for this quilt, if you can see this, is there are yellow ribbons coming from all parts of the quilt or the universe and these ribbons, these yellow ribbons symbolize the hand of the Creator and they are coming together to form the sun and the sun is being born, it is spinning, it is throwing off fire and the fire is turning into dancing joyful stars.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

VP: It is typical in that it has a lot of curves and it is typical now that it reflects on my spirituality and a lot of the spirituality in my quilts came to be after we dealt with my husband's [Denny's.] cancer in 1993. I found that a lot of what was inside of me was coming out into my quilts, such as my spirituality and my beliefs.

KM: "Creation of the Sun and Stars" was made in 1998.

VP: Yes.

KM: It is 65 inches by 75 inches. Is that a typical size for you?

VP: My quilts are in all different sizes and I would say that is about average. I have a few that are quite a bit bigger than that and I have quite a few, or most of them are smaller than that. I do almost exclusively wall hangings so that is pretty average.

KM: Tell me some more about Sacred Threads.

VP: Sacred Threads, the way this came about is because of "Creation of the Sun and Stars." At the time that I was making "Creation of the Sun and Stars," I was involved with two women who were from the Columbus area and their names were Barbara Davis and Susan Towner-Larsen and they were writing a book called "With Sacred Threads" and the premise of the book was they were exploring the spirituality that women put into their quiltmaking and they saw the type of work I was doing and they asked me to contribute to their book and also to teach for them. This retreat that they were putting together, facilitating, was an inter-denominational retreat. All faiths were welcome, but it explored the spirituality that transcends all religious denominations. I was teaching for them at the time and we just came back from a retreat from teaching. When I came home from that retreat, I was exhausted and the adrenaline had stopped and I was really looking forward to just kind of laying down and resting. When I walked in the door my quilt, "Creation of the Sun and Stars," had returned from a major quilt show and I thought I will check this just before I lay down to be sure the quilt was okay, and I opened up the box and the judges statements were on top of my quilt. I thought I'm going to peak and see what they say. I opened it up and I saw the most inane remarks on this quilt from the judge and she had, first of all she had given it a very poor on color and she had given it a very poor on innovation and she had made the comment that there is only so much that you can do with a spiral and why don't you add touches that make it your own. I had a lot of faith in this quilt. I knew it was a very good quilt and I knew it was divinely inspired and I'm a veteran. At this time, I was a veteran of entering these shows and competitions and I knew that results were all subjective, whether you win an exhibition or you don't place in an exhibition it is all subjective and it is only the judges' opinions. The comments on this quilt were so inane I couldn't get over it and it kept bugging me. It was in the back of my mind. I kept wondering what was going on and because it had a spiritual nature and I had mentioned the word God in the artist statement for this quilt. I even wondered if it had anything to do with the spiritual aspect of the quilt. I just shook my head and as I usually do with this, I just would crumple up that paper and throw the opinions away but I couldn't get it out of my mind and it kept kind of rolling like a pinwheel in my mind. I kept wondering if it had something to do with the spirituality. Then I thought to myself there just is no safe place for spiritual quilts like this. The next thought in my mind was, 'Well, you've got to start something for this.' I was horrified that this would pop into my mind because I had never tried to do anything like this. I had never been involved in any kind of a show or exhibit. I didn't know how to hang an exhibit. I don't know where the money would come from. I wondered if it would hurt my professional career or reputation if I started something like this and it totally failed. The whole idea scared me, but the details kept coming in my mind and for every time a detail came into my mind, and it was coming fast and furious, I had a good reason why I didn't want to do it but I couldn't rest. I thought, 'You know what I'm going to do. I'm going to call the women and the people who I should contact were one of the details that popped into my mind,' and I thought, 'I'm going to contact all of these women and as soon as they say, 'no,' I can go back and rest on the couch.' I started to call these people. Most of them were the ones that had been at the retreat. One by one they all said, 'yes.' I thinking to myself, 'This isn't the way this was supposed to play out,' One lady said, 'No, I can't do it.' She called me back 40 minutes later--the lady's name is Wendy Bynner, and she called me back and she said, 'You know, Vikki, I can't say no to this,' and I told her, 'You know, Wendy, I understand exactly where you are coming from because I don't know what it is that I'm being pushed along to do this.' So Wendy became my co-chair and now she is the full chairwoman of Sacred Threads for this new upcoming show in 2009. It was really weird because as you stood on the outside and looked in you could see how things just fell together out of nowhere. Money appeared out of nowhere, things just came together beautifully and the first show was such a success and it has been growing steadily ever since we started it. Our first show was in 2001 and then we have had shows every other year since. So we had shows in 2003, 2005, 2007, and now again this June in 2009. It's all due because of this artist statement that I've got for "Creation of the Sun and Stars" and I realized a few years after that had that statement been any less inane than it was, I would have just pitched it as I did all the others and this wonderful show that has been such an inspiration and such a powerful and intense show for many people would not exist today. There was a good reason why that judge's statement came back as it did.

