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.





Come Sew Where Horses Used to Park

Among the neatest, newish attractions in my lovely little town is The Winterset Livery, a half-block-long brick building that in the nineteenth century was basically a garage for horses and horse-drawn vehicles. No surprise that the structure is just steps away from Winterset’s town square.

June 1 through 3, The Livery will be a haven (and heaven) for quilters who want to come to Madison County prior to The Airing of the Quilts on June 4, hang out with other quilters, and sew, sew, sew.

For $150, retreat participants get three days at their sewing station, the use of wonderful Oliso irons, standing height cutting tables, coffee all day long, pastries in the morning, a boxed lunch at noon, mini-classes taught by Joyce Franklin and Tony Jacobson of Piece Works (a fantastic quilt shop conveniently located across the street), PLUS a ticket to Saturday’s Airing events. You’ll have access to your space for many hours each day, whether you are an early bird or a night owl. Sign up here.

The Airing of the Quilts is the Iowa Quilt Museum‘s annual fundraiser, with hundreds of quilts displayed all over our community. We hang quilts in several of our famous Covered Bridges, at our City Park, at the Madison County Historical Complex, the Winterset Public Library, the Art Center, on fences, on porches, in shop windows, everywhere! Tickets for the Airing are $20 and get you into tons of displays, including our local quilt guild’s quilt show at the elementary school. Buy your ticket online before May 28, and you pay only $15!

If structured classes are more your cup of tea, we are offering them for the first time this year, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, taught by wonderful teachers! Be sure to check all the opportunities.

Back in the 1970s, the livery building housed a printing shop (I worked there!) and veterinarian’s office. Later, there was a yarn shop at one end, and a tumble-down resale shop in the rest. When those closed, rumor had it the building would be torn down. Lucky for Winterset, Jeff Hilsabeck, a contractor with a heart of gold and a love of old architecture, stepped in, and along with his now-wife Anton, took the structure down to its bare bones and built it back out into a gorgeous, hip event space with beautiful windows and (importantly) nice bathrooms.

I’ll be at City Park all day on Saturday, keeping an eye on a fantastic exhibit of quilts on display in Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge: “The Best of QuiltCon 2022.” Come see the amazing Modern Quilts in “my” bridge, then head to Cedar, Hogback, and Holliwell Covered Bridges to see the outstanding work of the Central Iowa Modern Quilt Guild. 

See you soon!

Snowstorm Baking

In the fall of 2020, my husband and I moved into an historic, two-story brick building just off Winterset’s town square. We can see the Madison County Courthouse from our front windows!

Last winter, during the early hours of what was the first of 3.5 major snowstorms, our longtime housework helper, Brandy, arrived. “Looks like we’re in for a big one,” I said. (The forecast was for six to eight inches.)

“Yes,” she responded, “Matt will be up all night.”

I knew Brandy’s husband was on the City of Winterset street crew, but I didn’t know about his special, post-blizzard duty.

Our town square is a classic. The courthouse (built in 1876) sits at the center, with nose-in parking all the way around. Retail and other commercial storefronts surround the courthouse on all four sides—three out of four also with nose-in slots. During major snow events, the city plows a path around the square so cars can get through; some businesses close, some stay open, and people park as best they can. Only after 11 p.m., when parking isn’t allowed on the square or on the blocks just off it, can serious snow removal begin.

Turns out Matt is the guy who operates the loader that scoops the snow into the trucks that haul it out to the soccer fields, dump it, and come back for more.

That evening, well after dark, I heard back-up beeps and big-truck engine noises outside. I walked to the front of our building, looked through the windows, and texted Brandy: “Is Matt driving that big yellow thing?” She responded with a thumbs-up.

I watched Matt scoop up a giant shovel-full of snow, back up, deftly swivel the scoop over the bed of an idling dump truck, and drop it in. He repeated the process until the truck was full and pulled away. A second dump truck moved into position. I texted Brandy again: “Tell Matt I’m bringing him a snack.”

I loaded a sandwich baggie with cookies I had made that day, put on my boots and coat, stepped outside, and flagged Matt down (between scoops). He opened the door, and I handed them up. “Thanks, Marianne!”

During last winter’s other snowstorms and the single one we’ve had (so far) this year, I timed my cookie-baking so I was ready for Matt.

During deliveries, I always stay safely away from the trucks until Matt is at a full stop and can see me before I wave to him and step into the street. Sometimes I catch him on our block; sometimes I cross the intersection and intercept him on the square itself.

My little ritual now involves two baggies of cookies—one for Matt and one for the colleague of Matt’s choice.







