Reporting from Quiltropolis 50273

If a colleague whose opinion you value says, “You really ought to meet so-and-so,” agree to it immediately.

A few months ago, a Winterset friend (Jerry)* said, “Marianne, you really ought to meet Julie Gammack.” I think the world of Jerry, so I said yes.

Julie Gammack is an Iowa native, a former Des Moines Register columnist, a person I had heard of, but not a quilt person, which is maybe why we had never crossed paths.

Jerry, Julie, and I soon had lunch together in Winterset at Easton’s Bistro, and, as Jerry predicted, Julie and I hit it off. She told me about one of her babies, the Okoboji Writers Retreat, which she founded in 1992, and a newer baby, the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative, launched in 2021.

The Collaborative is an online gathering of columnists from around the state of Iowa who write pieces on a variety of Iowa-related topics. After our lunch, I checked out the Collaborative, became a paid subscriber immediately, and started picking and choosing from the columns Julie blurbs and links to every Sunday via what she calls her Iowa Potluck.

As many people know, I spent a career in the quilt world at the national level. When I stepped out of that world in the late 2000s, my passion became my home town of Winterset.

What’s great for me about the Iowa Potluck is it exposes me to outstanding reporting from Iowa writers. It covers the space between Winterset and the borders of the state where I was born.

I was flattered when Julie asked me to join the Collective, and amazed when she offered to tootle back down to Winterset to help me set up my Substack account. We launched it on a Saturday afternoon, and within a few hours I had a couple dozen subscribers. Within a week, I was well over 100.

As you will learn from my debut column (which I hope you’ll read) I’m calling Winterset “Quiltropolis,” because so many great “quilty” things happen in Madison County. I plan to write on various topics, but will do my best to always throw in a quilt somehow. I also plan to keep my little essays on the short side.

Three columns in, now, so far so good. My second installment is about what it means to be born in Winterset. The third is about how I killed two rattlesnakes when I was in my 30s, one with a shovel, one with a rifle. (I made a quilt about the rifle one.)

If you like what you read, look for the blue “Subscribe” button somewhere between the paragraphs. Click on that to subscribe. It’s free.

*I later learned Jerry’s wife Randall, one of my best Winterset pals, suggested Jerry get Julie and me together.





Friends Face A Lot Together

During the couple of decades I traveled all over the US (and beyond), teaching and lecturing about quilts for quilters’ guilds and at conferences, I met hundreds of quilters every year. The conviviality among the students in my workshops was one of the many pleasures of my job.

Quilters told me often that half of what drew them to quiltmaking was the process itself (the fabrics, the patterns, the joy of making). The other half was the friendships they made with other quilters.

I made lots of friends myself in the quilting world over the years: students I clicked with, colleagues teaching at the same conferences, hosts who put me up in their homes, guests on “Love of Quilting,” and, later on, special friends I made during the seven years I served on the Quilts of Valor Foundation board of directors, my QOVF friends.

I also now have writing friends—fellow writers who discuss plot, character, and dialogue (among other topics) in the same enthusiastic way quilters talk about quilt blocks, border treatments, batting and binding (among other topics). I now count a number of novelists (published and not-yet-pubished) among my friends.

In 2019-2020, I was in a yearlong novel writing class via StoryStudioChicago. I traveled to the Windy City from Iowa (and other locations) once a month to meet in person with the twelve other members of my cohort. Our teacher was the wonderful writer Rebecca Makkai. By March, 2020, when Covid changed in-person everything, we had met eight times. Zooming wasn’t the same as being together, but it was better than nothing.

One of my Novel-in-a-Year friends is Marie. She’s a wonderful writer whose manuscript is now complete. I’ve have the pleasure of reading it, and though she does not yet have an agent, I’m confident her narrative will be published one day. Then, others will have that pleasure as well.

Marie recently launched Blanket Gravity Magazine—a free online literary publication for people who struggle with mental health. An offshoot of Blanket Gravity is Blankie, on Substack. Blankie publishes essays, fiction, and interviews on art and mental health. Marie recently asked if she could interview me about quilting and mental health, in an “Artist Chat.” I jumped at the chance.

Here’s a photo of me with one of my quilting AND writing friends, Frances O’Rourke Dowell, who visited Winterset last summer during the Iowa Quilt Museum’s Iowa Quilt Festival.

And here’s the interview conducted by my friend Marie.

Finishing School = Finishing’s Cool

The first time I told a group of quilters I didn’t have any unfinished projects, they responded with the kind of mild hostility acne-plagued teenagers direct toward the really-nice teenager with the perfect complexion. They were students in a workshop I was teaching at the time—which meant that day they had started yet another project they might or might not complete.

I wasn’t bragging. As a professional designer and teacher, I had to make one quilt at a time. Each one was in a publication pipeline that involved various deadlines (photography, instruction-writing, manuscript due date, etc.). Going forward, I kept my relationship with starting and finishing quilts to myself.

After I retired from TV and publishing in 2018, I continued to make quilts (mostly Quilts of Valor), but I found that without deadlines, I was less motivated. Throughout my career, knowing my quilts had a specific end use (publication, presentation, etc.) was the fuel that juiced my wheels.

At the American Quilt Study Group‘s 2022 conference in San Diego, my own very quilty daughter Mary Fons supplied me with a new brand of juice. Mary was there as part of the Quiltfolk team, brimming with excitement about the Quiltfolk Foundry, a new venture that involved acquiring unquilted tops and sets of blocks made by anonymous quilters of the past, completing them, and selling them. Together, we shopped the event’s silent auction, and as we picked up vintage UFOs I felt my pulse quicken. My designer’s heart beat faster. I couldn’t wait to get home and start sewing again.

The first twelve Foundry quilts (four of which I had a hand in) went up for sale on Quiltfolk’s website on a Friday earlier this year. By Monday morning, almost all of them had SOLD. I felt the joy animal shelter workers must feel when they see an abandoned pet they have nursed back to health find its forever home.

In May, Mary and I recorded three 60-minute-plus video episodes called “Finishing School,” a light-hearted, fun series in which we share what we’ve learned about transforming the UFOs of the past (some from the distant past, some fairly recent) into beautiful, completed quilts. The series, which you can sign up for any time, was produced right here in my beloved home town of Winterset, Iowa, on the second floor of the Iowa Quilt Museum, now Quiltfolk Studio.

My guess is that quilters of the past set aside their sewing projects for many of the same reasons we do today. We move, we have a new baby (or a difficult pregnancy), we start a new job (or lose a job), we go through a divorce, an illness, we pass away.

Like the teenager with the clear skin (which I was not) I’m lucky. Having finished my own quilts, I’m available now to finish the unfinished work of others, and I love it. Touching fabric they touched, combining the fabrics they used with fabrics from my own stash or my local quilt shop, turning the binding and taking the last stitch, working side-by-side with Mary again—has inspired me anew.



Never Make A Quilt to Match a Sofa You Hate

In my twenties and early thirties, I taught many local women my age and older the basics of quilt making. Those basics included tool recommendations, hand and machine piecing, pattern drafting (not many books of patterns available in the late 1970s), and of course, fabric selection.

Back then, Winterset had Alexander Fabrics on the north side of the square, as well as our wonderful Ben Franklin store on the southeast corner. One whole section of our Ben Franklin was (and still is) a robust fabric and sewing department. Co-owner Judy Trask is herself a skilled quilter.

Students in my classes went home from Session I with a list of fabric requirements for their first project. Often that first project was a Honeybee quilt block they could either finish into a toss pillow or use as a starting place for a bed quilt. (Honeybee is perfect for teaching both patchwork and applique.)

