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Marcia Stevens

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Marcia Stevens will no longer be teaching her longarm machine quilting classes.  She has retired to spend more time with her husband, Tom, and to enjoy the pleasures of camping throughout our beautiful country.  If you're wondering what Marcia accomplished during her 24+ years of longarm quilting, please read the following article written by Tom prior to her receiving the International Machine Quilters Association Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 Machine Quilters Showcase.

 

Marcia C. Stevens

Machine Quilter Extraordinary

 

In the beginning there was nothing. The thing was without form and void. What did exist was a wilderness of unexplored paths. Where would the explorers come from? Who would develop this formless landscape? And if a few seeds found fertile ground would they bear fruit worth keeping? Would the benevolent winds of change bless these tiny sparks of ideas that shone forth in the dim light? In the end could the neophyte landscape stand shoulder to shoulder with its older, more polished kin?

Sound like a paragraph from Genesis? No, that was the state of the Machine Quilting World before Marcia Stevens entered it. She has had a profound effect on the field as a teacher, organizer and publisher. Many of the processes, techniques and shortcuts that are standards in the industry today were invented by Marcia in her studio as she developed her craft. The appearance of a large, national show devoted to longarm machine quilters and a magazine dedicated primarily to longarm and shortarm machine quilting also owe their beginnings to this pioneer of the art.

Marcia started her adventure in Machine Quilting in 1984 after she purchased her first shortarm machine from Ken Gammill at the Minnesota State Fair. She started working with the machine at home doing pantograph designs since that was all that was available at the time. She started doing "charity" quilts for local groups and simple quilts for friends. After three months she switched to working part-time at her regular job and quilting part-time. After 8 months she stopped working to devote more time to quilting. Within a year she was working regularly and making "pocket money" doing quilts for local quilters.

Another year brought a new longarm machine to her shop. At that time, Ken Gammill and Fred Nolting were partners in the longarm machine business. They had designed and Fred had built the first true longarm machines in his shop in Missouri. Armed with her new partner (later named T-Rex) Marcia began trying new techniques to extend the capabilities of her machine. Prior to that time she had perfected making quilts with overall pantograph patterns and outlined straight line quilting framed with separate border patterns. With her new friend she started experimenting with insetting patterns in open areas, outlining blocks, printing and piecing, and inserting swags and various line patterns in open areas. Quilters were amazed at the things she was doing and she did not want for work when they found out she could customize their quilts with her advanced techniques.

Soon Marcia was taking her show on the road teaching and speaking to quilting groups to try to overcome the bias that had been built up against machine quilting. Many hand quilters felt threatened by machine quilting and opposed anything that wasnít quilted by hand stitching. Marcia assured them that it was not the aim of longarm machine quilters to replace hand quilters, but that it was an independent art form which would expand the horizons and markets of all quilters.

Marciaís efforts did not go unnoticed by the manufacturers and other longarm machine quilters. Many of the techniques that Marcia used were noticed as her clients showed their quilts to other quilters, shop owners and friends. It wasnít long until Mr. Gammill and others were asking her to explain how she accomplished certain things. Other machine quilters were also curious and wanted to emulate her expertise. Marcia had been teaching her techniques in her shop and around the country for several years when she won her first national award for quilting from American Quilters Society. To the best of our knowledge it is the first national award ever won by a longarm machine quilter. The year was 1995.

Her list of students is lengthy and is peppered with names later to become stars in the machine quilting universe. Several of the biggest names in machine quilting, once freed of the idea that pattern quilting was the only option, became very creative after their liberation. They then invented new techniques, innovated and perfected styles that led them to establish their own credentials and businesses to take machine quilting to new heights. Ask any of the well know teachers, artists and innovators who were around when longarm machine quilting was in its infancy and chances are that they took Marciaís class or "borrowed" ideas from her videos.

When longarm machine quilting as we know it today first started and as quilting machines became available on the market, there was no forum for the exchange of ideas. Most longarm machine quilters worked alone and developed their own way of doing things. As they found more efficient ways of doing things they guarded their "secrets" from other longarmers to keep a competitive edge. This attitude arose mostly out of insecurity and fear. Marcia thought that attitude was absurd and in 1997 she produced her first training video entitled "Commercial Machine Quilting." It was the first real training video for machine quilters and her way of spreading her "secrets" to other longarm machine quilters on a national scale. The results were nothing short of astounding! She spent most of her time over the next several years shipping videos and teaching in her studio and on the road. She followed up in 2000 with "Creative Machine Quilting," an advanced version of techniques and tips.

In her experience as a teacher Marcia received many requests from students to keep them informed and to "keep in touch." That would have been very difficult as there were hundreds of them spread across the country and indeed, across the world from Canada, Europe and Australia. Her response was to create the quarterly newsletter "Unlimited Possibilities." She started very small with some helpful articles and news from the machine quilting community. In the beginning it was only a few pages long as the news was not was not very plentiful. Machine quilters were competing in quilt shows, but not much progress was being made in the awards department, new products department or contributing articles to magazines department or appearances on television department. That would change over the years as machine quilters developed their craft and today "Unlimited Possibilities Magazine" has become a full-fledged magazine for longarm and shortarm quilters.

In 1996 Marcia had a brainstorm after she made the statement "what this industry really needs is a trade show of its own. A place where longarm quilters can gather to learn new techniques, see new products and meet one another." Her teaching experiences had taught her many things, not the least of which was that longarm machine quilters were suffering from a feeling of isolation; there was no mode of communication between the people that manufactured the products and the longarmers. In short, most longarm owners were "reinventing the wheel every day." Additionally, there was the resistance from the established quilting community and the lack of support by local shop owners.

In response to her statement she created Machine Quilters Showcase (MQS), a trade show that began in Duluth Minnesota in May of 1997. It was attended by most of the major longarm machine manufacturers, a number of thread, pattern, and fabric vendors along with about 250 longarm quilters. The quilt show was a huge success as longarmers were able to see what cutting edge quilts were being made by their counterparts. Of course, the show was so new that many longarmers never got the word and the classes were rudimentary by todayís standards. Many of the vendors were unprepared for the buying that ensued, but overall the show was a resounding success as a first attempt.

The following year the show was moved to Springfield, MO and it grew by leaps and bounds. Progress was made in rounding out the showís offerings of events, more vendors attended and a number of classes were offered to pattern the show after larger national shows for hand quilters. 1998 was also the first year that "televised" classes were offered with the debut of Linda Taylorís classes demonstrating her "freehand" techniques.

Marcia and her husband, Tom, realized early on that longarm machine quilting would never amount to much without "stars" to carry its message to the quilting world. In order to do this they began a campaign to get both recognition and prize money to help these quilters support their careers. The quilt show portion of MQS was a perfect vehicle to accomplish this. As prize money was collected from sponsors it was funneled into the "Award" portion of the show. Prize money helped the people who excelled at their craft spend more valuable time creating great product and getting started teaching other longarmers their techniques. Indeed, a steady stream of new "teaching talent" was provided for the educational component of MQS by inviting the winning entrants in the MQS Quilt Show to teach in future years. The results were astounding! As longarmers saw the things that were possible by viewing the quilts at the quilt show and as they learned the new techniques in the classes, the dissemination of knowledge moved forward at light speed. The overall quality of the quilts that were entered each year in the quilt show showed the results. Thousands of businesses were started and many new people were employed in quilting as a direct result of this effort.

In 2002 Machine Quilters Showcase was sold to International Machine Quilters Association (IMQA) as planned from the outset of the operation. The show had been brought into national recognition by a number of factors not the least of which was the amount of sales by vendors during the show. Machine quilters use large quantities of thread, batting and other quilting supplies in their businesses. When suppliers and manufacturers discovered the depth of this market they were glad to participate in the show and sponsor prizes and events. Longarm quilters who won at MQS also started winning at other quilt shows and indeed, many of the shows instituted special categories in their quilt shows devoted to Longarmers such as "Best Machine Quilting and Best Longarm Quilting." Longarm Quilters were finally starting to get the recognition they deserved and much of that can be traced to Marciaís direct influence in the quilting arena.

