My exhibit “Specimens” opened this past Wednesday evening at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. It has run for the last two and half days and continues until the end of the festival on Sunday night.

I’ve been having a pretty fun time visiting with folks–past students, blog and newsletter followers, fellow teachers. The response has been pretty amazing and so very rewarding for me. But for those of you can attend in spirit only, I’m thinking of you too. Here are some photos from the show.

The way the show is hung, it appears that “Crocodylus Smylus” is “showing an interest” in the marabou stork in “Kaloli Moondance.” This part of the exhibit faces “Main Street” in the Special Exhibit section of the International Quilt Festival.
As viewers walk around the display to the left, they are greeted by “Samuelsaurus Rex” and five other Specimens.
Continuing around the display, viewers encounter the last three quilts.
Three times during the day I give a tour of the display.
The tour starts in the “Tickled Pink” area and ends here with “Crocodylus Smylus.”
Students from a local gifted and talented academy are introduced to Stevie the croc.

I have been making periodic (okay, sporadic) updates to my Facebook and Instagram accounts while here, as well. I’ll keep on posting photos as I’m able.

I know it’s not exactly the same, but I’ve also created a virtual version of the show below. I don’t think I’ve shown all eleven quilts (plus one: Polka Dodo, who is traveling on his own with an AQS show) in one place, either in real life or virtually before this week. Now both are happening at once!

I also include links to “Quilt Stories” where I’ve talked about each quilt at length.

To start let me quote the introductory text of the catalog I created for the show (which will be for sale in upcoming weeks through my “new and improved” website):


noun   an individual animal, plant, piece of a mineral, etc., used as an example of its species or type for scientific study or display.

With these quilts I hope to help the viewer see all creatures—great and small—with fresh eyes. Unlike those of a scientist, my specimens are not “lifelike.” A pink rhino, a polka dotted dodo, a much-larger-than-life-size golden toad: the liberties I take, the choices I make are intended to provoke a response. Typically, I hope to invoke a sense of wonder. I could have made my saltwater crocodile any size I wanted. It would have been much easier, trust me, to make it smaller. But I chose to make it twenty feet long because that is what is truly awesome about this species. The size of the quilt is the point.

In some ways, my images are simple. The ­compositions are basic, simple profiles displaying as much of the animal as possible, often mimicking the posed figures in museum cases. In other ways my images are complex. Seen up close, the sheer number of pieces of fabric used makes for a density of color and texture. That, too, is part of the point. Each of these creatures is easily recognizable. Because we think we know them, our familiarity may lead us to dismiss them too easily. It’s only when we look closer that we understand how unique each is and how irreplaceable.

However, political or ­social or environmental statements are not the main point of my quilts, or let’s say that the statements are of the most obvious kind: our world and its inhabitants are at risk. I make quilts because I love fabric for its color and texture. I make quilts of animals because I’m an unabashed animal lover. That’s it, really. If my “Specimens” can speak to others at a tactile level and encourage them to look at animals at a deeper level (make people more aware of these animals), then that’s a good thing, I think. I think that’s enough.

—Susan Carlson

Kaloli Moondance

Kaloli Moondance, 2016, 63 x 72 inches

In Progress: Introducing “Kaloli Moondance”

Crocodylus Smylus

Crocodylus Smylus, 2015, 21 feet by 6 feet


Making a 20-Foot Crocodile Quilt: Part 1 of 3Making a 20-Foot Crocodile Quilt: Part 2 of 3Making a 20-Foot Crocodile Quilt: Part 3 of 3

Golden Temple of the Good Girls

Golden Temple of the Good Girls, 2015, 50 x 58 inches

Quilt Stories: Golden Temple of the Good Girls

Dixie Dingo Dreaming

Dixie Dingo Dreaming, 2011, 48 x 48 inches

Quilt Stories: “Dixie Dingo Dreaming”

Million to One

Million to One, 2008, 29 x 51 inches

Quilt Stories: Million to One


Fructos, 2007, 36 x 40 inches\

Quilt Stories: Fructos

Polka Dodo

Polka Dodo, 2006, 40 x 44 inches

Quilt Stories: Polka Dodo

Though not at Houston, Polka Dodo is intended to be part of this show when it appears elsewhere.


Gombessa, 2006, 70 x 43 inches

Quilt Stories: Gombessa

Tickled Pink

Tickled Pink, 2005, 64 x 42 inches

Quilt Stories: Tickled Pink


Exuberance, 2003, 60 x 45 inches

Quilt Stories: Fire Beetle & Exuberance

Fire Beetle

Fire Beetle, 2001, 33 x 49 inches

Quilt Stories: Fire Beetle & Exuberance

Samuelsaurus Rex

Samuelsaurus Rex, 2001, 48 x 40 inches

Quilt Stories: “Samuelsaurus Rex”


  • Such a triumph on all levels. As an aspiring exhibitor, I’d like to know the story behind how this exhibition got booked. Have you already covered this? If not, Who approached who? What do you feel were major factors that allowed the exhibition to move forward? were there specific qualifications? Did you have to have the theme already planned? How many years out was it planned or scheduled? How was it determined how many quilts would be exhibited? Was there an age limit on the work shown? Thank you for sharing.

  • Susan, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your fantastic body of work with us. I find myself staring and staring at each piece, simply mesmerized by the way you construct your art. I’m looking forward to spending a week with you next year! Now, to just find a photo of what I want to make!

  • It was a great pleasure to see you and your inspirational works! You are the unique specimen! Truly have admired your whimsical colorful approach to such amazing species !
    You have nurtured my creativity and the passion in quilting! Thank you 😘

  • I cannot comprehend how wonderful it would be to see all of these quilts “up close and personal.” WOW! Congratulations to you for this great opportunity to show your work to so many interested people. I am sure you are very proud. I can’t wait to get a copy of your catalogue. Thank you for sharing so much of your experiences on your blog. I look forward to reading each one.

  • Was thrilled to meet you at the Houston quilt festival and see all your great work. It really is beautiful and all I can say is WOW. You really inspire me.

  • Such a well deserved honor! Thank you so much for your blog. After taking your class at Asilomar two years ago it has really helped me continue learning. Love, love, love your work!

  • After seeing so many of your works in books and on a computer screen, it was eye-opening to see how large they actually are through the above photos. Even though the sizes are noted in your posts and books these photos were wonderful and made me realize I need to think bigger. Another teachable blog.

  • Thank you for all the “quilt stories” so we can read all the beginnings and details behind each quilt. I couldn’t get to Houston this year but have a friend bringing me back the catalog. Your blog and newsletters are so inspiring. I know these don’t write themselves, so thanks!

  • My husband and I enjoyed viewing the exhibit in Houston. I have followed your blog and was glad to see the “specimens” in person. Really great work!

  • Simply amazing (but nothing simple about your work)! I so enjoy reading about your inspiration, your process, your hits and misses (and then, inevitable hits). You are an inspiration.

  • Thank you for another informative web site. Where else could I get that kind of information written in such a perfect way? I’ve a project that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.

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