Barbara Beck (BB): I’m Barbara Beck and we’re at the Houston Quilt Festival interviewing Ricky Sims. Wrong?
Jo Francis Greenlaw (JFG): It’s Ricky Tims.
Ricky Tims (RT): T-i-m-s, it’s Tims with one ‘m,’ thank you very much.
BB: Thank you and it’s 3:40, November 3, 2000. I’m glad to have you here.
RT: Thank you very much.
BB: Yes, you make quilts.
RT: Yes maam, I do.
BB: Tell me about your quilt which quilt did you bring today?
RT: Well I–the main quilt I brought for you to see today is a quilt that is a new quilt of mine it’s called ‘The Beat Goes On’ and you’re wanting to see this?
BB: Yes, yes we are. Come on and let’s spread it out. [rustling from quilt.]
Tell me about this quilt.
RT: I’ll tell you about the design of the quilt first. The design of the quilt is a central heart which is sort of string pieced together in red hand-dyed fabrics. Surrounding that heart is sort of a turquoise blue and chartreuse green ribbon that’s just wrapping around it and then there is a rainbow colored ribbon that just flows through the whole surface of the piece. The entire quilt is made from hand-dyed fabrics and then it is quilted with sort of flowers that look like they might have been flowers from the sixties and then stipple quilted in between that. The quilting is mostly metallic threads but not all metallic threads and that’s the design of the quilt. The name of the quilt is called ‘The Beat Goes On’ and I made this quilt–I began making this quilt eight days after I had quadruple bypass surgery. I had the surgery on April the twenty-fourth of this year, 2000, and eight days later I was working on this quilt and finished the top four days later and then I quilted it. It was to commemorate that significant event in my life. I was home five days after the surgery. I had written my thank you notes and I said, ‘I’m going crazy sitting in this chair, I can sit in my chair and sew.’ My dad who was also a quilter. Hint-future question–my dad who was also a quilter was there and my mom was there. They were taking care of me as I was recuperating so when I went down into that studio eight days afterwards I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to sew and less than five or ten minutes later I had drawn three or four little stylized hearts and I thought that I’d just make a little heart quilt and by noon that day I had pieced the entire center heart. Drew it full size on the freezer paper and started string piecing it onto the paper. Now when I do that technique I typically tear my fabric strips and just organize them so then I can have them all ready to go to just flip and sew, I don’t need to have the rotary cutter to do those strips. But every time I would fold the paper back and trim off the seam allowances to the proper size it need to be I would have this little leftover scrap of fabric that was maybe a quarter of an inch wide or something and had these little strings. I would turn around to sew the next one and turn back around and it would be gone, and that’s because my dad sat there the entire four days and took every little fabric scrap and put it into the trash. So, I never had one string or one stray thread I had a perfectly clean work area for those four days. And that was pretty fun and I give my mom credit for this quilt too, because while I was working on this she was upstairs making me healthy meals for me to recover from the surgery so I called it the “The Beat Goes On” obviously because after the surgery and I woke up and came through all of that, ‘my heart is still beating.’ Often times my quilts are named after some musical element, not always, but many many times after having grownup as a musician and a professional musician I use musical titles. I was reminded while working on this of the Sonny and Cher song from the sixties “The Beat Goes On” so that’s how it got its title which is also actually trapuntoed into the surface of the quilt.
BB: This is just beautiful.
RT: Thank you.
BB: This is just beautiful. It’s just terrific so tell me what are your plans for this quilt?
RT: Well the first plan I had for this quilt was to enter it into the show today here at the IQA. [International Quilt Association.] I entered this quilt and my other quilt. I entered two quilts into the show. Only one of them got in. This was the reject from the show. The one that got in won the Pfaff Machine Artistry award for $5000 so you go from here to here ya know you might get one in and you might not get one in but, anyway, that’s the story behind this particular quilt.
BB: Tell me about when you started quilting?
RT: How I got involved in quilting?
