Tonight, because I am trying to take ‘er easy on the ol’ hemogoblins, a selection from the vast PaperGirl archive One year ago this very day, I wrote about my fear and love of hand quilting.
Before you click, though.
The passage of time blows my mind. I mean, I was just there, quilting that quilt, sitting in that chair, watching The Office, wondering what grad school would be like. (I got my acceptance letter in late May, so the grad school thing was a fresh development, thus I thought/dreamed/stressed about it a lot.) The calendar read June, 2016, and wow, does June, 2016 seem like a distant, different world from June 2017. There’s a lot that can hardly be recognized a year later,: personally, professionally, romantically. Politically. Things certainly look different, politically-speaking, in 2017. You may heave noticed.
My first hand-quilted quilt is one of my favorite quilts ever. It’s so bad. It looks like Sashiko, that’s how big the stitches are in some spots. But I love it so much. It’s mine and it’s my first. That’s enough. More than enough.
Your first attempt at anything won’t be “perfect”, so do it anyway. Do it imperfectly. I give you permission.
When my St. Louis-to-D.C. flight landed late last night, we taxied on the runway; once I fetched my luggage I taxied on home and then I taxied my batooski right into bed.
Tonight and tomorrow, that’s all we got in Columbia’s District before heading onto Chicago to tape twenty-seven episodes of Quilty in three days. That’s just how good we are, brother. The days are long but the days are good and this time, they’ll be extra hard and extra good because it’s my last shoot. Many of you know now that the magazine is closing but they’re keeping the show going and I’m sure the person they put in the host position will be fabulous and do a far better job than I ever did; it’s my sincere desire that this is precisely what happens.
In St. Louis, I met so many devoted Quilty fans. It’s hard to leave. It’s really hard to leave. If I think about it too long, I feel wistful and sorry. But there are projects on the horizon that swoop in and take that maudlin business away and that’s what I grab onto. I can’t talk about anything, yet, because nothing is final, yet; counting chickens before they hatch is like, the worst job you could ever, ever want. Tedious, stinky, and you’re probably gonna be wrong.
I’ll just do the shoot this weekend and go from there.
Friends! Countrymen! People afflicted with the desire to tear up perfectly good cotton fabric and sew it back together again! I have an announcement:
Dear Quilty is here and it is really good. (It’s a book.)
Working alongside Team Quilty, I selected some of the best, most beautiful, most approachable quilt projects (and one totebag project) from the past four years of Quilty magazine. The full patterns of the quilts are inside, there are tutorials and demos, there are links to Quilty video tutorials, and of course, Spooly is all over this thing, helping you out, being your pal, possibly getting in the way (adorably, of course.)
But it’s more, y’all. It’s more than that.
Dear Quilty was a way for me to tell the full story of the show, the magazine, the whole point behind Quilty, which was: Make a friendly landing place for beginning quilters. We cannot shame the people who don’t know what a bobbin is. We cannot snicker when a new quilter brings in a poorly made first attempt. We can’t ever stop learning from the beginner, either (that means you, Advanced Quilting Lady a.k.a. Quilt Policewoman. And no, there are not Quilt Policemen. They are always women. I don’t know why.)
In the book, you learn about the people who have made the magazine over the years. You get these great interviews with them and also with the Chicago film crew who has made the show with me since 2010. There are fan letters in the book, too, proving that Quilty has changed some lives, man! Pretty groovy.
Now that the magazine is going away and I’m leaving the show, this book is kinda extra special. Quilty the brand isn’t going anywhere, it’s just entering a new phase. But Dear Quilty is a record of what may be “vintage” Quilty? Maybe? That makes me feel old/too special for my own good, so let’s not say “vintage” at all. Let’s just say the book is great and you should get one immediately. I saw the first copy at my gig in Georgia and it turned out even more amazingly cool than I could’ve hoped for.
Within the next week or so, I’ll have a link to buy the book from me — psst… I’ll be doing some giveaways! Until then, ask your local quilt shop to order it for you and check in with ShopQuilty.com as inventory comes in. This one’s hot off the press.