I happened to be in Ben Franklin shopping for fabric myself when one of my students came in, her fabric list in one hand, a giant sofa cushion clutched to her chest. The sofa fabric was a large-scale, high-contrast floral with a lot of brown in it. (Brown was having a heyday in the late 1970s.) Judy whispered to me when the student was out of ear shot that she had already been in three times, always with her cushion, unable to decide on fabric for her Honeybee block. The lady had been to the other fabric store as well.

I’ve never been keen on pushing people regarding their choices—fabric or otherwise—and this student was older than myself by five or ten years. I tried to help her, and when nothing seemed right, I boldly asked, “Do you like the sofa?” “No,” she replied, “I hate it!”

I went on to teach quilting classes nationwide for twenty or so years, and (remembering the hated couch cushion) always encouraged my students to make the quilts they desired to make, in fabrics they loved, rather than try to “match” anything. By and large, if you pick fabrics you like, they will coordinate well enough with other things in your home (unless you hate your decor).

In 2020, my husband and I moved into an historic building just off the town square. A patterned rug that had been on the floor of a guest room wound up fitting in Mark’s office space just off our bedroom, and none of the quilts I’d made for our bed over the years played well with the rug. Luckily, I have always loved that rug, so it was a joy to pull coordinating fabrics from my stash, then walk up the street to Piece Works (now on the south side of the square) and add a few more. I had fun making the quilt, and it looks great on our bed.

P.S. Inspiration for the quilt I made, which Mark and I named “Hugs & Kisses” because of its Xs and Os, now belongs to the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE. The quilt was among those displayed at the Whitney Museum in the famous 1971 exhibit of quilts.


Reflections on My World, the Quilt World

I’d forgotten about the fun, recorded phone chat I had a few months ago with Elizabeth Townsend Gard until I received a reminder that it was about to become available. Dr. Gard, a Tulane University law professor and avid quilter, heads up The Quilting Army, a group of quilters that studies copyright law in relation to quilts and the quilting industry.

Elizabeth and I spoke in August, during my annual, month-long, “Sojourn of Solitude” on Washington Island, Wisconsin. For twenty or so years, I taught quilting there at Sievers School of Fiber Arts, and the little island at the tip of Door County became special to me and my family. In 2008, we acquired a cottage over on the east side. (Early on in our conversation, I described the squads of hummingbird chicks keeping me busy topping off the nectar in our feeders.)

Elizabeth and I talked about getting through Year One of COVID and (on a more positive note) about the exhibit of Fons & Porter quilts currently at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. We talked about QUILTER’S COMPLETE GUIDE, the book Liz Porter and I authored in the early 1990s, republished by Dover Press in 2019. (The Bernina Liz and I used to make many of the sewing step-outs pictured in the book is on display in Lincoln.)

When Elizabeth asked me to reflect on the quilting industry today, I had to admit I feel pretty much out of that loop. When I was a co-owner of Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine (2001 to 2006), I knew who the deciders were at just about every company on the business side of quilting. I pretty much knew every nationally-recognized teacher/writer/designer, too, having served on conference faculties with most of them and published their designs.

Reflecting all the way back to the American Bicentennial of 1976 (the event that piqued my interest in quilts and motivated me to learn), the most important thing about that moment for me personally is that in enabled me to make a living in a new industry. I’m proud to have been present at the outset of what I consider a women’s movement.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, click here. You’ll land on a page that offers links to a bunch of Elizabeth’s interviews. I hope you’ll enjoy all of them and consider joining the Quilting Army.





Career High: F & P at “The International”

Liz Porter and I were in our mid-twenties (both of us mothers of toddlers) back in 1976 when we met in a beginners quilting class offered through Iowa State University Extension in the small town of Winterset, Iowa. In no time at all, we were team-teaching ourselves—partly because there was local demand, and partly because both of us needed diaper money. We did it together because neither of us felt capable (yet) of teaching on our own. As beginners ourselves, we were barely ahead of our students.

Back then, there were (with a few exceptions) no quilt shops, no quilting books, no quilt shows or conferences, and definitely no museums dedicated to quilts.

When what is now the International Quilt Museum opened in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2008*, I was lucky enough to be present for the ceremony. I remember standing in the gorgeous glass reception area on the second floor of the A.M. Sterns-designed building (37,000 square feet!), blinking back tears. As speakers marked the event, I time-machined myself backward thirty years, to when I was a twenty-five-year-old beginner, and then zoomed forward through the decades of my career, marveling at a journey that has taken me around the world. I still get goosebumps when I think that it happened in my lifetime: a state-of-the-art facility solely dedicated to the collection and preservation of quilts, and part of a world-renowned university!

Liz Porter and I did not set out to be the quilt world icons we somehow became. Back when we were brainstorming class ideas, writing our first books, figuring out how to get a how-to show on public television, we were simply trying to make a living. Lucky for us, we did it by helping other quilters have fun pursuing a pastime they already loved. We instilled trust and offered quality support products—books, kits, fabrics, a magazine—and our customers rewarded us with purchases and loyalty.

Quilts made by Fons, Porter, and Fons & Porter have been displayed in the past at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, at the Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana, at the Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset (a stone’s throw from that original ISU Extension office), and now at “The International” in Lincoln, through February 26, 2022. Favorites made by each of us are on display in the Von Seggern Gallery, with extra items (including the Bernina we used to make many of the step-outs for our landmark QUILTER’S COMPLETE GUIDE) in an adjacent exhibit area.

Every quilter, potential quilter, and quilt lover should visit the International Quilt Museum at least once in their lifetime, and Lincoln is a great little city to spend time in—a college town with plenty of hotels (unless there’s a football game), loads of wonderful restaurants (Lazlo’s is my favorite!), and excellent shopping. Drive, fly, or take the train (AMTRAK stops there), and feast your eyes on our quilts and three other galleries-full!

*From 1997 through 2007, the museum’s collection was stored in a renovated climate-controlled space in the Home Economics Building on UNL’s East Campus.



Saturday (June 5), A Very Quilty Day!

The weekend’s forecast is for sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s—ideal weather for a jaunt to my hometown, Winterset, Iowa, for Iowa Quilt Museum’s annual Airing of the Quilts. You’ll feast your eyes on hundreds of quilts on display from 10 to 4 in dozens of locations, many of them outdoors.

Quilts will be everywhere—hanging from the porches of historic homes, displayed on the grounds of the Madison County Historical Complex, in shop windows all around the square and on the courthouse lawn, in City Park, even inside our historic covered bridges, and of course at the museum as well. Admission with a map and guide to all locations is a mere $15 ($10 if you’re a museum member). Get yours here and come enjoy wonderful Madison County!

Even better, stay and have dinner Saturday evening, and enjoy our live auction. Dinner is at The Livery, a gorgeous new event space just steps from the square. I live around the corner and have watched over the past few years as the owner transformed a tumble-down brick building (once an actual horse livery) into a place of beauty you have to see to believe. (The back door of Piece Works quilt shop is visible from the front door of The Livery, FYI.)

Dinner is at 6 p.m. (after cocktails at 5:30), and the auction is at 7. With only fifteen items (including several great vintage quilts), it won’t last long (remember, it’s light outside until almost 9 p.m.!). The last item for auction is a 1939 Singer Featherweight 221 with its original table. View our online, silent auction, and live auction items here. (You have to register to view, but it’s totally free.)

The Livery is a large space with plenty of air circulation. Seating is at round tables for eight, so gather a carload of friends and we’ll seat you together. Dinner is by a wonderful local caterer and will be served by Iowa Quilt Museum board members, including me. Tickets are $50 and available here.

Think about coming to Winterset on Friday so you can enjoy, “Quilts, Wine, and What-Ifs,” a show-and-tell of quilts and possibilities, 5 to 7 p.m. at Covered Bridges Winery, by Piece Works Creative Director (and IQM board member) Tony Jacobson. Tickets are $15. Preregister here and receive a gift bag from the quilt shop, a glass of wine, and an individual charcuterie plate.

