Tonight, I send you to the newest Scout. If you care about the state of the American quilt — and everyone should — then read this. Why?
Because I bring very, very good news.
Tonight, I send you to the newest Scout. If you care about the state of the American quilt — and everyone should — then read this. Why?
Because I bring very, very good news.
The first Quilt Scout of the month of March is up today, so I’d like to send you to the fine folks at Quilts, Inc. to check it out. I have to warn you: You will probably get sad. Why?
The Monopoly game people took the thimble out of the game.
As promised, here are some pointers for writing a nifty essay in general and specifically for this contest.
“Wait, wait. What contest?!” you cry.
Why, the PaperGirl “Leaders and Enders” Essay Contest announced the day before yesterday, of course! I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Click that link I just gave you if you missed something; don’t worry, you’ve got till the end of the month!
Keep in mind that this short essay is simply asking you about the last quilt you made or the one you’re making now. You don’t have to be Virginia Woolf, you don’t have to make it lyric and incredible — though of course if you are Virginia Woolf and you are alive and making quilts, please enter this contest.
But seriously: You don’t have to be a “good writer” to do this. Just talk to me — and talk to yourself. As I said the other day, there is nothing more awesome than going through a quilt history text and finding quotes from a quiltmaker’s journal or transcribed oral history where she talks about the process of quilting or (even better) her favorite quilt or a quilt she was totally sick of making by the end. It’s like meeting a sister across time. We share little tidbits about our quilts at guild meetings and maybe we write something up if we enter a quilt in a show, but most of the time, we don’t record anything about the quilts. This is a chance to do that.
So here are a few prompts to help you get started or get you unstuck. You can follow one or more of these threads (!) or none of them, but they might help:
Happy writing, comrades. And remember, mailed entries only. Send them here by the end of the month. Much prize-ing shall commence. Oh, and I won’t post your essay unless I talk to you about it first, so don’t worry about that.
Yesterday, as I was piecing my Bolt From the Blue quilt, I was dealing with serious regret. The regrets were small but continual: They were waste regrets.
The 2 1/2” x 4 1/2” Flying Geese units I was making (and will continue to make for this quilt) involve some not insubstantial fabric waste. I use the the flippy-corner method for my geese, which means when I trim the back of this particular unit, I cut off what could become about a 1 1/4” finished half-square triangle (HST), if I chose to sew the two trimmed parts together, press them open, and square up the now-existing unit. I apologize to my non-quilting readers for all this quilt jargon, but trust me: Turning the waste from a Flying Goose (ew!) into a mini-half-square triangle is possible. Doing this, using patchwork waste to make other patchwork is sometimes called working with “leaders and enders;” I just call it more patchwork. Either way, it’s a thing.
But I wasn’t doing the HST thing. I was just trimming that unit waste straight into the garbage. Because I just can’t deal, okay? I knew if I sewed them up and pressed them out I’d stare at those dang things for the next two years and wonder what to do with them. But the guilt was really getting to me. I mean, it felt terrible to just throw away all that ready-to-sew potential. All those wonderful little HSTs in such lovely, bright colors, destined for the incinerator, well, it just broke my lil’ patchworkin’ heart.
Then I had an idea.
As I’ve been doing my research (for both my lecture and also for my Fiber department research project) I’ve been sifting through lots of big, thick books about quilts and let me tell you what’s wonderful: It’s wonderful when historians find people writing about making their quilts — but this doesn’t happen often. When there’s a journal entry or a newspaper article with a quiltmaker talking about the process of making her quilt or how she did this or that, where she got the idea, who helped her with it, well, it’s just gold. We’ve got pictures of quilts. We’ve got (some) records of things. But there’s really not that much in the history books from the quilters, talking about making their quilts.
Then — I’m getting to the contest, hang on — I thought about the PaperGirl Retreat, how much I want to figure out what that is and then do it because I want to get people writing and quilting more. Have you ever noticed that the root word of “textile” is text? How we speak of “weaving” a tale? Yes, just like we weave cloth. Sewing and writing is really, really close in terms of like, culture and life.
I thought, “Well, how about an essay contest? It could get people writing about quilts! The winner could win my little patches and they could do something neat with them. Or not. But they’d be writing about making.” Reader, I literally took all those little triangles out of the trash and fired them through the machine. They’re ready for the next guy.
(I hope it’s obvious that I do not think my little “leaders and enders” are so amazing that people will be just clamoring to win them; this is about creativity and fun and getting you writing.)
So here’s the official deal:
Write 500-600 words about the last quilt you made (or the one you’re making now.) Mail your essay to the PaperGirl post office box. The deadline is March 31st, the end of the month, and that means you need to put it in the mail by that date. I figure I’ll have all the HSTs by then and it gives you plenty of time to really work on your essay. You can count on me throwing in some extra goodies in the prize bag, by the way, but don’t think there’s going to be an actual quilt or anything. I’m thinking some good Aurifil thread or maybe some candy.
I’m sure you have questions. Fire away, BUT: Don’t send me anything first thing in the morning. Think about this. Mull. Because tomorrow I plan to a) answer questions that may arise until then; and b) offer some advice on essay writing and give more details as to what I’m looking for. For now, just think about what you’d have to say about your quilt-making process.
This sounds fun to me. Does it sound fun to you? Even if one person enters, that will still be fun. And it’ll be one quilter writing about her (or his) quiltmaking process. Win. Win.
There was a moment today when I thought, “Fons, you’re toast. As in crispy. As in burnt. Out.”
