Dear Pittsburgh: Nice!

Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck, as seen in Pittsburgh last year.
Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck, as seen in Pittsburgh last year. 

One of the many reasons I enjoy traveling (and I do enjoy it, despite occasional grumbling) is because I am frequently proven wrong. It’s great to be wrong.

Well, not always. You don’t want to be wrong about how much room you’ve got while parallel parking you friend’s Mercedes; you don’t want to be wrong about the date if you’re supposed to get married this afternoon. But when you’ve drawn lukewarm conclusions about a place — say, Pittsburgh — being wrong is awesome.

I thought Pittsburgh was kinda scratchy and grimy and that Pittsburghers were cranky, but the last time I was in Pittsburgh I was in my early twenties on a poetry gig. Turns out it was me who was scratchy and grimy and it was the other poets on the gig who were cranky. Sorry, Pittsburgh.

This time around I’m in high heels, here for Spring Quilt Market (look who’s fancy) and this time, I am seeing Pittsburgh for what it is: a great American city with more character and sass than most. Did you know Pittsburgh has a building called The Cathedral of Learning? It’s the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere for heaven’s sake! Right here in Pittsburgh! Also, any salad becomes “Pittsburgh-style” when you top it with French fries. True story.

I came in hot yesterday from NYC and went straight to a salon for the manicure I needed to get before I left. I was driven there from the airport by a retired coal worker who, aside from being a really good taxi driver, fought in the Vietnam War, is a native of Pittsburgh, and does all his own plumbing and electric. In his gruff voice, he said, “This is a great city — you’re gonna have fun here, you’re gonna eat great, you’re gonna love it, no doubt about it — but it’s confusing as hell to get around. Accept that now, you’ll be all right. Everything to one side of Liberty Avenue is a street; everything to the other side is an avenue. So, you tell me you need to go to 6th St., we need to confirm.” He pulled his fishing hat down on his head a little further and got me to my manicure (on 6th St.) two minutes early. As we approached the city, I gazed out the window at all the bridges and re-purposed warehouses lining the shores of town. This is when I began to feel I was wrong about Pittsburgh.

At the salon, my manicurist looked so much like Lady Gaga — face, voice, laugh, everything — that I didn’t notice I had picked a horrible nail polish color. We were talking about quilting and she was getting very excited about the prospect of making a quilt herself; I was trying not to stare at her because she looked so much like Lady Gaga it was making me uncomfortable. Now I have a color of polish on my nails that looks positively fungal. But the point is that Lady Gaga is doing nails in Pittsburgh and she is really, really nice.

The research I did about the city surprised me, too: Pittsburgh is consistently ranked, year after year, among the top five most livable cities in the country. This is because there’s a lot of art here (Warhol was born in Pittsburgh and he has his own museum, for example), there are lots of colleges here, the sports teams do pretty well, the municipal government seems to not be fleecing its citizens, and crime is low. Also, the majority of the 300,000-ish people who live here can find work. This was the most revelatory thing I learned: I had the Pittsburgh-as-fallen-steel-capital image in my mind and figured on unemployment and attrition. Not at all. Pittsburgh is vital, thriving, and able to support growth. To wit: Lady Gaga told me the restaurant scene is exploding in Pittsburgh lately. You don’t find a ton of great restaurants in a dying city.

I also discovered that a Dutch artist named Florentijn Hofman created a 40-ft rubber ducky sculpture and Pittsburgh was the first American city to sail it. The artist made the duck to float upon waterways around the globe to bring happiness and joy to the good people of Earth. You can bet your bar of soap Hofman approached Chicago about the duck. He approached New York. Did either city say yes? Nope. But Pittsburgh was like,

“Let me make sure I understand. You want to sail a 40-ft rubber ducky down the Ohio River.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I like it. Let’s take a lunch while Cynthia draws up the paperwork. Do you like salad?”


Home Is Where the Bobbin Is.

"Northbound." From my forthcoming book, "Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century." Pre-order now at
“Northbound.” From my first book, “Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century.” Available nationwide May 15th.