There are lots of great places to spend the night. Here’s a link to options.

Iowa Quilt Museum’s Airing of the Quilts is our single annual fundraising event. If you love quilts, come share that love in Madison County!

Coming to Theaters Soon!

Last October, I shared the exciting news that MONUMENTS, a new film by Jack C. Newell*, had won spots in a number of (virtual, natch, because of COVID) film festivals—the Nashville Film Festival and Heartland Film Festival (Indianapolis). MONUMENTS was inspired by my short story, “My Ashes at The Met,” and I had the pleasure of serving as a screenplay consultant at several stages of development. Here’s a link to my post if you want to read or re-read.

At Nashville, MONUMENTS won the Audience Award for US Independent Features. Perhaps you’re among the people that voted for it. If so, thank you!

Now, MONUMENTS is getting an actual Los Angeles premiere June 2 at LAEMMLE ROYAL THEATER, and (an even bigger deal) a Limited Art House Release (virtual) Friday, June 4, at the prestigious Gene Siskel Film Center (part of the Chicago Art Institute). What’s really cool is that no matter where you live, you can watch the Chicago release on Friday and can also tune in, FREE, on Saturday at 8 p.m. June 5, to a Q & A session with the director and the film’s primary actors, David Sullivan (Ted), Marguerite Moreau (Laura), and Javier Muñoz (Howl). Click on the link above to the Gene Siskel to register for the event!

If you happen to live in the LA area and would like to attend the 7 p.m. in-person screening June 2, please let me know via the contact feature on this site, and I’ll connect you to Jack for a ticket.

What would be wonderful is if you’d watch the stream version June 4 and review the movie. This is the link to review MONUMENTS on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB). Scroll down on the page to find the place to find the spot. Ten more reviews, Jack tells me, would give the film a boost. You can also review MONUMENTS at the film tracking site Letterboxd.

With so much out there streaming these days, a really good indie film like MONUMENTS can use a leg-up from viewers that like it. This is a link to ALL the theaters that are showing MONUMENTS in person or streaming it in the coming weeks.

To whet your appetite, here’s the trailer. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!

*Full disclosure, Jack C. Newell, MONUMENTS writer and director, is my daughter Rebecca’s husband. He’s a terrific filmmaker, and I’m so proud of him! The photo is of the very small Fons family the last time we were all together, Christmas 2019. From left: me, my husband Mark Davis, my oldest Hannah Fons, my youngest Rebecca Fons, Rebecca’s husband Jack, my middle Mary Fons, Mary’s husband Eric.


Come to a Quiltside Chat!

If you could choose just one quilt from the approximately 6000 in the International Quilt Museum’s vast collection and make it your own, which one would it be? A gorgeous Baltimore Album? An exquisite French whole cloth? Grace Snyder’s amazing Flower Basket Petit Point patchwork with its 87,000 tiny pieces?

I was recently given the opportunity to answer the following rhetorical question: Which quilt in the museum’s collection would you sneak out of the building . . . if it weren’t a crime?

A series of online presentations, titled “Quiltside Chats,” debuts TOMORROW (Sunday, March 21, at 2 p.m. central), with me as the first guest. Each episode will feature a different quilt aficionado who choses the IQM* quilt they’d steal (if it weren’t a crime!) and explains herself (or himself) to IQM curator extraordinaire Carolyn Ducey. They’ll go on to examine what’s known (or not known) about the quilt and its maker, techniques used, and so forth.

The brand new program—sponsored by Quiltfolk magazine—is a collaboration between American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) and the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE. Carolyn’s guests for the once-a-month program are AQSG members. Lined up to participate in future episodes are Pam Weeks, Mary Kerr, Sue Reich, Anita Loscalzo, Xenia Cord, and Merikay Waldvogel.

The quilt I chose is not a Baltimore Album or any other fancy quilt (though I love those, too). It’s a humble family record quilt that grabbed me when I first saw it years ago and has intrigued me ever since.

Join us tomorrow at 2 (CDST) via this link to cozy up and hear the story behind a remarkable quilt!

ALERT! There will be fashion!

*IQM is an acronym used by both the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE, and the Iowa Quilt Museum, in Winterset, IA, my home town. You can drive from one to the other in less than three hours!









Quilt Show Legends Masterclass

The Quilt Show (TQS), hosted by my pals Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, is offering a special treat this Sunday, December 13—a chance to enjoy an array of excerpts from the program’s past thirteen years of “Legend” interviews. (Because of the pandemic, they weren’t able to travel to a location to profile a special person the way they normally do.)

TQS is calling this unique episode “Quilt Show Legends Masterclass,” and the lineup is fantastic—Virginia Avery, Jinny Beyer, Libby Lehman, Yvonne Porcella, Eleanor Burns, Meredith Schroeder, Michael James, Mary Mashuta and Roberta Horton, Georgia Bonesteel, Katie Pasquini Masopust, Judith Baker Montano, and Jean Wells. I’m included, too, as I was The Quilt Show’s honoree for 2018. I’m relishing the thought of savoring clips from past shows I missed.

If you’re a subscriber to The Quilt Show (as I am), on Sunday we’ll be watching “together” at our respective computers. If you’re not a member, you can watch the show for free December 20 through 27 by using this link. (It won’t be live until the 20th.) Think about giving yourself an early Christmas gift (a year’s worth of TQS programs) by clicking on this link and joining so you can be among the first to watch.

In addition to interviews the special episode includes three how-to demos—one each from Katie (graffiti quilting), Judith (creating organic shapes with burned edges), and me (Pinwheel Star block for a Quilt of Valor). The program runs an hour and twenty minutes, a little longer than most episodes, because it’s so jammed with content.
The quilters profiled are my heroes. It’s incredible to think of the collective wisdom these pillars of our beloved community hold. Two of them, Virginia Avery and Yvonne Porcella, are no longer with us.
Click here to watch a short promo video that will make you as eager for Sunday as I am.
Happy Holidays to All!


Congratulations, Susan and Mary Pat!

On September 6, I shared info about Quilters Take A Moment, the Quilt Alliance’s pandemic-related retooling of the every-other-year event that usually takes place in New York City. Like so many happenings we love, QTM couldn’t be the hug-filled gathering it usually is, and I urged all my readers to check out the wonderful lineup for the virtual event and participate. I also offered two free passes.

Huge thanks to the dozens of you who entered the drawing! I wrote each one on a scrap of paper exactly the same size, folded them all up, and (as promised) put them in an actual hat. That’s my husband Mark, stirring, before drawing the first name last Friday. (Nicknamed “The Captain” by my family, Mark is a retired Air Force and commercial pilot who takes all tasks seriously.)*

Susan from St. Louis was Friday’s winner. “I never imagined I would win!” she wrote back when I contacted her. Susan is looking forward to presentations from Julie Silber and Dr. Mazloomi. She’s a big fan of antique quilts, particularly Amish ones and African American-made ones like those created in Gee’s Bend. Her husband was a Marine Corps pilot, so we have pilot-husbands in common.

Here’s Mark again (smiling this time) after he drew the second name on Sunday.

Sunday’s winner was Mary Pat from Wisconsin. Mary Pat has recently retired and is hoping to finally have time to complete many of the projects she has started over the years. [Note to Mary Pat, try to think of them as “pre-started” rather than “unfinished.] Regarding making quilts in general, she says she loves it all, “from the cutting to the piecing to the binding.” She hasn’t done any long arm quilting yet but plans on getting a machine after she does some research.

