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!