‘My Bookshelves Runneth Over’ — The Quilt Scout is IN!

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout 4
It's like this, except for quilt books. Photo: Wikipedia, natch.
It’s like this, except for quilt books. Photo: Wikipedia, natch.

I have a problem.

It’s a book problem. I’ve had it for awhile, but the beast has grown a new head without me cutting off any of the others.

The second Quilt Scout column for July examines this. I know not all of my readers are quilters and, in a friendly kind of way, of course, don’t immediately zip over to the Quilt Scout to see what I have to say specifically to the quilt world at large. It’s okay!

But for those who know the secret handshake, I think you’ll enjoy “My Bookshelves Runneth Over”, which is about how I now have essentially a whole separate library for my quilt history books.

Don’t judge me. Monkey.

Postcard From The South.

posted in: Quilting, Work 13
A church in Shady Grove, Tennessee, 2006. Photo: Wikipedia.
A church in Shady Grove, Tennessee, 2006. Photo: Wikipedia.


I’m down south for a few days to do some quilt research.

The gift of learning about the history of quilts in America is that I get to learn about America’s history in an indelible, singular way. In high school, I didn’t care much about history. This was partly because I was sixteen but mostly because I had no entry point. There was no angle. There was just a textbook, fat with facts regarding the whole of American history starting at Roanoke. How are you supposed to approach something like that? You just try to pass the test. Then you forget — and forgetting is a kind of robbery. It happens to a lot of us.

But when you’re a quilter who wants to know where she came from, you are lucky. Because you have this glorious lens through which to view history. Quilts become a portal. As I’ve been looking into the tale of Tennessee, for example, I’m looking at it vis a vis the quilts that have been made here, the people who have made them, the eras in which they were produced. Therefore, all Tennessee’s political changes, the wars, the prominent citizens who lived here, the state’s various regions, the economy, the generations — heck, even the weather — it all come into focus in full color, so vivid I can hardly believe my brain is able to fire like this.

But the reason is simple: I have context. I have a connection. As a quilter, I’m part of the story — so I care more about the story. That’s human nature — and honey, I’m as human as she gets. That’s why history comes alive for me now: I’m not outside of it, now. The longer I go along in this life, the more interested I am in anything that happened before I was born. Lucky for me, there’s a lot of material. And I get to fly in on my magic carpet quilt.


The Quilt Scout is IN! (Interview with Susanne Jones)

posted in: The Quilt Scout 0
"Marian Anderson" by Margaret Williams, one of the many terrific pieces in the show. Image courtesy Susanne Jones.
“Marian Anderson” by Margaret Williams, one of the many terrific pieces in the show. Image courtesy Susanne Jones.


Hey, who’s that? Why, it’s the Quilt Scout! And who’s that she’s got with her? Well, if it isn’t fiber artist and curator Susanne Jones! What are they doing? Well toot my horn if they’re not chatting about an upcoming exhibit at Fall Quilt Festival! And just what —

Okay, that’s enough of that. But this month’s Quilt Scout columns, part one and part two, indeed feature an interview with la Jones about a terrific exhibit of art quilts and I think you should head over to the Scout right now and have a look.

And hey, if you want to read another good Quilt Scout interview while you’re over there, this one with pal Jenny Doan is pretty good, too. I get to talk to some pretty cool people, I’ll tell you what.




posted in: Art, Paean, Quilting, Work 3
Patchwork hanging (detail.) Uzbekistan, 20th century. Photo: Me, at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, NE.
Patchwork hanging (detail.) Uzbekistan, 20th century. Photo: Me, at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, NE.



At board meeting. STOP. Quilt heaven. STOP. Lunch w/hero Jonathan Holstein. STOP. Total dreamboat. STOP. Strategic planning and acquisition viewing. STOP. Good coffee. STOP. Never leaving. STOP. Seriously though. DON’T STOP. STOP. I don’t want to leave. STOP. Okay fine. STOP. Gig on Monday in Irvine CA. STOP. Not possible to stay. STOP. Okay I need to take a shower and get to second day of meeting. STOP. This telegram is costing 9,000 dollars. STOP.

Yours ever XOXO Mary. STOP.

Kelly Bowser Made Me Something I Have Used Every Day For Four Years.

Welcome to my hotel room photo shoot. Yes, I am wearing pink pajamas. Photo: Who else?
Welcome to my hotel room photo shoot. That’s the pouch Kelly made me and yes, I am wearing pink pajamas. Photo: Marty Fans.


Greetings from Lincoln, Nebraska, where it feels like Christmas Eve.

This is because the annual two-day board meeting for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) begins tomorrow morning. Since I’m a board member, I get to go. That’s how board meetings work, I have learned and yes I do feel fancy but mostly I just feel geeky and happy. Jonathan Holstein is here. The only person I’d be more excited about meeting and working with would be Barbara Brackman. After that, probably Madonna.

The only drawback to being here is that I couldn’t stay in St. Louis, which is where I was yesterday. I had to leave Common Threads, a very cool, annual BabyLock event, which — of course! — landed the same weekend as my board meeting. Common Threads is an invitational meetup/think tank kind of a thing for quilters and sewists who work with BabyLock out there in the industry. There were around 55 people at the weekend retreat, some of whom I had never met, some of whom I consider good friends, e.g., Jenny Doan, Vanessa Vargas Wilson, Amy Ellis, and many other terrific, talented women.

Like Kelly Bowser.

Before I tell you why Kelly deserves special distinction, know that Kelly did not ask me to write this, nor am I benefitting in any way from singing her praises and talking about how much I love the thing she designed and how I have used it every single day for four years.