She Loves Movies

My daughters and I moved into Winterset from our previous home, a farm seven miles from town, when they were thirteen, nine, and six. The transition was rough, but town life had its advantages. The post office was next door. Hannah, Mary, and Rebecca could walk to school. The Iowa Theater was just two blocks up the street.

I’m not sure how old Rebecca was when she started saving her ticket stubs, but they became her teenage souvenirs. She wrote the name of the movie, the date she went, and who had gone with her on the back of each one. The big bowl of colorful stubs* was a key element of her bedroom decor. When she was old enough to work, she got a job behind the checkout counter at Winterset Home Video.

Titanic (1997) undoubtedly played at the Iowa Theater, but once (or twice) was not enough for Rebecca. At 15, she didn’t have a driver’s license, and her older siblings had gone off to college. Indulgently, I chauffeured her (and various companions) to theaters in Des Moines so they could experience the tragedy (and swoon over DiCaprio) again and again. (I always dropped them off with Kleenex.)

College students are notorious for changing their majors, but at the University of Iowa, Film Studies was Rebecca’s one-and-only. She graduated in 2004, and after spending two unhappy years in New York returned to the Midwest to get a masters in Arts & Media Management at Columbia College in Chicago. Her first industry job was at Cinema Chicago, producers of the famous Chicago International Film Festival.

People in Winterset give me credit for renovating the Iowa Theater, but I never would have undertaken such a task without Rebecca. She was 34 and newly married when I stuck my neck out in 2015 and purchased the building, but she commuted home willingly, frequently, and even joyfully during the two-year gut-and-rehab. Partway through the project, she left Cinema Chicago to work on the rebirth of The Iowa full time. Together, we consulted with contractors, applied for and received 501c3 nonprofit status from the IRS, raised funds locally and beyond, sourced popcorn and butter machines, and hired a staff.

Near the end, as we were planning the Grand Reopening, Rebecca took a new job as programming director at FilmScene in Iowa City, shortening her commute by two and a half hours. Now, at last, she is fully back in Chicago. She still programs The Iowa’s lineup of movies, but her new real job is an awesome one—Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public progarm of the Art Institute of Chicago. She commutes from the apartment she shares with husband Jack Newell to downtown Chicago, except on days she works from home.

Rebecca and I were recently interviewed about the Iowa Theater for THIS IS IOWA, an online publication produced by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Writer Amber Rottinghaus did a fine job telling the story of the theater’s rebirth! You can read it here.

*She still has them!





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!

Puppy Dog Transport Service

Here in aptly-named WINTERset, we’re having quite the sporty winter.

Around here, even before the last snowflake hits the ground, guys are out there, “pushing snow.”

Pushing snow is not the same as removing snow from one’s sidewalk with a shovel. It involves a pickup with a blade on the front, and bags of snowmelt and/or sand and a couple of snowblowers in the truck bed. A lot of snow-pushers have additional heavy equipment, like end loaders and trailers and other trucks for hauling snow away.

City of Winterset crews clear the residential streets and commercial area so traffic can move through town. The free-lancers handle the parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks of their customers.

One local snow-pusher is Cody Reed. Cody and I go way back.

Cody’s mom Marla rode the school bus I drove for the Winterset Public School District for one year back in the 1970s when she was in high school. Marla married Steve Reed. Their son Cody was born the same year as Rebecca, my youngest. Cody and Rebecca started Kindergarten the same year and graduated in the WHS Class of 2000.

Cody’s dad Steve is a builder and historic preservationist. Steve built an addition on my home in 1997, oversaw another major remodel in 2010, built the apartment building where my mother spent her final years, and was the contractor for the over $1 million gut-and-rehab of the Iowa Theater in 2016-2017. Cody, carrying on the family business, has been our contractor for projects at our previous home and for major changes at our new residence. He’s a frequent presence in our household and a favorite person of mine. Our dog Scrabble loves him.

During the most recent blizzard, I watched snow fall all day, sometimes gently, at other times with a wind behind it, hoping it would stop at four or five inches—out of concern for Scrabble. She’s a mini golden doodle, which means her fur doesn’t shed but just keeps growing, and her much needed grooming appointment north of town was the next day. If we couldn’t get a car out, we’d miss her appointment, and it might be months before we could get another one.

The next day dawned as it typically does in southern Iowa after a blizzard—with sunshine, achingly blue skies, and a squint-inducing glare on thirteen inches of snow. Around 8:30 a.m., I phoned Cody.

“Hi, Cody.”

