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.
I’m feeling weird about telling that harrowing tale straight out of the gate vis a vis my report on Savannah. Let me tell you something good.
After I had seen the strange thing, a wave of exhaustion passed over me; I needed to head back to my room. This would mean that I would need to find the ferry boat again and wait around for it with all those no-see-em bugs flying into my eyeballs. This did not seem like something I could physically manage, so looked to see how much it would cost for an Uber to take me from where I stood near Bay Street to my hotel at the convention center. When I found it would be a measly 11 bucks, I punched “Confirm Pickup” on my screen.
I have never had an Uber driver collect me in actual pickup, but within a few minutes, a young man named J.M. waved to me from inside a shiny black Silverado truck across the street.
“Mary Katherine?” he called in the best southern accent you’ve ever heard, making me glad my Uber profile uses my full name. I waved back, delighted to get to ride home in the cab of a pickup. You can take the girl out of Iowa but you can’t take the love of a good pickup truck out of the Iowa girl, trust me.
I was so happy to be off my feet and J.M. was a sweetheart, affably fielding the many questions I was asking him about Savannah. As he drove down Bay Street and we chatted, I looked out the window at the vibrant nightlife, the couples and families and packs of friends walking along the elevated strip. J.M. was so knowledgeable about everything and I loved getting the facts and figures in that accent:
“Yes, ma’am. Savannah’s the fourth lah-gist export city in the You-nahted Staits.” J.M. was really getting into the good stuff, stories about 19th century trade customs, population numbers, fascinating history. As we approached the street’s terminus, I felt seriously bummed that my Savannah escapade was going to end soon. Then, I had an idea.
What if I paid J.M. to drive me back up Bay Street and cruise the loop just once, just so I could see the whole stretch of it? I had 20 bucks in my wallet — was that enough? Would it be super, super weird to ask him to do that? I didn’t have much time. Up ahead, just one red light away, I could see the entrance to the bridge that would take me over the river and home to my hotel (and out of Savannah for who knows how long?)
A thought popped into my head and forced my decision: Frankly, I want to be the kind of person who offers her Uber driver 20 bucks to drive her around town for a minute. I just want to be that girl, you know? So, apologizing in advance for any weirdness and assuring him I was not a creeper, I asked J.M. if he’d take my money.
“Well, sure,” J.M. said, seemingly not that taken aback. “I’m happy to do that, ma’am. It’s funny you ask; my other job is working a tour boat down on Riverside.”
Yep. I got the nickel tour of Savannah from an actual, off-dutry tour guide in a pickup truck for the low-low price of 20 bucks. Not bad; and all I had to do was ask. (Well, and fork over a twenty.)
The drive was great. Between my own exploration on foot and hanging out with J.M., I definitely feel like I got a taste of Savannah. J.M., I told you I would blog about our trip when I got the chance and I gave you my card so that you could find PaperGirl and read it. I hope you’re seeing this so that I can say thank you once more.
Your car smelled great, by the way. As a regular Uber user, this is something I do not take for granted, sir.
The writer’s conference was fabulous in every way. I have arrived home inspired, encouraged, and feeling generally optimistic my life as a writer.
But the trip was not without its pain, as you know, and I’m afraid that it wasn’t just nostalgia pain I had to endure. This trip forced me to admit a painful truth, and that painful truth is that my luggage is dead. I have to buy new luggage. Maybe even before QuiltCon in two weeks. It’s bad, you guys.
This luggage situation really frosts my tarts* because the luggage I have been using for the past couple years was way, way too expensive to be pooping out on me this soon. Nevertheless, both of my silver hard-top Zero Halliburton suitcases have major problems. Suitcase One has latches that no longer stay latched and call me crazy, but I kind of want the contents of my suitcase to, you know, stay put until I decide otherwise. The horror of seeing one’s suitcase half-open as it comes around on the baggage claim is hard to describe. Is something valuable falling out?? Possibly more horrifying: Is something embarrassing falling out?? Note that “something valuable” would be earrings and “something embarrassing” would be any number of lady items.
Suitcase Two has a wheel problem. This is a nice way to say that the wheels on Suitcase Two are surely the most poorly-designed objects on or off a suitcase that ever were designed ever on the planet. And no, I am not a designer of suitcase wheels; I’m not saying I could do better. Except that it’s clear common sense was not drawn upon in the design of the blinkin’ things and they should have consulted me.
The wheels are plastic, which I’ll concede seems standard. But the two back wheels feature plastic brakes. The brakes are activated by pressing down on small square buttons on the top of the…fender (I don’t know suitcase wheel words!) that stop the wheel from rolling when deployed. This would be a nice feature if you are a person who takes many sea journeys, I imagine; there, you would need to keep your luggage from rolling to and fro on the deck of the ship. But if you’re not a fancy sailor or a well-heeled woman on the Titanic, why on Earth do you need brakes on your luggage wheels? (Confession: I have engaged the brake buttons a couple times while on a packed subway. Having brakes that kept my suitcase from rolling back and forth and into people as the train lurched was sort of cool, though it’s amazing how well one’s foot works just fine in such situations.)
