Sew-Sew Divine: This Quilting Guy Leaves His Readers In Stitches

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In Houston a couple of weeks ago, Mark Lipinski was mobbed by cheering, screaming, laughing women. Some wanted to hug him. Some wanted his autograph. And some wanted to learn where they could get one of those beefcake ironing board covers, the ones with a photo of a hunky guy wearing only a towel, a towel that vanishes when -- well, here's how Lipinski described it in his magazine, which is called Mark Lipinski's Quilter's Home:

"When you iron over said man, and get him hot (so to speak), his towel totally disappears and -- oh, baby, oh-oh-oh! -- he's naked! Your husband's going to wonder what wonderful thing he's done that's keeping you so happy in the laundry room (hee hee hee)!"

Who is Mark Lipinski?

That's a question that Mark Lipinski asks, in his own inimitable style, on the cover of the latest issue of Mark Lipinski's Quilter's Home, just above a photo of Mark Lipinski nestling in a quilt with his dog, Tulip, and his kitten, Lily: "Who the #*@! Is Mark Lipinski (and what's he doing to quilting)?"

The answer is: Lipinski is an impishly funny 50-year-old gay guy from New Jersey, a former stand-up comic, a former dancer in a Chippendales-style nightclub, and a former producer for such daytime TV gabfests as Ricki Lake, Sally Jessy Raphael and "The View," who's now putting out a magazine that has caused much glee and some outrage in the wild, wacky world of quilting.

"The other quilting magazines are a tea party," he says. "Mine is a cocktail party."

Lipinski started his magazine because he was bored with all the other quilting magazines, which tend to publish quilting patterns and quilting tips and not much else. He'd been teaching quilting classes for years and he thought quilters were ready for something with more pizazz. His first issue, published in the spring of 2006, began with a pugnacious manifesto: "When was the last time you spent more than 15 minutes looking through a quilting magazine? I've got to tell you, folks, I was getting so bored of looking at one pattern after another. . . . Kids, the days of Little House on the Prairie are over. It's time to come out of the quilting closet!"

In that first issue, Lipinski published an interview with the legendary Civil War-era quilter Jane Stickle, as channeled by a psychic Lipinski met when he worked on the cheesy New Age TV show "Crossing Over With John Edward." As it turned out, Stickle not only revealed her views on the Civil War -- "if we are going to go in it, then let's go in it to win" -- but she also endorsed Lipinski's magazine. "I think she's behind your magazine," the psychic Sylvia Rossi told Lipinski. "She's definitely with you."

You've gotta love a magazine that prints endorsements from dead people.

In the debut issue, Lipinski also revealed what's playing on his iPod while he quilts: Tom Jones's "What's New, Pussycat?" among other gems. And he touted a campy fabric that depicts buff, shirtless cowboys floating through a bright blue sky.

It wasn't your grandma's quilting magazine and reaction was mixed. Lipinski got a lot of fan mail -- "Finally, I can see, someone GETS it" -- and some nasty letters, too. A few readers told him he'd go to hell because psychics are Satanic. Another wrote to say she wouldn't read the magazine because the editor sounded sort of, you know, gay.

Lipinski laughs at that. "I guess I'm the first man to ever come out in a quilting magazine," he says. "But who cares? I'm sure there are some straight men in quilting. I can think of two, maybe three."

Since then, Quilter's Home has gone where no other quilting mags have dared to go. There was the story called "Quilt Better With Wine." ("Pop the cork, baby, and quilt guilt free!") And a gallery of tattoos for quilters. And an article called "Crop Circles: Cosmic quilting from the stars?"

Another article suggested snappy answers to stupid questions about quilting. For example, when somebody says, "You quilt? Are you Amish?" you can answer, "Yes, exactly. I'm Amish. Just ignore my car, the buttons on my shirt and highlights in my hair, and my feather-boa mules. I have special permission from the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce to have them."

Probably the most famous piece printed thus far was "Is He Cheating While You're Quilting?" It offered typical women's-mag advice -- "Don't waste your time and energy on the other woman" -- along with a quilt-related twist: "I'll bet the hag doesn't even quilt!"

That piece inspired some amazing letters to the editor: "Do you wonder why he might be looking somewhere else?" asked one. "Duh! Have you seen your thighs lately? Not unless you have to, right?"

But what makes the magazine work is Lipinski's chatty, catty voice. He writes like he's talking to his readers on the phone, addressing them with such endearments as "honey," "cupcake," "pussycats" and "dudettes." And he likes to make fun of himself, particularly his weight and his addiction to buying quilting fabrics that he'll never get around to using: "Look, if I could lose weight as fast as I can spend money on fabric, I'd be one of the friggin' Olsen twins!"

This year, Dave O'Neil of CK Media, which publishes Quilter's Home and four other quilting magazines, suggested that Lipinski put his picture on the cover of every issue, like Oprah does.

"I was scared to death," Lipinski recalls. "Everybody was scared to death. Our circulation department said putting a guy's face on the cover would kill the magazine."

But it worked and circulation actually went up with Lipinski's goateed mug on the cover. CK Media now prints 100,000 copies of each bimonthly issue. And this month, the company began offering subscriptions -- a sign that the magazine is here to stay.

At this point, the key question is: How long can Lipinski keep coming up with quirky, funny stuff about quilting?

"I haven't even scratched the surface yet," he says. "Sometimes I wish it was a 400-page magazine so I could keep on writing. I can go on forever."

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