Marion Mackey




Marion Mackey




Marion Mackey


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


Houston, Texas


Heather Gibson


Karen Musgrave (KM): It is November 4. We are at the Houston International Quilt Festival. It is 10:50 and my name is Karen Musgrave. Marion, tell me about your quilt.

Marion Mackey (MM): My quilt is a story in that I made it for September 8, 1998, which is the day that Mark McGwire hit a home run to break the world's record of sixty-one home runs set by Roger Maris in 1961. Roger Maris had broken Babe Ruth's record of sixty home runs, which were hit in 1927. In the summer of 1998 my husband, Joe Mackey, was extremely ill. He was suffering from liver disease and was very close to death. He had been in and out of the hospital from March through early September many times, several times in a coma lasting seven, eight, nine days. We did not know from day to day if he would be alive for the next day. All he could do that summer when he came home was watch t.v. The baseball race was going on between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. It kept his interest. He was able to watch t.v. and wonder if the next day McGwire would hit a home run or if Sosa would hit a home run. We were also expecting two grandchildren, and that gave him something to hold onto and to try to stay alive until they were born. On September 8, 1998, Mark McGwire hit home run number sixty-two to break that record. Two hours later my husband got a phone call to come and get a liver transplant. The liver transplant was successful and my husband was alive and is well today. He's out playing tennis. We travel. We visit our grandchildren. One was a boy and one was a girl, which makes twelve grandchildren for us. We now have ten grandsons and two granddaughters. It's really great. We use this quilt to talk about organ donation. We take it to any group who wants to hear us and we tell them that organ donation works. Heaven knows you don't need them, so leave your organs here! We've talked to a lot of groups. The quilt depicts Mark McGwire hitting home run number seventy, which was his final home run of that season. There are seventy baseballs around the left and the top for Mark McGwire, and sixty-six home runs across the bottom and up the right hand side for Sammy Sosa. It shows the baseball field, the back of Busch Stadium, the arch of St. Louis, and the fireworks in the sky. You'll notice if you look carefully way up in the left-hand corner, there's my own personal baseball hero, my husband. So that's our baseball quilt, and I think it tells a great story.

KM: It certainly does. You use this quilt for organ donation?

MM: That's right. We talk to any group, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, baseball groups, high school groups, the Lions Club, the Elks, anybody who will listen to us for ten or fifteen minutes. This is our visual aid. They want to know why we're there and they see a baseball quilt and a sports quilt. Unfortunately, most of the time it's young men that have a car accident of some kind. Anybody we can reach. It's not enough to have it on your license plate in all but six states. You must also have an organ donor card and you must also tell your relatives. In some states even if it's on your license, they still want the permission of your nearest and dearest.

KM: What are your long-term goals for the quilt?

MM: I made it for my husband. It's really his quilt. It will probably hang in our family home. I guess I'll have to designate which of the ten grandsons it's going to go to! The story of the quilt is on the label on the back, so I hope it will not be lost at all. The entire story is back there. For the immediate future, it will be shown as often as possible to groups. I do have signed fabric by Mark McGwire. I sent him a picture of the quilt, when it was in progress through his manager, Tony LaRussa. He sent back fabric that said, 'Mark McGwire, Number 70,' and a letter saying he'd like to see a picture of the finished quilt which he now has. It's taking longer to get a signature from Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. [laughter.]

KM: What about Sammy Sosa?

MM: Sammy Sosa, unfortunately, his signature he has registered as a trade mark and it only goes through his P.R. people. I've only gotten a very short letter back that Mr. Sosa's signature is registered and is not allowed for any personal use.

KM: Do you sleep under a quilt?

MM: We do sleep under quilts. I'm the only member of my family who has ever made a quilt as far as I know. I still do. I love to do it. I like to do personal quilts, so my children all have personal quilts. The grandchildren have quilts made for their favorite sports or hobbies or whatever.

KM: Do you use sporting as a theme?

MM: Well, I have four sons and ten grandsons, so I kind of get nudged in that direction. I tend to mostly make up my own patterns. I seldom follow a printed pattern or a standard pattern. I like to change things around and add pictures to them, which is the big thing now. This is stenciled, stuffed and padded. I just took a baseball and traced around it, used the feathered stitch on my sewing machine to make the baseball stitching in heavy red thread. Then I painted them to look three-dimensional, and then I trapuntoed them.

KM: What's your first memory of a quilt?

MM: I really don't have any early memories of a quilt because they were not in our family. I don't ever remember having a quilt as a child or growing up. I really couldn't tell you my first memory. It's only come to me as an adult.

KM: So, how did you come to quilting?

