Spotlight: Meg Cox, Author, Quilter and Traditions Expert
Honing her journalistic skills at The Wall Street Journal, Meg Cox set out to establish herself as a solo act, eventually specializing in quilts, quilting and the important role the craft plays in ritual and human interaction. Through her free newsletter “Quilt Journalist Tells All” and contributions to quilt publications and digital media, Meg explores and expands our knowledge of the quilting world.
How long have you been quilting? How did you get started?
My mother taught me about 30 years ago. She was an artist/calligrapher/puppeteer and took up quilting when she retired to North Carolina. I was a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal then in Manhattan, and asked her to teach me at Christmas in NC one year because she was clearly loving it.
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Quilts didn’t become a big part of my life until I left the WSJ in 1994 to raise my son and write books. Then slowly, my main subject matter shifted to quilts and quilting. My passion for participating in the craft grew the more research I did. Writing a resource guide for quilters and interviewing some of the top names in quilting for magazines has kept me moving forward, deeply inspired to try new techniques. So for 12 years I’ve continued to write my free newsletter “Quilt Journalist Tells All”, always finding new stories and trends for my readers.
What role does ritual play in your life? How does ritual differ from a habit?
Habits are generally practical things like brushing our teeth: we tend to do them in rote, subconscious fashion. Rituals have a more emotional or spiritual grounding and when we’re engaged in them, we focus intensely. Whether we’re talking about prayer or a holiday celebration, rituals have layers of meaning; they often include a purpose of deepening a vital bond.
I wrote 4 books on family tradition starting when my son was a newborn. I interviewed hundreds of families about their holiday and everyday rituals. That inspired me to make sure I celebrated all sorts of milestones.
Example: as my son grew up, on major birthdays I would make a “Milestone Birthday Sheet”. I would paint a white bed sheet with words and images that represented what mattered to him at that age. Then I would tape the sheet to the doorway between two rooms and cut a slit up from the bottom. He walked through the slit to get his gifts in the other room. The last one I made was when Max turned 18; it was decorated with fabric question marks and creatures I painted from video games. But he had to cut the slit himself this time, symbolizing that he was starting to take charge of his life.
Now I’m using rituals to cope with Covid times. So for New Year’s Day, I’m sending invites to many friends for a “Pop In and Pop OFF Open House,” on Zoom. The mailed paper invite will come with a confetti popper, so they can pop in to celebrate with me and catch up. I’m excited for it!
What is the connection between quilting and ritual?
Wow, where do I even start? Quilting is deeply infused with ritual in so many ways. To start, we’re making objects with centuries of tradition behind them, both in how they’re made and how they’re used. Guild meetings and retreats are simply steeped in ritual. I believe that making healing quilts for people who are sick or suffering is one of the most powerful rituals quilters perform. People sometimes just want to make a pretty quilt, but often they make quilts that help process life’s major events, happy or sad; that’s a type of ritual, in my book.
When my husband died 5 years ago, quilts and quilters played a huge role in helping me process my grief. That included making a series of memorial quilts from his shirts. This inspired me to create a lecture called “Making Meaning: How Quilters Celebrate Life” that guilds love. I get amazing feedback about the rituals it inspires people to create. I make it very practical, explaining types of ritual and how to create unforgettable ones. (I’m now doing a Zoom version of this talk.)
Do you have any special rituals that help you achieve your creative goals?
One of the best creative rituals I’ve found is attending retreats. Open time to make real progress on quilts combined with good advice from fellow quilters sometimes results in big breakthroughs.
What inspires you to create?
Sometimes it’s seeing quilts that excite me at a quilt show or online. A great place to find inspiring quilts is the Quilt Index, an online archive of 80,000 quilts. It includes many quilts from state documentation projects. So often I’m inspired by an occasion. For my sister’s 65th birthday, I decided to give her a quilted card. It was a wall quilt; the quilting was my writing, with lots of buttons and bling attached and a binding. Then I attended Burning Man in 2019, an incredible art event in the Nevada desert. I’m in the process of making a wall quilt using photos and other mementos – including my paper ticket.
Are there recurring themes in your work?
I’m a word person, so I love to read and write; I love to put words in my quilts in various ways. After my husband died, I took two words that were helping me cope (Open and Essential). I made them into small wall quilts that I still keep by my sewing machine.
For an appearance on The Quilt Show with Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson, I made a Broadway themed “challenge” quilt. I love Sondheim’s lyrics and chose to make a quilt about one of my favorite musicals, Into the Woods. So my quilt was full of words, including on the tree bark and leaves. I named that quilt “Into the Words.”
What plays in the background when you work?
While I find it impossible to write with a soundtrack, I love to listen to something while piecing or quilting. Often it’s NPR on the radio and sometimes I’ll listen to an audiobook. Podcasts can be great also. I’m a big fan of Ear Hustle, recorded inside the San Quentin prison.
Do you think creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a learned skill?
I think every person is creative. One of the things I love about quilting is that it’s a very forgiving craft for beginners. So from the very first quilt, they realize they can make something fabulous and off they go!
Learn more about Meg on her website.
Interview posted November 2020
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