And the brakes break. (I replaced a wheel once already.) And the brakes get stuck halfway down on the wheels. On this latest trip, as I rolled Suitcase One through the lobby of the hotel and through various airport terminals, I discovered that the brakes are now in some half-stuck state. This not only makes it hard to roll my luggage along for the resistance, it creates the most ridiculous, unbelievably loud and continuous sound. When I pull my luggage, it sounds like someone is intermittently honking a sad clown horn. It sounds like a duck is crying. My luggage sounds like a sad, plaintive duck.
You should know that my superstar stepdad, Mark, turned me onto the Zero Halliburton brand (no connection to the Halliburton company you’re thinking of, by the way.) Mark was a commercial airline pilot for years and was in the Air Force before that; the guy knows a few things about luggage. He bought me my first Zero suitcase back when I was in college because he has long believed it’s the best stuff on the market. I used that suitcase until it was too banged up to take on business trips; it was awesome. After retiring that one, I got another Zero suitcase that served me well for years, and I travel a lot and am generally hard on things like shoes and eyeglasses and suitcases. But neither of those pieces had wheel brakes. I will look at the company’s website, see if there are any sales going on, and probably get another couple pieces from them.
Unless you brilliant PG readers tell me otherwise. So, how about it? Do you have luggage brands you swear by? Remember: I haul heavy books and quilts from one coast to another on average 2.4 times per month. I can’t mess around with stuff from Wal-Mart. Nothing wrong with it, but this is serious stuff. Talk to me!
*This expression has come into my field of vision via my beautiful, talented, valued, exceedingly competent assistant Carmen, who used it the other day in an email. Love you, Carm.
This morning, I beat the sun by a long shot.
I was up at 4 a.m. (gah!) so that I could have tea, go over my materials one last time, get all foofed-up, and get to my rental car, which I secured yesterday evening. By my careful calculations, I needed to be on the road to the northwestern suburbs of Chicago by 6 a.m. in order to be at the first of several high school gigs today.
Every year, a handful of dedicated high schools in the Chicagoland area hold “Writer’s Week” festivals. These festivals — which the students love but always struggle for funding and booster support, dangit — invite professional writers to share their work with the students and to talk and answer questions about the writing life. I have been a featured performer at a number of these festivals for well over a decade, now, which is great but also super weird, because I remember my first few times doing these gigs and it does not seem so very long ago. I remember being a young slam poet and freaking out the night before these gigs, timing my set until it was absolutely perfect because I had a limited repertoire; I remember rambunctious boys in the back of the auditorium one year who threw me off — and how I learned that day, the hard way, how to effectively stop any heckler. (Ninety-nine percent of the time, ignore them. I called the kids out that day and it wasn’t good. They wanted attention and they got it. I learned a lot that afternoon.)
I did first-and second-period at my favorite place, William Fremd High (they saw quilts one year), and then spent seventh and eighth at Bartlett High, a school with students were so respectful and courteous, one gets nervous. I did four shows today, in other words. In case you’ve never performed for 50 minutes in front of an auditorium of 300 or so high school students four times in one day, I assure you: It’s not for the faint of heart and when you come home, you will want to eat food and then face plant into the couch for awhile.
Twice today I was approached by quilters: a teacher at Bartlett and the mother-in-law of one of the Writer’s Week organizers. Both of them were excited to say hi and I could see that both of them were looking at me as the quilting person they’ve watched on TV while trying to square it with the high school poetry/writing presenter they just watched live onstage. Welcome to my world.
For many years, I have had a hard time telling people what it is that I “do.” I’m a writer. I’m a quilter. I’m a performer. I write about quilts. I write poetry and perform it. I perform, in a way, in the quilt world because of the on-camera work. I teach people how to quilt, but also how to write — it’s all this gorgeous, difficult slurry of words and fabric scraps and microphone cords. In the past couple years, I have been really working, with every project I take on, to combine these loves. How can writing and quilting and performance come together? Where do writing and quilting intersect — not for me, but for you? What can I give? And how can I help? (By helping others, giving my art away, that’s how I better understand myself. This is the win-win.)
These are the questions. Thank you, high schoolers and faculty and staff, for giving me an audience today. I move toward answers every time I go to work.
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.
Today is a great day!
I’m writing to you from inside the grand, achingly beautiful Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. Have you ever been to the Merchandise Mart? Do you know about it?
