The back room of her home in Rosedale Park is a sort of laboratory for quilting ideas for Mary McLeod. There’s a design wall where she can temporarily hangs different fabrics of different sizes, colors and shapes to think about design. There are bookcases full of quilting books and stacks of fabric that Mary’s aunt gave Mary when her hands just couldn’t quilt anymore. There’s also fabric from Mary’s grandmother who made clothes for all three of her children. In the center of the room there is a table Mary uses to cut fabric for her quilts. To accommodate standing while cutting, the table is higher than a normal table and there’s a deep drawer in one side where Mary stores her cutting and measuring tools. It’s a rich, golden wood and was made by her uncle who originally made it for Mary’s aunt. In this sunny room in Rosedale, Mary has the company of her aunt, uncle and her grandmother when she’s thinking about color and design.
There are plenty of pre-chosen and precut fabrics kits on the market that streamline the quilting process, but Mary steers clear of those: “I like choosing the fabric myself.” She has also begun creating her own designs rather than following patterns. “There’s a lot of math, a lot of precision,” that goes into quilting, and Mary finds this both challenging and fun.
With all that’s involved in Mary’s quilting process, from choosing the fabric and design to cutting, piecing and binding, you’d think Mary has a great deal of experience with quilting. She did make a lovely quilt for her daughter’s birthday, but that was more than 20 years ago. Mary seriously took up quilting again just three years ago, but she has jumped back in with enthusiasm. There are quilting retreats and festivals throughout the world, and Mary has been to several. Mary especially loves the retreats, which she admits, “are about quilting yes, but there are also massages and pedicures.” These retreats and festivals attract quilters who come with their equipment and lots of ideas. As Mary says, “people share what they know, what they’ve learned and everyone is willing to try new ideas.” Mary loves this sharing of techniques and ideas. In fact, at one retreat in Chesaning, Michigan, Mary was so into her quilting that when she accidentally sewed her index finger into one of her quilts, she did her best to simply keep sewing. She didn’t want to leave the company of quilters, but she didn’t want to bleed all over her quilt either. Mary knew she had to leave the retreat to get medical attention. She “cried all the way home” not for her throbbing finger, but because she had to leave the retreat. “I just hated to leave!”
Like the many retreats and festivals, many quilters also have membership in any number of guilds and quilting organizations. The General Henry Dearborn Quilting Society is one such guild that meets twice a month and offers demonstrations and classes. Mary joined this guild in 2012 and has been a faithful member: “I knew I would love it.” One of their most exciting projects was when the Detroit Historical Society asked the guild members to examine and record the size, fabric, pattern, batting, stitches and approximate age of several quilts the Historical Society has in their collection. Like most quilters, Mary knows that a lot of history can be sewn into a quilt. “It was great fun,” to work as a quilt archivist, Mary says. “There was a lot of ‘Oh my! Look at these stitches. This is almost exclusively hand done!’ when we were recording the quilts.” Just like the passing down of fabric, quilting books, patterns, and cutting tables, there’s a lot of history involved in quilting. And that’s what makes it sew interesting.