I’ve been dragging my feet, writing the last Letter From the Editor for Quilty’s May/Jun ’15 issue. It’ll be tweaked before it’s in print at the end of April, but I’m happy with it for now.
The first issue of Quilty magazine came out the summer of 2011. As the magazine was put together, I remember knowing only two things for sure: Quilty needed to exist, and I needed to learn how to make a magazine really fast.
What you are holding is the last issue of Quilty magazine. With thousands of fans and a river of “I love you, Quilty! You taught me how to make quilts!!!” fan mail, it seems impossible. Quilty has made such an impact; isn’t it only getting started? Yes, but that start looks different than I thougt it would. More on that in a moment.
The reasons for closing a magazine are numerous and, frankly, rather boring; it’s all P&L spreadsheets, dry meetings, and examination of market data. Knowing that magazines close almost as frequently as restaurants is cold comfort to me. It takes a village to make an issue, but Quilty has been like my kid and now my kid is leaving home.
This is where I get Kleenex.
There’s no need to cry, though; Quilty is immortal. We have proof in letters, comments, pictures, and emails that hundreds and hundreds of people have learned to make quilts because of Quilty. Beginners everywhere — and not a few veterans — have been inspired to become that beautiful thing called “a quilter” because of a little magazine. Is Quilty really over? Hardly. For the people who learned by and from it, it will always be part of their story.
“Where did you learn to make quilts?” they’ll ask you.
“Oh, there used to be this wonderful magazine called Quilty. It was so great. It ran great patterns and there were all these how-to’s and tons of quilt history and context. It closed, but I have all my back issues. Wanna borrow them?”
And then another quilter is born and another. We are all stitched together, a big patchwork quilt. Quilty has been and will always be just one patch. Thank you for reading.
About a month ago, I announced (publicly, though that sounds too fancy) that I was leaving Quilty magazine as editor. I had made my decision in August and, painful as it was, it was the right thing to do.
A number of weeks ago, my publisher informed me that Quilty magazine is closing.
The May/Jun ’15 issue will be the last issue. Me and Team Quilty are putting the finishing touches on the Mar/Apr ’15 issue now and that will be out at the end of next month. Then it’s just the one more issue in the spring and poof: gone with the wind.
When I go to speak at guilds and quilt events around the country, I will inevitably be approached by a smiling, happy woman with a copy of the first issue of the magazine.
“I’ve loved this magazine from the start,” she’ll say. “It’s so friendly. It’s so easy to read and honestly, this magazine has taught me how to make quilts. I love the articles, I love the tips, I love the videos that show you how to do everything… Thank you, Quilty!” I’d thank her for reading, thank her for buying, and I’d joke that she was smart to get the first issue, as it’s clearly going to be a collector’s item. I don’t want to inflate the value of a niche market periodical, but this might actually be true, now.
Quilty is just a magazine in a sea of magazines. Except that it isn’t. Before Quilty, there was never a magazine devoted entirely to the beginner quilter. It was my vision that this absolutely had to exist if we (quilters and the quilt industry) wanted to bridge a strange, frightening gap that is occurring for the first time in American history — namely, that we have a culture that still values quilts and we have great numbers of people who want to make them, but we have now and will have forever more a culture that does not teach sewing. We are a service industry. We are not manufacturers. For all intents and purposes, manufacturing and fabrication in America is over. We’re not going to start sewing our own clothes again and that means there aren’t sewing machines in the home.
So for the women and men who want to make a wedding quilt for their best friend in the whole world but who haven’t the faintest idea that you have to plug in the foot peddle or wind a bobbin to sew a stitch (“What’s a bobbin?”) there simply has to be a landing place for them, a world of with-it, clear, and yes, dammit, entertaining how-to content where they can get beginner instruction and actually reach their goal: to make their best friend a gift that is an actual, physical manifestation of love, that will last generations, and that will secure their place as the Person Who Gave The Best Gift Ever, BAM.
