Monthly Archives: December 2014

(Almost) All My 2014 Finishes

It’s time for me to look back at what I’ve made this year. I’ve rounded up pictures of almost everything I completed, including pillows and small challenge quilts. I know one baby quilt is missing because I could never take a picture that registered its colors correctly. But, not to worry, as there are 26 pieces shown here to assess. One is a re-quilted old piece, but it’s here because I spent a fair amount of time on it.

As I look over my work I can discern some trends. First, I’ve been making much smaller pieces than I used to – about 36 inches square on average. This is partly because I’ve made pillows, baby quilts, and challenge pieces. It’s also because I’m trying out ideas and approaches and don’t want to experiment with something really large. Then, there’s my diminishing amount of storage space. Even though I’ve given away many of my older quilts, I still have a growing pile, and I have just so much space under my beds.

Second, I can see I worked in a variety of styles, though I made only one piece (Dandy Candy) directly from a pattern. For a few quilts I used paper piecing patterns developed by others for individual blocks, but I devised my own settings. Modern and improvisational quilts have influenced my work, yet some pieces hark back to traditional styles.

Third, I’ve tried out different color palettes, with a serious attempt to use lighter, more monochromatic color schemes. I still love my turquoise, though. I seem to have an evolving interest in luminosity and transparency effects.

Fourth, my efforts to improve my free motion quilting skills haven’t panned out. This may be due in part to sewing machine issues, but I just don’t seem to get it. One piece will go swimmingly while the next one shows absolutely no learning. I don’t enjoy it, but grit my teeth and hope for passable results.

Fifth, I spent a lot of time on at least three unfinished pieces not shown here, but I have to rework them or plunge into intense free motion quilting to finish them.

Sixth, I’ve learned a lot from the work of other quilters – techniques, color schemes, design, fabric choices. Have you been looking over what you made in 2014? Any thoughts on the direction(s) your work is taking?

See you in 2015!


Filed under Completed Projects

Link To Free/Cheap Online Classes

I came across a post from New Zealand blogger Lynette Collis that lists many online art/journaling classes that begin in 2015. I can’t vouch for any, but I wanted to pass along this information in case you hope to try art journaling, or have a yen to stencil.  Finding Your Muse looks intriguing to look for inspiration off-line.

If you try any of these classes I’d love to hear about your experience.



Filed under Commentary, Inspiration, Project Ideas

More On “Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook”

I choose books to review here based on whether I’ve learned anything from them. No one contacts me and says, here’s a free book, would you write about it. On occasion I’ve heard from authors who were happy to have their work mentioned, but it’s always been after the fact.

Recently I received a comment from Leni Wiener, author of Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook. I’m reprinting it here (in case you don’t read the comments made on previous posts) as she clarifies some of my remarks about her book, and makes the readers of this blog an offer.

“Thanks for the really nice review of my book! I want to assure all your blog readers that you can use batting to submit your finished art quilts into quilt shows that still require three layers–I just find I prefer a more “graphic art” (flatter) look to mine. But the whole point is I want to show you the ropes and then you can make the technique your own by adding or subtracting anything you like or don’t. And by the way, I also prepare the pattern for you if you want–and for readers of this blog–just tell me “I read it on the Snarky Quilter” and I will do your first pattern at no charge. Go to and find the Pattern section. Thanks again!”


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Filed under Books

“Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook”

Over the past year I’ve become more aware of quilts based on photographs. Quilters have copied famous photos in fabric. This seemed to arouse controversy at the recent Houston show, where Dorothea Lange’s iconic sharecropper photo was colorized in fabric and thread. At issue was whether this should be considered an original design.


Some print photos on fabric and thread paint them. Yet others digitally manipulate photos, print the results, and combine them with other fabrics. Then there are quilters who make landscape and portrait quilts using a photo to create a pattern.

Leni Levenson Wiener’s new book, Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook, should  speak to the last group.  I’ve made only one quilt using a pattern I adapted from a photo, so I’m no expert on the techniques involved. However, if I were inclined to make another quilt from a photo, I think I’d use this book.

Wiener packs an incredible amount of information into 127 pages, including patterns for two projects. She covers fabric selection for this type of quilt from the all important perspective of value (a face done in purples will work as long as the values are correct,)

old woman_Wiener

and gives tips on how to build your stash for this type of quilt. She walks you through the creation of the quilt shown on the book’s cover from the initial photo to the completed quilt. She shows examples of fabric value choices that don’t work and explains why.

For the technically challenged (my hand is raised) she gives a clear explanation of how to use the free GIMP photo software to make a pattern and directs you to a free website to print it out at the size you want. Of course there are other ways to make a pattern from a photo and enlarge it, but it’s nice to have alternative methods.

All her explanations are copiously illustrated with photos, which look really helpful for understanding how to create the pattern and number the pieces according to their value.