There’s just so very, very much to do. There’s the newspaper and the writing tutoring the university pays me to do. There’s the heavy coursework I manage as a student and the lectures and classes I lead as a teacher (the latter implies travel 90% of the time, of course.) There is home maintenance to attend to and there are bills to pay. It’s tax time. Most importantly, there are relationships to care for: friends, family. Other friends. And that’s all stuff going on right now, which is to say nothing of projects and dreams in the pipeline, all of which contributes to the constant hustle, which leads you to the overwhelming question: “What comes after this?” As a freelancer, you have to constantly ask.
For the first time in many weeks, I slept in today. I awoke, to my astonishment, at 10:30 a.m. and had two emotions at once: joy, because I knew my body was thrilled; and mild panic, because the morning was already gone and I had done nothing.
I made tea like I normally do because that is Always The Very First Thing No Matter What. As the kettle heated, I stared at the wall — specifically, my design wall.
Last night, once my work was done for the day, I made a few star blocks just for fun. I have needed for a while to look at something different up on that wall and I have yards and yards of this wonderful electric blue Moda solid in my stash that has been pleading with me to use it. The block I made, a Sawtooth Star, is something I can make in my sleep at this point; I didn’t even have to look up the measurements. After I had four blocks or so, I stuck them up on the felt wall and went to bed.
After my pot of tea this morning, I tried to read. I tried to write. I couldn’t focus. It was nearly half past 11 by the time I had been tea’ed and I felt sullen and agitated — a highly unpleasant mix that I attribute to being overextended. This was my first “day off” in weeks but it didn’t mean I didn’t have a thousand things to do. All it meant was that I was home and could stay put. I didn’t have press to go to for the newspaper; I wasn’t at a conference as an attendee or a presenter; I didn’t have a date with a friend or gentleman caller. I was free, and theoretically, that should have been good but I didn’t like how shiftless I felt, how unscheduled I was. Sitting still is not easy for me and though I need some downtime, I’m so not used to having any, I was spiraling into a real funk. Before I got too jumpy about it, I went to the sewing table and picked up my stars.
There was still a good amount of staring into space that happened once I got there. But what began to happen in time was rather remarkable: A quilt that I absolutely love began to form with astonishing speed, right before my eyes. And everything felt better.
The star block, when set on point, goes a long way in making a quilt top come together quickly. When I cut setting pieces for my 8″ finished blocks I remembered how awesome it is work that way. I was making serious tracks on this sucker! The row-style I was interested in playing with zoomed into fabulousness when I did a reverse contrast thing with the navy blue next to the electric blue. When I did that, I literally clapped my hands. What can I say? I love this quilt.
I looked up the word “surprise” in the thesaurus because I really was surprised by this day and by this quilt and I wanted to find a name for it that reflected that. (Naming quilts is one of my favorite things in the world because: words + quilts.) The phrase “bolt from the blue” is listed in the entry for “surprise” and I think that’s pretty accurate, don’t you? This quilt came out of the blue — and it’s, you know, blue. And fabric comes on bolts. I probably don’t need to keep explaining.
Tomorrow, part two of this post. And a contest. Because the other thing that came out of this quilt was a dream of you. Yes, you!
The latest lecture in my menu debuted at QuiltCon on Saturday morning. It went well.
The talk, titled, “Standing On the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt,” is my best lecture yet, no question. I spent hours and hours and hours researching and making it just right — the slides themselves are artful and nice to look at because I have learned rudimentary Photoshop techniques at art school and that is exciting — and I’m stoked to take this puppy out on the road in the coming year. Am I coming to your area? Are you going to see this thing? It is very possible. If I’m not coming to an opera house, lecture hall, or quilt guild near you, why not? You should speak to Carmen.
The Quilt Scout this week examines something I had to keep in mind while giving a history lesson. I had to remember to push myself. I had to continually remind myself to ask: Whose history do I tell when I tell about history? It’s easy to see one version. There are lots of versions, though. If you’ve ever had an argument with someone who saw a situation differently than you did, you must concede this point.
Even if you’re not a quilter, I urge you to take a look at Quilt Scout today. It’ll get you mulling about responsibility, perspective, and like, the Industrial Revolution.
In the slam poetry world, there’s a famous saying: “The points are not the point. The point is poetry.”
This is usually said when a good poet gets beat by a bad one (something that happens with fair frequency in competitive performance poetry.) It’s kind of a “Better luck next time, buddy” thing to say, a condolence. But it’s also said because it’s true. The saying actually does get at the heart of the poetry slam. The idea behind the whole thing from the start was to get people to engage more directly and viscerally with poetry; who scored what or which poet won the night was never supposed to matter very much. (Note: When you’re the poet who won the night, it matters a lot.)
The picture up there is a process shot of my first-ever attempt at making a Bethlehem Star. The Bethlehem Star is an eight-pointed patchwork star and is notoriously tricky to pull off. For those who don’t do patchwork, it may look like I made this in the dark while drinking adult beverages, possibly blindfolded; the quilters out there will be able to see that I obviously just haven’t sewn together my eight “prongs,” yet. (Nor have I trimmed my dog-ears.) If I can get this post written in the next twenty minutes or so and still have some juice left, I’m going to try sewing it all together tonight and I might even try to cut my side pieces.
But quilters and non-quilters alike, take a look at those diamonds. The ones within one prong of the star. They’re not great. They’re not bad, but there are some jumps and some zig-zags, some places where the tips of the diamonds don’t kiss.* I may find that these eighth-of-an-inch imperfections add up to big problems by the time I go to set in my side pieces, and at that point, I’ll maybe have to un-sew things and make them fit better. I’m okay with that. I like to sew things accurately not because I’m a perfectionist or because I’m fussy, but because sewing is much more fun if you don’t have to keep fixing everything as you go along. Best practices make the process much more enjoyable overall.
However: If I find that my prongs work out and my set-ins work out, too, those not-perfect diamond points suit me fine. Because the points are not the point. The point is the quilt.
The point is the quilt.
I would rather have a quilt that I love, that is actively being made imperfectly, than a “perfect” quilt sitting in a box in my house, or a quilt that isn’t getting any love up there on the design wall. The points are not the point. My life is the point. The fabric that love, that’s the point. The quilt that I make that I will probably give to someone I love, that’s the point.
What else is there?
*Who ever said quilting wasn’t sexy? Ours is a world where diamonds kiss.
Tonight, I’m gonna scoot you over to the newest Quilt Scout column, brought to you by the fine folks at Quilts, Inc., the people who bring you Quilt Market, Quilt Festival, and all manner of cool quilt industry things that you should know about (like the upcoming “Beauty In Pieces” exhibit, which has been juried and judged and all that. I’m sure they’re going to let the folks know the results very soon. For the record: Everyone is amazing and quilters are the best people on the planet.)
This one was fun to write because I describe the quilt history research project I’m doing for my cool class in the Fiber and Material Studies Department. I am debating whether or not to send it to my professor. On the one hand, she’d love it; on the other hand, gross. The teacher’s pet thing has never been a good look, you know?
I’ve often remarked on the strangeness of it: I talk about quilts all the time, I write about them. I read books about them, I teach people how to make them. And at the end of the day, after all that, most of the time all I want to do is sew.
As it turns out, when you expend a colossal amount of energy getting honest in the public square, sewing is all you want to do then, too.
After spending a day working at the newspaper and reading through a constant stream of classy, intelligent, thoughtful responses from both sides of the political landscape posted by you all to yesterday’s PaperGirl*, I came home, dropped my stuff, and made a beeline for my BabyLock and just started cutting and sewing patches. I don’t have a quilt in mind. I just cut some 3 1/2” and 2” squares and stitched square-in-a-square units like the one above. (Quilt geeks: Check me out matching up ‘dem directional ducks! Bam!)
I know that some people have to sew for work. Some people don’t know how to sew and will never learn. Some can’t afford it, with their time or money, some have zero desire to begin with. But there are those of us on this planet who sew patchwork for pleasure and we are the luckiest people that have ever lived, I think. The whir of the sewing machine. The satisfaction when you press back a crisp corner. The delight in seeing a finished block. This is bliss tonight, just sewing in my warm home while it Januaries outside in Chicago.
Maybe that’s what undergirds any political view I hold or have ever held: a desire to figure out how to make a world where anyone, everyone, can find the kind of peace I can find when I sit down at my sewing machine on a Monday night, after a full day of work and tough weekend.
It’s how we think we ought to get there that makes us different. The desire for peace and a good quilt, this is the same. We can get there.
*My only shame now is that I ever doubted you.
Do you have a scrap quilt you are particularly proud of? Have you had a dream of this quilt of yours hanging in a show — in particular, hanging at International Quilt Festival? Would that not be a dream come true?? (For my non-quilting readers, trust me: This is a dream-come-true scenario.)
Well, the time is now to act on that dream! There is still time to submit a scrap quilt of your own making to “Beauty In Pieces: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century,” the exhibit I have the pleasure of curating for Quilts, Inc., the folks who bring you Quilt Market, Quilt Festival, and of course, the most important of all their projects in their decades-long existence, The Quilt Scout. (I’m kidding: Quilt Market is every bit as important as my column.)
Entering a quilt to be considered is done online, so don’t freak out: No one needs to go running to the post office to ship quilts around willy-nilly. You’ve got till Friday to get your online entry done and all the information about the exhibit and the button for the form can be found right here.
When Quilts, Inc. asked me about curating an exhibit and what that might look like, I knew instantly that I would want to make something for the mighty scrap quilt because I love scrap quilts the most. I like to say that if one shade of pink is good in a quilt, 60 shades are better. I also like to say that every fabric you use in a quilt represents a process, from the mind of the artist to the work of the engraver or computer, to the toil of the manufacturer, to the business of the shop, to you. The more fabrics you have, the more ideas and people you represent in your quilt. The scrap quilt is so strong, no?
So take a look at your quilts. And don’t fret about not having enough time to make something new; the call for entries for these things is pretty short and not long enough for most folks to whip up something fresh. For anyone who wants to make a quilt in five days, be my guest. Don’t forget to drink water and feed the dog.
I can’t wait to see your work. There is beauty — so much beauty — in pieces.
Not quite a month ago, I announced that I got a post office box for PaperGirl. I’ve visited the box just once so far, a little before I left for Berlin. I got two letters! That felt so, so, so good. To dear Phyllis and the giver of the lace sample from Marshall Field’s (!!) you will be honored here soon as my first correspondents.
Now that I feel officially back from my trip — there’s more to say about Berlin but I just can’t right now — I’m excited to do errands. That’s how I know that everything is gonna be okay: when I get excited about errands again. (Note: It usually only takes me a few days and I get this fabulous, dust-yourself-off trait from Mom.) Probably my most looked-forward-to errand is to go check the PaperGirl mailbox tomorrow. I can’t wait. My innocent excitement, the big-eyed joy I get whenever I get a letter — in any letterbox to which I have a key — is immense, so go on! Send that postcard or box of gold bricks to Mary Fons/PaperGirl, P.O. Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777 today. Your mail will be cherished and kept. That’s a promise.
What’s neat about the letter I’m going to share with you now, though, is that it came to me before I had the box. I got this message via my mom (and maybe to Mom via the Fons & Porter office?) a few months ago. I put it into a stand-in briefcase I wasn’t used to using and misplaced it until a few weeks ago. Susan, I apologize: This piece of mail you sent is extraordinary and you haven’t heard from me, yet. Let’s do this.