RT: I began quilting in 1991 as the result of acquiring a sewing machine from my granny. My granny was my mother’s mother. Her name was Bertie Marie Newsom and she lived for years in North Texas in a place called Lake Kickapoo. I was born in Wichita Falls, Texas so I wasn’t far from Lake Kickapoo and I spent most of my time with my granny. I loved being at the lake, fishing and swimming, and working in her garden. When I was a child, I remember her sewing on her Kenmore sewing machine. She made nothing that I remember that was fancy in the way of a quilt or a garment. She made practical things and she patched things and she reused things. And when she did make a quilt it was chunks of scraps sewn together usually the filling was done with a wool army blanket and the back might have been a flannel and then she would tie those quilts together and they were very heavy. We used them to sleep under in the cold North Texas winters and we also used them to pull heavy furniture across the floor but in 1991 we are all living in Wichita Falls. My granny had become a widow and we built a house for her across the street from us. In 1979, Wichita Falls had a tornado that tore our neighborhood down and it was after that, that we rebuilt our house but we also rebuilt a house for her that my granny moved into so she lived there from ’79 until ’91. In 1991, I was living in St. Louis, Missouri doing music work there professionally and she had been a widow for several years. She got a phone call– she’s 83 years old–she gets a phone call from a fellow by the name of Pete Hudgeons who lived in Lubbock, Texas. Pete is 87 and he had become a widower and she had not seen this man in at least 15 years and he proposed to her over the phone. And she threw away her cane [laughter.] and she drove four hours to see this man in Lubbock, Texas and they were married exactly two weeks later. After which we had to sell her house and divvy up her belongings amongst her two daughters and four grandchildren. Well, my momma said, ‘What of your granny’s do you want?’ Well, my granny didn’t have nice things and I didn’t want to fight over anything so I said, ‘You let everybody else pick and I’ll take what’s left over.’ And what was left over was her Kenmore sewing machine so the Kenmore sewing machine made its way up to St. Louis, Missouri and it sat in the corner of my dining room for a week or two. My mother had shown me how to wind the bobbin. I thought, ‘well if I know that I should be able to do anything I want to with this sewing machine.’ So I decided that I would make myself a shirt so I drive off to the Cloth World store and I go in and I start looking at the pattern book for men’s clothing. While I’m doing this the voice of my granny and the voice of my mother are both coming into my head. When I was a child they would never made me a shirt because they said the shirts were the hardest things you could make. They made dresses for my sister. They made dresses for themselves but they never make shirts that I’m aware of. So I decided if I’m going to do something I probably should start with something easier. So I turned around and there was a rack of quilt books and one of them was called “Learning to Quilt: Quilting for Beginners” and it had twenty sampler blocks or traditional quilt blocks. At the time I didn’t even know that quilt blocks had names. I didn’t know that there was such a thing a name for a quilt block but I bought this book thinking that I could certainly make a quilt a lot easier than I could make a shirt. Nobody ever told me a quilt was hard. And I’m thinking to myself that a shirt has shoulders and curves and sleeves and a quilt is just flat so that should be much easier to make. I bought fabric for that quilt I started making it by cutting out templates and drawing around those templates with a Bic ™ pen because I couldn’t see a pencil marking and I would do my best to make a quarter of an inch seam allowance. And every one of those blocks ended up being somewhere between eleven and thirteen inches and they were supposed to be twelve. [laughter.]. Well I figured that must be okay because that averages out to be twelve inches and on that same quilt [announcement over the loudspeaker.] and then it came time to sash the quilt and I started putting the vertical sashing in for the rows, the columns I mean, to make the long ones together and I ran out of sashing fabric so I just thought I would go back and get some more of that. When I got back to the store it had been four or five weeks after I started the quilt and of course there’s not anymore of that fabric so I have literally maroon sashing going vertically and green sashing going horizontally. [laughter.] Oh, I could keep going with this story if you want to hear more of it.
BB: What size was it?
RT: It was a full size quilt or queen size; I didn’t measure but like 96 by 80 or something. A big quilt.
BB: What was the pattern?
RT: It was a sampler quilt. It had twenty different blocks.
BB: So you did twenty different blocks?
RT: Twenty different blocks and learned the names. Memorized their names and to this day–One of them was a Grandmother’s Fan. One was a Shoofly. One was a Friendship Star. One was an Ohio Star. One was a Honeybee block, you know.
BB: How long did it take from beginning to end?
BB: You said it was four or five weeks until the sashing.
