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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ


March 13th, 2018

Do you remember topsy-turvy dolls? A bit like a Pushmepullyou from the story of Dr. Dolittle.

Do little, however, is rarely my modus operandi…quite the opposite, I tend to go overboard. So when–a long time ago, I took a class from one of the top dollmakers in the world, Elinor Peace Bailey, I didn’t make a doll from one of her kits. I didn’t make a doll…I made a topsy turvy doll. Here’s the basic body:

Here’s the Sun’s sun-dress, made today from a pillowcase that my grandmother had, and the Moon’s nightshirt:


Takes me back to my girlhood. I never played with dolls, but I made dolls and made costumes for them.

Always nice to have a reason to finish a project. This topsy turvy doll is headed–pun intended–to a baby who is the sun, moon, and stars to her family. Only hope the dog doesn’t chew it up before she can enjoy it!








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Well Past Midnight

February 26th, 2018

A class experiment at a Quilt Surface Design Symposium back in 2006: Cynthia Corbin assigned us to make and remake what she calls a black fabric sketch–a unique patchwork block from a sketch of lines. As happens in these intensive classes, I joined my classmates staying up quite late one night, making up a patchwork block in many different color and pattern iterations. Finally, I mutinied, and created the patchwork all in black fabric, and opted to show the side where the seam allowances are exposed. Soon after, I “sketched” on the piece, using tan thread to free-motion-stitch a figure. Years later, I embellished the “drawing” with embroidery.

Another sample stuck away in a drawer—a paint-dabbled moon. And when the Studio Art Quilters Association announced a call for entry: From Dusk to Dawn, I decided to combine these UFO’s (unfinished objects) and rise to the challenge. I slapped lots of different fabrics from my overflowing stash up on my design wall, trying for a pleasing, William Morris-style feeling.

I kind of like what I came up with early on, and should have stopped there with a sketchy expression.

But no, I kept auditioning other fabrics for backgrounds, and growing out the figure to complete it. I also tried miniature quilt projects under her hand, suggesting that she, too, was a quilter.

I found, however, that the quilting projects merely increased the cacophony of prints and negated the pensive mood I was after. So I ended up giving the figure a book instead. This allowed me to connect personally with the figure and the quilt, since I often stay up all hours of the night reading. I completed the piece with that pleasantly addictive, obsessive behavior in mind.


I call it, “Well Past Midnight.” Ahhh, to have and to hold a book so good you cannot put it down. Along with the supreme luxury of not needing to put it down. All is quiet. You succumb to the thrall of great literature, a world of enchantment, and a fantastical bower  grows around you long into the wee hours…

Far better, this poem expresses the mood and the moment: 

Just learned my art quilt did not make the cut for the SAQA exhibit From Dusk to Dawn. I never thought it would. It’s over-labored, tries to be too pretty and figurative, at a moment when the art world and the art quilt world savors abstract expression. I totally get it, because  I know that small exhibits must be cohesive, creating a flow around the room.

For me, a call for entry, particularly from SAQA, is often the kick in the behind I need to produce work, to hone my design skills and my technical skills, too. I am glad to have made this piece, to share it with any readers of my blog, and to put it away, not look at it for a while.  I do look forward to seeing the pieces that have been accepted into this show should it come to my part of the country. Bet you will, too.

3 Responses to “Well Past Midnight”

  1. Liz says:

    I love the evolution of this piece and the story it tells. It is a lovely belt piece. Thanks for sharing

  2. That is a masterpiece, period. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s magnificent.

  3. HelenMarie Marshall says:

    Always inspiring. Thank you!

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Defending Democracy…with an Art Quilt

December 21st, 2017

Not many people I know are aware of the “blue slip process,” a 100-year-old tradition in which home-state senators can indicate approval or disapproval, on a form printed on blue paper, of a President’s nominee for a lifetime seat on the federal courts, and advance or halt the nomination from moving forward. So I wanted to make a fabric illustration. But not with lingerie…that is, until my friend Carole queried, “Why not lingerie?”

