Rit Verhoeven (left) and Ria Mille

In 2012 I received an email from a quilter named Ria Mille who was interested in attending my Maine summer quilt retreat. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. What caught my eye, besides her charming command of the English language, was the fact that she was from Belgium. She asked lots of questions about the class, including what kind of instruction would be given. It became clear that she wanted to be sure the class would be worth the long and expensive trip from Europe to Maine (surprisingly, there aren’t any direct flights from Brusells to Portland, Maine).

After I reassured her, Ria and her friend Rit Verhoeven signed up for the class. They are the first and only students I have had attend my retreat from overseas. What an honor. The two are very close friends. They are neighbors and together are part of a quilt group in Belgium, which Ria started 23 years ago. The group is called “Ewe’s Den,” after the nickname of their town: “Sheepshead.” (See Rit’s quilt below.)

They planned their trip so they would have five days before the class to explore northern New England. Ria says, “Our five-day drive through ever so green N.E. gave us a quick taste of American life. Covered bridges, maple syrup farms, diners, casual dressing, motels, these were some typical notions confirmed. And of course: quilt fabric shops. What choice, what abundance!”

The ladies arrived at class with two very ambitious projects: Ria chose a huge elephant’s head; Rit wanted to do a portrait of her grandson. While they were experienced quilters, this was their first crack at fabric collage. I didn’t try to talk them out of their projects. They seemed pretty aware of how much work they had set up for themselves. They stayed up late almost every night of the four day class.

Ria says, “But boy, did we work! Our back and feet ached from standing until two in the morning. We had to make sure we understood the technique. We were extremely lucky participating in a class with six students only. It felt like a private lesson.”

(It’s humbling to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that my retreats didn’t always fill to their maximum of twelve students.)

Well, they did an amazing job. They advanced rapidly as you can see from the in progress shots below.

Ria and Rit at work at the Harpswell Inn during the 2012 summer retreat.

What’s even more impressive is that they have continued to create wonderful work since then. I am so proud of what they have accomplished after only one class. Ria says that part of what helps is that she and Rit both took the class.

“Our best decision was to attend class together, so we can always rely on each other for help. We both are addicted to the technique and have a lot of success amongst Belgian quilters,” says Ria.

Ria and Rit draped in golden netting I sent to them for their fabric collage projects.

In the years since that retreat, I have been blessed with periodic emails from Ria updating me on their projects. I even sent them a big hunk of netting since it was so difficult to find in Europe.  As Ria notes, the two have different styles. She tends to prefer earth tones for her large animals, while Rit’s portraits of her grandchildren are full of bright colors.

Their work is so impressive, I figured it was time that the rest of the world got to see what these two have been up to.

The descriptions of the quilts that follow are in their own words.


Tembo, by Ria Mille, 51 x 34 inches

I call him Tembo, the African word. He is my link to the happy years I spent in Zambia where I met my husband, married and had our son. It was the first attempt, partially made under Susan’s expert guidance. He turned out to be a hit, so I made a second, nearly identical one, for a nephew who spent his honeymoon in Africa.


New England Moose, by Ria Mille, 51 x 34 inches

It was a lot of work. I started with a lot of enthusiasm, but once finished, I decided there was no special approach to the subject. Just the head would have been much more interesting. A great learning-subject though.


Alpha Male, by Ria Mille, 35 x 35 inches (in progress)

Quite a challenge, but I was completely addicted to creating this magnificent animal. He looks quite mistrusting. I first thought the look would be the hard part, but the back of his head and the shoulderline turned out to the big challenges. He has no destiny yet, but I do not think I could ever part with him. Although he doesn’t seem to be the first thing you want to see in the morning!


Simba, by Ria Mille, 39 x 31 inches

Made him for one of my quilters. He sits proudly on the wall of her living-room. The hard part was the nose, all these pastel beiges. 


Pretty in Turqoise, by Ria Mille, 26 x 20 inches

I got stuck trying to shape the background. With a little help from Rit, who is good at freehand drawing, the leaves saved my project.


Lilac Breasted Roller, by Ria Mille, 26 x 20 inches

Again an African memory. As common there as the sparrows here. But so much more beautiful!


Hummingbird, by Ria Mille, 22 x 28 inches

I am fascinated by these tiny creatures, specially after one tried to “kiss” me because I was wearing bright red lipstick. This happened at a wonderful B&B in Utah. The owner was very amused at my awe.


Sea Turtle, by Ria Mille, 20 x 24 inches

The famous Susan Carlson sea turtle. So often copied, and different each time.


Fish, by Ria Mille, 32 x 22 inches

My attempt at this quite difficult subject.


Pheasant, by Ria Mille, 47 x 35 inches

I made it for my favorite sister (I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers, so plenty of work ahead). It is the first subject that will be quilted freehand style. Had to cross the border to find someone who is good at this.  Crossing the border is not so far from home. But traffic is always heavy.  One hour drive. Peanuts for Americans who are used to the big spaces and freedom. The result is still a surprise, but the lady won several prizes, even in the US. 


Wake Up, You…, by Ria Mille, 36 x 36 inches (in progress)

My husband created a tiny “studio” for me, so I can work with the radio on and leave all the fabric on the table when returning to my housewife’s duties. What a bliss! 


Winnepesaukee Indian Summer, by Ria Mille, 30 x 24 inches

I made it 3 years ago, inspired by Susan’s portrait of her son, “Peace Love, Tie-Dye, Save the Whales,” and Warhol’s approach on his subjects. Never ever again shall I make such tiny collage, incredibly fidgety. It was purchased during one of our quilt exhibition. Always very rewarding feeling when someone is prepared to pay for something you made yourself.


Sheepshead, by Rit Verhoeven, 45 x 31 inches, 2014

I found the idea for the sheep on the advertisement of a new building to be constructed not far from our home. The nickname of people living in ‘Lier’ (our town) is ‘sheepsheads’ because in the 14th century we got the opportunity to choose for a local cattle market or a university… Our municipality chose the cattle market, since then we are sheepsheads!


Jef, by Rit Verhoeven, 44 x 33 inches, 2013

Jef is our oldest grandson and son of our oldest daughter Isabel.  This was the work I made in summer retreat from Susan in the Harpswell inn.  Jef is handsome young man of 16, taller than his father.

Our other grandchildren were so enthusiastic of the work that I couldn’t do else but make one for all of them…

Our third daughter, Dominique, has a daughter, Joséphine, and we think one more grandchild will come so I do not need to search for inspiration in the next years to come!


Jerome, by Rit Verhoeven, 44 x 33 inches, 2016

In the summer of 2016 I made the portrait of Jerome, Jef’s younger brother. The way he smiles on the portrait is typical for him, he’s a really nice 12 year old kid. 


Marcel, by Rit Verhoeven, 23 x 29 inches, 2016

I now had the way of working in my fingers and started immediately to work on Marcel, our youngest grandson and child of our second daughter Katrien. I hesitated long which foto I would use because it is always easier to work from a photo with sharp shadows and this one has practically none shadows but it is so really Marcel that I took the chance. (He wears his favourite FC Barcelona soccer shirt.)

36 Comments

  • Beautiful. I live in South Africa but I managed to get you book Susan which is in Canada with my son. Due to our postal service being extremely poor your book is being sent to my youngest son in Scotland. I am going to be meeting my son in Singapore for a holiday where I will then be able to read your book. I cant wait. I love your work.

  • Lovely article, Susan, and inspiring work! Thank you for sharing, it is always a treat to see how other people take what they learn and move forward in their art adventures.

