The SHWS Gallery Opens with African Prints + Quilts = Magic!

Out of Africa by Kim L. Butterworth

Hooray! SHWS’s Gallery opening day has finally arrived! Paula Benjaminson and I have been corresponding internationally via email and Dropbox (best way ever to transport photo files) for the past few weeks in order to gather quilts from the U.S., Canada, and the African continent that celebrate the fabric, people, traditions and many, diverse cultures of Africa. If you’d like to reread Paula’s series on African fabrics click here and here (2 parts, after all).

I’ve assembled a Gallery guide so you can read more about the contributors and link to their websites/blogs.

Without further ado, we begin with a quilt that sets the scene for our exhibition. Kim L. Butterworth’s Out of Africa. For me, Kim’s quilt conjures up Precious Ramotswe’s memories of growing up in the cattle lands of Botswana in the wonderful series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

Click the Gallery tab above or Out of Africa to enter the exhibit. Karibu! (I hope that means welcome in Swahili–at least that’s what the online translator says.)


Fabric Adventures in Africa Part II + Exciting SHWS Gallery Opening Announcement

A rhino in Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park photographed by William Rounds. Indeed not fabric, but inspiration for the wonderful prints and colors you’ll see in this post.

As you’ll recall in my last post, Paula Benjaminson who lives Libreville, Gabon shared some of her fabric shopping experiences in the markets of West Africa. Today she’ll give us a perspective on the types of fabrics that are made in Africa. The post is yours Paula . . . uh-oh, forgot a couple of details . . . make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom for the name of the winner of Paula’s bundle of African prints and for the details of our special exhibit of African quilts in the See How We Sew Gallery opening this coming Friday.

Great Textiles

The African continent has a long history of producing high-quality, museum-worthy textiles.  If you spend just ten seconds looking up kente cloth, bogolanfini (mud cloth), or kuba cloth on Google Images, you’ll be dazzled by the beauty and variety of just these first three examples of African textiles, and there are many, many more.  As a quilter, though, you probably wouldn’t find yourself cutting up those prints for a Nine-Patch block. I mostly use West African wax prints, batiks, and hand-dyes in my quilts, all of which are well suited for quilting, although the colors and scale of the prints might be a bit of an adjustment.

Wax Prints

Wax prints came to the continent through the efforts of European colonizing nations to sell their machine-made imitations of Indonesian batiks in the African market.  Flaws in the process of copying the batik style, which made these fabrics unappealing in Indonesia, became must-have variations that were very popular in African countries.  Excessive cracking of the resist (resin in place of wax), and problems registering secondary colors in the printing process which led to slight overlapping of colors, are considered hallmarks of this fabric style. Despite printing advances which could easily eliminate these “problems,” popular demand requires that wax prints retain these quirky bits of personality.  Nowadays these fabrics are made in several countries, including cheaper copies made in China for the African market.  Some of my favorites are from Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.

One of the most fun things about these prints is that their scale is often so large that you hate to cut them up because the 11-inch tall giraffe, 10-inch tall women, or 15-inch tall Korhogo figures will be lost!


African batiks are made in basically the same way as Indonesian batiks, with a pattern laid on cloth with wax and then over dyed, but the African patterns used are quite different. Geometric designs are more common than florals or botanicals, and the wax is most often applied using stamps carved by the artist from gourds or wood as opposed to the intricate metal tjaps traditionally used in Indonesia.

Many of my favorite batiks are made in Ghana, a country with an incredibly rich textile tradition. The Adinkra symbols used in many of the Ghanaian batiks carry messages weighted with cultural history. The yellow symbol on the green background below is the symbol Nyame dua meaning the altar or the tree of God, representing God’s presence and protection. The green symbol on the ochre background below is the symbol Gye Nyame meaning “except God,” representing the omnipotence and immortality of God.


Hand Dyes

If you ask me, hand-dyed African fabrics are pretty much irresistible. You might already be familiar with traditional (and gorgeous) indigo fabrics, which are made from white cloth tied up with hundreds of tiny stitches to help resist the blue dye.

Other fabrics have been dyed using patterned brocade as a base. So, in addition to the design from the dye, there is also an underlying pattern from the weave visible when the cloth is turned to catch the light. This gives the fabric a depth that rewards closer look. In these two photos, you can see the pattern of the brocade under the dye: 

Sometimes these beautiful hand-dyed pieces are sold paired with coordinating solid brocades, ready to be used as a skirt or trim for a garment made with the more flamboyant partner.

