Monthly Archives: December 2016

Year End Thoughts On My Master Class

I signed up for Elizabeth Barton’s master class at the end of 2015 on a whim after I saw she had a last minute cancellation. I had taken her working in series online class so I was familiar with her style. Would I do it again? Yes.

The class was valuable to me though I don’t agree with everything said about my work. A lot I did agree with. I made nine pieces I most likely wouldn’t have made without the class and several sketches that have promise for future work. I learned a lot from Elizabeth’s critiques of my class mates’ work. She can really put her finger on the soft spots and make specific suggestions for improvements. Each class member had a different style and I was so glad no attempts were made to change those styles. I’ve observed in some workshops that students will emulate the teacher’s work. Elizabeth never showed us hers.

Why did I decide to invest in the class?

A little background. I began my art quilt journey in 2011 and was pretty much self-guided. I did give myself a workshop with Rosalie Dace as a retirement gift, and jumped off a cliff into original design. Here’s the never quilted piece I made. I did alter it a bit and sew it together once I got home, but I got stuck on how to FMQ a 36 by 48 inch piece. It resides in my big black trunk waiting for my FMQ skills to improve.

img_0728Probably I would have done better to take that class in 2013, when I knew more about what I wanted to do.

Around 2015 I joined an art quilt critique group, and realized how helpful the knowledgeable input of others could be. That group has since become more focused on art quilt beginners, who are at a different stage than me. Others have looked at my work and made helpful suggestions, but I’ve had no regular review of my work in progress.

So, back to the master class. Mentally I was ready for knowledgeable review of my work. I wasn’t going to dissolve into tears if someone pointed out a flaw and I needed a more disciplined approach to improving my work. What I hadn’t realized was the time it would take to develop ideas in a disciplined way. Typically I work on two or three projects at the same time, and flit among them depending on my inspiration and whim. Some are finished quickly, while others lurk behind the door to my sewing room (on the piece of flannel there) for months.

I also didn’t realize how different it is to have someone review my work from its inception in a sketch. I learned that a keen eye at this stage can save a lot of trouble later on. Elizabeth kindly pointed out black holes in the middle of my sketches, blah ideas, tweaks that could make the piece sparkle, and how boys would see boobs in my half circles.

Elizabeth asked us to answer some questions about our experience. Here are excerpts from my evaluation:

This year I’ve been forced to do what I knew I needed to do, but kept avoiding – develop ideas in sketch form first. I love physically playing with fabrics, so composing on the fly was addictive. The problem was that identifying design weaknesses came much later in the development process, so making changes was harder.

I came into the class with a fair ability to sort values and identify where value changes were needed. I also had few problems with nonrepresentational use of color. Much of this was based on intuition. The class has helped me be able to say, that’s right/not right, BECAUSE…  I’ve gained a more disciplined approach to my work, though I’ll still continue to have my play times.

Before this class my work was either abstract or fairly representational, with no middle ground. When I worked from a photo I did some rearrangement of elements, but didn’t really leave the photo behind. During the class I worked to extrapolate elements from photos, without creating a recognizable rendering of the photo.

I feel my two major weaknesses are difficulties with proportion and balance in compositions and not thinking things through.  Proportion is often critical in abstract works as the viewer has little identifiable subject matter to focus on so the relationships among the shapes are important. Proportions aren’t camouflaged by other pictorial elements.

I tend to go with one of the first few design possibilities rather than try other approaches in my excitement over what I think is the perfect design. Later, sometimes after I’ve made the piece, I realize I should have done things differently.

Lessons learned: slow down, but keep going.

While we gave Elizabeth evaluations of our progress, she didn’t give each of us an overall evaluation. The closest she got for me was, “Great work JMM!!!  it’s been a pleasure….” at the end of her last set of comments. Well, that was nice, and certainly epitomizes Elizabeth’s use of punctuation.

My resolve is to continue a more disciplined approach to my work, and develop sketches of some kind (pencil, collage, etc.) to work out my design beforehand. It’s funny that I would draft layouts and colors for my traditional quilts but felt such planning would impede my art quilts. I think there’s a strong bias toward improv inspiration in art quilting, that working directly with your fabric on the design wall is the way to proceed. It’s certainly one way to proceed, but may not be the most effective.

As always, the advice is out there; but you have to be in a receptive frame of mind to embrace it. It took me five years, but now I’m ready.



Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Completed Projects

I Lied…

about my work in 2016 as I’d forgotten about two more pieces. I completed “Golden” as a December what-the-heck piece for my master class. I also finished a color wash bed throw I started a year ago. I put it in my working quilt oeuvre (that’s a pretentious word for stuff.)

“Golden” is made with painted tissue paper and fabric. I tried to work on one of my self-identified weaknesses, proportion. It still didn’t pass the Elizabeth test. While she liked the colors and textures, she felt another section on the left side would help the balance. Well, yes, but I have no more compatible fabrics, so I’ll just live with it. It’s quilted onto a piece of wool/rayon felt, so it’s two, not three, layers. No quilt shows for this one.

Golden 2016 27 x 32"

The bed throw I made last December was finally completed by a long arm quilter. The delay was totally my doing. At 72 inches square it wouldn’t have gotten done in my studio. It used up a lot of strips from my scrap bins and I had fun sorting them by value and color.


It’s cheerful and very textured, since I washed it before I bound it. I was surprised it got so crinkly as all the fabrics were pre-washed and the batting is polyester Quilters Dream.


Filed under Completed Projects

Master Class Gallery

Since most of the quilts I made in 2016 were developed for my online master class with Elizabeth Barton, I’ll just run through those as my year end review. Each month we were given a theme. We were to develop sketches for three possible pieces, block out the chosen one in fabric, and complete that piece. Elizabeth commented at each step, but we were free to use as many or as few of her suggestions as we wanted.


Big Leaf 10.5" sq.

Big Leaf 10.5″ sq.


Flaming Out

Flaming Out 15.5″ x 19.5″

Heading Home

Heading Home 22.5″ x 23.5″


The Language of Pink Elephants

The Language of Pink Elephants 30.5″ x 42.5″


Tidal Marsh in Spring

Tidal Marsh in Spring 13.5″ x 31″


Unfolding 25" sq.

Unfolding 25″ sq.



Connect The Dots 19.5″ x 34″


It's All About Me

It’s All About Me 21.5″ square

Lost and Found Edges

Emeralds Islets 20" x 28" approx.

Emerald Islets 20″ x 28″ approx.


Distilled 30" sq.

Distilled 30″ sq.

I didn’t complete anything for our dominant color assignment, and haven’t finished the real piece for lost and found edges. One month we were to critique a quilt, so we made nothing of our own. Finally, December was a finish it up month, though we could either remake an earlier piece to improve on it or work to overcome a weakness in a new piece.

As with any class, you get out of it what you put into it. I’m still thinking over what I gained from this class, and will write about it when my thoughts have gelled more. I will say that the basic advice Elizabeth had for me was “keep going.”


Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects

Small Changes, Big Impact

I avoid photos of dream sewing studios, knowing full well I will never invest that kind of money in a room, barring a million dollar inheritance. My 12 by 14 foot room has a closet, two windows, and several electrical outlets. Most of the last seem to be located behind furniture. How does that happen?

I had worked for four years with a furniture arrangement that seemed a reasonable compromise. Then, about three weeks ago I realized if I moved my work table I could get much more natural light and more open space to maneuver around the table. So, with the help of my husband and the vacuum cleaner I made the change. Now, there isn’t a dark area between the windows, and the ceiling light isn’t behind me when I work at the table.


If that weren’t enough, my husband replaced the light bulbs with newer, energy saving bulbs that shed more light. He also gave me a holiday gift early – a string of LED lights for my sewing machine. They’re from Inspired LED. It’s like I have a runway for my fabric.



Filed under Commentary

“Picture This: How Pictures Work”

Any quilter who hasn’t followed the exact fabrics and instructions in a quilt pattern has made design decisions. They could have been to change the size or borders, or use a different color scheme; but they were conscious decisions to alter the original in some fashion. I say because even if you don’t design all original work you may benefit from Molly Bang’s “Picture This: How Pictures Work.”

Bang, a children’s book author and illustrator, wanted to explore how certain elements in pictures affect our feelings. After all, in children’s books the illustrations are very much in service to the story. She wanted to ask, “How does the structure of a picture – or any visual art form – affect our emotional response?”

To work through that question Bang told the story of Little Red Riding Hood with very simple geometric shapes, beginning with Red as a bright red triangle.


Using colored paper, Bang created several versions of the scene in the woods with Red and the Wolf. Her goal was to maximize fear on Red’s part and menace on the Wolf’s. The pictures of her changes and the reasons behind them are a master class in design by themselves. The examples below are just two steps of the changes. The final version is on the right.