“The ‘Mart,” as it’s affectionately known in Chicago, is truly a marvel of architecture and city history. When this art deco masterpiece was built in 1930, it was the largest building in the world. The whole world! Because it comprises 4 million square feet. Four million! (When I lived in New York, Yuri and I had something like 840 in total, fyi.) The Mart had its own zip code until 2008 when some lame thing changed. This building had its own zip code!
Wanna know who built it? Why, Marshall Field & Co.! Yes, the department store guy.
(Hey, did I ever tell you that my grandparents on my father’s side met in Chicago and they would rendezvous under the Marshall Field’s clock when they had a date? They’d set a time and meet under one of the clocks at good ol’ Marshall Field’s. That’s pretty cute.)
And guess who owned the building for like half a century? The Kennedys! Yes, the Kennedys! Isn’t that interesting?? I love learning things.
The Merchandise Mart has been a place for commerce since it was built; it’s mostly wholesale showrooms for interior decorating and design and lots of offices and there’s a bunch of other stuff in here that I would love to know about but what is most exciting — perhaps the most exciting thing that has ever happened to/at the Merchandise Mart ever, in 85 historic years — is that there is now a post office box in this place that will take your PaperGirl mail!
I got a post box in the Merchandise Mart! For you! For us! For mail!
It’s high time this happened. I get requests for my address frequently because someone found a wonderful pencil they need to send me, for example, or because someone wants to donate to the blog (or maybe buy Pendennis lunch) but doesn’t use PayPal. Totally understandable. Also, this holiday has brought several gifts via my mother or the Iowa Quilt Museum (hi, Tammy!) and while it’s interesting to think about the journey of such things, let’s make this easier on everyone!
There is a post office much closer to my home than the one here inside the Mart and this branch has limited hours. But there is no other place worthy to receive your correspondence. I mean it. I wish you could see this place. It’s magnificent. Even the sign for the post office on the first floor is beautiful, set in an art deco frame with sconces around it, throwing this golden light upon it, saying, “Welcome, Mail!” The wide, marble floors in the gilded halls (currently draped with holiday garlands and bunting) are polished to a shine. The squeaky clean picture windows look out onto the city that I love so much, that I shall never take for granted.
So please, send me mail! Of course, yes, you may send donations if you like. The box cost $166 for the whole year if I paid it all at once, so I did. If everyone sent in a penny — wait, wait. That’s not funny. Please do not send me pennies. You don’t have to send money. Send me letters or drawings or stories or chocolate or other items of interest. I would like to start sharing your mail on the blog. (If you don’t want me to, of course I won’t — just let me know.)
The address is shown up there in the photo, but just in case you can’t see it, ahem: Mary Fons — PaperGirl, P.O. Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777.
The photo also shows the third page of the application. I actually listed Pendennis as someone authorized to pick up the mail. Pendennis does not have fingers, nor can he take the train. But just in case, he’s official.
I’m so excited. I love mail so much. Let’s have fun with this. Let’s put the “paper” in PaperGirl.
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.
There are a lot of books out there about how to be a better writer. The best ones are books by writers, for writers.
Most dedicated writers have their favorites. My mom like’s Sol Stein’s On Writing, for example; I actually have your copy on my coffee table right now, Mama.
Lots of writers — myself included— admire Stephen King’s book, also called On Writing, for his warmth and simplicity. My most treasured advice on writing comes from an essay by Orwell (“Politics and the English Language”) and without Strunk & White Elements Of Style, I’m sunk.
And there’s one book I think even the dilettante writer has come across: Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. (I can hear some people cheering from here.)
The book, though written primarily for the fiction writer because fiction is Anne Lamott writes, gets its title from a story in the book. That story contains some of the best advice, writing or otherwise, I have ever come across.
Tonight, I texted Mariano that advice. He’s studying for a huge test on Wednesday that has absolutely nothing to do with writing. But the advice Lamott gives in Bird By Bird is perfect for any occasion.
She tells in the book of a night when she and her younger brother were in grade school and he had a huge project due that week on “The Birds Of North America.” The little guy was beyond stressed. He was frustrated and becoming increasingly panicked about the scope of the assignment. Anne’s dad, a professional writer, came in and patted his son on the shoulder.
“Just take it bird by bird, buddy,” he said. “Just go bird by bird.”
That’s all any of us have to do. Equation by equation. Paragraph by paragraph. One at a time. First this one, then the other.
Bird by bird, buddy.
I have arrived in Houston. It’s time for Market.
The picture above is from early this morning, when I dragged myself — I had immunization shots yesterday and have felt extremely bleh since — to a hair appointment to do a major color job. Above is the “Before” picture; what do you suppose I did to the ol’ head?
Dispatches from the field beginning tomorrow. I’ll make sure to show the hair. Pictures will be on Instagram; deeper observations made right here.
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.
If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like to learn things about the places I visit and share them with you.
