Bounty of the Seas

Bounty of the Seas by Allison Wilbur 2015


I have been feeling a bit down in the dumps this week and realized it is probably because our latest Quilt for Change exhibit, Water is Life, is opening in Geneva at the United Nations European headquarters and I am not there. So much work goes into these exhibits that it almost feels like birthing a child. Coordinating a group exhibit is challenging in many ways, especially when the parties involved are spread not only across the continent, but on opposite sides of the Atlantic as well. A lot of the work for this exhibit needed to be done from Thanksgiving to Christmas (yes, we learned not to have that kind of timing again) and so I felt like I was sacrificing family time and Martha Stewart-like preparations (so not me!). We were privileged to have the largest number yet of entries, which was gratifying but which also made the selection process very difficult. Over the years we have formed a philosophy about Quilt for Change: we want to encompass the widest number of artists possible and unlike some other art exhibits, the quality and power of the message is as important as the level of art. We are trying to tell a story with each Quilt for Change exhibit, one that encompasses as many regions of the world as possible and is sensitive to the many cultural, ethnic and historical aspects of each topic. The jurying deliberations were therefore quite intense and I hope that everyone that entered realizes that we gave a great deal of value and thought to each piece we considered.

Then came a several month period where we let everyone know who had been accepted, dealt with shipping and photographing of quilts, compiled and edited artist statements, created posters and invitations and organized the many other minutiae involved in creating a world class exhibit. Fortunately, between Rome, Geneva and Rhode Island there were many hands at work and the opening in Geneva went off beautifully. The exhibit will be at the United Nations for two weeks, then will move to Rome for an exhibit there in October.  Next spring Water is Life will debut in the U.S. at the New England Quilt Museum and will then move on to travel with Mancuso Quilt Festivals. I will be at the opening of the exhibit in Lowell, and hope many others will join us there as well.


As I said at the beginning of this post, I was not able to be in Geneva this week for the opening of Water is Life, but my quilt was –  so I have decided to tell you a bit about how Bounty of the Seas came into being. For the first time I am working in a series. I will continue to work on water quilts as there are two other exhibits I will be entering this year centered on watery themes. The quilt started with the turtle. Dick was posted as the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Muscat, Oman.  Among other wonderful things, Oman boasts one of the largest sea turtle nesting sites in the world. During our three-year tour in Oman, we went camping regularly and watched the turtles come up on the beach at night to lay their eggs – huge green sea turtles the size of sandboxes. We also loved to visit a small beach in Muscat where there were two turtles that would let us come quite close when snorkeling. Dick worked with local naturalists and scientists to preserve the nesting areas and track the turtles. As are many people, we have been drawn to sea turtles ever since, perhaps it is because their expressive eyes give the sense that they are ancient and wise. I painted my first turtle from my own drawing in a class at Houston with Hollis Chatelain. I loved the way he came out when wet, but as he dried he lost his vibrancy. I went on to paint other turtles using Tsukineko inks and they came out more intensely colored, but I still loved my first turtle. I decided to go back over him with fabric markers to sharpen and darken the image and was very please with the result.


Next I began with a small study. To form the watery background I made curved horizontal cuts to create a feeling of currents of water moving horizontally. I built up the sides with vertical angles to add some coral reef flora and fauna to frame the green turtle. For years I have been collecting Australian fabrics based on aboriginal designs because they reminded me of coral reef creatures – sea anemones, brain corals, coral fans, even sea cucumbers! I fussy- cut shapes and applied them using using misty fuse. The addition of a brightly colored fish added interest and balance. I then trapuntoed the large shapes to make them more three dimensional. Finally, I added more detail with fussy-cut fish and with machine quilting, forming swirling water lines and bubbles.IMG_0895

Now that my study was complete, it was time to work on the larger piece and give my big turtle a home. This time I pieced the water vertically: I can’t say why, but it felt better to have the water rising from the bottom up. The US Mission in Geneva (sponsors of the Water is Life exhibit)  had expressed an interest in larger quilts and so we extended the exhibit entry size up to 78 inches on each side. I decided to go big and the piece ended up 72 inches wide and 43 inches high. That was a lot of space to fill! I got creative in my sea creatures, fussy-cut schools of fish from commercially printed fabric and added a sting ray and jelly fish (quilted with metallic silver thread). It was so much fun!! If you want to read my artist statement about the quilt, visit the blog on the Quilt for Change website.