Thank you so much for the fabric and the fabulous letter, Susan. You’re an excellent letter-writer, by the way, and of course I love your taste in fabric.
PaperGirl readers are incredible. Maybe there should be an annual PG convention. Or at least a retreat. We could all meet, swap fabric, stories, and read books and sew. I would seriously be into that. Anyone else? Okay, here’s Susan’s communique:
I heard you and your mother on your short-lived podcasts (wish there were more) and on one you were waxing poetic about how much you looooove Springs Fabrics so I KNEW you would appreciate the enclosed ‘family heirloom.’
In the 1950’s my great aunt Vivian went shopping for fabric to make kitchen curtains and this is what she came home with. Now, in that era, many women in their 50’s and 60’s were proper and matronly. Aunty Vivian chose the fabric because she liked the colors, thought they would be perfect! Then, after she got home… She saw the design and was aghast; how could she ever let her friends see these ladies in her kitchen!
I was a teenager (good grief, where has the time gone?) and thought the Springmaids, from the ads for Springmaid sheets, were as clever as could be. Had no idea what I would do with the fabric, but I wanted it!
Eventually, I covered a lampshade and stretched one repeat on a frame to hang next to the lamp. Yet I still had the enclosed piece and never could figure out what to do with it. Didn’t want to cut it up for a blouse, didn’t need a curtain, already had a lampshade… and so it sat in a drawer.
And, now it’s yours to pet and find a clever use for. I hope you enjoy it.
Over the years of being around quilters, hearing quilters’ stories, and telling my own, I’ve come to believe that for those of us who come to quilting later in life—by that I mean people who did not grow up sewing and making quilts—there are two paths that lead us to the quilting life: joy…or pain.
Think about it: happy events like the birth of a baby, a graduation, or nuptials are perfect occasions for the gift of a quilt and indeed, many quilters point to such an occasion as the reason they got started in the first place. The baby quilt is such a popular rationale for a person’s first quilt, we in the business like to joke that it’s “the gateway drug.
Intrigued? I hope so!
That’s an excerpt from my latest Quilt Scout column, which went up today. My friend and colleague Rhianna — named after “Rhiannon,” the Fleetwood Mac song, how awesome is that?! — at Quilts, Inc., said it was her favorite column I’ve written so far. Thanks, Rhi.
Click over and read the full piece if you like, then swing back through the ol’ PG and tell me: How did you come to quilting?
However it happened, I’m glad you’re here.
I was working for some time on a post about the folks who hang out in my alley by the Lou Malnati’s Pizza dumpsters. More and more often they are there; there are more of them all the time as the temperatures fall.
But such a topic requires much thought and sensitivity and the post just isn’t ready. It’ll be done by tomorrow for sure, but for now, I’m going to direct you to my latest Quilt Scout column. This is certainly not some kind of sloppy seconds; my column for Quilts, Inc. is far more professional than the ol’ PG. I mean, Quilts, Inc. doesn’t have a monkey as a mascot for heaven’s sake.
The first column for December is about weird quilts and how much I love them (and you should, too!) I suppose the piece is also a book review, but the book came out in 1970: ten years before I was born. It’s a good thing there’s no expiration date on weird.
See you tomorrow. Stay warm, comrades.
Quilt blocks are pretty much 100% good. I’ve never met a quilt block that was made in anger, represented anger or resentment, or had an opinion about an election. And there’s so much anger out there, so much resentment, and so many opinions on either side about the long, long, explosive election, I feel like a quilt block is a life raft.
Everyone — on either side, in every corner, everywhere — can use a life raft. Sometimes it looks like we need one less, sometimes it looks like we need one more, but the truth is, we always need one: We just panic and reach for it at different times.
Also, quilt blocks are pretty, and this must never be seen as unimportant.
My mom made that block up there probably 15 years ago. She gave me a few loose blocks for a class I was teaching on color; she used the same blocks when she was out on the road. It’s cool to use some of the same teaching materials she used when she was out on her grind; talk about a legacy.
Talk about a life raft. Thanks, Mom.
The election is over, and Grand Canyon seems tiny in comparison to the divide between US citizens today. I’m at Midway Airport, headed to the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild. The airport is a strange place right now.
A very close friend of mine supported the candidate that I did not support in the election. There came a terrible day when I told him I didn’t want to talk to him anymore because of his position. I straight-up stonewalled him, told him I couldn’t be his friend. I was wrong to do that.
Thankfully, I figured out how dumb that was — there are benefits to being in one’s late thirties —and about a day later (okay, maybe two), I called him up, apologized, and listened to him. I really, really listened. I learned why he felt the way he felt. Then I asked him if he would listen to me. He listened. He disagreed but understood a lot more about how I felt by the time we were done with the conversation. We hung up saying, “I love you,” and we meant it. We still mean it.
The quilt block up there is a Union Square quilt block, but I actually am dubious about this; a google search of the Union Square block will yield a different-looking block but I swear, that’s what the thing was listed as when I made it some years ago for a Quilty episode.
It’s a good one. Three fabrics. Forty-five pieces. Geometry. Harmony. With effort, concentration, choices, and interest, I made that block. A lot of people helped me get to the place where I was able to make that block: teachers, mentors, helpers, students, designers. Lots of folks.
Union. The word looks weirdly like “Onion,” come to think of it. And “union” is not dissimilar to an actual onion: complex, multi-layered, useful, problematic if you have an allergy or something…and yes, my analogy ran out but I am very tired.
I meet so many people on the road. I love you and all those beautiful quilts.
