Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mimi Dietrich: Honoring Baltimore's "Hometown Girl"

This past weekend, I (Teri) had the privilege of attending the opening of the special exhibit, Hometown Girl: Contemporary Quilts of Mimi Dietrich, at the Maryland Historical Society Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. What a thrill it was to share this day with Mimi—along with hundreds of her family, friends, and students. Mimi has inspired countless quilters over the course of her career, and her character has touched everyone who has been fortunate to know her. 

Mimi began her opening lecture with the story of a friend who had given her a file of papers—all the entries for a quilt contest. Mimi decided to give the quilt that she had entered in that contest (and the papers) to the Maryland Historical Society Museum. Thus, the exhibit honoring Mimi and her quilts was born. "The staff made a dream come true that I didn't even know I had," she stated. 

The reception following the lecture provided opportunities to
meet and reconnect with fellow quilters, family, and friends.

Mimi related the tale of a small girl, who slept under this Dresden plate quilt made by her great-grandmother, who she had never met. The idea that her great-grandmother had actually touched this quilt had a profound effect on Mimi. She decided that she wanted to make quilts.

The exhibit included quilts made by students in Mimi's first year-long Baltimore Album class. While "Baltimores" were typically primarily red and green, she says that when she teaches, she encourages her students to make the quilt in whatever colors they love. "It's your quilt. Make it your own. You can do anything you want."

The model quilt for Mimi's Year-long Baltimore Album Class, which she still teaches locally. 

The three-looped bow is typical in Baltimore Album Quilts, and Mimi often incorporates it into a Baltimore-style block she designs. Here, you can even see it in the quilting of the center medallion of the above quilt.

Mimi's own Baltimore quilt, along with her monogram in the middle. This quilt only took her fifteen years to complete!

"Thirty-five years ago I started teaching quilting and appliqué classes. Amazingly, at that same time, there was a revival of Baltimore Album Quilts. In 1989, Elly Sienkiewicz wrote a book about these quilts, Baltimore Beauties and Beyond: Studies in Classic Album Quilt Appliqué, Vol. I, blending her historical background with patterns to make these traditional designs. I loved this! I loved hand appliqué. That is when I discovered that my place in the quilting world was right here in my hometown.   
"In my classes, students start with traditional techniques and designs, but each quilter has an individual personality. I give my students permission to use their favorite colors and fabrics, adapt the patterns, and make the quilt their own. I believe it is important to know the tradition, but it's creative to be inspired by the original quilts, rather than copy them. I've followed this philosophy for twenty-five years.

"My favorite classes to teach are year-long classes. It is awesome to spend a year with students, watching them learn, grow, and stitch their heirloom quilts. I am always awestruck by their creativity and their success.  Every class makes me feel like we are recreating the tradition and heritage of these amazing quilts that were made in my hometown more than 125 years ago." [emphasis mine]

I'm not sure how I missed getting a close-up shot of the strawberry block that Mimi mentions here. I think when I saw that block with the bright blue, it surprised me so much that I stopped studying the rest of the individual blocks. It made me smile. Did they run out of red, or did they make a repair, or did someone just have a fun sense of humor?

A couple of experts studying this exquisite Baltimore Album Quilt top.

It's unusual that the purple hasn't faded. Note the inking on the flowers.

One can never have too much inspiration from the traditional quilts, right?

Mimi shared her inspiration in the first hall, and her connection to the tradition of the Baltimore quilts in the second. Her contemporary quilts, completing the exhibit, are as fun as Mimi herself! 

Baltimore Hon

Mimi explained that her Baltimore Hon quilt includes elements of the Baltimore Album Quilts: birds, flowers, and embellishments. Above, you can see the three-looped bow, dimensional flowers (black-eyed Susans are the Maryland state flower), real earrings, and ruby slippers—because "There's no place like home [Baltimore], Hon!"
Of course, the Baltimore birds have to be the Oriole (baseball team and MD state bird) and the Raven (football team)! 
And it's not Baltimore without a crab cake!

I may be partial, but I think Maryland has the coolest flag!


I loved this little quilt of Mimi's. As it was in a case, I could only get a shot of it with the light behind me, hence, my shadow. I trust that doesn't mean I am looking at the gutter; I choose to enjoy the irony, as I believe my sights are set on those stars!!  

In her talk, Mimi shared that she wants to pass on the love of quilting to the next generation. She told stories of teaching nieces, neighbors, and her grandchildren how to sew quilting projects. I think it would be difficult to be a part of Mimi's life and NOT feel her passion for the art and want to join in the fun. Because if Mimi is teaching you, I guarantee that you are having fun. And her encouraging nature will convince you in no time that you are, indeed, a quilter. In fact, I imagine that she has touched many of you reading this in some way. Do you have any Mimi memories you'd like to share? Please put them in the comments below! If you are reading this in email, you can follow this link to post your comment.

Congratulations, Mimi, for this well-deserved honor!

Mimi closes: "I am honored, humbled, blessed, and full of gratitude."


  1. When Mimi's Baltimore Album designs were printed in panels, she sent letters to each quilt shop in & around Baltimore (maybe even Maryland!) asking to come & introduce the fabric & give a short presentation. For free. I was the first to respond & she came to the Fabric Chest to a FULL HOUSE!!! Needless to say, it was a smashing success & she was so kind & polite--talking to everyone & signing books It was one of the most memorable of my experiences as a shop owner. Thank you Mimi!!

  2. Thanks, Shirley! I’ve always felt that the reward for some things isn’t always $$$. It was a fun day at your shop! ❤️

  3. Mimi was one of my 1st applique teachers when attending Applique Academy in Lewes, Del. I remember many things that she taught me. One in particular, was to use whatever scissors you have to do any job as they can be sharpened. Life is too short to keep "fabric only" scissors.

  4. Thank you for sharing this exhbit. I really, really enjoyed this posting.

  5. I am IN LOVE with Mimi being honored; have loved her quilt world “presence” for so very long. Congratulations, Dear Mimi!! And ladies, Teri and Kara, THANK YOU for sharing this. Way down in Texas, I can’t attend all these wonderful events and I am thrilled to see your post, yet again! Keep up the wonderful work of sharing and caring about these amazing quilts and their makers. ❤️

    1. We agree, Kathy! Mimi certainly deserves this honor. And thanks so much for your kind words.

  6. I had always heard how difficult needle turn applique was and despaired of ever having such a beautiful quilt. When I saw Mimi's printed panels in Quilters Newsletter Magazine I hoped to make one with those. Though I searched the internet for weeks, I never found them. I decided to just go for it and see if I could learn needle turn and ordered a couple of Ellie Sienkiewicz books. It took me four years but I now have a beautiful authentic Baltimore album quilt, which though I wasn't able to use her fabric or patterns, Mimi was the inspiration for.

    1. Hooray for you! Mimi has inspired so many of us Baltimore album lovers, and Elly's books have helped many of us, as well. We are thrilled to hear of your needle turning success!