Sunday, May 5, 2019

“Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower”

“Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower” (24x19")
Copyright 2019 by Susan Brubaker Knapp
This is my latest: “Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower” at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is approximately 24" x 19". (I don’t have the facing on yet, so I don’t know the exact size.) I took the photo on which this piece is based several years ago. I attended UNC-CH in the late 1980s, and earned my master's degree in journalism there. Both my daughters go there now, with one graduating in a week. The bell tower is perhaps my favorite structure on campus. I love the Carolina blue tile ceiling, with its reflective tiles that make you feel like you are looking up to the sky. The base is airy and open and joyful. 

This is a wholecloth painted piece; it started out as white fabric, and I painted the design first, then quilted the piece, spending most of my time going around every single tile and brick with thread. Here are some detail shots:

More daffodils

“Praise Be” (8-1/4" square)
Copyright 2019 by Susan Brubaker Knapp
These are two more pieces in what has become a daffodil series. Both are based on a drawing I made about three years ago of daffodils in my garden. They are my favorite flowers, bright and cheerful and joyful.  

“Praise Be” is a donation to “Seeds of Peace,” a fundraiser for the Georgia Conflict Center, which works in Athens-area schools, jails, churches and community groups to teach ways of reducing conflict and violence. 

“For Danielle,” the piece below, is based on the same drawing, but I added a little pink hand-dyed linen frame. It’s a thank you for a very special friend who used to be a neighbor. 

“For Danielle”
Copyright 2019 by Susan Brubaker Knapp

Monday, February 11, 2019

“Daffodils” and “Blue Crab, Green Water”

12" x 17" (Copyright 2019) White cotton fabric, acrylic textile paint, ink, cotton threads, wool batting. Based on an original drawing. Wholecloth painted, free-motion quilted

For these two new pieces, I worked in a slightly different way. First, I traced two of my drawings onto white PFD (prepared for dyeing) fabric, and layered it with batting and backing fabric. I stitched over the pencil lines with black thread. Then I painted, using PRO Chemical & Dye's transparent textile paints, base extender and water. My goal was to get a water color look and to avoid letting the colors bleed. I also used a black Micron Pima pen for cross hatching in the background, and some dots for shading. I liked this technique and will be trying it again.

“Blue Crab, Green Water” 19" x 19" (Copyright 2019) White cotton fabric; acrylic textile paint, commercial cotton fabric backing, cotton thread, wool batting. Wholecloth painted, free-motion quilted.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hand Sewing Magic

My friend Lynn Krawczyk of Smudged Design Studio has a great new book out. I got it more than a month ago, and have been reading and absorbing it since then. It’s called “Hand Sewing Magic,” (Quarto Publishing, 144 pages, $24.99) and it includes instructions – and fabulously detailed directions and photos– for 35 stitches and many variations. There are also tips from nine “pro stitchers” (I’m one of them!) and small projects to make to practice the stitches.

Lynn on the set of “Quilting Arts TV” a few years ago.
The book starts off with key information about materials and tools (needles, threads, fabric, etc.) and techniques (how to use an embroidery hoop, tips and tricks for working with thread).

I learned how wrapping the inner hoop with bias tape can help decrease fabric distortion; I never knew this! I also love Lynn's cute trick of storing threads and flosses on wooden clothespins for storage.

This book would make a great gift for a young person or a new stitcher who needs a book that offers basic information with a healthy dose of inspiration. It’s also a terrific resource for people like me, who need a reference book every now and then, or need ideas for different ways to use a stitch they already know. 

Here’s an example of one of the stitch pages. Lynn carefully describes the stitch in words, and also includes step-by-step instructional photos. At the bottom, she shows some different ways to use the stitches.

Lynn also includes some fun projects, like this Boro Sketchbook Cover, to show how you can use basic embroidery stitches to make items you’ll use and love.

There are great detailed instructions for every stitch and every project:

Here’s the page with my stitched jacket, which uses a simple overall “chicken scratch stitch.”

You can order a copy of “Hand Sewing Magic” on Amazon here.

For links to purchase the book online outside the U.S., go here:

Lynn is also the author of The Hand-Stitched Surface: Slow Stitching and Mixed-Media Techniques for Fabric and Paper (2017) and Intentional Printing: Simple Techniques for Inspired Fabric Art (2014). She also has a Quilting Arts Workshop, “Print, Design, Compose: From Surface Design to Fabric Art,” DVD. All are available on


Thursday, November 15, 2018

“Start Your Art”... and a give-away!

My friend Lyric Kinard has a new product out called Start Your Art: 48 Warm Up Exercises to Jumpstart Your Art. It’s a beautiful pack of cards with fun exercises designed to get your creativity revved up. You can choose a card and do the exercise yourself, or you can do it with a friend, or a big group. 

Lyric encourages us to “make bad art” (by that, she means art thrown together quickly, without the pressure of perfection, that is about “exploring, playing and learning.” ) The directions include suggestions on playing with a group, and on your own. 

I chose this card, “Click and Cut” because I love to take photos, and I love texture and pattern. But I really don’t love black and white, and I don’t love collage. (I’m more about bright, saturated color, precision and things that are tedious and take a very long time to do.) So I figured this would take me out of my comfort zone. 

I started by taking digital photos (on my iPhone) of things around my house that had a lot of texture or pattern. It was raining, so I didn't go outside, except for the cabbage/kale photo. Here are just a few of them:

Basket made from electrical wire from South Africa
Birch bark trash basket
Decorative cabbage/kale 
Plastic lobster
Decorative balls made from paper
Sea urchin

I pulled them all into my computer, then into Photoshop, and converted them to black and white, and changed the brightness and contrast to make them more interesting. In some cases, I zoomed in on parts of the photos to change the scale. Then I printed them out and started cutting. My idea was to make a piece with a beetle theme. 

I forced myself to cut pieces freehand, with out a pattern, and to work quickly. 

I mixed up some Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue with a bit of water, and brushed the pieces down onto white paper with this glue mixture. 

Here’s my final composition. I was surprised that it came out as well as it did! 

Here’s what I learned:

1. It’s fun, and healthy, to try something new.
2. Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn't have to be painful. 
3. Using a different technique can inform your primary technique, helping you to think about things in a slightly different way. 
4. I still love color. I’m going to try adding color on top, either with transparent water color, or with tissue paper, or colored pencils. 
5. I still love my primary medium (fabric). The whole time I was doing this, I kept thinking, “Oh, I wish these pieces were fabric!” It would be fun to take this to the next level, and do it in fabric while attempting to replicate the look of this collaged piece. 

You can get your own pack of Start Your Art cards here: 

Why not give this Start Your Art exercise a try? If you do, please share your results on this Facebook page:

Here’s a chance to win Start Your Art for yourself and for an art teacher! Lyric is donating a digital deck to the winner, and physical pack of cards to the art teacher of your choice. How cool is that? Leave a comment on this post and tell me why you’d like to win. Please note that all comments are moderated to filter out spam and links to porn and other unpleasantness, so they won’t show up right away. I'll pull one name at random on Nov. 22 (after I finish baking my pies for Thanksgiving). Make sure you include a way to get in touch, or that you check back on Nov. 23 to see if you’ve won! 

UPDATE: We have a winner! Ma Rhoby has won a pack of cards and a pack for the art teacher of her choice. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Bald Head Island Marsh, After the Storm

Bald Head Island Marsh, After the Storm
by Susan Brubaker Knapp
31.5" x 45.5" (Copyright 2018)
Cotton fabric, cotton threads, cotton batting, ink. Raw-edge appliqué, free-motion machine quilted. Based on an aerial photo taken after Hurricane Florence by Steve Montgomery/Greater Charlotte Properties; used with permission.

My family has lived in North Carolina for the past 22 years, and for most of those years, we have vacationed on the state’s spectacular barrier islands. Our favorite place is Bald Head Island, at the tip of Cape Fear, where the Fear River opens to the sea. It is one of North Carolina’s southernmost barrier islands, has three distinct ecosystems: the beach, the maritime forest, and the salt marsh. A good part of the island is held in conservancy, so that development can’t happen there, and in my opinion, that’s what makes the island so magical.  

I started this new piece just after Hurricane Florence slammed into the coast of North Carolina near Wrightsville, dropping almost 36" of rain in some areas, causing devastating flooding and catastrophic damage to homes and businesses throughout eastern North Carolina. Forty-two people died in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia (where some died from tornadoes spawned by Florence). Tens of thousands of people, many of them desperately poor, have damage to their homes from which they will never completely recover. 

