Have you been enjoying our Fab Fiber Artist blog series? I hope so because I've never felt more inspired by the strong women who's shoulders on which I stand. If you missed reading about Nancy Crow, Faith Ringgold, Rachel Clark or Judith Scott, be sure to get caught up because today we're talking about not just an author, entrepreneur, pattern writer and fabric designer, this person can be credited by some as single-handedly saving quilting from becoming a dying art. She has since continued to teach and develop products that revolutionize the sewing industry. Today we're talking about Marti Michell.
Photo cred: frommartimichell.blogspot.com
Strength, Confidence and a Good Amount of Sewing
Marti Michell was a champion from the moment she arrived on earth. Literally. She was born in 1941 as Martha Ann Glenn, and won her first award when she was still a tiny infant as Iowa’s Healthiest Baby Girl. We know that Michell would later go on to change our quilting industry, but in the early 40s, Marti had other opportunities – like getting endorsements from Quaker Oats, Colonial Bread and Meadow Gold Butter for being so dang healthy. Seriously!
Michell’s entire worldview was formed through the lense of her own strength, and this gave her a unique confidence that would serve her well in later years (and probably also in middle school. Because who’s even confident in middle school?)
Michell eventually enrolled at Iowa State University (and at this point, she was actually called Marti instead of Martha.) Her concentration was Home Economics, where she studied everything related to food and clothing. Having many interests, and the confidence of a child champion, after graduating, Michell pivoted from her interests in Home Ec to work in Marketing for the Wichita Dairy Council Office. She found that she was good at creating hype, even for dairy products.
In 1970, she, along with her husband, moved to Atlanta, Georgia. After taking a quilting class at her church, Michell got the quilting bug you and I know so well, and started teaching sewing classes as a side hustle. Michell has always had an infectious excitement and quickly those classes became immensely popular. That’s when she realized that there was a high demand for sewing instruction and not many people willing to do it. Her business and marketing background was about to kick in.
In an era overflowing with polyester and synthetic blend fabrics, 100% cotton was hard to find. This inspired Marti to begin hunting down, hand selecting and building bundles she called “quilt kits.” Guys, what I’m telling you is that quilt kits were not a thing until Marti Michell.
Soon after her handmade quilt kits started getting an audience in Atlanta, Michell formed a company, Yours Truly, with it’s pattern kit debut of puffy quilted Christmas wreaths. (The 70s loved their puffy wreaths.) Michelle hoped to sell $3,000 worth, but at the end of their first year, they had sold over $50,000 of kits!
In 1977, Marti Michell changed the life of quilters everywhere by being the first one to machine quilt an entire quilt. (Oh, were you like me and thought the pioneers where machine quilting their quilt sandwiches? Cause I had kind of assumed…)
Her log cabin pattern was featured in Women's Day magazine as “The Quickest Quilt in the World.” Worldwide people’s minds were blown. As the time-saving dream of microwaves, home dishwashers and electric fondue sets became a reality, women were primed and ready for this new and approachable way to quilt. Now that quilt kits and machine quilting were an option, Marti Michell had just changed the world of recreational quilting.
With her husband as her business partner, she grew her business to employ over 150 people and created more than just quilt kits. Sensing a need in the quilting community, she developed a fabric line for her patterns and kits, as well as rulers, notions and other tools. After seeing a rotary cutter used in Europe, she was the first person to bring our favorite cutting tool to the U.S., and sold it in the Yours Truly catalogue.
Michell never lost her first love of teaching. With a full catalogue of items in tow, for many years she traveled all over the world giving lectures, teaching workshops, and spreading her passion for quilting. But knowing Marti, she was unable to think small. She eventually began orchestrating quilting conferences all at the same time she began publishing book after book...after book. (Unfortunately I couldn’t confirm an exact number, but I think it’s close to 30.)
“I make quilts to inspire people,” Marti said, and her inspiration reached around the globe.
The Art of Marti Michell
It sounds funny to us while looking at her amazing work, but Michell is very vocal about NOT being an artist.
“I would never call myself an artist,” she once said in an interview. “You don’t have to be an artist to want to make something. I wanted to help people make things they could live with forever.”
When it comes to quilting, Michell sings the praises of the commercial side of things, and wants people to know that quilting can be a creative outlet for people even if they don’t see themselves as artists. Quilts are practical, useful goods that keep you warm, and she didn’t feel the need to get frilly about it. (Except for those shams...someone wanted to get really frilly with those.)
Photo cred: three patterns from her book, "Collector Quilts and How to Make Them," 1990
What’s Marti Michell Doing Now?
For almost 50 years, Marti Michell has been at the forefront of an industry of tools and templates that help people create quilts with more quality and efficiency. I was first introduced to Michell while I was in Denver filming my class with Bluprint (Craftsy, back then). My producer had just gotten back from visiting with Michell and her family for a special segment called Patchwork Nation.
He could not say enough positive things about her and was so impressed with her unrelenting energy and continued zest for growing a business – even at 77! I’m not sure what Marti’s teaching schedule looks like these days, but she does have some classes available on Blueprint. I watched her Quilt-As-You-Go (a.k.a Machine Quilting in Sections) class and learned a lot about a technique I knew nothing about.
Have you taken a class with Marti Michell or read one of her many books? Let us know in the comments!
29 thoughts on “Meet a Fabulous Fiber Artist: Marti Michell”
What a woman! There’s an exhibit about Marti at the International Quilt Study Museum right now in Lincoln, Nebraska until November 2018. You can see the puffy wreath too! https://www.quiltstudy.org/exhibitions/now-showing-0
Oh how cool! I bet that’s a collector’s item now 😉
Thanks for this article. I wasn’t aware the contributions Marti made to the quilting Industry.