Quilty was that place, that friendly landing place. Surely, there will be something that will fill the gap when Quilty closes. There has to be. It’s not like Quilty was or is only one place for a beginner quilter to get help, thank goodness. But there was only one Quilty. Only one Spooly. Only a short period of years where being a little bit weird and a little bit funny actually happened in a quilt magazine.
I think the Quilty videos will continue after I leave; I’ve got one more shoot to do in April, then it’s no longer my sea-faring vessel to man, so I don’t know. There are thousands and thousands of fierce Quilty fans out there. I see their letters, I meet them, I watch the ticker tick up on the video views. You matter, friends, even if those fabulous, glossy pages will be no more. Keep learning, keep asking questions. Tell the Quilt Police to go play in traffic. Make the quilts you want to make.
And buy up a bunch of past issues. Let’s start that eBay bidding war.
The only way to keep warm when I fly into Chicago on Wednesday is to come in hot, so that’s just what I plan to do. I’m finishing up preparations for the Quilty shoot and things look good from here.
We load into the raw space on Thursday. The shoot begins on Friday and will go three days. We’ll be taping the first half of Season Five for 2015. There is a new Quilty show every week online at QNNtv.com. We don’t take holidays off, so that’s a full 52 episodes a year. We tape 26 episodes at both shoots to fulfill that number.
I come up with all the content, I direct and oversee any demo materials that I don’t I personally sew myself; I select guests, write motion graphics copy, and host all 52 episodes, as well. (Guests are frequent, but they’re never on the show on their own — my goofy mug is there every time, for better or worse.) Every episode I plan has to coordinate with Quilty magazine, as well, and all of this is like herding cats, except that the cats are covered in grease and once you actually catch them, you have to give them eardrops.
Maybe it’s not quite that hard. But it’s tricky, is what I’m saying. It’s complex.
Listing all my duties and making teaching quilting on camera sound like the Human Genome Project is perhaps causing you to make a face at me. I don’t blame you, but wait, because I’m not finished.
All that I do is a drop in the bucket of all the things that must be done to make Quilty, both the show and the magazine. The man- and womanpower behind the shoots is epic. Not in terms of numbers — we have a core team totalling six, including me — but in terms of technical expertise and logistical slam-dunkery. Our unit is a machine at this point because we have made lots of mistakes over the years and this has made us better at our job. Quilty is antifragile.
The magazine has far more hands on deck than the show. A magazine, even a bi-monthly quilt enthusiast magazine, has its own nervous system. Limbic system. Subway system.
If you are a Quilty fan — especially if you’re a fan who has been with us from the beginning — you’re not really a fan of the show. You’re a fan of the work. And people do the work. So you’re a fan of the people. And that’s very sweet.
Greetings from just outside of Denver, Colorado, the city that boasts 300 sunny days a year! It was raining when I arrived yesterday, but I’ll let go.
I was inside a production studio and very much on camera all day today, filming online courses for Craft University (I’ll share details soon; these will be cool) and I also filmed one of three lectures I’m doing for F+W Media, which will be available online when they’re all done in post-production. The how-to classes are awesome but I have to say: man, am I stoked about these lectures.
I’m calling the series the “While You Sew” lectures. You see, when I’m sewing at my machine, I like some audio/visual company — but I don’t want anything that requires me to pay close attention. I don’t want an actual plot. I tried watching Mad Men once when I was making patchwork. Two things happened: 1) I did not track what was happening on Mad Men; 2) I made lots of mistakes in my patchwork and therefore did not enjoy myself. Because you can’t actually do two things at once; this is what they tell us. Our brains switch back and forth and it’s lousy.