  • Susan, Ria and Rit are a credit to your incredible ability to impart knowledge so unselfishly … all beautiful works of art. kindly, marg

  • It is so inspiring to see Rit and Ria’s work. Ria’s animals are so lifelike and her pheasant looks like a beautiful oil painting by a European master that belongs in a museum. That red color is so striking! I loved Rit’s Sheepshead story (and her sheep) and the portraits of her grandchildren are stunning. Thank you for sharing their work!

  • What a beautiful body of work! Both ladies have been so prolific. It is so nice to have a friend to work with. All of the quilts are very impressive.

  • Beautiful pieces, and so inspirational! Their collection is amazing; thanks for sharing their story, Susan!

  • what a beautifull work of nearly my neighbours…..(I live in the Netherlands) and follow you since I am in love
    with the pink Rhino. I realy am 😉

  • Susan, thank you for the pictures and story about Kia and Kit. And for those of us who wish and dream of learning fabric collage, they prove that it can be done. I read and study your posts and your books, even save all the snippets of fabric from the floor.

  • I do so look forward to your Saturday posts. This one did NOT disappoint! Thank you for introducing us to Ria and Rit. I love that you enjoy your students work as much as your own.

  • Hi Susan,
    I’m Rit’s husband. Ria and Rit came back from Harpswell as they had seen the light there…
    Their work has truly become art now and they are pushing one another to new bounderies.
    I’m sure we haven’t seen the best of them yet !!!
    best regards,
    philip

  • I’m curious if Rita & Rit are teaching your technique in Belgium? Wonderful work and I’m sure you’re very pleased that they create such inspired work after your class.

  • Lovely & inspiring! I especially like Ria’s work, & her animal portraits. Wonderful student work is a true reflection on the teacher!

  • I’ve said it before, you have the best newsletter ever! I loved seeing all of these beautiful pieces. They are just breathtaking.

  • Thank you so much for showing us the work of these two women. I took one of your classes at Asilomar in 2015, and am just getting ready to quilt it. I’m pretty sure I could do an animal, but the three boys are outstanding and seem beyond by capabilities! The background choices are wonderful too. I will have to take another class to try to work on a portrait of my new great grandson. You are such a good teacher!

  • WOW!!! What incredible students, quilters, artists! Rit and Ria absolutely absorbed your instruction…must be our Harpswell air! I don’t know how one could part with (sell) any of these works. And kudos to their men who encouraged such a journey! Congratulations ladies!
    P.S. I am Susan’s slow-learner from Harpswell!

  • Beautiful! This is a tribute to creative women, and a wonderful teacher! Hopefully my quilt will be half as good, loved the class I took, and will be attending again this summer. Thanks ladies!

  • Hello Susan,
    Rit is one of my best friends , we know each other all our lives. She has always been very creative and she is amazing with textile.I’ve seen all her work and every item is a real piece of art!
    Rit and Ria are both very passionate ladies. It’s nice to read about their beautiful work on your blog.
    Kind regards
    Linda

  • WOW…..what a treat to read this posting. Those ladies are just so adorable and talented. My favorites were the Alpha Male and the Sheep. Please keep showing us the works of other “Carlsonites”. What a nice comment from Rit’s husband
    Please CONSIDER having a class in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area SOON. mickie

  • I had to go back and look at these quilts again. The elephant is great as are the other quilts. Their work is such an inspiration for me.

  • Rit (my mother in law) and Ria are two talented ladies. Every item of patchwork they make really reflects their passion for color and fabric. I can not wait until Rit decides to make a piece of art of our little girl Josephine (Big hint for Rit ;o) )

    Kind regards,
    Sofie

    • Hello Darlene!
      So good reading your comments. Both Rit and I share the best memories of our stay in Harpswell. I remember your generosity, letting us dig into your suitcase with fabrics. I still cling to the cissors you brought me during classes. What are you making these days? Did you finish the hippos?

  • It was wonderful to meet Ria during a recent trip to Belgium…our meeting was totally by chance and I was happy to share a quilt that I had recently made with her…I wish I had had the opportunity to see her works in real life.

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