Episode #7 - Quilting Fun with Mary Fons
Hello, my quilting friends! Leah Day here with episode 7 of the podcast, and today I'm going to share an interview with Mary Fons. She is the daughter of Marianne Fons, who started Fons and Porter.
She's just such a amazing all-around person, and we really hit it off at Quilt Market. Then I was like, "You know, you want to be on the podcast? That way I can get to know you a little bit better."
This podcast really runs the gamut on conversations and stuff and topics, but I would say I guess the overall theme is just love of quilting, love of making quilts, and Mary helps debunk a few of the myths of quilting so that's really cool too. You can check out Mary's website at MaryFons.com.
Machine Quilting Block Party just 8 days away!
Now for a few updates about what's going on around the house. Our Machine Quilting Block Party is less than a week away from launching and I cannot wait. This is going to be really exciting, and I think such a beautiful quilt to work on together this year. It has been a lot of work right here up until the end of the year just getting everything done and finalized and videos shot and everything ready to go.
That's been a little stressful, but it's finally reached that point where I'm starting to see how this is all going to come together, and that feels really, really good. If you'd like to join us for this, it's a Mystery Block Party. It's 12 blocks and we're going to have an extra pattern for sashing and cornerstones.
You don't have to sign up or anything. You don't have to subscribe. You just come to my website and pick up the block patterns. You just come and buy them whenever you want to make one, and the blocks will be released each month. The very first block will be released on January 1st, and you can find it at LeahDay.com/BlockParty.
Wonky Christmas Tree Quilt Pattern
Another thing that happened this week was Quilty Box came in! Quilty Box for December had beautiful gear and fabrics created by Natalie Barnes, and her website is beyondthereefpatterns.com. You can check her out and see her beautiful Hand Maker fabrics.
I took a look at them and I was really excited. It's like 10 fat quarters that came in the box this month, so I knew I could make a big something, something big. I took them and thought about it a lot. I got them prewashing, and then for some odd reason I dried all the fabrics together and some of them bled onto some black and white fabrics that were included.
When I looked at that I actually wasn't all that upset about it because it gave me an idea, like, "Oh, I wonder if I could do some kind of like coloring, like a coloring quilt, where the black and white blocks, I could let James color them with magic markers." So that's what I did.
I took the fabrics and sliced them up, and my brain, I have no capability for accurate measuring and cutting. That just does not seem like fun to me right now. Instead, I made it super wonky and improv, and so every single Christmas tree comes out different. They have a very different look, the colorful prints versus the black and white. I just think it came out really, really good.
You can check that out at LeahDay.com/trees, learn how to make the wonky blocks, and then next week I'll show you how to put them together and actually make a quilt with it. I know that'll be after Christmas, but hey, it still counts.
I'm sure I'm going to be making Christmas trees actually for quite some time, with 10 fat quarters, and then I add in lots of background fabric, this is a lot of fabric and I ended up realizing we could make dozens if not hundreds of Christmas trees. We're going to be working on these for a while, I think. We're going to have lots of Christmas quilts for everybody next year.
Setting Goals for 2017
Getting into this end of the year thing, I have just been kind of thinking and soul searching about my goals for 2017 and trying to figure out really what I want to focus on and where I want to grow, and really digging into that. I think I'm going to have a post on that next week, just an episode talking about the word for the year and what I want to focus on, and then really more than anything else, when I'm focusing more on the artistic side of quilting and sharing in a more personal way, teaching in a more personal way, meaning more than just like, "Hey, here. We can cut out fabric, and we can piece it together, and we can make this thing."
More than that to say, "Here's a quilt that is about grief," or, "Here's a quilt about anger, and let's work through this together." Sometimes those emotions are not very comfortable, and maybe that's just like a weird thing that I like to do, I don't know, but that's really what moves me in quilting, and making my goddess quilts that have a theme and a story and a lesson behind them.
I really haven't been prioritizing those quilts very much in recent years, and that's a problem. I really think that that is my thing, and I need to honor my thing. While I love traditional piecing in quilting, and that's absolutely what the Machine Quilting Block Party's all about, I really think that I need to find another way of sharing about this other side of quilting too, this more emotional and self-helpy kind of side of quilting.
It's kind of hard for me to even wrap my brain around it, but I know that it's a pursuit that's close to my heart, so whether it pans out as far as being monetarily successful, I almost don't even care. I just want to do this for me, and I think that's really important.
It's really easy to get bogged down and like, "Oh, I need to make this thing so it will sell," and sometimes I think we just need to back off and just say, "I need to make this thing just simply because I need to make this thing, and it will make me happy, and I will feel good making it, and I will learning something, and I can then share that something with other people and make them feel good too." I think that's maybe a higher meaning. I don't know, but that's just what I'm thinking of and working out, so we'll have a new podcast episode for you next week about that.
That's it for the updates around the house. That's what's going on other than all the other Christmas craziness. I do have a task. I need to find a gluten-free chocolate pecan pie recipe between now and Saturday and figure out if it's going to be any good. I don't know if I told you, I went gluten-free this last spring, and it's been wonderful, and what I find is that when I search for gluten-free, usually I end up with a recipe that's not all that great, but if I search paleo, I usually end up with a really, really tasty recipe, and they're basically the same thing.
Paleo does not use white flour and incorporate gluten into the pastry or the dessert, and gluten-free's the exact same way. You can alternative flours and stuff like that. My mother-in-law had kind of I guess a craving for chocolate pecan pie at Thanksgiving this year and I could not find one, and I really wanted to make it instead of buying it anyway. She's been off on a trip and I told her before she came back I was going to make a chocolate pecan pie for our get-together. That's on my list. It's one of the last thing I'm going to do for Christmas, and I'm planning on doing that the day this podcast comes out, actually. Wish me luck on that.
