Fun MISA Retreat with Sue Benner



What a wonderful way to start 2018!  Sue Benner’s “Sewing the Land” quilt retreat in Tucson was eye opening, challenging, and so much fun! I have been meaning to write about this since the retreat, but I came home so inspired that I have been working on my projects that were started in Tucson and have done some new collages, so I had not had time to sit down and write about it.   The setting was the picturesque Tanque Verde Ranch outside of Tucson, AZ, and is one of the winter retreats offered by Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA).  The desert landscape in Tucson is so inspiring, and other worldly, that it was fodder for our imaginations.

If you are unfamiliar with Sue Benner, check out her website  at or bennersue on instagram.  First, I would like to say that Sue is an amazing artist, so talented and knowledgeable.  She was very organized, thoughtful, gave great lectures on both her technique as well as on art theory and principles and elements of design, and she was fun!  Our group all got along well and everyone was creative, talented, and from very diverse professional backgrounds.  My friend, Debbie Geistweidt, of Debbie G’s Fiber Art ( from Fredericksburg, Tx went as well and we had a great time…bickering like sisters the whole time!  Del Thomas posted many photos of works of the majority of students at the retreat on her blog:  Sue also posted a number of pictures of everyone’s work on her instagram page “bennersue”.  Check them out and see all the great art that was created!

The food was wonderful!  Which is very important to me.  We all ate like it was our last meal! All that mental concentration and creative thinking burn some calories!  The organizational skills of Heather Atherton  who is in charge of student services for MISA, made everything run so smoothly.  If we needed anything, all we had to do was ask Heather.

Sue asked us ahead of time to bring 4-10 landscape photographs from which we were to create several small (6×9″ish) and 1-2 larger quilt studies.  The technique involves creating a fused fabric collage.  We start with a “quilt canvas” compoased of backing fabric fused to batting.  We use pieces of fabric to which we have ironed on double sided sheets of thin glue.  We cut out shapes from our fabric and iron them onto the quilt canvas.   As in landscape painting there is a background, mid-ground, and foreground. Usually we start at the top (background) and work our way down to the foreground.  Then the pieces are quilted and edges bound in one of several ways (this was done once at home).

I took this sunset photo overlooking the meadow in front of our house in October.   On the right is my interpretation of the photo that I did at the retreat.  This was my first small study (6×9″).  Since coming home I have added some hand stitching in the sky, but have not quite finished it.

Next was a photo of Indian blankets under a mesquite tree which was also taken at the ranch in the spring.  It was a challenge to make the mesquite tree leaves look fine and feathery.  The larger Indian blanket flowers were cut from a fun ribbon I had brought.  This one has been quilted but the edges have not been bound yet.

My son Jamie spent some time in the Yucatan peninsula in college and while rummaging around in some of his old pictures (amid crazy fraternity photos!) I found this picture of a cliff and beach scene taken at Tuluma.  The finishing touch was to add the red bromeliad.  The edges were zig-zag stitched four times using a different variegated thread each time.  I am mounting it onto a “background quilt” composed of  a piece of my turquoise hand-dyed fabric which is also quilted with batting and a backing fabric.  I am really pleased with how the turquoise fabric sets off the small quilt and again, that touch of red makes it!

The dessert landscape was so beautiful that Sue decided we needed to all take a picture of a scene/something at the ranch and make a collage from that picture.  So on Thursday we had a FUSE OFF CHALLENGE!  Kind of like top chef where we had a set time in which to complete a 3 course meal!   We had 30 or 45 minutes (don’t remember which) to complete our small quilt.  We were able to have our quilt canvas already done and I think most of us had fabrics in mind before the timer started.  Early in the week several of us took a walk at sunrise, and I took the following photo and decided to use it for my FUSE OFF CHALLENGE.  To the right is my piece which was finished on time; however I did add the 5th branch to my wavy cactus (odd numbers are better than even in design) and a bit more to my saquaro cactus.  Everyone was really complaining about having to do this challenge as it was taking time away from our bigger landscapes, but in the end, we all agreed that it was really fun and showed us what we could do if we just went with our instincts.

The final larger piece I started was a real challenge as it had both a lot of sky and a lot of water.  I decided why not do the difficult piece while I had Sue to help guide me!  The photo was taken by a friend of mine, Kate Morgan, a number of years ago, but I don’t remember exactly where it was taken.  As you can see it was a jumping off point, and I definitely took creative license in working on this.  Although, quilted and edges bound, I am still planning on mounting this on a background quilt.


I will take you through some of the process of creating Red Canoe and Lake…many, many hours of pulling off fabric and reapplying and many  photos to critique it (what did we do before iphones cameras?!)  On the left is the landscape as it was at the end of the retreat.  Scroll on the photos and a caption will pop-up at the bottom.  Click on the caption and you will go on a little slide show which will explain my thought processes.

Thank you, Sue, for an amazing fun learning experience!  I think my journey is just starting.