So, Kelly and I met at the first-ever Common Threads four years ago. I liked her immediately: She was funny and smart and warm. Kelly’s a talented designer, a so-good-it’s-annoying sewist, quiltmaker, blogger, and pattern writer, and she’s a mom, wife, and she has a law degree. We got to know each other and became industry pals.

That night, when I dug into the swag bag in my hotel room, I discovered the coolest little handmade cloth pouch! It was kinda puffy and had a zipper and everything. The tag said: “Kelby Sews”, which is Kelly’s brand. I learned that Kelly had designed and made everyone in the group that year (40 people??) their very own pouch, which she calls the “30-Minute Pouch”. (I understand you can download the pattern for free on Craftsy, so check that out.)

I just loved my little pouch. I began using it immediately. It is the perfect size for my lipstick, compact, eyedrops, tiny mascara, and aspirin thingy. That pouch has been in my possesion for four years. It has traveled tens of thousands of miles with me. It’s been in fabulous purses, let me tell you. It went to New York. It went to Washington. It came back to Chicago. It went to Berlin. It’s gone on so many dates. It’s been with me on family vacation. It was at my sister’s wedding.

I’m telling you: Kelly’s 30-Minute Pouch is seriously part of my life. In material objects, anyway.

There’s a lot to love about Common Threads. But my favorite part? Finding Kelly Bowser and rummaging around in my purse to get my lil’ pouch so that I can hold it up and go, “Kelly! Kelly, look!” Last night, a bunch of us girls had a great conversation about the power of the handmade object. You never know where the things you make will end up. It’s wonderful. Not everything that comes in a gift bag stays so long, you know?

And it pays to take care of something: Kelly was delighted to see I’m still devoted to my pouch, but she made me write down my address so she could send me a new one. I’ll allow it. But I’m not tossing the original. She made it for me!

I’m Hittin’ The Airwaves! (WGN 720 AM Tonight!)

posted in: Chicago, Work 6
The station looks different now. But it's every bit as glamorous! Photo: Wikipedia.
The station looks different now. But it’s every bit as glamorous! Photo: Wikipedia.


In a few minutes, here, I’ll walk up the real-life Michigan Avenue to the real-life Tribune Tower to sit in the real-life spinny chairs in the real-life ground floor radio studio and be a real-life guest on Rick Kogan’s radio show!

The “real-life” qualifier has to be stuck in there to keep me from thinking I’m dreaming because the following things are beyond dreamy to me:

Michigan Avenue
The Tribune Tower
Spinny chairs (well, this one isn’t that special but still special!)
Radio studio
Being a guest on a radio show

Rick Kogan is a Chicago broadcasting legend and I get to be on his show tonight. The show is from 9-11 p.m. I’m not sure when I’ll come on, if I’ll be on for a little while or a long while. But I’m gonna talk about quilts and stuff and if you want to listen, WGN is at 720 on the AM dial. I think the show will be streamed online but I don’t know how so I can’t link you! It might get posted later.

It has just occurred to me that I don’t know if I will get a copy of this after it’s over. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’ll just be a dream come true and then I’ll wake up.

Tune in if you can. See ya on the radio!

Postscript: Here’s the link to the show. It was so, so fun. I adore Rick Kogan and you’ll see why. Looks like he’s gonna do a follow-up article and have me back real soon. Hurray!


Fun Facts: Dallas Edition

posted in: Travel, Work 7
Postcard from Dallas, 1911. It looks pretty much the same. Image: Wikipedia.
Postcard from Dallas, 1911. It looks pretty much the same. Image: Wikipedia.


Greetings from Dallas, where the hair is big and the BBQ is burnt on the ends. As I am a gal who would do anything for Texas-big hair and would climb over my own mother to get to a plate of burnt ends, Texas suits me fine. (Sorry about the burnt end thing, Mom.)

I’m here to teach and speak at the Dallas Quilter’s Guild show this weekend. It’s a big one and, since I need to get up extra early tomorrow to try and get my hair as big as possible before leaving the hotel, I’m going to keep things simple and make tonight’s post a list. Besides, when I thought of doing this, a super-quick check on “fun facts about Dallas” yielded terrific results right away.

And now, I give you: FUN FACTS ABOUT DALLAS!!!

  1. The frozen margarita machine was invented in Dallas in 1971. (What goes better with burnt ends, amirite??)
  2. The entire Statue of Liberty could fit into Cowboys Stadium — with the roof closed. 
  3. The Dallas Public Library permanently displays one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence. How about that. (They’ve got a First Folio of William Shakespeare’s “Comedies, Histories & Tragedies”, too. Neat.)
  4. My dad is an ordained Methodist minister who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) sometime in the 1990s, I believe.
  5. The Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spans 27 square miles — larger than the island of freakin’ Manhattan.
  6. Barney & Friends was born here. In other words, Barney was born here. Also born in Dallas: Laser Tag, Liquid Paper (a.k.a. white-out), the ATM, microchips, and lots of other stuff. Oh, and the frozen margarita machine. See No. 1.
  7. The Holiday Inn Dallas-Richardson is very nice. My room is clean and the bathroom is spacious.
  8. The Dallas Arts District is the largest urban arts district in the United States. I think that’s cool.
  9. I saw the chick who shot J.R. in the parking lot.

*CORRECTION: In the initial publication of this post, Pendennis referred to “the guy who shot J.R.” when in fact it was a female who shot J.R., which, now that we think about it, makes sense. We regret the error. 

