Category Archives: Interview

Creative Juice #167

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Creative Juice #167

Gorgeous artwork that will make your creative fingers itch to make more.

I have a recommendation for you. If you have access to Netflix and you’d like to see a different Santa movie, watch Klaus.

Meet Gwen Lanning, aka Textile Ranger

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Meet Gwen Lanning, aka Textile Ranger

Gwen Lanning is a blogger, photographer, nature lover, quilter, weaver, dyer, and investigator of all things textile. You might know her from her wildlife blog, Little Wild Streak, where she posts the photographs of species of birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and dragonflies that she’s observed in the wild. But I discovered her through the quilts she’s made and posted on her other blog, Deep in the Heart of TextilesShe recently consented to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

ARHtistic License: What kind of quilts do you like to make?

Gwen Lanning: I love to make scrappy quilts with unpredictable color combinations. But someday I would love to make whole cloth quilts with beautiful thread work too.

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Most of my quilts are to be donated.  I make a lot of Log Cabins out of scraps.

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AL: What do you look for when you go fabric shopping?  

GL: Because I want all the fabric, I usually buy bags of scraps. I love getting a selection and deciding how to put them together.  I also like to look at the clearance section of a quilt shop, make a few choices, and take whatever is left on the bolt.  I feel that I am doing a service to the shop owner.  🙂

AL: Do you have favorite colors?

GL: I love turquoise and it works its way into every quilt. I also especially love Kaffe Fassett’s Roman Glass designs and that fabric works its way into every quilt too.  I am not alone in that and I love spotting it in other people’s quilts!

AL: What is your stash like?

GL: My stash is not particularly large – it fills one closet that is 30” deep and 48” wide. But I add to it faster than I quilt it up, and I would like to catch up!  It is roughly organized in plastic bins – whenever I start to fold it neatly, I just end up starting another quilt.

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“I like to use an improvisational style.  Sometimes the quilts are inspired by patterns in books, and sometimes not.”

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AL: What kind of sewing machine do you use?

GL: For about 10 years, I used my mom’s Viking, and then last year I got a Juki HZL-F600. I love both of them, but always wish for more room to move the quilt around of course.

AL: Do you quilt by hand or machine?

GL: I quilt by both hand and machine – I love hand quilting the most.  But most of the quilts I make are for charity so I need to finish them quickly and make sure the stitching is sturdy.

AL: You also buy vintage quilt tops and finish them off. How do you find them? What do you look for?

GL: I find vintage tops at antique shops and guild sales. (I have not let myself look for them online because I would go crazy and buy them all. Do we see a pattern here?)  I get almost all the ones I find, but I especially love the ones that I know I would never piece myself, with tiny triangles and diamonds.  Also the ones with wild pattern and color combinations.

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“This is my favorite out of all the vintage quilts I have bought – I love how the fabrics faded, resulting in random placement of the colors.”

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Detail of the above vintage quilt.

AL: Whose quilt designs do you admire?

GL: It was the designs of Kaffe Fasset that got me into quilting – I loved the big bold prints and simple piecing, and his designs struck me as very fresh.

I saw the Gee’s Bend quilts here in Houston and I have always loved that improvisational look. In the old quilts I collect, I really love it when some of the colors have faded, leaving an unpredictable composition of color.

In the quilts I make for myself I try to have asymmetrical compositions and those unpredictable color combinations. (I am more restrained when I make quilts for others.)

I also love Alexandra Ledgerwood’s clean modern designs and have made a few of them.  When it comes to art quilts, I love Judy Coates Perez, Kathy York, the free motion extravaganzas of Teri Lucas, and the thread sketches on transparencies of Rob Wynne.  And I have just learned about Jill Kerttula and I love the multiple techniques she used in her art quilts.

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Dutch Bouquet, which Lanning made for The Endeavourers improv challenge.

AL: Do you also spin yarn? On a wheel or a drop spindle? 

GL: I know the basics of spinning, but I would not call myself a real spinner. I have spun wool and cotton, on drop spindle, great wheel, and flyer wheel.  I would love to spin more, and I love reading Ply magazine and seeing all the possibilities.

AL: What kind of loom do you use?

GL: My favorite loom is an 8-harness, 54” Gilmore, but I also have a 4-harness, 36” Harrisburg.

AL: What kind of materials do you weave? 

GL: I have woven with cotton, linen, rayon, wool, and silk blend yarns.

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“I also designed my own panel and coordinating fabrics, to make a one-of-a-kind quilt for a grandson.”

AL: What do you weave?

GL: I love to weave rugs, but lately I mostly weave dish towels. Just like with the fabric scraps I use in quilting, I have lots of little bits of yarn, and I like combining them in striped and checked towels.

AL: What is the hardest part of weaving?

GL: For years I didn’t like warping the loom, but now I love every part of the process. It is so soothing.  Now the hardest part is deciding on what pattern I will weave this time – there are so many drafts I want to weave, but I also love weaving a favorite draft again.

AL: What is the best part of weaving?

GL: For me the best part is that once you throw that shuttle, that part of the cloth is done. If you had to cut it off the loom right then (and could stabilize the edge), it would be ready to go just like that.  With quilting, there is the cutting, then the piecing, then the prep of the quilt sandwich, then the quilting, then the binding, and you can’t really call it done until all of those steps are finished.  You can’t be sure it is even going to look complete.  With weaving, you get that feeling of completion with every shot.

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“I take photos and print them on fabric with my regular printer — there are lots of different fabrics available to print on, cotton, silk, silk organza.  You can also iron freezer paper on the back of regular fabric and run that through too, so I have done that with old fashioned calicos, and it gives a nice background texture to the print.”

AL: You also make your own dye using plants. Tell me more about that.

GL: We moved to our farm 10 years ago, and right about that same time, I found out that you could do natural dyeing with the same process you would use to make sun tea – put in the plants in a glass jar outside, pour boiling water over them, and see what color develops. I tried every plant I could find, and I was excited to find out that some of the best colors came from some of the most nondescript “weeds.”  It was a great help in learning to distinguish those plants.

It works best on wool, which we don’t use a lot of here in Texas, and the colors do fade over time, but it is a lot of fun.

AL: Do you still knit? What do you like most to knit?

GL: I knit and crochet a little. Someone gave me a huge sack of leftover crochet thread, (and then I bought an equally large sack of leftovers, in case I somehow ran out of something from the first sack), and I am slowly crocheting those into place mats and baskets.  I like to always have a project of that sort going, to take along with me when we go visiting or traveling.

AL: Do you still cross stitch or do any other kinds of embroidery or needlepoint?

GL: I hand stitch a little to embellish art quilts, and I keep telling myself I am going to do a stitch journal, but I have not done as much as I would like in that area.

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Green Mist, practice with textile paints and thread sketching. “I love to do little exercises to try out different techniques and nontraditional materials.”

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March Materials Madness,  an exercise in using household items.

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“Artist’s Alchemy, from The Endeavourers’ Change/Transformation challenge.  I think this is my very favorite art quilt.”

AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories or weaving stories or other craft-related stories?

I used to work at a historical park, where we had a big loom set up. Kids could sit down next to me and I would help them weave, but usually the parents were not patient enough to wait for the five minutes this would take.  One woman and her 8-year-old daughter poked their heads in the door, and the woman said, “Oh, she’s making candles,” and pulled the child back out before I could say anything.

AL: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your textile endeavors?
GL: I really enjoy being a textile dilettante, and experimenting with different techniques and materials, and that attitude also extends to my blog.  I love dipping into different eras and cultures, and sharing what I have learned about topics as wide-ranging as medieval French weaving laws, German operas, Minoan archaeology digs, African wax cloth, and Turkmenistan camel yarns.  Following those textile paths where they lead has brought me new adventures and friends, and I look forward to many more!
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Gwen Lanning with her husband, Bill.

Interview with Cindy Stohn, Professional Quilter

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Interview with Cindy Stohn, Professional Quilter

I am honored to introduce you to master quilter Cindy Stohn. I met her this past summer, when I decided to hire a professional to quilt a top I’d made maybe ten years ago. I checked the Arizona Quilters Guild website for a local quilter, saw Cindy listed, checked out her website, and gave her a call. I’m absolutely delighted with the results! (I’ll show pictures in a future post.) I recently invited Cindy to answer some questions about her work.

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Blow Flowers by Cindy Stohn

ARHtistic License: Tell us how you got started quilting.   

Cindy Stohn: I come from a long line of quilters and creative people that make and fix  or invent things.  Several generations of the family – however not everyone quilts.   I made my first quilt when I was 15.  I adopted a work in progress that my Mom had started  – piecing by hand  – medium sized hexagon shapes cut from the scraps of the baby clothes she had made me.  All very 1970’s fabrics.  Fabrics included denim, corduroy, flannel, among standard woven cottons.  We tied it with yarn.  I remember shopping with her for the backing fabric and I intentionally looked for something hideous, because in my mind at the time, a quilt could even make an ugly fabric look good.  I still have the quilt, but it has not held up well.   I didn’t make many more until my kids were born – then I started making them left and right.

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Rainbow Hexi Strings by Cindy Stohn

AL: Would you hazard a guess as to how many quilts you’ve made or how many quilts you’ve quilted for others? 

CS: I have probably made 200 or so quilts personally – all sizes, most very easy patterns.  We all start out that way.  I tried different stuff along the way.  I can’t say there is much that I don’t like.   I’ve quilted about 550 quilts for others (since I started my business), several for family before that.   

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Cindy Stohn with Navaho Ruby

AL: What kind of quilts do you most like to make? 

CS: I love scrap quilts, modern quilts, and art quilts.  When I started getting into quilting heavily about 20 years ago, I made a LOT of string quilts.  I liked the idea of creating my own fabric and using pieces left over from the clothing I had made for the girls.  Truly there isn’t much I don’t like.  As of late, most of my quilts have been art quilts, or quilts made with the express intention of entering them for competition.  A baby quilt or two might sneak on the list. 

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Chutes and Ladders by Cindy Stohn

AL: Do you design your own quilts, or do you use traditional or commercial patterns?

CS: For the most part I design my own projects.  That was not always the case; especially in the beginning, I always used patterns.  Then I started to modify the pattern,  or choose a different layout, then after my skills improved I had the confidence to just figure my own design out by myself.  Not to say that it is a smooth process.  There are plenty of times I need to rip something out because I have made something the wrong size or put it together in the wrong order. 

Cindy Stohn with another of her award-winning quilts

AL: Tell us about your fabric stash. 

CS: Out of control.  No doubt.  I will say that I have moved low grade fabrics out of my stash.  At one point I decided that if I was going to put so much time and energy into these quilts, and I wanted them to last and the for colors stay their best, the higher grade quilting fabrics are they way to go.  I have several projects I made early on that my family loves, but they are faded, and not as I would like to see them.  But that’s okay – it’s what I could afford.  We learn as we go. 

