Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I’m a Mary Fons Convert

When it came to picking my class load for QuiltCon this year, I wanted to take a workshop with someone who could teach me tried-and-true technique. I’m a self-taught sewist and quilter, and although I have logged thousands of hours behind my sewing machine, I thought I could brush up on some of the basics. Enter Mary Fons.

Most modern quilters know about Mary. She started her quilting career side-by-side with her mother, Marianne Fons, on PBS’s Love of Quilting. She was editor and creative director of Quilty magazine for several years. She is an author, a teacher, a blogger, and an all-around cool lady.

I spent time with Mary twice at QuiltCon, first in a full-day class entitled “Giants: No Fear Partial Seams” and then in a lecture entitled “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt.” Here are some Mary Fons gems I picked up along the way ...

Partial Seams Are No Big Deal

My workshop with Mary focused on her Giant pattern, a red-and-white quilt design that is composed of one block ...

The catch with this block is that it requires a partial seam. I don’t know how partial seams have gotten a bad rap. As it turns out, they are super easy. They are so easy, in fact, that I did not rip out one seam in my class with Mary on the subject!

I was not alone. The class overall took to partial seams quickly, so we transitioned from working on that technique to playing around with the Giant block. We played with value and placement of different fabrics in the block, challenging each other to come up with new combinations. I played with bookending the block like this ...

True story: When Mary saw this, she exclaimed that I was a genius. And who am I to argue with Mary Fons? (For the record, Mary may be prone to hyperbole.)

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

People have been quilting for a long time. Applique, scrappy quilts, crazy quilts—quilters have been making them for centuries. I know there are still pioneers in the world of quilting, but at the heart of it, we’re doing what’s been done for years.

I find this comforting. I want to create something brand new. The idea that there’s nothing completely new lets me off the hook. There is such a long and rich quilting history behind me that I can focus on just being who I want to be as a quilter and forget about producing something that’s 100% novel.

This Is Not a Moment, It’s a Movement

The corollary to the fact that people have been quilting for a long time is that quilting is not a fad. Sure, it has had its high points and low points in the United States, but those quilting techniques that have been done for hundreds of years will be done for hundreds more.

That may be the most compelling reason to blog about quilting, to label our quilts, to record our history as quilt makers. What we produce has a place in the canon of quilting—we’re part of the movement! Let’s contribute to that history by documenting our quilty endeavors.

See? Mary touched on some great points. I left my second encounter with her, the lecture, encouraged: What we’re doing as quilters is important!

Are there other Mary Fons fans out there? What draws you to her and her work?

Linking up to Let’s Bee Social and Needle and Thread Thursday ...

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  1. Partial seams DO feel scary at first, even after doing them a few times. Mitered borders, on the other hand, still frighten me. The block is lovely. I too am a fan of Mary Fons. I've not met her, but she's witty, a good teacher and she knows her quilt history.

  2. Once you realize how easy partial seams are, a whole new world of block possibilities open up!

  3. Huge fangirl of Mary Fons right here. She's awesome and genuine. I feel like we could have drinks and talk for hours. She's right, we need to be documenting and labeling our stuff.

  4. I just got done with a "partial seam" quilt. #9 Frivols. It may be different from this block, but it was not hard. I have been a subscriber to Fons and Porter for years.

  5. I love watching Mary's videos. How lucky you were to attend lectures. :) I had actually made that block before, having no idea what a partial seam was, I didn't know I was supposed to be scared of it. :) It turned out very nice.

  6. Thanks for sharing what you learned! It sounds like that partial seam class was productive for many =)

  7. I don't mind partial seams. This is a great block. I like your modification. I'm going to look for the pattern.

  8. Look at you creating magic and quoting Hamilton like it's no biggie! ;) But more seriously, I found Mary Fons through her (now defunct) podcast and her blog. I never watched her show or read Quilty. She's an amazing writer with so much "real" and honesty about her, unlike so much of the rest of the world.

  9. I have a question.... what is the flip side of being a self taught quilter? When I see this statement I often wonder is the person comparing this to someone showing them how to quilt versus picking up a book or a blog to learn.

    I have a couple of quilt books from Mary Fons plus she came to my LQS with her mom and I happen to think she is a really cool person. She has a witty sense of humor and a real person attitude. Plus she is talented.

  10. I totally connected with your "there is nothing new" thoughts and the same reaction you have about that. The reality is, there is probably incredibly little unchartered territory with regards to quilting. And that does take us off the hook, removing the pressure of leaving the quilting world with our "new" idea or design or whatnot. Those thoughts are sort of like a knife to my creativity's back, and they cripple me before I even being because I can get so intent on finding something new. Instead, I am trying to look at it like, while what I am doing may not be new or even wholly original, I can combine color and layout and block design and quilting in a way that feels unique and unlike everyone least, for me and my own limited experience. If any of that makes sense. I was nodding my head as I read your words here. And also, I now have a little extra courage to attempt partial seams, so thank you for that!!

  11. Snap! We did partial seams in a 150 Canadian Women block last week! And yes! Quilting has been around for centuries. Royalty had their garments quilted. We put a new spin on it, and new spins evoke other new spins...and so on right?!

  12. Thanks for giving me another reason to continue blogging. I'm finding it hard to squeeze it in these days. I am also comforted by the fact that there is nothing completely new.

  13. +1 for sneaking in the Hamilton quote. :) One of my very first projects involved that very same block with partial seams and I was a clueless quilter and didn't know that I should fear the dreaded partial seam. (

  14. Love Mary Fons, she's old school and new school at the same time, and an amazing writer as well. Glad you were inspired, that's awesome!


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