I’m composing a blog post about the legendary London fog — if you’re like me, it’s not what you think it is — but until then, I’d like to direct your attention to a little thing I put up on YouTube a couple days ago.
For the past couple years, I’ve been working a second job. My dream is to make a 10-part documentary series that tells the history — the whole history, in all its glory and complexity — of quilts in America. The story of quilts in America is the story of America itself, so I guess what I’m trying to do is tell the history of our country. It’s daunting, but I won’t give up until I do it.
From the start, the goal has been to pitch the show to a major streaming network, like Netflix, Amazon, etc. It’s essential that the beauty and cultural juggernaut that is the American quilt reach an audience that doesn’t already know about it. In increasingly digital lives, the tactile power of quilts is more important than ever: Quilts have been and will always be there for us — as long as we keep making them and valuing the people who do. (It’s in everyone’s best interest: Most quiltmakers give their quilts away, so if you’re hoping to have your own homemade, patchwork quilt at some point, hug a quilter today.)
Perhaps more pressing is the fact that our country is more divided than its been in a long time, and I sincerely believe that the story of American quilts can bring us together. It’s not a stretch. All kinds of Americans have made quilts for generations: rich and poor; Black, White, Brown, and Indigenous; in every corner of the nation, with fine or rough materials, with expert skill or with no sewing experience whatsoever, we have quilts in common. The quilt is a symbol of American ingenuity and the idea at the heart of our nation: each sovereign piece works with others to create a diverse, beautiful united whole that is far more powerful, together.
Under the direction of filmmaker Jack Newell (aka my brilliant brother-in-law), and with the financial support of Bee-Hive Productions, I’ve turned a few of my lectures on quilt history into what I hope are entertaining “shows” for YouTube. I’m calling it The Quilts Must Go On! because they have to; the title is a declaration as much as it is a kind of prayer. This little project is not the documentary; it’s just videos on the internet. But it’s been lots of fun to make.
I like to learn stuff and then share what I learned. Stuff is so crazy right now and has been so crazy. Maybe The Quilts Must Go On! will provide a distraction. Each episode is about an hour.
If you follow me on social media, you probably know that I’m in London. If you don’t follow me on social media and we don’t communicate IRL, London might come as a surprise. Heck, London is still a surprise to me and I’ve been here for two months.
There’s a lot to cover. But we have to start somewhere, and I’d like to start with social media. Let me put down my fish and chips. (Drops greasy wax paper into bin; wipes mouth with sleeve.)
This summer, after years of resisting all but the barest minimum of engagement on social media, I succumbed to her deadly embrace. For the past couple months I’ve been regularly posting content on Instagram, and it turns out that I like making short videos for the internet and captioning the pictures I post with more than brief, sterile descriptions and arbitrary timestamps, which is all I did with my Instagram photos for years.
I’ve not been completely out of the social media game, it’s true. I like Instagram because I genuinely enjoy taking pictures and it’s fun to throw my adventures into the mix with everyone else’s. It’s a good thing I like Instagram because at this point, you have to commit to at least one platform. My husband is a Twitter person, for example, but I never use it. So Eric, the Twitteriot, reads me breaking news and I, the Instagramarian, show him puppies. Neither of us do complicated dance breaks, as those are best left to TikTokerean youngsters who, judging by the volume of content they create, are very, very ready for the pandemic to be over.
But I never felt like I was doing Instagram — or any social media — correctly. In case you missed it, “doing” effective social media now basically requires a master’s degree. (I think I’m kidding, but it could be true.) Successful social media engagement is a scientific proposition. Or a militaristic one. Because if you want results, it takes a war-room approach: You have to tag things, always, and you’d better be cross-posting to all the platforms or you’re wasting your time. You have to use the right hashtags and follow others so they’ll follow you, but don’t just randomly follow anyone; you must be smart about the followed and the followers — and you need a lot of the second kind. No, like a lot. At all costs, you must not commit a cardinal social media sin in front of God and Mark Zuckerberg and everybody, because they will eviscerate you. What sin? It depends. And who is “they”? No one knows. It’s just them, and you’d better watch out because if they decide you screwed up, they will hate you. But who cares! It’s the internet. Everyone’s attention span has been worn down to a nub by this point. They’ll forget about it by tomorrow. It’s just social media! Have fun with it!
All this is vexing in the extreme, so my post volume has always been extremely low. Until recently, I never posted videos. And I’ve always been religious about writing as little as I could in any given caption or comment box. I mean, if you want to write 500 words on the internet, get a … blog.
Well that’s an interesting point, Mary.
Right, so about a month ago, I caught myself writing a paragraph’s worth of copy for a single Instagram caption. “This is a blog post,” I said to myself, looking up at the clock. I’d been at it for 20 minutes. “What are you doing?”
It appears that I’m still producing content on the internet, just in a different form. I’m not entirely comfortable with this arrangement, but I have to admit it reminds me of something.
From about 2001 to 2005, I was a hardcore performance poet, slamming my early-twenties heart out every Sunday night at Chicago’s legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, the birthplace of slam poetry, the cradle of slam civilization. The form has extreme specifications: A slam poet goes onstage in front of a captive audience and gets a microphone. That’s it. No props, no costumes. She does not have access sound cues or lighting changes. It’s just her and her poem. And the simplicity of that set-up, the restrictions imposed by it, that spareness, it shapes the work in a beautiful way. You, the poet, have nowhere to hide. You have to come out swinging because you are the show and your poems and your performance provide the drama, the humor, the set and the scenery. But a good slam poet shouldn’t need light cues or a soundtrack to evoke emotion: The words and the delivery should be enough — and when performance poetry is done right, it’s more than enough.
By the way, everything I just said I learned in real time. And after years in the solo performance trenches, I had to admit that I desperately wanted to play with some props. Anything, really. Plastic lobster. Paper hat. Peanut butter and jelly. Anything. I had so many ideas! Imagine what I could do with just one tiny sound clip! My kingdom for a sock puppet! I had the word stuff down well enough; I needed to advance to the next level of making work for the stage: blackouts. Stage doors. Sound effects. Maybe someone other than my damn self onstage for once.