Although this seems a finicky process, Wiener encourages you to be adventurous in fabric selections and depart from your photo to make a better design. The hard work is in the fabric selection for each element (what she calls a group of pattern pieces). Once that’s settled you glue the pieces down for each element, going easy on the glue, place them on the background, and then sew around the pieces with a free motion zigzag stitch. There’s lots of detail about making freezer paper patterns, and no, Wiener doesn’t use fusibles.

Wiener often eschews batting, but sews the elements and background to canvas. This means quilting is nonexistent in some of her pieces, which could be a problem if you like to enter your work in quilt shows. She likes to either wrap her finished pieces around canvas stretchers or finish raw edges with a zigzag stitch.

Even if you never want to make this type of quilt, Wiener’s book has valuable information about fabric print scale and the need to combine different scales for interest and nuance; and useful discussion of fabric choices for portraying land and sea, animals and people.  One tip I picked up was to collect fabrics in the color complementary to my favorite one.

My only caveat (other than lack of discussion on the best scissors to do all that cutting, my hands hurt just reading about it) is that the cut edges of many print fabrics will look white. This isn’t a problem with batiks and hand dyes, as they have no wrong side. The lack of color right at a piece’s edge may bother some quilters. I suspect the same folks might also be bothered by the fraying along the edges. Wiener has made that part of her look, and it lends spontaneity to her work.

The Void  _ 19.5 h x 24.5 w   2008The Void, 2008


Filed under Books

A River Runs Through It

As I worked on a quilt called Kansas, the piece I wrote about here, I decided it really needed a river meandering through the fields with oxbows and other curvy features.

aerial_photo_Geary_County_KansasThis is an aerial photo of the Kansas River in Geary County, Kansas. Locals call it the Kaw.

To create the river of my imagination, I laid a long, thin strip of tracing paper over the approximate center third of my top, and drew a curving line on it. Then, I cut along the line, put down the paper where I wanted my river to flow, and marked the line on the quilt with a blue, water erasable pen after I fused all the quilt layers together. Yes, I use fusible batting, Hobbs 80/20 fusible.


I ended up stitching over that line eight times with different blue-green thread, and even did bobbin stitching to emphasize the line. When it still didn’t stand out enough for me, I pulled out my paintstiks and a stencil brush, and got really emphatic.

The rest of the walking foot quilting is either straight lines to emulate plowed fields or curvy lines to follow the river. If you imagine the view from a plane flying over Kansas I think you might come up with something like this.

Kansas2I think it needs a horizontal orientation to echo the shape of the state.


Filed under Completed Projects, Techniques

Wrapping Up 2014

My recent quilting goal has been to finish up pieces I knew how I wanted to finish. Let’s leave the ones I’m at sea about for 2015. I just finished hand sewing the last of three bindings so I’m ready to show my progress, though I’ll talk about Kansas in another post.

First up is Dancing Stars which I’ve shown earlier. It’s from a paper piecing pattern by Amy Ellis. I had it quilted with an all over pattern and wool batting, which really pops the quilting.

Dancing_StarsThe binding matches the ash gray around the stars.

Dancing_Stars_labelI built the label into the back using a leftover block. One less pesky finishing detail. I even have a hanging sleeve sewn onto this one.

Jeweled Leaves is another geometric, paper pieced quilt. The binding is purple.


To play on the name, I sewed an amethyst “jewel” in the quilt’s center.


I decided to call these two quilts contemporary, as they don’t seem to fit into any other category. Sometimes it’s soothing to work with a block structure. Now, if I could only do work like Sue Benner’s Prairie/Wall #3: Autumn Bluestem which breathes new life into that structure.



Filed under Completed Projects

The Quilter’s Filter

I find that my quilting interests skew how I decode the personal meaning of objects and news. Just the other day I went to an art exhibit that included beautiful stained glass kaleidoscopes. The artist had made some simple ones the viewer could peek through. I did so, looked at the various paintings with it, and immediately thought, what a great tool for designing a quilt. Yes, I know Paula Nadelstern’s work. (Fun fact: Her last name means needle star in German.)


Another example is my reaction to the Pantone color of 2015 – marsala. All I could think was that fabric in that color would really bleed. My personal experience with a burgundy (the wine theme again) colored binding has scarred me for life.

marsala-color-pantone-2015I find I look at photographs differently. A photo of a vintage Knoll furniture ad inspired a quilting design.










And of course photos are wonderful sources of quilt design ideas. Here’s one that I hope to realize in silks, possibly silk organza. I’ve already mentally edited this image, so most of the foreground would be eliminated.

quilt_ideaI’ll save examples of how I and other quilters look at trips to a hardware or drug store for another time, but I know my husband thinks I’m strange for saving the styrofoam trays from the grocery. He doesn’t understand they make great paint palettes.


