Liz Joe




Liz Joe




Liz Joe


Herb Morehead

Interview Date



Houston, Texas


Katie Demery


Herb Morehead (HM): This is Herb Morehead. Today's date is November 6, 2011. It is 10:43 and I am conducting an interview with Liz Joe for Quilters' S.O.S. – Save Our Stories, a project for the Alliance of American Quilts. Liz and I are here at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Liz, will you tell me about this quilt?

Liz Joe (LJ): The quilt I brought to show today is called "Wise Men Still Seek Him". I made it to enter into a contest but it was an art festival that was sponsored by our church with a Christmas theme. The name of the show was 'The Manger, the Magi, and the Majesty of Christ'. Every piece of artwork that was entered had to fit one of those themes and I chose the magi, the wise men. I should say, this was an art show, not a quilt show. This is the fourth year in a row I've entered something. It's always been the only quilt in the show.

HM: Your art is based around quilting then?

LJ: That is it, yes. I call it a quilt, not art. I consider it a quilt.

HM: Which comes first your fabrics or your design?

LJ: The design had to come first, and that was hard because I had no idea what a camel really looked like. I finally was able to find an old print from the Victorian age, and I was able to add the fabrics and create some colors and shadows and things that worked with it. I had a lot of fun trying to decide what colors things were, like what color is red at night and when there's light on it. How many people would travel with the magi? How do I go about doing this and making it happen? Every part of the process was hard for me, but I loved that challenge.

HM: Do you find yourself enjoying going into the back story of your pieces? Do you develop a back story for your pieces and your design? Are you looking for the story?

LJ: No, I don't know how to answer that question exactly.

HM: What do you consider when you're putting together your design?

LJ: Colors. Color is really important for me and I like for there to be shadow and light and a story. I'd like for it to help the viewer see something about the story. Of course, this is important to me because I'm a Christian and it was a neat way to introduce Christians or non-Christians to the quilting world, so that was really fun for me to do that.

HM: Do you call yourself more of a representational artist than say abstract?

LJ: Yes, I would say so. I don't know that I've done much abstract.

HM: Do you draw your quilts out before you develop them or do you sort of piece them as you're going?

LJ: I draw them out, take them to Kinko's and blow them up. Then I work from that, making a big plastic template that I can slide things under.

HM: Do you use a design wall?

LJ: I do. Things go a lot better and easier when I use my design wall.

HM: Describe your studio.

LJ: It has a couple of big tables in it. It has a really lovely walk in closet with tons of fabrics in it, and a big iron board. It's very convenient to my machines. I also have another room with a design wall. And another room where I have big tables set up so I can cut on them. I've kind of taken over the upstairs.

HM: Do you buy your stash for the fabric or do you buy your fabric for your concept or art project?

LJ: I found that I work from what I have. I didn't have the velveteen that I needed for this quilt though. I have a pretty good stash, and I'm always buying more.

HM: How long have you been hand dyeing your fabrics?

LJ: About a year and a half.

HM: Very good. What is the process you go through when you decide you're going to make a quilt? Does it come to you in pieces?

LJ: That depends entirely on the purpose on the quilt. I make charity quilts that I pick out the borders and the size before I ever cut up the fabric and I just go with it, simple things. Or quilts for grand children may be simple, and there's not a lot of design process in it. But I like to challenge myself occasionally with something that's really creative. With that, like on this quilt process, I have a whole graveyard of failed attempts. The first star I did for this one I thought it would be bright. But when I got it up there it was gray. So then I did another one and I marked the interfacing where I was going to do the thread painting with black Sharpie pen. I thought it would disappear, but it didn't so I had to do another one. I have a graveyard with camels and stars and beards and bodies, and all of these are failed attempts. But I learned something from each one of them.

HM: Do you revisit your graveyard and find something that fits for something new?

LJ: I haven't yet, but I move on. I don't stay with one medium too long. I move on to something else.

HM: How long have you been quilting?

LJ: 23 years. I also quilted as a child with my grandmother.

HM: Was your grandmother your influence or your first inspiration for quilting?

