Colour Post: The Glowing Effect

Starry Night — one of the world’s most well-known paintings — has been subsumed into the image bank of my mind and probably influenced the design of my hoop quilt design, Canned Pineapples. In this post, we’ll talk about how to choose colours to achieve this effect.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Starry Night, by legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh, has inspired countless artists after him, such as musician Don McLean who wrote the song “Starry, Starry Night”. Besides the dynamic brush strokes that are Van Gogh’s signature technique, the emanating light around each star and the moon give the painting its mood.

Photo by Kitty Wilkin (Night Quilter) for The 2019 Quilter’s Planner

The design was inspired by a summer’s night camping in upstate New York with my friends (amongst them my future husband — read the full story here). Fireflies — or lightning bugs, depending where you’re from — danced in the woods, glowing like I had never seen before. The quilt design takes a traditional pineapple quilt block and randomizes the colours of the radiating pieces a bit. The effect are glowing fireflies.

Pineapple quilt block, tiny sewing

Each pineapple block uses six colours to make the glow. All you really need is some scraps in the right colours. How do we choose the “right” colours?

Note that the colour code from the pattern is in parentheses below.

Because the pieces of the pineapple block are very small (approximately 1/4″ width), solid fabrics will show this effect best. Small-scale prints can also work well. The exception is the background fabric (N) — go as crazy as you want with that! 

Pineapple quilt block

Fireflies: Choose the colour of your firefly (YL). For simplicity, white works best. Yellow is a step up in difficulty, but you can use the colours in the pattern as a guide.

Background: Choose your background fabric (N). This can be a night colour like navy, a print with dots in your firefly colour or something that looks like a natural surrounding.

A navy, a Cotton + Steel sprinkle print, or a bold print like Anna Maria Horner’s “Imposter” from her Passionflower Collection (above).

In-between colours: Next, you will choose the four “in-between” colours (YM, YD, G, B). You will want to “bridge” your firefly colour to your background.

The simplest is using a white firefly. Find fabrics that form a tone gradient from white to the general colour of your background. Here, my background fabric is a blue-grey. I used a combination of solid scraps and a chopped up ombre similar to the blue-grey of my background. Use the swatch chart provided to keep track of your colour selection.

Fabric color selection, Canned Pineapples hoop quilt pattern
Bridging the white of the fireflies (lightest at left) to the blue-grey background.

If you’re using a yellow firefly, you will want to refer to the colour wheel. Identify your yellow and your general background colour and build a loose “bridge” between them.

CMY color wheel

This colour wheel comes as a free download if you’re a subscriber of my newsletter! Sign up here:

That’s it! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Our Song II – A Collaborative Quilt

As the crowdfunding campaign for Our Song, Your Reflection was unfolding in May and June of this year, I asked a few quilting friends — new and old! — to each make a star block. It could be paper pieced from the original pattern, their own star invention, or a traditional block. With each block, I asked them to share what community means to them. While there was wonderful diversity in their star blocks, it was clear that all of them greatly valued their communities as vital to their quilting practice. Support, inclusion, encouragement, and connection were key words that came up again and again.

Our Song II – a collaborative quilt.

Read about each individual block in “What Does Community Mean to You?” Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Everyone sent their blocks to me and I had a great pile of happy mail to open from across Canada, the United States, Switzerland, and Australia. And there was one more block to add before I embarked on putting them altogether into one quilt – mine. I chose a traditional friendship star – such simplicity and expression in this little block. The friendship star ended up “leading” the swan in the final design.

I had given the participants a small range of colours to choose from and the subtle variety in colour was a wonderful challenge to assemble into a cohesive whole. I was pretty scared at first, but I finally had to jump in and learned that the only scary thing about this project was the jumping in! I found my process was the most painterly experience I’ve had in my quilting life. (I felt a bit like Neil Buchanan from Art Attack! Remember that show?) As you can see, I used a wide variety of solid scraps to blend the colours together. There was a modularity to the grid of the design – the blocks measured 2″ x 6″ or 6″ x 6″ finished, which allowed me to use standard 2 1/2″ strips to do some filling in.

