The Urn Quilt Evolves

July 27th, 2016

Sassaman Urn Quilt 1

Many people think that making art just happens by magic. They think that it comes out effortlessly and fully formed. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. There are hours and days of trial and error, fits and starts. One of my students once said that she was surprised by the emotional highs and lows she went through my the 5 day Abstracting from Nature workshop. She had discovered that the creative process is not always comfortable and sometimes just downright frustrating.

So I thought I would take you through a sequence of design dilemmas that I struggled though in the past two weeks while working on a new quilt idea.

For the past year I have been concentrating on mostly smaller abstract quilts, as a way to play through some new ideas. But I was feeling the urge to work in a larger scale again. I had also been thinking about the opulent and symbolic Dutch still life paintings called “vanitas”. Vanitas paintings portrayed life’s brevity through symbols like watches, skulls, smoking oil lamps, partially consumed food, etc. Since I have always been attracted to divine
decadence in art, over the years I have accumulated my own slightly subversive symbols that often appear in my work… skulls, spiders, dandelions, moths, spiky seeds, dangerous plants.

So this is where my idea started. I imagined a skull sprouting dark leafy plants. The skull became an urn. An urn brings to mind Victorian plants and lavish layers of composition. So these are the subjects that I started with… skull/urn, elephants ears, purple black sweet potato vines, coleus, moths and an egg behind it all.

The scale of the urn determined the size of the leaves. I have pinned the urn to a piece of tracing paper to make it easier to move and hold itself together. Most of the fabrics are hand dyed Cherrywoods.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 2

I made some paper clouds to act as frames, almost like curtains on a stage, and some oversized moths in lovely subdued colors. The Passion Flowers have been in my orphan file for years! Looking good.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 3

The clouds are now in fabric. Then I thought I could fit in some of my favorite dandelions, so I cut them out of paper to test them. The moths had to move.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 4

I made the dandies in fabric and added a spider, for good measure, and some smaller moths.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 5

But the dandelions are floating in space, so how to anchor the dandelions to the ground? By adding a forward layer of leaves and a darker horizon line.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 6

But the whole thing is just too damned busy, too many small scale shapes. So a couple more elephant ears are added and that seems to help… but not enough.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 7

I hated to remove the dandelions before I had another direction to head toward. So I took a picture of the composition and blocked out the dandies in Photoshop. Yes, it is better without them. Rats! Out they go, but now I have some nice leaves and stems already made for another project.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 8

What about adding some more clouds? I pulled out the paper models again. Too curly!!

Sassaman Urn Quilt 9

Back to Photoshop to take out the busy spirals. Nope, try again.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 10

How about a moon to add some nocturnal mystery. I seem to have moths and moons on the brain lately! But it’s working. Less seems to be more in this composition and I’m feeling pretty good about it. And yes, the blue background will go all the way to the top eventually.

Sassaman Urn Quilt 11

A moth to block part of the moon and a bit of tweaking here and there and we are good to go! Now as I begin to embroider each individual character, I can study the piece from my sewing station and make adjustments over the next weeks of stitching.

I hope this gives you a little insight into my collage process. Yes, there are lots of decisions to make, but that is what makes this appliqué technique so satisfying. If you would like to join me on this creative exploration, you are invited to come to one of my 5 day workshops and see what transpires. I hope to see you there!

a trio of summer frocks

July 15th, 2016

Sassaman Summer Frocks 1

I am so excited about these gay summer frocks that came out of the studio this week! Thank you, Susan! They are all made from jumper pattern, McCall’s M6739. This design would work nicely for any season. I’m hoping to make them in wool and corduroy for fall and winter.

The front two jumpers are made with my new FreeSpirit fabric collection, Cool Breeze. The black and white one is made with fabrics from my archives, Enchanted and Wild Child designs.I love the mix of prints. This is a great opportunity for combining motifs. The possibilities are endless.

Sassaman Frock 4

I think this is an ideal way to use the Cool Breeze line, since it was designed to be sunny and light-hearted. The big plaid fabric is proving to be extremely useful in almost every project we have made this season and really contributes a contemporary flavor.

Sassaman frock 6

Because of the airy cut of this pattern, I plan to add light tee shirts and perhaps leggings or capris, depending on the weather and the occasion. And we couldn’t resist adding our latest silk scarf to the black and white medley. Superb!

Sassaman Frock Labels

Susan even added little tags of my Renaissance ribbon to signify the back of each dress! A perfect little detail that makes such a big difference.

Sassaman Frock 5

Red Barn Special for Madeline Island School of the Arts!!

July 7th, 2016


In case you are still thinking about registering for my August 22-26, 2016 workshop at Madeline Island School of the Arts you can save $100 on your on-site lodging reservation when you register for my workshop by July 20, 2016.


To read more about my class and to register, click here, or call MISA at 715.747.2054, or email I have included photos of some previous classes and their inspiring projects, in case you just need a little nudge.