Here’s a post about the Florida panhandle, for example. This dispatch came from from Sioux City, IA; and this one I wrote about Buffalo, NY from Buffalo, NY and in it I discuss the local specialty — sponge candy! — and confess to making myself sick eating a bunch of it.*
Well, greetings from Jefferson City, MO, state capitol — and home of the gooey butter. Sponge candy, you may have met your match. (I clearly like to learn about places that are known for delicious desserts.)
A gooey butter is a cake, but don’t call it “gooey butter cake” unless you’re from out of town. To locals, it’s just “gooey butter” and it’s legendary in Missouri. As the story goes, a St. Louis baker mixed up the proportion of butter while making up some coffee cake. Rather than throw out what couldn’t be that bad, the cake still being a combination of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, he baked it anyway. The cake was sugary and sticky; he sliced it up and sold out in short order. Gooey butter was born.
I’m teaching two classes here at the big Missouri State Quilter’s Guild 2016 Retreat and then I’m doing the banquet talk tomorrow night, so I can’t get out to hunt down some gooey butter, but my new pal Terri said she might be able to find some. I told her she’d better not go to any trouble; Terri said, “Hey, if it happens, it happens.”
Terri was the gracious lady who picked me up at the airport and drove us two hours over to Jefferson City. We bonded because we shopped for pajamas together at Target.
The Missouri retreat has a theme each year, and this year it’s “Welcome To My Dream World.” Attendees are encouraged to wear pajamas to the banquet tomorrow night; I have also been encouraged to do this. I thought it sounded sort of silly at first but then I decided it sounded completely awesome. The trouble was that when I was packing yesterday, I realized my nightclothes were not gonna work. Either they were too — how to put this — “wispy,” or they were too old and comfy to become a keynote speaker.
When we got in the car, I asked Terri if there was a Target on the way. She said there was and that hey, she could get some pajamas, too! (She had the same problem as I did re: appropriate public pajamas.)
What I’m getting at is that tomorrow night I may be eating gooey butter in my pajamas — at work. These students loans ain’t gonna pay themselves, people!
*If you go to the right side of the screen and click “Travel” in the list of categories, you’ll see all the PaperGirl posts that have to do with traveling. But note that the “Work” category has a lot of travel writing too, since I’m usually traveling for work. Enjoy!
One of the serious, who-does-that?? advantages of getting my MFA in Writing at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) — aside from the fact there’s a longarm in the textile department and they want me to use it — is that I have not one but two advisors and I meet with one of them every other week.
Week 1, I meet with Jesse Ball, who is A Very Big Deal. Guggenheim Fellowship, awards coming out his ears, OMG-level reviews in the New York Times, Atlantic, Paris Review, etc., etc. Sometimes I’m intimidated by him because he’s this rockstar type, but aside from one awkward meeting where I felt like a big dummy and didn’t have one intelligent thing to say, we’re peas n’ carrots.
Week 2, I meet with Sara Levine, also A Very Big Deal. Essayist in a bazillion “Best Of” anthologies, professor at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, reviewed by Oprah…it goes on and on. The truth is, all of the faculty at SAIC is this way and, as Claus told me this spring, it’s practically unheard of that a grad student gets an advisor appointment on a weekly basis.
“This is what you’re paying for,” he said. “And it’s worth every dollar.”
Sara is working with me on my book. Did I tell you I’m writing one? I have been poking at it here and there for over a year, but now it’s happening for real and that’s one part of the reason I’m doing this school stuff. It’s a book of essays about my life in quilting — and so, so much more — and the best way to describe it is to say that if PaperGirl is a snack, Piecing [working title] is a meal. A meal I’m prepping in the kitchen right now. You are gonna freak out when you see what I made you for dinner, you guys — in a good way, as long as I can pull it off.
Sara helped me so much the other day when she read a portion of a chapter and said, “This. This part right here when you talk about pre-washing and then you jump directly into moving to New York — that’s it. That dovetail. I want to see more of these moments. Where else can you dovetail two disparate things in the same way? Think like a woodworker dovetailing two pieces of wood. Does that make sense?”
Ever since she said that, I’ve been writing like an absolute maniac. Most of it is garbage. But it’s important garbage and at least a few chunks are keepable. And everywhere I look, I see potential dovetails; places where two things come together and they just fit, even if they’re not “supposed to” or I didn’t think they ever would.
And then the other night, I closed my laptop and went to the sewing machine. Because there was another dovetail I kept seeing. A fabric one.
I sketched out the paper foundation a couple times. The one up there, that’s the one I like the best. It’s an abstract shape and I’m a pretty traditional quilter, so it’s a departure, style-wise, for me. Do you see it? It’s a dovetail. And I made a few sample units with some sashing in between and I felt happy in a way that I haven’t ever before, not quite like this.