What was important to the creation of this quilt was laying it out on the floor instead of on a design wall. This gave me the option to casually drop a crumpled mess of fabric to fade the colours into one another. I found this to be a really creative and invigorating process after a loss in “sewjo” over the summer.

The inclusion of a swan was an obvious reference to the original Our Song, Your Reflection quilt, but without the lone star behind it. I’m happy announce that I will be releasing this 20″ swan block as a separate pattern – one that is less daunting than the whole Our Song pattern. It will be released on Oct. 11, 2018 as the “Our Song Swan”! Stay tuned.

For the water that the swan sat on, I used triangular scraps from the first #oursongquilt to signify the otherwise calm water being disturbed by the swan’s presence. These little bits also helped the colours transition from blue to yellow-green.

Straight-line quilting was all I had the time for and I took a bit of a risk — I used a 28wt Aurifil thread in a peachy colour (2315). It’s a heavier weight of thread than I’m comfortable using so I crossed my fingers that it would look OK and not be too obvious.

I used the same type of blending method for the binding. A handful of colours to continue the design of the quilt right to the edge rather than to frame it.

The backing was a bit of an unconventional choice – Carolyn Friedlander’s Snake in Ash from her Gleaned collection. There was no clear connection colour-wise to the front of the quilt, but the design spoke “feathers” to me (rather than snake!) so I found it to be fitting.

I’d like to thank the following people for lending their time and energy to this project. What a joy you were to work with!
Alyce Blyth of Blossom Heart Quilts
Mathew Boudreaux, Mister Domestic
Shannon Fraser of Shannon Fraser Designs
Krista Henneberry of Poppyprint
Lisa Hoffman-Maurer of Sew What You Love
Adrienne Klenck of Seam Work
HollyAnne Knight of String & Story
Stacey O’Malley of SLOstudio
Kim Soper of Leland Ave Studios
Silvia Sutters, A Stranger View
Julia Wentzell of Briar Hill Designs
Kitty Wilkin, Night Quilter
Your Reflection, by Meaghan Smith from the Our Song, Your Reflection project. Keep an eye out for Our Song II at the end!

Canadian Crafts Federation: Placemaking Conference, October 2018

Last December, as I reflected on the year that had passed, I came to the conclusion that an overarching goal in 2018 would be “to learn how to be an artist.” Let me now qualify that with an adjective: “To learn how to be a professional artist.” One of the things that has struck me in these last few months is how little I know about my local network of artists and arts organizations. I am not a Nova Scotia native nor was my formal education leading me to become an artist per se. I have so much to learn about the structures, the funding, the networks, and the rich talent and arts and craft community that has to offer — both locally and nationally.

I have been a member of Craft Nova Scotia for the last couple of years. This organization, along with parallel regional organizations across the country, supports craft artists in exhibiting and selling their work, their professional development and advocates for fair compensation for their time and work among other things.  I am fortunate to be able to attend this October’s  craft conference put on by the Canadian Crafts Federation (CCF/FCMA), the national organization that brings together the country’s regional bodies. The theme of the conference is Placemaking: The Unique Connection Between Craft, Community + Tourism. The notion of placemaking has been close to my heart throughout my career(s) in architecture, museum design and education, and now as a textile artist. (In fact, I wrote a lengthy post about placemaking in the context of urban architecture in Halifax last year.)

What is placemaking? According to Wikipedia, placemaking is “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, [urban] design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.” So how does that apply to craft?

The CCF/FCMA conference will explore this question: “What does craft look like in relation to community? In order to create a craft identity, artists and organizations are engaging and experimenting within culture and community in an effort to attract and retain tourist audiences, and to improve quality of life for all. Placemaking will highlight the role of contemporary craft culture in strengthening and encouraging community development. By exploring the positive impact of craft practice on both physical and virtual communities, we’ll share information on craft’s role in enhancing the sense of belonging, understanding, and appreciation of community members, leading to happier, healthier, more positive social interactions” (emphasis mine).

Cultivating: Entrepreneurship, Community, Industry. CCF/FCMA Conference, Alberta, 2016.