In my Quilt Scout column earlier this month I took on the “Are quilts art?” question. Being in art school, I’m approaching this question differently than I have in the past; turns out I still feel the way I did before but for better, sounder reasons.
The thing is, “Are quilts art?” might not even be the right question — but it’s true that quilts do occupy a funky place in the art/craft conversation and it’s more than worth turning over in your mind for awhile, especially if you have cookie bars and some binding to do at your next retreat.
Consider a Mariner’s Compass from 1890. Though beautiful and artful — impressive technique, intelligent color placement — it’s argued by some that it’s still just (!?) craft, because the Mariner’s Compass doesn’t have a deeper meaning behind it. There are no implications, no ironies, no symbolism. It’s a blanket. Sure, it’s a stunningly beautiful blanket, but but the woman who made the quilt wasn’t like, working out her grief about the death of her child through the patchwork in the quilt.
…Or was she?
That’s the trouble. The people who make determinations about what art is or is not are usually not the people making the quilts, recording the stories, or keeping the “blankets” safe. See what I mean?
Over the summer, I started making a quilt and with a deeper meaning behind it. Will someone know that in 100 years? Will someone keep the records? I can’t know. But I know that my quilt, “Bachelorette,” is a monochromatic Log Cabin I’m making using all my old sheets and pillowcases and my favorite white shirts from the past five years.
A lot has happened to me in the past five years. Divorce. Illness. Career stuff. Tens of thousands of words. So much love. Heartache. Moves. Moving back. So much travel. School. Change, change, change. And I was going to get rid of some old sheets in June and I was replacing some worn-out old white (and off-white) shirts in June and I stopped myself:
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I said (out loud, of course.) “Not so fast.”
It’s going to be a big quilt. The paper-pieced blocks you see finish 7”; I have made 64 of them. I have 26 left or something daunting like that. I’m stitching in labels from clothes that I wore during — well, I’ll write the whole story later. That’s part of this quilt: The story of it, on paper.
It’s white, like paper. It’s softer, though, and lived-in. And it’s definitely art.
This week, between classes and going to press for the third print issue of the year for the school paper, I’ll be making a quick trip to Iowa to help raise funds and excitement for the absolutely, positively, most-beautifullest hometown quilt museum in the world: The Iowa Quilt Museum.
The Iowa Quilt Museum is in Winterset, IA, where I was born and raised. In fact, the Museum is about a two-minute walk from my house! Where my mom and stepdad still live! (No, I will not tell you which house.) The Iowa Quilt Museum opened earlier this year and it’s gotten great reviews, lots of visitors, and is two doors down from Pieceworks Quilt Shop! Pieceworks took over the old Fons & Porter quilt shop space and is expanded, fully stocked, and fancy, fancy, fancy. You can get all of my Small Wonders fabrics there and so much more. Special guests are doing extraordinary talks and demos all week. Sandy Gervais will be there!! I love Sandy Gervais!!!!
If you’re within sane driving distance (sane = less than 400) or you have so many frequent flyer miles you just need to get rid of them for heaven’s sake, why not take a trip over to Winterset this week? You can see the new John Wayne Museum, which also just opened. You can see the covered bridges of Madison County, as Winterset = Madison County. You can take a peek at the movie theater Mom bought and is rehabbing and renovating with my brilliant younger sister Rebecca. You can eat at the Northside Cafe opposite the Quilt Museum where they filmed scenes for the movie “The Bridges of Madison County” and where I had my very first job in life as a waitress at age fourteen. Betty and Vicki taught me how to smoke cigarettes and make a good pot of coffee at Northside. It’s the real deal. It’s Americana, straight up. Also, great beer and great pie.
If you come on Thursday, you can hang out with me all day at the Museum while I do demos, sign stuff, and get to know you; I would love this. Then, that night, when you’re full of Northside Cafe biscuits n’ gravy from, roll yourself back on over across the square to the show that night at the Quilt Museum! I’ll be giving my “10 Things I Know About Quilting & Life” lecture, which is really funny and also inspiring. I made a lady name Gretchen cry in VA this weekend during this lecture and it was before 10am! Just think how teary-eyed you’ll get after dinner and a beer! That’s such a good feeling. This is reason to take a trip to Iowa. The gorgeous leaves changing are 1000 trillion other reasons. (Note to self: How many leaves are there in Iowa?)
“Mary,” you say, hesitant. “I really want to go.”
“Yes,” I say, nodding my head so vigorously you are slightly concerned about my neck. “You do want to go. You should. Why are you hesitant?”
“Well, it sound wonderful. But I wish I would’ve known about it sooner. I mean, I could still come. But it would’ve been good if you had told us about this earlier.”
I take your hand. I pat it. Then I do something strange and I actually start patting my own head using your hand. Because I need you to pat me.
“You’re right,” I say, enjoying your sweet, gentle, loving patting, how you’re smoothing my hair and calming my very soul. “I should’ve told you before. But I am drowning in things. I should set a reminder on my phone for next time. Please. Don’t stop patting my head.” Now I’ve sort of slumped into you and you have no choice but to put your other arm around me and say something like, “There, there. It’s okay.”
I suddenly realize what’s happening. “I’m sorry!” I say, jerking away, embarrassed. “I apologize for not letting you know about it before!” I begin to gather all nine of my totebags and head for the door to my next meeting, apologizing on the way out the door.
You are wide-eyed as you reach for you phone and dial your husband. “Honey?” you say, when he picks up. “Do we have anything going on on Thursday? No? How about a drive to Iowa?”