It’s happening. Writing and quilting and art. It’s coming together in this new way.
And this is what I’m paying for.
Someone said to me recently, “You’re all over social media!” and I was surprised to hear that because it’s really not the case.
I’ve seen legit social media masters and that ain’t me. Believe me, I see the benefits of being all up in the social media game, posting this video and re-tweeting that, but the only way I can increase my social media reach is to do more social media and I just don’t have it in me.
Being a blogger isn’t the same as being a social media whiz. When I write a blog post, I always let folks know by posting to Facebook and to Google+. And yes, I do enjoy Instagram, but I go in spurts: I’ll be stuck in a coffee line and post a few shots before I get to the register. But I resigned from Twitter because I don’t want to send text messages to the world. I have taken in some light Snapchatting, but I must be too old for Periscope — and I never made a single Vine. I don’t even play games on my phone! By the way, I know Pokemon Go is a game, but is it a social media gamey thing? Like, do you follow people’s games? Probably. I doubt I shall never know.
But it’s time for another confession. I do have a goofy app thing that I love. I love Bitmojis.
Using bitmojis is definitely not using a social media platform, but if I socialize with it via text messages, does that count?
In case you don’t know — you probably do — Bitmoji is an app for your phone that allows you to create a cartoon of yourself and then gives you hundreds of “bitmoji” illustrations to choose from to express hundreds of different emotions in your text messages, from “I love you” to “It’s red wine night!” to “Busted!!” to… Many other strange things, e.g., you, as a unicorn, blasting off a rainbow that kind of looks like a fart. It’s so much fun! I’m amazed at how much my bitmoji looks like me and how much my sisters’ bitmojis look like them. Sophie’s got a good one, too.
But yesterday I had a rather awkward text conversation with a friend of mine who is in his early fifties and made his bitmoji.
My friend’s bitmoji did not look like him. Actually, that’s not true: My friend’s bitmoji looked like him about 30 years ago. There were no lines on his face. He put himself in a polka dot shirt for crying out loud — he’s a t-shirt n’ sweater vest kind of fellow — and the body shape he chose for his bitmoji was rather…optimistic. All of these things I tried to tell him super diplomatically when he asked what I thought, but I when he texted me that he was depressed after hearing the feedback but followed up immediately with an “LOL, jk!!!” I knew we had a problem.
When Sigmund Freud was 63, he wrote about being horrified on the train one day when he realized the elderly gentleman he was observing was his own reflection. When I waited tables at Tweet, I worked for dear Michelle, who told me once, “It’s amazing to me when I give a man a wink and then I remember, “Oh yeah: I’m old. How about that.” My friend’s off-the-mark bitmoji showed me that we stay on intimate terms with younger versions of ourselves. Every once in awhile I see a picture of myself and I think, “How about that.” It’s not that I’m one foot in the grave; it’s that I’m not twenty — even if I feel like it. (I often do.)
Bitmoji did not pay me to write this post, unfortunately, but I do encourage everyone to go make one and enjoy it; but make it true to how you look. It’s more fun that way.
p.s. Were you just thinking, “Hey, I wish I could read a funny, extremely short play”? I gotcher’ play right here!
Tonight, some words that give me great joy.
William Soutar is one of my favorite poets. I love him so much I wrote a poem about him once. (It’s not good enough to share, yet; maybe someday.) Soutar, who was born in Scotland in 1898, suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, a crippling form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis, and was bedridden for well over a decade as a result. But by all accounts — even in his sickbed he seemed to know everyone who was anyone in those days so there are many accounts — he was beguiling, charming, warm, and obviously an insanely gifted writer.
When Soutar was diagnosed, he didn’t freak out. When he realized that he would no longer be able to play football, or garden, or travel much at all, he said to himself, “Now I can be a poet.”
Who does that?
I also love Soutar because he was a dedicated journal keeper. Me too, Billy; me too. And leafing through a journal from 2013 the other day — I was looking for a picture that I still haven’t found — I came across a passage from Soutar’s journal that I had copied into mine. It’s about why a person should keep a journal.
Or a blog.
“If you ask me why I deem it worthwhile to fill up a page such as this, day by day — shall I not reply, ‘Worthwhileness hasn’t very much to do with it’? The most natural reply might be, ‘Because I cannot go out and chop a basket of firewood or take the weeds out of the garden path.’
Yet that wouldn’t be a wholly honest answer. We are all sustained at times by the thought that whatever we may be we are certainly a solitary manifestation of creation; not a single other creature in all the history of the world has been just as ourself — not another will be like us.
Why not put on record something of the world as seen by this lonely ‘ego’: here and there perhaps a sentence may be born whose father is reality.”
Thanks, William. It’s good to know you think about this stuff, too.