RT: Well yes, but to get the sashing–actually getting the quilt top together was probably more like three or four weeks because I was really loving this. I started reading every quilt magazine I could get my hands on because I loved it so much. I discovered there was such a thing called a rotary cutter and mat which I never even knew existed. And there were other quilt books that taught methods of doing quilts like that so I don’t know. I started making other projects even while this one was starting to go on to a quilt frame and get quilted. So it might have taken a year before I finally got around to getting the binding on it after quilting it but in that year I had probably made another good thirty or forty quilts of varying sizes. Some of them were very small. Most importantly I would like to say that, that first quilt is the only quilt that I made from a pattern because my life as a musician had been in the creative part of music. I had been a composition student in college and I love creating so I immediately started adapting my own designs and creating my own quilts; the second one through now. None, of them are–are–
BB: So, the first one was like the book?
RT: Exactly like the book. I think I even put the blocks exactly like the picture in the book. But, past that I went on my own and started doing my own creative type things. And I hand quilted that first quilt. As a matter of fact, it’s at home and there are times when I sleep under it but I keep it a little bit more treasured now because I think of it as my first quilt and there’ll never be another first quilt. So I take very good care of it. This is a funny story—I’ll go ahead and tell you this too. When I hand quilting I did not know a quilter for three months at least and I went into a Ben Franklin store one day looking for fabric and when I got in there, there was this–she wasn’t old, but she was an older lady and she was looking at fabrics. And she struck up a conversation with me and she said, ‘What are you doing back here?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m looking for some fabric.’ And she wanted to know what I was using the fabric for and I said, ‘I’m making a quilt.’ It was so cute because only a quilter would do this but in one fell swoop she reached into her tote bag and went ‘whoosh’ and there was a quilt and she said, ‘What color border would you put on this one?’ [laughter.] And I went, ‘Ma’am, I don’t know. I don’t have a clue.’ That lady’s name was Ponnie Brinkman, P-O-N-N-I-E Brinkman. And she ended up inviting me to the quilt meeting that night. Now I did not know there were going to be so many people there. I was expecting a little quilt frame and several women sitting around it kind of talking and drinking coffee and that sort of thing. And I ended up in a meeting of 250 of those quilters but as a result of getting involved with those quilters in that guild– while I am self-taught. I learned from them. It’s them individually that I’ve learned from one on one. I was quilting that quilt and I didn’t know how to do anything except what that book said and that was make a running stitch. I stab stitched the quilt for several days, just piercing the needle all the way and then back up. And I was making the stitches exactly like the book. The book did not bother to tell me that the picture they had was a magnified version of the quilt stitch so I’m making my stitches about a quarter inch a piece. I hadn’t seen quilting stitches; this was something I had never in my life. Well finally a friend came over one day and said, ‘I’ve watched my aunts quilt and what you’re supposed to do is get several stitches on the needle rocking it back and forth and then pull the needle through.’ And my friend told me in order to do that I was supposed to be using a much bigger needle so I went and bought a four inch needle to try to quilt this quilt with. As you can imagine, I can’t get three stitches into this quilt before the needle is stuck in the quilt so I’ve got my tool box out–I’ve got a pair of pliers. I’m doing anything I can to try to quilt this quilt the way it’s supposed to be quilted and really that’s the roots of how I began as a quilter. And it wasn’t until I got into the guild that I started asking people about needles sizes and so on and so on and so forth and I found that really the smaller the needle size the better your quilting stitches will be but I was using a fairly large needle at the beginning of this endeavor.
BB: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?
RT: [long pause.] I used to not enjoy putting on bindings because I felt the quilt was so done. I was so finished it was all quilted and then you would sew on the binding and then you would sew it on the binding and I would sew it on by hand and that could still take me days and days it would seem to get the binding on. I didn’t enjoy that. But now I use this machine type binding you’ll notice on this quilt. I love putting these bindings on so I really have to tell you there is nothing that I don’t like about the quilting process. I love the designs; the fabrics; the top. I love the quilting part. I love the binding part. I even love making the sleeves.
BB: Tell me–my daughter-in-law thinks you’re wonderful–
BB: She saw you a couple of years ago. Tell me how you came to what–the way you do it–how you put the quilt together?