KM: Where does one see this show?

VP: The show is being held in our hometown. I live in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. One of the problems that came about was where we should have this show. We wanted the exhibit to be at least two weeks and we had trouble finding any type of a venue where we could hold it and be able to afford it and one of the things that popped up was the Reynoldsburg High School and it turned out to be the perfect venue. The lighting is good, easy to see. It's easy on and off the interstate, easy to access, and the high school is located in Reynoldsburg at 6699 E. Livingston Avenue, and again that is in Reynoldsburg, Ohio and the zip is 43068.

KM: How has the show changed over the five years?

VP: The show has changed in that it has gotten quite a bit bigger. We are getting more well known. We added a couple of categories. One of the things about our show is that, and this was one of the details that first came to me when we were planning it, is that there are shows that deal with workmanship, how many stitches per inch do you have and how is the workmanship, do all your points match. The other one at a lot of shows is art related. On other words, how is your composition? What is the art aspect of it? But in our art show, the major focus is that we are looking at the emotional aspect, because as quiltmakers we put weeks, months, sometimes years into our work. We put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, love, joy, frustration in our work, but that has never been part of the story. No one ever looks at that and so I realized that there were no shows that looked at this emotional aspect that quiltmakers deal with when they are making their art form, and so that is where we come in. That's why in this show the artists' statements are every bit as important and the quilts themselves. Our categories are Joy, Spirituality, Inspiration, Healing, and Grief. Since that original show, we have also added Peace and Brotherhood. Then as it turned out, the last three shows we have had special exhibits that deal with a particular focus or highlight, such as I believe the first one in 2005 happened to be a lady who did Stations of the Cross quilts and she had all fourteen Stations of the Cross. The next year in 2007, we had a special exhibit from some ladies in Israel that all dealt with Peace and Brotherhood and this year we will have an exhibit of 16 quilts that are made from women who have been incarcerated in prison here in central Ohio, it is located in Marysville, Ohio, it is the Ohio Reformatory for Women.

KM: Wonderful. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. How did you come to quiltmaking?

VP: [laughs.] It is so unbelievable that I'm in quiltmaking today. Actually I did not sew before I started to quilt. Matter of fact, quiltmaking is the absolute last thing that I ever dreamed that I would be doing. I all but flunked out of Home Ec [Economics.] because of sewing when I was in 7th grade. I hated sewing and I didn't want any part of it and I was also very shy and didn't like speaking in front of groups. Back in 1991, my sister all but dragged me to a quilting class. She wanted to go to a beginning quilting class and she was supposed to go with another friend of hers and the other friend couldn't do it and she begged me to go with her. I fought her tooth and nail and my sister's name is Augustine Ellis and she happens to live next door to me. She just begged me to go and I said, 'Augie, you know I don't want to sew. This is not of interest to me,' but she kept bugging me and bugging me and you know sometimes sisters can put a little pressure on you and finally I said, 'Fine. Okay, I will go with you.' Then after that class, I became totally enamored with the idea of quilting. I don't know what it is about this wonderful art form that becomes so obsessive, but I did become obsessive. A little background on that is in a previous life before quilting I did some painting and I used to do watercolor, I used to do oil painting and I was really into art in a different way and when my mother became ill in 1981 and subsequently died I lost all my creativity. I didn't do anything creative for many, many, many years, ten years as a matter of fact. When my sister suggested that I go to this quilting class, I really didn't want to have any part of it, but when I did, it brought back my creativity that I had lost when my mother died in 1981. I found another way to paint, this time using fabric as my medium instead of the oils and watercolors that I had used before. I hadn't picked up a paintbrush since my mom died, I took it so hard, but now I'm painting again and this time with fabric instead of a brush and paints. When my sister took me to that class, it opened up a whole new world and I got my creativity back. I was doing a lot of traditional quilts then, which is the class that I went to, it was very traditional. I was doing a lot of traditional work until 1993. During that time in 1993, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and it threw me through a loop, it really shook me up and one of the things that went through my mind was there goes the creativity that I was just getting back after my mom's death, but the strangest thing happened and that is it did a 180 [degrees.]. Instead of losing my creativity, it took off in a bigger and better direction and totally the opposite way. I started to want to do my own thing instead of working with patterns. I wanted to design my own art designs and do my own work and that set me off in this new direction. One of the reasons is that I felt I wanted to do something that was healing from inside. Denny's cancer was kidney cancer and even though the doctor said that it was encased and that they had gotten it all, I was still very much beside myself and I was very anxious, upset and I think that happens a lot to the spouse, with helping the person who is afflicted with this to get through this time in their lives and it was a very scary time to go through. I wanted to do what now I know is a therapy quilt or a healing quilt. At the time, I just knew I wanted to do something to make me feel better. This is where I was at the time. The first quilt that I did was called "Breaking Point" and this was my first design that I made and the inspiration came right after, it was the spring after Denny's operation. My husband was operated on in December and this was about March and there was a big storm coming through Ohio. We can have some very, very hard spring storms and this wind was coming through and it was bending over a tree that was in our front yard and this tree was almost bent to the ground and I'm looking at this tree wondering if it is going to survive this storm. It occurred to me that this tree was going through nature's storms, fighting to survive like I was going through life storms trying to survive. [cries.] Sorry.