So when I found a blue slip in a Montreal vintage clothing store, and the price was right, I had my beginning. Was about to combine it in a patchwork of blue rectangles, but the outcome would have lacked color contrast and aesthetic interest. I couldn’t reconcile the actual undergarment with a geometric abstract. Next Eureka moment happened when my friend Barbara said, “Why not have Lady Liberty wearing the blue slip?” Which coalesced with my subject matter as my friend Sammie remarked that, “If anyone would wear a blue slip, it would be Lady Justice.” Bingo. I happened to have made a figurative block, and I sliced into the face to insert a blind-fold, and made the bowls for her scales of justice.

I probably could have (should have?) stopped there, but I felt the viewer would need some more visual clues. To integrate various areas into the piece, I did some painting, dabbing, and printing on vintage doilies and lace. I used applique and piecing to collage various fabrics into a cohesive background.

Next, I got to work with my new midarm machine, quilting each area down. That was a steep, but enriching learning curve…with days spent futzing with the machine, adjusting the tension with each new thread, and coming up with different quilting patterns for each section.

Note the blue slips swirling in the background. I intended to crop the top of the quilt, but couldn’t bear to do that, so I filled the extra space with a bird, like so many that perch on statues. It’s a mourning dove, which symbolizes both the desired peace of a fair, bipartisan process, and also the grieving that came when judiciary committee chairman Grassley abandoned the blue slip process, to move ahead with the nomination of two men who were unacceptable to their home-state senators.

Another vintage item, a sliver of a silver tie that my grandfather wore, became Lady Justice’s sword.

I expected the piece to end at the hem of the slip, but the effect was truncated, off-balance. Earlier, I had auditioned feet emerging from the slip, but they just didn’t stand up to the rest.


I wanted to suggest a pedestal base, and after auditioning multiple fabrics, I settled on an early choice–see my first draft second photo from the top. I altered this batik look-alike, quilting suggestive lines of type on all squares except for two: One sports a doily, it’s S-shape center motif alluding to the serpent at Justice’s heels. And one provides a space for my signature and date.

The finished piece is larger than I intended…As tall as I am.

And less expressionistic than I wanted. Yup, that actual blue slip gave abstraction the slip.

But it’s done!…which is always better than perfect.

One Response to “Defending Democracy…with an Art Quilt”

  1. Wow! What a great story, great quilt – I’d love to see it in person – When I first saw the photo, I didn’t really think about the fact that it’s as big as a person! I hope this quilt gets seen by many people.

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Expanding on History, Part 2!

July 29th, 2017

You gotta love the direct hit to the heart that this Square Bulleye quilt top delivers. I sure did, when I bought it for not very much money about 10 years ago. I think it was on the table of a very reputable dealer at a quilt show.

For a long time, it was part of my trunk show for Quilters Who Dared. And daring it is, with all that precision piecing. Waaay beyond my patience level.

Now, however, my presentations feature more wonky and imprecise performances in patchwork. Inspiration for quilting out of the box, and daring to break the rules.

And now this beauty is the perfect target for remaking our home, our bedroom, and yes, our bed!

I was gonna do this the easy way.

Our bed is a queen, so step #1 was adding borders to make it overhang the edges generously. Finding a timeless, black pin-dot was easy. And a repro extra-wide quilt back–E-Quilter has a great selection. After washing to pre-shrink these new fabrics, I cut same size lengths from the black pin-dot, and stitched them to the edges of the quilt top all around.

Then took the expanded quilt top and backing fabric right over to a wonderful long-armer.

I know a lot of great long-armers in my area, but chose Donna Laing of North Star Quality Quilting because of her experience with traditional, antique quilts.

I just adored working with Donna to choose a quilting design for this beauty. I thought that a traditional Clamshell, or Baptist Fan would be true to the era of the fabrics. The coolest thing was how Donna lay a window of Plexiglass over the quilt, and used a washable marker to audition continuous line quilting patterns. Wish I’d taken a picture of that.

Also wish I hadn’t left Donna with a lot of extra work. See all those triangles in the patchwork design? The outer edges are all bias. Stretchy bias. I should have stay-stitched these edges; even sewn a fabric ribbon tape along them to keep them in gear. Instead, my borders followed these edges, and were a hot mess of ripply distortion. Donna saved the day, making tucks in each border by hand. Next time, I promise she won’t be biased against this customer.

