Remembering Ruth McDowell—A Personal Appreciation

Remembering Ruth McDowell—A Personal Appreciation

Posted by Lynn Koolish on Jul 3rd 2024

As an editor at C&T Publishing years ago, I was assigned to edit the books that Ruth McDowell was writing. At first, I was intimidated—she was a fabulous and well-known quilt artist whose work was striking, unique, and unmistakably hers. She had an amazing eye for using prints in ways that you would never expect but were perfect for whatever she was making. She was somewhat reluctant to do how-to project books because her teaching focused on helping her students create their own unique quilts using the piecing techniques that she was known for. But she was won over to write a series of how-to books to share her techniques with those who couldn’t take a class directly from her.

Over the years of getting to know her, I came to appreciate not only her talent and artistry, but her dry sense of humor, her devoted loyalty to her friends and family, and her unpretentiousness—during a visit to my quilt guild, I happily hosted her in my home where without hesitation she sat down on the floor to play with our new kittens and wanted cereal for dinner one night after having a large lunch with friends earlier in the day—she was definitely not a diva.

Ruth was fundamental to my development as a quilt artist. From learning her piecing techniques, I know that I can piece pretty much anything that can be pieced—curves, inset circles and squares, sharp angles, you name it. I also learned so much about design from understanding her design process. And I am not the only one—Ruth’s books and teaching have had a monumental impact on many others on the quiltmaking community I don’t make quilts in her style, but recently, I was using her techniques for insetting perfectly aligned squares and rectangles and I was thinking that I should get in touch with her to let her know that I often thought of her and constantly use things I learned from working with her, but I didn’t. I don’t know if she would have gotten the message, but now it’s too late. So if there's someone important to you in any way—I hope you get in touch and let them know.

Ruth passed away June 23, 2024, from multiple myeloma. Here are a few images from her books, Pieced Vegetables and Ruth B. McDowell's Piecing Workshop.

You can read more about Ruth’s life and accomplishments and see some of her quilts on her website, on the Quilter’s Hall of Fame website, and on the Visions Museum of Textile Art website.