So I auditioned for the Neo-Futurists — a prop-friendly ensemble if there ever was one — and for the next almost-six years, I had all the plastic lobsters a girl could want. I got my paper hat, my light cues, all of it. The work I was allowed to do with the Neos was full-color and required tremendous physical effort. There was so much material in every sense of the word. The two eras shared much in common (e.g., wild creativity, breathless excitement, incredible people) but if Neo-Futurism was abundance, slam performance was austerity, and both eras brought tremendous gifts.
I think PaperGirl is slam. And my social media content isn’t Neo-Futurism, exactly, but it’s definitely a space where I get to use props if I want to, or goof around with sound cues, or make as many set changes as I please. You could make the argument that I’d better use all of those things if I want to exist in the dripping, gaping maw of social media. And doesn’t that sound fun.
So, if you want to hang out with me on my Instagram page or on my Facebook page, that would be nice. You’ll get a peek at London, and at Eric, every once in awhile. I styled a photo shoot for Liberty, and I posted about that. I am posting pictures of London, a city I am deeply in love with, which is alarming. And I’m filming a lot of quilt-related video content and that makes me happy.
Most of the content is on Instagram but I try to make sure it’s cross-posted to Facebook. However much I advance in the social media game, I remain deathly allergic Facebook. It’s bad. Facebook makes my throat close up and my body gets all scratchy and puffy and then I basically die of anaphylactic shock and then I’m buried and then I rise from the dead and come back and put a 1,000-year curse on Facebook for its crimes against humanity and then, just to be safe — and since at that point I’m a sentient, powerful ghost — I melt all Facebook’s servers and turn the resulting river of boiling plastic into a sweet, clear, babbling brook, which becomes a home for magic ducklings who grant me three wishes.
Oh, look: I have a chunk of fish left and a few chips.
I’ve been wanting to ask you something for a long time, so it’s exciting to finally get the opportunity. It’s a three-part question:
Have you been quilting or otherwise engaged in the quilt world for more than 30 years?
Did you take pictures?
Will you show me?
Show me the rounded-edge Kodak prints, the polaroids, the slides — I love it all. If it’s got your personal quilt history in it, I’m interested, and I want you to tell me about the pictures, too: Who are the people? Where were you? What year was it? And what was she thinking with that haircut? Things like that.
Here’s an important note: While I’m interested in quilt history from the big bang right on up to five minutes ago, I’m specifically looking for quilt-related photographs of people with their quilts taken from roughly 1940-1990.
That 50-year span is where I’m spending major research time for a number of projects. I can comb through this or that archive, and I frequently find things in databases and so forth, but asking you to share pictures is way better because you’re a real-life person who can, you know, talk to me. A citation can’t talk. Besides, I think this is going to be super fun.
I’m trying to think of things you’ll ask so that I can answer you ahead of time. Let’s see how I do:
I have pictures of all the quilts I ever made! When do I start?? Wait, wait! I love that you documented all the quilts you made but I am not looking for pictures of quilts by themselves.I am looking for pictures of people with their quilts. Making them, showing them, sleeping under them, presenting them, hiding under them, waving them like flags, cuddling up in them, helping sew them, using them for oil rags in the garage — all of that, any of that and more. Picture of you and the quilts in your life. That’s what I’m after. The photo up top is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Does this make sense?
Got it. Now, reassure me what you’re doing with these. These photos are my property. I want to look at these photos for my own edification and research. If there comes a time when I say, “This photo is incredible and I would like to use it for [insert project here]”, then I will contact you and we will both enjoy filling out many forms. Consider these words our very public, very binding contract: Whatever photos you share with me go no further unless we go further together. Look, it’s possible a hacker could get into my computer and start flinging pictures of you sewing in ’72 with Jan and Marla at the old house on Sycamore Street, but this would be out of my control. I do not think anyone will do this.
I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for years for someone to ask to see my “Krazy Kwiltin’ Daze” photo albums. I have scanned a lot of my photos already. Where do I send the pictures?
If there’s a tidal wave of photos (!) there will need to be another system, but for now, scan your pics and email me at mary @ maryfons . com. Attach as many as you like. You can put “Photos” in the subject line. Alternately, you may put in the subject line the kind of ice cream you like best. I’d like to look at an email box full of ice cream flavors, wouldn’t you? I encourage you to use this option.
But, but … I don’t have a scanner. Or maybe I do, but I don’t know how to use it. I have so many photos! I hate technology. Now what?
I was afraid you’d ask this. I hate technology, too. I think you have to ask someone at a Walgreen’s or a FedEx-Kinko’s to help you? I suppose it would work to take a picture of a picture and email it to me from your phone. But this might be a miserable task, since I’m asking for information along with the picture. Speaking of information …
What kind of information do you want? I forgot to put the milk away last night, so I hope you don’t expect me to remember names and exact dates on a lot of these pictures. I left the milk out, too. Just do your best. Try to identify the people in the picture. Tell me where the photo was taken. If anything, do try to remember the year, even if it’s a rough guess. But don’t sweat this: I’m not doing genealogical research; this isn’t forensics. Just gimmie the gist.
The idea of this makes me happy, but I fear that I will feel sad while I’m doing it. It makes me not want to do it. I know. It’s hard to go through old photos, sometimes. People have passed away. Everyone 25 years ago was 25 years younger. Yes, nostalgia may have its way with you. It always has its way with me. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Stick those photos back in the drawer if it’s too weird. I’ll survive!
What else? I have this fantasy of sitting and looking at humble photo after humble photo of people and their quilts during this timespan. I’m hoping I’ll see a picture of kids in the ’80s making a quilt fort; I’m prepared to drool over a photo of a sew-in at a college dorm; I’d love a black and white shot of a protest quilt of some kind; I’d just die and go to heaven if one of you sends me a picture with someone smoking while quilting, but this would surely be too good to be true.
Whatever you send, whatever you remember, thanks for being there.
I have been a little relaxed about letting you all know when there’s a new Quilt Scout column up. But why?!
After all, this Scout continues to keep the home fires burning over there at Quilts, Inc., opining about all sorts of quilt-specific items twice a month. Besides, she’s been filing rather sparkling content of late, darnit. Most of the time, when I turn in my work to the (rakish) Bob G. and (steadfast) Rhianna G., I say, “This is my favorite column, yet, you guys!!” but lately, I’ve meant it even more.