“Hi, Marianne.”

“I have a huge favor to ask.”


“Could you get Scrabble to the groomer this morning?”

“I’ll come by as soon as I finish the HyVee parking lot.”

Later in the day, Mark was out back in our garage when Cody arrived in the alley to scoop out our parking pad. “She’ll be done at 3:00. Have Marianne call and pay by phone, and I’ll swing out and pick her up.”

It’s great to have a friend who knows your dog, takes his own dog to the same groomer, is up early, and drives around with a blade on his truck.




I Was A 2020 Poll Worker

On November 3, 2020, I stepped outside my door at 5:45 a.m. and walked the four-block distance to First United Methodist Church for my election worker debut. (Because of COVID, Winterset Precincts 1 and 2 were combined into a single polling location.) I wore a face mask I stitched myself (two layers of batik with hair-tie ear straps) and carried a plastic face shield given to me by a friend.

Earlier in the year, when I read in the Madisonian (our county newspaper) Madison County was understaffed for poll workers, I decided to sign up. When I phoned the county auditor’s office, I was shocked to find out the standard shift is from 6 a.m. until after the polls close at 9 p.m. I also learned that poll workers have to be equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. If I could recruit a couple of other Democrats to share my shift, I could get a break in the middle of the day. I phoned two friends.

During training at the Madison County Courthouse Annex in October, I learned that the county’s computer system for elections is internal, not connected to the Internet. I learned how to check registered voters’ photo IDs with their faces and their recorded addresses, how to update addresses if need be, what forms of proof of address are acceptable, how to register a voter that day, and what do do if “convicted felon” popped up on the screen. The training team, led by our county auditor (a Republican,) delivered the clear message: “People want to vote. Our job is to help them.”

As a first-timer, I entered the church basement with trepidation. I did not want to mess anything up. When I was offered the job of sanitizing the twenty or so voter stations (round tables scattered around the large room, two or three fold-out cardboard privacy screens atop each) rather than operating a computer terminal, I jumped at that simple duty, donned my shield and disposable gloves, and picked up the spray bottle. Let the seasoned poll workers run the computers! I was also tasked with directing voters toward the back exit and offering them an “I VOTED” lapel sticker as they left.

For hours, I sprayed and wiped tabletops between each voter. At one point, when I needed to blow my nose, I stepped into the ladies room, removed my shield, my glasses, my mask, and my hairband, used my tissue, and reversed the process. It took a full minute. When my relief came, I walked home, made a sandwich, and put my feet up for a while, then returned to reclaim my cleaning supplies and jump back in. I felt kind of like a restaurant hostess, and I worked that role to lighten the mood, calling out, “Table for one right over here,” asking, “Would you like to see the wine list?” or saying, “I’ll be back later with the dessert tray” as they took their seat. A smattering of voters appreciated my humor.

All went well throughout the day, and I was astounded at the stamina of my fellow workers, many of whom have worked elections for years.* Rarely did a voter wait more than a few minutes for a station. Credentialed members of both parties were allowed in to observe. Tensions rose slightly when our single electronic ballot box jammed, but our chair quickly called for assistance, and the machine was unjammed and restarted within fifteen minutes. As day became night, I added a new quip as I directed voters to the exit: “You’ll come out in the alley behind the church, but don’t worry, you’ll still be in Winterset.” My co-poll-workers thought that was hilarious.

From 8:00 until 8:59, all was quiet, but then a final voter arrived on the stroke of 9. Our machine had been unplugged seconds before she walked in, but our chair dutifully escorted her to a secondary machine available for voters with disabilities, booted it up, and helped her vote. Once she finished, the protocols for properly recording the results, turning the ballots over to county officials, and packing up the computers and other election equipment began. Because I can print neatly, I was charged with hand-recording the write-ins, dismayed to have to write “MICKEY MOUSE” more than once. I walked home around 10:30.

Throughout the day, I watched in awe as our bipartisan team of poll workers crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” to make sure our work was beyond reproach. I was disappointed my candidate did not carry my precinct—or my state—but it never would have occurred to me to question the results. When anyone talks about the election of 2020, I’ll always be able to say, “I was there. I saw with my own eyes how a free and fair election is conducted.”

*Our team was all women.

I Feel So Moved

Growing up, my family changed houses only about four times that I can remember. We moved from Iowa, where I was born, to Kansas City, where I started school, then to Friendswood, Texas, and after that to Houston, where I graduated from Bellaire High School in 1967.

