Remember those hunks of random patchwork I mentioned last time?


I dug them out of the UFO pile and now I know what I’m going to do with them. Naturally it’ll be appliqué. Stay tuned!

But while I was looking for them I found another batch. Hmm…


Until next time,

By Kay Mackenzie

At the Pacific International Quilt Festival last fall, I was delighted to see that a fellow PVQA guild member had won a big whopping prize!


Best of World! It’s a big world, and I was so impressed!

You can click on the photo to get a larger view.

I asked Meri to tell us something about herself and her work.

Meri ~

I was born just outside New York City in 1945 to a family which, on my father’s side, has had literally generations upon generations of artists (I have never met a Henriques who wasn’t one sort of artist or another!). I received a BA in Fine Art from the University of California at Berkeley, which wasn’t terribly useful when it came to making a living! Fortunately, my husband does that for us, so I’ve been able to live the life of a housewife and non-starving artist.



In past years, I’ve worked on building costumes for the San Francisco Lamplighters under the guidance of the brilliant designer Melissa Wortman, and I’ve costumed shows for the now-extinct Bay Shore Lyric Opera Company in Capitola.

In 2006, I took my first trip to Guatemala on one of Priscilla Bianchi‘s wonderful Guatemalan tours, and fell in love with what I’ve come to think of as the ‘Rainbow Country’. My first Guatemalan quilt, ‘Las Mujeres Azules de Guatemala (the Blue Ladies of Guatemala)”, a result of that trip, was just published in Lark Books 500 Art Quilts.

Las Mujeres Azules de Guatemala by Meri Henriques Vahl

Las Mujeres Azules de Guatemala by Meri Henriques Vahl

I made a return trip with Priscilla in the fall of 2008, and the ‘Flower Market’ (the first quilt shown here) was the result. Here’s a description of my process. I began by putting the quilt back face-down on my worktable. Over this, I spread a layer of natural cotton batting, and then took out my scissors: I was ready to start creating…

The main central picture in the ‘Flower Market’ quilt is a fabric collage using recycled Guatemalan belts and huipiles (woven blouses), Guatemalan fabric, some cotton batiks, and a few flower prints that were cut into very small units. Because I couldn’t find all the flower prints I needed, for example chrysanthemums, I fused cotton fabrics onto Wonder Under and then cut them into narrow strips and ironed them down (just in case I sneezed or the cats got into them!). I also included short lengths of yarn in several places for flower stems, and layers of dark blue tulle (in the flower buckets, for example) to create shadows. Note: there are no seams in this area – it’s all raw edges.

For the faces, I took the photographs I was working from to Kinko’s and blew them up in black and white to the size I wanted, then traced the outlines onto tracing paper, which I then reversed, drawing the image onto freezer paper. Now I had a reversed image.

Next, I ironed fine off-white cotton onto the freezer paper and drew the faces with Aquarelle Caran d’Ache colored pencils using a very interesting layering technique that dates from Medieval times: I first drew the outlines in dark blue pencil, then shaded in the shadows; then came more pencil over-layers of tan, rose, brown, yellow, and black around the eyes. Once I had achieved the effects I was after, I used Sharpie permanent pens to add accents to the eyes, eyebrows, mouths, etc. I also used this same coloring procedure to draw the small baskets and any flowers and fruits I didn’t have store-bought fabric for.

Once my picture was complete, I carefully spread a single layer of black (yes, black!) tulle over the entire surface, added lots of pins to hold the pieces in place, and then spent hours and hours free-motion quilting over the whole thing, to ‘trap’ everything in place. The stitching (finally!) completed, I squared up the picture and then added the borders, using the usual traditional piecing techniques.

I have taught this fabric collage technique in the past, and will be teaching it again at the Monterey Peninsula Quilters Guild on July 11, 2010, and also doing a presentation the next day for the Guild (I believe non-members are welcome to take their classes and attend the lectures). It’s a thrill to see my students take off on their own exciting explorations with this marvelous liberating and fun technique! Since there is no piecing involved, anything goes — and wonderful landscape can be achieved in just a brief couple of hours!

And, I can’t wait to go back to Guatemala and find out what else happens!

