Aloe Abstraction

In October, I had the absolute pleasure of taking Jane Sassaman's Abstraction from Nature 4-day workshop at Art Quilt Tahoe.  Upon returning from Tahoe, I shared my experiences atttending Art Quilt Tahoe, along with a sneak peak of my project.  Today, I am excited to unveil my finished project, along with more of my process.

I draw so much inspiration from nature and have long admired Jane's work.  So I was very excited to learn a variety of techniques from Jane on abstracting from nature.  Leading up to the workshop, I gathered a large collection of photographs taken of flowers and plants growing in my own backyard and discovered along my many walk abouts.  For the first day of exercises involving sketching, I chose Morning Glories as my muse.  We spent the day observing and studying our different muses, followed by rendering a variety of sketches to help capture the essence of each plant.
Morning Glory Muse

At the end of the first day, I was rather relieved we had the choice of moving forward with fabric and/or starting over with new sketch studies, as none of my morning glory sketches really excited me.  I started over and sketched a variety of succulents, and was drawn to the variety of textures and shapes. 
Starting Over with Succulents

While there was lots of potential in these sketches, I was especially inspired by the colors and textures of Aloe Aborescens, also known as Torch Aloe.
Passing the Torch to a New Series of Studies

Jane encouraged us to simplify shapes and exaggerate key details.  Below you can see my new sketch studies working towards capturing the simplicity of the Aloe plants, while exaggering some of the spikey texture of the leaves.
Simplify and Exaggerate

The next morning, I returned to the classroom, excited to translate my sketches into color and fabric.  Using all Cherrywood hand dyed solids, I began constructing my leaves first.
Aloe Advancing Into Fabric

Once my leaves were all prepped, I was excited to transform them with texture!!  I pulled a chair up to the window overlooking Lake Tahoe, and cut large spikes along the edges of each leaf.
Textured Transformation

I should note that I was a naughty student and did not bring a sewing machine with zig zag capabilities.  This required me to deviate a bit from the construction techniques typically employed by Jane Sassaman in her award winning quilts.  Jane was very supportive and encouraging, despite me going a bit rogue at times.   
Layering Shapes

While the individual shapes were exciting, my initial compositions was desperately in need of reworking.  Jane came over and really helped me create a more dynamic design.  She ran into the bathroom and grabbed a roll of toilet paper to use for cropping (genius!!). While I was sad to lose some parts of the spikey leaves, allowing them to grow off the edges really made for a much more exciting composition.
Dynamic Composition Cropping Up

Now it was time to sort out the brilliant conical blooms.  Several paper templates were cut out in different shapes and sizes, prior to auditioning fabrics that capture the glow of these masses of bulbs.
Aloe Auditions

Luckily I brought a large selection of ombres, and picked up another fabric from Bay Quilts on-site pop up shop!  In fact, I kept packing in more and more fabric into my purple carryon case that was more than 10 years old.  This workshop was the final hurrah for that suitcase that has served me well for so long!!
Fabric Explosion

The last step was to add in a few finishing details (stems, buds) along with some trapunto work on each of the two glowing blooms.  By the end of the workshop, I was very  pleased with my fused quilt top.
Detail Work

Back at home, I went back and forth on quilting plans and finding a balance between adding some interest to the background without detracting from the Aloe plant.  I kept visualizing swirls and spikes, echoeing the spikey leaves, but my initial doodle sessions just kept falling short of my vision.  I tried wavy flames which also did not excite me.  I revised different spikey and spiral combinations, and was very tempted to pack up the project and revisit at another time.
Spikes and Spirals

I turned to another of my favorite motifs:  Bear Paw.  After doodling out several echoed shells, I got the idea to add zig zag spikes to the final echo layer and was immediately excited by this new twist on a personal favorite.  It was lots of fun to stitch out, especially using Aurifil's variegated Storm at Sea 50wt that changes from white to a beautiful blue (which I captured in this video demo).
Combining Motifs to Create a New Design That is Super Fun to Stitch

Once the background was densely stitched out, I decided more quilting was needed inside each of the leaves, but went with a minimal design.
Leaving the Leaves for Last

One of Jane Sassaman's prints was used for the quilt back (it too features spikes and spirals).
Quilt Back Featuring Jane's Fabrics

Jane is an amazing artist and teacher, and I learned so much from her!!  If you ever get a chance to take one of her classes--treat yourself, as you will learn so much and be inspired by her samples, quilts, and exercises.
Aloe Abstraction, Finishes 25" x 32"


  1. Wow! Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing your process.

    1. Thank you for visiting!! Jane is an incredible teacher and I learned so much in her workshop!! I am just glad I slowed down enough to capture the process in a few photographs along the way!!

  2. What a stunning quilt. You mastered many of the elements Jane taught and you've explained it so well. I'd love to take a class with her.
    And yes, I empathize with the demise of your carryall. Always a sad day when one bites the dust.
    Will we see this quilt at the show?

    1. Thanks Ann. Jane's quilts are absolutely stunning with so many wonderful details, and her teaching style is just as amazing. I drew so much inspiration from our 4 days together and learned sooo much. I hope you get a chance to take a workshop with her!! Losing my suitcase of 10+ years was a small price to pay to take her workshop!!


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