MM: When my parents were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary we decided to have a party for them. The year was 1976, so it was right after the resurgence. The anniversary wasn't until 1978, but I said, 'Gee, I'm a sewer. I can make a quilt.' So I sent the fabric out to the relatives and they sent it back with their names and embroidery and so forth on it, and I put it together. It was my first quilt, in 1978. I did not make another quilt until 1984, which was when my husband was very sick with the heart attack. I hand-pieced that one and gave it to my mother-in-law. I call that "Grandmother's Fan Club" because I put all the names of her family and the children on the fans on each block.

KM: Do you teach quilting?

MM: I teach quilting now in a local shop.

KM: What do you teach?

MM: I teach wearable arts, designing your own story quilt, and photo-transfer, image-transfer.

KM: Do you like it?

MM: I love it. I have to kind of be dragged out of my sewing room. [mimicking family member.] 'Do you know what time it is?' 'I have no idea.' [laughter.]

KM: How many quilts have you made?

MM: I have made over one hundred quilts, from very small ones maybe five by seven inches, to half a dozen or ten quilts this large or larger.

KM: What's your favorite?

MM: I really like to make quilts with a story.

KM: What other story quilts have you made?

MM: I've made wedding quilts for all of my children, and they have their histories on them and their spouses' histories, and the church that they were married in and their hobbies and where they're living, their cat if they have one- whatever it is. I don't just put block, block, block, block, block. It's woven into some sort of a story frame. That's really my favorite, making a personal quilt. I do lecture a little bit on personal quilts. That's my title, 'Personal Quilts.'

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MM: To me, besides the workmanship, and the workmanship here is fantastic, I really like a different idea. To me, it has to start with a different idea and a personal interpretation of how that quiltmaker sees the fabric, the idea, the thought behind it. To me, I look at some of these wonderful quilts here and I just marvel at the inventiveness and creativeness that goes into them.

KM: Do you do all your quilts by machine?

MM: I do all my quilts by machine. One quilt a year I make by hand because we do travel a little bit and I babysit with my grandchildren. I have one project that I bring with me and I can work on by hand. Usually it turns out to be about one a year. The rest of them are all machine quilted.

KM: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

MM: It's just as important to our history as anything else in the Smithsonian.

KM: That makes me also ask you what is the importance of quilts in American life and women's life?

MM: I think it's vitally important for women because so many women are into it. Women for many years have been denied a voice. We certainly are becoming more vocal and more verbal now, but I still think because it is a creative art and a hand art and a feeling art, that many people, especially women, can relate to that. They pour their feelings, their time and their love into it. That to me is what women are adding to the quilt world. It's not just a business. It may be a business, but it's not just a business.

KM: How do you think quilts should be used?

MM: I think they should be used all kinds of ways. I think they should be on the bed. You can surround your teenager with love even when he won't let you near him. You can express your feelings. You can put your thought of the day on a quilt. I have a quilt in progress now, quotations, not necessarily by women. It will go to one of my granddaughters because most of the quotations are by women. I call it Axioms and Idioms, and it's full of quotations. I think we can express ourselves so well in this medium.

KM: What does the quilt look like?

MM: It's about this large and you'll probably see it in a year or two, I hope.

KM: Wonderful. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

MM: That's pretty tough because it is a fiber art, and fibers do tend to disappear on us. I really do not know how some of the photo transfers and other chemical processes that we're putting on quilts are going to hold up. Nobody knows how in fifty years and ink jet transfer is going to hold up to the fiber or whatever. I really don't know. I hope that there is some way that they can be preserved. I have seen quilts hanging in store windows, on the bed in full sunlight, all kinds of ways, but perhaps it's meant to be used for that generation and the next generation will have their own problems and ways to deal with them.

KM: What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

MM: Oh, the plane ride probably. I enjoy the fabric selection. I enjoy the camaraderie with friends. Most of the greens in this quilt, I needed quite a few greens, I traded for. I would bring reds or purples or some other color that I wasn't going to use and say, "I need some light greens if anybody wants to trade reds or blues." I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy my children are all grown now and my husband gives me my time. I enjoy working in my room with the fabric. There's not too much of it that I really don't enjoy.

KM: Are there other quilters among your friends?

MM: Yes, most of my friends are quilters. Not all of them, but most of them are quilters. If they're not quilters, they are art people and they help me anyway they can.

KM: Do you belong to a bee?

MM: I belong to two bees and I belong to a large guild. I was president of that guild and helped to enlarge it from a few members of fifty to a hundred members. I feel very good about that. We now have a hundred and forty members in the guild. I'm the auctioneer at our yearly auction. Whatever money we raise, a portion is donated to a local charity. I don't decide the portion, the board does. It's a worthwhile cause. Also, everybody in the guild makes a child's quilt to be donated to a local children's shelter every year.

