The Quilt Scout is IN: ‘Binding Threads’ at Quilt House

Ahh … Quilt House. A museum just for quilts in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo: International Quilt Study Center & Museum.


Hey, gang!

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.

The Quilt Scout is IN: Quilts Light the Way

posted in: The Quilt Scout 4
Look at the chipmunks in this crazy quilt! They’re CRAZY! Photo: Wikipedia.


Hey, gang! The Quilt Scout is IN!

And guess what else? The column has been renewed for another year, so all throughout 2018, I’ll be buzzing around twice a month with my friends over at Quilts, Inc. to bring you sparkly content that benefits your brain, your quilting practice, your life!

Yeah! Your whole life!

I’ve been writing the Scout for four years, now. Isn’t that something? It’s one of my very favorite things to do.

Here’s the first of three columns for January. (January has a bonus column this year, since the Scout drops every two weeks and January is kind of long. Long and cold.) This column is about history and love, essentially, and I think it turned out pretty good.

Just like you.

The Quilt Scout Is IN…the Little Boathouse.

Little Boathouse! Photo: Mom.
Little Boathouse! Photo: Mom.


The first of the August Quilt Scout columns for the mighty Quilts, Inc. is all about Washington Island.

You know, the place where musicians go to rehearse in the lake. And where I fell through the ice. The place where a certain wedding took place and where I played with my sister Hannah summer after summer after summer. (Note to self: Make summer Island play date with Hannah.) Oh, and there’s this. And… Well, just put “washington island” in the search box over there and you’ll see a slew of related material. There’s not much going on in the news or anything; what else are you going to read for heaven’s sake?

Anyway, over at the Quilt Scout column are some great pictures of the quilt studio, my mom, and our family and friends. So head on over, gang. The sun is shining.

Mary Fons, Q.S., P.G.

p.s. Mom corrected me: The Little Boathouse is definitely not 600 square feet. Try 300, tops. I state in the piece that I’m bad at estimating distances. And I was telling the truth.

“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.

“How Long Did That Take You?” (The Scout Is IN!)

posted in: Day In The Life 7
"The Old Quilt [SCOUT]" by Walter Langley, date unknown. Image: Wikipedia.
“The Old Quilt [SCOUT]” by Walter Langley, date unknown. Image: Wikipedia.
Tonight, a cross-post, because you cannot believe the stack of reading I have to do before tomorrow — and you should’ve seen the piles I read for today. Some people make mountains out of molehills; some graduate school professors make them out of reading assignments. Holy mackerel.*

But worry not: This is no sloppy-seconds kind of post I’m offering; I’m actually particularly fond of this week’s Quilt Scout column on how to measure the time it takes for you to make a quilt. That’s the question quilters get asked the most, you know: “How long did that take you??”

I have come up with the answer and the answer is now yours for the using.

You are welcome; I am now going to go read an entire book and two PDF documents, all of which have copious footnotes. It was nice knowing you. Make sure Pendennis has all the candy pumpkins he needs. 

*Note to self: Look up etymology of “Holy mackerel.” Second note to self: Stop blogging this very instant and start reading all the things you have to read, Mary Fons. I mean it. I’m serious. Go. Mary. MARY.  

Confession: I Leave Food Out.

posted in: Food 1


I have my limits.
I have my limits. Image: Wikipedia.


It’s important to begin this morning that if you ever have dinner (or breakfast or lunch) at my house, you will get the freshest, most delicious ingredients in the dishes I lovingly prepare. And you should have a meal at my house because I’m a fine cook, if I can do a little horn toot.

That said, I would like to say without shame that I leave food out. Within reason. Eggs, milk, chicken, and anything containing these ingredients and a few others must be tossed if they are left out of the fridge for more than an hour or so. But cheese? The kind of potato salad that doesn’t have dairy in it but just vinegar and herbs and olive oil? Half a filet mignon in a restaurant doggie bag? Eh, whatever. If perfectly good food sat out overnight because sleep was more important than KP duty, I don’t feel too good about tossing it out the next morning.