It should be remembered that all of this time Marcia had been involved in developing "Unlimited Possibilities" the longarm machine quilters newsletter. After the sale of MQS to IMQA, Marcia had more time to devote to the development of the magazine and it too, thrived under her hand. It went from a two page black and white copier sheet in the beginning to a 60 page glossy epistle before she sold that business also. This magazine was crucial in giving the longarm community an "identity" and a shared universe of known teachers, writers, sponsors and advertisers. It also provided news about major awards for longarm and shortarm machine quilters and most importantly it contained a high degree of "content" regarding the operation of machine quilting businesses and "how to" articles on everything from machine repairs to taxes. Marcia sold the magazine to Vicki Anderson in 2006 to pursue other interests.

When the "War on Terrorism" began after 9/11/01, the conflicts in Afghanistan and later Iraq started producing a large number of wounded soldiers returning to the U.S. When Marcia heard that a woman named Catherine Roberts had started a program to give quilts to each of these wounded soldiers she immediately volunteered to attempt to provide longarm quilters to quilt the quilt tops pieced by others and she also started a local quilting group to add to the number organized nationally. Thousands of quilts have been produced by these groups and Marcia continues today to be one of the driving forces in that effort (www.qovf-um.org). She regularly attends national quilting shows and operates a "Quilts of Valor" booth devoted to collecting quilts and money for wounded soldiers. For many soldiers, these quilts are the only tangible evidence they will see that anyone in this country really cares for their sacrifices.

In summary, it can be said that Marcia has had a profound impact on many lives by utilizing her talents as a teacher, writer and organizer. She has inspired many with her example, assisted many in starting their own businesses and given direction to an industry that has thrived due to her efforts. She is an entrepreneur of the first magnitude, a teacher of renowned reputation and best of all a person of immense integrity and character. She has taken that beginning in which there was nothing, that thing that was without form and void and helped to give it structure. She explored some of the unknown wilderness and formless landscapes and planted seeds of ideas that flourished in the light of understanding and learning that she provided. With the help of many others she has brought the craft of longarm machine quilting into the quilting universe as a new and wonderful art form which now can stand on its own.

 

 

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From the April, 2002 issue of Unlimited Possibilities

Is It "Long Arm," "Long-arm" or "Longarm?"

by Marcia Stevens

For years Iíve observed and participated in the discussion of what we should call our industry to make it recognizable. We are machine quilters who operate an industrial quilting machine while on our feet. We have toyed with the idea of calling our industry "standup" machine quilting but that just doesnít sound quite right. These machines have an extended throat to allow room for the bulk of a quilt as it is being quilted. Several of the machine manufacturers were already calling their machines "Long Arm", "Long-arm", or "Longarm" so perhaps that would be the best way to term our businesses - longarm machine quilters.

Now, whatís the correct spelling? Everyone seems to be having a problem with that. In one recent magazine article, I saw it spelled all three ways. I have been trying for a dozen years to "coin" the term "longarm" and "shortarm" machine quilting to identify our industry. Yes, the dictionary and my computer spell checker constantly tell me Iím misspelling the word but how do you suppose words like "yuppie" (1982) or "hippie"(1965) made their way into Websterís dictionary? By constant and repeated use, they became an accepted part of our English language and received dictionary status. I was researching these words on the net and came across some interesting information. Did you know that...

"Sew" appears to have been used sometime before the 12th century. It means to unite or fasten by stitches. Sewing (14th century) means the act, method, or occupation of one that sews. (So, do we do longarming?) We all know sewer can have a few different meanings so people tend not to identify themselves with that word. (Longarmer isnít too bad?) Seamstress (1644) is used a lot - a woman whose occupation is sewing - but it doesnít work for the male gender. So, how about "sewist". That would be a gender neutral replacement for seamstress. To date that hasnít made dictionary status.

The word "pantograph" was inducted into Websterís dictionary in 1723 as 1) an instrument for copying (as a map) on a predetermined scale consisting of four light rigid bars jointed in parallelogram form; also: any of various extensible devices of similar construction (as for use as brackets or gates), 2) an electrical trolley carried by a collapsible and adjustable frame. Hmmm...close but perhaps needs a little updating.

