The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
The Trunk Show To End All Trunk Shows - Part one
Many of you are aware that about a year and a half ago, I decided to take a break from the road. I genuinely loved going to guilds and shops to meet quilters, teach patchwork, and lecture on my favorite topic, but I was getting crispy. I might’ve been able to go a bit longer — maybe a lot longer — but those two years I was in grad school during the week and flying to California, Pennsylvania, etc., etc. to teach and speak on the weekends…that’s what probably did me in.
If there’s an itinerant quilt teachers out there who actually uses a real-life trunk for your trunk show, you are officially my favorite human. Image: Wikipedia.So, aside from QuiltCon, I took just one gig this year, in Toronto. A couple weeks ago, I worked the annual Creative Fest. It turned out to be a great show run by terrific people and I was excited to be in Canada. (Have you ever met a Canadian quilter who wasn’t delightful?)
When I was asked to do the show, I said I’d like to, but that I was only available for lectures and trunk shows, no workshops. It’s hard for me to muster the pep to teach because I’ve got so much more pep for sharing in an entertaining way what I’ve been learning about quilt history and culture. Audiences seem to have pep for it, too, and the nice thing about lectures is that I don’t have to make copies of instructions and you never have to wait for space at the cutting table. Major perks!
The organizer and I picked the lectures I’d do and we also scheduled two trunk shows, which are really just mini-lectures with props. And it was in packing for the trunk show that I realized just how much has changed over the years vis a vis my life and work in the world of quilts. It was kind an intense experience, honestly.
Every other trunk show I’ve ever packed for included quilts I’ve made — and that’s it. I’d just pack a whole bunch of quilts: scrappy quilts; quilts that were published in Love of Quilting or Quilty; quilts that were on TV; my favorite quilts; my first quilt; my latest quilt, etc. Each quilt comes with a story, of course, so the trunk show was full of stories and that was great and everyone had a nice experience.
But this time, as I pulled down the usual suspects from the shelf to squeeze into my two beat-up suitcases, I stopped. Did I actually want to tell the stories of these quilts? How this TV quilt was finished the night before taping, or how Whisper, the scrappy white quilt from my book accidentally got washed with a red towel and remains, now and forever, vaguely and horribly pink? Did I want to share about the quilt that I made with my mom at our lake house in Wisconsin when times just seemed simpler all around?
No, actually. I didn’t want to tell those stories. I wanted to tell new quilt stories, stories that I was dying to tell, even if the stories might not be attached to this or that throw-sized quilt made between the years 2008-2017. I wanted to be as excited by my trunk show as someone in the audience.
I did pack five or six of my quilts — quilters expect to see quilts at a trunk show, after all — but I packed other stuff, too.
HERE’S THE OTHER STUFF:
My mom’s old hand-quilting hoop
Mom gave it to me a couple years ago. It was made in the early 1980s, I’d guess. Mom was teaching hand-quilting back then, so she wrote her name on her hoop so she could make sure to get back the right one. “M. Fons” is written in tiny letters at the joint and that’s nice because that’s my name, too. There’s a quilt story for you.
My mom gets rid of almost anything not being used on a daily basis — so having her old hoop is very special. (It looks kinda like this one.) Image: Wikipedia
One of the Smithsonian Harriet Powers replica quilts
I’ve written about this here at the Scout. I found one of these quilts on eBay a few years ago. I didn’t make this quilt, but the story is amazing and the quilt is wonderful in its scandalous, problematic way.
Loose blocks c. 1880-1900
Like many quilters who find themselves in antique malls from time to time, I sometimes purchase loose, vintage quilt blocks. All different sizes and in various states of deterioration, these blocks are usually spilling out of a basket or piled high an old barrel (you can probably picture this exactly, no?). I’ve got a good deal of these wonderful blocks at this point, and I’ve decided to sew them together into a top. It won’t be easy; I’ll have to use some stabilizer and get creative with making my rows line up, but without my help, these blocks will likely never become a quilt and this makes me sad.
An original, signed copy of Appliqué Stitchery by Jean Ray Laury (1966) and pieces of my first all-hand appliqué quilt, currently in progress
I’d guess Appliqué Stitchery is about the only book I’ll ever need on appliqué. The instruction is bar-none, for one thing. For another, there’s a good story here: Jean Ray Laury is a quilt hero of mine, and years ago, when Mom and I were lecturing together, I lamented that I never got to meet her.
The funny thing about a great book of sewing instruction is that, decades after it was published, it still works! Image: Amazon
“Oh,” my mom said, there in front of an audience of roughly 200; “You actually did meet her. You were a baby. She was traveling and stayed at our house for a few days. She watched you when I went out to do errands.”
I was speechless. The audience was delighted. That was a happy moment, and it’s a good story.
There at the trunk shows in Toronto, as I went through these objects and talked about them, I realized I should’ve been doing this kind of trunk show from the start.
Quilters are not defined only by the quilts we make. The quilts are important, obviously, but so are the books we love and the stuff around us when we are sewing. Our mother’s hoop is important, the dusty old blocks we found in Vermont last winter are important, and the thimble that doesn’t fit but that we can’t bear to get rid of — this is all important to our individual quilter stories.
At the risk of tooting my own, nostalgic horn, I’m telling you: there was nary a dry eye in the house. It was the best trunk show I’ve ever done, hands down.
Because the quilts I took out of the “trunk" were pretty. But the other stuff — the stuff that we doubt other people would be interested in, the stuff that isn’t made with fabric or thread, the stuff of a life in quilts — that stuff was beautiful.