KM: It is okay.

VP: I did finish the quilt, I did do the design and it became "Breaking Point" and that is what started the whole thing, my whole career if you will, in quiltmaking. [cries.]

KM: Tell me about your creative process.

VP: My whole idea with creating has a lot to do with the determination that it took to make "Breaking Point." When I designed and made "Breaking Point," it took a lot of determination because this quilt had a lot going on, it was a tree blowing in the wind and it was very dark, it was very somber and there was a lot of chaos in this quilt which was what was coming out of me, that was what was in me, was coming out. And it was full of curves. It took a lot of determination to figure out how I was going to construct this quilt. In my mind, and remember I'm a very new quilter here. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. At that time there were really only two ways to make a quilt with curves in it and one was a traditional, conventional way where you put two right sides together and you ease in the seams and the other way was to do what is called reverse appliqué and that is where you sew two pieces together, you cut away the top and then you put a satin stitch over that seam to hold it together, the raw edges. Well neither one of these was anything that I wanted to do. I wanted to have a pieced quilt that looked nice and I didn't want the satin stitch to be part of it. I went to the drawing board and I started doing everything I could possibly think of with a lot of trial and error to come up with a technique that I did eventually develop. It is a top stitching technique. It is a combination of appliqué and piecing. It is done as a layering technique but it is also done in a sequential order. It is all done from the surface and each piece is pieced in and then sewn from the top. It took a lot of determination to figure this out and a lot of creativity. I put so much time and effort in trying to put this whole thing together and not realizing that I was able to come up with a technique that I could share with others. Eventually I did decide I'm going to share this "Breaking Point" quilt, because I think that is so important in the creative process. I'm going to share this quilt and see if a quilter's magazine will publish it. My mantra has always been in my quilting and all through my life is, 'You have nothing to lose, go for it.' I wrote to them and they were interested in publishing it and they were interested in my writing an article about this technique, which I did. It was in their October 1996 issue of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine on this particular technique. The determination and the persistence to keep at it were all part of the creative process that I used I guess in the earlier stages of my career. When you are creative there is so much that plays into it. You have to keep a sense of humor. You have to have that determination. You have to have the persistence. You have to have passion. Passion is everything. You have to work from the heart. You can not be afraid to show what is inside of you. I mean you have to share that with other people. When you work with passion people can see this. It is very obvious in your work. It shines like a mirror of your soul and I think that is so important to put into the creative process. I think that is what sets quilts aside from just a craft. I think that is a sign of an artist is when you put your, not only your design together, but when you put your heart into it as well. Flexibility, that is another part of the creative process. You can't stay rigid to anything. You have to let the design be what it wants to be and so many times with so many of my quilts they have taken on a life of their own and turned out totally different than I ever envisioned that they would turn out to be. The way I feel about that is that so many of the inspirations that we get as artists, quiltmakers, or whatever the art or craft is. I believe those inspirations are divine and there is only one way that they can come into being and that is through our hands. These quilts or pictures or whatever that are meant to be here at the same time that we are trying to create them. They are supposed to exist for a reason. As I said, the only way that they can exist is through us and I think it is our job to put them out there, to make them and pretty much stay out of the way and not dictate how they should be but pretty much let them become what they are supposed to be. An intelligence that is far greater than ours will help us. That is how I look at these inspirations. Many times I've had inspirations and I thought, 'Why on earth would I want to do this?' Or this inspiration is so morbid, but I do it. I do it because I feel that I'm supposed to be doing it and I've always been incredibly amazed by the results that come out. Sometimes I look at my own quilts and I think how on earth did this ever come from me and I know it didn't.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

