Friday, December 18, 2009

2009 update

The biggest news is that I am now retired after many, many, very satisfying years in the classroom. So I am free to devote heaps of time to quilting (in addition to all my other passions).

I was no less productive in 2009 than in years past, it is just that I posted all of my earlier quilts in one "fell swoop" at the end of 2008. The two recent Tidepool quilts were the focus of my attention at the beginning of the year but once they were finished, I switched to the "Senegal" travel poster in time for the Coastal Quilters Guild Challenge in June. August was happily spent in the cabin at the family ranch in northern Colorado spent making three queen size quilts to add to my stock pile. Trouble was that no sooner were they in it then they were out - my brother relayed the wonderful news that both of his daughters have either married or are about to be. The third I had mentally set aside for Toby since the only "large" quilt I've ever made for him was twin-size. He and his lady Lauren picked out a very colorful creation which will be posted next year because the back has yet to be made. Their quilt will be two-sided with the second side made of Senegalese fabrics Toby brought back to me after each stay there. Meanwhile, I've been whiling away my time making graduation presents (June is fast approaching) and next year's Guild Challenge.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about this year has been getting my work shown. Over the years I have hung quilts at the local Coastal Quilters Guild biennial show "Harvest of Colors" but these are not juried exhibitions. "Tidepool Souvenirs" was my first juried exhibit; it was shown at Road to California in January. Its successor, "Tidepool Souvenirs - Littoral Memories" was juried into Pacific International Quilt Festival in October. December marked my first ever one-person show at The Health Gallery here in Santa Barbara.

This year's quilts are tucked away under the rubrics: Tidepool Quilts, Watercolor Wash, Pyramid and Landscape.

Pyramid Quilts

I was impressed when my fellow Blockhead, Kathy Rose, made a version of this quilt a couple of years ago - it showed a lot of potential for using up fabrics of which I have an embarrassing amount. Although Bob thinks that he is seeing all the fabric in my stash because there are about two dozen large plastic tubs in full view on the shelf in my sewing room, he is sorely mistaken. I've got little hiding places of which he is blissfully ignorant. Since all the fabric came out of my own paycheck, I don't feel the need to confess.

This was made as a wedding present for one of my brother Mont's daughters.

Bouquet de couleurs
76x90 inches

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tidepool Quilts

This is the first in a series of (so far three) tidepool quilts inspired by the
hundreds of hours spent puddling around in the intertidal with my marine biologist husband and three children. The background is pieced from about six different fabrics featuring rocks and pebbles. Then I added the sand (teeny fabric chips trapped under tulle) and water. The surface is richly embellished with stuffed fabric shells, buttons, ribbons, yarn, beads and fabric origami starfish. I dream about including an octopus but haven't mastered that one yet. This quilt was exhibited at the "Road to California" quilt show, January 2009. I am proud that it will hang in the office of our dear friend and Bob's colleague, Jane Lubchenco, newly appointed director of NOAA in the Obama administration.

Tidepool Souvenirs
18 x 24 inches

The second in the series was made for my sister Nan Downs Leedy who is fortunate to live right on Puget Sound and so can play in the tidepools any time.

Tidepool Souvenirs 2
24 x 30 inches

The third but I think not the last was made
for my husband Bob. It is a real triumph although, sad to say, the photo does not do it justice. It is jampacked with marine organisms including several kinds of algae, two species of barnacles (tiny dime-sized "yoyos"), a nudibranch beaded to within an inch of its little life, two species of starfish of the genus Pisaster, sea anemones (both open and closed), assorted snails and bivalves, a shark egg case and even an octopus. This latter did all it could to get out of the picture; you can see that it is trying to back into a little cave. Only the feathers are found objects; all the rest are fashioned as mentioned above of fabric, ribbons, yarn, buttons and beads. The quilt was exhibited at the 2009 Pacific International Quilt Festival.

Tidepool Souvenirs-Littoral Memories
30x42 inches

Meandering quilt

Reynola Pacusich gave a guild workshop in 2000 (or was it 2001?). My second son received this quilt for his high school graduation. The colors, green and gold, are those of the high school my children all attended and at which I teach. The three complete circles symbolize my three children.

72 x 84 inches

Curved Piecing Quilts

I took a workshop from Judy B. Dales on "Curved Piecing" at Asilomar in the spring of 2000. As if the technique wasn't challenging enough, she dared us to work in a color palette that we always avoid. I loathe pink, so here it is, an improbable flower in pinks and lavenders.

