The Transparent Designer/Quilter.

posted in: Art, Quilting 1
My sewing table, about two minutes ago. Its state has not changed. Photo: Mary Fons
My sewing table, about two minutes ago. Its state has not changed. Photo: Mary Fons

I hung out with my new friend Carla last night at a cafe where everyone was way, way cooler than I will ever be. Carla and I were jamming on quilt world trends and interests. Carla is a proficient quilter and, in my view, has her finger squished squarely on the pulse of the Internet as it relates to quilts, quilters, and quiltmaking in America in 2015. I am not good at keeping up on all this because I am not good at keeping up on voicemail, let alone what hot UK designer is doing with partial seams. I’m not proud of it, but at least I know who to ask.

The conversation turned at one point to my own position in the quilt blogosphere. (I didn’t bring it up, please note!) It was uncomfortable to hear that in Carla’s estimation, I could do a lot better with sharing my quiltmaking process, the projects I have going, the day-to-day life I have as a person who regularly works with fabric and thread.

“It does seem that your projects sort of emerge when they’re done,” Carla said, munching a pear from her salad. “People like to see process. They want to know you better as a designer, I think, as a fellow quilter.”

Thus, a picture of my sewing table. My sewing table is also my table-table. I have no other table in this furnished apartment and it’s a good thing, too: to have a second table just for breakfast, say, I’d have to stack it on top of this one and then where would I put my washer and dryer? What you’re looking at up there is a fresh crop of fabric purchased in Kansas City; materials from the class I taught at the DC Modern Guild a couple weekends ago; my sewing machine; a candle that should not be there; flowers from my friend Jason that are very nearly dead but so beautiful I can’t toss, yet; and under all that, my mat, seam ripper, rotary cutter, a pattern I’m drafting, and previews of art for my upcoming fabric line.*

My design wall is directly behind the table and there are several things happening there, too. If PaperGirl were a vlog and not a blog, I would show you a full tour of my sewing area, but PaperGirl is not a vlog, will never be a vlog, and while we’re on the subject, I will never say “vlog” out loud, nor will I ever write it, ever again. Humans are capable of making good choices, as it turns out, and not allowing “v*og” into the vernacular is proof of this.

In the months to come, I plane to do a bit more curtain-drawing in this manner. There are big projects afoot and I’m champing at the bit to share about them. But don’t be surprised if one of these days “PaperGirl Too” pops up and Pendennis and I take you through how to make the quilt perpetually on my mind.

*Oh, you just wait. Oh, yes.

For the Quilters: A New Way to Stash

posted in: D.C., Quilting, Tips 2
It's like the olden days!
It’s like the olden days, all colorful and random and cozy. In process: “George Washington’s Cabin,” by Mary Fons, 2015.

If you’re not a quilter, you probably don’t have a stash.

Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and make a “Well, my husband has a mustache” joke. But watch it: if there are quilters in your midst, they may be inching toward you, tightening their grip on their sharp rotary cutters. A quilter’s fabric stash is, in the simplest terms, the fabric that she owns that is not in a quilt, yet. A quilter’s stash is her library, her paint palette, her big lake of color and texture from which she brings great ladles of the stuff to put into her patchwork.

As you can imagine, some stashes are bigger than others. Quilters who have been sewing since the early 1980s have… a lot of fabric. Those who are new might have just the seeds of a stash. Some folks hoard and some folks cull (ahem) but if you make quilts in any serious way — and you ought to — you have fabric somewhere. And that is your stash.

Did I mention I moved around a lot in 2014? I moved around a lot in 2014. A good two-thirds of my fabric stash is in storage in Chicago, but I have a whole lot with me, too, and that means I’ve transported all this fabric many times in the past nine months or so. And something cool happened in the shuffle: I changed my stash organization style and this has made all the difference.