The environmental damage was horrific, too. A dam holding back a pond of coal ash burst, releasing toxic waste from Duke Energy’s coal-burning power plants into the Cape Fear River. Ponds on industrial hog farms, designed to hold feces and urine from the hogs, also leaked, contaminating flood water with bacteria like salmonella. 

In the aftermath of the storm, I looked online for photos that would reveal the extent of the damage to Bald Head Island, and I discovered aerial shots by Steve Montgomery, and got permission to create a piece based on one of them. I’ve seen the marsh from docks and trails, but the view from above made the intricate waterways appear to me like arteries and capillaries – and the marsh itself as a chartreuse and sapphire-hued heart, pumping water and life in and out along the edge of the island. 

The salt marsh on Bald Head Island is vital to its ecosystem, acting as a filter to keep waters clean, nurturing many sea creatures, and providing food for coastal mammals and birds. In many places in the United States, salt marshes have been destroyed or degraded at an alarming rate. They've been destroyed by pollution, oil spills, development, and agricultural run-off. Salt marshes also play an important role in protecting islands and coastlines from storm damage, so it is to our benefit to keep them healthy. This website has good information:

Monday, August 27, 2018

“The Female Kicker”

“The Female Kicker”
Copyright Susan Brubaker Knapp 2018
24" x 72"
“The Female Kicker,” is a portrait of my daughter Julia, who is a real inspiration to me. She played high school soccer and basketball, and in her senior year, she kicked for the football team, hitting seven of her 10 field goal attempts and 46 of 48 PATs – making her the first girl to score a point for her school's football team. She was named All-County kicker and her high school's Athlete of the Year. Her fellow students also voted her Homecoming Queen the same night she was named Offensive Player of the Game.

We had worried that the boys or the coaches would not welcome a girl, but she was treated just like any other player. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for her. I was unprepared for the response from fans, parents and her friends. Women approached me in the stands at games with tears in their eyes, and several told me that they had wanted to play when they were children, but were denied. Little girls – and boys – came up to her on the field after games, asking for photos and autographs. Her friends rallied around her and supported her efforts. 

The name for this piece comes from a guy who frequented online high school football message boards and always referred to Julia as “the female kicker.”

Here's a shot of her with the piece in progress:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

“Drawn to the Light”

“Drawn to the Light”
Copyright Susan Brubaker Knapp 2018
30" x 50"
This is my latest work, “Drawn to the Light,” which was recently juried in to the Best of Dinner@8 Artists’ exhibition. It will debut at International Quilt Festival in the fall. This is a whole cloth painted quilt (which means it was painted on white fabric) and then free-motion machine quilted. 

It features 13 moth species:

Row one, from top left:
Rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) – pink and yellow; upper left
Comet moth (Argema mittrei) or Madagascan moon moth – yellow with brown spots; upper middle
Emperor moth (Saturnia pavonia) – orange and pink; upper right

Row two, from left:
Atlas two column (Attacus atlas) – orange and yellow with white spots; left
Luna moth (Actias luna) – green; middle
Garden tiger moth (Arctia caja) – orange, brown and white; right

Row three, from left:
Blue tiger moth (Dysphania percota) - blue with some yellow; left
Spanish moon moth (Graellsia isabellae)– green with chocolate brown and black; right

Row four, from left:
Oleander hawk moth (Daphnis nerii– green camouflage pattern; left
Giant leopard moth  (Hypercompe scribonia)– black, white and light blue; right

Row five:
Spiny oakworm moth (Anisota stigma) – rusty orange and yellow; left
Green carpet moth (Colostygia pectinataria) – greens; middle
Io moth (Automeris io) – yellow and orange with black spots; right

Here are a few photos of the piece in progress. I drew the moths from specimen photos, then scanned my line drawings and digitally positioned them within the 30x50" space. I printed out the design full size, and stretched fine cotton fabric on top, and painted the moths. For detailed information about my process, see my blog post “FAQs: Wholecloth Painting” here:

This is the first piece I free-motion machine quilted on my new BERNINA 770 QE machine. The extra space (10 inches to the right of the needle!) and the bobbin, which holds 70% more thread  than a normal bobbin, really come in handy on a large piece like this. 

The background is densely quilted in a pattern to suggest cross-hatching. I chose it because it looks a bit like screen, and I am used to seeing moths on my screen doors in the summer. 

A catalog of the exhibition will be available later this summer. I’ve already seen a number of the pieces that were juried in on social media, and it’s going to be a fabulous show!