Mary Pat was thrilled to learn she can use her free ticket to watch the lectures and presentations online at any time after the event if she can’t tune in September 25-26. That works for everyone, so those of you who did not win, please jump to here and sign up now even if you are already booked for that weekend!

The Quilt Alliance is a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1993. Its mission is “to document, preserve, and share our American quilt heritage by collecting the rich stories that historic and contemporary quilts, and their makers, tell about our nation’s diverse peoples and their communities.”

See you all soon!

*Photos by Marianne Fons. Used by permission.

September 25-26, Let’s Quilt (Virtually) in New York City

Every other year, the Quilt Alliance (of which I am a proud member) hosts a fantastic fundraising event called Quilters Take Manhattan. I love attending, partly because it’s such a fun gathering, and partly because I love spending time in New York City, where my oldest, Hannah Fons, lives. Because tickets always sell fast, I had already purchased mine earlier this year, before COVID changed everything. I was given the option for a refund or to use my tickets for the revised event, online of course. Easy decision, I kept them.

The renamed celebration of all things quilting, Quilters Take A Moment, happens later this month, and I urge you to “attend” with me! The virtual event offers quilt celebs and great sessions galore. Read on, and use the many links I embedded to learn more about the amazing lineup.

Live presentations on Friday via Zoom include “The Incubation of a Quilt,” with designer and trendsetter Anna Maria Horner, followed by the debut of artist, writer, and independent curator Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi’s interview with the legendary Dindga McCannon.

Saturday kicks off with “The Quilt Keepers,” a panel discussion featuring the brilliant historian Merikay Waldvogel, fashion designer Emily Bode, collector and quilt dealer extraordinaire Julie Silber, and other luminaries. Laura McDowell Hopper will lead us on a virtual tour of the online exhibit, “Known and Unknown: Revealing Quilt Stories,” which includes quilts from Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Jacquie Gering, and Chawne Kimber, as well as antique and vintage quilts never before shown. Tucked in between the major live events will be music by one of my best quilt pals, Ricky Tims, a little bit of quilt comedy, and (I understand) some dancing!

What’s exceptional about Quilters Take a Moment is that it’s more than just a two-day event. Pass holders will have access to the event’s website whenever they want—for years to come! “The website will be a place for quilters to get away whenever they need inspiration, information, or just want to look at some amazing quilts,” according to executive director Amy Milne.

Learn more about this exciting event and sign up here. Event passes are $45 for members, $65 for nonmembers.

To entice you further, I have two free passes to give away. If you’d like one of them, just email me via the “contact” option toward the top right on this page by September 10. I’ll put all your names in an actual hat and draw the first one out on September 11, the second on September 13.

Adaptable Humans and Out of Control Quilts

One thing we humans have going for us is our ability to adapt.

As weird as it feels (and looks) to cover my face with a cloth mask when I am in public spaces, I do it because reliable sources say masks reduce my chances of getting infected. As much as I miss hugging friends when we cross paths, I keep my distance and offer a namaste instead.

Also learning to adapt are the nonprofits I care about most—Quilts of Valor Foundation (QOVF), The Iowa Theater, and the Iowa Quilt Museum. QOVF resumed awards, most of them virtual, some in small gatherings, at a distance, with no hugging.

During the months of shutdown, the Iowa Theater hosted “Popcorn Nights,” serving bagged popcorn customers could safely pick up outside under the marquee. The revenue enabled The Iowa to make its loan payments. The theater is open now, but with seating safely spread out and many other safeguards. Capacity in the 150-seat theater only around 30, the popcorn as fantastic as ever.

The Iowa Quilt Museum (IQM), in the capable and creative hands of director Megan Barrett, rescheduled its annual fundraiser—The Airing of the Quilts—hosting it June 27 as an all-outdoor event. Hundreds of quilts were displayed outside all over Winterset and Madison County including at several covered bridges, City Park, the Madison County Historical Complex grounds, and from residential porches. The auction was moved online and did well. Though the event is over, you can see the quilts here via a wonderful, virtual, free quilt show.

IQM reopened in early June, with all recommended guidelines for safety in place. Masks are encouraged, and our staff and volunteers wear them. A plexiglas shield is in place at reception. Visitors who purchase items in the gift shop insert their credit card and package their items themselves. We wipe down door handles frequently. Our gallery is large, making it very easy to keep a safe distance from others.

A new, crazy-cool exhibit went up in early July, “Out of Control,” curated by Barbara Brackman and Deb Rowden, both of Lawrence, KS. Friends and collectors, Barbara and Deb have kept their eyes out for oddball quilts for years, adding to their collections of quilts that break the rules. As I say to visitors before they enter the gallery, “if you’re a quilter, you’re going to feel a lot better about your own work when you see these quilts.” Something went terribly wrong for the stitchers who made them. Undaunted, they carried on, just as we have these many months.

If you’d like to swell with pride about your own patchwork pursuits without leaving home, join our curators Monday, August 10, at 12:30 p.m. CDT via (of course) Zoom. Check out the latest edition of Iowa QuiltScapes here. Scroll down the page for more information about the exhibit and how to join the event.





When deciding how I feel about a nineteenth or early twentieth century quilt, one of my tests is whether I would like to have lunch with the maker. If the workmanship is angel-perfect, a cup of coffee or a glass of water might be enough. Perfectionists are notoriously un-fun.

Other anonymous quilts from the past are so quirky and original I’ve wished for some kind of time-machine gizmo that would enable me to sit down with the maker over a giant chef salad and a nice chardonnay. I’d ask her what inspired her fabric choices, what other quilts she has made, what she plans to cut out next, and whether the Quilt Police existed in her era.

The current exhibit of quilts at the Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset, Iowa, “Out of Control: Quilts that Break the Rules,” was curated by Barbara Brackman and Deb Rowden, fellow Kansans who are longtime fans of quirkiness. Believe me, there are no perfectionists in evidence in the IQM gallery at this time. It is a gallery of rogues.

For context, Brackman and Rowden tacked a list of judging guidelines put out by 4-H on the wall at the start of the exhibit, reasonable-sounding stuff like this:

Scale and proportion of pieces and shapes should relate to each other and to quilt size.

Several quilts in the exhibit make it clear their makers were not aware of this suggestion.

Signage beside each quilt offers a specific rule specifically broken by the adjacent quilt. “Fabric pattern should be secondary to patchwork pattern,” for example, is posted beside a quilt whose printed fabrics are so ultra-busy the pieced teacup design is completely lost. A caution about keeping sashing strips secondary to blocks is ignored by a quilt whose black sashing strips start, stop, and meander over the top, with impunity. One of my favorites is Sunflower. A handful of intricately pieced Sunflower blocks hang out together in the center area. The blocks that surround them are simple circles, the patchwork omitted, begging us not to notice. Who among us has not thought, after a brave start, “This is way too hard!” and relegated our fragment to the realm of the unfinished. Not this gal!

My first opportunity to view the new exhibit since it opened on July 7 was this past Sunday, when I was on duty in the gift shop. It’s a good thing I had my coronavirus face mask on as I gaped my way from quilt to quilt, scratching my head, wondering again and again, “What was she thinking?”

If we could bring the thirty or so quilters in the exhibit together for a banquet, mavericks though they be, I don’t see a food fight happening. I think they’d find themselves kindred spirits, hiccoughing their way from appetizer to dessert.

“Out of Control” is up through October 4. For museum hours and other information, visit the Iowa Quilt Museum website. For a wonderful preview written by Barbara, illustrated with more head-scratching visuals, click here.




Come To Winterset June 27 (my birthday!)

As we stayed home this spring, making masks or quilts or sourdough bread, we watched events we were planning to attend get canceled or postponed, and rightly so—it’s clear that limiting travel, wearing masks, and physical distancing have definitely helped slow the spread of the COVID19 virus.

