May I introduce Becca Fenstermaker? Becca lives on a cranberry farm in southern Jersey with her husband and her two teenage kids. For grocery shopping she needs to drive half an hour, but her spectacular good-morning-pictures on social media make me think it’s totally worth it.
She’s a fifth generation cranberry grower, a second generation quilter and the first person I’ve ever met who can repair a Blackhawk helicopter. Kinda cool, right?
I first got to know Becca 2016 in Chicago, where we attended a convention called SewPro. I know, I’ll write about it soon, I promise.
Go check out her blog Pretty Piney, she’s not only a very talented pattern designer and quilter, but also an incredible entertaining story teller with a hilarious sense of humor.
Becca is also a certified teacher for Sew Kind of Wonderful, boy, I’d love to be in her class.
How, when and why did you start quilting or sewing?
Although I grew up listening to my mother’s sewing machine humming away as she stitched anything you can think of, and I learned counted cross-stitch at the age of 9, I didn’t feel the urge to learn how to sew until I desperately needed maternity pants. As a tall woman with quite long legs, it was impossible to find any that were long enough for me! My husband and I had just moved to a state where I hardly knew anyone, and there weren’t many sewing resources on the internet yet, so I depended heavily on the lovely employees of the local fabric shop for advice. Once I had successfully made several pairs of pants and then some pajamas, I attempted baby clothes. From then on, I sewed all sorts of “temporary” things—mostly Halloween costumes and clothes for my children. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that technically, during that early part of my sewing life, I made my first quilt. It was wholecloth and bound with a big fat cord wrapped in fabric. I had no idea about rotary cutters, and used a tissue paper pattern and scissors to cut out the rectangles. It had batting, and I bought a walking foot…so, yes, I made a quilt long before I considered myself a quilter.
I officially learned to quilt in 2011. My mother had taken me to a local quilt show, and I loved the wide variety of quilts on display. Most non-quilty people think of quilts and picture very traditional, grandmotherly things with lots of mauve and dingy colors, or tacky baby blankets made from novelty fabrics…at least, that’s what I thought of. But oh, the quilt world is so diverse! While making my first quilt in a class at a quilt shop, I secretly made a second quilt in different fabrics to give my mother for Christmas. Then, as now, she’s my most supportive quilt friend, and we’ve become much closer thanks to quilting.
And the sixty four thousand dollar question: Modern, traditional, contemporary, art quilting: what does spark true joy? And why?
NOOOOOOOOOO, YOU CAN’T ASK THAT! That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. For me, what sparks joy isn’t necessarily the style of the quilt, it’s the story behind it. In my own work, the quilts that have resonated the most tend to be the ones that have a personal background. If you insist on narrowing it down, though, I think I’m most drawn to contemporary twists on traditional quilts at shows. But making my art quilts is INCREDIBLY satisfying. So…we’ll say it’s a tie?
Let’s get personal: Who is you, Becca Fenstermaker? Tell us a bit about you. What should we definitively know about you? Will you reveal your best cherished quirk or your most beloved pet peeve?
Oh, my. Well, I’m not afraid to try anything. I can always find something good to say about the ugliest quilts. Although I’m generally not a quilting perfectionist, I get a little obsessive about the binding—and I do love finishing my bindings by hand. In fact, most people are surprised to hear that I love hand-stitching. I have a wool appliqué quilt that I’ve been working on for years. Slowing down to stitch by hand is a meditation that helps bring peace to my day. My biggest pet peeve is when people show you their work and then immediately start pointing out the “mistakes”. Don’t do that! Although of course you should always try to improve your quilting and do your best, the imperfections are a snapshot of where you are RIGHT NOW. Think about a relative or friend who’s gone. Don’t you wish you had a quilt that they’d made? Would you criticize it for not being perfect, or would you love it for being a little part of the person you miss? That’s what quilts are. They’re you, and you’re not perfect, but you’re loved.
What do you do when you’re not quilting? What does a perfect Becca-day look like?
Wait…not quilting is an option??
I’m an early riser. My perfect day starts around sunrise, and I meditate and do some gentle yoga while coffee brews. After a cup of coffee, I go out for a run. I finish the pot of coffee and get ready for the rest of the day. Since it’s a perfect day, my kids wake up at a reasonable hour and clean up the house without being asked and my husband offers me a foot massage. We go out for lunch at a diner (I order an omelette) and then head to an art museum. I play my “Songs for Singing” playlist in the car and sing loudly all the way to the museum, then stop by a greenhouse on the way home to find some new flowers for the yard. I cook dinner (pasta is involved) and have homemade ice cream for dessert. The kids clean up after dinner, telling me not to lift a finger because dinner was sooooo delicious. Then, I relax in front of a classic movie and bind a quilt (I guess not quilting isn’t an option after all). I drift off to sleep and dream of the quilts I’ll be sewing tomorrow.
Sometimes, I get pretty close to a perfect day. I never get out of it without cleaning something, though. ☹
Back to quilting: What part do you like best about the quilting process?
My favorite part of quilting is whatever part I’m doing. Except sometimes for deciding how to quilt something…that’s really difficult for me.
Would you show us your favorite quilt?
Asking a quilter for their favorite quilt is cruel and unusual punishment. If I think about it in terms of stories, though, I guess I would say that my favorite is a 12” square art quilt that I made to represent the theme “Windows”. You can read about it here!
How do you beat creative blocks?
I belong to an art quilt group that sets challenges based on a theme. Sometimes, I know immediately what I want to do. Other times, it’s not so obvious. When I’m struggling, I will often look for quotes or phrases related to the challenge and then brainstorm how I could translate the words into a quilt. Occasionally, the words end up on the quilt, but usually they’re just the inspiration. The “Windows” quilt is one of those inspired by a quote. This one uses the quote as part of the design: https://prettypiney.com/what-i-made-monday-03-june-2019/
Are you member of a quilt guild? If so, what would you tell someone who does not even know guilds?
I am a member of a local “traditional” guild called Berry Basket Quilters, and I’m also an individual member of the Modern Quilt Guild. The Philadelphia MQG chapter has kind of adopted me, though, and I’m about ready to officially join their chapter because they’re lovely people.
I am not a joiner. I am not particularly social. But I decided to join the BBQ, I think in 2013, as a new year’s resolution to get to know other quilters. And, wow, what a terrific decision that was! I have found support and encouragement all along my quilting journey. It took some time for me to feel comfortable with the group, as welcoming as the members are. My advice to anyone who is joining a guild for the first time is to try it for more than one or two meetings. Attend smaller workshops or retreats when you can—those are the times when you can get know people better!
Why do you quilt? Can you explain the magic of quilts?
I’ve often wondered why I quilt. I’m a very practical and straightforward person, and I never used to think of myself as artistic or especially creative. I’ve always loved touching fabrics in stores, though, and I do enjoy puzzles, so in a way, quilting combines those two things. Then, as always, it comes back to stories. The stories of old quilts (true or imagined), the stories of the people who make them, and the stories that are still being written in fabric and thread, quilts are a wonderful and beautiful way to communicate a moment in a life.