I also find home decor fabrics here that I like—check out the photo of my favorites. A company called Woodin in Ivory Coast is the manufacturer. They make excellent bags as you can see!

Many of these bold, striking, and dynamic fabrics are routinely used in clothing, which leads to a big problem for me. I often see someone wearing a shirt or a dress that is made from a fabric that I love and it’s a struggle to resist hitting the brakes, pulling over, and begging these unsuspecting people to sell me their clothing! I should be required to put a sign on my car that says “Warning: fabriholic in vehicle—-your clothing is at risk!” I admit that I have serious fabric envy whenever I go out. I’m not looking for a ten-step program though—who wants to be cured?  It’s better to go shopping!


I’ll leave you with a couple photos of quilts made with African fabrics.  The first is a quilt my students and I made in Ouagadougou for a raffle, which features motifs fussy cut from a delicious pile of prints.

This second quilt, “Susuwe,” is mine. I combined many African fabrics with focus fabrics I printed using hand-carved wooden blocks from Namibia.  In many ways, this quilt is really a collaboration between me and my friends who carve these fantastic pieces of art. Paula B.

Giveaway Winner and Gallery Opening

The winner of the giveaway is Laurie Spear who has a special charitable connection to  a village in Zimbabwe. Congratulations Laurie! My blogging sister Christie is “sweetening the pot” by adding her Block Party pattern to Laurie’s prize. You’ll have to check my Friday post to see why I asked Christie for her contribution. Turns out that Block Party is a fantastic design for a scrappy African quilt.

Paula and I had so much fun collaborating on this series of posts on African fabric that we decided to celebrate with an exhibition of quilts made in Africa, sewn with African prints, or designed with African themes in the See How We Sew Gallery.

Join us on Friday! 

Friday Photo: A “Duckie” Preview from Darra’s New Quilt Book!

Rubber Duckies, 34 3/4″ x 43 1/4″; designed and made by Darra Williamson,; machine appliqued and quilted by Christine Porter.

Rubber Duckies is one of 11 original baby-quilt designs from my newest book, Cuddle Me Quick, co-authored with my friend, Christine Porter. It’s brand new, published on September 10, 2012 by Martingale & Company. I’ll be signing copies at Quilting in the Garden this weekend, and all 11 quilts will be on display. See you there!

PS: If you can’t make it to QintheG, you can see all the quilts on the Martingale & Company website.

Bead-Dazzled: Add Detail and Sparkle to Your Fiberwork (Giveaway!)

What do the following little quilts–part of my self-imposed 30-Minute-a-Day Creativity Challenge –have in common?

Sedona Nights, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
Three Sisters, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
Cupid’s Arrow, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson

If you guessed beads, take your seat at the head of the class!

As you can see, beads can play a starring role (the “prickles” on the cactus in Sedona Nights), add detail (the pear stems in Three Sisters), or even be used to tack down appliques or embellishment (the rickrack in Cupid’s Arrow). But that’s just the beginning.

I love to add beads to my projects, large and small, and over the years I’ve accumulated a number of books on the subject. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

I’ve known Mary Stori for ages. (She’s a member of that creative group, PTA–Professional Textile Artists–that I wrote about in a previous post.) She’s talented, funny, and adventurous, and her work and her enthusiastic teaching style reflect this. She has a wonderful way with beads, and felted wool is a current passion. Check out these wonderful examples.

Tracks, 5″ x 7″, by Mary Stori
Long Needle Pine, 9″ x 12″, by Mary Stori; note the tiny seed beads in the sprig and all around the little quilt’s edges.
Trade Winds, 7″ x 10″, by Mary Stori
Pussy Willows, 11″ x 19″, by Mary Stori
Small Trees, 14″ x 15″, by Mary Stori; again, note the beads on the edges.

Mary has written a number of books about beading and embellishment, and Beading Basics is one of my favorite go-tos when I need a tutorial or a shot of inspiration. Its 48 pages are packed with solid info, great how-to and photos, and loads of super ideas for incorporating beads into your work. I particularly love her clever techniques for fringed and other bead-bedecked finishings.

In addition to her books, Mary offers two other great resources to help you sharpen your skills and spark your creativity. Viewing her DVD, Mary Stori Teaches You Beading on Fabric, is like having her right there with you in your sewing room, walking you step by step through the beading process.

Her All-in-One Beading Buddy is a handy reference that you can tuck into your sewing basket, stash beside your favorite stitching spot, or slip into your purse for shopping and travel.

All three–the book, DVD, and Beading Buddy–are produced by C&T Publishing.

