What’s In the PaperGirl Mailbag? Joy and Shame

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag 6
Philip Larkin, by Mark Hill, 2017.


I went to the PaperGirl mailbox today.

I had not been to the PaperGirl mailbox since … Well, for a few months. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot going on around here. It’s like Grand Central Station. It’s like a busy restaurant at Grand Central Station. It’s like the kitchen of a busy restaurant in Grand Central Station. Let’s keep that metaphor going.

Sometimes, things that are not filed as “On Fire” get put on the “Back Burner.” I put the checking of the PaperGirl mailbox on the “Back Burner.”

What’s interesting about putting things that are not “On Fire” on the “Back Burner” is that the burner is on, Mary Fons, and sooner or later, what was on the “Back Burner” skips the state of being “On Fire” and goes directly to “Engulfed In Flames.”

The post office called me last week to tell me that I needed to come get the mail out of my mailbox. They didn’t say what they would do to my mailbox (or me) if I didn’t, but if you’ve ever been to a post office in the city of Chicago, you know it is unwise to make those people mad. They’re already mad. All the time. Even when no one has done anything bad. In any event, just do what they tell you to do and get out as quickly as possible. So I went up to the Merchandise Mart with my key today and I got the mail.

You guys. You guys.

The mail. The mail!

Oh, my. Beckie; Ann; Mr. Stofer; Ms. Hoof; Susan; Annabelle; Ms. Masal; Ms. Fix; The Gain Family … and others that sent gifts and notes and cards … I need to read all the rest of the letters and there’s nothing more I want to do tonight than do that.

A special shout-out to two people who made me yelp and then burble up with tears of joy/longing/gratitude: Leah and Mark.

Mark created the drawing of Philip Larkin. Mark, you are my friend and I value you so dearly. And you and Netta sent fudge again this Christmas. We’ll talk soon.

As for Leah — and I do not pick favorite readers, gifts, or letters, I love them/you all — Leah sent me a little tab dispenser than dispenses sticky tabs with puppies on the tabs. They are … I am literally tearing up when I look at these tabs. Every puppy looks like my dream puppy. I love these tabs and three of them are already stuck on my life, viz. my laptop, bookshelf, etc.

Thank you all for these wonderful envelopes. They are full of stories; they contain your very heart and soul. I will read everything. I love you all very much and you can print that. You can tack that up behind your eyes, knowing that it’s true. I’ve loved people for less than this, this bounty of letters from people out there who read, and write, and connect, and long to connect. Me, too.

Here: Mary Fons / Papergirl, PO Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777

I vow to you this day (!) to check the box every month. Every single month. Send me your letters, send me your thoughts. And you can send gifts, too, because I know about gifts. Gifts are my love language, and that means I feel love when I get gifts, absolutely, but I also show love when I give gifts. And I give a lot of gifts because I love a lot! (This blog is arguably one big, extended gift of like, life.) Anyway, if you’re a Gift love language person like me, you want to send me gifts because that’s how you show love.* Follow that impulse!

Whatever you do, and no matter if you send anything to me or not, keep writing. Keep connecting. I will if you will.

*Ms. Masal, I’m looking at you. 

Winner of the First-Ever PaperGirl Essay Contest: Lori Fontaine of Canada!

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag 29
Included in Lori's letter, scanned in by me.
Included in Lori’s letter, scanned in by me.

Congratulations, Canada: You are lucky to claim Ms. Lori Fontaine, who has won first place in the first-ever PaperGirl Leaders & Enders Essay Contest.

Our veterinarian Kristin communicated honestly the healing power of quilts in our personal lives. Kathleen’s essay expressed the pure joy of making, the inspiration around every corner, as well as the pricelessness of quilting friends.

But Lori Fontaine, you made me weep. Mom, too. I could hardly get it together as I read through your essay the first, second, and third time. Really, the contest was yours at “plastic sheeting.” With humility and plain speech, you told the story of the power of quilts and the heart of a quilter. Thank you, and thank you to your group. May you make quilts a long time and put them in the mail.

My leaders and enders are yours, Fontaine. I’ll be in touch soon and congratulations. (I’ve left in all your funny Canadian spellings. They’re neat!)

1st Place Winner
Lori Fontaine

“Trust me when I tell you you’ll want to quilt it and hand-tie it,” she said. 


“Because they don’t have Maytag washers in the Third World. That quilt’ll be pounded on the rocks to be cleaned.”