KM: Have you been published?

MM: I have been in a few magazines, not lately. Not for the last four years because my husband was ill and I was doing that, so I really didn't do anything for the two years prior to making this quilt. But I have been in Quilting Today and the AQS [American Quilters Society.] magazine with some other quilts.

KM: Do you want to describe them?

MM: I can't remember. My mind is not working right now, so I can't remember them. I did get a letter just before I left, from Quilter's Newsletter. [Magazine.] They are thinking of putting this quilt in their magazine for next year some time.

KM: Have you ever won an award for your quilts?

MM: I have won an award at the Lancaster Host Show. I won a third place for an original nine-patch design. It was about fifty-five inches square. It was a contest to show shading, illumination and design. I won a third place and that was very nice.

KM: How long did it take you to make the quilt?

MM: That quilt took me probably four months because I don't work eight hours a day. Some days I may be in there twenty minutes, and some days it may be three hours. With a husband and children and a house, and I had a dog, with all that you really don't have an eight hour day. At least I didn't have an eight-hour day. It took me about four months.

KM: So you don't sell. You keep all your quilts?

MM: No, I don't keep all my quilts. This quilt is not for sale. I have sold quilts. I have had quilts in a show or something and somebody would say, 'Gee, I saw your XYZ quilt in a show. Do you have any others that are for sale?' And I would say, 'Yes, I do.' They'd come over and look at a couple quilts and they'd say, 'I'd like that one.' I've done a few commissions, mostly on personal quilts where they want a wedding quilt or a family quilt or a family history quilt with pictures and wedding licenses and even license plates on the quilt. I probably have done a half dozen or so of those as well as making them for gifts. I think they are great wedding presents or baby presents and things like that. As simple as putting the newborn baby's name on it to something that's more involved.

KM: You are self-taught?

MM: Pretty much. I've taken courses along the way if I feel there's something that I really can't figure out how to do. This semester right here I thought after being out of it for a few years that I want to take some more machine quilting classes. I took a class with Linda Fiedler and Hollis Chatelain, both of them on machine quilting. I felt it was time to brush up.

KM: Do you like machine quilting?

MM: Yes, I do. I really do because I'm getting older. I want to be done in this life. I don't want to leave too many UFO's around. I thought it was necessary to get a little help. If I come to a problem I sign up for a class and find out how to solve it.

KM: Tell me about your wearable arts.

MM: My wearable arts are jackets. I teach jacket making. I also teach jacket fitting. Many of us buy patterns, buy fabric, buy thread and spend all that time, and then people can't wear the jacket. It doesn't fit, hangs wrong, doesn't look right, the color's not right for the person. Maybe they like that color green but it doesn't look right on them. I do a jacket-fitting class and a design class. We don't make the jacket. We just fit the muslin and talk about what color's good for Lady A and Lady B, and what style might be better. People feel better because now they can wear the garment that they made and not have it keeping the hanger warm. They seem to be happy with that.

KM: So you like wearable art?

MM: I do like wearable art. I have probably eight or ten jackets of my own that I've made, and I'm ready to make a couple more. Don't need a couple more, but I'm ready to make a couple more.

KM: I see on the form you checked 'yes' to having a collection of quilting or sewing memorabilia.

MM: Yes, that kind of started by accident. Somebody gave me a little holder about so big that was Victorian in style. While I like anything up-to-date, I also liked this little Victorian holder. Now I have a Victorian sewing table where a piece of the top flips up and there's a little tray that spins around under there for all your sewing supplies. When it goes down it just looks like a regular lamp table. I have a Japanese thread-holder that's about so big. I use it for a jewelry box now. It has all these little drawers that just fit little gizmo things. I have about eight or ten pieces that are antique. I've either found them at antique shows or someone has pointed them out to me, 'You ought to go see such and such a booth. There's something there you might like.' I don't collect little things because I have too many little grandchildren around and they tend to disappear. I have a couple of bigger things from a spool holder to an older spool holder that's about so big and has eight rows that turn around and hold spools of thread. Maybe about twenty inches and has little drawers all around, four drawers, and little turntables that hold spools of thread.

KM: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us today?

MM: I just hope that quilting continues on. I love getting out to talk to people. You get so many ideas and such wonderful feedback from everybody. I do lecture a little bit in my area, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. I really do like getting out and talking to people and other groups and seeing what everybody is doing.

KM: Thank you very much, Marion.

MM: You're very welcome.

KM: I really appreciate it. We're concluding our interview with Marion Mackey. It is 11:10. We are at Houston International Quilt Festival.



“Marion Mackey,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,