Sponsor for the Show
Now for the sponsor of the show. The sponsor for this podcast is my website LeahDay.com. I really hope that you will come and check us out, and check out the new Machine Quilting Block Party that is starting on January 1st, and you can check that out at LeahDay.com/BlockParty. And now, here's the show.
Quilting Fun with Mary Fons
Leah Day: Hello, my quilting friends. Leah Day here with the amazing Mary Fons. Mary, why don't you start by telling everyone who you are and how you got into quilting.
Mary Fons: Thanks, Leah. It's a pleasure to be on your show. Thank you for inviting me. I am a quilter and a writer. I sort of blend both of those things together. That's sort of my primary goal in life right now especially is to write more about quilts, and my quilts are sort of changing because of the book that I'm writing in graduate school. I'm a quilter and a writer, but I also teach quilting all over the country, and for a lot of years I taught on television on PBS, Love of Quilting, co-hosted that show with my mom and special guests, and in 2001 ... No. Whoa, not 2001.
In 2011, Quilty Magazine came out to supplement Quilty the show, which was a show online, online instruction. Quilty started in 2010, the show, and then in 2011 the magazine came out, and for the four years that it was around, I was the editor of Quilty Magazine. What else? Gosh. There was that fabric line, and I'm in the quilt world. I'm just thrilled to be here. My mom is a quilter too. Marianne Fons is my mom. People know her name. If they don't know my name, they'd probably know her.
Leah Day: Yes, they definitely know you name, most certainly. How did you get into quilting? Did it come from your mom, or did you kind of get bitten by the bug by another source?
Mary Fons: Yeah. It's a strange thing that I didn't learn to quilt when I was growing up. My mom always encouraged me and my sisters. I have an older sister and a younger sister. She always encouraged us to be creative, and we were wildly creative kids, but we were not interested in making quilts because it was my mom's work. It was really what she did for work. I mean, she were a single mother working very, very hard with Liz Porter, and it wasn't like she was sewing as a hobby, which for my mom, it was like we looked at quilts as these beautiful, wonderful, amazing things that mom did for work. It wasn't like, "Please teach me to sew."
It wasn't until later when I was 28 I got really sick. I got married when I was 28, and I also got really sick. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. That was very, very bad and I've been through many, many surgeries and really sort of unpleasant procedures and things like that, and my marriage was not good, and it was just sort of this crisis time, this really bad crisis time. I woke up in the middle of the night kind of seized with the desire to tear up perfectly good fabric into a million pieces, because my life, I felt like it was in a million pieces, but with fabric you can sew it back together again. I really just deeply needed to make a quilt, and so I started. I'm kind of self-taught because of that. It's weird, but I said, "Mom, I'm going to do this," and she was like, "Great, here's a ruler. What do you need? Here's a rotary cutter and a mat." I kind of followed my nose.
At that time, Mom and Liz had sold the company and they were looking to transition out, and I had started making quilts, so I really kind of went in a strange way into the work side of this because I was a beginner and sort of thrust into the world of the industry, which I'm not a victim at all. I mean, I'm not complaining, but it's a strange way to go about all this because I learned how to sew on national television. That's pretty much what I say to people, and I don't recommend doing that. That's really hard, but I learned as I went, and I think if people identify me as a teacher that they enjoy it's because I learned along with them. I didn't come out like this super expert. I really had to ask all the questions that they were wondering about sort of in the line of fire.
Leah Day: Yeah. Yeah, and I'm sure people probably make so many assumptions because you're Marianne Fons' daughter, but it's so interesting that that's absolutely not the truth. You learned on your own, but then also to have the pressure of a video camera in your face. I know what that's like. That's a lot of pressure.
Mary Fons: Yes, it is, and I've told Mom and Liz before, they'll never know what it's like to be new with the internet on. Like when they started out their first shows, I mean, oh my god. Mom, the hair was fabulous. It was like 1992 or something, but their first shows were so rough, but there wasn't Facebook, and there wasn't the chat rooms. Back then I suppose there were, but quilters weren't online when that show first aired on TV, and I had to take my lumps. I really did, I took my lumps. People did not like me coming in for a number ... Well, I mean not everybody. Many people were wonderful, but I did feel a lot of pressure and got some trolling because Liz Porter is a master. She's truly a, I mean, there's not master distinction in quilting, and by the way, my mom says, "You're a beginning for a little while as a quilter, and then you're an intermediate for the rest of your life." That's how I feel too, but if anybody is a master, it's like Liz Porter.
Then here comes the kid and it's like, "Oh, she's only on because that's her mom. We'll see how long this lasts. She doesn't know what she's doing." We got letters from a couple people and they were, "I can't learn from a beginner. I've been sewing for 25 years." That was the one thing that I know. You can have your opinions about people and you can have movie stars you just don't care for, and radio announcers you just don't care for their voice, that's fine, but they actually were wrong. Anybody I felt who said that they couldn't learn from a beginner, that's really not true, and I knew that was not true because when I meet beginners, truly you learn from them as much as they're learning for you. [inaudible 00:14:53] differently and you don't [inaudible 00:14:55] half square triangle that's this way, or why couldn't you cut this at the same time as you're cutting that? The beginner has those really fresh questions and you can learn from that.
Yeah, it was rough, but I won them over I think. I'm sure there are still quilters in Nebraska or something that just hate me, but I learned if you watch the show from the time I came on until now, you see the evolution of a quilter, before your very eyes, and it's really cool, because I was shaky, then I got better, and then I'm like off to the races. Anybody they can do it.
Leah Day: Excellent. I think that's so important. That's the thing I come back to time and time again is focus on the beginners. I wish I could go back and have some uglier stitches because I make it look too easy, and then the real beginners get frustrated. I even had my husband come on one year and we did a quilt along together. His stitches were all over the place and he was a total beginner, and it was challenging to film together, but that was one of the best quilt alongs we've ever done because we had someone showing it from the beginning, and showing it in its very ugly, raw state. Definitely.
