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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Quilting with Mary Fons of Fons and Porter

Oh boy oh boy did I ever have a big day yesterday! This is a long blog mostly about quilting. Just warning ya....

My darling friend Connie, whom I've known for over 30 years, invited me to partake in a workshop. Her local quilting guild over in Oshkosh had arranged two workshop sessions--- a morning and an afternoon, and then an evening open lecture. All with a famous quilter person named Mary Fons.

After all of her guild members had a chance to sign up, there were a few vacant spots left. Connie was able to sign me up to attend both the morning and afternoon workshops! Whee!!!

I was so very, very, very excited to go. I knew about this for a couple months now and have been chomping at the bit.

The workshop instructor was none other than the famous Mary Fons from the PBS quilting show Fons and Porter's Love Of Quilting.  Mary also is a columnist in a quilting publication and also has produced and featured teaching quilting on the website Quilty.

Not only that... she's an all-around basically funny person,  and is very interesting to listen to and learn from.

I have loved the Fons and Porter magazine and it is the only quilting magazine that I receive in my home. Actually, my very first quilt came out of a pattern while watching their television show and reading about it in their magazine.

It is called Rock Island Camp Fires, named after their time at a lake house up in Door County, WI.  Her mom's original version had red centers and black edges, but I made mine in all blues. It was my first quilt and I goofed up four blocks. I made them into pillows to match.

Besides the tv show and magazine, Fons and Porter carries a whole line of interesting quilting tools that are available on the market. My very first official quilting tool was from Fons and Porter. It is a narrow half inch wide ruler. It is perfect for cutting or drawing diagonal lines on blocks, while leaving a quarter inch seam allowance on each side. I especially use it on my half square triangles.
My quilting pal Paula gave it to me and I keep it handy all of the time.

Anyhow, I digress, but Mary Fons is part of a huge network of many things .... all about quilts.

Here is what I robbed off her website:

Mary Fons is a writer, quilter, and designer living in Chicago.

In 2010, Mary created Quilty, a weekly online how-to program for beginner quilters (F+W Media) and served four years as editor and creative director of Quilty magazine. Mary is a bi-monthly columnist for Quilts, Inc., (The Quilt Scout) at Quilts.com. She is co-host of Love of Quilting on public television alongside her mother, Marianne Fons. Mary’s first book, Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century was released in June of 2014 (C&T/StashBooks) and Dear Quilty, a retrospective and pattern book from the pages of Quilty magazine, was released in 2015 (F+W Media). Mary lectures and teaches widely and is an enthusiastic spokesperson for BabyLock sewing and quilting machines.

Small Wonders, Mary’s debut fabric line in partnership with Springs Creative, launched at International Fall Quilt Market along with a Small Wonders pattern line in association with McCall’s, exclusively for independent quilt retailers. Mary is an amateur quilt historian and enjoys learning about the history of the American quilt as much as she likes designing and making them. She currently serves on the board of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Mary is a nationally-ranked slam poet and proud Chicago Neo-Futurist. To read daily posts on her popular blog, PaperGirl, visit MaryFons.com.

 Enough of that jazz, let's get on to the workshop!

I packed up the car on Tuesday night with all of my goodies and supplies and tools needed. They listed items on a handout sheet of what was needed to attend the two sessions. I hopped in the car bright and early Wednesday morning with my thermos of coffee and headed on out. I trekked 65 miles around the "pond".  The pond being Lake Winnebago. I live 10 miles off the east shore but the city of Oshkosh, along with my friend Connie, are on the west shore of the huge lake.

I arrived early and started setting up my gear. Of the 20 women attending, I only knew one of them, but that was okay. I make friends easily.

Once all my gear was set up and Connie arrived we started to chit-chat and visit. What's wonderful about our friendship is that even if we don't see each other for a while, we pick right up where we left off. We keep in touch through long emails and she reads my blog. She always knows what's going on with us in our world here in Chilton.

Mary arrived with a flurry of wonderful textiles to arrange on the middle tables for display. The room was set up with 10 ladies on one side and 10 ladies on the other with a display area in the middle. The guild set up ironing boards in various areas so we did not have to bring our own.  Each person was furnished with a large table,  so we had room to spread out our items and not be bumping elbows.

The room was lined with large windows all down one side.  It was storming and raining off and on throughout the day, but we were snug and warm and cozy inside with our workshop. 

Introductions were made and Mary started to speak. We found her to be engaging, funny, and in sync with the excitement that other people were feeling about quilting. Handouts were given and the workshop began.

We learned about contrast and colors and balance within a block. We learned about making choices for fabrics and how things can look from far away.

Mary shared an interesting book about an entire collection of red and white quilts. They were all put on display at one point in time by the elderly creator of these quilts. Mary then showed us some of her own Log Cabin quilts and how she arranged her blocks.