AL: What are your favorite colors?

CS: I cannot choose.

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Quilt by Cindy Stohn

AL: What kind of batting do you like?

CS: For the past few years I have used Quilter’s Dream batting – almost exclusively.  But that does not mean that others are not good too.  I used Warm and Natural for a long time, and I still like it.  Hobbs had a good product as well.  Again, I would go with quality for anything that we pour our hearts into the way we do with quilts for those we love.

AL: Did you tell me you had quilts at Houston? Or was it Paducah? 

CS: I have had my work displayed in several AQS (American Quilter’s Society) shows including Paducah – but my pieces have not ribboned there so far.  Still trying to up my game for that! I have also had pieces in the Road to California Show where two of my pieces were awarded ribbons.  I entered for the first time this year in the IAQ (International Quilt Association) Quilt Festival in Houston.  I had two pieces accepted, and one was awarded a ribbon.  I was able to attend the award ceremony on Oct 29th, and was awarded 2nd place in the People Portraits and Figures category.   It is an honor just to be accepted into these shows, and I LOVE to attend and see what everyone is doing.  My favorite thing is to see if I can talk to the quilt makers there at the show.  It is always fascinating to me the evolution of the pieces.  Rarely, it would seem, does the quilt we see in the show reflect the original vision of the maker. 

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Quilt by Cindy Stohn on the long arm machine

AL: Tell us about your Guild affiliations. How has being  a Guild member influenced your quilting journey?

CS: For most of my quilting years I was an “introvert quilter.”  I stayed in my sewing room, was educated by TV shows or on (what I like to call) the University of YouTube.   I did whatever  projects I liked and I showed it to nobody outside my immediate family and friends.  I had no interest in quilt guild meetings.  It was a nice existence.  But once again, as time has taught me, what I say I don’t like – MAYBE I do.  Since I stared attending some of the local Arizona Quilt Guild chapters a couple years ago as well as the PHX Modern Quilt group, I have made so many friends and met so many lovely, lovey people who can really help expand the knowledge of quilting, and who can appreciate all that goes into what we do.  My family appreciates the quilts I make – but they do not notice the little extra effort or detail that a fellow quilter will notice and comment on.  PLUS – every meeting has show and tell – and you already know that I love hearing people talk about their projects. 

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Quilt by Cindy Stohn

AL: Tell us about the quilt(s) you’re making right now.

CS: I’m making an art collage quilt – sort of – a Day of the Dead lady in costume.  I hope it works out.  I’ve inventing the process as I go along. 

AL: Tell us about the favorite quilt you’ve made. 

CS: My favorite quilt – if I have to pick – is usually my latest project because each project stretched my skill set.  I try to learn from each project.  So for today, it is the one I sent to this year’s Quilt Festival in Houston.  I like it because I believe that the technique is original – something that has not been done before – and it was challenging – and I pushed myself to finish – even when it was not going well.

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My Big Face by Cindy Stohn won a second place ribbon at the International Quilt Festival in Houston this year.

AL: What are some of the joys and challenges of running a quilting business?

CS: I don’t know if I’d say there are any real challenges – time management maybe.  Sometimes I get clients who do not quilt, but are in the possession of quilt tops – usually very old quilt tops from family that have sentimental value.  These folks sometimes need a lot of education about the quilting world, and how a quilt goes together, the time and materials involved.  They usually just are not exposed to the process and have no idea.  Sometimes these are projects can be challenging to work on, and the tops are usually hand pieced and generally do not lay flat or square, etc.  However, they bring the greatest rewards and people seem to reconnect to family and memories through textiles and quilts.  I think that’s the most amazing thing. 

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Quilt by Cindy Stohn

AL: What long arm machine do you use, and why did you choose that particular one?

CS:I chose the Innova Longarm Machine by ABM.  I chose it because I felt is was more industrial, and I liked the software.

AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?

CS: Only the people at the quilting groups.  There are some crazy hilarious folks out there.

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Quilt by Cindy Stohn

AL: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your quilts? 

CS: Maybe not so much about my quilts – but in general:

  1. People should make what they love – the love will show.
  2. Don’t apologize for any mistakes in your work.  We were all beginners once, and I can tell you (for an absolute fact) that there are mistakes in the quilts that make it to the shows – even the ones that win.  Be proud that you finished. When someone is warmed by your quilt they do not care that the points don’t match.
  3. Try something new and different.  it’s the only way we grow. 

 

All the quilts pictured and all the images in this article are by Cindy Stohn. To see more of Cindy’s quilts, check out her Instagram page.

An Interview with Author Edward Hoornaert

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I became acquainted with Edward Hoornaert several years ago, when I was a participant in Weekend Writing Warriors, where authors post snippets of their works-in-progress for feedback. Hoornaert is a prolific author who earned the nickname Mr. Valentine for his romance novels (Mr. Valentine is also the title of a romance novel by Vicki Lewis Thompson which was inspired by Hoornaert), and then turned to science fiction. (See my reviews of Alien Contact for Idiots and Newborn on my Books Read page, #3 and #1 respectively under 2017. A review of Alien Contact for an Enhanced Nutcracker will be coming soon.)

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Edward Hoornaert against the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, Ed’s “spirit’s home.”

I recently sent Ed some questions about his work, and these are his responses:

ARHtistic License: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ed Hoornaert: I’m a plantser, or maybe a potter. Not Harry, unfortunately for me. [Andrea’s note: I call myself a plotser.]