Kay here ~ thank you so much Meri for talking us through how your create your stunning quilts. I’ll also look forward to seeing what your next trip inspires!

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

On Sunday night I had a date with four men.

My husband, my father-in-law, my father-in-law’s brother, my nephew, and me! It was a rare occasion that all of us would be in the same part of the U.S. at the same time, and it was a total blast.

I wanted to send the older menfolk home with little quilty tokens for their ladies, both of whom I am quite fond, so on Saturday I set out to make a couple of mini-quilts.


These are about 7″ x 9″. Conceived of, fused, stitched, quilted, signed, and bound, and all done by 4:00 p.m.

The men were crazy about them (it’s funny to see the light bulbs go off over relatives’ heads when they finally gain some small inkling of what it is that you do) and I hope the gals like them too.

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

whimsiesMary Lou Weidman is one of my most favorite admired quiltmakers and authors. Her Whimsies & Whynots: A Playful Approach to Quiltmaking has been on my bookshelf for years.

And so it was with great pleasure that I received a copy of Mary Lou’s latest book Out of the Box: Unleash Your Creativity Through Quilts from Martingale & Company as our featured appliqué book for this month.


Mary Lou’s quiltmaking style is one of riotous, colorful fun, personal meaning, and brave and fearless fabric choices. (It was through her that I first noticed and learned to appreciate the color “cheddar.”) This book is an inspiration to anyone who is willing to be inspired, and Mary Lou writes at length about the process of discovering your inner artist, inviting play and discovery, and listening to yourself instead of to your friends and/or critics.

Every day you have at your disposal the ability to think big, think colorful, think happy, think with large imaginative images, think clever, think expressive, think funny, think lofty, think about the past, think about the future, and think things that no one but you can think of. You have the ability to think ‘out of the box’ and to share your wonderful thoughts and your imagination with others in the form of art, in this case, quilts.

How different is that from the quilting rut of choosing colors and fabrics that “go” with our living rooms, of fretting over “perfect” precise blocks, of fearing the quilt police so that our childlike creative voices are stifled?

What is out of the box? “Push the lid open and jump out!” says Mary Lou, and she gives us a checklist of 24 sample items to test our position in relation to the box. After administering this self-test I discovered that I am not quite out LOL, but I can peep over the lid.

This book holds quite a bit of wisdom, more reading and thoughtiness that your average quilting book I’d say. It’s a process book rather than a product book. I really appreciate that approach. When I’m in my booth at quilt shows, I’m often asked, “How long did it take you to make that?” or, “How long would it take to learn to do that?” Wow, that’s a really product-oriented type of thinking. I want to reply, “Does it matter, if you’re enjoying yourself?”


Mary Lou emphasizes the need to think and daydream, and this struck a chord with me as well. Often, what happens to me during shows is that when I have some down time… slow periods on the show floor, or upon waking up too early in the morning… I seize a pen and paper and write down long list of thoughts that flood into my brain. The inspiration and energy that comes from being at a quilt show turns on a tap for me and I love it when the daydreaming flow of creativity starts. Mary Lou says we need to set aside time for this every day to doodle, think, and imagine.
(Yes, you really can find a half an hour each day.)


There’s a list of creativity stoppers to watch out for (like, ‘there is only one right answer’), pages and pages of inspiration exercises and sources found in our everyday lives, how the author shops for fabric, a section on words in quilts, and lots of information on color. How about being shown the eight styles of fabric! This was an eye-opener for me and something I especially enjoyed.

Then there’s an extensive gallery of the author’s quilts and short-story quilts made by her friends and students. Martingale has done their usual fantastic job on the photography… kudos Brent Kane!!! The quilts burst from the pages. Mary Lou finishes up the book by talking about the making of short-story quilts and how you can derive them from your own life. She shares “secrets” of scale, theme, focus, design elements, drawing, creating patterns, and also shares her own methods of appliqué. Borders, quilting, finishing, and embellishing (‘the icing on the cake’) are also included.

Out of the Box is quite a pep talk and an energizing boost! If you’d like to win a copy, leave a comment before 7:00 p.m. California time on Tuesday, April 6, 2010. (U.S. and Canada only.) Tell us why you need this book in your quiltmaking life!

