Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interview with Mary Fons - Quilty!

Many of you have seen Mary Fons on the Love of Quilting show with her mom - Marianne Fons. But, did you know that Mary has her own show, Quilty? It's is a very informative, chic show that runs in ten minute episodes available online! Perfect for the beginner quilter, and even for those of us more advanced - but looking for eye candy! (Personally I Have found the colors in this show to be outstanding so far! Very fresh!) Mary's personality is bubbly, friendly and welcoming - and her smile is infectious!
Photograph by Johnny Knight
I had the opportunity to have an email interview/conversation with Mary:

You are definitely filling a niche here - newbie quilters! What made you decide to do a show for new quilters?
When the producers of Love Of Quilting were looking to fill the spot left by Liz Porter, who was ready to retire, I was among their options. I had guest-hosted with my mom before and people seemed to like me. My mother and I love each other so much and have so much fun when we're together, we knew the working relationship would be no problem. So we all went for it and I value the experience more than I can say. I love doing the show. 

But at Quilt Market last spring ('10) I was walking the aisles and researching for ideas for LOQ and getting inspired for my own projects -- I'm a devoted, slavishly dedicated quilter myself these days -- and I realized something that stopped me in my tracks. There is a lot of great quilting how-to content online, but there really wasn't anything cool and awesome and modern and fresh for true beginners. 

I asked my friends who don't quilt but who talk about wanting to try, "What's the first thing you'd do if you wanted to make a quilt?" And every single one of them said, "I'd call you." I told them that wasn't fair. "Okay," they said. "I'd YouTube it." 

So I knew that if newer quilters were going to be reached, they were going to be reached online. But I knew that if my friends googled "quilting for beginners" or "how to make an easy quilt" they weren't going to get a show that would speak to them in their language. So that's why I developed and pitched Quilty and why it's happening today.

Quilty is me learning, too. I am a new quilter. I don't pretend to know everything and I don't pretend to be my mom, Liz, or anyone else who has been quilting longer than I've been alive on the planet -- there are a lot of people who have been doing just that and they have all my respect.

My sister, who co-produces the show, is great at reminding me to tell the camera, "Hey, I'm learning here, too!" because I can get bogged down in "This has to be perfect, this has to be 100% amazing." I love, love, love working with my sister Rebecca. She's a big part of the success of the show. When she reminds me to let viewers know that I'm a rookie too, it relaxes everyone. Quilting is a skill. Who can do something perfectly right out of the gate? Who can do anything perfectly ever? Do we even want to? Relax! Have fun. Quilting should be pleasurable. If it stops being that way, that's like the ONLY time you know you're doing something wrong.
Do you find that most quilters our age are self taught?
Hm. That's a great question. Yes. They are. My friend Chloe and my friend Dina have both made quilts, but neither one of them have taken a class. It's all figuring it out as they go. This is a GOOD THING. It means that they want to quilt so much, they're just going to dive in. Our job in the industry is to help them out and encourage them to learn and grow in the craft so that they'll love it more all the time. And, you know, buy a pattern, a sewing machine, and a few spools of thread. Making a quilt is warm and fuzzy, but we must remember that the business side of things keeps it running.
So far, the shows seem to run around ten minutes long. Will this continue? Was this planned - given how busy the younger quilter likely is, between work and family?
Yes, the show will always be around 10 minutes -- as long as it's online, anyway. This is the YouTube generation, baby. We learn things in bites -- or bytes. Whatever. Great online content/videos are short by design. It's not a full-length show format, which is great when you're teaching basics. Talking about presser feet is super, super important for a rookie quilter but 30 minutes on presser feet? Big yawn. About 10 minutes is all you need to impart the important information and keep them interested.
Photograph by Johnny Knight
Looking at the episode guide so far, it appears you will be instructing on some traditional blocks to learn. Will you be sticking with traditional quilting for the show - or throwing in some art and contemporary aspects of quilting?
It's tricky, because I would be happy doing traditional blocks forever -- I'm a big fan. But of course, we'll teach whatever makes sense for the audience and the show. That said, the show has a very specific mission statement. It states that the show is about *quilting* -- and I'm pretty firm on sticking to quilting. There may come a day when Quilty does a show on a quilted bag or a quilted craft of some kind, but that won't happen for some time.

