We’ve told you about Julia Icenogle, the artist behind Mrs. Bobbins, but where does she get all of those cute ideas each week? There’s another woman behind the humor that is Mrs. Bobbins â€“ Camille Olcese, Julia’s aunt. And with the first Mrs. Bobbins book â€“ The Big Book of Bobbins: Fun, Quilty Cartoons by Julia Icenogle â€“ having just arrived, we thought what better time to shine light on the other master mind of Mrs. Bobbins!
Since Julia is not a quilter, she often turns to Aunt Camille for advice and ideas for Mrs. Bobbins cartoons. And it seems as though with these two minds working together, the ideas are endless! Julia says Camille is the “real” Mrs. Bobbins. Read my interview with her below, however, to see just what Camille thinks about thatâ€¦
Camille and her husband Chuck live in Pittsburg, Kan., where she teaches English as a Second Language at Pittsburg State University. Camille and Chuck have one daughter who is finishing up at the University of Kansas. But it’s not quite an empty nest in the Olcese household. They have Challis the cat, who loves to “help” Camille quilt.
Camille was kind of enough to answer some questions for me, so we can get the real truth behind Mrs. Bobbins. You might just learn something about where your favorite cartoon came from!
DM: So you’re the inspiration behind Mrs. Bobbins â€“ the “real” Mrs. Bobbins, as Julia refers to you. How are you similar to Mrs. Bobbins?
CO: My husband says Mrs. B is a combination of me and another lady in our quilt guild. I’m not as wide as Mrs. B, but I do have gray bobbed hair. I wear glasses, but they’re not green. I don’t own a pair of crocs and never will. Quilting-wise, I’m usually not quite as obsessed as Mrs. B, but I can be, depending on the time of year (January through March are my most productive times).
When Julia did the series on the quilt show, I found many similarities between Mrs. Bobbins and myself. This is probably because I tell Julia everything I can think of about my quilting life, and it ends up in Mrs. Bobbins’ life!
I have many experiences in common with Mrs. B when it comes to the quilt show: There’s one cartoon where someone points out a “mistake” in Mrs. B’s quilt and she says, “Those are native American spirit holes!” That comment actually came from Julia’s mom, Mary, when she and Julia pointed out some “inconsistencies” in the quilt I made for Julia’s high school graduation. I was so rushed to finish the quilt that I simply didn’t add some fairly obvious parts of the design. However, it wasn’t obvious to me until they pointed it out, and Mary suggested that they were spirit holes: imperfections which allow the spirit to escape. Whatever.
Also, the spot designated for Mrs. B’s quilt at the quilt show was poorly lighted. This always seems to be my fate at our annual quilt show. And there was another cartoon in which Mrs. B reports to her husband that she won 2nd place in one of the categories. Her husband asks her how many entries were in the category, and she answers, “Two. What’s your point?” That one absolutely happened to me.
DM: How are you and Mrs. Bobbins different?
CO: Her stash looks a little bigger than mine, but I’m working on it.
DM: How does it feel to have a cartoon roughly based on you?
CO: I don’t consider Mrs. B to be me, but more an amalgam of me and my quilting friends. I did laugh the most during the quilt show series, however, because those seemed the closest to my life.
There was one cartoon about quilters’ poker. My friends and I play a game called “Left, Right and Center” where we win 5″ fabric squares. That’s about as close as it gets to poker. So far.
DM: Do you and Julia collaborate to come up with ideas for Mrs. Bobbins?
CO: Oh yeah. Especially last Christmas, she had just gotten the word about The Big Book of Bobbins and had set the goal of five drawings a day until they were all done. So we were on a roll. I was feeding her ideas as fast as I could, and she was drawing just as fast. Since then I’ve seen the ideas in the cartoons. That’s fun. Also, I shoot her an e-mail whenever I get an idea. For example, the other day I was at a quilting workshop, and wouldn’t you know it, I’d forgotten my rotary cutter. So I phoned my husband and asked him to bring it ASAP. I went out to the street and saw him coming, so he just stuck his hand out and passed it to me, relay style. (He actually stopped the car, but I thought it was funny.) So I sent Julia the idea, and I think I’ll see it before too long.