I had a marvelous day in Ashburn, VA today at Sew Magarbo. We learned how to make the Sweetpea Star block, a partial-seam block that is the coolest block in the land. We drank wine. (Just a little; later in the afternoon.) I connected with two ladies that I already knew or knew of: the brilliant Carol, who sent me pencils in the mail last year and the always effervescent Meredith, whom I met in Beaver Dam this spring when I had a revelation about my career.
Though everyone I spent the day with is officially a pal at this point — it’s automatic — special shouting-out must go to Marj and Jim.
The couple came in this morning but only Marj was taking my class; Jim just wanted to pop in and say hi because he’s a PaperGirl fan. I’ve encountered this before; some quilter laughs at my trials with my printer and the day I squeezed the avocados and the spouse finally goes, “Well for crying out loud — what’s so funny?” and suddenly she’s forking over her iPad. For a blogger, there can be no better compliment than two people fighting over a tablet that has your latest post on it. (One lady I met awhile back told me her husband reads two things every day: The Wall Street Journal and the ol’ PG. Fabulous!) Jim was an absolute sweetheart, as evidenced by his love for Marj and his cap.
For her part, Marj helped me perfect a very important “line” I say a lot. I put quotes around “line” because while I don’t work with a script in class or onstage, there are certain things I say over and over again that take on a kind of shape. This is what I said at one point today and what have been saying lately because it’s true:
“I’m not interested in making perfect objects. I make quilts. I make quilts for people to use and love. My quilting is not amazing. My piecing is pretty good at this point, but it’s not perfect. I don’t want to be perfect. If I wanted to make perfect objects, I don’t know… I’d be working at NASA or something.”
The sentiment is right on, but it needs a little editing, a little revision to really get to the point, which was eluding me. So I say all that today and then Marj, in a quiet, non-interrupty, matter-of-fact way:
“If you wanted to make perfect objects, you wouldn’t be using fabric.”
I gaped at her. Then I smacked my forehead. Yes! Marj! That’s it!
If I wanted to make perfect objects, I wouldn’t use fabric. That is exactly right. Because fabric is woogy and mutable and stretches and gets wet and shrinks. Threads are different, dyes are different. Material gets torn. Fabric is not perfect. Neither am I. Neither is Marj, though I’m suspicious.
Marj, thank you. The credit is yours. You helped me craft a line, sure, but you helped me discover a truth about myself as a quilt maker — as a person, even. If I wanted to make perfect objects, I wouldn’t be using fabric. Incredible.
At the end of the day, Jim came back to pick Marj up and we all shot the breeze for awhile. I’m proud to report I completed two partial seam blocks while chatting with four people between sips of red wine. I only had to un-sew one seam twice.
You know how yesterday I talked about having a Big, Fat, Grand Plan for contributing to the world of quilting in a bigger way, if the world will let me? Remember how you all said wonderful, encouraging things and looked amazing while you said them? Whatever you were doing, keep doing it: Yesterday, I got an email from the Illinois Humanities Council congratulating me for being accepted as an Illinois Roads Scholar!
Here’s what the Humanities Council says of this program:
“Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau invites Illinois authors, artists, and scholars to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people in communities throughout our state. It also enables local nonprofit organizations to present compelling, free-admission cultural programs to their communities at little cost to them.”
How cool is that?? This is a tremendous opportunity because it does exactly what I was talking about yesterday: It gives me an opportunity to answer the question, “What can a quilt do?” for an entirely new audience.
The lengthy application was due in June and I only heard yesterday evening that I got in. Apparently, the competition was extra fierce this year and stuff just takes a long time. I pitched a talk called “Quilts: America’s Greatest Creative Legacy” and now I get to do it! For money! At venues that will be packed (hopefully) with both quilters and non-quilters who will see quilts in a new light. Maybe those people will be inspired to make a quilt of their own; maybe those people will at least find new love for the quilts and quilters in their lives. There is no way under the sun this Roads Scholar Speakers Bureau is anything but a win-win-win-win for all.
Thought I’d share the good news. And for all my friends in Illinois, I think you can request me? I’ll be doing orientation and on-boarding stuff in the coming weeks. I’ll see you on the Road!
I have fallen in love with a needle and thread.
A few weeks back, I directed you to a Quilt Scout column announcing my leap into hand quilting. At that point I had quilted just a few inches of my top and was still afraid I’d ruin it. I was not thrilled with the results at that point; I definitely didn’t feel like I had found my new best friend. Then three gigs bore down on me and it was shipping quilts, taking airplanes, teaching classes, and so on. I left “Larkin” on my recliner and went off to work.
But hand quilting this kaleidoscope is on my summer goal list and I don’t play around with summer goal lists, people. When I got home from Minnesota, I unpacked, locked the door, put on my favorite black cashmere pants and my halter top, put my hair in a ponytail, and settled into that recliner with my quilt and Netflix and started in for real.
I didn’t get up for four hours. The next morning, I sat for two more hours and only stopped because my index finger was sore. In the evening, it was me and Larkin again, parked in that mid-century black leather recliner I found in Washington, D.C. at a Salvation Army in a dodgy part of town. This is what this chair was meant to do: it was meant to hold me while I do this. If I sound like a charismatic, I am. I’m converted. I’m obsessed. I’ve worked on this quilt at least three hours every day since Sunday. Is it “good”? No, of course not. And that is so far from the point, I’m like, not interested in the point.
Rocking a needle in and out of layers of fabric is an ancient gesture. Stitching is a natural man/tool combination, like chopping wood with an axe or pumping water from a well. Using a simple tool creates simple pleasure. The act of loading stitches — going up, down, up, down with the needle through the fabric and then pulling the thread all the way through — and then doing it over and over until a pattern (and a quilt!) begins to reveal itself, this is inexplicably entertaining while putting a person in a tranquil place. You can’t type and hand quilt. You can’t cook and hand quilt. You can definitely binge watch The Office (both US and UK versions, though I’m working on the US version at the moment) and hand quilt, but that’s about it. It feels good.