Last year’s opportunity to be the artist-in-residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 gave me a close-up perspective to the impact of collaborating with the public to form a tourist community of sorts. The project gave us – both the artist and the participants – a shared sense of belonging, conversations about personal experiences above historical narratives, and a way for the visitors to the museum to process the information presented to them and see it through a personal lens. These identifiable but intangible products of the work are ones that I want to continue to fold into my work moving forward. But I can’t do it within the four (or eight) walls of my studio.

Being an artist can be solitary and perhaps an introvert’s ideal scenario. However, when conversations happen between artists, community, arts organizations at a regional and national level, a larger impact can be had. Support, willingness and funding can make imagined projects become a reality.

Robert Jekyll Award for Leadership in Craft ceremony, 2016. Gilles Latour, CCF Past President; Robert Jekyll; and Michael Husalok, 2017 RJA recipient.

If you are making or looking to make a career as a craftsperson, craft artist, textile artist, quilter, textile designer, quilt designer — whatever you call yourself — I encourage you to seek your local, regional, or national crafts and/or arts organization. You will find mentors, curators, and collectors; you will find colleagues inside and outside your artistic discipline; and you will find fruitful conversations that will push you forward.

Here’s the abridged 2018 conference lineup:

October 12, Halifax
  • Keynote Speaker : 2017 Sobey Art Award recipient Ursula Johnson on Indigenous Placemaking
  • The Craft Social celebrating the 2018 Robert Jekyll Award for Leadership in Craft
  • Gallery and shop visitations
October 13, Halifax
  • Halifax Feature Speaker: Jenna Stanton, Craft and Creative Placemaking
  • Panel Discussions:
    • Artist & Gallery Panel: Creating Space
    • Educational Impact: The Ripple Effect of Craft School
  • “3 minutes of Fame” rapid-fire presentations from craft organizations across Canada
  • International Guest Speaker: Annie Warburton, UK Craft Council Creative Director
  • Nocturne, Halifax’s all-night city-wide culture crawl
October 14, Lunenburg
  • Lunenburg Feature Speaker: Senator Patricia Bovey, National Placemaking in Canada
  • Panel Discussions:
    • Contemporary Craft Practice: Thinking Big in a Small Place
    • Community Practices: Leveraging the Allure of Craft
    • Guided Walking Tour of Lunenburg Galleries


This video, from the 2015 CCF/FCMA’s conference, features interviews with previous conference attendees:

Our Song, in Kaleidoscope by Alison Glass

Earlier this year, designer Alison Glass released her line of shot cotton solids, Kaleidoscope. I had the privilege of exploring these saturated colours in a second version of Our Song, Your ReflectionThe result was a blazing sunset on a contrasting cool colour palette for the water. This quilt is all about texture, texture, and more texture.

Listen to Meaghan Smith’s song that goes with this quilt.

Quilted by Sheri Lund of Violet Quilts. Photograph by Quilt Photography Co.

The Our Song, Your Reflection pattern releases October 11, 2018. Be the first to know about its release by signing up for the newsletter!

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When You Don’t Feel Like Sewing

One of the hardest things about this year has been transitioning into quilting as my only job. When I started in 2016, it was an accidental business that was subsidized by the part-time job that I started at the same time. After 20 months of doing both things part-time, I felt that I wasn’t doing either thing to my fullest ability, so I had to make a choice. I chose this one — the one that was more creatively fulfilling, the one that worked better with the structure of my family life. But it was also the one without a consistent paycheck, the one that left me constantly questioning whether I was good enough.

Watercolour teacups, prompted by a CreativeBug class with Lisa Congdon.

After the Our Song, Your Reflection crowdfunding campaign was over, I was pretty exhausted and in need of a break. I didn’t sew for a long time, nor felt the desire to do so. I needed to reclaim my evenings. I needed a new hobby because my hobby had turned into my job.

Foliage with gouache paint in the style of Matisse, prompted by a CreativeBug class with Lisa Congdon.

