Design Tip: Cropping

I was asked to talk about my quiltlet process at Sunday’s Modern Quilt Guild meeting, and since I work a little larger and then crop down, I wanted to give a visual of how that can change a composition. Since my quiltlets are all 6×8″, I cut a cropping window out of a larger piece of cardboard. This way, I can isolate 6×8″ compositions and decide what I like best. I also have a smaller window template (for smaller compositions, obviously!). Sometimes I’m working with a finished composition already in mind, but using this template is really helpful when I’m working intuitively. It can help you discover compositions you didn’t even know were hiding within your design. These view finders can also be helpful when you’re inspired by a particular design out in the world and trying to isolate part of it to focus in on.

To demonstrate this process, I pieced an improv square.

improv pieced square,

Before adding more surface interest, I took some pictures using the cropping windows. These are only a portion of the photos I took, as I wanted to remember all the possible ways I might want to enlarge this into a full-size quilt. I really love these colors together.

cropping example,

This crop keeps the horizontal and verticals intact. But don’t just move the cropping window around; tilt it from side to side as well, to see possibilities on the diagonal.

cropping on the diagonal,

cropping on the diagonal,

I then added some surface interest in the form of circles and quilting, so the full piece looked like this.

circles and lines,

Again, I took many more pictures than I’m sharing here.

cropping example,

And again, some on the diagonal.

cropping example,

cropping example,

I love zooming in on one part of a design like this–the results can be so interesting. Using this tool allows you to explore different focal points. What works best? What is most interesting? What draws you in the most? Often I do quite a bit of sewing that doesn’t make it into the final piece, but that sewing was necessary to get to the final composition. It’s like research in a novel; the reader might never read that backstory but it adds to the story nonetheless.

Art Quiltlet: 23/52

Art quiltlet inspired by Mondrian,

Mondrian is one of my favorite artists. Although I do like his earlier work too–and it’s fascinating to examine the evolution of his work, and how he reduced things to lines more and more until that was where he settled and stayed–this piece is obviously inspired by his well known grid-like works using black, white, and primary colors. The first time I saw a Mondrian in person I gasped out loud. (Imagine being rich enough to stare at your own every single day?!) The orderliness of a Mondrian is something I find very calming. This week, I needed some soothing grids. Thus, this quiltlet.

I began by quilting straight lines before I even began sewing on the black and primary pieces. Since I didn’t want thread color detracting, I sewed on each piece with matching thread, which made for lots of rethreading of my sewing machine to make this little piece! But worth it. And the back looks cool too.

Art quiltlet inspired by Mondrian, back,

{Have you noticed? We are almost halfway through 2016. Wow.}


I’m trying to work on something every day, and one day last week I was at a loss, so I just started stitching fabric together. A whole bunch of blues, because I somehow have more blue fabric than any other color. Not surprisingly, it began to remind me of the ocean. I experimented with free-motion stitching on just the fabric (versus a “quilt sandwich” of fabric, batting, and backing) to see what happened. It puckers the fabric a bit more, is what, even if you’re careful. So it gets texture-y. I added some paint after carving a quick wave-like stamp. I decided it needed a girl doing a cartwheel. She was happy to be back at the beach.

She missed the ocean at

“She missed the ocean”

It might be a little bit busy… and you can see how the fabric doesn’t lay completely flat. Do I like that? Or do I mind that? I’m deciding. I’m experimenting. I stitched some words, too.

She missed the ocean, detail.

I really liked this cartwheel girl.

She missed the ocean, detail,

I wondered what she’d look like cropped all the way down so she was the main focus, so I made another, smaller, piece, this time in a meadow full of flowers.

JOY at


This one is only about 4×6″.  And while I typically like to work, then crop down, next time I’m using French knots I’ll crop first, then add the French knots, just because they get in the way a little bit on the edges. Ah, but check out her hair! All of it, really–I like it a lot. Doing creates ideas and those ideas create more ideas. There is always something new to try when I’m feeling a little stuck.

Art Quiltlet: 22/52

locust art quilt at

I’m feeling a little uninspired this week. I spent all last week taking care of a sick child, day and night, which reminded me why I had my babies early (goodness, I’m too old for sleep deprivation and full-time on-call duties). This culminated in a visit to the ER Friday night (a previous visit to the pediatrician being, ultimately, unhelpful) followed by an early morning car maintenance appointment on Saturday that had already been rescheduled once, so I got up and went. For part of the three-and-a-half hours that I was waiting, I sketched the leaves of the tree I was sitting under (thankfully I could wait outside, as it’s finally stopped raining every day). I’m pretty sure it was some sort of locust, although not having the entire tree in front of me anymore, I’m not sure what kind. So when I decided to practice my free-motion script along with free-motion sketch, I just wrote locust.

Sometimes when you are very tired and worn out, simple is best. So this week’s quiltlet, reflecting the energy drain that was last week, is simple.

My daughter is better now, and that exhausting month of May is over. June holds the end of school, a graduation, a dance recital, and two weeks of getting the eldest to his summer bridge program. But in between I hope to find some days to do absolutely nothing.

May Reading List

How to Treat Your Mom at

Part of my daughter’s Mother’s Day gift to me.

May has been long. And tiring. And full of Mondays. But here we are on the very last day, school is almost over, my middle child has turned twelve, and here are the books I finished in May.

As Close to Us as Breathing, Elizabeth Poliner
Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Leonard Koren
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride
Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World, Susan Silverman
The Mistress’s Daughter, A. M. Homes
Amy and Isabelle, Elizabeth Strout

Art Quiltlet: 21/52

art quiltlet at

I am making so very much that doesn’t get posted here, although most of it gets shared on Instagram. This quiltlet uses another piece of gelli-plate-printed fabric from last Monday’s printing session. I wasn’t happy with the way this print turned out (that blue shadow around the plant is because I didn’t get enough of the paint off on the first print with paper), so I decided to use it as practice, filling in the space with free-motion pebbling. Here’s what it looked like before I cropped it.

leaf print + texture before cropping,

I would do things differently. I’d eliminate the outline stitching and just use pebbling. I ended up with some billowing in some of the leaves. And I’d make a better print to start. But this is why I like these low-risk quiltlets. It’s built in that I’m learning things and/or figuring things out as I go. Sometimes you don’t know what you like until you do something you don’t like. Not that I don’t like this piece; I just think it could be improved.

The back looks pretty cool too.

back of art quiltlet,

It’s got me thinking about what I can do with negative space….

Art Quiltlet: 20/52

leaf print art quiltlet at

I bought myself a Gelli Plate because while I love gelatin plate printmaking, I don’t have a place to store them here. Our fridge is side-by-side and flat shelf space is hard to find. So I decided to try the Gelli Plate and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a good option. Monday I picked some plants, gathered some textures, and had myself a little printmaking session using fabric. This quiltlet came from that.

I felt like sitting down and stitching by hand yesterday, so I did. It’s been a week of Mondays and I wanted that quiet soothing-ness that comes from handwork. The result is pretty subtle. Kind of calm. Just what I needed.

This is week 20. Twenty! For week 10 I shared a picture of the first ten all together, so here’s a photo of quiltlets 11-20.

art quiltlets 11-20 at

I like the variety. I like that I’m trying new things. I like how some of them very much reflect the week in which they were made, and some reflect how I was feeling (ready to tackle a new technique? or needing a bit of a respite?). I definitely like that I haven’t missed a week yet.

Art Quiltlets: 18 + 19/52

Again with the double post! I’m making weekly, just didn’t get a chance to post last week. I was busy working on a larger piece, which is actually where last week’s quiltlet came from. At the end of the week I looked at all the scraps on my work table, pulled some out, and collaged an art quiltlet.

Scraps art quiltlet at

That white fabric with black printing wasn’t even used in the larger piece, in the end, but it found its way here. This was pure play, and it’s fun how many of the same elements turned into something so different than the piece from which they originated.

This week, I carved a stamp inspired by a book I found on the library shelf while browsing, Art Deco Textiles. Then I used it to make this little quiltlet.

Lepidoptera art quiltlet at

The quiltlet itself is very simple. I’ve been in a frenzy of creating/sewing the past several weeks and I think I needed a little simple. But I like its quietness. Also, I really like carving stamps and I’m getting lots of inspiration from that book.

And now I am caught up on posting the quiltlets! I can’t believe we’re almost to week 20 of 2016.

April Reading List

coasters at

Some coasters I whipped up this weekend.

Happy May, I guess. It’s supposed to rain for a week. I know we need it, but…blech. I would have guessed I didn’t read all that much in April, since I sewed so much, but I ended the month with nine books read. As always, asterisks indicate a book I really really liked.

The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russel
The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr *
The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien*
The Hours Count, by Jillian Cantor*
The Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll
The From-Aways, by CJ Hauser*
The Man of My Dreams, by Curtis Sittenfeld
Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and others) in          the Name of Literature, ed by Meredith Maran
Nine Inches: Stories, by Tom Perrotta

Back to the sewing for me! And reading. Under a blanket. Sigh.

Art Quiltlet: 17/52

(This post is more personal than usual; it may not be your cup of tea. Fair warning.)

Because Love art quiltlet at

The world has been chipping away at me this week, more than usual, it feels like. I “listened” via Twitter as Donald Trump held a rally in my former home state and used xenophobia and fear-mongering to whip up the crowd–and they complied, because that message has such strength right now. He then won all five states that had primaries on Tuesday, which includes my former state and the one I live in now. The UK voted against a proposal to allow in unaccompanied Syrian refugee children. People are boycotting Target over bathrooms. There are lots of problems with public bathrooms, but transgender usage isn’t one of them. My husband having to bring our daughter into a men’s room when they’re out together–that stinks. The way the women’s room always has a longer line–also a problem. (I’ve snuck into the men’s bathroom before.) But let’s focus on a made-up problem that has its root in hatred and fear. And then, the Baltimore Police Department shot a 13-year-old boy with a BB gun who was running away from two plainclothes police who got out of an unmarked car, and then they took his mother in for questioning after she saw her baby bloodied on the street, threw her into a cell for “belligerence,” and wouldn’t let her go to the hospital for hours, and then issued remarks that managed to blame both the boy and his mother for the whole thing. My heart.

I want, sometimes, to shut it all off, not let it in, focus on my own little life, but I can’t. Why? Because love. I made this quiltlet rather quickly, with the idea of mimicking black-out poetry. If I did it again, I’d make the cut-outs smaller. I may return to this idea in the future. Last night I needed to get it down, though. I’m not a religious person. I was raised Catholic but I don’t believe in organized religion (for myself; for others, I believe in freedom to worship as they want and hope they allow others the same freedom) or God or an afterlife. I believe in the here and now, in doing the best we can not for some promised reward later on but because we are part of a common humanity, linked, whether we like it or not (or admit it or not) to every other living thing on this planet, including people who live differently. I am not a Buddhist, but that’s what I relate to most. One of the most useful meditations–and I generally meditate while running because I am terrible at sitting still meditation but running clears my mind in a wonderful way–is loving-kindness meditation.  You start with sending loving feelings towards yourself, then work outward, beginning with people you find it easy to love and ending with someone you’re having problems with.

Let me tell you, the practice of loving someone who is causing you pain, whether intentionally or not, is so valuable. Sometimes life drops that situation in your lap and you don’t even have to go looking for it. We humans can get caught up in the idea of “winning” (if you have more than one child you’ve witnessed this a hundred times a day; my two youngest are struggling with it right now). What is accomplished, though? Letting go of that idea of getting the best of someone is freeing. I am disheartened and dismayed and overwhelmed by all the hatred floating around this country right now. It is worth reminding myself, always, to start from a place of love and common humanity, even if it seems like so many people are spitting on that idea.

So what is the why of anything in this life? Love. Because love. Carry on with love. xo