The new coat of paint that the ol’ PG got a number of weeks ago (thanks, Sally!!) didn’t just make ‘er prettier; it also fixed several things.
You can comment on a post now, for example.
Comments never worked on the old platform. I don’t know why because that’s above my pay grade. (Pay grade = zero grades.) I would’ve liked to see reader comments on the posts themselves but bad things happen when Pendennis tries to change “widgets” on blog “dashboards.” (More on this below.) So my Facebook page was the place where beguiling, effervescent, almost wickedly attractive PaperGirl readers would leave comments. But as many of you have discovered, you can leave comments on posts now and I hope you will.
While we’re on the subject: PaperGirl readers are funny, insightful, compassionate, and have excellent grammar. I know this because of the comments, wherever they may be. I see few typos; I see critical thinking. I see thoughtful sentences. I am often moved to LOL.
I don’t comment back too much, however, because I simply can’t. I can’t! Writing this blog takes many hours a week; to reply to more than a meager few means to reply to everyone and that means adding many more hours to producing the blog. Right now, I can’t afford to do it. If there’s someone out there with buckets o’ money who wants to underwrite the ol’ PG, this will change immediately. You know where to find me.
The other fix that has been done has to do with the broken RSS/subscription button that had been giving me fits for awhile. Please re-subscribe if you haven’t been getting your email when I post a new post! I love you. I’m sorry.
The button was broken a month or so ago when Pendennis tried to be cute and re-write the “Mary Fons: New Post” subject line. He broke it, not me. I would totally know how to not do that. Totally.
So, friend, subscribe and comment and underwrite. Or two out of three.
I’ve been around quilters all day and I’m full of love and a strange sadness. My sadness comes from wanting to be everywhere at once.
When you gather enough momentum as a quilt teacher, you can practically live on the road. PaperGirl readers have seen me come close to that at times; the last time I was in Portland, gigging at Fabric Depot and the Portland Modern Quilt Guild about a year ago, the trip was sandwiched between two other trips, which were themselves part of a travel schedule that I think involved Phoenix, Denver, and Houston — in a single month.
And while it is not an easy life — running for a taxi in the rain in a dress dragging two huge suitcases of quilts is bad no matter who you are or how much you love quilts — it is a life that puts a quilt teacher where she thrives: in rooms with quilters. The more gigs you do, the more rooms you’re in. The more jobs you take, the better you get at making these things. The more contracts you accept, the more gorgeous fabric you get to pet.
And then there are the quilters.
Today, I talked to a person who makes quilts for a battered women’s shelter. She does this because she escaped a violent husband after 30 years of suffering and, as she put it, “There’s nothing like a quilt when you don’t have much. I make them and I take them over there. It feels good, you know?”
I talked to a grandmother whose pride for her sewing-obsessed granddaughter was so great, she tripped over her words trying to tell me about all the wonderful things Ilyana was making these days, how she’s begun to design.
There was the pair of women who came all the way from California just to hear my talk because, as one of them said, “You and your mother are my friends. You’re in my sewing room every week! I had to come give you a hug, sweetie,”
My decision to pursue my master’s is the right one. I feel it in my bones, in my sewing machine pedal foot. Synthesizing my writing, quiltmaking, skills as a presenter — this and so much more is what I can do at the Art Institute. But out there with all the quilters today, from 8 a.m. till 7 p.m., I thought, “What if I’m wrong, if I’m being ridiculous? What if I should’ve stayed put? What if people think I’m abandoning them? If I’m not hugging hundreds of quilters every month, does anything I do toward this real-but-nebulous larger vision really matter?”
It’s not about me. I know it. Just one foot in front of the other.
What I’m trying to say is that I missed you.
I’ll be coming to fair and sweet-tempered Loudon County, Virginia next month to teach patchwork, speak of my love of quilts and quiltmaking, and do my best to entertain and inspire.
A Day With Mary Fons @ Sew Magarbo
October 15th, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p. m.
Meet n’ Greet + Light Breakfast
Books Signing + Trunk Show
Lecture: “10 Things I Know About Quilting & Life (I Think)”
Workshop: No-Fear Partial Seams!
I’ll take you through the darling “Sweetpea Star Block” and you’ll learn partial seaming, which is not hard at all, contrary to popular belief. Partial seams give you such interesting shapes in your patchwork; this block is awesome and you’ll get the hang of partials in a jiff as you make them.
Here’s all that info and more. I have so many friends in VA; I hope to see some of you there!
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’ve been working on my syllabus for the blogging class I’m teaching at the University of Chicago. It starts on Monday, goes from 6-8:30pm, and runs four weeks. There are a couple spots left if you’re interested and it would be so cool to meet you. Do it!
The syllabus is just a guide for the students to know what’s up and a little map for me, structuring how I’ll go about giving away absolutely everything I know about writing a decent blog.