Trapped In The Stacks!

posted in: Art, Work 9
The National Library of France in Paris. Also known as Heaven Itself, as long as I can read French in heaven.) Image: Wikipedia.
The National Library of France in Paris. There wasn’t an image of the library where I was and besides, this photo is proof of heaven itself, as long as I can read French in heaven, which I imagine could be arranged.) Image: Wikipedia.


The other day, I spent some hours doing research for my Big Project in a downtown library. This library is a very, very quiet one. If you turn your pages too loudly, you get murderous stares from the librarians and the aides and anyone else in the place. I tried to open a piece of butterscotch and that was not gonna happen. The moment I pulled it out of my purse, two people looked over at me like, “Really? Really, with the candy?

So you can imagine the shock when I heard a very loud “knock-knock-knock!” It was a pronounced rapping on a wooden door: “Knock-knock-knock!” The library’s main reading room is a rotunda with storage spaces off its main floor and inside the round room are bays and stacks and shelves. You can’t really get lost in there but there are alcoves. There are nooks. What I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t where the knock was coming from.

I looked up when it happened. The gal at the next table over looked up. The squinchy library aide looked up and looked annoyed. No one came in or out, though, and there was no sound of a door opening or closing. But whatever. We all went back to our researching or our homework or our squinching.

Then it happened again, about five minutes later: “Knock! Knock! Knock!”

The gal and I looked at each other. Where was the knock coming from? I whispered, “That’s a knock, right? Someone is knocking.” She nodded and looked about. I got up and peered around our immediate vicinity and into the alcoves nearby. I spied an elevator; I hadn’t noticed it before. Maybe someone couldn’t get out of the elevator! I went over to it and pushed the button. But when the doors opened, the elevator was empty.

I decided the knocking was definitely the work of a library ghost. Hey, there was a library ghost in Ghostbusters. It happens all the time, people. And the moment I thought about there being a real-life (-death) library ghost, my brain went into Edgar Allen Poe mode, dreaming up storms and candles blowing out in the wind, of doomed lovers who die writing poetry in the library and haunt it forever. I imagined a gloomy scholar trapped in the stacks!

When I got back to my chair, the gal at the next table over widened her eyes a little and made a face like, “Okay, this is all super creepy.” And before I had time to think better of it, I whispered to her:

“One imagines someone trapped in the stacks!”

It just came out that way. I told you: I was in Poe Mode!

The girl looked at me like, “Ooo-kay. Let’s not pursue small talk.” But she didn’t have to worry; I had a lot of research to do and I needed to be available for the ghost if he needed anything.


“Quilts On Phones” (Guess Who?)

posted in: The Quilt Scout 6
Hey, she might be looking at quilts! We don't know, do we?? Image: Wikipedia.
Hey, she might be looking at quilts! We may never know. Image: Wikipedia.


I have one more day of classes before my first year of graduate school comes to a close. Can you even believe it?? I hardly can.

Now is not the time for deep reflection, however. That will come later this week, but not yet. It ain’t over till it’s over, people, and it ain’t over until 6 p.m. tomorrow night, after one more presentation (with attendant critique, gah) and then my final advising session. The advising session will be a blast; the presentation, not so much, unless I get my précis done. Now.

But I needn’t go dark today on the ol’ PG; lucky for me, the newest Quilt Scout post is up! So I’ll direct you over to Quilts, Inc. today to read my little piece called “Quilts On Phones”. It’s about how much I enjoy it when people show me pictures of their quilts on their phones. You can click this link right here and you’ll be zipped right on over.

Hey, guess where I’ll be, starting tomorrow night?

Halfway to my master’s.

I’m in North Carolina! Let’s Have Some Milk!

posted in: Travel, Work 9
Did you know milk is the state beverage of North Carolina? Thanks, Wikipedia! Image: Wikipedia.
Did you know milk is the state beverage of North Carolina? Thanks, Wikipedia! Image: Wikipedia.


I have come to North Carolina to a quilting retreat. I do not get to retreat, exactly; I’m here to work. I’m at the Carolina Charm Quilt and Craft Retreat Center, a charming, renovated antebellum house and studio run by the delightful Joanna and husband Frank.

My flight put me in Raleigh-Durham. From there, it was a 2.5-hour drive through this attractive state to get to the venue. I pulled up, parked the car, and walked into the studio. I could literally hear laughing and carrying on as I walked up the sidewalk. When I opened the door, I found the studio bursting at the seams with quilters having a grand old time already — just think how much fun we’ll have when the main event happens! (I’m pretty sure the main event is me, but the lasagna Frank made for dinner was pretty spectacular. I’ll check the website.)

A few updates and then I’m turning in; those girls are gonna be a handful tomorrow — in the best possible way, of course. I’m already in love with each of them.

  • My doctor’s appointment is scheduled. Heather’s going with me. I love you, Kin-Kin!
  • So many people love tied quilts, too! I feel like we’ve all been keeping this a secret.
  • Back in November, I posted something I read in The Sun magazine that I needed to read. Well, guess who commented on the post today? The lady who wrote it! Read the post here and check out her amazing reply.

Also, milk is the state beverage of North Carolina.


One Of The Best Stories I’ve Got… (The Quilt Scout Is IN.)

posted in: The Quilt Scout 6
For the full story, check the Scout. Photo: Moi
For the full story, check the Scout. Photo: Mee.


Something rather miraculous happened the week before last. Waiting to tell you about it was torture. But what happened was so delicious, so extraordinary, so wait-till-I-tell-you-what-happened-today, I had to do it just right. And because it had everything to do with a quilt, I felt the most appropriate place to share the story was over at the Quilt Scout.

If there weren’t pictures, you might not believe it happened. But it did happen. I saw a ghost — and she was so beautiful, I cried.