Another fiber and beading artist whose work I admire (OK, moon over!) is Larkin Jean Van Horn. As her website states: “Larkin wants her work to have as much interest for the fingertips as for the eye — hence the decision to work with fabric, fiber, beads, and found objects. She is also drawn to the alchemy and serendipity of dyeing and painting her own fabrics and yarns to create her ‘paintbox’ of materials.” Take a look at her work; I think you’ll agree, she nails it!

Calm in the Center, 12 1/2″ x 19″, by Larkin Van Horn; beading as applique
Night Light, 10 1/4″ x 10 1/4″, by Larkin Van Horn, another example of beading as applique
Prairie Winds, 6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″, by Larkin Van Horn, from her Small Treasures series
Falling-Flying, 5″ x 8 1/2″ x 5″, by Larkin Van Horn; note the beads securing the leaves

As I with do with Mary’s, I find myself reaching again and again for Larkin’s info- and inspiration-rich book, Beading on Fabric. The subtitle–Encyclopedia of Bead Stitch Techniques–gives you a good idea of what you’ll find inside. Published by Interweave Press, this 120-page hardcover has a covered spiral binding, so you can prop it open beside you as you stitch. I love that!

I hope you’ll take the time to visit both Mary’s and Larkin’s websites. Each features an extensive gallery of the artist’s work. You won’t be disappointed!

A relative newcomer on the “playing” field is the softcover version of Creative Quilting with Beads, by Valerie Van Arsdale Shrader, senior editor on the needlearts team at Lark Crafts.

Following a healthy chapter on beading basics, the book features over 20 projects designed by some of the most well-known names in the fiber/beading galaxy…including Larkin Jean Van Horn! (Her 29″ x 14″ quilted and beaded piece, Jewels of Our Past, appears–with instructions–on page 68.) Along with a variety of small quilts and quilted collages, projects include a doll, pillow, handbag, apron, bookcover, and more. There’s a juicy gallery, too.

Jewels of Our Past, 14″ x 29″, by Larkin Van Horn, as seen in Creative Quilting with Beads

Feeling inspired? Well, I’ve got just the thing: a copy of Creative Quilting with Beads to give away to one of our lucky readers. Leave a comment telling about a project you’ve made with beads, or–if you haven’t tried them yet–what you would like to make, or even a cool project you’ve seen. Post it by midnight (PDT) October 5, and I’ll announce the winner on October 16.

On the subject of giveaways: congratulations to mjkasz, winner of the EQPrintables Inkjet Fabric Sample Pack from my August 24 post. If you’ll email me at, I’ll get your prize, generously donated by EQ (Electric Quilt), on the way asap. (There were so many lovely, heartfelt comments, I’m glad I was making the selection via random drawing! Thank you all.)

Finally, we’re coming down the home stretch in our preparations for Quilting in the Garden at Alden Lane Nursery this weekend (September 22 – 23). If you’re “on the grounds,” please stop by and say hello!

That’s it for now. ‘Til next time, happy stitching.

September Block of the Month: The Last Block!

September is the ninth and last block! Not only is it an easy one, but you only have to make two of them. Next month we’ll have instructions to finish the quilt – the sashing, the cornerstones, and the border. I’m excited to finish my tops and get them to Elaine, my favorite quilter. Here’s the first sample of my September block, using Kathy Davis’ Happiness line:

Flowers and polka dots – two of my favorite things!

And here’s the September block using the citron/gray fabrics:

My sister Janice finally got going on her holiday quilt. Here’s her September block using the Fa-la-la-la-la line by French General for Moda:

It will be a very special holiday quilt.

Click here to download the instruction sheet for the September block (instruction sheets for all of the previous blocks can be found in our Pattern Library).

Don’t forget to visit us September 22-23 at Alden Lane for Quilting in the Garden.

Catch a Class with Christie at Quilting in the Garden!

As you know, we are all busy getting ready for our participation in Quilting in the Garden, the upcoming event at Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, CA, Sept. 22-23. In addition to the spectacular outdoor quilt show with featured artist Judy Mathieson, queen of Mariner’s Compass quilts, there will be several classes offered in the days leading up to the show. Our own Christie Batterman will be teaching her popular Retro Chic quilt on Thursday, Sept. 20th from 9-4 p.m. This pattern is from her Artichoke Collection Line.

Christie’s stunning Retro Chic pattern can be made in any color combination.

If you are in the area, I encourage you to join Christie for a fun-filled, one-day class in which you’ll begin your version of the delicious Retro Chic quilt. The quilt features a unique diagonal pattern made entirely from one four-piece block. Design alternatives are based on simple variations in fabric placement and block rotation. Students will learn how easy it is to sew simple curves and to achieve a look that appears much more complex than it really is!

