Pendleton Woolen Mill, OR

In May, when I took a road trip to Northeastern Oregon, I went on a tour of the Pendleton Woolen Mill. I’ve always admired the Pendleton products and was interested to go there to see how it’s all done. Check out this video to see the process.

The mill was founded in 1863, over 150 years ago. I was impressed by the scale and the rate of production from what is now a highly mechanized mill. The woolen fleeces are dyed, carded, roved, spun and wound onto bobbins. White yarn is also dyed into over 500 different colors. All of this takes place, before you even get into the weaving of the blankets in beautiful intricate patterns, many of which are inspired by Navajo and other Native American patterns. These designs really appeal to quilters like me and are inspriing!

The machines are huge, make a lot of noise and are incredibly fast.4.25 million pounds of raw wool is processed every year. The looms are computer programmed and automated to make these complex designs, but set up requires skilled labor and all the blankets and rugs are manually checked for flaws.

After touring the mill, I perused the “seconds” room where wonderful bargains may be found. I succumbed and bought a beautiful blue blanket which was half-price, like the ones in the stack in the photo. The only thing wrong with it was that it was made 4″ too short.



Lyndon B. Johnson Quilt

During my teaching trip to Texas last month, one of my kind hosts took me to LBJ’s Ranch also known as the Texas White House. We enjoyed a walk in the grounds and a tour of the house. This quilt was hanging in one of the education rooms.

It looks a little tired and dated, but is of interest because the blocks reflect important events at the time that it was made. For “Operation Stitch Quilt Project” as it was called, the blocks were made and donated by staff and volunteers associated with the Lyndon B. Johnson State and National Parks, and the Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. Each donor was asked to produce a block that depicts something of importance to them regarding the Texas Hill Country and/or the President who made this park a reality, the former President Lyndon B. Johnson. The quilt display at the park was presented for public viewing in March 1994. Here are some detailed shots of the blocks.

There was a book accompanying the quilt, naming all the makers of the blocks and the hand quilters. I recognized some of the fabrics as old friends from my early days of quilting.



Patterns in Architecture, Durham Cathedral, UK

I am always awed by a visit to Durham Cathedral which is a World Heritage Site and is filled with majesty and beauty. I was there last month when I stayed in Durham for three days.

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Check out the scale and proportions of the building; the height, length, the size of the arches, the way the circular inlay on the floor mimics the large circular stained glass windows above the altar. This is brilliance in design and we should pay attention. Scale and proportions are both so important in designing quilts and adding borders.The mosaic tile floors and ornamentation around the pulpit of geometric shapes includes our beloved Flying Geese, stars, diamonds and more.

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Repeated elements, e.g. triangles, made in a variety of sizes will make your quilt much more interesting than simply using triangles that are all the same size. Adding appropriately sized borders will greatly enhance your quilt top. I recommend auditioning different widths, (as well as a variety of fabric options and considering pieced borders), to help you in the decision making process.

Rock patterns, Isle of Staffa, Scotland

In August, I spent two weeks in the UK visiting family and friends and some amazing places. My sister took me on holiday to Scotland and we went to the magical sacred island of Iona on the west coast of the highlands. While we were there, we took a boat trip to the Isle of Staffa, an uninhabited hunk of rock which is the Scottish end of the Irish Giant’s Causeway.

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The pictures shows the spectacular basalt columns and down below is Fingal’s Cave, the very same that inspired Mendelssohn when he wrote his Hebrides Overture in 1830. The photo below is taken inside Fingal’s Cave and there is a detailed shot of the rocks, showing a cross-section of the basalt columns.

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60 million years ago, Scotland and North America were torn apart by continental drift of the tectonic plates. Molten lava erupted through the cracks and cooled to form the basalt columns. As it hardened, it shrank and fractured into regular columns. The rate of cooling varied, so some of the columns are perfect hexagons, but most are hexagons with irregular sides and some are pentagons. I’m telling you all of this, because as a quilter (and a fan of geomorphology), I am fascinated by how all the pieces fit together and am inspired by these patterns presented to us in nature. I usually can’t pinpoint exactly the source of my quilting inspiration, but know that experiencing amazing places like this makes a significant contribution.

