As the designer of countless books and patterns, Becky Goldsmith does it all in quilting. Piecing and appliqué, hand and machine sewing, cotton and wool, precise and whimsical – and she teaches the techniques, too, so that her students can find joy in whatever style of quilting they love. She founded Piece O’ Cake Designs with her friend Linda Jenkins, which inspiring quilters since 1994. Linda is retired now, so Becky is the sole voice behind Piece O’ Cake’s distinctive and cheery quilt designs.
How did you get started designing quilts? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I have always been a maker of ‘things’. Sewing was always high on the list but I have also worked with clay, wood, paint and more. I love color, I like to be busy and creating something new makes me happy at every level.
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Tell us about your first quilt.
I began quilting when my sons were little and needed something warm for their bunk beds. I had a machine and knew how to make clothes, so I figured that making quilts would be quick and easy. There was an article in the local newspaper that said I should make a Drunkard’s Path quilt, so I did! In fact, I made two, using fabric scraps from garment making combined with poly-cotton bed sheets. I marked the fabric with a Bic pen, and sewed with 5/8˝ seam allowances. Those first quilts were not my best work, but they did get me hooked on quilting.
What is the story behind it, does it still exist and are there pictures?
I sold them in a garage sale years ago and I did hear that the person who bought them might still have them. I have no desire to hunt them down :-).
Yes, there is one photo from the early 1990s.
What was one thing you learned while making it that made your second quilt better?
I took the time to learn the craft by taking classes, reading books, and making quilts. I worked in a quilt shop, Ma Ward’s, in Tulsa. The shop owner asked me to make a series of pieced Amish quilts based on photos from the book, The World of Amish Quilts, by Rachel and Kenneth Pellman. No patterns, so I had to puzzle out how to make them using rotary cutting techniques. Making those quilts laid the groundwork for me in quilt design. Knowing how to calculate yardage, cutting instructions, and how to construct the pieces in a logical manner is not exciting, but it is a fundamental part of quilt design.
When you and Linda Jenkins formed Piece O’ Cake Designs, did you have similar interests, or did they complement each other?
Linda and I met at the Green Country Quilter’s Guild and became fast friends. We shared a deep interest in quilt making, and then in hand appliqué. We both liked antiquing and going to flea markets and doing the things that women do together. Her boys were grown and mine were young when we met, so Linda was a source of wisdom and inspiration on the home front.
Importantly, she is the person who finally taught me not to spend more than I can afford. That is a life lesson that I needed to learn.
It was Linda’s idea to form Piece O’ Cake. In 1994, she and Paul moved from Tulsa to Pagosa Springs, CO, and Steve and I moved to Sherman, TX. I had a home business making refrigerator magnets (crazy, right?). The designs were tiny little colored drawings that I color-copied and laminated, and many of those designs found new life as appliqué motifs.
I made Linda a going away block, Christmas Will Find You Wherever You Are, based on one of my drawings, and that became our first pattern.
Linda had owned a beauty shop for many years and she knew how to run a business. My background was in art, writing, layout and design. So our skills complemented each other.
Many people imagine that I was the “creative” one, but mostly I could draw. Linda came up with the ideas for the quilts she was interested in making, and I put them on paper for her. It was easier when I drew my own quilts, but drawing Linda’s was an important opportunity to grow in different ways.
How is it different as a solo gig?
I am the boss of me which sounds lovely, but what it means is that whatever gets done, I do. I’m self-employed and, as every other self-employed person knows, the job never ends. Happily, I enjoy almost all the parts of what I do, and I’ve learned to not over-book my time.
If you had to pick one design principle that has had the greatest impact on your work, what would it be and why?
This is not a design principle—these are life lessons that inform my work:
- Be open to new ideas.
- Never stop learning new things.
- Remember that there is never just one way to do something.
- And be nice to people.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book(s), especially your new title, Hand Sewing: A Journey to Unplug, Slow Down & Learn Something Old; Hand Piecing, Quilting, Appliqué & English Paper Piecing in One Gorgeous Quilt?
People think hand sewing requires patience. I find the opposite to be true—it’s for people who like to be busy, but busy in a calm and relaxing way.
Hand sewing is not fast. That said, once you learn the techniques, it is amazing how much you can make even if you only sew a little bit every day.
I can’t imagine sitting down without handwork. For one thing, it keeps my hands busy. Handwork helped me quit smoking way back in the day. And it keeps me from snacking so much now :-). AND I have quilts to show for the time I spend sitting on the sofa in the evening with my husband and cats nearby.
Hand sewing does not have to be perfect! If your pieces are structurally sound enough to stay together and if you like the quilt you have made, it’s a total win!
FYI: I still do sew on the machine, but for me that is daytime work, not evening sewing.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Because I write books and teach classes, there is always a certain amount of planning involved in any project. And let’s face it, you have to have some kind of plan even in improvisational quilting.
Once into a project, I improvise when it makes sense to do so.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I am an eclectic designer. Inspiration for me is in antique quilts, beautiful old mosaic floors, flowers, leaves, plants, so the list is unlimited. I like appliqué and all sorts of piecing, which means that my body of work is all over the map design-wise.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Color pulls it all together. I use a generally clear color palette and, for whatever reason, my quilts are happy. I am a happy person and maybe that shines through.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes, it is a combination sewing, working on the computer, and filming videos space. My studio is not huge—9’x15’. The fabric lives in a closet in a different room.
My husband, Steve, built all of the furniture to fit the space except for the table that holds my BERNINA Q20.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
All of them are indispensable, until they aren’t and then I make them go away. I like to keep my space kind of tidy which means I can’t accumulate too much. The studio does get messy when I’m in the middle of a project; it just happened to be extra-tidy when I took these pictures.
How do you choose the right thread for a project?
I wrote a book, The Ultimate Guide to Thread. Can I just say that choosing the right thread is not a problem!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Often I will start a project with a sketch, but I don’t draw all the time. I wish I did because drawing is fun! I have a variety of notebooks with sketches that I look back through when I’m not sure what I want to make next.
What that means is that I do sometimes sketch, just not enough.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
If I have to think, I play music that I know or that requires no thought on my part.
When I am sewing on the machine, I listen to podcasts (Radiolab, This American Life, The Moth) or videos on Netflix, etc.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website, pieceocake.com, has links to all my other social media locations, which is handy. Beyond that, it is a shop full of excellent sewing notions that skew heavily to hand sewing notions.
I post to my blog 1-4 times a week. I used to write words a lot more but have shifted to more photo and video posts. Every Wednesday I give something away on the blog.
I do a live broadcast on Facebook and YouTube (concurrently) once a week on Wednesday afternoons at 2PM CST. I call it Time Out — Sewing with Becky. It turns out that I am an extrovert (why I’m surprised I don’t know), and I really enjoy connecting with people. It’s fun! Each Time Out is about 30 minutes long. You can find past recordings on YouTube.
What do you enjoy most about teaching? How can people find out about your classes?
I like helping people make what they want to make. I do my best to bolster confidence in addition to teaching techniques that really do work.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
For example, I don’t paint oil paintings but I think it’s possible that if I worked at it, took classes and practiced, I might paint well enough to make me happy.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I would love to talk to Edrica Hews. Her work captures subjects in fabric in a way that I would love to emulate.
Check out Becky’s website Piece ‘O Cake.
Interview posted May 2021
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