I used to organize my stash by color. All the reds, all the greens, etc., all together. Now, this is a fantastic way to do things and as a quilter who typically starts with color inspiration and goes from there, I fully support this mode of stashing. But because all my fabric has been in and out of boxes all year, keeping it all color-coded has been hard. So what’s happened is that my tiny red prints are getting thrown in with my wide, black stripes, my yellow chambray is all up in my calicoes, my browns and pinks are sleeping with each other — it’s mass hysteria. And it’s fabulous.

I’m seeing new combinations. I’m considering new styles. Fabrics I might never have put together before (e.g., pink, burgundy, navy) become, suddenly, very necessary combos.

So there you go. Mix ‘er up. Don’t be too regimented. A tidy stash and studio are essentials and I’ll keep preaching that gospel till I’m dead, but don’t be too strict with your materials. As I say in my book:

“Quilts are like dogs; the best ones are usually mixed breeds.”

“Quilter In Residence” at The Yarn Company!

posted in: Day In The Life 5
Feel like making something gorgeous? Yeah, me too.
Feel like making something gorgeous? Yeah, me too.

Something magical has happened.

As excited as I was about getting my BabyLock here in New York, cold, hard reality smacked me upside the head the moment I took that glorious sewing machine out of the box: there’s about as much room for quilt-making in this apartment as there is for woodworking or ballroom dancing, which is to say there is none. What to do? To make patchwork is to live — and I am not ready to die.

Well, it just so happens that I have lovely friends. And those friends have lovely friends. And the majority of this collection of people, we make things with our hands. There exists a kind of code, or a kinship with us: no one is going to let anyone die from art/craft-related complications. You need a 1/2 yard of a Kaffe Fassett print from 2006? Baby, I’ma hook you up. Fresh out of sequins? I got this! We trade binding for quilting, piecing for yarn; we share scissors, gum, patterns, rides to the airport to go to the shows. We help each other because we’re human and humans (mostly) help each other, but we go extra miles for makers because we are also makers.

And so it was that on Friday, a kind and virtuous friend (let’s call her Susan because her name is Susan) was in New York and wanted me to meet someone. She wanted me to meet Tavy, co-owner of The Yarn Company on the Upper West Side. For all the quilters out there who are also knitters or yarnfolk, you may have just squealed with delight. The Yarn Company is a legendary yarn and knitter’s shop. It was the cradle of the knitting craze that began in the 1970s, the craze that has stayed with us ever since, waxing and waning over the decades a bit but mostly waxing. When celebrities in the 1970s were in homemaker magazines with their crochet hooks, they got them at The Yarn Company. When knitting got hot again with the so-called DIY’ers in the late 1990s, The Yarn Company was right there, packing its slender rooms on the second floor with crazed, “I must knit nine more scarves immediately!” people who flocked to yarn mecca.

Tavy and her brother Assaf bought the shop in 2011 and breathed new, needed life into the place. These days, it’s all warm wood and great light and big, broad tables. The yarn surrounds your very soul when you walk in: there are colors and textures of yarn that defy description, they’re so beautiful and soft. If yarn could melt in your mouth — if that were something that you would want to have happen — you’d get that yarn at The Yarn Company.

But it ain’t just skeins over there. The shop likes sewists and they love quilters, too. They have a gorgeous collection of yardage, though it’s modest at the moment. They teach sewing classes. When Tavy and her brother bought The Yarn Company, their vision from the start was to incorporate more makers than just the yarn people.

Enter The Yarn Company’s first-ever Quilter In Residence: me!

The good people of The Yarn Company have extended an invitation to me to set up my machine in the second room of the shop so that I can cut, sew, press, design, and hang out there. (I plan to learn to knit by osmosis.) I’ll be able to talk to knitters about quilts and why they should make them. I’ll be able to have a little design wall, something not possible in the apartment at all. I can answer patchwork questions if they come up while I’m there during business hours and I can sew late into the night! And there’s amazing vegan food across the street! Not that I’m vegan! But still! Vegans! Sewing blocks! Upper West Side! Yarn people! City quilting! Oh, the humanity!

