Part of an occasional series in which a MPQG member, chosen at random, is interviewed about her quilting journey. You can find all of the series interviews on our Member Interviews page.
One in an occasional series in which an MPQG member, chosen at random, is interviewed about her quilting journey.
Quilter LaDonna Valenti arrived in Monterey as a young career woman, years before the word ‘quilter’ could be attached to her name. Here she met Jack, an easterner who says (with a wink) that he came to the Golden State to seek his fortune. Having found it in LaDonna, he married her in 1967, and the two raised their children—two girls, two boys—on the Peninsula. Today they live in Pebble Beach on a quiet corner lot, in a lovely home where they display their varied collections: teddy bears, chickens, antique hand mirrors, old pharmaceutical oddments and, of course, quilts.
LaDonna has long since adopted the Monterey Peninsula as her home, but her roots are deep in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She is from the tiny town of Lacomb in the shadow of the Cascades, where families farmed, logged or, like her stepdad Ray, worked in the nearby paper and plywood mills. When Jack took me home the first time, it seemed very country to him, she says of Lacomb. He joked, ‘Well, at least there are power lines.’
Power lines, perhaps, but not always electricity. LaDonna recalls, My mother [Frances] had a treadle machine that had been converted to electric. I can barely remember it, but I do know that if the lights went out you could still sew because you had the treadle.
Frances: Be a good girl and marry a man with lots of nickles and eat lots of pickles.
I started out making doll clothes, and then my own clothes. And I belonged to 4H, like many of the youngsters around Lacomb. But quilts and quilting were not in her background. I did not grow up with quilts. I found out later that my sister had one of my grandmother’s—it was a Sunbonnet Sue that she used and wore out. And I do have a quilt top from an aunt or a great-aunt. I faintly remember that, when I was in the 8th grade, we went to their house in Salem. She had quilt tops, and she let me pick one. And for some reason, I picked one that’s made out of muslin, with big red crosses on it. It was probably made during the war. I’ve wished since that I’d picked something different!
When the kids were little I made them pajamas, shirts, blouses for the girls, says LaDonna, who soon turned her skills to creating clothing for herself—specifically, to clothing in the category known as ‘wearable art.’ She joined the now disbanded Wearable Art Guild, where she made any number of pieced and quilted vests and jackets, and where she met a woman who eventually talked her into joining the MPQG.
Today a veteran maker of quilts, LaDonna’s talents are on display in her home: a quilt hung in the dining room is a masterful blend of piecing, hand quilting, and a half-dozen detailed motifs rendered in stem-stitch embroidery. A wall-hanging in the hallway is a tongue-in-cheek calendar, complete with running-stitch month names and images (November is a chicken, clutching a pumpkin and an ear of corn). Turning the corner into the guestroom, however, one gets an inkling of the real trove: on the bed is a stack of quilts, large, small, and mini, featuring all manner of techniques. LaDonna’s favorites—needle-turn applique and embroidery—are well represented, but here too are piecing, paper-piecing, machine applique, sashiko, hand quilting, and machine quilting.
Among the lovely pieces is one that offers a glimpse back to those Oregon roots. LaDonna found a trove of ephemera from her mother’s early years, including an autograph album and postcards. She selected several of her favorite messages, and memorialized them in a quilted piece.
Portland Ore 1921
Dear Frances; When in this book you chance to look, remember who wrote this in your book.
Your daddy Loren Ryan
Many other pieces showcase LaDonna’s fine hand at applique. We go to Hawaii every year, she says, and two or three times, I took a class on how to do Hawaiian quilting. Acknowledging that needle-turn is an acquired skill, LaDonna counsels, You should start on straight lines or gentle curves, and then work up to the complicated shapes.
As accomplished as she is at applique, LaDonna feels her piecing skills are lacking in at least one area: points. I have discovered that I don’t do points well, she says of another quilt. I have trouble getting them to meet, so I just avoid those, or cover them with a button. To be fair, the quilt she shows as illustration has a complex pattern in which a number of curved seams converge. Further down in the stack she finds several challenge quilts, including her entry for 2017 ‘A Touch of Red’ which is, notably, precisely pieced. My Tea Timers friend Linda [Branting] told me she had one square of red fabric left, and so I had to join the challenge!
Next to the guest room is LaDonna’s sewing studio, a space wholly given over to the joys of making. When my son moved out, I moved in. I told him, ‘You can’t come back, I’ve taken over your room.’ These two bookshelves technically belong to him, she says of the furniture flanking the large window. But they fit perfectly in here, so if he ever wants them back we’ll just have to buy him some other ones.
Corvallis Ore 1928
If the dresses keep getting shorter, cried the flapper with a sob
There will be two more cheeks to powder, and another place to bob.
Shelf-and-drawer units line a second wall and, pointing to the remaining two walls, LaDonna counts: I have one, two, three, four, five fabric cabinets, she says, laughingly acknowledging that she has perhaps over-bought fabric from time to time. She especially enjoys visiting quilt shops during her travels, domestic and overseas, and has come home with her share of souvenirs. When we went to New Zealand and Australia, I bought fabric, she says, showing a stack printed with kiwi birds, kiwi fruit and even sheep. And now I wonder, why did I buy so much? Of a nearby length of blue fabric covered with sharks, she exclaims, Two and a half yards! What am I going to make with this? LaDonna is neither the first nor the last quilter to ask such questions of herself and her stash.
In the center of the room are a cutting table and a sewing table. My machine is a Bernina, and I’ve had it forever, or it seems like forever. The machine is set into a clever table with a plexiglass surround. When I bought it, they made the table to fit. If you’re working on something big, it has a flip-up leaf so your work doesn’t slip off. And I have a place for my serger, LaDonna adds, which she uses to finish seams on the clothing she still makes from time to time. A batik shirt hangs nearby, ready for an upcoming trip to Hawaii.
LaDonna and Jack’s children, their grandchildren and a brand-new great-grandson live in California, Washington state, Idaho and New Hampshire. Have any of them inherited the compulsion to create? My daughter is a knitter. She can walk and knit baby socks, LaDonna laughs. She is just amazing.
And her husband? No, Jack is not a maker. But he appreciates that this is something I have to do. And LaDonna, in return, appreciates this understanding in her partner. But then, she learned something about partnership back in the Willamette Valley.
Lebanon Oregon April 27 1937
Remember the first time I ever saw you. Remember the kiss at the top of the stairs. Remember that New Year’s Eve and the old Model T, and the Willys-Knight on the hill by the cemetery. Remember no matter what happens -- I love you.
Your own, Raymie
Cat, Communications Team