I picked up the quilt but alas, it was another few months before I got to the binding and this Bullseye made a beeline for our bed.



















Makes a real statement, right? Nice overhang, yes? So the husband and I don’t fight for the covers.

One Response to “Expanding on History, Part 2!”

  1. Donna Laing says:

    Wowza. That quilt looks great on your bed! And those log cabin pillow shams are so cool. I loved the careful color placement that seemed so random until we really looked closely. Good job!

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Expanding on History

July 14th, 2017

It’s called a Summer Quilt because it has no batting. Just an appliqued top with a backing; quilting in the ditch to hold the layers together. I bought it for a song many, many years ago, and I’m guessing it’s not quite as old as I am. Circa 1950s or 60s.  I’ve always loved its retro style: Dresden Plate patches include corduroy, flannel, homespun, and wacky prints. Best of all, that on-point setting with stripped lattice is fresh and kicky.




Because it’s so light, it makes a wonderful summer bed-cover. All except for one thing. You guessed it. Old quilts were not made for queen-size beds. So in order to enjoy having my vintage find on the bed, the husband and I are always fighting for covers, pulling the quilt to his side, or mine. And when the bed is made? The effect loudly proclaims: SKIMPY and CHEAP.

But not anymore. I added borders–or rather, panels that break for the bed posters, to the sides and foot of the quilt. Shopped all over for a fabric that would work, and found it in Kaffe Fassett’s Millefiori print, which had all the colors in the Dresden Plate motifs and striped lattice. While contemporary, it felt in keeping with the era and mood and the small scale meant it didn’t fight the vintage piece for attention. I backed this fabric with strips cut from an old mint-green cotton tablecloth, which probably dates back to the same time as the Summer Quilt.

The husband and I sleep well at night now.

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Another Kind of Folk Art: Embroidered Punjabi Shawls

June 27th, 2017
Phul (pronounced either pool or fool) means flower.  I certainly felt that I had stepped into a glorious flower garden when I entered a featured  exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last week (see it through July 9, 2017).
Kari means work, and it’s readily apparent that phulkaris take months or even years to make.
And oh, how richly ornate are these flower works, silk embroidered shawls that are often started upon a daughter’s birth, or stitched by the girl herself, to bring into her husband’s house as an important part of her dowry. Phulkaris are worn draped over head and shoulders by women all over Punjab–the area that straddles Pakistan and India — during marriage festivals and other joyous occasions. They can also serve as bedding and wall hangings. Like quilts!
 Phulkaris from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection are supplemented by others from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, and most were created in the early 20th century. In Phulkari embroidery–silk and cotton threads ornament the cloth, usually a handspun, handwoven cotton. Folk art folk and animals seem to be making their way across the shawl, while flowers and geometric forms provide a well-balanced cacophony of figures. It’s fun to imagine the story being told in the stitches.
We quilt-lovers of quilt history can draw many parallels between the domestic arts of Punjab and of 19th century America. Like quilting, the making of phulkaris was usually done in the home, fulfilled creative urges, and brought color into what may have been a drab day-to-day existence. Both were and are often remain celebrated folk art forms.  Check out this appliqued quilt top, below, known as “Bird of Paradise,” made in the Albany NY area between 1858 and 1863, from the collection of the Museum of American Folk Art.
The charming story quilt below was appliqued and tied by a self-taught African-American woman who was born a slave in Georgia. Known as the “Harriet Powers” quilt, it is thought to have been made between 1895 and 1898.
 Getting back to punjabi shawls: I love this one below: peacocks strutting, rain falling, plus a floral border with a little section of red, like an error but not, thought to ward off the evil eye. Just like the deliberate mistakes in Amish quilts, because “only God is perfect.”
Notice the similarity in pictorials between these eastern and western examples? Many different cultures obviously like to feature images symbolic of marriage, family, fruitfulness/fertility, and home. Art of “just folks.” Folk art.
As mentioned, most phulkaris show the background cloth, much like applique. You would think these birds, horses, and people are done on a background fabric where the warp floats over a few threads to make a sateen textile.
But no, the marigold background is all embroidered. That’s a “bahg” phulkari, embroidery so dense that the base cloth can’t be seen.
Another example is below, with shapes that recall gems, jewelry, and other embellishments. With silk thread from China, these were very costly to make. No wonder then, that the threads are stitched mostly on the front of the cloth.
Also on view in this exhibit are a couple of gowns and a man’s jacket created with phulkaris by a famous contemporary designer, Manish Malhotra. I wonder if he was given a hard time for cutting up phulkaris for his posh outfits? One can only hope he used damaged pieces, just as we should only cut up a ragged quilt or fragments to make wearables,  pillows, holiday stockings, and bags.

Want to learn more, and see more, about phulkaris? Watch this lovely, informative video produced for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Tradition with a (Muley) Twist

June 10th, 2017

Just when I least expected it, a most relaxing, wonderful haven that is the Muley Twist Inn gave me an unexpected quilt fix.

The husband and I arrived here after a long day hiking in Capitol Reef National Park. The inn Carl picked out is off the beaten track, outside Teasdale, Utah. The vistas are better than the guide books promise, and I began writing this post on the front porch overlooking a stunning view of low mountains and Ponderosa pines, the natural colors I’d been seeing for days. Innkeeper Penny, upon learning of my interest in quilts, let me into an adjacent bedroom where quilts were spread and stacked.

I was instantly charmed by this simple Square-in-Square, with alternating plain blocks:










Nine Patch may be the quintessential plain patchwork pattern, but the bubble-gum pink lattice and jazzy prints provide kicky refreshment.


Experts will look at those prints and help me date this charmer…1950s?

Made me think of how Southwest artists translate the landscape into vibrant vistas. Like my favorite local artist, Paula Swain. Ran into her at Gallery 24, in Torrey, UT–right after I’d purchased one of her works. The husband and I had a really hard time picking the one we wanted! Here it is hanging on our wall so I can enjoy “Capitol Reefs Color” as I eat breakfast. Paula told me that she was raised in a family that went out to do plein air painting at every opportunity. Her father pushed her to use a realistic palette, and she resisted. It’s only since he passed away that she’s felt liberated to take artistic license and go wild with color, putting her own twist on the tradition of landscape painting.



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Serging Ahead

May 7th, 2017

My mother taught me to sew my own clothing when I was in 4th grade. (Thanks, Ma!) For the very first time in 55 years, the insides of a garment don’t look quite so wrong. I bought a used Baby Lock serger a few years back, struggled with it, put it away, took a class on serging, put it away, and finally brought it out to use. My inspiration–er, task-master, was some gorgeous hand-blocked fabric from the now-out-of-business Textile Workshop, some smart, dotted linen purchased at a SAQA conference last year, and Pattern #11212 from the Cutting Line Designs, by Louise Cutting. Warning: Directions include tips and tricks for really fastidious finishing. And for once, the Queen of the Quick & Dirty, aka yours truly, did due diligence, and serged all the raw edges, then topstitched them, first from the inside, then from the outside.












I mixed features from both View A (collar) and View B (longer length, pockets). I included a buttonhole tab, using bright African fabrics, but the jacket ended up bigger than I expected, so I ditched the tab in exchange for a belt. Until I grow into it, which seems highly likely.  Or even more likely, give it to a larger  person who can carry off the fullness. And then, I’ll add that tab back in…













And oh yeah, because this blog is about quilting, check out the collar. A soft interfacing used for firmness provided the middle layer for free-motion-quilting, following the chain-link lines of the batik fabric.


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Patchwork Pundits Take On Politics

April 26th, 2017

“In the nineteenth century, quiltmaking was often the only socially acceptable way for a woman to express her political views.” With that explanation, the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum put out a call for politically-themed quilts, for an exhibit to celebrate “the tradition of activism and awareness.” The deadline for entries was in September, and the show ran from late October through much of January. So the Presidential Election was certainly a central focus.

I wasn’t able to get to Golden, Colorado to see the exhibit, but several quilters and artists whose work was featured sent me their jpegs and statements, which I share with you here. For “Political Circus,” Misty Cole began with traditional 1930s mosaic of squares and half square triangles for the classic Kansas City Star patterns of democratic and republican mascots. She details her process in a blog.



