What Can a Quilt Do?

posted in: Art 25
Flying geese I made with "Mary Fons red" and the Small Wonders Germany stripe. Photo: Me.
Flying geese I made with “Mary Fons Red” and the Small Wonders Germany stripe. Photo: Me.


For those who don’t know, this spring I was accepted into the graduate school of The School of the Art Institute (SAIC) of Chicago. As of today, I am officially pursuing my MFA in Writing. Today was the first day of school.

I am in love. All day, I was reminded why I have chosen to do this thing. My reasons were everywhere I looked.

My career in the quilt world — a career I have been tirelessly building for seven years — is robust and was robust when I submitted my grad school application. Though I’m not doing TV right now, I have gigs with guilds, shops, and groups booked through 2018. My fabric line is selling well (the first line was extended and this fall there will be a new group, “Decades,” which is reproduction prints from 1890-2000.) My column for Quilts, Inc., “The Quilt Scout,” had its one-year anniversary and read widely; I’m curating a scrap quilt exhibition for Spring Market 2017 for QI, too. I’m hand-quilting quilts, designing new ones, I’m on the board of the International Quilt Study Center, and both my classes and lecture are sold out at QuiltCon.

Why am I giving you my dumb resume? Because as good as all that is, it’s not enough. Let me rephrase: It’s not everything. Quilts are more than the industry. They’re more than the latest trend. I love quilts too much to let them be just a career. My schooling is part of my Big Fat Grand Plan to do something bigger.

You see, there are a lot of quilters who teach on the road and do video. There are quilters who have blogs and write books and patterns. These people are my friends. They make crucial, vital work and I love every single one of them. Heck, I am one of them.

But I want to know what else a quilt can do. Who is writing about the American quilt in a way that engages a wider audience? If you can name one, great: There should be more than one. What does a quilt look like when it goes to art school? What non-quilting audiences can it reach? When it’s time to do my thesis, perhaps I’ll write a memoir of my life in quilts (a tell-all memoir, of course.) Maybe I’ll facilitate a citywide quilt-making initiative, teach Chicagoans how to quilt, and write about that. Why not try? Even if I get 6% return rate of participants, that’s 6% more quilts in my city. I’d read a book about that.

The reason I chose SAIC for my graduate work is because they encourage this kind of exploration. I can blend it all at SAIC. (Proof: They have a longarm machine in the textile department and they have a textile department.) Not once in this graduate school plan has my intention been to “leave” anything. It’s the opposite. For the next two years, I’m not stopping anything: I’m going deeper. You can’t keep me from my sewing machine — but instead of continuing in the typical grind of pattern-book-video, I’m thinking big. Real big. For longer.

My first class was this morning: Design For Writers.

Now, I didn’t make a scene, you don’t have to worry about me not making friends, but…I cried. I was so happy to be in that classroom with that award-winning professor talking to other creative weirdos about shape and line and color and words, and my eyes stung. I squinched my sleeve up and put it to my forehead because I knew, I knew.

This is where it starts.


25 Responses

  1. Sharon Stevens
    | Reply

    Absolutely completely wonderful!

  2. Colleen M Kole
    | Reply

    This brought tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful writer and a wonderful quilter. I am anxious to see where your studies lead you. Thank you for sharing your journey so transparently and authentically.

    • Joan Elkins
      | Reply

      <3 What she said

  3. Jay
    | Reply

    I’m so proud of you, Mary! What a brave girl you are. I hope every day from here out is just as full of courage and excitement and terror and discovery as today. I can’t wait to read about your adventures!

  4. Cindy Griffis
    | Reply

    So happy for you to know your purpose in life. I hope to meet you someday in person!

    • Nancy H
      | Reply

      My thoughts exactly!

  5. Vivian
    | Reply

    Squeeee! So happy for you. What a wonderful first day of school! Can’t wait to hear about all your adventures in this phase of your life. Go git ’em!

  6. Georgina Gowland
    | Reply

    Ooh good luck and enjoy. And please keep telling us how it is going

  7. Sue Norton
    | Reply

    Mary , you are my inspiration !

  8. Robin Cassidy
    | Reply

    Wonderful! Mary, you are a true inspiration. I look forward to all your posts about the interesting journey you are on. I have laughed and cried with you. Hope to meet you someday and take one of your classes.

  9. Elaine
    | Reply

    Fantastic. It has been a very long time since I felt even part of what you are feeling. I am so happy & proud of you for having great plan and moving forward with it. Enjoy.

  10. Susan
    | Reply

    Beautiful! Simply beautiful.

  11. Pam Williams
    | Reply

    You are a wonderful person.

  12. Ann M
    | Reply

    Excellent !

  13. Linda Gless
    | Reply

    Wow, Mary! Good luck in this new 2 yr adventure!! So happy for you!!

  14. Carol Fraley
    | Reply

    When a can we see a preview of your new line Decades?

    • Mary
      | Reply

      I will let you know asap, Miss Carol!! You’ll hear it here first, that I can tell you, so I hope you’ll keep reading. I’ll also share on Facebook, which is Facebook.com/yomaryfons. xoox, Mar

  15. Linda
    | Reply

    OK, I’m bummed you’re not doing shows any longer, but I applaud this new adventure and love that you’ve embraced it full bore! Ready for the next installment. F&P are just not the same, though. I’m old, we don’t like change.

  16. Tammy
    | Reply

    Mary your passion and enthusiasm are inspiring. I can just feel the excitement while reading your words. Makes me want to start something new. So happy for you

  17. Jeanie Crutchfield
    | Reply

    Sorry for me and others you are not doing the TV anymore but glad and proud for you to follow your dream.

  18. Britiney
    | Reply

    Kudos, Mary! Can’t wait to virtually tag along!

    Also: Yay! Pendennis is back! <3

  19. […] 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 […]

  20. Elizabeth Mary
    | Reply

    Education and self-exploration are never a waste of time…Congratulations on your first big step!

  21. Benny Chen
    | Reply

    Mary, disculpa que no te escriba mi comentario en inglés. He leído los comentarios y en general estoy de acuerdo con cada una de ellas. Eres inspiradora, cuando yo sea grande quiero ser como tú. Me encanta que tengas tus propias iniciativas y el proyecto de descubrir que hay algo más… siempre. También te extrañamos en TV, pero sobre todo deseamos que seas feliz. Adelante, que vamos contigo!

  22. […] who wants to have bad knees in her thirties? Who wants to admit why? No one, and not me. I’d rather make quilts. I’d rather work on the book I’m writing. I’d rather make dinner for Mariano […]

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