Reflecting on 2017


It has been a while since I have written on this blog.  2017 had many highs and lows, and life just got in the way as it sometimes does.  I had written last year about my head injury that I sustained exactly a year ago today when I had a fall from my horse.  It took about 8 months before I finally felt normal, but in those first few months I wasn’t able to go anywhere or drive, and spent a lot of time resting and napping.  I had already signed up for a “Color and Composition” on-line class with Katie Pasquini Masopust, and she was kind enough to let me do the assignments at my own pace.  At first I could only work for an hour or two in my studio and then go rest.  I was pleased that I hadn’t lost my creativity and this was a wonderful distraction for me.  I have only completely finished one of the quilts, but finishing them is on my to do list for 2018.

I had been wanting to do a color wheel and this was a great opportunity.  I designed the  center star in EQ7 and used Karen K Stone’s technique of English paper piecing by machine.  The hexagons were hand appliqued on.  Green Galaxies was my first exploration using raw edge fusible applique, and I enjoyed the speed  which with a small project can be completed.  I thought that doing concentric circles using a heavy embroidery thread would add additional depth and give the appearance of far away worlds.


The assignment to create a modern still life resulted in Daffodils in a  Blue Vase.  I had no choice but to do daffodils, as they were blooming profusely and were visible from my studio window.  I love  how the red pieced background adds interest and moves the eye around after you take in the flowers.  I have decided how to finish this and there will be some hand embroidery of the flowers and some beaded fringe on the bottom of the table cloth.  I look forward to sharing the finished product.

The next assignment was to explore the use of lost and found lines, soft edges, and engaging the edges.  I toyed with many ideas, but finally just quickly drew it up  and Solar Flares was born.  Raw edge fusible applique has been a great addition to my tool box!

Three Vases  is a value study based on a photo I had taken of three vases arranged on my coffee table with a bright light reflecting on the wood.  We were to crop the photo to zoom in on the tightest part of the photograph.  Then using black and white fabrics and neutrals, we were to match the values of the colors with the fabrics.  Below is the original photo:

In March, I managed to quilt the Fredericksburg Vereins Quilt Guild group quilt.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it, but I did get it done.  I was honored to be asked to do this quilt and had been looking forward to it.  I had done some practice quilting with the fabrics they were using. The wool applique baskets were beautifully embellished and each block was amazing.  Below is a picture of Debbie Geistweidt and I at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in front of Rhapsody in Blue as well as some close ups of the quilting and baskets.


In April we found out that my husband, Jerry, has bladder cancer.  This was certainly a shock and a time of uncertainty.  We are lucky that we live close enough to UT Southwestern Medical School and saw the head of urologic oncology, and were able to get outstanding care.  Several months went by while we were having procedures done to get an accurate diagnosis and staging.  I’m happy to report that his surgery in August was successful and he is doing very well and is feeling pretty much back to normal.

The highlight of the year, was the birth of our daughter, Sarah’s, first child!  Augustus Laurence Smith was born on July 4th.  I went to Maryland as soon as she went into labor and helped her out for 2 weeks and Jerry was able to come and meet Gus!  Sarah and Gus came to Texas in October to meet his cousins, aunts, uncles, and great-grandparents.  Here Jerry and Gus are hanging out in the kitchen.


During that time I did manage to get Gus’s chevron baby quilt done.

Gus's chevron quilt

When I knew that I would be spending a lot of time at the hospital, I decided I needed something to do that I could take with me.  My sister, Peggy, has been doing Sue Spargo’s block of the month quilt, and inspired me to do some wool applique and embroidery.  I wanted to do something more modern and less folksy, so I designed a bunch of flowers on hexagon bases using cotton and wool.  With a couple of books, and watching Mary Corbet’s “how to videos”, I set out to learn embroidery as I went.  I found this kind of work to be very meditative and calming and was just what I needed at the time.  It is nice to have something you can take with you.  I am currently working on the last flower (a total of 7) and designing the background for the quilt.  I look forward to completing this in time to enter in Fall Paducah.  Here is one of the finished flowers:


I was then inspired to make Gus a stocking for Christmas, and had a lot of fun doing this.  The tree design was from Mary Corbet of Needle ‘n Thread.

My quilting highlight of the year was seeing two of my quilts hanging in the International Quilt Festival in Chicago and then in Houston.  My sister, Peggy, and I went to Chicago where my quilt, Playing Well Together, won first place in the modern category of the Celebration of Color exhibit which debuted in Chicago and then traveled to Houston.  Drunkard’s Bullseye Wow! was also juried into the exhibit.  I had a blast sharing the story of my quilts with so many people.  I met many wonderful and interesting fellow quilters!

I was asked to publish the pattern for Drunkard’s Bullseye Wow in Modern Quilts Unlimited magazine and spent quite a bit of time on this project.  I actually had to make a whole new quilt top because I had figured out an easier method for putting it together.  This will be published in the May 2018 issue of their magazine.

