The Pause That Refreshes: Taking a Quilting Break in an Art Museum

Inspiration-J:  Detail of Jan Van Huysum painting Mauritshuis, The Hague
Detail from a Jan Van Huysum still life included in “Memory of the Netherlands” exhibit, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

As you may have surmised from my recent post series, I’ve been on a quilt-finishing kick lately. Do you know what’s better than finishing quilts? Giving them away, of course! I’m recently returned from a transcontinental quilt-delivery spree having surprised my high-school friend in Florida with that Kaffe Fassett hexagon quilt and celebrating my sister-in-law’s recent birthday with a scrappy jelly-roll quilt. (I’ve got styled shots of her quilt ready for my Friday post–stay tuned!)

What’s the reward for this frenzy of creativity? Ah . . . a refreshing trip to The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles where I had an encounter with my favorite still-life artist of a bygone age, Jan Van Huysum. As my “art” vernacular has grown over time, I find myself worshipping 17th-century Dutch artists. These are paintings I passed on for years as I delved into late 19th- and early 20th-century art when I was a tagalong to my mother’s museum visits. At that time,  she was experimenting in Impressionist and Expressionist styles in her oil paintings–she segued to clay sculpture after that. My college years were devoted to Renaissance art following studies abroad in Europe and studying/living in proximity to the extensive collection of Old World masters at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Inspiration-J: Partial view of Jan Van Huysum still life from National Gallery
Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, c. 1715, National Gallery, Washington, D.C. (partial view)

Although Vermeer’s been my passion for a long time, Jan Van Huysum’s incredible still life paintings are grabbing my attention now. It’s funny, I probably walked by a stellar Van Huysum in the National Gallery’s West Wing about a dozen times before I truly stopped and looked. Wow! While Vermeer opened my eyes to glowing natural light and capturing quiet moments, Van Huysum stuns me with his ability to capture the most perfect details in the play of light and shadow. His water droplets sparkle, his flowers are so alive they practically scent the air, his fruit beg tasting, and myriad tiny insects buzz, crawl, and flit in the artful, colorful, natural abundance.

Inspiration-J:  Detail of Jan Van Huysum painting Mauritshuis, The Hague
Detail from a Van Huysum still life included in “Memory of the Netherlands” exhibit, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

I’m having a light bulb moment as I write this post: I started adding little bugs to my dimensional applique still life quilts after I had my Jan Van Huysum revelation at the National Gallery. (Also, Diana McClun’s husband prompted me to add a spider to my first buggy quilt.) How weird is that connection? And here I thought I was so clever!

My little silver/pewter spider.
My little silver/pewter spider.

So, did my obsession with photographing floral arrangements start with Van Huysum or am I obsessed with his still life portraits because I’m a flower girl? Whatever! Like every other blossom-mad quilter, I’m just going to enjoy the journey without excessive self examination. (Although I will visit every Jan Van Huysum painting I can find in France this summer!)

I close with a flashback image from my first See How We Sew post–yes, Jennifer is indeed possessed by a flower mania . . .

My first still life photograph--not quite the scale of Jan Van Huysum, but I'll get there someday.
My first still life photograph–not quite the scale of Jan Van Huysum, but I’ll get there someday.

May your quilts and gardens bloom!


p.s. If you are near one of the museums on the national tour, do catch the Dutch masters exhibit featuring Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring.


A Shower of Flowers: Nancy Mahoney and Her Fabulous (Vintage and New) Floral-Themed Quilts

As soon as we decided on May Flowers as our theme for this month, I knew immediately what (and whom!) I would write about in today’s post.

The multi-talented Nancy Mahoney

Over the years, Nancy Mahoney and I have crossed “professional paths” many times. I’ve edited a number of her books for Martingale & Company; more than once, she has generously lent me vintage quilts from her extensive collection, including five beauties for my appearance on The Quilt Show (Episode 805).

Nancy, who lives in Palm Coast, FL, is a prolific quiltmaker, author (12 books and counting!), teacher, editor, and pattern designer. She also designs fabric and creates quilts for P&B Textiles, and has been collecting quilts for many years, with a particular interest in those from the 1930s, which she began acquiring well before they had achieved their current, highly collectible status.

As is typical of quilts from that period, many of Nancy’s vintage quilts showcase wonderful floral designs.

