A stitchy situation
Mary Fons works quilting, graduate school, and performance into her life.
Graham School student Mary Fons is well-known in Chicago as a writer and performer, having freelanced for several years, blogged since 2006, and performed as an ensemble member with the Neo-Futurists and in poetry slams at the Green Mill. She is also a downright celebrity in the quilting world. The daughter of Marianne Fons, who hosts Love of Quilting on PBS, cofounded the magazine Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting, and has written several popular books, Mary Fons originally considered quilting “primarily something Mom did for work” and distanced herself from it. But four years ago, while recovering from both ulcerative colitis and a divorce , she felt called into the family business. “Suddenly, making a quilt was exactly what I felt I needed to do. When life as you know it is torn into a zillion pieces, it just makes sense to tear up fabric into a zillion pieces and then sew it back together again into organized blocks with a nice French-fold binding.” Since then, thanks in part to her theater background, Fons has become a cohost on Love of Quilting and begun Quilty, an online series for beginning quilters with an accompanying magazine. Her first book, Make and Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century, is being released this spring (C&T Publishing.) Why are you at Graham? For me, the MLA program is just as perfect as it gets. I wanted to do graduate work, wanted to learn, wanted to dive more deeply into, well, everything. And that was the problem. My thirst for knowledge and my crazy love of inquiry in general was stalling me: should I get a graduate degree in philosophy? Literature? Art history? … I wanted to be a Renaissance person, good at all kinds of things. Then I found the MLA program and it was like, Bam! That’s it. … It was made for me, this program, and it’s so cool that other people think it was made for them. What courses have you taken that might influence your career? I am not pursuing my MLA for any career-specific reason. I want to be a smarter human being, a more interesting human being, and a more interested human too. My first course was [Michael S.] Turner’s New Cosmology, and holy cats! If that was the only class I ever took, it would’ve been worth applying to the program. Professor Turner is my hero. He’s hilarious. He’s a genius. Have you been able to use your experiences as a television personality, podcaster, or writer in graduate school? I’m in my second class right now, so I’m still new in the program—I might find more crossover as I get further in. I can say that my entrance essay and my statement were extremely gratifying to write. They weren’t for a job. They weren’t for a grade. They were for entrance into the University of Chicago, and I had the distinct impression of taking all that I know, all that I have learned my whole life, and distilling it down to who I am today, what I want out of an education, and why. I love writing papers and have a big one due for [David] Bevington’s Renaissance class. I should be doing that right now. What should nonquilters know about the quilting community? People don’t realize how huge and dynamic the industry is. Quilting is a $3.5 billion annually industry. A successful designer told me recently that no matter what the economy does, “women will always spend money on their hair and their hobby.” It’s true; the quilt industry isn’t recession proof, but it’s pretty close. And the whole thing is driven by women. Very inspiring.