Luckily, an email landed in my inbox earlier this month – a three-month CreativeBug subscription for $1. And there was a wealth of stuff there that I was happy to binge watch classes by Arounna Khounnoraj of BookhouJen Hewett, and Lisa Congdon.

And while I didn’t find my “sewjo” there, I was happy to explore new-to-me and re-discover ways of creating that weren’t directly related to my day job. I have always been a serial creative dabbler, I had most of the supplies already for creating my own rubber stamps and screenprinting ink, watercolour paints and paper, brushes, etc. It’s been energizing and exciting.

Carved rubber stamp, applied to a H&M dress for our neighbour’s 7th birthday.

Another thing that was also fun was inviting my kids into my creative world. Up till this point, I had it guarded from them — it was my little sanctuary that was away from the everyday. But now that there old enough to be somewhat reasonable about the materials and techniques, watching them derive joy from what also gives me joy is priceless. So much of their world is digital that they were so mesmerized by the mechanical nature of the sewing machine.

They were happy to paint cards for our family birthdays. And happy to stamp a favourite animal on a “fast-fashion” dress for their friend. Having them create something on a regular basis is something I need to work into our lives.

Watercolour geodes, from a class with Emma Whitte of Black Chalk Co.
The two kids’ versions to the right.

This week, I got a glimpse of my sewjo. I tried my hand at needle-turn applique and I think I’m hooked. Although I have a ton of other sewing work to do, I want to bring this exploration into a full quilt.

If you’re missing your sewjo, I encourage you to not worry about it and do something else. Explore some other creative endeavour, read a book (I would do this, but I don’t like reading!), spend some time outdoors, veg out for awhile. Cheryl Arkison has some fabulous tips to offer when your sewjo is gone (spoiler: #1 is to turn off your phone and the news), so go check out her post. And dabble away at where your creativity takes you.

Dreaming the Night Sky

Photo by Deborah Wong

I had the opportunity to work on a double sized commission for a wee toddler. Her parents wanted to have quilt made for her that would grow up with her. That meant nothing too cutesy or any blatant imagery that a 20-year-old would not appreciate in 19 years. This is a parameter that I love working with.

Long-arm quilting by Sheri Lund of Violet Quilts. Photo by Deborah Wong.

Their interest in female astronauts as strong role models inspired her nursery decor, which was also the main inspiration for her quilt.

I had some fun painting “galaxies” with watercolour to get inspired. A quick and fun online course taught by Emma Whitte of Black Chalk Co led me through the exercise and got me back into a medium that I really enjoy. Because my quilting hobby has become my job, I’m on a bit of search to find a new hobby and watercolours might be it…

After a bit of discussion, the concept and design ended up relatively simple. 21 columns of 22 HSTs (half-square triangles) in 10 shades of navy/black/grey with four accent colours. The columns were offset by a half-unit.

Keeping track of sets of HSTs

The random geometric night sky was the background for four constellations overlaid one another at different scales. The constellations were in lighter shades of white to aqua.

Photo by Deborah Wong

Gemini, which was hand-stitched in perle cotton to emphasize it, is the little girl’s astrological sign. The other three constellations — not delineated but blended into the rest of the sky — are those of four significant females in the aerospace field:

  1. Jerrie Cobb, one of the central figures in Stephanie Nolen’s Promised the Moon, was a female aviator in the era of the space race. A privately-funded program (Mercury 13) sought female pilots to train to be astronauts, who had the scientific and technical background to fly space shuttles, but were physically easier to propel into space because of their smaller stature. Sadly, none of the women in the program ever made it to space. Her astrological sign is Pisces.
  2. Karen Nyberg (Libra) is a current NASA astronaut who had her work exhibited at Houston International Quilt Festival in 2014, starting with a block she made in space with limited tools and little gravity.

  1. Roberta Bondar (Sagittarius) was the second Canadian in space and the first Canadian female in space.
  2. Julie Payette (Libra), currently the Governor General of Canada, was another Canadian female astronaut and was Chief Astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007.

I hope this quilt inspires a little girl to dream big. Her name is written in the sky.