The winner will also receive a copy of my book Easy Appliqué Blocks: 50 Designs in 5 Sizes. Thank you Martingale!

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

Writer Dawn Goldsmith invited me to do a guest post on her blog, Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles.

sm-needlesOf course I wanted to do that! What a great name, and an admirable spirit! I’m not all that subversive actually, but I am totally armed with needles. I wrote a post about the three main sharp implements in my life, showing a few examples of what I’ve done with them.

Be sure to check out Subversive Stitchers, a blog about the abounding creativity of women who wield all sorts of needles.

Thank you, Dawn, one writer to another. What a treat for me.

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

I asked Dana which quilt should be my quilter’s choice for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival put on by Amy of Park City Girl. Immediately he said, “Shopping Bags.”

Shopping Bags by Kay Mackenzie

Shopping Bags by Kay Mackenzie

The bag popped into my head a number of years ago whilst tromping the aisles at Pacific International Quilt Festival. It must have been the heavenly combination of quilts, fabric, and shopping!

It took awhile for the concept to get from my head to a design. Yes, kids, each bag has set-in seams in two places. That did not deter me. I used freezer-paper templates and sewed carefully, and they came together just fine.

Shopping Bags detail

Shopping Bags detail

It was gobs of fun rummaging through my stash for fabrics to make the fronts, sides, and backs. For the sides, I chose fabrics where I could use both the back and the front, to add to the illusion of a folding pleat.

After the bags were all sewn together (by machine), I turned over a quarter of an inch all around the edges and pressed. I chose a swirly background fabric and made my best stab at an artistic arrangement. In fact this may have been my very first quilt to come even close to being an “art quilt.” I just wanted them to hang there in space and overlap and float in and out from each other.

Once the bags were arranged, I basted them down and stitched the turned edges like appliqué, changing threads to match or blend with each fabric.

I went to the craft store to get something for the handles. I made my choice and as I was standing in line I saw the manager. Susan!” I yelled. “Whaddya call this stuff?” “That’s rat-tail cord,” she replied. Who knew. I couched the cord into place using one of those curve-bar thingies for placement.

Get this… I totally forgot to leave enough background fabric at the top for the handles. I quickly figured out that the topmost handles were going to stick up off the quilt. A happy accident… I get comments on how creative and clever this is.

Along with a different version of the quilt, the Shopping Bag block pattern was published the Fall 2005 issue of American Quilter magazine.

Hope you like Dana’s choice! Visit Park City Girl every day through October 16 and get a ringside seat for other bloggers’ quilt picks.

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

And here’s my quilt of the same name.

Tis the Season by Kay Mackenzie

I made this little 18 x 18 wall quilt last year, just putting together some motifs from A Merry Little Christmas to Appliqué and filling in the white space with some cute red and green buttons. I used different prints and widths for side and top and bottom borders, something I’ve become fond of doing. The Christmas cracker is tied with embroidery thread. This one’s machine appliquéd and machine quilted.

If you’d like to see more Christmassy quilts, click on the ‘Holiday’ category in the left sidebar and that’ll bring up the ones I posted last year.

A very happy holiday time to you all! See you next year.

By Kay Mackenzie

The past few years, I’ve really been trying to avoid that horrible credit card bill that comes in January. So I’ve been putting my thinking cap on to figure out ways to make gifts instead of buying them. After all, I’m a creative, crafty person, right? Last year I unearthed some small stained-glass quilts that I’d made umpteen years ago, added some more quilting to them, wrapped them up, and sent them to all the relatives. This year I hit upon the idea of making some quilty note cards.

I had fused fabric to paper once before, when we moved to California and I decorated moving announcements that way. And, although I haven’t read it, I knew that Elly Sienkiewicz had done a whole book about it called Appliqué Paper Greetings. Elly Sienkiewicz Applique Paper Greetings: A Quilt Approach to Scrapbooking

blanks.gifA quick Google search found me, and I immediately knew what I wanted. A flecked line of blank note cards came in coffee, cream, and sugar LOL! I ordered the sugar.

