So, as the kids say, that happened.

Five (okay, four and a half) days at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Five days of meeting and making friends. Five days of showing off “Crocodylus Smylus” and “Kaloli Moondance” the the rest of the “Specimens” collection of quilts. Five days of answering questions about technique and inspiration.

It was thrilling and exhausting having an exhibit at the largest quilt festival in the world and (according to one cabbie) the largest convention held in the city of Houston.

My husband Tom and I arrived in Houston on Tuesday afternoon. We checked into our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, at which the service was outstanding, I must say. Tom was taken with the elevator which rose up through the open central architecture of the hotel to our room on the 26th floor.

After settling in, we walked the ten blocks to the George R. Brown convention center to pick up our badges for the show. It was then that we first got to see the exhibit. They had placed the quilts in a prominent spot, with “Crocodylus Smylus” and “Kaloli Moondance” facing “Main Street,” the red-carpeted thoroughfare running through the special exhibit space.

Main Street
Main Street of the Special Exhibit Hall at the International Quilt Festival.

The remaining nine quilts were arranged on the back of the curtained walls. Below is a brief walking tour video.

This was my second visit to the show and Tom’s first. The size of the hall is amazing. And the fact that they fill the space with exhibitors and quilts is even more amazing. We would discover that our side of the hall—the special exhibits—was considerably quieter and less congested than the vendor side of the hall. Still there wasn’t more than a moment during the whole show that there wasn’t someone looking at the exhibit.

Signing “Specimens” show catalogs as visitors ogle Stevie the croc.

The Wednesday night preview of the show ran from 5:00-10:00 p.m. I had visits from teaching friends and signed lots of Specimens catalogs (now for sale on my website) for blog followers and fans. There were so many that I talked non-stop the entire time. By the end of the evening, I was already hoarse and was wondering how I would make it through three more days (I had to leave early Sunday to catch a flight to teach at Art Quilt Tahoe). Fortunately, Tom had overheard an announcement that another exhibitor would be at his display giving tours at a certain time. That gave him the idea to schedule times throughout the day when I would guide visitors through the exhibit. So, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I did talking tours at 11:00, 2:00, and 5:00. That gave me and Tom time to each separately sneak off for a BBQ lunch (him) or a little shopping among the vendors (me).

A crowd gathers as I do one of my tours of the exhibit.

Photo Ops

It was a pleasure to visit with so many acquaintances from around the quilt world. When fellow teachers, former students, and old friends stopped by, we naturally had to have our pictures taken together. Here’s a sampling (click on an image to open a slideshow):

Other visitors included several groups from a local gifted and talented academy. These young students were visiting the show as research for a school project, which would culminate with them making a quilt.

Local students introduced themselves to Stevie the croc. Drama ensued.


Aside from saving my voice, the scheduled tour of my quilts also had another benefit: it kept me from repeating the same answers a hundred times a day. “Crocodylus Smylus” especially inspires similar questions in just about everybody. We were of course happy to answer them as many times as necessary, but Tom and I joked between us that we should create Frequently Asked Questions text for viewers to read while they took in the show. So here you go:

How long did it take to make the crocodile?

We tried a variety of answers for this one, trying to keep it brief but make it satisfying to the questioner. Since I don’t punch a clock when I go to work there’s no knowing for sure how many hours I put into making Stevie. I started by saying that the quilt was on my pinning wall for two years, but that most of the work took place in about  a year. Reaction to this answer was generally something like: Is that all? If the questioner seemed especially good-natured, Tom would occasionally answer: Her whole life. It took her whole life. Which is a cheeky way of pointing out that there’s a lot of life experience that goes into making any art. In my case, “Crocodylus Smylus” was inspired by a nature encyclopedia I read to my son Sam 15 years ago. It took me five or six years to collect croc fabric. Then there’s the experience I gained by making all the quilts prior to this one. Even if I could calculate how many hours I spent cutting and gluing, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Of course, I couldn’t go through this spiel each time someone asked, so I often just said “About a year.”

How do you do it?

This question had many variations: Do you sew the pieces down as you go? Do you plan it out on a computer? And so on. Explaining that it’s fabric collage and that I use glue was a good start at an answer for many people. During my tours I went more into detail. It was also a good time to tell people that if they want to know more about how I do what I do, they should visit and sign up for my blog. When I wasn’t doing a tour, Tom especially often took the opportunity to answer the question by showing them the time lapse video (below) of the making of “Crocodylus Smylus” that we had running on a computer, a (moving) picture in this case being worth more than a thousand words.

Where does the croc live when it’s not in a show?

AKA: Where was it made? Where do you have a wall big enough to display it? In my studio on my pinning wall is the simple answer. This was another case where it was appropriate to guide them to the time lapse video, in which they could see my studio. In the video, you’ll see that I had to extend my 14-foot pinning wall first to 20 then to 24 feet to accommodate the quilt.

Where will it go from here?

Home, at first. But Houston is, hopefully, merely the first stop for this collection. I intend to find other venues throughout the U.S. for it to be displayed. The attention it received at IQF will help, I think.

How big is the croc?

