What Can a Quilt Do?

posted in: Art 25
Flying geese I made with "Mary Fons red" and the Small Wonders Germany stripe. Photo: Me.
Flying geese I made with “Mary Fons Red” and the Small Wonders Germany stripe. Photo: Me.


For those who don’t know, this spring I was accepted into the graduate school of The School of the Art Institute (SAIC) of Chicago. As of today, I am officially pursuing my MFA in Writing. Today was the first day of school.

I am in love. All day, I was reminded why I have chosen to do this thing. My reasons were everywhere I looked.

My career in the quilt world — a career I have been tirelessly building for seven years — is robust and was robust when I submitted my grad school application. Though I’m not doing TV right now, I have gigs with guilds, shops, and groups booked through 2018. My fabric line is selling well (the first line was extended and this fall there will be a new group, “Decades,” which is reproduction prints from 1890-2000.) My column for Quilts, Inc., “The Quilt Scout,” had its one-year anniversary and read widely; I’m curating a scrap quilt exhibition for Spring Market 2017 for QI, too. I’m hand-quilting quilts, designing new ones, I’m on the board of the International Quilt Study Center, and both my classes and lecture are sold out at QuiltCon.

Why am I giving you my dumb resume? Because as good as all that is, it’s not enough. Let me rephrase: It’s not everything. Quilts are more than the industry. They’re more than the latest trend. I love quilts too much to let them be just a career. My schooling is part of my Big Fat Grand Plan to do something bigger.

You see, there are a lot of quilters who teach on the road and do video. There are quilters who have blogs and write books and patterns. These people are my friends. They make crucial, vital work and I love every single one of them. Heck, I am one of them.

But I want to know what else a quilt can do. Who is writing about the American quilt in a way that engages a wider audience? If you can name one, great: There should be more than one. What does a quilt look like when it goes to art school? What non-quilting audiences can it reach? When it’s time to do my thesis, perhaps I’ll write a memoir of my life in quilts (a tell-all memoir, of course.) Maybe I’ll facilitate a citywide quilt-making initiative, teach Chicagoans how to quilt, and write about that. Why not try? Even if I get 6% return rate of participants, that’s 6% more quilts in my city. I’d read a book about that.

The reason I chose SAIC for my graduate work is because they encourage this kind of exploration. I can blend it all at SAIC. (Proof: They have a longarm machine in the textile department and they have a textile department.) Not once in this graduate school plan has my intention been to “leave” anything. It’s the opposite. For the next two years, I’m not stopping anything: I’m going deeper. You can’t keep me from my sewing machine — but instead of continuing in the typical grind of pattern-book-video, I’m thinking big. Real big. For longer.

My first class was this morning: Design For Writers.

Now, I didn’t make a scene, you don’t have to worry about me not making friends, but…I cried. I was so happy to be in that classroom with that award-winning professor talking to other creative weirdos about shape and line and color and words, and my eyes stung. I squinched my sleeve up and put it to my forehead because I knew, I knew.

This is where it starts.