A rummage through my stash turned up a set of pieced borders that had never made it onto a quilt. There were my fabrics, all color-coordinated! I drew some very simple appliqué motifs that would fit on the cards and printed them out in reverse for fusible appliqué.

I wasn’t sure whether I needed to use regular-weight or heavy-duty fusible for this, so I started with the regular. Worked fine. My favorite is Soft Fuse; your mileage may vary.

For fusing on paper, I didn’t bother with cutting out the interior of each motif (although that does make it easier to get the paper backing off) and I didn’t worry about precise placement either. I just eyeballed it, and used a dry iron throughout.

cards.gifHow simple, yet cute. A creative, crafty, handmade gift.

back.gifI even signed the back of each card. The relatives like that.

package.gifI slipped four with matching envelopes into some flat cellophane bags that I had had kicking around forever, and voila! Ready to put in with the holiday card, shipping cost an extra Nutcracker stamp.

When we were kids we used to ask my Scottish grandmother, “Grandma, what do you want for Christmas?” Or, “What do you want for your birthday?” She just would shrug and reply in her thick brogue, “I don’t need all that I’ve got.” Really, most of the people on my gift list have all that they need and want, for that matter. I think they really appreciate receiving something original and unique, even if it’s just a little something.

Now admittedly this isn’t going to fly for the teenaged nephews, but I think it’ll work for just about everybody else on my list. What’s your creative, crafty solution?

Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie

Before Elly’s lecture began (see the November 6 post), I was looking around the shop when I heard my name called. I turned around and, happy day! it was the podcaster extraordinaire Annie Smith, whom I hardly ever get to see due to her incredibly active traveling, teaching, and speaking schedule.

Annie was teaching a class next door to our lecture and had just a minute before her class was going to start. “Did you see my coat at PIQF?” she asked me with excitement. I had to confess that although I had admired the garments, I missed entirely the fact that one of them was hers and also that the special exhibit “Off the Bed — On the Back” had been curated by one of my own guild members, Rachel Clark.

Annie sent me pictures of the coat and the accompanying quilt, along with the story of how they were made (which reads a little like The Perils of Pauline). Here’s the sometimes harrowing account:

“Rachel asked me to be a part of the exhibit when she saw my West of Baltimore quilt.

Each of the pieces in the exhibit was to be a specific technique of quilt making, (i.e.: log cabin, paper piecing, Hawaiian quilting, Baltimore appliqué — which was mine).


My quilter, Melodee Wade, quilted each of the coat pieces first, then the appliqué was designed and stitched to the coat. The hard part was that I was working like crazy to get the coat finished and Rachel asked me what the name of my quilt was.


Oh yeah, I remember now… after a conversation LAST October…. little quilts, the quilt design is put on the coat… yeah, right. So I stopped working on the coat design — I was having quilter’s block anyway after being seized with ultimate stress of doing a quilt too — and began the quilt. The vase in the center of the quilt is on the back of the coat, and then I wanted to do some simple vines for the border. Or at least, what I thought was simple. I have to remember that the quilt will always tell you what it wants, and the quilt just grew on my design wall. I knew when to stop and that it was perfect — when I added all of the little yellow dots as detail.

My friend Aneda Phillips, who made the West of Baltimore pattern cover quilt, stitched all of the appliqué while I went back to finishing the coat. When she returned the pieces of the quilt so I could assemble it, I mis-cut the center [Ed. note: GASP] and had to make another one from scratch and do all of the stitching on it, as Aneda was finishing up her quilts for her Market booth.


Then back to the coat. It had to be done in panels, appliqué then sew the seams together, then connect the design. The hardest part was the two flowers that are on the side seams of the coat. At that point, the coat was wearing me while I stitched them down! I do fusible, fine machine appliqué where I use a tiny blanket stitch and match all of the threads to the appliqué fabrics. There is some hand embroidery on the quilt and coat. I even made covered buttons with little appliqué flowers on them.

The name of the quilt is “Midnight in the Garden” and the coat is “A Rose Tree in a Baltimore Garden”. A Rose Tree is a traditional Baltimore appliqué pattern which I used for the shawl collar of the coat.


