Inspired to Quilt: Remembering Mary Ellen Hopkins, My First Quilting Teacher

Just as I remember her...always happy and smiling.
Just as I remember her…always happy and smiling.

I’m sure you all have fond memories of those special people and teachers in your life who have made a difference, or perhaps set you on a new path, simply through who they are and their passion for life.

I was fortunate enough to have worked with Mary Ellen Hopkins, one of the most energetic and inspirational teachers, and am saddened to hear the recent news of her passing. Although I had taken one class prior to hers, I have always considered Mary Ellen to be my first teacher as she is truly the one who set me on fire. How interesting that I mentioned her in a recent blog post while reminiscing on the many milestones in my life!

My early love of sewing, especially dressmaking, brought me to smocking and French hand sewing. When I was first introduced to this style of hand sewing, not only did I fall in love with the overall look, but I was especially taken with the beautiful Swiss batistes and French Val laces. You may recall the photo of my wedding dress which I shared in an earlier post. With less than a year to work, I jumped in feet first by taking a week-long seminar to learn as many techniques as possible in order to make my dream dress.

Front detail of my hand sewn wedding dress. Too bad neither of my daughters will want to wear it.
Front detail of my hand sewn wedding dress. Too bad neither of my daughters will want to wear it.

I remember driving straight from that seminar to another five-day event, a quilting class offered by Mary Ellen. I was a fairly newbie quilter and had the desire to begin teaching. My now co-author, Diana McClun, who owned Empty Spools Quilt Shop where I was working at the time, offered me Mary Ellen’s class in an effort to give me a jump start. I was late arriving at the seminar and had no time to change clothes. I walked into the room wearing a very prim and proper handmade dress accessorized with a freshly starched and pressed collar, also handmade from the previous seminar. Mary Ellen and I laughed about this later as I must have looked quite the novitiate straight from the convent!

Collar

Off came the dress and collar and on came the “work/play” clothes. The class of about 30 students all worked from dawn until way too late, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m., to reach our goal of making every one of the beautiful samples Mary Ellen had shown us that day. I believe Mary Ellen never slept, as she would arrive in class each morning with a new quilt top or tops she claimed to have made the night before. We were all convinced she had little elves locked away in her hotel room!

Each day was filled with more inspiration, more wonderful stories, and more laughter than I can ever remember. We laughed out loud until our cheeks hurt. Not only was Mary Ellen a gifted and prolific quilter, but she was also an incredible stand-up comic. Each lecture was infused with some of the craziest and funny stories about her life and experiences that we had ever heard. Her timing and delivery was spot on. It was clear that she was truly in her element. It’s no wonder her popular quilt shop in Santa Monica, CA (interesting, this also just happens to be my birthplace!), was named Crazy Lady and Friends.

 The It's Okay If You Sit On My Quilt Book" by Mary Ellen Hopkins.

The It’s Okay If You Sit On My Quilt Book” by Mary Ellen Hopkins.

While teaching from her self-published book The It’s Okay If You Sit on My Quilt Book, which she referred to as an “attitude adjustment quilt book,” Mary Ellen shared many of her quick and innovative techniques for cutting, piecing, and assembling a quilt in record time.

I left the seminar exhausted yet so inspired to share my new-found passion through teaching. I will be forever grateful to this delightful woman. She has been a gift to the quilt world and will be truly missed. Her infectious laugh and great sense of humor will live on.

ps – Thank you to Kaye England for providing the following information on the Memorial Service for Mary Ellen.

In Memory of

Mary Ellen Hopkins

1932 – 2013

The honor of your presence is requested at a memorial service to celebrate and remember the life of Mary Ellen Hopkins.

3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, August 10, 2013

at the home of

Jim & Kim Wooden

1104 Franklin Street

Santa Monica, CA  90403

Our family asks that you kindly RSVP here to better help us in the planning for this special event.

Doors will open at 3:00 and the service with slide show will begin at 3:30 and last approximately 40 minutes.  Food, beer, wine and soft drinks will be served.  All who were friends, family, and students of Mary Ellen are welcome.

Please forward this email to anyone who might like to attend.

Mary Ellen Hopkins – mother, quilter, speaker, author, shop owner, fabric designer, skier, skater, partier, and world traveler.  She was a true woman of the world and lived a full life.

 Hoping you find a bit of inspiration in your day!

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9 thoughts on “Inspired to Quilt: Remembering Mary Ellen Hopkins, My First Quilting Teacher

  1. I had a class/lecture with Mary Ellen Hopkins a number of years ago. What a delight that was! Her books are wonderful. I own them all, I think! I also have some of the fabrics she designed. She was a great in the quilting world! Her talent and humor will be sorely missed.

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  2. i have mary ellen’s books and love the casual style, BUT i loved all the pictures of your beautiful handwork in your clothing. truly a lost art. we are all too busy and rely on our machines to duplicate the heirloom look. thanks for sharing.

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  3. Your post brought back many memories from the first quilting class I took which was based on Mary Ellen’s book. I made my first quilt “Amish Shadow” as I was not too fond of the more traditional patterns and loved its modern feel. I still have the book, and I too will be looking it over again. What a wonderful legacy Mary Ellen has left all of us dyed in the cloth quilters.

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  4. As a “newbie” quilter I loved seeing Mary Ellen on Simply Quilts. She helped remove the mystery and replace it with fun.

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  5. I loved the class you were teaching at Empty Spools, based on Mary Ellen’s book and methods!
    That was more then 30 years ago!

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  6. What memories you brought back this morning Laura! I am going to spend the morning trying to find Mary Ellen’s book “It’s OK to sit on my quilt” and read it again. Empty Spools and Diana, you, my first little ole doll wreath and then on to my passion with quilting. I can’t even count the wonderful history and making so many friends this pleasure has bought me. I am sure Mary Ellen Hopkins truly helped start this wonderful “Quilting Enthusiasm” we all have. Thanks for the post Laura

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  7. I enjoyed seeing Mary Ellen on Simply Quilts with Alex Anderson. I expect she’s teaching the angels how to quilt now.

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  8. I will always love Mary Ellen Hopkins. I never met her, but took her Wizzy Whacker class at my local quilt shop. What an experience. I became hooked and have been a passionate quilter ever since. God Bless Mary Ellen Hopkins.

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  9. I was never blessed by meeting Mary Ellen but see her beautiful smile in the picture and your wonderful tribute. Remember she left her love of quilting and spirit to the world thru all she touched.

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