Monthly Archives: April 2012

Class Review — “Win, Place or Show” with Cathy Wiggins


Cathy Wiggins

Browse through Cathy’s website and you will see that she knows her stuff. Her award-winning quilts are extremely creative and the details are exquisite. To top it off, she is a vibrant and enthusiastic teacher, so her classes (I took three at MQX) were a total pleasure.

This class answered the question: “What does it take to make a winning quilt?” Unfortunately there is no guaranteed-to-win formula. One of the best parts of the class was seeing the judge’s comments on Cathy’s quilts. The same quilt that won a ribbon at one show would receive negative comments at another. Her philosophy is to pay attention to comments that are repeated and ignore the rest. She, for example, got numerous comments that her binding was badly done and realized that was a legitimate area for improvement.

Quilts are judged in two ways. The first is using a points system, where each judging category is ranked from “1” to “10.”  The quilt with the most points wins. Easy enough.

The second method is the elimination method. Using this method, judges are shown a quilt and decide whether to hold it or pass on it. Once they have seen all the quilts, they will go through them again (and again) until they have found a winner.

Sometimes a combination of judging methods is used. A points system will be used to whittle down the quilts to the semi-finalist stage.

Quilts are judged based on design and workmanship. According to Cathy, a winning quilt will generate an emotional reaction from the viewer. It also needs to have a pleasing interplay of design, threads, motifs, etc. Quilts with a high degree of difficulty will win over those that were easier to create.

The second part of judging is on the workmanship. Winners do a great job of everything from the piecing to the binding. Curves are smooth. Pointed tips aren’t cut off.  And the quilt is square.

Different shows will have different judging criteria. MQX, for examples, awards 2/3rds of your points for workmanship. Ugh! A different show will rank artistry and workmanship equally, or use an elimination system where the quilt is looked at in totality. Also, some entry categories have more competition than others, and that will influence your chance of winning.

I found this class to be extremely informative. It helped explain why a winning quilt at one show didn’t place at another. It also gave me a method for looking at quilts and trying to understand how they were scored.  I quickly realized things I hadn’t done with my own quilt entry (the two major items were blocking the quilt and burying my threads), so that I could do a better job with future show quilts.

You can find out more about Cathy and her work at

Quilts With Meaning


The first time I understood the emotional impact of quilts was at a guild meeting. An elderly woman, who I recall had been married close to 60 years, had made a quilt from her deceased husband’s clothing. While the resulting quilt was nowhere near show quality, her story was amazing. It had taken her more than a year to put together this quilt, crying over every memory and stitch. She used this quilt as a tangible memory of her husband, as well as a way to process her grief. That woman — and that quilt — made a huge impact on me.

The first time I experienced the power of quilting was making an art quilt based on the holocaust. My friend Gillian was teaching religious classes about the Holocaust and wrestling with how to teach this difficult subject to her Jewish students. In the process of her research, she came across the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by Hana Volaukova. This picture book includes poems and artwork from some of the 15,000 children who passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp; less than 100 children survived.

I cannot describe the profound emotional connection I had to this quilt. While the overall message was of hopefulness — and the way these brave people found to embrace beauty in a horrendous situation — I kept thinking of the losses endured by the Jewish people.


The second emotional quilt I made was called “Remembrance” and was based on the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. McCrae was a Canadian medical officer in World War I. He wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” after the death of a close friend, and based on his observation that poppies grew very quickly around the crosses that marked the many graves in the area.

As I made this quilt, I found myself thinking about the sacrifices of our soldiers. What would it really feel like to lose your best friend? How do our troops endure such suffering, especially at such a young age?

I currently have a dear friend who is suffering through emotional trauma based on some horrendous events in her past. We’ve talked about her making a quilt. This would not be a show quilt or a quilt for anyone but her, it would be an art therapy piece to help express emotions and move her toward healing. She is already mulling over ideas and I have no doubt it will be beautiful and meaningful.

Book Review — Quilt Art Portfolio: The Natural World by Martha Sielman


Yesterday, I got my third (in a series of three) epideural in my sacroiliac joint at the base of my spine. It was pretty darn painful and, as it is known to do, makes the condition worse for a few days. I had to be off my feet, so it was a great time to catch up on some reading.

“Quilt Art Portfolio: The Natural World” was my first choice. This book is subtitled “Profiles of Major Artists, Galleries of Inspiring Works” which pretty much sums up the 192 page book.  Martha Seilman, who grew up not that far from me on Long Island, is a self-professed nature girl. She began the book with a call for entries and received more than 1,200 images from 450 fiber artists. She is planning the next volume of the book to be “People and Portraits,” with additional books on abstract work and landscapes to follow. This book is divided into subsections of flowers, birds, water, animals, leaves, insects, trees and textures.