Quilt Barn Art

In May, I spent a day exploring Shipshewana in the heart of Amish country in Indiana. See previous blogs for Lolly’s Fabric Store and Little Helpers Quilt Shop. The Amish are quilting masters and an expansion of this craft is to paint quilt blocks on large wooden panels which are displayed on the outsides of buildings. They are beautiful. Some are quite large and colorful such as these on the outside of the building that houses the Yoder Department Store and other shops. Usually the patterns painted are those of traditional pieced quilt blocks.

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You can purchase these Barn Quilts, as they are called, at the Little Helpers Quilt Shop, 1,030N 1,000W, on the outskirts of Shipshewana. The ones shown above are about two feet square and there is a nice assortment of patterns available. The pictures below are of the outside of the Little Helpers Quilt Shop. It was rather a grey day, but these barn quilts still look very attractive and add color to the outside of the building. Several other states boast barn quilts. Perhaps there are some near you?

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Chicago Botanical Gardens

In May, I visited IL and taught at the Village Quilters Guild in Lake Bluff/Lake Forest. After my workshop, one of my students took me to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. What a fabulous place on a par with other world class gardens I have visited, such as Kew in London and Kirstenbosch in Cape Town. I never quite know where my inspiration comes from for quilting, but I love flowers and it seems that in gardens and nature, the colors never clash. I think that my observations of many color combinations in these places has made me more adventurous in my choice of fabrics. It’s not only the colors, there are so many differing textures and shapes. Look at these magnificent jewel towers.


As you can see, it was a beautiful clear sunny day. The late afternoon light made the colors brilliant as well creating gorgeous shadows. Look at all the shades of green from the fresh chartreuse of the leaves on the tree, to the darker evergreen and the dusty green of jewel tower leaves. The brick wall provides a nice backdrop.

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The formal Japanese gardens were immaculately manicured and the trees and shrubs were scaled to ideal proportions so that all the components fit together in perfect harmony. Then there was this lovely meadow of red and yellow poppies and all shades in between with a few white ones thrown in too. If you are in Chicago and have time to venture north a little way, I can highly recommend these gardens. We only saw about half of them in an hour and a half. You could easily spend all day there.

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Colorful Rugs in Oaxaca

Continuing the theme of vibrant colors in Mexico, here are some examples of the many beautiful woven rugs. The colors are often rich and heavily saturated. The Zapotec people use natural dyes including plants, minerals and insects. Inspiration comes from their colorful surroundings of lush vegetation, exotic flowering plants, birds, majestic mountains and local folk-law. Like pieced quilts, geometric shapes are repeated to produce wonderful patterns. The scenes with popular themes such as the tree of life filled with birds remind me of applique. In all forms of art, the color wheel works!

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Cruising in Alaska – Garden Tours

Many quilters are gardeners. If they aren’t gardeners, they usually have a deep appreciation for botanical geometry and patterns in nature. The color combinations used in formal gardens are often inspiring to quilters and we become aware of the many shades of green and the way that natural colors don’t appear to clash. Many quilters have qualms about choosing colors and values for their quilts. These gardens demonstrate that we can actually get away with putting all kinds of colors together. We just need to move away from the notion of whether or not we would wear these colors together or use them to paint the walls of our houses.

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Our final cruise stop was Victoria, B.C., where I took a trip out to the world famous Butchart Gardens. As you can see, the density of color was intense and the carefully planned areas of the gardens could support this. It looked dazzling.

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The star-shaped pond was stunning outlined by the green and the mass of pink begonias. An added element with water features are the beautiful reflections. Here is spectacular sunken garden made in an old quarry, with the fountain at the far end.