If you go to the Quilts, Inc. Scout page, I guarantee you’ll find several pieces worth your time. What will likely show up first is my piece examining the similarity between music “zines” of the 1990s and the early publications of the late-20th-century American quilt revival. Fascinating stuff. The column I turned in last week might be up by the time you click, though, which is just as groovy: I offer tips for taking great quilt style photography. Trade secrets!? You bet.
Regardless of what comes up on the homepage, all my columns, most-recent first, are linked on the left of the page. These pieces shall surely provoke and entertain. Now, I mean “provoke” in a good way, as in “provoke thought” or “provoke reflection”, though I have been informed that several of my columns — presumably the post critiquing feminism/quilting and the one about the Smithsonian article — elicited angry letters! Yes! Several people were miffed and let their miffs be known in emails (okay, two) to my bosses. Well, I like that very much. Writing and/or reading about quilting shall never be dull because the quilt is alive and well and complicated. Let the discourse live!
See you at the Scout. And you know, speaking of feedback … If you like what you read and want the Scout to keep scouting — forever in service to you — let Quilts, Inc. know. We all need a little encouragement, even a fearless scout.
I’m in Knoxville with Merikay Waldvogel. There, I said it.
Yes, here to visit the legend herself for a research project I’ve got going. This blog post, in fact, is brought to you by the Wald, as I like to call her: I left my laptop at her house and she brought it to me at my hotel. While we can all appreciate the Wald for her tireless research and quilt scholarship, we can love her eternally because she is a woman willing to hop in her car at 8:30 p.m. and bring this girl her laptop. She is a pathetic creature without it. Thank you, Merikay.
While I was waiting for La Wald to deliver the package, I leafed through an issue of NeedleCraft Magazine. Merikay lent me a few issues to look at tonight before we meet back up tomorrow.
“Hm,” you say, “NeedleCraft. No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of NeedleCraft. Sounds intriguing. Is it new?”
In fact, the magazine is quite old. The publication was founded almost 100 years ago and closed around the start of WWII. If Merikay was with me right now, she could tell us specifically, but I can tell you that NeedleCraft was (is) beautiful. It’s bigger than your standard tabloid (11” x 17”), for one thing; I don’t have a tape measure, but I think this sucker might be as big as 13” x 20”, which is pretty freakin’ big. The font style on the coated newsprint is delicate, exact. The printing is fine; all the illustrations clear and crisp. The cover is the best part: full-color, lavishly illustrated, on glossy paper. And of course the content is what you’d think it would be: items, articles, patterns, news, etc., all related to various needle arts, e.g., embroidery, crochet, crewel, beading, and quilts, naturally.
There are also ads, and one of them is just too, too great not to share verbatim. I can only share the copy, of course; you’ll have to get the September 1928 issue of NeedleCraft and turn to p. 18 to see the visuals for yourself. Just look for the Art Nouveau illustration of a woman putting face powder on herself in a mirror … that a man is holding, I think? It is very sexy and weird. For now, ladies, I ask you: Do you have … Magnétisme???
Now … she is gay, fascinating!
WOMEN marveled — men were intrigued. Overnight the pale calla-lily had turned flaming peony! Now she was gay, enchanting, magnétique!
She had discovered the allure of a fragrance. Now her talc, her toilet water, her sachet, her face powder, all breathed the parfum of love … of romance … of melting moods — Djer-Kiss the unforgettable fragrance — the parfum that adds to mere prettiness the charm and mystery of magnétisme??
I’m on the road for Quiltfolk’s eighth issue. It’s crazy because Issue 07 : Louisiana is shipping now and is on newsstands now, but I’m working on Issue 08.
The bad news is that I can’t tell you just yet what the next state in the Quiltfolk cycle will be, but the good news is that I will be able to tell you soon. Quiltfolk, in case you didn’t know, is a quarterly magazine that investigates quilt culture in America state by state. The magazine has had the policy of not letting the cat(s) out of the bag(s) about what state or region we’re focusing on next, but that is about to change. We’ve decided to “announce the season” ahead of time, an idea for which I strongly advocate.
But I don’t want to start letting cats out of bags before I huddle with my team, so for now, I can’t tell you where I am at this exact moment. No, all my cats are in bags. Some of these cats are in paper bags; others, shopping bags. One cat is happy inside a potato sack, which isn’t technically a bag, but when you have this many cats in bags, it’s really — okay, this is getting strange. And disturbing?? Who is putting these cats in these bags??
No cats were harmed, physically, spiritually, psychically, or metaphorically, in the making of this post.
Remember when I did that survey this winter for a big paper I had to write? It was about quilters and feminism.
The survey wasn’t out to get data to support a point I wished to make. I didn’t want to make any kind of point — I just had questions. Almost without exception, zero quilters I have in classes or meet out there on the road talk about feminism. How come? What’s the deal about quilts being inherently “feminist” objects? Is that true? And what is feminism, anyway? I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think the best thing ever is to realize you’re interested something and then going after knowledge on the topic. So that’s what I did.
Maybe someday I’ll share my big, honkin’ paper on the topic, but it is very big and honks very loudly, which means it has a long bibliography. For a distillation of it, though, you can read my most recent Quilt Scout column! See? I take care of you.
Indeed, I do hope you do click this link and go read it. I think you’ll be surprised to see what I’ve been thinking about Oh, and the results of my survey aren’t included in the column, but here’s how all that shook out:
Are you a feminist?
62% = yes
27% = no
11% = maybe
*Note: One of my two lectures at QuiltCon 2019 is a lecture on this topic! Wow! Bad idea, but let’s go for it!
I just had to talk to you about this, face-to-sorta-face! Announcing Quiltfolk Patterns is very exciting and I hope you like what we’re making. You will be amazed at the price we’ve set. You will be amazed at who we got as our first Revival Quilt designer. I’m so excited for July 4th I can’t stand it. I fly to New Orleans tomorrow. I hope this video isn’t too long, but it’s my first time vlogging!
It was actually pretty fun and I didn’t have to type!
It’s not always obvious. But there do come times when you know you’ve broken from something.
For example, you know you’re leaving a job you have your last day. You know you’re breaking from something. When the calendar hits that day, you’re like, “Okay. I am no longer living that particular life.” It’s pretty weird; it’s hopefully good. Another example: You finish school. Or you have your first baby. In these cases, it’s like, “Woah, I just became not a student after being one for X years” or, in the case of the baby, “Woah, I am no longer a person who does not have children.”