My first ten or twelve novels (out of 20) were written ‘by the seat of my pants.’ However, I had too many failures that died around page 50 because I discovered there was no ‘there’ there. So now I write an outline, 5 to 10 pages long, of the first two-thirds of a book. Plotting further than that tends to be wasted because the book inevitably takes off in (slightly) new directions. I always have a vision of the ending, though.

Actually, I spend more time getting to know what makes my characters tick than I do on plotting. Come to think of it, in the best books you can’t really separate the characters from the plot; different characters would result in a different story. That’s what I aim for.

AL: How long does it take you to write a book?Farflung

EH: I drafted The Guardian Angel of Farflung Station in about three weeks. Then I spent more than twice that long rewriting and honing it before I submitted it to my small-press publisher. It remains one of my favorites because it came so quickly.

At the other end of the spectrum, The Trial of Tompa Lee, a sci fi novel that was my final book for a traditional publishing house, took about three years. Interestingly, the gestation period says nothing about the books’ quality. They’re both among the best I’ve written, based on reviews.

AL: What is your biggest writing challenge? 

EH: My biggest challenge is holding the world and my family at bay long enough to write. I’m still not comfortable with the selfish side of writing at home. It’s tricky, you know? I have a great marriage and family, and I want to keep it that way.

AL: Do you cut a lot from your drafts when you revise? 

EH: Back when I wrote by the seat of my pants, I had to cut a lot from my drafts, but now that I sort of plot my books, I almost always add rather that delete. My draft scenes are often sketchy, sometimes all dialogue, so I flesh them out and add sensory details. Until the last couple passes, that is, when I’m looking to trim clumsy or wordy passages. Then I aim to cut around 5% of my words.

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EH: Lordy, yes. Usually, there’s one of two reasons:

  • First, I didn’t plan out my idea or my characters well enough to know whether the conflict will sustain a book. Getting stuck like this is often fatal.
  • Second, I sometimes need time to pause to figure out what, exactly, should happen next and why it matters. These may be conflicts between plot (what the plot wants a character to do) and the character, who’s like an actor asking a director, “Why on Earth would I do something as silly as that, instead of this?” I need to dig deeper.

AL: You got your start writing romances for Harlequin Silhouette. Then you turned to sci fi and sci fi/romance and self-published. Why self-publishing?

EH: Actually, I got my start with Tab Books writing a couple of computer books for children before I went to Silhouette. After Silhouette, I published with Five Star Speculative Fiction, an imprint of another big publisher. For the record, some of what I write these days is put out by small presses.

I left the rat race in 2012, by which time I’d gotten the rights back to my sci fi novel. I brought it out as a self-published book that year, along with two sequels that make up The Trilogy of Tompa Lee. It’s impossible to sell the last two-thirds of a trilogy, and I couldn’t find any houses interested in reprinting the first book just to get the sequels. Self-publishing to the rescue! The second book in the trilogy has a 4.8+ rating out of 5, so some readers are glad I took the leap.

Self-pubbing is perfect for me. My career in technical writing had been perfect training. The technical issues of formatting and production were child’s play after software manuals, and being in a two- or three-person department had drummed into me the absolute necessity of going over and over a manuscript until I was sick of it, and then going over it some more.

AL: What, for you, have been the benefits of self-publishing? What are the benefits of traditional publishing?

EH: Main benefit of self-publishing—I don’t have to wait forever and ever; the wheels of large publishing houses grind very, very slowly.

The main benefits of traditional publishing were 1) money, because with the Harlequin behemoth behind me, I made decent shekels; and 2) I didn’t have to do any of my own marketing. I hate marketing.

AL:Your Harlequin books were written under a pen name: Judi Edwards. Why? Was it thought that men couldn’t write women’s fiction?

EH: No, I don’t think that was the reason. A fair number of romance novels back then were being written by men, such as Donald Maass (now a literary agent and author of some of the best books about writing available). I even heard rumors that up to 10% of romances were male-authored. The folks at Harlequin Enterprises — I actually wrote for Silhouette Books, a Harlequin subsidiary — knew that men could write romances women would read.

Although I wasn’t privy to their reasoning, I got the impression the powers-that-be were afraid some women wouldn’t buy a book if they knew a man had written it. Maybe they’re right. There is a bit of prejudice against men working in the genre.

AL: Alien Contact for an Enhanced Nutcracker has just come out. What’s up next?Nutcracker 6

EH: Nutcracker is the sixth book in my Alien Contact for Idiots series and the first new book in the series in a year; I took time off to write two books in my space-opera series. Although I haven’t decided for certain—an idea has to grow in my mind to the point it “takes over,” and whether that will happen is unpredictable—I’m probably going to take a hiatus from both series and work on a standalone book.

Several years ago, I drafted a manuscript about a colony of people forced to explore the relationship between madness and creativity. I’ve always thought the concept was dynamite, even if the execution was a popgun. I’m fifty-four pages into a rewrite, concentrating on changing and sharpening the character of my female lead. She was a bit boring because I didn’t understand what drove her. Assuming the book “takes over” it’ll be near-future science fiction with elements of romance. The working title is Never Seen a Purple Cow.

AL: What is something about you and your books that you’d like your readers to know?

EH: One of the tried-and-true paths to success these days is to publish a lot of books—every month or two if possible. The problem with this approach is that quantity takes precedence over quality, and I hate the idea of publishing a book that isn’t as good as I can possibly make it. I rushed one of my books, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

So I’d like readers to know that I’m old school. I rewrite and hone until a book is as engrossing as it can be. Quality over quantity!

