Velda E. Newman




Velda E. Newman


Velda E. Newman was interviewed in 1999 at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. She explains her design process, including studying, sketching, and creating enlarged patterns of her natural subjects. Newman also presents her use of dye and paint, and her careful handwork, to achieve her design goals. Her earliest experience as a quilter is shared, as well as her working style, time management, family, and art education.




Newman, Velda, 1939-
Quilts--United States--Exhibitions.
Quiltmaking process


Velda E. Newman


Patricia Shaer

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Houston, Texas

Interview indexer

Amy Kimbrough


Elaine Johnson


[tape begins mid-sentence.]

Patricia Shaer (PS): ...with Velda Newman on October 22nd [silence for about 20 seconds.] Well Velda I guess the best jumping off point is to talk about this particular quilt. It is an enormous quilt with lemons and fruit and wonderful colors, very, very big. How did you come about to create this quilt?

Velda Newman (VN): The name of the quilt is "Sun Kissed." I grew up in southern California in a very agricultural community. I think that has a lot of influence on pieces I do. They grew a lot of produce, fruit, flowers and I was always very interested in that. I loved to go to the supermarket with my mother and look at all those fruits and vegetables. It was so much fun. And I love to get those types of textures and I love the lemons to look like lemons. So that's sort of my forte. I do very large pieces. I've always done very large pieces because I think it has a visual impact when you see something this large it commands a second look. So I've always done that from the very beginning. I like things that are very realistic, so I try to put that into my pieces. I study fruit, just like this cantaloupe here. I had a bowl of cantaloupes on my kitchen sink for quite a while and tried to get that texture into the piece. That's sort of the way I work.

PS: This is both machine quilted and hand quilted, yes?

VN: There is some machine work on the individual fruits or vegetables, but the pieces are all hand quilted and hand appliquéd.

PS: How did you start quilting? What prompted you to quilt?

VN: I love the old labels on fruit boxes and that sort of gave me the idea for the "Sun Kissed" quilt, was the old fruit box labels. And so I wanted to do something that would incorporate a lot of different fruit. I like this linear look of the longer pieces. They're not really well accepted because most quilt shows have a size limitation. So it really hasn't been shown, because of that reason. But for me, I've been working in this linear look for the last two years and I really like the format.

PS: Did you start doing regular quilting, as we know it, the nine-patch and all of that or did you--

VN: Well, my grandmother was a traditional quilter and I always loved all the fabrics in there and I just thought they were wonderful. I tried the block format and I got one made and someone said I had to make fifty more and I thought, 'I can't do this.' So, I just sort of looked at them and subscribed to a couple of magazines and that sort of thing and I've always loved them, but I wasn't going to do that. I have an art background, so I read about a contest that said that you could do anything that you wanted. So I sort of made up this little folk [inaudible.] scene. And I had sewing skills because I've sewn since I was a child. So I knew technically how to do things. I appliquéd this piece. It was an all over picture and that first quilt won a prize, a judge's choice award. So, I thought, 'I can do this.' So I put the two together. I started making quilts after my kids were grown. And I lived in a small community where there weren't a lot of other quilters there to tell me, 'You can't do this,' so I just went ahead and did it. It's turned out quite wonderfully.

PS: Now what comes first, the design or the fabric?

VN: Well, sometimes the color comes first and sometimes the design. I dye each piece of fabric specifically for the piece. So, in this piece I studied all the fruit and dyed each piece of fabric or painted each piece of fabric for the individual piece. All I have on my shelves at home is white fabric. So, I hand dye everything.

PS: Ah, what kind of dyes do you recommend and if you're setting it is there a certain--

VN: I use the Procion. They're quick and easy to use. So I dye and with paints I use the acrylics. When I started out I was using tube acrylics which any painter knows and they work for me, so I've used them for years. There are acrylics that are specifically for fabric, which I also use and they are a little more convenient. You don't have to mix them as much.

PS: Do you have to set the tube acrylics?

VN: No, you know if you ever get them on your clothes that they aren't going to come out. [laughs.]

PS: You said you chose this quilt because you had it with you.

VN: Yes, I did. I've been teaching in Reno and I had this piece with me.

PS: You have a quilt in the "100 Best."

VN: Right.

PS: How did that get selected? What do you think prompted the judges to select that one?

