Will It Go Round in Circles,© design and piecing by Dana Jones, quilted by ZJ Humbach

I became a quilter September 12, 2003. I'd signed up for a Martha Pullen quilt weekend in Huntsville, Alabama. My drive there took longer than expected. I arrived part way into a trunk show by Alex Anderson. She was saying, "There's no such thing as an ugly fabric. You just have to find the right spot."

Hmm... I thought.

A few years later, I enrolled in a color class with Davida Hyland at City Quilter in New York City. Class 1 she had us write down the three colors we disliked most. Easy: Avocado green, harvest gold, hot pink. Class 3, she assigned our final project: a quilt in those colors.

Detail of Will It Go Round in Circles© by Dana Jones

As I left class with that unpleasant assignment, I spotted the dotted fabric above on a sale rack, the final resting place of many ugly fabrics. I bought what was left on the bolt. The pattern of the fabric became the inspiration for the design of my quilt. I completed the top in time to share with the class.

Then the quilt top sat unquilted for several years. I'd run out of all the fabrics used in the quilt, and I couldn't find other fabric for the binding. I carried the quilt top from shop to shop until one day a shop owner said, "I have the perfect fabric. Just a minute."

Binding on Will It Go Round in Circles© by Dana Jones

She disappeared into her storage closet emerging minutes later with a bolt of the ugliest green fabric I'd ever seen. It was perfect. Alex was right.

When I said I needed a half yard, the shop owner laughed. She handed me what was close to a full bolt of fabric. There were multiple sale stickers on the end of the bolt.

I could have the fabric, no charge, so long as I took all of it.

My favorite ugly fabric has since found its way into multiple quilts, always the perfect fabric I would never have purchased.

BTW: I love this quilt in my three least favorite colors. Recommendation: Embrace that ugly fabric. It will reward you.

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With this blog, I'm starting a series that will look at hallmarks of my quilt designs. We don't start out knowing what our design styles will be. Over time, we are influenced by seeing others' quilts, taking classes and trying new things. We stumble upon something we like, and before we know it, that thing is popping up demanding we notice and claim it as our own. Fortunately, our styles change, develop and evolve over time. Some things run their course; others come to stay. I look at my obsession with 1/4" strips in this first post. For now, they are here to stay in my designs.

Block© designed by Dana Jones using fabrics from "Bubbles and Swirls" by Lonni Rossi for Andover Fabrics.

I love 1/4" strips in blocks, between blocks, as elements of overall designs, pretty much anywhere in my quilts. They are the behind-the-scenes stars that make everything else pop. They provide structure, sight lines, definition. And they intrigue viewers who ask how I can sew them evenly.

My answer is often foundation piecing. If you know me, you know I'll foundation piece any quilt I can. When that's not the answer, I use a nifty trick I picked up from Ricky Tim's Convergence Quilts: Mysterious, Magical, Easy and Fun (C&T Publishing, 2003). On page 73, Ricky provides tips on adding narrow borders using a method that enlists the left side of the presser foot as a guide as it is butted into the sewn seam. This is a bit difficult to explain here, so get Ricky's book and check it out. It really works if you want narrow strips and can't foundation piece them.

Check out a few of my block designs that feature these narrow strips. When you enroll in my Demystifying Design for Foundation Paper Piecing workshop, you'll learn how easy these are to incorporate in your quilts.

Blocks© designed by Dana Jones using 1/4" strips

When 1/4" strips are used between fussy cut images, those images stand out. One example is this fun Boston terrier pillow sham I made for a friend. Those black 1/4" strips pieced between the fussy-cut dogs really let each dog have its time the sun.

Boston terrier pillow sham© designed and made by Dana Jones

The first time I designed with 1/4" strips was when I created Will It Go Round in Circles. These strips are important to the graphic design of this quilt, giving it what some folks have called a touch of Mondrian.

Will It Go Round in Circles© designed and made by Dana Jones. Quilted by ZJ Humbach.