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Ed’s cat, affectionately known as Effing Feline, makes a weekly appearance on Ed’s website.

An Interview with Quilter Stephanie Finnell

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An Interview with Quilter Stephanie Finnell

Meet Stephanie Finnell, the blogger, sewer, crocheter, and quilter behind the Katy Trail Creations blog and Etsy shop. I’ve followed her blog for years and recently reached out and asked if I could interviw her for ARHtistic License. Here are her responses:

ARHtistic License: You care for pre schoolers in your home. How do you find time to quilt?
Stephanie Finnell: I’ve been caring for children ages newborn through 11 years for over 25 years and have learned to utilize naptime pretty efficiently lol. Otherwise there are evenings and weekends.

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AL: How did you get started quilting?
SF: I have sewn nearly all my life. My earliest recollection is making a toy ‘snake’ with scraps with my grandmother Inez on her treadle sewing machine. I took sewing in 4-H with my mother as the project leader and after I married, I bought my first machine. The quilting part came along after my daughters were born and I wanted to try using up a bunch of scraps. I’d made quite a good amount of dresses for my daughters and used them on a crazy quilt. I don’t have a photo of it (guess that should be a priority).

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AL: Do you prefer traditional quilt designs, or do you like contemporary designs as well? What is your favorite kind of quilt to make?
SF: I do have a love for traditional but I really admire the contemporary quilts I’ve seen online. My favorite ones lately are from old Kansas City Star patterns. I’ve collected a few books that feature these and love trying them out. Some turn out great, others not so much lol.

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AL: Are there any particular quilt designers you admire?
SF: I think I need to give credit to Fons and Porter for their influence with PBS as well as other tv quilters (Alex Anderson, Ricky Tims, Eleanor Burns, Sharlene Jorgenson) for jumpstarting my interest as well as giving all the wonderful instruction. There aren’t many quilters in my family and none that I’ve actually sewn with. I am slightly partial to Fons and Porter as they hale from my grandma’s birthplace in Iowa.

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AL: You do a lot of hand quilting. Do you ever quilt by machine? Do you stitch-in-the-ditch or do you do free motion quilting? What kind of sewing machine do you use?
SF: I’m glad you asked. I definitely use machine when I can’t take as much time in completing a quilt. I like using the walking foot so more line quilting or serpentine styles when using a machine. There’s also tying when really pinched for time. I own a Bernina 1080(a real workhorse) and an Esante but use the Bernina most. I have also used embroidery with the Esante on a couple quilts. It worked really well on a cathedral window quilt.

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AL: What are your favorite colors for quilting?
SF: I think red and white quilts really are my favorite. (This has reminded me of a UFO-stack of red & white blocks downstairs lol.) Also blue and white. But as you can see in my completed photos, I’m a lover of all color combinations.

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AL: What is your fabric-shopping strategy?
SF: Usually sales and a need for specific colors to match.

AL: Do you usually have a particular quilt in mind when you go to the fabric store, or do you buy whatever strikes your fancy?
SF: When readying for the A to Z Challenge I’ve got a color scheme in mind.

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AL: What is your stash like?
SF: It is pretty large with much of it in tubs. I am fortunate to have a designated space but as I’m working on projects, they overflow into my recliner for ease of access. Recently a local fabric store closed due to the owner passing and my mother and I had to restrain ourselves with all the fabric available. It was still a bit more than we could do and we both spent a significant amount but all fabric lovers justify their purchases and seem to have enabling spouses lol.

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AL: What kind of batting do you like?
SF: All cotton, low loft. Much easier for hand stitching.

AL: What are you working on right now?
SF: Another eBay find. It’s a wedding ring-ish type but it is has a square border all around. Someone used Precious Moments fabric on it in the rings and will make some little girl an adorable keepsake I hope.

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AL: How do decide what kind of quilt to make?
SF: I often try to decide how many fabrics I want to use, So for a red and white, the options are fewer in block pattern choices. Other times, I just use up my scraps so they aren’t continuing to pile up.

AL: What is the hardest part of quilting?
SF: Finding enough time. If I had to do it for a living though, I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

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AL: What has helped you the most on your quilting journey?
SF: Working at home gives me more time than most people, I think. Out of sight, out of mind in so many hobbies and being here it’s pretty much always in my line of vision.

finnell 10

AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?
SF: Well recently, my daughter who really does know better wanted a quilt by 1 pm the same day. I agreed only if I had her assistance in cutting and tying. It was the quickest quilt in history I think! Lol Glad we spent that time on it together though. Warmed my heart 😊

finnell 11

AL: What else you would like readers to know about your quilts?
SF: I just hope they bring someone joy. That’s a quilter’s ultimate goal.

finnell + hubby

Stephanie Finnell with her husband.

Interview with Author Kathie McMahon

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Interview with Author Kathie McMahon

Meet Kathie McMahon, a retired teacher, musician, and author. Her new chapter book, Mortimer and Me, is releasing this Saturday, September 28, 2019, at 10 am at the rehearsal studio of East Valley Children’s Theatre, 4501 E. Main St., Mesa, Arizona, on the southeast corner of Greenfield and Main. If you’ll be in the Greater Phoenix area, you’re invited to come!

ARHtistic License: Your chapter book, Mortimer and Me, is for ages 6-9. What’s it about?