As spring became summer, we learned that the outdoors is a safe place to be, and people went outside to walk, jog, and bike, benefitting greatly from exercise. 

Here in Winterset, the Iowa Quilt Museum postponed its annual “Madison County Airing of the Quilts” from early June to late June, transforming it into a fully outdoor affair.

Now in its third year, “The Airing” is a community-wide display showcasing quilts against the backdrop of picturesque Winterset and Madison County, known for our charming town square, tree-lined streets, and the countryside’s famous covered bridges.

With your pre-purchase of a $20 ticket, available here, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Closer to June 27, you’ll receive a second email and a printable map showing all the outdoor locations where quilts will be on display (plus safe restroom locations). Included is a several-block area of beautiful homes where homeowners will display quilts on their porches, all viewable from car or sidewalk! (We  have a discount if you purchase tickets for a carload.) Exhibits are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Restaurants are open for spread-out indoor dining or carry out. Picnic tables will be in place on the courthouse lawn under the shade trees.

Your map will also serve as your ticket to the Iowa Quilt Museum, where you can see the current exhibit, “Man Made,” featuring quilts made by male quilters, before it comes down in early July. The museum has social distancing guidelines and sanitizing procedures in place. “Man Made” was curated by IQM board member Tony Jacobson, who is also manager of Piece Works, our town’s wonderful quilt shop just steps from the museum. You’ll also want to visit Ben Franklin, next door to IQM, which offers a great selection of cotton fabrics and sewing notions. If you’re a knitter, don’t miss Heartland Fiber on the west side.

Our live auction has traditionally been part of a sit-down dinner, but in a way the online one is even better, because you can bid from anywhere! This year’s auction offers both antique and contemporary quilts in a variety of styles, as well as a few other quilt-related items. Many of this year’s auction quilts were made or collected by former Winterset resident, the late Peggy Freligh, and donated for the auction by her husband Dave. Start your viewing and bidding here!

I’ll be working all three shifts at three different locations, and my husband Mark is giving me exactly what I want for my birthday—working two shifts as well. Hope to see you Saturday, June 27!

540 Lights—The Iowa Theater’s Marquee Stays On

Anyone who reads my posts knows I was instrumental in the renovation and reopening of my small town’s single-screen movie theater a couple of years ago. Its official name is The Winterset Iowa Theater, but around here folks just call it The Iowa. Like theaters across America and around the world, due to the COVID19 pandemic, The Iowa’s doors are closed.

With no revenue for the foreseeable future, worries about little Winterset’s nonprofit movie house are included with all my other worries. My daughter Rebecca Fons, who serves as programmer and chief operating manager (fully donating her time), is working with other board members to figure out how to help our employees and ensure the safety of the building and equipment during this time.

Scott Smith, The Iowa’s trusty manager, is handling the physical part, while others of us communicate with our bank, Farmers & Merchants, located on the other side of the square.

Brian Downes, director of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum (also located in Winterset) once called The Iowa’s marquee the heartbeat of our community, and I have to say I agree. Whenever I return to town after dark, the beauty of those 540 flashing lights draws me in like a spaceship tractor beam. I like to think others in the community feel the same way.

Though the doors of The Iowa are closed and locked for now, our theater is not truly dark, its marquee message a bright beacon of optimism as together we stay home and cope. Please consider donating here. Your support would help a lot.

SCHMETZ Needles Thinks I’m Sharp!

You’re not out to pasture but the green hues of the field start coming into focus when a fast-moving horse like me becomes the subject of tributes and end-of-career awards. In 2018, for example, The Quilt Show chose me as their Legend. Don’t get me wrong—the whole experience was a blast. My longtime pals Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims (plus their crew) came to Winterset from other time zones and spent several days in town, one of them at my house, interviewing me and making me cry on camera.

Last summer, my former business partner Liz Porter and I were the  2019 inductees into the Quilters Hall of Fame. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and it was fun to talk about our quilts. Our respective kids sent flowers to Marion, IN, to enjoy during the ceremony, and my daughter Mary Fons interviewed us after the banquet. Reflecting on our contributions to the quilting industry was a fun way to spend an evening.

When featured earlier last year by the American Quilt Alliance, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the wonderful Frances Dowell, a fellow fiction writer and all around good egg.

My most recent opportunity to talk about myself and hopefully offer a few words of wisdom is a feature in the SCHMETZ Needles online publication, “Inspired to Sew.” Writer Rita Farro asked me lots of fun questions and even wrested mom-praising quotes from my three adult children. Aw, thanks, kids! Editor Rhonda Pierce put it all together, illustrating the pages with photos from my archives. (If “Pierce” is not the perfect last name for the editor of a needle magazine, I don’t know what is.)

Now that my curly, once-dark mop of hair is gray (my youngest, Rebecca, always insists it’s silver), and I’m not out there making things happen in the quilting world, I do sometimes feel I’m ready for the proverbial pasture. The whole point of Rita’s piece, however is that kicking back is not my style.

If you’d like to take a look at the article, click here.




In our mid-twenties, Liz Porter and I earned our quilting chops by teaching beginning classes in Winterset, Iowa, where we had recently learned the basics ourselves through an Iowa State University Extension class. After writing a popular book on quilted vests, our teaching opportunities expanded to around the Midwest, then beyond. By teaching thousands of others, we honed the language of instruction and became better quilters—and teachers—ourselves.

Our first big professional break came in 1990 with the opportunity to write the basic reference book we wished we’d had when we were starting out. Oxmoor House, based in Birmingham, gave us an advance on royalties and three years to create the manuscript, which weighed thirteen pounds at birth.

Published in 1993, QUILTERS COMPLETE GUIDE was an instant hit. Over the ten years it was in print, it sold over half a million copies. Quilt shops around the country chained a copy to their checkout counter to use as an in-house reference book.

When Liz and I began teaching via public television in the mid-1990s, we drew content for our early episodes from the trusty QUILTERS COMPLETE GUIDE. In fact, we mailed a hard-cover copy to every public TV station programmer in the US along with information about the availability of our show. We think the book’s heft and beauty got our feet in the door.

When Dover Publications approached us over a year ago about republishing our classic text, we were delighted. With a new introduction and author page, QUILTERS COMPLETE GUIDE is as gorgeous—and essential—as ever. From setting up your machine for a perfect quarter-inch, to hand quilting, sashiko, Cathedral Window patchwork, layered appliqué, pattern drafting, storing and displaying quilts—it’s all there.

At 272 pages of full-color, step-by-step instruction, QCG remains the book every quilter needs. Amazingly, the softcover price is $25, only a few dollars more than in 1993. Ask for QUILTERS COMPLETE GUIDE at your local quilt shop, or purchase an autographed copy from the Iowa Quilt Museum, just across the square in Winterset from the ISU Extension Office where Liz and I got our start. The museum will ship it anywhere in the US for just $30.

My Long (Not-Lost) Love, Made in 1893

I often call my most recently completed quilt my “latest, greatest.” That’s because the creative process is for me a kind of love affair. Conceptualizing a quilt, choosing the fabrics, cutting, sewing, watching the work take shape on my design wall—it’s an intense and exciting process. My latest quilt is the quilt I love the best.

Continuing the love-affair metaphor, my current most-beloved quilt is an old flame. It’s a quilt I did not make, and not technically a quilt since it’s tied rather than quilted, but I have adored it since I was a young quilter first learning about historic styles and genres.

Back in the 1980s, the highlight of my year was the quilt show my first quilt club, Heritage Quilters, put on each October during Madison County’s Covered Bridge Festival. One fall, we borrowed several nineteenth century beauties from a prominent local family. All had been made by female ancestors who were masters of the needle. Both the design and workmanship of the wool Windmill Blades Log Cabin* we displayed that year blew me away. I never forgot the confident broad strokes of its design, the perfect flatness of the patchwork, the tiny cotton prints the maker incorporated with the wool, the wonderful checkerboard borders (velvet) on two sides.