I’m going to email Barbara Brackman about this one. She is, by the way, my No. 1 Sewlebrity Obsession. I’ve talked to the famous quilt historian on the phone but have not yet had the pleasure of meeting her in public, but I will not rest until I do. I’ve got you in my sights, Bracks. In my sights!


Big Story On Quilts in the Chicago Tribune Today!

posted in: Quilting, Work 9
Me in the library at SAIC with the paper today! Photo: Me and the computer.
Me in the library at SAIC with the paper today! Photo: Me and the computer.


I posted this on Facebook already, but for the subscribers out there who aren’t on Facebook, you gotta check this out! There’s a big, juicy story in the Chicago Tribune on quilting — political quilts specifically. I had a 2-hour interview with the writer, a photographer came to my home to take my portrait, and I wish there had been room for many, many more quilts, quotes, quilters, and pictures, but this is pretty darned good.

Anytime the mainstream media covers the quilt industry, we should all celebrate.

Here’s a link to the article. Thank you to Cindy at the Tribune for caring about quilts in America; thanks to all of you for teaching me so much about them.

The Swan Towel.

posted in: Day In The Life, Work 16
Swan/sentinel, whatever. Photo: Me.
Towel swan as sentinel. Photo: Me.


Greetings from Mattoon, Illinois, where the cornfields are wide, the quilters are smart, and the towel swans are thick and absorbent!

While we’re on the subject of towel swans, I’d like to talk about them. I’d like to talk about towel art in general. It’s a thing. I don’t think about towel art much because it’s not something a person comes across too often — even a person who travels as much as I do, which is worth pointing out — but there was a towel swan waiting for me on my bed when I arrived in Mattoon yesterday, so towel art is very much on my mind; that thing scared the crap outta me.

Have you seen this towel art? Do you know what I’m talking about? For the uninitiated, towel art is exactly what it sounds like: It’s… Well, all right, maybe it’s not exactly what it sounds like. The “towel” in “towel art” is accurate — towel art is made from bath and/or hand towels — but I’m not sure about the word “art.” It’s tricky business to go around saying what is art and what isn’t, but I’m more comfortable calling the swans, hearts, ducks, dogs, and various other creatures that get the towel treatment “towel sculpture.” These terrycloth figures are definitely sculpted. But are they art? As in, move-me-to-tears, someone-put-that-swan-in-a-climate-controlled-gallery-and-plan-a-gala kind of art? I have not yet encountered a towel piece that qualifies in this way.

But who cares, right? Who cares if it’s art or if it’s just fun? And can’t art be fun? Verily, I say: Art can be fun.

But here’s the thing: I think towel art — or sculpture, whatever — is weird. I don’t like the idea of someone putting their paws all over my towel to make it into a nubby, dubiously charming inanimate object without eyes and then positioning it in the place where I will eventually sleep. And I don’t care who it is who might be doing all that, by the way: If a loved one of mine was all up in my towels, twisting and folding and molesting them this way and that, I would tell them to knock it off.

And yet.

The towel swan in my room also caused me to experience something called mono no aware. This is a Japanese term that is untranslatable in English. Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

Mono no aware (物の哀れ), literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常 mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

Beautiful, right? The impermanence of a towel swan. The beauty of being in this old, single-level hotel that, judging by the way the place wraps around the pool, was a swinging joint in its heyday but surely will never be like that again. The fact that the first time I ever saw a towel sculpture, I was with my mom on a cruise ship. I was in my early 20’s and I hadn’t even met my ex-husband at that point. I didn’t know I’d get sick, I didn’t know I’d get divorced, I had made exactly two quilts.

Mono no aware is not sadness. Or maybe it is, but it’s a sweet sadness, which is to say that mono no aware is life itself. And if a towel swan in a hotel room in Mattoon, Illinois on a Friday night makes me feel mono no aware, then doesn’t it follow that a towel swan in Mattoon, Illinois is life itself?

I shouldn’t be okay with that. But remarkably, all of a sudden, I am.

Let’s Hang Out At Spring Quilt Festival! (Chicago!)

posted in: Chicago, Work 12
Quilt top by Frances M. Jolly, c. 1839. Image: National Museum of American History.
Quilt top by Frances M. Jolly, c. 1839. Image: National Museum of American History.


First, some business:

  1. Thank you for being my friends. You really are my friends and… Well, I love you. I truly do.
  2. Don’t forget to write — the PaperGirl Essay Contest ends in nine days!
  3. I met with my Fiber & Material Studies professor to discuss my research project — and she loved it. My research is good enough to be entered into the Textile Resource Center’s database! I’m over the moon about that. I’m a contributor to the study of patchwork at the School of the Art Institute! How cool is that?? And yes, I’m looking into how I can post my investigation as a free download; it’s got too many moving parts to just post as a blog entry. Talk about a good feeling.

Okay, it’s event announcement time.

Guess what’s happening next month in my very own town? Why, International Spring Quilt Festival, that’s what! Yes, on April 6th, 7th, and 8th, the fine folks at Quilts, Inc. will descend upon the Windy City and bring all manner of quilt gorgeousness, classes, exhibits, vendors, and friends to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. The venue is out by O’Hare; it’s a nice place, the food is actually pretty decent and.. There was something else that I was going to tell you about but I just can’t rem — wait! I know what it is!

I’m going to do two book signings and two tours! Of the “Beauty In Pieces” scrap quilt exhibit that I co-curated! I knew there was something. Here’s the scoop:

On Friday, April 7th and Saturday, April 8th, I’m going to do a book-signing and meet n’ greet from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Then, at 1:30 (both days), I’ll lead a little tour through the “Beauty In Pieces: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century” exhibit. The tour will run 30-45 minutes, I imagine, but as I’ve never done it before! That sounds about right.