I know that was a lot of double negatives up there, but I’m trying to drive home the “I’ve broken from something” point more than the “I feel like I’m starting something new” point.
Well, I have broken from something. And it has to do with quilts.
The moment I decided that I wanted to make a quilt, I became part of the quilt industry. This wasn’t at the urging of my mother. The company that owned my mother’s company were the driving forces behind getting Fons The Younger into the game. I was excited to be a part of it all, make no mistake. I’m not pillorying anyone; it made sense that a Fons daughter who wanted to get into quilting would be fun to bring onboard in a public way. It was fun, most of the time. I made a lot of work I’m very proud of and I built many valuable relationships as a result of my hard work over the years alongside my mother and her former company.
Regardless, my life as a quilter has been one lived under extreme creative pressure. Every quilt I ever made, for almost 10 years, was made for public consumption. My quilt, whichever one it was, was made for a magazine; a show on TV; a show online; my book, etc., etc. I made quilts that I loved, absolutely, and I developed a certain Mary Fons aesthetic, but I only made quilts that had a deadline. I made quilts not purely for love or for fun; not purely for just giving. I made quilts for patterns or tutorials. Always, the questions: What are the learning objectives in the quilt? What fabrics did I use? Did I use a special tool?
That is now over.
I’m making the first quilt I’ve made in two years. (Grad school kept me pretty busy.) My quilt is ugly. It is gloriously, gorgeously unfit for television. It is not acceptable, this quilt. It is mine. It is not for you, and in saying that it is not for you, I hope you can understand that that is the highest honor and praise that I can give you if you are a quilter: You know how important a quilt like this is, you know how important it is to sit at a machine and stitch and let the world fall away. I am making a quilt that will never be on television. It will not be in a magazine you’ve heard of. I’m making a quilt that is simple and perfect and ugly.
I have never loved a quilt more in my life. It is perfect. May you all make a quilt not ready for prime time.
When a person in magazine publishing says she’s “in press” or the magazine she works for is “going to press” it doesn’t mean she’s physically squished between two large ink rollers, nor does it mean she’s about to push a big red button that starts a Gotham-style newspaper printing press spewing out special edition headline news in a Batman movie montage. (You know what I mean, right?)
Being in press means you are under deadline to get all the content, the photos, the captions, graphics — every jot and tittle you see in a piece of printed matter — corralled onto the pages of the given publication before you must sign off on the thing and send it out into the world. (Then you get your big red button moment, sort of.) Making a printed anything that is good at all is an impossible task, so press is pretty scary. The more text, the more photos, the more captions, the more facts you have to check, etc., the scarier it is.
In press, all the things you didn’t know you were missing are revealed. For a 180-page quarterly journal like Quiltfolk, we have about five days of press. That’s five days of anguish as you go through page after page, caption after caption, looking for ways to make it better, make it prettier, make it make sense, and above all make it not wrong. It’s terrifying. Quiltfolk is way more like a book than a magazine (no ads, all those pages, all those photos) so I have a job where we make a big, fat book, four times a year. And by the way: We’ve been workin on the issue since April. It’s just that this is the crunch time. This is press.
Yes, we’re in press right now. And I was going to put up a post that said I couldn’t say hi at all because we’re in press. But I can’t help myself: I’m a publishin’ fool. Press is exhausting and frightening, but it’s also a blast. I love it. I love to make type move and I love to select a photo and I love to communicate this way. I’m not good at so many things and I’m not even that good at this, but I have ink in my veins, I really do.
I’ll tell you more about Issue 07 of Quiltfolk soon. Maybe even tomorrow, if those captions don’t take me out first.
Tonight was Sample Spree at Quilt Market. If you’ve never been to Sample Spree, allow me to offer a syllogism:
Sample Spree is to Quilt Market … as Black Friday is to Christmas.
It’s a shopping orgy-stampede, is what I’m saying.
At Sample Spree, vendors set up tables and sell special and sometimes limited-edition or otherwise promotional-only merch — at low, low prices — to Quilt Market attendees. Sample Spree is a big deal. It’s like a garage sale, except the people who are doing the garage sale are fancy and everything must go … except that it’s not old stuff, but new stuff. Let me put it this way: Sample Spree usually starts at 7 p.m. and the line starts a little after 4 p.m., every time.
Quiltfolkhad a table. We brought hundreds of copies of the magazine to sell cheap. We had our little credit card thing. We had our elevator speech. We were ready when the stampede began. And we sold out of everything in about an hour.
Of course, there are a few folks at Sample Spree that sell out in less than an hour; there are always a couple folks (ahem, Cotton + Steel) who have nothing to do 30 minutes after the doors open. But most folks sell for the full two hours and have to pack up what doesn’t sell. We were well stocked, though, and were still one of the first vendors to pack out of the convention hall with our empty boxes.
I’m telling you this for two reasons.
For one thing, it felt good to see that the project that I love so much is working. People get it. More people get it all the time. The world doesn’t need more ads, more noise. It needs more stories. That’s what I get to do with Quiltfolk. That’s pretty groovy.
The second reason I want to talk about Sample Spree is because you should’ve seen me and Mike and Bree, the company’s communications and customer service whiz. We were such a great team and I missed being part of a team! Certainly, I was part of a team at the paper; I loved that team. And I’m part of a team every time I go on location for the magazine. But there was something very … staff about tonight, very corporate in the best possible way. Me and Mike and Bree were doing the Quiltfolk thing together: pressing the flesh, autographing copies, making change for a $20, and so on. We had each others’ back.
The realization I’m done with school keeps coming over me in waves. I’m this person, now. I’m this working person. I’m part of a team. I’m working.
Something pretty cool happened last week: I got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection.
If you got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection, what would you ask him? After you asked him, would you hang up the phone and fall over on the floor and replay every second of the conversation in your mind to recall moments when you sounded like a dork or loser? Upon discovering that you probably did sound dorky at least at one point, did you console yourself that at least you interviewed Ken Burns??
That’s how it went for me.