My Scout column got a big response because there are a lot of hand quilters out there. Ladies? Gentlemen? Count me among your numbers. Want more proof? Today I finished my spiderweb quilt top, made the back and basted it just so it would be ready for me to hand quilt when I’m done with Larkin.
Serious question: is there a club I can join? I want a card in my wallet to announce my love to the world. Or a promise ring. Anything.
I’ve written and rewritten this post three times. It’s too special, I’m too excited, and as a result, nothing is coming out right. That’s ironic, because the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) thinks I’m good enough at writing to let me into their Writing MFA program this fall. By then, I’d better have my act together because I’m officially enrolled.
It’s been terrible keeping this secret; I got my acceptance letter in March. Claus was here, and when I opened the envelope and saw the good news, it was like I had a rocket pack on. Claus caught me and spun me around and around.
I waited to tell you because I wanted to share this properly. It’s a big deal, and not just because the SAIC is one of the finest educational institutions in the world, which it is. It’s a big deal because my life is changing with this. I engineered it that way, really; one day last fall when I was in Iowa to film TV, I burst into tears in the middle of my mother’s kitchen and admitted to myself that I wanted to study writing. I couldn’t deny it any longer and I began to research grad programs that very day. It became clear right away that the SAIC was the only school for me. I didn’t apply anywhere else.
So, the Art Institute of Chicago is the big, famous art museum downtown with the cool lions out front. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago actually started first, way back in 1866. The art the founders collected for students to study became the museum.
At the SAIC, a grad student can study textile art, performance, art therapy, art restoration, sculpture, painting, arts journalism, art history, interior architecture, writing — there are other departments I’m not thinking of. What’s extraordinary about the SAIC (one of the many, many extraordinary things) is that they encourage interdisciplinary study. They want performers to take sculpture classes. They want writers to take textile arts classes. They are legendarily good at educating creative people because they understand how creative people learn (i.e., by doing, usually by doing many things that appear unrelated.)
I submitted portfolios to Writing, Textile Art, and Performance. I had all the materials for each program because my entire life is interdisciplinary. But I wanted writing. I decided that if I got into textiles or performance, I wouldn’t go. Even if I could take writing classes while technically studying fiber arts or stage stuff, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be a Writing MFA candidate. From there, I could study my other loves. And I got my first choice. So now, I can.
The School has a longarm in the Textiles department. What will my quilts become, now that I’m going to be in art school? What might it mean to use quilts in, say, a one-woman play? Will I write a quilter’s memoir? Will I create my own poetry magazine and if I do, will there be patchwork quilts on the cover? I’ll tell you that if I make a poetry magazine, there most certainly will be quilts on the cover. These are the sorts of synergies that are sure to occur when I begin school. I cannot wait. I am counting days.
My job is not one you quit — and I have no intention of doing so. I’ve got teaching and speaking gigs scheduled into 2018. New fabric is coming out in a few months. The Quilt Scout is going strong, I’m making quilts like crazy, I’m working on a pattern project, I’m curating a quilt exhibit at Spring Quilt Festival, I’m on the board of the Study Center. My career in the quilt world isn’t going anywhere — but it is changing (you’ll see me less on TV, for example.) But you watch: these changes will be nothing short of wonderful. You’ll see it all happen, right here. (Psst: it’s all for you, anyway.)
I’m scared. It’s so expensive. I’m taking out loans. It’s two years. It’s gonna be hard. But if I don’t do it now, when?
It’s surprising how infrequently the AIDS Memorial Quilt comes up among quilters. That’s not an admonishment, it’s just my experience. I realized recently the only time I talk about the AIDS Memorial Quilt is when a person outside the quilt world (someone on an airplane, maybe) says something like, “You make quilts? That’s cool. Hey, what about that AIDS quilt? What happened with that? Are people still doing it?” For a long time, I’ve cocked my head and gone, “Yeah, the AIDS Quilt. I need to check up on that, actually.”
No kidding, Ms. Ima Quilter.
The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (usually referred to as “The AIDS Quilt”) was launched by The NAMES Project in 1987. If you follow the timeline of the Great American Quilt Revival, the AIDS Quilt was a significant moment in the third phase of it. Quilts were back in the cultural landscape and the quilt industry was booming.
And people were dying of HIV/AIDS. Dying within months of a diagnosis. Dying without any medical care to speak of. Many were dying alone, rejected by society — even by their own families. Entire communities, friend groups, clubs, were wiped out by a disease that no one understood or could control. Look:
1981 –> 159 deaths
1982 –> 618 deaths
1983 –> 2,118 deaths
1984 –> 5,596 deaths
1985 –> 12,529 deaths
The first time President Reagan said the word “AIDS” in public was 1986. Friends, lovers, partners, teachers, doctors, neighbors, artists, businesspeople, servicemen and servicewomen — these were the people dying every day, but nothing but silence came from people in power. This was “the gay cancer.” The sorrow, silence, rage, fear, and helplessness, this drove those whose lives had been touched by the ghostly hand of AIDS to take action. Money was raised, initiatives were launched to increase awareness about the disease and promote safer sex; there were marches in the streets, pleas in Washington from parents who were burying their children.
What else? What else can ever be done to make sense of senseless horror? What would you do if six of your closest friends died in a single month? If you got diagnosed today with a fast-moving disease with a 100% mortality rate? What would you do to show people in charge that you and your people are literally dying for help?