In “Cotton Grown in the USA”, a different sort of patriotism is expressed. Only 14″ square, this little piece is made entirely with cotton fabric grown and manufactured in the USA. Charlotte Noll used a grass-green background with improvisationally-pieced letters, and paper-pieced cotton bolls to punctuate her point of pride.




Barbara Hall calls her quilt, “When the Fish Return.” She explains that the Colorado River is “the southwest’s most important source of water.  Five states rely on this river to sustain cities and agriculture. But the Colorado River ends in Mexico.   Our overuse has created a loss of habitat and environment in what was once a thriving river delta in Mexico.  In 2014 in cooperatio
n with Mexican wildlife ecologists, water was released into the delta to try and revitalize the river’s natural habitat.  The project is being studied and monitored.  My quilt is a story of what might happen if the habitat reconstruction is successful.”





“Fleeing Drought – Is This Climate Change?” is by Sara Sharp. She explains, “Can there still be any doubt that climate change is really happening? Despite denial by some politicians, rising global temperatures are adversely affecting both humans and wildlife. Social unrest and human suffering have been caused by crop failures and lack of potable water. Both people and animals must travel far from their historic homes to compete for limited resources. This quilt symbolizes diminishing rainfall, resulting wildfires, and the altered migration patterns of birds who must travel further each year to find supplies of healthy food and water.”



“War Sucks” is a tour de force by the award-winning Kristin LaFlammeAn army wife, Kristin created it “as a way of processing my feelings about war during a period when my husband was fighting more than he was home.
No matter which side you are on or whether you are a combatant or a civilian, war sucks.” She explains how the process mirrored the experiences: “The fractured aspect of crazy quilting made sense for the background, as did the hint of stitching the seams back together created by the utilitarian embroidery. I allowed for raw edges (war is nothing if not raw) and added jumbles of knotted threads ripped from my fabrics after the wash. I used stenciled, splattered, scribbled, new commercial, re-purposed, discharged, uniform, and dyed fabrics. I worked the fabrics both before and after piecing them. The quilt is backed with an old woolen blend army blanket and I left the edges open and stuffed them with fabrics and yarns that could allude to bandages and guts. The overall quilting is intersecting straight lines that could be tracer fire or bullet trajectories.”

“My Home Peace” looks at the flip side of war in a traditional mode. This piece is by Peggy McGreary.




“Peace and Harmony” as shown below is also by Sara Sharp. It is dense with meaningful photo transfers: sheet music, quotes, conceptual terms that add up to a state of peace.


It is hardly controversial to posit that War is bad and Peace is good, and most quilters—and quilt lovers will come down squarely on the side of environmental protections. But I’m glad to say that the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum did include some slightly more subversive expressions of opinion.







Sara Sharp is prolific! She also made “Barriers to Freedom” which was juried in as well. “Oppression, famine, and poverty cause people to flee their homelands,” she writes, “searching for a better life of opportunity and freedom. Some politicians and countries advocate building fences and walls to keep immigrants out of their countries. This quilt features passenger lists from the early 1900’s showing people, like my family’s ancestors, who were welcomed into the United States. In our time, we must again show kindness to provide bridges to safety for deserving immigrants.

This work belongs on my new website, United We Quilt: Sewing Justice. I’m hoping Sara submits it –and perhaps others–for that online gallery. The time has never been so dire for supporting immigration reform and for showing compassion to those who seek a better life.



“Burned”(18″ x 24″) is a liberal rallying cry to throw off shackles. Regina V. Benson  elaborates: In 1992 Lindsay Van Gelder stepped forward to confess that she had coined the tem “bra-burning” to describe a feminist protest during the 1968 Miss America beauty pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It appears that some women during that protest did threaten to remove their bras and throw them into a communal trash bin. As a young New York Post journalist, Ms. Van Gelder’s reporting of the event came to compare the potential trashing of these bras to the burning of draft cards at Vietnam War protests. That, combined with the title of the story, seems to have been enough to start this legend. The term was immediately picked up by other reporters and writers and grew into a viral metaphor –  the discarding of feminine shackles that stereotyped women in sexist and objective ways. This urban legend survives today and continues to fuel forceful imagery for daughters of the women’s liberation movement. This reporting did inspire many, actual, subsequent bra-burning events.” Benson continues, “I created this work as a triple entendre: one for the mythical legend of bra-burning; the second for the term “burned” as meaning to expose the myth itself; and the third for the actual use of burning techniques in my work to marry the medium with the message.”