This is gonna be really fun. My thanks to The Yarn Company in advance. Watch this space for news about events and things because they’re sure to occur. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the shop and set up my Elissimo and my cutting mat (thanks, Havel’s Sewing!) and I promise to post pictures on Facebook of what’s being made.

Just get out of bed in the morning. That’s all you have to do. Life transpires.

 

“Dear New York: Love, Chicago.”

The Wabash St. bridge, going up to make way for a ship.
The Wabash St. bridge, going up to make way for a ship. No big deal.

“Dear New York:

I’m writing because I’m concerned about Mary.

When she left me to come see you she was guarded, uneasy about being away from me for so long. Six weeks is a long time, no doubt about it. She and I have been together well over twelve years, and though Mary travels extensively, even her longest trips are usually no more than two weeks; there loomed over us significant separation anxiety. Plus, who would get the mail?

She was also concerned because — though she had a serious crush on you for most of her life — Mary suffers from a mild case of New York City-induced low-level panic. The scale of you (huge) and your population density (dense) causes her to chew her lip and drink too much coffee when she’s with you for even short periods of time. It’s a mild case, but even so.

But that anxiety has disappeared. Her lip-chewing incident was last week and was an isolated event. Rather than feeling skittish, she’s relaxed. In place of the subtle “outsider” or “impostor” syndrome she has felt with you in years past, there is a wholesomeness to her experience so far and a peculiar calm — this is even with the pools of filthy slush she has to wade through, the constant honking on 1st Ave. and the really, really badly cut finger she has right now due to the cheap-a** drinking glasses in this furnished apartment that continue to break in her hands.

Mary is falling in love with you, New York, and this is not okay with me.

I am Chicago. I am her Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. I am where Mary wrote poems for microphones. We became Neo-Futurists together. She is my lake beyond the slaughter yards. I reflect her in the windows downtown; I am her osso bucco; we have our own booth at Spiaggia. I’m leather, she’s lace. We read all the books, all the time, we have tea in the morning. We’ve gotten kicked out of bars and invited into libraries. Mary and I are involved, is what I’m saying, New York.

We have also recently renovated the bathroom and the kitchen.

While Mary’s with you and you hear her say things like, “I love it here,” or “I wanna move here,” please let me know. I will make sure to note the time and date of the sentiment and also be able to mobilize forces here to convince her to a) stop saying things like that entirely; or b) adapt the statements to something more like, “I love it here BUT I could never live here forever,” or “I wanna move here…but I’ll never give up my place in Chicago, the city of my dreams and where my heart is forever and ever, amen.”

I’m sure you understand. I simply can’t lose her.

With Regards,
Chicago”

 

The Cashmere Snuggie

"Oh please, please, please let me be a Balenciaga pre-season resort collection sweater one day! Please, god!"
“Oh please, please, please let me be a Balenciaga pre-season resort collection sweater one day! For the love of BAAAA. BAAAA.”  — A Cashmere Goat.

Who among us (other than the vegans among us) can resist cashmere? The cold is punishing; the wool is combed. The chill is evil; the fibers are thick. My white cashmere turtleneck is in heavy rotation this winter and it’s starting to look ever-so-slightly dingy, like fresh urban snow. But as I only have a couple pieces of cashmere in my wardrobe, I have no choice: even dingy cashmere is better than boring old wool and infinitely more fabulous than some kind of sporty, wicking PolarTec. Oh, the humanity!

My pocketbook contains a dash o’ cash, a personal debit card, a business debit card, and only one credit card. That card is for a department store whose name rhymes with Schmacks Smith Flavenue. I have a very low limit on the card to keep me from getting into debt. I hate being in debt and simply won’t accept it as an option if at all possible. Though fashion often feels like an emergency, it usually isn’t and not worth going into debt for. Not for long, anyway.