Photo by Deborah Wong

  • Night sky in Kona Cottons: Nightfall, Storm, Navy, Windsor, Indigo, Nautical, Coal, Charcoal, Pepper, Black
  • Constellations in Kona Cottons: White, Sky, Dusty Blue, Azure
  • Backing: Essex Yarn-dyed Linen in Peacock

Photo by Deborah Wong

Prairie Storm + Female Artists

Side of the highway, on our way to Regina to see a Saskatchewan Roughriders football game.

I married into a family of Saskatchawanians. I had no connections or interest in the prairies prior to my relationship with my now-husband. This summer we had the chance to spend some time at the family cottage two hours north of Saskatoon, as we celebrated the Jackson matriarch’s 90th birthday. I had the chance to make a quilt for her based on a 16” x 16” sketch from the landscape charrette series that I created last spring.

16″ x 16″ mini quilt, April 2017 – Quilt Charrette series.

A few summers ago, my mother-in-law experienced an intense storm that hit as she drove by herself on a very late night in rural Saskatchewan. Using one of my favourite colour combinations, I imagined from her description — gold improvised fields and very regularly spaced rain, quilted with metallic gold thread.

Side of the highway near Warman, SK

There were a couple of stops along the side of the highway to photograph the prairie-inspired quilt, which measured 50” x 72”. The intensely yellow canola fields were a regular siting along our long drives around the province. This time I used Glide Thread in Fool’s Gold for the quilting. I wasn’t sure how regular metallic thread would fare in my Juki TL-2010Q so I was happy to try this 100% polyester thread with a sheen. I didn’t get a chance to photograph the quilt label unfortunately, but I suspect I will get to see the quilt again.

We made time to escape for a day trip to the city of Saskatoon, which has its own cultural vibe going on. In the fall of 2017, the new Remai Modern opened up, an art gallery dedicated to contemporary art. The building was designed by KPMB with lead design architect Bruce Kuwabara. It is located at the junction of a bridge crossing the South Saskatchewan River, the river itself, and multiple recreational bikepaths.

Remai Modern, designed by KPMB Architects. Image via

I really enjoyed our time there without our kids to take in the artwork. Of special note, two installations in the public areas of the museum. Lucky Charms by Pae White makes use of neon “doodles” (terminology mine) in colours of light used in “happy lamps”. These wavelengths of light are used to help the symptoms of depression caused by seasonal affective disorder. On our visit to Saskatchewan shortly after the summer solstice, we experienced daylight until past 10 pm. That means that the opposite season of cold dry winters have very limited daylight hours. This installation touches on the effects of daylight, living at such a northern latitude.

Lucky Charms by Pae White

The second piece was Sol LeWitt Upside Down by Haegue Yang. These very rational looking boxes are a re-interpretation of his modular Structures but hung upside down. Each cube of the framework is enclosed with a surprising material – very mundane Venetian blinds. I love these very rational boxes against the geometric linear lights suspended above them. The Venetian blinds capture both the artificial lighting above it as well as the natural light coming through the atrium space that connects all levels of the museum.

On a non-aesthetic level, what strikes me about these two installations is that they are works by female artists prominently displayed in public spaces. Women’s roles in the public realm has evolved greatly in the last 100 years and I hope that this artistic representation continues to grow. Especially as a Asian female artist, Yang’s artwork as the first encounter in a museum of such importance really encourages me. Asian females are often perceived as the most reticent, passive, and submissive in European and North American cultures. Although none of the females in my family fit this profile — we are a particularly assertive and vocal bunch! — I have certainly been subject to this stereotype. I have begun to make a case for my role as an female Asian artist in a dominantly white art form, as well as for domestic arts to have a place in the public realm. This is a relatively new dimension to what I think about in my artistic practice, and I’m excited to see how it informs the way I work.

The lobby of the Remai Modern.

The vast Canadian prairie landscape is one that I really took notice of this trip and I’m sure we’ll be back again in the next few years for another Saskatchewan adventure.