A few years later, when Rod Kiracofe was searching for outstanding quilts to include a book he was writing, I mailed him a snapshot of Windmill Blades, and the quilt made a trip out to California to be photographed by Sharon Risedorph for inclusion in THE AMERICAN QUILT. Now, Windmill Blades was famous not only to me!

The Winterset gentleman whose grandmother and aunts were such remarkable quiltmakers passed away, and earlier this year George’s wife died, too. Two of the daughters contacted me seeking information about Windmill Blades. Apparently I knew more about their heirloom than they. Incredibly, they consigned my love for auction with antique furniture and other items from their mother’s estate.

As if Windmill Blades and I were destined to be reunited, I located the website of the auction house in Cedar Falls, registered for online bidding, and watched the calendar as the auction date drew near, not sure I would have the guts to reach out. The morning of the sale, I was nervous. Not a collector of antique anything, I didn’t know how such affairs were managed. I called the auction house, and a nice woman named Shelley calmed me down, told me how to place both a starting and a maximum bid and pointed me to a website where I could watch the process in real time.

Nervously, still in my bathrobe, I paced the floor as hundreds of items of jewelry, furniture, and artwork were one-by-one highlighted, bid on, and sold, Lot 532 still pages away! Before long, the 300s and 400s were gone. The 500s began ticking away. And then—what??? Windmill Blades was skipped! Skipped? What could that mean??? My love gone? Or, could it be—Windmill Blades was mine? I called Shelley. Yes! Lot 532, sold to Marianne Fons! And for half of my maximum bid! OMG, Windmill Blades was coming back to Winterset!

In correspondence about payment, Shelley commented, “By the way, Donna, who is working with me today, is very happy that you won this lot. She is a big fan of yours.”

“Really?” I replied, “that’s amazing! Please tell Donna thank you, and let her know 25 Fons & Porter quilts are currently on display at the Iowa Quilt Museum. She might wish to come to Winterset to see them.” On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, workplace pals Shelley and Donna did just that. They brought Windmill Blades with them and transferred my old flame to my arms.

*Windmill Blades Log Cabin was made by Gertrude Buchner of Maquoketa, Iowa, a project of seven years’ work.

See Fons & Porter Quilts in Winterset

The induction of Fons & Porter this summer into the Quilters Hall of Fame prompted the Iowa Quilt Museum (IQM) in Winterset, Iowa—the little burg where our brand was born—to mount a retrospective of our work. Almost thirty pieces (all but two of them large) are on view through early January.

Of course I’m biased (!), but honestly, the gallery at IQM has never looked better. While Liz or I occasionally designed a wall quilt or table runner for publication, what we both love to create are quilts with square inches numerous enough to make a design point worthy of our patchwork hours. In Winterset, strong design is evident on every gallery wall; several quilts measure over 100″ on a side.

Back in 1977, I was a twenty-something mother of one toddler (two more, eventually) when I marched into the Iowa State University Extension Office in Winterset on a mission. The American Bicentennial hoopla had included images of quilts, and I wanted to make one. I had been plying my needle in the farmhouse out in the country, embroidering on feed sacks and bluejeans with wimpy cotton thread. The broad design strokes I saw on quilts fired my imagination. Right away, I could see how much better it would be to make something big, and for a bed—instant decor!

Sharon Johnson, Madison County’s ISU Extension home economist back then—now retired and living in Nebraska—traveled to Winterset to speak at our retrospective’s opening in early October. She told of crossing paths not long ago with a quilter while traveling in Australia and mentioning Winterset. “Ooh, Winterset,” the person responded. “Fons & Porter!” Sharon waxed eloquently at our reception on the huge economic impact Liz and I created in our career. From basic education we received in a small Midwestern town, we became a worldwide household name. Sharon also revealed it was nonstandard for Extension to offer citizen-generated programming rather than content from ISU down.

Quilters and art lovers, head to Winterset ASAP and feast your eyes on our best quilts, the ones we’ve never parted with, all of them bold and intricate but makable by any quilter able to sew a quarter-inch seam. We’re the gals who put Winterset on the map not for Covered Bridges or John Wayne, but because we fell in love with America’s #1 folk art icon—the patchwork quilt—and ran with it all the way to the top!

Click below to listen to an Iowa Public Radio interview with Iowa Quilt Museum director Megan Barrett.



The Quilt Alliance Visits Me, Virtually!

I’ve been a member of—and a fan of—the Quilt Alliance for a long time. QA is a nonprofit established in 1993 to collect stories about quilts from living quiltmakers so information about them is not lost to time.

Some of my personally most favorite quilts are ones made in the nineteenth century, 99% of which are anonymous. If only a quilt could speak! If only it could tell us who made it and what that maker’s life was like! If only there had been a Quilt Alliance back then!

StoryBee is the Quilt Alliance’s series of once-a-month video interviews with quilty people like me conducted by writer and board member Frances O’Roark Dowell. When QA President Amy Milne asked me to the guest for September’s StoryBee feature, I said “Heck, yes!” (Other people Frances has interviewed are Julie Silber, Latifah Saafir, Ricky Tims, Alex Veronelli, and many more!)

But, wait! The interview was to be recorded in August, during my annual Sojourn of Solitude at our cottage on Washington Island, WI. I spend almost a full month alone (except for Scrabble the Dog) each summer, writing, contemplating the meaning of life, going to yoga class. But wait again! The cottage has Internet! And I have a special sewing space on the property that’s never been shown to the outside world before! The show could go on!

When interview day came, I had great fun chatting with Frances, especially because she has a knack for asking questions no one has asked before! Besides being a quilter, Frances is a writer and a new writing buddy of mine. (We do things like read each other’s manuscripts-in-progress.) We could have talked all day!

Click on the link below to watch a cute teaser for the interview (and meet our dogs that could be twins). If you’d like to watch all 50 or so minutes, you have only to join the Quilt Alliance. Individual memberships start at just $30 for the year, and you’d be supporting the great work of the QA! Members get a free Quilt of Valor pattern I designed and awarded.

Click here to be teased into joining a wonderful, wonderful organization!

Moi? Famous?

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!

“Spring Blossoms” Blooms in Texas

During my decades-long career, I designed many quilts for publication in books and magazines, always with instructions included so others could make their own. At conferences and quilt shows, when I’d see a quilt on display made from one of my designs, I was thrilled. I mean, with so many patterns out there, someone chose mine? How flattering!

A few months ago, a member of the Cibolo Creek Quilters Guild in Boerne, Texas, a city in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, contacted me. Judi Burr’s appliqué bee had made my pattern Spring Blossoms* and wanted to donate it to their guild to use as a fundraiser. She wondered if she needed my permission.

The patterns Liz Porter and I published over the years were intended for quilters to make up for their personal use, and I’m pretty sure that includes gifting the result to a nonprofit. Plus, they had me at, “we have labeled it and gave you credit for the pattern.” I told them to go for it.

The raffle begins this Saturday, May 4, as part of the guild’s annual conference sponsored with the City of Boerne Parks and Recreation, and includes an outdoor quilt show that day with hundreds of quilts on display. Admission is free and programs can be picked up from the event headquarters, from quilt angels, or in stores along the main street of town.

My version of Spring Blossoms uses machine appliqué techniques popularized by Harriet Hargrave that involve cutting from behind the foundation fabric to remove freezer paper templates. My mother was in the hospital part of the time I was making it, and I’d take blocks with me to work on when I visited her each evening, transporting them flat in a pizza box. One night a nurse commented, “Your mom must really like pizza,” whereupon I showed her what was inside!