Olivia's Wild Flower
36 x 36 inches

The Coastal Quilters Guild challenge a few years ago was themed "Black and White with a little Color". Using Judy Dales's curved piecing technique again (am I a glutton for punishment?), I came up with this little piece to celebrate the first (and sadly also last) Santa Barbara Tango and Malambo Festival in 2003. I gave it to the Festival organizer and Santa Barbara Symphony director, Gisele Ben-Dor.

Tango Dancers
42 x 36 inches

Bird Quilt

SBCC Adult Ed instructor Norah McMeeking offered a class a few years back on paper piecing California birds. I immediately imagined making an East Coast birds quilt as I felt that my husband and I really "owed one" to my older sister Helen and her husband, long-time residents of upstate NY and serious birdwatchers, for nurturing our two sons while they were at Cornell University, 3000+ miles away. I'm sorry that this format does not do justice to the little tweeters. I  tried valiantly to upload images of some of the individual birds but I failed miserably.

Bird Quilt
42 x 36 inches

Kaleidoscope quilts

Shortly after I took up quilting again in the early 1990s, I came across a pattern put out by The Cranberry Cupboard called Kaleidoscope. It was a simple pattern, perfect for a busy working mom with three school-age kids. I made a matching set for our two sons which are still on their beds at home (they're adults now and long gone).

60 72 inches

My daughter Olivia adores rabbits and got her first as a reward for learning to read. Fortunately for me she was a "dress" and not a "pants" girl, so when she was small, I had a great time making dresses with bunny fabrics. Each spring, I would scour the fabric shops for rabbit theme prints. I saved all the scraps and made her a Kaleidoscope quilt which is even now on her bed at university. One spring, there was a bunny alphabet fabric which I used to spell out her name on the back.

Bunny Quilt
60 x 72 inches

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fish Quilts

I spent a lovely four day weekend at a quilting retreat in Cambria, CA organized by Rob Appell of The Cotton Ball fabric store in Morro Bay in the fall of 2004. It was a lot of fun to learn his fusible applique technique. This coral reef scene was a wedding present for Bob's postdoc, Jenn Caselle, who has spent many more hours underwater than anyone else I know. Sadly, the photo does not do it justice because it has a ton of detail.

Reefer Madness
48 x 40 inches

Here's the family hero, the Bluehead Wrasse, Thalassoma bifasciatum, which has been the subject of my husband's research for 30+ years. It's put dinner on the table all these years. The interesting feature of this fish's life history is that it changes sex from female (the black and yellow striped individual) into a bluehead male if it lives long enough. If you aren't going to get "any action" as a small male individual, then you might as well be female. But there are some males who "cheat" on the system and that's the little fellow on the right. He has huge testes and will come streaking in out of nowhere when the pair are mating and "flood" the spawn with his sperm. The fish in this quilt feature fluttery fins. It hangs in Bob's office.

24 x 36 inches

When they announced that the 2001 Guild Challenge had to use the traditional 
Mariner's Compass block, I confess that I immediately envisioned sea urchins. I guess that comes from spending literally hundreds of hours assisting my ichthyologist husband with his research. This entailed floating around on coral reefs watching fish. What the target fish were doing was not always fascinating so I watched other species out of the corner of my eye. A favorite distraction was always the triggerfish. This fellow is purely fanciful. I stuffed it trapunto-style and its dorsal and pectoral fins are of a filmy fabric which flutters in a luscious fashion. Years later I am still pleased with this piece and dream of doing a series of fish quilts after I retire.

Urchin Feast
30 x 40 inches

An early "Watercolor Wash" type quilt featuring a seascape. The gold line in 
the middle is supposed to suggest sunlight reflecting on the surface of the water; the photo does not do it justice but it is also not a remarkable effort. I also stuffed four or five fish using the trapunto technique for the first time. I was frightfully proud of my efforts at the time; now I readily recognize that this quilt is no great shakes.

Under the Sea
36 x 28 inches

Black, White & Red Quilts

Earlier this year, I made a black and white log cabin quilt (see Log Cabin Quilts post) and was so taken with the look that I decided to make a series of lap sized quilts entitled Black, White and Barely Re(a)d for the women in one of my book groups, the Bookies. I made 10 in all, eight for the women in my group, one for a dear friend and colleague who lost her home and everything in it in the recent Tea Fire and one for my piano teacher. Where possible, I used fabrics that reflect the personality of the gal in question: cat fabrics for the kitty lovers, dog fabrics for the one with a pooch, fashion fabrics for the "fashionista" and musical fabrics for my piano teacher. I presented them at the December meeting this year; my pals were surprised and totally delighted.The quilts are numbered in the order in which they were made. It took me about nine months (January-September) to complete this project but I was really revved up. Here I am with the "girls"just after they opened their quilts.