Filed under Commentary, Inspiration

A Hearty Helping of Fiber

I’m fortunate to live within easy driving distance of the Kent State University Museum in Kent, Ohio. In early December I checked out two fiber related exhibits – Entangled, Fiber to Felt to Fashion and the American Tapestry Alliance’s 10th biennial juried show.

It was such a pleasure to see work by artists who are masters of their techniques. Too often felted and woven items can come across as earnestly homemade and lumpy.

As with many textile/fiber exhibitions, the photos really don’t do justice to the works. A few photos from the tapestry show are on the American Tapestry Alliance’s website, though my favorites don’t seem to be available online.

kuchmablurose1webLialia Kuchma

“North Coast Reflections”

One highlight for me was a birch forest installation of slender 10 foot tall tapestry woven columns set at angles to each other. I felt I was in a forest as I walked around this piece. The artist had woven a carved heart into one of the trees. Another wonderful piece of a rabbit and its shadow was done in slit tapestry weaving. This difficult technique was executed beautifully. I wanted to put a light behind it to see what effect that would give.

The Entangled show was put together for the museum and showed off garments made of nuno felt. According to Wikipedia, the nuno felting “technique bonds loose fibre, usually wool, into a sheer fabric such as silk gauze, creating a lightweight felt. The fibres can completely cover the background fabric, or they may be used as a decorative design that allows the backing fabric to show.”

These pictures are from the exhibit’s catalog.

Marjolaine_Arsenault_EntangledNina_Vance_EntangledMarilou_Moschetti_EntangledDena_Gershon_EntangledThese garments looked wonderfully soft and airy. Many of the dresses would have been perfect for the 1920s. I just wish the catalog had gotten the artists to talk more about the hows and whys of creation, rather than recording the often pretentious (to me) artists’ statements. Example: “…this vest is inspired by the movement of our lives like water…like rivers, like friendships, like sisters by choice.” But I guess that’s one of the differences between craft and art.



Filed under Commentary

An Easier Way To Join Binding Ends

Try this ridiculously easy trick—just kidding—but I did find an easier way to get the ends of my quilt bindings sewn together. Back in the day, quilters were advised to tuck the tail into the binding start that had the edge turned under. This left you with an unsightly bulge.


Then, other methods were put forth to join the two ends at a 45 degree angle. In fact, there’s even a gadget sold to help you do this.


I’ve been using my own version of Sharon Shaumber’s method, which works but is a bit awkward. Then, I found a new method on one of my Pinterest feeds. It advertised ease and success, so I saved it and tried it out for my recent binding marathon (3 quilts in 2 weeks.)

This method comes from McCall’s Quilting, of all places, and you can watch a video on how to use it. If still photos suit you better, you can check them out as well. The instructions are simple and clear. (Editorial note: I would like to know how come the sincere and helpful folks who star in these videos don’t get some advice on their appearance before shooting these things. Even librarians dress better, and that’s going some.)

Easy? Yes. Successful? On my first try I had to resew my 45 degree angle seam to take up some slack as I had more fabric in the binding than I had quilt to attach it to. After that I knew how tight I needed to pull the binding and didn’t have that problem again.

I’m adding this method to my tutorials page.


Filed under Techniques

Have You Tried Paintstiks?

At the November meeting of my art quilt group we played around with paintstiks, which are oil paints compressed into fat crayons. You can draw with them (though nothing too detailed), stencil with them, or do rubbings with them. You can blend the colors together using a special blender crayon. They can be applied directly like crayons or with stencil brushes. Use the shiny side of a sheet of freezer paper as a palette and you can customize your colors for stenciling.


Here’s a member doing rubbings from paintstik plastic plates. You can also use any textured objects that will leave a pattern – pressed glass, leaves, rubber matting, etc.

paintstiks_over_printingpaintstiks_brushesHere are examples of stenciling and rubbing with a stencil brush.

paintstiks_stencil_trivetThe trees were made with a stencil and brush, while the “brain” was made by rubbing a paintstik directly over a trivet.

paintstiks_more_platesThese rubbings were done from plates designed for paper embossing.

Paintstiks are less messy to use than paint, though you need to make sure little shavings don’t get on furniture, floors or clothes; as they will stain if rubbed in. It is oil paint. You let the decorated cloth air dry for 24 hours, and then cover and press the cloth at a temperature suited to the fabric. The paintstik crayons seal themselves with a protective skim coat over the areas you use. This needs to be removed the next time you use them with a paper towel, cloth, knife, or vegetable peeler.

I enjoy the versatility of paintstiks and the many iridescent color choices. You can use them to decorate prewashed fabric, or to enhance your piece after quilting. Check out The Painted Quilt by Linda and Laura Kemshall for inspiration. Here’s links to some online tutorials: Dharma Trading Post video, Craft Test Dummies, and Blue Twig Studio. We found that Dawn Blue dish soap works well for brush/stencil/stamp clean up.

If you’ve played with paintstiks I’d love to hear about how you used them.


Filed under Fabric Printing, Techniques