Northampton Modern Quilting Guild April 3, 2016

Minutes by Rachel Peterson, Photo’s by Betsey Wolfson

Surface Design with Lee Thomson

Timna Tarr introduced Lee Thomson, an artist, quilter, geologist, horsewoman, set designer, and surface designer.

Lee opened with a story. In 2006, the barn where she rode was sold; the horses were sold. Lee told her husband she would trade her entire sewing room for a pony, happily, he said no, you need that — we’ll figure out the pony!

Lee decided that if she wasn’t allowed to give up her sewing room, she’d better make good use of it. So 2007 became the year of the fabric postcard. Every day of every month Lee made a 4″x6″ fabric postcard — something on the front (fabric, thread, notions, other random items), double sided — fusible interfacing in the middle to keep it firm, and plain muslin on the back (numbered and dated). She kept them, and presented them from a huge cigar box!

The beauty of fabric postcards is that they never get laundered, never see light (fade), and you can do all manner of things to them! In fact, when she started with “blue circles” as the theme, she even used hardware (a potato masher)! Each month had its own theme. March was “water” (pic), April was money, May was leaves. (And it was also a turning point, because she was at a moment when she wasn’t sure what to do next). Initially the backs were straight fabric (and just the front was embellished), but then she started thinking about the backs. June’s theme was holes (she had hole punches), July was a vacation (a break!), August was sunflowers, September explored ‘faces’ — which she didn’t enjoy, but she believed on sticking to the rules she had established. She didn’t bring any of the October, November, or December postcards, but talked about November’s theme being “brown”.

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She pointed out that with some thought you can do a little bit of rework, precut interfacing, gather colors, etc. You can do so much with 4″x6″! As each month wears on, you come up with all the great ideas in the first week… The thing to do is to keep moving! The advantage to having a theme and size you have constraints so you have something to push against!

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After the year was over, her pieces became bigger — as she said “it was like — autodidact art school.” And really started showing up in her exploration of leaves. (Pic of the maple leaves 1”x2.5′) After a year of free motion quilting, different weigh threads, found objects, it was just total exploring. She shared her blue piece with the orange Tang Horse (pic) — something she designed and painted after the year of postcards. It is two layers of silk to keep the paint from bleeding through.

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Lee’s advice: There was a lot she learned during and after 2007, the key is to really lean in find the stuff that pleases you, tickles your fancy (leaves, shells, landscapes, etc.), know what those things are for you (Colors? Contrasts? Shapes? Words?). Lean into curiosity, keep doing it again and again and again until it comes out the way you want it. (Timna said, “Lee (Sproul) said something once I’ll never forget, “Either give up or try harder.”)

Lee said, “If you love it, do it again. And if you hate it, do it again!”

Lee handed out a number of amazing pieces, including a book of beaded pages, also six dollars she had some dollars stitched together. She also showed us a little round felted box and said that while felting can be fun it’s not for her. Lee loved indigo and showed a piece she had dyed. She had some in the backyard so she could use that. She said it was really stinky but it was fascinating to watch the dyeing. At one point she got curious about gelatin plates – she used a cookie sheet and using a strong mix of Knox gelatin, prep it and then treat it as if it was a plate, put paint or ink on the “plate” and press fabric into it. Lee said the gelatin doesn’t really absorb the paint; she uses “PBO Seta color paints”.

She showed a piece of ‘contact printing’ class… Largely natural colors — she describes how to pull pieces of nature (mushrooms, leaves, etc.), tight up to a piece of fabric, fold it, bind it, boil it. Diane W said we can do that here in our area, but it’s better not to boil it.

After 2007, Lee’s daughter said, “Mom, you know you just had a year long tantrum!” Lee subscribes to “Cloth, Paper, Scissors,” and also gets, “Fiber Art Now”, which she says she both loves and hates.

In 2012, five years after the year of fabric postcards she started the circle a day year. Using the double sided fusible (same principle) she used up stuff she had in the house (and is now officially sick of “gold leaf”). The circle pieces were not constrained by the 4″x6″ size. January was red, in February she ‘had’ to use the felting machine, March it was black and white (landscapes), April was color landscapes (and she showed one like lace) After January of 2012, she realized she would have 300+ circles in the house so she decided that part of the process would be to give them all away — people overseas, friends, dentist office, in fact Donna has a wild turkey that her son chose at an event!