“Writing” is the operative term, here. Anyone with a computer and a mouse can open a blog. Making space for yourself in the blogosphere via WordPress, say, is easier than setting up your new remote control. (Far, far easier. I hate remote controls so much.) But that writing part. That’s what my class is about. Uncovering your voice. Pushing yourself. Exploring. As hard as writing is – and it is hard – that’s how rewarding it is when you get cookin.
Since not everyone who reads PaperGirl can make it to class (I’m looking at you, New Zealand) I thought I’d share some blogging essentials. We’ll noodle on these in class and go deeper via writing exercises, discussion, practice. There’s so much more – but you’ll have to come to class to learn it.
Until then, here are Pendennis’s 5 Blogging Essentials. He’s the secret to my success, you see.
1. It is all about content.
Forget widgets, plugins, fancy web designers, social media, ads, and the rest. All that can come later. If you don’t have great content, you will have nothing to give. Content, content, content.
2. Your blog has to serve people.
It has to help in some way. Your blog can help people by offering shrewd editorial, gorgeous photography, easy-but-yummy recipes, scuba-diving news – anything. But it can’t be about you. My aim for PaperGirl is to offer you one tiny spot on the internet that feels real. Life is funny, and sad, breathtakingly hard and unspeakably beautiful. I give you what I see because I want to see it with you. If all I wrote were complaints, if all I did was promote myself, if all I “gave” you was secretly – or not so secretly – all about me, I’d be giving nothing at all. (I have a diary for all the “me” stuff. A blog is not a diary.)
3. Show up. Do the work.
Tired? Feelin’ blue? Post anyway. I’ve been blogging for eight years. Eight! Gah!
4. Traffic doesn’t matter. Readers matter.
…which is why No. 1 is No. 1. Do you want a zillion clicks – or a few thousand readers who can’t wait to see you’ve posted something? Google Analytics tells you something called your “bounce rate.” That’s what percentage of people click on your site and then click right on out. I’ma brag for two seconds to make a point: my bounce rate is 8%. That’s…not normal. I hope it’s because people come over and take off their coat and stay awhile. I’m hoping it’s because I’m following No. 1, though Pendennis is pretty cute.
5. Never, ever write a post about how you have nothing to write about. Ever!
No one, not even your mom, wants to read that post. And neither do you! Go take a walk, look around at stuff, think about stuff, then come back and try again.
You can do it. See you on Monday.
There has been a great development. I have hired an assistant. A real one this time.
Her name is Carmen and she is made of gumdrops and birthday cake. She is smart. She is organized. She cares. She’s already doing an incredible job. And Bizet wrote an opera for her, so.
Having an assistant sounds impossibly fancy. It sounds like I think I’m important. It sounds like I’m rollin’ in it and because of that assumption, it sounds super annoying. Here’s the funny thing: there have been times in my life when I could better afford to hire someone to help me out for 10-15 hours a week, but it has never, ever been so crucial as now. So I’m figuring out the math.
Look, you’re with me. You read this blog. You see me flying from Portland to Florida to New York to Phoenix to St. Cloud. It’s interesting and it’s beautiful. But it’s a lot. Starting in the fall and all through 2017 I’ve got a lot of jobs on the road, a lot of teaching and speaking commitments. “But aren’t you going to be in grad school?” you ask, then you jump out of your seat because my hysterical, hysterical laughter has frightened you.
The only way — and I mean the only way — this whole “work my way through grad school by being an itinerant quilt teacher” thing is gonna work is if I’ve got someone to help me. I can’t do it alone. I was starting to crack doing it myself before — what’s gonna happen when I have a novel to read by Friday and a poem to revise by Monday?
I thought long and hard about this grad school thing, I really did. I didn’t want to say yes to it if I’d be half in, half out, doing Quilt World Things while trying to get the very very most out of an MFA at the same time. For sure, if I tried to insert studies at the SAIC into what I’ve got going on now, I’d fail at both and it would be a hard, hard turfing out. (The saying “I shudder to think” is a chestnut, but I do literally shudder when I imagine trying to do what October looks like, for example, while going to graduate school.) But I believe that if someone can help me with back-end gig logistics (supply lists, bio, photos, travel deets, schedule, classroom assignments, contact persons, dossier, etc.) then how I make a living is actually sorta perfect. I go to school. A couple times a month I go and teach quilting and lecture about the history of quiltmaking in America. It sounds cool, anyway.
All this justification as to why I finally “broke down” and hired the inimitable and breathtakingly gorgeous Carmen has a few sources: I’m a woman who suffers from Imposter Syndrome; I’m not heading a Fortune 500 company so what could be so important I need help with it; I’m from the Midwest. But you know what? Not only have I created a job in the economy (woah! so cool!) I have admitted to you that I need help, Carmen. And look at that: I’m admitting it to you, too.
