The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
3-2-1 : The Quilt Scout Moves On
Friends, after five years of dutiful reporting from the world-as-the Quilt Scout-knows it, it’s time to hang up my visor.
My faithful employer and I discussed some months ago that this time would come to close the column in the fall and, incredibly, it is now the fall. We agreed that 100 columns and five years was a great run for the ol’ Scout and what a nice, satisfying quantitative bow that would be, a 5-year, 100-column bow.
It’s not that I have nothing left to say — fat chance — and it’s not that the Scout hasn’t brought smiles and occasionally (delicious) ire to you, our valued readers. You like the Scout, you read the Scout. I love writing it. But it’s time.
Could we talk about that last thing for a moment?
When you’re carbon-dating something, five years is a laughable stretch. Scientists don’t even look at you when you bring up “five years.” But when a human life is the measuring stick and my life tallies up to 40 years, five years turns out to be 12.5% of my whole life. (I only spent 10% of my life as an undergrad, to put it in perspective.) The only other five-year period I can think of to measure as tidily as my Quilt Scout run is my first five years of actual life: I spent 12.5% of my life pre-kindergarten. Those were the days!
In the early days, the Scout was more about my personal experiences in Quiltlandia; over the years, we have intentionally kept the column directed at more historical topics and musings on quilt culture in the broader sense. However, for this column, I feel it’s appropriate to tell you a bit about how this came to be and how I’m feeling about letting go of the column as my 100th piece waits in the wings.
To get some perspective on the person who wrote the very first Quilt Scout in August of 2013, I opened a tab on my browser and with an equal measure of dread and curiosity clicked into Google Photos. As we all know, the internet is forever and the cloud will keep our digital selves alive long after we’re gone. (To wit: There is a legendary quilter who died in 2011 whose website is not only still accessible but posts no mention of her passing. It’s a bit morbid, but how does one contact a family member and suggest taking the site down or adding an “In Memoriam” message at the top?)
A phone pic from the set of “Love of Quilting” with my mom. I haven’t hosted that show for awhile now, far preferring projects like this column for many reasons, one of which is that I don’t have to comb my hair.
As I scrolled through all my pictures from the summer of 2013, I recalled what one of my heroes, writer Fran Leibowitz said about photographs from the past: “Any picture of you when you were younger is a good picture.” As usual, Fran is right on the money.
That’s me at Quilt Market in 2013, goofing off with a stuffed animal. Five years ago feels like forever, but let’s not forget that I was 35 when this picture was taken. Sigh.
I’m not vastly different-looking today, but there are subtle changes in the under-eye area, and, though I’m certain I was convinced at the time I needed to lose 10 pounds, I did not need to lose 10 pounds. There are pictures of people in my life that aren’t in it so much anymore; I’ve moved apartments; and the work I was doing in the quilt industry was definitely different back then. I had no idea what direction it would take in the years to come. Indeed, there were times when I thought my time in the quilt world was coming to an end.
Then Quilts, Inc. offered me this gig and it changed everything.
Earlier that year, I had emailed Bob Ruggiero and Rhianna Griffin to ask if they might have any freelance work I could do for Quilts, Inc. Poised to leave my job as editor of Quilty magazine and probably as host of various quilting how-to programs, I needed to secure some work, fast. Bob and Rhianna didn’t have anything at the time, but they said they’d keep me in mind if something came up.
I remember where I was standing, what I was wearing, and what I did immediately after they called that summer to gauge my interest in writing a bi-monthly column for the company’s website. (In order: the kitchen of my apartment in D.C.; a blue shirt and jeans; put the phone on mute and screamed.) Yes, I said — unmuting the phone — yes, I would like to do that very much.
Over the five years of showing up and turning in two columns a month (a generous handful of them a tad late, shiftless writer that I am) what I cared about vis a vis quilts changed. I went from being an uber-commercially-minded person in the quilt industry (i.e., fabric lines, shows, books, thread collections, etc.) to being a bit… quieter about all this. I wanted to know more. I wanted context. Not about the industry but about that miraculous thing at the very, very center of the industry: I wanted to learn about quilts.
I’ve always loved the old stuff, like this quilt I saw at Market the year I started this column. It would be a few years before I’d admit that reading and writing about quilts was way more my wheelhouse than teaching on-camera. To a large extent, I figured that out writing this column.
This column, far more than being just a reliable revenue stream, it has been an education. Certainly, I treated it as such. Drumming up column topics to write up and deliver promptly month after month, year after year forced me to a) get creative; b) dig deep into the world of the quilt; c) never stop looking; d) get my facts straight enough to minimize the “I’m a fool” factor; and e) learn more than I would otherwise.
When I thought, “Oh, I should write about the AIDS Quilt,” I had to go learn about the AIDS Quilt. A year or so later, I created a lecture about the AIDS Quilt for QuiltCon 2018. It remains my proudest lecture achievement and it started with the Scout. From history to scholarship, quilt techniques to quilt horoscopes (sorry about that one), this column has been a teacher, a coach, and a friend. Each of those roles, at their best, push you to do your best and stretch — I mean in the mental way, though a coach is obviously going to work your hamstrings, which is nice but not something I need in this case.
Rather than wait until my last column to say goodbye, which would be super abrupt and weird. I’m choosing to let you know now, in this third-to-last transmission. Perhaps I might’ve told you before, but I don’t know how do this. I’ve never ended a column I’ve been writing for five years.
As I wrap up this pre-farewell, it’s obvious why I haven’t announced it before now: I’m suddenly very sad. But then, a farewell is always sad, otherwise it’d just be a “see ya.” It is time for the Scout move along. But gosh, I’ll miss writing for you all. I’ll miss putting on my jaunty Scout cap (or a visor, I’m never sure which I like more for her) and I’ll miss having a very good reason to learn something new at least twice a month, on time.
And, if you will allow me just a few more words: I will very much miss working with you, Bob Ruggiero* and Rhianna Griffin.
I’m in your debt, you crazy kids. I’m sorry I was late, sometimes. Thank you for the work and the steadfastness. Thank you for trusting me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the opportunity to grow into the quilt-world person I think I always wanted to be underneath the TV tutorials and the patterns and the magazines:
All I’ve ever wanted was to be a quilt scout.
For five years (!) you have given me the time and space to be one. Thank you both, and thank you, Quilts, Inc.
*Bob, you remain my all-time favorite person to mercilessly tease at Quilt Market. Some things never change.
All my columns are listed in the archives here on the website. They’ve definitely gotten better over the years, but I’ve always done my best.