Mary Fons: Yes. Yes. I just did my first hand quilted quilt this summer. It looks terrible, and it is my favorite quilt right now. I mean, it sort of changes. Your latest quilt's usually your favorite one, right? This one I did this summer, but I hand-quilted it, and I didn't mean for it to look like sashiko, but it does. The stitches are really ... They're not great, but it's mine, and I did it, and I committed to it. Oh, and this is funny. You'll like this, because you know everybody always asks us, "How long did that take you? How long did it?" I know it's so hard to answer, but I finally know how to answer it, Leah. When I was hand quilting my quilt this summer, I would turn on Netflix and watch The Office, you know, with Steve Carell. When someone asks me, "How long did that take you?" I say, "13 seasons of The Office." [crosstalk 00:17:05] You just measure it in Netflix. You just measure it in Netflix, or like podcasts. "Well, it took me 90 episodes of my favorite podcast," because that's a measurement of time that made sense. Every time I would sit down and work on it, turned on The Office, and it was my happy place, and it took 13 seasons. Yeah.
Leah Day: That's awesome. I'm totally going to start equating my quilts to seasons of television from now on. I have you here today and we're going to talk about what you're doing now. You are right now in college. You're going for your masters in writing, but then you're also working in a quilt museum, right?
Mary Fons: Well, sort of. I'm not working in the museum, but I'm on the Board of the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, which is associated with the University of Nebraska. I'm on the Board of the Study Center, and so that's one museum. It's kind of confusing, but then I'm in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I'm getting, yes you're right, my masters in writing from SAIC. Yeah, so those are my museum affiliations, and I would love to work in either one of those places one of these days, but for now I'm happy learning as much as I possibly can from them.
Leah Day: Tell me a little bit about what got you into that side of the quilting. Like the history of quilting, is that really what interested you?
Mary Fons: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. The quilts that inspire me the most are antique quilts, specifically quilts from like 18 ... I mean, the Civil War quilts are really great, but earlier than that, like 1810 up until like 1890. Yeah, the golden age for me, if you could show me a quilt from like 1830, 1840 on up until like 1910, yeah, that's brilliant. I love all of those. The patchwork, the fabrics are extraordinary, and there's a myth that I believed, so many people believe it about quiltmaking in that time, around the time of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution spanned a long time before that and then after it, but the myth that I believed was that these quilts that women would make were made because there was a scarcity of fabric. There wasn't any fabric so they had to piece together all of Timmy britches. They cut out a patch of Timmy's britches and then they'd use pieces of their apron. My mom actually told me that the opposite is true, that the scrap quilt and these beautiful quilts that we have from this time in American history were made because of an abundance of fabric. It was because we had so much beautiful fabric being made here in America that women could make these quilts. You can't make a scrap quilt unless you have a lot of leftover fabric. You're not piecing things together out of necessity, it's actually from abundance.
When I learned that I was like, "Whoa." That was this huge, big eye-opening moment for me, and I began to look at quilts as a piece of this country's history, and I believe that the American quilt is our greatest creative legacy. America's greatest creative legacy is the quilt. The American quilt is to America as the kimono is to Japan. I really feel like it's our object, it's our truly American object, art object. Well, and then you get in the art versus craft thing, which I have thoughts about too, but when I look at these old antique quilts or these quilts from years past, they just make my brain feel good. These dark colors, sometimes calicos and things, just the high contrast. I like that there's a lot of applique, which I'm just now getting into, but I love that, and when I learn more about the quilts and the people who made them, the more I am inspired to make quilts and be part of that legacy, be part of this continuing story of the quilt in America. I have great pride in that, just being part of this thing.
Not everybody's a quilter, and how sad is that, because we have this beautiful thing, and nobody can take it away from you. When you're a quilter, and it doesn't matter if you're in the industry or not, or you just have made one quilt, or you make a bazillion quilts a year, that thing that we get to do because we have found quilting is singular and beautiful, and I just love it. The antique quilts were really, those quilts were a way in for me, and from there I've become a quilt history geek, I mean really nerdy. I'm really nerdy. I could go on and on, and yeah, that's it. The history is important to me.
Leah Day: Yeah. I find it really interesting that you said that whole concept of scrap quilting is a misconception now, and I've also heard that the whole Civil War quilts thing, the whole Underground Railroad, making a quilt so that it would signal the Underground Railroad, I've heard that that's a whole kind of made up story. Can you talk a little bit about that? Have you uncovered some other things like that?
Mary Fons: Yeah. Yeah, that's a great question. I was writing about this too. I write a column for Quilts, Inc., and that's at Quilts.com. My column's called The Quilt Scout, and actually I just wrote about this. I busted some myths, so yes. I love busting myths. I mean, it's kind of, it's a bummer sometimes because quilters get very upset when you tell them the truth about, for example, yeah the Underground Railroad. My authority on this particular topic is Barbara Brackman. Barbara Brackman, and you have historians like Julie Silber, and these people have really, they spent their lives on quilt history. There's just no evidence of the Underground Railroad thing. The idea was that women would hang blocks in the window or on the clothesline to sort of signal, and there's just no evidence. Could they have done it? Possibly, but in fact it was a fictional story that really caught on. It's fabulous, it's like an amazing concept, but there's just no evidence that it did happen, but it could have.
Then another myth, this one really hurts people. They just hate this, but the idea that the Amish quilters will intentionally stitch a mistake, or they'll make a mistake on purpose because only God is perfect, and so they have to put a mistake in their quilt. This is not true. It's not true, and I've talked to Amish people about this. First of all, the Mennonite lady I talked to, she's like, "Nobody has to try to put a mistake in their quilt, believe me." Also that's very un-Amish. That is not an Amish thing. It's very prideful to think, "Oh well, where will I put my mistake today? If I don't put it in it'll be perfect and I can't have that." That's actually not true.