Whenever I hear of a new quilting term, technique or product, I tell her about it. For example, lately you see a lot of “layer cakes” and “honey buns,” so I can imagine a pastry shop of fabric like that.
I think Julia gets some help on the captions from her dad, my brother, Tracy. He’s a very funny guy (writes humorous cards for Hallmark, no less!), and I think Julia gets her quirky sense of humor from him.
DM: How long have you been quilting?
CO: I’ve played around with patchwork since I was a kid. Back in the day, the peasant look was in style and I made my share of patchwork skirts. My first “quilt” was probably made when I was in high school. I still have it â€” it’s very ugly! I made quilts off and on through my moves around the country, but when we moved here (Pittsburg, Kan.) 10 years ago, the quilting bug bit hard. The Little Balkans Quilt Guild was the first organization I joined (even before we joined a church!) and now I’m president of the Guild! Now that my daughter is nearly launched in life, and we’re here in a small town, there’s more time for quilting. And, of course, the Guild provides many opportunities for inspiration and learning. Our Guild is really active, so I have to sprint to keep up with the other members. Which brings us back to the annual quilt show (can you tell this is a sore spot?). I’ve discovered that all the Guild members are becoming more and more skilled, so it keeps getting harder to win a ribbon at the show! I think they should make a category just for me: the Mrs. Bobbins inspiration category â€“ what will she come up with this year?
DM: What is your favorite technique?
CO: I like anything that’s fast. So appliquÃ© and hand quilting are rare for me. I enjoy trying different “quilt as you go” techniques. Also, I enjoy spontaneity. I get a kick out of making crazy quilt blocks out of scraps, just grabbing whatever I can find and sewing it together. Are you starting to understand why I don’t win many ribbons at the quilt show? Actually, I am capable of following a pattern, and since joining the Guild I’m getting very particular about making my points and seams match. But I like more contemporary, bright quilts. I’m a big, big fan of Kaffe Fassett prints and patterns. And I’m very inspired by Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran’s Collaborative Quilts. I think they’ve got a new book out. Must check Amazon!
DM: What is your favorite part about quilting?
CO: I love the color and patterns of fabrics. The brighter and busier, the better. I absolutely detest whole cloth quilts (sorry, hand quilters, but I just don’t get the appeal!). I love to get lost in a quilt, just looking at all the shapes and colors and patterns. It makes me feel like a little kid. Do you remember the April Cornell shop that used to be on the Plaza [in Kansas City]? I was so sad when that closed, because I loved walking in there and drinking in all the color of the table linens (and loved the clothes!).
DM: Any idea what’s next for Mrs. Bobbins?
CO: Well, I think there’s lots of potential rivalry between Mr. and Mrs. B as quilters. Mr. B is clearly up to the engineering challenge. I see him as a very disciplined, accurate quilter. And Mrs. B is addicted to fabric like I am; she’s probably in too big a hurry to finish a quilt and get on with the next project. So I’d like for Mr. B to come out of the closet and own up to the fact that he’s quilting!
Also, I was telling Julia about quilting cruises. I really think this is funny, because it’s not my idea of how to spend your time on a cruise. But maybe Mr. and Mrs. B will go on a quilting cruise and get in some funny situations.
Thanks to Camille for taking the time to answer some questions for us! Oh, and it must be noted that Camille is a proud aunt: “I’m very proud of Julia. She’s very, very talented, but even more unique is her way of looking at the world. She has a very playful way of living and seeing things. That comes through in Mrs. Bobbins.”
Either way, no matter who contributes what, we think you guys make a dynamic team! Thanks for bringing us a fun cartoon each week, to help us through those dreary Mondays!
Diane McLendon is the publisher of Kansas City Star Quilts.