PaperGirl Essay Contest: Tips and Ideas

posted in: Giveaway!, Quilting | 6
Star of Bethlehem quilt, New Jersey, c. 1845. (It's just for inspiration. I can't do this kind of thing yet, either.) Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Star of Bethlehem quilt, New Jersey, c. 1845. (It’s just for inspiration. I can’t do this kind of thing yet, either.) Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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!

General Tips

  • This is a first-person essay. Example: “I live in Iowa and I make mostly all-pink scrap quilts. But the last quilt I made was unusual because…” and so on.
  • A good personal essay has a nice blend of facts and narrative. For example, tell me about the pattern you chose for your latest quilt but also why you like it. Or tell me why your favorite colors are blue and green, not just that they’re your favorite colors. Dig deeper; that’s the whole point.
  • Be specific. Details are what make a piece of writing come alive. Tell me about how the mean quilt policewoman who made you feel bad about your points has a big ol’ hairy mole on her chin, for example. Note that I’ve tried to help you keep things specific by asking about the last quilt you made or the one you’re making now, rather than suggesting a broader “Why I Make Quilts” essay. That would be harder, I think, and less specific.
  • Observe the word count. Too skimpy an essay and you’re shortchanging yourself! But if you write too much past the 500-600 word count and I will have to set your beauteous words aside for a time in my life when I have more time in my life to read them. That could take a long time. #time
  • Have a pal check your work for typos. I won’t be a huge stickler on this (I know there are typos in this blog every once in awhile because these things happen) but good grammar and clean copy will endear you to me at once. Just check your work, is all.

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:

  • What is the most important thing to say about this quilt? Why is that thing so important?
  • What did you think about while you were sewing the patchwork?
  • Did you quilt it yourself? Why or why not?
  • Are you proud of this quilt?
  • Any regrets?
  • Let’s say you love your quilt: Who else do you know who would love it? Why?
  • Let’s say your quilt isn’t one of your best efforts. Who would love it? Why?
  • What did you learn in making this one?

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.


Bolt From the Blue, Part II: PaperGirl Leaders and Endert Essay Contest!

This is just the beginning. The HSTs will finish about 1 1/4'', I think. Patchwork and photo: Me!
This is just the beginning. The HSTs will finish about 1 1/4”, I think. Patchwork and photo: Me.


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 quiltsbut 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.

Small Wonders Wednesday: Totes Awesome Quilt Blocks

posted in: Giveaway!, Small Wonders | 1
Hotcakes. Photo: Me, in a hotcake second.
Hotcakes. Photo: A mysterious hotcake hanging around the booth.

Sorry about yesterday. I was found not guilty of being a witch, but I can’t say the same about my friend Goody. She’s… Well, she really is a witch, so I guess justice was done.

Back to the fun. See those totebags up there? They exist only in my memory and in the hands of the few who grabbed one at Fall Quilt Market a few months ago. What you see above is a limited edition item, like a 45” of an early Beatles record only released in Kuala Lumpur. I’m telling you, I had to scrounge to find one to offer as this week’s prize.

The Heart Plus. Cute World Piece icons. Feminine, but masculine with the canvas and all. Sexy stuff, even though my name is on it. You could cross that out and write your name. It’s your bag, baby. For a price.

If you’re familiar with my quilts, you know I love quilt blocks. Scroll down 4-5 pictures on my Facebook page and you’ll see a quilt top I recently finished that proves it. (I’m planning to do 9,000 more kaleidoscope quilts in the future because good heavens, so gorgeous. The next one will be with — wait for it — the Small Wonders line, India specifically.)

You don’t have to make a kaleidoscope quilt to win the tote, don’t worry. You don’t even have to make a kaleidoscope block, which would be four quadrants or more, by the way. But make a quilt block using Small Wonders — France, China, South America, USA, Netherlands, or India — and email me a picture. I’ll pick a winner, and you’ll be the envy of your guild when you walk in all fancy with your tote. “Oh, this totebag?” you’ll say, nonchalant. “I almost forgot which one I grabbed. Where are the cookie bars?”

**Important! I never use a single group when I make quilts. I mix. That’s why I have all this pre-washed fabric! So you don’t have to use only Small Wonders. But at least one of the fabrics needs to be SM, okay? It’s gotta highlight the fabric or you might be shooting yourself in the pincushion. Ouch!

Email me a picture of your block at smallwonderswednesday @ Winner picked in two weeks, and I’ll post your block on my Facebook page and your totebag will be delivered via Pajamagram. The cool thing about this contest is that you might really, really love that block and you’re already one block down.

*Actual prize may or may not be delivered via Pajamagram.

Small Wonders Wednesday: Giveaway No. 1

posted in: Giveaway!, Small Wonders | 0
That's not Small Wonders fabric! What can it mean?
That’s not Small Wonders fabric! What can it mean?

As many of you know, my fabric line, Small Wonders, launched in October. Small Wonders focuses on small-scale prints, which every quilter needs in her stash for a number of reasons. You can see the story on Small Wonders in this pretty video.

On this inaugural Small Wonders Wednesday (this will be a “thing” for the next seven weeks), I present to you the first of many giveaways! But I’m not giving away Small Wonders fabric. What?!