Any dreams I had of reducing my stash of black, white and red fabrics were smashed to smithereens; I now have probably three times as much as I had before I started and will have to keep on making B/W & R quilts forever.

This is a traditional pattern that has many names including Jacob's Ladder

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #1
54 x 64 inches

This quilt combines the traditional blocks Rising Star and Snail's Trail

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #2
45 x 45 inches

Good old Log Cabin, it's quick and easy, with a Fence Rail border.

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #3
51 x 51 inches

The inspiration for this little kitty quilt is hanging in the Treasure Hunt, the fabric store in Carpenteria, CA.

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #4
50 x 50 inches

See the post "Black, White and Red Continued" for the rest of the quilts. It has been challenging to put this many photos on one post.

Black, White and Red Quilts continued

Here we have a Rising Star in the center surrounded by Log Cabin with a Flying Geese border and Pinwheel in the corners. There is a little dog at the very center.

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #5
42 x 42 inches

This quilt employs the Seminole technique and features a delicious variety of fashion fabrics. I would say that it's my favorite of the series because I laughed the most while sewing it.

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #6
48 x 55 inches

The basic unit here is the Half-Square Triangle.

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #7
56 x 56 inches

Lerlene Nevaril in Hidden Blocks, 2002, calls the basic units of this quilt Arrowhead.

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #8
44 x 44 inches

This is, in fact, a Log Cabin, with black and white blocks and red and pink blocks whose corners were chopped off and switched around. The idea was developed by Katie Pasquini Masopust in "Dancing Log Cabins", Quilters Newsletter Magazine, Spring 2000

Black, White and Barely Re(a)d #9
55 x 55 inches

The Seminole technique redux using musical fabrics

Harmony in Black, White and Red
48 x 55 inches

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


My very first landscape was in response to the Coast Quilters Guild annual challenge in 2000. Because it was the millenium, the piece had to have a time related theme and incorporate a time piece. I took a quote from Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: "Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."

Actually what happened is I made a landscape based on a photograph I had taken of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in spring. The quilt was very flat so I added a stream. Then the challenge theme was announced and I added the timepiece which is actually one of the rocks in the lower left corner.

Time is But a River
32 x 24 inches

My friend Carol Barringer took a workshop some years back from Carol Bryer Fallert and, with permission, herself gave a workshop to share the techniques she learned. It's a technique I love to use. First you cover some throw away fabric with shreds of fabrics to create the background. Then you build up the mid- and foregrounds with fussy cut bits. The various layers are held down with tulle and made to behave by stitching wildly all over the place. The final details are then added. Lastly a new backing is put on (you wouldn't believe the mess that the original backing becomes) and the whole quilted to make it look nice.

Time to Move On
12 x 16 inches

In 1987, my marine biologist husband Bob moved his field operations from Panama to St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. We bought a little house there. The summer following, our daughter Olivia was born there. This little quilt shows the view from our porch towards Buck Island National Monument.

Buck Island
16 x 12 inches

More of Buck Island, this time at sunset. We used to have dinner on the verandah and give names to the marvelous thunder cloud formations.

Tropical Sunset
18 x 14 inches

This little quilt was made for my oldest son, Toby's graduation from Cornell. There are t-shirts and bumper stickers which read "Ithaca is Gorges" and it is indeed. I wrestled with the problem of suggesting a waterfall and ended up crumpling tulle suggestively. I'm not entirely satisfied with the result but I have yet to go back and try again.

Ithaca Falls
14 x 18 inches

My pal Kathy Rose and I were co-chairs this year (2009) of the Coastal Quilters Guild annual Challenge. The theme was The Art of Travel Posters and the only requirement (other than size) was that the quilt had to feature at least one word. The turn out was spectacular; to see other quilts, go to:
This is a congratulatory present to Toby on passing his PhD qualifying exams in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley with a focus on the literature of Senegal. It was lots of fun poking around the Internet for inspiring photos; ironically, I ended up using one taken by Toby's girlfriend, Lauren.