Kathie McMahon: Eight-year-old Jimmy is the new kid in school and he’s already been labeled a troublemaker. After his first attempt to make a friend turns disastrous, the only one who seems to care about Jimmy is Mortimer – a big ole clumsy moose that wanders into town causing problems of his own. Jimmy and Mortimer face one setback after another, including a run-in with a couple of bullies and an escape by the class pet. The soccer game between the teachers and third graders might be the opportunity Jimmy is searching for. Maybe he and Mortimer can finally prove to everyone that they belong.

AL: How did you come up with the idea?

KM:My dad used to tell me bedtime stories about Mortimer and all the trouble he would get into. Each night was a different catastrophe. I can still hear my dad’s low voice saying, “Mortimer? Go help someone else!” Dad’s Mortimer was a donkey, however, not a moose. But one summer, my husband and I were on an Alaskan cruise. We saw a moose standing by the train tracks, and then in town we came upon a gift shop called “Mortimer and Company,” with a huge picture of a moose in sunglasses. All those stories came flooding back and a new Mortimer was born.

Mortimer and me

AL: You taught elementary school for years, and you’ve written musicals for East Valley Children’s Theater. How does writing novels differ from writing musicals? How are they similar?

KM: I taught elementary band and general music for twelve years and then decided to move into the regular classroom, where I taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grades for 20 years until I retired in 2005. When I taught music, I always did school musicals by published playwrights. Once I started in the regular classroom, I found myself wanting to teach the social studies and science curriculum in a different way. So I created musicals that aligned with the curriculum and performed one every year. After taking a sabbatical to hone my composition skills, I started writing music for community theatre, specifically East Valley Children’s Theatre, for which I’ve won four AriZoni Awards for Original Musical Composition. When I started writing novels after I retired, I found writing dialogue to be the easiest because of my playwriting experience. What I found the most challenging was the narrative, the descriptions needed around the dialogue. I’ve been working on that a lot, but you’ll still find my novels to be very dialogue-driven.

AL: Are your musicals available to other groups for performance?

KM: My school musicals are self-published. I’m currently revising those and will be adding accompaniment tracks. I hope to have them on my website soon. I’ve had one musical, The Floating Princess, published by Pioneer Drama. C. Lynn Johnson is the playwright and I did the music and lyrics.

AL: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

KM: I’ve always been a pantser, that is until I wrote my first YA novel. I finished the first draft and it is a mess! The plot and characters took quite the twist and turn in the process, to the point where I’m not sure how it even all lines up. So going back and revising it is going to be a real chore. I swore I would outline from now on! I’ve already outlined book two of the Mortimer series, and I think it’s going to be much easier to write. I will still have my moments of “pantsing,” I’m sure, because I always want to let the characters take me in a direction I hadn’t thought of before. So I suppose I will strive for a balance of both in the end.

mortimer book

AL: How long did it take to write Mortimer and Me?

KM: Oh my, it’s been quite the process – you wouldn’t think writing a chapter book would take so long! When I first started writing, I was actually teaching the writing process to my sixth graders as they navigated through how to write a story to be published. So I came up with Mortimer and used him as an example. The story evolved, and initially I planned for it to be a picture book with an original song. I imagined a toddler listening to the story and then learning a simple song about Mortimer. When I pitched it to a publisher, she suggested making it into a chapter book and introducing a boy character. So Jimmy and Mortimer’s relationship was born. I also found my writing voice in middle grade, the age group I had taught for 32 years. I put Mortimer and Me on the back burner while I worked on some other projects. Eventually I came back to it and decided to self-publish it as a chapter book series. It’s been quite the ride!

AL: What kind of research did you do for Mortimer and Me?

KM: Well, I researched moose, of course! Living in Arizona, we don’t see any here! I wanted Mortimer to have the characteristics of a moose, but some human traits as well. I think every child has fantasies about having a certain kind of animal as a friend. So while I’m not suggesting anyone go up to a moose in the wild and try to pet it, I found many examples of moose wandering into towns every now and then. I found out that they normally don’t attack humans unless provoked. I also visited Wisconsin to get a feel for life there, and to research my ancestors who emigrated there from England. You can find out interesting facts about moose on my website, and if you’re interested in my ancestors from England, you’ll have to wait for my YA novel, once I finally revise it!

AL: What was it like working with illustrator Tom Tate?

KM: Tom and I have been friends for many years. He’s been an illustrator most of his life and recently finished his own project, Tales of the Mythlewild, which he wrote and illustrated. We met through SCBWI and were part of the same critique group. Mortimer and Me is the first book he’s illustrated for someone else, something I talked him into because he had already critiqued the story. I hope this leads to other opportunities for him, because he is extremely talented! Since he already knew the story, he nailed Mortimer on the first try. Jimmy took a little longer because he doesn’t often draw contemporary kids. But in my mind, Jimmy was my younger brother. I was able to send Tom some childhood pictures of him. After that, the other characters came easily, and he added some nice touches for the front matter and chapter headings.

AL: What types of books do you like to read? What authors do you admire?

KM: Like every other author, I’ve been reading my whole life, so this is a tough one. I grew up with the Nancy Drew series and Little House on the Prairie. As a teacher, I liked to read historical fiction to my classes so they could learn historical facts in an interesting way. That genre has always been one of my personal favorites, along with science fiction – even though science is probably my weakest curriculum area! As a writer, I really relate to the writing styles of Richard Peck, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt, Gordon Korman, Sally J. Pla, Linda Mullaly Hunt, and Natalie Lloyd.

AL: What is your favorite book about writing?