Instead of watching drama shows, I fire up YouTube and find interviews with interesting people (thanks, Charlie Rose!) or I find lectures (TEDTalks work) or I’ll really dig deep and find long CSPAN BookTV clips with intriguing authors. (Documentaries are good, too.) This kind of media is edifying and pleasant but I don’t have to watch as much as listen and if I miss something, I can go back and hear it again or simply not worry much about it because it’s not like someone really important to the storyline just got shot or maimed. I don’t want anyone to get shot whether or not I’m paying attention.
Well, being the quilt geek that I am, nothing would please me more than to sew while listening to interviews with quilters or find a series of lecture from quilt experts. There are a handful of good documentaries (I praise them in the lectures I’m taping) but they’re not online. Really, there’s very little in the way of quilter interviews, documentaries, lectures, talks — any of that. A sea of how-to, but no geek stuff.
What to do? Make some, I reckon.
And so I am. We are. It’s happening. The lectures are around 30-40 minutes each. The visuals are awesome. The lectures are funny, they’re packed with fascinating information about quiltmaking in America, they clip along. They’re casual, but boy, are they researched. Honestly, I have worked so hard on these things, it’s reminding me of writing the book.
As soon as I know when they’ll be available, you’ll know. I’ll be selling them through my site, here, sort of: you can click a link and be taken to the site where you watch/download them. A lot of the projects I’ve been working on are set up so that if you “click-through” my site to get to the purchase page, I make some money on that. It’s a bit gross to talk about it but I’ve decided I have to mention it because I am trying to earn a living for goodness’ sake. Again, more info coming later and I so hope this sounds like fun to you. It’s nearly killed me, getting them done during the move in order to be ready to record this week, but here on my hotel bed tonight, I am feeling slightly more like a human being and less like a law student the night before the bar.
I’m in St. Louis, attending a hosted event for a group of about 40 bloggers, designers, “sewlebrities,” industry folk, etc. to network, make stuff, and eat lots of snacks. In other words: I am surrounded by talented, hardworking, creative women, all of whom need snacks to keep going. It’s not a bad way to spend two-ish days, even with all that’s going on with work and (cough, cough) moving to Manhattan.
Did I really do that? Did I really move to Manhattan?
The event is being hosted by BabyLock, a sewing machine company owned by the attractive, beneficent Tacony family. I like BabyLock a lot because they make really, really great sewing machines, but I also like them because they believed in me. Back in 2010, I had an idea for a show called Quilty and they were the first company to sign up to underwrite. You always remember your first sponsor. (They all real pretty n’ nice, too.)
There are activities and learning stations and all kinds of cool things going on here, but tonight the organizers outdid themselves: 15 minute massages. The two people they hired to come in and administer these complimentary massages were, I have deduced, actually Sent By An Angel Of The Lord. Who knew the best back-and-shoulder massage a gal can get is in a suburb of St. Louis in the back room of a sewing education center? This is why you travel.
My turn came. I heaved my aching body into the room and slumped, weary, weary, into the chair. Once I got my face comfortably smashed into the puffy donut, Dawn began to work me over.
“Oooo, waaaaow,” Dawn said, somewhere down at my lower back. “You are…waaaaaow, you are reeeeeally tight.” I got the impression Dawn doesn’t speak in elongated syllables as a rule, but that the state of my back was just that horrifying.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, muffled. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks.” But I didn’t go into the six work projects due Monday, the move to New York City, or that I’m putting at least two or three Southwest Airlines employees’ kids through college at this point. Because I don’t like to talk during these things. You can’t waste a second.
“Hooo-hoo! Hooo-weeeeee,” Dawn said, and whistled low. “Yap, yap. Yeeeah. That’s tight.” And then she said, “Ya poor thing,” and clucked her tongue.
At that I could’ve cried, partly because she had her thumb jammed into my shoulder blade and partly because whenever someone sincerely says, “poor thing,” I get sad. We’re all poor things, aren’t we. It’s hard work being alive.
The fifteen minutes galloped away and zap! Massage over, next person’s turn.
