Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mary Ellen, It's NOT Okay!

Opened my email today to find a new post from The Snarky Quilter, saying that Mary Ellen Hopkins has died. One of the truly great quilting icons is gone--even though she had retired a few years back, it was good knowing that she was still with us.

Now, this is not the post I had envisioned writing today, but ever since I read the news, I've been thinking about Mary Ellen and what a great debt so many of us owe to her. She was one of the first really original thinkers in the quilting world, and did a major part in sparking the revolution in quilting and quilt designs.

I never heard her disparage traditional quilts, or have anything but praise and admiration for the accomplishments of quilters who made wonderful masterpiece quilts. Her approach was that, for the rest of us, it would be a great thing if we could make our quilts quickly and simply enough so that it was, indeed, "OK to Sit On My Quilt."  Her theory was that we could find our own PPM--personal private measurement--and use that to develop quilts that had accurate seaming and corners that match. Quick and easy didn't mean sloppy and mismatched!

The quilt at the top of this post is one I did from her theories. The whole thing is based off the measurement of the smallest units, those 9-patches in the lower right corner. It also uses her brilliant development of "connector corners" which are those folded-over triangles. Wow, triangles you could sew without templates or bias edges? Brilliant!

Her real gift was teaching, whether in small group workshops or lecturing to hundreds of people at a time. She was small and feisty, quick of wit, a taskmaster who insisted on accuracy but never left a student feeling silly or embarrassed. I was lucky enough to attend several of her talks as well as taking workshops with her. She did several for Road to California in the early days, and it was such a blissful way to spend a weekend! She always insisted that the room where we set up had to be available 24/7 to accommodate the night owls and the early birds--as long as there were 2 or more of you in there, you could sew as long as you wanted to!

When she wrote her Log Cabin book, she told us all that we now had a lifetime's worth of patterns--every one of the blocks in It's Okay could serve as a Log Cabin layout! The only caveat was that you had to cut your strips no larger than 1.25" wide, because otherwise you'd be able to upholster the side of a building!

I still call my rotary cutter a whizzy-whacker, and I still use a lot of her techniques. In fact, my pinwheels owe a lot to her methods--that sew-down-both-sides-of-the-middle is one of her ideas. I think one of my happiest moments as a quilter occurred very late one night--actually well into morning. I'd gone down to LAX to pick up Himself from a late flight, and in the baggage claim area, there was Mary Ellen, also waiting for her bags. Then, "Hi, Marie, what are you doing here at this hour?" and a nice chat about where ind she'd been teaching and what she'd been up to. I was gobsmacked that she not only recognized me, but remembered my name--I'm kind of quiet in classes, usually, so I don't expect teachers to really know who I am.

It's kind of sad that she was so active before the days of social media and You Tube videos, so the current generation of quilters can only know her through her books and her legacy--even though they may not know where some of the ideas and techniques came from. I know what she'd say to that, though--it's okay!


Anonymous said...

I am so sorry.


Lee I said...

Love that little red, white and black quilt. Wish I'd known her.