Of course, I always give it a sniff. It’s amazing to me how the nose can instantly tell if a food is off. Our tiny olfactory senses and/or our tastebuds say, “Stop. No. Don’t. Do not. That is not okay for you/us.” If warning bells don’t ring, I shrug and put it in the fridge if it’s leftovers or cheddar cheese. Half-cut apples, onions, peppers? I leave them out as soon as I cut them! They’re all in a bowl on my counter. I do not want my fridge to smell like onions. When I need the onion again, I just cut off the wizened part and go about my dicing. I always use them within a day or so. Same with apples. Dried apples are sold for four bucks a bag at Whole Foods. They are free at my house if you want some.

Mold is not okay. Sprouting things are not okay. And again, if the food object doesn’t pass the sniff test, into the garbage with it. But in this deodorized, hand-sanitized world — while there are starving children in the city of Chicago — throwing good food out is an ethical issue. We’re lucky enough to have it. We’re lucky enough to share it. Though it’s true, “we’re lucky enough to be able to throw it away” sounds lame to me.

NOTICE FOR QUILTERS! Tomorrow begins a giveaway for Small Wonders fabric! Make sure to check PaperGirl for your chance to win! Thirteen zippy quilters will get a (great) prize. 🙂

Life Made a Pre-Washer Out of Me, Part I.

posted in: Chicago, Quilting, Small Wonders 1
If Small Wonders fabric was pretty and sweet before; washed and dried, it's angelic.
If Small Wonders fabric was pretty and sweet before; washed and dried, it’s angelic.

For PaperGirl readers who are not quilters, you are about to learn that quilters are a divided people. We are locked in a brother-against-brother conflict so deep, so indelible, generations of quilters from now will bear the weight of our differences. And it all comes down to how a quilter answers this question:

“Do you pre-wash your fabric?”

When a quilter gets home from the quilt shop or opens the UPS box, she has a choice to make: will she pop that cotton into the laundry first or will she just take it all to her fabric stash and just pull it out when she’s ready to use it? There are strong cases to be made on either side. What’s most important to know now is this: if you pre-wash some of your fabric, you must pre-wash all of it.

That’s the hard and fast rule. You can’t be a little bit pregnant and you can’t be an on again-off again pre-washer. This is because pre-washing pre-shrinks. If you make a quilt with some pre-shrunk fabric and some that isn’t, you are in danger of ruining your quilt. Stretching, pulling, snapped threads, rippling: fabric stitched together that shrinks at different rates wreaks havoc. If you care about what you made — which of course you do — don’t cross the streams.

Here’s the pre-wash argument: pre-washing gets rid of fixative chemicals from the factory; it obliterates any fear of dye bleed when the finished quilt is washed; you’ll use fewer pins because pre-washed fabric sticks together way better; if you use fabric softener it smells amazing; best of all, it feels incredibly soft and nice and it’s fluffy.

The non-pre-wash argument: you have to be insane to do more laundry what is wrong with you; any fixative used on the fabric is negligible; no one wants to wait to use new fabric; you’ll endure Thread Hell from unraveling edges; fabric from the dryer is super wrinkled and you have to press everything. No way.

It is a rare, rare occurrence indeed when a quilter leaves her team for the other. It’s like a Confederate soldier joining the Union Army. A Packers fan with a Bears jersey in his trunk. My friend Susan switching to Pepsi from Coke. (Never!) Aside from the convictions held by quilters on their respective side of the aisle, it’s a really, really big deal to stop or start pre-washing. Either you start in and pre-wash all of your stash one day, or you have to give away/donate all of your pre-washed fabric and resolve to not wash any fabric you bring into your home from here on out.

But I switched.

Right now, at this very moment, six washing machines in my building’s laundry room are sloshing and swishing yard after yard of fabric. Right now, four dryers in that room are tumbling, fluffing the material that I use to make quilts.

I’m doing it. I’m pre-washing my entire stash. I’m switching teams. I’ll tell you why tomorrow.

