We’re very excited today to introduce the newest member of our team. Laura McDowell Hopper is joining Craft Industry Alliance as our Social Media Manager and Staff Writer. (We will still be working with freelance writers, but with Laura here we’ll be able to cover more news and pursue more in-depth stories).
Laura has been a long-time member of Craft Industry Alliance. She’s an accomplished writer, quilter, and curator. We’ve invited Laura to tell us a little about herself so we can get to know her better. Here’s Laura:
Describe your background as a crafter:
I’ve been sewing since grade school, when my mother who studied textile science in college taught me some basics. I became more interested in high school, when I tried out a variety of fiber arts until finding that I was most drawn to embroidery and cross stitching. I focused on hand sewing and making the occasional bag until 2014, when my mother passed away. To help deal with my grief, I decided to make a baby quilt for my nephew, and I never stopped. Since then, I’ve developed my own style and started making quilts in my own designs. As a former classical musician, all of my quilts are inspired by music. I’m working on a quilt right now inspired by my favorite song by The Cure. My Instagram name, @sonicstitches, comes from that combination of music and sewing.
You’re involved in several different leadership roles in the quilting community. Can you tell us about some of those and what drew you to them?
Before working in the craft industry, I worked in nonprofits for fifteen years, so giving back to nonprofit organizations in our community is very important to me. I’ve served on the board of the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild since 2017 and am currently the guild’s president. The Chicago MQG has given me so much – quilting education, inspiration, and life-long friendships – and I find giving back to the organization some of the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.
I am also on the board of the Quilt Alliance, a national nonprofit with a mission to document, preserve, and share stories about American quilts. As a historian, I know the invaluable impact of the work done by the Quilt Alliance, which has created the largest oral history collection about quiltmakers in the world through their Quilters’ Save Our Stories initiative. I’m also a former board member of the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Fostering inclusion in the quilt community and empowering youth voices are both important to me, and after collaborating with SJSA on a museum exhibit, I was delighted to serve on their board for two years.
“The River” (detail shot). Quilt by Laura McDowell Hopper.
Photo courtesy of Mitch Hopper.
For many years you worked in museums, tell us a little about that period of your career and what you enjoyed most about that work.
I started training to be a museum curator at age 19 and served in curatorial roles at several museums. I first fell in love with quilts while an undergraduate museum studies student at the Michigan State University Museum, a museum with one of the best quilt collections in the country. Later, I interned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and moved on to graduate school and work at several Chicago area museums.
Most recently, I worked as the curator at an academic museum on a university campus and had the joy of mentoring ambitious and bright students in the early stages of their career. The most meaningful project I had the honor of working on at that museum was co-curating the exhibit “Quilts and Human Rights,” which was a traveling exhibit I expanded that was originally curated at the Michigan State University Museum where I got my start. While that exhibit was installed, I created an exciting and inclusive series of programming designed to make college students excited about quilts. We invited the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. to be our keynote speaker at the exhibit opening, hosted Social Justice Sewing Academy workshops, created a Protest Banner Lending Library on campus with artist Aram Han Sifuentes, and created a community quilt with an undergraduate science class called the Women in Science quilt.
The Women in Science Quilt Project was featured in a short documentary, and one student was so inspired by the exhibit she even wrote a song inspired by the exhibit for her acappella group to perform in our exhibit space! A group of treasured colleges in the campus Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality nominated me for the university’s Women Who Make A Difference Award, which I won and is among the proudest moments of my career.
Interviewing for Quiltfolk magazine.
Photo courtesy of Azuree Wiitala for Quiltfolk
Reverand Jesse Jackson and Sara Trail view the “Quilts and Human Rights” exhibit.
Photo courtesy of Mitch Hopper
Most recently you were at Quiltfolk. What was that experience like?
Working as the Associate Editor at Quiltfolk was an incredibly fulfilling experience. I gained valuable experience in publishing and editing, and wrote over 50 articles profiling quilt scholars and historians, museums, designers, artists, children who quilt, and more. It also allowed me to focus my career on what matters the most to me – quilts. Traveling the country to meet quilters was exhilarating – I helped organize photoshoots at exciting places like Zion National Park and on an aircraft carrier, and in countless sewing studios.
But the best part of the job was the relationships I developed with the quilters we profiled. I keep in touch with many of the people I met along the way, and consider them dear friends. Working closely with quilters to help them tell their stories elegantly, rigorously, and with respect is work that I was proud to do.
“Chroma” by Laura McDowell Hopper
Photo courtesy of Mitch Hopper
What drew you to this position at Craft Industry Alliance?
Professional education and development has been important to me throughout my career. When I worked in museums, I was a frequent speaker at regional and national museum conferences, and even created and led my own series of professional education programs for small volunteer-run museums. Sharing expertise, inspiring successful ideas, and promoting professional excellence matters in all industries, and so when I learned about the Craft Industry Alliance, I joined right away. I’ve often utilized the resources provided by the Craft Industry Alliance to further my own craft career, learn more about leadership and organization, and keep up to date on craft industry news.
When I saw the posting for the Social Media Manager position, I knew I wanted to apply to help advance the Craft Industry Alliance’s mission and do what I could to provide professional education to fellow crafters. I’m also delighted to utilize my writing skills as a staff writer for the organization as well. I’m honored to be a part of the Craft Industry Alliance team!