Who is Mary Elizabeth Kinch?
As a ten-year-old sewing on my mother’s turquoise Singer, I was passionate and curious about the creative process. My home economics teacher would remember me as the student with the insatiable appetite for sewing projects and likely regretted agreeing that I could take home my dress project to work on over a weekend … I arrived on the Monday with it completed! As a teenager I worked as an historical interpreter at Black Creek Pioneer Village during the summers, and it was there, demonstrating crafts, in full historic costume, that I was introduced to spinning, rug hooking, weaving, and best of all, quilting. Thus the love affair began!
Colour and fabric have always fascinated me. Some of my earliest memories as a child are studying the varied greens and golds of the lichen and moss that covered the rocks on our summer island, and of the fabrics my mother fashioned into curtains or had made into dresses. I loved looking through her sewing basket at the tools and tidbits that had been passed on to her; artifacts from an age that held a deep respect for the art of the needle. This fascination led me to complete one of my degrees in fashion design. I couldn’t have escaped the appreciation of all things historical and artistic if I’d tried. I am the daughter of avid antique collectors and history enthusiasts, and creativity runs deep on both sides of my family. I bought my first antique when I was nine – a Scottish twelve spoke spinning wheel. It is the wheel I learned to spin on, and I still have it. Interestingly enough though, we did not have any antique quilts on the beds or the walls of my home growing up, nor at any of my grandparent’s homes. I slept under an old English eiderdown for years!
Collecting antique quilts is a recent thing for me and is all about studying and appreciating the art of quiltmaking. I love how quilts divulge their history and the stories of their makers’ ingenuity. The ah-ha moments, when I am in a museum archive studying a quilt and “get” how the quilter put a block together or did a certain technique, puts a smile of delight on my face. They were intrepid creators! My favourite quilt is Susan McCord’s Vine Quilt. Hands down. And although collecting antique quilts has given me great satisfaction, my true passion lies in designing and making quilts. I found an instant connection with Gwen Marston, renowned for her influence on the quilting world and can still remember the exact moment and the exact place I was standing when I first picked up her landmark book Liberated Quiltmaking. The celebrated quilts of Gee’s Bend also have left an impression on me. I was very fortunate to spend an afternoon in Gee’s Bend (now known as Boykin) with the legendary quilters Mary Lee Bendolph and Arlonzia Pettway, and have fond memories of the stories they shared about their lives. So, I have to admit that I have a streak of the “modern-style quilt renegade” in me too. It is only natural, as a result of the various influences in my life and my work as an interior designer, that my quilts are a blend of influences – the remarkable quilts from the past, as well as the objects and places of everyday life.
Gwen Marston’s influence goes beyond mere admiration; she is friend and mentor. In fact, it was Gwen herself who inspired us to write our first book. Biz Storms and I had spent about a year literally tripping over antique small block/pieced quilt after quilt. At one of Gwen’s Beaver Island Quilt Retreats, Biz mentioned to Gwen that we thought she should do a book on full-sized quilts made with small blocks. Gwen said, ‘no, YOU should do one.’ Biz asked me if I was game and I, of course, said yes. The rest, as they say, is history!
I am currently designing interior environments, and when I am not doing that I am making quilts, teaching and encouraging others to tap into their own creative abilities, and spending time with my most cherished treasures, my three children.