Friday, February 1, 2013


Happy February to everyone - a month full of holidays with Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, President's Day, and more.  For me, it's a time to catch my breath after January, and see if my goal setting is on track or if I've already fallen behind.  In truth, I'm behind because it was only today that I finally sat down and figured out what I want to accomplish for the year!  I have lots of ideas... lots of projects... lots of hopes... and I plan to have fun doing all of it.  Life is good!

This month I will share how many of my ideas flow from one quilt into the next -- it's an exercise in creativity for me:  to take something I like and use it again in a fresh way.  At the same time, you can view some of my quilting; I do believe that quilting can help bring a quilt to life.  And finally, I'll close with some comments about your comments and various emails I've gotten.  Let's get started!
Mama Said was a quilt I made several years ago.  I wanted to make a quilt that would honor my parents, and this was the result.  The nine blocks celebrate what I was taught to do - and those living verbs remain with me today.  You cannot see it in the picture below, but each block is surrounded with embroidered phrases that also "taught" me something.

Here's a close-up of one of the blocks; in it you can read some of the phrases that are embroidered around the block.  I had so much fun creating this quilt!

After I finished Mama Said, I took several of the blocks and used them to "play" with various border options.  I wanted to explore how to create different borders and how to let one idea flow into another creation.  In this first one, Share, you can see that I used the same border motifs but changed the overall color scheme - and the quilt block was enlarged quite a bit.  Sometimes creativity does not have to be more complicated than changing sizes and colors.

Here's another large wall hanging using one of the Mama Said blocks, Trust.  I loved this quilt because it was the first time I tried making quarter-square triangles and using them in a border.  Those quarter-square triangles are 3-inches in size.  I chose to explore letting applique overlap the pieced borders behind it.  It gives a quilt another dimension and sense of depth to do that. 

Here's a close-up of the word at the top of this quilt -- I loved adding different motifs as I created this quilt. 

And here, in Laugh, is one more of the "child of Mama Said" quilts.  This is smaller - about 2 feet by 3 feet - but I love its simplicity.  In this quilt, I took the Laugh block and added borders and then quilted it with a delicate cross-hatching.  The colors are different than the other colors, too - I like seeing how different colors give a different feel to a quilt. 

Here's a close-up of the quilting in Laugh - it was so much fun to see this quilt come to life with the quilting!

I hear complaints all the time about people who love my quilts but don't applique.  I have an answer for them.  You don't have to know how to applique to do an applique quilt!  No - I have yet to meet a quilt (other than, perhaps, a complex Baltimore album style quilt) that I can't turn into an embroidered quilt.  Below, Redwork Mama Said accomplishes the same thing that the appliqued Mama Said did, with its words and motifs.

Even the phrases that were appliqued around each of the original Mama Said blocks are included in this redwork version; take a look at the close-up, below.

So... can you see how you can take just about any pattern and turn it into a variety of different-looking quilts?  I see it all the time when people send me pictures of their quilts (and thank you, to those of you that do!) -- I love seeing how quilters take my ideas and add different motifs, use different colors, enlarge or shrink blocks... it's great to know that creativity is alive and well!  Further down in this post, you will see how someone took one of my designs and did something amazingly different with it. 

But first!  Here is an old pattern of mine:  Classic Santas.  This quilt is what I have always called a "jumble" quilt -- lots of blocks, various sizes, all laid out in a totally non-symmetrical arrangement.  I loved making all those different Santas, and the pattern tells the source of the Santa; each is from a different country and is associated with the customs of that country. 

Here's a close-up of one of the Santas -- the Swiss Samichlaus who rides in from the wintry forests on a little donkey.  Announced by the gentle tinkle of bells at the door, he is invited in and gives gifts after asking the children in the house about their behavior and their prayers.  He leaves after shaking hands with everyone.  You can see, in this close-up, some of the quilting that adds to the quilt, with curls in the flowing beard.  When I hand quilt, I always echo around every bit of applique - and in this case, I echo quilted around the applique.