Last weekend, Team Quiltfolk went to the Ken Burns quilt exhibit in Lincoln, Nebraska and we have worked tirelessly for the past 7-8 days (yes, I worked on it while working on my thesis) to bring you this free — FREE! — Quiltfolk Exclusive. It’s a 28-page, online-only PDF that you can by clicking this link and friends, it is very, very good. It’s been making the rounds on social media, but if you don’t use it much (like me), I hope this blog post gets to you.
Ken Burns was so nice. And the quilts are so beautiful. And Quiltfolk is so cool. I want this kind of wonderful experience all the time, this kind of blissful story to cover, but I know better. Some days, you just like, eat toast and you have to work on less-fun stuff.
When I tell you that the past two weeks have been agonizing, don’t be alarmed. It was a certain kind of agonizing that was not many other kinds of agonizing, thank goodness.
I was not nightly persecuted by owls, for example. No anvils dropped out of the sky at regular (or irregular) intervals. My fridge did not say disapproving things to me as she witnessed my eating habits. Can you imagine??
No, life was tough because I was on location for Quiltfolk last week and most of the week before and I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I didn’t tell you I was traveling at all! I just kept quiet as a mouse and had to post less often, partly because I worked 16-18 hour days and partly because I couldn’t make a peep about where we were. We like to keep the location of the next issue of Quiltfolk a secret for at least a little while, so I couldn’t write to you about any of the things I was seeing, the people I was meeting, the quilts I saw … !
How painful it was to not be able to tell you about when [REDACTED] brought out all the quilts made by [REDACTED] that are so world-famous. How it pained me to not share about when the lady at the [REDACTED] showed us the legendary [REDACTED] and we actually met [REDACTED], who made us a [CHEESECAKE] for lunch!
I think I can say cheesecake, can’t I? Guess we’ll find out!
But seriously: Going to [REDACTED] for Issue 07 was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had in my professional life. It was that good.
Issue 06 : Arizona is now on newsstands everywhere. It’s shipping to subscribers, available now. I’m so proud of the Arizona issue, so over-the-moon happy about the work we’re doing. Quiltfolk is oral history. It’s culture for quilters, for people. It’s getting stronger with every story because it must. The stakes are high, the time is now.
And when you see Issue 07 in a few months, you’ll see why I was in agony, trying to not let the [REDACTED] cat out of the bag.
On the phone today, speaking with a nice lady about a gig I’m doing in Maryland next week, I had a twinge of sadness that I can’t take on any more road gigs for the foreseeable future. We were going over the lectures I’m doing for the Bayside Quilters in Easton next week, and the lady said:
“We’ve done a lot of publicity already, so we can’t switch the lectures we selected, but I did have someone ask if we could have the AIDS Quilt lecture … Maybe next time!”
When we made the date for my appearance, of course, many months ago, the AIDS Quilt lecture didn’t exist. Now it does, and I very much look forward to the time when I can give it again. I know that lecture will have a long run, but as to when the talk will be presented — and to whom — we shall have to wait and see.
For now, here is the second part of the two-part Quilt Scout column in which I share a bit of what I learned in researching the AIDS Quilt. Make sure you read the first part first and then go on to the second. I hope you’ll feel enriched by the material as I was.
Did you miss my lectures at QuiltCon this year? Hey, it’s okay: I was so nervous before both of them, I almost forgot to put on pants.
The first lecture I gave in Pasadena was on the AIDS Quilt. If you did miss it, you’re in luck: I have written a condensed text version of it for Column #61 for the Quilt Scout, the column that I have written for Quilts, Inc. since 1999.
Psyche! I started writing the Scout in 2015. In 1999, I was a silly human sophomore at the University of Iowa, throwing (great) parties and scamming my way through Italian 2 homework while in rehearsal for the theater department’s Playwright’s Festival. Good times, people.
I take my work very seriously, especially when it comes to lectures. I spent hours and hours and hours and days and days in research for both lectures, which means that in the case of the talk I was scheduled to give on the AIDS Quilt, I spent a year reading about the AIDS crisis in America and beyond, the creation and life of the quilt itself, the backlash to the project, and everything else.
Measuring myself against all the other work I have done, I know my AIDS Quilt lecture tied for the Best Lecture I E’er Did Lect. It tied with the second lecture I gave at QuiltCon: “Modern Quilts: Roots + Frontiers.” (I’d ask you to inquire about hiring me to come speak to your group but I am off the road these days, what with all the things going on.)
Please head over to the Quilt Scout to read what I have prepared for you. Learning about the AIDS Quilt will enrich you as a quilter and as a citizen and as a human — and you think you know what you’re going to learn, but you’re not. You’re going to learn other things. Because that is exactly what happened to me. Yep. You and me. We’re the same. We are exactly the same.
Except … that these shoes are going to arrive at my building tomorrow and I think … I think I’m the only one on that one.
I’m not here for a vacation, not to visit a friend. I’m not here for a wedding or a funeral. I’m not here to attend Spring Quilt Market, though I will be here in May for that very event.** It would be lovely if I were in Oregon to visit a beau, but no, that’s not the reason I’m here. And of course, it would be normal if I were here for a guild or shop gig; after all, a good deal of the work I have done for the better part of eight years has been teaching/lecturing work. But I’m not here for that.
I’m in Portland for Quiltfolk, which has fast become part of my heart. I’ve been here since Thursday because we’re in press for Issue 06: Arizona,which means I’ve been putting in loong days to get the magazine as perfect as possible before we send it to the printer and go onto all the other business before us. Quiltfolk is why I’m here. And now that I’ve told you the reason, can I tell you something else? Something besides how much I love making magazines? (I love making magazines.)
BLOG READER reads Mary’s “I like Portland” line, yelps as if in pain, throws laptop/phone against the wall. Then:
BLOG READER: “Mary!! No!! You love Chicago! Chicago!! Don’t leave your home! Don’t move to Portland! What, are you kray?? Snap out of it! Go to sleep!”
I love that you know the whole story. Look, I need you to remember the whole story. You’re my alibi. This whole blog is a public record so that when I’m old and gray I can remember everything that happened, with corroboration. I also want you to know I love that you see what I know: Chicago is the place where I belong.