This floral-themed Dresden Daisy Chain dates from the 1930s. It’s from Nancy’s collection; she lent it to me for my appearance on The Quilt Show.

“Prior to the 1930s, floral designs were much more abstract,” Nancy explains, “but in the ’30s, these designs became more realistic; a rose looked like a rose. Favorite traditional patterns were rediscovered, while some patterns, such as Double Wedding Ring, appeared for the first time.” Syndicated patterns appeared in newspapers across the country, often attributed to fictitious designers with names like Laura Wheeler and Alice Brooks. Kits were popular as well.

This wonderful 1930s Pansy quilt–also from Nancy’s collection–was made from a kit. Similar kits were available from Needlecraft Magazine for $3.49 and included applique shapes stamped for cutting, and a top pre-marked for applique and quilting.
Detail of Nancy’s vintage Pansy quilt

I guess it’s not surprising that Nancy not only collects wonderful quilts with floral themes, but makes them, too! She draws her inspiration from a variety of sources. She loves to garden, and enjoys visiting gardens and nurseries, especially when she travels, to view the many varieties of flowers and to study their colors and textures. Of course, she is influenced by the floral quilts of the 1930s as well. The following four quilts are from her book, Applique Quilt Revival: Updated Patterns from the ’30s, which includes patterns and instructions for making them.

Tulip Patch, 78 3/4″ x 91 3/8″, designed by Nancy Mahoney, made by Loretta Sylvester, and machine quilted by Kelly Wise
Rose and Bow Wreath, 60 1/2″ x 60 1/2″, designed by Nancy Mahoney, made by Julie Sheckman, and machine quilted by Nan Moore
Peony Garden, 72 5/8″ x 84 5/8″, designed and made by Nancy Mahoney, machine quilted by Dawn Kelly
Flower Garden, 46 1/2″ x 55 3/4″, designed and made by Nancy Mahoney, machine quilted by Nan Moore

This next quilt is from Nancy’s classic book, Treasures from the ’30s. It’s one of eight wonderful designs–many of them flower themed–patterned in its pages.

Bell Flowers, 64″ x 64″, designed and made by Nancy Mahoney, machine quilted by Nan Moore

Here’s the cover of Treasures, so you can look for it at your favorite quilt shop.

The final three quilts appear in one of Nancy’s most recent books, aptly titled Fast, Fusible Flower Quilts.

Precious Peonies, 68 1/2″ x 68 1/2″, designed, pieced, and appliqued by Nancy Mahoney, machine quilted by Nan Moore
Daisy Vines, 43 1/2″ x 53 1/2″, designed and made by Nancy Mahoney
Orange Marmalade, 65 1/2″ x 82 1/2″, designed, pieced, and appliqued by Nancy Mahoney, machine quilted by Kelly Wise

Nancy’s longtime publisher, Martingale & Company, has generously provided a copy of Fast, Fusible Flower Quilts as a giveaway for one of our lucky readers. The book  includes patterns for “Precious Peonies,” “Daisy Vines,” “Orange Marmalade,” and eight more colorful, floral-themed pieced and appliqued quilts. Just leave us a comment telling us your favorite flower by midnight (PDT), Wednesday, May 16, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing for this book. I’ll announce the winner in my Friday, May 18 post.

Among her many quilt-related activities, Nancy enjoys traveling and teaching. Visit her website for details about her extensive listing of workshops and lectures, and for information on her current teaching schedule. If you plan to attend International Quilt Market in Kansas City, MO, later this month, look for Nancy at the Martingale booth on Friday, May 18, at 1:30 PM, where she’ll be signing copies of her brand-new book, Kaleidoscope Paper Piecing. (I told you she was prolific!)

Many thanks to Nancy for the photos of her vintage quilts, and to Martingale & Company for the use of the quilt images from Nancy’s books.

Finally, I’m happy to announce that the winner of the triple giveaway from my April 20 post is…Pip! Pip, please send me your snail-mail address via and I’ll get your package off to you with a Non-Stick Pressing Sheet from June Tailor, a package of five 9″ x 12″ sheets of Lite Steam-A-Seam 2 from The Warm Company, and a craft pack of Fast2Fuse from C&T Publishing.

That’s all for now. ‘Til next time, happy sewing!