I have, at various times in my life and for various lengths of time, seen a psychiatrist. Results varied: I’ve been aided, I’ve been nonplussed, I’ve ended up more confused — and I’ve been poorer as a result, for sure. I hate to sound provincial, but I’m starting to think a regular massage is gonna do more for a person than a shrink — this person, anyway. Look: I have never, ever left a massage feeling worse than when I went in; it’s a hey of a lot cheaper, and when Dawn goes, “Hooo-hoo! That’s not good,” you know it’s fixable, whereas a shrink won’t even say that, even if he’s thinking it, and how’s he gonna fix it, anyway?
I’m in Cleveland at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo show. I’ll be teaching today; tomorrow, I’ll teach again and then give a lecture. If you’re in the state of Ohio, you should do the following immediately:
1. Eat a buckeye
The candy, I mean! Not the sports fan, tree, chicken, or passenger train that also use the term “buckeye.” Eating a passenger train… What’s wrong with you??
2. Drive to the OSQE show.
It’s at the I-X Center. I don’t know what I-X is for, but is there any better place for us all to find out than in the actual I-X Center? Clearly, there is not.
3. Come find me!
I’m wearing pants, shoes, and a top. And earrings. And a necklace. And bra and underwear, naturally, and I’m deodorized and flossed. Can’t miss me. Shouldn’t miss me, really. We can rap about the tip sheet up there. It’s full of good information for beginner quilters of all ages and stages.
4. Gimme one of those buckeyes.
I smell peanut butter on you. You’re holding out. C’mon, man, hurry up… No, just do it quick! Just be cool! Aright, aright. Now we’re talkin’… Mmmm…
I have so enjoyed sewing at The Yarn Company over the past few weeks. I’ve nearly completed my latest quilt for Quilty, a string quilt I’m calling “Majesty,” due to all the royal purple fabrics. A string quilt, if you don’t know, is a quilt made by sewing long strips (“strings”) of fabric to paper foundations. You sew, trim, and then tear the paper off the back of the units you’ve sewn. You sew the units together to make blocks, and from the blocks, you make the quilt top, and so on.
There is a myth that quilters are patient. It’s the opposite. We are extremely impatient. We must forever be doing something with our hands. We finish a quilt and immediately start the next one (many of us, including me, begin our next project before we finish what we’ve got going.) We look for efficiencies everywhere. We strategize. There is no meandering, no lackadaisical approach. We make patchwork and quilt quilts to calm ourselves down, not because we are some breed of serene creature with nothing better to do than sit around and (slowly) make “blankets.”*
I’ve calmed myself down in the middle of Manhattan by working on “Majesty” at my sewing machine. If I could’ve spent hours and hours more doing so, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick. (A more optimistic way to frame it: I might’ve been sicker had I not enjoyed many hours of sewing.) The whirr of my Babylock, the snic! of my scissors cutting thread; these are the sounds of patchwork science that have soothed my cerebrum when it’s been burnt crispy by the sirens and the subway. There are dishes to do, always, and dinner and cookies to make for myself and Yuri. There are phone calls and emails and fires — all of it important, none of it more important than anyone else’s phone calls, emails, and fires. All of this is laid down when you sew. You really can’t do much else when your foot is on that pedal.
My mom likes to say this:
“When I was a young mother, working on my first book, it seemed crazy to make quilts in my ‘spare time.’ But I loved making patchwork and quilts because they stayed done. The dishes didn’t stay done, the laundry didn’t stay done. There was always more homework, there were more bills… But a quilt block stayed done. You could say, ‘I made this’ and enjoy it forever.”
Chicago will see very little of me; the remainder of March is all we have together. I go to Cleveland, Iowa, Florida, Lincoln, and somewhere else before coming back to NYC in early May. Nothing stays done. Plane tickets don’t get framed. Suitcases don’t stay packed or unpacked. Kisses are like matches. Sandwiches are consumed. But “Majesty,” when it’s done, will stay done. And someone will cover up under it one day and see the Quilt Charm on the back. It will read, “Made by Mary Fons, NYC, 2014. Done.”
