The Dovetail.

posted in: Art, School, Work 22
"Dovetail" foundation paper and test block. Pattern and photo: Me.
“Dovetail” foundation paper and test block. Pattern and photo: Me


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.

22 Responses

  1. Sandra Weimer
    | Reply

    You rock!

  2. Baa
    | Reply

    Have a biscuit girl great job!

  3. pat hicks
    | Reply

    Mary like I have said before you are meast to do this, sewing and writing. So many wonderful, meaningful, and many times funny come out of you
    It just overflows. Thanks so much for all that you share.

  4. Jillian
    | Reply

    we have two long arms now!! it’s so exciting! the new one is so big and beautiful. i had no idea you attended SAIC, i hope to see you around one day.

    /fellow saic student

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Whaaa??? Jillian!! I shall find you…!!

  5. Georgina Gowland
    | Reply

    So exciting!

  6. Linda
    | Reply

    You go girl!!!!

  7. Kathy
    | Reply

    Writing.Quilting. ALL the Things. Awesome. Looking forward to your book

  8. Susan Skuda
    | Reply

    Epiphanic moment! (I just love that you make me THINK,)

  9. Carol
    | Reply

    Love your posts, the analogy to woodworking is great!

  10. Patti-Ann Kubacki
    | Reply

    Yes I see it and it’s amazing. Worth every penny! Keep working on it all and you are only going to keep growing and blooming.

  11. Madge Ziegler
    | Reply

    I love dovetails. Fine ones, clunky ones, hand cut ones, machine cut ones. long ones, short ones. If you study them you will see how much real dovetails resemble your writing dovetails. And how much the variety parallels variety in the quilt world. But, unlike fabric, wood has no fudge factor. No bias to be our friend or enemy. It either fits or it doesn’t, Which is why I stuck to quiltmaking after my first woodworking class.

  12. Rachel S
    | Reply

    Perfect blending of two talents!! Keep producing top-notch products Mary Fons!!

  13. rita
    | Reply

    I wonder if you have time to explain this dovetail thing. Is there a basis? How does pre-washing and moving relate?

  14. Ginger Witzlib
    | Reply

    Can’t wait for dinner, but don’t forget about dessert! Patiently waiting for your next installment.

  15. Sarah
    | Reply

    Yes, never doubt for a moment the value of the education you are getting. What marvelous advice. So keep on keeping on and never give the expense a second thought again.

  16. Jen
    | Reply

    This is so great. Thank you for writing and sharing your learnings… I love reading about your process. And that block is cool!

  17. tierneycreates
    | Reply

    The School of the Art Institute? I once spent 4 hours at the Art Institute of Chicago, wandering around alone and completely enthralled. And you get to go to school there??!! And use their long arm? Life sounds like a dream! I love the connection of dovetail in your story and the dovetail in your sewing – nice! I bet your books will be wonderful. I so enjoyed your talk at Trends. I will never forgot “you can’t wrap a baby in an iPad”!

  18. Kelly Fox
    | Reply

    They have a longarm (maybe two) at the SAIC and they want you to use it?!?! Heaven! Also heaven that you get such awesome advisors! Sounds like you’re in the right place! 🙂

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