Thank you Marti Mitchell. I would never have become a quilter if I had to do it by hand!
You left a wonderful legacy.
I just finished Marti’s class “Machine Quilting In Sections” and loved it. She covers many different techniques to the Quilt-As-You-Go method and goes into details of when and why you might want to use each one. Thanks for the article on Marti, it certainly opened my eyes for all that she has done for the quilting community.
Ahh, the quilted Christmas wreath! I had to have one of those when I was a young wife and I remember it well. Oh how times have changed! Back then I was piecing by hand! Today I love my sewing machine for putting all sorts of things together and making quilts much faster, and stronger than ever. Thank you Suzy, for your series about these fabulous women who have influenced quilting today. They are great fun to read—especially with your comments along the way!
Thank you for these terrific articles. I’m passing links to your website to my quilting group
It’s my pleasure! After researching these women I feel so inspired and empowered!
I need help in finding the rulers required for the Sedona Star quilt with alternating Courthouse Steps and where I can get them.
I didn’t realize that Marti Michell created the quilt kit. I’ve taken a class from her using her kaleidoscope ruler. Learned a lot! Impressive that she is still innovating when many others would choose to retire.
Suzy, what a wonderful honor to be featured on your blog! I’m teaching at the European Patchwork Meeting in France and one of my quilting friends from Berlin alerted me to your post. Thank you very much for such kind words. I hope to meet you in person soon… maybe Houston?
WOW! I can’t believe you read my article! You are such an amazing inspiration to me and thousands of others. I hope someday to meet you as well!
She sounds amazing! But I’m not sure she was the first person to machine quilt entire quilts. Maybe you meant first to quilt entire quilts on her home
machine? I have my some of great grandmas quilts from the 1950’s and 60’’s that were machine quilted. I believe they were done at an apolstery shop in Kansas and the quilting is stippling. I think there might be one with clamshells. Not pioneer times of course, but earlier than you think!
Yes, you’re definitely right about machine quilting on a domestic machine. She popularized it and brought it to the forefront of the sewing and crafting world.
Back in the day, my mom made those puffy wreaths for all her friends for the holidays! I think she still has the original pattern…cause you know, she “might make them again someday!” LOL! I feel like I owe Marti Michell everything, my quilting life would be empty without machine quilting! Great blog post Suzy! Thank you!
I’ve never taken a class from her, but I did order one of her quilt kits from Family Circle magazine and it was on my bed and loved for many years! As I remember it was a machine quilted as-you-go quilt….a method that was entirely new to us at that time. Thanks for this post. It brought back really good memories of my mother and I working together on that quilt.
What a neat story! That’s got sharing the quilting world insights!
After I saw her episode on Patchwork Nation, I searched for her on Bluprint. Her log cabin quilt class was great. I can’t imagine how different quilting would be without a rotary cutter! We love you, Marti!
I made that puffed wreath in an adult quilting class in 1980. That was my introduction to quilting. Then I had to get a “real” job. Now that I’m retired I’m making quilts for all my great grandchildren (eleven so far).
Oh so cool!! I hope you still have the wreath. It’s a collector’s item now!
My Mother-in-law (Lola) got me started sewing and quilting in the 80’s. I made several puffy wreaths for Christmas in 1982. When Mother Lola passed, I inherited her wreath. My BFF, who now is also my next door neighbor, still has hers too. I just discovered Marti’s classes at Bluprint. My favs…Machine Quilting In Sections, Piece by Piece: Quilt-As-You-Go Techniques, and Better, Faster Log Cabins ( I have a soft spot for log cabins). I didn’t know anything about the artist until I saw your article. I follow your blog on Pinterest and came on over to DL your Ahoy Sailor pattern, when I discovered your Masters Series. Thank you! I feel so blessed today.
Ms. Mitchell, I was recently going through plastic crates and I found directions and the blocks all completed for the quilt Bandstand. Center is all completed, The 12 blocks that go around are completed, I have the package of fabric for the border strips, but I do not have a color picture to show which border is which. Is it possible to see a color picture of this quilt. I have no idea when I ordered this kit, but I love all the fabrics and would love to finish the quilt. Thank you so much.
Susy, I would love to have Marti’s email address as I met her in 1978 at a show in Oakland, Ca.
I want to congratulate her on her induction into The Quilter’s Hall of Fame.
Thank you, Carolie
Where can I find the pattern for the biscuit wreath? I made one way back when and it is now falling apart. I have looked everywhere and asked on all my quilt groups. No one has pattern. Surely it hasn’t faded into the sunset. It is such a cool wreath.
You might have to check ebay or other sources for finding vintage patterns. Best of luck finding it!
Help…my grandson chose the Basket Weave in Vivid Colors on page 31 of the Quilting for People Who Still Don’t Have Time to Quilt. The quilt is 35 1/4 by 35 1/4 and he wants a queen size. This is for his High School graduation. I have made a quilt for each of my grandchildren on their graduation from high school. I really want to grant his choice but don’t know how to change the pattern to a queen size. Help please!
Hi Dianne! We just responded to your email request, so check for that!
I recently purchased your book, called 101 nine patch quilts, and loved several of the quilts shown in the book. I am 65 years old and have had a mini stroke. Plus I am just a little more than a beginner.. I was so disappointed, as there were three in there that I really wanted to make but there are no instructions for any of the quilts in there. For my age and the stroke I have to have step-by-step instructions, remembering is very hard for me. I love your books and please include instructions so that I can use them. Also, it breaks my heart that I loved some of the quilts in this book and I don’t have any instructions to make them.
Hi Nellie! Thanks for your comment. This is a profile about Marti Mitchell that Suzy Quilts wrote about her. If you’d like to contact Marti or her team about your comments regarding her book, you can reach out to them at Marti’s website here: https://frommarti.com/