LJ: Yes, I would say so. Both of my grandmothers helped me quilt. I found an old diary though from when I was ten years old and in it is my recorded proof that I was quilting as a child. I don't remember, I think I was probably quilting by age eight; I know I was using my mother's sewing machine by age five making doll clothes and things. But, this diary from when I was ten started on January 1st. It said 'I went to grandma's house and helped her lay her quilt out and place the blocks'. And then, ' I started a quilt.' On January 2nd it says 'I finished the quilt'. It must've been a small piece, I don't know what it was or what became of it. I know I was making things as a child that were simple.

HM: How many quilts do you think you put together in a year?

LJ: About twelve. But, on a year when I do one like this, with intensive design (as the one I brought today) I do only one like this. And then I may do some quilts for charity and some baby quilts.

HM: Do you teach quilting?

LJ: To my granddaughters, sister, and to a lot of friends. But I do not teach quilting professionally.

HM: Do you do quilt designs professionally?

LJ: No.

HM: An amateur quilter? That's amazing work.

LJ: Yeah.

HM: Have you ever considered teaching? Maybe programs for your quilt guilds?

LJ: I've done demonstrations for our friendship group.

HM: How many guilds do you belong to?

LJ: I quilt with a small group in the women's club where we make charity quilts. I also quilt with a friendship group with the Dallas guild. We don't quilt together, we mostly just have programs together and we go on quilting retreats.

HM: Sounds like a pleasurable way to quilt.

LJ: Yeah, it's fun. I quilt with my sister though. We've started quilting with each other about five years ago and we have a lot of fun together.

HM: You've taught her to quilt or are teaching her to quilt?

LJ: I did/ She had never quilted before and she went to a quilt show and I told her I would bring her some hand work because she wasn't a quilter. On day one, she picked out something she wanted to make and from then on she allowed me to teach her everything I had learned in 20 years. In about three months, she was as good as I was. It was a lot of fun. She entered the first show six months later with four quilts and won three ribbons. We have great fun and I'm very proud of her.

HM: Do you remember the first quilt show you were in?

LJ: Yes, that would have been in Dallas in 2004.

HM: How did you do?

LJ: I won a first place and I won a past chairs' choice ribbon. I also earned an honorable mention ribbon. I think I entered four quilts and I won three ribbons. That was a lot of fun.

HM: Do you still have any of those quilts?

LJ: Yes, I do.

HM: How many quilts do you think you have in your archive?

LJ: Not as many as you might think. I'm sure I've made 200 or 250 quilts and of those I maybe have 35 or 40 of them. I give a lot of quilts away.

HM: Are there quilters that you look up to or that you especially follow?

LJ: At this show, I went to the Noriko Endo class on Tuesday. I loved it, it was so much fun. I would love to practice her technique at home. My cousin, Susan Ennis, has been a real inspiration to me. She's the one who kind of kicked me out of my comfort zone and challenged me in about 2000 to stop making the trip around the world pattern that I had made about 50 of. She told me it was time I moved on and learned to do some other things.

HM: She moved you to art quilting?

LJ: Yes, she did. She also showed me how to make some new patterns.

HM: Would you consider yourself more of an art quilter?

LJ: Not necessarily, although those are the ones that I'm really drawn to in the shows. I love to go see what people are doing that's a surprise with fabric or that's a surprise with the technique.

HM: Do you enjoy teaching?

LJ: Do I enjoy teaching?

HM: Yes, do you enjoy teaching?

LJ: I love seeing people catch the whole excitement of quilting. Yes, I do enjoy that. I particularly have enjoyed doing it with my granddaughters and with my sister.

HM: It's a family experience for you.

LJ: It is. I have girlfriends, and you don't hang around me too often before I have you involved in quilting. It's a fun way to spend time with my family and friends.

HM: How many hours a day do you spend quilting?

LJ: It varies. I have a grandson that's just five weeks old right now. I've been helping my daughter with her toddler, granddaughter and her son. For the last few weeks I haven't had as much time to quilt. When I'm really in more control of my life I quilt about 40 hours a week.

HM: What advances in technology excite you in your quilting?

LJ: Excite me?

HM: Yes.

