Saturday, October 30, 2021

How Marti saved me from the quilt guild ladies

I wrote about my dear friend Marti Plager, who died earlier this month, and promised to tell you how she singlehandedly set me on the path to quilting as art. 

In the mid-90s we had both been members of a big local quilt guild, but neither of us really felt at home.  It was the kind of guild where people would give show-and-tell of their latest quilt, and the first question was invariably "what pattern did you use?"  Those of us who did our own designs were regarded with suspicion if not downright disapproval.  Finally Marti decided she had had enough, and quit the guild.  I was reaching the same conclusion.

Marti and I didn't know one another except as faces in the crowd, but she had paid particular attention when I had show-and-tell of a quilt I had made for a contest sponsored by Quilter's Newsletter Magazine.  The contest was called "Rhapsody of Roses" and the rules called for at least one rose on the quilt.  I figured that the vast majority of the entrants would have beautiful roses all over the place, and I couldn't compete with beauty, nor with realism.  So I deliberately went in the other direction, and came up with a quilt that was almost all thorns, with one little rose in one corner.

Rose Among Thorns

sorry for the wimpy color -- this is a digitization from an old slide; the quilt is gone now so this is the only image I  have, unless I can find my copy of the QNM where they printed the contest winners

I explained my thought process to the guild, and showed my finished quilt.  I can't remember whether this occurred before or after the contest was judged, and I got the award for "best interpretation of theme" (a decision that still mystifies me...)  The guild ladies were not impressed, but Marti was.  A few months later she called me, reminded me who she was, and said she was getting together a small group of quilters who were doing original designs and aiming for art rather than bed quilts.  Would I like to join them?

Yes, of course, and for more than two decades this small group, with slightly changing membership, was my closest and most important support as I learned to become an art quilter.  Not only did I have to up my game technically and artistically, I had to learn how to enter shows, how to get my work photographed, how to ship quilts here and there.  

I suppose I could have figured out this stuff by myself, but it was so much easier and better to do it with friends.  Most important, we came to trust each other enough to both give and receive criticism and suggestions without being defensive (or offensive).

Over the years I've participated in many a discussion of support groups, and so often it ends with somebody else saying "I wish I could find a support group like yours."  Often people try to get with others, but find that the others are too judgmental, or too critical, or too arbitrary in what they like and dislike.  Or on the other hand, the others don't have high enough standards or work hard enough or are too easily distracted by distractions.  I never know what to say to these people except to keep trying; if one group doesn't work, maybe another will.  Or maybe if a group doesn't work, you can tweak the ground rules or the membership list and hope that in time the group will get better.

Rose Among Thorns -- detail

Our small group only did two joint projects in two decades.  Once we were asked to prepare a table setting to showcase the dinnerware made by a famous ceramist; we dyed and printed a fabulous tablecloth, napkins and placemats.  Once we ordered four dozen blank silk scarves and did a round robin in which each scarf was dyed or painted or printed by four different people.  The consensus was that we had fun but that wasn't what our group was about.

We didn't talk much about our families or our jobs, just the art.  We didn't have refreshments at our meetings.  We chose the next meeting date based on when everybody could be there, and somehow we almost always stuck to it, with all of us in attendance.  We all grew immensely as artists during our time together.  I don't believe I would have accomplished half of what I have done without that group of friends, and Marti was the one who started it all.


  1. What a delightful story! And I can see how 'like minds' would get together. Love your 'roses' quilt!

  2. Wonderful tribute to your friend Marti and your friendship.

  3. Your post struck such a chord with me as I am watching the breakdown of a longtime art quilters group. It was limping along before Covid, but lack of in person meetings and social media skills/inclination may have done it in. Aging members have gotten other interests or have stopped making much. Refreshments are creeping into the picture. Ack!

  4. the art group I started is a Covid fatality. I tried to keep it going with zoom meetings but some memvbers preferred to do something easier like find a pattern and be 'creative' by changing the colors or moving one line a half inch to the left---it is very disappointing and I don't know if I have the courage or energy to try again to form a new group

    1. An art group that I just loved has kind of fallen apart during pandemic thanks to zoom meetings. I find that platform is OK for people to give presentations, anything where only one person talks at a time, but terrible for conversations, which was the joy of the group when we could meet in person. Because three of our members are immunocompromised we continue to meet on zoom but I fear that we'll never get back to what we used to be.

  5. Kathy, I enjoyed reading about your friendship with Marti and the formation of the group. Though the fiber community has lost a valuable member, you have lost a true friend. My heart goes out to you...

  6. Your story resonates down to my soul. I rejoined a guild & after only 12 months I was so frustrated, unhappy, disappointed that I said enough. I think I am the only president elect to ever be impeached before I was in office. Found a Modern Guild & am so excited!