VN: Well, I think I was probably the first woman to do the large format quilts with flowers. It started with the "Iris" quilt which was also nominated. A sort of "in your face" look at flowers. And I guess that was why. You see a lot of that now but, I think I was the first probably to do that.

PS: Does quilting consume a lot of your time? How do you balance a civilian life and a quilt life?

VN: It doesn't really. I have ten little grandchildren all under eight and I like to spend time with them. I think I work in groups of time, where I'll work three weeks straight and then I won't do anything for a month so I'm sort of sporadic that way. But I usually in the evening I do a lot of handwork and that's what keeps me on track, to get in that three or four hours every day on the handwork. I still like to do hand quilting although that's sort of a dirty word anymore. I use it more of another design layer so I'm really careful. I know what I want and I wouldn't have anyone else do it, so I take my time. That's why I don't get very many quilts. I've probably in my career only made 12 or 15 quilts.

PS: How many years have you been quilting?

VN: Fifteen.

PS: One a year.

VN: Yes. But, I'm willing to spend a year on a project, because I want it to be perfect. I think there are enough mediocre quilts in this world and I don't want to add to that so.

PS: What do you find is the most pleasing thing to you quiltmaking and what do [you.] find is the thing that is least pleasing?

VN: Well, for me the most exciting part is the design, the design work and the color work. I think anybody can achieve the technical skill it takes to put a quilt together with a little perseverance. But I think the design and color work is really what I like.

PS: You have very, very bright colors. Is that the influence of California?

VN: I think that probably and I think the high impact when you see them. But I do some in more subdued tones.

PS: What do you think is the influence of quilts and quilt making in the United States today?

VN: Well, I don't really know. It seems like a lot of people are really drawn to it whether they make quilts or not, they seem to really appreciate it. They can remember somebody in their family who did it. I think it hits a soft spot in most people's hearts.

PS: What do you think makes a great quilt? Or one that's really artistically powerful?

Just the big visual impact or is it something else?

VN: I think that and I think you have to have a visual impact, but, I also think the attention to detail is also very important. It's something you may not see at a first look from a distance but when you come close up I think that all has to be as perfect as you can get it.

PS: What's your first memory of a quilt?

VN: Probably, quilts on my bed that my grandmother made, is the first. And I always remember that because parts of my dresses or something would be in there and I could pick them out of the piece.

PS: How many children do you have?

VN: I have four grown children.

PS: What are their thoughts about quilt making are any of them doing quilts.

VN: I have a daughter who is a graphic artist. And one is in interior design so they are very, very artistic. They love quilts. I don't know that they will ever make one but they really appreciate them.

PS: Well, you said you haven't made that many quilts, do they have any of your quilts hanging in their home?

VN: No.

PS: Do you have them hanging in your home?

VN: No.

PS: Oh, really. Where are they?

VN: Well, they're usually either loaned out, or you know I'm on the road a lot teaching so I take them. I've sold a few of them. I really like them to rest when they're there and not be in the light.

PS: What do you think is the role of quilt making in your area of the country? California has become known for its quilt making, there was a novel that came out about all these women who got together to make a quilt; it had quilt in the title? [An American Quilt]

VN: Oh, I saw the movie.

PS: I think the book was better than the movie. It was a great book.

VN: I don't know. There seem to be a lot of quilt makers in California in some areas. And I don't know why it's so popular, so really popular in California. It seems like there are guilds all over the place so it is really popular.

PS: Is there anything that you would like to do that you are thinking about now?
Is there a quilt that really appeals to you that you would like to make or contemplating?

VN: Well, I just did the piece for "The Women of Taste," I don't know if you've heard of that, but it was a benefit for a Girls Inc. in Oakland, California. And they paired women chefs and women artists together to make a quilt for this benefit thing. They made a book out of it and the Smithsonian has picked up the exhibit to show all over the country. And for that exhibit I did a piece on fish. I'm working on another fish piece and I have another on the drawing table. So, I'm kind of on fish right now.

PS: Tell us how you create it. What is the creative process for you? You say you do the drawings, do you do a lot of drawings and where do you get those ideas? What's the impetus?