2012 was also the year she went to Haystack, a summer craft school on the coast of Maine. She was asked to speak more about Haystack. She said, “You get from it almost what you put into it. If you go interested and enthused and ready to stay up late and do crazy assed stuff and push your comfort level way out there, something will happen. If you go ‘knowing’ things, it won’t. It is about stretching, reaching, going to ‘those’ places. It is insanely beautiful and they feed you amazing food. When you can’t think about the stuff that’s in front of you any more you can wander through the studios and you can be inspired, connect with others (she connected with a print maker, they inspired each other, swapped pieces, experimented working with each other’s pieces). Do it once and dream about going back.””

The year of circles was a year of marketing — a gallery owner said, “If you makes more of these I will sell them, bring me what you have.” Lee realized she would never have to do another craft fair in her life. They realized that 9×12 was a perfect size for the gallery owner, the price point is right and they sell well. Lee showed a piece designed for a challenge with a required “minimum size” — she was so focused on the smaller size, she found it easier to stitch a bunch together to make it! Her gallery friend loved landscapes and so that’s what she is doing now, and has been from 2008. She showed us, “View of the Marshes in Ipswich,” from 2015, all the others she’s done have been sold.

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One of Lee’s current obsessions — she calls them “rivers” — is circles on strips of background One of the rivers was quite large, long (light blue circle River on brown background), with what Lee called, “Timna’s row of orange bubbles”. The river series are curved lines of geometric shapes on strips of colors, threaded. Often sewn/quilted on the reverse with a thicker thread on the bobbin so the stitching is denser on the front. (Perle (crochet) cotton thread or even yarn). It’s always good to use the metallic or thick threads on the bobbin because it doesn’t have to go through the needle.


Finally, Lee’s current project came to be last summer while she was visiting her brother in Maine. She had brought knitting and painting but NO sewing. She painted, and painted, and painted (straight up ‘stupid acrylics’) and when she brought back the painting, she stitched right into them. Right into the canvas.

She does have a relatively deep artistic background. That is she has a feel for perspective and layers of things. Fabric landscapes are all about layers. Showed up a piece of many layered painted landscape (done in a tantrum).


Guild Business

Robin — Philanthropy survey results: in less than a month 21 respondents out of 48 (She’ll send out a couple of more reminders to be heard on the subject), the committee wants to make sure the members are happy with “how” this philanthropic activity would take place in order to increase participation. Once the survey is closed Robin will have all the final numbers and percentages and a clearer picture of how the guild feels about the philanthropic activities..

Initial responses suggest a majority of the guild is eager to engage in philanthropic activities with the guild (rather than at home) to spur getting to know (and learn from) others, and for the camaraderie. A majority feel philanthropic activities should not be done primarily at home. At this point, most people would prefer to have a “sew in”. People seem to prefer 1 2 “off campus” all day events a year, with a mixture of tasks, 25% preferred summer events, 50% winter events.



Sherry: brought in an article about a quilt maker in Chattanooga, TN, who makes quilts for Habitat for Humanity house recipients.

From Communications (Lynne) — please remember at Guild meetings to mark the attendance sheet with information about upcoming sharing opportunities — this helps with planning.

Lee S: The Forbes Library in Northampton has a fabulous color quilt exhibit currently. (Anne Goodale is the exhibitor of, “Chakra Quilts,” from April 2 29. for more info)

Michelle J, updated dates for the Sol Lewitt exhibit 23 Sept 23 Oct (so we have an extra week to finish our quilts) — we in the guild need to man the gallery, more about that as we get closer.

Lee Sproul: Lee is having a show at the Eclipse Mill Gallery, in North Adams, June 3 26, “Art in Black and White” (with her housemate who is a photographer). Suggestion: take your Sol Lewitt submission with you when you visit Lee’s exhibit!




Diane W.: did a workshop (NYC) last fall with a friend of Jeff’s (an artist out of Buffalo), Jack Edson, who is really into color, so she did a portrait quilt. It’s the first quilt she has ever done with big stitch quilting. She used Perle cotton number 10 (crochet thickness), thick. She designed her piece from a Diane Arbus photograph. The big stitch quilting was really fun for Diane (with the wool batting). She said this is not “fine work”, no frame, she spray basted, just quilted it on her lap.

Ellen: demonstrated a “fidget quilt” for autistic kids (a philanthropy project). She’s asking us to save any textile, stuff, junk, zippers, and tactile stuff (shoelaces, spools, etc.). at the workshop she went to. They were making up kits. She’s always looking for old pillowcases — she makes dog and cat beds and takes them to Springfield Animal Shelter. Robin will also send out reminders for fabric, notions, etc… To bring to our meetings for things like this philanthropic activity.



Jeff: Brought in his 3″ blocks (completed so far) of his “365 Challenge” — a block a day challenge that a woman from Australia has posited… None of these are paper pieced, but so small! She gave the “values” and all challengers then chose their colors. He chose the green orange colors. He is up to February 10th.

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