One of the first fabric collage quilts I made was a portrait of my sister, entitled California Dreams. She’s sitting on—an imagined—California beach under a night sky with multi-colored palm trees. Little did I think that decades later, I’d be on California’s Coronado Island gazing on real life emerald-colored palms in a warm evening breeze.

My summer of working at home ended mid-September with a flight across country from Maine to Southern California, encompassing not one or two, but three locations with three quilt guilds, three lectures, and three classes—60 students—in the course of a week. It’s all about pacing, and the ladies who were my contacts for the guilds took good care of me. To top it off, another woman in each guild took over as personal tour guide, making sure I got to see more than the insides of the classrooms. A big thank you to each and every one, and I look forward to the next time we may meet.

So, without further ado, may I present: A Week (approximately) in the Life of an Itinerant Quilt Teacher.

Day 1:

First stop, Irvine CA, teaching for Flying Geese Quilters Guild. I fly into Orange County and am met by my contact, Kathy Keefer and her husband, Steve. Kathy had been a student of mine at Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar some years ago. I remembered her quilt, but needed a refresher description of who to look for at baggage claim. She texts: “medium sized gray haired woman with black frame glasses. Blue shirt.” There are a lot of people there, I start to reply: “I’ve got the lime green and orange luggage,” but she finds me first. Recognition comes back, and it’s nice to see Kathy again. I never got a photo of her to include in this post, but Kathy and her co-chair, Bonnie Bennett, were so very helpful throughout my time with their guild.

As luck would have it, another Empty Spools alumni, Juliet Sandquist, is also a member of Flying Geese, and she offers to show me around the area while I’m there. Juliet was a pleasure to have in class earlier this year and is just as bubbly and all smiles now as she was then.

After depositing luggage at my hotel, Kathy and Steve take me to meet Juliet at Rodger’s Gardens. Juliet thinks I’d enjoy their “Magic and Mayhem” Halloween boutique. She’s right. If you happen to be close enough to visit, you may enjoy it too.

I’m not terribly great at taking selfies, but I can’t resist taking one of Juliet and I in disguise. The colors and textures in the gardens are a great remedy to the hours in airports and airplanes, as is Juliet’s company.

Days 2 & 3:

While at my Costa Mesa hotel, I wake up to breakfasts in a quaint little European styled courtyard. A nice and quiet start to a couple very full days teaching my 2-day Fish, Bugs, and Butterflies class.

Day 1 moves quickly from class to dinner to my slide lecture and trunk show. Below is a photo of Flying Geese members arriving at the meeting, checking out some of the samples I brought along, and finding their seats. They are a great audience and help to fuel me with their enthusiasm.

Day 2 finishes the class and the ladies, as they did in all three of my classes classes, allow me to photograph and share their creations in this post. See CA class #1 in the slide show below.

Flying Geese Quilters Guild: Fish, Bugs, and Butterflies Class

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Day 3 ends with another side trip with Juliet, this time to Huntington Beach for a walk with her dog, Ranger. On the way there, I snap a photo of a pizza joint sign. The words appeals to me in a quilt-related way, plus “Peace, Love” seems like such a California thing.

Juliet and I share a mutual love dogs, she started a portrait of her late dog, Cajun, in the class we met in earlier this year. We try getting a selfie that includes Ranger, but with no cooperation from him. We dawdle long enough at the beach to see a beautiful Pacific sunset, and then Juliet deposits me at my hotel to pack for travel the next day.

Day 4:

A beautiful sunny day and I’m picked up by a chauffeur in a slick black car for a ride down the coast to Carlsbad—home to abundant ranunculus (flower) gardens. Unfortunately for me, the fields are all tilled this time of year, but I pick up a postcard that shows me how beautiful they look at other times.

My contact person for El Camino Quilt Guild is Addie Firtel. She and a friend pick me up at my new hotel and whisk me away to Rosie’s—a quilt store who’s name came up in my first class as a place I just had to go to. We go to Rosie’s Calico Cupboard, and yes, as I learned in my tour, they have 2000+ bolts of batiks alone, not to mention the thousands of color and theme coordinated fabrics. We spend an hour, or so, there and I leave with a few more additions to my fabric stash. Luckily for me, I have a future quilt in mind that I can focus purchasing for, otherwise it would have been hard to decide even where to look.

Addie then takes me to La Jolla for a little stroll through the town and a coffee shop stop. I pick up some more postcards (I like the ones that picture the state I’m in with little drawings of cities or highlights, you know what I mean? Or else the ones that have kissing animals that say “With Love From…..”). Addie indulges me with this desire and also poses with me in front of a painted horse statue—one of many we saw in the area.

We start to get hungry and decide on an early dinner to get me back to the hotel to rest and prep for the next morning’s lecture. All of my contact ladies know that I eat vegan and avoid gluten when possible. Addie knows of this great place called Flower Child. Assuming that most of you out there are not vegan, to be taken to a restaurant where anything I order won’t have meat or eggs or dairy in it is like taking a kid to a carnival. Everything looks so inviting and you want to take it all in. What a treat to have choices. All the guilds fed me well, dealing very graciously with my vegan and mostly gluten-free way of eating. California has great options available, and I thoroughly enjoyed a few of them.

Flower Child also had some fun and interesting mural art—see photos below. See, told you I thought “Peace, Love” was a California thing.

Day 5:

This morning I’m picked up at my hotel for a morning lecture with El Camino Quilt Guild. Most lectures I do are in the evening, so daytime lectures are a interesting change of pace. In the photo below, you see Addie warming up the crowd. It’s a really good turnout and they have some good questions for me.

A few ladies from past classes come up to show me their finished collage quilts. Actually, in the course of my stay in CA, I got to see quite a few finished quilts. Sometime in the near future I’ll put together a separate Finish Line blog post just for them. Thanks to everyone—in all three guilds—who made the effort to bring them along. Of course, it’s always so much fun to see how class projects end up.

After the lecture, it’s lunch with the Guild officers and then sightseeing with the guild’s workshop chairperson, Abby Fisher. Abby takes me to see the small, quaint, and very walkable town of Encinitas. In fact, it’s so walkable that her dog, Miller, comes along with us.

You gotta love a town where what you’re walking on can be as interesting and artful as what you’re walking by—I take photos of just a couple of the mosaic sidewalk stones (above) and another of a grate around a tree—Coastal Highway 101 runs right through the center of Encinitas.

A small shop, Coast Hwy Traders, features Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) artwork and I’m so overwhelmed with color and design that I almost mentally shut down (it can happen in fabric stores too). Day of the Dead celebrations are half a world apart from my own genetic roots, but I think it’s one of the best celebrations of family, community, and those who have passed before us that I know of. I take a few inspirational photos, and get back to my walk with Abby and Miller. We pick up a (second) Mayan Mocha Soy Latte (oh so good) and head to Moonlight Beach to sit, sip, take a selfie, and chat as the sun starts to dip toward the horizon.

Day 6:

Abby picks me up and we go to Eleanor Burns’ quilt shop for a one-day class that I call “What Goes Around Comes Around”—a spiral motif class where the focus is the fabric collage technique itself.

These ladies are quite intent on learning as much as they can in one day. We concentrate on fabric selection and how the colors and prints in the fabric can be used to help move our eyes around the design. They work on how to blend, or contrast, parts of the spiral as they choose to. They do an outstanding job for just one day, as you can see in the slideshow for this CA class #2 below. (Thank you Abby, for taking these photos of the class in progress!)

El Camino Quilt Guild: What Goes Around Comes Around (Spiral) Class

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As the spiral class ends in Carlsbad, my contact for the final guild, Sylvia Corbin, is waiting to drive me to Kearney Mesa/San Diego. We get a quick and easy dinner at Native Foods and I get dropped off for the night at my third hotel to prep for…

Days 7 & 8:

Sylvia picks me up in the morning to begin my two-day class for Canyon Quilters at a local quilt store. We drive up to… Rosie’s! Who knew? I tend to pay more attention as to when and what I’m teaching as opposed to where. I leave that in the capable hands of those that drive me around. So here I am, at Rosie’s, again. This time, I give my students a tour of the shop myself, pointing out the fabrics I found particularly interesting a few days prior, with particular attention towards fabric collage use. I’m happy I had the opportunity to visit this shop prior to the class, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the time to explore it like I did.

I have three quilting teachers taking this class. Understanding what it’s like to carve out time for yourself in a teaching schedule, I’m always flattered when another teacher joins the group—and it’s nice to see familiar faces. This time it was Wendy Mathson and Peggy Martin, both of whom I’ve met at Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar. Wendy teaches innovative quilt design using the “Storm at Sea” quilt block and Peggy is known for her Quick-Strip Paper Piecing method. Marty Ornish who I met in Houston at the International Quilt Festival last November, is the third teacher. Both Marty and I had our own special exhibits across the isle from each other. Mine was my Specimens Exhibit and Marty’s was named “Tattered Splendor.” In it, she fashioned amazing garments from torn, stained, and otherwise discarded antique quilts. What she did with them was spectacular. If you had, or ever have, a chance to see them, it’s quite a treat.

In the photo below, Sylvia Corbin looks on as I use a fish that student, Rosie Caudillo, had made based on my book Free-Style Quilts, prior to class. She allowed me to use it as part of my demo on choosing backgrounds.

The class proceeds at a good clip over the two days with intermittent demos on my part, and much accomplished on my students’ part. The workspace became nicely messy and heaped with fabric and scraps—a sure sign of fabric collage at it’s best. (Thanks to Marty, for taking the photos above of the class in progress).

Patt Anderson, above, disappears from the class before I have a chance to photograph her butterfly. However, she comes to my lecture the next evening with her work in tow. The rest of this CA #3 class work is displayed in the slide show below.

Canyon Quilters: Fish, Bugs, and Butterflies Class

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The end of Day 8 is also my last free evening in California. Marty Ornish has stepped in to take me to dinners and tonight we go into San Diego to the organic and plant-based Cafe Gratitude. What fun to be choosing from dishes named: I am Dynamic, I am Local, I am Magical, I am Liberated. It goes on and on with starters, salads, entrees, desserts. And when the dishes are served, the waitress sets them down saying: You are Eclectic, You are Bountiful, You are Adoring. Talk about affirmations! I think both Marty and I leave that restaurant feeling quite positive.

The night has fallen and the lights of San Diego are shining. We drive across a bridge to Coronado Island and take selfies by streetlight in front of the city skyline. Next is the impressive architecture of the Hotel Del Coronado—built on 1887 and one of America’s largest wooden buildings. We explore both inside and outside, including the old-time elevator, complete with an old-timer operator. The interesting and slightly spooky tree is a Dragon Tree—used as a backdrop for the Marilyn Monroe movie, Some Like it Hot, filmed in 1958. I learn all sorts of things on my teaching trips!

Marty and I score big at a souvenir store that is going out of business. Their t-shirt display dummies are priced to go, and Marty snags three for an upcoming show of hers at Visions Art Museum. I help carry the child-sized one, in my tote, and pick up a couple half bodies for myself that fit into my suitcase for the trip home. This is one time it could have been entertaining to have TSA open my checked luggage.

Day 9:

My final day in California. I can’t miss the opportunity to visit Visions Art Museum (below). What a great space it is. Not terribly large, but open and airy, and set up so well as to display more quilts than you thought possible. One of the exhibits is titled “Funny Bone”, quilts with humor, and they do make me smile. Marty shows me where her future exhibit will be and I’m excited for her. My regret is that I’m about a month too early to see an upcoming exhibit of quilts by teacher friend Sue Benner entitled: “Through the Grid.”

This evening it’s time to get back to business and my final CA lecture at the Canyon Quilters meeting. At this point, I do have a little deja vu kicking in, but I share my story one more time in slides. And once again, these ladies are so nice and supportive and appreciative. I finish with a good feeling.

But before all is said and done, many of my students from the Fish, Bug, Butterfly class bring their work-in-progress to the front of the room. They receive a roomful of well deserved ooh’s and ahh’s. I look forward to seeing some of them in finished form in my email box, or maybe even in person, next time.

Day 10:

Heading back to Maine today out of San Diego, about 12 hours does it. I sometime complain about the trials and tribulations of travel, but really, half a day to get across the country? It’s pretty amazing when you think about what people used to go through not that long ago. I’m home for a late dinner. No, I didn’t have any of that sumptuous food pictured below, those are mere memories of meals with Marty in San Diego.

As I finish reminiscing on this trip to Southern California, fires are devastating huge areas in Northern California, and the September hurricanes of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico will take years to recover from. Air quality from wildfires in Montana caused a quilt store I teach at yearly to cancel a recent class from another teacher I know.

The traveling teacher part of my life has taken me to all these areas (though not Puerto Rico), I can picture myself at these locations and I feel for those caught up in these, and other, disasters. So, as I pick out a photo of my vegan gluten-free tiramisu dessert from Cafe Gratitude, I see again the question posed by the plate, “What are you grateful for?” My answer is, “Where do I start?”

Wherever you are in this world of ours, may you be safe, and blessed.


    • Thanks Lanette, I am trying to enjoy the last bits of our summer between the retreats that are going on right now. Hope all is well out west!

  • Thanks for sharing this wonderful trip to Southern California. Since I am flying to Portland, Maine TODAY for your class there next week, I am especially excited to see all the in-progress photos, making me feel a little more confident that I, too, can learn fabric collage! I know you made lots of quilters and guilds happy.

  • So grateful you came out to SoCal to share your amazing talents with all of us. I loved your class and will post my grasshopper when I get it done.

  • “What are you grateful for?” Good question! I am grateful for being able to help folks impacted by the hurricanes, & my friend Julia is safe in PR. I’m also grateful & proud of my fellow Nevadans for stepping up, setting aside the “North -vs-South” mentality, & coming together to help after the shooting. VegasStrong, & NevadaProud!

  • Another terrific blog post. So happy to see you again and enjoy your energy. I love the two pieces I created in your Asilomar class this year.

    • It was so nice to see you again too, Michelle, and thanks for sharing your creations at the guild meeting. I already have the photos I took set aside for a future Finish Line post!

  • Hi Susan! Wow–what a week! I loved reading about the rest of your California trip! The San Diego quilters certainly found fun and interesting restaurants and sightseeing spots. So great! I love the Hotel del Coronado–it is especially beautiful when decorated for the holidays.
    It was so enjoyable to spend time together. And, I have a confession; the no-name peacock bass in the slide show is mine! I will send a photo when it is finished.
    Thank you so much for sharing all the experiences and so much student work on your blog. I look forward to seeing you again soon!

    • Goodness gracious—how could I have spaced on your fish??!! How embarrassing!! I will get that corrected. Thanks again for all your time, Juliet—you are such a lovely and generous person. Take care, S.

  • Hi Susan — I loved the class with Flying Geese quilters — I’m inspired to keep collage-ing! I’ve finished and hung my “Purple Butterfly” from the class and would like to share a photo with you. Please let me know where I can send it.
    Many thanks —

    • You can use the contact link in the menu at the top of the page of my website. It allows you to attach files. Thanks for sharing!

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