2018:  What’s to come

I am looking forward to 2018 and finishing up a lot of projects.  I’ve read that learning new things helps to prevent Alzheimer’s, so I’m going to learn lots of new things in 2018!  Kicking off the New Year is a retreat next week with quilt artist, Sue Benner, at Madeline Island School of the Arts winter site, Tanque Verde Resort, in Tucson with my friend, Debbie Geistweidt.  The topic is landscape quilts.

One of the other things I am looking forward to is taking Ricky Tims’ on-line photography class.  I have heard wonderful things about this course, and the pictures of his students’ work are stunning.  Ricky Tims is an accomplished quilter and co-host of the popular The Quilt Show.  This is a year long commitment!

Although I have designed a lot of blocks in EQ7, there are a lot of things I don’t know how to do or have not spent a lot of time working on, so I’m signed up to take Kari Shell’s on-line class, Tech Know Quilters, which will be an in-depth look at the new EQ8.

I am going to make it a goal to post at least once a month in 2018 and keep you posted on my progress with “learning new things”!  Who knows what else the new year will bring!

P.S.  I literally just got an email informing me that my quilt, Playing Well Together, was juried into the AQS Lancaster, PA, show in March!  Great way to start the New Year!


Cosmic Yin and Yang…out of this world easy!


If you want a quick, easy quilt to put together pick up a copy of the March/April QUILTY magazine and look for my Cosmic Yin and Yang quilt.

This stunning quilt is out of this world easy!  Starting with the 8 from a square technique for making half square triangles (HST), then cutting those HST in half to make the star points, I eliminate the need to cut small squares and sew them into strips to make star points.  Also, there are no set-in seams.  This quilt can easily be put together in a weekend.  One colored fat quarter makes up one of the squares.  So it would be easy to make additional blocks to enlarge this from a wall hanging to a lap or twin size quilt.

My inspiration for this quilt came from watching a Craftsy class, “Cut to It” by Debbie Caffrey.  She showed how to use HST to make the Delectable Mountain block.  I began to play around with HST to see what I could come up with.  The technique described in the magazine yielded a colored star and a dark star and using a non-traditional setting, I came up with a design  that has a more contemporary look.  The dark and light triangles  joined together make a whole unit as in  Yin and Yang.  As you can see in the close up, the quilting is representative of gravitational pull between celestial bodies, thus the “cosmic”.Pink Cosmic Yin and Yang 1800

I must say I am really impressed with the fresh modern quilts in QUILTY magazine. They are all beginner friendly, but don’t look simplistic.   I wish this magazine had been around when I first started quilting.  Be sure and pick up a copy and have some fun!  Apr_Cover-2





Liberated Rail Fence




In September I posted about doing a Fun, Fast, and Liberated rail fence quilt inspired by Gwen Marston’s book Liberated  Quiltmaking.  I finished quilting it yesterday on SuziQ (aka my Bernina Q 24) and finished the binding this am.  The colors for this quilt were inspired by the dessert southwest…the adobe colors along with the reds, blues and turquoise.  The border was quilted to look like a wood frame surrounded by tiles using a variegated King Tut thread.  Up close, I thought it would look too busy, but you really don’t notice the variegation from a distance.  This was such a fun quilt to do, both the piecing and the whimsical quilting (see the close up). I love the colors!  This quilt makes me smile!


I still need to finish the 5 pieces I created at the retreat at MISA with Gwen and Pam Beale, and then will post those.  I have a lot of UFO’s to work on, and although I’m itching to do something new, I have to stay focused on finishing what I’ve already started.  Stay on TASK will be my motto for the rest of December!

Fun, Fast, & Liberated Quiltmaking!


I have loved every minute of the 12 month journey of Modern Quilts Unlimited magazine/Michael Miller fabric block  challenge; and have grown leaps and bounds with regards to my creativity as well as expanding my skill set; however, after finishing the intense piecing and quilting on my final quilt composition I needed to do something creative, fun, fast and immediately gratifying!  I had gotten Gwen Marston’s Liberated Quiltmaking II some time ago and had been watching her class on iQuilt, so I decided to do a liberated rail fence!  I dove into my pile of fabrics and scraps  and in two days had the main body of the quilt done.  It is such a fun and free process, designing and improvising as you go.  And it is liberating!  I haven’t finished adding the final border, but wanted to share what I have done so far:fullsizerender-18

One of my goals for the next year is to work on doing more minimal quilts (that sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it!), so  earlier this week I got Gwen’s book Minimal Guiltmaking.  I have poured over this, and have been very inspired.  There were many of her students’ beautiful works in the book and I thought what fun to do a retreat with her.  Looking at her website, I found that this is her last year of teaching, and on a whim looked to see what her schedule was.  Unbelievably, her last retreat before retiring will be in 3 weeks at the MADELINE ISLAND SCHOOL OF THE ARTS (MISA) in Wisconsin and there was one spot left!  I think this is fate!  The topic is “Small Studies” and I am going!