Here’s a walkaround video of my first classroom at Empty Spools 2017.

When making my teaching schedule each year, I make sure a keep two weeks open in the winter or early spring for Empty Spools Seminars. It’s a great time to leave the cold weather of Maine for the more temperate climes of the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, CA. The quilting seminars run for five sessions. For years now I have had the privilege of teaching two, back-to-back sessions.

I’ll spare you the details of my unexpected overnight stay in Phoenix on my way to California. Suffice to say, I was a bit grumbly when I finally arrived to discover that my luggage was still on its own journey from Phoenix. But Asilomar has one of those restful sort of atmospheres, with sea, sand, and pines, and it soon began its work on me. My delayed arrival meant I had precious little time before my late afternoon introduction to my class of twenty students. They were so excited to begin their fabric collage adventure that they hardly noticed that my teaching supplies were sparse and I was wearing my travel clothes for the second consecutive day. (At least I hope I didn’t give them reason to notice!)

What fun characters I had in class! They good-naturedly posed for me with their “surprised” faces when I told them all I expected them to accomplish in the course of the session. Pictured left to right: (seated in front) Barbara Cavanagh, Pam Hadfield, L. Olson, Deanna Ripley-Lotee, Michelle Howe, Joann Knowles, Juliet Sandquist; (seated behind) Kim Kooyers, Laurie Lile, Susan Lile, Marsha Cardwell, Eileen Wintemute; (standing behind) Amanda Massengill, Chris Vail, Cheri Sedlacek, Beth Stanton, Terry Millett, Laura Webb, Beth Shay, and Charlotte Lorenzo

By dinner, however, my luggage was in my room, and day two dawned with an oceanside pre-breakfast walk, in fresh clothes, which I have now been reminded, are one of the simple pleasures of life.

Returning to Empty Spools each year has the feeling of Old Home Week. Between teaching, eating at the open-seating round tables of the dining hall, walking between the classroom and the cafeteria, and attending the evening programs, I passed and chatted with dozens of people who have also returned year after year as either students, instructors, vendors, or organizers of this event.

In the photos above, quilts shared are by Randa Mulford—with her soulful dog quilt that she began in last November’s class at Art Quilt Tahoe; Jean Impey with a royal ostrich began at an Empty Spools session in 2013 (BTW, Jean was also an instructor at this year’s session with her very fun Spiderweb Quilt class!); and Laura Web (on left) with her psychedelic goldfish–recently featured in “Finish Line” blog post.

Every evening after dinner there’s a show-and-share of student quilts, plus short presentations by the instructors–three or four a night. My evening to share was on the first day and a few past students of mine brought their own completed quilts to show.

Getting started is often the hardest step. I warn my students of that, if they don’t already know, but they dive in anyway. Late the first day or sometime in the second, they enter into what I call the “messy scary stage.” With perseverance their projects start to come together (as can be seen in photos above), more and more, day by day.

An Instagram photo montage of a few day-two images. These are either deep into, or past the “messy-scary” stage.

Student Work from My First Session at Empty Spools 2017

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Each of the Empty Spools sessions is six days long, beginning with an couple hours of getting acquainted with each other and the process on the afternoon of Day One. A half-day wrap-up happens on on Day Six. Midway is an open evening with no evening program. Students usually use those hours to put in extra class time, and teachers usually slip out for dinner together at a local restaurant.

Session One found ten of us teachers at Taste, a cute, local bistro. As traveling teachers, our paths periodically intersect, and it’s always fun to reconnect and see what has transpired in the time since we last saw each other. Often there are new faces and stories to learn of as well. 

Teacher’s Night Out (clockwise from lower left): Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Sue Spargo, Jean Impey, Melinda Bula, Laurel Anderson, me, Sue Rasmussen, Wendy Mathson, Artist in Residence Jan Soules, and Gloria Loughman.

The day after our Teachers’ Night Out, we like to tell our students that we shared all sorts of stories about them! This year while I was at dinner my students sent me an email message stating that they were, “in class and rocking the templates.” You see, my fabric collage technique does not involve the making of templates. In fact, I am pretty staunchly against making templates when they’re in my class. Nonetheless, getting more traditional quilters to let go of that habit, if only for a few days, is sometimes challenging. Sometimes it requires some stern lectures and arm twisting. That night, however, they had fun taunting their teacher.

This year I had an extra stop for the evening, a quilt exhibit at Pacific Grove’s excellent quilt shop, Back Porch Fabrics. The exhibit featured the quilts of Kathy Sandling and Deb Albright. Kathy and Deb are two of my students from last year’s seminar, and two of the finished quilts were ones started in that class. It was great to see them again and to share in Kathy and Deb’s excitement at being invited to show so many of their fabulous quilts. The show will be up until March 28, 2017. If you have any chance to see it, I highly recommend it. Seeing the show is a bonus to building up your fabric stash at Back Porch Fabrics!

BFF Quilting Journey quilt show at Back Porch Fabrics: Deb Albright (left), me, and Kathy Sandling.

And then on the last full day, all classes clean up their work spaces, set up their projects, and make sure their names are pinned on them in preparation for the walk-through. Maps of all classroom locations throughout the Asilomar campus are provided and from 4 to 6 p.m. it’s a self-guided tour to see what other Empty Spools participants have been doing. Teachers stay in their classrooms to answer questions and bask in the glory of their students’ creations.

Day six is a short day to do a final wrap-of the class. Yes, they have farther to go, but I feel like they’ll be able to complete their projects on their own, they’ve come so far. Always a bittersweet goodbye with people I’ve come to know for a short but intense time.

Goodbyes must also be said to most of the other teachers, including Katie Pasquini Masopust (in photo lower right below). A few of us stayed for the second session, including Gloria Loughman (in two photos to my right), beginning its own six-day cycle a mere few hours later in the late afternoon. But that’s next week’s story…


  • Where can I find a complete list of your teaching schedule?
    I’d love to be able to take 2-3 of you Five Day classes. I’m prepared to travel to any location and I can afford to do the classes.
    PLEASE help me with this goal.
    Thank you.
    Sandi Moore

    • I plan to announce my teaching dates for 2018 within the next two weeks. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, now would be a good time to do it. That’s where you’ll see the dates first.

  • I had the privilege of seeing a few of these works continue in the session 2 of which I attended. To experience the class first hand is a real treat. And not to be missed, one that I will never forget. I’m home now looking at my “Iggy” and wanting to get him completed for “show and tell” before I head back to Asilomar for session 3 with another wonderful instructor – Mary Lou Weidman. However, I’m not going to rush completing “Iggy the Iguana” and he will be there on my design wall when I return.
    Susan Carlson and Mary Lou Weidman were/are on my “art bucket list” checkmark Susan! But I may just uncheck her and go to another one of her classes so she can amaze me with her expertise again. Maybe in Maine when I can visit my sister.

  • Excellent coverage of your first week in Asilomar. Thanks for being such a terrific teacher and person.I miss you and Asilomar. Boo hoo. Definitely going to make sure our paths cross again. “Peace, Love, Tie Dye, and Save the Whales.”

  • What a fun workshop it was. Can’t wait to finish mine. Would love to take another workshop from Sue. She’s such an inspiration to us all and very talented!!!

  • Susan,
    I especially enjoyed this week’s blog post since I was a student in your Asilomar class (and a co-conspirator in the template party–it was epic!) Your photos captured the wonder and beauty that is Asilomar. And, my week in class, learning and experimenting with your collage technique was challenging and exhilarating. Playing with all that fabric was a true joy! Thank you so much for your thoughtful suggestions, for your creative energy and your generous teaching. It was a pleasure to meet you in person after getting to know your work via the blog. Hope to see you in class again!

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