The AIDS Quilt, a handmade tribute to those who had so far died of HIV/AIDS, was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington DC in 1987. On that day, there were thousands of panels in the quilt, which was as large as two city blocks. More than 2,000 names were written, painted, stitched, pressed, glued, poured into the fabric. Many names on the quilt were only first names, as the shame of being gay was too much for the families who still needed to memorialize their beloved son* with a panel in the softest biggest memorial in American history.
It’s hard to research this. It’s more than that: it’s devastating. The pictures from the hospitals. The testimonials. The statistics. I’m lucky, though: I’m not researching the AIDS epidemic, I’m researching the AIDS Quilt. The quilt is doing for me what it was created to do: it takes sadness and reshapes it into hope in the human race in the fight against pestilence and suffering. Over 48,000 panels have been made today; pieces of the largest quilt in the world travel around the globe to raise awareness that HIV/AIDS has no cure and help people understand how not to get the disease. The quilt continues to grow, even as HIV/AIDS treatments are light years ahead of where they were when the first panels were made.
The lecture will be finished this summer. I hope the sorrow that led to the AIDS Quilt doesn’t keep people from to requesting it. The AIDS Quilt is not a gravestone; it’s a celebration of life.
*AIDS did not claim — and does not claim, present tense — only homosexual male lives. Children, as well as women both gay and straight were/are casualties, too. The majority of the victims at the time of the first unfurling of the quilt, however, were gay men.
Bad Things That Happened Today
Wanged the back of my leg so hard I whined about it for 30 minutes
The to-go coffee I got was lukewarm
Someone stole my cell phone
I can’t talk about that last thing. There was weeping. When anything goes wrong with my mobile phone, I am reminded how much I resent them for having to exist, to be on my person, and to function perfectly at all times. It’s just a cell phone. But still.
Phenomenal Things That Happened Today
The last thing zeroes out any woe I might’ve had about modern technology because modern technology is to be thanked for the whole podcast thing. If you don’t know by now, my mom and I have started a call-in advice show for quilters. You don’t have to be a quilter to enjoy it, but if you are a quilter, you will freak out.
Here’s hoping you find some things in your day that are so good (e.g., good falafel, good hair, good heavens, etc.) they cancel out any bad things (e.g., bad apple, bad dog, bad company, etc.) That podcast will make you smile, so there’s that.
My mother and I are embarking on a New Endeavor. It’s big. It’s bold. It launches this week.
Mom doesn’t need another project. I don’t either, but at least I’m not renovating a movie theater. But we can’t help adding another worthwhile project to a stack of others because we’re people who love to do stuff that sounds exciting and we love to make things that feel good to make. We find room.
I can’t tell you what it is just yet, but I’ll tell you very soon. And when I do, you should have your phone in your hand. Most of us have our phone in our hands all the time, so that won’t be hard. “But wait,” you say, scratching your head with your phone, “Why would I need my phone for an announcement? Are you guys on American Idol?** Do I need to text my vote?” I think the only way to handle this until I can tell you is to play Mad Libs.
“This week, Mom and I are launching a [NOUN]. We’re sure that our [PLURAL NOUN] will love it and will [VERB] every week. We’ve been working very [ADJECTIVE] for many months on the [NOUN] and feel ready to announce it to the [NOUN] on Thursday. The best way to learn what the [ADJECTIVE] [NOUN] is? Read PaperGirl and check in on Mary’s Facebook page and get ready to [VERB] and [VERB] and [VERB]. See ya later, [ANIMAL]!”
Anything worth announcing to the public should be put through a Mad Libs process first. Not only does it get people actively involved in the event, there’s no way the actual announcement won’t be received well. If your work with the passage above looks like this, there’s no way you won’t be relieved when you learn the truth:
“This week, Mom and I are launching a FROG. We’re sure that our POTATO CHIPS will love it and will DROOL every week. We’ve been working very STUPID for many months on the UMBRELLA and feel ready to announce it to the BOARD OF TRADE on Thursday. The best way to learn what the STINKY BOOGER is? Read PaperGirl and check in on Mary’s Facebook page and get ready to CHOKE and WORK and SUFFER. See ya later, DUCK!”
*I’m sure this is a) not how American Idol works; b) hilarious because American Idol was canceled six years ago or something; or c) extremely offensive because American Idol is run by a fascist dictator. I assure you, I don’t know.
The good news is that Fabric World is selling through Small Wonders yardage at a right clip. The store is enormous and the World Piece line is right up at the front of the shop. There was a lot of Small Wonders yardage cut at Fabric World today, let me tell you, and I’m so glad. The fabric is getting a lot of love and I’m grateful for that — thank you! (Visit my Instagram page over the next few days as I add more photos of the fabric used in class, on display, etc.)
The bad news is that a box of my most precious quilts are lost in a sea of brown UPS boxes in Arizona. They never got here. I am a wreck.
I shipped on Monday, three-day guaranteed delivery. But the quilts did not arrive on Thursday night. They didn’t arrive at any hour on Friday, either. I shipped to a secure location with a front desk, staffed with people who could sign for the precious cargo. Nothing. So I made frantic calls. Did frantic tracking on my computer. There were hot tears and there was (still is) much lip chewing.
A “truck failure” in Nebraska occurred, apparently. UPS said they would deliver my heart, soul, teaching materials, and life’s work (!) by Monday. But I will not be here on Monday. I will be in Chicago. And my quilts, which are more or less lost now, will be lost for longer, with more miles between us. I’ll get them back. There are scannable things involved. But… My Churn Dash. My Dutch Summer quilt. Whisper. The cloth doll that my friend Kathy made me out of the Netherlands line. It’s very difficult to type this right now, actually. I need to stop or I might start choke-crying and flapping my hands again.
My mother had a box of quilts lost, once. I called her earlier for pointers.