My first comment on this book is that the photographs are beautiful. No question that this is major eye candy for quilters.

Two or three quilt artists are profiled in each section. There is substantial information on each artist, including their background, working methods, and goals. Each of these chapters contains several photos of the artist’s work. Following the artist profile, there is a gallery of work from various artists.

There is a huge range of subjects and styles in this book. Some of the artists are scientists. Many (I’d say most) had a significant art background before they started quilting. I found their stories fascinating and it definitely complimented their work.

I had a couple of frustrations/suggestions. First of all, I would have loved to have seen a photo of each profiled artist to accompany their first-person narrative. Secondly, many of the pictures were in the 3″ x 4″ size range. While this let me see the totality of the work, it did not let me see any of the quilting. I realize that this is a space tradeoff, but the quilting is an integral part of each piece and I was hungry for more details. Some of these pieces were very large — for example 52″ x 104″ — and shown on a half-page of the book.

Overall this book is incredible. It delivers exactly what it promises with artist profiles and inspiration. This would be a great addition to anybody’s quilt book library. You can purchase it at

(If you cannot the photos, please check out my blog at

MQX East 2012 Special Exhibit: Neutral Fusion


I’ve only ever entered challenges at the guild level, so I was excited to have the chance to enter a quilt at MQX. I paid $20 and received a selection of beige tone-on-tone fabric and instructions to make a small quilt. The design involved snowball blocks and 9-patches. We were allowed a contrasting inner border, but everything else had to stay neutral. Even the thread needed to be a neutral color.

I was making the quilt at a retreat weekend and several people commented how ugly it was. I didn’t disagree. I became even more frustrated when I tried to figure out how to quilt this darn thing. It stared at me, from my design wall, for almost a month.

Eventually I had a flash of inspiration. Use trapunto and make a memorial piece for MQX 2012. After the competition, I was going to use the quilt to hold my show pins and ribbons. (So far there is one ribbon —  and it’s for being a participant!)

This was my first try at trapunto and the results were less than spectacular. Still, I was pleased with the design.

The best part of the challenge was seeing how everyone else approached the quilt. The most successful (in my opinion) were designs that ignored the block structure and focused on designing a picture. My favorite was a tree.

(If you can’t see photos, go directly to my blog at

Some of the Neutral Fusion Quilts

My Neutral Fusion Quilt -- if you look carefully you'll see "QUILTS" spelled out in trapunto in the body of the quilt

Closeup of my trapunto attempt.

Class Review: “Solving Tension Headaches” with Dawn Cavanaugh


I took 10 classes at MQX East and learned a great deal from each one of them. This class, however, was the hands-down winner for practical tips.

Getting that perfect stitch is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Many, many things affect your tension. Basically you are doing a juggling act between a lot of different factors and trying to come up with the best solution.

The class began with a discussion of the factors that affect tension. These include the types of fabric, fabric thread count, and whether the fabric is washed.  Some fabrics (such as batiks or Tshirts with raised lettering) are harder to quilt through. Don’t forget that backing fabric (such as a sheet, Minky or flannel) will also affect tension. Finally, batting also has an impact on tension. It is much easier to quilt through a lighter, more airy batting (say a high loft polyester) than a dense cotton batting.

Thread choice can also impact tension. Metallic threads and invisible threads can be difficult. Cotton thread can cause drag on the fabric, whereas a polyester thread will glide through.

To add to our problems, environmental factors such as dryness and humidity will impact our quilting.

Whew … we hadn’t even gotten to the quilting part and I already felt doomed to tension hell.

This class was very interactive — apparently there are a lot of us with tension problems. It was 2 hours of “I didn’t know that” and I am NOT a novice longarmer. Here are a few things that are worth repeating:

1. Thicker threads require thicker needles. It never hurts to go up a needle size.

2. Quilts should not be drum-skin tight on our longarms. A little slack will improve tension.

3. Threads have a twist. The goal of the thread guides is to untwist your thread. Look at how it is coming off the bobbin and thread accordingly. Most of us have a gauge that looks like a stop light (3 vertical holes). This can be threaded from top to bottom, or bottom to top, depending on the twist of the thread. (Oops. I was threading the wrong way.)

4. Most of us know that the longarm functions better when the needle moves  from left to right, and from top to bottom. What I did not realize is that this direction is from the freehand side of the machine (the size closest to the needle). I was always careful to go from right to left — EVEN ON the pantograph side of the machine. That’s right … I was not accounting for the fact that I was facing the wrong direction. Oops.

5. Polyester thread has less drag. I did not know this. (Guess who bought some Polyester thread at the quilt show?)

6. You can use mono poly thread on both the top and bottom of the longarm. Years ago, I was told that this could not be done. Dawn does it all the time, so I’m going to try it.