Twenty feet tip to tail. Twenty-one and a half feet overall.

Why make it so big?

Making Stevie life-size was the point. I wanted to reproduce the awe I felt when I first read about saltwater crocodiles and learned that they grow to an average of twenty feet long.

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Final Thoughts

I tell my non-quilting friends that IQF Houston is the Super Bowl of quilt shows. I feel very honored to have been included among the very best of the best. If I wore a hat, it would be off for the organizers and volunteers who run the show. Just the Special Exhibit part of the show must be like planning an invasion. Then there are the scores of vendors in the Quilt Market.

The attention to detail is remarkable, so I will remark on it. When I wanted to post a schedule for my tours of the display, I added a sheet between the quilt information sheets already attached to a music stand. These papers had been attached with velcro dots. I had to move the existing sheets of paper in order to place my schedule there, which caused them to hang crookedly. When I arrived the next day, one of the volunteers had added more velcro dots and rearranged the pages so they were all straight. It’s this kind of commitment that makes IQF the best in the world.

My special thanks go out to Becky Navarro and Deann Shamuyerira who invited me to submit a proposal for a special exhibit. They have been helpful and encouraging throughout despite their workload. I hope my show reflected well on their efforts. And I wish them a few well-earned days off once the quilts have all been shipped back to their owners.

My reception by the visitors at IQF was immensely gratifying. The praise of such knowledgable viewers is all one can hope for. As this show represents fifteen years of work, it will undoubtedly be some time before I have another show in Houston like it. But there are other venues in other cities where “Specimens” may find a welcome. Who knows? Stevie the crocodile and her friends may someday be coming to a location near you.

Sepecimens CatalogTo purchase the “Specimens” show catalog,
with pictures and descriptions of all the quilts in the exhibit,
click the link below.



  • Thank you for showing this so clearly. I only wish I’d been in Houston to see it in person. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Be proud!

  • It was my first time at Houston and I was thrilled to see your exhibit! It was truly amazing- well done!! The one special exhibit on my list I saw first and a few times throughout my time at Houston:-)

  • Susan…what a fantastic exhibit at IQF…I’m so sad that I was t able to go with friends to see it.
    I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person at Asilomar in March when I’m taking your class.
    Be extremely proud of your exhibit, it will bring many more quilters to attempt their talents into the world of art quilting.

  • I have a friend who took one of your classes here in Texas and taught some of us your technique. Seeing the actual quilts in Houston was amazing. I kept going back to them to study your use of fabric to achieve your design. Your use of color and value are incredible. I can’t believe your fabric collection. Keep working and continuing to amaze us.

  • I loved the time lapse video. It gave a good sense of the process, but I have to admit I kept my eye out for where the cat, dog or Tom may or may not have appeared in the photos. Your work is stunning, but seeing your husband and pets in the photos somehow makes you more ‘real’ if that makes any sense?

    If you show comes within 5-6 hours of Vancouver BC, I will do my best to see it in person.

  • Susan, my primary goal was to see your exhibit when I went to Quilt Market in Houston. I could have gazed at the “Specimens” for hours! I was thrilled to have the chance to meet both you and Tom. You are so giving with information about your process and creations. My next goal is to bring you to my shop, Quilter’s Corner, for a workshop and expose you to my customers. And then, personally make it to one of your retreats in Maine, my home state!

  • Hands down, my favorite exhibit at Festival this year. Your artistry and work was absolutely incredible. I loved it! Thanks for sharing your talent with us and introducing us to Crocodylus Smylus and the other specimens.

  • I admire you and your work so much! Having been fortunate enough to take a class from you in Southern California, I am in awe of Croc, though the pink Rhino is a totem of mine.
    Congratulations on this show! I am hoping to see it in person, maybe at Road2CA?

  • It was wonderful to see so many of your Quilts on display at one venue! And to have you talk about them was the icing on the cake!!!

  • So happy to connect again with you and Tom !I was able to enjoy your amazing work for 2.5 days!

    So happy I found your first book in the library years ago that encouraged me to drive to Maine to take a workshop!!
    My first first Houston show was when you won for Dixie Dingo..we had dinner with your and mom one night!

    I love how you describe Houston as the Superbowl of quilting..I have as well!!

    It was pretty cool to both have work in this years special exhibits and have dinner again!!

    Inspired to get my glue and scraps out this winter!!

    Until then..

  • Stunning! Thank you for sharing this with us.
    In response to the questions of “how long does it take”, I proudly have some of your originals from junior high. You could do an “Evolution” exhibit to give first-timers the courage to get started. It’s not a serious suggestion – just a testament to your dedication!
    Love you so much.

  • Your exhibit was the one thing I wanted to see at the show this year. Unfortunately during my Wednesday class I received a phone call from MD Anderson Cancer Center that my husband had been diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer and had to leave immediately and never got to see your wonderful quilts in person. I hope I can get to another venue where they will be displayed. You are my favorite quilter.

  • Would have loved to been in Houston this year just to meet you and see all your wonderful quilts.
    You out-did yourself in providing videos and such great pictures with captions almost like being there. Your work is so fantastic thank you for sharing your talent with the rest of us.

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