As to where this will be, I’m pretty sure the table for the books and things will be inside the quilt show part of Festival, but I know for sure that your show program will tell you exactly (and any of the helpful show people will help you find me, too.)

Will you come see me? I’d love that. This lil’ Quilt Scout will sign a book for you, we’ll take some selfies. And load up your phone with pictures of your quilts because I love to see quilts on phones. Seeing quilts on phones is like, my favorite thing. I’m 100% serious. Quilts are perfect for modern technology.

Maybe I’ll even bring Pendennis! Woah. He’s never come with me on something like that… I’ll do it. It’s a local gig. He can handle the trip. And if a cloth monkey can get his tushie to Festival, certainly you can, too.

See you in April, you guys.

Bye, Bye, Monopoly Thimble: The Quilt Scout Is IN (and Annoyed.)

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout 15
See ya, little thimbles. Image: Wikipedia.
They’re only for actual Image: Wikipedia.


The first Quilt Scout of the month of March is up today, so I’d like to send you to the fine folks at Quilts, Inc. to check it out. I have to warn you: You will probably get sad. Why?

The Monopoly game people took the thimble out of the game.

Check it out here and sigh deeply. 

My Downtown Savannah Escapade: The Ride.

posted in: Story, Travel, Work 11
In Savannah. Photo: Me.
In Savannah. Photo: Me.

I’m feeling weird about telling that harrowing tale straight out of the gate vis a vis my report on Savannah. Let me tell you something good.

After I had seen the strange thing, a wave of exhaustion passed over me; I needed to head back to my room. This would mean that I would need to find the ferry boat again and wait around for it with all those no-see-em bugs flying into my eyeballs. This did not seem like something I could physically manage, so looked to see how much it would cost for an Uber to take me from where I stood near Bay Street to my hotel at the convention center. When I found it would be a measly 11 bucks, I punched “Confirm Pickup” on my screen.

I have never had an Uber driver collect me in actual pickup, but within a few minutes, a young man named J.M. waved to me from inside a shiny black Silverado truck across the street.

“Mary Katherine?” he called in the best southern accent you’ve ever heard, making me glad my Uber profile uses my full name. I waved back, delighted to get to ride home in the cab of a pickup. You can take the girl out of Iowa but you can’t take the love of a good pickup truck out of the Iowa girl, trust me.

I was so happy to be off my feet and J.M. was a sweetheart, affably fielding the many questions I was asking him about Savannah. As he drove down Bay Street and we chatted, I looked out the window at the vibrant nightlife, the couples and families and packs of friends walking along the elevated strip. J.M. was so knowledgeable about everything and I loved getting the facts and figures in that accent:

“Yes, ma’am. Savannah’s the fourth lah-gist export city in the You-nahted Staits.”  J.M. was really getting into the good stuff, stories about 19th century trade customs, population numbers, fascinating history. As we approached the street’s terminus, I felt seriously bummed that my Savannah escapade was going to end soon. Then, I had an idea.

What if I paid J.M. to drive me back up Bay Street and cruise the loop just once, just so I could see the whole stretch of it? I had 20 bucks in my wallet — was that enough? Would it be super, super weird to ask him to do that? I didn’t have much time. Up ahead, just one red light away, I could see the entrance to the bridge that would take me over the river and home to my hotel (and out of Savannah for who knows how long?)

A thought popped into my head and forced my decision: Frankly, I want to be the kind of person who offers her Uber driver 20 bucks to drive her around town for a minute. I just want to be that girl, you know? So, apologizing in advance for any weirdness and assuring him I was not a creeper, I asked J.M. if he’d take my money.

“Well, sure,” J.M. said, seemingly not that taken aback. “I’m happy to do that, ma’am. It’s funny you ask; my other job is working a tour boat down on Riverside.”

Yep. I got the nickel tour of Savannah from an actual, off-dutry tour guide in a pickup truck for the low-low price of 20 bucks. Not bad; and all I had to do was ask. (Well, and fork over a twenty.) 

The drive was great. Between my own exploration on foot and hanging out with J.M., I definitely feel like I got a taste of Savannah. J.M., I told you I would blog about our trip when I got the chance and I gave you my card so that you could find PaperGirl and read it. I hope you’re seeing this so that I can say thank you once more.

Your car smelled great, by the way. As a regular Uber user, this is something I do not take for granted, sir.

“The Gift of a Closer Look” (From The Quilt Scout.)

posted in: Quilting, The Quilt Scout 3
Star of Bethlehem with Pomegranate Trees, New York, c. 1850. Image: Wikipedia via Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Tonight, I’m gonna scoot you over to the newest Quilt Scout column, brought to you by the fine folks at Quilts, Inc., the people who bring you Quilt Market, Quilt Festival, and all manner of cool quilt industry things that you should know about (like the upcoming “Beauty In Pieces” exhibit, which has been juried and judged and all that. I’m sure they’re going to let the folks know the results very soon. For the record: Everyone is amazing and quilters are the best people on the planet.)

This one was fun to write because I describe the quilt history research project I’m doing for my cool class in the Fiber and Material Studies Department. I am debating whether or not to send it to my professor. On the one hand, she’d love it; on the other hand, gross. The teacher’s pet thing has never been a good look, you know?

Enjoy, comrades.


So Soon, Luggage?

posted in: Day In The Life, Work 16
Not what I'm looking for, exactly, but at least it wouldn't make noise. Image: Wikipedia.
Not what I’m looking for — but at least it wouldn’t make noise. Image: Wikipedia.