Then, yeah, the other myth. Yeah, I talked about the abundance versus scarcity, that the American patchwork quilt was born out of an abundance of fabric instead a paucity.
Leah Day: Don't you find it fascinating, I'm sure you've seen lots of quilts from like France, and England, and the Welch quilts, and I'm sure you've seen Japanese quilts. Isn't it fascinating how each country has their own kind of unique, distinctive style? The quilts that I absolutely love were the quilts from Province, France, the big wholecloths that were just these intense stitched wholecloths and stuff. You think about a abundance of fabric. Why didn't Americans also develop that wholecloth quilting style? It's not popular. The scrappy style really caught on here instead. Is there any kind of reason for that that you would know of?
Mary Fons: It is such a great question. That's such a great question, and I think, I mean what I've understood, and it's very heartwarming and awesome, I hope that it's true, I'd like to believe it's true, but the American quilt, it's a metaphor for how we worked together to build the nation and all this. There's different histories we could tell about America. I mean, there were people who were disenfranchised over the course of building America for sure, so this is not all rosy. But the log cabin, one block building with another one, building with another one, building with another one. That was sort of the American, not dream, but it was the theme of that time, sort of building this country. I think block-by-block, that's how we were working, and I also think the fabric being here, all of that fabric, really did contribute to the desire. Those women, I have to say women because it really was women, they were just as fabric-hungry as we are. They were every bit. It's like, "Wholecloth? Stand back. I'm getting the calico, and I'm getting the new print that came at the dry goods story." I think that has something to do with it. We had so much fabric, and that block-by-block structure sort of mirrored maybe American ingenuity, and community, stuff like that.
Leah Day: Yeah, definitely, and that makes so much more sense. I'm thinking too, it might just be something about Americans that we want to show off how we can put things together. Like, oh I can do a wholecloth, and that's more showing off my quilting and stitchwork, but when you actually patch something together and make a four-patch, or make a nine-patch, or make a log cabin, you're actually showing off that you can do the math and you can cut it out accurately, and then you can piece it accurately. I think that's very much a building process, and maybe that's just a characteristic of American quilters from the very beginning.
Mary Fons: Yep. I absolutely think so. There is also something to be said about the women who were making these quilts. Today, if some of these people were around they'd be like at MIT. We didn't have the opportunities that we have now, and so you see the engineering behind some of these quilts. It is extraordinary. Like you're saying, "Look what I can do. Look at the math. Look at this design work that I've done." They've really, absolutely showing off in a great way. Then you think how tragic it is that we have no names on most of these quilts. Virginia Woolf said, "Anonymous was a woman." Anonymous was a woman. If you ever see a quilt by anonymous, or artwork by anonymous, it's usually a woman. We don't have names on a lot of these quilts because they weren't considered by many to be something that you would sign like a painting.
That does get into the art versus craft question, and are quilts art? This like, are they art or are they designed objects? I'm in art school now so I really think about this a lot. But the women who were making these quilts, they were certainly see in some of them, and some of those quilts have been very well preserved, these really ornate applique quilts and whatnot, wedding quilts and things. Most quilts were designed to be utilitarian. They were used on the bed. They were used as covering, wrapping, blankets, and it just wasn't seen as something to stand on its own as a piece of art necessarily. Then it's like, "Well, who was making those decisions?" Well, guys, men, so they weren't valued. The quilts weren't valued as art objects as we can see them today. Yeah.
Leah Day: Yeah, and I'm just thinking in terms of my great-grandmothers. I have inherited a lot of their quilts, and they didn't sign them, and I think probably a lot of it was it was just assumed, "Well, this quilt's going to end up being given to my daughter, and then she's going to remember who made it, and then she's going to give it to her daughter and she's going to tell her who made it." That verbal history might have been greatly depended upon, but isn't always necessarily there. At this point now, my great-grandmothers, my grandmothers have died, so that a lot of that history has been lost, and I don't even know who made this. That's one reason why I am very adamant about marking my quilts. I want to get credit for it. In 100 years, if my quilt still happens to be around, I want to make sure that everyone knows I made it, not one of my sisters.
Mary Fons: Exactly. Exactly. In fact I saw a label once that said how many pieces were in it. It was like 7200 pieces. It's like, yeah, I want everybody to know too like how many seasons of Netflix did I have to watch to make this quilt completely. There was this huge turning point, one of my favorite, favorite times in quilt history, in American quilt history is the bicentennial, and the great american quilt revival, which is so exciting. It started in '71, and this goes to the are quilts art conversation. In 1971 the Whitney Museum of Art in New York held the Abstract Design in American Quilts exhibition. It was Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof. They had been collecting quilts like nobody else. Museums had had quilts, they've had these applique pieces, Baltimore album quilts. Some quilts have been kept in museums, like the Art Institute or the Smithsonian, but Jonathan and Gail were collecting very humble quilts like log cabins, and nine-patches, and shoo fly, and these quilts of the prairie, quilts of Pennsylvania, log cabin quilts, collecting these "humble," and I use rabbit ear air quotes with that, but these sort of humble quilts because they saw them as art.
Pure and simple, these were artistic works, these were artworks. They took them to the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. They were connected in the art world, and the Whitney Museum put up that exhibit in '71, and that was the first time, really the first time that quilts were taken off the bed and put on the walls of a museum as art. Until then, maybe quilts had hung at shows, of course they had hung at shows, and there were these certain quilts in museums, but not quilts like this. When they did that, the exhibit toured, it was sold out, everybody loved it in 1971. You can still get the book of the exhibit on eBay I think, I hope. I hope more people can see it. It was a seminal event. After that, quilts were sort of in the American consciousness a little bit more, and people were going up to their grandmother's attics, going into the basement to look for these quilts.
Then the bicentennial came in '76, and it was just really great occasion to make a quilt of your own. Well, you talk about quilts versus art, and signing them and stuff, a lot of that started taking place in the 70s when people are like, "You know, this is not just a blanket actually. This is a really important part of history. This is a part of my family, and yeah, it took me forever so I'm going to sign it now."
Leah Day: Wonderful. Just getting back to construction. Let's talk construction real quick, because I know that you don't work in the museum, but you've obviously seen enough of these antique quilts and you know enough of the history. There are a few debates, and some of them create quite a lot of controversy online. I answer these questions quite literally like once a week. The most prevalent one right now is starch. I use starch to press my fabric, make it nice and stiff before I cut. Like I said, I get one email a week about, "Oh, starch is bad. It will attract bugs. That will make them eat your quilt and you shouldn't use starch at all." Everybody used to use starch, didn't they? Right?
Mary Fons: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, starch has been used a long time, and yeah, there is wisdom in that, that you're putting a chemical or you're putting whatever starch is, sugar or something. I don't know what it is. That's really embarrassing that I don't know what starch is, but I'm sure that it's going to affect the textile. It's going to affect the textile, but fabric, I mean, I wash my quilts, I use them, I wash them. Not all of them, I have a few that are for teaching or something that I sort of keep and don't use regularly, but I use starch. My favorite part of the whole process, Leah, is pressing. Cutting, eh I get through it. The sewing of course I really like, but my favorite part of patchwork is opening that seam, or pressing that seam, and giving that little squirt of starch. I just like it.
The idea too that people sew and they have their process because of who taught them. For every person who uses starch you're going to find somebody who doesn't. Actually I think more people do use it, but if you cut a half square triangle, or you make a half square triangle unit in this particular way, somebody will be like, "Well, that's not the way to do it. Let me show you how to do it this way. This is a better way." We sew how we were taught, and I think yeah, we pass along what we know, but there's always a way to change. There's always a good method that you haven't learned, which speaks to the beginner thing that we were talking about, but yeah. I use starch. Love it.
Leah Day: So you haven't seen any sign like, "Oh, this quilt had starch on it and it got eaten up, and this quilt did not have starch on it and it was not eaten"?
Mary Fons: Exactly. No, I have never seen it. I have never seen that. Like discoloration and things from ... Yeah, fabric, it's organic material. It's a biodegradable thing that we use, cloth, so it's going to go through a lot, but if your quilt is well-preserved and ... Oh, that by the way is something I just was thinking about. I've added it to all my lectures because it's really important about storing quilts, so just throw a little tip in here. Storing quilts is, I learned this at the museum actually. Carolyn Ducey who is one of the head honchos the Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, which you all should go to, all the great listeners should go to visit the Study Center, the Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's unbelievably a beautiful place, unbelievably beautiful.
Carolyn said the best way to store a quilt is on a bed because when we fold our quilts, as you all know I'm sure, and you know, Leah, creases happen. Creases happen in your quilts and it takes a long time to get those creases out if they've been folded up for a long time. If you have an extra bedroom, or yeah, I have a guest bedroom that I don't use very much here in my condo, and so all my quilts are on the bed because the best place for them is to be flat, and definitely out of light. Certainly I knew that before, though storing the quilt on a bed was new for me, and I thought that was brilliant, and now I put all my quilts on that bed. The bed is getting very high. It's stacking up really high now.
If you don't have that option and you do fold your quilts, don't put them in like a cedar chest or a wooden trunk because the oils from the wood will get on your quilt, and that'll do more damage I think than probably starch would. If you do need to fold them up, take them out once a year and refold them, or maybe every six months. That's a Martha Stewart thing. I actually picked up that from her. You take them out like I don't know around Christmastime. You're getting the decorations out or something, just put a note or a reminder in your phone even like once a year to get out your quilts and refold them. Acid free tissue paper too, that's really good if you want to store your quilts in a museum quality kind of way.
Leah Day: Yeah, I have a tutorial on this on my blog. I actually roll mine because I don't have space to have a spare bed. Every room in my house is devoted to quilting, so I don't have a spare bed. Don't come and spend the night, but I do have a closet, and so I have rolled my quilts onto a tube that I basically kind of coated in acid free paper and then surrounded that with fabric. Then I roll the quilt onto that, and then I make basically a fabric pillowcase to enclose that. It is all like one big long tube. That has worked out really well. I am running out of space now in my closet though. Not enough space for all these quilts. That's really good to know just best place to put them is a bed.
Another thing that I get emails a lot about is how we press seams, and you kind of touched on this a minute, that I press my seams open simply because it makes the machine quilting easier, but like I said, not a week goes by when I don't get somebody yelling at me about it. What do you think?
Mary Fons: Yeah, it's funny, Leah. This one is, hmm. I do it how I was taught which was to press them closed to the one side, press toward the dark, but I am absolutely open to the idea that there is a better way, or that certain quilts, and this is really the thing is that some patchwork is better ... A pinwheel and stuff, you got to mess with those seams to get it to lay flat. A pinwheel block in particular, a pinwheel unit, that's really a pressing seams open kind of situation I think. Otherwise you've got this huge knot of eight fabrics coming together in the center.
I will press open sometimes, but I will make a case for the closed seam because it does seem to me, because you're pressing seams open. You're Leah Day. You could totally do it and if you're machine quilting with seams open, who am I to argue? It's like, yeah. But I did learn that it's a stronger seam if it's pressed closed. It's harder to pull it apart. The patchwork, the pieces of fabric that are sown together are more locked in to each other. Then now that I'm saying this to you, because I really do keep an open mind, now that I'm saying this to you, who's going around and ripping patchwork apart? If you have little monsters in your life who are running around ripping your patchwork, you've got bigger problems. Oh wait. Leah, I have to go back. I said little monsters like children. That's probably bad.
Leah Day: No, no. Go with it. Go with it.
Mary Fons: Okay. Do you have kids by the way?
Leah Day: I have one. I have a nine year old, and I would kill him if he pulled on a quilt like that. He knows better.