The morning session was on building log cabin blocks, using the paper piecing method. I just love paper piecing and that's the first type of serious quilting that I really learned how to do. 

Take note --- I've always been a sewer.... from as a child making my doll clothes to making prom and wedding dresses... even my own business suits and everything in between.  But that was utility sewing for a reason. It was to create a useful piece of clothing. It was cheaper to sew good clothes than to buy them. I also sewed wedding dresses for others, and altered business clothing.  I did piece-work sewing for a woman who sold lacy country pillows at farmers markets. That was all done to make extra money and keep a roof over our heads .... Being a single mom at that time, it would suppliment the income from my day job. It was business. Not fun. 

Now... years later... I find my quilting to be a creative process of itself, to get lost in, to be precise with, and then the final result is to create something beautiful!

Back to the class - 

Mary took the time to sit down at a few of the machines and show us step by step stuff what we were going to be doing ourselves. 

Mary gave us a lot of insight as to why we choose certain fabrics, using color and highlights and contrast. A lot of the things that she showed us were things that maybe we could have tried to figure out on our own. It sure was wonderful to have her give it to us in one huge dose.

Paper piecing is done by sewing the pieces of fabric together on preprinted lines on a piece of paper. It gets you very accurate results.

Each piece all fabric is set into place, sewn on the line, and then folded back to reveal itself. It then becomes the next layer for each section of the block. You work from the center outwards.  When you are done, then you peel away the paper from the backside and you have successfully built a "Log Cabin"!

Within the hour we were cutting and working and figuring out things. Mary made the rounds and gave everybody some one on one personal attention. She would work one side of the room and then the other side of the room.

Her enthusiastic encouragement and smiling approval was enough to keep us going and going.

This gal named Irene was the first person to get a block done. I liked the way she used black on two of the borders and brown on the other two borders on the outside. If she does them all like that, it would have a real dimensional look like window panes?

Soon I had built two complete blocks of Log Cabin using some of her tricks and tips that I had never known before. It sure was a lot of fun. These are mine:

Before we knew it, it was almost noon.

Connie and I took a lunch break over to the nearby Subway and had a nice time chatting together, just the two of us. As we caught up on our lives and our children and grandchildren, and in her case great-grandchildren, we chowed down on our sub sandwiches and headed back to class.

The afternoon session was going to be a little different. She had a lot more quilts to display and we talked a lot about grain of fabric, color selection, and auditioning certain fabrics to make a quilt that was pleasing to the eye.

The quilt we mostly talked about was her very special one called "Whisper"----

What makes it so visually appealing as that lighter toned triangles are pointing downwards and the darker toned triangles are pointing upwards. That's kind of the secret to it because otherwise you would have have haphazard triangles in every direction of both shades. You would run the risk of having two darker triangles butted up to each other and they would stand out and appear to be a diamond.  I never thought of that before

She has the pattern for this quilt included in her book: "Make + Love Quilts".  Links are posted down below at the end of the blog.

And then she let us in on the secret about the life history of this poor quilt. It was a very favorite quilt of hers and it had been hung on display by some group. They had inadvertently hand stitched a hanging sleeve across the back of the quilt. The added sleeve was of cheaply made junk fabric, which had never been pre-washed and had red dye in the fabric. She didn't know that the sleeve had been attached to the quilt and put the quilt in the washer after it had been taken back down off of the display.

Horrors! The non colorfast fabric secured to the back of her lovely quilt had leached red dye --- all over her quilt! It was heartbreaking to say the least. The entire quilt came out PINK !!!! I could see the pain in her eyes as she talked about it. The quilt was ruined!

She tried absolutely everything that anyone could ever recommend to try to remove all of the vagrant pink dye. Franticly she tried to save her wonderful quilt... she used every Color Catcher and Color Remover that she could think of. She even resorted to bleach! Yes, bleach. Nothing worked.

But then somehow she was told about this product called Carbona that she bought in an Ace hardware store, nevertheless.

She used a couple boxes of it and it worked! She could not imagine that quilt ever coming back to its original state.

It was a miracle before her eyes to see all that pink color taken out of her quilt.  She said it changed the tone of some of the grey triangles, but that didn't matter. At least all the pink was gone.

I think I am going to locate a few boxes and tuck them away. Just in case.

Mary then offered to help a few of the gals in the workshop "Audition Their Fabrics". It means to try to select perhaps 20 - 30 different fabrics to make a quilt like this Whisper one.

 You take all of your fabrics that you want to use and lay them out on the table. Mary then arranges them all from dark to light. From there she helps you decide which prints would enhance the quilt and which ones detract. Then she helps you find partnered fabrics called "friends" maybe one has a little flicker red and the other one has a little circle of red amongst the black or perhaps two or three in the blues have tiny flecks of green. She tries to find something that partners with another fabric called a "friend" or else that single fabric is also discarded.

