Of Baskets and Quilts

What better way to celebrate Man Day then with a post about John McGuire, creator extraordinaire.

A fabulous quilt by John McGuire

A fabulous quilt by John McGuire

It’s a rare treat (okay, maybe not as rare as it used to be, still…) when we meet a man who quilts. Our ears perk up a little bit more. We are curious. We are just a little bit awed. We want to look.

Last week I was able to perk up my ears when I talked with John McGuire, a fellow quilter, a customer, and as I found out later, grew up in my hometown. That tidbit aside, I knew a little about John but I wanted to know more about him and share what I learned with you.

John is new to the quilting arena. He’s only been quilting a short, one and one-half years. But, oh, what beauty he has achieved in this short time. John was introduced to quilting by a friend, as many of us were introduced. He was looking for a creative outlet after an accident 11 ½ years earlier left him without the tips of some of his fingers which interrupted his career as a professional basket maker.

A splint basket made by John McGuire using oak and ash

A splint basket made by John McGuire using oak and ash

But for 28 years, John created museum-worthy baskets. He made historically accurate baskets using wood from black and white oaks and hickory trees he cut down himself. Baskets John made were created for Sturbridge Village and Hancock Shaker Village where he also taught and provided public demonstrations and he became a published author on the art of basket making.

Teaching all over the world, John became famous, galleries picked him up and he was able to make a living at a profession he loved – basket making. He says to make a living at your work it is key to get your work out there for people to see and enjoy.

A John McGuire Nantucket-style basket using some cherry, lathe-turned parts

A John McGuire Nantucket-style basket using some cherry, lathe-turned parts

He says, “Don’t keep your work -it needs to be in the public eye to keep your work alive so you can sell them to make a living.”

Like many of us who quilt, we learned or observed the art as children. McGuire collected baskets as a young boy stoking his passion at an early age.

After John’s friend suggested quilting, he thought about it a bit, acknowledging that he had always admired quilts. And that’s when his quiltmaking began in earnest.

Now John is not like many of us. Oh, no. He doesn’t have a stash. Well, okay, he does admit to a small one and it is “color coded…and while it is no way as gigantic as many quilters’ I do get the addiction. When I was teaching I had several hundred coils of hand pounded ash strips…I never knew when I might run out of wood and need it and black ash trees were as special as your quilt shop…few and far between.” Yup. He gets it.

John has no unfinished projects, his workspace is not clogged. No he is not the quilter most of us know. He is a self-proclaimed overachiever who finishes one quilt before he starts another. He stays focused on the quilt he’s working on.

John stated, “Each block in a quilt is a challenge. Make one block at a time and focus to improve the next. As you make blocks you are creating a larger piece of work – the quilt.” Oh, to be that diligent!

Detail of some blocks in one of John’s quilts

Detail of some blocks in one of John’s quilts

Baskets can be rather monochromatic but John says he always liked color but didn’t use it much in basket making. But he does find that the more he works with color his sense of color is enhanced.

The rhythm of quilting, he says, is similar to basket making. It can be colorful. It is creative, a “centering therapy” offering a sense of serenity.

I think that John made his baskets from love and for love. He didn’t really want a satisfaction that comes from someone wanting his work. Instead, he wanted someone to fall in love with the basket itself, not because it was one of his baskets.

What he found as a basket maker is that when you find a designer or designers you like, you’ll stay with them because you like their design, their color, or for some other reason. When asked which fabric designer he likes, he said, “Jo Morton.”

When asked if he thought quilting would hold his interest for the long haul like basket making did, he said, “Yes, if I can stop making mistakes.” Don’t we all wish that!

John finds that men are more involved in quilting because there is less of a stigma – our society has matured…what you do doesn’t make who you are.

John is not looking to make a career out of quilting like he did basket making. He finds that it is the creative process that he loves and that he plans to continue, perfecting each design, each stitch and each seam as he sews along.


2 thoughts on “Of Baskets and Quilts

  1. What a fascinating story and man! The baskets he made are beautiful, as are the quilts he now makes. Wish I could finish a quilt before going to the next. I always seem to go on to the next project leaving many unfinished projects that I’ll get to sometime…..


    • Karen – I am a lot like you. I have so many ideas I just can’t wait to get started on a project so I have more than one going at a time. I would love to have a little more discipline! Thanks for your comment. – Betsy


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