As is typical, I relocated numerous times in my college years—from one dorm room to another, from this apartment to that one, and then married for the first time in 1970 and occupied two Houston apartments before returning to Iowa, where for eighteen years we lived on the 80-acre farm where my father was born. My next move was into town—on my own at thirty-nine with my three kids, thirteen, nine, and six at the time. Lucky for me, my parents had inherited the house in Winterset where my Aunt Katherine—and my grandparents before her—resided after retiring from farming. I had practically no money, $80 a month in child support, and only the bare beginnings of a livelihood, but we had a roof over our heads.

During my thirty-plus years on West Jefferson, I forged a career, purchased the house on contract from my mother, remodeled it, landscaped it, and built an addition on the west side. In 2000, Mark Davis graciously moved from Texas to Iowa to marry me. In 2003, we added on again and put up a three-car garage.

Last fall Mark and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary, less than a week after moving a block and a half from the house on West Jefferson to an historic brick two-story just steps away from Winterset’s town square. Surprisingly, I shed not a tear, and over recent weeks have examined why.

For one thing, our new home is totally different from any space in which either of us has lived. Picture a New York City or Chicago apartment, twenty feet wide by ninety feet deep, a living/dining area the full width of the building, with exposed brick walls, a see-through gas fireplace separating the living room from my slate-floored “lobby” office at the front of the building. It’s so urban, but with little Winterset—instead of a big city—outside. I can see the courthouse dome through my office windows!

For another thing, because of pandemic-related supply chain problems, the changes we made prior to moving (including putting in a kitchen) took six months, which meant we had plenty of time to sort through our belongings. We figure we eliminated at least thirty percent. The Legos went to a young family, my old prairie dresses and the kids’ dance costumes to the local theater group. The seen-better-days deck furniture went out to the curb where it was snapped up before I could even print and attach the FREE sign. Deciding what to keep and what to let go of centered me.

Currently, I walk by my old house every day on my two mile stroll, minimally affected by the For Sale sign in the yard. Left behind are two dozen rose bushes, a cherry tree, and memories galore. My hope is that a growing family will fall in love with 216 W. Jefferson, purchase it, and thrive there just as I did.


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.




Ovation(s) for A Tiny Movie Theater

Photo by Teddi Yaeger

The Iowa Theater in Winterset, Iowa, known locally as “The Iowa,” is once again a gem of a space—Art Deco facade, classic marquee, single silver screen, 150 seats (including balcony), red velvet curtain that opens dramatically at start of show, and a concession stand offering Iowa-grown popcorn served with real butter.

The Iowa closed in 2015 after years of dwindling attendance and a resulting lack of revenue. Somehow, I got the chance to help bring it back to life. My youngest daughter Rebecca majored in Film at the University of Iowa, going on to earn a graduate degree in Art & Media Management at Columbia College, and work at Cinema Chicago, producer of the iconic Chicago Film Festival. Rebecca and I partnered to become the driving force in the two-year, full-gut-and-rehab of Winterset’s beloved little theater on the square.

We cleaned out accumulated (often gross) debris, applied to the IRS for nonprofit status, got fundraising started, and worked with the contractor every step of the way. To be honest, despite our many life experiences, and as enthusiastic as we were, Rebecca and I didn’t exactly know what we were doing, especially when it came to operating a movie theater. But we knew where to get help.

Starting in 2016 (when The Iowa was still in shambles), we traveled to Utah each January for the Art House Convergence, a national meet-up for operators of independent movie houses. The conference takes place not far from Sundance, where the famous film festival follows later in the month. We attended seminars, networked, learned about distributors, point-of-sale software, marketing, and (of course) popcorn. The conference was an extra-special blast because we did it together, sharing a hotel room, splitting up to absorb the available knowledge each day.

A favorite Convergence program is “Art House Tales,” an evening event no attendee would miss. Each year, a handful of theater operators get to tell their story—but with very strict parameters. Presenters provide 20 slides, and each slide is on the screen for only 20 seconds (that’s six minutes and 40 seconds, total). And, the slides are advanced automatically by the tech person, so you have to talk fast!

During Art House Tales back in 2016, we nudged each other. “Some day, we’ll have a story to tell!”

The Iowa reopened in 2017, and this year we were chosen. Rebecca selected the slides, and together we drafted our script. We practiced and practiced so not to flub our words. Hundreds of people filled the ballroom, and we were nervous before we began. By Slide #8 we could feel the audience absorb our energy and feed it right back to us. When we reached the final image, we were choking back tears, and the audience was cheering. We looked up from our scripts to see people jumping to their feet. Our small town story received a standing ovation, a first for Art House Tales!

