Featured Artists for Road are chosen each year by Carolyn Reese for their impact in the quilting world. This year’s featured artists, Diana McClun and Laura Nownes, have certainly made their mark. Authors of the first quilting textbook, together they have gone on to share their knowledge and love of quilt making by hosting the PBS series, The Great American Quilt, authoring 7 books, and teaching hundreds of seminars, conferences and teacher retreats. In fact, it was while attending a teacher retreat in 1988 that Carolyn first met Diana and Laura. How have these collaborators been so successful for over 30 years?
Diana and Laura’s friendship and business partnership began in the bay area in the 1980’s. Diana had studied clothing and textiles at The University of Idaho and completed further studies in fine arts at San Jose State University and in textiles at San Francisco State University. Anxious to move on from teaching how to make tailored garments and focus more on the creative art of quilt making, she opened a quilting store, Empty Spools, in Alamo, California in 1980.
About this time, Laura, a new college graduate, was looking to find employment utilizing her artistic skill. After taking just one class at Empty Spools, Diana hired Laura to be the store manager and teach quilt making. With Diana at the peak of her career and Laura brand new to the industry, they formed a unique creative partnership.
Writing their first book, the classic quilt textbook, Quilts! Quilts! Quilts! was one of those “being at the right place, at the right time” stories. Originally, they put together a “how-to” manual for the quilt shop. After making literally 1,000’s of photocopies of their manual for their customers, they got to thinking that the quilt world needed a textbook. They came in contact with an editor and a publisher and shared with them their observation. Neither of these men knew anything about quilts but they did know how to write and sell books. Together, they guided Diana and Laura to complete their first book which today is in its third edition.
One of the keys to Diana and Laura’s success is working off each other’s strengths. Their 20 year (exactly) age difference has never been a factor in sharing their talents. Diana is the “fearless cheerleader,” She brings to their partnership a vision of “what women really like.” She is a listener, an organizer, and a leader. Besides sharing her creativity, Laura offers a business sense. She is a self-proclaimed “number cruncher and technician,” who enjoys technical writing.
What do they like best about the quilting process? Diana loves to pick out the fabrics, working with design and color. While she enjoys the camaraderie of women that quilting brings, Diana confesses that she is a “worker bee.” Says Diana, “I like to be efficient. No chit-chat. Just get down to work.” For Laura, she likes the teaching aspect and hearing the hum of the sewing machine. She is always on the lookout for the next quilt design. Laura shared that the design for one of the quilts in their display, Square in a Square, came from a patterned bath towel at her brother and sister-in-law’s house. She couldn’t wait to start on a new design inspired by the bath mat in the hotel room she was staying in at Road.
Many of their fans came by their booth during the show to chat and thank Diana and Laura for inspiring them to get started in quilting. Julie from Castro Valley said, “Quilts! Quilts! Quilts! was my first book. I’ve made several quilts from it. It is my old standby.” And Olivia from Temecula said, “I learned how to quilt with their book. They have helped me so much.”
Diana McClun and Laura Nownes are truly superstars in the quilting world not to mention the nicest women you would ever want to meet. Thank you Diana and Laura for being wonderful featured artists.
How has Diana and Laura influenced your quilting?