The classrooms here at Madeline Island School of the Arts are some of the best I have ever experienced… lots of elbow room, natural light and power for irons and sewing machines. Above, you can see the space in action. I love to see the glorious mess of creativity! Sometimes there are other classes on campus and we get to cross-pollinate ideas and experiences during mealtimes and after hours. Oh! Did I mention the cookies?


The grounds are idyllic, the perfect place to relax, let the imagination wonder and to spend some quality time time fondling fabric. It is truly a wonderful destination. I hope to see you there!

Embroidery for Summer Sewing

June 28th, 2016

Embroidered Sassaman Jumpers

Welcome back to the Ideas Blog! It has been a very busy spring of teaching and travel, but now I have some time in the studio to catch up on lots of projects. There is so much going on here and I want to share some of it with all of you!

First of all, did you know that my friends, the HoopSisters, have digitized some of my designs for machine embroidery? These talented gals have taken some FreeSpirit fabric designs and turned them into charming motifs for stitching. They are formatted to work on any contemporary  embroidery machine. So the BERNINA has been working overtime!

Here are two new outfits that have been embellished with designs from the Enchanted Embroideries collection. Each jumper has big practical pockets decorated with Sassaman posies… very feminine and very chic.  As a little surprise, the pockets have been lined with the original fabric from which the embroideries were inspired.

Embroidered Sassaman Pockets

This pretty little purse was decorated with designs from the Prairie Chic Embroidery collection. Plus we have added decorative stitches to the strap, as well. The sewing pattern is my Pretty Perfect Pocket Purse. So you can see what potential these have for other projects like linens, napkins and housewares of all kinds. I would love to see how you use them, too.

Sassaman Embroidery Purse

These designs are on a DVD and available in my store. If you would prefer a downloadable version, please visit the HoopSisters website.

Sassaman Embroidery Covers

collage quilt step by step

March 8th, 2016

Sassaman Quilt 2016

I finally had a little free time after all the design projects to fondle some actual fabric!! So I wanted to dive  in immediately. So I get out my collection of “orphans”, these are shapes and templates left over from other projects which I file away in baggies for just such an opportunity. I peruse my collection to find the shapes that interest me and that I think will play nicely together.

Sassaman Orphan Shapes

This is when the play begins. I “Ouiji” the shapes around and let them start talking to each other. Eventually, a composition begins to settle in, but not until lots of options have been tried.

Sassaman Shape Shifting

It is a stream-of-consciousness exercise as I listen to the conversation of shapes. I really enjoy this part of the process, as I have very little idea of where the shapes will take me. But part of the trick is starting with shapes that speak your language… shapes that are personally meaningful. You may have noticed that there are shapes that have become a regular part of my design vocabulary, spirals, dandelion leaves, bugs, blossoms, etc. These are motifs that I have collected over the years and that I can use in any combination. I am always on the look-out for new shapes that will work for me.

Sassaman Quilt Top

When the composition is finalized I make a tracing to record the arrangement and then applique each shape, starting with the back most pieces. Each piece gets finished with embroidery and the background behind it gets cut away. Then I pin baste with batting and backing.

Sassaman Quilting

The first quilting I always do is to outline each shape in the ditch with 12 wt. topstitching thread using my open- toed walking foot and a long stitch length. Each brand of 12 wt. thread gives a slightly different look and performs a little differently. For this outlining, Sew Sassy by Superior supplies the nice heavy outline that I really like.

Sassaman Bury Thread

Because I want these nice outlines to start and stop cleanly, the threads at the beginning and end of each stitched row must be tied and buried on the back side of the quilt. This job is made much easier using an easy-threading or self-threading needle. With these needles the threads simply snap into the eye from the top of the needle. This can be an extremely tedious job, but I love it… very meditative and also a nice time to listen to books-on-tape.

Sassaman Quilting Detail

After the quilted outlines are done the other quilted details get filled in, like the extra stitching on the flowers and the echo quilting on the cloud.

Sassaman Golden Threads

In this case, I was not satisfied with basic quilting. The quilt was not dramatic enough, it needed some punch and “attitude”. So I decided to quilt over the whole piece with a series of spiky brambles. But first I needed a guide, so I drew the guidelines on Golden Threads tracing paper. The paper was pinned to the quilt and stitched through, again with 12 wt. thread.

Sassaman Golden Threads 2

The stitching perforates the paper, making it easy to tear away. Now I have a baseline to build from. I echo quilted very closely on either side. Then I added the brambles with a simple blind hem stitch. I think this final addition makes a world of difference. The final piece is 17.5″ X 19″.

Sassaman Quilting Detail

Busy Winter Wrap Up

March 5th, 2016

Sassaman Scandia Fabric

Winter is a time that I usually reserve for rejuvenation and nesting. It is the season for concentrating on new ideas and designs. As this period of introspection comes to its end I’m realizing how productive it has been. My first assignment was to design a line of FreeSpirit fabric for an Autumn introduction. Above, is a little sneak peek at what evolved. It is called Scandia, a very Nordic inspired collection.