Use this link to hear The Iowa’s story—maybe have a tissue handy.

But don’t go away, there’s more! The Iowa’s marquee was also featured recently in a national media ad from Bank of America, voiced by Academy Award winning actress Viola Davis, a message to the graduating Class of 2020. See the lights go on sixteen seconds in!






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!

IPR Visits the Quilt Museum

One day last month, Iowa Public Radio’s Jacqueline Halbloom, host of IPR’s Iowa Arts Showcase, popped over to Winterset. She sat down with me at the docent desk inside the Iowa Quilt Museum and asked me all sorts of cool questions, her microphone on.

Among the stories she got out of me were how I started quilting, how the Fons & Porter brand evolved over the years, and how Mary Fons became a quilter and cohost of Fons & Porter’s Lover of Quilting on public television.

We talked about my projects in Winterset—the quilt museum and the Iowa Theater. I also got to express my love of fiction and my current pursuit of an encore career as a novelist.

Jacqueline asked about the ongoing appeal of quilts and quilting in America, giving me the opportunity to list some of the different standpoints from which we can view our country’s most valued national craft—artistic, feminist, activist, patriotic, family, cultural, and more.

I expounded on some of my favorite “quilty” themes, quoting Mary Fons at one point (“You can’t wrap a baby in an iPod.”), how as a quiltmaker I’m a serial monogamist who makes one quilt at a time, and my recurring lament that librarians are sexier than quilters.

If you’d like to give the interview a listen just click on the triangle below.


My Dog’s ID Card

In Winterset, each Friday morning from 8:15 to 9 a.m., a member of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosts coffee for fellow members. Thirty or forty people generally show up to enjoy a cup of joe and socialize on the last morning of the work week.

This past Friday, Winterset Parks & Rec hosted at the new, nearly-complete dog park on the east edge of town, out near our primary soccer fields. The compound includes spacious areas with beautiful gates and fences for both small and large dogs and will have doggy water fountains, benches for people, and of course clean-up-after-your-dog baggie dispensers.

My dog Scrabble weighs about eighteen pounds, which would qualify her for the small dog area, but, we probably won’t be going. As a puppy, the opportunity to make dog friends just didn’t happen, and when she was older she was twice(!) jumped by other dogs, and bitten, both times while attached to her leash.* At a dog park, Scrabble, who’s never met a human she didn’t adore, would undoubtedly want to hang with the owners.

A couple of years ago, on a day Scrabble had been to the hairdresser, I took the opportunity to wash the little harness she wears as a collar. Her license and rabies tag, with our phone number scratched on the back, hook to the clip at the top. While the harness was drying, she barked to go out, and as I opened the door for her, she looked naked to me without her harness. “Oh dear, she doesn’t have her ID!” went though my mind.

The thought of an actual dog ID card seemed hilarious, so I decided to fashion one for her on my computer, using my Iowa Driver’s License as inspiration. I included date-of-birth, eye color, and restrictions (leash).

Scrabble doesn’t actually need an ID card. She has an embedded chip, plus she doesn’t carry a purse.

*Loose dogs are rare in Winterset. We were simply unlucky.


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.

Redecorating . . . Through the Alley

Living next door to the post office isn’t so great at 5 a.m. when the mail truck with its back-up beeper delivers Winterset’s mail, but other than that, my home’s location less than five minutes’ walk from the town square is a constant joy.

If I need a greeting card, for example, I can scoot up the alley (I think of it as my alley) to Montross Pharmacy, enter through the back door, select and address the card, and mail it on my way back. If I need a box of paper clips, a curtain rod, a lightbulb, or a jigsaw puzzle, Ben Franklin, on the southeast corner of the square, is only a few paces farther. If I need fabric for the quilt I’m working on, Ben Franklin (co-owned by a quilter) or Piece Works (in the storefront that was once Fons & Porter) will have just the thing.

This past winter, Mark and I refurbished two upstairs bedrooms, changing wall colors, shifting beds from one room to the other, making the first updates in over a decade. The first one, once the flowery wallpaper was stripped and walls repaired and repainted, came together easily. My mom’s walnut four-poster, a pair of repurposed sheers, an area rug we owned already—all worked just right.

The other room, however, once the new bed and dresser were in place, lacked coziness. The creamy white we chose for the walls felt cold instead of inviting. Putting one of my quilts on the bed was a good start, but accessories were needed. Lucky for me, not one but THREE terrific home decor stores occupy the west side of Winterset’s square, so up the alley I charged. At Pine Creek Ltd., I found the Windsor chair, the footstool, the lamps, everything we needed to make the room just beautiful.