I liked Classic Santas a lot... so much so that I decided to re-make it, but with an entirely different look and feel to it.  Below is my Classic Santas done entirely in white, off-white, creams, tans, and taupe colors.  The setting - there is no "jumble" here - is very symmetrical.  I love this quilt because the warm colors remind me of Christmas baking:  melted butter, brown sugar, cookies, graham crackers and marshmallows...  I can just smell Christmas when I see this quilt!  I will point out that the large 8 inch open white border gave me a large space in which to quilt a meandering feathered vine.  I love spaces like this; they give us a place to rest our eyes, and also pull our vision toward the center of the quilt.

And here is the same Samichlaus block -- doesn't he look different?  But it's the same pattern as the red and green Santa above.  Take a look at the fabrics here -- to make this quilt even more warm-looking, I used quite a few metallic (gold) fabrics that added to the overall richness of the quilt.

Here's another example of taking a block and using it again.  First, a green feathered star quilt:

Here's a close-up of that feathered star block.  Feathered stars are classic blocks.  They are often viewed as difficult to make, but I find them fun.  I said fun, not fast!  There are a lot of pieces in a feathered star - which is what makes them take so much time to make.  I often teach feathered star workshops because people want to make this block but need to know how to do it with ease.

Here's another quilt - Stars for a New Day - that uses the same feathered star as the center block.  In this quilt, I made the center of the feathered star plain; the rest of the quilt carries the complexity of the overall quilt.

And here is another medallion-style quilt with a central feathered star.  In this quilt, Washington Medallion, I used another feathered star, but because the rest of the quilt was not as detailed and complicated (meaning the blocks were larger and had fewer pieces), I simplified the feathered star.  See how you can take the same block and use it in a different way in a different quilt?  Sweet!

But don't think for a second that the simpler feathered star makes the quilt less interesting.  Oh, no.  In this case, I let the quilting carry the interest forward in the quilt.  Check out the quilting in the detail shot, below.

Here is another of my favorite blocks:  The Coxcomb and Currants block.  I love it and have used it over and over again.  Note that I used a busy print for the background; some quilts can handle prints like this as the background fabric.  It keeps the quilt from being boring!

Here's the first quilt I used it in.  I haven't quilted it yet -- that's on my list of things to do this year!  But I just love how this quilt looks and already have a picture in my head of double feathered wreaths in the open blocks and a feathered vine in the border.  I just need a few more hours every day to get started on all these projects.   Ha!

That very same block was used again in this quilt...  Coxcomb Medallion.  Note that the currants in the center block are in a color gradation, to add interest.  And the corners of the interior swag border have the coxcomb flower in them.  Repetition pulls a quilt together.

When I made the quilt above, I made a double set of all of the pieced blocks.  I took them and added a pinwheel border.  Again, can you see how one quilt begets another?  It's not hard; you just have to be intentional about it. 

And here, again is another of my same coxcomb and current blocks.  When a group of friends all decided to do a round robin, I decided that my starting block would be a coxcomb and currants block.  Here it is (it also includes some of the next rounds of the round robin additions).  Again, the berries in this block were done using a gradation of medium to dark red fabrics.  I like doing that when it makes sense; it adds interest to a block.

And here is how the quilt looked when it was done -- note that the center of the block (the flower) was repeated as cornerstones in the center white border.  Yes, repetition helps pull a quilt together.

Here is another quilt from that round robin - my friend Marsha F started with the center block... and when it was my turn to add a border, I added that border of red semi-circles with green circles in each, just outside of the star border.

I had a lot of fun creating that border... and when I made Bed of Roses, below, I used that same design as the final border.  I think it's interesting how designs tumble forward from one quilt into the next.  Maybe that's part of why we see so many blocks in the old Baltimore album quilts that are duplicated... before copy machines were ever invented!

Here's another example of tumbling one idea forward from one quilt to another.  At one point in the past, I was enthralled with four-block quilts.  I made this quilt, called The Washingtonian because I made it while I was living in DC and working for NASA for an extended period of time.

Here are two close-ups of that quilt - first, of a pineapple block and second, of the border.  Check out the quilting in these blocks; they add to the quilt's look.

