A Quilting Icon Is Gone

Last night I heard that Mary Ellen Hopkins has died.  She was a popularizer and teacher of quilting, probably best known for her “It’s OK If You Sit On My Quilt” book, though there were numerous subsequent books.  I never had the chance to take one of her workshops, but her personality came through loud and clear in her books.  Her author photo showed her perched on a motorcycle.

For me, she was the cheerleader for “it’s your quilt so make it to suit yourself, don’t worry about rules.” Her Personal Private Measurement (PPM) made a lot more sense to me than agonizing over quarter inch seams – as long as you were consistent. She publicized many quilt construction shortcuts that eliminated extra seams without compromising the design.

And her approach to quilt designs and layouts you designed yourself was liberating.  All you needed were graph paper and colored pencils. Here’s what Wanda Hanson did with the Kansas Dugout layout.

Kansas dugout 1Kansas_dugout_exuberant_color

Back in the 1990s much of the quilting world was stuck in country themes and dusty pink and blue prints.  Mary Ellen encouraged you to be your own designer and combine fabrics in unexpected ways.  Her books weren’t pattern books – you had to figure out your own yardages, numbers of triangles/squares, etc., to cut, and all the rest of the details – but they did start you on an adventure.  And you often found you could design your own quilts, as I did with Chex.

chexSparkling Stars, below, shows the clever way Mary Ellen made star points with “snowball” rectangles that span two stars at a time.


Purple Gold, below, uses triangles sewn on opposite sides of a square (like the Kansas Dugout above) to form the inner diamonds and the links between blocks.  Wow, I hadn’t looked at these quilts for a long time.  Thanks, Mary Ellen.purplegold


Filed under Commentary

3 responses to “A Quilting Icon Is Gone

  1. Carol aj

    I was able to visit her shop in Santa Monica in 1979. I had just taken a real quilting class and could not believe what the store offered. I loved her idea of PPM, Charlotte Angotti was a great fan of Mary Ellen and has taught hundreds of classes across the country encouraging people to use a PPM.

    • I am so envious of the folks who were fortunate enough to take a class with Mary Ellen. I would think her “of course you can do anything you want” attitude would positively alter your approach to quilting.

  2. I was lucky enough to see and hear Mary Ellen several times, and I’ve taken her classes too. She was an original thinker and a larger than life personality. Today’s quilters owe her so much!

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