VN: I do a lot of drawings. Once I decide on a subject, say it's flowers. I'll go to the nursery and I'll bring home those kind of flowers and I'll put them on my table and so each time I pass by I see something else I hadn't seen. I see some detail and I jot all these notes down. After a couple of weeks I start making sketches and I sketch 'til I put a composition together. And it's transferred to graph paper. After it's on the graph paper I take a black pen and put it onto plastic and the plastic goes onto overhead and I enlarge it and make a full sized drawing--whether it's six feet or fifteen feet--I make a full sized drawing and off of that drawing which I never cut up. I make individual patterns. And each individual pattern is then cut up out of fabric.

PS: And at what part is the dyeing process and the selection of colors?

VN: I dye after the drawing is all done and I know how big I am going to make it. Then I jot down the different colors I'm going to use and do the dyeing.

PS: Do you mix dyes or is it a process of dipping the cloth one time and then redoing it again and again until you get the color you want?

VN: No, I'm one of those dyers that never measure so I never can get the same color twice. So, I think I want chartreuse and I throw in the colors that I think will make chartreuse and if it comes out, it comes out, if it doesn't I'll add a little something else to it and that's how I dye.

PS: The colors or actually the hues are varied, the values, how have you done that?

VN: This is when the dye is put in a plastic bag and the fabric and I leave it bunched up so that it doesn't get an even dye bath.

PS: And what is this? Is that cheesecloth?

VN: Yes, this is cheesecloth. I took a piece of cheesecloth and I pulled the strings about an inch apart both ways so that it created a checkerboard and then I just reamed it out on the end of a pencil so that it made this circular pattern. And then I put it on a piece of batting and I stitched it in a circular motion, free motion stitch and that is done before I appliqué it down.

PS: Okay.

VN: So you see there's nothing on the back.

PS: Oh, so this attached to batting then beforehand too?

VN: Yes, this is attached to batting because I want this to puff up.

PS: Yes, yes, how neat. What would you say to people who think I don't want to do the traditional quilts? I really like these free designs. How would they get started and what mind set do you think you would advise?

VN: Well, I usually tell my students that if they're really interested in doing their own compositions, if they haven't taken some art classes on color and design, they can go to their local junior college and take some color and design classes. Because I think everybody sort of needs a reference point to start with and I think that's basic education. They could learn a lot from a couple of semesters of that. And something like that you can't really get in a day class. You know it's just too hard to teach. So I really think people need to do that.

PS: Tell us about your art background.

VN: Well, I always loved watercolor and acrylics and so I studied that in college. It was very enjoyable. I really enjoyed it.

PS: So, you have a degree in art?

VN: No, I have an associate in art degree; it just makes all the difference in the world to take some art classes.

PS: Some education in it then.

VN: I really encourage people to do that. And since then I've taken a lot of art classes at night and continue to do so.

PS: Are there artists in your family?

VN: My aunt was an artist, not a trained artist, but she was very good.

PS: Looking at what's happening today with all of the notions and the sewing machines and all the things that seemed to have been generated by the interest in quilting, what do you think is the future of quilting and what amazes you about quilting, today?

VN: I think that what amazes me is so many people are interested in it. Whether just liking quilts to the fact that they're crazy and they don't do anything else but make quilts. So I think that that's nice and I always feel that I could go any place in the United States and if I say that I'm a quilter somebody would take me in, which is really nice. I forgot what you asked me.

PS: What do you think is the future of quilting?

VN: Well, I can't see any end to it. I just think with people it's sort of ingrained now. I just think it will go on forever.

PS: Would you do any wearable art, because some of your techniques it seems would lend themselves to some very interesting wearable art?

VN: I've done the Fairfield Fashion Show a couple of times and I do like to do it, because it's quick comparatively speaking. Like this piece I worked about a year and a half on. So, I like that because you can do something in a couple of months. So I do like that but as you can see I dress very plain so it's not something I would wear. But, it is fun to cut loose and do something with sort of a whimsy.

PS: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum collection?

VN: Well, I think the quilt maker would have to have a recognizable style. I think technique should be perfect, whether it's done on a machine or by hand--I think it should be perfect in every way. There has to be something special about it. I'm not really sure about museums and what they consider as their guidelines for having a piece donated or what.

PS: Is there something that when you go out and look at quilts? What appeals to you? What makes you think, 'This is a great quilt?'