That pineapple block was about 22 inches square.  I decided to use it, set on point, to demonstrate how one block, when set on point, can "grow" a quilt quite quickly.  In this quilt, called The Houstonian because by the time I made this quilt, I'd moved back to Houston to serve as the Johnson Space Center's Associate Director.  In this quilt, a 22 inch block set on point becomes a 31 inch block, and with added borders, it easily makes a 45 inch lap quilt.  Not bad, eh?

What I love about setting blocks on point is not only that they quickly enlarge a quilt; they also give me very nice area for adding hand quilting.  Check out the picture below....

I hope you notice, in the picture above, that there is not a single border motif... rather, I used several different quilting stencils to add borders to the setting triangle.  Sometimes, to make a stencil fit, you have to be creative!

Now... remember earlier when I said I'd show you how someone sent me a picture of a quilt they'd designed using one of my patterns?  First, here is the quilt I made - Sleeping Beauty.  It was based on a quilt made in the 1800s by a 17-year old girl.  I loved her notion of using black prints with a sprinkling of other colors.  Look closely, and then...

take a look at this quilt, ShapeShifter, made by Nancy Arseneault of Tucson, Arizona.  In this award-winning quilt, Nancy broke with all historical precedents and set her New York Beauty blocks on point.  She said that left her with some difficult choices:  how would she fill in the large corners?  She began by extending the sashing and added more of those little stars at the end, like exclamation points.  She then added the outer dogtooth border.  When she went to quilt Shapeshifter, Nancy did lots of quilting in the ditch before quilting feathers in the open spaces.  But that's not all Nancy did.

Look at the detail picture below.  Aside from the lovely ribbon she received, she bound the quilt and then added felted balls, attached with little beads.  Nancy said she chose the name of her quilt because "as it developed on my design wall, a friend said that every time she saw it, she noticed different shapes in the patchwork."  Congrats go to Nancy for a well-designed quilt, incorporating exquisite technical merit!

One more thing... go back and look at the original Sleeping Beauty quilt.  See how one pattern can be deftly changed and become an entirely different quilt?  That's what I love seeing -- send pictures if you make my quilts, whether they follow the pattern to the letter or divert substantially.  Your pictures inspire me to keep on designing new quilts!

So what have I been working on lately?  WAY TOO MANY NEW THINGS!  If I could settle myself down and work on just one project at a time, I'd probably make much more progress...  at least on that one item.  Instead, I'm working on seven or eight different projects at a time, switching back and forth at a whim.  I HOPE that next month I will have more to show you, but for now, I'll just give you a little clue:

That's right.... that's at least forty different pinwheel sashing strips for one of the quilts I'm working on.  I have another twenty done... and another forty to go.  I'm hot on the trail!  And then the other projects... well, I'll just wait and see how far I get.  I might even surprise myself!

Now... a few comments.  This past month I've gotten a couple of heart-felt emails through the COMMENTS you have made.  I love your comments and read them as soon as they appear.  I learn a lot about what you like and what you want to see.  Here's the problem, though:  sometimes, you ask me a question that needs to be answered.  Unless your profile includes your email address, I can't answer you!  I can add another comment to my own blog post... but sometimes the question I am asked is far too personal... or asks for detailed instructions on some facet of a pattern... or... well, you get the idea.  If you want me to answer you in these cases, I MUST have your email address!  Either add it to your profile, or email me off-line (I DO read my emails and I answer 99.9 percent of them).  My email address is included in my profile and I've now added it to the sidebar (though I may remove it from the sidebar if I start getting weird spam...).  Please.... please...  I don't want any of you to think that I am ignoring you!

Someone else asked if I might consider posting more often than once a month.  I would LOVE to do that!  Really!  The only problem is... well, I just think that you wouldn't be as happy with a short little post every few days... versus a long post with lots of information in it.  And the bigger issue is that it takes time to prepare these focused entries; today I started preparing the photos just after noon and when you take out a three hour break to have dinner out with my sweetie, it's now past ten, which means this post took almost 7 hours.  Phew!  No wonder I only do this once a month!  So for now, just look me up on the first of the month or a day or two later.  I'll keep updating... and once somebody (please!) invents those extra few hours in each day, I'll start posting a lot and a lot more often!  Also... if you'd like to see me post or write about something in particular, zap me a note or make a comment.  I'm always looking for something new to think about and write about.

