Joan Ford

(Originally published May 2015, Inspired to SEW #17, written by Rita Farro.)



Joan with sewing buddy Peaches, blue-fronted Amazon parrot.

Joan with sewing buddy Peaches,
blue-fronted Amazon parrot.

Any quilter will tell you the biggest problem with this hobby we love is WHAT TO DO WITH THE FABRIC SCRAPS.  As you make each new quilt, your stash grows … a bag here, a box there, baskets, tubs, car trunks — sound familiar?  As your stash grows, so does the guilt.

Of course, you know you can use your scraps to make quilts.  Well — duh!  Isn’t that why women started to quilt in the first place?  To use up fabric scraps?  But the challenge is how to organize your stash so you can find the right piece of fabric when you need it.

The book ScrapTherapy®, Cut the Scraps presents a simple plan to deal with fabric scraps as they are happening.  The ScrapTherapy® method is to your fabric scraps what the Dewey Decimal system is to the books in a library.

So — who is the genius behind the two ScrapTherapy® books, Cut the Scraps and Scraps Plus One?  And the big question — what was her inspiration?

Joan Ford from Syracuse, New York started her working life with a degree in accounting.  She worked for ten years at GE and GE Capital in various finance and accounting positions.  After leaving GE, she also ran a small not-for-profit organization and was an executive recruiter.
So, what was the secret sauce that led Joan away from a more formal corporate lifestyle to become a quilt pattern designer and author?

Joan’s first two books published by Tauton Press.

Joan’s first two books published by Tauton Press.

Joan says, “I have always enjoyed making things.  I took my first quilting class on February 8, 2003.  I would probably never have been interested in quilting if I hadn’t needed a sewing machine to finish sweaters. In 2003, Syracuse was expecting one of our ‘extreme’ winters, and I knitted Norwegian-style sweaters — with the colorful pattern around the shoulders. You knit the body of the sweater in the round, creating a giant tube. Before cutting through the knitted stitches to set in the sleeves, you stabilize the main body with machine stitches. I didn’t have a sewing machine. Every time I wanted to finish a sweater, I had to explain the process to somebody with a sewing machine and have them do it.

I put a basic sewing machine on my Christmas wish list, and ‘Santa’ delivered.  I figured I’d better find a way to use it aside from making armholes in sweaters. So I contacted a friend who is a quilter and asked her about ‘this quilting thing.’ She recommended a class for beginners at the local quilt shop. I took my new sewing machine, proud that I knew where the on/off switch was. Immediately after the class, I bought the materials for my next two quilt projects. A couple of weeks (and many, many ripped stitches) later I returned for more fabric, patterns, gadgets — you name it — I was hooked!

Quilting is truly one of those rare activities that takes advantage of both sides of the brain — the creative and analytical. I’ve always been comfortable with a foot on both sides of that fence. As an accountant, I never really felt creatively fulfilled, so I took lots of evening and weekend art classes back in those corporate days. And I don’t consider myself a pure artsy-type. I’m much more inclined to create a quilt with lots of little pieces that need to fit together than I am to make a splashy artsy project.”

Common Sense pattern

Common Sense pattern

After a couple of years going back and forth to the quilt shop asking questions on technique, taking classes, making samples, and buying yard after yard of tempting quilting fabrics, Joan felt the time was right to become part of the industry. She had been writing some basic patterns for shop samples and took one of those samples to Quilt Market (the quilt industry mega trade show in Houston, Texas). The sample featured illustrations from Janet Wecker-Frisch’s latest fabric line. Joan met Janet at the show and showed her the sample quilt.  On the spot, Joan was commissioned to make a second quilt using a current fabric line.  She was beyond the moon!  Getting that small commission was the sign she was seeking.  She called her husband from the trade show floor and said she would be quitting her ‘corporate’ job to start a quilt design business.  As you can imagine, his reaction was mixed at first, but ultimately very supportive.

She named her business the Hummingbird Highway.  “The Hummingbird Highway is actually a road in Belize.  I once vacationed there, and the name stayed with me. I’ve always LOVED hummingbirds. They are fast, they have a routine, and they are stunningly beautiful and amazing. That describes how I work and what I make.”


Picasso Puzzle, a new pattern featuring the
ScrapTherapy® Middle Scrap Grid interfacing. Available soon.

One day, Joan attended a guild meeting where a shocking thing happened.  A quilter had passed and the family brought her stash to be disbursed.  The members grabbed it up in minutes, and Joan’s heart sank.  She chooses her fabric so carefully for each project.  Her essence goes into making each quilt.  What would happen to the beautiful scraps of HER memorable quilts after her far-distant demise?  She felt guilty about those bits of fabric lying dormant in her stash.

But Joan was not a fan of scrappy quilts.  Wildly scrappy, disconnected pieces of fabric assembled into a single quilt did not appeal to her.  She believes quilts should be coordinated and look pretty.  She needed to find — or create — a system that would make that easy to do.

Mini Mug Mats featuring the ScrapTherapy® Mini Scrap Grid interfacing.

Mini Mug Mats featuring the ScrapTherapy® Mini Scrap Grid interfacing.

Joan developed a method of cutting and organizing the scraps that can work for anyone.  Her first book, Scrap Therapy®, Cut The Scraps, creates a set of criteria and a system that is simple and makes sense.  By cutting scraps into three sizes that work well together and storing them in see-through bins, it is easy to cherry-pick colors that work with any new theme.  The goal was to be able to access your leftover fabrics to create quilts or finished projects (to avoid the post-mortem stash-grabbing scenario).  Wildly scrappy (never Joan’s cup of tea) became “controlled” scrappy.

Joan’s perspective on scrap quilting has completely changed how quilters think about their stash.  Her second book was inspired by a quilt exhibit.  In March 2011, Joan attended the largest quilt exhibit ever mounted in New York City,  “Infinite Variety, Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts”.   650 red and white quilts were hung in spiraling floor-to-ceiling silo columns at the Armory.

Red & White Miracle Max, a pattern from ScrapTherapy®, Scraps Plus One!

Red & White Miracle Max, a pattern from ScrapTherapy®, Scraps Plus One!

Joan was awestruck by the gorgeous red and white quilts.  And she understood the reason they were so impactful was the contrast of the red against the white.  Her inspiration was to use scraps as one element of a quilt — but use one other, secondary element.  The Plus One element could be a technique or a gadget…That idea became her second book, ScrapTherapy®, Plus One.

blog-8Her most recent book, When Bad Things Happen To Good Quilters, takes a slightly different path away from scrappy quilts.   Quilters often start a project, and then something goes wrong.  It can be so frustrating — that rather than figure out a solution to the problem, the quilt is abandoned.  It becomes a UFO (Unfinished Object).

The UFO’s start to pile up, creating guilt.  Joan wrote When Bad Things Happen To Good Quilters, gathering advice from accomplished quilters, sewing celebrities, and industry experts to work past the trouble spots and reach finished quilt bliss.

Joan Ford’s mission is to help quilters stay in love with this wonderful past-time.  She believes quilting is a hobby that should never ever be associated in any way with guilt.

“Quilters give their work away.  It’s what we do.  It’s who we are.  It’s the reason we quilt.  Every moment we spend planning or making a quilt is a gift we are giving.  A hand-made quilt is a re-usable hug.”

Visit Joan’s web site: