Closeup, "Kirsten"

Hundreds of Hexies

So thrilled my art quilt “Kirsten” is in ArtPrize 9, a huge international art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan!

Kirsten Art Quilt by Carolyn Zinn


“Kirsten” (named after my daughter) is 54 inches wide and 81 inches tall. I created it by sewing together 480 fabric hexagons by hand, using the English Paper Piecing technique, which involves wrapping paper shapes in fabric and then stitching the fabric together.  Approximately 60 different commercial fabric prints were used. I quilted it using mono-filament thread on my home sewing machine.

I’m often asked how long it took me to make. I don’t really keep track, but I would guess almost 200 hours total. I probably spent about 80 hours over the course of 4 weeks creating fabric hexagons and carefully choosing the placement of each hexagon on my design wall, guided by a reference photo. I didn’t start sewing anything together until all 480 hexies were in their final location and orientation.  Then I probably spent 100 hours over the course of 2½ months hand-sewing the hexies together (being careful not to rotate or disorder anything!)  Quilting and binding took about 10 more hours.

“The amazing thing seeing this close up is that these are large quilt hexagons, in some heavily patterned colors, (and some white with writings on them), which does not look at all like any picture. Then, miraculously, as one steps back a few more feet….all of a sudden, it is a picture, and even like a painting!”
– Quilt Viewer

I hope you can see it in person, on the upper level of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum through October 8, 2017.  Please view it from a distance as well as close up – I think the difference is amazing!  If you agree, I’d love your vote! Please use code 64662! 

Brown Bag Challenge

The art quilting group I belong to held a “brown bag challenge.” No, we didn’t make quilts out of brown bags! We were each given a plain brown paper lunch bag and asked to put three items into it, with which a small 12″x12″ art quilt could be made. We exchanged bags anonymously and had two months to create something artful for the contributor.

The bag I selected contained three pieces of fabric – saturated  hand-dyes in cherry red and marine blue, and some Kaffe Fasset Shanty Town in the same colorway — and some green perle cotton floss.

The contents of my challenge bag

The contents of my challenge bag



Shanty Town Purple by Brandon Mably for Kaffe Fassett Collection Westminster

I needed to sleep on it.

I decided to do a modified “stack and whack” with that house print. Stack-and-whack usually involves cutting 8 identical triangle blocks and rotating them to form an 8-sided kaleidoscope effect.  I only had 4 repeats of the pattern available, so I cut tiny 1.5″ squares, rotated them and joined them to form 2″ finished sized blocks.

I added some of the red, because it had nice directional streaking,  and a bit of complementary Kaffe fabric from my stash. I arranged the tiny blocks in a corner-to-corner color wave from blue to purple to red, with fun pops of green from the prints.

The assembled top, 13″x 13″

But I wasn’t finished. The agreement was to use a recognizable amount of each of the contributed items. I still had green embroidery cotton to feature somehow.

I needed to sleep on it again.

So many angles in that Shanty Town print. So many squares in my piecing.  The quilt needed something soft, curvy, organic.  And I could introduce that with embroidery.

I chain-, blanket- and feather-stitched an insect-like web right over that angular grid of whacked houses. I kind of love the results.

Campo di Papaveri

My dear friend Kris is getting married next month! It’s been so heartwarming to see how happy she and her fiance are. During their recent trip to Italy she shared a photo that I think perfectly captures the adventure, beauty and happiness of their new life together.


Photo Credit Marty Green, Pezze Di Greco, Italy. April 2016

This piece measures 9.5″ x 15″ and I made it using the confetti technique  -thousands of tiny bits of fabric secured with  sheer tulle and free-motion quilting.  I titled it “Campo di Papaveri” , which is Italian for “Field of Poppies” (I hope :-))

Migliori auguri! Best wishes, happy couple!


Brown Bag Challenge

I recently participated in a brown bag challenge with my art quilting group. Each participant was asked to bring three items in a brown lunch bag to be used in a small art quilt. Everyone took home a random bag that wasn’t their own, and had two months to use the items to create a 12″x12″ art quilt.

I was so excited as I opened my brown bag because I knew instantly that my friend Jackie had placed the items I found within it.


It contained cuts of 5 hand-dyed fabrics, a baggie of colorful marble-sized  woolen balls and half-dollar-sized woolen discs, and a playfully tied bundle of silk ribbon and perle cotton embroidery floss.


The planning begins! A preliminary layout for the fabric, and a sketch for the embroidery.


The pieced base layer takes shape.  Jackie’s hand-dyes were supplemented with a few from my stash.


The completed piece. The original design was rearranged to incorporate a quote from Rumi that I heard while working on the embroidery: “This turning toward what you deeply love saves you.” It resonated with me in a way that I thought Jackie might feel too.


The complete poem is printed onto fabric and applied to the back side.







(noun \ˈhwȯr(-ə)l, ˈwȯr(-ə)l, ˈ(h)wər(-ə)l\) something that whirls, coils, or spirals or whose form suggests such movement.

This small art quilt started as an exploration of texture. As many of my pieces, it was prompted by a monthly challenge from my Art Quilt Group.

I first hand-dyed a length of fine china silk, then started tucking and gathering with matching thread. I didn’t have any plan for the final outcome; it evolved organically into the nautilus shape. The silk was backed by a double layer of cotton batting, then embellished with glass beads and my favorite variegated silk embroidery floss. Finally, I finished the edges in the naturally irregular shape it had become, and mounted it on a crisp-cornered pillowcase-finished eggplant Kona cotton base.

Bonus! See this piece, three others of mine, and many other fine works by my Art Quilt Group at the June 2016 Art Hop at Ninth Wave Studio in Kalamazoo. June 3, 2016 5pm-8pm.


"Synapse" 20"x30" hand-painted silk, hand embroidered and beaded.

“Synapse” 20″x30″ hand-painted silk, hand embroidered and beaded.



“Synapse” detail

The challenge was to create an art quilt depicting “connections.”

My response is entitled “Synapse.”

This is a wholecloth quilt. I used Jaquard Green Label silk dyes with the serti resist method to paint this 20″ by 30″ piece of china silk. I machine quilted along the cell walls and dendrites. I embellished by hand with silk floss and glass beads.

"Synapse," detail

“Synapse” detail

The brain has trillions of synapses.

At synapses, neurons release neurotransmitters that are picked up by their neighbors, carrying signals from cell to cell. These signals form memories and thoughts. The long, branchlike projections of brain cells are called axons and dendrites. These projections carry synaptic messages, integrating all the information a cell receives.

Intelligence is dictated by a brain’s underlying organization and molecular activity at its synapses.

Damage to dendrites is associated with depression and despair.

Alzheimer’s disease disrupts both the way electrical charges travel within cells and the activity of neurotransmitters between cells.





When Dolls Worry

The Guatemalan legend has it, that these small colorful handmade dolls will take away the worries of the child who places thIMG_0502em under her pillow.

I fell in love with these 2 inch tall dolls on a recent trip to Central America, and brought home a couple dozen of them with the intention of challenging my art quilt group, and myself, to use one or two of them in an art quilt.

I wondered, “What do the worry dolls do with the worry they collect? What do they do when they have their own worries?” Maybe only other worry dolls could take all this away. And so I arrived at this infinite cycle — each doll a pillow for the next.

I wanted to present my extension of the myth with the color and style of the cloth that comprised the dolls’ dresses. I had no handwoven Guatemalan cloth (why didn’t I bring some of that home from C.A.?)  So I mimicked it with running stitches embroidered with colorful perl cotton on black cotton duck.


“When Dolls Worry”,© Carolyn Zinn 2015. 17″x17″ cotton duck, perl cotton floss, imported dolls.











Mini Quilt Swap

I just participated in a fun mini-quilt swap sponsored by the Great Lakes Modern Quilt Guild.

Participants each received the name of another participant to make a small quilt for. We were to keep quiet about who we were creating for! To convey our preferences to our mystery partners, each of us created an online inspiration board using our guild Pinterest site. Here’s mine.

I drew my friend Stephanie’s name. I was excited because Stephanie is so energetic and joyful, I knew I could have fun with my design. Her inspiration board was full of colorful ideas. When I saw the fox and hedgehog designs on her board, I knew what I had to swap quilt for stephanie

I think she liked the result!

Jeanine drew my name. We didn’t know each other well before the swap, but she was able to pick up on my love of sunsets and bold saturated colors and made the perfect art quilt for me.  She called it “Day’s End”. I will treasure it always!

mini swap quilt from jeanine