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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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Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine parts and pieces by Dana Jones ©2021

I'm slow in quilt classes. That was the case last week when I took Jane Sassman's "Abstracting from Nature" workshop through the Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS). Check out Jane's work. I was one of several "tortoises" in the class. There was some comfort in knowing others were feeling a bit of the stress I do when I see others sprinting ahead. Most in the class finished their compositions and began stitching them to their backgrounds. Not me. Even after working into the early morning hours several days, I'm still creating the parts of my quilt and will be for awhile.

Handling the stress of being a slow maker is a challenge. I find I do lots of self-talk. I'm really competitive so I have to constantly remind myself — sometimes outloud — that a quilt class is not a competition. I constantly remind myself it is the journey I love. Just sitting at the sewing machine calms me to a point I forget how far behind I am.

I will finish this quilt. It will take time. Next steps include satin stitching, something I haven't attempted for almost 40 years. (That's a story for another blog post.) Next steps include quilting, which I want to do myself but first must learn to do on my brand new sit-down long-arm machine (also another blog post).

There are more parts and pieces to this quilt that I must finish. Some will make the final composition, some will not. One of the things I love about Jane's technique is that you make the parts and pieces never worrying about what will or will not make the final quilt. The orphans will find a home in another piece. Her style is mix of precision and letting the piece go where it will. This so works for me. It's a style of making art that resonants with us Type A folks yet it's tinged with improv. What could be better?

My thanks to my Facebook friends who said go for the columbine. It was a bit more complex a flower than many used by others in the class but it provided so many variations, so many shapes from petals to leaves, from top down views to side views, and more.

The lush color is because I worked entirely from scraps of hand-dyed Cherrywood fabrics. If you haven't used these wonderful fabrics, check them out. They're a bit pricey but worth every penny.

I'm here to affirm it's okay to plod your way through a class. A quilt class is never a competition; it is never a race. At their best, quilt classes, like this one, are pure joy.

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Growing up, I dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. While I was an okay softball right fielder, being female was not the only reason I was never drafted by my St. Louis Cardinals or any of their competitors. Despite that, turns out I'm on a wonderful All-Star team — a team of 18 top-notch quilt teachers.

Saturday, May 22, I'll be among teachers who will be part of the Global Quilt Connection's two-day All-Star Sampler live Zoom webinar. Each of us will have 15 minutes to share how we teach, especially how we teach via Zoom.

I'll demo a portion of one of my favorite courses to teach: "Demystifying Design for Foundation Piecing." We'll begin with photos of single images, like mine of our state flower, the Rocky Mountain blue columbine.

After studying the image, we'll create straight-line drawings that an be turned into foundations toward creating blocks — or mini quilts. Mine is 8" x 8".

I'm so honored to be part of this exciting and creative event. I'd love to have you tune in not just to see my presentation but to also be introduced to the full team of all stars. You can sign up to attend through the Global Quilt Connection as an individual or guild — The event is from 3-6 p.m. EST, 2-5 p.m. CDT, 1-4 p.m. MDT and noon-3 p.m. PDT. You won't be disappointed as every teacher will present a different technique.

As of today, May 4, there are an estimated 8,000 quilters who plan to sign in. I hope you will be one of them.

Images above — Columbine block, columbine photo and columbine drawing all © by Dana Jones, 5.4.2021. All rights reserved.

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