KM: I’ll admit I haven’t read a lot of books about writing, but right now I’m reading It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again by Juila Cameron, who also wrote The Artist’s Way. Excellent advice in both books!

AL: What is the most difficult part of writing a book? What is the most fun part of writing a book?

KM: Writing a book is much more difficult than I ever imagined! I never had a writing course in school, other than what writing I had to do in AP English classes and two years on the high school newspaper staff. So there was so much to learn! I attended every workshop, conference, and webinar I could and just became a sponge that soaked up as much advice as possible. Then putting all that into a story was challenging! But that’s also the fun part. Taking an idea and watching it grow is exciting. I know I’ve hit a soft spot when I read an excerpt to my husband and he gets tears in his eyes. Or when I re-read something I’ve just written and I laugh out loud. Writing can be frustrating, but so rewarding at the same time!

Kathie

AL: Why did you decide to self-publish? You’ve created your own imprint, Pearl White Books, named in honor of your grandmother. How did you do that? Do you have plans to publish books by other authors under that imprint?

KM: I have spent the last ten years querying and submitting three different projects to agents and editors. I’ve received some very positive feedback, as well as discouraging ones. I have many friends who have gone both the traditional and self-publishing route. I finally decided that what I really want to be is what is called a “hybrid” author – meaning I would like to do both. I thought Mortimer and Me would be a good place to start. I developed a website and social media platform and hope to build a fan base for this series that might lead to some agents willing to represent me. I used Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon, which I found to be very professional and extremely helpful through the process. They allowed me to start my own imprint, Pearl White Books, in honor of my maternal grandmother. And yes, that really is her name! Funny, but I never really thought about her name before. Obviously, her parents didn’t know she’d marry someone named White when they named her Pearl. She was my inspiration and role model. She always knew the perfect gift to buy for birthdays and Christmas, and for me, that was usually books and music. She’s been gone for many years now, but I couldn’t think of a better name for my imprint. Right now, I’m just using it for my own books, but you never know what the future will bring!

AL: Mortimer and Me is book one of a series. What’s in store for the second installment?

KM: Like I mentioned before, it’s already outlined! The title is Mortimer and Me: The Bigfoot Mystery. Jimmy and Mortimer go camping and find a huge footprint that they can’t decide if it’s human or animal. So they decide to find out what it is . . .

AL: What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

KM: Probably the biggest challenge any author faces is what story to tell. I struggled with this a lot when I started out. “Write what you know” turned into “Write what you can find out about” which is now “Write the story only you can tell.” As a retired teacher who likes to travel a lot, I wasn’t sure “my story” would be interesting enough that anyone would want to read! Journaling helps a lot when you’re trying to create ideas, and I found that I have a lot to say! You’ll find that my stories have a lot of heart and usually center on family, specifically relationships with grandparents. I’m the grandmother of five, so I can relate to that. My husband and I have traveled a lot since we retired, so you’ll also find that flavor in my stories. Plus, I love doing research, so even if I haven’t been there, I can travel there virtually. There are universal themes that all kids can relate to: friendships, relationships, belonging, family. Those things constitute the heart of my stories, and I hope there are those who can relate to them as well.

An Interview with Quilter Frances Arnold

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An Interview with Quilter Frances Arnold

Frances Arnold is a quilter, blogger, instructor, speaker, world traveler, and accountant. She recently answered questions about her quilting for ARHtistic License.

Why quilts? What is it about quilt-making that captivates you?
FA: That is a great question and, honestly, I don’t know why I ended up with quilting. I come from a long line of Texas quilters and my Mom made quilts when I was growing up, but they were all large quilts, done entirely by hand, and each took a year to make. This didn’t appeal to me at all!! But what she did teach me was that handmade items were special and were to be cherished. Instead of quilting, I tried knitting, crocheting and needlepoint, then transitioned to crewel embroidery and finally counted cross-stitch. When I was 28, one of my friends from church was teaching quilting and I took her class. Her quilting was different…she did small projects that could be finished in a reasonable amount of time and even used the sewing machine at times. Once I started, I was hooked and haven’t really looked back since then. After 35 years of quilting, I LOVE the feel of the fabrics, the precision of the piecing and the texture of the quilting.

Casa Amarella

“Casa Amarella” (2009) – 19×23 – This quilt was based on a photo from Porto, Portugal

You’re an accountant. How do you make time for quilting?
FA: When my first child was born 34 years ago, my husband and I decided that we would do our best to keep me at home with our kids. Over the years, I developed my accounting practice, just a few clients in the early years and a more substantial practice now. I work out of my home which allows me a lot of flexibility. In the past year, I have been planning my time using “block scheduling” which means that I set certain time aside for being in the studio. It has definitely helped my creativity.

Complements under the Canopy

“Complements Under the Canopy” (2012) – 40×40 – The guild challenge was “Complementary colors” and the inspiration was from photos taken at the Xishuabana Tropical Botanical Garden in Southern China.

Do you ever use commercial patterns, or do you always design your own?
FA: Like most quilters, I started out picking 3 fabrics (a light, a medium and a dark) and working straight from a published pattern. As time went on, I thought “what would happen if I made this one change”, and then another change and before I knew it I was making quilts almost entirely from my original designs. Although I sometimes use commercial patterns now, my preference is to design my own.

Blue Light Special

“Blue Light Special” (2014) – 42×45 – This was based on a photo taken inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The inspiration came from a “six-pointed star” challenge in my local guild. The thought was triggered when the instructions talked about this type of star being prevalent in the Islamic religion.

