Quilting queen, fabric facilitator

M'Liss Rae Hawley of Freeland is a one woman mini-industry as an author, teacher, speaker and, now, fabric designer.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Watch out, Martha Stewart -- here comes M'Liss Hawley.

Stewart, the undisputed doyenne of domestics, has a challenger in Freeland.

Known to many Whidbey Island residents as a quilter extraordinaire, book author and speaker, Hawley's latest resume entry is fabric designer.

Hawley, like Stewart, has become a one-woman industry with the recent release of a fabric line that bears her name.

Hawley's work in the domestics industry began 20 years ago when she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom while supporting her quilting hobby.

"I loved making and creating original quilt designs which, of course, took a lot of fabric," she said. "I began teaching quilting classes to support my hobby."

Her first book actually came about from one of her early quilting classes.

"Fifteen years ago, it was difficult to find a working copy machine available to the public, so in desperation I wrote a book so my students would have a reference," she said.

Since then she has authored two more books with her unique quilt designs and instructions. She is currently working on two more volumes. She is also a featured writer for McCall's Quilting magazine.

Hawley credits her latest project, her fabric line, to friend and co-designer, Carla Walsh. She said one of her fabric designs, Autumn View, was inspired by one of Walsh's paintings. Hawley took the elements of the painting and turned them into compatible designs of seven prints and three color ways, or options -- blue, red and beige. The main print is richly hued with orange pumpkins, cats, leaves and three owls perched on a branch.

The fabric line grows out of Hawley's lifelong interest in textiles, which began at age 4 when she began embroidering her pillow cases.

"I always chose purple thread," she said.

The designs and colors of the new fabrics proved attractive enough for Seattle's Clothworks to start production. Hawley has also developed coordinating computerized embroidery cards using the same designs seen in her fabrics.

The fabric line can only add to Hawley's renown in the world of handcrafts. She is a sought-after speaker and quilting teacher and has conducted hundreds of classes and seminars throughout the United States. She travels about one week a month. Her husband, Mike, and daughter, Adrienne, travel with her as often as they can.

Though the travel takes her away from home, Hawley says her work on the road is fulfilling.

"I've found a niche for myself," she said. "I enjoy sharing with other women and helping them gain enough confidence to make a quilt."

Hawley believes finishing projects builds self-esteem for women. So she speaks not only about needles, thread and cloth, but also about gaining self-confidence, trusting intuition and "letting go" without remorse. She says sometimes being a better quilter is letting go of part of the process -- such as having someone else do the quilting.

"Then you end up with a finished quilt rather than a half-finished project stuffed in a drawer somewhere," she said.

Hawley's original quilt designs often reference places on Whidbey Island, like her "Prairie Queen" quilt, named for Ebey's Landing. She describes this quilt in one her books: "Suspended in time the pristine landscape looks much like it did when the first European sea captains stepped ashore on the beach below."

Hawley studied in the textile arts program at the University of Washington and pursued graduate studies at Central Washington University. She shares her home and design studio -- Garden Court Quilting -- with her family, several cats and four dachshund dogs -- the likeness of which serves as her signature on the work she produces.

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