Mary Fons: Yeah, exactly. Pulling patchwork apart, this isn't really happening. My concern would be, but see, you're the master. You know this stuff. I would be concerned about bearding, the batting coming up through the patchwork. Do you have that? Do you find that? You must not. You wouldn't do it if you did.
Leah Day: Yeah, I wouldn't do it if I had seen a problem from it, and here's the thing. I always piece with a very tight stitch length. I take my stitch length down to like 1.4 millimeters, so those pieces are like glued together. Then you can't even rip it apart. If you have to seam rip a piece apart ... My dad does a lot of my piecing for me, and he has this like big set of binoculars that he'll put on in order to see the stitches to rip them out because he can't see them. I'm the same way. It's like you stitch it so tight you can't even see the stitches, and then it's not even an issue. You can press it completely open completely flat, and stitch right over that sucker and it's not a problem. I've never seen an issue. The thing that people have said to me is like, "Well, then if you stitch right in the ditch your needle could hit the piecing thread and break the piecing thread." I'm like, "Chance in a million that even happens once, but the machine quilting is holding it all together too, so it's not going to like unravel."
Mary Fons: Right. It does seem like if you pulled a thread it would all just come apart. Quilts are pretty sturdy, but that's fascinating, Leah. You taught me something today because I didn't think about, yeah, if you shorten your stitch, and 1.4, that is tight. I paper piece with like 1.6. That's great. I never thought about shortening the stitch and then pressing open. I do hate the bulky seams back there sometimes. See, and this is how practices change, because you are right. If the stitch is shortened that's much less of a problem, and yeah, they're like glued together. Very, very interesting. Very interesting.
Leah Day: Oh, cool. I have converted another quilter to my cause.
Mary Fons: You know what? I will sew today and I will try it, for sure. Now I can't wait. It's like the mad scientist laboratory. You go and you try different things. Yeah. I love it.
Leah Day: Yeah.
Mary Fons: You converted me.
Leah Day: I learned that way from actually Sally Collins, and the reason was, when you press the seams open, you get a more accurate block. If it's supposed to piece up to 12 inches, you're going to get that full 12 inches, and no fabric's going to get kind of missing within those seam allowances. That and the flatness for machine quilting, because when you're stitching over and you hit like eight seams at once, you're going to break a needle, and it's just alarming. Another construction thing that I know I'm sure people are wondering about is like all of these new things that have come on the market that we didn't have 100 years ago. Things like basting spray, and fusible web, and all these types of stabilizers and stuff. Do we have any information or any knowledge about how these things are going to wear and how they're going to affect the longevity of our quilts?
Mary Fons: That's a great question. I don't know. Time will tell if some of these things are disastrous. You have certain adhesives and these different things, time will tell. You reminded me because I knew I had a thought in the back of my head and you brought it to the fore, which is great. [inaudible 00:45:01] I was thinking about construction and how we do things, and how one of my pet peeves is when someone says that somebody is cheating. Like, "If you machine applique, that's cheating," or, "If you use sticky adhesive whatever you're using, it's cheating." We have to remember, being part of this continuum of quilters as we are, people 100 years ago would have crawled over their grandmother to get to the sewing machine with the laser beam. I mean, they're like, "Oh my gosh, we have these incredible tools today and technology." We tend to think of technology as being computers and stuff, but technology is any, it's the tools, I mean, a rotary cutter. A rotary cutter and that whole system, that's technology too, and quilters have always been using the technology of the time to make their quilts.
You have to sort of take the long view. When we look back at the quilts made in 1870, it's like, "Look what they did with so few tools." Think about in 100 years from now, they're going to say the same thing about us. "Oh, look what they did with those rudimentary tools that they had. Oh, how extraordinary that they could do that with these blunt object," because at that point we're going to be visualizing a quilt and making it appear some hologram or something like that.
I think cheating is a very shaming, strange thing to say. Making quilts is a joy, and if you make it a certain way and that makes you happy, then that's totally what you should do. My mom says in terms of quilting, this sort of applies. Same idea, she's like, "You can hand quilt a quilt, you can machine quilt it, or you can send it to the longarm." It's like if you want to go to the store you could walk, and if you walk that's like hand quilting. You're going to see things on your walk to the store, it takes longer but it's very pleasurable to take a little walk. Or you could get on your bike and go to the store, and that's like machine quilting at home. You can machine quilt your quilt and you get there faster, you get to the store faster, you get to the end of your quilt faster. Or you can get in the car, and that's the longarm option. You can get in your car and go to the store, and your'e there much quicker, and it's done. It's just how do you want to achieve the end? How do you want to get something done?
Yeah, hand quilting my quilt was wonderful. It's certainly not cheating when I machine quilt my next quilt, and I just got a quilt back from the longarmer, and it's fabulous and it's finished already. I thought about hand quilting it and I'm like, "That's not going to happen in this century." Yeah, I mean, however you make the quilts that you make, as long as they're making you happy. Those are haters, man. The quilt police. I'm very against the quilt police. I think they're far more dangerous than we even allow because if you look at somebody at a guild meeting, if a quilt police member, unofficial quilt police woman, if she looks bad at somebody at guild, they may not come back. We need everybody. We need everybody. There's 21 million quilters in America, but the average age is 60 something.
We have to make sure we welcome everybody, and if you're cheating with your machine appliqued, basting sprayed quilt, you keep on cheating, girl. You just keep on cheating, because if ... Then I'll get off my soapbox, Leah, sorry. If you make a quilt and you love it, it doesn't matter how you made it. If you love quilting, you'll make another quilt. Then you'll make another one. Maybe you will change, and experiment with more things, maybe you won't, but chances are good you will get into other stuff and you'll start hand applique eventually. Just welcoming everybody is so ... This little stink eye at a class or a workshop or something from someone who says, "You're doing it wrong," or, "That's not how you do it," or, "You're cheating." This is really damaging.
