Time for another round of “The Finish Line.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with this series, no, this isn’t a History Channel program about about Scandinavians during WWII. That would be “The Finnish Line.” (I, Susan, would just like to note that that little pun was written by Tom. One of the things you need to put up with when your assistant is your husband.)

Instead, this post is another in the series where I show off the completed quilts by former students, along with any in-progress photos I may have from the class it was first begun in.

A classroom scene from September of 2013—a five day class at The Stitchin’ Post in Sisters, OR.

Better than my own work, I think, displaying these quilts is the best evidence that fabric collage is for everybody, and just about any subject matter. If we see one person doing something artistically interesting, it’s too easy to conclude that the artist possesses a unique talent that we can’t hope to emulate. When we see many people doing amazing art, we start to think, “Hey, maybe I should try that…”

So, I encourage all my past students: Send in those finished quilt pictures! Please.

If you do, let me ask a couple of favors:

  • State explicitly that you give me permission (or not) to include your work in my blog.
  • Take the best picture you can. Lay it flat or hang it on a wall. Take it outside if necessary to get some good light on it – but not washed out by sun. Make sure the quilt is square and in focus.
  • Remind me: When and where did you take the class? Or did you work from one of my books, Free-Style Quilts or Serendipity Quilts?
  • Tell me a little about the quilt if you can.

For those who missed the first three volumes of student work, they can be found here, here, and here.

The Stitchin’ Post: Sisters, OR: September 2013

Tammi Gritters (pictured above) was a second-time student of mine when she began this tractor. It was to be a gift for her husband. I don’t get many vehicle subjects in my classes, but there have been a few, and I usually warn people that they may regret the choice by the time they’re done (in general, machinery of any kind has too many straight lines for my taste). But if I said that to Tammi back in 2013, I don’t remember, and I’m glad she didn’t listen to me if I did.

She plugged away at this piece, not only with all the ins and outs associated with a tractor body and tires, but with the weathered wall of the red barn behind it. Tammi used multiple prints of both greens and reds to give as much interest and “wear” as possible to these vintage images. Then the John Deere sign and the cat were added—neither being in the original photo.

Tammi later sent these finished photos to the class as a whole and wrote, “I am so excited to tell you all that my quilt, ‘1956 John Deere Tractor’ was accepted to the [2014] AQS show in Lancaster PA! So don’t be afraid to enter your quilts. Chris Hartman [friend and fellow student] and I just got home from The Road to California where we had our quilts from a different Susan Carlson class in that show. Words don’t express what a thrill that experience was.”

Looks like I’ll have to post those quilts in a future blog, Tammi!

Tammi’s husband, John, happy to have his quilt back home after being accepted to other shows, including AQS Paducah.

Working from my book Serendipity Quilts

So now that I’ve mentioned classes, here’s a piece from someone who I have not had as a student, yet. Tracy Donovan from Farmington, MN, opened the email she sent with, “Thank you for writing Serendipity Quilts!–here’s what I made–“.

And what a beauty it is.

Tracy made the quilt below for her second cousin: “She’s a PhD candidate at OSU in Organic Chemistry, a cat-woman, and loves yoga.  I tried to include all this in the image: the chemistry being represented by the exploding mind . .  . THANK YOU for sharing the techniques you’ve discovered.  This has opened a new world in my creative practices!!”

If ever I include book testimonials on my website (hmmm, maybe I should), Tracy’s would be there. “When I found your book I was stunned by your work. I didn’t buy the book then, but came back weeks later because I couldn’t stop thinking about those images, and I had looked far enough to see that you really broke down the steps and made it accessible.”

Thank you for sending this to me, Tracy! I just love the color, energy, and spontaneity of this collage cat.

by Tracy Donovan
detail by Tracy Donovan

The Quilt Gallery, Kalispell, MT: April 2014

Linda Dunbar crossed the border from Calgary, Alberta to take my near-annual class in the little town of Kalispell, MT.

Linda says: “I’m very pleased with this quilt as I think Ollie is true to life. He’s 13 now and looking good. I used a light blue tulle [for the quilting itself] on the dog body. Thanks for being such an inspiration to my quilting. I might make another “Ollie” quilt with wilder colours but for now I love looking at this piece as I see Ollie as (almost) he truly is.”

I’d like to note that in the end, Ollie looks like the furry little white dog that he is—even though Linda used a variety of blue fabrics, and without cutting every little bit of fur. Perfect!

in progress
“Tough Enough to Wear Pink” by Linda Dunbar
Linda at work on Ollie. Behind her is her penguin quilt which appeared in a previous volume of “The Finish Line”.

Portsmouth Fabric Company, Portsmouth, NH

For those of you who really examine my posts, this moon may look familiar. The finished version was posted as a show-and-tell from my own Portland Maine Retreat of this past October. Sally Evans has taken several classes with me, possibly beginning with this Celestial Portraits class in Portsmouth, NH, though I can’t quite remember when it was….

As I was looking for other in-progress student work for this post, I came across this photo. Having recently seen the finished version, I was struck how dramatically the flaming rays changed the whole feel of the piece. Just so you know, that’s a lot of cutting in those rays. In addition to the inevitable glue, Sally also used a layer of tulle over the whole image as part of the quilting process. This step also helps to hold everything in place.

This moon may have begun with the design from my Serendipity Quilts book, but it certainly ended up with a personality all its own. This moon is not serenely setting, it’s exploding.

in-progress moon detail by Sally Evans
finished moon detail by Sally Evans
Moon by Sally Evans

Beach Cities Quilt GuildOrange County, CA: November 2011

Pat Gates says: “I took your class at Beach Cities Quilt Guild when you were in Mission Viejo a few years ago. Loved the class! Attached is the butterfly I made in your class. It turned out great and I have it hanging in my bedroom now. Thanks for your inspiration!”

I really like the way this in-progress photo shows how Pat used a line drawing of the butterfly as a guide for the collaged version—not as an exact pattern—no templates used. Exactly as it should be with this collage process! You can see how she let prints cut from fabrics (those flowers in the lower left) take the place of some of the drawn shapes. Then they start getting obscured, and covered, worked into the overall wing on the right.

What that illustrates is, you may start with one version of a design, but it can and will change, depending on the fabric you find. You could use the same design again, and the butterfly would be different because the fabric choice or even the section of fabric would be different. It could be similar, yet different. Just like in nature.

in-progress by Pat Gates
Butterfly by Pat Gates

Empty Spools, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA: 2012

In the course of a year, I teach close to 300 students. That number is not unique for us traveling teachers, so it is especially humbling when I find out that my class is on the bucket-list of other teachers. Carving out time to do something for yourself is not easy to do, and I’m always flattered to see a name I recognize as a fellow teacher on my rooster. The one-and-only Judy Mathieson, of Mariner’s Compass fame, was in my class almost five years ago.

The other part of that equation is that the pressure is on. I’m teaching a teacher, so there’s no room for slouching on my part. But in the end, those big name quilters are real people, and pretty darn nice to boot.

Judy and her husband Jack, raise sheep. Jack is interested in sheepdog herding competitions so he uses the sheep for training their border collies. This class was five years ago, but Judy recently wrote that, “Rosie is one of our small flock of sheep and still around, undoubtedly pregnant at the moment. Lambs expected in a month or so.”

“I chose her [Rosie’s] photo because she had good contrast, a black face and curls over her forehead. Normally the sheep don’t have names, but I put fabrics with yellow roses into her portrait and now she has a name.”

Judy and Rosie with a few background fabrics pinned up for auditioning purposes.

This class exchanged emails and a few months later Judy sent this out, “Here is my completed Rosie with the Golden Fleece. The piece is covered with black tulle [optional part of quilting process]. It is 30″ x 36″.  I am very happy with the project.” (Check out how her binding matches with the image!)

My path crossed Judy’s again a couple years ago—what a delightful person she is. She told me she’s busy making art quilts and enjoying her groups of like minded quilters. You can check out Judy’s amazing quilts here.

“Rosie with the Golden Fleece” by Judy Mathieson

Columbia, MD: February 2015

Kenzie Preston started her beetle in a two day class taught during a bitter cold snap in suburban Maryland, near where I grew up. It was a fish, bug, or butterfly class, and there was something quite warming to see these somewhat delicate creatures emerge in such a cold (outside) environment. And the fiery colors of Kenzie’s beetle added to the overall feeling.

in progress by Kenzie Preston

What a creative piece this is, from the beetle itself to the wonderful border—kinda puts it in its own little environment. That purple really complements the red/orange nicely.

When Kenzie sent me this photo, she wrote, “Finished my wall hanging today. I love the technique. Thanks for the engaging experience. Hope to take another class sometime.” Me too, Kenzie.

Beetle by Kenzie Preston

The Quilt Gallery, Kalispell, MT: 2013-2016

I believe Sunne Brandmeyer has attended every class I have taught in Kalispell, and that’s quite a few, since some years I taught two sessions in a row.

2013: Sunne’s first fabric collage was a portrait of her (grown) son at a very young age. Right away, I liked Sunne’s choice in fabrics and her eye for color. She understood the use of prints for contours and blending. If she got hung-up anywhere, I just had to make one or two suggestions and she’d be up and running.

The background Sunne constructed for this portrait was unexpected, even for my standards, and maybe for that very reason, I love it.

2014: Another portrait, this time Sunne’s grandson. Here I think she caught perfectly the sheer exuberance of a child at play. In this case, blowing bubbles at the beach. I like the way he seems to be made of, or at least wearing, the bubbles.

Finished quilt of Sunne’s grandson.

For the final day of class that year, Sunne switched from her grandson to a hippo (below). Yes, she did that in one day. People portraits can be stressful in that you’re concerned that these loved ones look “right”. Obviously, Sunne was done with her grandson and opted to play during that last day. She totally let go, started cutting into her fabrics with only color and print in mind. She arranged the cut fabric shapes very intuitively, and successfully. It was like a muse was whispering in her ear. It was fun to see it develop, and just seemed to flow out of her.

2015: Sunne showed up with finished quilts of the hippo, a zebra she made on her own, and the two portraits. That year she began “Walter” the grizzly bear.

Walter in progress above, and completed below. Sunne applied some of what she learned from making the hippo, cutting larger prints from the fabrics to re-arrange for the image. Cut first, then see where they work. It gives you a nice “pallet” to work from, lends itself to a more intuitive approach, plus, it’s more fun. And this big ol’ grizzly sure seems to have a playfulness about him.

2016: Last year was back to portraits for Sunne—this time her mom (on right) and siblings—based on a small, old, black-and-white photograph. Those old photos, precious as they are, are usually washed out and hard to make out the value changes in a face. Even so, Sunne persevered and generated a workable drawing (below) to give her the basic definitions of each face.

Each child was to have a different color cast to their faces, so picking out fabrics that had a similar value range—lights to darks, yet in slightly different yet “believable” colors was one of Sunne’s biggest challenges with this piece. I do believe she did a pretty darn good job with that, and once again, demonstrates the use of the prints in the fabric for contours and texture in her images.

As Sunne wrote to me about the finished quilt, “I put it on Facebook and my cousins recognized it, so I guess it is close enough.” It sure looks like it, Sunne, and this final photo will be good enough for now, but how about I get a better final photo of it when I see you this June?!

Mom and two siblings by Sunne Brandmeyer.

I hear from many of you, my readers, that you really enjoy seeing and reading about these student works. Compiling them, the past with the present, is fun for me too. I get to reminisce, not just in matching up the photos and remembering the classes and people, but in searching for those old class photos, I also end up being reminded of what else was going on at that time.

For instance, that first year I traveled to Kalispell, Montana to teach at The Quilt Gallery, I came home with an unexpected souvenir—the best souvenir ever—our Kali pup. She is sister and litter mate to shop owner, Joan Hodgeboom’s own new furry addition of 2013, Sally. Needless to say, after 3-1/2 years, we now have hundreds of much better photos of Kali. But the one below, the one I found as I was searching for quilts-in-progress, is the first—that moment of love-at-first-sight. It’s the photo I emailed home to Tom to see if this was the pup he didn’t know he needed.

