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The Story of Fern: The Foundry Quilt That Changed Everything

The Quiltfolk Foundry quilt Fern was created from one of the first-ever tops I purchased for the project. While that reason alone adds to its significance, there is more: The top that would become Fern has (perhaps) had the most profound effect on the Foundry so far in terms of creative direction, and I thought I’d tell you about that.

In the history of the Quiltfolk Foundry project, Fern’s name will definitely be remembered.

When pinstripes and tiny polka-dot fabrics are involved in a vintage patchwork quilt, it’s hard for me to walk away. This one is cute, I thought, and I ordered it then and there. When the top arrived at my office a few days later, I was thrilled to discover that it was even better in person than it was in the listing: well-sewn, free of imperfections, and harmonious in color from edge to edge. I selected a deep gray linen for the backing and a white fabric with a black pinstripe (of course) for the binding. I then contacted longarmer Stephanie Patterson in Texas* to see if she’d finish the top for us. She agreed, and we began to discuss which quilting design would work best.

As most of you know, the average quilt block can go by many different names. There’s no standard nomenclature for them. The block used in Fern’s top has many different names, including Flyfoot, Heart’s Seal, and Virginia Reel, among others. I initially decided to name the quilt Flyfoot, but I began to be concerned about how we would make decisions about naming conventions for the other Foundry quilts. I’d decide later, I thought, and shipped the top off to Texas.

The style shot heard ’round the office. (Photo by eBay seller dakmcn.)

The Barn That Changed Everything

Most online listings for quilt tops provide (at least) a 1-2 sentence description. Along with that description, the seller will provide about five images. And while no one expects professional product photography in these listings, it is hugely advantageous to the seller to post as many well-lit, in-focus pictures of the top as possible. Why would a buyer purchase something they can’t actually see clearly? 

But the seller who posted the top that became Fern went above and beyond with his photos. He didn’t lay it on the ground and get up on a footstool to try and get a shot of the whole top. He didn’t fasten it to the wall with binder clips and thumbtacks. Nope, not this seller. Rather, he took it outside (sometime in early evening, I think, judging by the quality of the light) and clipped it to a fence in front of a beautiful red barn about 100 yards away. The red of the barn picked up the red in the quilt top. The pink complemented the red. The blue, green, black, and pinstriped white fabrics looked so great in contrast to that old barn, and the whole effect combined to spark a “Eureka!” moment for me: 

The Foundry quilts shouldn’t be named for the blocks or appliqué designs they contain. They should get people names. I smacked my forehead and called Mike. 

“It’s perfect,” I said. “Names are so evocative. Quilts are so personal. Naming the quilts after people adds this awesome human element.” I stopped pacing around my office and held my breath. “What do you think?”

“I love it,” Mike said. “Let’s do it.” 

All Foundry quilts, including Fern, were styled by Mary Fons and photographed by Azuree Holloway.

I raced over to my computer and opened the database I use to track the Foundry project. I clicked on “Flyfoot” and flipped through the pictures from the listing. What name would add to this quilt’s still unfolding story? Who did this quilt want to be?

Then it hit me. The barn. The fence. The grass and the golden light as the sun began to go down over that farm somewhere in America. I smiled. 

Fern,” I said to Mike. “It’s Fern. After Fern Arable in Charlotte’s Web. It’s perfect.”

Mike loved it. We hung up. I went through all the quilt tops in the database and gave them names, most of them appearing instantaneously in my mind. The first quilt that was ever completed for the project, I named Dorothy, after my grandmother on my mom’s side. I named the energetic, off-beat corduroy top Holden after Holden Caulfield, a character in another classic story: Catcher in the Rye. And Roxanne? It just felt right. That’s the only way I can explain how Foundry quilts get their names: The right name just feels right. But I do know that naming the quilts is one of my favorite parts of the process, now.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the seller who chose to hang that Flyfoot top on the fence that evening. The care you took made the quilt come alive in my imagination, and the Quiltfolk Foundry project is all the better for it. 

And, cheesy as it might be, I gotta do it: As the fairgoers in Charlotte’s Web might say: 

Fern is some quilt!” 

(I know, I know. It was just too easy!)

*Stephanie Patterson is also the brilliant longarmer behind the extraordinary custom quilting on Rebecca, the first Quiltfolk Foundry quilt ever sold.

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