Well, that made it clear. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the bright colours or the design; this was about the reality, which was scary. A stranger would treasure my work enough to clean it using back-breaking labour, scrubbing it on rocks, probably in muddy water. It would perhaps be the only treasure that person would ever possess. So my little quilt, with its wonky seams, had the ability to erase even for a second the world of not enough to eat, the constant scream of poverty.

That first quilt — how many lifetimes ago! — went to Nepal. A child receiving life-changing surgery was given a quilt rather than the plastic sheeting that was typically used during post-op. We were told to make the colours bright and happy, to make the quilts for boys or girls. 

About five months later, our quilt group was asked to attend a slideshow so we could see the facility where the surgeries had been performed by volunteer doctors, nurses, and other kind souls that wanted to make a difference. There was a handful of photos scattered on an eight-foot table at the front of the room, but I was at the back, chatting with a friend and didn’t bother to look at them. 

When the lights went down, we looked into their eyes. The eyes of strangers that were receiving our love from Canada. There were smiles reaching through a lens to greet those that wanted to help from so far away, even a little bit. 

The world became so tiny. 

I went to the front of the room and looked at the photos on the table. Then, my eyes got wet and I could no longer see clearly. My little quilt, with its bright yellow fabrics, was wrapped around a child with big brown eyes. A printed banner above the image said, “Thank you, quilters.” 

My back doesn’t ache when I’m working on a quilt that’s going overseas. It’s always, “Just one more stitch, then I’ll head to bed…”

The quilt I’m working on now is an explosion of bright fabrics featuring creatures of the sea. Dolphins, coral, electric rainbow fish. Wherever on the planet this one lands, my name will be on the back. A stranger from Canada, sending love. Beating back some of the darkness that lives in the world, the only way she knows how.


The PaperGirl “Leaders & Enders” Essay Contest: First Runner Up

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag, Quilting 25
Overwhelmed (in a good way) going through essay contest entries at the Merchandise Mart. Photo: Mom.


Real quick, before tonight’s essay:

On Monday, I got an email telling me I didn’t get this thing I wanted. It was a relatively small (but sizeable-to-me) publication grant offered by my university’s student government. I wanted to print a 16-page newspaper I made in my Design For Writers class last semester called “The PaperGirl Review: Extreme Quilt Edition”. The grant would’ve given me the funds and the boost I need to do that project and offer it to all of you. I spent a long time on my application. I wanted it really bad. But I didn’t get it.

I wanted to tell you that before I announce the First Runner-Up for the essay contest. Because if it’s not you, you’re probably gonna feel at least a little lousy; not winning feels lousy. But not winning everything (or anything) is also totally universal. Like I’ve just confessed, it happened to me last week! Don’t let it get you down if you didn’t win this time. You just can’t let it let you down. Shake it off. I will if you will.

As I said yesterday, every essay y’all sent was winning. But choices must be made. And this essay has such a lovely twist at the end and was so unique, it stood out. Congratulations due to Ms. Kurke, Lucy, and Einstein, of course.

First Runner-Up
Kathleen Kurke

It was never about the orange, one way or another. It was all about the dog collar.

I bought it because it looked like Log Cabin pattern. Lucy, the yellow lab of my dog duo, got the quilt-like collar because she was the girl. Einstein, the chocolate lab of the duo, sported a more masculine (but not resembling a quilt block) collar. I looked at Lucy’s collar many times a day as Lucy and Einstein pulled excitedly ahead of me on all our walks, day after day. It worked out well for Lucy, actually, because instead of me sternly telling her to stop pulling, I’d look at her collar and saying to myself, “That collar would make a great quilt.”

One day, I decided to do it: I’d make a quilt like that collar. I started pulling pink and purple from my stash. There was some obvious red in the collar, so I added red to my pile. Off I headed to hang out with my “WDMP Girls”** for a day of stitching and chatting. Upon settling in and starting the chatting part of the day, I unpacked my piles and started ripping strips: lots of pink, lots of purple, and a little red. 

I had started constructing the Log Cabin when one of the Girlz asked, “Where’s the orange?”

“What orange?” I asked. 

“Well, there’s obviously orange in the collar.” 

Orange? I’d never noticed! Turns out, I was orange-blind. Every day, mile after mile, walking the dog and staring at the collar, thinking, “That collar would make for a great quilt,” I’d never noticed the orange.