RT: How I put–
BB: You know you draw on the design–
RT: You know what; there are so many ways to put a quilt together. My philosophy from the beginning was and this is what happened that first year I was reading every magazine I could. If there was a technique I didn’t know anything about, I would try that technique. And I wouldn’t make a full sized quilt I would just do enough a small piece or something to learn the technique. The more techniques I had in my little bag of tricks when the design came to my mind I could go from that repertoire of tricks to create that quilt so the more you know – the more you can create. I sort of am settled now into only a few things that I’ll tend to do. One of them is called “Quilting Caveman Style,” that is not anything other than a name but it means cutting and sewing fabrics using a rotary cutter and mat not planning a seam allowance and not using templates and not measuring anything but just creating an improvisational design and it could be representational. I could make a flower, or a house, or a bird or whatever, a fish, just doing this method but it’s not a precise method of sewing. I also do “flip and sew” method with the design on freezer paper and when I want to be precise and I need to be accurate then I use that particular method. I can do other things but those seem to be the two methods that I tend to use most because I like working with curves. And so the freezer paper helps me with precision curves and the “Caveman” method I can just create spontaneous curves.
BB: Tell me about this other quilt you’ve brought.
RT: Well I brought things to just spark some questions, I guess. This little quilt is–was done “Caveman” style. The heart quilt we’ve been talking about was done on freezer paper drawn full size and “flip and sew,” let me just say that. This quilt–these squares were just randomly cut and actually they were part of a larger quilt that I had made and there were some leftovers so I just set them together sort of on point and had fun with this quilting design which really can’t really describe on tape but it’s a non-stop quilt design. The entire–everything inside there is non-stop quilting by the way I did that.
BB: Tell me how you did that.
RT: Okay, I did this, this, this, and then here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and then the outside ones here, here, here–.
BB: And Ricky is going around each flower with his finger showing how it goes.
RT: Right. Good and I go on to the outside ones and once I got back to here then I can do these outside ones–
BB: That’s lovely.
RT: And then these inside ones and then it’s done so–and then I can start stippling and so the thing of this–the thing of note on this quilt is the binding once again. I used to hate doing bindings. This is a scalloped binding and it looks like the scallop is a fold that’s put on the quilt and then the binding is put on that–[BB: “uh, hum.”] in actuality the scallop is put onto the binding and the binding is put onto the quilt and I quilt in the ditch between the scallop and the binding. There’s a line of stitching you can barely see running right along the edge of that quilt so there’s not a single hand stitch anywhere on this or this or the quilt that I won with here at IQA [International Quilt Association.] today. This quilt has a little bit of history that I would like to share–
BB: This is another beautiful quilt flower
RT: This is a small quilt–probably a–18 by 24 inches or something like that and its name is “Tulip for Chantelle Number Two.” Yes there is a “Chantelle Number One.” And I’m going to tell you the story of Chantelle. When I was in England teaching for the first time in 1997, as I was jet lagged, they drug me to a beginning quilter’s class. I wasn’t teaching, just observing. These beginners didn’t know much about quilting but the next morning the teacher called and said, ‘One of my students just called and she wanted to know who Chantelle was last night.’ And she had said ‘What do you mean who was Chantelle?’ And she said ‘Well, Ann brought Chantelle and I thought I met everybody but I didn’t meet anyone named Chantelle and right towards the end of the evening you said Ricky brought Chantelle and I still hadn’t met this ‘Chantelle.” And the lady started laughing and laughing and she said, ‘No, no, no. I said, ‘Show and tell. Show and tell.” So Ann had brought ‘show and tell’ and Ricky had brought ‘show and tell.’ Well, the hostess that had arranged my trip to England, I wanted to do something nice for her so I made this quilt or rather a quilt like this one, in my “Caveman” style. I just cut and sew the pieces randomly, not knowing exactly how they are going to turn out but I ended up having this little three pointed tulip with a stem and two leaves and I ended up giving it to her. And as a joke I called it “Tulip for Chantelle.” Okay so it’s a tulip for show and tell, right. When I got home, I wanted one for myself so I made this one so I call it “Tulip for Chantelle Number Two.” Well whenever I had the opportunity to send one of my previous prize winning quilts to England to enter in one of their shows, I thought those ladies would get a real kick if I sent this little piece over just for fun to go with that. About three weeks later I got a phone call and I could not believe that my other quilt, the large quilt had won two blue ribbons at this national show in England but I was stunned whenever I found out that this little quilt had won judge’s choice award. And it was only really sent over as a joke for those ladies. It features what has now become one of my trademarks as well and that is called “bobbin quilting.” You will notice that in the flower and in the two frames there is a black sparkly thread and that black thread is really too heavy to go into the top of the machine and work well so it’s put in the bobbin and then I have orange thread in the top and quilt with the wrong side of the quilt facing me. Usually people say, ‘Well then how do you know where to do that?’ because that fills in those frames. In this case, I quilted in the ditch first from the top with the orange thread all the way around and once I’ve outlined all those wavy frames then I can just turn it over and fill in between those. Sometimes I don’t want to see that quilting in the ditch stitch so now I use the wash away water soluble thread. Quilt in the ditch again, flip it over. I can still see where to do the bobbin quilting and then when the quilt is wet that all dissolves and you have no idea how it got marked just sew it on the back so I use two different methods to do that.
