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Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know

Written by Meg Cox

Sometimes when the kid of a celebrity shows up in the same field, people carp about the rookie's awkwardness. But in the case of Mary Fons, daughter of quilting legend Marianne Fons, that's actually part of the point.

     In her chosen fields of writing and performing, Mary is a seasoned veteran, working professionally as a freelance writer and earning a place for herself in Chicago's cutting-edge theater scene. She's well known for her work in poetry "slams" (which are more like stand-up comedy than staid readings), and writes both books and plays. Her first full-length play - in which she stars- will debut in Chicago in the spring. 

    Although she grew up in Iowa making the odd doll quilt with her mother, Mary never thought she'd take up quilting at all, let alone professionally. "It wasn't automatic for me, it didn't seem recreational," she says in an interview. "Quilting was something my mom did, for work."

     But in recent years, several events pushed her in that direction. Shortly after getting married and settling down, Mary suffered a serious, prolonged illness and her priorities began changing. "I was forced to sit still," she says, "I went back to some things from my childhood."

     As she healed, she got a proposition from the producers of Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting , the TV show that is shot in Iowa and airs on PBS. Her mother's long-time co-host, Liz Porter, was ready to retire, but Marianne Fons wanted to keep going. Who could be her new partner? They wondered if Mary Fons would like to try out.

     "They knew I was a performer and that I get along great with my mother," Mary says. "But I had to sort of go to boot camp and train as a quilter." 

      She did this with enthusiasm and dove right in, which most viewers appreciated. But not all. "It's like when Kermit didn't sound like Jim Henson anymore. It was hard on some fans," she says. Some viewers were very specific in their criticisms, she recalls, "They said 'She talks too fast,' 'I don't like her clothes,' and in one case, 'She talks too much about her manicures.' Well, I probably did at first: I was nervous."   

     Those who loved seeing Mary included experienced quilters who were still waiting for their daughters to take up the craft. The producers of the show came to realize there was value to having a newbie on the show asking questions. "I ask the questions a rookie asks, and lots of people don't know these things," says Mary.

     It went so well, that after taping one full season alongside her mom, the producers signed her up for a second. But as she got deeper into quilting her own projects, discovering a passion for traditional scrap quilt patterns executed in today's vibrant fabrics, Mary started thinking about how "there just didn't seem to be a show for new quilters in the YouTube generation."

     She decided to create one herself, and went to the Fons & Porter producers for a modest budget to shoot an internet-only program closer to her current home. Called "Quilty," she films at a hip Chicago quilt shop called Quiltology. Her aim is for the show to be quirky, funny, fresh and educational. It is all those things and more.

     "Quilty" debuted in January as one of the internet-only quilt shows on QNNtv.com, with episodes of 6 to 10 minutes released weekly. Since only people who already consider themselves quilters are likely to visit QNN, Mary Fons insisted that "Quilty" also be posted free on YouTube. 

     Mary was born to do this, in my opinion. Her confidence as a performer and passionate quilter combine with a feel for her generation's cultural touchstones (she is 31), like famous rappers. She breaks quilting down to very simple steps -- like how to shop for fabric, how to use a rotary cutter -- and often is teaching an actual first-timer how to do these things.

     You can watch the initial episodes of "Quilty" on QNNtv.com without being a paid subscriber (click on Watch Now), or go to YouTube and search for Quilty and Mary Fons.

     You heard it here first: she's gonna be a big star in Quiltlandia!

     More at www.maryfons.com.


This excerpt is from the February issue of the e-newsletter Quilt Journalist Tells All! which is produced monthly by Meg Cox, a journalist and veteran quilter who is president of the nonprofit Alliance for American Quilts. Her most recent book is the bestseller The Quilter's Catalog: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. (Workman, 2008)
Here is a link to the complete issue of the e-newsletter. Scroll down on the left to sign up for a FREE subscription. Quilt Jourrnalist Tells All Newsletter


Comments

marytob57 wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 2:56 PM

I watched her first episode this week, and although I've been quilting for 4 years, Ifound the show to be very informative and fun.  I'm going to continue to watch.  Congratulations on your new gig!!

