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.