Issue 18: Illinois

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We’ll give you one guess: Which state is the nation’s leading producer of corn, soybeans, and pumpkins? If you guessed “Illinois,” you’re right — and if you knew the answer, you might be a Midwesterner. 

Often referred to as “The Prairie State,” Illinois’s 57,000 square miles are carpeted with lush farmlands, quiet forests, and rolling hills. You’ll encounter shimmering bodies of water, including Lake Michigan, the mighty Great Lake that provides a stunning backdrop to one of the world’s most famous cities: Chicago. In 1818, Illinois’s fascinating history as the 21st state in the union began. The great Abraham Lincoln and his family chose to live in picturesque Springfield for nearly two decades until he was elected the 16th US president in 1860.

Lincoln is in good company. Quite a few notable people were born in Illinois, including Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, Hillary Clinton, Robin Williams, Michelle Obama, and Harrison Ford — and a rather famous superhero is popular around here too.

Illinois is culturally “super” as well, and not only within Chicago’s city limits. There are hiking trails, art museums, and historic buildings to explore throughout the state; noteworthy architecture and intricate murals can be found in many charming small towns, accessible off the scenic highways or country roads. 

There are so many talented quilters to meet in “The Prairie State.” We hope you enjoy the wonderful, wintry tour of Illinois within the pages of Issue 18.

164 pages, offset printed and perfect bound, full color on uncoated paper. Printed in the USA.

Previews from Issue 18

Calhoun County Barn Quilt Tour

Calhoun County in southern Illinois is unique for a few reasons. For starters, it is surrounded by water, making it a Midwest peninsula. And while the county is sparsely populated, there is no shortage of rustic barns scattered along the country roads. Join us as we tour a curated selection of Calhoun County’s most striking barn quilts, paired with quotes by Illinois quiltmakers from years past. 

Linda Ahrens

Linda Ahrens is making a remarkable difference in the feline community. In 2005, she started selling flannel quilts for cats at vet hospitals and clinics, donating all proceeds back to these organizations. As the demand for her quilts increased, she moved her sales to Facebook, where customers are able to choose their fabric. At 80 years old, Linda continues to do this charitable work, with some help from her daughter, even though she is in near-constant pain from her arthritis. But Linda’s love for cats (and quilting) is bigger than her discomfort.

Tracy Vaughn-Manley

Tracy Vaughn-Manley’s story will inspire anyone to do what it takes to follow their dreams. For instance, it only took one day in a college English course for her to decide to quit her banking job and enroll as an English major. And it only took one glance at a colleague’s quilt collection to realize that she wanted to learn the craft herself. Today, Tracy is a professor, scholar, and quilter who has a long list of accomplishments – including making and presenting a quilt to novelist and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and advocating for the women responsible for the highly acclaimed Gee’s Bend quilts.

Bisa Butler

The Art Institute of Chicago opened the exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits in November 2020. Even though it was only open for three days before closing again due to the pandemic, Butler’s life-size technicolor quilted portraits mesmerized the art world. Her careful fabric choices embed layers of stories into her pieces, emphasizing her subjects’ humanity — “ordinary” African Americans in different eras as well as historical figures — more than their race. Read more about the world-famous artist Bisa Butler and her quilted portraits in Issue 18

Rod Buffington

Who can discuss baseball, watercolor painting, and quilting in a single conversation? Rod Buffington. Growing up a Chicago Cubs fan, Rod originally aspired to be a sports broadcaster. However, when he took his first art course in college, a new career path presented itself. But after spending years as an art educator, Rod was determined to be an artist. That is when he recalled his grandmother’s lifelong dedication to quilting, and the idea for Rod’s one-of-a-kind watercolor quilts was born. Sketching, painting, cutting, and stitching — his process for each watercolor quilt is fascinating. (And he’s currently working on a project that may help his baseball dreams come true, after all.)

Sarah Nishiura

Sarah Nishiura is a fan of thrift stores. And, according to her, Chicago has the best ones around. In fact, because Sarah’s quilts are made primarily of found or reclaimed materials (think men’s shirting fabric), she spends more time in thrift stores than in fabric shops. Many of her quilts are also inspired by the city’s geometry; she has a long-standing appreciation for math and can tell you all about the power of grids. And if working with reclaimed fabrics and geometrical shapes already sounds like enough of a challenge, here’s another: each quilt must be more difficult to make than the last. 

Quilt Show in the Snow

Producing a travel magazine during a pandemic — when travel is limited — is no small feat. That is why we are thankful for all of the passionate quiltfolk who are eager to help along the way. Featuring Illinois, during the middle of winter, for Issue 18, inspired us to stage a quilt show in the snow. But we knew we needed help. And Diane Luther of Galena stepped up to the plate! Nestled in the northwest corner of the state, the charming town of Galena was the perfect location for a pop-up quilt show. We are grateful to all the quilters who participated, and we hope that you enjoy the lovely photographs that captured the event.

Rebecca Fons

Rebecca Fons — Editor in Chief Mary Fons’s younger sister — is (surprise!) not a quilter, but she appreciates the quilts that have been lovingly made for her over the years. She keeps three, specifically, in the bedroom of her Chicago home. From her high school graduation and hard times in New York City, to her very special wedding day, Rebecca’s memories demonstrate how quilts provide comfort, year over year. 

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