BB: It’s lovely, just lovely, it’s beautiful. And you have another one there, is there another one?
RT: Yes, there’s one more here. This small piece is from a new series that I am and becoming more and more well known for that I call “Harmonic Convergence.” Now, we already talked about my closeness in involvement with music so the word “harmony” would be a musical term but what happened was I was working on the back of quilt one day and I wanted to use some of my hand-dyed fabrics that I didn’t like very well. And so I chose two fabrics that were spirals. Now this is something similar to what you’d see on a modern pop t-shirt with the spiral going around it. I had two of those and I didn’t particularly like them so I figured I could use both of them on the back but when I put them side by side I thought I was looking at two owl’s eyes, just kind of going crazy. So I started thinking what could I do to those two pieces of fabric that would break that up and I decided to slice them into strips starting at the center. I had two fabrics laying side by side and then starting at the center I cut a one inch strip and then a one and a half inch strip and then a two inch strip and then a three inch strip going from the inside and to the out. Then I took the skinniest strip of this piece and moved it over into this and I sort of started sorting these pieces into each other and suddenly the spirals were flying into each other and it was amazing. So then I began developing a new idea and I have an entire series of quilts now based on this. I have instruction patterns that people are using to do this series. And this particular piece that I brought is a very basic, simple example of that work.
BB: Did you cut this “Caveman” style?
RT: This is done with a rotary cutter, a ruler, and a mat. So this is a one, one and a half, two, two and a half, three inches. It is done precisionally. There is no tearing involved but look if you will you’ll notice–to see the two fabrics. Find this fabric and notice that it will just jump over this bar. This is the same fabric now jumping over here and you see yes it is still flowing along. Jump one more. It’s still the same fabric moving across and finally it ends with this little piece. But just go the opposite direction and you’ll see that this one just moves right into that. So this fabric–these were two little squares and they just fly into each other.
BB: That’s just lovely–
RT: And in order to create this one little extra seam I cut an inch off of the top. I sliced the quilt and I rotated it 180 degrees and just sewed it right back into the quilt. It’s truly the easiest thing and when I teach this class in a day the students will do two pieces more complicated than this but they do two quilt tops in a day.
BB: Did you quilt this bobbin–
RT: No, I quilted the rayon threads from the top and what was left over I flipped over and quilted on the back with the metallic thread from the bobbin. BB: Okay, tell me what you think makes a great quilt? [announcement over the loudspeaker.] RT: Well, I probably–You caught me with a question that I have to think about. BB: That’s good. RT: I–first and foremost I want that quilt to reach out and grab me visually. I want the overall statement of that quilt to hit me in a big way. I tend to like quilts that have large, powerful, impact of designs as opposed to most traditional quilts that are maybe lots and lots of little blocks that create a kind of lattice work or something overall. I find those beautiful but then they’re going to have to do something other than that to create an explosion of design for me. The way they’ll use their color or something and then make the overall thing very compacted. That’s the number one for me. Second for me, I then am going to want to see pretty much how the workmanship of the quilt is. Is it crisp? Is it clean? Is it neat? Are the stitches good? And is the workmanship good? And all of those kind of things would come secondary to me, the use of color, fabric and so forth.
BB: Seems to me–seems to me that you are very good at this and it came to you very quickly.
RT: Yes, it did. It did.
BB: And you really enjoy it.