I can’t say enough good things about this class. Dawn is a funny, engaging, knowledgeable teacher. I can see why her classes are so popular and am excited to take more classes from her. Dawn is Director of Education for APQS (a longarm manufacturer). You can find a schedule of her classes at

Class Review: “Quilting Efficient” with Angela Walters


Angela Walters with one of her quilts

Angela Walters has been a longarm quilter for 9 years. She has a very popular blog and has just finished her first book.  She also has 3 children under the age of nine. And did I mention she is in her early 30’s?

This class is on quilting efficiently, which is something that Angela has clearly mastered. The focus on this class is to make a detailed, written plan about how to handle all aspects of your business. This includes receiving quilts; storing unquilted tops and their associated bottom fabric and batting; scheduling the quilts; loading the quilt;  planning an efficient and aesthetically pleasing design; unloading the  quilt; billing the customer; and shipping/returning the quilt to the customer. And then there’s making time for business development stuff like blogging and tweeting.

She also spent some of the class talking about efficiently quilting a project. I’ve always been taught to load the long sides of the quilt on the leaders. She had several quilts that she’d loaded the other way — because it enabled her to quilt horizontal designs in a more efficient manner. She also recommended choosing designs that allowed you to travel along the quilt, and to fill in any blocks that you could without retracing your steps

Angela did a great job answering our questions. Several in the class had not yet purchased longarms; others were dealing with some concerns with starting a business. She answered questions about payment (she accepts checks and paypal), building your business, blogging, and sending quilts through the mail.

I think that Angela has a great future as a quilt teacher and would highly recommend her classes. You can learn more about her at

Class Review: Digital Quilt Photography with Jeffrey Lomicka


I’ve been working hard to update my website and that includes photographing my quilts. I was waiting for this class to see if I could pick up some tricks of the trade.

Jeffrey Lomicka grew up in the photography capital of America — Rochester, NY — which was the home of Eastman Kodak. Jeffrey said that everyone’s dad worked for Eastman Kodak and that the high schools had excellent photography studios. Thus began his love of photography. He is not a professional photographer; his day job is writing software. He is also a longarm quilter and photographs both the MQX (since 2007) and Vermont Quilt Festival shows. His photographs have appeared in several quilting magazines.

The class began with an overview of how the camera works. We covered the basic elements of a good photograph — the focal length of the lens; the aperture; shutter speed; image sensor (ISO value); and flash. Every time I take a photography class I am struck by the amount of mathematics and technology that goes into understanding photography. These concepts are not easy for me. I finally have an understanding that f-stop equates with the size of the “iris” of the camera, and ISO has to do with the a camera’s sensitivity to light. I also understand that a good photographer is making constant tradeoffs amongst these items to try and create a good photograph.

What does this all mean? It means there is no magic formula for photographing quilts. It depends on the room’s lighting conditions, type of light (florescent vs. natural, for example) and  light sources. It depends on the color of the quilt. It also depends on the color of the thread and how difficult it is to show details.

One of the common pieces of advice is to photograph quilts outside. I loved that Jeffrey tried this experiment. He discovered that quilts are very large and that a small amount of wind will knock over his quilt stand. In addition, it is hard to find an area that is clear of branches (which create shadows) and other visual distractions. He recommends shooting quilts inside.

This class was totally on shooting quilts that are displayed on a stand. I was disappointed that we were not learning about more artsy shots — for example how to show a quilt displayed on a couch or beside a fireplace. Nevertheless, I did learn a great deal. I think my biggest takeaway was that quilts need to be photographed (preferably with a tripod) from the center of the quilt. This may sound obvious, but I have been shooting all of my quilts from my eye-height. Hmmm … no wonder the results aren’t so good. I think I need to invest in a tripod.

Jeffrey showed us many of his quilt photos. They were gorgeous. The upshot of the class was that I purchased his photo disks from MQX East 2011 and MQX West 2011. I will purchase his photo disk of this show when it is available. He does a far better job than I ever could, and I realized that I could learn a great deal from reviewing the photos taken in the MQX photography room.

You can learn more about Jeffrey’s quilts at

Battling My Backyard


I like to think that art is everywhere … including my backyard. We bought our house 5 years ago and one of the main selling features was a fully-wooded backyard. Over the last 5 years, we have had to remove 4 trees that died for various reasons, plus a majestic oak tree that was split in half when struck by lightening. Losing these pine and oak trees is a horrible feeling. My 17-year-old son has still not forgiven us for removing a dead tree that was poised to fall on our house.

Tree removal is expensive. We’ve paid to have the trees cut down and the branches removed, but left the logs (some of them 2 feet in diameter). The plan was that my husband and son would cut the logs into pieces and stack them in the corner of the yard. Many months ago, they actually rented a chain saw and cut up the logs, which left us with chunks of wood throughout the majority of the backyard. It looked terrible. Moreover, it made me sad every time I looked outside.

