Between September’s four-day Harpswell, Maine retreat (which I talked about in last week’s post), and October’s first five-day Portland, Maine retreat, there was a whopping two days off. So I unpacked and repacked class materials to get re-organized on Saturday, and set up the classroom on Sunday, to meet a new class on Monday.

But wait, they weren’t new. This class was my advanced class, which means they’ve had multiple or longer length classes with me. So instead of morning introductory demos, we hit the ground running on pre-existing or new projects, since everyone had the basic knowledge of the fabric collage process, as I teach it.

Such is the case with Kay Burns and her fanciful winged unicorn pictured above. Kay has already taken (could it be?) five classes with me. In each one of them she has worked on at least one, if not two, large and ambitious projects. You can see her quilts in these previous posts: here, here, here, herehere, and here. Yes, she’s been prolific.

This time the retreat was held in Portland, Maine, in the Old Port section of the revitalized waterfront. These students arrived from all over: Idaho, California, Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut, Toronto (Canada), and good ol’Maine—to name a few—but it felt like Old Home Week. There were yells of recognition and hugs a plenty. For four of them, this was their first advanced class, but they dug right in with the rest, and we got going with the projects they either knew they wanted to continue, to start new, or both.

Pictured left to right: in the back—Jean Savalchak, Marilyn Davidson, Kaye Burns, Cynthia Chaddick, Karen Coan, Victoria Becker, Chris Stern, and Lynda Flynn; in the middle—Joanne Hannon Shaw and Darlene Determan; in the front—Nancy Cooledge and myself.

In hindsight, I didn’t get around to taking any photos of the class in progress, or of us enjoying our catered lunches at the Hyatt restaurant, or any wanderings in Portland’s Old Port. None. So in lieu of those sorts of talking points, I’ll pick a few of the projects and elaborate a bit on them.

Nancy Cooledge was on trip to Yellowstone National Park when I sent her the waitlist notice that a space had opened in this retreat. She had just seen a mother grizzly and her cubs wandering across a big open expanse and a grizzly (above left) became her not-so-realistically-colored subject for this class. Above right is the “adolescent chicken” that Nancy began in this year’s Maine June retreat. She brought it along for final guidance and embellished the fellow with a bit of glitz in the form of sparkle tulle glued to a few choice fabric feathers.

You can see the beginnings of Nancy’s grizzly—as well as the progress of the rest of the class—in the slide show below. A couple students did ask that their work not be shown in honor of upcoming exhibit requirements. But maybe I can show them off in the future!

Advanced Class Slide Show

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Marilyn Davidson is another student, and friend, who’s company I’ve enjoyed in multiple classes over the years. I dedicated a past post to her fabric collage work paired with the photography of her husband, Joel Davidson. Marilyn uses Joel’s photos as her inspiration and guides for her quilts. Actually, I have too with my Kaloli Moondance of last year. In the slide show above, Joanne Hannon Shaw used a photo of Joel’s for her grizzly bear collage—begun in last year’s advanced retreat. And while I’m mentioning Joel, he kindly wrote a blog post for me about how to photograph your quilt with a smart phone. Very well written and received—be sure to check it out if you haven’t already. Oh, and if you like beautiful photography in general, Joel has a blog called “Through Joel’s Lens.

Marilyn began the golden crowned beauty above, in this year’s June retreat—Joel’s original photo can be seen pinned on the left side. Between then and now, she realized that a previously pieced quilt top could possibly make a very nice background for the collage. I thought so too. Marilyn then created a collaged vignette of soft green fabrics to separate the colorful bird from the colorful background. It’s now ready for quilting.

She then moved on to another partially begun image, that of Joel himself gazing at a desert landscape. She had already aced the hat, and now gave the landscape a valiant effort (above left). Alas, as far as helping her, we were both at a loss. Landscapes aren’t my favorite subject matter, and now they’re not Marilyn’s either. I arrived one class morning to see great progress on the shirt, but back to square one with the landscape (above right). Sometimes cutting your losses is the best solution.

A desert sunset over the mountains (above left) was Marilyn’s next idea for the background. A nice start with the sky, but monotony again set in with the landscape. So then she changed the horizontal image into a vertical image. Really, Joel was the subject anyway, right?

The retreat ended with no satisfying solution for the background. However, there is a happy ending. Two weeks later, Marilyn and Joel were on a road trip that took them past the studio of fabric artist, Mickey Lawler. Mickey is famous for her SKYDYES—luscious handpainted sky, water, and landscape fabrics. With one stroke of gorgeous fabric, Marilyn found her perfect background (below) for Joel’s portrait. In it, he seems to contemplate raising his camera to capture the fleeting moment displayed in front of him.

A year ago this past June in a Kalispell, MT class, Cynthia Chaddick began a self portrait based on a photo taken of her on her 60th birthday dream trip. She had traveled to an elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai, Thailand, to interact with and care for a 15 year old elephant later nicknamed, Joy. As Cynthia says, ” I had my own elephant for the day to take care of: feeding, washing, riding, and checking on its internal health (e.g. pooping!).” The photo she worked with depicts pure joy as Cynthia holds onto the forehead of her bathing elephant.

This is not an easy fabric collage subject in so many ways and I warned Cynthia of this. It’s a portrait first of all, and she has lots of teeth showing in that great big smile (never an easy feature). Then there’s hands and fingers and a mostly submerged cropped elephant head that looks more like a grey rock than an animal of any sorts. Cynthia acknowledged all this and declared herself ready for the challenge. If you checked out the student slide show in the Kalispell post in the link above, you saw the start of her face. In the year plus since then, Cynthia continued working on her own and arrived this year in Portland with the separate pieces you see in the photo above left—her head and the elephant head.

Starting with more work on the elephant’s head, Cynthia then aligned the two parts, perching herself on top of “Joy” (above right). Day-to-day, the image came together even more. It may be another year or so, but Cynthia certainly has the wherewithal to complete her joyful memory quilt.

I mentioned two grizzly bear projects earlier in this post, actually, there were 3 grizzlies in progress—and each was so very different looking. So, I’ll end this post with the third bear (below left), by Chris Stern. She and her husband fish Alaskan salmon and have witnessed grizzlies doing their own form of salmon fishing.

She also fell in love with a painting by Robert Bissell, entitled The Swimmer, a lighthearted interaction between bear and fish. Very responsibly, she contacted the artist with a request to recreate his work as a fabric collage quilt. And he very graciously agreed.

I talk about the copyright issue in a couple blog posts that have received a lot of attention: Copyright and Copywrong: Finding an Image for Fabric Collage and Copyright and Copywrong: A Follow Up. Almost all my students are now contacting the original creators of images they are interested in using. They ask for permission to use those photos, drawings, or paintings as inspiration and guides for fabric collage. Good for them—they can feel confident in the use and display of their new interpretations.

Chris had her work cut out for her to recreate the “floating” hair of the submerged bear. There was experimentation with fabric color, values, and prints, but once Chris defined her “palette” of those fabrics, it was a matter of repeating them to make a cohesive body. When I said goodbye to them (Chris and the Grizzly), the bear was without her hind legs—but I knew it was just a matter of Chris having the time to work on it.

However, the day after the retreat ended, I got an email with the subject line: “Last night….” Chris sent a photo (above right) and wrote, “Thanks for a fantastic week! Last night in my room I finished the first draft of the bear. I like her!” So do I. Within that week I could see Chris get more and more confident in the way she handled the fabrics. Those hind legs have great substance, yet a lightness and fluffiness necessary for that underwater aspect. And the fish are just plain fun.

This was only the second advanced class I’ve hosted, but it’s becoming an annual event. How lovely it is to not only see the faces of my students again, but to feel that continuing excitement in the possibilities of fabric collage. How rewarding it is to see their progress through the week, and through the years. Thanks.


On-line Class Update

As I keep up with the students sitting in my real-life classes, my husband and blog partner, Tom, has been working on the text and formatting of an on-line class. He’s plugging away at it even through the head cold I shared with him this past week. Our goal is to have a trial run in the works before mid-November, ready for public consumption in the beginning of the new year.

The trial run will be available to my Patreon supporters who are signed up at the $10 to $20 levels. If they chose to, they will be able to help me by pointing out errors, finding places where gaps need to be filled, and testing out the online feedback system through a private Facebook page dedicated to the class. It’s not too late to sign up as a supporter and be a part of the trial run next month. However, because of the once a month billing of Patreon, Tuesday, October 31st will be last day to sign up to be on this trial run list.


“Kaloli Moondance” on Display in New York State: Opening TODAY, Saturday, October 28, 2017

“Kaloli Moondance” will be on display at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, New York. Starting October 28 with an artists’ reception (which unfortunately, I’m unable to attend) and running through January 7, 2018. My quilt joins others from 65 artists across the US and around the world. The exhibition is called Quilts=Art=Quilts. If you’re nearby, stop in and say hello to Chloe the Marabou Stork for me!

Kaloli Moondance, by Susan Carlson, 2016, 63 x 72 inches

5 Comments

  • Susan,
    What a stunning display! This week’s student work is simply amazing. Each project is just a glorious example of your fabric collage technique. And, I find your description of the various difficulties with each project very helpful; it is very instructive to see how each student resolves their particular design challenge.
    Thank you!

  • For those who are a.part of the on line class trial run, will they take a sample class & work on a project & receive feed back on the project?

    • As a test subject you’ll receive access to the online class, in which you will choose your own project to work on. You will receive access to a private Facebook page where you can ask questions and post images that I will give you feedback on. This will have a time limit, which will depend on just exactly when the test class is made available.

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