Quilts pass warmth, love and legacy from one generation to the next. For the daughter of a world-renowned quilter, patches have shaped her identity, too

My earliest memory has a cast of three: Me, my mother and a quilt.
Mom was seated in the big rocking chair. I was sitting on her lap, squirmy but fascinated by the colorful patchwork before us: the shiny needle, the pretty patterns slowly working their way across the wooden hoop.

If I didn’t understand what she was doing at the time, I’d have plenty of opportunities to figure it out. My mother, Marianne Fons of Winterset, Iowa, is a quilter. She’s also a teacher, an author, a magazine editor, an award-winning businesswoman and the co-star of her own TV show. She’s even got her own line of sewing notions. All of this was born from her love of fabric, needle and thread.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, honey.”

When I call my mother for this article, I tell her it feels weird to request an interview from a woman I talk to on a regular basis. In typical supportive-mom fashion, she says she thinks it’s wonderful and has she told me lately that she loves me?

“Mom! This is serious business.”

“Sorry, sweetie. Go ahead.”

Even though I know the answer, I ask my first question. “So. When did you start quilting?”

“I began quilting when I became a mother,” Mom says. “I was home with your older sister and needed a creative outlet. I took a class at the local art center and met another mom who was doing the same thing.”

The mom that she met was Liz Porter. Mom and Liz hit it off and before long were good enough to teach their own quilting classes.

Not long after that, they decided there ought to be more books about quilting, so they wrote one. A publisher, who eventually asked them if they would be willing to write more books for the under-served quilting market, quickly picked up their book. Mom and Liz agreed, and many more books followed. In 1992, they penned The Quilter’s Complete Guide, the quilting “bible” that is still in print today.

“I remember when you wrote that book,” I tell mom. “The manuscript was in piles all over the house; on the washing machine, on the ironing board, lined up on the kitchen table.” The chaotic image is a good metaphor for the time: Mom and dad were getting a divorce that year; my sisters and I were in the jungles of adolescence; mom was regularly away on teaching trips when she wasn’t slaving over the book. I ask mom if quilting was a form of therapy for her during that rocky time.

“Quilting has always been a dual interest for me,” she says, “I’ve made it my business, of course, but the act of quilting is so utterly satisfying, both to the mind and to the soul. There is joy in making something that wasn’t there before.”

In the years following The Quilter’s Complete Guide, Mom and Liz became hosts of Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting, an instructional show that still runs in every major public-television market in the country. They created a magazine that originally was a supplement to the show; today, it’s the best-selling quilting magazine in history. I’m a subscriber. And I’ve made a few quilts, but between work and the typical activities of a 27-year-old over-achiever, it’s hard to find the time. I ask mom if she thinks quilting will survive my latte-gulping, Blackberry-tapping, 60 mile-an-hour generation.

“The life of a 30-year-old woman might seem different than it was when I was at that age,” says mom. “But what satisfied me about quilting then will be just as satisfying to a young woman today – the thrill of making something never changes.” She says that quilting has been around for centuries and even if it takes the current generation a little longer to pick it up, it’s not going anywhere.

I remember that I need to ask mom about the dates of our family vacation. She gives me the highlights from her latest 20-mile bike ride. I tell her a joke. The interview is clearly over; my mom is just a mom again, not queen of the quilting industry.

“Good job, honey,” she says.

“Thanks, mom. You too.”

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