VN: Well, I think all those things coming together, design, color, composition is really important. And the work, it has to be perfect. I like things perfect.

PS: Georgia Bonesteel I think it was said yesterday that she felt quilters kept making quilts because they would finish one and something about it was not perfect and they were always trying to have a perfect quilt and she herself would say, 'There's this I could have done differently so let's try it someplace else.'

VN: That's probably true.

PS: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

VN: I don't really know how to answer that. I make quilts because I like to make beautiful things. And I'm really not political or I don't want to see the seedy side of life. I just want to make beautiful things. That's what I strive for.

PS: Do any of you have a question? Sometimes it has helped prompt questions before.

Jeri Baldwin (JB): Do you consider quilting an art or a craft?

VN: I think it's really both, it includes both.

JB: Can you elaborate?

VN: Well, I think there are some quilts that are definitely only craft, but when you achieve something that is art plus the craft work then you have hit the top. So I think there should be more at the top than at the bottom.

PS: What makes it art? What makes quilting an art?

VN: Well, it's probably a lot in the eye of the beholder but, I think all things coming together - the design and the color and composition all coming together in a pleasing form.

PS: I think we've gotten through most of the questions.

JB: I have a question, has quilting had an effect on your family life?

VN: Well, I'm not home as much, because I teach a lot. My husband is real appreciative of it and I think it has raised a level of awareness in my family towards artist endeavors so.

JB: Are any of your children interested in quilting?

VN: My two daughters are interested. They don't make quilts but they are interested.

PS: How do see the future of quilting in America?

VN: It just seems like it's going to continue at a high rate of speed to me. I hear of new guilds forming all the time and new interest, so I don't see an end to it.

PS: One of the things one of the interviewees said is that there are new developments coming out all the time especially in threads. We know that so many of the quilts from the last century just kind of shattered because the fabrics were not as strong and the threads were not as strong. Are there certain threads that you use and do you dye your thread?

VN: No, I don't dye my thread I just use thread off the rack. But, there is a lot of new stuff. I think the newest thing is that fusing which I don't use but it just seems like a lot of things are using that fusible web now.

PS: Is there a reason you don't use the fusible?

VN: I just personally don't like it but, that's just me. I like it to feel like a quilt, and I think that fusing is rather stiff.

PS: Well, does anyone else have any questions? I think we've really touched on everything they want to know.

JB: Maybe Velda has something she'd like to share with us we'd especially like people to know of you.

VN: I can't think of anything else.

JB: Do you have any ideas about what would be good ways to encourage young people to start quilting?

VN: Well, I think--I noticed in several of the grade schools in our little area have had quilt people come in for the day and work with children. And there is as many of the boys that like it as well as the girls and I think that is very encouraging.

PS: I know I worked at a school here in Houston where the art teacher was the one that was using quilting to teach. What she was trying to do at the same time was to teach the kids math.

VN: Right.

PS: So I think that it's a combination if you have any home ec.--that's probably a pretty antiquated phrase--home ec. Teachers, math teachers if you can get math teachers to realize how important math is to quilting and art.

VN: Right. And they were having a great time. Several of the grade schools made quilts and they were very proud and had them on parents' day. And children are much more aware of it than when I was in school, certainly because we did not have anything like that, so I do think they are making children more aware of it. So we're just going to get more quilters I think.

JB: Do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history, a special place in the history of women?

VN: I'm sure it was. I mean just looking at the hundred quilts in there. Some of those are really wonderful and they must have been like "The Fairy" quilt, I just think is wonderful, but when I saw that I thought, 'I wonder what her neighbors thought, like did you see what Mabel made today?' But that she had that vision is wonderful. It's nice to see this resurgence in quilting, because it seemed to have really died down in the 40's and 50's and 60's they weren't doing much I don't think, but it's really nice to see it all coming back.

PS: Well, thank you, Velda.

VN: You're welcome.

PS: It is now 11:33 and we appreciate your coming and sharing your ideas of how you work and I'll turn this off.

Interview Keyword

Sunkissed (Quilt)
Fabric - Hand-dyed
Fabric - Painted
Quiltmaking style
100 Best Quilts
Design process
Teaching quiltmaking
Women of Taste
Smithsonian Institution


“Velda E. Newman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,