As promised last week, here’s a second installment of finished student quilts along with their in-progress photos (when available) from the classes they were begun in. In this batch, the originating classes range from April of 2009 to March of this year! What these finished quilts have in common (my organizational strategy) is that they were all brought to show me when I taught in California this past year (so you’ll see many smiling faces peering over their quilts!).

The end of any year is the time to reminisce, right? Well, as I’ve been testing my memory and trying to find, and then sort through, in-progress photos from all those past classes, that’s exactly what’s happening. I certainly find it hard to resist re-visiting each class and being reminded of one project or another. If it wasn’t for Tom saying, “Okay, let’s focus!”, I’d still be in 2009 as I work on this last blog post of 2017.

Empty Spools, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA:  March 2015

It’s been my pleasure for about a decade to teach each year at Empty Spools Seminars, in the beautiful dune-side campus of Asilomar State Park on the Monterey Peninsula of California. Most of the quilts in this post were begun in one or another of those classes.

Carmela Simoncini, pictured above as well as below, was a student from 2015. When I was back earlier this year, she had the quilt of her son, Meo, finished and ready to show during one of the evening programs.

I remember her saying that Meo was a member of our armed services, and her rightful pride in both her son and her finished portrait of him shines through. I love that she included “thought bubbles” in the background—adding to his story.

“Meo in the Desert, Thinking,” by Carmela Simoncini

Empty Spools, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA:  March 2017

At that same visit to California where I got to see Carmela’s finished quilt, Michelle Howe was just beginning her two quilts, started over two week-long sessions—her owl first, and then a wind-swept horse head.

When I returned to California (SoCal) in September, I had three quilt guild stops with either one or two-day classes and lectures at each of them. Michelle stopped by my first class and first lecture with Flying Geese Quilters Guild to share her finished quilts with me and the rest of her guild.

The use of dark blue fabric as accents and the shadow on the underside of his tail was a great choice—a color complement to the oranges of the bird.

In the photo above you can see the beautiful quilting that finished off the background of the owl. If I remember right, Michelle found a single fabric for the perfect forest background (as opposed to having painted it herself). Regardless, the colors look great together and he fits right into his environment.

Owl by Michelle Howe
Horse by Michelle Howe

At the guild meeting I got a photo of Michelle and the horse. The design was generated from a commercial quilting pattern by Toni Whitney, with Michelle adapting it for the collage process of this class. Again, what a beautiful job with the quilting—here she used the stitching to carry through the windiness of the image.

Empty Spools, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA:  March 2015 and 2016

At SoCal stop number 2 with El Camino Quilt Guild, two more students from past Asilomar classes came to the lecture and presented their now-finished quilts: Elizabeth O’Toole (below left) from 2015 and Corky Blanco (below right) from 2016.

Of these two friends, first there was Elizabeth. Her turtle is based on (with artist permission) a watercolor painting by Jo Lynch. In looking at the before and after photos above, it struck me how Elizabeth totally changed out the flipper fabric from purple to blue. I think it’s part of the creative process when a piece starts one way, and if it doesn’t work, you change it.

Detail of sea turtle by Elizabeth O’Toole

The following year at Asilomar, Elizabeth’s friend Corky, attended my class. Corky Blanco chose a sea otter pair for her quilt. Sea otters are a big thing on the Monterey Penninsula and you can see them off shore bobbing in the sea kelp forests.

Mama sea otter looked friendly but not quite otter-accurate in the progress photo above left. Corky made some good changes. Even minor adjustments make big differences in the final versions of these collage quilts.

Detail of sea otters by Corky Blanco

 From Serendipity Quilts: Cutting Loose Fabric Collage: 2017

At the El Camino lecture, another woman came up to say hello. Corinne Yarbrough was a pleasure to meet and to have in class the next day as well. She was excited to show me her “Happy Piglet” that she had made, not in a past class but all on her own, based on the instructions in my book, Serendipity Quilts. Wow—she did a great job!

“Happy Piglet” went on to be exhibited in this year’s San Diego Quilt Show and here’s Corinne’s artist’s statement:

I made this quilt entirely with scraps using Susan Carlson’s “cutting loose” technique. It is for my son who loves piggies.


“Happy Piglet,” (detail) by Corinne Yarbrough

Empty Spools, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA:  April 2009

And in the third of the three SoCal classes , this one for Canyon Quilters, was an Asilomar student from eight years ago—and I even remembered her piece! Annette Friedlain’s rendition of an African Secretary Bird was etched in my memory. I loved it then, and I absolutely loved seeing it again and how she finished it off.

In 2009, I was just getting warmed up pushing the whole “bigger is better” concept of fabric collage—and there certainly wasn’t a blog (“what’s a blog?”) for collage enthusiasts like you to see what others were doing in classes. So when Annette and her friend Barbara (who’s work you’ll see next) arrived to work on their big images, it was fun for me to see them develop over the course of the week-long class.

Take a close look at the big-stitch quilting on this bird. Not only does it add extra color and great visual detail, it seems so appropriate to the culture that would surround this African bird, enriching the story of the quilt.

“Secretary Bird,” (detail) by Annette Friedlein

Barbara Friedman (below) had also attended that Asilomar class in 2009 where she began a portrait of her mom, taken on Catalina Island back in 1339. That old photo didn’t give much detail for Barbara to work with, but she made a knockout of a portrait anyway!

In the detail of the face above, you can see how Barbara used a layer of black netting to add shadow detail under the hat and on the side of the face—adding to the illusion of bright island sunshine.

Be sure to take a good look at the in-progress photo (above) to check out the great job Barbara did with fabric selection for her mom’s dress. The curves in the Aboriginal design fabrics worked perfectly to accentuate the curves of 1930’s fashion.

When I saw Barbara this year, it was at the Canyon Quilters lecture on my last evening in California. She brought along the finished quilt for me and the guild to see. How fun! Photo quality in a show-and-tell is not always the best (below), but that dame is just showing off for her beau!

Portrait of her mom by Barbara Friedman

Madeline Island School of Art, Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, AZ:  January 2017

I mentioned early in this post that the finished quilts I chose to show this week were all shown to me in my California travels of this year. However, they weren’t all started there. Laura Steiniger and her cousin Hope Kirsch, both took a class with me in Arizona last January. This is when my brain can get very confused—when faces and quilts show up in the “wrong” states. But there they were, showing their finished quilts at that San Diego Canyon Quilters show-and-tell.

Pet portraits by Laura Steiniger

Laura Steiniger had two portraits she wanted to start in the Arizona class, “Kahlua” won the coin toss, and took most of the time in that week. Kahlua had quite the “waiting for a biscuit” look and Laura caught it perfectly. Here is another nice use of the Aboriginal print fabrics—this time for furry detail and highlights.

In class, Laura started collaging select pieces cut from the Aboriginal prints for the background. I notice now that she changed them out for the final version. I’d say that was a good choice. Though the yellows (above) do provide a good contrast in color and value from the main part of the dog, there’s still some blending of the muzzle into the background.

In the end, she found other light value prints (below) that provided a better contrast to the yellows of Kahlua’s muzzle, allowing the whole dog to really stand out.

“Kahlua” by Laura Steiniger

Laura barely had time to begin this second pup portrait in class and unfortunately I didn’t get any in-progress photos to share. But she was certainly on a roll and she did a great job finishing it up. At one point I was told the name of this fur-baby, but, Laura, I can’t remember it. I do seem to remember he/she is a “doodle” breed, hence the choice of spiral and doodle-like fabric prints—which do help to tell the tail. 😉

Doodle-pup by Laura Steiniger
Hope Kirsch and Octopus

Laura’s cousin, Hope Kirsch (above), began a large and non-furry critter in that Arizona class—an octopus. Hope is one of those limber people that can comfortably work while sitting on the floor, yoga-like, and that’s how I remember her from class—patiently getting more and more legs and suckers done.

In helping at least five people create octopi in the last couple years, I can confidently say that octopus arms are a great study in values. I don’t think anyone can complete an octopus without learning a lot about highlights and shadows, contrast and blending. Hope worked very hard at sorting out those appendages, very successfully, wouldn’t you say?

The watery blue fabrics that Hope collaged for the background create a beautiful and serene environment for this fellow. There were oohs and aahs throughout the guild crowd.

Octopus (detail) by Hope Kirsch

From Free Style Quilts: a No-Rules Approach

And at that final lecture in September, other people came up to say hi, too. There was a group of three ladies who had traveled 150 miles to hear my talk—I was flattered, but sure hoped it was worth the effort!

And then this lady, Susy Boyer, came up to me with her fish quilt that she had made on her own with my first book, Free Style Quilts: a No-Rules Approach, as a guide. I love it. And I love the excitement that this fabric collage can generate and the smiles it puts on people’s faces. Thank you for sharing, Susy.

“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Glue Fish” by Susy Boyer

That wraps up this week’s trip down Memory Lane. A lovely way for me to have finished off 2017—in fact so lovely that there’s one more installment left to begin 2018! I kept finding more and more quilts to post (and you guys seem to really like seeing them). The holidays have stalled my own work, so letting others share what they have created is a treat for me, too. Thanks to all who have allowed me to post their quilts!

And as it’s snowing again, here in the sub-Arctic region of southern Maine, I count on my fingerless-gloved hands all my blessings of the past year, and think ahead to the next. I wish comfort for all, and solace to those who have suffered loss. May you have a beautiful and safe New Year, wherever you are in this spectacular world of ours.


  • Hello Susan,
    What amazing talent is displayed here! Thank you for sharing these quilts (and so many others) over the past couple of years.
    On a totally different subject, you mentioned the milkweed in your garden and shared how it was a butterfly habitat. I was inspired to create a similar habitat (basically just asked our gardener not to cut it back) and enjoyed watching more and more butterflies arrive throughout the fall. I recently discovered the first caterpillar, now in the chrysalis stage. Fingers crossed, hope to have my first butterfly release soon! I am enjoying this miracle so much!
    Wish I could send some of our mild, even warm, winter weather your way! Best wishes as we begin a new year,

  • “Otter-accurate” … you crack me up! 😆

    I always enjoy seeing the finish line quilts … especially how sometimes the artist will drastically change colors and/or design concept for the final product. I’ve been stuck for weeks on a section of my project, and seeing the changes others have made has given me courage to try another direction.

    Happy New Year to all!!!

  • Hi Susan, A great blog of finished collages honoring your students! Love your artistic explanations of why changes students make produce a more painterly collage. Blessings for 2018 and stay warm!

  • These quilts are absolutely beautiful. Do you think you will ever be coming to the Hickory, North Carolina area I would love to be able to take one of your classes.

  • Hi Susan – love seeing your photos and stories of quilts fro the past. THe last two Saturdays though, many of the photos don’t come in – just a blank rectangle with a tiny ? in a blue box. I am on a Mac. Any ideas???
    Happy New Year!

  • What a treat to see some of your student’s finished quilts. My adrenalin is pumping now. Must look at your schedule for the east coast TODAY. I cannot pick my favorite as there are so many. I do need to say the eyes on the pups and the octopus are spot on. KEEP SHARING THESE WITH US SUSAN. I hope for you a Happy New Year full of health and happiness.

    PS I loved the use of the kantha stitch on Annette’s Secretary Bird Quilt. Very effective

  • Wow! The quilts just keep getting better and better. I have really enjoyed following your blog this year, and look forward to many more next year. Happy New Year Susan to you and your family.

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