Marcia Baker
Lessons Learned

This article is based on notes taken at The Quilter's Guild of Dallas on September 4, 1997.

Marcia (pronounced Mar-CEE-ah) Baker has been quilting since 1984. She is a native of Dallas, and was trained as a math teacher. In 1993 she started a pattern company, and in 1996 published Not Your Grandmother's Flower Garden. While preparing for her talk, she arranged several quilts, removing them from white pillowcases where she keeps them stored.

One quilt, hanging on display at the side of the stage was made of six-pointed stars with a border of dark purple and an inner border of triangles that fade from pink to red. From a short distance all the material looks as if it was carefully selected hand-dyed or mottled fabric, but the effect is achieved with tone-on tone prints and calicoes!

On closer inspection I could see that the stars started in the upper right corner of pale purples, and with each sucessive star Marcia added two pieces of a slightly darker shade. Moving out, replacing lighter shades with darker as it progresses to the center with it's rich vibrant reds and deep purples, then fading back to pastels at the lower left corner. In contrast, the border colors run opposite, from dark in the upper left to pale in the lower right. All the quilting was done by machine, in free-motion spirals and curly-queues that add to the illusion of movement. The thread, in shades of lavendar and pink has a rich satin finish to compliment the luxury of color choices.

Marcia says she always enjoyed sewing and that fabric is a part of her life. As a child she had cut out and sewn doll clothes and later was fortunate to have inherited scraps from both her mother and mother-in-law. The very first quilt she ever made was for her mom. She planned the quilt for Christmas and started it October 1, using a commercial pattern from Simplicity. The hardest part was cutting all the pieces, she says, but she had it done in a day and figured the rest was going to be easy. At the time she made this quilt she chose to use blends. She knew cottons were important, but blends would be easier to wash, since the quilt was expected to be used. The quilt is a green Dresden plate on a cream background with a triple border.

About the time rotary cutters were coming out, Marcia made a Lone Star quilt in shades of brown and tan on cream. It is her favorite, she admits, and is displayed on a wall at home. She says she likes green and brown colors, but notes that they do not always stand out well.

Some of the quilts Marcia brought were the result of a Challenge. She suggests that quilters "do challenges, learn and be inspired."

Other lessons include realizing that small quilts are easier for her to "get done." This lesson accompanied a wall hanging sized quilt with a center bird print, quilted around the birds to enhance the pattern, the outer borders of Amish diamonds in red, purple and black. Marcia plans this one for her mother-in-law, adding that she has "also learned not to promise or give something until it's finished."

Marcia went on to talk about projects that changed in progress. One example is a pink Dresden plate block from a Hancocks class. She hadn't finished it and needed a quilting sample, so that is what it became. Later she added four different bindings as samples, too.

One quilt made with a six-pointed star pattern in green on white she designed with an elaborate feathered quilting pattern. She says the pattern doesn't show up and will never be finished. She keeps it as a reminder "not to quilt too much".

There is a log cabin scrap quilt she had started hand quilting in circles. A friend liked the backing purple print so much she took it apart. Now it is being machine quilted.

Marcia finds inspiration from her children, especially in designing her first patterns. Her son would always want to check out library books on hot air balloons. He also likes sailboats and fish, and those subjects became projects and then patterns.

She made quilts for both her sons, saying that "they can be very freeing because you have to let go of the finished project." She let one of the boys pick out the fabrics, and help with the work by cutting on the lines. He sat on her lap and learned color placement. The quilt has a cozy red flannel on the back.

When making these quilts for her children, she figured out that she could not give them complete freedom. She allowed three choices: squares, rectangles or triangles. Said her son, "I want circles mom."

Marcia showed us a bright quilt made from pieced flowers. It has a scrappy look, like a crazy quilt, and it is all foundation pieced. The pattern will be one of several coming out at this year's Houston Market.

Also in a new book available this fall will be Not Your Grandmother's Tumbling Blocks. An original pattern by Marcia, these tumbling blocks can be strip pieced, and actually come out as cubes. Marcia displayed a sample of a piece she had tried and given up on in frustration, because the pattern came out distorted. Using her mathematics background, she drafted and designed a better pattern that can also be strip-pieced. Skeptics point out that there are seam lines up the center of the trapezoids, but from more than a few feet away they do not show. Having her quilts on display is working out well, she thinks, since it enables her to get the message across that the method is both easy and looks nice.

"I've also learned to let things age," Marcia says, adding that she has learned to enjoy the process of quilting, rather than just the finished product. This attitude led to her "play" with six-pointed stars, which she is also planning a pattern for. She says this one was developed before her Grandmother's Flower Garden, but has not been completely written up yet.

The strip-pieced Flower Garden technique came to her while she was on the floor at a retreat. Sewing the same pieces together over and over again, she realized that it could be done with half hexagons. She'd have to cut the same number of pieces, but there would be no inset seams, and all the sewing could be straight lines. Since she found this idea easier to discuss she was able to write the book and publish it before her other ideas. The bright turquoise quilt on the cover of her book she says she gave to her son. She made it bright so it would be attention-getting , and added some quick placemat patterns to give quilters a taste of the new technique without having to commit to a full-sized project.

Other quilts Marcia brought with her she has made for members of her family. A stark black, grey, and red quilt made for her husband is constructed of randomly placed pieces of fabric, and called 75 Central: Shades of Construction, after a local highway project. The back, she confided, is a musical patterned fabric that reflects her husband's interests.

The hardest quilt she thinks she has made is one done in a losenge pattern in only three fabrics: dark and light blue and white. Most of her quilts are made with the variety of fabrics from her stash, or a wide selction from local shops, and she felt the limited fabric colors to be tedious to assemble.

Finally, Marcia shared a quilt top made with hexagons, tumbling blocks, and six-pointed stars all in the same quilt. It is arranged with the hexagon flowers in the center, and the stars and tumbling blocks as borders. The fabric, she says, she bought in two days from three shops, coming up with over 20 prints and not knowing what she was going to make from it. Two months later she had the top complete, even with two young kids at home. "Sometimes I get a lot of energy and this is one of those times." She hasn't found the energy yet to quilt it, noting that she has Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. "This is my quilt," Marcia said.

For more information on Marcia's patterns and books, visit her web site.

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