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Small quilts by a big name: Jo Morton

Small quilts by a big name: Jo Morton

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

Jo Morton (1)

Renowned pattern designer and teacher Jo Morton is adding a new designation to her list of accomplishments—Moda fabric designer. Her first Moda line, Gratitude, will be appearing in shops at the end of the summer and its rich, warm colors are perfect for autumn stitching.

Moda bundle of ‘Gratitude’ my first line, laying atop a Courthouse steps top made with the new line. Jo's Gratitude line and a Courthouse Steps quilt she's making with it

Gratitude’s cozy vibe will fit right in to the 1928 bungalow Jo shares with her husband and cats in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Their home features oak woodwork and lots and lots of quilts, which don’t overwhelm the place because of their smaller-than-average size.

Near by sewing machine at the studio, 5 antique small quilts, one is crib size.  And of course the toy size Singer hand-crank sewing machine. In Jo's studio, five small, antique quilts nestle on a shelf, along with a tiny Singer sewing machine.
More folded quilts (made by me) in a bookshelf at home. Jo's quilts are everywhere in her home—here tucked in a bookshelf.

Small quilts suit Jo for a number of reasons, including a lack of wall space to display large ones, an interest in trying out lots of patterns, and an ability to make them in a short time. This last aspect especially appealed to her after making her first quilt in a class in 1980 in Lincoln—a twelve block, double-bed-sized, hand-pieced, hand-appliqued, and hand-quilted sampler. In those days she was working as a bookkeeper for a car dealership and made a deal with her boss to work Saturday mornings so she could take Wednesday afternoons off for the quilt class. That deal obviously worked in Jo’s favor, as quilting became her life’s work.

Some of my quilts in a cupboard at the studio, one cupboard of 4. Too. Many. Quilts. One of four quilt-filled cupboards in Jo's studio "Too. Many. Quilts!" says Jo.
some antique quilts:tops folded on a bookshelf at the studio. Antique quilts on a bookshelf in Jo's studio.

Antique quilts were (and still are) Jo’s number one inspiration. “I am drawn to their quirks, and I especially love earthy-colored quilts,” she says. In 1985 she created her first quilt that looked old, a 24” by 24” wall hanging she named Hattie’s Baskets. These quilts with patina meld perfectly with the reproduction folk-style furniture the fills her home. She acquired the pieces at Pennsylvania, New England, and Virginia shows where she sold her small, framed quilts over a 12-year period. “I developed a love of craftsmanship in all things from furniture, paintings, basketry, pottery, and more,” she says. “Due to my travels then, I have a red ware pottery collection, and also have purchased yellow ware in antique shops.”

Four Patch small quilt (made by me maybe 20 years ago) peeking out of a painted basket atop a cupboard of pottery in our dining room. In Jo's dining room, a small four-patch quilt she made 20 years ago tucks into a basket atop a pottery-filled cupboard.
In my office, see the one row Log Cabin Runner - dresses up the little cabinet. A one-row Log Cabin runner dresses up a little cabinet in Jo's office.

About ten years ago, Jo’s business was overtaking her home. When a nearby house came up for sale, Jo and Russ purchased it and moved Jo’s packing and shipping, fabric storage, and sewing studio into the 832-square-foot-home. Her “studio house” is just 50 steps away and gives her more room in which to work, but also makes it easier to shut the door on work at the end of the day.

On the wall at the studio, The tumbler quilt is antique, the ‘x’ quilt is from a friend, the others, made by me. Everyone needs a ‘wall-o-quilts’, beautiful eye candy! Eye candy on the wall in Jo's studio. The tumbler quilt is antique, the "x" quilt from a friend, and the others were stitched by Jo.

Jo's Little Favorites book cover

Jo is going to be enjoying more time at her home and studio, as she plans to retire from teaching after one more scheduled session this summer. She’ll continue to run her popular Jo’s Little Women Clubs, to create patterns—Martingale just released her 22nd book, Jo’s Little Favorites, in January—and of course design fabric. That’s good for us all, because as Jo says she tells friends who say they’re only sewing from their stash “Every now and then what we have needs new friends, and new fabric can make your old stuff come to life.”