Why Quilts Matter –
Question and Answer with Mary Fons >>
During our recent visit to Austin, Texas, for QuiltCon 2015, we met up with high-energy, whirling dervish Mary Fons! While influenced by her quilting luminary mother, Marianne Fons, it is important to know Mary is an accomplished professional in her own right. Before she had her self titled “quilt epiphany” in 2008 and began to make quilts and get into “the family business,” Mary worked as a fulltime freelance writer and stage performer in Chicago. A woman of many talents, interests and abilities, we jumped at the chance to talk quilts with the woman who has written, produced and published all things Quilty!
What do the quilts you own have to say about you?
This question threw me off a little because I don’t own any quilts that I didn’t make myself! I have a few of Mom’s that are “earmarked” for me, but those are all at Mom’s house. Of course, I can still answer the question because I do “own” a lot of quilts – they’re just ones that came from my own sewing machine.
My quilts are all based in the traditional style. I like symmetry. I love — love — a good quilt block. Improvisational piecing isn’t for me; I’m too obsessive-compulsive for that. I like order, probably because the world itself is so chaotic and bizarre. A quilt block is an oasis of control, you might say. But I’m not a traditional quilter. I suppose I’m a contemporary quilter because I use traditional methods and designs with new fabrics and interpretations. To answer specifically what this “says” about me, I’d say it shows I have a respect and regard for traditional American patchwork but am compelled to make my own mark within it.
My quilts are quilts my mom would never make. Our palates are totally different; our choices for any given fabric are different. For example, she’ll choose a brick red and while I can’t stand brick red, crimson red is in fact my favorite color of all time. There are times when my mom’s eyebrows shoot up her forehead when I show her the plan for my “latest/greatest.” But she always ends up loving what I make and I feel the same about her choices and her quilts. Mom’s quilts look like Mom – and that looks pretty good. My quilts look like me, they look like my life. (And I guess that means my life is pretty colorful and intense! And that’s true!)
Why do you quilt?
I am convinced that quilts — and I’m talking specifically about utilitarian, bed-sized, American patchwork quilts — are perfect objects.
Quilts are works of art, objects made with care and love that we use every day of our lives in innumerable ways. We cry on them, marvel at them; pour creativity and artistry into them. We decorate our homes with them, have picnics on top of them, and make love underneath them. For a long time in this country, a quilt welcomed you at birth and when you died, you were put in the ground in a quilt. Not many objects have such power — do any have as much soul? We use quilts in all of these varied applications, they become almost like family members…and then we have the glorious ability to stick the things in the washing machine when they need it. I’m telling you: perfect objects. Functional art. Brilliant.
If I didn’t grow up in the family I did, I might not be a quilter. My mother’s work clearly has had a huge impact on my life, my own quilt journey, and me. But I didn’t grow up making quilts. My sisters and I were always encouraged to pursue our creative ambitions, and we did, but none of us ran to the sewing machine when we were growing up. Part of this was because quilting was mother’s work. She was a professional quiltmaker and teacher — it wasn’t something fun she did in her spare time. Of course we loved quilts. We grew up under them. But we were forging our own identities and it would be many years before I came around to the passion of quilt making and “the family business.” (My younger sister dabbles in quilting; my older sister is more interested in garment design and embellishment.)
I credit my mom with never pressuring me to take up quilting and never, ever being disappointed that I didn’t start sooner. She is a wise woman: she knew full well that no one ever fell in love with something they felt guilted into doing. When I had my “quilt epiphany,” around age 28, it was powerful because it was my revelation, my choice. And because of that, making quilts felt like coming home. Of course, I had to make them in my own style, strike out from the Fons & Porter style I grew up around. I had to immerse myself in quilt history, pour books about antique quilts and contemporary quilts to find my own voice. It was a joy to discover and I’m still discovering that personal aesthetic with every quilt I make. I know for sure I’m an intensely scrappy quilter and that I don’t use turquoise (seriously, I never, ever use turquoise) and I like big quilts – no table toppers around my house. I make quilts that look like me. They look nothing like my mother’s quilts. We love the difference.
I make quilts because I love to design them, I love to write about them, I love to have them photographed, and I love to give them away. Shame on me if I have an enormous stack of quilts at any given time. They should be used. Yes, even the really, really special ones. I make bed-sized quilts, for the most part. Quilts are for people, not closets! There’s a Jewish saying that one should “give till it hurts.” I think about that when I’m really having a hard time parting with a quilt. I think, “Give till it hurts,” and I give the quilt to someone I love to use and enjoy. I never regret it because I know it has a good home.
What is next for you?
My newest book, Dear Quilty has just been published! It is available on my website. I’m also doing a lot of speaking and teaching in relation to my other book, Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century.
I have a webinar series called Color Me Quilter. It’s very cool – webinars are actually a neat way to learn things, right there at your computer. You can join me each month as I examine in detail one color as it pertains to patchwork and quilting. I recently did a webinar on red, discussing red’s history in quiltmaking in America (the Log Cabin’s red center, the Turkey red dye process, the mighty red and white quilt, etc.) then looked at ways to use red more effectively in your quilts.
My blog is something I would so love for folks to check out, too – that’s a daily project. I post 5-6 times a week, daily observations and insights from my life. It’s not so much about quilting, but of course quilts and the quilt world find their way in quite a bit. The blog is a place for me to record my life and readers seem to enjoy taking a peek, too.
More About Mary Fons
Photos are courtesy of Mary Fons.