LJ: Let's back up and say that it was technology that hooked me in the very first place. I saw a rotary cutter demonstrated on TV and I thought 'I could do that'. I remember quilting with my grandmother and drawing with pencil around cardboard and never thinking it was all that accurate, even as a child I didn't think that was the best way to do it. When I saw the neat plastic rulers, rotary cutters, and the mats-that is when I started quilting and I found one on vacation and went home and started teaching myself how to do this.

HM: What part of quilt making do you find most pleasing?

LJ: I'll answer that, but I want to go back and say a little bit more. Now, I love the beautiful fabric that I'm going to assume that technology has helped with those. I love the ability to divide a picture into pixels with the computer. The quilt that is in the Lone Star Quilts book was done with Tammie Bowser's software, and that's been a lot of fun. I have done a lot of the photo quilts where you divide up the pixels and put a piece of fabric where each color is.

HM: If there were fabrics that you could only use, what kind of fabrics would that be?

LJ: Batiks. I love batiks. They're wonderful. Is that what you were looking for?

HM: Yes. I'm looking for what's on your mind.

LJ: I love batiks. They have so much depth and they're pretty.

HM: How do you balance your time between quilting and the rest of your life?

LJ: I make a lot of choices, choices to maybe not be as involved in other activities as I could be because then that takes away from my time to be able to quilt. I don't play bridge, golf, or do some of those other things. Even good activities that I enjoy, if I do them all, then I don't end up with any time during the week to quilt. I say no to some things.

HM: What makes a good quilt?

LJ: I like a quilt that draws me in from a distance and I think 'wow'. Then when I get close to it there's still more to see. I want to have my nose up to it going 'How'd she do that?' or 'How'd they make that happen?' One of the things that I'm good at is figuring out how somebody did it. If I buy a book, I'm really bad about following their directions, I'm always trying to figure out a way to do it that's easier than the way that they've explained.

HM: What is your favorite aspect of quilting? Do you enjoy the design? The assembly? The finishing?

LJ: I think I like all of it but I'm just learning to like the quilting with my new long arm machine. For 22 years, I couldn't quilt anything bigger than this on my home machine very comfortably. I was always handing my quilts off to somebody else to finish for me because if I tried to finish them, I ruined them or I brought them down a level. I would send them off to somebody to either be hand quilted or, in the last ten years, be machine quilted. My husband is an avid golfer. I told him after I bought the new machine that I needed it to complete my skills. Without it, it was like it would be if he always handed someone else his putter to putt the ball into the hole for him. I thought it was high time that I learned to quilt, so I bought a Gammill long arm machine last year. I'm going to learn to use it.

HM: Are you using it?

LJ: I am using it. I'm not very good at it. I can stipple now. The parts that I thought would be easy are hard. Stitching in the ditch is hard for me right now. My granddaughters are good at it.

HM: Do you use free motion or do you tend to use the patterns?

LJ: No, I'm free motion. The patterns on the back are really surprisingly hard to follow. I'm going for the easiest first to build up my confidence. It's easiest to do some free motion flowers.

HM: If you were to describe your quilting experience and were going to add it all up, how does quilting finish you or make you the person you are?

LJ: Quilting is my creative outlet. All of my life I have had some hobby or something that I did that was fun that got me through the day and helped me. It was something I could sit in class, when I was a student, and dream about what else I was going to do that was going to be fun. Even in college I bought a sewing machine so I could make clothes so I had something to do besides write papers. I went through a lot of hobbies in younger years. For one reason or another I moved on from each until quilting. I made porcelain dolls but my nose was always stuffed up from the dust. I landed in sewing again, which was something I had always enjoyed and I haven't gotten away from it. I am allergic to wool. I worked on a wool quilt for four years before I added it up--that that was why my eyes were always red. What was the question? Let me figure out how to answer it.

HM: Your answer is just fine. We were talking about how quilting makes you who you are.

LJ: It's very important in my life. I really enjoy doing it.

HM: Do you have advice for anybody who wants to be quilting?

LJ: Go for it. Just get started. Don't take out too much stitching, just keep going. The next one maybe you'll like it better, even if it's slightly imperfect. Just keep moving on and being proud of your effort and go for it.