Sassaman Color My Garden

Upon completion of those designs, I dove directly into the coloring book project for Dragon Threads. This involved sifting through sixteen years of my textile designs and pulling out the most befitting compositions and turning them into black outline drawings. This was pretty laborious at times, but I actually enjoy working on very detailed projects, so it was really quite absorbing. And look at that beautiful cover!

So sharpen your pencils and go to the Dragon Threads website to pre-order your copy. They will be in circulation by the end of the month!!

Early Bird Scarf Small 2

Sassaman Early Bird Scarf 2

And while you are at the Dragon Threads site you can also pre-0rder this scrumptious limited edition Early Birds scarf! It is 100 percent silk twill and a practical 20″ X 70″. Doesn’t it look like Spring? I am very fond of creating millefleurs patterns and this is one of my favorites. This is an homage to William Morris and his famous Strawberry Thief design; rich color and opulent composition.

So this week the teaching and travel begin again. There is lots to do in preparation, but I am looking forward to this next phase. I think I am a lucky girl to have this mix of isolation and stimulation. And I’m looking forward to seeing some old quilting friends and making some new ones in the coming months. Check my workshop schedule, perhaps I’ll be able to meet YOU.

English Tea Cozy in Blue

February 12th, 2016

Sassaman Tea Cozy 3

This week I want to share one of the latest projects using the new Leaf Dance fabrics, this niffy tea cozy. It is like a quilt for your teapot. Dark electric blue seems to be one of my favorite colors these days, so I chose the blue colorway to play with here. We have made this Pint Size Pattern with many different FreeSpirit collections and with great results every time.

Sassaman Tea Cozy 5

It is lined with the Triangle fabric, which has turned out to be extremely practical and a perfect foil for all those Sassaman leaves and flowers. The striped edge also supplies some nice contrast and a bit of extra weight to hold the cozy in place.

Sassaman Tea Cozy 6

And a yo-yo and some felt balls to top it all off. This is one of our Pint Size Patterns that is designed to be a nice gift for a beginning stitcher combined with a fine stack of favorite fabrics.

Tea Cozy Cover 1

Print and Color Valentine

January 30th, 2016

Sassaman Valentine

Just for fun I’ve created two Valentine card to print, color and send to your favorite folks. Just cut the page in half and fold to make a card that fits a standard A2 envelope. Just click here to get your Sassaman Valentine.

Red Barn Special!

January 29th, 2016


I am so excited to be returning to teach a 5 day quilting workshop at Madeline Island School of the Arts, August 22-26, 2016. This is an inspiring setting to concentrate on your work, absorb new ideas and practice your skills!

I wanted to let you know that you can save $100 on your on-site lodging reservation when you register for my workshop by February 29, 2016.


A 25% deposit is all you need to hold your place in my workshop.  To read more about my class and to register, click here, or call MISA at 715.747.2054, or email


A Tale of Two Quilts

January 25th, 2016

Sassaman Moths and Moons Quilt

Welcome back to the the Sassaman Ideas Blog. After suffering a case of digital burn-out and creative discontent, I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging. But in the meantime I’ve discovered the more immediate joys of communicating via instagram and Pinterest. These social formats have revived my interest in weekly blogging. So I am hoping to come back with more “heart” this time.

I wear two professional hats, one the beret of an artist and the other the practical ball cap of a designer. I intend to share both these roles with you in this new series of posts.

The quilts above are a rare mix of both these roles. They were made to feature the FreeSpirit Leaf Dance collection. My personal art quilts are usually made with solid colored fabric cut into shapes to be appliqued. Even though, my commercial fabric has an identifiable Sassaman style the repeat pattern of the yardage requires that it be used in its own unique way, as traditional pieced quilts, for example. These moth quilts show a little bit of both worlds.

The original quilt is on the left. It was intensely machine quilted before the moths were applied. Each little leaf is individually stitched with thread tails tied and buried at both ends… quite unreasonable and ridiculously time consuming. But I have a very high tolerance  for meditative and tedious craftsmanship. Yet this quilt design seemed like a good candidate to become a commercial pattern, as it could be made successfully with all kinds of fabrics, in which case the construction needed to become more accessible.

So in the second version, the wreaths are appliqued and the moths are beefed up to have a grander presence. There are features that I like in both pieces.

Sassaman Moths & Moons 1 Quilt

Here is a detail of Moths and Moons One. I used lots of Sew Sassy topstitching thread in both translations. You can see why I had to quilt the background before I added the applique. I could never make the wreath embroidery stop and start at such weird angles.

Sassaman Moths & Moons 2 Quilt

Here is a detail of version two. I am pleased with the contrast of the gray wreath on the white brocade moon. Do you have a favorite? Now to get the pattern written! By the way, there are two free Leaf Dance patterns available on my home page that you can  print and make without any waiting. Enjoy.