Here she went through this whole pile of bluish green fabrics and ended up with a much smaller amount. Now these would end up in a nicely balanced and harmonized quilt. The cream piece in the middle could be an accent if she were using them for a log cabin block.

It was so interesting to watch and we saw her judiciously go through different workshoppers' fabric choices. When she was done discarding every fabric that wouldn't work, they were left with a wonderful harmonized palette of fabrics that would make a pretty quilt.

I think she ended up spending more time doing this for more and more of the ladies that were present. It was fun!

 I decided to try it myself on my fabrics. Connie helped me and we went back and forth and back and forth ... add this one, subtract that one. I had a whole stack of Christmas fabrics that I thought would be fun to work with. I'm sure we did not do nearly as good of a job auditioning my fabrics as Mary would have. But it sure was fun to try.

Connie had taken another class with Mary last spring. She told her about a special quilt that she had made. She decided to bring it along to show to Mary during a little lull in the afternoon.

Connie's daughter had colored little fabric sections a long time ago as a child. Connie cut the ovals and surrounded them little bits of fabric from all of her daughter's clothing. It is all hand sewn. She put a rick rack frame around each oval for texture. Another layer of rick rack along with the binding around the edges completed the cute design. It is just adorable!!! The center is embroideredred with her daughter's name and birthdate. Such a treasure to be proud of.

About this time in the afternoon Mary was winding down and needed some coffee. I just happened to have my thermos along. Who knew she would like my coffee that is heavily watered down with French vanilla creamer? I was glad I was able to offer her something in return for the great fun we were having. When I bought both of her books that she had available, she even autographed one and mentioned my coffee!

That was our moment. 
And she gave me a great big hug... 

Our class was winding down just as a huge thunderstorm was rolling in. Black thunder clouds on the horizon were quickly headed our way. We hastily gathered up our machines and supplies and got them into our cars before the deluge of rain began. Connie took me back to her home and cooked a wonderful supper. We watched the rain pour down outside while we gabbed and laughed the time away.

At 6 p.m. we had to go to the open lecture, which Connie's guild was also having a meeting afterwards.

Mary Fons set up a slide presentation and displayed a bunch of finished quilts for people to come and oogle. 

The meeting lasted until 9pm. Soon it was time for me to drive the sixty-five miles home. Remember those storms?  It was still pouring rain so hard that the windshield wipers couldn't even keep up with it. I looked on the radar for the storm to pass but there were many, many more hours of it coming across from the west. I was on the highway where the speed limit is 70 and people usually drive 80. I couldn't even see the lines on the road. I was so scared of hydroplaning. Three big double tow semi truck and trailers from FedEx went blasting past me and I couldn't see a thing! Once they were far enough ahead of me, I kept following them. They slowed down to 40 miles an hour, that shows how dangerous it was. When a FedEx truck slows down, you know the roads are bad! 

I made it to the next exit in Fond du Lac and cut through town to avoid the highway. Some of the intersections in town were so flooded with water that cars were stalled in them. Thank goodness for GPS so I could find ways around to other streets on the higher ground to get to the other side of town. Once I got on the other end of Fond du Lac I could drive up the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago to reach Chilton easily. It's just a two-lane Highway with good painted stripes and very little traffic. It took me 2 hours to get home 65 miles.

I had to pry my clenched hands off of the steering wheel once I arrived safe and sound in my own garage!

Finney and Binney were so excited to see me because I left them all day. Steve waited up to help carry in all of my stuff.

It sure felt good to get back home.

Here are a bunch of the links to Mary's own website, her blog, information about Fons and Porter items,  and also Mary's own fabric line that has recently come out:

I spent a pleasant morning,
sipping coffee,
and reading my new books
written by my new quilting pal,
Mary Fons.


  1. So lucky you are to live near a Mary Fons workshop. Well, almost near. That drive home would have stopped me for sure, I hate driving at night not to mention that hard rain. Great day and nice to see you having so much fun and arriving home safe and sound.

    1. Thanks Sue! It sure was good to get home even though it was late. I don't like driving at night either and the oncoming cars headlights really bother my eyes. But it was also worth it to attend this fun Workshop. It made me just want to come home and sew sew sew!

  2. What a wonderful day (wish it was my day)! As a lover of quilting it sounds like you had a wonderful day all except that trip home. Next time pull over and stay in a hotel. Glad you were able to pry your hands off of the steering wheel. Thanks for telling us about how she finally got that pink out of her beautiful quilt! Will go buy a few boxes to put in my stash for emergencies.
    Enjoy memories of the day and forget that trip home.


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