Most people assume I have been making quilts since I was small. My mother, Marianne Fons, is a famous quilter, so it makes sense that she would’ve taught me how to sew from an early age. If I had shown more interest, she most certainly would have. We made a few doll quilts and a few quilts for friends of mine, but my creative pursuits took me to writing stories, putting on plays, singing…and creating and editing a magazine for my junior high school called TRUTH, the name of which I got from a film strip we watched about Russian communist propaganda newspaper, PRAVDA (translation: “truth”). I hired my best friends as columnists and we put out six issues with zero ad support. True story. Have I mentioned I didn’t have a boyfriend till my senior year of high school?

I started making quilts about six years ago. In my lectures to quilters, I talk about the reasons why:

  • I realized I didn’t have to make quilts that looked like what I saw in contemporary magazines or books; my quilts could look like ME, with solid black fabric, and teeny-tiny prints, and washed out shirting prints, and zero rick-rack
  • it was no longer uncool to be like my mom — in fact, it struck me as the coolest thing ever to be a part of my family’s place in the world
  • I got really, really sick and I needed non-medicinal healing (hello, patchwork)
  • the timing was right, age-wise. I was in my late twenties and ready to sit down for five seconds

And so I became a quilter and making quilts has brought me untold joy ever since. I’m not sure how many quilts I’ve made; it’s dozens, and they’re all kinda huge. Mom has always told me to make quilts that cover people, since that’s what quilts are for. The Fons women don’t do table toppers, though we support anyone who does. We support quilters, period.

A sewing machine with my name on it arrived in New York City yesterday. The fine folks at BabyLock are loaning me an Ellisimo while I’m here, and I carried that huge, glorious box 2.5 blocks and up 2.5 flights of Manhattan walk-up stairs with huge smile on my face. Anywhere I hang my hat for more than about four minutes simply ain’t a home unless I’ve got a sewing machine nearby. Making patchwork and making quilts isn’t just something I do: it’s something I am. The craft, the gesture, the sense-memory of the process is in my DNA, now. I quilt, therefore I am a whole person.

I have absolutely no idea where I’m going to put this thing. Seriously.


Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century

posted in: Art, Quilting, Work 5
Dat dere's muh book!
I, libros.

I don’t have any children. But I have written a book. Because of this book, I feel I understand a thing or two about parentage and stewardship, about hard work and real fear.

(Before we get too far along, if you don’t have time to read the rest of this, I completely understand and you can just jump to pre-ordering my book right here and thank you, darling, you look exceptionally handsome/gorgeous today!)

Let’s break down the [MOTHER] is to [AUTHOR] as [CHILD] is to [BOOK] analogy:

CHILD: A moment of conception must occur (i.e., orgasm.)
BOOK: A moment of conception must occur (i.e., great idea.)

CHILD: Blastocyst = cluster of cells formed early in mammal development
BOOK: Outline = cluster of ideas formed early in manuscript development

CHILD: The expectant mother may experience extreme tiredness, mood swings, carpal tunnel syndrome, nipple tenderness.
BOOK: Expectant author may also experience all of the above. WELL SHE CAN, OKAY??

CHILD: Needs a name.
BOOK: Needs a name that will sell.

CHILD: Though each woman’s labor varies, nearly all experience degrees of severe pain in labor and delivery.
BOOK: Author labor varies, but nearly all experience degrees of severe pain throughout the editing process and delivery of manuscript.

CHILD: May arrive diseased and malformed through no direct fault of the mother.
BOOK: Totally on you.

Let us leave the analogy, then, and let me tell you about the book coming out this spring from C&T Publishing. This is not the official book blurb, this is just me, PaperGirl, talking to you.

I wrote Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century is my book to delight readers, artists, and quilters. There are patterns for twelve original bed-sized scrap quilts, designed by me. There is instruction that takes you through the quiltmaking process, start to finish. There are tips and advice for creating good patchwork and a good life. There are quotes on love from all kinds of folks from Nietzsche to Montaigne to Marilyn Monroe. There is stunning photography of the quilts (gorgeous style shots as well as front and back flat shots of each), the fabric used, and the Quilt Charms I had engraved and stitched on the back.

The art direction is killer. When I was on a phone meeting with the book team in California, I reached for the sky: I told them to “make this book the most beautiful book you have ever made. Ever.” I promised them I’d do my part — and they held up their end of the bargain, I assure you. The book is more beautiful than I even imagined it would be. I’ve cried several times and I haven’t even seen a bound galley copy, yet.

The book costs $22.95 and you can get it right here.

I’ll share more soon. I’m so excited. I think I made a good baby.