Monday, October 27, 2014

My Tribute to Mary Ellen Hopkins!

This Sunday, 11/2, is a local guild's annual exhibit and sale.  The Wildwood Quilt of Mentor, Ohio has hosted this event for about 25 years I'm guessing.  This year, they are organizing a special tribute exhibit to Mary Ellen Hopkins.  I might be wrong, but I'm going to venture a guess that 75% of those gals took my It's Okay If You Sit On My Quilt beginners series based on Mary Ellen's ground breaking book by the same name.

If you haven't heard of Mary Ellen and that book, suffice it to say it was the first book to organize a large collection of blocks on graph paper and Mary Ellen's approach to teaching quilt making was to teach people how to make quilts easily (think strip piecing and half-square triangle sets in an era of hand traced templates) that people could use as they wished (her boys were reputed to have traded them for a ride to the mountains to ski).

So I spent some time this weekend digging through my piles of quilts and found three pieces from the 1980's and 90's that were samples for my classes.  Mary Ellen liked to use Double Irish Chain to introduce students to strip piecing for blocks, but I eventually settled on 9-patch blocks for their versatility and simplicity.   
I produced this one after quite a long stint of fabric gathering (before reproduction prints were widely available) to get a classis blue and white look.  It's still one of my favorite quilts and spends every winter draped over a chair in the living room for cold winter evenings in front of the fireplace.   
There are several aspects of Mary Ellen's approach that would surprise quilters today who haven't encountered her.  She introduced me to the triangle grid -- at first it was an odious grid we drew on the wrong side of fabric but eventually one of her students translated it into Triangle Paper which was genius!!  I challenged my students to create this Scrappy Triangles piece based on a simplified Lady of the Lake block (where did it get that name?) in a small wallhanging I noticed in a decorating magazine.
As I'm writing this, I'm thinking I might still have the teaching handout for this.  Be right back.

Yes, I do!!   I wrote it using triangle paper -- if you've never tried it out, this would be an easy introduction to it!  I still own three samples of this quilt but this one is my favorite.  Since "collections" didn't exist in the 1980's, I taught my students to theme their scrappy quilts and this one is "plaids and stripes".  I love this one because my daughters (ages 10 and 12 perhaps) chose all the colors for me from my stash of plaids. 
Once you met Mary Ellen and learned her techniques, you wanted more and more.  So her publisher, Yours Truly (the first wholesale business of Richard and Marti Michell) offered "advanced" teaching seminars so we could go back to our shops and give our students more and more.   I'll always be grateful for those opportunities because not only did Mary Ellen give us lots of new ideas, she made us create our own ideas and encouraged us to share them with one another.

I have hung onto this "bricks and mortar" for all these years because it illustrates one of Mary Ellen's favorite "rules" -- all reds go together.  She also introduced us to large scale prints in an era of small calicos and urged us to put a dash of black into everything for sparkle.
This quilt is a great album of the brown prints that were available in the late 80's and early 90's -- no one prints browns like these anymore and you'll see them pop up in my quilts to this day -- that's one of the nice results of taking my "paycheck" in fabric in the early days of my shop when all the cash went back into the business. 
Mary Ellen passed away in July, 2013.  She left a rich heritage of quilters in her wake.  Teaching It's Okay for twenty years was a win, win job for me.  It kept my shop afloat.  I got to meet lots of quilters who are still friends and students to this day!!  I met my current mentor, Marti Michell who inspires me with her energy and all those templates!  I learned how to enjoy teaching adults (you can be quite challenging sometimes, you know).  And I've kept making quilts -- I was ready to quit when I met Mary Ellen in 1982.  Here it is, 32 years later and I still love to chop up a piece of fabric and sew it together with lots of other pieces of fabric!!

So if you are in Northeast Ohio, stop by the exhibit this weekend.  It will be fun to see what my students have found in their piles of quilts! 

The exhibit is at the Mentor Civic Center, 8484 Munson Rd (Rt. 615), Mentor, Ohio (north of Rt. 2 freeway) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  There will also be vendors (including me with all Marti's templates -- I might even have the newest sets -- Crowns & Kites), handmade items to purchase, and a lovely cookie buffet!!  Admission is $3 maybe? 

Hope to see you there!
Mary Huey


  1. I for one, am glad you didn't quit in 1982. The course of my quilting life would be vastly different if you had. Love that blue and white 9 patch.

  2. Mary Ellen was a great inspiration and a ground breaker so it is wonderful that a Guild is organizing a tribute to her. I love both your Bricks and Mortar quilt and the Nine Patch quilt!

    1. She was a very special lady and I hope we don't forget all the contributions she made to us as quilters!!

  3. Remembering Mary Ellen Hopkins always brings a smile to my face! She was a fun and creative quilter. One of the funniest memories I have was when she was the guest on Kaye Wood's show. Thank you for sharing the the triangles pattern, too.

    1. She often told a story about me when she knew I was in the room and as the years went by, it got more and more elaborate -- funny part was that it was a fabrication of her fertile imagination in the first place!! (-:

  4. I made one of her quilts once, and used it the other night! I loved the process and her humor. LeeAnna at not afraid of color

    1. Remembering her seems to make everyone smile!!