Archive for the ‘Anatomy of a Quilt’ Category

Tools Change Everything: Zigzag Bobbin Work

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

20u singerI believe in tools! 

Years ago I bought this 20U Singer industrial. It was under protest. I had burned the brushes off a very nice 930 Bernina. If you don’t know any of these numbers, take my word. 930 Berninas were war horses in armor.

So they told me that a 20 U was  a tough enough machine. I had mine calabrated to work with embroidery thread, and did a number of zigzag embroidery images on it. 

For a fast machine, it was still a tedious experience. This machine doesn’t really use a foot. So all the fabric needed to be hooped. And unhooped. And re-hooped. Again and again and again.

I simply stopped working with it at one point. I was considering selling it. 


179 The problem with princesBut people have always loved the quilts made through this technique. It allows for so much detail and coloration. 40 weight embroidery thread is ephemerally beautiful, and it shines when it’s laid in color layers.815 butterfly garden detail

Yesterday, I tried it with a felt stabilizer sandwich and a Halo hoop


halo hoopl


The Halo Hoop has been around for a while. I use them for any larger bit of embroidery I’m working on. It’s a weighted metal hoop with a plastic coating that grips the fabric. Instead of clamping it, you simply slide the hoop along.

My favorite stabilizer sandwich is ( from the back tp the front) a drawing in Totally Stable,  a layer of Decor Bond,a layer of polyester felt, and a layer of hand dyed fabric as my top. Anything that doesn’t iron down, I spray glue with 505 spray.



frog in process

I took this frog drawing and stated to color. I worked from the back for two reasons. My drawing was there, and I could tie off the ends.











frog in process  f2I didn’t get done, but I got far enough to know that between the stabilizer sandwich and the Halo hoop, the whole technique had been revolutionized for me.

Things I learned

  • My father’s old saying: if it’s too hard, too horrible or too long, you have the wrong tool.
  • You can use a hammer for a saw, but it’ s hard on the hammer and what you’re sawing.

Rethinking how to use your tools makes all the difference.  

You can work without a foot, but you need to use your fingers and a hoop. And hopefully your brain!finger positiona

And most of all, good tools change everything!

264 As Good as it Gets


Once More with Feeling: Herons, and other Dinosaurs

Friday, January 18th, 2013




I Love dinosaurs. I do. Sorry about that. I never outgrew it. I was taken to the Field Museum in Chicago where they had the grand dioramas of dino life and had to be restrained from climbing in.

fantasiaThat’s still true too. Fantasia had a fabulous bit in it where they swam, lunged along, ate and died.  I’ve made them as stuffed animals and quilted them from time to time.

hot blooded dinosaursBut one book took me to another place entirely.  Hot Blooded Dinosaurs came out it 1977. It was a rage book for a while and then you didn’t see it. I’d borrowed it from a friend.

No more dragging your butt along allosauruses. These were quick moving, wild predators that deserved to rule the planet for a good long time. It was mind blowing. Jurrasic Park was such an amazing movie because no one said it, but that was the whole point. These were not cold blooded creatures. The dinosaurs weren’t jumped up lizards. They were real, tooth and claw. I, for one, was thinking of the dragging tails in the dioramas and saying, “Nope. You’re wrong. They’re  HOT blooded.”

Crocodiles, sharks, turtles and dragonflies are a slam dunk as modern dinosaurs. The fossils are quite clear. They were here then. They’re still here now. But birds.The premise is that birds ‘are direct descendants. And if you’ve seen a heron hunt or look at the skeleton, it’s pretty evident. 

ladyblue (1)So when I quilt herons, I’m playing with my plastic dinosaurs. Again. No apologies. They’re too cool not to. Of course sometimes they’re people I know.


book (1)It was no surprise when the editors insisted on Lady Blue as the cover for Thread Magic. Maybe they liked dinosaurs too.

You’ll find Thread Magic on my web site . It’s a print on demand version. All of the text and pictures are there, but the print suffers from less glossy paper.


Hot Blooded Dinosaurs is on I just ordered myself a copy.


Also on Amazon you’ll find Fantasia, perhaps the most influential art cartoon every made. Thank you, Mr. Disney.



Once More with Feeling: Koi Series

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

721 in the reeds w (1)My father went to the first church of fishing. That does not mean that he was fishing for men or that he went to church. If he had a free day it was spent in a row boat on the river or lake, fishing for bass. It made for a much nicer sort of person than my Catholic mother, so  I had much more respect for it. It was his passion and his peace.

Being a good dad, he took me along from time to time. We had a few tearful moments about worms on hooks and the use of the tin can ( there is no pottie in a row boat).  We solved that early. He took me ashore when needed and he understood I didn’t want to catch fish. I just wanted to watch them.