But as cash flow is a little weird right now with the move to NYC, I thought I’d use my slightly-dusty credit card today for a purchase I actually needed. Charging something has its benefits and today’s errand was a good example. But o, sweet, mysterious Fate: whilst looking for that other item, I found a full-length cashmere robe/nightgown/caftan thing so head-slappingly on sale I bought it faster than you can say “snorgle.” The garment is 100% cashmere. It’s pale-pink. It zips up the front. The only way it could be more adorable is if it had feet and a hood. I would’ve paid double if it had, but I’ve got it on as I type this and it’s working out just fine.

So that I don’t go to sleep — wait, wait. No. So I don’t drift to the Land of Nod on pale-pink cashmere gossamer wings thinking I allowed PaperGirl to be only about buying a nightgown, here are three fascinating facts about cashmere you should know. You really should, because check it out:

1. Cashmere comes from the soft undercoat of goats bred to produce the wool. Something like two-and-a-half goats are needed to produce a single sweater! That’s one reason it’s expensive. The other reason it’s expensive is because this undercoat has to be combed by hand, in the spring, by men in newsie caps who smoke pipes and say, “Aye” a lot and drink dark beers at lunch.

2. Everything in No. 1 was true except the very last part about the men.

3. I would like some hot chocolate right now. Do we have any hot chocolate?

 

 

“Do You Have Poison On?”

Rather lovely, the poison ivy plant.
Rather lovely, the poison ivy plant.

Weird stuff happens in New York City. For example, yesterday morning I opened the door of the apartment and littered on the two flights of stairs down were dozens of Mini Twix wrappers. Dozens of them, tossed like so much confetti! It was as though all the Mini Twix in the East Village were like, “Yo! Party at [REDACTED] and 1st Ave!” and I was seeing the aftermath. I’m happy to report they were very, very quiet. I didn’t hear a peep. (‘Cause Peeps weren’t invited — hey-o!)

Today, something even stranger happened — stranger, even, than a candy party in the hallway. I was walking near Thompkins Square Park when a young woman came up behind me and asked me one of the more disorienting questions I’ve ever been asked:

“Excuse me, do you have poison on?”

You know that search box feature in the upper righthand corner of your computer screen? When you need a file or a word or an image from your hard drive, you type it into the box and bloop! there you can make your selection. Our brains work similarly. When you’re out a date and your date orders the branzino, you might not instantly know what she’s having for dinner. You do the search box and in .0000003 seconds you come up with some old file with a weird filetype that has something to do with…fish! It’s a fish, right? Yes. Branzino is fish. Thank you, search box.

When that girl asked me if I “had poison on,” I could practically hear my little search box whirring into overdrive. Poison? Poison. Poison ivy. Poison the band. Poison the deadly substance. Hamlet. Poison on. Poison on…what?? What is poison on? Poison drips, poison oozes — poison does not go “on” anything. Are there headphones somewhere? Playing Poison? It would be impossible that “Cherry Pie” would be coming from my iTunes, but perhaps someone’s nearby? Is “poison” a new drug the kids are doing and she’s asking me if I’m either selling or interested in buying? Also: no? There were also data rejections of the “Poison Ivy” character from Batman and poisson.

I looked at the girl harder, my search box wheezing and puffing, shuffling through great stacks of data. “Get context clues!” it shouted, “I’m gettin’ nothin’ in here!” Pipes were bursting, coal was being shoveled into the furnaces within my gray matter. The girl was kempt and pretty. Mid-twenties, black, nicely dressed. This was no help. If she was clearly insane, I could just shake my head and keep walking. The search box could be satisfied with “she crazy.” No dice.

“I’m sorry,” I said, searching her. “Uh, poison?”

“The perfume. Poison. Do you have it on?”

It was almost orgasmic.

“Oh!” I cried, way too happy to give her an answer at this point. “No! No, I don’t! But man, that is such a great perfume! I love that perfume! No, no. Not wearing Poison. No Poison on.”