Leah Day: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think being inclusive and keeping the world as open as possible is so important. I attribute it to a box. When you put a rule on something, then you put up a wall of your box. When you put another rule up, you put another wall up, and pretty soon your space is so tight and tiny, and what you consider as "real quilting," and I'm putting that in air quotes, "real quilting," and what counts is in such a tiny, little sliver of what you could be doing. I've seen this, and I've actually experienced this before. I did beadwork for eight years when I was in middle school and high school, and I put myself in that box. I became very rigid and I created all these rules for myself, like that bead can't go with that bead, and I had a very strict idea of what beadwork was, and a very limited definition. I got bored, I got burned out. Everything I made I ripped out because it didn't qualify under my very strict guidelines, and it just lost all the fun. It lost all of the fun, and that's the thing that I come back with.
Whenever I hear that someone is maybe feeling bored or frustrated with quilting, I always say, "Well, what is the thing that's cheating to you?" or, "What is the thing that's scary to you?" It's usually something that they've been wanting to try and experiment with, but they haven't been allowing themselves the freedom to go play with it. I think that's so cool, and I love that you have that same perspective on it. I'm sure even back in the day 100 years ago, there were the few quilters that did quilting one way were looking down on the quilters that quilted with feed sacks or something. I'm sure there was some reason to look down on some people back then too, you know?
Mary Fons: Totally. I guess we're supposed to find compassion for people who make us mad, so I'm like searching for like, "Well, why does somebody look down their nose at somebody else?" I think it must be rooted in the love of this too. It's like you love something so much, you love making quilts, and you want to see it done right, and in the best possible terms, to give them credit, these people who are being quilt snobs or whatnot, they do want it to be the legacy we're talking about, and this quilt history that I'm so excited about. They see themselves as maybe like stewards of that knowledge or something like that, and this great tradition. It's fair, but it's not the time for it. Especially when someone's starting out, it's not the time. You just have to welcome everybody, and encourage them. A beginning quilter is just this little flower, and you have to water it and you have to take care of it so it will grow and grow, and the quilt police, they mean well. They do mean well, but it's misdirected, and maybe, god, I'm sure some people are a little jealous that we have these amazing sewing mach ...
Oh you know, Leah, something just occurred to me. I wonder too if some of the quilt police sentiment comes from being intimidated by the technology. I bet you that's part of it too, don't you think? Because if a person is faced with a newfangled sewing machine that is like, I mean, I can't keep up with this stuff, what these sewing machines can do, and you might sort of sniff at it and be like, "Well, you know, you're cheating if you're using that," maybe because they don't know how to use it. I include myself in that category. I don't know how to use a lot of the things that are on the new sewing machines, so maybe it's also fear, fear-based.
Leah Day: Yeah, no, I completely agree with you. A few weeks ago I talked with Patsy Thompson about machine embroidery, and we got on this exact same topic about machine embroidery being seen as cheating. I used to have that perspective too, like, "Oh, they hit a button and it does it automatically, and that's just not creative." Well, then I got into it and I realized there's so much more to it than that, but for me, it was I never had the money for an embroidery machine. They were so expensive, and so I think that can be also kind of from where some of the judgement comes from, the feeling like, "Well, I can't do that because I don't have the money for that machine, so therefore I'm going to judge it as negative."
Mary Fons: Totally. That's totally it too. It's totally economics. Absolutely. I didn't think about that either. 100%, yeah. Gosh. It's like "you can't fire me, I quit" kind of thing. Like, "I didn't want a Maserati anyway," like the fanciest thing. You can just sort of recuse yourself from liking it and then it makes you feel not so left out. It could be that. By the way, just so I don't sound ageist or whatever, I know there are people who know so much more about technology that are 30 years older than me. When I say people don't know, I certainly don't mean like younger quilters know and older quilters do not, because that is so not true, as you know, in classes and things. Yeah, I think it's extraordinary. I have so little knowledge compared to so many of the students in my classes about their machines and techniques. It's amazing.
Leah Day: Absolutely. Cool. Well, I have so enjoyed this conversation, and I know that you're working on a book. Can you tell us anything about it right now? I mean, I know it's in the beginning stages, but can you share?
Mary Fons: I would love to. Thank you, Leah. Yes, I'm writing a book. I have a blog, and it's PaperGirl, and it's at my website, maryfons.com. If people know my blog, then they know my writing, and I've been writing that blog a long, long time. Somebody just did like a track back or like a shout out on their blog. It said something like, "Mary Fons's blog is great. She almost never talks about sewing, so it's really refreshing as a craft blog." It's funny because I don't do tutorials. My blog is a blog about my life, which makes peoples' eyes glaze over if they don't. It's like, "Oh, I write a blog about my life. Oh, god. Great. It sounds horrible." I really try to keep the posts engaging, and sometimes they're funny and sometimes they're sad and these are observations that I have.
I was a writer before I was a quilter, because as you know now, I started quilting later in life, at the ripe old age of 28, but I was a writer first, and so this degree that I'm getting at school is to learn technique, because I have taken very few writing classes in my life. I'm just a voracious reader, and I've always loved to write, but I don't have technique, so I'm going to school to get my technique. In school, my big project is this book, which is called "Piecing." That's the working title, "Piecing," and it's essays. It's personal essays. It's like if the blog is a snack, this book is a meal. This book is a meal, and it's really happening. I mean, girl, I'm writing this thing, pages and pages. It's the hardest writing I've ever done. These are nonfiction essays, personal essays, and there's some scandal. The blog is only part of my life, everybody, and then "Piecing" is going to tell about my illness, and it's going to tell about my life as a single woman living in downtown Chicago, and I'm going to bring sexy back to quilting with some of these chapters. Nothing gross, don't worry about that. Nothing purple, no purple prose, but it's reality, and I'm writing about my life on this planet as a quilter and as a person.