18x24 inches

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Scrap Quilts

I am a big fan of the Australian quilter, Margaret Rolfe's quilt books. The concept in each is absurdly simple and yet remarkably rich in possibilities. In her first book, co-authored with Judy Hooworth, Spectacular Scraps, 1999, she shows how the basic block, a half-square triangle, that is a square bisected on the diagonal, can be grouped together in groups of four blocks in, hold on to your seats, a staggering 256 different combinations, that is 4 factorial. Then, of course, one can combine those 256 different little four patches in an infinite number of arrangements. My "satellite" quilt group, the Blockheads, twice did a half-square triangle exchange in a given palette, once in earth tones, once in cool colors. Each of us was to make 30 4-square blocks for each other "Blockhead" to be presented at the holiday party in December. We all, of course, ended up with oodles of blocks and I was able to make a number of quilts, large and small.

Fallen Leaves on Frozen Pond
72 x 72 inches

In a later book, Successful Quilts, 2002 co-authored with
Judy Turner, Margaret Rolfe uses a simple rectangle as the basis for a slew of luscious designs. I donated this quilt to the annual fundraiser for Channelkeeper, an environmental watchdog group on whose board my husband Bob serves.

Blue Lagoon
72 x 72 inches

Back in the early 1970s, Bob and I picked up a lovely Triple Irish Chain at a garage
sale in San Diego for $25. We literally wore it out. I hankered to have another and after years of searching, found an easy to follow technique in Tradition with a Twist by Blanche Young and Dalene Young Stone, 1999. My friend Nancy King did the machine quilting and put a different motif in each of the plain squares, just as there had been on the one we used to have.This is the quilt that graces our bed.

Triple Irish Chain
84 x 84 inches

Log Cabin Quilts

I took a Log Cabin class at Adult Ed taught by Marty Frolli in the winter of 1998. I made this quilt for the wedding of my nephew Greg Downs and Diane. Marti had us make an assortment of log cabin squares, one a week, then put them all together into a traditional design. I used her idea and made my own design.

84 x 84 inches

This quilt, made for my dear friend, Nancy Dubie, was inspired by a quilt I saw at the Cheyenne,Wyoming quilt show some years back. The little centers of the squares  are in the colors of the rainbow and run diagonally. (This is a terrible photograph but it's all I've got).

Nothing  is All Black and White, There is Always a Little Color
72 x 84 inches

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Strip pieced landscapes

I was very taken with the photograph on the cover of Joen Wolfrom's Landscapes & Illusions, 1990 and resolved to try her technique. Why I didn't design a simple landscape is anybody's guess since Joen's technique involves tricky little angles. But no...I don't ever shrink from the nearly impossible. So I decided to make a quilt to give the then headmaster of Santa Barbara Middle School, Kent Ferguson in gratitude for his guidance of our children during their early adolescent years. The quilt features characters in the stories Kent used to tell around the campfire in the evenings on the school's long bicycle trips to the Four Corners area of the southwestern United States. Included are Spider Woman, Jumping Mouse and the Crow. The figure of Spider Woman is inspired by a pastel by RC Gorman which we have hanging on our living room wall. She is seated on a copy one of the Navajo rugs in our collection. The spider on the loom is beaded. I will freely admit that this was one of the most difficult projects I have ever tackled because I had not really mastered paper piecing which is the technique I used to construct the figures. These were then incorporated into the strip pieced background.

Southwest Legends
36 x 28 inches

As if that wasn't enough self-abuse, I made the quilt double sided. On the back I used fabrics featuring Kokopelli, Kent's favorite legendary character, which I chanced to find that year. The bicycle wheel with the diamond inscribed in it is the logo of the SB Middle School.  

Diamond in the Wheel
36 x 28 inches

What nearly killed me was a few years later I got a phone call saying that mice had nibbled on the quilt during the summer while it was in storage in Kent's office. Fortunately, I had enough scraps still lying around that I could applique them on. The damage was barely noticeable.

Auction Quilts

During the years our children were at Montessori Center School, I donated a number of quilts to their annual fundraiser. The earliest ones were pieced by me and then handquilted by a group of MCS moms who met once a week in the evening over the course of a few months. I have a photographic record of only one those quilts. It was made in 1996 on the occasion of the school's 30th birthday and features a label on the back with a photograph and the signatures of all the teachers then at the school as well as a signed photo of the quilters. It is now in the possession of Dr. Karen Engberg, some of whose four children were in the same classes as our three.

94 x 94 inches
Then I made a number of auction quilts on my own. This "Star Album" was made in an SBCC Adult Education class taught by Marty Frolli in 1999. We learned to draft patterns, not something I enjoyed. Some of the stars were quite challenging. This quilt fetched the very handsome price of $6000 at the auction.