The way I see it, there’s the place where we are born, and there are places where we live. But there are only a few places — maybe even only one place? in the end? — where we truly belong. In my case, I was born in Iowa, and that’s always going to be special. I have lived in lots of wonderful places, viz. Iowa City, Manhattan, Washington, D.C. and I loved all kinds of things about those places and found parts of myself in all of them. But I belong in Chicago. Specifically, downtown Chicago. The Loop. My soul is home in the Chicago Loop. When I get on a plane to Midway or O’Hare, I smile this dumb smile, simply because I get to see the place again.
All that said, I’m going to be coming to Portland a lot more in the future, and I see these hills and bridges. I see the clouds give way to sun that gives way to clouds. I catch my reflection in the window of a Rite Aid drug store as I go for a coffee and I skip across the trolley rails and I think, “I could have a little place here, a pied a terre, for work … ” And the fantasy makes me feel alive.
Which is all I’ve ever wanted, whatever the place.
**At that point, barring disaster, I will have have my master’s degree. But I’m not counting chickens. Or
We’re sitting at a legendary cafe in Paris in the coolest arrondissement. I don’t know which one that is, but in this fantasy, you and I hang out there all the time. We’re so cool as Americans in Paris, we like don’t even remember the name of the street we’re on. In a good way.
It’s springtime. Arborial perfection is blooming all around us, hedges are full and lush again — it’s just ecstasy in flowers, in France, everywhere you look. The whole world is an impressionist painting. What I’m trying to say is that in this fantasy, the world is pretty and we are cool. Also, we are drinking the best cafes au lait of our lives.
Also we’re both fabulously wealthy and neither of us have health insurance problems or student loans (or whatever it is you’re stressing about right now.) On top of all that, you, my dear, have never looked better. And I tell you so.
“You’ve never looked better,” I tell you. You demure, but you know it’s true. Our extremely hot waiter is shamelessly hitting on me and he presently brings us our millefeuille. Our other waiter, who is the (equally hot) brother of the first waiter, brings us a more sparkling water.
“Will zere be anyzing else, mademoiselles?” they both say together, which is weird, but also charming.
“Non, non,” we say, and flit them away. Silly boys. We are women with things to talk about.
“Mary,” you say, and you lean in. “Everyone’s all aquiver about these lectures you gave at QuiltCon.”
“Oh?” I say, and stir a sugar lump into my cafe au lait, making sure my pinkie is very straight. “Is that the word on the chapeau?”
You look confused.
“Mary, a chapeau is a hat. Do you mean promenade, perhaps? The word on the promenade?”
I nod vigorously, nearly knocking off my chapeau.
“Indeed, that is the word out there, that you are quite the lecturer, Miss Fons. Of course, I’ve known it all along. You’ve been giving great lectures for years!”
“You are my best friend,” I say, and we cry and hug. I love you so much. What would I do without you?
“But Mary,” you say, as the hot waiter’s hot brother slips you his mobile number when he drops the check. “Mary, where can I see these lectures? I wasn’t at QuiltCon and you’ve decided to not take any more road gigs now that you’re Editorial Director of Quiltfolk and working on other Very Big Projects That Cannot Be Announced At This Time. Whatever shall I and the rest of your adoring public do?”
I pat your hand and point to the hot waiter’s hot brother’s phone number which is burning a hole in the tablecloth, that’s how hot he is; I tell you how the young man is clearly in love with you and this perks you right up.
Then I say, “My darling bosom buddy — and all my adoring fans. You’ll just have to wait a little while. I promise you I’ll be lecturing again soon. But not yet. And I can’t put a taped version of my lectures on the internet because it’s just not the same! I love lecturing almost more than anything, so you have to trust me that I’ll either be back on the road in some kind of incarnation or —”
“Or??” you say, and I can tell your heart’s beating fast. “Or what?!”
I sit back in my pretty chair in my pretty dress and smile a benevolently conspiratorial smile. “Or I’ll find a way to give you all my energy, information, passion, and humor in another form of media. You’ll see.”
“You beast,” you say, and throw your head back and laugh a throaty laugh. (In this fantasy, the two of us are always throwing our heads back and laughing throaty laughs.) “I do hear you’re quite funny,” you continue, and you reach for your sexy lipstick. A pause, and then:
“Mary, all I wanted to know was about your lectures and where I might be able to see or hear them. Why did you set us up as young, single women in Paris with all the flowers and the hot waiters and the crying?”
“Why on Earth not?” I say, and raise a forkful of millefeuille to my lips.
I’m back from Los Angeles, back from QuiltCon 2018. What an incredible show, what an incredible quilt culture we have in America. Just think of all the people and art and history and innovation and fun that comes together at a show like that. Incredible. Thank you to all who had anything to do with QuiltCon this year, from the people who made quilts in the show to those who just enjoyed the scenery from social media. We need everyone.
Things I did at QuiltCon included but were not limited to:
delivered a lecture on the AIDS Quilt (one of my best ever, I am satisfied to admit)
gave a tour of the AIDS Quilt panels I curated for the show
was interviewed by Angela Walters for Craftsy (thanks, Walters!!)
gave a lecture on the modern quilt and the future of it (*this also went well and I’ll return to the topic of the lecture in a future post)
interviewed people for Quiltfolk
meet’ed and greet’ed quilters at the BabyLock booth
saw amazing friends, fans, colleagues
drooled on quilts (not really, but close, okay maybe a little actual drool, oops, saarrry)
Things I did not do:
take many pictures
The funny thing about a big show is that you think you’re going to have time away from the computer and therefore be free, somehow, to “take it all in” and then — if you’re me — write about it as soon as you get back to your hotel room. But that’s never how it works out for this one.
Conferences like Quilt Market and QuiltCon are so totally packed with activity, so totally frenetic with action — to the point of being almost manic — that when it’s time to shut my hotel door at the end of the long day, doing much of anything is highly unlikely, especially since my “anything” frequently involves thinking thoughts, crafting them into halfway-well-written sentences, then posting them for public consumption. Historically, I’m just not able to do anything that complicated at the end of a “show day.”
For example, one night I got into my room, ate some cheese popcorn and fell asleep with the lights on with a faint cheese powder ring around my mouth. The next night, after two celebratory margs with the Quiltfolk photographer (I’m telling you, I crushed my lectures; I deserved to tie one on), I got into my room, washed my face, and proclaimed, literally out loud, “Who needs pajamas?” and fell asleep in my shirt.