The writer’s conference was fabulous in every way. I have arrived home inspired, encouraged, and feeling generally optimistic my life as a writer.

But the trip was not without its pain, as you know, and I’m afraid that it wasn’t just nostalgia pain I had to endure. This trip forced me to admit a painful truth, and that painful truth is that my luggage is dead. I have to buy new luggage. Maybe even before QuiltCon in two weeks. It’s bad, you guys.

This luggage situation really frosts my tarts* because the luggage I have been using for the past couple years was way, way too expensive to be pooping out on me this soon. Nevertheless, both of my silver hard-top Zero Halliburton suitcases have major problems. Suitcase One has latches that no longer stay latched and call me crazy, but I kind of want the contents of my suitcase to, you know, stay put until I decide otherwise. The horror of seeing one’s suitcase half-open as it comes around on the baggage claim is hard to describe. Is something valuable falling out?? Possibly more horrifying: Is something embarrassing falling out?? Note that “something valuable” would be earrings and “something embarrassing” would be any number of lady items.

Suitcase Two has a wheel problem. This is a nice way to say that the wheels on Suitcase Two are surely the most poorly-designed objects on or off a suitcase that ever were designed ever on the planet. And no, I am not a designer of suitcase wheels; I’m not saying I could do better. Except that it’s clear common sense was not drawn upon in the design of the blinkin’ things and they should have consulted me.

The wheels are plastic, which I’ll concede seems standard. But the two back wheels feature plastic brakes. The brakes are activated by pressing down on small square buttons on the top of the…fender (I don’t know suitcase wheel words!) that stop the wheel from rolling when deployed. This would be a nice feature if you are a person who takes many sea journeys, I imagine; there, you would need to keep your luggage from rolling to and fro on the deck of the ship. But if you’re not a fancy sailor or a well-heeled woman on the Titanic, why on Earth do you need brakes on your luggage wheels? (Confession: I have engaged the brake buttons a couple times while on a packed subway. Having brakes that kept my suitcase from rolling back and forth and into people as the train lurched was sort of cool, though it’s amazing how well one’s foot works just fine in such situations.)

And the brakes break. (I replaced a wheel once already.) And the brakes get stuck halfway down on the wheels. On this latest trip, as I rolled Suitcase One through the lobby of the hotel and through various airport terminals, I discovered that the brakes are now in some half-stuck state. This not only makes it hard to roll my luggage along for the resistance, it creates the most ridiculous, unbelievably loud and continuous sound. When I pull my luggage, it sounds like someone is intermittently honking a sad clown horn. It sounds like a duck is crying. My luggage sounds like a sad, plaintive duck.

You should know that my superstar stepdad, Mark, turned me onto the Zero Halliburton brand (no connection to the Halliburton company you’re thinking of, by the way.) Mark was a commercial airline pilot for years and was in the Air Force before that; the guy knows a few things about luggage. He bought me my first Zero suitcase back when I was in college because he has long believed it’s the best stuff on the market. I used that suitcase until it was too banged up to take on business trips; it was awesome. After retiring that one, I got another Zero suitcase that served me well for years, and I travel a lot and am generally hard on things like shoes and eyeglasses and suitcases. But neither of those pieces had wheel brakes. I will look at the company’s website, see if there are any sales going on, and probably get another couple pieces from them.

Unless you brilliant PG readers tell me otherwise. So, how about it? Do you have luggage brands you swear by? Remember: I haul heavy books and quilts from one coast to another on average 2.4 times per month. I can’t mess around with stuff from Wal-Mart. Nothing wrong with it, but this is serious stuff. Talk to me!

*This expression has come into my field of vision via my beautiful, talented, valued, exceedingly competent assistant Carmen, who used it the other day in an email. Love you, Carm.


A Day In The Life: High School Writer Gigs.

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd, Work 7
Picture of high school audience, Ladies Home Journal, 1945. Image: Wikipedia.
Picture of high school audience, Ladies Home Journal, 1945. Image: Wikipedia.


This morning, I beat the sun by a long shot.

I was up at 4 a.m. (gah!) so that I could have tea, go over my materials one last time, get all foofed-up, and get to my rental car, which I secured yesterday evening. By my careful calculations, I needed to be on the road to the northwestern suburbs of Chicago by 6 a.m. in order to be at the first of several high school gigs today.

Every year, a handful of dedicated high schools in the Chicagoland area hold “Writer’s Week” festivals. These festivals — which the students love but always struggle for funding and booster support, dangit — invite professional writers to share their work with the students and to talk and answer questions about the writing life. I have been a featured performer at a number of these festivals for well over a decade, now, which is great but also super weird, because I remember my first few times doing these gigs and it does not seem so very long ago. I remember being a young slam poet and freaking out the night before these gigs, timing my set until it was absolutely perfect because I had a limited repertoire; I remember rambunctious boys in the back of the auditorium one year who threw me off — and how I learned that day, the hard way, how to effectively stop any heckler. (Ninety-nine percent of the time, ignore them. I called the kids out that day and it wasn’t good. They wanted attention and they got it. I learned a lot that afternoon.)

I did first-and second-period at my favorite place, William Fremd High (they saw quilts one year), and then spent seventh and eighth at Bartlett High, a school with students were so respectful and courteous, one gets nervous. I did four shows today, in other words. In case you’ve never performed for 50 minutes in front of an auditorium of 300 or so high school students four times in one day, I assure you: It’s not for the faint of heart and when you come home, you will want to eat food and then face plant into the couch for awhile.