I applied for a job at the school paper. I have a school paper because I have a school!
The student-run paper at the School of the Art Institute is called F Newsmagazine. This would be a frustrating masthead for a newspaper/magazine if wasn’t an art school newspaper/magazine; fortunately, that’s what fNews is and being what it is, it can be — nay, must be — unconventional. It’s a fine publication; I remember picking it up downtown in years prior and admiring it. I would feel the thick, glossy paper it’s printed it on and look through the illustrations and read stories in never-before-seen-fonts-because-students-invented-them and think, “Wow. The people who make this magazine go to school at the Art Institute. That must be really fun.”
When I got my acceptance letter, I went to a reception and picked up the latest issue on the way out. Maybe could get a gig at the paper to help me pay for school, I thought. I saved up some money from my time making Quilty, but it’s not enough. It’s loan time. I applied to the school itself for a merit scholarship and I’ve done the paperwork for another small grant; the hunt continues. But rather than rely on someone/something else to give me money for tuition, I’m more comfortable rolling up my shirtsleeves and getting a job. This approach to things runs in my family and I’m glad, though I remain ever hopeful that some sane, at least marginally attractive wealthy widower reads PaperGirl and has fallen desperately in love with me and will offer to pay for my grad school in an attempt to get my attention and win my favor. I’m waiting, darling, and ready to coo about how you look in your top hat.
I contacted the F newsmagazine offices and met the people in charge. I was given the chance to audition, if you will, by writing a story on the first-ever, free online course offered by the SAIC. I wrote the piece and they accepted it; yesterday I had my official interview with the paper’s advisor-slash-publisher. The conversation was great and I can’t say I was hired-hired because Paul and Sophie need to put their heads together about exactly where I’m best used. A strong handshake and a “You’ll be working with us in some capacity, that’s for sure” makes me feel like I can even tell you all this.
My grandmother (on Mom’s side) started the town paper in Norwalk, IA. My mother co-founded the most popular quilting magazine in history. My sister Hannah is associate editor at a real estate magazine in New York City. My sister Rebecca writes at her job at the Chicago International Film Festival and has been doing some freelance around town these days. We are not an east coast media mogul family. We’re not a midwest one, either. We’re not intrepid reporters, we don’t keep up on the Pulitzers. But the women in my family, we have ink on our hands.
It’s gonna feel really good to work on a magazine again.
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?
That’s right: I’m teaching at QuiltCon in Savannah in 2017!
Today, the Modern Quilt Guild folks released the course catalog for the big show in February and if you’re like me, you pounce on these kinds of things and dream up the kind of person you will be when you get to February and take Amazing Class A and Incredible Class B and sit in the audience for Mind-Blowing Lecture Q. What color will your hair be? Who will you be dating or married to? Isn’t it all so delicious??
I’m happy to tell you that I’ll be teaching two blocks of my all-day “No Fear Partial Seams” class: one on Thursday and one on Friday. The quilt I’m making is shaping up to be extremely beautiful (it’s a red-and-white.) Then I’m doing my spankin’ new, essential lecture: “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt.”
The QuiltCon 2017 course catalog — with full class/lecture descriptions and info about registering and so forth — can be found here. Let me make something very clear: if you have questions about registration, when stuff opens up, how to pay, etc., you’ll have better luck getting an answer from your cat. I don’t know about that part: I’m only the talent. The MQG people are running a really slick show, though, so use the helpdesk over there; they’ll get you squared away.
What fun! Come hang out!
From where I sit in Sacramento, I’m about two hours away from the Pacific Ocean; if the breeze blows just right tomorrow, I might get some salt in my nose. Who doesn’t like that? I’m fourteen-and-a-half hours from Berlin, by the way. But I’m glad I’m at my aunt’s house. I don’t want to be in Berlin and I don’t want to be home right now, either. It would be hard tonight, being among all those objects that have now changed shape.
Tonight, rather than moping around or rubbing it in my auntie got us facials at the spa tomorrow (it has literally been a year since I had a facial) I shall direct you to the latest Quilt Scout column wherein I share my maiden voyage into hand quilting. This column has been up for about a week, actually; Quilts, Inc. has gotten a bunch of mail about it. I didn’t realize just how many hardcore hand quilters there are out there. I have been invited to join several groups already and I might do; if I bring the quilt and huge quantities of cookie bars to each group, I might get some sewing bee-style help and get that dang thing done by 2021.
The post is about memory, though, too: our first memories in life. What’s yours? What does our first memory say about how we see the world? My first memory, as I say in the article, is one of sitting on my mother’s lap while she hand quilted a wholecloth quilt. The resonance of her voice in her chest. The rocking of the rocking chair. That’s what the post is really about, I guess.
Tonight, feathers in the rocking chair to you all. Goodnight, friends.