Mary Deeney from Make It Sew in Chanhassen

Quilt designer and award winning quilt maker Mary Deeney shares her artistic process.
Quilt Designer Mary Deeney works at Make It Sew in Chanhassen.

In a world where power and technology propel us forward at a dizzying pace, many of us long for moments when we can indulge our nostalgia for a simpler, slower time.

But that doesn’t mean we want to be bored.

Quilting is bridging that gap—it’s a nostalgic hobby that’s been updated with modern fabrics, machines and more. As quilt designer Mary Deeney explains, the marriage of modern innovation to classic techniques brings both new and experienced quilt-makers opportunities to be as free-spirited or as traditional as they could wish. “There has been a resurgence of interest in the old, traditional patterns that people want to revive and make more modern with the fabrics they choose or by adding machine quilting (a method that adds texture and interest,)” she says. 

Deeney, who teaches hand quilting at Make It Sew in Chanhassen, was an avid sewer before she began quilting in 1981. “I taught myself and my first quilt was something that I made up,” she says.

Back then, she notes, the design process for quilt pattern making involved graph paper and colored pencils, but now she prefers to use Electric Quilt software for designing and writing the patterns she has been selling for the last twelve years. “Sometimes I’ll find inspiration in architecture or gardens, but mostly it’s the fabrics, how the prints and colors work together,” she says.

Deeney and Make It Sew owner, Cathy Guy, choose the vast selection of fabrics available at the shop with quilting in mind, offering options that could be described as understated, elegant, dramatic, fun and even funny. Modern quilters don’t have to be limited by the fabric selections now that photographs can be printed on fabric and integrated, and new developments are enabling machines available at the shop to paint, thereby creating custom fabric.

When Deeney decides to design a new quilt, she picks the fabrics first, then she puzzles how she’ll put them together. “I draw a block (on the computer) and start twisting and turning,” she says. “Then…start sewing.” After the blocks are pieced together, Deeney decides how to finish the her piece. “The quilt tells me how it wants to be quilted: with a pieced or solid border, or with machine stitching or beads or other embellishment,” Deeney says.

At the shop, quilt making is rarely a solitary pursuit. “Our staff is really fun, and we do a lot of team quilts,” Deeney says. “We’ll have one person make the design, one person piece it together, and another do the quilting.”

Even the patrons of the shop participate. When Mary was nearly finished with the pattern for a table runner she was designing, a student in one of her classes suggested she tuck the edge of a triangle in, creating curved edges. “I knew it needed something, and that was it,” Deeney says, adding that the pattern, Claudia’s Table, is named after her adviser.

The walls of Make It Sew are covered with evidence of both the exquisite skills of the staff and area quilters and the infinite variety of opportunities available to those daring to delve into the art of quilt making.

The same simple pattern, done in different fabrics, takes on completely different looks. On-the-go handcrafters can find satisfaction in taking along smaller blocks to be pieced into a larger quilt later, or enjoy smaller projects like a child’s quilt, wall hanging, or table runner. Quilt blocks can also go three-dimensional and become pillows, totes and poufs.

Despite the changes that have occurred in the craft, one other traditional aspect remains: community. Whether you are taking a class, participating in a club, attending a quilt show or engaging in the international online community, there are plenty of people out there sharing enthusiasm and expertise for the enduring and evolving craft of quilting.

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Make It Sew, 600 Market St., Ste. 110, Chanhassen; 952.767.0701