I have twelve (12) bundles of fabric like the ones above and one (1) kit from my days as a magazine editor. I got free stuff from time to time; not for the show itself, but goodies for various promotional reasons, plus freebies I picked up at Quilt Market, too. Very cool, but I’m out of room now that I have so much of my own line.


For the first thirteen (13) people who contact me with a scan, phone picture, or attachment of a receipt showing they spent at least $20.00 on Small Wonders fabric get one of these fat bundles of fabric! It’s all brand new, it’s all complete, and these babies are from the fabric companies you know and love. Basically, you’re getting more than double your money for Small Wonders plus the free fabric, all of which you will adore. You can scan a receipt from your local quilt shop (!!) or show something from an online shop like Missouri Star or

Send your name and receipt to as quick like a bunny and you’ll get one of the prizes! This giveaway will last for 24 hours, so you’ve got till 3pm CST to go shopping.

I’ll snap a screenshot of the email box so I have proof of the winners. I play no favorites. Good luck, friends!


Giveaway Winner Announced! Book Given Away!

posted in: Giveaway! | 3
A paper captain from PaperGirl.
A paper captain from PaperGirl.

The goal has been reached, the Facebook gods have been appeased, and a lucky reader is about to get a real neat book! Thanks to all who entered the giveaway by sharing my Facebook page and commenting and everything. It so much fun I think I’ll do it again sometime.

It was difficult picking the prize, though! Selecting the winner was easy, but the book… I wanted something from my shelf that was clearly papergirlesque.* I wanted to select a book that one couldn’t get used for $0.01 on Amazon; I wanted a book that would fetch a handsome price at market. [Editor’s Note: Ring a bell, for I have now completed a life’s goal. Since childhood, I have wanted to legitimately use the words “fetch a handsome price at market” regarding something I owned. It is finished.]

I went to my various bookshelves and considered several options. Girls Like Us is a great book, a biography of three influential female musicians: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. I read it on the beaches of Little Cranberry Island many summers ago. I learned so much about the 1960s and who Joni Mitchell slept with (it’s a thick book) and I’ll bet you a fresh lobster there’s Maine sand in the pages. That would be cool, but would my winner really give a rip?

I considered a copy of Madonna & Me, a collection of essays published by Soft Skull Press that includes an essay by yours truly. Being included in that book has been a highlight of my life thus far — no joke. Have I mentioned I’m a drooling, slavish Madonna fan? I am a drooling, slavish Madonna fan. It would make sense to give away a copy of that.

But then I saw the right book. I purchased Paper Boat Captains (Universe) about a year ago because it was too cool to pass up. It’s a book of pop-out paper boats! Page after thick-stock page offers intricate paper pieces that are to be folded and married to make neat paper boats! I swore I’d make one, had one marked with a post-it, but I just haven’t found the time to sit down and do it. PaperGirl, paper boats — it just makes sense. And it seems to still be worth its $27 on various book-buying sites, so that’s good. Rather than let it languish on my shelf any longer, I shall give it to you, Yvonne Elizabeth Strumecki, because you are a real pal, sharing my page and commenting and just generally being a person that I have come to appreciate for your dialogue and participation in whatever it is I’m doing, here. Email me with your address and I’ll sail some boats your way.


*New life goal: to become regarded highly/widely enough that the word “papergirlesque” would enter the American lexicon. IT’S GORGEOUS! It rolls trippingly off the tongue: Pay-per-gurl-esk. Oh, glorious new word! And it doesn’t have to mean something good, obviously. Example: “The movie? Eh, it was okay. Funny, but a little sentimental, a little too nostalgic for its own good. Very papergirlesque.” 

I’m Doin’ a Giveaway!

posted in: Giveaway! | 55
Pendennis approved!!!!
Pendennis approved!!!!

How about a giveaway!

I do these from time to time with Quilty, but this is a straight-up Mary Fons giveaway. Look, I really appreciate all the emails, the comments, the Facebook love. I’m very close to 5,000 likes, and while I know that age and Facebook likes ain’t nuthin’ but a number, it still feels good to be 33 and way more popular than I was in high school.

I also have a lot of books. A lot of books. I’d like to give you one. Share the link to my blog on Facebook. Comment here on the blog. I don’t know how to do these things. I’d like to tell you that it’s very scientific and I do have a system that I intend to follow to pick a winner, at random. But basically, let’s just have a little blitzkrieg love fest and somewhere in the mix, someone will get a book.

I’ll write you a hand-written letter, too. A nice note on some nice Mary Fons letterhead. I’ll give you advice to a problem you might have. [NOTE: No purchase necessary and no problem necessary. If you don’t want advice on a life problem, don’t worry about it — you don’t have to have problems to win.*] So comment away, and share away, and perhaps you’ll get a book! Look, someone will win. It might as well be you. Let’s jack up those Facebook likes. Let’s get a few more readers on the ol’ P-Girl. And then at least one other person on the planet can talk to be about Lee Miller’s War. Or Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. Or Babbitt. Or Binky’s Guide to Love.

Two words: Treasure. Trove.

Good luck. Spread the word. This blog is real life!

*”you don’t have to have problems to win” = suddenly in the running to be the copy on my headstone