The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons

The Glamourous Life of
an Itinerant Quilt Teacher

Column #11

My friend Bari recently said: “Mary, gosh. Your life seems so glamorous. I read your blog

My suitcase, my friend.and here you’re flitting off to California, then Pennsylvania, then some other place. I just picture you living this ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ ‘That Girl’ kind of life. Maybe even ‘Melrose Place.’”


I nearly choked on my donut.


Traveling back and forth across this great country is glamorous if you have an entourage. If you have someone to carry your Louis Vuitton luggage, someone to do your hair on the plane, and someone else to peel your grapes while you get a mani-pedi. This is traveling in style. But that’s not exactly what itinerant quilt teachers’ travel plans include. None that I know, anyway.


More accurately is the portrait of the quilt teacher as schlepper. There are a lot worse things than quilts to tote around in two or three suitcases: live animals, yogurt past its sell-by date, and small children come to mind. But if you’ve never hauled multiple suitcases full of quilts, I can tell you, they are heavy.


Whether it’s 12 baby quilts or three queen-sized, a teacher is frequently worried that she’ll go over the weight limit at check in and have to take a quilt or two out and somehow stuff it into her handbag or wear it as a shawl.


But it’s not just quilts that need to be packed, of course; you can’t very well be a teacher without teaching materials. Into the suitcase must also go your demo stuff, your notions, and your handouts. I’ve taken to not printing out handouts until I arrive at my destination or asking the host to do that for me; packing handouts means your handouts look like they’ve been bumped around in a suitcase for a transcontinental flight, which, of course, they have.


 Thanks for the memories, Hampton Inn.There’s always the fear that your suitcase(s) won’t arrive at all, which would be disastrous. You can do without a change of clothes; you cannot do without your crumpled handouts. Oh, and you will always, always find the TSA flyer when you open your suitcase that lets you know your suitcase has been searched. People who do not quilt do not understand rotary cutters or seam rippers.


In my information packet, I specify that hotel accommodations will be covered by the shop or guild; this is standard practice in the industry. I didn’t used to request a certain hotel (many hosts will ask if I have a preference), but I’ve decided to request the Hampton Inn.


Since they did a nationwide overhaul, the coffee is better, the notepads are bigger, the beds aren’t bad, and there’s still free breakfast. At the Hampton Inn, you can get a pretty good dehydrated egg patty. There’s the “Denver Omelet,” which includes small peppers (red and green), onions, and something that tastes like cheese. They change up the egg option every other day, so sometimes you get the Egg n’ Cheese, which is the Denver Omelet without the peppers and onions. My best days are when they have sausage patties in the chafing dish.

The Holiday Inn Express is my next favorite because the word “express” communicates to me that when I check in at 9 p.m. the night before, I am expressed into my bed faster than at the Hampton Inn.


I actually enjoy air travel quite a bit, so the flight part of doing gigs doesn’t bother me. I have TSA pre-check (best 80 bucks I ever spent, ever, in my entire life), and I fly so much I’m A-List on Southwest. This means I get to breeze past check-in lines and breeze through security, too, bypassing elements of air travel that take years off your life.


I have enough points to get a few drink tickets a year, so on the way home from particularly grueling gigs, I order a red wine while I work on my laptop, booking the next gig.


There are perks, though.


I love what I do. I love teaching and speaking to quilters. I love quilters, period.


I love to see the United States. Every lecture I give, every class I teach begins with a thank you. It is a sincere pleasure and indeed, an honor to share my love of quiltmaking with other people who like to tear up perfectly good pieces of fabric and sew them back together again. I do on average about 2.5 gigs a month—and that ain’t a bad way to keep the lights on.