Photo by Bruce Jackson

Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration: Quilt and Song

I truly believe that collaboration is where innovation happens. And cross-disciplinary collaboration is an even more fertile space. Ten years ago, I went to school with a guy who superimposed mathematical models onto biological phenomena. What could be discovered when we transpose what we are experts in to something that takes a completely different form?

The collaboration between a quilter and a songwriter seems unlikely. What do Meaghan Smith and I have in common? We are artists. We create. We are mothers. We want to create meaningful work and meaningful relationships.

As we talked and delved deep, we really connected as artists, mothers, and humans. After answering an extensive set of questions about my approach to my work and what I wanted the #oursongquilt project to be at its core, Meaghan saw an early version of a swan and its reflection. It didn’t look much like the final quilt design, other than its colours. As I thought about the background that the swan would be set against, it seemed like it would have to be a lone star — an acknowledgement of the rich history that we have in quilting. Here’s a clip about the collaboration process behind #oursongquilt.

As Meaghan wrote the song, she thought about who her community was. She had broken away from the music industry in its current form and launched something new in the songs that she writes for real people about real events and real relationships:

I talk more about cross-disciplinary collaboration with Kate Toney on the Creative Women’s League podcast. We also talk about fearlessness, vulnerability, dream projects, and more. Have a listen here!

Our Song, Your Reflection

I have teamed up with award-winning songwriter and musician Meaghan Smith to create Our Song, Your Reflectiona celebration of community through music and quilting. The project gets to the core of what makes us tick as creatives — connecting people and connecting with people through our art. The project is structured as a crowdfunding campaign that invites contributors to be a part of the “Your Reflection” music video, to increase offerings associated with the release of the song and the quilt pattern, and to celebrate the “us” in our communities.

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Flying Buttresses

American Patchwork and Quilting’s Challenge for QuiltCon 2018 was Flying Geese. The prompt asked participants to modernize a traditional flying geese block with any variation, and make it into a modern quilt using modern quilting elements. Finished quilts could be any size. That is a generously open challenge!

As artists, we often stare at blank canvases or design walls and think, “I want to create, but where do I start?” I love prompts like these that have a clear starting point, where a solution and a finished quilt are required (and a deadline is attached!).

For those of you wondering what “modernizing” could mean, here is a non-exhaustive list that the challenge suggested:
  • Using modern color palettes including high contrast and graphic areas
  • Improvisational piecing
  • Minimalism
  • Expansive negative space
  • Alternate grid work
  • Scale

To me, in the broadest sense, modern quilting allows you to break any and all of the rules you might associate with the craft. I used what could be considered a “modern colour palette” – a monochromatic neutral scheme in grayscale. For the challenge, I wanted to create flying geese without constructing any flying geese blocks. I have always been fascinated with origami and how two-dimensions can become three through folds. Pin tucks achieve this in fashion but, not being a garment sewist, I never had a reason to try them. When you pull pin tucks in a certain way, you can get triangles that look like a flying geese.

For months, I had it in my head to make flying geese this way and even did some test in June. But with the busyness of the following months, I didn’t have time to work on it. On Instagram , some of you saw bits of the quilt come together at the eleventh hour. I started it 10 days before the QuiltCon deadline. I hemmed and hawed about starting it so late in the game, but I decided to take the plunge. There were many pieces in 2017 that I made for clients, or out of obligation, or in servitude to a pattern design. But this one was just about exploring new ideas, trying out some new techniques, and developing myself as an artist.

I didn’t have time to take the exploration much further than a very regular rhythm of geese in a row, but the final design was about flying buttresses in Gothic cathedrals with referred to another fabric manipulation in quilting — cathedral windows. I looked at a lot of historic architectural drawings of cathedrals and the design of the Flying Buttresses quilt reflects that aesthetic.

I tried to keep the overall layout simple. This was my first attempt at quilt-as-you-go panels. I constructed a row of geese in a strip with batting and backing attached right away. Then using strips of darker fabrics, I joined the panels together. It was a bit messy, but I ventured forward anyway, being mindful of my time.

I’m happy to say that this 25” x 24” piece will hang in the Flying Geese Challenge category at QuiltCon 2018 in Pasadena.