HM: Is there a question that you would like to answer that you haven't been asked?

LJ: No.

HM: We're going to keep this painless for you.

LJ: Okay.

HM: I'd like to thank Liz for allowing me to interview her today for the Quilters' SOS- Save Our Stories Oral History Project. Our interview concluded at 11:03.

LJ: Are you sure that's good enough?

HM: Yes, that's good enough.

LJ: They don't have to be 45 minutes?

HM: No, it does not. We ask you to be free. We can keep going if you'd like.

LJ: I don't know of anything else to say. Can y'all think of anything?

Unidentified Person (UP): I have a question of clarification. When he asked if there were any quilters that you looked up to you said you loved taking classes with Noriko-

LJ: I did.

UP: What was her last name?

LJ: Noriko Endo, E-N-D-O. She's one of them. I could've expounded because there are probably a few others that I do enjoy that I've taken some classes with.

HM: Name a few others.

LJ: Ginny Eckley, Susan Eness, let me think. See this is what I mean by my big sister feeding me names through the curtains. This is turned off, isn't it?

HM: No, we're going.

LJ: Oh, no. [laughs.]

HM: It's just fun.

LJ: Bonnie Lynn McCaffery.

HM: We interviewed her. She was here earlier.

LJ: Tammie Bowser, I admire her work. I love the way she is so innovative. She is so free to tell you everything she has figured out, and I love that about quilters. I love the fact that they will so freely share they everything they've figured out. I love that kind of supportive feedback.

HM: You like the collegial aspect of quilting.

LJ: Absolutely. I don't know of any other hobby that you can be a part of where people are so open with each other about what they've done and so willing to praise your effort. Show and tells, I love that. In our quilting groups we have show and tells and that's fun.

HM: Do you get ideas from other people's show and tells sometimes?

LJ: Sometimes. Sometimes they're just showing us pictures of their grandchildren, but yes.

HM: Have you ever had a quilt that you have redone because you saw some aspect of it that you thought you could do better? Do you repeat your quilts sometimes?

LJ: I'm still working on this one. It didn't get in the show this year. I was glad that I would have it to bring with me today.

HM: It's a work in progress?

LJ: It wasn't really supposed to be. I would have loved to have had it in the show this year but I knew that it didn't have enough quilting in it. I quilted it and fortunately it was a really nice cotton sateen so I could take the stitches out without destroying the fabric, but the quilting just ruined it-

HM: You've quilted the sky and then you unquilted it?

LJ: I absolutely did and there was a lot of quilting in it. You really can't see the stitches because I used water and pressed and steamed them out.

HM: It definitely shows us how soft your hand is on it because I can't tell.

LJ: Anyway, I would love to be able to get it to where it is, a show worthy quilt; not just something that would win in an art show but that could compete as a quilt.

HM: It does.

LJ: Thank you. It won viewer's choice in the art show and that was a lot of fun. I don't think this fits any of your questions but one of the things I have really enjoyed doing is showing people that would never go to a quilt show that quilts are art. I remember after this was in a show, not this particular one, but after a quilt I had done was in an art show at our church and the art show was moved to a gallery. The gallery owner told me that when she heard it was a quilt she just cringed because she envisioned something that was going to be like her grandmother's work and she didn't know that quilts could be art. I was thrilled to be a part of that education because I thought that pretty much everybody knew that quilts could be art by now. I didn't know that there were people who didn't know that, so we need to get the word out.

HM: She needed to take another look at her grandmother's quilt, too.

LJ: That's right, she did. Her grandmother's quilt had a lot of art in it, too. She had fewer materials to work with and fewer choices for color than what we have.

HM: There was almost a secret language in some of the old quilts where they would express their experience symbolically in some of the quilts. This is where I think that what's going on here is important and why I think it's good that you are experiencing your story because we've lost a lot of the stories.

LJ: We did lose the stories didn't we? The quilts weren't even signed.

HM: All of that anonymous art.

LJ: That's right.

HM: Thank you, Liz. Thank you very much.


“Liz Joe,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 22, 2024,