“Thanks — have a good one,” she mumbled, giving me a slight “Sorry I asked” look. Hey, lady, you’re the one who’s talking to strangers about poison.

My sister Nan used to wear that every day in high school, by the way.

 

 

Drinking & Sewing.

Better have some in the medicine cabinet, dawg.
Better have some of these in the medicine cabinet, dawg.

I cut my finger pretty good last night. I was drinking and sewing, so you are forbidden to have any sympathy for me. It’s okay.

I don’t drink much alcohol these days. I’m just not into it. I realized awhile ago that the increasingly obligatory evening glass of wine was suddenly two obligatory evening glasses of wine and about the time that it became that, I stopped getting a good night’s sleep. I would wake up at 3am and if there’s one thing I do not do, it’s toss and turn. So I’d wake up and read books and try to attack my day — and by noon I was a shell of a woman. When I didn’t drink wine in the evenings, this did not happen. Eureka!

But last night I decided to enjoy a vodka tonic. It’s been months since I indulged in a little evening refreshment and it just sounded nice. A little Tito’s, a little diet Schweppe’s, a little ice. Clink, clink, ahhh. And then, because I am brilliant, I picked up my rotary cutter, which is essentially a razor blade on a wheel. The rotary cutter is to a quilter as the hammer is to the carpenter: an indispensable tool used constantly that can really mess up a finger.

I was slicing around my fan template, zipping to and fro, enjoying some tunes. Sip. Zip. Zip. Sip. “La-la-la,” I sang, and I was so excited about the vodka and the scrap quilt forming on my design wall that I zipped my way right across my index finger and pam! a great flap of skin was now dangling off of me, ruby red blood welling up in astonishing quantity.

“Ah!” I exclaimed and jumped back. I raised my hand over my head and grabbed the first thing I saw to wrap around my wound. What do you suppose I grabbed? Fabric, of course! You see, quilters are very smart. We have bandages at the ready at all times. Carpenters can’t say that (though you could argue they can make a splint pretty quick — or a stretcher.) I hopped up and down and whistled; this thing could be bad, I thought, and I stole a peek. Oh yes! Pretty bad. But there was no tingle, no numbness, so I don’t think I hit a nerve.

The lesson: do not drink and sew. I am not the first to do it, certainly not the first to advise against it, and I know for a fact that I’m not the first to do it anyway and then injure myself. But “the fool who persists in his folly will become wise,” said William Blake, and he actually died while singing, so we should listen to him.

Can I get anyone a drink?

Good Morning, Darling.

posted in: Day In The Life 0
Morning, Marilyn! Can I get you a warm-up?
Marilyn didn’t do anything you and I don’t do (e.g., morning coffee) but she made it look like this.

 

Good morning!

Did you sleep well? You look amazing. Your hair is like, perfectly messed up. Very stylishly mussed. Do you know the word sprezzatura? It’s Italian, obviously. It means “studied carelessness”. A woman spending hours on her hair to make it look like she just rolled out of bed is working sprezzatura. That’s you right now, sprezzatura. Say “spretz-uh-TOO-ra.” Exactly.

Yes! Coffee! Here, I just made some. It’s French press; I don’t have a coffeemaker. No, because I hate appliances. All those cords and plastic; I can’t take it.

You did?? Oh no! Tell me. Oh, gosh. Oh, dear. Come here, darling. Oh, my, my, my. That’s simply awful. That’s an awful one. A wild boar chasing you is bad enough but not knowing the lines in the play on top of all that — yes, I’ve had that dream too, and it is just the worst. It was only a dream, though, and it’s over.

May I have a kiss, please? Thank you, darling. I do need plenty of kisses in the morning. Here’s the cream and sugar. Enjoy your coffee and I’ll get you a pastry. Take your time and we can think about what to do with the day. We have all the time in the world.

Welcome home, darling. I’m so glad you’re back.