So thanks to my students who take my classes, who finish the quilts, who allow me to post them here—’cause you never know where sharing will take you. Friends, memories, and warm fuzzies.



  • Hello Susan,

    What a wonderful read. The puppy he didn’t know he needed certainly rang true. Thank you for the time you so selflessly spend sharing these wonderful memories and creations. Looking forward to your taking your online class. Hint, hint.

    Many thank,
    Wendy Dyhr,
    Melbourne, Australia

  • These are just so much fun – Love the sheep, she is just glorious. Well love all of them but the sheep takes the biscuit. Fabulous …… I have quilt ideas lined up and then another collage …..way to many ideas and not enough time.

  • As always , I so enjoy your writings…you do have the knack for it! I love seeing all the progressive pictures, please continue to take and show them, it allows us to bear witness to these works of art. Yes, sometimes it is hard to imagine that we too can create such a wonderful art piece, and the pictures help to make that task more believable. I will be joining your class this summer and can hardly wait, seeing more of these previous student’s work only is whetting my appetite to get started sooner! Thanks

  • Susan, these are wonderful. Thank for posting them and for including the in process photos. I actually started my art quilting journey with your first book. I’ve been in a fog the last two and half years and feel like I am coming out of it. I saw the Dodo in Spring Hill SC recently and seeing it up close was exciting for me. When I look at my most work during it seems stiff. I am going to try to find your book in Barns and Noble today and if they don’t have it in stock I will download the Kindle version until I can get my hands on the actual book. I am excited about the possibility of an online class since travel is complicated for me now.

  • They are fantastic, inspiring me to get to my blueberries. My 4 yo grandson ran his hand across it and many little pieces fluttered to the ground and I was pretty horrified, sort of dumbfounded, and then reminded myself that it was definitely replaceable and not to take it so seriously!!! Love seeing the finished quilts, so inspiring.

  • Love seeing these, Susan; what a fantastic compilation! Have so many images in my head for my next project with you at the retreat in June — this post just gives me more inspiration. I so enjoy your blogs, and especially these “Finish Line” ones — it’s my Saturday morning ‘treat’ to open your blog with a cup of coffee and enjoy all of the colors!

  • Love this post and all the ideas from it. I enjoy seeing what others envision and then do it! When I pull up the internet on Saturdays the first place I go is to your blog! I enjoy it so much. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • I have your book, the people in your classes obviously have been raiding my stash, and Kalispell isn’t that far away. I’m running out of excuses. And that grizzly bear, “I think… I smell… a huckleberry”.

    A quilt show on Saturday morning. Nothing better.

  • Incredible, gives me inspiration too…obviously you are an outstanding teacher, your students works shine, thanks for sharing them

  • Oh My WHAT A FUN READ TODAY’S BLOG WAS. The student work is amazing and it is hard to believe that even I can create something like this. I am now hooked. I will be re-reading the two books that I have of yours, and will be anxiously awaiting your on line classes. Thank you for sharing these and for giving us a little background on the artists.

  • I’m so glad I joined this blog. The student pictures & descriptions are great. I have your Serendipity book & can’t wait to try something. I’m looking forward to your online classes.
    Lynn Baker

  • Hello, I think that your technique is something that can help me to become unstuck. My problem is I don’t know where to start. I look forward to your online classes and I plan on taking them when they become available. You are truly a unselfish talented artist who I respect and would love to learn from. Thank you for sharing a piece of your soul and spirit.

  • I so enjoy your blog. I hope one day I can meet you. Everything you do is so interesting. I especially enjoyed today’s information, the sharing of your student’s work. Amazing is the best word I can think of. Thank you, thank you! I have your book “Serendipity Quilts” which I purchased when I was first learning to quilt. I’ve worked on traditional quilts now and have been continually working on LINUS and QOV. I soon want to start on my own creations and I can’t think of a better way to bring my own creativity out. You have inspired me, you’re a wonderful teacher. Thank you.

  • thank you to you Susan and all the students who share their progress and finished work. I read your two books cover to cover. I find the technique very challenging and have spent countless hours in sorting my fabrics into values. I learn So much looking at the works in progress and then the final result. Again, much appreciation.

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