Last in this review of featured quilts in Patchwork Pundits is my little 16″-square “Choice Nine-Patch.” Frankly, I was surprised that they took it, and wonder if it engendered any reactions pro or against.  It’s about Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion.  Although it was made in 2002, I think it’s still highly relevent, especially with the president’s choice of a Supreme Court pick who has shifted the majority to the right, a judge who was hand-picked to roll back rights such as worker protections, health care, religious freedom and reproductive justice. Here’s my two cents, my artist’s statement, in poetry, as it’s meant to soften the divisive wedge between the so-called Pro-Life community and the Choice community:


Respectfully, this little Nine Patch references “The Nine,”

That highest court in all the land, the real Supremes, or SCOTUS.

The one case they decided almost all can call to mind—

The case that still stirs up debates that we can’t help but notice.

Check out the sac of little pearls–fish eggs, you know, Roe.

Wade in, and then explore the depths of privacy and choice,

Should women self-determine their own fates and families?

My stance is clear, as I hereby give cloth and thread my voice.











3 Responses to “Patchwork Pundits Take On Politics”

  1. Chinton says:

    Good work. It is quite scary right now but the more we talk, remove the stigma, the safer our rights are, I hope.

  2. Sara Sharp says:

    Thank you for gathering some of these entries. It was nice to see them in a group online. I wish I could submit my immigration quilt for your show, but it is currently entered in an IQA show. Keep up the good work.

  3. What a wonderful show. Thank you for sharing it!

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Repair and Connect

March 29th, 2017

That’s the title of an exhibit Kevan Lunney put together at the Capital Health Medical Center in Pennington, NJ.  This line-up of “rejuvenating work made of fiber and cloth” was sponsored by the hospital’s Art and Healing Committee plus Hopewell Valley Arts Council. And as the show just ended, I’m proud to share the fiber art pieces that rejuvenated my spirits with you here. Kevan is shown with her ground-breaking sculpture of neon and fiber, titled Repair.

Mary Schwarzenberger’s Sunrise, left, and Wavelength, right, feature sumptuous texture that presents the softest side of fiber. Mary manipulates ice-dyed silk in a process she found positi
vely meditative during a recent catastrophic illness.

Kathy Velis Turan calls her 1 by 6-feet-long piece The Long Road. It represents “the journey we all take from childhood to adulthood, in good and not-so-good health.” I love the tactile qualities of window screen encasing burlap, painted fabric, rope and more, with shrink-art-plastic vehicles along the way. Little Sophia, daughter of weaver Joli Martinez, couldn’t stay away, and was hard pressed not to touch.

I work in the shadows of the art quilting world, but Cindy Friedman works with shadows. It’s worth reading her artist’s statement for this piece.









Michele Lasker combined lots of materials and techniques for her mixed media extravaganza:












Elena Stokes stands in front of her art quilt, Tranquil Marsh–Wild Iris. Her statement is a poem:

golden light

breaks the chill of gray…

blinking open

lush violet

blooms in a tranquil marsh…

wild iris

My piece is about tranquility too–or rather, Tranquili-Tea, since the center pictorial is made with the foil-lined envelopes that encase snazzy tea bags, and the border is made with my grandmother’s tea towels. My statement is a poem, too.

Serenity, a remedy:

Unwind, and slow down time.

Fluidity for every sense,

Renewal so sublime.


Recall, reflect, and reminisce.

Adapt, de-stress, grow calm.

Take tender pleasures such as this

As spirit-soothing balm.


One Response to “Repair and Connect”

  1. Sally K. Field says:

    Wonderful quilts. Would loved to be able to enlarge them to see more detail!! Sally

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