Yesterday our neighbors were having some branches cut down and I made a deal with the tree company to remove our wood. It was a big job, but I am so happy to have it gone.  I feel like I have my backyard back, and that it’s been returned to its natural state. I am happy to look outside.

(The scattered wood did not bother anyone in the family but me. In fact, my daughter feels it looks too empty now.)

I know that some people equate creativity with a cluttered environment. I feel like I never have the time to clean things up properly. Yet I look at the piles of fabric, books and paper in my sewing/computer room and it makes me unhappy. Somehow, I need to make the time to get things cleaned up and put away. Then I will have the same feeling of calm in my sewing room as I now have with my backyard.

(If you can’t see the photos, please go directly to my blog at

Back yard after cleanup

Backyard Before Clean-up

Renae Haddadin Class Review: Hip To Be Square


Renae Haddaddin teaching class

I had actually taken this class a year ago when I was still learning the basics of loading a quilt. At that time, I seriously doubted I would ever have square backs or even truly understand how to load a quilt. This time, I realized exactly where I am going wrong. Here are the basic steps in making sure quilts are square:

1. Make sure roller bars are parallel (I don’t think mine are).

2. Make sure table is level.

3. Make sure leaders are square and even. If they’re not, run a line of stitching (using the channel lock) along the leaders and re-hem them. (I need to check this.)

4. Make sure your center points on each roller are the same. Do this with a 90 degree ruler.

5. Make sure your backing is square.

6. Load the quilt top as squarely as possible. This may require using border seams instead of the quilt’s edge as a guide. Also, ease in fullness to avoid getting dog-ears at the bottom of your quilt.

7. Baste the top and sides of the quilt BEFORE using the side clamps. Renee recommends Red-E-Edge clips to put even pressure on the bottom quilt fabric.

8. As you quilt, continue to measure the quilt width to ensure it’s square.

Renae demonstrated the Red Snapper Leaders and the Red-E-Edge side clamps. I bought a set and these are available from her website:

Renae is a high energy, engaging teacher. Her classes are jam-packed with information. She is extremely knowledgeable on all brands of machines — when making sure rollers are square, for example, she knew the nuances of all the big machines. I would highly recommend any of Renae’s classes. This class, for sure, gave me a number of important takeaways that will make me a better quilter.

Dustin Ferrill Class Review: E100


Dustin Ferrill teaches at the whiteboard.

The first thing I have to say about Dusty is that he does not look like a quilter. He is relatively young, male, tattooed, and the baseball cap on his head is always backwards. He has been quilting for about 8 years and uses a Nolting. He also owns a quilt shop in Camebridge Springs, PA  called “Country Stitchin.”

Dustin admits that he is entirely self-taught, although now is influenced by his fellow quilting teachers. He likes doing utility quilts. He likes his thread (YLI has designed a line for him) to show, so you won’t see any light-weight thread disappearing into Dustin’s work. He does entirely freestyle quilting and saves the heavy custom work for his own quilts.

What I love about Dusty is that he has a very relaxed approach to quilting. He quilts the types of quilts that he enjoys doing; he doesn’t do what he doesn’t like. He is also very fast and does not use a stitch regulator.

This class taught some alternatives to meandering. These included ribbons (essentially doubling back over your meander but crossing the lines); barbed wire (adding little “x” lines along your meander; loops;  loops and stars; loops and hearts; flames; and feathers. These are standard freestyle designs, so I can’t say that you’ll learn anything too original, but his presentation is very entertaining and the class is an easy way to be introduced to freestyle quilting. I was pleased that I could draw out the designs this year … whereas last year I just sat with my mouth open and stared at the whiteboard.

Here are a couple of his thoughts on becoming a better longarmer:

1. Stop piecing and focus on longarming only.

2. Have fabric in your longarm at all times. This way you can play around when you just have a few minutes to spare.

3. Most people can only make feathers and stars in one direction. Go with your strength and don’t try to make them in all directions.

4. Make your designs similar but not identical. This way imperfections will not stand out, because none will be the same. If you’re stitching leaves, for example, use slightly different sizes and different numbers of points on each side of your leaves. Some leaves will be smooth, some will have one point on one side, some will have one or two points on both sides. No leaf will look out of place.

Dusty is a combination of laid-back and intense. He is very entertaining and does well with questions. He is clearly artistic and I love his “get them done quickly” approach to quilting. It was a very enjoyable 2 hours and I came away with some easy freestyle designs that I could implement right away. I took an edge-to-edge class from Dusty last year that was also excellent, so clearly I recommend him if I’m a repeat customer.

Here is an amazing Youtube video showing Dustin’s quilting:

You can find out more about Dustin’s quilt shop at