Change The Container, Change Your Life.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
Extremely fancy Penhaligon's orange blossom water...or Listerine? Photo: Wikipedia
Fancy Penhaligon’s orange blossom water from London..or Listerine? Photo: Wikipedia

Perhaps this is a frivolous tip.

But a few weeks ago, I realized my shampoo was terrible. It was also expensive, from a shop that sells fancy French skincare and bath products. They make a lot of products I love — and my mother is such a huge fan she should be making a commission at this point for all the people she’s turned onto the brand — but the shampoo? Poo. At least for me. I kept using it though, because it seemed a shame to throw it out at that price and the bottle was gorgeous. So I kept washing my hair with the poo-shamp. But it finally had to stop. My hair is wimpy.

So to Walgreen’s I went the next day, determined to offset the high price I paid for the poo-shamp by getting some Pert this time around. I figured Pert has been on the market so long (28 years!) there’s gotta be something to it. But when I got to the drugstore and stood in the shampoo section, my soul cried. I hate, hate, hate a big plastic bottle of drugstore shampoo in my shower. Why?

Subliminally, every time I see a big drugstore bottle of shampoo, I envision myself as a freshman in my college dorm, walking to the showers with my ugly plastic bucket of toiletries: pink Bic razor; over-perfumed shower gel from Bath & Body Works; a gummy bar of soap; a toothbrush and near-gone toothpaste tube…and a big bottle of, for example, Garnier Fructis. That bilious green. That ridiculous copy on the back about silk and strength. The enormous bottle itself, enormous because Proctor & Gamble has to get the cost of the bottle up to $6.99 and the stuff only costs $.06 to make, so hey, give ’em a gallon.

But standing there, dreading making my purchase, it hit me: it’s not the product I hate. It’s the container. So… Pour the expensive poo-shamp out of the gorgeous bottle. Fill the gorgeous bottle with Pert. I could consciously fake myself out and be so happy.

And this is just what I did. I went home and did the shampoo shuffle and it totally works. Even though I know the fancy bottle does not contain $20 shampoo, it feels like $20 shampoo because of the bottle. My life has totally changed. Do I need expensive shampoo? No. Do I need to feel happy and fancy in my shower? Yes, because I just do. But I can have both.

Also, Pert is not necessarily a product you need to run out and get.

Patriot Gift Shop.

posted in: Uncategorized, Washington 1
Detail, Pueblo Indian garment. Photo: Me
Detail, Pueblo Indian garment, National Museum of the American Indian. Photo: Me

To the number of friends I need to return calls and texts from: forgive me. Feeling poorly then mustering the will to still get out and do things with my friend before he leaves has me stretched a thin. I will repay you in cups of coffee shared in an air-conditioned cafe. It is so blinkin’ hot and humid here everyone is constantly wet and warm to the touch. It’s sexy, really.

Yesterday, I spent time at the National Museum of the American Indian. Between that visit and the visit a few days ago to the Museum of American History, my patriotism looks like it’s been taken into a back alley and been given a lesson with a baseball bat.

Here’s a definition for you:

patriot (n.) A person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors

I’m on board with the “prepared to defend it against enemies” part. If Country X tried to invade my hometown of Winterset, IA., I’m on the next plane to Des Moines and I’ll be taking that baseball bat with me, thank you very much. I could not understand how someone would choose not to defend their home against someone who wanted to take it. There’s pacifism and there’s pacifism.

But Dictionary, you usually solve all my problems and this time you have not. This is not helpful, Dictionary: “a person who vigorously supports their country.” Dictionary, either you’re being vague or the word “patriot” (and “patriotism”) is problematic. I think it’s the latter, Dictionary, but don’t go anywhere, yet.

I support democracy as a concept. I support the idea of state’s rights and federal rights. I vigorously support freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, definitely a free press, etc. But to “support [my] country” is impossible. Straight up, no chaser, support my country? No way. That would imply blind faith. It would imply the end of inquiry. It would imply I’m not reading the news. It would imply that everything I saw yesterday at the American Indian Museum about white settlers’ merciless cruelty toward and ungodly ruin of the people living peacefully in what is now Winterset, IA (for example) was justified and played out just the way it should’ve played out. I don’t support that. I reject that and need to excuse myself to go vomit. Am I still a patriot?

