When Liz Porter and I joined forces in the late 1970s to team-teach beginning quilting classes in Winterset, Iowa, we didn’t have fame in mind. We had no idea we were part of a revival of interest in quiltmaking that was just getting under way, fueled by the American Bicentennial and the “back to basics” trends that also inspired hippie culture. We were young mothers in need of milk and diaper money.
The same quest for household income inspired us to write our first quilting books. Oh, we loved patchwork and quilting, but neither of our husbands-at-the-time were as ambitious as we were, and the kids needed shoes!
One quilting book led to another, and another, and another, eventually to QUILTER’S COMPLETE GUIDE,* published in 1993, a gorgeous reference volume that was an instant huge hit. The success of QCG (over half a million copies sold) opened the door to other opportunities—or perhaps I should say Opportunity continued to knock, and Liz and I were always not far from the door, ready to open it.
In the mid 1990s, we pursued the idea of a how-to program on public television, thinking we’d be paid to host it, only to discover we had to raise the production money ourselves via national sponsors, and did so. Our presence on PTV stations nationwide for over a decade took us into millions of quilting households, delivering thousands of fans to our growing brand. Eventually, we owned and published the largest-circulated quilting magazine in the land, ran a mail order business (one of the first online vendors in the quilting industry), and developed a quilters’ product line.
Our celebrity—though both of us understand how we earned it—still surprises us: the fan hyperventilating when we shared an elevator at Quilt Market, the quilter who recognized me on a corner in Boston and asked for an autograph, the homeless man in Portland who stopped Liz on the street to say he watches the show in a shelter whenever he can. Believe it or not, most quilters would rather meet Fons & Porter than the Kardashian sisters.
We know the Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana, is not as high profile as the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but being the 2019 inductees is sweet enough for us. After the induction ceremony July 20, our photos will take their place on the wall with greats we admire like Bonnie Leman, Jean Ray Laury, and Karey Bresenhan, women who helped transform quilting into a multimillion dollar industry that enabled a couple of English majors from Iowa to put their kids through college and pay off their mortgages simply by teaching millions of people to cut cotton fabric into little pieces and (joyfully) sew them together again.
To everyone who took our classes, bought our books, listened to our lectures, subscribed to our magazine, and watched us on TV—to all our customers over the years, thank you for your business, your kindness, and your remarkable loyalty. If you happen to be in Marion next week (or anywhere, anytime), don’t hesitate to ask for a selfie!
*QUILTERS COMPLETE GUIDE will be reprinted later this year by Dover Publications. Subscribe to my website, and I’ll let you know the moment it is available!