Quilt Garden, Asheville Arboretum, NC

I was recently teaching at the North Carolina Quilting Symposium in Asheville. My quilting host took me to the Arboretum where there is this wonderful quilt garden. The blocks contain a variety of plants of different colors to display the patterns and the concrete sashing helps to accentuate the overall design.

The Arboretum’s Quilt Garden represents traditional quilt block patterns common to the Southern Appalachian region, in this case the maple leaf. The carpet plantings in masses of harmonious or contrasting colored foliage and flowers last for one season. The garden is replanted each season with a block pattern that changes every two years. Plants appropriate to the growing season are selected and grown for spring, summer and fall. In winter, the quilt garden may be filled with hardy plants or covered in contrasting colored mulch or stone. The garden is best viewed from an elevated spot as in the photo above. Here are two more pictures taken from the ground level. On the left you can see the viewing area with fence at the back. This is a great place to visit if you are in the area.

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.

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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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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Scenic Colorado in the Fall

One of the joys of traveling to teach is seeing new places. Mid-October was a wonderful time to visit Colorado and I can’t resist sharing some scenic snapshots with you. Between lecturing, teaching workshops and visiting local quilt stores, my generous guild hosts took me to beautiful places.

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Adele from the Columbine Quilt Guild, and her two hiking buddies took me to Castlewood Canyon State Park, south of Denver not far from Castle Rock. As you can see, the fall colors where spectacular. We did a four mile hike up the canyon, past the ruins of the old dam and back along the canyon rim. It was a perfect temperature for walking.

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Adele also drove me along the Peaks to Peaks Highway. This chapel is a popular wedding venue and has a gorgeous view of the mountains. We walked around Lily Lake and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

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Most of the aspens had already dropped their leaves, but there were some in sheltered spots that were still brilliant golden. These two shots are in the Rocky Mountain National Park where had a picnic and saw a large herd of elk in the meadows. There was a huge buck with a harem of 35!

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Angie, from the Arapahoe County Quilters took me to the Red Rocks Amphitheater. The red rocks form a craggy outcrop and nestled between two huge sections is the amphitheater up at 6,500 ft. This is a popular venue for concerts and during the summer, there are rock bands scheduled about every three days. Even the Beatles appeared here in the 60s! At the entrance to the museum area, behind the information counter, hangs this amazing quilt depicting the rock formations. The quilt is entitled, Walk the Rocks, and was made by Judith Trager for the Public Art Program in 2003, City and County of Denver. We marveled at its beauty and the workmanship.


Traveling in Mongolia

I have recently returned from a three week trip to Mongolia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Mongolian Quilting Center. We spent a week traveling in remote Eastern Mongolia before assisting with preparations and hosting the second International Mongolian Quilt Show in Ulaanbaatar. More on the show in later blogs. Now I’ll share some photo highlights from our travels in the area around the birth place of Chinggis Khaan. I traveled with Vicki Schmall and John and Nancy Watts, all from Portland, OR. Selenge Tserendash was our guide and we had a Mongolian driver.

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We spent our first night in the ger (Mongolian yurt) at a nature reserve where we saw wild sheep and very rare White-naped Cranes. For much of our journey we enjoyed beautiful carpets of wild flowers and an abundance of butterflies. This year there was an unusually high rainfall and the flowers were exceptional. The increased moisture also made our travels challenging and we got stuck in the mud twice. On several occasions we had to get out of the van and wade through boggy areas on foot.

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Here’s our van after we got out of the first spot where we had to spend over two hours digging and searching around for branches to put down to improve our traction. Fortunately, the threatening rain cloud veered away just before reaching us. The other view shows the lush countryside around the Onon river valley. We ate our picnic lunch on this knoll with this spectacular view.

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Here is a deer stone, a sacred standing stone carved hundreds of years ago and thought to be important in ancient Shamanistic rituals. This is a particularly fine example. The little ferry boat was quite an adventure and a huge contrast to the enormous Washington State boats that cross the Puget Sound. We crossed the River Onon in our van on this ferry which just took one vehicle at a time. This crossing saved us 40 kilometers of driving which doesn’t sound like much but our average speed in this area was only about 20 km per hour! Here we are with the Buddhist monk who gave us a tour of this remote monastery. It took us four hours to drive the last 30 km to get there, but it was a wonderful place.

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Trip to Fidalgo Island, WA

After visiting the La Conner Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival, I continued on to Fidalgo Island where I gave two lectures in Anacortes for the Fidalgo Island Quilt Guild. At the Show and Tell in one of the guild meetings, Carol Jones shared her lovely Kaleidoscope Puzzle quilt. Carol took a class from me in May at In Stitches Quilt Shoppe in Anacortes. She used 10″ Layer Cake squares in combination with her multicolored theme fabric. She says in retrospect she shouldn’t have used so many different fabrics, but I really like how it turned out and the way she blended the fabrics at the top and bottom with the background. It has a wonderful translucency about it and I was so pleased that she brought it to show me.


The next day, I taught my Bargello Quilts with a Twist workshop at In Stitches. It was fun to teach at the store again and three of my students, including Carol took my class there in May. Another took a class from me at Fabric D’eva in La Conner in August. Here are some of the attractive blocks they made.

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I can’t resist sharing some scenery pictures with you. Fidalgo Island is such a beautiful place and I’m particularly fond of Rosario Beach State Park, not far from Deception Pass. When we first came to the States 30 years ago, we spent our summers at the Walla Walla College Marine Station adjacent to the park. The long building next to the beach is the lab and library. We stayed in little cabins up by the trees which I believe have had a total face lift since we were there.

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The Maiden of Deception Pass stands majestically in the park. Do read her story. She wasn’t there for our first couple of summers. Now, 27 years later, she is well weathered and looks very natural. I was fortunate to enjoy the pretty late afternoon light and a golden sun with shimmering reflections on the sea. I highly recommend this special place to you if you are the Anacortes area.

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On Safari

I’m writing this in June. When this posts, I’ll be leaving Johannesburg for a four day safari staying for one night in Kruger National Park and two nights at Sabi Sands, a private game reserve adjacent to Kruger. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend three nights at Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sands when I was traveling with my daughter and son-in-law. I’m sharing some of those pictures with you now, so you can imagine where I am at the moment. I’m so excited to return to this area and once again have the opportunity to see the magnificent wildlife.

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We stayed in wonderful thatched chalets which were luxurious and the dining area was open on three sides. Each day we did an early morning and late afternoon/early evening game drive in one of these open vehicles and were able to get incredibly close to the animals.

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These two male lions had killed a water buffalo and in two days, four lions ate it all up. As soon as they left, the vultures and hyenas cleaned up in a couple of hours.

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While were watching the lions, our tracker heard a leopard calling from over a kilometer away. His tracking expertise was extraordinary and we were so fortunate to see this beautiful male eleven year old. The remarkable looking bird is a Hammerkop (kop being Afrikaans for head).

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Of course we were treated to magnificent elephants and giraffes too. This elephant tore down a tree branch and was busy devouring it.

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We had great views of these rhinos. Notice the Ox-peckers. These little birds eat the  parasites and pesky insects from the skins of rhinos and hippos.

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