Generous as quilting pals tend to be, The Girlz quickly pulled from their orange abundance and added orange to my pile. I ripped orange strips and returned to creating my Log Cabin blocks. I picked up red centers and added strips. Pink, purple, red, and now orange strips. Completed block after completed block hit the floor. The collar — I mean the quilt — was coming to life. 

I returned home to lay out my blocks and compose the quilt top. Since my “design wall” is my sewing room floor, I share the space with my dogs — and they expect participation in the layout process. (Quilt blocks go down on the floor and they lay on top.) More than once, their squirming antics have resulted in a rearranging that led to a much more attractive layout than I had originally envisioned. 

The quilt blocks came together beautifully and I saw on the floor what I had dreamed about all those days I looked at Lucy’s collar, except…something was missing. 

I couldn’t put my finger on it. I double-checked my color selection against the collar, thinking perhaps my color bias was bigger than just orange, but the colors in my quilt top mirrored what I saw in the collar. I closed my eyes to rethink the vision I had in starting the quilt. I pictured Lucy, pulling ahead of me. I pictured her collar. I pictured Einstein, walking next to her. 

And then my eyes flew open, realizing what was missing in the quilt: It was Einstein! Not Einstein literally, but the color of Einstein, the spirit of Einstein. The quilt needed chocolate love! So, out came the brown — and the border came to life. 

The quilt is complete, now. My love for my yellow lab, in her quilt collar, and her brown buddy Einstein is now immortalized in my quilt.

**WDMP = We Don’t Match Points


The PaperGirl “Leaders & Enders” Essay Contest: What You Made (and Second Runner Up)

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag, Quilting 34
Me, at the Merchandise Mart, freakin' out. Photo: Mom.
What other photo could there be for this post but the one Mom took of me, reading your essays, freakin’ out. Photo: Marianne Fons.


This post is about the results of the first-ever PaperGirl “Leaders & Enders” Essay Contest. For all those of you who didn’t get around to writing, never fear; there will be future contests.

Which brings me to the first point I want to make in my opening remarks, before I announce the Second Runner Up. (That’s right: You have to wait till tomorrow to know who the First Runner Up is and the next day to know won the whole thing because it’s my contest and I’ll create tension if I want to. Also, this was getting really long.)

Over and over again — not in every letter but almost — came some version of the refrain: “Thank you for giving me a reason to write.” This essay contest/writing prompt was all a lot of you needed to do something you were clearly itching to do: write about your life. I’ll take credit for suggesting you put hands to keyboard (or pen to paper!) but those who wrote about their quilts and quiltmaking practice and sent it to me, that’s all you. You did the work. And you did it for you, but, as I said in the original contest announcement, you did something good for posterity, too. Writing your life is writing the history of you, your family, your time on this planet, etc., etc. It matters. As a person who is reading more and more (quilt) history all the time, I cannot tell you how important it is, how crucial it is, to have these personal accounts.

What my reading partner and I read in these sixty-or-so accounts is hard to describe without sounding dramatic and sentimental on account of the humanity on display. As we read, phrases such as “life’s rich pageant” came to mind, as did Thoreau’s observation about lives lived in quiet desperation. And then we’d laugh because one of you would be so charming, so fierce, so Unsinkable Molly Brown about it all.

There were essays about family. Mothers-in-law (the angelic, the not-so), sisters, granddaughters. Many of you have really wonderful husbands, brothers, boyfriends, girlfriends. One of you had a very bad boyfriend who lied to you and hurt you terribly (but you win, because you’re a quilter and he’s not.) Some of you, like me, have quilted with your mom, while one woman has fought her whole life to “quiet [her] mother’s voice.”

We read tales of quilts that weren’t appreciated, while other quilts were loved till they were rags. Teachers, doctors, and cancer survivors wrote to the PaperGirl mailbox. Some of you volunteer in prisons and teach people who live there how to sew. Some of you live in London, Canada, the Netherlands. And two of my favorite people in the world sent essays: my friend Kater and my dear assistant, Carmen herself. You both said you figured you couldn’t be the winner, but to see your names and read your stories (both about your fathers, interestingly) made my heart swell with love and affection. You’re both very special to me.

Also: My mother made me promise to mention how PaperGirl readers and writers possess terrific penmanship and grammar and format letters beautifully. What an audience I have! You are intelligent people. As a group, you have class and excellent taste! I expected nothing less, but it was cool to hold the proof in my hands, to stuff all your tidy letters into my Modern Quilt Guild totebag. That said: Everyone needs copyediting and a second pair of eyes on a piece of writing. If worrying about crossing every “t” kept you from entering, don’t ever let that stop you again. If I publish your work here, I’ll do all that stuff. Don’t ever let a fear of not “sounding” a certain way stop you from participating in this sort of thing, okay?