In the meantime... my sewing machine is crying for attention, my quilt frame is begging to be tended to, and yes, my vacuum says it needs a little aerobic activity in my sewing room.  I guess I'd better answer their calls.

Happy quilting!
(c)2013 Susan H. Garman


  1. If someone ever invents an extra few hours a day.....I don't think we'll be wasting them on blogging....we're sewing! lol

    These quilts are spectacular! Thanks so much for including the closeup pics of your beautiful quilting. I'm in love with your NY Beauty's amazing! And I loved all the little 'mama says' lines around the blocks.....I've heard so many of those, too! :o) So sweet!

  2. Forgot to say.....I really look forward to the beginning of the month and your post! I get a little giddy, in fact, when I see you in my blog list! I know I'm going to see a fantastic quilt show each time you post! Thanks!

  3. I think I saw Bed of Roses at Road to California last weekend. If that is the same quilt, I have to say I was physically moved by it. So beautifully inspiring to see up close. I love red and green quilts. There is something about them that makes my heart sing and I always think in the back of my head that I will try one some day. In the meantime, I get joy from seeing the work of others. Thank you so much for sharing it!!

    Your visit to the quilt show has me intrigued to really try needle turn applique the way you do it. For now, I cheat and either use freezer paper on top or bottom or template and starch. My needle turn skills leave a lot to be desired and I go back and forth between committing myself to learning it and practicing enough to become competent to going back to the failsafe methods that bring a more polished look. Do you ever find that by marking the turn under line with a pigma pen that it might be exposed if not turned under all the way? Is this just a rookie concern? lol What are your thoughts on using the frixion pen? Have you tried it? I've noticed that it can leave a line once it is ironed away on darker fabrics. But maybe my iron is too hot?

    My husband, who is very supportive, is a space race fanatic, so when I tell him that you used to work for NASA, you get a thumbs up from him. Thumbs up from me for being so generous with your work. Thanks!!

  4. Hi Sue, I am slowly working on Bed of Roses here in Australia, I am doing hand applique using stitch and wash, seems to work well for me. It has been a land of heat waves and floods for us lately, very difficult weather to stitch in! Maybe with the cooler months coming I will be a little more productive :)Here in summer, a good day is 86f, but in winter it can be 60f on average. Thanks for your great designs, I have a lot of fun looking at your creations :)

  5. Well, yes, it would be wonderful to see yo post more often, but, that said, myself and a whole bunch of other ladies here in St. Louis look forward to your monthly postings. As soon as you post, I send the link to everyone else! You are a must read. Your long once-a-month posting is delicious and we hope you don't change a thing. BTW, thank you for the wonderful patterns you did for TQS. I made Stars for a New Day and learned so much doing so. Your instructions and videos can't be beat! I will send you a photo of the quilt soon.

  6. I always learn so much from your posts and look forward to the time each month. I am still working on my Washington medallion quilt and would love to finish it this year. I was introduced to your patterns through the quilt show BOM with Bouquet and Stars for a new day and have finished the tops for those and still working on Night before Christmas. currently collecting the BOM kits for Afternoon Delight. As you can see, I love your patterns. I would love to get the pattern for Mama says. Do you still sell it? Gail in Verona
    Gauen at mbc dot edu.

  7. Sue, I love that you post once a month because you put So Much in it! I feel like I've just had a private tour of a bit of your studio with all those great earlier quilts, some I've never seen before. And the close-ups of your hand quilting? Oo, la, la. Thank you for all the inspiration you give me and so many others!

  8. I really appreciated this post showing how one quilt flowed from another. It's an insight into the design process not many of us get to see! You create such beautiful quilts and I have many of your patterns. I'm in the middle of making Ladies of the Sea right now for my husband. I'm always impressed with how much you get done in a month!