The appliqué fabrics and coat lining were generously donated by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. I used Peggy Toole’s “Florentine II” fabric as the lining and focus fabric for all of the appliqué. You can a little bit of the gorgeous lining fabric in the front collar picture. The fabric is amazing.

All in all, I worked on the quilt and coat for three weeks, 12 to 18 hours a day to get it done in time for PIQF. And then, I didn’t even get to attend the show, as I was teaching in Canada!

Melodee is an incredible quilter. I just gave her the pieces and let her do her thing. She did some neat swirled feathers in places that aren’t covered by appliqué — and that’s the thing, she had no idea where the appliqué was going. She just quilted as if they were separate whole cloth quilts. I was amazed when I sewed the panels together — the quilting from one dovetailed into the other and in some places it’s hard to see the seam line. I know that it was totally random, but I love when magic happens like that.

I use Melodee exclusively to do the quilting for me. She always enhances everything I do, making my pieces better. Mel does it all free-motion on a non-computerized Gammill.”

Kay here… I’ll add that in addition to her quilting talents, Melodee is one of the nicest, most gracious people you could ever hope to meet. Her contact is if you’re interested in contacting her for your longarm quilting needs.

On her latest podcast,(11/10/08), Annie tells more about the creation of the coat and jacket, describing how they grew on her design wall and what a wonderful experience it was for her to let go and let that happen. Go give a listen, and you’ll also hear a hilarious story of how dedicated a quilter can be when it comes to acquiring an industrial Bernina for $100.

Until next time,
Quilt Puppy Publications & Designs

While I was at Quilt Market in Portland, I saw the display by Ackfeld Manufacturing of bunches of darling wire hangers, and it got my mind spinning with ideas. I ordered some of the little hangers and as soon as I got home I set out making some little quilts. I love small things so this was a barrel of fun for me, and it also have me a chance to show off the motifs from my new book Home: A Heartfelt Nap Quilt and how you can use them different ways.


These are all machine appliquéd with a blanket stitch, and I just used scraps left over from making the original Home quilt. I didn’t really plan anything out in advance, just chose the motifs and played around until I thought, ‘hey, that looks good,’ then fused them down. It’s great working this way in between fussier projects!

Until next time,
Quilt Puppy Publications & Designs

Yesterday I took a workshop with Julie Hirota, an amazing appliqué artist and author of Art Glass Quilts. The last time she came to our guild, she taught her art glass, or “subtractive appliqué” technique.

Now Julie’s in a mosaic phase, and today we learned how to go about creating these gorgeous art quilts. Here are some highlights from the day.





We all made up our own designs. Here’s my improvisational mosaic flower.

Janet was sitting next to me. Here’s her project in progress.

And here’s Janet herself. She shared fabric with me. What a good workshop neighbor.

Julie Hirota, with her beautiful Queen of Hearts mosaic quilt.

Julie’s website is If you’re in the mood for some eye candy, be sure to visit. Her work doesn’t look quite like anybody else’s, and it’s stunning.

Julie’s also into handbags lately (you can see some of them peeking out from behind her on the table.) They’re available at Julie’s Etsy shop.

Thanks Julie! I had a great time!

Until next time,
Quilt Puppy Publications & Designs


Filed Under Hand appliqué, Improvisational appliqué, Machine appliqué | Comments Off on Positioning

What are some ways of positioning appliqué motifs on the background fabric?

• Freestyle

This is where you don’t worry about matching the pattern too exactly, and just place your pieces where you like. Maybe you’re not even using a pattern, just creating a design as you go!

• Eyeballing

Referring to the pattern, place your motifs on the background so that they look enough like the original for government work. Again, this is an admirable, freeing mentailty, and probably gives the blocks that attractive vintage look.

• Creasing the background

If an appliqué design is set on the diagonal, you can fold and crease the background to provide reference lines for positioning the motifs.

• Tracing paper overlay

Now we’re getting to my territory (I have the curse of the precise. It’s not that much fun.) You can trace the pattern onto tracing paper to create a placement guide. Use vertical and horizontal centering lines to line up the guide with the background square.