Judi and her group did all the appliqué on their version by hand, meeting once a month for a year at members’ homes. They straightened off the outer border instead of scalloping it as I did. Their quilt is gorgeous!

Pictured at right are guild president Linda Heatherley, far left, and bee members Rose Jeter—who did the quilting—Jennifer Goodall, Carolyn Coleman, Alice Hobbs, and Judi Burr. (Not present was Sara Johnson.)

Click here if you’d like to purchase a ticket for Spring Blossoms, Texas style, and support the guild’s great work!


*Spring Blossoms was published in the book QUICK QUILTS FROM THE HEART, out of print now, but you can probably locate one somewhere . . .


Quilts! Quilts! Quilts! Come to The Airing!

Whether you’re a quilter, a quilt lover, or someone who simply loves a road trip on a beautiful spring day, head for Winterset, Iowa, Saturday, April 27, for the second-ever Airing of the Quilts, a fabulous, one-day production of the Iowa Quilt Museum.

From 10 am to 4 pm, our small town (pop. 5276) will be (ahem) blanketed in quilts as we host over fifteen unique displays—including (for the second time in history) hanging within three of our famous covered bridges. Quilts will be aired in churches, at the public library, in historic homes, at Piece Works quilt shop, on the porticoes of our native limestone courthouse—smack dab in the center of the town square—and of course inside the museum itself, among other locations.

My assignment this year was to gather swag for the live auction* that follows the fundraising dinner that starts at 5 pm. (ALERT: the auction includes only about fifteen items—you can be home early!) In addition to several beautiful antique quilts, our committee has rounded up other neat stuff. For example:

  • Have a finished top you’ve never managed to get quilted? You can bid on longarming by my personal machine quilter, with binding by . . . me!
  • Need a T-shirt quilt for someone you love? An outstanding Winterset quiltmaker will work with the winning bidder to custom-make, machine quilt, and bind it, so you can give it to that special person now, instead of fifteen years from now!
  • Been longing for a barn quilt block for the side of your home, shed, or garage? Come and bid on one.
  • Want to solidify plans THIS YEAR to come back next year? Bid on Friday night lodging at the beautiful Judge Lewis Bed & Breakfast for The Airing 2020!

On April 27, I’m not sure where I’ll be—everywhere, I’m guessing. Find me, and I’ll give you a hug! For sure, I’ll be awarding a Quilt of Valor at Monumental Park (just a block off the square) at 2 pm, so come join other onlookers as we thank a Vietnam War veteran for his service. Before and after, I’ll be at the the museum and around the square, and at the dinner, trunk show, and auction, and would simply love to greet you!

Scroll down at this link to the red rectangular tabs to purchase advance tickets to The Airing of the Quilts displays (just $20) and the early evening event (just $40 for drinks, dinner, and a fun social time)—all in support of the beautiful Iowa Quilt Museum in historic Winterset!

*There’s also a Silent Auction of about a dozen items including your scissors sharpened and your sewing machine serviced by Joyce Franklin at Piece Works.

Hanging Out with Michelle

Back in the late 2000s, a dream of Quilts of Valor founder Catherine Roberts was for our nation’s First Lady to make a Quilt of Valor in The White House. Since I was to be the nationally-known quilter who would keep the sewing machine threaded, I was the board member elected to write a letter inviting Michelle Obama, her daughters, and her mother to let me take them under my quilting wings.

Even though no sewing session at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue came about, I spent a fair amount of time imagining what it would be like to sew with Michelle, in case it did. She seemed so down to earth, I felt sure I would not be intimidated. Having recently finished Becoming, I know I was not wrong.

Getting to know Michelle, her mom Marian Robinson, and daughters Malia and Sasha was fascinating and fun. I learned Michelle’s upbringing was much like my own, steered by parents who valued honesty, work, education, dignity. Later, as Michelle navigated her way through a public role in the public eye, she kept her own eyes focused on her children, as any caring mother would.

Becoming is not a sweeping, literary novel with high stakes and powerful tension, but a straightforward life story about a regular person whose path took her places she never dreamed she would go, something I can relate to, at a much lower level, as well.

I’d still like to sew with Michelle, teach her how to do a perfect quarter-inch seam, impart pressing skills, help her build that Quilt of Valor on a design wall. We could do it in Washington, Chicago, even Winterset. I’m available, totally.

My Life Story (or, I Cried on Camera)

Back in October, national quilting celebrities Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims spent three days in Winterset. They’re hosts of the online program “The Quilt Show,” which they created and which has thousands of subscribers. The ten-person videography team spent Day One taping episodes at Piece Works quilt shop, Day Two at the Iowa Quilt Museum, and Day Three at my house, featuring me as their 2018 “Quilt Show Legend.”

During my 20+ years on public television I’ve spent plenty of time in front of a camera, usually four big ones, on the set of  “Love of Quilting.” Delivering the goods in my home was a different, but great, experience.

I greeted Alex and Ricky at the front door (holding my dog Scrabble) and showed them into the living room. I toured them through the house and into my bedroom, where we had stacked some favorite quilts on the bed. The camera operator, in order to properly frame the shot, opened my closet door and backed in, carefully avoiding my shoes. As we turned the quilts, I explained what inspired each—including “Unrattled Mom,” the one I made in 1987 after I shot a 42-inch rattlesnake with a .22 rifle out in Lincoln Township and made the front page of the Des Moines Register.

In my sewing room, Alex and I chatted about my history with Quilts of Valor Foundation, which was meaningful, since Alex’s participation in two Iowa Public Television Quilts of Valor specials is what turned our relationship into a friendship.

After lunch, the producer sat me down opposite her, both of us in identical dining room chairs so we’d be at exact eye level. Shelly had already talked with me at length on the phone, honing her many questions for the on-camera deep dive into my life. Like famous interviewer Barbara Walters, Shelly is a masterful prober.

Over what seemed like hours, with the full crew silently watching, Shelly took me back in time. I described my childhood, my youthful dreams, my introduction to quilting in my 20s, my business partnership with Liz Porter, and my quilting career. I spoke of my children and my pride in each, of how I met Mark through his mother Vonda (a quilter) and married him. I explained my newfound love for my home town of Winterset, and my encore career as a novelist.

Where I got choked up was in the segment on my family background, when asked for the secret of my success. I related an anecdote about my mother Dorothy Graham. Years ago, someone commenting to her on my accomplishments, said, “You must be so proud of Marianne.” My mother responded, “I’ve been proud of Marianne from the moment she was born.” I didn’t feel the emotion coming, but when I described my mother’s unconditional love, there it was.

How fitting it feels—now that I’ve retired from TV to devote my time to Winterset and writing—to have the opportunity to look back on my life, to summarize my pursuits, to sift through old photos to find the perfect still shots for the beautiful video The Quilt Show created.

From now through January 13, you can watch this 45-minute episode FREE, without subscribing to The Quilt Show. Click here and go back in time with me.

Thank you, Alex, Ricky, and all the Quilt Show team!

I Joined the Army!

Podcasts (new-fangled radio shows) are hugely popular these days. Quilters love them! We access episodes on our computers or smart phones when we’re sewing, binging-listening to stories of true crime, scientific discovery, or mysterious phenomena.

A podcast series specifically for quilters is “Just Wanna Quilt,” hosted by Tulane University Law Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard. Dr. Gard and her colleagues (“The Quilting Army”) pursue quilting and study copyright law in relation to to the quilting industry—which is a good thing, as the nuances of trademarks, intellectual property, and copyright are as murky in the quilt world as they are in Hollywood.

Previous guests on Just Wanna Quilt have been my daughter Mary Fons (in a joint interview with Tulia Pink) and other favorite people of mine including Alex Anderson, Pam Weeks, and Victoria Findlay Wolfe. I’ve made new friends as well, including Frances Dowell and Iowan Melanie McNeil.