I again turned to them when I designed Bethlehem: Prayers for Unity for an exhibition at Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, Colorado. I even carried them into the loose strips I wove together when joining the four parts of this quilt.

I really do have a love affair going with these 1/4" gems. I'm sure there are many quarters to come in my future quilts so please, give me a quarter.

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Blocks © made by Dana Jones during "Riffing on Tradition" class taught by Maria Shell.

This morning, I found myself crying over the preface to a book: The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed The Way We Live by Danielle Drelinger (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021). When I saw it was reviewed in the New York Times recently. I had to order it.

My tears began to flow when Drelinger talked about her mother who earned a double major in home economics and journalism then kept the home-ec part secret for years. Drelinger writes:

“By the 1980s, majoring in home economics seem passé and unintelligent….You will find many baby boomer women who hid their home-economics education.” She quotes her mother as saying: “I was embarrassed to be a home-ec major.”

Me too. Drelinger says her mother is no longer embarrassed to say she majored in home economics. Me too.

After many years of never mentioning my home-ec background, I have for several years now proudly claimed it. This blog is my official coming out: I have a minor in home economics and I’m proud of it!

I’m also newly proud to say I fought hard for this to be so. No adult in my high-school and college years thought studying home economics was a good idea. Everything in my school system segregated the girls who were college bound from those who were not through scheduling conflicts if girls tried to cross these lines. But that’s just what I did in my last year of high school. Here’s my story.

At the end of the first day of my senior year, I hatched plans for a personal coups. Day 2, I presented my guidance counselor with my new class schedule I’d drawn up overnight. It was geared around opening space for me to take my first ever home-ec class. He lectured me. I was making a huge mistake. He wouldn’t approve the new schedule. He wouldn’t let me destroy my life. The kicker: He said I was way too smart to take home ec.

I stood my ground. He called my parents. I hadn’t filled them in. There hadn’t been time. My mom told the counselor to call my dad. We never called my dad at work. Dad listened to the counselor, asked to talk to me, then told the counselor to approve my new schedule. Dad was always my hero.

That year is the only one of middle or high school I remember with fondness. In a class called Senior Survey, I learned a bit about each of the elements of home economics from the known topics like sewing and cooking to the lesser known like family budgeting, advocacy for women and early childhood education. Best high-school class ever.

When I decided to major in home ec in college, I found no support even from my dad. Then the University of Illinois tossed me any unexpected carrot. It instituted a lottery system for admitting students. I had decided to major in journalism but that college was only for juniors and seniors. The usual route was to enter the university through its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the place the largest number of students applied. A number of qualified applicants would not make the cut simply because of numbers. If I instead applied to another college — like the College of Agriculture where home ec was lodged — I was a shoe in. One catch: I had to apply to major in home ec (or animal science or the like).

Another bit of luck. The only minors available to journalism students were through the College of Agriculture. I could spend my first two years of college taking home-ec classes for my minor. I’d definitely drawn a winning lottery ticket.

The classes weren’t easy, and chemistry, a prerequisite for textile and foods and nutrition courses, tough. I was woefully unprepared to be among classmates with years of 4-H experience. I survived and even thrived. When you are clueless, it turns out you can learn a lot, and everyone wants to help you. When it was time to apply to the College of Communications, I stuck with that plan but not without significant thought to staying on in home economics instead.

It was the 1970s. The world saw home economics about as far from feminism as possible, a strange twist since home economics had long been empowering women for careers in research and business. Journalism offered a place to embrace all the change, to be in the midst of all that was emerging in our society.

I never mentioned my minor on job applications for years believing it would only hurt my chances for jobs. And truth is, it probably would have. I never stopped using all that I learned in those classes. It was with great pride I included my minor when applying for an editing position with Quilters Newsletter in 2009.

Coming full circle, claiming all the pieces of who we are, is so affirming. I hope each of you reading this post has, is or will do so in your life journey. It may seem odd to say, but I think this newest book on my shelf is going to be a real page turner, tear jerker of a read.

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