And, since this is Winterset, owner Bill Moody simply jotted down what I took away to try rather than have me purchase and return each piece of merchandise. He even let me out the back door to carry home a neat wood bench that turned out to be too short. I brought it back and exchanged it for a longer one.* And, since this is Winterset, I left my purse behind the counter with Bill so I didn’t have to haul it back and forth along with everything else.

*Bench not in photo—it’s under a window to the right of the quilt rack.

Written by? Born in?

After viewing the Oscar-nominated film based on Lee Israel’s memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me? I picked up the book that inspired the movie, a slim volume describing Israel’s short career as a forger and seller of letters written by famous people like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. Israel was found out by the FBI and punished for her crimes.

As I read about the world of autograph and ephemera collectors hoodwinked by Israel back in the early 1990s, and enjoyed the wonderfully pithy, fake letters she wrote (reproduced as visuals in the book), I found myself nostalgic for pre-email days, when letter-writing was much more of an art. I recalled typing in the 1990s on my own personalized letterhead and the thrill of opening my mailbox each day to collect letters, both business and personal, written to me.

Email—which looks pretty much the same no matter who’s writing it—is unlikely ever to enjoy the collectibility of old, through-the-mail correspondence, which means famous people of the past (though deceased) squarely hold the corner on this particular category of pricelessness.

I remember similar thoughts when local doctors (GPs) stopped handling births (this also, perhaps, in the 1990s) in Winterset.

George Stout, leader of the famous WWII “Monuments Men,” came into the world in Winterset, in 1897, as did legendary screen actor John Wayne, in 1907, my father James Graham in 1921, and my own children in ’75, ’79, and ’82. Our town takes great pride in the accomplishments of its noteworthy native sons, honoring John Wayne’s birthday every year with a big celebration. Now, sadly, no one (unless via an at-home or emergency) is born here.

I guess it’s up to those who took their first breath in Madison County in the past (hear me, Fons kids!) to distinguish themselves and keep us on the map. Maybe it’s up to me to pick up a nice piece of stationery and write a pithy note—maybe to local friend Brian Downs, director of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, who alway pens his thank-yous in ink.







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!

A Lesson in Giving

At age twenty-five, holding my newborn infant in my arms, I discovered a remarkable truth, almost as if Hannah were speaking to me.

The more you give, the more you get back.

I had given myself in marriage and in childbirth, but oh, what I had received in return—a precious child!

In those days, all I had to give were friendship, energy, time, and love, but the truth of Hannah’s lesson was continuously confirmed. For example, if I had two friends I liked a lot, I found a way to connect them. The result was more friendship rather than less friendship. Connecting friends in the quilting industry was one of my greatest joys.

In terms of energy, especially in my 40s and 50s, it seemed the more I expended on my various projects, the more I had at my disposal. This paid off tremendously in my career. More recently, when I was asked to explore the possibility of a quilt museum in Winterset, I resisted at first, then poured myself into it. That undertaking reenergized me in ways more satisfying than I could ever have imagined. The Iowa Quilt Museum project reconnected me to my own home town and the people in it, huge gifts.

Financially, I didn’t have much to give until after my children were educated and my business succeeded, but I have found Hannah’s truth applies in this area as well. Generosity enriches you, manyfold.

A sentimental but beautiful poem my mother Dorothy Graham published in the newspaper she owned and operated in Norwalk, Iowa, for more than twenty years perfectly expresses how giving works. I’ve kept it posted on various refrigerator fronts and bulletin boards over the years. “The More You Give, The More You Get” may be tattered, but its message is solid gold.



Our Little City, Aglow

The Friday evening after Thanksgiving, families who’ve been working on leftover turkey and pie all day gather downtown for Winterset’s Festival of Lights. They drink hot cocoa, warm their hands at sidewalk burn barrels, and stroll around the square admiring lighted store windows, buying their first Christmas gifts, and greeting friends and neighbors. Here, children make their wishes known to Santa not at a shopping mall, but inside our native limestone courthouse.

Meanwhile, decorated floats queue up at the old high school to be judged for prizes before the parade begins. At 7:15 Santa comes out and down the sidewalk to his sleigh (secured to a wagon pulled by a firetruck), and the long strings of lights that reach all the way from the corners of the square to the courthouse dome are magically lit. As the procession goes around the downtown block (twice), young adults visiting from the far off cities where they now live experience nostalgia for the past. Kids gather memories for nostalgia of the future.

“Elf” (free with donations of food items for a local pantry) begins at the Iowa Theater at 8:00. We print the 150 tickets in advance and hand them out until they’re gone. Last year, down to just one ticket, two junior high age girls, obviously best friends, appeared at the door, horrified as they grasped the one-seat-left situation. “Oh please, please, please, can’t she just sit on my lap?” one asked. They scooted in as we taped the “Sold Out” sign to the door.

Someday, one will be a bridesmaid in the wedding of the other. They’ll be standing together before a mirror and one will say, “Remember that time you sat on my lap for ‘Elf’ at The Iowa?”

(Photo by Charlotte Underwood for The Winterset Madisonian.)

Winterset—It’s a Small Town

Independent filmmaker Jack C. Newell* (who happens to be my son-in-law) rolled into town late Monday night, en route Chicago from Boulder, CO, where he recently wrapped filming on his latest project, a dark romantic comedy titled “Monuments.” The story involves a road trip-heist-chase, so he and two crew members were capturing scenes along the way, getting “journey footage” on their way home. They were driving two vehicles—a car, and the beat up old pickup featured in the movie.

Earlier on Monday, a text from Jack asked if I might be able to organize some cows in a field along a highway close to town. They wanted a shot of the pickup truck barreling down the road . . . from the point-of-view of the cows. I called Peggy Casper.

Jack and crew also requested a marquee-change at the Iowa Theater, so Monday afternoon manager Scott Smith got on a ladder in a frigid, cutting wind, removed the current letters, and put up the movie titles Jack asked for (“The Searchers” and “The General”). Around midnight, the “Monuments” team arrived on the square, turned on the marquee, and got their night shots, one of which involved temporarily replacing the pickup’s legal Illinois license plates with fake Colorado ones.

Mark and I were fast asleep by the time Writer/Director Jack, Director of Photography Stephanie, and Production Designer Matt let themselves in the back door to occupy our guest bedrooms for one night.

The next morning, north of town on Hwy. 92, Peggy’s grandson Zach Bruett helped Stephanie and Matt hoist their large, bulky, and incredibly expensive (rented) movie camera and tripod over the fence and onto his truck bed, and then coordinated the movement of the cows (coaxing them with tasty corn) between camera and fence, while on the highway Jack drove the movie truck through the shot for two or three takes.

Later in the day, after lunch at Montross Pharmacy (involving Stephanie’s introduction to the Iowa Pork Tenderloin), as the crew headed out of town, Jack sent a text saying they had forgotten the fake license plates and Matt’s drill near the theater late Monday night. Would someone maybe have turned them in to City Hall or perhaps the police? Shortly, I made two of the weirdest phone calls of my life, with no results.

The next day, Winterset Utilities employee Jay Gibson delivered the lost items to my back door. He’d been installing Christmas lights on the square at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning and noticed the drill and plates on the sidewalk under The Iowa’s marquee. Later in the day, he showed them to the facade crew working on Jim Smith’s building next door. “Not ours,” they said. Jay next contacted the police department about running the plates. That’s how he found me. “It looked like a pretty good drill,” he said. “I knew someone would be wanting it back.”

That’s Winterset, Iowa, my home town.

*Check out Jack’s fantastic documentary, “42 Grams,” about a Chicago restaurant that goes from a popup to the talk of the town, available on Netflix and ITunes.




Quilters, Come Visit Winterset!

One of my community’s joys is welcoming visitors to our picturesque little town. Collectively, we love to share the uniqueness that is Winterset and Madison County. Annually, in May, we embrace hundreds of guests for the John Wayne Birthplace Celebration, thousands in October for the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival.

We open our arms every day in smaller ways as well, whether by giving directions to tourists looking for our covered bridges, pointing out our beautiful gift shops and other independently-owned retailers that line the square, or greeting quilters and quilt lovers who enter the Iowa Quilt Museum.

Soon, my town will be opening its arms to a special, limited group of quilters. The September 13–15 event, titled “At Home with Marianne Fons,” has been organized by my longtime friend Marlene Ingraham, who waxes poetic about Winterset and the event here. Personally, I’ve been describing the weekend as a “quilting spa,” because once participants hit town and check into their accommodations, everything else is provided—fabric for my full-size quilt, “Darling,” (plus an additional project) sewing machine, special tools, instruction, snacks, lunches, dinners with local wines, and, of course, camaraderie. Mega quilters Paula Nadelstern and Victoria Findlay Wolfe will be in town for the kickoff. Iowa’s own Linzee Kull McCrayTony Jacobson, and Diane Tomlinson have much to share as well. The whole thing will be like a soothing quilt massage.

For years, in the popular “Tip Table” segment of “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting” on public television, I invited viewers to send their tips to a PO box in Winterset, Iowa. I encourage anyone who’s curious about the place I call home to come experience my stomping ground in a very quilty way.

Long May We Wave

Nothing’s prettier than my town square on a national holiday. Sponsored by individuals and businesses, crisp, bright American flags line the perimeter of the courthouse on the lawn side and wave in front of storefronts on the retail side. The local Lion’s Club and Optimist Club, assisted by the Boy Scouts, place the flags early in the morning and remove them in the late afternoon. People sponsor flags on the residential streets as well, so on this Independence Day, our country’s beautiful flag waves gracefully all over town.

I walk my dog Scrabble around the square each day, and this morning, while she and I were admiring the flags, we bumped into local friends I hadn’t seen for a while. The three of us stood under a shade tree to catch up, and in the course of our conversation I learned their daughter now has a dog, a mutual friend is moving, and other bits of social news.

My friends happen to know I’m a moderate Democrat, and I happen to know they are moderate Republicans. Together, we bemoaned the extremism we observe—not in our community, but beyond—every day. We expressed nostalgia for moderation, when we really didn’t know what party anyone belonged to or what church they went to unless we went to that church, too.

When parting, Craig said, “I’d like to start a new political party, the Equalitarian Party. Its core value would be equality for people of every stripe. Basic equal human rights would make up the planks of our platform.” I reached out and shook his hand before continuing my walk, and as Scrabble trotted along at my side, she wagged her tail, so I think she approved. Of course, Scrabble’s tail is pretty much always wagging, and she loves all humans, whether they have a party affiliation or not, so it was just a guess.



Mutual Admiration

Around age thirty-five, my years of traveling away from Winterset began. Liz Porter and I had published our first quilt book, CLASSIC QUILTED VESTS, in 1982, prompting a steady stream (via the US Post Office) of teaching and lecturing invitations from all over the US. After publication of QUILTERS COMPLETE GUIDE in 1992, and the launch of our public television how-to series in 1996, I was sought-after from all quarters, and in my thirties, forties, and fifties checked off several more states every year. I worked in Australia, England, and France.

Always, I returned to Winterset, my father’s hometown and my own since age twenty-two, to the community where I learned to quilt and where I developed my own teaching skills and made lots of friends in the 1970s. (All the young women our age wanted to quilt!).

Divorced at thirty-nine, I became the sole provider for my family. I moved into town from the little farm in Lincoln Township, and my social life in the community necessarily came to an end. My focus was squarely on making a living, improving the roof over our heads, and seeing that my daughters graduated from high school and college (all three did and now all have graduate degrees!). Except for Saturday morning coffee with my three best friends on weekends I was not away at a distant quilt guild or conference, I was at my desk or sewing machine, doing work I loved.

After the sale of Fons & Porter in 2006, life changed for me in major ways. My kids were launched by then, and I had remarried. Instead of leaving town to work, I left instead with Mark to ride bikes in France or to visit my daughters in New York and Chicago. When home, I was still at my desk or sewing machine, corresponding with quilt-industry colleagues and making new quilts.

In 2015, a local couple invited me to coffee at The Northside Cafe with the sole purpose of convincing me Winterset needed a quilt museum. Soon, I began inviting fellow citizens—some I had (barely) known for decades and others I met for the first time—to join a board of directors. The paint was barely dry on the Iowa Quilt Museum when I learned my town’s (shuttered) single-screen movie theater, The Iowa, might be for sale.

Working with others to create and revive key features on Winterset’s courthouse square (now a National Historic District) put me in contact with the entire business community, one that had been growing and thriving while I was away. A big fan of cotton cloth, I became a new thread in the social fabric of a small town I had not looked at closely since my teaching days at the Ben Franklin Store (whose location had never budged).

Some months ago, I was part of an email conversation in which Brian Downs, director of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, praised Julie Feirer, owner of Winterset Websites, for work she had recently done. His comments were so genuine I replied, “Maybe we should start a mutual admiration society!”

Armed a few weeks later with 500 membership cards, I began inducting one Madison County community member after another, putting each at ease by assuring him or her there would be no meetings, no dues, no board of directors, no fundraising, no website! I always hand each inductee several extra cards—so they can induct others. A few months after launch, Julie told me her daughter had come home from school enthusiastically waving a Madison County Mutual Admiration Society card. A friend had inducted her during in the course of the day.