VP: Both. I think of myself as both. I definitely--yeah both. [laughs.] There is no one way or the other. All quiltmakers are artists. A lot of people would disagree with me but you can have artists that are, well there are different kinds of artists. There are artists that are successful in the world, there are artists that make the money out there, but there are also artists that touch other people's hearts in many ways, but we are all artists in that we are creative beings and that's what sets us apart from all the rest of creation.

KM: How do you balance your time?

VP: If I could find a way to do that I would be most happy and if you find a way to do it please let me know. [laughs.] Of all the things I absolutely love the creation process. I absolutely love the teaching process. What I don't like as much is the clerical process that is behind the teaching and because I'm teaching more and more these days I have less and less time to create. There is a lot of work behind being a teacher. All the prep work that is involved, putting things together, getting contracts together, a lot of the boring behind the scenes clerical stuff eats away at your time and energy. Especially as you get older and at this point, I'm 60 years old. It's very frustrating for me because it is very difficult to balance. I don't begin to have the time I wish I had to create but it is part of where I am in my career. To answer your question, I don't feel that I am balanced as I want to be. I wish I had more time to create. It is frustrating knowing that I just want to be up in my room but I'm down at my computer doing clerical stuff.

KM: Describe your studio.

VP: Again, I wish it was bigger but you work with what you have. My studio is my son's old bedroom. We turned it into a studio when he left for college. It is not a big room. It is maybe about 11 [feet.] by about 17 [feet.]. I have a large piece of homosote as a design wall. It is a drywall material type of thing that you find at home improvement stores. That is my design wall on one side that I use to pin up my pieces in progress. I guess you could say it's kind of cramped but again you work with what you have. I do have my sewing machine set up in there with large tables to work with. I put things on my walls that will inspire me. A lot of the awards I've received, the ribbons that remind me the successes that I've had and make me feel good. I have a walk-in closet in that particular room that is just stuffed with more fabric then I can use in 500 years. I like to use a lot of hand dyed fabrics in my work and I love to collect fabrics. No surprise there. [laughs.] My room has a big window that overlooks the front of our house, of our yard. It is not a big room, but I'm lucky to have a separate space that I can close the door on.

KM: Do you work on more than one project at a time or do you work on just one thing at a time?

VP: No, I usually work on one project at a time. Finish it before I move on to the next. I like to focus on one thing at a time.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

VP: Be patient. It takes a long time to build up a career or art form. I've been teaching since, I think 1995 I started very slow, but it takes a long time to build a clientele as it does in any business. Patience. Always be ethical in all of your dealings with everybody. Always, just don't ever burn bridges, don't ever write anybody off. Some of my most wonderful teaching experiences, engagements have come from the most unlikely places. Always treat everybody, every single person with respect, including every single student. Always be patient with every single student out there. Be kind to everyone. Be patient with yourself.

KM: Tell me about some of the unlikely places.

VP: Just students where I, you mean as far as where I've taught? [KM hums agreement.] Oh, let's see, I've been lucky enough to teach on Alaskan cruises. I've been lucky enough to do a complete tour in Alaska. I was gone for a whole month, thirty days, teaching in different places in Alaska. Even places where I had to fly in. I had to fly into Bethel, Alaska, the tundra which was incredible. I've been able to go to South Africa and teach in a symposium in South Africa which was an incredible experience. In a few weeks I will be getting ready to leave for another extended tour to New Zealand and Australia for two months. I think what has opened up a lot for me lately is international travel and even as a child I had two dreams, I can still remember dreaming and one of them was to be an artist and the other one was to travel all over the world. Both of my dreams have been coming true. I have been lucky enough to have just wonderful experiences, meet wonderful people. A lot of teachers will have horror stories. I don't have that first horror story. It has all been a wonderful joy ride since I've been on this experience.

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

VP: The biggest challenge. Probably finding enough time to quilt, I know that is my biggest challenge. There is just not enough time. Life gets in the way. Sometimes family, you become a caregiver and that eats up your time. I know the computer definitely eats up your time. A lot of women work and they don't feel like they have the time or energy to do as much quilting as they want. All in all, I think that is the biggest challenge is finding the time to do what you want to do. I just feel that for whatever reason we just can't carve out enough time.