Twice today I was approached by quilters: a teacher at Bartlett and the mother-in-law of one of the Writer’s Week organizers. Both of them were excited to say hi and I could see that both of them were looking at me as the quilting person they’ve watched on TV while trying to square it with the high school poetry/writing presenter they just watched live onstage. Welcome to my world.

For many years, I have had a hard time telling people what it is that I “do.” I’m a writer. I’m a quilter. I’m a performer. I write about quilts. I write poetry and perform it. I perform, in a way, in the quilt world because of the on-camera work. I teach people how to quilt, but also how to write — it’s all this gorgeous, difficult slurry of words and fabric scraps and microphone cords. In the past couple years, I have been really working, with every project I take on, to combine these loves. How can writing and quilting and performance come together? Where do writing and quilting intersect — not for me, but for you? What can I give? And how can I help? (By helping others, giving my art away, that’s how I better understand myself. This is the win-win.)

These are the questions. Thank you, high schoolers and faculty and staff, for giving me an audience today. I move toward answers every time I go to work.

PaperGirl Mailbag: Sexy Lady Fabric!

posted in: Art, Quilting, Small Wonders, Work 18
Scan of Cranston Mills Print (not sure of year.)
Scan of Cranston Mills print; fabric circa 1950s.


Not quite a month ago, I announced that I got a post office box for PaperGirl. I’ve visited the box just once so far, a little before I left for Berlin. I got two letters! That felt so, so, so good. To dear Phyllis and the giver of the lace sample from Marshall Field’s (!!) you will be honored here soon as my first correspondents.

Now that I feel officially back from my trip — there’s more to say about Berlin but I just can’t right now — I’m excited to do errands. That’s how I know that everything is gonna be okay: when I get excited about errands again. (Note: It usually only takes me a few days and I get this fabulous, dust-yourself-off trait from Mom.) Probably my most looked-forward-to errand is to go check the PaperGirl mailbox tomorrow. I can’t wait. My innocent excitement, the big-eyed joy I get whenever I get a letter — in any letterbox to which I have a key — is immense, so go on! Send that postcard or box of gold bricks to Mary Fons/PaperGirl, P.O. Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777 today. Your mail will be cherished and kept. That’s a promise.

What’s neat about the letter I’m going to share with you now, though, is that it came to me before I had the box. I got this message via my mom (and maybe to Mom via the Fons & Porter office?) a few months ago. I put it into a stand-in briefcase I wasn’t used to using and misplaced it until a few weeks ago. Susan, I apologize: This piece of mail you sent is extraordinary and you haven’t heard from me, yet. Let’s do this.

Thank you so much for the fabric and the fabulous letter, Susan. You’re an excellent letter-writer, by the way, and of course I love your taste in fabric.

PaperGirl readers are incredible. Maybe there should be an annual PG convention. Or at least a retreat. We could all meet, swap fabric, stories, and read books and sew. I would seriously be into that. Anyone else? Okay, here’s Susan’s communique:

October 1st

Dear Mary:

I heard you and your mother on your short-lived podcasts (wish there were more) and on one you were waxing poetic about how much you looooove Springs Fabrics so I KNEW you would appreciate the enclosed ‘family heirloom.’

In the 1950’s my great aunt Vivian went shopping for fabric to make kitchen curtains and this is what she came home with. Now, in that era, many women in their 50’s and 60’s were proper and matronly. Aunty Vivian chose the fabric because she liked the colors, thought they would be perfect! Then, after she got home… She saw the design and was aghast; how could she ever let her friends see these ladies in her kitchen!

I was a teenager (good grief, where has the time gone?) and thought the Springmaids, from the ads for Springmaid sheets, were as clever as could be. Had no idea what I would do with the fabric, but I wanted it! 

Eventually, I covered a lampshade and stretched one repeat on a frame to hang next to the lamp. Yet I still had the enclosed piece and never could figure out what to do with it. Didn’t want to cut it up for a blouse, didn’t need a curtain, already had a lampshade… and so it sat in a drawer.

And, now it’s yours to pet and find a clever use for. I hope you enjoy it.

Susan Calhoun-Sousie
Fredericksburg, VA


I’m Speaking at the Creative Living Lecture Series in Woodstock, IL on January 19th!

posted in: Art, Chicago, Work 5
The Woodstock Opera House! Photo: Wikipedia.
The Woodstock Opera House! Do you see me inside, waiting for you? See? Look closer… (Just kidding! I’m not there, yet!) Photo: Wikipedia.


My bag is being packed for my trip to Berlin and I said I was going to tell you about some of the mail that has started to come in, but I realize that I need to do this first!

This year, I have the distinct pleasure of speaking this year for the kinda-sorta legendary Creative Living Lecture Series in Woodstock, Illinois. I’ll be there next week, January 19th. There are 400 seats in the theater and I have learned that they are almost sold out for the show! But there are still tickets left to come see me next Thursday, so if you can make it, get yourself a ticket and let’s hang out. Here’s where you can get the ticket online, or you can call or go here:

Phone: (815) 338-5300
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM,
Friday and Saturday, 10:00 PM – 6:00 P.M. and 2 hours before performances.
(Visa, MasterCard and Discover accepted.)

The phenomenal Creative Living Lecture Series has been running since 1964 and is organized by the Woodstock Fine Arts Association. Reading through the history of that group is to read the story of incredibly passionate, dedicated people who had a vision for their town and also for the historic opera house where the series takes place alongside lots of other terrific productions throughout the year. The opera house is on the historic register and guess who performed there once? My husband across time and space: Paul Newman! Did you know that I am actually single because I am and have always been and will always be married to the most perfect man who ever lived on the Earth, Paul Newman? Orson Welles also performed at the Woodstock Opera House but I am not married to him. Just Paul Newman.