And so, thank you. Every single one of you. Thank you for the lunch box notes and the book of poems. Thank you for the stickers, the drawings, the time you took. I loathe dead phrases like “Picking a winner was very difficult” but how else can I put it? It was terrible, in many ways, having to do this. And here I am telling you we’ll do it again, and soon.

Don’t stop writing. At the very least, whenever I prompt you to write an essay and send it, write it and send it. You have absolutely nothing to lose and perhaps fun prizes to win that come from my house.

And now…the Second Runner Up, with her phenomenal essay (condensed-for-space and copy-edited-by-yours-truly.) I’ll be sending you something good as a prize, Ms. Morrow; standby for that.

Second Runner-Up:
Kristina Morrow


About five years ago, I was asked by a dear friend if I had a bucket list. In my early fifties at the time and being a firm believer that every day after fifty is a gift, I’d actually given the matter some thought. 

“I’d like to make a quilt before I die.” 

Her response: “Oh! Eleanor Burns will be in town next month for a three-day workshop!!! We should go!!!” 

I said, “Who?”

We went. I learned to use the rolling cutter thing. I learned to press, not iron. I learned about UFOS. I dubbed it “Quilt Boot Camp” and I loved it. I fell in love with making quilts, which is good, because I was burned out in my career. 

I am a veterinarian. 

“Oh,” people say, “How lucky! I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I love animals too much.” Or, “Why didn’t you become a real doctor?” (It’s true: People actually say these things quite often — but that’s for another essay.) 

Veterinarians are often GPs, surgeons, OB-GYNs, dentists, ophthalmologists, proctologists, parasitologists, internists, nutritionists, and funeral directors, all rolled into one little degree. If the client has no money (or claims to have no money yet drives a much newer, nicer vehicle than ours), we’re expected to work for free because we love animals.

The sad truth is that veterinarians have a suicide rate six to eight times higher than the general population. I desperately needed a distraction and I jumped on quilting as a hobby. It’s become an obsession. 

In March of 2016, I had a heart attack, totally unexpected, and it seemed like a good time to take a professional break, catch my breath, spend time with family, and make quilts. I thought I’d miss medicine and be ready to go back in a few months. It didn’t happen. I don’t want to make life or death decisions anymore.

I’ve sold my practice and retired, broke and happy. 

I want to make quilts. I want to make quilts that mean something to someone; quilts that give comfort. Memory quilts. Quilts made from Grandpa’s flannel shirts, or Dad’s ties, or the baby’s clothes, or a decade of t-shirts. 

I have eight quilts I’m actively working on at this time for myself, friends, and family, but the one I just finished is significant. It just happened that recently I was perusing a veterinary suicide prevention site, and someone posted asking what other veterinarians do for relaxation. I posted a picture of one of my quilts. A veterinarian from a thousand miles away saw it and messaged me. She asked if I could turn her t-shirts into a quilt and I said I’d be happy to, for a fee.

My new business has begun. I have just finished turning her 27 t-shirts, one silk shirt, two scarves, a pair of pajama bottoms, and her graduation gown into a queen-sized quilt. It will never win a ribbon, but to this veterinarian, who has served in the armed forces (yes: a veteran veterinarian!), it will have meaning. And when she passes it on — I pray it will have meaning to those who love her — it will live on. And in a tiny way, I will live on. 

Mom, Thank Goodness. (Essay Contest Update.)

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag 10
Mom, you, and the mailbag at the Merchandise Mart. Photo: Me.
Mom, you, and a few of the letters from the mailbag while at the Merchandise Mart today. Photo: Me.


This paragraph has been written and rewritten so many times, at this point, it’s just a line.

Because I’m speechless.

Today I picked up the PaperGirl mail. It was time to collect any stragglers for the PaperGirl Leaders & Enders Essay Contest and read all the entries.

Sixty of you entered the contest, which is to say sixty people took the time and energy to write their lives down on paper and then, as if that weren’t enough,* those people took the time and energy to stick that paper in a stamped envelope and send it across the country (or around the world in a number of cases!!) to someone who really, really wants to know. The life, love, sorrow, joy, and electricity in these letters has overwhelmed me in the best possible way.

And not just me, it turns out.