So I would lean out of the boat with my head right above the water, watching the swirling water and the swish of fins. I’m still there. I’ll be there forever.

The fish in the stream series is all about that. And it’s about swimming through the waters of your life. I’ve gone  back to it repeatedly because it’s so vital to me.

The earlier ones were less filled in, somehow less active.

92 Father of All FishesFather of All Fishes was my first real Thread Magic Quilt. It was nature based, done in pearl cotton bobbin work. The transparency of the images, and the nature of seeing the fish under and over leaves fascinated me.

Here are some of the more formed fish I did after I learned how to fill them in with thin thread and a zigzag stitch.








I soon learned after that how to control my water better. When you walk into water you can feel the cooler and warmer currents in layers. You can make that happen with layers of organza and lace.

Finally I learned to use hand dyed pearl cottons and Angelina Fiber for water. It’s funny to me that the techniques change and my ability to render get’s better. But the fish still make me quiet and happy as a girl leaning out a row boat, reaching for the illusion of underwater life.


One More Time with Feeling: Working in Series:Dancing Trees

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

The Nature of Nature is variance.

Sometimes an idea you have just can’t be exhausted by doing one quilt. There’s a wild experience that happens when you work in series. I’m going to do a series of blogs on some of the ideas that have grabbed me by the neck and not let go. What happens in the end is the answer to the 1,000 what ifs. What if I do it in red? What if it’s flying instead of sitting? what if it’s in the moonlight? Sunlight? Shade? What if I only use one color? What if? What if?  What if?

Finally there’s the what if I know more.A quilt that I could only do one way five years ago may have many other options now.

When I was a child, we took a train trip up from Streator to Chicago every year. It was a bit of a dull ride for a five year old. So my mother told me all the bare trees were dancing in the wind. Remembering this started a series I still love to play with.

Early Trees

These are some of the first trees I played with. They featured cut-away applique and lots of lace and metallic fabrics for foliage.


Here are some of the trees where I started to incorporate bodies in the forms.
 Finally I felt confident to blow them up to forest size.
This represents about 15 years worth of trees, dancing and otherwise. Did they all work out as well as I hoped. Of course not! My best teachers are my errors.
Could I have made one without the others? Maybe. But I suspect it wouldn’t have happened. One leads to another which leads to another. It’s a path of breadcrumb ideas spread forward, instead of backward. A good series does that.
We’ll look at some more series for fun. I hope you try it yourself. If it’s a good idea, it’s a great idea to “what if” at.

Commissions: Other People’s Dreams

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

I love birthdays! Celebrating birthdays is how we say, “I’m glad you’re here! So I was particularly delighted when a friend asked me to make a special quilt for her sister on a special birthday.

Thalia Johnson had come to the studio to visit before. She called me to ask if there was a great tu’rtle quilt for her sister’s birthday. I said, “Not at this moment, but there could be.We sat down with some great reference pictures. Have you used Teamviewer before? It’s a way to share what’s on your screen with someone else. It’s definitely cool. It allows you to look at another person’s computer miles away,



Turtle in the Hostas


Fly Fishing

We decided on a water slider turtle, rather than a tortis or a box turtle. She loves orchids and her sister gave me pictures of her collection. It made a perfect lady’s slipper.
I went to work.
I embroidered the turtle.

Created the branch
Built in the water and sky and made lady slippers.

Here’s Paige with her quilt.

Commissions are an honor. They’re a badge of trust. They also scare me a little. I’m always terrified of letting someone down in some way. But when they  please someone this much, I feel privileged to have been asked.

Anatomy of a Quilt: Background Search

Friday, May 4th, 2012

One of the most telling decisions for every quilt is a background. It’s the light within the piece.

I’m working on a commission  which gives me the opportunity to play with a lot of possibilities. This is a great little quilt with butterflies and bleeding hearts. I’ve got number of backgrounds to try, to very different results.

Here are some of our possibilities.




I did some paint stick rubbings for this. But this is going into a baby’s room and the mom has a sensitive nose. So the answers to those is  no, no matter how lovely.









Which leads us to several hand dyed options. This has a darker black, blue purple background that is more mysterious.










This brighter background gives us a well of color behind the red exterior.

Which did my owner like? The green felt I embroidered the vine on. So I’m off to look at my stash of green hand dye.The background of a quilt is usually your first decision. Except when it isn’t. It changes how everything in your quilt is perceived.



Sometimes it’s very valuable to take your elements and give them an interview on differing backgrounds. You know.

“Do you work and play well with others?”
“Do you share the limelight?”
“How do you fit in here?”

Often the answers aren’t what you expect. Aren’t you glad you asked the question?

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