Creative Living has featured incredible speakers over the years, including: Dr. Temple Grandin, Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, Charlie Trotter, Beverly Sills, Martha Stewart, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Rick Steves, Studs Terkel, Joseph Epstein (one of my favorite writers!), Ann Patchett (one of my mom’s favorite writers!), Rick Bayless, Bill Kurtis, Gene Siskel, and so many other people that are amazing that I can’t believe I’m going to be a part of such a neat event. I get to breathe that air, man! Wow.

My talk is about my journey in quilting and I will also speak about the history of the American quilt and about designing fabric. I’ll have quilts to show, of course, and there will be books for sale that I will happily autograph.

Come to Woodstock! I can’t wait to be there and see you.

“There Are Two Kinds of Quilters.”

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting, Work 34
My practice square from this afternoon. It ain't perfect, yet, but so what! I love applique! Photo: Me.
Messing around with a little practice needle-turn this afternoon. It ain’t perfect, yet, but so what? I love applique! Photo: Me.


Over the years of being around quilters, hearing quilters’ stories, and telling my own, I’ve come to believe that for those of us who come to quilting later in life—by that I mean people who did not grow up sewing and making quilts—there are two paths that lead us to the quilting life: joy…or pain.

Think about it: happy events like the birth of a baby, a graduation, or nuptials are perfect occasions for the gift of a quilt and indeed, many quilters point to such an occasion as the reason they got started in the first place. The baby quilt is such a popular rationale for a person’s first quilt, we in the business like to joke that it’s “the gateway drug.

Intrigued? I hope so!

That’s an excerpt from my latest Quilt Scout column, which went up today. My friend and colleague Rhianna — named after “Rhiannon,” the Fleetwood Mac song, how awesome is that?! — at Quilts, Inc., said it was her favorite column I’ve written so far. Thanks, Rhi.

Click over and read the full piece if you like, then swing back through the ol’ PG and tell me: How did you come to quilting?

However it happened, I’m glad you’re here.


PaperGirl Has a Post-Office Box!!!

posted in: Chicago, Paean, Pendennis, Work 22
Actual application p. 3 — and actual address! Please send all kinds of wonderful things. Photo: Pendennis.
Actual application (p. 3) and actual address! Please send all kinds of wonderful things. Photo: Pendennis.


Today is a great day!

I’m writing to you from inside the grand, achingly beautiful Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. Have you ever been to the Merchandise Mart? Do you know about it?

“The ‘Mart,” as it’s affectionately known in Chicago, is truly a marvel of architecture and city history. When this art deco masterpiece was built in 1930, it was the largest building in the world. The whole world! Because it comprises 4 million square feet. Four million! (When I lived in New York, Yuri and I had something like 840 in total, fyi.) The Mart had its own zip code until 2008 when some lame thing changed. This building had its own zip code!

Wanna know who built it? Why, Marshall Field & Co.! Yes, the department store guy.

(Hey, did I ever tell you that my grandparents on my father’s side met in Chicago and they would rendezvous under the Marshall Field’s clock when they had a date? They’d set a time and meet under one of the clocks at good ol’ Marshall Field’s. That’s pretty cute.)

And guess who owned the building for like half a century? The Kennedys! Yes, the Kennedys! Isn’t that interesting?? I love learning things.

The Merchandise Mart has been a place for commerce since it was built; it’s mostly wholesale showrooms for interior decorating and design and lots of offices and there’s a bunch of other stuff in here that I would love to know about but what is most exciting — perhaps the most exciting thing that has ever happened to/at the Merchandise Mart ever, in 85 historic years — is that there is now a post office box in this place that will take your PaperGirl mail!

I got a post box in the Merchandise Mart! For you! For us! For mail!

It’s high time this happened. I get requests for my address frequently because someone found a wonderful pencil they need to send me, for example, or because someone wants to donate to the blog (or maybe buy Pendennis lunch) but doesn’t use PayPal. Totally understandable. Also, this holiday has brought several gifts via my mother or the Iowa Quilt Museum (hi, Tammy!) and while it’s interesting to think about the journey of such things, let’s make this easier on everyone!

There is a post office much closer to my home than the one here inside the Mart and this branch has limited hours. But there is no other place worthy to receive your correspondence. I mean it. I wish you could see this place. It’s magnificent. Even the sign for the post office on the first floor is beautiful, set in an art deco frame with sconces around it, throwing this golden light upon it, saying, “Welcome, Mail!” The wide, marble floors in the gilded halls (currently draped with holiday garlands and bunting) are polished to a shine. The squeaky clean picture windows look out onto the city that I love so much, that I shall never take for granted.

So please, send me mail! Of course, yes, you may send donations if you like. The box cost $166 for the whole year if I paid it all at once, so I did. If everyone sent in a penny — wait, wait. That’s not funny. Please do not send me pennies. You don’t have to send money. Send me letters or drawings or stories or chocolate or other items of interest. I would like to start sharing your mail on the blog. (If you don’t want me to, of course I won’t — just let me know.)

The address is shown up there in the photo, but just in case you can’t see it, ahem: Mary Fons — PaperGirl, P.O. Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777. 

The photo also shows the third page of the application. I actually listed Pendennis as someone authorized to pick up the mail. Pendennis does not have fingers, nor can he take the train. But just in case, he’s official.

I’m so excited. I love mail so much. Let’s have fun with this. Let’s put the “paper” in PaperGirl.

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