I didn’t plan to have a buddy in the review process, but it just so happens that my mom is in town today. Because I’m on a hiatus from TV, Mom and I haven’t has as much time together as we usually do, and we miss each other. When Mom learned I’d be in town at the big quilt show this weekend, signing books and giving tours (as opposed to being out of town teaching or in production for the school paper) she suggested she come in for a night to see me and go to the show with me. I yipped with happiness, and so it was that the one and only Marianne Fons arrived a little after noon today.

I was so happy to see the woman I nearly forgot I had my tax appointment this afternoon. When I remembered, I wailed. To have to go do taxes instead of hang out with Mom?? The fretting about that turned into fretting about all the other things that I want and can’t have, including a second me, a personal chef, and enough time in the day today to go pick up the PaperGIrl mail at the Merchandise Mart before the post office closed.

How quickly I had forgotten that the mighty Marianne Fons was in the room.

“Well, now, let’s see,” Mom said, looking at her watch. “I know where the Merchandise Mart is. It’s a quick train ride away, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you go to your tax appointment — it’s important and won’t take too long — and I’ll go to the Merchandise Mart and get the mail. Just come to me when you’re done. There are good places to sit and work there and I have plenty I can do while I wait for you. It’s perfect!”

Pretty much, yeah. That’s Mom for you.

When I got to the Mart —I’ll tell you about the tax appointment another time — Mom showed me the huge bag of mail and I just couldn’t believe it. A big canvas totebag full of mail is truly my bliss. I dove right in and of course every letter I opened I had to tell Mom about. She was editing a friend’s manuscript and trying to concentrate but it only took a couple letters before we were both marveling and laughing and getting weepy and I said, “Mom, you’re in this thing, now. Get to reading.”

Sharing the stories with Mom made the whole thing sweeter. We both read everything. I hope you don’t mind the slight change in judging; the final decision is mine and I think it made the whole thing more fair, having a second pair of eyes. I’ve decided there is a winner and two runners up. That announcement and more on the essays — much more — to come.

You people. You people are extraordinary. And I think of everyone who didn’t enter!

*it’s enough

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.

From The PaperGirl Mailbag (And the PaperGirl Retreat?)

Mail from The Netherlands. How cool is that?? Letter: Marloes, Scan: Me.
Mail from Marloes from the Netherlands! How cool is that?? Letter: Marloes, Scan: Me.


Yesterday, I went to the mighty Merchandise Mart to pick up the PaperGirl mail.

I walked the whole way from school to the Mart and I was glad I did. The day was fine, the Chicago River looked pretty good, and there was a man on the Wells Street bridge smoking a cigar when I passed. (I must admit: I like the smell of a man’s cigar when I’m in a city, crossing a bridge, going to pick up the mail.) And when I got inside the Mart, I felt happy. After all, I have a key to a mailbox that will never contain a gas bill or a credit card statement, only glorious mail from people who like this blog. People like Annabelle, Richard, Katherine, Leah, Ellen, Lorel, Marloes, Deborah, and Liz.

Where do I begin?

Remember a little while back when someone suggested there be a PaperGirl retreat? Or was that me who thought it up? I can’t remember, but let me tell you: That idea keeps rolling around in my brain and I like it rolling around. When I opened the fabulous letters in this last batch, the idea of a P.G. retreat rolled up to me again for a totally selfless reason: You people should meet each other. You really should. The letters I have here in a box at the foot of my desk are written by such interesting, funny, neat people. You’re like, pre-BFFs. Trust me.

I keep fantasizing about what a PaperGirl retreat would be. It would be a quilting/writing retreat. I’d teach patchwork and writing. You could write about your quilts. You could put words on your quilts. You could just write about your life and then, when that got really hard, you could just go sew. That’s like my entire life. And along with workshop instruction and learning and fun, we’d go to the Art Institute and look at art and have some fabulous dinners downtown. We would drink really good coffee at breakfast and we’d go see a show or something at night. But the night wouldn’t go too late because I turn into a pumpkin.

Wouldn’t that be kind of great? I really love the idea of doing a workshop weekend that blends quilting and writing. Look, you heard it here first: If there’s interest, I can schedule a phone call with the one and only Carmen and we could at least think through logistics. How hard could it be? I’ve been teaching patchwork and writing long enough. I’ve been living in Chicago long enough. Hey, Rita and Lily had fun with me — my first testimonials, perhaps!