RT: “Simple Gifts” is a quilt of mine I made in 1996. It was here at festival in 1996 and won the second prize. It won a second prize in the AQS [American Quilter’s Society; Paducah, Kentucky.] festival. It won best machine quilt at the NQA [National Quilting Association, Inc.] show that year. It’s the quilt that won two first prizes in UK. [United Kingdom.] It was selected by one of the panelists last year as her hundred and first choice for the “100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century.” [special exhibit at International Quilt Festival 1999 and book.] Interestingly enough, I know this is probably sounding like bragging and I don’t mean it to because I am so grateful for this incredible thing that found me nine years ago but that quilt was my first large machine quilted quilt. And it won a best machine quilting award at a national show and people say you must have practiced, and practiced and practiced to get there and I didn’t. It just came to me. And people say, ‘How could that happen?’ I’m guessing that having been a pianist since I was three years old I have pretty good eye-hand coordination, so manipulating that quilt under the needle with free motion quilting is very–it just came natural for me because I think of the piano background. This quilt for example with the flowers quilted on it. There is no marking. I don’t mark the quilt in any way. I didn’t mark this quilt ahead of time, just sew it. That’s the way I do it.
BB: Tell me how you feel when you’re quilting. Tell me how you feel about this whole experience.
RT: Well I’m working. I like seeing it. I get excited and I sit back and look at it and sometimes I feel I need to give up and then I get inspired again, and then I want to go out and you know, I want to ride my bicycle and take a walk or do something and come back again. I love it. I watch t.v. while I’m doing it. It’s when I’m at home doing it. It is just what I’m doing. In light of what I’m doing showing quilts at exhibitions and in the way that it has now become my profession, full time, to be lecturing all over the world and giving workshops. I really feel that it would be a waste of me if I didn’t give it back And at venues, shows and guilds and so forth that allow me to share what I have back with the world that’s where I share. So if my quilt–if that is hanging and it moves somebody–if it inspires somebody then it’s doing the job I would want it to do. I truly do not believe that it is not right to gloat over a win. ‘Aren’t I great because I made a wonderful quilt that has been recognized,’ because the judging process is still subjective. A different set of judges could come up with different quilts to win; that still have just the same amount of merit to win. So you can’t gloat over a win but you also can not beat yourself up and pout if your quilts are not winning awards or you didn’t win an award. It doesn’t mean the quilt isn’t valid. The most important thing for me and the reason I entered the shows is because I want the quilts to be seen. I want people to experience them. That’s a way of sharing.
BB: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to tell us about?
RT: I don’t know.
BB: I think we’re running out of time.
Unidentified Person (UP): I had a question. I wanted to ask about your father and his quilting?
RT: Okay, that’s a good question. The same week I began quilting in 1991 sort of by mistake. I called home that weekend and my dad had retired. We thought we would get him into stained glass or something like that but when I called home that weekend and said, ‘What are you doing dad?’ He said, ‘I started making a quilt this week.’
And he ended up making a traditional broken star quilt with all those diamonds. The finished quilt is 104 inches square, so it’s huge. His mother at the age of 85 had made him and his two siblings a broken star quilt so she made three of them. He decided that if she could do that at 85 he could do it at 65 after he retired. He made the top all by himself and he did a wonderful, wonderful job and since then he’s made about ten quilts. He doesn’t usually hand quilt them himself. He sends them out to have that done. There have been times when my mother has hand quilted them. My dad has tried to hand quilt them but my dad’s hands are–well they didn’t work that well for him but when it comes to the precision patchwork it’s amazing. His quilts are very scrappy. They’re very traditional. Many of them are samplers because he would go, ‘I had fun making this block, now I’m going to try this block,’ and he’d have enough blocks to make a quilt so many of his quilts were samplers after that. He and I have worked together. His brain understands it. My dad is 72 now and he is not quilting as much any more now after my mother retired. They’re out kind of traveling now. He doesn’t have as much time at home by himself but it’s been amazing. And then another point of interest since we’re saving our stories– another point of interest is that when my nephew married, a couple of years later they were expecting their first child and as a result of me quilting and my dad quilting, he wanted to make the baby quilt and he did. And now he’s involved in quilting and sewing at some level as well. He’s made two or three quilts and doesn’t think anything about it. He is currently Mr. Mom but before the baby he was a prison guard and my dad was a retired truck driver so the stereotypes are a little bit broken in our family since we have three generations of men quilters and none of the women really quilt.
BB: How’s granny doing?
