Making a house away from home

Okay, it's time to share some photos of the quilting class I took at John C. Campbell last week. The class was taught by my buddy Mary Lou Weidman (center, in the photo below), a Washington-state quilter I got to know when I interviewed her for a story in American Patchwork and Quilting.

She and I hit it off on the phone, and the conversation I told her would probably take 15 to 20 minutes ended up lasting an hour. A few emails later she asked me to join her in Houston for Quilt Market. I was stunned, and being a basically shy person I told my husband "I could never do that! I've never even met her." He wisely said, "You can't NOT do that!" and he was right. Not only did I get to know and love Mary Lou and her wonderful friend Mel, attending Market opened numerous doors opened for me. She knew that would happen and in her very open-hearted and generous way, she wanted to create opportunities for me, a near stranger. I am incredibly grateful.

All this is to say that Mary Lou is definitely a "friend in fabric," par excellence. But she's also a teacher who travels the country at a crazy pace, teaching quilters who frequently take classes from her multiple times. So when she told me about John C. Campbell, I thought it was the perfect chance to finally learn her methods.

Mary Lou is all about having fun. But she's also a trained artist, and I learned not only to put together a quilt using her free-form "Hoochy Mama" block technique (you can see some in the picture third from the top), but to think about value and contrast in choosing fabrics. I learned that there is a method to her madness. Carol, a second-timer in Mary Lou's classes, commented that Mary Lou's seemingly wild quilts really do have a definite color scheme and though it took me awhile to see it, Carol is absolutely right.

After spending a week with Mary Lou I learned to step back and consider how a particular fabric or color worked with others around them. Her quilts, which might have seemed to me at first to be a happy accident, or created by someone on the fly, are actually pieced and stitched with a studied attention to the relationships of color, pattern, value, and contrast. While Mary Lou does design as she goes, she's also got a clear sense of what does and doesn't belong in proximity, and how to balance sizes, shapes, and patterns.
Another thing I love about Mary Lou is that while she thinks hard about how to make the best quilt, she's not a stickler for perfection. When it came time to stitch together individually created houses, adding a piece of fabric or better yet, a "strata" of pieced fabrics to make them fit was just fine and often could be used to design advantage. This was not an easy thing for many of my classmates to do, and it was challenging even for someone like me who is a staunch advocate of the School of Good-Enough Quilting, (initiated as I was early on by my friend Anne). But as you can see, our quilts grew throughout the week as we became bolder and more willing to go out on a limb. I've included just a couple class members quilts along with my own. To see more, you can check Mary Lou's site at Mary Lou and Cherries Too.

My quilt became a half-Iowa, half-California house, and I'll have bits of each place incorporated. I chose to include the owl who hoots in my backyard daily on the Iowa side (he'll eventually be sitting on a big tree) and plan to applique the Golden Gate Bridge, which I could see from my Berkeley home, on the Calif. side. Ambitious, perhaps...I've included an early photo and one from the end of the week, so you can get an idea of the way the houses changed as the week progressed.

The idea with these quilts is that in the windows and doorways we'll applique people or pets or things that are important to include in our houses, so there is still much to be done on them all. But you can see we got a great start. And we kept reminding ourselves that while Mary Lou can whip out a quilt in two to three weeks, others have worked on these for years at a's important to remember the process is as important as the product.

One quilt that was different than the rest belonged to Jessica, a student host and class member who was making her first quilt. (She's the "youngster" on the floor in the group photo.) She used all Hoochy Mama blocks and completed a pieced front and back. (It's the one with green stars and orange border.) Susan (whose quilt is fourth from the top of the page and includes her dog Murphy, and who also can be seen sitting behind her sewing machine, amidst her stash) offered to take it home and quilt it on her longarm...such a kind and generous thing to do, since she told me earlier that she had 35 quilts waiting for her to finish at her shop!

In addition to meeting some wonderful folks (including Mary Lou's assistant, Kathy, about whom I'd heard so much) we had terrific facilities: great lighting, comfortable chairs, a big table to ourselves, and windows on two sides of the room.
LinzeeQuilt, color, design, fabric, friends, travel