Where do you get your inspiration?
FA: EVERYWHERE!!! I am always taking photos of things that remind me of quilts and even have my husband looking as well. He often sends me photos of things that he sees!!

Flower Pots, Flower Pots

“Flower Pots, Flower Pots” (2012 ) – 86×105 – This was the second quilt that my Mom and I worked on together. She did the appliqué and I put the top together and the machine quilting. It is one of my favorite quilts!!

What’s your favorite kind of quilt to make?
FA: This is a hard question because I like so many different types of quilts. In the last 10 years I have made a number of quilts based on inspirations from overseas trips that my husband and I have taken. He often works overseas for extended periods of time and I accompany him as often as I can. Since 2017 we have spent 64 weeks overseas, making 20 trips to 11 different countries, including Italy, Portugal, Austria, Colombia, Australia, China, India and Nepal.
But, on the other hand, I LOVE finding a fun pattern and making a good old scrap quilt. I find them relaxing to make and a good distraction when I am “stuck” on something that needs more designing and thinking!!

Mother Daughter Flower Garden

“Mother, Daughter Flower Garden” (2009) – 90×108 – This was the first quilt that my Mom and I made together. She had made tons of appliqué flower blocks but was planning to just throw a sashing between them and call the top finished. I told her that the beautiful blocks deserved more, so ended up finishing the top and doing the quilting.

What are your favorite colors?
FA: I would say that I don’t have a favorite color, but my stash would say differently as it is overflowing with jewel tones. More than a particular color, I am drawn to bright fabrics…dull tones just don’t do it for me!

Peacock Pavillion

“Peacock Pavilion” (2008) – 35×40 – While visiting the Mysore Palace in India, I was enamored with a stained glass peacock window. Since no photos were allowed, I sketched a rendition and immediately came home and designed this quilt.

Do you quilt by hand or on a sewing machine?
FA: Most of my work is done by machine but I am trying to add some hand appliqué back in…mainly to give me something to do at night while sitting with my husband.

Rainbow Pineapples

“Rainbow Pineapples” (2017) – 78×100 – made using Gyleen Fitzgerald’s pineapple ruler and started during a guild retreat. This quilt was juried into the International Quilt Festival (Houston) in 2018.

What sewing machine do you use? What do you like about it?
FA: I have a Juki 2200 QVP Mini, which is a straight stitch machine. It is a true workhorse and I love it!! It moves easily between piecing and machine quilting and has all the features that I ever need. IF I need to do a zig-zag stitch, I move back to my previous machine, a Viking Lily. It too was a great machine, but I wanted something with a little more harp space that would make machine quilting easier.

Pueblo Nation

“Pueblo Nation” (2014) – 42×44 – This quilt was part of our guild’s “Nation” challenge. The design was based on photos that we took while visiting the pueblos in Taos, New Mexico.

What is your fabric-shopping strategy? Do you usually have a particular quilt in mind when you go to the fabric store, or do you buy whatever strikes your fancy?
FA: I wish that I could call it a strategy, but mostly it is a matter of attraction and opportunity. Many of my quilts are made without purchasing any fabric but sometimes I go out looking for that one special fabric.

Escala Azule

“Escala Azule” (2009) – 18×23 – Also from Porto, Portugal, this quilt is a reminder of the LONG set of stairs that I climbed after learning that the “sky lift” wasn’t working.

How many unfinished projects do you have right now? (Is that an unfair question?)
FA: Personally, I don’t have tons of unfinished projects…the oldest one is based on train passengers in the London Underground. It has been a UFO for almost 10 years!!! Having said that, my Mom passed away in 2017 and left me EIGHT of her UFO’s!! Right now, I am trying to figure out exactly which ones I want to finish and which I want to donate to my guild charity group. [Note: click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read the captions.]

You’re a guild member. How has that affected your journey as a quilter?
FA: Being a member of a local guild has been instrumental in the growth of my art. Many of my closest friends are from my guild and all have inspired me and encouraged me to keep pushing onward. The programs and workshops have helped me to look at new techniques and to think about quilting in different ways. I think that every quilter should be in a guild!

Whose quilt designs do you admire?
FA: There are too many to name. I am truly enamored with the free motion machine quilting that is being done now, particularly in the modern quilt genre. I am inspired every time I thumb thru the newest magazine, check out the latest websites, or observe the “show and tell” at our guild meetings.

You travel around the southeast giving presentations to quilters. What especially do you like to teach/talk about?
FA: My favorite guild talk is “Viewing the World Thru Quilt Colored Glasses” where I mix travel photos with the quilts that they inspired. When I first started giving this talk, I spent more time talking about the travel side, but now I have so many quilts made from these inspirations that I keep having to cut more and more of the travel photos out.
I also have talks about using photographs in quilts (Out of the Scrapbook and onto the quilt), and about making quilts the size that you want (Size Matters). I am currently in the process of developing another talk about use of color in quilts.
I also enjoy teaching “Beginning Machine Quilting” workshops, trying to convince participants that they are capable of quilting their own quilts…even BIG ones.

The Tiles of San Giovani

“The Tiles of San Giovani” (2018) – 46×46 – After visiting the Church of San Giovani in Rome and taking 97 photos of the tile floors, this was the quilt that was born.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your quilts?
FA: My quilts are definitely an extension of my life and the creativity involved is what keeps me sane!! My goal for 2019 and 2020 is to “up my quilting game” by improving both the technical side of my quilts as well as their creative aspects. So far, I am truly enjoying this journey!!

Frances Arnold

Frances Arnold