Mary Ellen has all of the qualities of a fairy god mother; her laughter is quick and engaging, her eyes and gestures are profoundly benevolent, she’s hard to catch and when you find her being creative, she turns the ordinary into extraordinary without seeming to use a speck of effort. If someone could wave a magic wand and make everything “all better”, Mary Ellen is the one you want holding the stick;)
As artist in residence last year, MEK inspired quilters to use their digital cameras to create fabric for quilts that were unique in the world. In a process that has resulted in two sell-out books, Blending Photos with Fabric: A Beautiful New Way to Combine Photography, Printing and Quiltmaking (2004) and Blending Photos with Fabric2 (2008) she walks you through the process with anecdotes, suggestions plenty of encouragement to explore and hear you inner muses.
There aren’t many places to study with this award winning artist. Last time I checked you could catch a class with her in Italy during a Seven Day Specialty Tour, occasionally find a class during the winter in North Carolina or…find her at Fiber College…an honor we are very proud of indeed. This year, Mary Ellen will be teaching a full day class on Thursday entitled Larger than Life Quilt: Photo Printing. When we asked her to share a little bit about herself, this is what she had to say:
1) Teaching takes courage and experience…and so much extra time. When you’re not teaching, what else do you like to do?
Besides quilting, knitting and most other fiber arts, I love to kayak, ride my bike, and hang out with my family and friends.
2) Fill in the blanks for the following statement: Inspiration for my work comes from the Maine coast and from the mountains. The patterns and colors of nature are a very important aspect of my work and something to which I find I am very sensitive. Whenever I create a piece, I am most pleased when someone understands the heart or the humor behind my work.
3) We’d like a sense of your expertise and ability to teach the class you’re offering…so tell us how you came to feel confident about leading a group through your particular class. How long have you been practicing? I’ve been teaching the blend of quiltmaking and technology for fifteen years. Before that I taught computer technologies to corporate managers for twenty years. And before that I taught high school math. (I must be really old!!) Teaching is about helping another person reach their goals, expand their horizons and rise up to their full potential. What could be more rewarding? I have found that I am happiest when I teach.
4) If you make a quilting error do you jump right in and frog it (rip it out) or do you call it a design feature and keep right on going? Does the mistake cause you anxiety or do you feel like it’s just one more opportunity to make the project your own? When I mess up, I always think of those beautiful ice skaters who fall, pick themselves up and continue to try with all their heart to make their performance beautiful. This is now my approach. But, in my younger days, I was a perfectionist and would go back and start over if necessary. I must admit I have the urge to this at times even now but I usually move on and in the scheme of the larger effort, mistakes are not as visible as we think.
5) What techniques are in your bag of tricks for motivating a student to struggle through a difficult step…maybe something that’s just a bit out of his/her range…and come out the other side feeling successful? I think that remembering what it was like when I was learning the particular element is helpful. I am very patient; willing to try different approaches, and also believe that the process of doing what we do should be just as enjoyable as the product. I try to make it that way for my students.
6) If you could ask your students questions and class time wasn’t an issue, what sort of things would you like to know about the people sitting in front of you? I actually often do ask my students what kinds of things would make them stop for a moment in their busy day, pause and observe, and even reach for their camera.
7) I am an avid collector of: fabric! All kinds – cottons, batiks, hand dyes, silks, wools and more.
8) My formal educational background is computer technology. It took me several years to meld quiltmaking and computers. My most recent work straddles the line between realism and the abstract, and incorporates photography and altered images.
9) What’s your favorite tool? Why? Odd as this may sound, I find the computer to be a wonderful tool for fiber artists. And it is just a tool because, after all, what we want to do is get to the fiber, fabric, sewing, knitting, etc. But nowadays, there are some great software packages that can save us so much time in the designing, planning or mundane aspects of our work and then we can get to what we love faster and with better outcomes.
10) What do you like best about what you do? I love everything about what I do – the people I get to meet, the joy of teaching, and the rhythm of the sewing machine, the click of the knitting needles, and even the smell of fabric being ironed!