*Don’t call them “blankets.” Your CB2 knit throw is a blanket. We make quilts.
I whipped up a baby quilt top for the magazine to show in a Quilty magazine tutorial. “Whipped up” is a kind way to put it. “Threw it together on my way out the door” is a better way to put it. And I made some errors. No, really. Look:
I taped it up in a box, mailed it to Iowa. A week or so later, I got this email from the Quilty managing editor, whom I adore:
“Hi Mary — We were getting ready for photography, and we noticed there were several places in the baby quilt top that you sent us that the seams don’t match up. While we are not trying to be the quilt police, we thought it was important to address this. We need to do very detailed shots of the quilt top and we can’t photograph it without showing the places that are not aligning. I can send it back to you if you are going to use it, just let me know.”
Here are a few things I think we can all take from this course of events.
1. Quilty (and all Fons & Porter titles) have high standards.
2. Just because you’ve made a passel of quilts, it doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.
3. Slow down, cowgirl.
4. COWGIRL! I SAID SLOW DOWN!
5. Be kind to yourself.
6. Were you drinking?
I’d like to expand on #5 for a moment. When this happened, I had a mini-meltdown. It wasn’t a crying, kicking, screaming meltdown, I just had a horrified look on my face, silently wept for about 3 minutes, and felt like an utter and complete failure. Too much? Well, considering it was my birthday and considering the fact that I teach quilting on national television, I think I reacted appropriately.
But after that, I couldn’t let it go of how dumb I felt. That seam? That’s like, really off. It wasn’t the only one. And I didn’t even notice. Sure, I had ninety things to do, but so does everyone else, and besides: I had thatparticular thing to do and I didn’t do it too well, did I? I felt like a sham. I felt like a fraud.
Several days later, when I was still hearing the word “fraud” in my head over and over, I finally did stop myself and say, “Self, this has gone on long enough. ‘Fraud’? No. Hasty? Absolutely. In need of some perspective? Without question.” It wasn’t an immediate turnaround, but over the course of the next few days, the stung subsided, mostly because I vowed to be nice to myself.
This post is not about vindicating my rejected baby quilt top. It absolutely should have been rejected. This post about vindicating yours.
I’m a writer/editor working in the quilt industry: I see a lot of quilts. I see quilts with problems, both in terms of workmanship and design. I see quilts that are technically flawless but utterly lack soul. I see quilts that would never make it onto the pages of a quilt magazine in a thousand years because frankly, they’re quilts only a mother (or a child) could want. These quilts are all made for a reason. Sometimes that reason is for fame and fortune, sometimes it’s for fun, and the majority of the time, it’s for love.
Look, I read the blogs. I watch the tempests swirl about modern vs. traditional, this sewlebrity vs. that one, the fans vs. the naysayers of the latest trend, latest winningest quilt. I most definitely see people going back and forth about technique. You’d think it was their very soul at stake, sometimes, and all anyone said was “squaring off.”
If you’re going for publication or a job-job in the quilt industry, yes, you need to bring an A-game. But regardless of whether that’s a goal of yours, take the pressure off of yourself to be all things to all people, all the time. Maybe you’re more of a designer, not a blue-ribbon winner. Maybe every fabric combination you choose looks like the dog’s vomit, but MAN are you a crackerjack machine quilter. Can’t turn a binding that doesn’t look like it was chewed by your toddler? Well, fine, but your knack for solving Susie’s (and Joan’s and Polly’s) contrast problems make you the #1 go-to for such things while everyone else is scratching their heads.
Learn the craft. It’s more fun when you know how to do stuff well. Smart quilters say that again and again. I say it. But for heaven’s sake, be nice to yourself. I spent far, far too many hours in the dumps because I made one mistake and of course, I can’t make mistakes. Ever. Lemme tell you, learning to sew on national television was not easy and I thought I could weather any storm after that, but apparently, I can still be felled. And if the editor of a national quilting magazine can be rejected from time to time, you better not feel too bad about it, either, L’il Miss.