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In Skagway, I had a delicious lunch, including fresh local produce, at the Jewell Gardens. This is a gem of a place about a mile and a half from downtown Skagway. The vegetation is lush and they grow giant vegetables and rhubarb. The growing season is short but the hours of daylight are long. We had a delightful tour enjoying not only the gardens, but their glorious setting with the backdrop of mountains.

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There were some glass sculptures tastfully lurking among the flowers and some nice creative touches like this blue barrow of nasturtiums.

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Next time you visit some gardens, take note of all the colors and the light and dark shading. As our experience increases, so our quilts become more sophisticated.

Cruising in Alaska – stunning scenery

I can’t resist sharing some scenery pictures with you. This was such an awesome cruise. The Golden Princess cruise ship sailed from San Francisco on the 10th August and we arrived in Juneau, after two days of quilting at sea. I opted to go on a whale watching outing and it was fantastic. Apparently Juneau had torrential rain for the three days before we arrived, but we were blessed with a glorious day of sunshine. The boat trip was absolutely beautiful and then there the whales! We had several sightings of hump-backs including a couple of times when five all surfaced with their noses together for bubble-net feeding. These creatures are magnificent.

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The next morning we docked in Skagway and had another day of sunshine. I took a train trip into the mountains, over White Pass to Douglas, BC. The building of this track to cater to gold rush miners was quite a feat. There were precipitous drops and wooden trellises supporting the track that looked precarious. The train clung to the steep valley side as we climbed and climbed and had stunning views all the way.

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We came back by bus along the scenic Klondike Highway, stopping in a couple of places to take pictures of the incredible countryside and the Alaskan boundary.

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In Skagway, we had lunch at the Jewell Gardens and went to the quilt shop, (see upcoming blogs), and still had another three hours before sailing. I took a hike up the mountain side from downtown Skagway affording a good view of the Skagway inlet and on up to Lower Dewey Lake which was breathtaking.

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Our next cruising destination was Glacier Bay National Park. I was up at 5:00 a.m. to see the sunrise as we sailed into this world-class wilderness of majestic beauty. We spent most of the day there and once again, the sun shone giving us crystal clear views of the dramatic mountains and glaciers. To give you some idea of scale, the glacier face in the picture was 250 feet tall.

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From here we sailed to Ketchikan where the weather was cloudy with mist coming and going, but it was mostly dry. I enjoyed walking downtown and up Creek Street. The creek was seething with salmon moving upstream to spawn. My photos of salmon in the water leave much to be desired, so here’s a fine salmon mosaic sculpture as a substitute.

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Scenic Texas in November

On my recent teaching trip to the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Guild and the Midland Quilt Guild, I had the opportunity to explore in both areas. As luck would have it, my time with the first guild coincided with the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and I was able to go on two birding field trips. This part of Texas is practically in Mexico and is an amazing place for birding. Several of the native species cannot be found anywhere else in the USA. I went to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary where there was a beautiful old plantation home and the largest remaining area of sabal palm forest in Texas.

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I also visited Estero Llano State Park, Weslaco (pictured above), and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Mission. My camera can’t do justice to the beautiful birds but I couldn’t resist sharing a couple of shots. The Green Jays are so vibrant in color and the Common Pauraque so extraordinary in its camouflage.

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The second part of my trip was teaching in Midland then a 250 mile drive south to Big Bend National Park. This is a very remote and magnificent place including three distinct habitats – the mountainous Chisos Basin, the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rio Grande River. On the southwest side of the park is the spectacular Santa Elena Canyon with 1,500 ft high cliffs through which the Rio Grande river flows. On the southeast side there are spectacular views of El Pico and the Sierra del Carmen mountain range which turns pink at sunset. Both have camp grounds near the river that are great places for birding.

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I spent two nights in the Chisos Basin in a little cottage with stone flags on the floor. My hike up the Lost Mine Trail now ranks in my top 10 all time hikes. The views were absolutely breathtaking and I loved it.

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