• Vinyl overlay

The Piece O’ Cake gals advocate using upholstery vinyl to make a placement guide. They’ve even started offering their own Quilter’s Vinyl by the yard, and there are instructions on how to use it, on their website.

• Light box

This is good for tracing the placement guides, of course, but is also an direct and ingenious way of placing motifs for machine appliqué. Once you’ve gotten all of your pieces fused and cut out, put your pattern on the light box, put the background fabric over it (lined up with centering marks) and place all of the pieces for the block at once. Carefully transfer to the ironing board for fusing.

For dark backgrounds, you’ll need to use one of the overlay methods.

Okay quilters, what other ways are there to position your appliqué? There’s something about a lightweight interfacing overlay… help me out. I’ve heard of it but don’t know too much about it.

Until next time,

A couple of months ago, I set out to make an appliqué project where I would challenge myself in two ways. I would use no pattern, and I would finish no edges.

Both of these precepts were new territory for me. Ever the one to follow the pattern was I, in the last few years particularly so that the samples I made would represent the patterns I created. And, I’ve always been a “neat and pretty” girl, turning the edges when working by hand, or finishing the edges with a buttonhole stitch for machine appliqué. Now I wanted to shake off those constraints and make an improvisational piece.

I selected a stack of fabrics and ironed paper-backed fusible web to chunks of them in advance. (If you’re wondering, I’ve found that regular Wonder Under works the best for me.) I got a piece of black fabric to use for the base. I put this on my table and stood over it, scissor-cutting freeform flowers, stems, and leaves.

The process went on for several days. I had to guard the work-in-progress from cats and dog wanting to walk over it. Every day I worked a little more at it, cutting more shapes and arranging and rearranging them. (I wish I had taken pictures as things progressed… next time I will.)

At last the shapes were packed as densely as I wanted and everything was in place. I removed the paper backing from all of the shapes and fused the entire project.

Now, since the second part of my personal challenge was to finish no edges, I was ready to skip straight to the layering and quilting stage! I had read about how quilters “finish” the edges of their motifs during the quilting process by quilting close to the edge, and I had seen this many times in quilt shows, but I had always considered myself allergic to the idea. This was my chance to try it for myself.

Here is the result of my personal twofold challenge: Free Flowers.

When I showed this to my quilting friends they could hardly believe that it came from me, so different it was from my usual style. I’m so happy with the result of my challenge to myself!

Here are a few things I learned along the way.

    As Laura Wasilowski advises, use fabrics for fusing where the color goes all the way through. Avoid fabrics with whitish or sketchy-looking backs.
    Use densely woven fabrics. Avoid fabrics that are woven from heavy/ravelly threads.
    Be prepared to relax a little bit about raveling around the edges. Since I chose a few fabrics that were contrary to the above recommendations, I spent awhile giving my quilt a shave and a haircut with a sharp little pair of scissors. If you know how to preclude raveling altogether, please let us all know.
    Black backgrounds, especially batik, attract cat hair with a strong magnetic force.
    I would try this again, and choose my fabrics better. I really am a little allergic to fraying edges.

I highly recommend setting a personal challenge for yourself!

Until next time,

One more quilt from “the article” (see previous two posts). This one had its own sidebar!

I made this quilted sign to hang in my sewing room, thereby elevating its status to a “studio.” If you make a sign for your sewing room it can be a studio too!

To form the letters, I made bias tape with my trusty green gadget, the original Clover® ¼” bias tape maker.

Then I used the fusible strip that comes on a roll, except I cut it in half lengthwise to make a very thin strip applied to the center of the bias tape only. That keeps things more flexible.

A fat eighth of fabric formed the backdrop as I played with the arrangement of the letters, sticking pins straight down into them to hold them until I was happy with how they looked. Then I fused them in place. I put tearaway stabilizer behind, and topstitched the letters on both sides. After removing the stabilizer, I added the strippy borders and machine-quilted the sign. Then I got into my button box and tied buttons through the quilt over all of the raw edges of the letters, and now it looks like a quirky typeface!

Bias tape letters are informal, folksy, and fun. Save this technique for a project where the letters are meant to be tall and skinny, because the wider the strips the less flexible they are.

Until next time,