joylyn95125@yahoo.com wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 2:59 PM

Yes Mary, I do watch this show and record and rewatch it even in my sleep.  I hope someday I will get unscarde and actually sew the quilt that I want to do.  But what do you do if all you can do is to dream it and not really sit down and do it?  The fear is so great.  Lynda from California.

cccraig@atlanticbb.net wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 3:09 PM

I have enjoyed the Love of Quilting Shows on PBS and also the quilting magazines.  I now enjoy the

Quilty shows.  Mary is a joy to watch and I am sure she will encourage young and old alike to want to

start quilting.  Good Luck to you in all that you inspire for your future.

cccraig@atlanticbb.net wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 3:09 PM

I have enjoyed the Love of Quilting Shows on PBS and also the quilting magazines.  I now enjoy the

Quilty shows.  Mary is a joy to watch and I am sure she will encourage young and old alike to want to

start quilting.  Good Luck to you in all that you inspire for your future.

Nancy Poorbaugh wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 4:28 PM

Although we miss Liz very, very much,  Mary is a welcomed addition to Love of Quilting.  Being a "newbie"  she brings a fresh perspective and gives us "ole timers" hope that quilting will go on!!!  My oldest daughter, 30, asked for my extra sewing machine.  I will introduce her onto the "Quilty" show so she can be inspired to actually use the machine!!!  

Barbara Stack wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 7:42 PM

Hey You have a good thing going here I enjoy  Mary and her mom together  I think Mary has brought out the best in her Mom  They seem to enjoy being together  I love quilt shows and this one it at the top of my list

Marsha wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 9:45 PM

I've only caught the show once recently but was first surprised to see Mary Fons there instead of Liz but after watching I was impressed and liked the relationship they have on the show.  I'm retired so I have to say "Liz, you deserve it and enjoy every minute of it".  Mary, You go girl!  Hope my daughter catches one of these days!

loreli.wesselhoft@hotmail.com wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Thursday, 24 March 2011, 8:17 AM

I watch Mary on Love of Quilting with her mother and love how she liven up the show and keeps you alert with the questions she asks and the comments she gives.  I have been making quilts since I was 18 years old and have always wanted to make some of the quilts in the book that accompany the show and really appreciate the instructions that are given for all the quilts.  I really enjoy Mary and her mother and pray that the show is never taken off the air.  I attend a quilting class on Tuesdays and get is really glad that I can see the episode that I missed when I go to the class the next morning.  Great show!!  Keep up the good works Mary.

ramsay318 wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Thursday, 24 March 2011, 8:19 AM

The first time I saw Marianne with the "new" girl, I thought, Oh, where's Liz?  Then, when I realized it was Marianne's daughter!  I thought, how wonderful to be able to work with your daughter!  That would be my dream come true!  You are an inspiration!  Now I record every program so I can watch it (devour it) on my own time!   Thanks for all the quilt lessons and especially the fun!  And Mary,  "I love your manicures!"

baird.genii5 wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Thursday, 24 March 2011, 11:10 AM

We will miss Liz Porter but Mary is refreshing and fun ..great for quilters

watermelonlady@carolina.rr.com wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Thursday, 24 March 2011, 9:26 PM

I just love Quilty & Mary talks in everyday language that beginners can understand.  The demonstrations are great.  I have learned a lot from just the few she has done & look forward to many more.  Threading the sewing machine & winding the bobin was great.  Good tips.  Would love to see some paper piecing & some smaller blocks as I don't make big quilts.  Would be good to show how to cut measurements for different sizes.  I watch the quilting show each Satrday & it is great too.  Keep bringing us more good lessons.

lgrieger76 wrote re: Mary Fons is Funny: Ask How I Know
on Friday, 25 March 2011, 9:59 AM

I am unable to get the Quilt show on PBS.  my Dish network doesn't offer it so I have to rely on  Quilters Club of America if I want to see any of the  shows.  I miss seeing them and  I have watched Quilty and enjoyed it very much .  Mary does a great job.  I haven't seen seen  an episode with both Mary and her mother, will check it out later.

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