  9. I love reading your post each month and much inspiration you share with us! Your quilts amaze me.

    I'm wondering about the quilting you do on the applique, line the veins in the leaves above. Is it harder to hand-quilt through the applique pieces because of the additional layer of fabric? I think about how hard it can be to quilt through seams and wonder if quilting through applique is like that too. I'm interested in learning to applique and it might be my goal for the year in quilting.

  10. I honestly don't know what to say. Your quilts are so amazing. Thank you for so much inspiration I can't take it all in.

  11. I want to copy what regan said. I look forward to your once a month posts and the show! Thank you for sharing your progress and thoughts. I walked into a quilt show one day and asked if they had time for sale, the reply was of time in a bottle. We all come up short in our day, run out of day before we run out of work.

  12. Your work is so inspiring! I especially appreciate all the hand-quilting. Machine-quilting can be beautiful too, but I prefer hand-quilting, and you don't see a lot of it these days.

    I suspect your pineapple block in The Washingtonian was mis-named. It looks exactly like the thistles that I do battle with in my flower beds! Could there have been a mistake in the original pattern? Either way, it's gorgeous!

  13. Sue, I look forward to your blog every month, and it always makes my day when it pops up. Yes, I'd love to hear from you more often, but I also love that your blogs are filled with so much information and so many ideas, and I know that takes time, so I'm willing to wait. You accomplish so much, you are an inspiration to me. Thank you for all you do!!!

  14. Reading your post each month is like receiving a much anticipated quilt magazine. So many photos and always much to think about. Thank you for all your efforts in posting!

  15. Sue, I am just flabbergasted at your quilts! They are amazing. I don't know how you get so much accomplished. I'm a hand quilter too, love the old red and green patterns, and have done several Feathered Stars with an applique Whig Rose center block. I wait every month for the first so we can see more of your beautiful quilts. Now I'm going through your archives to enjoy more. It's so interesting that you are/were with NASA as my son and dil worked there for quite a few years. They're back in the midwest now. Thanks for allowing us to see your lovely work.

  16. I always look forward to your blog posts and as usual it was full of information and your wonderful quilts. I don't think there has been a post in which I didn't learn something new. Thank you for sharing your talent.

  17. You dare to be different and it makes it a more interesting blog. There is always so much to take in and I have to come back several times to re-read it and to look at the amazing work you show. Don't change it.

  18. Your posts are the best! Thank you so much for all you put into them. I can appreciate why they are monthly and look forward to them.

    I am amazed by all you accomplish. Thank you so much for all that you share.


  19. Sue, please don't change anything. I love your monthly posts!Firstly: apart from the excellent content, it is encouraging to try to accomplish more each month like you and secondly: I then look forward to the beginning of the new month to read and be inspired more.

    Your work is truly exquisite!! I am totally intriqued how you pull fabrics and they play so well together in your intricate work.

    Now, would you like a holiday in Australia and be my guest for say six months! I would love to know how to buy fabrics and put them together as you do, and how you piece and hand quilt so beautifully.

    Thank you for the time given to prepare your posts, I for one truly appreciate it.

  20. I loved looking through some of your wonderful quilts again. And I love the 'Mama says' quilt, with all those universal sayings around the pictures. Thank you for all your blog posts, you are so inspiring!

  21. I absolutely wouldn't mind more posts from you. I love them just because I know they are always worthwile and I keep them to read when I want to treat myself and have the peace of mind to concentrate on them.(hence the lateness) I also realise the amount of time and preparation you put in them. So I want to thank you again for everything you do and the inspiration and workmanship you provide.

  22. Wow, this is just amazing. So fantastic and wonderful quilts !!!!

    Grit from Germany

  23. Your quilts are beautiful as is your hand quilting! What size needle do you use and what is your favorite thread when hand quilting large pieces?

    1. Hi Martha -
      I'm a stab-stitcher (not a rocking-stitcher) when it comes to hand-quilting. I use any needle, but usually a size 10 Sharp, Applique, or Embroidery needle! As for thread... any hand-quilting thread is fine with me. I'm not really all that particular as long as it is a quality thread.

  24. I am so excited to find you. Years ago my daughter bought all the patterns for Mamma Said quilt and then they dissapeared. How can I get another set?