84 x 84 inches

I also donated a "Watercolor" landscape quilt , again using the technique described by Magaret and Slusser in Watercolor Impressions, 1993. It features the gate in the adobe wall of a garden in downtown Santa Barbara. There weren't all that many fabrics with plants available at that time so I had to resort to upholstery fabrics in places.

42 x 30 inches

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Baby Quilts

I have made a fair number of baby quilts over the years for the offspring of nieces and nephews and friends. My earliest ones were based on the pattern Trip Around The World. In an undated article that I snipped out of Quilters' Newsletter Magazine more than a decade ago, Barb Gorges described a quick method for piecing this quilt that takes advantage of strip piecing and tube construction. I made it four or five times and even bullied my then 10 year old daughter Olivia into making one.

Rainbow 'Round the World
48 x 48 inches

Made for Benjamin Danjoux whose mother, Anne Silverstein, lived in our little apartment downstairs for two years and babysat our kids. The Danjoux family lives in Rheims, France.

Another quilt pattern that I have used a lot recently is titled Once Upon a Time but I have shortened its name to Story Time. It appears in The Modern Quilt Workshop: Patterns, Techniques and Designs from the Funquilters Studio by Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle, 2005. It features fussy cut squares cut from kid fabrics that are connected by lines. It is hoped that the adult cradling the child in his/her lap will narrate silly stories with the items featured in the squares as a point of departure. My satellite group, the Blockheads, did a square exchange for this quilt so as to maximize the variety of characters in the story.

Story Time
42 x 52 inches

I made one quilt using Doreen Speckman's Peaky and Spike patterns in Pattern Play, 1993. I called it The One that Got Away and made it for the daughter of our dear friends, Pierre and Natalie Lejeune at 
the STARESO lab in Calvi, Corsica.

42 x 42 inches

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Watercolor quilts

For a couple of years in the mid 1990s, I was enamored of the technique developed by Pat Maixner Magaret and Donna Ingram Slussner in Watercolor Quilts, That Patchwork Place, 1993, and made at least a half dozen small wall hangings which I gave away to various friends. They were quite labor intensive since you "fussy" cut small squares which  you then arrange like dots of paint on a canvas. They are strip pieced but they do twist and turn around and get all messed up if you so much as blink. Since that time, a type of interfacing has been developed onto which one spot irons the small squares. This greatly facilitates the sewing operation. I haven't gone back to this technique to try out that interfacing stuff but it's sitting on the shelf waiting.

"Margaret's Flower Garden", 1998, 24x30 inches

When my dear friend and former piano teacher Nina moved to the Seattle area, her first house had no kitchen window which was very depressing so I made her a little quilt window to brighten her life. The redeeming feature of the fussy cutting involved in this technique is that you can incorporate little figures. Her quilt features cats because she's a serious cat person. I have slipped in birds, insects, dogs and rabbits into other quilts.

"Nina's Window", 1998, 24x30 inches

Pioneer Braid Quilt

This quilt is a great way to use up scraps in a rainbow array of colors. The pattern was developed by Carol Scherer based on the traditional Pioneer Braid Quilt and published in Grandmother's Scrap Bag Favorites,  House of White Birches. I made it for my oldest sister Helen and her husband Chris Haller to express our appreciation for all their loving support of our two sons when they were away at Cornell University in frozen upstate New York. I made another one for my dear niece, Lorna Leedy, on the occasion of her marriage to Peter Maggio in July 2006.

"Cat's Meow", 2006 

(the quilting itself features pussy cats because Helen and Chris are real cat lovers)

Watercolor wash quilts

I have made a good number of watercolor wash quilts over the course of the last decade (inspired by Deanna Spingola's More Strip-Pieced Watercolor Magic, That Patchwork Place, 1997). They make terrific presents for whatever occasion. Lucky recipients include my brother Monty Downs on his marriage to Elaine, my nephew Ben Haller when he wedded Keewi, my neighbor's successful battle against lung cancer, Olivia's host family in Nantes, France when we visited them in 2005 and numerous others. It is a deceptively easy quilt to make, involving strip piecing which is a very rapid technique. The beauty is in the proper choice of values not colors.

Age of Aquarius, 2003, 84x84 inches (for my neighbor, Ken Falstrom)

Ben and Keewi's wedding quilt
84x84 inches

Monty & Elaine's Wedding Quilt
84 x 84 inches

Wedding Bouquet
84x84 inches

Made for my brother Mont's older daughter, Amy Jean