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.