Hope to see you at the show!

Rotary Cutting Without the Cheese, Please! Safety Tips and a Giveaway

With so many of us using rotary cutters for our quilting and sewing projects, I feel the need to take few minutes to share some  important basics for the use and care of these wonderful cutting tools. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a potentially hazardous situation arise due simply to a lack of basic safety knowledge.

The blade is correctly positioned on the cutter on the right.

Sometimes I think these tools have become so commonplace that they are purchased and used without proper instruction or thoughts about safety. I’m sure most, if not all of you, are using your cutters in a safe manner, but just in case you need a little refresher, please bear with me. Speaking as someone who has sliced off the tip of her finger (just a small slice, but a slice nonetheless), I hope you might find this little tutorial helpful.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

First off, please remember that the rotary cutter is a tool, and respect it as one. There are so many different brands available, and because they are often brightly colored, it’s best to keep them out of sight (and reach) of young ones who might see them as something fun to “play” with. Actually, I try to keep mine out of the way of any family members. Although my family knows not to touch my cutting tools, apparently not all families are as educated as others. A friend recently shared this story. After returning home from a weekend away, she opened the dishwasher to find her beloved rotary cutter tucked in among the utensils. Curious, she asked her teenage son how he had spent the weekend home alone. When he explained that he had invited a few friends in for pizza, her mouth dropped open, for she realized that the sharp blade of her cutting tool had been driven through a gooey mess of cheese, pepperoni, and whatever else was in its way. So, if for no other reason than to spare the blade this experience, I suggest you tuck it away in a safe place.

A simple potholder makes a cute case for storing a rotary cutter.

Play it Safe

On average of at least once a week, I find students forgetting to close the safety latch, leaving the cutter on the table with the sharp blade exposed. The blade should ONLY be exposed during the cutting process. Many of the newer cutters have retractable blades, while some of the older models require the flip of a latch to expose and/or hide the blade. Leaving a rotary cutter on a table with an exposed blade is a disaster waiting to happen. Please protect yourself and those around you by paying attention and playing it safe.

Pay Attention to Your Parts

The second thing I notice is that “parts” of the cutter are often out of order. Loose and wobbly blades are a good indication that all the little pieces have not been reassembled properly. I always suggest to my beginning students that when changing a blade for the first time (because it is either dull or nicked), it’s wise to lay out all the pieces in line in the exact same order in which they were removed. This makes reassembly so much easier!

Lay the parts out in order for easy assembly.

These two parts are most commonly assembled incorrectly. The washer/spacer on the left is placed as if it were a bowl, curved side UP. The nut, or whatever the technical term is for this piece, on the right is inserted with the deep side facing DOWN.

Pay close attention to these two parts as they are often attached incorrectly causing the blade to wobble.

Once you start cutting, be sure to keep your fingers away from the cutting edge of the ruler. Even the slightest extension can shave off a fingertip. . . the voice of experience! Don’t work if you’re tired or have inadequate lighting. As a rule, I never cut through more than four thickness of fabric–for reasons of both accuracy and safety. Change the blade as soon as it becomes dull or nicked, and always invest in new rulers when the edges become rough and ragged. (I’ll refrain from telling you horror stories of a woman who failed to listen to this advice.)

An accident waiting to happen. Keep those fingers far away from the cutting edge of your ruler.

Oh No, Why is My Fabric Shredding?

Here’s another funny occurrence, which–believe it or not–has happened more than once. A student complains that her fabric is “shredding” while cutting. Hmm, what could be the cause? I carefully take the cutter apart to reveal multiple blades. It’s not so surprising to see this, as many blades come packaged in multiples, and the blades can be greasy and difficult to separate. Take great care when sliding the blades apart so as not to cut yourself during the process.

Cutting with multiple blades causes shredded edges.

Wrap it Up

If you plan to dispose of an old blade, it is best either to place it back into the plastic container or wrap it in a piece of cardboard and then secure it with tape. I often write “old or dull” on the blade with a permanent pen before returning it to the container; I keep some of these old blades for other non-fabric projects, such as cutting paper.

Because you’ve been so patient in bearing with me on this subject, I thought I’d give one of you a chance to win the protective rotary-cutter cover shown above. Simply leave a comment sharing either a safety tip or story by end of day September 18, and I’ll select a winner to be announced with my October post.

Until next time, safe cutting and happy sewing everyone!