It's thrilling. I mean, it's like I think about the book all the time. I work on the book. It's an extraordinary thing to actually be doing it because I've wanted to do it for a while. What's really cool, Leah, too is that quilts are coming. What I wanted to have happen when I went back to school at the Art Institute, I only applied there, I only wanted to go there because it's an interdisciplinary program. What they want the graduate students in writing to take weaving if they want. If you're in sculpture, if you're getting your degree in sculpture, they encourage you to take photography, painting. It's a cross-discipline thing, which I love. They have a longarm at the school in the textile department. What I wanted to have happen was for my writing and my quilts to come together in new ways, and it's happening, because as I'm writing "Piecing," I'm making quilts. I don't know that there will be a quilt for every chapter, but kind of maybe. The dream right now is to have the book of essays, and then like a book of quilt patterns along with it. Like how cool would that be, right? It's really exciting. My quilts are starting to look different too. I'm breaking some of the rules that I made for myself. I'm a huge quilt block, traditional quilt block fan, but I don't know, I've been messing around with some stuff. It's pretty exciting.
Leah Day: Yay, excellent. That is so wonderful, and I think there is so much space for books with quilts, and real life, and honesty all mixed in. I find myself looking for a book where it's like, I see this quilt and it's pretty, and I see the quilting design and it's pretty, but where is the woman in this book, and why did she make this? Or was it just like, "Okay, I got to make something with a layer cake?" Was that it, or was there something more to it? I love that you're going there. I definitely have books like that planned, and just not yet ready to give birth to them. I read something on your blog about saying that you felt pregnant with your book, and I so understand what you meant by that. I really do.
Mary Fons: Yeah. Yes, tell those stories, and everybody, tell the story behind the quilt. We talked about art versus craft, Leah, and the craft of quilting is very much, it's a very personal thing. When you sit down to make a quilt, you put your life into the quilt. Back in the day when we didn't see quilts as art objects in the same way ... The Mariner's Compass, a woman put herself into that quilt, even though it didn't explicitly say, "I'm art," the Mariner's Compass was a quilt about sailors going off to sea. We've always put ourselves into our quilts, whether or not we said, "This is my artwork," or not, the people who made these quilts have stories and lives that are fascinating, and rich, and we are those people too. I hope you do tell those stories, and everybody should. It's important. It's part of the quilt itself, right?
Leah Day: Yeah. Do you have an idea of when that will be done and ready to publish, or is it just kind of still like not really sure yet? Do you know?
Mary Fons: Not sure yet, but the manuscript will be done by the time I'm done with school. That's a hard stop, but I'd like to do it before then. I would love to start, oh gosh, I'd love to have the full draft of the manuscript by the end of spring. That's really [inaudible 01:01:05], but I'm on my way, and I have two advisors at school. That's really the heart and soul of the program is that you have advisors. Every single week I meet with an advisor. They flip flop weeks. To have their guidance on this, like I got to use all that time that I can because they're brilliant faculty. Yeah, my pace is real. I've got a goal in mind, and it's to get this ... If I could see this book in 2018, that would be fabulous. It's almost 2017, so yeah.
Leah Day: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, good luck on that whole journey. That sounds so exciting. Just going forward, this is a question I ask everybody. What are you most looking forward to in the next five years?
Mary Fons: Oh, wow. Well, that. I mean, yeah. "Piecing," baby, in airport book shops all over the country. Yeah, I want to see that baby, that baby. It'll be the thing that I will be ... If I do it right. If I do it right. I don't have children actually. I don't have children, and I do think that the quilts and the books and the writing and the blog, that's how I spread the genes, man. That's my mean [inaudible 01:02:27] generator is the writing and stuff, so to give birth to this book, this "Piecing" book, would be one of my proudest accomplishments, if I can do it right. Writing is so hard. It is so hard to write. Then to write really well is really, really hard, and so I have all my heroes are authors. I'm trying to impress dead authors basically. I want to write to the level where I can stand by my book for the rest of my life and say, "I worked as hard as I could on this. I thought as clearly and as lucidly as I possibly could, and wrote with urgency and vigor." I'm really holding myself to a high standard, which is paralyzing, but I'm working really hard on it. In the next five years, if I saw the book and was proud of it, I would be thrilled. Thrilled.
Leah Day: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, good luck on that whole journey. Just so everyone can connect with you after this podcast, can you tell us your website blog, and any of your handles, Instagram, Facebook, any of those? Just share those with us.
Mary Fons: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. It's maryfons.com, and I'm getting a website overhaul, so isn't that fun, Leah? Isn't that always just so fun? Website. Ah, brah. There's going to be updates. They're happening now. Facebook, my handles are YoMaryFons, because people just always say, "Yo, Mary Fons," and so YoMaryFons. That's Instagram. I like Instagram a lot, and I need to post more, but I do post pretty regularly. I don't Tweet. I just never did it. I was just like, "I hate it," so I stay off there. But Mary Fons, Facebook, yeah. YoMaryFons is the page, and I always post when I write a blog entry, which I do five times a week I would say. I post that on the Facebook page, so if you follow me on Facebook, then you'll see when I do a blog post and you can click over from there. My fabric line, Small Wonders, is in quilt shops. Yeah, I'm in school writing a book. I'm not doing any TV teaching right now, so in the future I'll probably be doing more of that, but not until after school.
Leah Day: Excellent. Well, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for coming on.
Mary Fons: Leah, thank you. I loved it. I loved hanging out with you. I really do.
Leah Day: Excellent. That's it for this episode. You can find the show notes, as well as links to most of the things mentioned in the show at LeahDay.com/episode7.
I really hope that you'll come check out our Machine Quilting Block Party, and join in the fun as we learn how to piece and machine quilt a new block every single month in 2017. Come check it out at LeahDay.com/BlockParty. Until next time, let's go quilt.