Perhaps being a patriot means questioning all of this, being an active participant in the discussion of one’s national culture or national identify. But that’s not what you said it means, Dictionary, and in a few days I’ll be at Monitcello and there are slave’s quarters there, so.


The National Archives: Not Bad

posted in: D.C., Paean, Washington 0
German shepherd, get it? Photo: Wikipedia
All the pictures of the U.S. founding documents seemed pathetic after yesterday’s visit, so in honor of Claus, here is a photograph of a German shepherd. Photo: Wikipedia, 2006.

The National Archives here in Washington was first on my list of Next Museums To Visit, but having Claus here, a German with an interest in American politics, made it happen sooner than it probably would have. After all, I have emails to answer and everyone knows emails are more important than the Bill of Rights. So yesterday we took the train down to Penn Quarter and walked about 20 paces to the Archives building.

In case you’re not aware, there is no entry fee for most of the museums in D.C., thanks to federal funding. The museums are ours, you might say, and you can get away with saying that with more than a touch of pride because it is a remarkable thing to be able to open the doors to a building, walk up a short set of stairs, and go into a rotunda where the documents upon which your country was designed are waiting for you. Inside the Archives, in a single room, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence — all originals, mind you — are on display. Inside bulletproof cases filled with inert argon gas, these papers cease to be .jpg files online or images in your son’s American History textbook. They become living things.

I’m a crier anyway, but I cried when I walked into the rotunda. These weren’t sobs; I wasn’t freaking out or hyperventilating. But I had to blink a lot to keep warm tears in. The U.S. is a different country from the one the founding fathers had in mind — by a lot, no matter what political camp you’re in — but regardless, these are words that men wrote to assert their independence from oppression and their vision for something way better than that. We’re here because of these sheets of paper and everything (oh, everything, everything) that has come after.

When you have a visitor to your town or city, you see the place through new eyes. When you have a visitor to your country — especially when you’re with them in the capitol city — you see the place with new eyes and, at the risk of sounding super gross, a new heart.

Press Release: Mary Fons To Write Exclusive Column for Quilts, Inc.

posted in: Work 1
A screen shot of the actual press release to be sent out tomorrow by Quilts, Inc.
A portion of the actual press release to be sent out tomorrow (across the globe!!!) by Quilts, Inc. Thanks, Quilts, Inc.

I told you I’d be sharing some surprises. Here’s the first one:

Beginning this month, I have the honor and pleasure of writing an exclusive, bimonthly column for Quilts, Inc., the esteemed institution that brings you International Quilt Market and Festival each year, making it arguably the central nervous system of the entire quilt industry. I’m happy to report my imposter syndrome kicked in immediately after they asked me to do this, which is really the only appropriate response to something so cool.

I’ve titled the column, “The Quilt Scout” because I’ll be going out and getting information pertaining to every nook and cranny “of quilt.” I wrote a long list of the different things I plan to do with the column, but I deleted it. You’ll just have to see. The Quilt Scout will be a little like PaperGirl, but focused around the one topic, of course, and Quilts, Inc. probably won’t let me tell stories like this, not that I’d try — at least not for awhile.

Look, I was a writer before I was a quilter. I supported myself as a freelancer for a number of years before tectonic plates slid me over into the quilt world. Having my two worlds converge in an official capacity is more satisfying than I can possibly express. It’s no surprise to me that the pieces I’ve been writing and turning in practically write themselves: there’s no friction here, no dragging myself to the computer. I didn’t realize it, but I’ve been dying to write The Quilt Scout for years.

Head over to and sign up for newsletter alerts, or just bookmark the page on your browser. I’ll have an official schedule at some point as to when my column drops during the month. Until then, know that The Quilt Scout is on the case, barely concealing her excitement as she fact checks, combs through back issues of Quilter’s Newsletter, interviews superstars, and chews on yet another pencil.