There are plenty of shows online and on cable that show you how to make crafts, cupcakes, home dec items, etc. Those are all great things! Believe me, I'm a sucker for cupcakes and home dec. But Quilty strives to be THE first place you go when you want to learn how to make a quilt. My mom and Liz built a successful business on the back of a very simple concept: Great quilting instruction. I want to follow in my mother's footsteps and focus the show and the content on quiltmaking. Other people can tackle handbags and raincoats. On Quilty, we quilt.
I would be remiss if I didn't ask for my readers - What is it like to have quilt star Marianne Fons for a Mom?
The lasagna is incredible, I'll tell you that much. 

Seriously, my mother is an amazing woman. What you don't know from watching the show or reading the magazine or the books is that my mom was a single mother raising three daughters on her own as she and Liz were building the F&P brand and business. I remember when The Quilter's Complete Guide was in manuscript form, stacked on the washing machine, the dryer, the dining room table, etc. 

Part of the reason I'm making Quilty is because after turning 30 and going through some pretty crazy life stuff, I realized "the family business" was really important to me. I had always valued and respected quilts -- I've been working as an artist professionally for many years, now -- but up until several years ago, I hadn't internalized the fact that I'm the daughter of a woman who put food on the table via quilts. It's unheard of. It's beautiful. It's up to me to keep that business and that legacy alive. So I'm going to try.
Which day of the week does Quilty Air each week?
New episodes are up every Wednesday. We're available for free at now, too!
Will you be having guests on show often? And teasers about who might be on future episodes?

Well, I'd love to have you as a guest, Steph. [Okay, how awesome is Mary? I'm honored and would love to!] Seriously! Ever come through Chicago? Let me know. We love having guests. We're filming a batch on Sunday and some skaters from Chicago's Windy City Rollers -- that's the roller derby organization -- are guests. My friend Caitlyn, who I work with in the theater company we're both a part of will be a guest, and we're also going to hang out and film and episode with Shauna Smith, a really lovely crafter I happened to meet at the DIY Trunkshow a few months ago. 

We "cast" Quilty guests very specifically because we want them to look like the people who are watching the show -- or who we hope watches the show, of course... :) Seeing a person go, "Huh? WTF did you just do there?" is so great! The casual nature and friendly atmosphere of Quilty means that guests are at ease and actually learn stuff on the show. If they do, there's a good chance viewers will, too.

Obviously you don't do this all on your own, what about the rest of the Quilty crew?
The Quilty team is amazing. I mentioned my sister above. Oh, I love her so much. Quilty is a part-time project for her right now, but one of my goals is to grow the show so that we have a budget to make her an offer she can't refuse and she'll leave her very cool Chicago job to make Quilty full-time.

But Jack C. Newell, the show's director, is the one who is credited with making Quilty look much more expensive than it really is. He and his crew make the whole thing look so awesome -- and those close ups are unbelievable! I cannot thank the production team enough -- Josh, Ceasar, Brian -- for all their hard work. We're really becoming good friends.

Anything else?
Please be a fan of Quilty on Facebook and follow us at HeyQuilty on Twitter. We'd love to have you.

Thank you Mary for taking the time to chat! I can't wait to see more episodes of Quilty!

Check out this promo piece for Quilty:


  1. This was great, Stephanie. I watch LOQ when I can and do enjoy Marianne and Mary. I'm thrilled to see Mary take off on her own and reach out to new quilters. We want quilting to keep going from one generation to the next. Kudos, great interview. Carolyn in Kerrville, TX

  2. OMG Stephanie, are you going to join in with the Roller Derby!? lol I'll go if you go. : )

    Great interview. I think I have a secret crush on Mary. Oops, not a secret anymore! She's just such a terrific personality!

    Thanks for doing this!
    ~Monika in Canada

  3. Steph, Love your interviews! I'm always interested in hearing what makes folks "tick" - the background stories.

  4. I love the interview you had with Mary Fons. I have been watching Quilty since its inception and can't seem to get enough of it or Mary. She makes quilting fun and your interview helped me to get to know her better and how she started in this wonderful world of quilting.