IMG_1248 IMG_1229 IMG_1227


Qusband Corner – Where to Eat in Manchester

IMG_0287If you’re like me, one of the bennies of accompanying your wife on her quilt retreats, shopping adventures and visits to various quilt shows is the opportunity to explore – new towns, local history, and different food choices. You may think that being a qusband (quilter’s husband) is all about food and drink, and you would be largely correct. With time on one’s hands, it’s easy to focus on the stomach.
So, if you are planning to attend A Quilter’s Gathering  at the Radisson Hotel Manchester Downtown in Manchester, New Hampshire, November 4-5, here’s a few restaurants you might want to check out.

First, a general comment, the Radisson Hotel Manchester Downtown is aptly named, as it is located smack in the middle of Manchester’s active restaurant and bar scene. Elm Street, where the hotel is located, appears to double as “Main Street” in Manchester (it’s also designated State Route 3) and is full of restaurants to choose from within walking distance of the Radisson. This hotel is also the home of the annual Mancuso Show Management’s annual World Quilt Show – New England in August, and the annual MQX Quilt Festival – New England in April, making it a frequent stop for quilters.

IMG_0284For breakfast, you might want to try out Lala’s Hungarian Pastry and Restaurant, located about two blocks from the hotel. Decorated lovingly with traditional Hungarian textiles, Lala’s offers a full range of breakfast dishes and an amazing selection of pastries. One of the Cold War’s unintended consequences and contributions to American society, Eastern Bloc traditional cuisine is to be enjoyed now before the owners retire, and Lala’s is definitely on the list for return trips to Manchester – and a terrific source of baked treats to bring back to the quilt show for your favorite quilter. IMG_0279
For lunch we made it only one block before deciding on some specialty pizza at the Portland Pie Company. This place hops at night, as well, as it doubles as a bar and a good place to watch a game on TV.

At the end of a long (but enjoyable) day looking at quilts and attending workshops (well, Allison, not me – I hit the more-than-adequate hotel gym and took a nap), we ventured out for a terrific dinner and super live music at N’awlins Grille & All that Jazz, also only one block from the Radisson. We shared a delicious Blackened Pan Seared Ahi Tuna salad and a bowl of Shrimp and Grits before topping it off with a slice of blueberry cheesecake and the live jazz helped us unwind.

These are only three of the food options within walking distance of the Radisson. Luckily, as a good qusband, I will likely have many more opportunities to explore the many food options of Manchester in the next few years!

Why have a design wall?

I love my design wall and recently rearranged my quilt room so it would be in the best location. I like to have it in a spot where I can stand back and ponder. I also like it to be close enough to my sewing machine so that when I am piecing I can easily move back and forth from design wall to machine.  I thought it would help to show you my progression of arranging blocks for a quilt so you can see how that ability to step back and look can be so important.  Laying blocks out on the floor or a bed is not as effective since you can’t see the whole thing well enough. If you don’t have room, try and get creative with the space you do have. Put one on the back of a door, over a bookcase or go to your local quilt shop and borrow theirs.  After all, if you do that, you get the opinion of fellow quilters to boot! I love laying quilts out on retreat as I get lots of great feedback from friends.

I am making this quilt for two dear friends, Judy and Allida, who are generous and kind in everything they do. When my husband, Dick, had to work in DC and we wanted to keep our boys in school in RI, they invited Dick to stay with them. It meant so much that he had a home away from home. So they need a very special thank you present. Allida is an Eleanor Roosevelt scholar and an advocate for women’s rights and has worked extensively with women’s rights activists in Africa. They honeymooned in South Africa and everything about them is bright and optimistic. And so this line of fabric by Julia Cairns for Quilting Treasures seemed the perfect fit.  The question was, how to bring all the bright colored blocks together.




I started by cutting the panel up and bordering each piece with bright colored fabric to make blocks that measured about 14″ x 18″  I placed them on the design wall and started playing. At first I placed them randomly, though I tried to spread the colors out. It was too busy.

I didn’t like the way the blocks lined up, so I tried making the rows offset. Much better, but still a little too busy.

Then I tried grouping the colors together. Dick gave this a boring thumbs down.

Finally, Goldilocks like, I tried grouping the colors together in areas with green on one side, blue on the other, and red yellow and orange in the center, but offset the blocks so the rows did not line up (easier for piecing!).

Next I wanted to add some sashing to unify the blocks.  I know, it sounds odd to say I was going to unify the blocks by separating them with as sashing.  But I find that adding an element that is the same throughout the blocks actually ties them together.  First I tried a green sashing as I often find there is certain shade of green that goes with everything. But in fact, I didn’t like it. It faded into the design.

Dick suggested a tan that would look like grasses and so I hunted in my stash.  Nothing grass like in a big enough piece, but I did find this won’t full dark brown with specs of many of the colors in the quilt. It really make the figures pop!

Next I will be putting on a border and quilting it.  I’ll post some photos on Facebook as I make progress. I hope this gives you a concrete example of how a design wall can really help you look at your block layout.  My design wall is a Fons and Porter that has handy grid lines.  The flannel helps the blocks stay in place.  A flannel back table cloth works well too. I staple mine to the wall since the staple holes are quite small and easy to patch.  If you are going on retreat, you can hang a design wall with painters tape, but it can’t be too big or it will just peel off the wall. Just don’t put your design wall under an ac unit or a fan, or all your blocks might get blown off!

Still feeling too close? Stand back and take a photo with your phone or eye pad or use a reducing glass to look at your layout.  This is a really helpful way to see if you have your values right.  If there is as spot your eye goes right to, it might mean that your values are too similar or different. This is also a helpful trick to make sure you have all tour blocks facing the right way before you piece them together.

And don’t forget, changing blocks from straight on to on point can make for a much more dynamic quilt.  Just look at these two layouts! Exact same blocks…

Have fun with your design wall.  If you are stuck, sleep on it or call a friend to come over.  As the daughter of a carpenter who was taught to measure twice, cut once, I highly recommend laying your blocks out first and playing around with them rather than sewing them together, being unhappy and unsewing!

My First Customer

Today I am shifting between grief and gratitude as I remember my first customer, Shirley Saulnier, who passed last week after a long battle with cancer.  Shirley brightened every room she came into and every life she touched.  I cannot imagine the number of us who are grieving, as she touched so many lives as a parent and grandparent, a teacher, an active member of her church and our quilt guild. She found so many ways to share her abundant love of life; quilts were but one of her gifts to us all and I feel very privileged to have been a part of their creation. Shirley made quilts for her family and baby quilts for her church bazaar. She was always astounded at how well the quilts sold at the church fair and I hoped that the lucky people who bought them knew what a treasure they had lucked into. For Shirley put love into everything she touched.

Shirley’s gift to me is the lesson that though there may be shadows in life, that there will also be sunshine. Our lives are full of great stories, but the ones that center around family and friends are the best.  I hope her family is able to wrap themselves in her quilts because, as my son said when he was little, a quilt is like a hug.

Shirley Saulnier

A dream come true

Over the last few years Dick and I have visited Tiverton and Little Compton during the summer open studio events.  There is something about going directly to the spot where an artist does their creating that gives you great insight into their thought processes.  What do they see outside their window? How do they set up their tools? What is the light like in the room? On these forays into creativity, I have often dreamt of renting a studio in the summer in one of these towns just to be able to be part of the open studio tours.  My new studio in the new house is quite lovely, but definitely not in the right area.

A few months ago, one of my very talented students, Suzanne Munroe, asked whether I would like to be the Featured Artist at he East Bay Chamber of Commerce for the first Bristol/Warren Art Night of the season.  As I very often do, I answered with my heart, not my head, and said I would love to, knowing very little of what would be involved.  In the ensuing weeks, I began to realize that my hasty answer was one of those fork in the road moments and that I had embarked on a new trail.

I joined the Bristol Warren Art Night group and was listed in their Directory of Artists, an achievement which would have made my mother proud. I had to write about myself in many ways – a very brief (elevator talk) write up for the brochure, a longer piece for the online directory of artists, and a long bio for display at the event.  Writing about yourself and selecting photos of your work is a painful but vital process. It helps you define yourself and your work and clarifies your “voice” as an artist.

As a member of the Art Night Group and the Chamber of Commerce, I now have access to a number of great seminars on issues like marketing your art, tax issues for artists, and to a fabulous lunch group for business women, “WEBOND.” Turning a hobby into a business is not an easy road. This June will mark my fourth year as a business owner and I must say, I wish I had accessed these types of resources earlier.  There is a steep learning curve and the Chamber of Commerce has so many resources to help small businesses.

After almost a year focused on house issues, I was forced to get down to brass tacks about my business – order new business cards, create a postcard brochure, do some updates to my website, make a spread sheet of my quilts. As always, Dick has been at my side, supporting me in the business side of things, with social media, making hanging rods, exploring connections and resources and making dinner on those nights when I am too exhausted. He has also joined the Board of Art Night, using his communications expertise to help get the word out about all their great activities.

My most difficult  task has been to price my quilts.  To date I have not sold any of my quilts.  They have been made for family, in workshops, or for my lectures and Quilt for Change exhibits. I had heard so many people say, “No one will pay you what they are worth!” that I had begun to believe it. The act of pricing my quilts is a revelation, a first step to letting go of my creations.  In the next few weeks, I will enter many more quilts on my website and create an Etsy page to sell them.  After all, if I sell a quilt, it opens me up to creating a new one!

Art Night was totally fun. Morgan played the bagpipes out front and drew people in. A few of my students and art quilt friends had pieces on display as well, including Suzanne’s vibrant quilts in her office. Old friends stopped by, and I also made new ones. It was glorious to see so many of my quilts hanging in one venue (rather than a closet!). I loved the comments and questions. Hopefully I opened many eyes to the changing world of quilting and to the idea that quilts are art.  I can’t wait for next month when I will be taking the trolley around the two towns (it is free – sign up now and join me!!!).  Because my mother was a painter, I grew up going to art festivals and opening receptions. It is as if a part of me that was long dormant is awakening and it feels great.

Who knew that saying yes to that one question would lead to all this? And that I would be able to find a lively and growing arts community on my own doorstep? So next time a friend asks, “Would you like to…” Don’t listen too carefully, don’t overthink it, don’t check your calendar, just say “YES.” It might lead you to just the place you dreamt of going.


Open Studio


Hi Everyone, Happy New Year!

It’s been awhile since my last post, during which time we moved into – and renovated fully – a new house, one that offers me not only a terrific new studio but a whole new addition to my quilting business and creative outlet. Call me crazy, but I work best with a deadline, so in the beginning of the month I decided to hold an open studio on Sunday, January 25 from 2:00 – 5:00 at my new studio at 55 Fountain Ave in Barrington.  Come by, see my new digs, have a cup of tea and a cookie, and peruse the new part of my quilt business. The house we bought was owned by Susan Gower of Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods, a vendor of lace and trim, Venitian lace medallions, buttons, appliques and vintage textiles that many of you have probably seen over the years (Susan vended at the Brimfield Textile Fair, the Houston Int’l Quilt Festival, Road to California, and many other venues).  I just could not resist buying Susan’s goods as she retired from vending, and in the coming year I will vend at some quilt guild meetings, with my trunk show, and hopefully at a few quilt shows. In time, I will add some items for sale on my website.

2014 was a difficult and busy year for my family and I am ready to start 2015 off on a high note. Come help me celebrate this new addition to my business (and new studio!) and find something to inspire your creativity. I am looking for a catchy vendor name – I’ll give a $50 gift certificate to the person who comes up with the name I end up using!  Hope to see you on Sunday and, as always, thanks for your support of my quilting efforts!


Narragansett Bay Quilters Association Quilt Show

NBQA, one of my local guilds, holds a quilt show every other year and it is coming up this weekend.  I hope if you are in the area you will attend. It is held at the North Kingston High School Saturday from 10-5 and Sunday from 10-4.

Local quilt shows are great sources of inspiration. Beautiful quilts, free demonstrations, interesting vendors, raffle baskets, children’s activities, small quilt auction and so much more all make for a great creative outing. On Saturday at 2 Chris Bagley will be giving a trunk show – she is a fabulous quilter – I can’t wait to see all her quilts!

Our raffle quilt was designed and pieced by Sharon Mayers and I quilted it. Chances are only $1 and the proceeds will support Solar Sister, a Rhode Island based non profit that trains women in Africa to set up small solar based businesses. The raffle will also support the New England Quilt Museum. So take a chance on a winning a great quilt and support two great causes.

Also, the Quilt for Change exhibit “Women, Peace and Security” will be on display. This is the first time it has been shown at a local quilt show and I hope we will be able to do more local exhibits. If your guild would like to show the exhibit, please contact me.

It is supposed to rain this weekend, so let mother nature do her thing in your garden, and come to the quilt show!!

MQX East – Time for Fun and Learning

Alpine Tunnel

I’ve just signed up for my several classes and fun events at MQX East (Machine Quilters Expo) in Manchester, New Hampshire April 8 – 12. Since moving to Rhode Island I have been to this show every year and each year the talent showcased there grows by leaps and bounds.  The quilts, machine quilted on both domestic and long arm machines, are stunning.  I always come away both humbled and inspired. I have three quilts in the show, much to my amazement, but they will pale in comparison to the winners.  Someday I will devote a whole year to making and quilting a quilt, for I think that is the only way you have a hope of winning, but for now I go to learn and be inspired.

The classes are fabulous. I have tended to take lots of lectures since they are a great value, but there are so many great teachers gathered in one place that it is hard to decide. I’ll be taking a class on Quilting your Vintage Quilt with Mary Kerr. Mary is a long time friend from my days in Virginia when I first joined a quilt guild (Cabin Branch Quilters) and I can’t wait to see her Quilt as Desired exhibit, which is a collection of vintage quilt tops quilted by some of the top machine quilters out there.  Another class is with Cathy Wiggins on quilting art quilts – every year I look forward to Cathy’s beautiful quilt in the show. She paints incredible images on whole cloth (carousel horses, fairies, mermaids) then adds exquisite quilting, beading and embellishment. Dawn Cavanaugh’s class on Modern quilting is another I’ll take since I am a thoroughly modern girl these days. And finally a ruler class with Deloa Jones. Rulers are a valuable help to me in my long arm quilting and Deloa has developed some great ones. Last year my Portrait class with Jamie Wallen was superb, as was my class with Angela Walters.  I often add another class when I get to the show because I see a quilt or hear about a teacher too good to miss. So many great teachers, so little time.

I feel very lucky this year, my friend and fellow teacher Maria Ferrreira asked if I would like to room with her for the festival. With my mother’s illness I had not been able to focus at all on the show, on getting a hotel room or signing up for classes. I had frankly been too worried about my Mom to even think about going. So now it feels like a gift not only to be going, but to be going with friends (Donna Bozeman will also be going). So this year, I have signed up for all the other fun events like the ice cream social, Cathy Wiggins fun evening event and the dinner with Mark Lipinski. Yippeeee!

And I am signing up to volunteer. All big shows like this run on volunteer energy and it is a great way to get to know everyone involved, to see the quilts close up and to help make the whole event fabulous. It is easy to be a teachers pet, or help take down quilts at the end of the day while you are waiting to collecting your own, to sell admissions or sit at the security desk. The volunteer coordinator will coordinate it all and it all runs very smoothly.

And then there are the vendors. Great thread, fabric, rulers, notions – you name it. And if you are in the market for a long arm you can try them all out.  I tried out machines at quilt shows for several years before purchasing mine.

Finally, Maria and I will be stopping at the New England Quilt Museum to volunteer to help them get ready for their annual Text and Textile Extravaganza. At this great fundraising event they sell donated books, fabric, embellishments, etc. to raise funds for the museums programs. If anyone has donations for this sale you can bring them to me and I will bring them up or contact the museum directly. And if you go to MQX, plan to stop at the sale from 9 – 1 on Saturday April 12 on your way back and fill a bag for $25. A great deal to support a great quilting cause.

I hope I’ve inspired you to go to MQX to see the great quilts, better yet to sign up for a class and some of the fun events.  Make some room in your budget to learn and grow as a quilter. Don’t just buy fabric and thread, buy knowledge and artistic energy. You deserve it!

Paint Every Day

My mother’s recent passing has had me thinking a great deal of all the beautiful gifts she passed on to her three daughters and to the many students she taught watercolor.  I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned was “Paint every day.” For most of her life, my mother did something connected to her art every day, whether it was painting in her studio, teaching at her local art associations, going to museums, photographing local landscapes at the perfect time of day to capture the light just right, reading art books, or sketching the cat on the windowsill. Her immersion in art meant she was always moving forward, exposed to new ideas, trying new techniques, meeting new friends and stretching herself artistically.  With an abandon my husband perhaps finds appalling at times, I try and do the same with my quilting (my interest in housework diminishes every year!). There are so many ways to stretch oneself in the quilting world – quilt guild meetings and shows, magazines and books, online sources like blogs, pinterest and you tube, quilting bees, quilt shops and classes, making gifts, entering challenges – the list goes on and on. You can focus on continuous line quilting designs, try a new piecing technique or a new thread, read about a fabric designer, go to an exhibit at the quilt museum.  There is no better cure for “quilter’s block” (our version of writer’s block) where you just don’t feel the creative juices flowing than doing a little something every day. It is like a brook that gets damned by a beaver, once you stop, it is hard to get moving again. To keep my creative juices flowing, I learned early on to set up a permanent space with good light for my sewing. And eventually I learned to call this space my quilt studio and not my sewing room.  You mend jeans in a sewing room. You create in a studio. So in honor of my mother, I hope you will go spend some time in your studio and create today and every day.  It is good for your soul!

Here is a link to my mother’s obituary. We will be holding a Celebration of Life for her in the spring at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, MA and someday we hope to create a website and perhaps write a book about her life and art.

Virginia Holmes Avery

For Debbie

I love teaching. I love sharing what I have learned in my years of quilting and seeing my students blossom.  Best of all is having a class that meets on a regular basis so I get to know my students and they get to know me and each other. There is something about that mix of many minds and creative spirits coming together that always adds up to a sum that is greater that its parts.  Teaching has forced me to think deeply about what I have learned as a quilter, what is worth sharing, what guidance I would have liked to have when I started. And even when I think I have all that worked out, it is the questions and comments that I get from students, the interplay of sewing in the same room together, that really adds that special something to a class.

So this, my fist blog post, is dedicated to a new student, Debbie. When Debbie started my machine quilting class at Knit One Quilt Too, she made up a binder with everything from my website.  Her enthusiasm and excitement really made my day. It was an excellent reminder about the value of my website as a teaching tool, that it is a great place to share my thoughts and inspirations in a deeper form than just snippets or photos on facebook.  So here goes, check back here regularly for a peek at what has inspired me as a quilter.  And there is lots coming this year – I just entered some quilts in the Machine Quilters Expo East which will be in April. Soon I will be sending of the Quilt for Change Solar Sister Quilts to tour with Mancuso Quilt Festivals. My machine quilting and sashiko classes are in full swing at Knit One Quilt Too. Customers have dropped off some really phenomenal quilts for me to tackle. Narragansett Bay Quilters Association will be having its quilt show in April.  There never seem to be enough hours in the day. But I promise, I will take time each week to share a gem with you.

Today’s gem remains my students. If you have thought about teaching, I really encourage you to do so.  Start with a small project and a group of friends. Do a demo at your local quilt show. Teach a younger person how to make their first quilt.  I guarantee you will get back much more than you give.  I am thankful to my local guilds in Virginia and Rhode Island that first asked me to lecture and teach and encourage all guilds to look to their members as sources of talent and inspiration. Thank you to my students for coming to my classes, for asking all those great questions and sharing their knowledge, and for taking what I have shared and running with it.

To say thank you in a concrete way, I have donated an institutional pass to the Barrington Library to the New England Quilt Museum.  If you have an Ocean States Library card you can borrow two passes for a day and visit the museum in Lowell.  It is one of my favorite places to go and I try to get there almost once a month. Perhaps next blog I will sing its praises. But this time, thank you students – and I hope you will enjoy a day at the Quilt Museum!!