Dr. Gard interviewed me for over an hour a few weeks ago. During our conversation, I inducted her into the Madison County Mutual Admiration Society, she inducted me into The Quilting Army, and I got to talk about my career, my children, the Iowa Quilt Museum and Iowa Theater in Winterset, my writing, and my fascination with Mary Shelley, among other topics.

Get some patchwork going and tune in to my chat with Dr. Gard. Hope you enjoy!

The Face of Liberty

In 1986, my latest, greatest quilt was Lady Liberty Medallion. I was thirty-seven years old, living on a farm in Madison County, Iowa, my children age ten, six, and three, many of my youthful dreams still intact. I didn’t know I would be divorced within two years, that from then on I’d be the head-of-household (and breadwinner), or that my fledgling quilting career would be the remarkable journey it became.

My dream-of-the-moment was to win the Great American Quilt Contest, sponsored by 3M and the American Folk Art Museum, and take home the $20,000 purchase prize. My entry was traditional—a medallion with the face of the statue at center, commemorative lettering, symbolic patchwork blocks, and an undulating outer vine. I used hand appliqué and reverse appliqué, machine patchwork, and hand quilting, my quilt exactly 60″ x 60″ as specified by the contest set to honor the Statue of Liberty’s 100th birthday. When I was chosen as Iowa winner, my dream gained traction, and Lady Liberty went to New York for judging.

The California quilt, a non-traditional, painterly piece, Glorious Lady Freedom by Moneca Calvert, beat us all, but I got to go to New York City for the first time, made friends with amazing quilters like New York winner Paula Nadelstern, and returned to Iowa to continue sewing while my quilt toured for three years.

Had I won, my quilt would be part of the Museum of American Folk Art’s permanent collection, an honor to be sure, but the $20,000 would be long gone. Instead, Lady Liberty still belongs to me. I unfolded her recently, her eyes reminding me of my own steady gaze at thirty-six, my heart flooding with nostalgia as I considered all that has happened—to me and to the meaning of freedom, for women in particular—in the intervening three decades.

A couple of years ago I made a much smaller Lady Liberty, partly to prove I could still do needle-turn appliqué and partly to support Quilts of Valor Foundation. Recently, I carried the original Lady Liberty Medallion with me to our cottage on Washington Island to launder it for the first time and let the breeze off Lake Michigan to do the drying. Her colors may have faded, but her strength remains.

My Latest: Free + Brave

Quilters are nice people, but we can be snobs.

When Liz Porter and I discovered patchwork in the mid-1970s, machine quilting existed, but self-respecting quilters eschewed it, pointing to ugly, puffy hotel bedspreads. We quilted our tops by hand.

In the 1980s, along came the rotary cutter, followed by quick piecing techniques, which meant everyone was soon turning out tops way faster than we could hand quilt them. Enterprising sewists figured out how to achieve quality machine quilting on their domestic machines. Longarm manufacturers perfected their products, and no one who knows anything about quilts looks down on machine quilting any more.

Until recently, I was a snob about pre-printed panels. Yes, the artwork has become great, but yours truly doesn’t need help—I can design a whole quilt on my own, thank you very much.

In September, I had the privilege of assisting with a Quilts of Valor award ceremony in Killeen, TX. The recipients were survivors of “Black Sunday,” an ambush and battle in Afghanistan in 2004 that left eight US soldiers dead and 60 wounded. The event was coordinated by Laura Winckel, and each red, white, and blue quilt unfolded was gorgeous. At the ceremony, the twenty-three recipients and their friends and family members far outnumbered the quilters in the room.

The quilts that elicited audible gasps of approval were the “panel quilts,” those with a patriotic message—and sometimes an eagle—at the center. Back home in Winterset the following week, I pulled a Northcott Fabrics patriotic panel from my stash and began making blocks to surround it, my panel snobbery a thing of the past. (Amazing, how fast it went together!)


Nothing Says “I Love You” Like a Quilt (of Valor)

I’m just back from Killeen, TX, where I lectured during the biennial (every other year) Crossroads to Texas Quilt Show. The exhibit and the people were wonderful, but the absolute highlight (for me) was the Quilts of Valor award ceremony conducted by Laura Winkel and members of the Quilters With a Heart QOV group on Saturday afternoon.

Most of the over two dozen recipients had been part of a US Army unit that survived a devastating ambush in combat over ten years ago. The men were various shapes, sizes, and skin tones, and I was lucky to get to hug many of them as they were wrapped with their quilts. The quilts themselves were so perfect and beautiful, the audience of recipients, family members, friends, and quilters let out a gasp as one-by-one they were unfurled and awarded.

The final awardee on the list was John, the point-of-contact who had helped Laura locate everyone else. He wiped away tears as he stood ready to be wrapped, and someone whispered to me John had lost his young son just three months earlier. While out on a run together the son suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of an undiscovered heart ailment. After John was wrapped, his many comrades in the room came forward to put their arms around him, embracing not only John, but his Quilt of Valor as well.

The quilt top pictured above doesn’t have a title yet, but soon it will named and quilted, and eventually it will become a tangible civilian thank-you for a man or woman’s military service and sacrifice.

Sewn on the Fourth of July

My quilts these days are frequently red, white, and blue because I am often making Quilts of Valor. My latest patriotic work was inspired by a vintage WWII beauty in the collection of quilter-historian-researcher-lecturer Sue Reich, who also happens to currently chair the board of directors of Quilts of Valor Foundation. 

The pattern for Sue’s antique quilt was published as “Star Spangled Banner” in the September 10, 1941, edition of the Kansas City Star. I saw it when the quilt was on loan to the Iowa Quilt Museum for display during the museum’s 2017 exhibit of Quilts of Valor. I was immediately intrigued by the large blocks with striped sashing. I finished my updated (as in paper pieced) version this past summer, on July 4th, as a matter of fact.

“Star Spangled Banner” is one of the quilts that will be featured in TV episodes I will tape at Iowa Public Television studios in September with host Sara Gallegos, part of Series 3300 of “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.” Sue is loaning the original quilt from her collection to hang on the set, and I’m excited to see the original again.

Quilters typically give away most of the quilts they make—often as comforting gifts to family and friends. Something extra-special happens, however, when the gifted quilt is not a gift at all, but an award presented by a civilian sewist to a military service member in order to thank him or her for military service. These awards are often life changing for combat veterans still struggling with war demons or veterans who’ve never received a word of thanks for putting their lives on the line.

National Service can be a complicated as giving one’s life for one’s country, or as simple as making a Quilt of Valor. I look forward to awarding this QOV once it’s made its appearance on Love of Quilting!



Cozy “Leftovers” Nine Patch

In quiltmaking, as in homemaking, we all have personal frugalities. For example, in my kitchen I like high quality, white paper towels, but I use them . . . mindfully.

In my sewing room I sometimes throw away small fabric scraps others would save, but I also often pack up used TV step-out elements or fabrics I decide I don’t like any more in ziptop bags and put them in the Goodwill box.

The project currently on my wall started with leftover Nine Patches I received last year in a 3″ block exchange with Liz Porter and friends. Everyone wound up with over two hundred scrappy blocks. (That’s approximately 1000 different darks and almost as many shirtings!) I used a bunch of mine in “Patchworthy,” scheduled for the January/February 2019 issue of Love of Quilting magazine and on a TV episode that will air some time in the second half of 2018.

Unwilling to let my remaining Nine Patches go to waste, I started “Cozy” (working title) with my leftovers. I liked what I saw well enough to join more strips and make the over 100 additional little blocks needed to knock out a cozy nap-sized quilt.

Hope you like!