I requested information on "wholecloth" or "whole cloth." Whole cloth was listed in the dictionary (dated 1840) as, "pure fabrication -- usually used in the phrase out of whole cloth." I think we could expand on that definition also or perhaps work on getting "wholecloth" recognized.

The same kind of marketing minds that brought you "Preppies," "Yuppies" and "Dinks" (Dual Income, No Kids) now want you to use a school supplies marketing word - "skippies" to identify "School Kids with Income and Purchasing Power." Do you believe it? Are you related to any skippies?

I guess what I am trying to say is that we are a unique industry and thus should be able to identify ourselves with a distinctive word. If there are yuppies and skippies, why canít there be "longarmers!" Iím hoping that the more "longarm" and "shortarm" are used, the more identifiable and accepted they will become. Would you please consider using these terms in all future references to this industry? Not "Long Arm," not "Long-arm," but "Longarm." Hopefully, down the road, Webster's New World Dictionary will include it as a legitimate word. Iíve put in a request...

 

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From the July 5, 1996 issue of Unlimited Possibilities

MEANDERING OR STIPPLING?

by Marcia Stevens

Many quilters are confused about the difference between stippling and meandering. It is time that quilters know the facts.

In 1975 I started my adventure in quilting, at first learning by reading in limited resources. A Community Ed class in 1976 educated me as to history, terms and techniques of this interesting craft. That was my first introduction to a time-consuming technique used by hand quilters called stippling - tiny stitches that appear as random depressions on the quilt surface.

In 1982 my interests had shifted to machine quilting on my trusty Bernina. A class with Harriet Hargrave really fired me up. The term stippling came up again and it bothered me. I was trying to emulate hand stippling by free machining a wandering line to fill in a background area. But it really didn't look exactly like hand stippling. What should it be called?

In 1984 I purchased my first industrial quilting machine. The manufacturer gave a brief instructional session and referred to that wandering line of quilting as meandering. I liked the sound of that. Stippling appears as random depressions on a quilt surface - specks of thread. Meandering is a continuous line of quilting. These techniques are similar in appearance but in actuality very different by definition.

According to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary:

stip'ple, v.t.; stippled, pt., pp.; stippling, ppr. [D. stippelen, to speckle, cover with dots, from stippel, a speckle, dim. of stip, a point.] to engrave, paint, or draw by using small points or dots instead of lines or solid areas.

stip'ple, stip'pling, n. 1.  the art or method of painting, drawing, or engraving in dots. 2.  the effect produced by this, or an effect, as in nature, resembling it. 3.  stippled work.

me∑an'der, n.[L. moeander; Gr. maiandros, a winding stream or canal, from Maiandros, the Meander, a river in Phrygia noted for its winding course.] 1.  [often in pl.] a winding course, a winding or turning in a passage; a convolution.  2.  a style of ornamental design in which the lines interlace: it has often been used in decorating vases, and is also sometimes employed in architecture. 3. an aimless wandering; a rambling.

me∑an'der, v.i.; meandered, pt., pp,; meandering, ppr.  1.  to wind or turn in a course or passage; to be intricate.  2.  to wander aimlessly or idly; to ramble.

me∑an'der, v.t. to make or traverse by meandering; to wind, turn, or flow round.

Precise definition of technique defines subtle differences when one attempts to imitate. Random depressions and a wandering line both fill an area with quilting but the fact remains, they are still two vastly different processes. Next time you hear someone use these terms incorrectly it may not be necessary to specifically correct the misnomer. Instead I suggest rephrasing it for them. Please remember this quotation from Frank Clark, "A smart person knows how to win an argument, a wise person knows how to avoid one." Eventually, these terms will assume their correct usage.

 

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Shortly after Marcia Stevens wrote the article above, she submitted it for publication to one of the major quilting publications. She was told that while they agreed with the article they thought its content was too controversial! So in a nutshell stippling can only be done by hand quilting. While meandering can be done by machine quilting (and of course by hand quilting as well).

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You can contact Marcia Stevens by emailing her:   mstevens@brainerd.net

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