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

VP: I used to, but at this point I have almost no spare time and I'm not even at home, I'm not there long enough to go to a guild, I'm never there at the times that they meet. No I don't belong to any local guilds or art groups at this point. I just can't contribute anything, I'm just not here.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

VP: I love color. I feel color is probably one of my best strengths. I love to work with color, I love curved designs so I'm basically drawn to any artist, no matter what the medium, I'm drawn to anything that has curves and color in it. Right off the bat I can think of a lot of different artists. Caryl [Byer.] Fallert comes to mind because she loves the same type of thing that I do as well.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

VP: Let's see, that I did beautiful work that touched the hearts of a lot of people. That I was a pleasant person to be around. That I treated everybody with respect. That I was a good artist. That I was a good teacher.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

VP: They still treat me as the same old Vikki. I don't know if sometimes they take me seriously or not. I think that my husband, now that he goes with me, my husband accompanies me on most of my trips. He is retired and he takes care of all the business aspect of what is behind the scenes in the classroom and the workshops and so forth. He now sees what I do. Now I think my family is beginning to take me seriously, that is my sisters and my husband. I don't know if my kids have a clue yet and they are in their mid-thirties at this point, but I think that is pretty typical, but I'm still just mom. [laughs.] I wouldn't doubt that if something happens to me my son would think about putting my quilts in a garage sale. [laughs.]

KM: Where do you see Sacred Threads going?

VP: I hope it will last forever. I'm hoping that when the time comes that I want to move on and Wendy and the wonderful committee members, there is so many involved in making this work, all volunteers. Everything is volunteer. That there will be others out there that will want to pick this up and keep going with it. I think it is an incredible idea. The whole premise behind the show is unique. I get so many people out there who write to me and tell me how much this show has meant to them, how it touches their heart. I just hope that it will continue in the future. I just hope it continues to get bigger and bigger and better. I would like to see it go international at some point in other countries as well.

KM: Travel?

VP: The show doesn't travel. To have the quilts that we accept to travel would be so much more of a commitment of time and energy than either Wendy or I have. That is a full time job in its self. We have always chosen not to make a traveling show which I know is a shame, but we are really not set up for that. I have always wished that some of the other countries like South Africa or Australia or New Zealand or some of the other ones would actually start their own Sacred Threads type of show within their own country. I just think it is so important to other quiltmakers to see the emotional aspect that is involved in quiltmaking, but as far as traveling it is so much more of a job than we can deal with right now.

KM: What kind of attendance do you have?

VP: I would say we have anywhere between 3,000 and 4,500, but it has been growing every single year, trying to get the word out. It has been growing and a lot of people. We started having people from all over the United States come just to attend this show. I mean this is not a full size quilt show like Houston [International Quilt Festival.] or AQS [American Quilters Association.] or something like that. This is an exhibition and for people to actually make this a destination really blows my mind. I think that is wonderful.

KM: It is much bigger and better than you anticipated?

VP: Yes I think so and we've grown every year. The show has gotten bigger and bigger. I wish that we could have more space. We just finished on our Sacred Threads jury where we look, we are not judging these quilts, we are just choosing them because we have to eliminate some quilts due to space concerns and we make sure they fit the category they are in. We actually have to jury them in and we rate them on a scale of one to five and pick the highest 200 as it were. It is always a bittersweet time for me because of the nature of our show, looking at the emotional point of view. We ask the entrants to tell us what the story is behind the quilt and why this quilt exists and their perspective is always unique. I mean you can't judge something like this, this emotional thing. Every single quilt has a legitimate story that will touch the heart of someone and it just kills me to have to eliminate any quilts because I feel they all deserve to be there. Nonetheless, we are restricted because we have no space for every single quilt entry that we get. As I said, it is kind of a bittersweet time that we can't accept them all because they all deserve to be there.

KM: Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

VP: I'm trying to think and I'm sure I will think of something after the interview, but my mind is just blank. I think we've covered so much. I can't think of anything more to add except that to remind those who hear this interview and those who work in quilting, or any field, any art form, put your passion in your work. It is so important to know that you've put everything that you have into your work and it makes a difference. People see that. It touches their heart in turn and I think that is what I want to leave us with, put your passion into your work.

KM: I think that is an excellent way to end. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to share with me. You've been wonderful.

VP: Thank you Karen. I really appreciate this interview and I hope that my ideas and my perspectives will help someone else down the road.

KM: I think they shall. We are going to conclude our interview at 9:54.



“Vikki Pignatelli,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,