RT: Good question. I usually get two questions like that. Do I still sew on my granny’s sewing machine and is she still alive? My grandmother passed away in 1993. She was married to Pete for two years and Pete passed away one year later. He was 90 and she was 85 when they passed away. Then in 1994, I bought a used sewing machine from a sewing dealer. It was an older model Pfaff. I used my granny’s up until that time. So that was three, three and a half years. Then I started on this other sewing machine and now I have more sewing machines so–
BB: Yeah, how many sewing machines do you have?
RT: I’ve got four, four right now that I can count. They’re handy. Is there something else you wanted to ask?
UP: I do have many more questions but we’re limited to a forty-five minute format. And I’m not sure how much time we have. How much time do we have?
BB: I’m not sure, what time did we start?
RT: 3:03 or 3:33
Another Unidentified Person: The first question was asked at 3:33.
RT: See, so we have time left.
BB: We have a couple more minutes left.
UP: I’d like to hear about how it was–what it was you did before you became a professional teacher and quilter and what that conversion was like?
RT: It–the funny thing about that is that it’s not a conversion. It’s an add on. People who know me now, know that I have been able to put music and quilting together in one package. As a musician–well I took my first real–well I taught through high school, teaching piano. When I was seventeen years old I had been awarded several musical awards. I was also hired as a conductor of choral music for a church in Wichita Falls. I was seventeen and I worked my way through college doing that and teaching piano and then I became a performing artist. I began working in studios. So I had been doing conducting. I had been doing commercial work and I ended up in St. Louis, Missouri to be a professional recording engineer and music producer. I did the original music for this company. And they did commercials, jingles, small film scores, and whatever. I was writing music professionally and then that company finally–it closed actually and I bought the recording studio and I built a recording studio in my home and continued to work free- lance which basically means I didn’t have a job. And it was during that time I started quilting because I had all that extra time on my hands. A year later I was hired as a choral conductor for one of the larger churches in St. Louis, Missouri. I built that program up to the point that when I left that job in 1998 I had an eighty-five voice chorus with about 30 piece orchestra. We had just released our third CD and it was released on a national classical album, doing Vaughn Williams and Rutter and Handel and those wonderful people. I loved conducting. And the first thing I did. And it was during the time that I was there. I was continuing to quilt and starting to teach a little bit more and more and I realized that I could probably do this full time. And I made the break to do that. In the interim I also conducted the most significant night of my life. It was the night I conducted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and a community chorus of about 85 singers to do a Midwest premier of a choral work that went through the seven stages of grieving. And we benefited three area health organizations that dealt with terminally ill patients. It was a phenomenal night and I literally took every penny I had in retirement and the next night we came back together and I invested in the recording of that event so that the music would continue to heal and give hope and comfort to others, long past the night of the concert. That recording is still doing well. It is something that even if I never did anything else in my life. That was why even during my heart surgery, I did something important in this world, it’s okay to go now if I need to. So now I incorporate music in my quilting. All of my quilting lectures incorporate either my piano playing, sometimes singing. I do a presentation called “Celebrate the Century,” it’s an historic perspective of music and quilts and in thirty-three minutes you get 250 historical facts, 50 songs and you hear all about quilting and history – decade by decade. So everything is placed in its own decade and it’s memorized. I have a sound score that goes underneath of it that I composed with it and there is a slide show that goes on behind it. It’s a multi-media extravaganza. And that’s what I did for lunch here yesterday so I’m able to do my music and the product that I market now besides my fabrics are my CDs, that’s recorded that I just told you. I have a solo piano CD. I have the symphony CD that’s recorded. And next year I’ll probably have more. It’s combining two passions – music and quilting and that’s pretty much what people know me for.
BB: So you like getting up in the morning?
RT: Yes, I do. I think of myself as one of the happiest people on the planet. I love traveling. I love meeting people. I love quilting. I love music. I get to do all of that and have a living of it so I do, I count my blessings everyday. I don’t take it for granted– not ever.
BB: It’s been wonderful talking to you.
RT: Thank you, my pleasure.
BB: Thank you very much. We’ve been talking to Ricky Tims. It is 4:17 PM at the International Quilt Festival, in Houston, Texas. November 3, 2000.
Ricky Tims, Interviewee
Barbara Beck, Interviewer
Elaine Johnson, Transcriber
The International Quilt Festival QSOS
November 3, 2000
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