Anywhoo, it wouldn’t be a PaperGirl Mailbag post without sharing some mail, so let’s have it. Tonight, not a lace swatch or Italian linen (I haven’t forgotten about that!) but a poem, written by the irresistible, one-and-only Leah. It might seem boastful to post this poem for everyone to see, but I can’t resist the opportunity to share its charms, Leah. Rhyming “Wonder Woman-y” and using the word “gravel”? Seriously? Leah, you leave me no choice.  Ahem:

In Chicago’s a sewist named Fons,
With talent to rival magic wands:
She enjoys frequent travel
O’er land, sea, and gravel
She just went to see Claus (not Hans.)

Her interests are varied and many,
Her life’s more busy than any; 
Creating and planning,
Studying and cramming,
She’s a little bit Wonder Woman-y.

From Chicago, New York, or D.C.,
She writes for all others to see;
Her adventures in life
All the joy, all the strife,
On her excellent blog, th’ ‘Ol P.G.’

Reading it’s always a pleasure,
A favorite use of my leisure;
It brightens my days
In so many ways
It’s fun, insightful — a treasure!

That came in the mail! Can you believe it? Amazing.

One last thing: Of course I love to get poems (and hats and chocolate from Seattle and drawings) but I must tell you that this mailbox thing is really for you, too. It’s good to write a letter to someone. It feels good. Don’t worry about writing it “well.” Don’t worry about the perfect card. Just write to me. You might discover something.

PaperGirl Mailbag: Marshall Field’s Lace.

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag 6
Sherry's lace, via my scanner.
Sherry’s lace, via my scanner.


Not all the ideas I have are good. I’m not always cool, not always winning. There was the time I took a shower in New Orleans and didn’t put on new jeans and my underpants fell out of my pants in front of everyone. And when I wiped out at the pizza place in the Portland airport and flinged* wine all over the whole world, that was lame. But sometimes… Sometimes I hit gold.

The PaperGirl mailbox. Now there was a great idea.

You people just need to get out of town, okay? Just get out. Get right on out of town with yourselves. I have with me now a stack of the most incredible, awesome, fabulous letters you have ever seen in your life. Phyllis, Mark, Dottie, Joan, Karen (Kater!!), Catherine, Annabelle, L—, and Lindsey (we’ll get to you in the next PaperGirl Mailbag post, missy) you all just have to get out of town with these letters! I waited till I had a moment’s peace and then I sat back in the good recliner that I only use for very special occasions and read each letter with great relish. I had a glass of prosecco while I did it and I even used a letter opener so as not to ruin anything, anything. For the record, there may be no gesture in the world that communicates “I am a grown-up” more fully than opening a letter with a letter opener. Well, opening a letter with a letter opener and then taking a sip of prosecco. I hardly recognized myself!

All the letters are extraordinary. Tonight, I must highlight the one that came from Sherry, in Indiana. When I opened the letter, there was a piece of beautiful lace inside. Here’s what the letter said.

Hey, Mary!

P.O. box at the Merchandise Mart? I love Chicago, too, and all the connections with Marshall Field, architecture, noise, energy, stuff.

Here is my Box Warming gift for you: lace cut from a 4-yard length obtained for Ethel Field’s wedding dress in 1891. (Marshall’s daughter.) The newspaper account says her dress was tulle, but what do they know??

Daisy Cornick, and old family friend of my parents and one-time floorwalker in the fabric department of Marshall Field’s State Street store fetched it when she worked there as a young woman. After my girls were born and a couple of years before she died in the early ’60s, she gave it to me along with other lace pieces — narrow trim, and shorter lengths — for their wedding dresses. Such a sweet gesture, but too gorgeous and fragile and historical to use. Aside from small pieces used for trim or embellishment, it’s been tucked in a box in my studio for cdecades, waiting for the perfect reason to whack off a piece and share!

Was any of the lace used for her dress? I don’t know. But the story is true. And fun.

Thanks for the PaperGirl blog!

Sherry B.

And then there was a little p.s., hand-written, about how Sherry has met my mom and how we have acquaintances in common because of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.

Sherry, thank you. I’m going to take this to my Micro/Macro fibers class next week! Or at least I’ll keep it with the other incredible textile bits I have been getting (along with their stories) from readers like you. I mentioned the idea of a PaperGirl Retreat someday (and I’m really letting my mind wander on that, by the way); but maybe there will be a PaperGirl Museum before long.

I’m saving all the letters and everyone who writes will get a hand-written note back. That’s a promise. I love hand-written correspondence!

*Nope. Not a real word, unless you’re me, in the Portland airport several months ago, turfing out with wine.