the friends every maker needs

design, experiences, inspiration, quilting


Flipping through a parenting magazine at a doctor’s office recently I ran across an article about the kinds of friends every parent needs. The article talked about the guidance and inspiration that one gains from surrounding oneself with friends with different kinds of life experiences.

Immediately I thought of the parallel to the maker’s life. In addition to belonging to a needlework group and a charity knitting group, I started a group called the Quilter’s Exchange four or five years ago because I wanted a place to talk about quilting without being the teacher. I wanted to learn from other people who have talents that are different than mine. There are nine of us ranging in age from early 30s to retirement age and we meet once a month. The rules are that you have to bring something to show, even if it’s just a sketch of something that you’re working on,  and you have to be willing to take and give constructive criticism.

One member has a lot of experience in garment construction and can sew anything, while another is a master of crazy quilt stitching and is the sage of the group. A couple of them have very organic design methods that don’t involve the dozens and dozens of sketchbooks and prototypes that dominate my design process.


Others show up at every meeting with a book I’ve never seen or heard of that is incredibly useful. For example, did you know that the Illustrated Book of Math will give you the formula for the circumference of an oval if you’ve designing a totebag with an oval bottom? Still another has always just returned from some great museum exhibit and tells us all about it. There are several quilts each month that blow me away. These women also serve as our exclusive focus group for FunQuilts by giving us the thumbs up or down with every new fabric line,  pattern or book concept. I’m grateful that they’ll tell us when they think we’re headed in the wrong direction. I’d rather hear it from them than the marketplace. In fact, I’m especially grateful for truth-tellers, especially those with tact.







At the last meeting one member, Mary Beth, brought an incredible collection of pieces that she has been working on as part of a Challenge of the Month program at a local quilt shop. I just had to include pictures of one of them here because the detail in her work is something that inspires everyone who sees it. The photos above were for a challenge entitled “Sweet Tooth.” I’m proud that one of the fabrics from our first line serves as the rind on the Key Lime Pie. I just love this piece. Can you believe that crust on the tarts? Don’t you love the “silver” tray and how smart she was using a lace placemat as the base? You can’t help but smile when you’re looking at it. It’s just so fun and so different from the things I make.

This group also reminds me of the kind of friend that I want to be to these other makers. More than once I have stayed up late on a Friday night so I could finish something to show them at our Saturday meeting. Several members say that they do the same thing. We can’t bear to show up empty handed. Some of them drive great distances to get to the meeting so I want them to feel inspired when they leave. Throughout the month I think of things that I can share with them, remembering each person’s interests, but I’d be totally misrepresenting reality if I didn’t also tell you that these people have become my dearest friends. Among the group we’ve lost weight and gained weight, welcomed a new baby and several grandchildren, weathered a host of illnesses and career setbacks, laughed about the things our loved ones do that drive us crazy and comforted each other through sad and scary times. I’m pretty sure that if you locked us in a room for a few hours with some good snacks that we could solve this whole health care mess and finish a few quilts to boot. Those are the friends that everyone needs.

4 thoughts on “the friends every maker needs

  1. That’s a good question Mary so I thought I’d post the response so other people can see the answer.

    When I lived in Tokyo I had a similar group with whom I took ikebana classes for seven years from the time I was 22 until I left Japan at 29. The group ranged in age from 19 to early 70s. I learned so much from these women and have a picture of them hanging in my kitchen. It’s hard to explain how much that group made me the person I am today. I think about them every day.

    For years I longed for that group and missed them every Saturday until I decided that it was time for me to take the lead and start my own group but with quilters.

    All of the people in our group had taken classes with us and most had done at least one session of the week-long Design Camp we have run in the past. I specifically chose people whose work, attitude and demeanor I wanted to have in my life for a long, long time. I wanted the members to have a wide variety of skills and interests and I really didn’t want a bunch of people who just wanted to make quilts like ours. In addition, I didn’t include people who might make incredible quilts but would be unreliable or a downer to be around and would bring the rest of the group down. Although the group offered to pay, I refused to take any money because then I would feel like the teacher. I wanted to be able to be “off the clock” and learn some things instead of always being in the teaching mode.

    Over the years some members have changed and sometimes there will only be three or four of us in a given month because of travel or schedule conflicts but that’s fine.

    If I were you I would take a class somewhere or go to a guild meeting and see if there are people who would like to join you on a trial basis. You might also post a notice at several local quilt stores. Maybe you say it’s going to be for six months only. Meet at some neutral location like a conference room at the local library. At the end of the six months you’ll know if it’s a good fit or not. Having a definitive end date gives you an easy out if it’s not working out but also the option to renew and establish something more permanent if it’s helpful.

    I hope this helps you get started. Since you’re nearby, I’ll extend this offer: If you get a group together, and want me to come talk to your group about some guidelines that we’ve found helpful, call me at FunQuilts and I’ll come chat with your group for a bit. For those of you who aren’t local and want some guidance for your group, I’d be happy to Skype with you. Making these connections with people who share your interest is a really wonderful thing and I want everyone who wants it to have it.

  2. I have the same kind of group Weeks. It started from a class at the LQS in 1998. We had all signed up to make an elaborate appliqued chicken quilt. When the year ended we found we wanted to stay together so we picked out another applique quilt. We made a Millennium quilt, meeting once a month. Since that time the shop has closed some folks have dropped out, we have added 2 more but the core 6 of us still meet nearly every month, sometimes adding a Saturday road trip and we now do a yearly retreat at one of the members vacation house. We range in age from mid 40 to 75yr. we have very different skills, and talk about everything. We have wonderful show and tells, pushing each other to try new things. I don’t know what I’d do without this group of women in my life.

  3. Tact is very important when discussing pieces because projects we have worked on become so dear to our hearts. I am really glad you have a group like this. I have always thought it would be difficult to be part of a regular quilt or creativity group.

    The work on the Sweet Tooth piece is unbelievable. Thanks for showing the detail. I was especially enamored of the rock-type chips used as nuts (??) on the cake. Brilliant. I am sure that looking at this in person meant that each inch brought a new discovery.

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