The books’ second part enumerates 12 design principles and illustrates them with more colored paper images. Now, you’ve probably already read/heard of most of the principles, though I’d never come across “We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves.” before. However, it’s those simple illustrations that made all the difference for me.

I realize that Bang has a story teller’s perspective, but isn’t a primary purpose of art to evoke emotions? I don’t want to get tangled in the thickets of the “purpose of art” here. I do want to share a possibly useful resource with you.

Like many quilters with design aspirations I own Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired To Design,” Joen Wolfrom’s “Adventures In Design,” Sandra Meech’s “Connecting Design To Stitch,” and Jean Wells’ “Intuitive Color & Design.” All these contain valuable insights and copious visual examples. Yet it took a red triangle to make it real for me.

This book was originally published in 1991, but has been recently reissued and expanded. Your library may have a copy.You can read a PDF of the 1991 version. It will take you an hour (at most) to look through it. Sometimes simpler is better.


Filed under Books

A Tale That Hangs By A Thread

Somehow I went from looking for basting thread to a trip down memory lane the other day. I decided to hand baste a silk project because it would be easier than machine basting or fusing and thought I could use some old (and I mean more than 50 years old so it counts as antique) thread. I chose this vivid green.


My mother and grandmother both sewed, so I inherited bits of their sewing supplies. (I still have a tin of darning eggs and thread.) I’m sure I’ve thrown out lots over the years as the elastic lost its snap and seam tape turned odd colors. Spools of thread don’t take up much space so I hung onto them. Besides, I’m fond of wooden spools.

As I rummaged through my boxes of thread (beautiful Shaker boxes that were gifts) I pulled some out of the wooden spools to test thread strength. The thread almost cut my fingers before it broke so I used it for my basting, and then pulled out all the old spools I could find.


The oldest seemed to be the Belding Corticelli wooden spools of cotton marked size 50, 19 cents (15 cents in one case.) I surmised that the spools made of some composition material were next oldest, followed by the plastic spools. The last were the dread cotton covered poly threads. Over the roughly 20 years represented by my sample the price of 150 yards of cotton sewing thread climbed from 15 cents to 50 cents.

I did the thread strength test on all I found.  The oldest threads turned out to be the strongest. One, by American, a manufacturer I never heard of, was almost impossible to snap. Once Belding Corticelli became other companies (Belding, Belding Lily) thread quality went down, judging by how easily the thread broke. The old Coats & Clark’s cotton thread fared about the same. The cotton poly thread proved to be tough. I recall using it during the sixties for my make in one hour outfits.

So, as long as a thread seems strong I’ll continue to use it whatever its age. I’ll pitch the threads that break easily and make more room in my thread boxes. Besides, I see that entrepreneurs on Etsy and eBay are asking at least $3 for old wooden spools.

Footnote: I’ve tried to research the history of the Belding Corticelli Co. and found this on the Belding component. It seems that mergers in the 1920s and 1930s resulted in Belding Corticelli. For those interested in the history of the U.S. silk industry, here’s a link to “American Silk, 1830-1930.” A very personal take on the changes in thread manufacturers can be found on an undated blog post by Harry, Coats Plant Maintenance, Hendersonville, NC.


Filed under Commentary

Thankfully, November’s Project Is Done

After some fits with sewing every seam in wrong (I certainly should know better), ripping out, and resewing; I finished piecing, quilting, and facing “Distilled,” my November master class project. The quilting design is from the fencing shown in the original photo, with more lines on the vertical than the horizontal, and the horizontal lines sewn with heavier thread.


Despite votes to keep the swoops in the original sketch, I eliminated them. While eye catching, they made the piece look like a warning sign for hazardous material. Here’s an idea of what the swoops would have looked like.


I did use the black/white ombre fabric, and painted it to make it duck egg blue after I decided the jaggedy fabric was too jarring.


I call it “Distilled” because 1) it’s taken from a photo of a distillery, and 2) it attempts to distill elements of the source photo without any attempt at replicating it.:

Here are Elizabeth’s comments on it:

this came out very well….I really like your abstraction of the photograph which still retains  the angles and the “window” sense…  and the little pops of bright color…
the simplicity of the quilting beautifully matches the  aesthetic and content of  the idea which is very pleasing.  A very well composed and unified piece that still has a little tweak of uncertainly with the odd bending of that one angle!! good one!!



Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects