• WarmQuilts

Fabric Images with Susan Carlson

I received the special gift to challenge my creativity - my boss asked me to choose a quilting class and do something I've never done before. I was intrigued by Serendipity Quilts and placed an order for Susan Carlson's book. Then, earlier this year I signed up for her Fabric Images class at Tanque Verde Ranch (a dude ranch) in Tucson, Arizona.

Fabric Images, as described on Susan's website: Create a fabric collage quilt of your own chosen subject using Susan’s innovative layering/collage method. Individual design, fabric selection, construction, borders, and quilting will be discussed. Emphasis will be placed on the collage piecing process. Students will draw their design onto a foundation fabric and fill in the design with fabrics of their choice—without the use of templates. For about an hour each morning, Susan starts with a discussion and demonstration that will lay out the basics of fabric collage and will give you the information you need to start your work day. She then visits each student in turn to address individual needs and their project’s unique challenges.


My inspiration was our Barn Cat - here he is, sitting on the hood of my car giving me "the look" as I finish a conference call.


Choosing the right photo was just a start. Once approved by Susan, we were instructed to re-create the photo on paper to enlarge onto our muslin fabric - which would become our foundation. Later, I would learn it was helpful to have color contrasts in the photo. I edited the photo to black and white, then darkened it to help find shadows in the white fur.

I outlined then used exaggerated markings to define light and dark areas.

I made an enlargement of my drawing, rolled it up in the muslin fabric and loaded up a carry-on suitcase. Items from Susan's Materials List were added to another bag with a multitude of fabrics. I was ready to create my Barn Cat masterpiece.


There were 19 students in Susan's fabric collage class, with a variety of photo subjects: pets (cats, dogs, rooster, horses), reptiles and other animals (pronghorn, butterfly, hummingbirds), people (grandchildren), other family members and a famous activist. A couple of classmates have taken other classes with Susan, too. And, later in the week, a former student brought by a finished, framed collage of an otter to provide inspiration to all of us.

True to the class description, Susan starts each day with a discussion, demonstration and a display of her works - all help put into context the work planned for the day. First order of business, we traced our enlarged paper template onto our foundation fabric.

The remainder of our time was spent at our art boards - cutting and pinning fabric into place. Or, sitting at our worktable - sorting through fabric swatches for the perfect pattern or color. An appreciation for sections of a fabric design soon emerged - we found ourselves looking at a small square inch of fabric and not the full yard of fabric. Look at all of those orangy curls, each individually cut out and layered.

One morning, Susan discussed techniques for creating eyes. She passed out several samples for us to examine. I was quite pleased with my cat's eyes.

With Susan's expert guidance, I understood the need to assign a color palate to the white in my photo. As we sorted though fabrics (light creamy yellows to oranges), it took me a good day to absorb the nuances in each color - I typically do not quilt with yellows and oranges and they did not feel right to me at first. You can see that I favored the gold-browns under the chin (see below).

For the darker colors, I used greens, browns and blacks. Many classmates brought boxes and bundles of fabrics and everyone was invited to search through any of the stashes. If you were looking for a particular color or texture, others in the class joined-in on the search.

The layering/collage technique can be tedious but so rewarding.

I spent most of a day piecing the face and working on the nose and mouth. Then, moved my attention to the fluffy tail.

After completing the nose, I found a pillow block with a wild cat - the nose was nearly the exact size of the one I had created. It was printed on the fabric and would have been a perfect fit. Several in my group said I should use it. After spending so much time on the nose, I wasn't sure if it would be considered cheating to cut out something pre-printed and place on my collage. That afternoon when I asked Susan about it, she said it was a perfect serendipitous find and would be alright to use. It is on my worktable and I will decide at the end whether to keep what I have created or use what was found.


My Barn Cat is actually next in line to get some much-needed attention. Here is a photo of the 5-day progress from class.

I have two ideas for the background but may stumble upon a third - who knows? I have continued on this slow-but-steady project and will post an update in the coming weeks.

Have you ever attended a multi-day, quilting workshop? Have you signed up for a Susan Carlson class?


Love what you are doing on your course. I have two of Susan Carlton books! Sarah 1/14/2018

Thank you for stopping by, Sarah. There are a couple of items on your website that resemble Susan's work - with some netting and embellishments, you would nearly be there. Susan was a hands-on instructor and the multiple day class was beneficial in so many ways. Her books are amazing - seeing the finished pieces, in person, was a treat.

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