Thank goodness QuiltCon is done until next year because a) I don’t need to be eating cheese popcorn alone; and b) everyone needs pajamas. Besides, if I neglect my blog, think how many wonderful, interesting, hard, tricky, beautiful, strange, funny, frightening, and surprising stories and anecdotes and observations will never reach you? I have to reach you with these things; otherwise, where will they go?
For example: On the way to Los Angeles, the Southwest flight attendant got on the PA and said:
“Welcome to Southwest Airlines, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Rick, your head flight attendant this afternoon. Joining me today is my daughter, Bethany, in the back of the aircraft, and my son-in-law, John, is here at the front with me today!”
Isn’t that wonderful? The flight family! A family of flight attendants had all been able to arrange their schedules to be on the same flight. I thought that was really nice. I had a nice feeling about that.
On or about April 1, the sixth issue of Quiltfolk is coming soon, everyone. The bad news is that you still have to wait a little bit; the good news is that she’s the best-yet issue of Quiltfolk and I’m honored to be a part of the team. It’s cool if you watch this teaser video like nine times while you wait for your copy of Issue 06 : Arizona. Friends, you will not believe what we found when we went to the desert to investigate quilts. Wow, wow, wow.
Hold onto your cowboy hats.
p.s. How about those red glasses on the blonde chick with the notebook?? I’m into it.
We’re really making tracks on this whole “nominate a quilter for a Google Doodle” thing. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out yesterday’s post.) We’ll hit 1,000 votes before long, and that’s a good showing in such a short time.
However … to really get Google’s attention, I’d like to see us at least double the number of voters. What does that mean for you? One of two things:
IF YOU HAVE VOTED — Click here for the Quilt Scout post, then copy the URL to share it with your pals on social media/email/carrier pigeon. Then your friends will go vote and we’ll get our community represented by the people who decide what history is important. *You could just send your friends straight to the form, but going to the original post first seems sensible. But do what you want; I just want us to get those numbers up!
Right now, Nancy Zieman is in the lead, followed by Cuesta. Then … Well, there are a number of write-ins gaining ground and one person nominated me and my mom, which was very nice. I’ll keep updating on Facebook and when the time comes to do the official nomination, you’ll obviously be the first to know which quilter — sorry, which first of many quilters — will get Google’s attention.
I know it’s early in the year, but I’m going to say it: If you read one Quilt Scout column in 2018, read the one I’m linking down below.
Over the past month or so, I’ve been noodling on how to go about petitioning Google to make a “Google Doodle” about a famous, important, special quilter. I’ve figured out the way, and the time is now — and I need you. We need you. There’s never been a Google Doodle about a quilter, ever. Ever! What’s up with that?
Questions you have may include: “What’s up with that?” and “What’s a Google Doodle?” and “Wait, what do I have to do?” and “Mary Fonswhat is even happening please explain.”
That last one is not a question but there’s no time! This is all very easy: Head over to the Quilt Scout, read all about it, then vote. Let’s make sure the internet (read: world) never forgets how important quilters are and how much we contribute to society, art, and human beans everywhere. A Google Doodle is a legit way to do that, so let’s circle the wagons, people. Filling out the form will be your good deed for the day — well, unless you’ve done other good deeds today. Considering the people who make up my readership, it is highly likely you’ve amassed a number of good deeds already. That’s okay.
It snowed today in Chicago. I like snow. I like winter. But there isn’t anything wrong with going to California sometimes, you know, just to make sure your sandals are still in good shape.
Lucky for me and any other chilly quilters — modern or otherwise — out there, QuiltCon 2018 is coming! And this year, the most exciting happening of the quilt calendar year will be underway in sunny Pasadena.
Yes, at this exact moment, two weeks from now, the quilts will have been unveiled. All the awards will have been given out, which means we’ll all know who got Best In Show and isn’t that so exciting? Two weeks from now, vendors will be vending; neat classes will have gone down; “sewlebrities” will be soaking their autograph hands; after lots of emails and Instagram posts, internet friends will be hanging out IRL; and many, many, many, many, many, many, many pictures will have been uploaded to many, many, many, many, many, many social media pages.
And I’m excited. Though I don’t make modern quilts, I love them and I love the people who make them. I’m also deeply glad to have emerged as a kind of go-to quilt history geek for the modern set. Put me in, baby. I’m happy as a clam (?) giving historical lectures at QuiltCon; the full houses that greet me seem to indicate folks like what I’m puttin’ down.
The only downside is that I have to top myself every year. For example, two years ago, I debuted “The Great American Quilt Revival: The Reason We’re All Here Right Now.” It went well — too well?? — so last year, I brought the pain with “Standing On the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt.” That one was really good. (Well, it was! Ask anyone who’s seen my lectures: I have serious powerpoint game.) And the lectures I debut at QuiltCon go into my repetoire and have a life after the MQG show, but it’s neat to present them for the first time out there with the mod squad.
But I have to tell you … This year in Pasadena, I don’t have a new lecture … I’ve got TWO!
Talk about topping what you did last year. QuiltCon 2019 is happening in Nashville next year; maybe I’ll pull out my guitar.* Anyway, both lectures are in pretty good shape, but this weekend is going to have me hunkering down, smoothing out, and rehearsing. For real, these two lectures (see descriptions below) are literally my best work yet, so that’s one of 9,000 reasons to do QuiltCon 2018.
See you in Cali!
The AIDS Quilt: Comfort, Compassion, and Change
When the first panels of “the AIDS quilt” were sewn together in San Francisco in 1987, the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic had only just begun. At the peak of the crisis in 1995, 319,849 people — mostly young, vibrant men — were dead from complications from AIDS while 200,000 more had were testing positive for the virus. As the death toll grew, so did the quilt. The story of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is the story of a modern plague and exists as evidence of enduring hope for victims and survivors, friends and family. Learn about the beauty of the quilt and an essential, tragic period in our history in this must-see lecture by Mary Fons. Warning: This lecture contains graphic content.
*Note: I curated an exhibit of panels from the NAMES Project quilt which will be on display during the show this year.
The Modern Quilt: Roots & Frontiers
The modern quilt was born in the first decade of the 21st century — but it didn’t hatch out of an egg. Modern quilts have aesthetic roots in various 20th century art movements, draw from many cultural “moments,” and owe plenty to quilts and quilters that came before. Seeing those roots helps us as quilters look ahead — and the future of the modern quilt is nothing short of thrilling. Popular QuiltCon lecturer Mary Fons brings you the history of the modern quilt (so far) and predicts what’s to come as the moderns forge ahead in what she believes is the second wave of the Great American Quilt Revival.
*Note to self: Buy guitar. Learn how to play guitar, write music, sing while playing guitar.
I have a great time talking to myself, let’s be honest. But from time to time, I’ve found there’s nothing better than interviewing someone more interesting than me. Shocker, right? Yeah, well, it turns out I have a lot of interviewing to do. Like, a lot. Basically, I will never stop having people to interview.
I’d better get started.
Therefore, please enjoy this Quilt Scout interview with the delightful Marin Hanson over at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) about a very cool exhibit happening in Lincoln right now. If Marin wasn’t so friendly and warm, she would be intimidating because Marin is wicked smart about quilts and, I’m sure, 90,000 other things. I enjoyed learning from Marin, who curated the show, and I think you’ll enjoy learning from her, too.
After you’re done, flick open your calendar, whether it’s on your phone or your desk or your wall, and figure out when in 2018 you’ll make the trip to visit the IQSCM. Some of you have been and need to go back; some of you have yet to see this iconic, exquisite quilt museum and in a way, I’m kind of jealous of the latter group. After all, you still have before you that incredible moment when you drive up to Quilt House and realize that the whole, huge, gorgeous place, honors quilts and only quilts. Well, this is the year to get there and have that moment — and if you go before May 13, you’ll see the Ken Burns quilt exhibit, too!
Speaking of interviews: Kenny, I’ve got you in my sights.
I kept saying there were big announcements coming soon, that I’d be sharing good news before long. Maybe some folks thought I was finally going to get my dream dog, Philip Larkin. Did anyone think I eloped?? That would be so cool if someone thought that.
There’s no Philip Larkin, yet, and I’m not as far as I know. I was promoted to Editorial Director of Quiltfolk magazine, though.
:: skips, jumps, trips on a stray sock, gets glass of water, returns ::
Can you stand it?? How cool is this?? To me, this the Coolest Thing Ever. Quiltfolk is doing is precisely what my heart is telling me — no, shouting at me — to do right now: investigate, celebrate, and honor quilt culture in America, past, present, and future. Quiltfolk is real. Quiltfolk is dreamy. Ergo, editorially directing Quiltfolk is a very real, very dream-y job for me. I have red marks on my arm from pinching myself for the past couple weeks. I’d better see my doctor about — oh, wait … Maybe not.
[Look, people, if I don’t laugh, I won’t stop crying about yesterday’s post. Thank you, everyone for listening to me — and to each other.]
A new job offers an opportunity to reflect on one’s professional life, don’t you think? I mean, when I was in high school and stopped waiting tables at the Pizza Hut north of town to wait tables at Northside Cafe on the town square, I recall doing some soul searching. Come with me for just a moment, will you, as I mull over this promotion?
It’s been about 10 years since I began working in earnest in what I saw at the time as my mother’s industry. I still think of it as her industry, honestly, and I’m okay with that. We’re all just standing on the shoulders of giants; my mother would say the same thing.
Anyway, in the early years I was a nervous beginner asking the dumb questions on “Love of Quilting.” A couple years later, I grew into what we call a “confident beginner,” able to create and host “Quilty,” an online how-to show for other beginners. “Quilty” grew a cult following for the five years it was on the internet-air, and I was able to use my freelance writing skills to serve as editor of “Quilty” magazine for four years. I wrote a book during that time. I dreamed of making a Mary Fons fabric line of reproduction fabrics and I did! I really did that and I loved that project. I’ve created and delivered a ton of webinars. And I have spent many, many days planning and executing gigs from one coast to the other, teaching and lecturing for (tens of?) thousands of quilters at this point.
**Quick note on that last thing: Between my former life as a Chicago theater professional and my experience as an itinerant quilt teacher/speaker, I fear no room. No grand auditorium, no tiny church basement, no ad hoc retreat center phases me. Beyond that, there is no tech failure I cannot work around. When the projector at a guild meeting in Oklahoma two years ago was DOA, I did my entire slideshow presentation with no slides. And you know what? I slayed.
The whole time, ceaselessly, I’ve been writing. Writing this blog; articles for Fons & Porter; the Quilt Scout; articles for magazines like Modern Patchwork and Curated Quilts. And, starting with Issue 04: Tennessee, I’ve been writing for Quiltfolk magazine.
One more point to make and then more about Quiltfolk:
All this stuff I’ve been up to over the past decade has been done in front of everyone. As I’ve grown (into) my career, I’ve been on display. Anything I do, it’s out there, right away. This is partly due to the Fons name, partly due to the internet overall, and partly due to this blog, of course. Without the ol’ PG, I could show you less. I could hide better. I could have career developments and changes and losses and trials and victories and failures and disappointments and agonies and ecstasies slightly more in private if I didn’t do what I’m doing right now, which is writing to thousands of subscribers about my life, on my couch, in my pajamas. With some chips, maybe.
(There are chips.)
My point — and I do have one — is that doing everything in full view is kookoo bananas … but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love growing up in front of you. You’re my tribe. You’re my people. I love you. You see me. And when I look at the comments and the paper mail, I think that you really do love me right back. (Woah.) And when people actually love you, they are happy for you when good things happen, and so you want to tell them. You want to celebrate, they want to celebrate. Because wow, life is hard, sometimes, but other times, it’s just really good. This is really good, this new opportunity Mike McCormick has given me. Thank you, Mike.
Quiltfolk is important. When you see it, if you haven’t seen it, yet, you’ll know. You’ll see.
In closing: To those of you who are wondering how I’m going to manage the new position while I’m in grad school, know that a) I’m almost done with school; b) the promotion at Quiltfolk forced me to resign — with class, diplomacy, and a promise to help in the transition — from the student newspaper; c) I’m not accepting any gigs for the foreseeable future; d) I’m considering bi-weekly Swedish massages until I finish graduate in on May 14th, 2018.
My latest Quilt Scout column (v. briefly) traces the history of the iron. Truly, I say unto thee: There has never been a better time to make a quilt. So, after you read column No. 58 of the ol’ Scout, start sewing!